Selene spent the next few weeks getting to know her Guild brothers and sisters. It was a tight-knit group, but with the sole exception of Vex (and Dirge when he was in a bad mood), they were all friendly and welcoming. She found out very quickly that with a ratio of four women to eleven men, there was quite a bit of competition for the females’ affections. From the first day, she found herself fending off the advances of several Guild members. None of them were really pushy, but they were reluctant to take no for an answer. The only real couple was Vekel and Tonilia, although rumors were rampant that she was sleeping with Brynjolf. Selene got all the gossip from Sapphire, the woman Brynjolf had been with in the Bee and Barb the night they had met; she got support and advice from Rune, who was one of the sweetest, most open people she had ever known and arguably the only gentleman in the bunch; and she found lots to talk about with Vipir, who remembered her from Honorhall.
“After you and Ben ran away, we couldn’t go outside for a month,” he told her.
“I’m sorry about that.”
“I’m not. It was worth it. We were all so glad you got out. Funny you should end up back here.”
“One of the reasons I came back was because I thought about killing Grelod.”
Vipir scoffed. “I don’t think she can be killed. Sovngarde won’t take her, and I’m pretty sure Oblivion is scared of her.”
Selene laughed in response. “I’ve put it at the back of my mind for now anyway. I’m a thief and a fighter, not a murderer.”
“Aye, but killing Grelod wouldn’t be murder. It would be justice.”
Other than her stay at Honorhall, Selene didn’t share much about her past with anyone, even Brynjolf, who was always trying to get her to open up. She wasn’t sure how to tell him she was the Dragonborn, and Stormblade, a key figure in the civil war and slayer of General Tullius himself, and the ex-lover of Ulfric Stormcloak. How did you start a conversation like that?
She did a handful of jobs for Vex and Delvin, picking a few pockets and breaking into some businesses. One such trip took her to Windhelm, and she made a concerted effort to get in and out as quickly as possible, keeping her hood pulled up so no one would recognize her. She asked Vex not to give her jobs in Windhelm anymore, but the Imperial said, “Hey, if you can’t take it, there’s the door.”
She really couldn’t stand Vex.
Laila Law-Giver invited her to lunch one afternoon, and Selene mentioned Wujeeta and the skooma problem to the jarl, who nodded her understanding. “We are aware of Sarthis Idren’s operation, but he must have informants in the city guard. Every time we’ve made a move to arrest him, he’s escaped.”
“I could probably take care of it discretely. Maybe I can surprise him.”
Laila gave her the key to the warehouse, and Selene went there directly in the hope that if anyone had overheard her conversation with Laila, they hadn’t had time to get word to Sarthis. Only the dark elf and one cohort were present in the warehouse, and they were high on skooma. While the substance increased their strength and speed, it impaired their judgment and response time, and Selene barely broke a sweat as she darted in and out of the fray, parrying wild swings from each opponent’s sword and ultimately planting her own in each of their chests. A search of the warehouse revealed a locked room filled with moon sugar and skooma. In a satchel on the desk, she found a note from someone named Kilnyr, informing Sarthis that a new shipment of moon sugar had just arrived from Morrowind and a supply of skooma would be ready by the time Sarthis arrived at Cragslane Cavern. Selene took the note, the skooma, and the moon sugar and reported back to Laila.
“Then waste no time,” said the jarl.
“I don’t know Cragslane Cavern.”
“I’ll have Unmid show you on the map. If you’re successful with this, you’ll be well on your way to a title in The Rift.”
“Titles are great, Laila, but what I really want is Honeyside.”
The jarl chuckled. “Honeyside is yours, Stormblade. See Anuriel to discuss payment arrangements. And you’ll still be on your way to a title.”
Selene spoke to the steward and arranged for the purchase and furnishing of Honeyside. With a wink, Anuriel mentioned the Thieves Guild stash in the back yard. From there, Anuriel took her to Unmid, Laila’s housecarl, who showed her the location of Cragslane Cavern. She studied the map and worked up a travel plan, then decided she should have a shield-brother on such a mission. She made her way to the plaza, where Brynjolf stood in his stall, looking bored.
“How’s business?” she asked as she walked up to him.
“Slow,” he lamented. “I need to come up with something new.”
“What, ‘make love like a saber cat’ isn’t working anymore?”
“People always want bigger, better. You know that.”
“How about ‘make love like a mammoth’?”
Brynjolf laughed. “Well, it’s bigger, anyway. Actually, with as much coin as you’re bringing in for the Guild, I’m tempted to abandon the stall altogether. It’d be nice to get out and get my hands dirty again.”
“I have a little job to do for the jarl. I’m afraid it’s legitimate so it’s not exactly Guild-worthy, but it’ll give you a change of scenery. Wanna come along?”
“What would we be doing?”
“Remember the skooma operation I mentioned before? I found out where it’s coming from, and Laila wants me to clear the place out.”
“It’s disconcerting, hearing you call the jarl by her first name.”
“Better a friend than an enemy, don’t you think?”
“But she has to know you’re in the Guild. I mean, you’re wearing the armor.”
Selene leaned closer and lowered her voice. “I don’t think she even knows it’s Guild armor. I really like Laila, but she’s rather clueless. She has no idea what goes on in this city. Her steward and housecarl keep her in the dark, and I think she likes it that way.”
“Anuriel and Unmid are in the Guild’s pocket.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Really? Well, that explains a lot. So. You coming with me?”
“It shouldn’t be a problem, but I’ll have to talk to Mercer. How long will we be gone?”
“I figure we can leave tomorrow morning, and we’ll be gone three nights. The hideout is in the southern part of Eastmarch.”
“I don’t know, lass. What makes you think you can trust me with your virtue?”
“I’m heavily armed. Hey, guess what: I got my house.”
His eyes lit up. “You got Honeyside? Congratulations.”
“I’m on my way over now to have a look around. Why don’t you close up shop and go with me?”
“I’d love to, but if I’m going to Eastmarch with you, I’ll need to get back to the cistern and prepare. You’ll want to check in with Mercer as well, just to let him know what you’re doing. You know how he is; he likes to keep tabs on his people.”
* * *
Selene didn’t bother talking to Mercer until the next morning when she met Brynjolf in the cistern, and he wasn’t happy. He didn’t want to let either of them go, but after a lengthy discussion in which Selene made it clear that she was going whether Brynjolf went or not, he relented. He held Brynjolf back when Selene walked away, but she managed to hear what he said.
“I’m letting you go because I trust you,” Mercer told Brynjolf under his breath. “But something about that girl bothers me, and I want you to keep an eye on her.”
“You don’t think she’s working against the Guild, do you?”
“I don’t know, but something doesn’t add up. She’s too good. And now she’s doing jobs for the jarl? What kind of thief does that? Just watch yourself, and watch her.”
Selene shouldered her gear and waited for Brynjolf near the ladder to the cemetery, then started up when he approached. They didn’t talk much as they walked through the streets of Riften, but once they were outside the gates and heading up the north road, she said, “So he doesn’t trust me, eh?”
“His voice carries. Either that or he wanted me to hear.”
“Well, don’t worry, lass. I trust you.”
“You sure that’s a good idea?” she teased.
“I’m heavily armed, too.”
The weather was clear and they made good time the first day, only stopping once to take care of some bandits who accosted them near Fort Greenwall a few miles north of Riften. Selene was encouraged watching Brynjolf fight. He was no Companion, but he could hold his own. Brynjolf, however, was utterly impressed with her abilities.
“Where did you learn to fight like that?” he asked when they were back on the road.
“Oh, here and there,” she replied vaguely.
“Ugh, lass, you’re killing me! Being mysterious is cute and all, but by the Eight, give me something, here.”
“Aw, Brynjolf, do you think I’m cute?”
“You’re adorable. Insufferable, but adorable.”
“Oh, all right. I’ll give you one if you give me one.”
“Deal. What do you want to know?”
“What’s really going on between you and Tonilia?”
“So both of you keep saying, but nobody believes it. Come on, level with me. I’ll keep it to myself. You said you trusted me.”
He regarded her for a moment and then said, “I slept with Tonilia a few times about five years ago, but nothing is going on now. She started the rumor herself to make Vekel jealous.”
“It’s tearing poor Vekel up; you know that.”
“Knowing Tonilia, I’d bet she’ll tell him eventually. It’s cold, I know, but that’s her way.”
“So are there any women in the Guild you haven’t slept with?”
“Besides me, fool.”
“That’s another question, and it’s your turn.”
“Okay. I’m a Companion.”
He furrowed his brow and grunted, almost as if he were disappointed. “Now, see, was that so hard?”
“You mean that’s all you want?”
“Are you kidding? I want details.”
“There really aren’t many details. The Companions are based in Whiterun, and we’re an order of warriors with history dating all the way back to Ysgramor. I joined them the day after the dragon attacked Helgen a couple of years ago, and I’m a member of the Inner Circle. Not much else to tell.”
“Two, actually, but for different reasons.”
“Is that why you left?”
Selene shook her head. “No, we parted friends. It was just time for me to leave. I’m still a Companion, though. If they needed me, I’d go. I just don’t live with them anymore.” A howl arose in the distance, that dreaded howl that filled her with both terror and exhilaration. She could smell it; it was near the road and too close to avoid. This was a really bad time for a dragon. “Brynjolf, I think you’re about to find out more about me than you wanted to know.”
“What do you mean?”
The dragon howled again, closer now. “How do you feel about fighting a dragon?”
Brynjolf’s eyes widened as the wyrm appeared over the next hill, swooping and diving, breathing frost over some unseen victim. “Sweet mother of Akatosh,” he whispered.
“If I told you to wait here, would you do it?”
He hesitated for a moment, considering. Selene could smell his fear; he was terrified. But he shook his head. “I’m with you.”
“Bryn, you don’t have to prove anything to me.”
Selene nodded and continued down the road. As they topped the hill, she ducked behind a bush and nocked an arrow. Brynjolf followed and drew his sword. The dragon hadn’t seen them yet; it was hovering, focusing its efforts on a wolf, and she was close enough for a good shot. She would only get one, though, before the dragon noticed and attacked them. Brynjolf was a thief, not a warrior, and though he had done well at Fort Greenwall, a handful of bandits didn’t compare to battling a monster. He was smart, hopefully smart enough not to get himself killed. She would just have to keep an eye on him and do all she could to protect him.
“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid, all right? We’ll keep our distance if we can, and I’ll shoot it with the bow. If we have to go in and fight, stay near its rear or under its wing, anywhere it can’t get you with its teeth, because it will eat you.”
“Aye, away from the teeth. Got it.”
Selene stood up, aimed, and shot the dragon, managing to get it in the throat. It screamed and abandoned the wolf, flying at them and sending a blast of frost over them. She prepared another arrow, hoping the dragon would stay in the air. If it wasn’t on the ground, she could worry less about Brynjolf getting bitten in half. She sent the fire-enchanted arrow into its chest as it came back for another pass. With that, it shrieked and crashed, tumbling end over end until it came to a stop a hundred yards down the road. She drew another arrow and walked cautiously toward it, Brynjolf at her side, and the dragon lumbered toward her, snarling and snapping.
“Around that way,” Selene directed Brynjolf, nodding her head to the left, and he moved around the dragon, giving it a wide berth. He was still scared, but he didn’t falter when the dragon’s gaze followed him. Selene took the opportunity provided by the momentary distraction and shot again, catching it in the throat once more.
“Curse you, Dovahkiin,” the dragon groaned as its head flopped to the ground.
Brynjolf came back around the dragon and stood at her side. “I don’t know whether to be relieved or—”
He stopped midsentence as the dragon started to burn and watched with awe as the flames engulfed Selene and she absorbed its soul. It was a male, and his name was Norokiizkendov. He cursed her even as his presence faded, refusing to give in even to the last second. She looked up at Brynjolf and said, “Or disappointed?” finishing his sentence.
“Aye. Part of me wanted to fight it. I must be out of my mind, but I think it would be a great story.”
“Well, next time I’ll make sure you get to help.”
“So that day in the plaza when you said the person I was robbing might be the Dragonborn, you weren’t kidding.”
He stared at her for a moment, and she waited for the questions to start. They always asked them. What does it feel like to absorb a soul? Can you feel all those souls in your head? Are you part dragon? Or they just looked at her like she was a god. But he didn’t do either. He just doubled over and broke into laughter, chortling so hard he dropped to his knees and then all the way to the ground and lay on his back, tears flowing down his cheeks.
“What is so gods-damned funny?”
He finally stopped laughing and sat up, took her hand and pulled her to the ground next to him. “Delvin, Vekel, and I had a bet.”
“What sort of bet?”
“I told them what you said that day in the marketplace, and we wagered on what was true. Del believed you were in the Dark Brotherhood, and Vekel said you were a mercenary. I picked Dragonborn.” He started to laugh again, but he stopped suddenly. “You’re not in the Dark Brotherhood, are you? Because that would nullify the bet altogether.”
“No, I’m not in the Dark Brotherhood. But the rest of it was true. You and Vekel will get to split Delvin’s coin.”
“You’re not mad?”
“No, I think it’s hilarious. How much did you bet?”
“A hundred Septims apiece. Wait, the rest of it? You’re a spy for Ulfric Stormcloak, too?”
“I’ve had a busy couple of years. You know, this was not the way I wanted all this to come out.”
“So that’s everything, then?”
She gave him a coy smile. “Not everything. Girl’s gotta keep some secrets, no? But do you still trust me?”
He studied her carefully, searching her face for something she couldn’t comprehend, but he finally said, “Mercer sees something in you, and he fears it. I’ve never seen him afraid before. It does put me on edge, but I don’t see what he does. You’re an enigma; that much is certain. But I do feel I can trust you, and in our line of work, that’s saying something.”
“Well, now that we have that out of the way.” Selene pushed herself up and went over to the dragon, where she retrieved a bone and a scale. Brynjolf stood back and watched as she walked through the skeleton looking for treasure, of which there was very little, only a few Septims, which she pocketed.
The sun was beginning to sink behind the mountain, so they decided to make camp. Brynjolf laid out bedrolls and built a fire just off the road while Selene took her bow and tracked down a rabbit for dinner. As Masser rose above them, they sat by the fire, eating rabbit, cheese and bread; sharing a bottle of mead; and talking, mostly about the skooma operation. Brynjolf hadn’t asked much about it, and he was curious.
“Sarthis Idren, eh?” he mused. “I always knew there was something shifty about him. And I know shifty. He tried to join the Guild once, but Mercer wouldn’t let him in. Said he didn’t trust him.”
“Wow, if he doesn’t trust me and he let me in, that doesn’t say much for Sarthis, does it?” She took a sip of mead and handed him the bottle. “You owe me one; you know that, right?”
“I said I’d tell you something about myself if you told me something about yourself.”
“Ah, but you didn’t exactly tell me you were Dragonborn. It kind of came up all by itself.”
“And then I told you I worked for Ulfric Stormcloak.”
“No, I haven’t slept with every woman in the Guild. I think Vex is a lesbian.”
Selene chuckled. “But that wasn’t what I was going to ask.”
“All right. What do you want to know?”
“Where did you get that accent?”
He finished the mead and reached into his knapsack for another bottle, which he opened and handed to Selene. “It’s an affectation.”
“Are you serious?”
“When I was in my teens, Mercer had a visitor from another land. To this day, I’ve no idea where he was from. But I liked the way he talked, and more importantly, so did the lasses. So I tried it out. After a while, it became habit.”
Selene laughed. “Brynjolf, you’re so full of shit.”
He stretched and groaned, then took the bottle from Selene and drank.
“I’ll take the first watch,” she offered. “Get some rest and I’ll wake you later.”
“I can take first watch if you’re tired.”
She shook her head. “I told you I don’t sleep much. I’ll be fine.”
“All right, then.” He took another drink of mead and handed her the bottle before crawling into his bedroll.
“Thanks for not looking at me like I was a freak when you found out I was Dragonborn.”
“We’re all freaks, lass.”
“Aye, but it seems like I’m more of a freak than most.”
Brynjolf chuckled. “You’d be surprised. Goodnight, love.”
He closed his eyes, and it wasn’t long before his breathing became regular. Selene watched him sleep. He was gorgeous, lying there so peacefully with the firelight setting his auburn tresses aglow. Had they been in a more sheltered location, she would have been tempted to climb into the bedroll with him—gods, she was tempted anyway. On some level she realized that was why she had asked him to come with her in the first place. But she knew better than to rush things with him.
The men in her life always disappointed her. Vilkas had struck her, and although she had forgiven him, sometimes she could still feel the sting of his hand as it hit her cheek and the ache in her heart at his betrayal. Ulfric’s racism had come between them when he had refused to help her friend Athis, a dark elf. Ben had gotten himself killed and left her to fend for herself, totally alone for years. Really, the only man who had never disappointed her was Farkas, and Selene believed it was because neither of them had any illusions going into the relationship.
Thus, she would proceed with caution and make sure there were no illusions where Brynjolf was concerned. He was different from the others. He was a rogue and made no apologies for being one of the bad guys; but there was still good in him, honor and integrity that he probably didn’t even know he had. She had never smelled a lie on him, even the night he had picked her pocket. But more than that, Selene felt a connection with him, an instant bond that was unlike anything she had ever experienced, even with the pack. There was the potential for something real with Brynjolf. As she watched him roll over in his sleep and mumble something as he got caught up in a dream, she knew that if for some reason that connection was cruelly broken, it might just break her for good.