The Shadow (reprise)

You could sleepwalk through the rest of your days - and who knows how long they might be, you have never met an elderly assassin - but the rhythm of life continues, and there are duties to be carried out, contracts to be negotiated, blood to be spilled.

The Night Mother has spoken again, and all you had to do was listen, which is good because you can't imagine what you'd say to her. She's no mother of yours, not anymore, but to whom else would you go, to hear the whispers of death? The Void still hungers, the will of Sithis is unchanged.

Then again, this was never really about Sithis, was it? It's not that you aren't a believer, but ultimately, it wasn't to him that you sold your soul. It wasn't his presence that pervaded your dreams, your nightmares - leaving, in its absence, a void of its own that claws at you, leeches your strength, your will.

It's Frostfall, and the air is bitter. The grass is browning and shrivelled, and the Corbolo is slowing, cooling like the blood in a dying man's veins. Another few days of this and the river will be iced over from Cheydinhal's east wall to its west.

Looking up, you see the familiar fiery patterns burning holes in the sky. Wise Mage, clever Thief, strong Warrior and the rest. You have no idea which one is yours, but it doesn't matter. They don't control your destiny...

...your destiny...

Silencer, sighs Lucien, somewhere dark and very far away. We weren't assassins for nothing, were we?

Your fingers slide pensively over the ebony blade strapped to your hip.

You hope that your return to the Sanctuary will go unnoticed, because you want to hide yourself away, you need time to think. Someone ruins your plans, though.

"Listener!" Arquen cries, smiling broadly. "Your presence honors us."

She has not said a word about him.

So you tell her what the Night Mother told you, and she leaves to seek out the client. The rhythm of life continues, and so too does the rhythm of death.

Barefoot and unalert, you wander the cool dark vaults. The eager, bloodthirsty children that now populate these halls come clustering round you, falling over themselves to pay their respects to their legendary leader. If only they knew what a pitiful creature you really are, a loyal dog pining for a master who'll never return. Their presences barely register, but as you turn away they resume talking amongst themselves, and you hear the girl whisper, nervously. Lucien's name, and then: "Is it true that Arquen...feasted on his entrails?"

You stop short. Red clouds your vision, sanguine, a sudden mist of madness - or is it, finally, lucidity? Does it feel like madness only because it's so alien?

You turn back. "When Arquen gets back, tell her to meet me in my room," you instruct her, and walk away, not bothering to listen to her stammering acknowledgment. Though you never asked for or wanted it, this elevated new position has its advantages - like a Speaker's obedience.

You turn the ebony knife in your hands, over and over. It's no longer a virgin blade. It's tried and tested, and more powerful, now, thanks to the Unholy Matron, she who could have prevented all this and chose not to. And if you can't make her pay - at least not directly, Bellamont already tried that – you can turn the tool she gifted you with to a purpose she never intended.

The doors to Ocheeva's former quarters are thick and strong, and even when they hear the screaming they'll never be able to break them down in time.

Have you become a Bellamont yourself, sitting here in the dark and plotting vengeance against your own? If you slay Arquen, won't that be justice?

No, it'll make you a traitor (and if the word was good enough for Lucien...)

They'll come after you then, and string you up, do to you what they did to him. And then, at last, you'll get your reunion, in that everlasting shadow where Lucien now kneels before Sithis' terrible throne. When you approach, maybe he'll rise in welcome, speak to you with love and pride. Or he might take an eternity to rebuke you for failing him.

Either way, you're going to share his fate. And the thought makes you delirious with joy. So you sit alone in the dark, smiling to yourself and fingering the blade he gave you as you wait for the sound of Arquen's approaching footsteps. It seems that you and he were meant to stay together, after all.

...the End!!

Oblivion is the greatest computer game I've ever played, and I loved the Dark Brotherhood questline in particular, but getting so attached to Lucien and then walking into that infamous scene in Applewatch felt like getting hit in the face with a concrete slab. I had to write about it to purge myself of the trauma.

I'd almost finished writing this when I had the idea of using the birthsigns as chapter titles. It was amazing how well they fitted the themes of the story, but I couldn't think of any way to use The Atronach short of complete and utter contrivance. So that one got left out.

Thank you VERY much if you left feedback...I'm really pleased that so many of you liked the story...and to those readers who've got this story on their favourites/alerts list and haven't commented, how about a little review for the very last chapter to make Jordy happy? :)

Jordy xx