A/N: Well here it is, guys: the final chapter. I may have shed a tear or two while writing it. It's going to be hard letting this story go.

Thank you to those of you who read, reviewed, criticized, and all that good stuff. I hope you like the ending.

Walk with the shadows.


When Alora woke, she had trouble remembering where she was. The room was so dark she could scarcely see. Then, slowly, memories from the previous night began to flood her mind. A smile touched her lips. She reached to the opposite side of the bed, expecting to feel Brynjolf's warmth, and was surprised when her hand slipped over cold linen sheets instead. Confused, she sat up and fumbled for a tinderbox.

Gently striking the flint, she lit the candles at her bedside. Warm light splashed the walls, throwing the room into sharp relief. Her bed was empty. Brynjolf was gone. Before she even had time to register her anger, a knock sounded at the door.

"Just a minute," she grunted, throwing her bare legs over the bedside. She winced as they struck the floor. Pain lanced through her bad leg and shot up her spine. Well, getting dressed will be a chore, she thought.

She barely managed to pull on her clothes; the shirt was easy, but the breeches proved a challenge. Her whole body was stiff from her night with Brynjolf and her still-healing injuries. Quickly she ran her fingers through her hair, which fell in elaborate tangles down her back.

The visitor knocked again."Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," she grumbled, securing the last button of her shirt. "Come in."

Her face fell when Karliah entered the room. "What, unhappy to see me?" She joked, closing the door behind her.

"No," Alora half-lied. "...I thought you were Brynjolf."

Karliah's eyes glinted. "I'm sure you did."

"Do you know where he is? I need to strangle him."

A throaty laugh escaped the elf. "He and Delvin had to meet with an important client. He wanted me to tell you that he's very sorry for leaving, and that he would be back as soon as possible."

"Who's the client?" Alora wanted to know.

"Erik? Erikur? Something like that. He's from Solitude. Came all the way here to discuss a potential contract."

Alora rubbed the bridge of her nose. "The Guild is growing again."

"Yes, at a rate faster than we can manage, apparently." Karliah smiled. "And we need our new Master now more than ever. Brynjolf said he wants to have your coronation sometime today or tomorrow."

"Are you serious?"

"Completely. Why, are you worried?"

"A bit," Alora admitted. "I'm told that we've been dormant for years, and now we're growing so fast, and everyone's expecting me to lead..."

Karliah put a hand on her shoulder. "You won't be alone. Nobody expects you to do this by yourself. You have me, and Brynjolf, and Delvin. Even Vex will gladly help, and she'll do a great job of pretending to hate every second of it."

"Probably," Alora agreed. Then, for the first time, she noticed that Karliah was armed. Her glossy black bow was slung over her back, alongside a sheath of arrows. She gestured to the weapon."Why do you have your bow? You're not leaving, are you?"

A shadow crossed Karliah's face. "Actually, that's what I really wanted to talk to you about."

"You are leaving? But you said—"

"No, no, I'm not leaving," Karliah said with a chuckle.

"Then what's going on?"

Karliah intertwined her fingers. "I wanted to...apologize."

Alora puckered her brows. "What for?"

"When I found you in the Sepulcher, I didn't even think to look for your bow. It wasn't anywhere near you. All I could think about was getting you out of there." She met Alora's eyes. "I'm truly sorry. I know how much that bow meant to you."

Alora brushed her off. "Karliah, I couldn't carry it. Leaving it behind was my choice. You don't owe me an apology. You don't owe me anything; you saved my life."

"But you never would've been hurt if I hadn't sent you. The trial was mine to face, and I knew it. I just couldn't bear the thought of facing my biggest failure." She sighed. "You nearly died because of my selfishness."


"You're more Nightingale than I'll ever be," Karliah continued, cutting her off. "And that's why I want to give you this." She lifted her bow, running a hand over the finish. "You gave up your weapon to return the Key, and in the process, you nearly gave your life. I think...I think you are more deserving to hold the Nightingale bow than me."

Alora bit her lip, too astonished for words. An archer's bow was something deeply personal. She could never imagine giving her weapon away for someone else to use. The only reason she left her bow behind at all was to return the Key, something she considered far more important than keeping her weapon. And here Karliah was, willing to give away the weapon she'd used for a quarter century, simply because she thought Alora deserved it more. The gesture was so overwhelming that Alora found herself holding back tears.

"I...no," Alora finally croaked. "Keep it, I'll...find another one."

"You say that like I'm giving you a choice," Karliah mused. "I want you to have it, Alora."

There was no stopping them now; the treacherous tears laced down her cheekbones, leaving salty tracks in their wake. Embarrassed, Alora turned away from Karliah's flickering gaze.

She felt the elf's arms encircle her. "Oh, Alora. There's no need to cry. Please don't cry."

"I don't want to, believe me!" She choked, burying her face in her friend's shoulder.

Karliah laughed and held Alora tightly, gently rubbing her back. "It's okay to cry sometimes, you know. You hold back a lot; I can tell."

"No I don't," Alora insisted, a fresh flow of water staining Karliah's shirt.

"Yes you do, don't lie to me. Don't be ashamed of your feelings, Alora. I'll always be here for you. You're my friend. You're the best friend I've had in years."

They hugged then, two archers, two thieves, two best friends; two people incomplete without the other.

"Thank you," Alora whispered, once she had calmed down. "For everything."

"Look, I've never been good at these things, so I'm just going to keep it short," said Brynjolf.

The Guild Second stood in the center of the Cistern, flanked by Delvin and Vex. Alora was situated in front of them, leaning on Karliah for support. The rest of the Guild watched from several paces behind her. Everyone was there; even Maven Black-Briar had taken time out of her busy schedule to witness Alora's coronation. It was a day none of them, least of all Alora, were wont to forget.

"Several months ago, I caught a thief looting a merchant's stall," Brynjolf began, his mouth curved in a smile. "And when I approached her, I thought she would gut me for sure. Drew her knife so fast I barely had time to react."

Laughs echoed through the Cistern, Alora's among them. "I had to bring justice to my name."

"Aye, and that you did, lass. But you brought justice to so much more than your name; you brought justice to Mercer Frey. Actually, you brought justice to them both at the same time."

More laughter broke upon Alora's ears. Even Maven cracked a smile.

"But, in all seriousness, being Guildmaster means more than just exacting revenge, or getting a cut of all the loot. It's about being a leader, and keeping this rabble in order." He cleared his throat nervously. "That being said, I propose that the position of Guildmaster should be yours."

Even though she had already accepted, and the Guild Thirds had seconded Brynjolf's motion, they still had to do it publicly. It was more of a formality than anything, and an annoying one at that. "I accept your proposal," Alora alleged. "I promise to lead the Guild to the best of my ability. And," she smiled crookedly, "I promise to be everything Mercer wasn't."

Brynjolf turned to the Guild Thirds. "Delvin, do you agree to this proposal?"

Delvin nodded. "Agreed."


"Sure, why not."


The elf winked at Alora. "Absolutely."

"Then everyone is in agreement," said Brynjolf with a smile. "So, with my right as Guild Second, I name you Master of the Thieves Guild. May you bring us good luck and good fortune." He turned to face the rest of the Guild. "Now all of you, back to work!"

"You really don't waste time, do you?" Alora asked as everyone returned to their respective duties.

"I was trying to save you the embarrassment," Brynjolf explained. "I know you don't like being put on the spot."

"Oh, don't make this about me," Alora teased. "You were shaking like a leaf."

"Alright, both of you," Karliah chided. "Don't we all have things to do?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask the boss?" Delvin asked, grinning at Alora.

"Boss?" Alora repeated. "Something tells me I'll never get used to that."

In the months following Alora's coronation, the Guild continued to grow. Contracts poured in like wine from a bottle. So much gold was circulating that Alora decided it was time to buy new furniture; softer beds, bigger tables, and better training equipment, among other things. She even commissioned a statue of Lady Nocturnal to be placed in the Cistern, a constant reminder that the Guild was under the shadow of her wings.

Brynjolf was busier than ever. He focused day and night on finding more recruits to help slow the endless barrage of contracts. He barely had time for Alora and would often brush her off with hasty remarks such as "sorry, lass, I've got important things to do," or "we'll speak again some other time." It saddened her, but in the end, his efforts were successful, and she forgave him. They gained several new members in a short amount of time, and all proved to be competent additions to the Guild. Eventually, with their faction spreading so rapidly, Brynjolf did not even have to sweep the streets; recruits came looking for them instead. For the first time in his life, Brynjolf was forced to turn people away, because if he didn't, there would not be enough space in the Cistern to house everyone comfortably.

More merchants found their way into the Ragged Flagon. In addition to Syndus the bowyer, the Guild now had its own alchemist and blacksmith. Thanks to them, the Guild was never short on weapons, armor, or potions.

Alora's injuries healed, thanks to Karliah. She regained full use of her leg and never again looked upon magic as something to be feared.

And, because of her status as Nightingale and service to the Guild, Alora gave Karliah the position of Guild Second, to work beside Brynjolf. With their help, along with Delvin and Vex, the Guild restored its footing in all of Skyrim's major cities: Windhelm, Whiterun, Markarth, and Solitude. They had fences in each hold and couriers to deliver contracts to their base in Riften. Everyone was thrilled with the amount of gold being thrown around, and none more so than Alora.

With work coming in from five cities instead of one, Alora realized that they had grown too big for their breeches. So, after a lengthy discussion with her Seconds and Thirds, she announced that the Guild would be forming other, smaller stations in each of the four main holds, with Riften remaining their home base. This would make it much easier to carry out contracts in those cities, cut down on resources, and save time.

It was a good plan, but alas, it involved much traveling and organization. Alora sent Delvin, Vex, and Karliah to help establish the new stations and enlist recruits from each of those cities. For a time, Alora had her Second and Thirds leading the new bases. After a few months, though, they were able to train new leaders and return home.

Whenever she could, Alora, too, traveled to each of her new Guild bases, and always took Brynjolf with her. They never made a formal announcement about the status of their relationship, but everyone eventually found out on their own. It wasn't easy to keep secrets in a family so close, but Alora and Brynjolf weren't really trying to hide it anyway.

At times, though, she was forced to send Brynjolf to check up on one of their outside bases alone. She hated being away from him, but as Guildmaster, she had to put her personal feelings aside. It was difficult, but there was usually enough work to keep her mind away from him. And she was never happier than when he came home.

After Brynjolf returned from one such journey to Markarth, he and Alora found themselves wandering the streets of Riften, content in each other's company. "Sneak thieves," the guards muttered as they walked past, and Alora would laugh, Brynjolf's low chuckle complimenting hers like a harmony to a melody.

When the stars came out, the two thieves sat perched on a low stone wall, watching the sky and holding each other.

"You seem to be in awfully high spirits these days, lass," Brynjolf observed.

She smiled. "You're to blame for that."

"Am I now?" He kissed her lightly. "That's good to hear."

They were quiet for a time, observing the city life. Madesi was closing his stall and eying them suspiciously. Talen-Jei swept leaves away from the Bee and Barb entrance. Mjoll and Aerin patrolled the streets, performing their nightly rounds.

"I met an Altmer today, while you were out collecting debts," Brynjolf said, as if the thought had just occurred to him. "She came to the Flagon, claiming to be a practicing face-sculptor. Said she could change anyone's face into a work of art."

"Are you saying..."

Brynjolf cupped her cheek. "Your face is already a work of art to me, lass, but if you really wanted to...she said that removing your scars would be simple. For a fee, of course."

Alora thought for a moment, but the answer was already clear in her mind. "No," she said. "My scars are a part of me now, like, say, archery is a part of me, and the Guild, and you. If I have them removed, I lose a part of my past. A part of who I am." She traced the crinkled flesh with the tips of her fingers. "Besides, I need them to scare the new recruits."

Brynjolf laughed. "They do make you look tougher, there's no question about that. And for what it's worth, I agree with your decision. They're a reminder to us of what you've done for the Guild."

"Sometimes I think I would like to forget what happened," she confessed. "But it was worth it. The Guild...I never dreamed it would end up like this, especially under my reign."

"I've never been more proud of the Thieves Guild," he agreed. "Or its Master. You're a light beyond the shadows, lass."

Alora had no response to that, and she didn't even try to invent one. She simply kissed him, her lips soft against his, trying to convey all of her love and appreciation for his comment in the only way she could. He seemed to understand; for underneath her mouth, she felt him smile.

Some time later, they decided to head in for the night, and hopped down from the wall.

"Delvin should be home from Whiterun tomorrow," Alora commented as they made their way to the secret Guild entrance in the cemetery.

"Oh, good. I've missed the old man."

"Get this. In his letter, he told me he's planning on proposing to Vex when he gets back."

"Oh, gods," Brynjolf muttered. "You're in for a real spectacle."

"He's tried this before?"

"Many times, lass, many times."

Alora clicked the button to open the entryway. A fake coffin bearing the Thieves Guild shadowmark slid back into the wall, revealing a stairway into the Cistern. "What if she actually said yes?"

Brynjolf laughed raucously, clutching at his stomach. "Oh, lass," he wheezed. "That's a really good joke."

Alora laughed with him. "Poor Del. He really doesn't stand a chance, does he?"

"Not in the slightest." He gestured to the entrance. "But let's head in. I think Vekel's cooking the deer Niruin shot this morning, and you know how he gets when we're late to dinner."

"Like a fretting mother, that one."

And so the thieves descended the stairs, into the Guild and the future that awaited them.