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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15. Home Again

We buried the Listener today. Well, Camena did. As she’s been in the family longest, she had the closest bond with her. Though being honest, she was the only one that had a bond with her. Rosette would prefer to feed her body to Banshee rather than put her to rest in the Sanctuary tomb.

A clatter of clay plates came from down in the kitchen, followed by a hazy roar of chatter. Someone had slipped out of the dining room, leaving the wake behind. Probably Skogsra, if the family could get her out of the tomb in the first place. Or Camena, she hates being part of a large crowd in a tight space.

Wrong on both counts. “Killer? You ok in there?” Hawk asked, as a knocking rang out on my chamber door.

Damn it! “I’m not decent, don’t come in!” I yelled, tucking the book I’d stolen from the Listener under my pillow.

“I won’t look, I swear.”

For a thief, he can be pretty dense. “Door’s unlocked.” I groaned, letting him come in.

His cheeks reddened the moment he saw me, sliding a wooden plate of soft bread with apple slices and an iron pot of something sweet onto the bedside table. “Camena made Elsweyr fondue. She said it was your favourite, and that you might want some company.”

Bless him, he can’t even look at me. Though being fair, I doubt I’d be able to look at him if roles had been reversed in that kiss. “She’s right, it always has been my favourite. You want to be my company then?” I asked, picking up an apple slice and dipping it in fondue.

“I thought you’d never ask. Come here, Killer.”

I barely had time to pull away before he tucked his arm around my shoulders and pulled me close, holding me to his side. “Don’t worry, what happens here stays here. I don’t mind.” He whispered, taking the fondue-coated apple slice and slipping it between my teeth.

I didn’t have to say anything. Just bite down on the apple piece and let the cheesy, sweetly fruity taste of the fondue take hold. “Camena’s a pretty good cook. That her main role in the Sanctuary?”

I nodded, swallowing the apple piece. “Sort of. She and Rosette are like the mothers of the family. They make sure we all do our three hours of training, and make sure there’s always cryomancy-preserved stews and treats in the cupboards for us to Fire Bite ready after a midnight contract.” I replied, making him smile.

“Rosette’s the alchemist lady with the red hair, right? Yeah, she’s a great mother. I think I met her daughter, Belle.”

“Ten years old, hair in braids with princess rings and gems in it?”

“That’s her. She pretended to assassinate me. Wooden dagger to the back with blackberry juice ‘poison’ on it.”

I stifled a chuckle, sitting up as Hawk’s arm drifted down to my waist. “That’s Belle alright. Still wants to be just like daddy. We’ve all been ‘assassinated’ by her at some point.”

“Cute,” he muttered, “so cute. She gave me this for me to give to you. Here, hold still.”

He was fiddling with my hair again, brushing back a few strands and sliding the flower stem behind my ear. “A desert rose, just for my very own desert rose. She said…what was it she also said?” He chuckled, letting me reach over to dip a chunk of bread in the fondue.

“It’ll come to you, don’t worry.” I replied, finishing off the bread chunk as a familiar warm breath tickled my cheek.

“I think it was something about us. About you and me. She asked if we were in love, like her parents. Are we? What are we, Killer? You kissed me out of the blue and you’re not getting away with it.” He hissed, before guiding me to face him.

Sly bastard. “You could have just asked me right at the start, you know. Didn’t have to bribe me with food and a desert rose.”

“You and I both know you wouldn’t have let me in if I did.”

Touché, sneak thief. “What is there to know? I kissed you, that’s all there is to it.”

“All there is to it? For a frost atronach in disguise, yes, that’s all there is to it. For regular people however, there’s a lot more than that.”

“You actually put value on a one-off kiss?” I retorted, before he seized the back of my head and kissed me, forcing his tongue down my throat for a split second.

“Not a one-off anymore, is it.” He replied once we parted, his cheeks reddening and his grip on me still firm. “So what’s really going on here? What was behind that first kiss, and what are we now?”

I…he dared to… “You kissed me the second time, not the other way around. It’s still a one-off.”

“You didn’t fight back though, so it’s not. You went along with it.”

“That’s not exactly a fair judgement. Just as I didn’t bite you doesn’t mean it was a legitimate kiss.”

“You and I both know you don’t have the heart in you to bite me. Unless you mean in the hot vampire way. In which case, go right ahead once you answer my questions. You’re not getting away with it this time.”

From red-blooded male to unyielding and assertive in less than half a second. Is there something wrong with him? “I’ve gotten away with similar before. This should be no different.”

“Not with me though. Look, I’ve been dragged from Riften to Hammerfell, Anequina, and Gods-cursed Oblivion by you. I’ve fought more Thalmor in one go than probably exist in the whole of Skyrim, got turned into the pet of the Daedric Prince of deception and treachery, and now I’m the newest initiate of murder family values. Like it or not, you owe me now. You owe me more than you could possibly realise.”

He pushed me back, pinning me by the shoulders and holding me to the wolf pelts of my bedding. “So get talking. Explain everything. What the Oblivion is going on for you to resort to kissing me, and what are we now? You’re not getting up until you’ve explained everything.”

“Says who?” I snapped, jerking up as he forced me down further.

“Says the fact I know I’m stronger than you. Start talking, Killer.”

I could bare my teeth at him all I liked, it wouldn’t do jack. “You do realise the Listener didn’t die from a botched summoning, right?”

“That’s not what Dagafina says, and she was there.”

“I was there too, and I know a lot more about the Listener’s death than that cockroach. That dremora was not a botched summoning. It went perfectly. Killed the Listener and knocked out the cockroach tag-along in the process. Double victory as far as I’m concerned.”

Hawk froze, his elbows buckling, letting me sit up and slip out of his grip. “You…you, killed the Listener?”

“Keep your voice down, ok. Yeah, I killed her. The Night Mother told me to. Sithis said she was a scorpion in the nest and she had to die. So I swiped one of her scrolls and it summoned a dremora.”

He just sat there next to me, staring me down as it all came out. The Night Mother’s messages, the contracts, and the gift she promised me after killing the Listener.

“Let me get this straight. You’ve heard the voice of the Night Mother for over two months now.”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve been carrying out direct contracts from her on the way back here.”

“Yes.”

“Have you ever considered getting yourself checked out? There’s probably what, at least one temple to whoever’s your Kynareth out there? They do healing and madness curing.”

For the Gods’ sake. “I’m not mad. If I was mad, then that Redguard we killed under the chapel of Tava wouldn’t have been there. It would have been just my imagination. Same with the Arentino couple. The Night Mother wants me to be her Listener, Hawk.”

He just stared at me, easing his fingers around to the back of my neck. “Well you’re not running a temperature, so your madness isn’t fever-related. Damn it, that makes curing you a lot harder than just getting a cure disease potion down your neck. Was Boethiah the only Daedric Prince you pissed off, or did you get on the bad side of another one before we met?”

“Boethiah’s the only Prince I had the pleasure of communicating with. The only other two worth honouring have remained out of reach, and the rest of them have kept away for their own sake.”

He sighed, swiping a piece of fondue-dipped apple. “You really are mad. Did the Night Mother want you to kiss me too?”

“No, that was so I’d be believed. Until I get proof I’m the Listener, I need to keep myself covered. Making the family think I was spending a few hot moments with you is one way of doing just that.”

“So what, I was just a decoy?”

“In that situation, yes, but-”

“So I’m nothing but a tool to you?”

“Now I never said that! I said you were a decoy in that situation. Didn’t say anything about any others.”

“So what was I then? A tag-along? A tool? Just a useless follower?”

“Hawk, no. At first you may have pissed me off, and I said a few things I shouldn’t have back then, but now I know what you are. You’re my one true companion.” I replied, resting my hand on his cheek. “And this one’s genuine.”

He didn’t even try to resist as I kissed him again. Soft, like a feather’s touch, he kissed back, our lips melding to match each other until he pulled away, cheeks like spiced wine. “You mean that? You meant that kiss, and that you’re my one true companion now, Killer?” He whispered.

“Of course I did. Oh and Hawk, you know you can call me by my real name. Savil. Savil Felaano.”

He blushed, running his bare fingers over my cheek. “Savil Felaano…I like it. Suits you. Kinda perky, gutsy-sounding.”

“How can a name sound gutsy?”

“Ask my sister, Maim. Or anyone else in the Guild for that matter. Kiss, Queen, old Vekel the Man, Blitz, Crow, Arrow, Sparkle, Feline, and Lullaby. May not be most of their real names, but they still got a sting to their sound. Same with Carmjalla, Anset, and Midaural Mandvi. Even my parents, Clayd Mallory and Bonnay Renoit. Your name’s got just as much in terms of guts.” He chuckled. “Now come on, Effe-Zeeis found some notes on contracts in the Black Shrine. You’ll want to come see, we’re getting them doled out to us.”

Contracts? Bit soon after the Listener’s death to go out killing. “Has he taken over as unofficial Speaker then?”

“Someone’s got to. He’s appointed me as Keeper, so I’m picking up the Night Mother and bringing her back here until they find the new Listener. Aka, you tell them everything. No idea what you’re in for.”

Knowing Effe-Zeeis, nothing that bad. Unless Camena was right about him having a thing for me, and he’s gonna get jealous about the kiss.

“Only one way to find out. Oh and Hawk,”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for backing me up.”

Red Mountain once again erupted in my cheeks, glowing as I swiped a slice of apple and followed Hawk out to the kitchen and dining room. Mocking my blush, the air smelled red in here. Like fire salts and spices stirred in with rich meats. The sweet, tangy scent of Elsweyr fondue drifted up from the terracotta bowl in the centre of the table, and someone had brought in a new wine that smelled like hot coals. Around the table sat the family, with Rosette discussing poisons with Daro’Rihana, Camena muttering to Dagafina and Effe-Zeeis, and Belle trying to conjure a smile from a red-eyed Skogsra Bronze-Heart staring into the empty space above Huldra’s old seat.

This was family, but…not quite right. It wasn’t the same without Huldra’s chatter, or Effe-Zeeis rolling his orange eyes as Rosette reminded her little girl that men are from Oblivion, women are from Aetherius whenever he slipped a flirty comment in Skogsra’s direction. Now it just felt empty. Polluted.

“You gave Savil the flower then, Mr Hawk. I told you it would look pretty.” Belle cooed, looking up from trying to cheer up Skogsra. She must have begged Camena to give her ‘princess hair’ again, as her red curls had been teased into a single braid tiara studded with golden hoops, and a half-up waterfall style at the back of her head.

“And you were right, Belle, she does look pretty. So, Effe-Zeeis, you said you found some contracts the Listener wrote down.” Hawk replied, drawing back an empty chair for me.

“That I did, Dark Brother. You know of your duties as new Keeper?”

“Retrieve the Night Mother from the Dawnstar sanctuary in Skyrim.”

“Good. Now Camena, there’s a contract here for a Second Emmissary Tuincarya Anaediane, from a…oh, the whole Andvuldsil family. She serves in the Imperial City, in the White-Gold tower. Uses the grand council chambers as a ballroom for her grand soirees, where fellow members of the Thalmor aristocracy compete to get their noses as far up her backside as possible.”

“I see. Next time I wipe out a Thalmor patrol, I shall do my best not to get blood on at least one full set of their robes. Are there contacts in the province of Cyrodiil, or are most of them still ruined?” Camena purred, dipping a piece of bread into her bowl of spiced stew.

“This one believes Leyawiin, Anvil, Cheydinhal, Bravil, and Chorrol are intact. Bruma, Kvatch, Skingrad, and the Imperial City, Khajiit has no idea. Kvatch is probably ruined though.” Daro’Rihana purred.

“After the Oblivion Crisis I’m surprised they rebuilt Kvatch at all. Skogsra, are you able to go out?” Effe-Zeeis asked, as the nineteen-year-old vampire shook her head and resumed staring at a wine goblet of blood.

“I’ll take over her contract, don’t worry. You ok with looking after Belle for a few days?” Rosette replied, as Skogsra nodded.

“Yeah…yeah, I’ll manage. Don’t worry, I’ll look after her.” She whispered, her voice a sandstorm.

“Alright, that’s sorted. Rosette, you’ll be taking Frigge Blood-Skull’s contract. It’s for a scholar, Lilisnaen. Bosmer, very intelligent. She and her assistant were studying the statue of Martin Septim in the remains of the Temple of the One, but he fell and died at the dragon’s foot. Rosette, I recommend posing as a new assistant for her, and dispatching Lilisnaen in your usual style.”

Rosette grinned, a flash of lethal intent gleaming in her eyes before she turned to Belle. “You heard Effe-Zeeis, I’ll be in the Imperial City for a few days. Be good for Aunt Skogsra, you hear.”

“I will, mother.”

“That’s what I like to hear. If you’re lucky, I’ll bring you back something nice.”

Effe-Zeeis coughed, his tail twitching as he turned to the cockroach. “Dagafina, you’re to take Daro’Rihana and meet Kaseek. He wants you to eliminate an Argonian by the name of Keerleez in the ruined city of Mournhold. An ex-soldier in the Black Marsh army, he was supposed to sack the city, but instead married a Dunmer woman, betraying the Army of Black Marsh. Bonus if you kill his wife, Telrosi Salaai. Are we both clear?”

Both nodded, with Daro’Rihana purring in contentment.

“Excellent. I’ll be taking care of Kjorldir Asgaldesen. Apparently the Listener couldn’t decide who wanted him dead the most. Defiler of daughters, breaker of hearts, master of whores. Sithis knows how many heartbroken fathers wanted him dead. That leaves you, Savil.”

He turned to face me, tail swinging, flicking through the notes that I’d guess were the Listener’s. “You’ll also be going to Skyrim, to the city of Markarth. Apparently Domina Esgalicus is unhappy with the priestesses at the House of Dibella.”

Just at the corner of my eye, I could see Hawk had this little upturned ‘v’ of a grin. I guess Mr Esgalicus, whoever he was, had something to do with all this. “Any other details about it?” I asked, as Hawk began blushing a light pink.

“Just that you’re to eliminate every single one. A Breton, Normandy Balfiera. A Nord, Svarerica the Graceful. Gialaisa Timendus is an Imperial, Molgathil and Allivey are both Bosmer, and the Sybil of Dibella’s a Redguard, Alaekh. As you and Hawk are both stationed in Skyrim, I suggest you travel together. The Reach is full of savages.”

Forsworn. I shuddered. “I’ll take him along, no problem. Who knows, could show me around.”

“Be careful, Savil. This branch of Dibella’s worship has connections to the Vigilants of S’rendarr. We don’t want them on our case as well.”

I’d take the Vigilants over the Forsworn any day. At least the Vigilants don’t attack outsiders on sight and cut out their own hearts. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to keep S’rendarr’s pets at arm’s length. Shall I kill any if they’re at the temple?”

“Best not. Simply murder Normandy Balfiera, Svarerica the Graceful, Gialaisa Timendus, Molgathil, Allivey, and the Sybil. Alaekh. Anyone else, just leave them be. The Void will claim them eventually.”

Whenever he talked murderous to me, I always got a shiver down my spine. “How interesting this will be.” I purred. “We’ll set off in the morning.”

Ah, there’s nothing like family murder.

* * *

It was a week before we arrived back in Markarth, me and Hawk. Watchful like his thieves’ name, he insisted on dropping me off at the city and taking the next carriage on to Dawnstar, where we’d meet up. The weather seemed to have worsened since I’d last been in Skyrim, as each copper-gold roof had a cap of snow upon it, and the grass lay dreaming under a dusting of white. Above the Dwarven city, the sky was thick with grey, choking the sunlight so only a smudge could peer through. This year was drawing to a close; soon it would be the New Life Festival and Ancestor’s Day, and the cycle of the year would all begin again.

“You sure you’ll be ok?” Hawk asked, tossing me my supply of fresh clothes, decent wine, and some of Camena’s cryomancy-preserved food.

“Positive. I’ve been here before, remember. I’ll be in and out in a day, two days tops.” I replied, slipping on the bag and pulling my fur hood over my eyes.

“If you insist. If you’re not in Dawnstar by the twenty-first of Evening Star, I’m coming after you. Clear?”

“Like flawless diamond.”

“Good. I’ll see you in a few days, Silence.”

“See you.”

With that, Hawk turned back to the driver and handed her twenty gold, prompting the carriage wheels to shriek and turn, heading off down the path to Dawnstar. Now I was alone in a strange city, with my bow on my back, and a contract to fulfil.

Just the way I like it. Pulling my fur hood down a little further, I slipped past the green-sashed guards at the gates, and entered the main market. It hadn’t changed much since my last visit here. Just a dusting of snow over every surface, and strings of coloured lights strung from building to building above the residents below trying to bury themselves in their fur cloaks.

“New in town, elf? Looking fer anywhere in particular?” A beggar groaned from my feet, knocking a bottle of mead and sending it spinning as he reached a hand up. “For a small price, I can give yer directions to any part’o the city.”

Eh, beggars are the best for sources of information. “Here, twenty gold. I need directions to the House of Dibella. Think you can help?”

“Dibella, eh?” The beggar grinned, showing rows of mead-blackened teeth as he stowed the coins in his rags. “Highest building in M’karth. Go up the path straight ahead on this side of the stream, an’ yer wanna stay on that side until yer git past the boarded up house. Don’ look too long at it though. Found a Daedric altar in the basement. Bad, bad bad. No, yer wanna cross over on the second bridge just past the boarded up house, just down from the Treasury House. Once on that island, yer wanna go down the passage under the buildings, by the secret shrine of Talos, until yer get to a little balcony with steps on one side goin’ up. Follow them steps, and yer at Dibella’s House. Pleasure to ‘elp yer, Blessings of Akatosh be upon yer!” The beggar chorused, pointing down the path straight ahead.

I thanked him and began my way up the path, passing by residents and taking a glance at the boarded up house. The wooden sheets sealing the door were starting to rot, with patches of mould springing up in a sickly bluish grey. Huh, hard to believe someone found a Daedric altar in there, or why they still have it sealed away in there when a set of stonemason’s tools and a fireball or two can take care of any shrine.

Unless it’s one of the nastier Princes. Some revel in destruction and would gain power from the desecration of their altars. Oblivion, Merrunz’s altars are supposed to be set on fire after a ritual. It’s why most of them are made of wood. Destroying an altar of some of the more evil princes would only give them strength. Only one with less intelligence than a troll in a manure pile, or balls the size of Masser and Secunda, would go up against one of them at full strength.

I resumed making my way up to the House of Dibella, tearing my eyes away from the boarded up house. Though that beggar was only just a beggar, he’d been in Markarth longer than I had and knew more about that place than I did. If he said not to look at it for too long, I sure wasn’t gonna go against that. Don’t play with anything Daedric. It may be the last thing you do.

Sure enough, the beggar’s directions lead me straight to the House of Dibella. Flanking the door, two golden statues of the goddess beckoned for me to enter, pointing their flower hands at the entrance as their nude, silver bodies peeked through the swirls of golden hair cascading down to keep them modest. Gods, no wonder devotees of Dibella often turn out to be whores when even their goddess can’t keep her clothes on.

Inside it wasn’t much better. The four pillars holding up the roof had been carved into huge statues of the goddess, with stone swirls of her hair reaching down to the floor and swishing onto the edge of a stone basin of water. Two of her reddish-purple shrines stood either side of the room, and at the back, another Dwemer door guarded the path to the Priestess’ Quarters and Inner Sanctum. Sounds bounced off the stone walls here, with the silvery plinking of wind chimes hanging from the ceiling mixing in with the laughing water gushing from two skinny pipes into the stone basin, and the low conversation between two Bretons at the back of the temple.

“…if it’ll aid the cause in any way, I’ll be glad to help.”

“Good, I’m glad the Vigilants can always count on the support of the Priestesshood of Dibella.”

“Indeed. We preserved the skin scrap in an empty torchbug lantern, and from partially reading the journal found nearby, we can safely assume it is indeed the skin of a Prince.”

“Do you know which one?”

“I’m afraid not. The owner of the journal, one Etna Vesuius, declined to mention. The only references to the owner are ‘the King of the rusted, wounded desert’, ‘the Upstart who vanishes’, ‘antagonist of the Ruddy Man’, and simply as the god of their ancestor. We first thought the owner was a Dunmer after reading that, but Etna Vesuius is not a Dunmer name.”

“The Vigilants know of a Vesuius family. After the mysterious death of the patriarch, Silus, his bastard son Hephaestus grew up to learn of the family’s role in the Mythic Dawn. The Vigilants granted him and his wife Helens a merciful death, taking their two youngest children, Luteus and Saxum into the Vigil. Sadly their eldest escaped. Perhaps this is a link to that missing child.”

“That does explain the seemingly Dunmer attitude to gods and ancestors from one with an Imperial name. Talking of Dunmer, one’s just entered.”

Both Bretons glanced over at me as I passed through Dibella’s House. The first, a Vigilant, had long, curly hair in deep brown that tumbled free to her chest as she pulled back her hood. Her eyes were deep brown, almost black, and she wore the lavender purple robes of a mage, trimmed with silver. A silver shortsword hung in its scabbard at her waist, and the pewter drinking horn of S’rendarr hung around her neck as an amulet of protection.

The other must be one of the targets, Normandy Balfiera. Dressed in a hoodless orange robe of priesthood, her red braid stretched down to her upper back, and her black eyes glinted in the light. A smattering of freckles covered her face, and around her neck hung Dibella’s floral amulet.

“Are you here to worship our Lady of Beauty, Dibella? If so, I’m afraid the Inner Sanctum is off limits.” She purred, her voice sounding…off. She sounded more Nordic than Bretony. Must have lived in Skyrim for a while.

“I have a message for the Sybil of Dibella, Alaekh. It’s from the House of Dibella in Cheydinhal.” I lied. I had no idea if there was a House of Dibella in that city, but I knew there were an Oblivion of a lot of Dunmer, so good enough for me.

“A message? Sybil Alaekh has requested not to be disturbed by the outside world. I’ll give her the message.” Normandy Balfiera insisted.

Damn it. “I’m afraid it’s for Sybil Alaekh only. Very important but private.” The lie dripped off my tongue like siligonder venom, settling like black ichor.

The first target, Normandy Balfiera, bit her lip as she eyed me up and down. “Very well, but I’ll have to accompany you. Unfavoured women aren’t to be allowed unaccompanied in the Inner Sanctum. Unless you are favoured by Dibella, of course.”

Unfavoured? Oh! Oh, that’s what Hawk said when he tried hitting on me back in Hammerfell. “I’m not favoured, no.”

“Then I’ll have to accompany you. Vigilant Elsabelle Tint, I’ll send the skin sample and journal along by courier to your camp. Outside Whiterun, isn’t it?”

“No, we had to pack up and move on. Didn’t find any clues about the two abomination breeds slaughtering Vigilant Manion’s camp, or why they turned on each other in the end. Nothing but werewolf corpses and the remains of our family under Stendarr. Vigilant Giuseppe Sartoire believes there weren’t two breeds at all. Said there was no vampire dust, scorched grass, or anything indicating another perversion of the Divines. Couldn’t ask the locals about it though. Not best pleased with the extinction of Whiterun’s famed Companions of Jorrvaskr.”

“Nords are such traditionalists. So where’s your camp now?”

“In Solitude. The people there welcomed us into the city with open arms. Vigilant Nalmilea Menaran even found herself a permanent position cleansing the catacombs and Pelagius Wing of the Blue Palace. Hard to believe the people of Rorikstead wouldn’t even let us stay one night. They’re worse than in Whiterun. Tell me, Dunmer, have you heard of the deception of Whiterun, and the monstrosities they called the Companions?”

Oh I’d heard alright. I’d heard the late-night patrons of the Bannered Mare gossip about the Vigilants of S’rendarr caught scuttling around Jorrvaskr, placing bets about which of the warriors would throw them out next. It had been the juiciest fruit on the Whiterun grapevine, just above that Redguard hunter’s paranormal encounter west of Falkreath.

I’d heard the secret story behind it too. The battle of the abominations, werewolves versus the Bastards of S’rendarr, with the twin Dark Sisters caught between the crossbow barrages and clawing to ribbons. Whichever Vigilant didn’t believe there were vampires involved was thankfully very much mistaken. There were two, but one’s ashes now rested in our Sanctuary Tomb, and the other was denying herself the blood of mortals.

“Yes, but not much. What was going on then? Were the Companions really werewolves?”

The one I was speaking to, Vigilant Elsabelle Tint, had a smirk playing around the edge of her lips. “Aye, they were indeed. If you’ve never seen a werewolf, be thankful to Stendarr for that. His Mercy does not extend to the perversions of Hircine. Anyway, I shall await the sample for analysis. For now, Jarl Mjolnir Silver-Blood has asked me to cleanse the boarded up house of all Daedric filth. It seems the shrine within can’t be moved.”

Priestess Normandy Balfiera winced, air hissing out from between her teeth. “Blessings of Dibella be upon you, dear Vigilant. Let the beautiful sanctuary of Her House always be open to you.”

Vigilant Elsabelle Tint began to leave, heading out as the first target began to unlock the doors to the Inner Sanctum. “You must have been in Skyrim for a while to have heard of the Companions and their lies. How come it took so long for the message to reach Dibella’s House here in Markarth?”

“I was delivering a separate message to the guard captain of Falkreath at that time. Between then and now I’ve been all over east Cyrodiil.” The lie rolled on my tongue, slithering over my words like a lizard. The target had her back to me as she struggled with the lock, giving me the perfect chance to draw out my beloved bow and nock an arrow into her.

“Ah, so you’re a professional courier then. That explains it. I hear the Priestesses of Cyrodiil live in complete seclusion, barred from the outside world in case they come into contact with a man.”

“Indeed. My brother was banned from taking this one. All fell to me to deliver the message.”

My bowstring had been pulled taught, quivering, with the golden arrowhead aimed square at the back of her head. Don’t turn around, Normandy Balfiera. Priestesshood doesn’t leave you exempt from the Night Mother’s caress.

“Courier siblings? Is it a family business th-”

The arrow silenced her, piercing her neck with a retching, choking screech. Blood bloomed from the wound, the gory cloak tumbling down to soak her priestess robes in the deepest of reds. She fell like a rockslide, cascading down with a rush of movement until she struck the metal doorframe, sliding down the rest of the way with a smearing of blood.

“It’s nothing personal, dear Priestess. The Dread Father just missed his daughter.” I muttered, crouching down by the body to fish out a ring of keys. With that pocketed, I dragged Normandy Balfiera’s body into a corner, doubling back only to lock the temple’s main doors and resume creeping down into the Inner Sanctum.

One down, how many to go? The survivors, Svarerica the Graceful, Gialaisa Timendus, Molgathil, Allivey, and Sybil Alaekh made five. The now dead Priestess mentioned the Sybil was not to be disturbed, so she was probably hidden away, to be killed last. The others…well, a cluster shot could one-shot two at the most. I’d have to lure them away in pairs, or snipe them one at a time.

“Normandy? Normandy, I thought you were telling Vigilant Elsabelle Tint about the skin sample?”

Perfect! I paused, backing up against one of the walls with an arrow firmly in place. This one wasn’t a Breton, for her voice purred and rolled like the waves in Solitude’s harbour, lapping the icy shores. Which one was the Nord again? Svarerica the something. What is it with the Nords and such fierce titles? Let your actions precede your name, not the other way around.

“Normandy? Normandy Balfiera, is that you?”

I pulled the string taut as she came around the corner, covered by a pumpkin-toned priestess’ robe. Her hair had been left loose to cascade down her back in blonde spirals, like uncoiled rope, and an amulet of Dibella encircled her neck like a child’s daisy chain.

She was no mountain flower though. The muscles of a Nord woman, a woman that could hold her own, showed beneath the sleeves of her robe, and as she peered up the shadow-filled stairs, the turquoise glimmer of a powerful shield spell painted itself over her.

“Normandy?”

Dibella can’t extend her light to you. I let the arrow fly, piercing this priestess, Svarerica the Graceful, that was it! My arrow sailed into her shoulder, forcing her back with a scream and a smear of blood leading up to the far corner where she slammed backwards into the wall.

Not bad. I’ve killed with cleaner shots before, but eh, the job is done. Or at least with Svarerica the Graceful it is. Still got two cockroaches, an Imperial, and a Redguard to wipe out yet. Nocking in an arrow, I ducked back into a crouch and resumed creeping down the steps, when a whirlwind of ice lifted me off and flung me down the stairs.

Damn to Sithis! I’d forgotten to check if Svarerica the Graceful was dead! A shoulder shot never damages enough to kill, nor pierce enough veins to release blood. I should have filled her with arrows whilst she was down to ensure her dispatching to the Void. Instead she sent me down the stairs, chunks of ice nipping at every bit of skin as blood leaked from a fresh wound across my forehead. Agh…scorn of the Dread Father…now she’ll die!

I nocked an arrow as she backed up, sending another ice storm flying towards me, biting at the stone walls as it hit me and bit at every exposed part of skin. My fingers tensed as I gripped my bow further, the arrow shaking as I pulled back the string and shot forward, piercing her hip and knocking Svarerica the Graceful down the stairs.

Screw it! I ran after her, reloading my bow as she staggered to her feet, dragging herself down the stairs as she tried to yell. “Assassin!” She shrieked, “Dark Brotherhood assassin! Run, ladies, run!” She shrieked, as my arrow hit her lower spine and sent her stumbling, falling like a tower as I sent another two into her back, paralysing Svarerica the Graceful as she collapsed at the bottom of the stairs.

“Why?” She whispered, wincing as two of my arrows dug in further, ripping through the spinal cord even further.

“It pays.” I muttered back, nocking in the final arrow. Strange feeling, looking into the face of a contracted victim and letting them look back. She stared at me like a doe. A doe backed into a crevice between the rocks with three arrows already sticking out of it.

“You know, it’s nothing personal. At least not on my end; it’s just murder for hire. Take it up with the one who hired us, Domina Esgalicus, once she joins you in the Void.” I muttered, before taking aim, and letting the arrow fly into her chest.

Svarerica the Graceful died soundlessly. Not even a gasp of life left her as my arrow pierced the Nord’s heart and her body went limp under me. Loading my bow with another arrow, I made my way to the Inner Sanctum door, dropped into a crouch, and snuck in.

The Inner Sanctum was just one huge, open room, divided only by a small row of shelves forming a storage alcove. Another pool of water stood in the centre of the room, surrounded by stone chairs, and tucked in the wall to my right was another shrine of Dibella beneath a statue to the goddess. Here, the air seemed to hold its breath, listening to the cockroach with its hair in two long, Nordic braids. It was crouching at the foot of Dibella’s shrine with a quill in front of it, eyes closed, entranced enough in prayer to ignore my last victim’s screams.

“Come to me, Dibella, for without you, my words must lie dull and leaden without the gilding of grace and sagacity to enchant the listener of my words.”

It paused, beetle-black eyes opening to write a few words down on a scrap of paper, before closing its eyes again to resume praying.

They sure don’t make them this devout anymore. Crouched behind the row of shelves, I lined my arrow up to take out this cockroach, drawing back my bowstring when another came in from the back. This one an Imperial, hair left loose to her shoulders and a steel mace swinging at her belt, dashing over to disturb the cockroach from her meditation. “Didn’t you hear that scream?” The Imperial yelled, shaking the cockroach by the shoulder. “Allivey, didn’t you hear that?”

“Huh?” The cockroach exclaimed, staggering to her feet. “Hear what?”

The Imperial sighed, shaking her head. “Where’s Normandy and Svarerica? I heard someone scream.”

“Both should be with Vigilant Elsabelle by now. Allivey, go and protect Sybil Alaekh. I’ll take Molgathil and check it out.”

“Right. Gialaisa, if it’s anything dangerous, call for the guards. Forsworn are everywhere in this pit of a city.”

Forsworn! Ha, yeah right. They wish it were Forsworn. Pausing, relaxing the string, I remained crouched in the alcove as the cockroach dashed off, plaits swinging. As the Imperial victim, Gialaisa Timendus, ran past out of the Inner Sanctum, another cockroach appeared from the back, clutching a steel war axe. This one seemed different, her eyes the same shade of brown as elk fur, with long curls of wood brown tied up like a horse’s tail, stretching down to the curve of her waist.

If the other one was Allivey, this one must be Molgathil. Best to take her out first. The Imperial’s mace could do a lot more damage than her war axe; once Gialaisa spotted the corpses of Svarerica the Graceful and Normandy Balfiera, she’d warn the remaining few and set them all off panicking or searching for the assassin in their midst. If I could take out the extras before that Imperial set them off, the chance of me being spotted greatly decreased.

I pulled back and let go, my arrow sailing free with a twang until it pierced this cockroach’s neck with a scream and a spray of blood as she thudded to the ground and her steel axe skimmed away across the stone floor. Blood pulsed free, pooling around the dying cockroach as she writhed, feeling for my arrow in her neck, staining her pumpkin-toned priestess robes a deep sanguine as I reloaded and sent another arrow deep into her chest, ending her struggling with a scream soaked in blood.

Just the Imperial, second cockroach, and the Sybil to go now. Judging by the panicked thuds heading this way, Gialaisa Timendus would be next. A perfect companion to the newly dead Molgathil. Ducking back behind the shelves, I nocked in another arrow as the metal doors clanged open and another scream pierced the stone walls. “They’re here!” The Imperial shrieked, drawing out her mace and holding it across her chest as if blocking a sword swing. “Allivey, get Sybil Alaekh out of here! Run! Get her out!”

Leaving footprints of blood as she passed by Molgathil’s corpse, Gialaisa Timendus paced around the Inner Sanctum, eyes wide and flicking about, with her mace still held across her chest. “Allivey! Allivey, what’re you playing at? The killer’s in the Inner Sanctum!”

Keep yelling, Imperial. It won’t do you much good. She turned as I slipped out from behind the shelves, pulling back my bowstring and letting fly. As she turned back, the arrow struck home, piercing her clean through the cheek and out the other side.

Not good enough. Don’t let her be another Svarerica the Graceful. As the Imperial staggered, I carried on firing, filling her torso with arrows as blood gushed from the wounds and her strangled screams flooded the Inner Sanctum. With Gialaisa Timendus’ soul now in the Void, I could resume creeping through the Inner Sanctum, passing by the body as I hugged the wall. Two left, the cockroach and the Sybil, and both were bound to be together.

“Perhaps I could get both at once.” I thought, creeping through the doors into the Sybil’s chambers. If I paralyse the cockroach, Allivey, with an arrow to the back or neck, and fill the Sybil with arrows, then polish off Allivey, I could avoid damaging myself too much. Though my armour clung to me under my over-robes, any damage is not good. Catching just one victim unawares would make my job so much easier.

I pinned myself to the wall, hugging it with bow in hand as I inched down the spiralling spells, twisting like the mechanics of the Dwemer who first built this city. The flickering light of exposed candles splattered itself against the stone walls, amber light dripping down from around the dwemer doors at the base of the staircase as the low murmur of conversation blended through.

“…the beauty of Dibella can’t reach the people if the Sybil isn’t alive.”

“Allivey, what you’re suggesting simply does not require abandoning our House of Lady Dibella. Go call for the guards, they can deal with the intruder if Gialaisa and Molgathil haven’t already.”

“Yes, Sybil.”

Gialaise and Molgathil already dealt with this intruder, if dealing with someone involves making their job an Oblivion of a lot easier. As the shadow of the final cockroach, Allivey the Bosmer, began filtering through the door, I drew back my bowstring and aimed. The string quivered in my hand, hot like a freshly-made blade still cooling off after the plunge into water. The golden shaft twitched with the string, the arrowhead at the end staring down the window of light as it opened wide, and I let it fly.

I missed. Allivey’s chest went unpierced, but I struck her in the arm, piercing it clean through as she staggered back. Another dud shot, gotta try again. Nocking in another arrow, I aimed for her torso, piercing her right side as she screamed and fell. Arrow after arrow, my fingers started to pinch at the ends, like a mudcrab had gone at them, but Allivey finally collapsed, seven arrows sticking out of her side, and a pool of blood blooming across the stone floor.

Must be losing my arm. A spot of hunting, or going at the targets in the Sanctuary should fix that up. Or taking out an entire patrol of Thalmor from the shadows, that always works. Until then however, I had one more priestess to send to the Void, and a certain pickpocket to catch up to in Dawnstar.

“I know you’re there, assassin in black. Our Lady warned me that you would come.”

The Sybil didn’t even look up from kneeling at Dibella’s feet, palms open to accept the goddess’ blessing, and a honey yellow hood casting her face in shadow. Her pumpkin toned priestess robes seemed pristine compared to the wear on the others’ robes, and her amulet glinted.

“Your Lady warned you?” I muttered, straightening up from my bent over position, my arrow still an accusing finger aimed at her back.

“That she did. Our Lady of friendship, family, beauty, and the arts. She who weaves the bonds between us like a spinner’s loom. Her message came from a distant sibling of mine, cut of your bloodstained cloth. You may know her as Sharwendy.”

So there was a traitor in the family warning our victims that we’d be coming. Looks like this snake had to be scotched out of hiding within our shadows. Our Dread Father Sithis hadn’t cast his Wrath down to us in many a decade, but I’m sure I could take over.

“No Sharwendy in the Sanctuary.” I replied, as Sybil Alaekh stood and turned to face me. Her hood cast too deep a shadow for me to see her face, but I knew that within the darkness, her eyes were glittering with fear.

“Take this letter, you’ll see.” Sybil Alaekh insisted, holding out an assassin’s writ. Bone-white parchment tied with black thread, adorned with the broken wax seal of the Black Hand.

“If you insist.” I purred, letting go of my bowstring and letting the arrow fly through her chest, pinning Sybil Alaekh to Dibella’s golden hair. Blood dripped over the statue’s stone base, and as the Sybil’s butterfly hands perched on the arrow embedded in her chest, I nocked another in, and nailed her hand to her chest amongst her choked gasps.

“Nice try, Priestess.” I chuckled, taking the writ and ripping out my second arrow. Turning the priestesses into clothier’s pincushions left my quiver rattling like a skeleton’s ribcage on my back when I returned the arrow. Let’s just hope Dawnstar had a forge and a merchant that sold ebony.

I unrolled the letter as I made my way out, stepping over the broken body of Gialaisa Timendus. If there really was a traitor in the Dark Brotherhood, perhaps they’d left a clue to how many arrows I’d fill them with before I was satisfied they’d gotten what they deserved.

“Dearest sister, Sybil Alaekh,

I’ve been dreading sending you this letter, ever since we met in secret that one day in Falkreath. I never believed that Mother and Father had another child until I saw you, and I doubt you never knew I ever existed. Mind you, if your Lady Dibella grants you two children years apart, and the elder joins the Dark Brotherhood, I wouldn’t blame you for not letting the younger one know.

Now sister dearest, you must listen to my words. Domina Esgalicus has prayed to the Night Mother and placed a contract on your entire House. I don’t know if you know Domina Esgalicus, but she wants you and all your priestesses of Dibella dead. I cannot refuse the Night Mother’s call, but I can put it off. You must go into hiding, Alaekh. At least until First Seed, tell all of your Priestesses to go into hiding.

I’ll send one of the weakest assassins in the Dark Brotherhood. She should be easily dispatched, and I doubt her Dark Brothers and Sisters will complain about shedding the burden of Camena Charmaine. She is a coward of an Altmer, wielding a single glass war axe. Part her from that, and she should be easily dealt with. If you can handle her complaints of past trauma and general reluctance to accept that the real world outside of having people bowing to her every command in fear of the Thalmor executing their whole family, simply hand her over to the Markarth guards.

I regret I couldn’t write to you in happier terms, but this is a matter of urgency. Go into hiding, Alaekh. Mother and Father meant for great things for you.

Your sister, Sharwendy.

I tore the letter in two, ripping out the paragraph about Camena and tearing it into halves…quarters…eighths…sixteenths as I marched back to the Sybil’s chamber. Whoever the traitor was didn’t deserve my arrows. I’d hand them over to Camena and let the savagery of her axe deal with them.

The candles surrounding Dibella’s statue still glowed, brave despite the killings that had just desecrated Her House. Perfect for scorching the paragraph about Camena and burning Sybil Alaekh as I shoved the flaming parchment in her mouth. Let the world know the Dark Brotherhood did this, and let the traitor know they’re next.

It was as I turned to leave that I noticed something red, shoved in a glass jar. Was that what the first victim was talking about with that Vigilant of S’rendarr? The skin sample of a Daedric Prince? Yeah, that was it. A very large sample, as the chunk of deep red flesh was about the length of my arm and just as wide, coiling over itself like a snake.

If the Vigilants of S’rendarr were after this and they allied themselves with Dibella’s whores, best I kept this out of their reach. Snatching up the glass jar, I shoved it and the leather notebook on top into my knapsack, tucking it under the spare over-robes. Bet Hawk would like a look at this. Though if he tries to fence it off to his Guild, I’ll add a bit of his own skin into the deal.

I made my way back to the front door of the temple, unlocking it again and aiming the keys back at Normandy Balfiera’s lifeless body. Light flooded in, though not as a blade. More like the gauze of a net curtain, billowing through an open window as a soft breeze plays with it. As I left the temple, still the light glowed, its smile playing on the mounds of silver ore, its laughter ringing out on the guard’s weapons, and the light itself was dancing in the waterfall gushing through the centre of Markarth.

Murder really did make a place more beautiful. Coming down from the temple, the sunlight peering through a single gap in the clouds lit up the place, casting light into the stone corners, and showing a lavender-robed figure crouched in the doorway of the boarded-up house, quivering all over and looking up at me with wide eyes.

Thought Vigilant Elsabelle Tint said something about the boarded-up house. “What happened?” I asked, as she twitched and clutched her amulet of S’rendarr. Her brown curls had become a tangled bush, like a desert rose bush, and her lavender robes were ripped in places and bloodstained.

She just stared, a deer looking down an arrow’s shaft, mouthing something as only strangled squeaks of fear crept out.

“Go, get yourself cleansed and healed. Shrine in the House of Dibella does that. Get reinforcements and tackle that shrine another day.” I replied, as she nodded and ran, flying through Markarth like a Winged Twilight out of Oblivion.

I wouldn’t have long then. Tossing a septim at the beggar crouched in the doorway, I dipped through the main city doors, pulling my hood down as I passed the iron-masked guards on duty at the gates. If I could make it to the carriage and out of Markarth before Vigilant Elsabelle Tint put two and two together, I’d be in the clear.

“Need a ride, lass?” The driver purred, watching as I pulled out fifty septims.

“Aye, you going to Dawnstar?”

“Fifty septims. Just climb in back and we’ll be off.”

I handed over the gold, climbing in and sitting down as the driver flicked the reins and the carriage began creaking forward. Up ahead, the green landscape of the Reach seemed to stretch forever, and as we made it down the hill, the ghost of a scream resonated from deep within the Dwemer city of Markarth.

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