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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17. Purest Sadism

Black. Black pain locking its jaws around me. Black shadows dancing in my head. Black water lapping around my ankles.

I could have cursed whoever impaled me with the blade of light, cutting through to open my eyes to the cesspit of straw and iron chains on the wall. Blinking, I only had time to notice the black robed figure approach me before glass broke against my cheek and mauled my face.

“Sleep well?”

Blood oozed from the chunks of glass that had embedded themselves in my skin, leaking free to drop into the cool water I stood in. A groan slipped out as I looked up, peering through the bloody veil at the black-robed figure towering up to block the light of the doorway.

“I bet you wish you’d never woken up. Don’t worry, I wish you’d never woken up too.”

The golden trim on his robes glinted as he paced around me, sending the pit of my stomach plummeting down to Oblivion. “Thalmor…” I squeaked, as the black-robed Altmer chuckled.

“Oh so you do know who we are then! I bet you know more about the Dark Brotherhood though.”

Fireblood! “Never heard of them.” I snapped, my voice cracking and splitting, threatening to join the rest of me in bleeding.

The Altmer grinned, leaning over to meet my eyes. “Nobody survives an interrogation from Cirrilamil.” He hissed, before straightening back up and resuming his pacing back and forth in front of me, like a pendulum swinging on its chain. “I won’t ask so nicely again. What do you know of the Dark Brotherhood?” He barked.

“I told you I’ve never heard of them.” I replied, as a scowl crossed Cirrilamil’s golden face.

“Sindedil!” He barked, before the death rattle of a chain rang out and I was dragged backwards, pulled down as the water smothered me. Cold and sour, it flooded my nose, gushing into my mouth as I struggled against the iron bar my wrists had been shackled to, pinning me to the bottom of the stone pool as my lungs began to burn and I thrashed, fighting against the dead weight.

It seemed like a miracle when I was finally dragged up out of the water, gasping for stale air as the bar was hauled up with me. “A deep sleep and a refreshing bath. Sindedil, we do spoil our prisoners, don’t we?”

“Indeed we do, Cirrilamil. Indeed we do.” A second PissSkin purred from somewhere behind me. Great…he must be the one activating the water torture device, unhooking the chain to let the bar drop then hauling it back into place.

“And still they refuse to talk. But you’ll talk, Dark Elf, if you know what’s good for you. What do you know of the Dark Brotherhood? A patrol picked you up on the road to the abandoned Fort Farragut and you were wearing the torn remains of their armour.”

Agh, nchow! “I don’t know anything, ok? I don’t remember being picked up anywhere!”

Cirrilamil jerked his chin up, and once more I was plunged into the water to flail and struggle against the shackles. Above, the candlelight spells barely poked through, remaining as blue blurs through the ripples as I flailed and spluttered for breath.

“Bring her out halfway!” Cirrilamil’s bark barely reached me through the drips and the blessing of stale air burning my lungs. “I think a little further persuasion should loosen her tongue.”

The water clung to my waist, stinging and nipping at the deep wounds Molag Bal’s claws had left behind. “This will only hurt for as long as you refuse to talk.” He purred, before purple bolts of lightening sprung up in his palm and leapt into the water.

I couldn’t help but scream, tugging against the shackles binding my wrists as the shock spread through me, crackling and hissing as the water bubbled and hissed like a cauldron.

“Now answer me, Dark Elf! We know you’re in the Dark Brotherhood. Who do you answer to?”

I glared up at him, water still dripping into my eyes. Though it burned and ached, tearing at my skin and crushing my lungs, they could only go so far. It’s burned into the mind of every assassin, the rules of torture and interrogation. The victim is the only irreplaceable person in that room. Even if they’re part of a group, the low chance of finding and capturing another member alive makes the victim valuable. Killing them is more trouble than it’s worth.

“Everyone answers to the Thalmor. They’re the Mistress that must be appeased if you want to live. Well, figuratively of course. Nothing could be more unlikely than someone actually wanting a Thalmor slut in their bed. Although most of Tamriel’s figureheads are already in bed with half of you s’wits. Wouldn’t want to deny our Thalmor oppressors now.”

I should have expected the bar to drop again, plunging me underwater as the shock spell danced through and threatened to boil me alive once more. The bubbles clung to me, scraping my skin like hot blades as I gasped for breath, kicking and flailing, begging for air and straining to slip free from the iron binds around my wrists.

“Don’t make us regret not leaving you there in a pool of blood. Who do you answer to, ash bitch?”

“PissSkinned goldenrod!”

Once more the iron bar was dropped and I was jerked underwater, pulling at my shackles as sparks shot through once more. As I thrashed, the water boiled, bubbling and scraping at my skin as the lightening forced me into spasms and the water flooded in to crush my lungs.

“Answer me!” Cirrilamil barked once I’d been dragged out again.

I glared up at the s’wit, water running down my face, and spat in his eye; that earned me a slap from the flat of a glass sword, leaving a deep and bloody trench across the bridge of my nose.

“Drop her up to her neck and leave the ash bitch there, Sindedil! We have our ways of making the caged firebird sing.”

The two PissSkins left me dangling up to my neck in the water, peering over the side of the pool as they left, shutting the barred door behind them. Dripping wet and bleeding, I was working on pulling my hands free when the Cockroach scuttled up, peering through the bars of the cell opposite.

“Yer wasting yer time, moon sugar cheeks. Nobody’s ever broken out of the water cell yet.” He yelled through the bars.

“Shut it, cannibal bastard!” I yelled back, jerking forward and sending a wave of bloody water sloshing over the edge.

“Oooh, got the mouth o’a sailor too. My my, I must surely be dead and at the side o’Auri-El to look upon such a vision. My dear Dunmer maiden, yer’d make the naiads jealous. Yer know…there’s a Justiciar ‘ere that owes me a favour. Could get me put in that water cell with yer. Like the idea of that? Water makes what I’d do to yer ‘urt less, an’ yer should have a bit o’ fun before the end. Bet that’s what ‘urts the most, doesn’t it? We all know ‘ow much of a whore yer Dunmer girls can be. Don’t worry, old Glargoth will give yer one last night o’ satisfaction, little Dunmer. Gotta cut that tongue o’ yers out before I get close to yer though. That kinda talk won’t get yer bed warmed.”

Great. A pervert Bosmer. “How about I skin you alive and shove your own pelt up what’s left!” I snapped, as he chuckled.

“A freaky one, eh? Bet you got yerself arrested deliberately. Get off on the shackles an’ the shock torture. Go on, what’cha in fer? Bet this good old thief could search all your flesh pockets for treasure.”

Pervert. Nothing but a coward sheltering behind the bars of his cell as my shackles acted as his guards.

Bet I could scare him though.

I grinned, licking a bit of blood running past the corner of my lips. “Suspected affiliations with the Dark Brotherhood.”

He froze, beetle-black eyes widening to the size of ebony ore chunks. “You’re…” He squeaked, as the irons on his wrists began rattling.

“Yep.” I smirked. “So bet this good old assassin could accommodate a blade or two in your heart!”

He squeaked and scurried away to the back of his cell where the shadows lurked, wrist irons rattling as he quivered. Huh, nothing but a coward of a Bosmer. A trembling rat.

“Aha, so you are in the Dark Brotherhood!”

I could have cursed when the Thalmor interrogator Cirrilamil appeared around the corner, clutching a wicked-looking blade in his hand. “Get another off guard and you’ve earned your freedom, Glargoth. Have to admit I’m gonna miss it all when you’re gone. Late night beatings included.”

“And I will miss the little favours you owed me after every rat trap. Tell me, would you be able to slip me in the same cell as your little poppet? You may find her tongue’s a bit looser after a while.”

Cirrilamil was chuckling to himself as he opened up my cell door, keys jangling as he beckoned for his lackey Sindedil to follow in. “I’m sure we can arrange something, Glargoth.” He purred over his shoulder, beginning his familiar pacing around the pool.

“Son of a human!” I spat, earning myself a lightening bolt sent into the water. “I’ll never tell you anything!”

He jerked his chin at Sindedil and I was hauled up out of the water. Once in the open air, the cold stuck to my bare skin, threatening to freeze the water dripping off me. “Oh you will, ash bitch. Everyone talks eventually. A night shackled in a cell with Glargoth is the last of your worries.”

If that Cockroach comes anywhere near me, I’ll switch his two heads around. Gods, if Molag Bal hadn’t taken my bow I’d have…

I’d have probably died on the road, that’s what I’d have done. Thalmor are far too cowardly to go near an armed opponent. “Well I’m not everyone. Not everyone can be in the Dark Brotherhood, but everyone can be their victim. You’re next.” I spat, earning myself another slap with the flat of Cirrilamil’s sword as the iron bar was dropped.

Air was snatched from my lungs as I went underwater, choking me with water and my own screams as sparks bit into every part of flesh they could get at. The slap had dislodged me from holding my breath, leaving me thrashing and straining for the stale, sour air of the squalid dungeon the Thalmor held me in.

“Threats do no good if they can’t be followed up on. You would do good to learn that, ash bitch. Here’s an example of a threat that can be followed up on. Tell us who you answer to or your skin will hang from the battlements of Castle Cheydinhal!” Cirrilamil barked as I was hauled out, spluttering and gasping for breath as the water dripped off my bare skin.

“You’ll have to get it off me first.” I groaned, spluttering and clearing myself of the sour water.

The PissSkin wore the grin of a snake, gesturing to his lackey to jerk me out of the water by my wrists. “Oh that shouldn’t be a problem.” He purred, slapping a gloved hand against the trenched scars running down from my navel and the small of my back. “It would seem somebody’s already begun the process for me.”

I tensed as he dug a gloved finger into my back, dragging it down through the wound like a knife. “Unusual wounds, but they will make this whole process so much easier. If only you had given us what we wanted. Sindedil!”

“Get off, goldenrod!” I growled, tugging my bare leg away as Sindedil seized my ankle and jerked my leg out to the side, reaching for a manacle and chain on the wall. “Get the –”

CRACK!

“– off me!”

My other leg swung across and struck gold, kicking the PissSkin right in his flaxen face so blood spurted from his jaw and he was forced backwards into the wall with a thud. “Ash bitch!” The remaining one roared, before the chain went slack and I was dunked underwater.

That Justiciar was gonna kill me. Second rule of interrogation, as irreplaceable as you may be, if you attack an interrogator even in reaction to torture, expect to be killed. Attacking means you’re no longer worth enough to be kept alive. It was almost a blessing from Azurah when I was hauled out of the water to face the two Justiciars again.

The one I kicked, Sindedil, had blood dripping from his lips and the start of a bruise where my foot struck him. His hands held onto two pulses of shock, and the second I was fully out of the water, he forced the bolts of pain within to arc onto my bare flesh and singe me to my core. “You will pay, Dunmer wretch!” He growled, forcing a bolt into one of the wounds carving themselves into me as a shriek of pain ran up my left leg.

“Ha! You are but a dog, and now I am your master.” The crunching of my bones being pierced crawled up my leg, as Cirrilamil tightened the spike bite around my ankle and jerked my leg out to the side. “We should have left you to die on the road. The healing spells used to keep you alive were nothing but wasted magicka. Now talk, scum of Morrowind!”

He shackled the spike bite to the wall so my leg was fixed in place, complete with blood dripping from the reopening wounds. “If only you golden-blades had stayed out of the mainland. We never had a problem with pollution before you showed up!”

I didn’t even care that I screamed as the blade went into the top of my thigh, skimming down my leg and peeling away the skin. Blood leaked free, pooling in the open wound as the slab of my skin was torn off and flung on the ground with a wet slap. “I won’t ask again! Who gives your…orders?”

Cirrilamil shoved the blade into my skin once more, this time scraping off the flesh on my shin. “Egallia!” I hissed, as the blade bit in.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Cirrilamil hissed, impaling the knife into the remains of my thigh muscle. “Egallia, did you say? As in, Count Fendelen Egallia? Cheydinhal’s count has no time for the likes of you, even if you share the same ashen blood.”

Oh he will have time for the likes of me. My tongue was dripping black, the lie as bloodstained as the walls of Coldharbour. If Molag Bal wanted me to deliver the Count’s soul to him, then he will be wrapped in a package of lies. “I know he won’t…he’s the one who threw me from the arms of the Dark Brotherhood like a daughter when a son was wanted.”

The Justiciar paused, yanking his knife from my thigh and carving a trench in my flesh. “Count Fendelen Egallia, a member of the Dark Brotherhood? Are you that frail in mind that you’d think we’d actually believe that?”

“He’s not a member.” I groaned, shifting my leg as the fanged jaw of the clamp squeezed around my ankle. “He’s just a sympathiser. Count Fendelen Egallia knows the Dark Brotherhood thrives in Cheydinhal, he knows where our base of operations is, and he’s even been there a few times. He’s the one who scarred me, sliced me to pieces this way.”

“In that case I’ll see to it myself that Cheydinhal’s Count is officially promoted under the Thalmor.”

“He tried to kill me as I was going to betray the Dark Brotherhood; caught me on my way back from Skyrim. It was a good racket while it lasted, and the money was good, but it’s time to move on. Better things for me to do.”

Cirrilamil seemed pensive, resuming his pacing in front of me. “I dare say we’ll need evidence of your accusation. If your information is correct…I suppose we can grant you a painless execution.” He purred, stroking the hilt of his glass sword.

“Unshackle my leg and I can tell you all about how to get all you need. All you need to do is let me use the Sixth Tenet on him. He’d be powerless but to agree to it, on pain of invoking the Wrath of our Dread Father.”

The lie still sat on my tongue, sweet and gelatinous like swallowing a spoonful of honey. I had no idea if Count Fendelen Egallia had any knowledge of Cyrodiil’s branch of the Dark Brotherhood, but I knew the Sixth Tenet was about as genuine as a Dwarven septim. Yet the PissSkin had hinted that the Count was another Dunmer. Denying a challenge from another Dunmer is far more dishonourable than associating with the Dark Brotherhood.

Cirrilamil gave a grunt before undoing the shackle, letting my leg swing like a pendulum. “What is this Sixth Tenet you speak of?” He purred, pacing back and forth in his usual pattern.

“The Sixth Tenet was the last of the tenets set out by our Unholy Matron herself. A rule that every Dark Brother and Dark Sister must obey. ‘Never refuse a challenge in single combat from a Dark Brother or Dark Sister. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis.’ If Count Fendelen Egallia wishes to keep his comfortable place by the side of the Dark Brotherhood, he won’t refuse my challenge. A duel in single combat, in the arena, so everybody can see.”

The PissSkin smirked, chuckles spilling out as his eyes travelled up my body. “What makes you think we’d waste our time and effort dragging you to Cheydinhal’s arena to fight the Count?”

“You’ve saved yourselves the cost of an execution if I lose.”

The PissSkin spat on the ground. “Sindedil, cut her down! Drag the ash bitch to the arena and we’ll grant her last wish. I have a challenge to deliver to Count Fendelen Egallia.”

Smacking down on that dungeon floor was like falling into the halls of Azurah, even if it looked like the fort of Coldharbour. “On your feet, sootskin!” Sindedil barked, seizing hold of my hair and dragging me up to my feet so iron binds could be fastened around my wrists. A serpentine chain slinked around the thick bar in the middle, rattling through the goldenrod’s hands as he yanked on it and pulled me along.

“Mara preserve us, so yer really was Dark Brother’ood after all. Never thought the Count would ally ‘imself with yer. Still, at least I get a good look at yer. Like the forests of Valenwood in elven form.” The pervert cockroach yelled from his cell as Sindedil dragged me through the pit.

“I’ll send the rest of the family after you, shitskin!” I spat, glaring across at him as he quivered and scuttled right to the back of his cell.

Though his words did send a cold blade down my spine. I’d be giving everyone in Cheydinhal a good look, what with the PissSkin dragging me to the arena, dripping blood and naked.

“Move along, vermin of the ashes!” He spat, yanking on the chain binding my wrists as he dragged me through the battlefield of sunlight bursting through the door to the outside world.

The daylight froze my skin, teasing at me as a breeze bit wherever it could. Blood was starting to dry over my wounds, sealing them shut as the final scarlet trickles dried out and Sindedil dragged me through the main gates of Cheydinhal.

So this was the city of black and white, with slate tiles the same deep purple as the mountains, and grass as thick as a wolfskin rug. The cobbled paths criss-crossed the city like scars, blanched stones poking through the grass like skulls. Yet the stones were far rougher than bone, biting into my hands and knees as I was dragged to the ground.

“Rather her than me.” Someone muttered as I pulled myself up and was dragged forward once more. The circular wall of an arena rose up just ahead, just beyond a covered bridge arching over a stream filled with water lilies, but the goldenrod holding my chain just dragged me to the side, down what looked like the main street past the city’s chapel.

Of course. The Thalmor don’t just seek to kill. They seek to humiliate; publically scorn those they call an enemy and purify their name of those who they’d be embarrassed to associate with. Dragging me through the whole city as a lap of victory for the Thalmor would be perfect. Humiliate me, and warn the citizens of Cheydinhal: disobey the Thalmor, and this will be you.

“Just a second, ash bitch. I want you to see this.” The goldenrod stopped dead, pulling me over in front of the chapel. Towering over the city, the white marble threatened to pierce the sky above Cheydinhal and flood it with sunlight. Panels of coloured glass made windows of gold, blue, red, green, orange, white, silver, and deep purple, glaring down at me as I staggered up and bled.

“You see what that is?”

Around us, a crowd of mostly Dunmer, Orcs, and Altmer was gathering, watching me as the PissSkin gestured up at the stained glass windows. By how he smirked through the bruising on his face, he knew exactly what this was. A display of Thalmor supremacy.

“It’s a chapel. We have them too. So what?”

Around me, the crowd muttered, hiding a few sniggers as they filled the gaps between the buildings. The goldenrod’s smirk became a scowl at their laughter, yanking on the chain to bring me close enough to be backhanded with the metal part of his gloves. “Don’t make me regret letting you keep your tongue!” He snapped, throwing me backwards onto the chapel steps. “You’ll never have anything as magnificent as this. The presence of the true Gods, the Eight Divines themselves.”

He’d started to parade for the crowd, making a spectacle of us both as he dragged me behind him on the chain. Him, the master, and me, the bloodied wretch fit for nothing but scorn as he dragged me over to a crying house.

It had clearly known and seen better days, with boards over the windows, bits of wood in the overgrown garden, missing tiles, and a front wall that was more rubble than actual wall. Vines crawled up to suffocate the peeling paint, and the boards over the door had been smashed through the middle, leaving splinters digging into my ribs as I was shoved against the door.

“Such a ruined creature you are, to never know the light of our Gods.”

He was doing this deliberately now. Trying to ruin me, humiliate me, and proclaim me a wretch in front of the entire city.

Not yet he’s not. “And yet you will know the eternal nothingness of mine. Everyone does, even your so-called Divines, and you’d best not keep him waiting. Hail Sithis, PissSkin, and may the Void suffocate you.”

My words made the crowd scatter, vanishing like timid woodland creatures into the forest. Even in Cheydinhal, the Dunmer-filled city of Cyrodiil, just one threat of the Dark Brotherhood or Sithis will invoke an almost primal fear.

It’ll also invoke a bone-crunching slap from the Justiciar dragging me about on the end of a chain. “I shall enjoy watching you lose.” Sindedil snarled, pulling me to my feet and dragging me behind him through the rest of the city.

It almost seemed like a relief when he pulled me around to the hill stretching up to the arena. Two more black bottles of piss stood flanking the entrance, with snake-like grins and cruel swords glinting at their belts. “So this is the rat, Sindedil? One purred, a smirk appearing as I was forced down onto my knees in front of them. “At least she knows her place.”

“I wish she knew her place. Did Count Egallia agree to the battle?”

“That he did, but he denies all knowledge of the Dark Brotherhood. I’ll take over with her now, you go get that bruise seen to.”

The chain was handed over to the guard, and I was dragged behind her through a side door and down into the bowels of the arena. Channels of blood gushed around the borders like water features, and past the practice dummies, weapon racks, and rest mats, the iron gates leading up to the actual pit seemed to drip with blood.

“Wasn’t pretty, the last battle here. Challenger wound up shredding himself on the bars. You’d be lucky to face the same fate.” The guard tittered, hooking the chain to the wall so I was forced to stretch up while she tugged the remains of a sack cloth robe over me. “Arena rules say combatants must wear armour.”

Some armour. “And weapons?” I snapped, earning myself a whack to the face as blood blossomed in my nose.

“Think there’s a few still in the sand we haven’t picked out. Go find one.”

Sithis curse it! I only had time to spit in her face before she undid my wrist irons and dragged me to the iron gates by my hair. “Enjoy your end!” She barked, as the gates clanged shut behind me.

This was it…I had a few magical sparks within me, and a few things I could do with them, but that was it. I was no Skogsra Bronze-Heart with my flames, and unlike Effe-Zeeis, my invisibility wasn’t innate. Scrounging for weapons in the sand probably wouldn't turn up a bow and arrows, and my bare fists wouldn’t do a thing.

I couldn’t fail though. Eternity in Coldharbour for dying in service to Lord Molag Bal…no, no that wasn’t gonna happen. Dying in a foreign land, at the hands of the Thalmor, while in service to the Prince of Domination is the worst way to die. If I had to die, I’d die in service to my family, the Dark Brotherhood. Drawing out my inner flames, their warmth spreading up my arms, I made my way to the arena grate.

Count Fendelen Egallia stood behind the opposite grate, clad in ebony armour shining like crow feathers. His helm was off, revealing the well-kept face of a Dunmer that had clearly never felt Red Mountain’s fiery call. Two ebony maces – cruel, glinting things resembling crowns of blades – swung at his belt, and as he noticed me, glints of malice shone in his eyes.

He was going to enjoy tearing me apart, I could tell. As the announcer finished their spiel about challenger versus champion, and the ones fortunate enough to be watching at the right time bayed like wolves, Count Fendelen Egallia remained staring me down, reaching for his twin maces and drawing them out as he licked his lips. As the gates lowered, he began pacing towards me, breaking into a run once he was in the main pit. Battle cries escaped his lips, and his maces thirsted for blood.

Let him try and get close! Red Mountain’s calling bayed stronger than the crowd in my ears, and the first ancestors called my name. Their shrieks became roars as I gathered power in my palms, drawing it in before it erupted into a cloak of flames. The Dunmer power of Ancestor’s Wrath may not be an actual weapon, but let’s see the Count get close enough to strike now. Raging as far out as ten feet from me, the flames could keep Count Egallia at a good distance while I searched the sands of the pit for any weapons. A bow and arrows would be ideal, but right now I’d take anything from a dagger to a warhammer. Anything to crush his bones, tear at his flesh, and grant me victory.

“Dispel her flame cloak! Unfair fight!” Someone yelled from the stands above me, voice echoing over the crowd’s baying as I circled around the Count. Something metallic glinted in the sand by his feet, begging to be dragged out and put to use as my only shot. If it meant appeasing the catcaller in the stands, so be it. Count Fendelen Egallia had to get away from that silver thing in the sand if I had any hope of using it on him.

“What’re you waiting for, Count? Permission to attack me?” I yelled, backing away, luring him over as the flames started to flicker. “Come on, coward! What kind of a Dunmer do you call yourself?”

Above the black of his maces, Count Egallia glared, teeth bared like an Orc’s snarl as he began to rush at me. Both arms were spread wide, knuckles blanching as he clutched his weapons and made a swing at me.

Sithis’ Wrath! I ducked aside, rolling once on the sand as the flames dispelled. Now bare, exposed as to blows, I could only dodge past Count Egallia as he made another swing and lunged towards me.

He’d left the metal thing unguarded! Edging past him, I made for the glint in the sand, closing my hand around the handle as it sank icy teeth into my palm. Behind me, Count Egallia raged, a battle cry escaping him as I turned with my find, spinning on the spot so the weapon was torn out of the sand and swung into his chest with a crack. As I tore the weapon past him, I rammed my shoulder into his ribs, forcing him to the side as I picked up a handful of sand and shoved it into his eyes.

The crowd could curse all they want, chanting for my death would do nothing now I had a weapon in my hand. Even if it was a mottled green mace, as barbaric and ugly as the Orc that first forged it.

Yet a weapon was a weapon, and right now I’d take anything. Even if it did drag my right arm down, and the spiked head of the mace had to swing over my shoulder to collide with Count Egallia’s shoulder as he lunged at me and struck my guts.

Blood began oozing, sticking to the sacking material of my ragged robes as Count Egallia’s ebony maces tore at me. A strangled screech escaped me, pain forcing me to the ground as he turned and grinned, holding both weapons as one as he ran at me again.

He’d kill me if he hit me once more. Even just a bit. My own mace was pitiful in comparison, and the blood leaking from the wound on my stomach was dripping down my legs, saturating the rags I wore. Count Fendelen Egallia was growling as he got the momentum for his swing, running towards me. Gods damn him…may Azurah forgive me for this, my last resort. As he ran, I hunched over, laying on my side and sticking my leg out for Count Fendelen Egallia to stumble over.

He hit the dirt with a strangled yelp, dropping a mace as I forced myself to stand and swing at him. Even for an assassin it was a dirty move to trip a target then swing at his face when he was down, but for the contact, it was perfect. As my mace struck Count Fendelen Egallia, the sky began to crack, raging as lightening stretched down, piercing me through the heel like a fish on a hook and yanking me away from the carnage.

* * *

I landed in front of a pair of cloven hooves with a crunch, shards of pain running up my left leg as one hoof shifted to press on top of me. Around me, the ironish stench of blood pierced through my nose, and above the thunderous clapping, the Lord of Domination laughed and laughed.

“Ah, I do love it when my champions cause such..." Molag Bal paused to lick his lips, picking me up from under his hoof by the scruff of my robes, "...carnage."

I didn't bother to struggle for freedom, just let him suspend me there above his gaping maw, like a grape fed to a Thalmor noble. "C-Count Frances Egallia is dead...bloodied, scorned, his name bound to the Dark Brotherhood." I stammered, my voice quaking as the Lord laughed again, rocking back and baring his fangs, letting me get a good look around.

From my perch between Bal’s claws, I got a good look at the blue-skinned giant laying in a stone pool of what looked like a ruined temple made of twisted trees and mangled roots. He was leaning on one elbow, and fresh blood lapped against his horned, naked body. A cauldron of red, pulsing things that stank of blood rested on the edge of the stone pool, and when I looked up, the bruised bodies of men, mer, and beast dangled from iron hooks pushed through various limbs.

"Oh I know all, mortal. You and your limp, frail, worthless bodies. How easily they break. Count Egallia's soul is mine now, for my own corruption. Now as for you, mortal, I believe you deserve your reward. How you got it before your time is a mystery to me." He chuckled, his spiked tail snaking up from the pool of blood to scrape across the neck of what looked like an Altmer, slitting her throat so a fountain of blood cascaded onto the Daedric Prince.

Just looking at the Prince as he bathed in mortal blood made bile start to rise in my throat. "I...I live?" I quaked, holding back a retch.

"Yes you do, and I see you've brought your own reward to me, mortal. How useful of you. Very useful, in fact. You might just have worth alongside your impertinence. Do you have worth?" He growled.

I nodded, quaking as his fanged grin widened and the stench of rotting flesh billowed out. Some unfortunate soul had wedged their severed leg between two of his bottom fangs, and the muscle that still clung to it was in the process of rotting.

"Do you bend to me?"

I nodded again?

"Do you submit to me?"

I nodded again, shivers of dread weaving over me as he laughed once more. "Good. You know your place now. You know exactly how to earn the favour of Molag Bal, the Lord of Domination. Make sure the wretched are sacrificed in my name. You, the strong, shall punish the weak with my weapon."

I shuddered, trying not to let the trembling travel up into Bal's claws as he took the mace from my hand, unbinding it and enveloping it in a haze of scarlet. "Rusted. Dry. Now it shall drip with the blood of the feeble and the worthless once more." He growled, twisting the metal into a gnarled, spiked weapon of purest torture. The skull-like face of the Prince glared out at me from the weapon, complete with eyes that glowed like the frozen fires in Coldharbour. Once done, the cold steel leaped back into my hand, binding itself again to my skin.

"The Mace of Molag Bal. Crafted from desecration and tainted with spite, I give it to you as a tool of purest sadism. When you bathe in the blood of your fellow, scuttling mortals, know that I watch, and I approve."

The wretched weapon unbound itself from my hand, clutched in my grip on its own as Molag Bal grinned. "T-Thank you...L-L-Lord Molag Bal." I whimpered, shivering in his claws.

"Now, I believe you misplaced these." He began, as my bow’s comforting bulk enraptured my back, the arrows in her quiver rattling as I shuddered. "Take care of yourself, my champion."

He laughed, a deep, cackling laugh reverberating off every wall and into my skull, hanging in there as he let go, sending me plummeting down, sailing through the air and hurtling towards the ground, falling and tumbling with mace in hand before landing with a soft thud in the middle of the old Museum of the Mythic Dawn, atop the slashed and bloodied body of Etna Vesuius.

Hawk had really gone to town on her…did he make it? Where was he? Was he looking for me? Everything screamed as I stood up, ragged robes still dripping blood as a mist began to frame my vision. Still the glow on the Mace of Molag Bal pierced through like shards of ice as the weapon dragged my arm down.

Where was Hawk? Was he still in Dawnstar? Check the inn, he may still be there, gathering strength to go looking again. If not, Heddina will be there. She’ll know where he’s gone. If not…the Windpeak Inn had people in. Stars were peeping at me through the broken boards in the old Mythic Dawn museum…nightfall, be around people after nightfall. Must find someone to be around for my own safety. With my leg screaming in agony, I began dragging myself out of the old museum, forcing myself on even though seaspray stung my open wounds.

No guards about…barely a flicker of torchlight. Though the strings of coloured lights for New Life Festival produce enough light for torches to be useless. Still, no guards…is it New Life already? The air stings like winter’s fangs are biting in, flooding the system with venom. It’s about the right weather for New Life Festival; bastard cold that sticks to your bones. Maybe that’s why there’s no guards about. All in the tavern drinking away the cold and the old year.

The seaspray had formed a thin crust on my skin by the time I managed to haul myself up the hill to the upper row of buildings. Dawnstar’s lights glowed even brighter up there, shimmering red and green on the packed snow as the lights glowed on their strings like apples on a tree. Yet the glow of the wicked mace at my belt cast a cold poison onto the lights. The grey mists of Coldharbour were flooding Dawnstar, and I was where it radiated from.

Someone screamed…down by the little dock, or by what’s left of the museum? No matter…not important…where’s Hawk…by Sithis it’s so cold! Where in Oblivion is Hawk…bet he’s in the inn! Windpeak…warm there. Warmer than here…by Sithis it’s cold!

There it is! Windpeak Inn…where the light of the hearth peers around the door like a sliver of sunlight. A wreath of some kind of scarlet berries, like little apples, hung on the doorframe, and even from outside the sweet smell of mead and cooking simmered through the air. Was he in here…Hawk, where are you…so cold…get warm, find Hawk once warm…

I didn’t even care that the door sprayed me with splinters as I fell upon it and it swung forward. I didn’t even care that the stone of the tavern floor bit into my side colder than the Sanctuary floor first thing at sunrise, tearing at my skin to pull out blood. This place was warm, bright, and had no wind racing through to spray me with seawater.

Hazy place though. Like noticing a reflection in a bowl of stew that ripples and distorts as you dip your spoon in. Nothing quite there, or just an illusion. The tavern wench putting down a tray of goblets to rest a hot hand on my neck. The dirty-faced miner with mead froth in his beard shoving her aside to have a go at picking me up, then backing away screaming, eyes wider than a terrified horse’s. Not even the man in the leather hood who had been slumped in the corner, doing what the miner couldn’t and dragging me into his arms.

None of it was truly real, at least for me it wasn’t.

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