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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14. Orphaned Family

The sands were waving hello at me. Ever-shifting, ever-moving, the dunes drifted past the chasm entrance, gliding around the knees of the little girl running ahead of me.

“Come on, Savil, you said you’d build a sandman with me!” Belle squealed. The gold ‘Princess rings’ Camena had added to her plaits were sparkling in the sun’s caress, twinkling like the little mirrors around the hems of her skirt and overdress. Her sun-scarf was pure white, weaving around her braids and tumbling down her back to end in golden tassels.

“I know, I’m coming. This is heavy, you know.” My voice escaped, lips moving without my control, as the two wooden buckets of cool water welded in my hands scraped the rocks beneath the sand. “Go find a good patch of sand. I’ll be along in a second.”

The sky was shifting colours as I dragged the two buckets out of the chasm. No longer blue, it flashed a cloud-filled grey, before darkening to purple, and then bleeding out into red as the sun seemed to vanish into a pit of eternal darkness.

“It’s so pretty out, Savil.” Belle cooed, an echo forming in her voice as she turned to look at me, and a silent scream formed in my throat, begging to be let out though I made no sound.

Her eyes had been completely blacked out, and thick blood was leaking down her cheeks. Her red waves had gone coal black, and her clothes were stretching, tearing to reveal bones as she grew to about my height. Her cheeks were fading to grey beneath the blood, and the innocence in her smile became the purest malice.

“I’m sure that Mother would like it.”

By the Gods…not again. “Night Mother…” I whispered, my voice returning to me from deep within the dream.

“Shh now, it’s ok to be frightened, my child. Mother’s sorry she sent you into danger.” She whispered, opening her bone-like arms to me. “Still, you pleased me by bringing another child into the fold of darkness.”

Her arms of ice wound around me, pure dread pulsing with her heart. “I have another task for you, true Listener.” She whispered, her airless chest laying still as she spoke. “The Dread Father wants you to see to this personally. There is a scorpion in the nest. Kill the false Listener. Let Sithis take them into their fold for deceiving you all.”

My stomach dropped, churning itself as the taste of half-digested whatever I had last night rose in my throat. “You…You want me to kill the Listener?”

A sigh escaped her shrivelled lips, whistling like air through a tomb. “No, this task is the wish of your Dread Father, not I. The false Listener should not be rewarded with death, but the Unholy Patron craves their soul.”

The Night Mother quivered as she let go of me; death-scented hair cascaded free as she dropped her arms. “Go now, my child. Take your brother in darkness and see to this task. Perform well, and I will reward you with something special of mine.”

She let go, and I started to plummet, slipping from her grasp and tumbling through the sand as I clutched at the smoke of her robe. Ever-flowing, the sand seemed to fall with me, like a river tumbling over the great waterfall running through Riverhold. The screams escaping my throat caught themselves in the cascade of sand, getting lost in the dunes as the sand carried me down…down…

“Wake up! We’re here. Why are you shaking? Are you ok? Wake up!”

I jolted, slipping partially off Hawk’s thighs and clonking my head on the edge of a chest as I fell back into my own body. A half-strangled yelp escaped me, like Banshee when she gets woken up, and the fur cloak I’d huddled under had tied itself around me like a prisoner’s rope bindings.

“Shh, it’s ok, Silence. Come on now, up you go.” Hawk whispered, his hands weaving around my waist and pulling me back up, unwrapping me from the cloak.

“Huh, what happened?” I groaned, my head throbbing where I’d hit the chest. The evening air’s kiss teased the hairs on my body, pulling them up on end underneath the fur armour I’d pinched from someone’s house. The clasps were glinting as I shifted, and Hawk looked even paler then usual underneath his Thieves’ Guild hood.

“You fell asleep and had a nightmare. Been asleep for a good few hours now.” He replied, draping the fur cloak back around my shoulders. “You know we’re almost at the next city. Just over there, look.”

His gloved hand pointed out at an amber glow in the distance. The light of a hundred Imperial and Khajiiti homes tumbling vertically down a cliff and petering out into open desert for an entire day of non-stop walking.

“Riverhold.” I muttered, a smile breaking out. “I’m almost home.”

After over a month, with a solid week just accompanying this merchant caravan, I was almost back home. Back to the Sanctuary with the warmest sands and safest walls. Back to the ones I’d called family for over a decade now, but with an addition. My new Dark Brother.

“Almost? How far do we have left?” Hawk asked, as I glanced out past the amber of Riverhold. Just out there, in the darkness of the desert beneath the sun’s farewell sky, my family waited, huddled in the Sanctuary. Half were probably winding down for sleep, and the unfortunate other half were probably preparing for a sanguine night.

“About twenty minutes if you’re used to desert walking. No idea if it’s anything like snow, so don’t know if you’re used to it.”

Twenty minutes out in the desert was nothing to me, but Hawk had this worried look in his eye at the mention of going out onto the warm sands. “What sort of things are out there?” He quaked.

Milk drinker. “Hyenas, red wolves, siligonder, red boar, bull elephants, lions, glyptodons, the Ne’Quin-Al lizard, leopards, minotaur, ragasha goblins, and that’s about it. There are rumours of other things, but I’ve never seen any before, and I’ve lived here all my life. Don’t worry, most’ll leave you alone unless you get too close, and I’ve killed one of every kind before.”

He still didn’t look convinced. “What even is a glyptodon, Nakken-Al lizard, or ragasha goblin?”

Same thing an ice wraith, horker, or chaurus is. “Glyptodon is like an armadillo. Scaly armour, rat-like face, vicious, good served with eidar cheese and ash yams. Ragasha goblin is just like a normal goblin, but has a more rat-like face and reddish skin. The Ne’Quin-Al lizard…put sand under an Argonian’s scales, fill him with skooma, and let him go. That’s a Ne’Quin-Al lizard.”

“I’ll remember that if I see one.” He replied, hopping off as the carriage groaned to a stop just by the upper gates of Riverhold, and the horses let out a tired whinny.

Home was in touching distance now. “Thanks for the lift. Remember, keep it hidden.” I called at the leading carriage of merchants, getting back a nod as that troublesome amulet of Talos disappeared down a merchant’s shirt.

Riverhold felt even more like a part of my world as I led Hawk through the upper gates and into the city. The calming musk of evening filled the air, as the braziers burnt low, and banners drifted in the lazy breeze. Down the cliff, towards the lower market, relaxing babbles of conversation ballooned up to us, alongside the slow strumming of a tavern bard’s lute, and the lonely song of a flute. The rich scent of the beggar’s tithe meal glided over from the temple, and everywhere, the soft tramping of guards’ boots gave Riverhold its heartbeat.

“City of sound, this is. Come on, I’ll take you back to my place.” I grinned, inviting Hawk to walk alongside me as we made our way down the steps and bridges.

“You can tell me about that dream you had. The one that had you wail and shake in your sleep.”

What? “I wasn’t wailing in my dream.”

“Well you were doing it in your sleep. Sounded like you’d just watched someone close to you die.”

Weird. “Well it was an odd dream. Maybe I was reacting to it. Come on, it’s this way, away from the setting sun. You go towards the sun, you’ll wind up in the town of Sakhatennu. Small place, but nice. Just between the two is the Summerstrider Oasis, where home’s named after. Everyone in the family just calls it the Anequina Sanctuary though.”

Hawk seemed pretty interested in my tour speech, focusing on me as we left the lower gates and I indicated different parts of the desert. “Anywhere in particular in the area I should check out?” He asked, inching closer to me as I guided him up over a sand dune.

“Well if you like, I could take you to the city south of here, Orcrest. If you can handle a wild life, I think you’ll like it. Shrine of Mauloch there’s taller than the city of Riverhold.”

Wild life…more like goblins, minotaur, and witches, oh my! Filth-ridden alleys, whores, and Orcish tribal life. At the same time though, Orcrest shouldn’t be any other way. Orcrest needs tame beasts like how a Thalmor needs murdering. They’re just a perfect copy.

“What about anything else? Anything in the Sanctuary?”

Eager little thief, aren’t we? “Well there’s training, some enchanting and magic work, alchemy, spending some time with the family, and of course, the Sanctuary pet, Banshee.”

“Banshee? Am I going to like this pet?” Hawk shuddered.

“Hey, she’s lovely. Tamest hyena you’ll ever met. Reckon she’ll be all over you; she loves new people. Just don’t let her lick you. That hyena’s got breath like the pits of Oblivion.”

“Hyenas are the ones that laugh, right? How’d you tame her?”

“No idea. She was around before I came. Think it’s her diet that’s let her live so long. Only the freshest contract victims.” He replied, as he shivered.

“She’s never actually eaten anyone, has she?”

“Not alive, no. Dead, yes. She ate the remains of the bitch that killed Orion Vautrelle. Plus anyone that’s been stupid enough to break into the Sanctuary. They all had it coming though, and Banshee never attacks unless commanded. Like a shaggy-furred cuddle dog, she is. Especially at night.”

Judging by the shaking in his fingertips, that didn’t comfort him one bit. “Don’t worry. I’ll be right by your side.”

Until I had to kill the Listener, but hopefully I could do that at night, when everyone was sleeping. I could get the Listener with a Coup de Grace, feed their body to Banshee, and disguise their death as…I dunno, they went out and never came back. Something like that.

“Killer, you’ve gone all weird again. Something on your mind?” Hawk asked, nudging my arm.

“Huh? Oh, no just lost in thought. Hey, you see that big cliff over there?” I asked, pointing out towards the coal black blot underneath the navy sky.

“Just, what about it?”

“That’s where the Sanctuary is. Come on, it’s in running distance now.” I replied, before breaking into a brisk jog, forcing him to follow after me.

“That big cliff’s the Sanctuary? Thought you lot were all about secrecy and hiding. That thing’s massive.”

Honestly, thought he’d know enough about concealment and disguise to work it out. “Not all of it. If you were quicker, you’d notice more.” I replied over my shoulder, weaving down a sand dune and beckoning Hawk to follow me down the narrow gorge.

There! The Black Door stood proud, a sentinel guarding the safety of the Dark Brotherhood. The handprint-adorned skull of Sithis grinned at us both, watching over the skeletal Matron of the Brotherhood as she stood above the five skeleton victims, knife in hand, beckoning us home. As we got closer, the hollow breathing turned into a sinister whisper.

“What is the garment of innocence?”

I turned to Hawk, sending him a welcoming grin. “The shroud, my brother.”

“You are not worthy.”

Huh? I turned back to the Black Door. “That’s the password though. What’s going on?”

Silence. “Hey!” I snapped.

“What is the garment of innocence?” The Black Door repeated, its hiss barely audible over Hawk’s giggling.

“I just told you. The shroud, my brother.”

“You must prove your worthiness.”

Had the Listener changed the password? “I did though!”

“No!” The Black Door hissed. “Dance for me!”

Wait…what? Over Hawk’s laughter, it seemed like the Black Door was tittering away at me.

“Do it! Nice and slowly.”

Oh for the sake of Sithis! “Effe-Zeeis, I know that’s you! Open up!”

The Black Door gave a clunk, swinging open to reveal the scaly jester and Daro’Rihana leaning against each other, barely able to contain their childish giggling. “Savil should have heard herself.” Daro’Rihana sniggered, clutching the familiar smashed-out pot they use to create the echoing voice of the Black Door.

How old were they? Twelve? Hawk included, as he was yelping like a hyena with its tail on fire behind me. “Very funny.” I growled. “Let me know when that gets old, or you two grow up, whichever comes first.”

“Oh come on, Savil, it’s just a bit of fun.” Effe-Zeeis chuckled, wiping a tear from his eye. “So who’s your companion?”

Hawk had been silent behind me until now, letting me do the talking and laughing to himself as I fell for their prank. Now he’d been addressed, he jumped right in, resting a hand on my shoulder as he extended the other to my two assassin friends.

“Hawk, pleased to meet you. I’m Savil’s mate, and her newest Dark Brother.”

Both of them paused, before Daro’Rihana tentatively took his hand. “Savil never told Brotherhood about you before.” She purred.

“I only met her back in Riften. Glad to be her companion and friend though.”

I could feel Effe-Zeeis tensing at his every word. “It’s good to meet you, Hawk. Both of you, come on in. Night is falling in its sanguine glory. Daro’Rihana, dear, why don’t you show him around?” He rasped, beckoning us both in, before seizing my arm and shoving me into the armoury, locking the doors behind us.

“What do you think you’re doing, Savil!” He hissed, his scaly tail thrashing behind him. “You brought an outsider into the Sanctuary!”

“He’s not an outsider. I recruited him, and he’s my friend!” I growled back, stalking over to my alcove and dropping my knapsack in the space.

“Your recruitments are unofficial, remember? Only a Speaker or the Listener can recruit a new Dark Sibling. He is still an outsider!”

“He has earned the right to be a part of the Dark Brotherhood!”

“Says who else? If only you know him, how can we trust this Hawk?”

I turned to scowl at the Argonian, arms folded and my bow shifting on my back. “Don’t believe me, go ask Huldra Bronze-Heart.”

“I can’t.”

“Then go ask her twin! The Bronze-Hearts know him.”

Effe-Zeeis let out a quiet growl behind his jagged fangs. “Skogsra Bronze-Heart is refusing to leave the Sanctuary’s tomb, even for blood. If you had been around, you’d know why.”

“I told you why I had to go. I didn’t know I’d pick up a friend worthy of joining the family on the way.”

He rasped again, tail thrashing against a workbench and making it rattle. “You’re going to have to explain this to the Listener, you know. All of this, not just your companion. The Listener authorised our newest Dark Sister, so they’ve got to authorise our potential Dark Brother.”

If I manage to get rid of the Listener, that won’t be a problem. “Fine, but he stays until then.” I hissed.

“You’re in charge of him, you realise. If anything goes wrong with him, you’re to blame.”

With a growl, I slipped past him. “Don’t worry, I know he’s ok.”

Effe-Zeeis was still thrashing his tail as he unlocked the armoury door and let me out. “Watch yourself, Savil. He is still unofficial. Oh, and Camena’s been pining for you. Even our newest Dark Sister cannot hold a candle to her bond with you.”

Newest Dark Sister? “I never heard of a new Dark Sister entering the family? Who is she?”

“She’s from the border city of Haven, close to the city of Torval. Corinthe is full, and we had space, so she’s part of the family. Do be nice to Dagafina, will you.”

That name did not sound good. “I’ll do my best.” I hissed, before sloping off down into the main room.

Empty as my grave, the gentle trickle of the spring going into the Sanctuary’s carved pool bounced off the stone walls, as the water cast the scales of a ghostly Argonian onto the walls. In the far right corner, the steps going down to the Sanctuary tomb were lit by red candles, and directly ahead, the locked doors to the Black Shrine cast a grim shadow over the wall. The kitchen area skulked down a short passage to my right, and to the left, the door to the rest of the chambers lay half-open, swaying in the night breeze passing through.

As I passed by the bathing pool, a quiet tune drifted from the kitchens. Soft, the wisp of a tune accompanying a rhythmic clunking sound, like wood on metal. It almost sounded like a child’s skipping rhyme, the kind Rosette’s daughter would sing whilst getting someone to turn the end of the long rope tied to an archery target. The song remained gliding up to meet me as I went into the kitchen, spotting the Altmer with her hair in braids bent over the cooking pot, stirring at something ironish and salty.

“Camena?” I whispered, as she looked up. Once again she’d changed her hair, braiding it close to the scalp on both sides, scraping the rest into a smooth bun, and curling the tendrils snaking down into a kind of chain-link style just beneath the bun. She’d slipped into a gauzy, Alinor-style gown in sea green, with bell sleeves hemmed in lace, a square neckline, and an airy skirt cascading from a gold belt around the middle of her ribs, and pinching in under a leather belt that held her axe..

“Savil? You…you’re back!” She gasped, letting the ladle in her hand slip into the cooking pot as she turned to face me, stretching her right palm out for me to touch. Slowly, as our palms connected, a smile like a sunbeam broke across her face, and she let out the relaxed sigh of a sleeping cat.

“It’s good to have you back. Savil, where in Oblivion have you been? You’ve been gone for weeks!” She exclaimed, taking her hand off mine and drawing up a chair for me.

“It’s…well, a long story. You’d be old and I’d be ash by the time I finished.” I sighed, sitting down as Camena went back to the cooking pot.

“Well, we have got the time. The Listener has elected to pick on our newest Dark Sister, Dagafina. There’s little chance of your story being interrupted.” Camena purred, going to the chopping board with a chunk of reddish-brown meat and beginning to dice it.

Dagafina…again with that name. “I’ll tell you tonight. By the way, who’s Dagafina? Effe-Zeeis mentioned her, but I’ve never heard of any Dagafina in the family.”

Camena paused, pressing her lips together as if blotting her lipstick, and adding the freshly-diced meat to the cooking pot. “Dagafina was recruited about three weeks after you vanished. She’s…nice. Likes to talk about everything and anything, but if you ask about herself, she’ll go on for eras. Very touchy-feely too. Big on showing affection.” Camena shuddered, pausing to impale the chopping board with the knife she’d been using. “Alright girl though. You’ll know her if you run into her.”

Definitely don’t ask Camena about Dagafina again. “What’s that you’re making? I thought you didn’t like red meat.” I asked, as Camena let out a sigh.

“I don’t, it’s not for me. Skogsra Bronze-Heart’s refusing to leave the Sanctuary tomb, and her kind can’t go three days without feeding. I thought I’d make her favourite vampire’s broth and bring it down to the lamb. Did Effe-Zeeis tell you about the Bronze-Hearts in Skyrim?”

“No, he didn’t, but I ran into them and they seemed fine. Why, what happened?”

Camena paused, taking the slab of human flesh out of the vampire’s cool-cupboard and dropping it down on the chopping board. She seemed to tremble, head dropped, and her voice thick. “Well the Bronze-Heart twins had a contract in Whiterun, from one of the Companions, to take out the Vigilant of S’rendarr camp outside the city. The Circle were going to wait on the sidelines, in case anything went wrong. Well…you know the eternal feud between those blessed by Hircine and cursed by Bal?”

I nodded, as Camena took a cloth to clean her hands, her voice cracking part-way. “The Circle of the Companions were werewolves. Skogsra managed to kill two, but Huldra…Huldra…”

She dropped the cloth as I got up, placing my palm to hers as her void salt eyeliner began escaping down her cheeks. “Skogsra gathered her ashes in a Nord’s urn and brought her home after she wiped out the Companions. Ever since Huldra was interred in the Sanctuary tomb, Skogsra’s refused to leave. Been sleeping on the bare rock, and I’ve been bringing her bottles of blood.”

Camena shifted her other hand so both our palms touched, as she sniffed back a tear painted black with eyeliner. “Huldra’s gone, Savil. She’s gone.”

I’d spoken to Huldra probably hours before the Vigilants raid, and now…she was gone. Reduced to a pile of ashes in an urn down in the Sanctuary tomb. The woman who came just before me, who taught me the ways of the Dark Brotherhood, supervised my first ten contracts, and took me under her night-kissed wings…now nothing but a pile of ashes forever in the Sanctuary tomb.

I don’t know how long I stood with Camena, but she seemed to need it. “Thank you, Savil.” She whispered, wiping her eyes and smearing black stuff all over her fingers.

“I’ll always be here if you need comfort, Camena. I understand.” I whispered back, offering her a wet cloth to clean herself off. “You gonna be ok now?”

“Sure…sure, I’ll be fine. Will you? I mean…Huldra was your mentor and all. She showed you everything about the Brotherhood.”

“That she did, yes, but everyone must return to the Dread Father. All she did for me, I’ll never forget, but now she serves our Dread Father, as we all will.”

Camena smiled, eyes red but sparkling. “Spoken just like a true Dark Sister, Sav-”

The crash and yelp came from across the Sanctuary, where the rest of the chambers were. The barking laughter came next, as Banshee decided to get involved in the chaos. “What in Oblivion was that?” Camena exclaimed, as Red Mountain’s fire burned in my cheeks. I’d given no thought to how I’d introduce Hawk to Camena, but it looks like he’d meet her in the midst of carnage. Definitely not the best first impression.

“Erm…well, funny thing. I, erm, well that Dagafina girl isn’t the only new Dark Sibling. I…well, made a friend.” I stammered, following Camena out of the kitchen and across to the chambers. Banshee’s laughter was getting louder, and just underneath it, a kind of spluttering sound that hid chuckling as we entered one of the empty chambers.

Hawk had been pinned to the wall, writhing and fighting as Banshee pinned him down. The pink flashing of her tongue matched her yelping laughter, and the fan of her tail was almost a blur. To the side, Daro’Rihana leaned against the wall, arms folded, letting Banshee work off all her excitement at seeing a new person and watching Hawk try to push off the hyperactive hyena.

“Banshee, come!” I snapped, making her jerk her head up and dash up to me, tail going and tongue hanging out as she rubbed against me. “Good girl. I see you’ve made a friend for life, Hawk.”

He chuckled and groaned, sitting up and wiping hyena drool off his face. “Something like that. She just dived on me. Thought she’d never stop.”

He’d stood up fully by the time he noticed Camena staring, lips parted, trembling hand searching for my palm. “You’re the Altmer good with an axe that Savil told me about. Camena, right? I’m Hawk, glad to meet you.”

Hawk must have listened when I told him about Camena and contact, as he didn’t even try to offer her a hand. Just a smile, soft and genuine, pulling back his hood to let her see him fully. “Is that your weapon there? It’s a beautiful piece of glass.”

I don’t even know how he did it, but for the first time since I’ve known Camena, a pinkish tinge had crept beneath her skin, blooming like a rose. “I…thank you…Hawk…” She stammered, her palm detaching from mine as she shifted her axe for him to see.

I wasn’t the only one in awe. Daro’Rihana was staring too, eyes as wide as in the middle of a skooma trip, in shock at Hawk’s charm. “Where did you find him?” She mouthed to me, ears fully pricked.

“Skyrim Thieves’ Guild.” I mouthed back, watching as Hawk admired Camena’s axe.

“Beautifully kept piece. Tell me, does it have a name?” He asked, as she blushed brighter.

“N-No…I never thought…well…have you named yours?”

Camena was almost the colour of a rose by then, her blush spreading as Hawk angled Goldbrand’s sheath towards her. “I didn’t need to. It came with a name burned into its flames. Goldbrand. A gift from my companion here.”

He’d definitely had some sort of an effect on Camena, as with her cheeks blooming, for the first time, she smiled for a practical stranger.

* * *

“Where did you find him though, Savil? He’s so…so…”

I leaned up in my bed, watching Camena as she struggled to find the words for Hawk. The whole time he’d been around her, he’d seemed genuinely interested, talking to her as if they were old friends but without weighing on her too much. Instead, Hawk had let her lead the conversation, and whenever she seemed uncomfortable, he switched the topic back to the axe now stored in the weapon rack by her bed.

“Not noble…not gentlemanly…just generally considerate. That’s it! Generally considerate. Where did you find him?”

She wouldn’t be saying that about him if she knew him from the start, that’s for sure. “In Skyrim, like I said. He started as my guide, then my travelling companion, and he proved himself worthy of being part of the Dark Brotherhood. Saved my life a couple of times, if I’m honest.”

If Hawk could hear us together, talking about him in our chamber as I helped Camena wind down for the night, he’d blush brighter than Camena did at his introduction. Thankfully he’d settled into his own chamber, probably giving Banshee a stroke behind the ears as he lay in bed, heading off to sleep. The contract the Night Mother had given me would be far easier if everyone at risk of catching me was settled into sleep.

“Saved your life? Are you and him…well, Orion and Rosette?” She pressed.

“What? No, not a chance. Hawk’s great and all, but he’s no Orion, and I’m no Rosette.” I chuckled, Red Mountain’s coals ablaze in my cheeks. Him, my partner? Well he had a better chance than anybody else, but that was still no chance at all.

“You do seem tailor-made for each other. Think Effe-Zeeis may get jealous of him.”

“Pfft, yeah right. Lizards and elves aren’t exactly the best combination, biologically and socially speaking.”

“Neither are ancient elves and men, but that’s how we got Bretons.”

“Bretons look alright though. The child of an elf and a lizard just doesn’t bear thought.”

Camena shuddered then, her giggle turning into a cringe. “A little you with scales and a tail. Just…just no.”

“A little me full stop is just no.” I replied, before shivering, faking a yawn behind my hand. “Been a long day. Travelling across half of Tamriel really takes it out of you.”

“I can imagine.” She yawned, seemingly deflating within her shrouded robes as she sighed and settled down under the furs. “Sithis watch over you, Savil.”

“Sithis watch over you, Camena.” I sighed, turning over onto my side so I faced the door, and waited.

Camena could take hours to fall asleep, and even if she did drift off, the slightest noise could have her jump up, axe in hand, staring with her hair standing on end and her eyes like the twin moons. If she did fall asleep, I’d have to move as silent as the whisper of steel on ice if I were to sneak out.

Then there was Skogsra, down in the Sanctuary tomb. Vampires have acute senses, especially hearing and smell. A familiar scent like mine would stand out. I’d just have to hope Camena’s vampire’s broth helped send her to sleep. She could do with a peaceful respite after…well, Huldra…

The prickles snuck in, stealing up to attack my eyes and draw out tears. Huldra was my mentor here, and my friend, and she was gone. Reduced to nothing but ashes in an urn. Huldra had been everything to me when I first joined. My lighthouse guide, my standing rock, and my companion. I’d even been willing to let her and Skogsra take a little blood from me in the past. She was just…well, a sister. A sister of opposing blood.

I should go down there and pay my respects in time. Say goodbye to Huldra, and leave her an offering. If I can get ash yams, I will, but if not…human blood perhaps? Or a human heart. That would be good. That which gives both life to the living and life to the dead is a perfect offering at the tomb of a vampire.

Camena shifted next to me, one leg extending as sleep’s anaesthetic flooded her. Hopefully her dreams would be courteous, calming and swaddling her in comfort. Her waking from a nightmare and coming to find me before I took out the Listener was the last thing I wanted.

I don’t know how long I waited before slipping out of bed, eyes trained on Camena as she slept. Stone flooring chilled my bare feet as I crept, toes-only, out of our chamber, shutting the door as soft as the kiss of a feather, and creeping into the armoury.

With shrouded shoes on to muffle my feet, and the shrouded hood to help me sneak, I slid my bow and her quiver on, and dropped into a crouch as I left the armoury. Obeying the Night Mother and killing the Listener would be far easier if I couldn’t be detected by anyone. Witnesses, even in the family, were never good.

Sound was flooding the main room. As the trickling of water gushed into the bathing pool, the Argonian ghost had cast his scales to writhe upon the walls, sparkling with pure light as the creature slithered through the stone. The orbs of magelight stuck in every corner had dimmed with time, letting clusters of shadows filter through. The soft hush of tired breathing drifted up from the chambers, and somewhere down there, Banshee dreamed of other hyenas and chasing those Khajiit that look like house cats, Alfiq. She was yipping in her sleep as I crept towards the Black Shrine doors, probably twitching her paws against whoever she’d decided to snuggle with tonight.

Hawk, most likely. She snuggled with me on my first night in the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary, so she’ll probably do the same to him. Crouched by the door, the hem of my shrouded robes brushed the dusting of sand on the stone floor, swishing as I shifted and fished out a lockpick and shiv. This had better work out quick.

I began fiddling, flirting with the key pins and driver pins as the lock jiggled, shifting as I searched for the pressure plate that would send the keyhole swinging sundial-wise and pull back the locking bar.

Damn! The lockpick handle went loose, the broken end sliding out into my hand. With a muttered curse, I slid another pick in, fumbling around the edge of the lock as I shifted the pins out of the way.

“Care to explain what you’re doing?” The piercing wheedle came from behind me, as the pick snapped. Shuddering, I withdrew the shiv, glancing up at the cockroach that had infested the Sanctuary.

It was a pip-squeak even by cockroach standards; the top of its head barely reached my chest, and I was about average for a Dunmer. Against Camena, the vermin would have trouble reaching her navel. Its skin was the typical wood brown, and its beady eyes were pure black and glossy, blinking up at me as it folded its arms. Strangely for a cockroach, its hair had been coloured a deep red, bound back into two thick braids down to its waist, like antennae.

“Who in Oblivion are you?” I snapped, my fingers twitching. Oh if only the Anequina Fighters’ Guild included Wood Elves as part of their pest control service. Would save me an arrow, and borrowing an ebony mace from the armoury just to check that it’s dead.

“Who am I? Dagafina of Haven, that’s who! Hunter of man, mer, and beast. Gatherer of bone, fur, and flesh. Ranger, bladesman, and messenger of death, wielding the rank of Murderer like a knife in the dark. Now who in the name of Sithis are you, and why were you trying to break into the Black Shrine?”

Camena wasn’t kidding when she said Dagafina talked a lot. At least she’d be easy to lie to. Those who talk without stopping rarely listen properly. “That’s not important. Didn’t you hear the thud in there? Like heavy armour.”

It twitched its head, the fanged ties on the end of its antennae braids skittering across its shrouded armour. “Thud? What thud? I never heard anything like heavy armour from in there, and I’ve been back for an hour now, down in the kitchens. Only thing I heard was you picking the lock, Ash Elf.”

Ash Elf! Be lucky you’re in the family, cockroach! “First, it’s Dunmer. Secondly, I’ve heard the thud of heavy armour many times. I know that sound like the back of my hand. Not once before has it come from in the Black Shrine, and I’ve been here far longer than you have.”

Dagafina had this little smirk, like she was sucking on a siligonder egg. “If you heard it but I didn’t, where in the Sanctuary were you? Only place nearer than the kitchen is the chamber corridor, and all of the chambers are occupied but one. I know every occupant of the others. Not one of them is an Ash Elf.”

Family ties will be thinner than my bowstring in a second. “They’re all taken now. Had a new Dark Brother come in today, and I was with him. Heard the thud shortly after he fell asleep. I reckon there’s something going on in there that needs checking up on.”

It was a daring lie, but I knew Hawk would back me up. If needed though…I’d think of something that would convince the cockroach. They’re not exactly known for being bright.

“If you think there’s something going on in there, why didn’t you call for help instead of trying to go in alone?”

Definitely not the brightest of mer. “You know how the Listener picks on those they don’t like? I don’t want to risk getting others on their bad side and sent across the continent from now until Last Seed.”

The cockroach Dagafina pursed her lips, folding its arms over the front of its shrouded robes. “Fine, but I’m coming in with you, Ash Elf. I don’t trust you, whoever you are.”

Gods damn it! Of all the tag-alongs I could have gotten, it had to be her. A Gods-cursed Bosmer!

Though wait…this could work to my advantage. I could get them both at once. The Listener always wears those veiled robes, similar to Dagafina’s ones, and a well-drawn arrow can slice through cloth like a scythe through wheat. If I aimed for a flesh-packed part, like the abdomen, I might just be able to pierce them both on a single shot. The Night Mother’s contract gets fulfilled, and the Sanctuary gets a bit of pest control.

“We’re in the same boat then, Savage Elf.” I snapped, crouching back down and resuming picking the lock. She has no proof that I was born in ash, but every cockroach of Valenwood has it in them to be a savage, feasting on the flesh of the dead.

She stayed quiet as I worked on the lock, finally getting the pressure plate and swinging the lock. With a clunk, the handle dropped, and from barely the touch of a feather, the door tumbled inwards off its hinges.

“Is that normal? Has anyone ever seen the Listener go in or out of here before now?”

Damn it, shut up Savage Elf! “Many times. Told you something’s not right. Get the Oblivion down and follow me.” I hissed, pulling out my bow and creeping over the fallen door.

She still wouldn’t shut up, even when creeping up the flight of stairs to the Black Shrine. “Do you really think you’ll be able to do any damage with that bow? You’ve not really got the eye, you know.”

I was about to turn around and hit her with a bash attack in the jaw, when something thunked up above, just past the opening to the shrine. Not like a door opening, but like…like someone had thrown a blunt weapon at the wall.

Perhaps my lie was becoming true. Best clear out the danger first. “If you think you can do any better, go right ahead. Go scout out the place.” I hissed, beckoning her to go ahead.

If only I could get away with it. One trip sending her back down the stairs to a crushed skull and a place in the Void. If only there wasn’t the chance she’d scream, waking the Sanctuary and ruining my chance. No, best let her pass right by me, her robes drifting as she slips up the stairs and into the Black Shrine.

“Ash Elf…you’d better come and look. I don’t like the looks of this one bit.” The cockroach hissed, straightening up from a crouch. Gods damn her, get down and learn how to whisper! Does she want to wake everyone here and get them on our case? Should have put her down and fed her corpse to Banshee.

“What is it? What’s going on?” I hissed, staying in a crouch as I peered into the Black Shrine.

It looked more like the inside of a wizard’s tower. One of those old mushroom ones, where the creepy Great House Councillors lived and worked. On every available surface, including the great statue of a twisted woman, scrolls, tomes and a rainbow of soul gems had been slotted in. The altar of Sithis, with its stone skeleton of offerings, now resembled a scholar’s desk groaning with opened books and scribbled notes. The abandoned plinth for our Unholy Matron’s spiritual presence was covered in a pyramid of scrolls, and on the only bare patch of floor, a sigil of Daedric lettering had been painted in deep red and bone white.

“Is the Listener like, a mage or something? Nobody else would have all this.” The cockroach hissed, picking its way over the sigil and over to the altar. “Yeah…Destruction’s the one with the weird fiery hand symbol, and Conjuration’s got the Daedric letter. Your lot worship Daedra, you’ll know what this means, right?”

Please let me deck the cockroach. “Not all of it. Check the tomes, they might say what spells they’re for. I’ll see if I can find any evidence.”

That would keep the cockroach distracted for a bit. Slipping behind the twisted statue, I dropped back into a crouch, searching for any side passages. If the Listener was here, I’d have to hope for a silent Coup de Grace, then either take out Dagafina, or blame the murder on her.

“Hey Ash Elf, is a Daedroth like a type of Dremora?”

For Azurah’s sake! “No, it’s different. Is Conjuration the main school here then?” I hissed back, as a creak sounded from my side, and I drew out the blue crystals that glowed red deep within.

“Looks like it, Ash Elf. Never really figured the Listener for a mage.” Dagafina replied, before I let the crackles of magic envelop me in warm invisibility as a stone wall across the room began sliding down into the earth.

“And what do you think you’re doing in here?” The Listener growled, slipping through the gap where the stone was. Their robes seemed crumpled with sleep, and they’d tied a simple cowl across their nose with a piece of red cloth, leaving their Redguard skin exposed.

“Listener? Listener, I caught this Ash Elf, a Dark Sister who tried breaking in here. She said she heard a noise up here and wanted to investigate.” Dagafina pleaded, dropping the tome she’d picked up, and began looking around.

“Ash Elf? The only Dunmer in the family is that traitor, Felaano, and she vanished months ago. Do you mean to say she has returned?”

Damn! Looks like I’ll have no choice. Remaining invisible, I swiped a random scroll, and unfurled it. The Daedric lettering written upon it had to be read aloud, letter by letter, for the summoning to work. My only hope was to pray this worked.

“Khot Yahkem Neht Vehk Ayem Lyr, Cess Oht Meht Ekem!” I hissed, as the scroll began to dissolve, and the veil between worlds grew thin. With a crack, my invisibility dispelled, and through a flaming portal stepped the horned demon, clutching a double-edged greatsword.

Damn to Oblivion! Summoning a dremora may not have been the wisest move I ever made. He roared, swinging its blade at Dagafina as she pulled out a bow and took aim at the lesser daedra. She was sent flying, a gash painting itself up her jaw as she slammed into the wall. With a waterlogged screech, it turned upon the Listener, glaring at the Redguard wrapped in veils with the fires of Oblivion in its black eyes.

“Mortal churl, are you prepared for your death?” It growled, voice bubbling like a river’s rapids, but at the same time slick like oil. With a grunt, he swung his greatsword right into the Listener’s chest, piercing it clean through and shoving them against the twisted statue so the remains of a stone hand pierced clean through their torn robes, holding out their quivering heart as blood gushed from the wound.

Well that was one way of doing it. I didn’t even waste an arrow on the Listener or the cockroach when it came to getting them out of the way. As the dremora was cast back to Oblivion, I stretched up from crouching and checked the two victims.

Dagafina lived, but the Listener, oh the Listener, had died in the arms of the statue. Their heart had stilled, and poking from the wound were the shattered remains of their ribcage and assorted chunks of lung. Blood still poured down their robes, dripping onto the floor as with a snap, I broke the ribbon tying on their cowl and yanked it off.

That was the Listener? A Redguard woman, directly from Hammerfell if the golden tattoo of a leafy vine growing off her lips was anything to go by. Though blank and lifeless, her eyes once shone, glimmering with dark youth now stolen by the blow of a summoned dremora. Her summoned dremora! It was her scroll I stole and used. If I knew it did what it did, would I still have used it?

Probably not. Impaling the Listener on the twisted remains of the statue in the Black Shrine seems a bit…extreme. A Coup de Grace is quick and discreet. Leaving her body like this just seemed wrong.

A muttering came from across the room, where the cockroach hadn’t quite been crushed. Damn it, no time now! Pausing to swipe a battered tome from the Listener’s robes, I filled my hands with her dripping blood and worked it through my hair, creating a solid mass of blood clots and ick. As Dagafina groaned again, I lay down, eyes closed, letting myself go limp as the Listener’s blood dripped upon me.

“Listener…Ash Elf…what was that?” The start of more yapping ceased with a scream, as that savage gained enough consciousness to see us both. The corpse and the injured, battered by a dremora attack.

She screamed again, scrambling and staggering as I shifted, pulling myself up onto my elbows and slipping in the Listener’s blood. “Help,” I whispered, as she screamed once more and staggered back down from the Black Shrine.

Good. I’ve got her convinced of my innocence now. If you look injured, people tend to think you’re innocent. Especially involving a summoned creature. Staggering, faking a slip to get more blood on me, I clung to the crook of the statue’s twisted arm, splaying one leg out beneath me. Play weak, play injured. Get the family on my side.

A thundering of footsteps came up the Black Shrine steps, going over the door and rattling it as Dagafina came back in. “I don’t know where that thing came from, but it killed the Listener.” She gasped, sinking back against the wall once she returned, letting the rest of the family stagger in, encrusted with sleep.

“What the…Savil? What happened here? Is that…that’s the Listener!” Effe-Zeeis rasped, slipping free to the front as Rosette guided Belle not to look.

“Dr-Dremora attack.” I groaned. “I heard a noise earlier and went to investigate. Dagafina caught me breaking in here and came with me. Listener was a mage. Think the dremora was a summons that went wrong.”

With that I tumbled down, slamming into the ground and the puddle of the Listener’s blood. “Lucky to be alive…both of us.” I winced, air hissing between my teeth as a strong arm hooked under my arms and hauled me up to lean on them. As I clung, the fresh scent of outdoors and companionship came to me, and I looked up into Hawk’s russet eyes as he helped me stand.

“This one cannot believe it…the Listener…dead! By Sithis! Though, Savil, how could you hear what went on? This one heard nothing and rests their head nearer to the Listener than Savil.” Daro’Rihana purred.

Damn! Curse her Khajiit hearing! Unless… “I wasn’t in my chamber. I was with Hawk. We heard the noise, I told him to wait, and Dagafina caught me breaking in to check what was going on.”

This was all news to him, but my lie seemed to weave around Hawk and tease him into playing along with my scheme. “I slipped out when Camena fell asleep to meet Hawk. Just didn’t want him getting hurt.”

It was the one thing left. The deal-sealer. People would believe me for sure if I did this. My chin tilted up, I wound my least-bloody hand to the back of Hawk’s head, and forced him to kiss me.

I think he was more surprised with it than anyone else. Brief, lasting just a second, it was only one kiss, but pretty forceful, stopping him from pulling away and avoiding it. He’d have blown it all away if he did that, exposing my lie.

I’d done it. With just one brief kiss, I’d convinced them. After all, what reason was there now for my story to be doubted?

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