Walk with the Shadows Ch 11

  • Chapter Eleven: Nightingales

       Lucina stands at the clearing, outside of the City of Riften on the shores of Lake Honrich, that Karliah had directed her too. A large black stone stands out among the gray granite cliffs surrounding it. Karliah and Brynjolf are already waiting for her. Karliah says, “I’m glad you’re here.” Lucina looks at the symbol of the raven on the black stone and asks, “What’s the significance of this place?” Karliah stands tall, “This is the headquarters of the Nightingales. Cut into the side of the mountain by the first of our kind. We’ve come here to get the edge we need if we are going to defeat Mercer Frey.” The statement raises more questions than it answers. Lucina asks, “What kind of edge? What are you talking about?” Karliah walks behind the black stone and places her hand into a small hole, “If you’ll follow me, I’ll try to explain on the way.” a section of stone begins to slide revealing a passage into the cliff side.


       Lucina asks, “I know the stories of the Nightingales who serve the daedric prince Nocturnal, but… who is Nocturnal exactly?” Karliah turns to her, “She is the mistress of night and darkness and patron of every thief in Tamriel.” Further confused; Lucina says, “I’ve never met a thief that worshiped anything.” Karliah replies sternly, “Nocturnal isn’t one for worship or reverence. There are no priests and no sermons. There are no services and no alms. She influences our luck and, in return, demands payment.” Lucina ponders a moment before speaking, “Sounds more like a guild contract rather than divine intervention.” Karliah smiles, “You’re closer to understanding than you realize. The only difference is she doesn’t demand payment in the usual sense. Sometimes the price can be quite high. Whether you know it or not; Nocturnal dictates how well we perform as rogues.” Lucina seems insulted by the implication that she owes her success as a thief to a distant deity. She scowls, “I have my skills! I don’t depend on gods or magic.” Karliah smiles, “Again, You have to think differently. Haven’t you ever noticed how our luck behaves? Like a novice picking an impossible lock or the clouds parting just as you are about to pick someone's pocket. It’s in these subtle ways that Nocturnal influences our luck.”  Lucina crosses her arms, “Sounds like she just likes to see us suffer.” Karliah’s smile turns into a stern frown, “Nocturnal’s will is the greatest mystery of all. There have been volumes written on the subject. Does she exact payment when we die? When we fail? No one knows. The return certainly seems worth the risk, though.” Lucina ceases her questioning, and they enter the cave.


       As they walk through a stone passage, Karliah begins a small speech, but Lucina isn’t following it. She feels the effects of Lucian’s stamina potion begin to wane. She searches her pockets for the remainder of the bottle she started in Riften and drinks the rest of it. The flavor is bittersweet with the scent of honey and eggs of some kind. She stares at the bottle a moment, thinking of the odd Breton that gave it to her. Should she believe the story he told or not? Distracted as she is, she walks into the back of Brynjolf. He turns to her, “Lass?” Lucina puts the bottle behind her back, “Sorry, Bryn.” He looks at her with concern and says, “I know this is all a bit overwhelming, but I think we should trust Karliah.” He knows she hides something behind her, but does not question it. They proceed and enter an open cavern of skilled masonry.


       Lucina looks around the space. Some of the earth around the hall has crept in, but the stone pillars holding up the ceiling are still strong. With some work, this place could be returned to its former glory. Her attention returns to Karliah who has been rambling about Nightingales for some time. “...to set foot in here in over a century. Now, if you both go to the armory to don your Nightingale armor, we can begin the oath.” Lucina is uncertain about all of this, but if it helps her get to Mercer Frey then she is committed… Whatever it takes! Brynjolf speaks up, “Enough to make your head spin, eh lass?”


       As she approaches a stone bearing the raven insignia, Lucina senses something pull at her. Directed by instinct, she places a hand on the raven and a dark mist swirls around her hand and up her arm. She jerks her hand away, but the shade continues to engulf her body. A moment later, the mist solidifies into a unique black armor of otherworldly design. The Raven insignia is on the chest, the gloves and boots meld seamlessly into the Cuirass, and a cape and masked hood conceal her face. There is coolness to the touch of the material and she feels stronger than she was before. No mortal smith nor mage could craft such a suit of armor. She feels invincible!

       Lucina finds Karliah, in her Nightingale armor, waiting by a barred gate. Karliah looks upon her, “You seem ready for the oath.” Brynjolf steps forward, “Okay, lass… we’ve got these get ups on. What now?” Karliah turns to the bars, “Beyond this gate is the first step to becoming a Nightingale.” “Whoa there, lass!” Brynjolf objects, “I appreciate the armor, but becoming a Nightingale? That was never discussed.” Lucina says, “What did you think we were being brought here for, Bryn?” Karliah stands between them, “To hold any hope of defeating Mercer, we must have Nocturnal at our backs. If she is to accept you as one of her own, an arrangement must be struck.” Though she cannot see his face, Lucina is certain Brynjolf’s eyes have narrowed with suspicion as he says, “What sort of arrangement? I need to know the terms.” Karliah leans back and crosses her arms, “The terms are quite simple, Brynjolf. Nocturnal will allow you to become a Nightingale and use your abilities for whatever you wish. And in return, both in life and in death, you must serve as a guardian of the Twilight Sepulcher.” Brynjolf is silent for a moment, “Aye… There is always a catch. But at this point, I suppose there isn’t much to lose. If it means the end of Mercer Frey, count me in.” Karliah looks to Lucina. “What about you?” she asks, “Are you ready to transact the oath with Nocturnal?” Lucina looks at her coldly, “Ready? Try and stop me…” Karliah nods to her, “Good, after I open this gate, please stand on the western circle.” 


       They walk into a chamber with three large pedestals leading from a central one. Below is a pool of water that is too deep to see the bottom. Again, Lucina knows that this construct was not of mortal make. She takes her position while Karliah and Brynjolf take theirs. Karliah raises her hands, “I call upon you, Lady Nocturnal. Queen of Murk and Empress of Shadow… Hear my voice!” With these words the chamber rumbles as a sphere of dark light appears over the central pedestal. It radiates a power that sends chills through Lucina. There is no face. No eyes. But she is certain that something is staring at her. A spectral voice rings out, “Ah… Karliah. I was wondering when I would hear from you again. Lose something, did we?” Karliah kneels, “My Lady, I’ve come before you to throw myself upon your mercy and to accept responsibility for my failure.” The voice of Nocturnal replies, “You’re already mine, Karliah. Your terms were struck long ago. What could you possibly offer me now?” Karliah looks up, “I have two others that wish to transact the oath. To serve you both in life and in death.” Nocturnal responds, “You surprise me, Karliah. This offer is definitely weighted in my favor.” Karilah looks down again, “My appetite for Mercer’s demise exceeds my craving for wealth, Your Grace.” “Revenge is it? How interesting…” There is an ominous pause before Nocturnal continues, “Very well, the conditions are acceptable. You may proceed.”


       With the goddess in agreement, Karliah stands, “Lady Nocturnal, we accept your terms. We dedicate ourselves as both your avengers and your sentinels. We will honor our agreement in this life and the next, until your conditions are met.” The ground beneath Lucina’s feet begins to tremble as a faint purple energy surrounds her. She feels an otherworldly power filling her very being. Nocturnal decrees, “Very well. I name your initiates, Nightingale, and restore your status to the same, Karliah… and in the future, I’d suggest you refrain from disappointing me again.”


       With that, the effigy of the goddess vanishes and the light around her fades, as does the feeling of newfound strength. There is something however. A strange sensation that somehow, some way, Nocturnal is still watching her. The trio meet at the center of the chamber. Karliah speaks in a grave tone, “Now that you’ve transacted the oath, it’s time I reveal to you Mercer’s true crime.” Lucina looks blankly at her, “There’s more he’s done?” Karliah answers, “Mercer was able to unlock the guild’s vault without the keys, because of what he stole from the Twilight Sepulcher... The Skeleton Key. By doing this, he has compromised our ties to Nocturnal and in essence, caused our luck to run dry.” Lucina tries to remember the tails she heard, as a child, of the Skeleton Key. A pick that can never break nor meet a lock it could not pick. Armed with this, there is nowhere you could not go. She looks to Karliah, “So what? The key unlocks any door…” Karliah sighs, “Well, yes. But the Key is not only restricted to physical barriers. All of us possess untapped abilities; the potential to wield great power, securely sealed within our minds. Once you realize this, the Key can access these traits, the potential becomes limitless.” Lucina’s mind reels at the implications. What she could do with such power. What the guild could do with it… What Mercer is doing with it. Lucina surrenders her desire, “Sounds like no one should have it then.” Karliah is relieved and says, “Good. Then you understand why this is about more than Mercer’s lust for power.”


       Karliah rambles on, but Lucina ignores her. Lost in her own desires for Mercer’s head on the end of pike and what she will do if she survives. Her focus since leaving Cyrodiil was always to find her father. She found him in Snow Veil Sanctum. After she kills his murderer, if she can kill him, what does she do then? Just then her attention snaps back as Brynjolf says, “...we both feel you have the potential to replace Mercer as leader of the Guild.” Lucina looks up at him, “What? Me? What about you?” Brynjolf chuckles lightly, “I’ve been at this a long time, my friend. A long time. I’ve stolen trinkets from nobles and framed priests for murder. I’m good at what I do. Maybe even one of the best, but it’s all I know. I’ve never been one to lead. Never desired it, never cared for it, don’t want it.” Lucina stands stunned, “I-I… I don’t know what to say…” Brynjolf shrugs, “Well, we have a bit of an errand to run before your coronation. So don’t get sentimental on me now.” Lucina steps to the edge of the stone platform and looks into the water. After a brief moment, she turns, “I can’t make you any promises, Bryn… But… I accept.”


       The trio converse for a time. With the plans of stealing the Eyes of the Falmer being found in Mercer’s home, Brynjolf suggests that being their starting point for searching for Mercer. The eyes are said to be housed somewhere deep within the Dwemer City of Irkngthand near the border of The Pale and Eastmarch. The plans for the theft included a schematic for the city itself. So they know where to go, but it means that so does Mercer. And he has a head start. The trio part ways, agreeing to meet up at the Dwemer city. Again, Lucina finds herself feeling weary and decides to return to Riften. She can’t have herself weakened when she finds Mercer. If she is to survive, she will need her full strength. She pulls the Nightingale gauntlet off her arm and is shocked to find her Guild gauntlet still intact. The Nightingale armor was almost skin tight. How the Guild armor was underneath is beyond her understanding. “Impossible…” She puts the Nightingale gauntlet back on and it molds itself to the shape of her arm. She does this a few times before muttering “...Daedric magic…”


       After removing the Nightingale armor and returning to the city, she hides the armor in her room at the Bee and Barb. She tries to sleep, but her mind refuses to rest. She gets up from bed, puts on some common clothes, and walks the city streets. She is aimless. Just letting herself wander until she looks up and she stands in the doorway to Honeyside. She pauses a moment, wondering if she should knock or leave. She shakes her head, “No… I don’t have time for this…” She turns and finds Iona standing behind her with her arms full of soul gems from the Court Mage. Iona scowls down, “What do you want, Thief? Trying to rob the Thane again?” Lucina nervously says, “No no… I uh… I was just… I’m not really sure why I’m here. I’ll just go.” Lucina begins to walk away when she hears, “Wait…” she turns and sees Iona looking to the sky. Iona sighs, “He can’t help himself…” The Nord warrior turns around to look at Lucina and says, “You look exhausted… My Thane is at the temple of Mara visiting a friend in the catacombs, I am certain he would want me to help you. Come inside. I have a stew brewing. And there is a bed far more comfortable than what you'll find at the Inn. If...IF... you give me your word you won’t try to nic anything, you are welcome.” Lucina ponders the offer as Iona opens the door. Iona says, “Don’t just stand there. Make up your mind, girl. In or out?” Unsure of herself, Lucina slowly steps inside and closes the door.


       Iona sets the soul gems on the kitchen cabinet and removes three silver bowls and a set of Silver goblets, “You missed the house silver last time you were here, by the way.” Lucina smells of the air, “What is this, exactly?” “Horker.” Iona replies, “My mother’s recipe, actually.” Iona hands her a bowl, “Help yourself.” then goes to pour some mead into the goblets. Lucina takes her bowl and fills it with stew. The scents of the ingredients make her stomach rumble with anticipation. They sit in an uncomfortable silence until Iona asks, “Tell me… What exactly are your intentions with my Thane?” Lucina just looks at her blankly for a moment before saying, “I uh… I don’t really have intentions… Like I said, I’m not sure why I even came here.” Iona drinks from her goblet, “Yes yes… You were just out for a walk.” Iona looks at her suspiciously. Lucina just looks down at her bowl and takes a few bites, “This is really good…” She can feel Iona’s eyes locked on her. “...Thank you…” Iona says coldly.

        Shortly thereafter, the front door opens and in walks Lucian. He wears a fine suit of dark clothes and some pricey looking jewelry as well. The type of outfit that she would normally pick out of a crowd for a mark to heist. Lucian gives a slight smile when he sees Lucina and says, “Hello again, Cher. What brings you to me d’is time?” Lucina looks up at him, “I uh… I still can’t sleep. I was wandering the city and… and I thought you might have something… for insomnia, that is.” Lucian’s grin turns to a full smile, “Let me t’ink, now… You know, Ol’ Lucian might have just what you need.” Iona recognizes this smile and tone to his voice then says, “I’ll finish my dinner in my room down stairs. Call me if you need me, Thane.” She collects a couple of bottles of mead and leaves the kitchen. Lucian fixes himself some stew and says, “‘I’ll go get you somet’in’ to help d’at troubled mind o’ yours.” then goes into a cupboard in his bedroom to retrieve this miracle elixir. Lucina watches the fire in the fireplace until he returns and he places a bottle of Cyrodilic Brandy on the table. Lucina looks at the bottle and rolls her eyes, “That’s it? That’s you cure for insomnia?” He just shrugs, “Iona’s love for mead is fine and all, but you look like you could use somet’in’ a bit stronger. Am I wrong?” He dumps Lucina’s mead out of a window next to the table then pours her and himself a goblet of Brandy each. With him standing so close she can’t help but notice that despite the city smelling of mead and fish, his scent is one of faint vanilla and lavender. She takes a deep slow breath in and looks up at him. “A few of d’ese, Cher,” he says, “and whatever troubles you, I guarantee, will drift away.” Lucina thinks to herself, “I knew it… He’s definitely trouble… But… Mercer has the Key. No telling what will happen when I find him… Do I want to spend my last night in an Inn... alone?” After a moment she smiles at Lucian and raises her goblet up, “I look forward to drinking you under the table, Sirrah.” Lucian smiles back, raising his goblet to hers, “Challenge accepted, Mon Cher.”



    The story so far:

    walk-with-the-shadows-ch-1 Walk with the Shadows Ch 2 Walk with the Shadows Ch 3 Walk with the Shadows Ch 4 Walk with the Shadows Ch 5 Walk with the Shadows Ch 6 Walk with the Shadows Ch 7 Walk with the Shadows Ch 8 Walk with the Shadows Ch 9 Walk with the Shadows Ch 10


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