"Do it, Listener, complete the contract... Kill me..." Astrid coughed, as I watched, still in shock, trying to process what she just told me.
She betrayed me. After everything... I killed the Keeper for her, for crying out loud! And she still didn't trust me. And now... She's asking me to end her life.
I should do it.
I am supposed to do it.
She deserves it.
Almost everyone is dead because of her, and even she is barely alive.
But I can't.
I won't. Screw the contract, and screw the Night Mother.
This isn't what I signed up for.
I did it for her.
I examined the blade she gave me to kill her, before putting it down next to her.
"What are you doing?" Babette asked, confused.
"You need to kill her." Nazir said "If the Night Mother heard her pra..."
"I don't care what the Night Mother says!" I shouted at them, still looking at Astrid.
I leaned forward, placing my hands on her stomach "I will not let you die." I said this softer, as I began to heal her. I closed my eyes to focus better.
Shit. Her injuries are too extensive, for a complete heal. And restoration magic isn't really my specialty. But I will not let her die!
"Babette, bring me as much mana and health potions as you can find." I ordered the vampire with firm voice, my eyes still closed.
She hesitated, looking at Nazir who gave her a nod, before leaving.
I had to focus on fixing Astrid's internal organs first, her lungs especially, before I could move on the skin, so to the casual observer, it seemed like my magic wasn't doing anything, but I could feel it. It was so painstakingly slow, but the important part was that there was progress.
Babette came back just in time, as I could feel the last of my mana disappearing. I drank the blue potion in one gulp and the glow around Astrid intensified again.
After dozen bottles of mana and what felt like eternity, Astrid took a deep breath, arching her body into my hands.
After she settled back down to the floor, she closed her eyes, and Nazir checked her pulse.
He gave a breath of relief "She is alive."
I nodded and slumped next to her, allowing darkness to consume me, because I knew she would live.
I opened my eyes and immediately realized that something was wrong. I wasn't in my bed anymore, or even in my house, for that matter. I quickly got up to a sitting position and looked around.
"Sleep well?" A hooded figure, atop some battered bookshelf asked me.
I took a moment to assess the situation I was in. She had one big dagger on her belt, and probably few other concealed weapons as well, while I only had my clothes on me. She stripped me of every weapon and armor piece I had. But there was one thing she couldn't take from me.
My magic. There was also my lycanthropy, but seeing as I haven't learned to control the transformations yet, and there was no full moon, it's kinda useless now.
But, as I learned the hard way, some people had enchanted armor, impervious to certain kinds of magic, and I really didn't want to see if that was the case here, seeing as, if she wanted me dead, I wouldn't have woken up at all.
So I decided to play her game for a while.
"Where am I? And who are you?" I asked her in a demanding tone. This all seemed familiar somehow, but I couldn't figure out how.
She just waved off my questions, answering them with one of her own "Does it matter?" She paused there, looking at me, as if waiting for an answer. When none came, she continued "You are warm, dry... and still very much alive. Which is more than can be said for the old Grelod, is it not?"
Shit. Could it be that she is from the Dark Brotherhood?
"You know about that?" I asked cautiously.
"Oh please, half the Skyrim knows. Old hag gets butchered in her own orphanage? Things like that tend to get around." She said and I could feel that she was smirking behind her cowl. "She had it coming." She added as an afterthought.
I waited for her to continue, because I knew she didn't kidnap me from my home only to congratulate me for killing an old woman. And a few moments later, she didn't disappoint.
"But there seems to be a problem, since that Aretino boy was looking for me and my family... The Dark Brotherhood. Grelod the Kind was, by rights, a Dark Brotherhood kill. A kill... that you stole."
"So what now? You gonna kill me and call it even?" I asked.
"No. At least, not yet. But, in order to 'call it even', as you put it, you must repay us for the kill."
So, she wants me to kill someone for her. I don't see a problem in that "Who do you want me to kill?"
"Ah, so eager to please!" She chuckled. "Well, funny you should ask. If you turn around. you'll notice my guests." I turned around, and really, there were three persons, bound and blinded with executioners' hoods over their heads, kneeling near the far wall of the shack.
She continued to talk, while I approached them, to take a closer look "You see, there is a contract on one of them, and that person can't leave this room alive. It's up to you to figure which one." I was sure this time that she was smirking behind her cowl! "Make your choice. Make your kill. I will just be observing... and admiring."
I looked at her, then at the prisoners "So the one with the contract must die? There is no way around that?"
"Yes." Her tone was amused and her nod slight.
With that one word, I fired a large ice shard straight at the Nord male's head. It was shattered to million frozen pieces and even before his body hit the ground, I went to stand behind the female, shattering her head as well. The last one was Khajiit male. After his headless body slammed to the ground I raised my head to look at the assassin. But she wasn't on the bookshelf anymore.
I whirled around at the sound of her voice, to see her standing right behind me, her hood off.
And at this moment I figured out what was wrong.
The first thing I noticed were her brilliant green eyes. It seemed like she was looking right through me, to my soul. They were the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.
Next, I saw her blond, shoulder-length hair, that was loose, but with two braids to keep it out of her face.
I gasped "Astrid?" What's going on? I remembered seeing her burnt body on the floor, but now she was here, looking perfectly healthy. How is this possible?
And her smile was beautiful. It was slight, but it seemed genuine.
In the next moment, I noticed that the only light in the shack had gone dark, but thankfully to my heritage, I was able to see well in dark.
And what I saw, terrified me.
Astrid's smile morphed into something sinister and I felt a sharp pain in my gut.
When I looked down, I saw a dagger sticking out of my stomach.
I looked up at Astrid again, my eyes wide in shock "Why so shocked? I thought you would have expected me to betray you, after the first time."
Her sinister laugh echoed through the darkness that enveloped us both...
When I woke up, I felt like a dragon landed on me. Then I remembered everything that happened before I passed out.
Groaning, I got up in the sitting position. I had to close my eyes, because of the intense pain in my head.
Shit. Just a dream.
But it felt so damn real!
"Ah, the sleeping beauty wakes." I heard a voice, but decided to ignore it for now.
When the pain subsided a little, I opened my eyes slowly and took in my surroundings.
We were still in the Sanctuary, but the room we were in was free of any debris, though there were plenty of scorch marks to prove that this room didn't survive the fire.
Somebody must have cleaned it. Probably Nazir.
My guess was proved correct by the muffled curses coming from the next room.
On the makeshift bed next to me, made out of various pieces of fabric that survived the fire, Astrid was sleeping, covered by a tattered cloak. Babette was sitting next to her, changing cold wraps. Scars from fire still covered her body, but she seemed at ease and not in pain, like when I found her.
"How is she?" I asked in coarse whisper, since my throat felt dry as parchment.
"She's asleep" was the vampire's simple answer "Better question is, how are you?"
"I'm fine." I dismissed her question with a wave of my hand, but when I tried to get up and check on Astrid myself, I got so dizzy, that I just fell back down.
"No you are not." It was weird hearing a child speak with so much authority and in such a strict tone, but then again, Babette isn't really a child.
"You need to rest. You overexerted yourself by trying to bring her from the brink of death. You are a battle mage, not a healer."
I tried to glare at her, but due to the headache, failed miserably. "I said, I'm fine, just a little headache. Nothing a small healing potion can't handle." I said, massaging my temples.
"There are no healing potions left." She must have seen me tense at her words, because she stopped for a few seconds before continuing "I had to use all on Astrid, since we don't have anyone capable of performing restoration magic to any degree, besides yourself, and you were out. She was in tremendous pain from the burns, but the potions managed to fix that. Only the scars remain, since we didn't have enough to heal them too."
I cursed under my breath, before I looked at Astrid again.
I will fix you, I promise.
Whatever it takes.
"Tell Nazir to go to Falkreath and get as many potions as he can, I don't care who he has to intimidate, rob or kill, I need them as soon as possible." I said, with as much authority as I could manage.
Babette nodded, and as she got up and left the room, I laid down on the cot I have previously been sleeping, and closed my eyes.
"Just a little bit more..." I murmured before darkness overtook me once again.