She’d expected the worst walking into the home of the Riften Thieves Guild, but not even her low expectations did justice to the filth and darkness of that place. The constant drip and run of water from Lake Honrich seeped through the cracks in the limestone walls, and Ginna had taken only two steps into the place before one of those droplets splashed over her cheek.
“Brynjolf, you’re back,” a young Imperial man lit up when he saw them, his curious stare moving over Brynjolf’s shoulder to rest on Ginna. “Things are never the same when you’re not around. Mercer’s been in a real bad mood, and yesterday I thought Vex and Delvin might actually kill each other.”
“When aren’t Vex and Delvin at each other’s throats?” he chuckled. “Rune, this is Ginna. She’ll be staying with us for a spell. I need to talk to Mercer in private. Would you mind giving her the grand tour?”
“Sure thing, boss.”
She watched him stalk off toward the center of the cistern without so much as another word, and then turned her attention to the young man he’d left her with. “I’m Rune,” he told her.
“Rune, that’s an unusual name.”
“Aye,” he nodded. “My father told me he found me off the coast of Solitude when I was just a boy. All he found in my pocket was a stone inscribed with these strange runes.”
“Do you know what they mean?”
“No one does. I even took the damn things over to the College of Winterhold, but they couldn’t tell me anything either. I must have spent every damn coin I’ve made with the Guild trying to figure out what it means, but with no luck.”
“Huh,” she furrowed her brow. “Maybe you just aren’t meant to know.”
“Perhaps,” he agreed, though he didn’t seem to believe that. She could see it in his soft eyes. “Maybe they are nothing more than inane scribblings done out of boredom, but if not… they may tell me where I came from, what ship I was on… everything.”
“So… who gave you the name?”
“Actually, the fisherman who found me, the man I call my father. I never changed it because it never felt right to do so.”
“I suppose,” he shrugged. “Come on. I’ll show you around.”
Ginna fell into step beside him, following him along the stone circle of the cistern. He showed her a bed, told her she could sleep in it, but Ginna couldn’t imagine ever laying her head on the pillow in that bed. He took her into the training room, where they found a dark-haired Nord shooting a never ending stream of arrows at a practice dummy.
“That’s Vipir the Fleet,” Rune explained. “He’s the best pickpocket we have down here.”
A fellow pickpocket. Ginna felt her heart swell with admiration when he glanced over his shoulder at her, blue eyes taking her in before he released one final arrow and stood up straight. “Who is this?”
“This is Ginna,” he said. “She came with Brynjolf. I’m giving her the tour.”
“Great,” he sneered. “Another mouth to feed. That’s all we need around here.”
“I feed myself, actually,” she assured him. “Been doing it since I was old enough to hold a spoon.”
“And an attitude to boot,” he rolled his eyes. “You should keep that in check, or you won’t make many friends down here, little girl.”
“I’m not here to make friends,” she said. “I’m here to make gold.”
She saw a flash of appreciation in his eyes then, the corner of his mouth twitching just a little. “Good, then you’ll fit right in.”
She didn’t think so. She’d been raised among an entirely different class of thieves; she’d discovered as much just in spending what little time she’d spent with Brynjolf in the last two weeks. The people she’d worked with in the past weren’t afraid to flaunt the fruits of their labor, but did so with pride. These people Brynjolf called his family… they all seemed so ragged and poor. She wasn’t sure how she was going to make it among them, but she didn’t say as much, just followed Rune out of the training room. When he introduced her to Ninruin, her opinion shifted just a little, as he told her his story of abandoned wealth out of boredom, his time with the Silver Crescents in Valenwood and a father who couldn’t stomach the thought of his only son playing rogue when he had access to more money and comfort than most people would ever know in a lifetime. Rune was just introducing her to an old jailbreaker named Cynric Endell when they spotted Brynjolf near the center of the Cistern, waving her over.
“Well, it was good meeting you,” Rune smiled. “I hope you stick around. You seem nice.”
“I’ll be seeing you,” she started away, then turned back. “And I’ll keep my eye out for anything about your family. If I hear anything…”
“Thank you,” he nodded appreciatively. “That would be great.”
Brynjolf had spoken very highly of Mercer Frey over their brief time together; so highly, in fact, that she had almost been expecting some kind of god, but the greying Breton in his mid-fifties looked otherwise ordinary enough, and when Ginna approached, he seemed about as impressed with her as she was with him.
“Mercer, this is Ginna, the one I was telling you about, our new recruit.”
“This… is the Great Ghost of Cyrodiil Maven wasted good coin to spring from prison?” he scoffed. “Maven may have more money than she knows what to do with, but this better not be another waste of the Guild’s resources, Brynjolf.” Arms still crossed, he looked her up and down and shook his head. “Before we even continue, we need to get a few things straight. We don’t do things here the way you people down in Cyrodiil do, and you may have been some big shot high-ender down there, but here, you’re nothing until you prove yourself. You play by our rules and you’ll walk away rich. You break the rules and you lose your cut. No debates, no discussions. You do what we say, when we say.”
Ginna felt her jaw clench, eyes shifting right to Brynjolf, but he looked away almost guiltily without meeting her gaze.
“Do I make myself clear?” Mercer asked, drawing her attention back to him.
She drew in a deep breath through her nose to calm her temper before it could flare. She hated how much she needed that place, hated that she’d let herself get culled into a debt to Brynjolf and Maven Black-Briar that put her at the mercy of that crass and seedy little man in front of her. “Yes,” she nodded. “I understand.”
“Good,” he grinned. “Now, I understand you may have special skills that could prove particularly useful to us. I think it’s time we put your expertise to the test.”
“Wait a moment.” Brynjolf stepped out to look over at him with disbelief. “You’re not talking about Goldenglow, are you? From what Maven told me, not even our little Vex could infiltrate that place. It sounds like a lost cause. I know Maven wants it, but…”
“And that, my boy, is why you’ll never lead this Guild. You bring me this so-called master infiltrator, who’s infamy claims she can walk through walls, and then you tell me you don’t think she can do it? Make up my mind, Brynjolf. Either she can do it, or we send her on her way and be done with her. I’ve no room in my Guild for those who aren’t willing to pull their weight.”
Before Brynjolf could answer, Ginna stepped up to the challenge. “I can do it. Just tell me what needs to be done.”
“Finally.” Mercer relaxed his shoulders. “Someone with initiative. Goldenglow Estate is critically important to one of our largest clients. However, the owner has suddenly decided to take matters into his own hands and he’s shut us out. He needs to be taught a lesson.”
“Of course,” she mused, ignoring Brynjolf’s stare.
“Brynjolf will provide you with all the details,” he confirmed, starting to turn away from her.
“Mercer, aren’t you forgetting something?” Brynjolf asked.
“Hmm? Oh, yes.” He returned his attention to her, cold grey eyes squinted with vague disinterest. “Since Brynjolf assures me you’ll be nothing but a benefit to us, you’re in. Welcome to the Riften Thieves Guild.”
His footsteps as he walked away were soon swallowed by the constant fall of water, but Ginna didn’t look over at Brynjolf again until he started to speak. Everything about him had changed since they’d set foot in Riften; not that she should have cared, but she did. She’d thought she’d actually started to get to know the man she’d been with over the last two weeks, but the guy standing in front of her was different. More serious and focused, almost cold. She hated to admit it, but she actually missed the guy who’d sprung her from prison and played house with her in Markarth.
“It’s official then, lass. You’re part of the family now. I’ll take you into the Flagon to meet with the rest of the gang in just a moment. Tonilia will get you fitted with your new armor, and you should talk to Vex about Goldenglow. She may be able to let you know what you’re up against in there.”
“The rules Mercer spoke of are relatively clear. You get your cut of the spoils by doing what we ask and keeping your blade clean. We can’t turn a profit by killing. Understand?”
“Delvin and Vex should be able to kick some extra jobs your way from time to time, so you’ll want to make a good first impression.”
“Of course,” she sighed. “Tell me more about this Goldenglow job.”
“Walk with me while we talk.” He started down the walkway and she followed. “Goldenglow Estate is a bee farm. They raise the wretched little things for honey. It’s owned by some smart-mouthed wood elf named Aringoth. You’re going to give him what he’s got coming to him by burning down three of the estate’s hives and then clearing out the safe in the main house.”
They approached a hidden panel entrance, which Brynjolf unlocked with one of the keys on his belt.
“So, what’s the catch?”
“The catch is that you can’t burn the whole place to the ground. That important client Mercer mentioned would be furious.”
“You mean Maven Black-Briar?”
“You catch on quick, lass. The last thing we want to be doing is crossing Maven. She’s the only thing holding this place together right now.”
“Right,” she agreed. “So, what about Aringoth? What should I do about him?”
“Maven prefers that Aringoth remain alive, but if he tries to stop you from getting the job done, kill him. And you watch yourself on that island. Those mercenaries don’t take prisoners.” He turned in that alcove, the two of them still hidden from whatever remained beyond the door he’d just opened. Shadows passed across his face, making it almost impossible to see him, but his eyes caught in the flickering torchlight from the room at Ginna’s back. He looked almost desperate, as if she literally held every last one of his hopes and dreams in her grasp and all she had to do was close her hand to crush them. “Look, I hate to say this, but the Guild has a lot riding on this job. I’ve got a lot riding on it. I’m counting on you to get it done right for me.”
“I hear you,” she assured him. “Loud and clear.”
“Good.” He lifted a hand to rest against her cheek, cradling her face in his warm palm. “All eyes are on you, lass. Don’t disappoint me.”