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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7. Rattrap

Creaking. The ladder threatened to tumble from the wall, sending me down to the cold stone below. With each nervous step onto the next rung, the ladder seemed to sway further, and creak louder. It was a relief above all other when the moist ground kissed my boots, and I could get a look around the place.

So this was the Guild headquarters for Riften? Just a circular room beneath the city, lit by torches, and perfumed by the bubbling broth of sewer water flowing through the cross-shaped channels. Beds had been shunted against the wall on the stone platforms, and a desk stood on guard in front of a cabinet set, stacked with jewels, trinkets, and a golden crown like bird wings. Bridges arched over the water channels, and small arches formed passages to different parts of the guild. Every wall seemed slimy with mould, and every torch seemed veiled.

Yet the statue was pride of place. Carved of dark stone, she perched in a water channel on a plain stone plinth, extending carved stone arms as if offering an embrace, with twin birds perched on her wrist and shoulder. Her eyes peered out of her hooded robe, lips parted as if preparing to scream out a warning of intruders.

Huh, the Thieves’ Guild still honoured Nocturnal. Not worshipped – no, never worship – but still held her as their Matron. Like my Unholy Matron. How long was it since I saw a statue of the Daughter of Twilight? Five…no, more like ten years, an entirely different province, and still the Guild feels the sam-

“Maim? Maim, is that you there?”

Damn! The haze of nostalgia wore off quick as I caught sight of my shadow escaping down a passage, clutching its own bow and rippling in the torchlight. Diving under a bed, yanking my shadow out of thin air with me, I paused, breath baited, as the owner of the voice drew nearer.

“Maim, I know that’s you. You suck at staying hidden. Come on, sis, out!” The voice called again, as a figure slipped out of a passageway. Though clad in the same brown leather as the idiot thief I almost shot earlier, his set looked far newer. Less fraying, with clean edges to the joint padding and multiple pockets that crossed his chest. His leather hood was down, revealing tousled, ice-blonde hair reaching his shoulders, and a slender, almost sculpted look to his face.

Bretons. The natural born pretty boys of the Empire. He must be blind if he thinks I look similar enough to him to be his sister. That or he’s got less upstairs than the earlier thief.

“Very funny, Maim. If you’re trying to scare me, sneaking up on me won’t work.”

“No, but putting a dead baby frostbite spider in your bed works.” A female voice replied from the passage across the chamber. Taking down her hood, she looked just like him, only her hair was bound back into two French plaits ending halfway down the length of her hair. It was too dark to see her eyes, but she’d applied black paint stuff in a smoky, mottled way across both, like a veil.

“Very funny. What were you doing sneaking around the Cistern? Thought father sent you off to rob that pawn shop.” He sighed, rolling his eyes. In the dim light with the distance, it was pretty hard to see the exact colour, but they seemed pretty dark.

“He did, I just sold off all I got from there. I’ve only been back about ten minutes. If anyone has been sneaking around the Cistern, it’s not been me.”

Pretty boy drew nearer to the bed I lay beneath, pacing ever closer with quiet taps of his buckled boots. “Well someone was sneaking around down here. I thought it was you at first. Has anyone else been down here?”

“Not that I’m aware of, Hawk. Everyone but Kiss and Queen have been in the Flagon since midnight, drinking to Maven Bitch-Briar’s demise.”

“Maim, what did mother say to you about using that name?” Hawk hissed.

“Mother laughed when I first called her that. Besides, she’s dead and the Guild doesn’t have to worry about her interfering. Hail Maven Bitch-Briar, may her soul rot in the bottled piss she called mead!”

Hawk sighed, before the bed above me creaked, and a heavy weight seemed to crush me. “Dad always said you were the outrageous one. All the same, watch your tongue out there. There’s still one Black-Briar left, and he’s a bit too free with his headsman’s axe. Just watch what you say outside the Guild, ok.”

I bit my lip, trying not to make a sound as Hawk shifted on the bed above me, crushing me into the cold stone. “I can handle myself out there, bro. It’s not like I’m a kid anymore.” Maim hissed.

“You’re still my little sister, Ellin.”

So Maim’s real name was Ellin. Never known a Guild family to give a regular name. Normally the thieves’ name is the kid’s real name for life.

The bed suddenly creaked and a hard ‘thwack’ sound bounced off the walls, before Hawk gave a dull groan. “Don’t call me Ellin! Not ever!” Maim snapped, as Hawk groaned again. “You know my real name’s banned, Vincinere!”

He gave a final groan, tumbling off the bed and landing on his back, clutching his crotch with both hands. “Not…funny Elli- Maim.” He winced.

“Not for you, perhaps. It clearly helps you learn though. Now, don’t call me Ellin again, and I won’t nut shot you. Call me Ellin in front of the Guild, and I’ll cut it off. Are we clear, Vincinere?”

“Crystal…clear.”

“Good. Now let’s pretend this didn’t happen. If you want me, I’ll be in the Flagon, waist-deep in wine.” She chuckled, before leaping onto the centre platform of the Cistern. Watching her slip away was like watching a candle in the dark desert night. Her movements like a flame. Swift and ever-present, yet at the same time not there at all, before her movements were snuffed out and she vanished down the far passageway.

A fine killer she would make if she chose that dark path. Wielding twin daggers, she could easily deliver a marked soul to our Dread Father with a flash of steel, turning them to bloody ribbons. I reckon she’d fit in with the Anequina sanctuary quite well. Even more if she keeps her head down around the Listener.

As intriguing as she was, I had other things to worry about besides a potential recruit. The upper level of Riften was out of bounds until much later, when the chaos of the funeral assassination had died down. Down here didn’t look much better though. This thief, Hawk, nearly caught me, and his sister moved like lightening. It would be too dangerous to skulk around down here with those two about.

Sometimes a practitioner of murder has to pay for that crime. In gold, time, or more bloodshed is most common. Yet by allying with another who works in the shadows, occasionally payment can be written off. Slipping out from under the bed, I pulled off my cowl, and straightened up.

“You know a little ice helps the pain.” I purred, as Hawk jolted, staggering up with a strangled yelp of pain, like a wild animal being slaughtered.

“Shor’s…bones where in the shadows did you come from!” He yelped, taking a golden-green dagger from his belt.

I backed up then, holding my hands out for him to see. “Easy, I’m not here to cause trouble. I just need to hide out here for a bit.”

My display of peace didn’t seem to do anything to calm the thief, as he staggered up to his feet, dagger glinting with malice. “What makes you think you’re welcome down here, killer?” He growled, a small whimper of pain slipping in.

“I was once with the Guild, back in Anequina. I’m one of you, I swear. Shadow hides us all.”

Hawk smiled, but it wasn’t pleasant. It was the smile a vulture has when it’s just spotted a fresh kill out on the desert sands, still dripping blood, with a swarm of black flies burrowing their way into the shredded flesh. “We’ll let our Guild decide if shadow hides a killer in our midst.” He hissed, seizing hold of my shoulder and keeping his dagger firmly pressed to my back. “The Flagon is this way. Let’s hope your kind are in good stead with our little birds, or we’ll be sending you back to Anequina in a jewellery chest.”

He poked me hard in the back as he said that last part, shoving me through a door and round a bend, pausing only to push a storage cabinet aside, exposing another short passage leading to an open plan area resembling an inn of some kind, flooded with cheering and drowning in the smell of booze.

It was pretty big for an inn though, with a bar backed up to the wall stocked full of brown and navy blue mead bottles, chests of wine, and two fat kegs perched at either end. The seating area sprawled out from the bar, tumbling out onto a wooden veranda hanging half-over a pool of water. Several stacks of crates perched on the veranda, presumably packed full of stolen goods, and everywhere, thieves lounged, either laughing and drinking with their fellow Guild members, or slumped over, passed out with empty flagons or goblets laying abandoned by their fingers. An entrance crept down to a curving stone walkway, passing a smith, alchemist, and two other merchants I couldn’t quite see properly, with the tavern sign hanging pride of place. ‘The Ragged Flagon’, complete with a foaming flagon of mead.

I didn’t have time to admire the surroundings though, as Hawk dragged me out onto the veranda, past snatches of drunken conversation and yelled orders at the bartender. Unceremoniously, he flung me down onto the loose, wine-soaked boards, at the foot of two thieves sharing a bottle of what looked like Firebrand Wine.

“Carmjalla, Midaural. Found something you three might like to take a look at.” He announced, as the nearest one, a fellow Dunmer, peered down at me.

“She’s certainly a pretty one. Hawk, what in the shadows have you been up to?”

“Nothing, boss. Just caught this one scuttling around the Cistern.” Hawk, or whatever name he used, began, before he seized me by Vixen’s quiver and pulled me up. “See what she’s got on, with the hand on it? I’ve seen that hand before. Think she’s Dark Brotherhood”

The Dunmer’s eyes widened dramatically, and he gestured at the other thief. A Nord woman, with shoulder-length red-brown hair bound back in a loose ponytail and flashing black eyes. Looking down at me, she broke into a strange smile, which became a rough, barking laugh.

“Well well…Hawk, put her down, lad. If she’s Dark Brotherhood, best treat one of our Guild’s oldest allies with a bit of respect now. Or did your grandfather never tell you about the partnership with the ‘Ol’ Brother’ood’ before?” The woman purred. She had a pretty rough Skyrim accent, compared to the others I’d heard. It sounded like her words were cast upon the rough winds of the hills in northern High Rock, flowing like the rain and stormy lakes there.

“Carmjalla, do you know what you’re doing?” The Dunmer asked, looking me over as if I were a Ragasha goblin.

“Midaural Mandvi, has the Guild ever let you down before, lad? Don’t worry, the Guild’s always had ties with the Dark Brotherhood.” Carmjalla purred, before beckoning over at the bartender. “Vekel! Vekel, bring us over something for Hawk and our guest here. The Dark Brotherhood’s back!”

The chatter seemed to cease with Carmjalla’s words, and the eyes of the entire Thieves’ Guild seemed to be on me as Carmjalla had Hawk pull up a chair for me at their table. All around, either terrified whispers, or excited gasps seemed to echo, as the aging bartender came over and put two bottles of ale on our table.

“Now then, where’d you say you were from again, lass?” Carmjalla purred, handing over several gold pieces to Vekel.

My voice cracked a bit, shy from finally being addressed. “Anequina. The northern deserts of old Anequina.” I blurted out, as Carmjalla’s smile broadened.

“So it’s true. They reformed, spread, and now it’s back to business again. What brought you all the way up to Skyrim though, lass?”

The weight of the contract hung on my lips, threatening to come out. Was it a good idea to mention Sibbi Black-Briar now served Sithis? I mean, I’d overheard the Thieves’ Guild was celebrating the death of Maven Black-Briar, but would it celebrate the death of Sibbi too?

“Contract. Listener herself sent me.” I lied.

“Not surprised. Lots’a people wanted dead in Riften, and many more are willing to call on the Dark Brotherhood to get what they want.” The Dunmer, Midaural Mandvi, added, chipping into the conversation. “So, you planning to stay a while?”

“Well,” I began, pausing to think, “I’m not sure really. Until the chaos on the streets dies down, for sure, but I need to be in Whiterun to seal the contract very soon.”

“Seeking shelter? Don’t worry, it’ll all die down by sunset. Riften’s known for being a dodgy place. People here’ll fight to the death over a dropped ring. A murder isn’t that strange.”

I bet the murder of Sibbi Black-Briar is. “Know how to get to Whiterun from here?”

“Carriage’ll take you there, lass. If you like, Hawk’s been all over Tamriel. He can be your guide.”

Hawk had been quietly glaring at me from the side the past few minutes, but at Carmjalla’s word, he sprang up. “What? But I-”

“He’s been from Morrowind to Valenwood. He’ll be the perfect guide for you.” She carried on, ignoring his protests. “You can even spend the night with him if it hasn’t died down.”

“With all due respect, boss, I can’t exac-”

“Not at all, Hawk. You’ll be her guide.” Carmjalla insisted, as Hawk sent me a look that would have reduced the most bloodthirsty dremora to a quivering mess.

Refusal wouldn’t be the best idea, especially in these circumstances, but taking a companion wouldn’t be the best idea either. The Listener would slay me if I brought in one uncut from our shrouded cloth, no matter the reason behind it.

And what about staying hidden? The lithest thief, who bathes in the blessings of Nocturnal and wears shadow like a second skin, still shines brighter than the two moons when compared to even the newest killer.

No, perhaps it wasn’t the best idea to take Hawk with me. At least not to Anequina. To Whiterun, perhaps, and maybe to the docks, but the second the next ship sailing around to Senchal, Leyawiin, or Bravil leaves the harbour, he can get lost and scuttle back into the shadows.

“Alright, but just while I’m in Skyrim.” I replied, as Hawk lifted his lip and directed a snarl in my direction.

Carmjalla beamed then, practically skipping out of her seat. “I’m sure you’ll get on just fine. Hawk will show you when it’s safe to leave. Until then, well we’ve got mead to spare, and Maven Black-Briar’s rotting away. Hey Anset!” She called.

“Yeah, boss.” The Nord lounging on a pile of crates said, tapping her flute against the knee pad on her thieves’ armour.

“Play something for our guest here. Make it cheery though. Maven Black-Briar’s dead, and may she never rest in peace!”

“Aye, boss.” Anset replied, before standing up and picking up the lute lounging nearby, beginning to play a tune.

Yes, let Maven Black-Briar never rest. With one arrow and a stack of candles, I’d ended the Black-Briar line. Yet sending the soul of Sibbi Black-Briar to the Void had earned me a reward for my service. Even if the reward was scowling at me over a bottle of ale, and I couldn’t wait to be rid of him.

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