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Moonlight's Embrace

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I'm Russet. Well, what do you want to know? I'm a Nord. Blue eyes, red hair, blah blah. That's all rather boring.

I used to be a good person. Maybe. I helped the Jarls, saved towns from vampires, all that. I even joined the Companions, became a werewolf and found lifetime friends in Aela, Vilkas, and Farkas. Farkas was closer to me than the others. I'd told him something about my past no one else knew.

See, that was a childhood experience. You won't get me to talk about it, unless you want a blade in your skull.

I agreed, and became friends with many members of the Companions. But even the life of an adventurer gets dull.

So here I am. I take one little break in Riften and end up in a massive scheme to take over Skyrim. Nice.

---

Chapter Text

((12th of Second Seed, 4E 202))

Finally... after days of traveling on foot I arrive in Riften, I thought. These jobs the Companions have me doing is exhausting.

"Hold there! Before I let you into Riften, you need to pay the visitor's tax!" The guard at the gate stopped me, holding out his hand.

"What's the tax for?" I asked curiously. I hadn't been stopped anywhere else before, so this was a bit odd for me.

"For the privilege of entering the city," he snorted, crossing his arms. "What does it matter?"

"This is obviously a shakedown," I stated boldly, one hand on my sword. He must've been able to tell I meant business, because he winced when I stepped closer.

"Alright, keep your voice down... you want everyone to hear you? I'll let you in, just let me unlock the gate," the guard apologized as he unhooked the keys from his belt.

I pushed my way through the gates. As I was walking through, a ragged man leaning across a post looked me over.

"I don't know you. You in Riften looking for trouble?" he grunted, eyeing me with distaste as if I was something he'd found between his teeth. I'd been in Riften before, I didn't understand why the hell I was being interrupted so much.

"Yes, I'm here to assassinate the Jarl," I drawled sarcastically. His brows furrowed together, and I walked away.

All I want at this point is to take off this goddamn worn-out armor and go to bed! I thought irritably. As I walked ahead, I saw the Bee and Barb. I could smell the honey in the mead, as well as freshly-baked sweetrolls. My stomach growled in anticipation of the delicious scents.

Before I crossed the little bridge above the river, two people stopped me. Well, not physically. But it seemed like they were having an argument.

"I'm really getting tired of your excuses. When you borrowed the money, you said you'd pay it back on time and for double the usual fee." A tall woman leaned against the rail, while a Redguard sat on the bench. He appeared to be pleading with her.

"I know I did. But how was I to know the shipment would get robbed?"

"Next time, keep your plans quieter and nothing would have happened to it."

"What?" The Reduard looked about wildly, with a panicked look in his eyes. "Are you telling me you robbed it? Why? Why are you doing this to me?"

"Look, Shadr. Last warning. Pay up or else. All I care about is the gold. Everything else is your problem." With that, she walked away. I approached him.

"Huh? What do you want?"

"What kind of trouble are you in?" I asked, and he looked down miserably.

"I owe a great deal of money to someone and I think they cheated me. I don't know what to do. I was able to work out a deal with the stables in Whiterun to sell me some of their tack and harnesses. I borrowed some gold from Sapphire to pay for the shipment, but it got robbed before it even arrived. Now Sapphire wants her money back, and if I don't pay her, I think she's going to kill me." His hands were visibly shaking.

"I could help pay off your debt," I offered. I mentally slapped myself in the face. I barely have enough gold for a night at the inn, how am I supposed to pay this off? My last contract hadn't brought me as much gold as I'd expected, so I had to be careful with my money. Still, Shadr's face brightened.

"You will? Oh, thank you!" He stood up and began to walk off. I'd just turned around when he said something again. "Be careful with Sapphire. She mixes with all sorts of nasty people." Oh, after vampires and Falmer, she would be only too easy to handle.

I thanked him for the warning and followed this... "Sapphire" into the Bee and Barb.

When I walked through the doorway, I immediately recognized her and approached her. I spoke to her and managed to convince her to drop Shadr's debt... with a little coercion. People began to laugh quietly.

After I was done, I saw two Argonians speaking at the counter. I paid for a single night and sat down at a table.

I caught a red-haired Nord looking at me thoughtfully, and I glared in his direction. He only chuckled and walked out of the inn. I've had enough of this nonsense.

...

The sky was a cloudy gray. Perfect, just perfect. I climbed back into my hide armor, eying it critically as I heard a tear. Sure, it was worn...

"I'll just pick up different armor at the stalls today," I muttered aloud. I pulled a mage's robe out instead. Once I had my bow slung over my shoulder and sword on my hip, I walked out of the room.

...

"Buy armor from Grelka and live to tell about it!" I walked towards the caller, a well-built woman with sturdy leather armor. It looked a lot better than what I had, at any rate.

A voice startled me from behind. Instinctively, I placed my hand on my sword and turned around. I relaxed when I saw an average Nord. Then I recognized him as the man who'd laughed last night at the inn.

"A little light in the pockets, lass?" He had a very thick accent, yet spoke smoothly. I stopped in my tracks at his words.

"How could you possibly know that?" I wondered, halfway to myself. He looked like he was studying me.

"It's all about sizing up your mark, lass. The way they walk, what they're wearing... it's a dead giveaway."

"My wealth is none of your business," I retorted sharply.

"Oh, but that's where you're wrong. Wealth is my business. Maybe you'd like a taste. My name's Brynjolf, by the way." He stuck out his hand, and I shook it. He had a firm grip. "What's yours, lass?"

"I'm Russet," I answered slowly. "You said 'a taste'... what did you have in mind?" Brynjolf grinned cheekily.

"I've got a bit of an errand to perform, but I need an extra pair of hands." He leaned in closer, and I could smell honey on his breath. "And in my line of work, extra hands are well-paid." He drew back, and I got the idea that this wasn't exactly an honest bargain.

"What do I have to do?" I queried cautiously, and 
Brynjolf crossed his arms.

"It's simple. I'm going to cause a distraction, and you're going to steal Madesi's silver ring from a strongbox under his stand." He pointed to an Argonian, who was advertising jewelry.

"You just want me to take a ring? That's it?" I scoffed, and Brynjolf narrowed his eyes.

"No. Once you have the ring, I want you to place it in Brand-Shei's pocket without him noticing." My blank look told him I had no idea of the subject. "Brand-Shei is the Dunmer over there."

"Why plant the ring on Brand-Shei?" For a moment I thought he was pulling a trick, but I knew that I would easily beat him in a fight if it came to it. Anyone in that kind of clothing had a soft, overfed life. As for me... well, my record wasn't exactly clear.

"There's someone who wants to see him put out of business permanently. That's all you need to know." He glanced at me sharply. I rolled my eyes.

"But why? Why am I doing this to Brand-Shei anyways?"

"We've been contacted to make sure that he remembers not to meddle in the affairs that are not his own, lass." I shrugged.

"Why not just eliminate him?"

"Now, since we're not the Dark Brotherhood, we're not going to kill him. All we're looking for is to make sure he sits in the Riften prisons for a few days."

I glared at him. "Fine, I'll do it."

"I knew I could count on you, lass. Now, I'll create a distraction, that's how I'll get their attention. They won't notice you- unless you're louder than a rampaging troll." Brynjolf raised an eyebrow. "Now go." I huffed at the slight insult, but agreed.

"Got it."

"Everyone! Gather 'round!" All focus turned to the red-haired Nord, who was holding up a ridiculous red bottle. "This here is Falmer Blood Elixr!" I nearly snorted aloud. Falmer aren't all that rare, just pick any of the Dwemer ruins and go. Besides, their blood is just like our blood... it's blood.

Still, a series of ooh's and ahh's rang through the crowd. "Cures any ailment!" Brynjolf announced. Another spoke up about a previous item, a fake. "Just a misunderstanding, lad. This here is real."

I picked the lock and took the ring. Inside were a few jewels, so I pocketed those as well. A jolt surged through me, as if I'd swallowed Frostbite Venom. It was joy, twisted joy.

As quickly as I could, I snuck over to the Dunmer and placed the ring in his pocket. I stiffened when he moved a bit, only relaxing when Brand-Shei stopped. This was fun. Brynjolf seemed to see, and suddenly called off the auction.

"That's all there is, come back tomorrow!" I walked back over to him and watched the scene unfold.

"Aww, and I was just about to buy myself some!" Brand-Shei cursed.

"Halt!" A guard thundered over to the marketplace. Brynjolf's eyes widened for a heartbeat. "Brand-Shei! Empty your pockets!" I laughed silently, and felt the same reaction in Brynjolf.

"What's this about? Look, noth- wait, what's this? This isn't mine!" Brand-Shei said in surprise.

"You're right, it isn't! Off to Riften Jail for you!" And they dragged him away, an innocent man yelling,

"You can't be serious! I didn't do it!"

"Ah, nothing like the smell of deception and debauchery in the morning..." Brynjolf laughed at my comment.

"Looks like I chose the right person for the job." I refused to be swayed by flattering comments. "Here you go, payment as promised. The way things have been going around here, it's a relief that our plan went off without a hitch." I eyed him with suspicion.

"What do you mean? What's been going on?" I questioned. Brynjolf coughed, frustrated. "Oh, if you didn't want me to know anything, then you shouldn't have said anything."

"Well, see here lass- my organization's been having a run of bad luck."

"Such a shame." He looked at me to see if I was being sarcastic, but my face remained a mask.

"I suppose that's just how it goes. Never mind that, though. 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."

"Oh, I can handle anything."

"Alright, lass. I'm glad to hear it," he smiled wickedly. "How about you prove to me how much you can handle?" I was impressed with how well he composed himself.

He gave me a few more instructions on where to go and left.

Not bad, Brynjolf. Not bad.

Chapter Text

((13th of Second Seed, 4E 202))

I strutted through the Ratway like it was nothing. I shot several bandits, skeevers, and a lowlife on my way, chuckling as someone came at me with his bare hands.

"You'll back away now if you know what's good for you!" he shrieked, holding his fists up defensively.

"Sithis is waiting for your soul..." I laughed darkly, and he flinched. I drew my sword slowly and dispatched him.

He had interesting gloves, so I took them.

...

I entered the Flagon silently, and was half surprised to see that nobody noticed me. They were all listening to someone speak in the middle.

"I'm telling you, this one is different." Brynjolf's sharp accent was easily recognizable. I put my weight on the wall casually, amused. I could feel that they were dangerous, so it was best to pretend I was unafraid.

"We've all heard that before! Quit kidding yourself, Brynjolf." A brown-haired Imperial drank from a tankard.

"It's time to face the truth, old friend. You, Vex, Mercer... you're all part of a dying breed. Things are changing." Brynjolf seemed to notice me, though I had a suspicion that he knew I was there from the moment I'd walked in.

"Dying breed? Well, Vekel my friend, what do you call that?" Brynjolf turned towards me, and others looked as well. Instead of the soft clothing I'd first seen him in, he was clad in black leather armor... though it was unlike any I'd ever seen.

"So I'm a 'that'?" I scoffed, a little offended. If he noticed my irritation, he didn't give any sign of it.

"Color me impressed, lass. I wasn't certain I'd ever see you again."

"Well, I showed you how I handle challenges, didn't I? Getting here was easy." I put a hint of teasing in my voice, and was rewarded by amusement in his expression.

"Reliable and headstrong? You're turning out to be quite the prize!" I gave him a dangerous smile.

"Would you like to become acquainted with my sword here?" I said brightly, and several of the people in the room laughed. Brynjolf joined them.

"You're interesting, I'll give you that. Well, since you already had a little taste of my work at the market, how about handling a few other tasks? There are a few... deadbeats that need to be taken care of." My hand moved to my blade. "Not that kind of 'taken care of'." I pretended to be disappointed.

Everyone else had gone back to their business while I sat next to the Nord. Now that I saw him up close, I realized that my original observations were incorrect. His fancy clothing had hidden a sturdily built figure, in no way chubby or overfed.

"So what did these... deadbeats do?"

"They owe our organization some serious coin, and they've decided not to pay. I want you to show them the error of their ways."

"Too afraid to do it yourself?" I taunted, though in truth I was bored of playing around. Brynjolf ignored my comment.

"You'll need to pay Keerava, Haelga, and Bersi Honey-Hand a visit."

"So I've got to get a lizard, a whore, and a man who probably slept with both?" I muttered idly. I'd been in the town of Riften several times before, though I hadn't stayed long-term. It was common knowledge that a certain bunkhouse owner was willing to practice her 'Dibellan Arts' with any man she set her eyes upon.

"Don't knock her, lass." He winked at me, and I wondered if he was fooling around. "I'm glad you're enthusiastic. If you get this job done, I can promise you a permanent place here."

"How should I go about this?" All forms of play were cast aside, we were talking business now. One hand was set on the sword at my side.

"The debt is secondary. What's important is that you get the message across that we aren't to be cast aside or ignored."

"I've got it. I'll see you in... oh, maybe an hour?"

"A little confident, lass?" Brynjolf raised his eyebrow questioningly.

"I'm the Dragonborn, I can afford to be arrogant," I replied smugly. Before I left, a firm hand held my shoulder. I instinctively whirled around and held the hilt of my sword.

"Lass? We aren't the Dark Brotherhood. I don't want to hear about a killing. It's... bad for business."

...

"Let's see, I'll target Keerava first," I mused, walking over to the Bee and Barb. When I entered, the town priest was giving a speech about the importance of love in Skyrim. I rolled my eyes and walked over to Talen-Jei. I asked a few choice questions and confronted the female Argonian at the table.

She handed over the money without question.

After that was Bersi Honey-Hand. When I walked in, I noticed him setting up a Dwemer urn.

"That's a neat little vase," I said conversationally. Bersi jumped.

"I hadn't noticed you there."

"Yes, odd how some things tend to... slip your mind." My dark tone alerted him to my intentions.

"Is this... oh, gods... is this about Brynjolf's debt?" My silence was answer enough. "Tell him that I'm not giving him the coin. You're not the Brotherhood, you don't kill."

I left the store with one hundred septims, and left behind a broken urn and distraught man.

The final 'deadbeat' was Haelga. She was at the marketplace, flirting with an Imperial bystander.

She took one look at me and flung a purse. I caught it with ease.

...

"What did I tell you? An hour at most, and it only took me a half." My face remained motionless. Brynjolf took the three pouches. "And?" He stared at me blankly. "Don't I get a cut?" My tone was both reprimanding and teasing.

"Don't worry lass, I was going to give you your share of coin." He dumped half of one pouch in my hand. "I'm surprised. You've managed to surpass everyone's expectations. It's time you were formally welcomed into my organization. Follow me." My heart pounded as I shadowed him to the very back of the tavern.

...

"So, this is your... protégé?" A taller man-- a Breton-- sneered. I immediately disliked him. Brynjolf was unaffected and strolled confidently up to the man.

"Mercer, she's shown promise. She's part of the Guild, for sure." Mercer rubbed his chin.

"Well, then she needs to do more jobs to prove it." The look on Brynjolf's face told me that this was a normal occurrence. "You think you're special? What makes you so sure that you can handle anything?"

"I'm the goddamn Dragonborn, and I could blast your sorry ass to next week." I used a bright, contemptuous tone, and found it quite amusing. Everyone quieted down, and even Brynjolf seemed shocked.

"Excuse me?"

"She'll be fine, Mercer," Brynjolf told him quickly. "Surely she didn't mean to insult you." I shoved down the impulse to punch the red-haired Nord.

"I can defend myself, you know," I muttered through clenched teeth. Mercer stared at us.

Brynjolf turned to me. "Lass, go get armor from Tonilia in the Flagon. Something tells me you'll need it." I walked away quickly, feeling the red-hot glare of Mercer even with my back turned.

...

The one they called Tonilia was sitting at a table in the front part of the Ragged Flagon. As I approached, she turned to look at me. A book was in her hands.

"I hear you gave Mercer the tongue. Vekel tells me he's furious," the Redguard commented.

"He should be glad I didn't Shout," I murmured. Tonilia let out a low chuckle, and I wasn't sure if it was amusement at my statement or at me.

"Here for armor?" I nodded, and she reached into a leather bag at her side. "This should fit you. This is all you'll get, so you might want to keep it safe."

"Anything is better than what I have at this point," I mumbled. She returned to reading her book.

I went into the next room and changed. It fit perfectly, and I silently congratulated Tonilia. Extra pockets were stitched onto the armor, allowing space for gems and coins. I had the idea that they weren't for legal goods...

I walked back out into the Flagon, feeling proud of my new status.

"Let me make something clear. I'm the best infiltrator this rathole of a guild's got, so if you think you're here to replace me, you're dead wrong." A silver-haired woman glared at me, and I held my hands up in protest.

"I'm not here for your job," I promised. Her angry expression cleared.

"Understand? Good. Now, how about doing a couple jobs for us?"

"I'm up for it."

"What kind of job do you want to do?" She seemed excited that I'd agreed, and I wondered why. "I've got a hold here for a sweep job. Go to Whiterun and swipe a jeweled candlestick, golden goblet, and diamond necklace from Nazeem's house."

"That one. Oh, I won't have any problem with that." Nazeem was the one person I despised in Skyrim more than any other. He always greeted me with "Get to the Cloud District very often? Oh, what am I saying... of course you don't."

"I don't want any spilled blood here," Vex closed her eyes, and I sighed in disappointment. "Make sure that you remain unseen. I'll see you later."

"I'm good. Thanks, Vex." I exited the Flagon. When I re-entered the cistern, Brynjolf was sitting next to Sapphire. He looked up when I passed.

"That armor suits you well, lass."

"Thank you." I felt a spark of pride.

"On your first Guild job?"

"I'm doing a sweep job for Vex, in Whiterun."

"Be careful out there, lass, and stick to the shadows." I rolled my eyes and left.

Chapter Text

((13th of Second Seed, 4E 202))

"Hey, you!" I turned around just before I climbed the ladder. Sapphire rushed at me and held me against the wall. Her arm was pressed against my neck, and I struggled to free myself.

"Sapphire, what're you doing?" a Wood Elf gasped. I grabbed at her arms.

"I didn't like your little stunt at the Barb, whelp. I lost respect and gold."

"Not... my problem." I gasped.

"Wrong answer!" I wondered why nobody was moving to help me... not that I would have wanted it. "I wasn't the only one to lose gold! You cost the Guild!"

"Well, now I feel remorse," I coughed sarcastically. Her arm pressed harder on my windpipe. The air to my lungs stopped flowing, and black spots danced before my eyes. My struggles grew weaker.

Shouting reached my ears, but I couldn't tell what it said. I fell to the floor with a thump, gasping heavily. My vision was blurred, and pain surged through my throat.

A guild member was holding the furious woman back by her waist. I couldn't see who it was, let alone hear anything clearly.

Voices mumbled, and slowly gained definition as my breathing grew steadier. Sapphire was restrained by Brynjolf, who handed her off.

"Thrynn, Rune, take her," he ordered.

"Get your dirty hands off me!" Sapphire snarled, tugging herself free from their grips. Brynjolf knelt by me.

"You okay, lass?" I found it difficult to answer. "Don't worry, Sapphire's just upset."

I noticed Mercer Frey staring at me with a cold look in his eyes.

"Let's get you fixed up, lass."

"I'm going... to kill her."

"Don't talk, lass. You're bruised up pretty badly."

"I'm going to kick your ass if you tell anyone about this," I rasped weakly. Brynjolf laughed.

"I can see that your sharp tongue wasn't damaged."

"So much for being the 'Dragonborn'!" I heard Sapphire remark, and a few of her friends laughed. Anger filled my limbs. She shot me a sideways glance.

"You really don't want to get into a verbal debate with me," I promised. My strength was beginning to return.

"Oh, I'm sure the 'dragons' you fought just fell over dead because you said a few words," Sapphire taunted.

Despite my lack of power at the moment, I relied on the dragons for this extra moment of pleasure.

"Fus..." Brynjolf tumbled out of the way, and I finished my Shout. "RO DAH!"

Sapphire went flying. "Damn right I killed them with a couple words."

...

((14th of Second Seed, 4E 202))

I was just fine the next day, and quickly made sure that Sapphire knew it.

I bested Niruin in an archery competition, and demonstrated my Voice to everyone. Sapphire became the unwilling test subject for most of them.

I headed outside after speaking with a Guildmate about training me. Delvin Mallory offered me several tips... though he seemed intent on emptying my coinpurse to do it. Finally, I set out to complete my job.

...

((16th of Second Seed, 4E 202))

The Whiterun guards must have been extra lazy that day. Either that, or Delvin's training had really paid off. I could hardly hear my own footsteps. It was almost broad daylight, and nobody noticed me.

Even better, I managed to pickpocket the key off Nazeem.

I went inside his house and saw the candlestick immediately. The others were also easily found. However, when I turned to face the door, Nazeem strolled through with his wife.

Without wasting a second, I rolled behind a cupboard.

"I'm sick of you ignoring me, Nazeem. You care only for yourself."

"Oh, stop being ungrateful, Ahlam. Do you see this lifestyle I've provided you with? I spent years working up to this, and you don't care."

"That's a lie, and you know it! Chillfurrow Farm was my father's, and when you married me, it went downhill!" she protested, and I could tell Nazeem was ignoring her for the most part.

"But then I made the farm flourish with my own hard physical labor."

"I did all the backbreaking work!"

"And I managed the finances." Nazeem is really pissing me off. I snuck out the back door, relieved I'd been able to escape.

...

((18th of Second Seed, 4E 202))

"Glad to see the plan went through. Nice going, Russet. Here's your pay." Vex plunked coins down in my hand. "Do you want another job?"

"Save one for me," I told her. "I'm going to talk to Delvin."

"Oh, and before you go out again, get someone to look at those bruises of yours." She probably didn't know she'd said anything wrong, but it still angered me. My hands went up to my throat.

"Delvin? I'd like a job." I sat down at his table and played with a bottle of mead.

"Good, good. See, I've got the jobs with the more personal touch."

"What kind of--" loud noises crashed from the bar, and glass covered the floor. "Damn. Okay, give me a second, Delvin." Dirge had gotten drunk and smashed the mead against the bar. Blood covered his hands.

"Not again..." Vekel complained.

"If you've got something to say, then say it!" The blonde-haired man slurred, and Vekel aimed a punch.

That was the end of that problem. The glass was swept up, and Dirge was thrown into a bed. I returned to my conversation with Delvin. I agreed to do a numbers job, and he explained what it was.

"I'll need you to change the business ledger in Arcadia's Cauldron." Delvin crossed his legs.

"That alchemy shop in Whiterun?"

"That's the one. We've got some merchandise that needs to... change owners. The ledger should say the same. Go on, and get to it."

"Thanks, Delvin." I shook his hand and walked into the cistern. I passed Brynjolf speaking with Sapphire. I shot her a glance sharper than dragon claws. She returned the gesture.

Brynjolf saw and greeted me. "Hello there, lass. What are you up to?"

"Job for Delvin," I responded, shrugging.

"See you later, Russet," Sapphire mocked.

"Always a pleasure. Give me a Shout if you need anything." I darted away.

Chapter Text

Note: In general, the "jobs" aren't going to be very long. They're like Bits and Pieces. Hah, Skyrim reference in a Skyrim book.

..........
I finished Delvin's initial job, and continued to receive jobs from both him and Vex.

((17th of Midyear, 4E 202))

This time, I'd taken a job from Delvin. My goal was to write in Belethor's business ledger to benefit the Guild. Belethor wasn't exactly my favorite merchant, so I had no qualms about ruining him.

Orange leaves swirled around Whiterun, and the air was a bit chilly. Two children-- Lars and Mila-- ran past, giggling happily. I snuck to the back of Belethor's shop. The lock was easy, because the fool didn't lock it at all.

Once I was inside, I heard sniffling in the front and knew that Belethor was sitting at the counter. I passed a few health potions and snatched them. It would have been a shame to leave those golden necklaces there, as well...

The book was upstairs, so I carefully stepped on the stairs in case they creaked. Luckily, my footfalls were quiet. I pulled the quill out of the inkwell and scribbled the numbers on the page. I opened the cupboard by it and pocketed the gold. That amethyst would serve me nicely, too.

"Everything's for sale, my friend! Everything! If I had a sister, I'd sell her in a second! ... That's a, that's a little joke there." The merchant's booming voice startled me, and I fell over. Please tell me he's too busy dealing with a client.

"What was that? Do you not run a respectable business?" I curled my lip at Nazeem's voice.

"Of course I do!" Belethor responded haughtily. "Some crates must have tipped, that's all."

"That never would have happened at Chillfurrow Farm," Nazeem sneered. I snuck downstairs and hid myself behind some buckets. I silently placed one on the floor and prayed that it would work.

"Follow me, Nazeem. I'll prove it to you," Belethor grumbled. They drew closer, and I held my breath.

"It was probably a skeever," the insolent Redguard snapped.

"What did I tell you? A bucket fell over. My assistant must not have put it back correctly."

"I still think it was vermin." They walked away, and I slipped out the back door.

...

((20th of Midyear, 4E 202))

"Excellent job, Russ," Delvin complimented. "Here's your share."

"Thanks, Del." I accepted the coins. "Now, If you'll excuse me, I've got to sell a couple things." I flashed the jewelry that I had acquired from Belethor.

"Go ahead. I'll be waiting here if you want another job." Tonilia sat by the water's edge.

"How much will you give me for these?"

Chapter Text


______

((30th of Heartfire, 4E 202))

I had been enjoying myself. I'd done more jobs for the Guild, and everyone seemed friendlier to me. Brynjolf smiled when he glanced my way, and Niruin was always eager to share marksman tips and stories. Sapphire remained as prickly as ever.

I walked back to the cistern. Brynjolf and Mercer stood in the middle. Mercer glared at me with distaste.

"There you are, lass." Brynjolf grinned. Mercer only grunted.

"You could use my name, lad," I grumbled crossly.

"Moppet, correct?"

"No, it's Russet."

"Okay, Ferret." I knew he was just looking for a reaction, so I refused to give him one. Of course he knew my name. Brynjolf snuck me a sly smile.

"I don't care what her name is! I'm giving you a second chance, thief. I don't want you waltzing up and thinking you own the world," Mercer spat.

I grinned. "I know I don't own the world. I just own most of it."

"Lass..." Brynjolf sent me a warning glance. A wicked expression spread across Mercer's face.

"She'll be going to Goldenglow Estate."

Brynjolf looked at Mercer doubtfully. "Mercer, even our little Vex couldn't get in," he objected.

"Well, that's the whole point of proving herself, isn't it?" The Breton was getting on my nerves, even more than Brynjolf ever did. "This job is for a very important client, so don't bitch around with it."

"I'll take care of the rest, Mercer. Thank you." Mercer walked away while Brynjolf looked at me sympathetically.

"He's in a bit of a sour mood. After you snapped off at him--"

"I seem to have a bad habit of doing that." The red-haired Nord grinned broadly.

"I've got to agree with you there, lass. You've got quite the tongue."

"Enough chitchat. Where do I need to go, and what do I need to do?"

"Straight to the point, eh? Well, your job is to break into Goldenglow Estate, as we said before. One of our important clients wants a job done. See, there's this High Elf named Aringoth who decided that he's done with the Guild.

"That's why we need you. I've heard how you like to play with flames..."

"I know I'm hotter than dragon fire."

"And a temper to match," he added. Brynjolf shook his head. "Goldenglow Estate is a majorly important point for Maven Black-Briar's meadery. It creates the honey she needs for it, and Aringoth cut her out of it. I'm shocked she hasn't contacted the Dark Brotherhood."

"So what am I going for here?" I asked cautiously, and Brynjolf crossed his arms.

"You need to get to the Estate and burn three of the hives. Only three, you hear me? Any more, and you'll have to deal with me." I bit my lip. "After that, you need to clear out Aringoth's safe in the cellar."

"What's the security like around the place?"

"Ask Vex, she was the last one to try." A stone of doubt settled into my belly.

"If Vex couldn't get in, then how am I?" I questioned him doubtfully.

"I don't know," he admitted. "But it'a direct job from Mercer. He got it from Maven. We can't ignore it. Besides, you'll do just fine."

I hesitated and thought this plan over. "What if someone gets in my way? I understand that the point is to be quiet."

"Lass, if you're noticed, you'll have to fight your way through."

"Aringoth?"

"If he stands against you, kill him."

...

I decided to look for Vex in the Flagon. She was the best person to ask, since she'd been there before.

"Vex, can I talk to you?"

"Make it quick," she answered. I explained to her my goal at the estate, and her mouth curved into a frown. "It's a dangerous job, for sure. The damn Altmer tripled the security around the Estate."

"Any way I could avoid direct confrontation?"

"Well... I snuck in through a sewer pipe near the house. Here, where's your map? I'll mark the house and grate for you." I thanked her for her assistance and headed back towards the cistern.

...

When I climbed back out into Riften, a cold breeze blew past, and I shivered slightly.

There was a commotion in the marketplace, and I recognized the sharp colors of vampires. I drew my sword and rushed over.

"I have lived far too long to be defeated!" One of them chortled, a tall High Elf male.

"Well, your time is overdue!" I gritted my teeth as my strength was sapped by a spell. I shrugged off the effects and swirled around. A dull thud seemed to echo in the cold as his head hit the ground. Blood poured from his headless body.

His companion looked at me with rage.

"I''ll kill you, under the name of Harkon!"

"If you say so." I shrugged.

The Vampire Dust I collected was going to be very useful, given that it can make you invisible if consumed.

...

I turned away from the city, earning a few glares from the guards. Hey, as long as I saved your asses from the vampires, what do you care?

I walked along the road until I saw the house in the middle of the lake.

"The lake. Of course it's got to be in the lake." No boat to be seen, and I did not want to swim. Frostfall was in just a few days, and it looked like winter was settling in already. Of course it is, you're in the land of snow! I had no choice. The things I do for these people...

"Brynjolf, I am going to cut your fingers off one by one if I lose any of mine to frostbite," I promised. My teeth chattered as the icy water bit at my skin. I found the grate and picked it open.

Skeevers. Mud crabs. Skeever crabs. Mud skeevers.

I couldn't see the ground for dead animals. I stepped on countless bodies, feeling the crunch of bone underneath my boot.

Finally, I made it to the end of the corridor. A trapdoor was right above my head. I picked the lock and climbed up.

The first thing I registered was a rush of warmth. What I assumed to be mercenaries clanked tankards in the next room. I prayed that I would not be surrounded. It sounded like there were at least a dozen or two.

I took a single step... on a loose board. It creaked loudly. All talk ceased.

"What was that?"

"I didn't see anyone come down here."

"Let's make sure." My bowstring was taut, ready with an arrow.

The arrow was in the throat of a Breton before she even saw me. However, more than twenty followed her-- and the others had their weapons out.

"There!" The sound was muffled through the trapdoor, which I'd shut quickly after I'd seen the entire horde. I ran down the tunnel.

I was skilled. I could kill fearlessly. If I truly wanted to, I could assassinate the Emperor.

But my skills were not for close proximity. I could sneak and shoot. I could take on five enemies at once. But it was just my luck that every single mercenary was in the cellar. I recalled Delvin talking about the Guild.

"I think it's a curse," he'd told me. "The others think I'm insane." I hardly believed him. I didn't know if I did now, but it was easier to blame a curse than failure to prepare.

Behind me, I heard bodies dropping from the top floor and feet pounding after me.

I put on extra speed. "Wuld!" I shot forward with the speed of an arrow, almost dashing myself to death on the bars of the sewer. My Amulet of Talos glowed as the dragon breath was restored in my lungs, and I prepared another Shout.

A single Fus was all it took to collapse the entrance, trapping them inside.

...

Now that I'd caused a rockfall, the only entrance was the main entrance. I hoped that the rocks had crushed my opponents in the tunnels.

Of course I wouldn't have such luck.

An arrow whizzed by my face, followed by three others. Damn mercenaries, intent on seeing my blood stain the water. I slipped on my waterbreathing ring and took out a red bottle of poison. When the next arrow came my way, I dipped underwater and released the liquid.

From above, it would look like they had killed the trespasser. I waited. It felt so odd to not breathe. I disliked it because my body became so much colder. The light slowly faded from the sky, and I knew that it would be easier to sneak inside at that moment.

Carefully, I swam to the mainland, just in case anyone was looking out on the water at that moment. I hurled myself up from the depths with a gasp before covering my mouth. I listened intently for at least a minute before deciding that my noise had alerted no one.

I raised my Dwarven bow I'd bought from Tonilia. I loaded it and aimed at a mercenary. Just before I let it fly, I had a chilling thought.

But I shook it off before it took hold. The arrow was released, the Nord dead. I snuck over to his body and searched his pack. A small pouch of gold. A set of steel armor, steel sword, and a ruby.

The front door was locked, but I picked it open easily. The pins were half-broken, and I suspected that was from Vex's attempt.

Once I walked inside, the first thing I did was to put away the bow and take out my shortsword. It was forged with bronze metal, and the edges gleamed hungrily.

I placed a Ring of Major Sneaking on my left hand as soon as I heard voices in the next room. I'd heard twenty in the cellar. Here, I heard only two. One was an Orc, the other an Imperial.

I dripped poison in mead barrels once I got close enough, and sure enough, they both fell dead within ten minutes. This job must be done precisely, if Maven Black-Briar had ordered it.

I kept going upstairs. I passed more mercenaries, and sent them all to the Black Soul Gems I had. A friend of mine used human souls in permanently enchanting weapons and clothing.

The last one turned to me before I could stab him in the heart. Instead of anger, fear filled his eyes. He was a Nord, like me.

"Why are you doing this?"

"Because it must be done," I growled. I raised the blade, and he flinched.

"Please let me go, please!"

"Why should I? Mercenaries make coin, but can pay with their lives..."

"I only did this for my family!"

His blood stained my blade, and he clutched at the wound in his chest before taking his last breath.

It was the first time I'd felt guilt in a death.

"Sorrow over the blood of your enemies gets you nowhere, Russet. Keep moving," I ordered myself. A doll was sticking out of the Nord's bag.

You could have spared him, a little part of my mind said. You could have.

But I didn't. I thought of the children that would be waiting anxiously for their papa to return, for the wife who yearned for someone who had been murdered.

I left those thoughts alone and focused on the task at hand.

The final bedroom was in the middle, and I heard scuttling around inside. I sheathed my shortsword and undid my hood. I opened the door quietly, and the golden eyes of a High Elf met mine. Terror pooled in his.

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

"What happened?" I asked, sounding genuinely confused. His expression twisted.

"You killed them, I know you did. I heard that poor man screaming for mercy."

"I tried to save him. I came here to purchase honey for my family," I lied. "Another one of the mercenaries said that he took something and stabbed him in the throat."

"Are... are you sure?" The tension leaked out of Aringoth's shoulders. Since I appeared unthreatening, his guard was let down.

"I got so scared on the way up, and I just..."

"Don't feel bad, miss." He stood and walked over to me, where my sword was wrapped around his neck in a second.

"Give me that key or else I'll slit your throat," I snarled. Aringoth made a move to reply, and I pressed it closer. "If I have to, I'll take it off your dead body."

"But... that isn't your way!"

"If I could kill a dozen of your trained guards, don't you think I could kill one lazy lout like you?"

"...Fine. Take it!" I released him, wary for any sudden movements. The Altmer flung the bronze key at my head. "Once the new owner finds out I gave in, I'm as good as dead, anyways."

Aringoth was gone before I got a chance to rip his limbs off.

I searched the room and found two things of interest. A Queen Bee Statue was next to the elf's bed, and a Bee in a Jar was on the dresser.

I tiptoed into the cellar, hesitant to see if any mercenaries remained.

Almost all of them had made it out, I could hear that much.

"Damn rockfall."

"Surely the thief was crushed, though."

"It killed Vule."

This time, I took care to avoid their room. I didn't want any more death by my hands today. The safe opened easily with the key, and several papers were laid on top of pouches of coins.

I snatched them fled.

...

Once I was back outside the Estate, I saw a patrol of guards heading towards the house.

"Dammit!" I hissed through my teeth, glancing around desperately for the hives. Once I spotted them, I grabbed a torch from the wall and threw it on the hives. At the very last second, I remembered that I was only supposed to burn three. But it was too late.

I escaped into the lake and swam away before the guards could see my face.

...

"I'm very disappointed in you, lass." Brynjolf's tone was soft, but his eyes betrayed his true displeasure. I shifted in my seat uncomfortably.

"What else was I supposed to do?" I countered. "I would have died!"

"Which wouldn't have been such a bad thing," Mercer cut in. "She's a troublemaker, Brynjolf."

"Shut--"

"Don't push him, Russet. You're in the fault here," Brynjolf reminded me. "Maven would like to speak with you in particular." A cold stone of dread settled in my belly.

"Will I come back alive?" His silence was terrifying.

"Just... Just be careful, lass," he told me after what seemed like years.

"I can take..." I was reminded of the man I failed to show mercy to, and the one who didn't deserve it. Brynjolf waited for my response. "I'll do my best."

...

((1st of Frostfall, 4E 202))

The Bee and Barb looked so dark, so foreboding, despite the hearty laughter and music coming from inside. Yet I was told this was where Maven was. I knew that I shouldn't have waited till the next day, but I was exhausted, even as a werewolf.

As soon as I stepped inside, Keerava's mate shot me a dirty look.

"I won't forget what you did to Keerava," he said under his breath. "But you can help make it-"

"No time." I ran up the stairs, and the Black-Briar woman was sitting at a wooden table. She fixed me with a glance that chilled me to the bone. I didn't know what frightened me. I was the Dragonborn, and had the Companions behind me. She couldn't...

"I heard about your failure," she began. Her face betrayed nothing but contempt. "And I wanted to know what in the name of Oblivion you were trying to do."

"Look, I almost got my ass killed out there. I got the information we needed, and that's all that matters."

"You have quite the temper. I think you'd be wise to not cross me. The guards are at my very fingertips. Don't make me angry, petty thief. I'll contact the Dark Brotherhood."

"They wouldn't dare attack me," I retorted, curving my lips into a snarl. "I've brought down dragons, an assassin would be like an insect under my boot."

"Well, then that should make your next orders even easier."

"What?"

"Sabotage Honningbrew Meadery."

Chapter Text

((2nd of Frostfall, 4E 202))

Instead of walking, I took the carriage to Whiterun. I headed to the Bannered Mare. I was told to find a man called Mallus in the Whiterun inn.

Once I entered, I noticed very few people inside. I recognized all of them, I'd been to the Reach many times.

One lone man was in the kitchen, at the very back.

"Can't a man drink in peace?" he slurred when I approached him.

"Maven Black-Briar sent me here about Sabjorn," I informed him.

"Oh, it's you! Well, as I'm sure Maven said, Honningbrew Meadery needs to be put out of business."

"How am I supposed to do that?"

"I'm going to keep this short, because we have a lot to do. Honningbrew's owner, Sabjorn, is about to hold a tasting for Whiterun's Captain of the Guard, and we're going to poison the mead."

"Do you have the poison?"

"No, no. That's the beauty of the whole plan. We're going to get Sabjorn to give it to us."

"What, we're just going to waltz in there and say, "hey, give me some poison so I can ruin your business"?" I scoffed.

"The Meadery has quite a pest problem and the whole city knows about it. Pest poison and mead don't mix well, you know why I mean?

"You're going to happen by and lend a helping hand. He's going to give you the poison to use on the pests, but you're also going to dump it into the brewing bay. Maven and I spent weeks planning this."

"So why didn't you do it before?"

"You don't understand. All we need is someone like you to get in there and get it don't. Now get going before Sanjorn grows a brain and hires someone else to do the dirty work." I felt a bit insulted, but left without another word.

...

I'd gotten the poison from Sabjorn, as well as convincing him to give half my pay up front, and was on my way down the cellar. Bear traps were everywhere. I jabbed a stick in the middle of them to set them off.

There were countless Skeevers. The sword I held was drenched with blood. I was a bit surprised to see that the cellar led into a cave, but I still followed the path.

Skeevers. I reflected on past experiences. I was lucky that my beast blood kept me safe from disease and poison.

"That's it!" I bent down and focused my energy on the form of a wolf. A growl surged through my lips, and claws ripped through my fingers. I felt my face grow longer, and a tail appeared.

I let out a howl and charged forwards. The skeevers stood no chance, and it was much quicker than human feet.

Of course, then I found the lunatic. He cast several ice spells, which slowed me down considerably. I managed to bite his head off. That was fun.

I transformed back into my old self, shuddering from the sudden cold. I quickly clothed myself and placed the poison.

I went through a nearby tunnel, which took me to where the mead was processed. I climbed on one of the barrels and dumped the remainder of the poison in. Finally, I was finished.

I walked over to the door, only to find that it was locked. Unable to be opened. It needed a key. I cursed under my breath and began looking around.

Not in a dresser, or wardrobe, or on a tabletop. I was beginning to wonder if I should go back the way I came when the glint of bronze drew my attention. Oh. The key was right by the door.

I unlocked it and left. Sabjorn was in the main hall, and he snorted when he saw me.

"It's about time you finished up! I've been stalling the captain!"

"Where's the rest of my pay?"

"I'll give it to you once the captain has finished," he promised. I huffed in anger. That wasn't our agreement. The meadery owner turned his attention to the guard. "Now this is Honningbrew Reserve. It's our very best, tipped with the perfect amount of honey and spices."

"Now, Sabjorn. This is mead, not some wine to be sipped and savored!" I watched in amusement as he took a long swig from the tankard... and spit it out. "What have you done?!"

"I... I have no idea what you're talking about!" Sabjorn widened his eyes in shock. Of course he was shocked, this plot had nothing to do with him. It took everything to keep myself from laughing hysterically.

"You assured me that this place was clean! I... I'll see to it that you remain in irons for the rest of your days!" The captain spat, throwing the tankard at Sabjorn's face.

"I can assure you that this is all just a big misunderstanding!" He pleaded. The guard drew his sword and pointed it at him.

"This way, now!" The captain turned to Mallus, who had miraculously appeared. "You, you're in charge around here!" Once they'd left, Mallus turned to me triumphantly.

"Finally. He was absolutely insufferable!" I cracked a smile.

"I need to search through Sabjorn's things," I told him.

"Take this, it'll open the dresser in his room." Mallus handed me a key, and I ran up the stairs. Once I'd unlocked it, several jewels and necklaces spilled out.

"Well, he won't be needing these anymore, will he?" I grinned and put them in one of the hidden pockets of my vest. A slip of paper was hidden underneath clothes, and I folded it up. Once I'd tucked it into my pouch, I noticed an odd little bottle in the other room. The label read, "Honningbrew Decanter".

Delvin might be interested in this.

...

((4th of Frostfall, 4E 202))

When I returned to Riften, I was ambushed by yet more vampires. I was so sick of these things. In general, vampires and werewolves don't mix.

"These vampires are becoming a real menace," I heard one guard mutter to another. She nodded.

"Heard they're reforming the Dawnguard, in that old fort not far from here. Vampire hunters, or something. I'm thinking of joining myself." I considered their words and made a mental note to check it out later.

I asked around for Maven, eventually finding her in the meadery. I looked around and saw an odd symbol on a post.

It took me a moment, but I realized that it was a shadowmark. The "Protected" shadowmark, to be precise. I glanced wistfully at the gold on the counter.

"Yes? I haven't got all day. What do you want?" The voice of Maven took my attention.

"I've run Sabjorn out of Honningbrew Meadery, and Mallus is now in charge of it. He's changing it all to Black-Briar Meadery right now," I reported.

"Good. Did you find anything?" I reached for the paper I'd found and handed it to the black-haired woman. She inspected it thoroughly. "Well, it sounds like someone is doing this to me intentionally. They will pay dearly. Unfortunately, there isn't a name. There's just this odd symbol here." She held out the paper.

"I've seen that symbol before." I observed the mark.

"Where?"

"There's been a note before this, when Goldenglow was sold to someone else."

"Yes. Take this to Mercer Frey. You will not get anything for your failure at the Estate, however, here's something else. Take it and get out of my sight." She tossed a pouch of gold into my hands.

...

"The same symbol from the other letter? Hmm... It's obvious that someone is trying to drive a wedge between Maven and the Guild."

"Clever bastard."

"Don't take my respect for complacency. They will pay dearly."

"Do you know anyone who might be a culprit?"

"It mentions a Gajul-Lei. That was a code name for an old ally of ours in Solitude. His real name is Gulum-Ei, an Argonian. If he's betrayed the Guild..." Mercer's hands shook with anger.

"I'll take care of everything. I'll find Gulum-Ei and force him to tell us what he knows."

"You do that. Speak to Brynjolf first, he should have some information on Gulum-Ei."

I sought out the red-haired Nord and found him conversing with Vex. A twinge of... jealousy?... pricked in my stomach.

"Ahem, Brynjolf? I'd like to have a word with you." Vex snorted, and Brynjolf stood.

"What is it, lass?" I told him what Frey had said, and asked for information on Gulum-Ei. "Gulum-Ei? That Argonian couldn't find his tail with both hands."

"If he can't think for himself, then someone's pulling at his strings like a puppetmaster."

"That makes sense, lass."

"That's why I'm the one with the brains."

"Of course you are," Brynjolf laughed heartily. It felt good to make him laugh. "Gulum-Ei is a fence, and he operates primarily out of the Winking Skeever. You can find Gulum-Ei there much of the time. If not, Sorex Vinius should be able to point you in the right direction."

"Can I expect trouble from Gulum-Ei?" I already knew the answer. Stupid people made dangerous enemies.

"You've got your work cut out for you with that one. He's one of the most stubborn lizards I've ever met."

"Then you haven't gotten into an argument with me."

"I'm hoping I never do."

"Damn right, you better hope."

"Well, you're far from a lizard, lass. So that doesn't count."

"Thanks for the compliment... I think."

He grinned broadly. "Anytime." He regained his business face. "You'll probably have to bribe him. That's the only way to get his attention. If that fails, follow him. He's probably in way over his head, and you might be able to use that as leverage." Brynjolf shifted in his seat.

"Why did you stop using him as a contact?" I inquired, leaning closer.

"He left us, not the other way around. But he's in a pretty cushy position in the Solitude East Empire Company right now."

"So we don't want him dead."

"Definitely not."

"Doesn't his betrayal earn a punishment?"

"We can't afford for Gulum-Ei to die. Keep him alive, lass, and..." Brynjolf hesitated. "Be careful. Now go."

 

Chapter Text


((4th of Frostfall, 4E 202))

Be careful. I ran his sentence over and over in my head. My chest was warm, even though the air was cold. Brynjolf gave me the smallest smile and walked away.

I wondered what I was doing, finally snapping out. The ladder up out of the cistern was icy, and I tried to ignore the chill.

Before I left for Solitude, I decided to buy a new shield, and possibly a new blade. My shield was made of hide, and looked fit only for kindling.

I inspected Grelka's wares and bought an elven shield. After that, I headed out for Solitude.

...

((8th of Frostfall, 4E 202))

The Winking Skeever was right across from Radiant Raiment. I entered and looked around for an Argonian.

"We drink to our youth, to the days come and gone..." The bard plucked at a lute while she sang. I found him sitting in a little space near the door.

"What do you want?"

"We have business."

"I'm sorry, I don't know you," was his reply. I gritted my teeth.

"Let's cut to the chase, shall we?" I slid my blade out and inspected it. I had replaced my old weapon with a silver sword, which I'd 'acquired' from a traveling caravan. I'd never rob the Khajiit, they were almost the only merchants that I was honest with. "I know you've got a hand in Honningbrew Meadery, Gulum-Ei," I hissed, and the Argonian's eyes widened.

"Well, I seem to recall something... But it's not too clear."

"Identify the buyer... And we'll forget what we know," I glared at him menacingly, and he averted his eyes.

"All right! Had I known the deal would have given me this much trouble, I never would have accepted the deal," Gulum-Ei muttered crossly. "All I know is that a woman approached me with a bag of gold."

"I think you're lying to me, lizard," I spat.

"No, I swear!"

"Then tell me why you know." He opened his mouth to reply, but I cut in. "All of it. Otherwise, I'll make myself a new pair of lizardskin boots."

"I already told you everything!" I huffed, and Gulum-Ei stood up. "Goodbye." The Argonian left the tavern.

Only thing to do now is to follow him. I know he's got more to tell me.

...

I silently trailed Gulum-Ei to the East Empire Company Warehouse. I wondered why he was here. He looked around before inserting a key into the door and walking in. I didn't reach the door in time, and it clicked shut. I cursed silently and inserted my pick into the lock.

I managed to open it without too much trouble, but noticed more guards-- mercenaries-- stationed around. Gulum-Ei was fairly far ahead, and I continued to follow him. He turned around without warning, and I hid behind a large mead barrel. He moved into a passageway I hadn't seen before, down a flight of wooden stairs. Water pooled at the bottom, and I shuddered when my foot dipped into the freezing pond.

...

I realized that this was Brinewater Grotto. Ice had crawled up the walls, and I could see my breath. I heard voices up ahead and took out my bow. An arrow was already loaded onto the notch.

I shot one in the neck, and the other sealed his fate by investigating. Their gold and jewels went straight into my pockets. The chest held a fair amount of gold. I resolved to give some to the Guild.

More bandits were beyond the first two, as well as skeevers. Later was a troll, and the skittering of Frostbite Spiders caught my attention.

I hated spiders. I disposed of every sign of life in the cave-- except for the lone Argonian at the very back.

He hadn't seen me. Gulum-Ei held up a torch while looking around impatiently. I drew my bow, aiming carefully. The arrow was released, and flew not an inch from his head. It stuck firmly into the wood behind him.

"I didn't have to miss," I stepped into the light, and he backed away.

"What are you doing here?"

"Tell me the truth, or I'll cut it out of you!" I intended to make good on my promise, and held my blade above his head.

Don't kill him. Brynjolf's voice in my head made me pause. For once, I stepped away. "Tell me what you really know."

"K-Karliah! Her name is Karliah!" I scrunched up my nose.

"You say that name like I should know it."

"Mercer never told you about her?" He choked out incredulously. I glared at him. "She-- she murdered the previous Guildmaster! Mercer never forgave her for that."

"Why did she seek you out? What did she tell you?" Fear filled the Argonian's eyes.

"I don't know! After she gave me the gold, I asked her where she was going. She just looked away and said, "Where the end began." That's all I know, I swear it! Look, here's the paper and the deed as proof!" I took them from his scaled hands.

"I'm keeping this deed," I told him.

"Fine, fine! If... If you let me live, I'll buy your stolen goods. I'll become a fence for you in Solitude." I considered his request and glanced at my silver sword. Did it want bloodshed?

"I accept, Gulum-Ei... But you'd better watch your tail from now on."

...

((12th of Frostfall))

"Karliah? KARLIAH?!?" Mercer roared, and I winced. Several members of the guild looked at the furious man with shock.

"That's what the lizard told me," I confirmed. Mercer murmured something to himself before looking back up at me.

"Clever... Karliah was probably one of the best thieves this guild has ever seen. She brought in more gold in a month than many thieves earn in a year." I was impressed.

"What's your plan?"

"To kill Karliah, and put her spree at an end!" I turned my head curiously, and he walked around the desk. "She murdered our last Guildmaster, Gallus. She charmed him, and they became very close. He called her his 'little nightingale'. He was smitten with her."

"So she 'got close' to Gallus just to murder him?"

"It seems that way. Do you have any more information on where she went?"

"Only one thing. "Where the end began." Do you know what that means?" Mercer curled his hands into a fist.

"It can only mean one thing. Where she murdered Gallus. Snow-Veil Sanctum."

"So your plan is to hunt her down there and kill her?"

"No." I looked at him curiously. So he's just going to let her escape? "My plan is that we will hunt her down and kill her." I was shocked.

"Why me?"

"You've helped the Thieves Guild quite a bit in the last couple months." It was true. I'd taken many jobs from both Delvin and Vex. But that still didn't explain why he wanted me with him.

"Why not Brynjolf? He's more experienced, and knows about Karliah."

"Because I chose you!" Mercer snapped. "Get ready, and meet me here as soon as you're done." He walked away, and I turned around quickly. I smashed right into black leather.

"Ow! What in Oblivion-" I looked into bright green eyes. "Brynjolf, wha-"

"Lass, what's going on? I've never seen Mercer so upset!" I relayed the story as quickly as I could. His mouth tightened into a thin line. "Come with me, into the Flagon." I followed him.

"What do you need?" I sighed once the warmth from the fire settled over me.

"Karliah... I never thought I'd hear her name again."

"What exactly is wrong here?"

"Oh, sorry there. Some of us who've been in the Guild longer knew Gallus. He was strong, wise, and a damn good thief. Karliah and Mercer were the ones nearest to him. Karliah killed Gallus in Snow-Veil Sanctum, and from what Mercer tells us, he barely got out alive." I frowned. Something about this story seems off.

"Mercer wants me to accompany him to Snow-Veil Sanctum. He thinks that's where Karliah is."

"He can't possibly expect you to-" he winced and shut his mouth.

"Expect me to what?"

"I..." He paused, and seemed to have trouble thinking things over. "I don't think you're as... I mean..."

"Worried about me, are you?" I teased warmly.

"Just as I'd be any member of the Guild!" He blustered, and I smiled.

"You didn't ask if Mercer was going to be fine," I pointed out.

"Look, Russet..." He rarely said my name, so I knew that this was a deep conversation. "You're headstrong, brave, and a damn dangerous opponent. But if you're against Karliah, then I don't know if either of you will come out alive." We were both quiet.

"Brynjolf?" He looked up. "I'll be fine."

"I know. Here, take this. It's a charm, to keep you safe." He edged closer and clasped something around my neck.

"I'll come back safely. I promise." I left the tavern with the strangest feeling bubbling in my chest. 
_____

Chapter Text


((19th of Frostfall, 4E 202))

Icy wind buffeted roughly against my face, and I wished desperately for a kind of protection. The open patches on my skin burned with the snow. My teeth chattered, and I tried focusing on warm thoughts. Honey mead, fire, Ragged Flagon... A thought struck me. Brynjolf. A shock ran through me, and I tried forcing the feeling down. It remained.

"Couldn't K-Karliah have killed Gallus somewhere w-w-warmer?" Mercer Frey, I swear to the Nine that if this is a wild goose chase, I will personally take you to Ancient's Ascent and feed you to the dovah, I thought crossly. "Mercer!"

"Good, you're finally here."

"Gods, Mercer!" The snow had quieted his footsteps, and I was fairly sure that ice had formed inside of my ears.

"Well, while I waited for you to get here, I scouted the ruins," he boasted. "I'm certain Karliah is still inside."

"What? You didn't try handling the situation? Did you even see her?" I scoffed, and the Guildmaster narrowed his eyes.

"No, I found her horse... I've taken care of it. She won't be using it to escape. Let's get moving. I want to catch her inside while she's distracted. Take the lead."

"Why can't you lead yourself? I don't know these ruins, and you seem so certain that you know the way."

"I suggest you stop complaining, or I will make sure the Guild knows what you're trying to pull."

"I wouldn't ever murder a guild member!" I retorted, and he sniffed.

"Let's just hope so." I felt that there was a hidden message behind those words, but chose to ignore it.

I trudged silently towards the ruins, fuming silently. The quiet mockery coming from Mercer thickened when I stopped at a door. It was stopped shut from the other side, and I put a pin in the lock. If you scouted the ruins, then why is the door locked?

I hissed in anger when yet another lockpick snapped.

"They say that these ancient Nordic burial mounds are sometimes impenetrable," Mercer told me. "I don't know what the fuss is about these locks. All it takes is a little bit of know-how and a lot of skill." I noticed a flash of blue in his hand as he picked the lock with ease. The door swung open. "After you, Russet," he cackled. I fought the urge to Fus Ro Dah his ass to Paarthurnax.

...

The ruins were cold, but at least torches adorned the walls. I wondered why. The bitter smell of Draugr assaulted my nose.

"By the Eight..." Mercer said, disgusted. I coughed, not just because of the stench. Damn him. Talos is as much a Divine as Akatosh. Mercer choked. "It reeks of death."

"Of course it does, this is a burial crypt, genius!" I rolled my eyes, and was given a glare from the Guild's leader.

"It means there could be Draugr about. Stay on your guard."

It wasn't too long before we passed the undead. I sneaked past most of them, when Mercer deliberately shouted out, "Draugr!" They woke from their deathly slumber.

"Shut up, Frey!" I snapped as I swung my blade at one of the rotting carcasses that ran at me. Finally, they all were truly dead. I looked at Mercer smugly.

Once I'd scanned ahead, I saw several of the beasts resting in the walls. I knew a trick to this. If they had no clothing, then they were deader than the stones I walked on. If they did wear something, then they thirsted for blood.

I drew my bow and shot one in the throat. It barely moved before the shock killed it in full.

"Sneaking past these Draugr must have been child's play for Karliah," the Bretonmentioned as he stuck a Dwarven sword into a living corpse.

"The same would have gone for me had you not been here," I muttered. He didn't hear me-- or at least didn't seem to.

We walked on, killing Draugr and avoiding traps until we came to a Word Wall. I smirked at Mercer and walked closer to it, enjoying the consternation on his face as the literal knowledge of the Shout poured into my soul. Disarm, I thought. I focused on it and looked back at him.

"Don't think you're anything special, Russet," he grumbled. "Fancy magic is nothing to boast about."

"It's not magic," I protested sharply, but the clatter of a coffin lid interrupted me. "Dammit!" A Draugr Deathlord crawled out, and I hissed in annoyance. "Yol Toor Shul!" It was blown backwards, and fire began to melt off its battered skin. Mercer swung at it, until I finally ended its unlife with an arrow to the head.

I searched the chest next to the coffin, and silently cheered as I found at least a dozen gems and a couple hundred gold pieces.

I continued to use the Voice to attack my enemies until we came to a puzzle door. I searched around for the claw.

"Ah, it's one of the infamous Nordic puzzle doors. How quaint," Mercer sneered. "Without the matching claw, they're normally impossible to open. Since I'm certain Karliah already did away with it, we're on our own. Fortunately, these doors have a weakness, if you know how to exploit it. Quite simple, really."

"If it was really all that simple, then I would have learned it by now."

"Shut up, Dragonborn," he snapped. I watched as he pushed on the rings. Once again, a flash of blue was outlined on his hands before the door rumbled and opened.

"There. Karliah's close, I'm certain of it. Now let's get moving, Russet." Something in his tone set me on edge. I shrugged off the feeling of foreboding and continued forwards. "Be careful."

I was reminded of Brynjolf, and a wave of warmth rushed through me. I hated to admit it, and I refused to even think about it. Mercer's voice wasn't half as kind or comforting. I tried to imagine Bryn with me instead of the surly Breton.

I almost smiled. Then the air crackled with tension. My ears registered the quick sound of a bowstring, and I tried jumping out of the way. I didn't react quickly enough, and an arrow burrowed itself into my stomach. I cried out in pain, cursing Karliah with every thought I had. I barely had any energy to speak.

This aching, this pulling at my limbs... was it the promise of death? Were the Daedric princes coming for my soul? I imagined Hircine laughing, before I realized that it was Mercer. Why would Mercer be laughing? Why couldn't I move? That's it, I thought dimly. She poisoned it... I waited for Mercer to realize that I'd fallen.

I knew that Karliah's death was important, but I was dying at the moment. I couldn't even reach my sword.

Brynjolf once again crossed my mind, and I was forced to acknowledge the undeniable strength in him. I'm so sorry, Brynjolf. I wasn't careful, I'm dying... forgive me... I wondered what his reaction would be when Mercer returned to the guild. He'd rejoice when the news of Karliah's death was relayed, but my demise? Would the cheers be cut short, would they mourn me? Would any of them care?

Would Bryn?

A small elf seemed to almost materialize from the shadows. A Dunmer. Another arrow was perched on her bow, and Mercer seemed overconfident. I'm dying, asshole!

"Do you honestly think that your arrow will hit me before my blade finds your heart?"

"Give me a reason to try," Karliah hissed. Her voice was smooth, hardly one that I'd pin as a murderer. It was clear how Gallus had trusted her enough for her to kill him.

I wasn't fading yet, but I knew I was dying. The poison was slowing my heartbeat, and I knew that it was going to be a slow and painful end.

"You're a clever girl, Karliah," Mercer growled at her. He advanced, holding the bronze blade above his head. "Buying Goldenglow Estate and funding Honningbrew Meadery was inspired."

"To ensure an enemy's defeat, you must first undermine his allies. Do you remember that? It was the very first lesson Gallus taught us." Why would she care about a man she'd destroyed herself?

"You always were a quick study," Mercer responded venomously.

"Not quick enough, otherwise Gallus would still be alive." I was confused, and I knew that it wasn't just the paralysis drugging my mind down.

"Gallus had his wealth and he had you. All he had to do was look the other way."

"Did you forget the oath we took as Nightingales?" My mind was running in circles with all of this new information. "Did you expect him to simply ignore your methods?" Nightingales didn't exist. I had no idea what in the name of Oblivion was going on.

"Come, Karliah! It's time for you and Gallus to become reunited!" Karliah shimmered and disappeared as his sword flashed.

"I'm no fool, Mercer. Crossing blades with you would be a death sentence." Her voice was getting farther away. "But I can promise... the next time we meet will be your undoing."

She left. I tried speaking, trying to get Mercer's attention. Then I wondered if it was the best idea... it sounded like...

"How interesting. It seems that Gallus's history has repeated itself." That Karliah has killed two members of the Thieves Guild, ironically in the same place? "Karliah has provided me with the means to be rid of you, and this ancient tomb becomes your final resting place." You bastard!  I wanted to scream. You traitorous snake, I swear that when we get back to the guild...

There would be no guild for me. Nothing else for me there... my death was approaching swiftly. "But you know what intrigues me the most? The fact that this was all possible because of you, Russet." I noticed a dagger in his hand. Don't you dare! They'll kill you for this, Mercer... but how would they know I was murdered? "Farewell, Dragonborn. I'll be sure to give Brynjolf your regards." The betrayal of the Guildmaster shook me, but not as much as the last words I heard.

Brynjolf. Oh, Divines! Show mercy, I beg you! Forgive me for my sins, please! Save me from Hircine, please! Don't let me die... don't let me die!

I choked as the dagger plunged into my chest, and he increased the pain as he twisted it around. Blood bubbled out of my chest and mouth. I knew death was coming for me.

Brynjolf... I'm so sorry...

Chapter Text

((11th of Sun's Dusk, 4E 202))

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

I paced back and forth in the Flagon. My head snapped up when I heard the door open. It was only Vex.

"Brynjolf." Vekel tapped my shoulder. "Snap out of it. They're fine. Mercer's with Russet." I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"They've been gone for almost three weeks. What if they..." I couldn't bring myself to finish the sentence.

"They're fine, Brynjolf. Calm down." I shook my head.

"I'm going to Snow Veil Sanctum. At the very least..." I swallowed. "If the worst did come to pass, then I'd rather bury them here than have them rot away in a Nordic ruin."

"Brynjolf, for all you know, they could walk in this door right now." As if on cue, the iron door to the Flagon creaked and opened.

"Mercer, thank the Divines you're alive!"

"Don't thank me just yet," Mercer growled.

"What do you mean?" I looked behind our Guildmaster. "Where's the lass?" I hoped that I sounded less worried than I really was.

"Russet is dead." The way he said those three words struck me like a dagger to the heart. It was cold, almost uncaring.

"She's not dead, she's too strong..."

"Brynjolf, she's dead. I saw Karliah shoot her in the heart. After I tried to fight her off, she stabbed your thief in the stomach."

"How are you?" Sapphire asked. She didn't care that Russet was...

"Karliah stuck me with a poisoned arrow. Took me a while to get here because of that." After that, my vision blurred. My hearing stopped. I couldn't feel. Russet was dead.

The red-haired lass with a tongue sharper than the finest sword. The bright-eyed girl with the soul of a dragon. The strong lass with a temper that burned any who dared to provoke it.

I cursed Karliah with every ounce of my being. She'd murdered my Guildmaster. She'd betrayed the guild. She'd murdered my lass.

I let out a choking noise from the back of my throat, and Vex looked at me curiously.

"You okay?"

"The lass was a good thief. I'll miss her."

"Is that the only reason?" She asked dubiously. No, it isn't.

"Yes."

"She was my friend too, Bryn." It was true. They'd constantly spoken, and I could tell they'd been good friends. "It's hard to lose her, but we have to go on. The guild still needs coin. It always will."

But I still need Russet. I always will.

Chapter Text

 

((27th of Frostfall, six days after the crypt, 4E 202))

I slowly came to, and my vision was fogged. I became aware of someone putting a spoonful of something in my mouth. After that, I passed out once more.

...
((Sun's Dusk))
((Evening Star))
...
((8th of Evening Star, 49 days after the attack, 4E 202))

I'd gone in and out of consciousness. All I was aware of was pain, and I wondered if this was the afterlife. If it was, then it sucked. I supposed that Sheogorath had claimed my soul, or perhaps Hircine. I swear, I'd pledged myself to so many Daedric princes that a damn war would break out deciding who would take me.

I opened my eyes, but quickly shut them when blinding light burst through. I climbed to my feet.

"Easy, easy... don't get up so quickly. How are you feeling?" That voice... it didn't sound like one of the Daedra. I covered my eyes with my hand and slowly peeked. A dark elf stood in front of me, concern evident on her face. I recognized her as Karliah.

"What do you mean--" Understanding dawned upon me. "Hey! You shot me!"

"No, I saved your life. My arrow was dipped with a unique paralytic poison. It slowed your heart and kept you from bleeding out. Had I intended to kill you, we wouldn't be having this conversation." I was puzzled.

"Why save me?"

"My original intention was to use that arrow on Mercer, but I never had a clear shot. I made a split second decision to get you out of the way, and it prevented your death."

"Then..." I hesitated, running this through my head. "Then I am in your debt."

"More than you'll ever realize," the Dunmer muttered, and I wondered if I was meant to hear it. "The poison on that arrow took me a year to perfect. I only had enough for one shot. All I had hoped was to capture Mercer alive."

"Why capture Mercer alive?"

Karliah shook her head. "Mercer must be brought before the Guild to answer for what he has done. He needs to pay for Gallus's murder," she spat, and the hatred in her eyes made me believe her.

"I'll help you in any way I can," I promised. Mercer had killed Gallus, and tried to kill me. "How will you prove it now?" That was one flaw in the plan. Every member of the Thieves Guild believed that Karliah was a murderer, they would never believe her word over Mercer's.

"My purpose in using Snow Veil Sanctum wasn't simply for irony's sake. Before both of you arrived, I recovered a journal from Gallus's remains. I suspect the information needed is written inside."

"What does it say?"

"I wish I knew. The journal is written in some sort of language I've never seen before." I contemplated her words. I could read and write many kinds of elvish.

"Let me see it." She handed it to me. The pages held odd symbols, nothing like anything I'd seen before. "I... I don't know what this is," I confessed.

"I wouldn't have thought so. But I know someone who might be able to help us. Enthir, Gallus's friend from the College of Winterhold. He's the only outsider Gallus trusted with the knowledge of his Nightingale identity."

"There's that word again... 'Nightingale'." I hoped for an explanation I'd understand. Karliah sat down on the bedroll, staring ahead as if lost in thought. I followed her example.

"There were three of us; myself, Gallus, and Mercer. We were an anonymous splinter of the Thieves Guild in Riften. Perhaps I'll tell you more later. Right now, you need to head for Winterhold with the journal and get the translation. Here, take these as well. They may prove useful on your journey." She handed me several poisons, and I placed them carefully in my bag.

"I'll be back as soon as I can."

...

((10th of Evening Star, 4E 202))

I got into the College of Winterhold with no problem. The guard soon let me in when I told her I was Dragonborn. Enthir was upstairs, once I managed to track him down.

"These etchings look like Falmer writings."

"So there's no way to translate it?" My heart fell. Mercer's poisonous influence would seep through the Guild, through every member. Even through Brynjolf... I just noticed that Enthir was staring at me.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Distractible for a thief," he commented, but didn't say anything else about it. "You'll have to go to Calcemo, in Markarth. He's an expert on Dwarven ruins."

"Thank you," I responded, rushing out. I sighed and once again began a long trek to Markarth.

...

((17th of Evening Star, 4E 202))

At least a week passed before I made it to the stone city. I saw someone sneaking up on a woman with a knife in their hand, and before he got a chance, I shot him in the back of the neck. The woman-- Margret, I believe-- screamed in terror.

"Halt! You have committed crimes against--"

"Okay, did nobody see that man with a dagger in his hand? He was going to kill her!"

"Oh, I won't be taking that from you!" The guard brandished his sword, and I sighed.

"I'm with the Guild," I murmured. "How about you... look the other way?" I dumped a pouch of several hundred gold in his hand. He gaped at it.

"You... move along before you get me in trouble with the other guards." I nodded and left for Understone Keep.

...

"No, no, no!" I stepped back. "You cannot see my works until they have been finished."

"All I want is to see your marvelous works," I persuaded. "You are the most knowledgeable of anyone about these Dwarven artifacts." He puffed his chest out in pride.

"You were well informed. I'm glad to see someone so eager as you. Perhaps you can see it." I grinned as he gave me the key. His translations were in the study, and it wouldn't be so hard to-- "You can visit the museum, but please stay out of my study. Now go, I have important work to get started on." Damn.

The museum was easy to get through, but I had to make sure the guards were looking the other way when I unlocked the study door.

As soon as I entered, the chattering of voices told me that he'd hired mercenaries. Thanks to Delvin, slipping past them was no problem at all. I finally arrived in Calcemo's workplace, and looked around for papers on Falmer writing. Then I saw the stone tablet.

"You have got to be kidding me," I muttered. An idea came into my mind, and I grabbed some paper from his desk. Charcoal was nearby. I covered the stone, and got a rubbing of the symbols.

"I swear I heard something in here," an unknown voice said. I must've closed the drawer louder than I thought! I stayed in the shadows.

"Leave it be, Ashar," an Orc answered. "These Dwarven machines make a lot of noise."

"I suppose." I waited until they truly left before continuing along the way I'd come. The mercenaries remained oblivious to my trespassing.

The guards didn't see me come out of the study, and I passed them without repercussions.

...

((24th of Evening Star, 4E 202))

Both Karliah and Enthir were waiting at Winterhold's inn. I handed Enthir the papers, and he raised an eyebrow.

"I suppose it would be inappropriate to ask how you obtained this." The elf unrolled the paper. "A rubbing, eh? Odd, I expected notes." Enthir studied the paper and Gallus's journal. "Hmm..."

"What is it?" I asked.

"This is intriguing, yet highly disturbing. It appears that Gallus was suspicious of Mercer's allegiance to the Guild for months," Enthir replied. "Gallus had begun to uncover what he calls 'an unduly lavish lifestyle replete with spending vast amounts of gold on personal pleasures'."

"Does the journal say where the wealth came from?" I'd never heard an accent like Karliah's, so it was always interesting to hear her speak.

"Yes. Gallus seems certain that Mercer had been stealing funds from the Guild's treasury without anyone's knowledge," he replied. He was sweating.

"Anything else? Anything about... the Nightingales?"

"Yes, here it is," the elf responded once he'd flipped a few pages. "The last few pages seem to describe 'the failure of the Nightingales', but it doesn't go into great detail. Gallus also repeatedly mentions his strong belief that Mercer desecrated something known as the Twilight Sepulcher." I heard Karliah take in a sharp breath.

"Shadows preserve us... so it's true..."

"I... I'm not familiar with the Twilight Sepulcher. What is it? What has Mercer done?"

"I'm sorry, Enthir. I can't say. All that matters is that we deliver your translation to the Guild immediately. Farewell, Enthir. Words can't express..." Karliah sounded like she was choking up. I noticed drops at the corners of her eyes, and realized that she was crying.

"It's alright, Karliah." Enthir waved it off. "You don't have to say a word." The pretty Dunmer nodded and left. I returned my attention to Enthir. "Listen, all I want is the truth to be revealed to the Guild. They respected Karliah, and she deserves better. Do whatever you can, and I'd consider it to be a personal favor." He sounded a little wistful, and I almost laughed out loud. It was clear to me that he was in love with Karliah.

"I'll do whatever I can, Enthir," I promised solemnly, swearing to the Divines. I'd just turned to leave when he cleared his throat.

"If trying to rid yourself of stolen goods becomes a burden, and you happen to be in Winterhold, come visit me at the College. I've been known to handle items of... questionable interest and I will see what I can do. Farewell."

"And to you, Enthir." I paused. "Thank you."

...

I found Karliah sitting near the bar. She looked up when I approached her.

"Enthir wanted to thank me for finding the translation," I explained.

"We must hasten to Riften before Mercer can do any more damage to the Guild."

"Before we head for the Guild..." Karliah stared at me. "Gallus said something about the Twilight Sepulcher. What exactly is that?" The Dunmer beckoned as she stood up.

"You've come this far. I see no reason to conceal it any longer." Her eyes focused on something else. Several people in the inn had their eyes on us. "Let us talk on the road. There are too many ears to hear these words."

...

"The Twilight Sepulcher is the sacred temple of Nocturnal."

"Wouldn't the shrine itself be a temple?"

"In a way," Karliah agreed. "But the Twilight Sepulcher is for Nightingales." She turned her head, and I knew she was in deep thought. I did the same thing. "It is what Nightingales are sworn to protect with their lives."

"Mercer didn't exactly keep that vow," I mentioned crossly, and Karliah's expression turned dark.

"No one expected betrayal from within our little circle."

"Is that why it requires special protection? Against everything?"

"The Twilight Sepulcher wasn't built to be desecrated. It wasn't prepared for an inside attack."

"Then why create an elite force?"

"Everything that represents Nocturnal's influence is contained within the walls of the Sepulcher. Now it seems that Mercer's broken his oath with Nocturnal--"

"And defiled the very thing he swore to protect," I finished. "Still, thieves and temples... it just doesn't add up."

"I felt the same way when Gallus first revealed these things to me," she admitted. "I think, given time, you'll understand what I mean." There was something beneath those words, and I knew that she was hiding something from me.

"I'd understand better if less mystery was involved, Karliah."

"As a Nightingale, I have been sworn to secrecy regarding the Sepulcher. I know the Guild doesn't do much to foster faith..."

"Believe me, Karliah. I'd rather trust my life to anyone in the Guild-- except Mercer and Sapphire-- than even the entire city guard."

"Really? A bunch of thieves over trained protectors?" I shrugged my shoulders. "Well, then... please. I'm going to have to ask you to continue to trust me," Karliah pleaded.

"Very well," I consented. "We'll do it your way for now."

"I'll make for Riften and scout the situation to see what Mercer's up to. When you're ready, come meet me at the Ragged Flagon. In the meantime, I want you to have this."

"Have what?" She didn't have anything in her hands, and there was no pack to be seen. Yet she produced a black blade from nowhere. She chuckled slightly at my surprise.

"It belonged to Gallus, but... given the circumstances, I think he'd approve." I took the the sword from her hand and admired it. A symbol rested on the hilt, a raven with a sphere above it. It was the same marking that was on Gallus's journal. I exchanged my own for this new one, and felt a rush of pride.

I wondered what Brynjolf would say when I returned, safe and alive. Surely Mercer would have told them I was dead, by the fault of Karliah's. He'd never tell them that he'd tried to murder me in cold blood.

Surely they would greet me with warmth and joy... right?

...

((31st of Evening Star, 4E 202))

These thoughts troubled me all the way to Riften, and the second I stepped into the city, I knew that something was wrong... something was horribly wrong.

Chapter Text


__________

((28th of Evening Star, 3 days before Russet's return, 4E 202))

((MERCERPOV))

I'd just finished gathering everything from the safe. Those idiots didn't know I was inside, or that everything they'd ever worked for was in my possession.

One more thing to do... I'd noticed only too easily how 'distraught' Brynjolf was after the little thief was taken care of. Clearly, he'd been attached to her more than he let on. Might as well shatter that too.

"Brynjolf, I need to speak with you." I sat down in front of him, and laughed inside when I saw his red-rimmed eyes. He'd-- he'd been crying? Ha! Oh, this was rich...

"Mercer." It wasn't a question, or an answer. It was simply a statement, empty of feeling.

"I... I have to tell you the truth about Russet." Immediately, he began paying more attention.

"Is she alive?"

"Yes..." He grinned broadly, and I knew I would enjoy these next few words. "Unfortunately." Brynjolf stiffened.

"What do you mean... 'unfortunately'?"

"Russet was behind the entire operation. She fooled us. When we arrived at Snow Veil Sanctum, she led me to the inner chamber... where Karliah waited to ambush me. Russet brought me straight to Karliah."

"It can't be true. No, the lass isn't a murd-"

"I'm afraid she is. Before she escaped, I found a note from her, saying that she was planning on eliminating us all until she became the Guildmaster." The sorrow in his eyes morphed to disbelief, confusion, and finally anger.

"She charmed us all," he growled. "Damn you, Russet!" I actually smiled. Everyone in the Flagon looked at the Nord.

"What's wrong, Bryn? Had too much ale again?"

"Oh, I'm just fine, Vekel," he spat. "If anyone sees Russet, kill her on sight. I don't care how close you grew to her. She's a liar and a murderer."

"Bryn, aren't you handling this..." Vex questioned, and he spun around.

"Mercer told me the truth about her. She deceived us all, and was plotting to murder us!" Nervous chattering broke out. Brynjolf raised his voice so everyone could hear. "Russet is a traitor! If any of you see her, whether here or outside, kill her. A thousand coins goes to whoever brings me her head!"

Those were the last words I heard before I left the Flagon for the last time, my plans safely tucked away.

Chapter Text

((31st of Evening Star, 4E 202))

I hesitantly walked along the streets, feeling like something was going to leap at me at any second. I made my way behind the Temple of Mara and pushed the button on the coffin. Sure enough, it skidded open. I never knew how people never investigated the grating noise. Once I walked down the stone steps, I tried opening the trapdoor. No luck. It was locked.

"I could have sworn I had the key somewhere," I muttered. I checked every pocket I had, as well as the satchel. Nothing. "Did I drop it?" I knew there was no time to worry about it now. I'd have to go through the Ratway, that wouldn't be locked.

...

I stood outside the door. Once so friendly, I felt negative energy hanging in the air. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door to prepare myself for whatever was ahead.

...

I saw Karliah in the Flagon, and everyone seemed on edge. I pulled the hood further over my head, hoping that I wouldn't be recognized. I had to find Brynjolf and tell him what had happened.

"Karliah, it's me," I whispered. The Dunmer faced me.

"I'm glad you're here. I think some of these people are beginning to suspect who I am."

"That's understandable. Mercer... Mercer put such a massive target on your back, you're nearly impossible to miss." We both stood, wordless.

"Are you ready to face the Guild?" Karliah questioned, breaking the silence. I felt unnerved by the lack of hope in her eyes.

"...No. But we don't have a choice. I can only hope that I can talk to them before they..." my throat closed, and my speech was cut off.

"Let's go, Russet. I know you're nervous... but we can't waste time." Karliah was right. My feelings couldn't get in the way of what had to be done.

"You're right... I'm not ready, but let's go."

"Keep your eyes open. I'm not sure what to expect when we..." We both walked into the lit area of the Flagon, and I flinched when Vekel glared at me directly. Still, I covered my face and walked on. Karliah did the same.

Once we passed the cupboard, I wondered what would happen. Would Mercer be there, behind his desk? Would he be surprised when I walked in, alive and well? What would Brynjolf say when he learned I lived?

Would he call my name joyfully, or would he just greet me? I hoped that he would welcome me with as much love as I would for him. With how close I came to death, I realized that I couldn't put anything off. If something needed to be said, then let it be said before it becomes too late.

I opened the door, my heart thudding loudly. Three people noticed the movement and came my way. I rejoiced when I saw one of them was Brynjolf.

"Brynjolf, I'm--" A sword was to my neck in a second, and I let out several tears when I saw him holding the hilt. Pure hatred was in his eyes, none of the happiness or warmth that I had grown to love. There was no mischievous glint in his green eyes, only the flames of fury.

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't cut you apart." I stepped back slowly, the tears now flowing freely down my face. His expression didn't change in the slightest.

"Bryn, please, just--"

"You better have a damn good reason to be here with that murderer. Of course, you're not much better... are you, lass?" He snarled vehemently.

I shoved down my feelings of regret. Of shame. Of fear. Of love. I emptied myself of everything. His words ran in my head, over and over again. My blood boiled.

"Brynjolf, just listen to me." I brushed away the wetness on my face.

"I can't believe it. You of all people. You." I opened my mouth to speak, but he didn't let me. "You worthless, backstabbing, traitorous bitch!" Every emotional tie snapped.

"Excuse me?" I said dangerously.

"You heard me. A worthless. Backstabbing. Traitorous. Bitch." His face was close to mine now.

"I've done nothing to you! You bastard, I hate you! I hate you!!" I glared with the fury of a thousand suns, and opened my mouth. A rough hand covered it.

"Please! Lower your weapons so we can speak. I have proof you've all been mislead!" Karliah pleaded.

"Why should we trust you?" Vex snapped, and I realized that she'd been behind Brynjolf.

"I know I can't give you a reason... but I beg of you, listen!" Brynjolf sheathed his weapon, and Karliah removed her hand. They were lucky she had done so, or I'd have Shouted them all apart.

"No tricks Karliah," Brynjolf warned. "Or I'll cut you both down where you stand. Now, what's this so-called proof?"

I curled my lip at the arrogant Nord. "We have Gallus's journal. I think you'll find its contents disturbing." With an angry glance, I let him pass and take the little book. Brynjolf leafed through the book swiftly, his eyes widening with each turn.

"No... it can't be. It can't. This can't be true. I've known Mercer too long."

"I thought I knew who you were. Guess we were both wrong, huh?" I snapped, and Brynjolf looked up hesitantly. My head was still spinning from his insults, and I wasn't about to be shamed into submission.

"It's true, Brynjolf. Mercer has been stealing from the Guild for years, right under your noses," Karliah whispered.

"There's only one way to find out if what Russet says is true. Delvin, I'll need you to open the vault."

"Wait just a damned moment, Brynjolf. What's in that book? What did it say?" We all followed the Nord across the stone bridge.

"It says Mercer's been stealing from us for years. Gallus was looking into it before he was murdered," Brynjolf replied.

"How can Mercer open up a vault that needs two keys? It's impossible! Could he pick his way in?" Delvin sounded like he didn't quite believe the story.

"That door has the best puzzle locks money can buy. There's no way it can be picked open," Vex put in, a hint of pride in her tone.

"He didn't need to pick the lock." Karliah motioned to the vault.

"Wha's she goin' on about?" Delvin looked at the Dunmer as if she'd suddenly grown two heads.

"Use your key to open the lock, Delvin," Brynjolf ordered. "We'll open it up and find out the truth."

"I would never lie to you, Brynjolf. I wouldn't lie to anyone in the Guild."

"We'll see," he said, with much less conviction than before. Delvin returned, spinning his key around his finger.

"I used my key, but the vault's still locked up tighter than a drum. Now use yours." As Brynjolf walked towards the safe, an uneasy feeling rested in the pit of my stomach. What if Mercer hadn't taken anything yet? What if it looked exactly the same as it always had?

The click of the lock as Brynjolf opened the safe seemed to echo around the whole cistern. The door opened, and I could hear the gasps from the other Guild members when they walked inside.

"By the Eight! It's gone!! Everything's gone!! Get in here, all of you!" Brynjolf's demand was unnecessary, because we were already inside.

"The gold, the jewels! It's all gone!" Delvin shouted, and Brynjolf gave me an apologetic look.

"Don't even," I muttered.

"That son of a bitch! I'll kill him!" Vex screamed, running around. Her hand gripped her weapon so hard I could have sworn that her bones would break.

"Vex, put it away. Right now," Brynjolf commanded. "We can't afford to lose our heads. We need to calm down and focus."

"Yes, no one has ever brought out a weapon because they were pissed off at someone," I growled at Brynjolf.

Vex hesitated, looking between us. "Fine. We do it your way. For now."

"I'd suggest we don't do things his way for long. We've seen how his decisions end, haven't we?" Brynjolf winced at my sharp words.

"Delvin, Vex, watch the Flagon. If you see Mercer, come tell me right away." The two headed off. "Russet, please listen to me."

"Brynjolf, I wouldn't even try." I waved him off and began to walk away. I felt his strong hand grip my wrist.

"You have to understand. I didn't know--" I ripped my arm out of his grasp.

"But you didn't wait to find out, did you? You'd have killed me where I stood!" He opened his mouth to protest, but I didn't let him finish. "You didn't even listen to me! You were ready to slit my neck! Tell me what I did to make you distrust me, Brynjolf!"

I knew he wouldn't find an answer. While he floundered about, I continued.

"Exactly! I've done nothing to any of you. I would have defended you all with my life, including Sapphire! I would have taken a blade to my own chest before allowing it to enter any of yours. But you refused to so much as pay attention!"

"Sorry, lass.. it's just that I... I had important things to do, and I was--"

"Leave me alone, Brynjolf." I hated how my voice cracked at the end. "Just leave me alone." I ran out of the cistern.

...

Chapter Text

 

((31st of Evening Star, one hour after the incident, 4E 202))

I ran out of Riften with fury still feeding on my mind.

"Everything I've done for you was just tossed away! I gave you no reason to distrust me!!" I screamed, and the guards looked at me with concern. I ran farther, the anger giving me strength. Each word I spoke rumbled the ground. Eventually, my voice grew hoarse.

Sorry, lass. Sorry, lass. Sorry lass.

"Sorry, lass!!" I screamed, and the force of my voice blew the water half a mile into the sky. My mouth grew warm, and I knew that it had begun to bleed from the pressure. I ignored my raw throat and continued. "Sorry lass, I couldn't pay attention to you because I had important things to do! I didn't listen to you because I can't trust you! Nobody likes you, and everything's all your fault!"

A cold bit of metal rubbed against my hand when I wrapped my hands around my throat. I pulled off a necklace and realized that it was what Brynjolf put around my neck so many months ago. It was in the shape of a little silver dragon, with little bits of emeralds for eyes. My fingers clasped around the amulet and tore it off. "Fine! Fine!! You ass, I can't believe I ever trusted you!!" With all of my strength, I hurled the charm out into the lake. "I hate you!" The sky rumbled, and rain

I headed towards Goldenglow. It was my house now. Well, I had the deed. That counted. The bodies had been cleared out. I laid down in the top bed and waited.

My thoughts whirled around, constantly biting and clawing. What's the best armor and weapon worth when the real enemy is inside?

I realized how childish my actions were. I wouldn't forgive him-- I didn't know if I would-- but the Thieves Guild still deserved my full loyalty. Nothing could get between my love for the Guild and my duty. But inside, deep inside, I knew that every word I'd said was false. I finally admitted it.

"I love him." If he'd truly loved me, then he'd have listened. Bryn would have listened... my eyes slowly closed.

Chapter Text

They found Russet's body a day later. Some say she was poisoned, others claim it was black magic. But both Brynjolf and Karliah knew the real reason. Russet died from a broken heart.

Only those closest to her came to the funeral. Even P--

Just kidding! :D
Did you think that was real? 

____

((1st of Morning Star, 4E 203))

I returned the next morning, after having composed myself. I steeled myself to face Brynjolf.

This time, the cistern's trapdoor was unlocked. I nearly slipped on the steps under the coffin, remembering the storm I'd unintentionally conjured.

Both Niruin and Rune gave me kind looks when I walked through, and I smiled at them both. They'd not wronged me.

"Russet, come here." Sapphire called from the table. She looked around uneasily as I sat beside her. We both sat quietly for a while.

"What's your real name?" I blurted, and she shifted.

"Look, I don't really know anyone here. Why do you care anyway? It's not like we're family. This is a business." I recognized the 'tough girl' act, given away by the tension in her body.

"Something had to happen to make you this angry," I reasoned. "And me simply asking you to drop Shadr's debt couldn't have done it."

"Look, you want to know about me? All right, I'll tell you. I'll tell you about the time I was a young girl, barely out of her teens... living on a pig farm in the middle of nowhere. Didn't have a coin to spend between our entire family. Ate the same slop we fed our livestock."

"That sounds horrible," I murmured. Sapphire snorted.

"Oh wait... it gets much better. How about the fact that our farm was attacked by bandits, and that they killed my entire family who didn't even brandish a weapon against them. Here's the best part. They took me as a prize, and violated me for a fortnight. Tossed me from bandit to bandit like... like..." I noticed tears spilling out from her eyes.

"Oh, no..." I pulled her into an embrace. "You don't... you don't have to say anything else."

"It's fine... I had to tell someone, I suppose. Carrying around a weight like that... it hurts after a while. Cuts you inside like a dagger to the heart."

"How did you escape?"

"Over time, I managed to gain their confidence. Then one night I grabbed a knife, waited until they fell asleep, and cut their throats. I never returned to that pig farm, you know. There's nothing for me there."

"You've had a rough time. Why did you keep this in?"

"I felt like I couldn't trust anyone. I'd be seen as weak." She let out a pained sigh. "I guess I can't seem any more weak than I am next to you-- especially you. You're the almighty Dragonborn, and helped us find the truth about Mercer." It dawned on me. She'd given me a hard time because she was jealous.

"Sapphire, you don't have anything to worry about. I've never met anyone as brave as you. With how long you kept this in... it must have taken so much."

"Thank you, Russet..." I must have been at least five or ten years younger than her, but I still felt like the older sister comforting her. "You know, when Mercer came back, telling us at first how Karliah had murdered you, I couldn't believe it."

"But I'm alive, thanks to Karliah. I'm glad she saved my life." I heard shuffling and glared at the crowd that had gathered to watch us. "Beat it." They grumbled and went back to work.

"I think Brynjolf's looking for you," Sapphire nudged me. "Better get going."

"He can take his words and shove them up his--"

"Lass, come here."

"Brynjolf, I don't care what you say."

"I know you want to forgive me, Russ."

"All I want now is to get this job done and kill Mercer." He stood on the bridge, dumbfounded.

"Fine. You don't have to like me," he began. I don't like you, Bryn. I love you. Which is why I hate you for spurning me. "But I'd like you to trust me."

"I might as well," I groaned, joining him.

"Before I have you help track Mercer down, I need to know what you learned from Karliah. And I mean everything."

"Well, Karliah dislikes leeks, and I discovered that--"

"You know what I mean, Russet. If you can get along with Saph, then you can get along with me."

"Fine. For starters, Mercer killed Gallus. Not Karliah." Brynjolf looked at the ground.

"Aye... I feared that was the case. From that last entry in Gallus's journal, it looked like he was getting close to exposing Mercer to the Guild."

I looked to the side, where Rune was trying to arm-wrestle Thrynn. "Gallus, Karliah, and Mercer were Nightingales."

"What? I've always assumed that was just a tale. Just a way to keep young footpads in line." He stroked his beard slightly. "Was there anything else she told you?"

"Karliah was behind Goldenglow and Honningbrew."

"Trying to make Mercer look bad in front of Maven, eh? Clever lass," he praised. I hissed in annoyance. "Was there anything else?"

"I learned that you're an ass. Does that count?"

Bryn sighed. "No, lass. It doesn't."

"At least you admit it."

"I need you to be serious, Russet. I've got an important task for you."

"Like walking for days into a damn burial crypt, weeks in the freezing cold, and months in the most dangerous parts of the world, thinking of one person, only to learn that the person you trusted from day one didn't even give you a chance?" I snarled, and felt grimly satisfied when Brynjolf averted his eyes.

"I need you to break into Mercer's home and search for anything that could tell us where he's gone," Bryn finally said.

"Did you check there first?" His silence was answer enough. "I didn't think so. Well, where is his house?"

"It's right here in Riften. A gift from the Black-Briars after they kicked the previous family out. A place called Riftweald Manor. He never stays there, just pays for the upkeep on the place. Hired some lout by the name of Vald to guard it."

"Hardly any trouble. I'll take care of it," I assured him. Did he really think I'd have much trouble?

"Be careful. This is the last place in Skyrim I'd ever want to send you."

"Yes, you showed that clearly when you damned me to Oblivion," I spat angrily. I turned around and left without another word. My own heart ached, and I hoped that his felt the same.

...

I noticed a contraption at the back of the manor. Vald had 'gone missing'. With a well-placed arrow, the ramp flipped down. I entered the house with no problem.

A few seconds after I'd entered, I realized Vald decided to half-ass his defenses. At least a dozen bandits were upstairs, likely more. Screw it, I decided. I'd trained my swordplay after the Goldenglow incident, and didn't feel like sneaking around. Let everyone know exactly who in Oblivion had brutally killed everyone in this damn house.

I drew upon my inner strength and focused on the rage that had almost destroyed me from the inside. Now, it would be used against my enemies.

With a loud cry, I charged around, severing heads and covering my black sword with crimson blood.

At one point, at least ten bandits surrounded me. A simple Unrelenting Force Shout knocked them down, and I sunk the blade into their chests. None remained alive.

I investigated a bit after they'd all fallen, and found a secret passageway. When I followed it, I found myself in trap-filled caverns. "Clever Mercer. But not clever enough." They were all incredibly easy to bypass or destroy, and I wondered if he'd even tried.

At the very end was a section of the house, with papers, a bust, and a display case. I dumped the dozens of gems left on the table into my pockets and picked the case open. Inside was an admirable glass sword-- though quite unlike any I'd seen. Instead of the green finish a normal one would have, this was blue and had slight clouds of fog surrounding it. I touched the surface and shivered. The label on the wood read "Chillrend." Huh. Figures that Mercer would have the legendary sword of ice dating over two centuries back.

I scooped up everything in the workplace and fled through another tunnel. A Shadowmark was left on the wood of a trapdoor-- Danger. I still slipped through.

I was in the Ratway, and maneuvered my way to the Ragged Flagon. Brynjolf and Karliah were sitting and sharing mead on one of the front tables. I glared at Brynjolf and slapped the parchment down on the rough wood.

"For a thief, you don't seem to hear much," I remarked. Bryn just looked at me sadly before studying the plans. His eyes widened.

"By the Eight," he breathed. "He's going after the Eyes of the Falmer! That was Gallus's pet project! If he gets his hands on those, you can guarantee that he'll be gone for good and set for life!" All noise in the tavern ceased, and eyes turned towards us. I sat in the chair next to Karliah. I knew I could always trust her.

"Russet, do you know what they are?" She asked softly, and I shook my head.

"The Eyes of the Falmer are-"

"Shut up, Brynjolf. Karliah was telling me," I snapped.

"Please, we need to work together," Karliah begged. I reluctantly agreed. "The Eyes of the Falmer are massive gemstones, the size of a man's head. They're flawlessly cut, worth more than some thieves earn in a lifetime." I was angered by Mercer's audacity, to kill the Guild's leader and then take over. It was selfish and cruel. I couldn't wait to tear out his eyes and crush his bones, slowly ripping his flesh apart...

"Lass, stop it!" I realized that I'd completely destroyed a tankard that was sitting on the table. How I managed to bend the iron, I'll never know. "What the--"

"I was thinking about Mercer." I shrugged, and Karliah gave Brynjolf a concerned look. "I'm a troubled person."

"I... could tell," Bryn choked out. I grinned wickedly. He recomposed himself. "Now that we're on that lovely topic anyways... we need to figure out how to stop Mercer now that we know where he's headed. He's taken everything the Guild had left, and to go after the greatest heist is just an insult. I've spoken to Karliah and made amends to how the Guild's treated her. We've spoken briefly about it... but felt it best if you were here to share it."

"Mercer's screwed," I said brightly, and heard Delvin chuckle. "After all, what's he against the two best thieves in the Guild?"

"You mean three," Brynjolf corrected.

"No, I meant two," I reaffirmed.

"Lass, I'm flattered, but--"

"I wasn't talking about you, dumbass."

"Stop!" Karliah's usually quiet voice stopped our argument. "There's only one way to defeat Mercer. We need to meet him on equal footing." She held my gaze. "But I doubt you're going to be so willing."

Chapter Text


((2nd of Morning Star, 4E 203))

I walked through the weeds and flowers outside and tried to ignore Brynjolf. Karliah had explained to us very little. She'd just said to meet her near the Shadow Stone.

"Please lass, listen to me..." Brynjolf begged. I snorted and kept going. "I know that you're hurt. I do. But what proof did I have that you were telling the truth?"

"Maybe the fact that I haven't lied to any of you even once," I snarled. "Maybe the fact that I often gave up my pay to help the Guild."

"You don't know what it's li--"

"You don't know what it's like to just watch the person you loved hold a sword to your throat, to go months thinking only of them, and to have nearly died to protect them!" Brynjolf stopped walking immediately.

"I do know, Russet. I know very well."

"That's great, you know, but let's keep moving. The sooner Karliah tells us what's going on, the sooner we can just get away from each other."

"Do you think you were the only one who was hurt, Russet? Do you? I didn't know if you were alive or not the whole time you were gone, and believe me, that was the longest wait of my life. When Mercer returned with news of your death, I could hardly breathe!" I took a step back from his fury, but he did not seem fond of letting me run. He grabbed my arm and refused to let go. "I wept over you every time I was alone. I had to be strong for the others, but I believed that you deserved respect! I mourned you, Russet!"

He released me and turned towards the lake. "When Mercer said you were a traitor... what choice did I have but to believe it? Not so much that you had betrayed the Guild, but the fact that you still lived. Whether you were a traitor or not, I wanted to believe that your heart was still beating."

I felt ashamed. I still couldn't show it, though. Couldn't I?

"Bryn..."

"Don't, Russet. Just don't." Brynjolf ran his fingers through his long red hair. He heaved a rock into the lake with an angry cry. Fog hung in the air, clinging to his skin. I noticed for once how pale he was.

"Bryn, I never thought that..." I was lost for words.

"You don't think, lass. I noticed." Brynjolf stormed away, while I gazed out over the lake. I remembered the necklace I'd thrown and tried to remember where I'd been.

Goldenglow was halfway across the lake, and I threw it near the trees... I slipped my Ring of Waterbreathing on and dove into the water. I shivered. It was freezing, and some parts of the lake were covered in ice. But I had to find that amulet. I could search for hours without coming up for air because of the charm on my finger.

I continued to go further, searching every inch of the lakebed. The sky grew dark, and just before the light completely faded from the sky, I saw it. The glint of silver in the sand. In my haste to retrieve it, I lost the ring. I clutched at my throat, feeling as if my lungs would explode. I grabbed the necklace and shot upwards.

It was just as perfect as it had been before. Slowly, I put it over my neck.

"Russet!"

"Lass, don't you dare leave again!" I just became aware of their voices calling for me, and I swam over. My teeth chattered, and I could hardly breathe. Karliah was the first to see me.

"There she is!" I climbed onto the shore, panting heavily.

"What were you thinking? Were you trying to drown out there?"

"Brynjolf, let's just get her away from the lake."

"Lass, why in Oblivion did you jump into a lake in the middle of winter?!" I didn't answer. I still felt a bit of resentment towards him.

"Brynjolf, leave her alone." Karliah pulled out an old cloak and wrapped it around my body.

...

"This is Nightingale Hall. You're the first of the uninitiated to set foot in it in centuries," Karliah informed us. All I could register was the ice that seemed to have permanently settled in my bones.

"Go to those stones over there," Karliah ordered. I agreed. The same raven mark was on the rock. "Inside, you'll find black armor. Clothe yourselves, and I will tell you what to do next.

I obeyed and pulled my soaked cuirass over my head. "Don't you dare, Brynjolf," I warned. I could feel his eyes on me. I dried off with the cloak and put the armor on.

It was very warm, perfectly suited for the chill. A mask covered most of my face, revealing only my eyes.

Brynjolf had already dressed by the time I was finished. Karliah came in, already in hers.

"This is enough to make your head spin, eh, lass?" Brynjolf commented.

"Beyond this gate is the first step to become a Nightingale," Karliah began, but Bryn cut her off.

"Whoa, lass. I appreciate the armor, but becoming a Nightingale? That was never discussed."

"To hold any hope of defeating Mercer, we must have Nocturnal at our backs. If she's to accept you as one of her own, an arrangement must be struck," Karliah replied.

"What sort of arrangement? I need to know the terms."

"The terms are quite simple, Brynjolf. Nocturnal will allow you to become a Nightingale and use your abilities for whatever you wish. And in return, in both life and in death, you must serve as a guardian of the Twilight Sepulcher."

"Aye, there's always a catch. But at this point, I suppose there isn't much to lose. If it means the end of Mercer Frey, you can count me in." Brynjolf agreed.

"Are you kidding me? Are you an idiot? Hey, I guess I'll just get some armor in exchange for an eternity in a Daedric realm?" I scoffed.

"It's our last hope." The Dunmer shuffled her feet.

"Besides, I get the feeling that you've got some other plans for the afterlife... Or rather, they have plans for you," Bryn pointed out.

"Damn you," I muttered.

"What about you? Are you ready to transact the Oath with Nocturnal?"

"Well, eternity with Nocturnal has to be better than eternity with Molag Bal."

"...Good. I think," she added after a worried look at Brynjolf. "After I open the gate, please stand on the western circle. We'll speak when the Oath is complete." I walked towards the bridge-like formation, and realized that its design reflected that of the cistern's.

"Lass, what's going on now?" Brynjolf asked Karliah. I snorted in annoyance.

"I call upon you, Lady Nocturnal, Queen of Murk and Empress of Shadow! Hear my voice!" For a full five seconds, I had my doubts about this. Nothing happened.

"Karliah, are you sure--" I was cut off by a massive dark glow that appear in the middle of the room.

"Ah, Karliah. I was wondering when I'd hear from you again. Lose something, did we?" A voice came from the spinning orb, and I thought that it sounded a bit like Karliah's.

"My Lady, I've come before you to throw myself upon your mercy and accept responsibility for my failure," Karliah mumbled, bowing low.

"You're already mine, Karliah. Your terms were struck long ago. What could you possibly offer me now?" Nocturnal mocked.

"I have two others that wish to transact the Oath, to a serve you in both life and death."

"You surprise me, Karliah," the Daedric princess murmured, though it didn't sound like she was surprised at all. "This offer is definitely weighted in my favor."

"My appetite for Mercer's demise exceeds my craving for wealth, Your Grace."

"Revenge? How interesting. Very well, your conditions are acceptable. Proceed."

"I accept the role of a Nightingale in your service, My Lady. I solemnly swear that I will forever serve you and the Twilight Sepulcher with my very being," I promised.

"So polite, young Russet." I didn't question how she knew my name. Sheogorath did, as well as Hircine.

Brynjolf swore the same.

The orb rumbled, seemingly satisfied. "Very well, I name your initiates Nightingales and restore your status to the same, Karliah... and in the future, I suggest you refrain from disappointing me again." With a rough breeze, Nocturnal shimmered and disappeared.

"Now that you've transacted the Oath, it's time to reveal the final piece of the puzzle to you, the true crime of Mercer."

"Why am I not surprised that he's done more?" I threw my hands in the air.

"What I want to know is how Mercer could unlock the vault." Brynjolf crossed his arms.

"Mercer was unable to unlock the Guild's vault without two keys because of what he stole from the Twilight Sepulcher. The Skeleton Key."

"I remember something about the Skeleton Key..." I frowned.

"Ah, yes. Back in the Oblivion Era, Nocturnal gave the Key to a mortal. She soon regretted it."

"Back on track, lass," Brynjolf reminded us. "Now, what has Mercer done by stealing the Skeleton Key?"

"Right. By doing this he's compromised our ties to Nocturnal and in essence caused our luck to run dry."

"What exactly is the Skeleton Key? I mean, what can it do?" I queried. "I get the feeling that it isn't just a regular key." Karliah considered my question.

"You're correct in saying that it isn't just a key. It can open any lock at all, with no effort. But the Skeleton Key isn't only restricted to physical barriers. All of us possess untapped abilities, the potential to wield great power, securely sealed within out minds. Once you realize the Key can access these traits, the potential becomes limitless."

"It would mean endless wealth for the Guild," Brynjolf told Karliah. "When we kill Mercer--"

"Icebrain," I hissed. "The Guild's going to Oblivion because Mercer took the damn thing! There's no way we can keep it. No one should ever possess it." Karliah smiled approvingly.

"Good, then you understand why this is about more than just Mercer's lust for power. If the Skeleton Key isn't returned to its lock in the Twilight Sepulcher, things will never be the same for the Guild. As time passed, our luck would diminish to the point of nonexistence. And whether you know or not, our uncanny luck defines our trade." Such as a deaf man turning to face you when you reach for his pocket, or a novice picking an impossible lock...

"So we need to take back the Key and give it to Nocturnal?" Brynjolf clarified. His black armor gave off a silvery sheen in the moonlight, and the rippling water around us created a fine mist.

"First time I've ever had to return something," I said. Brynjolf walked forwards next to us.

"Very true. In our line of work it's quite rare we set out to return a stolen item to its rightful owner." Karliah walked away. I began to follow her, but a strong hand gripped my shoulder. I turned to face Brynjolf. I noticed bags under his eyes, and realized that he must not have slept in days.

"Listen to me. Karliah and I spoke... You've almost single-handedly brought this Guild up from the ground. You discovered the truth about Mercer, and never faltered in your loyalty."

"Thank you for your compliments, but we should go..." I wasn't sure if I wanted to leave. My emotions were changing, one after another, until they blurred together.

"This isn't something that can wait." He released his hold on me. "When we get back to the Guild--"

"If," I corrected. "If we ever get back."

"Always a ray of sunshine." I couldn't see, but I was sure he was rolling his eyes. "Lass, Karliah and I both agreed that you should take up the role of Guildmaster." I couldn't have been more surprised.

"But... Why me? You have much more experience, and know the Guild better than anyone." I found myself arguing.

"I've stolen trinkets from nobles and framed priests for murder. I'm very good at what I do, maybe even the best. But I'm not one for leadership.

"I've never been one for giving commands. I give advice, and I'm a damn good thief. But I'd never be a leader like you are. The way you instinctively take charge, with so much confidence... You're the best choice." For once, I was the one who was frozen with shock. "Lass?" I came back to my senses.

"Well, it's about time you asked!" I smiled.

"There's the lass I know."

"Come now, we must return to the Guild." Karliah waved us over. "The plans say exactly where the Eyes are, and Mercer is likely already on his way." Brynjolf bowed his head slightly and followed me out.

"Then we don't have time to waste, do we?" I led the way out of the cave, taking determined steps towards my own fate and that of the Guild's. I knew that I held our future in my hands.

Chapter Text

((5th of Morning Star, 4E 203))

I carefully edged down the walkway of the Dwemer ruin. We'd taken another look at Mercer's plans and learned that the Eyes were in Irkngthand. I could tell the kind of place it was from its name. Unfortunately, I absolutely despised Dwarven ruins. I thought back to the conversation between us three.

"There is no way in Oblivion that I am going into a Falmer-infested ruin with metal spiders that jump out at you every second," I objected.

"Lass, it's the only way we can catch Mercer," Brynjolf explained.

"We could wait at Bronze Water Cove," I suggested. "From the map here, it's right beside Irkngthand."

"And if he goes back the way he came? There's no way he could get through," Karliah reasoned. I buried my face in my hands.

"You're squeamish for the Dragonborn."

"Shut up, Brynjolf," I grunted. He turned around to face Karliah and whispered something. "What was that?"

"Nothing."

"Liar."

"Lass, you've gone through hundreds of ruins, I'm guessing. Why is this one so difficult?"

"Because it's Dwarven!" I snapped. A shudder shook me.

"It's the only way we can finish off Mercer," Karliah spoke quietly. I remembered that the cruel Breton had murdered Gallus. Her desire to destroy his killer was strong.

"...Fine," I relented. "But if we get trapped inside of that damn place, I'm blaming you." I pointed to Brynjolf. "If there's no food inside either, then you're getting eaten first." He just stood there.

"Ah... okay then. Since when did you become a Bosmer?" I laughed maniacally while both he and Karliah stared.

With one arrow, the bandit in front of the chest was dead. Blood spurted from his neck, pooling into the snow. The others were easy to take care of as well. Even the outside of Irkngthand made me nervous. I picked the lock on the chest, but the anxiety welling in my chest shook my hands. I broke at least fifteen lockpicks, cursing every time. I finally opened it.

I cursed. There was only an iron dagger. "By the gods, this son of a-" The ground rumbled, and I ducked. Surely a chunk of metal was about to crush me, or the machinery was going to kill me... "Hate this place," I muttered. Once I went inside, I knew that the only way to go was forward. I nearly slipped in something, retching when I identified it.

A human heart had been ripped out of someone's chest, and there was no doubting that intestines had been wrapped around some poor sot's dead body. A stomach was torn to pieces, and a jaw was wrenched off. Eyeless heads were detached from bodies, and knives were ground into the sockets. Bone shards were scattered around the floor, and flesh was ripped from a tattered body. A long knife had skewered a male's neck, and maggots were already writhing around in the gore.

I tried to ignore the brutal scene and walked away. I pulled down my mask and emptied the contents of my stomach. I was no stranger to torture. In fact, I found it amusing and helpful at times. But I'd never done anything of this caliber. From the forms and the splatters of blood, I could tell that they had still been alive when... I heaved and threw up again.

Once I wiped off my mouth and pulled up the mask, I wondered how Karliah and Brynjolf had stood this... unless they'd done it. To keep my mind off of it, I focused on where I was going. They said they'd meet me in the chamber once I was ready.

I jumped when a metal arachnid sprang at me. I stabbed the thing, but it shook off my sword like it was nothing. One choice left... I summoned a blast of flame into my left hand and melted it. The Dwemer spider stopped moving. I poked it with my foot to make sure it was dead. My magicka was drained, that much was clear. I rarely resorted to magic, and it looked like I was going to have to use it quite often in here.

I snuck past a Dwarven Sphere and opened the door to the chambers. Darkness. The door slammed shut, and I swallowed nervously. A heart-stopping scream sent fear into my soul, and I fell down in fright when a masked face burst into my line of sight. Arms gripped mine and lifted me up. Disgustingly familiar laughter accompanied them, and my face twisted in rage.

"Lass, you should have seen--"

"What in the name of Oblivion was that?!? What the hell is wrong with you?!?" I shrieked.

"Calm down, lass. It was just a joke."

"Joke this!" I kicked him in the chest and knocked him down. "You son of a bitch!" I stuck up my middle finger.

"We shouldn't be making so much noise, lass," Brynjolf suggested as he stood up, dusting off his armor.

"You started it!" I glared at the Nord with hatred. "Why would you do that? I found it hard enough to even walk through these goddamn doors, do you have to torment me?"

"Grow a backbone," Brynjolf snorted. I swung at his face. My heart was still pounding.

"I have faced dragons. I'd like to see you do that! I've killed every kind of creature, from vampires to werebears! Until you show me your bravery, don't you dare talk to me about--"

"Milk-drinker."

"You ass, I swear I'll kill you before Mercer does!"

"That's enough, Russet!" He glared at me.

"Both of you, stop it." Karliah pushed us apart.

"Why the hell is he mad at me? He's the one who--"

"We're done. Now." Karliah fixed us both with a stern glance. I made sure I walked in front of them.

"Can he at least apolo--"

"We. Are. Done." Karliah repeated dangerously. Brynjolf snickered. It took all of my willpower, every last bit, every ounce, not to stab him in the face.

"What happened to those bandits?" I felt the attack beginning. Keep your mind away, keep it away...

"We found them like that. Mercer's doing." They both looked pale.

I felt the wave starting. It towered, until it crushed me under the torrent of slaughter.

When I was a girl, barely past my fifteenth winter, my family was attacked. Not by bandits, but by the Thalmor. They were suspected of worshipping Talos. In truth, they didn't care about him. But the High Elves still killed my family.

I remembered the blood on their swords, and the evil laughter as my baby brother was stabbed in the face, over and over... they took me. They found where I had been hiding. I hadn't kept in a sob, and they stole me away. They brought me to an abandoned Dwarven mine.

They didn't just use me. They played with my body. These damn Thalmor ruined me. I found a clip and picked the lock to my "torture cell" open. I stole Thalmor robes and snuck out. I'd been in their wicked hands for a full two years. I killed each and every one of them in there, torturing them. That was my way, an eye for an eye. I wished that they could have felt the pain that I did. But they never would.

That's how the Companions found me. I gratefully joined up with them while they nursed me back to health. But I could never look at my own reflection, or else I'd see the scars on my chest. I'd be reminded of the nights I was taken away, when I was defiled and broken... they always appeared in the dead of night, appearing in front of me when it was darkest.

And I would scream for help that never came.

"Russet? Russet, get up!" Karliah broke through my memories. A strong hand held mine as I struggled to stand.

"What happened?" I hated his voice. He brought back the terrible past I'd shut away for years. A bit ridiculous how one small thing bringing me such pain. I never thought something like this would ever break the dam I'd built. The thought of Dwarven anything sent chills into my heart, but I had managed to stop the thoughts... until now. I didn't know why it happened. It just triggered.

"Get away from me..." I whispered.

"Lass, we have a job to do. Get up, pull yourself together," Brynjolf ordered. "Surely you're not so distraught because I scared you?" I heard him give a huff of annoyance.

"Maybe if you'd been assaulted each and every night, and tortured each and every day, you'd feel differently," I snarled. He stepped back. "Let's go. Stealth be damned, we need to catch Mercer." I began to run. I passed a Dwemer table. On it was a bottle of Honningbrew Reserve, and I knew what was happening. "He knew we'd come after him. He's setting up a trail."

"Bastard," Karliah growled. We entered a vast room, probably twice the size of Windhelm alone. "Look! It's Mercer." I followed her line of sight and saw a figure sneaking up to a-- was that a Dwarven automaton or one of the vile Falmer that roamed these ruins? Either way, I had to make them notice him. I took a deep breath.

"Lass, don't!" Brynjolf clutched at my stomach, forcing the air out without a sound. Mercer killed them and left.

"What in Oblivion--"

"We can't let him know we're here!"

"But you--"

"He's toying with us," Karliah broke in. "He wants us to follow."

"Then he knows we're here," Brynjolf realized.

"Of course he does," I snapped. "Not only would your bellowing laughter have alerted him, so would your ridiculously loud--"

"Your sudden sobbing probably didn't help either, lass," he spat.

"Enough!" Karliah commanded harshly. "Once we catch Mercer, you can settle your differences. But for now, we must work together!" I hung my head. I thought Karliah deserved the highest level of respect. I felt like a mere child, being chastised by her mother.

When I looked up, Brynjolf was walking away. "Wait!" I felt the bars. They were solid metal. "We need to find a way through this."

"But we can just go around."

"That will take too long," I argued with a hateful glare at the man who had disturbed the sleeping demons in my head. "Someone help me melt these bars."

"Russet, no. If we move swiftly, we can make it." Karliah shook the bars. "This is tempered Dwarven bronze. We'd need a forge hotter than dragon fire to melt these."

"Fine. Let's move on." I hated Dwarven ruins more than ever. It seemed like a maze. I was sure that we'd never make it out by the time we returned to the massive room.

Dead Falmer were strewn across the ground. I was reminded of the mauled bodies in the front room of Irkngthand.

"He went this way." Brynjolf rushed through the door Mercer had escaped through, and we had no choice but to follow.

...

"Hold on!" I clenched my teeth and gripped a stone column as hard as I could. The ground shook as if Alduin himself was trapped under, roaring in anger.

Once the rocks stopped rumbling, I carefully stood up, trying to ignore the dizziness that had settled in. "Karliah... are you okay?" My voice rattled, and I could hardly see straight.

"I'll be fine."

"What about you, lass?" I bit back a nasty reply.

"Let's keep moving."

"Mercer collapsed the entrance." Karliah gaped at the crumbled pathways that blocked the door.

"There's another door up there." Brynjolf pointed towards the ceiling, and I barely saw a ledge. I took one step before an arrow whizzed past my face.

"Holy..." A deformed face seemed to stare right at me, and I was amazed how accurate their shots were. Falmer were blind.

Karliah and Brynjolf both charged forward and dispatched it, though at least a dozen more replaced the first.

"Here we go!" I severed the head of one and stabbed another in the ribs. Karliah bashed several with her bow and shot the ones that were further away. Brynjolf struck left and right with his sword. With every hit, my blade drank in my enemy's life force and gave it to me.

"That's what you get when you cross the Guild." Brynjolf spit on the ground when the last Falmer was dead.

I knew it... we were getting closer. The note I found on a torture victim proved it. He sounded mad, rambling... but he'd seen the Eyes.

"Mercer must be in there," Karliah whispered, dropping into a crouch. Both Brynjolf and I mimicked her stance. "Be on your guard." Water dripped from above us. We must be under a lake.

I took a deep breath and opened the door. In front of me was a gargantuan bronze statue, flawlessly crafted. A grand staff was in its hand, and a bit of movement caught my attention. Mercer. He pried out the two gemstones in the statue's face, and I was shocked by their size. At least twice the size of Mercer's head.

"Be wary. He hasn't noticed us yet. Russet, you go over--" Karliah never finished her sentence.

"Karliah, when will you learn that you can't get the drop on me?" The rocks rumbled, and several large boulders fell from the ceiling. I had to roll out of the way to avoid being crushed. "When Brynjolf brought you before me, I could feel a shift in the wind, and I knew that it would end with one of us at the end of a blade."

"Give me the Key, Mercer!" I readied Chillrend, and I saw the Breton stare at it in mild surprise.

"What's Karliah been filling your head with? Tales of thieves with honor? Oaths rife with falsehoods and broken promises? Nocturnal doesn't care about you, the Key, or anything having to do with the Guild," he sneered.

"To Oblivion with Nocturnal. This is personal," I climbed up the fallen rocks so I could look the bastard in the eye.

"Really?" He snorted. "How are we so different? You're a murderer." I froze. "Our actions always have been the same. Both of us lie, cheat, and steal to further our own end."

"The difference is that I'm craftier than you ever were. You were jealous of me, weren't you?" I taunted, trying to lure him into a fight. "It took you years to earn as much as I did in a month. I single-handedly brought the Guild up on its feet in half a year, destroying your attempts to sabotage it!"

The ruse was failing. With every step I took towards him, he backed up to match it.

"The true difference is that I know what the Skeleton Key can do! It's an instrument of limitless wealth, of ultimate power!" I heard Bryn and Karliah come up behind me with their weapons unsheathed. "It's your choice to fall at the hands of a god!" He's more insane than I ever thought he was.

"If anyone falls, Mercer, it will be you!" I sprinted up.

"Then the die is cast!" He sent a bolt of magic towards me, and I spun out of the way. It hit Karliah and Brynjolf, and the clashing of steel echoed in the cavern.

"Fight it, Karliah!" Brynjolf begged. They were battling each other, unable to stop.

"I'm trying!" She replied.

"And now, Russet," Mercer snarled, advancing. "Oh, and now... my blade will once again taste Nightingale blood!" He vanished into the air, and I looked for the shimmer.

"You damn coward!" I heard the slash of a sword and rolled in any direction. Sparks burst from the ground, and I knew that my simple movement had saved my life.

I gathered it all, summoning every bit of energy in my body. My anger at his betrayal. My fury at Brynjolf. My desire to destroy him. The dragon inside of me was unleashed.

Dovahkiin... I charged forwards in a whirl of flame. Dovahkiin, naal ok zin los vahriin... I swung the sword. Wah dein vokul mahfaeraak ahst vaal...

Mercer's footsteps moved behind me, and I spun around. My sword struck flesh. Ahrk fin norok paal graan, fod nust hon zindro zaan... I saw it. The shift in the wind. I lunged forwards with every ounce of strength I had.

I thrust the blade into his chest, twisting it around. Ice surrounded the flesh surrounding it. "Strun... Bah... Qo!" An entire storm burst forth with the fury of a thousand gods, striking the traitorous Guildmaster and ripping him apart. The Skeleton Key flew from his grasp, and I caught it with one hand. The Eyes fell from his pockets.

Mercer Frey was dead.

The energy in the room crackled around. The spell binding Karliah and Brynjolf was shattered, and I fell to the ground. I couldn't move. I was drained. I'd killed him, and likely paid for it with my life.

"Lass! Get up!" I barely heard Brynjolf's voice. The walls were crumbling, and a waterfall was pouring from the ceiling.

"The place is coming down!" Karliah screeched. I wove in and out of reality. "Wake her up, we need to get out!"

"The entrance is blocked. We're trapped!" Brynjolf responded fearfully. I was cold. The very ice that had destroyed my enemy was spreading through my limbs. "Lass, wake up!"

I felt so cold...

Chapter Text

((6th of Morning Star, 4E 203))

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

I tried to force my arms to stop, but they moved on their own accord. Karliah fought back, and I knew that only Mercer's death would stop this battle.

I heard screeches of pain and knew that the lass was injured. I didn't understand why she'd reacted the way she had when I frightened her, but she always had a reason. Bad reasons, half of the time... But still reasons. I snuck a glance at the lass and was rewarded with a literally shocking sight.

Tension traveled up and down her body as she plunged her sword into Frey's chest. He flickered back into visibility, and ice spread across his flesh. The storm surrounding her was released with three words.

"Strun Bah Qo!" I could have sworn that a dragon had taken control of her. She'd Shouted before-- and it was impressive. But nothing compared to this. The rage of a tempest gathered in her limbs, and the destructive force of lighting was hers to command. Spasms ran through Mercer's body, and the magic binding me to fight ceased. The air crackled, and I stared in wonder at Frey. Just like that... it was over.

The entire room shook, and water began to pour from the top. It was slow at first, but gaining volume. That's when I noticed that the lass wasn't moving.

"Lass! Get up!" The rocks began to tumble out of the walls, covering my voice with their loud crashing.

"The place is coming down!" Karliah screeched. "Wake her up, we need to get out!" I ran to the door, just as a wall of stone fell in front of me.

"The entrance is blocked. We're trapped!" I searched for another exit. "Lass, wake up!"

The cavern was filling up with water faster with every minute that passed. Mercer's death marked a new era for the Guild, but I wasn't sure we would get out alive to see it.

"Come on, Dragonborn. Be strong!" She twitched and sat up. I was confused.

"Let's get out of here." Every word sounded forced, as if she was overexerting herself just by speaking. I had no time to worry about that.

"How good is your swimming?" I didn't need to ask. She'd been in a freezing cold lake looking for gods-know-what, she could swim. Just well enough. The pistons roared and steamed. The cavern was almost full of water, and I was relieved to see the lass staying afloat. She was pale. Mercer's body sunk below the surface, and blood stained the ever-growing expanse of water.

"Find a way out!" Karliah gasped. She was pushing on the corners of the wall. "There has to be a way out, it can't end like this! Nocturnal, I beg of you, help us!" She cried.

I hadn't expected even the slightest response. However, the ceiling crumbled, and a small hole appeared. Without wasting a second, I swam over and started pulling away stones. Karliah helped me. The water rose over my head.

Karliah climbed out onto a little path, and I followed her.

"We survived..." I breathed heavily. "Thank the gods... or rather, thank Nocturnal. Right lass?" I turned around to where she was.

Or rather, where I thought she was. "Lass? Where are you?" A horrible feeling sunk into my heart. She was still underwater.

Chapter Text

((6th of Morning Star, 4E 203))

((RUSSETPOV))

I gasped for air and clutched my side. Brynjolf and Karliah escaped through the tunnel. The wound on my side kept bleeding. What about me? What about... me...

They'll be better off when I'm dead. I cause pain. I don't want to live anymore. I searched for my waterbreathing ring before remembering that I'd lost it in Lake Honrich. My efforts to remain afloat were pointless.

I hadn't had energy to begin with. My ruse of health was enough to let them escape without worrying about me. There was no need for me to live. I gave way to the dizzying blackness.

...

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

I looked in the water frantically. The level still rose. I took a deep breath and dove in, praying to every god there was that the lass was alive. There! I grabbed a form, only to release it in disgust. A Falmer.

I began to run out of air, but there was nowhere to go. Where is she? Wherewherewherewherewhere--

There.

At the very bottom of the drowned cavern was her limp body. The water around her was red with what I hoped was Mercer's blood. I gave an extra burst of strength to reach her. Her mask had been torn off during their battle, and the blue tint of her skin frightened me. I shot upwards, my own lungs feeling as though they were about to collapse.

I burst into the air, gasping for breath. I laid the lass down on the floor of the cave and shook her shoulder.

"Lass, get up! You're safe now, you'll be fine..." It sounded like I was only reassuring myself. I checked for a pulse and nearly crumbled when I felt nothing. "She's not dead, she isn't!"

"Brynjolf, she's bleeding." Karliah checked her side. It was true. A thick gash in her side was pouring out her life. It wasn't Frey's blood... it was her own. I had no idea what to do. "I've got some cloth, I'll patch it the best I can! You focus on getting her to breathe." I was already breathless, and didn't know if she would make it. But I still had to try. I puffed air into her lungs.

"Come on, lass... come on!" I pumped my hands down on her chest. Blood and water poured out of her lips. It seemed like the streams of liquid rushing out of her mouth would never stop. "Lass... lass... Please! Russet!"

Chapter Text

((6th of Morning Star, 4E 203))

((RUSSETPOV))

I walked through a dark hallway of stone, and the chill pricked at my skin. I had no breath.

"Come with me, hunter." A strong voice commanded. I turned to see the form that I knew to be Hircine.

"That's my mortal!" An oddly accented voice humphed that I realized was Sheogorath.

"Let her stay with the dusk and dawn!" Azura.

Several more laid claim to my soul. Sanguine. Hermaeus Mora. I even heard Clavicus Vile trying to take me away, saying that Barbas was waiting.

"This mortal belongs to me!" I was enveloped in a cloak of darkness that I knew to be Nocturnal. She was warm and cold at the same time. "She has openly pledged herself to serve me in life and death. This one is mine." I felt an icy breeze, and at once, every presence was gone, save the Mistress of Shadows.

"Thank you," I managed to say.

"You've disappointed me. You showed such promise." I was dead...?

"I--" She pressed her hand to my chest, and a fierce pressure went through. My stomach burned. "Why are you--" She repeated the motion, and I looked straight into the face of darkness. Her eyes were like the moonless midnight sky.

"Do not make me regret this," she growled. "You will be mine. I will not take you now, but believe me, I could. It is not my desire to lose two of my Nightingales on the same day." I briefly saw a flash of Mercer before shrouded claws dragged him away. "You have escaped Death once. Do not think he will be so easy to fool again." A thud resonated in my heart, and another followed. A single word sent me spiraling towards the ground.

"Russet!"

...

I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. I could only feel. I could only feel pounding on my ribs, and searing pain on my side. It felt like someone was holding an open flame to my exposed skin.

"Russet, don't die, please... please... Don't do this to me again." His voice brought me back. I coughed up a lungful of water, and my heart began to beat. "Russ..." I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. I could only feel. I could only feel the pain of loss. I could only feel the joy of reunion.

I recognized his touch. "Bryn... Brynjolf..." He held onto my hand tightly. I slowly opened my eyes to see his face. Tears ran down his cheeks, and his eyes were red. Long wet strands of red hair hung down.

"You're alive, by the gods, you're alive!" Brynjolf clutched my hand to his chest, and I didn't object. I closed my eyes again. I was alive, and I didn't know why. I didn't deserve it. But he did.

"Brynjolf..." I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. I could only feel. I could only feel sweet relief. I could only feel the comfort of another. I could only feel the warmth of his lips against mine.

Chapter Text

((6th of Morning Star, 4E 203))

I gave up the defiance. He cupped my face in his hands, and the pure joy in my heart was reflected in his eyes when he broke away.

Neither of us had the words. I, for one, couldn't speak.

"The bleeding has stopped." I jolted slightly. Karliah startled me. "But she's still lost a lot of blood."

"I swear to Nocturnal, when I find Mercer in the afterlife, I'm going to tear him limb from limb."

"Brynjolf, first things first. We need to make sure that Russet lives."

"That's my priority Karliah." He lifted me gingerly, taking care not to touch my side. I pressed my nose into his chest, seeking the warmth. His sweet scent lulled me.

"Those binds should hold for a few hours at most. This moist air is likely loosening the bandages."

"Then we need to get out of the cave." I slipped into slumber while Bryn's strong arms protected me.

...

((7th of Morning Star, 4E 203))

Brynjolf never tired of carrying me, or at least didn't show it. The bandages on my ribs were constantly changed during the walk. About three miles away from the ruin, Karliah stopped.

"We should rest." I'd repeatedly fallen asleep while they carried me, and I realized that they must have been exhausted. Especially Bryn.

Nearby was a little pond, and plenty of room for three people. Karliah set out her pack, and he carefully put me down. I heard his grunt.

"You didn't have to carry me..." I mumbled.

"It was no trouble. What matters is that you're alive." Bryn stretched out and sat beside me.

"I'll walk later," I promised weakly.

"Russet, you're not going anywhere at the moment." Karliah knelt down and rummaged through her pack until she found what she needed. My beautiful armor, my cloak of night, was ruined by Mercer. She'd had to cut more off to access the gash easily. "Chances are that the numbness will wear off." I began to question what she'd been doing. "You'd be in unimaginable pain if I didn't give you this mixture."

"But you didn't give me anythi--"

"You were asleep. Now, eat this." She shoved a spoonful of green mush into my mouth, and I spat out the bitter pulp. "Why would you--" Karliah stiffened up. "It's just... Russet, eat. Don't spit it out, or else you won't be able to heal properly." I obediently swallowed this time and shuddered.

"I'll get a fire started." Brynjolf began to stand up.

"Don't. There are many predators in these woods. If we become overwhelmed by anything, Russet will be easy prey."

"I'm not--" I began to protest.

"You can't even move. You'd have no chance to escape," Karliah reasoned.

"So what, we starve?"

"You could do with a little less food, Bryn." I grinned.

"Oh really?"

"Stop!"

"Karliah, wha--" Brynjolf was silenced when she pointed ahead. I barely made out her hand in the murk. Ahead was a paved road... And a legion of the Thalmor. I whimpered and buried my face.

I breathed deeply and turned my view back. There was no way in Oblivion I could fight, but I could tell them what to do. By my judging, it was around two in the morning. They must be bone-tired.

"Bryn... are you up for one more fight?" I whispered, and quietly explained my plan.

...

The Thalmor guided their horses along the stony path. One of them whinnied slightly, and the High Elf tugged at the reins.

"These Cyrodilian horses are spooked by everything," a male grumbled.

"But they're faster than the... Skyrim breeds." The horse reared up on its hind legs, throwing off its rider. The gray mare bolted, and the Thalmor picked herself off the ground. "Damn horses."

She looked at her companions. "What's wrong with you? Didn't you--" she followed their gaze. Flaming orbs slowly moved towards them, and the mer drew their weapons. One shot forward and struck the swords from their grasps. In fright, the High Elves tumbled off their steeds. All stood up immediately, only to have one fall down. The Altmer that tried to investigate stumbled.

The remaining three brought out their magic. The flames in the air spun around in a circular form before rushing at the Thalmor. Two were dead when they disappeared, and the last one cowered in fright before crawling away.

...

Brynjolf and Karliah returned, holding the reins of two Cyrodilian horses. I smiled. "Well done."

"They really believed those torches were dark spirits or something!" Bryn laughed. "That was more fun than I thought it'd be... but why?" Brynjolf tied the black mare to the tree. I flinched and stared at the ground. "Tell me."

"I'll tell you nothing."

"I saved your life, the least you could do is--"

"Brynjolf, she's... just let her be." Karliah put her hand on his shoulder. "Let her speak when she's ready." The Nord shuffled uncomfortably.

"Sorry, lass."

"I want to go home," I murmured. I became drowsy. Karliah laid down next to me, while Brynjolf took watch. I caught one confused glance from him before I fell asleep.

...

((8th of Morning Star))

On the backs of the horses, we returned to Riften the next day. I was taken to the alchemist, who used some sort of magical concoction to close the would. She didn't ask any questions, just went straight to work. Bryn and Karliah left me be, while the man-- Elgrim, I believe-- put me to sleep and sewed shut the gap in my flesh.

...

((6th of Sun's Dawn, 4E 203))

Nearly a full month had passed since I was left at the alchemist's shop. He'd been kind to me, but I ached to return to my adventures. Where my wound used to be, a thin white scar remained. It would blend in with the others.

"If you take it easy and don't overexert yourself, you can leave today," Elgrim consented when I asked him. I thanked the elderly shopkeeper repeatedly until he waved me out.

I breathed in the Riften air and heard the gulls calling to each other. Finally... I was home. I went through the city, earning a few surprised glances. I ignored them and headed straight for the cistern's hidden entrance. I would see them...

Karliah had visited me repeatedly, though she said that Brynjolf still had work to do with restoring the Guild. I could understand that.

Once I reached the bottom step, I expected a warm welcome from Brynjolf. He was nowhere to be found. Several of the Guildmembers cheered when I walked near them, and I gave them a small smile.

I searched for the tall man that had captured my heart. Over the month, I'd been given time to contemplate what he'd done for me, and how I could feel. Excitement rose in my chest when I saw his familiar form in the training room.

"Brynjolf!" I ran towards him, and he simply nodded.

"Hello."

"Brynjolf, I'm alive."

"Karliah kept me updated." He swung at the training dummy with his dagger.

"... But aren't you..." I croaked.

"Glad to see you? I suppose. Thanks for your help in killing Frey. Go see Delvin for your pay."

"Brynjolf, what is going on with you?"

"What do you mean? Why do you keep asking questions?" He slashed twice more.

"I... I thought you loved me." I forced the words out through my throat, still so foreign.

"What makes you think that?"

"You saved my life... you kissed me..."

"You're right, I saved your life. You're a great thief." My heart pounded loudly, and I was trying to keep the tears away.

"And the kiss?"

"It was just an impulse. Don't go around making a big deal out of it. Now leave."

"But Bryn, I--"

"Sorry, lass. I've got important things to do. We'll speak another time." He gave the dummy his full focus.

"Brynjo--"

"Sorry lass, I've got important things to do. We'll speak another time."

"Why are you just repeating that?!? I need to talk to you!" He ignored me. "Congratulations, Guildmaster. I hope it was worth it." I stormed off, barely fending off the agony in my chest.

Chapter Text

((6th of Sun's Dawn, 4E 203))

"Here, Delvin." I tossed the Eyes of the Falmer into his arms, and he gaped at the huge gemstones.

"These are worth more than most thieves earn in a lifetime..."

"Take them. No charge. I'm glad to help the Guild." I didn't feel like a thief anymore. I doubted that I was. Sure, I'd replaced my tattered outfit with my Guild armor, but I wasn't...

"Are you sure?" He sounded doubtful.

"Of course I'm sure. Here, take this as well." I threw at least five bags of coins on the table, each holding a thousand septims. "You need all the help you can get."

I walked away, resolving to give each member something meaningful. To Vex, I gave a golden lockpick I'd had crafted by Eorlund months ago.

Tonilia received a golden ring, set with onyx. I gave Vekel a silver tankard.

Each of these gifts I left on their beds. Niruin would find a diamond-cut arrow, and I chose the perfect one for Sapphire. In a chain of platinum, two small sapphire gemstones were set on both sides of a larger sapphire, perfectly cut.

I left nothing on Brynjolf's. I wasn't sure if I was coming back. I took my final steps in the cistern and out of the trapdoor.

...

I tried to straighten out the Guild with one last task. I would return the Skeleton Key to where it belonged. I'd spoken to Karliah when I was in the alchemist's shop, and she told me about the Pilgrim's Path.

I returned to the Hall. Inside, I retrieved one more suit of Nightingale armor. Underneath the cloth was a note--

You'll need this more than I will. Be safe.

The same knife-like marking that had been on her notes during my earlier months stood in place of a signature. In my hand was the bow she'd always used. It crackled with energy, and I swallowed. The Key had been away from its place for too long.

...

((9th of Sun's Dawn, 4E 203))

I arrived at the Twilight Sepulcher. Shivers went up and down my spine. I entered after a moment of hesitation, and it took me a moment to adjust to the darkness. It's only to be expected. The Mistress of Shadows isn't going to have a land full of light now, is she?

A glowing blue form walked up to me. I hesitated, but continued.

"I don't recognize you, but I sense that you're one of us." He paused, and I got the feeling that he knew my intentions. "Who are you?"

"I'd ask the same question of you."

"The last of the Nightingale Sentinels, I'm afraid," he murmured mournfully. "I've defended the Sepulcher alone for what seems like an eternity."

"The last? What happened to the rest?" The shimmering form began to pace.

"We were betrayed by one of our own kind," he spat. "In fact, I'm to blame for what's happened here."

"How are you to blame?" I queried. Surely a specter couldn't be responsible for the destruction of the Sepulcher.

"I was blinded. Blinded by dark treachery masquerading as friendship. Perhaps if I'd been more vigilant, then Mercer Frey wouldn't have lured me to my fate and stolen the Skeleton Key." It clicked.

"Wait a moment... You're Gallus!"

"I haven't heard that name in a long time. How do you know of me?" He seemed a bit wary.

"I have the Key."

"The Key! You have... You have the Skeleton Key!" He was overjoyed. "I never thought I'd see it again." He paused. "And Mercer Frey?"

"Dead," I snarled. Gallus's shoulders relaxed. I realized that he must have been carrying that tension for decades.

"Then... then it's over. My death wasn't in vain. I owe you a great deal, Nightingale."

"I did this to honor the Guild." To honor the Guild, one final gift from me.

"I... my only regret is that you had to undertake this task alone."

"Karliah helped me," I put in. Shock spread across his face.

"Karliah... she's still alive? I feared she'd befallen the same fate, ending up a victim of Mercer's betrayal."

"If she was dead, she would have come here to defend the Sepulcher, right?" He didn't answer. "Take the Key and right all the wrongs."

"Nothing would bring me more pride than to return the Key, but I'm afraid it's impossible." He sat down on the steps. "From the moment I arrived here, I've felt myself... well... dying."

"How can a spirit die? It doesn't make any sense."

"The Sepulcher isn't merely a temple or a vault to house the Key. Within these walls is the Ebonmere... a conduit to Nocturnal's realm of Evergloam." Her own personal plane of Oblivion was in these very walls. I wasn't so sure I wanted to open it up again. "When Mercer stole the Key, the conduit closed, severely limiting our ties to her."

"Then I'll have to proceed alone."

"I'm afraid so. I'm weakening, and I can feel myself slipping away. The years without restoration of my power have taken their toll. Whatever damage has been caused can only be corrected by following the Pilgrim's path to the Ebonmere and replacing the Key."

I considered it. The Guild could go to ruins if I did not. Would I sacrifice them for my own fear? "What will I face?"

"I wish I could help you, but I've been a prisoner in this very chamber for the last quarter century. The only possible help I've come across are the remains of some poor fellow who was also trying to follow the Path. He has some sort of journal with him." Gallus stood up and walked away.

I investigated the bones of the dead thief. His scribblings told me of five tests.

..

The First Test

Shadows of their former selves, sentinels of the dark. They wander ever more and deal swift death to defilers.

I continued into the Sepulcher. In the first chamber, I saw two more glowing people. Gallus must have been mistaken, I thought. If he hasn't left the chamber, it's no wonder he didn't know.

"My fellow Nightingales, I--" They turned towards me and glared in hatred. "What are you doing?" They drew ghostly swords. "I'm one of you!" They slashed at me, and I only just rolled out of the way. Without wasting a second, I slid Chillrend from my belt and killed them both... again. Only enchanted, silver, and Daedric weapons could defeat spirits.

I moved to the next hallway, only just missing the pressure plate on the floor. The stairs in front of me were dark, hardly able to be seen.

...

The Second Test

Above all they stand, vigilance everlasting. Beholden to the murk, contentious of the glow.

I walked into the next room, relieved when I saw brightly lit areas. I took one step into the light and screamed.

Pain coursed through my body from the one movement, and I wondered what caused my agony. Once the agony had dimmed, I cautiously stuck my hand into the light. It immediately burned like the flames of Oblivion.

I waited a few minutes for the pain to stop, understanding dawning upon me. I must stay to the shadows, as a Nightingale must do.

...

The Third Test

Offer what She desires most, but reject the material. For Her greatest want is that which cannot be seen, felt, or carried.

A dead bandit was on the floor, with gold and jewels before his hand. I was no fool, but I wondered how he'd managed to get past the sentinels and light. Perhaps the light only burned Nightingales.

I didn't take the wealth, it was obviously a trap. Instead, I scouted around. I found two pull-chains, and activated them both. Immediately, the torches went out in front of them. The scraping of stone behind the statue of Nocturnal revealed a hidden passageway.

What choice did I have but to go along the path Nocturnal laid out?

...

The Fourth Test

Direct and yet indirect. The path to salvation a route of cunning with fortune betraying the foolish.

Several traps were visible in the corridor ahead. I kept an eye out for any tripwires or pressure-activated metal plates. I avoided them and opened the door.

The swift whoosh made me jump out of the way, and I thanked the gods for my quick reflexes. A battering ram had been set up to crash into the one who opened the door.

I stepped into the room.

...

The Fifth and Final Test

The journey is not complete, the Empress's embrace awaits the fallen. Hesitate not if you wish to gift her your eternal devotion.

I ran through, feeling as though I'd succeeded. Surely the the Key's place was around here somewhere--

I shrieked as I flew forwards. I'd been too hasty and tumbled into a pit. I landed on several bones, and I was sure that I'd at least sprained something. I ignored it and looked at the remains.

The floor rumbled and moved downwards, so quickly that I had to hold on to avoid being thrown upwards.

Once the movement had stopped, I looked around me. Three doors and a lock were placed in the room. The lock was certainly for the Skeleton Key.

I paused. Should I rid myself of the Key, the gateway to limitless wealth, to ultimate riches? My feet took me to the lock. I entered it in and clicked. The Skeleton Key was ripped out of my hands, and the walls flashed with violet light.

A woman emerged from the glowing circle with a raven on her shoulder. At once, I bowed in reverence to Nocturnal.

"My, my. What do we have here? It's been a number of years since I've set foot on your world. Or perhaps it's been moments. One tends to lose track." The Night Mistress held immeasurable beauty. "So... once again the Key has been stolen, and a 'champion' returns it to the Sepulcher. Now that Ebonmere has been restored, you stand before me awaiting your accolades; a pat on your head, a kiss on your cheek. What you fail to realize is that your actions were expected and represent nothing more than the fulfillment of your agreement." I cast my gaze down. She clearly noticed. "Do not mistake my tone for displeasure. After all, you've obediently performed your duties to the letter.

"But we both know this has little to do with honor and oaths and loyalty. It's about the reward, the prize. Fear not. You'll have your trinkets, your desire for power, your hunger for wealth. I bid you to drink deeply from the Ebonmere, mortal. For this is where the Agent of Nocturnal is born. The Oath has been struck, the die has been cast, and your fate awaits you in the Evergloam. Farewell, Nightingale." Nocturnal began to disappear. "See to it that the Key stays this time, won't you?" She vanished.

"I'm glad you were able to bring the Key back safely." I jumped about three feet into the air. I had in no way expected anyone to be here.

"Gods, Karliah," I hissed.

"Nocturnal seemed quite pleased with your efforts." I was mystified.

"Pleased? She sounded indifferent."

"I wouldn't take that to heart. It's her way. Think of her as a scolding mother continually pushing you harder to be successful; outwardly sounding angry but silently content. I assure you, had she been displeased with you, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Had I intended to kill you, we wouldn't be having this conversation... Karliah's past words floated back to me.

"What now?" I asked.

"Surely you wish to become a Nightingale Agent," she said. "The circles at the base of the Ebonmere imbue you with powers--"

"No." I took a deep breath. I'd meditated on this, and it was the hardest decision I'd ever had to make. But it was the only way.

"What?" I just stared at her sorrowfully. Understanding sparked in her eyes, until my own sadness was reflected. "Oh. You... you're leaving." I nodded. "But you took the Oath..."

"And I will keep it, just as I swore to do so. If the Sepulcher is threatened, then I shall return. But I will leave the Guild."

"You are our new Guildmaster, you can't leave!"

"Karliah... you have to understand," I pleaded. "I can't wake up every day to pain..."

"I respect your decision. If it is your wish to leave the Guild behind, then I will honor that. But should you ever wish to return..."

"I can't ever wish to return. But I'll never forget you. I'll never forget any of you." I walked through a portal leading to Nightingale Hall. I crumpled to the ground and began to cry.

Chapter Text

((4th of Morning Star, 4E 209))

I walked along in Solitude, nodding to Jordis. Many years had passed since I'd ended my contact with the Guild. I was approached by a figure, one that I hardly recognized.

"Karliah?" I gasped in surprise. Wrinkles were now clearly seen in her face, and she walked with a slight limp.

"There's something you have to see."

I shook my head. "I can't. The Guild... I left the Guild years ago."

"But this is different. You need to be there." The urgency in her tone drew me in. I agreed.

...

((8th of Morning Star, 4E 209))

I walked through Riften. It seemed dim and gloomy.

"Where are we going?" I remembered the pathway to the cistern's secret entrance. I felt uneasy when I realized that she was leading me to the Guild. "No, I'm not going in there." I stopped abruptly and turned to leave.

"Russet." Her normally soft whisper had become a stern command. "Follow me. Now." I had no choice... but to obey.

Each footstep took a hundred years. Each breath took a thousand millennia. Each heartbeat took an eternity.

Karliah pushed the button to let me in. I wondered how I would be received. I wore a tunic, having given up adventuring once Alduin was dead. I felt out of place.

Niruin stared at me, and Sapphire looked like she was going to cry. Thrynn and Rune exchanged a glance.

"I don't belong here anymore," I whispered to Karliah.

"But we are connected by the shadows still. You are a Nightingale, and always will be." I continued to trail behind her, ducking to hide myself from the Guild.

I came into his room, where Vex and Delvin sat sadly.

"So... you managed to get her to return," Vex said simply. "How did I know that she would return for him, but not for us?"

"She knew nothing of him. She came of her own accord," Karliah replied. She moved out of the way, and I stepped forward. I saw him lying on the bed, and sweat covered his face.

Emotions rose in me that I'd pushed down for years. Ever so slowly, he turned his head to me and smiled.

"Hello, lass."

"Bryn?" This was a dream. This had to be some working of Vaermina... "Brynjolf, you're--" I collapsed on the floor and crawled to him.

"He insisted on seeing you," Delvin muttered. "He said he wanted to see his lass one more time."

"I'm sorry, lass," Brynjolf rasped.

"So am I," I responded weakly. I stumbled over to him and held his hand. It was too hot.

"What do you have to be sorry about?" He coughed, and his breath came in short gasps.

"For leaving you." I stroked his messy hair rhythmically. "I'm sorry for leaving you."

"You... you gave this Guild a purpose again," he choked out. Tears slid freely down my face. "I never once doubted you. Let me tell you something..."

"Bryn, I..."

"I have..." he took one final, deep breath. "I have always loved you. I have always loved my Russet Nightingale." The air left his chest as his soul left his body. I was paralyzed. I felt numb.

I couldn't see, I couldn't hear. I could only feel. I could only feel the crimson regret and sorrow. I could only feel the pain. I could only feel the emptiness of where he used to be.

Chapter Text

((4th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

I bolted up, doused in sweat. I caught a glint of red before it vanished into the murk.

"Damn you, Vaermina," I hissed. She'd been giving me nightmares since that day I'd left the Guild two years ago.

I looked out the window of Proudspire Manor and smiled when I saw children running around. Small birds flew around in the sky, enjoying the morning spring air.

I thought back. I had something scheduled today... Ah. My meeting with Riften's court wizard. I got out of bed and pulled out my long-forgotten Thieves Guild clothing. I hadn't gotten rid of it, even if I'd tried to rid myself of the memories. It had been almost two years since I'd severed my tie to them, and not a day went by that I didn't think of them.

Bryn probably found a new lass, and surely Sapphire found someone else to confide in. But Bryn was dead. No, he's not dead! You can't believe that!

Vaermina tried to kill someone in my head every night. First it was Karliah, then Sapphire. Each night, someone was murdered. The first time, I'd run all the way from my temporary camp in the forest. They were alive and well.

After that, I had several nightmares reliving Brynjolf's harsh words. I became resentful of him more so than I'd ever been.

"My Thane, where are you going?" I'd dressed into my ranger's armor, specially created by Eorlund. It was a thank-you gift.

"Out," I replied. Jordis gave me a single look. "I've got business."

"May inquire of the situation?"

"No, you cannot." The blonde-haired Nord dipped her head respectfully.

"Forgive me, My Lady. Safe travels."

...

I was approached by someone on the streets. My heart pounded as I saw ashen skin, the sure sign of a Dunmer. The Dark Elf passed me by, though I was sure that eyes the color of lavender had stared at me from under her hood. On my way out, white hair spilled out from another. I hurried on, out of Solitude.

...

"Odahviing!" I summoned the crimson dragon from his perch on the Throat of the World. At the moment, I was working on a spell that would give me the body of a dragon. The dragon came after about ten minutes, his landing shaking the ground.

"Dovahkiin," the dragon rumbled, dipping his head respectfully.

"I need you to take me to Riften."

"I was under the impression that you disliked that city," he growled, turning his head to the side inquisitively.

"I would not go were it not urgent." Odahviing lowered his neck.

"I trust you are there for your research?" I climbed up onto his scales.

"Yes. Let us fly."

...

((4th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

It took only an hour to arrive in the town from Solitude on dragonback. Odahviing left me near the Riften gate before flying away to High Hrothgar.

I walked up to the doors.

"Halt! You--" The guard that had begun speaking backed away. "Ah, Dragonborn. Forgive me, I hadn't realized it was you. You haven't been here for many years." I winced slightly.

"I've had matters to attend to." He nodded and stepped aside. As soon as I walked into the city, I breathed deeply. Voices shouted, gulls cried, and mist hung in the air. I took the familiar, yet foreign steps towards Mistveil Keep. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw hurried movement. Several people were walking into the Ratway's door.

I was intrigued and forgot my current task. The Guild's secret entrance was only a short walk away, and would give me an idea of what was going on. Inside of the chapel, I changed into the armor that labeled me as a thief. I hadn't worn it since the day I returned the Key.

After a moment's hesitation, I pushed the button. It slid open soundlessly, and I saw that they'd polished it down.

I pulled the chain to cover it back up before someone noticed. I cautiously opened the ceiling door and walked down.

...

The first thing that stood out was the splendor of the Guild. Ornate rugs were set on the stone, and golden banners were hung. New beds were lain out everywhere. All but one. That had been my bed.

I covered my head and walked through. I recognized Niruin, though he'd not recognize me. My hair, once a long bright red, was now barely shoulder-length. The beautiful youth I'd possessed years ago still remained, but was marred by an ugly scar-- the doing of a dragon. The werewolf inside of me had left with the death of Mercer. The fury had driven it out.

Nobody noticed me, and I didn't want them to. I wanted to see for myself if my nightmare had been true. I opened the door to the Ragged Flagon and was greeted by cheery laughter floating down the halls. I walked into Brynjolf's room... and found nothing.

I didn't know whether I was relieved or angered. His last words to me had told me how his love was a lie. Since then, many other men had professed their love for me. I never loved any of them, and discouraged their attentions. I now empathized with Camilla Valerius.

"And then, the brave Russet jumped into battle, using the forces of nature to rip Mercer apart!" I recognized Brynjolf's voice, and I was torn in two. They still remembered me. Funny, how when I return, they speak of my bravery.

"Where is Russet?" Someone asked. It sounded like a child.

"She left," Bryn answered. I listened carefully to his tone, wondering if any sorrow hung on his words. I found none. "She returned the Skeleton Key and gave us everything we have now."

"Is she alive?"

"She's somewhere, saving someone else. After all, that's what heroes do, isn't it?" I leaned on the stone walls.

"What about Karliah? Where was she?"

"Karliah came back with the news of Russet's disappearance. She told us that the Key had been put back into its lock."

"But did she say where Russet went?"

"No. All she said was--"

"'The shadows follow their own path. But they always return come the night'." Karliah walked into the tavern, quoting herself. I wondered how often they'd told this tale.

"Did you ever see her again?" I believed that it was a little boy who spoke this time.

"Never," Brynjolf responded. "As I said before, she left us." I could feel the slight anger underneath his calm façade. Time to end this little game.

"As she left, Russet gave each member of the Guild what they had given her, what symbolized their bonds." I stepped into the light, though my identity remained hidden underneath my brown hood.

"Who are you?" Brynjolf tensed up.

"Now... oh, I do remember now. To Tonilia, she gave a ring. Golden with an onyx set in the middle. Vex received a golden lockpick, and Sapphire found a priceless necklace on her bed, with blue gems in the platinum."

"Who are you?" Brynjolf repeated, growing angry.

"Each member of the Thieves Guild had a reminder from Russet. Each of them, except one. One single member was given nothing. Nothing, as he had given her."

"Show yourself, or I will cut you apart!" Bryn pulled out a sword and began to advance. I sighed in mock acceptance.

I drew back my hood and heard the gasps of shock. The Nord stepped back. " I would have thought you'd learned not to threaten me, Brynjolf."

Chapter Text

((4th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

Brynjolf dropped his sword.

"Lass?" It sounded like he didn't believe I was there.

"Russet's back?" I got mixed emotions from the Guild members. They all poured in through the door. Someone must have gone in and said something.

"It's a relief to have you back!" Niruin slapped my back heartily. "Two years was two too many."

"If you ask me, she deserted us," Dirge grunted. "We should chase her off."

"Where have you been?" Sapphire pushed her way through the crowd.

"I'm sure you all know where she's been.. Brynjolf snarled. "Hiding away from us because her poor feelings were hurt! Because I didn't 'love her'!" Gasps rippled through the crowd. I felt my face grow hot.

"How dare you!" I snarled hatefully. "I was making sure that--"

"That you wouldn't 'wake up every day to pain'?" He taunted, and I shot a glare at Karliah. She backed away regretfully.

"I was making sure that you lived!"

"And how did you do that, away from Riften?" Bryn challenged, sticking his face near mine. I swung a punch straight into his jaw.

"While you were busy stealing trinkets for your own pleasure, I was out there, kicking Alduin's ass and saving your lives!" I shrieked. Brynjolf pushed himself up off the floor.

"Oh, really?" Brynjolf scoffed, yet with much less conviction than he'd begun with.

"Would you all like to hear a real tale?" I called out. "Sure, it's great that I saved the Guild. It was difficult to leave you behind," I started, turning to the mass of people. "But I had to answer the call."

"The call of what?" A voice said from the back.

"The call of the Graybeards."

"Well, lass... You always were a convincing storyteller." The Nord sat back in his chair, sticking his feet on the table. "So regale us, if you will."

"Hm? Oh, I'm sure you know about this, Brynjolf. About half a year ago, I completed my greatest task. I killed Alduin." Everyone in the room gasped with awe.

"And where exactly were you for almost two years? Surely you weren't tracking a dragon for that long."

"No.The first few weeks were spent preparing with the Graybeards. After that, I traveled all over the continent, into Nordic crypts, destroyed forts..." I looked Brynjolf straight into the eye. "And into Dwemer ruins to retrieve an Elder Scroll."

"Care to tell us the details?" He mocked.

"Oh, of course. Follow me." Everyone filed behind me as I walked into the cistern. They all sat on their beds, while Brynjolf took mine. I glared and stood in the very middle of the cistern.

"Go on, Dragonborn. Tell us your feats."

"You were just telling them how I'd killed Mercer. Don't pretend you're not proud of your 'lass'." I addressed the whole of the Thieves Guild. "Now, before I was the Savior of Skyrim, I was a Nightingale..."

...

Chapter Text


((4th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 8:39 p.m.))

I explained to the crowd that had gotten larger every detail of my adventure.

"Now, I didn't want to leave the Guild," I admitted. "But after Mercer was dead and the Key back in its rightful place, I felt that I wasn't needed any more." I finished. Dead silence, then a wave of applause. Several cheers rang out.

"All hail the Dragonborn!" I grinned broadly, and Brynjolf shrank back uncomfortably.

After the minor celebration, the Guild members dispersed and returned to their duties. I gave a pointed look at Bryn, who turned around and walked off.

I won't deny it. I was putting on an act to make him see that I was strong enough to live without him, and that I quit crying. I hated him, and I hated myself for loving him. But I couldn't rely on him.

I noticed several new members, and walked up to a tall Nord with shaggy hair.

"The name's Garthar. Remember it, 'cause you're going to be hearing a lot about me," he boasted.

"How did you join the Guild?" I asked idly, not at all impressed by his prideful composure.

"I helped Vex fight a pack of wolves."

"She needed help with wolves?" I didn't believe him at all, and wanted to make sure that he'd know who in Oblivion he was dealing with.

"Ah... well, two of them were already dead by the time I got there. But--" I listened to him boast about killing the wolves, and about his fight with Vex.

"So how many scars did she give you?"

"None. It came to a draw." I doubted it. Vex would have killed him in a second.

"I doubt you'd be so eager to fight her again."

"Oh, certainly true. But I wouldn't mind a bit of a scuffle..." He smirked. "With you or Vex. Mind a little tussle?"

"Dream on." I left him alone. I used to pride myself on using my appearance to get what I wanted. But I was tired of the attention I was getting.

Every man thought they deserved my favor. They came to me with flowers, with jewelry, everything imaginable. One even offered to sell his wife into slavery to be with me. Ahlam later thanked me when I shipped Nazeem off to the "Cloud District".

I had few friends who were not interested in marriage. Marcurio, for one, Faendal, and Mjoll. It was obvious that Lydia and Ione were fawning, despite their duties.

I groaned and left them behind. All I wanted was to lay down and get a good night's rest.

...

((5th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 10:23 p.m.))

My footfalls made no noise, and I opened the door. Still nothing. I snuck through the Ragged Flagon, quiet. Why was it so quiet? The hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I twisted to the side at the whoosh of an arrow. Niruin glared at me.

"You have the nerve to return?" He spat. "Gone for two years, returning with tales of killing Alduin? He likely never existed. A legend. The dragons are returning, but Alduin is false." He drew his bow and aimed at my face. "Stupid Nord "history". Nothing in Skyrim matters. Once I've kille-" he fell over dead, and I wiped the blood off my dagger.

"She's killed Niruin! Get her!" Voices swarmed around me, and I shrieked as a thousand knives dug into my skin.

...

((5th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 11:06 p.m.))

I crawled out of bed, sure I heard evil cackling in the shadows. Vaermina.

"Why are you doing this to me? I've done nothing to you!" My voice bounced off the walls, though the Guild slept soundly. I was given no reply.

I did not want to sleep. Since my inner wolf escaped, my sleep had been worse than it had when I had beast blood. I'd never gone a single night without a nightmare.

I decided to go to the College of Winterhold, to find information on these dreams. I began to pack my satchel.

"Where are you headed off to? Abandoning us again?"

"Shove off, Bryn," I hissed, not even glancing his way.

"You've just returned. Don't do this to the Guild." He turned my chin towards him. "Don't do this to me." He began to lean in.

"Don't!" I pushed him off. "You can't play me for a fool, Brynjolf," I snarled. "You're a despicable human. I can't believe you thought I'd listen to you." The shock in his eyes was replaced by fury.

"If you won't listen to me, then listen to Nocturnal's sentinels!" With one quick movement, he'd stuck a blade in my skull.

...

((5th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 11:34 p.m.))

Twice in one night... This is new. "Overtake them!" A loud voice echoed around the cistern. I stood up furiously, preparing for a fight. Armed forces swarmed through the secret entrance and immediately went into battle with the Guild members.

"Yol!" A minor burst of flame roared through the cistern and killed three guards. One ran around and jumped into the filthy water to extinguish the flames.

I rushed into the combat with Nightstorm in my hand. I'd enchanted an ebony blade with lightning, a nod to my defeat of Mercer.

Left, right, left, right... I became aware of someone at my back, the familiar build of one I'd fought beside for months. A blade was shoved against my bones.

"How could you?" I croaked before falling to the ground.

"You're a threat to my leadership," he growled. "Nobody likes you. Nobody needs you. We don't want you. Goodbye, lass." He dug the dagger under my ribs.

...

((6th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 12:00 a.m. Midnight))

Three times... I glanced around the cistern and decided to leave at once. This place was giving me nightmares over and over. I calmed my erratic breathing and focused. If anything unrealistic happens, then it's a dream. With this thought firmly in place, I walked into the Ragged Flagon.

Vekel was at the counter, and Tonilia sat near the water. The smith was at work, and the alchemist was brewing more potions. Everything seemed normal enough.

Until Vex screamed in pain before falling over, blood pouring out of her stomach. Until Tonilia slammed on the floor with an arrow through her neck. Until Delvin's head rolled around on the floor. Until they flooded through the doors. Definitely another dream. I drew Nightstorm and whirled around, certain I was the next target. I took out two assassins before noticing their attire. Mercenaries.

"Bryn! I need your help in here!" I screeched. I'd killed the World-Eater, and was a master of blades. But I couldn't keep them away forever. Brynjolf rushed out of his room, already in his armor.

"What in Oblivion?" Without wasting a second, the Nord began to attack the forces furiously. I took a hit to the ankle and fell down with a yelp of pain. Vekel was behind the counter, fending them off best he could. But he was quickly overwhelmed.

The face leading the crusade was too familiar, and a lump gathered in my throat. I shook off my leg injury with a quick Restoration spell and charged at my friend.

"I'll have to thank Russet for this victory!" The blonde Nord yelled triumphantly as she aimed the blade at me.

"Mjoll, stop it! It's me!" I pushed my hood back, and she gasped.

"Russet? But you..." Mjoll stumbled backwards before anger overtook her. "I'll kill you, and all of your pitiful thieves!" She snapped her fingers, and I was restrained by three of her men. The others stopped fighting.

"Don't, please!"

"He's your leader, isn't he?" My dear friend had become my enemy. I noticed that Brynjolf had been pushed onto his back, and Mjoll put her foot on his neck. "I've known about him for so long. Only when you returned my weapon to me did I have the strength to come here." She raised her sword, and I did the only thing I could think of.

"Wuld!" I broke through the line of guards and covered him. Mjoll stabbed the blade down into my ribs.

I shrieked in agony, the sheer pain of the sword sliding into my flesh waking me up. Not waking from a dream. Waking from the ruse of a dream.

This was no event created by my overactive imagination, or the doing of Vaermina. Mjoll the Lioness had led a siege on the Thieves Guild, killing them and killing me.

Chapter Text

((6th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

"Wake up! Wake up! Dammit, get up!" I was rudely slammed on the floor and gasped. Brynjolf had pulled me out of bed. I just stayed there, feeling my ribs for the wound I'd received. Not caring who was watching, I ripped off the top cuirass and checked.

There was nothing except the old scars from the Thalmor, and the thick white line from Mercer. Embarrassed, I pulled it back on. Clearly, I'd made quite a scene.

"What in the name of Oblivion was that?" Brynjolf grabbed my elbow to help me up. "You were screaming in your sleep." The realism... I wasn't so sure it was only a dream.

"What in the name of--" Dirge walked in, rubbing his eyes. "Oh, is that it? You come back and dump all of this on us?" I glowered at the sour man.

"Listen, it was a nightmare," I defended myself.

"Mighty Dragonborn, afraid of a few dreams?" Garthar taunted.

"Don't push her," Sapphire warned. "Trust me." She gave me a sympathetic glance. At least someone isn't pissed off.

"I'm leaving," I blurted. Several irritated groans rumbled around the room.

"Oh, so that's it? Come here for the first time in two years, mock Brynjolf, tell a story, and wake us up at an ungodly hour with your screeching? Then you're just leaving?"

"I swear to the gods..." I covered my eyes and sighed angrily.

"You haven't even done anything for the Guild!" A Dunmer male snorted. "How can we be sure that you're not just here for a free meal?"

"Listen, she's done more--" Saph stepped in to defend me. However, someone else cut her off.

"I will hear no more of this," Brynjolf boomed. His voice echoed around the cistern. It seemed that he'd taken on the leadership well. "Russet will not be hearing any more of that. Do not disrespect her. She may not have been here for a while, but she is still a Nightingale. Were it not for her, most of you wouldn't be here." I was surprised that he, of all people, would defend me.

"You've just got a soft spot for her, Bryn," the Dark Elf spat.

"I treat all of you equally," Brynjolf responded. "Nobody is greater than another. I want everyone in this cistern to be treated with proper manners. Do I make myself clear?" I was truly impressed. The man who'd hated the very idea of a powerful position was using it like a second skin.

Still, attention turned to me after he left. My ears grew hot.

"Goodbye," I muttered, leaving through the ladder. I still felt eyes on me.

...

((6th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

"I don't understand. These nightmares won't stop." I'd traveled to High Hrothgar to speak with the Graybeards. I'd asked Odahviing to take me. "They're affecting my life in such a negative way."

All were silent, until Arngeir spoke up.

"Dragonborn, we believe that this may be a result of your immoral behavior."

"Why?"

"We cannot judge you on your actions. Only the gods can. However, the gift of dragon's blood is something that should always be treated with respect."

"I'd thought it was Vaermina," I muttered.

"I highly doubt it. The way I see it, the gods are displeased with your actions."

"So why give me these nightmares?"

They didn't answer. At least, not right away. After a minute, they all looked directly at me with a strange look in their eyes.

"What... what are you doing?" I began to back away. I was powerful, but against the Graybeards? A simple Fus could kill me.

"Dovahkiin," Borri whispered. The temple shook.

"Dovahkiin," the others echoed.

"Dovahkiin!" I flew into a million pieces and woke up in my Honeyside bed.

...

((6th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

I glanced around, unsure if this was another dream. They'd gotten much worse. I couldn't tell where reality was. Whenever I tried to find help, it would turn out to be a nightmare. What was wrong with me? I couldn't seek help.

...

((16th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 10:08 p.m.))

This time, I knew it was a dream. I knew it was a dream, because I was looking on my past. White mist swirled around my feet.

"Please, we are no danger to you!" My father cried.

"Anyone who worships Talos is violating the law," the head Thalmor responded coldly, summoning a single blast of fire. He incinerated my mother as she clutched to my baby brother. I saw the past version of myself walk through the door and shriek.

"Now here's a prize!" One of the men grinned.

"Take her."

The scene changed.

I was in the Thalmor's hideout, watching the High Elves torture me. I saw the tears run down my face as they slowly cut my chest apart.

"Damn you, damn you all to Oblivion!" Past-me wailed.

"Shut your mouth, whelp!" I was struck again.

Once again, my feet took me to a new part of my life.

"She's strong. If she managed to kill the Thalmor, she deserves a place in the Companions. She must have endured their tortures for many moons." I was lifted into Farkas's arms and brought to Jorrvaskr.

My first real Companions job, three months after. It was the eighth of Frostfall. In 190.

Then when I received the gift of lycanthropy from Aela and Skjor. The fourteenth of Heartfire, in the year of 195.

The death of Skjor a day later.

Our defeat of the Silver Hand, and my curing of Kodlak. Kodlak's decision to train me as the new Harbingr when he went to Sovngarde. All in 196.

My travels all over Tamriel. My friend in S'vari the Khajiit in Elsweyr.

The day I was taken prisoner when I'd tried to cross into Cyrodil, in 201. Alduin's attack, allowing me to escape.

The day I learned I was Dragonborn.

Then the day I went into Riften. Brynjolf. The day I'd met him.

"A little light in the pockets, eh, lass?"

I watched as I began to fall in love with him. Was this what the gods saw? Even though I hadn't realized it myself, I'd been in love with him long before the battle with Mercer.

Then Brynjolf saving my life, begging me to wake up, pleading for me. I looked down on myself being fought over by the Daedric princes. Nocturnal claiming me.

"This is your life." I jumped, startled at the sudden appearance of Nocturnal. "Brynjolf never saved you. I did." I wondered why. "You call yourself a Nightingale. Are you so pledged?" I couldn't answer. "You haven't spoken my name since you left the Guild."

"What's the problem?"

"You all seem to be taking your oaths rather lazily. Perhaps I should end the order of the Nightingales." I couldn't find an answer.

"Can you help me?" I blurted.

"What more could you want? I gave you your life. I gave you power. I gave you everything."

"I want to know one thing. I know the Eye of Nocturnal can tell the future."

"That among other things..."

"I wanted to know... Will my nightmares ever leave me? Will I ever become who I want to be? Do my Guildmates trust me? Does--" I was silenced.

"You ask too many questions, mortal."

"Forgive me."

"I will give you the answers you seek if you give me something in return."

"What?"

"Give me the key to your dreams."

"How?"

"I can take it from you. Ask me your petty questions, and then I will take what I want." Never bargain with a Daedric prince...

I ran through a list in my head. She's about to take away the dreams, right?

"When will I be accepted into the Guild once more?"

"Never." My hopes fell. "Don't think anything of it."

"Is there something I can do?"

"No."

"Does... Does Brynjolf..."

"Love you?" I found it difficult to reply. "Hmm. Well, it's hard to say. I cannot see the feelings of others as well as the future. But from what I can see, he--"

"Russet, get out of here now! Get out! Run!" I awoke to the bitter smell of smoke and heat of fire.

Chapter Text

((17th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205, 12:37 a.m.))

I retched when I breathed in the suffocating smoke. My throat burned with fury.

Someone was shaking my shoulder, but in the haze, I couldn't make them out.

"Get up! The house is on fire!" The cistern...? A tongue of flame wrapped around my arm, and I yelped in pain. I stood up, not recognizing where I was. I was filled with desperation, until I saw a door. I hope this one leads out! I pushed open the door while my hands screamed. The wood burned my skin.

I breathed fresh sea air, and whoever it was that woke me followed me out. The sky was dark and cloudy. I looked back and realized that it was my own home, Honeyside.

A dragon flew around the city. I prepared to fling it to the ground with Dragonrend until I recognized who it was.

"Odahviing, over here!" I waved my arms, and the red dovah spotted me.

"Zu'u meyz ahst ont!" He replied, flapping his massive leathery wings. He swooped over and lifted me into the air. He made a second turn and rescued the one who'd saved me.

"Karliah?" I queried, gripping Odahviing's scales while she held tightly to his claws.

"I have as much of an idea about what's going on as you do!" She replied.

"Lokluv Strun Triir!" I Shouted. Rain, Storm, Pour. My studies with Paarthurnax gave me the ability to create my own Shouts. After all, the Dovahzul-- dragon language-- was all using the Voice.

The clouds began to rain, putting out the flames devouring my home. The roof was destroyed, and the glass was broken by the time the fire died out.

Odahviing circled around and put me on the ground. Several guards ran over with their weapons drawn.

"Stop! He's a friend, don't!" I held my hands away from my body, and they slowed.

"Only for you, Dragonborn. But if he steps out, just say the word." They reluctantly put them away and walked off.

"What happened?" I asked Odahviing.

"What were you thinking?" he snarled angrily, and the guards gave me glances of worry.

"Stop, calm down. Calm down." I rubbed his scales. I didn't need to kill the dragons, though I was perfectly capable of doing so if they meant harm. Most dragons were violent, and I killed them. But others landed in front of me while I traveled to talk. Just to speak with the Dovahkiin.

"I think it would be appropriate to have all three of you here," he growled. "Find the other one who foolishly gave himself to a Daedric prince." Karliah ran off to find Brynjolf.

"What's going on?"

"Nahlon, Dovahkiin. Silent. I will speak with you once they all arrive. Kaat."

...

Chapter Text

((17th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

I sat at the table, going over plans with a new recruit.

"Brynjolf, come quickly!" Karliah rushed into the Ragged Flagon.

"I'm busy, lass. Can't it wait?"

"It's Russet. Her home was on fire, and there's a dragon, and--"

"Alright, I'm coming. Vex will be in charge until I return," I announced. They mumbled, and I went with the Dunmer.

...

Chapter Text

((17th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

((RUSSETPOV))

Odahviing took all three of us about a mile out of Riften after I requested privacy.

"What's this all about? I have important things to do," Brynjolf complained.

"Drem. Patience," Odahviing rumbled, shifting to a more comfortable position. "Dovahkiin mey. A fool."

"Wait, I--"

"Gir. Listen."

"Before I listen to anything, I want to know why in Oblivion you set my home on fire," I demanded.

"You were not waking. You made a dangerous choice, Dovahkiin."

"You could have just roared to wake me up," I said crossly. "Then I wouldn't have work to do on my home. If this was all just to wake me up from a goddamn dream, I'm going to be pissed."

"Yes and no," Odahviing replied. "There was voro... An imbalance in the atmosphere. It was directly linked to you, Dovahkiin."

"How me?"

"You conversed with a Daedric prince," he rumbled.

"Nocturnal, I presume?" Karliah cut in.

"Well, she came to me," I admitted. "It was a nice change from the usual nightmares."

"Nightmares?" Brynjolf crossed his arms. "So you weren't joking back in the cistern?"

"No, I wasn't," I snapped. "I've been having them for two years. I've seen you all die, and I've been killed more than a few times. I relived the days when I was tortured by the Thalmor. I was torn apart and eaten away. It's not a nice experience."

"Focus. Morah," the red dragon chastised. "Dovahkiin, what occurred?"

"I... she told me that she'd tell my future," I replied uneasily, glancing around nervously. I could feel this conversation taking a darker turn.

"Nocturnal would never do something for nothing," Karliah commented, her tone beginning to mirror mine.

"What was your bargain, lass?"

"I... I gave her my dreams." Karliah squeaked, and Brynjolf made a small choking noise in the back of his throat.

"What have you done?" Odahviing roared, and the earth shuddered under the force of his Voice. "You've given your dreams?"

"Y-yes..."

"Dovahkiin, you have given your will to exist. You have given Nocturnal the very means by which to control you." My heart dropped into my stomach, and I collapsed onto the stones below.

Chapter Text

((17th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

My head was pounding, and I slowly propped myself up. It took me a moment to get my bearings.

"Are you okay?" Karliah came into focus.

"You passed out," Brynjolf added. "The dragon put his tail under you before you hit the ground-- though I'm not so sure that was much better."

"Thank you, Odahviing." The memories came flooding back. In essence, I had given up my entire being to Nocturnal. The heroes of Sovngarde said that I would always be welcome there when my time came to pass. But if I was Nocturnal's own, then I couldn't escape.

"You are cursed. Krosis, it is a shame, Dovahkiin." The great red drake shook his head. "I do not know of a way to rid yourself of her, now."

"Could we speak to Paarthurnax?" I queried, and he twisted his head to the side.

"Hmm. He may know more than I."

"Well, while you're busy talking to a dragon, I'll go back to the Guild," Bryn whistled, and I yanked the collar of his cuirass back.

"Until we find a way to free me from Nocturnal, you're not going anywhere."

...

((17th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

"You fool!" Paarthurnax hissed, shaking the mountain as he perched on the top of the ruined Wall.

"I know it was unwise," I admitted. "But I need to know how to cut myself off from her."

"Only one thing can hold the power to break a pact. You will need an Elder Scroll. More precisely, you will need three."

"How am I supposed to find three Elder Scrolls?" I squeaked.

"Their combined influence should break your trance. The three... Memory, Night, and Dream. Zahkrut, Vulon, Laas. I have knowledge of their locations... Zahkrut, the Memory Scroll, should be somewhere in Morrowind. That is where it was when the elves locked its power away, thousands of years ago. I'd assume it is still under the mountain."

"Woah, there. You don't mean we're going inside of an active volcano?"

"That is precisely what I mean." Paarthurnax turned his head to face them. Karliah knelt before the gray dragon, while Bryn waited impatiently. "You would be wise to show respect," Paarthurnax growled.

"I want to know what in the blazes is happening."

"Okay, we need to travel all over Tamriel to save my life. Happy?" I snapped, and Brynjolf sighed.

"Okay, dragon. Where are we going?"

"I told you of the first location. Should you return with the Scroll, we will speak further."

...

((30th of Rain's Hand, 4E 205))

We had returned briefly to Riften, where Bryn put Vex in charge until he returned. She asked no questions.

Now, we were nearing the island of Solstheim. A ship captain in Windhelm was willing to bring us here, though it had taken nearly a week to even get to the old city. Add another for the boat trip.

...

((1st of Second Seed, 4E 205))

Once we landed on Solstheim, I was approached by three people with bone-like masks.

"You're the one they call Dovahkiin?" One spoke with a gravelly voice.

"Yes, I'm the Dragonborn," I replied proudly.

"Then I will kill you, under the name of Mir--" I severed his head with one quick swipe of Nightstorm, and my two companions each took another one. They were dead in seconds.

"They had this," Bryn said, handing me a note.

I want you to track down the false Dragonborn known as Russet.

It said a few other things, but I wasn't interested in that. I needed the Scroll. I made some inquiries around the town and saw a familiar shape. A Guild Shadowmark.

"Ah, Glover. It's good to see you again." Bryn went over to a man standing at the forge and shook his hand.

"Hello, Bryn, Karliah..." He turned to me. "I don't believe I've met this young lady before."

"I'm Russet," I introduced myself. "I'm looking for something... Would you mind helping me?"

"Anything for a fellow Guild member," he said.

"I need to know what lies under Red Mountain."

"You seem to already know the answer," Glover replied.

"I need to know how to get there."

"You'd best be careful... Morrowind ain't exactly a friendly place, anymore." I frowned. "It's an old Akaviri structure," he explained. "That's all I can think of."

"Thank you."

"Goodbye, Mallory." Bryn waved.

"Mallory?"

"Delvin's brother."

...

((1st of Second Seed, 4E 205, 9:37 p.m.))

We'd been trekking for hours, and it seemed like I would fall over from exhaustion.

"We should stop," Karliah suggested. I was only too willing to agree with her.

"You okay, lass?" I swayed unsteadily, feeling my energy leaving my limbs. I fell to the ground and collapsed in the gray ash of Red Mountain.

Chapter Text

((1st of Second Seed, 4E 205, 7:48 p.m.))

I walked along a bright path, light shining through every leaf and stone. However, as I continued, the forest grew darker. I turned around, as to move back, but where I'd come from was also shrouded in darkness. I had no choice but to keep going.

Eventually, the woods were only lit by the full moon, which quickly waned until it was a mere sliver in the sky. It vanished completely, and an icy breeze rushed through the trees. It chilled me to the bone.

I began to run, not caring where. I crashed into branches and thorns, scratching my skin.

"Halt, mortal." Her tone was like the coldest night. I stopped where I was. "You have something that belongs to me."

"I don't..." I backed away, yet the Mistress of Shadow never stopped advancing.

"You promised me your dreams, child," she hissed. Nocturnal extended a clawed hand, and the raven on her shoulder fixed me with a paralyzing stare. "I intend to take what is mine."

A single finger touched my chest, and I screamed in agony. It spread through my body. A single drip of warmth flowed down my arm, and I opened my eyes.

...

((2nd of Second Seed, 4E 205, 2:32 a.m.))

I awoke to a sharp pain in my right arm. Karliah sat beside me. Brynjolf snored lightly.

"You... you weren't waking when I called you," she said softly. "You wouldn't respond, and your skin became gray." I lifted my arm and watched the ashen color fade from my flesh. "I took a chance and cut your arm. It looks like it worked." Blood oozed from the wound.

"Thank you," I whispered, wrapping it up. The nightmare... "How long was I asleep?"

"Several hours, six at least. You just fell down while we were walking, and Bryn had to carry you away. We're near a pond." Her voice held more worry than was necessary.

"We need to get going. Nocturnal found me." Karliah flinched, and I realized that she must have been exhausted. "I..."

"Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."

"You won't be."

"I'm just worried about you, Russet."

"Sleep, Karliah. I'll keep watch and wake you if anything happens." The Dunmer looked as if she was about to protest, but I shook my head. "I'm not changing my mind."

"...Very well. But if there's even a whiff of danger, you must alert us at once." Karliah laid down in the bedroll, and I heard her breathing slow within a minute. I looked up at the sky.

Warriors of Sovngarde, give me your strength! I begged. Of course, I received no reply but the twinkling stars.

...

((2nd of Second Seed, 4E 205, 8:14 a.m.))

Bryn and Karliah had both woken up, and we ate our breakfast in silence.

"Do you know where to go next?" Bryn asked.

"I grew up in Morrowind. You can clearly see the smoke from Red Mountain in the eastern sky." She gestured to a column of black fog rising in the air. "It's been erupting for many, many, many decades."

"So... we just head that way?" Brynjolf asked.

"Yes. We might be able to find a small settlement somewhere that could give us a clue." We set off for the volcano.

After about three hours of walking, a loud roar shattered the peace. A dragon flew above our heads. I waited to see if it simply wanted to speak, but it glared with hatred at us.

"Look out!" I shoved my companions out of the way and narrowly avoided the stream of ice. "It's a frost dragon! Be on your guard!" I knocked the flying beast to the ground with Dragonrend and charged.

It snapped at me with its massive jaws, and I swiveled to the side. My sword whistled as it came down. Blood poured out of the white drake's neck, and it snarled in pain.

"Dovahkiin, krosis!" I ignored it and jumped on the creature's scaly head. With one swift movement, I plunged the blade into the frost dragon's skull. I leaped off and relished the shock on the Nightingale's faces when the scales went up in flames. I absorbed the soul, and the ground rumbled. Only its skeleton remained.

"Lass, that was--"

"Amazing," Karliah finished.

"I have my moments." Without wasting another second, we continued our tiring trek towards Red Mountain.

...

((5th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 11:42 p.m.))

"You can't avoid falling asleep, Russet," Karliah objected.

"I'll... be... fine..." I wheezed, and my vision blurred. I could have sworn that Brynjolf was climbing a tree, and that Karliah was hanging from a branch like a bat... But my eyesight righted itself.

"You can hardly focus, let alone walk another mile. You're vulnerable in this condition!" Karliah reasoned, and I groaned. I hadn't slept since Nocturnal had tried to take my dreams again. After three sleepless days, I had begun to hallucinate.

"I can't sleep. She'll... she'll come after me."

"If anything should happen to you, then I'll wake you," Karliah promised.

"Aye, and I will keep an eye out for anything else," Bryn vowed. I kept walking forwards, forcing my eyes to stay open.

"Go to sleep, Russet." I stumbled on a loose rock and found myself unable to stand up. I had no energy.

"Come, lass. You'll be fine. We're both here to watch over you," Brynjolf soothed, lifting me to a bedroll Karliah had put out.

"I don't need... special treatment."

"In case you haven't noticed, lass, we're heading all over Tamriel to save your soul from a Daedric prince. That's a big deal, and we need to help you in any way we can."

I was too weak to argue and fell asleep to the sound of a crackling campfire.

...

((6th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 4:19 p.m.))

I ran. I didn't know where she was this time, but I knew that she was in pursuit. Each shadow I passed seemed to hold her malevolence.

...

((7th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 2:01 a.m.))

"I've found you!" The menacing form of Nocturnal appeared in front of me, and wisps of black came from her cloak. I turned and ran with the Princess of Night on my trail.

She continued to spring from the shadows until at last, she had me in her grip. She pressed her hand against my chest and clawed at my ribs.

...

((7th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 4:53 a.m.))

The prick of a knife startled me awake.

"What happened?" I gasped, and Brynjolf checked my face.

"Good," he sighed in relief. "Your color is returning." I glanced at my hand again. I saw a hint of pure black before the white returned. "Karliah and I took turns watching you, and your skin blackened a few minutes ago. You wouldn't wake to my call."

"Apparently, only pain can wake me." I rubbed my eyes. "How long this time?"

"Over a day," he replied.

"A day? Over a day?!?" That was over twenty-four hours of precious sunlight.

"You were so still, Karliah thought you were dead." He reached into his knapsack and handed me an apple. "You must be hungry."

"Not really." I shrugged.

"Eat something."

"No," I refused stubbornly. "I'm not hungry, I'm not eating."

"You're the most bullheaded woman I've ever had to deal with."

"Good." Nothing he said changed my mind, and it was about an hour before Karliah woke up. She insisted that I eat, and I reluctantly gave in. It went down wrong and made me feel sick.

We continued to Red Mountain. It was like trying to hike all the way from Falkreath to Windhelm, going over the mountains instead of around them. We weren't even halfway there, and we all were pushed beyond our breaking point.

...

((14th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 4:23 p.m.))

"If you'd just listened to common sense, then we wouldn't be here!"

"Brynjolf, you didn't have to deal with me! You could've just left me on the streets!"

"I'm sick of your constant whining! You complain about me, about the Guild, about how your legs ache-- get over it! We're all tired, and you're just being a bitch about it!"

"Everyone, stop!" Karliah was the only level-headed one in the group, and constantly had to push us apart. I'd stayed awake for three days at a time before succumbing to the exhaustion in my sore muscles. Each time I fell asleep, I was in the forest with Nocturnal on my heels.

Karliah told me that my skin had gone nearly all black just the night before. They woke me when I darkened.

I glared at Bryn, and he returned the sharp expression. Anger stabbed at my mind. I might as well enjoy this.

I walked up to the red-haired Nord and smacked him in the face. He held his hand to the welt on his cheek in shock, quickly morphing into fury. I ran away from him swiftly, relying on a hidden store of energy to escape.

Despite my efforts, the sluggishness in my veins slowed me, and he caught me easily.

"I swear to the gods, Russet, I'm going to kill you before Nocturnal does!" he shouted, and I gaped. He just stared, and he released me. "Lass, I didn't mean--"

"Shut up."

"You know I--"

"No more, Brynjolf. Don't speak. You've said quite enough." My eyes began to tear up. I turned around and ignored the throbbing in my chest. "We don't have time to spare. Let's go."

Chapter Text

((21st of Second Seed, 4E 205, 9:02 p.m.))

"Do you not remember what happened last time?" I trudged forwards, the world spinning. I'd gone five days this time. Four. Three. Two. One. I could make it a few more, couldn't I? I, pie, lie, die, cry, shy, nigh, buy, fly...

I could just prick myself with Nightstorm. The electric enchantment kept me awake. Awake, fake, make, bake, cake, stake, rake, lake, make...

"Stop that rambling."

"I'm not rambling!" Ramble amble bamble camble candle thimble bindle brindle pebble bubble meddle...

"Lass, who are you talking to?" To, blue, shoe, rue... I looked up and saw a giant diamond dragon the size of Whiterun. I tried to bring it down. "There's nothing there, stop!"

"Get down here, you monster!" I began to climb a tree to reach the beast. "Come... here..." I panted.

"Well, mortal. It looks like you're having fun." I nearly fell down. A man in funnily-dressed clothing was dancing on the pine tops.

"Sheogorath?"

"That's my name. Or at least it is now. Maybe it once was. Or is it your name? Maybe you're Sheogorath?"

"Stop! I need to deal with the--" the dragon was gone. "What in the name of Oblivion--"

"I love your sense of humor. I hate it so much! It's worse than mine!" He chortled. "We should have tea sometime, you're amusing! Almost as boring as I was two centuries ago." He vanished in an instant, and I fell towards the ground. I was only a few yards up, but I felt like I was falling for miles. I landed in someone's arms, and my head started spinning.

"Caught you. Now don't climb any more trees, lass. There isn't a dragon, there's no... Sheogorath, and I do not want to have to save your ass because of sleep deprivation!" Brynjolf set me on the ground. I pulled out Nightstorm, to give myself more energy. "Oh, no you don't." He easily pulled it out of my hand. Once I was lying on the ground, I couldn't stay... awake...

...

Chapter Text

((23rd of Second Seed, 4E 205, 7:58 p.m.))

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

"She's been asleep for two days. Shouldn't we wake her?"

"It's dangerous," Karliah protested. "Besides, it gives us a chance to look around."

"But we need to keep moving," I argued. Karliah sighed.

"Let's go scout ahead, but we'll have to be back soon." I agreed and followed her after hiding the slumbering Nord under a large tree's hollow.

If I'd looked back just after I'd put her there, I'd have noticed her fingers slowly turning black.

Chapter Text

((23rd of Second Seed, 4E 205, 7:01 p.m.))

((RUSSETPOV))

I fled. She hadn't found me yet, but I knew she would. It seemed that the longer I stayed away from the gloomy forest, the longer it took Nocturnal to find me. I never got tired, yet at the same time, all energy was being sapped from my body by the swirling tendrils of mist.

I ran on. 
...

((23rd of Second Seed, 4E 205, 8:00 p.m.))

I got the feeling I was being watched. Carefully, I looked around for the danger. Perhaps it was--

"My mortal!" She sprang at me and clutched the front of my black armor.

"Let me go!" I wailed, ripping myself from her grip.

"You would do wise not to cross me!" She began to darken. "You have no hope of escape. I will hunt you down until you've truly tasted my fury!" She grasped my neck and lifted me above her.

"Stop! Please--" my air was cut off. "You can't do this--"

"I do what I please." Her hands tightened around my throat. "I will take what belongs to me! Now, your precious companions search ahead, and cannot help you!"

We weren't even halfway through, and I was going to die. I began to cry, knowing that all my efforts were lost. Everything I'd fought for was in vain. It was all for naught. I closed my eyes.

Chapter Text

((23rd of Second Seed, 4E 205, 8:12 p.m.))

I woke up with a yelp and saw who had released me from my prison. The fading dusk light was just enough to see that I'd been brought up by...

A mudcrab. Of all creatures, I was woken by a mudcrab. It snapped its claws at me again, and I smashed my hand down on its back. My arm had a rather large gash in it from where the thing had clamped down.

"Russet?" Karliah burst into view, with Brynjolf following close behind. "By the gods!" She lifted my wrist. The flesh was a deep violet, and took a full minute to disappear.

"Sorry, lass," Brynjolf apologized. "I didn't know that--"

"Blah blah, shut up." Karliah bandaged the wound.

"How do you feel?" She asked, turning my head from side to side. My stomach growled loudly. "Hungry, I presume."

"Appetite of a bear, lass." Bryn elbowed me slightly in the ribs, and I responded with a swift punch in his chest. "What in Oblivion was that for?"

"You don't know your own strength," I muttered crossly, rubbing my side.

"The same goes for you."

"Here, Russet. I have a bit of cheese left. Oh, and fish." I made a disgusted face. I hated fish with a passion. But I was too hungry to argue.

After I finished the meal, I looked up at Red Mountain. "I didn't know we were that close..."

"You were awake for nearly six days, lass."

"I don't remember that."

"I'd guess not. You were only 'here' for the first two."

"What do you mean?"

"You began going insane on the third day. You talked to people who weren't there and chased invisible enemies."

I found no way to reply.

"We'd best be going," Karliah suggested.

"Yes," Bryn and I spoke in unison. I glared at him.

"We have little time to waste. Oh, and Russet..." Karliah grabbed my shoulders. "When we tell you to sleep, you will sleep. We can't keep doing this."

"Fine. Let's go."

...

((29th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 1:32 p.m.))

Nocturnal hadn't invaded my dreams since I'd stayed awake for days. Now, I stayed awake for around eighteen hours. Karliah said I was improving.

We finally made it to Red Mountain, and my muscles were aching.

"Why exactly didn't we use horses?"

"For the most part, they don't sell horses in Morrowind anymore. The ash has become too difficult for them to breathe in." I'd understand that. I often wore fabric on my mouth to keep the ash out.

We decided to stay at an inn near the base. I was relieved to finally sleep in a bed instead of on the cold ground. I learned from Karliah that Red Mountain actually covered nearly all of Morrowind, and that the ash had been spewing for centuries-- since before the Dwemer disappeared. I also learned of the Chimer. Apparently, the Chimer were the Dunmer's ancestors. They became the Dunmer from Azura's wrath at the Tribunal.

I was fascinated by Karliah's tales of her homeland's history, but Brynjolf clearly didn't see it the same way. He kept grumbling about it being useless information.

Eventually we retired to our rented bed chambers. Several of the Dark Elves were shooting us hostile glances, unsure of what two Nords were doing in the middle of their country.

...

((29th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 8:36 p.m.))

Karliah and I shared one room. Bryn took his own. I felt like the ash was everywhere, even inside of the bedsheets. Karliah seemed comfortable enough, and I wondered if she'd taken refuge here during the twenty-five years of self exile.

I slowly fell asleep.

...

((30th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 6:26 a.m.))

I woke up, my vision fuzzy. Karliah was looking at me expectantly.

"No nightmares," I said.

"Then we should go. The ruins should be around here."

"So they'll be Chimer ruins?"

"In theory." It didn't have a name. Well, a known name. We woke Brynjolf and left.

...

((30th of Second Seed, 4E 205, 6:18 p.m.))

We searched the base of the mountain for anything that might suggest a doorway or entrance. I began to become frustrated. There was no sign of anything.

"I swear to the gods, we're never getting anywhere!" I kicked a stone.

"We'll get there eventually," Karliah soothed.

"But I want her to leave now, I don't want to be her prey!"

"Lass, calm down. If there's anything here that wants to rip us apart, then you're giving them a damn good idea of where we are."

"Let them come! I'd welcome any change from this goddamn mountain!" I sent a force of energy towards the massive volcano, and it shuddered loudly.

"Look what you've done!" Brynjolf yelled. Rocks began to fall from the tips, and we had to run to avoid being smashed by the debris. The ground gave way under my feet, and I shrieked in shock.

All at once, the rumbling stopped. It was peaceful again. I looked up at Bryn and Karliah's surprised faces.

"Well, that makes it easier on us, doesn't it?" The Nord chuckled as I stood up. I'd fallen into a small chamber, and stairs led up to them. They followed the steps and stood next to me. Karliah brought out a torch.

"That's interesting," she remarked. "It seems to have responded to your words." I shook off my dizziness. The light from the fire revealed an odd symbol on the wall, as well as an indentation. "This... I've seen this symbol," Karliah muttered, tracing her finger over it. "It's an ancient elven word, meaning "book" or "knowledge"... roughly, of course."

"This means that the Scroll is somewhere around here!" I said excitedly, looking around for a compartment.

"Calm down, lass," Brynjolf cautioned. "We don't know that for sure." Karliah drew an iron dagger and pricked my hand suddenly.

"Ow! Hey, what the--" Karliah held the blood up to the symbol. It seemed to drink in the blood, and the indentation glowed. It slid open, revealing smooth gray stone halls.

"It responds to the blood of Akatosh. These must be Akaviri hallways."

"That was fun." I took a single step before hearing an odd moaning noise. I turned around and yelped. Gray humanoid creatures had descended down the stairs and were coming after us. "What in Oblivion?!" I drew Nightstorm and hit one with it. The monster crumbled into ashes.

"What are these things?" Brynjolf huffed as he fought off several at a time.

"Ash spawns," Karliah answered breathlessly. "There must be dozens of them!"

"See, lass? Don't be too loud!"

"It was my Voice that opened the chamber!" I argued.

"But you still drew them here!"

"We can't fend them off," Karliah panted. "Inside of the ruin! There might be a switch to shut the door!" I didn't wait. I squinted in the darkness, making out a chain near the light. Without wasting a second, I pulled it, and the two slipped in just before the door shut. Several ash spawns that had tried to get inside were crushed.

There was dead silence, and the tunnel was pitch-black. Karliah had left the torch outside. I thought of something, and couldn't help but say it.

"Hey, hey Bryn! Karliah! I guess you could say we... kicked their ashes!" I joked, laughing hysterically.

"This really isn't a laughing matter," Brynjolf chastised.

"Fine," I growled. "It doesn't take much for you to ruin a good mood, does it?"

"Don't argue," Karliah pleaded. "Let's focus on finding a light." I had an idea.

"Does anyone have a stick or something?" I asked, blinking to adjust myself to the darkness. The humor had quickly worn off.

"Where are you?" I heard someone coming towards me, and I guessed it was Brynjolf from the weight. "Here, lass." With my meager magic ability, I set the tip on fire.

"Where is that damn book?" I sat on the ground and opened my knapsack. "Take this." I handed the torch to Karliah. "Ah! Found it!" I opened the spellbook and studied it before it vanished.

"What's that supposed to do?"

"Paarthurnax taught me a bit about magic, and while I'm not very good, this is still better than what I used to do!" I focused the spell to my fingertips, and a glowing orb took form. It became bigger and brighter until I released. It stayed with our group.

"Clever, Russet," Karliah praised. The makeshift torch went out, though we still had illumination by the mages light.

"How big can you make those?" Brynjolf wondering.

"I don't know. I haven't tried on size. Well, let's get moving." We all walked into the hallway of smooth stone.

...

((1st of Midyear, 4E 205, 3:54 a.m.))

I had much less conviction than before. The further we went into the ruin, the hotter it became, and my feet ached from the walking.

"Impressive bit of architecture," Karliah noted. I was tired of the "architecture". I just wanted to leave. 

"I'm tired, can we rest?" I whined, simply flopping on the stone ground without waiting for an answer.

"You've acted like a child for hours, lass." Brynjolf sat down next to me "You've been whining, begging, complaining--"

"Hush!" Karliah hissed.

"If our argument is bothering you, then--"

"No, listen!" Both Brynjolf and I didn't speak. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Right after I said that, I caught the faint sound of a thousand feet hitting the floor, and a luminous glow appeared in the distance.

"Again, lass?" Brynjolf snapped, readying his sword. The spirits charged forward, straight at us. We all readied our weapons and prepared for a fight.

Chapter Text

 

((1st of Midyear, 4E 205, 3:56 a.m.))

The ground rumbled behind us, and I looked back.

"Out of the way!" I hollered, pulling Karliah and Bryn near the walls. If I hadn't moved, ghostly forms would have impaled us from behind.

"What in the name of--" I clamped my hand over Brynjolf's mouth. They didn't give us the slightest glance. They charged into battle with the specters from ahead. Some had obvious elven features, but the others wore heavy armor hiding their faces.

As soon as their weapons flew at each other, they disappeared. Not the slightest trace of them remained. We waited there for several minutes.

"What was that?" Karliah slowly got up to inspect the area that had been a near-battlefield only moments before. "If they were wraiths or ghosts, they would have left traces of ectoplasm."

"What's ectoplasm?" Brynjolf asked after I'd removed my hand from his lips.

"It's what a ghastly essence leaves behind," I explained.

"They weren't real people... so who were they?" We found no way to answer.

"Let's look around," Karliah suggested. "I can't imagine they were an illusion. The Akaviri were intelligent, but couldn't have had that kind of magic."

"Were they the Chimer?" I asked, lifting a lid-- an Ayleid chest. Nothing. The Dunmer paused. "Well?"

"Hush." I could almost hear her mind rolling. "The Chimer..." She whirled around. "What Scroll did the dragon say was in these ruins?"

"I believe he said memories. Why?"

"They were memories!" She seemed to be getting excited. "The Elder Scroll must be in one of these chambers, and it kept alive the memory of the battle!" Understanding dawned upon me.

"What battle?" Brynjolf looked at us stupidly.

"The battle between the Chimer and the Dwemer!" I squeaked, nearly as energetic as my Dark Elf friend. "This must be it! These walls hold the memory of the two elf races, the mer that disappeared!"

"Suppose that's true, lass... who would have the magic to keep the memory alive?"

"Not a who, a what! The Scroll, idiot!" I rolled my eyes. He still looked clueless. "The Elder Scroll must be keeping the memories alive!"

"Then what will happen when we take it?" I quieted down. "You didn't think of that, did you, lass? If you took the memories, then you took their magic, all for yourself." I sat on the ground.

"Shut up, Bryn." The memories of two races would be lost. The very thing that kept these walls alive. Gone.

"You know I didn't mean it like that, lass."

"Brynjolf, I would suggest that you keep your mouth shut," Karliah snapped. "You seem to have a bad habit of this."

I refused to speak after that, and we all decided to get some rest. But of course, I wasn't going to get very good dreams in the presence of the memories, was I?

...

((1st of Midyear, 4E 205, 4:45 a.m.))

My sleep pattern was completely destroyed. Instead of a visit from the Daedric prince, I received the memories of my horrendous childhood.

"Make it stop, please!" I wailed, falling to the ground. I felt arms around me, and I knew that I was about to have the life choked out of me. Anything to stop the dreams... I succumbed.

But my life wasn't draining away. The chill around me was. I didn't move. I wondered why I wasn't dying. The memories of flame and pain were fading, and being replaced by the lighter.

Learning about my destiny. The Thieves Guild. The moment I was accepted. When Brynjolf kissed me...

I stayed there as the tears ebbed away.

...

Chapter Text


((1st of Midyear, 4E 205, 10:04 a.m.))

I opened my eyes. Brynjolf and Karliah were still asleep. I decide to explore the ruins a bit and recast a wizard's light spell.

Once I'd attached my sword to my belt, I prepared to move out. A clank from the next room drew my attention, and I followed the sound. It continued, getting louder as I walked.

I stepped into another room, completely empty. Wasted time. I turned back, and the clanging continued. It seemed to be approaching me, though nothing was in the room at all. Not even a podium.

I quickened my step to rejoin Karliah and Brynjolf. A crash as loud as thunder startled me, and I broke into a run. I saw the exit and sprinted... Just as webs of black metal slammed together. A gate. I was trapped.

I searched desperately for a switch or plate. I must have triggered something.

"Fus!" The bars didn't so much as quiver. "Yol!" The intense heat of dragon flames didn't even leave a mark. I backed up and lifted an elven shield to the gate. "Wuld!" I rushed forwards, only to be thrown back with my shield in splinters. My head hit the wall, and my vision started spinning. Nothing I did worked.

A full ten minutes passed before I got my sight in order. I resumed my attempts to open the gate. I wondered why they couldn't hear me. I slashed at the obstacle with an axe. Tried a full Shout. Used a fire spell. Searched for a lock to pick. Looked around for a chink in the rocks. Sawed at the bars.

Nothing worked, and sweat dripped down my face. My weapons were blunt, my chest hurt from the Voice, and I hadn't so much as scratched them.

"Karliah, Brynjolf, help me!" I called out. "Wake up!" They didn't stir. "I'm trapped!" I was too hoarse to continue, and the ancient ruins were once again quiet.

"Mortal..." Dark cackling filled the silence. I shivered in fear. A swift breeze bit at my skin.

"Get away from me, leave!"

"Why would I do that? You're exactly where I need you to be."

"Give me a fighting chance, you filthy--"

"Pardon?" The air was still, yet crackled with tension. Fear stabbed at my heart. I can't back down, I can't back down, I can't back down, I can't back down...

"Stop it!" I was grabbed from behind, and I whirled around in fright. I faced Brynjolf. "Don't take her!"

"What in Oblivion?"

"You can't take her, Nocturnal," Brynjolf spat. He clutched at me.

"...You seem bent on protecting her. Take her, Nightingale. I will return when you least expect it." Her presence was gone in an instant. I shuddered and fell to the ground in a fit of sobs.

"You're safe, Russet." He pushed my hair aside, and I wrapped my arms around him. "You're safe with me, I promise." His hands tipped my head upwards, and he leaned in.

My back was pressed to the still-closed gate. Something... I melted at his touch.

Wasn't...

Wasn't I trapped...?

Right...

When his lips touched mine, they were cold as the night.

A touch of ice, and I burned. The passion of flame, and I froze. His love was so clear, so open...

I released his mouth and wrapped my arms around him.

"You're safe, Russet," he repeated. That's when it occurred to me.

"How did you get past the gate?" I asked slowly, pulling away. "What did you do?"

"It doesn't matter, you're with me now." I twisted my head. The gate was still shut. Karliah still slept soundly.

So did Brynjolf.

"Who are you?" I snarled, wiping my lips.

"Aren't I your dreams? Aren't I what you wanted?"

"Who are they, then? You're not Brynjolf!" I stood up and pulled at the black iron. Of course it didn't open.

"Of course I am, Russet. Don't be ridiculous."

"That's it," I growled. "I know you're not him. He would never call me Russet. He never uses my name."

"But I am Brynjolf," he said, and I was nearly swayed by his voice. "I am he." His eyes flashed red. "Why can't you see? Can't you hear my sincerity? I real, hear my plea. Stay here, you will be free. Aren't I what you want him to be? I'm the truth of how you remember me. Aren't I... his memory?"

Chapter Text

((1st of Midyear, 4E 205, 11:12 a.m.))

"You're not real!" I cried out.

"You can hear me breathe. How could you not believe? You know I'll never leave."

"Stop it!" He stayed in place while I struggled at the gate.

"How can I halt? It isn't my fault."

"No more!"

"Why do you cry? I do not lie." I yanked at the bars, trying to tune him out. My arms burned with pain.

"You're a liar," I screamed. "You're a goddamn liar!"

"I am no liar. You can feel my fire!" He-- or it-- pressed a burning-hot hand to my cheek.

"You won't keep me here!" I wailed.

"Why wouldn't you stay? I won't run away."

"If this is a dream, wake me up! Wake me up, dammit!"

"I'm no threat. I'll win you yet."

"Leave me alone!" A blast of force burst from my lips and made the false Brynjolf stumble.

"Don't make me cry, I don't wish to die."

"You can rot in Oblivion," I hissed, salt on my tongue. "You fake bastard!"

"Without you, I'm never awake. Doesn't the pain prove I'm not a fake?"

The pain woke me. The pain would wake them.

"Fus... Ro... Dah!" A wave of blue energy crashed into the slumbering Nightingales, who woke with a cry.

"Why are you--" Karliah blinked. "What have you gotten yourself into?!"

"Help me!"

"I have her, she's okay. So go on, stay away."

"Gallus?" She murmured incredulously. Gallus?

"I am here, Karliah dear." But it's Brynjolf, not Gallus...

"Come to me, Gallus!" She cried, holding out her arms.

"I swear I would, if I could."

"Karliah, it's a trick!" I reached through the bars. "It's not Gallus!" She ignored me.

"Leave this hall, beloved one," the memory urged. "I promise you that I will come."

"You... you'll come with?"

"Lass, what's going on?" Brynjolf-- the real Brynjolf-- looked at both me and the... thing.

"I wish I knew! Just get me out of here!"

"But... how am I supposed to get--"

"Kill the imposter! She's trying to imitate me!" I heard my own voice come from the memory specter, though it still had the form of Bryn.

"Lass, who's... what..." He seemed dumbfounded.

"Gallus, come with me!"

"Lass, who are you?"

"Stay with me, Russet!" The false Brynjolf spoke with his voice before turning to the real one. "You can tell who is true! I want you to know that I love you!" My voice. Brynjolf stepped closer to the gate.

"Lass?"

"Gallus, come with me!" Karliah reached through the bars and held the imitation's hand. To me, I saw Brynjolf. I heard the voices of Gallus, Brynjolf, and myself coming from the same source.

"You bastard! Stop it!" I tackled it to the ground and slammed my fist down.

"Russet, what are you doing?!" Karliah wailed. "You're killing Gallus!"

"Get to your senses, Karliah!" I snarled. "Gallus is already dead!"

"Help me please, I can't breathe!" It choked out.

"Russet, step away from him, or else I'll kill you!" Karliah warned desperately.

"It's not real!" An arrow whizzed past my face.

"Now!" I obeyed, fearful for my life. I was trapped, and they would kill me.

"Lass, come to me!" Brynjolf put his hand near the bars. "I have to know who is the real you!" I stood hesitantly. "Please!" I didn't know whether or not to trust him. What if he was an illusion?

"I knew you'd know, Bryn! I knew that you'd let your heart win!" The memory leapt off the floor. The image flickered, and I saw myself rushing at the man outside of the cage. "Save me, love! From my pain! Over there is the chain!" Brynjolf walked slowly to a column where a barely visible hook hung from metal rings. With a slight tug, the gate swung open, and I ran out.

Everything froze in place, other than us. Karliah stopped in midair, and a pebble that I'd flung in my haste stopped its trail, an inch off the ground. The memory took on my full aspect.

"Thank you for saving me! I had feared I'd never be free!" Brynjolf's eyes softened as he looked at the image of myself.

"Come here." It walked closer, and I grabbed Brynjolf's arm.

"She's fake!"

"Don't listen to her, she's clearly an imposter." Brynjolf glanced at me with hostility.

"I know." He unsheathed his blade faster than I'd ever seen him move. I crumpled to the ground, and from another plane, I watched my head roll on the ground.

 

Chapter Text

((1st of Midyear, 4E 205, 11:56 a.m.))

I shuddered, though the action felt odd. Karliah regained movement.

"Gallus, please!" The gate was open, and the Nightingale was nowhere to be seen. "Where's Gallus?" She saw the blood on the floor, and her gaze followed the crimson stain. "You killed Russet?!" She screeched. Brynjolf kicked the bloody remains aside. I wished I could speak, but my mind was elsewhere. He didn't believe that she wasn't...

"I wouldn't kill Russet," Brynjolf answered.

"Her body is on the ground! And Gallus..."

"But that's not Russet. This is." He moved aside, and I was revealed, still huddling on the ground. Slowly, I came back to the reality I'd slipped out of.

"But..." Karliah gaped at the dead body and then at me. "That's not possible..."

"It was a trick."

"How did you... Gallus..."

"I don't know what this Gallus business is, but the lass is not dead." He knelt beside me. "She's here." Karliah's face cleared.

"Russet, forgive me, please," she begged. I only shivered.

"This is why you don't wander off without one of us," Brynjolf chastised lightly. "What was that thing?"

"I d-don't know."

"I saw two of you, lass."

"I saw Gallus," Karliah muttered.

"It copied us, then." Brynjolf looked at Karliah. "I don't know what it was, but it tried to pit us against each other."

"How... how did you know it wasn't me?" My voice quavered.

"The real lass wouldn't say she loved me." He cleared his throat. "You know what the real lass would say?" Brynjolf raised his tone. ""You son of a bitch, open this damn gate!"" I cracked a smile.

"I can't argue with you." I stood up shakily.

"Now... what did you see?" Karliah turned her head, and I felt heat rise to my cheeks.

"I know that you saw Gallus," I said evasively.

"Who appeared to you?" She repeated.

"I... we should get moving."

"Answer." Her violet eyes bore into mine.

"I saw Brynjolf, okay?" I mumbled. "Now, I'm done with these damn mind tricks. Let's find the Elder Scroll and leave."

"Of course. Let's go." I caught her sneaking a glance at the tall Nord. "No time to waste."

...

((2nd of Midyear, 4E 205, 5:35 a.m.))

We stopped for a short while. The heat was becoming worse.

"That just means we're closer to the inner chamber," Karliah said. "No doubt it's inside." She swallowed her mouthful of an apple. I chewed on dried meat.

"That's all very well, but what about more ghosts?" Brynjolf mentioned with a quick glance at me. "I don't want to take a chance again. We all went insane for a little while there." I thanked the Nine that he hadn't been awake to watch my... moment with the false Bryn. "We had a close scrape back there. Thank the Eight we escaped."

"Why do you say the Eight?" I asked, gulping down my last piece of meat.

"They're the Eight, now."

"You call yourself a Nord?" I growled, and I noticed Karliah sighing at Bryn. "I worship Talos, no matter what those damn Thalmor say. He's an important part of Skyrim's history, and when he ascended into the heavens, the Eight became Nine. I often listen to Heimskr praising Talos. The Empire isn't at fault, the Aldmeri Dominion is."

"Then you're a Stormcloak rebel," Brynjolf argued. "You say you have no quarrel with the Empire, yet you will worship Talos? You call murdering the High King a shameless act, then."

"Oh, I'm not saying Ulfric's blameless. It wasn't right for him to use the Voice. He claimed that he wanted to prove his strength, and to show that the Empire was weak. But using the hidden power of the dragons isn't strength." I shook my head. "I'm often challenged to tests of strength, and not once have I used the Voice to win. He could have let Torygg live, he'd made his point."

"So you side with the Empire." Karliah joined the conversation.

"I side with no one. Neither are innocent. Ulfric committed murder, but the Empire turned over Skyrim and are too frightened to fight the Thalmor. They destroyed the foundation of Skyrim's Nords to save their own asses."

"So, if you had to support one side, on your life, who would you choose?" Brynjolf crossed his legs.

"If it was on my life, I'd choose whatever side is against the Thalmor. We need to drive those damn elves out of Skyrim."

"So you are prejudiced against all others than Nords?" Karliah assumed.

"No, I'm not. Truly, we don't belong here. The Snow Elves-- Falmer, now-- were driven out by Ysgramor himself to settle down. That doesn't mean I think we should leave," I added hastily.

"That doesn't answer the question, lass."

"I'm not prejudiced against any race. I could be a Khajiit, and I would be just fine with that."

"You'd be fine with coughing up hairballs?"

"Really, Brynjolf? You're calling me racist?" I rolled my eyes. "You're insufferable."

"Well, I'm--" He caught Karliah's warning glare. "Let's get moving, shall we?" Brynjolf stood up. "We have quite a bit of ground to cover."

...

((2nd of Midyear, 4E 205, 1:36 p.m.))

The heat was unbearable. I'd resorted to changing into simple pants and a shirt. Karliah and Brynjolf did the same.

"A door!" Brynjolf rushed forwards and pushed on a great steel door before we could stop him. "Oblivion!" He clutched his palm, red blisters covering the surface.

"You don't touch hot metal, genius." I rolled my eyes. "Here, let Karliah take a look at you. I'll see if I can open the doors without burning my hands off." While the Dark Elf tended to Bryn's skin, I studied the doors. "The hinges are weak, probably from exposure to the heat."

"It's a wonder they haven't melted away yet," Brynjolf grumbled.

"It's a wonder you haven't melted away yet." I focused on the image of flame and shot it at the bolts. They slowly softened and fell away. My magicka was drained.

A simple Fus knocked the doors down, and we walked on.

"Look at that!" Brynjolf breathed incredulously. The rocks along the mountain had been becoming more ragged with every hall. This was a complete change.

Smooth marble columns stood proudly, and white statues of mer surrounded a great podium. On the stage was the form of three figures. Somehow, the room was colder, more refreshing.

"Those must be the Chimer's gods," Karliah guessed.

"The middle one is holding something," Brynjolf noted.

"You're right..." I approached the trio of statues. A long cylinder was grasped in its ancient hand. I began to climb.

"Lass, be careful!"

"I'm fine." I brushed off his comment. "I'm the Dragonborn."

"What's your point?" Karliah followed up. "You may have had the blood of a dragon, but you're still a mortal. You can die just like the rest of us."

"I already said, I'll be okay." I plucked the Scroll away from the stony fingers with no problem whatsoever. Karliah gasped and looked around frantically, but nothing happened.

"That's a shock."

"Let's see if there's a way out from here."

"We're inside of a mountain, lass. We'll have to go back the way we came."

"But it'd be such a long walk..." I groaned.

"Is it worth it to save your life?" Brynjolf raised an eyebrow.

"You know, I really hate you sometimes." I hopped down from the podium and followed my companions out the door.

Silent feet followed us from behind.

Chapter Text

 

((3rd of Midyear, 4E 205, 6:03 a.m.))

I stretched my arms, relieved to be out of the sweltering heat and in the open air. "Thank the gods," I breathed.

"It felt like we'd never get out of there," Brynjolf said.

"What next?" Karliah peered over my shoulder.

"We can't have time to rest?"

"Of course not," she replied hotly. "Do you want to survive or not?"

"Hmmph."

"That's what I thought." We started up the stone steps. Karliah stopped abruptly, and Brynjolf smashed into her.

"What was that for?" He muttered crossly.

"Listen..." I tilted my head. Everyone was still.

"Do you think that--" Brynjolf never finished his sentence. He was knocked to the ground, long claw-like fingers on his throat. Without a moment's hesitation, I swung at the beast with Nightstorm, and it snarled in fury. In a heartbeat, it had twisted around and batted me aside, as if I was no more than a mouse. I hit the stairs with considerable force, and I cradled my left arm.

"Lurker..." Karliah gasped, and the blue-gray beast charged at me. I was still stunned from its previous attack. The Lurker faced my Dunmer friend and shot tentacle-like spurts out of its mouth. She was knocked to the ground.

With a great howl, the creature turned and slammed its massive claws onto my ribs. Fire spread through my limbs, burning me with their anger. It prepared the final blow, and I closed my eyes. Ironic, to pass so many obstacles, only to be killed by a tentacle-spitting monster.

"Don't you touch her!" The pain I'd expected never came, and I opened my eyes. Brynjolf had jumped the thing, and had his arms wrapped around its neck. It clawed at his skin, and yet the bloody gashes on the Nord didn't seem to bother him. The Lurker's struggles became weaker and weaker until it fell to the ground. Brynjolf finished it with a sword in its chest.

I was dazed, and he checked my injuries. They still pulsed with blood, and though they were shallow, they burned like the flames of Red Mountain.

"Russet, are... are you okay?" Karliah stood unsteadily, wiping slime off her clothing.

"I'm fine, just... just a little dizzy," I reassured her. I panted heavily while I was handed a red bottle.

"It's a health potion," Karliah explained. "This should heal some of the minor cuts, and a regenerative mixture should speed it up." I was babied by the two, both making sure I was okay.

"You'd think I would die if you didn't ask me if I was okay every three seconds," I grumbled.

"You must be in the best shape you can on this journey," Karliah reasoned. "It's only natural that we want to keep you safe."

"Well, I'm fine now."

"You're well enough to travel. Those potions seem to have done the trick."

"Now... how are we going to get home?"

Everyone groaned.

...

((1st of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 3:32 p.m.))

Almost an entire moon had passed since we'd found the Scroll. My injuries had slowed us down, and Captain Gjalund hadn't returned to Morrowind for a week from when we arrived in Raven Rock.

Now, I could feel the familiar breeze of Skyrim, and her energy flowed through my limbs. I spread out my arms, feeling the soothing rush of sea wind.

"Having fun, lass?" Brynjolf teased, coming up behind me.

"Don't do that," I growled.

"Don't do what?" He asked innocently, and I rolled my eyes. "Anyway, I'm actually glad I came on this here adventure."

"I wouldn't have thought so. When you were told to accompany me, you seemed so reluctant to accept."

"I'm not one for leadership, despite how I present myself. You gave me a chance to escape for a while. Even a thief needs a break."

"Fair enough." We watched as Windhelm came into view. "So now we must return to the Throat of the World. Paarthurnax said that he would tell of the second Elder Scroll's location."

"How will we get there?"

"Odahviing!" I knew it would take the crimson dragon a while to appear, and he crashed through the clouds just as we stepped out of the boat.

"Thuri, it is good to see you alive."

"Why couldn't this thing fly us to and from Red Mountain?" Brynjolf demanded, and Odahviing turned his gaze on the Nord.

"Insolent... duziir. I cannot go to Morrowind, it is beyond my own borders."

"Instead of pissing off a dragon, you could've asked me."

"Shut up, lass." We climbed on the drake while the people on the docks gaped in wonder.

...

((1st of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 4:01 p.m.))

We landed in front of Paarthurnax, and I bowed my head in respect. Karliah did the same, and I smacked Bryn's head forward.

"Dovahkiin. It is good to see you alive," he rumbled.

"I have returned with the Scroll." I proffered it forwards, and Paarthurnax stretched his neck to inspect it.

"Good. The next Elder Scroll is in the Imperial City, in Cyrodil."

"Cyrodil?" Brynjolf said in alarm, and his cheeks reddened when we all looked at him. "Ah... I'm not exactly welcome in Cyrodil. A bit of trouble."

"Of course." I shook my head. "But we need to do this. I'm hoping it will be easier than this one." Paarthurnax gingerly gripped the Scroll between his teeth and carried it to the Word Wall. He buried it in the snow.

"I don't want to be a murderer like..." Brynjolf shot me a glance, and I winced.

"I'm no killer," I hissed.

"Stop! You're not helping the situation by arguing!" Karliah wedged herself between us. "Is there any way we could get the Scroll without a fight?" She added.

"Perhaps the Graybeards would be willing to send in a request to borrow it," I suggested. Everyone stopped.

"That may work."

"But I've heard that the Imperials don't respect the Graybeards like Nords do," Brynjolf objected.

"It's still worth a try," I argued.

"If you say so," he said.

...

"Master Arngeir, I have a small request."

"Dragonborn, it is good to see you again."

"I wanted to know if you could help me by sending in a letter to the Imperial City," I began. "I need an Elder Scroll from their library, or else I'll... I'll die."

"That's quite serious. I suppose we can attempt, but I cannot do more than that." He found a roll of paper and a quill. He wrote something out and handed it to me. "Take this. Hopefully, it will get you into the library without too much trouble." I gratefully accepted the letter and stepped out of High Hrothgar.

"What did he say?" Brynjolf asked, and Karliah leaned forwards.

"We're leaving for the Imperial City as soon as you're ready. I'll need to stop off at Whiterun and drop some things off."

...

Chapter Text

((8th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 1:24 p.m.))

I stopped off at Whiterun to leave some of my unneeded items in Breezehome. I hadn't been in the city since I was in the Thieves Guild, and I felt guilty not to have visited my Companion friends. I decided to make a little detour and visit them in Jorrvaskr.

"Where are we going now?" Brynjolf seemed to be dragging his feet.

"I'm visiting my friends," I answered simply.

"Who?"

"The Companions. I haven't seen them for years." I could hardly restrain myself from running to the mead hall and greeting them. The calm air of Whiterun was so welcoming, and was beautiful in its simplicity. I regretted staying away for so long.

With Karliah and Brynjolf right behind me, I pushed open the doors to Jorrvaskr.

The first person I saw was Vilkas.

"Vilkas!" I cried joyfully, and he faced me in shock.

"Russet? You..."

"Russet's back!" I was crushed by a fierce hug from Farkas, and the other Companions surrounded me as well. I gave a smug look to Brynjolf, saying, this is the welcome I get here.

"Where were you?" Vilkas demanded.

"I was saving Skyrim," I announced, and everyone gasped in amazement. Jorrvaskr was a place for storytelling and drinking, and I was happy to indulge myself.

I sat in a chair, retelling the grand tale of my journey against Alduin. I caught the eye of Vilkas. His expression remained blank, but I easily recognized the pride in them.

"Three cheers for Russet the Dragonborn hero!" Kodlak raised his mug, and I grinned.

...

((8th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 7:56 p.m.))

"So, who are they?" Vilkas asked, referring to Karliah and Bryn. We sat on a bench in the lower quarters of Jorrvaskr.

"Some friends from another hold."

"Ah."

"Russet!" I was once again nearly crushed by Farkas.

"I'm glad to see you, too." We exchanged different stories and events. Eventually, we retired to our rooms. I'd gotten Skjor's room when he died, and I remembered the old warrior fondly.

"Where are we supposed to go?" Bryn glanced at Karliah, then me.

"Here's the key to Breezehome, you two can spend the night there. I'll stay here."

"You should stay with us, what if something happens? You could be attacked!"

"Do you really think that something could actually fight every single Companion?" I smiled. "I'll be okay." They left after a few minutes, both unsure about my decision.

...

((8th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 10:36 p.m.))

With a sinking heart, I realized that I was in the darker forest that Nocturnal walked. I would have to run.

I kept my guard up, every sense on edge for even the slightest glimpse of the Mistress of Shadows. This time, she seemed to be waiting. Waiting for what? I wish I knew.

Of course, knowing she was out there didn't make me any less frightened when I was grabbed from behind. Ice seeped through my veins as Nocturnal held onto my body.

"So, you think that an Elder Scroll will help you?" She snorted, and the crows on her shoulder cawed. "During the most recent time Mehrunes Dagon unsuccessfully tried to take Tamriel, a certain thief by the name of Valka assisted in the theft of an Elder Scroll from the library. She was the greatest of all thieves, hailed throughout Cyrodil as the savior, the one who closed the gates to Dagon's realm."

"What does this have to do with anything?" I gasped, the ice crawling into my lungs.

"She became the Gray Fox-- an impressive feat, indeed. However, she failed to consider the price. That cowl was mine, stolen centuries before. She was the target, and I took her life along with the property. It must run in the family."

"You..."

"Valka was your ancestor. I took her life, and I will take yours!" The breath left my body, and black spots danced before my vision. I succumbed to the darkness.

Chapter Text

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 1:36 a.m.)) 

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

I opened my eyes, at first confused to see a wooden ceiling instead of a starry sky. "Where in Oblivion--"

Oh. Breezehome. I sat up, and though the bed was far more comfortable than a bedroll, I felt like I'd gotten no sleep whatsoever. I stood up and checked the main bedroom. Karliah still slept soundly, and I wondered briefly where the lass was.

Right, in Jorrvaskr. I vaguely remembered trying to rob the place a couple years ago, just a few weeks before the lass came to Riften. I was stopped by a Nord female who threatened to cut my hands off. After that, I carved the "Danger" Shadowmark on the post.

Now that I think about it, I'm fairly sure that Nord woman had blue eyes... and red hair...

How long had it been since the lass had gone into the dangerous nightmare with Nocturnal? At least a week, likely more. "At least a week. At least... a week..." It clicked. "Dammit, lass!" I hissed, sprinting for the door. "You should've listened to me! If you're dead by the time I get there, I'll travel to the afterlife and kill you again!"

...

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 1:58 a.m.))

I threw open the doors to Jorrvaskr, thankful that nobody was awake. I checked the nearest room. Only a Dunmer male. The other bed was vacant.

I ran down the stairs and across the hall. Each bed had a different member, and luckily, I didn't wake any of them. Unfortunately, the lass seemed to be absent. I checked every room, until I heard voices. The lass was speaking.

Chapter Text

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 2:01 a.m.))

((RUSSETPOV))

"Russet!"

I bolted up, and a relieved sigh caught me by surprise. My heartbeat slowed down a bit when I saw Aela with her hand on my arm. Farkas stood next to her.

"Are you okay?" She asked. "You... your skin..." I already knew. It was fading, though dark black patches had stained my flesh. "I came in to speak with you, and saw you like this." I checked my skin, though I was unable to find any new cuts.

"How did you wake me up?" I wondered.

"I called your name, and you opened your eyes. You must have heard me immediately."

"Interesting," I muttered.

"Why? Has this happened before?"

"It's... a long story."

"I'm willing to listen." I hesitated. I didn't want to tell her I'd been in the Thieves Guild, or had become a Daedric prince's personal captain. The Companions had such a strong sense of morality, and... "I promise I won't see you any differently. I get the sense that not everything you do abides by the law." I sighed in defeat.

"Very well. Many years ago..." I told them of my trip to Riften, and through the point to where Brynjolf had threatened me.

"After all of that, he betrayed you?" Farkas growled, and I noticed the tension in his shoulders.

"Well, he--" I was about to defend Brynjolf. "Yes, he did. He was willing to kill me in a second, without finding any evidence of the truth." This seemed to set both Aela and Farkas on edge. I went on, describing the journey to kill Mercer Frey. I only left out the existence of Nightingales. I owed nothing to Nocturnal, but I'd hold my promise to Karliah.

"Is that who your friends are?" Farkas looked out the door, as if someone was right outside. "Thieves?"

"I was a thief too," I reminded him, suddenly defensive of them.

"But you turned away from that path, and for that... for that, I am grateful." Aela shifted in her seat. "What happened after you killed Mercer?"

"The cavern began to fill up with water, and my wolf spirit had left me when I destroyed him. Karliah and Brynjolf swam up to an open hole in the top, but they didn't realize that I wasn't there with them."

"I'd never leave a Shield-Sister behind," the Nord woman asserted, puffing out her chest.

"Neither would I," Farkas put in. "I don't know how they forgot you."

"I... I was dying after that. I don't remember much, but I know that someone came down to rescue me." I knew very well that Brynjolf had been the one to save my life.

"Who?" Farkas seemed to be nearly glaring at me, though his focus was clearly somewhere else.

"It was Brynjolf. He helped patch my wound, and..." I hesitated. Should I tell them about it? "Brynjolf helped patch my wound where I'd been stabbed, and he kissed me," I revealed. Both Companions were silent.

"Brynjof kissed you." It wasn't so much a question as a statement. Farkas cleared his throat. "What happened after that?"

"I was brought back to Riften to be healed, and after about a month, I returned to the Guild. I was excited to see Brynjolf," I admitted. "I thought he loved me the way I loved him."

"And then?" Aela studied me as though this conversation was the most important she'd ever had in her life.

"Brynjolf didn't react the way I thought he would." My voice had dropped to a hoarse whisper.

"What did he do?" Farkas looked ready to lead a crusade on the Nord as soon as he could.

"He just said he was glad I was alive, but didn't... he said he didn't love me. After that, he only said one thing. "Sorry lass, I've got important things to do. We'll speak another time."" I hoped that the pain didn't show. "I left the Guild after that. I'd done what I could, killed the man who'd done them wrong. I returned here for a few days, and then left again to free Skyrim from Alduin's tyranny."

"How did you survive?" Aela asked.

"Him," I said quietly. "I thought of him, and even though I knew he didn't love me, he pulled me through. I hate him now, for shunning me and breaking me. But I can't deny that I loved him."

"That's it, we're going to kill him!" Farkas stood and grabbed his axe.

"Wait, icebrain," Aela grasped his arm. "She's not done." He reluctantly sat down while I finished the tale. It was difficult to tell without revealing the identity of Karliah, though I managed to pull it off.

"So you're being hunted down by a Daedric prince who wants to steal your soul?" Aela clarified.

"And the only way to save you is to go on a journey to steal two more Elder Scrolls?" Farkas followed up, a look of consternation on both of their faces.

"Yes, I suppose."

"You can't go without your Shield-Brother!" I was wrapped in a wolfy embrace, and I gladly accepted his comfort.

"Are you sure you're up for it?"

"Never been more ready," he replied. "Let's go!"

"Wait. One more thing," Aela interrupted. "Do you still wish for the blood of a wolf?"

"I don't know," I sighed. "When I visited Sovngarde, I saw the beauty there. If I accepted the blood of the wolf, I'd be resigning myself to a hunt with Hircine."

"Is that so bad?"

"I've already got one Daedric lord after me. If I die on this journey, I want to go to Sovngarde." Aela hung her head.

"I understand. But please, be careful. I don't want to lose my future Harbinger." I recognized the glint of pride in her eyes and closed my own in contentment.

Chapter Text


((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 3:27 a.m.))

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

I listened to every word that was spoken, and I realized how much I'd hurt the lass when I'd blown her off. That was the last thing I wanted to do.

"Sorry lass, I've got important things to do. We'll speak another time," she spat venomously. Though the anger was clear, heartbreak was lying underneath the words. I'd said that to her too many times, and it had dug deep into her skin. "I left the Guild after that. I'd done what I could, killed the man who'd done them wrong. I returned here for a few days, and then left again to free Skyrim from Alduin's tyranny." Was this how she saw everything?

"How did you survive?" A female inquired.

"Him," she answered simply. "I thought of him, and even though I knew he didn't love me, he pulled me through. I hate him now, for shunning me and breaking me. But I can't deny that I loved him."

Chapter Text

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 9:36 a.m.))

((RUSSETPOV))

I awoke to the sound of a crackling fire and hearty laughter. When I climbed out of bed, I noticed a trail near the door. Mud tracks led outside, and the boot print was familiar, somehow.

"Russet, our Dragonborn hero!" I was greeted by loud cheers when I walked up the stairs to the main hall. Aela raised her mug, and Farkas smiled proudly. Vilkas crossed his arms and nodded. Mead was passed around, and I enjoyed what could very well be my last day with the Companions.

At midday, I excused myself from their company, saying my last goodbyes to them. 

"Wait!" Aela approached me. "You can't go without a Shield-Sibling."

"You're all needed here," I reasoned. "I'm going into harsh danger, and I don't want to risk any lives. Besides, Brynjolf and Karliah will be there to protect me."

"But can you trust them?"

"I know I can trust Karliah," I said with absolute certainty. 

"But Brynjolf?" My silence answered well enough.

"Take one of us with you," Aela insisted. "Think of the stories they will tell when you return--"

"If I return, Aela," I responded softly. "If."

"You will return," she replied. "Kodlak chose you as his successor, and I have faith in his choice. When you return to us, Kodlak will step down. You will be Harbinger." I was comforted by her faith in me.

"Thank you Aela. But..." I hesitated. "You can't put yourself in jeopardy because of me."

"If you don't want me to follow you, then so be it," she began. "But one of us is going with you." She looked around and caught the eye of both Farkas and Vilkas. "You two, come here."

Chapter Text

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 9:48 a.m.))

"What do you need?" Farkas asked gruffly, crossing his arms. Vilkas stayed silent.

"Russet's leaving."

"Obviously, she can't go alone," Vilkas snorted. I opened my mouth to protest, but Farkas shook his head.

"We're coming with you," he insisted. 

"I can't have you both."

"Then I'll go," Vilkas offered. "Where are we going?"

"I would be traveling to Cyrodil and Elsweyr."

"Alone, correct?"

"Er, no. I'd be traveling with Brynjolf and Karliah." A low growl rumbled in the back of the tall Nord's throat, and a resentful gleam hung in his eye.

"Russet, you know I respect you, but I refuse to travel with thieves." I flinched a bit at Vilkas' harsh words. His expression softened. "Forgive me, my tongue got away. I'm aware of what you did— but you've turned away from that path, and I'm grateful. However, the two you already consort with are hardly the ideal Shield-Siblings I'd keep."

"They have to stay with me," I told him quietly.

"I don't care who you're traveling with, Russet." Farkas threw an arm around my shoulder. "I'll follow you wherever you go." I looked into his warm eyes and couldn't hold back a smile. 

"It's settled, then." Aela stood up. "Farkas, you will accompany Russet on her journey." My eyes watered, not for the first time that day, either. 

"Thank you, all of you." I allowed a last toast. "To the quest!"

"To the quest!"

...

I walked out of Jorrvaskr, knowing it might very well be my last time. Farkas trailed behind me happily, and while I hoped I wouldn't go deaf from his chatter, I was glad he was with me. 

"Hail, Dragonborn." A guard nodded to me, and I smiled in response. 

"Should I prepare?" I asked the black-haired Nord, and he nodded. 

"Get your best armor and weapons, we're gonna kick ass!" Unable to supress a laugh, I was given strange looks by Ahlam and Carlotta. 

"Let's go look through my books at Breezehome, I'm sure I can create something worth using." We walked until I reached the house. Inside, Brynjolf and Karliah still slept soundly. "Keep quiet, I'll check my tomes." I walked off to the bookcase and skimmed the titles. "Ah! Here we are." With a bit of effort, I managed to draw up a complicated plan. It wouldn't be easy, but the outcome would be pleasing.

By the time I returned, Bryn and Karliah had gotten up. "G'morning, sunshine," Brynjolf muttered groggily, and I rolled my eyes. I wasn't sure if it was sarcasm or a true compliment. Either way, I wasn't ready to accept one.

"I'll be back in a few hours," I told the gang, grabbing a sack out of a chest. "I've got work to do."

 

...

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 11:19 a.m.))

I hauled the massive burlap sack up to the Skyforge, where I hoped to find Eorlund Gray-Mane. As always, the smith was tending the forge. I called out a greeting to the Nord and hurried up the steps. With care, I laid out my plans and handed him the supplies I'd need.

"I don't know," he rumbled, scratching his chin. "I'd need your measurements, and I don't want to push any boundaries—"

"No problem. I trust you, Eorlund. I've known you for years," I emphasized, holding out my arm. "Go ahead." With a bit of hesitation, the Gray-Mane elder pulled out a few leather strips and laid them out. I flinched a bit when he touched my midriff, but I held in a chuckle as he finished.

"Got it. It'll take me a few hours, and..."

"That's fine. Want me to stay?" I found myself wanting to spend as much time with him as possible. He'd been like a father to me, alongside Kodlak. If I never saw him again— then I wanted to make the most of our time. As he hammered away at my new armor and weapon, out of his mouth spilled story after story about each of the Companions.

"You wouldn't believe it, would you?" Eorlund laughed.

"No! Farkas really used to do that?"

"Indeed! Until he was eight years old!" We exchanged stories and songs until he was finished. I admired the complete set and turned it around. 

"This is fantastic," I praised. 

"Oh, go on. You make an old man very proud. Come home safe, remember that." His usually gruff tone became soft. 

"I'll try." My voice cracked. "Goodbye, Eorlund." I threw my arms around him, hoping that I'd see the man who'd become my father again. 

...

 

Chapter Text

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 10:24 a.m.))

BRYNJOLFPOV

 

When I woke up, I heard slight creaking downstairs. Karliah must be up, I decided. I stood and dressed myself in the Guild's armor. Whether the guards liked it or not, I wasn't about to throw aside Guild pride. To my surprise, Russet was already there, rummaging through some books. She gave me a hesitant glance before returning her attention to the books.

 

"G'morning, sunshine," I greeted, trying to set her into a lighter mood. After what I'd heard her say... I couldn't leave everything in shambles. The lass only shot me a dark glare and turned away. The large beast-man was with her, hovering protectively.

 

"I'll be back in a few hours," she promised. "I've got work to do." Russet's red hair glinted in the sun as she shut the door, and I found myself missing her with each breath I took. How could I have been so foolish? I berated myself.

I was left alone with Karliah and Farkas. Once I sat at the table, he began to glare at me.

 

"What are you looking at?" I snarled, disliking the way the hairs on the back of my neck prickled.

 

"You hurt her. I won't forgive you for that," he replied angrily.

 

"I'm not looking for your forgiveness."

 

"You'd want hers, wouldn't you? But she's done with you." Farkas' voice was raising with every word. "I can't imagine-"

 

"Both of you, stop arguing." The usually quiet tone of Karliah's shot up, and we both stopped talking. Several irritated glares were sent my way, and I found a way to ignore them.

 

Several hours later, the lass returned with a burlap sack on her back. "I hope you're all ready, because we're leaving now." I scrambled to find my bag, and she went into the back. "Karliah? I need your help."

 

After a few minutes, Russet walked out with the most hardy-looking armor I'd ever seen in my life. My jaw dropped, and even Farkas looked surprised.

 

"Is that made of dragon scales?" he questioned, tipping his head.

 

"Well, it's certainly not made of giant's toenails," I commented dryly, ignoring his glare.

 

"Brynjolf, leave him alone." She began to walk away, but I grasped her wrist. It felt odd from the dragon's scales covering the skin.

 

"Lass, look at me," I pleaded. "Lass?" She kept her eyes set firmly ahead and yanked herself away.

 

"Leave me alone. My only purpose now is to get Nocturnal off my back." Russet strode out the door, following Karliah and Farkas to the Whiterun Stables.

 

"Wait, lass."

 

"I think around ten thousand gold should be enough to get us a ride with Bjorlam, don't you think?"

 

"Listen to me." No matter what I said, the lass ignored every word. Deciding to remain quiet, I resigned to win her over again. No matter how long it takes, lass, I will make you love me again.

Chapter Text

 

((9th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 8:37 p.m.))

RUSSETPOV

 

We reached the stables in about five minutes, and I motioned for my companions to take a seat in Bjorlam's carriage.

"I can take you to any of the hold-"

"I don't need to go anywhere in Skyrim," I told him, pulling out my gold pouch. "I need to get to the Imperial City in Cyrodil."

"Ah, I don't go that far," he said uneasily.

"I can offer you ten thousand gold," I bartered. His eyes widened, and he nodded hurriedly. "All the way to the Imperial City."

"Yes, yes." I handed off the bag, and he whistled at the weight. When I walked to the back, Karliah was rubbing her temples while the men squabbled.

"I will!"

"No lad, I will."

"I'll bash in your skull!"

"Both of you, shut up!" I commanded, and they fell silent. "What are you arguing about?" Their faces reddened, and I took a seat near Karliah. "Fine, don't answer."

"See what you've done?" Farkas growled at Brynjolf, his voice wobbling as the carriage began to move. "Now she's not sitting near either of us."

"Is this seriously what they were arguing about?" I muttered to Karliah, and she sighed in annoyance.

"Unfortunately, yes. I've got a feeling that it'll be this way the entire journey."

...

((11th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 5:14 a.m.))

"Lass! Lass, wake up." A broad hand stirred me awake, and I stared into Brynjolf's bright green eyes. My breath hitched in my throat, and he grinned at my expression.

"Why the devil did you wake me?" I hissed irritably, shoving him out of the way. He rubbed his jaw.

"I thought you'd want to see this, lass. The Jerall Mountains can be very beautiful at sunrise." I was touched by his reasoning— but that didn't change the fact that I hadn't slept properly in months.

"Er... thank you, but—" I didn't get a chance to finish my sentence. A bright light shimmered on the snow covering the mountaintops. They gleamed like a thousand diamonds placed by the gods themselves. I forgot my predicament and was taken by the beauty. "It's gorgeous," I breathed.

"Almost as much as you." His voice was so low I couldn't tell if he intended for me to hear.

"Thank you for showing me," I said softly. I then allowed an edge to return to my voice as I continued. "But I'm still pissed that you bloody woke me up."

"I'd be concerned if you weren't," he chuckled, touching my cheek lightly. I felt the blood rush to my face. Hardening my heart, I turned away before he could see the tears forming in my eyes.

"Thank you, Brynjolf," I said curtly. "Allow me to go back to sleep."

"What if..." I heard his unspoken question. What if Nocturnal finds me?

"Then do exactly what you always do." I flopped back down onto my bedroll. "I don't control you, Bryn."

"But you do, lass." I feigned sleep, feeling relieved as he sighed and stood up to finish his watch.

...

((11th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 7:56 a.m.))

We ate a rushed breakfast in the morning, and I kept catching Brynjolf sneaking triumphant grins towards a grumpy Farkas.

We were on the road again, and it only took four hours (and about two dozen arguments between our men) to reach the city.

"Do you want me to stay...?"

"No thank you, Bjorlam. We'll be staying for quite some time." The carriage driver nodded and flicked the reins. "We need to go for anonymity," I told my companions. "Wear regular clothing."

"Sorry to... interrupt, lass, but out of us all, you stand out the most."

"That's not the point. We're simple adventurers from Cheydinhal."

"Where are we supposed to stay?" Farkas asked worriedly, and I chuckled a bit.

"I purchased a house here last time I visited, back after I left the Guild." I shot Brynjolf a pointed glance and was surprised to find his eyes filled with yearning. Taking a deep breath, I began to walk off to change.

...

((11th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 12:37 p.m.))

"Bloody hell," I cursed. The styles in Cyrodil differed greatly from Skyrim's. I hoped that no one would notice— but that would be too much to ask. The Divines hate me. "Let's get to my house," I grumbled. "With luck, I've got something there to use."

We walked through the districts until we came to the Talos Plaza— renamed Altmer Plaza by the Thalmor. I unlocked the door to my house and walked inside.

Scuffling noises came from upstairs, and I motioned for my friends to be quiet. I drew my sword and carefully stepped on the ornate rugs. Great job Holvir did protecting this place, I thought angrily.

The floorboards underneath my feet creaked, and I stopped short. The noises upstairs did not cease. I climbed the steps, throwing open the door. Two bandits were rifling through my personal belongings. 

"Get the hell out of my house," I growled. "Drop everything you stole from me, or I will gut you like a fish." The two thieves bellowed with laughter.

"We ain't scared of you!"

"You should be." I bolted across the room and shoved my blade through the first bandit's chest. His mouth bubbled with blood, and he fell to the ground. My sword was at the neck of the other's, and I hid a smile. "Are you going to let go of what you took, or am I going to have to get it from your corpse?" The thief dropped the sack. "All of it." He emptied out his pockets. "And what's that in your hand...?"

I snatched the rings from his grip and shoved him away from me. "Get out before I change my mind." He nodded and stumbled away. My companions walked into my room.

"Who the hell is this?" Farkas yelled, battleaxe already in his hands.

"A thief. Leave him be." The thief scampered away, and my friends came over to inspect the dead bandit.

"Lass..." Brynjolf plucked something from the thief's hands, and his foresty eyes widened as he held it up. My heart beat faster, and I schooled my face into an expressionless mask.

A silver dragon with emerald eyes hung from a thin chain.

Chapter Text

 

((11th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 1:09 p.m.))

Brynjolf stared at the pendant, and I met his eyes coldly.

"If they'd escaped, at least they wouldn't have taken anything of value," I hissed, turning away. Swallowing a lump in my throat, I tried to escape the image of Bryn's sorrowful face. Love isn't easy. I stopped myself short. Love? "Make yourselves at home. I'll give the Graybeard's note to the Imperial Council. Could someone please dispose of the body?" I put on my Dragonscale armor. If I want to successfully retrieve the Scroll, then I'd better look the part.

...

((11th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 1:46 p.m.))

"What the hell do you mean, "no"?" I put my hands on my hips, irritated.

"I hardly see any chance of you being... Dragonborn. Beyond Nord nonsense, I don't give a damn about your Graybeards." The Thalmor crossed his arms and sneered at me. "You're just another commoner."

"In case you couldn't tell, I'm wearing the very hide of the beasts I've slain," I growled. My Dragonbone sword hung at my side, the edge glinting cruelly. "Durnehviir!" I shouted forcefully, and a violet glow outlined the Soul Cairn's resident dragon. The Thalmor stumbled back. "You were saying?"

"Er... I'll g-go talk to the c-council," he stammered meekly, vanishing into the tower.

"Hail, thuri," the undead dragon rumbled, touching my shoulder affectionately. I smiled, laughing at the shocked faces in the city. Five minutes later, the High Elf stomped out of the building, my note in his hands.

"The council wants to see you," he mumbled. "Call off your beast!"

"He won't hurt you unless I command it." I brushed past the Thalmor, shuddering slightly. I entered the main hall and bowed reverently to the Imperial Council.

"You are the one they call Dragonborn?" the headmaster intoned.

"Yes. I am here to retrieve an Elder Scroll for the Graybeards, Masters of the Voice on High Hrothgar." The council whispered among themselves, and I waited (rather impatiently) until they appeared to have come to a decision.

"We have agreed... to give you the Scroll." I was completely taken by surprise, and accepted their choice with grateful bows.

"Thank you, my lords." The headmaster stood and headed upstairs, returning ten minutes later with the Scroll tucked in a protective case. I left, pleasantly surprised with the outcome. Durnehviir circled overhead, his wings stirring up a strong wind in the districts. I walked to my house, where Karliah had set out a meal.

"Oh, you got the Scroll." Surprise tinged her voice. I pulled out the scroll and stared at the markings on the seal.

"I'm just as shocked as you," I murmured. "This one is... Vulon, or the Night Scroll. So now all we need to do is talk to Pa- oh,we've got to head all the way... back to Skyrim." I smacked my forehead. "Bloody hell... it's going to take weeks, given..."

"We'll stay here. You go." Karliah glanced at the two men.

"How th- Durnehviir."

"You didn't come to this conclusion before?" Brynjolf muttered. "We had to take carriage to this damn city, and your red dragon could have taken us here in a day."

"Durnehviir would have killed you for arguing so much. Beyond that, Odahviing wouldn't have taken us. Cyrodil is beyond his borders. Durnehviir's different."

"Bye, Russet!" Farkas gave me a goofy smile. "I'll be waiting right here!" Brynjolf glared at Farkas and rubbed his chin.

"Then I suppose you can go."

"I don't recall needing your permission, Brynjolf." I walked outside, leaving them in the house. "Durnehviir?" I called out. The green and gray dragon landed near me. "Please fly me to the Throat of the World, I need to speak to the Graybeards and Paarthurnax."

"As you wish, dovahkiin." I climbed on his scaly neck, and we took off into the sky.

Chapter Text

 

 

((11th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 10:23 p.m.))

"Thanks, Durnehviir." I climbed off his back and handed the Elder Scroll to Odahviing, who buried it next to the first. "Paarthurnax, where is the next Scroll?"

"It is in Elsweyr. Laas, the Dreams of mortals... An island, called Khenarthi's Roost."

"I know where that is," I said excitedly.

"Then go," the great dragon commanded. Bring the final Elder Scroll to me, and I will be able to release Nocturnal from you."

...

((12th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 2:53 a.m.)) 

My eyes closed of their own accord, and I forced them open again. Haven't been attacked by Nocturnal recently... I get the feeling that's not good. In my groggy state, I was unable to think clearly. I slipped into slumber.

...

I recognized the dark forest that took over my dreams, and I began to panic. "Wake up! Wake up, dammit!" I began to run, and a low chuckle stopped me short. Cold fingers gripped my heart and began to pull it apart. I screamed in agony, yanking at the phantom thing that seemed bent on taking my heart.

"You cannot escape me!" it hissed.

The world shook violently, and I woke as the ground shattered into a thousand pieces.

...

((12th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 5:01 a.m.))

"Good, you've awoken," Durnehviir rumbled. I slid off his back, disoriented. We'd landed in the Imperial City.

"It's almost like there are too many ways for me to be woken up," I muttered to myself. "Yet at the same time, not enough..."

"Lass!"

"Russet!" I found myself crushed in a bear hug by Farkas, and Brynjolf leaned against the house with a bright smile. I coughed a bit, and Farkas released me. "I'm glad you're back!"

"I could tell...and so could my ribs." Farkas smiled and ran inside. Durnehviir hissed, and his form crumbled back into the Soul Cairn. "Thank the gods that we landed then."

"Hello, lass." Brynjolf smiled at me, and my heart pounded in my chest. "What's wrong?" The grin vanished off his face, and I groaned as my chest froze. "Lass?! Lass!!" He caught me before I hit the ground, and my breathing became erratic.

"I... had... a nightmare again," I wheezed, clutching the spot where Nocturnal had tried to steal my heart. "Nocturnal almost... took my heart..."

"By Oblivion, lass..." Bryn cursed, helping me into the house. I was grateful for his comfort.

...

((12th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 5:37 a.m.))

Karliah stared at me, and the newly formed scar above my heart. "We don't have much time," she murmured.

"I'm aware." I pulled my tunic down. "You can look now, Farkas."

"Are you sure?" he said through his hands, face turned away. I laughed at his nervousness.

"Quite sure." He removed his hands tentatively, sighing in relief. That's adorable.

"So, we're going to Elsweyr?"

"It seems like it," I replied to Brynjolf. I noticed a silver chain at his belt, with a small dragon pendant... Forcing down the lump in my throat, I prepared my pack. "I think we're going on foot. Elsweyr isn't very far," I said optimistically.

"Sure, if we have half a year to spare," Brynjolf snorted.

"Look, I'll buy goddamn horses. We'll get there in a week."

...

((19th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 7:18 p.m.))

I'd had the nightmares once more.

"They're becoming more frequent," I told Karliah lowly, climbing off my bay horse. The mare pawed at the ground, and I tethered her to the Five Rider's Stables post. I paid the matron off to take care of our four horses.

"My legs hurt," Farkas complained, rubbing his calves.

"Poor baby," Brynjolf simpered. "Try nearly drowning in an icy cave and having your ribs split open." I opened my mouth to argue that he didn't know what that felt like when I realized- he's talking about me. He acknowledges the lengths I went to. "I do believe even that pales compared to the emotional ties that would come afterwards."

Farkas frowned. "What?"

"Nothing, lad." Bryn offered me a small grin. "Nothing at all." We hiked the rest of the way to Elsweyr, and the terrain slowly turned into a desert.

The sand stuck in the cracks between the scales on my boots. We continued to move through the dunes, the heat boring down on our heads. Farkas looked uncomfortable in his thick steel armor, and sweat beaded his forehead. Bryn didn't seem much better, glancing at the sun that beamed down.

Of course, I was wearing dragon scales. For me, it was nearly unbearable. It was fine in the cold winds of my homeland, but wasn't fit for the desert. Only Karliah seemed attuned to the harsh weather, and I wondered exactly how she adapted to several different climates with such ease. Four shapes moved slowly on the horizon.

"Come on! I see a few Khajiit ahead!" I bounded forwards, eager to get to the nearest town. As we approached, I recognized a friend of mine from Rimmen. "S'vari!" I greeted happily.

"By Secunda's light... Russet? Why have you come to this land?" Despite her unwelcoming words, her tone was warm and inquisitive. My three companions reached us and stared at the Khajiit nervously.

"I'm here on a quest." I pitched my voice low.

"Then this one shall do all she can to assist you," S'vari promised, flicking her tail. "Come, Rimmen is not far. Tan'kha will certainly be glad to see you." I took her furry hand and let her lead us to the town. "My home is on the southern side. You look like you need nourishment."

"Russet, are you sure they aren't tricking us?" Farkas stared with hostility at the cat people, and I remembered that he had the blood of the wolf still flowing in his veins. Of course.

"Don't worry, Farkas," I soothed. "They're friends." He snorted angrily, still suspicious.

We followed the Khajiit to the far end, and I entered without hesitation.

"Russet!" I recognized the light voice of the Khajiit cub Tan'kha, and she leapt into my arms- hardly the size of a house cat. I patted her mottled gray and brown fur, enjoying how she purred against my arms.

"I have water," S'vari announced, placing five clay cups on a wooden table. She poured the water out of a pitcher and sat down, unruffled by the hostile stare she received from Farkas.

"Thank you." I put the Khajiit kitten down and let her scamper away. Taking a seat, I sipped my water.

"Where are you going?" she rasped, lapping at her cup.

"An island, Khenarthi's Roost." She flicked her tail in surprise.

"It has been deserted for nearly two eras."

"But there's something there I need." The Khajiit woman twitched her ears.

"What would this item to be procured be?" she queried. I hesitated and glanced at Karliah, unsure whether or not to continue.

"I don't think this is something I can share," I said slowly. "It's nothing against you, but... I'm being hunted, and I don't want them to torture you for information you don't have."

"Very well. Your secrets can be yours. But beware," she warned. "You will travel through the jungle to reach your destination. There are my kind there that prowl the shadows and will not hesitate to kill you."

"I'll do my best to stay safe," I vowed, nodding to S'vari. "Then I suppose we should be on our way."

"No, rest here. You are all weary, it is the least this one can do for you," the gray-furred Khajiit purred.

"Thank y-"

"I'm not staying with any of you fur-lickers," Farkas snarled. I smacked his arm, shooting him a dangerous glare.

"Please, ignore his words," I pleaded, and S'vari narrowed her pupils. "Er... he's a... werewolf."

"Like you once were, I scented as much." Farkas glared at me a bit, and I resolved to speak with him later. "I will let this insult slip, but do not press my hospitality."

...

((12th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 11:57 p.m.))

I laid awake in bed, tossing and turning. What if we encountered the forest cats? What if I'd led someone to their death? What if Nocturnal found me? What if the Scroll wasn't there? I was plagued by the inner questions before I finally found slumber. But it was not restful.

...

I walked through the Pilgrim's Path, as I'd done years before. I felt desperation rise in my throat, feeling, just knowing, that there was something that I needed at the end.

The light moved this time, burning me with the slightest touch. I felt the pain acutely, and my step slowed. The agony made me clumsy, and every step was jolted. When I escaped from the light, I fell to my knees, running my fingers over every burn.

A cry echoed from deeper into the tunnels, and I forced myself to my feet with new energy. I had a purpose. I moved quickly, and the next wail was so incredibly distressing that I broke into a run.

Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I burst into the final chamber- the location of Nocturnal's portal to the Evergloam. The Dark Mistress herself stood before me, a writing figure in her hand. Brynjolf.

"Let him go!" I demanded. "He has no place in our bargain!"

"But he does," she trilled mockingly, strengthening her grip on the Nord. He cried out again, meeting my eyes. I'd never seen his face so pained, and it tugged at my heartstrings. "He's important to you."

"You're wrong," I denied, knowing that it was a lie. "He's nothing."

"Then I suppose it wouldn't matter to you," Nocturnal hissed, crushing him further.

"No!"

"Goodbye... my lass..." Brynjolf choked, closing his eyes tightly as the Daedric Lord crushed him into dust.

"Brynjolf!"

...

((13th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 4:15 a.m.))

"No!" I cried out, bolting up in bed. The darkness sunk into my bones, and all I could see was the crumbled dust that remained of him. "Bryn!"

"Lass?!" Immediately, he stood before me. Without hesitation, I threw my arms around him.

"You're alive," I sobbed, clutching his form closer. The red-haired Nord knelt down and stroked my hair. "Oh my gods, Bryn..."

"Don't worry, lass," he crooned.

"She crushed you, and..." I couldn't escape the dream. For all I knew, this could be the dream, and Brynjolf could truly be dead. I refused to release him, and he allowed me to cry on his shoulder until my pained cries slowed.

"It was a nightmare, lass. I'm here..."

"I know," I whispered. "I know..." Without thinking, I turned my neck and pressed my lips to his, pouring all of my relief into the kiss. I mourned the moments I'd turned away from him, the time spent pushing him away.

It didn't matter where I went, it wouldn't change the fact that I was in love with Brynjolf.

Chapter Text

((13th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 6:03 a.m.))

I'd refused to let go of Brynjolf, and he'd moved his bed next to mine. When I woke up, my head was resting on his arm, and I murmured softly. The morning light streamed into my eyes, and I stretched.

"Russet? What's he doing?" I realized that Farkas was staring, and my cheeks reddened.

"I had a nightmare."

"I would have been able to protect you," he said crossly, turning away with a huff. Bryn's eyes opened.

"Hello, lass." 

...

((13th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 6:18 a.m.))

After I got up, I joined S'vari and the rest of the party for a morning meal that consisted mostly of small fish and mutton.

"Forgive me," S'vari rasped. "I hadn't expected guests yesterday, so I have not much to share."

"I thank you for doing so." I smiled. We ate in silence, and after we'd finished, we were ushered out the door. Karliah gave Bryn and I a sideways glance. I shook my head.

...
((13th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 9:46 a.m.))

The air in the jungle was humid. Sweat beaded my forehead, and mosquitoes swarmed us. My face was the only flesh I exposed, and red bumps dotted the skin. Brynjolf and Karliah were unaffected, covered by their Nightingale garb.

"Damn these bloodsuckers," Farkas cursed, slapping at his face. Bryn chuckled in amusement, earning a glare from the Companion.

A twig snapped ahead, followed by a low growl. My hair stood on end. A guttural roar burst into the hot air, and we readied our weapons.

A massive wildcat the size of a mammoth leapt from the jungle with fangs longer than my arm bared in anger. Golden fur matted with dark red blood glinted with the moisture that hung in the air.

"Is this thing what that cat-woman was talking about?!" Farkas crouched low to the ground and began to shake. Black fur grew from his skin as he took a wolfed form. With a howl, he sprinted forward and sliced his claws down the huge Khajiit's body.

Karliah loosed arrow after arrow, but the beast brushed them off as if they were toothpicks. Brynjolf swung his swords, though they did about as much damage as Karliah's arrows. It roared furiously and slammed its claws down on Bryn, and I cried out in fear for his life.

It followed up by striking Farkas, who yelped in pain as he was thrown two dozen feet, hitting a tree. Clenching my sword, I drove the sharp tan blade into the wildcat's ribs. It shrieked in fury and batted a clumsy paw towards me.

I ripped out the sword and scaled its tangled fur, trying to keep a grip on the mane as it shook back and forth to throw me off. I prepared to drive the Dragonbone sword into its spine when an idea occurred to me. "Rii... Vaah Zol!" The Khajiit stopped cold and laid down, pacified.

Brynjolf picked himself off the ground, and I was relieved to see him unharmed. He charged at the Khajiit, both blades gleaming hungrily. "Wait!" The red-haired Nord skidded to a stop.

"Are you crazy, lass?!" he asked incredulously.

"You've known me for years, and yet you still have to ask that?" I rolled my eyes and slid off the great beast. Its belly rumbled deeply in what I took to be an affectionate purr. "Who's a cute kitty?" I cooed. "You are!" Brynjolf crossed his arms, and though I couldn't see his face, I knew he was smiling.

"Am I being replaced by an oversized house cat?"

"It's possible," I joked, patting the cat's chin. My plan wasn't entirely foolproof.

The wildcat's eyes narrowed in anger, and my chest was suddenly crushed-- by Bryn's strong arms. I gasped for breath, and he eased up slightly.

"You scared me, lass," Brynjolf scolded.

"But I'm fine," I insisted, disentangling myself. The Khajiit relaxed. Then it occurred to me. "Where's Farkas?"

"Right here..." the hardy Nord grumbled. He had transformed back and put his armor back on, but his face was bloodied.

"By Azura, Farkas! Karliah, help him!"

"This... is why... I hate... cats..."

"Hold still," Karliah commanded, forcing him down. While the Dunmer treated the wounds, I pulled away Bryn's mask and tended to a cut on his face.

"Lass--"

"Bryn--" we spoke at the same time, and I laughed lightly. "You first."

"Lass, I wanted to let you know... you are the most beautiful, strong..." he looked at me with a spark of humor in his bright green eyes. "--Stubborn woman I've ever met in my life." Brynjolf shifted his weight awkwardly. "These past few weeks have made me realize that I... I can't be without you." I started in shock at his out-of-character proclamations.

"Bryn, I would love nothing more than to spend my life with you. But you truly hurt me. I... I do care for you. Deeply." I took a deep breath. "But no matter how much I want to, I can't trust you-- or forgive you." His face fell.

"I understand. Then please, lass... Let me earn it back with time." He kissed my cheek, the red scruff tickling my skin. "It's best if we get moving. I don't want Nocturnal to..." he trailed off.

"Then let's go."

"Your enthusiasm is duly noted," Karliah put in. "However, we still have a rather large problem. A giant cat."

"It'll fight for us until I release it from my hold," I said. Farkas coughed loudly. "We can ride it to the island."

"There is nothing in Tamriel that would get me on a cat," Farkas mumbled irritably.

"I'll die if we don't get to the damn island, Farkas. Get your cat-hating ass on its back." I climbed up, and Bryn soon followed.

"There's my little spitfire," he chuckled, pulling the mask back on. Karliah had to pull Farkas on, but he didn't say another word.

...

((13th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 7:40 p.m.)) 

I spotted the island off the coast. Thankfully, we hadn't run into any more of the wild forest cats S'vari had warned us about. We had no choice but to swim over, and no matter how much control I had, I wasn't going to force the cat to swim.

"Thank you," I murmured to the Khajiit, releasing it from my command. It shook its massive furry head and bounded off into the tropical forest it called home.

I spotted crushed bricks and rubble the closer we got. Water dripped from my hair, though the scales kept the rest of me mostly dry. I held in a laugh at the dripping wet thieves that stepped out of the water.

"Where do we check first?" Farkas asked, shaking himself off like a dog. Wiping water out of my eyes, I looked around.

"I'd say we check everywhere. The castle, temple, whichever's closest." The nearest building had a broken down sign that read,

Temple of the Mourning Springs

"Shall we?" I walked inside, my heart pounding furiously. The third Elder Scroll was here on this island somewhere, my final key to freedom. Every step I took was one step closer to saving my life.

Moss grew on the stones, casting an eerie glow on the walls as Karliah lit a torch. Rats skittered away in fear. Our footsteps echoed in the cavern. Well, Farkas's did. Karliah, Brynjolf, and I managed to keep silent. Water dripped from the ceiling into small puddles. The air was stale.

After an hour of searching, the last of our light faded from the sky. Karliah relit another torch, and I stumbled. The heat sapped my energy and slowed my every step.

"Lass?" Brynjolf whispered anxiously, helping me off the ground. "You should rest."

"We're too close," I moaned, my eyelids growing heavy. "We can make it."

"We have no guarantee it's in this temple. You need to rest."

"So do you."

"I hate to break it to you, but we're not the ones who're being chased by an evil Daedric prince with a personal vendetta."

"Good point." Farkas brought me a few blankets from a storeroom.

"Lay on these," the Companion said, setting them up to support me.

"Thank you." I realized how exhausted I was. As soon as my eyes closed, I fell asleep.

 

Chapter Text

 

((13th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 11:53 p.m.))

BRYNJOLFPOV

 

After the lass laid down to sleep, I kept a careful eye on her skin. It remained unblemished, as creamy pale as it was the day I had first seen her. The scar on her cheek edged out in the torchlight.

Farkas and Karliah laid down on their thin bedrolls. My hand went to my pocket, where the silver dragon necklace stayed hidden in a bundle of fabric.

A blast of wind coursed through the temple, extinguishing out torch. "Damn," I cursed, searching for flint to relight it. The temple was pitch-black, with no light to help me.

What if Russet's being attacked? What if she's dying? What if she's already dead?! I shook Karliah's arm, but the Dark Elf continued to sleep. I shoved her, and still she slept. There was a stillness that sent chills into my bones.

Whatever happened, I needed to make sure Russet was safe. Stumbling over to her sleeping form, I dug out my dagger and held it to her hand. It was covered with dragon's scales. There was no opening on her body except her face. Her beautiful skin was nearly entirely unmarked, and I made a split decision.

I ran my fingers over her face, searching for the scar. The lass was cold to the touch, and I gasped in fear. Acting quickly, I swiped the blade down her cheek.

A terrible minute passed.

Then two.

The waiting was heart-wrenching.

"Please, lass," I begged. "Please wake up."

Chapter Text

((14th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 5:36 a.m.))

 

 

I'd kept watch over the lass. She didn't wake, but air continued to pulse from her nose. No matter what I did, my Dragonborn continued to sleep. But as long as she breathed, she lived.

Karliah finally woke up as Elsweyr's sun rose over the horizon. She stretched and glanced at me.

"I'm sorry," she apologized guiltily. "I didn't realize I'd fallen asleep."

"No worries, Karliah. I've stayed awake longer, I'll be fine." The Companion was still asleep. "Dog, get up!" I kicked his side, and he shot up.

"Don't be rude," Karliah scolded me.

"Russet? Russet, wake up!"

"She won't wake up," I informed them. "I think it's the Elder Scroll. It's got to be here. What did the old dragon say it was?"

"He said... it was Dreams."

"What do we do?" Farkas asked stupidly.

"We take her with us, defend her with our lives, and make sure we get that Scroll!" I growled angrily. "I hope you're better at fighting than thinking, because I'll need to carry her through these damn ruins."

"I'll do it," Farkas insisted. "I'm stronger."

"All grandstanding that we're wooing the same woman, if your skill is with an axe, then you'd bloody better protect her with it. I'll carry her, no more arguments!" I hoisted up the lass into my arms, the dragon scales chafing against my thin fabric. I added a blanket underneath.

Farkas frowned at me, but didn't comment further. Instead, we started down the only place that could possibly hold the Scroll- in the chapel's undercroft.

If past experience was anything to go by, undercrofts weren't to be messed with. The spirits of ancestors swarmed them, not to mention the remains of the deceased.

Karliah pushed open the door, and a wave of stale air nearly choked me. We listened carefully, relieved to hear nothing moving in the stone graves.

No zombies of undead cat-people, no dark wraiths with curving black claws, no glowing specters bent on ripping out our hearts. Stepping cautiously, we avoided the crumbling pillars and rotting wooden coffins.

"Maybe the bodies are too old, or not preserved well enough," Karliah whispered to me, her voice nearly inaudible. "Perhaps their souls have already moved on."

"That could be the case," I agreed, glancing at the sleeping woman curled in my arms. "But we should be wary all the same."

We walked a few more steps when the door creaked far behind us. The hairs on the back of my head stood up. It slammed shut. The air whooshed past us.

"Just the wind," Farkas grunted, untroubled. My skin prickled, suddenly cold. Wood creaked around us.

"They know we're here," I told Karliah in a hushed tone.

"If that were true, we'd have already been attacked," was the Dark Elf's reply. Still, I noticed that she kept her bow at the ready. "Whatever happens, don't make any-"

Pottery shattered, the pieces flying every which way and clattering on the walls. The crash echoed through the dark hallways, and for a terrifying moment, all was silent. Then low moans filled the underground, coffins falling to the ground. "-noise. Damn it all, Companion!"

The acrid stench of rotting flesh permeated the stale air, forcing me to hold in a cough of disgust. Uneven footsteps headed our way. I lifted Russet to rest on my left shoulder to free up my right arm. Gritting my teeth, I yanked Farkas up off the ground. Growls sounded through the undercroft.

"What part of be quiet escaped your walnut-sized brain?" I roared furiously, doing my best to pull out my sword without dropping my lass. Karliah set a torch on the ground, giving us just enough light to see a broken corpse stumbling towards us with bared fangs.

Karliah's arrow swiftly reached its head before the attack, but to our immediate dismay, it was not alone. More followed, faster than her arrows could hit. Farkas swung his battleaxe, taking out three undead Khajiit.

A zombie tore my blade out of my hands and gave me a paralyzing glare of hatred from its empty eye sockets. I was weaponless, with an unconscious woman on my shoulder. The lass has a sword! Without wasting a second, I unsheathed the Dragonbone Sword at her side and decapitated the hostile corpse.

Karliah's quiver was empty, and she was forced to rely on her sword.

"Will these damn things never stop?!" Farkas shouted, heaving his axe down on a zombie.

"We wouldn't be in this mess if you'd watched your feet!" My strength was waning, and the horde of bloodthirsty Khajiit showed no signs of slowing down. They felt no pain, and were a bitch to kill. If only the lass was awake!

"There's no other options!" Karliah shrieked fearfully. "We have to run past them!"

"You'll never make it past," Farkas responded, clenching his jaw as a zombie hurled itself at him.

"What are you talking about?" I kicked a zombie square in the chest, caving in its ribs. Farkas took out a slew of enemies and turned to me.

"Take Russet. I swore on my life that I would protect her. It's time to fulfill that vow." He shoved me forwards. "Go!" I didn't wait another second and shoved my way through the zombies. Karliah followed closely behind.

A door was open, and we curved into the room. Karliah slammed it shut on an undead Khajiit's paw, slicing it cleanly off. She lowered the bar, locking the stone door.

We heard Farkas's last howl until it was muffled by the groans of the dead.

"What now?" Karliah asked, sitting on the sandy floor. "If we can't get out, then his sacrifice will have been for nothing."

"Russet will be upset, I have no doubt," I murmured, setting her down carefully and stretching my sore arms. "I know how much he meant to her." Despite my appreciation for the selfless sacrifice that had allowed us to survive, I couldn't rid myself of the bitter tone creeping into my voice.

I noticed how cracked Russet's lips were. "She's dehydrated. Karliah, give me your water skin." The Dunmer checked her bag.

"It's almost empty," she said, handing it over.

"It's better than nothing." My own tongue was dry, and my body cried out for water. But the lass needs it more, I told myself firmly. I tipped the water into her mouth, a thin stream the only bit that came out of the skin.

She didn't wake- not that I'd expected her to.

"Let's see if there's a way out without going back into the catacombs." I suggested. I left the lass lying down, confident that nothing would hurt her here.

From the looks of it, we'd locked ourselves in an embalming room. Canopic jars were propped against the wall, and a closet held linen wraps aplenty. Ruined books and shards of soul gems sat on a stone shelf.

"It doesn't look like there's a way out, Bryn."

"Don't give up hope. There has to be," I insisted. "From what I know of the Khajiit, they're a clever race- damn good thieves. They'd never make a structure that they couldn't escape."

"But this isn't a trick room, Brynjolf! It's for preparing the deceased."

"Either way, we've got to believe that there's a way out." I glanced at Russet. Her hair had grown a bit, and it spilled out from her helm. Karliah looked at the ceiling, where a crack had developed. The sun had already lowered, and the small moon shone brightly.

"Secunda, queen of the heavens, please guide my sword," she prayed fervently, clasping her hands tightly. Closing her eyes and holding her black Nightingale Blade, she began to take slow, deliberate steps. The tip hit the edge of a stone table, and the Dunmer's violet eyes opened in shock.

"What happened?"

"No..." Karliah whispered, dropping the sword. "No!! Oh, we've failed... I was right." Her voice rasped. "Farkas died for nothing, we led him here to his death. Nocturnal will claim us." Her steadily raising voice drew the attention of the zombies outside.

"Karliah?" Groans echoed through the stone.

"It's all over." The door rattled.

"Karliah." The bar cracked slightly.

"We're done for. At best, we'll be devoured by ravenous corpses, never to-"

"Karliah!!"

"What?!" she snapped.

"Look." I pointed to the table. The top had vanished into the side, and stairs had appeared. They lead further down into the crypt. "I believe you owe Secunda your gratitude," I teased, lifting Russet's sleeping form into my arms.

"Thank you, Secunda. Because of your wisdom and mercy, we live to see another day." We descended the staircase, closing the hidden passage just as the zombies broke through the door.

 

...

 

((14th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 9:03 p.m.))

 

The stairwell seemed to go on forever. Grime coated the long-unused stairs, so I set down each foot with care.

"Once we get the Scroll, she'd better wake up," I huffed. The stairs evened out until we walked on even ground. Ten more minutes passed before the corridor finally ended.

Instead of stone halls, what we saw before us was an underground jungle. I breathed in fresh air and immediately relaxed. A stream bubbled calmly nearby, and I bounded over. Cupping my hands, I lifted the water and relished the cool taste as I drank it in. After I'd had my fill, I scooped some into the water skin and poured it into Russet's mouth.

The stream opened up further as Karliah and I walked down to the middle of the cavern. It flowed into a sparkling lake. Fish swam around lazily, and my stomach growled at the thought of freshly cooked salmon. An old stone pillar rested near the water. Moss grew on the surface, and I had to brush it away to read the inscription properly.

 

Chapter Text

((??th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, ??:??))

((RUSSETPOV))

 

I'd been wandering for a few minutes. Or maybe it was a few hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years.

I tried to wake up. The shadow swarming around me was enough to strike terror into my heart. They clung to my limbs, weighting me down as I tried to flee. Fear crept into my thoughts as a shrouded figure drew closer. Striking blue eyes stared into my own, freezing me to the spot. My struggles to escape the invisible binds were in vain.

"Try all you want, little thief," Nocturnal hissed, the crows on her arms cawing loudly. "You are mine. You broke my deal. I will reclaim the life I gave to you." The Shadow Mistress dug her nails under my chin, smiling terribly when I screamed. "You cannot wake, now. You are trapped under the very dreams you sought so hard to find. I will destroy you, sever your life as you severed the loyalty you promised me."

"You can kill me." I grinned. "But you will lose the loyalty of your Nightingales. They will not protect the Twilight Sepulcher. Mortals will swarm through the Ebonmere, and your precious Evergloam will be overrun!" Nocturnal's features twisted into hatred, and she clutched my chin fiercely. I was lifted into the air.

"You will fall," I promised. The pain intensified, and I felt my very life being leeched away. "Mortals... will no longer worship you... Nocturnal, you will lose your powers, your being will fade into nonexistence. You will be lost to time..."

"Do not test me!" she roared, and my vision began to black out. "Look into my Eye." I shuddered, her voice suddenly soft and sweet. In her palm, a glowing blue orb shone with an image. "Before I kill you, know one thing... your quest to save your life has taken the lives of countless others."

"No," I choked out, pulling at the fingers strangling my throat. "You bitch!" In the orb, Brynjolf and Karliah sat near a lake. Inside was something they couldn't see, and could never reach. The final Elder Scroll.

"On that stone is a prophecy... one I must ensure comes to pass," Nocturnal sneered. A curved black blade appeared in her hands, and I realized what was coming to pass. "So close to victory, yet so far... my little nightingale."

I shrieked, my throat bleeding from the sheer force and volume, as my soul was torn from my body.

Chapter Text

((15th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 12:00 a.m.))

((BRYNJOLFPOV))

 

I pounded at the ground, anger filling my bones. "If I can't figure out how to wake up my lass, how in all of Tamriel am I supposed to figure out a riddle that foretells her death?!"

"There has to be a trick to this," Karliah muttered, tracing the patterns.

Suddenly, a beam of pure moonlight shone down through an opening in the stone ceiling. The gurgling spring in the middle became a waterfall, and light emanated from the middle.

"That... might be it." My heart thudded in my chest.

"The Elder Scroll," Karliah whispered in awe. It was set upon a marble pedestal. "How do we get it, though?" I tapped my chin thoughtfully.

"We've got to swim, Karliah."

"No. You've got to swim."

"Why me?"

"You're the one she needs, Brynjolf. You should retrieve the last Scroll." Taking a deep breath, I dove into the icy water and swam to the middle of the lake. The Elder Scroll was just barely out of reach, and the marble was too slippery to climb.

"Brynjolf!" Karliah's panicked voice drew my attention immediately.

"What?"

"It's Russet! Her skin is like ash, and is turning darker every second!" My heart dropped into my stomach.

"I've got to get the Scroll," I hissed through clenched teeth, clawing at the pedestal.

Wait!" Karliah shouted desperately. "The riddle— we have to solve it!!"

"What does it say?!"

"Death comes swiftly if you dare to find the vision's hidden lair. Four to one makes three to two, showing light to one all moon. Crashing waves and drowning lies, truth is spoken for demise. To reveal the treasure sought you for, words are spoken true and pure. This for so deadly a quest, fighting for the very breath. For on Earth she shall erase, russet blood to spill and replace."

"That doesn't make sense..." I gasped suddenly. "Four to one makes three to two. Karliah, twelve! It's got to be midnight. To reveal the treasure... words are spoken..." It hit me. I breathed deeply and said the one thing I'd refused to say. "When Mercer told me that she was dead, I was dead inside. When he told me that she lived, I wanted to believe it, even if it made us sworn enemies.

"Russet will always hold a place in my heart. I will never stop fighting for her... and I will always love her."

The waters rushed around the marble, and the pedestal lowered just enough for me to retrieve the Elder Scroll. I celebrated silently until Karliah's fearful cry echoed across the lake:

"Brynjolf!! She's not breathing!!"

 

Chapter Text

((15th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 12:13 a.m.))

((RUSSETPOV))

 

In my chest, my heart beat furiously to make up for the soul I'd lost. Nocturnal held a gleaming blue orb in her hands, and I gasped for breath as she began to slowly crush it.

My vision wavered, and Nocturnal's face held clear dismay. My lungs filled with air without my direct command. With a sharp gasp, I fell through the shadowy ground and to the world below.

 

...

 

"Russet? Can you hear me?" The words blurred together slightly.

"Lass, wake up!" Slowly, I opened my eyes to see a rugged Nord. "Oh, by the gods, you're awake!"

"Wha— what happened?"

"We found the scroll," Karliah began. The hesitation in her voice grabbed my attention.

"What happened?" I asked warily, not missing the uneasy look she gave Brynjolf. "Tell me."

"Farkas... is dead," Bryn muttered. It took a moment for the news to sink in.

"Oh," I replied simply, dull. I waited for the sorrow and pain— but strangely enough, I felt nothing.

"Are you alright, lass?"

"I'm fine," I reassured him. I looked into his eyes. I couldn't feel the joy I would have thought. No love. No sadness. No fear.

"Come on," Karliah urged. "Let's get out. We finally have all three Elder Scrolls."

"Why should I care?" Both Brynjolf and Karliah looked at me in shock.

"Y-you're going to die, lass."

"Oh, right." I stood up clumsily. "Let's get moving, then."

 

...

 

((15th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 12:49 a.m.))

 

We'd managed to find a way out of the cavern by following the stream. It spilled into the sea, and I squeezed my eyes shut as the water turned salty. Once we reached dry land, I shook myself off and walked away.

"Wait, lass!" Brynjolf caught up to me with a concerned expression. "What's wrong?" he asked gently, tipping my chin upwards.

"Nothing's wrong."

"You haven't been the same since you woke up. Lass, I care about you far too much to let you go on like this." I expected emotion to cloud my thoughts, though all I felt was a hollow space in my chest. I was lighter, missing something important.

"I don't know," I responded evenly, not even a flicker of feeling sparking my tone. "All we can do is get back to Paarthurnax."

"Wait, what about—"

"Durnehviir!" The undead dragon appeared on the sandy island with a violet flash of light. "Can you carry us three to the Throat of the World?"

"Of course, Dovahkiin. Do correct me if I am wrong, but were there not four of you when you began?"

"He died." Durnehviir allowed me to climb onto his neck and waited patiently for the other passengers.

"Hold on tightly, Dovahkiin." With a beat of his mighty wings, the Soul Cairn's resident dragon took to the skies.

"Is something off about the lass?" I heard Bryn mutter to Karliah.

"She didn't even react to news of Farkas's death," the Dunmer woman responded.

"Do you know what I saw in her eyes? Nothing. She's different."

"Maybe she's just trying to cope by blocking everything else," Karliah suggested.

Or maybe, I thought, it's because I cannot feel a thing.

Chapter Text

((15th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 10:57 p.m.))

 

Bryn and Karliah had fallen asleep in the air. I couldn't blame them. I understood that they'd been awake for days to protect me. All I felt was wind on my face and the ridges of Durnehviir's scales.

Otherwise, nothing. I knew there should have been something. Relief, joy, fear, love... but I didn't.

"Here we land, Dovahkiin." Durnehviir extended his hind claws, spreading his wings to soften the impact. The jolt as the dragon hit the ground startled Brynjolf and Karliah awake.

"Thank you." Durnehviir nodded to me in response and flew off with a mighty roar. Odahviing watched the other dragon curiously as he circled the mountain.

"You have returned," Paarthurnax thrummed as he perched atop the ruined Word Wall. "The Scroll— you have succeeded in retrieving it."

"Indeed."

"Odahviing!" The red dragon flew down at hearing Paarthurnax's call. "Unearth the Elder Scrolls." He obeyed, clutching the ancient Scrolls delicately in his teeth and setting them down in front of me. "Place Laas here, Dovahkiin."

As soon as the Elder Scroll was placed, a brilliant flash illuminated the mountaintop. "Take them to the place where the Daedric Prince's power is greatest. They have been bound to you."

"Then we must go to the Twilight Sepulcher," Karliah said, speaking for the first time since landing on the Throat of the World. "Bring it to the Ebonmere, and break Nocturnal's power over you."

"We'll save you," Brynjolf promised. "We— I— will never stop fighting for you."

"Okay." He appeared hurt by my concise response, though I had no guilt to stab at my heart.

 

...

 

((17th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 11:23 a.m.))

 

It took us a little more than a day and a half to reach the Sepulcher. Karliah was shuddering in fear, and her eyes were rimmed with black. Bryn held the same tired look. I was not tired, nor was I nervous.

"You alright, lass?" Brynjolf inquired quietly, a hand on my shoulder.

"Why wouldn't I be?"

"I'd have thought that you'd be nervous. I mean, we're not exactly facing a mudcrab."

"What? Why would I be nervous?"

"Because I know you. What happened?" he demanded. "Lass, you've lost your fire. Something's different."

"I'm just as I've always been." I left the Nord behind and entered the Twilight Sepulcher. Karliah followed closely behind, constantly twitching.

"I don't like this," she murmured. "I swore on my life to protect all Nocturnal stood for."

"But Nocturnal has changed," I objected. "You vowed to defend something that she's long since abandoned."

"It still feels wrong."

"I don't control you. You're welcome to leave."

"No. You mean more to me than the Shadow Mistress."

"Your help is greatly appreciated, then." I spoke monotonously, no real feeling behind the words.

We avoided traps designed to kill intruders, our thoughts on just one goal. Unopposed, we made it to the inner chamber where the Ebonmere gleamed and swirled. "Set down the Scrolls on the Agent's Circles to activate the portal," I commanded, placing the Scroll of Night on the first Agent's Circle, and Karliah followed suit. The moment the final Elder Scroll was laid down, the Ebonmere shot in every direction.

Murk poured from the portal, slowly building itself up into a towering shape. The Elder Scrolls began to spin on their platforms, creating white chains that latched themselves to the Daedric Prince as soon as she formed. Nocturnal screeched, yanking at the restraints furiously. Her blazing eyes met mine in a silent battle of unrivaled hatred.

Chapter Text

((16th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 12:01 p.m.))

 

"My Nightingales," the Daedric Prince hissed, halting in her struggles. "You have betrayed me."

"We have not betrayed you," Karliah snarled, curling her fingers. "You have betrayed us."

"Dearest Karliah, do your vows mean nothing? What would your precious lover say?" The form of Gallus appeared before the Nightingale, grimacing in disappointment.

"Don't pay attention to her, Karliah!" Bryn growled, drawing his sword. "It's a trick! You know that Gallus always supported you!"

"Karliah," Nocturnal purred, "remove my chains. Release me. The prophecy must be fulfilled— after all, it was written specifically for the Russet Nightingale." I only stared dully, unsurprised.

"You leave her alone!" Brynjolf shouted, thoroughly enraged. He swung his sword, though it passed through the Mistress of Night harmlessly.

"You cannot hurt me," she chortled, pulling at her binds. "You have never been truly loyal."

"And you have?" he challenged. Nocturnal cackled in sick amusement.

"I've always been loyal. The difference is that my loyalty is to none but myself." With a heave, the white chains shattered. She curled her lips at Brynjolf before giving him a sweet smile as he turned his head my way. "Oh, so you've grown close to this little scut."

"She's not a scut," he rumbled. "What's your point?!"

"How ironic would it be to have the one dearest to you— the one you'd die for— to be the one to strike you down?" In her palm. the orb holding my soul materialized. "She is nothing but my pawn, and is under my total control!" I found my hands gripping the hilt of my sword, and I had no will to stop it.

I swung it at Bryn, who jumped back swiftly. His eyes pleaded with mine, swirling with emotion.

"Lass, listen to me!" he begged. "This isn't you! Karliah, help me!" The Dunmer paid no heed, frozen in place. "Lass, stop!"

"She won't listen to you, fool," Nocturnal laughed, hovering behind us. The crows on her shoulder echoed her dark chuckles.

"Lass! Russet!"

I ignored every attempt to stop me, moving as if I was not in control. Lunging forwards, Brynjolf cried out as my sword sunk deep into his chest. He crumpled to his knees, tears in his forest green eyes. "D-don't worry," he croaked. "Lass... Russet..." Blood bubbled out of his mouth.

"This is your punishment and reward," Nocturnal gloated. "Now, you feel what you have done." I screamed as she pushed my soul back into my body. All emotions came rushing back in a tidal wave.

Farkas's death. My cold treatment of my closest friends.

Brynjolf. I dropped the blade in horror, rushing to his fallen form. Red stained his body, and he lifted a shaky hand to caress my face.

"No, no..." I sobbed, burying my face in his chest. "I'm so sorry, Bryn... I'm so sorry..."

"My Russet..." he touched my lips softly, a trail of blood left behind. "My beloved Russet... I will... always... love you..." Bryn's hand dropped, and his eyes stared dead ahead.

"Bryn?! Bryn?! Bryn!!"

 

Chapter Text

((16th of Sun's Height, 4E 205, 1:32 p.m.))

 

My head fell on his chest, and I shook with sobs. I convulsed with the horror fresh in my mind, and the blood on my fingers. I wailed in horror, forced to accept the reality. Brynjolf is dead. He's dead because of me.

"Does that answer your question, Russet?" Nocturnal sneered. "You sold yourself to me for a question: Did Brynjolf love you? Now you know the answer... indeed he did... and it has cost you greatly. You should know, Nightingale. Everything comes with a price, and it is one that you have paid. Your life relied on his so heavily. Without your lover, you will lose your will to breathe. That was the cost." The Daedric Prince leaned in closely, smiling horribly. "You are free of me, just as you wished... but you'll never be free from the guilt and shame of what you've done."

The Shadow Mistress smirked and whirled around- only to receive a blade through her gut. "K-Karliah..."

"You were so intent on this 'prophecy'," the Dark Elf growled, twisting the sword. "Russet blood has been your downfall." She wielded my sword, the weapon I'd used... to kill Bryn. His blood still coated the blade. "This is the blood Russet spilled. The blood that taints yours, the blood of a mortal. You are nothing, Nocturnal. You are no more!" Karliah shrieked, forcing it through our enemy's body, russet blood seeping through the black garb, out of the fatal wound.

Nocturnal looked up, a mixture of puzzlement and confusion plastered on her face. "Karliah," she rasped. "M-my loyal Nightingale..."

Chapter Text

Karliah pulled the Dragonbone sword from Nocturnal's body, which crumbled into dust. It was whisked away into the Ebonmere, leaving no trace of the once-honored Shadow Mistress.

Karliah stepped closer, commiserating with me over Bryn's death. "If there was anything I could do, I would have already done it."

"I never... I never got to tell him that I loved him," I croaked, the sobs choking me. "Never truly told him..." A chain hung around his neck, and on the end was a silver dragon pendant. "By the gods..." I cried, clutching it tightly. Blood had stuck itself between the tiny scales, his blood.

The portal glowed brightly. Suddenly, hundreds of crows surrounded Karliah, swooping in and out. I was frozen from grief, and my mind remained sluggish. After a few seconds, they dissipated- save two. One alighted on her shoulder, the other on her forearm.

"What is this?" A black cloud covered her body. When it faded away, the odd dress Nocturnal had worn hung loosely on her body. "I..."

"You're... you're Nocturnal," I gasped in shock. Karliah glanced at her body and swirled her hand. Stars and shadows danced on her fingertips, and her eyes widened in shock.

"Russet..."

"When you killed Nocturnal, you took her place!"

"For on Earth she shall erase, russet blood to spill and replace..." she whispered. I didn't know what she was talking about, but there was a spark in her eyes that I hadn't seen in years. With a wave of her hand, the blue outline of Gallus appeared. "My love..."

"Karliah... I mean, Noctur-"

"I am still Karliah," she reassured. "I always will be." The new Daedric Prince glanced at me, still huddled over Brynjolf's dead body. It had already grown cold. "But I recall making a promise. As he was... my Nightingale, I have sole rights to his life." I stared at her uncomprehendingly. "Russet, I will give you the chance you never had." Her fingers trailed blue in the air, all of which entered Bryn's chest.

I understood what she was doing. My nails dug into the ground as I waited anxiously. When he didn't move, the despair returned. "What you've given me is hope," I whimpered. "Useless hope that destroyed me the second it was given." I slumped down on his body. "Bryn, I love you..."

Thump, thump.

Thump, thump.

Thump, thump.

Chapter Text

Thump, thump.

"Hello, lass." I looked up, my breath catching in my throat as Bryn's green eyes met mine.

"Bryn," I whispered, throwing myself forwards and crashing my lips to his in a kiss. I sank into the passion, entirely relieved for his life, for him to be returned to me. Every part of my being hummed with contentment, and I smiled against his mouth.

"I'm certainly not complaining, lass... but we have an audience."

"I don't give a damn, I'm not letting you go."

"You don't have to," Brynjolf reassured me. "But I think we have a few things to do."

"What will it take for us to get a day of peace?" I sputtered, exasperated. I stole another kiss before standing up and helping him. "Thank you, Karliah." My eyes filled with tears once more. "You've given me another chance at life... and a chance for another life." I smiled. "If you ever need me, for anything-"

"Lass, I thought you wanted a bit of peace," Bryn teased.

"If Karliah needs us, we'll help, no matter what."

"Whoever said that thieves have no honor?" she replied with laughter. Gallus's ghostly form wavered, slowly gaining color. "You will remain by my side, just as Russet will remain with Brynjolf."

"I'd be honored, my lady." Gallus smiled brightly, holding Karliah's- or was it Nocturnal's?- hand.

"Before you return to the Thieves Guild," Karliah began, "you have another task."

"What?" I complained, eliciting a chuckle from Brynjolf. His deep laugh brought me comforting thoughts.

"I believe you have a brother to speak to."

"A brother- oh." I was overcome with guilt. "If I hadn't fallen asleep, Farkas wouldn't have died."

"Maybe not," Gallus considered. "But perhaps it was written in the stars. We cannot mourn the past and let it change who we are. We must use it to shape the future."

"Are you ready to travel?" I asked Brynjolf, who nodded slowly.

"I just don't fancy the reception you'll get when you return without him."

"I suppose," I mumbled, imagining the look on Vilkas's face when I told him his brother was dead.

 

...

 

We pushed through the gates of Whiterun for the first time in months. Adrianne worked at her forge like every other day. A wave of nostalgia swept over me.

"Don't worry, lass," Bryn comforted. "I'm sure you'll live."

"It's not that I'm concerned about. I don't want to tell Vilkas that his brother died saving me from a Daedric Lord."

"It wasn't your fault," he assured me.

"It was. I'm the one who made a deal with the old Nocturnal to find out if you—" I stopped myself short, my face reddening. He smiled mischievously. "Let's go tell my friend his brother is dead." It vanished in a second, and we both sobered.

...

Jorrvaskr exploded into an uproar of applause once I walked through the door, with every Companion present— save one. Farkas.

"Russet has returned!"

"I knew she wouldn't fail!"

"The mighty hero prevails once again!"

"Wait!" I yelled, waving my hands. "There's something I need to tell you all." They quieted down and looked up at me expectantly. I caught Vilkas's eye in particular, and a stone of guilt settled into my belly. My words caught in my throat, and I found myself unable to speak. Brynjolf placed a comforting hand on my back, and I sighed. "I— Farkas is— Farkas is dead."

Murmurs of confusion rippled throughout Jorrvaskr. I stared down at the crackling hearth, having no desire to look up at the disappointment that surely showed in Vilkas's face.

"Russet," he said quietly, walking over. "What in the blazes are you talking about?"

"Hey, Russet!" The familiar rumble of Farkas's deep tone hit. "Did you miss me?"

"You— you're not dead," I whispered in shock, feeling Bryn tense behind me.

"A simple 'hello' would have sufficed," he grumbled, though there was a teasing spark in his eyes.

"But how?" His cheeks darkened into a deep red, and his brother smirked.

"Er... it's a long story..."

"Then tell it! Jorrvaskr is the place for daring tales and brave stories!" I grabbed a bottle of mead from the table and poured it into a tankard.

"Farkas? My moon, you have found our friend." The raspy voice of none other than S'vari shocked me. I was dumbfounded, to say the least, at the sappy eyes they gave each other.

"S'vari had been trailing us ever since you left the village," Farkas declared, finally meeting my gaze. "She rescued me from the zombies and took me to the house again. Well, she healed me... and the rest is evident."

"I can see that." I beamed, glad that Farkas had found someone to love— beyond all odds and prejudices. "I hope you two are happy together."

"We are," S'vari replied, holding the Companion's hand. "We are, indeed."

...

"So that's it, lass?" Brynjolf asked once we were on the road again. "We've taken down the old Nocturnal, learned that your ex-lover was alive—"

"He was never my lover," I objected.

"—And discovered that he'd fallen head over heels for a cat."

"It is cute how he adopted her daughter, too."

"Adorable," he snorted, unimpressed.

"Where are we headed, now?"

"Back to Riften, lass. Let's spread the good news."

Chapter Text

 

"I almost want to settle down," I sighed, staring mournfully at Honeyside (which still hadn't been rebuilt, mind you). "Odd. I'm hardly thirty and already want to spend the rest of my life laying back and living off my gold."

"It's hardly feasible for the Dragonborn," Bryn pointed out.

"True. But still," I sighed wistfully. "It would be so relaxing. I'm not comfortable with a life of danger any longer."

"Where's my spitfire?"

"She'll kick your ass if you provoke her."

"Ah, there she is." He kissed my cheek and pressed the button that led to the cistern. "Let's go, lass."

...

"We're back!" Brynjolf announced, strolling into the Ragged Flagon. People nodded to him appreciatively, but quickly went back to whatever they'd been doing before. "Vex, it's great to see you."

"Yeah, I guess." She leaned against the wooden posts. "So, you're here to take back the leadership?" The white-haired thief took a swig of ale.

"No. I'm giving it to you full-time. I trust you to lead in my place permanently." Vex spat out her drink, coughing roughly. I remained quiet, though I was just as shocked as Vex.

"What?! Bryn, have you been eating moon sugar?!"

"No. But I'm done here. I've completed everything I wanted to do for the Guild."

"So you're leaving us?"

"Not exactly. I'll always be available for guidance— and while my heart will always cry out for wealth— it cries out louder for something else." I couldn't stop the smile from creeping onto my face.

"...I won't stop you," she said with a nervous grin. "If that's what you want."

"Thank you for understanding, Vex."

Bryn and I gave goodbyes to everyone in the Guild. Some were easy to let go of. Others... not so much. Sapphire put up a bit of a fight, but I reassured her with kind words— and a pouch full of the blue gems she so loved. I noticed that she wore the necklace I'd given her.

...

"Solitude?" Brynjolf muttered, staring at the walls and stone buildings that towered over our heads. "The damn security here..."

"Bryn," I warned, "please don't do anything you'll regret." He groaned in false irritation. "Now, I welcome you to your new home, Proudspire Manor." I pushed open the door and saw Jordis strolling around the house, singing happily. "Look who's Ms. Sunshine," I remarked.

"More like Mrs. Falk Firebeard," she sighed, a dreamy look over her face.

"Well, congratulations! Now, run off to your new husband, while I spend time with mine." She gave me a sly smile and ran out of the house. ***** Bryn grinned widely and scooped me up into his arms, carrying me upstairs.

Chapter Text


I walked through the market, humming contentedly. Stopping off at Bits and Pieces, I picked up a bundle I'd ordered a few days prior. I said a quick goodbye, stopping at Radiant Raiment.

"Oh, what delight... another charming customer," Taarie droned.

"I ordered several outfits."

"Yes, don't get your panties in a bunch, dear. I suppose that was your husband's job a few months ago." My cheeks reddened. "Here you are."

"Thanks," I muttered, rushing out of the clothing store. I frequented almost every store, getting everything from new blankets to enough food to feed an army through the winter.

My stomach rumbled, and I hurried home.

...

"Hello, lass," Bryn smirked, tapping my nose. I kissed his cheek lightly and set everything down, holding his face. "How is my little thief?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "There is no way."

"Lass, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take after me."

"She will take after me," I argued. His hand pressed lightly on my belly, holding the slightly raised bump as if it were the most precious thing in the world. I suppose, in a way, it was.

"He'll be ruggedly handsome, just like his father."

"She will be just as independent as her mother."

"Lass, I don't think our son will be too happy with you calling him a girl."

"I don't think our daughter will appreciate her father calling her a boy." We bantered back and forth, which ultimately ended with him losing- who could defeat the Dragonborn, after all?

"What did you get?"

"A little doll for her, and plenty of blankets."

"Not to mention sweetrolls." He grinned.

"...They're good."

"Aye, that they are. But did you have to buy three dozen?"

...

Four months later, I held a sleeping bundle in my arms, a tiny hand wrapped around my finger.

"Which is it?" Bryn fretted.

"It's my little girl."

"Is she safe? Healthy? Fed?"

"She's fine," I laughed, rocking our daughter in my arms. Curly red hair peeped out from the white blanket covering her head. "She has a name, you know."

He knelt down and stroked her porcelain skin, smiling when her eyes cracked open. "Well, don't keep it from me, lass." I shifted her so she could look at her father.

"Say hello... to Karliah."

I walked through the market, humming contentedly. Stopping off at Bits and Pieces, I picked up a bundle I'd ordered a few days prior. I said a quick goodbye, stopping at Radiant Raiment.

"Oh, what delight... another charming customer," Taarie droned.

"I ordered several outfits."

"Yes, don't get your panties in a bunch, dear. I suppose that was your husband's job a few months ago." My cheeks reddened. "Here you are."

"Thanks," I muttered, rushing out of the clothing store. I frequented almost every store, getting everything from new blankets to enough food to feed an army through the winter.

My stomach rumbled, and I hurried home.

...

"Hello, lass," Bryn smirked, tapping my nose. I kissed his cheek lightly and set everything down, holding his face. "How is my little thief?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "There is no way."

"Lass, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take after me."

"She will take after me," I argued. His hand pressed lightly on my belly, holding the slightly raised bump as if it were the most precious thing in the world. I suppose, in a way, it was.

"He'll be ruggedly handsome, just like his father."

"She will be just as independent as her mother."

"Lass, I don't think our son will be too happy with you calling him a girl."

"I don't think our daughter will appreciate her father calling her a boy." We bantered back and forth, which ultimately ended with him losing- who could defeat the Dragonborn, after all?

"What did you get?"

"A little doll for her, and plenty of blankets."

"Not to mention sweetrolls." He grinned.

"...They're good."

"Aye, that they are. But did you have to buy three dozen?"

...

Four months later, I held a sleeping bundle in my arms, a tiny hand wrapped around my finger.

"Which is it?" Bryn fretted.

"It's my little girl."

"Is she safe? Healthy? Fed?"

"She's fine," I laughed, rocking our daughter in my arms. Curly red hair peeped out from the white blanket covering her head. "She has a name, you know."

He knelt down and stroked her porcelain skin, smiling when her eyes cracked open. "Well, don't keep it from me, lass." I shifted her so she could look at her father.

"Say hello... to Karliah."

I walked through the market, humming contentedly. Stopping off at Bits and Pieces, I picked up a bundle I'd ordered a few days prior. I said a quick goodbye, stopping at Radiant Raiment.

"Oh, what delight... another charming customer," Taarie droned.

"I ordered several outfits."

"Yes, don't get your panties in a bunch, dear. I suppose that was your husband's job a few months ago." My cheeks reddened. "Here you are."

"Thanks," I muttered, rushing out of the clothing store. I frequented almost every store, getting everything from new blankets to enough food to feed an army through the winter.

My stomach rumbled, and I hurried home.

...

"Hello, lass," Bryn smirked, tapping my nose. I kissed his cheek lightly and set everything down, holding his face. "How is my little thief?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "There is no way."

"Lass, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take after me."

"She will take after me," I argued. His hand pressed lightly on my belly, holding the slightly raised bump as if it were the most precious thing in the world. I suppose, in a way, it was.

"He'll be ruggedly handsome, just like his father."

"She will be just as independent as her mother."

"Lass, I don't think our son will be too happy with you calling him a girl."

"I don't think our daughter will appreciate her father calling her a boy." We bantered back and forth, which ultimately ended with him losing- who could defeat the Dragonborn, after all?

"What did you get?"

"A little doll for her, and plenty of blankets."

"Not to mention sweetrolls." He grinned.

"...They're good."

"Aye, that they are. But did you have to buy three dozen?"

...

Four months later, I held a sleeping bundle in my arms, a tiny hand wrapped around my finger.

"Which is it?" Bryn fretted.

"It's my little girl."

"Is she safe? Healthy? Fed?"

"She's fine," I laughed, rocking our daughter in my arms. Curly red hair peeped out from the white blanket covering her head. "She has a name, you know."

He knelt down and stroked her porcelain skin, smiling when her eyes cracked open. "Well, don't keep it from me, lass." I shifted her so she could look at her father.

"Say hello... to Karliah."

I walked through the market, humming contentedly. Stopping off at Bits and Pieces, I picked up a bundle I'd ordered a few days prior. I said a quick goodbye, stopping at Radiant Raiment.

"Oh, what delight... another charming customer," Taarie droned.

"I ordered several outfits."

"Yes, don't get your panties in a bunch, dear. I suppose that was your husband's job a few months ago." My cheeks reddened. "Here you are."

"Thanks," I muttered, rushing out of the clothing store. I frequented almost every store, getting everything from new blankets to enough food to feed an army through the winter.

My stomach rumbled, and I hurried home.

...

"Hello, lass," Bryn smirked, tapping my nose. I kissed his cheek lightly and set everything down, holding his face. "How is my little thief?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "There is no way."

"Lass, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take after me."

"She will take after me," I argued. His hand pressed lightly on my belly, holding the slightly raised bump as if it were the most precious thing in the world. I suppose, in a way, it was.

"He'll be ruggedly handsome, just like his father."

"She will be just as independent as her mother."

"Lass, I don't think our son will be too happy with you calling him a girl."

"I don't think our daughter will appreciate her father calling her a boy." We bantered back and forth, which ultimately ended with him losing- who could defeat the Dragonborn, after all?

"What did you get?"

"A little doll for her, and plenty of blankets."

"Not to mention sweetrolls." He grinned.

"...They're good."

"Aye, that they are. But did you have to buy three dozen?"

...

Four months later, I held a sleeping bundle in my arms, a tiny hand wrapped around my finger.

"Which is it?" Bryn fretted.

"It's my little girl."

"Is she safe? Healthy? Fed?"

"She's fine," I laughed, rocking our daughter in my arms. Curly red hair peeped out from the white blanket covering her head. "She has a name, you know."

He knelt down and stroked her porcelain skin, smiling when her eyes cracked open. "Well, don't keep it from me, lass." I shifted her so she could look at her father.

"Say hello... to Karliah."

I walked through the market, humming contentedly. Stopping off at Bits and Pieces, I picked up a bundle I'd ordered a few days prior. I said a quick goodbye, stopping at Radiant Raiment.

"Oh, what delight... another charming customer," Taarie droned.

"I ordered several outfits."

"Yes, don't get your panties in a bunch, dear. I suppose that was your husband's job a few months ago." My cheeks reddened. "Here you are."

"Thanks," I muttered, rushing out of the clothing store. I frequented almost every store, getting everything from new blankets to enough food to feed an army through the winter.

My stomach rumbled, and I hurried home.

...

"Hello, lass," Bryn smirked, tapping my nose. I kissed his cheek lightly and set everything down, holding his face. "How is my little thief?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "There is no way."

"Lass, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take after me."

"She will take after me," I argued. His hand pressed lightly on my belly, holding the slightly raised bump as if it were the most precious thing in the world. I suppose, in a way, it was.

"He'll be ruggedly handsome, just like his father."

"She will be just as independent as her mother."

"Lass, I don't think our son will be too happy with you calling him a girl."

"I don't think our daughter will appreciate her father calling her a boy." We bantered back and forth, which ultimately ended with him losing- who could defeat the Dragonborn, after all?

"What did you get?"

"A little doll for her, and plenty of blankets."

"Not to mention sweetrolls." He grinned.

"...They're good."

"Aye, that they are. But did you have to buy three dozen?"

...

Four months later, I held a sleeping bundle in my arms, a tiny hand wrapped around my finger.

"Which is it?" Bryn fretted.

"It's my little girl."

"Is she safe? Healthy? Fed?"

"She's fine," I laughed, rocking our daughter in my arms. Curly red hair peeped out from the white blanket covering her head. "She has a name, you know."

He knelt down and stroked her porcelain skin, smiling when her eyes cracked open. "Well, don't keep it from me, lass." I shifted her so she could look at her father.

"Say hello... to Karliah."

I walked through the market, humming contentedly. Stopping off at Bits and Pieces, I picked up a bundle I'd ordered a few days prior. I said a quick goodbye, stopping at Radiant Raiment.

"Oh, what delight... another charming customer," Taarie droned.

"I ordered several outfits."

"Yes, don't get your panties in a bunch, dear. I suppose that was your husband's job a few months ago." My cheeks reddened. "Here you are."

"Thanks," I muttered, rushing out of the clothing store. I frequented almost every store, getting everything from new blankets to enough food to feed an army through the winter.

My stomach rumbled, and I hurried home.

...

"Hello, lass," Bryn smirked, tapping my nose. I kissed his cheek lightly and set everything down, holding his face. "How is my little thief?"

"Oh, no," I laughed. "There is no way."

"Lass, there's no doubt in my mind that he'll take after me."

"She will take after me," I argued. His hand pressed lightly on my belly, holding the slightly raised bump as if it were the most precious thing in the world. I suppose, in a way, it was.

"He'll be ruggedly handsome, just like his father."

"She will be just as independent as her mother."

"Lass, I don't think our son will be too happy with you calling him a girl."

"I don't think our daughter will appreciate her father calling her a boy." We bantered back and forth, which ultimately ended with him losing- who could defeat the Dragonborn, after all?

"What did you get?"

"A little doll for her, and plenty of blankets."

"Not to mention sweetrolls." He grinned.

"...They're good."

"Aye, that they are. But did you have to buy three dozen?"

...

Four months later, I held a sleeping bundle in my arms, a tiny hand wrapped around my finger.

"Which is it?" Bryn fretted.

"It's my little girl."

"Is she safe? Healthy? Fed?"

"She's fine," I laughed, rocking our daughter in my arms. Curly red hair peeped out from the white blanket covering her head. "She has a name, you know."

He knelt down and stroked her porcelain skin, smiling when her eyes cracked open. "Well, don't keep it from me, lass." I shifted her so she could look at her father.

"Say hello... to Karliah."