Holding those keys in her hand, she actually stepped out of the Bee & Barb and looked over her left shoulder, in the direction of her new home. She could almost hear it calling to her. Come explore me. Come sleep in the comfort of my walls and I will keep you warm and dry. Over her other shoulder, she could hear the Guild calling, Maven reminding her that the symbol at the top of that promissory note was of the utmost importance.
Even if she was spoiled, as Brynjolf seemed so fond of pointing out, she’d never put pleasure before business in her life. She knew better. Without business, there was no pleasure, and a life without pleasure was no life at all.
Crossing the bridge, and heading toward the Temple of Mara, one of the guards sneered beneath his helmet when she passed. “I know Thieves Guild armor when I see it. Don’t think you’re fooling anyone.”
Ignoring his comment, she cut across the walkway and under the arch into the cemetery. She looked around to make sure no one was watching and then slid back the tomb to head down the stairs. Pulling the chain on her left, she ducked down into the Cistern as the tomb groaned closed again above her head, droplets of earth and stone showering down over her shoulders.
Rune was sitting at one of the tables beside a dark-haired girl with bright-blue eyes spooning hot stew into his mouth, and he nodded his head toward the practice room when he saw her. “If you’re looking for Brynjolf, I mean.”
“I am looking for Brynjolf,” she assured him, though she wasn’t sure talking with him there about the problems that followed her from Cyrodiil was such a good idea. She knew he would have to tell Mercer, and though she’d had very little actual interaction with the man, she was already certain Mercer didn’t like or trust her any more than she did him.
“Good,” was all he said. “You’re doing the right thing.”
Drawing in a deep breath, she crossed the Cistern and ducked by Mercer’s desk without stopping. As promised, Brynjolf was standing in the back of the practice room with an open book in his hands. She hadn’t really thought much about him while she was gone, but seeing him again made her realize how much she’d missed him, especially when he glanced up and smiled as if he were genuinely delighted to see her.
Her gut clenched then with an unfamiliar emotion she hadn’t played to often in her life: guilt. Brynjolf trusted her, had trusted her from the start, and though she’d done her best to give him a bit of truth to tide him over, she hadn’t expected her lack of forthcomingness to come back and bite her so hard.
Rune was right; she needed to tell him. Even if she did have trust issues, he’d been nothing but good to her from the minute he’d walked her out of Solitude’s prison. She owed him the truth, and not just half of it.
“You’re back,” he noted, closing the book and laying it over the barrel at his back. “And the word on the street is that poor Sabjorn has found himself in Whiterun’s prison.” He crossed his arms and leaned back to look at her with unveiled admiration. “How unfortunate for him.”
“Very unfortunate,” she agreed. “And yet quite fortunate for Maven.”
He was still grinning. “Exactly.”
“For the most part, she was very pleased.”
“And did you find anything of importance when you were going through Sabjorn’s paperwork?”
“Well, yes and no. There was a promissory note in his desk from an anonymous partner, the mysterious benefactor who helped him get his operation up and running so quickly.” He lifted an intrigued brow that urged her to continue. “It bore the same symbol from the bill of sale I found at Goldenglow, but no name.”
“Let me see.” She handed over the note and he scanned it for a moment, chewing at the inside corner of his mouth, deep in thought. “This is beyond coincidence. First Aringoth, now Sabjorn. Someone’s trying to take us down by driving a wedge between Maven and the Guild.”
“It would seem that way,” she agreed. “We have to stop them, plain and simple.”
“Indeed. Mercer thinks he may know a way to identify this new thorn in our side. He wants to meet with you right away. And if I were you, I’d hurry. I’ve never seen him this angry before.”
“Okay,” she nodded, starting to turn away. She could almost see Rune in her mind, those sad, trusting brown eyes willing her to do the right thing. “Brynjolf,” she turned back.
“What is it, lass? Now’s not really the time for idle chatter. Mercer’s awaiting your presence.”
Idle chatter? That stung a little more than she would have expected. She understood the importance of getting to the bottom of whatever it was they were all swimming in, but there were more than a few slaughterfish in her own private pool of misery. “Maven’s letting me rent one of her houses here in Riften. Honeyside, over by Haelga’s place.”
His eyes flashed with a hint of amusement. “Well, that didn’t take long. You must have really impressed her.”
“Look, I know you’re busy,” though she still couldn’t figure out what he was busy doing, “but I need you to meet me there after I finish up with Mercer. I have some important things I need to talk to you about in private, and it really shouldn’t wait.”
His eyes narrowed for a moment, brow furrowing as he cocked his head. “I don’t think I like the sound of that.”
“You may not like what I have to say. I don’t know. I just know it needs to be said before things go any further than they already have.”
“All right,” he nodded. “I’ll meet you there.”
“Thank you,” she turned away, her heart racing faster than it should have been.
She hadn’t even told him yet, but just setting those wheels in motion made her nervous. What if all the trouble she’d brought with her was too much? His Guild had their own problems, and even if they had accepted her into their ranks, that didn’t mean they had to keep her. She’d only done a handful of jobs for them, she was still proving herself to most of them, but loathe as she was to admit it to herself, the place and the people were actually starting to grow on her.
“How is your skill with the bow?” Ninruin stopped her outside the practice room.
“Umm,” she glanced toward Mercer’s desk. He was staring at her, waiting impatiently for her to bring whatever information she’d discovered into the light so he could strategize their next move against the shadowed enemy taking them apart bit by bit. “My skill is fair, but I could always use more training. I tend to rely a little too heavily on stealth and daggers.”
“You should come and see me if you ever need marksman training,” he informed her. “Nothing says, hello, I’m here to kill you like an arrow from a distant, unknown origin.”
“That is very true. I’m on my way to speak to Mercer now, but I will definitely take you up on a little training as soon as I have a moment.”
“Excellent. I look forward to sharing my knowledge with you.”
Thrynn was standing near the edge of Mercer’s desk when she came out, finishing up some business. He acknowledged her with a nod before stalking off and she stepped into his place when he walked away. Mercer leaned over the desk, both hands positioned over the paperwork he’d been looking through. Client lists and marks, most likely, but he made an obvious attempt at drawing it all together and tucking it into the top drawer of his desk when he looked up and saw her standing there.
“Ah, there you are.” There was a gruff undertone to his voice Ginna didn’t like. “It’s about time you made an appearance. I’ve been waiting for almost an hour.” She hadn’t even thought an hour had passed since she’d walked through the front gates of Riften. “I’ve consulted my contacts regarding the information you recovered from Goldenglow Estate, but no one can identify that symbol.”
Holding the promissory note out to him, she replied, “I found the same marking at Honningbrew Meadery.”
He pinched his already tight mouth even tighter as he looked it over and then dropped it onto his desk. “It would seem our adversary is attempting to take us apart by indirectly angering Maven Black-Briar. Very clever.”
“Maybe we should recruit them. Seems like we could use someone with smarts like that around here, the way things have been going.”
“You jest, but they’ve been able to avoid identification for years. They’re obviously well-funded, driven and patient.”
Years? How long had this bizarre turn of the Guild’s fate been connected to something identifiable, and why hadn’t anyone identified it before now? Brynjolf claimed to never have seen a symbol like that before she’d shown it to him after Goldenglow, and though she’d thought she’d recognized it herself, she’d come across millions of symbols in her line of work. It could have just looked similar to another she’d seen. It almost seemed as if Mercer knew more than he was letting on, but when she lifted her gaze to study him, she saw only the familiar gleam of admiration in his eyes.
“You admire this person?”
“Don’t mistake my admiration for complacency. Our nemesis is going to pay and dearly, let me assure you.” There was something else in his eyes she didn’t like, but she couldn’t quite place it. She already found him unnerving; he reminded her too much of Brutus, only older and slightly more refined, though not much.
“So, how do we make them pay?”
“Even after all their posturing and planning, they’ve made a mistake. The parchment you recovered contains a reference to a Gajul-Lei. According to my contacts that’s an old alias used by a contact of ours. His real name is Gulum-Ei, slimy bastard.”
“So, where do I find this Gulum-Ei?”
“Gulum-Ei is our inside man at the East Empire Company in Solitude. I’m betting he acted as a go-between for the sale of Goldenglow Estate and that he can finger our buyer. Get out there, shake him down and see what you can come up with. Talk to Brynjolf before you leave if you have any other questions.”
“Of course,” she agreed. “I’ll leave first thing in the morning.” Though she wasn’t sure how she was going to manage it. Erikur had told Brynjolf to keep her out of Solitude for a good long time, and if she ran into him while she was there, that could botch up the entire job. She didn’t mention that to Mercer though; part of her had a feeling he’d just tell her it was her problem to deal with and she better find a way to make it work, or else.
Before she left the Cistern to meet Brynjolf at Honeyside, she stopped in at the Ragged Flagon to grab a few supplies from Tonilia and trade in some of her goods from the road. She turned her jobs in to Vex and Delvin, collected her pay and asked if they had any work in Solitude she could do for them while she was there. After receiving the marks, Vex reminding her not to muck it up, she started for the door before remembering the decanter she’d found in Sabjorn’s office.
“Oh, Delvin, I almost forgot,” she turned back to him. “You think you might be interested in this?” She lifted it out of the bag and lowered it to the table for him to inspect.
He picked it up carefully, holding it against the dim, dusty light of the flagon, whistling between his teeth as he admired it. “Find this over at Honningbrew, did ya?”
“Aye. Worth anything to you?”
“I’ll give you six-hundred gold if you’re willing to part with it.”
“Deal,” she agreed.
As he was handing over her money, he grinned up at her, fingers brushing gently across hers. “You keep this up, and I’m gonna start to think you’re flirtin’.”
Ginna laughed and shook her head. “Who knows,” she winked. “Maybe I am.”
“Awe, you! Go on and get outta here, before Brynjolf catches on I’ve been tryin’ to steal his girl.”
His girl? Had he staked his claim in her absence?
“No, thank you!” He wasn’t looking at her anymore, but at the solid gold decanter in his hands, fingers covetously stroking along the curves as if she were a lover. “And you, you pretty little thing, you’re comin’ with me. Old Delvin’s gonna set you up nice and right, he will.”
The last thing she heard before ducking out the back of the Flagon was Vex muttering the words, “Oh, brother.”