A/N: Sexual situations – not safe for work.
Karliah was sitting on one of the bunks that lined the perimeter of the cistern, writing in a journal. She put the journal away and stood to meet Selene and Brynjolf when they approached. “Brynjolf,” she began, “since we have no Guild Master, you should be the one to decide Mercer’s fate.”
“There’s no question. He tried to kill both of you, he murdered Gallus, and he took everything from the Guild. He needs to die.”
“We will need to ready ourselves and meet him on equal footing. Are you prepared to do what it takes to ensure that happens?”
“Of course,” said Selene.
“Just outside Riften, beyond the South Gate, is a small path cut into the hillside that leads up to an old standing stone. At the bottom of that path is a cave. Get some rest, then me after sunset and I’ll tell you my plan.”
* * *
They were barely inside the door at Honeyside before they were grabbing on to onto one another, kissing, kicking off their boots, and working at the buckles of each other’s armor. When both jackets and undershirts were on the floor, Brynjolf kicked a chair out of the way and lifted Selene up to sit her on the kitchen table, and she brushed a plate and a couple of mugs onto the floor to make room. She threw her arms and legs around him and pressed herself against the solid muscles of his chest, drinking in the taste of his lips and tongue, moaning softly as he squeezed her breast and ran his thumb over her nipple. His hardness pressed against her, and she undid the laces of his trousers, and slipped her hand inside.
“Sweet Dibella,” he gasped as she stroked his length. She kissed his neck and breathed in his rich, heady scent, the smell of his desire alone almost enough to make her climax. He reached for the laces of her pants and untied them, and she propped up on her hands as he pulled them down over her hips, discarded them behind him, and wriggled out of his own.
Their need was too great to bother with teasing, or even moving to the bed. One moment Brynjolf was tugging at Selene’s trousers, and the next he was inside her, telling her how good she felt. But it was an awkward position on the edge of the kitchen table, and she needed to adjust. “Wait a second.”
He reluctantly pulled out of her and she slipped off the table. Once both feet were on the floor, she turned around and bent over. “You have the most beautiful arse,” he murmured as he played his hands over the curves of her bottom and then slid into her from behind. “Is that better?”
“Aye. Oh, gods!” she wailed as he slammed forcefully into her, holding so tightly to the edge of the table that she was surprised it didn’t buckle. It felt as though each stroke would push her through the solid oak. She rocked back to meet his thrusts, every nerve in her body singing as their bodies met. The tension built to almost painful heights before it exploded within her and she screamed, and it was only a moment before he cried out as well.
Spent and breathless, he slowed and then withdrew. Selene rested her head on the table for a moment, her heart thudding in her ears, until her breathing slowed to near normal. She stood up and leaned back against him; and he wrapped his arms around her and kissed her neck, then gathered her up in his arms and carried her to the bed, where he unceremoniously dropped her on the covers with a wicked laugh.
Selene giggled as she burrowed into the soft bedding. “The man lugs me around like a sack of potatoes!”
He lay down next to her and pulled her close. “Well, so much for not letting anyone know you’re here,” he teased. “I’m pretty sure they heard us all the way across town.”
Brynjolf chuckled. “Are you apologizing because you scream when we make love?”
“Aye, I am.”
“Well, don’t. It’s the loveliest sound I’ve ever heard.” He leaned in and tenderly brushed his lips across hers.
She rested her head on his chest and closed her eyes, and she found she couldn’t open them again. The weight of her arms and legs was suddenly too much to lift. “I’m tired,” she mumbled.
“Then get some sleep, love.”
“Don’t think I’m gonna have much choice…”
* * *
Selene awoke to the smell of food cooking. She reached for Brynjolf, but he wasn’t in bed, so she opened one eye to see him standing at the fire, serving up a bowl of stew.
“You cooked,” she observed as she sat up.
“Aye, but then you went to sleep, so I had to find something else to do. Come have some supper. I had to actually cook the meat to put in the stew; I hope you don’t mind.”
“Oh, I suppose it’s okay.” She crawled out of bed and reached into her wardrobe for a dress, which she threw on before digging a pair of socks out of a drawer and donning them. She took a sip from a tankard of warm mead he had left for her and sniffed at the stew as she sat down at the table. “This smells fantastic,” she said as she took her first bite. “Mmm, it tastes fantastic.”
“I don’t know what Marise Aravel does to spice her beef, but it makes an excellent stew.” He kissed the top of her head and sat down across from her.
“It’s probably something we don’t want to know about. Did you know she uses ice wraith teeth to preserve her foods?”
“Makes sense, I guess.” He took a bite of stew and washed it down with swallow of mead, and then said, “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Nothing like that. Karliah and I had a long conversation while you were at Mercer’s place, and I want to make you an offer. If not for your efforts, we might never have caught on to Mercer. After we deal with him and Maven, all that remains is restoring the guild to its full strength, something I have no doubt you’ll be instrumental in helping along. As a result of that, Karliah and I both feel that you might be a good replacement for Mercer.”
“What? Me? Bryn, you should replace him; everybody knows that.”
“I’ve been at this a long time, my love, and I’m good at what I do, maybe even one of the best. But it’s all I know. I’m not a leader.”
“You are, but I understand how you feel. Why are people always trying to get me to run things? They tried to make me Harbinger of the Companions, too.”
“And you said no because you were younger and didn’t know what you wanted to do with your life, no? You didn’t plan on making Whiterun your permanent home.”
“No, I—well, I guess.”
“But what about now?”
She leaned across the table and kissed him. “I just might stay here forever.”
“Then the Guild is yours. I’ll help you; you know that. I make a great lieutenant.”
“Bryn, I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, we still have errands to run before your coronation, so don’t get sentimental on me yet.”
“I was already sentimental.”
* * *
Still resolved to keep Selene’s presence a secret from Maven if at all possible, they left Honeyside through the balcony entrance and walked around the outside of the city, staying close to the wall and out of sight. They met Karliah at the foot of the hill leading up to the standing stone, and she led them to a cave with a wooden door at the entrance.
“What is this place?” Selene asked her.
“This is the headquarters of the Nightingales. Only here can we get the edge we need to defeat Mercer Frey.”
“What kind of an edge?”
“If you’ll follow me, I’ll explain on the way.”
She opened the door and stepped inside, and Selene looked helplessly at Brynjolf, who shrugged and followed Karliah into the cave.
“So this is Nightingale Hall, eh?” Brynjolf said as he shut the door behind him. “I heard about it when I joined the Guild, but I always thought the Nightingales were a myth.”
“That story was perpetuated on purpose. It helped divert attention from our true nature.”
“What is your true nature?” Selene asked.
“Gallus, Mercer, and I were what was known as the Nightingale Trinity. The Nightingales are part of the Guild indirectly, as members are usually selected from within, but our true purpose is a closely guarded secret. We serve Nocturnal directly and protect the Twilight Sepulcher.”
Karliah led them to a large, empty room that had once boasted elaborate stonework, but years of disuse had turned it into little more than a ruin. A footbridge crossed a stream and led up to a living area containing a bed, table and chairs, and a few of Karliah’s personal possessions. It looked like Karliah had been staying there quite a while. “This is Nightingale Hall,” she announced. “You’re the first of the uninitiated to set foot here in over a century. It doesn’t look like much now, but with your help I intend to restore it to its former glory. Now, if you’ll both proceed to the armory to don your Nightingale armor, we can begin.”
She led them through a narrow doorway to a room that was empty except for a platform holding three small, stone pillars. Each pillar bore a symbol depicting a stylized nightingale with its wings surrounding a black circle. “Place your hand on one of the stones,” she instructed them.
Selene touched the stone in the center, and a drawer popped out from what appeared to be solid rock.
“What the—” Brynjolf exclaimed, evidently as surprised as she was when the stone he touched did the same.
In the drawer was a set of armor. Selene pulled the cuirass out and examined it. It was made of layered leather and had an unusual shimmer to it. Where most enchanted armor glowed with some sort of light, this armor seemed to absorb the light. The pants, gloves, boots, cowl, and cape all had the same anti-glow as the cuirass. They were soft, and Selene didn’t see them offering much protection, but when she put them on, the leather hardened. It was still supple enough for easy movement but strong enough to safeguard against all but the most vicious attacks. She had seen magical armor before, but this was like nothing she had ever come across. It fit perfectly, as though it was made especially for her. Looking over at Brynjolf, she saw that his armor fit as well, accentuating his muscles nicely.
“You look incredibly hot in that armor.”
“So do you, lass.” Brynjolf slipped the cowl over his head, and his eyes became tiny points of light. He was also hard to see. Although he was standing right in front of her, it was if her eyes didn’t want to see him. The more she looked at him, though, the more she was able to sense him, feel him, almost as if she were physically touching him. He turned to Karliah and froze for a moment, as though he was trying to find her. “All right, Karliah,” he said after a moment, “we’ve got these getups on. Now what?”
She motioned for them to follow, and she led them down a long hallway to another room, the entrance to which was blocked by a gate. “Beyond this gate is the first step in becoming a Nightingale.”
“Whoa, there, lass! I appreciate the armor, but becoming a Nightingale was never discussed. I’m no priest, and I’m certainly not religious. Why pick me, anyway?”
“Serving Nocturnal isn’t about religion, Brynjolf. It’s business. To hold any hope of defeating Mercer, we must have Nocturnal at our backs. If she’s to accept you as one of her own, an arrangement must be struck.”
“There’s always a catch. What are the terms?”
“Nocturnal will allow you to become a Nightingale and use your abilities for whatever you wish. As the Nightingale Trinity, we will also have a cognitive connection. Although the armor makes us harder for others to see, we will be able to sense each other, either up close or from great distances, and even if we’re invisible.”
“This comes in handy if one of is us lost or captured. In return, in both life and death, you must serve as a guardian of the Twilight Sepulcher.”
“For how long? Forever?”
“Until Nocturnal determines that the debt has been paid.”
Brynjolf stood silent for a moment, glanced over at Selene, and then looked back at Karliah with a heavy sigh. “Very well. If it means an end to Mercer Frey, you can count me in.”
“What about you, Selene? Are you ready to transact the oath?”
“Aye, I’m ready.”
“Good. After I open the gate, each of you will please stand on one of the vacant circles.”
They entered a chamber containing a shallow pool. An island in the center bore the Nightingale symbol and three footbridges leading to smaller islands. Karliah walked across the center bridge. Brynjolf took Selene’s hand. “This is enough to make your head spin, eh, lass?”
“Aye, but I don’t see a choice, do you?”
“None.” He squeezed her hand and took the footbridge on their right, and Selene went across the one on the left. The platform was also carved with the Nightingale symbol.
When they were all in place, Karliah lifted her arms and said, “I call upon you, Lady Nocturnal, Queen of Murk and Empress of Shadows. Hear my voice!”
A soft hum filled the room, and a nimbus of blue light appeared above the large island in the center. It pulsed and oscillated, and while it had no real shape, Selene got the impression that it was facing Karliah.
“Ah, Karliah,” a disembodied voice drawled. “Lose something, did we?”
The elf dropped to her knees. “My lady, I’ve come to throw myself upon your mercy and accept responsibility for my failure.”
“And you expect forgiveness with nothing in return? You know it doesn’t work that way. You’re already mine. What else could you possibly offer me?”
“I have two others who wish to transact the oath.”
The cloud shimmered, and Selene felt eyes on her. “That one belongs to Hircine,” she accused.
Brynjolf’s head turned sharply toward Selene, and she could just imagine his eyes widening. Oh, she was in trouble. How could she have been so stupid? She didn’t have time to worry about an explanation now, though. “Technically, I belong to Kynareth and Akatosh, milady.”
“Yes, you do divide your loyalties, don’t you? Well, it’s time to choose, little one.”
Hircine and Kynareth’s words came back in a rush. They had said someone would try to force a choice, and now was the time. “I was told concessions were to be made for the Dragonborn.”
Nocturnal laughed softly. “Dragonborn. Do you think you can defeat Alduin?”
“I don’t know, milady. I’m not even sure who Alduin is at this point, but it’s been implied that I’m the only one who can and that more was at stake than I understand yet.”
“You were told true. Concessions must be made because defeating Alduin will serve us all. But know this: if you transact the oath today, you will serve me directly, whether it be in your time or mine.”
The nimbus turned back to the elf. “You surprise me, Karliah. You knew nothing of that one’s loyalties, so your terms were heavily weighted in my favor. What do you get out of this, aside from my forgiveness?”
“I get Mercer’s demise, Your Grace.”
“Revenge, eh? How interesting. And you, Brynjolf?”
“I seek the same, milady.”
“And you, Selene? Do you seek to avenge your Lady Nocturnal and your Guild?”
“The conditions are acceptable. You may proceed.”
Karliah stood up. “Lady Nocturnal, we accept your terms and dedicate ourselves to you as both your avengers and your sentinels. We will honor our agreement in this life and the next until your conditions have been met.”
“Very well. I name your initiated ‘Nightingale,’ and I restore your status to the same, Karliah. In the future, I would suggest you refrain from disappointing me.” Nocturnal disappeared, and the three Nightingales met on the center island and removed their cowls.
“Karliah, will you excuse us for a moment?” Brynjolf asked, never taking his eyes from Selene.
He took hold of her arm and practically dragged her through the gate and into the corridor.
Selene looked sheepishly at him. “I guess I owe you an explanation, huh?”
Brynjolf glared at her, anger permeating his scent. “Perhaps just a small one. I know what it means to be bound to Hircine. When were you planning to tell me you were a werewolf?”
“I swear by all the Divines, love, I wasn’t keeping it from you intentionally. It’s been part of me for so long, I honestly didn’t think about it, especially with all that’s been going on. I’m so sorry.”
“Selene, that’s not something you just forget!” he shouted. “I suppose it makes sense, though. You eat your meat practically raw, and you’re always sniffing me and talking about my scent. And you growl in your sleep. You’d think I’d have picked up on it, right? So is there anything else you’ve conveniently forgotten to mention? Any other daedric princes or Divines that are gonna come knocking at your door?”
“Sometimes they talk to me in my sleep.”
“Lovely. What do they say?”
“Lately, they’ve been telling me it was necessary to allow me to divide my loyalties because I was the Dragonborn. Kynareth has talked to me before, though, just to help guide me on my path.”
He laughed bitterly and ran a hand through his hair. “Anything else?”
“No, there’s nothing else,” she muttered. “Do you hate me now?”
“No, I don’t hate you. I just…we need to get back in there and deal with Mercer.”
He raised a hand to stop her. “Don’t. Not now.” He turned and walked back to Karliah, who was still standing on the island, looking uncomfortable. “Sorry, lass.”
Karliah nodded. “Now that you’ve transacted the oath, it’s time to reveal Mercer’s true crime.”
“There’s more?” Selene asked incredulously.
“Oh, yes. Mercer was able to get into the vault without two keys because of what he stole from the Twilight Sepulcher: the Skeleton Key.”
“I take it the key opens any lock.”
“Well…yes, but there’s much more. The key isn’t restricted to physical barriers; it can also tap into unknown abilities, great powers that are sealed within our minds. Once you understand how the key can access these traits, the potential becomes limitless. Imagine being able to fly, to literally walk through walls, to control the minds and actions of others. Mercer probably just walked right through the cistern with the contents of the vault and made anyone present forget they had seen him.”
“By the Nine,” Selene muttered.
“Nobody should be able to wield that kind of power,” said Brynjolf.
Relief flooded Karliah’s scent. “I’m glad you feel that way, because this is about more than just Mercer’s lust for power. The Skeleton Key holds open the Ebonmere, which is the gateway between Nirn and Nocturnal’s realm in Oblivion. By taking the key, Mercer compromised our ties to her and caused our luck to run dry. I know you don’t believe in luck, Selene, but it does exist. Our uncanny luck defines our trade. If the key is not returned, the Guild’s luck will finally run out altogether.”
“It’s the first time I’ve ever set out to return something,” he mused.
“Heh, old Delvin was right when he said we were cursed.”
“In a manner of speaking, yes, we are.”
“I’ve looked over Mercer’s plans, and I think our next move is Irkngthand. From his notes, it does appear that he believes the Eyes of the Falmer are there.”
“Do either of you have any preparations to make before we leave?” Karliah asked.
Selene shrugged. “Only minor ones. We can leave at first light if you’re amenable.”
“That’s fine with me. I’ll come to your house first thing in the morning, and we can set out from there.” Karliah started back down the corridor toward the residence.
“Are you coming with me?” Selene asked Brynjolf almost timidly.
“I have some thinking to do, so I’m going back to the cistern. I’ll see you in the morning.” He turned and walked out of the room, leaving her standing on the island feeling more alone than ever.
Selene left Nightingale Hall and went south into the woods. She found a safe place to put her armor, then undressed and shifted. A howl broke from her throat, and she ran through the woods as fast as she could. She hunted, she swam in the river, and she gazed up at the moons as they rose above the Jeralls, believing this might be the last time she saw them in beast form. Brynjolf would surely want her to make a choice—either him or her inner beast. Concessions might need to be made for the Dragonborn, but Bryn shouldn’t have to make them. If he asked her, she would choose to take the cure, to become human again for the man she loved.
That was, if she didn’t lose him altogether. Werewolves were widely hated and feared; she had no reason to believe Brynjolf would think she was anything less than a monster. And even if he didn’t, the fact remained: she had deceived him. She had always been so cynical, believing the worst in people, and she didn’t trust easily. She had looked out for herself and didn’t care what anybody thought. But in the last couple of years, her hard edge had started to wear off and she was more open, more considerate of others’ feelings and opinions. And she had left herself vulnerable. Brynjolf didn’t trust easily, either, and even though she hadn’t intended to keep her nature from him, he would see her deception as a betrayal, and he wouldn’t easily forgive her for it. She looked up at the moons and let out a mournful wail, thinking she probably wouldn’t forgive herself, either.