She stood at the window, one hand tangled in the blue velvet of her skirts, the other raised and resting against the wooden sill.
The perfect picture of enigmatic beauty.
The glass was stained of course, as most windows in Skingrad’s manors were, and the only thing to be seen through it was her own reflection. Dovesi didn’t care, it didn’t matter what she could or couldn’t see, only how she would be seen by anyone entering the room. If she thought about it a bit more thoroughly she might have felt a tad silly, posing in an empty room, with a house full of strangers downstairs.
Especially when it was considered that neither the house nor room were her own. But it hardly mattered, Primo would have to come upstairs eventually, to sleep or to escape Matilde's pesterings. When he did, she’d be ready. Ready to cast her gaze at him just so, ready to let the low lighting show all of her best features, and most of all, ready to make their time spent together beneficial in so many ways.
The telltale sound of footsteps along the hall brought her pulse to its peak. The sound of the latch clicking open almost outdone by the pounding within her breast. The door opened slowly, and she turned with all the grace and poise she could manage.
“Oh it’s you…”
He was sitting on his bed, one hand holding his head and the other clutched in a fist.
Who could strike down such a young woman? Barely older than a girl? It didn’t make sense. Then again, the slaughtering of innocents never did. When he’d been on campaign for his Emperor he’d seen as much and more senseless acts of violence and blood. In the cold north where everything lay wrapped in ice, the color of death on fresh snow was a hue of red he could never forget. It hadn’t been like that so much in Morrowind, the Dunmer had a respect for law and order, but the Nords? He clenched his fist tighter.
Neville had to wonder how much like his kinsmen Nels really was. Sure the man had consumed near everything containing alcohol in the house since Dovesi was murdered, but there was a shine to his beady, bloodshot eyes. There was also the way he watched Matilde, the old woman didn’t seem to notice, but Neville did. Was the Nord looking for an opportune moment to strike? It wouldn’t take much to break such age weary bones, probably a lot easier than it had been to snap poor Dovesi’s neck.
From the doorway a slight rap against the doorframe and Neville looked up with moist eyes.
“Friend… I don’t think it was an accident. I think there is a murderer among us.”
Nels couldn’t feel his lips anymore but his hands were still shaking. Three bottles had become so much shattered glass in his clenched fingers already and yet he was still reaching for a fourth. Anything, anything to calm his nerves, to make the images stop even if it made the world spin faster.
He didn’t know where the others were, probably hiding… hiding from him or each other… he didn’t know anymore.
Nels rubbed his large palms against his weary eyes and saw Neville’s corpse in cold relief against the back of his eyelids.
He didn’t kill him… he couldn’t have… could he? It wasn’t his axe in Neville’s chest. Was it?
He’d only gone up there to ask him questions! Damn imperial... he’d let Dovesi die! His room was right across from hers.. why hadn’t he saved her? Why hadn’t he stopped the attack? He let Olga die and had the nerve to accuse Nels of killing her! His own daughter!
He didn’t kill Dovesi… he didn’t kill Neville.
Primo was a young strong man used to getting his way. Nels had seen the way he’d looked at Dovesi, all shy smiles and averted eyes. How little would it take to bring out something darker in the lad? A simple no from a pretty maiden?
Nels didn’t know but he was betting Neville had known… had some inkling and got the axe for it.
Nels insides churned like a boiling pit and most of it was not from the drink.
From the corner of his eye he saw movement as a kindly hand alighted on his shoulder and offered him a bucket.
“Thanks… I know I shouldn’t drink so much but I just can’t take it… he murdered them both…”
He ran quivering fingers through his shoulder length blonde hair and felt the sweat that now peppered his brow. This wasn’t right… things like this, terrible things… didn’t happen to people like him.
They’d found Dovesi at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck. Primo had cried genuine tears for her but he’d been foolish, he had thought her death an accident.
They’d brought the body upstairs, laid the corpse out on the bed and under a sheet. It was the first time he’d ever seen death up close.
It had made him uncomfortable.
No one had taught him how to deal with raw death, no one had told him it would cling to his hands and make his palms itch with the urgent need to be washed. He’d been bred and groomed for fine things and there was nothing fine about what was happening here, within these claustrophobic walls.
He’d been stuck, looking at her corpse in a fascination he could not explain for what felt like a lifetime.
That was until Nels incoherent screaming cut through to Primo’s core.
Animals screamed like that, bulls bellowing as if they knew they were being dragged to slaughter. Nels was little more than that, red faced one moment and white as plaster the next. His eyes had bulged to impossible size. Primo knew this because they were the first thing he noticed when he ran into the next room, Nels bulging eyes like olives painted white except for the center which remained a beady black as the Nord stood in the middle of the room bellowing with fingers clawing at his face. Primo’s confusion was as short lived as his relationship with Dovesi, an eager flutter inevitably snuffed out by cruel reality when he saw what Nels had been bellowing at.
The sight of Neville had left a very different feeling from that which Dovesi’s death had left. The young man had felt hot, as if someone had rubbed his entire skin down with fire salts and made it tighten upon him like a vice. He hadn’t stayed long in that room. He hadn’t stayed long upstairs in fact for the scent of death, in all its harsh unpleasantness, had begun to strangle the very air itself.
He’d steered clear of Nels since then.
It wasn’t difficult to make the connections. Nels had argued with Neville since the start and had been almost possessive of Dovesi since the young Dunmer arrived. It was only a matter of time before the brute came after Primo. If he wanted to survive this then he’d have to outsmart the man, he couldn’t hope to best him open combat. Primo’s family had believed in raising a gentleman, a proper courtier and those lessons did not involve swinging an axe or delivering the finishing blow with a sword. He knew court fencing where the point was to not truly harm your opponent… pointless now where the choices were kill or meet the grave only too soon.
But he wasn’t without hope, there were still two others… three on one were much better odds.
Primo ran to the basement, having seen Matilde go down there long before they’d found Dovesi. Poor old woman must have heard Nels screaming earlier and thought it better to hide… probably the most sensible thing she’d ever done in her life if their brief conversation earlier was any indication.
None of that mattered now, only surviving did, and that meant killing Nels.
Primo began climbing down the steps of the basement with one sweaty palm pressed to the cool rough stones of the wall. He didn’t have a torch with him and in his hurry he hadn’t grabbed any of the candles from upstairs. He cursed his knees for shaking, he cursed his curiosity for making him accept the invitation in the first place but mostly he cursed Nels for everything he had done. And when he ran out of things to curse fate brought him one last thing, a spill of something sticky on the last step and an unseen obstacle laid out right after.
It felt like bumping into a large sack of firewood wrapped in layers of burlap and sent both it and Primo tumbling into the dim pool of candlelight. Fate had given him another thing to curse but Primo’s lips were clamped shut and his words stolen by the cold slack face of Matilde’s corpse.
Her throat had been split from ear to ear, one side of her face and her silver hair matted in drying blood.
Primo pushed himself back with what strength he could find, crawling backwards until he couldn’t any more. When a wall presented itself and he was able to make it back on his feet, Primo lunged for the stairs he’d only just come down. He had to get to the last guest before Nels did, it was the only way…
They collided just around the corner, calming hands catching Primo just as his nerves and gravity were about to spill him once more across the floor.
“SHE’S DEAD! They’re all dead!” His voice was cracking and his head was pounding as fast as his pulse even as his hands clung to the deep blue finery in front of him. He could not stop shaking, he could not stop seeing their faces over and over and over.
“Primo calm down please, I can barely understand a word you’ve said.” Such soothing words, such tender hands and both belonging to the kindest elven face Primo had ever seen. He wanted to do what this mer asked of him, to calm his chattering teeth and unclench his fists from the male’s shirt but he couldn’t. His mind would not let him, so aflame with adrenaline that every muscle seared with the need to run. But the Altmer held him fast, an arm about his shoulders even as slender fingers began prying Primo’s own from his clothing.
“There’s no time! We have to kill him! Before he can kill US!”
“Kill who? Nels? I’ve already done that, he can’t do anything to you.”
Primo should have felt relieved to hear this news spoken oh so sweetly but he didn’t, he felt confusion and it was not helping.
“Primo look at me,” the altmer said before taking hold of Primo’s jaw and forcing his head up so that he could look him in the eye. And then the elf did something most unexpected, he leaned down and pressed their lips together.
It was unexpected and not particularly chaste, and when the strange mer broke from him and smiled with half lidded eyes, Primo began to form a question, the first and last to spring to mind.
“Why?” The assassin had to finish the question for him, as his lips had frozen from the paralytic effect as it began to take hold of the muscles in his face. “Why did I kiss you or why have I paralysed you? I suppose I can answer seeing as it will be your last request.” It was a smirk then, sharp and full of teeth and it coiled upon the mer’s face with a deadly promise. “I’ll admit it’s been fun tonight, and I had planned to simply let you and Nels fight it out... because honestly who doesn’t like a bit of bloodsport?” He laughed then and if Primo had been capable of moving a single muscle he would have cowered beneath the sound of it. “But the truth of it is, all this murder has made me a tad peckish and I do so enjoy a meal with a pretty face.” His gloved thumb rubbed tenderly against Primo’s cheek but there was naught but amusement in his cold eyes. “And I wouldn’t want to have you muck up such a face struggling and flailing about so it would be much more agreeable if you would just hold very still and die quietly like a good lad.”
Eyja jumped when she heard the front door of Rosethorn Hall bang open amid the thunderous rain that had been pelting the city for hours. She rounded the corner with a silver pitcher in hand just incase the guest was unwelcomed and let out a sigh of jittery relief when she saw who stood just inside the door.
“My lord! You shouldn’t frighten me so.” Eyja was not above laying her hand over her chest to emphasis the point even if only jokingly. “I near took you for someone else and who knows what might have happened if I had.” She hurriedly moved to close the doors, wishing to keep as much of the storm outside as she was able.
Her employer didn’t seem to mind though, smiling the same kind smile she’d seen near every time he returned from one of his late night outings or one of his long business trips. Then again it wasn’t her duty to pry… just to tend him when he returned. She handed him a drying cloth for his long silvery blonde hair and tutted her tongue when she spied a dab of crimson at the corner of his mouth.
“You’ve a bit of wine my lord.” She made to gesture to the spot but gave up halfway through and simply moved in with her thumb readied in her sleeve. “Allow me to get it.”
“No that’s alright. You do enough as it is Eyja, you needn’t play nursemaid.” He continued to smile and Eyja wondered if it was drunkenness that made him smile so. She couldn’t be sure, he always seemed sharper after nights like this, more alert even though that wasn’t quite the word for it.
He dabbed at his mouth with a forefinger that came away equally stained and curiosity got the better of the Nordic maid. “So how was the party?”
“Absolutely lovely, the other guests were quite a lively bunch I must admit.” Like a child with a bit of sugar the strange altmer touched his stained finger to his lips and sighed. “But all good parties must come to an end at some point I suppose.”