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> I am Lena Wolf, Lena's life as it happens
Lena Wolf
post May 21 2024, 12:02 AM
Post #681


Mouth
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Joined: 18-May 21
From: Bravil



Hearthfire, 3E437 - Survival

When Lena lifted the trapdoor to Fort Farragut and started descending the rope ladder, Lucien was bandaging his wounds. There had been an attack, the Black Hand had sent an assassin, a Silencer perhaps, judging by the skill. Lucien won, but only just. He managed to stop the bleeding, but he needed to heal before he could do anything else. His fort had been safe so far, he could always open the gates and let the Dark Guardians enter, should the need ever arise... He would need to be watchful.

Hearing the trapdoor open made him jump. His first impulse was to cloak in chameleon and see who it was without being seen. Soft boots and leather trousers soaked in dark blood, iron breastplate... it was Lena, badly wounded as well. She looked pale like a sheet, grey even, gaunt, her eyes feverish, unseeing... She inhaled sharply and immediately started climbing up - she smelled him, of course - she was leaving. Alas, her strength failed her and she fell.

"You must leave now!" She said, her voice sounding distant and hoarse like he never heard it before. Her face and arms were covered in blood, both red and black, her neck had several cuts with dark liquid oozing out... "Leave now! I cannot hold it for much longer..." She crawled away from the ladder to give him space, leaving a trail of blood on the floor. "Stay away for half a day at least, I shall be gone by then one way or the other..."

No, he could not allow that. He hoped he had enough blood to survive, he lay down on the bed and waited.

He watched her eyes glaze over, with every human expression gone. She pulled herself up, she could not stand. She could not see either, he thought, she bumped into things that were in the way, but her senses led her directly to him. He felt a sharp pain in his neck... "They say it only hurts the first time," he thought. "It hurts less than a dagger... and I should know." He closed his eyes and hoped he had enough blood to survive.

...

It only took a few minutes and Lena released her grip, falling to the floor. Lucien rubbed his neck, he only felt slightly light-headed. He got up and went about removing blood-soaked armour from Lena's unconscious body.

She had a lot of cuts and she was cold. He wasn't sure whether an ice bath would do any good for a vampire and decided against it. Instead, he cleaned her wounds and prepared a healing dressing, adding a touch of lavender and motherwort, to sleep and remember nothing. He moved her to his bed and cleaned up the floor. His own wounds caught up with him by then and he too fell asleep on a rug by the fire.

...

Lucien's sleep was light. He heard movement in the room, he looked up and saw Lena thrash in her sleep. "The wraith," he thought, it had to be. He could not help her fight the wraith, but he sat next to her anyway, checking her dressings. Most wounds seemed to have closed, he replaced a few bandages, and soon Lena calmed down, the wraith defeated. It must have been hard, for her face looked grey.

"Well then, they say it only hurts the first time," he said softly. "Shall we put it to the test? I think you need more blood." He moved her gently and lay on the bed next to her, his neck exposed. A minute later he felt her fangs pierce his neck. "I felt it, but pain it was not," he reflected, closing his eyes. This time he was certain he had enough blood to survive.

This feeding left Lucien weakened and sleepy, yet he still wasn't worried - he'd experienced loss of blood before and knew that he was in no danger of dying. He wanted to get up and go back to the rug by the fire, but found himself too weak for that, with his wounds taking a toll as well. Lavender in Lena's dressings made him sleepy, and he gave in to that, staying next to her.

He awoke several hours later realising that Lena was no longer cold as ice. She was still cold, but the air no longer froze around her. He checked her dressings, replacing a few, she was doing better. He checked his own dressings and replaced some as well. He still needed rest. He looked at the rug by the fire, shook his head and went back to bed, pulling a blanket over both of them. Lena slept without movement. "They say vampires don't twitch in their sleep," he looked into her face. "Perhaps. Except when they have to fight the Wrath of Sithis," he smirked, settling down. "Sleep well, Wolf." He put his hand on her shoulder and felt a heartbeat.

When Lucien awoke again, he found all his wounds closed and all Lena's wounds healing nicely. She was still asleep, and he didn't expect her to wake up considering how much lavender he put into her dressings. "She will sleep for half a day at least," he thought. "And I should soon be going." He did not want to be there when she woke up, he'd rather she didn't remember what happened. He looked into her face - she was still pale... too pale, perhaps. He laid out her armour, it was damaged but not too bad, it was mostly just covered in dried blood, nothing more. A large ruby amulet dropped out of a hidden pocket. "Oh wow - that's... I see." He looked at her again and knew that she needed more blood if she were to survive what came next. "Come on then, let's hope your instincts kick in..." He lay on the bed again and placed her head on his neck. She breathed in sharply and bit it without waking up.

This time Lucien couldn't get up. He still felt he was not in danger but he certainly could not leave. He was feeling the chill of the loss of blood, so he pulled a blanket over himself and Lena in order to keep warm. She was warm, he noticed. Her heart was beating. "And they say vampires' hearts don't beat," he thought. "Hers didn't beat at first, but look at her now... I wonder..." He hugged her and fell asleep.

When Lucien woke up next, Lena was twitching in her sleep. "She'll wake up soon," he thought. He got up and started getting ready to leave. He took a few steps and felt dizzy, his wounds were hurting too much and he felt weak. "I am not going anywhere today," he shook his head. "There's only one thing for it - watch and wait." He sat in the darkest corner of the room waiting for Lena to wake up.

He didn't have to wait long. Soon she sat up looking around, trying to remember what had occurred. She could not smell him, there were so many other scents in the room. Lucien sat cloaked waiting for her to leave. No, she didn't remember a thing. She got dressed, left him a note, tucked the Amulet of Kings into a hidden pocket and left for the Imperial City to crown the late Emperor's son.

"Good luck to you, Wolf," Lucien said when she was gone. "Hope to see you again." He got into bed and fell asleep as both his wounds and his blood needed to heal and recover.


--------------------
"What is life's greatest illusion?"
"Innocence, my brother."

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Lena Wolf
post May 21 2024, 10:40 AM
Post #682


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Joined: 18-May 21
From: Bravil



Hearthfire, 3E437 - The end of an era

Mehrunes Dagon was marching onto the Imperial City. He entered Mundus - they were too late to crown the last Septim as the Emperor and the Dragonfires weren't lit. But Lena felt it was no reason to give up, and Baurus agreed - Baurus, the one Blade who didn't resent Lena her vampirism.

"The Emperor trusted you, he saw something in you," he shrugged when Lena asked why he kept treating her nicely. "The Septims see more than us ordinary folks. I trust the Emperor's judgement." It did imply that all the other Blades did not.

On the day when Mehrunes Dagon was marching onto the Imperial City, Baurus found Lena in the turmoil of battle.

"We cannot close all these Oblivion gates!" He took her aside. "There are too many. I think Mehrunes Dagon himself is coming."

"I agree," Lena nodded. "That idiot with the amulet wanted an official blessing of the Elder Council before putting it on... so instead of lighting the Dragonfires while he still had the chance, he had me escort him to the Elder Council... Can you imagine?! Does the man ever think about anyone but himself?!"

"Well, he is a Septim, so keep your voice down," Baurus looked around. "Septims are known for their stubbornness. We'll just have to deal with it."

"Do you have a plan?" Lena looked at the hordes of daedra pouring into the streets from the many Oblivion gates. They seemed to be going towards the Temple of the One, not bothering with pursuing mortals who ran for cover.

"The population was warned over and over to hide in their houses or in the sewers in case of an invasion," Baurus was watching the streets too. "It seems to be working. So we can focus on Dagon."

"Speaking of which... Here he comes!"

A giant stepped out of an Oblivion gate, his axe aimed at the Temple.

"He wants to destroy the Temple!" Baurus cried, knocking an arrow. "I don't know if this will work... but we should try!"

The battle was epic indeed, Dagon seemed invulnerable. Yet whenever someone hit him hard, he staggered, unable to attack.

"We should pull him over!" Baurus shouted. "He will fall and we'll have a chance of going for his head!"

"You must get me to the Temple!" Martin suddenly stood next to them. "I have a plan!"

"What plan?" Lena squinted at him. "It's too late for the Dragonfires."

"You'll see," Martin scowled. "I don't have to explain anything to you. I am the Emperor."

"Almost but not quite," Lena turned away, knocking a poisoned arrow for Dagon. "Can't you see - we are busy."

"You'll have to take him to the Temple," Baurus said to Lena, his voice practically covered by the noise of the battle. "He'll do something stupid, no doubt, but getting him killed will be worse. We'll pick up the pieces afterwards, as always."

Lena rolled her eyes and turned to Martin.

"Follow me, Your Majesty," she said dryly. "Don't fight along the way and keep close. Why are you not wearing armour again?" She didn't wait for a reply and pulled him into an alley.

"Why are we skulking about?" He protested. "The Temple is that way, we should take the shortest route!"

"We are taking the shortest route," Lena retorted. "The one with the fewest daedra along the way. I am here to keep you alive but I am no necromancer! So try not to die prematurely!"

The way with fewest daedra was still challenging enough, but eventually they made it to the Temple with Martin still alive. He ran to the altar just as Dagon smashed through the roof...

"An immortal can only be killed by another immortal!" Martin shouted and Lena realised it was his explanation. "I summon Akatosh!"

And then he did it - he broke the Amulet of Kings. A huge shock wave went through the Imperial Isle, rolling on to the furthest corners of Tamriel, Lena was certain.

"What are you doing?!" She shouted. "We do not need another Dragon Break!!!"

But it was too late, Martin stood by the altar, heavenly light streaming through him. A moment later he turned into a flaming dragon and attacked Mehrunes Dagon.

"Bloody Dragonborn!" Was all that Lena could say. The dragon was of course effective against the giant Dagon, but she could not stop thinking that Martin had lost his nerve and did the one thing an Emperor must never do - break the Amulet of Kings.

"Oh... that is worse than I thought," Baurus ran in and stopped, watching the dragon topple Dagon, with both of them turning to stone. The Oblivion gates collapsed and the city guard finished off the remaining daedra. The war was over.

"What are we supposed to do now?" People were coming to see the statue of the dragon. "We have no Emperor, no Dragonfires and no Amulet of Kings to protect us! What will prevent the daedra from invading Mundus again?"

"I just don't think about it," others would shudder. "The Elder Council will handle it sooner or later..."

...

"I suppose it isn't as bad as that," Baurus ordered another mug of ale at the All Saints tavern in the Imperial City. "The era of the Septims has finished, and with that Akatosh himself put a new seal around Mundus to protect us from future invasions."

"If you believe such a thing," Lena smirked, drinking deeply from her own mug of ale.

"Nah, of course not, Assassin," Baurus grinned. "But at least we survived."

"Assassin," Lena smiled. "That's what you said when we met back there under the Imperial Prison..."

"Seems it was a lifetime ago..." Baurus nodded. "But I was right, wasn't I? You had it in you right from the start."

"You are not supposed to know it, really..." Lena looked at him sideways. "You know how it is..."

"I know exactly how it is," he nodded. "I also know what is going on... If you need any help, I am often here... Just don't tell Jeoffre, he's... well... just don't."

"I don't need to talk to him ever again!" Lena scoffed.

"I don't blame you," he smiled.

...

The Oblivion gates seemed to have all but vanished. Stray daedra were still seen in the countryside here and there, but overall peace was restored and life went back to normal. Lena was still facing the Wrath of Sithis every time she slept, and assassins were still ambushing her on a regular basis, but overall her life felt like a breeze compared to the last year or so.

Lucien's life however was only getting harder. The Black Hand sent another Silencer after him, and that time he came off barely alive. Shadowmere brought him to Fort Farragut and he literally fell through the trapdoor, not able to control his movements. Yet he recovered and resumed his search for the traitor. Anvil was the key.

"You need to trust your apprentice," his mother told him when he came to visit her at the chapel - she was a Priestess of Dibella.

"My apprentice?" He looked up at her in surprise.

"The young Wolf," she smiled. "A bit too young for you just now, but time tends to correct such things..."

"What..?" He was taken aback. "No! She is..."

"She touched your heart," Irene Lachance looked at him seeing a young Novice of Dibella. "I know you, my son."

Lucien shook his head and looked away.

"She is remarkable, true," he admitted. "But she is my Sister... my apprentice... all right, I'll accept that," he nodded. "And right now she and I are both being hunted by our own Brotherhood, and so far it's been only getting worse..."

"Your father tried to spare you such a fate, that is why we left Morrowind and he's been staying away," she said wistfully. "Don't think for a moment that I don't miss him... I won't live to see him return, I don't think..." She looked away, brushing off a tear. "But you... your life should be long, like his. Take care not to die too early."

"Mum, don't talk like that." Lucien took her hand. "I have no intention of dying. And neither should you."

"Not yet, no," she smiled at him. "Just promise me not to rush into marriage again, wait for the right woman."

"That I can promise," he replied, taken aback. "Marriage is really the last thing on my mind right now... Sometimes you surprise me, mum..." He gave her a long look trying to figure out what brought that on, but she only smiled and didn't explain any further.

IPB Image

...

"Trust my apprentice..." Lucien heard his mother's words in his mind again. "Well, I suppose we could call her that. And here is something for her to do..." He noticed a dock hand put a scroll into the barrel mentioned in Lena's last contract as the next dead drop. "What's that lad got to do with Dark Brotherhood contracts? Perhaps I should have a word."

He followed the dock hand to the nearest tavern and watched him order a large mug of ale.

"Mind if I join you?" He sat next to him at the bar. "Didn't realise you were a fisherman."

"Fisherman?" The dock hand looked at Lucien with incomprehension. "What are you on about, man? I ain't no fisherman..."

"No? I saw you put some fish into a barrel just a few minutes ago," Lucien smiled. "What's the catch today? Haddock or cod?"

"I... What???" The lad rubbed his eyes but the ale was already making him see double. "What's it to you?"

"I like fish, is all," Lucien shrugged. "It's alright, I'll go and have a look for myself, if you won't tell me."

"I got no clue what it is, honest!" The lad finally realised that the man in a black robe sitting next to him was not a mage from the local guild. "I can't even read well enough! Talk to the lighthouse master, it was all his idea!"

"You think he's got fish?" Lucien smiled. "Well, you might be right, you know..."

"The basement..." The lad stuttered. "The lighthouse has a basement..."

That was as much as Lucien managed to get out of him, so he left him to his ale. He walked over to the barrel outside but found it empty. "Not good," he thought. "They saw me..." His mother's words sounded in his head: "Try not to die too early..." Quite. He should leave Anvil, and quickly.

"Take this to the Champion of Cyrodiil," he picked a card with a view of the Anvil lighthouse from a range at the Black Horse Courier office. "Got to join in the congratulations, right?" He joked with the clerk. "It isn't every day that we get saved from a daedric invasion!" He wrote with a florish "Congratulations to Our Saviour!", signed "LL", paid his fee and saw the clerk toss the card into a large sack marked "Imperial City".

"She's due there for the ceremony of awarding her the Order of the Dragon," the clerk explained. "Fear not, The Black Horse Courier never loses anyone's mail!"

IPB Image

...

Shadowmere was a remarkable horse. Not undead as some thought, she was in fact one of the black horses from the Cheydinhal stables. But nature had given her eyes with a red glow and made her faster and quieter than most horses, and so legends arouse around her which Lucien found amusing and never tried to deny. Shadowmere could outrun almost anything, moving swiftly and silently through the woods, always returning to Fort Farragut without the need to be directed by her rider.

It was that ability of his horse that was saving Lucien's life again and again, as the attacks by the Black Hand were getting more and more frequent. "Just how many Silencers do they actually have?" He wondered trying to outrun three assassins chasing him across the Imperial Reserve. "Let's try a diversion." He directed Shadowmere towards a group of ogres making camp by a cottage in the woods. "That's odd..." He looked back at them. "But convenient!" The ogres were too slow to catch Shadowmere but fast enough to block the way of the three riders in pursuit. He escaped this time...

He didn't always have ogres coming to his rescue however. More often than not Shadowmere brought him to Fort Farragut barely able to stay in the saddle, and sometimes even lying across it. On one such night he could barely see the trapdoor, he opened it with the last of his strength and dropped through it. He saw movement in the room, but couldn't get up or resist. "That's it, I die too early..." he thought. "Forgive me, mum..." Perhaps the new era was not meant for him.


--------------------
"What is life's greatest illusion?"
"Innocence, my brother."

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Lena Wolf
post May 22 2024, 09:12 AM
Post #683


Mouth
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Joined: 18-May 21
From: Bravil



Frostfall, 3E437 - Cards

Lena kept receiving ridiculous amounts of mail. Everyone seemed to want to congratulate the new Champion of Cyrodiil, or to meet her, or to get acquainted, or solicit her patronage of their shop, or, or, or. She instructed the Black Horse Courier to keep back the mail in their office and not try to deliver it to her in person, unless the package was sent by a premium service. She knew that the Blades and the Mages Guild would use it, and she didn't expect anything else of importance. The Blades never contacted her again, the Mages Guild did call her for one or the other assignment, but otherwise she seemed to have been left alone. In particular, there was no word from Lucien, and after a while she started to worry.

It is for this reason that she didn't get Lucien's card until a while later, when she finally took the time to go through all the fan mail accumulating at the Black Horse Courier. She was to investigate Anvil then, in particular the lighthouse.

"But why use such an uncertain and insecure method of communication?" She wondered, turning over the card and kicking herself for not checking the fan mail earlier. "He must be in trouble. I should see to him first." She didn't know how exactly she could "see to him" as he was still her Speaker and it was not her place to "see to him" in any way... and yet she felt that the circumstances justified a breach in protocol. She went to Fort Farragut without delay.

As soon as she descended the rope ladder, she knew that something was wrong. The room that Lucien normally kept very tidy, was in disarray, with clothes, weapons and potions out of place and the alchemical lab a mess. Some of the clothes seemed to have been ripped into strips, too. "He's being hunted," she realised. "He's on the run... What do I do..?" With all the mess around, it still looked like Lucien kept coming back to the fort, and when Lena found no evidence of it being compromised, she decided to simply tidy up and refill his supplies, brew some potions, restock the cupboards... She couldn't think of anything else to do. Between Borba's shop and the Mages Guild, she got all she needed, returning to the fort for an extended session of alchemy.

She was barely in when she heard the trapdoor open - Lucien was returning home. She stood up, ready to apologise and explain her presence when she saw him fall, not able to stand. He seemed to have noticed her though, turned towards her, tried to get up... but he could not. "This is bad..!" Lena rushed to his aid, but he had already blacked out. Things were much worse than she had thought.

When she removed his blood-soaked clothes, she realised that many of the wounds weren't fresh. The hunt had been relentless, and he had not been taking enough time to allow the wounds to heal before going out again. Lena blushed to the roots of her hair thinking of how she wasted precious weeks simply because she could not be bothered to check her mail often enough. "He could have been killed in the meantime," she swore at herself. "How could I be so careless..?" But lamenting it wasn't going to help, and so she took a deep breath, steadied her hand and proceeded cutting out necrotic tissue from some of the festering wounds on Lucien's body. She knew it would hurt, but she didn't think he would notice, considering the amount of pain he must have been in already. Finally, she bandaged him up and moved him to the bed, making sure to add lavender to the dressings to prevent him waking up too early. "Let's just hope he won't be fighting the wraith as well this time," she watched him, but his breathing was calm.

...

Lena decided not to leave Fort Farragut until Lucien woke up and she had a chance to change his dressings. She busied herself brewing more potions and set up a stew, only leaving briefly to fetch coal and firewood from a disused passage by the city wall. And there she saw it - three assassins were clearing vermin, they were a distance away and hadn't seen her yet. "They are going to have a run at the Sanctuary," she thought. "I've got to stop them." What was she thinking, exactly? There were three of them and one of her, and unlike them, she wasn't even properly armed or armoured... But she didn't think of that. She was a vampire and a mage, and she was going to press home her advantage.

Standing behind a column and out of sight, she summoned a wraith and shot a frost ball at one of the assassins. He spun around, gasped and leaped towards the wraith. The others weren't surprised - dark disused passages often housed undead, and in fact they were battling some zombies already. Lena's wraith backed off, leading the assassin past the column where she was standing. It was too easy - she slit his throat from behind.

Noticing their comrade fall, the other two assassins became more careful. "There's someone here," one said to the other. "That wraith had been summoned." They quickly finished the zombies and turned around, walking slowly towards Lena.

"Careful now, one at a time," she told herself, allowing them to come close. When they were nearly upon her, she summoned a clannfear, cast invisibility and ran towards the other end of the corridor. The clannfear shrieked, jumped and rammed one of the assassins, but the other assassin shook his head and ran towards Lena instead. He could not see her, she was sure of it, but the corridor only had two ends, and he simply deduced her maneuver. She stepped further back and felt her shoulder ripped by a zombie...

"She's here!" The assassin cried, seeing Lena's invisibility cloak dispel. "Forget the clannfear! The mage is here!"

Although the second assassin could not very well forget the clannfear, he stopped trying to kill it and focused on evading it instead, hoping it would be dispelled soon enough. They had both seen Lena now, as she was forced to fight the zombie.

"Not good," she quickly looked around, twisting away from the zombie that tried to grab her. "What was I thinking?!" Casting invisibility again, she jumped towards one of the assassins, not trying to attack him but instead trying to shake off the zombie. It worked - the zombie switched its focus engaging the assassin. "What now?" Lena wondered. "Another wraith? Or perhaps something more exotic?" She grinned, ran back to the front of the corridor and summoned a lich.

The lich appeared behind the column hiding it from view of the assassins, one of which was fighting the zombie and the other was trying to locate Lena. He thought he had seen a spell being cast and moved towards her, but the lich had already summoned a skeleton that ran towards the assassin.

"A skellie?" He grinned. "Why, that is too easy!" Perhaps he had been expecting a novice skeleton cast by beginners, but this was a skeleton guardian, with a much better sword and a power to knock out through force of impact alone... The assassin reeled, his armour colouring red. "What the..?" He was surprised, but quickly collected himself, ready for a counter-offensive.

"Forget the skellie, go for the mage!" The other assassin shouted, seeing what had occurred. He was still battling the zombie and could not help.

"The mage, right," the assassin redressed himself, now trying to avoid the skeleton's attacks and looking for the mage instead. He ran past the column and faced the lich. "Is that... Is she a necromancer?" He was taken aback for a moment, then pulled out his silver sword and struck the lich.

"Arrhhhh..." The lich let out a hollow sigh but recovered and shot a spell from its staff in response. The assassin staggered and dropped to his knees, his strength suddenly failing him.

"The lich is a summon!!" The first assassin bellowed, having finally killed the zombie. He ran towards his friend, helping him up. "The mage must be here somewhere! We must find her!"

The lich shot another bolt of pain from its staff and vanished. Lena had no more magicka for an advanced summon, she had to keep some in reserve for invisibility... She lunged at one of the assassins, breaking her cover. The fight was brief but her tactic gave her an edge and she landed a few hits before jumping back to avoid getting wounded herself. The assassin wasn't dead, but after his fight with the zombie the extra wounds made him weak. Still, it was two against one.

"No where to run now, mage!" The assassin got up and the two of them started walking towards Lena, their swords extended, blocking the corridor and backing her into a wall. "No more summons? Why, getting tired, eh?" They taunted her.

Indeed, summons were out. She was wounded and the fight with the zombie before that stunted her magicka flow. Zombies were cursed. No more summons... but perhaps...

Searing pain and overwhelming weakness hit one of the assassins, his blood seemed to boil. "What was that?" He wondered, watching the other assassin land a blow on Lena, yet she did not seem to be hurt. Red mist engulfed him as he fell to the ground, he saw Lena circle around him, absorbing the mist, resisting the blows from the other assassin, even lunging herself with a cut or two of her own. Yet she seemed to be growing weaker too, despite all her efforts the two of them would still prevail somehow, he was certain.

Gathering all her strength, Lena leapt at the one assassins still wielding a sword. He was prepared to block, but there was nothing to block, for Lena was not wielding a sword herself. Instead, she grabbed his shoulders and wrapped her legs around his waist, pushing him against the wall, then buried her fangs in his neck. She was hungry, she drank in big gulps, and soon the assassin fell to the ground.

She let go of him and got up. Both assassins were still alive but unable to move or fight. Their wounds were severe, they were no threat to the Sanctuary any longer. The first one propped himself on an elbow, looking at her in the dim light of the passage.

"You are Wolf, are you not?" He said with an effort. "There's a contract on you as well."

"I know," Lena nodded. "Brother." She paused, looking at them both. "I won't kill you two, you might still survive. We've lost too many Brothers to this madness already." She turned to leave, then changed her mind. "You've seen what a vampire can do," she spoke again. "Think well before visiting the chapel to cure that souvenir I gave you to remind you of this encounter... You've got three days to make up your mind." Then she finally walked away. "Thank you, Great Uncle, that was most effective," she said under her breath, climbing back out into the daylight with firewood under her arm.

Back in the fort Lucien was still sleeping. Lena added logs to the fire, stirred the stew and resumed brewing potions. Her feeding in the passage came in handy, although it did dull her senses somewhat. She was engrossed in her alchemy and didn't hear Lucien wake up.

...

"I seem to be still alive," it was the first thing that Lucien thought when he woke up in his bed in Fort Farragut. His whole body was hurting, he was sure he hadn't sustained quite so many wounds... But wait... someone was waiting for him there, was there another struggle? Then why was he not dead?

He tried to sit up, but it was too painful, making him grunt. He tried to pull himself up instead, he had to see what was going on...

"Be careful, or your wounds will reopen again," he heard Lena's voice as she approached. She helped him sit up, propping some pillows behind his back. "You need to be watchful, Speaker," she smiled. "Someone could have been waiting for you in your fort."

"And someone was," he smiled at her. "Thank you."

"No," Lena shook her head. "You cannot continue like this if you are to survive. You need to make sure your wounds heal before getting new ones."

"Who am I to argue with the Champion of Cyrodiil," Lucien grinned. "Did you get my card?"

"I did," Lena nodded and blushed. "Just a few days ago... I was ignoring my fan mail."

"I should have known," Lucien laughed, cringing at the pain. "It isn't that urgent. Anvil is the key."

"The lighthouse."

"You understood it then."

"I shall go when you can stand up," Lena nodded. "There's been another attempt to Purify the Sanctuary today."

"It won't stop until we find the traitor."

He fell silent, and Lena got up to bring him some stew, then insisted that he should rest, that she would be fine on the floor. "Vampires don't feel the cold," she shrugged. "Our hearts don't beat." She adjusted his pillows and added some logs to the fire, then returned to the alchemy station to prepare more dressings and remedies.

"You don't fool me," Lucien thought, falling asleep. "My apprentice..."


--------------------
"What is life's greatest illusion?"
"Innocence, my brother."

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Lena Wolf
post May 22 2024, 08:30 PM
Post #684


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Joined: 18-May 21
From: Bravil



Sun's Dusk, 3E437 - Time to die

Lucien's trip to Anvil some weeks previously appeared to have spurred on both the traitor and the Black Hand - attacks on Lena and Lucien became more frequent still, and the Sanctuary was being invaded again and again. The hunt was relentless. Lucien ventured another visit to the Sanctuary, this time during the day, hoping to see his assassins, whoever was still alive, and may be boost their morale a little, since there wasn't much else he could do. He went through the Black Door in the abandoned house, avoiding the well and hoping that it would have been sealed anyway. It was.

"Who goes there?" Gogron greeted him, his axe raised - he was on watch. "You won't get past me!"

"Hello, Gogron," Lucien said, trying to sound cheerful, or at least calm, and failing on both accounts.

"Speaker!" Gogron stopped, strained to look at Lucien, and only lowered his axe after some time. His face was swollen and he wore a bandage over the eyes. "Forgive me, I cannot see very well," he said, grinning. "Got a cut over my face... But no matter! I can hear the vermin... No one will get past my axe!"

"I have no doubt, Gogron," Lucien patted his arm. "How are things?"

"Dire," Gogron was serious now. "Everyone's wounded, one way or the other... Not one of us is at full strength. But we are all still alive! I can hardly believe it myself. Ocheeva's strategy proves most effective..."

"That is good... You need to stand strong... We are getting close to finding the traitor, which means things will get much worse from now on."

"The final stretch then," Gogron nodded, his face set in resolve. "If I fall... It's been an honour, Speaker."

Lucien went to the dormitory wing and found several assassins in bed, bandaged up. Some could not stand, but, like Gogron said, everyone was still alive.

"Borba has been our life line," Telaendril told him. "She's been leaving supplies in the abandoned house... even after we ran out of funds."

"Borba surprised me," Lucien nodded. "Said it was time to show her colours... You must look out for each other and try to stay strong."

"We do that, Speaker," Telaendril said softly. "It's good to see you... to know that you're still alive."

"The worst is still ahead," he squeezed her hand. "Remember how you tried to kill me when I came to you with my offer?" He smiled. "You were good... very good. Better than our assassins that were sent after you... what? three, four times? And you improved since. There is no better archer in the whole of Tamriel, Telaendril."

She smiled and blushed, and Lucien thought that perhaps he should have been praising his assassins a little more often - they did look up to him, after all. He went around the room and spoke to each of them, saying something personal every time.

"You are our mage," he said to M'raaj-Dar. "Perhaps not a healer, but I know you have some vicious spells," he grinned. "Do not hold them back."

"Oh, I don't, Speaker," M'raaj-Dar grinned back. "And if all else fails, Khajiit will tear them into shreds with his claws. Khajiit never gives up... not even in death - this one's ghost will come and help, should the body fall..."

Ocheeva was in the hall when Lucien came out of the dormitory.

"You took a risk coming here, Speaker," she looked sternly at him, then smiled. "But we are glad to see you. We are all still alive, somehow... Gogron tells me the worst is coming next." She became serious and nodded. "You are getting close to catching the traitor, this is good. Try not to die now... The Sanctuary will fall with your death."

"Stay strong, Ocheeva," Lucien touched her shoulder. "Remember our training... Everyone can be replaced. Should I fall, you will be the Speaker."

"I'd rather not," she sighed. "But I'll do what I can for as long as I live... however short it may be."

They stood in silence for a little while, Gogron watched them from the other end of the hall, his hearing was superb. He nodded to himself and straightened his back. No one would get past his axe while he was still standing.

Vicente was in his room. Lucien noticed how gaunt his face was, pale with a shade of grey - he was famished.

"I stay here to reduce the risk for everyone else," he said. "I have not been feeding... not because Borba stopped delivering blood," he waved his hand at a row of bottles, "but because of the powers that come with the hunger. I prefer to feed on the enemy," he smirked, but his eyes were sad. "On our Brothers... I hope this madness will end."

"We are close, Vicente," Lucien nodded. "Do what you have to. Survival is key."

Lucien stayed a bit longer, telling Ocheeva and Vicente what he discovered in Anvil, and that Lena would go there next.

"When she finds the traitor, she must bring her report to the Listener," Ocheeva pointed out. "You cannot be the one to deliver it since you are a suspect yourself. The Listener will verify her findings, I am certain he won't just dismiss them... It will cause a delay but it has to be done. During that time the Black Hand will move against you."

"How do you know this, Ocheeva?" Lucien was taken aback, but there was no suspicion in his voice.

"Deduction," she shrugged. "I am not the traitor."

"Ocheeva is right, that will be the most dangerous time," Vicente nodded. "Everything points to it."

Lucien nodded, looking somber. "We'll do our best." He got up to leave. "This may be the last time we meet... if so, tell everyone - the honour has always been mine."

...

Lena's investigation of the Anvil lighthouse did not yield any clues to start with. She tried asking around, but being a vampire didn't help and people simply refused to talk to her. The mages at the Guild weren't turning her away as such, but Carahil was visibly boiling with rage every time Lena entered the building - she was strictly opposed to any form of undead, vampires included. As a result, Lena tried to stay away and had no where to sleep. She would usually curl up behind the chapel, trying to stay out of sight. She had to feed often to keep her vampirism down, and she felt guilty for using beggars when she could not find smugglers or bandits... But finding the traitor was more important to her, and she had to keep fit to do it.

One night she found a bedroll behind the chapel where she used to sleep, there was a note inside: "With Dibella's blessings". Lena looked around, she thought she saw a priestess' robe behind the trees. "Thank you!" she said, but didn't try to follow.

After a week or so in Anvil, Lena started noticing someone shadowing her. She felt she had to shake them off, or better yet kill them, and she could not do it in town, so she mounted her horse and rode leisurely East. When she was between Kvatch and Skingrad, she was attacked. They started by killing her horse while she was on it - the horse collapsed, trapping Lena's leg under its weight. The blows came thick and fast, but Lena was still stuck, trying to free her leg... her iron breastplate protected her heart but it would not save her life in itself... "Should you die, do try to rise again," she suddenly recalled Lucien's words, said in a jest, no doubt - the idea was not to die.

"You cannot kill me - I am a vampire!" She shouted, finally pulling her leg from under the horse's body. She jumped up, a dagger in each hand. She could not block or cast any spells that way, but that was not her intention. She spun in place, her daggers extended, slicing her attackers who did not expect such a move. She was bleeding herself, but it only fueled her rage. "I smell your blood, I smell your fear!" She screamed, twirling between them again. Two attackers in dark leather armour, the Brotherhood armour... They froze for a moment, but quickly recovered from their surprise, closing in on her from the opposite sides, silver swords in their hands, silver swords with a fire enchantment.

"We came prepared, vampire!" One of them cried. "Take that, foul beast!"

Their swords really hurt. Lena dropped one of the daggers freeing a hand to cast spells - vanish and try to escape, she no longer had any hope of winning. She vanished, but her boots were filled with blood and were leaving bloody footprints on the ground...

"Not every vampire can rise..." Lena thought. "Not if killed with a silver weapon... Forgive me, Speaker, I failed..."

She ran but her attackers pursued her, she heard their footsteps catching up... then there was a sudden cry and a thump - a fall, she figured. Perhaps he tripped on a root or something. She spun around and lunged at the other attacker, may be she still stood a chance... But his sword was quick and he parried, giving her a cut on a thigh. She stifled a scream, trying to ignore it, jumped back, readying a spell... she was not dead yet... But the assassin was skilled, he lunged at her with all his weight, knocking her to the ground, his sword poised at her neck. "Time to die..." she thought, expecting the final blow.

...

Instead of the burn of a silver blade cutting her throat, she felt the warmth of a hand checking her pulse.

"Vampires have no pulse, I forgot," Lucien shook his head, wondering how to determine whether Lena was still alive. He had been on his way to Anvil, not having heard from her in two weeks after she left, so he thought she might have needed a hand. He saw the attack from far, and wasn't sure what he was seeing - if those were bandits attacking a traveler, he was not going to intervene. "The Imperial Legion is supposed to be patrolling the roads, not spend their time sipping ale at roadside inns," he scoffed. "I've got enough of my own troubles." But when he approached, he realised that those were no bandits... He shot them from a distance, they were probably still alive, but they moved no more, and his priority was Lena, not some unfortunate Brothers who got the curse of this contract.

He pulled her free from the assassin and removed her breastplate thinking to massage her heart.

"Err... Does that even make sense?" He stopped. "I don't know a thing about first aid for vampires...." He looked at her wounds and noticed that some of the cuts were still oozing blood. "Still bleeding... Does it mean she is alive? Let's hope so... Well then, bandage the cuts, I suppose..."

...

Lena felt someone touching her neck searching for a pulse. "Vampires have no pulse," she thought, "but I am not dead." However, her wounds were severe, she could not even open her eyes. The person pulled her from under her attacker, removed her breastplate, placed his hands on her heart and gave it a push... then stopped, realising that it was futile. He bent over her, checking her wounds... His scent was bitter and sweet at once... Lena's heart gave a jolt.

...

Lucien didn't know what to do but decided to bandage Lena's wounds and give her some time to recover, hoping that she wasn't dead. He ripped up his shirt into strips and used up every last drop of a healing solution he had in his pack. "I need to be better prepared," he thought. At least, a shirt was not imperative to wear under a robe. "I could not have ripped up my robe for strips," he reflected.

Eventually Lena opened her eyes. Lucien was sitting by the fire, trying to brew a simple potion with aloe vera and some other herb... it wasn't a lab, but it would do.

"Thank you for saving me... again... Speaker," Lena managed to say in a small voice, she was still very weak.

"You live still!" He bent over her. "I could not tell... but I hoped..."

"You can never be sure with us," Lena smiled. "Not dead, not alive..."

"Shush now, drink this," he brought a cup of aloe vera tea to her lips. "It's not a potion but I hope it will help."

Lena drank and the warmth of the liquid spread through her body. She closed her eyes and slept.

...

When Lena woke up a few hours later, the night had fallen. She smelled roast - Lucien had killed a boar. He evidently prepared to camp there for a while, having refilled his skeins with water too.

"You look pale," he said, having examined Lena's wounds. "I think one of the Brothers is still alive... perhaps he's got enough blood to sustain you."

"I don't want to feed on our Brothers," Lena objected. "They got that contract..."

"You don't have a choice," Lucien looked her in the eye. "The boar will not be enough. It will dawn soon."

He was right, of course. Lena got up with difficulty and walked over to her attackers, both lying a short distance away. One was already dead, the other still lived. He looked at her as she approached, but did not resist when she turned him over, exposing his neck. "Forgive me, Brother," she said, sinking her fangs into it.

She took it all, massaging his heart after it stopped. He died in her hands, his life feeding her existence. But she had no choice, besides he would have died anyway, most likely.

She returned to the campfire, now able to sit unaided. Lucien was slicing up the boar on the spit, carving its flesh where it was ready for eating. He used lotus leaves as plates, and Lena smiled at that.

"Thank you, Speaker," she said. "Thank you for coming to my aid again."

"Call me Lucien," he looked up. "Please, these are no ordinary times... And stop thanking me." He looked away and Lena thought that he wanted to add something but changed his mind. "Tell me about Anvil."

Lena told what she had discovered, which wasn't much.

"I could not get into the basement of the lighthouse," she said. "Not yet, anyway. The lighthouse master doesn't have the key - he said that the tenant insisted on taking every key to it, and indeed I couldn't find any keys anywhere. I couldn't pick the lock either, not even with magic... Then I thought to watch the door until it opened, but someone was shadowing me, and I tried to lose them... and ended up here."

"You were right to lead them away," Lucien nodded. "We'll have to try again, we are getting close."

They talked a bit longer, then took turns sleeping with one of them keeping watch. The night was quiet, as was the day that followed, but they both knew that the hardest part was still to come.


--------------------
"What is life's greatest illusion?"
"Innocence, my brother."

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Lena Wolf
post May 23 2024, 08:32 PM
Post #685


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Joined: 18-May 21
From: Bravil



Sun's Dusk, 3E437 - The lighthouse

The door to the basement of the Anvil lighthouse appeared to be bolted from the inside. Lena could not pick the lock, not even with magic. "It is either a magical lock or... I should wait until someone comes out."

This was Lena's plan before she realised that she was being shadowed and tried to lead away the assassins. If it wasn't for Lucien, she would have been dead... but he happened upon that battle just in time, and now both of them stood on the hill by the Lady Doomstone overlooking the Anvil Bay.

"He must come out of there sooner or later!" Lena was becoming impatient. The lighthouse master did tell her after some persuasion that the tenant was a middle aged man, a mage perhaps, often dressed in a simple black robe. He didn't even know his name.

"He pays in advance for a year!" The lighthouse master exclaimed. "Every year, without fail! I don't ask any questions!"

"A Speaker or a Silencer," Lucien concluded. "He must be among the Black Hand... but at this point it doesn't matter that much who he is, as long as we find some proof... I know it sounds strange, but I don't care who it is, as long as our names are cleared, all our names..."

Lena didn't think it sounded strange, she shared the sentiment. Their exile and persecution had been going on for too long.

They've been waiting for several days watching the door, but no one came in or out.

"He might not be there," Lena mused. "But we still cannot open the door."

"But last time you watched him, you got shadowed," Lucien noted. "And before that, when I noticed that substituted scroll, they were watching. We'll have to bait them, there's nothing else for it. You stay here and watch. I'll stir up some fuss."

"Just try not to die, Speaker," Lena said in her thoughts as she didn't dare to say it aloud.

Lucien went to the basement door and knocked. When there was no answer, he banged on the door with his fists, making as much noise as possible. Several fishermen heard him and turned to look. He banged on the door again, then gave up and walked off towards the harbour with several people watching. There he started asking every passer by whether they'd seen a man in a black robe who lived in the lighthouse basement. No one had seen him of course, so Lucien went to the Flowing Bowl, ordered some ale and prepared to wait.

Lena remained by the lighthouse watching the door. She hid in the bushes hoping to blend in sufficiently to remain undetected even without casting any spells. She wore a chameleon ring, it wasn't powerful enough to conceal her completely, but every little helped, she figured. She sat there for a long time and nothing happened. Her skin started to burn slightly even though she fed just the night before, but being out in the sunlight all day was still going to affect her. She decided to ignore it. Then finally the night fell and she saw a dock hand approach the door and knock softly in a particular pattern. A secret knock. They should have expected it.

The door opened briefly, a scroll was passed through it to the dock hand, and the door was shut again. So the man was inside, she had to assume it was he. The dock hand stashed away the scroll and quickly walked back to the harbour. Had Lucien seen him? Lena wondered. She couldn't see him in the harbour, but that didn't mean much. She had to decide what to do, the dock hand was walking fast and would soon vanish from view. On a whim, she decided to follow.

The dock hand walked to the stables by the Northern gate, said a few words to a stable hand whom Lena had never seen before, passed him the scroll, turned around and walked back to the harbour. The stable hand mounted a horse and took off at a gallop. Lena saw Shadowmere following, so Lucien had been watching. She wondered whether he was being led into a trap. She was sure he realised the danger, but like her, he could not just ignore that bait. Everyone was baiting everyone, it seemed, and she wondered who would have the last word, the last move in that chain, and whether there was a way to get ahead and avoid being baited. She couldn't see such a way.

She turned around and followed the dock hand back to the harbour. He walked to the lighthouse and knocked on the basement door with a different secret knock. The door did not open and he left. "He passed his message," Lena figured. It also meant that the man in black robe was still inside, and as long as he was inside, Lena could do nothing but wait. The night was still long, but if she were to stay out the following day as well, she had to feed, which meant she had to leave her post again. She hesitated. Ah, but may be there was another way.

...

"Pssst!" Lena had run to the harbour and was now standing by the side entrance of Fo'c's'le where the dock hand was headed. "Get it here at half price!" She hissed, flashing her thigh. It had been a common enough thing to do, she'd seen it many a time, and indeed the dock hand grinned and turned to look at her. "This way - behind the house!" Lena motioned him to follow and he did, eager to save his money. When they were out of sight of the street, Lena cast a spell. "Come with me, I know a quiet spot," she said softly.

"Anything you say, darlin'," the dock hand staggered after her, as if charmed.

"Works every time," Lena grinned, leading him into a smuggler's cave nearby and out of sight of the city guard. She wanted to feed, yes, but she also had other plans for him.

Once in the cave, she quickly recast the spell to make sure the charm still held, then gently pushed him against the wall, leaning onto him.

"I've seen you around, my handsome," she said in a low, guttural voice and the man started to drool. "What'ou been up to? The lighthouse is my turf."

"Is it?" He moaned, his eyes glazing over. "Lucky me."

"Not been looking for me then?" She said in a clearer voice, and the man looked up.

"I didn't know!" He cried in his defense. "I been to see the ol' man."

"And so I noticed," she leaned against him a bit closer and felt his hands around her body. No matter. It wouldn't go much further. "The ol' man is mine."

"No, I didn't come for that, I swear!" The man was getting nervous. "I'd never... No, I just... you know... been looking out for him..."

"Aha..." Lena pushed against him and felt his hand slide up her thigh. She was almost done. "I think you're lying." She pushed his hand down again. "I want no competition."

"No, am not!" The man shook his head vigorously. "Look here - see this?" He produced a scroll, unrolling it under her nose. "That one was his... was supposed to drop it off into one of the fishing barrels... will do it later, it'll keep... I promise I ain't no competition for you!" Lena smiled and he dropped the scroll, returning his hands to her body. "I'll pay you full price..." His hand started wandering up her thigh again, but she pushed it down.

"What barrel?" She leaned into him, breathing into his ear and nibbling it gently.

"The one without the fish..." he moaned and she allowed his hand to go up.

"Good boy..." She bit his neck.

...

Lena had no intention of killing the dock hand. She took enough blood to see her through the following day and left him sleep in the cave. He would not remember her face anyway, he would not remember right what had happened... She took some coin from his purse, undid his trousers, the illusion would be complete. She picked up the scroll and read it. It made no sense, just random words jumbled together, it must have been in code. She tried this and that, but could not figure it out. One word stood out however: Applewatch. She knew it was a Black Hand safehouse near Bruma, Lucien had told her about that. They were planning an ambush, he was in mortal danger. Yet Lena could not leave her post, she could not warn him, she could not come to his aid. She hesitated. Then she sneaked into the Mages Guild library and forged another scroll with all the same words but replacing Applewatch by Weatherleah, a cottage in the Imperial Reserve that she came across in her travels. She didn't think it would fool anyone, but it was worth a shot. Then she dropped the forgery into the one fishing barrel without the fish.

It was almost dawn when Lena resumed her post in the bushes behind the lighthouse. She stayed there all day, and again her skin started to burn. But then, just after sunset, she heard a faint noise from the door as if someone was undoing the bolts... She quickly cast invisibility and approached. The door opened, the man in black robe looked out, saw nothing, then went outside, pulling the door shut after him. The lock clicked but Lena had already slipped inside. She could only hope that Lucien would survive that trap on his own.

The basement of the lighthouse was a shrine. It was a place of madness, that much was clear. There were papers everywhere, Dark Brotherhood contracts, copied, altered. She found a journal too - the man was a Speaker. She gathered what she could and slipped out again before the man returned. She didn't think he'd return too soon anyway, she expected he'd have gone to Applewatch to see to his trap. She wanted to rush there too but her task was not yet done - the Listener had to have her report, had to see the proof, that was most important of all. "Our names have to be cleared," Lucien made a point of it earlier. "Regardless of whether I fall or not. You must go to the Listener first, no matter what happens." He had expected a trap, and was prepared to be the bait so that she could clear all their names... She took a deep breath and rode to Bravil.

In Bravil she had to find a way to deliver her evidence without being seen, after all, she was still exiled for her transgressions, with a death sentence hanging over her head. If the Listener saw her, he would likely attack, and she had no illusions of not being able to stand against him.

She spent the day in her house writing her report. She included a number of scrolls and a diary, but she couldn't bring it all, the Listener would have to see the room in the lighthouse for himself to judge the sheer scale of that madness. She wrote it all. Then she slipped into his house during the night and left it on the table. But would he act on that? She had to be sure, and that meant losing more time, waiting to see what would happen.

The Listener didn't disappoint, and Lena saw two Brothers leaving his house with her scroll in hand. They mounted their horses and rode towards Anvil, and Lena mounted hers and sped towards Bruma, praying to Arkay that she wasn't too late.


--------------------
"What is life's greatest illusion?"
"Innocence, my brother."

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Lena Wolf
post Yesterday, 03:28 PM
Post #686


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Joined: 18-May 21
From: Bravil



Sun's Dusk, 3E437 - The Black Hand

Lucien was following the man with a suspicious scroll that he received from the traitor. They were riding at full gallop across the Colovian Highlands, presumably towards Bruma. When they were passing by an unassuming cave, their horses were shot.

"What?!" Lucien landed in a crouch when Shadowmere threw him off and sped away, she didn't appear to be seriously hurt. The other horse lay dead however, and its rider was fighting off the attackers. "Bandits?" Lucien wondered, trying to keep out of sight. Yet he too was attacked by another person. "Three attackers in total," Lucien noted, parrying.

The fight was short, the attackers were skilled. The man with the scroll eliminated one of them - killed or severely wounded him, Lucien could not tell - but the second attacker got the better of the man, and joined his comrade against Lucien. Of the three attackers, two were wearing that particular dark leather armour, the third one wore a black robe - they had been sent by the Black Hand.

"Why attack the other man if they are after me?" Lucien wondered, twisting out of the way of their lunges. Things didn't add up. The one wearing robe was casting spells too, and Lucien could not avoid those. He was weakened and felt physically sick but ignored it and lunged just as the mage was casting another spell... A bout of frost hit him right in the face but his sword was already piercing the mage's chest and Lucien brought it home by sliding it up, all the way to the neck. He fell onto the mage as the frost paralysed his body. "Baronoff's Bloody Icicle", he thought. He always found the name of that spell quite pretentious, but had to admit that it was highly effective. The paralysis didn't last long, but the frost made him sluggish for a while still, and the third assassin landed another hit, and another, before Lucien finally got him too.

He rolled on the ground, he could not stand up.

"Oh that is great," he swore. "And it wasn't even the main ambush, just a roadside attack... They are not taking any chances."

He bandaged himself up as best he could and crawled over to each of the four men on the ground.

"Two men and two women," he corrected himself, finally having had the chance to look at them properly. "Our armour and a Black Hand robe... She was a Silencer, I think... I've never met her... I wonder if she had only just been promoted..." He looked into her face - she was young, and he thought of Lena, just as young, and still only an Assassin, but more skilled and more resilient than this young Silencer that he just killed. "If we ever get through this alive," he thought, "I want no other Silencer but Wolf."

He finally got to the man from Anvil that he had been chasing. He went through his pockets looking for the scroll, found it and unrolled it - the scroll was empty.

"He was leading me into an ambush..." he shook his head. "But we got ambushed along the way... Fate really works in peculiar ways."

Lucien killed the Brother that was still breathing and crawled into the cave from whence they came hoping that it would be clear of bandits and vermin. It was - he found several bodies inside. Stew was still simmering over the fire... The bandits never saw it coming.

"Well, you were successful against the bandits but you failed your contract nonetheless," he thought of the dead Brothers and Sisters outside. Their corpses should dissuade any casual adventurers from entering. He would stay in that cave until his wounds recovered enough so he could stand. "You should take the time to heal your wounds before getting new ones, Speaker," Lena's words sounded in his head. Speaker. She still wouldn't call him by his name. "Very well, Assassin, I'll take the time," he replied to her in his mind, then fell asleep.

...

Although the scroll that Lucien found was empty, he knew exactly where the ambush would be set up - at Applewatch. The Black Hand safehouse was the logical place for it, especially since Arquen was already spurring on others to unite against him.

"I must confront them there," he thought. "It will distract them long enough to allow Wolf to enter the lighthouse and then bring her report to the Listener... Let us hope that I survive..."

The road to Bruma had two more ambushes for Lucien, but he dealt with both of them without much trouble. "They are running out of people," he thought, looking over his attackers. "These aren't of the same caliber as the ones I met before. These are just to keep the pressure up."

When he was near Applewatch, he let Shadowmere go and approached the house on foot, watching the surroundings. He saw several people in black robes enter the house, and recognised Arquen among them. They were gathering there, it seemed, the Black Hand was finally uniting against him. His chances of survival were getting slimmer and slimmer with each new person arriving.

Then suddenly he saw someone exit and leave, then another person exit and search the area around Applewatch. Were they having disagreements? Or were they waiting for someone? For him, perhaps? Why did they think he'd come there at all? And then it dawned on him - the man with the empty scroll was supposed to lead him there, but they got intercepted, as if the Black Hand wasn't that united at all, as if his exile and the assassins were separate from this trap, from the traitor...

Lucien didn't hurry to go in. He waited to see whether anyone else would arrive or leave, watching the sentry by the entrance. Then a middle aged man arrived and Lucien recognised Mathieu Bellamont. Was he the traitor? It was hard to believe... He was considered one of the most effective and loyal members of the Brotherhood... but stranger things were known to happen. With the arrival of Bellamont, the sentry also entered the house, it seemed the gathering was now complete. The one person missing was Lucien Lachance.

"They will kill me if I go in," he reflected, wondering what to do. "How many of them are inside? Four, five, perhaps? I stand no chance." Yet something had to be done, he had to keep them there to allow Lena the time to deliver evidence and then to give the Listener the time to investigate her find. Lucien tried to estimate how much time that would need to be. "If Bellamont is indeed the traitor and he rode here from Anvil," he reasoned, "then Wolf should have delivered her evidence just about now. The Listener would then need to ride from Bravil to Anvil, search the place and ride back... Two days, all in all perhaps, if he hurries... I should give it another half a day and then go in."

He settled down between the rocks with a clear view of the house and prepared to spend the last half a day of his life in quiet meditation.

...

The night was about to fall when Lucien decided he could not wait any longer. People have already been going out of the house, looking around, peering down the road. They were getting impatient, and may be were about to leave, and he could not allow that. He got up, straightened his back, wrapped his hand around the hilt of his sword, walked over to the house without hiding and knocked on the door.

There was no answer. The house was perfectly still. He opened the door and entered.

What happened next was so quick that no one really understood it until all was quiet again. As Lucien entered the house and took a few steps towards the middle of the room, he got attacked from several directions. He twisted and spun, his sword extended, blood spatter covered the walls and the floor as half a dozen people in black robes were doing their dance. All was quiet - everyone stifled their cries of pain, these were no novices. Then suddenly the fighting stopped. Two people were on the floor unable to get up, three others were still standing, swords at the ready, looking around as if they lost their quarry. Blood was dripping from their robes, much of it their own.

"Where is he?" One of them said in a hoarse voice. "He could not just vanish."

"He could, as a matter of fact..." Another shook his head. "Vanish from view, at least. He should still be here somewhere. Mat, don't you have a spell for that?"

The third person cast a spell and purple light briefly filled the room, settling on the shapes of five people and many rats.

"Rats?" A woman hissed. "Who cares about the rats in the basement! That is a stupid spell!"

They searched the room, but it had many corners where a person could hide, crates and furniture in the way.

"Is he dead, perhaps?" One of them wondered.

"He is not," another shook his head. "And we need his body as proof."

Then they heard the door rattle, and one of them spun around. "There he is!!! Tried to escape, did you?!"

The attack was savage. They slashed at every part of his body, no longer aiming for the heart, they were determined to make sure he didn't vanish again. Then they hoisted his body by the neck which in itself would have killed him, had he not been already dead.

"And so it's done!" Arquen was triumphant. "The traitor has been slain! And here is his body as proof!"

"Well, it's a body... but did you really have to slice up his face like that?" Another assassin pulled the hood off the corpse to reveal a dark-haired head mutilated beyond recognition.

"She got carried away," another one grinned. "There isn't much left of his body either." He peeled off a piece of the blood-soaked robe and a good chunk of skin and tissue came off with that as well. "Bah! Every organ is mincemeat now..."

"That'll keep him from coming back from the dead," Arquen laughed. "I like to be thorough. We should report to the Night Mother now."

"I wonder why the Listener isn't here," one of them remarked, helping one of the wounded Brothers get up.

"The Bosmer is getting soft with years," another scoffed. "It was time the Night Mother replaced him."

Eventually they left, and the rats started crawling out of their holes attracted by the smell of fresh blood.


--------------------
"What is life's greatest illusion?"
"Innocence, my brother."

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