Storm’s Childe 4 – A Difficult Contract

Author’s Note: This chapter contains spoilers, not only for the “Mourning Never Comes” quest but also my Selene Stormblade series. I am writing this in the same world as Selene, after Selene’s story has been completed and before Dragonborn: the Legacy begins, and that means that certain out-of-game, off-lore things have happened. I make no apologies, but if you’re a lore junkie, you might want to consider not reading.

After nursing Vallanil back to health, Amelia took him with her to complete her other two contracts. With him along, the kills were effortless. Afterward, they used her portal stone to head back to the Falkreath Sanctuary.

Astrid’s office was empty, but there were voices coming from the common room, so they followed them. They stepped into an argument between her brothers and sisters and a familiar face.

“But the Night Mother is mother to all,” Cicero was saying. “It is her voice we follow. Dare you risk disobedience and maybe punishment?”

“Keep talking, little man,” Arnbjorn snarled, “and we’ll see who gets punished.”

Festus scowled at him. “Be quiet, you great, lumbering lapdog! The man has had a long journey; the least we can do is be civil. I, Keeper, am delighted to see you and the Night Mother here.”

Cicero beamed. “Oh, what a kind and wise wizard you are! Sure to earn our Lady’s favor.”

Astrid glared at her husband, then turned to Cicero. “You and the Night Mother are of course welcome here, and you will be given the respect that should be afforded the Keeper.” She turned back to Arnbjorn. “Understood . . . husband?

Arnbjorn glowered at Cicero. “Just stay out of my way, and we’ll get along fine.”

“Thank you!” Cicero said in his high pitched voice. “Yes, thank you! Thank you!”

“But let’s make one thing clear,” said Astrid. “I am the leader of this sanctuary, and my word is law. We have done just fine without the Night Mother or a Listener for years, and we don’t intend to change our ways now.”

“Oh, of course, mistress! You’re the boss.”

Cicero was lying. Amelia could sense it in his heartbeat, which increased the slightest bit. No matter how he was acting, he already hated Astrid and her animalistic husband.

Cicero turned to walk away and noticed Amelia and Vallanil. His face lit up. “My friends! And you know each other! It’s a small world, I tell you. Big vampire, I’m so glad to see you’re feeling better. Cicero hated leaving you there, but I had to get the Night Mother to her new home. And then I met you on the road and you helped Cicero. It’s so glorious to see you!”

Amelia smiled at him. “Welcome to the Falkreath Sanctuary, Cicero.”

“Indeed,” said Vallanil. “And don’t worry. I was asleep and didn’t even know you were gone.”

“Still, Cicero offers his most humble apologies. Now. I must to tend to the Night Mother. Cicero will talk to you soon!” He danced away, humming as he went.

Astrid was still in the common room, standing there staring at Amelia. “I take it this is your husband,” she said.

“Yes. Astrid, Matron of the Sanctuary, this is my husband, Count Vallanil Stormbringer.”

Astrid raised an eyebrow and smirked with amusement. “Count? You’re nobles? I‘m afraid that doesn’t mean much here.”

Vallanil shrugged. “Doesn’t really mean much to me.”

“Well, welcome to the Falkreath Sanctuary, brother. I know Amelia was most anxious to find you. Where did she find you?”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Matron. I was in the Dawnstar Sanctuary, locked in a nightmare perpetrated by Vaermina. Fortunately, my wife and a local priest of Mara were able to break the curse.”

She looked from one to the other. “I take it you prefer to take jobs together?”

“It’s preferred but not necessary,” Amelia told her. “We’ve been doing this a long time, and we know how it works.”

“Excellent. However, on this first job, you can go together. I need you to go to Markarth and speak to an employee of the Hag’s Cure named Muiri. We heard through our contacts that she has performed the Black Sacrament, and she has been running her mouth around town. She wants an ex-lover killed. Find her, set up the contract, and carry it out.”

“Any other details?”

“None that I have. Just do what she says, be professional and get the job done.” She gave them a thin smile, then walked past them up toward the office.

Cicero was on the other side of the room, working on getting the huge crate open, and Vallanil went to help him. Amelia followed.

Cicero broke away from the crate to hug them both. Amelia was a bit taken aback, but she hugged him anyway. “Cicero is so glad you’re here,” he cooed while Vallanil used his vampiric strength to get the crate open. “We’ll all be fast friends! Cicero thinks he needs some friends in this place.”

“I don’t quite understand why everyone was so hostile,” said Amelia. “Well, except for Festus. They knew you were coming.”

Vallanil shrugged. “Who knows? People hate change, and Astrid doesn’t want someone new coming in and telling her what to do.”

“Perhaps. So Cicero, as Keeper, what do you do?”

“Cicero takes care of the Night Mother’s body. Oils, it, preserves it, keeps it safe.”

“What about you?” she asked. “Tell us about yourself.”

“Oh, Cicero is just the Keeper; there’s nothing else to tell. I live to take care of the Night Mother, to keep her clean, protected . . . and happy. I don’t know what Astrid is so cranky about. Cicero is not the Listener. We haven’t had a Listener in so long. Too long.”

“But we had one in Anvil,” said Vallanil.

Cicero looked up at him suspiciously. “Oh, you did, now? Are you sure he was talking to our beloved Mother?”

“We all had work to do; I know that.”

“Hmm, interesting. Perhaps she has been punishing Cicero. Or Skyrim. Or Bravil. Cicero does not know. Suffice to say there is no Listener here, so Astrid can go about her business. Oh, for a Listener to finally rise. That would be wonderful! The Listener is the only one the Night Mother speaks to. Not to poor Cicero, that’s for sure. She projects her thoughts into the Listener’s mind. I hear it’s . . . intimate. Perhaps someday.”

He looked longingly over at the crate, which now showed an ancient, iron sarcophagus, and then back to the couple. “I do wish to get to know both of you better, but I must attend to Mother. Go and run Astrid’s little errand, and we can talk when you return.”

“See you soon, Cicero,” Amelia said fondly.

“Take care,” said Vallanil.

Together they went to the dormitory where Amelia had been sleeping. “I think we’re going to have to move to Falkreath if we intend to sleep in the same bed,” she said.

“We’ll start looking when we get back. In the meantime we can share this one if we have to. You’re light. You can sleep on top of me.”

“Okay!” Amelia replied enthusiastically.

They made preparations for the trip, then used the portal stone to go to Markarth.

* * * * * * *

They found Muiri in The Hag’s Cure along with a crotchety old woman covered in tattoos. She was trying to be scary, but Amelia and Vallanil weren’t impressed. The way to get past something (or someone) frightening was to be the scariest person in the room. And though Amelia and Vallanil looked fairly benign, they were the scariest people in the room.

Muiri was young and fresh faced, although her general expression implied great sadness. “Come in here,” she said, and she led them to an office in the back of the shop. “Thank you for coming,” she said. “I honestly didn’t expect anyone. I only half-believed the stories were true.”

“What can we do for you, Muiri?” Amelia asked.

“I need you to kill an ex-lover. His name is Alain Dufont, and you can find him and his gang in Raldbthar.” She handed Amelia a small vial. “This is lotus extract. Use it on him if you’d like.”

“His gang?”

Muiri nodded. “I don’t know how many there are, and frankly I don’t care what you do with them. All I care about is Alain.”

“Raldbthar?” Vallanil asked. “You’re sure about that?”

Muiri nodded. “That is information given to me directly from him.”

“We like to know a bit more about our targets,” said Amelia. “What did he do to you?”

Amelia wrote in a notebook while Muiri spoke, taking down the details.

“He’s a con man. He used me, seduced me, to get close to my surrogate parents in Windhelm. He robbed them and left me. They were furious with me. They held me responsible for what Alain did to them and refused to speak to me anymore. They threw me out of their home. I guess it was just too much for them. They had twin daughters, but one was murdered and the other one is out of the house now, and I think that’s why Alain targeted them.”

“Alain Dufont, Raldbathar,” Amelia noted. “Con man, used client to rob her surrogate parents. Parents rejected her.” She chuckled grimly. “I would have him killed, too. Anything else?”

She hesitated for a few moments, then said. “Yes. I want the wife killed, as well. Tova Shatter-Shield in Windhelm. She’s an elderly woman with long, silver hair.”

“That’s not part of the contract,” Vallanil told her with a shake of his head.

“I’ll double the fee if you kill her, too. That family needs to pay for kicking me out into the streets.”

Vallanil and Amelia looked at each other, and Amelia whispered to his mind. “Revenge. I understand about Dufont, but the woman? Do we want to do this?”

“She’s trying to make a point. We’ve killed for less.”

“I don’t like it.”

“We can say no.”

Amelia looked back at Muiri and nodded. “We’ll kill Alain Dufont, but we don’t have enough on Tova Shatter-Shield to make her part of the contract.”

Muiri looked as though she had been slapped. She actually teared up. “Please, you don’t understand. These people nurtured me, cared for me for years. I even called them Ma and Da. I was as much a victim of Alain as they were, but they didn’t see that. They said I helped him. Torbjorn Shatter-Shield literally pushed me out the door. I can’t let them get away without paying for that.”

Amelia closed her eyes shut tight. She thought about how her father had treated her and how much hatred she had for him, and she couldn’t blame Muiri for her animosity toward the Shatter-Shields. Was it worth killing over? As she thought about it, she realized that yes, it was.

“Very well,” she said. “We’ll take care of them both for the extra fee. Anything else we need to know?”

Muiri took a deep breath and said, “Well, um, the Shatter-Shields are the in-laws of the High King of Skyrim.”

“You have some big ambitions,” said Vallanil with a loft of his brow.

“Will that be a problem?”

“Do they live in the palace?”

“No. They have a mansion on the west side.”

“Then it shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll be back in a couple of days.”

Muiri sighed. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“Thanks are not necessary,” Amelia told her. “Just the payment.”

Muiri was taken aback. “Are you really that heartless?”

“Us? You’re the one who is paying to have people killed. No, we’re not heartless, Muiri, not by a long shot. But we don’t know you. All we know about you is what you’ve told us here, and we don’t need to know more. We don’t hold you any ill will, but you’re a client, not a friend, and we’re not doing you any favors. That sounds harsh, I know, but that’s how it is.”

“My apologies, then. But thank you, anyway.”

With that, Amelia gave her a smile, and she and Vallanil left.

* * * * * * *

They used the portal stone to travel to Windhelm, and it was easy to find the Shatter-Shield mansion. They were one of the richest families in town, and with their influential son-in-law, everyone knew where they lived.

They scouted the house and found a single guard at the front gate. He would be easy to take out with a glamour, but they would wait until the still of the night before going in.”

They went to Candlehearth Hall, the local inn and pub, and ordered drinks. They went upstairs and listened to the bard, a sweet-natured Dunmer woman named Luaffyn, enjoying several glasses of wine and requesting songs until the wee hours of the morning. They pretended to be a bit drunk when they left, and they staggered out into the night, then made their way to the Shatter-Shield mansion.

“This place is restricted,” the guard said imperiously. “You need to leave.”

Amelia gazed into his eyes until she had his attention, and then she forced her will on him. “Listen to me,” she said softly. “You’re going to let my partner and me enter the house, and you’ll let us back out again. Then you won’t remember anything; in your mind, we were never here. Do you understand?”

The guard nodded. “Let you in and back out again, then I won’t remember,” he said numbly. “I understand.”

He unlocked the house, and Amelia and Vallanil slipped inside.

They could hear two heartbeats, both pulsing regularly from a room on the second floor. The couple was asleep. They crept up the stairs and stopped in front of the bedroom. Amelia glanced at her husband then quietly opened the door and peeked in.

Tova and Torbjorn were asleep, and Torbjorn was snoring softly. Tova was sleeping on her back. Amelia’s first thought was to make her death look like a suicide, but the client had wanted the family to know it was murder. Thus, she took her dagger and, placing her hand firmly over Tova’s mouth, slid it smoothly into her heart. The woman died in her sleep, quickly and painlessly. She never even knew what happened to her.

When the deed was done, Amelia and Vallanil crept down the stairs and out the door, gone before anyone suspected they were there. She reinforced the glamour on the guard, and they got out of Windhelm as quickly as possible.

“Now we find Raldbthar,” said Vallanil when they were out on the road.

“I don’t think the portal stone is going to help much.”

Vallanil pulled out his map and began looking for the Dwemer ruin, and Amelia sighed. He looked up at her with concern. “Are you all right?”

“I don’t know what it is, but I feel really bad about killing her. That man has been through too much grief. His daughter was murdered, and now his wife. It doesn’t feel right.”

He reached over and kissed her forehead. “This is why I love you so much. Even after everything we have seen and done, you’ve managed to keep a soft heart. We could go back and put him out of his misery.”

“And then the other daughter would have to deal with losing her entire family.”

“Well, don’t let it get you down too much, my love. What’s done is done.”

“I know, I know. It’s just that some jobs are harder than others.”

“And this one isn’t done yet.” He looked back at the map until he located Raldbathr. He found it in the very southeast portion of The Pale, and Windhelm was the closest city. They would try the portal stone, but most likely they would have to walk. Amelia pulled out her portal stone.

She uttered the incantation, saying “Raldbthar” at the end, but nothing happened. The portal stone didn’t know where the ruin was.

Amelia looked down the road. “Well, I find myself glad the cold doesn’t bother us. Shall we?”

“We might as well get started.”

Traversing the road was easy because so many had traveled the path that there was little snow. They reached the side road leading toward the ruin fairly quickly, but it only went so far, and soon they were slogging through the snow. They climbed hills and trudged through shallow valleys, even passing what they thought was Raldbthar once, but it turned out to only be some kind of Dwemer device, maybe an elevator. Vallanil looked at the map, but there was nothing to say what it was. It wasn’t what they were looking for, though, so they moved on.

After a little while, they started seeing footprints in the snow. They grew more pervasive, and the snow was tamped down like the road. The ruin finally appeared over the next hill.

They had no illusions that they would have to kill more than one person here, but they wouldn’t charge Muiri for it. They had been killing bandits at no charge for ages. It was usually how they fed, and they would likely feed on one or two of these tonight.

They found the door easily enough among all the outbuildings, ramps, and stairs that seemed to lead nowhere, because two sentries stood in front of it. They snuck up and fed, each of them taking one, and drained them until they were dead. Then they entered the ruin.

Raldbthar was heavily trapped, mostly with flame spurts. Fortunately, they both knew how to disarm traps and managed to get through relatively unscathed. They navigated the hallways and ended up on a balcony overlooking Alain’s gang. There was a fairly large ballista pointing up in the air, holding four giant bolts that looked as though they may have been enchanted. There were five people, including Alain. Unfortunately for them, Amelia and Vallanil didn’t know which one Alain was.

“We figured we’d have to take out all of them,” Vallanil said to her mind. ”It’s not like they’re not looting and killing anyway.

“Agreed,” Amelia replied.

Vallanil studied the ballista for a moment, then aimed it at the party, which was sitting around a fire on the floor below. He smiled, corrected his aim, and shot. The four heavy bolts shot out from the apparatus and landed among the bandits, exploding as they hit. Two of the thugs died outright, one lay on the floor badly burned and screaming, and the other two headed for the stairs to challenge them. Amelia drew her bow and hit one of them on the stairs, but he kept coming.

Vallanil started lobbing fireballs at them, and Amelia drew her swords and waited for them to get close enough to fight.

“Who do you think you are, coming in here like this?” one of them said.

“We’re the ones who were hired to kill you,” Amelia replied simply.

The thug Amelia shot took a fireball directly in the chest, and he started shrieking and flailing about as his clothes caught fire. The other managed to reach Amelia, but he sheathed his sword.

“Let’s talk about this,” he said with an oily smile. “I can pay you well to walk away.”

“Let me guess,” said Vallanil. “You’re Alain Dufont.”

The smile disappeared, and he said, “Now, how did you know that?”

“Muiri sent us.”

Dufont scoffed and shook his head. “That damn girl. I knew I should have killed her when I had the chance. How much did she pay you? I’ll pay you double to walk away.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” said Amelia.

“Fine, then. I’ll pay you to kill her.

“We’ve done that before, yes. But we still kill the original target. Your life is forfeit.”

“Very well,” said Alain. “Have at me.”

He unsheathed his sword and started to swing at Amelia, but her blades were already drawn and she was faster. Using her favorite move, she swept the blade to the side with one of her swords, then buried the other one into his chest. Alain Dufont groaned pitifully and fell before her feet.

The flaming bandit was still flailing and screaming, and Amelia drew a throwing knife and aimed for his head, putting him out of his misery with one shot.

The last bandit still lay on the floor below, whimpering in pain. Amelia pulled her bow, drew, and loosed an arrow, hitting him in the chest. After a moment, he stopped whimpering.

“Well, this whole contract was ugly,” she said.

“Could have been a lot worse.”

“Let’s loot the bodies and see what we can find, and then let’s get out of here.”

Vallanil picked up Alain’s sword, an ornate elven blade with the initials “A.D.” engraved into the hilt.

“We’ll take the sword as proof,” he said.

“After we show it, do you want it? It’s a nice sword.”

“Probably not a good idea. I doubt it would happen, but it could conceivably link us to the killing. Let’s get out of here.”

They left the way they came in and used the portal stone to get back to Markarth, tell Muiri the deed was done, and get their payment. Amelia tried not to dwell on the death of Tova Shatter-Shield, but when she closed her eyes, all she could see was the look on Torbjorn’s face when he woke to find his wife dead in their bed.

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Characters and settings © 2017, Zenimax Online Studios

Screenshots 1/11/17

How about a dip, fully clothes, in the freezing water?

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They’ll never find me here.

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Who knew the Falmer had a gymnastics team?

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I have a nasty habit of pickpocketing snarky guards down to their skivvies (actually, now, they’re totally naked thanks to a body mod). This one said, “If I see your hand in my pocket, I’m going to cut it off,” after I had undressed him! I can’t explain the chicken.

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NOTE: This chapter follows the Waking Nightmare quest in Skyrim and contains spoilers.

Amelia made it to Dawnstar just after dinnertime, and as soon as she neared town, she sensed him. Vallanil felt distant, as if he were far away, but she could feel him inside her head again, which meant he was alive.

“Vallanil?” was her telepathic call. There was no answer but a flood of panic, as if he were having a nightmare. The thought didn’t bother her; everyone had nightmares from time to time. He would feel her when he woke and call to her.

Bouyant, she stopped in at the inn to wait until late at night before going to kill Beitild. She had a glass of wine and listened to the chatter in the inn, something about the townsfolk all experiencing nightmares. Listening to the conversation, it didn’t take much of a leap for Amelia to suspect a Daedric Prince was to blame—especially since one of them was the Prince of Nightmares to start with—and to suspect that Vallanil was one of the victims. She called to him again with no response, only the continual panic.

The townspeople were challenging the local priest of Mara about the nightmares, asking him why nothing had been done and demanding satisfaction. The priest, a Dunmer, tried his best to keep order, but he was clearly in over his head.

Amelia went to the bar for another glass of wine. “How long have the nightmares been going on?” she asked the innkeeper.

“More than a fortnight. No one has gotten a good night’s sleep since.”

“You wouldn’t happen to have seen an Altmer recently, would you? One who hadn’t been here before?”

“I haven’t, but Beitild mentioned seeing a strange Altmer down on the beach just about the time all the nightmares started. No one has seen him since, but of course he is suspect.”

Amelia smirked. “Beitild, eh? Where can I find her?”

“Her house is just down the hill, last one in the row. She usually comes in here for a drink, but I haven’t seen her in a while.”

She blinked. “A while? How long?”

“I don’t know, a few days. She probably just went to Solitude for shopping. She does that once in a while.”

“Thank you.”

She finished her wine and left the inn, heading for the house the innkeeper had indicated. She smelled stale blood before she reached the house. There were front and back doors, and she went around to the back and picked the lock, letting herself in. There was indeed blood, but not that much, just enough to produce a scent; but there were other, visceral odors. Beitild was in the kitchen, hanging upside down from the rafters, as dead as if Amelia had already been there. Someone had cut her throat and drained her of blood. She immediately thought of Vallanil, but a grisly murder like this wasn’t his style. He wasn’t often a typical snooty High Elf, but he hated making a mess, even when feeding. Amelia looked around the house for clues, but there were none except a broken lock on the front door. She swiped some gold and a couple of trinkets, including a jeweled hairbrush that she fell in love with. She left the way she came in.

She headed up the beach toward the Dawnstar Sanctuary. It was located in a deep indentation in the rock, with a skull glowing red on the black door. When she approached, it spoke.

“What is life’s greatest illusion?”

“Innocence, my brother,” she replied.

“Welcome home.”

She went through the door and down a series of passageways that led to the main floor. The layout was more intricate than the Falkreath and Anvil sanctuaries, but Amelia had little trouble navigating the halls. She explored silently until she came to the dormitory, where she found him.

Her husband lay on one of the bunks, in a deep sleep.

“Oh, my sweet Vallanil!” she whispered as she went and knelt by the bed. She kissed his cheek and laid her head on his shoulder, squeezing her eyes shut so as not to cry.

He looked deader now than she had ever seen him, but there was still activity in his brain. He was in the throes of a nightmare.

“Vallanil? Wake up, love.” She shook him hard, but he merely whimpered and squeezed his eyes shut tight.

“Dibella, help him,” she pleaded, but if Dibella heard, She didn’t answer. “Sithis?” Again, no answer. Not that she expected one from Sithis, but Dibella had been known to talk to her before.

Amelia sat with Vallanil a long time, long enough for hunger to set in. She drank a blood potion and forced one in his mouth, and while he swallowed reflexively, he didn’t wake. She slowly began to realize that sitting here doing nothing was not going to help him.

She explored more of the Sanctuary and found a journal. She opened and read the final entry.

Who would have thought? A giant Altmer vampire just waltzes right into my Sanctuary! He’s injured too. Says his name is Vallanil and he’s from the Anvil Sanctuary, which was destroyed. Both Anvil and Bravil? What is going on, Mother? I found some lunch for him and fed him, nursing him back to health. But now he’s asleep and I can’t wake him up. How can he sleep with all this going on? Ah, but it’s an unnatural sleep, isn’t it? Dare I leave him alone in the Sanctuary? But I have somewhere I have to be, don’t I? Maybe after I take Mother to Falkreath, I can come back and nurse him back to health again. Until then, Sithis will provide. Or he won’t. You can never tell with Sithis. I would ask Mother, but she doesn’t answer. She never answers poor Cicero.

Cicero! Was meeting him on the road just a lucky coincidence, or had someone put them together? Amelia had seen too much in her short life to believe in coincidence, so she had faith that they were set on the path to each other. He had taken care of Vallanil, but then he had left him. What could have been so important—

And then she realized. Holy Sithis, he had been transporting the Night Mother in that carriage!

She would have to leave Vallanil too, if only for a short time. She would go into town and find that priest of Mara, and hopefully together they could solve this nightmare problem.

She found him in the Windpeak Inn, just as he had been before, but instead of being surrounded by townsfolk, he sat alone at the bar, drinking ale. Amelia approached him. “Excuse me,” she said.

He looked up and smiled thinly. “What can I do for you, my child?”

“What can you tell me about the nightmares?”

“Only that they will pass in time.”

“Yes, you see, I don’t believe that. The people in town can’t sleep because of the nightmares, but my husband can’t wake from them. Something needs to be done.”

The priest sighed. “What is your name, child?”

“Amelia.”

“I am Erandur. Yes, the townspeople are plagued by nightmares and are in great danger, but I fear there is little I can do about it.”

She looked him in the eye. “I can tell when people are lying, priest, and you’re lying. You’re lying because you’re afraid. Tell me what can be done, and perhaps I can help you.”

“Persistent, aren’t you? Well, yes, there is something I can do, but it is dangerous and difficult, and I cannot do it alone. Perhaps you can help if you have the courage. The dreams are the machinations of the Daedric Lord Vaermina.”

Amelia nodded. “Yes, I figured. Don’t worry about my courage. I’m generally not afraid of Daedric Princes.”

“You know of Vaermina?”

“I’ve seen her handiwork.”

“Then you probably know she has a hunger for memories. She feeds on them like a vampire feeds on blood, and she leaves behind nightmares, almost as a cough is left behind after a serious illness. My fear is that the damage will become permanent.”

“So what do we need to do?”

“We must return to the source of the problem.”

“Return?”

“Yes, I have been there before,” he confessed.

“Where are we going?”

“It’s called Nightcaller Temple, and it’s a short walk from town.”

“Are you ready to leave now?”

He looked longingly at his ale, then back up at her. “Yes, I’m ready. Follow me.”

He led her through town, then beyond the houses and away from the light, although Amelia had no trouble seeing in the dark. “It’s not far, just up this hill. It’s good to have a chance to help these people. Watching them suffer has been terrible. I prayed so hard for help from Lady Mara, and perhaps she answered my prayers by sending you. You say your husband has fallen to the nightmares?”

“He has.”

“Where is he?”

“Nearby,” she answered cryptically. “Hey, why didn’t the nightmares affect you?”

“Oh, but they have, child. Everyone in town was affected.”

He pointed to a tower at the top of the hill. “That is our destination, the Tower of Dawn, also called Nightcaller Temple. I don’t know much about the tower’s history, only that a cult of Vaermina resided there for some time. It has been mostly unoccupied for thirty years, although I have set up a small shrine to Mara in the sanctuary.”

They made their way up the hill, but Erandur stopped on the doorstep. “Before we go in, there is something I must tell you.”

Amelia rolled her eyes. “I knew you weren’t telling me the whole truth.”

He looked at her sheepishly. “I wish that weren’t true, but alas, it is. About thirty years ago, an Orcish war party raided the tower because they were experiencing nightmares much like Dawnstar is now. The cult realized they could not defeat the Orcs, so they released something called ‘The Miasma,’ which put everyone to sleep.”

“And you’re worried that it might put us to sleep?”

“Not at all. I worry that when we unseal the tower, the Miasma will dissipate and everyone will wake up.”

“And they’ll be fighting again.”

“Likely attacking us as well.”

“Where did this Miasma come from?”

“It is made with several alchemical reagents, but instead of a potion, it makes a mist. It was used in the cult’s rituals to put the affected person into a deep sleep. It has the added effect of slowing the aging process.”

“This Miasma can’t be healthy.”

“It’s not,” the priest confessed. “The longer one is exposed to the Miasma, the more dangerous it is for the mind. Some have awakened with madness; others haven’t awakened at all.”

“What about us?”

Erandur shook his head. “We won’t be exposed long enough for that.”

Even so, Amelia was glad she didn’t need to breathe.

He turned and opened the door, leading her through a foyer to a small sanctuary with some pews, a dais in front with a podium and a large relief of Vaermina behind it, and a small shrine to Mara on a side table. There was a sound almost like a lightning spell pulsing continually in the distance. Erandur cast a spell on the relief, and it dematerialized. What appeared now was a purplish film that Erandur walked right through. Amelia followed.

When she walked through the curtain, she found herself standing in a rounded hallway just like those in most other towers she had seen. The hallway and stairs wound around the central structure, which often had an atrium leading down to the bottom floor. Erandur was standing next to a window that overlooked the lower floor. Two Orcs lay sleeping in the corridor.

“Here is the source of the nightmares,” he said, pointing down to a staff with a monstrous skull for a head, which was floating in place beneath a pinkish ward. “That is the Skull of Corruption, one of Vaermina’s favored artifacts and the source of Dawnstar’s woes. Lore holds that the Skull has a constant hunger for the memories of its victims. The nightmares are a side effect. Since it has been out of touch so long, I believe it has learned to reach out and feed on the memories of the people of Dawnstar. And your husband. Why his experience is different from the others, I cannot say.”

“Maybe it’s different because he has more memories. He is three hundred years old.”

‘’Three hundred years! That’s ancient even for an elf. Is he supernatural somehow?”

Amelia didn’t answer, just looked back at him.

“I will take that as a yes. That may very well be the cause.”

“Let’s get down there and destroy it.”

Erandur pointed down the nearby staircase, and she looked down and saw another purplish curtain. “I take it that one isn’t so easy to walk through.”

“Impossible, unfortunately. There is a soul gem on the other side which powers it.”

“And there’s no way through it?”

“There’s not. However, I may know a way around it. There should be a book in the library—”

“Erandur.”

“Yes, my child?”

“You know an awful lot about this place. What aren’t you telling me?”

He sighed heavily, almost seeming to shrink a bit. “I used to be a part of the cult. It was my task to release the Miasma, but I fled before sleep could overtake me. I have spent the last few decades devoting my life to Mara, trying to make up for the harm I caused here.”

“You should have told me in the first place.”

“I . . . I was afraid. I’m sorry.”

“Just don’t lie to me again. Where’s the library?”

“Just over here.”

Before they made it to the library, the Orcs awoke, and Amelia had to put them to sleep, permanently. When they finally made it to the library, it was cultists they had to fight. The library itself was all but destroyed. Bookshelves were toppled, as was some of the stonework, and most of the books had been burned.

“I just hope the book we need survived,” said Erandur. “I’ll look downstairs; you look up here on the balcony. It’s called The Dreamstride, and it’s a collection of alchemical recipes and spells used in Vaermina worship.”

There wasn’t much to look at, really. Most of the books had been destroyed. However, across a toppled column, she found the book they were looking for. The thick book, bound in pale blue leather with a likeness of Vaermina on the cover, was sitting on a high podium in the corner, untouched by the conflagration, possibly because of some ward or spell. However, she had no trouble retrieving it from the podium. She carried it downstairs to Erandur. “I found it.”

“Excellent! Let me just look here . . .” He thumbed through the book for a few minutes, mumbling as he looked at the pages, until his face lit up. “Ah, here it is. Vaermina’s Torpor. It’s a potion used to allow one to use dreams to travel distances in the real world.”

“How is that possible?”

“Daedric magic,” he said simply, as if it explained everything. “Come with me. The lab is nearby.”

In the lab, which was in as bad shape as the library, they had to fight more Orcs and cultists before they could begin looking for the potion. When their adversaries were all dead, Amelia gave Erandur a sympathetic look. “Are you all right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be all right?” he asked.

“You knew these people. They were your brothers and sisters. Doesn’t killing them bother you?”

Erandur shook his head. “It has been so long that I have even forgotten most of their names. Besides, it has to be done. We cannot leave threats in our wake.”

Amelia nodded and went down the steps to the lower level. There were a lot of alchemy reagents and several different potion bottles still intact. “What does this potion look like?” she called to Erandur, who was searching upstairs.

“It’s a tall bottle with dark liquid.”

“I think I’ve got it.” She carried it upstairs and handed it to him. He handed it back.

“I’m afraid you’ll have to do this,” he said. “As a priest of Mara, I cannot; the mixture won’t work for me. It will only work for followers of Vaermina or the unaffiliated.”

“But I am affiliated. I’m a follower of Dibella and Sithis, and I’m also in some manner beholden to Molag Bal.”

Erandur’s eyes widened, and he stared at her for a long moment. He even went so far as to lean in and smell her. He finally said, “You and your husband are vampires?”

“We are. But I promise you, Erandur, you are in no danger from either of us unless you reveal our nature to others.”

He sighed, visibly relieved. “I understand discretion, Amelia. I will not tell anyone. Well, with such a diverse pantheon, perhaps you’ll still be able to use the Torpor’s magic. Or perhaps because you’re undead.”

“What will happen to me?”

“You’ll drop into a dream state and walk through the dreams and memories of someone who was here on that day. Make your way through the tower and remove the soul gem powering the barrier.”

“How will I know when to wake up?”

“I am uncertain what will end your Dreamstride. Perhaps when Vaermina’s hunger has been sated. But I will stay close by and wake you if something goes wrong.”

“All right, then. Here goes.”

Amelia drank the potion, and the room before her turned fuzzy. When it cleared again, she was in the inner sanctum with a Bosmer and a Nord. The Bosmer was speaking.

“We must hold. We can’t allow the Skull to fall into their hands.”

The other replied, “But no more than a handful of us remain, brother.”

“Then we have no choice. The Miasma must be released. It is the will of Vaermina.”

The Bosmer looked at Amelia and said, “And what of you, Brother Casimir? Are you prepared to serve the will of Vaermina?”

“I’ve made my peace. I’m ready,” Amelia replied.

But she wasn’t ready! What was she supposed to do? She didn’t even know where to start.

“Brother Casimir, you must activate the barrier and release the Miasma. Let nothing stop you. Brother Thorek and I will remain here and guard the Skull, with our lives if necessary.”

“Agreed,” said the Nord. “To the death.”

Amelia left the priests in the inner sanctum and navigated the halls and stairs of the tower, bypassing some two dozen combatants. She finally reached the barrier she had seen from the other side. A large ring hung from a heavy wall chain, and she pulled it. In the dream, a pinkish mist began pouring out from the ceiling.

And that was when she woke up.

She was still where she had been standing in the dream, but the Miasma was no more. The only thing left was the soul gem, which was making the lightning sound she had heard before as it channeled magicka into the barrier. She removed the soul gem from the sconce, and the barrier disappeared. Erandur was on the other side, waiting for her.

“It worked,” he said. “Mara be praised! You disappeared when you drank the potion. I rushed up here in the hope I would find you safe beyond the barrier. I have never seen anything like it.”

“It was as if I were walking in someone else’s body.”

He grinned like a child. “Oh, if only I could . . . but alas, I can only read about it.”

“Time to destroy that skull.”

“I apologize. I should not have let my reverence for Vaermina’s machinations distract me from our mission. Come.”

Although she knew the way now, she let Erandur lead her through the tower and down to the inner sanctum. They had to fight awakening cultists and Orcs along the way, and Amelia could see how hard it was for Erandur to destroy those he had once called “brother” and “sister,” regardless of what he had said to her.

When they reached the inner sanctum, the Bosmer and Nord she had seen in the dream were just waking up.

“Veren! Thorek! You’re alive!” Erandur cried.

The two priests drew their weapons, a staff for Veren and a sword for Thorek, and menaced Erandur. “No thanks to you, Casimir. You coward! You fled rather than go to sleep.”

“I was afraid; I wasn’t ready to sleep. I have no excuse. But I don’t go by that name anymore. I am Erandur. Priest of Mara.”

With that, the Wood Elf laughed. “Mara! You really are a coward! And waking us up was your last mistake.”

With that, he unleashed a spell at Erandur, who flinched and retaliated. The Nord came at Amelia with a sword, and she drew her own weapons, swiping his blade out of the way with one sword and stabbing him in the heart with the other. He groaned and fell dead before her, just as the Bosmer died at Erandur’s hands.

“Come!” he said. “The Skull is just up these steps.”

As she had seen from above, the Skull was surrounded by a filmy barrier, which Erandur had no trouble bringing down. Then he began praying to Mara to help him destroy the staff.

As for Amelia, a light, feminine voice began speaking in her head. “He is deceiving you. When the ritual is complete, the Skull will be free and Erandur will turn on you. Kill him now. Kill him and claim the Skull for yourself. Vaermina commands you!”

Amelia rolled her eyes. She knew all about the lies of Daedric princes, so she just ignored the voice. Besides, she had told Erandur she trusted him, and she would continue to do so until he did anything to betray that trust. She certainly wasn’t worried about him attacking her.

Vaermina kept on, chanting, “Kill him! Kill him!” and Amelia just continued to ignore her.

The room exploded in red light, swirling around Erandur and the Skull, finally coalescing around the staff until it shattered into a million pieces.

Erandur turned back to Amelia. He looked exhausted. “It is done.”

“Are you all right?”

“Yes, I’m just . . . tired. This temple has taken its toll on me.”

“Will you be all right?”

“In time, I believe I will. I will spend the rest of my life in the worship of Mara and atoning for my sins.”

“Then this is where I leave you, Erandur. Thank you for your help.”

“Nonsense. Thank you for your help. I could not have done this without you. Take care, my child, and I hope your husband shows no lasting effects from his nightmares. If for some reason he needs healing, bring him to me.”

Amelia left Erandur in the temple and ran to the Sanctuary with vampiric speed. She let herself in and started calling for Vallanil the moment she hit the door and as she ran toward the dormitory. He didn’t answer at first, but finally came his call. “Amelia? Is that you?”

She found him sitting on the side of the bed, looking confused and starved. His eyes, blue even when he was hungry, were blood red, and his skin was white, with dozens of spidery veins running through it. She reached for him and threw her arms around him, hugging his head to her breast. “Oh, thank Sithis, you’re all right!”

“I had a terrible nightmare. I don’t remember most of it now, but it seemed to go on forever, and even when I tried to wake myself up, it was impossible.”

“I’ll tell you all about it when you’re better. But first, you need to feed.”

He looked up at her with a furrowed brow. “I’m starving. How long has it been? Is Cicero still here?”

“No, Cicero is gone, and you’ve been asleep at least a fortnight.”

“Gods!”

“I thought I’d lost you.”

“No, the Matron made sure I got out. She said you were in Skyrim and to come find you, but I was injured and confused, and I went to the wrong Sanctuary. Fortunately, a strange little Imperial was here to help me.”

“I’ve met Cicero; it’s also a long story. But come. Let’s get you fed.”

 

Characters and settings (c) 2016, Zenimax Online Studios

 

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