Selene followed Malborn through the kitchen, where he had a brief discussion with the Khajiiti cook, who complained about him bringing a stranger in. After threatening to tell Elenwen about the cook’s moon sugar habit, she relented and he led Selene to a larder.
“Your gear is in that box,” he said, pointing to a chest in the corner. “Are you going to sneak around the embassy in your dress?”
“Unless you want me to do it naked.”
For a brief second, Selene thought Malborn was going to smile, but the elf suddenly remembered his terror and the grimace returned to his face. “Through that door. I’ll lock it behind you.”
Selene put the sword belt on and shrugged into the pack’s shoulder straps. She stepped from the larder into a hallway, and Malborn shut and locked the door behind her. She was on her own. One door stood to the left, opening onto a lounge, if she remembered right from the plans. A storeroom waited at the end of the hall. The scents of two Altmer lingered just inside the room to her left. They confirmed her assumption when they began speaking.
“Did you see those robes march in this morning? Who are they with? More of the embassy’s treaty enforcers?”
“No, they’re high mages, just in from Alinor. I guess Herself is finally getting worried about all the dragon attacks.”
Herself. Maybe everybody hated Elenwen as much as she did.
The elves continued talking as she snuck past the door, expounding on their fear of dragons and their hatred of mages. The room at the end of the hall didn’t have much in it, just a set of Thalmor robes. She thought about putting them on for cover, but her small stature and lack of pointy ears would give her away anyway, so she didn’t bother.
By the time she got back to the lounge, the two elves were patrolling. She drank an invisibility potion and entered the room, then slipped past the guards and went upstairs. Trouble waited at the end of the hall, though. A Thalmor mage stood where two hallways crossed and formed a T. His back was to her, but the hallway was narrow and there was very little chance she would get past him. She was going to have to kill him. Drawing her dagger as quietly as possible, she stole up behind him and buried it in the base of his skull. With nothing more than a small hiccough, he dropped to the floor with a thud, and Selene quickly removed her dagger and hid around the corner. Confident after a few minutes that the two guards downstairs hadn’t heard, she continued on.
Upstairs was a residence with a couple of bedrooms, and other than a few gems and some gold, she didn’t turn up much. She didn’t expect much here, though. These were only guest rooms. Her objective here was to find the outside door, which opened off of a sitting room. She placed her ear to the door, but there was nothing to be heard through the heavy oak, so she slowly opened the door and stepped outside to the wall.
The plans had said one guard would be on the wall between her and the solar and that he or she walked down into the courtyard periodically. The only problem Selene saw getting past the guard was footprints. The snow had piled up a bit since she had arrived at the party, and even an invisibility potion wouldn’t hide her prints. She ducked just around the corner from the guard, trying to figure out what she was going to do, when suddenly the elf made a choking sound. Selene peered around the corner to see Brynjolf standing behind him, his dagger at his throat and blood spurting all over the place. Selene stepped out where her husband could see her, and he smiled and waved as he dropped the elf to the ground.
“How did you get in?” she whispered.
“Over the wall. I doubt we’re going to be able to keep this a secret for long, though, because this is the second guard I had to kill.”
“Let’s not waste any time, then.”
Less worried about footprints now that the guard was taken care of, they were still cautious as they made their way across the yard, using the cover of decorative trees and rocks in case the guard schedule changed. The last obstacle before they entered the solar was the guard at the entrance. This elf stood mere inches from the door, his arms folded and a grim expression on his face as Selene and Brynjolf knelt around the corner.
Brynjolf looked at Selene and shrugged helplessly, but she made an OK sign with her hand, drew her sword, and took a breath for a Shout. “Zul may gut!” she Shouted, but that wasn’t what the guard—or Brynjolf, for that matter—heard. Across the courtyard, near the main building, a voice rang out. “Hey, skeever breath! Over here!”
“What the—” the guard muttered, and he took a step forward, leaving his back open. Brynjolf stepped out from behind the building and lunged for him, but the guard heard him and turned around. “You dare!” the guard cried, raising his hand to throw a spell at him.
Selene circled around behind the elf and swung as Brynjolf dodged the firebolt. The blade caught the Thalmor in the side, and he grunted with pain and whirled around, giving Brynjolf the opportunity to flank him and attack with Chillrend. When the blade hit, the mage’s eyes flew open wide and he froze in place, only to fall backward and crash to the ground. Paralyzed, he peered up in Selene in terror as she planted her blade in his chest.
“That paralysis enchantment doesn’t work nearly often enough,” Brynjolf whispered.
They entered a lavishly decorated common area with comfortable seating, a bar, and a doorway leading off to a kitchen on the right. Elenwen’s office stood through a doorway on the left. Stairs to the second floor led off the back, and just to the left of the stairs was an assistant’s nook. A guard stood at the base of the stairs with her back to them. In the office, two individuals were in the middle of a conversation.
“But what about my money? I do have expenses, you know.”
“Do not presume, Gissur. We have other informants who are less…offensive.”
“But no one else has brought you such valuable information, have they? Etienne, he’s talked, hasn’t he? He knows where the old man is. He told me himself.”
Etienne? Brynjolf mouthed at Selene.
Etienne Rarnis was a thief with the Guild who had gone missing several weeks ago. The younger membership of the Thieves Guild was pretty fluid, and they just assumed he had moved on to other opportunities. It couldn’t be him. Surely there was more than one Etienne in Skyrim.
“You’ll get the rest of your money when we confirm his story,” Gissur’s companion said. “As agreed.”
“So he has talked. I knew it!”
“Everyone talks in the end. Now, leave me to my work if you ever want to see the rest of your payment.”
“Can I…I could help you. He’d talk to me. He trusts me.”
“So you’d like to come downstairs with me, Gissur? Shall we loose his bonds and put you in the cell together?”
“No, no, I’ll…I’ll wait outside.”
“That would probably be best. Now, get out!”
Gissur stalked into the common room while the other walked out a second door and, by the sound of his footsteps, went downstairs. Gissur saw Selene and Brynjolf the moment he entered the room. “Hey!” he cried. “What are you doing here?”
The guard turned around, drew her weapon, and charged. Selene drew her sword and dagger and stepped forward, engaging the elf while Brynjolf chased after Gissur, who fled into the assistant’s cubicle. Selene and the guard danced for a few moments, trading strikes and blocks. Selene swung wide with her sword, and the elf, thinking she had made a grievous error, lunged past the weapon; but Selene turned to the side so the blade passed harmlessly through the air and drove her dagger up through the guard’s chin, through the roof of her mouth, and into her brain. The guard didn’t even have time to squeal before the light left her eyes.
Selene withdrew her dagger and smiled grimly. Vilkas had taught her that move. He’d be so proud.
In the assistant’s nook, Brynjolf was just finishing Gissur off. When Selene arrived, she saw that the Nord had died with a look of horror on his face. She shook her head and tutted. “A Nord helping the Thalmor,” she whispered. “Asshole deserved to die.”
Selene searched the room while Brynjolf looted Gissur’s body, and she hit the motherlode. She found Thalmor dossiers on Delphine and Ulfric, as well as a note to Elenwen from someone named Rulindil about the dragon investigation. The note suggested that the Thalmor were just as much in the dark about the dragons as they were but were on the trail of a lead. Like Delphine, they had discerned that the dragons were being resurrected. They had captured someone—Etienne, Selene guessed—who knew where to find an old man named Esbern and were currently interrogating him. Apparently, Esbern could help get to the bottom of the dragons’ return.
She paged through the dossiers on Delphine and Ulfric. They evidently still thought of Ulfric as an asset, albeit a hostile one. They also suspected he was behind the Emperor’s assassination, placing him further in their good graces. He’ll be so delighted, she thought sarcastically. There was no way to hide the fact that they had been there, what with her disappearance from the party and all the dead guards, so instead of making copies, Selene took the files and note. In the desk, she found a key that was tagged with the words Interrogation Chamber. She handed the key to her husband, who stuck it in his pocket. It might come in handy later.
She didn’t turn up any more in the assistant’s office, so they went upstairs. There were only bedrooms up there, but in one of them—Elenwen’s room, by the scents—was a safe, where they recovered a hefty amount of gold, gems, and jewels. There was a fantastic set of daedric armor, too, but there was no way they could sneak around with the heavy ebony suit, so they left it behind and headed back downstairs.
In Elenwen’s office, Brynjolf broke open a display case containing some circlets and daggers while Selene searched the ambassador’s desk. She found a few notes and memos about the dragon investigation and the assassination, including a copy of a letter to her supervisor in Alinor indicating again that she thought Ulfric was responsible for the murder and discussing strategies for dealing with Titus Mede III, who now sat on the Imperial Throne. The letter also mentioned the plan to “replace” Elisif and regain their foothold in Solitude.
Selene’s heart wrenched at the comment about Elisif. The jarl was in the embassy right now, enjoying herself at the party. What if they decided to do something while she was there? Selene wouldn’t be able to save her. Thus, she did the only thing she could do at the moment. She closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer to Kynareth, asking her to protect the jarl. Then she stuffed all the information in her pack, and once she was satisfied she had everything, she nodded at Brynjolf.
The pair went out the second door and downstairs to the dungeon. The door was locked, and Brynjolf tried the key they had found. The door opened easily and swung inward, and they emerged onto a mezzanine level above the dungeon. An elf in the standard guard armor was standing inside a cell, pounding on a prisoner with a hammer while someone in Thalmor robes sat at a desk outside and wrote in a journal. The prisoner screamed in agony as the blows landed.
“Stop, please! I don’t know anything else. Don’t you think I’d have told you already?”
Brynjolf pointed to himself and the Thalmor taking notes, and Selene nodded. They crept down the stairs, Brynjolf moving into the shadows to the right and Selene to the left as the torturer spoke.
“Silence. You know the rules. Do not speak unless spoken to. Master Rulindil will ask the questions.”
“Let’s begin again,” Rulindil ordered.
“No…for pity’s sake, I’ve already told you everything.” Selene thought she recognized the voice. Perhaps it was their Etienne.
“You know the rules,” said the guard as he swung the hammer.
“No!” Etienne cried as the weapon landed with a thwack.
“Let’s start at the beginning as usual,” Rulindil said again. Etienne didn’t answer right away, and the Thalmor bristled. “If you persist in this stubbornness, I’ll have–”
“No, wait! I was just…catching my breath. Why wouldn’t I tell you again? There’s an old man. He lives in Riften. He could be this Esbern you’re looking for, but I don’t know. He’s old and seemed kind of crazy. That’s all I know.”
“And his name is…”
“I don’t know his name. Like I’ve already told you a hundred—”
The torturer hit him again, and he wailed. Selene was at the cell door by now, and Brynjolf was in place behind Rulindil. She nodded to him and slipped into the cell, where she snuck up behind the torturer and swung her sword hard, hoping to decapitate him. While his head remained intact, blood gushed from his neck as he died and dropped to the floor.
It sounded like Brynjolf was having a harder time of it. Rulindil hadn’t died with Brynjolf’s blow and had turned and hurled a lightning bolt at him, then fled to the other side of the dungeon. “You’re dead!” he snarled. “Don’t you see? Elven supremacy is the only truth.”
Selene started out of the cell, but Brynjolf said, “I’ve got this. Go help Etienne.”
She went back and knelt before the prisoner. It was indeed Etienne from the Guild. He had been one of several who had propositioned her when she had first joined up. He was a handsome Breton, a couple of years younger than she was, blond and hazel-eyed, with an easy smile and a quick wink. But now he was a shell of his former self, emaciated, bruised, and bloody, his hair matted and filthy. His scent didn’t indicate any infection, but he was weak and sickly. She raised his chin to look at his face.
“I told you,” he said wearily, his eyes bleary and unfocused. “I don’t know anything else.”
“I’m not here to torture you, Etienne. It’s me. Selene.”
His eyes cleared and he looked at Selene just as she heard Brynjolf deliver the final blow to Rulindil. “What? How…what are you doing here?”
“I could ask the same of you.” She opened the shackles, and he dropped to the floor.
Brynjolf came into the cell and knelt before them. Etienne looked up at him with confusion. “Where did you two come from?”
“We were looking for something not related to the Guild,” she replied.
“I’m glad you happened upon me, then.”
“Why were they interrogating you, lad?” Brynjolf asked him. “Do they think you know something?”
“They’re after some old guy named Esbern. Something to do with dragons. I gathered it from listening to them when I was out. I’ve seen a guy in Riften who they seem to think is him. Not much to go on. I don’t even know where he lives or his name, but they seemed pretty excited about it.”
“You’re not talking about the old codger who hides down in the vaults are you?”
“That doesn’t sound familiar to me,” Selene remarked.
“I’m not surprised. If it’s the same guy, he’s scared of his own shadow. He comes into the Flagon sometimes for supplies, but he won’t talk to anyone but Vekel. As soon as he has what he needs, he runs back to his hidey hole.”
“He’s the one,” Etienne confirmed. “Let’s get out of here,” he said as they helped him up and out of the cell.
“Hold on a sec,” said Brynjolf. “There’s a chest by the table. I’m going to check it out.” He opened the chest to find a dossier similar to those Selene found, this one on Esbern. The chest was otherwise empty. He handed the file to Selene, who put it in her pack with the others. “All right, let’s go.”
“Come this way.” Etienne led them down the hall and stopped at a trapdoor. “I’ve seen the guards use it to get rid of bodies. It must lead somewhere.”
Before Brynjolf could lift the hatch, a door slammed on the mezzanine and three people came into the dungeon. On closer inspection, Selene realized it was two Thalmor guards and Malborn. They were pushing him down the stairs toward the dungeon.
“We have your accomplice,” one of them called out as they ambled down the stairs. While their vision was blocked in the stairwell, Etienne ducked in a corner and Selene and Brynjolf spread out to flank the doorway where they would emerge. “Come out now, or he dies.”
Oh, like they’re going to let him live anyway, Selene thought.
Malborn was the first through the door, followed by the two Thalmor. Selene took one, and Brynjolf took the other. Malborn shrieked and darted out of the way as the fight ensued. Brynjolf killed his guard in one blow; but the one Selene fought was quick and vicious, and he landed a blow to Selene’s side, shredding her dress and laying a nasty gash in her unarmored skin. Ignoring the pain, Selene turned to the side, causing the elf’s sword to get tangled in her surcoat. While he was distracted, she swung; but the sword bounced off of his armor and the shock radiated up her arm.
“Gods, damn it!” she growled, growing impatient. At the first sign of anger, her wolf spirit raised its head, but she forced it back. She raised her sword to block the guard’s blade and reset for another blow, but Brynjolf stepped up behind the elf and drove Chillrend into his back. With a painful oof, the guard fell to the floor and perished. “I never want to see another Thalmor for the rest of my life,” she grumbled.
Brynjolf knelt before her and ripped a larger hole in her dress to examine her wound. Although it bled freely, it wasn’t life threatening. He started to reach in his pack for the first aid supplies he had thought to bring when she hadn’t, but she raised a hand to stop him.
“We don’t have time to stitch me up right now. I doubt we have more than a few minutes before we’re discovered.”
Brynjolf nodded reluctantly, then went to Rulindil, removed his armor, gloves, and boots and gave them to Etienne, who wore only a pair of ragged trousers. “Put these on,” he told him. “It’s not the best choice of fashion, but at least you won’t freeze to death.” When Etienne was dressed, Brynjolf pulled the handle on the trapdoor and dropped down into the tunnel below.
“Stay behind us,” Selene instructed their charges as they made their way through the tunnel. The stench was bad for the others, but to Selene’s enhanced nose, it was almost overwhelming. The acrid odors of feces, vomit, and rot permeated the air, and it was all Selene could do not to retch. They came to a sudden dropoff, which led to a cave only six or eight feet below. Grunts and growls emanated from the caveern; it seemed a troll had made its home there. They drew their weapons and leapt to the lower level, flanking the troll and making short work of it. “It’s safe,” she called, and Malborn and Etienne jumped down with them.
In a niche, Selene found a dead elf and searched his satchel, from which she retrieved one of the ugly, pink gems she turned up every once in a while. Vex said they were part of Queen Barenziah’s crown. Alone, they were worthless, but if she found all twenty-four of them, they might actually have some value. Selene didn’t think she’d ever find all twenty-four, but she picked up the gem and stuffed it in her pack anyway. This made five. No, six. Who knew? It could happen.
After navigating several hundred yards of tunnels, they finally reached the outside, emerging at the top of a hill with the road visible a quarter-mile below and breathed a sigh of relief. Except for Malborn, that is.
“Now the Thalmor will be hunting me for the rest of my life. I hope it was worth it. I should have known this would end badly. I can’t believe I let Delphine talk me into this.”
“I’m in your debt, Malborn. If there’s ever anything I can do, just ask.”
He made his way down the hill toward the road, grumbling and complaining.
Etienne, however, was more than grateful. “I don’t know how to thank you for getting me out of there.”
“Oh, I’m sure I’ll find something for you to do,” the Guild Master teased. “For now, let’s get you back to Proudspire and put you on the road to recovery.”
“Do you think it’s safe to go into Solitude right now?” Brynjolf asked her.
“Maybe not, but Etienne can’t make it all the way to Riverwood like this, and I need my gear. We’ll have to take the chance.”
They made it into the city without trouble from the Thalmor, but the Stormcloak guard ushered them into a guard shack as soon as they walked through the gates. “The Thalmor embassy was busted tonight,” he told Selene. “It was you, Stormblade, wasn’t it?”
“It was me,” she confirmed with a nod.
“They’re scouring the town for you.”
“I need to get back to Proudspire Manor to get my gear and patch my man up.”
“I wouldn’t risk it. I can help with the first aid. We have supplies right here in the shack.”
“It’s not a matter of first aid. He’s been tortured for weeks by the Thalmor—”
“I’m all right,” Etienne assured her. “If the Thalmor are looking for us, we shouldn’t stay in Solitude any longer than we have to. I can make it at least as far as Morthal. Please. I don’t want to risk going back to that dungeon.
“All right. Brynjolf, you say with Etienne, and I’ll go to the house and get my stuff. I’ll only be gone fifteen minutes, I promise.”
“I don’t think so,” Brynjolf protested.
“Any other ideas?”
“I can go.”
Selene glared at her husband. “You’re kidding, right? Do I look like a damsel in distress?”
“No, you’re a damsel in a dress, one the Thalmor have seen, and you’re injured. I can melt into the shadows.”
The guard chuckled. “Damsel in a dress. That was funny. Stormblade, I can treat your wound while he goes to your house.”
“Damn it,” Selene muttered, knowing Brynjolf was right. “Okay. Fifteen minutes, and if you’re not back, I’m coming after you.”
Brynjolf left the shack, and Selene turned to the guard. “What’s your name?”
“It’s Arwin, milady.”
“Well, Arwin, you’re about to see more of me than you probably ever thought you would. Be kind and not pass the story around the barracks, would you?” With that, she took off her surcoat and pulled her dress over her head, then put the surcoat back on to take advantage of what little warmth it would provide. Etienne sat down and leaned against the wall, basically ignoring them, but Arwin looked embarrassed. “There’s nothing for it,” she said as she stood there in the coat and her small clothes, shivering. “Just stitch my side up as quickly as you can, and hopefully Brynjolf will be back with my armor by then.”
It took Brynjolf longer than they had anticipated. Arwin had finished stitching Selene’s side and she was preparing to go after him when he stepped into the shack with her armor, bow, arrows, and favorite knapsack. He also brought an extra set of Guild armor, dried beef, an apple, part of a loaf of bread and a bottle of mead for Etienne.
Selene threw her arms around his neck. “Cuttin’ it kinda close, no?”
“I had to sneak past a couple of Thalmor soldiers right outside the house. Took me an extra couple of minutes. Plus, I stopped at the Skeever and bought some food for Etienne. Thought he might need some sustenance if we’re going to be traveling.”
She donned her armor while Etienne did the same, discarding the Thalmor robes and her ruined dress in a barrel. Selene placed a hand on the guard’s arm. “Arwin, thank you. I don’t think I need to tell you that you never saw us.”
He shook his head. “Go. Talos guide you.”
Etienne followed Selene and Brynjolf to the gate, where they stepped through and disappeared into the night.