The Black Hand had come back strongly and its members spread out about all of Tamriel. The Night Mother's words had to be transported by way of hawk, but somehow the Dark Brotherhood managed to make it work. No longer were they legends, but a frightening reality. A Black Sacrament was no longer something one would take lightly no matter what country they resided in.
One small underground chamber in Skyrim however was the most vital of the many that existed on Nirn. For it not only housed a Speaker and the Listener, but the Night Mother as well. Located in the bitter cold town of Dawnstar, the assassins within turned it into a permanent home.
The sanctuary was quiet, save for the faint murmurings of those dwelling within. To many, this would be considered a den of criminals, murderers and villains. This could not be further from the truth, as this sanctum housed devoted servants to their deity, skilled professionals of their trade and loving friends who despite not sharing the same blood, considered one another family.
In the conference chamber in the Dawnstar sanctuary, the assassins had gathered to receive contracts from their Speaker. Once a simple assassin, the Redguard known as Nazir was bestowed the honor of being named Speaker and was responsible for retrieving the intimate details regarding those who desired the death of another.
Many years had passed and the Argonian was now in his thirties. KaNack was still as strong and faithful as ever to the Dark Brotherhood. The young initiates were now in their twenties and professional assassins. He had expected that by now, his precious killers would have moved on to form their own sanctuaries; but when given the choice, they resolved instead to remain in Dawnstar serving the Listener and staying close to the Night Mother.
KaNack folded his hands together and smiled at the motley crew before him. Again the members of the Dark Brotherhood had assembled around the large table in the Dawnstar sanctuary, but this time it was tidings for great things to come. It was the beginning of the month and that meant a fresh set of contracts to be handed out to the assassins. Once more the Dark Brotherhood was to be sent forth to spill blood in the name of Sithis and the Night Mother. How glorious it was to be part of the sinister and twisted family!
Four of the youngest members of the family lined the outside of the table as they waited patiently for their Speaker to hand them their respective contracts.
The oldest of the group was Vytalas, a strong Dunmer who was a master archer with his ebony bow and could strike the smallest of targets from great distances. Both Lucien and the Dark Brotherhood leader agreed that he would make a fine leader of a sanctuary one day if he ever finally decided to leave Dawnstar.
It was unlikely though, as over the years he had become quiet close to the lovely young woman sitting next to him. Kaie was a Breton who relied on nothing more than her stealth and blade to get the job done, silence was her greatest asset.
Then there was Dro'marash, the black and crimson Khajiit, the unchild Babette's protégé. The cat was a master of creating potent and toxic poisons that could rival that of the Jarrin root. If something could be poisoned or coated with poison, odds were that the feline would not hesitate to do so to send a soul to Sithis.
The last assassin lining the great table was the tawny Argonian, Shaleez, a mage who was solely trained by the Listener himself. She had to go through the same trials and frustrations that KaNack had to endure from the wizard Krex, but it was vital that she did so to become more powerful and capable in her abilities. With her becoming skilled in her craft, KaNack was sure that even when he took that final voyage to the Void, his mentor's legacy would continue to live on with the next generation.
All the young assassins were making small talk with each other as they waited for Nazir to make his appearance and for the meeting to start. Vytalas was whispering sweet thing in the ear of Kaie, who didn't seem to mind at all. Shaleez was casting magelight at the ceiling as Dro'marash showed her a vial of his latest potent toxin. They were all so bright and eager to get to work. How lucky was it to find yourself in a job in which you loved what you do, dark as it was?
From a tunnel off to the side, the Redguard finally appeared, in the traditional black robes of the Speaker. He took his place at the far end of the table where the veterans of the sanctuary resided. Nazir and Babette had the honor of holding that spot in the chamber for they had been part of the faction longer than any living person sitting there. The Redguard had grown older in age and killing was no longer easy for him to complete, which was why he was now a member of the Black Hand. Babette, forever young, and not weakened by something as petty as age, continued to join the others in the kill. She was as good as they came and an excellent teacher to the brothers and sisters of the sanctuary.
KaNack turned his head to the right, where his faithful and retired follower Cicero sat. The Fool of Hearts had sheathed his blade for now, but he was always welcome at the table as though he were still an active member. The position of Keeper was an honorable position, and as such the jester was owed respect from any who earned the right to pass through the Black Doors.
To the Listener's left was the spirit of the Dark Brotherhood, Lucien Lachance. The ghost had been his mentor and guide after the fall of Falkreath and was as close to a father figure as the reptile had ever come to know since the death of Festus Krex. Just as Cicero was owed respect, so was Lachance.
He was a former Speaker who stood as an example of what any brother or sister should expect to be- one who was willing to endure any torture and die while still holding onto their faith and devotion to the Dread Father. He was easily the best of all of them and was responsible for seeing to it that the Tenets and Old Ways remained enforced within the Dark Brotherhood.
KaNack still bore the wicked scar and a cracked horn as a reminder to all that no one was exempt from breaking the Tenets. Lucien was considered a guide and teacher, but that did not mean that he would not discipline those who thought they were above tradition.
The Spectral Assassin tilted his head curiously as he noticed that his caster was staring at him and smiling just slightly.
"Shall we begin then?" the ghost asked quietly.
KaNack cleared his throat and held up his hands, bringing all conversation to a halt. Standing from his seat, the Listener addressed his family.
"Death comes to us all, does it not?" he started.
"No!" shouted Babette.
"Not necessary, look at the kindly specter!" Cicero remarked giving the Listener a slight grin.
The assassins laughed and pounded on the wooden table in glee. The ghost shook his head and chuckled at the Keeper's reaction to the rhetorical question. The more Lucien remained in the temporal plane, the more he seemed to feel like his old self. No longer bound to the scroll, he embraced the notion that he was not a mere specter, but an active member of the sanctuary. He soon found himself able to joke and socialize as though he were bone and flesh once more. Lachance was still judgmental and strict at times, but his personality had definitely lightened up in the last few years.
KaNack shook his head, smiling to himself as he shut his eyes. He embraced laughter and encouraged it amongst his brothers and sisters. Laughter brought them together and made them stronger. It took a strong heart to be able to laugh in the presence of death, the Keeper had taught him that.
"Thank you, Babette and Cicero," he sighed. He lifted his head and got a serious look in his eyes. As much as he enjoyed playful banter, whenever the Night Mother was to be mentioned, he had to be solemn and respectful.
"The Night Mother spoke to me and gave me the names and locations of where Black Sacraments were been performed. The children of Sithis have cried out to their Mother. Shall we ignore their pleas?"
"NO!" the assassins announced as one.
"Of course not! Our Mother has seen to it that She and the Dread Father will have more thralls to welcome into the Void! More power to Her and to Sithis! All hail Sithis!"
"All hail Sithis!" every man, woman and spirit shouted with pride. Nazir stood up from his seat and prepared for his duties as Speaker. He had gone to the many different invokers of the unholy ritual and collected the information that was required of him. The Redguard was responsible for handing out the contracts to every assassin in the sanctuary
"Dearest brothers and sisters," the older man started as he tilted his head so that his face could now be seen from under the black shroud. "The time has come for you all to receive the names of the souls that Sithis has claimed as His. A contract bound in blood." Nazir reached into a pocket of the cloak and his eyes suddenly widened in shock. "Uhhh…"
"Is everything alright, Speaker?" Kaie asked in concern, as the Redguard always took this duty very seriously.
The Black Hand member continued to rummage in his pockets, beads of sweat dripping down his brow.
"Do you not have the contracts, Nazir?" KaNack asked as his eyes narrowed and his claws clenched tightly as they clasped together.
A small smirk crawled up the Argonian's face and he turned to the Keeper. "My dear friend, Cicero. It seems our Speaker has misplaced the Night Mother's contracts."
"Tsk! Tsk!" the Fool of Hearts uttered with a shake of his head, his own maniacal grin on his face. "Never fear, oh powerful Listener. For your faithful Cicero has found them for you!"
The jester opened his satchel and pulled out a number of sealed envelopes, each one containing a letter that had a victim's name and description, location and request of execution for a Dark Brotherhood assassin.
"Ah, my humble and loyal jester!" the reptile laughed as he retrieved the letters from the merry man. "Once again you have served me flawlessly."
"What? How did you even get those?!" Nazir was beyond infuriated when he saw that the Keeper had possession of the documents he had so securely hidden in his Black Robes. He had no idea when Cicero even would have had the opportunity to steal the contracts off his person. The Redguard always kept them with his Black Hand robes and those were locked up securely when not in use.
"Cicero is very clever," the Imperial tittered.
"Or maybe you're just getting a little rusty, Nazir," KaNack snickered as he read the city name's scribbled on the envelopes. "How about this time I handle the assigning of contracts?"
"That is the Speaker's duty! Not yours!" snarled Nazir. He turned to the Spectral Assassin and held out his hand in desperation. "Will you please talk some sense into him?!"
Lucien let out an exhausted sigh and shook his head solemnly. "I have tried to get him to behave professionally for the last ten years; do you think anything I say to him now is going to make him change?" He glared at the Argonian. "I am disappointed in you, however."
"Awww, Buddy," chimed the reptile as he shot him a loving look. "Don't be mad. I have the utmost respect for the Black Hand and its members. I just miss the thrill of deciding which of my wonderful assassins will be claiming an individual's soul for our Dread Father."
"Lighten up, Lucien!" exclaimed Dro'marash as he grinned at the annoyed specter. "It's not against a Tenet for the Listener to take the role of Speaker now and then, is it?"
"We have traditions for a reason, Khajiit," growled the Spectral Assassin. "However, what's done is done. So long as we fulfill the Night Mother's wishes, I assume that it will not be such a sin if the Redguard doesn't hand out a few letters."
KaNack looked at one of the letters and leaned over to Cicero and whispered something to the fool's ear. The Keeper paused for a moment and snickered slightly before whispering something back to the reptile behind a palm. The Argonian eyes widened and he smiled brightly at the others as he held up an envelope.
"All right, my vicious assassins," he snickered. He held up the envelope high into the air. "Who wants to go to Solitude and kill a bard?"
All the assassins leaped out of their seats and held out their hands grasping for the contract. Solitude was a favored place to travel for anything could be attained there. Clothes, food, potions, weapons and other such necessities were all found in the stronghold. Also no one in the sanctuary was particularly fond of bards, having adopted their Listener's hatred for them as their own.
"Well, unfortunately, I've already claimed this particular contract for myself," the Listener laughed as he replaced the contract into his satchel. I have been biting at the bit to kill a bard!"
All the assassins sank into their seats grumbling as they shot their leader dark looks.
"You ALWAYS take Solitude contracts," Vytalas growled. "I need to purchase more ebony arrows! It's too far a journey to just travel there for supplies alone."
"My wife is there! I don't want to hear your petty excuses," KaNack answered sternly as he justified his claim on the contract.
"Ha, ha!" laughed Cicero. The merry man clapped in approval at his Listener's trick. "Once again the Listener has proven his cleverness! Every time! Every TIME they fall for it! They think they go to Solitude, but it is always the Listener!" the jester giggled. "It never grows old, it does not!"
"You're tormenting them," Lucien hissed quietly to KaNack in a scolding tone, still angry at him and the jester for interfering with a Speaker's responsibilities.
"I'll make it right," the Dark Brotherhood leader insisted quietly to his spiritual guide. He rose from his seat and gave the four a sympathetic look.
"My little bloodthirsty assassins, it pains me to see you so miserable. Look at Babette, this does not seem to upset her as much as it does you."
"If I've learned anything in the last decade about you, KaNack," the vampire smirked, "it is to always expect the unexpected."
Seeing that the younger servants of Sithis were still upset, KaNack made a motion for the depressed youth to settle down. "There must be something in the well water in that city, for there happen to be two more contracts in Solitude."
"Oh! Such trickery and wickedness!" the Keeper chirped. "You shall drive us all mad!"
Laughing, the Listener threw the two envelopes onto the center of the table, and the four assassins crashed into each other as they tried to snatch one.
"Oh, for the love of Sithis!" snarled Nazir as he witnessed the squabbling youth before him. They were all young adults, but the playful nature of their leader seemed to seep into each and every one of them. A whole sanctuary made up of individuals with the personality of the Argonian? They truly would go mad. "Would you all grow up?!" He pointed at KaNack. "Especially you!"
Both Vytalas and Kaie managed to get the Solitude contracts and fell back into their chairs, grinning with satisfaction.
"Ebony arrows, stronger bow wire and perhaps a new quiver," the Dark Elf murmured as he went through all the things he could get while in Solitude.
"You're going there for an assassination, not a shopping spree," KaNack hissed as he placed his hands on his hips. Lucien had instructed him to be more firm and enforce discipline on the new generation of assassins. It was hard having to be the one to act like some hardheaded instructor, but he knew that there had to be a balance between truly living and being adamantly professional.
"So does that mean you won't be visiting Brelyna then?" Kaie chimed as she fanned herself with the envelope.
KaNack's face dropped and he slumped back into his seat with a grumble. Kaie had called him out and knew that he was stuck. He couldn't very well tell the others to only focus on Dark Brotherhood matters if he wasn't willing to do so himself.
"Fine, I guess a little shopping before you kill your targets is okay."
KaNack distributed the rest of the contracts out to the remaining assassins and then brought the meeting to an end. As was part of tradition before going off to kill, all the Brotherhood members leaned forward, placing their hands on top of each others as a symbol of their unbreakable connection and love for their fellow brothers and sisters.
"Let's kill someone!" they all cheered at once as their hands shot up into the air. With the meeting finally over, everyone went their separate ways to start packing for their upcoming journeys to their respective regions in Skyrim.
"Well, I hope Vy and Kaie aren't planning for more than just dinner at Proudspire," the mage muttered as he got up from his seat and started up the stairs. "I'm getting the feeling Brelyna is getting tired of always having to play hostess every time I come home."
"Her cooking was quite good," Cicero remarked as he shot a wide smirk to his Listener. "If there are any leftovers, please bring some for poor Cicero."
It had been easier in the last year or so since Shaleez had become so profound in her casting that she no longer needed to travel with the Dark Brotherhood leader. KaNack was now free to see Brelyna more often and even would have a few days to spend with her before work required him to once again take to the road. They had become closer and much happier in the end.
Cicero left to tend to his Keeping duties while the Spectral Assassin followed his caster to the Argonian's room. The chamber was large and decorated with a variety of trophies from his proudest kills. Off to the side was one of his most important prizes; a dummy wearing a set of royal robes that the mage had found on the Katariah during his assassination of the Emperor.
As Lucien watched the reptile prepare himself for his journey to Solitude, the ghost murmured to himself as he folded his arms. Something had been bothering him before he had been summoned from the Void, and it was still troubling the Spectral Assassin.
"Something wrong, Lucien?" the reptile asked as he packed his potions and shrouded robes into his worn knapsack that had seen everything from his entrance to Winterhold to the execution of Ulfric Stormcloak.
"I cannot explain it. There have been whispers in the Void. I am not quite sure what is causing the restlessness, but it does have me concerned."
"No offense, but you always feel like something is off in the Void," the reptile replied with a slight chuckle. Lachance often spoke of how certain events caused disturbances in the Void. Sometimes they ended up being something vital; often however, the threat was used just to keep the Argonian in line. "Maybe you just haven't been in there enough and it seems foreign to you."
"Trust me, Listener," the specter hissed, "one does not simply forget the sensation of being in the Void. It's imprinted on you like a brand."
The Argonian tied his bag shut and threw it over his shoulder before turning to face his spirit.
"The Penitus Oculatus have been dead for five years, the Night Mother speaks to me regularly, and we have sanctuaries now in every region of Tamriel." The mage patted his spiritual guardian on the shoulder. "I think we're doing okay."
KaNack started for the stables with the ghostly assassin following close behind.
"By the way, how is that little thrall you've taken under your wing in the Void?" KaNack asked, trying to get the ghost to stop fretting over the upset taking place in the Void. The phantom thought over this as he kept his pace alongside the Listener.
"He is making progress," the Speaker explained quietly. "It has been taking longer than I would have liked, but eventually he'll be ready to join the other spirits that guard these halls."
KaNack smirked as he thought about the other spirits who guarded the Dawnstar sanctuary. Fortunately, when it became obvious that the Keeper's life was no longer in danger, the guardians were much more accommodating when they had been summoned back. "I cannot believe Sithis agreed to allow a thrall that was not a part of the Brotherhood to be eligible for guarding our sanctuary."
"It was no easy feat," Lucien muttered. "Our unholy matron graced me with Her presence, and She was willing to convince the Dread Father on my behalf." A sad smile formed on the specter's face. "I think She saw it as a way for making up for the suffering I endured in Applewatch."
Leaving it at that, the Listener made his way to the stables. He and his fellow assassins had a long trip ahead of them to Solitude. He was eager however, it would give him some time to spend with his Dunmer love, as well as send yet another soul to the Void in the name of his deity.