Silence's Voice

'Other' fanfiction. Category: AT, or Alternate Timeline. Same universe as canon, but a different point in that universe's history.
Just an assassin. Nothing more since fourteen, when the murder of a thieving Wood Elf who got what he deserved ended in recruitment into the shadowy cult of assassins at home in the deep deserts of Anequina. Until she decided to interfere. She decided to ruin everything!


9. A Friend Indeed Dead

Solitude loomed ahead, the gates perched at the top of a sweeping hill huddling back into the grey walls. Two banners drifted lazily in the midday wind, a startling red as they ballooned up towards the clear sky, and the soft humming of a woman glided from the farm nuzzling into the roadside just below the carriage stop. Perhaps it was the cool zing of the air, or the spots of red and purple flowers jumbled together with wispy stalks tumbling down the path towards the dock, but this part of Skyrim just seemed so alive.

“You sure that those twins will handle it?” Hawk suddenly asked, shattering the light of Skyrim. For someone who dragged me about only a few days ago, he sure grew attached to our twin Dark Sisters. Or at least wanted to be attached in a certain way to Skogsra.

“Well Skogsra’s been with the family for about fifty years now, but her sister’s only been with us for about ten years, just before I got in. That’s several years of training, their initiations, and how they were recruited in the first place. They’ll be fine.” I replied, beginning the long walk down the path to the docks.

“Initiations? You have to pass a test to get in?”

I nodded, dislodging the turquoise scarf I’d draped over my hair. “Two tests in a way.” I replied, as the skittering rasp of my own recruitment slithered up from its nest in my memories. That filthy Bosmer’s cry as his soul was sent to the Void pierced through, just like the single, slender arrow I sent right through his heart from the spire on the Thalmor Court of Dune. Wood elf bastard bled and squealed like a stuck pig when I was done.

“You get really creepy when you smile like that, you know. Who’d you kill to get in?”

I’d forgotten Hawk was even there until he spoke up, spooking the memory and sending it right back where it came from.

“Thought you didn’t care for assassins.”

“I don’t. I just wonder if I’m next or not.”

I sneered and flicked a bit of fluff over my over-robes, glaring over at him. “Don’t get on my bad side, and I won’t kill you. Simple really.”

“Does that mean you’ll tell me?”

I scowled, brushing part of my scarf back behind my ear so I could properly glare at him. “What do you think, pickpocket!” I snapped, before turning away and stormed down the plank stairs towards the dock.

Even in shrouded boots, my feet clunked on the wood planks, ringing out over the hissing of the waves and steady creaking of the ship roped up at the dock. It swayed and quivered in port, the ship’s bell letting out mournful clangs as the long pole on the front yearned out over the elegant curls of the figurehead. Salty, briny air drifted by, playing games with the mustard sail fixed tight to the cross beam. Stretching over the steely waters, the arched crag holding up Solitude seemed to gleam in the midday sun, standing stoic over the bay and welcoming the sailors of Solitude out into the Sea of Ghosts.

It would have been beautiful, but in the same way a glacier or iceberg is beautiful. Yet the shadow of Hawk still weighed down over everything. He was useful as a guide, but an assassin works alone, and he had to go. Especially now that his useful streak had been replaced with inane questions and the sheer ignorance of a human male.

“I’m not a pickpocket, killer. I’m a shill master, putting those who slow us down out of action for a while.” He replied, insisting on coming after me down the dock, brushing past how I was trying to ignore him.

“And I fail to see the difference. Look, fact is we’re done here. You can go back to the Guild hideout all you want now.” I hissed, glaring across at him. His hood was down, but the bulk of the ship’s side still cast a dark enough shadow over his face to hide his identity, and let those black eyes of his disappear into darkness.

Hawk glared at me, folding his arms and pursing his lips like he’d mistaken a siligonder egg for an apple. “And to think, in Skyrim the Dark Brotherhood actually deserved our respect. Shame to see how far they’ve fallen in only about sixty years.”

“Oh go summon Malacath!” I spat, slicing the between-finger tendon at him, and storming off down the docks to the boarding steps and the sailor standing guard.

“If you’re looking fer passage aboard The Lady of Bravil, it’ll be three hundred gold for the pair of ya.” The Argonian at the boarding steps grunted, looking me over as I took out my coin purse.

After the Arentino couple’s payment, that would be nothing. “Here’s a hundred and fifty. I’ll be the only passenger.” I replied, going to hand over the coins.

“Sorry, captain said no unaccompanied women on board. We’re travelling through some dangerous waters, and pirate attacks are very frequent.” The lizard rasped, waving away the coin. “No partner, no passage.”

Oh, really now? “Captain can shove that idea right into Sheogorath’s beard. I’ve dealt with pirates before.” I snapped, jerking my shoulder back a bit so Vixen gave a quiet rattle in her holder.

The Argonian sighed, shaking his scaly head. He had two small fins above where his ears would be, like deep green bat wings, which had several golden hoops piercing them. The hoops jingled quietly every time he moved, accompanying the quiet tune being sung aboard the ship. “Look lady,” he rasped, “I don’t make the rules. Ya got a problem, ya take it up with the captain. Until then, I suggest making up with yer companion in the leather armour back there. Ideally before whoever owns that other boat catches him.”

He jerked his thumb down the dock, towards a shadowed figure crouched on a low vessel, fiddling with something on the upper deck.

The Skyrim Thieves’ Guild really has gone to the dogs then. In broad daylight! At least in Anequina we have a bit of shame.

“He’s gonna get me killed.” I thought, the soft growl blooming at the back of my throat as I began making my way up to the rash thief giving the Guild a bad name when it came to some random sailor’s footlocker.

“Lock giving you trouble there?”

Hawk snorted, looking over his shoulder at me. The edge of his leather hood was supposed to mask his face in shadow, but instead let his glare shine out loud and clear. “Back so soon, soot-skin?” He hissed.

My fingers twitched, missing the caress of a bowstring sending an arrow into his back. “I wanna make a deal with you. Like an apology sorta thing. Say I’m sorry.” I sighed.

He chuckled slightly, returning to his lockpick and shiv. “No chance, killer. This was purely an escort job. The undead gem was a pretty good perk, but it’s over.”

I crossed my arms, fists clenched tight to stop myself sending an arrow into his back as I pressed my lips together. Sithis take this useless thief one day. “I already said I was sorry. What else do you want? You’ll be getting a free trip to Anequina if you join me.” I snapped, as he swore violently, snapping a lockpick.

“Gods damn it!” He muttered, straightening up and kicking the small chest. “Look killer, forget it. I’m off contract now. The shackles have been broken. Find someone else.”

The twang of Vixen’s bowstring was getting tempting, but again, who would I hire as a replacement for this thief? “Fine, how much?” I groaned, taking out the leather coin purse about to starve.

His eyes widened as I watched him, eyeing up the coin purse as the thief’s sparkle of temptation shone in his russet eyes. “Are you serious?” He spluttered, as I undid the drawstring knot and dug my fingers in.

“Cold, hard septims solve everything, don’t they?”

“In this case five hundred of them do.”

My purse almost slipped from my fingers, its contents rattling within. “Five…hundred!” I exclaimed. That was about half the full payment for the Black-Briar elimination.

“Yep, standard mercenary rate. I ain’t tied down no more to you, so you gotta motivate me to stay. No reason for me not to sod off back to the Ratway otherwise. Might even make a little stop at the nearest barracks, hint hint.”

A Khajiit’s growl grew in the back of my throat, as I hooked out five hundred septims and slapped them into his palm. “I’ll hint hint you into the sea if you even consider it. Are we clear?”

His eyes shimmered with greed as he shoved the gold into a pocket and fixed it shut. “Clear as gold, killer. Clear as gold. So where we going?”

“Aboard that ship. Closest port to Anequina’s probably either Senchal or Bravil, so there.”

“Bravil, hmm…” he began, “should be profitable.”

He chuckled then, a smug little rat of a grin scurrying across his face as he began making his way off the boat. I hope he knows this is not a working holiday for him, especially as his work involves pinching everything not nailed down.

“Back so soon?” The Argonian rasped, leaning on one of the bollards the ship had been roped to, and tilting his bare chest towards the sun.

“Just let us on board.” I growled, handing over three hundred septims.

“Oh sure, lady. Just watch yerself on board. The Lady of Bravil don’t think much of spitting fire.”

I flashed a scowl at the lizard as he grinned, waving us onto the ship. Slimy beast, hope he gets salt under his scales. At least the ship seemed of decent build, unlike the sailor set on guard.

The deck was a decent size, with wooden railings at waist height all around the edge, and additional ones atop what I’d assume was the captain’s cabin, at the stern. Two masts stretched like sunflowers yearning for the morning light, covered with cobweb rigging and the sail on the uppermost beam. Passengers milled about, discussing recent affairs, and merchants worked in twos to lower their cargo down into the hold. Sailors scurried over everything, all in the same sack cloth trousers with a leather chest band for the women, fixing and tying and preparing to go. Their working shanty hung low and haunting over the gentle lapping of the waves, backed by the creaking sail and mournful bell.

A fireborn young Dunmer does wander the sea, with cutlass in hand no lady is she.

Oh-ho, and go with the wind.

Aboard her drowned ship where she lost her head, in return for finding her captain lay dead.

Oh-ho, and go with the wind.

Two sharp poisoned daggers did pierce through his sides, so the spirit of Malvulis sails on unabating tides.

Oh-ho, and go with the wind.”

It was a soft, gentle song, ballooning up onto the breeze as the sailors worked, preparing the ship to leave port. A few passengers had begun making their way down below deck, and one of the sailors had noticed us. A Redguard woman with her hair left loose to her shoulders, she gave us a soft smile, letting the three golden piercings down the left side of her face blink in the sun.

“You two're passengers, right? I saw your row with Fishes-The-Ocean down there. Don’t worry about him, let me show you to your cabin.”

She had a light, metallic feel to her voice, of faraway lands. Must be directly from Hammerfell. “Sure, thanks. He always like that?” I replied, as she led us down the first flight of steps into the first of the lower decks.

“Nah, the old lizard’s just got salt under his scales again. He often gets like that when he does. You two will have the cabin most aft, just past the galley. Just let us know if there’s anything you two need.” The sailor replied, pointing down the middle passage of the ship, past rows of doors towards the one at the end.

“No problem, ma’am.” Hawk replied, with a cheeky grin on his face teasing out a berry-toned blush from the sailor, who promptly giggled like a maiden and scurried off back up the stairs.

“What in Oblivion was that about?” I hissed, as Hawk gave a smug smile and led me down the corridor. Down here, in the shadows of the candles set in various ceramic bowls, he almost looked like he could be one of the family, lurking with lethal intent.

“She’s young still, living the rough life of the sailor. I was probably the first person to call her ma’am in all her life. Little bit of flattery always helps. You’d be wise to learn that.” He chuckled, pushing open the cabin door.

“Flattery gets you nowhere, but…well, I’d probably polish the arrow before killing you. Probably.” I retorted, plonking myself down on one of the leather hammocks in there. It was an ok room, about two paces from one hammock to the other, with a long, low table at the back of the room and an iron lantern filling the room with a soft, melting light. A thick chain ran down through the corner of the room, running through a hole in the ceiling and disappearing through a hole in the floor. I’d guess it was the anchor chain, and the rattle would signify when we arrived at a port.

“That’s not exactly flattery, killer.” Hawk sighed, shutting the cabin door behind us and flicking down the hook and eye latch. “You always been like this?”

“Yep,” I retorted, slipping off Vixen and her quiver, “got me in the Guild. Old Master liked a girl who could hold her own and speak with power.”

“Got you kicked out of the Guild eventually though, right?”

“No, that was murdering the old Master with a single arrow.”

Hawk froze, his eyes bugging out for a second, silent over the steady rattling of the anchor chain behind me, as the links climbed upwards. “What?” He muttered, his eyes dipping down to the golden arrows in Vixen’s leather quiver.

“Yep. Pierced him right through his back, impaling his heart. Got him from right at the top of the main spire in Dune too. First kill, and the best.”

He seemed to be quivering at my words, eyes fixed on Vixen. “Is that how you got…well, in there?”

“Where, in the family? Yeah, that was how. Only fourteen when I did it. Young enough not to know that sending an arrow into the heart of a Bosmer cockroach from the top of the Thalmor embassy is not the wisest of moves. Dark Brotherhood were the only ones that forgave my mistake.”

“Can understand why. Heard you guys kill your own, makes sense.”

“Only twice before. And he deserved it, no matter what. Guild ties can find a shovel, dig their grave, lay in it, and rot in his case. Dirty ash robber, Maengor.”

My tongue ran over my teeth, stopping me from my usual routine of spitting on the ground to clear me of his name. Foul little wood elf had it coming.

“Ash robber? Didn’t know the Anequina branch of the Guild condoned robbing the dead.”

“It doesn’t.”

“Ah, I see. Still, Guild Master gets immunity. Long as they don’t steal from the Guild-”

“He did.”

Hawk just stared at me, a slow nod of the head accompanying a long, slow sigh. “He stole from you, didn’t he? And you shot him for it.”

“Mmh, not exactly,” I sighed, leaning back on the hammock so my back was pressing the wall, “you can’t rob the grave of a living person. Well, you can if their family has an ancestral tomb, but mine doesn’t. He went poking through the wrong urn.”

Hawk slumped back in his hammock, looking up at the ceiling. “Didn’t have to fill him full of arrows-”

“I didn’t, it was just one,”

“when you could have just let the rest of the Guild know.”

I snorted, stifling a laugh. “You can’t be serious. Anequina Thieves’ Guild doesn’t give the flying back end of a goat. For them, all they care about is sugar refinery, distribution, and profit. A Bosmer nicking an old wedding ring and amulet of Azurah’s motherhood from the ashes of a Dunmer woman is nothing worth paying attention to.”

“Sugar refinery?” Hawk quipped, jerking his head up and looking over. “Your lot do that then, with the Skooma?”

“Shh, not so loud!” I hissed. “Yes, my old Guild did that. Pelletine did the growing, we did the refinery and distribution. I did the transporting to the Cyrodiil border. Not proud of it though.”

He started chuckling, one hand over his mouth as he laughed. “Never would’a thought it. Killer was a drug mule.”

“I said I wasn’t proud of it. Anyway, better than what your Guild does, putting whores on the street.”

“Wait, what?” Hawk exclaimed, his laugh vanishing. “What whores?”

“You know which ones. Kiss and Queen, the Breton and the Redguard outside that tavern in Riften. Never known a Guild use prostitution as a technique.”

“They’re not whores.” Hawk replied. “They’re thieves like the rest of the Guild. They’re just devotees of Dibella in their free time. You must’a caught them looking for someone to practice their Dibellan Art on. All we do is burglary, break-ins; pickpocketing, forgery, bedlam, and shill jobs. Latter’s my speciality.”

“Specialty, huh? Can’t be that hard then.” I chuckled, earning myself a slicing the between-finger tendon.

“Don’t push it, soot-skin. Planting a stolen item on someone is harder than it sounds. ‘Specially when it’s a guard.”

“Reverse pickpocketing basically. Eh, how’d you get in the Guild in the first place?”

He chuckled, shaking his head and laying back fully on the hammock. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Well I told you how I got in the Brotherhood. It’s only fair. So go on, how’d you get in the Guild, Vincinere?”

He froze as I said that, russet eyes bugging out for a second. “How’d you find out that name?” He whispered.

“Your sister said it. Ellin, or should that be Maim? Probably Maim’s best one to use; don’t want her cutting off the smallest part of your personality.”

He scowled, lifting his lip. “You’re so lucky I didn’t kill you right when I found you.”

“More like you’re lucky she doesn’t nut shot you again. She’s got a pretty good right hook, Vincinere.”

“Hawk! Not Vincinere!”

“How’d you even get the name Hawk anyway? I heard you and Maim are a Guild family. Thought they didn’t bother with regular names for any kids.”

His eyebrows were still furrowed, glaring over at me. “I earned that name. Grandfather was in the Guild, an’ he sent me to nick something from Solitude. The circlet of the late High King, Toryyg. Died years and years ago, and was buried in the Solitude catacombs.”

“And…what’s that to do with the name?”

I posed as a hunter to get in. Claimed my hunting partner had been gravely injured and was dying. I’d been asked to find a good spot in the catacombs. Shot down and gutted a hawk I pretended was a kill before nicking the circlet. Hid the loot in the hawk’s body and got it out right under the guards’ noses.”

I couldn’t help but smile at the story. Pretty good idea, smuggling out the goods where nobody would think nor want to look. “That how you got in? Not bad going, Dead Bird.” I chuckled.

“Better than some of the other names I’ve had.” He smirked. “No, I’ve been in since birth. Same with Maim, our parents, and our father’s grandparents. Delvin and Vex Mallory. They’d been in for ages. It’s just tradition now. Every kid in the Mallory family is automatically in the Guild.”

“Sounds like our Vautrelle family.” I replied. “They meet in the Guild then?”

“Who, my grandparents? Yep. Grandfather liked to show Maim and I this scrapbook-thing of their relationship when we were kids. Pretty cute.”

He’d gone soft-eyed, gazing past the low shelf on the wall holding up a flute and ceramic bowl. “Sounds just like our Vautrelle family.”

I think everyone in the Sanctuary, even devoutly single Camena, was a little jealous over Orion Vautrelle’s relationship with Rosette. Her and their daughter were actually our newest members, with Rosette being included into the family about eleven years ago, and Belle being born about a year after her mother’s welcome into the Dark Brotherhood.

It broke everyone when Orion was killed after falling for a trapped contract, but Rosette was completely shattered. Orion’s armour still stands on a mannequin in what was their room, adorned with a fresh nightshade garland every day, and she had to beg the Listener to allow a stone sarcophagus for Orion’s body to be added to the Sanctuary’s tomb. She goes down and spends what would be their anniversary, and the anniversary of his death, by his sarcophagus every year, braiding a nightshade chain to surround the marble tomb.

“Killer, you’re halfway to Oblivion. What’chu space out for?” Hawk suddenly announced, snapping me back. “I asked who the Vautrelles were.”

“Huh – Oh, the Vautrelles! They’re a full family we have within the Brotherhood. Rosette and her daughter Belle are the only ones alive though. Orion Vautrelle joined Sithis in the Void nearly six years ago.” I replied, as Hawk glanced down, bowing his head in respect.

“I’m sorry. If…if you don’t mind me asking, how did he…well,”

“Orion Vautrelle entered into close servitude with Sithis after a false contract. A trap, organised by the sister of the Clan Mother of the nearby city of Riverhold. She put a contract out on herself, met with Orion in disguise, and when he crept into her chambers, she was already waiting for him. She had company, in the form of the entire Riverhold Guard. He didn’t stand a chance.”

Hawk sighed, nipping at his lip. “By the Divines,” he muttered, “did you take vengeance?”

I shook my head. “No, Rosette did. Her and our twin Dark Sisters teamed up. She poisoned the Clan Mother’s sister with a paralysis poison, and the twins brought her back to the Sanctuary. Rosette’s first kill was ripping out that Khajiit’s heart, like how her own heart was ripped out at her husband’s death.”

He wasn’t even looking at me anymore. Just staring at the floorboards, as a quiet, “Whoa,” escaped him. The air itself seemed to hold its breath in a pregnant pause, held there almost indefinitely for a good few minutes, until he stood up and went to the door. “I’m going to the galley, see if they have any mead. Want anything?”

Well, I guess it would break the awkwardness burrowing through the walls and shimmering within the gaps between the boards. “Well, alright, I’ll come with you. See what they’ve got.” I replied, getting up and joining him.

* * *

The half empty bottle of ale sat dull by the candle bowl, glinting a little in the dim cabin. The only light now leaked down from the anchor chain hole in the ceiling, piercing the blackness of night. It had been several hours since my conversation with Hawk, and still the thought was weighing on my mind.

Should I have told him all that? About killing the old Anequina Thieves’ Guild Master, my old role in the Guild, and Orion Vautrelle’s death? His meeting with the Bronze-Heart twins was risky enough, even if he was doped up on the vampire’s seduction.

What if he betrayed us?

I sat up in my hammock, looking over at the lump across the room under the furs. Would he tell? He knows five living members of the Anequina Dark Brotherhood, including myself. He also knows I’ve got the Thalmor on my back. It would result in a pretty good bit of profit for him if he betrayed us and went to the Thalmor. They’re everywhere in Anequina. Camena even came from a family of Thalmor. Plenty of chances for him to slip a word in a few pointed, golden ears.

His breathing hung heavy and quiet in the air, just audible over the gentle lapping of the waves and creaking of the boat. His Guild armour had been folded, crouching on the floor by the foot of his hammock, and a few strands of ice blonde hair were spread out on the round, leather pillow. He was a thief. A handler of stolen goods, and a member of the illegal Thieves’ Guild. Betraying the Dark Brotherhood could leave him at risk of also betraying his Guild by accident.

The anchor chain gave a rattle, links tumbling down through the lower hole as a muffled shout rang out from on deck. Hawk groaned in his sleep, shifting a little at the noise and stretching a bit beneath the furs. No, I was overreacting. We both work illegally, and both of us are hidden by shadow. I was even in another branch of his Guild in my youth. Betraying me and the Dark Brotherhood would wind up with him betraying himself.

More yelling rang out on deck, filtering through the wood. A clang of metal screeched alongside, followed by a deafening thud, and a groan from Hawk.

“Hurrrhhh, killer…what was that?” He moaned, as I sat up and let the furs slip off me. The farmer’s dress I’d been wearing had crumpled, and now hung limply on me.

“I don’t know…wait here one minute, and don’t you dare look.” I hissed back, as more loud thuds impacted the upper deck and I dragged my backpack onto the hammock with me. Vixen sat patiently on the low table, quivering with excitement as I pulled out my armour.

“Ok, you can look now,” I replied, once I’d dragged my robes on top of my armour, slipping Vixen’s quiver on and snapping the mask of my cowl over my nose, “I’m gonna go check.”

It felt weird, going out without my cowl covered. Hiding my identity had become breathing for me, natural and essential to staying alive. As I crept through the lower deck, I kept low, to the shadows, ears pricked for any sudden noises. The yelling and clashing of metal seemed louder hear, with bangs and thuds coming from the upper deck. Something wrong was going on up there, and it seemed like we were caught right in the middle of it.

An almost deafening splintering of wood came from right above, as a shaft of light broke the darkness of below deck. A green blur hurtled down the steps, splattering blood as it landed in the hold, covered in deep red gashes that leaked all over their scales.

Wait…that was the snippy Argonian guarding the docks earlier! Fishes-The-Ocean, or something like that. As much of a salt-scale as he was, he didn’t deserve to be killed. Certainly not in such a bloody way.

I crouched, freezing in place, pulling Vixen out and nocking an arrow into her. Someone was creeping down the stairs, towards the corpse of that Argonian. A dagger flashed at their belt, and a silver cutlass dripped blood in their hand. In the dark it was hard to tell their exact race, but one thing was for certain. This was not good. Not good at all.

“Filthy lizard!” The sword-wielder muttered, crouching down by the body and fishing through his pockets, drawing out a coin purse. “At least he ‘ad somethin’ worth taking. Cap’n don’t ‘ave to know.”

He pocketed the coin purse as I drew back Vixen’s string, aiming right at the centre of his back. I’d scoffed at Fishes-The-Ocean when he warned me about pirates, but it turns out he was right, and the best I could do now was give Fishes-The-Ocean some company in the Void.

I let the arrow fly, piercing the pirate’s back as a death scream left him, sending his body flying a good metre before smacking into the wall, splattering blood onto the wood panels as a scarlet rose bloomed from the wound in his back. A flower for our Mother Most Unholy, for that pirate to deliver to her in the Void.

A loud scream echoed from on deck, and the sticky, chemical scent of some kind of oil leaked down. The screech of steel into flesh rang out, before the amber light burst through the shattered hatch. Acrid, crackling, it swallowed up the wooden pieces and began its liquid tumble down the steps.

Fire! “Hawk, get out here! Fire! Fire on deck!” I yelled, my voice a lonely bird’s desolate cry as I broke stealth, running back to the cabin and banging on every door on the way back. Anyone in there must be deaf or mad to not notice the banging and screams on deck.

“What? Killer, what’s going on? Where’s the fire?” Hawk replied, as I burst into the cabin. He’d managed to tug on his armour and hood, but still had a sleepy edge to his voice.

“On deck, come on! We got pirates, they must’a set the fire! Come on, we gotta get off the ship!” I yelled, seizing him by the wrist and tugging him out. The burning oil had spilled further, tumbling down and engulfing the stairs in fire, trapping us below deck and filling the air with black plumes of billowing smoke that filled my lungs in one breath, forcing me to cough it out.

“Killer, get down!” Hawk yelled, pulling me down below the smoke cloud onto my hands and knees. “Go grab that flute that was in our room and come to the galley!”

What? “Why, what’s a flute’s use here?”

“Just get it and come to the galley! I got an idea! Stay outta the smoke though, you hear!”

I heard. “Gotcha!” I yelled, almost drowned by the loud crash of a burning beam tumbling through and demolishing the upper deck.

“Flute…flute…get that flute!” My thoughts raced, as my hand closed around the carved animal tusk. What he’d want with this I have no idea, but it better work. With the flute held between my teeth, I crawled across to the nearby galley, as the smash of breaking glass rang out.

The galley was a large room that extended down into a lower dining area for the sailors, with a bar flanked by two colossal mead barrels and several clusters of tables and chairs. A large, wide window took up an entire wall, offering panoramic views of the sea through the glass. At least it was. Now the air was thick with choking, black smoke squeezing at throats, the floor was wet and sticky with sickly mead, and the window was in the process of being shattered by Hawk flinging a chair through the glass.

“Good, you got it! Killer, give me a hand with this barrel! I’ve got an idea!” Hawk yelled, as diamond daggers of glass flew out into the open sea, glinting in the blackness before plunging into the deep.

“Wait, what’s going on?” I asked, taking the flute in my hand and getting up as Hawk began dragging one of the barrels off its stand, pushing the hefty thing towards the jagged hole in the window.

“I got an idea! Take my dagger and make a hole in the cork. Keep it and the flute on you. Killer, you reckon you can pull me in a tight space?” He replied, handing the barrel cork to me and his dagger.

“Why, what are you doing?” I replied, stabbing the top of the cork as he rolled the barrel with a grunt, letting golden mead gush from the hole.

“I’m gonna put you in this and push it out the window. You pull me in the refill hole once I’ve jumped in the water.” He groaned, tilting it further and letting more mead slop out and stain the floorboards.

What? “Are you mental?” I snapped, carving out a deep chunk in the cork.

“You got any better ideas? This thing’ll float and keeps out water.” He replied, turning it further and tipping out the last of the mead. “There, is the cork done?”

A funnel-like hole had been carved in the cork, barely big enough to fit a hand through. “Almost.”

“Well that’ll have to do. Take it and the flute and climb in. I’ll join you in a second.” Hawk sighed, wiping his brow and indicating the small refill hole with the toe of his boot. It was about the size of a small shield, and inside looked pitch black. This plan of his had better work.

I threw the flute and Hawk’s dagger inside the barrel, wedging the cork in sideways before it too rattled free. Keeping low, I scurried into the darkness, squeezing through and tucking Hawk’s dagger into my belt. “You ok in there?” He yelled, as my gloved hand squelched in a puddle of mead.

“I’m alive.” I replied, as the barrel shifted, rolling sideways so the black mark of the entrance hole now pointed skyward.

“Ok, now you’re gonna pull me in once I join you. Hold everything close. One. Two. Three!”

I barely managed to grip the flute and cork as the barrel jerked, scraping against the wooden ledge. It tilted down momentarily at one end, letting everything slosh and tumble towards me as I adjusted Vixen’s string so she was fixed on tighter. The barrel swayed for a second as Hawk grunted on the other side, before levelling out, and plummeting down.

Everything shook and rattled within, soaking me in the dregs of mead as I clutched everything to my chest and screamed. My breath rebounded off the cowl, as my scream echoed out, bouncing off the barrel, before deep, crushing force gathered beneath the barrel and pushed me up again, tossing me about within and smacking me against the ceiling of the barrel, throwing one of my legs out of the refill hole before letting me land back down in the mead dregs, nothing but a limp ragdoll.

Once I’d been churned around like a washerwoman’s laundry in a tub, I eased myself up onto my knees, faint groans escaping me. Now stable, I could feel the barrel slowly bobbing up and down, and hear the gushing of waves on the outside.

“You alright?” Hawk yelled from above, as I eased up further, my knees shaking as I peered through the hole in the barrel into the darkness, pulling the mask of my cowl down.

“I’m ok!” I yelled, a groan weaselling through my words.

“Hang on, I’m coming down! Get ready to pull me in!” His voice rang out again, before a heavy silence, and a splash sending waves charging into the side of the barrel, knocking me over inside and slamming me into the back, shaking me within like a potion in a bottle.

The waves calmed through, only to be replaced by rotation of the barrel and scraping as the refill hole was dragged down and Hawk’s waterlogged head emerged in the gap.

“How’s it going in there? Come on, Killer, give me a hand.” He groaned, scrabbling and forcing his torso in through the hole as I seized him under the arms and hauled him in.

“Tha-Thanks, Killer. You still got the cork and flute?” He gasped, hunching up so we weren’t caught in a tangle of his limbs and I wasn’t forced into the back wall.

“In here somewhere. Wait, here. Here’s your dagger.” I replied, gathering them up and handing over his dagger.

“No prob. Now, put the cork in place and ram the flute through the hole. It’ll act as an air pipe. Be a bit dark, but safer.” He replied, rolling the barrel until the refill hole was above us.

“Looks like your plan worked out.” I muttered, doing as he instructed and fixing in the cork and flute. “How’d you come up with this anyway?”

In the dark of the barrel, he seemed to be just a shadow, but I could tell he was smiling. “Not the first time I’ve been in a barrel like this before. Stole a few things from a ship in Windhelm. The Princess Rose. Certainly had enough jewels for a royal on board. Thing was, whole ship was so heavily guarded I had to smuggle myself on board. Nicked an empty barrel and the East Empire Company stencil, slapped the logo on it with some paint, hid inside and tipped it into port so it looked like the barrel had fallen off the ship. It worked pretty damn well. Barrel floated and everything.”

Well…not bad. Not bad at all. I nodded a little in the darkness, and I could sense him smile a little wider.

“It’s ok to be impressed. Most women are. I’m used to it.” He chuckled, shifting slightly in the darkness before my foot collided with his shin.

“You talk to every female this way?”

“Not every female, no.”

“Ah right. I was gonna say, you should have had more nut shots in your life if you talked to every female like that.”

His smile vanished into the darkness. “I just saved you from getting burned alive or slashed to pieces by a pirate, and you’re being snarky about it?”

“I could have come up with an escape route myself. You’re just smug as you came up with it first.”

“Oh really? Go on, soot-skin, what would you have come up with for an escape r-”

The crash came out of nowhere, piercing through the barrel and flinging us apart, sending us skimming through the biting water amongst the half-disintegrated pieces of wood. The water clung to me, dragging me down and filling my nose and mouth as I thrashed, fighting upwards. By the blood of Boethiah, what in Oblivion was that? It was like a bull elephant or something, charging through the wooden shell of the barrel.

My head eventually broke the water, thrashing as I gasped for air through the cloth mask of my waterlogged cowl. Waves struggled to pull me under, slapping and beating me into submitting to the ocean. The night air bit and chilled me. Everything seemed to conspire together to pull me down into the Sea of Ghosts.

Eventually I stabilised myself, my head above water as I paddled, glancing around. Where was Hawk, and what had smashed the barrel? It was definitely something big, so it couldn’t have vanished into the night that easily. What was it, and where was he?

“Hawk!” I yelled, my voice a strangled squawk through my cowl. “Hawk! Vincinere!”

A loud splashing came from nearby, as the glittering of water droplets caught my eye. Frantic, aching with weight, I forced myself to swim over as his head broke water with a strangled gasp.

“Hawk! Over here!” I yelled, as he jerked his head around, blonde hair plastered to his scalp and his hood dragged back.

“Killer? Killer, look out! Behind y-”

 It hit me out of nowhere. Thick, heavy, and powerful, it smacked into the back of my head, forcing me face-first into the water. The dense, black water, with icy comforting arms dragging me forward and down with stinging agony resonating deep down into the back of my skull, burrowing with me into the gloom.

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