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Under a Blood Moon

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Night fell on Kvatch, and a lean figure strode purposefully across the the street toward The Eight Blessings. Oliver Davies-Thorne had been staying in city for a week, and he finally had a lead in his investigation. Rhys of Valenwood; even the name was a contradiction. A female wood elf with a name from his own homeland, who would’ve thought?

He took a deep breath as he put his hand on the door handle, steeling himself for the cacophony he knew he would find inside. Then he pulled open the door. The scents of food and ale and sweat washed over him, along with the frenzied staccato of twenty heartbeats beating in disharmony. But there was another smell that drew his attention, overriding the lingering discomfort of the presence of so many mortals. Werewolf.

His kind had a natural dislike for the children of Hircine, being scions of Molag Bal. Supposedly. Oliver wasn't sure how much he believed that. He’d never felt any connection to Coldharbour, or even other vampires. In any case, he had trained himself away from instinctual aggression through long, painful effort, so he had no feelings about the werewolf except curiosity, and a hint of caution. The ancestral hatred was mutual after all. He scanned the room, nodding toward the innkeeper in acknowledgement, and then he saw her in the corner, a red-headed female Bosmer with her back to him. He approached at a steady pace, so as not to alarm her.

“Excuse me, would you by any chance be Rhys of Valenwood?”

***************

Rhys sensed the vampire the moment the door opened. The smell of undead had materialized in the city a few days ago, but she had been hoping to avoid it. Ever since she'd basically kicked the Prince of Rage in his proverbial balls and retrieved her soul, she'd had next to no dealings with Molag Bal or his progeny. Which was just the way she liked it. But it seemed her luck had come to an end. The stench of death wafted from the open door, and she scrunched her nose.

Rhys sighed and took a deep swing of bitter ale from her mug. She closed her eyes, concentrating on the footsteps of the stranger, too steady for a mortal. But he wasn't a normal vampire either. He spoke, and his voice was smooth and cool as silk, not the undead gurgle she had come to expect from his kind.

She turned toward him at a leisurely pace, downing the rest of her drink in one gulp with all the nonchalance she could muster. He didn't look like any vampire she'd encountered before either. If it weren't for the smell, he could have been any man, a Breton, she guessed, near thirty, with dark, wavy hair. His eyes weren't normal for a man though; they were crimson like a Dunmer.

“Well, that depends on who’s asking,” she said, her luminous amber eyes narrowed, and her lips curved into a dangerous smirk. “You’re not an Altmer nor a cat so that’s a good start, but bloodsuckers usually steer clear from me. The last ones that crossed my path were from the nest in Valenwood that I cleaned out.”

He smiled, a cool, professional smile that did not reach his eyes. “My name is Oliver Davies-Thorne. I’ve been hired by House Valorus to investigate the death of their heir, Honoria. I’ve heard you may have some information about that.”

Rhys scowled. She’d never heard of him, but clearly he knew something about her. Behind his bland introduction was knowledge. There was no reason to ask her about the death of some random noblewoman. Unless, of course, you knew she was a member of the Dark Brotherhood.

The vampire was still talking. It was odd, she thought. Despite knowing that she was both a werewolf and an assassin, she was almost sure he was purposefully making himself as non-threatening as possible. “Many of my kind are nothing but mindless predators, it is true, but I assure you, I have no intention of feeding from you. I prefer my victims willing.”

"What and who you eat is not my business. As long as you don't plan on putting me on a plate I have no issue with you,” Rhys said with flat pragmatism. She set the cup in her hand down onto the counter, her eyes scanning over the man before her. He was taller than she was, but that was no accomplishment. Anyone was taller than her. Didn't mean she wasn't able to rip his head off.

"It seems to me you are in quite a pickle, Mr. Vampire. I have no business with you nor with the Valorus family,” she said, her outward amusement not fully concealing the barb in her tone. “Even if I did, I don't kiss and tell."

“I’ve never heard anyone refer to assassination as kissing before,” the vampire replied with a sardonic arch of his eyebrow, his lips curving upward noticeably.

What an interesting development, Rhys thought. A bloodsucker with a sense of humor. It made her want to keep playing. “It is when you do it right,” she purred. “But I have nothing to say to you, so unless you want to experience that sort of kiss for yourself, you'd best be on your way.” Her cup had been refilled, and she picked up and looked at the vampire over the rim.

He shifted his weight, obviously considering both her and her words. “I have no wish to make an enemy of you, so I will take my leave. However, if you should chance to hear any information, I would appreciate it,” he said. “I’ll be staying at the Mage’s Guild in town for several weeks looking for leads. Have a pleasant evening.” He turned and made his way out of tavern.

Rhys followed him with her eyes, the way he moved with unnatural grace. She found him… unsettling. She knew there were vampires that still had their minds, who were able to think and act pretty much like a person. But this… Oliver Thorne was different. She frowned.

Had he really expected her to confess? To look up at him with doe-eyes and say, “Yes, I cut that bitch just yesterday!”

In truth, the name was vaguely familiar. Perhaps she had read it in her contract book. She’d killed so many people, and who had the time to memorize the names of the dead…

But if the vampire had known to ask her, it wasn't just an idle inquiry. He was searching for something. What if his questions led him to the hidden sanctuary just a stone’s throw outside the city walls? He would surely be killed, but the cost to the Brotherhood would be high. And who would get the blame?

Damnit. She didn't want to be involved in this; it went against what was left of every one of her principles. Despite her misgivings, she tossed some coins on the table and jogged out into the street.

The vampire was walking slowly toward the corner, almost as if he expected her, the bastard. Around them, the city was dark and quiet. Respectable citizens of Kvatch didn't run around at this time of night. “Thorne… wait a minute,” she called, running a hand through her hair.

He turned, and even in the darkness she could see his expression, interest tempered by caution. She let out a breath before speaking, but it still spilled out in a rush.

“I don't know what you're trying to accomplish, but if this woman has been killed by the Dark Brotherhood, then you're looking at the wrong place for answers. We don't pick our targets. We just do what we’re paid for. If you want to find the person responnsible for her death, look in her inner circle. Someone must have hated her enough to perform the Black Sacrament.”

“My primary motive is to get paid,” he said with the ghost of a smile. “My client wishes to know who killed their daughter, both for information about their enemies and for the purposes of vengeance, I assume. Of which I will have no part in, I might add. One hopes they would not be foolish enough to take on the Dark Brotherhood. Thank you, for the information.”

Rhys shrugged. She still wasn't sure why she'd helped him. It was for the good of the Brotherhood, she told herself. What other reason was there? “Just keep away from the Dark Brotherhood.”

“I will keep that in mind,” he said, his tone tinged with amusement. “I have a feeling we will see each other again.” He vanished in a cloud of smoke, and she scowled.

“I damn well hope not.”

***********************

Three days later, Oliver was prowling around the back of the estate of Hjall Stonehearth. The man had opposed House Valorus in the Council on more than one occasion, but more recently, it was rumored that Honoria had rejected his son’s advances. A ridiculous motive for murder, perhaps, but people had been killed for much less.

It was too late at night to expect to hear any sort of conversation, and Oliver had no intention of breaking into the house. What he was hoping to find were traces of blood. The ritual to summon the Dark Brotherhood required some grisly components, and if the assassins were as prompt as they usually were, there should be remnants. He doubted the perpetrator would have had the foresight to do the ritual away from home, as they would not have wanted to chance being discovered.

However, even for a vampire, week old human blood could be hard to discern around a large estate. So far, he’d only discovered where someone had killed a chicken, probably for their dinner, and the body of a dog who’d been unfortunate enough to run into a couple of wolves. He pressed himself against the back of the barn as a guard passed by, and then an unexpected scent washed over his nostrils. Once again, he smelled a werewolf. It only took him a moment to verify his suspicion that it was indeed Rhys of Valenwood.

A moment after he caught her scent, he heard faint sounds, behind and above him. A mortal would not have perceived them; the quiet hiss of drawn breath, the heartbeat, kept slow and steady by long training, but Oliver turned slowly toward the source of the noise and waited. He expected her to say something, or perhaps to ignore him entirely. He was not at all prepared to be leaped upon, however, so he fell hard on his back, landing with Rhys on top, her knife at his throat. He could have dislodged her, but considering the circumstances, he flashed her a feral grin.

“I do not appreciate being stalked, Mr. Vampire,” she growled, “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“I am not here for you, madam,” he said in a low voice. “I am investigating Hjall Stonehearth for the murder you claimed to know nothing about. I’m beginning to suspect that you weren’t being entirely truthful. Although,” he added, his smile widening, “This isn’t an entirely unpleasant situation to find myself in. I have never had a woman on top of me who was also threatening to kill me. I find it an intriguing change of pace.” This teasing was mostly intended to be disarming, but there was something about the way her golden eyes blazed with anger that stirred his blood.

“You're sticking your nose where it doesn't belong,” she growled and for a moment her voice sounded too deep, too guttural for a woman of her stature. “Of course I wasn't truthful. What the hell did you expect? A complete detailed report of the murder and home address of the one who ordered the kill? Are you daft?”

“I am doing my job,” he said with a hint of irritation, unfazed by the evidence of her partial transformation, “Just as you are doing yours. I may not have expected your cooperation, but that doesn’t mean I cannot wish for it.” Her blade pressed at his throat, sharp enough to part the skin almost without him feeling it, and she grinned in a way that bared her canines. The dagger wasn’t silver, so he knew the wound would heal instantly, and her smile was giving him ideas that weren’t entirely appropriate to the situation.

“I told you before,” she chuckled, “if you do it right, a blade can be like a kiss…”

“Perhaps, but I would wager my kisses are far more pleasurable,” he said with a brief flash of his fangs. “For one thing, you will be alive afterward.” Unfortunately, he never got to hear what she might’ve said in response because all at once he heard someone approaching, she rolled away, and he leaped to his feet, only to be shoved unceremoniously inside the barn.

Rhys put her hands together and whispered something, and a soft glow emanated from her fingers. The light expanded until it formed a luminous dome over both of them, and then it disappeared.

“A silencing spell,” she explained casually, twirling her blade between her fingers. “You've got some nerve showing up here, and your timing is rather terrible. Hjall Stonehearth will be Stonedead soon.” A wide grin split her face. Clearly, she believed her pun to be the height of comedy.

“I am familiar with the spell,” he said. “And as I said before, I am here to investigate, not to interfere with you.” He frowned, too annoyed by the revelation to appreciate the wordplay.

“So Hjall is your next target. Might I ask who wants him dead?” he asked, with little expectation of receiving an answer.

Rhys’s brow furrowed for a moment. She was actually considering replying, he realized with some surprise. “He is, and in case you have some deranged plan to stop me, it won't matter. if I don’t slit his throat, someone else will. His life belongs to Sithis, one way or another,” she said, placing one hand in her hip, the other stilll twirling her blade. “I guess you aren't working fast enough,” she added with a challenging grin. “Honoria’s mother was the one who performed the sacrament. She paid a handsome sum.”

“It was the father who hired me, not the mother,” Oliver replied. “Perhaps he didn’t inform his wife. Or maybe he did but she doesn’t trust his judgement.” He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking.

Rhys scoffed at his words. “Can you blame her? No one trusts people like us. They would be fools to do so,” she said shaking her head. “We are not like them.”

He wasn’t sure whether to agree or disagree with her assessment. After 300 years of life, his mindset was certainly different than that of most mortals, but on the other hand he had never subscribed to the, in his opinion, dangerous view that vampires were superior beings. Nor did he believe them to be inherently evil. “I'm not sure it has as much to do with us as with the state of their marriage.”

Rhys shrugged. “That's all I’m going to say. Even if I wanted to help you, I swore an oath,” she added with a scowl.

“I don’t intend to keep you from your work. One day, perhaps you’ll even believe me,” he said, blowing a sharp breath out his nose. Working with this bosmer was occasionally like picking flowers from a stinging nettle. But she did seem to respond well to teasing, and It wasn't as if he minded. She wasn’t unattractive, and their verbal sparring was certainly enjoyable.

He grinned as the idea took shape. “I do still need information, however. How would you like to join me in a little game? I’ll get Hjall to tell me what he knows, if I have to suck the knowledge right out of his head. Then you may do as you wish. I can get you inside in complete silence, if you are willing to trust me,” he added with an arched eyebrow.

She circled around him like a dog sizing up an opponent. Appropriate, for a werewolf, he supposed. “A game, hmmm?” she murmured, “You do know that I don't need your help to get in and out of this place…right? A game needs a prize, but the one you're offering is not something I need. But, I am intrigued…” She stepped closer and pulled down her hood, her hair glinting like spilled blood around her face as she leaned forward. Her smile turned wicked, her golden eyes gleaming in the faint moonlight.

He arched his eyebrow as she stepped closer. She was a little thing, in comparison to his lanky frame, but he had no doubt that she was his equal in physical prowess. It was an alluring prospect. “If you aren’t motivated by the simple curiosity of seeing vampire powers at work, I’m not sure what prize would motivate you. I cannot read your mind. Unless you wish me to,” he added, his eyes glittering with both humor and challenge. Feeling daring, he twirled one of her errant scarlet locks around his finger and pushed it back inside her hood.

“How about this, I will give you two minutes with my Target,” she purred, “and you think of a better prize for this game. After all, it's no fun if there’s nothing to gain for both parties…. no?” With her dagger, she stopped the hand that had carefully brushed her hair back and pushed it slowly away from her, the sharp edge of the blade kissing his skin.

She does like her knives, he thought with amusement, though he barely felt the bite of it against his wrist. Her eyes were like closed doors, full of secrets that he wanted to discover. He never could turn down a challenge. “I am aware that you could get inside undetected on your own, but the way I propose would be much more exciting.”

It had taken a hundred years to figure out how to take someone with him using his vampiric teleportation powers, but he’d known it could be done, considering his clothes always came with him. Usually, he used this power to bring his victims home to their beds, making them believe their encounter had been a dream, but there were certainly other uses.

A smile tugged on her lips. “Don’t take this personal, love, but I am not the most trusting person,” she said, stepping a little closer, their bodies almost touching. Oliver's skin prickled at the tension between them. “While I’m sure your bougie little magic tricks can be good fun, I'm not interested in letting you take me anywhere.”

She pulled back, the blade vanishing in its sheath. Her movements were supernaturally fluid in a way that entranced him. He shook himself; now wasn't the time to be distracted. “Suit yourself,” he said, shrugging.

“Try to keep up,” she replied, giving him a little wink before breaking the silence spell and slipping out into the dark. “We’ll talk about prizes later.”

****************************

Rhys moved through the night without making a sound, knowing he would find her. She moved towards the main house, dodging the guards easily, and pulled herself up the wall. Her nose told her the target was upstairs, most likely in his quarters.

A colleague had scouted out the mansion before, so she knew there was a small window below her that was always open at night. Conveniently, it led to the hallway right outside the main living quarters. Only rich fools thought themselves untouchable enough to leave a weak point like this. 

It didn't take long to find the window. She slipped inside the silent, empty hallway. No candles were burning, but that was just as she preferred. Scent indicated that Hjall was just beyond the nearest door. Rhys sank into a crouch to wait for Oliver. Even after everything that had happened to her, she was an elf of her word.

With only a whisper of sound, he teleported into the hallway behind her. She nodded and turned the doorknob. “Wait a moment,” he whispered, reaching out to stop her, but it was too late. The door opened soundlessly, and nothing happened. Giving the vampire a skeptical look, Rhys hesitated, listening. Something wasn’t right. This close to a target with no intervening walls, she should be able to hear him breathing, but there wasn't a sound.

Her hand went for her dagger, her brows furrowing. “No breaths,” she whispered.

“No heartbeat, either,” he muttered. She drew a deep breath through her nose; nothing smelled suspicious, so she gestured for Oliver to follow before slipping silently into the bedroom. Shadows clung to her small frame as she drew closer to the bed.

Hjall Stoneheart was already dead. The sight wasn't pretty to say the least. His skin was purple, and foam dripped from his mouth. A faint sweet aroma tickled her nose. Poison… A poison she knew too well. “Shit,” she growled, “There goes my payment.”

Oliver bared his teeth in frustration. “You could always take credit for the murder, but he was my only lead.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“That’s not how it works!” she hissed. “This is an unfulfilled contract! A daedric contract!” She started to circle the room, looking for clues that could tell her what happened.

Oliver turned away, and maybe he might have left, but the sounds of shouting and slamming doors echoed up the stairs. It was difficult to make out words through the chaos, but there was definitely something about intruders and guards. Two cool hands grabbed her and pulled her into a dark closet that smelled like old shoes. It took her a few moments to realise what happened, he had been so incredibly fast! She hadn’t even seen him move, and they had been just in time. Feet pounded down the hallway and into the bedroom.

Rhys’s heart hammered as her body flooded with adrenaline. Every instinct she possessed screamed danger, driving her need to bite and scratch herself free.

Luckily, years of training had given her control over those instincts. She took some deep breaths, Oliver’s scent filling her lungs. Under the aromas of cold and death, she noticed a hint of something earthy that she couldn’t quite place. A remnant of his mortal life perhaps?

“The door is open,” said a rough voice with a Nord accent. “I could’ve sworn it was closed earlier.” The footsteps moved closer, swords and armor clinking, followed by a gasp. “Dead! Hjall has been murdered!”

She tried to move, just to orient her limbs in a less awkward position, but she became painfully aware that she was squeezed flush against the rigid body of the vampire. One of her legs was weirdly draped almost over his hip, the other pressed between his legs.

Great. Just absolutely great. This was the worst possible position to be caught in, ever. She made the mistake up looking up, and barely restrained a shout. Despite his cursed tallness, their faces were just inches apart. The closet was so small that he had to bend over weirdly to fit.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?!” she hissed breathlessly, blood pounding in her ears, “We could have just killed them!”

He scowled at her, and pressed his fingers to the wood of the closet. She recognized a slightly different casting of Muffle. Now at least no one could hear them. “Yes, more murder would certainly solve this problem,” he replied sourly, but there was a new hint of roughness to his voice. She liked it, and hated that she did.

Again she tried to move into a more comfortable position, preferably somewhere away from the vampire, but there was no room to move. His eyes glinted in the darkness.

“If you get a boner I will chop it off,” she growled but once the idea occurred to her, she couldn't dismiss it. The question escaped her mouth before she could stifle it.

“Actually, now that I’m saying that…can you get a boner?  How can vampires get boners? I mean… do you need to drink first to get it going?”

“As for the average vampire, I cannot say. Many of them are rather closer to corpses than I am,” he murmured, and he moved his mouth closer to her ear, almost grazing it with his lips. “But yes, I can. I would be willing to give you a private demonstration of my many supernatural talents at another time.”

A unwanted shiver ran down her spine as his breath tickled her skin, and she caught herself… considering his offer. Rhys shook herself. She wasn't a miserable damsel, to be swooped up like some sort of… tawdry novel.

Games though. She liked games. Lips curling into a dangerous smirk, she wrapped her leg that was draped over him tightly around his hip. He wasn’t lying about his assets, at least.

"Oh, I bet you will,” she purred, "but you'd wake up to a nice deep throat. Which means a silver blade deep inside your throat. Are you willing to pay that price?" He tensed at her words, like he'd been slapped.

“It’s the Dark Brotherhood that’s done it. Just like to the Valorus girl,” said one of the men outside.

“He ain’t been dead that long,” another hissed. “They might even still be in the room.”

Her adrenaline spiked again, instincts ready to jump at the threat. She knew she could handle those guards on her own, but the noise would alert more. Even she couldn't take everyone on the estate. Maybe she shouldn't have antagonized Mr. Vampire quite so much. Not that it wasn't fun, but now she couldn't be sure she could count on his help.

“Now, will you permit me to teleport away from here?” he asked, his voice back its usual frostiness. As it should be, she reminded herself. She needed to search that room, but there was no way it was happening now. If she didn't take him up on his offer, she'd probably be stuck in the closet for hours with no one to back her up.

"Fuck... fine Do your bloody thing but don't try anything funny! Or I'll crush your skull in my jaw,” she growled.

********************

She was interested, he was sure. He could hear her heartbeat speed and smell the barest change in her scent. Her leg hooked over his hip, pulling him closer to her inviting heat. He licked his lips… and then she threatened to cut his throat. He growled with frustration and annoyance. If he could, he would have shoved her away, but as it was, there was nowhere for her to go but out into the room, and even he wasn’t that vengeful.

“Infuriating woman,” he hissed. “I ought to leave you here, since you’re so eager to stab people.” But instead, he put his arm around her waist, perhaps a bit more roughly than he would have done in ordinary circumstances, and with a rush of darkness, they were on the roof, then the ground, then the trees outside the estate. He let her go speedily, before she decided to resort to actual violence, and stood more than arm’s length away, scowling.

“Since my only lead is now dead, I intend to investigate who might benefit from this chaos. I suspect it must be someone close to Honoria’s mother, since she is the one who requested your presence. If you wish to speak to me, you know where I’ll be,” he said, and he turned on his heel and stalked into the darkness. He needed a drink, a bath, and a good book to cleanse himself of this entire irritating situation.