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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16. Flames and Glaciers

The sun had set somewhere between Solitude and Dawnstar, and the thick clouds had returned. Clouds of snow were billowing down, spiralling like Banshee chasing her tail as they joined the snow blanket hushing the ground to sleep. A myriad of coloured lights were strung out between the hunched over houses, and wreaths of red berries had been nailed to every available post.

Must be a festival getting close. New Life, or perhaps something else. Either way, Dawnstar seemed peaceful under the rainbow of lights and snowflake kisses. Cold enough for me to tug my fur cloak around me, pulling the hood down as I trudged through the snow onto the porch of a building where merriment rang out within.

Ah, a tavern. Perfect place to find everyone’s favourite thief. As I entered the building, a wave of warmth greeted me from the long fire pit in the middle. Taking off my hood and cloak, the sweet scent of baking rose from a plump oven in the corner, and the lonely song of a flute drifted over from a bard stood by the bar. Patrons gathered around, swapping stories over tankards of mead as a tavern wench glided past with a tray of spiced wine goblets, and over by the bar, a certain thief chatted to the innkeeper.

“Come on in, think there’s a clean mug around here.” She called.

“You always keep everything around here clean, Heddina. One of the best innkeepers in Skyrim, you are.” Hawk replied, earning himself a cheeky slap with a drying cloth.

“Oh stop it, you. Honestly, you’d sweet talk Jarl Brittilde into letting her son marry an ‘agraven.”

“By the look of his fiancé she’s already let him.”

The innkeeper, Heddina burst into laughter, braying like an amused horse. “You come out with some good ones, you know. Alright, you win. You get one free drink for that one. What’ll it be?”

“Ask my companion here. It’s for her, you see.” He replied, turning to face me as I approached the bar, and flashing that grin of his.

“Oooh, treatin’ your lady friend, eh. In that case I’ll make it two, one for each of you. What’ll it be, love? Mead, ale, wine, or something special, Emberbrand wine.”

Can’t argue with a free drink. “Emberbrand wine, please. You two friends then?”

“Aye, I’ve known your Vincinere Mallory here for decades, and knew ‘is mother for longer. How is your old mother doin’ anyway?”

“She’s good. Still wants grandchildren though. If my sister wound up being like Lisie, she’d have tons by now.”

“Be thankful she didn’t.” Heddina replied, pulling out a bottle of Emberbrand wine and setting it on the bar. “Biggest curse to put on a girl, wishing she’d turn out like Lisie. Don’t know why I ever ‘ired the little- OI!”

Heddina yelled past me at the back corner, where a gang of miners had gathered around one of the tavern wenches. She was kneeling down on the stone floor, legs spreading like butter on mudcrab legs, head thrown back as she poured a bottle of mead over the split-side slip of a dress hanging off her. Around her, the miners cheered, whooping as she finished pouring the whole bottle over her chest.

“Lisie Gjornsdottir, you’re supposed to serve the mead, not waste it. If you’re not changed into something decent and actually doin’ your job in ten minutes, you’re not gettin’ today’s pay!” Heddina yelled, as Lisie snorted, standing up from the puddle of mead and stalking off into a side room, slamming the door behind her.

“As I was sayin’, don’t know why I ever ‘ired the little hussy. Wastes more mead than she serves, and don’t get me started on how she lets ‘erself be felt up by some of the men ‘ere. Anyway, just listen to me. Givin’ her the kind of attention she don’t want and ignorin’ my guests. You two in Dawnstar for any particular reason?” Heddina sighed, handing Hawk a deep blue bottle of mead.

“Not much. A bit of…Guild business really. Is there anything in Dawnstar going on at the moment?” He replied, draping his arm around me as I perched on the stool next to him.

“Just the Khajiits, though Jarl Brittilde said the Vigilants of Stendarr will be passin’ through soon. You ever run into any of them on your travels, love?”

I shuddered, Hawk’s hand brushing my shoulder as I tensed. “Sure did.”

“And I bet you don’t care to again, aye. Not to worry, love. ‘Ere in the Windpeak, as long as you don’t make trouble, you can worship a flyin’ ‘orker painted purple. The locals shouldn’t mind if you don’t flaunt it like the ‘ermit girl Etna in the old museum. You’d think she was ‘er own ancestors reborn.”

Etna…that Vigilant said her little order was looking for a woman named Etna. “What’s up with her then?” I asked, taking a sip and scorching my tongue on Emberbrand wine.

“Family used to own the Museum of the Mythic Dawn ‘ere in town, but when she was about fifteen on a visit to Whiterun, the Vigilants of S’rendarr killed ‘er parents and indoctrinated ‘er brothers. She escaped and came back to the Museum, and ‘as mostly minded ‘er own business. Devotee of the daedra though. Summons atronachs if random people get too close for comfort, but otherwise leaves only to get food. Think Etna Vesuius still ‘as trauma from the Vigilants, poor lamb.”

If Skyrim’s Vigilants of S’rendarr are as bad as the ones down in Anequina, I don’t blame her for still being traumatised. “Which house is hers? I picked up something with her name on it recently I feel she should have back.”

Heddina was looking me over like I was some exotic creature sealed in a cage for people’s enjoyment. “Didn’t tell me your lady friend was the Gray Fox’s Apprentice, Vincinere. Would you raid Black-Briar Manor and give everything there back to the poor, love?”

If all the Black-Briars weren’t serving Sithis, perhaps. “This isn’t some Guild mission. It’s…well I found it with some Vigilants and-”

“Say no more, love. I get you. Vincinere, why don’t you show your lady friend where Etna lives. I’ll keep the inn warm for you both, don’t you worry now.”

Hawk was giving me this sideways look just under his leather hood, like was resisting the urge to kill me for dragging him out into the cold. “Sure thing. We’ll only be about ten minutes. Just enough time for a two small bowls of your Skyrim-famous buttery horker stew to be kept warm for us, right?”

Heddina had this pert smile on her face as she flicked him again with her drying cloth. “Get on with you. Alright, but that’s my last ‘andout you’re gettin’ tonight. Tell you what, love, you’ll want for nothin’ if you stick with Vincinere.”

I could feel my cheeks reddening, and not just from the thought of the cold outside. “I’ll be sure to keep him around then. Come on, let’s go. Sooner we’re back in from the cold, the better.”

The wind’s teeth were sinking in as we made our way outside into the maelstrom of snowflakes. The narrow port was churning itself like the Ne’Quin-Al during a sandstorm, and the lanterns were swinging like berries on a bush. Pulling my hood up further, my shrouded armour seemed to hug me under my over-robes, shielding me from the wind’s demands.

“So what exactly is this thing you want to return?” Hawk hissed, tucking his gloved hands inside the sleeves of his armour. “As it better be worth it for dragging me out here.”

“I don’t actually know what it is. The Vigilant in Markarth said it was a scrap of daedra skin, but it’s massive! No summonable daedra get that big.”

Hawk had this look of purest loathing as he guided me down the slope to the second row of snow-capped buildings. “So you’re returning something that you don’t even properly know what it is, to Dawnstar’s very own crazy lady known for worshipping daedra, for what reason exactly?”

“Same reason I hid in the Ratway the day we first met.” I replied, skirting past what looked like a snow Dunmer someone had built with Elves’ Ear leaves for ears and tomatoes for eyes. “Your Thieves’ Guild are sworn enemies of the law, my you-know-what Guild are sworn enemies of the law. I don’t particularly like the Vigilants of S’rendarr for what they do, and by the sound of things neither does this Etna Vesuius woman. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, Hawk.”

“Not when it comes to a crazy lady daedra worshipper. If she summons a daedric whatsamecallsit on you, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“You’ll never really understand daedra worship, will you?” I sighed, as we approached the house at the end of the second row. Limp banners, half-burned and encrusted with salt, flapped in the wind as the wall sconce by the door went out and the smoke drifted away.

“After Boethiah, I don’t really want to. Go on then, you’re the one delivering the thing.”

Coward. Clutching my sleeve tight around my wrist, I headed to the door and rapped on the splintered wood.

“Get lost!” A woman barked from inside, as the thunderous cracks of summoning rang out from either side of me, and two flame atronachs spiralled out from the darkness, cooking the air around them and thawing out the snow nearby. “I’m warning you, you got three seconds to back off or I’ll order them to roast you!”

Heddina wasn’t kidding about the atronachs then. “Etna Vesuius? I found something that belongs to you.” I replied.

Nothing. “Etna?” I replied, as Hawk rested his hand on my shoulder.

“Come on, let’s go. Told you it was a waste of time.” He muttered, tugging on my shoulder to pull me away. “Let’s get back to the Windpeak. It’s colder than an ice wolf’s ballsa-”

The scrape of a bolt being drawn back cut off his comparison, as the splintered shell of a door opened a crack and a pale-faced Imperial woman peered through, looking us up and down.

“Come in, and make it quick.” She snapped, yanking the door open and ushering us both into her hollow house.

The same singed banners swung on the walls inside, above display cases filled with all sorts of strange things. The fireplace stood empty, colder than anything outside, and a single iron lantern hanging from the roof provided the solitary pool of light dripping down on Etna Vesuius. She seemed not to feel the cold, as all she wore was a strange set of red robes with a golden sunburst design around the neck, deep red shoes, and matching gloves thinner than a single hair. The red hood of the robes was up, and in the shadows beneath, fury blazed.

“Well, what is it? I haven’t got all day!” She snapped, folding her arms across her chest.

“Well…I-I found this at the Temple of Dibella in Markarth. A Vigilant of S’rendarr was talking about it. They linked it to you as your journal was found nearby.”

“Vigilant? Bah, the Vigilants of Stendarr know nothing. Go on then, show me what you believe to be returning.”

I shrugged off my knapsack, reaching into it for the slim book and the glass jar as Hawk rested his hand on my shoulder. “Here’s your journal, first.” I began, handing her the leather-bound book. “The second thing…I don’t actually know what it is. The Vigilant of S’rendarr in Markarth said it was a piece of daedra skin.”

As I pulled out the coiled scrap of red flesh in the jar, it was like a fire had been lit under Etna Vesuius. She leapt out of the golden circle of candlelight and screamed, twin voids of darkness leaping up into her palms with a roar. “Wretched bitch!” She screamed, as the dark voids began to writhe, sparks like dancing ice and shimmering flames struggling to break free. “You dare to bring to me the wounds of his defeat at the hands of the last Septim!”

She really was a crazy lady. Ducking back, the glow of flame as Hawk drew Goldbrand lit the house, as with a scream of rage, Etna Vesuius began to glow, chanting as if praying.

“When I walk the earth again, the faithful among you shall receive your reward! To be set above all other mortals, forever! As for the rest, the weak shall be winnowed, the timid shall be cast down, the mighty shall tremble at my feet and pray for pardon!”

The formerly dead hearth burst into an inferno, blazing and crackling as Etna Vesuius began to rise into the air, clutching her voids of darkness as they struggled to break free.

“Of bold Oblivion fire who finds you for Lord Dagon forever reborn in blood and fire from the waters from Oblivion!” Etna shrieked, as both voids seemed to catch alight, burning in flames that spat ice as the wind shrieked and struggled outside.

“Come slow and bring four keys! In my first arm, a storm! My second, the rush of plagued rain! The third, the tinder of Anu! The fourth, the very eyes of Padhome! Master akin Master, mother is miasma to Destroyer!”

Hawk was struggling to keep hold of Goldbrand as the wind burst through the back wall, stinging like coals as I drew my bow. Just one shot at her would silence the foul magic she held glowing black in both palms.

“Of bold Oblivion fire who finds you for Lord Dagon forever reborn in blood and fire from the waters from Oblivion!”

I nocked in an arrow and let it fly as she threw the twin orbs, catching them both in the gut as the flaming hearth leaped free. The flames stuck, clinging to me and throwing me back through a wall of pure orange light as thunder raged and a lightening bolt struck the wall of light. As it dissolved, I landed, scraping the ground as the cackling sky above laughed and split like black ice floating on a sea of fire.

I scrambled up, brushing back my fur hood as the first fire jet burst from the ground nearby. Around me, lakes of lava boiled and cackled, as the crying remains of ruins scattered themselves everywhere, and bloody spikes rose from the ground to impale the unfortunate upon.

I couldn’t help but scream when I saw the Prince of this realm. Scarcely the span of a village from me, the red-skinned Prince erupted from the ground, with his black greaves, gauntlets, and collar welded to his skin. Clumps of horns grew from his skull, and a forest of snaggled fangs sat in his cavernous mouth. In one of his four hands he clutched an evil-looking battle axe, and in another, three black blades emerged from his knuckles. As his golden eyes cast their gaze onto me, the dremora army at his feet readied their weapons, growling like wild beasts encased in Daedric armour.

“Just one sacrifice this time, Etna? Your death makes a fitting reward for such a pitiful display of worship! Go! Destroy the ash-born in my name!”

I sheathed Vixen and bolted. My bow could probably only take out a few of his dremora warriors, and Merrunz himself was far too powerful. My only option was to run. Run, and find a way to get back to Dawnstar and Hawk.

At least he hadn’t been warped here too. That was something. With my fur cloak smothering my back, I kept running, careening blindly through the flame-devoured landscape as the tendrils of a thorny vine lashed out like red chains. The roars of wicked creatures rang over the screams of those who worshipped Merrunz, and as I seized the rotting leg of a hanged corpse, a flame atronach rose from the lava beneath as I swung across to land and roll once onto another chunk of a broken bridge, continuing on my way as a flesh-toned creature with clawed hands and the voice of a reptile lunged from a stone cliff and began pursuing me.

Screw it, there’s only one way of defeating a Daedric Prince. A deity with more power than Merrunz must be invoked, and in the latter days of the frozen month of Evening Star, there was only one stronger than Merrunz.

I must be mad. My lungs were burning like the air, sweat leaking from my forehead as a whipping vine of thorns stretched out and tore my over-robes, ripping them off to reveal the shrouded armour beneath.

“Assassin she may be, but the ash beast will know destruction at my name! Get her!” Merrunz roared, his hulking form looming over the black, spiked towers growing up like weeds from the cracked ground.

A tower…the platform of the roof would be the best place to summon Him to defeat Merrunz. As a reptilian nightmare with a frilled neck of scales hissed and lunged, I weaved to the side, aiming for a nearby tower adorned with the burned corpses of the foolish. The doors had been painted with the sigil of ‘O’ and blood dripped down the flight of many steps tumbling into the lava flood gushing beneath a bridge of thorns.

The nearest one had to be the most brutal. Skidding down the face of the short cliff, the thorned bridge tore at my shrouded boots, chewing the thick sole as I leapt from point to point, scrabbling onto the tower’s island of burned death.

“There you are, weakling!” The scraping cries of a dremora rang out as it emerged from the tower door, greatsword poised to swing as I scrabbled to my feet. With a voice like molten metal bubbling from the smelter, the dremora screamed, lunging at me and chopping the ground where I previously lay.

I need one of these things to summon Him. Well, part of one at least. “I’ll rip your heart out!” I yelled back, drawing my bow and nocking in an arrow as the dremora hissed, preparing to swing its greatsword once more.

I struck him, admittedly only in the eye, but it still wounded him. As black blood dripped from the wounded eye socket, the dremora screamed, leaving itself open to a Black Hand’s volley, filling its skull with five arrows as it dropped to the ground and expired in its own blood.

Can’t do that again. The rattling of arrows in my quiver was getting louder, and I doubt I could smelt more in this place. Sheathing my bow, I picked up the dremora’s dropped greatsword and forced it into its chest, piercing the armour so it split in half like an egg and its ribs fell apart like a flower unfurling. Dropping the greatsword, I reached in, closing my fist around the fleshy blob and yanking it out in a volley of blood and flesh. The only piece of summoning yet to be obtained now dripped blood in my gloved hand.

Merrunz gave another roar of rage as I left the mutilated dremora corpse, making my way into the tower and up the spiralling ramp of stretched skin. Looking up, the spiral seemed to extend all the way up the tower, as hanging corpses dangled off the sides, and fireballs were cascading down to singe the chained remains of a victim left on the ground.

“I smell weakness…” The metallic bubbles of a dremora growling rang out from just above me, as the thudding of daedric boots drew nearer. Son of a flame atronach…how many arrows did I have left? Fifteen? Ten? Five?

Tucking the daedra heart into a belt loop, I took out Vixen and aimed, tracking the dremora as it charged down the skin ramp, battle-axe raised. “You meet your end, mortal!” It bellowed, taking a swing at me as I released the arrow and pierced its jaw.

Dud shot, can’t miss again. Nocking another arrow, I let it fly and pierced the dremora’s throat, sending it down to choke and splutter as it descended into death and I ran past its dying remains.

Bet there were more. With the daedra heart squished between my hip and belt, I kept my bow drawn, looking up the spiral of flesh as bursts of flame shot down from above. I had the pelt of beast wrapped around my shoulders, smothering me in thick heat. The blood of mortals thudded in my veins, and at my belt oozed the heart of a daedra.

All that was left was to continue scaling the tower, using the ramp of stretched skin to get to the top. The summoning of such a Prince would need open space and somewhere to hide, and may be a huge mistake.

“I honour my lord, by destroying you!” The liquid voice of another dremora spilled down from the ramp of stretched flesh. Clutching a fanged mace in one hand, it held a chain binding another of those scaled beasts with the frilled necks. “Feast on the ashen mortal’s heart!” The dremora cried, letting go of the chain so the beast leapt free.

I didn’t bother trying to hit this pair. With only a few arrows rattling within their quiver, missing a shot wasn’t an option. My bow held tight, as the scaled creature lunged I aimed for its chest, bashing it sideways and repeatedly striking it like a brawler’s punch until it tumbled off and tore a panel of the stretched skin ramp.

Now for that beast’s master. Getting closer to it wasn’t the best move, but if I could get past it…

I sheathed my bow and leapt across, passing through the flames and singing myself as I gripped the far edge of the skin ramp, pulling up with both arms then swinging my legs up and jumping again, scorching my cloak again on the flames as I bypassed the dremora’s wrath. “You cannot escape me!” It roared, swinging blindly as I scrambled up and began running, rolling forward once to extinguish the flames on my fur cloak and resuming my way up the flesh staircase only to jump and seize an iron spike going out from the tower interior to the outer walls.

That must be how Merrunz gets his servants to get the bodies outside onto the walls. Hugging the spike, I began inching my way up, making my way up to the window encircling the spike.

“Lord Dagon commands that you die!” The dremora yelled, before a clang flooded the tower and the spike juddered, threatening to throw me off.

Merrunz can command it. Sithis wills his Dark Daughter continues to serve outside of the Void. Clinging to the spike, I inched up further as the dremora swung at the spike, battering it to shake again as I inched up further, and the air of the Deadlands bathed me in fire. Back inside, the dremora raged, battering the spike as I dragged myself up onto the tower roof and threw the singed remains of my fur cloak into the centre of the platform.

“Weaklings! I’ll take the sacrificial red-drink myself!” Merrunz raged, the red-skinned giant beginning his march across the Deadlands as I drew out a single arrow and stood over the singed remains of my fur cloak.

“Pelt of beast, worn to shield. Your wounds never healed, your purpose to be a slave of defence. With the flames of devouring I offer you!”

Amongst the cackles of the lava sky, a shriek of blue pierced like a dagger. “Blood of mortal, housed to nourish. Your hunger never fed, your purpose to be a slave to devour. With the wound of sacrifice I offer you!”

I tugged off the shrouded glove covering my left hand, slashing the back of my hand with my arrow so blood began oozing out, dripping off my bare hand as I shoved my glove inside my armour. The dagger wound of blue light above had grown, splitting through the sky, tearing into a world of freezing air that whipped at my shrouded armour, pulling my dripping blood through to saturate the fur.

“Heart of daedra, stolen to sacrifice. Your beating never ceasing, your purpose to be a slave of punishment. With the crushing of your form I offer you!”

As I clenched my fist over the daedra heart, reducing to to pulp with a wet crunch, the wound of blue forced its way through with a barrage of ice. Freezing winds leaked through as the wound became an Oblivion gate framed in spiked iron and glowing a cold, metallic blue. Steel chains tumbled out to anchor the Oblivion gate to the scorched earth of the Deadlands, and following the blizzard of icy teeth, a screech like an icicle shattered the burning fury of Merrunz’ realm.

Perhaps this was a mistake.

No, it was definitely a mistake, but one that couldn’t be put right now. The blue-skinned demon was clawing at the portal. The one mother insisted I offer a pelt to as a bargain for being left alone. The fourth corner of the House of Troubles.

I didn’t have time to hide. My summoning of Molag Bal had brought him to the Deadlands, pulling him through the portal as a blue-skinned giant standing at over fifty times my height, with eyes glowing in coldest white, and clawed hands gripping at the tower.

This was definitely a mistake. He seized me in his claws as I tried to run, picking me up by the waist as the jagged talons dug into me, piercing through my armour. “I’ll deal with you later.” Molag Bal growled, before I found myself hurtling upwards, straight through the portal into a world of ice and filth, screaming as the winds bit into me and flung me into a wall of ice.

“Sh-Sheogorath’s madness…the blood of B-Clavicus Vile!” I stammered, pulling myself up onto my hands and knees as my own blood dripped wet and red from my forehead onto the slate floor.

I’d take the Deadlands over…this. Over Coldharbour. Lakes of molten rock, blood-dripping spikes, and fire would be better than freezing winds whipping through the broken walls, past the smears of blood and biting into the sludge of the ground, whipping it up into peaks around the bone legs of Molag Bal’s throne. Around the room stood sculptures of ice warped into showing the most disgusting acts, and like white teeth in the darkness, blue flames pierced the gloom of Coldharbour.

“Please…” A whisper pierced the screaming, the eternal screaming of pain and fear that never left the biting winds. “The one who is not shriven…please…just behind you.”

It was hard not to see her, for she burned to death and beyond. The young Dunmer had been shackled to the wall by her ankles, leaving her suspended upside down with her legs spread for all of Coldharbour to see. A rusted candlestick, complete with five lit candles burning blue and cold, had been forced between her legs; blood still oozed from the wound, dripping over her naked body and shining in the blue light of the lit candles. Her neck also leaked blood, with dripping wounds like pinpricks covering the pulsing lumps of her veins.

I couldn’t help but scream when I saw her. The Gods knew how long she’d been here, bleeding and shackled as one of the many living braziers I now noticed as I looked around Molag Bal’s throne room. Each blue flame had its own sconce of flesh and bone shackled to the wall with legs spread wide. Women of every race, some living, but most in various states of decay. All with the same rusted candlestick forced between their legs, and all covered in their own blood.

“Please…Lord Molag Bal is returning, covered in the blood of battle. His lust for pain will know no bounds. Please…unshriven one…kill me.”

She whimpered, shifting and exposing reddened wounds on her ankles as tears of pain blended with the blood running over her face. Only the Gods knew what Molag Bal had done to her in her time as a living brazier, and our Lady Azurah wept for her suffering as I nocked in an arrow.

“The grace of AlmSiVi bless you, unshriven one.” She whimpered, closing her eyes as I aimed and drew back the string.

“Azurah light your steps.” I whispered back, before I let go and my arrow pierced her chest.

The Dunmer died without a scream, but instead a soft breath as her soul fled from her body. “Thank you…” she whispered, as her limp body slid from the shackles and landed on the sludge-covered earth.

The rites had to wait though. If she was right and Molag Bal was returning, I had to hide. The horned demon of domination and enslavement never meant anything good. With a groan, I stood on the Dunmer woman’s shackles, pulling myself up and smearing myself with the blood on the walls as I reached for a spike in the wall. If I could get out of sight…well there had to be some way of escaping Coldharbour. How else would we have documented descriptions of this infernal realm if people hadn’t been here and escaped?

“Lamae, my bride. Have you been entertaining our guest?”

I slipped and skidded, barking my shin as I clutched the spikes embedded in the wall. Blood covered me like a wet cloak, sticking and squelching as I flailed and pulled, scrabbling and skidding as I gripped the next spike and began pulling myself up. Just a little higher…

“Lamae!”

Sithis curse it! All I could do was freeze and cling tight as the blue-skinned demon dropped from the ceiling, landing with a thud as cracks appeared in the ground and his bladed tail lashed at the stone walls. Chunks of red flesh coated his clawed hands like shadows on his navy skin, and the two curled horns sprouting forward like insect pincers were covered in black blood. The grey loincloth he wore had been torn, and as he reached beneath his skeletal throne, the white fires in his eyes were ablaze.

I stayed frozen as she screamed, clinging to the ground as the Prince of Domination dragged her from her hiding place. Pale and thick-muscled like a Nord but dark haired like an Imperial, the vampire he dragged out wasn’t from any human race I’d seen before. Steel chains and had been wrapped around her, holding silver plates and a shredded white skirt against her body like a whore’s armour. A thick shackle had been clamped around her neck, fastened to a long, serpentine chain that wrapped itself around the hands of Coldharbour’s Prince.

“Tell me, Lamae, will you ever be a decent wife for me? Don’t you know we have a guest?”

Lamae was cowering in the palm of the Prince’s hand as he closed his claws around her. Only the glowing pinpricks of the vampire’s eyes showed between her fingers, and her trembling made the chain rattle. “Well?” Molag Bal yelled, as Lamae let out a strangled squeak.

“No, Master.”

“Such a poor hostess I have for a bride. Well our guest is around here somewhere, have you seen her? She looks like…well to start she’s about this tall.”

The Prince of Domination dropped the vampire, letting her swing from the shackle around her neck before his claws pierced through her hips and began scraping down, pulling her, stretching her to about my height before she screamed and her legs went as limp as waterweed in a river’s current.

“She wears armour of black and red, like this.”

I looked away as Molag Bal made the first slash, peeling away the skin around her waist to expose the red muscle layers beneath. Her screams filled the desecrated throne room, cries of pain bouncing off the stone walls, as the Gods wept for her.

“Her eyes are this shade of red.”

I shut my eyes as she screamed again, her voice becoming hoarse as the hollow dripping of fresh blood pierced through her pained groans.

“And her skin looks like someone’s done this to her.”

Lamae’s cries of pain were drowned under the rush of flames leaping onto her body, glowing a cold blue as they danced over her wounds. Her eyes were no longer gold and glowing as she swung from the chain around her neck, and blood still dripped from her burning body as the flames took over.

“So have you seen her?”

I froze, clinging to the spiked wall as Lamae whimpered, quivering on the end of the chain. “Useless wretch!” Molag Bal spat, dropping the end of the chain and grinding her burning body under a cloven hoof, smothering the flames with a crunch and a splatter of blood. “The gift of my immortality was wasted on you.”

Perhaps I could get away now. The black chains hanging down from the ceiling could be a good hiding place if I could seize one and pull myself up on it. The best place to hide from a mortal may be right under their nose, but from the Daedric Prince of Domination and Enslavement, it was above his head in the grove of chains hanging down like arrows in a quiver.

The Prince had his leathery back to me as he perched in his throne of bones, leaning on a clawed hand as his tail twitched. Lamae’s body still quivered as the flames died out, and he seemed content to hook a blade of his tail through a link on her chain and use that to pull her to her feet. Amidst her pained whimpers, the rattling of the chain around her neck, and Molag Bal’s chuckles to himself, the scrape of my armour on the spiked wall as I made my way up to the only hiding place should go unheard, smothered like warm sands under the great jungle’s fringes. Inching up, reaching for the next spike, I pressed my foot on the flat side of a spike, and flailed as we both tumbled free.

I don’t know why I didn’t get up the second I hit the ground. Shock perhaps, as the dull ache made its victory lap around my skull and the blue lights danced in front of my eyes. Molag Bal’s gasp at my reappearance was what jolted me out of it, forcing me up, up onto my feet, breaking into a sprint around the outer edge of the room as the Prince’s snarls filled the room and he straightened up from the throne of bones.

I couldn’t help but scream as his tail struck me, flicking me into the air to be seized in the Prince’s claws. Two pierced me just beneath my navel, searing pains flooding me as the claws sliced further and I was turned upside down, saturated in my own blood.

"You...you wretched ash crawler! Spawn of The Pitiful Boethiah's guidance! You...you dared to hide from me in my own realm? Tell me, why shouldn't I crush you right now, weakling? I could claim your wretched soul right here and nobody could save you." He growled.

He growled right in my face, jerking me in his grip so his claws carved a deep gash through my flesh, letting blood leak over his hand. "Answer me, mortal corruption!" He barked, before a jagged claw thrust itself into my mouth, hooking on my tongue. "Sharp, aren't they? This was the last thing many pitiful lice like you felt before I ripped their tongue out and claimed them. Why shouldn't I do the same to you?"

Sheogorath’s Madness…I whimpered and spasmed as a claw dug through further, coaxing out yet more blood. “I came not to summon but to be your Champion, Lord Corrupter.”

I couldn't help but squeal as he let out an unholy roar right in my face, the fumes of decay escaping from within his gaping maw, unlike the individual who never escaped his row of fangs. Their bones remained wedged there, dripping with rot and ichor as he gave me enough shakes to summon a sickening crack from my pelvis. "Know your place, louse, or Molag Bal may just send a better champion to claim your broken corpse. Though...there is one that has evaded me for too long. The city of Cheydinhal has hidden its Count, Frances Egallia, for far too long. I want you to draw that mite out from the woodwork, and then obliterate him."

The Prince must have taken my squeal of pain as agreement, as a fanged grin emerged. "Yes, fragile scrub. You shall do my bidding, but don't just crush him. Humiliate him. Have the writhing masses forever scorn his name. Obliterate the weakling for what he is with your own hand. Then you will have earned your insignificant life, and maybe, just maybe, earn yourself a reward if you make him submit to the strong."

I couldn’t help but quake as he tugged my bow and her quiver from my body, suspending her on a hook hanging from the ceiling. “You won’t be needing this. I think you’ll find the city of Cheydinhal more than appropriate for reducing that cretin of a Count to a disgraced shadow.”

He shook me once more as he opened the gate and bathed us in purple light; the first spurt of blood erupting from between my legs like the victims at the altars. "I will send you there now. Go with my curse, and do my bidding! You will kill, or you will die!"

With a jerk, he pulled me back, flinging me over his shoulder on his claws as my stomach lurched up into my throat, before flinging me with a crack and a tear, as a deep trench was carved from my navel down to between my legs, destroying everything there as I passed through the gate and skidded a good few hundred metres across the baked earth.

Numbness…then the burning agony of being sanded down like a sword on a grindstone. The flesh on my left side had been shredded clean off and the tattered remains of my shrouded armour stuck to my open wounds. The cracking, splitting feeling sank into me with fangs once I slowed to a stop upon a cobbled road, leaking blood from everywhere possible, before shuddering once, lifting my head, and vomiting whatever my stomach held after that.

“Boethiah’s blood…Lady Azurah’s Nerevar…” I stammered once I was done and my throat burned like everywhere else, my elbows giving out so I slumped back down into the wet chunks. “I’m dead…”

The bones of Nirn itself were shaking, creaking and bashing together beneath my head as the blistering sun began to grow hazy and the world faded into a black halo. Shadows were racing past me, full of the roars and shrieks of torment that awaited me. I was dead...I was completely dead...even the tearing thud of a kick to my ribs, and the stabbing pinches of a hand jerking at my lower jaw meant nothing now.

Nothing...absolutely nothing.

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