For almost an hour, Marcurio and Ginna meandered around the Dwemer museum. While he inspected the artifacts in the cases and marveled at the recovered Dwarven Spiders and Centurions, Ginna searched the place for a map of the structure. She found one in a locked office, and studied the layout to determine the best way to get into Calcelmo’s laboratory. There was a direct exit just off to the right, but as she snuck off to test the door, she discovered it was barred from the other side and glanced down at the map once more to determine the route they’d need to take to come out onto the balcony.
“I think I figured out where we need to go,” she slipped up beside him, startling him from his reverie with her silence.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that. I’m already paranoid.”
“You’ll be fine. Just stay behind me and follow my lead.”
“You know, if the Dwemer had focused more of their energy on magic and less on technology, they’d probably still be alive today.” He crossed his arms matter-of-factly, brow edging slightly upward as if he were quite proud of his astute observation.
“Probably,” she shrugged. “Let’s get going.”
She watched his shoulders slump as he lowered the arms he’d just crossed. “Do we really have to do this?”
“Yes, it’s the only way.”
He sighed and lowered his head like a child. “All right, but if I get killed… or arrested, I’m not talking to you ever again. I mean it!”
“You would be… never mind. Come on.”
Sneaking past the guards in the museum was easy enough. She just waited for their rotation to shift and slipped out the exit that led deeper into the building. They immediately found themselves in a secondary room, an unfinished wing of the museum itself, filled with old Dwemer traps that Ginna was surprised to find were actually set up for use. Arrow traps, blade traps… The kind of traps that if they found themselves in a bind, would take out everyone in the room and leave them in the clear.
“You see that valve,” she gestured toward the red wheel on the wall. “One turn and it would kill everyone in this room.”
“We’re not supposed to be in here,” he mumbled, “much less killing everyone.”
“Quit acting like a baby.”
Marcurio was surprisingly good at sneaking, keeping to the shadows, following her lead. He even stopped mumbling that they weren’t supposed to be there whenever she talked to him and just kept his head down and his eyes on the guards. They came to an impasse with shadowed alcoves on both sides, that had she been by herself, Ginna would have easily ducked through without the guards ever even knowing she was there, but Marcurio tripped over a random Dwemer cog someone had left on the floor, alerting the guards to their presence.
Ginna didn’t hesitate, charging in with both blades drawn to battle back the first guard that came at her. Marcurio raised his hand without thought, summoning a lightning spell that sent one of the guards flying backward through the hall just as she was getting ready to join in the fight.
“Damn it!” Marcurio cursed, drawing out his dagger. “This is bad.”
“Look out! On your left!” Ginna called to him, spinning in double bladed to scissor the head from a guard’s shoulders. It thunked to the floor with a wet, heavy splat, his body following.
“Killing without reason is bad,” he told her when they reached the end of the hallway and glanced back at the four bodies they’d left behind them. “You are not a good friend, Ginna. Making me kill innocent people.”
“Innocent people, eh?” She sheathed her bloodied blade and lifted her gaze to his, watching him catch his breath. “Kill or be killed, Marcurio. They attacked first.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” He was really angry, his brow furrowed, eyes blazing with a dark fire that in the dim light of the hall actually made him appear dangerously attractive. There was a part of her that knew in her heart that had she never met Brynjolf, she’d be throwing herself at the man in front of her without hesitation right then because the flare of battle magic had actually turned her on. And then he started talking again, pushing that minor inkling so deep into her gut she could barely feel it anymore and she was glad. “But we wouldn’t have to kill or be killed if we weren’t in places we are not supposed to be.”
“If it will alleviate your troubled conscience, I relieve you from my service.”
“Oh,” a sarcastic laugh rose from his puffed up chest. “We’ve gone too far for that now! Besides, I highly doubt you’d make it through this… this… whatever this is we’re doing without me. Now let’s move, before someone finds us here with all these dead bodies.”
She took a minute to stretch her aching shoulder and consult her map again, and then took the leftward passage and darted up the stairs. They wound through another open room, slipping in and out of every cubby and crevice in search of something, anything that might help Enthir translate Gallus’s journals. When they snuck into a balcony overlooking what appeared to be a research center, Ginna held up her hand to tell him to wait where he was and crept across the platform to study the controls. Traps, both technological and magical, and all of them connected to a single valve.
Drawing in a deep breath, the sound of voices coming from the room below prompted her to move fast, and spinning that valve, she set off every trap, massacring everyone in that room in a blaze of spinning blades, poison gas and flame.
“Good gods!” Marcurio exclaimed, running in behind her and shoving her aside to close the valve. “Was that really necessary? What is wrong with you? I’m starting to think you’re not a thief at all and that the reason so many people want you dead is because you’re with the Dark Brotherhood.”
“I’m not an assassin,” she assured him, walking past him and stepping down the stairs to survey the damage she’d done. “It was a necessary maneuver.” There was a twinge of guilt, cold and raw inside her, even though she knew the people she’d just murdered would have done the same to her if their roles had been reversed and they’d come in to catch her in that room.
“We’re surely going to prison now,” he pinched his lips together, and hovered behind her on the top step.
“Only if we get caught,” she pointed out, reaching her hand into the pocket of her pants for a moment. She curled her fingers around the emeralds there, and closed her eyes to try and feel their energy. It wasn’t the same, but she did feel something then. Lucky. Unclenching her fingers, she let them fall back into the depth of her pocket, content with the knowledge that even if Brynjolf wasn’t there with her, he’d lent a bit of his luck from miles away and that luck would see her through. “And we’re not getting caught. I promise you.”
“Sorry if your reassurance does little to alleviate my fears,” he rolled his eyes and hiked down the steps behind her.
She searched that room and found nothing but a rare Dwemer puzzle cube that made her immediately think of Delvin. As she was reaching for it, she heard Marcurio tsk at her back. “And now I suppose you’re going to steal everything of value in this place while we’re at it.”
“So what if I am?” she asked, lowering the cube into her pouch before turning back to face him. “I’m a thief, Marcurio. I steal things. Remember?”
“Yes, yes. Doing your part to uphold the social and economic structure of Tamriel, just like the rest of us. Forgive me.”
“That’s right. You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to go any further. I already told you I would release you from my service if you weren’t comfortable moving forward with this.”
“And I already told you I don’t think you’d last ten minutes without me, so…”
The sad part was, he was probably right.
Ginna secured her pouch and headed for the door that led out onto the balcony. As soon as they stepped outside, the overwhelming smell of sulfur mingled with smoke from the smelters in the city below. The sun had gone down while they were inside Understone Keep, Masser’s heavy, swollen body crimson against the backdrop of ancient Markarth. Blood and silver, she remembered those words from the man they’d spoken to in the streets earlier. They seemed appropriate now that she’d left a trail of it in her wake.
She turned right and moved fast up the stairs that led to Calcelmo’s laboratory and without a word, Marcurio followed.
There were no guards inside. Considering how highly Calcelmo valued his research, this surprised her. Glancing up as they walked the empty hallway, she saw a heavy stone tablet marked in etchings that looked similar to the scrawl in Gallus’s journal.
“Up there,” she gestured with her hand. “That’s where I need to be.”
Marcurio said nothing, only continued beside her as she located the entrance that led into the wizard’s private study. While he closed and secured the door behind them, she began searching the room for the book Calcelmo was writing, but there was nothing. Only vague notes. Opening the door that led out onto the balcony where the stone tablet waited, she stole a roll of parchment and a block of charcoal and knelt down on the floor in front of it to make a rubbing.
“This will have to do,” she muttered, more to herself than her companion as she lifted the parchment away to study the translation guide. “I hope it’s enough for Enthir.”
“It gods damned better be enough,” he mumbled. “I don’t think they’ll allow either of us back into Markarth if we manage to get out of here alive.”
“We’re leaving now,” she announced, rising as she rolled the parchment to lower it into her satchel.
He followed her out of the laboratory and through the doors, but just as they were headed down the walkway, she heard voices up ahead. “…need to make sure the infiltrator hasn’t gotten to my uncle’s research. That research is everything to him.”
Ginna nudged Marcurio into the bushes and the two of them ducked down into the shadows, holding their breath as the guard passed by. “They’ve got to be here somewhere,” she heard one of the guards say. “We will find them, sir.”
“Kill them on sight.”
She thought she heard Marcurio squeak as he leaned into her from behind, his shoulder brushing against his, the heat of his breath rustling through the hair on the back of her neck and sending shivers rippling through her. Shaking them off, she rammed her elbow into his chest to push him back. Leaning out after the guard was gone, she watched them disappear into the laboratory and then turned over her shoulder to face him. “There’s a waterfall down there. We can drop into the pool below. No one will ever even know we were up here.”
“Whatever,” he sighed. “At this point, I just want to get out of this place.”
“Then let’s go.”
She dropped down first, splashing into the water and then swimming toward the edge to give him room. They waited for a moment after he joined her, watching from behind the waterfall as the guards passed on their rounds before climbing out and standing on the walkway dripping wet.
“And now I’m soaked,” he complained.
“But you’re alive.”
“Probably not for long if I keep hanging around with you.”
She ignored that last statement and kept to the shadows, following them all the way down the stairs and out the front gates to the stables, where they retrieved their horses and rode out of Markarth as if dragonfire drove them.