The Thieves Guild Questline - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
If you have played the previous games you should well understand and appreciate the guild system that is used in Skyrim -- and the faction quests that are used by each guild to rise in their ranks, though really this was used less intensely in Skyrim than in the previous games. The secret to success in each of the guilds and their faction quests is leveling the respective skills for each, and in this case they consist of Lockpicking, Sneak, and Pickpocket...
The first Faction Quest that gets you into the guild is called Taking Care of Business, and you flag it from Brynjolf in Riften after completing a Side Quest for him called A Chance Arrangement.
You can scroll down this page of the guide to find all the quests in section or use the links below to jump to the specific quest you are interested in.
After you complete the Side Quest A Chance Arrangement, Brynjolf instructs you to find him at the Ragged Flagon -- the home pub for the guild, which is deep in the Ratway under the city.
When you find him he will give you further information on the quest, which is to collect what is owed to the guild by some unsavory types who refuse to pay -- but you cannot kill them! Ask him for the details on each and exhaust the chat options.
Basically you need to collect from three people -- Haelga, Bersi, and Keerava -- with some optional steps to complete if you want to. Basically with your high Speech Skill you can persuade them all to pay up.
The Protection Racket
The Protection Racket
Do them in this order:
Haelga tells you to get stuffed -- so go take her statue and threaten to break it and she pays up.
Bersi tells you to get stuffed as well -- these people have stones! Smash his pot (it is marked) and he will pay up!
Keerava is behind the counter in the Inn, and clearly she has heard of our other collections because she pays up immediately!
Head back to Brynjolf now to turn over the money and you not only complete the quest and get your reward, but you also unlock the Achievement "Taking Care of Business" (10 GS)!
Brynjolf asks you to follow him and you get introduced to the Guild Leader Mercer Frey.
You need to Retrieve your Thieves Guild Armor from Tonila the Fence;
You need to talk to Delvin to learn more about the Guild;
You need to talk to Vex to learn more about the Guild.
These are all dead easy -- get the armor on the way out, then talk to Vex, who tells you which way up is! She tells you that what the Guild needs is to re-establish its rep -- and you should help. Talk to Delvin next, and he will offer you his advice.
If you did not notice these two can give you jobs -- the idea being that completing them will help get the Guild rep back where it was. Take them, don't take them, it all depends on what you need to do at the moment...
Dealing with the Boss
The Guild Leader Mercer Frey wants you to put the muscle on and convince the owner of the Goldenglow Estate to learn his place -- your task is to burn three hives and rob his safe.
The safe is in the basement of the basement, and the beehives are at the far end of the estate. Basically you are facing some mercenary help and the owner -- but try to avoid the owner, right? Sneak in and rob the safe to get the bill of sale for the estate, then torch three of the hives and return to the guild to report in. That ends this quest and flags the next.
Now you knew she was a witch except you spell it with a B right? She tells you what she wants -- her competition put out of business. This job takes us to the Inn in Whiterun where we meet our contact, Mallus Maccius.
Honningbrew Meadery is the target, and he wants us to poison the mead that will be used for the tasting there. He lays out the plan for you -- simple enough. Head to the meadery and speak with Sabjorn to get the poison, then poison the nest before you head to the vats and dump it in!
Poisoning the Brew
As you approach the nest -- you are battling rats and spiders on the way -- you run into a pretty powerful mage named Hamelyn who can command the rats. Hamelyn... The Pied Piper? Get it?
There is a shortcut back to the meadery from the nest room so take that and that puts you right in the room with the vats -- so head up the stairs and poison the marked vat!
Now return to Sabjorn to collect your pay only to learn that he will not pay you until after the tasting. We watch the tasting and the Captain go nuts and arrests the owner. Mallus lets you have access to the office so you can ID the silent partner -- his quarters are upstairs and the note you want is in his dresser.
When you get back to Riften and meet with Maven Black-Briar she tells you to report the information to the Guild. And that is where we go next!
When you report back to Brynjolf he already knows we have something to report. This completes the quest and flags the next one.
When we meet with Mercer we learn that the adversary has been around for years -- and it seems that he has found a mistake that was in one of the documents that reveals the identity of someone that he knows. It looks like we are headed to Solitude and the East Empire Company!
Brynjolf suggest we try to buy him off, and if that does not work follow him to see what he is doing. They do not want Gulum-Ei dead, just talking. Fast travel to Solitude and seek out Gulum-Ei -- the first conversation you have with him will be successful if you persuade him. He tells you what he knows, and now it is time to follow him!
The Go-Between With the Information
He heads out the main gates and down to the docks -- and we follow -- to the warhouse at the docks where he goes inside. We have to pick the Expert Lock to get in, and when we do we find that there are guards patrolling inside. You need to avoid them like the plague!
Swim to the other side and hide and wait for him to reach that side, then sneak and use Invisibility Potions to follow him -- after you overhear his meeting confront him -- he reveals that the woman is Karliah and tells you about her history with the Guild. You need to report this!
When you tell the boss he is not happy -- Mercer does not seem afraid of her so much as in dread -- so he wants your help to catch and deal with her. This ends the current quest and spawns the next.
Karliah ends up being the Good Girl
You need to meet Mercer outside of the Snow Veil Sanctum -- which is in the wilds southeast of town. When you arrive Mercer tells his story and then lets you into the Sanctum. We work our way through the dungeon killing undead left and right, being manly men, but then as we finally reach our goal we end up getting hit with an arrow that has some strange poison that knocks us out.
When we start to recover we overhear the conversation and that it was Mercer that betrayed the guild! After they talk he draws is sword and attacks us -- and we cannot defend ourselves! All hope looks lost, but then just when it looks like we will die it is a Hitman Bloodmoney situation! Karliah has saved us!
It turns out that she saved us two ways -- the poison slowed our heart rate so that we did not bleed to death from his attack, and she came back and bandaged us to carried us to the surface. She tells us her story -- she was betrayed by Mercer and he has been hunting her to silence her.
You basically have to help her decipher the diary -- taking it to Winterhold thus ending this quest and starting the next!
We need to head to Winterhold and talk to Enthir -- if anyone can decipher the diary it is he according to Karliah -- so to Winterhold we go!
When we arrive we find Enthir in The Frozen Hearth where he is eating and drinking. When we tell him who sent us he knows precisely what it is about! He looks the diary over and he knows the language -- but he cannot translate it. The good thing is he knows someone who can do the translation -- the Court Wizard of Markarth!
Well we have our next destination... Here is the thing -- if you happen to already have the key to the Museum here from the previous quests in the town, you can go directly there to get the translation, you do not have to talk to the Wizard. If you do not, you can go to the Wizard, but you will have to do some tasks for him to get him to help. Since we already have the key, I just went right to the Museum and grabbed the key to translate the text.
In the Museum Laboratory you will find the Puzzle Cube, err Guide Cube... No, it is a Puzzle Cube -- shades of Portal...
The Rosetta Stone
Head out onto the Wizard's Balcony and then to the right up the stairs and into the Tower... Follow the path around and through a door where you can take a piece of charcoal and a roll of paper from a desk here, then loot the room -- there is a Black Soul Gem, and a Skill Book on the desk.
Through the door is a Stone panel that you need to use the charcoal and paper on to make an etching -- after you do this some people enter below so duck down behind the panel and after they move through the room make a break for the door!
Outside the door turn and then right again and follow the path, and jump down into the water below the waterfall. Swim to the surface and fast travel back to Winterhold to speak with Enthir, who amazingly is still at the Inn! Man he takes Union Lunches!
Enthir tells you that the rubbing will work -- Karliah is with him in the basement of the Inn as well.
The diary reveals much -- much of Mercer's betrayal that is! As Karliah prompts him Enthir answers what he can. Talk to Enthir again and he will tell you what he wants. We can do that! And it turns out that he is something of a fence and offers his services to us!
Now we talk to Karliah and learn the true depth of Mercer's betrayal and what it means. We must deal with this! She gives you a present and the quest ends, flagging the next one!
Note: If the game bugs on your way out and part of the wall and floor disappear DO NOT step into that area.
We need to meet Karliah at the Ragged Flaggon -- so head there now and meet with Karliah and you go together to face the Guild. When you enter the Cistern -- which is really the proper Guild area, not the Pub -- she tells all, and the Guild listens...
The Guild goes to check the vault to verify the diary information -- and the vault is as empty as Al Capone's Vault! They begin to talk among each other, planning for the short-term, and then you chat with Brynjolf and he asks to debrief you. Go ahead, it is sharing time!
Confronting the Guild
Brynjolf tells you to break into Mercer's house and search it for clues -- so head there now with your 007 license and search the place! To get there exit through the crypt entrance and then go around back to the first gate -- kill the guard and take the house key from him, then go stand by the door on the right on the ground, arm your bow and arrow and shoot the mechanism of the ramp above to cause it to deploy.
Head up the stairs, up the ramp, and into the house! Kill the other guards inside then go to the basement -- grab the statue off of the shelf -- and then go into the room there, open the wardrobe and then open the false back panel! Carefully go through the passage beyond being careful not to set off the many traps, and you will head down deep underground.
There is a Skill Book on the table so read that -- by the way, you do know that even if you do not actually get the Skill Point from the book reading it still counts for the Achievement. Take the plans and the note, then loot anything else you want from here...
The door down the last stairs leads into the Ratway, so use that and make your way to the Guild to report in -- Brynjolf tells you they had no luck locating him -- you share what you know and now you know what he is after and how to stop him!
This completes the quest and flags the next one!
First you need to talk to Karliah -- who asks you to continue to trust her. She says that the time has come to decide Mercer's fate -- Brynjolf decides that he needs to die -- and Karliah warns that they must be very careful in the doing of it. You get the meet-up location and she tells you to prepare for the coming task and then meet her there.
If you are ready head there now -- when you arrive at the Shadow Stone you need to go down below to meet up at the Nightingale HQ. Follow her in and listen -- then head to the Armor Stone and get a set of Nightingale Armor, and put it on so you can be sworn in!
The Face of A God?
Brynjolf has a long conversation with Karliah about the price to becoming a Nightingale -- and we have to agree too -- so stand where the arrow says to and take the oath and then go though the initiation in which you actually get to see this God.
Talk to Karliah again to learn the truth behind Mercer's real crime -- stealing the Skeleton Key! And the Key needs to be recovered and put back where it belongs. I suspect we will end up getting that assignment, yeah?
Before you leave Brynjolf wants to talk about who will be the new Guild Leader -- he says that he wants you to be the leader... Wow, we keep getting put in charge of every faction! Amazing... Err... Just accept so we can get on to the mission, right?
Oh God more Dwarven Ruins! That ends the quest and flags the next one!
Check your supplies, make sure you have the potions you need, arrows, whatever, and when you are ready head to the marker on the map to begin the quest in earnest. The spot we are headed to is sort of in the middle of nowhere -- that figures -- so get as close as you can and hoof it!
When you arrive take out the bandits outside and then head up the ramps to the rooftop entrance and go inside -- battle the mechs and, in the room with the fire traps use the gate on the right side to get to the lift and go down, talk to Karliah and then she spots him below after you enter through the door. There does not appear to be a way to get down to him -- go through the door and follow the path, pick open the gate and use the lever, and then run all the way around the upper area to the left and pull the lever there, then all the way around to the right and pull the third level and it will lower the gate that was blocking the path.
The Final Confrontation with Mercer
Head down the stairs, take out the enemy being sure to loot the Shamin's Key, and proceed along the now open path to the door above. You will then fight some Falmer and a Leviathan Mech -- and some Frost Spiders. This area is very buggy so you will want to save more often... If the frame rates go wonky here you may want to save and quit and reload the game to fix that.
If the game bugs at some point along the path and you cannot cast spells you will need to save and restart the game to fix that.
Eventually you will reach the Sanctuary and confront Mercer -- you demand the Key and he tries to bullshit you -- save and then kill him. Seriously, he needs killing. After you do that be sure to loot his body to get the Key and some cool kit.
At this point the chamber begins to flood -- basically you need to tread water until seismic action breaks open the escape tunnel -- then head through it and out of the Sanctuary! Talk to Korliah to learn what needs to be done with the Key -- walking the Pilgrim's Path -- but you promise to return the Key just the same. She gives you another piece of kit and the quest ends.
Get as much information as you can from her before you part ways though.
Well this is the last quest in the main Faction Line for the Guild -- and it is ALSO one of the Daedra Artifact Quests but it does not actually count towards the Achievement.
As soon as you are ready the Twilight Sepulcher awaits -- fast travel there if you already found it, otherwise get as close as you can and then hoof it -- when you arrive after you enter you will speak to the Nightingale Sentinel -- talk to him, you will learn a lot -- like the fact that he turns out to be Gallus!
After this very long conversation you should ask what you will face -- he mentions a journal and, as it is nearby, go ahead and do that optional quest item and then please READ the journal. It will tell you some of what is ahead and make this a little less confusing. When you have finished reading the journal it is time to proceed.
Follow the path and in the next chamber kill the spectral sentinels and go through the iron door. Beyond that is a room of light in which you must stay in the shadows to avoid being damaged by the light. This room has a lot of traps so try to disarm any you see before tripping them, right?
At the far end of the path is another iron door for you to go through, and then you will arrive at the statue of Nocturnal... What you need to do is pull the chain on the side of each sconce to turn it off, giving her what she seeks -- darkness -- and that will open the door behind the statue allowing you to pass.
Stay to the side of the passage to avoid most of the traps -- there are plenty -- and go through the door at the end to enter the main area. Continue along until you fall into a pit with the bones of a thief named Anders. Loot his body -- read the note -- and just wait here for a surprise. Seriously, just stand there being patient. You will see why.
Replacing the Key causes Nocturnal herself to appear -- hear her out and then do as she says. Karliah is right here! Talk to her -- she explains the reward choices to you so decide which circle you want to choose and then choose it.
Step on the circle you want and you unlock the Achievement "Darkness Returns" (10 GS) and you get to see the two lovers reunite -- sort of. The quest is complete, you have mastered the Thief Faction Questline or at least the main one, there is still the matter of the last Achievement in this Faction but that my friends will take you massive work, as you need to do a lot of Miscellaneous Quests for the Guild to unlock it!
Use the glowing portal in the wall to leave, and you will find yourself near the exit so go ahead and leave!