“Easy,” a soft voice fluttered through the darkness as Ginna struggled against its grip on her. “Easy,” she repeated. “Don’t try to get up so quickly.”
Ginna blinked through the murky haze, into the shadows were a soft pair bright, violet eyes were waiting for her to make contact. “What… where am I?”
“Snow Veil Sanctum,” she said. “How are you feeling?”
“Like death.” Her mouth was dry, her throat aching, and despite the frigid wind that whipped snow around them, Ginna’s body felt like it was on fire.
“You’ve been mostly dead all day,” she smiled, a gentle gesture meant to calm her. When Ginna looked up at the sky, it was dark and she wondered how much time had passed. “What do you remember?”
Mercer… his blade twisting into her body. The pain, the pleasure of betrayal in his eyes. Brynjolf… How long had she been out? Had Mercer already flown back to Riften on her horse to tell Brynjolf she was dead? Would he betray her memory? Tell the Guild she’d tried to kill him? Weave some web of lies that she’d been working with Karliah all along?
“Wait,” Ginna tried to sit up again, ignoring the nausea, the spinning throb in her head. “You shot me.”
“No,” she shook her head. “I saved your life. My arrow was tipped with a unique paralytic poison. It slowed your heart and kept you from bleeding out. Had I intended to kill you, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, Ginna.”
“You know my name,” she whispered, lowering her head back to the ground.
“Yes,” she nodded. “I know everything about you.”
“And yet, I live,” she noticed.
“I’ve no reason to kill you.” Karliah dropped down to sit on the frozen ground beside the bedroll where Ginna lay. “My original intention was to use that arrow on Mercer, but I never had a clear shot. He hid behind you like the coward he is. I made a split second decision to get you out of the way and it saved your life.”
“Then I am in your debt.”
“You have no idea,” she sighed. “The poison on that arrow took me a year to perfect. I only had enough for a single shot and I used it on you. All I had hoped was to capture Mercer alive.”
“Mercer betrayed you,” Ginna said, lifting a hand into her hair. “Why would you want him alive?”
“Mercer must be brought before the Guild to answer for his crimes,” she explained, crossing her legs underneath her. “He needs to pay for what he’s done, for Beigan and Hekja, for Gallus.”
“But how can we prove it? That man is a snake. There’s no telling what he’s told the Guild about me. I came with enough baggage of my own, it’ll be easy for him to turn them against me. Even Brynjolf.” That stung, and the more she thought about it, the harder it was to bear. He’d trusted her so easily; would he question that now? Lay awake at night wondering what kind of lies she’d told him from the start? If every kiss had been part of her plot to betray him and his Guild?
“Brynjolf is a smart man, but he worships Mercer and convincing him that the man who fostered him after all those tragedies he faced won’t be easy,” Karliah said, glancing down at her hands, which she twisted almost nervously in her lap. “But my purpose in using Snow Veil Sanctum to ambush Mercer wasn’t purely for irony’s sake. Before both of you arrived, I recovered a journal from Gallus’s remains and I suspect the information we need is written inside.”
Ginna started to sit upright again, head throbbing in agony. “Then we need to take that journal to Brynjolf right away.”
“I’m afraid it won’t be that simple,” she brought the journal out of her pack and turned back the cover. “It was written in some kind of language I’ve never seen before.”
Closing her eyes, she felt her head shaking back and forth and for a moment her body seemed to move with it, as if she were floating out to sea. “Do you think it could be translated, maybe?”
“Enthir,” she brightened with hope. “Of course.”
“Who is Enthir?”
“Gallus’s friend at the College of Winterhold. Enthir was the only outsider Gallus trusted with his Nightingale identity.”
“Nightingale,” Ginna murmured. “There’s that word again.”
“Yes. There were three of us,” Karliah started. “Myself, Gallus and Mercer. We were an anonymous splinter of the Thieves Guild in Riften. I planted that book in your house in hopes that you would begin to ask questions, perhaps piecing things together no one else had because they’d all been steeped for far too long in Mercer’s lies. But now is not the time. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about it one day, but for now you should rest, regain your strength and when you’re feeling better, I need you to take Gallus’s journal to Winterhold and seek out Enthir. Maybe he can translate it.”
“You won’t come with me?” Ginna didn’t know why, but she trusted Karliah. It was something in her gut; maybe the similarity of their situations. Both branded as murderers, driven out of their Guild, hunted and betrayed.
“I’m afraid not,” she looked away, long lashes lowering over her cheeks. “There are preparations to make and Gallus’s remains to finally lay to rest. I promise to join you there as soon as I can.”
“I can’t waste any time,” she tried to sit up again, but her body was still so weak. “If Mercer… Brynjolf… my friends could be in danger.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “Mercer is a madman, Ginna. You have no idea the extent of his crimes, how far he is willing to go to get what he wants.”
“He murdered Brynjolf’s family, killed Gallus in cold blood. Framed you and ran his blade through me. I have a pretty good idea of how far Mercer’s willing to go to see to his wants.”
“Then you know as well as I do the seeds he will sow against us. If you or I rushed into the Ratway right now, not a single one of them would believe us and you know it.” She did know it, because if it was her, she wouldn’t believe either. “The only way is to get Gallus’s journal translated so we have the proof we need to protect them from him.”
“Tell me about Gallus,” she rolled onto her side and drew her legs up a little to try and make herself more comfortable. Some of the dizziness was fading, but her stomach was still unsettled, her head still throbbing.
“He was a scholar, a master thief and a natural leader. Everyone respected and followed him without question.” Karliah leaned back a little, her face soft with fond memory. “It was Gallus who inducted me into the Nightingales and honed my skills to a razor sharp point. I owe everything I am to him. We were… very close.”
Ginna swallowed against the ache rising up the back of her throat. “You were lovers,” she whispered, her heart aching for Brynjolf.
“Gallus once said he felt comfortable around me.” Those words reminded Ginna of her own conversation with Brynjolf just days earlier. Had it really just been days? It felt like years since last she’d looked into his eyes, felt his hair whispering against her face as he came down into her, breathing her name, making her feel weak and exposed and yet so comfortable and safe. “Able to let his guard down. I can’t help but think that I’m responsible for what happened to him.”
“No, Karliah.” Ginna reached over and laid a hand on the other woman’s arm. Brynjolf had made her let her guard down, but it wasn’t his fault what Mercer had done. “Mercer is responsible for what happened to Gallus. You can’t blame yourself.”
“Perhaps not,” her mouth twitched and tightened. “But I always do. I always will. Until the day I see Mercer pay for the things he’s done, when I know Gallus can rest in peace, maybe then that guilt will go away.”
“We will get Mercer,” Ginna said, tightening her grip just a little. “And he will pay… for everything.”
“Rest now.” Karliah lifted her hand to lay over Ginna’s, patting gently before she withdrew to leave her to sleep.
And though her mind was a whirlwind she didn’t think would every stop spinning through the tangled thoughts within it, as soon as she closed her eyes it was like a veil of darkness dropped over her. She slept, long, hard, without dreaming until the sun’s cruel light pried her from that dark, comfortable place at dawn.
Karliah had recovered her satchel from the Sanctum, and everything was still inside. Her potions, her tools, her gold, the emeralds Brynjolf had given her. She scooped them out into her palm and studied them in the morning light, her heart aching as she closed her fingers around them for a few minutes and then dropped them into her pocket. They didn’t feel the same, the familiar warmth and cut of the emerald she’d carried as long as she could remember lost, but the three in her hand were special too. Someone who loved her had given them to her; they would have to be her luck now.
She hadn’t heard Karliah approach from behind, lingering over her shoulder and watching that strange ritual unfold. “I watched him grow up from the shadows, that little boy I used to sing to sleep. What kind of man is he?”
“A con-artist, a brilliant pickpocket, quick with a laugh or a song,” she said, her mouth twitching with a slow grin. “He’s a good man.”
“You love him.”
“I didn’t think I was capable of loving anyone until I met him,” she admitted. “He trusted me, right from the start. Said he could read people… that he knew everything he’d ever need to know about me, except my name, but he was wrong.”
“No, Ginna,” Karliah assured her. “He wasn’t wrong. As a boy, he had no choice but to trust in Mercer Frey. Mercer protected him, kept him safe, gave him purpose. He is blind by his unfailing love for the man who kept him in the only place he’d ever called home when all he loved was lost.”
“He asked me to marry him, to be his partner,” Ginna exhaled. “And I told him we would start our life together when I came back from this job, but now…”
“This job isn’t over, Ginna, not by a longshot.”
“Then I guess I should get to it.”
“I will meet you in Winterhold as soon as I finish my business here,” she promised. “Shadows hide you.”
“And you, my friend.”