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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12. Snakes Within the Roses

Fire! The sky cracked, umber chunks streaked with rivers of hellfire loomed behind choking clouds as grey as slate. Arcs of destruction leaped down around us, as the serpent’s black coils dissipated into thin air and we were left on the coal black ground. I didn’t even care that Hawk was clinging to me like a child in a thunderstorm, as I was doing it too, clutching on as my eyes flickered around, and catching sight of emerald serpents weaving through the towering walls of wine-toned vines winding around spiked walls caging us in this nightmare plane.

“Silence…that was no ordinary snake, was it?” Hawk whimpered.

“No…n-n-no way.” I stammered, clinging on to him as I pulled him to his feet. “This does not look good. This does not look at all good in any way.”

I’d heard stories of the planes of Oblivion, and the chaos that awaited within certain planes for any adventurer foolish or suicidal enough to try exploring. Letting go of Hawk, shifting so he was at my back, I pulled Vixen out, nocking an arrow as a volcanic wind whispered words of danger through the vines. Something in here was looking down at us, examining our every move, and laughing.

“Silence,” Hawk whispered, as I looked over my shoulder. He’d pulled out his dagger, gripping it in his shaking hand.

“What?” I hissed.

“You know those daedra you soot-skins worship?”

A sinking feeling began opening up in my gut. “What about them?”

“Is one associated with that thing?”

I turned back around so we were side by side, directing my arrow at what he was staring at. “Yes,” I squeaked, “one is.”

It was crouched in an opening in the vines, blocking off a pathway out of the clearing. Its skin had been stretched taut, the sickly beige parchment clinging to every bump in its spine and plunging between every single rib. Its legs were bent backwards, knees at the back like a horse’s, ending in flat, clawed feet. The skin seemed to have been stripped away from its arms, exposing stark bones held together by bloody sinews, and long claws on the end of its webbed hands.

What drew attention first was its mouth. Far larger than the rest of its skull-like face, when it unhinged its jaw, its needle-like tongue protruded forth longer than a bed, snaking down as black venom coated its tongue. On the brink of starvation, yet able to swallow any mortal whole, this could only be one thing.

“Hunger,” I whispered, as it hissed, flicking its tongue at us like a whip and splattering the ground with venom. Tensing up, I drew back the string and held taut, lining up the arrow, and firing.

I shot it in the spine, where its stomach would be if it had one. The arrow pierced through, penetrating the gap between bones as it let out a splitting screech, staggering on one side before letting out a roar of pure fury.

Screw it. “Kill it!” I yelled, firing another arrow into its shoulder as it made a lunge for me, tongue whipping out to strike me in the thigh and knock me to the ground as Hawk lunged at it with his dagger. Its tongue grazed my thigh, splitting my armour and plunging into the muscle.

Whatever was in that venom had one hell of a kick. It rippled through my system, freezing and squeezing every joint, tugging my feet out from under me and forcing me to topple backwards, limbs rigid, Vixen trapped in my hand, as the sky above raced over my head until with a dull thud, I struck the ground.

I couldn’t do anything. Eyes trapped open and joints seized, the venom coursed through my system, keeping me frozen as the roar of the Hunger came again. Hawk had clearly wounded it somehow, getting it away from finishing me off, before another screech rang out, and something sinewy and slimy splattered between my frozen legs.

“You know that a Hunger is weak as a slaughterfish in a tank if you attack it from the side, right?” Hawk quipped, leaning over me as I lay frozen. “I think their tongues can be used for potions. You might want that one.”

So that was what had splatted on me? With my lips frozen, ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ had to just wait in my mind until I got the chance to reply. Until then, I just had to let him haul me up like I was some kind of fallen statue, leaning on his shoulder until the paralysing effect of the Hunger venom wore off.

“You reckon it was g-guarding something down there?” I slurred, dregs of Hunger venom still in my system.

“Not a doubt in my mind. Here, lean on me. I’ve got you.” He replied, pulling me back onto his shoulder as I gave a stagger and my pierced thigh gave out under me.

I admit I blushed when he made me wrap my arms around his torso to keep me upright. “T-Thanks.” I stammered, the heat of Red Mountain radiating from my cheeks.

“No problem, killer. Not every day that you get paralysed by a Daedra thing. By the way, you know I won’t complain if you cop a feel. I know I’m probably your knight in shining armour like this.” He chuckled, sending me one of his sly winks from under his hood. Nerevar, now I see why Camena has that saying about men. Never trust anything with two heads and only one brain.

“I’ll try to restrain myself.” I groaned, making him chuckle again as he held me up, creeping down the passage as it snaked around in one long curve.

The more he moved, the less I found myself needing to hold on, gaining back movement as the last drops of venom dripped away from my system. Yet still I held on, almost clinging on as lightening flashed nearby. Being attached to his left side meant I was treated to the full symphony of his heartbeat and breathing, muscles moving in a gentle swaying feeling as he held me up.

“Hey, you know how you said that thing is associated with one of your Princes?” He asked, leading us towards a dark square resembling one of our many Black Doors.

“The Hunger? What about it?”

“Which Prince?”

I was about to tell him when the dark square opened up, and my tongue fluttered in vain. The opening sloped down into a wide, circular arena ringed by thorny vines in coal black. Lightning strikes were hitting five pillars surrounding the arena, bathing it in glaring light as the arcs shone bone white. Above, the sky thundered in every shade of blue, purple, and grey belonging to a storm, but that wasn’t what I was staring at.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” She said, her voice booming like the thunder above. Or was it his voice, raging like a storm, as the entire right half of their body was female, yet the entire left half was male. They stood at over twice the height of Hawk and I, with skin the same ash grey as mine, and a waterfall cloak of hair tumbling down to their ankles in shimmering silver, like the molten steel made for swords had been poured over their head. They were completely naked aside from a deep red cloak chained around their shoulders, billowing in the wind, a venomous green serpent coiling over their body to keep their modesty, and a single piercing going through their left nipple. Their eyes burned a flaming red, and the male side of its upper lip had curled upwards into a snarl as they swung the savage battle axe in its hands at us.

“That one.” I squealed, dragging Hawk back and shielding him as the Prince strode towards us.

"A distasteful flesh-wearer...and she brought me a new pet, isn't that sweet.” They barked, before reaching out and picking Hawk up around his waist as he struggled.

“A sacrifice to earn the favour of Boethiah? Tell me, what did you expect in return, little Dunmer? A pat on your head? A kiss on your cheek? Or maybe great pow-AGH!"

Hawk may have been brave, and he may have saved my hide more times than I dare to think, but he must be a particular kind of total flipping moron to stab the Daedric Prince of Plots and Deception in the hand when he or she has picked him up.

He dropped like a stone, landing on the blackened ground and scrabbling up to flee like a coward back to my side as a single drop of blood escaped the daedra’s fingers.

“Ah, impertinent creature! You dare to spill the blood of Boethiah!” They hissed, blood beginning to coat their hand as they pulled out the spark of Hawk’s dagger, flinging it at him and impaling a thorny vine.

He really must be a particular breed of idiot. “Back off, demon!” He yelled, pushing me aside and readying his fists. By the Gods, next thing he’ll be trying to sink his teeth into their kneecaps, or using a taffy lace and a sweetroll as a catapult and projectile.

“My my, we are the firebrand. If I’m to have you as my champion, you’re going to require a lot of breaking in.” They snarled, swiping once more and snatching Hawk up by the scruff of his armour, suspending him at arm’s length as Boethiah’s blood dripped free.

A shudder of ice ran through me as the Prince said that, running down to my trembling fingers as I took out an arrow and nocked it in. He, or she, or whatever that form Boethiah decided to take was called, couldn’t be killed, but could be critically wounded. Maybe enough to let the struggling thief in its hand escape with me.

“Get off…get off me, demon!” Hawk yelled, as Boethiah opened their hand and he dropped like a stone. “I’ll have no part in this! Let us go!”

Idiot. Boethiah just laughed, throwing their head back and letting their voice engulf the thunder racing through the air, as the sky split open and sent a bolt of wrath down their throat. “Pathetic,” it growled, “you are weak, and soon you will be dead. What signs have you left of your passing for the world to remember you by?”

They had raised their bare foot, almost as if about to crush Hawk, when I let the arrow fly. Sleek, precise, it flew to embed itself into Boethiah’s heel; the shaft pierced through the Daedra’s bone until just the tiniest of crow feathers protruded from the wound, sticky and bloodstained.

Now, whilst they were distracted! I skidded down into the open arena, clouds of coal dust filling the air, until I reached Hawk, taking out another arrow and flinging myself atop him. The arrow nocked, I lay on my back atop Hawk, drawing the string back into my chest, and aiming it at the raging Daedra as they peered down at me.

“A spare? You have caught my attention, mortal. An unwise act on your behalf.” Boethiah growled, ending their words with a low, long hiss and tugging the golden battle axe out of the ground. “Tell me, why do you defend this deedless one? Why do you insist on being his shield against my wrath, little Dunmer?”

The lightning struck the ground barely a foot from where I lay atop Hawk, filling the air with the choking fumes of singed coal. “My reasons are my own, Lord Boethiah.” I replied, tautening the string even further and aiming up at the Prince. A heart shot would be pointless here, but maybe I could get them in the eye if they tried anything.

Boethiah bared their teeth, rows of fangs glinting in a satisfied grin. “Indeed, mortal, but I abide with those with a will aligned to mine. Those who dare to get in my way discover how dreadful a way they can perish.”

They seemed to look past me, right at Hawk cowering behind me and keeping out of trouble for once. “I’m not afraid of you.” I growled, keeping Vixen trained on the Daedra’s right eye.

“Is that so? How you lie, little Dunmer. Though…maybe I can find a use for one whose tongue wields lies like blades, and whose heart knows nothing of fear.”

They leaned down, dropping to one knee to leer right in my face. “Yes, I can find use for you. A lie is your weapon, dripping venom into those who listen and believe. Yet others also take up your arms.”

With a strange yelp, like a dog getting yanked back on its chain, Hawk vanished from beneath me, seemingly dropping into the coal earth. Now unsupported, I tumbled back, smacking onto the earth as the wind left my chest in a single gasp. My fingers left the bowstring, the arrow I’d primed sailing wide, tearing through the air in a long arc as I scrambled back up. “Bring him back, demon!”

Boethiah just laughed, again drowning out the thunder, as they leaned back into the air just outside of the arena. “Earn him!” they spat, as a throne of ebony rose from the coal black earth to accommodate them as a spectator. Vines closed over the arena entrance, trapping me in the coliseum with nothing but Vixen in my hand, and thunder roaring above me as the sky cackled.

I’d barely nocked an arrow in when the cracking sound of summoning came from either side of me. Both on my right and left, the veil between worlds had been torn thin, and shadow-cloaked figures seemed to walk towards me, coming out of the portal at the same time.

“Savil?

“Savil, what’s going on?”

Identical voices drifted free, as the mirror-image Altmer ladies glided free from where they’d been summoned. Both out of shrouded robes, they had been laced into velvet gowns of deepest red, tumbling from a high neckline down to a pinched waist and splitting open at the front to reveal layers of netting in every colour of fire, each colour peeping out from under the last. Their hickory brown hair had been styled, crowned by a circlet of thick braids studded with small pearls, with the rest allowed to curl and cascade free down to the small of their backs.

“Camena?” I whispered. No…no, both of them couldn’t be. There was only one of her, and she should be back at the Sanctuary, training her wielding arm to strike harder, or taking care of Banshee, or something! Not here, and certainly not two of her.

“Savil, come on, I know the way out of here, come on!” Camena Left-Side urged, her black gloved hands beckoning me towards her. The toe of her shrouded shoes poked out from under her robes, and at her belt the glittering glass blades on her war axe glinted like the eyes of a desert predator, gliding closer and closer in the darkness.

“No, this way! She’s lying to you, Savil!” Camena Right-Side argued, her gloved hand running down my arm before seizing my elbow to pull me with her.

“I’m not lying! Savil, she’s fake! She’s not the real me!” Camena Left-Side yelled, trying to urge me to follow her.

“She lies, Savil. I’d never hurt you.” Camena Right-Side replied in her velvet voice. “I’m your friend and Dark Sister.”

She hugged me, pulling my arm aside and winding around my waist so she could secure me to her chest. The raised scars there brushed close, tiny bumps beneath thick velvet, until she let me go. “Don’t you trust me?”

I trusted Camena alright, but more importantly, she trusted me as far as she ever could. Not that far though. Nocking an arrow into Vixen, I lined up the shot, and pierced her right through the gut.

I barely had the time to retrieve my arrow from the false Camena’s stomach when the body dissolved into ash. With a smile, the real Camena gave a curt nod, before vanishing into the cloud of black marking every banishment.

“Oh well done, mortal. Excellent work. Now let’s make the challenge a little more worthy.” Boethiah’s voice rang like a bell, louder than thunder, before trailing off into an amused chuckle surrounding the twin cracks of summoning.

“Savil? What in Oblivion is this place?” The twin hisses came from either side, as the two Khajiits came forward. Both Daro’Rihanas were covered by shrouded armour, cowls off, pattering bare-pawed over the coal earth.

“I don’t know, but I think I know what’s going on. Where did you get the flawless garnet you last bribed me with?”

“Garnet? Khajiit thinks it was off one of the Thalmor nobles patrolling Riverhold, but cannot be sure.” Left Daro’Rihana purred.

“No! No, Khajiit plucked it from Trinkets and Talismans, out of a display case of Vvardenfell Glass jewellery. It was out of place amongst everything there, and Khajiit was sure it would not be missed.” Right Daro’Rihana argued, earning herself a hiss from the other one as she flattened her ears.

“Khajiit lies!” Left Daro’Rihana spat, her tail thrashing as Right Daro’Rihana drew out a sleek-looking silver dagger.

“No, you lie! You thief, you dare to lie as well!” Right Daro’Rihana hissed, readying her hands like claws.

“Khajiit speaks only the truth to Savil, liar!”

Left Daro’Rihana let out a demonic hiss, lunging at the other with a flash of her dagger, fur bristling as she swung the blade at Right Daro’Rihana’s throat.

She struck. The glimmer of green, the ever-shining crystals in Right Daro’Rihana’s hand shot into the other one, freezing her instantly as the magic took hold. Left Daro’Rihana dropped like a statue, laying immobile on the coal earth as the lethal-looking mists of paralysis drifted around her body.

That was the real one! My arrow sailed into the paralysed statue of Left Daro’Rihana, blood spurting as the magic dissipated into pure nothingness, leaving her corpse turning to ashes.

“You know Khajiit well.” Right Daro’Rihana purred, before she vanished into banishment’s black cloud and left me with the twin ash piles of the two past fakes.

“It would seem I underestimated you, little Dunmer. Let’s make it interesting.” Boethiah chuckled, before two more portals opened up, and one summoned raced over to the other, twin daggers at the ready.

“Savil, come on, help me kill the imposter!” The red-scaled Argonian Right Effe-Zeeis roared, chasing the other one around the arena in a circle as it pulled out its own blades. In a cacophony of reptilian hissing and roaring, Left Effe-Zeeis swung at the other, nicking his tail and drawing out blood.

Which one…they were moving like blurs in black and red, charging around the arena like wolf and deer. Blurs zig-zagging and slashing and dodging around the vines, eventually the pursued was caught and thrown into the middle, sliding a foot before stopping.

“Savil…Savil, hurry! He’s an imposter, kill him!” Right Effe-Zeeis yelled, staggering up as the other lunged at him, slicing the air mere inches from his throat when the other’s clawed foot gave out from under him, and Left Effe-Zeeis tumbled to the ground.

He vanished. Blinking out into invisibility, Left Effe-Zeeis vanished from sight, kicking up a cloud of coal smoke before the other one was knocked from the air.

“Coward!” Right Effe-Zeeis yelled, his tail lashing the air as he landed hard, daggers out. “Show yourself, coward! Come on, Savil, get rid of this impost-”

The arrow cut him off, sending Right Effe-Zeeis flying as the black shaft pierced his neck and left the lizard splayed on the ground like an abandoned ragdoll. Laying in a star shape, the fake Effe-Zeeis began crumbling into ash as the real one appeared, shedding his invisibility like a serpent does its skin.

“Almost done, Dark Sister. Claim the liars as your own, and deliver them to our Dread Lord.” Effe-Zeeis rasped, bending over the ash pile of his double, before black smoke surrounded him and he was banished with Boethiah’s laughter.

“Getting them to fight each other, are we? Stirring the poisonous brew of deception boiling in their hearts? A method without any honour, how interesting.” Boethiah cackled, perching in their ebony throne and looking down at me. They had positioned its battle axe between their legs, and the snake formerly wrapped around its body now lay on guard around the back of the throne, hood unfurled in a warning.

“Honour is a coward’s tool!” I yelled back, as Boethiah’s jagged grin emerged amongst the raging clouds and spat out a tongue of lightening.

“That may be so. Let’s see how you handle those who shun the mantle of honour, little Dunmer. Face his infected!”

His infected? The twin summoning portals opened again, flanking me as the figures in shrouded robes drifted free with bloody lips, and destruction magic shining in their palms.

“Savil! Savil, what’s going on?” The Left Huldra Bronze-Heart yelled, as she formed a spark of ice in her palm and aimed it at the opposing twins. “Who in Oblivion are you?”

“Me? Who are you?” Right Huldra replied, before an ice spike hit her shoulder, piercing straight through the bone. “Right!” She hissed, before flying at her double, wrapped in a veil of shrieking bats.

“Get away from her!” Left Skogsra hissed, as a swollen orb of flame struck Right Huldra in the stomach, burning away a chunk of her shrouded robes and exposing the reddened chunk of raw flesh beneath, and earning herself a fireball to the jaw from Right Skogsra.

Soon, I found myself crouched at the edge of the arena, Vixen trained on whoever came closest as I kept out of range of the ice spikes, fireballs, and the glittering trail of blood nourishing the attacking vampire. The acrid smell of charred flesh hung in the air, and almost beast-like growls filled the arena. Identifying which set of twins was which was lost when their fight blurred into a haze of Destruction.

Screw it! I let the arrow fly, shattering an ice spike and pausing the scrap. Though letting them fight it out worked twice before, I’d wound up being so confused over which pair was which that the fake ones could kill the real ones and I wouldn’t notice until after the deed had been done. Nocking another arrow, I lined up as the flames dissipated, revealing the curious carnage unleashed on both pairs.

Needles of ice stuck out of both Skogsras, glinting in the light of the storm. Slowly, the ice dripped as it melted, mingling with the little blood left inside the vampire’s veins. Hers was the only blood that stained the arena, seeping through shrouded robes, as the only liquid leaking from both Huldra’s skins was the clear weeping of severe burns. Their shrouded robes stuck to the charred patches of flesh, dusted with ash as the bare muscle patches glistened, shedding clouds of ash. One of them had been hit square in the face by a fireball, exposing blackened muscle and weeping wounds underneath, like scars. Long, jagged scars, ripping across the bridge of her nose and both cheeks, piercing her right eye and letting it drip black ick.

I lowered Vixen under the scarred Huldra’s gaze. Her remaining eye just seemed…empty. Whatever had given the golden glow its sparkle had gone, vanishing as a single ash tear formed in the corner of her eye. One of her fangs had been snapped off, and the more I looked, the more scars and slashes I could see.

That wasn’t right. She’d been injured before with the Vigilants, but not that bad, and not on her face. Raising Vixen again, I pierced the scarred Huldra through the side, knocking her to the side as a cloud of ash billowed up from the wound, smearing itself across the arena as her body turned to ashes.

“Now you’re mine!” My killing of the false Huldra had sparked something off in both variations of her twin, resulting in an onslaught of fireballs flying at both Skogsras. One managed to hit the other in the chest, knocking her back with a strangled scream as her shrouded robes frazzled and burned away. Underneath, minute scars had formed a criss-cross network all over her skin, like thieves’ escape tunnels, glistening in pale pink over her white skin.

“Get away!” The remaining Huldra screeched, before a bolt of flame soared into her chest. The burned Skogsra had been forced behind Huldra, held down by her right shoulder and struggling as her sister took the blows for her.

“No…I’m ok…I can do this.” Burned Skogsra groaned, gasping for needless air as she forced her twin’s hand off her, staggering up to block the fireballs singeing Huldra wherever the flames could reach.

That was her! With a piercing whistle, my arrow impaled the attacking Skogsra, turning her body to ashes that scattered themselves across the arena. The real one would fight to the death to defend Huldra, and had I let her, I bet the real Skogsra would have done that right in this very arena.

“Savil, there’s two left. I’m sorry.” Huldra whispered, eyes becoming red and sore from ashen tears. Yet more ashes were settling on the charred remains of their shrouded robes, before with a choked gasp, Skogsra clung onto her sister, and they both vanished into the familiar haze of black smoke.

“Two left, I’m sorry?” I whispered to myself, shivering as a lightning bolt struck the arena, scattering the ash piles of the fallen fakes and letting them blend together. What did that mean, and what was with that choked sound? Had something happened to them?

“What have you done?” I yelled, my voice a ghost in the arena. Boethiah it seems was staying silent over the peculiar twins.

“I mean it, answer me, Daedra!”

They chuckled, laughing like the ever-raging storm. “The predicament of those two infected was not of my doing, this time. No, seek out his…hmm, gifted ones. They have blood on their hands. It’s so wonderful when the wretched’s servants do my work for me.” Boethiah cackled, clapping their hands in mock applause.

Never believe the Prince of Deception and Plots. “You lie, Daedra!”

Their laughter erupted into a full-blown roar, holding down and drowning the thunder. “Distrustful, deceptive, and empty in heart. The next test seems almost too easy for you. Let me make it more of a worthy challenge, Dunmer.”

I admit I screamed when they threw their serpent at me, ducking and rolling as it lunged and bit into my side. Hot liquid, like acid, dripped into my system, tearing at my flesh as the snake writhed and my blood pounded. Everywhere, the searing pain of hot acid raced through, burning all over until I gripped the snake and tugged it off me, ripping its head almost clean off as it detached.

The acidic venom still raged in my system as I staggered up, drawing out Vixen as my hand shook. “Is this supposed to be a challenge?” I yelled, as the Prince grinned upon their ebony throne.

“Not yet. It will be…now.” Boethiah snapped their fingers, and the acid seemed to move at her command, first spreading all over before grouping together behind my eyes, in my throat, within my chest, and spitting with venom in my groin, forcing me to my knees and bringing out guttural screams of unbridled torment as the acid got to work.

“Painful, isn’t it? Don’t worry, little Dunmer, this will only be the mildest pain you’ll feel from me. Oh wait, I tell a lie, little Breton.”

Little Breton? I didn’t have time to register what Boethiah meant by that, as the familiar summoning portals opened up, and the shadowed figures were drawn out into Snake Mount. “Darling?” Both women whispered together, lilts of hope in their voices.

“Rosette?” I replied, a strange growl in my voice. Not of menace though. This seemed natural, purring away deep in my throat like a cat beneath a pile of furs. It seemed like fur had sprouted on me to match my feline voice, or at least on the back of my hands, rubbing against the inside of my gloves.

“Darling? Orion, what’s going on?” Both Rosettes quivered as they were abandoned in the arena, winding their arms around themselves. Identical stains from mushed fungi and creature parts were smeared on the white linen of their alchemist’s aprons, and identical fizzy curls escaping from their low ponytail to leave red spirals on their shrouded robes. A smudge of greyish powder was across both their noses, blending with their freckles before disappearing off their left cheeks.

No, none of this was right. Both Rosettes were looking at me with mist behind their eyes, lips parted slightly as if in shock, and both had called me Orion. “I’m not-” I began, the new purr vibrating through my voice as I took down my cowl from the bridge of my nose, and felt my own cheek.

Rough. Not usual leather-rough from the desert winds and warm sands, but bare stone rough, scratching and scraping under the soft leather of my shrouded gloves. Tugging one off, I ran my fingers over my cheek and felt hair, rough hair!

Both Rosettes were steadily backing away as I tugged off my hood and gloves, gazing wide-eyed at my cheeks. My hands were even rougher than before, but they were white! Pale as a Breton or Nord, with not even a hint of grey to be seen. When I ran them over my hair, it had been scraped back for me and bound out of the way with a strip of leather, and when I ran them over my chest, nothing but flat pectorals remained under my shrouded armour.

Now I see why both of the Rosettes had called me Orion. The venom within Boethiah’s snake had not only given me a male body, but the body of the late Orion Vautrelle whilst I killed his fake widow.

“Rosette…I don’t know either. I…which one is you? Where is this?” I shivered, the lies forming as both Rosettes ran into me.

“Darling, I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I just wound up here with her, that liar, and…a-and you were back! You’re alive!”

Left Rosette had latched onto my side, clinging on and almost burying herself into my shoulder. “Hush now,” I whispered, as a single tear fell onto the bare patch on my shoulder, putting my arms around her and Right Rosette as she attached to me.

“I promise, it’ll all be ok. I don’t know why our Dread Father has plotted our destinies like this, in the hands of some foul demon, but I promise you, it’ll work out.”

I was practically dripping in lies by this time, slimy with their black ick. “She lies, darling. She lies! You know I’m the real one!” Right Rosette whimpered, clinging onto my other side. The slender daggers at both their waists glinted as a thunderbolt hit one of the arena posts; the splattered remains of whatever ingredient it had last sliced shining thick and bloody in the sudden light.

“Prove it to me.” I replied, as both women looked up. They seemed so…young. Like his daughter, Belle, when she’ll be grown enough to wear his armour and carry his name.

“How…darling, how? You know I’m real! You know I loved you!” Left Rosette whimpered, trails of the greyish powder running down to her chin. “Didn’t you hear me, every year?”

By the Gods…not this. “Yes, yes I heard you.” I whispered, as knots started tying themselves deep in my gut. I didn’t know if the real Orion Vautrelle could hear her from the Void or not, but it would break her heart if all that time down by his sarcophagus was for nothing.

“R-Really?” Right Rosette sobbed.

“Yes, really. I hear everything you and Belle say to me. I hear everything that everyone in the Sanctuary says and does.”

One of the two Rosettes had started rubbing my back, brushing gently through the leather of my armour. “Everything?”

“Everything. Daro’Rihana’s sugar fits, Savil dressing the targets in Thalmor robes before training herself, Banshee’s laughter, and your words of love.” I lied, as the knots in my gut tightened further. “I will always love you, my nightshade. You and my little girl.”

“And I will always love you too.” Right Rosette purred, before she leaned up and kissed the underside of my jaw, letting heat grow along with the knot in my gut, rising up to spill over in my cheeks.

“Thalmor robes?” Left Rosette replied. “I thought she made them look like Bosmer.”

Got it. “Of course. How could I have forgotten her hatred of them?” I replied, one hand working my way down Right Rosette’s side, caressing her waist as I found her hip. “I can understand why she still loathes Bosmer. I could never stand liars myself.”

Right Rosette’s belt dagger moulded itself to my hand as I forced the skinny blade up beneath her ribs, slicing her open. She let out a gasp as the dagger pierced her lung, going limp in my arms and collapsing to the ground as a pile of ashes.

“Darling…I knew you’d get it right!” The real Rosette beamed, before she too stretched up to kiss me on the neck. “What did she get wrong?”

“My smart little nightshade,” I purred, as the first wisps of black smoke emerged around her, “she failed to question everything, my wise darling.”

Rosette blushed like she’d been taste-testing fire salts, almost blending into her hair. “I will always love you, Orion.” She whispered, before banishment’s black smoke enveloped her, and she vanished with Boethiah’s laughter.

“You suit the male form. Such deception can come from wearing a form that is not your own. Perhaps I should keep you as a man forever. Would certainly be entertaining.” They cackled, drumming their fingers on the arm of their ebony throne. “You’d be deceiving everyone who looked at you if I did, but that would just get boring after a while. No, you’ll have to stay as a little Dunmer.”

The acid burn feeling came back with a vengeance, ripping through my whole body and forcing me to my knees. The knots in my stomach twisted and writhed as I shuddered, tumbling onto my side where the rest of my armour lay. Everywhere it burned, running over my body and adding extra stabs to the groin, chest, neck, and face.

“Still a pitiful creature no matter what I do to you. Bah, no matter. Go on, little Dunmer. Earn back your pet Breton.”

The lightning bolt of summoning broke through the two portals as I pulled myself up onto my hands and knees. The burning was fading, withdrawing from my skin as I looked down at my hands slimming and going back to their usual ash grey.

“Killer…what in Oblivion did that demon do to you?” Both Hawks yelled as they emerged, both seizing hold of me to haul me up.

“I don’t think you want to know.” I groaned, staggering up to support myself. Who would want to know about their companion being temporarily transformed into a man to kill the besotted copy of his widow? “I’m just gonna ask, which one of you is the real Vincinere?”

Almost at once, both scowled. “Don’t call me that name! My name is Hawk!” Both growled, voices synchronising into one.

Damn it, looks like pissing him off wouldn’t work. Maybe I could try something a little more risqué. He could comment and be a typical red-blooded male all he wanted, but if he told anyone, he’d wish I’d left him here to be my sacrifice to Boethiah.

“Ok, I’ll ask again.” I began, as my fingers began working their way over the buckles going down my armour. “Which one of you is the real Hawk?”

The hot air of Snake Mount slammed into my bare skin as I shed the upper part of my armour, letting it hang from my waist as the scorching wind whipped past, lifting up gooseflesh everywhere it touched. The warm metal of my amulet settled itself between my breasts, winking at both Hawks as they stared, bug eyed with nothing but a halo of russet brown around the pupils.

“Killer…have you gone mad!” Right Hawk yelled, his eyes still delaying their meeting with mine.

“You didn’t answer my question. Which one of you is the real Hawk?” I replied, shifting my shoulders back. One sleeve rubbed the small of my back, trapped between Vixen’s quiver and my bare skin, and scraping itself against me as I tried to dislodge it.

“Killer, you should know by now that I’m the real one. I swear, it’s me!” Left Hawk replied.

“No, he’s lying to you, Silence! You know I’m the real one, I promise.”

I grinned, folding my arms just under my breasts. “Look at me and swear you’re the real Vincinere.”

Like blood oozing from a weapon, Right Hawk’s russet eyes crept up my body to glare into mine. “Don’t call me Vincinere!” He snapped, as I tugged my armour back on and drew Vixen out.

“Oh I won’t be able to,” I growled, nocking an arrow, “as you’re no thief, liar!”

I pierced the fake Hawk right in the chest, sending him back with a shriek as his body began turning to ash. At my shot, the real Hawk dived into my arms, almost knocking me over from the force as he pulled me close. “I knew you’d recognise me!” He whispered, squeezing the air out of me.

“I knew you wouldn’t be able to stop staring.” I groaned, too wedged to wriggle. “Losing oxygen.”

“Huh, oh right, sorry.” He replied, letting me go and glaring up at Boethiah upon their ebony throne. “You lost, demon!” He roared, as Boethiah broke into a jagged smile and climbed off their ebony throne into the arena.

“I never lose.” They growled. “My new, spare, champion has granted me another victory.”

I’d barely managed to snap my cowl over the bridge of my nose when they picked me up, hand closed around my waist. “You have done well, Spare Champion. You have earned my respect; a feat few manage and live to tell about.” Boethiah began, lifting me up so we were eye to eye. Their blood still leaked from the wound Hawks dagger left, sticking to me as they squeezed a little.

“T-Thank you, Lord Boethiah.” I groaned, as they tightened their grip around my waist.

“Your name shall be enscribed upon the Tablet of Absolute Darkness, little Dunmer. Here, take my burning blade as a token of my appreciation. With it, carve a lashing of flame across the land, and prove that you exist because you have the will to do so.” Boethiah purred, drawing out Hawk’s blood-soaked dagger from the wound of their palm, and seemingly crushing it in their hand with a burst of flame that cascaded down over their body like a river, before they opened their hand again to reveal Boethiah’s prize offered to me.

An inky black katana nestled in its sheath lay in her palm. The entire blade, though only the length of my arm, seemed to crackle all over with blazing magic, hotter than a forge. The hilt had seemingly been made of gold bound with strips of black leather, and the circular hand guard had been carved to look like a serpent devouring itself. The sheath itself was covered in black leather, with a design like fire erupting down from the hilt, glittering and writhing like flames.

“Goldbrand.” The whisper left me as I closed my hand around the hilt, feeling the blade’s inner warmth flood through my system as the leather and gold seemed to mould itself to my hand.

“A true work of direst cruelty, isn’t it?” Boethiah chuckled, before letting me drop to the baked earth in front of Hawk, still clutching Goldbrand. “Now go, take your pet Breton. I have a poisonous seed of treachery and hatred to plant. Pursue your own course as you wish, and as you will it, so shall it be.”

The portal opened up beneath us as I grabbed Hawk’s arm, clinging as we hurtled down through thin air into a haze of black. Air whipped past us, tearing and snatching at our clothes and hair as the golden circle of cold, hard ground raced closer, closer, closer-

SMACK!

A shudder ran through me, jarring through to my back teeth as we thudded atop the pile of bones. The crypt seemed to float around me, and the scrape of a steel mace being drawn out brushed by lighter than a breeze.

“You! I thought…but the shrine…you two should be dead!” Cluvar yelled, as my vison re-stabilised itself. Shrine? Was that the snake down there? If he knew, then…

Trapped contract. Looks like we both got lucky. “Hawk?” I asked, as he pulled me up and I thrust Goldbrand into his free hand. “Do you wanna kill a Redguard?”

His thieves’ grin widened, drawing out Boethiah’s flame-cloaked katana. “Thought you’d never ask.”

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