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Diary of a Dragonborn Chapter 24: The Case of the Empty Vault


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CHAPTER 24: THE CASE OF THE EMPTY VAULT
In which our hero takes the short end of the stick.
Previous: Chapter 23, No Shit!

 

Twenty five years after Mercer killed Gallus and framed Karliah, she's back on her home turf. Brynjolf, the idiot that he is, seems inclined to trust me and Karliah enough to let us talk without going for our throats. The other members of the guild are, contradictory to my original estimation, even dumber than he, because they let him. So Brynjolf takes Karliah's word that this journal is really Gallus's, and that Mercer (his boss for the last two decades) is a bad man, that Karliah is innocent, and we all need to tromp down into the vault. The rest of the guild is overcome with their newfound loyalty and backs us up.

 

So, the guild vault. It's a super-secret room in the secret cistern area of the secret sewers area of the underground secret area of the Thieves guild. It's a big set of golden double-doors. This makes perfect sense to me. This is a guild of Thieves, people who ostensibly got into the business to make money. So once they make money, the first place they put it is in a vault. Wait, no, the actual FIRST place they put it is in the pocket of the door-smith who made these big golden doors. Then they put all the rest of their money in a vault. Rather than spending it, maybe getting up out of the shithole they're in and building a house with it on the surface, out in the clean air.

 

So... the vault is empty. Mercer apparently cleaned everyone out last night and nobody noticed. I spend the next three hours carefully going over every candlestick, loose brick, and questionable shadow in the room, and am unable to find a secret passage out. My only conclusion is that the guild members are both stupid and blind, because they didn't see him carting truckloads of money out the vault. Everyone's really surprised that Mercer (the guy who routinely unlocks unlockable doors) managed to get through a door that requires (gasp!) TWO keys! That's right, you heard it correctly... he unlocked a door that had not one, but TWO keys! The sheer skill of the man! What grace, what poise he must have, to be able to perform such an impossible feat! He's supposedly a thief, right? Maybe he could have stolen a key? Or made a duplicate? Or unlocked one with a key and picked the lock on the other?

 

According to Brynjolf, Mercer has been stealing from the guild for years. He knows this because he read it in Gallus's journal. Why Gallus didn't do anything about it is beyond me, but hey, this is the Thieves Guild, so maybe Gallus was just proud that SOMEBODY did some actual thieving here.

 

Anyway, Brynjolf sends me out of the sewers to Mercer's house. I'm really on a roller coaster here. Mercer is obviously the smartest, most competent thief in the world. He is the ONLY ONE OF THEM TO NOT LIVE IN A SEWER. But according to Brynjolf, Mercer never actually stayed there. So he's obviously the dumbest, most incompetent thief in the world. But he stole all the money in the guild vault, making him the best thief in the world. He stole it from these people, who collectively lack the intelligence of spore molds, meaning that he could be a real dipshit and still succeed here.

 

Didn't I make a pact with myself that I was just going to do what I'm told to do and not analyze things anymore? Yes, yes I did. So I'm headed to Mercer's house. I have to get past the guard outside, but I can't kill him because then the entire town will be after me. So I've got to get rid of him peacefully. So I talk to him, find out that he's being forced to work here by Maven Black-Briar. Off to Maven, and she says that she'll only let him go if I can find her a magical pen. It's in a chest sunk in the middle of the lake.

 

Two days later, I've trained my Alteration skill considerably on waterbreathing spells, scoured the lake from one side to the other, every inch in between, and finally I've found this @#^%^&$&@#%# magic quill she wants. I'm tempted to stab her in the eye with it, but I just hand it over, seething with barely suppressed rage. She lets the dude out of his contract, and I'm in to the house. He didn't go check with her about it, so I guess I could have avoided all this shit and just lied to him, but apparently that thought didn't cross the designer's minds.

 

Aside: I've noticed that my magical skills are being much improved by my thievery career. I had previously trained my combat skills quite a lot as a member of the mage's guild. I'm sure the Companions are going to insist I sneak around and pick locks if I ever join that little group.

 

Mercer keeps his plans in the basement of his house (even when living aboveground, these mole-people keep their valuables in their basements), and I take them to Brynjolf, and he's even more upset than before. Apparently the head of the Thieves guild was making plans to steal things! The nerve! How dare he! What cheek! If he steals these big Falmer gemstones, he'll be rich! Because he isn't rich now, no sir, not with the entirety of the guild's fortune in his pockets. We need to get to the treasure first!

 

But wait, we can't do that yet. Mercer's got a good singing voice too, so the only way we can defeat him is by becoming a barbershop triplet. We all have to become Nightingales in order to defeat a fellow Nightingale. Not sure why this is - Karliah was planning to bring Mercer to justice previously WITHOUT the help of a fellow thief and another badass warrior, so why do we need to go to choir practice now? Ugh. Remember the self-made pact. Just roll with it.
FRAMING: 1
MURDER: 6 (+however many guards there were in the museums)
ATTEMPTED MURDER: 1
EXTORTION: 5
ARSON: 3
POISONING: 1
THIEVERY: 4 (I stole the plans from Mercer's basement!)

 

We head off to the conservatory, Nightingale Hall. We're the first new members to set foot in here for a century. So I guess Mercer isn't really a Nightingale after all, because he's never been here. Gallus, too, probably - he was human, right? I know elves live a long time, so I guess you're okay, Karliah. Nightingale Hall itself is (get ready for a real shocker) an underground complex of tunnels, full of murky water and bad smells.

 

I have to touch a rock to get my Official Nightingale Singing Outfit . Once I don the armor, I really feel sneaky and secretive. I'm dressed all in black, with a neat little cape and black hood and facemask. The enchantments on the armor are actually pretty good for a combat character, and I'd use it normally except for the fact that my ebony is better quality and I'm trained in heavy armor and I already have enchantments that are better. Still, it looks neat, and the darkness of the cloth reflects the inky blackness of my soul. So now we're ready to take on Mercer, right?

 

Wrong. First we have to swear an oath. To Nocturnal. To serve her in life and death. Forever. Not sure how this works. As Dragonborn, I'm supposed to head to Sovngard when I'm done here. I'm not sure if Shor's claim does or does not stand up to Nocturnal's, but honestly I like the idea of endless feasts better than the idea of endless nights of guardianship of... something. Not sure what yet. Nobody seems to want to tell me.

 

Anyway, my self-made pact requires me to yell an enthusiastic "YES!" so here I go. In return for eternal servitude, Nocturnal gives me powers and abilities that will really help me defeat Mercer. Except, I can't find them - there's nothing new in my magic effects page. I appear to have consigned my soul to eternal night in return for a set of relatively cheap armor. If I listen closely, I can hear Nocturnal snickering to herself as she disappears.

 

It turns out that Mercer's super lockpick ability is because he has a super lockpick. Mercer defiled the Nightingale temple by stealing this uber-pick, and Nocturnal decided to get revenge on him by doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to him but CURSING THE REST OF THE THIEVES GUILD. No wonder the guild has fallen on hard times - the Daedric Prince of Night and Darkness is a whiny little bitch that lashes out at her worshippers at any perceived injustice. We're off to a Dwemer ruin to hunt down Mercer Frey!
FRAMING: 1
MURDER: 6 (+however many guards there were in the museums)
ATTEMPTED MURDER: 1
EXTORTION: 5
ARSON: 3
POISONING: 1
THIEVERY: 4
SELLING MY SOUL TO THE DEVIL: 1

 

Here at the dwarven ruin, I meet up with Karliah and Brynjolf, and together we plow through the Falmer residents. At least, I plow, and the other two yell a lot and keep getting knocked down. I am a melee warrior, and I excel at things like this. They are supposedly sneaky stealth characters, but they charge in head-on rather than sit back in the shadows peppering the Falmer with arrows. One more point on the side of glorious stupidity on their parts. But who am I to talk? I just sold my soul for a couple pieces of dark leather armor that I'm going to get rid of at the earliest opportunity.

 

When we finally track down Mercer, he has just pried the eyes out of their sockets. We all stand around for a bit taunting each other, then he takes mental control of Brynjolf and sets him to attacking Karliah, while the two of us duke it out. You'd think that he'd use his mind control powers to disable the strongest opponent (me) but you'd be wrong. A couple of hits with a big piece of metal later, and down he goes. But not before activating the self-destruct-device-slash-Bond-villain-trap and the room starts filling up with water.

 

By virtue of the fact that super-heavy ebony armor floats pretty well, I manage to make it up through the cavern's ceiling, WITH the eyes of the Falmer prince, and the uber-lockpick. Now all I have to do is sell off these eyes and return the uber-pick to Nightingale Hall and all will be well.
FRAMING: 1
MURDER: 6 (+however many guards there were in the museums)*
ATTEMPTED MURDER: 1
EXTORTION: 5
ARSON: 3
POISONING: 1
THIEVERY: 4 (another one for tomb raiding!)
*Killing Mercer doesn't count as murder because it was self-defense.

 

Outside the collapsing Dwemer ruin, I find out that I can't take the Skeleton Key back to Nightingale Hall. It has to go to the Twilight Sepulcher. Which I had thought WAS Nightingale Hall, but I guess not. Karliah can't do it because she's worried that Nocturnal might be mad at her. Not sure what for, but she seems to think she's failed in some way. Fine. I'll head off to Falkreath now.

 

Here in the Twilight Sepulcher, I meet the ghost of Gallus. Service after death, remember? Gallus is the only one of Nocturnal's singers that hasn't gone insane yet. The explanation for this is a little convoluted, so I'll omit it. Suffice to say that I've got to take the key through the place, avoiding the spirits of dead vocalists. The trip through here is actually pretty nifty - there's a section where I have to walk through shadow, because straying into the light means burning hot death. I jump down into a pit, plug the uber-lockpick into the floor, and Nocturnal shows up to spout at me for a while. Her "Oh look at me I'm so powerful" claptrap gets wearing really quick. MASSIVE inferiority complex, that one.

 

Karliah shows up, thus invalidating her previous position that she was afraid of Nocturnal. She talks to dead Gallus for a while, then tells me that it's finally time to start thieving. For reals. Actually she tells me to hone my pickpocketing skills or something like that. I zoned out again, about halfway through Nocturnal's speech, so I don't really care anymore.

 

And here I am, the new head of the guild. I guess. Maybe Maven still is. Maybe it's Karliah, or even Brynjolf. Shit, for all I know Mercer could still be in charge. I just don't care anymore. Nobody is telling me what to do, so... why did I show up in Riften in the first place? Oh, yeah. The orphan told me to kill the orphanage lady, because he thinks I'm one of the Dark Brotherhood. And find Esbern in the sewers, forgot about him. Save the world and all that. I guess I'm not done yet...
FINAL CRIME TALLY:
FRAMING: 1
MURDER: 6 (+however many guards there were in the museums)
ATTEMPTED MURDER: 1
EXTORTION: 5
ARSON: 3
POISONING: 1
THIEVERY: 4
LOSS OF THE WILL TO LIVE: 1

 

Next: Chapter 25, Pretty Spry for an Old Guy
Start at Chapter 1

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It's strange... the problems with the College of Winterhold questline irritate me a lot more than the problems with the Thieves Guild questline, to the point that I either can't write about it at all or end up writing a huge long rant. But the TG line, although it irritates me less than the COW line, is one I don't often play... even though I almost always play sneaky, stealthy characters.

 

There are a lot of reasons why... too many to go into, really... but it all boils down to the fact that the TG line is more immersion breaking. I mean, with the COW you don't have to use magic at all, and there are several moments where common sense is thrown out the window to advance the story... but the TG questline often actively discourages you from using stealth, and its nonsensical bits are generally more lacking in verisimilitude than the rest of Skyrim put together.

 

I wish that Mace Raiden was the kind of guy to do the Dark Brotherhood questline, because that's a stealth-based faction and I really like that line for a whole slew of reasons. He's not actually too straitlaced or anything, it's just that he responded to Astrid's kidnapping effort with violence. Oh well... maybe next time.

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My favorite Brynjolf quotes:

 

1) We can't turn a profit by killing.

2) Maven prefers to keep Aringoth alive but if he tries to stop you - kill him.

 

If memory serves the second quote follows about 10 seconds after the first quote. :P

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Oh and about stealth. My favorite Mercer quotes heading through Snow Veil Sanctum:

 

1) The last thing I need is you blundering into a trap and warning her that we're here.

2) {Various groans and screams as Mercer blunders into one trap after another.}

3) Various combat taunts yelled at the top of his lungs: YOUR DEATH WILL BE MY TRIUMPH! THAT WASN'T A FIGHT IT WAS AN EXECUTION!

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My favorite Brynjolf quotes:

 

1) We can't turn a profit by killing.

2) Maven prefers to keep Aringoth alive but if he tries to stop you - kill him.

 

If memory serves the second quote follows about 10 seconds after the first quote. :P

My favorite Brynjolf quote goes something like this (can't remember the exact quote):

"Sorry, lass, I've got important things to do. We'll talk later."

He says it to me constantly after I've finished the questline and am (apparently?) the head of the guild. My second in command has things to do that are too important for him to waste time talking to his boss about.

Important things... like what, exactly? Standing around in a sewer?

 

And all the thieves guild members (actually, everyone in Skyrim, but I single out the thieves guild and assassins about this because they're ostensibly stealth-focused classes) have AI that basically just says "rush in and smack things" when it could be so much better.

It seems like the combat AI in the game is totally concerned with three things only: Melee weapon, Ranged weapon, or Spell. Stealth doesn't even enter into it (now combine that with the combat taunts, and we've got a recipe for some facepalms).

 

I just got a copy of the new Tomb Raider for Solstice... and the combat AI in that game is SO much better. Enemies advance and retreat based on (as far as I can tell) factors like number of other enemies nearby, types of other enemies nearby, the amount of damage they've taken... they use cover, they try flanking maneuvers, etcetera. It still gets a little odd when there's like one guy left and he's still screaming things like "get around behind her" but it's a damn sight better than Skyrim.

And I can't even say it's because the AI has improved in the time between Skyrim and TR - I played the hell out of a game called Descent (and it's sequel, imaginatively titled Descent 2), and the enemy AI in those games did a lot of this stuff too.

 

For that matter, it always seems like the enemies in Fallout New Vegas have better combat AI too, even though they do tend to come from the "hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle" school of tactical combat, I could just be imagining it, but it always seemed like they were more intelligent on average. But that's probably because it's actually been nearly a year since I even started up FNV, so I dunno...

 

What the hell was the original  topic? Oh yeah, stupid combat taunts. Yeah, they're stupid. I totally agree.

 

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"Sorry, lass, I've got important things to do. We'll talk later."

 

Skyrim's cop outs are frankly insulting. It just feels like Bethesda's giving me the finger every time a major character comes up with some lame excuse why they can't do something that is absolutely essential to their character.

 

So after Mercer's dead, Brynjolf can't go with me to return the Key because he has to keep order back at the Guild. Karliah can't go because she can't bear to face Nocturnal.

 

BRYNJOLF YOU DOUCHE! That's what Vex and Delvin are for! And no you don't have something more important to do. Did you forget that little oath we took?

 

KARLIAH?! DAMMIT BITCH! You just faced Nocturnal when we sold our souls to her in Nightingale Hall in exchange for this armor that I'll never wear again and for powers that I'll forget to use because they're so unimportant! Nocturnal's totally cool - she just doesn't want you to disappoint her again! By, say, reneging on your oath! What's wrong with you two?!

 

But I think the worst cop outs come towards the end of the Companions' main quest. On our way to save Kodlak's soul, Vilkas backs out because he's an emotional wreck over Kodlak's death. Later on Farkas backs out because he's afraid of spiders.

 

My first act as Harbinger would be to kick those two numb nuts out of the Companions for their cowardice. But that's not an option. :/

 

I still love this stupid game though. :P

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Later on Farkas backs out because he's afraid of spiders.

 

This one really bugs me. He's supposedly afraid of something that happened at Dustman's Cairn, right? But I don't even remember anything about spiders there... I mean, there were spiders, but I've played through the Companions line several times, and I don't remember Farkas saying anything about the spiders there, being afraid of them or otherwise. Some developer just shoved in a line about spiders later on and I'm just supposed to accept it at face value, without question.

 

My first act as Harbinger would be to kick those two numb nuts out of the Companions for their cowardice. But that's not an option. :/

 

Marry one, and put him permanently in a house somewhere. Make the other one a Steward (with hearthfire).
Then, put three of the four junior members in the Blades, and make the other one a steward again.
Then for good measure, side with the Stormcloaks for the Battle of Whiterun, give Saadia up to the Alik'r, complete all possible Whiterun quests, then go on a killing rampage... by the end of the game, leave Whiterun a desolate, depopulated ruin. And the Dark and Evil Lord of Evil Darkness will finally be appeased! 
Sorry, don't know where I was going with that...
 
 

 

I still love this stupid game though.  :P

It's a curse. The more I play it, the more I notice stupid little things that irk me, but the more I want to continue playing. It's the crack of computer games.
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