II.

Northern Lights

Pine Forest, Skyrim

Middas, 3E 432 19th of Last Seed

The first scratched open Lucien's arm and commanded a nearby fox to attack, while two more emerged from the trees. He grew dizzy as his arm flailed limply through the air, gathering his remaining strength to cast a meager Flare spell at the creatures. Shadowmere rose to her hind legs and kicked at the assailants, but she'd prove no match for these enemies. The Spriggans were closing in on them rapidly, Lucien's magicka steadily running out. As he forced one last sputtering of fire from his palm, an arrow whistled past his face and struck clear through the Matron's head. She released a final screech of defeat, the two remaining Spriggans quickly echoing her cries. Lucien gasped as he turned to identify his rescuer, sighting a sly smile and pointy ears from behind the trees.

"Careful, traveler. You'd do well not to wander through these forests alone."

A male Bosmer stepped forward, casually checking the tension line on his bow. Lucien knelt beside the Spriggans dimly glowing corpses, recovering any arrows left intact.

"Here," he said quietly as he handed them back to the owner. "You're going to need these, in case you run into any more careless individuals."

He scolded himself internally; his thoughts were so preoccupied with what awaited him in Falkreath that he'd been completely blindsided by the ambush. The elf approached him, touching the tip of his finger to the arrow heads before placing them back into their quiver. Lucien studied the elf, his light blue eyes beaming as he surveyed the landscape.

"Those eyes...they remind me of someone I once met..." Lucien shuddered at the memory, turning away from the elf. The Bosmer smiled and nodded his head before disappearing into the wilderness, leaving as abruptly as he'd arrived. Lucien's mind drifted towards thoughts of the blue-eyed High Elf he'd met several years ago, still unable to explain the strange turn of events that transpired that fateful evening.

Lucien stumbled back towards Shadowmere, searching for a healing potion in his satchel. After taking a few swigs of the elixir and bandaging his wounded arm, he mounted his loyal companion for the final leg of their voyage.

Skingrad, Cyrodiil

Fredas, 3E 423 26th of Midyear (9 years earlier)

"Sinderion, is it?"

The alchemist shifted uncomfortably in his chair, adjusting the flame beneath his alembic while tapping one of the vessels impatiently. Without turning he grumpily answered, "Yes, yes...come back and see me in the morning, I'm in the middle of some imperative research."

Lucien ignored the Altmer's statement and stepped slowly towards his work desk, looking around at the various ingredients and books messily scattered throughout the room.

"Ah, then my sources were correct. I've heard you're the authority on this special little herb...tends to grow near water, and when you're close enough it emits a chiming, nearly magical sort of sound..."

"Nirnroot!" Sinderion cried, clapping his hands together like a child. "Tell me...have you found any?" He looked at Lucien eagerly, watching as he ran his index fingers along the top of a bookshelf, mouthing the titles of a few books to himself.

"On the contrary...I'm looking for some myself."

Sinderion grew visibly disappointed, casting his eyes downward before turning back towards the desk. "Well, I can't be of any help to you there. I've actually been conducting numerous agricultural experiments, so that I might be able to grow them one day. Although...my new assistant might be able to point you in the right direction."

"Oh?" Lucien pressed, feigning interest. He smiled to himself, satisfied he was about to get the information he'd wanted all along.

"Yes, his name is Scathach. Moves around quite a bit, but currently resides right here, in Skingrad. Rather convenient for you, wouldn't you say?" Sinderion asked with a chuckle.

"Quite convenient, indeed. Thank you for your help. Good luck with your...endeavors."

Sinderion mumbled and waved his hand dismissively at Lucien's reply, who was already halfway through the door leading upstairs.

After persuading some unsuspecting townsfolk in the inn, Lucien eventually located Scathach's house on the city's narrow residential street. He overheard two guards chatting around the corner, striding past them and lingering just outside the door until they walked away. Once alone, he dashed into the archway and successfully picked the lock, pushing the heavy wood forward noiselessly. He crept throughout every room in the house without finding a soul, questioning if his target really still dwelled within Skingrad.

"That only leaves the basement, but there is no...basement..." He thought, moving stealthily across the dining area once more. He scanned the walls, noting that all but one of the candlesticks was unlit. A mischievous grin spread over his lips as he lightly tugged on the holder, and watched a hidden compartment open in the wall. He waited, growing tense as he listened to the wood drag across the floor. "If anyone's down there, they've just been alerted I'm here..."

He stood and drew his dagger, bracing himself for confrontation as he moved through the tunnel. He counted each step as his boots clicked and resonated against the damp stone walls, imagining the suspense and fear welling up in his victim. When he finally reached the end of the passage, he ducked as a figure lunged at him with unbridled ferocity but managed to throw the attacker over his shoulder. Lucien could see his contract, backed against the far wall and shaking her head as he approached.

"No—please! Don't do this!"

The Altmer woman's cries fell on deaf ears as Lucien advanced, suddenly feeling his weight plummet towards the floor. The figure let go of Lucien's ankle and stepped around his body, brandishing a sword near his face. Lucien pushed himself up and remained crouched, smirking at the figure.

"Ah, you must be Scathach. Sinderion...suggested I come see you."

Scathach didn't budge, his mouth twitching with anger as Lucien continued, "But I'm not here for you. It seems your wife has an arrangement...with Sithis!"

He grabbed hold of the sword, the blade cutting through his gloves as he pushed it aside and jumped at Scathach's neck. Scathach prepared himself as Lucien's hands encircled his throat, looking into Lucien's eyes as he calmly said, "Your master...has already been sent a soul to appease his hunger."

Lucien loosened his grip, looking at Scathach's wife out of the corner of his eye as she collapsed in a fit of tears. Scathach caught his breath and explained, "The person who prayed for my wife's death...has been murdered. By my hand."

Lucien released the elf and stepped back, sheathing his dagger as he looked on Scathach fondly. "Ah...how intriguing. I admire your determination. Your efforts will be deemed most pleasing to the Dread Lord. However as a rule, the contract must eliminate someone...by their own hand." He threw a hostile glance at Scathach's wife as she cowered and leaned against the wall for support.

"No!" Scathach yelled as he stepped between them. "I have soiled my hands to save my wife's life! If you must...then take me in her place!" He picked his sword up from the floor, offering it to Lucien as he shut his eyes to await the finishing blow.

Lucien steadied himself, his eyes transfixed on the blade. He stood still for about a minute as his thoughts switched between what he knew he should do, and what he wanted to do. He lifted the sword from Scathach's hands, shaking while the woman's agonizing, hyperventilating breaths banged like an incessant drum against his ears. When she let out a bloodcurdling scream in anticipation of her husband's violent dying moment, Lucien dropped the blade. Scathach opened his eyes as the thin metal rattled against the floor, shooting Lucien a confused but grateful look.

Lucien turned to retreat into the tunnel, addressing Scathach over his shoulder. "No one must ever know what happened here. I leave you...with this reminder." He removed his glove, imprinting his bloodied hand against the stone walls. Scathach rushed towards his wife and held her tightly as she trembled with fright and relief, trying to prop her back onto her feet. He stared at Lucien's mark as it glistened under the torch light, his eyes never leaving the stain until the couple withdrew from the hidden room.

Falkreath, Skyrim

Middas, 3E 432 19th of Last Seed

The dusk sky differed little from the light of dawn in Falkreath- rain clouds loomed over the primitive dwelling like a permanent fixture. Leaving Shadowmere at the gates, Lucien walked unobserved down the hamlet's main path. All was quiet except for the humming chorus of insects and the muffled, disembodied voice of a priest of Arkay, reciting the final words of a customary funeral rite. He remembered the size of the town's graveyard; ineffectually pondering how many bodies he might have contributed to the cemetery over the course of his seldom journeys into Skyrim. At that hour, the majority of villagers were already settled in their homes, no doubt their stomachs full while restful sleep beckoned impatiently. The tavern was situated only steps away, Lucien now able to make out the muted sounds of merriment and mead-drenched ramblings suppressed within its walls.

He collected himself, working to quell the pain from his arm as it numbed his veins. He cautiously entered through the door, not surprised that his presence went largely unacknowledged. Lucien searched the tavern for any indication of the interloper's whereabouts, considering the possibility they would not be amongst this violently intoxicated rabble. He suddenly felt a presence at his side, sweeping together fallen tankards and food scraps from beneath one of the tables. Lucien noted the figure's shapeliness as it moved with a feminine, graceful elegance and started, "Excuse me, miss..." The figure moved to its feet- revealing that it certainly was a girl- still balancing the debris she'd collected in both of her hands.

A slight cry escaped the girl's lips when she looked into Lucien's face, and he knew at that moment she was the composer of that wretched note. "Humph...sly little Nord minx. I'll admit; even I'm a bit surprised..." He drowned out the din of metal clanking onto the floor as he moved towards her, the tankard's remaining contents splattering across the bottom of his robe. The girl's eyes fluttered around the room as she shrunk back, her expression shifting to resemble that of cornered prey. Lucien's body moved reflexively, while his heart curiously panged with an undeniable intensity. At the moment he reached out to grab hold of her, he felt a breeze pass over his shoulder and shot out his arm, breaking the intended embrace of a tavern customer. The man paid no mind to Lucien's aggressive stance, swaying to and fro as he attempted to steady his eyes on Lucien's face.

"Hellooo there, my Imperial friend! What bringsh you...to Shkyrim?" He hiccoughed and stuttered, curling the corners of his mouth upward like a gleeful baby. The man lurched forward, nearly falling on top of Lucien as he instinctively held his arms out to catch him. His face contorted with disgust as the man raised his head and exhaled heavily, "Pffffttt, no matter! All mankind are welcome here in Shkyrim! It's those damn elves...who need to keep out!"

Lucien forcefully pushed the man off of him, barely flinching as the man fell backwards onto the floor. He heard the girl step forward and quietly strain, "E-excuse me, sir..."

She started moving past him, but he swiftly turned to face her and reactively dug his fingers into her arm. As she writhed in his grasp he brought his mouth closer to her ear and growled, "You're not getting cold feet now, are you?"

He kept her pinned against his chest, stepping back slightly to gauge her response. He took in her milky white skin and deep chestnut hair, shining under the flickering flames. She looked up at him warily, her silver eyes striking him as two bright, perfect moons floating atop a sea of her tears; his eyes briefly hovering on a long, pointed scar stretching from the middle of her cheek to just over the arch of her brow. She kept silent, her red lips slightly parted and quivering as she fought to pull her eyes from his burning stare.

'She's like a beautiful, dumb creature...preparing to die as the hunter's arrow sinks deeper into the wound,' he ripped his fingers out of her arm, watching as she staggered back.

"Perhaps we can go somewhere private to...discuss the matter at hand?" Lucien asked expectantly, after taking a moment to compose himself. The girl straightened and lowered her head with reluctant compliance, motioning for Lucien to follow. He watched her closely as she led him into one of the smaller side rooms, taking his eyes off of her for a split second as he crossed the threshold. She stayed behind him to close and lock the door, and he found it peculiar that he'd allowed her to act with such independence; realizing too late how greatly he'd compromised his advantage over the situation. As the door clicked shut he slammed onto the floor, instantly immobilized by a paralysis spell.