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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13. Into the Fold

Outside, thunder was raging. Through the narrow window at the top of our tavern room, flashes of light zipped past, striking the distant rooftops as rain lashed at the sands until it left jagged scars full of water.

If the storm reached Anequina, would Camena be alright? Desert storms, though rare, set her on edge all day and eliminated all chances of her getting any sleep that night. Many times I’d be woken by the storm and find her sitting bolt upright on her bed, humming to herself as a kind of self-hypnosis. That or walking around our bedchamber, running her hands all over her neck and around her wrists.

I hope Huldra and Skogsra had returned, or were soon to. Without my company ensuring she kept calm and had someone to rely on, the Bronze-Heart twins were her next best alternative. Both of them were some of the nicest people I’d ever met, but still, I feel Camena had formed her strongest bond with me.

A bolt struck just opposite, stirring Hawk from the double sleeping mat on the floor. With a quiet moan, he sat up, letting a fur blanket slip off him as he ran his fingers through his hair.

“Not tired, huh? Or is it the storm?”

Figured he wouldn’t get it. “Just not tired. Ate too much.” I sighed, sitting back further on my chair and letting my over-robes cascade onto the floor. The dishes from the slight binge we shared crouched on the table, and the supplies bought with what we found on Cluvar’s scorched body sat as if meditating in the corner, contemplating everything and anything with me. I’d decided to let him keep Goldbrand. He needed a new weapon, and I don’t use blades. Only made sense for him to have it.

“Heh, you’re a terrible liar, Silence. Come here, wanna talk?” He chuckled, pulling an extra pelt up to his side and patting it.

I shifted, my thin scarf slipping off my hair and gliding to the floor. “You wouldn’t understand. I don’t wanna talk to anyone about it.” I muttered, unclipping my amulet and holding it so the slender chain ran through my fingers.

“Then don’t talk to me. Talk at me. Talk to the air. Get it out of your system. You can give me a prod or two if you don’t know how to continue, but otherwise, just act as if I’m not here.”

I don’t care what he says, Boethiah definitely hit him in the head at some point. “If I wanted therapy I’d go out and kill a Thalmor patrol. It’s quicker, cheaper, and it rids the world of Thalmor.”

He just sighed, a slight grin struggling to form. “Always with the killing of Thalmor. Not complaining, they’ve got it coming, but there are other ways of dealing with things on your mind.”

Tell that to Camena. “Alright, mister healer, if you think you can satisfy me better than a dead patrol of Thalmor filled with arrows and leaking blood into the sand, have at it.”

His eyes bugged out again. “I’m sorry, what?”

“You heard. You think you can do better, go right ahead. Prove that you’re not all spark and no flame.”

I plonked myself down on the pelt next to Hawk, crossing my legs and giving him a wicked grin as he sat himself up fully. “Go on, try it.”

“Alright then,” Hawk chuckled, “first, what did Boethiah make you do? I know there was the whole Double-The-Sexy going on with me, but I was stuck for about half an hour. More had to have happened in that time.”

“Well before Double-The-Irritating with you,” I grinned as Hawk scowled, “you weren’t the only one to get twinned. The whole family got doubled. One was real and the other was a liar, for everyone I consider family.”

Hawk just sat there, focussed on me. “Everyone? Who would that be?”

“Everyone in the Sanctuary I consider family. Camena Charmaine, Daro’Rihana, Effe-Zeeis, Huldra and Skogsra Bronze-Heart, Rosette Vautrelle, then you, Hawk.”

“Right…Bronze-Heart…they’re the twin vampires where one of them’s really hot, right? I’ve met them, and you told me about the Vautrelles, but the others I don’t know about.”

Ah, men. Not enough blood to have both heads working at the same time. Though at least Skogsra’s lure still works. “You want to know about the family?”

“Of course. Tell me, Silence.”

I’d found myself leaning on his shoulder by this time, letting him play with the chain of my amulet. “Where should I start?”

“Start with the first person you said. Kar-Meener, or something?”

“Camena, and if you’re sure.” I replied, wondering how many other High Elf names he’d confused with Argonian ones.

“Camena Charmaine’s an Altmer, and no she’s not Thalmor. Yes she was bred to be one, but that doesn’t mean it worked. She hates all Thalmor with a passion.” I began, feeling Hawk tense up at the word ‘Altmer’. “I think she’s bonded to me more than anyone else in the Sanctuary. We share a chamber across from the armoury, and I’m always the first person she comes to. Been thinking about her ever since her lying imposter hugged me.”

“In what way? What’s bothering you about her?”

“Nothing’s bothering me about Camena in particular. It’s just…well Camena hates physical contact. I’m the only one she trusts to put my hand lined up against hers. The storm’s worrying me though. Camena’s petrified of lightening, and she doesn’t sleep well as it is. She’s got loads better in the century and a half she’s been a Dark Sister, but there’ll be at least one night a week where she’ll sit up all night, running her hands over her wrists and neck. I’m just worried the storm’s gonna hit while I’m away and she’s gonna be stuck sleepless and afraid until either the storm passes by or I return.”

Hawk said nothing, just dragged another pelt over onto my legs. “I miss her. She can be one of the perkiest, kindest, sweetest women I know at her best, and she really loves children. Been known to spoil the Vautrelle’s daughter at times. Yet she can completely switch and be on the edge of a breakdown in a matter of minutes.”

I found myself snaking my arm around Hawk’s shoulders, leaning closer as he moved his hand from feeling the chain, to playing with the actual amulet in my hand. “Silence, can I ask, what made her that way? She sounds lovely, and I can see why you two are so close, but something had to have happened.”

He tensed again, almost holding his breath as he tested the water with what he said. Slow, like a breeze dying down, he stopped playing with the amulet in my palm, and froze.

“It’s ok to be curious, you know. Just don’t ask her. Brings back a lot of bad memories for her. I doubt you’ve heard of him, but about three centuries ago when Elsweyr split in two, the Thalmor Ambassador for Anequina was First Emissary Calion Charmaine. Know about Thalmor betrothals?”

I paused, letting Hawk nod as a shiver ran all over him and he slid an arm around me. “All you need to know are three things. One, Camena has been with us far longer than anyone else in the Sanctuary. Two, Calion Charmaine deserved everything he got for that decade of engagement. Three, Thalmor are complete bastards.”

He shuddered, his thumb going back to stroking my amulet. “Nobody can deny that. I can see why you care about her so much. Anything else about Camena you want to talk about, or do you want to move onto the next one?”

Care about her? Of course, she’s my family. My Dark Sister. Yet, it was best she had chance to rest. Brooding over her would do nothing but eat at my mind. “Daro’Rihana was next, right? She gets away with murder.”

“Pun intended?”

“Not this time.” I chuckled. “Seriously though, she gets away with murder. When she teams up with Effe-Zeeis it’s like the Sanctuary’s been invaded by a pair of twelve year olds. Can get annoying at times, like when they steal the voice of the Black Door, but at the same time it can be kinda fun.”

“Wait, wait…steal the voice of the Black Door? How can you steal a voice from a door?”

I looked over my shoulder at him. “Have you never heard a Black Door breathing?”

Hawk shook his head. “It’s just a door. A dead chunk of metal, wood, or stone. Dead things don’t breathe. Besides, I don’t even know what a Black Door looks like.”

Dead things don’t breathe, and sometimes living things don’t think. “A Black Door has a direct connection to the Void. Carved with the face of Sithis, his Unholy Prophet, and the five children of Sithis, every door is always in contact with Sithis. If you go near, you’ll hear the hollow breaths of the Void. Talk to the Black Door, and you’ll hear the voice of Sithis himself. You ever seen one now you know what they look like?”

Hawk paused for a second, biting his lip. “I think…yeah, I think there’s one near Dawnstar. At least that’s what the old bard’s song says; I’ve never seen it myself.”

So basically no. “Trust me, if you’re not of assassin’s cloth, going near one is a really big mistake. Daro’Rihana and Effe-Zeeis get a bit free with their claws if an intruder discovers the door and wants to risk sneaking in. Even if you are, their voice-stealing prank can get old real fast.”

“How can you steal a voice?”

“Easily for the Black Door.” I chuckled, before I put a hand around my throat, squeezing as I dropped my voice to a harsh, breathless whisper. “What is the garment of innocence?”

 I could feel the shudder run through Hawk as I said that, travelling through to me as I let go of my throat. “That’s what it sounds like?”

“Not hollow enough but close. Those two use a ceramic vase with the bottom smashed out to get a good echo. I’ve caught them at it before. “You are not worthy. Prove yourself! Remove your clothes nice and slow. Dance for me!” I whispered, again half-strangling myself.

“Is that a quote or are you asking me to do that?”

Hawk couldn’t help but splutter with laughter as I took the pillow behind me and whacked him with it. “Clothes stay on, thank you very much.”

“You had a different idea in that realm of Oblivion. Giving me a sneaky display.” He tittered, laying back in the furs and running his fingers over the lacing of his spare shirt. “It’s only fair you get some eye candy to-”

The satisfying WHUMPH of the pillow hitting him square in the chest shut him up, catching a now loose part of his shirt and pulling it open. “That was different. I had to prove you were real, and if you tell anyone, you’re dead.”

“Why would I tell? I get you all to myself if I don’t.”

He earned another whack for that, this time to the face. “Nobody is going to ‘get’ me, ok? No Altmer, nor Argonian, nor Cockroach, nor Breton, nor Dunmer, nor Imperial, nor Nord, nor Orc, nor Redguard man will ever ‘get’ me. Are we clear?”

“You know it would have been easier to just tell me you’re favoured by Dibella.”

What? “What in Oblivion are you on about?”

“If a woman’s ‘favoured by Dibella’, it means she’s a lesbian. Or at least that’s what the priestesses say. Queen told me that after one of her pilgrimages.”

Lady Azurah’s Nerevar, men! What is it with some guys and thinking any woman that isn’t interested in them must be ‘blessed by Dibella’ or whatever he said? Half the time they’re not exactly the Gods’ gift, even if they can pluck on a few lute strings or whatever they claim makes them a collector of ladies’ greaves.

“I’m not a lesbian. I’m not interested in anyone. All I want to do is keep my place in the family, and get back home. It’s not hard to get.”

“At least something to do with you isn’t for once.”

The groan was way more satisfying than the smack to his crotch. “You deserved that!” I snapped, as he winced and clutched himself.

“You hit better than my sister, you know that?” He winced, air hissing out between his teeth.

Well that’s the closest I’ll get to a compliment not controlled by his ‘Lockpick’. “Any more comments like that and I’ll hit harder. Clear?”

“Clear.” He whimpered.

“Good.” I grinned, as he slowly dissolved into pain-drenched laughter. “What?”

“Looks like I found something that works better for you than killing Thalmor. I got a smile outta you.”

Gods damn it! “Yeah, whatever. If there ain’t no Thalmor to turn into bleeding quivers of flesh, then simply grab a pillow and whack a Breton in the balls. Just don’t get cocky.”

“You’re only pissed as you were wrong, killer.” Hawk chuckled, before flinching with a strangled groan as I aimed for him again. “At least you found an alternative to killing Thalmor.”

“There are no decent alternatives to killing Thalmor. Hitting you in the balls is merely second place. Only their souls in the Void, only perfection, will do.”

I don’t know if it was a remnant of pain, or of fear, but a shudder made its way over his shoulders and down his back, like a skeletal massage. “You’ll never stop being creepy, will you? Or is that a requirement for the Dark Brotherhood, being creepy?”

“A requirement, no. Only requirement is a heart filled with cruelty, and delivering a pitiless death. Simply a bonus, the creepiness.”

He gave a smirk, leaning back in the furs with half his chest exposed. “Heart filled with cruelty and delivering a pitiless death. Don’t got the first, but I did the second with that Daedra worshipping Redguard. You think I’d be welcomed in?”

“What?” I exclaimed, slipping onto my side on the furs. “You? Dark Brotherhood?”

“Yeah, why not? Reckon I’d make a good assassin.” He replied, taking one of the pelts and pulling it up over his nose, like a cowl. “Got the weapon for it now, can stay in the shadows, and I know enough about the Dark Brotherhood to be a liability. Only option is to let me in.”

“Or eliminate you.”

“You wouldn’t have the heart to though.” He chuckled, pulling the pelt back down. “You know I’m right.”

Thing is, he was right. I couldn’t. He’d saved my life more times than I could count, and I’d fought to earn him back from the Prince of Deceit and Treachery. Some things you cannot do with a person without forming some kind of connection to them. Acting as champion of Boethiah is one such thing.

“If you say so, Hawk.” I sighed, laying down fully atop the furs.

“So am I gonna be in or what?”

I sighed, a slight smile forming. “You got your official initiation to get through first. I got through two, you gotta get through two. We’ll call the thing with the Redguard your unofficial initiation. You’ve caught the attention of a Dark Brotherhood member, now you gotta prove you’re worthy.”

“Official initiation? What’s that gonna involve?” He asked, sitting up to tug a few pelts over me.

“I’ll think of something for you. Meantime, can you get the candle? If your official initiation’s gonna be anything like mine, we’re gonna need the sleep.”

He shifted at my side, the furs rippling as he leaned over and plunged the room into darkness. “What do you mean by ‘we’? I’ll be the one doing the initiation?” He groaned, dropping back into the furs.

“Who do you think’s gonna observe you. Make sure you make your kill…just right.” I yawned, as his black shape lay down by my side and tugged a few pelts over him.

“Just right. Heh, I’ll do my best. Night, killer.”

“Night, Hawk.”

* * *

The desert storm had ceased overnight, yet still the air was thick with moisture. The light streaming through the narrow window was the colour of butter, and a fine film of sweat clung to me under the furs. With a groan, I sat up, letting the pelts tumble off me into the empty space by my side.

Figures Hawk would be up before me. He didn’t do all the fighting yesterday. With a high pitched moan, I stretched and stood, arching my back and letting my rumpled robes brush the floor.

Who knows, might get lucky today and catch a ship in port heading to Senchal. Or Bravil, I’m not fussy which. I just want this to all be over.

At least the Night Mother didn’t pay me a visit. That’s something at least. Perhaps nobody prayed to her in the time since I dispatched that Redguard, Cluvar?

No, hundreds of people pray to her every day. There had to be another answer. Maybe it was too soon after killing Cluvar for her to give me another contact?

Or maybe it was all in my head? I was losing my mind, hearing voices that weren’t there. The Night Mother had never spoken to me. I’d simply lost my mind.

I sighed, slipping off my crumpled over-robes and taking the clothing set the Morwha priestesses gave me. If I was going mad and just hearing voices that weren’t there, then I wouldn’t have found the Black Sacraments. I’d have just interrupted random people.

No, I wasn’t going mad. The Night Mother was just pausing before giving me another contact. My mind was still mine to keep, and I hadn’t dragged Hawk from Skyrim to Hammerfell for nothing.

“Silence?”

Speak of Dagoth and he shall appear. “I’m decent, it’s ok.” I yelled back, as Hawk slipped back in. “Much going on out there?”

“There’s an elephant caravan coming back from Sentinel in port. Apparently they’re on their way to Corinthe. That anywhere near where you’re from?” Hawk replied. He hadn’t bothered changing clothes, but he’d managed to get himself a bouquet of some exotic flowers in deep purple, fizzy orange, hot pink, and zingy yellow.

“Corinthe is a bit further south, over the border in Pelletine, but it’s definitely in the right place. What’s with the funky blooms?”

He grinned a wolfish grin, handing me what was Cluvar’s knapsack, Vixen, and her quiver. “You may wanna come look outside.” He replied, before leading me out of our rented room in The Slaughtered Spriggan, and past Lady Eveningblossom dancing with delight at the view outside.

Alona had propped open the front door with a vase full of sand, letting the view stream in. Last night’s storm had certainly got to work, transforming the city of Taneth. Where normally there would be empty sand and barren stone buildings, spiky plants and flowers every colour of the rainbow sprung up almost as if out of nowhere. Even the walls had been kissed by Khenarthi, with wet moss and strange, clinging lichens in mustard, burgundy, olive, and other exotic colours painted over the structures. No wonder that Spriggan was so excited. Khenarthi had raised her veil and shown her true beauty, flooding Taneth with nature.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Hawk whispered, letting Lady dash out into the flower-filled courtyard and frolic amongst a cluster of tall, purple and orange flowers.

“Yeah, it is.” I whispered, before Hawk started fiddling with the side of my head. “What are you doing?”

“Hold still; there you go!” He replied, as he slipped a peachy pink flower with a yellow middle behind my ear. It smelled a little odd, like Moon Sugar cane that had burned in a flash forest fire, but still nice. “Little flower of death. It’s called a Timsa Come-By flower. Native to Morrowind and Black Marsh. Must have been imported here. Still, looks pretty on you. These are for you too.” He added, handing me the bouquet. Odd…had I smacked something into him yesterday that explained how nice he was being?

No, more likely he was just kissing up to me in the hopes that I’d be nice and give him an easy initiation? “Thanks, Hawk.” I muttered, as a hot glow formed in my cheek.

“No problem. Now come on, if we get lucky we can catch a lift with that caravan.” He replied, giving me a pat on the shoulder before leading me out into the streets of Taneth.

With the flowers everywhere, it didn’t feel a thing like Hammerfell. It felt more like…well, like home, but the south, where Anequina’s deserts started to filter underneath the fathomless jungles of Pelletine, just past the border. If I closed my eyes, replacing every Redguard walking around with a Khajiit, the metropolis of Corinthe seemed to form around me, complete with chattering animals caged up for sale, the pungent warmth of cooking meats with herbs roasting in the flesh, and everywhere, the yelling of merchants and traders either practicing or utilising their salesman’s patter.

“You still in there, Silence?” Hawk asked, as I awoke back in Hammerfell; the Khajiits, the market, and the whole city of Corinthe returning to dusty Taneth around me. The cooking meats became heady pollens, and the yells of merchants became sharp, harsh words of ‘F- you!’, ‘F- this!’, and ‘F- that!’ slicing the air around the port.

“Just about. What’s going on over there?” I replied, gesturing towards the argument in port as a heart-sinking flash of gold-trimmed black nipped past the gap between two buildings.

“Well there’s Thalmor everywhere. Think a merchant’s brought in something illegal that they don’t want confiscated.” Hawk replied, before a Nordic bark pierced the air amongst the scrape of weapons being drawn.

“It’s not bloody immoral, filthy PissSkins! You invade our lands, ban our Gods, and murder our people!”

That explained it. Someone there probably had something to do with the banned god Talos, like an amulet or something, and some Thalmor found it. “Think our ride back home may be delayed.” I muttered, shivering as the beady, golden eye of an Altmer in Thalmor robes passed over us. Fine time for me to go out uncovered.

Though, the scenario gave me an idea. At least five Thalmor Justiciars were surrounding this small caravan of Nords and their cart, all with weapons drawn, as the port around skidded to a stop, gawking. The glint of an amulet flashed at one of the Nords’ throat, a muted gold and bone white in the late morning sun. Most likely it was that amulet that had the Thalmor’s swords even further up their arses than usual. The perfect chance.

“You wanna have some fun?” I grinned, watching as a small crowd began forming around the Nords’ caravan. Extra witnesses! It gets better.

“Your idea of fun or mine?” He whispered, shuddering to himself.

“See those five Thalmor Justiciars? Reckon it’ll be minutes before they go in Destruction spells blazing and either arrest or flat-out murder them.”

“What’re you trying to say?”

“I’m trying to say, that if the souls of those five Thalmor wind up in the Void before they attack, without anyone else knowing, then there might just be a place in the unholy family for you.”

Hawk grinned. “Do I get backup? If you’ve got the whole unholy family at your back, it’s only fair that I have my future unholy sister by my side.”

For the love of the Gods. “The phrase is ‘Dark Sister’, and I didn’t have anyone at my initiation. It would be unfair if you did.”

His grin faded. “If you’re not gonna be a helping hand, then you’re gonna be a lure instead.”

I barely had time to register what he meant by that when he seized me by the scruff of the neck, dragging me out into the port. “Filthy Daedra worshipper! Summoning demons in our city!” He yelled, dragging me forward. “Hey, over here! Caught this ash dweller worshipping some shrine. Looked daedric to me.”

He seized my left arm as the Thalmor looked over. Talos worship may be just as illegal as Daedra worship, but at least when worshipping the Daedra you get an effect, which terrifies the Thalmor.

“Well now, six heretics and a Daedra worshipper. I feel a promotion will be coming my way for this.” One of the Thalmor purred, an unpleasant grin forming. She had to be in her thirties, so about three hundred years old, dressed in hoodless Thalmor robes with a high collar, exposing her inky black hair scraped back into a low braid. In her hand she held a sleek, white sabre with a black silk handle detailed in white, which seemed to twitch with excitement as she looked me over.

“We have a word for anyone who worships the Daedra in our city, ash dweller. Suicidal.” She growled, turning to Hawk. “Where exactly is this shrine you found?”

“In the basement of Lielone Mile-Thigh’s House of Euphoric Sin. Saw her kneeling in front of the statue down there. Think it might be Sanguine. Makes sense for him to be worshipped in a brothel.” Hawk replied, before jerking me back. “Trying to struggle is a waste of time, soot skin.” He snapped, as Vixen and her quiver came loose from my back, and tumbled into his arms as he let go. “Quick, she’s getting away!”

He didn’t even have to tell me to run. Without my bow, I was weak, powerless, left with nothing to save my skin but flat-out running for it. Hawk’s idea of using the Mama Cheetah’s Trap on the Thalmor was all well and good, but if it goes wrong, I will not hesitate to pull a Rosette Vautrelle and turn him into a pelt.

I leapt up, gripping the nearby cloth porch and tugging myself up, catching myself in the canopy then scrambling up to the white marble roof and breaking into a run across the city rooftops. Hawk was relying on me to be his lure, so I’d better do a good job of teasing the Thalmor.

He could have at least left me with my bow and her arrows. I had nothing to fire back with as I leapt over a gap between buildings, narrowly missing an arrow arcing over to smack into the corner of the far building. I had the flames of Dunmer birth, sure, but nothing else to deliver death to any n’wah craving my blood.

“Pathetic excuse for an Elf!” The haughty voice rang out from my side, as a golden-skinned Thalmor emerged from a flight of steps off the side of the building I leapt onto. In one hand, the familiar feathered sword of moonstone shone in the sun, and in the other, the fury of lightening crackled purple, with bolts leaping everywhere.

“The justiciars know your face, ash born, and we elves have long memories. On your knees, worm!” He barked, as the sparks in his palm condensed into a crackling ball, firing little bolts like needles.

I knelt, palms raised, unable to stop smiling as the Altmer drew nearer. “Your memory is only as long as your life. So very, very short.” I hissed, before the sizzle of burning flesh pierced the air with a scream, like the burning blade of Goldbrand pierced the Thalmor’s chest.

“Not bad going, Hawk.” I grinned, getting back up as he yanked Goldbrand out of the Altmer’s corpse. “Did you have to take my bow though?” I replied, as he hauled the dead Altmer over his shoulder and deposited down the chimney flue of the house we were on.

“Gives the Thalmor more reasons to chase you. You’re unarmed, so not as dangerous, so they won’t think they’re risking much by going after you. I do think of these things, ya know.”

I gathered. “Not bad. Still got four more to go. Don’t get cocky.”

“I won’t, I promise. Get running then, I’ve still got four more Thalmor to kill.”

“Slave driver!”

“Thought that was your people’s thing.”

I shot him a slicing the between-finger tendon before charging off across the rooftops to the sound of Hawk’s yells. “Over here! She’s getting away!” He shrieked, as I vaulted a gap onto a building before hauling myself up onto a wall and diving down into a hay pile to break my fall.

“Ha, there you are! Death is the only way out of your misery!” The plummy yell of a Thalmor Justiciar rang out as I scrambled from the hay pile, weaving around two startled-looking sheep and vaulting a low fence as an arrow struck the sands next to me.

Thalmor archer. Gods damn it! Why did I allow Hawk to take Vixen? Without being able to fire back at them, I was vulnerable, and open to being killed. My only defence was a thin set of over-robes, and fleeing.

I dashed down an alley, zig-zagging with the curves of the buildings before veering off down an alley narrow enough to scrape both my back and the tip of my nose on the walls as I slipped through into an open market street and pulled myself up onto a porch.

I skidded and tumbled forward, scraping my chin on the stone roof as a searing pain pierced through my left arm, spraying blood over my robes and the wall as the arrow shot through my arm and poked through the other side. Don’t let the pain hold me back though! I must keep going!

I ducked behind this dome-shaped part of the roof, pausing to tear out the arrow wedged in my shoulder, shattering the bone and leaking blood. Gah, Nerevar! I didn’t care if Hawk missed the three living ones; he was in automatically if he killed the one that shot me.

“It’s all over, pathetic excuse for an elf!” The yell came from the roof opposite, as the clever arrow of a Justiciar trained itself over my heart. The Thalmor aiming had poised himself just so, bowstring taut, held steady to pierce me clean through.

Archer! I ducked, leaping off the building and plummeting into the alley below as the arrow pierced my right palm with a splatter of blood and a screaming feeling running up my arm, like the nerves were logs being split in half for firewood. Thudding down, the arrow rattled in my hand as I landed, splitting my nerves even further as the arrowhead snapped off and the shaft slid out, bloodstained and shimmering white.

If that was the same one that got me in the shoulder, the second I wound up reuniting with Hawk and getting Vixen back, I was killing it myself. Banking left, I vaulted another low fence, skidding through a chicken pen and clambering out, using a fence post as a vault to drag myself up onto the roof of what looked like the start of Taneth’s slums. No other part of any settlement had the same communal roof and ick-splattered walls as the slums.

I skidded over a loose tile, crashing down through the gap it left and into the tiny, coal-black alley beneath, splattering onto the wet earth below.

Well, at least the Thalmor would have one hell of a job finding me down here. Twisting passages and gaping doorways branched off from where I’d fallen through, where rats and other disgusting creatures scuttled away in the darkness. As long as I didn’t touch anything, and got myself enough cure disease potions to purify the two Thieves’ Guild whores twice over, I’d be fine.

The muffled yells of the Thalmor filtered down from the roof above, spooking me like a deer skittering off into the forest of twisting passages.

It was like an alien world in the slums, full of night-dwelling creatures and strange sounds. Down one way, the shrieks of two women having a catfight mixed with the wailing of a child, the raddled coughs of a sickly beggar, and the moans of a two-septim prostitute roleplaying as a bitch in heat. Ducking through a doorway, someone screamed as I dashed through their hut, before diving out through what I’d guess was a crude kitchen and gripping a washing line with my good hand to swing me over a suspicious-looking red puddle in a narrow alleyway.

Definitely gotta pick up a lot of cure disease potions after passing through here. Every surface seemed to crawl with Rattles, every dribble of water full of Ataxia, and every rat scuttling in the filth had loaded its fangs with arrows of Rockjoint.

“Split up! She has to be around here somewhere!” The plummy toned voice sent ice spikes down my spine, as I ran out into a shaft of light, igniting myself like a beacon. Gods damn the Thalmor! My lungs started to burn as my eyes flicked around for a hiding place, thighs starting to quiver in exhaustion as I spotted the painted sign slapped above a curtained doorway.

No idea why anyone would open a business this close to the slums, but I’m glad they did. Flicking blood off my hand, I dropped into a crouch, and slipped through the curtained doorway.

It only took a few seconds for me to realise why this place was so close to the slums. Lanterns with panels of red glass either hung from the ceiling, or perched on low tables scattered around the room. A central staircase led downstairs into the rest of the building, and around it, parallel to the guard rails, waist-high tables displayed nude Redguard and Imperial women. A few were dancing on the spot, dipping brushes in pots of oil and painting themselves in the glistening substance for the few patrons sat cross-legged on floor mats, watching them. The air was thick with incense coiling up from terracotta plates around the room, and in the far corner, a few seedy-looking musicians were playing low, erotic tunes on a lute and some small drums.

Great. Out of all the hiding places in the slums of Taneth, I had to pick a whorehouse. Just above the abandoned bar, the name ‘House of Euphoric Sin’ painted straight onto the bare walls confirmed the sinking feeling in my gut was well-founded. Only yesterday I’d taken off my armour to save my skin, and it seemed like today was going to go the same way.

Screw it, anything to avoid the Thalmor. I snuck down the stairwell, ears pricked for any warning cries as I made my way into the main area of the brothel.

The stairs dipped down into a long corridor flanked by copper doors aged until their bright brown colour had gone turquoise, before opening out into a main room. At the back, a stage held up an Argonian woman clad in what could only be described as a steel brassiere and net skirt slashed up both sides. She wielded a two-handed sword, swaying and dancing with it on stage as her scaled fingers weaved to rip off one steel cup and throw it into the baying audience of patrons. At the side, a board with ‘Warrior Wenches’ scrawled over it stood in pride of place.

Huh, must be the name of the show. Though ‘Scantily-Clad Sluts’ would be far more accurate. No real warrior would ever swing around a weapon like that, nor wear that little.

I crept into one of the silent side rooms, shutting the door behind me as the crowd roared. Clearly that Argonian had shown what was under the net skirt, like we couldn’t see already.

The room was pretty barren, with a wooden chair in the corner, a low bedside table with a shrine of the Cyrodiilic Divine Dibella, a small chandelier, and a sleeping mat bigger than the chamber I shared with Camena. Three potions of cure disease  and a health potion perched on the bedside table; and draped over the back of the chair, a bundle of blushing silks whispered to themselves as I picked through them; my ears pricked as a husky-voiced woman spoke over the crowd.

“Now, from deepest Valenwood, our Bosmer archer has a way about her when it comes to taming large trees.” They purred, ending with a chuckle as the crowd cheered. Ugh, last thing this place needed was a cockroach infestation amongst the rampant medley of venereal disease permeating through every whorehouse in Tamriel.

A muffled thud came from above, as a shudder ran down my spine and I swiped the health potion. Sithis curse it, didn’t Hawk say he found the shrine in the basement of a whorehouse? Gods, why did I have to choose this place to hide out in? Out of all the hiding places in Taneth, why here?

Cursing my luck wouldn’t do anything. I had an idea, but it had better work. Flicking the latch on the door, I began switching my clothes for the bundle of silks, pulling and tugging the set on me as I shed my bloody over-robes and downed the health potion in one. Its sweet, fruity taste exploded over my tongue as I finished swapping my clothes for this whore’s garb.

It hadn’t gone well. The top part of it was nothing but a loop of blush pink silk supposed to go around my neck and drape over my breasts. The bottom part was no better, consisting of just another sheet of blush pink silk attached to a string of turquoise beads wrapping around my hips and tying together at the side. Black leather sandals criss-crossed up to my knees, and – thankfully something to hide behind – a silver mask adorned with jewels and turquoise feathers could cover me just right for a masquerade. Probably nothing else as I’d get arrested for indecent exposure, but at least I was ready for a masquerade.

I stole out of the room as the thudding came downstairs, shivering as the Thalmor stormed downstairs. Only two were left, flanking Hawk as he wore my bow and her quiver.

“You said the Daedric shrine was down here! Come on, where is it?” One of the Thalmor snapped, as Hawk played with Goldbrand’s hilt at his belt.

“I said it was in the basement. This is more like the main room. Hold on, hey lady, do you work here!” Hawk replied, before yelling over at me.

Either he didn’t recognise me, or he was playing a very dangerous game. “Lady, can you show us to the basement? We’re on official business. Spotted a Daedric shrine down there.”

The Thalmor were staring me down as Hawk beckoned me over. Cold malevolence shone in the Thalmor Justiciar’s eyes, sending shudders through me. “Basement’s this way. I’ll have to accompany you though. House rules.” I lied. I had no idea if it was part of the house rules, and I certainly didn’t work here, but if it meant cornering the Thalmor and watching them die, so much the better.

“Fair enough. Hey, how much do you bet that Daedra worshipper snuck back here to try dismantling the shrine? You may catch them too.”

“It’s possible, but if we don’t catch them, somebody will have to pay for this.” One Thalmor growled, as Hawk shuddered. Good to see I wasn’t the only one intimidated by a Thalmor with a sharp sword.

“I swear, if you can’t find her, I will. She’s a nifty little thing.” He replied, beckoning for me to lead the way to a small side door by the stage, then down a low flight of steps into the blackness of what I’d assume was the basement. As I lead them down, the muffled whoosh of a Magelight spell whizzed over my shoulder, smacking the far wall, and bathing the cavernous basement in blue, sparkling light.

“So where’s this shrine then?” One of the Justiciars quipped, glaring down her nose at Hawk.

“It’s not a statue shrine. It’s a floor painting shrine. Over in the corner, go look.” Hawk replied, pointing over at the furthest corner, and letting the two Justiciars stalk past him as he drew Goldbrand and let the flames leap up around the golden blade.

“There’s nothing here. I swear, if you’ve lied to u-” One Justiciar snapped, before her words diffused into a cacophony of bloodcurdling screams mingling with the hissing of burning flesh. Hawk had seized the Thalmor scum by the high collar of her robes, yanking her back and slitting her throat with Goldbrand, before letting her corpse drop to the floor. At the scream, the other Justiciar drew their sword – an elven one of golden green, etched all over with feathers – and swung it right at the thief.

I won’t deny, Hawk was a pretty good fighter with a one-handed blade. He blocked the Thalmor’s slash, throwing back their elven blade as Goldbrand’s eternal fire melted a line down the flat of their sword. “You meet your end at the hand of the Thalmor, murderer!” The Justiciar yelled, thrusting forward and slashing at Hawk, cutting just at his side at the base of his ribs. Blood gushed from the wound, covering him like a cloak in the time it took for him to plunge Goldbrand straight through the stomach of that Justiciar, burning her from the inside out.

He’d done it. He’d…had he actually killed all five Justiciars? Screw it, he was injured, swaying and clutching his side before falling to his knees. “Hawk!” I yelled, hauling him up to look at me. “Hawk, it’s me! It’s ok, I’ve got you, Dark Brother.”

I flung off my mask, tearing off his bloodstained shirt and twisting it into a rope I could tie over the wound in his chest. “Killer? Had a feeling it was you.” He groaned, forcing himself to sheathe Goldbrand. “How’d I do? All five dead, no witnesses but you. The Talos-worshipping merchants got away with it.”

Not bad going for an amateur. “Think I may be justified in calling you Dark Brother now. Hold still, I’m gonna get you a health potion.” I chuckled, slipping my things off his back and handing him the familiar red bottle from within my knapsack. “Down it in one. I think our clothes are a bit ruined though.”

He sniggered, downing the potion and straightening up from the puddle of his own blood. He was saturated in the stuff, whilst I was still clad in whore’s clothes. “First house that can afford it, we’ll do a raid. I think the Talos caravan owes us one. Reckon you’ll be able to persuade them?”

He shifted and the wound split, blood gushing out and soaking the bloody remains of his shirt.

“Forget that. You’re coming with me.” I replied, re-attaching Vixen and her quiver above my knapsack, before hauling my newest Dark Brother up so he leaned on my shoulder. “Tava’s chapel offers cheap healing potions that’ll hopefully seal that wound up. We’re not going anywhere until you’re back to full health.”

He groaned, wriggling on my side as he tried taking a step. “Thought you’d never want to go back to that place.”

“Normally I wouldn’t, but you’re injured, and now family. Family comes before anything, Dark Brother. Now come on, and if you touch somewhere you shouldn’t, I’m dropping you and leaving you there.”

He stopped protesting at once, letting me haul him to the basement outer doors. I swear, if I can get him healed without tearing something in my back, it would be a Gods-damned miracle.

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