Selene arrived at the Frozen Hearth in Winterhold just after midnight and asked the innkeeper if he knew where she could find Enthir.
“You’re in luck,” he said. “He just walked in.”
Selene turned to see an amiable-looking Bosmer just closing the front door. His bronze skin was accented by golden eyes and orange hair cut in a long strip down the middle of his head. He had a mischievous look in his eye as he waved at one of the other patrons. When she walked up to him, he raised an eyebrow.
“We don’t get many Guild members in Winterhold,” he said, noting her armor.
“Enthir, I’m Selene. Karliah sent me.”
His eyes widened, and he said, “Did she find the journal?”
“Aye, but there’s a problem.”
“Come with me.” He led her to a corner table and sat down across from her. She handed him the journal, and he paged through, chuckling. “This is so like him, always too smart for his own good.”
“Do you recognize the language?
“Yes, it’s Falmer.”
“The Falmer have a language?” she asked incredulously.
“This is ancient Falmer, mind you. The snow elves of old. Their modern descendants aren’t as feral as you might think; they’re cunning in ways you can’t imagine. However, I’d be surprised to find them sitting down and composing a tome.”
“Why in Nirn would Gallus write the text in Falmer?”
“Besides the fact that there are only a handful of people in Tamriel who even recognize it? He mentioned a heist he was planning that involved a deep understanding of the language.”
“Can you translate the journal?”
“No, but I know someone who might. The court wizard in Markarth has done extensive research on the Falmer. I sent Gallus to him when he asked about the language. He may have the materials you need to translate the text.”
“Do you mean Calcelmo? I know him.”
“Then you know how fiercely he guards his research. Getting the information won’t be easy.”
“I have an idea how to get what I want from him. He once tracked me down halfway across Skyrim because he heard I’d come across a piece of dwarven armor. I may have something I can trade for information.”
“Good luck, Selene. If you bring me the materials, I’ll translate the journal for you.”
* * *
Selene rented a room and slept for a few hours before preparing to hit the road. Using the coin Karliah had given her, she bought food from the innkeeper and supplies from the general store before heading south. Growing up, Selene had occasionally heard the joke, “Can’t get there from here.” If it applied anywhere in Skyrim, it was between Winterhold and Markarth. There was nothing remotely resembling a direct route. She was going to be on her own for days with nothing to do but think about Brynjolf and the lies Mercer was surely filling his head with. She did her best to clear her mind and think about nothing but the journey. One foot in front of the other, mile after mile, just get there. “Eyes on the prey, not the horizon,” Farkas would say. For now, the prey was an enchanted dwarven dagger in Whiterun. One foot in front of the other, mile after mile, just get there. Just get there. When the mantra threatened to collapse, she tried to drop into a shallow meditative state, but it had been so long since she had even attempted to meditate, her happy place eluded her.
“Kynareth, help me get through this,” Selene whispered as she slogged through the snow, her shoulder and side aching. When she reached the road through The Pale, she decided to head west and hire the carriage in Windhelm. It was half a day out of the way, but the speed of the horse would make up the time. As she rode, she lay on the bench and closed her eyes, and she finally did slip into her meditative state, making the trip more bearable.
When she finally arrived in Whiterun, she stepped into Breezehome and into the arms of Lydia, who held her so tightly it hurt.
“Thank the Divines, you’re alive!” she cried, fresh tears streaming down already-wet cheeks.
Lydia pulled back and placed her hands on Selene’s shoulders. “We need to get to Jorrvaskr. Quickly.” She grabbed Selene’s hand and pulled her out of the house and down the street.
“Why are we going to Jorrvaskr?”
“Gotta stop the twins.”
“From doing what?”
“From going to Riften.”
By the time they reached the steps to Jorrvaskr, Lydia was running. She darted up the stairs and threw one of the double doors open, running headlong into Vilkas.
“Whoa, what’s the—Selene?”
Farkas, who was standing next to his brother, gasped and then picked her up and swung her around, hugging her fiercely.
“Farkas, this hurts, love. I’m injured.”
He set her down on the floor and looked at her critically. “What in Oblivion happened?”
“We got a letter from Brynjolf this morning,” said Vilkas. “It said you were dead. He was somewhat cryptic as to the details.”
“We were just leaving for Riften to find out what was going on,” Farkas continued.
“Come sit,” Selene told them. She took Farkas’s hand and led him, Vilkas, and Lydia down the stairs into the mead hall, where she told them what had happened.
Vilkas’s eyes narrowed more with every word she said. “I’ll kill the son of a bitch,” he growled.
“And deny me the privilege? Uh-uh.”
“What’s your plan, and what can we do to help?”
“Until I have proof against Mercer Frey, I can’t even think of going back to Riften. I’ve got Gallus’s journal, and it probably incriminates Mercer, but it’s written in Falmer. I’m on my way to Markarth to get help translating it. I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help.”
“I can go to Markarth with you,” Farkas offered.
“No, this is something I have to do myself. I’ll need to negotiate with the mage who has translation materials, and failing that, I’ll have to use my stealth. I don’t see a lot of opportunity to fight.”
“I can go to Markarth with you,” he repeated more forcefully. “A lot could happen between here and there. You need a shield-brother.”
“He’s right, you know,” said Lydia.
“All right, fine, but when I go to see Calcelmo, you stay at the inn.”
“I’ll send word to Brynjolf,” Vilkas said.
“No!” Selene replied quickly. “I don’t know what Mercer has told him and how he reacted. It’s better if he thinks I’m dead at this point.”
“But he deserves to know you’re alive,” Lydia implored her.
“And he will, but I need proof first. Lydia, at the very least, Mercer has told him I betrayed the Guild and he had to kill me. Gods know what else he made up. If Brynjolf doesn’t hate me now, he most certainly will if he finds out I’m alive and I came here instead of going back to him.”
“Understood,” said Vilkas.
Selene and Farkas didn’t dally. Having been on the way out the door already, he was ready to go, so he stopped in the Bannered Mare to say goodbye to Saadia while Selene went to Breezehome to refresh her supplies and get the dwarven trinket for Calcelmo, and then they left for Markarth. He wouldn’t allow her to brood and insisted on keeping the conversation going. It got on her nerves at first, but after she accepted that he had come on the trip not only as a shield-brother but as a friend who refused to let her feel sorry for yourself, she opened up and did her best to cope, if not enjoy the trip. It had been a long time since they had fought together, and she had several opportunities to enjoy working in tandem with him. The Reach was thick with Forsworn, and she was glad to have him along as a shield-brother. They fought no less than four tribes before reaching Markarth.
After checking in at the Silver-Blood Inn, eating, and getting cleaned up, Selene left Farkas at the bar and made her way through town to Understone Keep. She found Calcelmo in his usual location, standing over an arcane enchanter just outside the Nchuand-Zel ruin. “Well met, Calcelmo,” she greeted him.
His head popped up suddenly, as if he were a groundhog. “What? What is it? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
“My lord, it’s Selene Stormblade. We met before. You bought some dwarven armor from me.”
“Ah, yes, yes! Good to see you again. Do you have anything else for me?”
“Actually, I do.” She produced the dagger and handed it to him.
He studied it carefully, mumbling observations and finally saying, “Excellent. Excellent piece. I’ll gladly pay you twice what it’s worth. There’s more where that came from if you’ll do me another favor.”
“If it’s within my power, certainly.”
“A giant spider has taken up residence in the excavation site and has caused quite a bit of havoc. The workers call her Nimhe, ‘the poisoned one.’ If you deal with her, I’ll let you into both the excavation site and my Dwemer museum.”
Selene remembered hearing someone say Calcelmo’s laboratory was attached to the museum, so access might come in very handy. “Of course. I’ll see what I can do.” Calcelmo paid Selene for the dagger and gave her a key to the excavation site, and Selene set out.
When the mage had said “giant,” he wasn’t kidding. Nimhe was easily five times the size of a standard frostbite spider, and she took up most of the cavern Selene found her in. Though she had little trouble with the spider, she was glad she had left Farkas at the inn. He was so skittish around the “big crawly ones,” as he liked to call them, and Nimhe might have just sent him fleeing in terror.
After dispatching Nimhe, she left the site and went back to Calcelmo, who still stood over the enchanting table. “I hear you’re an authority on the Falmer,” she mentioned as the Altmer handed her the museum key.
“That is correct. I am on the eve of completing my magnum opus on the subject. I’m calling it Calcelmo’s Guide to the Falmer Tongue. It will revolutionize the way we understand those ancient beings.”
“It might also help us understand the current ones, don’t you think? Perhaps we could find some way to communicate with them.”
Calcelmo’s eyes lit up. “I never thought of it that way. Of course, that would be quite a challenge. They’re clever, to be sure, but they seem to hate anyone who is not a Falmer.”
“Ulfric Stormcloak isn’t fond of anyone who’s not a Nord, but even he can be taught,” she said with a sly grin.
The mage chuckled. “Indeed, indeed.”
“Perhaps I could view your work.”
“Preposterous!” he gasped. “That work represents years of toil in some of the most dangerous Dwemer ruins in Skyrim. You must be mad to think I’d let anyone see it before it’s complete!”
“What if I told you it’s meant to help solve a murder?”
“I’m sorry, but that’s as far as my generosity extends. I simply cannot reveal my work in its current state.”
Fine, she thought. If you won’t help me, I’ll just do it my way. “I understand. Thank you anyway, Calcelmo.”
“Do enjoy the museum, and look for my book when it comes out.”
Selene went back to the inn and socialized with Farkas until about midnight, and then she headed back to the keep. She let herself into the museum with her key, and the guards barely acknowledged her, even such a late hour. There were two of them, and they were belly-aching about how many guards Calcelmo had taken for his excavation site. One of them nodded to her as she wandered through the displays, but they basically ignored her. It was nothing to slip out the back door.
Selene crept through corridors loaded with Dwemer pieces until she found a room opening off to the side. She checked the room for any information on the Falmer, and though she didn’t find what she was looking for, she found an interesting item. It was a small staff made of bronze with a red crystal set in the head. The journal next to it belonged to Aicantar, Calcelmo’s nephew. Apparently it was used to control a mechanical dwarven spider that had been found on a recent expedition. It couldn’t be sold as a working staff, but it was just the type of curiosity that Delvin liked to invest in. Selene picked up the rod, and a recess opened behind her and said dwarven spider emerged. Its metal feet tapping on the floor, it came up to her and regarded her expectantly.
“You’re going to follow me all over this place, aren’t you?” Selene muttered. It raised one of its legs in response, almost as if it were saluting her. She placed the rod back on its stand and walked out of the room, but the spider followed. “Shoo, go home,” she whispered. It simply looked at her. “Oh, for the love of Talos.” She went back to the journal and skimmed through, but though Aicantar said the rod would control the spider, he didn’t really say how. She figured if she was stuck with the thing, she might as well go ahead and take the rod. Maybe it would come in handy.
She and her new companion didn’t get far before the spider skittered ahead and attacked a guard. Selene ducked into the shadows as it sprayed lightning at the guard, who swung his greatsword hard enough to destroy it in one swipe. She knew it was her imagination, but she could almost believe she heard the spider whimper as it died.
“I knew that damn thing couldn’t be controlled,” the guard groused as he went back to his post.
Selene waited until the guard was settled before sneaking past him and going on her way. She waltzed around a few guards, using support columns to stay hidden, and passed through a wide room to the next set of large, brass doors. She had to drink an invisibility potion to get past a pair of guards who walked a long, narrow corridor with a rotating-blade trap running up the middle. One of them came dangerously close to touching her, but Selene managed to slip past her just in time. She navigated the corridors and explored all the rooms she came across, but though she pocketed some gold and a few gems, she found nothing related to Calcelmo’s Falmer research.
She found Aicantar in a vast laboratory, studying some books while a guard paced back and forth. Stacks of research material and books lay about the lab, but with Aicantar and the guard present, there was no way she could look through all of them. She needed a distraction. In the hallway next to the lab, she found a large valve and a steam pipe, which led over the lab. There were a couple of vents, and Selene figured the valve must operate the vents. If she opened the valve, steam would flood the lab and distract the guard and Aicantar, and she might have time to at least give the research a glance and pick up something she could use. She turned the valve.
Instead of sending steam hissing through the vents, turning the valve caused a small explosion. The guard shrieked as he caught the force of the blast, and he dropped to the floor, twitching in his death throes. Selene cringed and whispered, “I’m sorry.” Killing him hadn’t been part of the plan. Aicantar was unhurt, but he jumped up and down, screaming at the top of his lungs. He ran out of the lab and down the hall from which she had just come, and she slipped into the empty room. She rummaged through as many books and papers as she could without taking too long, but all of the research was Aicantar’s. She didn’t leave the room empty handed, though. In a nook on the far side of the room was an expensive-looking Dwemer puzzle cube, another rare item Delvin would like. She slipped the cube into her bag and prayed to Kynareth that Delvin would buy it without killing her first, then exited through a back door.
She emerged onto a balcony overlooking the city. The view was lovely, but the balcony was a dead end. A flight of stairs led up to the tower, but after she explored the tower room, she would have nowhere to go. She looked over the rail to judge how far the drop was, trying to gauge whether she could safely climb down, but she would be too visible. On the end, however, some stones were missing from the wall, and the gap led behind the waterfall. It wasn’t a straight drop, but it was close and about two stories high. Still, the wall was smooth and the water plunged into a shallow pool; if she was lucky, she might be able to slide down and have a reasonably soft landing.
Lucky! It was the first time since she was a child that she had hoped for luck. She hadn’t thought Nimhe had poisoned her, but she was obviously delirious. Ah, well. Maybe the delirium would make it easier to step into the waterfall.
She had one more place to look before she gave up the quest for Calcelmo’s research and began to think of alternatives. She ascended the stairs and opened the brass door. A short hallway led to a huge room on two levels. There was little but ruin on the first level, but a loft area housed Calcelmo’s office. It looked like the rest of the outer lab and pretty much like every other Dwemer ruin she’d ever seen. Everything was made of stone, and myriad brass pieces adorned every table and stand. She had seen hundreds of them, and there was nothing new here. His desk contained some notes but nothing that would help. She opened what she thought was a closet, but it turned out to be a balcony, and the only thing on the balcony was a miracle.
There stood a monolith, not much bigger than a headstone, bearing a replacement alphabet for the Falmer and Dwemer languages. Someone had put in a great deal of time and effort to carve the alphabet out of this stone. It was a masterpiece.
Selene smiled. No, it wasn’t luck. It was just the gods messing with her again, putting her quarry in the last possible place she could look. That was fine. At least they put it there. But how to take the information with her? She went back in the office and picked up some paper and charcoal with the intention of taking notes, but she got a better idea. Using the biggest roll of paper she could find, she held it up against the stone and slid the charcoal sideways over it to get a rubbing. Making a copy directly from the work would prevent human error as long as she was careful to get all the letters captured properly.
Just as she was finishing up, the tower door opened. “That valve didn’t open itself, Captain,” Aicantar was saying. “There must be somebody here.”
The captain cleared his throat. “Oh, all right,” he drawled dubiously. “If there is an intruder here, he won’t leave this tower alive. But shouldn’t we inform Master Calcelmo?”
“I’ll worry about my uncle. You just find whoever killed that guard.”
Selene didn’t waste any time. She darted out of the office and hid behind a column at the top of the stairs. Only seconds later, a guard came around the corner and started up the stairs. Another trailed along behind her, and Selene realized it was the two from the long hallway with the blade trap. The woman went into the office, but the man paced up and down the stairs. She would have to drink another invisibility potion. She only had one left, so she’d have to make it count. She quietly reached into her pack and retrieved the potion, gently pulling the cork and drinking the sickly-sweet liquid. Then she started down the stairs. She got as far as the hallway before the potion wore off. The captain stood with his back to the corridor, but the mage sat on a bench in the doorway. There was no way in Oblivion she would get past him without an invisibility potion.
Thus, she waited. There wasn’t much to search, just the office and the nooks and crannies. She engaged in a minor dance when the captain looked behind the column where Selene hid, but she was better at hiding than he was at searching. After a few minutes he returned to Aicantar.
“If there was anybody here, they found a way to escape.”
“My lord, we’ve searched this place top to bottom. There’s no one here.”
The elf sighed with resignation. “Oh, very well.” He got up and followed the guards out of the tower.
Selene waited another half hour or so in case Aicantar had decided to stake out the balcony. When she finally left the tower room, the balcony was deserted, so she slipped through the gap in the rock and slid down the wall behind the waterfall. She splashed into the pool, but it wasn’t deep enough for a soft landing, and she sprained her ankle. Still, after everything she’d been through, a sore ankle was the least of her worries. She scanned the area to see if anyone was watching, but the pool was obscured by an outcropping of wall. Unseen, she climbed out of the fountain and squeezed the excess water from her hair, then made her way back to the Silver-Blood in—or rather, limped back to the inn.
Farkas was asleep when she entered the room, and she changed into something dry, then lay down next to him and kissed him on the forehead. They might have been lovers at one time, but they were close enough friends now that she never even considered that his intentions might be less than honorable. He had Saadia and she had Brynjolf, and their friendship was all that existed now.
He sniffed at the air without opening his eyes. “You’re in pain,” he mumbled. “What happened?”
“Not much. I turned my ankle, and it’s pretty sore. Did you have a good night?”
“Aye. Got into a drinking contest with a couple of the townspeople. It was a good time. When you didn’t come back right away, I figured that mage didn’t give you what you wanted and you had to go looking.”
“I’ll tell you all about it on our way back to Whiterun—which, by the way, will need to be by carriage.”
“I could carry you,” he joked.
Selene laughed. “Go back to sleep, you big lug.”
* * *
After dropping Farkas at Jorrvaskr, Selene went on alone and arrived at the Frozen Hearth a full three weeks after she had left. The innkeeper directed her to the cellar, where she found Enthir and Karliah in earnest conversation.
“Selene,” Karliah said with a sigh of relief.
“How was our friend Calcelmo?” Enthir asked.
“He was Calcelmo. Totally engrossed in his work and couldn’t be bothered with anything else.”
“Was he helpful?”
“Aye. He handed me the key to his museum.”
“Oh, no. I was only there as a tourist. He had no idea what I did once I was inside the museum.” She reached into her knapsack and produced the charcoal rubbing, which she had carefully rolled and tucked into the side. “I think this should help translate Gallus’s journal.”
“A rubbing, eh? Odd. I expected notes. No worries, though; this will do nicely. I’ll get to work right away. Give me a couple of hours to translate the journal.”
“Thank you, Enthir,” Karliah said. “We’ll be upstairs. Come, Selene. Tell me about your journey.”
Selene and Karliah went up to the bar and had a few drinks and a bite to eat while waiting for Enthir to translate Gallus’s journal. While they drank, Selene told Karliah about the trip. Karliah laughed heartily when she told her about the dwarven spider.
“It seems you had an unlikely pet.”
“That’s what I thought. I was afraid I would have to give it a name! Fortunately, it didn’t last long. The first guard we encountered killed it.”
“What does one name a dwarven spider?”
Selene thought for a moment and said, “Nimhe.”
“That was the name of the giant spider I killed in the ruin. After that, it would seem appropriate.”
“Listening to your tale, I’m encouraged. You’re even cleverer than I took you for. I believe together we can make the Guild see reason.”
“I just hope we don’t have to fight our way in.”
Enthir appeared at the top of the cellar stairs and motioned for them to follow. When they were all together in the cellar, he handed Selene the translated journal. “It appears Gallus had suspicions about Mercer’s allegiance to the Guild for quite some time,” he told them. “Mercer wasn’t hiding his excesses very well. Gallus was certain he had been removing funds from the Guild’s treasury.”
“Did it say anything about Maven Black-Briar?” Selene asked.
“This was twenty-five years ago,” Karliah reminded her. “When Mercer killed Gallus, Maven was a young woman, pregnant with her first child. Her father was still the head of the family back then. Enthir, does the journal mention the Nightingales?”
“Yes, the last few pages talked about the failure of the Nightingales, but it didn’t go into great detail. Gallus did mention that he believed Mercer had desecrated something called the Twilight Sepulcher.”
Karliah’s grayish skin paled, and she looked aghast. Her scent flooded with dread. “Shadows preserve us,” she whispered.
“Karliah, what is it? What’s Mercer Frey done?” Enthir demanded, fear seeping into his own scent.
“I’m sorry, Enthir; I can’t say. We have to go now. We have to get this journal into the Guild’s hands. My friend, words can’t express…”
“Words aren’t necessary, Karliah.” Enthir turned to Selene. “Karliah says you have some influence with Brynjolf. Do what you can to make him understand. She doesn’t deserve this, and the truth must be revealed.”
“Thank you, Enthir. I will. Keep the Falmer translation. It might come in handy.”
“I’ll make you a copy. Look for me next time you’re in Winterhold. Also, if you ever need to get rid of something stolen, pay me a visit. I’ve been known to handle items of questionable interest from time to time. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Let’s go,” said Karliah. “We must hasten to Riften before Mercer can do any more damage to the Guild.”
“I just hope we can fix the damage he’s done already,” Selene muttered grimly as they left the inn and headed south.
I always get so nervous and excited for what’s coming next (even though I know) and I hate going through the motions of having everyone be angry and distrustful. It’s so painful.
I continue to love Enthir. And my friend Calcelmo.
“He once tracked me down halfway across Skyrim because he heard I’d come across a piece of dwarven armor.”
I have all these notes asking for the dwarven crossbow bolts I got from the Dawnguard merchant.
“It might also help us understand the current ones, don’t you think? Perhaps we could find some way to communicate with them.”
I love this idea. The Falmer depress the hell out of me.
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Oh, me too. The whole thing in the Dawnguard DLC with the snow elves makes me sad.