(A/N: Oblivion belongs to Bethesda, etc.
And, yeah. I looked up the Shadowscales on the UESP and there wasn't much information on them, so I pretty much killed Lore dead - er, that is - I made up my own stuff. I remember reading somewhere that Shadowscales were trained in Black Marsh, and yet Teinaava said, unless I'm wrong, that Lucien pretty much raised the twins. So I decided "What the hell" and combined them and this came out.
While most of my one shots are pretty much in the same universe, this is a tad bit alternate to them. Meaning, Martha has managed to sneak into this fic somehow, but none of my other fics will reference Ocheeva growing up in this way. So. Let us begin!)
Every year, in Second Seed, the Nursery brimmed with arrivals. Newborn hatchlings who, quite unlike humans and mer of the same age, were already crawling around and getting their claws into everything. Shadowscales who'd made it to retirement spent their time, along with the slaves, looking after the young ones and teaching them to fight. Ocheeva couldn't remember what the actual name for the halls of the school was, but everybody nicknamed it the Nursery, and so Ocheeva did too.
For five years it had been Ocheeva's home.
She remembered knowing, even at the tender age of four and a half, that few Shadowscales would survive to adulthood. But as children are, they always were excited. They were full of the confidence that only youth could give them. Every single one of them was convinced they would make it. Even though the Nursery was a dangerous place at night.
There were always the rumours that the Brotherhood could only fit so many Shadowscales. Their caretakers did not discourage the rumours, nor encourage them openly, but somehow the rumours fluctuated, growing and fading with the death toll. The newest hatchlings were safe in their room, but Ocheeva had been two years old when she'd had to fight off a young Shadowscale in her year group. It wasn't exactly uncommon, thanks to the rumours, for Shadowscale children to mysteriously die in the night. When she made out his injured form limping away in the dark, she realised who he was.
She and the dozens of other hatchlings were all Brothers and Sisters, but Ocheeva had forgotten she'd had a twin. A blood twin, though she couldn't quite remember his name. Teisomething. Years later, even his face blurred in her memory.
Everybody in the Nursery were Dark Brothers and Sisters, so it was only natural that Ocheeva and the twin had been mere acquaintances, amongst so many siblings. It was common for blood siblings to barely pay each other glances. And yet, after that first attempted murder (and the three or four that followed over the next two and a half years), the twins found themselves gravitating towards each other. They still weren't friends. Definitely not. The twin tended to play with girls, strangely enough, and Ocheeva kept to herself mostly, her only playmates in her mind, but in training sessions Ocheeva would, once or twice in the week, find herself with the twin as a sparring partner.
She could remember the training room, and the squeals, grunts and shouts of her Siblings, but she couldn't remember her twin's face. She remembered mostly his movements – jagged, forced, clumsier than her own and most of the class's. He always struggled. Ocheeva didn't like fighting much either but threw herself into it because she was a good Shadowscale, and in the tiny world she had at that age it was the only thing in it.
Ocheeva decided she hated her twin, then, because plainly he didn't care enough for Sithis, and their caretakers would get so angry when they found out the real reason for his slacking off. So it was mercilessly that three-year-old Ocheeva pounded her poor brother into the stone ground, leaving his snout bloody and yet another tooth dislodged, angry eyes streaming with unbidden tears.
"It'll grow back," she told him with a snort. "Stop crying."
After that particular incident, the twin (Teisel? Teival?) didn't spar with her that week again. Or the next. Or the next month. Or the next six. It was eight months before he sparred with her again, and this time she was sure he'd used magic, or something. How else could she have ended up on the ground with her head exploding in pain, half her teeth missing and blood blooming from her side? She'd been standing up ready to fight three seconds ago!
The caretakers were half-impressed, half-annoyed. They lectured Tei about letting his anger get the better of him, but complimented his passion and dedication to beating Ocheeva and his rapid improvement.
For the next month, he made sure to be her partner at each training session. And he beat her every single day. Finally, she began getting a claw hold, and the fights turned to draws, the twins so exhausted after each one that they could barely hold their wooden swords. At the end of the final year, when graduation came, the twins had been declared the best fighters of their age group.
For the last year, black figures had swarmed among the children. Visitors from the Cyrodiilic Sanctuaries. They came and went, and the children were so used to them that Ocheeva had never thought anything of it. The slaves sad that every few years they took an outstanding Shadowscale, and a Speaker of the Black Hand would train them personally. It was a great honour.
She was surprised when, at graduation, one of the men in dark robes chose Tei to take to Cyrodiil with him. Only one other Speaker chose a Shadowscale, and in spite of the glowing pride of her instructors, it wasn't Ocheeva.
The caretakers and slaves were astonished when Ocheeva told them. One of her favourite caretakers clucked as she assisted in the dormitory of the graduating class, and bent to help Ocheeva pack her few possessions.
"They should have taken you," she said to the Shadowscale. Ocheeva plucked her wooden dagger from under her mattress, slipping it into her satchel when the caretaker was busy folding one of Ocheeva's tunics. The caretakers didn't like sentimentality. "You two were the best out of your year. The training houses are good, but to get raised and nurtured by an entire Sanctuary means he will become powerful, more powerful than you can hope to be."
Even at that age, when being told she couldn't do something, Ocheeva's immediate reaction was, yeah? Well, watch me!
"It's okay," Ocheeva said, pushing aside the angry hiss that threatened. She'd been taught to manage her emotions, and she'd become quite good at it, putting on a smile so well she almost fooled herself into thinking it was real. "When I enter the Brotherhood and go to a Sanctuary of my own I'll beat him. I'll live to beat him. Just you see."
They'd already talked about it, after all. The twin, twirling his new, shiny dagger – a Blade of Woe – had seemed to loom above her that day in victory, smirking. I'll be big and powerful and I'll beat you even more! You won't ever beat me again! You won't even live to adulthood, you little worm!
"You'd better," the caretaker answered, and closed Ocheeva's satchel.
Years passed, as years were wont to do. Ocheeva forgot the twin, forgot most of his name, but she didn't forget that drive she'd had at four years old. The training house suited her well. Quiet foothills cradled it, far from the nearest city. She joined a small class of seven other Shadowscales. Over the years, some would die, some would graduate and others would join, either transferring from other training houses or from the Nursery.
On her first day, Ocheeva remembered meeting the strict teacher.
"The rules are different here," he said in his gruff voice, twirling a knife in his hand the way her twin had. "Here, you must address me as Executioner, or teacher. None of that first name crap. Also, if I catch you killing anybody, you'll be killed yourself, got it?"
Ocheeva got it perfectly well. So a month into it when her most annoying Sister died of an illness, the Executioner was impressed.
"That wasn't an illness!" complained one of Ocheeva's Brothers. "There's a cut, under the armpit – here, see? Somebody had to have deliberately used a really potent poison!"
"I haven't found any poisons or suspicious weapons that could have been used," said the Executioner smugly.
"You said we weren't allowed to kill – "
"No," said the Executioner. He gave Ocheeva the briefest of glances, and Ocheeva mimicked wide-eyed horror. But the look had almost been admiring, and she allowed herself a small glow in her chest. "I said that if anybody got caught, I would punish them. There's a difference, and plainly a smart cookie picked it up."
By the time Ocheeva was twelve, seven Dark Siblings had met suspicious deaths, but never did any evidence point at her. The last three – two of which had joined in the last six months and the third had only come from the Nursery the year before – were quite frightened of her by now, knowing that under her façade of organisation and kindness lay calculating sadism. Ocheeva was fascinated with death, and they knew it.
It was finally after an eighth died of food poisoning, of all things, that the Executioner got out his quill, ink and parchment. "Dear Speaker," Ocheeva overheard him murmuring as he dragged the quill across the page. "Please, for the love of Sithis, come and keep our little prodigy busy, I'm sick of losing pupils."
The Speaker answered, not in words, but in presence. One night Ocheeva woke to find him at the foot of her bed. At her age, she'd already fulfilled basic contracts and seen the occasional Cyrodiilic, but she'd never talked to one before. She found his poetic words and sinister tone fascinating.
From there, for a few weeks here and there, he vanished from his Cyrodiilic duties completely to keep her busy. He took her into the cities, tutoring her in language, reading and writing. He asked her about herself, helped her overcome personal flaws, criticised and encouraged her, until a time came where Ocheeva loved him more than she loved the Executioner.
He never talked about himself. Only talked about Ocheeva, the Dark Brotherhood, Sithis and her training. He trained her hard. He wasn't like Ocheeva's siblings; Ocheeva found out on her first sparring session with him that if she slipped, he wouldn't hesitate to kill her. So she fought back. She never won, but she never lost, either.
"You are good," Lucien said after each time. "And you improve rapidly. My dear, if I weren't going easy on you, I would be afraid for my life."
That, coming from Lucien, was a million times more than any normal compliment.
Ocheeva was the fourth Shadowscale to make it to fifteen years old in the last ten years. The Executioner decided to ignore the fact that the others hadn't made it probably because of Ocheeva, but he was glad for the day that she would finally be inducted into a Sanctuary of her own.
"Don't get your hopes up," said the Executioner. "You'll probably go to Leyawiin, under Alval Uvani. That's where most Shadowscales go."
But nobody was surprised when Lucien Lachance showed up the morning before her departure to take her off the Executioner's hands for the last time.
He dropped her at the gates of Cheydinhal with only a password and her worn satchel as company, saying he had matters on which to catch up, and left her to wander into the city. She wasn't afraid of being alone; she and her Siblings had often been made to walk the ten miles into the nearest town when she was growing up, so she was used to roaming by herself. She felt strange and out of place, though. There were a lot more mer and humans here, and though they did not stare, she could swear she felt eyes on her.
Part of her missed her remaining siblings from the training house, though. She'd had five by the time she left, and regretted not offing a couple of them in a farewell gesture. Perhaps it was Lucien Lachance's tutoring on the Tenets sinking into her: now she was fifteen, she wouldn't be able to kill anyone within the Brotherhood anymore, or she would be put to death. After hearing about the Wrath of Sithis, Ocheeva learned it didn't matter if she got caught or not.
Her stomach felt like it had swallowed the dragonflies in the marsh on her way here. Instead of proceeding immediately to the abandoned house, she found herself taking a tour, familiarising herself with the city. She bought a small headdress from a shop with a handful of coins, letting the decorated squares of cloth hang from the thorns on her head. It felt oddly soothing.
The air here was far colder than it had been down south, and she found herself slightly lethargic with it. If it weren't for Lucien, she would have wished for the warmer, if rainy, climate of Leyawiin. She wished she had body heat as she ducked into another shop, glad for the warmth inside. At least summer was coming; it was Second Seed after all.
Finally as the sun sank towards the horizon she realised she could put it off no longer. Wishing the dragonflies inside her dead, she found the abandoned house soon enough, lining the road beside its cleaner kin. Picking the lock was easy; making herself open the door was harder. She hoped there was another Shadowscale in there; the thought of living with only mer and humans for company chilled her. She felt like a stranger, dipped into an entire new world. She'd looked forward to it for all her life, but she couldn't help but miss being fourteen.
The remaining warmth on her scales kept her moving through the dark bowels of the house. Dust coated the scattered furniture, and the steps beneath her boots creaked as she descended into the basement. She found the way clearly enough – a neat hole in the wall, the missing bricks stacked neatly beside it. She crept into it, ignoring the skull she sent across the floor with a kick.
She expected more darkness, but red light bathed the hallway. And then she heard it: like the beating of a heart, a gentle boom, boom, boom awaited. She turned the final corner.
Ahead of Ocheeva stood the door. She stepped forward to meet it and ran her gloved fingertips along its polished surface. She'd always known what it looked like, but to finally see a Sanctuary door in front of her…
"What is the colour of night?"
She didn't jump. She didn't flinch. She stood there for a moment, taking it all in, the final moment before everything changed for good.
She could still go back now, said the back of her mind. Could run away. She didn't have to jump into this new world.
The thought surprised her. No. I am a Shadowscale. Born to serve Sithis. How could she even think of…?
Her eyes traced the skull and the black hand in its forehead, the Night Mother and her child, the spear in her hands…
"Sanguine," she said, her voice hushed. "My Brother."
And the door clicked open.
She watched it for a long moment. The grey handle hung there, awaiting her touch. She wrapped her fingers around it and pulled.
A hall waited behind. It seemed smaller than the Nursery's had been – or was it because she was taller? She tried to close the door quietly, but the t-cha it gave rebounded off the walls. She flinched. She considered slinking in and hiding in a corner somewhere, but meeting with her new Brothers and Sisters was inevitable. She could spare herself another hour, and then she could excuse herself and ask for sleep, pleading a long journey. She couldn't wait for the nothingness that awaited.
Already, her first sibling approached. It was the figure of a man that turned into the hall from directly opposite her, and she caught sight of pink eyes and a gaunt face.
"Youngest and newest Sister," he said, stopping a few yards from her. "Welcome home. We have been expecting you for some time. Our Brother Lucien has spoken to us at length about your progress."
"He has meant to pick me for some time, then?" said Ocheeva. Lucien had never mentioned any such intention.
A memory came to her mind. Smudged and blurred darkness, a wooden dagger in her hand, but words as clear as a bell: to get raised and nurtured by an entire Sanctuary means he will become powerful, more powerful than you can hope to be.
She wondered what Sanctuary her brother had been a part of, or if he was even still alive.
"Always, dear Sister," the man smiled. "It was unfortunate he was only permitted by the Listener to pick one Shadowscale, or he would have brought you to us ten years ago as well. I am pleased to see you are still alive, and that you have made it this far."
"It's an honour to be able to serve the Brotherhood directly at last," said Ocheeva.
"Has Lucien spoken of us to you?"
"Not once, I am afraid."
The man's smile just grew. "My name is Vicente Valtieri," he said. "I am the master of this Sanctuary, and vampire, as you can probably tell, but you do not need to fear me. I have been in charge of this Sanctuary under a series of Speakers for over forty years, and I take care of new recruits. It's an honour to welcome a Shadowscale into the fold, it has been quite some time since we have had the pleasure.
"We have another Shadowscale among us," said Vicente, and Ocheeva felt her shoulders relax. Good. It was disorienting, being around so many humans and mer. "His name is Teinaava. I believe you know him."
Ocheeva perked up. "Teinaava?" So, that was his name. And he – Ocheeva's heart picked up its pace in excitement. "He lived?"
I'll be big and powerful and I'll beat you even more!
We'll see about that, thought Ocheeva.
"He not only lived, he thrived." One of Vicente's fangs showed as he grinned at her. "He's asleep now – you'll find our sleep cycles are quite chaotic due to assignments, travelling and so on. He'll be up a few hours before dawn, however. Mathieu, M'raaj-Dar and Jacques are also home, though you'll find two of them in the training room and another asleep."
"After I have met them," said Ocheeva. "May I sleep? It has been a long journey from Black Marsh."
"Of course, my Sister," said Vicente. "We already have a bed for you – it's farthest from the door, in the dormitory. Your chest sits beside it."
Vicente showed her around – showed her his office, showed the office of the Executioner whom Ocheeva would receive her contracts from (apparently she was a rather neurotic dunmer), pointed out the dormitory and the training room, leaving her to watch M'raaj-Dar and Jacques practice spells. Ocheeva couldn't tell with khajiit, but M'raaj-Dar seemed to have taken an instant dislike to her. Conversely, Jacques seemed excited to meet her.
"I can't wait to see you and Teinaava fight it out, here!" was how the bubbling Breton greeted her. "He's been training really hard for the last month, promising he'd thrash your ass and show you your place!" the Breton man cackled. "Do me a favour and beat him, I'm getting sick of his boasting."
Damn. Plainly, Teinaava hadn't forgotten her.
"He must have certainly been intimidated by me to have dedicated himself so much," Ocheeva remarked.
M'raaj-Dar snorted. "He probably just wants to beat somebody else up for a change."
"He's whooped the kitty's ass more times than I can count," said Jacques.
"That's because you can't count."
When they started slinging fireballs, Ocheeva took her leave.
Ocheeva crept inside the dormitory. By Black Marsh standards, it was still chilly, but the dry air felt warmer than the main room, heated by the numerous flickering torches on the wall inside the corridor.
But it seemed like another prison. If only there were windows, thought Ocheeva, feeling a shudder shake through her. It felt like a trap. Never, her trainer had taught her, follow your mark into a place from which you cannot escape. And as Ocheeva turned from the corridor, her instincts continued to pester her.
No escape. No windows. So many shadows, so many hiding places for potential enemies. The corridor had been brightly lit, but only one half of the dim room was anything resembling it. Benches and tables sat to that end, but on the other half lay the outlines of a semicircle of beds. Her eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light, and in a couple she could see lumps. She blinked, and rubbed her eyes, looking at one in particular. Was that…?
It was. A little boy slept in one, his tiny face marred by a scowl. Breton, if her eyesight was anything to rely upon. He pressed a fist to his mouth, growling and twitching in his sleep as he fought an enemy in another world. It reminded Ocheeva of the only Argonian she'd ever mentored – a little girl called Selwil, who'd had nightmares after being more scarred than most by the Nursery. Ocheeva had treated her like she would treat her own child. Ocheeva knelt beside the bed and touched the boy's shoulder.
The boy's eyes opened. A hiss sprang to his lips, but then he blinked away the haze of sleep. "'Ey Teinaava," he said, then yawned.
"My name is Ocheeva," said Ocheeva.
"S'the light," said the boy. "'M sleeping."
"You were having a nightmare."
"No I wasn't," said the boy. "I was winning." He gave Ocheeva a grin which Ocheeva would have been unnerved to see upon any child's face, if she hadn't grown up seeing them. "'M Mathieu." He yawned again. "That's Martha. She says hello. She speaks to me, sometimes, when people aren't around."
"What's Martha?" said Ocheeva. A creak answered her, and she flinched, glancing over her shoulder. A skeleton stood behind her like a mother hen, "watching" her interact with the child. It… stared at her. At least, Ocheeva felt like those pools in the bleached skull were aimed at her. She rose from the boy's side. Almost protectively, the skeleton tucked in little Mathieu.
"She doesn't like strangers," said Mathieu.
"I see," murmured Ocheeva. Mathieu's eyelids began to flutter, and she said, "Sleep well, then."
"Mph." But Mathieu had snuggled back into his bed.
Ocheeva found her own, sitting down on the pristine covers. She touched the chest beside it, then looked up at the slightest of movement. A twitching finger, attached to a scaled hand, poked out of a lump of fabric. The hand clenched, and flinched. A body-wide shudder, and the blanket slipped from an Argonian face, one Ocheeva had not seen for ten years. The tip of his tail quivered beside his nose.
He looked so different to what Ocheeva had expected. He didn't look much like her at all; over the years most of his scales had changed colour to a brownish orange, only traces of the original green lacing his cheekbones. Like Mathieu, he, too, seemed to fight enemies in his sleep. Ocheeva wondered if everybody in the Sanctuary slept so restlessly.
She wondered how they would get along. She knew, in the end, that getting along with one's Brothers and Sisters didn't matter so long as one served Sithis – the life purpose of each and every Shadowscale – but it would be nice to get along with her Dark Siblings, especially Teinaava. They'd had the strangest of bonds as hatchlings…
She supposed it couldn't be a good thing that he wanted to thrash her and had boasted of it before she'd even known she would be coming to Cheydinhal. He probably wasn't much nicer than M'raaj-Dar. She ignored the pang that brought.
She lay on her back. Dry blood spatters decorated the ceiling, and idly, Ocheeva wondered who pissed off whom, and what they did to deserve that.
She blinked, and suddenly flickering darkness bathed the room. Ocheeva sat up, and it took her a moment to realise that she'd fallen asleep. Most of the beds beside her held sleeping forms – Ocheeva recognised Jacques and saw the face a bosmer she hadn't seen before.
Mathieu and Teinaava were gone.
She crept from the bed, and saw that her satchel was, too. She felt her scales flush in humiliation – she hadn't even woken up, and her stuff was gone. What a first impression! At least her dagger was still strapped to her side. She hissed under her breath – didn't one of the Tenets cover theft? She clenched her jaw. Now she knew the reasons for their fitful sleep – deep sleep was a luxury afforded only to the truly safe.
Perturbed, Ocheeva left the room. She had no idea what time of day it was, almost tripping over a huge rat. She'd take her frustrations out on a training dummy.
But the training room was already occupied. Ocheeva smelt the tang of smoke, keeping her footsteps silent. A few figures huddled over a flame. Otherwise, the room was empty.
"Didja get sticks?" said Mathieu's voice excitedly. "I wanna stab a 'mallow!"
"I bet you do," muttered the khajiit's.
"Be careful, now," said a new one – a hooded figure with a telltale tail, which curved up in the air. "M'raaj-Dar, I don't want your fur set on fire."
"Shut up," grunted the khajiit.
"Don't want to set the 'mallows on fire either," said Mathieu. Then the boy cackled. "Actually, yeah, I do. Ever wondered what it'd be like to burn a body…?"
"Bodies are actually pretty hard to burn," said M'raaj-Dar. "You need a lot of kindling. Unless you've got fur. Trust me, I've tried."
"What about while it's alive?"
"If you want to set somebody on fire while it's alive," said M'raaj-Dar. "Set fire to their hair."
"There we go," said Teinaava. Mathieu impaled something with his stick as if it had mortally offended him. "Good kid."
"Don't set the equipment on fire either, you twits," said M'raaj-Dar.
Ocheeva watched with a canted head. All three of them had their back to her. Teinaava sprang back in a way that made Ocheeva tense, but he was merely clearing the way to the small campfire on the marble floor in front of him. The firelight illuminated a certain satchel by Teinaava's heels. Aha.
"We're never going to get the smell of smoke out of here, you know," said M'raaj-Dar. "Lucien'll kill us – quit waving that thing!"
Mathieu stopped brandishing the stick, setting it above the fire instead. "This is gonna take ages to cook," the boy whined.
"Patience, little one," Teinaava sat down.
"'m always patient. I don't have to be patient always, Teinaava."
"Yes, you do. Else waiting will just make you miserable. Be patient, and you will get rewarded."
"So," M'raaj-Dar leaned over to stage-whisper Teinaava. "Is this a lesson in patience, a cooking lesson, or a chance to slack off?"
"I'd say all three," said Ocheeva. Mathieu snarled and seized up in fright; M'raaj-Dar flinched and Teinaava grew still as a statue for a moment, before all three relaxed. She stood in the shadow of a pillar, orange eyes flicking between the three of them. "There's no problem combining many goals into one purpose. Two birds with one stone, as they say. So long as you don't set the equipment on fire, I don't see why anyone would have a problem with it. And I'd appreciate my satchel back."
She expected a confrontation, but all Teinaava did was slide the satchel along the floor and snap, "Why'd you sneak up on us?"
Ocheeva buried the wince before it could come. "I didn't sneak. You just weren't paying attention."
"Like you were?" Teinaava's eyes narrowed and glanced to her satchel.
"I heard her come in," said M'raaj-Dar, smoothing his ruffled fur.
"Liar," said the twins. This time Ocheeva couldn't stop the smirk, and Teinaava glared at her again.
"She's the new one," said Mathieu, almost whacking Teinaava with his stick in his enthusiasm. "Ocheeva. I talked to her earlier."
"I know," muttered Teinaava.
"Lucien hasn't shut up about her for weeks," said M'raaj-Dar.
"Does he come by often?" said Ocheeva.
"Sometimes," said M'raaj-Dar. The boy snorted and turned back to the fire, twiddling the stick. "Tends to fluctuate. He'll be here every day for a week then vanish a couple of months. Used to annoy the shit out of Teinaava."
"Yeah, well, he was supposed to train me."
"Jacques started hiding whenever Lucien wasn't here 'cause Teinaava would hunt him down to spar," Mathieu snickered. "And get his ass kicked."
Ocheeva stepped forward to sit between the wall and M'raaj-Dar. The other three shuffled to accommodate her, though M'raaj-Dar scowled at her. "He trained me sometimes, too," she said. "He'd take me away from my training house and we'd go through some moves, kill a few people, check on other training houses… did it about twice a year. He's one of the strangest people I've met, that's for certain."
"I don't suppose there are many Imperials in Black Marsh," said M'raaj-Dar thoughtfully. Already, he was starting to relax in Ocheeva's presence. Ocheeva supposed that being a Shadowscale helped – she guessed that M'raaj-Dar was as wary of strangers as Martha supposedly was.
"No," she said. "Mostly our kind. Being in Cheydinhal after that is strange."
"I like beast people," said Mathieu. "The others are really dumb."
"Don't let Lucien hear you say that," Teinaava snickered. Mathieu only shrugged and tried to pull the marshmallow off the stick. He winced, licking his hands. "Hot," he said, then looked to Ocheeva. "What's it like in Black Marsh? Teinaava can't remember."
He can remember enough. Ocheeva's lip quirked a little. "It's a lot hotter than it is here," she said. "It's a huge swamp. Hence 'Black Marsh'. I wasn't in the cities much, a few hours at a time at the most, I usually was with Lucien or in the training house with the other Shadowscales." Her smirk grew. "What was left of them when I left."
Mathieu actually cackled. M'raaj-Dar winced. Teinaava stood up without a word and left the room. Ocheeva didn't look at him, and when Mathieu asked, she told him about the training house she'd lived in for ten years. When she was halfway through describing her trainer, the doors creaked open and Jacques spilt in.
"I can't wait to see this," said the Breton excitedly. Then: "Is that a fire? Put it out, you morons."
Ocheeva rolled her eyes and M'raaj-Dar grumbled. Mathieu reached for a bucket of sand that Ocheeva hadn't noticed, then said, "It's cold in here for the lizard people."
"Yeah, yeah, but Lucien'll kill you if he sees that."
"He's not here," Mathieu sneered. Then, a little more anxiously: "Is he?"
"No," said another voice, and Ocheeva looked to see Vicente standing beside Jacques, with a sleepy-eyed bosmer behind him. The bosmer yawned, then smirked at Ocheeva. This can't be good, she thought, seeing the dunmer executioner appear at her side. They were looking at her expectantly.
"Well," said Vicente, moving to the wall. Teinaava came through the doors at last, skeleton in tow, not meeting Ocheeva's eyes. "It is unfortunate we must be woken, but it is rare that we are all home at once. Telaendril…?"
The bosmer grunted, rubbing an eye. She looked at Ocheeva. "My bet's on the new one."
"You'll lose your money," said Teinaava, fiddling with a chest in the corner. Ocheeva realised her brother was nervous – he wasn't retrieving or putting away anything. It dawned on her what was going to happen.
"My bet's on Teinaava!" said Jacques.
Ocheeva quirked a brow at him. "Didn't you want me to win?"
"Yeah," said the Breton. Then added: "Doesn't mean I think you'll win."
Ocheeva moved to the side of the space that the others had cleared. I'll prove you wrong, she thought, gritting her jaw.
"I'm betting on whoever wins," drawled Mathieu.
"Cheating brat," said M'raaj-Dar.
"What? It's smart!"
"It defeats the purpose!"
"I will make no bets on the outcome," said Vicente. The dunmer beside him glared at Ocheeva. "But I am interested to see how Ocheeva will fight."
Finally, Teinaava stood up and faced Ocheeva. "No weapons," he said, holding up his empty hands as if to demonstrate. "Just a good ol' fashioned punch up."
"So be it," Ocheeva felt relieved that her trainer had been so obsessed with weaponless fighting. In case of emergencies, he'd said. She pulled her dagger from its sheathe and held it out. Mathieu relieved her of it, examining it intently, before he flitted out of the way. She stood with her legs apart, ready, and Teinaava took on a similar position.
"First one to give up loses," was all Vicente said. "The only rule is, no killing each other. And please, no permanent damage."
For a long, silent moment nobody moved. The twins' eyes trawled over each other, looking for weaknesses. Teinaava looked pumped up, but Ocheeva saw that he shook, very slightly. Does this really mean so much to him? She wondered. Impatience bit her, and she sprung.
Teinaava leapt to the side and Ocheeva whirled around just in time to duck a punch, inertia threatening to topple her. She seized and yanked his ankle, and Teinaava fell with a growl. He twisted from her grasp and rolled away, just in time for Ocheeva to wince as her fist connected with marble.
Her jaw flowered with pain as a kick landed, and she sprang out of the way as fast as she could manage, back on her feet. Her twin followed, and it was about then that Ocheeva gave up on awareness and let her body direct her.
It did not let her down. She gave in to instinct, gave in to the years of programmed training inside her and fought. Her body leapt into faster motion, edged with fatigue. She ignored her heavy muscles with over a decade of discipline, ignored the pain, ignored everything except the need to beat her brother to a bloody pulp. Her heart pounded in her ears, her hands and feet whipped through the air with almost unnatural speed.
Don't kill, she reminded herself, don't kill. But she didn't hold back, either – she heard winces and gasps of sympathy as bodies and limbs collided. Her vision exploded in front of an eye before it squeezed itself shut, but she kept going. Pain raked her arm, cool blood stuck to her fingers, but she did not stop. Teinaava blurred in front of her with motion, dodging some hits, landing others, taking kicks and the occasional solid punch. He bent over, winded, and she launched a high kick at the side of his jaw – but he moved just in time, and she yelled in frustration.
But the fatigue grew, and discipline could ignore it no longer. Her body pressed on her mind – stop, stop, stop. The pain grew unbearable, but she would not stop. A punch collided with her jaw; a kick folded her legs beneath her, and she slumped to the ground. Her mind tried to spring up again –
But her body ignored it. She panted, rolling onto her back. Her vision blurred with her one good eye, and Teinaava stood above her, waiting. Waiting for her to stand back up – she hadn't give up yet. Scratches dripped blood down his throat, some of his scales had been torn, and he looked battered. Ocheeva examined her work with pride, but no matter how much she tried, her body bluntly refused to get up and keep going.
"I'll get you next week," she conceded with. Teinaava grinned.
"That," said the vampire. "was the most heated fight I've seen in a long time."
"Should've learned magic, Teinaava," M'raaj-Dar grunted. The dunmer and bosmer gave twin, bored snorts before they left. Martha hung over the two fighters. "Would've beaten her quicker."
"Damn," said Jacques. "Guess I get my money after all. I was hoping I'd lose."
Ocheeva spat out a couple of razor teeth, and glared up at her brother. Teinaava laughed. "Looks like I'm still better than you."
"Not for long," said Ocheeva. "I learn quicker, now."
"So do I. I'll keep on top, just you see."
Ocheeva grinned, and Teinaava laughed again. He held out his hand, and Ocheeva blinked.
"Come on," he said. "Can't wait for a challenge."
Ocheeva took it. Rough, scaly fingers closed over her hand, and he pulled her upright – almost falling onto her in the process. "Looks like I still gave you a good beating, you look tired. Sorry about that." She grinned again, but Teinaava looked at her mouth and snickered.
"Sorry about your teeth," he said with a sneer. "I wasn't trying to dislodge any…"
"Liar," said Ocheeva.
"Don't worry," Teinaava smirked. "They'll grow back."