He’d barely set foot in the side chamber when his mother clipped him on the ear. “You could at least have mentioned her once!” She snapped.
Despite only coming up to his chin, Hawk seemed to shrink in front of the dark-haired Breton. “I was going to tell you, I just-
“It’s bad enough you went halfway across Tamriel without at least telling me you were going somewhere first! Carmjalla was the one who told me you’d gone off with some Dark Brotherhood assassin.”
She sighed, shedding her anger like a veil and wrapping him in her arms. “I’ve been worried sick about you. Still, at least you’ve been in good hands. Dark Brotherhood may be a little on the grisly side, but they’re loyal, that’s for sure. Talking of which, aren’t you going to introduce me to your girlfriend here?”
She looked over to me with soft eyes, brushing her dark hair aside. A few lines dug into the corners of her eyes, but still she had a glimmer about her.
“Mother, this is my girlfriend, Savil Felaano. I fell for her in northern Elsweyr.”
She let go of him and took my hand, brushing the cool metal of a ring against my palm. “I’m glad to meet you, Sera Mallory.” I replied, and she blushed a light pink.
“Always knew Dunmer are raised so polite. Don’t worry about any of that formal stuff, just call me Bonnay. If only my son had told me more about you.”
“I was going to, I swear.” He replied.
Bonnay rolled her eyes. “You’ve got your work cut out for you with him. Please tell me you’re staying long. The Guild’s always ready to recruit new members.”
Re-join the Thieves’ Guild? Hmm…definitely possible…wait, no! No, far too dangerous! Putting the entire Guild at risk then.
“We hope to be. Does father know about us coming back?” Hawk replied.
“Pfft, he wouldn’t know if I became a vampire, bit him on the nose, and hung on until next Morndas. He’s probably in the Flagon with everyone else. The birds are still looking for the new third guardian.”
“Yep. Come on, I’ve got to make sure that husband of mine hasn’t done something stupid with those stolen rubies he got. Bribing the birds to let him grow wings. Ha, he ain’t escaping me in the afterlife that easily.”
Afterlife? That…that could be useful. Could mean some way of evading the wrath of the Night Mother and the Dread Father.
“What are these birds you mentioned?” I asked.
Bonnay beckoned me to follow, guiding me out to Nocturnal’s statue. “They’re her servants and her shadows, guarding her artefact in the afterlife in her realm of the Evergloam. Think there’s a book about them around the Guild somewhere. ‘Nightingales: Fact or Fiction’ it’s called. Those two banners there represent the two surviving Nightingales in the Trinity.”
“Does this happen if you’ve already dedicated yourself to a deity?”
She shifted, biting her lip. “Hard to say. Only ever known two Nightingales before. Don’t think any have been vampire or werewolf Nightingales if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Do any of the other Princes have things like this?”
“I think all of them do. Why, what’re you thinking?”
I said nothing. Just glanced over at Hawk. Though he smiled, fear had made its home behind his eyes.
“Just curious. Never had much to do with a specific Daedra in my old line of work.”
Just Sithis. Just the creator of all the Daedra, Aedra, and everything in the middle. He’s clearly more powerful than Prince Molag Bal and Hircine, as there were both vampires and werewolves in the Void, but maybe…
What about all of them?
“Savil? Savil, you ok?”
Hawk’s hand brushed my cheek, teasing the scar left by the fake Night Mother’s Keeper. “Huh…oh, yeah, I’m fine. Just deep in thought.” I replied.
“Well come on, mother’s gone on ahead to the Flagon. What were you thinking of anyway?”
He took my hand again, squeezing it as he led me towards the displays groaning with valuables. “How powerful do you think all of the Daedric Princes are?” I asked, and he paused.
“It depends on which one. Some are more powerful than others.”
“I meant all of the Princes together.”
He paused again, nipping the end of his index finger as he thought. “Either completely indestructible or they’d destroy each other within seconds. A lot of the Princes hate one another.”
“What about mortals that represent what the Princes are about? Like these Nightingales. But instead of just Nocturnal, there’s one for each Prince. How about then?”
“You’d put a werewolf, a vampire rapist, a thief, a warrior queen and Gods-know who else the Princes prefer all together? Recipe for disaster.”
“They’d be powerful though. If they could join forces. Really powerful. We wouldn’t even have to bother with two of the Princes. You proved it with Boethiah, and I did with…with her.”
“Power doesn’t mean a thing if the wielders aren’t using it right.”
“But what if we made sure they did wield it right?”
He leaned back against a bookshelf. “Wherever you’re going with this, there is no ‘we’ about it. I’ve done my time facing the Daedra. You wanna go chasing after vampires, pyromaniacs, madmen, and other oddities, knock yourself out. Boethiah is the last Daedric Prince I will ever deal with.”
Coward. “You haven’t ever heard why I’m suggesting this.”
“Then tell me. Go on, hit me with your best shot.”
Never say that around an assassin, whether or not they still practice the bloody arts. “If the Dark Brotherhood found out about…in the desert, and they’re pissed about it, we need something or someone powerful to take them out at the source. Sithis is more powerful than…well definitely Molag Bal and Hircine, as the Void’s got vampires and at least one werewolf in it, but what if those two combined their power and forces? Not just those two though, but all of them. We wouldn’t have to deal with the actual Princes themselves. Just those who they call Champion, or favour for their actions. If we got all of them together, we could take the Dark Brotherhood out at the very source. Sithis himself.”
“You’re talking about killing a God.”
“It was done at least four times before. My mother was only a little girl when it happened, but she was there for it. The end of the Blight, the death of the Devil, the dissolution of the False Tribunal who had stolen the love of the people. It happened four times before, so why not now? Why not a fifth?”
“You’re insane, you know that. Be glad this isn’t High Rock. King Antion and Queen Bellarie would have a field day with you in the Jehanna Asylum.” Hawk sighed.
“If I am insane then we’ve been spared the trouble of finding the Champion of Sheggorath.”
If I wasn’t though…Gods, just any madman wouldn’t do. Sheggorath is picky with his testing and his motives for choosing his champions are unknowable. At least some of the other Princes are less discerning with whom they call favoured.
“Let’s say for a moment you actually went through with this and went gathering champions of the Daedra. Who would you pick? We’ve got Boethiah sorted, Meph-”
“Don’t say that name!” I hissed.
“Sorry. We have those two and Molag Bal-
“No we don’t.”
He raised one eyebrow, picking a little bronze cube off the shelf and playing with it. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you said you shared a bath in blood with him in his plane of Oblivion. His mace became a gift for…well, you know who. I believe that makes you his champion.”
“Well unless the Emberbrand wine I had last week is secretly blood and my teeth have grown an extra inch or two, all of that means nothing to him. I could have delivered him the head of Prince Boethiah and it won’t mean a thing if the sun doesn’t turn me to ash and my eyes don’t glow like will’o-the-wisps.”
He bit his lip, his teeth as sharp as any fangs. “So you have to deal with him again. Forget it.”
“Easy, we may not have to go anywhere near him. For the other Princes…well…I dunno. Azurah, Merrunz, Namiira, Hermorah, Sangiin, Hircine tend to be a bit less strict with who earns their favour. Then there’s the Princes out of Elsweyr. Gods know who they prefer.”
“Whoever they prefer, I’m not letting you anywhere near them. You’ve faced enough of the Princes.”
“As a Dunmer, I’ve barely scratched the surface.”
“You’re still not going anywhere near them. I don’t wanna lose you to some power-tripping God.”
His hand found mine, running up my arm to cup my cheek, stroking the scar Mephala’s servant left behind. “No blood-letting, soul-trapping, or any other depraved stuff the Daedra would have you do. I don’t care what it involves, I’ll do it. All of it.”
“For some of them you won’t be able to. Molag Bal finds it preferable to grant his greatest gift to females, Azurah rarely deals with anyone not of Dunmer blood, Peryite refuses those who do not carry his blessing, and Sangiin hates talking to sober people.”
Hawk didn’t say a word to me, just opened the door to the Ragged Flagon and yelled over at the old bartender. “Vekel, how much mead do you have in stock?”
“There’sa whole cask over there. S’big ‘nough for you an’ your lady to make a home in it.”
“How much do you reckon I’d be able to handle before passing out?”
“About eight flagons if you’re like ye’sister.”
“Should be easy.” He yelled, before shutting the door and turning back to me. “Now what was that you were saying about me not being able to contact certain Princes, Savil?”
Git. “So you’re saying you’ll go through with it?”
“I’m saying that if you actually manage to find the right people who hold the favour of and can represent each of the Daedric Princes, then I’ll do whatever they wish to be done before they’ll help us.”
“I’ll hold you to that statement when I actually find the first one.”
Easiest one to go for would be Prince Molag Bal. One of his kin-children would be good, but they have to have gone through that ritual. The one Mother warned me about as a girl, when she told me not to go to Splitspine Cave in late Evening Star unless I wanted to know the true evil of the House of Troubles. If I can get a survivor, a Daughter of Coldharbour, that had earned the Prince’s favour, that would be the worst one out of the way. Gods, if only Skogsra Bronze-Heart were here. She…had she gone through with the ritual and been offered to Molag Bal in late Evening Star, she’d be perfect, but I’d never wish that degradation and pain upon her.
“You’ve zoned out again. Please tell me you haven’t thought of someone that fits.”
There were definitely some covens that insisted on that ritual. Not all, but definitely some. What was that book called? The one listing lots of the covens? ‘Immortal Blood’ or something? Bet I could find a copy. There are some books banned by the old Temple about vampires…yeah, bet I can get them too. I’m in a den of thieves, of course I can get banned stuff.
“Savil, you haven’t, have you?”
Not yet I haven’t. I’ll have to do a bit more research first, but I’ll have the most dangerous Prince sorted first.
“Maybe I have. You up for a bit of hunting?”
He froze, what little colouring he had draining like blood from a vein. Yeah, it wasn’t completely true, but how hard can it be to find a vampire clan that honoured the King of Corruption and persuade a member to join us?
After that…hmm, maybe raid the old Companions place. What was it called? Something Nordic. Your-something. Eh, spend enough time in Whiterun and I’ll hear it mentioned.
“I knew you assassins dealt with the darkest people Tamriel had to offer, but I didn’t think you went that dark.”
Oh he didn’t know the half of it. If he knew about the time Daro’Rihana caught me trading sujamma shots with a pointy-eared, half-breed Redguard to find out where his mistress would be… eh, better not tell him about that. Cost me enough bribing her to keep quiet, so shutting him up would bleed me dry.
“Every contact is either a grave robber or a murderer in their own right. This is normal. So, you fancy a little trip over the border?”
“We’ve just got you here away from your old Guild! At least give it a week to let all leads on you go cold.”
“It’ll take more than a week before the Dark Brotherhood gives up on a contract. We got a contract on a three summers old Redguard girl, Shana, and she was taken out when she ended her childbearing years.”
“You had a contract out on a little kid?”
“Not me personally. Her father – or so he thought, turns out he was actually her uncle – didn’t appreciate being cuckolded. That’s beside the point though. Point is, the Dark Brotherhood’s like a hunting hound. Once they get their teeth into someone, they don’t let go. Unless we do something about them, the Dark Brotherhood will be stalking us both until the day we die.”
“And cavorting with Daedra worshippers, vampires, and Gods-know what other misfits are out there, is your idea of fixing it?”
“You got any better ones?”
He slipped the bronze cube back on the shelf, one eyebrow arched as he looked me over. “At least give it a few days. Settle in. Research what you’re getting into. Steal what you’ll need for the journey. Meet the rest of the Guild and get allies. Neither of us can do this alone.”
He did have a point. Allies were always good. Especially if they kept themselves hidden. “Fine. Though if you come across any books on Daedra, vampires, werewolves, and anything like that when robbing homes, you know where to send them.”
He chuckled, straightening up and pulling me against him. “Such a stubborn thief. Come here, my little flame atronach.”
He kissed me on the nose as we entered the Ragged Flagon, guiding me to an empty table in the middle of the thieves and vagabonds. “If I move into the training room, you can share my bed. If you’re comfortable with it, that is. I can even set up a private spot for your ancestral tomb if you want.”
His hand brushed the chest at my hip. “Thanks, but I can find somewhere for it. It’s considered more respectful to the dead to have it out in the open anyway. Makes the dead feel they aren’t something to be ashamed of, but something to be proud of.”
“I’ll never understand your ways, will I? Wait one second.” He replied, before taking a knife off the table and stabbing the hand wandering over the family’s ancestral tomb in search of the lock, making it jerk back with a yelp.
“Sorry about that, Feline’s useless at pickpocketing and worse at judging who’d make a good target.” He replied, looking over his shoulder at the Redguard lad nursing a bleeding wound on his hand. “Back off my girl unless you want a trip to the canals.”
“No fair, Hawk. Not like she’s in the Guild.” He whimpered, squeezing his hand to stem the bleeding.
“I’m part of another guild though.” I replied, turning on my seat to face the thief, Black Hand on full display like a wound piercing my chest.
The kid just looked at me, glancing at the Dark Brotherhood’s calling card on my chest like a thief eyeing up a worthless haul. “Fear may work at getting others to submit before you, elf, but I’m no priestess of Dibella. It’ll take a lot more than that to get me down on my knees.”
Then he kissed my cheek and darted off before Hawk could swipe at him, weaving through the tables over to the bar.
“Sorry about Feline. Once he reaches his sixteenth summer, he should mature.”
If he doesn’t get a dagger in the gut, he will. “Where’d you find him?”
“He found us. One by one he cheated us out of our septims in the Bee and Barb. In the end he set up a proposition bet for Carmjalla. If he won, she had to let him in the guild. If she won, he had to return all the gold he’d scammed us out of.”
A confidence trickster. Huh, thought there’d be more of them up in Skyrim. “So what’s with the name Feline?”
“Just look at him.”
The Redguard lounged against the bar, seemingly playing a kind of game with the old barkeeper. He’d drawn two circles on the counter and placed a ruby on one of them, gesturing to do something with the gem. The whole time wearing this grin on his face as he drummed his fingers on the bar.
“Looks like the Khajiit that got the cream.” I replied, watching as he took a Colovian brandy goblet and twirled it over the gem.
“Exactly. He’s a smug little bastard and still young enough to not be scared of anything, but he does his job well so we can’t complain.”
A few encounters with the Dark Brotherhood should remind him that we are to be feared.
No, what am I thinking!? There’s a difference between throwing someone straight in at the deep end and throwing them in with rocks tied to them! That and if the Dark Brotherhood knew that he knew me, they’d skin him bit by bit until he told them where I was!
“Killer, you ok? You zoned out again.”
I jolted back, the Ragged Flagon springing to life around me. The bard had slid off the stack of crates in the corner and began plucking on her lute, and a cluster of Guild members laughed at some story.
“Huh, oh yeah…yeah, I’m fine. Is he the only one to use prop bets here?”
“Who, Feline? Yeah, they’re kind of his thing. Kiss and Queen prefer Honey Trapping. Arrow’s good at break-ins. Anset makes a good distraction. Crow and mother are pickpockets. Lullaby’s a highway robber. Blitz has a knack for bedlam jobs. You’ve met our forger, Midaural. My father’s our fence, and my sister just does whatever she feels like. How about you? Specialise in any way as a thief?”
If I didn’t I’d have never been a thief at all. “Break-ins.”
He smiled, running a hand down my waist. “Thought a girl like you would suit something like that. Involves- hold on a second, is he at it again?”
He was glaring just past me, over at a Nord leaning close to his sister, eyes running down her guild armour as he took her hand. “Been a while since I saw you in the Flagon, Maim. So, anything I can do to you? Or is it for you? No wait, right the first time!”
A growl began in Hawk’s throat, reaching for Goldbrand’s hilt as his sister pulled her hand away from the Nord thief. “Well if your name didn’t describe your performance in the bedroom, Swift, I might have thought of something.” She snapped.
“Wait here a second, love.” Hawk growled, getting up as the Nord, Swift, took a step closer to her.
“Hard to believe the Mallory family could produce such a harpy. You don’t know what you’re missing.” He snapped.
“No, but you’re going to turn up missing if you lay a hand on her again.”
The Nord turned as Hawk approached, drawing Goldbrand and letting its flames set the walls ablaze in light. “Back off my sister, Swift.”
The Nord turned and ran, bolting out of the Ratway as Hawk followed, towing the glow of Goldbrand’s fire behind him. With a smug smile on her face, Maim made her way over to the main Flagon and brought two wine bottles over to the table.
“Sorry about my brother, he’s done that for a few years now. Give him a few minutes to drop Swift in the lake and he’ll be back.”
She plonked herself atop the table, pulling what looked like blade fragments out of her back pockets. “I take it you get that a lot.” I asked.
“What, idiots like Swift? Let’s just say these broken daggers have cut many fingers even despite my brother acting like a Jarl’s housecarl.”
“Why don’t you ask him to stop then?”
“It’s either he scares them off or they find out for themselves how I got my Thieves’ Name. Our parents prefer the first option, but I’m not so sure.”
She lay the blade shards on the table and sat down, uncorking a wine as the glow of Goldbrand’s flames leaked back into the Ragged Flagon. “So how long until he tries it again?” She yelled.
“Hopefully he won’t, Maim.” He replied, sheathing Goldbrand and joining us at the table.
Maim…damn, did she cripple someone for life or something? I mean, thieves don’t kill but they can injure. So is she like an enforcer or something like that? Was that how she got her name?
“You said that last time. And the time before that. And before that. In fact I think you even said it back with Felrek Sable-Hound before I took his arm off.”
“You’ve made your point. Just remember, these are your fellow Guild members, not carriage guards.”
“Why I’d almost forgotten. The fact we’re in the same armour just meant nothing until smartass here reminded me.”
“That’s Mr Smartass to you.”
Maim rolled her eyes, pouring out a glass of wine and necking it in one. “What in Oblivion convinced you to pair up with him, Elfie? Has he even introduced you to the rest of the Guild?”
Elfie? Well I could think of worse names. “Well I’ve met a few. Feline and-”
“Just the Redguard, really?” She chuckled, downing another goblet of wine in one go. “What do you specialise in that doesn’t involve sending someone to wherever they go when you kill them?”
So archery’s out. “Well I used to do break-ins and smuggled a-”
“Got it, say no more.”
“Maim, don’t you dare!” Hawk hissed, seizing her wrist as she took hold of the bottle and downed the rest of the wine in one.
“What? You didn’t seriously expect to keep her all to yourself, did you?” She replied, slipping her hand free. “Sorry about my brother, Elfie.”
With that she climbed up onto the table and whistled through her fingers; the shrill sound bouncing off the wet stone of the Flagon walls. “Oi,” she yelled as the Flagon drew silent, “we’ve got a new one! She may look like Dark Brotherhood, but the Dark Elf can handle break-ins and smuggling stolen goods!”
She gestured at me before leaping off the table, staggering into her seat. “You’re welcome, brother dearest. Next time I won’t be so generous. Gotta actually make the effort if you want everything to go right.” She tittered as people looked over, winking across at him before focusing on the second bottle of wine.
“Maim, when this is over, I’m gonna murder you.” He hissed, cheeks reddening.
“Thought that was your lady’s thing, Hawk. I’ve seen that handprint before. Down by Falkreath.” An Imperial replied, leaning back on his chair. “Bet she’ll be a killer in the sheets.”
I could feel myself blushing as Hawk sent the thief a look of deep loathing. “Shut up, Arrow.” He hissed, and the thief laughed.
“Probably do you at least once for all the Princes she worships. Bet she has a collection.” He replied, jerking away.
“Of what? Princes or ways of doing ‘im?”
“Probably both, Blitz. Probably both.”
Lady Azurah’s Nerevar, it’s like Daro’Rihana and Effe-Zeeis.
“So you gonna take her behind the stables like you did Rhona Lylvont?”
“Shut up, Blitz! Rhona was nothing. She moved onto that guard two days later anyway.” Hawk replied, taking my hand.
“She moves onto everyone after a few days.”
“Except you, Blitz.”
“Pfft, like I’d want a mead bottle everyone else has drank from already, Arrow. Didn’t you screw Seven-Septim Svana a few nights ago?”
While the two Imperials bickered over who did who, Hawk hissed in my ear. “If you wanna knock out one of them when they’re being like this, go ahead.”
Eh, they were both still young. Still hormone-filled. They’d grow up in their own time. “Tempting, but I’ll pass.”
That and something Arrow said had stuck. Him and Bonnay Mallory really. About each Prince having servants and collecting them all. Hawk already thought I was mad when I explained it and bluffed him, but maybe, just maybe, it could work. I’d have to keep the lie going about already having it all set up, but that’s nothing. Nothing compared to the lies I’ve already told to get things done before.
“If they carry on talking about you worshipping Daedra, will that set you off on shutting them up?”
After what mother taught me, not one bit. Especially not when one of those two may have been a spark in the night, lighting the way. If this works out and I can actually find a worshipper or two that’s willing to help, I’ll owe him big.
“Well, I’ll certainly make sure all debts are paid.”