Disclaimer: I obviously don't own Oblivion. Bethesda Game Studios does, and as one of their loyal followers and forum members, I would never dare claim ownership of any of their works.
Lucius walked through the Legion headquarters in the Imperial City, watching several Knights in the middle of a heated argument. It seemed that they were debating whether or not to bother reporting something to Commander Surius Avitus. From the sound of things, they had discovered a murder and knew who the murderer was, but were afraid to say anything about it. Lucius passed them by. It wasn't any of his concern. It also seemed to him that if they were afraid of reporting the murderer, that that person must be in a position of power, and Lucius had no wish to get involved in politics. All he wanted to do is continue his work and get back to his wife and baby girl, of whom he'd been worrying excessively about lately.
He had been having a series of disturbing dreams, of vived colors and flashing lights. It looked like blood splashed across the darkness, with a glowing form in the middle of it all that gave off a faint, red aura. Then the vision would fade, but before waking in a cold sweat he would see images of the broken body of his wife, her head being cradled in Selena's small arms. It was a sight that never failed to give him chills.
He continued down the bustling hall, narrowly managing to jump out of the way of a small Bosmer who was running towards him with a pile of paperwork in his hands. He shouted an apology back to him, only to run straight into another man coming around a corner. Lucius shook his head in amusement as papers flew everywhere, then continued on his way, briefly stopping to look out the window at the training grounds. Hundreds of wannabe soldiers were trying desperately to form a line as their instructors shouted and cursed at them in five different languages. On the other side of the field the actual soldiers were training, wielding weapons of all shapes and sizes, from spears to daggers. And at the gate to the Market District, dozens of people were dragging carts and leading horses in and out with supplies and merchandise for the weary soldiers. Which is to say a bunch of scam artists trying to cheat men too tired to think out of their money. Which they succeeded in, more often than not.
Lucius had never been fooled by cheap tricks though. He was an honest man with a family to feed, and couldn't afford to think about the petty pleasures those street vendors provided. No, Lucius Jucanis was as straight as they came, and would never sink that low. Unless he had had a few drinks. Then he might go a bit lower. But his beautiful Lydia was understanding of such events, in the special way that wives can be, in that they can understand yet look murderous at the same time.
He made his way deeper into the building, eventually reaching an area lit only by torch-light. He was getting to the command center now. As he neared the giant oak doors, he spotted two familiar faces standing in front of them, waiting. His old friend, Orson, a newly promoted Knight Bachelor in his special ordered silver armor that managed to glint even in near darkness. How he had managed to have it shipped so fast from Morrowind Lucius had no idea, though he did sometimes wonder if Monica, Orson's wife and permanent object of both his obsession and love, might have some powerful connections. He had heard that her grandfather was on the Elder Council, though he had never seen proof.
The other figure was the cheery form of Trooper Rufius Capito, who, according to Lydia, was distantly related to him. He hadn't yet come of age, and it showed when you looked at him. His raven hair was cropped as per Legion standard, and his armor was a smaller and more battered version of Lucius's own. His bright, green eyes stared up hopefully at his superior. Unfortunately, the boy was far too hopeful for his own good, and the general air of happiness he exuded irritated him. Lucius had never met him before he had been assigned to him, and he suspected that saying they were related was just Lydia's way of trying to make him be nice to the boy, since he had been assigned to him as his personal assistant. Not that Lucius wanted an assistant, but such curses came with the rank of Knight Bachelor. Soon Orson would have his very own annoying assistant as well.
He stopped before the two and gave them a curious glance. "Alright, what are you two doing here, and should I be concerned?"
Orson scratched the back of his head, then shrugged. "I don't know. I was ordered to come here. No explanation, though it's not as if the Centurions need them."
Without being asked, as usual, Rufius piped in with his own opinion. "I heard the Commanders are here too! I've never been in a room with anyone higher than a Knight rank before. Do you suppose they want us for a secret mission or something cool like that?"
Lucius just gave him a look that spoke volumes, and Rufius immediately quieted down. But if what he said was true, and if they were about to walk into a room filled with Centurions, Commanders, and Generals, something had to be up. Something that probably wouldn't end well for them. Oh well. Best to get it over with.
Lucius made his way past the two and opened the doors, then gestured for the other two to follow him as he walked inside. The room was well lit, though Lucius would have preferred it dark. Then he wouldn't have been able to see all the important faces. Surius Avitus, Modius Bulba, Terentius Lucenus, and even the newest Centurion, Adamus Phillida.
He knew, even as he went stiff that he had gone pale. He imagined that Orson was taking it with more grace than him, but he didn't even dare to think about what might be going through the mind of young Rufius right now. All of them were seated at a large, half-circle table of stone, and they were all clothed in the most expensive and flashy garments money could buy. More politics and attempts to show off. Lucius hated show-offs. So by extension, he hated three-quarters of the population of Cyrodiil.
It was only years of training in case this unlikely event might ever occur that made him bow. And when he did, he bowed so low that it hurt his back to do it in his plate armor. Orson no doubt managed a more flowing one, with his special Morrowind armor that he would be willing to bet was gleaming brighter than ever. He knew how these things worked. Bow low, it's a sign of respect, and for Gods' sake stay silent until spoken to, lest they decide you unfit and have you killed, or worse, demoted.
Unfortunately, Rufius wasn't bright enough to understand this and interrupted the silence with a cheerful sounding question. "So, what can we do for you, milords?"
All eyes, including those of Orson and Lucius, turned to him. Lucius watching the color drain from his face as he backed away and managed a high-pitched apology. Even as Lucius was mentally cursing the young Trooper for his obvious mistake, one of the men at the table cleared his throat. It was one of the ones that Lucius didn't recognize, though he did note with some surprise that the man was actually a Dunmer.
"You have been summoned here today to discuss a matter of some importance. Well, two of you were. The third as I've come to understand showed up of his own accord."
At that, all eyes again turned to Rufius. Lucius could have sworn that he heard him whimpering.
"This matter is one I suggest you all keep secret. Before you leave this room, you will sign a document that shall later be presented to High Chancellor Ocato so that the Emperor may sign his approval."
No one said anything at that. It was common knowledge among the higher ranks that Uriel was nothing more than a figurehead, and that Ocato and the Elder Council held all the real power. Oh sure the Emperor could still make decisions on his own but, they rarely if ever were implemented with any sort of enthusiasm by the Council. Ocato essentially controlled everything that came in and out of the Palace. The only thing the Emperor still had sway over were his personal bodyguards and agents, the Blades. Lucius was certain that at least one of the men in this room held a secret position with them, so no one could say such slanderous things out loud. But at this point, it was one of those things that don't need to be spoken to be understood.
"The task of you two, Lucius Jucanis and Orson Ashcroft, shall be to hunt down a serial killer that has recently been sweeping across the Imperial City. Before you ask, no, this cannot be put into the hands of simple guards. These are not commoners dying, they are important people. People of nobility and rank. Even nobles from the other provinces, here as representatives of their respective groups interests."
Orson stepped forward to address the gathered Generals, a bold move even for him. "Excuse me sirs, but if I may ask, why us?"
Surius Avitus stirred in his seat and replaced the Dunmer as the speaker, since he was at a temporary loss for words on the question. "Because you two have proven reliable, ambitious, and loyal. You may not be the best young men to come out of this Academy, but you have earned your spot in the Legion and deserve your shot at glory. This will be it. Accomplish this mission and you'll both make Captain."
In his mind, Lucius took apart his words and inserted his own. Because you're troublesome, overreaching, and loyal to the people. Not the best to come out of the Academy, but still existing, making for the perfect tools. No one in the Legion will miss us if we fail, and if we succeed, our new, shiny rank of Captain can always be taken away later for some trivial oversight.
A grim expression settled on Lucius's face, though Orson's brightened at the mention of the word Captain. He wasn't politically savvy enough to see the fine print. All he saw was a chance at making life better for him and Monica. More's the pity.
"We'll do whatever you ask us to, of course! Who was the last person killed?"
Adamus Phillida, the newly promoted Centurion, rose from his seat. "My father."
He sat back down as another uncomfortable silence reigned in the room. Terentius Lucenus cleared his throat and rose to address them as well. "Centurion Phillida shall be assisting you in this matter. He has assured me that his personal stake in this mission won't affect his decisions."
Yeah right. What did he do to anger the higher ups? He must know that this mission is a death-trap. Maybe they want him as a scapegoat if things go bad and two Knight Bachelors aren't high enough ranks to blame.
Orson again stepped forward to ask a question. "Do you have any suspects, any leads?"
Terentius's eyes narrowed and he sat back down, not wishing to be a part of this particular discussion. Surius glanced at him in annoyance, then got up to answer the question, though his voice had turned weary. "We're not sure who the killers are as there's no clear evidence at any of the crimes. They're completely clean. No traces whatsoever. I'm sure you're aware that there's only one group operating in Cyrodiil capable of such a thing. The Dark Brotherhood."
The air chilled at the very mention of their name. Universally hated and feared by all forms of law enforcement all over Tamriel. The Dark Brotherhood were a secret sect of assassins, so skilled in their art that their victims never know about them until the knife is protruding from their chests. Before he could stop himself, Lucius visibly shuddered, while Orson went pale, the enthusiasm draining from his face. Rufius had gone from fear to pure terror at the thought of fighting the Dark Brotherhood, and was now shaking.
Surius grinned faintly as he continued. "You three, Lucius Jucanis, Orson Ashcroft, and Adamus Phillida, shall investigate this group and arrest its members. You may kill them if need be, but we would prefer them alive. Your aids may assist you, of course. Since you have been so recently promoted, Knight Bachelor Ashcroft, one shall be assigned to you."
Surius took his seat again, while this time the pudgy figure of Modius Bulba rose to say his bit. "You all will of course, have the full cooperation of all branches of the Imperial Legion, however, for your own safety your mission must be kept secret. No one shall be told of your target, am I understood? The only people you may tell are those key to your operation and those will be few and far between. We shall be making our leave now. You shall stay here and await the necessary documents. We must always follow procedure, you understand. May Talos guide your path."
The various high ranking members of the Legion rose from their seats and left the room, except for Adamus Phillida, who had remained seated with his head held in his hands. It wasn't particularly long until a man came in with some papers and quills, though that short span of time was enough for Lucius to contemplate several reasons for early retirement. The man handed him his papers, and he numbly walked over to the table and began signing. There wasn't even a need to look at the fine print. It didn't get any more obvious than 'Hey, go over and die during this investigation so we can look like we're doing something.'
He handed the papers back to the young man after he finished and noticed that Orson was signing with a shaking hand. He was surely weighing the pros and cons of this assignment. There was a definite chance of death, dismemberment, and just general pain, the fact that they would almost certainly be demoted if they failed and returned without harm, and of course just how long it would take to make any sort of progress in tracking down the Dark Brotherhood. As for the pros... Well, Lucius was sure that he'd manage to think of some somewhere along the line. Hopefully.
As soon as he was finished, Rufius fled the room, perhaps to go cry in a corner somewhere, perhaps to change his name, or perhaps, if he had any steel in him at all, to go make preparations with his family. Adamus finished his with a calm and steady hand, his eyes impassive and a new-found look of determination on his face. He rose from his chair and swiftly left, his Centurion's cape fluttering behind him. He nodded to them before closing the door behind him.
The young man with the papers departed soon after, leaving Orson and Lucius alone together in the room. Lucius patted him on the shoulder and motioned that they should leave, but Orson just stood there.
"Are you okay?"
Orson turned and walked past him, opening the great door. "It's not me I'm worried about," he said before leaving.
The door slammed shut behind him, leaving Lucius alone in the room. He looked up at the ceiling and closed his eyes, hoping that this assignment might just be another bad dream. He understood what Orson meant. He wasn't worried about himself, he was worried about Monica. What would happen to her if he died? What would happen to Lydia and Selena if Lucius himself were to die? Lucius didn't plan on finding out.
He turned and walked out, hurriedly moving through the halls and back to the natural light. He hated going this deep into the building. It always felt like he was in a cave. He preferred to have sunlight shining down on him than having to rely on torches or spells to light his path. He barely passed anyone until he reached the main level where sunlight streamed through the windows. There, everything was bustling with people running back and forth carrying important papers or equipment. He ignored them all and left the building, once again passing the arguing Knights who still hadn't come to a decision. Lucius almost interfered this time but, all he wanted to do right now was get home.
He entered the courtyard and made quick strides towards the towering gate that separated the Imperial Academy from the rest of the mercurial city. He passed many of the lesser ranks who were in the middle of training, and when he approached them, they stopped what they were doing to salute, bringing their fist over their chest and standing straight. Lucius strode right past them, not even slowing down.
He shouldered his way past the merchants and tricksters that had gathered near the gates to sell their cheap, fake wares, and gave any that got in his way a glare that promised jail time if they hindered him. He passed under the shadow of the arch and through the gates into the Market District, immediately entering a different world. If things in the Academy were busy, then the Market District was hectic.
Hundreds of people were walking in the streets, some closely leading children, some carrying crates, some carrying food or clothing or, anything really, since there's nothing not available to buy in the Market District. And here and there standing to the side and watching the mess, stood the members of the Imperial Watch. The Watch were an odd bunch, and not a group Lucius was eager to deal with. They were arrogantly ambitious and far too harsh with their punishments, often killing first and asking questions never. They wouldn't dare try to stop him for anything though. He was a real Legionnaire and they all knew full well that someone of his rank could have any of them sacked at a moments notice. Thus, when he knocked over a man carrying a basket of corn in his haste, even when that man was shouting obscenities at him as he walked away as if he hadn't noticed, the guards didn't even move from their posts.
He made his was further down the street noticing that the bars were beginning to fill up, meaning that it must be around noon. All the workers taking their breaks.
The crowd was beginning to thin a bit and the noise subsided only to be replaced by the shouts of great deals from the street vendors. Not a bit true, any of it. He would think that it would be obvious to anyone that there's no such thing as a down on his luck man selling genuine diamond rings for a cheap, cheap price. But some people buy into such things, hoping beyond hope that it might be genuine, and when they are proven wrong, well, then they call the Watch. Of course there was nothing they could do as legally, they had bought the merchandise and after all, the merchant had never signed a contract saying they were real diamond rings.
Hope was the bane of humanity. Hope encouraged scoundrels to lie, cheat, and steal, and it encouraged fools to buy into them. It encouraged generals to lead their troops into a hopeless war and inspired soldiers to follow them to their deaths. It inspired people to go out and blow their money on a gamble, and to keep trying even though it was obvious that they were only digging themselves a deeper hole. Hope, one of the purest aspects of the human condition, would kill them all one day.
He walked down the street and left the bustle of the Market District to enter the quieter area of the Elven Gardens. There were still people in the street here and there, mostly children playing, but it was far more peaceful. Nevertheless, he continued his brisk walk until he reached a side alley that he quickly turned into. There was still a bit of sunlight shining down between the buildings, but it was noticeably darker. He went past three doors then turned left and took a key from a pocket of his uniform, then turned the key and entered his out of the way home and noticed the silence. Selena would no doubt be with her mother shopping at this time of day.
He made his way through the dark house and up the stairs to the second floor. He entered his bedroom and closed the blinds, then stripped off his armor and laid it next to the bed. He grabbed a tunic out of his dresser and put it on, then allowed himself to fall onto his bed. He stared up through the darkness at the stone ceiling until he fell asleep to be greeted once again by the nightmares.
A shadow walked across the floor of the spacious room, carefully eying the sleeping figure in the bed. The sound of the rustle of robes echoed across the room, waking the man from his peaceful slumber. He pulled a dagger out from under his pillow, making a sharp noise as the silver was drawn from its sheath. He looked carefully around the room for any movement, but saw nothing. Sighing with relief, he put the dagger back under his pillow and lowered his head back down. He closed his eyes with a contented smile, but immediately opened them again to find himself staring up at a dark, hooded figure.
His hand scrambled back towards the dagger, but the figure raised a fist and a bright light flashed from his palm, freezing his body in place. Only his eyes could move, and they frantically searched for a way out. There was none, and he could only watch in horror as the figure removed a glove from his hand and left it hovering over his head.
"Dear, dear, Mr. Surius Avitus, what have you been doing? You haven't been getting curious, have you? Don't you know that curiosity killed the guard? Lets take a look at that brain of yours and see what you've been up to."
As his eyes swept back and forth in terror, he felt his mouth just barely move and a sound vaguely like a squeak come from it. The hovering hand turned into a pointed finger, and descended until it was touching his forehead. Then came the pain. The terrible, excruciating pain. A ripple, like water, swept across his forehead as the finger went into his head and a strange, pulsating energy wrapped around the hooded man's arm. Then, as soon as it had started, the pain went away and the man's hand retracted. He carefully put his glove back and stared down at Surius.
"So that's your plan, is it? How clever. Unfortunately, I think there will need to be some changes. There are some details of that plan that might interfere with mine, and that simply won't do. But don't worry, Mr. Avitus. I'll take care of it all for you. Or rather, I'll take care of it, and you'll think you had. But that would be so very painful for you, so why don't you sleep."
Surius felt his eyes flutter close as the man removed his hood and grinned at him. The hand was coming down again. Then, before the experience could rob him of his sanity, he fell into a blissful slumber.
A/N: And here is my sort of much anticipated prequel to a Cloak of Lies, which I'll probably be putting a lot more effort into now that I have the hang of things. If you've read A Cloak of Lies, then you may have a better grasp of events than those who haven't, but it's not necessary to do so to understand the story. I also plan on making this much longer, and I'm hoping to hit one-hundred thousand words at the very least, in four acts, each defining a specific phase of Lucius's life.
I'd like to point out, though it should be obvious, that I've enlarged the Imperial City and added the Imperial Academy, where Legion soldiers are trained. Maybe it's just me, but that's something I'd expect out of a city that big. Also, the actual main quest won't be coming until waaaay down the line, and when it finally arrives, don't expect it to be a carbon copy. I plan on changing quite a few things. Not the events themselves, but the actions that take place in said events, and perhaps the order that they take place in. Basically, I'm revamping it to fit my story.
Also, unlike A Cloak of Lies, which shifted perspectives a lot, I plan on keeping this almost permanently focused on Lucius, with any other things shown through dreams or such things, like the last section of this chapter.