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.

____________
Characters and settings © 2017, Zenimax Online Studios

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