To Catch a Thief: Chapter Fourteen

She’d been walking almost an hour, the early evening sun dropping in behind the autumn foliage speckled throughout Riften so that every leaf seemed to glow bright orange and gold. Gold, her favorite color… a color she needed to paint the insides of her pockets with again if she ever wanted to get out of Skyrim, and the only way she was going to do that was by focusing her energy on her strengths.

Spying Goldenglow from a distance, it painted a pretty picture against the backdrop of the setting sun. Cozy and warm amidst the billowing fog and absolutely ripe for the picking, the only way to reach the estate was to swim. Fortunately, the onset of night combined with that thick as soup fog was the perfect backdrop for an undetected infiltration. As much as she hated the idea of getting wet, she walked into the water and glided through it without sound until she reached the island.

Scanning the lay of the land, she got her bearings and combed through everything Brynjolf and Vex had told her. It’d be easier to hit the house and clear out Aringoth’s safe first, burning the hives on her way out, assuming she was able to make it past the mercenaries set up to guard the place.

She drew back her shoulders and hunched down, sneaking quietly amidst the shadows of the house until she reached the front porch. Vex had gone in through the secret entrance, which would have brought her up just outside the back door, and it was good advice, but Ginna wanted to try a different approach. Ducking down in front of the door, she listened as the voices drifted further away from the front of the house, then drew out her lockpick. Her first attempt snapped the pick, and she cursed under her breath, lifting her face upward and muttering a silent plea to Nocturnal. The second pick cracked mid-turn, and loath as she was to admit it, it was like Nocturnal chuckling softly to herself as she muttered, “You’re on your own.”

She broke six picks in that lock before she finally heard the glorious click of tumblers lining up and easing free. Turning the knob in her hand quietly, she eased open the door and slipped inside like a shadow. The entryway was clear, and she ducked into the room on her right, rifling through drawers and cupboards, filling her pockets with everything of value she could find before moving forward.

The first set of mercenaries she came up against were sitting around a table sharing mead and stories. There were three of them, big, hulking men with scarred faces and bad attitudes, and though she was definitely quick with a blade, she knew there was no way she’d be able to take out all three of them at once. Drawing her bow off her back, she strung a poison-tipped arrow and carefully lined the biggest of the three in her sight. Her stealth paid off, the arrow sinking into the lunk’s chest just beside the heart. He dropped into his soup like a drunk, and Ginna slid aside to hide in the shadows while his comrades jumped up from the table in a panic.

Sheathing her bow, she pulled her blades and dropped down to wait, listening to the sound of their movement, placing their location in proximity to her and timing her first attack perfectly. She took out the first mercenary with a spinning attack that staggered him backward into his cohort, both of them knocking into the table and sending it crashing to the ground. She was able to charge the first one as the second was getting back to his feet, taking him out and leaving just one to face.

They regarded each other, shifting from foot to foot as they circled around one another in a fairytale dance with no happy ending. And Ginna was glad she’d be taking him out. He was one ugly Nord, with a bulbous, red-veined nose and a thick scar that ran through the whitened remains of a blind eye.

“Skyrim belongs to the Nords,” he rushed into her, swinging his heavy warhammer and wasting every ounce of his stamina. Ginna was too fast, she rolled left and circled around behind him, drawing her blade across his throat and watching as he dropped to the ground.

“The Nords can have Skyrim.” She rolled his dead body with the toe of her boot and knelt down to check his pockets.

The three of them dead didn’t offer up much in the way of compensation for her efforts. About thirty gold between them, and an Amulet of Talos, which she slipped into her pockets before moving on. She lingered in the hallway, listened to the voices upstairs.

“I thought I heard something…”

“Probably another pissing contest. I swear the three of them get off on whipping out their cocks in front of each other.”

Ginna checked every room, making note of the locked gate that led into the basement before heading up the steps, where she found Aringoth all nice and cozy, tucked into his bed. There were two mercenaries guarding his door, and not enough shadow in the world to slip between them unnoticed. Cursing under her breath, she looked between the two of them and let her mind churn. She really didn’t want to wake Aringoth if she didn’t have to. She’d prefer for him to wake up in the morning with a house full of corpses and no rhyme or reason to explain it. It would send exactly the kind of message Vex had been talking about, and do more than just teach him a little lesson.

Best of all, it’d make others think twice before crossing the Guild in Skyrim again.

She surveyed everything at her disposal, a pitcher and two goblets on the end table, a few books. Maybe if she could lure one of them away, she could take out the other quietly before he came back. Lifting the pitcher off the table, she set it up in front of the door and toed it down the steps before drawing back into the shadows. It clunked and clattered as it bounced down the stairs, shattering on the landing below.

“Don’t tell me you didn’t hear that.”

“You better go see what those fools are up to.”

“You go see…”

“You’re the one who’s so concerned about it. Don’t be a milk-drinker.”

“Oh, all right.”

Maybe Nocturnal was watching out for her after all, she grinned to herself and watched him stalk down the stairs to find out what the ruckus was. She’d drawn her bow, another poison-tipped arrow at the ready, and seconds after he disappeared down the steps she sunk it into his partner’s eye. He slumped down the wall, dropping quietly, and Ginna snuck past him into Aringoth’s sleeping quarters. She cleaned out his pockets, his drawers, the chest at the foot of his bed, all the while listening for the sound of horror from below. She heard it, a bellow of dismay, but Aringoth barely stirred. Making her way out of the room, she spied a golden bee statue on the shelf, a pretty little treasure she might be able to sell for an extra bit of coin. Slipping it into her satchel, she rushed quietly out into the hallway again, hoping to cut off the mercenary before he could wake her mark from sleep.

She met with him on the stairs, sword drawn and ready to face her. They tangled a bit, the awkward footing of the steps make it difficult for Ginna to gain ground at first. She shoved her shoulder into him as he charged her, his war axe connecting with her forearm. She managed to stagger him down the steps and leapt at him with both blades swinging when her feet hit the floor. Crossing blades, she scissored them across his throat, his head rolling down the hallway and resting by the gate that led into the basement.

Picking open the lock, she slipped down the stairs and checked out the storage room before heading in to survey to situation. There were two of them, and she was out of poison. She’d just have to face them head on. Her direct attack caught them off guard, but they were both strong warriors, big men and her only advantage was that she was able to slip in between them like a thread, slicing through the belly of one as she rammed her back into the other to shove him away before he could do any real damage. Despite the fact that she’d opened his gut, her foe wasn’t going to be taken down so easily. Dual-wielding a set of ancient Nord blades, he spun at her, steel sparking across steel as she ducked out of his reach and jammed her dagger up under his ribs. She twisted it free, blood gurgling from between his lips as he stumbled backward in shock, hand reaching down to touch the fatal wound she’d left in him.

But she didn’t have time to survey her own handiwork. His partner was running from behind, war axe raised high and ready to take off her head. She rolled at him, sweeping her leg out to drop him in front of her, and then she drove her bloody dagger into his heart. He twitched and writhed a moment, and then went slack, while Ginna hovered over him catching her breath and allowing her stamina to replenish.

Deeper into the basement, she could hear another voice, and though she listened carefully to determine how many more she had to face, it seemed as if that voice was only talking to himself. Something about keeping a dagger in his boot. Pushing up from where she’d crouched, she slunk down the hallway, peered around the corner and saw him. One scrawny man with a battle axe over his shoulder. She could wound him with an arrow, or just run in, blades swinging. Either way, she was exhausted, and there was no telling how many men awaited their death outside… or hers.

She sunk an arrow into his shoulder, and he reached up to quickly snap it free as she charged in swinging. Catching him off guard, he didn’t even have time to reach for his axe. Ginna knocked him to the ground and stepped her foot over his throat. He wrapped strong hands around her ankle, fighting her with everything he had, but in the end his own struggles were his undoing. She twisted against him until she heard bones snap and then he rasped for final breath.

A drop of blood ran down her arm, splattering and sliding down the dead man’s cheek like a tear and she lifted her wound to inspect it. It was deeper than she’d thought, but she didn’t have time to deal with it. She bent and tore a strip of leather from the mercenary’s armor and then grabbed a napkin from the table he’d been pacing around. Wrapping it tight, she descended deeper into Goldenglow Estate until she came upon Aringoth’s safe.

Two hundred and fifty gold septims, a flawless diamond and a bill of sale for the estate, which from the looks of things, Aringoth no longer even owned. He’d recently sold it to an anonymous buyer, who’d worked through a dealer named Gulum-Ei, but there was no clue as to who that anonymous buyer might be. Only a strange symbol at the top of the paper that Ginna swore she’d seen before, but couldn’t for the life of her remember where. The missive advised him to ignore the Thieves Guild, whose bark was louder than its bite, and would likely refuse to further thing their already dwindling numbers.

Showed how much that person knew, Ginna thought, folding the bill of sale and tucking it carefully into her satchel with the rest of her spoils. Surveying the room, there was a drop into the sewers, which she assumed would carry her quietly back out to the property so she could take care of the hives and head back into Riften before sun up.

The winding tunnels were rife with traps and skeever and frostbite spiders, and Ginna was tired. Getting through them was more difficult than it should have been, and several times she had to stop and slowly heal herself with what little bit of restoration magic she actually possessed. She was much better suited to the school of Illusion, relying on spells like Muffle to keep her feet quiet, but she’d studied well and hard to make sure she knew how to heal herself in a sticky situation. Leaning back against the wall beneath the ladder that led to the surface, she relished in the warm course of restorative magic that surged through her veins. It didn’t heal the cut on her arm completely, but enough that she could flex and swing her blade without trouble again.

Finally feeling she’d recuperated enough to take the next steps, she climbed the ladder and lifted the sewer panel to scope out her surroundings. It was quiet behind the house, allowing her to step up into the shadow unnoticed, and for a time she prowled around the fence surveying the situation. There were eight guards outside, three of them patrolling the back doors, three that lingered near the front of the house and two who’d planted themselves firmly in front of the hives.

Dropping down into the water, she swam quietly up under the walkway and lingered beneath the deck listening to the mercenaries talk. None of them had been inside the house yet, but they were getting tired.

“They should have come out to relieve us,” she heard one of them mumble. “We’ve been out here since just after supper. I’m tired.”

“Quit complaining,” the other said, an orc from the gruff sound of his voice.

“I’m going to find out what the hold up is.”

“You walk away from this post, and I’ll have your head.”

Please, Nocturnal, Ginna thought. Let them turn on each other. It would be just the distraction she needed to slip up the hillside unnoticed and set a torch to those beehives long before any of them even knew what hit them.

“Are you threatening me?” Tempers were rising, so high Ginna could almost feel the damp chill in the air waver.

“Maybe I am,” the orc snarled. “You think you could take me? No one bests an orc.”

“I’ll not only best you. I’ll put my blade through your back!”

“I’d like to see you try.” Steel slinked along scabbard and the heavy footsteps above her head shifted forward until all she could hear was their melee.

It was perfect, almost divine, and as she slid out of the water and climbed the hill, disappearing up the walkway to the hives, below the low and constant hum of bees swarming, she could still hear them brawling to the death. Grabbing a torch from the sconce near the hives, she lit every other one until three of them blazed like beacons in the night, sending bees blazing through the air with confusion and vengeance.

“Hey! What the…”

“Oh my gods! The hives!”

Ginna dove into the water on the other side of the hives and swam out as far as she could before lifting her head above water to listen to the chaos at Goldenglow Estate. She could see all eight of the mercenaries, drawn away from their posts and rushing frantically around to try and put out the fires while an angry swarm of violated bees stung and attacked.

Grinning to herself, she dipped back beneath the water and made her way to land, following the fog all the way back to Riften.

About erica

Erica North is the fanfiction pseudonym for fantasy/romance author Jennifer Melzer.
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