Chapter 1 - In Sithis' Name
01/01/09 : Edited version, beta readed by Raven-Studio. Thanks a lot ! (hugs)
15/06/08 : Edited version. Thanks to GentleButterfly for the Beta reading. :D
The young Breton had wandered the muddy streets of Leyawiin for hours, and she did not seem very happy.
She shuffled along with her hands jammed deep in her pockets, and from time to time kicked at some stone or another on the ground. She suddenly jumped when, behind her, a city guard called out "Six o'cloooock, and aaaall's weeeelllll!"
'No, that's not fine, not fine at all!' She thought irritably, shooting him a very dark glance as he passed by.
The guard ignored the look, focused onw laking his beat.
Sigrid sighed heavily as she remembered how honored she had felt, at first, when Ocheeva announced that she was chosen by the Black Hand to get rid of the Dark Brotherhood's worst enemy. She became far less enthusiastic when she discovered her target was Adamus Phillida. Everybody knew the Imperial Legion Commander. He was a decent enough sort - well, at least compared to the rest of those useless boors from the Legion. Despite the fact that Phillida had quickly become rather obsessive about the Brotherhood, she had admired his competence, his determination...and the fact that he had been able to escape the fearsome assassins sent after him by the Black Hand. Not once, but twice!
But to Ocheeva, who seemed to have a personnel grudge against Phillida, such arguments would probably have appeared weak. And such an offer – an order? – from the Black Hand was difficult, if not impossible to refuse.
'Hmm,' Sigrid thought as she walked, "one can always refuse, but then takes the risk to end one's life wallowing in what is left of one's own entrails..."
So, she more or less stifled her scruples – yes scruples! - and traveled to Leyawiin. Once there, she spent three days watching Phillida's schedule very closely, finally concluding that the best time to do her 'accounting' – Dark Brotherhood's jargon for 'execution' – was when the retired Legion Commander took his daily swim in the afternoon. Indeed, without his amour, he was defenseless against the deadly "Rose of Sithis", the special arrow the Black Hand had reserved for Phillida.
So today, Sigrid waited in ambush near the pond, ready to strike. However at the fateful moment, she found herself unable to kill him, the Rose remained notched, the string taut, but the Rose did not fly. Why? She could not answer the question – and knew no answer would satisfy the Black Hand. Maybe her conscience twinged because of his age. No, Rufio and Baelin were both of similar age and she had not minded killing them.
A feeling of shame and rage overcame her at the memory of her failure. Cursing herself for being such a ridiculous and sensitive ninny, she kicked hard at another stone on the ground, which drew a perfect arc in the air before falling with a nice resonant 'clang!' right on the helmet of the watchman's now walking in front of her.
"What the...!?" Exclaimed the watchman, turning back. He found the street empty. Even the black haired and gloomy-looking girl who sloped along, muttering to herself but a few moments ago had disappeared. The guard shrugged, turning back.
Behind the barrel where she crouched, Sigrid sighed in relief when she heard the guard's footsteps moving away. 'Careless, so very careless.'
"Teineeva is right, you know... You are too nervous, unable to control your feelings and thus not careful enough. This not a good thing, especially for an assassin..." Whispered the little voice in her head.
"I don't remember asking for your opinion!" Sigrid snapped back mentally.
Being an only child, and having spent most of her childhood in an environment exclusively composed of adults, she had taken the habit at an early age to speak mentally to herself. And soon, she found out that something in her head answered. She did not know whether it was a reassuring thing, but she was clever enough not to tell anyone about it.
"You perfectly know I don't need your permission to voice my opinion..." Lhe little voice carried on, the sound of amused laughter crawling around her skull like many-leggedinsects.
"Shutup, will you!?"
As annoying as it was, Sigrid had to admit to herself, however grudgingly, the little voice was right. She remembered her last conversation with Teineeva in Cheydinhal's Sanctuary. It happened only a few days ago but it seems as if weeks had passed since.
"Sigrid, I have told you innumerable times, try to conceal your feelings, for Sithis' sake! You were radiating keenness and fear so much I felt you coming miles away! Just try to be...cold-blooded. Nothing, neither fear nor anger should emanate from you". The Argonian instructed patiently, but Sigrid could see the patience beginning to fray. How long, and no improvement certainly frustrated his attempts to help her improve as an assassin.
"Pfff, cool-blooded... Easy for you to say that, you're a lizard!" Sigrid spat, irritation finally getting the better of her.
At that precise moment, the Breton lay aching, flat on the floor in the main hall, after having pathetically failed in an attempt to attack Teineeva by sneaking up on him. Gogron the Orc, who had witnessed it all, hunkered against the wall for support, laughing hard enough to bring tears of mirth to his eyes.
It had become a game between Sigrid and the Argonian. At any time in the Sanctuary, she could attempt a sneak attack on him. Unfortunately, she had never successfully carried out a single one. Oh, she was fine with the sneaking part; it was the attack itself that caused her no end to trouble. Every time she attacked the Argonian by surprise, he managed to anticipate and parry her blow. She then had to count on her fighting skills, which according to Teineeva were good, and she often had the advantage during their struggles. But this was no comfort to her now...
…for in the real world, as Teinaava was fond of saying, there were no second chances.
Teineeva smiled at Gogron's hilarity and Sigrid's failure, before he offered the girl a clawed hand. "Calmness is the key. You will never be able to achieve a sneak attack if you don't get a grip on yourself just before striking..." He declared for the hundredth time.
Sigrid took the Argonian's hand, letting him pull her back to her feet.
"Well, I know, but it's in my character. I just can't help it," she grumbled, shooting a murderous glance at the Orc who was still desperately trying to muffle his giggles.
'It is not a matter of character', she thought, brushing off some dust on her amour. 'It is more or less that I feel it is a dishonorable way of doing things.'
"Ah, come on! You just need to practice, that is all. Don't get frustrated. The Empire wasn't built in a day!" Exclaimed Teineeva. "Even Gogron here can do it..." Teinaava paused before adding maliciously: "Well, at least when he feels like it..." The implication – that it took Gogron a while to learn anythgina bout stealth – was not lost on Sigrid. Though the fact remained it should be easier for a small Breton than a big Orc to learn stealth.
"Yeah, and I don't feel like it much!" The Orc boomed, walking toward them wiping the tears from his eyes.
"Gogron is right," said Sigrid to Teinaava "Why can't I just rush my target blowing everything out of my way, like him? You guys always say I am a great fighter. I don't need sneak attacks!"
"Now now, you're bold girl," said Gogron, patting her gently on the head, "it's true. You are good at fighting. But remember I am seven feet and two hundred twenty pounds of muscled Orc, whereas you are a flimsy little Breton who has trouble standing straight on a windy day..." Gorgon winked.
"He is right, you know," said Teineeva as Sigrid was about to tell Gogron what she thought of seven feet and two hundred twenty pounds muscled Orc. "You can't adopt the same fighting strategy as him; you're far, er, far too different." He ended lamely as Sigrid gave him a smoldering look that threatened a head-on, face-to-face attack that might make Teinaava prefer to tangle with the muscle-bound Orc.
"You know what that means, girl," said Gogron, grabbing her by the shoulder and making her face the training-room door. He pushed her firmly towards it, then slapped her bottom once she started walking, yelling cheerfully: "Back to work!"
When Sigrid finally shook herself from her daydreaming, night had fallen and she was leaning against the barrel, looking at one of the two moons in the sky.
"Even as the Dark Brotherhood's greatest enemy, and whatever Ocheeva and the rest may say, Phillida deserves better than being shot like a dog." She thought resolutely. "He will find his end at my hands, but in my own way...it's my contract, after all."
Nevertheless, that could wait until tomorrow.
Phillida woke up in the drafty guard station, suddenly alert and watchful.
The night air hung humid and hot. It outside rain fell heavily, drumming hard on the roof, as often in this tropical region. The usual guard was out on an inspection south of Leyawiin that night, so he had asked Phillida to visit the watch tower (though 'take his place' was more the actuality) – giving Phillida time study some interesting scrolls the city watch had come into possession of. A passionate reader like Phillida could not refuse such an offer...
Right now, however – after the scrolls proves less diverting than he had hoped - Phillida had his ears perked, listening for all the little sounds made by the nocturnal creatures of the swamp. More specifically for sounds that were not among those innocent scurrying.
'Nothing, Hmmm...'He rubbed his face with his hand to get the sleep out, and got out of his chair. He stopped near his bodyguard, who had felt asleep in a chair, head on the table. Phillida frowned as he checked his pulse but looked relieved when the guard started snoring loudly. The usual guard wouldn't be back before dawn. Which meant that he was on his own.
The Commander took a deep breath, then walked back near his chair, were he pulled his sword from its place leaning agasint the chair. He attached it around his waist, but did not bother to put his boots on, before walking resolutely toward the door, trying to flex stiffness out of his muscles.
Falling asleep in one's chair was never a good idea.
Phillida stepped out of the guardpost. The feeling of the rain on his body finished waking him up. Moving what he could clal a safe distance away from the building, he stopped and waited, listening hard. He didn't have long to wait. A shadow was coming nearer. When it was less than four feet from him, it turned into a soaking wet, black haired Breton girl, who appeared to be wearing the Dark Brotherhood amour.
"Damn!" Thought Sigrid as she continued walking towards the former Legion Commander. "He wasn't supposed to wake up before I entered the building
She balled her fists. She had planned everything so carefully. She knew the usual guard would be on duty elsewhere, and that Phillida would stay here all night. However, Sigrid had expected to fight him inside – not out in the middle of a quiet, muddy street. Her small size had counted as an advantage in close and narrow spaces, especially against taller and heavier opponents. Now, she could see the drawbacks of that former advantage.
"Now, you just have lost your best assets..." Whispered the little voice in her head.
"Hmm" Phillida said, smiling. "I recognized you. You had a little chat with my bodyguard in the city, this afternoon."
"Adamus Phillida...Sithis needs your soul." Sigrid had tried to take on a sepulchral voice while saying this, but it was far from being a success. She sounded rather...
"Pathetic?" Offered the little voice.
The girl did not even bother to answer. Her gaze was fixated on Phillida, who took calmly his sword out of its sheath and made a few movements with it to warm up his wrist.
"Oh, Sithis needs my souls, does he?" Phillida said, still smiling, albeit coldly, and raising one of his eyebrows in a sarcastic way. "Well, you can tell your Dread Father he can kiss my wrinkled...!"
Sigrid never heard what Sithis was supposed to kiss, as she was too busy ducking out of the way of the sword's swing. She had expected an attack, but not at that speed. She heard the blade cutting the air where her neck had been a quarter of a second before.
"Oye, he's fast !" She thought while jumping to her left, rolling on her shoulder before coming up right, blade leaping from its sheath into the guard position. But Phillida was already on her, his sword raised. They exchanged a few attacks, and Sigrid had to retreat to avoid the rain of blows that were trying – nearly succeeding – in snatching her short silver sword out of her hand.
"Fast and strong..."
"I guess that the nice little carrot cakes you offered my bodyguard were impregnated with a sleeping potion..." Phillida mused softly, walking toward the girl.
Sigrid retreated a little more. "Yes," she answered, eyes roving, looking for a chink in Phillida's defenses. "I hope he enjoyed them." Sigrid had always praised herself for her culinary skills... and her skills as an outstanding alchemist.
"Oh, yes, he did." The Commander continued. "I always told him gluttony would lead him on the road to ruin. Too bad for you I am not too keen on carrot cakes..."
Phillida stopped moving, and the two opponents stood still, observing one another like cats prepared to fight. Looking for that one little weakness…
"Actually, I choose them on purpose," Sigrid answered haughtily, though mostrly out of spite. "as I did not want you impeded in any way."
For the first time, Phillida looked surprised. "Really? And why, may I ask? It would have been easier for you to slay me."
Sigrid hesitated before answering. She still did not know exactly why she did not follow the initial planned, but finally said: "Well, I thought about shooting you during your daily swim, but finally decided that killing you in a duel would be a plus for my career as an assassin."
Phillida bowed ironically. "I am much honored, but your arrogance is going to be your downfall!"
"Tsss, tsss, my poor Adamus. Gluttony, arrogance: you seem to be surrounded by sinners..." Sigrid managed to purr before action exploded in the quiet street.
They both jumped forward. Their swords clashed violently agasint one another. They fought for a few minutes, thrust after thrust, parry after parry. Sigrid finally managing to disengage and retreat once more. Sweat was streaming down her face, stinging her eyes.
The former Legion Commander clearly had the advantage. Now Sigrid realized she had clearly underestimated him. 'There are no second chances', Teinaava's sibilant voice hissed in her memory.
She was Great Champion of the Arena, right. But apparently, it was not enough to defeat a retired soldier who had spent a life fighting. Phillida was faster, stronger and more experienced. Actually, Sigrid should have considered the fact that if you can retire after a lifelong-career of soldiering, you may be a damn good one after all. Not to mention he had escaped the Brotherhood's claws twice before now.
In addition, because of the rain, her leather amour grew heavier with every second ticking past, and she kept slipping and sliding in the mud, unable to get good footing. On the contrary, Phillida, who had stayed bare footed, was able to better stabilize himself by sticking his toes in the soaked ground.
"You old cunning bastard," she thought, grimly.
He must have felt her hesitation, because he hocked his head before saying : "So, what now, little girl? Are you waiting some of your friends to rescue you?"
He leapt forward as he said this and made a particularly vicious thrust at Sigrid. She raised her sword to parry, but doing so left her right knee without protection. This was what Phillida was expecting, and he slammed his foot down viciously on the joint. It broke with a horrible crack.
Sigrid screamed, her voice breaking as she collapsed backward in the mud, groaning and clutching her knee. Through tears of pain, she rolled onto her stomach and tried to reach her sword. But the former Commander raised his own blade and pinned her hand on the ground. Sigrid yelled and squirmed, trying to remove the blade with her free hand. Phillida, knelt down beside her, caught her wrist and removed her hand from the sword's hilt.
"Oh no, my dear butterfly," he said calmly, "you will remain pinned here while I get some help. Anyway, you won't get far with that knee." He looked into the girl's tearful eyes, her features distorted with pain and rage. "I thought about killing you first. Finally, a living Dark Brotherhood's member is the only hunting trophy that misses at my bag. I also can be a bit arrogant, you see..." He stopped suddenly. Frowning, he let her hand go and got up straight. Scanning the surroundings, he sniffed the air a few times.
'Gods, what is that smell?' thought Sigrid. She clenched her teeth, trying to forget about the lancing pain emanating from both her knee and hand, and sniffed the air. The air was saturated with a sickly sweet odor. It reminded Sigrid nauseatingly of the ancient tombs in Elsweyr she visited with her father, in the Elsweyrian desert. Of battlefields. Of swamps.
'All different places, but the same smell. The smell of death...of rot.'
A sound behind her, like the one of a cart's axle, sent a shiver along her spine. Around her, the surroundings seemed to have lost their colors, and the rain fell as if in slow motion. Sigrid suddenly felt very sick, but despite her malaise, she managed to raise her head toward Phillida and, to her amazement, realized that he was struck dumb with terror.
His open-wide eyes were fixed at something behind her.
It was now or never. Sigrid reached the dagger hidden in one of her boots and with a ferocious lunge born of desperation, she stuck it to the hilt into Phillida's stomach. He fell to his knees, falling slowly, landing face first on the ground. As soon as he expired, the rain started falling normally again and all the colors suddenly came seeping back.
Sigrid took a few deep breathes to calm her painfully racing heart, and glanced behind her shoulder to see what had scared Phillida so much. She could not see anything, but clearly heard again the sound of the rusty axle in the distance. Whatever it was, it was now gone.
Sigrid gathered the fortitude and strength she had left and - trying not to yell, whimper, or gasp in pain- pulled the blade pinning her to the ground free. She winced when she realized that the tendons in her hand were sliced through, her teeth gritted with pain so ot eventhe moan of despair at the damage could squeak through. Shelooked at her right knee. It was an open fracture. She sighed, but it came out as more of a pant – at which point she realized that, during those few moments between Phillida's onset of fear and his death, her breath and his had both come in the form of cold clouds of mist. Unbelievable in the warm Leyawiin night.
She would need M'raaj-Dar's talents to efficiently heal both, her own skills far too weak to heal such wounds. He would definitely call her a 'Foul-smelling ape'.
"Ape, obviously. Smelling, sometimes. But fool, certainly!" Said the little voice angrily.
Sigrid found no answer to that, for it was quite true.
She more or less managed to get on her feet. She limped toward Phillida's swiftly cooling body, rolling it over in order to retrieve her dagger. She played a bit with the dagger in her uninjured hand while considering the old man's corpse.
"There is one more little thing I need to do..."