When Shadow Plays Light

The Hero of Kvatch is back in the Imperial Prison. The Dark Brotherhood sends Lucien Lachance with an offer that she cannot refuse.

Disclaimer: I do not own Oblivion and its characters.

A.N. This story is not new. It is a rewrite of a story that I never managed to complete. I still owe an apology to Jordy Trent, my then beta, for taking the story down without seeking her consent first. Also apologies to those who followed and supported this story! This time I will to see the story through no matter how long it takes. :)

Chapter One

They say the stone walls of the Imperial Prison have ears, and that no whisper escapes the vigilance of the prison guards…

Not tonight. The guards are asleep, and so is a foul-mouthed Dunmer prisoner who has grown bitterer with each passing year in the dungeon.

What a perfect opportunity to deal with Adamus Phillida, thinks a dark-robed man, shaking his head ever so slightly at the absurdity of his situation. Unfortunately, he is not there to slay the Imperial Legion Captain. The Night Mother and Ungolim have a different plan for him, one not so inspiring. Their Unholy Matron has spoken, but this time death will not follow. He will speak for the Black Hand, but the usual pleasure that he should feel is notably absent. And after that, it will only get worse. He will have to help the child of the Nine to fulfil her destiny, a destiny that she probably couldn't care less about.

You are the only one I can trust with this mission. That was what Ungolim had told him, but Lucien knows better than to trust the Bosmer's words unquestioningly. It has to be something to do with the mysterious disappearance of a few assassins within his Sanctuary. Lucien has always drawn the most lucrative contracts for the Brotherhood, and his assassins are more skilled than those in other Sanctuaries. Nothing other than the Black Hand's uneasiness over his command of his subordinates' loyalty could have motivated the Listener to separate Lucien from his usual duties.

I am hereby promoting you to the prestigious position of my Silencer. What Ungolim meant was that Lucien would be no longer in charge of the Sanctuary he had worked so hard to build. Regretfully, he cannot reprehend the Night Mother for his unwanted promotion. So he settles for blaming Ungolim and the target that he is not allowed to kill.

Inserting a stolen key into a lock that would drive skilled thieves to despair, Lucien glares at the pathetic lump in the corner of a small prison cell. The Breton girl doesn't seem to be sleeping. No matter. He is not there to recruit this particular murderess.

As the iron-barred gate scrapes the flagstone floor, the girl finally looks up but says nothing. Lucien lights the solitary torch mounted on one side for her benefit and runs his sceptical eyes over her sitting form, her knees protectively encircled by her hands. Barely twenty, her features are distinctive and well set, though rather small. She could have been described as pretty, if it had not been for the swollen eyelids and red nose from crying. The right side of her lips is slightly curled up, an imbalance that somehow cancels out the impression of a helpless little girl.

What an irony, Lucien thinks, trying to find some humour in the gloomy situation. The Nine could have done better than relying on a murderess who twice finds her way into the Imperial Prison. A cry baby, too.

"You don't seem to take well to prison life," Lucien begins, observing the despondent look on her face. She doesn't seem to have any desire to escape from the shackles that trap her by the ankles. "I come to you with an offer from the Dark Brotherhood."

The girl's head falls back on her knees, showing no interest in what he has to say. The gesture does not please Lucien, but he decides to play it diplomatically. She has slain an Orc, two Imperial Commoners, and four Imperial Legion soldiers in broad daylight. There must be a hell of a rage inside that small frame. If there is one thing Lucien abhors more than his current mission, it is failure. If he has to work with her, he doesn't particularly desire a bad start.

"You understand that your friends will do nothing to save you from your scheduled execution. Your only way to escape death is to accept our offer."

Still no response. By now, however, Lucien has a clear idea about how to break down the ungrateful wretch's barrier. A different tactic is all that is required.

"You welcome death. Is that it? You think you will join your beloved horse in the Void?"

"You believe in life after death?" The girl finally speaks, her voice coarse and low.

Lucien smiles. He is finally getting somewhere.

"I serve the Dread Father, Sithis. All souls return to his realm after death. Your horse is no exception, dear Diane," Lucien says, carefully observing her face. He can see something like hope flickering in her blue eyes.

"Unfortunately, however, you are." A lie, and what an amusing lie it is. Lucien can see the irony of earning the approval of the Nine as well as that of Sithis. "Your soul will not reach the Void. The Nine claimed you as their child, and Sithis will not accept your soul unless you convince him otherwise."

Diane does not think about how this total stranger knows so much about her and her dear horse. She cannot bear the thought of her continuing existence without Alexi. An eternal life with the prospect of eternal separation frightens her. She had promised Alexi she would look after her and be with her. She failed to keep her promise in life. She cannot let down her dearest friend in death. Even if it means that she has to join a hierarchical structure she despises.

"Which organisation did you say you were from?" she asks, knowing that it wouldn't make any difference.

Lucien raises an eyebrow. Although she was in a state, the name of his guild should have stayed in her mind. Nevertheless, he keeps his annoyance at bay. "My name is Lucien Lachance and I am a member of the Black Hand, the ruling council of the Dark Brotherhood. Are you now ready to hear out our proposal?"

Diane finally recognises the name of the assassins' guild. She wonders vaguely why the robed man did not wait till she slept, but then remembers she was in prison, awaiting execution. Time must be of the essence in her case. "What would you have me do?"

"As much as your death craft interests the Night Mother, we do not recruit murderesses who are careless enough to get caught. You will not join our ranks. You will continue to help your friends at the Cloud Ruler Temple under my guidance. All you have to do is to establish useful contacts and gain information ..."

"You want me to become a spy?" Diane interrupts, looking rather uneasy and appalled at the prospect.

"Would that be a problem?" Lucien responds, his tone mocking with a hint of disapproval.

Diane stares into an empty space, fearing and despising what she will become. Her old self would not have accepted such a proposal. Establishing trust only to betray it goes against everything she has ever believed. Yet, how do people treat true devotion and loyalty? With contempt and disregard. The one creature who made her feel loved for simply being herself is gone, and in the cruelest and most degrading manner she can think of. Her heart is too broken to care for what is left of the world. Even in death, only Alexi can pull her out of despair.

"No," she says finally, feeling rather exhausted. "I accept your demands. I only ask one favour of your Dread Father. Can he … can I have Alexi to myself in my dreams?"

"That, dear Diane," Lucien says, freeing her ankles from the weight of the heavy shackles, "can be arranged. I trust you will remain co-operative."