Chapter 2: The Night of the Thief
The young traveller left the Sanctuary at the rise of dawn. Discarding her robes for a black leather tunic and pants concealed beneath a travellers cloak she hoped such sombre attire would allow her to tread the open roads undisturbed. She mounted her borrowed steed, Shadowmere, and set out on her journey towards the eastern fringe of the frozen land.
Sofie had chosen to remain on the main roads and soon found herself passing through the hold capital of Falkreath. Although the estate she had called home for the past few years had only been within a few miles of the town this was one of the few times since she had come here since her mother's passing. As her horse trotted slowly through the street she strained to overhear the fleeting conversation of two men standing outside the local inn.
"Wasn't that the estate of the Dragonborn?"
"Yeah, I heard something happened a few days ago. You hear anything?"
"The guards went out to investigate this morning. The whole estate looked abandoned, scars of battle everywhere"
"Bandits you think?"
"It's an odd sort of Bandits that use fire and ice spells. And there weren't nothing stolen, no weapons or jewels missing. Only thing that was gone was a load of clothes and all the food in the kitchen"
"You're right. Mighty strange bandits who break into the home a dragon killer for a frilly dress and a stale sweet roll"
So it was true, the estate had been abandoned with no trace of Brelyna, Runa or Lydia. No doubt the city guards presumed everyone either dead or taken by whoever had attacked the estate. She could not risk returning to home based on idle curiosity, but it did not comfort her to rely on second word and gossip. For now it would have to suffice.
A few days ride from Falkreath laid the city of Riften. Known as the City of Thieves it was a city regarded as a den of treachery and deceit unfit for all but the lowest of creatures of Skyrim.
Sofie arrived as a fresh sun broke over the horizon on the fourth day in the wake of the attack. She dismounted Shadowmere at the edge of the forest lingering just within sight of the city, preferring to approach the city on foot rather than astride a demonic mount. She walked the beaten path as many travellers had done before her draped in her flowing black cloak she hoped she would be able to pass unnoticed-
"You in the cloak" the challenge of a guard's voice stopped her in her step outside the city gate.
"Yes" Sofie acknowledged the guard.
"You have to pay the visitors tax for entering Riften" the guard said.
"Why would I need to pay to enter the city?" Sofie asked.
"The visitors tax is paid by all non-residents entering Riften. If you don't, bad things happen" the guard repeated.
"I call horker dung on that, how can you expect me to believe-" Sofie instinctively reached out for the dagger at her belt. Riftens reputation for violence required-
"My apologies, miss. I didn't recognise you" Sofie noticed the guard had taken an interest in her mother's pendant around her neck. "Please go ahead" the guard stepped aside to allow her entry.
Walking through the streets she found the city carried itself with a cold and weary dreariness as much in the people as the architecture.
Leaning on the railing overlooking the river across from the market square she could watch the bustle of the people going about their trade. On the edge of the city she could see the towering citadel of Mistveil Keep piercing through the morning fog. The moment she had stepped into the city she could feel a looming sense of sadness and sorrow, or it may have been the smell of the canals-
In a flash of movement too quick for her eyes to follow a figure emerged from the shadows behind her. She felt a hand at her belt, her purse. They ran off down the planked street.
"Hey, give that back!" Sofie protested and swiftly gave chase down the street after them.
Reaching the end of the street the thief darted around the wall to emerge in the courtyard of the Temple of Mara, Sofie remaining close on his tail as she pursued him. Following in his wake through the courtyard Sofie emerged into an eerily silent graveyard. Fearing she had lost sight of him she glanced up to watch as her quarry scampered across the treacherous rooftops as naturally as a creature born to traverse the urban jungle of wood and stone.
Forced to continue the pursuit at ground level Sofie could only fight to keep pace as the young thief ran from rooftop to rooftop across the back alley of the city. Quickly running out of roof space to traverse the thief leapt from the high ledge and surrendered himself to the unforgiving influence of gravity, transferring his fall into a roll which brought him back to his feet in a single motion to continue his escape.
Turning a corner Sofie found the thief standing at far end of the alleyway, struggling to unlock the metal gate. He turned to face her down because he had no choice; she saw the desperation in his eyes. Sofie realised she had drawn her weapon out of instinct, she did not know what she would have done once she had caught him.
This was not just some mad dash for justice or a crusade to right some injustice made against her, all the money she had left since leaving the estate was in that pouch. Sofie did not know how he would dare to break free but knew that he would have to go through her-
Sofie turned to be met by the source of the voice at the mouth of the alleyway, a woman with long blonde hair dressed in a black leather jacket and pants.
"You did well to keep up, almost too well for a common mark" the woman commented to Sofie with a sly grin. "You though" the woman's tone suddenly turned harsh as her attention was shifted to the young thief, she stepped past Sofie without a second glance to stand high over the young boy. "What the hell happened there? What's the first rule of running away?"
"I know" the young thief replied with downturned eyes, clearly being forced to suffer the repeated sting of the same lecture for the ever growing nth time.
"Always know your escape route before you execute the snatch" the woman enunciated every word as if she wished them to be thoroughly nailed through the boys' skull.
"I already picked the lock-" the boy was quick to reply in an attempt to redeem himself.
"Second rule" she interrupted, seemingly anticipating his response. "Always assume your escape will be blocked and have a backup already planned"
"That's what I thought" the young thief pleaded. "If I could just get through here I could loop back around to the graveyard and-"
"Rule three; never return to home base with a tail on your arse" the boys pleas appeared to fall upon deaf ears. "It seems she's got you cornered here, not seeing much hope of you getting away now"
"Right, sorry Ve-" the young boys' apology was silenced by a sharp clip around his ear.
"Rule four, don't let slip any information about who you are or where you're from" the woman glanced over at Sofie. "I mean it's not like she could find us anyway but-"
"What's going on?" Sofie asked.
The woman's attention suddenly shifted back to Sofie. "Oh yeah, you" the woman turned back to face the thief holding out her open palm expectantly. The young boy produced a leather skin pouch from his pocket, reluctantly handing it to the woman. She accepted the offering, bouncing it in her hand to test its weight. "Since he got himself caught he doesn't get his cut this time" the woman threw the pouch back into the hand of its owner. The young thief shuffled past his victim with a downturned gaze. "But he's getting better" the boy turned, the woman threw a gold coin for the boy to catch in his cupped hands. "And frankly I can't be arsed training another one if he ends up dead for lack of a meal in his belly"
With the young thief gone the woman finally returned her full attention to his victim. "There, you got your gold back"
With her final word made the woman simply walked away without a second glance. "Wait" Sofie took a few steps in pursuit. "He said your name was Vex right?"
Vex stopped with a weary sigh, not even bothering to face the girl directly. "Now, I'm sure you already know who I am, and I know why you're still here"
"You do?" Sofie asked.
"You're the little girl from the small town with stars in her eyes wanting to join up with us and become a dashing thief like in the stories. Well sorry girly, we don't just let anyone in on our line of work. Try your luck at the Bee and Barb, I'm sure they could do with another dish maid" the woman continued to walk away on her own. "Oh, and drop the cloak and dagger routine, you look ridiculous"
"What, no!" Sofie was quick to give chase after the woman. "If you're with the Thieves Guild then you're the one I was to meet. I was told you knew my mother and I needed to know-"
The woman stopped in her step. "Hey, wow" she held up her hands in defence. "If you think one of my guys is your dad then-"
"No, I was told to come here and ask you too-" Sofie persisted.
"Look, I'll stop you right there; I've heard it all before. Sorry kid, give me one good reason why I should even waste my breath with you" the woman turned her back once more.
"Because sometimes it takes a child to tell the Jarl that he is wearing no clothes" Sofie said.
The woman stopped. "What did you say?"
"So I was right" Sofie announced with a noticeable tinge of audacity. "You knew my mother, Brianna Hunter"
"I haven't heard that name in years" the woman pondered. "Alright, dropping her name gets you a chance at least. Let's talk"
"So you must be the 'Little Dove'" Vex said.
Sofie shook her head. "Why does everyone I meet call me that?"
"Because that's what you are" Vex replied flatly. "Your mother was the big fearsome dragon and you are her adorable little songbird. Truth is it was your mother's pet name, not ours. She always called your sister her Little Wolf and you were her Little Dove. I guess your sister preferred to run around the forest with her nose in the dirt while you had your head in the clouds"
"Mother really told you about us?" Sofie asked.
"Of course. I also know if you've come all this way there is only one reason, you wish to learn to become like your mother"
"No I-" Sofie stuttered. What do you mean 'Become my mother'?"
"You're here to learn as your mother learned from us. How to hide in plain sight, how to pick locks of any chest or door you encounter" Vex brushed past a passer-by with only the faintest flutter unsettling the flow of the people strolling around them. It was only once they were a few paces past the encounter that Vex revealed the leather skin pouch concealed in the palm of her hand. "How to steal from a mark"
"And what if I did not come here to be like my mother?"
"If you want to survive in this world you must learn these skills, there's no two ways about it"
"If you say so" Sofie had one more thing she had to know. "At the gate, the guard commented on my necklace, he seemed to think it was important"
Vex glanced down at the necklace around her neck. "I remember that, your mother always wore it. Even when we were doing stealth jobs she refused to leave it, she said it was important to her"
"It was my mothers, it's one of the few things I truly have to remember her by"
"Come on" Vex said. "I'll introduce you to the rest of our dysfunctional little family"
"Welcome to the Ragged Flagon" Vex announced into the cavernous space before them.
In the very moment that she stepped into the open space whatever thoughts and opinions she had once held about the city above suddenly disappeared into the sickly green ooze which bubbled and lurched in the centre of the pit, this place smelled far worse.
"Don't worry, you'll get used to the smell, eventually" Vex's reassurances proved small comfort as Sofie pondered the realisation of a pseudo city hidden in the sewers beneath Riften and how many of those living above knew that such a thing even existed beneath their feet.
Stepping past the array of weapons, armour and alchemy shops into the communal bar area on the far side of the cistern Sofie found herself surrounded by people who in her previous life she would have regarded as dangerous and untrustworthy individuals. How her life had changed.
"Pull up a chair" Vex indicted the vacant seat at the table lingering at the edge of the bar. "I'll find us something to cure what ails ya" Sofie sat herself down while Vex offered to get some drinks for the two of them.
Sofie had never been much for alcohol, having spent her life living on the street witnessing the anger and depravity such drinks arose in normally sensible people. Now more ever she needed to keep her mental faculties about her and could not afford to dull her senses if she was-
"So you're the youngen then?" a voice from behind drew her gaze for just long enough that once she looked back she was met by the sight of a large, shaven headed man as he dropped unceremoniously into the unoccupied seat beside her.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Sofie asked
"No" the man replied flatly. "Names Devlin, I used to work with your mother. Divines, I remember your mother. She had great big tits and fat arse"
"That's my mother!" Sofie was shocked.
"Which one do you mean? You've got two of them ain't ya?" Devlin laughed, taking an ample swig of his drink. "Sure is a shame she was into all that, would have loved to try her on myself"
"I can't believe my mother would work with people such as you" Sofie said.
"People like us, eh" Devlin laughed. "Listen Little Dove, sometimes there have to be bad people in the world so that good people can feel better that they have never done the things we do to survive in this world. I never met your mother, your other mother that is, but your mother would talk about her and you kids non-stop. Nearly blew our cover on more than a few jobs because of her mouth, a few being more than zero in my books-"
"Alright Devlin, that's enough" Vex reappeared, two hefty flagons held between her hands. "No need bore the kid to death with your dreams of conquering her mother"
"Where did you find her anyway?" Devlin asked.
"I gave her a saucer of milk and she followed me home, I was going to ask Brynjolf if we could keep her" Vex smiled. "Now are you quite done?"
"I was just regaling the young lass with the tale of how her mother brought the guild back from the brink of the abyss and re-established our position as a dominant force within every city within the reaches of-"
"Yeah, yeah we all saw it" Vex sat down on the unoccupied seat beside Sofie. "Now do you mind shoving off, I've got to have a talk with the Little Dove"
"As you wish" Devlin hefted himself up and silently returned into the idle humdrum of the bar around them.
"Is it true what he said about my mother and-" Sofie trailed off as the thoughts seeped into her mind.
"Devlins an old pervert" Vex passed the flagon across the table. "I've told him before if he follows me to the lake again I'll cut off his most valuable asset. He never listens though"
Vex ensured her colleague was truly beyond earshot before she returned her attention to the young girl at her side. "Now then" she asked, raising her flagon to her lips in anticipation of the sweet drink. "Let's hear the tale of what brings you to this den of sin and debauchery we call our merry little clubhouse"
Sofie fell into a recount of the events which had led her to this place. She told Vex of the men who had attacked the estate, her escape through the forest, how she met the assassin who had told her the truth of her mother's past and the chance encounter which had brought her to this place.
"So the blue witch yet lives eh? I guess after the number of lives the Dark Brotherhood has taken it's too much to ask the universe for one in return" Vex took another swig of her drink. "As for your men in black cloaks I'll admit even in my infinite wisdom I'm stumped to think of anyone who matches what you describe"
"You're saying that you cannot help me" Sofie replied defeatedly.
"I never said that" Vex interjected, keen to nip the accusation in the bud. "There is only one person in the Thieves Guild who may have an idea of what it is that hunts you" Vex took another swig of her drink. "I'll send a message; should be able to meet them by morning"
"By the way, where are you staying tonight?"
Sofie bit her lip and she resisted the urge to reply.
"I suspected as such. Your mother maintained a house in the docks, I'm guessing she had the key on her last time she left" Vex reached into her pocket, she cast a leather bound satchel of small metal picks across the table. "Use these on the lock" Sofie could only stare at the illicit tools until Vex finally responded. "What, your mother never told you to pick locks?"
"Yes" Sofie begrudgingly answered.
"Then what's the problem? It's technically your house anyway" Vex took her final long swig of her drink. "I'll stay with you tonight until you learn about your mystery attackers, keep the other guys from getting any ideas"
Her instinct had been to reject the offer. For now all that she wished was to be left alone to contemplate all that came before her. She knew that such an attitude would only see her dead in this situation, she could not show any sign of weakness to these people.
"Very well" Sofie said. "For tonight"
A journey bound by the touch of the cold.
A traveller guided by the words of the bold.
A vanguard rises at the sirens call.
A dragon whispers a name through the wall.
A daughter cast to the whims of the tide.
A mother bound by a life she must hide.
A cold covered mound, holds the truths of this tale.
A traveller's journey, to safeguard the truths of the veil.
"That's a lovely song" Vex mused as she listened to Sofie sing the tune softly beneath her breath as she sat on her bed, clutching her knees to her chest. Vex ran the final pass of the cloth across the bladed edge of her dagger before placing it down on the table alongside the rest of her freshly cleaned assortment of blades, picks and armour plates.
"My mother, Brelyna, she used to sing to my sister and I every night when we were children" Sofie said, singing the words brought back memories of happier times.
"How did you know my mother?" Sofie asked.
Vex rose herself off of the chair at the desk, passing across the house she collapsed unceremoniously into the vacant bed besides Sofie. "I was here when your mother joined the guild. Thanks to her efforts the Thieves Guild has established contacts in every city, and as Guild Master she commanded our resources across Skyrim. We even had people in Whiterun keeping an eye on you and your sister, your mother's orders"
"You were watching?"
"Every time you and your sister would sneak out of the city to go play by the riverside"
"So you were watching me all the time" Vex smiled. "Or every time you used to hide beneath the bridge to get out of doing your chores"
With the memories of her childhood swiftly returning to her so too did memories of her mother. "Why did my mother speak so harshly of this place to us?"
"Because it's true" Vex flatly, offering no defence for the city she called her home.
"But why did she tell us never to come here, to the city where my sister was born?" Sofie asked.
"Because she wanted something better for both of you" Vex replied.
"I have to know" Sofie swiftly shifted the topic. "Gabriella insinuated that she had been... with her"
Vex sniggered beneath her breath. "Your mother was rather adventurous in her time, and I'm not referring to simply fighting Dragons"
"So" Sofie said down beaten. "You're saying my mother cheated-"
"No" Vex silenced Sofie before she could finish the thought. "This was before she met Brelyna, the one person in all of Skyrim who could ever tame that Dragons soul"
"So, did you ever?" Sofie's mind drifted to other thoughts.
"In my youth I did cast a flirtatious gaze over the Jarl, Laila. We even invited her Steward Anuriel with us on occasion" Vex's slips curled into a feline smile as the memories returned to her. "She was a right goer in her day"
"But you and my mother?" Sofie repeated the question.
"Never mix business with pleasure" Vex suddenly returned serious for the briefest of moments. "Unless" but as quickly as it had dispelled her cat like grin had returned, accompanied by a drifting hand across her thigh. "You enjoy that sort of thing?"
Sofie only now realised that Vexs fingers had drifted further up her thigh, likely the same dexterous skills she used in her thieving. After her experiences with Gabriella Sofie was eager to take the lead in this moment. Sofie pressed her weight into Vexs shoulders, rolling her onto her back and taking advantage of her surprise to pin Vex beneath her on the bed.
"How cute" Vex smiled devilishly. "The little pup thinks she's Den Mother"
Vex was swift to reassert her control over her younger counterpart, rolling the two of them across the bed only for her to emerge on top in the end. Sofie found herself pinned beneath Vex, throwing herself upwards she pressed her lips to Vexs.
"Huh" Vex appeared mildly impressed at the attempted subversion. "Perhaps you should be the 'Little Iguana', work your way up towards Dragon"
Sofie knew what this was, a battle, and a test of dominance. In truth Sofie knew that this was not a contest she could hope to win yet still she resisted, determined to prove herself at least a fighter in her late mothers' eyes. To her astonishment her persistence was rewarded as she began to gain the upper hand, an offered victory no doubt. In her mind Vex relinquished her unwavering grip over the situation, tasting the arousal at the merest thought of allowing her actions to be dictated by the whim of another.
"I thought you said you would never mix business and pleasure?" Sofie said.
"I would hardly call what we have business" Vex said. "Besides, what is the point of having a rule if you refuse to break it?"
Sofie lay in her bed, held in the warm embrace of her sheets. A rustle in the darkness unsettled her from her slumber. She saw a figure looming in the shows. "Vex?"
Sofies mind returned to the reality, the dark outline of a figure looming over her.
Welcome Little Dove.
"Uh" Sofie groaned hoarsely. "Why does everyone call me that?"
Because that is what you are, Little Dove.
Sofie opened her eyes, a dark spectre looming over her draped in flowing black robes. Her vision began to clear as she saw herself sitting in the centre of a dark cave.
"Welcome" the dark feminine figure raised their arms in open acceptance. "To Nightingale Hall, Sanctuary of Nocturnal"
"Who are you?" Sofie asked.
The figures hand reached up to remove their mask and cast back their hood. "My name is Karliah, servant of my Lady Nocturnal"
"You were the one I was told to meet" Sofie said. "The one who knew the truth about my family"
"Is that what you were told?" Karliah asked. "Very well, what is it you wish to accomplish?"
"I need to find the people who attacked my family, I need to protect them" Sofie said.
"A noble endeavour" Karliah mused. "To do that you must become your mother"
"So I have been told" Sofie said. "But I do not know how learning to pick locks and steal pursues will help me to find the people who attacked my family"
"Your mother was far more than a mere thief" Karliah laughed. "Your mother was a Nightingale. She swore her oath to Nocturnal as one of the three. Although she may not be your mother by blood her heroic spirit dwells within you"
"What are the Nightingales?" Sofie asked.
"We work with duty in the service of our Lady Nocturnal" Karliah said. "Our work serves with honour and we do not taint our blades with the blood of innocents"
"Are you saying I must be as my mother and conspire with Deadra to spare myself?" Sofie asked.
"You must become your own person and dare to live beyond your mothers' shadow" Karliah said.
"If that is what I must do, then I accept your contract" Sofie accepted
"Very well" Karliah reached out to her. "Now, sleep Little Dove"