Antoinetta escapes the purification process and heads to Fort Farragut in search of her Speaker. Lucien/Antoinetta
Disclaimer: I do not own Oblivion and its characters.
It is not a long walk from Cheydinhal to Fort Farragut, but each step Antoinetta carries is heavy and slow. Her fine alchemy potions healed the physical wounds from her struggle with the newest addition to her Sanctuary, a young Dunmer girl whose rapid promotion in the ranks clearly showed the depth of dark talent she possessed. Antoinetta's scar isn't visible, but it has managed to kill something of the blonde assassin. She will never laugh aloud again. Her smile will always be somewhat tainted. She knows that she has escaped death, but not for long. When she found the letter signed by Lucien Lachance from the limp body of her attacker, all hope vanished. The girl was rumoured to have received a special contract by the Black Hand itself, and the letter confirmed it to be true. No one whose death was ordered by the ruling council of the assassin guild can survive for very long. She only wants to learn the truth, the answer she desperately seeks from the one who is most likely to have instructed the Dunmer girl to slain everyone in the Sanctuary.
Antoinetta doesn't even know how she managed to emerge as a winner when all her Brothers and Sisters were beaten without even putting up much of fight. The only thing that helped her was her dislike for the new girl. A petty jealousy, but it saved her skin, albeit temporarily, because it made her watchful of every movement that the golden child of Sithis made. She never let her guard down around the Dunmer Eliminator. The other girl, of course, made the fatal mistake of underestimating Antoinetta, who was never renowned for either her magical ability or her blade skills. She was good, but not even the second best among the group of talented assassins. She had, however, one skill that could outsmart everyone. It was the skill that had Lucien pay her enough attention to recruit her into the Brotherhood. She could produce a poison of such a quality that only her Speaker could match. As soon as her dagger made a slight cut into her opponent's armour, the outcome was set in stone.
The winter wind blows harsh, slowing her steps even further. Tightening her blue cloak around her, she fights the cold, numb feelings inside her with grim determination. She wonders whether Lucien already knows his favourite assassin's failure, whether he is anticipating her arrival. The Black Hand indeed seems to know a great many things except the one thing they desperately need to know. Because she suspects that they would have not sanctioned a blatant violation of the Tenets, had they known who exactly was the assassin among the assassins.
Following a cloaked figure silently, Lucien ponders why he has let Antoinetta live so long; why he hasn't struck her dead yet. True, he had felt something special towards her. She was the only assassin he had recruited without the guidance of the Night Mother. He had good feelings about her when he found her in the sewer, running from the Imperial guards after slaying a few of them. He didn't watch the murder scenes, but the guards were furiously searching the nearby area and she fitted the description of the suspect perfectly.
Apparently she had been imprisoned for murdering her aunt by poison at the tender age of fifteen. That particular method initially pricked his interest, which only deepened when it was revealed that she had tried to gain her freedom by seducing an Imperial guard as soon as she reached seventeen. Many had stayed away but one unfortunate guard had succumbed to her seductive charm and pretty looks. He gave her pretty clothes, brought a comfortable bed inside her cell, and even gave her blade lessons. Years later, when it became obvious to her that he didn't have the kind of money to buy her freedom and had nothing else useful to offer, Antoinetta decided that she had had enough of life in prison. She strangled her lover with a pillow during his sleep, took his keys and sword, and ran. Lucien was sure that the Night Mother had guided her. It was no mean feat to escape from a prison even with the cell and office keys in possession.
The girl didn't even flinch when Lucien revealed himself and the business of the Brotherhood to her. The big happy smile on her face told him that she would be grateful and devoted. He had been following her progress closely till the campaign started, which threatened everything that he had worked for. Deep down, Lucien knows that she is innocent. Nevertheless, an order, even a stupid one, is an order. He has sworn his loyalty to Sithis and the Black Hand, who will not take kindly to his refusal to see it through. It is only a matter of time before he has to complete what his Silencer failed to. Antoinetta, despite all her promise, will have to die at his hand. He suspects his death may be worse, much worse.
Exhaling deeply, Antoinetta glances up to give one last look at the sky. The vibrant colour of red is spreading through the open canvas. It will be a cold, cloudless night with sparkling stars and bright moons. She can almost hear her own requiem and wonders what their Dread Father will make of the tragic loss that took place not long ago. He has spoken to her before, whispering the sweet song of death, the necessary and inevitable part of life. At that moment, she understood that the Void was not the antithesis of the Gods and Daedric Princes; they make up the whole picture and are interdependent.
After gathering her courage that starts to falter, Antoinetta opens the heavy Fort gate. She suspects there will be traps, but she has a plan. Knowing Lucien, there will be dark guardians all over the place. She may not be an expert mage, but she has learned all the magic that she needs to survive in the most inhospitable places. Casting the strongest chameleon spell she knows, she carefully navigates her way, sticking close to the wall, till she comes across the first skeleton. When it finally notices her, the undead creature is already under her command. It leads her through the safest passage, warning her about the nature of traps ahead and the presence of other guardians. Lucien is impressed when she arrives at his chamber without a scratch. He always knew she had potential. She just needed more time, but his former short-lived Silencer impressed the Hand far more.
Antoinetta's night-eye spell wore off shortly before she enters the room where she expects to meet her death. She does not renew the spell, opting for examining the unexpectedly large place with open eyes. The first thing that stands out is the silhouette of a black hand staring at her, lit between two flames. Lucien has always been proud of being a part of the Hand and apparently is not afraid of making a statement. The place seems rather bare for one that belongs to such a prominent Speaker, but then perhaps an open space appeals to him just as it pleases her. Her eyes move to the left side and find a plain wooden bed and furniture that look peculiar in the ancient setting. At the opposite, stand a small table, rather uncomfortable looking stool, a wooden chair, an open stone coffin and most importantly her Speaker. A lone candle is the only source of light at that end, and it is hard to make out the look on his face from where she stands. Antoinetta takes several steps towards him.
"Welcome to my private sanctum, dear child," Lucien says with a warm smile. There is of course no beaming smile he used to see whenever she had his audience. He is, however, astonished not to sense any bitterness or anger. Instead, he only finds sad longing in the sweet face that looks up to him. She looks suddenly mature, with wisdom of an old lady who has lived too long and has seen too much. He realises he has killed the old Antoinetta once and for all.
Antoinetta stares into the face of a man whom she once believed could right all the wrongs, trying to memorise his every feature. He is only human, not as powerful as she thought he was. Despite the composure, the strain of recent troubles shows in his face. Time stands still, as they merely stand and look at each other, searching and wondering about the torrents of thoughts and emotions beneath the calm surfaces.
"You are not angry with me," she states, half surprised and half relieved. "Why?"
"Why should I be? You fought well," he replies, his tone quiet and soft. "Come and drink with me."
Lucien seats himself on the stool and gestures her to the chair. There are two bottles of red wine in the table but only one goblet, Lucien's way of telling her that neither the wine nor the vessel is poisoned. He takes a drink first and offers the half filled glass to her, resting his elbow on the table and his chin on the back of his hand, eyes focused on the red liquid in the bottle. She deserves an answer; she has beaten the favoured child of the Night Mother.
"It has been a while since I had the pleasure of your company," he begins. "I wish you were here under different circumstances. Ask of me whatever is on your mind. The night is long."
"You have ordered my sacrifice, dear Speaker, and I understand that I will not leave your home alive," she murmurs, not a question but a statement. "I only ask you to allow me to choose the exact time of my death. It will be before dawn."
"That's it? You will not even attempt to fight me? You are not even going to try to save your life after defeating Leonia?"
"Would there be any point in me trying? Would it make any difference to the outcome, except that I will die by someone else's hand? Why do you think I came here voluntarily?"
Lucien knows the answer all too well. The Black Hand may be useless in pinpointing the identity of the traitor, but no one can escape death once the ruling council desires it. Nevertheless, he does not wish to see the defeated look on her face. Perhaps, her temporary triumph against what seemed to be the inevitable Fate has given him some hope, though he does not exactly believe in it. Lucien fills the now empty glass and swallows more of the liquid to soothe the dryness building up in his throat. He hates the feeling of helplessness and is determined to rise above it, to face his own burden alone and to the bitter end. He is, however, willing to allow himself a weakness for one single night next to someone whose fighting spirit has been finally broken. The Black Hand duty can wait till the morning.
"You already suspect that I have instructed Leonia to carry out the purification of my own Sanctuary. You infer that the Black Hand was behind my seemingly suicidal order. You are right on both accounts," says Lucien, his tone rather weary and tired, though gentle. "It was our failure to pin down the conspirator who targeted the Cheydinhal Sanctuary that was responsible for such a drastic action. Is this what you wanted to know?"
"Yes," Antoinetta replies, emptying the glass once again. She will not drink any more. She wants to face her last night in a sober state of mind. "And more, much more. When I'm gone and the purification complete, will the Brotherhood finally be free of the traitor?"
He holds her chin lightly with his gloved hand. Even now, she does not shy away from the touch. Instead, she leans on to it, clinging to the last human contact. He is tempted to turn his gaze away, but he will not.
"I wish I could give you a different answer, but it will not be the truth. The answer is we do not know. The Black Hand hopes it should be the case, but the decision was motivated by strong probability, not by solid evidence. If we were wrong, we would have to pay dearly for our mistake. We would have helped the traitor to complete a part of his plan."
The expression on her face, the look of resigned sorrow, does not change at the revelation. This time, however, she manages a faint smile before she murmurs musingly. "My death, however, is necessary for you to carry out your duty as a Speaker. Then, there is a meaning to it."
Lucien has not warmed to the human tendency to conjure up a meaning where there is none. But on this occasion, he will not contradict her. How else can she accept her fate without resentment? Carefully releasing her face from his grip, Lucien pours himself another glass. With any luck, he could get drunk and fall into a blissful sleep before the dawn, before she tells him that she is ready for her sacrifice. If the Night Mother wishes to involve her in some mysterious scheme, she will be the second target Lucien has ever missed. His first failure didn't turn out so bad after all, though he swore never to let it happen again, and with Antoinetta's luck, the second one may turn out quite well.