“Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.” The blade slid home into the effigy, over and over as he repeated the incantation. “Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.”
The Black Sacrament. It was spoken of in hushed whispers. The Nords of Skyrim were an especially superstitious bunch. He should know. Even being an Imperial, he had been born and raised in the harsh cold of these lands. Skyrim was his home, and he would protect it with all he had.
Just as he would protect his men.
Hair fell into his eyes and he stabbed again. The nightshade helped block out the smell of rotting flesh. “Sweet Mother,” he pleaded, “sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.”
His chest rose and fell with effort. His arm was heavy with how many times he had stabbed the effigy. The candles around him were flickering, wax melting onto the floor.
Ron Speirs took a shaky breath, dark eyes reflecting the light. “Please,” he whispered to the empty room. If the Night Mother was real, then he needed Her children of shadows. “Please, help me.”
* * *
It was nearly a week when he felt a change in the air. Ron was watching his men training, but in the shadows at his back, someone was hidden.
Ron froze. The Dark Brotherhood had come.
There was a smile in the assassin’s voice as he spoke again, clearly picking up on the subtle cues of Ron’s body language. “What can the children of the Night Mother do for you, captain?”
“Do you see the Altmer over there?” Dike was an incompetent moron, one of the many Thalmor agents invited to Skyrim by General Taylor to help put down this civil war. Even most of the Legion here didn’t like them, despite the fact they were supposed to be allies.
The shadow moved, breath on the back of Ron’s neck. “The Thalmor dog? What of him?”
“Dike’s going to get my men killed.”
“And you’d like him killed first.” The man sounded pleased. “I believe that can be arranged.”
“It can’t be connected to anyone in the Legion. I would do it myself, but…”
“Relax, captain.” The man practically purred, his body a hair’s breadth from touching Ron’s. “The wilds are a dangerous place to travel these days. Bandits. Stormcloak rebels hidden in the trees. Anything could happen.”
Ron dared to feel relief.
“You’re dedicated to your men, captain. Admirable, really. But, what would you be willing to give?”
“I’ll do anything to protect them,” Ron growled, tensing.
There was a nose brushed against the back of his neck. “Relax, captain. What the Night Mother would ask in return is rather easy to give.”
“Name it.” He ignored the strange flutter in his stomach.
“What we ask is not coin. We ask for your position.”
“In what way?” Ron asked carefully.
“Relax,” the man repeated. Fingers crept along Ron’s spine at his lower back. “We wouldn’t ask you to kill anyone. That’s our job after all. No, in the future, we may come to you with a request. Perhaps we need forged documents, or a person pulled out of the dungeons.”
Ron nodded in understanding. “A favor for a favor.”
“Precisely.” Ron felt the smile against his neck. “What do you say, captain?”
“Dike will be traveling to Dragon’s Bridge soon,” Ron informed. “Just he and some other Thalmor trash. I don’t care what you do with the others. Just kill that bastard.”
Ron inhaled at the feel of lips pressing to his skin. “Your wish is my command, captain.” The breath left Ron’s lungs as the assassin melted back into the shadows, his very presence disappearing.
“Sir?” In front of him stood one of Ron’s most loyal, a wood elf named Grant. “Are you alright?”
Grant cocked a brow, silently calling his bullshit, but he let it go. “Shall I allow the men to go for lunch?”
“They’ve earned a break,” Ron agreed. “Come to the Silver-Blood with me?”
“Of course.” Grant dismissed the men, eyeing Dike in the process, before rejoining him. “I’ll be happy to be out of the Reach.” Word had come down they’d be leaving Markarth soon.
“I just want this damned war to be over,” Ron replied.
Skyrim was his home, but bastards like Ulfric and his Stormcloaks were tearing the country apart. Ron didn’t like the Thalmor and the Dominion’s influence any more than they did, but murdering the High King and throwing Skyrim into chaos wasn’t the solution.
Perhaps the Dark Brotherhood would be willing to kill Ulfric next.
* * *
Joe knew that voice - well, it was more of a purr, really. He turned, wiping the sweat from his brow, leaning the axe against the wood pile. “My Speaker,” Joe answered in turn.
Nix smirked. It was mostly a tease at this point between them. Nix hated the formalities, but his position meant a lot of them. After all, there were only four Speakers and one Listener to lead the Dark Brotherhood - collectively known as the Black Hand.
“I assume this isn’t a social call,” Joe prompted.
Nix held out a mug. Clearly he’d been in Joe’s house, but he was grateful for the fresh water. Once he’d chugged it down, Nix gave him a sly grin, stepping into his space. “Now, why would you think I didn’t come just to see you?” Nix reached out and ran a finger along the edge of Joe’s pointed ear.
“I know that spark in your eye,” Joe argued, though it didn’t stop him from pressing against Nix all the same. “What would my Speaker have of me?”
Nix grinned. “Oh, there are many things, my little Dunmer. But you are right that I came here for a reason.” Nix turned to put some space between them. “I have a job for you.”
The beauty of being a Silencer was that Joe was a step above the other assassins, even if none of them knew his identity. That was how Silencers worked. They were the personal assassin to a Speaker, and not even the others of the Black Hand knew who they were. A Silencer was their Speaker’s claw, the hidden dagger in the night to do their bidding.
“I have a Thalmor that needs killing.”
Joe’s jaw set, brows lowering. As a dark elf, he had no love for those Altmer bastards. High elves were arrogant by nature, but they had taken over the home of the wood elves, and looked down their noses at the Dunmer as they undoubtedly planned to take Morrowind from them next. Joe didn’t expect any help from the Imperial Legion, either.
“Stipulations?” Joe forced himself to check. If there were special requests then he would have to follow them, otherwise, there was really no limit to what Joe might do.
“He’ll be traveling the road with a Thalmor detachment.” Nix passed over a sealed letter which would hold the details Joe would have to memorize before burning it. “Make it look like an ambush. Stormcloaks, Forsworn, doesn’t matter.”
Joe nodded, slipping the letter into his pocket to read later.
“Here. For you.” Nix handed him a pouch next, the clinking of gold septims inside. The weight told Joe there wasn’t much there.
“Doing this for cheap, are we?” Granted the Brotherhood Sanctuary would get a majority of any payment - they kept their assassins clothed, fed, and supplied with gear - and Nix himself would get a cut.
“For a future favor, actually,” Nix corrected. “That’s from me.”
“A favor?” It wasn’t as though they had a standard payment rate. In fact, most of the time the payment reflected their client, rather than the status of who they were killing.
Joe still remembered when it was a young girl that invoked the Night Mother. The target? Her abusive father. Nix had done that one himself, rather than assign an assassin. The payment? A single flower from the small garden the girl kept.
A favor meant the client was someone in a position of power that would be useful to them. Joe knew Nix, but he had to check all the same, “It’s not a Stormcloak, is it?” They hated Thalmor like no other, but those bigots hated Dunmer just the same, and Joe despised them right back.
“No, Liebling,” he assured.
The Dark Brotherhood didn’t take sides. The civil war hadn’t changed that, but Nix knew better than to bring any Stormcloak business to Joe. There hadn’t been many to speak of, really. Nords were superstitious, and none more than the Stormcloaks themselves. It was a bit too much like magic for their tastes, summoning the Dark Brotherhood for aid.
His brooding thoughts were interrupted by Nix stepping into his space again. “Be careful out there.”
Joe smirked. “Always am.”
Nix pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I’ll be in Riverwood. So, report to the Sanctuary when your done.”
“Yes, my Speaker.” Joe’s lips ticked up, brushing against Nix’s briefly.
Nix chuckled. “Behave.”
Joe followed him around the cabin, watching Nix leave on the back of his black horse. Riverwood was Nix’s home but only because Dick was there. The Nord was lucky to have him - if only Dick weren’t so blind at seeing what was there.
Joe pulled the letter out of his pocket. It was time to go to work.