Yes, another TES story. My second. I thought, with my neverending loyalty to TES, why not write for Skyrim this time? As the one and only disclaimer I'll bother putting here, Bethesda owns everything and everything Elder Scrolls. I own nothing but my OC.
Drifts of snow rose as angled hills around dark pines, the light of the setting sun shining off the snow. Mountains towered, stoic and shadowed, behind the white hills. A particularly strong gust of wind blew loose dustings of ice in curved hooks off the drifts. A bird chirped somewhere.
The quiet of the evening was shattered by a sharp crunch as a bare foot smashed through the frozen crust of the snow. Another followed, quieter, as the maker of said footstep was carefully maneuvering through the holes already made.
"Listener," A voice called weakly. "Could we have not taken an easier path?"
The woman leading the two-person caravan snorted a breath out her nose, creating a burst of white fog that quickly dissipated. She looked over her shoulder briefly, casting her initiate a look filled with such unbridled frustration that the woman clamped her mouth shut. The silence lasted as long as it took to make another deep footprint. "Listener, but there are roads not too far away, and—"
"Quiet." The Listener spat back, plowing onwards. "Unless you are in the mood to be sprung by a gang of bandits, I suggest you learn to enjoy the wilderness."
The travelers came to the top of a steep rise, and the leader of the two looked down at the plain below. A blast of freezing wind blew away her hood, revealing the sharply angled cheekbones and stern features common of Wood Elves. Her one seeing eye watched the sun sink below the snow-rimmed horizon as her gasping companion joined her, hanging back a couple steps. The Bosmer waited patiently, tapping her foot. An echoing roar, faint as a whisper, cascaded down the torn mountainside.
"Listener Rezuin . . ." The pale woman stared up at the mountain with a flicker of fear showing behind her black mask. "Did you hear that as well?"
"A dragon, I'm sure." Rezuin looked over her shoulder at the black cliffs. "It's a long way off, but I wouldn't go too close to the mountains."
"But Listener . . ."
"Enough." The tight-lipped Bosmer waved a hand. "We may as well be off before nightfall."
She and her companion began to slowly descend the sharp rocks that made up the other side of the hill, skidding down the slippery, jagged boulders. They stumbled to the bottom just as an earth-shattering roar sounded not yards away. Rezuin ducked under a bit of overhanging rock, drawing the bow from her back. A thin stream of snow drifted down the edge and melted on Rezuin's face. She frowned and looked up over the edge to see her initiate, frozen like an icicle, in plain sight on the top of the boulder.
"Get down here!" She hissed. The woman blinked, looked up, and jumped down to where Rezuin was hiding. Before her feet could touch the ground, the lank initiate was plucked from the air and carried off with a shriek that was snapped away on the wind. Rezuin held an arm over her eyes, razor particles of snow biting her face, as the dragon screeched again. The distant figure of the thrashing woman tumbling to the earth greeted her when she looked back up. The elf spat a curse and sprinted from beneath the ledge. She had not gotten very far at all when the earth suddenly seemed to tilt on its axis. Rezuin stumbled forward and a massive burst of flame missed her by inches.
Her gloved fingers quickly nocked an arrow. She spun around to face the dragon, pulling back even more on the taunt string. The creature was a massive thing, unable to look at Rezuin without tilting its head to either side. It blinked a small, intelligent eye at her, rolled its scaly neck, and opened its mouth again. Rezuin saw what was coming before it happened. She shot her arrow, turned and ran. Another searing spurt of fire blasted into the snow where she had been standing not moments before. The elf ran as fast as physically possible across the tundra, keeping her balance as best she could as the dragon took off again. She finally skid to a stop underneath another rock, this time with an escape plan. Another roar bounced around the plains as Rezuin crawled to a small, circular opening covered in half-rotted boards. She smashed them in with her boot and dropped into the wet tunnel below just as the boulder turned white with fire. The dragon, after seeing its prey escape before its very eyes, screeched in displeasure and heaved itself back into the air.
Rezuin spat. "Damn beast." She picked a torch off the wall and started down the dank corridor. It began with the steep downslope before leveling out for about a mile. Rezuin stepped over shining puddles of slime and wet, staying to the sides of the corridor whenever possible. The light of the torch bounced unevenly off the bricks, creating twisted shadows that disappeared as quickly as they came. Water was leaking through the ceiling somewhere, as a steady dripping rang through the underground path. A skeever had somehow found its way in, and bounded eagerly up to Rezuin, its tiny, sharp teeth glittering. Rezuin promptly kicked it to the wall of the tunnel, and the sound of small bones breaking joined that of water dripping.
She reached the end of the tunnel, which scooped up sharply and led to a large, intricately designed stained glass window that opened like a door. The assassin slipped in, knowing that the other members were more than likely asleep. The Sanctuary smelled like blood, dirt, wine and potato soup, the latter of which was probably what had been eaten for dinner. Rezuin stirred the sticky slurry that was the remnants of the food in the iron pot over a smoldering fire. She wrinkled her nose and picked up an apple off the counter next to the pot. The crunch as she bit into it was almost comically loud in the silent Sanctuary.
"Looks like shit, Nazir." She spoke through the apple, bits of white flesh flying out when she spoke her 'T's. "I thought you were a good cook."
"No need to be cruel. I was a bit low on supplies." The Redguard answered from behind. Rezuin turned around and watched him with a glinting black eye, the milky white iris of the other staring blankly.
"I can make a run for food soon." She took another bite from the apple, leaving identical triangular shapes along the bite from her teeth.
"Speaking of killing . . ." Nazir leaned against the table and crossed his arms. "How did the contract go?"
"Smoothly. Both Hern and his wife are dead."
Nazir raised an eyebrow. "You know that you didn't have to kill his wife, right?"
Rezuin tossed the apple core into the potato goo with a low splash. "You know me well enough to know that you don't have to ask why I did."
Nazir sighed and plucked a small pouch from his side. "You're right, of course. Here's your pay for another job well done. Where is your initiate, by the way? I thought two of you left, yet only you return."
She lifted her hand in time to grab the little cloth bag from the air. "Eaten by a dragon." A wet piece of white apple flesh was flicked off a bitten fingernail and into the cooking pot. "I think I will continue on my own for now. That bitch complained too much. Find a better replacement if you can whilst I am gone, Nazir." Rezuin picked up another apple.
"Don't you have your own work to attend to?"
The cold black eye rolled up to regard him. "Let's call it a hobby."
"You'll be caught if you stay on this pattern of yours. I'm not going to stick my neck out for you and endanger what remains of this Sanctuary."
"I won't get caught." The Listener scoffed and casually scratched behind a tapered ear.
"Well, I stand by my decision. Your next contract is a bard named Lurbuk, in Morthal. I would give you more information but something tells me you won't need it."
Rezuin rolled her eyes, the whites flashing as she stepped back out the glass doorway and into the tunnel. "Good guess."
A crowd of people clustered near the base of a twisted tree. They babbled quietly amongst themselves, words of worry and paranoia. A woman's sobbing could be heard amongst the mumble of talk. The citizens formed an almost perfect circle at the tree in the city center, as though afraid to approach the object of their dark curiosity. There was little time for concerned chatter, however, as two guards bearing the yellow colors of Whiterun pushed their way through the civilians. Metal armor clanged together and grumbles of protest went up.
"Let us through! Move along, nothing to see . . . by the Eight." The taller of the two guards, also the one in front, stopped and shook his head at the morbid scene in front of them. A Redguard man lay at the base of the twisted white tree, his hands and legs laid perfectly at his sides. A single, accurate wound at his chest was covered in partially congealed blood and ripped cloth. His skin was gaunt and pale; his chest did not move. Glassy eyes stared blankly at the smooth trunk of the tree. His mouth hung grotesquely open, his tongue lolling over his waxy lips. A trail of dried saliva trailed down the side of his face. White and pink petals were shoved into his mouth and laid about his face.
"Damn it." The guard muttered.
"It's the Nightshade Killer again, isn't it?" The second, shorter guard replied, being careful so he was not overheard by the milling people.
"Yes. We need to do something about this." The guard drew his sword and began pushed the crowd back. "Okay, citizens! Move on, no-one needs to see this. For the love of the gods, get that child away from here!"
The shorter guard turned to the weeping woman. Also a Redguard, she kneeled at the head of the dead man and continued to cry. "Ma'am, did you know this man?"
The woman sniffed and wiped at her cheeks. "Of course I knew him. He was my husband."
"We'll make sure to give him a proper burial. Could you tell us your name?"
"Ahlam." She replied morosely, standing and brushed dirt off her fine clothes. "His was Nazeem."
The first man rejoined the two, sheathing his sword. "Not to worry. We'll get this information to Jarl Balgruuf right away." The woman nodded and walked back toward the residences.
"We need to catch this bastard." The shorter man declared, gesturing as more guards marched up. "Get this man to an undertaker."
The taller guard turned to face the steep steps leading to Dragonsreach. "I'll tell the Jarl immediately. I'm sure the Thane would like some hand in this as well. You should help them." He nodded back at the guards as they awkwardly pulled the deceased up.
His comrade sighed. "I suppose you're right. Oi, put a sheet over him at least! It's not decent, carrying him through town looking like that."
Rezuin blew a sharp breath out between her teeth and slammed the door of her house behind her. She hated the place terribly, but it provided some semblance of privacy in the otherwise ever-watchful city of Whiterun. She fingered with the edge of the Blade of Woe that hung at her side. Her next steps begged extra caution—they always did, at this stage. It was like stepping on a floor rigged with pressure plates. One wrong move and everything blows up and she ends up having to run like beasts of Oblivion were at her heels . . . and people died.
The Thane pulled her bow from her back and tossed it to the side, as well as her quiver of roughly made iron arrows. She drew a thin pipe from her worn bag and began pressing down new, pungent dried leaves. The Bosmer sank into a chair by the fire, muttering a quick word in Daedric. A spurt of fire launched from her hand, and on the command of another spell it died down to a single, long flame that wiggled on her fingertip like an orange worm. Rezuin lit the pipe and sucked it the long stem, letting loose a long breath of white smoke that lingered in the room before slipping up through the boards and into her bedroom. She sighed and let her head rest on the chair back. She would have to go back north to find more nightshade if she had any intention of continuing this.
A knock pounded neatly on the door. Rezuin stretched and picked up her bow and an arrow, then held the pipe between her teeth as she nocked the thin projectile. "It's unlocked."
The door opened to reveal a tall, dark-haired woman with eyes perpetually narrowed. "My Thane." She saluted respectfully.
Rezuin dropped the bow and blew more smoke to the side. "What is it, Lydia?"
"Jarl Balgruuf requests your immediate assistance."
Rezuin sneered, a spot of pointed teeth showing. "Does he? I suppose he wants me to help catch his little killer."
"Yes, my Thane."
"Fine." Rezuin reached over and popped the joints of her shoulders.
Lydia looked up at the cloud of heady smoke clogging the house. "Why does it smell like burning leather in here?"
Rezuin held up the pipe before tapping out the ashes into the fire pit. "Never seen shanka before, eh, Lydia? Comes from a contact of mine in Valenwood. But keep I would keep those all-obeying lips of yours sealed about this."
The Housecarl's frown deepened by a fraction, the crease between her brows grew more defined, though she said nothing but, "As you will, my Thane. Come to Dragonsreach as soon as you may." She quickly left, leaving a slight whirling of smog in her wake.
Rezuin pursed her lips after Lydia was gone. A scar that stretched across her cheek puckered at the movement. She spat a glob of sour spit into the fire that vanished with a faint sizzle and picked up her discarded bow. Her fingers strayed to the edge of Woe again, running along the jagged edge until a line of scarlet dripped off her greyish finger to soak into the boards below. She licked the blood off and walked out into the streets of Whiterun, blinking angrily at the sun.
"Ah, Listener. You return to us so soon." Nazir hummed dryly, looking up from a book that he held open with one hand. The other held a small clay cup filled halfway with something dark and strong-smelling. "Is Lurbuk dead?"
Rezuin kicked out a chair and threw herself into it, anger emanating from her like a rank perfume. "No, he's not dead, you bastard!" She picked a plate off the table and threw it against a nearby wall.
"Hm." Nazir sipped at the contents of the cup and let his gaze fall back to the book. "I suppose you were caught, were you? I told you."
"No," The elf was almost at the point of grinding her teeth. "I have to catch myself."
The other assassin's eyes snapped back up. "You're in trouble now."
"I know I'm in fucking trouble now!" Rezuin snapped. "Don't patronize me, Nazir. I'm finding a way out of this."
"You can't just kill the Jarl. That would bode ill for everyone."
"I'm not going to kill him."
"Then what are you going to do?"
"I need to visit my mother."
Nazir sighed, calmly folded the corner of the page he was reading, and snapped the book closed. He then drained the remainder of the liquid in the cup, smacked his lips, and looked up at Rezuin with no joking tone on his face or in his voice. "Are you sure?"
"Of course." Rezuin drummed her fingers against the table, tiny holes being made where her sharpened nails stabbed into the wood. "I'll need to be careful. Perhaps I'll bring Cicero."
"That clown?" Nazir shook his head. "He and your mother would clash like Babette and sunlight. I would be receiving both your bodies in a single box at my doorstep."
The Listener thought for a moment. "Yes, you're right. I'll go alone." She picked up the empty cup and sniffed at the contents, then reeled back and put it back. "What the name of Sithis were you drinking?"
Nazir simply laughed. "Surely you didn't think you were the only one that partook in illegal substances?"
Rezuin frowned and sniffed the cup again. "Ugh. I didn't know you liked rotmeth. That's poisonous stuff."
"And shanka isn't?"
"Hmph. At least shanka tastes good. Now, I need to see my mother before she keels over." Rezuin stood, heading to the stained glass door.
"Keel over?" Nazir asked as Rezuin stepped into the tunnel. "I didn't think such a thing could happen to that woman."
This was less than half the size of the chapters I'll be putting up, so call it a pilot and leave a review to tell me what you think!