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!

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3. A Mother's Voice

I rarely dream of my mother, but each time I do, it’s never the same dream twice. Whether it’s of her giving me my amulet, or teaching me how to use a bow, every time I dream of her, it’s something completely different, that I don’t even remember when awake and thinking about her.

Tonight, it was her storytelling that I dreamed of. I was sitting up in bed, knees up, looking up at her leaning over me as she sat on the bed, more beautiful than the twin moons. Maybe it only seems that way as I’m so young at the time, or maybe she really was like that, but her burning scarlet eyes still seemed to shine with merriment even though they were ringed by crow’s feet and creases. One of the oldest Dunmer women to carry and birth a living child. Blessed by Azurah, some called her, she was well into her two-hundred and eighties when I was born. Her years meant I always had plenty of bedtime stories growing up.

“Can you tell me another?” I ask her in a child’s voice, pulling the blankets up closer to my chest.

“We’ve already been through the Anuad, Savil. There are no more.” She replies. Her voice changes each dream, but it’s always that of an old woman.

“Then tell me one of your stories, mama. Please!” I beg, as she smiles.

“Well, ok then, but only one, then it’s off to sleep. Now, I’ve told you the story of when the Dunmer had to leave Vvardenfell, but I haven’t told you the story of how it all started. It was long ago, way before the stories of dragons in Skyrim, way before the Thalmor took over Cyrodiil, and way before the gates of Oblivion opened. No, this all started back in the Third Era, when I was only seven years old.”

“Is this when you lived on the Red Mountain, in the bug-shell city?”

“No, we’d moved out of Ald-Ruhn by then, once the Ghostfence was taken down. We went south to the main city, Vivec, and yes, it was named after the False God, before you ask. Now, we lived in one of the main residential cantons right next to the Temple. St Delyn canton. Now, we had prime viewing of the old Temple Prison, the Ministry of Truth, and it was gigantic. A massive moon held in place by the magical powers of Vivec, Baar Dau. It was originally hurled at the city by the Mad God.”

“The real Mad God? Sheogorath?”

“Yes, Sheogorath himself. The final Corner of the House of Troubles. Now, Baar Dau had been unstable ever since Vivec was revealed as a False God. It began to tremble and shake in the sky over the Temple. My mother could tell something was wrong even then, and prepared us to leave, packing us all on a boat to mainland Morrowind, and hiring a silt strider to take us on to Mournhold. My uncle, your great uncle, owned the Winged Guar in the city, and offered to take us in. I’d seen pictures people had drawn of Mournhold, and oh they were beautiful. The statue remains in the Plaza Brindisi Dorom, the temple to the False God Almalexia, and the Museum of Artefacts. I was very excited to move to Mournhold.”

“The Museum of Artefacts!” I squealed. “Did you see anything there? What was there?”

“Hush, Savil. Let me get there. Yes, I did see the Museum of Artefacts. My uncle had sent us a pamphlet for it when we appealed for shelter. I was reading it on the boat away from Vvardenfell every day.”

“What did it say, mama?”

“Patience, child. I’ll tell you. There were many on display in the museum. Lots were Daedric, from our good ones. Azurah’s Star, the great reusable soul gem. The Ebony Mail, Boethiah’s cuirass, and Goldbrand, her great katana. Not to mention ones from the other Princes. Spellbreaker, the Spear of Bitter Mercy, the Cuirass of the Saviour’s Hide, the Umbra Sword, and the Mace of Molag Bal. Most however were very famous, held by great and powerful people in the past.”

My voice turns sleepy at this point, and I sound more like I’m speaking through a yawn. “Like…like what…mama?”

“Oh many things, my child. Many, many things.” She begins, laying me down and pulling the blanket over me. “Auri-El’s bow and his shield, the BiPolar Blade, the Helm of Oreyn Bearclaw, the Staff of Magnus, the wicked Vampiric Ring, and many more. Maybe, when you are older, you’ll go and visit it one day, and get to see all the displays for yourself. Until then, you must rest, my darling. Sleep, my sweet child. Sleep in peace.”

In the dream, my eyes were closing, but something was changing. My mother’s voice was becoming…odd. It was as if two women were speaking at once. The unmistakeable purring of my mother’s voice still sounded in my head, but alongside it, someone else. Another Dunmer woman.

This one sounded much younger though. Only about thirty years old, and softer. Her voice didn’t have the husky rasp of a typical Dunmer of Morrowind. She sounded refined, well-bred, and as high born as an Altmer. She spoke alongside my mother in my dream, synchronising together with her in a soft lullaby that repeated over and over.

“Sleep, my sweet child. Sleep in peace. Sleep, my sweet child. Sleep in peace. Sleep, my sweet child. Sleep in peace.”

My eyes snapped open as I jolted awake, letting my mother’s voice fade back into my dreams. That other woman’s voice kept running through my head though, repeating her lullaby over and over in my head without stopping.

I groaned and sat up, but still that voice ran around in my head. Running my fingers through my tangled hair, a few black strands came free, hanging limp from my fingers as I stood up. The stone floor of the chamber threatened to send frost spikes through my legs and up my spine, and my thighs felt like they’d been torn clean in half from yesterday’s escape. Great. Only one extra assassination had left me a mess.

Reaching for my steel brush, I began pulling it through my hair, taming my shoulder-length mess into submission. It felt more like I was scraping my skull, desperate to pull out that voice constantly running through my head that just wouldn’t go.

Eventually I finished, setting my brush back and letting my hair flow free. Still that voice continued its mantra, refusing to stop.

“Sleep, my sweet child. Sleep in peace. Sleep, my sweet child. Sleep in peace. Sleep, my sweet child, and take in your vital rest. You will need it, my child, for you have a long journey ahead of you to reach the beseecher.”

It was then that I froze, my hands shaking. The chill of morning in the sanctuary was irrelevant, the ache in my thighs not worth mentioning. Someone had spoken to me in my head. They had called me their child, and said I had a journey ahead of me.

“Who are you?” I whispered, once I regained the ability to speak.  The words seemed foreign to me. Outlanders on my tongue.

“I am Mother,” the voice replied, gentler than a soft breeze, “and I will watch over you, my child. Now go, for there is a long distance between you and the beseecher. Go now to the Living Dwarven City, and seek out the occupant of the Silver Prison. He is the beseecher, and he calls for you now.”

The voice of this ‘Mother’ vanished as softly as it had entered my head, leaving me as an empty shell. A confused shell spun in circles and left to stagger back into my place. Somehow, a woman calling herself Mother had gotten into my head whilst I was dreaming, and told me to go to this weird Living Dwarven City, wherever the hell that was. It made absolutely no sense.

Unless there was an explanation.

I quickly dipped into the armoury, slipping on my shrouded shoes. Apart from Effe-Zeeis refining his dagger on a grindstone, the place was abandoned. Usually it was packed in the mornings, with blades being sharpened, armour being mended, and arrows being fletched.

“Hey, Effe-Zeeis, is the Listener around?” I asked, slipping Vixen’s quiver onto my back and fixing my faithful bow in place. There had to be an explanation for all this, and if I didn’t have all the answers yet, someone else would have them ready and waiting. If not Effe-Zeeis, then someone in the sanctuary would.

“Listener?” Effe-Zeeis rasped, looking up at me with his golden eyes. His slit-like pupils focussed on me, as he got off the grindstone with his Daedric dagger in hand. “They sleep right now. The Night Mother awoke them at around four last night with a contract for someone over the border in Leyawiin. Unless you desire a trip there, it would not be wise to wake the Listener and unleash a foul mood.”

He tested his dagger as he said it, sliding it into the scabbard fixed on his shrouded armour. It seemed to blend perfectly into his fiery-red scales, and if you ignored his long, snaky tail, with his short crest of black horns, he could easily pass for one of the many demons infesting the darker plains of Oblivion.

“Ah right, thanks for the warning. Where’s everyone else gone? Usually this place is full.”

Effe-Zeeis gave a reptilian purr, his tail swaying lightly behind him. “Camena has to go pick up more leather from Riverhold, as the soles of her boots are almost gone. The Bronze-Heart twins have a rare chance to meet their family again, as they are down from Skyrim. Daro’Rihana is currently sleeping off a Sugar Fit after eating five bowls of Moon Sugar, and Rosette has to take Belle to her Restoration class in Riverhold. We are the only ones awake in this sanctuary aside from Banshee.”

Huh, so the place really was abandoned then. It was going to make answering most of the many questions writhing in my head a lot more difficult. “Do you know anything about a Living Dwarven City, or anyone who would?”

His eyes narrowed dramatically, until the pupils were no more than hairline slits. “There is only one Dwarven city that still has life to it. The city of Markarth in Skyrim uses an old Dwemer city to build upon. I think that’s where you mean.”

Markarth…in Skyrim? This Mother voice-woman wanted me to go all the way out to Skyrim? “Alright…Markarth…gotcha. What’s the quickest way of travelling to Skyrim?” I asked, taking down the six sets of plain over-robes in my wardrobe alcove, and my armour.

At least the fact the Listener was still alive confirmed one thing. This was not the Night Mother, as the Listener was still alive, and there can only ever be one Listener at a time. One possible theory was debunked, and one question of many was satisfied.

“Savil, why in Oblivion would you want to go to Skyrim now? You know that Their Greatness will never approve.”

I bit my lip as I folded several sets of over-robes into a grey leather backpack, musing over how to approach this. If I said I was going because a voice in my head calling herself Mother told me to, either I’d be hauled up in front of the Black Hand for apparent dishonour of the Night Mother, or the Listener would simply lure me out into the desert for a quiet knife-in-the-spine treatment.

Better not. “It’s a kind of personal reason.” I replied, pushing back the cuffs of my shrouded robes and crushing down the clothing further.

“Ah, alright. I understand. There’s a Khajiit caravan that goes directly to the Skyrim city of Winterhold. From there, you can get a carriage to Markarth for only a few septims. Here, let me write it down for you.” Effe-Zeeis replied, taking out a scrap of paper and writing on it. “Here, you’ll need this. Oh, and Dark Sister.”

“Yes, Dark Brother?” I replied, taking the note and folding it up.

“Don’t think you’re going outside looking like that.”

I blushed and shifted, running my hands over my shrouded robes. They were crumpled from sleep, and the black handprint on my chest stood out garishly. “Alright, I’ll get changed. Nearly got caught yesterday so I’d better lay low.” I chuckled, relaying yesterday’s pursuit in my mind again as I took a plain set of desert-toned over-robes behind the screen. “Hey, Effe-Zeeis, can you make sure the others know where I am please? You know, just in case something goes wrong.”

“Of course, Dark Sister. I take it the Listener isn’t to know.”

“You know it.” I replied, pulling on my over-robes set and tying the belts on it. The rust-toned scarf could be wound into a hood later, once I’d made it onto the Khajiit caravan heading to Skyrim. The only people out in the desert at this early hour would be siligonder hunters, and they wouldn’t recognise me as the assassin that killed Hulder Palgus.

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell. I know what the Listener’s like.”

“Don’t us all. The untouchable Listener.” I quipped, tucking my shrouded robes into the bottom of the backpack, and buckling it shut.

“Nobody is untouchable in this world, Dark Sister. Nobody except the Night Mother, and our Dread Father, Sithis. One day the Listener shall answer to them, and on that day, we shall be waiting.” Effe-Zeeis rasped, a silky grin on his face.

For an Argonian, he sure could be charming when he talked murderous to me. “You know it.” I purred back, slipping the backpack on one shoulder so as not to dislodge Vixen or her arrows. “I guess I’ll be seeing you, once I’ve taken care of these personal matters.”

“Be seeing you, Dark Sister. Let these personal matters be dealt with swiftly and easily.”

I sent Effe-Zeeis a slight smile as he went over to the alchemy lab, before slipping out to the door. Scaly beggar’s got a soft spot for me, or so Camena says. It’ll never work though, even if he does. He’s a scaly freaking lizard, for the Divines’ sake.

I had more important things to worry about than the leering eye of a killer Argonian though. This Mother’s voice in my head, for one, and how I’d find this beseecher person. I had a feeling she was only going to get worse unless I did something about her. Like a disease, or an open wound that had started to go bad and attract enough ghastly Rhigul flies to create a small swarm of the winged tumours.

The thought first came to me when I slipped out of the Black Door and into the gorge. Was this actually a woman speaking through my head, or was I just sick? I know there were loads that made you slow and lethargic, drained you of magicka, and some could completely paralyse you, but I’d never heard of diseases that made you hear voices. If there was one, where could I have caught it?

I left the gorge and began tugging my scarf into a hood as I mulled over the options. I hadn’t been bitten by Banshee in a while, so it wasn’t through a hyena bite. I hadn’t been bitten by a siligonder for a good few years, so it wasn’t that. My bed was kept clean, I made sure to only eat fresh foods, and I always covered up during sandstorms. No, it wasn’t disease. Poison perhaps? Yet my skin hadn’t been broken in a long time, so how could it have gotten into me? Maybe through what I ate?

There are tales within the Dark Brotherhood of one assassin that killed via poisoned apples. He would slip one into the victim’s pockets, and when they took a bite, the poison within would seep into their system, and very often they’d die where they stood.

Could that work with some kind of mind-altering poison? If it could, who would have poisoned me? I never steal food from a dead contract as sometimes they trap it. Killed our Khajiit twins, Ma’Zabhuki and Ma’Shuya, a few months ago. Blades hidden in the honey nut treats they swiped from the contract’s house to congratulate themselves with. It wasn’t pretty, that’s for sure. Sliced their throats open from the inside.

Where else? The Listener perhaps? Could they have poisoned me? They may be the Listener and thus has special privileges the rest of us lowly Assassins could never dream of, but the Listener still had to obey all of the Five Tenets. Poisoning me, even with something designed to alter my mind, could risk killing me, and thus a Tenet would be broken.

Not them then. Perhaps I wasn’t poisoned after all, and instead this genuinely was a woman speaking through my head.

The desert slipped down in a gentle slope to the edges of a large city. Far bigger than little Sakhatennu, the wooden towers and Cliffside homes protruded up from behind the stone wall, and the highest wooden tower gleamed with magical spirals in gold, red, and blue.

Riverhold. One of the largest cities in Anequina, and a prime place to find Khajiit caravans of merchants heading everywhere in Tamriel. I could hitch a ride with one up to that Skyrim city, Winterhold, and be on my way to Markarth in no time.

Only problem was running into city guards or Thalmor. I don’t think it would take too long for news of Hulder Palgus being killed by a female Dunmer assassin to spread. Especially not as only a short span of desert, less than five miles, separated Sakhatennu and Riverhold. As Dunmer aren’t that common here in Anequina, it wouldn’t be too long until someone got suspicious and started asking questions. Too many questions, which could lead to deep trouble for me. Execution pyres were intimidating enough when they were just a threat.

As I skidded down the dunes, the city wall drew far closer. The city was big enough to be partially desert, and partially temperate-highlands where the climate of southern Cyrodiil spilled over into Anequina. Now closer, the yawning space of the city entrance loomed darkly ahead, with haughty guards stood either side. At this distance, they seemed about the height of a grain of saltrice, watching over the sprawling masses in the external Sugar Pens. Honestly, that stuff should be banned. They did it in the other provinces, along with skooma. Here, they have to deal with mental cat-men having fits of ecstasy over the stuff.

I came off the dune and carried on towards the city, passing by the Sugar Pens. The purrs of delight were louder than a pack of hostile hyenas, even though the Moon Sugar-addled Khajiit shook and trembled like leaves. The city guard simply sent them a pitying look, his tail flicking in discontent at the furry rabble. The guard took a look at me approaching and sighed, arching his furry brow, before picking up the bucket of water next to him and sloshing it over the current inmates of the Sugar Pens.

“Gotta keep them cool. Can dehydrate and die in this heat.” He purred, when he saw me watching.

“I can imagine.” I replied, as the cat put down the bucket and purred in my direction.

“No, you never imagine the heat for Khajiit. Pretty one can’t even come close when laying bare and wrapped in thick fur pelts, as beautiful as Imperials’ Lady Dibella when bare like her.”

Creep. “Bet you say that to every woman who comes this way.

“None like you though. Khajiit try to find his one, but nobody wants to be his true moon queen. Pretty Dunmer girl like you, you perfect. Come on now, be good. You furless ones have the advantage here in the heat, yet you cover it up. Is cooler if you take it all off, no? Why not try, and tell me if cooler? Khajiit has private quarters in barracks. You do it there for me. More…private.”

He’d come up to me by now, leaning against me and pushing me back so I was partially leaning over the low, stone wall of the Sugar Pens. Up close, his deep brown fur scratched and chafed, and his breath was tainted by an unmistakeable sweet-and-fruity smell. Great, nothing worse than a skooma-tainted pervert.

 “How about I make it cooler for you? Strip off a few things of yours. Your armour, that tunic you’ve got on underneath,” I purred back, before taking the symbolic dagger on my waist belt and slipping it in a gap in his armour, letting it just scratch him, “and if you say anything like that to me again, I’ll take your skin off and wear it as a cloak. Are we clear?” I hissed, pushing my dagger in a little.

That changed his attitude pretty quick, making him back off as his ears went back and lips lifted. “With your little knife and bow Khajiit can snap? You wouldn’t dare, little elf.”

He growled, and the double axe at his back shifted. Steel clunked on steel, as I pulled out the dagger.

“Maybe not,” I began, letting the silver blade slip and swing on its leather braid, “but I bet the Guard Captain would if he found out.”

This creep of a cat hissed, bristling and flattening his ears against his head. “Nobody will believe you, elf. He will simply laugh and send you away.” He growled, taking a few steps back.

“Not on my own. If I had a few others to back me up, like the other girls you tried harassing, then perhaps. It’ll be easy to find them. All I have to do is ask if anyone had any trouble with the Suthay-raht guarding the Sugar Pens, then I’m done. So, still fancy being a cloak?”

He hissed then, twitching towards the handle of the double-axe. “Why doesn’t Khajiit just cut you down where you stand? You pulled a dagger, so by right Khajiit should arrest you now. Khajiit can just claim you resisted, and were too slow.”

“Try it, and I’ll scream assault loud enough to draw all the other guards before you can take one swing. I don’t have to unsheathe a scream either.”

He growled and finally spat in frustration. “Fine. Get on with you, elf! Khajiit not be so lenient next time.”

I smirked in triumph, directing a teasing wave of my fingers at the crushed cat. “I knew you’d see it my way.” I chuckled, heading through the city gates.

Riverhold was a city between desert and the rolling fields of Cyrodiil, and reflected in the layout. The main through road sprawled out in stone slabs, with traditional marble buildings abruptly switching to the wood and stone structures typical of Imperial towns halfway down. Thalmor and town guards either patrolled the streets, or stood haughty and proud outside shops and on corners. Everywhere, the purring chatter of various Khajiit mixed with the clear trill of Imperials. Bubbling just below that were the cries of various caged beasts for sale, the clatter of goods, clangs of the blacksmith’s anvil, gentle grunts of moon cows, the shriek of cart wheels turning, and everywhere, the melodic clinking of coin.

As I passed by the Smoking Bowl, the thick cascade of brewing potions and fresh ingredients tumbled out of the open windows into the air, mixing with hot coals in the forge forming a haze of smoke, fresh meats hanging up for outside the Hunting Lodge, incense curling out from the temple of the Divines, and the sour reek of the moon cows chewing grass in their pens.

A Dunmer woman like me could vanish into the crowd easily here, even without an invisibility spell. Still, it didn’t hurt to be cautious, so I tugged my scarf a little tighter around me, letting it drape in a way to hide my face in shadows. In a place run by the Aldmeri Dominion, it didn’t hurt to be play it cautious.

The trading caravan post wasn’t far, stationed right by the north-western gate, with its cloth sign above the hollow archway flapping lazily in the breeze and making the paw design on it ripple and flex. The main caravan gate was up, and in the shadowy archway, two carriages crouched like the great mammoth-tiger Khajiits, the Senche-raht. Normal Khajiits were milling around them, chattering to each other as they loaded rolled bundles, chests, crates, and sacks onto the first carriage, and fixed harnesses onto two moon cows to pull both of the carriages. The flesh-toned creatures were a bit bigger than the average horse, but much bulkier, built more like the mammoths of Skyrim and lumpier than an Imperial’s face after it lost a drunken brawl.

They looked ready to go, and I’m sure an extra hand wouldn’t be turned down. Spotting the Khajiit standing at the side in shining ebony armour blacker than a siligonder’s shell, I adjusted my scarf, and went up to them.

“Are you heading up to Skyrim, by chance?” I asked, as the cat turned to look at me. A lofty Cathay-raht, their mottled golden fur was covered in deep brown circular blotches, and their long tail hung down calmly behind them.

“Yes, the caravan goes there. You wish to travel with us, yes?” She had a deep, raspy purr of a voice, and her claws drumming on her armour thudded like a heartbeat.

“Is it possible to? I need to get to Skyrim. It’s…personal.” I lied.

“Sure, sure, though you will have to travel with the stock. You can store your things with ours. If you help S’Nadahra load the carriages, she help you hide when you get near Windhelm.”

Hide? “Thank you, and I’ll gladly help, but why would I want to hide?”

The Khajiit, S’Nadahra, raised her brow in shock, her tail starting to twitch. “It’s…it’s nothing, do not worry. Khajiit just is used to hostile reception from Stormcloaks, and worried you will receive the same treatment. Please, store your things. All will be fine.”

She smiled as she said it, but there was pity in her eyes as she looked down at me. “Okay…seriously though, why would I want to hide? It’s not that bad in Skyrim, is it?”

S’Nadahra sighed, shaking her head a little. “I shall tell you on the way, child. We have a journey of two moons ahead of us. Now please, help out Ma’Shundza with the chest of pelts, and we shall discuss it whilst on the moonpath.”

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