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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5. The Contact

Night had been and gone by the time the looming city became more than just a shapeless mass in the distance, and now actually looked like a city. All the snow had been replaced with grassy, flat tundra all in shades of yellow and green that wouldn’t look out of place in southern Cyrodiil. Deer ran from my approach until they became no more than blots in the distance, and the occasional fox had ran alongside me on my way to Whiterun.

The city looked sleepy in the grey light of the cloudy dawn, like its eyes were barely opening. Perched on high stones, it seemed to grow out of the tundra, throwing out small farmhouses and the odd windmill or two onto the surrounding plains. As I got closer, a sloping road seemed to yawn out onto the path I’d directed the horse onto, and scrubby clumps of grass adorned with red, blue, and purple mountain flowers seemed to act as guides to the road.

I stifled a yawn as I got closer, using one hand to wind my scarf around me to cover my hair and face. A friendly city or not, an assassin must always be anonymous no matter where they go, from the smallest village to the largest city. Though I already stood out like a snowberry bush on a frozen plain, a little anonymity could be achieved.

The sour reek of horse manure came through the sleepy tundra air as the brown block of the stables emerged. The carriage horse whickered as I approached, leaning down and chewing on a tuft of rough grass as it snorted hot air. The carriage driver, a blonde, burly Nord man, seemed to be staring at me as I roughly dismounted from my stolen horse, and clearly stifled a chuckle as it reared and bucked, knocking me over into a clump of blue mountain flowers. It gave a triumphant neigh as it ripped the reins out of my hand, rearing up and galloping off back the way I’d came, whilst kicking up a cloud of dry earth behind it.

“You ok there? Got yourself a real wild stallion it seems. Lucky he didn’t kick you.” The carriage driver asked, once I’d eased myself out of the flower clump and dusted myself down.

“Yeah, I’m good. Think the stable buck sold me him cheap as he was looking to get rid of him.” I replied, heading up to the carriage and letting the carriage horse nuzzle my sleeve.

“A good horse should always be broken in when you buy them, like my girl here. You heading somewhere in particular, or plan to settle in Whiterun?” He purred, his Nordic accent heavier than Ulfric’s, but a lot warmer too. Like the Nords I’d heard before, he too heavily rolled his ‘r’s around and turned his ‘the’s into ‘te’s.

“I’m planning to head to Markarth. Get some work there. You go anywhere near there?” I replied, as I felt in my pocket for the flawless garnet Daro’Rihana had originally bought my silence with.

“Aye, I can take you to any of the Hold capitals. You’ll want to hire my carriage if you’re heading out to the Reach. The roads are filled with dangerous madmen.”

Madmen? What kind of a place is Markarth then? “What sort of Madmen?”

“Forsworn, ma’am. Savages, living out in the Reach, killing any non-Breton either stupid or suicidal enough to venture out onto the roads. Their king and a bunch of his men escaped from the old prison there, and now roam the Reach, worshipping their Hagravens and Daedra Gods. Rumours say some of them even cut out their hearts in exchange for the strength of ten men. Total savages, you see. However, only twenty septims will get you a safe ride to Markarth, guaranteed free of all Forsworn.” The driver purred, as I took out the flawless garnet.

“I don’t have any septims on me, but I have this. I reckon it’s worth three times that.” I replied, handing over the gemstone and watching the driver break into a wide smile.

“You’re not wrong there. You’ve got yourself a deal, ma’am. Climb in back and we’ll be off.”

I grinned and headed around the back, climbing up into the carriage and perching on one of the wooden benches. It smelled of newly-cut wood back here, with that zingy, fresh scent of pine with it, and the seats were still springy, indicating this carriage was pretty new.

“Hey, you’re not from Skyrim, are you? Got a bit of an accent. Take it you’re a traveller?” The driver asked as he flicked the reins and the carriage began moving with a steady groan and a gentle rocking movement.

“Something like that.” I replied, slipping off my backpack and settling it at my feet, so Vixen’s quiver hung free on my back.

“In your travels, you ever met one of them cats? Kah-jeet, I think they call themselves. I hear there’s whole countries of them down south.”

I stifled a yawn as the carriage rocked further, rounding a corner and heading west. “Yeah, I’ve met them. I’m from there. Anequina to be precise, in the North.”

“Ah, thought you were from somewhere down south. If you’re tired, we’ll be in Markarth around nightfall. You’ll know when we get there, don’t you worry.”

I yawned again and smiled, leaning against the wooden back of the carriage as it gently rocked and creaked. I didn’t even manage to reply back to the driver, as my eyes slowly closed, and I drifted off to sleep.

* * *

The shrill creak jarred me awake, as the carriage groaned to a stop. All around me, the whisper of bushes chorused with the chattering of water, hush of the wind, and the quiet murmuring of people. Opening my eyes, I was faced with a clear night sky brimming with stars, with the round, berry-red Masser garnished with just a sliver of grey Secunda.

It would be the birthing of the Senche-raht back home, when the streets are full of surprises. Seeing a tiny little fluffball barely big enough to fit in the palm of my hand switch to becoming the size of their parents in a week is always a bit of a shock, but you get used to it.

I eased myself up, my back clicking several times as I stretched and took a look around.

The city yawned out from the cliff face, carved in lightly mottled stone, and adorned with a strange metal coloured somewhere between gold and copper, that glinted under the peppery, star-swirled sky. The double-doors, perching high above twin flights of stone steps, were made of this metal, carved in a strange double-sunrise design. Beyond the wall, a great stone tower protruded up, peppered with slit-like windows and capped with more of that metal. All around, smaller versions of the tower, manned by guards, framed the lush green surroundings. A stable block in stone crept around, reeking of horse manure, and crawling with two stable bucks.

“You’re awake then. Welcome to Markarth. Bet you’ve never seen anywhere like this before.” The carriage driver purred, as I took up my possessions and hopped down onto the springy earth.

“No, never. It’s beautiful though.”

“Ah, you never had dwarves in Anequina then. That makes sense, most of them were in the north, through Morrowind, Hammerfell, and here in Skyrim. You’ll want to take a good look around Markarth then. Every building is completely original, right down to every bed in the Silver-Blood Inn. People reckon the architecture’s been around since the First Era, or maybe more. The Dwemer sure knew how to build.”

Hmm…well I suppose I could take a look around the city. Stock up on supplies, spend a few nights in the inn to recuperate, and just general traveller stuff. If anything else, it would keep my cover intact.

“Sounds pretty good. I’ll be sure to take a look around. Thanks for the ride here.”

“Don’t mention it. If you ever need to go to any other Hold capital, the carriage driver here will take you. Though a word of advice. Don’t get on the bad side of any of the Thalmor stationed here. Justiciar Ondolemar died recently, and the new Justiciar thinks he was too soft. At best, Carnyon’s like a sabre cat that sat on a thorn. If you just keep your head down, he should leave you alone.”

Sabre cat…if that’s like a lion or a cheetah, then that’s definitely not good. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my head down.”

“That’s good to hear. I hope to see you around soon.” The driver called out, giving me a wave and flicking the reins, so the carriage gave a creak and began rolling away.

I smiled and turned back, heading up to the nearest flight of stone steps towards the city gates. Two guards stood firmly in place, both clad in the same spooky steel armour with the hollow eyed helmets as the guards of Windhelm. This time though, the sash they wore and shields they carried were a deep pine green, like the mossy earth and spindly trees in the distance. On their shield, a strange design had been painted in white, similar to the Windhelm bear. Two curved horns, a bit like a sheep’s, with a twisted, knotty design spiralling between them.

“New here? Welcome to Markarth, traveller. Safest city in the Reach.” One of the guards purred as I passed by. Her accent was definitely the strongest I’ve heard, dropping every ‘th’ in existence. I gave a curt nod back as I pushed the door open with a clang, and slipped into the city of Markarth.

It was a lot more open than Anequina cities, with a big stone courtyard littered with a few wooden stalls. Thin ropes criss-crossed the sky from roof to roof, and moss clung to every corner. Every building was made of mottled stone, with doors of that copper-gold metal, and weathered shop signs were carved above the doors. A thin stream ran through the middle of the courtyard, crossed by bridges, and in the distance the rush of a waterfall was pierced by the crackle of a forge, the creak of ropes, and several loud cracks like snapping twigs.

This was where whoever this ‘beseecher’ person was holed up? Well it seemed like a pretty good place to hide. You could easily head up the stone steps into the upper city and melt into the place, mixing blood with the warm smell of cooking meat and the eye-watering scratch of metal being melted down and forged. Even the guards steadily patrolling the place wouldn’t be able to find anything odd.

The sound of music and merry chatter tumbled out into the main area, as what sounded like the inn opened its doors and let out a few people, including one singing to himself. Human, probably a Breton from his slimmer build, he staggered and tried this weird little dance as the crowd avoided him. He sounded like Banshee when Masser’s full, and looked like he’d had too much of the mead that splattered the brown leather vest and blue tunic he wore.

“We-we drink to our yoush, to our daysh come ang gone…fur te age of aggreshion ish jusht about done. We’ll drive out the Shtormcloaksh and reeshtore what we own…hey lady! Lady in the red. Come over here, come danshe with me. Shelabrate with me. On-Ondolemar’sh dead! Praishe be whover hash to take hish filthy soul.”

The drunk had staggered his way over to me by now, taking one of my hands and trying to twirl with me. There was no way of refusing him, though he stank of strong drink. Though there was something off about him. Underneath the sickly reek of what I’d presume is mead, something strange was there. Something sweet and familiar, underneath the fresh, shock-like zing of pure outside air and untamed forest.

“Come on, lady. Danshe with me. Shing with me. I’ll shtart. It’sh like the Ayge of Aggreshion. Come on!”

He slurred and staggered closer, backing me up against the frigid stone of the wall as he began his drunken ramble. Up close, sweat soaked his brow, but his breath had no alcohol on it at all. It smelled more like raw meat.

“Down with the Thalmor, the controllersh of kingsh! When you’re all driven out, even Talosh will shing! To all elven kind, we shend you away! Altmer and Boshmer and Dunmer ash well.”

I was about to shove him off me when something poked my stomach. Hard and sharp, it threatened to pierce through my leather belt as his drunken leer turned into a cold snarl.

I didn’t care that people would stare, as this was serious. I drew my knee up and hit him right in the fork of his legs, making him double over as I got off the wall and straightened up, forcing my forehead hard into this throat, right under his chin so he was staggered. Combined with my earlier strike to the crotch, it left him bent double, his back exposed.

That was only half of it. Clenching my fist, I held it up and rammed my elbow hard into his back, right below the shoulder blades, as I took his hair and guided it so as he went down, his face was crushed against my raised left knee and ended up broken against the stone.

Now he was down, I skipped around a few steps, moving my feet like a grapevine as I took Vixen out and backed up, watching him as he groaned and pulled himself up. Blood had exploded all over his nose, dripping down onto his bare chest. His tunic had torn to his waist, and the leather lacing on the vest had come untied, leaving his chest open to blood splatters, and a severe wound where his heart would be that was laced open with strange spikes in his flesh.

I barely had time to pull out an arrow when he got up with inhuman speed, all trace of drunkenness gone. Blood gushed from his nose as he drew out a strange dagger made of pure white bone. It had a blade on either end, like a crescent moon the length of someone’s forearm, and seemed to flash like lightening as he lunged with the roar of an animal.

Thinking was out of the question, just fighting until I’d drawn fatal blood. Priming Vixen, I drew back her string and fired, letting the arrow smack into his free arm.

Dud shot, must try again. I’d staggered him, but that wasn’t enough. Passing behind the empty stall, I loaded another arrow and fired again, hitting him right where his heart would be, next to the wound in a killing shot.

Nothing. He was staggered, but regained his balance and laughed, pulling out my arrow and snapping it, before flying at me again with his crescent dagger like a restless ghost.

This can’t be right. This is something unnatural. I gave up on taking wild shots at him and just fled, passing by the inn and following the trickle of the stream down a steep hill, following the dizzying stench of ores being smelted.

The fumes made my eyes prickle and teased out tears, forming a film of disorientation as I staggered onto a wooden platform, like a pier. The rush of the waterfall filled my ears as the mottled figure drew closer and the fumes of the melting ores threatened to choke and suffocate me even through my scarf. Fumbling for an arrow, I seized one and loaded Vixen, taking aim as he swung back his dagger and lunged in for the kill as Vixen’s sleek bowstring slipped free, and the arrow shot forward.

I struck him. I don’t know how, but Vixen had sent my arrow right through the open wound in his chest. He was sent back about half a foot, hitting his head on the stone corner of a building with the arrow stuck out garishly.

I wiped my eyes with my sleeve and got back onto solid ground, reloading Vixen with another arrow as he groaned and spluttered. Taking aim, I drew back the string, when a figure clad in black leapt in the way, drawing out a goldish-green blade that seemed to be made of fine feathers, and slicing it across the strange attacker’s throat.

I barely had time to drop the shot and re-sheath the arrow when the figure turned to me. An Altmer, he kept his sword out, drawing closer as the Justiciar’s robes came into view.

Thalmor. Brilliant. That’s all I needed. Sheathing Vixen into her holder, I put my hands up in front of myself and kneeled down into the ‘I’m harmless and I surrender’ position. If I was able to lie my way out of this, it would be a miracle.

“Who are you? Explain yourself, what happened?” He barked, drawing closer with his sword drawn. The plummy tones to his voice were still ripe, so he couldn’t have been out of Alinor for that long.

“I thought he was just a drunk. He was staggering and slurring his words all over the place. He leaned up close to me and tried to stab me, so I got him off me and took a few shots. I ran when I shot him in the heart and he still carried on.” I muttered, standing up slowly with my hands still up.

“He carried on as he didn’t have a heart. Briarhearts have them cut out in exchange for greater strength. They can rip a man in two with their bare hands. How could you have survived?”

Forsworn…that was one of those madmen the carriage driver warned me about. “I was raised with a bow. My mother said it was essential that I learned to defend myself and our farm. I’ve done it since I was six or seven.” I replied, lowering my hands. Lying to the Thalmor never ends well, so best play it safe.

“I see. Well you certainly have a keen eye. Not many archers could have pierced the prickly briar seed in the chest of a living Briarheart, let alone one in your position.” He purred, sheathing his sword and lifting my chin up so he could look at me. “What’s your name, Dunmer?”

Sithis’ Wrath curse it, looks like I’ll have to lie. “Dinasie. Dinasie Thanalor.” I lied, scraping the name from a victim that was sent to the void a few years ago, and letting it drip off my tongue like venom.

“Thanalor…Thanalor…tell me, have you any connections to Mitane Thanalor?”

Mitane? “No, I’m afraid not. There have never been any Mitane’s in my family.”

“Is that so? Very well, Miss Thanalor, I should expect an invitation from the Dominion very soon. We have uses for archers like you.”

A shock bolt hit my spine right between the shoulder blades. “Thank you, Justiciar.” I quaked, my fingers itching to reach for Vixen.

“Good girl. Now away with you. This is official Thalmor business now. And remember, the Dominion has eyes everywhere.”

I took my chance and got out of there, giving a brief wave to the Justiciar as I dashed back into the main area. Thalmor only meant liabilities, and that meant trouble. Liabilities had to be eliminated at all costs, no exceptions. That and it’s always pretty fun to take out a patrol of Justiciars out on the Anequina roads.

This was no time for worrying about Thalmor. I had other matters to deal with, like finding this ‘beseecher’ guy, and hoping things would make more sense once this was done. With everything sorted, I adjusted my scarf, and slipped into the best place to get answers.

The stink of ale hit me hardest, along with the stale musk of sweat and eye-watering leftover smoke of the smelters. The miners must have piled in here after a hard day’s work, and clogged the place with the fumes of the forge that clung to their clothes. Over their low chatter and peals of laughter, the strumming of a lute chorused with the occasional crash of a broken bottle, the trilling of a flute, and gush of mead flowing from its casks. The light was dim, but through the crowd of patrons, I could make out the bar standing beneath a single ornate-looking light, backlit by a roaring fire, and manned by a single woman with blondish hair streaked with grey.

“Welcome, traveller. The Silver-Blood inn has plenty of strong drink and clean room- Hogni, did you drop something again!” The woman began, before turning to the source of a loud crash.

“No, it slipped from my hands, Hroki! You have a customer, by the way, bar-wench!” A heavily-accented man chorused back, earning a dirty look from the woman.

“Sorry about my husband, Hogni. Useless lump can’t do anything right. Now I see why my mother fought with father so much. Anyway, what can I get you? We’ve got fresh ales, fresh spiced wine, we had Black-Briar Mead,” Hroki scowled at Hogni, who was sweeping up broken glass in the corner, “and we have clean rooms for rent.”

Though a dish of Elsweyr fondue with fresh bread sounded tempting, I had a job to do. “Apparently there’s some kind of old Silver Prison around here. Know anything about that?” I asked, leaning on the bar.

“Silver Prison? I don’t know anything about an official prison, but there is Cidhna Mine. It was kind of like a prison.”

Cidhna Mine…that seemed plausible. “Sounds like what I’m looking for. Anything you can tell me about it?”

“Cidhna Mine’s an old silver mine. Used to be the main source of silver for Markarth. Also served as a prison for anyone who displeased the Silver-Bloods or broke the law. Nobody escaped Cidhna Mine, until about forty years ago. A mass breakout of imprisoned Forsworn swept through the city, leaving the mine empty. It’s still empty now, as it’s no longer secure. Why’d you ask?”

Damn it! “Just heard about the place and got curious. Thought it might be good to write about.”

The lies copied the thick blood of Leonora Venatus, dripping off my tongue like how the Thalmor-allied bastard’s blood dripped onto the remains of a new manuscript.

“Oh, well you might want to arrange a visit to the place. I’m sure the Jarl will allow, but it’s best to make sure. Oh, and don’t go past the farms after dark, including up to Cidhna Mine. The mountains are crawling with Forsworn.”

More Forsworn, like the heartless madman that I impaled. Definitely not good. Could be they’re worse than the Thalmor interrogators, and they’re real bastards.

“How do you get up to Cidhna Mine?” I asked, running my fingers along the bar, catching my fingers on every divot and knot.

“Go out the main gate, look west, and there should be a narrow path up the mountain that leads to Cidhna Mine. You’ll see it plain as day.”

That was all I needed. I had a location, a route, and a bit of an idea of what dangers may skulk in the mountains.

Yet an assassin must always pay her way. If not in gold, an alternative.

“Thanks for the help. By the way, is there anything I could do to help around here?”

Hroki shrugged. “If you can find me a better husband, I’ll keep the Silver-Blood Inn’s luxury suite permanently aside for you. Otherwise, I can’t think of anything.”

Finding a better husband for her wasn’t exactly the kind of thing we dealt with. The only bride we ever deal with was once covered in thick Thalmor blood. “If I can do anything, I will. Otherwise, thank for the help.”

 “No trouble at all. Safe travels, friend.”

I had a feeling she wouldn’t call me friend if she knew what I really was. Giving her a friendly smile, I slipped back out onto the streets of Markarth.

The air had a nip to it now, and was having a chew on any parts of exposed skin it could get to. Fresh, it carried the zingy tang of fast-flowing streams and the fumes of molten silver to scratch through my nose and poke at my eyes until tears came free. Wrapping my scarf over my nose, I wiped my eyes and slipped out of Markarth, on my way to Cidhna Mine.

The night air was chattering outside the city, alive with insects and the lone yelping of some kind of jackal-like animal. Strange, within all was dominated by the fumes of the smelters and forges, but past the walls, the wild Reach could shriek and sing uninterrupted. Nobody seemed to mind me. Even the guards leaning against their posts paid me no heed as I drifted silently down the stone steps, leaving only whispers behind me as I made it onto the short, tufty grass.

Looking back at Markarth, just beyond the rocky hills, the faint glow of lights shone. It seemed to fit the location of Cidhna Mine, and gave me a beacon. If I could get there before midnight, then things would turn out ok, and this chaos would be over and done with. If I got lucky, I might even avoid the Listener’s cruel side coming out.

I clambered my way onto what was a stone dam that had fallen through in the middle, yawning out over a waterfall. Spray clouded the air, filling it with a gentle rushing sound as I leaped across, landing silently on the stone wall on the other side, rolling over once forward, and breaking into a flat-out run onto the springy earth and up the well-worn path.

My legs were already starting to complain at having to take this route, being reduced more to climbing than walking. Gloveless, my hands took the brunt of when I had to go down on all fours, scaling the path like a Tenmar tree frog up a branch.

My palms were filthy by the time I could walk upright up the path, past strange clumps of plants and well-worn rocks. Dusting them off, I made my way over the apex of the hill, weaving down the path towards the light.

There it was. Nestled into the mountainside, the carved stone entrance crept up to peer at me. The black cavern of the entrance framed by flickering torches seemed to be full of writhing shadows, begging me to come nearer.

This was definitely the place. Contacts like filth, darkness, and places where anyone in their right mind would steer clear from. Makes the chance of being discovered and executed for associating with assassins less likely. An old – what was it that Mother woman said – Silver Prison, would be perfect.

Now I could let my true form shine through. Taking out Vixen, I dropped down into a crouch, keeping my knees unlocked a little as I crept nearer to the old mine entrance. Up close, I could see a crude stone block had been propped up on a tree stump, with ivy’s green hands caressing and crawling all over it. Beneath, the name ‘Cidhna Mine’ had been carved into the stone and filled with silver, presumably to make it stand out. Now it just looked sad and abandoned with the silver flaking off in places and small patches of fungi growing beneath the ivy. Just past the entrance to the mine, an iron gate swung limply on its hinges, giving off a faint squeaking as a light gust of stale air ballooned up from within the mine.

“Hail Sithis and let him guide my aim.” I muttered to myself, before I took a deep breath in, tightened my grip on Vixen, and made my way into the mine.

The air was a lot thicker in here, hanging above like a velvet curtain, and trapping the thick, tiger-coloured steam rising from the broth-like sludge of the former mine shaft. In the dim light, chunks of shimmering grey rock poked out of everywhere, eager to show off its silver bounty now there was little risk of it being stolen.

Even for a contact, this place was odd. Dark, filthy, and I daren’t light a torch. Creeping through the mine, I made my way down the shaft a little further, when the crunch came from under my foot.

White ribs, about a forearm in length and a finger in width, lay smashed under my foot. Attempting to be kicked nearby lay the skull of the fallen soul, still with a few snaggled teeth poking out. Some Orc must have wandered in here and died, or was killed back when the place was a prison.

The contact can’t be too much further in. Ignoring the rest of the Orc’s remains, I crept further down, into the flat belly of the mine.

The air was suffocating down here. Thick and heavy, I had to fight to breathe through my scarf, stuck down in the dim glow of the mine.

At least the burning orange gases down here weren’t flammable. The two lanterns past the open gate would have set the mine ablaze were it so. Drawing closer, I replaced Vixen, getting a better look.

This was definitely where the contact was. Though perhaps that should be contacts, as two leather bedrolls had been smacked onto a bare vein of silver. Two dishes of savoury smelling meat were set out with a bottle of wine and two tankards nearby, and a plain set of greenish-white clothes lay folded neatly into a perfect square on one of the bedrolls. Just past the open gate, around the corner of the rock wall, the faint glow of light shone, beaconing the way with the flickering of two shadows.

There! There they were! Breaking my crouch, I leapt up and lunged past the gate, towards the shadows, catching my foot on the clothes and tumbling over, snuffing out a few candles surrounding a worn-looking skeleton of some kind of elf.

The Black Sacrament. The rush of joy at finding the place ballooned slowly down when I noticed the solid stone wall in front of me, and deflated completely with the clang of a lock behind me.

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