The sun had started its descent into the mountains, layering shadow upon shadow beyond the walls outside Solitude. It was easy for the two of them to become one with those shadows, ducking down and slinking silently along the eastern wall and watching Gulum-Ei making his way warily down the hillside toward Katla’s farm. From time to time, he paused to look back over his shoulder, almost as if he could feel them following him, and then he resumed his journey. When he reached the edge of the docks, he lingered there for a long while, looking left and right, glancing behind him for signs of life in every shadow, but he never caught on they were following and finally picked up his feet again.
By the time Rune and Ginna reached the docks, it was almost dark, making it even easier for them to slip along the water’s edge undetected by the guards. They followed until they reached the East Empire Company shed and watched as Gulum-Ei slipped inside the building. Rune stood guard while Ginna picked the lock, and within a matter minutes they were safely inside.
She ducked around the corner and caught a glimpse of their target wandering along the merchandise. So much merchandise, clothing, books, food, weapons and armor; sweet mother of Nocturnal, she wished she’d brought a bigger bag. They could have made a killing in that place had they known what they were walking into, but she resisted the ever-present urge to fill her pockets and surveyed the inside of the warehouse to formulate a gameplan.
There were guards, not many, four or five, but they were all lingering near the center docks, occasionally drawing up their torches to round a small, circular patrol before arriving back at their posts. But the guard could be avoided completely if they stuck to the shadows and made their way along the upper-deck, which looked as if it led clear across the entire warehouse.
Ginna gestured to the shelving, walking her fingers across the top of her hand to let him know what she was thinking, and after glancing up to study the structure, Rune looked back and gave her a thumb’s up. She climbed up first, gliding along the shelving like a cat, and once she had her footing, Rune scampered up silently behind her and the two ducked down to sneak along the edge.
She kept close watch on Gulum-Ei from the shadows, who stopped to chat with the guards each time he passed them. She strained her ear to listen, but it was only small talk. For a time they traveled up, near the guard’s resting station, all the while Ginna kept her eye on her target until she watched him disappear into a hidden door behind a load of pallets and crates.
Peering into the empty guard station, she saw a few items worth getting her hands on, so she slipped in quick while Rune watched the door and filled her pockets with gold, jewelry and a few loose precious gemstones. On her way back out, she paused near the East Empire Shipping Map and wondered if that might not come in handy for the Guild. Rolling it up, she lowered it into her satchel and then she and Rune slunk down the pathway, dropping onto the dock with silent feet just near the doorway Gulum-Ei had slipped through.
The warehouse had ended, opening into a hidden grotto stocked with stolen merchandise. “Brynjolf is going to want to know about this,” Rune whispered.
Ginna only nodded, and then motioned for him to follow as she snuck along the path and leaned out to assess the situation. There were two men on one of the docks, one of them muttering about mages having the real power. “Imagine being able to turn wood into gold.”
“If that were true, mages wouldn’t wear such tatty robes,” his Orsimer companion grumbled. “They can turn iron into silver though, and silver into gold.”
“Still,” the Nord murmured almost reverently. “That’s power.”
The Nord was lingering a little too close to the edge of the dock, but the orc kept moving, making it impossible to get a clear shot. It was the orc that worried her though. He was huge, well-armored and with a fat-headed warhammer that glinted in the torchlight at his back. Sneaking past them would not work, and taking out the orc first was the only reasonable plan of action.
She and Rune exchanged looks, and she lifted a poison-tipped arrow from her quiver to show him what she was thinking. He nodded, following her lead and lining up his site on the orc. They fired simultaneously, both arrows sinking into his thick neck with a wet schlunk and he fell with a heavy splash into the water.
“What the—” The Nord scrambled into panic-mode. “We’ve been infiltrated! Fall back!” Ginna re-strung her bow and fired an arrow into his chest, but that only drove him down to one knee. “Is that your best?” He called out to the shadows. Rune fired another arrow into him, and it suck deep into his shoulder. “Please, I surrender,” he slumped forward a little, still drawing himself across the deck on his hands and knees. “Death is overrated!” Ginna moved in quick behind him and stabbed her dagger into his back, jerking it free and then toeing his unmoving corpse into the water to clear the path.
Once the men in front were taken care, they headed along the pier with their bows out, sneaking up and taking out every bandit they crossed paths with with silent, poisoned arrows. Somewhere in one of the hidden tunnels on the left of the grotto, she heard a dog barking, but no one seemed to heed its warning, so they ignored it and moved on. They took out a man swimming in the water, and then did away with his companion on the bridge as well.
Winding along the treacherous pathway, they came upon two women hovering over a chest they were loading into a boat. Ginna crept in to survey the situation on the right, just beyond the bandit women. There was Gulum-Ei, arms crossed and chatting with Breton man in plain leather armor, who kept glancing toward the two women loading the boat. Ginna slid in behind one of them and slit her throat, and Rune took the other out with an arrow before nudging her with his elbow and gesturing that he planned to hit the bandit talking to Gulum-Ei. It left her the task of catching up to their slippery little Argonian friend before he a chance to get away.
He stretched his arrow back, lining up his target, and Ginna crept across the space to hide behind the stone mass that obscured her from their view. The arrow left Rune’s bow with a sweet whisper, and mere moments later she heard it connect, Gulum-Ei gasping surprise and calling out, “Please, don’t hurt me.”
Ginna stepped out of the shadows and into the light to let him know she was there, her blade drawn and flashing in the dim torchlight surrounding the Argonian’s private stash of stolen goods. Brynjolf would be very interested to know what Gulum-Ei was keeping in there, and she planned to have a good look before leaving.
“Wait,” Gulum-Ei held up his hands in surrender. “Wait. There’s no need to do anything rash.”
“Are you sure about that?” she stalked toward him, turning her blade against the light to taunt him. “Are you ready to talk yet, or do I gut you and feed you to the slaughterfish?”
“All right,” he nodded. “I’ll talk, just put the blade away.”
“No sudden moves,” she warned, lowering her dagger.
“Look, this isn’t as bad as it seems,” he insisted. “I was going to tell Mercer everything, I swear. Please… he’ll have me killed.”
“And what makes you think that isn’t what he sent me here to do?”
She hadn’t even heard Rune come up behind her, but she felt his presence over her shoulder, his bow drawn, an arrow pointed at Gulum-Ei’s heart. “I should kill you right now where you stand and just be done with it,” Rune said.
Ginna glanced back at him, surprised by the sharp edge in his tone. She hoped he could see her face, her eyes willing him not to do anything impulsive. Brynjolf said to leave the lizard alive. All his stupidity aside, he was still of value to the Guild.
“No, please,” he pleaded. “There’s no need for that. I’ll tell you everything.”
“You better start talking and fast,” Ginna said. “Or I tell my friend here to let loose that arrow and he’s a mighty good shot. He left quite a few of your friends swimming in the drink back there.”
“It’s Karliah. Her name is Karliah.”
“Karliah?” Rune muttered, lowering his bow slowly.
“You say that name like I should know it.” Ginna looked between the two of them.
“Mercer never told you about her?” Gulum-Ei asked, standing up straight.
“Karliah is the thief who murdered Gallus.” Rune started toward him, lowering his arrow back into the quiver on his back. The tone of his voice was unlike she’d ever heard it before. Edgy, angry and just a little bit scary. “And Brynjolf’s parents.”
“And now she’s after Mercer,” the Argonian added.
Ginna turned back to him, the blade still in her hand. “And you’re helping her. I’m sure Mercer won’t like that one bit when I tell him.”
“Help? No, no! Look, I didn’t even know it was her until after she contacted me,” he insisted. “Please, you have to believe me.”
Rune edged up on him, and even though he was almost a head shorter than the lizard, he looked so intimidating it actually gave Ginna chills. “Why should we believe you? Because you helped her, our Guild is falling apart.”
“It wasn’t like that, I swear.”
“Give me one good reason I shouldn’t kill you,” Rune sneered.
“Brynjolf wants him alive,” Ginna intervened, raising a hand to Rune’s arm to urge him to calm down. “Where is Karliah now, Gulum-Ei?”
“I don’t know,” he shook his head. “When I asked her where she was going, she just muttered, ‘Where the end began.’”
“Where the end began?” Rune repeated. “What does that even mean?”
“I have no idea. Here, take the Goldenglow Estate deed as proof, and tell Mercer I am worth more to him alive than dead.”
“You’re worth nothing.” Rune spat at his feet and stepped back, walking toward the chests on their right to collect his thoughts.
“Why did Karliah purchase Goldenglow?” Ginna sheathed her dagger. “Did she tell you?”
“I asked her the same thing, but she wouldn’t tell me. But I would say she’s trying to tear the Guild apart from the inside out.”
“By making the Guild look bad in front of Maven,” Rune said. “Like we couldn’t do our jobs, and keep her assets protected the way we should.”
“She loses faith in us,” Ginna lowered her head. “And without Maven, the entire Guild falls apart.”
“Exactly,” Gulum-Ei sighed. “Karliah must have spent a lot of time and resources working up to this.”
“But why? So she killed Brynjolf’s family, murdered Gallus to take him out, and now she’s after Mercer, but for what end?” Something about what they were telling her didn’t add up, and until she could wrap her mind around that missing bit of information, it wasn’t going to make sense no matter how she tried to look at it. Was this woman just pure evil? Or did she have something to gain?
“I swear, I don’t know anything else, if I did, I’d tell you.”
“I’ll tell you what,” she looked toward Rune again, watched him climb up the ladder to inspect the crates near the top of the pallets. “I’m going to hang onto this deed and I’ll keep quiet about your little scam, but you owe me. Are we clear?”
“Now you’re speaking my language.” She couldn’t tell if he was grinning, or leering again, but she didn’t care. “If you’re ever in Solitude, and you need any stolen goods fenced, bring them to me and I’ll give you good money for them.”
“It’s a start,” she sighed, “but I can tell you right now there’s gonna come a time I find myself in need of more than just a fence and I will call upon you. Just remember that.”
“I will,” he assured her. “I am in your debt… You never did tell me your name.”
“In our business, we rarely deal in names. You, of all people, should know that.” She turned his own words back on him. “I am a Ghost. That’s all you’ll ever need to know.”
After clearing out the chests, she and Rune left the grotto through a cavern exit that came out on the edge of the sea. It was dark, the moons hovering over the water like two nesting slivers of light that shimmered across the waves and the distant reach of the lighthouse flashing out to devour their luminescence each time it rotated across the water.
“You shouldn’t have told him who you were,” Rune said. “If word gets back to Cyrodiil…”
“I can’t spend the rest of my life in fear of what Brutus might do if his lackeys ever catch up to me.” The waves were so soothing, and though her thoughts ran rampant through her mind at such a pace she could barely grasp them long enough to make sense of them, she did know one thing. “He will never come after me himself because he fears me, and if I show him I am not afraid to make myself known here it will feed his fear. He’ll lose sleep, become reckless… careless…”
“And if he teams up with Karliah?”
Ginna turned her gaze to look at him, the shadows making it almost impossible to see anything but his eyes. “What do you really know about Karliah, Rune? Didn’t all of that happen long before you even joined the Guild?”
“Well, yes, but Brynjolf told me everything I needed to conclude that she’s dangerous.”
“She’s the one who murdered Bryn’s mother and father?” He’d never told her the murderer’s name, only that his parents had been hit first, and shortly after, the Guildmaster. “And Gallus?”
“Yes, and if she’s after Mercer now…”
“Do you know anything else about her? What kind of person she was? What pushed her over the edge? I mean, why did she kill Gallus? Why Brynjolf’s parents? She didn’t do it to take over the Guild… Everyone knows it was her, so it isn’t like she could just walk back in one day and take Mercer out in hopes that she could just claim his role and be forgiven.”
She didn’t need to see anything but his eyes to know her questions confused him. “It doesn’t matter why she did it. It’s enough to know she did. She needs to be stopped before someone else gets killed.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “We need to get this information back to Mercer right away.”
“It’s a long walk back to the carriage,” he noted. “And then another four or five days to Riften.” The carriage was great for those who couldn’t afford to travel by horse, but horses would carry them quickly, cutting at least a day or two off the southeastern trek across the country.
“Maybe we can find a couple of horses to carry us home.”
“Now you’re talking.”