I suppose Delvin stuck to his word about keeping where I came from to himself, because the other humans here treat me like a commoner who wandered into the Ratway off the street. I suppose it’s refreshing. After the Brotherhood, I’d prefer to go about my business without unnecessary attention.
The human called Mercer, who apparently outranks even Brynjolf here, wants to test me. He’s a serious man and always seems to be scowling. Mercer has set me up to rob and sabotage an estate just outside of Riften. It’s an infiltration that, according to a well-regarded thief named Vex (the venom in her voice and the way she looks down her nose at me–I cannot help but think of Astrid), I’ll most certainly fail.
We shall see.
The Cistern in which the Thieves Guild makes its nest reeks as much as the rest of the sewer, but I find having a reliable bed and place to stay for the night (for free) is comforting. There are others that come and go, and none seem to have more than a passing glance to spare me.
I don’t mind it. The Brotherhood was a strange and tangled family wrapped like a net around my heart, and I still feel its hold and its tug. Here, it’s every man for himself.
It was Karliah and Brynjolf’s wish that I joined them in reforming the trinity that broke with Gallus’ death. I wanted to run away (I am always running away), but what do I have left? Valenwood–my clan is dead. The Brotherhood burned to the ground.
I have nothing but the Guild.
So I stood with Karliah and Brynjolf and together we heard the voice of a Daedric Prince. Lady Nocturnal’s command is still wrought around my thoughts: refrain from disappointing me again.
What happens when one fails a Daedric Prince? I’ll do everything in my power to keep from finding out.
The Emperor’s ship was docked near Solitude. Under the assumption that the assassination attempt had been thwarted and the Brotherhood itself burned to the ground, the Emperor’s guards were criminally lax in their duties.
None–especially the Emperor himself–would be prepared for me. So I assumed, and so I was wrong.
I thought myself clever and quiet as I entered his quarters, but he sat at his desk, waiting for me. I immediately raised my daggers to guard, I thought he would sound an alarm, to trigger an ambush, and yet he simply addressed me as an expected guest:
“Once again I prove Maro a fool. You and I have a date with destiny, do we not?”
I must admit I was dumbfounded. I debated turning, running through the door, escaping by diving into the sea and swimming for my life. But I stood still. I listened.
“I must die. You must deliver the blow. Such is the way of things,” the Emperor told me. He was calm, quiet-tempered. How?
“You won’t run?” I asked of him. I have never spoken with a target who knew of my motives before. In my confusion I was loose of tongue. “You knew I would come for you, and you did not alert your guard? You waited?”
The Emperor nodded. “I have accepted my fate. But I have one request."
It is not the way of the Brotherhood to hear the pleas and begging of our targets. But I stood, again, silent.
He wants me to kill the person who ordered his death. In my mind, I remember the name easily: Motierre. And there, with the Emperor’s request, I began to devise a plan. It was as though it sprang from my mind regardless of my will to snuff it down. Even now, as I sit in an abandoned shack south of Solitude, I try to banish the thought from my mind, but it haunts me: a way to leave the Brotherhood, a way to cut all ties.
The Emperor spoke his piece and turned to face the window. He awaited my blow.
I wished that I could have left him there, this calm and placid man, but if I am to disappear–if I am to leave the Brotherhood behind–then none can know my face, and certainly not my final target.
"Turn around,” I told him.
“If you do not mind,” he said, as calm as the dark waters at which he stared, “I’d prefer to face the sea.”
And so I killed him, in the most merciful way I know: a swift knife across the throat. I let him slump within my arms so that it was as he wished: he died with his gaze upon the ocean.
Though I wish I could weep, I take comfort in knowing that this will be my final contract. I shall not take another–not from Nazir, and certainly not the Night Mother.
We’ve stopped for just a moment in what we assume is a safe chamber. No signs of deadly traps or skittering metal spiders. Karliah is tending to Brynjolf’s wound. A falmer slashed him across the arm (they’re blind, they’re lumbering, yet they come from within the walls themselves)–he’s lucky it missed his throat.
Steam hisses through this place is like long, rattling breaths. It’s as though this whole place is a monstrous metal beast that’s swallowed us alive. How did the Dwemer live here? This was a city, yet it’s filled with cruel traps and torture chambers (with stone thrones for spectators).
Karliah and Brynjolf might not agree, but Mercer is the last thing that frightens me here.
The Companions still seem to think I want to be a recruit, despite my insistence on simply repaying my debt to Vilkas and Athis. Nonetheless, Skjor has come up with a task that I believe will count as repayment. It holds great value to them and very little to me.
I’m to retrieve a fragment of Wuuthrad.
“What is Wuuthrad?” I asked Skjor, who scowled down at me like I was a skeever in his bedchambers.
He explained its significance: Wuuthrad is a famed weapon and relic of Ysgramor, who led the first humans into Skyrim. “And killed the elves that lived here,” Skjor finished.
There was an awkward moment in which I scratched lightly at the hair behind my pointed ears, glowering. “But there are elves among your ranks. Athis–”
“Don’t get yourself so miffed over history,” Skjor growled. “Our tradition is honor, not slaughter."
Vilkas watched our exchange from the wall of the Companions’ training grounds, scowling venom. When it became apparent that I was to retrieve this fragment of Wuuthrad alone, he–as I should have expected–protested.
"You’re sending this whelp, Skjor? To recover a fragment of Wuuthrad? He’d sooner take it for himself.”
“Vilkas, I won’t–"
"Farkas will be his Shield-Brother, if it makes you feel better, Vilkas.”
So I need to be watched over like a pup. Fine. So long as I can repay my debt and be away from this place.
I need to remember to take something back for Delvin.
I awoke from a nightmare this morning to find three of the Companion recruits, including Athis, standing over me, looking a mix of annoyed and at least partially concerned.
Athis folded his arms. “Bad dreams? You were quite restless.” Beside him, one of the others–a smaller woman with a scowl and a steel helmet–snorted and rolled her eyes.
My head ached. “…m'sorry.”
It wasn’t the same as before. I remember walking through a dusty hallway thick with cobwebs, listening for a voice–a familiar voice. Someone called me from far away, from within the very walls around me. All the while I felt a deep and paralyzing terror, but the voice drove me onward, even as it cracked, broke, and became a mad and sobbing laughter.
The Companions chided me for sleeping late. I wanted to tell them I’d come across Skyrim during the night, but it was by their generosity that I’d had a bed in the first place, so I held my tongue. Besides, the day had grown late, and Farkas had given me a job.
As I headed for the door, Athis raised an eyebrow. “Who is Cicero?”
I halted. “…what?”
His tone was innocent curiosity, nothing more. “Cicero. The name you said in your sleep.”
I left without explaining, my heart thudding up through my throat and ringing in my head. There are bandits to kill and none of this makes sense anymore.
I rode through the night and into morning, leaving Riften far behind me. It was easy to be angry. I never meantto take it out on Vilkas–not like this, at least.
But I’d resolved to return his sword, so I did.
I found Vilkas in his quarters. He looked up at me, ready to throw his fist, and I threw his blade (unsharpened) to the ground between us.
“Here,” I snapped at him. “Forgive me, I got lost. You’ll have to sharpen it yourself."
"Damned thief,” he snarled. “I’ll see you tossed beneath Dragon’s Reach, bastard!” He snatched up the sword (perhaps I should have handed it to him cordially) and I’d hardly a moment to react before he took a wild swing at me. I drew my dagger and parried.
“Stop that!” I hissed, dodging and backing away. “A thief–doesn’t return–what he steals, you idiot Nord–”
I hadn’t wanted to fight, not until it started, but before I could control myself, we were a flurry of blades. The clang of steel and the sound of Vilkas’ shouts drew the attention of the other Companions. Two of them (whose names I later learned were Aela and Farkas) dragged us apart.
“Get him out of here,” Vilkas barked, and Farkas tugged his shoulders.
“I didn’t come here to be your errand boy,” I told him. “You saved my life. Let my debt to you be at least worth more than a sharpened sword.”
To my shock, I wasn’t dragged away. Vilkas shoved past through the door without another word.
Farkas grumbled and sighed, and there was a weariness in his voice. “So you want to repay the Companions. Should’ve come to me first. Vilkas isn’t always good with recruits.”
“I’m not a recruit,” I reminded him, apologetically.
“You deserve better than to be turned away,” Aela regarded me critically. "Besides. Vilkas needed that. We’ll find you a job that doesn’t involve polishing swords.“
We hunted well, despite my nerves (when one hunts, it is best to keep one’s eyes to the woods, not upon his hunting mate). With Niruin, amongst the trees and breathing the wild air, I felt more alive–more like myself, bosmer, hunter–than I have in years.
Our prey was an elk, and we tracked him for hours, down gulches and across a trickling brook, all within a mile of Riften’s walls. He told me stories of Valenwood, his winery, and he requested that I tell the tale of Mercer’s death.
“From above?” he asked pleasantly at the end of it, as we passed through the trees’ cool shadows. “Like a true hand of the Brotherhood."
In the shade, in the dulled glow of the half-set sun, he could not have been more I must stop thinking like this.
The elk, when we found it, was already dead, prey to a Frostbite Spider that leapt upon us from the dark. My heart nearly stopped; the creature was upon Niruin in an instant, and my frantically-fired arrow nearly struck his arm. But I hit my mark.
"Excellent shot,” he said, grinning at me.
“Are you alright?"
"Fine as ever, Kyreth.” He turned to the elk and sighed, disappointed. "No elk, then. The poison will shrivel it dry before we have a chance at it.“ Niruin turned and knelt by the spider’s twitching corpse instead, cutting a dripping hunk from its abdomen, and offered it to me with a sly grin. "Go on. Tradition, and all that.”
I felt a thousand thoughts fight a battle within me. You don’t observe the Green Pact, I wanted to accuse him. I wanted to feel the slightest guilt at not observing myself. I wanted to laugh.
I wanted to kiss him, and I did.
Niruin dropped the spider meat and stood still, and when I pulled away, he pursed his lips. Guilt–there was guilt in his eyes, not surprise, not anything.
With a sigh, Niruin looked away from me, and he said, “Listen, Kyreth.”
[Here, some more scribbles and unintelligible handwriting mar the page.]
I did not return to the Cistern after the hunt. I’m headed for Whiterun.
Today, by utter accident, I learned about Skyrim’s marriage traditions.
Before departing for Riften, I ducked into one of Winterhold’s few shops, thinking a potion or two might be useful on the journey (I’m not about to find myself in need of rescuing again). The shopkeeper had a small selection of jewelry available that caught my eye.
I thought I’d bring something back for Niruin–to thank him for his… reassurance about the Brotherhood, I suppose. A stupid and boyish idea, I know.
One was a lovely trinket, a pendant of deep silver and blue. As I inspected it, the shopkeeper eyed me. She wore a smirk and her eyes glinted. “For someone special?” she asked.
As I write this, I do believe I am still blushing.
“Special?” I asked. “I… suppose."
"You suppose?” she raised her eyebrows. “You might want to be a bit more certain about your heart’s desire if you’re interested in an Amulet of Mara, hm?”
An Amulet of Mara, goddess of love. Y'ffre, I can be so stupid.
It seemed to dawn on her immediately that I had no idea what an Amulet of Mara signified in Skyrim, even if my first guess was close enough. It is a declaration of love and intent to wed, apparently. My face grew hot, and I put the trinket down.
I settled on another amulet–less lovely, but less laden with… meaning. Mafre seems to like it, at least (he’s sniffed it over and over on the table and keeps barking with approval).
I came quite close to making a humiliating mistake. Though–when I think about it–it’s unlikely that another bosmer like Niruin would even care for the marriage traditions of Nords.
I shuddered to find that word of what happened in Whiterun–the dragon’s attack and the emerge of the “Dragonborn”–had somehow reached Riften. If the completion of my contract wasn’t enough, this was certainly a reason to leave Riften behind me.
My luck might be changing, though. On the road back to Windhelm, I happened upon a spooked horse and her dead rider. He’d an arrow in his back–bandits, I assume. They’d taken his valuables, but they’d left a fine prize in the horse herself. She is a fine steed and has taken kindly to me.
The journey to the Sanctum near Falkreath will certainly be easier by horseback than by foot.
I must conclude that every cave and hiding-hole in Skyrim has been taken over by vampires.
I hadn’t meant to give Vilkas’ sword as much use as its seen (it’s heavy and cumbersome, I much prefer my daggers), but after the Sepulcher, it occurred to me that I’d not slept in at least a day. In the interest of remaining alive and not sleeping exposed in the open, prey to wolves and saber cats, I tried my luck with the first cave I found.
And they smelled me before I could back my way out.
I considered dragging their bodies outside instead of leaving them where I plan to rest for the night (there’s a bed here), but that might attract the wolves and cats I planned to avoid, so here they lay.
I’ve found that hip bone in my bag again. I do not even have the fortitude to be shocked, or to try again to break it. I don’t even remember what I did the last time I tried to get rid of it. Did I try to get rid of it?
Skyrim, I think, is the land in which I am destined to routinely embarrass myself in front of the Nords.
I should’ve stayed in Karliah’s camp a while longer. I waited ‘till sunrise to set out for Winterhold, but it had begun to snow. I decided to think nothing of it, and the blizzard swept in over me dark as a second night. With it came the ice wraiths.
Brutal, terrible things, near-impossible to hit with an arrow. I might’ve made it if I hadn’t wrenched open the wound in my gut trying to outrun them.
If not for two fortunate passerby, I would be dead.
One of them, a black-haired Nord with icy eyes, pulled me roughly out of the snow and looked me up and down. He had another with him–a quiet dunmer who stood at his back. The Nord noticed me clutching my side and unabashedly tugged back the leather of my tunic. At the sight of the bloodied bandages, he snarled at me.
“What in Ysgramor’s name are you doing out here injured like that, elf? Do you want to die?"
I winced. "It’s a long story. Winterhold isn’t far. I thought I could make it."
"Not far, no. But this place is crawling with saber cats, and in a blizzard–”
Behind him, the dunmer crossed his arms. “Vilkas."
The Nord’s lip curled. When he continued, his tone was measured and restrained. "Forgive me. I am Vilkas of the Companions, and this is my Shield-Brother, Athis. It would be our honor to see you safely to Winterhold, if you would have us."
Despite my aching pride, I couldn’t turn down their offer. I cannot help but feel that, if Athis hadn’t been present, Vilkas may have left me to die in the snow–and he wouldn’t have been in the wrong. He shot me glance after glance of vicious disapproval.
When we reached Winterhold (which doesn’t even look like a city so much as a heap of broken wood), I offered them a good amount of septim for their trouble–which they took, and then promptly used to purchase me a room for the night.
And a pint of mead, and a horker roast.
I protested as violently as I could, but Vilkas is not a man who deals in negotiation.
"Don’t mind him,” Athis told me before they departed. “Assisting you was a matter of honor. We’ve simply found enough men frozen to death in the snow to set Vilkas off–people of Skyrim think themselves immune to ice and wind, but then they try the road to Winterhold.”
“Honor,” I snorted. “He would’ve left me there if you hadn’t kept him on a leash.”
Athis smirked and clapped me on the shoulder. “Safe travels, friend."
They were irritating company, but I cannot help but feel indebted to them, and I hate feeling indebted. Pity the Companions’ mead hall of Jorrvaskr is in Whiterun.
When I decided to leave the Brotherhood, I did not expect this.
My sleep at the Dawnstar Sanctuary was restless, interrupted again and again by the Night Mother’s voice invading my mind. Come to me, she said, come to me, Listener, but I resisted. Before the sun rose, I fled.
And Cicero met me at the door. Alive, despite the way I’d left him days ago. Alive, and singing my praise.
Cicero. You poor creature, you poor, maddened man.
He promised to follow me. He promised his life to me, the Listener. He promised his very being to a title I’d resolved to leave as far behind me as I could.
He was once a man of the Brotherhood. A sane man, sharp of mind and blade. The Night Mother drove him to this–this cackling, vicious fiend that stood before me, this poor and trembling fool.
“Listener,” he said sweetly, “Cicero will follow you all the way to Sovngarde. Humble Cicero only lives to serve.”
I killed him. I could not let him live believing that I would return–that I would live as Listener, that I would be the fruit of his endeavors as the Night Mother’s Keeper. As he moved towards the Sanctuary door, I grabbed his hand. I spun him to face me.
It was as though he knew. The jester drew his dagger, but the gesture was not as swift and as practiced as I knew him to be. As soon as his gaze met mine, Cicero let his arm fall, tilted his head back, he gave me his throat.
Perhaps he’d wanted this all along.
The poor, mad, fool, finally put out of his misery as I’d promised. I gripped him in my arms and whispered that I was sorry. That he was a true man of the Brotherhood, than no other blade could best him, that his loyalty was something I could never match–that he should have been the Listener all along. He said nothing.
With his last breath, Cicero laughed in my ear.
Cicero, I cast your body to the sea. Cicero, with your death, I leave the Dark Brotherhood behind me.
I have thought long and hard about other terms with which to describe her, but none have sprung to mind.
The Goldenglow Estate robbery went as well as it could have. I escaped with little more than a handful of bee stings and a few bruises from the mercenaries that’d been guarding their hives (it’s difficult to avoid detection when you’re setting fire to things in the middle of the night). All of this, as I understand, is to Maven Black-Briar’s benefit. Brynjolf sent me to her upon my return from Goldenglow, and I was greeted with a sneer and an upturned lip.
“You’re Brynjolf’s newest, then. Pity… you’re not so impressive.”
I stared at her a moment. Maven Black-Briar doesn’t know the first thing about me, and even then, I’d just succeeded at something others of the Guild had failed at. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” I quipped, bitter.
“Now that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” she bemoaned. “Once again Brynjolf sends me someone with no backbone. No determination. You’re like half-dead fish, the lot of you, and the only thing that sparks a bit of flop in you is the promise of coin in your pockets."
The word comes to mind again: bitch.
Maven Black-Briar gave me a special job. She wants me to return to Whiterun and eliminate her competitor: Sabjorn, the owner of Honningbrew Meadery. I could not help of think of it, at first, as a Brotherhood contract. If it were, it’d be a simple thing: kill Sabjorn and be done with it.
But this is not the Brotherhood. The Thieves Guild is more clever than that. I’m to meet a man named Mallus Maccius and together we are to plot a way to ruin this Sabjorn in name and in business. His life, however, is to be spared.
I smile at the prospect. This may be–I daresay–enjoyable.
To Whiterun, then. Damned if I don’t keep finding myself drawn back to that wretched city by one thing or another.
A shopkeeper in Riverwood wanted a trinket retrieved from Bleak Falls Barrow to the west. I considered this an opportunity to earn a few septims, but a thought occured: certainly there are easier methods to earning coin in Skyrim than risking life and limb traipsing about old ruins that, in name alone, leave the locals shuddering. Certainly.
I made the journey to north Whiterun. The Jarl himself, Balgruuf, seems at least well-intended, and he trusted my word on the dragon in Helgen (I don’t suppose he’d have trusted a strange elf’s word alone, however–news of the attack seems to have beaten me here overnight, and I’ve merely given credence to the rumors).
The Jarl’s mage Farengar has an interest in dragons–more an interest than he has in treating his Jarl’s guests with respect, in all honesty, but I do not have the standing to complain. Perhaps he can sense my desperation. I don’t care. He offered me a job with the promise of reward: retrieve an artifact from an old ruin to the south.
Bleak Falls Barrow.
I suppose I’ll call it destiny and leave it at that.
I suppose it was childish of me to expect a warmer welcome from the Guild upon my return from the Sepulcher, but it appears everyone and everything has returned to cold and quiet normal. For the most part, at least.
Feeling slightly bitter, I had Vilkas’ sword appraised by Delvin. Apparently it’s worth quite a bit, and he attempted very valiantly to sway me into selling it to him, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Annoyed, he instead offered me the job of stealing another of the Companions’ weapons of similar style and make.
“They’ve got that forge all to themselves. Bound to be something lying around free for the taking,” he told me with a scowl. “Something you won’t feel guilty gettin’ your little fingers on ‘cause it’s got someone’s name on it, ey?”
“Fine,” I frowned at him. “I’ll bring you something back from Whiterun next time I pass through the hold.”
It won’t be long. I’ll have to return Vilkas’ sword, I suppose, and the Cistern is already driving me to restlessness.