She should have kneed him in the groin after he said those words to her, but she didn’t. Instead she followed him through that secret entrance and tamped down the surge of feelings rising up inside her. Maven had called her his toy; maybe that was all she’d been. She didn’t know and she didn’t want to care, but she did. He’d gotten under her skin a little during their time together, and now that they were on his turf he’d changed.
On the road, he’d talked endlessly about how bad off his Guild was, but she hadn’t really believed it could as bad as he made it sound until she set foot in the place. Even at their lowest low, the Guild in Cyrodiil had never been as bad off as Skyrim’s flailing band of brigands and bandits. His precious Ragged Flagon was even less glorious than the Cistern, a group of bored thieves milling about tipping back ale and mead by the bottle.
“Brynjolf, eh? Let me guess.” Delvin Mallory surveyed her with appreciation and wonder after Brynjolf introduced her. He’d withheld the little bit about where she’d come from, and she was glad. It was bad enough Mercer knew her history in Cyrodiil, the moniker her brethren had given her. Brynjolf told her Delvin especially would be intrigued to learn the Ghost of Cyrodiil walked among them, and maybe in good time she’d share that little bit about herself, but not until she knew those people better. Or maybe she’d never tell them at all. “He plucks you up off the streets and drops you into the thick of things without even tellin’ ya which way is up. Am I right?”
“Don’t let those big blue eyes of hers fool you, Delvin. This little shadow could probably teach us all a few things about direction.”
“Oh yeah?” He drew his soft brown eyes up to hold her gaze, a flicker of interest flaring within them as his thin blonde eyebrow twitched upward. “I wouldn’t mind a bit of schoolin’, if ya know what I mean, pet.”
“I hear you’ve got a skillset all your own that’s worth tapping into,” Ginna grinned. “I studied your Shadowmarks quite extensively as a girl. Brilliant work, well done.”
If she thought his eyes were shining before, they literally sparkled after she said that. Within seconds of having met her, Delvin slipped into a ten minute rant about the great curse that had befallen the Guild. “Somethin’ out there is piss-drunk mad at us. I don’t know who or what it is, but it’s beyond you or me. We’ve been cursed, I tell ya.”
“She’s only just got here, Delvin. Don’t drive her back out with your insane ramblings about curses,” Brynjolf laughed.
“What? I think she needs to know what we’re really up against.”
“Yeah, you’re liable to scare the poor little thing half to death and then where would we be?” A wiry little blonde in the corner rolled her eyes.
Vex. Brynjolf had told her all about Vex, and she wouldn’t lie; she’d been dying to meet her. Ginna liked her the minute she saw her; she was a woman after her own heart. Leaning against a pile of wooden crates with her arms crossed, there was nothing but pure venom in her eyes as she watched Brynjolf parade Ginna around like some kind of trophy. He finally took a seat at the bar and directed her to a Redguard woman named Tonilia, who welcomed her with less-than-warming sarcasm.
“Welcome to the cozy little family,” Tonilia said, drawing her attention away from Vex. “I’m one of the lookouts. I watch Delvin’s back. Looks like you and I are going to become very well acquainted. I’m the fence down here. You come across anything you don’t exactly own, and I’ll buy it from you, minus a little slice for the Guild, of course.”
“Great,” she nodded. She knew how fences worked. She’d been working with them all her life. “Brynjolf said you had something for me?”
“I do. Just make sure you put it to good use.”
“Of course,” she agreed, taking the folded set of Guild armor as Tonilia handed it over to her. Ginna could feel the enchantments emanating from the leather, and though she’d never admit it to anyone if they asked, she couldn’t wait to try it on and put those enchantments to the test.
She was starting to make her way toward Vex again when a broad-shouldered hunk of mutton-chopped muscle crossed her path. “I don’t care if you’re bed buddies with the Guildmaster. I’ll smash in your skull if you try anything.”
“Whoa there, killer,” she backed up and held up her hand. “And who might you be?”
“Name’s Dirge,” he scowled, the bush of his eyebrows knitting together.
“Dirge?” she wrinkled her forehead, a soft chuckle escaping her. “What kind of a name is Dirge?”
“They call me Dirge because I’m the last thing you hear before they put you in the ground.” He slammed a heavy fist into his palm to drive his point home. “Why? You got a problem with that?”
“A problem? No, no. I think Dirge is a fabulous name,” she sniggered.
“Huh? Well… good.” She started to move around him, but one last time for good measure, he said, “I mean it, don’t cause any trouble, or else.”
Before she even reached Vex, the woman was talking. “Before we get started, there are two things you need to understand. One, 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. Two, you follow my lead and do exactly as I say. No questions, no excuses. We clear.”
“Clear,” Ginna nodded.
“All right. I’m not gonna sugar coat it for you. We’re in a bad way down here.”
“Any idea why?”
“Who knows. Old Delvin thinks it’s some kind of curse. I think he’s crazy. You want my opinion? I say it’s just plain old bad luck.”
She hated to side with the crazy old guy, but after having endured the cold knife of betrayal from her own Guild, Ginna was starting to lean toward Delvin’s synopsis. Something out there was piss-drunk mad at them, whatever that meant, and it was making them all pay. She didn’t say as much, but shrugged a little and asked, “So what do we do about it?”
“You can get out there and start making a name for us again. If you’re as great as Brynjolf seems to think you are, you should have no problem putting the fear back into the people. And while you’re at it, make a bit of coin for yourself in the meanwhile. Not a bad deal, eh?”
“Not bad at all. Look, I overheard you ran into a bit of trouble over at Goldenglow…”
“Yeah? What am I? Story of the day now? Delvin…” She started to push herself up from where she stood, a fire in her eyes worth running from. From the corner of her eye, Ginna caught Delvin shifting uneasily in his seat, as if he actually feared that tiny little Imperial infiltrator more than anything else in the world.
“No, not Delvin. Mercer mentioned it, actually, when he was giving me the details on the job. I just… He’s sending me over there to take care of it, sort of a test, I guess, to see if I’m really cut out to join your ranks. I wanted to talk to you before I go. See if you can give me any advice that might help me get the job done so we can all get paid.”
“Oh…” Vex narrowed her sharp blue eyes and leveled them over her. Ginna couldn’t tell if she was annoyed or if the fact that she’d asked for help had won her a bit of silent respect. “Well, in that case, I’ll tell you what I know. That Aringoth… he may seem like an idiot, but that wood elf’s a lot smarter than I expected. Can you believe that fetcher had more than tripled the guard? There must have been eight of them in there. Who knows how many he’ll have when you hit it. It was like he was daring us to come and get him.”
“Any tips then?”
“Well,” she sighed, raising a hand into her blonde locks. “There’s an old sewer tunnel that dumps into the lake on the northwest side of the island. That’s how I slipped in there. They had no idea how I got in, so it should still be unguarded.”
“All right,” Ginna nodded. “Thanks for the tip.”
“Yeah, sure… try not to muck things up. We need this job to go through more than you can even imagine.”
She didn’t even look at Brynjolf again as she made her way back to the Cistern to exit the Guild through the cemetery. She could feel his eyes on her, all eyes were on her, but she didn’t acknowledge it. He’d said all he needed to say; it was clear why he’d really brought her there and it had been from the start. She was there to help him get his Guild back on its feet; anything else that had transpired between them was just a bonus.
She didn’t want to let on how much his shift in behavior actually bothered her. The unfortunate thing, she realized as she made her way west along the riverbank, was that it did bother her. He’d shown her a side of himself, a side she was seriously beginning to think had been false from the moment they met at the Embassy, that made her let down her guard. Not that she cared about the sex. In the end, sex was sex—not some deep display of affection, two hearts fluttering to eke out the same rhythm, love… ugh. But Brynjolf had actually made her feel a little soft inside when she was with him, drawing her into his warmth, lowering sweet, attentive kisses against her temple as he snuggled into her with no intention of throwing her down and tearing off her clothes.
And Ginna wasn’t ever soft inside. She was hard as ice, all business, no games–pure and simple. No man had ever gotten in the way of her doing her job, well… except for Brutus, but not in some twisted romantic way that made her heart feel all aflutter in her chest. Just thinking about her guild-brother was enough to shift her focus from Brynjolf, the fiery ache for revenge burning away at the softness she’d let rise inside her for a moment. After all, wasn’t that why she hadn’t run from Brynjolf when she had the chance? To rebuild her strength and realign with the shadows in order to rise up and make Brutus pay for his crimes against her? Against the code of honor among thieves? When she met with him again, she wouldn’t stab him in the back. She wanted him to know whose blade sung him to sleep.
In the meantime, she’d do all she could to bring a little glory to the Guild in Skyrim.