In the Shadows of Skingrad

Prologue

A/N: I know some people made an effort to reconstruct the Black Hand as it was before the Dark Brotherhood quest line. In this story however the Black Hand consists both of original characters and in game characters. This story is set before the Dark Brotherhood quest has begun. The Skingrad sanctuary and all characters there are imaginary and don't exist in game.

Disclaimer: Oblivion and anything else related to the Elder Scrolls belongs to Bethesda.

77777777777777777777

Chorrol was a rather peaceful town at this time of day. Nothing seemed to be happening, only few pedestrians roamed the streets apparently aimlessly. The evening sun was bathing the town in an orange light that made it seem a lot more beautiful than it actually was.

Not that it was not beautiful without the light, but it was simply not too remarkable. At least Thiala thought so. The houses looked all the same to her and she did not particularly like the landscape around here. It bored her. But anyway business was bringing her here. She walked along the almost deserted street in a light pace. There was no rush. At least not today.

She paused opposite of some statue she didn't pay a great deal of attention to and took in a deep breath. Today felt almost like holiday to her. The route had been easy and she had been able to reach the northern town with little effort. She was ahead of her own schedule, which had deliberately not been too tight. There were exactly two appointments today and she had all night to perform them. Now, in the hours of sunset, which occurred early this time of year she felt like she had all the time in the world.

With a small smile on her face she walked towards a little tavern called the Grey Mare. The Breton stopped for a moment to make sure the establishment was actually open for business at the moment and then opened the door without making any sound, even though as she was aware, there was absolutely no need for security measures at the moment. Probably a bad habit She scolded herself mentally as she crossed the doorstep and entered the small and cheap bar. There were not a lot of costumers inside. The small town seemed to be either asleep or attending some huge party that Thiala did not know about. She did not really count on the latter since she did not know the citizens of Chorrol to be excited party goers.

The tavern smelt unpleasantly of smoke and alcohol, and even, if she was not imagining it, a faint odor of vomit was hovering about. Not exactly the best place to be when having a little time to herself for the first occasion in months. But she could cope. She was not very well informed on what other pubs there were in this town and she was not in the mood to go on and look. This would do.

She eased herself into a chair at a table standing in the far corner of the room, a place where she could easily observe everyone in the bar and would immediately notice anyone entering before they might notice her. Not that there really was anything to observe. But she liked the feeling of being in control.

She felt a little strange in her clothes. It were common clothes in green, a long and rather simple dress and some matching shoes. She did not exactly feel uncomfortable, but it had been quite a while since she had last worn this attire. Usually she was about in very different colors. Black with blood stains seemed to match her personality so much better than what she was currently wearing.

When she had accepted the promotion from silencer to speaker she had never imagined the job to be as stressing as it turned out to be. The speaker she had worked for had been killed and she had never quite figured out what had happened to him, but now, that she had been doing this job for over three years she was not prone to ruling out suicide. Still she loved her work, and the robes she had received upon her promotion were among her most treasured possessions. The enchantments were very useful and the looks immediately sent the message she wanted to send to anyone looking at her. Danger.

She ordered some Surilie Brothers wine and started looking at the people in the pub more closely. She liked observing, because it gave her certain advantages. She never knew when it could come in handy to be aware of someone's behavior, or more importantly, their weaknesses.

The costumers did not really attract her attention. There was a drunk orc lying underneath one of the tables, which she found a little disgusting, because he was drooling in his sleep, and drooling a lot.

An old Dunmer was sitting at a table not too far from her and glared at an empty bottle of Cyrodillic brandy that was standing right in front of him, but at the same time making no move to order a new one. Thiala assumed that this was out of his financial reach.

An overweight imperial waitress was moving from table to table smiling a huge fake smile at everyone, trying to impress her costumers by wearing a dress that was way too tight for her. The speaker suspected her to have more than one profession. Though she could not imagine where she got her costumers for that secondary job. Luckily it was none of her business either.

At the table right in the middle of the room there a Bosmer was sitting in front of another wood elf, who was apparently his girlfriend, or at least he wanted her to be. He bragged endlessly about very meaningless things and the girl did not seem to be impressed, which Thiala could definitely sympathize with. Spending an evening getting bored by that idiot was probably not what the young wood elf had dreamed about.

The only other costumer was a bearded imperial who seemed to be rather young. He was sitting at a table next to the drooling orc but did not appear to be uncomfortable. He looked around apparently aimlessly. He noticed Thiala looking at him and smiled at her. She was aware that most people would have tried to avoid his gaze when being caught staring, but she didn't care. She kept looking at him indifferently than casually shifted her glance to continue her observations of the room. But she soon realized that there was nothing more to observe, except for the waitress finally bringing her wine.

She took a sip and had the feeling that if there was any good wine in there it had definitely been mixed with some other sort of wine that was killing off the taste completely. But that was not such a big problem since there probably wasn't any good wine in there at all.

She wrinkled her nose and drank anyway.

A figure standing in front of her distracted her of her beverage. She looked up slowly and recognized the Imperial who was again smiling at her.

"May I buy you a drink?", he asked and she immediately liked the sound of his deep voice. She assessed him a little further and liked what she saw. His beard was cut short still covered most of his face in a tidy layer of hair. He looked well groomed but not particularly wealthy. Still, neither did he look poor. Usually she was not inclined to pick up random flirts with guys at bars, but today she felt up to some meaningless chatter. Perhaps even more, if her schedule allowed it (Which it did…).

"Sure, if you can afford it", she answered with a challenging half smile on her face. He lifted his eyebrows shortly as if to accept the challenge and sat down on the other chair of the table, his back facing the rest of the room. He waved toward the waitress and made some gesture with his hand that Thiala did not recognize, but she supposed it was some way to order drinks.

Having completed the order, he looked back at her and asked, "What brings a girl like you in such a hole?"

She took a swift glance around as if to verify whether it was a hole or not, even though she had formed her opinion the second she had stepped in. "What do you mean?", she asked casually.

"Well, you actually look good. I don't think anyone who could claim that entered in here for several decades", he told her with a grin.

"Of course not", she answered, deliberately not making any reference to his looks which did certainly deserve the adjective good, since she had no intention of making this easy for him. She always liked to play with her prey, and even though this situation was completely different she wanted to add a little spice.

He did not seem to be impressed by her lack of cooperation within this, but simply persisted, "So, again, what are you doing here?"

"Drinking bad wine, isn't that obvious?", she said, motioning toward her beaker which was still over half full.

"You know, that's something I usually do around here to", he retorted with a certain twinkle in his eyes that Thiala could not help but find rather attractive.

"So if you know the wine is bad, why do you come here? I have an excuse, I was a first time victim", she challenged. "Unless of course you can not afford better…"

"I simply love the atmosphere around here", he told her with an ironic sound to his voice. Thiala glanced over to the drooling orc who had now begun to snore as well before returning her gaze to the attractive young man in front of her. "Oh I can see why", she assured him with the shadow of her smile playing around her lips.

The waitress arrived with two beakers of a liquid that Thiala could not initially identify and dumped them rather unceremoniously on their table. While turning away however the woman made considerable efforts to shake her enormous ass in the Imperial's face. He pointedly ignored her presence and simply picked up his beaker, encouraging Thiala with a nod of his head to do the same. "Try it, it's better than most other stuff they got here"

She picked up the beaker and sniffed. The brownish beverage smelled bitingly of alcohol mixed with a scent of apple. She took a sip and was impressed that it did not invoke any urge to vomit. The Imperial was right, this stuff was better than anything else here. She nodded approvingly and but down the beaker again. "So do you have a name, or am I supposed to refer to you as 'The guy with a beard?'", she asked.

He chuckled at the designation and then replied, "I'm Illius. But that should not distract you from the beard thing. That's what I really define myself by."

Again there was that twinkle in the edge of his eyes and Thiala almost shuddered. He was strikingly attractive and she had a hard time trying not to stare into the orbs of a prefect ice blue for too long.

"So what about you? Do I get the honor of knowing you name as well?", he continued.

She would have liked to tell him her real name, just to hear him say it was a beautiful name, which he probably would regardless of what she said. But in her line of work discretion was important. She always told people she dealt with her real name, but she did not want random acquaintances to know her name, in case someone would try to track her down.

"Claudette", she said with a smile that anyone would have taken for a genuine one, even though it was far from that.

"Claudette", he repeated, "That's a beautiful name".

She had to restrain herself from laughing at the fact that she had been able to predict his behavior so well, and instead thanked him with a little smile. Guys in bars always told a girl the same thing, or at least that was her experience. Why they did so, she could not say. Maybe alcohol drained all creativity.

Thiala spared a glance for the Bosmer couple and realized that the female was looking absentmindedly at Illius's back, while her friend kept on talking without even noticing that she was on the verge of slipping into a coma. Apparently she was very envious that Thiala was having a pleasant conversation while she had her mind being drowned in a sea of endless rambling.

"So what do you do for a living?", Thiala asked casually to keep the conversation going.

At this he hesitated a little. "this and that", he replied without exactly looking at her.

Oh, hiding something… How interesting, Thiala thought. She did not inquire further, but decided to keep that detail in mind.

Apparently she had led the conversation in the wrong direction. He suddenly looked uneasy and after a moment he stood up and said, "well, it was nice talking to you, but I have to get going. Goodbye", he said and walked over to the bar to pay. After that he left the restaurant in a hurry. Thiala looked after him for a second but then she shifted her attention back to observing everyone in the room. The Bosmer female shrugged at her as if to say, men…

Thiala looked out of the window and decided to leave, since it was dark enough for her. She stood up and left the restaurant without paying for the cheap wine, but not before kicking the drooling orc in the ribs. He probably didn't even notice.

77777777777777777777777777

She had indeed been right, her appointments this night did not take up a lot of time. The first one was simple, it was just an old Redguard woman who wanted her neighbor disposed of discretly, because she suspected him of doing a lot of different nasty things that were all in some way designed to make her life harder. The speaker suspected it was just a simple case of paranoia and the neighbor was actually harmless, but the woman paid well, so it mattered little to her. She would send a courier in the morning to inform her sanctuary. This job would be taken care of pretty easily.

Now she walked the darkened streets of Chorrol a lot differently than she had been moving in the late afternoon. She had changed her attire to the traditional Black Hand robes which looked a lot better on her anyway. She moved more quietly and swiftly, appearing like a dark shadow to everyone who wasn't paying very close attention, and she took care that no one would pay much attention. If anyone saw her, they would probably just shiver and believe they had too much imagination.

Changing her clothes she had noticed how pale she had become. Before she had become a speaker she had always been rather tanned, more than most Bretons, but now that her work was occurring basically at night and she was wearing a hood all the time, sunlight had little chance of touching her. But this look was rather fitting for her position. Her pale skin made a huge contrast to her dark long hair and her dark eyes. Her hair was barely visible under the hood but the hood had even more contrast to her skin so that mattered little.

She hoped her second and last task this night would prove more interesting. At least it was going to be something which she did more rarely. Planning murders was something she did several times each night. What she was up to now was something that did not occur so often.

She was going to recruit someone. An Imperial, a man called Marius Carenus. Apparently he liked to steal stuff now and then in addition to his normal work as a free lance adventurer and had no restraints to kill the owner if discovered. Recently, or to be more exact, this morning he had broken into a house and killed its inhabitants because he suspected them to have their money on them. Thiala did not really like greed as a motive for murder, but she had been informed via a letter by Ungolim the Listener, that the Night Mother believed the man would make a perfect addition to the sanctuary Thiala was in charge of. And the Nighmother's will always had to be put to action of course.

Thiala crossed the road and found herself for the second time this night in front of the Grey Mare. Funny that the murderer had chosen this of all places to rest. Again she opened the door without making any sound, but this time intentionally. She crossed the by now deserted main room of the inn, where only the drooling orc remained and found a small staircase leading to the rooms.

Only a soft whisper of air announced her entering one of the small rooms. The man was lying with the back to her and hadn't noticed anything. He was constantly turning in his sleep, but he had done so before her arrival as well. She waited for a second before she decided to wake him.

When she drew closer and saw his face she was met with an unusual surprise. Illius… Apparently she wasn't the only one who concealed her real name from strangers in bars. Just as well. She chuckled a little at the irony. That was definitely something that hadn't happened to her before, and she figured the other speakers didn't have experiences like that either.

She leaned closer and whispered almost next to his ear,

777777777777777777777777777

"Flirting with strangers in bars and murdering, too? Not quite on the blessed path, I daresay…" the soft voice was nothing more than a whisper, but it was sufficient to make Marius wake up with a start. He hadn't slept very easily, images of the people he had killed in cold blood haunting his sleep and not allowing him to any real rest.

He stared at the woman bent over his bed with an incredulous expression distorting his features. Had the flirt not been enough for her and now she was trying to get a little more from him? But she had said something about murdering… no, she couldn't know. No one knew. But what if? Had she witnessed something? Did she have proof? Was she going to report him to the authorities or even blackmail him?

While he had been staring at her the dark clad woman had retreated a little and now stood almost in the middle of the small room, a faint smile around her lips and an amused glimmer in her eyes. "Well, I guess we haven't made our proper introductions yet", she stated, an odd stress on the word proper.

Claudette, that was her name right? Had she forgotten that she had told him or did she know that he had given her a false name? He didn't even remember what he had told her. Maybe Claudette was a fake name and she was going to set it right now. But he couldn't risk her knowing his real name. If she already knew that was bad, but if she didn't, he had to avoid her finding out. There was a bounty on his head and if she knew about that and drew the conclusion that it was him… presuming of course she didn't already know.

"You know my name", he said warily after hesitating some seconds.

"True", she replied. "Marius, isn't it? I hope I'm not pronouncing it incorrectly."

So she knew. Did she also know what he had done today? Judging from her first statement, she probably did.

Before he could worry any further she continued on. "My real name is Thiala. I am a speaker for the Dark Brotherhood, and I am here to make you a rather special offer."

For a moment he could just stare at her. Whatever he had believed she would say, this was definitely it. The Dark Brotherhood… of course he had heard of them, who hadn't? But what would they offer him? And why would they.

He just realized that his mouth had gone very dry. "Carry on", he said in a low voice. If it was just an offer he should at least listen to it. And if it was not just an offer he didn't have a choice anyway.

"You have been noticed", she continued. "By the Nightmother. She saw you kill, and she liked what she saw. We would like to welcome you in our unique family, and we invite you to join the Brotherhood."

"What?", he managed while his brow shot up. He was completely shocked. Was the Dark Brotherhood really offering to have him join them, or was he just having a very weird dream?

Thiala chuckled a little before carrying on, "I'm here to invite you to become a part of the Dark Brotherhood" she paused for a moment, as if to see whether he had any comment, but he remained quiet so she went on, "The choice is entirely up to you. But if you decide to join, there is a little task, you have to do. You could call it an initiation rite, but I prefer to think of it as a test of you abilities. There's an old Bosmer man, goes by the name of Fargren, who was marked by the Brotherhood. Your task is to kill him." She told him a location where that old man was to be found, some pub, quite far from civilization.

He nodded numbly, unable to process the given information all at once. He memorized the name of the pub regardless of the fact, that he had no idea yet whether he would even attempt to go there.

"To give you a little something to remember us by, even if you decide not to join, I have a little present for you", Thiala said, pulling something out of the depths of her long black robe, that he hadn't really thought about until now. These clothes gave her an entirely different appearance. Dangerous, scary, but also in some insane way that he couldn't identify, attractive. She had looked attractive before, but in an entirely different way. Frankly he liked the new way better.

"It's a virgin blade, newly forged and thirsty for blood. You will see it will serve you well. It's called Blade of Unforgiving Darkness" He just now noticed that she had pulled out a dagger. She stepped a little closer and presented him the hilt, which he reluctantly took from her.

"If you kill Fargren I will visit you again, the next time you sleep in a location I deem safe afterwards. Farewell now, Marius. I truly hope we will see each other again", Thiala said, ready to leave. But before she did she turned around one last time. "By the way, you have a cute butt", she added with a mischievous grin. At this he couldn't help but burst out in laughter. "Not as good as yours", he told her with a charming smile. She pulled up her eyebrows in a suggestive motion, but then she just turned around and with a flash of green light she disappeared from his sight, leaving him to stare at his newly acquired blade and contemplating what he would do now.

777777777777777777777777777

A/N: I don't know why, but it took forever for me to write this chapter. I always wondered why there was only one sanctuary of the Brotherhood in game, when the lore clearly says there have to be at least four. Please tell me what you think!