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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18. Nix Heart

“Good girl, Savil.”

I didn’t even look back at her. Just stared straight across the ash yam pasture at the fat straw bales shoved by the fence. The sacking wrapped around the top had been peppered with holes in its time, first from sticks made straight and sharp, and then with proper arrows. The newest one still stuck out of the target, right through a painted circle I’d helped slap on there.

“I didn’t get it in the middle though, mother. I didn’t pierce the red wolf in the eye.” My voice came without my control. Young like the air, the voice of a girl, not a woman.

“It doesn’t matter, Savil. As long as you keep predators off the farm it doesn’t matter how cleanly you kill them.”

“But Maengor pays more for unmarked hides than ones with wounds.”

“Who’s Maengor? Is he…have you been inside The Stray Alfiq in Orcrest again! You know I don’t want you mixing with thieves!”

She yelled…Mother’s angry! “I didn’t mean to!” I turn to face my mother and cower, bow held to my chest, peering under the edge of the head wrap that makes me a big girl now. “I only went past there to get to Mr Maxild’s hunting lodge to sell the pelts. Maengor was outside and bought the pelts for double what Mr Maxild buys them for. I’m sorry, Mother. I just…I just wanted to do something nice to help you, Mother, and Maengor’s nice to me.”

She got up, coming over to me. Her prettiest skirt brushes the sand off the porch, and the soft cotton tassels on her head wrap tickle as she wraps her arms around me. Soft…still soft, smelling of red spices and warm things at night. “Don’t apologise, Savil. I know you mean well, I shouldn’t have yelled. Shh, it’s ok. I’m sorry, Savil.”

She’s so cold…colder than cold… “I’m sorry.” Her voice sounds hoarse…is she crying?

“Mother?” I whimper, and then I realise it’s her. Not Mother who raised me in the desert with a bow in my hand, but the one I share with the Sanctuary. The Night Mother.

“Shh, child. It’s ok. I know he scared and hurt you, and I know I promised you a reward. You removed the snake in the nest, and I have another son under cruelty’s banner thanks to you.”

Another son…oh, Hawk! “It was my pleasure, Unholy Matron, to bring another into the family.”

She glided back as I stood up, floating just above the desert sand like a flame atronach. “Such a loyal one you are. You make me proud, Dark Child.” She purrs, running a skeletal hand over my cheek and down to my neck. “You deserve your reward, and I’m sorry it’s so late.”

As she moved her hand away, something black and cold erupted from her fingers and coiled around my neck, like a snake. Where the chain came together, a black stone in the shape of an eight-pointed star emerged with a red gemstone growing out of the middle. Cold to the touch, it seemed to wink at me, settling against my breastbone and latching onto my skin.

“Its name is Netherlight, and it will make you become the unseen darkness beyond the reflection. Wear it well, my Dark Child.”

Netherlight seemed to quiver as I touched it, like it was covered in tiny hairs that all stood on end at once. “Another child has prayed to their mother?” I asked, before she tilted my chin up towards her.

“Oh many have, but there is no time now. Bring me home to your Sanctuary. My new tomb.”

Of course, for a Listener is not a Listener if there’s no voice to hear. “It shall be done, Unholy Matron, as you command it.”

“I know I could trust you. Bring me home. Go now, and give the Knife in Stone a mother’s love. Tell him the Woe in the Forest shall be dealt with when I wish to.”

I had barely begun to reply when the first blade of light pierced through, dispelling the dream as the glow of a burning candle flooded the room. The stitching inside leather rubbed against me, pinching and scraping at skin that almost had all the grey scrubbed out of it. Cracking the seal of sand binding my eyelids shut, the glow seemed to get ever brighter, becoming a hovering light stuck behind two figures.

“Savil, you’re-”

“Easy now, kid. Don’t go jumpin’ on the lamb when she’s just opened ‘er eyes. She’s been through many a war an’ all.”

That voice…that must be Heddina, and Hawk! “What the…what happened?” My voice sounded like I’d swallowed the molten metal from inside a smelter, and even twitching felt like my skin was being scraped off again.

“Only you can explain that fully. Thought you were one of them Foul-Mer things. The seaspray ‘ad caked so much salt on you that you’d turned white. That and you were ‘alf-dead from the cold and dripping blood all the way from the old Museum. Leg snapped in two places, skin shredded off ‘alf of you, more trenches carved in you than caves in Skyrim, an’ I don’t wanna know ‘ow you got the mace of that Daedra. You been favoured by Nocturnal in your life, love? That and our Vincinere almost drowned you in ‘ealth potion tryin’a keep you alive. If you ever give ‘im children, don’ let ‘im be the one to feed ‘em.”

“You’re alive though, Savil, which is all that matters. Come here.” Hawk purred, perching at my side, placing a roasting hand against my cheek. “Heddina, you said the Vigilants are due in Dawnstar soon. Goldbrand and the Mace of Molag Bal won’t do much to keep them away.” He added, leaning down and tugging another pelt over my legs.

She winked. “Don’t worry, I got the message. You’d better keep that mace ‘idden even if the Vigilants don’t stop by. Scares me enough, dread to think ‘ow me patrons will react to it.”

She nipped out of the tavern room then as Hawk pulled another pelt atop me. “Seriously though, what happened, killer? I ran that crazy lady through and when all her Daedric magic wore off, you were gone. Then you drop in again dripping blood and covered in wounds with the torture stick of Molag Bal.”

There’s no point in lying to him about it. He deserved the right to know, and even if I wanted to lie to him about it, what would I say happened?

“It’s a long story. If you want the short version though, well I pissed off two Daedric Princes, and one threw me for miles with a challenge. Then I became a PissSkin prisoner and almost drowned at the hands of two interrogators, only survived by defeating the Count of Cheydinhal in an arena duel, and the Daedric Prince that threw me from Coldharbour to Cheydinhal gave me his mace as a reward.”

“And a pheasant in a pear tree.” He sang, running his hand over my cheek. “Don’t worry, if it’s traumatic you don’t have to tell me. I understand.”

He didn’t believe me, but honestly I wouldn’t believe me either if I hadn’t gone through it all. “I’ll tell you the full thing when we get some time. So how long has it been? Ancestor’s Day isn’t here yet, right?”

“Is that before or after Old Life?”

“It’s on the same day. It’s a Dunmer holiday. Offerings are given to the departed, and the living family are celebrated with.”

“That’s tomorrow then. You do anything for that celebration?”

And Carmjalla claimed…what was it? That he’d been from Morrowind to Valenwood? “Give offerings like ash yams and alcohol to the dead, exchange gifts with the family, and just generally get together as a family.”

“Think Heddina has some ash yams. I’ll ask if she has a spare one for you. Lots of Dunmer died on the exodus from Morrowind and fleeing Windhelm before the Gray Purge. Giving it to the ocean should help it find its way. That or I could sneak you to Refugees’ Rest just past Windhelm.” He chuckled, shifting so he lay fully next to me on the bed.

It was then that I noticed what he was wearing. Some kind of thin, grey undershirt and tight, black trousers. Goldbrand still nestled at his hip in its sheath, and his bare feet brushed the board at the end of the bed. He seemed…frail, without armour. Like he’d lost a lot of weight overnight, leaving him vulnerable to being snapped in half.

“Like what you see?”

I hadn’t even realised I was staring. “Where’s your armour? Must be freezing in just those things.”

“Not half as much as you in that ragged…thing. You were half-dead from the cold. Besides, it kinda suits you. Gives you a more…well still rogue-ish, but more rough around the edges. A lawbreaker that’s seen the dark side of life and makes it their home.”

It was then that I actually noticed Hawk had put his Thieves’ Guild armour on me. That was the leather rubbing against me! Still, although it rubbed in places, it felt right, smelling of outside air, testosterone, and healthy Breton male.

“Like I’m not rough around the edges already.” I smirked, sat up to whisper in his ear, “Thanks, pickpocket,” and left a soft kiss on his cheek.

I could feel him blushing; the heat radiating from his cheeks could replace the fireplace in the middle of the Windpeak. “If putting you in my clothes is all it takes to get another one like that, then the third chest to your right from the secret entrance is all yours to raid.”

Tempting if I need a quick disguise. I could probably pass for a guy if I bound my chest. “I wouldn’t say no to it.” I giggled, tucking my feet in as Hawk brushed his bare toes against the soles of my feet.

“Ticklish there, are we?” He sat up, clamping one hand over my ankles as I wriggled and tried pulling away. “Savil Felaano, you just sealed your fate.”

“Don’t you dare!” I yelped before he began tracing his fingers over the soles of my feet, tapping them against the sensitive bit just above the heel, and sniggering as I wriggled and laughed, yelping like Banshee when both moons are full and the smell of a male hyena drifts on the desert air.

“Say you’ll never do anything as stupid as speaking to that crazy lady again.”

I writhed and laughed as he carried on, his grip shackling my ankles to the pelts. “This is blackmail!” I squealed, dissolving into strangled peals of laughter as he tickled the underside of my toes. “No!”

“Say it!”

Through the laughing tears I could see Hawk was enjoying this far more than I was. “Fine – I never – I’ll never do anything stupid!”

He went back to the sensitive bit above the heel, tickling with the ends of his talons. “Say I’m the leader of this duo now.”

What! “Never!” I squealed as he moved up, lightly pinching either side of my knees as I wriggled.

“Say it or I won’t stop.”

My lungs were being bitten into from laughing so much, and my eyes were veiled with laughing tears. “Fine – you’re leader now – stop! Please!”

He stopped, letting go of my ankles and letting me flop back on the pelts, gasping for breath and wiping away the laughing tears his tickling had caused. “That was blackmail, Hawk!” I wheezed.

“You can’t deny you loved it though.” He replied, going for my wrists and holding them to the pelts. “I’ve got enough strength left for one more, killer. Say you love me.”

What? “You want me to say what?”

“Say that you love me. Please, I don’t have much strength left.”

His arms were shaking as he leaned over me, pretending to pin my wrists to the pelts. He’d just been playing around before with the tickling, but this…his eyes had a little sparkle in them when he was joking about anything. I’d noticed it a few times now, but as he pinned my wrists to the bed and I looked into the shill thief’s russet eyes, there was no sparkle to be found.

“I-”

“Agh, damn!” Hawk cussed as his arms gave out and he landed atop me, sliding off and clutching his shoulder. “Can’t keep that up for too long.” He groaned, hissing between his teeth.

It’s not the best distraction, but it’ll do. “Did you strain it or something?” I sat up and all the skin on my left side complained, digging claws in as I shifted to sit so my bare feet froze on the stone floor.

“No, this always happens after Chains of Prometheus, don’t worry. It sorts itself out.”

Chains of Prometheus? “Never thought of you as a barbarian. Or any kind of master for that matter.”

He chuckled and flicked me with a fox pelt. “Cheeky. No, I’m only a Warrior thanks to my birth. Thirteenth of Last Seed. Those born under the Warrior are quick to master all weapons, prone to short tempers, and gifted with the power Chains of Prometheus, which doubles your strength for a brief time.”

Well that explains a lot. The mead barrel aboard The Lady of Bravil, stabbing Boethiah, wielding Goldbrand, and how he was able to pin me down with such ease twice now.

“Never figured you for a Warrior. Always thought you’d be like me.”

“Never can tell with the signs. Maim’s supposed to be born under the Lover, but she’s only passionate about wine and money. If I was like you…wait, no let me guess.”

He bit his lower lip, looking me up and down. “The Shadow!”

Close. “Nope.”

“The Lady?”

Really? Me, a lady? “Way off.”

“Dammit! The Tower?”

Better than the Lady. “Closer than you were.”

“The Lover?”

You wish. “Nope.”

“Dammit woman, what are you?”

I stood up, knees quivering as I got used to being upright. “You were closest with the Shadow and Tower, for often my kind will slink through the shadows of a tower, climbing ever upwards, lucky enough not to step on the traps that fill you with arrows.”

He grinned and draped his arms around me, linking them around the small of my back. “I should have known. The Thief is the last Guardian Constellation, and her season is the darkest month of Evening Star. Her Charges are the Lover, the Shadow, and the Tower. Those born under the sign of the Thief are not typically thieves, though they take risks more often and only rarely come to harm.”

“They will run out of luck eventually, however, and rarely live as long as those born under other signs.” I added. “The Thief has no powers but the luck of Nocturnal.”

“And our Lady Luck has served you well.” He purred, pulling me against him. His heart thundered against his ribcage, beating like the bard’s drum being played in the main tavern. Must be a couple of bards going at it, as the strumming of a lute joined my own private bard’s performance.

“This is a warning to all would-be heroes who see certain death as a challenge: The Black Door of Dawnstar.”

What! There’s a…a Sanctuary here, and people know enough about it to write a song! I tore myself away from Hawk’s chest and crouched by the doorframe, listening as a bard began singing over the drum and lute.

“Oh the old Black Door of Dawnstar.

The waves in the port, they crash and they sway, but Kynareth’s wrath can’t wash it away.

There’s whispers abound, and secrets to tell, that behind that door do killers dwell.

Now if the door should open, run and hide, for the old Black Door holds death inside.

Life’s greatest illusion, if it’s found, then a hero will enter and burn it down.

Burn the old Black Door of Dawnstar.”

The bard ended to sparse applause from the few patrons that didn’t have a job and could drink all day. By Sithis, if I had my bow…it’s only in the corner by the wrapped up torture stick of Molag Bal. If I’m quick I can get one off and rid the Dark Brotherhood of a potential threat.

“Killer, don’t you dare.”

Hawk’s hand found my shoulder, pulling me back as he hissed. “Not in broad daylight, killer. Come on, Effe-Zeeis said I could find the Night Mother’s coffin in the Dawnstar Sanctuary. You can kill him when we get back.”

Well I guess it is in the middle of the day, but once Azurah’s time of dusk is over, I’m gonna kill him. “Fine. You’d better take my cloak, it’s gonna be freezing out there.”

“You need it more.”

“But I’ve got your armour on. You’ve only got thin cotton. Either you put it on yourself or I put it on you. It’s your choice, pickpocket.”

“Now I see why half of Riften calls your people slave drivers. Guess old habits really do die hard.”

As tempting as it was to roll up a wolf pelt and whack him with it, I let it slide and just slipped my bow and her quiver on, carrying the mace in my arms still in its cloth wrapping. Gods knew what I was gonna do with it. You can’t just throw away a Daedric gift, especially from the Daedric Prince of Domination, Enslavement, and Physical Torture.

“Ready, Savil?”

“As I’ll ever be.”

The bard seemed to grin at us as we left, giving Heddina a wave and trying to pay for me using the room while I recovered.

“Wouldn’t be right to charge the injured. Do you see Whiterun’s Temple o’ Kynareth charging those who need ‘ealing for each night on those ‘ealing altars that they got? No, you just be a bit more careful from now on an’ that’ll be payment enough- OI!”

I dared not look behind me to see what or who Lisie was pulling this time, but Heddina’s chastisement must have stopped her. “Some days I think ‘er parents should ‘ave named ‘er after the inn. Both are open twenty-four seven.”

I could see Hawk slipped a full coin purse in her pocket as she said that, thanking her with it before we left. The storm had died and the snow shone bright and crisp. The lights were still strung out in all their colours, and the inky waters of the port stretched wide to embrace the sky as it grew through orange and pink to a dusky purple.

“So where do you think it is? There’s a big arc of coast that stretches around past the old crazy lady’s house with a big enough shingle beach for your kind to enter and exit safely. Plus the sea would provide water that can have the salt boiled out of it.”

That made sense. A lot of sense actually. “Worth a shot. Come on, and let me work out the passphrase. I’ve served Sithis long enough to understand his ways.”

“If you say so. Savil, if the Dawnstar you-know-where isn’t abandoned, what then?”

That was a good question. What do we do then? I’ve never met with any other Sanctuaries before. The purge during the Great War kind of decimated us, and there’s only a few Sanctuaries actually functioning now across all of Tamriel. If Dawnstar was one…well what then? Do we have to battle them? How will they react to us? Or the other way around – the Dark Brotherhood accepts everyone from vampires, to werewolves, to skooma addicts, to just plain kill-happy psychopaths.

“I’ll find a way.”

“You always do.” He replied, draping one arm around my shoulder as we headed past the remains of the Museum. Just beneath the sleeve, gooseflesh covered his skin, and he seemed to draw closer with every step we took.

“If there’s any extra armour in the Sanctuary, I’ll take it and you can have your old armour back. You look freezing.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not cold.” He replied. There was a chattering sound as he spoke, and he seemed to surpress several shivers. Night still had an hour to wait before it could draw in, but the cold was still ever impatient. “Besides, you need it more than I do and it suits you, my little rogueish one.”

“Your armour may suit me but blue-grey skin and goosebumps don’t suit you.”

“Well you manage to pull off the skin colour pretty well.”

True, very true. “All you need are pointed ears and red eyes. Then you’d easily pass for a Dunmer male.”

It was right there when we passed a rocky outcropping, seeping between the rocks and the wild nightshade pushing through the shingle on the beach. The Black Door, complete with the skeletal face of Sithis watching over his Night Mother and their five dead children. Salt from the sea spray had encrusted itself on the face of the Black Door, and the nightshade blooms swayed in the breeze.

“Are all the Black Doors this creepy?”

Trust him not to get it. “The Black Door is a direct connection to Sithis, the Dread Father. The nothing that created all. Every Black Door is in direct contact with Sithis. Does that answer your question?”

“Fair play. Is the passphrase the same?”

“Every Sanctuary has a different passphrase. If you found the passphrase then you could systematically destroy every single one with ease. If you get past the assassins within, of course.”

I pressed my palm against the handprint on the skull, my breaths synchronising with the hollow rattle of the door. Even the sea seemed to pause, waiting for the voice of Sithis to emerge and call to us.

“What is life’s greatest illusion?” It hissed, and I could feel Hawk’s shiver travel up his arm onto me.

Illusion…invisibility, as we leave a trace of ourselves still shimmering away? No…frenzy. We all have wrath within us anyway. Why should it be a spell that draws out our inner fury and lust for death? It’s in us anyway, and can come out at any time. A wife sprinkling nightshade into her husband’s stew, trying not to let the blood leaking from her nose drip in too. A little sister doing to her big brother what he did to her favourite doll. Even a twin still under their mother’s skin, with the weaker one still attached and leeching nutrition being pulled in and absorbed by the stronger.

Even an unborn child can appease Sithis through killing the unborn they share the womb with. There’s no innocence in this world then. No white-robed maiden with flaxen hair perched side-saddle atop a unicorn, or whatever form the bards and scholars give innocence. He or she is but an illusion that has hoodwinked all of Tamriel.

“Innocence, my brother.”

“Welcome home…” The Black Door hissed and swung open, letting out a fog of death that seemed to billow right through us.

“Well I don’t think we’ll have to worry about fighting any other assassins. Smells like a hagraven that’s into necrophilia.”

Something told me I didn’t want to know what a hagraven was, especially not before entering into a Sanctuary. Indicating for Hawk to sneak with me, I dropped into a crouch, took out my bow, and began creeping through the stone hallway into the Sanctuary.

The ripe, almost gassy smell of death grew stronger as we crept into a small room with two tables and a bookshelf. The door leading ahead was ajar, and just through the crack shone panels of stained glass in bloody red. Pushing open the door, the death mist seemed to rise to meet us, hovering at just nose level as we crept into the open room of the Sanctuary.

“Hey, killer?” Hawk hissed.

“Yeah?”

“I think the death smell has driven off anything and anyone. No point in sneaking.”

And I thought thieves were supposed to be stealthy. “Just in case. Some creatures and people thrive in this kind of environment.”

I peered around the corner, checking for any kind of life or false resemblance of life. The little garden in the corner had overgrown to the point where mushrooms and flowers were spilling over the woven fences; vines stretching out like grasping arms to embrace and smother the alchemy lab nestling on its table nearby.

“Killer?” Hawk hissed again.

“What?”

“Do you just let dead bodies rot in your Sanctuary? As someone clearly died over in the corner.”

“No, we feed any non-family dead to Banshee. Anyone in the family who dies is buried in the Sanctuary Tomb. How can you tell?”

“They’re still there.”

The corpse lay as if it had simply tripped, falling against the iron coffin with its gloved hands clinging to the metal. If it weren’t for the deep wounds on its back and the dried blood staining the shredded clothing, they could simply have been the victim of an accident. A Listener, or maybe a Keeper, that fell in attendance to the Night Mother.

I stood up from my crouch, looking over the corpse. A male, Gods-knew how old, and definitely one of the human races. Probably an Imperial; he didn’t have the brawny frame, excessive height, and thick muscles of a Nord, nor the high cheekbones, slender features, and slightly pointed ears of a Breton. The wounds in his back threatened to hit bone, and the thick icing of dried blood almost blended into the red and gold of his clothes.

“Think he’s an assassin?” Hawk squeaked, heaving as I peeled a bloody scrap off the wound and pulled out something silver and sharp.

“Well the ebony dagger tells me yes. Only those that practice the arts of stealth and secret murder use such short blades.” I replied, holding the tiny chink of metal in my palm. “Go find a bucket or nip outside. I don’t mind.”

I’d barely finished talking when he ran down into the main bit of the Sanctuary, dashing blindly before the retch and splatter followed. By Sithis, if he ever makes it as an assassin he’ll need to be able to deal with blood splatter, fresh organs, and dead bodies. There’s place for all but the squeamish in the Dark Brotherhood.

Still, could be worse. He could be the newest member of a band of necromancers. Leaving him to it, I kneeled down, getting a more detailed look at the dead Imperial.

He was definitely one of the assassins here, but he wore no shrouded armour in any form. The more I looked, the more it seemed like he was some sort of…well, I would say a bard, but we’re a guild of cut-throats, not merry-makers. Still, judging by the nicks on his dagger, he’d killed many a target before now.

So what had killed him, besides the chunk of metal in the wound on his back? Odd piece of steel it was, sharpened on one side like it snapped off a sword, but only Redguards and Argonians had curved swords. Was there a Redguard or Argonian in this Sanctuary before it got abandoned? And why did nobody stop them from killing him? The Fifth Tenet very clearly states to never kill a Dark Brother or Dark Sister, to do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.

It was as I brushed some of his hair out the way that I noticed the bite marks. That explains it. Vampires have always made up a sizeable portion of the Dark Brotherhood; they’re natural predators of men, mer, and beast alike. Nobody stopped whoever killed this merryman assassin as they joined in on the killing. By Sithis…this place is just plain wrong. This isn’t the proper Dark Brotherhood by a long shot

“Killer? I found the source of the death smell. Does your Sanctuary have a torture chamber?”

A torture chamber, really? Gods, this just gets worse and worse. “No, even we’re not that much like Molag Bal in the head.”

“Then either this place did, or this is some seriously weird tomb.”

Eh, it’s possible. I mean, we return our dead to the ashes from whence we came, and both the Redguards and Khajiit mummify their dead. Maybe the assassins of Dawnstar shackle their dead and let them rot. “I’ll be down in a second, keep your stomach in.”

The smell of death was at its strongest down here, like wading through a river of rotten meat at the point where it’s started to liquefy. Hawk was leaning against a fat cauldron, gasping for breath and whiter than milk. Scattered around the room were assorted blades, saws, and sharp-looking tools, with a skeleton-adorned rack pushed into a far corner, and ancient splatters of blood painting the floor. A kettle of coals left to go cold sat in front of what remained of the collapsed fireplace, and an iron rod that once glowed red hot poked out of the kettle like a ladle.

Yet what clearly skewed Hawk’s stomach still hung on the walls, melting wrists still in their shackles. Four corpses too rotten to identify, with chunks of fat and flesh dripping off to reveal bones underneath. Hair had clumped into their liquid fat remains, and the smell coming off them almost made me want to vomit.

“This is no tomb.” I winced, pulling the neck of Hawk’s armour up over the bridge of my nose. “Place must have been abandoned in a rush, and they were left behind with the dead body of the assassin upstairs. The other Dark Brothers and Sisters must have killed him and then fled.”

“What…what next then?” Hawk began, pausing to dry retch.

Good point. Effe-Zeeis said the Night Mother was entombed here. Returning without her would be a failure. Yet nobody could work with this smell around.

“Every Sanctuary has a tomb. There’s bound to be some empty coffins there. Go get five of them and a shovel. The ones here must have done something. Chucking them in the sea should do it if we add stones to the casket. The assassin though…well we should bury him in the tomb. It’s not right to leave a Dark Brother out alone in the cold.”

“Why am I hauling the coffins?”

“Do you want to be giving the last rites of the Dark Brotherhood to the dead assassin upstairs? I can teach you them if you like.”

He heaved and stood up, knees shaking as he found his balance. “I’ll go find some.” He wheezed, before staggering out of the torture chamber like a drunken Khajiit.

* * *

Whoever the fallen assassin was in life, he died scared and in pain. I’d had to smooth out his expression from one of blind terror to that of the final peace one finds at the side of the Night Mother. I’d linked his gloved hands over his chest, slipping his ebony dagger beneath his palms, and Hawk had harvested all the nightshade he could find in the poisoner’s garden. Nice idea of his, to arrange it in the spaces between his body and the sides of the coffin. Yet now my work with the assassin’s body was done, and the sanctity of the grave awaited him. Standing solemn, head bowed, I muttered the last rites that all the Dark Brotherhood got upon their death.

“Tonight, my friend, shall we drink to your silent victory?

And even if our swords lay down, tonight we could stop to bleed.

The whispers said that when you fell, there was no one to see.

You suffered and you killed for us. We’re far, all far from glory.

There’s nothing left to save, but the guilt to build your grave. We will miss you… will miss you… Dark Child, oh agent of death.

Our Mother bade you die, her name in your last sigh. Shall we enjoy…the sorrow…of this or should we all…cry?”

Something about the last rites of the assassin always felt right. I don’t know if it was because they always came out like a bardic chant when I gave them, or the reminder they served of the connection that every member of the Dark Brotherhood had to death. Kneeling at his feet, I slid the coffin lid into place, sealing it closed so the lone assassin could rest.

“The empty shelf in the tomb’s all ready. You need a hand?” Hawk asked, standing by the stained glass depiction of Sithis where I had given the assassin his last rites. He’d behaved himself, bowing his head in respect and remaining silent through the small funeral, so he deserved a role in the burial.

“Of course. Thank you for this, Dark Brother.” I whispered, guiding him to bend and seize the other side of the coffin. “One, two three!”

We heaved and lifted it onto our shoulders, Hawk taking the right side at the feet, and I taking the left side at the head. “And again, one, two, three.”

We carried him down the long hallway to the tombs and laid his coffin on the shelf, adding a final nightshade atop the casket and leaving him in peaceful rest.

“So what now? Effe-Zeeis said I was to return the Night Mother to your Sanctuary until a new Listener is found, but well, you are the Listener. You can pick up a contract from her now.” Hawk asked once we left the Sanctuary tomb for the main room. The ashes on the cooking slab had gone cold, and the fireplace stood empty.

“Bit late to get a contract when the Night Mother is set to depart for a new tomb.”

He shuddered, looking over at me. “Thought one of your Tenets said to never disobey or refuse to carry out an order from a Dark Brotherhood superior.”

Trust him to miss the point. “Well if you don’t have any orders to follow, are you really refusing to carry them out?”

He paused, then just gave this little impressed nod. “I’m gonna use that whenever my sister bugs me about hanging around the Flagon before heists. So, you got any ideas for what now? This place is huge.”

“Well Sanctuaries always have certain features in them. Who knows, might find something cool. Come on, let’s have a look. Think this passage might have something good.”

I lead him down past two side rooms that seemed to be nothing but bedrooms. The hay and pelts on the first beds had started growing mould on them, and the stone vampire’s bed in the second room had a coating of dust on it thicker than an Orc.

“If your idea of good involves more spiderwebs than anything else, then yeah, perfect.” Hawk sniffed, disturbing a spider the size of a cooking pot as he picked up a dagger that someone had tried to make serrated. Whoever had done it…well they probably weren’t blacksmith of the era, and the dagger was no masterpiece. Certainly wasn’t like the mace I left on the table in the main room.

These rooms were a bit of a let-down, yet the door right at the end…well, that had to hold something behind it. Doors that big and elaborate always have something good behind them.

“How about in here? There’s gotta be something good in here.

Despite the dust in the other rooms, this one remained pretty pristine. It was huge too, with a double bed up on a small platform and two cupboards flanking it. A fat chest reared up from the foot of the bed, weapon racks lined the wall to my left, and to my right stood a clothed mannequin atop a table.

“Hey, those are Emperor’s robes!” Hawk exclaimed, rushing over and examining the mannequin’s attire. “This is real gold on the edging, and this is mountain lion fur! Shor’s bones, even if you raided the Black-Briar’s place you wouldn’t find this!”

What turned him into a clothier? Mind you, a thief needs to know his treasures. “The Dark Brotherhood killed the Emperor Titus Mede the Second in the fourth era two-oh-two. Bet those are his robes. Is there a circlet or something with it?”

“Yeah, it’s gold with two sapphires and a ruby.”

“Then those are the old Emperor’s robes.” I replied, skirting around this stone plinth and making my way to one of the cupboards. Black and red fabric bundles had been shoved onto one of the shelves, shimmering with magic and flashing the Black Hand at me.

“Hey, do you prefer robes or armour?” I asked, picking up the faded robes.

“Can robes stop a sword slash or a storm of arrows?”

“Guess that answers my question. Catch!”

I flung the armour over my shoulder and let it smack into the mannequin, flopping to the floor. “I said you needed a set of shrouded armour. Don’t worry about it being a bit snug, it’s supposed to be like that. Loose fabric can flap in any gusts of wind or puffs of air.”

Even without turning around, I could feel him staring daggers at me. “I’m not wearing this, it’s ridiculous.”

“Do you want to face a blizzard or a bandit without a skin of leather to hide behind?”

“Even if I did, I don’t think I’ll be able to fit into this.”

“Then breathe in. Don’t make me force you into it.”

“Wouldn’t say no to your hands on me again.”

I scrunched up a pair of worn shrouded gloves and flung them at him, catching him square in the chest. “Just put it on, I won’t look.” I sighed, turning around and dusting off the rest of the shrouded garments.

Must have been a good five minutes before Hawk told me to turn back around, cheeks redder than the leather patches on the armour. The ankles were halfway up his calves and every time he breathed out, the buckles keeping it half-closed threatened to snap off.

“Say a word to anyone and I’ll kill you.” He glowered, blush spreading across the bridge of his nose.

“I’m not telling anyone. This is pretty priceless.” I chuckled. If I could find a painter and learn Daro’Rihana’s paralysation spell, this would be perfect in case of blackmail.

“Now I see why your lot hide your faces. Even if this thing fit properly I’d still look like I belong on stage.”

Well the bare chest doesn’t help. “It suits you, and you need a set of shrouded armour. Helps you stay hidden and kill silently.”

He snorted, hiding a laugh. “Really? I look like I should be on a stage somewhere swallowing fire.”

If he gives me a torch I’ll set it alight for him. “Well what did you expect? Each armour is suited to the province it's made in.”

“It still feels ridiculous though. I'd have thought the Skyrim shrouded armour would be white to camouflage against the snow.”

“Real assassins don't wear white.”

Well at least I got him to crack a smile with that one. “Fair enough, I’d probably look even more ridiculous in white. It suits you though from what I’ve seen of you in it.”

He’d been slowly approaching me as he said it, slipping his arms around my waist once he got close enough. “Yeah, you look much better in it than I do.”

My arms wound around my shoulders as he picked me up, holding me against the cupboard. “You think so?” I replied.

“Of course. You look so much better in shrouded armour than I do, that this is for making me put it on in the first place.”

He hauled me up over his shoulder, one arm bolted over my legs before I could react. “Hey!” I yelped, “Put me down!”

He just laughed, carrying me through the Sanctuary and up to the Black Door. “Uh uh, you’ve been through fire and brimstone lately. After all that, well, I can’t think of anyone who deserves the chance to cool off more than you, killer.”

I could feel it coming like I could feel the ocean breeze tugging at my hair and the starlight glinting off my skin. As he seized my waist and threw me, I grabbed hold of the back of his armour and yanked him into the sea, turning with the throw so he got the full force of the water.

With a yelp like Banshee he emerged from the black waters, water spraying free and hair plastered to him. “Hey, no fair!” He spluttered, as I swam over to him.

“What? We’re a team now. You soak me, I soak you.” I chuckled, flicking a bit of water at him. “Come on, we’ll freeze half to death out here.”

“And you’d know all about methods of dying, wouldn’t you?”

“Well I am an assassin.” I chuckled, finding his hand beneath the water and leading him onto the beach. “A Sanctuary this cold has to have a few preserved things in the kitchen area. You get a fire going in the main room, I’ll make something up for us.”

He shivered as we left the water, digging footprints into the shingle of the beach and dripping seawater. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll desalinate some water and wash the salt off our armour. “

We had our own little operation going as we re-entered the Black Door, dripping and still giggling like little kids. “We really do make a good pair, you know.” I laughed. “Hey Hawk, you remember when you tried getting me to say that I loved you? I never answered, did I?”

He had a little smile on his face as he looked over at me. “No, indeed you didn’t. You got away, killer.”

“It isn’t getting away if you return, is it? I love you, Vincinere.”

He blushed again, cheeks glowing like the Red Mountain. “You love…me? You really love me?” He gasped.

“Of course. Didn’t you expect me to say that honestly?”

Hawk shook his head, reaching across to me. His hand slipped around to cup the back of my head, fingers weaving into my hair. “I love you too, Savil.” He whispered, before he pulled me close and kissed me. A bit rougher than last time and with a bit more urgency, with an almost primal feeling to it. Though we were both soaked to the skin and freezing, this deep warmth resonated between us and made the icy water steam off our skin.

“You’re just right for me, Savil. Your wit, your perfection, and your aim’s better than Ysgramor’s bowmaidens.” He murmured, tracing his fingers down the back of my neck. “I need you. By the Gods I need you.”

He groaned and shifted, holding me up against a wall as the cold stone nipped at my back. “You know I’ve wanted to say I love you for a while now, right? Since the night after the battle in that plane of Oblivion when you let me listen to you talking out your worries. Now I can actually say it. I love you, Savil Felaano. I love you and by the Gods I need you.”

His hand gripped my hip, going down my outer thigh, squeezing, touching, feeling through his Thieves’ Guild armour, moving around to the inside-

“Hawk, don’t!” I seized his hand and moved it aside. “I love you but don’t.”

He backed away, letting go of the back of my head. “What’s the problem?”

“Just…just don’t go there. I don’t want to.”

He was staring at me as if my skin had gone back to a delicate gold and my eyes no longer glowed with the curse of Azurah. “I thought you were- no, forget it.”

“You thought I was what?”

“Nothing! It’s just, I read in this book. We had the queen of the old capital of Mournhold – not Blacklight, the one before – in our Guild branch in Riften before she knew she was queen. There are these books about how she-”

“You’ve read The Real Barenziah, haven’t you? The second volume?”

Of course. That explained why he immediately went for my inner thigh. Usually anyone who makes a grab for me or any other elven woman does so purely because they’ve read that volume of The Real Barenziah and believe the part about elven girls becoming prostitutes just for the sex. The ones that ask if I’ll pull a Barenziah and turn away the septims always get an extra arrow to the crotch when I get the chance.

“Well…yes, but I didn’t-”

“You read that passage and thought you could have a quick go, didn’t you?”

“No, no I didn’t! I wasn’t thinking. I love you and just felt attracted so I-”

“Ran ahead and tried to feel me up? Thought I was up for it?”

“No, I just wasn’t thinking. I…I’m sorry, ok.”

I still held his wrist as he took another step back, his pulse practically leaping out under my fingers. “Do you mean it?”

“Of course I do. I wasn’t thinking, and I’m sorry for trying to feel you up so soon.” He replied, slipping his wrist out from between my fingers and taking my hand in his. “Friends again?”

He meant it. “What made you think we weren’t? Come on, let’s go dry off.”

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