Amelia was still having second thoughts and regrets when they ported to the Falkreath Sanctuary. She had killed innocents before; it was part of the job. Why did Tova Shatter-Shield’s murder bother her so? For the first time since Speaker Terenus had approached her years ago, Amelia wondered if she might be doing the wrong thing. She was a vampire; killing was what she did. And she was a damn good assassin. But could she ever hope for redemption? She had accepted that she would go to the void upon death, but what if she would rather go to Dibella’s realm instead? Dibella had once told Amelia She loved her. Did She still love her, or had She abandoned her when she had joined the Brotherhood? And if she did stay with the Brotherhood, what if she choked?
When they entered the Sanctuary, Astrid stopped Amelia in her office. Vallanil went to turn in the jobs that Nazir was waiting for while the two women talked.
“What can I do for you, Astrid?” Amelia asked the Matron, who was leaning over the table.
“How did it go?”
“Well, the client wanted us to take down an extra target.”
“And did you?”
Amelia nodded. “Against my better judgment, yes, and got twice the coin.”
“All that is yours. As a reward for completing your first big contract.”
Amelia didn’t remind Astrid that she had been doing this for years. She just nodded her thanks.
Astrid stood to full height and regarded Amelia. “Why do you say ‘against your better judgment’?”
“Did you ever have a contract you weren’t sure about? One that you felt was . . . well, that it was wrong?”
The Matron shrugged. “Not really. Is that what is going on with you?”
“Yes. But don’t worry. I’m still on the job.”
“A crisis of faith is not unheard of. Just because I haven’t had one doesn’t mean I never will. If you want to talk, I’m here for you. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Gabriella has had doubts before as well. You could talk to her.”
She leaned back against the desk and crossed her arms. “Now I need you to do something of a more . . . personal nature.”
“Sure. What’s on your mind?”
“It’s Cicero,” Astrid replied with frustration in her voice. “I think he is making a play for my job and turning the others against me. He has been locking himself inside his chambers and talking.”
“Astrid, we’ve only been gone a couple few days.”
“Long enough that I have no reason to suspect you,” the Matron said pointedly.
“Well, who is he talking to?”
“That’s what I want you to find out. I can’t imagine who in the Sanctuary would conspire against me, but I obviously don’t know someone as well as I thought I did. I do know that Festus was glad to meet Cicero, so if anyone would be suspect, it would be him. Listen in on the conversation and find out what he’s up to. You said spying and subterfuge were among your strong suits, so this should be no problem for you.”
“Astrid, are you sure what you’re hearing? Why do you suspect Cicero?”
“He’s the Keeper, and as such, he feels he has a right to lead the Sanctuary. Not to mention return us to the old ways.”
“I’m not saying he should lead the Sanctuary instead of you, but honestly, the old ways aren’t that bad. You still abide by the Five Tenets, don’t you?”
“Don’t question me, Amelia.”
Amelia raised an eyebrow. “I will always question you when I think something is amiss. If your people can’t ask you questions, then you’re no leader; you’re a dictator.”
Astrid glared at her for a long moment and looked as if she was going to either say something or slap her. Amelia started to wonder if there was another Sanctuary she and Vallanil could go to, or maybe this would be the catalyst that made her leave the Brotherhood altogether.
Finally, Astrid shook her head. “The Five Tenets are outdated. You should know that.”
“They’re not outdated at all. If anything, they’re even more relevant now. We’ve lost at least two Sanctuaries; our numbers are dwindling.”
“I mean, I guess the only one we really break is not honoring the Night Mother.”
“And now that she’s here?”
“Gods damn it, Amelia, I don’t know!”
“You knew she was coming, Astrid. You told me that the first day.”
“I just didn’t expect . . . I don’t know what I expected. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
“Well, you’d better figure it out, because you’re not the only one who is confused. All right, I’m off to spy on Cicero. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“He’s not here at the moment, so you have time to get in. Just don’t be seen.”
“You know there’s only one place in that room I can hide, right?”
Astrid thought for a moment, and then a sly grin crossed her face. “In the coffin. Enjoy, Amelia.”
Amelia chuckled. “Oh, boy!” With that, she went to Cicero’s chamber and closed herself inside the Night Mother’s coffin.
The body smelled of spices and oils, not a putrefied corpse. She barely took up half the space; she had withered long ago, so Amelia wasn’t cramped. All in all, it could have been a lot worse.
As an assassin, Amelia had learned to be patient, so she waited. It gave her time to mull things over and decide what she was going to do. She had to stay until she was certain. What if she left and then realized it wasn’t what she wanted? And where did Vallanil fit in? Just like Amelia, he always carried a small statue of Dibella. Could he go back? No, this was crazy. It was ludicrous to let one confusing job change her whole philosophy.
After several hours, Amelia still didn’t know what she was going to do, but it was time to push those thoughts to the side. Cicero came in, closed the door, and started talking. “Are we alone? Yes . . . yes! Sweet solitude! Everything is going according to plan. I’ve spoken to the others, and they’re coming around, I just know it. The older ones, Festus Krex and the Un-Child. They remember the old ways. They will come around. You’ll see.
“But what about you? Have you spoken to anyone? No, of course not. You never talk to anyone, especially poor Cicero, do you, Mother? You do nothing. Nothing! I’m the one expected to do all the work without so much as a word from you. One would think I was overworked with so little reward.” Then he calmed. “Ah, but Cicero understands. He understands and obeys.”
There was no one else in the room. He was talking to the Night Mother. As expected, she wasn’t answering him, and it caused him no end of distress.
There was sudden dim light in the coffin, and Amelia startled when she realized the Night Mother’s corpse was glowing. There was a ringing in her head, and finally a voice, old, raspy, and very gentle. ”Poor Cicero. Dear, dear Cicero. Such a humble servant. But he will never hear my voice. He is not the Listener.”
Neither am I, Amelia thought to herself.
“Oh, but how can I defend you?” Cicero whined. “How can I exert your will if you will not speak? These fools go their own way, and Cicero can do nothing. Astrid is so full of herself, sometimes I think she believes she is the Listener. And the others do too, the way they obey her every order. ‘Her word is law’ my arse. But what can Cicero do to change that? Only turn her people against her. And Cicero will. He’ll turn them all against her if he has to. Except for that lumbering beast of a husband. He’s hopeless, in more ways than one. Perhaps Cicero will murder him in his sleep.”
The corpse continued to glow and the voice entered Amelia’s head again. Cicero had been right. It was indeed intimate, even more so than her telepathic conversations with Vallanil. ”Oh, but I will speak. I will speak to you. For you are the one.”
Amelia answered in kind. “Me? But I’ve served you so long. Why me after all this time? And why now, when my faith is so shaky?”
“Your faith will return, child, and you will be stronger because of your crisis. You were always meant to be my Listener, but the time was not right. I had to have you in the right place at the right time. With me. This is the right place and time, here in my coffin where you warm my bones.”
”Wait, you’re not saying you orchestrated those attacks in Cyrodiil, are you? That you purged them? The brothers and sisters in the Gold Coast Sanctuary were so faithful to you.
“What is done is done, dear Amelia. Yours is not to question why.”
“And what of Vallanil? Did you mean to purge him too?”
“Had I destroyed Vallanil, you would have forsaken me, and there would be no Listener. No more questions. I have your first mission. You are to go to Volunruud and speak to Amand Motierre. Send no one; you must go yourself.”
“Poor Cicero has failed,” the jester continued outside the coffin, his voice so sad and dejected that it tugged at Amelia’s heart strings. “I’ve tried. I have. But I simply cannot find the Listener.”
“Tell Cicero the time has come. Say the words he has been waiting for all these years: ‘Darkness rises when silence dies.’”
With that, Amelia felt a gentle push, and she stumbled out of the coffin. She found Cicero standing there, looking at her with his hands on his hips, his face contorted with rage. “What treachery is this? You defiler! You debase the Night Mother’s coffin. Explain yourself!”
Still thrown off because things had happened so fast, she muttered, “I was listening to you, trying to catch you . . . Astrid doesn’t trust you . . . but then the N-night Mother spoke to me. Sh-she said I am the one.”
“You lie! You’re a wicked liar! And I thought you were one of the good ones. Why would you lie like this? The Night Mother only speaks to the–”
Amelia just looked at him and waited for him to get around to it. After a few moments, his mouth dropped open and his eyes widened. “The Listener,” he whispered.
“She said to tell you, ‘Darkness rises when silence dies.’”
Cicero continued to gape at her. “She said that? She said those words to you? Those are the binding words, the words kept in her sacred tomes. The signal that only Cicero would know. Amelia? She said those words?”
“She did, Cicero.”
The jester squealed and started dancing. “WHEE! Then she’s back! Our lady is back and she has chosen a Listener. This is a momentous, glorious day! All hail the Listener!”
The door slammed open and Astrid stormed in. “Back away from her, fool! Whatever you’ve been planning is over!” She turned to Amelia. “Are you all right? I heard a commotion. Who was Cicero talking to? Who is the traitor?”
“There is no traitor, Astrid,” said Amelia. “He was talking to the Night Mother.”
“Yes,” Cicero confirmed. “Cicero spoke only to the Night Mother, but she didn’t speak to him. Oh, no. But she spoke to her. She has chosen a Listener!”
“A Listener?” Astrid scoffed. “What are you going on about?”
“It’s true!” Cicero said, beginning to dance again, singing his words. “The silence has been broken! A Listener has been chosen!”
“When I heard shouts, I feared the worst,” Astrid said to Amelia. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Amelia shrugged. “I’m a bit confused, but I’m not hurt.”
“Cicero said the Night Mother spoke to you? Tell me this is all some kind of sick joke.”
“It’s not a joke. The Night Mother said I was ‘the one.’”
“And Cicero didn’t have anyone in here? He was just talking to her body? And the Night Mother, who everyone knows only speaks to the Listener, just spoke . . . right now? To you?”
Amelia nodded. “Yes.”
“And? What did she say?” Astrid prodded.
“She said the words that would identify me as the Listener: ‘Darkness rises when silence dies.’ And she’s sending me to Volunruud to speak with a client. Amand Motierre.”
“No. No! Listen, The Night Mother isn’t sending you anywhere. I don’t know what’s going on here, but you take your orders from me. I don’t care if the Night Mother did speak to you; I am the leader of this Sanctuary, and I will not have my authority so easily dismissed.”
Amelia looked at the Night Mother’s body, which was no longer glowing, then back at Astrid. “What should I do, then?”
“I don’t know. I . . . I need to think on this a little. Go to Nazir and get a couple of small jobs while I figure out what to do.”
Astrid left, and Cicero began dancing again, singing, “You are the Listener! You are the Listener! I’ve served the Night Mother well, I have!”
“She’s very fond of you, Cicero. She told me.”
He pulled Amelia into the dance, but she felt light-headed. It was all happening so fast. She would go see Nazir, but she needed to talk to Vallanil first. He would help her make sense of this. He would understand in a way that no one else would, even the crazy little man who was trying to get her to dance with him.
“Oh, Listener, we’re going to be such good friends!” he cried. “Cicero knew it from the start, but now he sees it so much more clearly.” He stopped celebrating and regarded her with a furrowed brow. “But is everything all right? You don’t seem happy that you were chosen.”
She wasn’t about to tell Cicero about her crisis of faith. What would she do with that now, anyway? She was the Listener, for Sithis’s sake! She shook her head. “It’s just a lot to take in all of a sudden. I need to get my bearings.”
He rested his hands on her shoulders. “Then you do that, dear Amelia. Get your bearings, and we will begin doing great things together. Great things!”
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