Back at the Cistern, Brynjolf charged Ginna with relaying the details of their job to Rune while he sought out Karliah in hopes of making amends. He’d kissed her then, right in the middle of the Cistern, in front of everyone, before reminding her one last time, “Careful at Mercer’s place. I don’t want to lose anyone else I love to that madman.”
“I will be careful,” she promised, tugging her fingers from his before setting out to locate her mission partner.
Rune was standing near the entrance into the Ragged Flagon with his arms crossed, Vipir beside him and both on the lookout for Mercer. Vipir was actually scowling, brows knitted together, eyes narrowed as she approached. She wondered how long it would take to rebuild the Guild’s trust again after the things Mercer had told them about her. Vipir’s face softened a little when he looked over at her, and she wondered if maybe Rune had done some damage control.
“Rune, I’m here to relieve you of your duties. We’ve got a job to do for Brynjolf,” she announced.
“Does this job entail the two of us gutting Mercer like a fish?” he brightened at the prospect.
Vipir scoffed laughter into his shoulder. “If that’s the case, be sure to save a piece for the rest of us. If I ever see Mercer Frey again, I’ll shove my dagger so deep into his heart it’ll come out the other side of him still beating.”
“Well, if we actually find Mercer, I can’t make any promises that I’ll share his blood, not after what he did to me,” she said. “For now, Brynjolf wants us to head over to Riftweald Manor and break inside to search for anything that might tell us where that bastard’s gone.”
“Sounds easy enough,” he nodded.
“Not so fast, kid,” Vipir held his hand up. “It might sound easy, but it won’t be. Even if Mercer’s not there, he lets some pretty dangerous people stay there from time to time. Bandits, brigands… No doubt he’s got quite a heavy crew on patrol over there right about now. Not to mention, Vald.”
“You know Vald?” Ginna asked.
“Know him?” Vipir squinted. “I know him all right. He’d just as soon stab you in the back as he would look at you. Be careful out there. Both of you.”
“And you should go talk to Vex about Vald. She knows him better than anyone else down here. She might be able to give you a bit of insight.”
“I’m on my way to do that now, thanks, Vipir.”
“Hey, no problem. You two be careful out there.”
Vex was sitting at the bar in the Flagon throwing back shots faster than Vekel could refill them. As soon as she sensed their shadows at her back, she growled over her shoulder, “If I see Frey, I’ll pluck his eyes from his skull with my bare hands.”
“We’re heading over to Mercer’s place right now,” Ginna said. “Brynjolf and Vipir said to ask you about Vald.”
“That pig.” She slammed back another shot of whiskey as if the mere mention of the man’s name only intensified an already righteous and angry fire inside her. “Oh, I have info on him. More than you care to know.”
“What if I wanted to get on his good side?”
“Vald? Good side? Ha!” Ginna had never heard Vex laugh before. It was a disturbing revelation that sent chills rolling through her, and for a moment Rune seemed to lead into her as if he were just a little scared. “I think you’ve got the wrong person. The only thing Vald understands is gold. A man after my own heart.” Another shot down the pipes and she slammed the cup down on the bar.
“We need to get past him into Mercer’s place. Do you think I could buy him off?”
“Probably, but he’ll ask for a whole lot.” She tapped her empty cup, but Vekel just stared at it before glancing up at Tonilia for a little help. Tonilia just shrugged and shook her head. “You’re asking him to betray Mercer Frey, a favor that won’t come cheap. Your best bet would be to erase his debt with Maven Black-Briar. Mercer’s been holding it over his head for years. I don’t know the details, he would never say, but then we never did much talking anyway.” Her lips drew into a smug grin, as if she were keeping some sly secret no one else would ever know. “If you ask Maven she’ll probably tell you. I hear she likes you and that bitch doesn’t like anyone. Of course, you could always just run him through and take whatever you need off his corpse… I could care less.” Her attention quickly shifted back to her empty cup. “Vekel, what the Void? I’m empty here.”
“I think you should slow down a bit, Vex,” Vekel said softly. “You want to keep sharp in case Mercer comes back.”
“Did I just put coin on the bar?”
“Well… yeah, but…”
“Did I put coin on the bar?”
Vekel relented, pulling out the bottle and filling her cup again.
Ginna started to walk away, but the other woman called out. “Hey, while you’re in there, help yourself to everything you can fit in your pockets. I know I would.”
As they were passing by Delvin on their way out the back, Ginna heard him mutter to himself. “I still can’t believe it. Stabbed in the back. It’s just like the Dark Brotherhood all over again.”
“Delvin was in the Dark Brotherhood,” she glanced over at Rune as they were walking into the Cistern.
Rune shrugged, “Search me. I’ve never heard him mention it before.”
“Oh the secrets we all keep down in the Cistern,” she muttered, walking toward the ladder into the cemetery. She glanced across the walkway to where Brynjolf had already buried himself in paperwork, but he looked up as if he felt her gaze and held her stare for a moment before nodding farewell and returning to duty. “Where’s Riftweald Manor?”
“Turn left and head down the alley just outside the cemetery gates. It’s just past the Temple of Mara.”
They headed left together and ducked into the shadows when they approached the back gate to survey the situation. At first it looked like no one was around, but then she heard humming and a man she could only assume to be Vald walked down the wooden stairs.
“That’s him,” Rune whispered.
“He’s a… big boy,” she noted.
Rune nodded, and turned his head back in Vald’s direction. “How do we want to do this? Do we try reasoning with him or head over to talk to Maven?”
“I think we should do Vex a favor.”
Ginna drew her bow and tugged a poisoned-tipped arrow from her quiver. Rune followed suit, both of them lining the man up in their sight through the slats in the gate and then exchanging quick glances before releasing when Ginna nodded. They watched from the shadows as their arrows hit the mark. He fell forward and twitched a little on the ground, and then went still.
“No honor in that,” she said, creeping right to pick open the gate lock.
“Maybe not, but it’s still probably better than he deserved.”
Ginna clicked open the lock and the gate swung forward on groaning, rusty hinges. Glancing around to make sure no one had seen their crime, they snuck through the gate in Mercer’s backyard. “Brynjolf said there’s a trap up on the balcony that’ll release the steps. You wanna see if you can figure that out while I check our boy here for the keys?”
“You’ve got it.” Rune climbed crept along the walkway to examine the mechanism and Ginna knelt over Vald’s still-warm body to rifle through his pockets. She took the little bit of gold he had on him and tugged the keyring off his belt just as Rune was stepping back and lining up another arrow. Ginna stepped out of the way to give him room, and the arrow released in a whisper, thunking into the mechanism and releasing the trap. The ramp dropped down with a heavy thud.
It led up to the balcony entrance and the two of them scrambled up to the second floor to begin trying Vald’s keys in the lock. The third key on the ring opened the door, and she eased it inward quietly, slipping inside the storage room just on the other side without a sound. They listened for a few moments, catching the sound of voices in the other room.
Rune drew his dagger while Ginna opened the door to assess the situation. There were two of them, dining at the table in the room just right of the doorway.
“Mead, mead, mead… Would it kill him to get some beer every now and then? Stupid bees and their stupid honey,” one of them complained.
“You think you’ve got problems?” his comrade moaned. “Lyin’ little harlot! That brat ain’t mine. Could be anyone’s. She won’t get one rusty septim from me.”
“Bees and babies are about to become the least of their problems,” Rune murmured.
Ginna stifled a laugh, along with the urge to tell him just how much she’d missed having him at her side.
“What was that?”
“What was what?”
Ginna drew her blades fast, she and her partner swift as shadows as they crept across the wooden floorboards so quietly they didn’t even creak under their weight. Neither of the brigands taking up residence in Mercer’s house knew what hit them, Ginna and Rune executing a dual assault that took them both out of commission and left them bleeding out and groaning on the floor. A third bandit came out of the side room, swinging a heavy battle axe, but they ambushed him, driving him to the floor and dropping their daggers into him together.
Rune twisted his before wrenching it out and rocking back to rest a moment on his heels. “I get the feeling anyone I have to kill from this day forward is going to look like Mercer in my mind.”
“Aye,” Ginna agreed. “Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have the same satisfaction as I imagine killing Mercer will.”
“Did he hurt you?” he asked, rising from where he’d crouched to wipe the blood from his blade.
“Put his blade through me, twisted it real good.” Just talking about it made it ache, a pain she was sure she’d have to live with for the rest of her life, whenever it was damp and rainy or cold. “Karliah poisoned me. I was completely paralyzed when it happened, but if she hadn’t shot me with that arrow, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”
“Damn him,” he muttered with a sigh. “We will make him pay for everything he’s done.”
“We will,” she nodded.
“So, what exactly are we looking for?” He glanced around the empty house.
“Anything that might point us in Mercer’s direction,” she said. “And in the meantime, you see anything in this house you want to take home with you, do it.”
They split up to cover more ground, combing every inch of Riftweald Manor for clues. Ginna ducked down the stairs to rifle through things down there, and while she was down there Rune called out that he’d found something. She hiked up to join him in the side room, where he stood in front of a wardrobe with a false paneled back that opened into another cellar entryway.
“How much do you want to bet Mercer’s hiding down there?” Rune asked.
“I don’t make wagers with you anymore,” she grinned. “You always win.”
“I can’t help it if I’m lucky.” He pushed in front of her and started slowly down the stairs after announcing, “I’ll go first, since I’m the lucky one.”
Despite their silent stealth, it felt as if every rung on the ladder leading downward moaned and creaked beneath their feet, but by the time they reached the bottom, they discovered it didn’t really matter. Mercer’s little hidey-hole was empty, but he’d left plenty of gold and treasure lying around and both Rune and Ginna made no bones about filling their pockets with it.
Winding and rolling their way through the dangerous, trapped hallways of Mercer’s private hideout, it was a miracle neither one of them got hurt or killed. By the time they reached his secret office, both of them were out of breath and Ginna could feel her insides trembling from the constant havoc that little trek had played on her nerves. Unlocking the door, they rushed inside still expecting to find Mercer, but instead there was a bust of The Grey Fox and more jewels and coin than Ginna had ever seen all in one place outside a Guild treasury.
“This blade.” Rune leaned over a display case containing a magic glass sword. “It’s beautiful.”
“Take it,” she urged him. “Maybe one day you’ll get to run it through Mercer.”
“Wouldn’t that be sweet justice? Killing him with his own blade?” He hunkered down in front of the case to pick open the lock while Ginna searched the table.
One the tabletop, underneath the jewels and gold, she found a very carefully mapped out plan. She lifted it up to inspect it, not exactly sure what it meant. Rune shook his head and said he didn’t know either, but maybe Brynjolf would know. Rolling it up, she tucked it into her satchel, and then she and Rune divided the stones and gold between them before she grabbed the bust off the table.
Just beyond that little room, there was a drop down into the Ratway Warrens. Rune lowered himself down first, taking the bust from her to hold it while she shimmied through the hole and landed beside him right in front of the backdoor into the Ragged Flagon.
Delvin was closest to the door when they came walking through it, and as Ginna scanned the Flagon there was a moment of panic when she didn’t see Brynjolf there. They’d been scavenging through Mercer’s things for a couple of hours; anything could have happened.
Was that how things were going to be for the rest of their days if they didn’t hunt down Mercer Frey? Every moment they were apart filled with panic, dread and fear?
“Where’s Brynjolf?” She stalked into the Flagon and lowered the bust of The Grey Fox onto the tabletop in front of Delvin.
“Calm down, pet.” Had he heard the dread in her voice? “He’s out in the Cistern going through Mercer’s papers.”
“No sign of Mercer then?”
“None at all, the slimy little bastard. You two find anything over at Mercer’s place?”
“Tough to say. It looks like some plans. I’m taking them out to have Bryn look over them now. In the meantime, I brought you a little present.” She gestured toward the bust, which he eyed with wide, almost lustful eyes.
“Well, well… and it ain’t even my birthday.” He reached out to draw it across the table. “Are you sure you want to part with this little beauty? Considering…”
“Considering where I come from?” she chuckled a little. “If I never see another Grey Fox as long as I live, it’ll still be too soon. It’s yours.”
“At least let me give you something for it. Here,” he brought a bag of gold out onto the table and shoved it toward her. “Eight hundred gold. Just for you.”
“Thanks, Delvin. I can always use more gold.”
“Rune, you need to pull up a chair and have a drink. You look like you could use one,” Delvin said, kicking out the chair across from him.
“Yeah, Rune. Have a drink. I’m going to talk with Bryn.”
“All right. Don’t you go leaving town again without a word, or I’m coming after you this time.”
“I’ll let you know before I go if I need to leave,” she promised.
As she was walking back into the Cistern, she heard Delvin ask about Mercer’s place, Rune’s retelling of events growing muffled behind the door when it closed behind her.