Skyrim: The Brotherhood
Astrid did not belong among the ashes. The walls of the ancient cave were still warm from the fire when Festus Krex, Gabriella, Veezara and Arnbjorn had been returned to the earth, and their final resting places formed a neat row beside the silent Black Door. Vetoing the Listener's proposition Babette and Nazir thought a traitor unworthy to rest in peace and had left her charred corpse where she lay. But now, when the heavy snows of Frostfall had buried Astrid's tomb and secured it tight with ice, the Dragonborn finally set aside the deep wound of her betrayal. Standing before the abandoned cave he could only marvel at how well nature had protected it.
This is the last thing I can do for you, friend.
He stood thigh-deep in the sparkling snow as the dragon words rolled off his tongue into a lengthy burst of fire. "Yor Toor Shul!"
The snow not only melted, but boiled in an instant to cause a jagged web of cracks to form across the icy barrier. The Drgonborn ceased his fiery assault and effortlessly punched through the remaining ice, revealing a rusted and already crumbling Black Door. Steeling himself against the inevitable flood of memories he gave it a hesitant push. The first thing he smelled upon entering was the musty stink of his bedraggled fur armor, but that was soon overpowered by the sickly sweet of burned flesh. He passed Astrid's room and entered the main chamber, still unable to process how much damage had been done. On that awful night all those weeks ago he hadn't been able to recognize his home as it burned, but now each and every column was painfully familiar. Now a tangled pile of corpses were fused to the ground where he'd been given his first contract, and Arnbjorn's forge was nothing but a pile of splinters and stone.
I came here for Astrid, not a walk down memory lane. It's already a bad idea to go near this place, and if I'm caught my association with the Dark Brotherhood will be discovered.
He retraced his steps back to the entryway and went into Astrid's old chambers to find the hidden room perfectly unchanged. Where the gruesome ritual had been performed in her last moments was still perfectly marked out on scorch-marked stone. Waxy puddles that used to be candle stumps surrounded the horrifically disfigured body of the former leader, which was still stretched out on the floor. He steeled himself and choked back the roiling bile that rose in his throat. With perfect clarity he could remember slashing her throat with the blade he still carried, and there was still a dark pink sliver on what he guessed was her neck.
Feeling shaky he retreated and removed the sheets from Astrid and Arnbjorn's bed. Trying not to look at her almost-nude form he delicately wrapped her decomposing body in the singed fabric. He would have buried her beside the word wall with hopes of the ancient magic protecting her from worms or…something, but the ground being too hard to excavate he simply lay Astrid's corpse on her bed. Observing his work, he felt that it would be incomplete without a goodbye. Bo maffaeraak, Briinah. Rest forever, sister.
Eager to be gone of his former home the Dragonborn set a few traps around the entrance to protect it from those who may wish to desecrate it. And with one final glance over his should into the obfuscating gloom, the old sanctuary was closed for what he hoped would be eternity.
Chapter One- Homecoming
The snap of a bow cut the training room's silence as Mair loosed an arrow into the straw target. The initiate was almost ready to gain full membership status and become a servant of the Sithis, having mastered a weapon and observed many a contract be carried out. In the stiff chill of the Dawnstar Sanctuary she shivered under her rust coloured-robes even though her forehead was beaded with sweat. She was working hard to be as prepared as possible for the trial that awaited her in the near future.
"Good shot." The Dragonborn said from where he'd been watching her, but judging from the mountain of scrolls in his arms it hadn't been for long. "But real targets won't stand still when an arrow is shot at them. And in real life you'll definitely be shooting from more than ten yards away."
The Breton woman decided that she could get away with a bit of sauce. "Well, sir, then give me something farther away to shoot at. There isn't much room in this dank hole."
Carelessly letting the scrolls fall in a heap the Dragonborn reached for his dagger. "Very well. Where's Tharsten? He's coming too."
"Uh…." She eyed the evilly glowing steel with uncertainty. "I'm not sure….he left to buy more cabbage over an hour ago."
A shadow crossed the Dragonborn's face. They both knew that the other member in training, Tharsten, wouldn't skip training unless something was seriously wrong. He quickly grabbed the rest of his armor from the rickety wooden rack and beckoned for Mair to follow. "Bring the bow." He growled. "You're definitely going to need it."
Mair, sensing the urgency in his voice, nodded and did as he asked, slinging the elegant bow over her shoulder and stocking a quiver with her ten best arrows. They clambered up the stairs and stood against the heavy Black Door, Mair hoping they wouldn't find soldiers on the other side.
"Sir, should I go first?" Mair asked, almost succeeding to keep her voice steady.
"No. If the Penitus Oculatus is at our door, a strong melee fighter should lead the charge. If things go badly...run." The cool calculation in his voice made the Breton woman want to go first anyway. But before she could succumb to insubordination the Dragonborn kicked the door open to the frigid night.
Mair followed, her relief at finding nothing but the barren tundra turning to horror as she made out a shape on one of the nearby ice floes. Tharsten's form silhouetted against the starry sky…..and someone holding a long rapier across his throat.
"Come no closer or I'll kill him!" The figure shouted in an undoubtedly male voice.
The muscles in the Dragonborn's neck coiled as he seemed to prepare a dragon shout, but then he relaxed. "We shall honor your request. On what terms will you release our brother and be on your way?" His voice then fell to a whisper that was meant for only Mair to hear. "Looks like all that training will be coming in handy now. Take a good look, get behind me, and then prepare your shot."
"Yes Listener, I-" Mair began to say.
"Do it now or Tharsten is going to die!" He urged. She quickly took her position and aimed for the figure behind the hostage's shoulder.
The man stated his terms with confidence. "I want every Septim you have in that wretched Dark Sanctuary…and I want it now!"
"Then you shall have it!" The Dragonborn boomed. He cast a glance at Mair and waited for her reaction.
"Sir… shouldn't we just give him what he wants and then kill him later? This shot is going to be pretty risky." Mair almost pled, not believing in her skills.
"No, trust me. This man is desperate, and he knows about the Brotherhood….which means we probably took a contract that ended the life of someone he loved." The Dragonborn calmly explained. "If that is so, his objective is not really the gold, but to kill all of us. Now Mair, you must take the shot. It's all up to you."
"Y-yes sir…" She replied nodding. She then stepped behind the Dragonborn.
"What is the girl doing?" The man called.
"Be calm friend, she is merely going to get your gold. She will be back shortly." He replied, moving to block Mair from view as much as he could and relying on the darkness to do the rest. She readied an arrow and drew back the bowstring before dropping to a knee and making a few calculations in her head. She could no longer see her target clearly, and she needed to be quite sure of her shot or it would injure or kill her brother.
Finally, with almost complete certainty of where it would hit she released the arrow. Like a dark comet it traveled upwards and trailed through the air. A deep scream of agony told her the target had been hit, and Tharsten stumbled away from his captor.
"Great shot." The Dragonborn said, turning to help Mair to her feet. But as she looked at Tharsten's fallen captor, the crumpled man returned to his feet as if nothing had happened, the arrow apparently having only grazed him.
"He's still alive!" Mair shrieked. "Tharsten, run!"
Tharsten waded through the freezing water and gave a chattering laugh. "He's not a threat, Mair. It's Nazir."
The Dragonborn smirked at her bewilderment. "Welcome to the Dark Brotherhood as a full initiate, or should I say, Daughter of Sithis."
Her face split into an uncertain grin as the a dripping wet Nazit walked up beside Tharsten wearing a metal facemask and thick armor. "I'd damn well say she almost took out one of my eyes." Nazir said, his rich voice muffled through the mask.
"You trained her, friend; it's your own fault if you did it too well." The Dragonborn replied, not bothering to conceal his pride.
Tharsten added to the praise. "I'm just glad that she's a good enough shot not to have killed me if it was real." He scratched his whiskers. "It would've made me real sad that she didn't value my life that much."
The Listener proceeded with the ancient ritual and reverently sliced his palm to placed a hand print of blood on her pale cheek. "Welcome to the Dark Brotherhood."
"Ah, well, unfortunately that makes you my superior." Tharsten continued. "I'm still an initiate, so….Mair? What's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost."
The blood glistened on her face as Mair mumbled to herself. "Oh… sorry… that was just… quite… unexpected…"
"I would imagine. Looks like the test was quite successful, eh brother?" Nazir rhetorically asked the Dragonborn.
"Very much so." He replied.
With a shiver Tharsten took off his belt, which was still soaking wet. "I hope that's not how my test goes."
"Don't worry; we wanted to test Mair just for this." Nazir said.
Mair seemed taken aback."Test me how? Did I do something wrong?"
"Of course not." Nazir soothed, in a honeyed voice that the ladies always liked . "I just wanted to see how well you acted under pressure. You didn't do so well in those sessions, but you already knew those were fake. There was nothing really at stake there."
"I get it…" Mair replied. Her face slowly returned to its normal colour.
"I found it quite fun to see you squirm, Mair." Tharsten chuckled. She suddenly lashed out with a fist and punched him in the shoulder, hard. He reeled a few steps and shot her a priceless look of such incredulity that she would make fun of him for the next month. "-the Hell?!"
"Agh! Men!" Mair said, throwing her hands in the air. "You're such idiots."
"I told you women were crazy." Nazir said to the Dragonborn, who rolled his eyes. "Really gotta watch what you say around them."
"I'm an Assassin now so I can do this!" Mair shouted to the heavens as she lunged at Nazir. "You're both jerks!" She turned to the Dragonborn, who wisely took a step back. But instead of attacking him she dipped her head respectfully. "Sir… Brother, thank you for accepting me."
He simply waved off her gratitude. "It was time for our family to grow…and welcome Sister, your first serious contract will be soon, I promise you."
She stalked back into the lair without another word.
"You're right sir…" Tharsten said to Nazir. "Women are crazy."
"Looks like another lesson has been taught." Nazir said dismissively, struggling to speak through his chattering teeth. "Now let's go back inside, we've wasted enough time with banter and the cold makes my beard curl."
If for less shallow reasons the Dragonborn agreed. "Nazir's right….there is business to be done."
This story started out as a collaboration between Obrusnine and I after I came to him with my ideas. Things started out okay but then his misguided sense of superiority led him to spurn my opinions and treat me like a stupid noob. I tolerated this until he suddenly disappeared and currently shows no signs of coming back. Now I've published the story separately under my name, with the grammar mistakes he was too proud to fix corrected and a tremendous amount of detail and clarity added. My contributions are unaltered and his brought up to my standards. I'm sorry this didn't work out between us, but working with such a difficult person made this a chore and writing stories like this is supposed to be fun.
Enjoy, and may you always walk in the shadow of Sithis.