Storm’s Childe 2 – The Jester

the-group

Amelia descended a set of stone stairs and entered an office. It was furnished with a desk and some bookshelves, fairly unremarkable. A doorway led from the office to a master bedroom. Another doorway led to more stairs, where a beautiful Nord woman leaned against the wall. She was blonde and blue-eyed, and her hair was pulled back in a braid. She looked over and smiled.

“Amelia!” Astrid cooed, and she came forth with arms out to hug her. “What brings you here, Sister?”

Amelia hugged her back but otherwise didn’t waste any time. “The sanctuary in the Gold Coast was destroyed. My matron sent me out with a portal stone. As far as I know, I was the only one who made it out.”

Astrid’s eyes widened. “Destroyed? Are you serious? This is getting ridiculous. How did it happen? Do you know?”

“I wish I knew. The only thing we could think was that perhaps a newcomer who was on his way to the sanctuary was compromised. They hit us hard. They knew how to get inside and were prepared with some sort of alchemical reagent that even burned the stone walls.”

“When did this happen?”

“Just now. As far as I know, it’s still happening.” Amelia let out a breath. “Vallanil was there. Oh, gods, I shouldn’t have left! I should still be there fighting.”

Astrid placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Why stay there and die when you can leave and tell the tale? Perhaps we can help. You can stay as long as you want, of course. You’re family, after all. Besides, yours isn’t the only sanctuary that was hit. The one in Bravil was taken out as well.”

“Bravil? Isn’t that where the Night Mother was located?”

“It was. Her Keeper is bringing her here.”

“What in Oblivion is going on, Astrid? And is it just the ones in Cyrodiil, or do we have to worry here as well?”

“Like you, I wish I knew. Obviously we’re going to boost the wards on the Black Door, just in case. Come. Say hello to the others.”

Astrid led her down the stairs and into a large common room, where several assassins were joking about recent kills. One of them looked like a child, but she was not what she appeared to be. She was a vampire. Amelia didn’t know how old Babette was, but she figured she was at least a hundred years old, perhaps more. She came to Amelia immediately and gave her a hug.

The Matron stepped into the circle. “Brothers and sisters, I have bad news. The Gold Coast sanctuary was compromised and destroyed.”

Several voices all rose up at once.

“Destroyed! How?”

“Damned do-gooders. I bet it was Akatosh worshipers.”

Another sanctuary?”

Astrid raised her hands for silence. “Amelia?”

“It was Imperial soldiers. We don’t know how they found us, but we suspect a brother who was on his way from Dawnstar might have been captured and interrogated.”

Festus Krex, an older man and master mage, furrowed his brow. “Dawnstar? That place isn’t even in use. If he said he was coming from there, he’s a liar.”

“Damn it,” Amelia whispered. “Then we know even less about it than we thought.”

“Other than you,” the childlike vampire said, “were there any survivors?”

“I don’t know. The matron sent me out in the middle of the battle, but there were many soldiers, so I would assume there will be few if any.”

“That’s convenient,” said a big, white-haired Nord. Amelia and Arnbjorn had never gotten along, although she had tried to make friends. It just seemed he hated everybody but Astrid. These days, she just didn’t put up with his shit.

“What are you implying, Arnbjorn?”

“You were the only survivor. That immediately puts you under suspicion.”

“Are you implying that I betrayed my family? That I betrayed the Brotherood? How dare you!”

“You have to admit his words have merit,” said Astrid. “I hate to say it, but until we know exactly what happened, we have to put you under suspicion.”

“This is just great,” Amelia muttered. “My husband was there, for Sithis’s sake! Why would I . . . well, please tell me you’re at least going to investigate.”

“We’ll find out what happened,” Astrid said gently.

Veezara, a Argonian Shadowscale who had been an assassin practically since he could walk, spoke softly and calmly. “I will take a portal to the Gold Coast and investigate.”

“Thank you, but you should know the battle may still be going on. I left in the middle of it.”

“Then perhaps I can help. I will help fight, and I will find out what happened.” He pulled a portal stone out of his pocket, muttered an incantation, and disappeared.

“What should I do in the meantime?”

“Make yourself at home,” said Astrid.

“Yeah, because you’re not going anywhere,” Arnbjorn barked.

Amelia glared at him. “I’m still not afraid of you, werewolf.”

“And I still see you as food, tidbit.”

Astrid rolled her eyes. “Can you two please not try to kill each other? Too much is going on for me to have to stand between you. I have preparations to make for the arrival of the Night Mother and her Keeper.”

“That’s really a great honor,” said Amelia.

Astrid grunted but didn’t respond. She just patted Amelia on the arm and went back up to her office.

Amelia looked at the others with confusion. “It is a great honor, isn’t it?”

Arnbjorn shrugged. “She doesn’t even talk to us anymore, so why should we care?”

“She doesn’t talk to you? What do you mean?”

“We haven’t had a Listener in years. People are still doing the Black Sacrament, but if she hears, she doesn’t tell us.”

“Then how do you get contracts?”

“If someone is performing the Black Sacrament,” Nazir, a handsome Redguard wearing traditional robes and turban from his homeland, added, “we find out about it.”

“So you’re the Speaker?” she asked him.

“We don’t really use those titles anymore, but I suppose you could call me that. That doesn’t mean I don’t take a contract of my own once in a while.”

“I had no idea you were on your own. You should have asked the other sanctuaries for help.”

“Why?” asked a surly Dunmer named Gabriella. “She abandoned us, so why would we possibly think the other sanctuaries could offer us any aid?”

Babette took her hand. “All this can wait. You look exhausted. Come with me, and I’ll find you a free bed. You can get some rest.”

Amelia let Babette lead her through the sanctuary and to a large dorm room much like the one in the Gold Coast sanctuary. She led her to an empty bed and said, “You can say here. Decorate the area in any way you like. We make our own privacy.”

“It was the same in the Gold Coast sanctuary. Exactly the same. Vallanil and I didn’t live there because as a married couple, we wanted more privacy.”

Babette chuckled. “I can understand that. You’re a daywalker, right? Or do you fear the sun?”

“I’m a daywalker.”

The tiny vampire sighed. “You’re lucky. I haven’t seen the sun in three hundred years. Get some rest, Amelia. I have a feeling you’re going to need it. We’ll talk later.”

The vampire left, and Amelia lay down and closed her eyes. But she didn’t sleep; she worried, playing the battle over and over in her mind and wondering if Vallanil was still alive. She was too far away to connect with him mentally, so there was no way to know. After a few minutes, she turned over, grasped her pillow, and wept.

* * * * * * *

Amelia did manage to sleep for a few hours, but she was plagued by nightmares of Vallanil burning alive. She finally gave in and got up, cleaned up and went to the kitchen. She smelled coffee, and she smiled. With everything going on, a good cup of coffee was a welcome diversion.

Gabriella was in the kitchen, also having a cup of coffee. Amelia went to the cookfire and poured a cup for herself, then sat down across the table from the Dunmer. “Any word yet?”

“Veezara just got back. He’s briefing Astrid now.”

“Oh, good.” Amelia took her cup and practically ran through the sanctuary, up the stairs toward Astrid’s office.

When Veezara saw her, he lowered his head.

“What?” she demanded. “What is it?”

“I’m afraid the sanctuary was completely destroyed.”

“Did you find out what happened?”

“Not really, but I can tell you confidence is high that Vallanil escaped. Your matron was still alive, though barely. She had survived by playing dead, and though the Imperials had placed guards on the door, they were no longer inside the sanctuary.”

“How badly was she hurt?”

“Fatally, I’m afraid. But she stayed alive long enough to tell me that Vallanil and one other had escaped through portals.”

“Gods, poor Adele. Did she say who the other was? Did she say where they had gone?”

Veezara tilted his head, thinking. “Hmm. Yes, his name was Baronus. Unfortunately, she didn’t know where the portals had taken them. She was doing well to speak at all at this point. She died in my arms. She did say that you were innocent.”

“Obviously we can’t go on just that,” said Astrid. “We’ll still have to do some more investigation before we can just let you roam free.”

Amelia sighed heavily. “Yes, I understand. But I’ll need to feed.”

“Babette has many blood potions, so that won’t be a problem.”

“Is there any chance you’re going to our house?” she asked Veezara. “I have a pet senche.”

The Argonian nodded. “Of course. I’ll have to search your house for any incriminating evidence. I’ll do my best not to damage anything, so you can retrieve your belongings if you’re found innocent. And I’ll bring your senche back here. What is his name?”

“It’s Sumah.”

“Get settled in,” Astrid instructed her, “and we’ll get started.”

Amelia went to her bunk and lay down, hands behind her head and looking up at the ceiling. Vallanil was alive, thank Sithis, Dibella, and any other god who might have had a hand in it. Now, all there was to do was wait.

* * * * * * *

Veezara brought Sumah back the next day, and the big cat refused to leave Amelia’s side. They spent more than a fortnight in the sanctuary, worrying and waiting for word that she could leave. She was restless, wanting to find Vallanil and possibly start taking contracts, and but mostlyto find out what had really happened. Astrid finally came to her. She was in her bunk, communing silently with Sumah, when the Matron approached.

“We could find no evidence that you were involved,” she said. “Veezara searched your house and found nothing, of course; and he infiltrated the nearest redoubt and listened in. Though there was some chatter about the destruction of the sanctuary, nothing pointed to you, or anyone else, for that matter. Obviously we’ll keep an eye on you for a while, but if you would like to start taking some contracts, I’ll agree to that. I’ve never thought you were guilty in the first place, you know. It’s just protocols we have to go through.”

“But where did the evidence point?”

“Unfortunately, Veezara hit a dead end. He has gone back to the Gold Coast to try and pick up the scent again. I’m sorry there isn’t more to tell you.”

Amelia sighed with relief. “No, I understand. Thank you, Astrid. It’s just so hard not knowing what happened. I feel like I should be investigating.”

“Go see Nazir. I think he has some contracts for you. Simple things at first, just so you can get assimilated to how we do things here.”

She went to find Nazir, who stood next to a brazier in the common room and smiled when she and the senche approached. “Good day, sister. Astrid tells me you might be ready for some work.”

“Yes, please. Just sitting here is making me crazy.”

“I’ve already pulled some targets for you.” He picked up a file that was resting on the floor by his feet and pulled out three dossiers.

“Here we go,” he said as he handed them to her.

She looked at the first one, for a woman in Dawnstar named Beitild. She and her husband owned competing mining operations in the hamlet, and word had it that she worked her employees to death to get ahead. She had also apparently cheated on her husband, who was the client.

The second one was in Ivarstead, a man named Narfi, a local beggar, insane or mentally retarded by the looks of it, who had tried to rape the client’s daughter. Authorities felt sorry for Narfi and did nothing to him, so her father had performed the Black Sacrament.

Last was Ennodius Papius, a lumberjack at Anga’s Mill. Apparently he had started beating Anga and accusing her of collusion with “them,” although she had no idea who he meant. Nazir had done some digging and learned that Ennodius had more than one assassination contract out on him. He was also wanted in the Imperial City for murder.

Amelia looked through the files a couple of times and nodded appreciatively. “These are wonderful. Our Speaker always tried to give us as much information as possible, but I’ve heard that other sanctuaries just say ‘Here’s who you have to kill.’”

“We don’t do that here. We’ve been burned a few times by asking no questions, so we do our research before sending someone out on a contract. That way we can still pick and choose as the Night Mother did before she went silent. There’s no rush on the contracts; the targets aren’t going anywhere.” He furrowed her brow as he looked at her critically. “So you have a Speaker in the Gold Coast. Does that mean you have a Listener?”

“Yes, we do. Well, there was one for all of Cyrodiil, so who knows now?”

“But he or she listened to the Night Mother?”

Amelia nodded. “And told the Speaker, who told us.”

His expression gave way to one of confusion. “Why did she abandon us?” he asked helplessly.

“Maybe she didn’t. Maybe after the last Listener died, she just didn’t have anyone worthy to take the job.”

“Don’t let Astrid hear you say that. She has long held that she should be appointed Listener. But because the Night Mother wasn’t talking to us, there was no one to appoint her.”

“Perhaps that’s why the Keeper is bringing her here. Maybe a new Listener has been found.”

“Amelia, how long have you been doing this?”

“Just a few years. Why?”

“Many of us who have been in the Brotherhood a long time become jaded. But you have this bright-eyed innocence, and just hope it doesn’t get you killed.”

“I may not have been doing this very long, but I’m not a fool, and I’m far from innocent. I know better than to just rush into a situation. I’ll get started on these right away. Is there a town nearby where I might get some supplies?”

“Certainly. Falkreath is just up the road to the east.”

“Thank you, Nazir.”

“Do you need any money?”

“No, fortunately I had my coin pouch on me when I ported out of the Gold Coast sanctuary, so I’m okay for money. But I’ll need a bow and arrows, potions, et cetera.”

“Go to Babette for potions. If you need any enchanting done, go to Festus. If you want training, Arnbjorn and I can help you.”

Amelia chuckled. “Arnbjorn training me? That’ll be the day. But thanks. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Take care, Amelia. Be safe.”

“I will.” She turned and left the common room to find Babette.

The childlike vampire was in the dining room, feeding her pet frostbite spider, Lis. She smiled when she looked up and saw Amelia. “I’m sorry if Lis has frightened you,” she said. “I noticed you don’t seem to go near her.”

“Oh, no,” she said, reaching out to stroke one of the spider’s huge legs. “Hello, Lis. I’ve just been preoccupied. I’m not afraid of her. And I think Sumah has already made friends with her.” With a chuckle, she said, “We Dark Brotherhood members love our creepy pets. The mascot of the Gold Coast sanctuary was an assassin beetle. She was just about as big as Lis here. Vallanil has a pet jackal.”

“Sumah is very attached to you.”

“He’s more than just a pet; he’s my familiar. Also, I think he was frightened by the change, but he’s adjusting. He’s very gentle, and extremely intelligent.”

“Two things that Arnbjorn isn’t. Well, I shouldn’t say that. He’s reasonably intelligent. But definitely not gentle.”

“Arnbjorn and I don’t get along, but I think we understand each other.”

“I made some potions for your trip. There are six healing potions, three each of magicka and stamina potions, six invisibility potions, and six blood potions.”

“This is wonderful, but I can’t carry them all. I don’t have a knapsack.”

Babette smiled and reached under the table, presenting a worn but high-quality knapsack for Amelia’s use. “We keep things like this in supply just in case new brothers and sisters appear in our sanctuary with nothing. It happens more than you think.”

“Thank you so much, Babette.” She kissed the other vampire on the forehead and set about loading the potions carefully in the knapsack, although she kept one of the blood potions out and drank it. “I’m on my way out. I’ll see you soon.”

“Take care, sister.”

Amelia hugged Sumah and told him to be good, and with a promise from Babette that she would take care of him, she navigated the narrow hallways and stairs, then left the sanctuary. The sun had just set and there was a chill in the air, although the cold didn’t bother her anymore. She found the road just to the south of the sanctuary and turned left toward Falkreath, hoping the shops hadn’t closed for the evening.

She was in luck; they were still open. She went into Gray Pine Goods and looked around a bit, but she decided to leave when the merchant started threatening her in case she stole something. She decided she would come back after hours in a few weeks and rob him blind.

She found Lod, the blacksmith, farther down the road, and he was much more amicable. He had a lot to say about loyalty, and Amelia liked him immediately. He also had an ebony bow and arrows to sell her, in addition to sharpening her blades. She went away happy.

She looked at her map. All three contracts were far, and she could easily take a portal, but Nazir had said there was no rush, so she decided to start out on foot. She wanted to explore; maybe she could keep her mind off things. Besides, if she got tired of walking, she could always use the portal then. She set off toward the north. She decided to kill Beitild first, and she could look in on the Dawnstar sanctuary while she was at it. She didn’t quite know why, but she sensed more was going on there than the others thought.

Amelia walked through the night and stopped in a sleepy little town called Riverwood the next morning for a rest and some coffee. The innkeeper was gruff but not unfriendly, and she pretended to warm her feet by the fire while she drank her coffee. It wasn’t as good as the Speaker’s coffee, but it wasn’t bad.

“We got rooms if you need one,” he called across the room.

“No, thanks, just the coffee.”

Before long she was back on her way. She bypassed Whiterun and headed north, until she came across something she had never thought she’d see. A jester dancing on the side of the road.

She approached him, and when she got close enough she realized he wasn’t dancing for joy. His cart had a broken wheel, and judging by the size of the crate in it, three wheels wouldn’t be enough. The jester himself was an Imperial, nearly as short as she was, and his motley was ragged and dirty, the cap covering longish red hair. His voice was high pitched and shrill.

“Oh, bother and befuddle,” he moaned.

“Something wrong?” she asked as she reached him.

“Something wrong? Of course something is wrong. Don’t you see? Wagon wheel! It’s broken. And that farmer up there won’t help poor Cicero. Can you help?”

“Well, I’m not a carpenter, but I can go talk to the farmer for you.”

Cicero’s face lit up and he gasped. “You would help poor Cicero? I need to get my mother to her new home! I need that wheel. If you help Cicero, there will be coin in it for you.”

“Just stay here, and I’ll see what I can do.”

She walked up the hill to the farm, where the farmer was working in his field. He came over to the fence and said hello. “Good afternoon. I was calling about the gentleman at the bottom of the hill.”

The farmer chuckled. “Gentleman? He’s a clown! That in itself is suspicious. We haven’t had a merryman in these parts in a hundred years. And did you see the size of that crate? He could have weapons in there. Skooma. No way I’m gonna be part of that.”

“It seems that the sooner you help him, the sooner he’ll go away.”

“Forget it, sister.”

“I’m not your sister. You know, I haven’t been in Skyrim long, but I thought better of the people. A man who wouldn’t help a stranger on the side of the road because he looked too weird? What’s wrong with you?”

“You think talking like that is gonna make me change my mind? Just get out of here.”

Amelia stepped closer to him and met his eyes. She forced her will on him, and his eyes glazed over. “Now, listen. You will go and help Cicero, and you’ll be nice when you do it. He needs help, and you’re not the type of person to abandon a stranger. Do you understand?”

“Uh-huh,” he said numbly. “Help Cicero. I’m not the type of person to abandon a stranger.”

“Good.” She blinked and broke the connection, then said, “I’ll tell him you’re on your way.”

“Of course. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

Amelia walked back down the hill to the jester. “He said he would be down to help in a few minutes.”

2-the-jesterCicero started dancing again. “Oh, joy! Oh, rapture! Did you hear that, Mother? We’ll be on our way soon.” He turned to Amelia and grinned. “You’re a good lady. You helped Cicero. And here.” He opened a purse and pulled out a handful of coins, which he held out for her. “This for you. Clinky, shiny coin for helping Cicero!”

“Take care, Cicero, and have a good trip.”

“You too, my lady.”

With that, she headed on toward Dawnstar.

___________________

Characters and settings © 2016 Zenimax Online Studios

 

Marie and Gabrielle

Here are Marie and her dearest friend Gabrielle, ready for a night on the town. Marie’s brother Devinadel would probably have a heart attack if he saw her in this modern miniskirt.

This piece was a collaboration with the hubby.
Artwork done in DAZ3D with postwork in PaintShop Pro. No screenshots were harmed in the making of this work.
Characters and settings (c) 2016, Zenimax Online Studios

marie-and-gab-render-postwork

Storm’s Childe 1 – Sanctuary Asunder

1-amelia

Amelia Stormbringer sat comfortably on her bed, reading a book. She was at peace, a long, well-deserved peace, and it had come in such strange circumstances that it was still hard for her to imagine. If someone would have told her five years ago that she would end up in this place, on the path she now walked, she never would have believed them. She had always been a fighter—she had been a mercenary since the age of eighteen—but fighting and murder were two different things.

Amelia was twenty-seven years old. She was tiny—just under 5’2” tall. Although Vallanil said she was a raving beauty, she had always thought of herself as cute. But she could work with cute. She had red hair that she had always kept short because long hair could be used as a handhold by the enemy. She usually wore black and red, whether it was her armor or clothing, although she rarely wore dresses. She wasn’t fond of most jewelry, with a couple of notable exceptions, one of them being earrings. She loved them and always wore them, and she had over a hundred pairs in her collection. Her eyes had once been blue, but they were red now. Only a magical ring kept them from glowing red all the time and giving up her nature.

Amelia was a vampire.

The ring itself was a diamond solitaire with four sapphires surrounding it. Her wedding ring. But it was more than that. It was enchanted to change her eye color, skin temperature, paleness, even the color of her blood-red tears so that they looked normal. Being married to a powerful mage had its perks.

Vallanil Stormbringer, a stunningly handsome Altmer with shoulder-length brown hair and pale-blue eyes that didn’t change unless he was very hungry, had turned her on their wedding night, in an inn in Wayrest. As she sat here now, she could still remember his cold skin and the feel of his teeth biting into her throat—painless due to the glamour he had placed on her, but alarming nonetheless. She loved and trusted him, but she was terrified. All he could do to comfort her was take her hand, but it had helped.

She looked over at him on the bed, engrossed in a book himself, and smiled. All Oblivion had broken loose when they had returned to Rivenspire after the wedding, but her fears aside, that one night in Wayrest had been the best, most important night of her life.

Vallanil looked over at her. “Why are you smiling at me?” he asked her.

“I was just thinking of our wedding night.”

He chuckled. “You do that,” he said in an accent that hinted at a couple of centuries in High Rock rather than the Summerset Isles. “You’re such a . . . girl.”

“You just hush,” she said as she swatted him playfully on the arm.

Placing a marker in her book, she closed it and put it on her nightstand. She blew out the candle—which was really unnecessary with her night vision, but old habits died hard—and kissed her husband goodnight, then slid down beneath the covers. She slipped down into the torpor of the dead in minutes.

* * * * * * *

The next morning, just as the sun was rising, they awoke next to each other and made love. After four years, they were still in the honeymoon stage of their relationship, barely able to keep their hands off each other, and they clung to together, their cries and moans rising through the air in a chorus of ecstasy. After they both were spent, they held each other for a long time before finally rising to greet the day.

Amelia had met vampires who burned to ash in the sun. Fortunately, Vallanil had not been one of those, and they were free to roam Nirn during the day. They were more powerful at night, but the sun did little to weaken them. They dressed, fed from bottles of preserved blood, and then made their way to the Sanctuary. They lived in the Gold Coast, the southwestern part of Cyrodiil, less than a mile from the Sanctuary that was their second home.

After Amelia and Vallanil had married, they had endured a couple of great tragedies before finally getting their existences back on track. After that, they had continued Vallanil’s career of working as mercenaries, and some of their actions had caught the attention of the Dark Brotherhood. An assassin named Baronus had come to them, offering them a family, a place to live, and an exciting career. Amelia had never thought of herself as assassin material, but Vallanil had been intrigued by the offer, so she gave it a try. And she had never been happier.

The Sanctuary was at the end of a mile-long, high-banked trench in the north-central part of the Gold Coast. The door was well hidden and password protected, and as far as Amelia knew, no one had ever gotten in without permission. The Sanctuary was built into the bedrock, and all the walls of the cavernous structure were made of stone. It had all the comforts of home, though—sleeping areas, mess hall/kitchen, crafting stations, even recreation and training halls. There were a few private bedrooms, but the majority of the assassins lived in a large dormitory hall. Their areas were widely spaced, but there was little privacy, especially for a married couple. The mood of the Sanctuary was usually light, with everyone having taken out their frustrations on their targets or in training. Today was no exception, and two of their brothers—Argus and Runs-in-Shadows, were standing in the doorway to the kitchen, drinking coffee and exchanging jokes. Vallanil kissed her cheek and headed for the Speaker’s chamber.

Amelia chuckled at her brothers. “You’ve both told those jokes a hundred times.”

“A hundred and one now,” said Argus with a wink.

“Well, get out of my way. I want some coffee.”

They let her into the kitchen, and she went to the cook fire where a wood-handled iron kettle hung from a hook, holding a delicious smelling brew. Speaker Maximus was responsible for brewing the coffee, and Amelia had no idea where he found such a delicious blend, but she couldn’t get enough of it. He made it several times a day, and she would stop for a cup as often as she could, or just carry it around with her.

“You have no need for mortal food and drink,” Argus said as she poured herself a cup. “Why do you insist on drinking all our coffee?”

She took a sip and said, “You know, some vampires can’t taste anything but blood. Food tastes like ash in their mouths, and liquids other than blood have no flavor whatsoever. I’m just glad I’m not one of those.” She held the cup up in toast and then took another drink.

She sat down at the table and drank her coffee, laughing and joking along with Argus and Shadows. When she was finished, she poured another cup, then went to find the Speaker.

Speaker Maxiumus was a scary man. He was pale-skinned, having rarely left the Sanctuary in several years, and his cold blue eyes could bore into your very soul. His voice was deep and sinister, perfect for someone dealing in death-by-delegation. That said, he was warm and caring of other members of the Brotherhood. He stood alone in his chamber, hands behind his back, contemplating Sithis knew what, when Amelia walked in.

“Has Vallanil already been here?” she asked.

“Yes,” the Speaker said softly. He was a man of few words.

She took a sip of coffee. “Do you have anything for me today?”

Maximus shook his head and smiled. The smile changed his whole face. He went from creepy to fatherly, in a way. “Nothing,” he replied. “Consider it a day off.”

“Thank you, Speaker. I’ll be in the training hall with Vallanil should the need arise.”

“Enjoy your day, Amelia.”

She joined Vallanil in the training hall, where he was busy setting a dummy on fire with his flame staff. He didn’t train much these days. He was over three hundred years old and had long ago become a master of destruction magic. He preferred to spend time in his lab, working on myriad experiments, enchantments, and potions. Amelia, however, tried to train some each day. She was adept at swordplay, unarmed combat, the bow, and some Dragonknight magic, but she still had a long way to go before she could claim mastery.

Her trainer, a Dunmer named Azarath Sadrano, waited for her on the mat in the center of the training hall. She took a sip of coffee and then left it on the floor with her swords and joined him. Vallanil finished his practice and sat in a chair next to the wall to watch.

“Good morning, Azarath,” she said amicably.

“You’re late,” he barked.

“No, I’m not, and you know it. I’m right on time. You’re just early. And cranky.”

He shrugged his agreement and attacked her. Amelia had an easy time of grabbing him by the lapels and throwing him over her shoulder.

“Good,” he said. “Let’s go again.”

She and Azarath trained in unarmed combat for about an hour before switching to practice swords. Azarath was just over ninety-five years old and did call himself a master. He was a patient teacher, at least with Amelia, and she had learned much from him in the two years since she and Vallanil had joined the Brotherhood. Today they worked on a couple of new combat strategies he had recently taught her, with the goal of perfecting her technique.

“Always my best student,” he said proudly when they finished, patting her on the shoulder.

“I’m your only student,” she reminded him.

“Not for long. We have a new recruit joining us from Dawnstar in Skyrim. He should be here any day now.”

“That’s lovely. I look forward to meeting him.” She walked over to where Vallanil sat and said, “Well, it looks like we have the rest of the day off. Care to go to Anvil and do some shopping?”

“Of course, if you’d like.” He stood up, towering over her by more than a foot, and bent down to give her a quick kiss. “I want to stop at the alchemist’s and get some—what was that?”

A cool breeze flowed through the room. Shouts rose up from the area near the exit, as did sounds of battle. Amelia picked up her swords and ran down the hall behind Vallanil to see what the commotion was. It was most definitely a battle, as Imperial soldiers fought against her brothers and sisters. How they had found the Sanctuary, much less gotten in, was a mystery. Amelia and her husband rushed in to join the fight.

Amelia engaged a snarling Imperial, knocking his sword out of the way with one of her blades and jabbing the other into his abdomen. He fell easily enough, but one more was behind him. They seemed to be swarming the place all at once, and there must have been forty of them against the twelve assassins. Everyone in the Sanctuary fought them, even Speaker Maximus, who barely picked up a weapon these days. Amelia didn’t have time to wonder if he was rusty as one of the Imperials came up and stabbed him in the back while he was distracted by another soldier. He fell dead between the two.

Shadows was the next to fall, and Minnie, a husky Breton woman, died next. Vallanil obliterated the soldier who had engaged him, setting him aflame and sending him screaming into one of his comrades, who also caught fire. That one careened into a banner, which also went up in flames.

The fire spread rapidly, almost as if it were enhanced with an accelerant. Amelia had to wonder if the Imperials had managed to sneak in and douse the place before anyone had noticed them. She gaped in awe as she watched the very stone begin to blaze. Then another Imperial attacked her and skewered her through the shoulder.

Amelia snarled and bared her fangs, making the Imperial cry out in fear and let go of the sword. She yanked it out of her shoulder and threw it aside, then advanced on him, catching him easily and biting him in the throat. Her wound healed as she drank, and by the time she dropped him to the floor, there wasn’t even a mark. There was another Imperial, though, and she barely had time to bring her swords up. This one wasn’t as experienced as the others, and he died easily. But she could see that her brothers and sisters weren’t as lucky. Several of them had always said they were assassins, not fighters, and the fact that the Imperial soldiers were overrunning them was proof positive.

Adele, the Matron of the Sanctuary, dashed over and handed Amelia a portal stone. It was how they got around to carry out contracts, and they were all adept at their use. Amelia had always been fond of Adele. She was a matron in every sense of the word, even to the point of nagging them to clean up their messes. She was extremely protective and would kill to defend them. She had even taken it upon herself to murder a client once when he had insulted Minnie. The veteran assassin stood there now with tears in her eyes. “We’re going to lose,” she said. “Take Vallanil and get out of here.”

“Adele, how did this happen?”

The Matron shrugged. “I have no idea. I would know if there were a traitor in our midst.”

“Perhaps it was the new recruit that was on his way.”

“Perhaps. But it doesn’t matter now. All that matters is saving whomever I can.”

Amelia couldn’t get to Vallanil. He was on the opposite side of a wall of fire. “Vallanil!” she cried.

He turned to mist and tried to waft to her, but he couldn’t get past the wall of flame.

“The flames are enchanted,” he called to her. “Go, and I’ll come find you.”

“Where will this take me?” she asked Adele.

“Skyrim. Falkreath, I believe. I’ll tell Vallanil where to find you. Now, go!”

Amelia was never one to run from a fight, but as she looked around her, she realized that Adele was right. They were going to lose. In mere minutes, the Gold Coast Sanctuary would be no more. She could stay here and die with them or leave and tell the tale. She nodded to the Matron and retreated to the training hall where no one was fighting. She swiped her finger across the rune and muttered the incantation. Blue light surrounded her, and with a whoosh and a pop, the light coalesced into a large, oval portal. She stepped through, and suddenly she was elsewhere.

She stood outside a black door adorned with a skull, and an eerie red aura floated around it. A pool of dark water rested in the yard behind her, and the whole area was surrounded by thick foliage. She couldn’t tell where she was, but it was quite a bit colder than the Gold Coast Sanctuary, so figured she was indeed in Skyrim.

She knocked on the door, and it whispered to her.

“What is life’s greatest lie?”

Amelia had memorized the responses to all of the sanctuaries’ questions long ago. “Innocence, my brother,” she replied.

“Welcome home.” The door opened, and she stepped inside.

Characters and settings ©2016, Zenimax Online Studios, Inc.

Earrings by Aegean-Prince on DeviantArt: http://aegean-prince.deviantart.com/art/Celtic-Knotwork-125583316

Featured Artist – Andy C. White

I found this person’s gallery on DeviantArt and was just blown away. These are just a few of her fabulous pieces. Sorry about the large size, but to shrink them down wouldn’t do them justice. If you like fan art of any kind, check her out. andycwhite.deviantart.com

we_re_all_stories__in_the_end_by_andycwhite-dakfawg

rose_by_andycwhite-dakyjvpninth_by_andycwhite-da8m8bcmr__finch_by_andycwhite-da9kz3fmemories_by_andycwhite-dacpnlzchoices_by_andycwhite-d9zsstvholmes_and_watson_by_andycwhite-da38gnx