Grazhir :: Crossover :: Diagonal :: 17

17: Silent Footsteps

Shi wandered in with a parchment in his hand and went straight to Sora to show it to him.


Silus Vesuius Presents

The Museum of the Mythic Dawn

A History of the Cult that Toppled the
Septim Dynasty

Inside of his very own home in the
great capital of the Pale, Dawnstar

Free and open to all citizens of Skyrim

“Interesting,” he muttered. “Especially given we have every reason to dislike that sort.”

“Is it all right with you if I go investigate?” Shi asked.

“Sure. Actually, I think I’d like to go, too.”

Shi arched a brow at him, then nodded. “Who else?”

“Let’s have a meeting. We can talk about it while we’re closing up tonight, or at breakfast.”

The parchment went in the coin box under the counter as a reminder and they went about their business. That night, while they were getting the place wiped down, Shi said, “A courier was delivering copies on his way by. I’d like to think this Silus person isn’t seeing much business considering this is a Nord country and Dragonborn would be dear to their hearts.”

“Maybe not the Empire itself these days,” Renato said, “but I take your point. I’m a little divided on the issue. On the one hand, ugly history shouldn’t just be swept under the carpet, but…”

“Depends on his angle,” Lorenzo said.

“So let’s take a trip,” Sora said. “Who wants to go aside from Shi?”

Kiri raised a finger.

“Me, of course,” Renato said.

“I expected that,” he said. “Business as usual here while we’re gone. Shouldn’t take long to assess the situation up there. Probably more time just getting there and back. After that we can talk about it, decide if there’s anything to do.”

“We’ll keep things running here,” Lal said.

He nodded. “I’ll make up the usual before we go. That way you’ll have plenty to serve.” He spent most of the next day making up stew and other things that would keep well, and they set out the following morning after getting the horses ready. Lucia insisted on helping saddle the beasts, despite being too short to be effective, but Sora just smiled indulgently.

The trip was fairly boring if the usual wildlife encounters weren’t included. Along the way they fought off bandits at Fort Dunstad and again at Fort Fellhammer. They probably looked like any other group of well-heeled and easily picked off travelers, and the bandits in residence who bothered to come out and engage quickly found the opposite to be true.

Red Road Pass had a giant and his mammoth, but they all ignored each other and the group passed by peacefully. Dawnstar itself was pretty bland for a hold capital. He would have expected strong stone walls, to help protect the place from the bandit infestations on the road if nothing else, and to break the icy grip of any wind, though being on the water as it was, some of that could simply not be helped.

They tied off their horses at the Windpeak Inn and went inside to warm up a little and rent rooms for the night. The proprietor, who introduced himself as Thoring, said, “What brings you up this way?”

“Curiosity, mainly,” he said. “We’ll probably check out Morthal next, maybe Solitude. Do you have rooms available for the four of us? We have bedrolls with us if only one room is open.”

“Ah, yes. I have two rooms, so if you double up… Ten septims each.”

Sora nodded and fetched out the gold to hand over and watched as Thoring pointed out where. He was annoyed that neither room had a door, so basic privacy would be nonexistent. But then, the inn at Helgen was not much better except for the rooms being on the first floor and not down off the actual tavern itself. “Thank you. If you have any mead, that’d go over well.”

Thoring fetched out four bottles and accepted the coin, then went back to doing the usual bartender things.

Sora handed out the substandard mead and said, “Might as well take a walk around.”

Outside they headed east, following the road, and passed the jarl’s house; outside were the usual guards.

“So there’s an inn, a mine, and an alchemist?” Renato said a few minutes later. “Wow. I would have expected more for a hold capital. People are way more rustic up here. Hm, what’s all that commotion?” he asked, gesturing toward a house at the end of the path, across from a ship in the small bay.

“Let’s go find out,” he replied, and wandered that way in time to overhear part of the conversation.

“Your ancestors wouldn’t want this, Silus!” the woman said.

“Bingo,” he murmured, eyeing the man in mild disbelief for the Mythic Dawn outfit he was wearing for all the world to see.

“Why should I hide from it? This is my family’s legacy!”

“Legacy?” Renato muttered.

“It’s the past! Dead oaths on dead lips. Let it stay there.”

“The museum is opening, Madena,” Silus said firmly.

She huffed in frustration, slapped her hands against her thighs, and stalked off.

“And here comes my first visitors,” Silus said, spotting them. “The Museum of the Mythic Dawn is open, friends!”

Sora walked over and said, “Museum?”

“Yes. My collection of artifacts from a group that toppled an empire,” Silus said almost proudly.

He nodded thoughtfully as Renato said, “What was that argument about?”

Silus shook his head dismissively. “Never mind that. Madena is a good woman, but I have my own reasons for opening this museum, and I’m not changing my mind. The collection of artifacts I have—their importance to history cannot be forgotten. Why don’t you come in? You can browse the displays, and we can talk. I have a job you look perfect for.”

‘A job?’ he thought suspiciously. “We’ll come look, sure.”

Silus led the way inside and made a sweeping gesture at the display cases in his house. “Feel free to look around. Talk to me when you’re ready to discuss that job I mentioned.”

‘I rather think not, given the subject at hand,’ he thought, but moved over to one of the cases.

“The tapestries hung here and outside were found in hideouts where members of the Mythic Dawn would meet and plot. The cult’s greatest accomplishment was the assassination of the Septim Dynasty and the opening of the Oblivion Gates.”

‘Somewhat inaccurate, considering that Martin heroically sacrificed his life to close off all the gates and prevent more from being opened, rather than be assassinated.’

“Those robes were worn during the Mythic Dawn’s secret meetings,” Silus continued, “where they plotted to bring the Daedra Mehrunes Dagon into Tamriel. Each bolt of yarn used to make the robe was coloured with a dye made from sacrificial blood.”

‘No opinion on that, since I didn’t stop to try to scent out blood around the general unwashed smell of those garments I had to dress up in when I infiltrated.’ He moved forward and looked into the case on the left.

“That burned paper is all that remains of the fabled Mysterium Xarxes, the blasphemous book written by Mehrunes Dagon himself. It’s said that Mankar Camoran used the book to open a portal to a Paradise where all his followers would live forever.”

‘Interesting how the truth about that didn’t get around, but I suppose I was a bit too busy at the time to make waves. His remaining followers most likely wouldn’t have believed me anyway.’ The next case over held four books with familiar pressed-in designs on the covers. He still had two sets of them in his personal library, though they were probably still in a box rather than out on a shelf.

“The commentaries on the Mysterium Xarxes were written by the Mythic Dawn cult leader, Mankar Camoran.”

‘Why do you have the cases in this order if you wait until now to explain who Camoran was?’ he wondered.

“He promised a paradise awaited his followers when they died, that they would be reborn by Mehrunes Dagon’s side.”

‘I guess you could say that, but only the mentally weak would have appreciated anything other than the gorgeous setting.’

When he got to the final one Silus said, “Ah, yes. That scabbard. Notice the insignia? An Oblivion Gate. A key symbol of Mehrunes Dagon, the patron Daedra of the Mythic Dawn.”

‘This guys needs a ton of work when it comes to presentation. I’ve seen grade school children do better,’ he thought, then looked at Silus directly.

“Did you have any questions about the museum, or would you rather talk business?”

“Why did you open this museum?” Shi asked. “It’s a sore point.”

Silus shrugged lightly and said, “It’s no secret that my family were once members of the Mythic Dawn. One of my forefathers was even chosen to assassinate Uriel Septim himself. We hid from our past for years, became tradesmen, people of coin and influence. But I realized that the Mythic Dawn’s importance—our importance—to history cannot be denied. I’ll see everyone in Tamriel remember that for a moment, we held the fate of the world in our hands, for good or ill.”

“That insignia you pointed out is simply the letter O in the Daedric script,” Shi said. “The gates were in that shape, yes, but it’s still just a letter.”

“Really?” Silus drawled, looking unimpressed.

“So where’s Mehrunes’ Razor?” Renato asked, glancing at the scabbard.

“Ah, a little history first,” Silus said. “After the Oblivion Crisis, a number of groups cropped up dedicated to wiping out the remnants of the Mythic Dawn. One of these groups found Mehrunes’ Razor, the artifact of Dagon. They split it into three fragments and pledged to keep them apart forever. That was almost one hundred fifty years ago, and the pieces are still being kept by the descendants of that group. And they’re right here, in Skyrim.”

“And you want the pieces, right?” Kiri guessed.

“Yes. The Razor is Mehrunes Dagon’s personal artifact. It has always heralded bloody change and carnage. It’s held many names: Dagger of Final Wounds; Bane of the Righteous; the Kingslayer. The Mythic Dawn worshiped Dagon as a god. Having his Razor would be invaluable to my collection.”

“I think we’ve seen enough,” Sora said quietly. “Certainly something to think about.”

Silus seemed discomfited by the casual dismissal of his passion and said, “Well, if you reconsider that job I mentioned…”

Sora nodded and headed for the door. Back at the inn they chose a room to crowd into and Kiri casually tossed up a barrier to make people stay away.

“I don’t like this,” Sora said. “And why are people so fucking stupid? If there are pieces sitting around, why couldn’t they send them to different countries, or dump them into the ocean? It’s like these people don’t have even a passing acquaintance with common sense at times.”

Renato snickered. “I don’t like it, either. He doesn’t seem the sort to go after the pieces personally, which is one thing, but he’s glorifying what happened. Instead of trying for an unbiased account of the time, with visual aids, he’s reveling in it.”

“I do not like that he may find someone to convince,” Shi said.

“All right, how about this?” Kiri said. “I go in there and get the information out of him. He can keep his silly little banners, and even that outfit—well, both, since he was prancing around like an idiot wearing a set—but the books, that scrap of the Mysterium Xarxes, and the scabbard? We take them, dispose of them, and I tinker with his mind to make him think all of it’s still there.”

“And anyone who does stop by ends up thinking he’s mad,” Sora said.

“Precisely. Once we’ve disposed of the stuff he has, some of us can go get one of the other pieces—or all of them—and dump it in the ocean, or Shi can disintegrate just the right size opening in the side of mountain for a piece. Whatever works, since I don’t think we can truly destroy pieces of a Daedric Lord’s artifact. Or we do it for all of them, and not rely on people to guard any of them.”

Sora thought about it and nodded. “All right. Here’s what we’ll do. Kiri, take care of Silus tonight. Position other books in that case if necessary to aid the illusion in his mind, but yes, take that scrap and the scabbard. If you notice anything that could substitute for those, great, use them. We will…

“Whoever goes next to Solstheim for pearls could possibly dump at least one part of this while on the ship. I know that won’t destroy whatever it is, but it will be a hell of a lot harder for someone to find. As for the rest, we’ll discuss that once we get home, how to proceed. And for the moment, we make like any other travelers.”

Everyone nodded and piled out into the common room and grabbed seats at a table. When no one came over Shi sighed quietly and got back up to go speak with the proprietor. He was back a short time later with some venison steaks with assorted vegetables.

“Not very friendly,” Renato muttered.

“I don’t like that we’re all facing the damn wall and can only sit two to a table,” he muttered back, then sliced into his meal. He felt Kiri leaving the inn after they’d gone to bed and nodded to himself, then rolled onto his side and tried to doze while his brother was off being stealthy and sneaky. The next morning they untied the horses and rode away from town, back to Filigrana.

*

“So here’s the present situation,” Kiri said. “The scrap is currently playing lining between layers of a bird’s nest we found on the way. I have no idea if that will finish the thing off or not, but we can hope. The scabbard is currently affixed to the underside of the bridge leading north of here and under illusion until we figure out what to do with it.”

“Where are they?” Sora asked.

“He said the pommel was at Dead Crone Rock, southwest of Markarth, which means the Forsworn, briarhearts, and hagravens. The blade pieces are at Cracked Tusk Keep, due west of Falkreath. He claims there are orcs and bandits there. The final piece, the hilt, is supposed to be in Morthal, with a fellow by the name of Jorgen—he runs the mill there.”

“We can put one piece in Bleak Falls Barrow,” Rio said. “All we have to do is get up high enough to attach it to the stone. No one would ever see it and unless they were non-Nord persons interested in combing over everything there so they could write down every detail of the place…”

Sora nodded. “That sounds like an interesting idea. And even if bandits have re-infested the place, there’s nothing saying they can’t take a little nap and never be aware that anything out of ordinary happened.”

“I can make a spot, like you said,” Shi said, “and insert one of them into the side of a mountain, preferably high enough up where ice would collect and seal it up.”

“You could also pack in some stone shards before pouring water into it. How about … you, Viper, and either Lal or Rio, go to Bleak Falls Barrow to take care of the scabbard, then head over to Cracked Tusk Keep to get the next one. If you find likely places to hide the blade pieces on your way to Dead Crone Rock, go for it. The pommel, again, if you find a good place along the way, hide it. There’s plenty of snowy mountains over that side of the country. The hilt in Morthal can be dumped into the Sea of Ghosts. Sound reasonable?”

“So we have a nice mix of pacification, flying and mind fuckery, and disintegration,” Shi said with a nod.

Lal and Rio eyed each other, then Rio said, “If you want it…”

She smiled. “Okay. I would, actually.”

“Even though I’ll be here enjoying home cooked meals and a warm bed?” Rio teased.

“Don’t make me beat you.”

Rio scoffed. “Riiiight.”

“You guys all right with this plan?”

They nodded. “Just include a few niceties for us to pack,” Shi said, “and I’m sure we’ll do fine.”

“Of course,” he assured his Storm.

*

He was relieved when they got back. He could feel his bonds with them thickening and had known they were headed his way, but seeing them was always comforting. Shi had a restrained smile on his face as he entered and gave Sora a nod on his way by to the back. Viper drifted by silently, but Lal paused long enough to say, “Mission complete,” before ducking through the door herself.

Serana appeared a short time later and took a seat at the bar. “Hey. Middling mead, please.”

He stared at her for a moment, glanced at the door, then stepped back so he could see to fetch one out. “Where’s Yvara?”

Serana rolled her eyes and uncorked the bottle, then took a sip.

As she went to get coin he said, “I’ll run a tab. You can pay it off each week, all right?” A quick moment was all it took to jot down a note on a pad he kept back there, and then his attention was back on the vampire.

“Well,” she said. “We were up in Morthal after going to the College and working our way west, taking bounties. Big scandal in Morthal. A house burned down and a woman and her child were killed. The husband claimed it was bear fat in the fire, that his wife was careless, but the very next day he pledged himself to another woman.”

“Because that’s not at all suspicious. Any proof of…”

She shook her head. “Yvara got curious and wanted to investigate. She gets these weird fits of being helpful to people. It’s odd. Anyway, the girl child was a ghost and we found her hiding in the ruins of the house. She said she’d talk to us after it got dark, but we had to make sure we found her first. And it was morning.”

He snorted softly. “That’s a fair amount of time to kill.”

“Yeah. So Yvara helped a few people during the day while we were waiting, then we found her grave that evening, had to take out a vampire who attacked, and then the little girl told us what happened. She was too young to really understand, but we got the message. The same vampire we’d just had to take out was the one who set the fire, but—get this—she tried to infect the girl.”

“Well, I’ve heard more than a few stories about how it can make a person go nuts, that kind of transition, especially when you aren’t expecting it.”

Serana nodded. “The dead one’s husband showed up, told us who she was, gave us some hints. The one who probably turned her was quite the, uh, flirt in town. We headed back to the main road and Alva was just then leading a guard into the inn, so we broke into her house, stole her journal. Your basic conspiracy to turn the town into cattle for a nearby vampire lair. Alva was supposed to seduce all the guards as part of it.”

“I know you’re not telling me she’s dead, so how did you end up here and her not?”

“I’m getting there,” Serana said, then paused to give Kiri a nod when he appeared in the next seat over. She then took a long sip of her mead, eyeing Sora with amusement over his annoyance with the deliberate delay. “So, we took our evidence to Jarl Idgrod the next morning. She asked us to clear out that cave. The townsfolk who came along in a righteous fury all got cold feet and minced shamefully back to town with their pitchforks and torches. We went in, killed every vampire in the place, then collected the one guy who had the bravery to stand guard outside.”

“Oh, oh,” he said. “Wait a minute. Don’t tell me she got thaned.”

Serana smiled. “Yep. She came out of the jarl’s place with a guy in tow, and the look on her face… I wanted to laugh, because she looked so confused. At that point I told her I was heading back to the house to give her a chance to figure this one out.”

Sora started laughing quietly. “So she was given a person.”

“Yep. You know, I’ve noticed. Half the stuff you serve, or more, has cheese in it. Is that because of Sheogorath?”

He blinked at her. “I hadn’t really thought about that. But no. A lot of the recipes from home involved cheese. Maybe that’s part of why he focused on us?”

Serana shrugged, then looked behind him as Shi, Lal, Rio, and Viper came back out, looking refreshed. Lal nudged him aside long enough to get bottles for them all, then said, “All of it has been dealt with.”

“All right. No problems, then?”

Lal shook her head. “We were blindingly efficient and clever.”

“I just bet you were.” To Serana he said quietly, “Some damn fool in Dawnstar was trying to reconstitute Mehrunes’ Razor as part of a tribute to the Mythic Dawn, so we decided to complicate things.”

She started to nod, but frowned slightly and just barely turned her head as Sora’s intuition kicked in.

He tilted his head to the side to see beyond Serana and eye the door, which caused Lal to follow his lead. The others pretended not to notice. The screen opened and a little girl dragged herself in. There was hay in her hair, dirt on her face, and she looked like she’d been chased halfway across the country by wolves.

Serana frowned and took another sip of her mead.

Lal set hers down and went to talk to the girl. And while she was talking, making fussing noises and generally creating noise pollution, Serana whispered, “Whoever that is, it’s a vampire.”

“And my gut tells me she’s not here to ask for some milk and a place by the fire,” he whispered back.

“Sora,” Lal called. “Do you think we can get something for this poor dear?”

“Of course. Just get her set up at a table. She can have some juice or milk, and a bowl of stew.”

Lal smiled at him and ushered the girl over to a table near the fire, then hastened off behind the bar and into the kitchen. Once the girl was provided with a meal, Lal drifted back over and Kiri’s fingers twitched.

“Right, she’s a vampire,” Kiri said. “What do you want to bet she’s phase two of Maven’s plan?”

Sora nodded. “We give her a bedroll by the fire. We knock her out once we’ve closed. Mine her mind for information. Since killing the last one did not get the message across, let’s treat this one differently.”

Kiri laughed creepily. “If she’s what I think she is, I can warp her to the old sanctuary in Cheydinhal. Let her figure that one out, and have to come all this way north, looking like she does, just to report in.”

“Do you think you can alter the schematics on the wards you have up to exclude her after that?”

“Absolutely. Your intuition would warn us anyway, but it’s better to cover more bases.”

“Thanks, Aniki. We have a plan. Lal, just be like you would with—shit. We need to keep Lucia away from her, just in case. I know she’d probably ask if we could give her a home, too.”

“I will go get Viper to keep her occupied,” Shi said, then slipped off his stool to do that.

“You guys act quick,” Serana commented.

“If she really is just some poor soul who got infected as a child, that’s one thing. But my intuition says otherwise. You hungry? There’s stew, and cheesecake, and—”

“I had something on the way, but your stew is good. I’ll have some of that,” she replied.

He jotted it down on his pad and ducked into the kitchen.

Serana appeared to leave when they went to close, and Lal got a bedroll ready near the fire while the others were wiping the tables down and doing all the things one did when cleaning up at night. Once they were done Lal extended her flames and tranquilized the girl into sleep, then nodded. “She’s down.”

Kiri opened up the door long enough for Serana to pop back inside, then locked up again for the time being. “So, let’s see who this little morsel is, shall we?”

Between his and Viper’s efforts it came out that she was Babette, the child vampire the Dunmer assassin had mentioned, except that in addition they found out she was three hundred years old. Babette was there to see if she could succeed where Gabriella had failed. Maven had upped the contract price quite a bit, and it included all of them, even Lucia.

“Wow,” Renato said. “That’s cold.”

“What does everyone think happened to Gabriella?” he asked.

“We assume she died. She was utterly loyal to the family and would not have run after a failure. She would have come back and admitted it, and explained, so we could plan a new approach.”

He waited to see if there were any more questions, then signaled to Lal, who knocked the girl out again. “All right. Lal, how long will she be out for?”

“A few hours, but she should pass into normal sleep after what I did wears off.”

“Right. Let’s get her memories cleaned up, then Kiri can warp her out.”

“I am not making book on how this goes down in the aftermath,” Lal said with her arms folded across her chest.

Renato made a rude noise. “This Astrid chick will get pissed off and send someone else, possibly after telling Maven to go fuck herself. And speaking of Maven…”

Sora nodded. “Yes. It’s time for Hemming to die. Anyone feel up to drowning him in honey?”

Viper scowled. “That’s a waste of decent honey and you know it, even if her product is inferior to yours.”

He rolled his eyes. “Fine. Instead, let’s fill his lungs with Black-Briar mead.”

Viper’s mouth quirked up. “Better.”

“So picky,” he complained. “Who wants to go? Or do I need to get out the bag?”

“I’m out,” Lal said. “I took care of Sibbi.”

Rio’s hand went up slowly.

“All right,” he said when no one else jumped for a chance. “You’re up. Make a statement. Possibly even one that’s highly embarrassing to our dear friend Maven.”

“Her son is already an embarrassment,” Rio pointed out. “Turn him into a dog and you’d not even realize the difference.”

“I know,” he said with a sigh.

“That’s done,” Kiri said cheerfully, then grabbed Babette by the back of her robes and hauled her up. “Back shortly, my dear family.” Then he disappeared into a purple portal that snapped closed behind him.

“Huh,” was Serana’s reaction. “That looks handy. The only people I know of who can teleport are the Psijics, and they sure aren’t sharing the secret.”

“Just imagine all the crazy Thalmor teleporting around,” he said.

Serana wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, let’s not go there.”

*

Rio rolled in on a cold, sunny afternoon a few days later and smiled at Sora. After walking behind the bar he got close and said, “Hemming is now considered something of a pervert as well as being too stupid to live.”

‘Why do I get the feeling his sometimes juvenile sense of humor took precedence for this one?’ he thought. “You all right? No problems?”

“I’m fine,” Rio assured him with a grin. “I’ll dish the details later.”

Serana stopped in a few hours later to be sociable and have some food.

“So what have you been up to over in that house?” he asked as he slid a plate in front of her.

“Reading, mostly. Getting myself caught up on history.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, right, I never mentioned that part. I was … asleep … for a long time, since before Tiber Septim went on his crusade to unite Tamriel, protecting one of the Elder Scrolls that was a part of the prophecy my father had found.”

“Wow,” he breathed. “That’s got to be super disorienting. Waking up after all that time and not having a clue what’s going on. And the landscape can sometimes change in the blink of an eye, never mind hundreds of years.”

She swallowed and said, “Yeah. So since Yvara is figuring out what to do with a housecarl, I’ve been steadily reading through her library. She collects stuff without even thinking, so she has plenty of books for me to go through. I’m just trying to get it all straight in my head, what happened while I was in locked away in dreams.”

“Someday you’re going to have to tell me about this,” Kiri said.

“I’m starting to wonder about you,” he said. “Every time Serana comes by you pop up like you were there the whole time.”

“Just for that comment, I’m going eat all the ends off the next loaves you make.”

“Uh huh. Assume standard threat was voiced.”

“So cruel,” Kiri said, shaking his head.

“I’m sure it wasn’t easy for any of you to be dumped into Tamriel.”

He shrugged. “No, not really, but we’re sort of used to adapting quickly.”

“We have a very large library,” Kiri said smoothly. “So if you run out at Yvara’s, I’d be more than happy to show you ours.”

She gave him a knowing look and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Kiri, you want to round up any stragglers? I haven’t had any orders for the past twenty minutes, anyway. We can close up early.”

Once that was taken care of and the place was being cleaned, Rio said, “Okay, so, Hemming. He was found, on his back, quite dead. There was a multitude of empty bottles of mead around him, and of course, his lungs were swimming in it. A few sticky trails off his mouth. There was even a moth caught in one of them.”

“I am almost afraid to ask how you made it embarrassing,” he said as he tossed his cloth into a bin.

Rio grinned unrepentantly. “His trousers were lowered a bit and his smalls adjusted, with a hollowed out loaf of bread covering his assets. He was found atop the stone wall in front of the Temple of Mara. I guess the guards there are so deep in Maven’s pockets that they didn’t dare stop her son in his excesses.”

Sora bit his lip to keep from smiling, or god forbid, laughing. “All right,” he said after a moment to compose himself. “Good work. Figure out what you’d like me to cook, then.”

“Whoo!” Rio punched the air and went back to closing tasks.

“You people are weird,” Serana said with a shake of her head.

*

A handful of days later they had a werewolf sniffing around their territory, and it wasn’t one of the Companions up at Jorrvaskr. Sora sighed and eyed the ceiling in frustration, then handed a Gold Reserve to Shi to deliver to Nazeem.

Viper had handed him a note which read: He’s circling the building checking windows, entrances, and the like.

Sora grabbed a quill and wrote back: Knock the fucker out cold or trap him in an illusion and keep him that way. We’ll deal with him after closing.

Viper nodded and took the paper, finely shredding it along the way.

That night when Serana dropped by for her usual he gave her a long-suffering look and handed her a bottle, then leaned in to rest his elbows on the bar. “Got another one. Awfully persistent, these guys.”

“Oh. Yvara told me she gets attacked every so often, but she’s getting all the loud and stupid ones.”

He sighed. “We will be making a very clear statement this time. You’d think they’d have caught on by now that we’re not exactly normal here. That’s two agents already who’ve been caught. Maybe they sent the third because Babette didn’t come back quickly enough. I honestly don’t care at this point.”

“Going to wipe them out?”

“Most likely. Maybe we should leave a note in case any of them were out on jobs.”

“I’m kind of surprised you keep including me in these discussions,” she said casually.

“I have my reasons. They might become clear at some point, but I’m not ready to lay all my cards on the table. The fact that you’re even older than we are, sane, and highly skilled are all points in your favor.”

“So it has nothing to do with him having his eye on me?” she asked dryly.

“Well, you—hang on.” He reached inside and checked his bond with Kiri. For once his brother was upstairs, but that guaranteed nothing. “It’s been centuries since he’s looked at anyone. You must be some kind of special to get that reaction.”

She nodded, but shifted topics. “How long have you and Renato been together?”

“We’ve—that’s a weird one, actually, considering I knew him for over a decade from my original location, and then again in the new one. But… Since I was twenty-six. He’s very pushy.”

“I’m charming,” Renato protested.

Sora sighed and looked over. “I swear, it’s like you have automatic, built-in teleportation for that statement. I say it and you are right there to protest.”

“It’s a gift,” his lover said flippantly.

“You’d think I’d be better at sensing you people about to pop up,” he muttered.

Renato shook his head. “Nah. We swim around in your little harmony field so much that you just sort of register us and set it aside.”

“If you’re a fish, can I make sashimi with you?” he asked playfully.

“Ah, tesoro, I’d rather you not come at me with sharp knives.”

He hummed.

After closing they gathered around the werewolf, whom Viper had tricked into the sub-level. The guy was still trapped in an illusion, but for the time being he was also in a cage as a precaution. Sora looked at Viper for a more detailed report.

“I verified that he is Arnbjorn,” Viper said promptly. “He’s here because Astrid is annoyed at the contract still being open. She is embarrassed and frustrated by the failures, so she sent her husband.”

“So Babette hasn’t gotten back yet.”

Viper shook his head. “This fellow was going to kill us all in the most painful ways. And yes, that still includes Lucia.”

“I see. Well, he just bought himself a ticket to the afterlife. Suggestions on what we do after that? I have ideas, but I want to know you guys think.”

“We have the password,” Kiri reminded them. “Even if we didn’t we could get it from him. I say we go there and waste them. It was mildly amusing at first, but when an innocent little girl gets added to the list just because we gave her a proper room and bed to sleep in and decent food…”

Lorenzo coughed and adjusted his glasses. “I say we kill him, drag his body back to that sanctuary, and dump him into the same bed as Astrid. And when she wakes up and sees him, we kill her. Then the rest of them there. If Babette isn’t back yet we can leave a note warning her to stay the fuck away from us. She can restart her cell, maybe up at the Dawnstar sanctuary, if she knows how to get in.”

“And maybe this time they will actually pay attention,” Lal said, “and realize they’re picking a fight they can’t win.”

Renato nodded. “I say we do it. And get Lorenzo to write the note, or Shi. They have the best handwriting.”

“We’ll draft something out, but we need to be quick. I’d actually like to get this done tonight, if possible,” he said.

Lorenzo and Shi drifted off to the side to start on that, so Sora stared at the werewolf. “They heal fast, right?”

Serana did a strange little combination shrug-nod. “So I understand.”

“I wonder…” He lifted his hand and shot a web into the man, then solidified the strands and released. Blood gushed from the man’s chest and his wounds healed before their eyes. “Interesting. But let’s see if he can heal this.” He shot twin webs out, that time through the werewolf’s head, and solidified them again.

Arnbjorn dropped like a rock and sprawled in his own blood, twitching slightly, then stilled.

“He’s gone,” Viper said. “My illusion shattered. There’s nothing left there for it to work with.”

“Doesn’t look like he’s breathing,” Renato said, then shot his own web into the man. “Nope. He is so dead he no longer registers. Excellent job, tesoro. I guess if puncturing his heart didn’t work, the brain was the logical alternative.”

He gave his lover a smile and asked, “Who wants to go on this mission?”

“I think I have to,” Kiri said. “If you want this done tonight I should just warp us there, and back afterward.”

He nodded. “Who else?”

Shi looked up from the draft he and Lorenzo were working on and signaled, and Lorenzo indicated as well. Val looked up from counting something on his fingers and nodded.

“All right. Soon as that draft is ready and approved, you can start.”

Shi handed him a piece of parchment a few minutes later which read: We figured you’d get the fucking picture already, but apparently you’re all too stupid. Maybe this will finally get the message across. Leave us be and we’ll leave you be. If not, try again, and you’ll visit Sithis and the Void earlier than you planned.

He coughed. “It’s a bit saltier than I was expecting, but I don’t have any real problem with it.”

Renato chortled from his position next to Sora. “And the handwriting is already so beautiful.”

“Right,” he said as he handed the letter back. “Get in, take out whoever is in there. Traumatizing Astrid before you kill her is up to your discretion.”

Kiri nodded and gestured for the other three to come closer, then hefted Arnbjorn up with Val’s help. A moment later the portal opened and they had warped away.

Sora stared at the blood on the floor and sighed. “Oh well, at least it should clean up easy.”

“Werewolf blood is supposed to be contagious if it gets in your mouth,” Serana said. “I’d be careful.”

“Tch. Lal, will you freeze that so it doesn’t spread, please? And, Viper, a quick barrier as a reminder, until Shi returns. He can disintegrate the whole thing. Probably safer than burying it or burning it.”

Lal shot webs into the pool on the floor and froze it, and Viper followed up with illusionary posts and ropes to enclose the space.

Somewhere between twenty and thirty minutes later Kiri and the others warped back in.

“Before you report,” he said. “Shi, please disintegrate that frozen blood and maybe a layer of stone under it.”

Shi’s brow went up, but he nodded and took care of it.

“Thank you.”

Viper removed his illusion as Kiri said, “Mission accomplished, dear brother. Astrid is dead, and we were able to use Lorenzo’s idea. She was both sad and furious when she saw his body next to her, so the marriage may have been more than just an arrangement of convenience. There were only two others there, the mage and the Argonian, so we relieved them of their lives. Val found a handy metal pole and slammed that into the floor near the entrance inside, so we had something to stick the letter to. Then we looted anything that looked interesting and warped out.”

“Amusingly enough, there was a small frostbite spider in there near the alchemy station,” Lorenzo said, “along with a skeleton. We left the spider alone, but we found this.” He handed a note to Sora.

My scribing tools are lost, and I’ve no time for a lengthy entry, anyway. It’s taken weeks, but I’ve finally found it! The Sanctuary of the Dark Brotherhood! One of them, anyway. In Skyrim, under a forest road.

I’ve been watching them, the assassins. Their comings and goings. The fools have no idea they’re being observed. My next goal is to somehow make it past the sinister black door, into the Sanctuary itself.

I don’t have time to even think about the dangers. The truth must be known!

“Huh. Well, that’s one idiot who was probably better off dead.” The note was placed on a nearby table. “If they don’t behave this time, we can tag the remaining ones and deal with them. For now, though, let’s just go to bed. I’m tired.”

Kiri gallantly offered his arm to Serana, saying, “Allow me to escort you out.”

*

He looked up to see Yvara entering along with Serana and someone he didn’t recognize, so he got out two bottles of middling mead and set them on the counter. Yvara grinned on seeing them and took a seat at the bar.

“One extra of those, please. This is my shiny new housecarl, Valdimar,” Yvara said. “Valdimar, this is Sora, the owner and proprietor of this fine establishment. There’s a bunch more running around here, plus a little girl they sort of but not really adopted. She was an orphan in the city.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said as he got a bottle for Valdimar. “And glad to you see you back. Get into more trouble while you were away?”

Yvara rolled her eyes. “Let me think. We helped a ghost bard against a king who imprisoned him after retrieving some poem thing he led us to—and what I assumed was his skeleton. And I was attacked by a cultist of Boethiah in broad daylight.”

“I’m starting to think someone painted a target on your back,” he said, “but I trust you dispatched this latest idiot.”

“Yes. But at least he wasn’t completely inept. I didn’t walk away from the encounter embarrassed that it happened. Ended up in Solitude for a while and cleared out a cave of necromancers. I am not the stealthiest of people, but they were chanting so damn loud they never heard me coming. And then usually their hair and clothing ignited and that was something of a distraction.”

He snickered.

“What have you made today for nibbly things?”

“I have some goat cheese and caramelized onion tarts, some mixed berry tarts, some—”

“Oo,” she interrupted. “The goat cheese ones. I’d love some of those.”

He nodded and noted it down on the tab for her group, then looked at Serana. “The berry ones.”

Valdimar looked confused, so Sora said, “I’ll bring out a platter with both, and you guys can just figure it out.”

“Sounds good,” Yvara said.

He disappeared into the kitchen long enough to get that ready, then returned and set it in front of them. Yvara snatched up a tart and bit into it, then hummed in appreciation and waved her free hand at Valdimar, who was slow to take one.

After she stuffed herself and tucked a half dozen bottles of mead in her pack, Yvara said to Valdimar, “I have a quick errand to run, so just familiarize yourself with Elysium, get your stuff settled, that kind of thing. I’ll be back. Oh, and apparently we have a tab here, so you can stop by and get something to eat if you don’t feel like cooking. I don’t think you can go wrong with whatever you choose, so… Okay, later.” She hastened off.

Valdimar sent a questioning look at Serana who said, “Don’t worry about the tab. I pay it off each week with stuff I sell off in town from the bandits who are stupid enough to attack, or wolves, stuff like that. I’ll explain a few things when we get back to the house.”

*

Four days later Yvara returned at dusk and slumped into a seat. “I got thaned again.”

He bit his lip to keep from laughing at her.

“Yeah, yeah.” She waved a hand around. “Stew, if you have some on the fire.”

He got her some mead and headed into the kitchen. When he got back she was halfway through the bottle already.

She sighed happily at the bowl he placed in front of her and picked up her spoon. “Got another person given to me. I installed her at the house I ended up with in Solitude. That makes three houses now, if I count the Arch-Mage’s quarters at the College.”

“There’s this saying about having a port in every storm, though it wasn’t talking about houses. Still…”

She shrugged and had another bite before saying, “Less money toward inns, and more toward house upkeep. Doesn’t matter, really. I make plenty just on my rounds from selling off loot, and now that I’ve decided to start enchanting in order to try to master that, I’ll have plenty to work with and sell. Poor Horse has been complaining about the weight anyway.”

“You using the station up at Dragonsreach, or…?”

“No, the house has one, and for alchemy, and even a complete set for a blacksmith in the cellar. Thankfully, even if it’d be a bit messy, if I really wanted to I could lead Horse around the back of the house, open the trap door into the cellar, and just chuck stuff down to unload his packs. I was at the College when I got a message to come to Whiterun anyway. The Harbinger of the Companions has something he wants to talk to me about.”

He nodded. “I’m sure that’ll be fun, a mage walking into a hall full of boisterous and potentially drunken blade users.”

“Well, he asked for the Arch-Mage, so I should at least see what he wants. Probably something to do with their curse.” She shook her head. “Well, some of them probably enjoy it. We’ll see.”

*

Yvara stopped in the next evening with a slight frown on her face. It was fairly empty, so she leaned in and said quietly, “You would think a damn werewolf wouldn’t get all huffy about a vampire strolling in all polite like.”

“What happened?”

“One of the younger ones called me a bloodsucking fiend and kicked up such a fuss that I told Kodlak to send a message in care of Filigrana when it was a better time to talk. I spent the rest of the day enchanting. I’ll do more after I eat, probably. And speaking of that, I am very much hoping that you have some of that delightful salad with the strawberries in it.”

“Mm, no, but I could make some for you.”

Viper drifted over as if summoned by the very idea of it and said, “I will go get what you need,” then floated away quickly.

“Right,” he said. “In the meantime…” He got out the usual mead and set it before her. He was greatly amused some time later when, after he made the salad and portioned out two bowls of it, Viper lured Yvara off to a table to sit with him.

*

Sora felt a sense of mild unease prickling up his spine, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what was causing it until Kiri sauntered in the front door and over behind the counter. As his brother leaned down to get himself something to drink he said quietly, “We have a thief casing the place. I got the impression that he’d be in here shortly. Bosmer.”

He wondered if that meant the fellow did not follow the Green Pact, living outside Valenwood as he did. Then again, as a thief, presumably one who was not supposed to be killing people, perhaps it didn’t come up. He assumed that any Nord catching a Bosmer eating the remains of a fallen enemy would not end well—for someone.

Fifteen minutes later the elf walked in and took a seat at one of the tables. Shi drifted over to see what he wanted and Sora could overhear the man saying, “I don’t know. Black-Briar mead is just about the best tasting mead in all of Skyrim.”

Shi murmured something.

“I know alcohol,” the Bosmer insisted snottily, and Sora was reminded of Nazeem for a moment. “I used to work in my father’s winery in Valenwood. But fine, I’ll give it a try.”

Shi drifted back and said with exaggerated patience, “One middling mead.”

He fetched one out and handed it over, then watched while doing busy work and pretending not to be paying attention. He was gratified when the Bosmer took a sip of the regular Filigrana stock and got a pleasantly surprised look, and amused when the elf wiped all expression off his face.

There was more conversation, that time too quiet for him to hear, as the Bosmer had lowered his voice, then Shi returned to him. “Salmon steak.”

When he was in the back he tapped Viper and said, “Kiri warned me of a thief casing us. He’s in the front room right now. I expect Kiri tagged him, but I’d like you to lurk and keep an eye on him, please.”

“Given the Thieves Guild’s ties with Maven,” Viper said, trailing off, then he drifted away, both in distance and visibility.

Sora got on with preparing some salmon and tossed some garlic-roasted asparagus on the side, then brought it out. Shi took it from there. Sora could feel Viper off in the corner where he had a direct line of sight to their target.

He realized, even if his intuition hadn’t warned him, that he would have noticed something off. A stranger, not dressed like the average merchant or traveler, who moved a certain way? Thieves—good ones—were very precise and economical in their movements, very graceful, and this guy was setting off warning bells in his mind entirely unconnected to his inborn power.

That night after they closed up Kiri and Viper dragged a knocked out thief into the main room and dumped him on the floor. “I have a suggestion,” Kiri said.

“For disposing of him, I assume.”

Kiri nodded. “After we find out why he’s here, I suggest we start slow. Wipe his memories of ever leaving Riften—for I assume he came here on Maven’s orders—and dump him there, drunk as a lord, stinking of alcohol, face down in a ditch.”

“Black-Briar mead, one assumes,” Lorenzo said.

“Of course,” Viper said.

“Well, let’s see what he knows.”

A short time later Viper touched the man’s forehead and said, “Yes, Maven sent him to case the place, and to find where we’re getting our honey with the idea of edging in on that territory. He was frustrated at not being able to enter the main building except by the front door, and at not seeing any evidence of an apiary. If he could, he was to rifle through everything we have in here and take back anything of interest, not to mention line his own pockets with things he could fence.”

“He’s all yours, Kiri.”

*

“So,” she said softly, “it turns out that Kodlak wanted to be freed from his curse.”

“I heard plenty about the attack in town,” he replied. “Kodlak died that night, right?”

Yvara nodded. “But it can still be done, apparently. He sent me off to gather the supplies necessary for that after I agreed to help. I got back in time to see the aftermath of the attack. Anyway, that blacksmith up at the Skyforge, Eorlund Gray-Mane, is attempting to reforge Wuuthrad, the axe that Ysgramor fellow used back when. I guess it’s necessary to get into his tomb, like a key, where we can do this little ritual.”

“Well, if he wanted so badly to free himself from Hircine’s version of the afterlife…”

She nodded again. “I’m fairly certain two of the others will want to, as well. Maybe not straight away, but we’ll see.”

*

A blonde Imperial woman walked into Filigrana radiating weariness and took a seat at one of the tables. Sora saw that despite the persona she was projecting she moved like a more-skilled version of that Bosmer thief they had tossed back to Riften. It was interesting to him that his intuition did not see her as a threat when his eyes said otherwise.

She probably wasn’t there to attack or burn the place down, but that did not mean she wasn’t dangerous. She got her order of mead from Rio and proceeded to be quiet and unassuming for the time it took her to drink it, then ordered a second one.

When he went into the kitchen to prepare an order for an arriving Serana he told Kiri about both. Kiri smirked deviously—which could have applied to either female, actually—and sauntered out.

“So she’s round two,” he said a while later, then shook his head in exasperation. “You would think after the Dark Brotherhood failed so miserably that Maven would buy a damn clue. Fine. Escalate our response as we did the last time. See what happens.”

“I think … Bravil this time,” Kiri said. “And she’s not a vampire, so she’ll be forced to rely on something other than her own speed.”

He shrugged. “She’s a thief. I’m sure she’ll have no particular problems stealing horses to speed her journey home.”

*

“No, that’s all taken care of,” Yvara said. “The only one left is Aela. She’ll never give it up. But maybe now those who choose that will be able to choose it with full knowledge, rather than as part of the initiation into their super secret club.”

“Good to know,” he said, and mentally updated his “files” on the inhabitants of Whiterun.

“And, a serial killer in Windhelm was handled. Naturally, the guards up there were too busy being useless to run the guy down, but I figured, I was there, not particularly in a hurry, and took care of it. Some Imperial fellow who’d gone insane and was using girls he killed as a medium to resurrect his sister. And I have to say, the journals I found and read made it sound like he was in love with her.”

He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Sure, sure, nothing like a little necrophiliac incest to ward off the cold up north.”

“Yeah,” she said with a weirded-out look. “Okay, I gotta run home for a bit, but I’ll probably be back this evening for dinner.”

“I’ll make that salad,” he offered.

She beamed at him and hastened off, so he asked Renato to arrange for it. It was temperate enough even in winter to grow crops in Whiterun, but for certain items they also had a backup of hydroponic beds in the cellars underneath Filigrana and the converted boilery. Gods forbid Viper didn’t get his salad on a regular basis. His poor lover spent a fair amount of time during the colder months underground, powering and maintaining the artificial sun.

His spine tingled around dusk and he heaved a sigh. “Renato,” he murmured.

“Yes, tesoro?” Renato asked as he leaned in close and gave his hand a squeeze.

He enjoyed the closeness for a moment before saying, “I think round three is incoming.”

“I’ll let the others know. And,” Renato said, pausing, “if this is, I think I’ll go grab that note we got way the hell back. It might help to get them off our case. Or maybe not. Who knows?”

A handsome red-haired Nord male strolled in a while later and took a seat at the counter. “You’re quite the fellow, then, aren’t you,” he said to Sora.

His brow went up in mild surprise. This was different. A thief being blunt? What was the catch? Then he smiled and slid the promissory note from so long ago over. “This was left behind when the previous owner decided running a meadery here wasn’t for him and moved away. Perhaps it’ll be of interest to you. But I have to say, you guys are proving to be just as persistent, and perhaps as stupid, as the Dark Brotherhood. So, this is our last warning. Another thief shows up here looking to cause trouble and we’ll get mean.”

“I’ve heard rumors, lad,” the man said, not even looking at the paper.

“I’m sure you have. Whispers in the dark sounds like your kind of thing.” His gaze shifted when the door opened and Yvara walked in along with Serana.

She stopped in confusion on seeing the red-head, then started forward again to take a seat next to him. “I thought you never left Riften.”

“Friend of yours?” he asked as Serana took the next seat over.

She nodded. “Well, sort of. I like to sit with Brynjolf and trade stories when I’m in Riften.”

“Ah. He and his buddies have been sniffing around of late.” He was amused when Yvara frowned at the thief.

“Brynjolf, you really shouldn’t…” She trailed off, shaking her head, then said, “The usual, and … that salad,” and was echoed by Serana. “For afters, surprise me.”

“You’re lucky,” he said as he got out bottles for all three of them. “I made cannoli earlier.” He left before they could ask what that was and returned with a platter within a minute.

Yvara snatched a bowl of salad and grabbed a cannolo, and bit into it, then hummed happily. After she swallowed she said, “How you can do this with cheese, I just don’t know. Cheese and chocolate? Who would have thought? C’mon, you two, try one!”

He tapped the promissory note. “When you do go, take this with you.”

Brynjolf furrowed his brow and pulled the thing closer with his free hand, then frowned outright. He tucked it away in his pocket as he had another bite of his cannolo.

“I think I’m going to go work on my relationship with my mother,” Serana said into the silence.

Yvara’s head snapped around to stare at her. “Okay,” she said. “I think it’d be wonderful if you could regain that part of your family. But always remember you have a home here, too. The loft is yours.”

Serana smiled and briefly clasped Yvara’s arm. “Don’t be the least bit surprised if you see me often enough when you come home.”

He noticed that Kiri was skulking nearby, a smirk on his face, and wondered just exactly what those two had been up to. Serana stuck around after Brynjolf and Yvara departed, at which point Kiri said, “Whenever you’re ready.”

Sora lifted a finger. “Aniki?”

“Just a little trip, dear brother,” Kiri assured him. “I’ll be back before you know it. I’m going to warp Serana back to the castle instead of her having to take the long way.”

“Is this some version of—no, never mind,” he said, thinking better of it, not wanting to interfere with his brother’s potential love life. “Right. You want anything to take along?” he asked Serana.

She hummed thoughtfully. “A dozen middling, two each of Gold, Pearl, and Viper, and maybe some small snacks I can share?”

“Sure. Give me a few minutes and I’ll have that ready. Just remember, if you can, to bring the bottles back when you visit next. No reason not to recycle!”

“You know what? Throw in an extra bottle of middling,” Serana said. “I’m going to try mixing it with a blood potion to see what it ends up tasting like. It would be sort of cool to get a meal plus amazing extra flavor at the same time.”

He blinked and nodded. “You’ll have to let me know the results.”