Chapter 32: Shadow of a Dream

If you want to live a long and peaceful life, I have some important advice — don’t wake up next to a dark elf with a hangover.

I was expecting her to have a bad headache and perhaps some nausea, so it wasn’t a surprise when that happened.  The surprises came with the shaking, the dry heaves, and the complete personality change from my calm, rational girlfriend into a rabid porcupine.  Even approaching her gently was hazardous to my health.

Fortunately I had a solution of sorts.  Before we’d left Kynesgrove, I’d asked the innkeeper for the recipe to her special hangover tea, and she’d been kind enough to write it down.  It meant I had to use up some of my rarest alchemy ingredients, but I deemed this an emergency situation.  So I brewed up a pot for Jenassa and made her drink it all, even though she certainly wasn’t about to thank me.

After Jenassa was feeling better and managed to eat some breakfast, I convinced her to sit out on the porch rather than crawl back into bed.  It was a beautiful morning and I figured the fresh air would do her good.  She was looking better, but it was obvious she wasn’t up for much.

Probably still dangerous to have open flame anywhere near Jenassa, but we like to live dangerously.
Likely it’s still a bad idea to have open flame anywhere near Jenassa, but I like to live dangerously.

I asked her how much of her story she remembered telling me, but apparently her memory of their adventures after she and Karliah arrived in Riften was something of a blur.  “Never mind, ” I reassured her.  “Just tell me what happened after you joined the Thieves Guild.”

She gazed for a long time at nothing at all, lost in her own thoughts and memories.  After a few minutes elapsed, I wasn’t expecting her to answer, and she seemed so melancholy that I decided not to ask again.  But then she took a deep breath and resumed her narrative.

The Dark Elf’s Tale Continues

It was a good time for Karliah and I to join the Thieves Guild, as it was well-organized and gaining wide recognition.  The leader at that time was an Imperial named Gallus who had built a network of influential contacts throughout Skyrim, making it possible for the Guild to operate safely. One of those contacts was Maven Black-Briar.  Although she wasn’t as rich and powerful as she is now, she was known as a shrewd businesswoman with an eye for talent, and people were already noticing that Maven’s allies tended to succeed.

Gallus was impressed that Karliah and I managed to find their headquarters without getting ourselves killed in the Ratway, and after a brief probation period, we were inducted as full members of the Guild.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long afterward that things began to go awry.

As long as Karliah and I were assigned to do a job together, everything went smoothly.  We made a good team and our plans went off without a hitch.  But whenever I was assigned to do a task by myself, there was a fair chance that something would go wrong.  Most of the time it was a minor glitch and easily corrected, but the leaders were starting to notice a pattern.  It became even more pronounced when Gallus took a special interest in Karliah, and she was promoted beyond me.

An untimely separation.
Outclassed and surpassed.

While Karliah was gaining a great deal of respect, I struggled to complete my assignments, which were becoming increasingly more difficult.  I had little talent for the more delicate, dexterous aspects of thieving, such as pickpocketing.  My fingers simply weren’t as nimble.

One day I got into real trouble on a job, and I had to murder a mark in order to save my own skin. As my blade bit deep into his spine, I felt a rush of satisfaction.  Despite my shortcomings, I had gained enough skill to eliminate someone swiftly and silently, and the kill was almost bloodless.  It felt good.

I caught the corpse in my arms to reduce noise, carried it away from the scene of the crime, and tossed it into the canals. I thought I’d disposed of the body neatly enough that no one would notice, but I’d neglected to pay attention to the current. The body floated into one of the docks at the local fishery, revealing my failure, and I had to explain myself to Vex — a high-ranking member with a very short temper.

A serious problem.
Some fast talking.

Karliah stepped into the breach and vouched for me, saying that my mistake was due to unfortunate but unavoidable circumstances. Vex scoffed at first, saying that even a rookie should know how to predict the current, but Karliah maintained that the impact of a recent thunderstorm would have made it more difficult than usual.  I could tell that Vex wasn’t convinced, but knowing that Karliah was being groomed as Gallus’ protégé, she backed down and let me off with a stern warning.

Later on, I went to find Karliah to thank her. I found her seated at a table surrounded by papers, looking drawn and worried. But as I approached her with words of gratitude on my lips, she suddenly turned and bit my head off.

A stressed response.
Resentment and anger.

Taken aback, I just stood there as she gave me a severe tongue-lashing, saying that she knew I was smarter than that and asking if I had screwed up on purpose.  Deeply hurt, I lashed back, asserting that if she’d been more loyal and less ambitious, then she wouldn’t have left me in the lurch when joining the Guild had been her idea in the first place.

Infuriated, I spun on my heel and left the room, but after a pause, she sped down the passage to catch up with me.  She dragged me into an alcove that was apart from the main passageways, speaking quietly so we wouldn’t be overheard.

A quiet conversation.
Temporary reconciliation.

The first thing she did was apologize, which dissolved most of my anger.  She went on to explain that she’d been under a lot of pressure lately and there were details she couldn’t reveal — but the main cause of her stress was that Gallus wanted to promote her to the very top.   He wanted her to join him and his second-in-command, Mercer, as one of the leaders of the Guild.   But Mercer wasn’t sold on the idea, and he had accused Gallus of thinking with his hormones instead of his head, implying that Gallus’ judgement could no longer be trusted.  This had caused a rift between the two leaders, and the rest of the Guild was starting to suffer for it.

I looked at Karliah in surprise, as I’d heard nothing about any of this. She looked slightly embarrassed, and admitted that she and Gallus were indeed romantically involved. “But,” she said, clenching her fists. “That’s irrelevant. I’ve been preparing for this most of my life, ever since my mother first started training me. I’ve worked hard and I can do this. I know I can. If Mercer can’t see that because Gallus’ feelings are clouding the issue, then I have to find some other way.”  Her eyes hardened and her tone changed to steel.  “I won’t stop until I make him see.”

We eventually moved past our argument, but in that moment I knew Karliah and I could no longer be friends.  We had grown too far apart.  She was becoming deeply involved with the Guild, while I was slowly distancing myself from it.  I was coming to realize that thieving wasn’t in my nature.  I’ve never been motivated by greed, but rather by a sense of adventure.  Being a warrior and an assassin might be more brutal, but it’s also more direct — and more honest.

Greasing the wheels.
Greasing the wheels.

After that, I’d often see Karliah deep in conversation with other influential members.  She seemed to be embarking on a sort of goodwill campaign, offering to do favours and take on extra work, in addition to the tasks she was already expected to perform.  This took up all her spare time, and needless to say, I saw even less of her than before.  It seemed that unless you were high-ranked and well-respected, you were no longer worthy of Karliah’s attention.  I couldn’t help but despise what she was doing.

Much later, I heard rumours that Karliah’s mother had died.  No one appeared to know exactly when or how it happened, except that it was swift and unexpected.  I was saddened, for even though I had only met Dralsi for a brief time, she had impressed me with her intelligence and her obvious love for her daughter.

Even though we had been no more than polite to each other for some time, I decided to seek out Karliah in order to express my sympathy.  I was hoping to catch her alone, but instead I found her with Gallus and Mercer.  And none of them looked very happy.

Too many cooks.
Too many cooks.

I ceased my approach once I caught a few words of their discussion.   It appeared that Karliah’s campaign had been successful, in that Mercer could no longer assert that she hadn’t done enough to earn her leadership.  But it was obvious he still didn’t trust her.  Gallus was supporting her, of course, but he was far too flattering with his praise.  It would be easy to interpret this as weakness, and from the little I overheard, it seemed that he was doing more damage to her credibility on account of sounding so lovesick.  It made me ill to hear it.  I had to turn and walk away.

I suppose Karliah was pleased by his servility, at least at first.  But I didn’t try to see her after that, and I avoided dealing directly with the leaders, as I was afraid my lack of respect for them would show.

One dark day, a grim rumour spread through the Ragged Flagon like ataxia — Karliah had betrayed the Guild by murdering Gallus in cold blood.  No doubt she killed her lover because she wanted even more power, and dispatched him once she saw that he was hindering her ambitions.  Many of us were deeply disheartened by this news, and my fortunes with the Thieves Guild fell even further.  Eventually I was forced to slay another mark, and this time Karliah wasn’t around to speak for me.  Vex wasted no time in kicking me out, and I was told not to come back until I made reparations and paid a penalty of one thousand septims.

Instead of buying my way back in, I decided to leave the Guild for good.  There was nothing in it that I valued anymore, so it was the easiest thousand septims I never spent.  After trying out a few other ways of making a living, I settled in Whiterun working as a sellsword — which is where you found me, my patron.

Since that time, the Thieves Guild has lost much of its former reputation. Now they’re considered to be little more than Maven Black-Briar’s lapdogs — her dirty work gets done while her hands officially stay clean.  As for Karliah, she hasn’t been seen for over twenty years.  I would not be surprised if Mercer had her eliminated as payback for her treachery.

So you see, I have also been betrayed by someone I once considered a friend.  I, too, have felt that cold haunting dread when all trust has been shattered and every door seems closed.   But perhaps both of our deceivers unknowingly did us a favour, for even more doors have opened.  And there is nowhere in the world I’d rather be, my patron, than exactly where I am — right here, by your side.

And if the Divines are willing, I hope to stay here for a long, long time.

Aw hell, Jenassa -- I must've put some onions in that hangover potion by mistake. Really strong onions.
Aw hell, Jenassa — I must’ve cut up some onions when I was making that hangover potion. Really strong onions.



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