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Love Versus Ethics: A Dark Brotherhood Romance

Chapter Text

Oniyama shivered as he stepped down off the wagon. For all that Daedric armour was very protective, it was not very insulating. As an Orc, he'd experienced his fair share of cold weather, but in those circumstances he'd had warm clothing to protect himself from the elements. This was the first time he found himself in such a cold place in his new armour. From a comfort standpoint there was much to be desired. Still, he wouldn't trade his armour for even the warmest cloak and hat. It had saved his hide far more often in the short time he'd been wearing it than he would've thought possible. He looked at the high walls of Windhelm. He had to admit that Ralof was right when he'd described it as "an immovable fortress that could withstand the Gods themselves." Maybe that wasn't quite true, Gods could be remarkably destructive, but they'd certainly have to put in some effort to crack this nut.

A sudden gust of wind made him shiver again. "I really should be used to cold weather by now..." he muttered under his breath. He made his way to the main gate.

The guards gripped their weapons tightly and clearly stiffened as he approached. He really couldn't blame them. Having made his armour himself (and enchanted it himself) he was keenly aware of just how terrifying the armour made him look. It didn't help the fact that the helmet, for reasons that Oniyama did not know, caused the wearer's face to disappear behind a cloak of pure darkness. It didn't affect the wearer's ability to see but it prevented anyone else from seeing their face. Daedric armour was incredibly rare. Enchanted suits that pulsed in ominous reds, greens, or blues were even rarer. The overall look of the armour was meant to evoke the sight of an actual daedra. It was heavy, heavier than most any other armour material save possibly dragonbone. Oniyama couldn't say, he'd never worked with dragonbone. As far as he knew, dragons were extinct.

Oniyama raised his hands to take off his helmet. One of the guards flinched and started to bring his halberd into an attack position. His partner was more restrained and stopped him from attacking. As the helmet came off his head, Oniyama saw the guards relax. As long as the helmet was in his hands, he wasn't going to grab either the bow or the greataxe (both also daedric) on his back.

The restrained one spoke. "What business do you have in Windhelm?"

Oniyama turned to him. "I'm a mercenary. I'm looking for work. Failing that, shelter and sustenance would suffice."

The guard mulled this over. "You may pass. Keep your weapons to yourself or we'll have a problem."

Oniyama smiled. "After the day I've had, fighting is the last thing on my mind." He strode past the guards, hanging his helmet on his belt. While it would mitigate further gusts of wind, he really didn't want more misunderstandings from its fearsome visage.

Inside the gate there was mercifully no wind. Sadly there was a different coldness awaiting him.

"You come here where you're not wanted, you eat our food, you pollute our city with your stink and you refuse to help the Stormcloaks." A Nord man with shoulder length blonde hair and a mustache practically spat at a Dark Elf woman. He stood with another Nord who was bald, who also had a mustache. Both of them were quite clearly antagonizing the woman.

"But we haven't taken a side because it's not our fight." The woman replied somewhat fearfully.

"Hey, maybe the reason these gray-skins don't help in the war is because they're Imperial spies!" The other man joined in with a clearly-fact-because-I-said-it tone.

As one of the nonhuman races, Oniyama had dealt with more than his fair share of racism. It made his blood boil. He began striding directly for them.

The woman replied to the accusation before he got there. "Imperial spies? You can't be serious!"

The first Nord spoke up again. They still hadn't noticed Oniyama coming their way. "Maybe we'll pay you a visit tonight, little spy. We got ways of finding out who you really are."

Oniyama came within arm's reach of the men. He didn't bother with words. He grabbed the Nord's tunic, spun him around, and lifted him into the air. The man yelped as his feet left terra firma. Oniyama stared into his eyes. "What's your name, scum?" He growled.

Despite being at a clear disadvantage, the man's racism ran deep. He stared down at Oniyama with a mixture of anger and indignation. Not a hint of fear. Not yet anyway. "You put me down right now, you filthy pig or I swear that Rolff, son of Jurng, will have you hanged!"

Oniyama smiled large, revealing his teeth. "Oh really? I think you should apologize to this fair lady. Want to know why?"

The man's anger and indignation were slowly melting away, being replaced by confusion. "Why would I ever do that, you pig?" His companion and the lady were both frozen to the spot, not sure what to do.

Oniyama smiled larger and let his fangs grow in. It had been quite some time since he'd fed and as a result his vampiric powers had grown considerably. He'd had several decades to hone them. This included a minor illusion that he'd tied to his vampirism that allowed him to mask both the telltale eyes and fangs of his gift. Now he dispelled the illusion, albeit slowly. This had the effect of his eyes changing from the green they'd been when he was mortal to the reddish yellow that they were now. His fangs appeared to grow in, one inch long and razor sharp. His grin grew very wide indeed as the anger and indignation, and even the confusion all melted out of the man's gaze, to be replaced by a primal fear.

Rolff's heart was beating wildly now. Oniyama could smell his fear. He could hear urine filling the man's pants and running down his leg. He growled at him as he spoke, rather gutterally. "You will apologize to this woman. You will beg her forgiveness and never trouble her again so long as you live. You will do this, or I will hunt you down and turn you into a snack. Take it from me. I know what you smell like and I will be able to follow your trail from here to Solitude if you ever dare insult any living being as you did her tonight." He brought Rolff closer to his face. "Do I make myself clear?"

Rolff was about to have a heart attack. Oniyama released him and turned to his companion. "What are you waiting for? Apologize!"

Both Rolff and the other Nord threw themselves prostrate before the Dark Elf woman. They were stammering and crying as they apologized and begged for her to forgive them. She managed a halfhearted "I forgive you" before they both bolted in the opposite direction. Oniyama could hear their muffled cries well after they left his sight. 'Good.' he thought. 'Two less racists in the world.' He turned to the woman he'd just 'saved.' She was staring at him, clearly horrified. "Will you be okay?" He asked her gently.

"Please! Please don't eat me!" She cried.

Oniyama sighed. He knew that her fear wasn't entirely unjustified. Most vampires would feed on her without a second thought. He was not most vampires. Raising his hands in a surrender pose, he tried again. "Yes, I am a vampire. Yes I drink blood. I do not want your blood. Even if I did, I would not take it. You have had a trying enough day. You need not fear me."

Her fear seemed to lessen a little at his tone, if not his words. "You promise you won't harm me?"

Oniyama smiled, though without teeth. With a gesture, he resumed the illusion that made him appear like a normal Orc. He didn't want to upset her again. "I promise."

She visibly relaxed. "So, what now?"

He shrugged. "I'm going to find the inn, then try to get some sleep. I imagine you have business that needs tending to? I can't believe you'd be out in this weather for nothing."

She nodded. "Yes, I should be going." She walked away. Before turning the corner, she turned back to him. "You're not like any vampire or Orc I've ever met."

He chuckled. "How many have you met?"

"Of which? Orcs or vampires?"

"Either?"

"I have met several Orcs in my time. You are far more articulate than any of them. I have also met a vampire or two as well. I never counted those times as good memories."

"Glad to have given you a new experience then, my lady." He bowed to her. "Fair fortune to you."

She blushed. He could tell clearly despite the darkness because he heard the blood rush to her cheeks. She turned away and rounded the corner. He realized as she left that he didn't even know her name. Not that it rightly mattered in all likelihood. While he hadn't been lying when he'd told the guard at the gate that he was looking for work, the whole truth was that he was there to find a specific person. He'd heard that someone was trying to contact the Dark Brotherhood. A kid named Aventus Aretino. Oniyama was looking for the Brotherhood himself. In his case he was looking to join up. Despite his clear skill at both blacksmithing and enchanting, he was far more interested in using his products than selling them.

He began to wander the streets. He'd lied to the woman when he said he was going to the inn. He was going to find this Aretino kid. He'd probably go to the inn after talking to him, so it wasn't a total lie.

It took him ten minutes but he finally caught a voice on the wind. "Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear." He recognized it instantly. It was the words to the Black Sacrament, the ancient ritual for contacting the Dark Brotherhood. It was highly unlikely that two people would be performing it simultaneously in the same city so Oniyama reasoned it was Aretino. Following the voice brought him to a locked door. Whipping out his lockpicks, he effortlessly defeated the mechanism. It wasn't that he was a master locksmith, but his gauntlets were enchanted to make the task easier. When he'd made his suit of armour, he'd incorporated all sorts of useful enchantments into them, including lockpicking. He was pretty sure there were at least a dozen people who would trade all they owned to get their hands on his armour. He put away his lockpicks and opened the door gently.

Inside was dark. Not so dark that he couldn't see, but of course he was a vampire and an Orc besides. There were very few places where even he couldn't see. The voice was clearer now. In between every couple ritual chants he could hear other things like "so hungry." or "when will you come?" Donning his helmet, he crept up the stairs and looked into a room opposite them.

A young boy was on his hands and knees repeatedly stabbing a skeleton surrounded by candles. Oniyama had read about the Black Sacrament, but he'd never seen one in action. He idly wondered how such a small boy had managed to get his hands on a full skeleton without drawing attention to himself. No matter, it was not his concern. Creeping up on the boy (he managed to do so in heavy armor thanks to a sneaking enhancement enchanted into his boots that made him near completely silent) he got within 10 feet before straightening up and clearing his throat.

The boy stopped mid stab. He rose from where he knelt and turned to face him. "Finally! My prayers have been answered!" he exclaimed.

Oniyama said nothing.

"It worked! I knew you'd come. I knew it!" The boy continued without noting his guest's lack of response. "I did the Black Sacrament, over and over. With the body and the... things. And then you came! An assassin from the Dark Brotherhood!"

Oniyama still said nothing. He wasn't certain how an actual Brotherhood assassin would respond, but one could hardly go wrong with mysterious silence.

"It took so long. So very long. But now that you're here, you can accept my contract." He paused for a moment. "My mother, she... she died. I... I'm all alone now. So they sent me to that terrible orphanage in Riften. Honorhall. The headmistress is an evil, cruel woman. They call her Grelod the Kind. But she's not kind. She's terrible. To all of us. So I ran away, and came home. And performed the Black Sacrament. Now you're here! And you can kill Grelod the Kind!"

Oniyama inclined his head. He turned to leave. He hadn't said anything, instead letting the boy's expectations do all the talking for him. As he descended the stairs and returned to the street, he couldn't believe his luck. The truth was that while he wanted to join the Dark Brotherhood, and had read every book about them he could get his hands on, he had no idea how to actually contact them. He hadn't risked the Black Sacrament since all the people he wanted dead had died by his own hand already. Performing the Sacrament without an actual target was far too risky, besides which, he would likely have to pay for the assassin's time. Why waste the coin? When he heard about Aventus Aretino, he saw his chance. If he impersonated a Brotherhood assassin and completed a contract in their name, he was certain they would catch wind of it. He just had to hope that they would be more impressed with his skills than they would be upset with his deception. Admittedly this was also a risky move, but it was far better (or so he figured) to meet the Brotherhood having already demonstrated his value. Either way, he now had a target. Grelod the Kind of Honorhall orphanage in Riften. Satisfied with his progress for the day, Oniyama followed his nose to the inn. He'd set out tomorrow for Riften.

Chapter Text

Oniyama stepped down off the wagon in front of Riften stables. The scenery was far nicer than in Windhelm. The greens and yellows contrasted nicely with the light and dark grays of the city walls. He turned to the city gate and strode forward with purpose. Contary to what had happened in Windhelm, the guards did not seem to be overly apprehensive at his approach. Either they were made of stiffer stock, or they had enough world experience to know that a badass suit of armour was not a statement of intentions by itself. They still stopped him though, albeit for a different reason.

"Hold it. Before I let you into Riften, you need to pay the visitor's tax."

Oniyama snorted. "What's the tax for?"

"For the privilege of entering the city. What does it matter?"

Oniyama drew his bow. Nearly faster than the eye could see, he drew an arrow and aimed it at the guard's face. "Daedric arrows are worth quite a lot. Should I deliver this tax to you or your partner?"

The guard's knees started shaking. "An attack on a hold guard is a bad idea, friend."

"Only if there are witnesses. As I see it, there are only the two of you out here. How much do you want to bet that I can kill both of you before you raise the alarm?"

The man looked to his partner. Raising his hands in supplication he said "We'll waive the tax. Please don't hurt us."

Oniyama put his bow away and inclined his head. "Very neighborly of you. Now remember, if, after I enter the city, you attempt to raise an alarm over our friendly conversation, no matter how dead I might be for it, you will die. I guarantee it." He pushed open the gate without waiting for a response.

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Oniyama crept inside Honorhall orphanage and closed the door gently behind him. Readying his bow, he stalked toward the sound of voices. Nearing the opening to a hall of some sort, he stopped and peered around the corner.

An old woman stood facing six children. her demeanor and posture said it all. As she opened her mouth to speak, Oniyama was already sure she was who he was after. He decided to hear her out anyway. Overconfidence was a weakness, and killing the wrong target (or worse yet, someone entirely innocent) was unlikely to net him any favors with the Dark Brotherhood. More likely they would kill him on sight for representing them so poorly.

"Those who shirk their duties will get an extra beating. Do I make myself clear?" Her voice was every bit as grating as Oniyama imagined it would be.

"Yes Grelod." The children intoned in unison.

"And one more thing! I will hear no more talk of adoptions! None of you riff-raff is getting adopted. Ever! Nobody needs you, nobody wants you." She grinned, except the smile didn't reach her eyes. "That, my darlings, is why you're here. Why you'lll always be here, until the day you come of age and get thrown into that wide, horrible world. Now, what do you all say?"

"We love you, Grelod. Thank you for your kindness." It was clear the children were forced to say this, Oniyama couldn't imagine them saying it otherwise.

"That's better. Now scurry off, my little guttersnipes."

Clearly, as he had first reasoned, this woman was Grelod the Kind. The children dispersed. Seizing his chance, Oniyama readied an arrow and took aim at the old hag. Without her wards distracting her, the movement caught her eye. Oniyama watched as realization dawned on her that she was about to die. As her mouth opened to scream, he let his arrow fly. Instead of noise coming out, an arrow went in. It pierced clean through her head. She fell backward into the doorframe she was standing in front of almost without a sound except for the clunk of her body hitting the wood. Without waiting for a reaction from anyone else in the room, Oniyama hurried back to the door out of the orphanage. As he was turning the handle he heard the reactions of those in the room. One woman was screaming and hysterical. He expected that. What he did not expect was the children. They were cheering. Celebrating even. Between what Aretino had told him and what he'd just witnessed, he knew the woman had richly deserved her death, he just hadn't expected the children to agree with him so readily. He shook his head. He needed to get out of there before the screaming woman thought to investigate her surroundings. Next stop, Windhelm.

Chapter Text

Oniyama sat in Candlehearth Hall, drinking mead. He'd reported to Aretino, confirming Grelod's death. Aretino had enthusiastically thanked him and paid him with a trinket. Not that he really needed the payment. In the course of gathering ingredients for his armor, he'd supplemented his income through general smithing duties. As a result he was rather independently wealthy. Certainly he didn't need to think about working for the next year at least. The trinket fetched a decent price nonetheless, and now he was enjoying a few drinks after a job well done. Despite the fact that only blood could truly satisfy him, there was still enjoyment to be had from alcohol and regular food. The faster metabolism that vampires enjoyed meant he could drink far more than any mortal and rarely (unless he really worked at it) get drunk or gain any non-muscle weight. It certainly helped that he also thoroughly enjoyed the taste of mead.

The door to the inn opened. Oniyama looked up from his mead to see a rather odd pair stroll through the door. The first was a Redguard dressed in clothing that no doubt would have made him seem right at home in Hammerfell, but made him stand out quite a lot in Skyrim. He wore a scimitar at his side and his eyes were keen. Oniyama could tell without even speaking to him that the man had killed many and would doubtless kill many more. He did not feel in any immediate danger but he'd have to watch this Redguard closely.

Well, he would have to try, since the Redguard's companion was of far greater interest to him. A little Breton girl, no more than ten years old, with shoulder length brown hair and wearing a red and gray dress. That wasn't what sparked his interest in her though. As the door to the inn closed behind them and the wind died off, Oniyama could smell her clear across the room. The girl was a vampire. An exceedingly old and experienced one at that. Oniyama could see how she scanned the room, how her eyes (illusioned to appear normal, as he often did) had none of the childish innocence one would expect. He could also tell that she was merely putting on a show for the sake of appearances. She already knew exactly where who she was looking for was sitting. And thus it was no surprise when the pair made their way to his table and sat across from him.

"This is the one, papa!" The 'girl' exclaimed excitedly. "I know it is! Aren't I a good little girl?"

The Redguard rolled his eyes and replied. "Yes, Babette, you are a good little girl."

Oniyama could tell that the Redguard was exasperated at the vampire's antics. Evidently she liked to play up her 'age' often.

The Redguard turned to him. "We've been looking for you, friend. Not that you're hard to find. That armour really makes you stand out."

"You're one to talk." Oniyama retorted. "That outfit made everyone in here stare at you as you walked through the door."

"True, but unlike you, my outfit means nothing to them. I'm an oddity for five minutes, whereas everyone in the city who's seen you, and even some who haven't, knew exactly where to find you. Armour like that isn't exactly subtle, even if Grelod the Kind never did see you coming."

Oniyama, in the middle of a swig from his tankard, paused. He instantly knew who this Redguard and Breton worked for. While it wasn't impossible that people would put together that the strangely armoured man who'd come to Riften and left quite suddenly less than a day after Grelod's murder might be involved with her death, it was wholly unlikely that anyone who did put that together would simply stroll up to him in another hold and casually tell him so. Only individuals with no fear would dare do so. For example, individuals linked with the oldest and most feared assassin's guild in all of Tamriel's history.

His pause was not lost on them. The girl, Babette, smiled evilly at him. "Looks like he knows who he's dealing with, Papa."

Oniyama lowered his tankard and placed it on the table. "What do you want from me?"

The Redguard produced a small pouch from his robe. Without an explanation he poured it into Oniyama's drink. "You drink this. You will fall asleep. We will take you to see our leader. Or you refuse to drink this and we walk out the door. And the next time you go to sleep, you never wake up. No matter where you sleep, when you sleep, or for how long you plan to sleep. Take five minutes for a cat nap and experience the Void. Your choice, friend."

Oniyama studied his visitors. He was pretty sure they weren't going to simply kill him. After all, if they truly wanted him dead, they could have waited until he went to sleep and finished him then. (Even he had not expected the Dark Brotherhood to respond this quickly.) The assassins had no reason to lie to him or poison him. Ultimately, this was what he'd wanted, even if he hadn't quite planned on it going down this way. How novel that his plans to meet an ancient assassin's guild would somehow fall apart. Who was he kidding? It was always going to be the Dark Brotherhood who set the terms of their meeting with him. He lifted the tankard to his mouth. "You already spoke her name. Babette. Do I get to know yours?"

The Redguard smirked. "If your meeting with our leader goes well, you'll discover my name in due course. If it doesn't, then why should I tell a dead man anything?"

Oniyama had to concede the point, though he said nothing. Instead he gulped back the rest of the contents of the tankard with one mighty swig.

Chapter Text

Oniyama awoke on his back. His armor clinked as he moved. He was on the floor of some sort of shack. Without moving, he checked to see if he was injured. He wasn't. Either that, or the sleeping potion was keeping him numb. He was also surprised to find that he was still clad in his armour. His helmet had been set on his head and his weapons were still strapped to his back. He knew the Brotherhood had little to fear from most people but surely even they wouldn't let a potential enemy keep his weapons on his way to meet their leader. Then again, perhaps the leader felt so safe from being the leader of the Dark Brotherhood that they figured any attempts on their life would be futile. Oniyama might even agree with such an assessment if he were a Stormcloak or a simple iron-clad mercenary. Daedric armour and weapons would make him reasess accordingly. It was also entirely possible that he was not, in fact, in the presence of their leader. They might have lied to him and this was just one of their brothers or sisters. They might be testing him to see if he would strike at someone he thought was their leader, perhaps as a deterrent against enemies of the Dark Brotherhood to foil any assassination attempts.

In any case, this turn of events worked in his favour. He wasn't about to attack whoever he was meeting, leader or not. However, if the leader attacked him, he was certain he could escape it alive, if not uninjured. As his senses returned to him, he registered that he was not alone in the shack. He could smell four distinct personas at different points in the house.

The first was a Nord female off to his left. He could hear her leg swinging back and forth. He could also hear some type of blade rustling against her clothing. He was pretty sure without even looking that she was a Brotherhood member, but he did not wish to give away that he had awakened just yet. He focused on the other aromas.

The second was also a Nord, this time a male. He was off to the right of Oniyama. Oniyama could hear as the man struggled softly against his bonds and his breathing made it clear that he was wearing some type of hood or mask. The stench of fear was thick enough to spread on toast.

The third was yet another Nord, also a female. Like the Nord beside her, she was bound and either hooded or masked. Instead of simply fear, which was definitely emanating from her, there was a fair amount of indignation and frustration coming from her.

The fourth was not a Nord but a Khajiit. The scent of his fur was unmistakable. Unlike his fellows, he was practically serene. Apart from being bound and masked like the other two, Oniyama could have sworn the man was at a picnic instead of tied up in a shack.

Deciding he had enough grasp of the situation, Oniyama made a show of stirring and sitting up while yawning. It was purely an act. He had full range of his faculties but if he could make others believe he was still groggy, he could sway any potential combat in his favour.

The woman to his left spoke up. "Sleep well?"

Oniyama turned to her. "I can't complain. I've slept on many floors in my time." He noticed her distinctive outfit/armour. She even looked like what the texts had described a Brotherhood member looking like.

"Good to hear. You're warm, dry and alive. More than can be said for old Grelod the Kind." Oniyama was certain he heard a note of appreciation in the statement.

"You and yours are hard to find. Figured my best bet was to work in your name until you caught up with me. Prove that I'm both an efficient killer and a proficient liar at the same time."

"Mmhm. And you weren't afraid we'd just kill you for your insolence?"

"It was a risk. Yet, how do you gain anything you desire, if not by risking to attain it?" He smiled at her before remembering his helmet was on.

"Do you mean to say you want to be part of the Dark Brotherhood?" She sounded genuinely, if mildly, surprised. Oniyama imagined she didn't sound that way very often.

"Indeed I do. I know that you're generally the best killers in the land and I'd like to prove that I'm at least your equal in that regard."

"Well, it just so happens we have the same idea. You may or may not have noticed that we have three guests over for the evening. Since you're so proficient at killing, I want to see if you can also follow orders. One of these three has a contract on their life. Kill one of them." She gestured toward the other three people in the shack.

Oniyama glanced at them before turning back to her. "I am not to know which has the contract?"

"Correct. You are ordered to kill. Kill one. Any one you choose. Speak to them first if you wish. It may shed light on who you believe to be the correct target."

"No need. I already know who has a contract on their life."

Her eyes widened almost imperceptibly. He wouldn't have noticed it if not for his supernatural senses. Her tone remained level. "And how do you know that?"

Oniyama gestured toward the hostages. "They have been listening to our conversation. The Nord male is afraid for his life, but is certain that he is innocent of any contract. The Nord female is furious at this interruption to her life, but is equally certain that no one wishes her dead. The Khajiit, however, began radiating guilt and paranoia as soon as you mentioned a contract. He knows someone put a contract on him and is trying to 'play it cool' as it were to throw off suspicions."

Oniyama could sense the relief from the two Nords almost as quickly as the Khajiit radiated a bestial sense of fear. Standing from where he had lain, Oniyama crossed to the hostages. He yanked the Khajiit to his feet and ripped off his hood. The Khajiit's fear was plain to see written across his face. Calling on his vampiric powers, Oniyama calmed the Khajiit then sank his fangs into the man's neck. He hadn't fed for almost two weeks so the blood was very welcome. Usually he stopped after a few gulps. It didn't do to leave corpses everywhere. This time he kept on until the man died where he stood. The assassin hadn't told him how to kill him, just to kill him. Why not kill two birds with one stone? As he finished his meal, he let the corpse drop to the floor and turned to face the assassin once more. "How'd I do?"

He was pretty sure she was smiling under the mask. "Interesting way to determine who to kill. Even more interesting was your method of execution. Not that I'm criticizing. It was a good kill."

"Does that mean I qualify for your little club?"

"Oh yes. Though you would do well to never again refer to it as a 'club' lest you upset your new brothers and sisters. In the southwest reaches of Skyrim, in the Pine Forest, you'll find the entrance to our Sanctuary. It's just beneath the road, hidden from view. Speak the passphrase "Silence, my brother" to the door and you're in. Then your new life with the Dark Brotherhood begins."

Oniyama did not mention that he had come across this door in his travels, specifically while gathering herbs for alchemy. He was nowhere near as good at alchemy as he was at smithing or enchanting, but he'd been out near Falkreath gathering herbs for healing potions when he'd spotted the unusual door. He hadn't recognized it, though he had tried to enter it. Obviously, lacking the correct passphrase, he'd been able to do little else with it. He had marked it on his map and gone on his way. How interesting that he'd encountered what would eventually become his new home, not that he could have known it at the time.

The Dark Brotherhood assassin tossed him the key to the shack and he left without another word.

Chapter Text

Oniyama stared at the door into the Brotherhood Sanctuary. It had taken him a few days to get back here. Even though he was expected, even though this was what he wanted, even though to turn back now would likely mean no more chances like it for the rest of his life, still he hesitated. Stepping through that door would commit him to this life. It would change him irrevocably for good or ill. He also had to admit that a small part of him was nervous to step into a den of assassins, even though he was invited. He was reminded of his lessons as a boy. Even though he'd had no real reason to be nervous, he still had hesitated before entering the tent where the teachers were to instruct the tribe boys on the ways of the hunt. Once he had gone in and suffered and learned, it had been alright. Yet now he was faced with much the same circumstances. Albeit with higher consequences. Where he had feared humiliation or ostracization from the tribe before, now he had to worry that he might not actually leave the Sanctuary alive at all. One would think that he, of all people, would have even less to worry about, being a vampire. Yet the Brotherhood had never had trouble assassinating vampires before.

He shook his head. He was being foolish. It would not do to have his first introduction to the Brotherhood (well, second technically) be when someone caught him standing outside the door like a boy outside the home of his secret crush. He reminded himself that, if it all fell apart, his armour was likely to keep him alive long enough to escape, if not outright win. Assuming a stance of confidence he approached the door.

"What...is the music...of life?" The door seemingly whispered.

"Silence...my brother." Oniyama responded.

"Welcome...home."

He heard the door click and jut outward slightly. Grasping at the edge, he hauled the door open. Or rather he expected to. The door swung open as if on the greasiest hinges, with nary a thought required for the amount of effort expended. In fact, Oniyama had to catch the door from slamming into the cliff face it was embedded in, so great was the force he'd expended in preparation for what looked to be a giant hunk of stone. Chalking it up to magic, he stepped inside.

He found himself in a roughly hewn corridor with steps leading down. A lit brazier provided light at a corner up ahead of him. The door clicked shut behind him almost silently. "Definitely magic." he muttered.

He strode down the steps and around the corner and found himself in what he would have described as a foyer, had it not been underground and made of rock. Since it was, 'antechamber' would probably describe it better. Ahead of him, the Brotherhood assassin whom he'd met in the shack stood, unmasked, leaning against a doorway through which more stairs descended further down. She had blonde hair and piercing eyes, though he could not see their colour in this lighting condition. To his left was a broad table littered with maps and notes. To his right against the wall stood shelves with alchemy and enchanting materials upon them. To his far left was a doorway leading to what seemed like a bedchamber, though it was hard to tell from where he stood. Not wanting to appear nosy, he walked up to the assassin.

"Ah, at last. I hope you found the place alright." She sounded slightly impatient. Perhaps he should have hurried more on his way here.

Naught that he could do about it now. "It wasn't difficult, your instructions were very precise. So what happens now?"

"Now you start your new life in the Dark Brotherhood. You're part of the family after all. This, as you can see, is our Sanctuary. You won't find a safer place in all of Skyrim. So get comfortable."

"Do I also get to know my family members' names? You haven't told me yours yet."

She smiled. "You haven't told me yours yet either."

He felt the surprise register on his face. He was glad his helmet was still on. Had to make sure he caught himself next time in case it wasn't. "You mean you don't already know?"

"Of course I know, but you're the one who wants to do introductions. Why not introduce yourself first?"

Oniyama shrugged. "I am Oniyama, smith, enchanter, fair hand at alchemy and seasoned warrior. I hail from Morrowind originally, though I am glad to say that I have lived in Skyrim for a few decades now." He bowed to her. "And you?"

"I am Astrid, the leader of our little family. Through this door-" she indicated the doorway she was leaning against "you'll find the other members of our group. You should go and introduce yourself. Might want to take that helmet off before you do so, unless you like the air of malevolence it grants."

He drew his helmet off his head and hung it at his belt. "Good advice, mother dearest."

A blade came seemingly from nowhere and pressed itself to his throat. "Astrid will do nicely. Or I'll not hear your voice again."

Using his own reflexes, Oniyama grabbed the blade from her and pressed it to her throat. "Duly noted, Astrid." He pulled the blade away and handed it back to her. "Don't pull a blade unless you're going to use it." He chided her.

For a moment he thought she was going to actually attack him. Instead, she put the blade away and inclined her head. "Very wise, Oniyama. I see you are quite adept at this art already. Oh, before I forget, on the table in the next room you'll find a set of armour laid out for you. Consider it a 'welcome to the Family' present."

Oniyama gestured at himself. "I don't mean to be ungracious but I have a suit of armour already."

"True, but that heavy metal was clanking all the way down the stairs. I'd hardly call that subtle."

"I can be silent if I wish to be."

"I'd like to see that."

"Perhaps I'll come visit you tonight. See if you hear me coming."

"I look forward to schooling you on the art of stealth."

"And I look forward to surprising you."

Without waiting for a response, Oniyama swept past her and descended deeper into the Sancutary. He'd surprised even himself with how forthright he'd been with Astrid. Some part of him had screamed at himself to be more docile, more submissive. Ultimately that just wasn't him. He also got the sense that such an attitude might have made Astrid think less of him.

The stairs opened into a large room that dwarfed the previous chamber. This one would definitely qualify as a 'Main Hall' regardless of whether it was above or below ground. Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, Oniyama surveyed the room.

To his left against the wall was a forge and an armour workbench. No one was standing at it. Both looked well worn and frequently used. On the armour workbench sat the suit of Brotherhood armour that was to have been his. He'd check to see if it had any enchantments on it that he didn't know later.

To his right was a small waterfall falling into a pool. He couldn't see how deep it was from where he stood, but it was either a stunning decorative display or a good source of clean water. Hopefully both.

Beside the waterfall to the left was a stairway that lead up to a set of double doors engraved in the same fashion as a Nordic crypt. Whether this meant that the Sanctuary was a former crypt (wouldn't surprise him if true) or just modeled after one was something he would look into later.

Directly in front of him was a stone pillar that connected floor to ceiling. Clearly a natural part of the cave formation. Between this pillar and the stairs (though further back than either) was the Redguard that had dosed him with sleeping potion back at Candlehearth Hall. Oniyama could also hear several other voices behind the pillar, though he couldn't see anyone besides the Redguard from where he was. From the sounds of it, they were trading stories from recent (or possibly distant past) contracts.

Oniyama suddenly had an idea. He mulled it in his head for a moment before deciding it was too audacious to ignore. Turning around and crouching, he crept back up the steps to the antechamber where he had met Astrid. As he reached the top, he slid his greataxe from its sheath and grasped it firmly in both hands. He peered around the corner into the room.

Astrid stood at the table littered with maps and notes. Her back was to him. Seizing the opportunity, Oniyama crept from the stairwell to directly behind her. As he came to a halt mere feet from her rear, he swung his greataxe like a hammer, careful to use enough force to unsteady her, but not enough to harm.

As the cheek of the axe connected with her torso, Astrid yelped and tried to spin on her attacker. The weight of the blow knocked her off balance and she had to perform several hops to catch herself. She managed to draw her dagger from her belt whilst doing so and by the time Oniyama had stood and faced her, she was already ready to strike back. Bringing his axe back into its sheath, Oniyama gave her his best douchebag smile.

She was livid. "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?! YOU DARE ATTACK ME IN MY OWN HOUSE?! I WILL CARVE THE FLESH FROM YOUR BONES!" Oniyama was impressed she could yell that loudly.

Oniyama still grinned at her. "Oh? Was the infamous assassin caught off guard by an Orc in heavy, clanking armour?"

Astrid was still not amused. "You said you were coming tonight! I didn't expect you'd come by just five minutes later!"

Behind him, Oniyama could hear the sounds of footfalls. Someone big was coming up the steps, and they weren't alone either. Repositioning to the other side of the table, he was still grinning unabashedly at Astrid. "Since when is an assassin supposed to do what other people expect? I thought the whole point was to catch people unaware."

"And how do you explain attacking your leader?!"

"If I wanted you dead, I wouldn't have hit you with the cheek of the axe or with so little force."

As he finished the sentence, Oniyama witnessed a large, burly Nord with long white hair come charging through the door to the main hall. Just as before, Oniyama didn't need the man to speak to smell that he was a werewolf. Oniyama could also smell Astrid on this man and, having now smelled him, him on Astrid. Clearly this man was her mate. Oh boy. Behind the Nord, several others were also filing into the room, but Oniyama could not pay them heed for now.

"You little runt! I will kill you where you stand!" The Nord readied a steel greataxe.

Oniyama held up his hands. "Look at Astrid. Is she harmed? Is she wounded? No. The only part of her that took a blow is her pride."

Astrid seemed to have calmed down. Or at least she was more afraid of her mate attacking someone in full Daedric plate than she was interested in continuing to be mad at said person. Werewolf or no, if this Nord attacked Oniyama in earnest, he would defend himself. He surmised Astrid probably figured this out as well. "Arnbjorn, hold. He surprised me, but he did not harm me. There is no need to come to blows over this."

The Nord, Arnbjorn apparently, still wasn't mollified. "I heard what you said! Just because he failed to penetrate your armour doesn't mean I'm going to let him have a second swing at you!"

Oniyama snorted. "I didn't 'fail to penetrate' her armour. I hit her with the cheek of my greataxe. I'd also like to point out that I only hit her with enough force to knock her off balance. She didn't even land on her ass."

Arnbjorn still wouldn't back down. "And I'm supposed to believe that why?"

Oniyama sighed. "Perhaps a demonstration is in order." Without another word, he yanked his greataxe from its sheath, raised it in a mighty two handed swing, and brought it down on the table between them with all his might. Between the extraordinary force of the blow, and the incredible sharpness of the weapon, it cleaved straight through and dug into the floor. So quick and powerful was the blow that even the pieces of paper and parchment on the table were undisturbed, save for being sliced clean in half. With another quick yank, he pulled the weapon out of the floor and brought it back into its sheath, nearly in one fluid motion.

The rest of the people in the room were stunned. Arnbjorn was staring at the table, slack-jawed. Astrid even more so. As Oniyama filtered to the other people behind Arnbjorn he registered their faces for the first time.

He immediately recognized Babette, the little Breton vampire. She still wore the same red and gray dress from before, or possibly an exact duplicate. She was the only one not staring at him or the table with complete shock. In fact, she seemed to be looking at him with something approaching admiration. Maybe he was just imagining it.

Beside Babette stood a Dark Elf woman. She was advanced in years, though just how old he could not say for certain. She wore Dark Brotherhood robes with a hood but no mask. Perhaps she only masked her face when on contract.

On Babette's other side was an old man. He was so old that any identifying markers signifying whether he was Breton, Imperial, or Nord were long gone. Skin colour said he was no Redguard at least. He shared the look of utter astonishment that the others had, but mixed in was a healthy dose of disapproval.

Beside the Dark Elf stood an Argonian male. His distinctive colouring and sharp eyes were nonetheless surprised by what they had just witnessed. His armour was a lot more like actual armour (as opposed to the robes that the old man and Dark Elf were wearing.)

Finally, beside the old man stood the Redguard from Candlehearth Hall. He had less surprise written on his face than the rest, but his body language told Oniyama that he was just as stunned as the others.

As the seconds lengthened, Oniyama spoke again. "If I wanted to do more than take her by surprise, I think it's safe to say that I could have cleaved her straight in two." He looked Arnbjorn in the eye "Do you believe me now?"

Arnbjorn snapped out of his reverie and shook himself like a dog. Well, he was a werewolf. "You've made your point, pup, but I warn you: attack her in earnest and you'll have the rest of us to deal with."

"Duly noted. I believe my point is well made. Both of them."

Arnbjorn took one last look at Astrid before sheathing his own greataxe and returning whence he came. The others slowly followed one by one. Babette was the last to leave and the only one not to look at Astrid before doing so. Her gaze never left Oniyama until she turned to go down the stairs.

Astrid sheathed her weapon and turned to face him once more. "Pray tell, what was the point of all that?"

Oniyama leaned against the wall. "I told you I can be silent if I wish to be."

"I remember. I distinctly recall replying that I looked forward to schooling you in the art of stealth."

"Certainly you did. Yet, tell me, who got the drop on who just now?"

Astrid bowed her head. "Point taken. How you did it is a mystery, but I cannot deny you snuck up on me."

"Don't feel so bad, Astrid. Truth is, this armor is most of the reason why. Allow me to demonstrate."

He sat down at the table and pulled off his boots. Crouching on the floor, he walked as sneakily as he could across it. Although there were no overt clanks, clangs, or squeals, there were undeniable clinks and tinkles. Standing up, he returned to his boots and redonned them. Crouching once again, he made his way across the same path. Nothing.

As he returned to his seat for a second time, Astrid spoke. "So that's how you managed it. Your boots are enchanted."

Oniyama smiled. "To be fair, enchanted boots won't make you succeed all by themselves, you also need to understand at least the basics of stealth before they'll really do you any good."

Astrid nodded in agreement. "Fair enough, you clearly know the basics and the boots cover for anything more advanced that you don't know. I concede that you can be stealthy even in heavy armour."

Oniyama shook his head. "I don't want to defeat you, Astrid. On the contrary, I look forward to providing this type of equipment to the rest of my brothers and sisters. However, there was no point in doing that if you saw no value in such trappings."

Astrid chuckled. "The Dark Brotherhood has not needed such toys before, why would we use them now?"

Oniyama chuckled back. "Because you do use toys like these. Where do you think I learned the enchantment in the first place? From a pair of your boots!"

Astrid glared at him. "You admit that you stole from the Dark Brotherhood?"

"Steal? No. He was dead when I lifted the boots."

"I find it hard to believe that someone who managed to kill a Brotherhood assassin would leave behind his armour for some scavenger to find."

"You would be right to believe that. I said he was dead when I took the boots. I didn't say he was dead when I met him."

Astrid glared even harder, somehow. "So you're not a thief, you're a killer. You admit to killing one of us?"

"Of course. There was a contract out on me. He arrived to fulfill it. I won. End of story."

Astrid glared for a second more, then relaxed. "I sense no deception from you. You are indeed correct. If an assassin dies by the hand of their target, they are unworthy to be a part of our Family in the first place. I cannot fault you for having a will to live."

Oniyama glanced up at her. "You're not going to try and fulfill the contract yourself?"

Astrid shook her head. "Quite apart from the fact that only one assassin is ever dispatched per target, it's part of our code that any target who can best us has earned their right to live. Sithis is still satisfied with a death, it's just the death of our brother instead of our target."

"What a relief. I'd hate to have gone through all this trouble only to find out that you have to kill me on general principle. Back to my previous question: you now have in your family a man who is quite capable of high quality smithing and enchantment. If you provide the materials, I can make or improve on the quality of the equipment you wield. You may or may not have known, but I made and enchanted this armour myself. All of it. Weapons too."

"What enchantments do you know?"

"It would be quicker to list what enchantments I do not know. Regeneration, utility, illusion, restoration, I know countless types of enchantments. On this armour set alone I have enchantments for sneaking, lockpicking, improved carrying capacity, water-breathing, regenerating health, stamina, and magicka...Hell I even enchanted my gauntlets to improve my aim with a bow. Trust me, Astrid, whatever you want, I know. And if I do not know, I can find out." Oniyama couldn't help but feel a surge of pride as he listed off his expertise.

"And what of armour?"

"I can craft anything made of metal, up to and including Daedric armour. I've also read some texts on how to work with Dragonbone, but to the best of my knowledge, dragons are extinct. It was a fun read though. I can also make leather and studded leather, though I'm more familiar with metal armour."

"I'll give some thought to armour and enchantments that we could work into our wardrobe. Ultimately, the others will make their own choices about what to, or not to, enchant and use. Be sure to advise them of your specialties."

Oniyama bowed to her. "It will be done, Astrid."

He strode back through the door leading to the main hall. As he left, he heard Astrid mutter. "Now I've got to replace this table..."

Chapter Text

Oniyama strolled back into the Main Hall like he owned the place. He was still feeling self-important when he walked around the pillar and into the cold, stony glares of his new 'Family.' His self assurance evaporated in an instant. Well, not all of it, but he'd clearly do well not to talk down to these people, no matter how effortlessly he'd just schooled their leader. Best to make friends now and be arrogant later, if at all.

The Redguard was the first to speak. "You took an awful risk drawing your weapon on our mother, friend."

"Point of fact: I didn't draw my weapon on her, I was merely demonstrating my point to defuse the situation." Oniyama silently cursed himself as soon as the words left his mouth. No matter how true they were, they weren't giving the greatest first impression to his new brother. "I'm sorry. What I meant is: I had no intention of harming her. If you'll give me a chance to introduce myself and explain, perhaps we can all be friends."

While this moment of self-humility didn't melt the cold stares as swiftly as a fireball, it did seem to lessen them some. The Redguard gestured for him to continue.

"My name is Oniyama. I hail from Morrowind originally, but I've lived in Skyrim for several decades now. I'm a master smith, a master enchanter, and a fair hand at alchemy." He gestured to his armour. "I'm also a proficient warrior. I use the best products of my craft and sell the rest. As for that whole debacle back there, when Astrid first welcomed me into the Sanctuary, she was rather dismissive of my armour. She did not believe that someone could be adequately stealthy in such heavy metal."

The Redguard was not impressed. "She is right to say so. I heard you all the way down those stairs."

Oniyama raised an eyebrow at him. "If that's so, then explain how I managed to sneak up on her in this very suit and knock her off balance with my greataxe."

The Redguard opened his mouth to reply then closed it. He looked unsure.

Babette chimed in "Obviously your suit is enchanted. I imagine you have a sneaking enhancement imbued in the boots."

"Correct. That's not the only enhancement, but it allowed me to surprise her. And if she can be surprised by it, it must be stealthy enough for common targets. It has the added benefit that if I'm discovered, it's one of the most protective and durable armours out there. And I have many combat related enchantments on it to boot." Oniyama felt that surge of pride again, but he quickly squashed it before it showed on his face.

The Redguard nodded. "I understand. That suit must be incredibly valuable. Where did you acquire it?"

"I guess you missed the part where I said I was a master smith and enchanter. I got this suit by making it myself. Same with the weapons and even the arrows for the bow."

Finally the Redguard looked impressed. "Quite the array of skills you have, friend."

"Without a doubt, but I believe we were doing introductions. I've introduced myself. Do I get to know the rest of you?"

The Redguard nodded. "I am Nazir. A Redguard as you can obviously tell. I hail from Hammerfell, but I was troubled in my homeland. Prone to anger and quick to judge. The Brotherhood saved me from myself and I have been sworn to them ever since."

The Argonian stepped forward. "I am Veezara, a former Shadowscale, that is, an assassin trained to live in service to the King of Black Marsh. I was honed by the Brotherhood from the day of my hatching. But that was a lifetime ago. Today I am the last of my kind, my order is extinct. I now happily serve Astrid and this Sanctuary."

Next up was the Dark Elf. "I am Gabriella. A woman of refined, yet simple tastes. I am an enchanter, like you. Perhaps there is something you can learn from me, or I from you. I sincerely welcome you to our Sanctuary."

The old man stepped forward. "I am Festus Krex. A mage of no small skill. I have served the Brotherhood for more years than I know how to count. I am your elder and you'd better respect me for it."

'Oh please' Oniyama thought to himself. 'I'm probably older than you are.'

Arnbjorn grunted. "Name's Arnbjorn, and I still haven't forgiven you for that stunt you pulled with my wife. Best keep an eye out, stiff."

Oniyama stood his ground. "I explained why I did that. If you intend to hold a grudge over something so mundane, then you'd best keep an eye out yourself, dog. Remember: I can go for longer without sleep than you can."

Arnbjorn laughed. A rasping howl not unlike the animal that he partly was. "You've got spine. I'll give you that. I won't attack if you don't...brother..." The emphasis made it clear he spoke the word only as a formality.

Oniyama didn't respond. He expected Babette to introduce herself next, even though he already knew her name, but she was not present. Strange, she'd been here a moment ago. Departing the others, Oniyama made his way up the steps and through the double doors. Following his nose, he soon came upon her sitting on a stone bed with a thin straw mattress atop it. She glanced up as he appeared in the doorway.

"Do you need something, brother?" Her intonation was far more amicable.

"I was going through introductions and expected you to introduce yourself to me. When I noticed you were no longer present, I came in search of you."

"You already know my name. What more is there?"

"Where you're from? What interests you have? Why you chose to be a Brotherhood assassin, or even why you became a vampire? Any or all of these things interest me."

Babette looked up at him with curiosity. "You really want to know?"

Oniyama smiled softly. "Only what you want to tell me. If you truly wish for me to know nothing more than your name, then so be it. I would like to know more but I will not press."

He thought he detected a glint of...something...in her eyes. If it was there it was gone just as quickly. "You're remarkably kind for an Orc."

"I don't know if I should feel complimented personally, or insulted for my race."

She laughed. "Oh? And how many kind Orcs do you know?"

It was his turn to laugh. "Point conceded. The only kind Orc I ever knew was my mother. My father wasn't kind, but he was fair. The best I could hope for from everyone else was that they didn't overtly hate me."

She patted the bed beside her. "Sit with me, brother."

Oniyama entered the room and sat beside her. "I take it you caught my name when I introduced myself?"

"Yes. I heard your entire introduction. Oniyama, smith, enchanter and alchemist. If you weren't a vampire, I'd wonder how you managed to master all those things."

"I haven't mastered alchemy. Simple healing potions and other common mixtures are the extent of my prowess there."

Babette was still smiling up at him. "Then perhaps I can teach you. I mastered alchemy a decade or more ago."

Oniyama smiled back. "I would like that." He paused. "You didn't answer my question. Will you tell me about yourself? I have known precious few vampires in my travels that I did not have to kill."

Babette frowned. "You kill vampires?"

"Only if they are hostile. Sadly, most are. I am sorry if this upsets you. You have my word that, so long as we are never enemies, you have nothing to fear from me." He tried to continue smiling at her but failed miserably.

She saw his expression and shook her head. "It is alright brother. I understand. If someone attacks you, you must defend yourself. Vampire or not." She rose from the bed and began to pace. "I will tell you of myself. Did you have a first question you wanted to know?"

Oniyama remained seated. "Why did you become a vampire? Was it your choice?"

Babette shook her head again. "A group of vampires attacked the village where my family lived. They slaughtered the entire town. I hid from them, but of course they smelled me and found me quite easily. Their leader claimed me for himself. Instead of killing me, he turned me. Said I reminded him of the daughter he lost when he turned. That was...oh...over three hundred years ago."

Oniyama let the surprise register on his face. He was aware that he'd already chided himself not to do so when his helmet was off, but he felt a kinship with this child...woman...female. He'd go with female for now. He was by no means new to being a vampire, but he'd only been one for eighty years. She was close to four times older than him. "You are certainly my elder then, sister. I have been a vampire for only eighty years. Eighty three to be exact."

She stopped pacing and faced him. "You still count the years?"

He nodded. "I figured I'd stop when I hit one hundred, but I'll probably keep counting them forever. My mind is incredibly sharp and I like counting things." He feigned exasperation. "What can you do?"

Babette giggled. It sounded just like a little girl's laugh, but at the same time he was aware of how much experience that laugh foreshadowed. "You're very articulate and intelligent, for an Orc."

Oniyama glared at her. "Now I am definitely insulted."

She continued to giggle. "Oh not this again!" Her giggling seemed to come faster.

Oniyama couldn't help but chuckle along with her. "Yes, it's hard to imagine an Orc like me, I admit it. You don't have to keep sounding so damned surprised about it though!"

Babette collapsed on the floor in a fit of giggles. Oniyama watched her for a minute before she slowly sat up and chuckled the last few away. From the floor she looked up at him. There was that...something...in her eyes. Oniyama was certain he wasn't imagining it this time. Still didn't have the word for it though. He expected it to disappear as quickly as it had showed. It didn't. Her face continued to shine up at him with that same expression. He couldn't look away. He imagined he must look rather confused.

Eventually, Babette broke eye contact. Standing up and dusting herself off, she returned to sit beside him. He didn't turn to meet her gaze. He was still puzzled by the moment that had just passed.

"What's wrong? I didn't actually offend you did I?" Even without looking, the concern was clear in her voice.

Oniyama shook his head. "No, little one. I am not offended."

"Little one? I'm older than you are!" She tried to inject some humour into her voice, but when he didn't react, her tone grew serious once again. "Oniyama...Brother...What is it?"

Oniyama still did not reply to her. Nor did he face her. What was her expression for? It wasn't one that Oniyama had encountered before. He was motionless because he needed to figure this out. Little evaded his understanding and he'd be damned if this little girl...woman...female was going to get the better of him.

Oniyama suddenly rose from the bed. Without a word he donned his helmet. Only when his face was safely hidden behind the cloaking magic of the helm did he turn to face Babette again. ""Sister, I am tired. Would it be terribly rude of me to ask after where my sleeping quarters are?"

Babette's expression was sad. No, it was more than sad. It was devastated. The sight broke Oniyama's heart. He didn't want to do this to her, but he needed time to think. Hopefully she would forgive him the next time they spoke. "Follow me, brother." Without another word, she rose from the bed and escorted him to another bedchamber further down the same hall. As he sat down on the bed she looked at him as though to say more, but she faltered. Closing her mouth, she cast her eyes downward and left.

Oniyama closed the door to his new room. Slowly he doffed his armour, placing the pieces on the table across from the bed. Underneath his armour was a set of simple travelling clothes. They fit him well enough and they were sturdy yet comfortable (even if they weren't the warmest.) His weapons he set beside his bed. Underneath his pillow he placed a daedric dagger. All preparations complete, he flung himself down onto the thin bedding and held his face in his hands.

Alone with his thoughts at last he allowed himself to think what he couldn't in front of Babette. He had never been stumped by Babette's expression. He knew it only too well. Yet that expression was one he hadn't seen in a long time, and even now, many decades later, it brought him back to the most painful time in his life with startling ease. With troubled thoughts, Oniyama rolled onto his side and tried to sleep. It was early in the day yet, but perhaps he'd feel better after a nap. He couldn't begin to imagine how wrong he was.

Chapter Text

(Eighty nine years previously)

The sun was shining down on the town of Gnaar Mok. Well, town was generous. It was really more of a village, or to be even more precise, a collection of huts and a dock, but it had a name, so a village it was. It was quiet and serene. Oniyama had initially settled here because he thought the village could make use of a capable blacksmith. He'd stayed because he'd grown to know the people in it and even liked several of them.

The local populace had originally been distrustful of him. As an Orc, and a burly one at that, many had assumed him to be hired muscle for one of the Houses. Only after he'd built a small hut and a forge on the outskirts did they come to, if not trust him, at least tolerate him.

Considering the size of the village, life had been difficult at first. Although Oniyama was a capable smith, there was not much demand for high quality weapons and armour in such a remote location. His main sustenance came from farming tools and fishing equipment. To supplement this, he worked on arms and armour whenever he had both the free time and energy to do so. Once he made enough of them, he would take a journey to either Gnisis or Balmora to sell them. Despite having a wagon laden with goods, bandits and thieves quickly discovered that he was just as proficient at using his products as he was at making them.

So it was that life went on for him. Every day he would rise, work the forge, stopping only to eat or relieve himself, then settle down late in the eve to slumber until the next morning when he would do it all again. He was content.

One day, while in Balmora selling his wares, Oniyama witnessed two thieves attempting to mug an Imperial woman. Without a second's hesitation, he grabbed up one of his longswords and sprinted toward them. The woman, though clearly frightened, was stubborn enough not to give up her purse. The thieves for their part were seemingly reluctant to use their weapons though it was clear that their patience was quickly thinning.

As one of them finally grew exasperated and drew his dagger, Oniyama reached them. Without breaking stride he skewered the armed thug with his longsword. The man's face went from frustrated to surprised to shocked. Oniyama yanked the blade out of his chest to a spurt of blood which splattered over the man's partner. The partner took one look at what had happened, released the purse and ran straight to the canal in the center of town. Without stopping he dove in and began swimming downstream. As soon as the would-be-thief's feet left the cobblestone, Oniyama turned to face the woman. She'd fallen over because the thug had let go so suddenly. Dropping the weapon, he extended his hand to help her up. "Are you injured, my lady?" He inquired.

The woman took the proffered hand. Rising to her feet, she dusted herself off and checked herself for wounds. "No, I don't think so. Thank you for saving me. It's unconscionable that such men would attack in broad daylight like that. I'm glad you came along when you did." Her voice made him feel as though silk were running along his arms. It was high, but not whiny, rich and cultured. It was the sort of voice he imagined a Goddess might possess. She didn't seem the slightest bit fazed that her rescuer was an Orc, or that one of her attackers lay dead at her feet in a pool of his own blood.

Oniyama bowed his head, unwilling to look such a beautiful woman in the eye. "You had best be on your way, my lady. I imagine the guards will arrive shortly. It wouldn't do to have you inconvenienced anymore than you already have been."

It sounded like the woman was smiling at him as she replied. "If it means ensuring that a handsome fellow like yourself is cleared of any wrongdoing in this matter, I'm happy to stay and support the truth."

Oniyama raised his head so his face was looking in her direction, though he did not look her in the eye. He did not miss how she called him handsome. She was certainly quite beautiful, with long brown hair that fell to her waist, and brown eyes to match. her skin was a vibrant shade of cream. She wore a blue dress with a brown sash. Overall, she was striking. Though he knew it was wrong to do so, Oniyama certainly envied whichever lucky man had claimed her for himself. "You need not lie to me just because I saved you. I must appear quite the brute to you, my lady."

The lady swatted the air in front of her as though a fly had buzzed around her head. "Nonsense! You're young, fit, with broad shoulders and neat hair. You're even kind and compassionate, rare traits in an Orc if you don't mind me saying so. Any lady who's not so shallow as to judge by race would be astoundingly fortunate to have you as a husband."

Before he could reply, a guard strode out of an alleyway and headed straight for them. Oniyama made sure to keep his hands at his sides and adopted as neutral a stance as he could. He didn't want to die by a guard's hand out of a misunderstanding.

The guard stopped just out of arm's reach with his sword drawn. "What happened here?" He demanded.

Oniyama opened his mouth to reply, but the lady beat him to it. "This man-" she indicated the dead thug "-and a partner tried to rob me. This man-" she indicated Oniyama "-saved me by running him through. The partner fled into the canal. This man acted in my defence. If what he did was wrong, I ask that I pay the penalty in his place, for it was for me that he committed these actions."

Oniyama was shocked. From the guard's tone, he could tell the man was at least a little surprised too. "That will not be necessary. Another witness corroborates your story. Normally murder is a serious crime, but the witness stated that this man drew a knife on you right before the Orc arrived. He was armed, thus he was fair game for anyone who came to your defence. Thank you for remaining to clear this up."

Oniyama gestured to the bloodsoaked sword, which still lay where he had dropped it. "May I retrieve my weapon, sir guard?"

The guard appraised him. "Where is your sheath for it?"

"Back at the wagon with the rest of my goods." Oniyama gestured toward the wagon he'd been peddling his wares from.

The guard nodded. He sheathed his own sword, nodded again to the pair of them, and walked on. Oniyama picked up his sword and began to head back to the wagon.

"Won't you even tell me your name?"

Oniyama turned. The lady was behind him. Apparently she was following him back to the wagon. "It is not important, my lady. It is unlikely you will ever see me again."

The lady blushed. Oniyama did not understand why she would until she blurted "And if I want to see you again?"

Rather bluntly, he replied "Why would you want that?"

The woman looked incredulous. "A dashing man comes to save me from thieves with no thought to his reward or safety and I'm not supposed to be interested in him?"

"I'm a simple smith from Gnaar Mok. You're a lady of clear refinement and grace. I doubt you are in the market for weapons or armour. Simply put, I am not worth your time." He turned and trudged on toward the wagon. From the looks of it, no one had stolen from it while he had saved the damsel in distress. What a fortuitous break. He figured he would have to relocate to the south side of the city for the rest of today. It was unlikely that many people would visit his wagon while a body lay a few dozen feet away-.

His thoughts were suddenly blown to pieces when a small but firm hand spun him around and he found himself locked in a kiss with the woman. He dropped the sword again and his eyes were wide as cup saucers. The woman's lips were soft and sweet and tasted of fruit. He couldn't say which fruit. His mind wasn't really working too well at the moment. He imagined his probably tasted like soot. Slowly his eyes drooped and closed. The seconds lengthened and still she held to him.

Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, the woman parted from him. She glanced up at his dazed expression and started giggling uncontrollably. He touched his fingers to his lips and looked at her. She stopped giggling but she continued to smile at him in a manner which he found intriguing. "Why did you do that, my lady?" His voice was shaky.

"You helped me. I owed a debt. I repaid it." Despite how matter-of-fact her words sounded, her tone suggested she had been interested in far more than simply repaying a debt. "Don't tell me you didn't like it?"

"On the contrary, I admit freely that such a thought crossed my mind as soon as I got a good look at you." His voice was still shaky. He probably still looked like someone had bashed him in the head with a cookpot.

She put her hand to his cheek. “Well, I’m glad you got what you wanted then.” The devilish smile still played across her lips.

“My lady, this is not proper. Your husband will have my head when word of this gets back to him.”

The lady laughed. It was a wholehearted and deep laugh, despite how high pitched her voice was. Oniyama was surprised at how loudly she laughed. It reverberated around the square they stood in. “And why do you think I’m married?”

Oniyama blinked. Twice. “How could you not be? I’ve not seen a fairer lass in all the times I’ve been to Balmora. If you are not married, surely you must have suitors at all hours of the day.”

“Of course this is true, but none of them are to my liking. Much to my father’s disapproval. Fear not, simple smith, no harm shall come to you for what I have done here today. Even my father would not dare cross me so.” There was a twinkle in her eye that told Oniyama she was quite serious about this.

Oniyama bowed to her. “My mistake. I’ll be going now.” He turned again to leave.

A hand on his shoulder stopped him, though it did not spin him like last time. “You still haven’t told me your name, my hero.”

He turned to face her once again. “I am Oniyama. As I said before, I live in Gnaar Mok.”

“Oniyama...” She mused. “Odd name for an Orc.”

Oniyama nodded. “Yes, that is not my birth name. It’s a name I adopted when I left my tribe. I have gone by it for more than ten years now.”

“Where did you find it?”

“In a book I read. It was the name of an ancient Daedra slayer.”

“You can read?”

“Yes, I received lessons from a kindly old Breton woman in one of the villages I passed through during my travels.”

The woman was surprised. “Handsome, fit, good trade, kind and well read. You are quite the catch aren’t you?”

“I’m hardly a catch, my lady. I live on meager earnings in a small hut by the sea. Some catch.” Oniyama cast his eyes downward.

Once again he felt a hand on his face, this time it was pushing his chin upward to meet her gaze. “You give yourself far too little credit, Oniyama. You are exceedingly rare. Compassion and kindness are all too rare these days. It is seldom easy to find them in one who also has the courage to act upon them. So what if you don’t make ebony armour for House Hlaalu? You are a good person and that’s far more attractive than all the gold in Vivec.” She leaned forward and kissed him again, this time on the cheek.

As her face came away from the second kiss, Oniyama smiled at her. It was the first time in a long time that he had met someone so accepting of who he was. “I don’t know what you see in a lowly Orc like me, my lady, but I am glad to have met you this day.”

She smiled back. “Why do you keep calling me ‘my lady?’”

“Because I don't know your name, miss.”

She gave a short laugh that was still quite loud. “Quite right! Amazing that we’ve talked all this time and I still haven’t told you that!” She stepped away from him and did a little twirl as though they were at a ball and not in the market square of Balmora. As the twirl came to a close and she faced him again she said “My name is Samandra. I’m not actually from here either. My father came here on business from Vivec and I came along to see the sights.” She stepped close to him again. “Lucky I did too, or I would never have met you.”

“Oh, I think I’m the lucky one, all things considered.” Oniyama had a big grin on his face now.

“Oh really? Seems like I’m the only one who’s had any initiative in this conversation.” She was giving him that devil smile again.

“I distinctly recall running a man through to save you from thieves.” Oniyama gestured over to the man’s corpse only to find that it was gone. Evidently someone had come to collect it while they talked. He hadn’t even noticed. They’d washed the blood off the cobblestones too.

Samandra glanced at where the body had lain and chuckled. “I don’t recall any such event. And look! There’s no proof to back up your story! Seems like I’m still the only one with any initiative here.”

Oniyama took a quick glance around the square. He couldn’t see anyone, though that didn’t mean people weren’t there. ‘Aw fuck it’ he thought. He put his hand on Samandra’s shoulder, spun her to face him and pushed his lips back onto hers in a long kiss. He didn’t stop there. He also slid one of his hands down her backside to rest firmly on her rear. With the other he slid it up between them to grope her breast. With his mouth he pushed his tongue outward, seeking entrance to hers.

For her part, Samandra squealed as he kissed her. When he pushed on her butt to get a firm grasp, she instead jumped up onto his hips and hooked her legs to stay there. As his other hand groped her bosom, she put her own hand over his and guided him to massage her forcefully. When she felt his tongue running over her lips, she opened them willingly so her own tongue could come and play.

They stayed in such a compromising position far longer than was proper. To be fair, it probably wasn’t proper to assume such a position in public in the first place, but he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to follow through and she sure didn’t seem to want to stop either. With her mouth opened to explore, his mind was working well enough to identify the taste on her breath. It was blueberries. He wasn’t quite certain what he’d had to eat last, but he was sure it was nothing as sweet as blueberries. Samandra didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.

At long last Oniyama had to come up for air. He released her breast and lessened the pressure on her ass. She took the hint and unhooked her legs from him, easing herself back to the ground. Right before she assumed her full weight again, they broke the kiss. Both of them tried to inhale deeply without overtly gasping. Oniyama was first to recover. He looked at her with smugness in his eyes. “I’m sorry, you were telling me about who had more initiative?”

Samandra straightened her dress. She was still breathing heavily, but she smiled at him all the same. “I think I still have more. You only did that when I goaded you.”

“Admit it, you only expected a light kiss.”

“Me? Admit something? Oh you’ll have to work me over harder if you’re going to get me to admit anything.” She still had the devil twinkle in her eyes. There was also a fair amount of lust there too.

Oniyama was still grinning at her. “You should be careful what you wish for, my lady.” He said sarcastically. “We Orcs tend to work people over...pretty hard. Be glad we’re not on the road between cities or I’d give you a demonstration.”

Samandra adopted a feigned pout. “I’m distinctly disappointed that we’re not on the road between cities right now.”

Oniyama could scarcely believe his ears. He had never expected such a demure looking woman to have such a nasty streak. “Well, I still have to try and peddle my wares. I do want to see you again though. I come to Balmora every three weeks or so to supplement my income with proceeds from my arms and armour.”

Samandra continued to pout. “Three weeks is too long. Can’t I come visit you in Gnaar Mok?”

“Certainly, but Gnaar Mok is a very small village. It doesn’t even have a silt strider port. To get there you would have to come overland, and the road, though not treacherous, is still quite risky for a lady such as yourself.”

Samandra pondered. “Isn’t Gnaar Mok on the coast? I’m certain it has boat access.”

Oniyama nodded. “Yes, but I wouldn’t call it a ‘port’ by any stretch. It’s mostly just a small dock for fishing boats and small merchant vessels. Any larger craft would require a separate rowboat to make a landing there.”

Samandra gleamed back at him. “Lucky that my father has just such a vessel. It should be small enough to dock directly with Gnaar Mok. If it’s not, I know it has a separate boat for landings. When can I come see you?”

It was Oniyama’s turn to ponder. “There’s really no specific day that would be best for a visit. The only advice I can offer is to come as early in the day as possible, though after the sun has risen. Late in the day, the fishing boats come in with their catches and the dock becomes unusable until they sail out the next morning.”

“They won’t be upset if my ship is still there when the sun sets?”

“No. Or rather, they will be, but there’s nothing to be done about it. The dock isn’t owned by anyone. It’s a first come, first served place and there’s no time limit to how long a boat can remain moored there. If you are planning on a longer visit, I’d recommend the rowboat though, just because bandits and thieves would find it harder to rob a ship that’s out in the bay.”

Samandra clasped his hand in hers. “That’s wise advice, Oniyama. I look forward to seeing your home.” She gave him one more kiss on the cheek, one more devilish smile and strode off through the market square. Oniyama watched her go. His heart felt lighter than it had in weeks.

Chapter Text

Oniyama returned to Gnaar Mok and continued with his life. As unexpected and happy as he was at having met Samandra, he honestly didn’t expect to see her again. He was just an Orc. She was just being polite. It was obvious to him that she’d flirted and teased him just because he was one of the few people who didn’t actively try to win her affections. He was just a phase, a bright star that would flash and burn in her memory and be forgotten in a week. He kept telling himself that’s all it was. It wouldn’t do to obsess over her. His work would suffer for it and he needed every gold piece he could get his hands on.

So it was that when a medium sized merchant vessel appeared in the bay outside Gnaar Mok five weeks after, he gave it no heed. The vessel was not spectacular, but neither was it shabby. It anchored itself out in the bay and dropped a boat to row ashore with. This was uncommon in Gnaar Mok, but nothing that really concerned Oniyama. Such vessels were always looking for fresh caught fish or possibly alchemical draughts for seasickness. They were never looking for nails, hoes, or fishing rods. Sometimes he would get business from a bodyguard looking to sharpen his sword or get the dings out of his half plate, but usually such ships held no interest for him.

He pounded away at the greataxe he had on his anvil. Sweat flew from his brow as he worked. He was dressed in a tight fitting tank top, with loose pantaloons tied at the waist by a simple length of rope. He had no need to impress the villagers of Gnaar Mok. Besides which, if he dressed too well, the local Camonna Tong might demand more ‘protection’ money because he was doing better. He felt a presence come up behind him. He was unconcerned. He pounded the greataxe twice more before seting it in the fire. He could come back to it later. “What do you need?” He asked without turning. He reached for his sweat rag. “I’ve got all manner of farming implements, fishing implements, as well as pieces of armour and a few weapons. Or do you need something repaired?” He turned to face his customer. As he caught sight of them, he dropped the towel.

Samandra stood before him. She wore a dress of bright yellow, of the same fashion as when he’d first met her. Her brown eyes were sparkling in the mid morning sun. Her face wore a smile of deep affection and longing. He realized he probably had that cookpot-to-head look on his face from last time. She spoke in a soft tone. “I know it’s probably not something you usually sell, but I was hoping to get some of your time, actually.”

Her words snapped him out of his reverie. Without even thinking, he took three steps forward and embraced her. She melted into his embrace as his lips found hers. They kissed long but softly. Oniyama was only too aware that there were many prying eyes within sight.

He broke from her. She still had that soft smile on her lips. “Certainly that is an odd request.” He replied. “But I guess I’ll make an exception for such a comely lass. Step inside my abode, if it pleases you.” He bowed and gestured to his hut.

Samandra stepped past him and opened the door to his home. She strode inside with no hesitation and he followed her in afterwards. Locking the door behind him, he turned to face the beautiful muse. “What can I do for you, my lady?” He mocked her.

She leaned close to speak softly in his ear. “Do you know how lonely I have been these past five weeks? It took so long to convince my father to let me take his ship up here and see you.”

“Does he even know the true reason you’re in Gnaar Mok?”

“Certainly. I told him I’d met a man who stole my heart away. He was a little relieved to hear that I’d finally found someone ‘worth my time’ as he put it.” She draped her arms around his neck. “He was less than impressed when I told him exactly who this man was, but I finally convinced him that I was either going to see you again or he’d never hear the damned end of it.”

Oniyama smiled as he pictured Samandra saying this to her father. He didn’t know the man, but he certainly didn’t envy him for that conversation. He looked into her eyes. “There’s no way you convinced him to accept me as your husband. If he’s even half as successful as that boat out there suggests, he wants you to marry into a rival merchant house, or possibly into politics.”

Samandra’s smile widened. “Oh, you’re right about that. He was absolutely livid when I said you were the one I’d chosen. But what is he to do? I’m not his slave. I can marry who I choose. I never liked ruthless mercantilism or politics anyway.”

Oniyama leaned down to kiss her again. The kiss was deeper this time, in the privacy of the hut. When it ended, he held her cheek in his hand. “This makes me so happy, but I must protest.”

She withdrew her hands from around him as a confused look dawned on her face. “What?! Why?!”

He took her hands in his and kissed them gently. “Samandra, I am overjoyed that you think me some great prize. I am thrilled that you would come all this way just to visit me. But let’s be real: What life can I provide for you? I make enough to sustain myself, but I cannot provide for you as well. It’s not a matter of desire or skill, the demand for my craft simply isn’t there.” He frowned at her. “I would die happy with you at my side, but I cannot in good conscience accept that you lower yourself to such a shabby life purely for my sake.”

Samandra stared sadly into his eyes. Then her resolve seemed to strengthen. She stepped forward and kissed him. Like last time, the kiss ran deep and lasted long. Their tongues danced with one another. When they stopped for breath, she held his head in her hands. “Oh my darling Oniyama. yet again you prove yourself to be far greater than all the eligible men in Vivec.” She stroked his cheek. “I do not care if I live in a hole in the ground for the next hundred years. I did not come here on a whim with girlish fantasies of childish romance. I came here because a strong, kindhearted smith leapt to my rescue and asked nothing in return, not even my name or my gratitude. He demeaned himself in my presence, claimed to be unworthy of me, even tried to ensure I wasn’t inconvenienced by his actions.” Tears were welling in her eyes. “Inconvenienced! He had risked being stabbed and possibly killed and yet he was worried about inconveniencing me! I have never met a more selfless man. I have never seen such compassion. You are more beautiful to me than the handsomest Imperial, the most dashing Breton, the strongest Nord. I spent these five weeks staring northwest, my heart a hundred miles away in a small fishing village. No, dear smith, dear Orc, dear Oniyama, I did not come here to live a shabby life for your sake. I came because I realized I am unworthy of your time.” She smiled through her tears. “But I want to be worthy. I want to spend my time with you. I want to look at myself on my deathbed and say ‘I supported a man not because he was rich, not because he was powerful, not because he gave me a life of luxury and ease. No, I supported a man because he did what was right, he did what he could to help others, even if it meant risking his life to save them and he did these things not because he profited from them, but because he could not, would not stand by and do nothing.’” She dropped to one knee before him, head bowed. “Will you take me to be your wife? Will you allow me to earn the privilege of spending time with you?”

Oniyama had tears streaming down his cheeks. He couldn’t speak. His heart was fit to burst. He reached down and swept Samandra into his arms. There was no kissing, no lewdness. With a primal cry of joy and sadness, he howled tears into her shoulder.

Samandra wept openly as well. He could feel the tears on his bare shoulder. She sobbed quietly. She hugged tight to him as well. Despite the fact that he was probably crushing the wind out of her, she made no complaint.

The pair of them stood and cried together. Oniyama had read of this before, of being so happy you cried. He never thought he’d experience it himself. He eased his grip on Samandra, finally becoming aware of how difficult it must have been for her to breathe. She took a long shuddering breath. A few more sobs escaped her lips. Oniyama drew back to look her in the eye. “If you truly believe what you do, I would be honoured to take you as my wife.” He stroked her hair as he spoke.

She ran a hand through his short cropped hair. “I do believe. Take me as your wife, Oniyama. I love you as I will love no other on this plane.”

The two embraced again to the sounds of village life in the distance.

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Oniyama and Samandra were wed the next day. They traveled to Balmora to find a priest. The priest had given them a strange look, but had gone through with it at Samandra’s insistence. Personally, Oniyama couldn’t disagree with the priest’s behaviour. If he had not seen it with his own eyes, he would scarcely believe that such a brutish looking Orc as he would land such a fine woman as she as a bride.

After the ‘ceremony’ they hurried home. Not out of fear of the road, but out of longing for one another. Oniyama remembered when he had insinuated what he’d do to her out on the road. He shook his head. It was entirely possible he’d do that to her one day, but for their first night together, he was determined to be more romantic, more gentle, more tender.

As they neared his hut on the outskirts of Gnaar Mok, Samandra hurried ahead of him, nearly dragging him along by his arm. He didn’t mind. Truth was that he was just as eager as she. She threw open the door to the hut and dragged him inside. As soon as he cleared the doorway, she slammed it shut behind him. Releasing him for a moment, she locked, then relocked the door. Satisfied that their privacy was assured, she turned to face him. “What now, my darling?” Her voice was dripping with lust.

Oniyama put a finger to his chin in mock thought. “Now? Well, now I suppose I’m going to ravish you. Maybe spank that bottom till your ass is as red as your tongue.”

He expected her to laugh at his joke. Instead, she sidled up to him. Smiling that cute but devilish smile of hers, she spoke to him, her voice barely a more than a whisper. “I’m holding you to that. If my ass isn’t the reddest ass in all of Morrowind by sunup tomorrow, you’re going to do it over and over again until you get it right.”

Oniyama felt a sizeable bulge in his pantaloons. Not that he wasn’t horny before, but the depravity of what she’d just invited on herself called to the primal instincts of his baser nature. He restrained himself and took a more serious tone. He wasn’t sure he could hold it for long, but he had to be sure before anything started. “Be careful, Samandra. Just because I’m the most kindhearted man you’ve ever met doesn’t mean I don’t have baser instincts. Are you sure this is what you want?”

Samandra’s smile faltered, but only for a second. Then it came back in full force as she kissed him. Her tongue ran up and down his lips. He savored her taste. She broke the kiss and spoke from barely an inch in front of him. “You are so sweet, my darling. I appreciate that you worry for me, but you should know that I am no frail princess.” She cupped his erection through his pants. He squirmed at the sudden pressure. She continued. “Now, let me be perfectly clear. I want you to take this thing-” she squeezed his cock “-and plunge it into my depths as hard and as fast as you can. Don’t stop if you see blood, or if you hear screams. Plunge it up to the hilt, then fuck me hard and fast with it.” She leaned to whisper into his ear. “And if you forget to redden my bottom while you’re pounding my pussy like the wild pig I expect you to be, I’m not going to let you sleep until you get it just the right shade.” She leaned back and stared into his eyes with a determined smile. There was no fear.

Oniyama released what little grip he had on his wilder side. He was no virgin, but he’d always tried not to be too rough with his partners. Orc sex was fast and brutal, the male seeking only his own release and the female expected to find her own pleasure whether or not the male did it for her. Oniyama wanted to be better than that. By the Gods did he want to, but this woman had just done the equivalent of dipping herself in roast sauce and laying prone before a hungry bear. It was clear she wanted this. She wanted it rough, she wanted it hard, she wanted him to thrash her like she was nothing more than his slave. And he wasn’t going to argue with her anymore.

“Get those clothes off, woman!” He commanded with such force that she looked momentarily startled. She complied, however. Her beautiful form began to emerge from beneath her dress. She threw the dress to one side and revealed one final surprise to her new husband: she wasn’t wearing anything under it. She stood in front of him, arms on her hips, in a sensual pose, naked as the day she was born. Her eyes were appraising his crotch. She looked up to meet his gaze and licked her lips.

Oniyama proceeded to tear his own clothes off. It didn’t take long before he matched her nudity with his own. He eyed her shapely breasts, her trimmed mound, and the sway of her hips. For her part, she was eyeing his exposed cock, standing proudly at eleven inches and twitching slightly in anticipation of its prize.

Samandra spread her legs slightly apart and spread her pussy before Oniyama’s eyes. He could now see that her juices had run down her leg and were approaching her ankles. She was wet for him. She was wetter than he’d ever seen any partner of his get. In the center of her hands, her pink flower pulsed and throbbed as it anticipated being skewered by his lust torpedo.

Unable to bear the sight any longer, Oniyama rushed forward and lifted Samandra off her feet. With a hard thud, he slammed her into the table. She grunted with the impact, but her face showed no sign of discontent with the maneuver. On the contrary, she raised her legs and spread them wide before him. She spread her pussy open again with one hand and used the other to stroke his manhood.

Samandra never broke eye contact with her husband as she felt his erection in her hand. She’d never had sex before and she knew this was going to hurt, but her wilful nature made her welcome the challenge instead of fearing it. She wanted this to hurt. She wanted him to hurt her. Not because she enjoyed pain, but because she knew that, as an Orc, he was used to making love a certain way. She wanted to experience that way. In the weeks leading up to her visit to Gnaar Mok, she’d surreptitiously read anything she could get her hands on about the mating practices of Orcs. Her maid had sternly disapproved, but knew better than to say anything. Samandra was fascinated with the anatomy of the Orcs. Now as she held such a thing in her hand, she realized how woefully unprepared the book had made her for it.

It was long. Longer than she had ever expected, but from what she’d heard from other ladies who were not virgins, longer was better. It was also thick. Thicker than her finger, though not as thick as her fist. She estimated it to be around the same thickness as her wrist. The ladies she’d spoken to were less unanimous about whether thicker was better, though some of them certainly swore that it was. What none of them could prepare her for (and the books had completely failed to mention) was how rough it was. Orc skin in general was not very soft and this did not bother her, but the skin of his member somehow seemed rougher than the rest. It had the feel of worn leather, calloused and rough. Samandra wasn’t sure she would like it, but she had resolved during the wedding that even if his member was somehow the living equivalent of a cactus, she’d still invite him to bury it within her. It was also a lot harder than the ladies had mentioned. True, they had been talking about Imperial (and a few Breton) cocks and they were in agreement that all cocks got hard, but there was an underlying softness that you could sense about them. They were only hard until the male was satisfied, then they became flaccid and limp. Samandra did not feel anything like that. If it wasn’t for the warm sensation and the living (if rough) texture, she might have mistaken his manhood for a stone carving.

Oniyama squirmed as his wife stroked him. A small voice in his mind wondered what she thought of the meat missile that was about to invade her. It never gained any strength because in that moment she nodded and guided his shaft to her opening.

With a mighty thrust that slid Samandra back across the table a couple inches, Oniyama slammed his cock all the way into her waiting opening. Samandra screamed in pure agony as the most intense, searing, tearing, hot pain shot up from her crotch and into her brain. Her former analysis that his cock was actually stone suddenly seemed far more accurate. It felt like it had split her open. It felt like she had been skewered with a sword instead of a penis. She could feel blood leaking from between her legs onto the table. Yet, even though the pain was still at the forefront of her mind, a small voice at the back of her mind was reveling in it. ‘This is blowing his mind!’ It said. Samandra looked up at her lover. Her scream had apparently caused him to stop. Taking several deep breaths, she reached up to touch his cheek. “Don’t stop now, darling. You’ve got to really fuck me hard. Fuck me hard and don’t stop for anything...” Inside her head, a part of her screamed that she had just sealed her death warrant. She hushed it. The hard part was over. Well, actually it was still inside her, but the worst of the experience was now behind her. She reached down to rub her clit while she looked at her husband with dreamy eyes.

When Oniyama had shoved himself inside her, her scream had shattered its way through his primal instinct and revived his desire not to hurt her. He’d frozen instantly, balls deep inside her, and waited to see what she would say. Inside his head, he was beating himself up. ‘How could you do that to the woman you love?!’ He berated himself. ‘Just because she said she wants it doesn’t mean she actually wants it! She had no idea just what she was asking for. You should have said no. Now she hates you!’ The line repeated over and over. ‘She hates you. She hates you. She hates you.’ Oniyama prepared to pull himself out as gently as he could when he felt a hand on his face. Looking at his love, he watched her take several deep breaths before telling him “Don’t stop now, darling. You’ve got to really fuck me hard. Fuck me hard and don’t stop for anything...” Her hand fell to her side and she stared up at him with dreamy eyes.

Oniyama withdrew from her, albeit slowly. When only the tip remained inside, he pushed in again, as slowly as before. Samandra moaned, in pain or pleasure Oniyama couldn’t tell, until he was once again up to the hilt in her. He hadn’t noticed just how good it felt inside her when he’d first entered. It was amazing. He’d had an Imperial partner before, but somehow Samandra’s flesh was softer than air. And it was hot. Oniyama wasn’t sure how his dick hadn’t melted by now, but he would have sworn in that instant that her pussy was hotter than any forge he’d ever worked in. As he drew himself out again, he shivered at the cool air on his shaft. As he pushed in again, he groaned at the sensation of his dick melting in her heat. In and out, in and out, slow and cautious. It wasn’t what she’d asked of him, but he was certain what she’d asked wasn’t really what she’d wanted either.

Samandra was grateful to Oniyama. Despite insisting that he continue with a hard and fast fuck, she was coming to realize that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. She’d been a virgin. Even knowing that her first time would be painful had in no way prepared her for just how painful it had actually been. And it had probably been far more painful than it would have been if she’d listened to her mate and asked him to treat her gently for her first time. Her stubborn pride had insisted that she could bear the full brunt of his bestial fury and like an idiot she’d listened to it. She didn’t blame him. Not at all. He had warned her that she was inviting trouble, that he didn’t want to hurt her, and in her naive mindset, she’d foolishly assumed she would best it anyway. Now, as he slid in and out of her gently, she could feel how his girth expanded her. It was glorious. It still hurt, but more and more she was feeling pleasure over pain. More than the weight of the member going in and out of her, Samandra could feel the strength of Oniyama’s love for her. No doubt he still wanted to pound her into Oblivion like she’d originally asked, but he was obviously restraining himself so that she might have a more pleasant time for the rest of the evening. As he slid into her yet again, she leaned up from the table and kissed him.

As Samandra leaned up to kiss him, Oniyama saw his chance. He’d been holding her legs with his arms this whole time to keep her steady and stable while he fucked her in long, slow strokes. Now he moved them to her rear and her back. As she sank into the kiss with him he applied his strength and lifted her effortlessly off the table. Turning and walking slowly, he made his way to the simple bed. It was only designed to fit one, but they’d make it work. ‘Going to need a bigger bed’ Oniyama thought to himself as he eased himself and his partner down onto it. Swinging his legs up onto the bed, he laid down on his back, with Samandra on top of him.

In this new position, Samandra could feel Oniyama’s prick even more acutely. Her hair fell around them as they continued to kiss, tongues wrapped into each other. She grasped his head in her hands, stroking his ears and hair as she did so. She felt him groan into her lips from the pleasure. She was in ecstasy. Wrapped in the arms of her lover, she began to rock her hips back and forth. She broke from the kiss and moaned loudly into Oniyama’s ear as a fresh wave of pleasure hit her. She had grown accustomed to his hardness rubbing along her inner walls. The tip was poking the entrance to her womb. She felt full and content. She had pleasured herself before today, but this was so far removed from that she wasn’t even sure how the two were even related. The pain had receded almost entirely, though it was still present. Samandra didn’t care anymore. She wanted to feel the next part of this. The ladies had said it felt like getting shot by a warm gooey arrow. Samandra wasn’t quite sure whether to look forward to that, or fear it. She’d gotten shot with an arrow when she was younger during archery lessons, and it had smarted something awful. Yet she had a hard time believing this would be a bad sensation when it happened. All the ladies had agreed that it was quite a wonderful experience.

Oniyama had his eyes closed as he felt Samandra rocking back and forth on him. He’d never experienced lovemaking in this fashion. Usually he did all the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively. He was thoroughly enjoying himself now though. He could feel every inch of Samandra’s walls as her pussy flexed and throbbed around him. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take.

Samandra wasn’t sure how much more she could take. She was starting to lose track of things as her mind focused more and more on the pleasure she was generating from between her legs. On an impulse, she reached a hand down to her clit and started rubbing it in circles. As soon as she did, her back arched involuntarily and she gasped. It was incredible! She had a hard time keeping her balance with only one hand on her lover’s chest. Yet she continued with her ministrations, her circles growing faster and faster, until she lost control of her finger and seized up in what she hoped was just the first of many orgasms to come. A scream escaped her lips as she came, this one pure pleasure. As she started to come down from it, she felt faint and collapsed forward onto Oniyama’s chest.

Oniyama had been enjoying the position with closed eyes until he felt Samandra’s weight shift suddenly. Opening his eyes, he saw her atop him, still rocking back and forth, but now she had a hand to her clit. She was rubbing it furiously. Her eyes were closed, her face pointed toward the roof. He saw her mouth open and he heard her gasp. He was fixated by the obscene sight. He watched as her movements became more frantic and he felt her pussy contract and throb faster and more rhythmically until suddenly it seized upon him with such great force he almost spent right then and there. Samandra screamed, long, loud and full of pleasure. Then she pitched forward toward his chest. Reacting quickly, he caught her before she thudded into him. Cradling her shaking body, he waited for her to come to.

Samandra slowly regained consciousness. She was lying atop her mate and she could still feel his aching member throbbing inside her pussy. Even without any additional movement, this was making her so much wetter than she had been before. She looked up to meet his gaze. His eyes were full of concern for a second. When she smiled at him dreamily, they changed from concern to affection. Moving her head up from his broad chest, she kissed him. It never occurred to her before now, but his tongue had more or less the same texture as his cock. Rough like worn leather, but it was also a lot softer. Still not as soft as her tongue, but neither was it a rock. Not like the wonderful shaft filling her womb. She exhaled through her nose onto his face as she kissed him, feeling thoroughly contented.

Oniyama pulled back from the kiss and asked her. “Do you still want to continue? We can take a break if you want.”

Samandra’s heart swelled at the suggestion. Not because she wanted to stop, far from it, but because even after all that had transpired this evening, Oniyama was still thinking of her first and foremost. As he had put her safety before his own the day they had met, now he was putting her pleasure before his own. It was his most sexy personality trait. She looked deeply into his eyes as she replied. “No, honey. I want to feel you cum inside me at least once. Do you want to change positions?” Oniyama nodded. Samandra sat up off him. With a small sigh of regret, she let his rock hard cock slip out of her. Even though it was coming right back, she didn’t want to be separated from it for longer than she had to. She was going to experience that warm gooey arrow and she wouldn’t be satisfied until she did. She laid down on her back, the way they had done at the table. She had to admit she liked the bed better, probably because it had actual padding. She also admitted to herself that, if her husband wanted to fuck her over hot coals, she’d do it just to please him. She didn’t say it though, best not to give him any ideas.

Oniyama parted her legs and aimed his love muscle at her entrance. With a slow but steady thrust, he eased himself back inside of her. She gave a small whimper as his shaft filled her to the brim once more. She was extremely sensitive after her orgasm. Oniyama leaned down and kissed her, this time with short pecking kisses all over her face and neck. Coinciding with this treatment, he started a rythym again. This time it was faster than before, though it was still rather slow. He was having trouble almost immediately. He wanted to stick to a slower rythym, but between his orgasm getting interrupted by her fainting spell (not that he faulted her for it) and not having cum yet tonight, he was close to the edge after just a few strokes into her sticky, hot honey pot.

Samandra could feel how close her husband was to a release. She wanted him to release. She wanted him to pour his seed into her. Oh by the Gods she wanted it. She started to moan in time with his thrusts. Closing her eyes to focus on the pure ecstasy from where they were connected, she felt herself approach the cliff again. “Darling...” She breathed. “Harder...”

Oniyama didn’t need any more encouragement. His pace quickened. He sped up to something more approaching a regular rythym. He was losing himself in the sensation of her pussy throbbing around his member. He had started growling softly in time with his thrusts. He knew he wasn't going slowly anymore, but Samandra's moans were telling him that he really didn't need to. A quick glance at where they were connected showed him that no blood was mixed with their juices anymore. Oniyama began to let his instincts guide him to his release.

His thrusts became faster and faster. He could feel his rough member pounding her walls like she was a sword on his anvil. His pace quickened again. His member was twitching erractically at the end of each thrust. His mind was going blank from the pleasure. This was it. As he slammed her pussy with his raging cock over and over, he felt himself lose the last of his control. With a guttural, bestial growl, he pounded into her depths one last time. He looked down at his mate. She was staring back at him, mouth slightly open, panting like a bitch in heat, clearly lost in the pleasure. With the sight of her behaving so lewdly...he came.

Samandra would have cried out again if she hadn’t been so oblivious to anything but the feeling of her husband shooting his seed into her virgin depths. It wasn’t a warm gooey arrow, it was more like a ballista. His seed shot from his shaft and splattered on her cervix. It felt like she’d been shot, but it wasn’t just one arrow that had been loosed. Shot after shot pounded into her with enough force to hurt. She didn’t care. As the shots continued, the pain and the pleasure from her mate’s climax caused her to cum in another orgasm. She thought the first one had been intense, but compared to it, this one was mind shattering. The first time, she’d fallen off a cliff in a dream-like state. Now she felt like she had been hanged from it. She stayed at the peak for long, long seconds. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. She could see Oniyama with a mad look in his eye, growling like a wolf about to make a kill. And still he shot into her. She was certain in that instant that she would remain in this cycle until she died from sheer pleasure. It would be the best death possible.

Oniyama had never cum so much in his life. Once, twice, thrice, he lost count of how many shots of his seed were pouring into her. It felt like he would be locked in this moment for eternity.

As suddenly as it had begun, his climax finished. With a few smaller squirts, his member began to soften inside her. He could tell from how it felt that he’d filled her and then some. With the last effort that remained in his body he managed to collapse beside her instead of on top of her. Well, almost. The bed wasn’t big enough for him to dismount her completely, but he managed to land his bulky chest sideways beside her. Only half of his weight was resting on her. He exhaled in a long, slow, contented sigh.

The rope choking Samandra over the chasm snapped. She fell from her precipice and slowly came back to reality. She felt Oniyama collapse beside her, felt his member weaken inside her. She felt deliciously full of his seed. Now she understood why the other ladies had been so insistent that the finish was the best part. Samandra’s clit still throbbed, but she was spent from her first experience. She tried to turn and face her lover. It wasn’t easy with how they were positioned. In the end she only managed to put her hand on his face. She wanted to cradle him back to consciousness as he’d done for her. Evidently he’d been worried that his weight would prevent her from breathing. Gods, he was so sexy! She stroked his hair as she listened to him slowly come to.

Oniyama awoke in a daze. Taking stock of the situation, he felt a hand in his hair. Lifting himself up, he looked into his lover’s eyes. She was positively beaming at him. He leaned down to kiss her, but she put a finger on his lips. She brought his head down to speak softly in his ear. “Thank you for understanding what I couldn’t, my love. You were right to warn me of what I invited, but I swear to you that one day we will fuck like rabbits. When that day comes, don’t hold back.” She lifted his head and soundly sealed her pledge with a kiss.

Oniyama tried to roll over. He wanted to collapse and sleep, but he was still worried about smothering her with his weight. Samandra held him fast. “Darling.” He said. “If I fall atop you and smother you, it would break my heart. Please let me roll over.”

Samandra smiled that devil smile of hers. “Ease yourself into my bosom, my husband. Sleep like the dead and fear not. You will not crush me." She adopted a mocking tone. "I am no frail princess.” She guided him to lie atop her. He eased himself onto her, slowly putting more weight on her until she held him entirely. As he settled into position, she inhaled deeply and blew into his ear. “Now, sleep my husband. Lie atop your wife and sleep soundly in her arms.” To emphasize her point, she wrapped her arms around him, one around his head, one cradling his firm butt. “When you awaken, she will want more of your seed. Rest my darling.” She kissed him sensually. He was still inside of her. She was fine with that. No, more than fine. She was certain she'd sleep more soundly in this position than she ever had in her life.

Oniyama could protest no longer. With one more contented sigh, his head slid off her kiss and he fell into sweet darkness.

Chapter Text

The next few days were a blur for Oniyama. He still worked the forge as he had before, but now whenever he took a break, a small pair of hands were there to rub the ache from his shoulders, to pat down his brow with a handkerchief. Samandra adapted seamlessly to country life. She got stares from the other men who inhabited the village, but once word spread that she was Oniyama’s wife, not even the Camonna Tong dared interfere with her. Her fashionable dress gave way to a country frock, and she shortened her hair so that it was easier to handle by herself. She was a quick study in most things she applied herself to.

Her father had paid her dowry to Oniyama by way of boat messenger. He’d included a note that stated he’d only paid it because he knew his daughter would come back to Vivec and steal his belongings if he didn’t. Oniyama had to chuckle at it. He'd shown the note to Samandra along with the bag of gold. She'd chuckled at it too before agreeing vehemently that her father was right about her coming back to Vivec to steal her dowry from him. Oniyama had been slightly worried that Samandra might balk at leaving her father behind, but she showed no signs of regret at this apparent break.

The first thing they’d bought was a larger bed. It wasn’t huge, but it could comfortably fit both of them side-by-side. And it was worn in pretty quickly. The first night they had it, Samandra had welcomed him into the hut after a day at the forge by declaring that she was to be his dessert for the evening. She proceeded to cook a meal in the nude, but swatted his hands away whenever he tried to touch her. “No dessert for you until you finish supper!” She teased.

In a fit of pique, Oniyama had stripped down to eat his meal in the nude. He had wolfed down the meal, a simple haunch of roast bear he had bought, along with some vegetables she had bought from the local vendor. When he finished, he sat patiently as she cleaned his plate and eating utensils. Then she turned, strode up to him and sat in his lap. “Ready for dessert?” She asked seductively.

Oniyama replied by burying one of her nipples in his mouth. She gasped. Although her breasts hadn’t gotten any attention during their first night together, she found she enjoyed the attention he paid to them. As his rough tongue swirled over and around her nipple, she felt herself grow wet. She’d tried her very best not to get wet all through dinner, and had only narrowly succeeded. It had been especially difficult while he was eating because she'd kept sneaking glances at her husband's penis. She was sure he'd caught her once or twice, but she didn't care. It looked so long, thick and hard that she'd had to pointedly not look at it to prevent herself from getting visibly aroused. That time was over now. Now she was in her lover’s arms and it was time to fuck. She could feel his stone-carved cock twitching against her butt. It was making her incredibly horny.

As Oniyama nibbled on his wife’s breasts, he felt her love juices coat his crotch and thighs. He'd be able to fuck her completely silly tonight, no doubt about that. He chuckled internally about just how lewd his wife really was. True to her word, when he had awoken after the night of their wedding, she had refused to let him leave the hut until he'd pumped her pussy full of his seed one more time. Her sexual appetite was incredible. He always knew that he had the stamina to go longer than most in bed, but with her he was quickly finding out where his limits were. He’d had some idea after their initial meeting, but now that they were allowed to do whatever they wanted, he found that his wife was interested in all kinds of crazy things. She wasn’t shy about voicing them either. Just after they got back from the carpenter in Balmora, she’d asked him if he was ok with face-fucking her. He had sheepishly admitted that he did not know what she meant. When she explained what it involved, he grew concerned for her well being at such a position. She laughed and reminded him that she was asking him. Oniyama had no qualms about trying such a thing, but he didn’t see what she got out of it.

“My darling-” she’d said. “-What I get out of it is feeling that rock cock of yours shoot hot cream into my mouth and down my throat. You have no idea just how much I want that.”

“But honey-” He protested. “What if you don’t like the taste?”

She gave him a lewd look. “It could taste like dung, and I’d still want to feel it shooting down my throat.”

Oniyama had counted himself extremely fortunate at that moment. He knew that many men were absolutely depraved. they reveled in the thought of abusing women and performing such acts on them. What he never imagined was marrying a woman who wanted him to perform such depraved acts on her. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was certainly unexpected.

Oniyama picked himself and his wife up off the chair and made his way to their new bed. He laid her down upon it and settled atop her. the bed was extremely soft. So soft that he couldn’t believe it was hewn from solid oak. He still had her breast in his mouth. He switched to the other nipple and began licking it lovingly. The quiet whimpers of pleasure he received told him he was on the right track. Samandra was stroking the back of his head and breathing into his ear. It was very erotic. His shaft was swelling between them.

Samandra could feel her man’s cock swell and harden into the pillar of lust that she loved. She wanted it inside her, but then she had an idea. She tapped Oniyama on the back of his head. “My darling?”

Oniyama looked up from his ministrations. “Yes?”

“Would you like to fuck my breasts?” She asked casually.

Oniyama was puzzled. “Fuck your breasts? How would I do that?”

Samandra giggled. She wasn’t laughing at his ignorance, rather at his cuteness. She loved how direct they were in bed. “Let me lick your hot member, to get it wet, then slide it between my breasts and cum all over my face.”

Oniyama’s dick twitched at the suggestion. He knew she’d felt it too. He craned his head upward and kissed her. She kissed him back. He pulled away and replied. “I would enjoy such an act thoroughly.”

Samandra giggled again, softer this time. Oniyama was the most articulate Orc she’d ever met, even in bed. As he got up off her, she rose from the bed and kneeled beside it. Oniyama offered her a pillow to keep her knees from getting sore which she gratefully accepted. He sat before her on the bed, huge prick standing at attention. She slid his knees apart and settled herself between them. She looked up at him, smiled, and leaned down to kiss the tip of his cock directly.

Oniyama squirmed at the new sensation. This was just a kiss. He had no idea how her tongue was going to feel on his member. He was rather looking forward to it.

Samandra kissed the tip of his prick repeatedly. Then she deepened the kiss, bringing the tip of him into her mouth. She kept her tongue back for now, allowing him to adjust to the new sensation gradually. He wasn’t the only one who considered their partner before themselves. She savored the taste of him. It was hard to describe. He tasted meaty, like a roast pig, but there was a hint of smoke and soot there too, probably from all the time he spent in the forge. To top it all off there was a savoury aftertaste that she recognized as the sauce she’d served with the roast bear. All in all, it was delectable. Popping his cock out from her mouth, she looked up at him again. He was smiling with a slightly dreamy look on his face. With a giggle, Samandra leaned further down and jutted out her tongue. Placing it on his sizeable scrotum, she proceeded to drag it up the entire length of his shaft. As she flicked it off the tip, she suddenly felt his hands grab either side of her head. He held her tightly for several seconds before releasing her and looking guilty. She smiled up at him. “Don’t feel bad, darling. I’m glad you’re enjoying this so much.”

Oniyama was short of breath as he replied. “This...this is...so much more...intense...than I thought it would be...” He was breathing heavily now.

Samandra flashed that devil smile that was quickly becoming her unspoken catchphrase. “Oh, you haven’t felt anything yet.” And without another word, she opened her mouth and skewered her throat on his hard shaft. Taking it as far back as her throat would allow, she tongued him mercilessly.

Oniyama groaned loudly. His hands flew back to her head and held her, but they could not stop her tongue. She rubbed it all over his shaft, up and down, criss and cross, sucking on him like he was a cow and she hadn’t had a drink for days. In the next instant, he rose from the bed, dragging her up with him. Bracing his legs in a combat stance, he gripped the sides of her head tightly and began to thrust into that delicious wetness that was so familiar yet so different from her womanhood.

Samandra found herself in a situation of her own making. She hadn’t intended to wind up doing this yet. She had to admit, though, it felt good to have his stone pillar of a cock smashing its way to the back of her throat, sliding out just as quickly, and ramming back into her again. She stopped resisting and instead cupped his balls with her hands, kneading them gently but furiously.

Oniyama felt her hands on his balls and quickened his pace. His scrotum was slapping her face with each thrust. Some part of him wanted him to stop, to make sure she was alright, but he was too far gone to listen to it. From the sounds she was able to make, it sounded to him like Samandra wanted him to keep going. Well, he hoped that’s what she was trying to imply, because if it wasn’t, he certainly wasn’t stopping.

Samandra’s mind was going blank again. It wasn’t the same sensation as when he pounded her pussy, but it was mind blowing nonetheless. One of her hands dropped from his balls to rub her clit. With what little sound she could make, she moaned into his dick. Gods, this was so erotic!

Oniyama felt Samandra’s breath on him as he fucked her mouth ruthlessly. He was nearly to a climax. His blood was boiling from the intense pleasure. His pace started to slow, seeking greater stimulation instead of a faster rythym for a finish.

Samandra felt his release coming. She could feel his balls contract as they started pouring their seed into his shaft. She felt him slow down, but he increased the force of each thrust instead. She was sure he could beat the dents out of armour with the tip of his shaft right now, so hard it was. She angled her eyes upward. Catching sight of the bestial face of her mate, she did her best to invite him to climax in her mouth. ‘Cum in me, my husband.’ She thought at him. ‘Give me my dessert. Let me taste your pleasure.’

Oniyama glanced down as he entered the end stretch. His wife was glancing up at him. Contrary to what he expected, her eyes were two brown balls of pure desire. She was making more noises between thrusts now, saliva was running down her chin, and she stared at him with a look that couldn’t be misinterpreted. ‘Empty yourself into my hungry depths’ it said to him. He slid out until just the barest tip of him remained in her mouth. He gazed into her eyes and nodded. Then he thrust back in with the force of a hammer blow as his seed shot out into her waiting throat.

The first thing Samandra noticed was the taste. It was incredibly bitter. Not as bitter as vinegar, but bitter enough to make her eyes water. She gulped it down anyway. Her husband growled his cute little growl as he came in her mouth in several mighty spurts. As the first wave of his orgasm died away, he pulled his cock out of her mouth slightly. This had the effect of his finishing squirts hitting the roof of her mouth and her tongue directly. It was such a pleasant sensation, despite the taste. She savored his seed in her mouth before swallowing the rest. Withdrawing his cock from her mouth entirely, she stood from between his legs and sat in his lap. He was breathing very heavily now. As he opened his mouth to inquire after her health, she put a finger to his lips. “Do not fret, my darling. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Thank you for dessert.” She kissed him deeply.

Oniyama could taste himself on her breath. He didn’t see how she could have enjoyed that, but her kiss was sincere, her eyes were filled with affection. He leaned back to lie on the bed with her atop him. “Sorry, I didn’t fuck your breasts, dear.” He said.

She laughed. “Oh, I think I can forgive you, considering your performance just now.” She kissed him again. “You’re going to have many more chances to cum on and in every inch of me.”

Oniyama felt his dick harden again at the thought of it. Oh yes, he was going to enjoy every moment of every climax he shared with her. “Looks like my dick agrees with you, honey. Would you like to cum hard now?”

Samandra stared seductively into his eyes. “You shouldn’t ask dumb questions, darling.” She leaned in to whisper in his ear. “Fuck me like a cheap whore...”

Oniyama grinned as he felt her wetness washing down his manhood. Rising from the bed, he led her back to the table upon which he’d fucked her for the first time. He gestured her to lie down upon it, but when she moved to comply, he pushed her from behind so she was bent over it like a barrel. Without waiting for a reply, Oniyama spread her legs and speared into her pussy with a mighty stroke not unlike the first time they’d done it.

Samandra screamed as she felt him violate her. This wasn’t a scream of agony though, it was ecstasy. She felt him thrust into her like a wolf, fast and with no concern for her. She dug her nails into the table. That was going to leave some marks. She didn’t care. She tried to form a rythym with him, sliding herself back in time with his thrusts. She didn’t have much leverage, but she did have some limited success.

They continued on this way for several minutes. Oniyama was absorbed in the obscene sight of his rock hard cock disappearing into her wet hole over and over. Samandra was moaning loudly like the cheap whore she was being fucked as. Her pussy throbbed and contracted in time with his movements. He twitched at the end of each stroke. There was nothing better, nothing more amazing than their connection here, now. Both wanted to stay with the other, neither wanted to leave. Neither wanted this moment to end.

Oniyama was now watching her asshole as it contracted and flexed in time to her pussy. He was fixated by how inviting it looked. Seizing the initiative, he pulled his member from her dripping honey pot and, without warning, rammed it straight up her ass.

Samandra felt him leave and felt regret for it. She was caught wholly by surprise when his thick cock suddenly shoved its way inside her ass. She yelped at the new sensation, but although there was now a burning in her rear and she felt like she needed to take the largest dump of her life, she also felt the twitching, throbbing cock and had to admit to herself that it damn well felt like it belonged in there. Without even asking if she was ok, Oniyama proceeded to fuck her in the ass like he had just been fucking her in the pussy. ‘Good’ she thought to herself as the pleasure and the pain mixed together in her ass. ‘He’s learning to enjoy himself and not worry so much about me.’

Oniyama felt a surge of smug pride as he ravaged Samandra’s behind. She wanted it rough? Well, she was getting it rough today. Thoughts of their first night together jogged another memory. He looked down at her cream coloured cheeks. Smiling his own devilish smile, he leaned over her and said. “Don’t think I’ve forgotten the other thing either.”

Samandra was puzzled. What other thing? She tried to focus on what he could possibly have meant when suddenly there was a sharp, burning pain in her rear. “Ah-h-h-h-h!!!” She stammered.

Oniyama walloped her again, this time on the other cheek. Between the roughness of his hands from working the forge and the force behind them from the muscle earned through the same effort, he laid into his wife’s ass with a fury he didn’t know he had. One cheek, then the other. He spanked her over and over. Each time she made a stammered “Ah!” noise which grew in pitch as he continued his assault. Her cheeks slowly turned a delightful shade of cherry red.

Samandra was in Aetherius. She quickly realized what her husband had meant and now she was reveling in it. She hadn’t really wanted this level of roughness on her first night, but she’d be damned if she didn’t get the full force of it tonight. She raised her legs off the floor and gave in to the pure assault. Again and again he spanked her. Again and again he thrust in her ass. She was helpless to resist. In a sudden flash, she came. She hadn’t even noticed how close she had gotten, so distracting was the punishment on her ass. Yet cum she did, and she came hard. Her stammering “Ah’s!” gave way to one long “AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” as her pussy contracted and squirted out love juice onto the table and the floor.

Oniyama felt his wife cum against his loins. He considered lessening the beating or the thrusting. No. She wanted it rough tonight, she was getting it rough. After only a second’s pause, he resumed the spanking and the thrusting, at the same pace he’d been at previously.

Samandra felt her grip on sanity weaken. Contrary to last time, her husband was not slowing down. She was extremely sensitive after her orgasm, but he paid her no mind. If she’d thought the abuse was too much before, it was exquisite torture now. Her asshole was on fire, her pussy was on fire, her butt cheeks were on fire. Her brain was on fire. She came again, suddenly. It wasn’t as hard as the first one, but it lingered longer. She knew her lover had felt her climax a second time. Still he persisted. She was barely down from her second when her third came in to shore. The cycle continued as the assault picked up in intensity and speed. Soon, she couldn’t distinguish individual orgasms anymore. She was just riding a wave that was sometimes less, sometimes more, but it wouldn’t let her go. She was astonished at her husband’s sexual fortitude. He still hadn’t climaxed, and they’d been going at this for what seemed like hours. She wasn’t certain she’d be able to walk straight tomorrow. Hell, she wasn’t sure she’d even get to tomorrow if this kept up. She crested the wave again.

Oniyama was blowing his own mind with his treatment of his wife. Again and again he smacked her, he thrust in her, he abused her like she was a cheap, disposable whore. He hadn’t said a word since he started the spanking. Whores weren’t worth enough of his attention for words. He was also amazed at how much control he had over his own release after his first climax earlier. He could go at any time, but he would decide when that time was. He was enjoying himself far too much to stop. He walloped her again.

Samandra was starting to feel the first tinges of fear in bed. She was having trouble speaking. The wave analogy was no longer accurate. Now she was in a blank field of white noise. One continuous orgasm that was growing in intensity. It was breaking her mind. She’d described her climax as ‘mind shattering’ before but that was just naive exuberance. Now she was certain she was about to get a far more accurate definition of such an event. And it scared her. She wanted to stop, but she wanted to keep going. She wanted to avoid losing her sanity to her husband’s cock, but she wanted to go crazy. Her mind was split in two and she wasn’t certain which side would win in the end. With all her remaining willpower, what little she could muster, she whimpered gently “please...stop...darling...”

Oniyama, through the blaze of pride and ecstasy, heard his wife whimper those words. His compassion and kindness kicked into high gear. Or they tried to. He was too far gone with the pleasure of what was occurring. He couldn’t stop. He tried to force his hands to stillness, but they just smacked her ass again. He tried to will his hips to stop, but they just thrust again, harder. He was scared. Scared for his wife. She wanted it rough, but he’d gone primal. He was destroying her. He tried in vain to halt himself. It could not be done. As his own mind screamed at him to stop, suddenly it seized its chance. Wrenching his thoughts from trying to stop, instead Oniyama released his hold on his orgasm and came.

Samandra wasn’t certain he’d heard her. She resigned herself to being a drooling slave to his huge cock for the rest of her days. Just as she felt the side of her mind clinging to sanity start to fracture, she felt a rumbling in her ass. With a powerful surge, her husband came inside her with five massive shots. Her mind fractured further, as the sensation pushed her to new heights of ecstasy, then it receded. A warm glow filled her anus as her husband emptied himself into her unclaimed depths. It spilled forth from where they were connected, far too much to be contained wholly within her. As the pleasure which had threatened her lessened to an acceptable level, Samandra began to cry.

Oniyama picked his wife off the table and carried her back to the bed. He sat with her in his arms and stroked her hair. She buried her face in his shoulder, cursing herself for crying, until she heard him speak, tears plain in his voice. “I’m sorry. I lost control... You are right to hate me.”

Samandra stifled back the rest of her tears and whimpered back. “No, I asked for it. I’m the one who’s sorry. I have to stop asking for things I can’t handle. You should hate me for that.”

“Sweet Samandra...” He cooed. “I cannot hate you. I will not hate you. I will die to protect you, even if I must end myself.”

Samandra looked into his eyes. They were filled with tears but entirely sincere. “No, I could not bear losing you. Do not say such things...” She sobbed again.

Oniyama kissed her. She felt his burning love behind that kiss. “I apologize, my darling. Of course I should not say such things. Come, let us sleep and forget this ever happened.”

Samandra shook her head. “You don’t hate me?”

“No, I would sooner die than hate you. This I swear on all I hold dear.” He kissed her again.

She didn’t object this time. She followed him back into the waiting pillows, still locked in the kiss. As their heads settled into each other and the bed, they drifted peacefully off to sleep.

Chapter Text

(Present Day)

Oniyama awoke with a start. For a moment, he did not know where he was. His wife's face faded from his sight like a mirage. He hadn't thought of her in a decade or more, yet the mere hint of her memory seared through him like a sword left in the forge. He could feel his eyes watering. As he wiped the tears from his eyes, it all came back to him. Astrid. The Dark Brotherhood. Babette.

Babette...He recalled what had prompted this sudden nap. He didn't feel any better now than he had when he'd gone to sleep. In fact, he felt worse. Even more distressing was the memory of Babette's crushed expression when he had so rudely dismissed himself from her presence. He had to make it up to her. The sheer devastation in her eyes burned clearly in his memory. None of this was her fault. He had to make her understand that none of this was her fault. If she would even still talk to him.

He rose from the bed. He considered donning his armour, but he didn't want to waste the time. Opening the door, he walked slowly down to where Babette's room was. The door was still open. Taking a deep breath, he peered inside.

It was empty. His nose might very well have told him that, but he wasn't properly focused. He briefly considered asking the other members of his 'family' but quickly dismissed that. He could follow her scent easily enough. Besides which, if any of them asked why he wanted to speak to her, he'd be hard pressed to give them a good reason, or any reason at all. He certainly didn't want to explain the truth to them. Not yet at least.

Returning to his room he took the dagger from under his pillow and tucked it into the waistband of his pantaloons. The Sanctuary might have been the 'safest place in all of Skyrim' according to Astrid, but it never hurt to be prepared. By not wearing his armour, he also hoped to make his new family feel more comfortable around him, make him seem a little more human (well, Orc) to them. He'd don his armour when he was to leave the Sanctuary for a contract. He stepped out of the room and closed the door behind him. There was no lock. This worried Oniyama, but there was nothing to be done about it. He'd have to trust his new family sooner or later. It just looked like it was going to be sooner after all.

Adopting a confident stride that he really didn't feel, Oniyama made his way back to the main hall. It was empty too. He still hadn't gotten a tour of the place, so he didn't know his way around. Thankfully, he knew the way to where he wanted to go. Crossing the room he ascended the steps that led out to the antechamber at the front of the Sanctuary.

Astrid was still standing at the table where he had left her. She was poring over some note or other. His sharp eyes picked out the papers covering up the great rend he'd put in it, along with the notes and parchments that were sitting to one side, still in two pieces. She turned as he walked into the room. "Yes? What is it?" Her tone was cold and precise.

"I have come to inform you that I'm all settled in the Sanctuary. However, I didn't come here to rest on my laurels. Do you have any contracts I can fulfill?" His reply was equally cold and matter-of-fact.

Astrid shook her head. "Not at the moment, brother. Nazir does though. They aren't glamorous nor do they pay well, but they need to be completed nonetheless. You should find him in the dining hall."

Oniyama inclined his head. "This I shall do. Have you given any thought to my offer?"

Astrid nodded. "It would be foolish not to make use of your considerable talents. If you could make us helms imbued with water breathing, they could aid us greatly with extractions in coastal cities. Not to mention they'd keep us out of sight prior to the kill in such situations. What do you need to supply us with them?"

Oniyama shrugged. "Just any helmet you don't mind wearing. It does have to be a helmet that covers the face though. Hats and hoods won't work. A high quality cloth mask could also work, I suppose. Get me as many of those as you want enchanted, along with a filled grand soul gem for each. I'll take care of the rest."

"I will inform you when we have the materials you require." Her tone indicated dismissal.

He inclined his head once more before turning to leave. He hadn't asked where the dining hall was. He'd feel awkward admitting weakness, even if this was supposed to be his new family. Oh well, how big could this Sanctuary possibly be?

He made his way back down into the main hall. He still wanted to talk to Babette, but he had to be circumspect. Or rather, he had an instinct that he had to be circumspect. Maybe it was just his fear of humiliation and embarassment talking. He stopped in his tracks, confused. Why would he fear embarassment and humiliation? Didn't he simply want to apologize about his behaviour to her? Or was something else afoot in the deeper reaches of his mind? No matter. He'd see her again, she lived in this Sanctuary after all. In the meantime, he'd best set to work to prove his worth to his new family. Acceptance was a far cry from respect, after all.

Crossing to the opposite side of the room, Oniyama spotted a ramp that led up and away from the Main Hall. Climbing it led him into a smaller room with an enchanting table and an alchemy apparatus. Festus Krex stood over the enchanting table. Gabriella sat at a small table. Beside her was a set of stairs that led down into a small pit. In the pit was a frostbite spider. Oniyama was immediately apprehensive, but the spider paid him no mind. Evidently, it was someone's pet, or else it was at least tamed.

Festus Krex did not look up from the enchanting table, but Gabriella turned to him as he stepped off the ramp. "Welcome, brother. How are you finding the Sanctuary?"

Oniyama nodded to her. "I am familiarizing myself with its layout. I'm also looking for Nazir. I was told he was in the dining hall, can you tell me where that his?"

Gabriella smiled at him. It looked like it had the slightest hint of a sneer, but her voice as she replied contained no malice. "It is down those stairs." She gestured to a doorway to the right of where Oniyama stood. "Enjoy your contract." She said by way of farewell.

Oniyama was about to ask her how she knew that Nazir was to give him a contract, but he caught himself in time. Evidently, Nazir was the go-to man for contracts. Oniyama would have guessed that Astrid would be that person. No matter, he crossed to the doorway and descended into the dining hall.

Nazir sat at one end of a lengthy table that could easily seat the number of people that the Sanctuary currently held. A fire was crackling along merrily next to him as he drank from a mug. His scimitar leaned against the table, gleaming in the firelight. On the opposite side of the hall, a staircase made of logs and rope ascended to another open-walled 'room' above.

Oniyama circled to the far side of the table and sat across from him. There was food on the table, but he did not partake. "Greetings, brother. Astrid told me I should come to you for something to do."

Nazir put his mug down and sized Oniyama up. "Save the niceties for now. I'll not get invested in someone who may be dead by tomorrow. If you're still breathing in a few weeks, I'm sure we'll be the best of friends."

Oniyama snorted. "Need I remind you that I am a vampire, Nazir? Thus, I am already dead and I haven't breathed for nearly a century."

Nazir chuckled. "Well put. Let's say it this way: if you're still not inundated with arrow holes and sword wounds in a few weeks, then we'll be the best of friends."

"Fair enough. Do you have work for me?"

Nazir nodded. "There are a few contracts lingering on right now that you can take care of, three to be exact. They can be completed at your leisure." He took another drink from his mug. "I won't lie, these contracts aren't particularly glamourous assassinations. They don't pay much either, but they still need to get done. You can turn them in as you complete them or wait until all targets are eliminated and turn them in all at once. Don't feel too pressured to do them quickly, either. The targets aren't going anywhere."

"Good to know, but I might do better if I had names and locations to work with." Oniyama replied sarcastically.

Nazir frowned. "Impatient, are you? Your first target is Narfi, a beggar living in some ruins on the outskirts of Ivarstead. Next up is Beitild, a mine boss in Dawnstar. Lastly there's Ennodius Papius, a paranoid ex-miller living just west of Windhelm. You don't have to do the contracts in that order, mind you. You can assassinate them in whatever order you want as long as you get them done."

Oniyama chuckled. "Ever heard the saying 'it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you?'"

Nazir laughed. "No, I hadn't. Good saying though. Guess Ennodius isn't really that paranoid after all." The two of them laughed for a moment.

Oniyama rose from the table. "There might not be a rush on those contracts, but I'm eager to prove that I am the equal of any of you. I'll be on my way."

Nazir raised his mug in salute. "So be it, brother. Just make sure you don't wind up even more dead than you already are while you're at it."

Oniyama turned to head back up the stairs he had entered the hall from, but decided at the last moment to head up the log staircase. Climbing to the top he found himself in a small antechamber with a few beds and shelves. Proceeding through a doorway on the far side brought him back to the hallway with bedrooms down either side. Perhaps it was not the most expansive Sanctuary (not that he could really compare it to any others) but at least he had the basic layout now. Proceeding back to his room, he shut the door and began to don his armour.

As he started fitting the breastplate over himself and tightening the straps, he realized that he had momentarily forgotten about Babette. The guilt washed over him in an instant. It was clear she was not at the Sanctuary currently, but he had no idea when she might return. Possibly even worse, he had no idea what he was going to say to her if and when she did. He didn't want her to continue thinking she was to blame, but explaining why that wasn't true would be complicated and awkward. Rather than try to figure out the issue now, Oniyama concentrated on strapping on his armour.

Ten minutes later, Oniyama left the room much as he had originally entered it. Clad in the protective metal, helmet hanging from his belt, he once again felt at ease. It probably wasn't healthy that he always felt slightly on edge when he wasn't in his suit. Oh well. It was an issue for another day. For now he had contracts to complete.

He moved swiftly from the bedrooms to the main hall to the antechamber where Astrid still stood poring over her notes. Without stopping he strode up the stairs to the stone door that led out into the wide world of Skyrim. Remembering what had happened last time, he gently eased his weight into the door and felt it give to his pressure. Swinging open silently, he stepped out from behind it and into the setting sun. He gave it a soft push to close it and it clicked into place behind him. As he looked out into the clearing the door opened into, his breath caught in his throat. Or it would have if he still breathed.

Standing by the small pool in front of him stood Babette. She was looking toward him with the same pained expression he had last seen her with. It was hard to tell with the sun behind her, but it looked like she might have been crying. Well, maybe crying was too generous. The odd tear might have snaked its way down her cheek, but he got the strong impression she was not one for wanton sobbing. How long had she been out here? Could she have been here the entire time after he had lain down for a nap? What did she think of him now?

Idly, a part of Oniyama's mind said something about his expression and a cookpot. Snapping out of his reverie, he walked slowly forward to stand beside Babette. She watched him approach until he stood next to her, then her gaze returned to the pool. He observed it as well without really seeing it.

"Have you been here long, sister?" He asked gently without looking at her.

"No." She replied curtly. Even her voice sounded pained.

"I owe you an apology. Even more so, an explanation." His voice was barely above a whisper.

"You owe me nothing. It was my own foolishness that brought this about." From the corner of his eye, Oniyama thought he saw another tear making its way down her cheek, but he did not turn his head to check.

"It was not foolishness, Babette. None of what transpired in that bedroom was your fault."

"You are kind to lie for my benefit." Cold. Emotionless.

"I am not lying." His voice grew in vehemence if not volume.

"How else, then, should I interpret what occurred?"

He turned to her and knelt. "Babette, I do not know why you did what you did. Perhaps that is not for me to know, but it triggered painful memories to resurface. Memories that haunt me to this day. More than anything, I wished to run from those memories. Thus, I ran from your presence."

Babette turned to face him. A tear definitely stained her cheek. "Smiles and laughter haunt you so deeply?" Her tone was still pained, but also curious.

Oniyama sighed. "It isn't what things you did that brought back my nightmares. It's that it was you that did them."

Babette looked confused. "Are you trying to say we've met before?"

Oniyama shook his head. "No, we have never met before today. Babette, sister, I swear to you I will tell you all you wish to know, but not now. The pain is too raw. I could not bear to relive it again. Just know that I am not offended by your behaviour, though you have every right to be offended by mine."

Babette looked at the ground between them while she processed this. When she raised her face again, the pain was gone. "I understand, brother. I...apologize...for my misinterpretation."

Oniyama waved her apology aside. "You have no need to apologize. the burden was not on you to read my thoughts, but on me to explain." He rose. "We will speak more later. For now, I have contracts I must see to."

Babette's face brightened. "Nazir's leftover contracts? We can go together if you like!" Her sudden exuberance sounded just like what an actual ten year old girl might sound like.

Oniyama smiled. "I cannot promise these contracts will entertain you, sister."

Babette brushed aside his words. "Nonsense. I imagine I'll be quite entertained what with you to talk to." She strode toward the road. Turning back she gestured toward it. "Shall we go?"

Oniyama smiled, nodded, and moved to join her on the road.

Chapter Text

The wagon bumped along almost merrily in the midmorning sun. After leaving the Sanctuary, Oniyama and Babette had made their way to nearby Falkreath and taken a wagon to Whiterun. They had stayed at the inn there for the night and were now back on the road toward Dawnstar.

Oniyama watched through his helmet as the countryside rolled lazily by. Babette sat across from him.

"I don't understand, why do you insist on wearing your helmet?" Babette asked.

Oniyama turned to her. She had a questioning look in her eyes. "Pragmatism, dear sister. Why waste the time donning my helmet after we are attacked, if I can have it on already? Besides, the fearsome visage might very well deter the attackers in the first place."

Babette smirked. "Did it ever occur to you that perhaps more people will attack us to try and get their hands on that armour? A blind man at night in the fog could tell that it's worth more coin than most will ever see in their lives. Why do you think the Dark Brotherhood wears simple leather and cloth?"

Oniyama shrugged. "I would imagine they wear leather and cloth because it is far easier for far more people to be silent in leather or cloth than to be silent in metal armour." He banged on his chest with his gauntlet. "As I have already proved, I do not have that problem. As for the idea that people will be encouraged to attack because the armor is valuable..." He paused for a moment. "I can see the logic behind the rationale, but it has a serious flaw: to sell this armour, you have to get it first. That means you have to defeat the Orc wearing it. Not many have the skills or the numbers to manage that."

Babette was still smirking at him. "That is very true, brother. However, you forget that most bandits can't read, let alone think rationally. They'll only see the coin right up until you sink that greataxe into their thick skulls."

Oniyama was about to retort when something hit him in the back of the head with a small 'ding!'. He turned to see who had thrown what he assumed to be a rock. Instead, he saw an arrow with a bent iron tip lying on the ground. Moving his eyes farther away, he spotted them: a group of men and women, dressed in common bandit leathers, about a dozen of them. One of the women had a bow in her hands and was staring disbelieving at him. He couldn't help but let out a small chuckle. Nothing short of a full on ballista bolt was going to go through his armour if it was made of mere iron. Still, it had been an incredible shot. The bandits were several hundred feet away and she'd managed a precise headshot from that distance. If it had been a daedric arrow, he'd be dead now.

He shook his head. Now wasn't the time to be marvelling at a bandit's archery skills. Turning back to Babette, he motioned her down. Without a word in protest, she flattened herself into the floor of the wagon. Turning back to see what the bandits would do next, he saw the expert markswoman aiming again. She wasn't aiming at him. As he followed the line of her sight, he realized she was drawing a bead on the wagon driver. As she let the arrow fly, Oniyama dashed forward with all the speed available to him. Ripping his greataxe out of its sheath, he brought the cheek of it to rest on the wagon driver's face.

The oblivious driver recoiled at the sudden touch of cold metal. He yelped. "What be the meaning of this, ser!?"

The next instant, the arrow bounced harmlessly off the axe and fell to the roadside to join its brother. Oniyama jumped onto the driver's bench and roughly shoved the driver into the dirt. He briefly considered grabbing the reins and making a break for it. He dismissed the thought. He wouldn't leave an innocent man to die at the hands of bandits. He might want to be a Brotherhood assassin, but that didn't mean he was heartless. Jumping off after the man, he crouched behind the wheel of the wagon.

The driver was trying to get to his feet. With a rough grab, Oniyama pulled him close to get him out of the line of fire. Making a shot to this spot would be difficult, but that woman had already demonstrated her skill with a bow. "Stay down, good man, bandits have come calling!" Oniyama bellowed at him.

The driver's face changed from anger to fear in a heartbeat. "What could bandits possibly want with us!?"

From inside the wagon, Babette finally chimed in. "Gee, I wonder. What do you think, brother?" Her voice was positively dripping with a mixture of I-told-you-so and sarcasm.

"Yeah, yeah, feel free to have your moment after we kill them, sister!" Oniyama couldn't believe her cheek. Maybe she was right, but was now really the time? He peeked over the top of the wagon.

The expert markswoman had been joined by four more, all women. Apparently this bandit group had assigned women to ranged duty and men to close combat. Oniyama shook his head. True or not, the point was irrelevant, he had to focus. They were readying to shoot but had not fired yet. The rest of the bandits were circling wide from either side, three on each. Oniyama grasped their plan in an instant. The archers would keep him from moving while the rest of the group encircled and slaughtered him. He had to admit it was high level tactical thinking coming from common thugs. Unfortunately, they either hadn't factored in, or likely didn't even think to factor in that he was wearing daedric armour and he was now aware of both them and their plans. The expert noticed him surveying the crew and loosed her arrow at him. He ducked down and the bolt ricocheted harmlessly off his helmet top. Oh yes, she could shoot.

Unfortunately for her, so could he. Drawing his bow, he reached into his quiver for a daedric arrow. As he prepared to draw it, he thought better of his choice. His supply wasn't infinite and if he missed his shot, the woman was sure to use his own arrow against him. Giving her ammunition that could actually hurt him was a very poor idea. Putting the arrow back for the moment, he instead drew out a steel tipped one. There was a slim chance this could penetrate if fired at the proper part of his armour, but even if it did, it would only leave a surface wound. Well, unless she hit him in the face with it, then he'd be a very dead (or re-dead) Orc, but that was true of even the iron arrows. For all that the inherent properties of Daedric armour made his face appear to be a black mass, it was, at best, an illusion. Arrows were not.

Drawing the arrow, he peeked up again to check the progress of the encroaching groups. They still had a hundred feet to go and they were well clear of his firing lane. He locked his gaze on the woman. She had enough discipline not to waste another arrow on him this time. He ducked back down.

Counting to ten he stood up to his full height, bringing the drawn bow to bear in her direction. He couldn't see her face so well at this distance, but if she was surprised, her body language didn't show it. Aiming for center-mass, Oniyama released his arrow just as she adjusted her aim and released hers.

Oniyama turned his head and began ducking as soon as his arrow was free of the bow. True to form, her arrow plonked him in the side of the head where his face had been moments ago. This time, it rattled his brain due to the more direct impact angle. As he returned to cover, he heard a cry in the distance. Peeking up, he saw the woman had miscalculated. Evidently, she'd believed his aim was poor, as she had not moved to avoid his shot. Unfortunately for her, this meant that his arrow had flown straight into her stomach. She was doubled over, clutching at the arrow that had killed her. She was already dead, even if her mind didn't catch up for a few hours. She certainly wasn't going to be shooting that bow again.

Unfortunately, neither was he. Seeing that their quarry was armed with a ranged weapon (and having just amply demonstrated decent skill with it), the men approaching for the flanking maneuver had increased their pace. They were fifty feet away and closing fast.

Oniyama returned his bow to its sling and drew his mighty greataxe. Stepping away from the wagon, he readied himself for a furious defense. The men had broken into a full out run. That suited him just fine. The closer they got, the less likely the remaining archers were to hit him. One arrow whizzed past him, followed quickly by two more. For all that this bandit crew had ('or used to have,' he thought smugly) one good shot with a bow, it seemed the rest barely had the basics down. He wouldn't have to worry about those archers. Not until they were all that was left anyway.

The first man sprinted up to him with an iron mace in one hand. From this distance, Oniyama could see the greed in the man's eyes. He swung his axe in a horizontal arc, intending to slice the man in two. The man casually blocked his swing with the mace. Or rather, he would have if the axe hadn't cleaved straight through it and buried itself in his midsection. The greed evaporated into pain and disbelief.

Using his foot, Oniyama freed the axe just in time to block the next attacker's longsword. It snapped on impact. Oniyama didn't have time to capitalize on it, so instead he shoved the man roughly back with a bodycheck.

At this point, they were on him. Four men with haphazard weapons (including the one with the snapped longsword) encircled him (en-squared him?) He did a quick whirl. The snapped longsword, a spiked mace, a one handed axe, and a greatsword. The greatsword and mace were the biggest threats: they could crush his armour without penetrating it. The longsword might have been a problem if it hadn't snapped because it could possibly have penetrated one of the joints in his armour. He could only really safely ignore the handaxe. It was meant for slashing and unless it slashed into the face of his helmet, it would skim harmlessly off anywhere else.

With the priority of his targets measured, Oniyama rushed the greatsword. The man had been holding in a defensive stance, so Oniyama put all of his strength into a blow aimed directly into that stance. The man braced for the impact. Contrary to what had happened to his comrade's sword, the man's greatsword did not shatter on impact, instead meeting the blow with a loud CLANG. Oniyama didn't wait to see how the other three had reacted. He shifted his weight onto his back foot and struck out with his boot at the man's midsection. The man jumped back and readied himself for another attack.

Mr handaxe took this opportunity to ring Oniyama's bell with a slash to the back of his helmet. As he had surmised, the weapon scraped harmlessly off the metal, but he still felt the impact. Whirling on his attacker, he swung his greataxe wide, aiming for the man's knees. The man tried to jump out of harm's way, as his partner had, but was marginally slower. The edge of the greataxe bit deeply into his ankle. He was lucky (if you could call it that) that he didn't lose his whole foot right there. However, he was still out of the fight.

Mr mace and Mr former longsword now rushed him from front and back, mace in front, 'long' sword behind. Oniyama was still recovering from the inertia of his wide swing to Mr handaxe, so he ducked his head and braced for the blow. The mace caught him on the shoulder and it hurt. His armour had only dented slightly, but the mace had small one inch spikes on it and those had managed to penetrate and bite into his shoulder. It was a minor wound, even were he not a vampire, but it made him mad. Bringing the axe in his hands to bear, he swung it in another horizontal arc, less wildly than last time, but still with a lot of force behind it. Mr mace was torn between abandoning his weapon and trying to avoid the blow and this indecision cost him. The next moment, his chest was torn from his groin as the axe cleaved through him. Blood sprayed everywhere and the man dropped like a sack of potatoes.

Only Mr former longsword remained. He had tried to attack the back of Oniyama's knee with his destroyed weapon while Oniyama had engaged Mr mace. Oniyama hadn't even felt it. He turned to face this last attacker. The man's greed was gone, replaced by fear. He had come to realize, too late, that his chances of selling that armour and enjoying the septims had been effectively zero from the moment the idea had occurred to him. Now he was in danger of losing his life as well as his dreams. In the first smart decision he'd probably made all day, he threw down his longsword and turned to run. He didn't get very far.

While Oniyama had battled with Mr mace and Mr greatsword, the archers had not been idle. Unfortunately, their aim had not improved either. Just as Mr longsword tensed his legs to start running, an arrow whizzed past Oniyama's head and buried itself in his back. He dropped like a stone. Turning to see what had become of Mr greatsword, Oniyama saw the man had suffered a similar fate while Oniyama's back was turned. He'd taken an arrow in the leg. Looking to the archers in the distance, he could see three of them berating the other (the dying woman was still moaning in the grass, all but forgotten.) Evidently, even though they were not any better shots, they had decided the most productive use of their time would be to scold their fellow archer for friendly fire. (Oniyama had to admit to himself that if the woman being scolded was responsible for both friendly fire incidents, maybe the scolders had a point, but they had certainly picked a poor time to win an argument over it.)

Oniyama pulled his bow from it's sheath and nocked another steel arrow. Pulling back, he loosed it on one of the scolders. True to form, it sank into the woman's stomach as cleanly as his first shot had into the expert. All remaining archers looked back in his direction. Upon seeing him drawing yet another arrow intended for more of them, they broke and ran across the plain. Satisfied that they would not be back, Oniyama replaced his bow in its holster. As he surveyed the carnage around him, something nagged at his mind. He looked at the bodies of the men who had charged him. Mr greatsword was clutching his leg and clearly not interested in continuing, Mr longsword, Mr mace and Mr other mace were all clearly dead as rats, and Mr handaxe had bled out while Oniyama had fought, evidently the 'minor' wound to his ankle had severed an artery. He counted them off in his head: handaxe, longsword, greatsword, mace, other mace. That was five. He was certain he'd seen six men approaching him. Three on each side. What had happened to number six?

A sudden cry caught his attention. Well, it was more like a yelp and it was coming from the wagon. As he turned to look in its direction, the sixth man stood up from inside. Clutched to his midsection was Babette. This man had a handaxe as well and he was digging it into Babette's neck.

Oniyama drew his greataxe from its sheath and started toward the wagon. The man tightened his grip on his handaxe, digging it further into Babette's neck. Oniyama halted. For all that Babette was a vampire like him, she would die from being beheaded as easily as anyone. Even easier, since it was a ten year old's neck she had to worry about. The man had an evil grin on his face. "Seems, you've got the picture, mate." He sneered. "You just go ahead and get out of that armour, or your precious little one here is going to go visit the Gods."

Oniyama was shocked. How could he have forgotten about the sixth man? And now, Babette's life was in danger. He looked at Babette. There was fear in those eyes, but also a calculating ruthlessness. She was powerless to save herself in the current situation, but she'd jump on any chance to end this cretin. He could be sure of that. Slowly, he placed his greataxe so it was leaning against his leg, then reached up and pulled off his helmet. He hung it at his belt then put his hand back on the haft of his weapon.

It was the bandit's turn to be shocked. "You're a piggie?!" He almost squealed. "What's a piggie doing with a little girlie? You ain't her father."

Oniyama had an idea. "No, I am her brother."

The man sneered harder. "Oh sure, her brother. And I'm the emperor of Tamriel!"

Oniyama grinned. "I never said I was her brother by blood. I am her brother by oath. Maybe you've even heard of our little family?"

"Can't say I will have, but why don't you go ahead and tell me anyway, piggie?" The man quipped.

"Well, she and I belong to a little something called the Dark...Brotherhood." He emphasized the title. "Maybe you've heard of them?"

The man went white as snow. He looked down at the girl he was holding hostage. Babette chose this as the perfect time to glance up at him sweetly, before revealing the razor sharp teeth in her mouth. Oniyama watched the man's grip on his weapon weaken. Babette felt it too and she pounced on her chance. She pushed the blade away from her throat and dove headfirst out the back of the wagon. The man tried to follow her to get his hostage back, but Oniyama met him at the back. Two quick swipes later and the handaxe went flying, along with two of the man's fingers. He sat heavily down in the wagon and blubbered. "Please have mercy! We didn't know! I didn't know!"

Oniyama smiled at him and let his own illusion weaken. If it had been possible for the man to go any whiter, he would have. "Oh, friend." Oniyama said in a casual manner. "The Dark Brotherhood is known for many things. Unfortunately for you, mercy isn't one of them!" And with that he sank his fangs into the man's neck and drank from him. The man tried to fight him off, but he was no match for the sheer strength of Oniyama's bulk. As the man's flailings started to weaken, Oniyama eased his drink and motioned to Babette. "Would you like to have some as well, sister?"

Babette smiled at him. "How considerate of you, brother." She stepped back into the wagon and bit into the other side of the man's neck. Oniyama kept the man's hands restrained so he could not push Babette off. Eventually the light in his eyes died. Babette pulled herself off of the corpse so Oniyama could cast it into the dirt. "Very refreshing, so glad you thought of it."

Oniyama dusted his hands off and bowed. "I have my moments. How did that filth manage to get you in such a compromising situation anyway?"

Babette sniffed the air in frustration. "It was my own fault. I heard him clamber up on the wagon and I figured he was just going to try and jump down on you. Instead, he jumped down on me and you know the rest."

Oniyama chuckled. "Never thought a three hundred year old vampire would miscalculate so grossly."

Babette punched him in the arm. He felt the barest of impacts accompanied with a soft 'ding!' She grasped her hand and started massaging it with a pained look on her face.

Oniyama managed to stop chuckling, but he still had a big douchebag grin on his face. "Never mind your previous lapse in judgement, sister. What possessed you to do that? Daedric armour doesn't suddenly become putty just because you know the Orc who wears it."

Babette stuck her tongue out at him. "I'm used to punching cloth or leather. It was force of habit. I won't be making that mistake again." The pained expression softened as her accelerated healing kicked in. One good thing about drinking blood after battle was how it sped up the supernaturally fast healing processes all vampires possessed. Already Oniyama couldn't feel the wounds from where the spiked mace had bit into him. That reminded him to reach up and pry the mace off his shoulder before tossing it into the dirt. The wounds wouldn't heal completely if he left it there. Babette continued. "So, do you see my point about that armour attracting unwanted attention?"

Oniyama rolled his eyes. "Yes, Babette, I do. Do you see my point about such attention not mattering because common bandits have next to no chance against me?"

Babette nodded. "I see the logic, but no matter how little of a chance bandits might have to win against you, they stand precisely zero chance of harming you if you're never attacked to begin with. That was my point."

Oniyama nodded. "Yes, I understand." He turned to survey the scene one more time. Looking to the side, he spotted the wagon driver. The man lay still. Oniyama didn't see any wounds or blood pools on or near his body. Walking up to the man, he reached down and touched his neck. Even through the metal of his gauntlet, he was able to detect a pulse. Mostly because of how fast it was. Making sure to put his illusion up again, he leaned gently over the driver and spoke. "Arise, my good man. The bandits are dealt with. It's time we were on the road again."

The driver rolled his head toward Oniyama's voice and opened his eyes. "They're dead?" He whimpered.

Oniyama offered a hand which the driver gratefully accepted. "Yes, they're either dead, gone or dead and gone."

The wagon driver took one quick look at the carnage that surrounded him and bounded up into his seat without a second thought. Oniyama climbed into the back and took his seat. Babette sat across from him, illusioned to appear normal once more. She still had a look of I-told-you-so written on her face, but there was also that admiring glance in there too. It was subtle, but she didn't break eye contact with him.

Oniyama shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. Why did he feel this way? He barely even knew her, why should such admiration make him feel anything other than accepted? Of course, now he knew, or rather, he allowed himself to think of the real reason of his discomfort. He had to try not to show it around her. She had already sufffered through one misinterpretation. He didn't want her to suffer any more of them.

As he glanced at Babette again, he saw that he was too late. Her expression had fallen once again and now she looked uncertain. He tried to smile at her to reassure her and failed miserably at it. She tried to laugh at his antics, but the mood was too heavy. He needed to do something, so he did the first thing he could think of. "I'm sorry, sister. I'm still trying not to make my discomfort so easy to intuit in your presence." Even as the words left his mouth, he cursed himself for saying something so callous.

Babette frowned at him. "It's not that your discomfort shows that bothers me, brother. It's that you are uncomfortable at all in the first place."

Oniyama forced himself to stare deeply into her eyes. At this distance, he could see that they were illusioned to be a vibrant, bright shade of blue. So exactly like hers...

He shook his head curtly to break free of the vision that threatened to overwhelm him. Babette frowned even more deeply at him. He didn't even have to look at her to tell. He could feel it from across the wagon. He had to fix this. He wrenched his head up to meet her gaze. "You do not make me uncomfortable, sister. You only remind me of uncomfortable memories." Despite the truth of it, Oniyama couldn't help but feel he was only making things worse.

Babette broke the gaze and looked past him, out over the countryside. "So you say, yet none of the others evoke such a response from you. Why is it that only I seem to warrant such unease?"

It was a fair question. It deserved a fair answer. "Because of what you are." Unfortunately, that was not a fair answer. Try though he might, his mouth wouldn't go further.

Babette returned her gaze to him. Now there was blatant indignation in it. "What I am?! Do you forget that you are a vampire also?! You seem to harbour no love for your own kin, brother!"

Oniyama closed his eyes. He could feel the tears run down his cheeks as he replied. "No, I do not mean that you are a vampire. I mean that you are, or at least were, a child." He opened his eyes to see her reaction.

Babette's fury evaporated in an instant. A look of concern replaced it.

Oniyama shuddered involuntarily. He really didn't want to relive these memories, but he had to say something. "I was not always alone, sister. Prior to coming to Skyrim, I had a family. Losing them was what brought me here in the first place, actually." He gazed out of the wagon at the rolling countryside once more. "You deserve to know the full story, but now is not the time to tell it. Suffice to say, the way you look at me reminds me sharply of the family I used to have. It's no fault of yours, but neither is it something I can simply not think of." He turned his gaze to smile sadly at her. "Do not believe for one instant that I hate you, or that I feel uncomfortable around you, or that I wish you were not with me. I don't know you all that well, but I'd like to. I just have some issues that I need to work through first."

Babette still had an expression of worry upon her face. "Thank you for telling me. I don't know how I can help you move past this, though." She cast her glance to the space between them.

Oniyama replied "It is not something you can aid me with, Babette. I just have to come to terms with it. I thought I had done so long ago, but I guess all I really did was run from the pain until I forgot about it. Now I have to deal with it."

The heavy atmosphere refused to abate as the ride continued in silence. Oniyama cursed himself for his inadequacies. Was he doomed to be this way forever? Hurting those he did not wish to through no fault of their own?

The wind blew across them, but held no answers.

Chapter Text

The stars twinkled in the falling snowy twilight. Despite being farther north than Windhelm, it wasn't quite as cold up in Dawnstar. Likely because the wind wasn't howling the way it did near that Stormcloak stronghold. The wind was certainly blowing, but it was more of a gentle breeze instead of a howling gale.

Oniyama and Babette walked side by side up the road into town. They were certainly an odd pair, an Orc in Daedric armour and a young Breton girl casually strolling along. The trip had been several days long by wagon, but it felt like it had taken years after their encounter with the bandits. Rather than ride the wagon straight into town, Oniyama had decided they should dismount a hundred yards out and walk the rest of the way in. Babette had been a little confused as to why but did not protest.

As they crossed into the town proper, Oniyama could feel the stares of the populace. He was not wearing his helmet so as to alleviate some of the malevolent aura that his armour seemed to emanate. It probably didn't really help all that much considering how brutish he must look to these Nords. Ultimately the stares were expected. Daedric armour was just as rare here as in any other hold. For their part, the guards seemed to stiffen, but took no other aggressive actions.

A guard approached, directly in their path. Oniyama halted and motioned for Babette to do the same. He adopted as neutral a stance as he could.

The guard stood directly before them and surveyed them for a moment. Then he turned and knelt to look at Babette directly. "Excuse me, little girl, but do you know this Orc?"

Babette put on an innocent face. "Yes, he is my brother, sir."

The guard sighed softly. "Are you sure? If he threatened to hurt you, we can protect you. You don't need to fear him anymore."

Babette leaned close to Oniyama and hugged his midsection. "He didn't threaten me. He protects me. Believe me, mister guard, I love him. I'm safer with him than anywhere else in Tamriel."

For all that the tone was an act, Oniyama thought he could hear some truth to her declaration of love. It slightly unnerved him. The way she was hugging his leg was not entirely unpleasant, though. He didn't imagine it was very comfortable for her. The metal must be freezing cold to the touch.

The guard tried one last time. "You don't have to lie to yourself anymore, child. He's not worth protecting if he's done to you what I suspect he has."

Oniyama's temper threatened to flare at that last remark. He hadn't said anything during this entire exchange, yet this guard was assuming...what, precisely? That Babette was Oniyama's hostage? For what purpose? Almost as soon as he thought the words, a memory surfaced in his mind. 'Ah, so that's what he thinks.' He cleared his throat. "How dare you accuse me of such filth! If you are so convinced of my black heart, why don't you draw your weapon and face me on the duelling field?!"

The guard straightened and stared at him. "You strike me down and there's several dozen more of my friends you'll have to deal with. I don't know what dark arts you've ensorcelled this child with, Orc, but you won't keep your slave one day longer." Despite the venom in his words, the guard had enough sense not to draw his weapon first. If he did, Oniyama would be legally allowed to end him with no repercussions as the 'injured' party.

Before their heated exchange could go any farther, Babette switched tactics. "HELP! HELP! THIS GUARD IS TRYING TO TAKE ME AWAY FROM MY FAMILY!" She screeched at the top of her lungs. Damn, but she could yell.

Another guard rushed over to them. "Be calm child! What's the matter?"

Babette hugged Oniyama's midsection again and pointed at the first guard. "He's trying to make big brother attack him! He called big brother a rapist and a slaver and he wants to take me away from him! Don't let him take me away from him! Please?!"

Oniyama thought she was overdoing it a bit. Not the least of which because of her choice of words. Not many ten year olds would know what rapists or slavers were. Even fewer would be able to grasp such an insinuation without a directly spoken accusation. Thankfully, neither of the guards were catching on to the slip-up because they were both too flustered. Guard number two was staring pointedly at guard number one, who was waving his arms furiously in a conceding posture.

Guard one was trying to refute her accusations. "I said no such things! I'm just trying to see the girl gets home to her family safely! This Orc has clearly kidnapped her!"

Guard two crossed his arms in an obvious I'm-not-mad-I'm-disappointed stance and sighed. "Come off it, Tolgum. just because there aren't many Orcs with Breton sisters doesn't mean you can just harass any that come calling. I know you're wound up tighter than a bowstring, but that doesn't mean you can just accuse any odd pair of improper behaviour. Besides, look at him!" He gestured to Oniyama. "He's well within his rights to demand satisfaction in the form a duel. How long do you think you'll last against that behemoth?" He turned to Oniyama. "No offense intended, sir."

Oniyama visibly relaxed. "None taken."

Guard two turned back to 'Tolgum.' "Fall out! Report back to the barracks and cut your shift early. You can't do your job properly if you're this paranoid."

Tolgum looked like he wanted to say more, but between the withering stares of the other guard, Oniyama and even Babette, he couldn't muster the words. He shot one more disapproving glance in Oniyama's direction, then stalked off.

The remaining guard turned to watch Tolgum walk off before turning back to Oniyama. "I apologize for Tolgum's behaviour. None of us here in Dawnstar are doing particularly well, but that doesn't give him free reign to insult and harass travellers. Can I help you find anything?"

Oniyama shook his head. "My sister always wanted to come see this place, so I brought her on a little tourist visit. I told her 'Babette, there's far more interesting places to visit, like Solitude' but she wanted to come here, so here we are."

Babette chimed in. "It's just as pretty as the book described it. Thank you big brother!"

The guard's eyes crinkled. Oniyama guessed he had a knowing smile on his face. "I'm glad you got to have your wish fulfilled, child. Please, enjoy the rest of your time here. Just be careful on the east end of town. There's a mine there and it's not particularly safe for little children."

Oniyama clapped the guard lightly on the shoulder. "Thank you for the warning, friend. I'll be extra vigilant if we head that way."

The guard nodded and returned from whence he came.

As soon as he was out of earshot, Babette dropped the act. "That is so infuriating!" She hissed.

Oniyama turned to her. "What is?"

"That guard just assumed you had kidnapped me. I wanted to just tear his throat out on the spot." She had a fury in her eyes to match her words.

Oniyama sighed. "It's not an unreasonable assumption under most circumstances. How many adorable Breton children have you seen wandering the landscape with Orcs?"

Babette turned to look up at him. "So we're an unusual couple. That doesn't mean you're automatically raping me!"

Oniyama motioned for her to keep her voice down. They'd already had one incident, he didn't want to invite more. "I know, sister. I didn't particularly enjoy his insinuations either. I'm not condoning his behaviour, I can just see how he came to those conclusions."

Babette's fury slowly dissipated. "I guess you're right. I don't have to like it though." She smiled up at him. He would have described it as 'seductively' but that wasn't an adverb one normally used for ten year old faces. "Don't think I missed that 'adorable' comment, either."

Oniyama shrugged. "I'm sorry, I call them like I see them. Intentional or not, that body you inhabit is absolutely cute." He knelt down, reached out and gently pinched her cheek. "You're such a cutey widdle sweetums." He said in as babyish a voice as his larynx could muster. It still came out as sort of a growl.

She glared back at him with an I-will-kill-you-in-your-sleep expression. She said nothing though.

Oniyama let go of her cheek and tried his hardest not to laugh like a madman. His body was wracked with great heaving hiccups as he held back what would have been a hearty belly laugh. At long last the heavy atmosphere that had permeated their journey was shattered.

Even Babette had started smiling slightly, even though she was still trying to death-stare him. "So, did you plan on actually fulfilling your contract, or are you just going to continue antagonizing me?"

Oniyama finished up with a few chuckles and returned to full height. "If it's business you want, it's business you'll have." He turned to survey the town. "Nazir said this Beitild is a mine boss here, so let's head over to the east end of town and see if she's a late worker."

The two of them proceeded up the path and turned right, heading past the Jarl's house toward the mine. Now that he wasn't being harassed, Oniyama noted just how tired everyone looked. Most people could not stop yawning and many looked like they hadn't slept in years. He shook his head lightly. Whatever the problem was, it was not his problem. His problem was finding this Beitild and discreetly arranging a meeting between her and the God of her choice.

Before they even approached, Oniyama's hopes were dashed. It was close to midnight and there were no lights on or workers about at the mine. Oh well. It was a slim hope at best. Turning to Babette he said "Beitild's not here. We could ask around town to find her house, but that would draw suspicion when she turns up dead. I think it best if we bunk at the inn for the night and come back tomorrow."

Babette pondered this. "Agreed, brother. My, but you have a mind for this kind of activity." She smiled appreciatively up at him.

"There's a reason I went looking for you, sister." He quipped. Realizing what that sounded like he hastily added. "I mean, that's why I went looking for the Brotherhood, not you specifically!"

Babette giggled. "I know what you meant, but I have to admit that you're absolutely adorable when you're flustered. Now who's the 'cutey widdle sweetums?'" She mocked him.

Oniyama grinned back at her. "Oh, you're still the only 'widdle' one around here, sister. I might be a cutey sweetums, but only you qualify for the widdle part."

Babette shrugged. "Fair point. Just for the record, if you call me 'cutey widdle sweetums' again, and we're not trying to fool some gullible guard or target, I'm going to bite you."

Oniyama feigned a disapproving stare. "Now, now. If you don't stop misbehaving, young lady, I'm going to have to put you in the corner for a time-out." He wagged his finger at her.

She was giving him the death-stare again. "Just try it. We'll see who has a time-out then."

Oniyama couldn't contain his laughter this time and belted a series of long, loud hoots and guffaws across the snowy village. He was chuckling all the way to the inn. Babette was thoroughly not impressed the whole way there and it showed.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The inn was not especially grand, but there was room enough for them. Oniyama had tried to rent two separate beds until Babette had taken him aside and pointed out how odd it would look for two 'siblings' to sleep in different rooms. He had to agree with the logic. Now they were sitting in the one room with a double bed. Oniyama was stripping out of his armour in preparation for some much desired rest. Babette sat on the bed watching him.

As he unstrapped the breastplate and struggled out of it, she spoke. "It seems like a lot of work to put that on and take it off, brother."

He finished removing the breastplate and setting it aside before replying. "True, but the protection it affords is well worth the effort. Besides which, I've got muscles to spare for days." He flexed suggestively for her.

She clapped lightly but sincerely. "Oh bravo. You're an exceedingly well-built Orc. Not that there's many weakly built Orcs out there, but still."

He blushed. "Working in a forge for decades will do this to you. I'm not really that special as far as my physique is concerned."

If she noticed the blush, she didn't comment on it. She was still appraising him. Rather than continue to look at her, he focused on removing his greaves. The straps were significantly easier to undo than with the chestplate. Soon they were sitting beside the chestplate. Looking up from his work, he saw that she was still watching him. "Is there something else you wanted, sister?"

She snapped out of her reverie almost like she didn't even realize she was doing it. "No, brother. My apologies." Now there was a blush on her face.

She hadn't commented on his, so he did her the courtesy of ignoring hers. With the chestplate and greaves taken care of, all that were left were his boots. A short time after that, he stood from the stool and joined Babette on the bed. He took the daedric dagger from where he kept it and placed it under one of the pillows.

She spoke again. "Do you really believe you'll need that?"

He turned to her. In the privacy of the room, they had both relaxed their illusions. Her piercing blue eyes were now a bloody red, same as his. "It is better to have something and never need it, sister, then to need it and never have it."

She looked at the pillow then back at him. There was sadness in her eyes.

"Why do you look at me so, sister?" He inquired.

"I get the feeling you sleep with a dagger under your pillow out of fear more than pragmatism." She replied evenly. "Fear born of loss perhaps?"

He opened his mouth to reply, but no words came out. He looked back at the pillow then turned back to her. "Perhaps...perhaps you are right. Do you wish for me to remove the dagger to the bedside table?"

"Do you feel more comfortable with it where it is?"

"Yes."

"Then leave it, brother. Best you sleep as soundly as you can. Tomorrow is your first real contract after all." Babette maneuvered to the opposite side of the bed and laid her head down on the 'unarmed' pillow.

Oniyama swung his legs up off the floor and laid down beside her. He silently prayed that he would have no dreams tonight, but the Gods were not listening, if they were there at all.

Chapter Text

(Eighty five years previously)

Oniyama stepped out of his house to the sun beating down on his face. Another beautiful day in Gnaar Mok. He turned and surveyed his abode. Although the original hut he had once lived in still resided within these walls, it was obscured by the additions they had paid to have added. While it was still only one storey tall, the one room that had originally existed was now their main living room, kitchen, and dining area. An addition had been built onto the side which became their master bedroom. A recent addition on the opposite side had just finished last week. This was to be converted into a child’s room. He and his wife had no children. After all, they were not of the same race. This did not deter them. Several lengthy discussions had brought forth the desire by both of them to adopt. They would have to travel to Vivec to visit its orphanage, but the work on the house was done. All in all, his house was now among the largest of all in Gnaar Mok, excluding the inn. This still wasn’t that impressive, as there were precious few huts, houses, or buildings in general in Gnaar Mok. Still, he felt a surge of pride as he surveyed his abode.

They had paid for the additions thanks to his increased skill with smithing. He had honed his craft into working with ebony. Materials were rare to come by, but the fishermen and farmers of Gnaar Mok paid him handsomely for higher quality tools. An ebony hoe plowed a field with barely half the effort required of steel and an ebony fishing rod would never break before even the strongest of fishing lines snapped. Ebony nails resisted rusting.

In addition to his increased payments from ebony smithing, Samandra had also contributed to their income by picking up alchemy. While Gnaar Mok already had an alchemist, Samandra was fast approaching her level of skill. Combined with cheaper prices, she was a market force to be reckoned with. Their life could not be more idyllic, the Camonna Tong notwithstanding. However, the fees they charged for ‘protection’ were minimal and acceptable, a fair cost of doing business within their realm of influence. They might not have liked Oniyama very much, but they knew better than to upset such a profitable business arrangement.

Samandra stepped out of the house to see her husband still standing and admiring it. “Oh, darling.” She scolded gently. “You have to get to work. This house does not pay for itself.”

Oniyama laughed. “I know, honey. I was just awestruck by the sight of the second most beautiful thing in Gnaar Mok."

Samandra blushed. Even after four years, he still loved making her do that.

Oniyama strode over to the forge he worked at every day. Behind it stood a medium sized shed that he'd added, where he kept all the arms and armour he made in preparation for a trip to Balmora or Gnisis. Today was another such day. Gathering up a few pieces he'd left to set overnight, Oniyama made his way toward the inn in town. The wagon he used to transport his goods was always a rental of the one used by the inn owner to transport foodstuffs from out of town for his inn to use. Oniyama could have bought the wagon outright long ago, or even bought an entirely different one during one of his trips to the larger settlements. However, he preferred continuing the rental agreement. Not only did this mean that he didn't have to worry about the wagon when he was not using it, it also meant he was not responsible for its maintenance either (unless he broke it during his rental, of course.)

After speaking to the owner and finalizing the rental, Oniyama hitched two horses to it and brought it back to his home. Stopping it in front of the forge, he proceeded to load up as much of his arms and armour as he could fit into the back of the wagon. He had long since stopped peddling his wares out of the wagon in a market square. His reputation for fine equipment meant that he now could sell his products directly to the city guard in either city. Since guards always wanted the best equipment and the armour of guards who were killed in the line of duty was almost always unrecoverable, the demand for new suits made to House specifications was high. Oniyama counted himself fortunate that he had such a contract. He was not the main provider for House Hlaalu or House Redoran, but he supplemented both of their armories with unpainted suits of armour to replenish those lost in the line of duty or otherwise destroyed.

Today was different though. Most of the time when he journeyed to a larger city, Samandra stayed behind and tended to her alchemy business. Today, however, she was accompanying him. Gnisis had a richly stocked apothecary and she needed some ingredients that she could not acquire any other way. It would be a welcome change for Oniyama. Instead of the long, lonesome road, he would have his favorite companion to while away the time with. In Gnisis, they would go their separate ways and meet up again when their respective businesses had concluded.

As Oniyama strapped on his armour (he kept a set for travelling to discourage bandits and thieves), Samandra came up behind him to help adjust the straps. It was nothing he couldn't do on his own, but the extra pair of hands made quick work of it. After it was snug against his back, he turned and kissed her. "Mmmmm." He mumbled into her lips.

She kissed him back lovingly. When they parted, she had a smile on her face. "I thought you didn't like it when others saw us kiss?" She asked facetiously.

"Only the really naughty ones." He replied lightheartedly. "You have a habit of wanting to do those in public too."

Samandra giggled. "So maybe I do like making the fishermen jealous of that 'brutish' Orc with the smoking hot wife."

Oniyama turned serious. "Just as long as you never try to do the same with the Camonna Tong."

Samandra turned serious as well. "I know, darling. Believe me, I have no interest in making things harder for us..." She smiled again and looked down. "Well, almost no interest."

Oniyama threw up his hands and sighed in mock exapseration. "I just can't win with you, woman!"

Samandra kissed him again, lightly. "On the contrary, you've already won. I'm yours, aren't I?"

"True." Oniyama replied. "Well, best get on our way. House Redoran is expecting this shipment."

"Ready when you are, darling." Samandra said. She effortlessly vaulted into the driving position on the front of the wagon.

Oniyama locked up his house and made one last sweep of his forge and shed for things he was bringing with him. He had forgotten nothing. With a nod of affirmation, he vaulted up to sit beside his wife. She flicked the reigns and the two of them departed for Gnisis.

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As Gnaar Mok disappeared around a bend behind them, Samandra asked him "Have you given any more thought to adoption, darling?"

Oniyama continued to survey the surrounding area as he replied. "I already agreed that we ought to travel to Vivec. What more do you need?" His words might have been mistaken as sultry, but he knew Samandra would not be offended. The pair of them were both extremely blunt. It had startled more than a few strangers.

"Do you want a boy or a girl? How old should they be? Should we adopt more than one?" Samandra's eyes never left the road. She trusted her husband to warn her of any danger that appeared. Besides which, he had an ebony bow in his hands. Any bandit or thief that wanted to take from this wagon was going to have to risk an arrow to the knee.

"I don't know what we should have. It's not something we can really decide beforehand. I expect when we get to the orphanage we'll meet with the little ones. Any that aren't afraid of me would be ideal candidates." His voice sounded a little sad.

"Oh, darling, how could any of them fear you? You are so kind and compassionate. A more selfless man I have never known." Samandra was always disappointed when she heard Oniyama speak of himself so. He had done no wrong to anyone and had done more right by many than a lot of others, yet he always demeaned his Orc heritage. She wished he would stop, but she understood why he did not.

"Samandra, dear, you know as well as I do that Tamriel is quick to judge by appearance. Children even more so. I would not ask any child to come with me that was afraid of my visage. Even if they came not to fear me, I would not subject them to such fear for even an afternoon."

"Even if by doing so, you could give that child a better life?"

"Even so. Would it truly be a better life if they lived it in fear of me?"

Samandra's eyes drooped in sadness. She did not take her eyes off the road, for it would not do if she drove them into the ditch, but she felt tears in her eyes all the same. Any child at that orphanage would find themselves no better father in all of Morrowind, she was sure of it. It pained her that her husband was so dismissive of himself that he could not believe others would see what she did when she looked at him.

She recalled the day they had met. She had been scared out of her wits, but stubborn enough not to surrender her coin purse. She knew her father would never blame her for getting robbed, but she would have blamed herself. So she had fought, had resisted and had her fears confirmed when she saw the thug pull out the knife. She had been certain then that she was going to die, all for a medium sized pouch of coin.

In an instant, a large Orc had delivered her to safety. He'd killed the bandit where he stood and turned on the man's partner with intent. The partner had released his prize and fled just as fast as his legs could carry him.

Samandra had fallen when the thief had released her purse. The Orc had helped her to her feet and proceeded to startle her with his disregard for anything other than her safety and convenience. He'd tried to leave without asking for even a single coin of recompense. He hadn't even asked her name. None of the men who had tried to be her husband would have ever even considered such behaviour. Yet here was this Orc, a race hardly known for such traits, who had defended her against theft and possibly murder without even a thought to his own well being, in any sense. Her heart had been captured in that instant.

As she sat on the hard wood of the wagon, Samandra smiled to herself at the memory. She'd been married to Oniyama for four years and had never once regretted that choice. She had eventually repaired her relationship with her father and he and Oniyama were, if not friends, at least not enemies. Every night, as she lay beside her chosen mate, she prayed to the Gods that if she were required to give of herself to repay them their kindness for bringing him into her life, they needed only ask.

She also had to admit that the sex was incredible. She had never lain with another man, but she didn't see why she would ever want to. Oniyama's care and affection for her well being extended to the bedroom as well. She did not have any comparison for his stone pillar of a cock, but it was near a perfect size for her womanhood. Maybe it was slightly too large, but that just meant she always felt full. She had heard stories from the other ladies when she lived in Vivec that sex with only one partner became stale and routine if a couple stayed together for too long. She had no idea what they were talking about. She had been with Oniyama for four years and he still surprised her just as much as she surprised him. He was always concerned with her pleasure in bed, but he was willing to temporarily suspend such concern when she asked him to. At the same time, he had an uncanny sense about when she'd had enough, usually even before she did. The last four years had been a steady march of different sexual positions at different times of the day and in different parts of the house and village. No, she had no idea what the ladies of Vivec had meant about stale sex and routine. Maybe she just hadn't been with Oniyama long enough, but at this point in time she didn't see anything even remotely like that in the future.

She jolted out of her reverie as the wagon hit a fair sized rock. She ought to have steered the horses around it, but she'd daydreamed into all that she was thankful for. Oniyama grunted when they hit the rock and turned to look at her. She sheepishly turned to look back at him. "Sorry, dear, I was...lost...in my thoughts." She surreptitiously glanced down to the crotch of the armour he was wearing before turning her eyes back to the road. Sadly, the armour didn't allow the shape of his wonderful cock to show through. Admittedly, that would have made it an obvious weak spot, which was a no-no for armour in general, but Samandra still enjoyed sneaking glances at his stone snake whenever she could.

Oniyama turned back to the road and the surrounding terrain. He knew his wife had just glanced at his crotch, but he said nothing of it. For all that she tried to be circumspect about her peeking, he caught her more often than not. He just didn't say anything. Truth be told, it made him feel prideful that his wife still fantasized about his manhood, despite how often she got to play with it.

It suddenly dawned on him just exactly what Samandra must have been thinking about which made her strike the rock with the wagon. As his mind wandered back to all the wonderful sex he'd had with his wife, another memory triggered. With an evil humour in his voice, he leaned toward Samandra and said softly "At least you don't have to be distinctly disappointed anymore."

Samandra felt Oniyama's weight shift toward her. She was unconcerned. The wagon was hardly comfortable. Then she heard him speak. "At least you don't have to be distinctly disappointed anymore." Samandra was puzzled. She hadn't been disappointed by him at any point in recent memory. Yet from his inflection, she knew that he had chosen his words carefully. She stretched her mind back to as many conversations as she could recall. Distinctly disappointed he had said. She surmised that she must have said that to him at some point.

Just as it was starting to annoy her, realization hit her like a cookpot to the face.

“Admit it, you only expected a light kiss.”

“Me? Admit something? Oh you’ll have to work me over harder if you’re going to get me to admit anything.” She still had the devil twinkle in her eyes. There was also a fair amount of lust there too.

Oniyama was still grinning at her. “You should be careful what you wish for, my lady.” He said sarcastically. “We Orcs tend to work people over...pretty hard. Be glad we’re not on the road between cities or I’d give you a demonstration.”

Samandra adopted a feigned pout. “I’m distinctly disappointed that we’re not on the road between cities right now.”

As the implications of what he'd just said to her sank in, Samandra's knees started to shake. If she had been standing, they would have buckled. He remembered! Almost without thinking, she guided the wagon to the side of the road. Pulling the reigns to halt the horses, she threw them to one side and sank her lips onto Oniyama's waiting smile.

The kiss was far more intense than it had any right to be. Their tongues danced intertwined, they sucked on each other like pieces of candy and they gave no thought to what anyone else might think if they were to be seen. Of course, there was no one anywhere within miles of them to hear or see them.

As she broke off the kiss, Samandra felt herself grow so wet for him that she wasn't sure she hadn't just pissed herself. Clambering down off the wagon, the two of them fell into the ditch.

Samandra grasped for the straps which held her lover's armour to his legs. He helped her, and soon it was off. As she started to take off his pants, he slid her frock up to expose her panties. They were drenched. He slid them off and spread her legs in the air. She got his pants off and his rock cock swung to attention before her. As the two of them paused for a moment, Oniyama smiled devilishly down at her. For all the times she had done it to him, it was the first time he had done it to her. She thought he was the embodiment of pure sexual prowess. "Admit it" he intoned. "You only expected a light kiss."

She gazed up at him without smiling. Instead, her mouth was slightly open and her eyes were like brown stars made of desire instead of fire. "Me? Admit something? Oh you'll have to work me over...harder...if you're going to get me to admit anything." She softly breathed back at him.

In that instant, he slammed his cock into her flooded depths. She moaned long and hard as she felt his penis fill her with an exquisite pleasure. Her eyes never left his. She felt the pleasure on her face. He held inside her, letting her drink in the pleasure of that first powerful penetration. She could feel his member twitching inside her. Her pussy throbbed and contracted powerfully in time with her breathing. She was glad she was this wet. It was time for them to fuck like the rabbits she promised and now was the perfect time for it. She brought her arms above her head and wrapped her legs around his torso. Nodding slightly, she prepared herself for his onslaught.

Oniyama watched his wife prepare for this experience with pride. Unlike their first night together, he knew she was both willing and prepared for the kind of lovemaking he had in mind. Her pussy felt so divine around his cock, it was always hard to keep himself from spending too early in its depths. Instead, he focused on his rythym. Bracing his legs for maximum leverage, he pulled his cock out roughly and pushed back in just as quickly. Samandra moaned in response. He repeated the maneuver and she moaned again. He began a fast and furious pace, slamming himself into her with enough force that it had to hurt, but she never voiced a complaint. Her pussy throbbed and pulsed in time with his thrusts and her eyes closed as her mouth opened wide, a constant barrage of "Ah!'s" and ""Ooh!'s" escaping from it.

Samandra had had sex with Oniyama many times over the past four years. They had even done it outside before, but she had never dreamed of just pulling over to the side of the road and fucking him like they were a pair of wolves in the forest. A part of her was constantly worried that they would be set upon by wolves, or bandits, or thieves, possibly even something more dangerous. It only served to make her more aroused, more sensitive. 'Best fuck the living daylights out of him then' her pussy seemed to say. 'He won't be able to protect you, the state he's in. You have to get every drop of lust out of him so he'll be alert the rest of the way to Gnisis.' She increased the force of her part of the rythym, attemtpting to fulfill this sage advice.

Oniyama felt his wife increase the force of her counter thrusts. He continued to bang away at her with little regard for her safety. Despite how he had planned for this to be a quick and dirty fuck, some part of him was desperate to keep him from cumming until Samandra had done so at least once. She didn't feel (to him) like she was close to orgasm, but he found that she usually climaxed rather suddenly. He just had to increase the pleasure. Up to this point, he'd been bracing himself with both hands above her. Shifting slightly, he braced himself on one hand and used the other to snake up under her frock and grope her breasts roughly. First he started by grabbing the whole breast and squeezing it tightly, before moving his armoured hand to pinch her nipple. Then he repeated the treatment on her other breast.

Samandra felt a metal hand slide up her frock and fondle her tits. If there was one thing she could say that Oniyama didn't do enough, it was play with her breasts. Which made it all the more erotic whenever he did so. Between the hot wetness between her legs and the sudden stimulation from her chest, Samandra climaxed. Her pussy contracted hard around Oniyama's cock and her short breathy "oh's" and "ah's" gave way to a long moan. Her legs tightened around his waist as her orgasm lingered in her mind. Contrary to her previous experiences with mind numbing ecstasy, she felt she was becoming accustomed to the depths of both her depravity and her pleasure. There was nothing that Oniyama would not do for or to her, as long as she asked for it first. She had to explain most of the really naughty ones, but he was ever the gentleman, always asking why she would want to so such things. Inevitably, she would explain that feeling his hot, hard cock shoot its delicious seed all over and in her was plenty of motivation for most of what she wanted him to do to her. She relished feeling his orgasm almost as much, if not more, than her own. It was such an empowering sensation, knowing that he lusted after her, knowing that she could satisfy him so wholly, so completely. Every time he finished in one of her holes (or sometimes, blessedly, all three of them) she would lie as though in a fugue, lost to everything around her but the sheer pleasure he had inflicted upon her.

Oniyama felt his wife's orgasm acutely. More often than not, the force of her pussy contracting around him was sufficient to suck the seed straight from his cock. Today though, he resisted, as hard as it was. He'd remembered something else she had said to him. Withdrawing his prick from her twat, he shifted slightly and came to sit on her stomach. Careful not to put his entire weight upon her, he slid his slick member into her frock and between her tits.

Samandra felt the shifting weight as Oniyama repositioned himself above her. She thought he had climaxed and was getting off of her. She was caught by surprise when she felt his still hard penis slide into her frock and between her breasts. Her eyes opened and looked down to see the tip of his member peeking through the top of her frock. Almost on instinct, she pushed her breasts together and sandwiched him between them. As he started to thrust once more, she marveled at how close each thrust brought his cock to her face.

Oniyama watched his wife as she looked on lewdly at his prick. He started to thrust in between her breasts. It was nowhere near as slick as her pussy, but the juices from her orgasm were lubricating him well enough. He thrust into her chest a dozen times as she watched his member with a dreamy look in her eyes. On the thirteenth thrust, he grunted loudly and came.

Samandra felt his orgasm approached as he fucked her breasts. The foreign sensation was enough to push her back into a light orgasm. As she rocked her hips slightly, she felt his cock twitch. She aimed her face downward as much as she could, closed her eyes and accepted his seed as he shot it into her waiting face. The first thing she noticed was how hot it was. It didn't scald her, but it did surprise her. She'd felt how warm it was when it went into her pussy, ass and throat, but she'd always assumed this was just because of how warm such holes were normally. The seed that shot onto her face was very warm indeed, but it cooled quickly. She felt the ballista shook into her cheeks, her neck, her eyes and her lips. She opened them to receive a few spurts of his bittersweet cum in her mouth.

As his orgasm subsided, Oniyama dismounted from Samandra. His arms were sore from supporting his weight for so long. He didn't care. Watching his wife dreamily take a facial was worth every ounce of ache and pain his body had for him. As he moved to redon his pants, she was wiping the cum from her face and sticking her fingers in her mouth. She had that devilish smile on her lips again. "Admit it, you were only expecting a light kiss." He said playfully.

Samandra's eyes never left him as he moved to redon his armour. "I admit that I never expected this." She said demurely.

Looking at his wife sitting in the dirt, lower half exposed, wiping cum from her face and eating it like it was cream made Oniyama hard again. Forgetting his armour, he strode back to her.

Samandra saw him coming and stood up. Holding her frock above her waist, she spread her legs and said "Time to feed my other mouth."

Oniyama slid his pants down just enough so that his growing cock was exposed once again. Reaching Samandra, he braced her against the wagon and slid inside her waiting depths one more time.

This time it really was a quick and dirty fuck. Oniyama thrust into Samandra only seven or eight times before she climaxed on his member again. Without resistance, he matched her climax with his own, shooting his seed into her. She leaned forward and kissed him deeply. He continued to thrust into her even after their shared orgasm, giving her small aftershocks that made her giggle into the kiss.

At last, their lust spent, Oniyama and Samandra began straightening themselves out to continue their journey. Samandra donned an extra pair of panties she had with her, a precaution she had started taking after their first outdoor experience. Oniyama redonned his pants again and actually managed to get his armor back on. The straps were a little frayed from the haste with which they had been torn off, but there was a seamstress in Gnisis who could fix that for him. 'Probably shouldn't mention how it got damaged though' he thought smugly.

The pair of them climbed back onto the wagon and set off for Gnisis. The sun washed down on them as though blessing their coupling.

Chapter Text

The town of Gnisis was bustling as usual. It wasn't crowded, only Vivec could truly ever be called crowded, but it was the next biggest settlement in all of Morrowind. As the wagon pulled to a stop next to the Madach Tradehouse, Samandra handed the reins to Oniyama and dismounted. "Shall we meet back here once our business is concluded?" She asked him as he shifted to the driver's seat.

"That would be best, dear." He replied shortly. "I shouldn't be long at the fort. If I'm not outside of here when you get done, I'll be inside having a drink."

Samandra glared at him for a second before sniggering. "If you fall over drunk, I'm leaving you in Gnisis until you sober up."

Oniyama sank his face into his hands and sighed. "That happened one time! You're never going to let me forget it, are you?"

"Oh Gods, no." Samandra replied quickly. "It's far too much fun to see you squirm whenever I bring it up."

"We'll see who's squirming after something gets brought up. Just you wait." He cast a suggestive glance downward.

Samandra blushed redder than a sunburn. "Oh, you're naughty! I'm going to punish you for that lip."

Oniyama grinned. "I certainly hope so."

Their verbal joust over, Oniyama flicked the reigns and headed off toward Fort Darius. He was certain he could imagine what kind of face his wife was making at him now, but he wasn't about to turn around and give her the satisfaction of making him see it. Gods, he loved that woman!

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The sun told him it was two hours past noon when he rode the wagon down from Fort Darius. It had taken longer than expected this time. The quartermaster he normally sold his sets to was away on other business and his replacement had been inclined to haggle. In the end, Oniyama had been forced to call on the garrison's captain to inform this replacement of the contract he (Oniyama) was under. House Redoran did not do on the spot negotiation and if they didn't engage in it, Oniyama would be damned if he'd let some upstart with a nose for business force him to. Eventually, he'd been paid for his armour and weapons and his coin purse now bulged. Wary of the thieves that Gnisis was well known for, Oniyama knew better than to simply tie such a prize to his waist. Instead he had it tucked into a small pocket he'd forged into his breastplate. While this had the effect of making it seem as though he was reaching into his cleavage whenever he went for his money, so far there had been no thief brave enough to try and lift coins from it literally right under his nose.

As the wagon neared the Tradehouse, Oniyama saw no sign of Samandra. This did not concern him. If she wasn't inside, she was still at the apothecary. Unlike himself, she was under no contract to buy her ingredients at a set price every time. Oniyama could only imagine the kind of argument his wife was likely in right now, haggling over every last septim. He pitied the store owner.

His wife had a remarkable nose for business herself. In the four years they had been together, she had picked up alchemy quite quickly. Combined with her business acumen, she was making nearly as much coin from her business as he was from his. At the very least, her business was more consistent. His coin came in large amounts but over long periods of time, she received vastly smaller amounts but generally received such payments two or three times a week. Oniyama had been doing counting of both of their businesses (purely for the challenge of doing the math) and had come to the conclusion that they were living quite the comfortable life. So far the Camonna Tong hadn't put the math together like he had. They hadn't asked for more protection money even though his household's income had close to doubled. For his part, Oniyama had cautioned Samandra against appearing too wealthy, lest the Camonna Tong take notice. She'd taken his advice to heart immediately. They enjoyed their wealth, not with expensive dresses or a new boat or wagon. Instead they ate better than most, buying only the best ingredients for their nightly meals. The only time in recent memory that they had used their not-insignificant wealth for something other than food was to pay for the additions they had put on the house. To avoid the Camonna Tong becoming overly suspicious about such a large expenditure, Oniyama had financed the additions through them, taking a loan from them to pay the carpenter with terms to pay the Camonna Tong back over time. While this meant that the house additions would cost him more in the long run, thanks to the Camonna Tong's interest on the loan, their protection fees would not increase.

This latest sale of his was, by his math, sufficient to pay off the rest of the loan in its entirety, but such behaviour would be almost as suspicious as paying for the additions out of his own pocket in the first place. Instead Oniyama was meticulous about paying his loan back on time, but not in advance. Following this method, he'd be 'indebted' to the Tong for two more years, but he was fine with that. If it meant he got to live his life without their interference, it was a price he was willing to pay.

Oniyama pulled the wagon to a stop to one side of the Tradehouse. It would not do to block the door. As he climbed down off the wagon, he heard a familiar voice call out to him.

"Coins for the needy, sir?" A small Imperial girl asked with upraised palms.

"Hello to you too, Lianis." Oniyama replied with a smile. "Panhandling as usual?"

Oniyama had met Lianis almost a year prior. She had been begging for money with a sad look in her eye. At seven or eight years old, with long black hair and piercing blue eyes, Lianis had provoked his compassion immediately. She'd initially been afraid to ask for money from the intimidating Orc in the ebony plate armour, but her need for money had seemingly overwhelmed her caution. She had approached him with the same phrase "coins for the needy, sir?" and with the same upturned palms. Despite not knowing a thing about her, Oniyama had proceeded to give her almost twenty septims. For her part, she'd been absolutely startled by his generosity but had accepted the money graciously. Ever since, whenever Oniyama came to town, he almost always ran into Lianis before departing back home. (He idly wondered if she waited for him to be on his way out before appearing each time but dismissed such thoughts. Even if they were true, he would still help such a pretty child in such dire straits.) From what he had gathered, she was an orphan and had been since shortly before they had met. She survived on the generosity of the people of Gnisis because she had no way to travel elsewhere. Oniyama had offered to escort her elsewhere, but she had always refused. He didn't mind. Even if she did trust him enough to approach him for money, that was nowhere near the same as trusting him with her life on the road.

The little girl beamed at him. "I'm not old enough to work any job on offer here in Gnisis. It's panhandling or starve." She still had her palms raised at him.

Oniyama, still smiling, sighed in exasperation. It wasn't like she didn't have a point. Reaching into his coin pocket in his breastplate, he drew out a rough handful of septims. "Here little one. Eat well tonight."

Lianis took the handful of coins in both of her own. Her eyes widened as she counted them. "This is over thirty septims! Surely you can't spare this much?" She attempted to offer the coins back to him.

"I assure you, I can afford to give that much to you." Oniyama replied, backing away from her hands. "Business is good for me. As I said, take it and eat well tonight." He smiled sadly at her expression of wonder. For a small girl such as she, if she took good care of such a sum, this money could allow her to eat for several weeks. Giving such a sum to such a small girl could possibly invite trouble from thieves, but Oniyama had a hard time believing that any thief could be so heartless as to rob a small orphan girl. "Take care of that money and that money will take care of you." He cautioned gently.

Lianis had tears welling in her eyes now. "Thank you, sir. You are the kindest of men."

Oniyama felt his heart burst at the sight. "We have met many times. Do you not recall my name?"

"Certainly sir, but I am unworthy to speak it." Her tone held a note of finality in it that suggested to Oniyama that he would not sway her from this.

He decided to try anyway. "I am Oniyama and you are more than worthy to speak my name. I am no one special. I am not your master or employer. You are worthy enough to speak my name. Anyone is. There is no person in this world who is unworthy to speak it, yourself included."

Lianis shook her head violently. "Papa says I'm not to speak people's names. I'm not worthy enough for names."

Oniyama was puzzled. "Papa? Lianis, didn't you say you were an orphan?"

Lianis' eyes went wide once again. "Oh no! Papa will be angry! I have to go, sir!" With a quick bow, she dashed away down a side street.

Watching her go gave Oniyama a bad feeling. On an impulse, he pushed himself after her. She was quick, nimble and hard to follow, but Oniyama managed to keep pace with her until at last she stopped beside a small hut on the outskirts of Gnisis. He crouched behind a building further up the street to observe her. She glanced around quickly, as though to ensure she was not being watched, then disappeared into the hut.

Oniyama waited a moment to be certain she would not immediately re-emerge. When he was satisfied that the hut was indeed her destination, he crept from where he had crouched and sidled up to the hut. The door was slightly ajar and through it he could hear voices.

"I'm sorry, Papa! It just slipped out! I promise it won't happen again!" Lianis' voice came clearly through the crack of the door. From the sound of her voice, she was close to panicking.

"Sorry?! Sorry doesn't undo what you've done you little guttersnipe!" The other voice was rough and hoarse. Oniyama could really only guess, but he was fairly certain it belonged to an Orc. Compared to his own cultured speech patterns (honed over a decade of practice and reading) this Orc sounded downright feral. Oniyama was mildly surprised that something so vicious sounding could speak coherently at all. The voice adopted a mimicry of Lianis. "It just slipped out?" It resumed its normal intonation. "The only thing that's going to be slipping out is your teeth after I punish you!"

"There you are! I've been looking all over for you!" A voice exclaimed from behind Oniyama. He turned to see Samandra walking rapidly toward him. With a gesture, he silenced her. Motioning her to him, he returned his attention to what he could hear behind the door.

The Orc was fumbling with something made of cloth. "You get over here and do as I've told you or I'm going to beat your ass until you shit blood!"

"Please no, Papa! Anything but that!" Lianis sounded positively terrified.

"If this is the only thing you don't want to do, then it will serve as an excellent punishment." The Orc replied smugly.

Samandra reached him with a worried look on her face. "What's the matter?" She whispered.

Oniyama gestured to the door. "Dear, do you remember when I told you about the little orphan girl who lives here?" He whispered back.

"Yes, Linelle wasn't it?"

"Lianis, but yes, that's her." He strained once more to hear, but there were no more voices, only vague sounds. "I met her again today. I gave her some of the coin from my sale to the fort. We got into a little conversation and she let slip that her 'Papa' was telling her she's unworthy to say people's names to their faces."

Samandra's eyebrow raised at that. "Her 'Papa?'"

"Yes. She dashed away from where I met her by the Tradehouse and came here. From what I can tell, there's an Orc in there and he's punishing her for revealing his existence to me." Oniyama had a concerned expression on his face.

Samandra was looking at the door with a concerned expression of her own. "What kind of punishment is he doing to her?"

Oniyama's frown deepened. "I don't know, but whatever it is, she's terrified. Either of it, or by it. Either way, I don't know what to do." He turned to look into Samandra's eyes. "There's no way that Orc is her real father, but he may be her adoptive one. If I intercede, he may be well within his rights to have me evicted from town. If I don't intercede, I'll worry for that little girl's safety."

Samandra looked from her husband to the door and back again. "Even if he is her adoptive father, would that really stop you from saving her from him?" She smiled at him knowingly.

He smiled back. "No...I don't suppose it would." He stepped out from beside the door and readied himself to kick it open. As he brought his foot up, he froze.

Samandra was curious what could have possibly made her husband stop in the middle of such an action when she heard it too.

From beyond the door sounds had started to re-emerge. There was soft whimpering, muffled as though the one who was doing so had their mouth obstructed. They hadn't been loud enough to carry before, but they were becoming more prevalent. In addition to them, the Orc's voice was now audible through the door. "Oh...yessss...this is...your...uh...punishment...you little...whore..." He didn't sound nearly as feral as he had before, but instead sounded as though he was enjoying himself immensely. His voice continued on for several seconds with unintelligble grunts and moans.

Oniyama looked to his wife. She stared back at him in horror. Both of them were only too familiar with both of these sounds. In an instant, Oniyama finished rearing his leg back and kicked in the door with a mighty CRASH! As he stepped into the hut, his wife followed on his heels.

The scene before him was sickening. In the middle of the hut stood, as he had surmised, an Orc. His greenish-gray skin was overly flabby, though he could not be called fat per se. He had a milky white left eye and a sharp black right one. His head had hair that was black and tied in tribal braids that extended just past his shoulders. His teeth and tusks had a sickly yellow pallor to them. None of this was particularly revolting. No, the revolting part was that he was stark naked. His clothes were to the side of him as though thrown there roughly.

Kneeling on the ground in front of him was Lianis. Her eyes were absolutely horrified by what she was doing. The Orc's veiny, repulsive penis was lodged in her mouth. The tip's outline was visible thorugh her cheek. Her head was bent at an awkward, uncomfortable angle as she was not tall enough while kneeling to properly reach his member, though she was too tall to reach it comfortably while standing. Her blue eyes darted back and forth between Oniyama and her 'Papa.'

For several long seconds no one moved. The Orc had a stunned look on his face. It was clear he knew that what he was doing was wrong, but the only remorse present in that face was the remorse of getting caught. Oniyama saw no hint of guilt, no sign of intent to stop, nothing that proved to him that this...this beast...was anything other than a child raping waste of life.

As he started toward the predator, he didn't think it possible to be more revolted than he was right now. The Orc proved him wrong when, right before Oniyama reached him, he came in Lianis' mouth.

Lianis choked and sobbed as the vile liquid spewed out into her throat. Gagging and coughing, she wrenched her face off of his crotch and started throwing up his seed with violent retches.

'Papa' turned to grab her head, almost instinctively, but Oniyama grabbed his hands first. With an effortless twist, he snapped two of the Orc's fingers. Papa howled and fell backward onto the floor, still squirting a few shots of his cum onto the floor. Oniyama had no remorse of his own for this thing. He cursed himself for not having a blade on him to cut this monster's member from his body, but Providence was there to provide for him. As he stepped over the man's clothing, he noticed the hilt of a dagger peeking out from Papa's pantaloons. He reached down and drew the sharp instrument.

Behind him Samandra gathered Lianis up in her arms and led her out of the hut. They had passed a water trough on the way to the hut and he had no doubt his wife was going to help the poor girl wash the taste of this animal out of her mouth. The water in the trough might not have been the cleanest, but it was sure to be divine compared to what had just entered the poor girl's mouth. He'd worry about them later. Right now, it was time to dole out some punishment of his own.

Samandra wisely shut the door of the hut behind her as she guided Lianis to the water trough. She had some idea of the punishment her husband had in mind for 'Papa.' After witnessing his brutality for herself, she silently counted Papa lucky that he'd only have to face her husband's wrath. As bad as it would be, she knew that, in that instant, she would gladly visit whatever her husband did to him a hundred fold upon him if she were present. Clearing such vengeful thoughts from her mind, she focused on the quivering child in her arms.

Back in the hut, the Orc known as Papa was pleading for his life. "Please! I was only trying to discipline her! You don't know the whole story! She's a handful! I was at my wit's end trying to get her to behave!" An ebony clad boot stomped into his mouth as he finished his sentence. Papa gurgled in pain.

Oniyama leaned over the man and placed the dagger between his eyes. "You make me sick, Papa. I'm an Orc myself and even I, brute and lowlife as my heritage might make me, know that children are never disciplined with such actions! I saw your face when I walked in here. You never had trouble getting that sweet young girl to do anything you wanted. You just wanted someone to please you. Someone who would do whatever you wanted, no matter how depraved. Someone whom you could beat into doing whatever you couldn't convince her to. You are beyond my words. I know you will never stop." He twirled the dagger for effect. "So I'm going to stop you." He placed the dagger's edge underneath Papa's now flaccid penis. "You want someone to suck your cock?" He slashed the knife upward. Greenish blood sprayed out as Papa howled in renewed agony. Ripping his prize from where it had hung, Oniyama brought it up to the man's face. Prying open Papa's demolished mouth he shouted "SUCK ON IT YOURSELF!!!" And crammed the man's member into his windpipe. He kept pushing as far as the member would go, until his hand would move no more. Stepping back, he watched as Papa choked and gurgled on his severed penis. His thrashing became slower and slower. Eventually, Papa lay still. Bleeding from his wound turned sluggish. Oniyama stepped forward once more. Reaching down to check Papa's pulse, he found none.

Dipping the dagger into the man's blood, he scrawled on the wall "Child Rapist for collection." For good measure, he plunged the man's dagger into his chest and left it there. Satisfied with his handiwork, Oniyama opened the door to the hut and, closing it behind him, left.

Chapter Text

Oniyama, Samandra and Lianis sat inside Madach Tradehouse. Lianis was still sobbing, albeit quietly. Neither Samandra nor Oniyama could blame her. Oniyama had changed out of his bloodstained armour, but he couldn't wipe the sickened look from his eyes. To do such a thing to a child? Inconceivable. He knew that the depravity of men ran deep. He had even heard of men who were attracted to children. Yet he had never expected to encounter one, let alone one that was actually engaging in such acts with a little girl. Oniyama did not consider himself to be cruel. Far from it. Yet he still had no regrets for the carnage he had inflicted on Papa.

For her part, Samandra was still reeling from what she had witnessed. She knew she had lived a sheltered life in Vivec, but it wasn't until today that she realized just how sheltered. It was beyond imagination that any man would wish to inflict himself so upon a child. Yet she had seen it with her own eyes, though she now sorely wished she hadn't. She consoled herself with the thought that at least the man was no more. When she had inquired about the bloodstains on her husband's armour before he changed, he had simply said that Papa was 'taken care of' and she was not to revisit the hut. Samandra did not need to be told twice. Now she was trying to figure out how to help this little girl.

Lianis hadn't said a word since she had finished rinsing Papa's seed from her mouth. Her eyes were squeezed shut tightly as she sobbed. Both Oniyama and Samandra had tried to rouse her from her despair to no avail.

Lianis knew what the blood on her friend's armour meant. It meant that Papa was gone and she was all alone. She had never liked him, but he had kept her safe from all threats. He had taught her how to beg efficiently and she had been beginning to grasp the basics of simple pickpocketing. Now that was all gone. She was alone against the world again. Soon, her friend would return from whence he came and she would have to find shelter for the night. She could not go back to Papa's hut. Even if she were not bothered by his body, which she was sure would disturb her greatly, sooner or later the guards would find it. If she were present when that happened, she would be arrested and jailed for murder. She still had the thirty septims Oniyama had given her, but that would barely last her a week since she now had to pay for her own lodging. She was lost, simply and utterly. She wanted to thank her friend for saving her, but he had also condemned her. At long last, Lianis let free the emotions roiling inside her and began to cry openly.

Oniyama watched as Lianis began to cry. Her wails attracted the attention of the innkeep. Thankfully the rest of the Tradehouse was mercifully empty at this time of day.

"Why's she so upset?" The innkeep asked roughly.

Oniyama felt his temper flare at the brusqueness of the question, but he had to remind himself that this man had not seen what he had seen. "She's been rendered homeless. It's getting to her." It wasn't a total lie, but Oniyama certainly didn't feel comfortable discussing the whole truth with him. At the very least, he didn't want Lianis to relive what she had so recently experienced.

Samandra chimed in. "Good innkeep, the child has had a trying day. Perhaps you could rent us a couple of rooms so that she may rest peacefully?"

"Why more than one? Wouldn't you want your child to rest with you?" Again with that brusque tone.

Oniyama was rapidly loathing the man's insensitivity, ignorance or no ignorance. "She is not our child. She is an orphan living on the street. She is welcome to spend her time with us if she wishes, but she should also have space for herself."

The innkeep shrugged. "You want to rent her a room? Cost's the same no matter who it is. 15 septims apiece. Or will your lady friend need a third room?"

"My lady friend is my wife and she will not require a third room." He replied curtly. Reaching into his coin purse, he counted out thirty septims. He slid the pile across the bar. "Two rooms until tomorrow morning."

The innkeep swept the coins off the bar and counted them himself. Satisfied, he slipped them into a pocket of his apron. "You can have the two rooms at the end of the hall on the second floor, opposite the stairs."

He nodded his understanding. Without another word, he guided Lianis up the steps and into her room. He and Samandra took up residence in the adjoining room. As the door to their room closed, Oniyama sat heavily down upon the bed. "What will become of her now?" He pondered.

Samandra sat beside him on the bed. Her frown of concern had not lessened. "She truly has no one?"

He shook his head. "Up until today, I thought she was entirely alone. I never had any idea that 'Papa' existed. Considering what the man was like, I'm rather glad he's gone, but if he was her provider, it leaves her in a rather precarious position."

The two of them sat silently for several minutes. Through the wall, they could still hear Lianis crying into her bed.

He rose from where he sat. "I'm going to talk with her. Perhaps she has cried enough to speak to me." Samandra began to rise as well, but Oniyama motioned for her to remain seated. "Stay here, please. I don't want her to feel overwhelmed by our presence. If I cannot get her to open up to me, you can try in a little while."

She nodded. "I wish you luck, my darling."

He kissed her gently and left. He closed the door to their room and knocked on Lianis' door. "Lianis? May I come in?" He heard the crying slowly abate. There was the sound of footsteps as Lianis opened the door. She looked like she'd been through a warzone and the battle had not gone in her favour. Tear lines stained her cheeks and her eyes were red and puffy. She looked up at him with a mixture of fear and sadness. Bending down on one knee so he could look her in the eye, he repeated his query. "May I come in? You don't have to let me in if you want to be alone."

She shook her head and opened the door wide. She held her arm out as if to welcome him to her abode. Standing tall, he walked into the room and sat on a stool opposite the bed. She closed the door behind him and returned to the bed.

The pair of them gazed at each other for several long minutes. 'At least she didn't start crying again' He thought. Not that he would have faulted her for doing so. He had no idea how he would have responded to someone doing such things to him at her age. At last, he spoke. "Lianis, why do you weep so? I understand that you were afraid, but Papa is gone now. You don't have to fear him anymore."

She shook her head violently. Her hair flew around her face. As she finished the maneuver, her eyes came back to rest upon his. "I'm not crying...because I'm afraid of him. I know he's d...dead." She paused as tears welled up in her eyes once more. "I'm cry...crying because now...-" She sniffled loudly. "-...now I have nowhere to go. I can stay here until the mor...morning, but what will ha...happen to me then?"

He bowed his head. If he was being completely honest, it had never even occurred to him that killing Papa might not have been the best thing for Lianis. Sure the man was a vile beast, a monster without equal, but he was also invested in her safety, albeit for selfish reasons. Now she had no one to look out for her. She was still too young to fend for herself. She had no one to provide for her, no one to teach her, no one to care for her. Perhaps Papa would still have been better than no one at all...

He wrenched his head violently not unlike what she had just done. 'NO!' He thought vehemently. No one at all was better than that rapist! No child deserved such a role model in their lives. Even the complete absence of such a figure was preferable to what someone like Papa would have taught her. It was hardly difficult to find someone even remotely worthy of following in the footsteps of-!

Like a bolt of lightning from on high, it came to him. He and Samandra had been discussing it just this morning! They could adopt little Lianis. Perhaps they hadn't been planning on adopting quite so soon, but surely his wife would agree that moving up their plans for the sake of the girl was preferable to making her spend even one week more on the street alone. He had to try hard not to let the glee show on his face, lest it upset the girl or she mistake his intentions. Maintaining a neutral expression, he instead said. "Lianis, I'm going back to my room to talk to my wife. Is that okay?" She nodded without looking up. Rising from the stool on which he sat, he gently opened the door, left the room and returned to his own. He sat down upon the stool in his own room, across from Samandra.

"How did it go?" She inquired timidly. "I barely heard you through the wall."

"Darling, do you remember what we talked about on the road here this morning?" He inquired. He was still trying hard not to smile.

She glared at him. "I hardly think now is the time to be bringing up such a topic!"

He was confused. Then he remembered what else they had 'discussed' on the road this morning. He raised his hands in a surrender pose. "No! No! Not that! I meant, about going to the Vivec orphanage!"

"Oh!" She exclaimed. "Yes. Of course. What of it?"

He let a smile onto his face at last. "Perhaps we don't need to go to Vivec to find ourselves a child."

She looked puzzled for a second before her eyes lit up like fireballs. "You mean Lianis? What a wonderful idea!" Her expression turned somber once more. "Does Lianis want to come with us?"

He shook his head. "I don't know. I didn't want to offer this to her without having your approval first. That would have been really cruel if you had said no after the fact."

She smiled again. "Oh, my darling. Such compassion is why I married you. Of course I would be overjoyed to have such a beautiful child as my own, but you need to ask her first."

He rose from the stool. "I plan to. Will you come with me this time?"

She rose from the bed. "Of course, my husband. I wouldn't miss her expression for all the gold in Vivec."

The two of them left their room together and stood in front of Lianis' room. Oniyama raised his hand and knocked twice. "Lianis? I've spoken to my wife. We'd like to discuss something with you."

Footsteps once again preceded the opening of the door. Lianis looked slightly less sad or perhaps it was more accurate to say she looked spent. She stared up at the two of them with eyes that looked as though they had never known happiness. "What...what is it?" She whimpered.

"May we come in?" Oniyama asked.

Lianis gestured that they could.

This time, Oniyama and Samandra sat upon the bed and Lianis sat upon the stool. Oniyama still had a smile on his face. "Lianis, you said before that you were all alone. Would you be interested in that not being the case anymore?"

Lianis looked deeply into her friend's eyes. "What do you mean?"

"My wife and I have discussed the possibility of adopting a child for some time now. We'd like to know if you want to be tha-!" Oniyama was interrupted by a small pair of arms dashing across the small room and wrapping themselves around his chest. Lianis was in his arms, crying all over again. "I'm guessing that's a yes..." He said, shocked.

Lianis could scarcely believe her ears. 'He wants to take me home with him' her heart cried joyously. 'He's not leaving me alone!' Truth be told, some small part of her had hoped this would be the case. She had dismissed it as naive wishful thinking. Surely this man had no time to take care of her? Surely he had no coin to spare to feed another mouth everyday? Who was she kidding?

And yet, her ears had not deceived her. She didn't even need him to finish that sentence. He wanted to adopt her as his own. (Some small part of her whined that Papa had wanted to adopt her as well but she shushed that part of her mind easily. Papa had lied to and bullied her into getting his own way. Oniyama had never shown anything but generosity and kindness toward her.) Lianis was crying once again, but now they were tears of joy. This had to be the happiest day of her life. It had to be!

Oniyama was still cradling her head to his chest. She marveled at how strong he was and yet he was so gentle with her. He had a beautiful wife, a wife who was now beaming at the pair of them, sharing in their new happiness. He clearly made good money, she would not starve. Yes, this was the best possible outcome. Slowly she raised herself from where she had lain against him. "What do I call you now?"

Oniyama still wore that warm smile he had entered the room with. "Whatever you wish to, child. My name is Oniyama, and you are certainly worthy of speaking it." He gestured to his wife. "And this is Samandra, my wife."

Lianis stood up straight and bowed. "Nice to meet you, Sa...Sam...an...dra." She sounded out the name to ensure she pronounced it right. Samandra beamed back at her. Lianis turned to bow to her friend. "Nice to meet you, O...ni...ya...ma." His name was a little harder, but the way his smile widened said she'd gotten it right too. She bowed to both of them once more then took a seat on the stool again. "So what happens now?" She started fidgeting.

Oniyama gestured to their accomodations. "These rooms are ours for the night. We should make use of them. We'll head back to Gnaar Mok tomorrow. We'll be sure to buy you some things before we go. Clothes and such. It will also give you a chance to gather any belongings you may have." He stood from the bed. "There's a couple hours left before nightfall. You can either gather your belongings before then, or we can do it together tomorrow."

Lianis jumped off the stool and hugged him again. "Don't go! Can you stay here with me?"

Oniyama gently separated her from him. "I'll only be right next door, Lianis. There's no need to be so afraid."

Lianis let herself be pulled off of him. "I just don't want to be alone again." She said softly.

Samandra, who had remained silent through this entire exchange, stood from the bed and hugged Lianis. "I will stay with you, child. My husband has business left to attend to before nightfall. I'll not go anywhere without you though, I promise you that."

Lianis brightened up. "Thank you... ... ...Mama." She had to force the word out.

Samandra cradled Lianis' face in her hands. "Oh, child, you don't have to call me that if you don't want to. Samandra is just fine."

Seeing that Lianis was in good hands, Oniyama turned and exited the room. He did indeed have business to attend to. As much as he wanted to just leave town and let someone else deal with it, the truth was that it was his responsibility to bring Papa's corpse to the attention of the guards. He was glad he'd made such a large sale earlier today. If the guards did not believe his version of events, he could always pay the bounty off his head. He didn't want to, but it was better than being attacked on sight. At least he had a joyful 'home' to return to after this grisly errand was complete.

Chapter Text

The sun dawned bright and cheery over Gnisis. Well, actually it was a rather hazy grey day, but Oniyama couldn't help but feel like it was a bright and cheery day. He had awoken to find that Lianis had climbed into their bed with them while they slept. The peaceful, contented face he'd awoken to a mere inch from his own was angelic. He'd almost been disappointed when she had stirred and arisen.

As expected, the guards had been quite suspicious of his version of events when he'd brought Papa's corpse to their attention. He had admitted freely that the man had died by his hand, but he also explained that 'Papa' had been a child raping predator. The guards, for their part, seemed to take him at his word. Either they were so jaded as to believe such a horrific story, or they'd known about Papa's activities and simply weren't surprised he'd met such a grisly fate. Oniyama dearly hoped it wasn't the latter. If it was, his opinion of the guards of Gnisis would plummet dramatically.

Ultimately, it made no difference either way. The guards had thanked him for the notice, warned him of committing such acts within town limits ever again, then left him to go about his business.

Now, as he watched the young girl he had volunteered to take care of stretch and yawn like the child she had likely never gotten to be up until now, Oniyama was certain he'd made nothing but right choices. Despite having met little Lianis many times before, he gazed upon her today as though seeing her for the first time.

Lianis stretched her arms out in pure bliss. She had slept more soundly last night than she had ever slept as far back as she could remember. She'd dreamt that perhaps she had been dreaming the whole thing. That when she awoke, she would be on the floor of Papa's hut. Now, as she slowly came to, she could feel a muscular chest beneath her. She knew immediately that this wasn't Papa. He had never let her sleep with him, even when he had forced her to administer pleasure upon him. This chest was the same rough texture, but far more muscular. In addition, two strong arms that belonged to that muscular chest were wrapped around her. She had never felt so safe as she did in that moment. She opened her eyes and peered upward to see Oniyama gazing lovingly back down at her. She smiled. On an impulse, she craned her neck upward and kissed him lightly on the neck.

Oniyama watched as Lianis moved forward and kissed him. He blushed. It was such an innocent gesture, yet it was so profound, at least to him. It was strange. He had known Lianis casually for close to a year and more intimately for all of one whole day, but it felt like he was meeting her just this morning. He couldn't stop smiling.

Beside the two of them, Samandra was stirring as well. She yawned and stretched not unlike Lianis had just done. As she rolled over, she caught sight of Lianis and Oniyama in a tender embrace. She smiled. She was so happy that they had a child in their lives now. For all that her husband had worried that a child would be too afraid of him, he had wound up finding a child who not only adored him, but who needed him more than most. It was true that Samandra didn't know Lianis even remotely as well as Oniyama did, but the same would have been true of any child they would have adopted at the Vivec orphanage. She was looking forward to getting to know Lianis better.

Oniyama disentangled himself from his adopted child and wife and got up off the bed. He started gathering their belongings for the trip back to Gnaar Mok. He'd told Lianis to gather any belongings she had the day before, but she had sheepishly told him that she owned nothing but the clothes on her back. He was determined to change that. Gnaar Mok didn't exactly have a thriving toy business (for that matter, neither did Balmora or Gnisis), but Oniyama was certain he'd walk to Vivec and back just to make that little girl smile. Gods knew she deserved it after what she'd been through. Not that he really knew what she'd been through apart from what he'd witnessed yesterday. How many times had she been forced to commit such an act? He shook his head. Such thoughts did not matter. All that mattered was that she would never commit such an act again until such time as it was her choice. He would see to that.

Oniyama left the room to check on the status of the wagon tied up outside the Tradehouse. Fortunately, neither it nor the horses had been burgled in the night. Not that many thieves would waste time on horses or empty wagons, but one could never be completely sure. Satisfied that their means of transportation was still in their possession, he returned to the room to don his armour for the trip back. After speaking to the guards the previous evening, he had mindfully cleaned the bloodstains from it so Lianis would not have to see them again. It had been an ardurous task since they had sat on the metal for several hours and needed thorough scrubbing to come off. He didn't care. Lianis was foremost in his thoughts now.

As he entered the room with his armour in his hands, he saw that Lianis and Samandra were sitting on the bed. Samandra was braiding Lianis' hair for the road. It was a simple gesture, but Lianis wore the most grateful expression on her face as Samandra worked. It was as though this simple act of kindness were the first she had ever received. 'Not quite, but it's certainly a new experience for her' he reminded himself. Lianis was unlikely to be used to much of anything for a few days or weeks back in Gnaar Mok. Oniyama had to admit to himself that he was looking forward to watching her experience all the things she had probably missed out on up until now.

Placing his armour on the floor, Oniyama sat upon the stool opposite the bed. As he started to don the heavy metal pieces, Samandra looked up from her braiding. "Do you want me to help you, darling?" She asked casually.

"No, I can do this on my own. Tend to little Lianis."

"I'm finished with her. Let me help you now."

"I won't argue with getting on the road quicker."

Samandra stood up from the bed and walked behind Oniyama. Working together, they got his breastplate and greaves on. He waved her away after those were done.

"Thank you, dear. I can handle the boots and gauntlets on my own."

Lianis was watching the two of them work together with a curious look on her face. "Are you expecting trouble on the road, Oniyama?" She asked timidly.

Oniyama smiled up from where he was putting his boots on. "No, but it never hurts to be prepared. It's difficult to put armour on when you're under attack. It's far easier to have it on before you even begin the journey. Worry not, Lianis, no harm will befall you."

Lianis continued to observe Oniyama as he donned his gauntlets and strapped on his longsword and longbow. When they were both secure on his back and at his waist, he motioned for her to join him. "It is time to depart Gnisis, child. Is there anywhere you wish to go before we head out on the road? We'll not be back for several weeks at least."

Lianis thought for a moment, then shook her head. "The only place I want to visit is your home." She said solemnly.

Oniyama nodded. "I understand. It's going to be your home now too, you know."

Lianis beamed at the thought. "I...I suppose it will be." She suddenly felt giddy. She'd never had a home before. Not a proper one. "Let's go!" She cried out excitedly. She raced past Oniyama, out of the door of the room and into her new life.

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The three of them sat around the dinner table in their hut in Gnaar Mok. Lianis had spent the hours since their arrival wandering around the village, getting used to its layout and meeting the people. Even now, several hours later, she still had a mixture of gratitude and wonder in her expression. Not that it bothered Oniyama in the slightest. On the contrary, he was excited to see what kind of life Lianis would lead now that she had parents to nurture and teach her.

Samandra could not stop smiling whenever she looked at Lianis. She'd only really gotten to know the child for one full day, but she was already captivated by her. The girl's eyes still had a slight haunt to them, but that would fade in time. Samandra was keenly interested to see what Lianis would decide to do with her time now that she didn't have to panhandle for survival.

Lianis wasn't sure if this was just the best dream she'd ever had or if she could finally give up and believe that it was really happening to her. She'd gone from homeless and abused to adopted and loved in the span of one day. Now as she sat between her new 'parents,' she struggled to think of a way to repay them their kindness, especially Oniyama. Were it not for him, she would still be floundering around in Gnisis with Papa...

She didn't want to think of Papa. She was glad he was dead, now that she wasn't faced with the prospect of living life alone, but he had been the only true father figure in her life up to this point. She thought back to the moment Oniyama had rescued her from his clutches. Papa had been punishing her for her disobedience. Truth be told, he had found many inventive ways to 'discipline' her over the years she was in his care, but none of them had compared to what he had made her do to him when Oniyama had caught the pair of them. It hadn't been the first time, but she was definitely glad it was the last. She'd always felt so unclean after such an act. Her mouth always tasted horrible for days afterward and it was always sore from the exertion. And yet, Papa had always seemed so pleased whenever she did it to him. Obviously it was something he enjoyed despite, or perhaps because of how she hated it so much.

She had never really thought about it before, but Oniyama was an Orc the same as Papa was. Well, truth be told Oniyama shared only his race with Papa and thankfully nothing else. Still, surely he would find the same things pleasing that Papa had? She had to repay him somehow for all his kindness. It was something to consider...

Oniyama looked up from his meal to see an uncertain look on his new daughter's face. "What's wrong, child?" He asked gently.

Lianis' eyes snapped up from her plate and focused on his. "N...Nothing." She replied shakily.

Oniyama looked at her plate. It was roasted bear haunch with carrots and peas. "Do you not like the food? We can buy you something else if that's the case..."

Lianis looked mortified. "No, no, no! I love it! You don't have to buy anything else! This is delicious!" She unconvincingly picked up a forkful of food and shoveled it into her mouth. As she chewed furiously, her eyes began to water. It was delectable. She was certainly ravenous, having not eaten much for the past several weeks (Papa did not feed her regularly, the better to make her look starved and encourage others to pay her for food. It also meant he spent less on food himself and got to enjoy more of her profits for himself.) Despite how hungry she was though, she was certain this was the most delicious thing she'd ever eaten in her life. Almost as soon as she swallowed her first mouthful, she set upon the dish with furious gusto. In a much more convincing display, she started devouring her meal.

Oniyama watched the comical display and chuckled. "Guess it wasn't about the food after all." He muttered under his breath.

Samandra was watching Lianis eat with a slightly surprised look on her face. She knew she really ought not to be surprised at all. The child probably did not eat regular meals in her former life, but it was still almost whimsical the speed that little Lianis was managing as she scarfed down her food. Samandra reached out a hand to slow her. "Eat too quickly, young one, and you'll choke. No one is taking your food away from you. Take your time."

Lianis looked up sheepishly from her food. "I'm sorry."

Samandra smiled at her. "You don't need to apologize, Lianis. I'm just looking out for your wellbeing."

Lianis forced herself to eat more slowly. She had indeed been worried that someone would take her food away. Papa often had. On a conscious level, she knew that neither Oniyama nor Samandra were as cruel as Papa was. Old habits died hard though. She also found that eating slower meant she got to enjoy each mouthful more. The taste as she chewed on the meat and vegetables was almost enough to make her cry. She'd never eaten something this expensive before, nor had she ever had such a large portion of food at once. She didn't know what her new life was going to be like, but if this was the quality of the meals from here on out, she was looking forward to this life quite a bit.

As her 'parents' (the word still sounded foreign in her mind) returned to their own plates, Lianis continued to ponder what had originally prompted the interruption. Oniyama had been only too generous with her and she needed to be sure he knew how grateful she was. She couldn't repay him his coin, she couldn't repay him his food, she couldn't repay him for what he had done to Papa. She knew of only one thing she could do that would be sufficient payment for his kindness. She wasn't thrilled by the prospect, but unlike Papa, Oniyama deserved it. Being cautious to guard her expression more carefully, Lianis silently ate her meal.

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Oniyama pounded away on the breastplate resting on his anvil. He was feeling pumped for some reason. He laid into his work with fierce determination. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping in the distance, all was well in his life. As the hammer raised back to strike down on the hot metal again, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Stopping mid swing, he turned to look.

Samandra stood behind him with a lustful look in her eye. He knew that look only too well. Dropping his hammer, he set the breastplate aside to make room on the anvil for the pair of them. Samandra, for her part, pushed on him gently and he sat upon the warm metal. Kneeling down, she undid his pantaloons and freed his stone cock from its prison. Without so much as a word, she gorged herself on his member, first slowly, then picking up speed as she acclimated to the position.

A small part of Oniyama's mind wondered why the people of Gnaar Mok weren't raising a stir at such an obscene sight done so blatantly, but it was quickly hushed as the pleasure washed over him. Over and over his wife slid her mouth down his cock, tonguing fiercely the whole way, then slid up and almost let it out of her mouth before sliding back down to nearly swalow the thing whole. It was a sensual, exhilirating experience. It was so good in fact, that Oniyama couldn't hold out any longer. He brought his hands to cradle her head for the finish, but they were restrained by the bedsheets. Bedsheets? Wasn't he outside? As he moved his hands across what looked like open air, he felt the wool of the comforter sliding up and down his arms.

In a flash he realized: 'I'm dreaming!' And yet, the sensation of his wife's mouth on his cock seemed very real indeed, much more real than the heat of the anvil he was sitting on, or the sound of the birds chirping in the background. 'She must be blowing me while I sleep' he thought contentedly. He wasn't going to argue with that kind of treatment. Secure in this knowledge, he let go and came in his wife's mouth.

Immediately she started choking, coughing and sputtering. He looked down at her, astonished. At the same time, she looked up at him. It wasn't his wife. With a startled cry, he sat bolt upright in bed.

Lianis stared back at him with guilty eyes and cum on her lips. She'd apparently pulled the comforter off his lower body as he'd slept and done...well, done something he'd rather not think about. To make matters worse, his yelp had awoken his actual wife, who was looking at the pair of them first sleepily, then horrified.

The three of them stared at each other for long, long seconds.

Oniyama finally had the presence of mind to cover up his manhood. "Lianis! What on Morrowind are you doing?!" He nearly yelled.

Lianis cowered back from him. In addition to guilt there was now fear in her eyes.

He tried to reach out to her, but she recoiled away from him. Unfortunately, she was already at the edge of the bed and this latest maneuver had the unintended consequence of her falling off of it.

Samandra darted forward from where she had lain to check on her. Thankfully, Lianis had not hit her head. She was still looking up at Samandra with the same guilt and fear she had stared at Oniyama with. "Why did you do that, child?" She asked gently.

Lianis whimpered. "I...I wanted to...to...show how g...grateful I am..." She looked like she was on the verge of tears. "I'm sorry! Please don't hurt me!"

Samandra's heart broke at the sight. She was joined at the edge of the bed by Oniyama who looked as heartbroken as she did. "No one is going to hurt you, Lianis." Samandra cooed. "You just startled us, that's all."

Oniyama nodded his head slowly in agreement. "I didn't mean to frighten you, you just caught me off guard." He reached out to her again. She didn't retreat. He gently placed his hand on her cheek. "Come back onto the bed so we can talk."

Slowly Lianis picked herself up off the floor and moved back onto the foot of the bed. Samandra and Oniyama returned to the head.

As gently as he could manage it, Oniyama asked "Why did you do...what you did to me?"

Lianis still looked guilty, though she was no longer afraid. "I...I wanted to show you how grateful I am that you adopted me, but I don't have any way to repay your kindness. Papa always enjoyed when I did that to him and you're an Orc as well, so I thought..." She trailed off.

Oniyama frowned. "I...understand, but Lianis, you should not do things you aren't comfortable with just to show gratitude. I would never want that."

Lianis hurriedly replied. "I'm not uncomfortable with it! Papa made me do it all the time. And you..." She paused. "You deserve it far more than Papa ever did. Thinking of it that way means it's not uncomfortable at all."

Oniyama was still frowning. "Child, I am overjoyed that you are so grateful to me that you would do anything in your power to make me happy, but this kind of behaviour is not done by children to their parents. If you truly want to make me happy, then all you have to do is be happy yourself. If you smile, I will smile. That is all you ever need to do to repay any debt you believe you owe."

Samandra had been silently watching this exchange and now chimed in. "That's right. If you want to make Oniyama happy, just ask me. I can tell you all sorts of ways to make him happy. You don't owe us anything, Lianis, but if you believe you do then all we ask is that you keep yourself happy. Do that, and any debt you have to us is repaid."

Lianis looked back and forth at the pair of them. "You're not still upset with me?"

Oniyama shook his head. "I was never upset with you, child. Come, sleep with us tonight. We'll get you accustomed to your bed tomorrow."He laid down on his side and patted the space between himself and Samandra.

Needing no further encouragement, Lianis moved to fill that space. As she laid down between them, Oniyama and Samandra simultaneously planted kisses on both of her cheeks. She giggled at the sensation.

"Rest now, child." Oniyama spoke softly. "Rest with your family and feel the love we have for you keep you warm throughout the night." He wrapped his arm around Samandra and rested his elbow on Lianis' little chest. Lianis placed her hands over his large muscles and squeezed them tightly. She closed her eyes with a contented smile on her face. Samandra snuggled closer into Oniyama's grasp.

In this peaceful position, the three of them drifted back to sleep.

Chapter Text

(Present Day)

Oniyama opened his eyes. It took a second for them to adjust to the darkness. This time there was no disorientation. He recalled that he was in Dawnstar. He was on his first contract. Babette was here with him. He turned to look upon her sleeping form only to see that she was not there. Odd...she had lain down with him when they had gone to sleep, where was she now? From the lack of light in the room, he couldn't have been asleep for more than two or three hours.

A slight scuffling noise caught his attention and he turned to look in the opposite direction.

Babette sat upon the stool in the room, looking at him with a worried expression.

He sat up and stared back at her through the gloom. In this kind of light (or lack of light) her eyes appeared to be pitch black.

She spoke. "You were crying in your sleep. I was worried you might start thrashing as well, so I moved to the stool."

He blushed. "Did I...say...anything while I slept?"

She nodded. "You were mumbling the names 'Samandra' and 'Lianis.' Friends of yours?" Despite her choice of words, there was only concern in her tone.

He looked away. He could feel a tear work its way down his cheek but he made no move to wipe it away. "They were my wife and daughter." He replied simply.

She moved from the stool back to the bed. She sat at the foot, looking directly at his eyes. "Do you want to talk about it?"

He sighed and sniffled. "No...but if I don't talk about it, I'm never going to get over it, it seems. Besides, I swore that I would explain things to you. It was not an appropriate time before, but there's no reason it can't be now." He raised his eyes to meet her gaze. Her expression was two parts worry to one part sadness.

He took a long shuddering breath. "Do you recall how I mentioned that I'm originally from Morrowind?" She nodded. "Well, the reason I'm not still over there is because of them." He paused, considering his words. "I met Samandra almost ninety years ago, before I became a vampire. She was the most beautiful Imperial I had ever seen. Next to her, I was just a brutish Orc blacksmith. And yet, she didn't shy away from me. She didn't shun me. She accepted me from the start." He smiled sadly at the memory of that day in Balmora. "She even pursued me, both physically and romantically. Eventually, she married me."

"She must have been a remarkable woman." She chimed in softly.

"She was." Oniyama agreed. "She was...so much more than I can ever describe. Words simply don't exist for what she was to me...but now...now she's gone. I'll never see her again." He sighed heavily.

She considered this. Finally, she spoke again. "And Lianis?"

He looked away from her. "Lianis was my daughter. Not by blood, of course. She was a young, homeless Imperial orphan girl that I met on my travels. This was after I had married Samandra. I adopted her, Lianis I mean, because I wanted to save her from the situation she found herself in." He looked back into Babette's eyes. "And now, they're both dead. They would have been much happier and lived far longer if they had never met me." He held her gaze for a moment longer, then buried his head in his hands and let loose the tears that had threatened him since he had awoken.

He sat there, tears streaming from behind his hands, for what seemed like an eternity. All he could see was their smiling faces fading from view like a forgotten dream. He wished he could forget these dreams. In the next instant, he felt a weight on his lap as two small arms wrapped around his midsection and hugged him close. He stiffened immediately. Lowering his hands slightly, he saw that Babette was in his lap, hugging him. Her head was resting against his chest and she had tears of her own leaking from her closed eyes.

She was speaking. "I don't believe for one instant that they would have been happier without you. From what I heard while you slept, they adored you." She raised her head to look at him through his fingers. Her tears were shining in the darkness. "And I can't speak from experience, but I don't believe they would wish to have never known you even if it meant they would live longer."

Oniyama lowered his hands to his sides. "What makes you say that, sister?" He whimpered.

Babette smiled sadly at him. "I haven't known you for very long, but you already make me happy. I can only imagine what their lives were like if they got to know you for years."

He started to rise from the bed. She took the hint and moved off of his lap. He walked to the far corner and stood facing it. "Why do I make you happy? All I have ever done is show discomfort and guilt in your presence."

"I admit, it was disheartening at first." She conceded. "Yet, from the moment I first saw you in Candlehearth Hall, I felt attracted to you. You have suffered as I have suffered and you endured as I endured." She stared firmly at him despite him not facing her.

He could feel her stare from behind him. "You call this enduring? Here I am, about to fulfill my first contract for my new family, and I'm crying like a newborn babe for its mother." He turned to face her. "They died almost ninety years ago and the very thought of them reduces me to a quivering lump!"

She did not flinch from his sudden fury. She knew it was not directed at her. "You said it yourself, brother. 'I only ran from the pain, now I have to deal with it.' Do you think I was a calm, cool, collected little girl when I was turned?" Her expression turned hard. "No! I was as much a quivering lump then as you are now! The difference is I didn't have the option to run away then. You did." Her expression softened. "So what if you're having this crisis the night before a contract? Far better to have it when you are in private than to have it when you are on contract or under attack." Her expression softened further. "It is especially fortunate to have it when you are in the company of one who can sympathize..."

Oniyama stared at her. Of course she was right, and of course he hadn't even thought of what her first years as a child vampire might have been like. He'd turned when he was twenty nine. He'd already had, if not a wealth, then certainly his fair share of life experiences without being dead, including getting married and having a child. She'd been turned when she was ten. She never got to grow up, find love, get married or any of a hundred other things that only adults got to do. He was such a fool. Compared to her, his life had been downright fulfilling before, and yet here he was moaning about it. She must think him quite the child. How ironic...

Almost as though she had heard his internal self-deprecating rant, Babette 'replied' "I don't begrudge you your pain or your loss. You got to live a much richer life than I ever did before you were turned. That doesn't bother me. Nor does it bother me that you miss it as much as you do. On the contrary, I sympathize with your loss. I realize that what I lost was not the same as what you did, but surely you can see the similarities between us?"

His face burned. Either with shame or embarrassment, possibly both. "You don't think of me as childish or immature?"

She smiled. "I think you are human." She giggled lightly. "Well, the Orc equivalent of human. As soon as you explained that you had painful memories threatening to resurface, I knew this day would come. I admit I didn't expect it to come more or less one day later, but I knew it would eventually. I'm honoured that you trust me enough to speak to me about such a sensitive subject. As long as you don't let the grief consume you, I think that what's occurring here tonight is very healthy, actually." She rose from the bed and crossed the room to hug him again. "I cannot speak to what you were before, but I can tell you that you are not alone now, my brother. And I can promise you that as long as you call our Sanctuary your home, you never will be again."

Without thinking, Oniyama's arms raised from where they had hung limply and embraced the small girl hugging his waist. At once it brought back memories of young Lianis, but this time, they brought gentle warmth instead of a searing pain. He stood there, eyes closed in the darkness, cradling this female to him for what seemed like an eternity.

Eventually, she started to pull away, so he let his arms drop to his sides. She looked up at him. "Now, come back to bed. Beitild won't be at the mine for several hours yet, so you might as well get the rest of that sleep you wanted. She crossed back to the bed, sat down upon it and patted it affectionately.

He crossed to the bed as well and laid down beside her as they had been before. As he stared up at the roof of the inn, he murmured. "What if the dreams come again?"

From beside him, she replied softly. "Whether they do or not, take solace that I am here with you. Let me be your strength tonight." She reached over and grasped his hand with her own. She squeezed it as tightly as she could manage.

Even as his eyes closed, Oniyama could feel the memories resurfacing, but just like before when he'd been hugged, the hand grasping his ensured they did not burn a hole in his heart. This time, they comfortingly lulled him back to sleep.

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The snow seemingly never abated in Dawnstar. When Oniyama had awoken, sunlight had been streaming between the timbers of his room. Now he was outside again and the snow was still falling. It was odd. The snow never seemed to stop, yet there was not an abundance of snow on the ground. It did not seem warm enough for the snow to be constantly melting and if someone was shoveling it, he hadn't seen them come by at all. He shook his head. Just like the tiredness that everyone seemed to be afflicted with, this phenomenon was not his problem. Best to focus on what was.

Beside him, Babette was munching on an apple. She'd picked it up from the innkeeper on their way to the mine. He'd considered grabbing one as well, but he didn't want the juices getting on his gauntlets and possibly causing his weapon to slip. While he could have washed his gauntlets afterward, he didn't fancy dipping them, even briefly, into the chilly looking water of the bay Dawnstar was built around.

No, he'd have an apple after the deed was done, assuming he even managed to pull it off discreetly. For all that Beitild was just a mine boss and not a bandit or warrior, she did live in a village with a Jarl's longhouse and that meant guards. While it was likely that the guards wouldn't pose much of a problem in a one-on-one fight, the problem they would pose was that he wouldn't be facing them in a one-on-one fight if he fucked up. He'd be facing all of them and that was a prospect he didn't envy.

Babette was watching his face intently. "Have you decided how you're going to do this?" She asked innocently.

Oniyama shook his head. "No. There's not enough cover or line of sight to try for a long distance bow shot and I couldn't guarantee I'd hit the right target from the cliffs above. Simply walking up and shanking her would be pretty brazen, but I'd have to leg it immediately afterward." He studied the area around the mine entrance. "And it doesn't look like she ever goes inside the mine, so killing her discreetly from in there is out of the question. What I need is a distraction."

Babette grinned. "One distraction coming up."

He shook his head quickly. "No, sister. I should not be relying on others in my family to help me fulfill these contracts. Especially since they are both my first contracts and they aren't supposed to be difficult. No, I'll do this on my own. I just have to figure out whether I want to risk a blatant kill or try to be discreet."

She appraised him. "I was right. You do have a mind for this kind of activity. Very well. Should I start heading out of town in case you have to 'leg it' as you said?"

"No, that would look overly suspicious considering the story we gave on the way in." He replied. "Though perhaps you should go to a different part of town so you can say truthfully that you had no part in whatever happens."

This time, she shook her head. "That won't work either. I'm too 'young' to be wandering around on my own. That would invoke as much suspicion as leaving town by myself. Don't worry about me, I can be pretty convincing if I have to be, as you no doubt have noticed."

He snorted. "You do have the 'cutey widdle sweetums' routine down perfectly."

She glared at him. "I'm going to bite you."

He knelt down beside her. "Be my guest. Break your teeth on this metal, little child." He proffered his arm to her.

She shoved it away. "I know better than to try and bite through daedric metal. I'm going to bite you, but I never said when I was going to bite you."

He chuckled. "Fair point, guess I won't be sleeping the whole way back." He stood. "Now then, I could be here all day. Guess I'll just have to go for the blatant shanking." He grinned at Babette sardonically. "We've still got two more stops on this trip after all, my little sex slave." He said sarcastically.

Babette shot him another death-glare as a reply, but it was not the only reaction he got. From behind the both of them came a strangled yell. They both turned to see a guard storming in their direction.

"How much do you want to bet that's Tolgum and he heard me just now?" Oniyama asked Babette softly without taking his eyes off the approaching guard.

Babette sniggered. "You're not taking my money that easily, brother. Enjoy dealing with him a second time."

Oniyama opened his mouth to retort but closed it when he realized the guard was too close. The guard strode straight up to him and stopped, barely an inch separating their faces. "I heard you! I knew she wasn't your sister!" The guard practically spat at him. Having heard his voice only yesterday, Oniyama was only too aware that this was Tolgum. "Come with me! You're under arrest, you beast!" Tolgum reached out and grasped Oniyama's arm brusquely.

Reacting quickly, Oniyama squirmed out of his grasp. "You have it wrong, sir. I was making a joke about your presumptuous behaviour yesterday. She's my sister not my slave."

Babette tried to chime in like last time. "It's true! Don't hurt him!"

Tolgum was beyond her words. "Hush child. The grownups are speaking." He turned to glare at Oniyama. "You've had her a long time to inspire such fear and loyalty. That ends today! You're coming with me!" He tried to grasp Oniyama's shoulder again.

Oniyama dodged back from the grip. He'd had enough. "You have as much proof today as you did yesterday. I've had it with your assumptions and your prejudice. You want to take the girl?" He raised his voice to a shout. "I CHALLENGE YOU TO A DUEL, SIR!"

Almost like yesterday was repeating itself, a guard broke from the barracks in the distance and sprinted toward them yelling. "TOLGUM! TOLGUM! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!" It was the same guard that had relieved Tolgum of his duties the previous day. He would not be interfering this time however.

Tolgum turned to face the newcomer. "Stuff it, Skiln. I just heard this...this monster call the girl his sex slave. He just admitted to it within earshot! He's under arrest!"

Oniyama addressed 'Skiln.' "I said the words, but they were made in jest. Tolgum here just decided for himself that they were proof positive of my black heart. I'm through with his harassment. I wish to defend my honour on the duelling field." Even as he said the words, an idea came to him. Looking around he noticed that most of the village was now watching their exchange from one vantage or another. Behind him, Beitild and her workers had stopped and were observing the dispute. Oh this was going to be ballsy.

Tolgum took off his helmet to reveal a Nord face, clean shaven. he spat into the dirt at Oniyama's feet. "Honour? Pigs like you have no honour! This is pointless. You're coming with me!"

Skiln was shaking his head in disbelief. "Enough, Tolgum! That's it? You heard him make a joke?" He turned to Babette. "Child, was he speaking in jest?"

Babette looked up at him innocently. "Yes. We were laughing about how assuming he was and he just stormed up and tried to arrest him!"

Skiln took off his helmet to reveal another tanned Nord face, this one with a full beard. "I wish I could put a stop to this, but the law is clear." He turned to Tolgum. "Tolgum, you have now insulted and harassed this man twice. You have no evidence other than an overheard jest to say that he has committed any crime whatsoever." He turned to Oniyama. "Do you still insist on meeting him on the duelling field?"

Oniyama nodded. With as much righteous indignation as he could muster, he said "Once I could forgive, but I have lost my patience. If he wants my head, let him try to take it."

Skiln turned to Tolgum. "As the injured party, he's well within his rights to demand satisfaction. Pray the Gods show you mercy, for I suspect he will not."

Tolgum was standing there looking on disbelievingly. "You're taking their word over mine?! What's gotten into you?! Arrest him!"

Skiln shook his head sadly. "Ready yourself, Tolgum. You must either slay him or survive his onslaught until his anger cools and he grants you mercy." He motioned to the onlookers. "Clear away, give them space to fight." He motioned for Babette to come to him. "Stand with me, child. If your brother lives, you can rejoin him afterward."

Keeping up her role, Babette hugged Oniyama before trotting over to stand beside Skiln. She turned and looked on with genuine worry in her face. Personally, Oniyama didn't see what she was worried about. He'd never want to face all the guards in Dawnstar head on, but a one-on-one was trivial. No, the tricky part would be what he was planning on trying to do and seeing if he could get away with it afterward.

Tolgum replaced his helm and drew his sword and shield. They were made of sturdy steel, rather than the iron he was used to seeing on bandits. Steel was a slight problem for him compared to iron because at the right angle and in the right place it could penetrate and injure him severely. He'd have to focus on his defense slightly more than he had with the bandits. It was down to just how much skill this Tolgum had with his weapons.

Oniyama reached down to his belt and grabbed his helm. He placed it snugly over his head, then drew his greataxe. His bow and arrows were still slung across his back. While duels were typically fought in melee, there was no specific law forbidding the use of ranged weapons. Generally, common sense made combatants never try to use ranged weapons at such close quarters. For what he had in mind, however, common sense wasn't going to factor in one bit. Gall was going to and probably at least some stupidity, but no common sense.

As Tolgum settled into a defensive stance, Oniyama charged. He brought his greataxe to bear in a mighty two handed blow that came squarely down on Tolgum's shield as it raised to block. The sheer force of it staggered Tolgum and caused him to retreat a half step. Oniyama followed with a quick slice left to right, which was deflected by Tolgum's sword. He tried once more, jabbing straight toward Tolgum's eyes with the sharpened top spikes. In response, Tolgum jumped back to safety. Oh yes, Tolgum had at least a rudimentary understanding of combat.

Tolgum now took the offensive. He slashed toward Oniyama's midsection with his blade. Rather than try to block, he twisted to let the blade scrape harmlessly off the metal. Tolgum followed with a shield bash to his face, but he brought his axe up in time to soften the force of the blow. Tolgum tried again with a slash toward his knees, but he kicked out with one armoured foot and Tolgum had to abandon the maneuver.

They took a short break as they sized each other up. Jumping on his chance, Oniyama started walking in a circular pattern. Without missing a beat, Tolgum followed suit, keeping them facing each other. The circle continued for two full rotations. Each time he passed the appropriate point, Oniyama glanced behind Tolgum to see if Beitild was still watching. Thankfully, it seemed like she was riveted. This next part was going to be dangerous enough without having to worry about a moving target.

As they returned to their original positions, Oniyama darted forward and tried a wide swing toward Tolgum's midsection. Tolgum responded by twisting his shield and catching the greataxe in a recess designed into the shield for just such a maneuver. With a quick twist, the greataxe was ripped from Oniyama's grasp. He tried to follow and was thrown forward, past Tolgum to land in the snowy dirt on the opposite side. Tolgum seized upon his prize and dropped his steel sword and shield in order to grasp his new greataxe from where it had caught. Meanwhile, Oniyama rolled with the fall and came up facing his aggressor. Reaching behind him, he drew out his longbow and a daedric arrow.

As Tolgum straightened to his full height with the stolen greataxe in his hand, Oniyama took careful aim. Tolgum looked toward him and, seeing imminent death aimed in his direction, began twisting to avoid the shot. Oniyama waited until the maneuver was in full tempo before releasing.

The arrow sailed toward Tolgum. It looked like a good shot. At the last possible moment, Tolgum managed to twist out of the way and the arrow sailed past harmlessly. As he recovered from the evasion, he grinned maliciously at Oniyama. He readied himself for a charge of his own when there was a surprised series of cries from behind him. Both he and Oniyama froze in their tracks before turning to look.

Beitild lay on the ground, the daedric arrow lodged in her forehead and protruding obscenely out the opposite side. Her eyes had barely registered surprise before the arrow had snuffed out the light behind them. Her workers were looking on in abject horror.

Without so much as a second glance, Oniyama dropped his longbow and sprinted forward. Tolgum heard him coming and tried to bring the weapon around, only to be utterly confused when Oniyama sprinted past him. He came to a stop beside the woman's corpse and sank to his knees. He removed his helm and let it fall to his side as though forgotten. With a tearful look in his eye, he growled "No..." He reached out as if to confirm she was dead then stopped himself. Throwing his head back, he cried to the heavens in a mighty, bestial roar. "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo..." Then he hung his head and wept openly.

He sat there for an eternity consisting of just a minute or two, until he felt two small hands grasp him around the shoulders. "It's ok, brother." Babette cooed at him. "It wasn't your fault."

He looked up to see her concerned expression. He sniffled loudly before howling into her embrace.

Behind him, Skiln approached with Tolgum in tow. Oniyama rose slowly and turned to face them. Both men had guilty expressions on their faces. Tolgum offered his axe back to him which he accepted. Then Tolgum walked away, tears in his eyes.

Skiln was speaking. "I'm sorry things turned out this way, traveler. Have no fear. You will not be punished for this tragic turn of events. Duels can go wrong and it's clear you were aiming for Tolgum, not her. Besides, everyone present knew the risks." He offered Oniyama his longbow.

Oniyama took it and replaced it on his back. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I had no wish to see this woman dead. I...Did she have family?"

Skiln shook his head. "She has a husband, but they've been bitter rivals for a couple of years now. No doubt he'd thank you for your role in today's events. You don't need to hear that."

Oniyama nodded solemnly. He turned to Babette. "Sister, would you be terribly upset if we left? I have no more desire to see this place."

Babette squeezed his hand. "Of course, big brother. The wagon's just outside town." She turned back to Skiln. "Nice to meet you, sir."

Skiln waved sadly. "Nice to meet you too, child. Safe journeys." He turned and headed for the Jarl's longhouse. No doubt to report what had just occurred.

With a heavy sigh, Oniyama took one last look at Beitild's corpse. Some small part of him said he should retrieve the arrow. It was valuable after all, but he shushed it. He had plenty of them and if he ever ran out, he could always make more. Instead he picked up his helm and hung it at his belt before he turned and allowed Babette to escort him out of the village and onto the wagon.

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The wagon bumped merrily along as Babette and Oniyama laughed in the back. Babette had tried to end the ruse early, but Oniyama waited until they were well out of earshot of the village of Dawnstar before cracking up madly.

"You were superb, brother! I didn't realize your acting skills were so honed!" Babette congratulated him.

"You weren't exactly a slouch when it came to your part of the act, sister." Oniyama replied. "I'm glad you caught on to my idea so quickly."

She stood and bowed theatrically. "Well, I admit I didn't have any idea what you were doing at first when you challenged that numbskull guard to a duel. It wasn't until you intentionally lost your greataxe that I caught on to your plan." She eyed him appreciatively. "Just how did you know that Tolgum wouldn't simply strike you down where you knelt?"

He shrugged. "I was never actually despondent. I was aware of his presence the whole time. If he tried to blindside me, I would have had to drop the ruse and continue the duel, but I counted on him being prejudiced, not cold-hearted. It was a risk, but it paid off." He grinned at her with narrowed eyes. "Don't think I didn't see how concerned you were at the prospect of my fight with Tolgum. Worried, much?"

She swatted the air in front of her and said. "Oh please! I was just keeping up the act. There was no way you'd lose in a solo fight to a third rate warrior like that."

He was still giving her a douchebag grin. "Oh, sure. Just keeping up the act. Whatever you say, sweetums."

She glared at him. "At this rate, I'm going to kill you from all the blood I'll be letting from repeated biting."

He raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "To be fair, I only called you 'sweetums.' I didn't include the other two parts. So that one doesn't really count."

She was not impressed. "Oh, look at mister smarty pants. I'm going to bite you twice just for that." Her glare faded and was replaced with a smile. "So, where to next?"

He gazed out at the passing scenery as he replied. "Windhelm. Ennodius Papius is just outside of there. According to Nazir's information, the guy's worried about an attempt on his life. I'm thinking we'll scout the area by day and strike at night." He turned to look at her. "Does that work for you?"

She shrugged. "Doesn't really matter whether it does or not if you're not going to use me for these contracts. Are you still set on not utilizing me for them? I'd say you demonstrated ample ability with just that first one."

He nodded. "Best that I complete them all by myself. One skilled assassination does not an assassin make. Besides which, I doubt Astrid or any of the others expected you to accompany me on such low level contracts." His expression turned curious. "Speaking of which, isn't it against protocol to just leave like you did without telling anyone?"

"Business has been slow this last century. Not having a Listener has meant we have to hear about the Black Sacrament from roadside inns and taverns, or just general gossip. Then we have to investigate to make sure it was an actual Sacrament. Then, and only then, can we send a representative to complete the contract." She shrugged. "Of course, we also have agents in all the major cities who keep an ear out for these sorts of things. It helps keep our response time respectable. Not as good as if we had a Listener, but far better than what we would have without them. Most of the Family believe that not having a Listener for such a long period is why the Brotherhood is considered to be in decline." She replied with a skeptical tone.

He still had a questioning look. "Do you believe that's true?"

She shrugged again. "Who can say? Two hundred years ago, I would have laid down my unlife to serve the Unholy Matron and her Listener." She paused. "That's the Night Mother if you weren't aware."

"I was aware." He replied quickly.

"Oh. Good. Well, anyway. These days Astrid is my matron. Not that I don't respect what the Night Mother once was, but she certainly hasn't been that in a very long time. At least for me." She said it in such a matter-of-fact tone.

He pondered this. "So, how does this relate to you being able to come and go as you please from the Sanctuary with no notice?"

She grinned. "We're not prisoners in there. We can come and go as we wish. As long as we come back at least once a week, assuming we're not on contract, to ensure Astrid doesn't have any work for us, we're allowed to go on with our lives or unlives as we see fit." She sat back, satisfied, before quickly adding "Oh! And we can't reveal the existence of the Sanctuary to anyone outside of the Brotherhood, but I'd hope that would be obvious."

He leaned back, satisfied with the answer. "Makes sense. I'll admit that I knew much of the lore surrounding your order. My order now I guess. I suppose I'm just a little surprised that the information is apparently so out of date."

"Are we not what you expected?" She asked.

"That's basically a given, but then, how do you even remotely begin to believe that an ancient order of assassins will be anything like what you expect?" He replied.

Her laughter at his culture shock echoed away across the plains before they lapsed into ponderous silence. Around them, the countryside rolled by idly.

Chapter Text

The sun was low in the sky as Oniyama stepped down off the wagon in front of Windhelm once again. It still looked like an impenetrable fortress and the wind was howling as fast as ever. Yet, even though he supposed it was the same temperature as last time, he honestly didn't feel as cold as his previous visit. Perhaps it had something to do with his recent emotional episode. Or perhaps it was the warm company of the female accompanying him.

For her part, Babette didn't seem bothered by the cold in the slightest, despite wearing only a child's dress. She stared up at the high walls of Windhelm before looking in his direction questioningly.

"No, we're not going in. Ennodius is this way, past the mill." He gestured to the west.

Together they began walking up the road toward Anga's mill. The ride here had been much more pleasant than the previous one. He couldn't be sure, but Oniyama felt that perhaps Babette had been right to call his outburst in Dawnstar 'healthy.' The weather wasn't as cold, the sun seemed to shine brighter, even the birds were chirping happily. 'Ok, that last one is bullshit' He thought at the optimistic part of himself. 'It's too fucking cold for birds.'

A small giggle from beside him caught his attention. He turned to see Babette trying to stifle herself and failing miserably. "What's so funny?" He asked.

She pointed at him. "You. You've got this not-a-care-in-the-world expression on your face. I haven't seen you look this happy ever in the short time I've known you. Did you sneak some skooma while I wasn't looking?"

He replied with a not-impressed expression. "Oh HA HA HA!" He practically shouted back at her, which only made her lose even more control over her giggling. "Is it such a surprise that I can smile as well as grimace?"

"Oh absolutely." She replied without missing a beat. "After last night, I thought broody self loathing was going to be your go-to. It's good to see I was wrong."

"Do you hold nothing sacred, devil?" He asked in exasperation.

She was smiling mischievously now. "By the Gods, no! Have you met me? Even my own innocence is just a tool for getting close to my targets. If the Night Mother doesn't get a pass, your absolutely hilarious expression is completely fair game!" With that, she broke down laughing heartily, dropping to her knees and clutching her sides.

"Fine, I'll just let those wolves eat you then. We'll see if they hold your feelings as sacred as you hold mine." He turned from her.

In an instant, she was on her feet and whirling to face her attackers. When she caught sight of the barren path behind them, she whirled on him. "That was not funny!"

Now it was his turn to chuckle. "Oh? So you can laugh at my happy-go-lucky face but I can't laugh at you falling for such an obvious prank? Think again, sister." He continued chuckling as he walked uphill. While they had been talking, they had passed the mill. It seemed like it was so far in the distance when they had started.

She stomped after him with an angry expression. "That's completely different! I didn't trick you into thinking your life was in danger just to laugh at your expense!"

"That's because you were too busy laughing at my expense for other reasons. I swear, I have an emotional crisis and just twelve hours later you think it's OK to laugh at it." He turned to look at her, all signs of mirth gone. "I don't expect to be coddled, but I do expect that such a private matter won't be used by my family to mock me, especially since the family member in question said they could 'sympathize' with me at the time. I only went into detail because I felt I owed you that explanation, but if I had known that this was how you were going to use it, I'd never have bothered." He wasn't yelling, but there was a quiet fury in his voice she had not yet heard from him. The look in his eye was dead serious. He reached down and took the helmet off his belt from where it hung. Slipping it over his head, he continued. "If my face is such a source of amusement for you, then I think it best if I hide it from view."

Her anger dissipated and was replaced by a guilty look. "You're right, brother. I'm sorry. Your expression was completely funny, but I should not have referred to last night as 'broody self loathing.' That was unfair of me. Will you forgive me?"

His tone softened. "I forgive you. You put up with me last night and you didn't mock me for it at the time. I shouldn't be so sensitive towards my behaviour and your outlook on it."

"You said it yourself. You had the episode less than a day ago. You made great progress in dealing with your grief. I can't expect you to be completely over it in the span of one day, though." She walked up to stand beside him and held out her hand.

He took the proffered hand and together they continued walking up the hill. As they walked, a question formed in his mind. "Babette, isn't it uncomfortable to hold my hand with that freezing cold gauntlet covering it?"

She smiled up at him, looking for all the world just like the ten year old girl she had to have once been. "It's not uncomfortable at all. Daedric metal never gets cold. Haven't you ever noticed that?"

He shook his head.

She continued. "I'm not an expert on the process, but something about how daedric ingots are forged imbues them slightly with the hellfire of the hearts used to create them. The metal is never hot, but neither is it ever cold either. It's always slightly above room temperature, unless of course, you heat it in a forge."

He pondered this. "I can't say I've ever noticed that. To be fair, I've only ever handled my armour when I'm inside. If it's always room temperature, that's not something you'd notice indoors."

"If you don't believe me, you can test it for yourself. Just take off your gauntlet and leave it in the snow. Wait five minutes then pick it up, You'll see."

He nodded. "Just for the record, I do believe you, but I'd like to see it for myself all the same." With that, he took off his right gauntlet and tossed it into the snow by the roadside. Immediately the wind bit into his exposed hand. Gods, but it was freezing out here. Why hadn't it felt this cold when his helmet was off? He didn't know the answer, but already he was starting to lose sensation in his fingers.

Babette noticed his recoil and held out her small hands. "You can keep your hand in mine until you're ready to pick your gauntlet up."

He looked at her incredulously. "How are you not shivering, woman?!"

She chuckled. "I've been in far colder places than this. Cold doesn't bother me. Well, it does, but this weather isn't cold, not as I'm used to."

"Where did you used to live, on an iceberg?"

"I'd tell you the name, but not only am I sure you've never heard of it, I know for a fact that it was wiped off the map two centuries ago. It was a mountain village that saw the kind of snow High Hrothgar sees except all year round. If you think here is cold, try going up that snow blasted hellscape."

Not interested in arguing with her any more, Oniyama accepted her offer of warm hands. Well, they weren't warm, she was a vampire after all, but they did partially shelter his hand from the wind. As her hands enveloped his, she began rubbing them to create friction. It wasn't very effective, but it was entirely welcome nonetheless. As she worked to shield him from the cold, his mind flashed back to Lianis. She'd never done something like this for him, but it was the kind of thing she would have done if he'd asked. The thought made his expression fall. Thankfully, Babette didn't notice this time because he hadn't voiced his thoughts.

Unwilling to subject his hand to any further torment, he tugged it lightly from between her rubbing hands. She let them fall away as he turned and strode quickly over to his fallen gauntlet. He bent and quickly snatched it up. As soon as his hand touched the metal, he noticed how absolutely burning hot to the touch it felt. He quickly tossed it to his armoured hand and inspected the exposed one for burns. There were none. He shook his head at his own silliness. Of course the gauntlet would feel burning hot to him, his hand was an icicle. Moving swiftly, he redonned the gauntlet, ignoring the burning sensation it caused in his hand. It would pass.

He rejoined Babette on the road. "I see your point, sister. The metal wasn't cold at all when I picked it up."

She was still smiling at him. "Feel better now that you've tested it for yourself?"

He smirked. "I'll feel better when my hand melts." He waved his right hand theatrically.

She chuckled. "Poor baby not used to cold weather?"

"Oh shut up. Not everyone is as literal of an ice queen as you are, demoness." He quipped.

She gasped in mock indignation. "Me? An ice queen? I'll have you know that I am one of the most passionate people you'll ever meet."

"Nope, sorry. My wife is far more compassionate than you'll ever be." He started to laugh then stopped suddenly. It came out so naturally, but the thought of her still hurt.

This time, Babette did notice. Her face fell as well. The lighthearted mood once again evaporated. "Do not chide yourself, brother." She pre-empted. "It is not your fault that you're still coming to terms with your grief."

"I feel I should apologize..." He began.

She cut him off. "No apology is necessary. Everyone needs time to process their loss. You can hardly be expected to process yours in one day. It took me almost a year before I finally came to terms with my situation." She smiled sadly at him. "Let's hope you're not despondent for quite so long. Our family needs you at your best."

"Why do you say that, sister?"

"Because it's true. Astrid would never admit it, but the Brotherhood is slowly dying out. I can't point to one specific cause, though Festus would likely say it's because we've shirked the ancient traditions of our order. Whatever the cause, our numbers are too few, at least in Skyrim." She gazed off into the distance, still smiling grimly. "Recruiting for our family is hard. Not many possess the type or quality of skills that you need to be successful with us. That doesn't stop people from besting us and thinning our ranks regardless. It doesn't happen often, but the attrition rate is still outweighing our recruitment. To come across someone who had both the initiative and the talent to seek us out is rare." She turned to look at him again. "I won't lie and say you'll make all the difference, but you are a step in the right direction. I'm glad you're here."

He felt his cheeks burn from blushing. He was glad his helmet was on. Obviously, she hadn't meant what she'd said the way his heart had taken it, but it made him feel better all the same and she had come with him on this outing, after all. He struggled to think up a response to such a heartfelt admission. He cast his eyes about the landscape for inspiration. In that moment, he saw something that drove thoughts of their current conversation clear out of his head.

While they had been talking, they had also been walking and they had now just crested the hill. Off to their left, next to the riverbank, stood a small hide tent. Next to the tent was a fire, burning away merrily. Next to the fire was a man, his back to them, muttering loudly but incoherently.

Oniyama motioned toward the man. "I think that's our guy."

Babette's eyes focused on the figure in the distance. "What makes you say that?"

"We're in the right spot and his ramblings sound like paranoid delusion from here." Oniyama paused then added. "Well, they're not exactly delusions, seeing as I'm here to make them a reality, but he doesn't know that yet."

Babette pondered his reasoning. Finding no fault, she nodded her agreement. "So, how do you want to do this? Going to try and get another guard to duel?" She asked sarcastically.

He glared at her. Even though she obviously couldn't see it, she still squirmed under the scrutiny of his imposing visage. "That was a perfectly executed plan as I recall. No, I don't need anything fancy." He looked around surreptitiously. "No one in sight, save for some mudcrabs on the opposite bank. I don't think they're going to call the guards, do you?"

Babette grinned evilly. "Oh, I wouldn't assume all mudcrabs are harmless. I heard about this one that ran a very successful merchant business out of Morrowind some two hundred years ago. And if they can be smart enough to run a store, they can be smart enough to be dangerous."

"Seriously?" He asked skeptically. "A mudcrab merchant? Now who's been drinking the skooma?"

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Rumours are numerous, too many for the tale to be entirely false. Why don't you get to work instead of critiquing my ear for gossip."

"As the child wishes." He said theatrically. He drew out his bow and a daedric arrow. Lining the shot up, he released. The arrow flew through the sunset glow and buried itself in the man's back. He slumped over into the fire soundlessly.

Oniyama replaced the bow upon his back. He strode over to the corpse, grabbed his arrow and yanked it from the man's back. Taking it to the river, he washed it before returning to the fire to inspect it for damage. Despite going through the man's studded leather jerkin, the tip showed basically no damage at all. Satisfied, he replaced the arrow in his quiver before striding back over to the waiting Babette. "Work's done, one more target to go."

She bowed to him. "Very nicely done. Hope you're certain that was the right target."

He shrugged. "I can't imagine there are too many other people in this region who mutter incoherently to themselves. I'll risk it."

"Best not to let these kinds of assumptions become habit, brother." She chided him gently. "It would reflect very poorly on the rest of us if you assassinated the wrong person."

"I'll keep that in mind." He replied. "Shall we go?"

She nodded. Together they turned and headed back down the hill toward the Windhelm stables.

Chapter Text

Oniyama and Babette stepped through the south gate of Riften. It was full on evening now. The sun had set completely while they had ridden the wagon from Windhelm. There was a faint orange hue at the horizon, but otherwise they were walking through a starry autumn landscape.

The guards at the north gate had not recognized Oniyama when he had approached them which suited him just fine. They also hadn't tried to fleece him for their 'visitor's tax.' Perhaps the other pair had spread the word that he was quick to violence. If so, he likely wouldn't be bothered by them on that account ever again which was just fine with him.

Babette was staring up into the sky with a look of serenity on her face as she walked. "I'd forgotten just how beautiful this part of Skyrim was at night."

"I didn't take you for a stargazer, sister." He replied evenly.

"I'm not. I just appreciate the beauty in the world around me. Does that surprise you, brother?"

He nodded. "A little bit. This isn't based on anything other than an impression, but you strike me as a down to earth type of girl. Not one to 'have your head in the clouds' as the saying goes."

She shifted her gaze to him. "I suppose I can understand where you got that idea from. It's true that I'm usually not one for idle fancy, but what can I say? You bring out my inner child."

He snorted in surprise. "What? How in Oblivion do I manage to do that?"

She giggled. "Honestly? I don't know. I just find it hard to focus when you're around. My mind wanders and I find myself musing about inconsequential things." She started to smile at him, but halfway through the maneuver her foot caught on a root and she tumbled face first into the dirt.

In an instant he was at her side, helping her get back up. "Are you alright, sister?"

She slowly rose to her feet only to wince in pain and lean against him. "No. It seems I've twisted my ankle somewhat severely." She glanced at him. "Thanks for not laughing at my sudden blunder."

"I had to make sure you were uninjured." He knelt beside her. "You clearly aren't, so I'll save my laughter for after you get better."

She sighed. "And here I thought you might not laugh at me at all."

He smirked at her. "Oh please. Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't do the exact same thing if I was the one who'd fallen in the dark."

She clicked her tongue in pain and exasperation. "Fine, you win! I admit I would absolutely laugh at you if you were in my position." She winced again as she tried to stand. Her ankle was well and truly twisted. "Now can we get back to solving the issue at hand?"

"How long before your healing fixes it and you can walk again?"

"I don't know. Shouldn't be more than a couple days at most, faster if I feed on someone." She gasped at a sudden flash of pain from her ankle.

He removed his helmet and hung it at his belt. He leaned close to her face. "Feed from me. We both fed this morning, so I've got blood to spare."

She shook her head. "You need to be clear headed so you can eliminate this final target. I can drink from you afterward."

He did not withdraw. "Babette, I can feed on the target to kill him. He's just some dumb beggar who got on somebody's bad side. He won't be any trouble at all, even if I am slightly dazed when I meet him."

She still did not partake. "You should just leave me by the roadside and come back when you've dealt with him. I'm only going to slow you down."

He gave an exasperated sigh of his own. "I'm not going to do that."

"Why not? If someone finds me, it's practically a guarantee that they'll take pity on the poor, wounded child." She argued.

"And what if the thing that finds you is a bear? What then? No, sister. I will not leave your fate to chance. If you will not drink from me, then you shall ride atop my shoulders." He turned to look her in the eye. He was completely serious.

She grimaced. "Don't you think I'm too old for piggyback rides?"

He grinned back at her. "So what? Only you and I know the truth of it. Anyone else will think you're out for a late night stroll with your guardian."

She turned and sniffed the air. "It's humiliating to be carried like a child."

"Would you rate it as more or less humiliating than being a grown man and crying your eyes out in the middle of the night to a ten year old girl?"

She looked back at him. She had to admit, he had a point. "Very well, but you will tell none of the others about this."

He made an X over his chest. "I solemnly swear that your confidence shall not be betrayed." He said grandiosely. He knelt down on all fours next to her.

It took a bit of hopping about, but eventually she managed to mount his shoulders. He stood up slowly, helping her to adjust her position until he reached his full height. Her legs were crossed underneath his chin and her hands gripped the sides of his head for stability. Since she was wearing a dress and not pantaloons, her legs were bared as his head stopped the dress from covering her normally. It wasn't exactly a proper position for a child to be in, but there was nothing else for it. The spikes of his armour meant that a fireman's carry was out of the question, while a 'damsel-in-distress' carry wouldn't leave his hands free if they were suddenly attacked.

He tried to turn his head to address her but she he held him fast. "Trying to get a peek at my small clothes? I thought better of you." She said disapprovingly.

"Hardly. I was going to ask if you were comfortable up there. It was force of habit that I tried to look you in the eye. Won't happen again. I know there's a semi sharp ring of metal right around where you're sitting and I just wanted to make sure it wasn't cutting into you or anything."

"It's not my first choice for seating arrangements, but as long as you're not jumping off cliffs I should be perfectly fine."

Situated thusly, the two of them set off once more. Oniyama had to adjust his standard gait to account for the increased weight, but he managed well enough. There was now a decent pocket of warmth behind his head and he had to pointedly not think about the reason for it. To take his mind off it, he addressed the female on his shoulders. "So, you didn't get to finish telling me about yourself when we were in your room back in the Sanctuary. Care to continue?"

"As I recall, I didn't elaborate further because you pushed me away." She replied dryly.

"This is true, but you already know the reason why that happened. Since we're going to be walking for at least another hour, you could elaborate now if you desire."

She was silent for a moment before replying. "Remind me: what did you wish to know?"

"We already covered why you became a vampire, what about why you joined the Dark Brotherhood?"

"Frankly, I didn't see what other kind of life I could lead as a child vampire. Even if I understood the world well enough to seek employment, what job could I do? Actually, it wasn't quite as simple as that. To be completely honest, I was kind of brought into the family before I ever had to ponder what other jobs I might try to find."

He chuckled. "Sounds like an interesting story."

She nodded before remembering that he couldn't see it. "It is. You recall how I told you that I was turned by a vampire who said I reminded him of his daughter?" She looked down to see him gesturing for her to continue. "Well, I was with him for almost seventy five years. He oversaw my maturation, teaching me the ways of the world and the ways of the vampire. I still hated his guts for what he'd done to my family, but I got good at hiding such contempt from him." She paused to clear her throat. "In any case, the Dark Brotherhood sent an assassin after him. At whose behest I do not know. All I do know is that the assassin caught up with him and ended him rather neatly. Not that he didn't put a fight, mind you, but he was clearly no match for her. Afterward I came forward and asked the assassin to take me with her. At first she refused, but after I explained my situation she either saw my potential or took pity on me and agreed."

Oniyama cleared his own throat. "A question, if I may?"

"Yes? What is it?"

"Didn't you say before that, when you were turned, a group of vampires attacked your town? Why didn't the others try to protect their leader?" He inquired.

"That's right, I kind of glossed over this. Suffice to say that this leader was not a very good one. He ruled through fear and violence instead of charisma or guile. One by one over those seventy five years, the other vampires either abandoned him or fell to his wrath. By the time the assassin showed up, only I was at his side and only then because I didn't have anywhere else to go. I sure as hell wasn't going to protect him. Not only was I in no position to do so, but I had no love for the man. Sorry for the confusion."

He waved his hand dismissively. "No need to apologize. Thanks for clarifying."

She sighed. "Anyway, there's not much more to the story either way. The assassin took me in, trained me to be like her and showed me how to use my childish innocence to my advantage. I've been with the Brotherhood ever since."

"Have you always been in Skyrim? As an assassin I mean, or did you start your life in the family somewhere else?"

"I started out in Hammerfell, but I moved on to Cyrodiil and eventually found my way to Skyrim. I could tell you about all the intervening years, but the contracts would get awfully repetitive. Let's just say that I'm well versed in my own particular brand of assassination." She leaned over to peek into his eyes from above. "What about you, brother?"

"What do you mean?" He replied, confused. "You know how I joined the family. You were there for the initial meeting, if I recall correctly."

She bonked him on the head lightly. "No, silly. How or why did you become a vampire?"

"Oh." He exclaimed. "It's...it's not a story I've ever told." He looked up into her face. "It ties in to how I lost my family. Could we...discuss it some other time perhaps?"

She leaned back and broke eye contact. "Of course, brother. I understand. I won't press you further about it."

"Is there something else you'd like to know?" He asked.

She thought about it for a moment. "Why did you take up blacksmithing and enchanting?"

He sighed. "That's a bit of a story. When I was younger, I was trained to be a warrior in my tribe. Even though I had the build for it, I didn't have the appetite the elders wished for. I just wasn't as prone to violence as the others in my lessons and very quickly everyone took notice of it."

She gasped as pain flared in her foot. When he tilted his head inquiringly, she said. "Don't mind me, the ankle's just very sore right now. Please continue."

He tried to shrug, but couldn't because of the position she was in. He continued regardless. "Anyway, my parents tried to instill into me that 'killer instinct' that was expected of the tribe younglings. I wasn't having any of it. Deep down I just felt that there were other, better ways to resolve conflict. I still defended myself when the other boys tried to provoke me, but I never instigated any fights." He sighed again, heavily. "Eventually, the elders refused to 'waste any more time on me' as they put it and my lessons ended. My father stepped in at that point and tried to beat it into me, but all it got him was my resentment."

"If you don't mind me saying so." She interjected. "That's quite an unusual story for an Orc. I would have expected them to just kill you, but what does this have to do with your choice of profession?"

"You're right about the oddity of the situation." He agreed. "As for why I wasn't simply killed off, you have to understand tribe politics. In Orc tribes, or at least in the one I was raised in, unfit Orcs are indeed killed off so as not to pollute the rest of the tribe. However, this duty falls to the child's parents. After all, it was by their folly that the child was born. Orc logic dictates that it should be they who correct that mistake."

"Pretty harsh logic." She replied clinically.

He nodded. "It gets even more complicated. You see, my father was rather old even when I was born. So was my mother. They were too old to sire any more children after me so I was more or less their 'last chance.' My father beat me mercilessly to try and get me to conform to what he wanted and my mother just watched on helplessly. If she stopped him, she'd be next and she didn't have the protection of not knowing any better like I did. Eventually, my father faced an ultimatum from the rest of the tribe. He could either fix his mistake once and for all or he could join me and we would both be put to death."

She shivered involuntarily at the thought. "So what did he do?"

"I don't know. My mother overheard the ultimatum and spirited me away from the tribe that very night. She gave me furs to keep me warm, tools so I could hunt and all the gold she posessed so I could possibly barter for my survival if I failed to catch anything. Lastly she pointed me toward the nearest road and told me to never return to the tribe. Then she kissed me goodbye and left me." He paused. "Haven't seen her since."

"You never returned?"

"No. My mother knew that, even if I were to return as a successful outsider, my tribe would still behead me for running from tribe justice and she told me as much. I made sure to stay well clear of that area of Cyrodiil until I left the province altogether."

"So what became of your tribe?"

"How should I know? It's possible they still live in that enclave. It's also possible that they were killed off by war or pestilence. Even if they do survive, only the very youngest members of the tribe when I left have any chance of still being alive and I very much doubt they'd remember me." He waved his hand dismissively. "In the end, what does it matter? I've no desire to return. Getting back to your original question, after I left my tribe, I travelled the roads in search of a living. Eventually I found my way to Anvil where a blacksmith put me to work as a hired hand. The pay was almost nonexistent and the work was grueling, but I spent every waking hour, when I wasn't on a job, in the forge watching him work. It took me nearly three years before he let me try my hand at smithing. According to him, I was a natural. After that, my jobs became less menial labour and more helping him with his smithing so he could make extra coin." He smiled at the memory. "Three more years later and I had saved up enough coin to strike out on my own again. I went east and eventually wound up in Morrowind, in a little fishing village called Gnaar Mok."

"You make it sound like it was a day's jaunt, but getting from Anvil to Gnaar Mok would be quite the journey." She observed.

"You're right. It wasn't easy. I used my coin to rent out space at smithies along the way, forging armour and weapons to either use on the road or sell to get more money. It took me almost a full year of travelling to get there, but eventually I made it."

"Why did you choose Gnaar Mok of all places?"

"Originally, I'd planned to go to Vivec. When I got there, however, I couldn't find any work and the coin required to open my own shop there was prohibitively expensive. So I struck out north. I stopped in Seyda Neen and Balmora, but eventually I settled on Gnaar Mok. It was out of the way enough that it didn't have a blacksmith of its own, so I wouldn't have to worry about competition, but as a fishing village, it had need of my services. And that's where I lived up until I became a vampire. Ah, look, it seems we're almost there." He finished.

All during their conversation, they had been making steady progress. Now as Babette looked ahead, she could see the lights of Ivarstead in the distance. She hadn't even noticed how far they had come. She had been entirely engrossed in hearing more about her travelling companion. "Well, I guess time really does fly when you're having fun." She commented dryly.

"Oh? So you're having fun up there, sister?" Oniyama replied sardonically. "We can do this more often if you're enjoying yourself."

She bonked him on the head with her fist.

"Ow! Hey, I did you a favour and this is how you repay me?" He exclaimed.

"You know perfectly well I'm only in this compromising position because of you." She practically growled at him. Well, as much as a ten year old larynx could growl, at any rate.

"I seem to recall that you're in this position because you couldn't keep your eyes on the damn road, sister." He taunted her.

She bonked him on the head again, harder this time.

"Ok, you stop that or I'm tossing you into the dirt!" He protested.

"The reason I couldn't keep my eyes on the road is because they were too busy admiring you." She hissed at him. Then she clapped a hand to her mouth and blushed furiously.

He broke into a chuckle. "You're red as a tomato. I don't even have to turn to see it. Well, I guess if you're going to admire something, you might as well admire this fine Orc specimen accompanying you." He continued to chuckle heartily as her blush deepened. "You shouldn't be so embarrassed, sister. Everyone has their fancies. It's not a crime that you just revealed yours."

She found her voice. "Oh shut up! Just because I think you're handsome doesn't mean I fancy you! Get over yourself!"

He tilted his head back to try and meet her eyes. "Lie to yourself all you like, Babette, but don't think you can lie to me and have it pass unnoticed. You've been eyeing me up since I pulled that stunt in the antechamber of the Sanctuary."

She leaned forward and met his gaze. She was still blushing furiously. "Fine, you win. I fancy you. Will you shut up about it now?"

"As my princess commands." He replied theatrically.

She bonked him in the face as hard as she could.

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Oniyama tenderly extricated Babette from atop his shoulders and laid her on the bed in their room at the inn. She winced from the pain a couple of times, but was soon laid down comfortably. "What now, brother?" She inquired.

"Now? Now I'm going to find this Narfi fellow and turn him into a midnight meal." He replied succinctly. "And when I return from doing so, you are going to drink from me. I'll brook no arguments this time, understand?"

She nodded. "I'll do as you ask. Try to be quick, the pain isn't exactly enjoyable."

"Maybe it will teach you not to ogle your family when you're walking at night in the dark." He smirked.

"You know what? Take your time, you lout." She quipped. "If it means I don't have to put up with your snide commentary, take all the time you need."

He laughed. "I'm not doing anything you wouldn't do were the tables turned, sister." And with that, he turned on his heel and left.

Outside the inn, he sauntered away casually. He'd asked one of the guards on the way in where he could find this beggar. the man had pointed him to a ruined shack on the west end of town. Oniyama had replied by giving the man twenty septims and a wink. The guard had nodded and went on his way. Now he made his way toward that shack. He'd only paid the one guard, so he was careful to make it seem like he was just wandering.

He crossed a small stream that ran through the town and made his way up toward the shack on the opposite side. He took a quick glance around. It was the dead of night and he was not carrying a torch. There were guards within sight, but they'd be hard pressed to see him from this distance. He crouched anyway and made his way around the far side of the hut.

His sharpened senses told him that there was only one occupant in the wreck of a house. Calling upon all his sneaking ability, he crept past the threshold and entered the domicile proper. The main room was caved in and more or less exposed to the elements. It was also quite empty, but soft snoring from an adjacent 'room' told him his quarry was sound asleep. Stealing past the wall separating this room from the entryway, he spied a prone figure lying on its side. The stench of unwashed clothing and body odor was more or less a dead giveaway. However, mindful of what Babette had said to him after his assassination of the last target, he crept over to the figure and prodded him in the side.

"Mmmm...Wha....?" The figure groaned sleepily.

"Wake up. I need to ask you a question." Oniyama whispered conspiratorily.

"The hell kind of...YAWN...question you need to ask me?" The figure complained grumpily. Oniyama really couldn't blame him. Being woken up in the middle of the night by a complete stranger would have pissed him off too.

"You wouldn't happen to be the beggar Narfi, would you?"

"Who's asking?"

"Name's Oniyama. I've got an inheritance for someone named Narfi from Ivarstead." It was a rather boldfaced lie, but the state the Nord was in, he'd likely believe him if he said he'd come from Sovngarde to take him away.

"I'm Narfi..." He yawned again. "Who...who died?"

Oniyama smiled down at him. "You did, friend."

Narfi looked up at him, confused. "Say...wha?"

Without answering, Oniyama dove down and bit deeply into Narfi's neck, simultaneously clapping a gauntleted hand over the man's mouth. Narfi tried to struggle, but he was thin and haggard. Despite calling on all the strength available to him, he was simply no match for Oniyama's bulk.

As he drank, Oniyama increased the pressure on the man's mouth to keep him from screaming and alerting the guards. With the amount of pressure he was exerting, Narfi was as likely to suffocate as to die from blood loss, but dead was dead. He gulped down the delicious lifeblood, feeling himself get steadily more lightheaded as he drank well past the point of satisfaction and into the realm of intoxication. Vampires rarely ever got drunk off of mead, but it was only too easy to reach the same state through gluttonous blood consumption. He'd learned early on as a vampire that succumbing to that kind of state of mind was extremely dangerous. Truth be told, the only reason Narfi was doing this to him was because he'd fed less than a day ago. Feeding again so soon, and in such a large dose was the only reason he was feeling drunk.

At last, he felt the flow of blood weaken. Narfi had died nearly a minute ago, but still he had drunk.The adrenaline running through the man's system had kept his blood flowing long after death had claimed him. Now he released the corpse and left it where it lay. Who knew when someone would come by to investigate his 'disappearance.' Likely only after the smell of the corpse reached the rest of the village proper. To hide the evidence of his actions, he drew out his greataxe and chopped Narfi's head off. It made a reasonable clunk, but he hoped anyone who might have heard it would assume it was just the rubble of the demolished house shifting. he replaced the greataxe on his back, gathered up Narfi's head and left the hut.

He walked slowly back the way he had come. Not because he was trying to be unseen, but because he was having trouble maintaining his balance. His head was swimming with the inebriation and it took all of his willpower and focus not to fall face first into the river as he crossed it. During the crossing he let Narfi's head slip from his grasp and float downstream. With any luck it would carry well down the river and hopefully wash up on some isolated bank. He finished crossing the stream and made his way shakily back to the inn. He drew some stares from the guards, but none questioned him. He trudged up the stairs and into the inn proper.

It took him a couple of minutes, but he finally made his way back to the room he had left Babette in. She was lying much as he had left her. She looked up worriedly when he staggered through the door and quickly made room for him to collapse on the bed. It groaned in protest under the sudden weight of both him and his armour, but it held.

"Brother. You don't look so well." She said worriedly.

"M'ok..." He slurred back. He pointed at her then to himself. "Drink..."

She stared at him with a look of concern on her face. "Are you sure you're fine?"

"Will be...after you...drink." He leaned his head away to expose his neck to her.

With one more worried look into his face, she bent down and bared her fangs. She bit into his neck and began to drink. He felt the blood leaving him, felt the lightheadedness recede and his focus return. It was always an odd feeling, being fed upon. He'd only experienced it twice before...and he didn't want to relive either memory now. Yet, even though it should have brought forth feelings of fear or loathing, he could feel only peace and serenity as she drank from him. Some part of him was reminded of another small child and how she used to kiss him not so far from where a set of sharp fangs was sucking up his lifeblood. The dichotomy of that memory with this experience was startling, but somehow not unpleasant.

For her part, Babette was conflicted. She knew that he had asked her to drink from him, but she wasn't sure just how much blood she should take. She didn't want to take too much and leave him unable to act, but she was worried that if she took too little she would be similarly incapacitated. She supposed that if she did take too much, he could always drink some back from her. She shivered slightly at the thought. Not out of fear, she realized, but longing. Some part of her wanted to feel him bite her. It was nearly unconscionable, but it was true all the same. Rather than face such a thought any longer, she chose that moment to lessen the flow and slowly withdraw.

Oniyama felt her pull away and retreat from him. He sat up and looked at her. Already he could see the pain receding from her face as her damaged tendons repaired themselves. He smiled reassuringly at her. "Much better. Thank you for relieving me of that stupor."

"Thank you for relieving me of my injuries." She replied distantly. "I take it Narfi's no more?" If he noticed her preoccupation, he didn't remark on it.

He nodded. "You can thank him posthumously for your speedy recovery." He sighed contentedly. "And now, I think some rest is in order." He rose from the bed and sat upon the stool in the room, preparing to take off his armour.

"Might I ask a question first, brother?" She asked.

"I don't see why not." He replied.

"Earlier this evening you got me to admit that I fancied you. That leaves me in a bit of a bind. You know how I feel about you, how do you feel about me?" She was blushing again.

He paused in the middle of removing one of his boots. He looked at her. He was blushing himself. "Well, I think it's a little soon to say whether I'm attracted to you. I mean, we've only known one another for, what? Two, three days?" He raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "We've put a lot of knowing into that timeframe, but it's still pretty early to be making such a weighty decision."

She put her hands on her hips. "I'm not asking you to declare your undying love for me, nor am I asking you to marry me right this second. I'm just asking if...maybe...you feel the same way I do."

He shrugged. "I really can't say one way or another. You have to understand, sister, no matter what I think of your personality, you still reside in a ten year old child's body. Being attracted to that is going against every instinct I have." He went back to removing the rest of his armour.

Her face fell. "I can...see why. You do like my personality though, right?"

He pulled the last piece off and set it aside before turning to her and smiling. "I don't think I would have put up with you for as long as I have if there wasn't some kind of redeeming quality or two in there somewhere."

"Wow, that was a backhand-full-of-knuckles compliment if I ever heard one." She retorted. "Tell me how you really feel."

He chuckled and shrugged. "You're a she-devil with a mischievous spirit and a thorough lack of morals."

"Really?" She asked rhetorically. "Well, you're a lame brained lout with no sense of propriety and a complete lack of timing."

"Oh no, you really hurt my Orc feelings there." He replied tauntingly. "I'm going to have to cry myself to sleep now!" He sniffled melodramatically.

"Go ahead! It's not like you haven't done that exact thing already anyway." She sneered at him.

He looked at her, seemingly shocked. "Oh that is it! I am absolutely telling everyone back at the Sanctuary about how you were too busy imagining me plowing you to watch where you were walking!"

It was her turn to look shocked. "That is so not true!"

It was his turn to sneer. "Yeah, but how many of them are going to believe your version over mine? My money's on none of them."

They both stared daggers at each other for five straight seconds before they both cracked up simultaneously. They howled with little regard for the time of night and rolled around on the floor and bed respectively.

Oniyama was the first to recover. He heaved himself off of the floor and joined Babette on the bed. "Ah, that was a good laugh." He said contentedly. "I needed that."

Babette sat up and heaved a contented sigh of her own. "Too true. You sure know how to lighten the mood." She glanced at him for a second. When he turned to meet her gaze, she jumped over and sat in his lap. Wrapping her legs awkwardly around either side of his waist (it wasn't a great fit considering the size difference), she put her hands on his shoulders. As he stared at her, confused, she smiled seductively at him. "Fortunately for you, I know how to manipulate a mood or two myself." Without waiting for a reply, she leaned up and kissed him.

He sat and watched as her tiny lips drew closer. All of a sudden, they locked onto his with fierce abandon. His hands were frozen in the air, halfway to pushing her off, but now completely paralyzed. A small voice in his head remarked idly that it was lucky her eyes were closed or she'd probably break out laughing again at the cookpot-to-face expression that was rapidly becoming his trademark. In another part of his mind, revulsion was clawing to get out. It was yelling at him 'This is wrong! You have to put a stop to this!' over and over. Yet, no matter how hard it railed against him, the majority of his being could not force his hands to push her away. Instead, they moved to settle on her hips. His eyes slowly started to droop closed and his lips started to form into a soft pucker to match hers. It was wrong on so many levels and yet it somehow seemed so...

The door to their room swung open with a loud CRASH! Instantly, the two of them froze and turned toward the sound. In the doorway stood an irate looking innkeeper. His face was equal parts frustration and sleepiness. He glared at the two of them with a fury that even made Oniyama apprehensive. Suddenly, he was wishing he'd gone to sleep in his armour. As the innkeep started into the room, his arms found the strength they needed to roughly remove Babette from his lap. For her part, Babette scrambled to get behind him before facing this new threat.

Despite bursting in on a semi inappropriate scene (who was Oniyama kidding, the scene was completely inappropriate to any outside observer), the innkeeper was seemingly not interested in what he had discovered. He stormed straight up to Oniyama on the bed. Oniyama rose to meet him, trying to look properly apologetic. The innkeeper stopped an inch from his face. Actually he stopped an inch from his chest, but the look on his face told Oniyama that he wasn't in the mood for those kinds of observations. Staring up at him, he half-shouted. "Do you have ANY IDEA what time it is?! You've woken up all the other guests with your antics!" He gestured behind him where Oniyama could see two or three other frustrated, sleepy faces. He refocused his attention on the innkeeper as he spoke again in a sarcastic tone. "I'm so glad the two of you are having such a fun time! Far be it from any of us to rain on your parade!" He turned serious. "So you can either cough up an extra twenty septims for the inconvenience or you can feel free to lodge somewhere else." He crossed his arms and waited for Oniyama's reaction.

For his part, Oniyama couldn't really blame the man. He knew that he could laugh pretty loud and Babette wasn't exactly a soft spoken female despite her outward appearance. He reached for his coin purse and started counting out the extra payment.

For her part, Babette was equal parts incensed at the interruption and embarassed to the core. It had taken a lot of courage and daring for her to pounce on Oniyama the way she had and this innkeep had ruined it. She knew it was really her fault for being so loud, so late, but why couldn't the innkeep have just waited until their second infraction? Or waited until the morning? For that matter, what if he decided to act on what he had seen? Then she'd be truly horrified. She wasn't a complete idiot. She knew that engaging in sexual behaviour with anyone other than a ten year old would be viewed as highly inappropriate by anyone who did not know her circumstances. It was the kind of thing she'd learned the hard way. She didn't dare rail against the innkeep. It would have blown her cover as a young girl and raised many more questions than either of them were prepared to answer. Instead she focused on keeping the childish guilty look on her face. Not that doing so was really all that hard.

Oniyama finished counting out the coins and handed them sheepishly over to the innkeeper. He'd given the man double what he had asked for as a way of showing his penitence. The innkeeper looked at the small pile of coins, looked back at him, then nodded and placed the coins in one of his apron's pouches. He put a stern finger in Oniyama's face. "Coin or no coin, if you make any more noise for the rest of the night, you're both out on your asses. Are we clear?" Oniyama nodded. The innkeeper turned on his heel, strode out of the room and slammed the door closed behind himself.

The two of them both visibly relaxed. Oniyama sank back down onto the bed. Babette moved to sit next to him. She stroked his hand lightly with her own. He responded by intertwining his fingers with hers. The two of them sat there, not moving, not looking at each other, while outside the other patrons slowly and frustratedly dissipated back to their own rooms. When the last door closed and silence reigned once more, Babette spoke. "I'm sorry."

He waved his free hand dismissively. "You have nothing to apologize for, sister. We are equally at fault for the behaviour that got us in trouble."

"True, but only you had to pay for it." She replied.

"Big deal. He could have asked for two hundred septims and it still wouldn't have mattered. Don't apologize, Babette. It's not your fault any more or less than it is mine."

"But..." She began.

"I know. He only asked for payment from me because he assumed you were a child and that's precisely what we want him to believe. I'm just glad he was too upset to realize what he walked in on." He replied, relieved. "Don't worry about the coin. I've got plenty."

She opened her mouth to continue, but she couldn't make the words come out. She closed her mouth then immediately reopened it and blurted "I'm not just upset about the coin! He ruined the mood!" She regretted it almost as soon as she said it.

Oniyama turned to face her at last. "I didn't realize there was a mood to be ruined." He said callously. Then he frowned and continued. "I'm sorry, that jest was in poor taste." He paused for a moment. "Why did you...well..." He trailed off uncertainly.

She blushed. "I mean, do I have to draw you a diagram? I fancy you so I acted on my fancy. Maybe it was too soon. Maybe I should apologize for that."

He shook his head. "No, don't apologize. You didn't offend me, you only confused me. I guess I didn't expect you to have the kind of forwardness that you displayed, that's all. That's not something you should apologize for. I should apologize if anyone should."

She shook her head in response. "No, you shouldn't apologize either. I tried to spark a reaction and I moved too quickly. I just need to work on my timing, I guess."

He chuckled softly. "I guess that means I'm not the only one with a complete lack of timing." He said tauntingly.

She glared at him for a second before throwing up her hands and sighing. "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up pigskin." Already there was a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Actually, don't. If you do, we're sleeping outside."

He was still chuckling as softly as he could manage. "I know. Trust me, I have no intention of getting kicked out of here tonight. Well, let's get some sleep." He lay down on the bed.

She laid down next to him and turned to face him. She quietly and mischievously said. "By the way, don't think I didn't notice how you failed to push me off of you until after that innkeep barged in."

He turned his head to look at her. "Oh no, we are not having this conversation now. Go to sleep. Failing that, leave me alone. If we get it into it again now, you're going to be sleeping outside after I chuck your cutey widdle ass out the goddamn window." He turned his head away and rolled over so his back was to her.

Her soft chuckles accompanied him all the way to sleep.

Chapter Text

Oniyama and Babette walked casually off the road near Falkreath. The trip back from Ivarstead to Riften had been uneventful apart from a bear that had come charging out of the woods just after they'd turned past the midway signpost in between the two settlements. Oniyama had gone for his axe only to see the bear go charging right past him and off into the far side of the woods. He'd stood there in disbelief until six or seven frostbite spiders had come charging out of the woods seemingly following the bear. They didn't pay him any more attention than the bear had and singlemindedly charged off in hot pursuit of the ursine. Babette and Oniyama had stood there looking at where the bear and the spiders had disappeared to, then to each other, then toward the wildlife again. Finally, Oniyama had shrugged, replaced his axe and strolled on like nothing had happened. Babette took several more seconds to stare disbelievingly at the woods before realizing that he was leaving her behind and had hurried to catch up.

After reaching Riften, they'd hopped a wagon to Falkreath. The journey had taken them most of the morning and midday and it was now late afternoon as they approached the Sanctuary. Unlike their previous wagon encounters, nothing had occurred this time around. They had chatted happily and freely about inconsequential things as the wagon rolled on until it dropped them off at the gate into Falkreath. Now they were approaching the door to the Sanctuary.

Oniyama reached it first and waited for it to question him. Instead, Babette reached forward and pulled it open without waiting. He looked inquiringly at her. She caught his eye and said "You only have to give the passphrase once. Afterward, the door remembers anyone who's given it the correct phrase. It lowers the chances of anyone overhearing the words and using them to gain unwelcome entry." She smirked. "Mind you, that hypothetical someone would be quickly torn to pieces if they tried to burgle this place." She pulled the door open and gestured for him to enter.

He strode through and waited for her to come in behind him and close the door. The two of them then descended into the antechamber. Astrid was not there. She wasn't in the room on the far side either which was a bedroom after all. Shrugging, the two of them took the stairs to the main hall. Halfway down they began to hear voices. Stepping out into the hall proper, they spied a rather curious gathering.

A large wooden box stood on its end. The thing had to be at least eight feet tall. Next to it stood a small man in some kind of jester attire. Arrayed against him were all the members of the Sanctuary. In front stood Arnbjorn and Astrid, both of whom seemed terribly unimpressed with their visitor. Slightly behind them stood Festus Krex who seemed terribly unimpressed with them. Behind him stood Gabriella, Veezara and Nazir, all of whom had neutral expressions on their faces.

The jester was speaking. "But the Night Mother is mother to all! It is her voice we follow! Her will! Would you dare risk disobedience? And surely...punishment?"

"Keep talking little man and we'll see who gets 'punished.'" Arnbjorn replied brusquely.

"Oh, be quiet you great lumbering lapdog. The man has had a long journey. You can at least be civil." Festus Krex reprimanded. He turned to address the jester. "Mister Cicero, I for one am delighted you and the Night Mother have arrived. Your presence signals a welcome return to tradition."

"Oh, what a kind and wise wizard you are." Cicero gushed. "Sure to earn our lady's favour."

"You and the Night Mother are of course welcome here, Cicero." Astrid interjected. "And you will be afforded the respect deserving of your position as Keeper." She turned to Arnbjorn. "Understood...husband?"

All she got was an ambivalent grunt in reply.

Cicero started dancing. "Oh, yes yes yes! Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Astrid held up her hand. "But make no mistake. I am the leader of this Sanctuary. My word is law. Are we clear on that point?"

"Oh, yes mistress! Perfectly! You're the boss." Cicero replied almost childishly. Oniyama got the impression he wasn't quite right in the head, but he kept his mouth shut.

The group dispersed. Astrid turned to head back up into the antechamber and spied Oniyama and Babette watching the proceedings. She made a beeline for them. She stopped just out of arm's reach. She addressed Babette first. "Where have you been? I've got work for you."

Babette raised an eyebrow. "I was accompanying our newest member while he whetted his appetite on Nazir's leftover contracts."

Astrid turned to look at him before returning her piercing gaze to Babette. "You know our rules. Only one assassin is dispatched on a contract. Just because he's got talent doesn't mean you get to make things easy for him."

He started to open his mouth to defend himself but Babette beat him to it. "For your information, Astrid, not only did I not help him with these contracts, he specifically asked that I not interfere when I offered to do so!" She put her hands on her hips, a comical stance considering her stature but there was no mirth in her tone. "There was no work for me when I left here two days ago. You yourself have told me that we are free to come and go as we please as long as we check back once a week in case we get a contract. Unless I've been on Oblivion again, it's been two days, so I have no idea why you're so upset!" She glared up at Astrid.

Astrid did not back down. "I know what I said, but you should have told me you were leaving. If you heard as much as I think you just did then you ought to remember that my word is law!"

Babette looked up at him then back to Astrid. "Oh, so that's how it is? You just change the rules whenever you feel like it? Try that one more time from now on and see how well it goes for you." She walked past Astrid, stopping just behind her. She said something softly that he could not quite hear, but it made Astrid freeze on the spot. Then Babette stormed off.

Astrid stood there, staring at the ground for several long moments. He cleared his throat. She snapped out of her reverie and looked up at him. Her expression was once more the calm, cool, collected half-smile that she had worn both times he'd previously spoken to her. "I've got a contract for you as well. There's a young lass in Markarth. Goes by the name of Muiri. Apparently she's performed the Black Sacrament. From what my agents have gathered, she wants an ex-lover of hers killed. Since it's your first official contract for us, I'll let you keep whatever she pays. She'll be generous, they always are." She paused. "Just represent us well and do whatever she asks of you. Get the job done." She turned to leave.

"Where in Markarth will I find her or do I have to search her out myself?" He called out.

She stopped and turned. "Thnaks for reminding me. She's the apothecary assistant in the Hag's Cure. If you visit Markarth during the day, you'll find her there." Then she turned and proceeded up the stairs.

Oniyama watched her go. When she had disappeared from view, he turned to survey the main hall once again. Cicero now stood next to the box, evidently the coffin of the Night Mother, muttering to himself. Veezara and Arnbjorn were training on the dummies on the far side of the room. Gabriella, Festus, Nazir and Babette were not present and had evidently retreated to elsewhere in the Sanctuary.

He walked up to Cicero. Planting a warm smile on his face, he said "I thought I recognized that outlandish outfit. How goes it, my friend?"

Cicero stopped his muttering and turned to face him. As his eyes washed over Oniyama's features, they lit up in recognition. "You! I know you! From the road! Cicero never forgets a face!" He smiled madly.

Oniyama reached out a gauntleted hand which Cicero grasped and shook fiercely. "I'm glad you made it to your mother's new resting place. How fortuitous that we meet once again."

Cicero let go of his hand, but his smile never dimmed. "You helped poor Cicero! You fixed his wheel! That Loreius wouldn't lift a finger, but you did it without a second thought! You may have pleased me, but you also surely pleased the Night Mother. And our mother, she never forgets."

"You aren't surprised to see me here in the Sanctuary?"

Cicero shook his head. "Cicero is never caught off guard. Cicero knew that he would see you again. Perhaps Cicero did not know that it would be here but he knew."

"Well, I assume the Night Mother is not going to be taking up permanent residence here, in the main hall. Would you like me to aid you in getting her to wherever she needs to be?"

Cicero's eyes lit up again. "Would you? Oh, Cicero is most pleased to have help! Cicero is the Keeper, but the Night Mother's coffin is heavy. Cicero feared he'd have to ask the werewolf for help, but if you are willing, Cicero would welcome it!" He clapped his hands together. "Follow me! I will take you to her resting place." He strode quickly off toward the stairs leading to the bedrooms. Oniyama turned to follow. When Cicero looked back and saw him without the box on his back, he stopped. "Aren't you going to bring the Night Mother?" He asked, confused.

"Certainly, but I want to inspect the path I'll be taking so I can be sure there aren't any things to trip over or get hung up on." Oniyama replied. "It's a lot easier to do that when you're unencumbered. Once I've seen where I have to go, I'll come back and get her."

Cicero nodded. "Very wise! Come then!" He turned and led the way once more.

A few moments later they stood in a large chamber with a stained glass window along one wall. In front of this window was a pedestal where Cicero indicated the Night Mother's coffin should be placed. Retracing his steps, Oniyama carefully inspected the floor. Seeing nothing that would trip him up, he returned with Cicero to the main hall. Sizing up the box, he determined that it would be easiest to lay it across his back and walk hunched over. It would be slow going, but it would have the benefit that he'd be able to see where he was going the whole time. He directed Cicero to follow along behind him and stop him if the top, bottom or sides of the box were about to hit something. Then he stood next to the box and tipped it over to lean against him. The first thing he noticed was how goddamned heavy it was. He hadn't expected it to be light, but it had to weigh almost as much as he did with his armour on. Still, it wasn't like it was a load he couldn't handle. After ensuring it was balanced properly, he began hauling it across the hall and up the stairs. It was slow, grueling work, but eventually he had it inside the chamber that it was to reside within.

After he brought the box back to its original standing position, Cicero proceeded to open it. As soon as he got the cover off, Oniyama understood why it had been so unbelievably heavy. Inside the box was a seven and a half foot intricate coffin made of iron. After seeing this, he was amazed that it didn't weigh more. With Cicero's help, they managed to get the coffin out of the box and onto the pedestal.

Oniyama collapsed into a chair afterward. He ought to have taken off his armour before starting. Still, he wouldn't be down for too long. Vampiric stamina was notoriously quick to regenerate, even more so than their ability to heal injuries. That the task had tired him out at all was a testament to the effort he'd expended and the sheer weight of the coffin. It was probably just his imagination, but he would have sworn that the coffin was heavier after he knew it was made of iron.

Cicero still stood, inspecting the coffin. Satisfied that no harm had come to it, he came over to Oniyama. "The Night Mother will not forget your service. Neither will Cicero."

Oniyama nodded. Already he could feel his stamina returning. "It was my honour to serve the Unholy Matron. There's just one more thing I have to do." He rose from the chair. Striding back over to the Night Mother's coffin, he knelt before it. Reaching behind himself, he drew his greataxe and laid it at the foot of the coffin. "Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, your child bids you welcome. May this blade always stand between you and your enemies." He intoned. Behind him, he heard Cicero gasp. He stayed kneeling, head bowed for several more seconds before slowly rising to his feet, taking his axe with him. He slid it securely into its sheath and turned to face the Keeper.

"Cicero did not realize you knew the welcoming ritual!" Cicero said delightedly. "The Night Mother is surely pleased!"

Oniyama clamped a hand down on Cicero's shoulder. "My offer of protection extends to you as well. I've no doubt that you can defend yourself, but if you ever need extra help, if I am present you can count on me."

Cicero nearly looked like he was moved to tears. "Cicero is most grateful! Cicero wasn't sure he would be welcome within this Sanctuary, but now he feels right at home!" He started his little jester dance again. then he stopped and looked at Oniyama with a questioning look. "How did you know the welcoming ritual?"

He shrugged. "I've read a lot of books in my time. In recent years I've read up on the Dark Brotherhood to prepare myself for trying to get recruited. I came across this one tome with a bunch of ancient rituals. I wasn't certain if it was authentic, but even if it wasn't, I'd still welcome the Night Mother to her new home."

"Well, Cicero is pleased. So is the Night Mother. Cicero is certain of it."

"I'm glad, but I must be off. I have a contract I need to fulfill and I need to speak to others in the Sanctuary before I leave to do it." Without waiting for a reply, he turned on his heel and left the room. Truth be told, he wasn't exactly ready to lay down his unlife for the Night Mother, but he'd be damned if he'd so openly snub the founder of his new order. Astrid could do as she wished, but that didn't mean he was going to follow her example.

He made his way to the dining hall where he found Nazir and Gabriella. He sat across from the former. "I'm here to turn in those contracts." He said simply.

Nazir looked at him. "All of them?"

He nodded. "All of them."

Nazir pondered this. "A beggar, a mine boss, and a miller. Hope you're not expecting me to be impressed."

He snorted. "The only thing I'm hoping for is to be paid."

Nazir nodded. "Right you are, brother. Here." He reached down and placed three small coin pouches on the table.

Oniyama swept them up and tied them to his waist. He'd count them later. "Do you have any more contracts for me?" He asked.

Nazir shook his head. "No. Check back later though. New contracts come in from time to time."

"I'll do that. Farewell." He stood up from the table. He made his way back the way he had come. On his way past the bedrooms he paused at Babette's door. He could hear her inside. He thought about knocking when the decision was taken from him.

"Come in, brother." She called from inside. She still sounded slightly miffed.

He turned the handle and pushed open the door. She turned to see him enter with a neutral expression on her face. "How did you know it was me?" He asked.

"Oh please. Between the armour, the heavy gait and the conspicuous pause in front of my door, who else could it be?" She replied brusquely. "Not that I'm mad at you or anything." She quickly added. "I'm just still...dealing with things."

He waved his hand dismissively. "I get it. Astrid wasn't exactly happy to see you. Though why she reacted the way she did is a mystery to me. I guess I just don't know your relationship with her that well."

She gave him a sideways glance that was somehow piercing and yet still a glance. Then she looked away for a moment and when she looked back, it was gone. "...I guess so." She replied coolly. "So, did you need something?"

He shook his head. "No, I was just coming to check up on you. After the way you stormed off back there, I guess I was concerned about how you were feeling."

She smiled. "Well, I'm glad you thought of me, but your concern is unnecessary. I'm fine."

"Really?" He asked. "You don't sound fine. You still sound upset to me."

She kept smiling at him for a moment longer, then let her face fall. "Is it that obvious?"

"To me it is."

She sighed. "I'm...just...a little pissed at Astrid right now. She's never treated me this way before. She is my matron, far more so than the Night Mother, but now she's behaving oddly." She shook her head. "Don't worry about it, brother. It's my burden to bear."

He shook his head softly. "You bore my burdens back in Dawnstar. The least I can do is help bear yours."

She smiled at that. "Thanks for the offer, but I don't think your influence is going to help with this." She held up her hand as he started to respond. "If that changes, I'll be sure to let you know."

His mouth hung open for a second before he closed it and frowned. "As you wish. Astrid has given me a contract, so I must be off in any case. I assume that, since Astrid also has work for you, you will not be accompanying me."

She nodded. "As much as I enjoy travelling with you, I have my own work to attend to. We'll see each other again when next you visit the Sanctuary. Besides, it's best to spend some time apart lest we grow contemptuous of each other."

He chuckled. "You say that like I don't hold you in contempt now."

She stuck her tongue out at him. "Get going, you lout! Before I keep my word and bite you to death."

His chuckles as he left echoed off the walls all the way back to the main hall.

Chapter Text

Babette listened as Oniyama's footsteps and laughter receded into the distance. She longed to go after him, despite what she'd just said about them spending time apart, but there was nothing for it. Although she hadn't gone back to get her contract from Astrid yet, she knew that it was awaiting her. Leaving to go with him again would earn Astrid's ire, a prospect she had no desire to experience firsthand. Well, experience firsthand again. No, she would have to let him go and do his contract solo. Not that he wasn't capable of it. She'd already seen firsthand that he was more than a match for most any common target.

She thought back to her first meeting with him in Candlehearth Hall. She'd been dispatched by Astrid along with Nazir to seek out this interloper and offer him the chance to work with them. Astrid had not told her who she was seeking apart from his name and location. Walking through that door had brought her face-to-face with another of her kind. Sitting across from her had been this well built Orc with a confident air and a cautious expression. She'd been able to tell that he was extremely muscular and that he had killed many times before Grelod the Kind. She'd also known immediately that he was a vampire. What had startled her was how her heart had apparently also decided that she was attracted to this Orc vampire almost as soon as she laid eyes on him.

It wasn't startling to her that she found him attractive, she'd been attracted to several (though she wouldn't say many) others over the course of her long life. A few of them had even been Orcs. No, what startled her about it was how strong the attraction was. He intrigued her in a way basically no others ever had. At first she'd thought that perhaps he was using his vampiric powers on her. She quickly dismissed this thought because she hadn't experienced any of the telltale symptoms of such possession. Not to mention that such persuasion basically required direct eye contact and a lot of it. He had pointedly been not looking into her eyes for more than half the time they'd known each other. No, this attraction was entirely of her own making, even if it was not entirely of her own understanding.

She reflected on their second meeting. Well, technically they hadn't met, but it was the second time she had seen him. He'd apparently knocked Astrid off balance to prove to her that he could be stealthy in heavy armour. From what she recalled of the conversation, he had proved his point quite effectively even before he'd demonstrated his ample strength by cleaving a hole in the antechamber table. His brazen actions displayed a confidence that she found refreshing. He wasn't interested in being subtle if being outspoken suited his argument better. It was a trait no other family member shared with him. Even her, she had to admit. They all deferred to Astrid, even Arnbjorn, and yet there he stood, unashamed to flaunt his defiance of their matron. She'd given him a look of admiration almost unconsciously. She hadn't even realized she was making it until after she'd retreated back down the stairs.

She shook her head as she returned to reality. It was a testament to just how attracted to him she was that even when he was not there, she was still mesmerized by his actions. Well, perhaps 'mesmerized' was a little strong, but her mind did tend to wander more than it had before she'd met him and it almost always seemed to wander back to one particular topic...

She looked back on their first true combat encounter together. Despite winning an argument because of it, Babette had to admit to herself that she'd honestly feared for her life when that brute of a bandit had jumped down on her in the wagon. Yet, despite the fact that it was more-or-less entirely Oniyama's fault that the bandits had even come calling, she couldn't bring herself to hate him. He'd done everything to protect her and the wagon driver from harm. She also couldn't forget the look on his face after he removed his helmet to speak to the lowlife. Although it dissipated quickly, there had been real concern written on it. He had feared for her safety as much as she had. She didn't realize it at the time, but that kind of compassion was highly attractive to some part of her. She didn't really count herself as the compassionate type (she was an assassin after all), but the thought of a man worried after her well being like that was kind of a turn on. Not that she'd ever say so to him.

Her mind drifted to that night in Riften. She drank from him to heal her stupidly inflicted wound. In spite of the pain from her injury, she'd had to pointedly stop herself from kissing his neck instead of biting it. As the blood had flowed between them, she'd felt herself grow wet for him. It had been somewhat embarrassing but she was glad he hadn't noticed. The attraction had been so strong that lust had overwhelmed reason and she had pounced on him.

She thought of the kiss that had followed and a shiver ran down her spine. She had been following some kind of instinct when she'd done it. She certainly hadn't consciously thought about her actions. She'd also half-expected him to throw her off in disgust, considering how soon it had been after his comment about her being in a ten year old's body. Instead, he just sat there paralyzed. Then she felt his hands start to come to rest on her hips and felt his mouth pucker to match hers. Looking back, she wasn't sure just how far they would have gotten if the innkeeper hadn't interrupted, but she'd certainly intended to go as far as he would let her.

The sound of a loud and heavy set of footsteps reached her ears and jolted her out of her reverie. Arnbjorn had just stomped past her door. Despite her earlier internal reprimand about drifting down memory lane, she'd done it again just as easily. As she shook her head again, she noticed a wet sensation on her right hand. She looked down.

Being glad she was quite alone behind a closed (if not locked) door, she gasped and blushed furiously as she saw her hand furiously rubbing at her privates as if of its own volition. She quickly fixed her dress and wiped the warm moisture off of her hand. 'Ok, that's never happened before.' She thought worriedly. The attraction was apparently growing so strong that she was even beginning to masturbate unconsciously. She was suddenly glad that she wasn't going with Oniyama on his contract. She'd be absolutely mortified if he caught her doing that. Spending time apart from him was just what she needed because, quite frankly, it was scaring her just how attracted to him she was. The best thing she could do now was face up to the music and see Astrid for her contract.

Making doubly certain that nothing looked out of place on her person, she left the room and headed to the antechamber at the front of the Sanctuary. There was still a slight wetness between her legs and the sensation was quite distracting. She had to focus intensely on not blushing, but she managed it. Climbing the stairs and emerging into the antechamber, she found Astrid poring over maps and notes like she almost always did. Personally, Babette didn't know why she was always doing so, it wasn't like they were in the middle of one of their grand old contracts that spanned multiple days and locations, but Astrid was leader and her choice of how to spend her time was her own. She stopped a few feet behind Astrid and cleared her throat.

"Yes, Babette, what is it?" Astrid said by way of greeting.

"Last time we spoke, you said you had work for me." She replied.

Astrid looked up from the table and turned to face her. "I did, didn't I?" She glanced back at the table briefly before returning her gaze to Babette. "Your target is Aranve Laraethal, an Altmer scholar and mage. He's located in the Brood Cavern, a cave not far from Morthal. Our agents say he's set up some kind of laboratory there. It's lightly guarded, but you should expect at least some resistance. Questions?"

"What's he studying?" Babette inquired.

"We don't know. The client would be most interested and generous if you could discover that before he goes to visit Sithis." Astrid replied.

"Sure. That shouldn't be too hard." She turned to leave, but then she thought of something. "Astrid, why did you give me my target's name instead of the name of the person who performed the Sacrament? How do you know who they want killed?"

Astrid's expression did not change. It sat on her face like it had been carved into it. "The client did not perform the Sacrament." She said woodenly. "They stumbled on one of our agents and offered the contract directly."

She pondered this. While it was customary for the Dark Brotherhood to only be summoned via the Black Sacrament, they hadn't had a Listener in close to a century. Thus, it was entirely possible that what Astrid said was true. However, something nagged at Babette's mind. While people posting contracts for assassinations was altogether common, most everyone knew that to contact the Dark Brotherhood one had to perform the Black Sacrament. If this 'client' wanted this Aranve dead, why had they not performed the Sacrament?

Astrid, observing her as she stood there thinking, demanded "Do you have a problem with my orders?"

Babette shook her head. Ultimately, even if such occurrences were rare, she had no reason not to believe Astrid in this matter. "No, Astrid. I will undertake this contract at once." She nodded to Astrid before turning on her heel and retracing her steps back to her room. She needed to pick a few things up for this trip, mainly gold to hire a wagon. For all that vampires had near limitless stamina, they didn't really enjoy walking everywhere if they didn't have to. She also tucked a small and extremely sharp steel dagger into her dress. She usually didn't resort to weapons to kill her targets, but it never hurt to have a backup plan.

'Speaking' of plans, she had some prep work to do. Altmer were generally distrustful of non-Altmer. It was unlikely that she'd manage to get away with the 'poor lost child' routine. It might work on the guards, but it was almost certainly not going to get her close enough to strike at him. No, she'd have to reconnoiter the area and possibly stake it out for a while. She chuckled to herself at the light pun. For all the fun she'd had watching Oniyama work, she had to admit that it felt good to be on a contract again. She was looking forward to the challenge, but she was also slightly on edge regarding the unusual circumstances behind it.

She shrugged. There was nothing she could do about it, unless she wished to defy Astrid and refuse the contract. That wasn't something you did very often in the Brotherhood. She'd just have to deal with this Altmer. Doing a mental checklist and taking one last look around her room, she left, closing the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Oniyama strolled through the great metal gates of Markarth. The city was carved into a cliff face with a river running through it. The overall impact of the aesthetic was striking. He'd heard great things about Markarth during his travels in Skyrim, but he'd never had the chance to visit. Now he was glad he had, even if doing so hadn't been entirely his choice.

As the gates clicked shut behind him, something caught his attention. A man was approaching a market stall with a couple of people in front of it. Something about his movements seemed off. Even without any further information to work with, Oniyama's instincts were telling him that this man intended to do harm. Moving quickly but discreetly, he shifted himself into position behind him. Despite how he'd chided himself in Dawnstar about problems not being his problems and that he shouldn't concern himself with things that were not his specific purview, he just couldn't stand by while someone was injured or murdered, despite his new choice of profession. It was another strange dichotomy, but if it was not his new family committing the deed, he didn't see why he couldn't prevent any other murders that attempted to occur in his general vicinity. If someone pointed out this seeming contradiction, he figured he could reason that keeping others from murdering their fellow man was a good way to encourage people to perform the Black Sacrament and get more business for the Dark Brotherhood. It wasn't exactly rock solid, but he likely wasn't going to be questioned over this in the first place.

He saw the knife come out. While he'd been debating his own motivations, the man had not been idle. It looked like the man was aiming for a woman buying jewelry. Chiding himself for losing focus, Oniyama rushed forward as the man attempted to plunge the knife into her back. He grabbed the back of the man's shirt and yanked hard. The knife pricked the woman in her back but only managed to penetrate half an inch or so. The man yelped as he was thrown backward by the overwhelming force of Oniyama's pull. He sprawled on the ground and the knife clattered from his grasp and across the cobblestones.

The woman lurched forward and cried out. Several onlookers rushed to her aid as the blood started to flow from her wound.

The man rolled over and came to his feet. He saw his knife lying on the ground and dove for it. Oniyama responded by drawing his greataxe and positioning himself between the man and the injured woman. The man scooped up his weapon and turned to face his opponent. Despite being unarmoured and severely under-equipped for such an opponent, the man showed no fear in his eyes, only zealotry. He tried to feint left and dive right, aiming to get around Oniyama without engaging him directly. Instead, Oniyama skipped the entire maneuver with a low swing from his greataxe. As the man stepped into his dive, the edge of the axe bit into his leg and chopped clean through it. With a howl of pain, he dropped the knife and crumpled to the ground, staring disbelievingly at the blood spurting stump that used to be his leg. With a second chop, Oniyama brought the axe down on his midsection and ended his life.

As he brought the axe back into its sheath, he became aware of the stares of the crowd around him. Quite apart from how he was usually regarded, he could sense the awe in the faces looking his way. It was a welcome change. It wasn't exactly gratitude per se, but at least he wasn't being regarded negatively for once. Deciding to capitalize on the goodwill, he approached the stall merchant. "Excuse me, but do you know which building is the apothecary?"

The merchant stared at him, stunned. Then she meekly pointed to a building halfway up the 'road' behind her.

"Thank you. I'll be going now." He turned and headed past her in the direction she had indicated. Already the other onlookers were helping the injured woman to her feet and getting her to what he assumed to be the inn so he did not feel obliged to offer help on that front. Besides which, savior or no, he wasn't trained in any way to help the woman with her injuries. Best to leave that to someone more knowledgeable. He had other business he had to take care of.

The Hag's Cure was practically empty when Oniyama stepped inside. The air was heavy with the scent of plants. He closed the door behind him and strode up to the counter in the centre of the main room.

"Welcome to the Hag's Cure. A little bit of Reach magic can cure whatever ails you." The old Breton woman behind the counter greeted him. Actually, old was an understatement. He got the distinct impression that he knew where the name for this shop had come from. "What do you need?" She asked.

"Actually, I'm looking for Muiri. I've been told she's an assistant to you, ma'am." He replied.

"Muiri eh? She's here. Wait for a moment, I'll go get her." The crone left her post and disappeared around a bend into the back of the shop. In the distance, he heard her speak again. "Muiri, there's a mean looking but charming fellow here to see you."

"What does he want?" Came the slightly timid reply.

"How should I know? I'm old, not psychic. You want me to make an excuse for you?" Sharp tongue on that woman.

"No, no. I'll come and see what he wants."

The proprietor returned with a much younger Breton woman in tow. She took her place behind the counter and the young woman came around the counter to face him directly. "I'm Muiri. What do you want with me?"

Oniyama reached up and took off his helmet. He saw the lass' eyes widen slightly when she realized she was talking to an Orc. The old woman didn't react at all. "Might we go somewhere private? I'm certain that you'll not want anyone else to hear what I have to say to you."

Muiri looked uncertain. "I'm not sure I trust your intentions, sir. Surely whatever you want to say to me you can also say to Bothella." She indicated the old woman.

He shrugged. "As you wish. I come on behalf of certain, shall we say, interested parties that you attempted to contact recently. I'm here to discuss a certain contract you wish to negotiate with them." He placed emphasis on the words, hoping she would get the picture and excuse them into privacy.

As it turned out, Bothella was far quicker on the uptake than Muiri was. Without a word, she moved from behind the counter, past the two of them and locked the doors into her shop. Then she returned behind the counter and eyed him up once again. "Well well." She said casually. "You're not at all like what I expected a member of the Dark Brotherhood to look like."

Muiri blanched. She looked from Oniyama to Bothella and back again.

He nodded to her then turned to address Bothella. "You're very keen, ma'am. I do indeed come from the Dark Brotherhood. How did you know?"

Bothella smirked. "Muiri's not the only one who's done the Black Sacrament in her lifetime." She said coyly.

Muiri was still recovering from the shock of both meeting a Dark Brotherhood contact and discovering that her boss knew all about it. "I...I..." She seemed to be at a loss for words.

Bothella waved her hand dismissively. "Snap out of it girl! This gentleman doesn't have all day. Tell him who his target is and where to find him and he'll be on his way."

Oniyama inclined his head to her. "You're very considerate. Please don't be offended when I say that you're not at all what I expected when I walked through that door."

She laughed. "No offense taken, sonny. I happen to know that you assassins are usually quite impatient people. You don't like to be kept waiting or to get jerked around. Hopefully, the fool girl gets wise to this before you lose your patience and storm out."

He smiled. "Not to worry. I'm not in such a rush that I can't wait for her to recover from what has to be a rather unpleasant surprise."

Muiri seemed to recover at last. She looked straight at him and said "I want Alain Dufont killed. Last I heard he and his bandit crew were holed up inside Raldbthar, a Dwemer ruin southwest of Windhelm. I don't care if you slaughter his crew or you let them go, as long as he's taken care of." She paused for a moment considering her words, then soldiered on anyway. "I also want you to kill Nilsine Shatter-Shield. She lives with her parents in Windhelm. I only want her to die, you can avoid or include the parents as you see fit."

Bothella looked shocked. "Nilsine?! I know why you want Dufont dead, but why Nilsine?!"

Muiri crossed her arms defiantly. "She spurned me when I was just as much of a victim as she was. She drove me from Windhelm for no reason! It's my contract and I want her dead!" She sounded almost like a petulant, spoiled child.

Oniyama inclined his head. "Dufont should not pose a problem, but Windhelm is tightly guarded, what with the civil war raging across the countryside. Killing a noble inside that city discreetly would be exceedingly difficult."

Muiri sneered at him. "Oh? I thought you were a member of the Dark Brotherhood, not a common cutthroat."

Bothella reached out and smacked Muiri on the arm. "Watch your tone, girl! If you can't speak respectfully, then don't speak at all."

Muiri rounded on her. "You're my boss, not my mother! You weren't even supposed to be a part of this conversation in the first place!"

Bothella stood her ground. "Aye, what you said might be true, but I don't have to be your mother to know that disrespecting the Brotherhood's a surefire way into an early grave. As for me not being part of this conversation, it's not my fault you were too slow on the uptake to grant him his request to speak privately!"

Oniyama cleared his throat. "Enough. I did not mean to imply that I could not complete your contract. I only meant to imply that adding a difficult target like Nilsine Shatter-Shield to the contract would significantly increase the difficulty and thus the price of the contract."

Muiri's expression fell. "I...see..." She looked down and pondered for a moment before continuing. "In that case, consider Nilsine optional. If you do take her life, I'll pay more, but if you don't, I'll console myself that that lying snake of a user is feeding the worms."

He inclined his head. "I shall take my leave. Just let me stock up on potion ingredients."

Muiri nodded and retreated to the backroom. She cast one more glance his way before her face disappeared around the divider.

He refocused his gaze on Bothella. She was looking at where Muiri had departed. As she turned to face him, he saw the sad expression on her face. She caught his gaze and sighed. "Muiri told me all about what happened between her, Alain and Nilsine. I knew she was going to contact you, but I never expected her to be so bitter as to order the death of her old friend."

He gave her a quizzical look. "Do you know Nilsine?"

She shook her head. "No, never met her. I just don't think she should die for what she's done. It's not right that she blamed Muiri for what Alain Dufont did, but even with that on her conscience, she's no more deserving of a knife in the back then I am." She dropped her voice conspiratorily. "Listen, I know this is Muiri's contract, but if you spare Nilsine Shatter-Shield, I'll compensate you for the loss of revenue."

"You care about her life that much?"

She nodded. "I'm old and I've seen bitter rivalries more than once. Muiri's hatred is still burning hot. She won't want Nilsine's life after Alain lies dead. She might still repair her bridges with the Shatter-Shields, but that's never going to happen if you off Nilsine. Maybe I'm just a crazy old woman, but I want Muiri to have the chance to both seek and give forgiveness for Nilsine. For Muiri's sake, you understand?"

He nodded. "I do. I might be an assassin, but I have a heart. You don't also want to plead for mercy for Alain Dufont?"

Bothella chuckled. "No sonny. He's a godawful waste of life and he can't die soon enough. I'd offer a reward for the rest of his gang, but I don't think I could afford to both pay for their deaths and Nilsine's life. If they get slaughtered, I won't shed a tear, but if you want to avoid them and just eliminate him, that's alright by me too." She straightened up and spoke normally once again. "On that note, you said you needed potions. What are you looking for?"

"Invisibility potions would be nice. If he's got an entire gang of ne'er-do-wells, I'd rather just bypass them and get rid of him. Cuts down on the armour maintenance costs too." He replied.

She rubbed her hands together. "Right you are, sonny. Let's see what we can find under the counter."

--------------------------------------------------------------------

The night wind blew serenely across the snowy plain. In the distance, the imposing shape of the Dwemer ruin Raldbthar was silhouetted against the sky.

Situated amongst some trees and shrubbery, Oniyama surveyed the approach to the ruin. He could see four sentries. They were armed with simple leather armour and iron weapons. They didn't look like they were particularly enjoying the weather, but apart from that they didn't seem too alert. 'Good' He thought. 'I can pick them off one by one if I aim properly.'

Two of the sentries were within sight of one another, so he'd have to leave them for last. The other two were within hearing distance of one another, but they were not looking in each other's directions. Drawing out his bow, he drew out an ebony arrow. He didn't want to waste his daedric ones on simple leather, but leather might stop a steel or iron arrow from penetrating deeply enough to kill in one hit. Instead he'd picked up some ebony arrows in Markarth. They weren't cheap, but hopefully they'd be reusable. He also had to be careful not to be seen, else the guards might warn the others inside, making his job that much harder. This was also the reason he wasn't just storming the sentries and dispatching them with his greataxe.

One of the sentries turned and headed off around the side of the ruin. This put him out of sight of Oniyama's position, but it also meant that the other sentry was out of earshot and eyesight of all three other guards. Seizing his chance, he lined up his shot and waited for the wind to die down. When he felt the wind against his cheek slacken, he loosed the arrow. It sliced through the night, nearly invisible to normal eyes against the gloom. It sank into the guard's chest. He had a split second of surprise drawn on his face before the arrow pierced his heart and ended his life. He slumped to the ground soundlessly. Without wasting time, Oniyama drew out another ebony arrow and nocked it. Now he was waiting for the patrolling sentry to return. Hopefully he'd come back from the direction he'd left in.

Thankfully, Sai was on his side today. The sentry came back around the ruin while still fiddling with the pants of his armour. He'd been off taking a piss break. He paused as he caught sight of his fallen buddy.

Oniyama loosed the arrow as soon as the man came to a standstill. The arrow looked like it was flying a little high compared to his last shot. When it reached the guard, his suspicions were confirmed. Fortunately, luck was still on his side. Rather than strike him in the chest, as he'd planned, the arrow lodged in his windpipe. He grasped at it and tried to cry for help, but the arrow was soundly blocking his ability to do so. All he could manage was a strangled wet gurgle. Even this was not enough, as the wind was blowing in the wrong direction to carry any sound to the two sentries further away. Slowly, the suffocating man sank to the ground and died.

Now, all that was left were the two forward guards. One was armed with a bow, so Oniyama targeted him. This time, he drew out an iron arrow and two ebony ones. He laid the ebony arrows on the ground in front of him and nocked the iron one. He set his aim carefully then released. The arrow sailed through the night and over the heads of the sentries, clattering on the rocks behind them. Both men heard it and turned to investigate the cause of the noise. Reacting quickly, Oniyama grabbed up the first ebony arrow, nocked it and released. Then he did so with the second arrow.

These arrows were not as carefully aimed as the others had been, but they didn't need to be nearly as precise. the first arrow sank into the back of the man trailing behind. He cried out and slumped headfirst into the snow. The second guard turned to see his comrade die, only for the second arrow to sink into his chest. It missed his heart, but still staggered him.

Oniyama broke from where he had been hidden, replacing his longbow in its holster while drawing out his greataxe. The guard was trying to call for help, but he could not shout loud enough to be heard inside and he had no idea the sentries closer to the ruin were already dead. Oniyama sprinted up to him and swung his greataxe into the man's head. It split rather neatly in twain. Pulling the axe out again, he replaced it in its sheath and made for the front doors into Raldbthar.

Just outside the doors, he crouched. He eased them open and slipped inside, closing them as softly as he could behind him. He surveyed the area.

He was in a wide hallway leading down a slight decline toward a four way intersection. On the far side of that intersection stood a Dwemer gate. There was a fire blazing away in the middle of the intersection with a cookpot suspended above it. Paths to the left and right were also visible. There were no bandits in sight, but he could hear voices coming from further in.

Reaching down to his waist, he grabbed up one of the invisibility potions he'd bought in Markarth. Bothella had told him that each potion would last for three minutes. He considered drinking one immediately, but ultimately refrained. He only had five of them and he had no idea how far into the ruin he'd have to travel to find Dufont. Retying the potion to his waist, he made his way stealthily toward the intersection.

Before he could reach it, a female bandit strolled out from one of the side passages and stopped to warm her hands over the fire, simultaneously inspecting the contents of the cookpot. Reacting quickly, he made his way up behind her. He straightened to his full height, checked to see that there were no others down either side passage that could see him, then roughly grabbed the woman's midsection with one gauntleted hand while also clapping the other over her mouth.

Immediately the woman tried to struggle free. Her legs kicked out behind her but hit only metal. Her hands tried to pry the gauntlet away from her mouth to allow her to scream, but they could not find meaningful purchase. She was quite toned and fit, but she was still no match for his overwhelming strength. He hauled her off her feet and into the air to prevent her from kicking anything that might make enough noise to draw attention to her situation. He staggered back, bringing her with him. Once he judged himself far enough from the intersection, he brought her forcefully down to the ground, knocking the wind out of her with the impact.

As she caught sight of the 'face' of her captor, he could see the fear running rampant in her eyes. He brought his face close to hers and spoke, barely above a whisper. "You are in the grasp of a Dark Brotherhood assassin, woman. If I wanted you dead, you'd be in the Void already. Tell me what I wish to know and you'll go free. Lie to me and I will know. Try to scream or escape and you will die a grisly death." He released the hold on her midsection and drew his greataxe with his free hand. He hovered it above her throat. "Do I make myself clear?"

She nodded. Or she nodded as much as she could with a gauntlet clamped over her mouth. He slowly released his hold on her face, prepared to clamp down immediately if she tried to scream. Instead, she looked into his face and said "Yes."

"Where is Alain Dufont?"

She nodded toward the gate in the distance. "He's through that gate. It's locked, but I don't have the key. You can bypass the gate by taking either of the side paths, but you'll have to get through a host of his men in that case."

'Didn't refer to them as her 'comrades'.' He thought to himself derisively. 'So quick to distance herself just to save her own skin.' He spoke. "Any traps or defenses I have to worry about?"

"Not on the side paths. The area past the gate has two tripwires and a pressure plate." She looked hopefully toward the nearby door out of the ruin. "Can I go now?"

"One last question. If I do take the central gate and assuming I get past the traps therein, how many people should I expect to find with Dufont?"

"Last I heard, he was having a meeting with his top lieutenants, Mekel and Sharista. Three people, including Dufont."

He nodded to her. "Thank you for your assistance." He said congenially. Then he put pressure into his armed hand and slashed her throat open. A look of pure betrayal flashed across her features as she tried to scream, but only blood came out of her mouth and throat. He chuckled. "Ah, poor fool. We're called the 'Dark' Brotherhood, not the 'Truth' Brotherhood. Just because you're willing to sell out your comrades doesn't mean you get a free pass from us." He rose and replaced the greataxe on his back. "Give my best to Sithis when you see him." He turned and headed back toward the intersection.

With the dying woman's gurgles fading away behind him, he stole up to the intersection once more. He considered putting the fire out. He dismissed the idea, reasoning that the sudden loss of light might attract more guards to the area. The woman's corpse was far enough away from it to be nearly indistinguishable from the shadows it lay in so it wasn't likely to be discovered before he had completed his task. He checked both side paths to be sure that no bandits were present, then sneakily made his way up to the locked gate. Pulling out his lockpicks, he set to work. Despite the enchantment imbued in his gauntlets, he broke seven lockpicks before finally getting the gate open. Each time they broke, he'd stop and listen for sounds of approaching footsteps, but he was undisturbed throughout the entire process.

He eased the gate ajar and slipped through it then softly closed the gate behind him. Turning, he surveyed the floor in front of him. The tripwires weren't immediately obvious, but he did spot the pressure plate. It was very well disguised with the rest of the floor tiles, but it was slightly elevated, giving away its intended purpose. He stepped carefully around it and continued down the hall and around a corner to the right, as carefully as he could manage. It was slow going in near darkness, but he was unconcerned.

His overconfidence was nearly his downfall when he felt a pressure on his leg. If his senses had not been supernaturally enhanced by his vampirism, he'd not have felt it at all through the heavy metal. He froze immediately. As slowly as he could manage, he moved his leg back until it came off of the tightly wound wire. Taking a step back, he squatted to inspect the trap. He wasn't overly worried that he wouldn't survive if he tripped it, but he didn't want to lose the element of surprise after going to such painstaking lengths to preserve it.

The wire ran the entire width of the corridor. At either end was a pin fixed to a magical rune carved into the wall. He'd seen traps like these before. Tripping the wire caused the pins to scratch deeply into the surface of the carved runes, triggering the magic contained within. He couldn't be sure what magic the runes contained, but it was likely to be nothing pleasant and almost certain to be loud. He didn't have any tools with which to disarm the trap. Even if he did, he was unlikely to manage it without triggering the trap in the end. Instead, he rose from where he was squatting and carefully lifted his feet over the wire, one at a time.

Once he was on the opposite side of the wire, he knew he'd be just as likely to trip it on the way back if he didn't leave some kind of identifying mark for himself. Thankfully, he had several potions that would fit the bill. Digging a magicka potion out of his pack, he placed it next to the wire. The potion glowed faintly with a blue hue. To a normal observer, it barely lit up the area immediately around itself. To his sharpened eyes, it clearly illuminated the entire wire, though it didn't light up the passageway much beyond that in either direction. Still, it was sufficient. There was no way he'd stumble over it on the way back.

He refocused his attention on the corridor ahead of him. He briefly considered using another magicka potion to illuminate the path ahead of him, so as not to miss the second tripwire, but he realized it would take too much time. As unlikely as it was that someone checking on the cookpot in the entranceway would see the woman's body, it occurred to him that her blood was likely trickling down the ramp toward the fire. The incline wasn't steep, so it would take some time for the trail to reach that far, if it ever made it at all, but every second he took to sneak through this dark passageway was another second where another bandit might notice the blood trail and investigate it. If that happened, the element of surprise would be lost despite all the effort he'd expended to keep it.

In the end, he decided on a compromise. He straightened to his full height and started taking large, overly pronounced strides toward the other end of the corridor. As he brought his foot down for each step, he did so gently, making sure he wasn't stepping down onto the second tripwire. Then he'd lift up his rear foot and swing it forward to repeat the process. It surely would have looked quite comical to an outside observer and it wasn't completely silent either, but the noise was not travelling far and he made good progress.

He reached the far end of the corridor and sidled up to the corner to a left turn. Peering around it, he saw more blank corridor, still at a slight downward decline. However at the far end was another turn, again to the right. Beyond that there was some kind of light source. Although he couldn't see the light source, the light from it was filtering its way up the corridor. As a result, he could clearly see the second tripwire two thirds of the way down the corridor from where he stood. He made a cursory inspection of the floor between his position and the trap, but did not see any additional pressure plates or tripwires. It seemed the bandit had been telling the truth after all. He crouched and made his way forward as quickly as he could to the second trap. A quick glance told him it was more-or-less the same type as the first. Despite the light in the corridor, he left a magicka potion beside this wire as well. On the way back he might not be able to see the wire since he'd be moving away from the light source instead of toward it, but the potion ensured he'd still know where it was regardless.

With the second trap evaded, he resumed his hurried but stealthy approach down the remainder of the corridor. At the end he leaned up against the corner like last time and peeked around it. It turned out to be a short zigzag, with about twenty feet of corridor leading to another left turn. At the far corner, on the outside wall stood a blazing brazier. Thanks to the abundant light, he could see no other traps, so he stealthed his way to the next corner.

It turned out to be a good thing he did too. As he peeked around this corner, he caught sight of three people in a wide room that the corridor opened into. Two were seated next to a fire with some type of animal roasting above it. The third was standing across from them, facing them. The standing figure was speaking.

"We've got a good thing going here. We're not far from the trade routes, we've still got plenty of bounty from that con I pulled on that dimwit Muiri and her Shatter-Shield whore of a friend and nobody knows we're here." His voice was smooth and cultured, but it had an underlying current of cruelty and dismissiveness that annoyed Oniyama intensely. Even were he not on contract to kill the man, he'd slice his balls off for that voice alone.

"So, what do we do now, boss?" The woman, Sharista presumably, asked.

"Now? Now I think we sit back and enjoy some of our hard won earnings." Dufont replied smugly. He laughed.

The two underlings laughed nervously in unison.

Dufont picked up on their halfheartedness and stared back at them. "Something wrong?" He asked menacingly.

The other bandit, presumably Mekel, replied "It's just...we heard what Muiri said to you after she found out you used her. She threatened to kill you. You're not worried she might follow through?"

Dufont stared at the man like he'd grown a second head. "Seriously? She's just some dumb Breton bitch who was incensed she got played. If I thought there was any danger from her words, I'd have killed her in that alleyway. She's just one woman and she's not entirely blameless in this in any case. What's she going to do?"

'That's my cue.' Oniyama thought devilishly. He stepped out from the corner he was hiding behind and cleared his throat noisily.

Dufont and his lieutenants whirled on the sound. All three of them stared at the imposing figure. Dufont was first to react. "Who the hell are you and how did you get in here?!" He demanded.

Oniyama chuckled. "My name is unimportant. You should be far more concerned with who sent me." He paused a moment to draw his greataxe and let his words sink in before adding "Muiri sends her best wishes."

Mekel and Sharista blanched visibly. Sharista's knees started shaking. Mekel's brow started breaking out in a cold sweat.

Dufont was less intimidated. "So, Muiri hired some local thug to come rough me up, is that it? You picked the wrong ruin to visit, friend." He turned to his lieutenants. "Get him!"

Mekel turned back to look disbelievingly at Dufont. "Get him?! That's daedric plate he's wearing! Our weapons will barely scratch the finish!" His voice had risen to a shrill mockery of its former cadence.

Oniyama chuckled again, harder. "Mekel's right, Dufont. If you think I'm just some hired street thug, you're clearly not thinking straight." He balanced his axe over one shoulder. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I am hired. I'm just not some local thug she batted her eyes at to get her way."

Dufont looked uncertain. "So who are you then?"

Oniyama wished he'd removed his helmet so Dufont and his lackeys could see the evil grin he was wearing. "Me? Why, I'm an assassin from the Dark Brotherhood of course."

Sharista's knees gave out on her and she crumpled to the ground. Mekel straight up pissed himself. Even Dufont was now looking a little timid.

He continued. "You really ought to have killed her in that alleyway, Dufont. See, she wasn't lying when she said she'd see you dead. She just wasn't going to be the one to strike the blow herself. That would be my pleasurable task." He swung the axe off his shoulder and grasped it firmly in both hands. "Now then, prepare yourself!" And with that, he rushed forward.

The two lieutenants scrambled to get out of his way but he paid them no heed. Dufont was his target. He was armed with a longsword made of steel and he had a wooden shield. He snapped out of his scared daze just in time to block Oniyama's first strike with the shield. He didn't have time to rest, however, as the attack was followed up by two more quick jabs and a two handed overhead swing. He managed to block all three, two with his shield and one with his longsword. He tried to go on the offensive. He swung his sword at Oniyama's midsection. In return, Oniyama swatted at the blade with his greataxe and knocked it clean out of his hand.

Dufont threw both of his hands on his shield and proceeded to block all incoming attacks that Oniyama made with his axe. Try though he might, Oniyama couldn't swing his axe fast enough to get around the shield and Dufont's near panic gave him all the adrenaline he needed to keep up with the onslaught. He didn't dare try to cleave the shield in half. If his axe got stuck in the wood, he'd be in real trouble.

Finally, Oniyama stepped back to observe the panting and sweating Dufont. "You're only delaying the inevitable, Dufont. You cannot last forever." He taunted.

Dufont looked at his lackeys still frozen on the ground. "WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?!" He shouted. "HELP ME!"

Oniyama laughed, long and loud. "They cannot help you even if they wanted to. If they draw their weapons, I'll cut them down in seconds. They know that. They want to live. Besides, if you die, one of them gets to take over. Which one depends on who kills the other while I deal with you." Reaching down he grabbed up one of his invisibility potions. "Now, Dufont, I grow tired of this charade. Make peace with whatever gods you hold dear, if any." Without another word, he gulped down the potion and disappeared from sight. The potion had its limits. It would be dispelled immediately if he moved too suddenly, but he could maneuver reasonably well without being seen.

If Dufont knew the weaknesses of the potion, he certainly wasn't thinking straight enough to capitalize on them. As his lieutenants started fighting their own battle against each other, he whirled in tight circles, swinging his shield in wide arcs.

Oniyama moved slowly, though not altogether quietly, around the far side of the panicking man. The sounds of battle from the two lieutenants manged to cover the sounds he was making as he circled his quarry. He waited until Dufont whirled to face him and started whirling back to the opposite side. As Dufont's shield got into full tempo with the force of the swing, he stepped quickly forward and slashed out at Dufont's midsection with the axe, following the path of the shield.

Dufont caught the movement as the sudden quick action dispelled the potion. He tried to swing his shield back to cover himself, but he couldn't reverse his own inertia quickly enough. The axe bit into his shoulder and travelled down and across, through his chest and into his upper stomach. It would have gone further, but the haft of the axe banged against the wooden shield and stopped all further progress. Not that it mattered. His arm lay on the ground, separated from his body. His eyes stared blankly at the grievous wound that had killed him. He only managed a halfhearted wheeze before Oniyama roughly yanked the axe out of its latest victim. Alain Dufont collapsed to the ground amid great spurts of blood and tissue.

Oniyama stepped slightly away from the mess. He looked toward the two lieutenants. Sharista stood above Mekel's corpse. She was staring back at him defiantly but still terrified. She had cuts and bruises all down her arms and across her face. One of her breasts was exposed where Mekel had apparently cut open her armour. Her sword dripped with the blood of her former comrade. He stared at her for several seconds and her knees started shaking again. Then, without a word, he turned and headed back toward the trapped passageway leading to the exit of Raldbthar.

Before he could reach it, several bandits burst from either side passage and encircled him. Armed with iron weapons and leather armour, they hardly posed a threat. He still had his greataxe in his hands. As they drew their weapons and prepared to engage him, he called out to Sharista. "Might want to command your new bandit group to back off, Sharista. Unless you want to lead a raider troupe of one."

Several of the gang turned to look at her. Her knees had stopped shaking but she was still as white as snow. "...Let him leave." She 'commanded.' More faces turned to look at her, astonished.

"But Sharista! He's killed Dufont and Mekel!" One of the bandits, another woman, cried. "We can't be seen as weak!"

Oniyama laughed. The bandits turned around in unison and clenched their weapons harder. "You should listen to your new leader. If the armour isn't enough of a giveaway, I'm not just some common thug with a death wish. I'm a trained assassin of the Dark Brotherhood. If I thought for even an instant that any of you, or even all of you together as a group, were any threat, you'd all be dead already before I'd gone to deal with your former leader."

At the mention of the Dark Brotherhood, several more bandits started looking fearful. Nearly unconsciously, the whole group took a collective step back.

Sharista spoke again. "He's devilishly quick with that axe. Count yourselves fortunate that only Dufont was his target. If you attack him now, you'll have only yourselves to blame for what happens next." Her voice had assembled some semblance of command to it."

The bandits still looked uncertain. One of the group, without taking his eyes off Oniyama, said. "Some leader you are. Afraid of one man with a mean looking axe? You don't deserve to be leader!"

Sharista snorted derisively. "And I suppose you do, Rogof? Well, why don't you step on up and show the rest of us how to deal with a Dark Brotherhood assassin."

Rogof grinned. "With pleasure." He turned to survey his comrades. "Get him, boys!"

No one moved.

Rogof looked disbelievingly at the men and women surrounding him. "What are you waiting for?! I said get him!" He roughly pushed the man standing beside him in Oniyama's direction.

In response, the man dropped his weapon, turned and hauled Rogof forward, slingshotting him toward Oniyama. "You want him dead, you fight him...boss." He said sarcastically.

Rogof scampered back to where he had stood before. "I'm your leader now and I'm giving you a direct order!" He commanded. "All of you! He's just one man! He can't take all of us!"

Still, the others did not move. Sharista laughed in Rogof's direction. Well, it was more of a nervous chuckle but if any of her subordinates noticed, they didn't comment on it. "If you want them to do as you command, it looks like you have to lead by example, Rogof. He's standing right there. Show us how it's done."

Rogof was looking rather apprehensive now. "I'll...I'll show you how it's done." He said shakily. "But I need others to go ahead of me. I'll get him if they distract him."

No one seemed entirely willing to be first into the breach. For his part, Oniyama had observed this entire exchange more or less silently. He was growing tired of this. The whole experience was teaching him that, no matter how enjoyable it might be to intimidate a target before killing them by announcing his presence, it really wasn't worth the hassle of dealing with the target's gang members after the fact. With that in mind, he spoke, immediately drawing all eyes back to him. "Here's an idea, Sharista. You keep Rogof from leaving and I give him a solid chance to prove he's a better fighter than me. If he defeats me, he gets to lead the gang. If he loses, you don't have to put up with a blind, dumb coward in your crew anymore." 'Well, you won't have such an obviously blind, dumb coward in your ranks.' He added silently. He rather doubted Rogof was the only blindly ambitious coward in this group of roughnecks.

Sharista leapt on the idea. "You heard him! Form a circle. Let Rogof show his superior fighting form for the rest of us."

The raiders were only too happy to oblige. They formed a semicircle around the mouth of the corridor. Rogof was shoved roughly into the center of it. He tried to leave, but was pushed back forcefully each time. Seeing no recourse he drew his weapon, an iron handaxe.

Oniyama felt a small pang of pity for the man. He had basically zero chance with a weapon like that. He stepped forward into an attack stance. He waited for Rogof to make the first move.

With no way to go but forward, Rogof turned and charged him. He slashed at his face with the handaxe. Oniyama turned his face to the side and took the blow on his helmet. Rogof tried to follow this up with a slash to the throat, but he caught only solid metal. As he brought the axe forward in another slash, Oniyama, almost casually, brought his axe to bear and stabbed out with the top spikes into Rogof's navel. The two inch long curved spikes bit deeply into the man's midsection.

Without pause, he yanked the axe out of his quarry and smashed the cheek into Rogof's face. Rogof fell backward onto his ass. His axe clattered away across the floor. He held one hand to his chest in a futile attempt to staunch the bleeding. The other he raised in front of him, crying "No more! I yield! I yield!"

Oniyama didn't stop. He brought his axe down on Rogof's head, splitting it open, much as he'd done to the sentry outside earlier in the evening. Pulling the axe out of his quarry to a great spurt of blood and brains, he flourished it, then replaced it on his back. He surveyed the remaining group of bandits. They were awestruck. He nodded once to Sharista. Then he turned and proceeded back the way he had come. He kept his ears focused behind him, in case someone tried to blindside him. However, no pursuit followed, only inaudible whispers.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Hag's Cure had a few customers in it when Oniyama pushed open the door and strolled inside. However they quickly caught sight of him, made hurried excuses and left rapidly. 'So much for being that woman's savior.' He thought, annoyed.

Bothella was behind the counter as before. She saw him approach with an even look on her face. "How'd those potions do you, sonny?" She asked conversationally.

"I only needed one. However, it served its purpose quite well, thank you." He replied.

She smiled. Then she leaned in close and said softly "And what of Nilsine? Does she yet live?"

He nodded. "She does."

Reaching beneath the counter, Bothella produced a small pouch of gold. "Is this enough compensation for what I asked of you?" She asked as she slid it discreetly across the counter.

He picked it up and felt the weight in his hands. Really, he was just putting on a show. Getting paid to do nothing was a-ok with him. "It is sufficient." He conceded.

"Oh, good." Bothella said, relieved. "I'd never wish to seem uncharitable toward the Dark Brotherhood." Her business concluded, she raised her voice and called to Muiri. "Dear, your friend has returned."

Muiri appeared from behind the divider. She had an apprehensive look on her face. "Is it done?" She demanded.

Oniyama inclined his head. "Alain Dufont lies dead. Nilsine Shatter-Shield yet lives."

Muiri's face fell. It looked for a moment like she wanted to scold him for not killing both targets, but she restrained herself. "I did say she was optional. Oh well. Here is your payment for Alain's death." She produced a small bag of her own.

He opened it to inspect its contents. Inside were several mid sized gemstones. He tied the bag to his waist and inclined his head once more. "The Dark Brotherhood thanks you for your patronage." He intoned. Then he spun on his heel and left the shop without another word. The two women watched him go.

Chapter Text

The door to the Sanctuary clicked shut behind Oniyama as he descended to the antechamber. His mind idly marveled at how comfortable he was with doing that, even though he'd only done it two or three times since joining the Brotherhood. He thought back to his first time through the door. He'd been so nervous, so unsure of himself. Yet, it had worked out fine. He chuckled softly to himself. No, it had worked out better than fine. He was somewhere that he felt he truly belonged. Perhaps he wasn't the stereotypical (or even ideal) assassin, but he'd found his calling. Of that he was sure. For the first time since he had become a vampire, he felt at peace.

The peace didn't last long as he stepped off the last step and into Astrid's antechamber. She was leaning against the far doorway, much as she had been the first time he'd arrived. As soon as she caught sight of him, she pushed herself back to a standing position and strode toward him. "There you are! I need to talk to you." She said urgently.

He pulled off his helmet and hung it at his belt. "My contract went fine, thanks for asking. What do you need?"

She motioned for him to lower his voice. "Not so loud!"

He gave her a raised eyebrow expression. "What's the problem?"

She looked over her shoulder and tensed, as though listening for eavesdroppers. He did so as well, but if there was anyone in the main hall, they weren't breathing. He supposed Babette could be listening in, but Astrid had her undying loyalty as far as he was aware.

Sensing nothing, she turned back to him and said "I need you to do something for me. That little jester Cicero has been talking to someone in the Sanctuary. I can't get close enough to make out what he's saying to them, but his tone of voice is...let's say conspiratorial. I need you to sneak into the Night Mother's quarters and eavesdrop on the meeting. He's plotting something and I have no intention of being outsmarted by him."

He was still giving her a raised eyebrow. "You do know that Cicero talks to himself? Like, a lot?"

She stared back at him, clearly not impressed by this observation. "Just because he talks to himself some of the time doesn't mean he's talking to himself all of the time."

He shrugged. "Fair enough. Why do you need me to do this? You don't know me nearly as well as anyone else in this Sanctuary except perhaps Cicero himself."

"That's exactly why it has to be you. I wouldn't expect anyone to be swayed by that little weirdo, but someone clearly is! I can't risk asking one of the others to do this. What if they're his mole?"

It was his turn to stare at her. "You sound more paranoid than the late Ennodius Papius, Astrid."

She shook her head. "Don't believe me if that's how you feel, but I am giving you a direct order. Find out what Cicero is up to." She began pacing. "You can't just hide in the shadows. He'll see you for sure. You need to hide somewhere he'd never expect." She gave him an evil smile. "Like inside the Night Mother's coffin, for example."

His eyes threatened to widen, but he caught himself. He was sure she'd noticed how stony his expression had gotten, but there was nothing to do about that. "Unacceptable! The Night Mother should not be so commonly disrespected!" He kept his voice low, but he made sure the outrage sounded through clear, despite the volume.

Astrid was still staring at him. "You're not disrespecting anyone. She's dead. She won't mind if you make use of her tomb as a concealment device." She shrugged. "If it still makes you uncomfortable, just remember that I'm the one ordering you to do this. If it is disrespectful, that disrespect is on me."

He was about to open his mouth to argue some more, when he heard a small voice in the back of his head speak up. 'Be calm, child.' It said. 'The Night Mother will not mind if you share her tomb for a while.'

Oniyama shook his head slightly. He'd never heard that voice before. It didn't sound like anyone he knew or indeed had ever known. Yet the voice soothed him. He did not know why. He'd opened his mouth to speak, but instead of a protest, he simply said "Very well, I shall do this."

Astrid nodded. "Good. Report back to me once it's done." Without another word she stalked back to where she had originally been standing and tried to look as nonchalant as possible.

He walked past her and strolled down the steps to the main hall, still puzzling over the voice he'd heard moments before. He shook his head. He had a job to do. No matter his misgivings. He'd worry over the voice later. He made his way up the stone staircase and past the bedrooms into the Night Mother's room. Cicero was not there. He approached the coffin. Now that he was to stand inside it, it somehow looked even more foreboding. He noted the lock on it. He whipped out his lockpicks and picked it open with little difficulty. He would have expected such an important artifact to the Dark Brotherhood to have a much better lock guarding it, but open was open. As he reached for the latch to swing open the coffin's lid, it swung open on its own. Startled, he took a step back.

The Night Mother's corpse stood before him. It was old, with rotted lips and sightless eyes. Its hands were crossed over its ribcage. A skirt of some kind protected its 'dignity.' From what he had read on the subject, he knew that this was the corpse of a Dark Elf, but you wouldn't be able to tell just by looking at it. He noticed that the corpse seemed to be standing up as if it still had legs that would support it. A mystery to be certain, but one he'd investigate at a later time. He snapped out of his reverie. He had no idea when Cicero might return. It would be best if he got into the coffin before that happened. Moving gingerly, he stepped over the threshold and into the casket. He started to turn around so he could swing the two halves of the lid closed behind him, but before he could even begin moving, the lid closed. Apparently of its own volition once again.

He was now standing in almost complete darkness. The barest sliver of light was emanating through the seam in the lid halves, which was enough for him to make out the corpse he was standing disrespectfully close to. At this distance he could see that the Night Mother would barely have reached the middle of his chest when she were alive. 'Not that there's anything wrong with that.' He hurriedly thought to no one in particular. Why was he so apprehensive? To be sure, he didn't like the idea of being in the Night Mother's casket, but that alone shouldn't be causing this much tension. It wasn't like he had much to worry about regarding Cicero either. He had no doubt the little man was absolutely deadly with that dagger he wore, but was he fast enough to outfight a vampire? Oniyama doubted it very much. Perhaps it was being in such close proximity to a dead woman. He honestly wasn't sure.

Footsteps outside the coffin drove the puzzle of his unease from his mind. He had to listen. Thankfully, Cicero had detected nothing awry on his way in and thus did not bother to keep his voice down.

"Are we alone?" Cicero said in a soft tone.

If someone answered him, they did not do so by speaking.

"Yes...yes...alone at last! Sweet solitude. No one will hear us now. Everything is going according to plan."

Oniyama strained to hear if someone responded. He was worried the heavy metal lid of the tomb might be suppressing the other speaker's voice, but if that were the case why was Cicero's voice coming through so clearly? No, the other 'speaker' must not have replied. Cicero continued on regardless.

"I've spoken to the others. They're coming around, I'm sure of it. The old wizard, the Argonian. I think even the Elf woman." He ranted on softly.

Well, that eliminated Festus Krex, Veezara and Gabriella from the possibilities. They might turn on Astrid, but they were not the other plotter. Unfortunately, this only left Nazir, Arnbjorn or Babette as the co-conspirator. Arnbjorn was highly unlikely: as Astrid's husband, he seemed very devoted to her. Nazir was also very unlikely: he came across as too jaded to be swept up in inner Family politics. Sadly, this only left Babette as a possible option. Oniyama did not want to believe it. He recalled how firmly Babette had told him 'Astrid is my matron now.' Then, another memory surfaced: how upset she was at how Astrid had treated her when they had returned to the sanctuary. Perhaps Babette would be willing to go along with Cicero's mutiny after all. Admittedly, this was process of elimination reasoning. He didn't have any proof of Babette's involvement yet. Still, things were not looking good if Babette was indeed on the other side of this coffin.

Cicero was speaking again. "What about you? Have you...spoken to anyone? No? No...Of course not. I do the talking, the stalking, the seeing and the saying!" It sounded like he was pacing back and forth rapidly. "And what do you do? Hmph?! Nothing!" He gave off a huge sigh. "Not that...that I'm angry. Cicero understands. Cicero always understands. And obeys..."

Oniyama still had not heard anything from anyone else in the room. He had a hard time believing that Babette would simply stand there and listen to Cicero's ravings without speaking up for herself. By the same token, however, he didn't think anyone else would either. Well, maybe Festus. The man certainly had a profound respect for Cicero, but Festus was not present. Cicero's earlier listing would not have made sense if he had been.

Cicero's pacing had come to a stop. From the sound of it, he was now standing directly before the coffin. "You'll speak when you're ready." He said confidently. "Won't you?" He added sadly. "Won't you...? Sweet Night Mother..."

A light began to emanate from somewhere within the coffin. It was not bright, but it did illuminate the inside quite effectively to Oniyama's sharpened eyes. The small voice he'd heard in the antechamber spoke once again. 'Poor Cicero. Sweet Cicero. Such a devoted and humble servant. Alas, he will never hear my voice. For he is not the Listener.'

Hearing it a second time, Oniyama could make out that it was definitely a woman's voice. It was old and slightly raspy, but not at all grating. The soothing sensation from before engulfed him once again. He shivered slightly. Thankfully, his armour did not clink. He attempted to direct his thoughts at the voice. 'My lady, are you the Night Mother of whom Cicero speaks?'

'Correct. I wanted to thank you for welcoming me to your sanctuary. Astrid may have turned her back on the old ways, but I am glad to see you do not follow her example.' The voice ('the Night Mother' he corrected himself) replied.

"How can I defend you?" Cicero said from outside. "How can I exert your will? If you will not speak? To anyone?"

The Night Mother replied. 'Dear Cicero has not sought in vain. I knew even when we met on the road that my Listener had helped me in my time of need.'

For some reason, Oniyama blushed. 'I'm flattered my lady, but I must ask. Why? I am new to the Brotherhood. Surely one of the others would serve you better? Festus Krex for example. He holds your traditions in high regard.'

The Night Mother laughed, a short, soft barking laugh. 'Festus is old. He does not have many years left. You are immortal. You can serve as my Listener for many decades to come. Yes, you are new to the order, but only as an official representative. You have read much of our lore and history. You are well versed in what the Brotherhood stands for. You are just what we need to recover what we have lost.'

He pondered this. It was true that he was very well read in Dark Brotherhood traditions. Perhaps he was not such a poor choice after all. He was still a very inexperienced assassin though. He could just imagine the look on Astrid's face when he told her what he'd learned today. He wasn't looking forward to the conversation.

"Poor Cicero has failed you. Poor Cicero is sorry, Night Mother. I've tried so very hard, but I just can't find the Listener." Cicero was bemoaning to the pair of them.

'I don't know why you've picked me.' Oniyama 'said' to the Night Mother. 'But I will endeavor to carry out your will as best I can.' He got the sudden sensation that a soft hand was cradling one side of his face.

'I know you will carry the burden well, child. I will be here for you whenever you need me. I can sense that you still have many questions.' She replied.

'Damn right I do.' He thought reflexively. Then, realizing what he'd just said to the Night Mother, he added 'I mean, yes I do have many questions. I meant no disrespect, mother.'

'Worry not, my Listener, your words do not offend me. Now, before we do anything else, there is something you must know. I have chosen you as my Listener, but Cicero will not take your word for it. We have a code phrase, he and I. A sentence that only he and I know. Speak it and he will know that you are my Listener. The phrase is 'darkness rises when silence dies.' Speak it back to me.'

'Darkness rises when silence dies.' He repeated.

'Perfect. Once you've informed Cicero and Astrid of your new role, speak to me again and we will begin.'

The soothing sensation drained out of him as he felt the Night Mother's presence leave. He hoped that wouldn't happen every time she spoke to him. While it wasn't a bad sensation as far as sensations went, it would be a little distracting if she spoke to him while he was speaking to someone else. He'd ask her about it later.

The tomb doors opened on their own once again. Oniyama carefully stepped away from the Night Mother, bowed to her once, then turned and faced the room. Cicero was nowhere to be seen. He heard the lid close on its own behind him. He had work to do. He left the way he had come and went in search of Cicero.

He found him in a small alcove behind the bedrooms. It was a poorly lit little corner with a table and a bench and precious little else to adorn it.

Cicero looked up as he approached. "Yes? What is it?"

Oniyama stopped just out of arm's reach. "I have come with a message."

Cicero gave him the evil eye. "A message?!" He said excitedly. "Who wants to give dear little Cicero a message?!"

"I believe who sent the message will be clear once you have heard the message." He replied.

Cicero's eyes were looking fiendish now. "Well?! What is the message?!"

Slightly disturbed by the look in Cicero's eyes, Oniyama nonetheless intoned "Darkness rises when silence dies."

Cicero froze. His eyes darted back and forth feverishly as he processed what he had just heard. "Those?! Those words?! Where did you hear those words?!"

Oniyama smiled. "I think you know where."

"Those are the words! The Binding words, written in the Keeping Tomes. A signal. The only way the Night Mother has of communicating with poor, sweet Cicero..." A huge grin creased his face and he began to dance wildly. "She has chosen! Cicero did not fail! Mother has chosen a Listener! ALL HAIL THE LISTENER!"

He waved his arms to attract Cicero's attention. "Keep it down! I haven't told anyone else yet and I'd rather be the one to spread the news!" He growled.

Cicero stopped dancing and put a finger to his lips. "Oh, of course Listener! Cicero will speak of this to no one!" He looked hopefully up at Oniyama. "But...Cicero can dance, can't he?"

Oniyama facepalmed slowly. "Yes, Cicero, you can dance if you feel like doing so."

Cicero began dancing madly again.

Without another word, Oniyama turned on his heel and left the jester to his celebrations. He made his way back to the bedrooms, out to the main hall and up to the antechamber. As he entered, he focused on the table. The great rend in it was gone. It had either been magically repaired or replaced entirely.

Astrid stood over the table. What she was looking at, he had no idea. She turned as he entered the room proper. "Well? How did it go?"

"Both quite well and quite badly." He admitted. "I was not discovered in the coffin and thus I heard the entire conversation Cicero had."

She gave him a concerned look. "So who was he speaking to?"

"No one. Or rather, he was speaking to the Night Mother. No one else was in the room for him to speak to, apart from myself, obviously."

She processed this. "So he was speaking only to the Night Mother?" She crossed her arms. "I...suppose I can believe that to be the case." She looked back at him. "There's something else, isn't there?"

She was a sharp one alright. He nodded. "Cicero spoke to the Night Mother, but the...weird...part about it was that the Night Mother responded."

She looked startled. "She spoke?! To Cicero?!"

He shook his head. "No. She spoke about Cicero, but she spoke about him to me."

"You're saying the Night Mother, who by all we know only ever speaks to her Listener...spoke...just now...to you?" The skepticism was clear in her voice.

"Yes." He replied.

"But... that...that would make you..." She trailed off.

"The Listener. I know. I am as surprised as you are, Astrid." He leaned against the wall as he studied her reaction.

She turned and put her hand on her chin to ponder. "There hasn't been a Listener in the Dark Brotherhood for over a century!" She exclaimed. "Why did she choose one now? Does she think to use you to usurp my position?!" She whirled on him. "You take your orders from me, understand?! I will not have my authority so easily dismissed!"

He waved his hand dismissively. "If you believe for even one moment that I have any intention of rebelling against you and challenging for authority, you have less of a read on me than I thought. As Tenet three clearly states: 'never disobey or refuse to carry out an order from a Dark Brotherhood superior. To do so is to invoke the wrath of Sithis.'" He recited to her. He did not correct her about Alisanne Dupre. Evidently she had not heard of the young woman. Mentioning her now would only be confusing.

She didn't look particularly mollified by his response, but she didn't argue further. "Good. What else did the Night Mother say to you?"

He shrugged. "I was ordered to inform Cicero and yourself of 'my new role' as she put it. Once that was done, I was to report back to her and receive further instruction."

"Well, I'm ordering you not to tell Cicero." She said quickly.

"Too late, I told him first." He said evenly.

She glared at him. "Why didn't you come straight to me?!"

He shrugged again. "I was given an order by the Night Mother, so I fulfilled it. Cicero was closer than you were, so I informed him first." He was now privately relieved that he had gone to Cicero first. If he'd spoken to Astrid beforehand, he would now be in the unenviable position of having to choose between disobeying (and thus dishonouring) the Night Mother or disobeying Astrid. He was also rather shocked that Astrid would so blatantly order him to disobey the Night Mother. What was she thinking? Never mind the wrath of Sithis, she'd be invoking the wrath of Cicero if he overheard her do so.

She glared at him a moment longer then shook her head. "What's done is done. Report back to the Night Mother. Tell me everything she tells you. That is an order. Understood?"

He nodded but did not reply. He pushed himself off the wall and headed back to the Night Mother's chambers. He supposed he should feel honoured that the Night Mother had chosen him to be her Listener, but all he felt now was troubled. Astrid was acting very strangely. Well, actually he had no idea if this was normal or abnormal behaviour for her because he didn't know her well enough to really say, but surely a Dark Brotherhood superior directly ordering disobedience of the Tenets and the Night Mother was borderline unheard of.

He walked into the Night Mother's abode to see Cicero oiling the Night Mother's body. He looked up from his work as Oniyama walked in and stopped what he was doing. "Listener! How may I help you?" He asked innocently.

He motioned for Cicero to continue. "I am here to speak to the Night Mother again. Do not concern yourself with me, tend to your duties."

"Of course Listener! Whatever you say!" Cicero replied enthusiastically.

Oniyama hoped he wasn't going to be subject to that kind of treatment every time he and Cicero spoke from now on. If so, it was going to get very tiring. Instead, he approached the Night Mother's coffin. He stood there for a moment, unsure of how to initiate contact with the Unholy Matron.

All at once, the soothing sensation flowed into him and he felt the Night Mother's presence in his thoughts. 'You have returned, child. Have you done as I asked?'

'Yes, mother.' He responded.

'I sense your discomfort. What troubles you, my Listener?' Her 'voice' was full of concern. From what he had read, he hadn't expected her to be capable of such an emotion. Not that there were any firsthand written accounts of being the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood, but still.

'It's Astrid. She seems to be very afraid of you and what you represent. When I informed her of your wishes regarding telling her and Cicero about my new position, she tried to order me to disobey you.' He was trying his hardest not to make his thoughts sound whiny, but they still sounded a little petulant to him. Hopefully, the Night Mother would understand.

'Worry not, my child. Astrid surrendered her authority the moment she uttered that order. She is no longer your superior. She's not even a member of the Dark Brotherhood anymore, but I will not ask you to kill her yet. She still commands the loyalty of your brothers and sisters and I would rather you did not have to come to blows with them over this schism.' She paused for a moment and it almost sounded like she was taking a breath, although he knew that was impossible. 'Cicero will continue his work turning the others over to your side. He is your erstwhile servant. Ask him for anything and he will serve to the best of his ability without complaint or question. I only ask that you treat him with the respect his position deserves. Yes, he is odd, but he is unfailingly loyal to me, and now, to you.'

He nodded his acquiescence. 'I understand, mother. I will do my best to be patient with him. Astrid has ordered me to reveal what we have talked about here. What should I tell her?'

'Pay her no heed. Tell her whatever you think she will believe. Pay her lip service, tell her you will follow all of her orders, but feel free to disobey as many or even all of them if doing so serves your interests better or if she asks you to break the Tenets. There will come a time when she will be brought to task for the disrespect she has shown our family. In the meantime, leave the convincing to Cicero and play the part of Astrid's pawn. I will let you know when the time is right for her to die.'

He nodded again. 'I understand. Thank you for your guidance.' He turned to leave.

'Wait, my Listener.' She interjected. He turned back to face her. 'There is more that needs to be said. Astrid will not be sated by an outright lie, thus I will give you something to report back to her. Something that will keep her distracted while Cicero does his crucial work. There is a Nordic ruin to the northeast of here, Volunruud. Tell Astrid that I have ordered you to travel there and speak to Amaund Motierre. He has prayed to his mother and now one of her children shall go to him.'

'You say 'tell her that I have ordered you.' Are you actually ordering me to do so?'

'Eventually, my child. She will no doubt order you not to obey me so I will not make it a true order. You may wait until she gives the go ahead to carry out my will.'

Mindful of what happened last time, this time he asked 'Is that all, mother?'

'No, my Listener. Amaund Motierre has indeed prayed to his mother, but there is another who has prayed and she needs your assistance far more at the moment. Your sister, Babette, has been captured by the target she was sent to kill. She yet lives, but her death is all but assured if you do not go to her aid. She is in the Brood Cavern, southwest of Morthal.'

Oniyama felt a sudden surge of apprehension. 'You are certain she is unharmed?' He asked hurriedly.

He got the sense that the Night Mother was well aware of where his apprehension was coming from. 'Yes, child. Her target was Aranve Laraethal, an Altmer mage studying vampirism. He caught her and has been using her as a test subject. Go show him that, scholar or not, interfering with the Dark Brotherhood is bad for your health.'

The soothing sensation dissipated once more. He hardly noticed because he was so tense at the thought of Babette in danger. He turned on his heel and rushed out of the room, bolting through the corridors and into the main hall. Several of his family members looked up in surprise as he ran up the steps to the antechamber, taking them three at a time. He bolted past a confused Astrid and headed for the door out of the sanctuary.

Astrid wasn't confused for long. She raced after him and followed him up the stairs, through the door and out into the clearing with the small pool. As he stopped to think of the fastest way to Morthal, she grabbed his shoulder and spun him roughly around. "What by Sithis has gotten into you?! You look like you've seen a dragon!"

He was about to shake her off and keep running when he remembered the Night Mother's words. "Babette! She's in danger!" He cried.

"What? No she's not, she's on contract." Astrid replied skeptically. "True, she hasn't been back in a few days, but it's a bit of a journey where I sent her." She crossed her arms and stared at him. "Why do you think she's in trouble?"

"The Night Mother told me so. She says she's been captured by her target. She even gave me his name and location. I have to go to her!"

Astrid slapped him. It caught him fully off guard. As the stinging in his cheek started to subside, he looked guiltily back at her. She spoke. "What part of 'you take your orders from me' did you not understand?! Did I order you to race off and find Babette? No! Now, tell me what the Night Mother told you! You were gone for quite some time!"

He considered just punching her in the face right then and there, but he restrained himself. The Night Mother hadn't explicitly ordered him not to do so, but she was quite clear that she didn't want him to confront Astrid at this time. Instead, he meekly and softly said "She...she directed me to speak to someone named Amaund Motierre. Apparently, he's up at some Nordic ruin called Volunruud. According to her, he's performed the Black Sacrament. I am to travel to Volunruud as our representative."

Immediately Astrid was searching his eyes as though for misdirection or deceit. Thankfully, he had none to display for her. This time anyway. "I have never heard of Amaund Motierre. Volunruud, on the other hand, that place I know well. This is...hmmm..." She stared at the ground between them and bit her lip.

"So? Shall I do this? Go to Volunruud?" He asked her timidly. He half wondered if she'd be suspicious of his sudden change in confidence considering all their previous interactions, but she was apparently too focused on this Motierre fellow. 'Just as the Night Mother predicted.' He thought dryly.

"What? Hmmm..." She was processing as fast as she could. "No...no! You take your orders from me, understand? I need time to investigate this. Go take a side contract from Nazir. I heard he got a whole bunch of them recently. Do nothing about this Amaund Motierre or Volunruud until I say so, is that clear?"

"Yes, Astrid."

"Good." She turned on her heel and stalked back into the sanctuary.

He was left standing by himself in front of the sanctuary. He considered just running off to find Babette, but this was likely to provoke Astrid nearly as much as punching her would have. Come to think of it, why did she refuse so adamantly to believe that Babette was in danger? Surely she cared about those under her command? Yet, she didn't give any credence to the Night Mother's warnings. Did she honestly think so little of the woman as to openly defy her? Well, he could certainly answer that question for himself. She had already earned herself expulsion from the order, so terrible were her transgressions against it. And everyone knew that there was only one way to leave the Dark Brotherhood: the grave.

'Astrid will get what's coming to her, never doubt that my Listener.' The Night Mother said in his mind. This time, there was no soothing sensation. 'Get a contract from Nazir, then make haste for the Brood Cavern. Babette needs you.'

'You are able to speak to me even when I am not facing you?' He asked her curiously.

'My ability to speak to you stretches farther and farther from my iron tomb the longer you are my Listener. Right now you are at the extreme edge of my grasp, but as we spend more time together I will be able to call to you from longer and longer distances. However, this is not a time for lessons. You must be swift. Babette is safe for now but her safety changes by the hour. Do not hurry while you are inside the sanctuary.' She cautioned. 'You will only invite suspicion from Astrid and interruptions from the others. Be casual until you are once again outside the walls, then make best speed for the Brood Cavern.'

He nodded to thin air. 'Of course, mother. You are wise as always.'

He heard a soft, ethereal chuckle. 'Of course I am wise. 'Mother knows best' as the saying goes.'

Using every ounce of self control he had, Oniyama pulled open the door to the Sanctuary and walked through. He made his way at a careful, if wooden, pace down the stairs, past Astrid, through the main hall, up the ramp, down the stairs and into the dining hall. Nazir sat at a table much as he had last seen him. He moved across the room and sat opposite him. "Astrid has requested I take one of your side contracts. What do you have for me?"

Nazir eyed him up. "There's only two left. The others are on the rest. Your first target is Lurbuk, an Orc bard up in Morthal. He's the worst bard in all of Skyrim. Apparently, so many people wanted him dead that Astrid had to hold a lottery to determine who the client was. Your second target is Hern, a vampire located at the Half Moon Mill, almost due north of here. He's got a partner, Herk, but the contract is only for him. Still, any attempt on his life is likely to bring the wrath of Herk down on your head, so be prepared for that." He took a swig from a mug of mead in front of him. "Got all that?"

"Yes, brother. Thanks for the information." He excused himself and headed back the way he had come. He was walking as fast as he could without breaking out into a jog. Thankfully, despite his obvious haste, no one stopped him on his way back out of the sanctuary. As the door closed firmly behind him, he took a few tentative steps out of the alcove the door was set into. Then he broke into a full run. Vampires didn't like walking everywhere, but woe betide anyone who thought they were slow. He didn't need to stop to eat or breathe. He could run for hours at full sprint and even when he was tired his stamina regenerated extremely quickly. He'd make best speed for that cavern. The wind itself would struggle to beat him there.

Chapter Text

Babette stared forlornly at the enchanted bars of her prison. It was a small cage, barely five feet by three feet. Tall enough for a man to stand in, but not long enough for him to lay down or sleep in. Thankfully, she was not a full grown man. She was a ten year old, or her body was. She could sit and even stretch out comfortably. Not that it was very comfortable at all. The floor of the cell was the rock of the cavern and for all that she was not bothered by cold, the sharp jaggedness of the floor was another matter. It was a miracle she hadn't cut herself yet.

Across the room, the Altmer mage was poring over his notes. To one side stood an alchemy apparatus with a potion simmering away on it. To the other was an enchanting table. Next to the alchemy station was the mouth of the cavern. Two guards stood vigil, one on either side of it. They wore glass armour and carried orcish weapons. Rather extravagant for mere bodyguards, but effective nonetheless. There were two more guards outside, similarly clad. She'd met them on the way in.

She thought she'd done her homework. She had scouted the location at dusk, staying well hidden while she observed the guards. She'd listened in on them, making note of how many in number they were and when their shifts changed. She had also been meticulous in observing whether there were any traps or other defenses set anywhere within a hundred yards of the cavern in every direction so as not to be surprised or impeded when she made her escape. Alas, it had all been for naught. Oh, it had gone smoothly enough at first. She'd come running up to the cavern with a bruised face and bloody hands. The guards had tensed and readied their weapons. She'd cried and screamed for help. The guards were suspicious at first, but her terrified yelps had assured them she was only a little girl in trouble. She'd asked them for help and they'd taken her into the cave to speak to the Altmer.

Inside the cave, she'd seen the Altmer mage standing at his desk much as he was now. He'd looked up from his work as the guards started to explain her situation, only to silence them with a gesture. Then he'd made another gesture and she'd frozen on the spot. He'd then proceeded to tell his bodyguards to not be so easily duped. That she was actually a vampire. How he had known this was beyond her understanding. The guards had looked at her with a deep sense of betrayal. Then the Elf had directed them to put her in the cage she now resided in.

Now she was stuck here. By her count she'd been stuck in this prison for two days or more. In that time, the mage had experimented on her, testing her regenerative powers as well as her endurance. He'd tested to see what effect different compounds and potions did to her. He'd force fed her tainted blood to see what effect those compounds and potions had on her if ingested. It really hadn't been a whole lot of fun. The worst part was that she still had at least two more days to go before anyone would begin to wonder why she was taking so long. She really wasn't looking forward to spending another forty eight hours with this scholar. Last night, as the mage had slept, her desperation had got the better of her and she'd prayed to the Night Mother. She'd asked forgiveness for her cavalier attitude, for following Astrid's lead as she abandoned the Tenets, for any disrespect she had given to the Unholy Matron at any point in the past. After her prayer she had mocked herself for it. She did not have any of the necessary components for the Black Sacrament. The Night Mother would never hear her prayer. Even if she did, what were the chances of the Night Mother being able to help? The Dark Brotherhood had no Listener.

Her thoughts wandered to Oniyama and how he was doing. She didn't know what kind of contract he'd been given, but she hoped he was doing better with his than she was with hers. She could only imagine what he was doing right now. Slaying some errant traveler perhaps? Or maybe he was done with his contract and on his way back to the sanctuary. Maybe he'd already returned and was looking for her. Maybe he'd grown worried at her absence and was coming in search of her...

She sneered at her own foolishness. Of course he wasn't coming. Quite apart from the fact that her absence wouldn't raise suspicion for another couple of days, he wouldn't know where she had gone to even look for her. No, she wasn't likely to be rescued for many more days and that was even assuming she survived long enough to be rescued. At the rate her condition was deteriorating, she didn't peg her chances as particularly good.

The Altmer was approaching her now. She didn't remember his name. It just wasn't important enough to her right now to recall. In his hands he held the latest brew. Would he force her to drink it? Pour it in her eyes? Splash it over her body? Whatever his plans were, she was certain she didn't want to know. While not every experiment had yielded 'results' as he called them, many had. She was no stranger to pain or even torture, but his treatment of her had been a new master class of suffering. From what she had gathered during her imprisonment, he was trying to perfect some kind of bomb or spray that could be used to kill vampires like pesticides killed insects. So far he'd managed to make substances that hurt or even incapacitated, but thankfully none of them had been lethal...yet. Still, it only took one success and she'd be off to visit Sithis.

She retreated to the far side of the cage as he reached it. He balanced the concoction in one hand and froze her with a gesture from the other. Then he came around the far side of the cage and unceremoniously dumped the brew over her head. Immediately she felt a scorching pain that had nothing to do with heat. Everywhere the poison touched it caused her skin to flare up like it was on fire or being stabbed with pikes or just being vaporized by dragon's breath. She screamed a blood curdling scream that tore at her throat and shook her entire body. Or it would have if her body wasn't being held by the stasis spell the mage had cast. She could sense him behind her, deaf to her cries, observing her and recording both her reaction and any changes to how she looked.

She drew in breath and shouted forth with another soul shattering scream. The pain was unrelenting. Most of the potion had made its way down her body and was pooling around her feet. The pain, on the other hand, was just as intense as when the substance had first been poured on her. She screamed again as loud as she could.

When her third scream expired she suddenly lurched forward. Freed of the stasis spell, she fell first to her knees then onto her side. She curled up into the fetal position and moaned in pain. The Elf returned from whence he had come, evidently satisfied with what he had seen. The pain at last relented. It did not fade entirely but it was nowhere near as intense as it had been before. She shivered from the exhaustion. Her throat was sore from the uninhibited cries it had been made to cry. Speaking of crying, she could feel tears flowing from her eyes and onto the cold hard ground. She couldn't recall the last time she had pitied herself as she did now. Self pity was a waste of time in her opinion. It contributed nothing, changed nothing, explained nothing. Yet she saw no way out of her predicament and so she cried. She didn't burst out into bawling sobs and sniffles, but she cried nonetheless.

Her thoughts took shelter once more in the fond memories of her new brother. She knew it was unlikely that she'd ever see him again. She regretted that she hadn't told him she loved him the last time they had spoken. True, it might have come across as a little strong considering their relationship at that point, but she didn't want to die having never said it to him. She thought back to that night in Ivarstead. She should have pounced on him again after the innkeep had left. She was sure of it. Now she'd never get another chance. So many regrets. She would have said that she had no regrets if asked prior to meeting Oniyama, but now she suddenly had so many. Her eyes moved to look up at the cavern ceiling. She pictured the sky above it. Casting her mind as far as she could imagine, she begged the Night Mother to allow her to see him one more time. If she could see him just one more time, then she would go to meet Sithis gladly.

So lost was she in her thoughts that she didn't notice the commotion at first. A sudden movement from the Altmer mage drew her eye. At first she thought he was coming back to inflict new horrors on her. Instead, she saw him cast several runes at the entrance to the cave. The guards stayed well clear of these runes and readied their weapons. Curious as to what could possibly have them riled, she focused her hearing to try and catch what was going on outside. It was hard to tell, but she could definitely hear the sounds of battle echoing through to her. 'Maybe a bear has come calling.' She thought pettily. 'Or if I'm lucky, a troll. Not that it matters to me. Let this mage eat the loss of some of his men.'

The sounds of battle grew louder. It sounded like whatever it was that was giving the outer sentries trouble was forcing them to retreat into the cave. Babette didn't see what could possibly be giving trained mercenaries that kind of trouble. From the sounds she could hear, it didn't seem like there was more than one...thing...attacking, but she had no idea what sort of animal could be giving the men this much hassle.

Now she could see the shadows of the men retreating slowly into the cave. She tried to see what kind of silhouette the animal had, but with walls so narrow and the fighting so frenetic, she could only make out a jumbled mass of shapes. The mage and his guards were still watching warily. They were waiting for whatever this was to come to them.

One of the legs of the outer guards appeared in the passageway. This was quickly followed by the rest of him and his partner as they blocked and parried furiously. They were slowly retreating and were not taking any offensive actions as far as she could see. Evidently their orders were to fall back in a controlled manner and allow their attacker to face the full force of four mercenaries and their mage employer. It occurred to her that perhaps a vampire was assaulting them. Maybe that was why they were retreating and blocking instead of trying to fight back. They intended to capture this creature alive so the mage would have another test subject. As the men retreated even further, their attacker came into view and Babette's heart stopped cold (well, it caught in her chest, but it was already cold, she was a vampire after all.)

Oniyama stood in the passageway, his axe nearly a blur as he tried to find his way through the guards' defenses. He was grunting from the exertion of swinging the mighty weapon, but he could not get past their focused parries. The guards retreated another step and he stepped forward to continue his assault.

Her heart soared as she caught sight of her brother. How?! How had he found her?! All at once, her legs sprang into action. She pushed herself up and railed at the bars of her cage. There was precious little she could do to them as they were enchanted to prevent her from damaging or bending them, but if she could distract these men for even a moment, Oniyama would capitalize on it.

The men had now retreated to the runes. As they stepped on them, nothing happened. Noticing they were standing on glowing inscriptions, the men hurriedly jumped back. Without even stopping to look, Oniyama charged forward. The instant one of his boots touched the glowing rock, it exploded violently. A great gout of flame shot up from the floor and engulfed him. He swung his axe this way and that, trying to fight off something that was never meant to be fought with steel. As the rune expended itself, a great cloud of smoke filled the tunnel and made for the outside.

Babette froze mid strike as an ominous quiet filled the cavern. The only sounds were the laboured breathing of the guards that had 'fought' their controlled retreat and a small hissing sound as the rock started to cool from the sudden intense heat. She strained her ears to hear anything, any sign that he had survived. She heard nothing. With an anguished cry, she screamed obscenities at the Altmer mage and his cronies. The mage turned and silenced her with a gesture.

All of a sudden, Oniyama broke from the cloud. He rushed the two mercenaries he had been fighting before. Taken by surprise they weren't able to get their weapons up in time. With one mighty swing from his axe he cleaved straight through both men's midsections, the glass armour shattering as the razor sharp blade rent it asunder. Great spurts of blood and bone showered the cavern walls and floor. As he recovered from the inertia of his swing, the other two guards rushed him from either side. The mage turned his attention back to Oniyama and prepared to cast more spells.

Oniyama, sensing that he was being assaulted from two sides, broke from his position and rushed the Altmer. Seeing him coming, the scholar gestured at him, intending to freeze him as he had done with Babette. It did nothing. He gestured again frantically, but still Oniyama showed no signs of stopping. In a panic, he jumped to one side and rolled, narrowly missing the Orc's swing that would have decapitated him. Rolling to his feet he brought his hands up and tried more conventional spells.

While this exchange was occurring, the two remaining guards had not been idle. They had followed Oniyama as he'd attempted to kill their employer and now planted themselves firmly between the two of them. They settled into defensive stances and waited for him to make the first move.

For his part, Oniyama was only too happy to oblige. He rushed forward, much as he had done a moment ago, and slammed a heavy blow into the first merc's sword. As the two weapons clanged together, he let go of the haft of his with one hand and punched it squarely into the merc's face.

The merc staggered from the force of the blow. His partner tried to stab forward with his own longsword to give his mate time to recover. Oniyama just twisted slightly and the sword scraped off the midsection of his armour.

Ignoring the threat from the attacking merc, Oniyama pushed forward his assault on the first one. He stabbed forward with his axe's top spikes, aiming for the man's eyes. The man jerked his head in response to try and get his eyes away from the sharp metal, but his neck didn't rotate as far as Oniyama's axe reached. One of the spikes bit into the man's left eye. He screamed and tried to retreat, but his foot caught on the rocks of the cavern floor and he fell. With his hands concentrated on staunching the bleeding from his ruined eye, there was nothing to prevent his fall. His head cracked sharply on the floor of the cavern and he lay still.

As soon as the guard fell, the mage had a clear shot. Pushing his hands forward, he dualcasted a stream of fire in Oniyama's direction. Oniyama saw it coming and dodged to put the other guard between him and the mage. So focused was the Altmer on his prey that he didn't stop casting when this happened. Immediately the remaining merc was engulfed in flames. He dropped his weapon and tried to put his hair out. Oniyama took the opportunity to help him with that. He swatted the merc in the side of the face with the cheek of his greataxe. The man's head spun around sharply and even between the man's scream and the crackling of the flames Babette could hear the bones in his neck snap. He dropped like a stone in a lake.

Oniyama had followed through with the inertia of his swing and now his back was facing the mage. The mage was still casting flames at his back, but he did not seem concerned. Instead, he brought his axe up to shield his face then turned to face his attacker. With the axe for protection, he slowly but steadily advanced toward the mage.

Seeing that his spell was having no effect, the mage retreated to the wall of the cavern. He found himself next to the alchemy table. Reaching down he grabbed up his latest potion and chucked it at Oniyama.

Oniyama tried to swat it away, but the glass shattered on impact. Most of it splattered on his axe, but some of it caught him in the face. Immediately he began howling. He started swinging his greataxe frantically and blindly.

For his part, the mage was looking at Oniyama with a triumphant glare. Raising his hands, he summoned forth a bound warhammer. With it in hand, he maneuvered around the wounded Orc, looking for an angle from which to deliver the killing blow. He stopped in front of Babette's cage, facing away from her, and raised the warhammer above his head. Moving quickly, Babette rushed forward, reached through the bars and grabbed the mage's foot. Using all the strength available to her, she pulled it through the bars and sank her fangs into the ankle.

The mage yelped as he fell forward. The bound weapon clattered out of his hands and disappeared. He turned and wrenched his foot out of her grasp. Then he conjured a fireball and shot her in the face with it. She recoiled back from the force of the blast, her face thoroughly ruined from it. Thankfully, her healing was already kicking in. She hadn't gotten much blood from the Altmer before he'd freed himself, but it was enough to at least begin the healing process on her damaged features.

The Elf now returned his focus to Oniyama. Unfortunately, he was too late. He whirled on the wounded Orc to find him face to face with the cold metal stare of a daedric helmet. As the shock registered in his eyes, he felt a gauntleted hand grip his throat. It lifted him effortlessly into the air. He started to choke. It was crushing his windpipe. He thrashed to try and escape the grip. It was no use.

As he watched the light fade from the Altmer's eyes, Oniyama spoke, the first time he had done so since the engagement began. "Go to Sithis, child." He intoned. "Serve our lord Sithis and commiserate on your mistakes. The Dark Brotherhood does not forgive..."

The Elf hung limp in his grip. He released the corpse and it crumpled to the ground to join the others. Striding over to the cage, he gripped the top and pulled with all his might. Although the cage was enchanted not to bend or break under even the strongest of forces, the ground had received no such treatment. With a low rumble, the bars came loose from the rock of the cavern to a spray of dust and pebbles. With a sizable heave, Oniyama tossed the cell to one side.

Babette rose from where she had lain and went to greet him. She still couldn't believe her eyes. One moment she was certain she was going to die, the next she had been delivered from harm by the one person she had been dying to see again. She wasn't about to question Providence. She rushed forward and wrapped her arms around his midsection. He wrapped his arms around her as well. "I thought I'd never see you again." She gushed emotionally.

"That makes two of us." He agreed. "And here I was about to celebrate that fact when lo and behold, who do I rescue?"

"I'm so happy, I'm not even going to hold that joke against you."She answered evenly. She leaned back and looked up into his face. "How did you find me?"

"I...well..." He sounded uncertain.

She gave him a questioning look. "What is it?"

He took off his helmet. "A long story, that's what it is. Best told once we are...far...away...from...fro-..." His eyes rolled back into his head and he pitched to one side and collapsed. His helmet rolled away to one side.

She rushed to his side and shook him. "Oniyama! Brother! Wake up!"

A pained wheeze was his only response.

She looked into his face. It was pale. Paler than she had ever seen it. His eyes were still rolled back into his head and he was starting to sweat. Looking around frantically, she tried to think of what to do. There was only one thing that could have caused this. The potion the Altmer had thrown into Oniyama's face just a few minutes prior. It had caused her intense and insistent pain, but it hadn't caused her to black out. Of course, it was entirely possible that it reacted to Orc vampires differently.

She shook her head. Now wasn't the time to figure out why this was happening. She needed to help him. The question was how. She didn't know what the potion was made from and even if she did, she had no potions ingredients with which to brew any potions of her own. She didn't have any healing potions on her. She had never needed one before and thus did not have any on her now. In any case, she wasn't sure a simple healing potion would have much effect. A cure poison or cure disease potion might, but she didn't have any of those either.

There was one thing that might work: blood. Unfortunately she didn't have any to spare and all of the men around her were dead already. Not that she couldn't drink a dead man's blood, but getting it out of a body that didn't have a beating heart was time consuming and tiresome. Now that she thought about it, was it certain that all these men were dead? The two that had been cleaved in half obviously weren't survivors, but what of the others? She moved to check the Altmer mage. No pulse. Next she checked the man with the snapped neck. No pulse either. Lastly, with a heavy heart, she checked the man who had split his head open. It was faint, but there was a pulse there. He was still alive! Without wasting any more time, she bent down and bit into his neck.

The feeling of the lifeblood as she gulped it down was among the sweetest she had ever tasted. Contrary to what many people believed, blood was blood. Orc blood tasted no different from Altmer blood, Breton blood, Drow blood or any other kind of blood for that matter. Yet even though she knew this was the case, she couldn't help but feel like this was the most savory blood she had ever drunk. Mouthful after mouthful she devoured what the man had left. At last, the flow weakened. She pulled herself off of the corpse and crawled back to Oniyama. In his current state he was quite incapable of biting her himself so she dragged his greataxe over to his body. Bracing it on his leg, she sliced open her wrist using the razor sharp edge. Moving quickly she brought her bleeding wrist to his mouth and opened it. She placed her bleeding appendage inside and a few precious drops of blood dripped down his throat before the wound started healing. She had to repeat the process several times.

Eventually, the wound didn't close as often or as quickly and she stopped reopening it. As much as she wanted him to recover, it wouldn't help anyone if she let herself bleed out while doing so. Instead she sat next to him and cradled his head in her lap. 'Don't let him die, Night Mother.' She prayed. 'Bring him back to me, I beg of you.'

The only answer she received was the wind howling through the passage to the outside.

Chapter Text

Oniyama slowly opened his eyes. There was some kind of wooden ceiling. He looked to his left. Walls, a stool and a door. He looked to his right. More walls, a window, another stool and a table. It seemed he was quite alone in...wherever this was. The last thing he remembered was rescuing Babette in the Brood Cavern. Where was he now? It seemed like an inn or at least a house of some kind. He could hear laughter and conversation coming from somewhere below him. Likely an inn then. He shifted on his bed. He noticed his armour was missing. Looking around frantically, he spotted it sitting in a heap in one corner of the room. Reassured that it was not lost or stolen, he laid back and sighed. Despite being out for Gods only knew how long, he felt exhausted. And thirsty. He checked himself for injuries. Apart from a minor headache, it appeared he was fine. Well, actually, he could sense a bit of soreness in his muscles. Collapsing on a rock floor in heavy armour after such strenuous exertion was likely responsible for that.

The door opened. He turned his head to watch. Babette came in with a fizzing green concoction in her hands. She looked toward him and, seeing he was awake, nearly dropped the bottle. She managed to catch it though and set it on the bedside table. Then she threw her arms across his chest. "You're alive!" She cried into his abdomen.

He reached over with one hand and patted her head. "It's alright, Babette. I'm safe. You don't need to cry."

She looked up at him with the tears clear in her eyes. "Who's crying?" She asked sarcastically. "It's just allergy season, that's all."

"Oh, sure. Those must be some awful winter dandelions then." He quipped. He tried to laugh but it came out as a wheezing cough. "Oh, Gods. Don't make me laugh. My chest feels like it's on fire when I do. What the hell was that potion that Elf hit me with?"

"It wasn't a potion. It was a poison. Specifically designed to kill vampires." She replied.

"Well, can't say it was that effective." He observed. "I mean, I'm still here."

"Well, it wasn't perfected. It did a terrible number on me and to be honest, it almost worked on you. I've been feeding you every potion I could think to make for the last twenty hours trying to reverse its effects." She motioned to the fizzing potion. "Speaking of which, you should drink that. You're awake, but the poison is still in your system."

He reached over, grabbed the bottle and chugged it in three gulps. It tasted absolutely vile, but he powered through it anyway. Immediately he could feel the soreness retreat from his muscles. He fell back onto the pillows as the mixture's effects flowed through him. "Much better. Thank you for that."

She bowed like a serving girl. "I'm always happy to serve my brother."

"In that case, I could do with a foot rub." He said without missing a beat.

"Serve my brother potions, you lout." She replied with her hands on her hips.

He laughed. It still hurt but he ignored the pain. "Can't blame a sick guy for trying."

"Sick is right." She retorted. "Do you have any idea how worried I've been? And all you can think of is getting a little nookie."

"Excuse me? Since when is a foot rub 'nookie?' Unless you have a very odd definition of the word 'foot.'" He replied skeptically. He looked puzzled. "Wait, where are we? How did we get there? I know you're a vampire, but there are limits to how much strength that body can exert."

She smiled. "We're in Morthal. At the Moorside Inn. It didn't seem like treating you in that cave would have gone over very well."

"Ok, we're in Morthal. How did you get me here? You're very fit, but you're not that fit."

She shrugged. "Maybe I'm more fit than you give me credit for." She said tauntingly.

At that moment the door opened again and Veezara came through. "Ah, you are awake brother. Good. I was not looking forawrd to carrying you again."

Oniyama looked surprised. "Veezara! I'm not ungrateful, but what are you doing here?"

"I was on contract in Markarth. Babette caught me on my way back to the sanctuary and pleaded with me to help." Veezara replied. "Her potions have helped me greatly on past contracts so I agreed to get you here and help look after you. Not that it was very necessary. She has been by your side nearly constantly."

"And I'm very grateful you helped me, brother." She said sweetly. "I couldn't have done this without you."

Veezara waved his hand dismissively. "It is not important. I would always help my family. No matter what. However, it appears you no longer need my aid. I will head back to the sanctuary. The room is paid for up until tomorrow."

"Do you need me to reimburse you for that, brother?" Babette asked.

"No, lodging is a trivial expense. My contract paid handsomely. If Astrid wonders why there's a little missing, I'm certain she will understand." He bowed to both of them and left.

The two of them watched him go and listened to his footsteps as they receded. After he was gone, Oniyama said. "Well, nurse, what's my prognosis?"

She turned back to look at him. "Well, I think you're looking better, but I really ought to keep you for more tests. Wouldn't do to get you out on the road and have you collapse again."

He grinned. "Are you certain you want to do more tests? Or do you just want to keep me bedridden while you perform more physical exams?" He looked down suggestively.

Babette gasped and looked horrified. "How dare you?! I bust my bony little ass saving your life and you accuse me of keeping you sick?! You want to get sick? I can make you sick!"

He held his hands up in mock surrender. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Don't cut my balls off!"

Her expression softened and she smiled. "I wasn't going to cut your balls off. I'll have to keep the idea in mind though, considering how much it upsets you." She walked over and sat at the foot of the bed. "But I was being serious about you staying here for a little bit. The way you reacted to that poison has me worried. If you pass out on the road again I'm going to have to leave you there while I summon help. You'll either die or wake up in your underclothes with nothing on you, not even your dignity." She stroked his foot affectionately. "As much as I'd be OK with seeing you in your underclothes, I'd rather you didn't lose that sweet suit of armour of yours to see it."

He looked under the covers. His travelling clothes were still on. He looked back up at her. "I'm surprised I'm not in my underclothes already, sister."

She grinned sheepishly. "You're forgetting that it was Veezara that brought you here and got you out of that armour. I couldn't very well ask him to take off your travelling clothes too. You were poisoned, not stabbed." She glanced over the whole of his covered body. "Unless you want to give me a private show?"

"Oh ho ho! Now who's trying to get some nookie?" He retorted.

"Oh please. It was a joke. I wasn't serious." She replied evenly.

"Yes you were." He said knowingly.

"Can we move on? Please?" She was starting to blush slightly.

"Move on to what? Did you want me to diagnose myself? You're the master alchemist. Go make me a potion!" He mock commanded.

"I can't make you another potion. I don't know what other potion I can make that will help you. I think I need to spend some time observing your condition." She stood up from the bed, walked around the other side and laid down beside him. "Maybe while I'm 'observing,' you can explain how in Oblivion you found me in that cavern?"

He turned onto his side to look into her eyes. "You're probably not going to believe me."

She smiled mischievously. "Try me."

"OK." He took a deep breath and sighed. "Well...the Night Mother...told me...where to find you."

Babette's face after she heard this went from mischievous to shocked in a heartbeat. "The Night Mother?! But...she doesn't talk to anyone except...except..."

"The Listener. Yeah, I told you it was hard to swallow." He conceded.

"Why did she choose you?"

He half smiled and shook his head. "Hell if I know. She said that, since I'm a vampire, I'll be able to be her Listener for a long time. Although, that applies to you as well."

"Me? As Listener? Ha...hahahahahaha." She laughed maniacally. "No thank you! I don't think I could stand the lack of privacy." She smiled at him. "Personally, I think she was right to choose you."

"So, you believe me then? Not more than a few days ago you said you didn't believe in the Night Mother."

She held up a finger. "Correction: I said that Astrid is my matron now. I never said I didn't believe in the Night Mother. I know she exists. I just follow Astrid's lead instead of hers." She looked up at the ceiling. "Although now it seems like I might have to come back into the fold, since she chose you."

He smiled at her reassuringly. "I don't think you really have much to worry about. I assume you know the five Tenets?"

She glanced back at him and nodded. "Of course. I used to follow them religiously. I mean, I'm not saying that I go out of my way to break them nowadays, but I just don't check to make sure I'm following them nearly as often as I used to."

His expression turned sad. "Actually, there's something else I think you need to know. After my first conversation with the Night Mother, Astrid tried to order me to disobey her."

Her expression grew concerned. "She did what?! What did the Night Mother say about it?"

"She said that Astrid surrendered all authority within the Brotherhood the instant she gave that order." His tone was grave. "Apparently she's going to be...uh...'excommunicated' after a fashion." He sighed again. "I mean eventually. Not right now."

"You mean she's going to be killed. You don't have to tiptoe around the punishment for my benefit." She replied sadly. "After years of service, she's gone just like that?" The concern was engraved into her features. "Did you tell Astrid this?"

"What?! No! Of course not!" He said emphatically. "If I told her that, she'd kill me!"

"...Yeah...I guess she would." She admitted. "Why did you tell me this?"

He stared deeply into her eyes. "If I'm being honest, it's because I care for you. I don't want to lie to you. Besides, I don't think I could do this without someone to confide in. I hope you don't mind that I chose you for that. It was either you or Cicero and Cicero is, well...you know..."

She laughed a bit before a sad smile settled on her features. She reached out and cradled his face in one hand. "I'm honoured that you trust me with this. I admit that if you had told me that Astrid was being excommunicated first, I might have stormed out. But the strange part is I can believe that she tried to do what you said." She heaved a heavy sigh of her own. "She's been acting really strangely lately. I didn't think she would be so foolish as to contradict the Unholy Matron, but she's done several odd things in the last few days."

"I thought so as well, but I wasn't as sure of it because I don't know her half as well as any of the rest of you do." He admitted. "All I know is that the next little while is going to be very hard on me. It makes me afraid in a way that I haven't experienced since I forged that suit of armour." He gestured to the suit laying disjointedly in the corner. "I don't want to hurt Astrid and I'll plead her case to the Night Mother as best I can, but as I said to that idiot bandit in the wagon a week ago: the Dark Brotherhood is known for many things. Sadly, mercy isn't one of them."

She was still smiling sadly. "I know. I'm beyond astounded that Astrid would be so blatantly stupid, but she really hasn't been thinking straight since you joined."

It was his turn to look confused. "Since I joined? Why was my recruitment such a turning point?"

Babette paused, considering her words. "I don't want to speak from any position of knowledge or authority, but I suspect she is attracted to you."

He almost sat straight up in bed, but a sharp pain in his abdomen made him lie back down. "Seriously? She has a husband!"

"You think I don't know that? But the signs have been there. I noticed when she 'greeted' us in the main hall after we got back from your first set of contracts. It was subtle, but she was eyeing you up. I almost thought she was unimpressed with how you handled yourself, but then her thighs rubbed together slightly." She paused to see his reaction. Seeing none, she explained. "I guess men don't look for that kind of thing, but take it from someone who's been a female for a long time. Women only make that kind of motion when they are aroused. She certainly didn't have that kind of reaction looking at me."

"Ok, say I believe you. Why would she be attracted to me? What have I done that makes me so appealing?"

"Again, I can't speak for certain, but I suspect she's attracted to you for the same reason I am: you're assertive. You don't behave meekly or subserviently, even to your superiors. You aren't rude, but you don't take shit from anyone either." Her tone became conciliatory. "Don't get me wrong, Arnbjorn isn't exactly a soft spoken aristocrat, but he's become...let's say...devoted to Astrid over the years they've been together. When they were first married, he was like you. He didn't take shit from anyone, even her. I mean, he still doesn't take shit from anyone else, but he's devoted and meek toward her. I think she's gotten bored of him. Maybe she doesn't even realize it herself."

He stared into the sheets between them. "I...I never knew."

She smiled warmly. "I'm not surprised. Vampire or no, men mostly don't pick up on these kinds of signs and signals."

"Hey! Are you calling me oblivious?!" He snarked back at her.

"I guess I am." She admitted. "But don't be too offended. It's not just you. It's men in general. We don't fault you for it, it's just part of what you are. We still love you." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

"Well, I guess I can forgive you." He said jokingly. He was also blushing slightly. "You know, I think I understand why she slapped me now."

"Why who slapped you?" She asked.

"Astrid. After the Night Mother told me where to find you, I raced out of the sanctuary to start making my way to you. Astrid followed me. When I told her why I was moving so quickly, she slapped me."

She thought about this. "Seems likely. She probably didn't like how much concern you were showing for my wellbeing. It probably wasn't even a conscious impulse. She just reflexively punished you for thinking of someone other than her. I saw her do it to Arnbjorn a few times in the first couple years of their marriage."

Oniyama yawned. "I think that potion you gave me induces drowsiness. Even after being out cold for a day, I feel like sleeping some more."

She nodded. "It's the blisterwort. High doses of it mixed with abecean silverfish scales helps cure sore muscles but also induces fatigue. You can sleep if you want. I'll be here when you wake up."

"Are you sure? I don't know when I'll wake up next."

"It's fine. The room is paid for until tomorrow morning. It's just past noon right now. You've got plenty of time. Even if you sleep longer, I've got money on hand to extend our stay here." She patted his chest affectionately. "Sleep, brother."

He yawned again. "From what I heard Veezara say, you've been on your feet nonstop since I collapsed." He patted the space directly in front of him. "Will you sleep with me?"

She giggled childishly. "Yes, I would love to sleep with you."

He smiled dreamily, then his eyes widened to the size of teacups. "No no no! I meant-!"

She snuggled over and silenced him with a kiss on the lips. She opened her mouth to bring her tongue out, but he was too stunned to reciprocate. She reluctantly closed her mouth. As she slowly brought her face away and broke the kiss, she whispered. "I know what you meant and I fully intend to take you up on the offer. I'm also willing to engage in the...other...meaning of your question, but I understand why you don't want to." She draped one arm over his neck and warmly stroked the back of his head. "Rest in my arms, brother. The world will be here when you wake up and so will I." She kissed him again.

This time he kissed her back. It was so unnatural, intentionally kissing a ten year old body this way, but that part of his mind was too tired to really gain any traction. Soon the rest of him followed suit and he drifted off to sleep.

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Oniyama opened his eyes for a second time. He was still in Morthal. His body felt rejuvenated as though he'd just drunk his fill of blood. Whatever potions Babette had given him while he'd slept had apparently done their work completely. He wasn't sore anymore and it no longer hurt when he moved.

Speaking of Babette, she was in front of him, arms still around him, staring back at him with an affectionate smile on her lips. "Sleep well?" She asked.

He yawned, stretched and nodded. "Yes. I'm feeling much better." He slowly gazed down her body. "You didn't...abuse me while I slept, right?" He asked her jokingly.

"It's not abuse if you're willing. Besides, I had to make sure you fit inside me." She replied.

"Guards! I've been raped!" He joked.

She laughed. "No, I didn't do anything to you. Quite apart from you not being hard because you were asleep, imagine what would happen if someone walked in on me fucking a sleeping man."

"I would have assumed you'd lock the door."

"These doors don't have locks. Morthal must have a really low amount of traffic. Don't worry, I made sure no one touched your armour." She stroked his head some more.

"That feels really good, sister." He cooed. Well, he tried to coo, but it was hard to speak softly as an Orc.

"I thought you might enjoy a light massage. Orcs don't generally get a lot of TLC." She cooed back.

"Bullshit. You just like touching me." He retorted.

"Guilty as charged." She admitted. "It's not like you don't like it, so I guess we both get something out of this."

He closed his eyes and focused on the sensation of her fingers tracing their way through his short cropped hair. He started to breathe heavily even though he had no need to do so. He silently moaned into her embrace. It was incredibly relaxing. It was also turning him on a little bit. The part of his mind that had a problem with that observation was too weak to do anything about it because he was feeling so completely at ease. He'd never really noticed it before, but she smelled like juniper berries. Maybe she put dried berries in her clothes when she wasn't wearing them. He knew his clothes didn't smell nearly as sweet. He probably smelled pretty sweaty. He hadn't changed since the exertion of his run to the Brood Cavern and his frantic assault on the Elf mage and his lackeys. "Babette, don't I smell...well...not great? Doesn't it bother you? Especially with your sharpened senses."

She shook her head. "You don't smell that bad. You smell like you, it's just a little sharper now." She grinned. "Fortunately for you, I like your manly scent." She inhaled sharply. "Besides, we don't need to breathe, remember? Even if you smelled terrible, I could just choose to not inhale."

"I guess I caught a lucky break then. I have to ask: do you put juniper berries in your spare clothes when you store them? Because the scent is actually pretty strong on you."

She nodded. "It's not very convincing to pretend to be a small girl if you don't smell like flowers or berries."

"I never thought of that." He admitted.

"I wouldn't expect you to. It's not something anyone who doesn't share my unique circumstances would ever have to think about." She moved her hand from the back of his head to his cheek. "But it's adorable that you even noticed." She started to stroke his cheek. Her fingers traced their way from his ear to his mouth and flicked gently off one of his tusks. Then she reached back and repeated the process. He looked into her eyes. She was enjoying herself. It was written plainly on her face. She had a dreamy expression on her face and she was breathing heavily too. It actually looked like she was in a trance.

On an impulse, he moved his hand and started to stroke her cheek in much the same way. His fingers traced her silky smooth skin from her ear to her mouth. The sensation of her skin on his fingers made him tingle.

She started to purr like a kitten and nuzzled into his touch. Her hand stopped stroking his cheek as she lost focus to his touch. Her eyes went from a half closed dreamy expression to completely shut. As his hand stroked its way past her lips, she opened her mouth and started sucking on his finger. It was kind of erotic.

Reacting on instinct, he started to slide his finger into and out of her mouth. Her tongue was working over the digit slowly and sensually. He kept his eyes trained on her face, transfixed by her expression. She was like a baby, softly suckling on her finger. Except it was his finger and she was actually three hundred years old. Slowly, he withdrew his finger from her mouth. She sucked harder as she felt him leave, as though trying to keep him there. Acting on instinct, after his finger was out of her mouth he leaned forward and kissed her deeply.

She moaned as she felt his lips touch her. She opened her lips and licked his. This time, he opened his mouth and her tongue entered it. Unlike the flowery scent of her clothes, her mouth tasted like equal parts iron and salt. Neither taste was very strong, but it was an enticing flavour all the same. Her tongue entwined with his and they danced together.

Now he was moaning too. Well, moaning was perhaps too strong a word, but he was softly growling into the kiss. The part of his mind that was adverse to this kind of interaction was slowly melting in the heat of the passion the little female next to him was exuding.

Babette was so incredibly horny. Her hand had moved from Oniyama's face to her crotch. She was stroking herself lightly over her clothes, but the pressure was increasing steadily as she started to react more and more on instinct. What little conscious thought she had left was focusing intently on continuing the kiss so he wouldn't look down and notice her...other activities. She was starting to get wet. Despite what she knew about the doors not having locks on them, she was rapidly losing her inhibitions on this matter. Damn the consequences, she wanted to feel him penetrate her. She really couldn't think of anything else right now. Idle thoughts about his promotion to Listener, Astrid's desire for his affections, even her betrayal of the Brotherhood, all of them just couldn't find purchase in her mind right now.

Oniyama started to break the kiss. She tried to hold him fast, but he was adamant. Reluctantly, she retreated as well and they broke the kiss. He watched as her eyes opened and looked into his. "Well, I guess that answers the question of whether I like you or not." He said simply.

"Mmmmmm." She replied. "Maybe you'd like to sample the goods while you're at it?" She said seductively. Her hand moved up from her midsection and cupped one of her breasts. She squeezed it to get her nipple to harden. Sadly, her breasts had barely any definition. Puberty had barely begun for her when she'd been turned. They were upraised slightly, but she had to be naked and up close to really be able to tell.

He was watching her every move. He licked his lips subconsciously. This wasn't a sight one usually saw, but he was mesmerized nonetheless.

She was watching him intently too. It turned her on to no end to see him watching her hands and knowing he was anticipating what she was going to do with those hands. She was positively dripping wet between her legs now. She lifted herself up to free the hand she had been resting on this whole time. With both hands free, she reached down under the covers and touched his manhood. It was rock solid. She looked up into his eyes to see him smiling dreamily at her ministrations. She started to stroke him over his clothing.

He could feel his member twitching in her hands. A part of him wanted to jump on her and force himself inside her. Well, it wouldn't really be forcing, he somehow doubted she'd object if he tried it. But the sounds of laughter and conversations was still echoing through the door. With some reluctance, he reached down and stopped her hands. It took all of his willpower to force himself to say. "Babette...stop..."

She paused, confused. "Do you...not like it?"

He shook his head. "On the contrary, I was about to lose myself and pounce on you."

"So, why didn't you?" She asked petulantly. "I think it's obvious how much we both want this." She reached for his member again.

He stopped her from reaching her goal. "No, Babette. This is not the place to lose ourselves in passion."

"Why not?!" She asked vehemently but softly. "I don't care about the consequences! I want you inside me!"

He shook his head again. "What if someone hears us? These rooms don't have locks on them. If someone snoops on us, I'll be in serious trouble."

"If someone walks in on us, I'll tell them to mind their own damn business!" She declared. "And if they still insist on interfering, I'll tear their throat out!"

"Oh yes, because watching you murder someone would be the perfect addition to our first intimate encounter." He quipped.

She glared at him. "You get my meaning! If we get caught doing this, I'll bear the consequences, even if it blows my cover to hell. Just...please..." She took one of his hands and guided it to her womanhood. "Don't leave me like this."

Even through her clothes, he could tell she was absolutely soaked. As his fingers traced the outline of her pussy, he looked into her face. She was pouting at him as though begging him to help her find her release. "Please..." She begged him. "Please don't leave me in this state."

He frowned. He couldn't lie and say he wasn't turned on, but he knew he wasn't very quiet in bed. He had no idea if she was quiet in bed either. If she wasn't, the chances of someone coming to investigate was high. Whether this hypothetical person would open the door and see them was a complete toss up, but if they did, there was a high chance of him being arrested and jailed for assaulting a minor. Even if Babette made good on her word and explained the situation to get him out of trouble, that would just be more trouble than it was worth. Not to mention she'd be unable to operate in Morthal ever again. People were unlikely to forget about something as odd as a child vampire. Still, being that aroused and being unable to satisfy herself must be absolutely torturous. And it was his fault that she was so turned on. He'd been the one to initiate the deep kiss. 'Well, I guess I have to take responsibility for my actions.' He reasoned. He still wasn't comfortable with going all the way in this room, but he had a different idea. "Babette, I've got an idea about how we can take care of your...predicament. But you have to promise to keep quiet. If you can do that, I'll make you feel good."

She stared into his eyes hopefully. "What are you going to do?"

"Not what you think, but something you'll like, I'm sure." He slid his way down under the covers. Even with the lack of light under the covers, he could still see clearly. He maneuvered to the opposite side of the bed. Then he made his way back up toward the head of the bed. He situated himself above her legs and slid her dress up to her navel. Her bare legs were tense as she waited to feel what he was going to do to her. He reached down and pinched both sides of her smallclothes. He pulled gently. She lifted her hips slightly so he could slide them down her legs. As they came off her ankles, he bunched them up and dropped them over the side of the bed. He spread her legs and settled himself between them.

For her part, Babette was rigidly keeping her hands at her sides. There were a few things he could possibly be doing and the thought of any one of them was making her shiver in anticipation. She moved one hand to her mouth and bit down softly on her finger. She didn't doubt for a moment that he wouldn't continue if she made noise. She was determined to experience everything he was going to do to her. She was breathing very heavily now. She closed her eyes to sharpen whatever sensations he was going to make her feel.

Under the covers he settled his face close to her womanhood. Even with the low light levels, he could see it shining with her arousal. Being careful not to breathe on it prematurely, he cautioned her one last time. "Remember, if you start to make any noise, I'm stopping immediately and you're just going to have to suffer through this."

All she seemed to manage was a pleading whimper in reply.

Satisfied that she understood the rules, he leaned down and ran his tongue along the length of her dripping honey pot.

Immediately, she bucked her hips and moaned harshly into her finger. The sensation of his rough tongue on her pussy was driving her crazy. Her feet dug into the bed and tried to lever her privates closer to his pleasurable ministrations.

Pleased with her reaction to his licking, Oniyama leaned down and lapped at her again with one long, slow stroke from just above her tiny little anus, all the way to through her slick folds and flicking roughly off her clitoris. He could hear her muffled whimpers and moans and while it technically was noise, it was soft enough to not attract attention. And so, he continued. He ran his tongue along her folds over and over. Each time she bucked her hips and moaned in a muffled voice. After he deemed that she had gotten used to the stimulation, he switched tactics. Bringing his hands to bear, he spread her twat wide open. The pink flesh pulsed and throbbed in time to her heartbeat. It looked like it was gasping for air. Above it, her clitoris was peeking its way out of its protective hood. He drank in the sight in all of its glory before blowing softly on her clit.

Babette twitched as she came lightly. He was so good at this! She'd never had the kind of attention he was giving her before and it excited her in ways she hadn't even dreamed of. She'd had sex before, but it was always just penetration followed by ejaculation, hardly anything to write home about. This was entirely new for her and she was enjoying every minute of it. The hardest part was not making any noise. She'd never admit it, but she was a banshee between the sheets. She loved to scream her little lungs out when she orgasmed. But she knew if she did that here she'd be left to stew in her juices until they calmed down naturally on their own. She'd had to suffer through that before and it utterly and completely sucked. She had no intention of visiting that kind of suffering on herself this time.

He started alternating between licking at her and blowing on her. He hadn't put these skills to use in nearly a century, but they came back to him as naturally as if he'd had sex just last week. He wasn't really focusing on precisely who was benefitting from his attention, but he'd think about that later. For now, he was operating on habit and instinct. He wanted to feel her cum. That was what made all this work worth it. With that in mind, he let go of her pussy lips to free up his fingers, then he slipped his middle finger into her dark, wet folds.

When she felt his finger slide into her, she knew that she was going to cum harder than she had in over a decade. The rough sensation was familiar and yet wholly different to the penises she'd had in there before. Because of their size difference, even his finger was more than enough to reach halfway inside her. She started thrusting her hips in time with his movements, hoping to drive him farther into her. She was still biting down on her finger to keep from screaming. In all the excitement her fangs had bared themselves and she was now drawing blood into her mouth. The metallic taste intoxicated her alongside the pleasure washing over her from between her thighs and she moaned ever more fiercely into her digit. Worried that she was making too much noise, but knowing she couldn't stop herself even if she wanted to, she clapped her other hand over the first one to try and muffle the moans further.

He was doing all he could to make her cum, but she wasn't quite over the edge. He squeezed another finger into her crotch. He was licking her clit rapidly and he was exhaling onto her to increase the ferocity of the sensations he was assaulting her with. Still she wouldn't orgasm. It wasn't that he was getting tired. He could keep this up all night if he wanted to, but the longer he engaged in this behaviour, the greater the chance that she would lose control and scream. He wanted her to climax so she could begin to come down. In a last ditch effort, he rotated his fingers inside her and curled them to rub her g-spot.

With a muffled howl Babette came on Oniyama's fingers. Her legs tensed up hard enough to give her cramps and she squirted her love juices into his still moving mouth. Her back arched off the bed nearly into a perfect bow shape. One of her hands flew to his head as she finished, pushing it against her, encouraging him to keep going as she orgasmed with a ferocity she couldn't recall ever experiencing before. Her legs kicked out at the air, ruffling the covers as they twitched and spasmed uncontrollably. She was biting down so hard on her finger, she was worried she was going to bite it clean off. She stayed at the peak for seconds that stretched like an eternity.

Finally, she felt herself come down from the orgasm. She slumped back onto the bed and pillows. She released her bloody finger from her mouth and gave a massive sigh of contentment. Underneath the covers, she felt him pull out and retreat from her cunt. He pulled her dress down after him. Then he moved back to his side of the bed and slid up out of the covers into his original position.

"How do you feel?" He asked.

She sighed again with a huge grin on her face. "Like a million septims." She said sincerely. "You're really good at that."

He blushed. "Well, I had a lot of practice in my previous life."

She could feel how flushed her face was after her orgasm. It was a pleasant sensation. "Well, I'm glad you got all that practice. It was a masterful performance." She glanced down. "But you didn't get to have any fun. Maybe I should give you a taste of my skills?"

He patted her cheek gently. "Thank you, but that's a bad idea. I don't know how loud you usually are in bed-."

"Very loud." She interjected. "Today was positively excruciating."

"Right. Well, I'm the same way. And unlike you, I can't muffle myself with a hand over my mouth. My voice is too deep for that. I'll just suffer through it. It's not that bad if I don't think too hard about it." He said stoically.

She smiled devilishly. "Nonsense. I know how to keep you from being too loud." She reached down and started to slide his pants down. This time, he did not resist. He was curious to see what she had in mind. After she got his member free, she grabbed it with one hand. It was still rock hard and twitching. Using her other hand, she slid her dress back up around her navel. Then she maneuvered close to him so their bodies were touching. He watched her every move with interest. When they were snug against each other, she lifted up one leg and guided his penis to rest on her vagina. Then she laid her leg down on top of it. She applied a little pressure and got him to roll over onto his back. She followed the movement and wound up on top of him. She paused for a moment to draw the covers up over their heads. Then she laid down upon him. "Now, I'm going to kiss you, among other things. I want you to enjoy yourself and cum whenever you feel like it." And with that, she kissed him. As she started the embrace, she also started lifting her hips and dropping them, rubbing his member on her vagina and between her legs.

He had to lean up almost halfway to a sitting position to close the distance between her lips and his own, but the compromise was worth it. He was in Aetherius immediately. Thanks to her orgasm, Babette's crotch and thighs were well lubricated and he slid in and out between them very smoothly. He had been horny for so long that his dick really didn't need much encouragement to let loose. He wanted to prolong the experience, but he knew it was risky to do so. He wasn't one hundred percent certain that her mouth would be able to silence his growls and moans entirely, so it was best that he finish as quickly as possible. Fortunately, he was so turned on that he wasn't sure he could last five minutes under this kind of treatment. Rather than try, he just let loose immediately.

He growled harshly into the kiss as hot spurts of his cream shot out onto the covers and her ass. She felt him cum against her and intensified the kiss to occupy his mouth. He grasped her head and pushed her roughly into him, trying to forcefully deepen the kiss further. With his other hand, he smacked her ass. She squealed into the kiss from the contact.

As his orgasm started to die down, she reached down and caught a couple spurts of his cum on her fingers. She broke the kiss and brought them to her mouth. Sticking both inside, she licked them clean. Then she slowly and sensually pulled both of them out of her mouth, an inch at a time. When they were all the way out, she opened her mouth to show him his cum on her tongue. Then she closed her mouth and swallowed loudly. Finally, she opened her mouth and said. "Hmmm...delicious. Can't wait to find out what my other mouth thinks of the taste."

"Careful. Too much more stimulation and you're going to make me horny again." He cautioned.

She looked at him with an innocent expression. "Oh, don't say that. If that happens, I'll have to hump your cock again. No one wants that." She said sarcastically. She rolled off of him and flopped down onto her side of the bed. She fixed her dress then resumed lying on her side as she had been before.

He took a few more breaths as he came down off his sexual high, then he pulled up his pants and turned to face her as well. "You're not so bad at this kind of activity yourself, sister." He complimented. "I can't imagine you've gotten much practice in this area."

"Oh, you'd be surprised." She replied smugly. "Sometimes, when I get really horny, I'll go out looking for pedophiles. They're usually not too hard to spot. I just play up the lost little girl routine and they're only too happy to ravage my pussy, my ass, my mouth...Basically I get a good hard fuck and if we get caught, they're the ones who have to deal with the consequences."

He snorted. "You are a demoness. A succubus apparently."

She grinned evilly. "Even child vampires have needs. At first I tried to date within my age. Well, within the age range of my outward appearance, but it was just too much hassle. Plus actual little kids aren't very experienced in lovemaking, so the fucking isn't very pleasurable." She sighed contentedly. "Thankfully, I guess I don't need to worry about either option anymore. Now I have you instead."

He chuckled softly. "First you tell me about using pedophiles, then I find out you are a pedophile. And what's this about 'you have me' anyway? I'm not your fucktoy. Hell, I'm your new boss, bitch."

She glared at him, pretending to be offended. "Excuse me? You might be the Listener, but I don't think the Night Mother would appreciate you abusing your new position to get sexual favours from your underlings!"

"Underling." He corrected. "I'm certainly not hitting up Festus for a threesome anytime soon. Even if he is closer to our age than anyone else."

It was Babette's turn to chuckle. "Ewwwww. I mean, yes I'm three hundred years old, but I wouldn't be surprised if his old twig and berries rotted off a decade ago."

Oniyama shivered in disgust. "Please. I don't need that image in my day-to-day."

She chuckled a few more times before turning slightly serious. "Ok, I realize Festus is out, but are you seriously telling me you wouldn't like to complete Gabriella's contract?"

He shrugged. "Are you asking me if I think she's pretty? Kind of...but I don't sleep with people just because they're attractive. There has to be a connection. We have to have chemistry. I've hired prostitutes before now, but they just don't do it for me. Not really." He shook his free hand rapidly and quickly added. "Not that I'm saying I think Gabriella's a prostitute or anything!"

She smiled. "I get what you mean. I was just observing that she's kind of cute. Obviously, there's Astrid, but something tells me that, even knowing she's at least slightly attracted to you, you're not likely to stick that arrow of yours in her knee."

He nodded vehemently. "Exactly! I'm not interested in a werewolf's sloppy seconds." He paused for a moment before adding in a quiet voice. "Please tell me you've never fucked a werewolf..."

She grinned. "Rest easy, brother. I've slept with a few men in my lifetime, but not one of them was ever a werewolf."

He sighed, relieved. "Oh. Good."

"What would you do if I had?" She asked innocently.

"Vomit. A lot." He replied without missing a beat.

"You find werewolves that unattractive?"

He shuddered. "It's not that people who are werewolves can't be beautiful or handsome. It's just that I wouldn't want to be screwing one and suddenly have them transform. That would be...well...do I have to keep explaining?"

She shook her head. "No. I get it. Personally, I wouldn't want to risk that either. I mean, pedophile penises already fill my tight little hole to an uncomfortable degree. If one of them transformed into a wolf, it might split me in two!"

He chuckled and shuddered at the same time. "Thanks to my recent activities, I can now easily picture that scenario in graphic detail. Thanks for that."

She smiled. "Anytime, brother." She yawned. "Oh goodness. That orgasm really tired me out. Are you feeling it too?"

He shook his head. "I just got done with sleeping, remember? I mean I'm relaxed, but I don't feel very tired, just euphoric. But it's OK. You go ahead and sleep, I've got business I have to attend to anyway."

Her head perked up. "What business is that?"

"There's a target of mine here in Morthal. Lurbuk the bard. And, seeing as I'm thirsty anyway, I think I'll go sample his apparently terrible music. After I've heard how bad he is, I'll sample his blood." He got up out of the bed and retrieved his armour. He sat down on one of the stools in the room and started to put it on.

She yawned again. "Try not to get spotted. I don't want to have to walk back home alone."

"Don't worry, I'll be discreet." He reassured her. "When I'm done, I'll come wake you up so you can get some of his blood from me. Or have you fed recently?

"No. Veezara gave me a little of his so I could recover from my wounds back at the Brood Cavern, but I only took strictly what was necessary. I could stand to have a little more blood in my system." She yawned a third time. "I think I want to pass out now."

He stood up from the stool with only his breastplate and one greave on. He crossed back to the bed, leaned down and kissed her lightly. "Sleep, sister. I will be here when you wake up."

She smiled warmly at his words and fell back onto the pillows. She was asleep before her head had settled.

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There's something that I wanted to explain just in case people have been losing immersion due to it: just exactly how do vampires 'get hard' and have their hearts catch in their chests, etc etc. I looked around for quite a while trying to discern what rules Elder Scrolls vampires operate under. However, I was unsuccessful in finding much at all. Due to this, I've basically made up a set of rules that I'm following. You may or may not have deciphered some or all of these already, but for anyone who's curious or who's had their immersion broken over this, read on. If you don't care, just skip reading the next paragraph and bullet points lest they accidentally break your still intact immersion. (And if you're wondering why this is in the story text as opposed to in a chapter 'note', well, I just didn't have enough space in the note section to write everything I wanted to. I also put this at the end of the chapter as opposed to at the beginning because you may not want to read it. If that's the case, you don't have to scroll past it to read the chapter, you can just stop at the chapter's end above. Anyway, the rules:

Vampires in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim still seem to have working circulatory systems based on how hitting them with blades still causes spurts of blood. Because of this, the rules I've adopted are a sort of mish-mash of this principle with traditional vampire lore.

- Vampires have working circulatory systems. This means they can be poisoned, put to sleep, or even die from massive blood loss. They can also die from beheading, as this would separate their brain from their heart and cause the latter to stop pumping.

- Vampires do not generate body heat under normal circumstances. Even though their hearts still pump and their brains still operate, touching one will give you a sensation of hot or cold based on their current environs. (i.e they'll be warm to the touch if you're in a volcano, and cold to the touch if you're in a snowstorm.)

- Vampires do generate body heat from their genitalia when aroused. (I kept this because the idea of screwing a room temperature or colder pussy does not appeal to me at all. If it appeals to you, then I apologize.)

- Vampires are akin to 'blood batteries', meaning they still circulate blood through their veins, but they have no real use for it unless they need to heal or regenerate a large amount of stamina. When they heal or otherwise use blood, it burns off in much the same way gasoline does in an engine. The 'exhaust' in this analogy is exhaled, but it will also escape through any open wounds before they manage to heal completely.

- As mentioned before, vampires can die of blood loss. However, they cannot die of excessive healing. In the event a vampire does not have enough blood to expend for healing purposes, the healing factor simply does not activate until more blood has been acquired. The minimum amount of blood a vampire must maintain in order to not die of blood loss is equivalent to ten percent of the maximum amount it can hold.

- In the same vein as the previous point (pun only sort of intended), The maximum amount of blood a vampire can have in their circulatory system is ten percent more than what a healthy human of the same size could have. Any blood drawn into the system beyond this limit will accrue in cavities and muscle tissue until burned off or otherwise drained. This includes the cranial cavity and is why vampires who drink too much blood can feel intoxicated. In the extreme case, gluttonous blood consumption can cause a vampire to pass out in the same way that copious amounts of alcohol can cause non-vampires to fall unconscious. Unlike non-vampires however, a vampire will always remember everything that happened up to the point that they 'blacked out.' They do not suffer from memory loss of any kind in this scenario.

- Vampires are immune to disease and thus cannot catch any blood borne diseases of the victims they feed from. They can, however, pass those diseases on if they bleed the infected blood onto something that is susceptible to the illness. There is no way for the vampire to know if the blood they are ingesting is infected or not unless they recognize the signs of illness in the victim prior to feeding. Blood borne diseases have no impact on a vampire's healing factor.

- Lastly, blood types also do not affect a vampire in any way. The blood type they had while alive remains until the blood in their system has been burned off. All future blood ingested circulates through the body as though it were all the same type, with no ill effects on either the healing factor or the general health of the vampire for ingesting different blood types.

Not all of these points are going to come into play in this story, but I wanted to explain nonetheless. Hopefully, this long winded chapter 'note' will enhance your enjoyment of future chapters. If it does the opposite, I apologize.

Chapter Text

Oniyama jumped down off the wagon outside Falkreath. Turning, he offered his hand to Babette. She took it and hopped down after him. It was a small gesture, but it was simply an affirmation of their newfound affection for one another.

Truth be told, it had taken Oniyama by surprise just how much he now cared for the little female beside him. 'I suppose I was attracted to her after all.' He thought ruefully. 'Why did I not see it before?' Of course, he knew the answer to that question. There was still some part of his mind that rejected her as a potential mate. Even in spite of the fact that they had already been intimate together. It wasn't a large part of his mind, but he could not deny its presence entirely either. They hadn't been intimate again after their encounter in the Morthal inn. True to his word, he'd been there when Babette had awoken and she had drunk from him, but there had been no further touching, caressing, massaging or any other kind of erotic contact between them. Not that he really minded. He couldn't deny that he had enjoyed himself during their first encounter, but it had been pretty tame compared to his previous sexual experiences. He wasn't entirely comfortable with the idea of going all the way with her, not yet at least.

Babette walked beside her mate with feelings of both affection and apprehension inside of her. Well, maybe he wasn't her mate yet, but she was determined to get there. Her thoughts had strayed back to that night in Morthal several times during the trip back home. They hadn't had any further intimate contact. That was fine with her. She wasn't sure what kind of sex drive Oniyama had, but she didn't get horny too often. Not that she wasn't willing to try to be horny more often, for his sake, but their conversation prior to their encounter made it clear that they had bigger things to worry about than consummating their feelings for one another. As she was nearing the sanctuary, her thoughts were being consumed more and more by Astrid's strange behaviour and her brother's sudden promotion to Listener. This was going to be tense. She was glad that she wasn't facing it alone.

He spoke without looking at her. "So, how should we handle Astrid? Should we go in together or separately?"

"I don't think she'll be fooled by us coming in separately. Might as well face the music and get it out of the way early." Her tone was not optimistic.

"You don't think she'll try to attack us?" His tone was nervous.

She laughed. "Attack her own family members for falling in love? She's been acting strangely, but I don't think even she would attack two vampires, one in heavy daedric plate, for purely selfish reasons." She turned to look up at him. "Besides, if she did, the entire rest of the sanctuary would turn on her. We might be, or at least used to be, devoted to Astrid, but there are limits to what we'll follow her lead on."

He glanced at her and grinned then turned his eyes back to the road. "Eyes ahead, sister. Wouldn't want you to trip and twist your ankle again."

She turned her eyes back to the road ahead and blushed furiously. She managed to resist the urge to punch him in the arm. "That was one time! And it was dark out! And I was far more distracted that time too!" The silence that followed these hurried declarations was deafening. "SHUT UP!" She shouted.

"I didn't say anything." He replied cheekily. Then his tone turned serious. "I hope you're right about Astrid. I don't fancy the idea of challenging her for supremacy as my first official act as Listener."

"I hope I'm right too." She admitted shakily. "But, whatever happens, I've got your back."

They turned off the road and sauntered casually toward the alcove that hid the door to the sanctuary. As they approached, he reached into his armour and produced the dagger he put under his pillow when he slept. He handed it to her. "I'm glad you've got my back. Hopefully you won't need this, but I'll feel better knowing you have it. Be careful, it's extremely sharp."

She took the proffered blade and turned it over in her hands. "Thank you, brother." She tucked the dagger into the sash of her dress. "I hope you're right that I won't need it."

"Yeah, hope is nice. The dagger's there in case hope gets dashed." Without waiting for a reply, he reached forward and pulled open the great stone door. The two of them proceeded through it and he pulled it closed after them.

Contrary to his observation the last time he had done so, Oniyama was now feeling extremely apprehensive about returning to the sanctuary. Not that he could really blame himself. The startling revelations about Astrid ('which are in no way confirmed as being true' he had to remind himself) troubled him more than anything. If she was indeed attracted to him, that attraction, coupled with her paranoia about losing her authority, could be enough to push her over nearly any edge. He just didn't have enough of a read on her to really say for certain. He was about to get one though and the thought of it did not spark any anticipation in him. He stopped holding Babette's hand and took the lead just before they stepped down into the antechamber of the sanctuary. Perhaps it was just an ingrained response, to protect those he cared for, but he did it all the same.

Astrid was poring over the table in the antechamber. Even from a distance, he could tell that it was now covered in maps and fresh notes and that she was studying these new documents rather intensely. Still, she must have heard him approach because as he stepped off the last step with Babette right behind him, she looked up from her work and locked eyes with him. He did his best not to squirm under the intensity of that gaze. Her eyes drifted from him to Babette behind him. He could see a slight curl on Astrid's lips, like she was looking at something which disgusted her. However, it was only there for a moment. Then she walked purposefully up to him and refocused her attention on him. "You're back. Good. We need to talk." Her tone was guarded.

"I figured as much." He replied casually.

Astrid opened her mouth then glanced behind him again. "Babette, this is not a conversation for you."

Behind him, he heard Babette sigh. "Of course it isn't. I'm fine, by the way. I assume Veezara informed you of what transpired at the Brood Cavern and in Morthal?"

Astrid nodded. "He did. We will discuss it later. For now, I need to speak to your brother. Alone." Her emphasis on the fiinal word was pointed.

Babette moved out from behind him and into his field of vision. "As you say, Astrid. I'll go check in with Nazir. Maybe he has a side contract for me." She walked toward the stairs leading to the main hall and disappeared down them.

Astrid watched her go until she was certain they were alone. Then she turned back to him. Her expression was...he would have to say 'miffed.' "Don't think I'm overlooking the fact that you went to the Brood Cavern and rescued her instead of doing what I told you."

His expression adopted a dangerous glint. "I did exactly what you fucking wanted, Astrid. One of the targets was in Morthal. The Brood Cavern was on the way there. Are you telling me that you want me to leave my family members to die if you don't specifically order their rescue?"

Her expression turned dangerous as well. "You only went to that Cavern because you're a perverted little pedophile!" She hissed. "No doubt you had your way with her in exchange for 'rescuing' her. You make me sick!"

Having been informed of her reactions by Babette, he noticed out of his peripheral vision that she was moving something below her waist. The telltale rustling of cloth was unmistakable. He couldn't be absolutely certain because he'd have to break eye contact with her, but he was willing to bet Astrid was subconsciously rubbing her thighs together again. Not wanting to reveal that he'd caught her, he instead replied. "Pedophile? Seriously? She's older than the both of us combined! I think you're just jealous that I thought of her before I thought of you!"

Astrid's eyes widened slightly. Then her hand whipped up to slap him across the face. Except this time, expecting the response, his own blinding reflexes brought his hand up and caught her wrist in a crushing grip. He twisted and her lips curled into a snarl as the pain seared in her trapped extremity, though she managed to not yell in agony.

"You caught me off guard the first time, bitch!" He snarled at her. "But don't think for a second that I'll put up with your abuse. You can hate me all you want. At the end of the day, I'll follow your orders but that doesn't mean I'm your punching bag. You want to slap around your subordinates? Go ask your husband. He's probably into that sort of thing!" With a quick twist to extend the pain, he released her and shoved her back slightly.

She stumbled back a few steps from the force of his shove. As she caught her balance she glared daggers at him. "You risk a great deal with your attitude, Listener." She taunted. "I'll forgive you, this time, but lay hands on me again and I'll gut you."

He laughed. "Gut me? Try it. I don't care how many years you've been in charge of this sanctuary. You're never going to beat a vampire's reflexes. Now, are you finished, or are we going to verbally joust the rest of the day away?"

She glared daggers at him for a second more, then relented. "You're right. There's more important business to be done." She moved to stand over the map table. He crossed the room and stood on the opposite side of it. "If the Night Mother really did order you to contact this Amaund Motierre, we'd be mad to ignore it. So go. Go to Volunruud and speak to him. Find out what he wants and report back to me." She looked up at him again. As he caught her gaze, he thought he saw something in her eyes. If it was there it was gone just as quickly. "Take your time. I'd rather not see you for a while." The tone was harsh, but her expression didn't match it.

"I'll leave as soon as I've spoken to Nazir about those side contracts you wanted me to do." He walked past her as casually as he could manage. He was extremely tense though, in case she tried to ambush him on his way by. She did nothing however.

As his foot touched the first step down, she called out. "Have Babette report to me. She and I also need to talk."

He did not reply.

At the bottom of the steps, Babette was waiting. "That went well." She observed.

He motioned her to follow him. Together they made their way across the main hall and into the dormitory section. Safely inside his room, he finally responded. "You're telling me. She didn't attack me per se, but she definitely wasn't happy about our little Brood Cavern expedition."

"Too fucking bad. I'm not going to apologize for my part in things and you shouldn't either." She said emphatically.

"Hadn't planned on it." He quipped. "You know, that's the first time I've heard you swear."

"I don't do it too often." She admitted. "It's a bad habit that children aren't supposed to have."

"That's true. Didn't think of it that way." He sighed. "Well, anyway, Astrid wants to see you next. Have your hands ready, she might try to slap you too."

"Oh joy." She said sarcastically. "Getting chewed out by Astrid. My favourite pastime. What are you going to be doing?"

"I've got to turn in the Lurbuk contract with Nazir. Then Astrid wants me to go to Volunruud and speak to Amaund Motierre."

"Why does she want you to do that?"

"Because the Night Mother commanded me to do so."

She looked shocked. "You prioritized my rescue over obeying the Night Mother? That took balls."

"Well, actually the Night Mother told me you were in peril and said I should go to your aid first. I never would have expected it, but she seems to be a very caring woman. Not compassionate." He added quickly. "But caring. Maybe it's just because I'm new to this Listener business, but she seems more like a patient schoolteacher than the fervent servant of Sithis I've read of."

Babette grinned. "Best not let her hear you say that."

He grinned back resignedly. "I doubt she missed it. I somehow get the feeling that she knows everything that I say and do, at least when I'm in close proximity to her."

Her expression turned serious. "Does the idea of that...bother you?"

"Not...really." He admitted. "I mean, I don't think she's very judgmental. I get the impression that, as long as her will is obeyed, she's quite content to let me run my affairs as I see fit."

Her face adopted a horrified look. "Does this mean she knows about...us?"

"Probably." He replied. He looked at her. "Does that bother you?"

"A little." She replied. "Maybe it's a good thing that I don't have the world's most active sex drive. I don't know how I feel about possibly having an observer to our relationship."

"I can assure you, the idea doesn't tickle my fancy either." He agreed. "But why would the Night Mother be interested in that sort of thing at all? No disrespect intended, but she hasn't gotten laid for over a thousand years. I doubt she still gets horny."

She laughed. "Better hope not. Or you're going to have to listen to thousand year old sweet nothings and moans in your head."

"That's borderline disrespectful." He chided. "I'd like to joke around about it, but as Listener my responsibilities put me above that kind of banter. Sorry."

She chuckled a few more times but nodded. "I understand. I shouldn't be so critical of the Unholy Matron. Especially since I'm dating her Listener."

"I'd rather you didn't spread that around, sister." He reminded her. "Regardless of what the others think of our relationship, I don't need the hassle of being mocked for fucking children."

"Oh please." She said petulantly. "I'm hardly a child, outward appearances be damned."

"True, but do you really think Arnbjorn or Nazir is going to let a little thing like the obvious stand in their way of poking fun at me?"

She pondered this. "You've...got a point. I'll be more discreet from here on." She smiled at him warmly. "But don't make me keep this secret forever. Just because I don't get horny too often doesn't mean I never want to go all the way with you." She turned to open the door then turned back to him. "Can I tell Gabriella? She's very good at keeping secrets."

"If I say no, is that really going to stop you?" He asked exasperatedly.

"Touché." She replied with an evil grin. Then she opened the door, stepped through it and closed it behind her.

He listened as her soft footsteps retreated into the distance. He thought about going after her, to eavesdrop on her meeting as she'd done on his, but he dismissed the idea. If Astrid hadn't tried to kill him, there was no way she'd attempt it on someone she knew so well. Best he went about his business. Now that Babette was out of danger, his next priority was to fulfill the Night Mother's decree. He opened the door and proceeded out to the dining hall. Nazir sat at the table as he seemingly always did. 'Does he even go out on contract?' He wondered idly. He stood next to him and declared. "Lurbuk is dead."

Nazir tossed a pouch on the table without looking up from his meal. "The only good bard is a dead bard. All that singing and...mirth."

Oniyama swept up the pouch and tied it to his waist. He turned to go.

"What about that vampire, Hern?" Nazir inquired after him.

"Haven't tended to him yet. I'll get to him."

"Oh. OK." He didn't even sound that interested.

He left without another word.

Now on his way out of the sanctuary, he nonetheless stopped by the Night Mother's chamber. Cicero was not there. Approaching the coffin, he knelt before it. 'Thank you, mother. Thank you for helping me to save Babette.'

The soothing sensation washed over him. 'Of course, child. I can see you care for her a great deal. I may not be flesh and blood anymore, but I remember what it is to care for another. I am also pleased that you did not engage in disrespectful cynicism 'behind my back' so to speak.'

'Ah, so you did hear that.'

'Of course. You were correct when you surmised that I see and hear all that you do. However, I do so no matter where you are in the world, not just when you are in close proximity. The only thing that distance limits is whether or not I can speak to you. And as I have mentioned before, that limitation will weaken with time.'

A thought occurred to him. 'Just how long have you been watching me?'

'You first came to my attention when you lost your family in Morrowind. I was aware of you before then in the same way that I am aware of all people in the world, but your cries of vengeance and fury that night caught my attention. I focused on you more intently, watched as you took your first steps in vampirism, moved to Skyrim and forged that powerful suit which encases you. When you helped my Keeper on the road, I knew that you would one day be my Listener.'

'That doesn't make sense though. You only lost your previous Listener thirteen years ago. Why spend so much time watching me when you already had a Listener?'

'Alisanne Dupre was a dutiful Listener. She attracted my attention in much the same way you did: with a cry of vengeance. I needed a Listener in Cyrodiil and she was a perfect candidate. Young, talented, but obedient, subservient. She followed my will to the letter and defended my remains with her dying breath.' It sounded like there was a note of regret in her voice. 'However, Alisanne Dupre was never going to be a long term solution to the Dark Brotherhood's problems. She served her purpose, but the writing was on the wall. The Dark Brotherhood was dying out. I needed a Listener who could live well past their mortal years. I needed someone with a vast breadth of knowledge who was yet thirsty for more. I needed someone who would follow my directions, but would not blindly hang off every word I speak. In short, I needed you.'

'Why not Babette? According to her, she was your devoted servant at one point and she's a vampire as well.'

'Babette might have been a suitable candidate at one point.' She conceded. 'But by the time the position was open to her, she no longer observed the tenets. I do not fault her for her disobedience, Astrid led her astray, but she would have made a poor Listener. She was too subsumed by Astrid's leadership.'

'But, how could you know that I would join the Dark Brotherhood?'

'Truth be told, I couldn't know. But I saw what books you were reading, what knowledge you were acquiring. Perhaps I did not know you would join the Brotherhood quite when you did, but I was certain you would join. I'm just glad you did so before things spiraled too far out of control.'

He pondered all of this. Then the pieces came together in his mind and another thought struck him. 'So you were there in Morthal when...' He trailed off.

'Yes, but do not fear. I take no interest in whom you deign to spend your time with as long as doing so does not overshadow your duties to my will or impede your ability to carry out my commands. Babette has no reason to fear my presence in your thoughts. Rest assured that I will only contact you during such dalliances if the need is urgent.'

'Thank you, mother. I am certain she will be relieved.' He rose from where he knelt, but the soothing sensation did not abate. 'Is there something else, mother?'

'I was about to ask you the same question, my Listener. I can sense that you have a great many questions. Do you wish to ask them?'

'No. They are unimportant. Best left for a time of idleness.'

'As you wish, my child. Go forth to Volunruud. Amaund Motierre awaits.'

The soothing sensation drained away. He turned on his heel and left the Night Mother's chambers. He passed through the main hall and proceeded up the steps to the antechamber. He briefly considered loitering at the top of the steps in case Astrid and Babette were still speaking, but he dismissed the idea. He'd made too much noise coming up. Stopping now would be highly suspicious. Instead he sauntered casually through the chamber, casting a quick side glance as he went. Babette was not here. Evidently, she'd already had her chewing out and was now elsewhere. Astrid's back was to him and she did not turn around as he made his way up and out of the sanctuary. When the door closed behind him and he stood in the crisp autumn air, he let out a heavy sigh of relief. It was only going to get harder from here so every time he left the sanctuary alive felt like a small victory to him. He made his way to the road and off to Volunruud.

Chapter Text

The imposing oval stone shape of Volunruud stood before Oniyama as he approached. The Nordic crypts of Skyrim never failed to unsettle him. Not that he had much to fear from the draugr that usually infested them, but just the idea of walking in the tomb of another (or many others) disturbed him. Perhaps that was the real reason he'd been reluctant to step into the Night Mother's coffin. Maybe it had nothing to do with the disrespect such an act implied.

Oh well. There was nothing else for it. He descended into the depression that housed the door leading into Volunruud. He pulled it open and marched through it. Perhaps he ought to have snuck in, but if there was any danger to him, he'd rather get it out of the way early.

Inside he saw a pile of bones and cloth. The remains of some poor traveler or grave robber. The man's journal lay next to him. There was a time when he might have picked up that journal, in case it contained clues or leads to treasure or riches, but those days were long past. Now, he had orders. Orders took precedence. Stepping past the corpse, he spied a skeleton sitting in an ornamental chair. It hadn't moved when he'd approached it, but one could never be sure with draugr. He drew his greatace and took a lazy swing into the skeleton's midsection, just below the ribcage. Immediately, blue light appeared in its eyes then dissipated just as quickly. 'So, it was a draugr after all.' He thought smugly. 'No easy ambush for you, friend.' He sheathed his greataxe and stepped further into the tomb.

The path down opened into a large expanse with multiple paths and doors. Several looked foreboding, but instead of relying on his eyes, he turned to his nose for guidance. Closing his eyes, he breathed deeply. The musky air filled his dead lungs. Mixed in was a scent. A scent of still flowing blood. Picking up on it, he turned this way and that, trying to find where it was strongest. Eventually, he stood in the doorway to one of the side chambers. The smell was coming from this direction. Opening his eyes, he proceeded to a pair of doors, one on either side of the hallway. Listening at both, he could hear scuffle noises and breathing from behind one of them. Making sure his helmet was on, he opened the door and stood framed in the doorway.

Beyond the door, two men stood staring at him. The first was dressed like a member of the Imperial Legion. He had a steel longsword and shield and was dressed in full battle garb. The second was a Breton man, dressed in fine clothes and sporting a ponytail. He looked almost feverishly excited when he spied Oniyama standing in the doorframe.

"Yes! You've come! That dreadful Black Sacrament has worked!" He exclaimed.

"The Dark Brotherhood bids you welcome, mister Motierre." He replied enigmatically.

"Yes! I've been expecting you...wait...how did you know my name?" He asked.

"It is of no import, mister Motierre. What do you wish of us?"

"Yes...well...I want to contract you for an assassination. Several, actually." He motioned his bpdyguard forward. "Rexus! The items!"

The bodyguard, Rexus, moved to join them from the far side of the crypt. He produced a sealed letter and an amulet. Both of these he gave to Oniyama. Then he stepped back a respectful distance.

Motierre spoke again. "The sealed letter details every task I wish the Dark Brotherhood to undertake in precise detail. The amulet is there to be sold to cover any and all expenses these plans incur. Take both to your superior."

Oniyama inclined his head. "It shall be done."

"Good. Good. Now, you ought to know that these first assassinations are only a means to an end. They aren't particularly who I want dead. They're just the pathway by which I aim to get at the real target. The person I really want dead is..." He paused, apparently for dramatic effect. "...the Emperor." He rubbed his hands together greedily. "Can you imagine? The fame and respect the Dark Brotherhood would enjoy for completing this contract? Of course you can! Well, off you go." He waved a hand dismissively.

Despite being somewhat offended by his attitude, Oniyama knew better than to comment on it. For the moment, this man was a contract giver and those were held in the highest regard unless they themselves impeded the Dark Brotherhood's work. Motierre didn't strike him as the kind of fool who'd be so stupid as to commit that error. He turned and headed out of the tomb without another word to either of them.

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The sun was blazing down intensely on the river bridge that Oniyama stood upon. Just across it stood Half Moon Mill. Even from this distance, he could clearly smell the two vampires that tended to it. Herk and her mate, Hern, were not warriors per se, but they did carry weapons and armour. And they were vampires. He didn't fight his own kind too often these days. Not out of any regard for his kin's safety or well being, more out of a desire to just do the work he was assigned to do. Blacksmithing and enchanting hadn't required hunting vampires, so he hadn't done so before. The Dark Brotherhood didn't require it either, so he hadn't done it now. Well, except for now, he supposed. This wasn't going to be easy.

The vampires were keenly aware of his presence as well. Neither had blatantly stared in his direction, but their movements about the mill made it clear that they were fully aware of his presence and the threat that presence represented. The only reason they hadn't attacked him outright was because he hadn't shown any obvious signs of aggression either. They were business people, first and foremost. Attacking intimidating looking potential customers was bad for business.

He'd originally thought of waiting until nightfall and trying to break into their hut whilst they slept. However, as vampires, they possessed superior senses of both hearing and smell, just as he did. They would have to be heavy sleepers indeed not to hear his lockpicks in the door. Apart from which they'd smell him well in advance of any approach he made on their abode. There was just no way he'd maintain the element of surprise, so instead of trying to do so fruitlessly, he had decided to forgo it entirely.

Now he sauntered off the bridge toward the mill. Hern was up on the lumber cutter platform, Herk was dealing with a customer who'd apparently come to order house supplies. Even though she was distracted by the Nord, he was keenly aware of how she was tense and poised to pounce on him at a moment's notice. If the Nord she was speaking to noticed, he made no mention of it.

Hern saw him coming and abandoned the lumber for the moment, but he kept the lumber hook in his right hand. A prudent measure. Oniyama continued striding up to him until they stood mere feet apart. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Herk quickly finish with the Nord, then turn her attention fully onto the pair of them.

"What's your business here, stranger?" Hern asked roughly.

"Nothing good, I'm afraid." He replied apologetically. "I come on behalf of the Dark Brotherhood. Someone has put a contract on your life."

Hern's eyes widened and he tensed, expecting an attack. When none came, he spoke again, guardedly. "So? You just expect me to roll over and die? Is that it?"

"No. I expect we will fight and in all likelihood, you will die. However, the contract is only for you. I have no desire to hurt your mate. I thought I would offer you a chance to spare her life." He said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Hern looked to his partner. She was watching the pair of them with fear in her eyes, but she said nothing. He looked back to Oniyama. "You expect her to just watch me die and let you walk away?" He asked skeptically.

"No. I expect her to leap to your defense and die at your side." He replied. "And if that is her choice, I will have to respect it and slay her. I won't like it though. I have no wish to cause unnecessary bloodshed. I will wait at the bridge. You have one hour. If you attempt to flee I will pursue you. I will not engage your mate unless she attacks me." He turned and started walking back the way he had come without waiting for a reply.

The attack was so sudden, so blindingly fast, that he would have succumbed to it were he not also a vampire. Hern jumped at his back, intending to bury the lumber hook in his skull. He sensed the tremor in the ground as Hern pushed off of it and reacted instantly. Under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have been very concerned. The lumber hook was made of steel, but it didn't have the raw penetrating power to go through daedric metal. Or it wouldn't, except it was a vampire that was wielding it. In Hern's hands, that hook would plow straight through nearly any part of his suit, as long as it hit on a direct angle. Because of this, rather than try to turn and face his attacker, he dove to one side, away from Herk's direction and into a somersault. Hern's strike caught nothing but air. Oniyama rolled with his dive and came up facing the pair of them. Hern was already bracing his legs for another leap at him. Herk was rushing his position, drawing out a steel handaxe.

Realizing he had no time to draw his own formidable weapon, he instead started retreating and reaching into his armour for the daedric dagger. When his hand felt nothing where it usually resided, he cursed his own forgetfulness. Babette still had it. He couldn't draw his greataxe without leaving himself open to that mean hook, so instead he'd have to do this bare handed. Well, bare gauntleted at any rate. At least until the hook was out of Hern's hand.

Hern's second leap aimed the hook at his face. He brought his hands up to block, not the weapon itself, but the arm holding it. The sharp end stopped a mere foot from the face hole in his helmet as his hands caught Hern's arm in a vice-grip. In the next instant, Herk leaped into the fray and rang him in the side of the head with a bash from the flat cheek of her handaxe. It didn't stun him, but it certainly got his attention. Herk might not have been a real threat with her choice of weapon, but apparently she realized its inadequacies and was using it to its best capacity. That was going to make things more difficult. He needed his greataxe.

Hern wasn't letting up. He wrenched his arms out of Oniyama's grip and started maneuvering to put Oniyama between himself and Herk, to better divide his attention and possibly create an opening. He kept trying to bury the hook into different parts of Oniyama's body as he re-positioned, keeping the assassin's attention focused on him.

Herk, meanwhile, was staying slightly farther back and sizing up her options. If she had access to a better weapon, she wasn't seizing on the opportunity. Then she struck out, not with her axe, but with her bare hand and the cunning of the vampire lovers' plan fell upon Oniyama with the force of a warhammer. He felt Herk's hand grasp the haft of his greataxe and try to wrench it off his back. If she or her mate got their hands on that, he was a dead Orc. Instead of resisting the force of the pull, which might have torn the axe from its sheath, he leaned back and followed the momentum, effectively letting her pull his entire body along for a ride. She had expected him to try and resist and when he didn't, she wound up pulling him straight into her. She wasn't ready for that, but he was. As he felt himself collide into her, he levered his elbow joint and brought his fist up in a backhanded punch that caught her square in the jaw. The force of it staggered her and she released her grip on the haft of his weapon. Instead of following up, he took the opportunity to spin around behind her, effectively putting Herk between himself and Hern.

Hern had tried to follow when Oniyama had let himself be literally almost carried away, but he hadn't managed to snag the hook into Oniyama's armour. Now Herk was in between them and he was paralyzed by indecision. Did he save his mate from the assassin's grasp? Or did he try to attack through her and hope that he would drive the assassin away? Unfortunately for Hern, his pause, though slight, was exactly what Oniyama had been waiting for.

Seeing his quarry hesitate, he wasted no time reaching behind himself and drawing forth the greataxe that Herk had nearly taken from him. As it cleared the sheath, he pushed out with his free hand, driving Herk toward Hern and giving himself space to brandish his blade.

Hern caught Herk and helped her steady herself. Together, the two of them settled into defensive positions and prepared for the assassin's retaliation.

They didn't have long to wait. Oniyama rushed forward and swung wide, aiming to injure the two vampires any way he could. He kept the swing under control so as not to leave himself open due to inertia.

The pair of them, having been awaiting such an attack, jumped clear of the swing. If they thought to capitalize on the inertia, the opportunity didn't present itself. Once again they started to split apart, so that he couldn't attack the both of them at the same time. They also distanced themselves from him so they would have more time to react to any movements he made.

Seeing his prey withdraw, Oniyama had an idea. Holding his axe in one hand, he reached down and grabbed up one of the invisibility potions he'd bought from Bothela in Markarth. Without taking his eyes off the vampires, he gulped down its contents and disappeared from view.

Contrary to Alain Dufont, Herk and Hern were completely aware of the potion's limitations. Instead of continuing to retreat, they rushed forward, hoping to spur him into sudden movement and dispel the potion early. The two of them swiped wide, both high and low, with their respective weapons, hoping to locate him by touch or sound. However, their weapons hit only air.

Oniyama had, of course, not moved far, but he had actually gone towards the pair of them immediately after drinking the potion. This had the effect of the pair of them passing him right before swinging their weapons at his old position. Instead of trying to pounce on them the way he had on Dufont, he continued in his chosen direction. The vampires started fanning out behind him, swinging their weapons wildly in a vain attempt to locate him.

After making it some fifty feet away, he turned and surveyed his progress. By his count he still had two minutes of invisibility left, but the potion was only buying him a reprieve unless he did something with it. Herk and Hern had ceased trying to locate him separately and were now standing back-to-back. They were still taking frantic swings at the space around them, but their progress was slow going. They weren't even heading in his direction. Being careful not to make any noise, he set his greataxe on the ground and leaned it against his leg. Then he reached up over his back and drew out his bow and a couple of daedric arrows. He nocked one of the arrows and took aim at the pair of vampires. It was difficult to do so because he couldn't actually see the bow, but he was trusting to his years of experience as a competent archer and hopefully the enchantment in his gauntlets would help out too. He just wasn't sure whether the bowstring would dispel the potion or not. He'd have to be ready to pick up his greataxe in a hurry if it did. He waited for the vampires to complete another circle. As Hern came around to 'face' him, he loosed his shot.

The arrow was invisible until it cleared the bow, then it came into stark contrast as it sliced through the midafternoon air. Hern saw it coming, but only at the last possible second. He tried to dodge out of the way and warn his mate, but he could only really do one of those two things. As he stepped clear of the line of fire, the arrow instead sank its way straight through Herk's head and she dropped like a stone in a pond.

Hern let loose an animal roar of bestial grief and fury as his mate died beside him. He gripped the lumber hook tighter and whirled on his attacker, but no one was there.

'Interesting.' Oniyama thought to himself. 'Firing a bow does not dispel the invisibility potion. That's going to come in handy.' He nocked another arrow and aimed once more at Hern's infuriated face.

Hern was slashing at the air and coming in his general direction, though not quickly. He still had enough reason left to know that Oniyama was still out there and in what general direction to be searching. Apart from that, though, his reason was gone. Now he just wanted blood. Damn that assassin for his cold-blooded ruthlessness. (It didn't even occur to him that he had gotten his own mate killed by spurning Oniyama's offer of having an hour to convince her not to engage.)

Watching his target, Oniyama couldn't help feel a pang of regret. He honestly hadn't wanted to kill Herk if it could have been avoided. He'd been sincere about avoiding her death because she was not his target. Now, his hand had been forced. He'd honestly thought the arrow was going to hit Hern when he'd fired it, but Hern's reflexes were even better than he'd given them credit for. It was time to put the grieving widower out of his misery. He aimed carefully again and waited for Hern to swing his hook. As soon as he did, he loosed his shot. Hern was barely twenty five feet away. This time he caught sight of the arrow immediately, but between the inertia of his swing and the short distance, all that got him was forewarning of his own demise. The arrow plonked him squarely in the forehead and he fell.

Replacing the bow on his back, he moved forward to retrieve the arrows from Herk and Hern. The potion dispelled, but he no longer needed it. Since both arrows had penetrated completely through their heads, it was easier to just pull the rest of the arrow through each wound before washing them in the river. Since neither Herk nor Hern had worn a helmet, the arrows had suffered no damage and went straight back into his quiver. Then he made his way south towards the sanctuary. This was a grim business he had chosen for himself and it was not without its own set of dangers, but he had chosen this path and he was determined to see it through, come what may.

Chapter Text

Oniyama sat in the dining hall of the sanctuary enjoying a mug of mead. Well, enjoying was too strong of a word, but he was relaxing from a rather hectic couple of days.

Astrid had not said a word to him when he'd returned and he'd taken that to mean she was still fine with not seeing him, despite her order for him to report to her on the meeting with Amaund Motierre. He was almost completely certain that once he made that report he'd have more work to do, so he was taking a break while he had the chance.

At the other end of the table, Gabriella was sitting and eating. She looked up from her meal every once in a while with an evil little smile on her lips as she looked in his direction. She hadn't actually said anything to him, but she hadn't stopped the glances either.

'I really hope she's as good at keeping a secret as Babette believes.' He silently prayed to no one in particular. Thankfully, Nazir was not present. Exactly where he was, Oniyama had no idea, but the man struck him as sharp enough to pick up on the subtle clues Gabriella was displaying. As her eyes glanced in his direction once more, he decided enough was enough. He stood from his seat, bringing his mead with him, and walked to the opposite end of the table. He sat across from her and leaned in to speak softly. "Go ahead. Say it."

"Say what, brother?" She replied innocently.

"I don't know what you're going to say, but you clearly want to say something." He responded in an exasperated tone.

She giggled. It sounded almost childish, but she might actually be older than he was, being an Elf. "Well, alright. I just have to say that I'm rather shocked that you fell for Babette instead of me. New members usually swoon at the sight of me." She giggled again. "Not that I'm jealous or anything. I think it's absolutely precious that you fancy little children over grown women!" She burst out laughing as silently as she could, with great heaving breaths and soft chuckles.

"Yes, yes, laugh it up." He retorted. "As if I don't have enough problems to deal with. Now I have to put up with you."

"Oh, don't worry." She reassured him. "I won't spread this to anyone. I won't keep mocking you about it either, but I just had to mock you once because, well, it's absolutely hilarious." Her tone changed into something more amicable. "It's almost a shame that you fancy Babette. After the way she told me you handled Astrid, I almost want to jump your bones myself."

He stared at her skeptically. "Seriously? Is there anyone in this sanctuary that doesn't want to fuck me?"

Gabriella smiled evilly again. "Well, I imagine Arnbjorn's not keen on the idea of popping your cherry. Popping your head off your shoulders maybe, but definitely not your cherry."

"Ok, let me rephrase that: are there any women in this sanctuary that don't want to fuck my brains out?"

She was still giggling as quietly as she could manage. "Well, I can't say for certain, but my pet frostbite Lis hasn't expressed any interest in mating with you." She collapsed into silent laughter once more.

"Oh goodie." He sighed. "What else did Babette tell you?"

She stopped laughing and eyed him cunningly. "Why? What do you think she told me?"

"Nope!" He pushed himself away from the table. "I'm not saying one more word to you. Fuck this shit, I'm out."

She frowned, but her eyes were still playful. "Spoilsport. And here I thought you'd tell a pretty woman anything."

"I would, but I don't see any here." He replied without missing a beat.

Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth to rail at him before catching herself. "Oh, you naughty boy." She wagged her finger at him. "That was a good one. I nearly fell for that."

He circulated his hand in a mock bow. "Thank you. You're not the only one who can mock effectively."

She smiled again, this time sincerely. "I can see why Babette is so enamored with you. I really wish I'd gotten to know you better before she sank her hooks into you."

"I'm not her servant." He asserted. "And we haven't proclaimed our undying love for one another either."

Gabriella smirked. "Just married and already shopping for a mistress? I'm flattered."

He was not impressed with this observation and it showed on his face. "Ha ha. Go fuck yourself."

She giggled once again. "I might have to. A man hasn't made me this horny since...gods...I can't even remember."

He stared at her disapprovingly. "Ok, that's enough ribbing. Babette trusts you which means I have to trust you as well. But that doesn't mean I have to tell you everything. If Babette mentions it first, I'm willing to discuss it, but until you prove she's mentioned it to you, I'm not saying anything more about any of this."

"A prudent measure, brother." She concurred. "I'm not even offended." She stood up but leaned down to whisper one more thing. "I also think it's sexy as hell how you just assumed I was teasing about being horny, stud." She straightened up, gave him a wink, then strutted away, swaying her hips to make her ass jiggle as she climbed the stairs to the next room.

Oniyama sat there, stunned. Had these women never before encountered an assertive male? Seriously? Well, Astrid obviously had, since she was married, but surely Gabriella and Babette had seen someone like him before...Ok...maybe not like him, but assertiveness was not exactly a rare trait. Then again, being self-assured in front of a female wasn't difficult, but if that female was a trained assassin? He supposed he could see why it might be a little more difficult for most men to be confident given those kinds of conditions. They still ought not be as rare as his recent conversations were apparently making them out to be, especially given the reputation of the Nordic people. He shook his head. Whatever the deal was with these women, it was sadly his problem to deal with. In his younger days he might have enjoyed the thought of multiple women trying to lie with him, but decades of experience had taught him the kind of drama such entanglements usually brought.

"Are you sure you don't want to put your arrow in her knee after all?" A taunting voice drifted down from above and behind him.

He turned in his seat. Babette was in the small 'room' at the top of the log staircase leading out of the dining hall. She had a knowing grin on her face and an evil twinkle in her eyes.

"I told you before, we have to have a connection. I barely know the woman." He replied defensively. "But why do I get the impression that, even if I did want to, you wouldn't mind all that much?"

Babette shrugged, but the grin stayed on her lips. "Because I wouldn't mind, at all. Jealousy really isn't my style. Besides which, I don't get horny too often. I could absolutely understand if you needed a second outlet for your sexual needs."

"Well, thanks for being so understanding, but right now, one outlet is plenty. I rather doubt I'm going to be in the mood for the next little while in any case." He stood from the table and climbed the stairs to stand next to her.

"Why do you say that, brother?" She asked.

"Because once I finish this mug, I have to report to Astrid about our latest contract and it's a doozy." He took a swig from the cup to emphasize his point.

"Ok, now you have my curiosity piqued. What's this contract you've taken on?" She looked at him expectantly.

He glanced around. He saw no one, but that didn't mean people weren't there. He motioned her to follow him back to his bunkroom. Once inside, he dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper and said. "Amaund Motierre wants us to assassinate several people with the end goal being the assassination of Emperor Titus Mede the second."

Babette's eyes nearly popped out of her head, but she managed to not make a sound. "The last time anyone attempted such a thing was Uriel Septim and that was two hundred years ago."

"Tell me about it. This sanctuary is about to get very busy. That was why I was trying to catch a little downtime before I set the wheels in motion." He sighed. "But Gabriella wouldn't even let me have that. Guess I have to go face the music now." He took a long gulp to finish the mead left in the tankard. He'd pass through the dining hall on his way back to Astrid.

Babette laid a hand on his arm. "Don't worry, I'll speak to Gabriella about laying off you."

He shook his head. "No, don't do that. It would give the impression that I need you to fight my battles for me. Instead, why don't you tell me exactly what you've told Gabriella. I want to know what's safe to discuss in her presence and what isn't."

"I only told her that you and I are in a relationship. I didn't say how far we've gone, or anything about your promotion to Listener or Astrid's mistake. I trust her, but those last two aren't my secrets to tell." She smiled warmly at him. "But you can trust Gabriella. She might like to rag on you whenever she sees an opportunity, but if you need an ally, you can always count on her. I trust her with my life."

"Don't all of you trust each other with your lives?" He retorted. "Isn't that how this is supposed to work?"

She shrugged with her palms turned upwards. "Under most circumstances, sure. But recent events have started to fracture those bonds. I mean, I still trust Gabriella and Veezara, but Nazir and Arnbjorn are still firmly in Astrid's camp. Festus...well, he's probably on Cicero's side and therefore yours, but he and I have never really gotten along. We respect each other and are cordial to each other, but that's about it."

"Huh. Well, that's not what I expected. Not entirely, anyway." He turned and grasped the door handle. "I'd better go see Astrid now. Expect your workload to increase dramatically once I do."

She shrugged again. "Meh, it's not like I wasn't getting bored with how dull things have gotten around here anyway."

He looked back skeptically. "Yes, because things have been positively lackadaisical around here."

"Hey, I wasn't promoted to Listener. Don't expect me to view the last couple of days the same way you do." She quipped.

He stared at her a moment longer then left the room. He was absolutely not looking forward to this conversation, but it was about time he had it. He made his way to the antechamber at the front of the sanctuary.

Astrid still stood poring over the table with its myriad notes and maps. Unlike every other time she'd heard his approach, she did not immediately turn around and greet (or berate) him. In fact, she acted as though she hadn't heard his approach at all, despite his heavy gait and clear clanking of his armour all the way up the stairs.

He stood there for several long seconds waiting to see if she would acknowledge his presence. When it became clear that she wouldn't, he cleared his throat noisily.

Her head raised slightly. "Yes? What is it?" Her tone was practically ice made sound.

"I have been to Volunruud and spoken to Amaund Motierre." He replied succinctly.

"And?"

"He wishes to contract us for several assassinations with the goal of each assassination being to further our progress toward the next target."

"And what does he get out of this?" He'd never heard her ask so many questions before.

"Apparently his end goal is the assassination of Emperor Titus Mede the second." He said evenly.

Astrid's head raised fully away from the table. Then she slowly turned to face him with a disbelieving look on her face. "The Emperor? You're joking..."

He reached into his armour and produced the amulet and sealed letter. He handed both of them to Astrid.

Astrid cast a cursory glance over the amulet before placing it on the table behind her. Next she broke the seal on the letter and began to read it rapidly. Her eyes widened noticeably as she made progress through the document. "You're not joking..." She said slowly as she finished the letter and returned her gaze to him. "To assassinate an Emperor...the Dark Brotherhood hasn't done that in centuries. Hell, no one has even attempted it since Uriel Septim, but if we could pull it off..." Her voice trailed off as she stared past him at the wall.

"Does this mean we're going to accept the contract?" He asked.

Her eyes snapped back to him with a mischievous gleam in them. "You're damn right we're going to accept it! Assassinating the Emperor will earn the Dark Brotherhood the kind of fear and respect we haven't enjoyed for two hundred years." She turned and dropped the letter on the table. Picking up the amulet again, she started to examine it more closely. "But first, we, or should I say you, need to do something. This amulet is supposed to cover the expenses this contract is going to incur. We need to know what it is, how much it's worth and if we can get away with selling it." She looked at him. "Take it to Delvin Mallory. He's a fence that operates out of the Ratway in Riften. He and the Brotherhood have history together. He can be trusted. Show him the amulet and if he's willing to buy it, let him. He'll offer you a letter of credit. That's fine, it's what he usually does. Once you've done that, report back to me. You're going to have a lot of work ahead of you when you get back." She handed him the amulet.

He took a closer look at the trinket and a memory stirred in him. "Astrid, I'm no fence, so I can't sell this thing, but I can tell you what it is."

She looked at him with a fierce curiosity. "What is it?"

He examined it closely one last time to be absolutely certain before replying. "An Elder Council amulet. Each member of the Elder Council has one of these made custom ordered to signify their position."

"How in Oblivion do you know that?" Her tone was incredulous.

He shrugged. "I've read a lot of books."

She held his gaze a moment longer before returning her attention to the Elder Council amulet. "So...Amaund is looking to do a little self promotion with the help of the Dark Brotherhood...Oh Motierre, you ambitious little fool..." She chuckled softly. She looked at him again. "Well, it's good to know immediately what it is, but it doesn't change the fact that you still have to go to Riften and get Delvin Mallory to buy it."

He nodded. "I just have to turn in a contract with Nazir before I go."

"Very well." She replied casually. She turned on her heel and disappeared into the adjoining room. He still had no idea what the room was, but following her just to satisfy his curiosity was a blatantly foolish idea.

Instead, he turned on his heel as well and descended back to the main hall. While it was true that he had to turn in the Hern contract, he also wanted to speak to the Night Mother again. If what she told him was true, he could speak to her from any point in the sanctuary (and from a growing radius outside it), but first he'd turn in the contract.

Nazir was off in the corner of the main hall, sharpening his scimitar on the grinding wheel. He stood from his work as he saw his brother's approach. "I take it you're here to collect on that contract for Hern the vampire?"

Oniyama nodded. "You were right. Herk did try to leap to his defense. I suppose that means they now serve Sithis together."

Nazir reached down and produced a coin pouch from his robes. He handed it over. "Respect where respect is due. You faced two vampires and lived to walk away. I know you're a vampire yourself, but that would still be quite the challenge."

"It was one of the most challenging fights I've had in quite some time." He admitted. "It took all of my cunning to find a way through their defenses."

Nazir smiled. "It's good to see you aren't letting that armour of yours go to your head. I've seen plenty of young bucks come into the brotherhood and believe themselves to be invincible, only to wind up serving Sithis a week later. I fully expected you to turn out the same way, but you're well aware of the dangers of hubris. It's...refreshing."

Oniyama smiled warmly in kind. "Thank you for noticing. I thought you'd be sarcastic towards me forever. I'm glad we could become friends."

Nazir looked away at this comment before nodding and returning his gaze with a small 'hmph' of approval. "I guess we have at that. You've got to be the quickest friend I've made in the Brotherhood in years."

"Ok. Let's stop this heart gushing moment before we both cry manly tears of joy." He retorted sarcastically.

Nazir laughed. "Couldn't have put it better myself." He turned away and sat back at the grinding wheel to finish sharpening his weapon.

Chuckling to himself, Oniyama made his way up to the Night Mother's room. Inside he found Cicero sitting on a chair.

He jumped to his feet as Oniyama entered. "Listener! How may I assist you?"

Oniyama shook his head. "I require nothing, Keeper. Be at ease."

Cicero nodded and sat back down upon the chair. He sat very woodenly though, as if expecting to be called to service at a moment's notice.

Oniyama turned his attention from the odd little man and knelt at the foot of the Night Mother's coffin. 'It is done, mother. Amaund Motierre wishes the death of Emperor Titus Mede the second.'

The soothing sensation came upon him. 'I am aware of this, child. I watched the entire exchange between yourself and him. Speak freely, I can sense that something else is troubling you.'

She was very perceptive. 'I am worried that I may have been too confrontational with Astrid when I arrived back at the sanctuary. You seem to know what she is thinking far better than I. Have I stepped over the line?'

Again, he felt a hand cradle the side of his face, though there was nothing there. 'Your concern for my plans does you credit, Listener. You did not err with regards to how you defended yourself from Astrid's abuse. However, continuing to push her buttons could result in a widening of the schism that Cicero is working tirelessly to bridge. I do not expect you to let her slap you around, but perhaps tone back the taunts and insults from now on.'

He bowed his head further. 'I shall do as you instruct.' The soothing sensation melted away. He pushed off from his knee and rose to a standing position. then he turned and, with a nod to Cicero, left the room. It would be difficult, not rising to Astrid's bait, but he'd give it his damned best try. It was high time he set off for Riften.

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The gloom of the Ragged Flagon was not enough to hide it's decrepit appearance from Oniyama. Even as he stepped in from the Ratways, he was aware of the rotting wood tables, the tarnished metal mugs, the general grime and decay on the floor. One might expect this from a tavern being run out of a sewer, but any drinking establishment ought to respect itself enough not to allow such abysmal conditions to continue. At least, that was how he saw it. He was certainly glad he was here on business and not because he was thirsty. He didn't fancy the mead or the blood he'd find in this place. He spotted Delvin Mallory at one of the dirt-encrusted tables and made a beeline for him.

Mallory watched his approach with a degree of disdain and apprehension. "You lost? Or are you just stupid?" His words had all the bite of a superior, but his eyes betrayed how nervous he really was.

"You of all people should know, Mallory." Oniyama replied menacingly. "The Dark Brotherhood is never lost."

The disdain melted out of Mallory's eyes, but the apprehension remained. "Ah...so you're with them. How is Astrid? Haven't seen her in a long, long time."

"She is well. She has dispatched me to seek your appraisal of a certain item." He reached into his armour and produced the Elder Council amulet. He gently placed it on the table.

Mallory picked it up and examined it closely. "What do you have here? Hmmm..." He turned the amulet over and over in his hands. Suddenly, he dropped it. It hit the table with a solid THUNK! He looked up at Oniyama. "Where...? Where...did you get this?" His face had paled visibly.

"Do you really wish to know?" Oniyama asked back rhetorically.

Despite the question's rhetorical nature, Delvin answered it anyway. "No. No, I know better than to ask too many questions of the Brotherhood, but from the sounds of it, you already know what this is. Why come to me?"

"We know what it is, but we want to sell it. Astrid told me that's where you come in." He gestured towards him.

He glanced at the amulet again like it was a live snake. "Yeah...yeah, I can sell it. Here." He reached into his clothes and produced a folded piece of parchment. "This is a letter of credit. Take it to Astrid."

Oniyama accepted the proffered letter and tucked it into his armour. "The Dark Brotherhood thanks you for your services." He intoned. Then he turned on his heel and headed out of the Flagon. 'It's still amusing making the warmbloods sweat.' He mused.

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Astrid pounced on him as soon as he was inside the sanctuary. "Well? Is it done?" He'd never seen her so animated.

"Yes, Astrid. Here is your letter." He produced the letter of credit.

She took it from him and glanced over it. Then she turned and headed back down the stairs with him in tow. The two of them took up positions across from each other by the map table before she spoke again. "Good...good. With that formality out of the way, we're ready to begin. Or, more specifically, you're ready to begin. Hope you've got some nice clothes to wear." She grinned. "You're going to a wedding."

"What are the details?"

"The wedding is in Solitude. Your target is Vittoria Vici, the blushing bride herself. If you leave before day's end, you should reach Solitude in time for the celebration." She was still grinning evilly. "Oh, and Vittoria is likely to address her party guests several times over the course of the wedding, as tradition dictates. If you manage to kill her while she's in the middle of one of these speeches, I'll have an extra reward for you. Now go." She dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

He wasn't satisfied with how she was treating him, but the Night Mother's advisory to rein in his defiant streak was fresh in his mind so he let it pass. Instead, he brushed past her and made his way deeper into the sanctuary. He didn't have a side contract this time, but he wanted to see Babette again. He made his way to the dormitories. He looked in on Babette's room, but she was not there. Next, he passed through the dining hall, but she wasn't there either. Lastly, he made his way to the small room with the alchemy and enchanting apparatuses. Here, sitting at a small table just above the spider pit, he found Babette and Gabriella sitting together. Festus was using the enchanting table.

Babette was facing the door and saw him enter. "Ah, brother. How is your day?"

Gabriella turned to look in his direction. He saw her lips curl into a mischievous smile, but she discreetly said nothing.

He walked over to the table and sat down between the two ladies. "It's going well. Hadn't seen you in several days, so I wanted to check in."

Babette smiled. "You see Gab? Strong, dutiful and always thinking of others before himself."

Gabriella nodded. "Oh yes, I can see what you see, Babs." Her legs twitched under the table.

He noticed the movement and glared at her.

Unperturbed, she gave a facial shrug in reply. Then she went back to eyeing him up.

Exasperated, he turned his attention back to Babette. She was watching the pair of them with a devilish smile. She caught his eye and gave him a shrug of her own. "What? Did you expect me to be jealous or something?" She said softly.

"No, I'm beginning to understand that that's not who you are." He replied evenly. "Anyway, I'm heading off to Solitude very soon. My first target is the bride of a wedding. From the sounds of things, it's not going to be possible to discreetly eliminate her.." He sighed. "So it should be plenty of fun."

Babette frowned, but only in jest. "Boo. You get the fun stuff. All I get to do is help Gab with her contract." Her eyes lit up. "Unless you'd like me to help with yours?"

He smiled. "No, sister. Things are liable to get pretty heated in Solitude. I'd rather not have to worry about you getting run through while I'm hightailing it from the guards. I'll let you know if there's a contract coming up that requires guile. That's where you're most useful."

"Hey! Are you saying I can't fight?!" She shot back at him.

"On the contrary, I'm sure you're an extremely competent fighter." He reassured her. "However, I don't fancy your chances at taking out a hundred guards in steel armour with nothing but that dagger I gave you. You might be quick, but that's some pretty lengthy odds to beat."

She glared at him for a second longer before bowing her head. "You're right, of course. I've had to accept many limitations because of my size. This is just another one of them."

Gabriella reached across the table and patted her on the arm. "Don't worry, Babs. There'll be plenty for you to do on my contract. You won't be bored, I guarantee it."

Babette perked up. "Oh? Will there be fooling gullible idiots into letting me within arm's reach?"

"There might be some of that, but most of it will be poisoning a few key middlemen without killing them. Plenty of suffering all around." Gabriella replied. "I could definitely use your expert skills to brew up some poisons quickly."

Babette mulled this over. "I do love me some expert potion making..." She clapped her hands together. "I accept your assurances that I won't be bored on your contract. When do we leave?"

"In the morning. I need to go to Falkreath today and get the ingredients you'll need for the poisons I have in mind." Gabriella turned to Oniyama. "You wouldn't want to help me carry all those back here would you, brother?"

He gave her a skeptical look. "Unless you're buying entire schools of abecean longfish and entire harvests of juniper berries, I don't see why you can't carry those ingredients back by yourself. Besides which, I need to leave for Solitude, remember?"

She pouted. "Rats. Well, can't blame a girl for trying." She stood from the table, nodded to the pair of them and left.

They watched her go. When she had disappeared from sight, Oniyama turned to Babette. "I should be off as well, sister, but I wanted to ask: what did Astrid chew you out for?"

Babette's look turned serious. "She berated me for failing in my mission and allowing myself to be captured. Like it was my fault or something. She asked me to find out what that Altmer bastard was studying. How was I supposed to know it was vampirism and that he'd have a way to see through my façade?" Her frown turned into a childish pout. "She even berated me for taking up your precious time with my rescue."

"Ah. I was wondering if she'd make that point or not." He replied knowingly.

She stared into his eyes. "You knew she'd say that?"

"Well, I didn't know." He conceded. "But I had my suspicions after she tried to call me out for being..." He trailed off. Festus was still at the enchanting table. He hadn't made any sign that he'd heard them, but that didn't mean he wasn't listening. "Well, you know what she accused me of. You were listening in."

Babette nodded with her own glance toward Festus.

"Well, anyway, after that bit I figured she'd also try to berate you for anything she possibly could." He sat back in the chair. It creaked a great deal, what with the weight it was being meant to hold, but hold it did.

"She's changed so much in such a short period of time." Babette lamented. "I pity her."

"I do as well, sister. I don't know her half as well as any of the rest of you do, but from the sounds of things, she was a great leader."

"She was better than great. She's the best leader the Dark Brotherhood has had in years!" Festus chimed in from the enchanting table, betraying his eavesdropping. He turned to face the pair of them. "You talk like she's been deposed. Best not let her or Arnbjorn hear you say that!" He gave them both a disapproving frown.

"Worry not, brother." Oniyama replied in a conciliatory tone. "I may be new to the Brotherhood, but I am well aware of the Tenets."

"Hmph...Good." He turned away and strode through the door-frame leading to the dining hall.

"He's always been such a busybody." Babette said. "Always acts so superior too."

"It's no wonder that twig of his rotted off decades ago, then." Oniyama quipped. "Who wants to sleep with a know-it-all?"

Babette tried to suppress her laughter and failed miserably. She broke out into a series of girlish chuckles and guffaws. "Oh, you're naughty. Poking fun at a brother like that!"

"It's nothing the others won't do to me if and when they find out about our relationship." He replied defiantly. "But, all jokes aside, I really must be off. I've got a decent sized journey ahead of me."

"I'll walk you out brother." Babette stood from her position at the table.

"You sure? I imagine Astrid won't be terribly pleased with the sight of the two of us strolling dreamily by."

"Well, that's too bad for her then. I am allowed to see my brother off on his contract if I so choose." Her tone was as defiant as his was a moment ago.

He could find no fault with her logic. He stood, donned his helmet and led the way out of the sanctuary.

As the pair of them passed by Astrid's antechamber, she whirled on them. "Babette! I do not give you leave to follow your brother on his contract!" She said hotly.

"I'm not following him. I'm seeing him off." She replied evenly. "Or is that against your laws too?"

Astrid eyed the pair of them. Oniyama was glad he'd put his helmet on before coming up here. Otherwise, Astrid might have seen the apprehension in his expression. Finally, she shook her head. "No...no it is not 'against my laws' as you put it. Be sure to return posthaste, sister. Gabriella requires your aid far more than he does."

Babette frowned at her. "Gabriella has already informed me that we won't be leaving until tomorrow. No haste is required."

"Gabriella is mistaken. As soon as she returns from Falkreath, the pair of you will be departing. So do not take long." Her tone was somehow even colder than it had been when she'd spoken to Oniyama last.

Babette continued to frown deeply but did not continue the conversation. Instead, she moved past Oniyama and took the lead out of the sanctuary. He stood looking in Astrid's direction for a moment longer. Surprisingly, she seemed almost uncomfortable under his stare. Then she broke eye contact and turned back to the map table. He followed suit and made his way out of the sanctuary.

Outside, he found Babette staring into the small pool of dark water much as he had before. This time, when she looked at him, there was only relief, no pain. Well, there was pain, but it was nowhere near as sharp as it had been the last time. He moved to stand beside her once more. This time, rather than turning to face the pool, she stayed facing him, looking up into his eyes. Realizing that such a position was likely not comfortable for her, he knelt.

"Well, that was awkward." He observed.

She giggled, but he could tell she was forcing herself. "You're telling me. She might as well have just said that you were hers and I should stop seeing you." Her eyes betrayed that she was hurt somewhat by Astrid's behaviour.

"Do you think we should tell Arnbjorn what his wife is doing?"

For the first time, Babette looked genuinely fearful. "No! Not only would he not believe you, he'd kill you on the spot!"

"Calm down, sister." He urged. "It was only a question."

She visibly tried to make herself relax. "Yes, but it was a stupid question. Don't ask things like that, my heart couldn't take it."

It was his turn to frown. "I'm sorry. I did not mean to worry you."

"It's...alright." She responded. "I know you mean well, but take it from someone who knew Arnbjorn even before he married her matron: never tell him anything about what Astrid thinks of you." She half-smiled. "Unless you want him to try to rip your head off, I guess."

He put his hand over his cold but still beating heart. "I solemnly swear that I shall remember your words and abide by them."

She smiled wider. "Thanks. I feel a little better now."

He rose from where he knelt. "Well, I have to be off. I have to get to Solitude before Vittoria Vici's wedding."

"I understand, brother. I'll see you when I get back." There was a tear forming in her eye, but she wiped it away. If he noticed it, he said nothing.

He turned from her and walked away, heading for the road.

She returned her gaze to the pool of dark water before her. She didn't like watching him leave. Now, more than ever, she felt strangely vulnerable when he was not near. Perhaps it was an emotional response to his rescue of her in the Brood Cavern. She shook her head and sighed. She was quite capable of defending herself. She didn't need him for that. Sure, she was vulnerable to large numbers or surprise attacks, but she had survived for three hundred years facing those odds. She ought not be so fearful of them now. She laughed softly at her own weakness. 'Just a week or two with a man and I'm already adopting the damsel-in-distress mindset.' She thought derisively. 'I'm stronger than this. Just because he's kind but confident doesn't mean I'm-!'

All of a sudden she was swept up by two strong metallic arms. She yelped as her feet left terra firma. The metal arms twisted her around so she was facing her assailant. Then they pushed her forward as a pair of rough lips smashed into her own in a rough, violent kiss. She tensed and tried to struggle, but it was futile. Her attacker was too strong. She tried to force her mouth away so she could scream and alert the others, but one hand held her fast. The other was around her waist, clenching her butt firmly. As she looked into the face of the perpetrator, she froze.

Her assailant was Oniyama.

Her mind started running through a hundred confused thoughts, too fast to even comprehend. Then her heart took over and her eyes drooped closed. Her hands, tensed into fists, relaxed and wrapped themselves around his head. Her legs, kicking out in panic, wrapped themselves around his midsection. And she kissed him back.

The two of them stayed together for long seconds. They didn't entwine their tongues like they had in Morthal, but they didn't break the kiss either. Babette was entranced by his actions. She didn't want this moment to end, even though she knew it must. All of her previous thoughts about remaining separate, remaining strong, they all melted away in the warm glow of affection she felt from his embrace. She was glad she didn't need to breathe. She likely would have had to break off for air by now, were she still mortal. She didn't want that. Divines did she not want that right now!

At last, the hand which held her fast slowly released its grip and she softly broke the kiss. However, she did not retreat far. She looked up into his bright green eyes with her piercing blue ones. They were full of affection. "What...what was that...for?" She asked breathily.

"To reassure you." He whispered back simply. "You don't like me leaving. Don't worry, I'll come back to you."

"You thought I was worried...about...your safety?" She continued in a soft tone. "No man alive...can...harm you-mmmmm..." She leaned back into a kiss.

The kiss this time was brief. They held together for mere seconds. When they broke again, he said. "Well, my mistake. I guess I won't make it again." And he leaned in and kissed her again.

Another few seconds of bliss. Then she leaned back and said. "Oh no. Feel free to make this...mistake...as often as you like." She leaned back in and kissed him on the tusk. "It's one mistake I don't mind you making." She leaned forward and nestled her head against his, safe in his embrace. She could feel his heart beating even through the metal of his breastplate. It was so soothing, it was making her sleepy.

He leaned his head down slightly and rested it on top of hers. They stood in each other's embrace for an eternity comprised of only a minute. Eventually, he started lowering her to the ground.

She straightened her dress and stood up straight. "Well, best you be off before I chain myself to you so we never have to part again." She said, only half-joking.

He rose to his full height until he towered over her. Then he reached down and pinched her cheek lightly. "Be good, kid."

She slapped his hand away. "You watch yourself buster! Or I'm gonna punish you when you get back!"

"I'm counting on it." He said with a cheeky grin. Then he re-donned his helmet and turned once more for the road.

She watched him go until she could hear his footsteps no more. Then, as she turned to head back inside the sanctuary, a noise caught her ears. It was a rustling of some kind, coming from a tree not far from her position. Suspiciously, she stalked toward the sound, making no noise on the pine needles and damp leaves of the forest. The rustling continued. It occurred to her that the rustling had always been there, she just hadn't noticed it while she was distracted by her mate. Now, she was almost upon it. She crouched as she got close, not trusting herself to make no noise as she got within spitting distance of the tree. The rustling was louder now and there was some sort of voice coming from behind it. If it was speaking any sort of language, it was not one she was familiar with. At last, she pressed herself up against the tree and started to edge around it. This close, her heightened hearing could make out that it was a woman's voice, but not any words. It sounded like she was grunting, perhaps in pain. She rounded the tree and stopped dead in her tracks. So stunned was she that her foot landed on a thin dead branch and it snapped under her weight.

Gabriella stood staring down at her with a horrified expression on her face. Next to her was a small bag of alchemy ingredients. It appeared she had hiked up her robes and had been furiously masturbating more and more intensely. Now her one hand was in the middle of sliding two delicate fingers out of her dripping wet cunt. Her other hand was inside her robes, likely massaging her breast. Or they had been, but now they were frozen solid as though they were carved from stone. Although it seemed the situation couldn't get any more awkward, as the seconds lengthened and they stared at each other, Gabriella started to pee.

Babette just stared at her friend. The only sounds were the background noises of the forest and Gabriella's urine as she pissed a puddle into the roots of the tree.

Finally her bladder emptied itself and the stream slowed to a drip. She was breathing very heavily now, but she apparently couldn't move. She just stood there staring at her longtime friend. She started to blush furiously.

Babette watched her blush turn her normally blue skin a vibrant shade of purple. Then she turned herself around and planted herself firmly on the opposite side of the tree. There was a lengthy pause, followed by more rustling, followed by more heavy breathing.

Gabriella came around from her side of the tree fully clothed and gave her an apologetic look. "I don't suppose we could just pretend this never happened?"

Babette looked at her sharply. "No. I don't think we could. We are going to talk about this." She said icily.

"I thought you weren't the jealous type?" Gabriella asked innocently.

"That is not what this is about!" She almost yelled back. Then she took a couple of deep breaths. "We will discuss this on the road. Speaking of which, Astrid has moved up our timetable. She wants us to leave immediately. If you have any belongings you don't have on you, you'd best gather them up."

"What? That's not what she said to me this morning." Gabriella said, surprised.

"Well, you can talk it over with her then, but that's what she told me." She walked quickly over to the sanctuary door.

Gabriella followed close behind. "Why would she change her mind so abruptly?"

Babette turned to look at her. She was still blushing, but it was fading. "I'll tell you about it on the road." She pulled the door open and beckoned Gabriella inside.

Gabriella moved meekly past her and disappeared into the sanctuary. She was about to follow, but then thought better of it. She had no desire to see Astrid again and she had all of her belongings on her already anyway. If Astrid changed her mind again, Gabriella would reappear and tell her. She retreated from the door to observe the pond once more.

Ten minutes later the door opened and Gabriella reappeared. "Well, we'd better get to it. It's a long way to Dragon's Ridge."

"Indeed." Babette moved to join her sister on the road. "But don't think we're not having that conversation on the way." She added sharply.

Gabriella looked at her and blushed again, but said nothing.

Chapter Text

The road was eerily silent as Babette and Gabriella walked along it without speaking. The sun was high in the sky, though it was past noon. The only sounds were their footsteps, one set light, the other heavy. Not a word had passed between the pair as they had made progress from the sanctuary toward Dragon Bridge.

Babette was silent because she was brooding. How dare Gabriella spy on her like that. Friend or no friend, that sort of moment wasn't something you intruded on. 'Well, she didn't exactly intrude.' A small voice in her head said. 'It's not like she interrupted or anything.' But that wasn't the point, which was why she still said nothing. She knew that, deep down, Gabriella desired Oniyama for many of the same reasons she herself did. And she hadn't been lying about being completely OK with Oniyama using Gabriella to satisfy a more robust sex drive if he needed to, but something bothered her about what she'd caught Gabriella doing. Perhaps it shouldn't, but it did.

Gabriella was trying to nonchalantly keep her face hidden in her hood. She had never been more embarassed in her life! Oh sure, she'd been humiliated once or twice before. One did not get to be her age without suffering a slip-up or two. Now, however, she was trying to find the words to justify her actions to her friend. She couldn't because there were none. Some small part of her mind reasoned that she really hadn't done anything wrong per se, but she ought to have taken more care and not gotten caught. She thought back to the moments prior to her encounter.

She'd been making her way back to the sanctuary when she'd heard voices. As she got close, she'd recognized them as Oniyama and Babette. Not wishing to intrude upon what might be a tender moment, she'd sidled up to a tree to watch and wait. She saw the two of them say goodbye, watched as the imposing Orc had made his way to the road (being cautious to stay hidden from his keen senses) before witnessing him turning and sprinting back to the child. When he'd swept her up and assaulted her lips, Gabriella had grown wet. While she wasn't exactly sex starved, she was almost always the dominant one in most encounters she found herself in. This stemmed from her need to control the situation so she could be ready to strike when the time was right for her target to die. However, although she had no complaints about her preferred brand of assassination, she had never realized until that moment that she desired to have a confident male set the terms of one of her engagements. Oniyama certainly fit the bill. He was much larger than she, well built with strong arms and a broad chest. He was assertive, that much he had proven already with his defiance of Astrid's authority. And, if all she had ever heard about Orcs was true, he was certain to be well endowed. She'd never slept with an Orc before, most of their kind hated hers and thus getting one into bed was a tall order at the best of times, but he was different. He didn't see her as a Dark Elf or if he did, he did not care.

And so she had watched as he had kissed the small female in his arms with wild abandon. She watched the look of affection pass between the two of them. She imagined his strong arms wrapping around her as he forced himself inside her and the next thing she knew, Babette was standing there and looking at her with a look of horror and betrayal such as she had never seen. She wasn't about to apologize for desiring him. She'd made that clear almost from the start, at least to Babette, but she felt she ought to apologize about the other thing. Still, how did she even begin? Sorry, I should have masturbated more quietly? I should have cum sooner? There were no words. Nothing she could say. And yet, the silence was oppressive. She could feel Babette's constant glances in her direction. Finally, she couldn't take it anymore. "Whatever you're going to say, just say it."

"And what do you want me to say?" Babette's tone was slightly warmer than it had been, though it was still well on the cool side.

"I don't know. Rail at me. Say you hate me. Say you're disgusted by me. Just pick something and say it because I can't stand this atmosphere anymore."

Babette frowned, though Gabriella did not see it. "I..." She tried to begin.

Gabriella turned to face her. "Surely you've got a hundred things you want to say to me with all the venom and malice at your disposal. Just say them."

Now it was Babette's turn to look uncertain. "I'm...I'm not sure I should." She looked Gabriella in the eye. "I mean, apart from the whole 'why the hell were you masturbating behind a tree' bit, I don't think I have the right to call you out on any of it."

Gabriella blushed furiously at the mention of her deed, but she didn't look away. "Well...he was just so...forceful. I guess I got lost in the fantasy of him being that way with me."

"Really, Gab?" She replied skeptically. "It hasn't been that long since you got laid."

Her blush deepened further. "I know. But, you have to understand, Babs, pretty much all of the sex I get is sex where I'm the one in charge. It has to be that way. If I surrender control, my target might get the upper hand when I try to assassinate them." She managed to maintain eye contact. "I've never surrendered that control to someone before. The idea...it excites me."

Babette nodded. "I get it. It's more-or-less the reason why he caught my attention. I mean, I hardly get any sex, and even when I do, it's always at someone else's discretion. Pedophiles and the like."

Gabriella nodded her understanding.

"But, with him, I could take charge. Or I could surrender control. Either way, I wouldn't have to fear the consequences. I could just be myself. I could get laid and not have to worry about what happens after." Babette sounded wistful as she said this. "Plus, most of the pedophiles I've run into have really small cocks. With him, I get an A+ love muscle whenever I want it."

"I admit, I was kind of wondering just how well hung he is." Gabriella said shamelessly.

"Oh, he's very well endowed." Babette reassured her. "I didn't measure, but when I wrapped my hand around it, my fingers were barely touching at the tips, so big around it was."

Gabriella looked at her friend's diminutive hands. then she rubbed her hips together. She had to look away as she did so.

Babette noticed anyway. "Yeah, he's definitely something to write home about." She said with a knowing smile and an appreciative glance at Gabriella's midsection.

Gabriella blushed again. The first blush had kind of faded as they talked, but now it came back in full force. "I think I need some of that in my life right now." She looked sharply at her friend. "Wait, did you...?"

Babette shook her head. "No. He was too worried about being overheard and getting caught by outsiders so I didn't get to...you know..."

Gabriella smiled ruefully. "Sometimes conscientiousness can be a burden."

Babette smiled evilly. "Oh, just because we didn't get to the main event doesn't mean we didn't have fun." She taunted.

It was Gabriella's turn to smile evilly. "Oh-ho-ho! You have to tell me all about that!"

Babette smiled a bit more, then a serious glint reflected in her eyes. "You aren't allowed to spread this around. To anybody, clear? The only people you can speak to about what I'm about to say is myself and Oniyama, and only if there's no danger that you'll be overheard."

Gabriella made a cross over her heart. "You have my word, sister."

Babette stared into her eyes a moment longer. Then she said. "He ate me out and finger fucked me. I swear, he's got the skills to make Mara cum harder than a virgin whore her first time between the sheets. His tongue was masterful and the strength of his grip as he finger fucked me almost rubbed my insides raw. I've never enjoyed myself so much in the absence of a penis." She let her eyes flutter shut as she thought back to the intense stimulation of that night in Morthal.

Gabriella rubbed her thighs together harder. "Oh Babs. I shouldn't have asked. Now I'm so horny that I can't think straight." Her own eyes closed as she imagined what his ministrations might feel like. Then they opened again. "What about him? Don't tell me you hogged all the action!"

Babette shook her head. "No. He actually tried to get me to let him stew in his own juices. He was that concerned over my wellbeing versus his own. But I wouldn't let him." She smiled triumphantly. "I jerked him off with my well lubricated thighs until he came all over my ass."

"And? How did he taste?"

"Bitter. But not the most bitter I've ever had. Plus, it's kind of savoury, like you're eating bitter gravy or something like that."

Gabriella sighed with longing. "Babs, I need to get him inside me. Tell me what to do."

Babette shrugged. "I actually already had this conversation with him. He's not interested in a one night stand. He only sleeps with people he genuinely feels a connection to. He doesn't know you well enough to be attracted to you."

Gabriella's expression turned indignant. "Excuse me? He's only known you a week and you've already been intimate together!"

"This is true." Babette conceded. "But remember that I accompanied him on his first set of contracts. Those side contracts of Nazir's? Well, we got to know each other somewhat well over those few days. Plus the rescue at the Brood Cavern. Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that we know each other better than a couple who's been married for fifty years, but we have a lot in common and we kind of put a lot of knowing into a short period of time."

"That's not fair, Babs." Gabriella pouted. "How am I supposed to get to know him? We're starting to get into the biggest contract we've had since...as long as I can remember. And from what Astrid's said, he's going to be the lynchpin of this whole thing. He'll be too busy to spend any time getting to know me!"

"Well, maybe do what I did and accompany him on a contract. We can't accompany him on his current one, but there will be more after it. Just tag along for one of them and work your magic." Babette suggested. "I mean, if he's the lynchpin of whatever's going on here, then he'll probably be doing the lion's share of whatever it is you're setting up."

"That's...actually a good idea." Gabriella admitted. "It's gonna be hard not to just jump his bones as soon as I get him alone though."

"I highly recommend you don't do that." Babette admonished. "Or you're liable to just get an asskicking instead of a fucking."

"You say that like I wouldn't be interested in that kind of foreplay." Gabriella teased.

Babette looked up with concern at her friend.

Gabriella was walking with her eyes closed as she pictured it. "Mmmmmmm..." She fantasized. Suddenly she felt a tap on her shoulder. She opened her eyes and sheepishly looked at Babette. "Yes?"

Babette was grinning at her with laughter in her eyes. "One, you were about to walk off into the ditch. Two, did you want me to wait while you go off and satisfy yourself?"

Gabriella blushed so furiously that the red of her blood overtook the blue of her skin almost entirely. "I...I couldn't! The very thought of someone waiting on me to finish...I just couldn't!"

"I don't have to wait on you." Babette helpfully supplied. "I could help get you off quicker."

Gabriella looked at her longtime friend with such a shocked expression that Babette actually started bursting out laughing. After a moment or two, Gabriella managed a half-hearted chuckle. "Oh... you...you got me good with that one."

Babette stifled her laughter and sidled over to Gabriella. "Who said I was joking?" She asked before slapping Gabriella playfully on the ass. Then she started walking away up the road, turning only once to wink at her friend.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------

The city of Solitude was just as imposing as the last time Oniyama had been there. The large castle that dominated much of the area was the single biggest obstacle to the Stormcloak victory over the Imperial Legion, to hear Ralof put it. Oniyama wondered what Ralof was doing right now. Probably singing Ulfric Stormcloak's praises if he wasn't raiding an Imperial Legion forward outpost. He shook his head. He could lose his focus after he completed his task, assuming he completed it discreetly. As he neared the wedding's location, it was starting to look like that wasn't very likely.

As he'd suspected, Vittoria Vici's wedding was taking place in one of the outer courtyards of the castle. Because of the bizarre layout of the whole building, this 'outer' courtyard was actually right next to several buildings that could be considered as part of the 'inner' castle. He shook his head again. Sometimes Nord construction gave him a headache. Regardless, she and the groom were seated at one end of the small courtyard. There were pews arrayed opposite them where members of each family and their friends could sit to watch the ceremony. Guards adorned nearly every corner and every doorway. There was a door set into the portcullis gateway that led up to a raised balcony from which she and her groom would likely address their guests. There was also a door at the far end of the courtyard that led up into a raised overwatch position, likely designed so archers could provide cover for retreating troops.

Oniyama observed all of this from just outside the courtyard proper. The guards were giving him apprehensive looks. If Nordic wedding tradition was being upheld, all were welcome to attend the wedding, even those that had no affiliation to either the groom or the bride. The guards obviously had specific instructions to that effect, but that didn't mean they had to like it, or him for that matter. Removing his helmet and hanging it at his belt, he strode through the archway and approached the happy couple.

The groom was almost as apprehensive as the guards were upon seeing his approach. His smile never dimmed but his eyes were watching his every move keenly.

The bride, on the other hand, was completely oblivious to any danger. She watched him stride up with all the carefree innocence it was possible to have in this war ravaged land.

Oniyama stopped before the pair of them. He planted a warm smile on his lips and knelt before them. "May Mara's happiness and blessings follow you through all your lives." 'Short though one of them may be.' He added silently. He flourished with one gauntleted hand thrown out to the side in a half-kneel, half-bow that would have impressed the emperor himself were he present.

"Blessings and happiness upon you as well stranger!" Vittoria replied for the both of them. "This is the happiest day of my life!" Her joyful exuberance was almost infectious.

He rose from his initial position. "My thanks, my lady. I shan't take up any more of your precious time." He nodded to the pair of them and retreated towards the pews. As he left, he saw how many of the other guests were also curious of his arrival. Still, tradition was tradition and no one questioned his presence. He walked between the aisles and sat down gently upon one of the pews in the back. So solidly was it built that it did not creak in even slight protest at his considerable bulk. 'Fine craftsmanship.' He marveled. Thing must have taken five men to move into position. In any event, now he was just waiting.

While he was waiting, he was also observing. In addition to the two guards at the gate through which he entered, he also saw four more positioned in pairs at different parts of the courtyard. He'd also noticed another pair standing directly behind him. That made for eight visible guards in all. All of them with steel weapons and armour. Those weren't unbeatable odds, but neither were they great ones. Plus, more guards were sure to join the fracas once things kicked off. How many more he could not say precisely, but there had to be at least a dozen within earshot and who even knew how many more in the town square below. Things could become very complicated if he didn't make a quick exit.

He still had two invisibility potions from Bothella, but they would be of extremely limited use to him here. While it was possible he could use one of them and a bow to make a precision strike on the blushing bride, the exit routes from the event were very narrow and he was unlikely to slip his considerable bulk through unnoticed. Worse yet, if he drank an invisibility potion here, someone was sure to notice that the strange orc had just drunk an invisibility potion and, when a bolt sailed out from the blue to skewer Vittoria, it wouldn't take the sharp-minded guards very long to put two and two together. No, his best recourse was to just kill her, make the best escape he could, then use an invisibility potion or two to ensure his escape from the city once he'd gotten as far as the town square.

Movement from the pulpit caught his eye. Vittoria and her new husband were moving to the upper platform to speak to the assembled patrons. He took this as his cue. Getting up from his seat, he made his way over to the door leading up to the archer redoubt. He tried to act as nonchalant as possible, but two of the guards still watched his every move. As he grasped the door handle, one made a motion to the other and started to move his way. Moving quickly, he pulled the door open and slipped through it, shutting it firmly behind himself. The door didn't have any obvious locking mechanism, so instead he took the stairs three at a time.

Coming out on the archer terrace, he ducked down so as not to be seen by anyone below. Thankfully, there were no guards on upraised positions who might have been able to spot him. Unfortunately, just as he came to a stop, he noticed several things in quick succession.

First, the door at the bottom of the stairs opened. It was inevitable that a guard or guards would follow him to find out why he was suddenly so interested in the archer redoubt and they couldn't possibly have failed to noticed that he was armed with a mean looking bow. From the sounds of it though, there was only one guard and he was taking the stairs one at a time. This gave Oniyama time to come up with a plan.

Secondly, there was an Elven bow, several glass arrows, and a potion of True Shot lined up against one wall of the redoubt. The gear wasn't standard issue for the guards of the castle, which meant that either he had stumbled on an entirely separate plot to assassinate someone at this wedding or, more likely, that an agent of Astrid's had left the equipment here just in case he'd been forced to surrender his weapons.

Lastly, he noticed that the redoubt was not very high off the ground. A mere thirty feet at highest. No doubt the decision was made so that archers being rushed into position would not have far to climb, but it also worked in his favour. He could just jump off the terrace to get back into the courtyard.

He flattened himself up against one side of the landing. The guard was nearly upon him. He could tell that it was clearly only one guard. That worked in his favour. It wasn't likely that he could subdue two guards surreptitiously. As the guard's foot stepped onto the landing proper, he made his move. He rushed from his concealed position and clamped both hands around the guard's throat. Almost before the man could react, he lifted him clean off the ground and soundlessly crunched his neck.

The guard clawed and scraped uselessly at the hands choking the life out of him. His legs kicked out and hit the walls of the stairwell, but since they were made of leather and not steel, the sound was minimal. He was trying to scream, to alert the rest of the guards, but absolutely zero sound was emanating from his crushed windpipe.

At last, with the life leaving him, his movements slowed. Oniyama lowered him gently to the ground. Knowing the man was moments from death, he leaned in to whisper in his ear. "Sorry friend, the Dark Brotherhood has need of this terrace. May Sithis greet you as a friend." When he leaned back, the man was dead. Moving swiftly but smoothly, he draped the guard's body along the wall he had taken cover behind. Then he turned his attention to the wedding once more.

Vittoria was in full swing, speaking of blessings and good tidings, wishing well upon all those had come to attend her most joyous day. He wasn't certain what the exact words were, but he had to move quickly now. The guard that had not followed his partner up the stairs was sure to come calling any moment now. Or he might pre-emptively raise the alarm and cause the wedding celebration to be cut short. Either way, the timeframe Oniyama had to finish his task within the defined parameters was rapidly closing. He drew out his bow and an iron arrow. He'd noticed that neither the groom nor the bride were wearing any armour. Anything fancier than a straight iron bolt to the heart was just being wasteful and ostentatious. Rising up slightly, he pointed the arrow at Vittoria. As he did so, he felt a pang of regret. He had nothing against the woman, but she had to die so he could have a shot at his real target. At least she would die with a smile on her face. He loosed the arrow.

The arrow sailed forth with a purpose and a menace all its own. Vittoria Vici literally never even saw it coming. One moment she was happy, healthy and alive. The next she was staring down at her chest with a horrified look at the rough iron weapon that had killed her. As cries started to erupt from below, her eyes rolled up into her head and she collapsed.

Wasting no time, Oniyama replaced the bow upon his back and grabbed his helmet from his belt. As he snugged it over his head, he spoke a silent prayer. 'Sweet Mother, sweet Mother, let your child make it home, for he has baptized the unworthy's sins in blood and fear.' It was a rough bastardization of the Black Sacrament. Hopefully, it would give him luck. Perhaps he ought to have prayed to Sai, but the Night Mother was his matron now. With one last look toward the speaking platform where even now, the groom was holding his dead bride and howling, Oniyama drew his greataxe and leaped over the wall to his fate.

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Babette watched as the orange liquid bubbled and hissed within the tiny cauldron she was using to brew. In a few minutes, she would have to add a giant's toe to the mixture. Then, it would have to simmer for another thirty minutes before it could be flasked and corked. It was altogether not the most complex poison she had ever created, but it was one she knew well. She'd used it very successfully many times in the past. Of course, she wasn't the one who was going to be using it, but brewing was a favourite pastime of hers, so she wasn't complaining.

At a table opposite her, Gabriella was poring over a roughly drawn map of the barracks and surrounding area of Dragon Bridge. Her nose was almost to the parchment as she prodded and plotted.

The pair of them were attempting to create enough of an opening for Oniyama to take advantage of when a Commander Maro and his son made their way to the Penitus Oculatus outpost here in Dragon Bridge. As far as Gabriella had told her, the idea was for Oniyama to be able to secretly steal Gaius Maro's travel schedule before following him and assassinating him in one of the other cities. Then he was to plant a forged letter incriminating Gaius in the plot to assassinate the emperor. The reason why the pair of them were so much trouble was that Commander Maro was in charge of the emperor's security detail. Gaius Maro wasn't nearly as important from a rank perspective, but he was very dear to his father and the thought that his own son might have been a traitor was sure to unnerve the man.

"I think I've got it." Gabriella said quietly from the map table.

"Ok, lay it on me." Babette replied without looking up.

"We need to eliminate these three guards." Gabriella pointed to the map before realizing Babette wasn't watching. She turned to look at her. "Come see."

"I can't just yet. Give me a moment." She reached into the bag of alchemy ingredients and fished out the giant's toe. She dropped it carefully into the bubbling mixture. Immediately, the cauldron hissed like a furious snake and the orange mixture turned a dark, almost bloody red. Stirring a few times to ensure it mixed thoroughly, Babette set aside the mixing spoon and brushed her hands on the small apron she was wearing. Finally, she turned from the concoction and joined Gabriella at the map table. "Ok, now tell me all about it."

Gabriella pointed at the map table. "These three guards. If they're out of the picture, there's a small but abusable route through which Oniyama could infiltrate the barracks and snag that travel schedule. We can't kill them or they'll just be replaced, but if we can incapacitate them for, say, forty eight hours. That would give him enough of a window."

"I'm not sure a group as paranoid as the Penitus Oculatus would accept three of their host suddenly becoming ill all at the same time as coincidence." Babette observed.

"You're right." She admitted. "But they won't become ill at the same time. Two of them are going to become ill, the third is going to become...indisposed."

Babette gave her companion a skeptical look. "And what does that mean?"

Gabriella smiled evilly. "It means I'm going to fuck his brains out then, while he's recovering from the experience, I'm going to slip him a separate poison that will mimic exhaustion. If anyone comes calling, they'll just think he has extremely low sexual fortitude." She rubbed her hands together in anticipation. "I just need to figure out which of the three is most likely to be receptive to my advances."

"And you'll be thinking of Oniyama's big, hard cock all the time you're fucking him." Babette retorted without missing a beat.

Gabriella stopped rubbing her hands together and blushed. She didn't look at Babette but Babette noticed it anyway. "That's not fair, Babs. Why do you have to keep bringing up him and his member? You know what it does to me."

Babette shrugged but she had a malicious gleam in her eye. "Well...how does that phrase go? 'The anticipation makes the copulation so much more satisfying?'"

Gabriella frowned as her blush faded. "Yeah, yeah, but that's only true if you're guaranteed some copulation. Otherwise the anticipation is just torture."

"You just said that you're going to fuck some random Penitus Oculatus' brains out." She countered.

"Sure, but I doubt he'll be big enough to get inside me, let alone get me off. I'm sure as hell not guaranteed to land that big Orc prize you keep dangling in front of me." She whined back.

"Oh boo hoo. Now you know what it's like for me. Remember that Redguard I helped you score? He wouldn't even consider sleeping with me because, and I quote 'he wasn't a pedophile.' Nevermind the fact that he was aware I was less of a child than he was." Babette looked exceedingly cross. "And yet, you got to ride all eight inches of that bad boy all night long and I had to satisfy myself in the next room!"

"But! But! That was just for one night! You're likely to have his big, hard rod...." She trailed off for a moment as she pictured it before snapping out of it and continuing. "You're likely to have him forever! He's a vampire. You're a vampire. You two could be fucking each other silly for the next thousand years!"

"Yeah, well, we haven't yet. And he made it pretty clear that he doesn't want to promise we're going to have time to do it especially since we're right in the middle of the biggest contract the Dark Brotherhood has had in centuries." Babette countered again. "So no, I don't think it's unfair at all to keep you stewing in your juices considering I haven't gotten to ride those eleven inches of victory either."

Gabriella's eyes snapped to hers. "Eleven inches? You didn't tell me he was eleven inches."

"I didn't tell you what size he was at all because I knew how much worse it was going to make it for you. But now I just don't care." She grinned maliciously. "If I don't get to ride him, you don't get to ride him."

"Oh that is so not fair!" Gabriella cried, sounding for all the world like she was the child and Babette was the adult. "You don't even get horny that often! You're going to drive me crazy with the waiting!"

"Suck it up. He loves me and he barely knows you. He's made it clear already that he has no interest in a fling. You'd best start getting to know him better, or you're going to be very lonely for a long time." With that, Babette returned to check on her work.

"You mean, you're not going to insist that I don't accompany him on a contract?" Gabriella called after her.

Babette turned back to her. "No. As I said, I'm absolutely fine with him using you as a more frequent outlet for his sexual needs. I just don't get horny enough often enough to guarantee that those kinds of needs will be met. As long as it's his choice, he can fuck you from sunrise to sunset and longer. All that said, I'm still claiming the right to ride him first. After that Redguard incident, I want you to know what it feels like to listen to your good friend get a good hard fucking while you sit alone and unfulfilled."

"You're a bitch. You know that, right?"

"Aww...unexpected compliments are always the best kind, sister." Came the taunting reply.

Gabriella turned back to the map. Great, now she was incredibly horny. Just the thought of that huge, hard cock was enough to almost make her piss herself with lust. Admittedly, she'd had big cocks before. In addition to the Redguard that Babette was referencing, she'd had almost every race out there. But the one race she'd never gotten into bed with was the Orcs. Orcs, as a general rule, hated the Elves, Dark Elves in particular. For that matter, she didn't find many Orcs to be that attractive either. Oniyama was different though. For one, he wasn't scarred. Most Orcs were scarred either by choice or circumstance. Apparently, most Orc women found facial scars attractive. Her? Not so much. Secondly though and much more important, he was far more cultured than any Orc she had ever encountered. He spoke softly. He didn't growl his way through syllables the way most of his people did. Oh, he growled, but it was obvious when he spoke that he had trained himself to be clear and precise. It conveyed a sense of dedication and precision that the rest of his people lacked. Lastly, and of the utmost importance was his assertiveness. Most people would hardly claim that Orcs were a soft spoken, timid people. Still, how many of them could be as flippant and defiant as he was toward a trained assassin? Even the most dominant Orc chieftain was usually domesticated towards his wife. Oniyama didn't come across this way. She had a hard time seeing him being obedient or submissive even to his mate. It was rather enticing. She shook her head. She had work to do. Best she get it done and make her way back to the sanctuary so she could see him again.

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Oniyama ducked under the sword as it came singing past his face and swung low with his greataxe, chopping off a knee with a spurt of blood and a pained howl. He was bleeding from several stab wounds he'd suffered due to concentrated attacks by several guards at once. Much as he'd feared, the Solitude guards were almost completely unafraid of him. They were working in unison, minimizing their weaknesses while exploiting their strengths. He'd killed several of them already and maimed several more. Yet, every guard he'd maimed had been spirited away from the fight. Only those he'd managed to outright kill were still lying on the cobblestones. There were seven of them around him in a rough circle. Most of them were armed with longswords and shields, but two of them had maces and one had a greatsword and no shield. The greatsword had been the biggest pain in his ass. Every time he tried to put some distance between himself and the guards, the greatsword was always directly in his path. The last two times he'd tried to bull rush the man, he'd had to dodge back out of the attack or risk getting skewered by the large weapon. These men knew how to deal with him. The only reason he wasn't already lying in a pool of his own blood was because of how quick his reflexes were. Still, he was coming to see why perhaps a greataxe wasn't such a great idea. More than once he'd been left open to an attack due to the weapon's inertia. He had the ingredients to smith himself something new. It was probably a good idea to do that, assuming he even got out of here alive.

The other reason he wasn't already dead was currently leading a small detachment of guards on a merry chase. Veezara was jumping in between groups of guards and trying to draw attention away from Oniyama. Although he only had leather armour, he was exceptionally quick and agile. The steel short sword in his hands danced and flashed in the sun. After Oniyama had jumped down into the courtyard and watched the numbers stack up against him, suddenly Veezara had rushed in and give him an opportunity to escape the tight confines of the courtyard. He still hadn't made it to the town square, but Veezara was doing all he could. He was trying his best to create an opening for his partner, but the guards were only too aware who the real threat was.

Another guard came at him from behind. He felt the vibrations as his feet pounded toward him. He swung himself around to meet the attack only to see the guard already retreating. At the same time, a guard from one side stepped in and stabbed deeply into the joint of his armour. He felt the blade bite deeply into his side. Then it was wrenched free and both men retreated.

Oniyama knew he couldn't keep this pace up. He was losing blood at an alarming rate and he wasn't going to be able to keep the fight up much longer. The guards were whittling away at him and if he didn't change the terms of the engagement, he might as well lay down and die right now. Taking a quick twirl to get the layout of the guards encircling him, he made a plan. The greatsword was in front, along with one of the maces. Mace number two was directly behind him. The remainder were huddled behind their shields with their swords held low. He was going to have to take a hit for this. There wasn't any way he'd manage this without being prepared to take another wound.

Giving them no further time to strike, he lurched forward toward the greatsword. The man immediately switched to a defensive stance and prepared to take a giant hit. At the last moment before he would have hit the man, Oniyama switched directions and plowed into the mace beside him. The man had been prepared to strike after he crashed into the greatsword and was now finding himself the target of the assault. He tried to rebalance himself to take a blow, but he wasn't quick enough. Oniyama smashed into him and sent him flying down onto his ass. The other guards were already closing behind him and attempting to keep him penned in. The stabs were deflecting off his armour. With so little warning of a potential breakout, they weren't able to aim their attacks properly. He smashed through the man and bolted past the remaining guards. Suddenly finding himself in open ground, he wasted no time sprinting forward toward Veezara and the gate out of town.

Veezara saw him make his getaway and immediately started jumping onto walls and onto the rooftops, obviously intending to implement his own separate getaway strategy. The guards following him were so absorbed with him that they didn't even notice Oniyama rushing past until he pounded right by them.

Now there was nothing between him and freedom except the door itself. Pushing his battered, wounded body to go faster, he had to reach the door with enough time to spare to actually pull it open. Otherwise he was just choosing a new place to die. It seemed to take hours, but he finally reached the door and wrenched the damned thing open. He got it far enough to slip through just before the guards reached him. Unfortunately, he hadn't taken the time to resheathe his greataxe while he was running. As he shoved himself through the gap in the doors, the greataxe caught on the gap and slipped from his grasp. Turning, he thought to try and retrieve it, but the guards were mere moments from reaching him and the greatsword was in the lead. If he didn't leave now, the man was liable to chop his head clean off as he tried to retrieve his weapon. Cursing his own shortsightedness, he turned and dashed away down the road out of town.

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Babette watched from a window as Gabriella sauntered over to the Penitus Oculatus outpost. She'd changed out of her Dark Brotherhood robes and was now clad in a fashionable, if plain, dress. She'd done up her hair in a tight bun and had applied makeup to accentuate her raw beauty. She really was a natural when it came to seduction. It made Babette slightly jealous. She would never command the opposite sex's attention the way Gabriella did. Well, she would, but only a small subset of the population. She'd never have mainstream appeal. Now, as she watched her chatting up a few of the guards and being generally flirtatious, attempting to see if any of them would fall for her attentions, she couldn't help but marvel at how she had this down to a fine art.

She turned and looked back inside the room. The cauldron was silent now. All the poisons had been brewed and flasked. Gabriella had one right now. The other two were standing on the table, waiting for their appointed use. Her part in this little excursion was now finished. It was highly unlikely that the Pentius Oculatus would recruit pedophiles into their ranks and even if the idea wasn't completely ludicrous, merely taking the chance and failing could seriously impair Gabriella's chances of success in addition to her own. No, it was best to leave it in the hands of a professional. She'd just have to amuse herself while Gabriella was at work.

A commotion caught her attention. A black figure was sprinting at top speed into town. She looked in their direction for a moment before turning away. It was Brotherhood policy not to get involved. Then her brain struck a memory and she refocused on the running figure.

A figure in full daedric plate was hauling ass into town with two or three guards in hot pursuit. Babette's heart raced. How likely was it that there were two people of the same height and build with a full suit of daedric armour? Rather than work out the odds, she raced to the door of the room and made her way out to the street.

As she cleared the door out of the building, she saw the figure miss a step and take a tumble to the ground. As they did so, she could see blood splash over the cobblestones. The figure grunted gutturally. Then he staggered up and continued running, or he tried to. He only got a half dozen or so steps further before collapsing again. Babette raced to his side.

"Bab...Babette?" He grunted as she reached him. "What...what are you...doing here?"

"Be quiet. I'll deal with this." She replied softly. Then she turned to face the guards who were just arriving.

The leader of this trio stepped forward. "Out of the way child." He commanded. "This assassin is to meet the emperor's justice."

Babette considered trying the lost girl routine, but dismissed it immediately. These guards were not likely to care if the assassin was also a guardian to a small girl. Instead, she set her face in a grim stare. She slowly moved her hand up to where the daedric dagger was hidden within her dress. Then she spoke. "I am no small girl, appearances to the contrary. This man is my friend and I shall defend him, with force if necessary."

The guard appeared taken aback. "You jest child. This assassin does not deserve your protection. Now stand aside, lest you share his fate."

"I AM NO SMALL CHILD!" She shouted at him and dispelled her illusion. She watched the guards' eyes widen as they looked upon her with realization. She brandished the knife from inside her dress. "Leave him be or face me instead!"

The guards were quite taken aback, but only for a moment. "Share the fate of your friend, then, demon!" And the leader jumped forward and attempted to skewer her.

Even as he was moving forward, she was making a move of her own. She dove forward and rolled into a somersault, coming up under his guard. Then she slashed out with the dagger and opened the man's throat in a red smile. He dropped his sword and shield and grasped at his neck as the blood started gushing forth. Before the other two could react, she jumped toward another of them. He tried to back away, but since he was standing on a slope, his foot caught on the rocks and he tumbled over. Leaping on him she stabbed down into his helmet and he fell limp.

The third guard snapped out of his shock and attempted to run her through from behind. She felt him coming and dove forward again. Rolling with her momentum, she came up facing him. The guard was set in a low stance and was waiting for her to make the first move. She wasn't going to catch him off guard like the other two.

Well, she wasn't. As the guard watched her every move, a figure suddenly came up behind him. At the last possible moment, he felt the presence and whirled.

Oniyama latched onto him and sank his fangs into the guard's neck. The guard tried to stab out with his sword, but the angle was terrible and it refused to penetrate through the Orc's armour. He stabbed out again and again, until his arm would move no more. Then he fell to the ground with Oniyama on top of him.

Babette moved to the pair of them. She noticed that the guard's blood was seeping out onto the cobblestones. Odd, she would have expected Oniyama to have drunk it all. She leaned in closer. It appeared Oniyama had bitten straight into the man's jugular, but hadn't drunk any of his blood. She checked him. He was out cold. Apparently he was so out of blood that he'd used the last of his strength to kill the guard. She rolled him off the guard with some struggle and gave him a more thorough lookover. He had several wounds that had bled profusely. She had to get him inside. Mindful that she didn't have her illusion up, she carefully ensured it was back in place before moving to find help.

Gabriella was standing with the Penitus Oculatus agents up the road. They had all watched the fight with silent shock. Thankfully, just as the Brotherhood was ordered not to interfere with problems that were not their own, so too it seemed was the Penitus Oculatus. Even as she made her way over towards the outpost, their interest seemed to wane and they turned back to keep watch on the surrounding area.

Motioning to Gabriella, Babette indicated she needed her assistance. Excusing herself from the outpost, Gabriella made her way quickly over to Babette. As she got close, she leaned in to speak softly. "What happened?"

"I don't know." Babette replied quickly. "I guess he didn't manage the getaway from Solitude as well as he would have liked. We can discuss it later. We need to get him back to our room at the inn."

"Right you are, sister." Gabriella leaned down and started getting Oniyama back to his feet. Babette assisted where she could, but her size did not allow her to provide much relief. It took the two of them almost ten minutes to get Oniyama off the street, into the room and out of his armour. They drew a lot of attention, but there was nothing for it. He needed help and they weren't about to leave him to die in the street.

As the two of them laid him on the bed, Gabriella spoke again. "What do we do for him sister?"

Babette looked apprehensively at her fallen brother. "We need to get him to wake up. Once that happens, blood is the quickest solution. I've got some on hand that I can spare, but he'll need more than I can provide."

"Perhaps he can take some of mine?" Gabriella suggested.

"It would certainly help, but we need him to be awake before you can donate. I don't want you to bleed out while we're trying to revive him."

"I understand. What do you need me to do?"

Babette pointed to the door. "I need ingredients for healing potions. If the alchemist has any on hand, just buy them up. It'll be quicker than brewing my own. Otherwise, just get the ingredients and get back here."

"I'm on it." Gabriella replied curtly. Then she was out the door and away.

As she left, Babette looked into Oniyama's face once more. "We really have to stop meeting like this." She said softly. She leaned forward and planted a soft kiss on his lips before turning to reignite the fire for the cauldron.

Chapter Text

Oniyama opened his eyes. He was in a room not unlike where he had been the last time he had awoken. The last thing he recalled was running from Solitude with guards in hot pursuit. Where was he now? He could hear hushed and muffled conversation from somewhere. Flashbacks of Morthal flashed through his mind. He looked to his left. His armour sat in a pile in one corner. His longbow was beside it, but his greataxe was nowhere to be seen. Then he recalled how he had left it back in Solitude. He cursed softly under his breath. How could he have fucked things up so badly? He looked away from his armour and turned his head to see the other side. The other side held a table with an alchemy setup on it as well as a second table with some type of map or other document laid out on it. Once again, he appeared to be alone in the room.

He sat up in the bed. His body groaned in protest, but he rose nonetheless. He felt incredibly tired and unbelievably thirsty. He needed to feed and he needed to do it as soon as possible. Whoever his rescuer might be, hopefully they'd understand why he'd left their care. He lurched to his feet, trying his best to fight off the wave of dizziness that threatened to overtake him as he did so. He'd never felt so weak in his life. He took one lumbering step toward the door and nearly pitched forward onto his face. He stopped and threw out his arms in a frantic attempt to steady himself. Taking his time, he made his way slowly, ponderously to the door.

As he tried to grasp the handle without losing his balance, the door opened into him suddenly. Caught off guard by the movement, he fell backward and landed hard on his ass, barely managing to keep his head from following suit and smashing into the floor. He howled in pain and rolled onto his side, curling into the fetal position.

"Brother! You aren't supposed to be up yet!" Came a frantic response from the doorway. A pair of slender yet firm arms cradled his head and turned it so he could look at his caretaker.

It was Gabriella. The look on her face was full of concern.

He tried to smile to reassure her, but could only manage a pained grimace.

Behind her, Babette came into view. "Sister, we need to get him back onto the bed."

"I know. Here, help me." Gabriella moved her hands to encompass his large chest. Babette grabbed onto his legs. Between the two of them, they managed to get him back onto the comfortable pillows of the bed.

"You really should know better than to try and move in your condition, brother." Gabriella scolded lightly.

"So...thirsty...need...to feed..." He wheezed out.

Babette sat on the bed on the other side of him. "Not to worry, brother. Both Gabriella and I have blood to spare. We knew you would need it after the wounds you suffered. We force fed you just a tiny bit to get your wounds to heal over, but feeding as much as you require to recover fully is too tedious and time consuming." She leaned in close and kissed him on the cheek. "Feed from us. Don't worry, we want you to."

Gabriella leaned in and exposed her supple neck. "Feed, brother. We'll let you know when to stop."

Under normal circumstances, Oniyama might have raised an issue with feeding from someone he didn't want to hurt, but he was too tired and far, far too thirsty to put up any kind of resistance. He leaned up and bit deeply into the Dark Elf's neck, being sure not to puncture her jugular. Not biting into the artery meant the flow of blood was a lot slower, but it also meant she wasn't going to bleed to death once he was finished. He sucked on her greedily, like a hungry infant at his mother's teat. He leaned back into the pillows and she followed his movement, keeping the blood flowing into him.

Gabriella felt odd. On the one hand, a primal part of her subconscious wanted to yank her away from something that could possibly kill her, but she was also kind of turned on. She knew it was wrong. Her brother's life was in real danger. Now was not the time to be dreaming of being penetrated by him. Besides, she had to retain enough focus to signal Babette so she could break Oniyama's hold before he drank too much from her. After a couple of minutes, she was feeling rather lightheaded. She motioned to Babette.

Babette leaned forward and started pulling the two of them apart. Oniyama, realizing what that meant, retracted his fangs and sank back into the pillows. Gabriella pulled herself away and started bandaging the wound on her neck.

Oniyama was feeling a little refreshed, but he was still thirsty. The amount of blood one could safely take from a humanoid without killing them was not a lot in the grand scheme of things. He was no longer in danger of dying from thirst, but he was still plenty thirsty all the same.

Babette seemed to realize this as well. She leaned in close and bared her neck to him as well. "Feed from me now, brother. Your wounds are going to burn through a lot of the blood you just drank. Take some more from me."

"Are you sure?" He asked.

She looked into his blood-red eyes before kissing him affectionately. "Yes, I am sure. Bite me. Drink from me and feel refreshed." She leaned her neck down to his mouth.

He didn't need any more encouragement. He bared his fangs and bit down for a second time. Unlike before, this time he bit directly into the jugular. As a vampire, Babette would heal his bite as long as he left her enough blood to do so. As long as she signaled him before he got through too much, she'd be completely fine.

Babette shivered slightly as she felt her brother bite her. It was just as enticing a sensation as she'd dreamt it to be back in Ivarstead. It didn't make her horny, per se, but it did excite her in a way she had never experienced before. It was a sensual, affectionate feeling, his fangs and rough tongue sucking away her lifeblood. She was in real danger if she didn't keep track of how much blood she was losing. It didn't take long at all for her to start feeling thirsty herself. She started to pull away.

Oniyama felt her try to leave and let her throat recede. He watched as the bite started to heal before his eyes. She hadn't been drained too low, thank the Unholy Matron for that. As she started to sit up, he chased after her and planted a kiss on her cheek. "Thank you, sister." He said softly.

Her eyes closed as she felt him kiss her. He was so sweet. She blushed, but only slightly. She didn't have enough blood left to really commit to a full blush. She opened her eyes as she sat up to see Gabriella looking at the pair of them with a slightly jealous look in her eyes, but it was only there for only a moment. It probably wasn't even conscious.

Oniyama sank back into the pillows once again. He was still thirsty, but it was a dull thirst. It wasn't the kind of thirst that would drive him crazy. He could satisfy it at his leisure. He heaved a huge sigh and looked between the two women. "So, now that that's taken care of, where do we go from here?"

Gabriella was just finishing the bandage on her neck. "Well, you're supposed to report back to Astrid and get your next assignment. Thing is, we're pretty sure your next assignment starts here in Dragon Bridge." She shrugged. "I don't see why you couldn't just stay here and start the next phase of the plan."

"I don't know how Astrid would react to that." Oniyama replied cautiously.

"I do. She'd probably think we were flaunting our defiance of her authority." Babette reasoned. "But can she really argue with efficiency? True, we don't know that she wants you to do this next, but she wants you to do it at some point. Might as well be now."

"Do what exactly?"

Gabriella got to her feet and walked to the map table. "Commander Maro, the head of the emperor's security detail, the Penitus Oculatus, will be arriving here with his wife and son in a couple more days. We were sent to ensure that there would be an opening that you could exploit to steal an inspection schedule."

"Why wouldn't I just kill the commander?" He questioned.

Gabriella shook her head. "We don't want him dead. That would make the emperor cancel his visit. Instead, we want to frame his son; make him appear complicit in the plot to assassinate the emperor. His son will be departing from Dragon Bridge and making his rounds all throughout Skyrim. He's stopping in all the major cities to ensure that security is up to standards, in case the emperor decides to visit there." She returned to the bed and looked into his eyes. "We want you to follow him, kill him and, once he's dead, plant an incriminating letter we forged on his body." She produced a piece of parchment from her robes to accentuate her point before replacing it. "Technically you can do this anywhere, but it will be most effective if you murder him in one of the cities. His body will be found more quickly and the implications of the letter will spread more rapidly. Manage to kill him discreetly within a city's limits and Astrid's authorised me to give you a bonus."

"Sounds simple enough, overall. However, as much as I'd like to chill here, I need to go back to the sanctuary. You may or may not have noticed that my greataxe is missing. I lost it during my escape from Solitude." He moaned in shame. "I need to go back so I can get my smithing supplies and forge myself a new weapon." He started levering himself up from the bed. "And if this Commander Maro is coming in a day or two, I need to get going if I'm going to have a chance to get back here in time to catch the little whelp's departure."

"You make a good point." Babette replied. "I'll stay here. If you don't make it back in time, maybe I can keep the kid from leaving for a while."

"If it's alright with you, I'll accompany you back to the sanctuary, brother." Gabriella suggested.

He shrugged. "I don't mind the company. Are you sure you won't need to do anything else here?"

She shook her head. "I've done all I can. It'll be up to you to take advantage of the opening I created once he gets here. Besides, I'm sure Astrid will have more work for me."

He turned back to Babette. "But she won't have more work for you?"

Babette turned to look at him. "Probably, but someone should stay here to make sure this part of the operation goes smoothly. Once you come back, I'll make my way home."

"Ok. I'm not going to argue with you. Do what you think is best." He got up off the bed and started picking up his armour. "Gabriella, it's going to take me a few minutes to get back into my armour. If there's anything you need to get before we head back, now is the time."

"I'm fine, thank you brother." She replied amicably. "Do you want me to help you with that armour?"

He shook his head. "Sorry, I'm used to doing this by myself. Don't worry, it won't take me long."

She nodded. "Ok, I'll be outside." She got up and left the room.

Without looking up from the straps he was fastening, Oniyama spoke to Babette. "Have you told her any more about me or us?"

She stared into his eyes for a moment before nodding. "Yes, but only what we did in Morthal. The rest isn't my story to tell." She crossed the room and cradled his face. "But I will repeat that I think you should tell her more. She's trustworthy. She's the most trustworthy person I've ever met. And trust me, I've met a lot of people."

"I'll...consider it." He said apprehensively. "You have to understand, every time she and I have conversed, today excluded, she's laid into me for something or other." He frowned. "It's hard to trust someone who's constantly poking fun at you."

"That's just her way." Babette admitted. "Try being serious with her and she'll be serious in return."

He stood up. Clad once more in the protective metal, he felt at ease again. He walked over to the door. As he grasped the handle, he heaved a sigh. "I'll try, sister. I'll try." Then he pulled open the door and disappeared through it.

Babette watched him go with a frown on her face.

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Oniyama and Gabriella walked side by side down the road. Although they hadn't been far from the stables at Solitude, Oniyama had not wanted to risk being recognized by any of the guards before he could escape in the wagon. Subsequently, they were now walking to Markarth to take a wagon from there. It was slightly out of their way, but Gabriella would never have the stamina to keep up with the kind of brisk pace he would normally set to reach the sanctuary from Dragon Bridge on foot. The atmosphere between them had been heavy ever since they departed. Not because of any offense or insult, it was more that they just didn't know each other very well and neither was very certain how to break the ice.

Gabriella was usually very outspoken, but Oniyama's apprehension had her on edge. She wasn't sure why he was on guard. They were quite alone on the road and in any case, he was clad head to toe in a very durable, very protective metal suit. But on guard he was and it was affecting her as well.

Oniyama, contrary to how he usually was, felt very vulnerable and almost defenseless without his greataxe on his back. He'd only had the weapon a couple of months, but already he'd grown to depend on it. The razor sharp blade had cleanly sliced through most any problems he'd encountered. At least, problems that could be solved with violence anyway. Now his hand kept snaking up to grasp the haft of the weapon, only to grope thin air. It was an entirely unsettling sensation. He would be extremely relieved once he had the handle of a daedric weapon in his grip once more.

Finally, unable to take the oppressive atmosphere any longer, Gabriella spoke to her travelling companion. "I know I teased you a lot before, but surely you don't think I'm going to tease you again?"

"Hrmmm?" Oniyama replied absentmindedly. "What did you say?"

Gabriella turned to look at him but he wasn't looking her way. "I'm trying to figure out why you've been as silent as a monument to Sithis this entire time. It's worrying me to no end."

He turned to meet her gaze, though she couldn't tell because of his helmet. "My apologies, sister. I..." He trailed off. Then he turned away from her. "No. If I say it out loud, you'll just mock me for it. No thank you."

"I swear, no matter how funny it might be, I won't laugh at all." Gabriella said sincerely. She was rather curious now.

He turned back to her. "It's my weapon. I...I just feel naked without it. I know it's stupid. I mean, I'm a well built Orc wearing an enchanted daedric suit of full plate. I could rip most wildlife in two if they even look at me funny." He made a slight flourish to accentuate his words. "But I've grown used to having my greataxe around. Now that it's gone...I just feel very vulnerable."

Gabriella felt the impulse to laugh rise up within her but, mindful of her oath, quashed it immediately. "I...understand, brother." She consoled, though she didn't really understand at all. Weapons were weapons. Lose one and get another.

His eyes locked onto hers. "Do you? Do you really?"

"...No..." She admitted. "But that's not important. What's important is that you feel on edge. Rather than make you more apprehensive, I should be trying to relax you." She smirked. "Actually, I know a really great way to take your mind off things..." She said seductively.

He looked at her questioningly for a moment before his eyes widened. She couldn't see it through the helmet, but her face told him she was expecting the reaction nonetheless. "No. We are not fucking in the ditch just because you want what I've got."

"Spoilsport." She teased. "Babette said you were straitlaced. I just didn't expect you to be so unfailingly loyal to her as well."

"It's got nothing to do with loyalty to anyone. She's already told me she has no problem with me sleeping around. I just don't do that sort of thing. You want to fuck me? Get to know me and then we'll talk." His tone was deadly serious.

"How am I supposed to get to know you if you don't tell me about yourself?" She countered.

"Give and thou shalt receive." He quoted at her. "Share something of yourself and I'll share in return."

"What would you like to know, brother?"

"Where are you from? Originally I mean."

She put her finger to her chin. "Well, boring as it might sound, I'm from Skyrim. Lived here all my life. My parents came here from Morrowind, though they wouldn't speak about why they left. I lost them when I was going through my teenage years. Afterward, I worked on the streets as a courtesan. One day, a trick tried to force me to do something I didn't want to and I suddenly discovered that I enjoy killing almost as much as I enjoy fucking. Doing both together? If it wasn't for the fact that I have expenses to cover, I'd do it for free."

"How long after you killed your john did the Dark Brotherhood recruit you?"

She smiled warmly. "Not that long actually. I'd started hunting for men who wouldn't be missed and tried seducing them. After I managed this a couple of times, I accidentally seduced and killed a Dark Brotherhood contract. Well, I didn't accidentally seduce or kill him, but I didn't know the Dark Brotherhood was after him. Veezara told me that he was actually outside the window and preparing to come in and do the deed when I whipped out a knife and did his work for him." She giggled and turned her eyes upward as she remembered the past. "It didn't take long for Astrid to recruit me after that." She looked back at him to see his reaction. "Not what you expected?"

He shrugged. "I try my best not to have expectations of other people's history. It's almost always wrong and I don't want to wind up coming across as sexist, racist or what have you."

"Very progressive of you." She observed. "Your turn."

"Same question I presume?"

She nodded.

He drew in a big breath. "Well, the first thing you should know is that I hail from Cyrodiil originally. I was, shall we say, the odd Orc out in my tribe. Eventually I was exiled and had to fend for myself."

"They didn't just kill you?" She interjected.

"It's more complicated than that. He admitted. "They tried to kill me, but my mother saved me and spirited me away from the tribe before they could. Either way, I made my way to Anvil where I got a job as manual labour for a blacksmith. It's where I picked up by forge chops."

"That's right, you did say that you could make us some sweet armour like yours." She eyed him up appreciatively. "Not that it would do me much good. I'm not trained in heavy armour. Wouldn't mind a sweet daedric dagger like the one you gave Babette though."

"Well anyway." He blushed slightly under her gaze. "After Anvil, I made my way to Morrowind. To a small fishing village named Gnaar Mok. Lived there up until I became a vampire."

"Did you become a vampire by choice, brother?"

He paused. "...No..."

She caught his tone. "Say no more. Those types of memories are never fun to relive." She took a sweeping glance at the trail around them. "How long have you been a vampire?"

"Over eighty years now. Eighty three to be precise. Actually, it was my becoming a vampire that caused me to emigrate from Morrowind to Skyrim." His tone was slightly haunted. If she noticed, she did not comment on it. Then he changed the subject. "That reminds me. You should take a cure disease potion. I may have given you Sanguinare Vampiris when I fed on you. While vampirism has many benefits, it also has many drawbacks. Wouldn't want you to join our ranks accidentally if you don't want to."

"Very considerate of you, brother." She replied. "I don't have any on me but I'll pick one up in Falkreath when we get back. I don't think I have it though. From what I've heard, you basically become a vampire immediately if you contract the disease and the effects just become permanent if you don't cure it in three days."

"That's not precisely true." He cautioned. "You don't pick up a thirst for blood or a vampire's healing factor or supernatural senses, but you do pick up our aversion to fire and sunlight as well as our resistance to frost. Best to take the potion to be on the safe side. If you want, I can compensate you for the cost of the potion."

She shook her head. "Oh no, that won't be necessary. I have enough gold saved up from my contracts to cover the cost of one potion." She smiled warmly at him. "But you are very sweet to offer." She felt him smile back at her, even with his helmet on. She couldn't explain it, but she knew he was.

"You know, I'm kind of curious how you and Babette...." He began but trailed off. He came to a stop.

She stopped as well and gave him a quizzical look. "How me and Babette what?"

"Shhh!" He replied tersely. He held up his hand to silence her, then cocked his head as though listening to something.

She closed her eyes and listened intently as well. She didn't hear anything, but vampires had senses that were anywhere from two to five times as sensitive to sound as mortals were. She reopened her eyes and started scanning the wilderness on either side of the trail.

"Bandits." Oniyama said from behind her, quietly. "They think they have the drop on us, but I may have just given away that I know they're here. Even money's on them wanting to steal my armour and sell it so they can drink away the profits."

"How many of them are there?" She replied in a hushed tone.

"I'm only hearing two or three, but one of them is giving orders to a group. How many are in the group I can't say unless they start moving or talking."

"I don't see them, how do they see us?" She was really on edge now.

"My three o'clock. Maple tree with a lot of yellow leaves on it. There's a lookout disguised in the branches. They've got a bow, but they're trying not to move so we don't see them."

She looked surreptitiously in the direction indicated. At first, it seemed like there was nothing there. Then she noticed the outline of a man standing amidst the branches of one of the trees. He'd apparently strapped some branches to himself to disguise his silhouette. If she hadn't been told exactly where to look, she'd never have spotted him. "What's our play?" She asked her brother.

"I'll leave the choice to you: Either I charge the direction of the voices and hope I can overpower however many bandits are waiting there, or we sprint off down the road and try to outdistance them." His voice was grim.

"Why am I making the choice?" She asked tersely.

"Because if you choose the second option, you're going to be the weak link." He replied bluntly. "Even though I just recovered from almost dying, I got enough blood from you and Babette to ensure that I can run for days without getting tired. If we try option two, you're the one at most risk."

"What about option three then?" She asked cynically.

"Maybe if you tell me what the hell option three is, I'll tell you whether or not I think you should do it."

She intentionally turned and stared at him. "Option three is you just shoot the fuckers with your goddamn longbow!" She hissed.

He chuckled softly. "You say that like I can see the fuckers. I can't. I can only see the guy in the tree. If I shoot him, there's no telling what the rest will do. If they rush us, I'm only going to get one or two good shots off before they'll be on us. If there's more than a dozen of them, that'll be bad news."

"Why?" She asked skeptically.

"Because I don't think I can handle twelve or more people at once when I don't have a hand-to-hand weapon." He deadpanned.

"She almost smacked him across the helmet. "You dolt! I'm not a blushing princess! I'm a damned Brotherhood assassin. I can take care of myself!" She put on an innocent expression. "Now would you please start murdering these sons of bitches?"

He looked directly at her. Then he burst out laughing. It was loud enough that Babette was likely able to hear it all the way back in Dragon Bridge. He raised his voice. "As you wish sister. Your will be done!" And he grabbed up the longbow off his back.

Gabriella turned to see what the bandit in the tree would do. All semblance of stealth was gone now. The man was trying to climb out of the tree and yelling down to the rest of his crew. He'd been high enough up that simply jumping out of the tree was as liable to kill him as staying put now was. He was frantically jumping from branch to branch, trying to keep the trunk of the tree between himself and them.

Oniyama drew out one of his ebony arrows. He took careful aim, waited for the man to jump and, when he did so, loosed his shot. It sailed through the air and plonked the man squarely in the knee. Since he was just landing on a branch at the time, the sudden loss of one of his legs caused him to topple and fall out of the tree headfirst.

Gabriella turned to congratulate her brother on a masterful shot when she saw him wince. "What's wrong? Did he shoot you back or something?" She asked, but she could see that there were no arrows around or in him.

"No." He said in a creeped-out tone. That guy landed on his neck when he fell out of that tree. I just heard it crunch. Not the most pleasant sound I've ever heard." He replaced the bow on his back. "The rest of them are coming. From the sounds of the footfalls, we're looking at around a dozen of them, maybe a couple more. Get ready." He clenched his fists and settled into a low stance.

She nodded to him and drew out her steel longsword. While she did know magic, she'd have to use it sparingly. Even if the enemies split between them evenly down the middle, it was plain suicide trying to use magic against a group of six or more men at once. She'd have to whittle them down to a more manageable number then clean up the stragglers with her spells.

Oniyama pointed in the direction the bandits would come from. there was a small hill off one side of the path and the bandits were rushing up the far side so they could charge down at them. He indicated as much to Gabriella who nodded and distanced herself from him so she'd have enough room to swing her sword. This would be the first time he fought hand-to-blade against an opponent. He was glad it was just bandits. He'd be serving Sithis in the void already if this had happened back in Solitude. His plan of attack was very straightforward: punch out the first stupid fucker to get within arm's reach, take whatever weapon they had and use it to kill the next stupid fucker who got within arm's reach. Rinse and repeat. "Don't hesitate to call for me if you need a distraction, sister." He advised as the first bandits started cresting the hill.

"You'd love that, wouldn't you?" She called back without taking her eyes off the approaching threat.

"I'm not joking. I don't joke about things like this in battle." He replied tersely.

"I know you weren't joking." She tossed back at him. "I was trying to loosen you up. Never mind now, we've got company!" She clashed swords with the first bandit as she finished her statement.

The bandits were quite numerous. Oniyama didn't have time to make an exact count but there had to be at least fifteen of them. The first one charging at him was a woman as it turned out. She was charging at him but looking at Gabriella. Apparently she was afraid the Dark Elf might blindsude her as she went for him, even though Gabriella was clearly engaged with several of her own problems right now.

As the woman cleared Gabriella's reach, she turned to look at the Orc she was now charging toward. As she caught his eye, she suddenly halted all forward momentum. Dirt kicked up under her heels as she skidded to a stop just out of reach. "NOT YOU AGAIN!" She yelled at him. Then she turned and ran back up the hill as fast as she could.

Recognition stirred within him. Even as another bandit brushed past her to try and strike at him with an iron longsword, he placed her: she had been the failed archer that had apparently injured and killed her own teammates during the bandit attack he and Babette had suffered on the road past Whiterun! What unfortunate coincidence had brought her here? He didn't have time to theorize, he blocked the sword thrust with his forearm, careful to hit it on an angle so it ricocheted off. Then he struck out with his second arm and punched the man in the throat with all the strength he could muster.

The man's eyes almost popped out of his head as he felt his windpipe crumple under the force of the blow. The longsword fell from his grasp and both of his hands went to his neck to claw for air.

Oniyama shoved the man roughly to the ground and swiped up his discarded weapon. Now armed, he was prepared to weather the next attack.

That attack came in the form of another woman, this time with a pair of daggers. She feinted low with the first one, before trying to stab through his guard and into the face hole in his helmet.

He ignored the weapon going for his midsection. It couldn't do any damage. Instead, he brought the longsword up in front of him and sliced the second hand off her body halfway between the wrist and the elbow.

The woman screamed as blood spurted out onto him. She grasped at the bleeding stump instinctively and wound up stabbing herself in the wounded arm with her own dagger.

He shoved her to the ground as well and stepped over the suffocating man to push forward. As he did so, he surveyed the situation.

The majority of the bandits were still at the top of the hill. Evidently they didn't want to crowd each other while trying to take down this duo. Yet, sheer numbers were their only real strength. Oh well, as one of the teachers in his tribe had taught him before the lessons ended 'it was never appropriate to point out the mistakes of your enemy.' He had no intention of pointing out this one. Four bandits were circling Gabriella and four more were attempting to encircle him as well. The rest were watching and waiting to 'take their turn' as it were. Oh well, that meant he didn't have to worry too much about getting overwhelmed. He also noticed that, if they had any bows, they weren't using them. That was a big mistake on their parts, but again, he had no intention of letting them know that. He settled into a defensive stance and waited for one of the four men circling him to decide on a plan of attack.

Gabriella wasn't nearly so patient. She was dodging and weaving in and around the four bandits fighting her. She didn't give them enough time to coordinate. She was rushing one, then the next, then the next. She wasn't actually killing each of them, she was just trying to keep them off balance until she saw an opening. Suddenly one of them tried to slash out at her and put too much effort into their swing. Reacting quickly, she stabbed out and her sword bit deeply into the bandit's side. It was out almost as quickly as it went in and Gabriella was off again without looking to see what the result was. The bandit collapsed in a heap.

Oniyama was rapidly growing tired of the waiting game himself. He didn't feel entirely comfortable going on the offensive with such a shoddy weapon as the longsword he was holding. Still, the way these thugs held their own weapons made it look like they didn't have much experience or training in using them. He took a quick survey of the men around him. Two were armed with maces, one had a warhammer and one had a handaxe. It looked like the warhammer was waiting for one of the others to strike so he could blindside him. Instead, Oniyama rushed him. He tried to bring the haft of his weapon across his body in a defensive block, but the longsword slipped underneath it and stabbed into his groin.

The man's eyes went wide with shock and pain. He grunted heavily. Contrary to the guards in Solitude, the remaining men of the circle had not tried to capitalize on the openings he'd left in his wake. They were just standing there, gawking at how easily he had killed their buddy.

Rather than pull the longsword out, he grabbed at the warhammer from the lowlife and ripped it from his grasp. As soon as he had a solid grip on it, he slid his hands to the far end, opposite the hammer's head, and started swinging the weapon in a wide horizontal arc. With each spin he advanced on the other men.

They snapped out of their reverie and tried to attack. The first man waited for the hammer to pass and stepped in to strike Oniyama on the back of the head with his mace. However, he had sorely underestimated the speed at which Oniyama was spinning and, as the mace started to fall toward its target, the hammer came swinging back around and smashed into the man's midsection. The force of the blow lifted him off his feet and threw him almost twenty feet. He hit the ground with a dull thud and did not rise again.

The second man shouted something back at his comrades. Oniyama couldn't make it out because he was focusing intently on not losing his balance with this hammer. He did notice though, that several more men and women had broken off of the group on the hill and were coming down to assist. The remaining two men of the original circle had fallen back to await their reinforcements. Seeing that they were out of reach, he slowed himself to a halt and faced them directly.

Meanwhile, Gabriella had managed to slaughter another one of the thugs in her pack. Now she was fencing with the remaining two, keeping them occupied so they couldn't ask for more help. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the two men and the approaching group. She was still locked in with the two men fighting her, but she had a bold idea. Deflecting their attacks, she suddenly broke off and dashed toward the two stationary men. The outlaws she left behind shouted a warning to their friends. Even as they turned, she could see she'd reach them before they got their guard up. She let go of the longsword with one hand and readied a fireball spell with it, keeping the hand low so as not to call attention to it. She reached to two men and stabbed the first one in the neck with her weapon. As she sank her weight into the blow, she brought up her free and and shot the second man in the face with the held fireball.

The two brutes she'd left behind had followed after her and now she found herself in basically the same position the dead men had been in. She couldn't free her sword in time and she'd never ready a spell either. She was about to try diving to the ground when a sudden figure entered her view from above.

Oniyama, suddenly free of the two men who had been in front of him, saw the situation Gabriella was in and had capitalized on it. He'd taken a running leap and dived over his partner, twisting in the air to land on the two approaching threats. The three of them hit the ground hard. Oniyama rolled with his momentum and came to his feet almost instantly. Before the two figures on the ground could even begin to react, he smashed the stolen warhammer down onto the first man's head. It squished flat in a spray of blood, brains and bone that would have turned even the strongest stomach.

The second grounded man tried to roll away from the carnage, but Gabriella stepped over to him and stabbed him in the chest with her now freed longsword. Then the pair of them turned on the remaining group in unison.

The reinforcements had stopped halfway down the hill. Now they were looking back up the hill with scared expressions. There were only eight of them left.

One of the bandits on the hill waved his hand and the reinforcements started retreating back up the hill.

"Well, would you look at that. A bandit with discretion." Oniyama quipped.

"Never thought I'd see the day either." Gabriella agreed.

He swung the warhammer back into a throwing position. “THIS BELONGS TO YOU I THINK!” He yelled at the bandit ‘leader.’ Then he threw the warhammer up the hill at the figure.

The weapon arced through the air towards the figure on the hill. His bellow had caught the man’s attention and he ducked accordingly. The woman to his right didn’t have the same reflexes however. The hammer head smashed into her head and knocked her clean off her feet and down the opposite side of the hill. The weapon, robbed of its momentum, clattered to a standstill on the hill.

The remaining bandits abandoned all pretense of an ordered withdrawal. They broke and ran for the safety of the other side of the hill.

Gabriella waited until they were all over the rise before wiping her bloodied weapon on one of the corpses and sheathing it. “Good throw, brother. Very accurate.”

He shrugged. “If I wasn’t as strong as I am, it wouldn’t have made it at all. Maybe I should have kept it. Who knows how many more bandits are going to come calling before we get home.”

“It’s right up there if you want to go get it.” She pointed at the top of the hill.

“No, I’ll just carry one of these.” He reached down and picked up a discarded mace. “Shitty craftsmanship, but better than nothing.” He took a few practice swings. “Besides, my experiences in Solitude have taught me the dangers of a heavily weighted weapon. I think I’ll stick with a one handed sword or mace for my replacement.”

“It’s your call. you know your own weaknesses better than any of us do.” She observed sagely.

“I’ll think it over. We’ve still got the best part of a day ahead of us before we make it home.” He balanced the mace over one shoulder. Then he cocked his head for a second before he started chuckling. “Hahahaha...idiots.”

“Who’s an idiot?”

“Those bandits. In their haste to get away from the pair of us, a few of them stumbled into a bear nest.” He took off his helmet, hung it at his belt and grinned at her. “I don’t think that particular group is coming back.”

She gave him a wicked grin of her own. “Serves them right for trying to get smart with a pair of Brotherhood assassins.”

“Speaking of which, I wanted to say I’m sorry.” He said apologetically.

She looked puzzled. “What for?”

His expression was one of penitence. “I just assumed I’d have to protect you. You were right. You’ve got more than enough skills to fend off simple bandits. It was just force of habit and it won’t happen again.”

She waved her hand dismissively. “Think nothing of it, brother. Truth be told, I’d rather you continued looking out for me. Bandits aren’t a problem, but city guards are another issue. It’s good to know you’re watching my back.” She smiled warmly at him before turning and giving her ass a little jiggle. “I mean, you like to watch don’t you?”

He gave her an I-am-so-clearly-not-impressed-with-you-right-now expression. “Seriously? We just got through murdering bandits and you’re back to attempting to seduce me? Hire a hooker or something, you horny slut.”

Her smile took on a sultry look to it. “You have to pay hookers. Why waste the gold when I could have you for free?”

He stared at her some more. “Have me for free? I didn’t realize Astrid recruited a fucktoy instead of an assassin.”

She giggled. “You know what I mean. Besides, I bet you could do the job better than an entire platoon of hookers.”

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Ok...now you’ve got me picturing ‘a platoon of hookers’ and it’s kinda funny.”

She giggled some more. “That would be quite a sight.”

He chuckled along with her. “Yes. Yes it would.” He cast a glance at the carnage around them. “Well, let’s laugh about it while we get underway. I don’t want to be here when these bodies start to smell.” He started making his way down the road toward Markarth again.

Gabriella looked at him. “Why would it matter to you? You don’t breathe anyway.” She fell in step beside him.

“Yes, but the smell could seep into my armour. If that happens, my targets will be able to smell me coming.” He countered.

It was her turn to give him a skeptical look. “That is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. Unless you’re storing your armour in a literal bloodbath, it’s never going to smell of anything except...whatever daedric metal normally smells like.”

“Ok, guilty as charged, that reasoning is total bullshit.” He admitted. “But think of this much better reason: how likely am I to fall for your advances if we’re surrounded by corpses?”

“That depends on whether necrophilia turns you on as much as it turns me on.” She deadpanned. She started following him down the trail.

He stared at her with a shocked look on his face.

She burst out laughing. “No, I’m not serious. But it was worth it to pretend I was just to see that face!” She laughed harder.

“Yeah, yeah, have a merry old time.” He grumbled. He didn’t like being fooled, but he had to admit he’d believed her.

“Don’t take it so hard, brother.” She consoled him. “We’ve all been fooled once or twice before. Even Arnbjorn has been duped, though he would never admit it.” She changed her tone to a more serious one. “So, now we’ve faced death together. Do you feel more comfortable around me?”

“If I say yes, are you going to try to fuck me on the spot?” He asked without looking at her.

“Would it work if I did?” She shot back without missing a beat.

“No. It wouldn’t.” He replied flatly.

“Well then, no, I’m not going to do that.” She replied nonchalantly. “But we could continue our conversation from before, if you like.”

This time he looked at her. “...Sure. Would you do me just one favour first?”

“What do you need?”

“Stop trying to get into my fucking pants. It doesn’t make me feel particularly good to know that you just think of me as a walking penis.” His tone was hurt but firm.

She cast her eyes downward and adopted a conciliatory tone. “My apologies, brother. I suppose it is possible to be too forward with my own desires. I’ll make an effort to be less antagonistic.”

“Make an effort, that’s all I ask.” He responded.

They lapsed into an uncomfortable silence. The only sound was their footfalls on the road. The grisly scene of battle disappeared into their wake.

Oniyama kept turning the iron mace over and over in his hands. It really was poorly made, but that wasn’t the real reason he kept examining the weapon so closely. The truth was that he wanted to be friends with Gabriella, but she wasn’t making it easy for him. He’d dealt with flirtatious women before. His own wife had been... He winced. As much as the thought of his family didn’t sear through him like a sword left in the forge, the thought still hurt like a dull ache in his tooth. Maybe that was why he wasn’t as comfortable with Gabriella’s advances as he might otherwise have been. In many respects, she was a lot like Samandra. The aggressive flirtatiousness coupled with the overall playful attitude, even her devilish smile was eerily familiar of his wife’s. Of course, this wasn’t being fair to Gabriella. She had no way of knowing any of this. Babette had insisted that she’d not spoken a word to her and he had no reason to believe she’d lied. Perhaps he ought to tell her about it? But, how to even begin?

“So, you tried to ask me about Babette and myself. Before the bandits?” Gabriella tried tentatively.

He jumped on the chance to lighten the mood. “Yes. You two seem like you’re very good friends. Did you know each other before joining the Brotherhood?”

She shook her head. “No. We act like we’ve been friends forever, but I only met her after being recruited.” She frowned a little. “Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did meet her before joining the Brotherhood, but it was under false pretenses. I didn’t know who she actually was.”

“Sounds like a story.” He observed.

She smiled. “I guess it does. It’s not very entertaining though. She was on contract in Riften. I’d drifted into town looking for work.” She gestured with her hands. “Now, this was before I developed a taste for killing, mind you.”

“So, who was she after?” The earlier uncomfortable tension was entirely gone from his tone.

“I didn’t know at the time. After I was recruited, she told me that she was there to assassinate a member of the Black-Briar family. Noramund or some such.” She recounted. “We just happened to bump into each other on the street. I apologized before I realized I was speaking to a child.” She smiled warmly at the memory. “She dismissed the apology, stating none was necessary. She asked after the whereabouts of Noramund Black-Briar. When I said I didn’t know, she thanked me for being so courteous and wandered off.” She threw her hands up to shoulder height. “I never saw her again until I walked into the sanctuary and she was standing there with a knowing smile on her face.”

He chuckled. “That must have been a shock.”

She chuckled along with him. “Hahaha, yes it was. At first I thought she’d been kidnapped. You’ve heard her lost girl routine I take it?” She asked.

He nodded.

“Well, she used that on me to play into my own delusions. I didn’t even think of how odd it would be for a kidnapped child to smile at the sight of me. It wasn’t like we really knew each other.” She shook her head at her own foolishness. “I started plotting to get her out of there and ‘back to her family.’ Of course, she told Astrid everything I said. Apparently, they all let me make a fool of myself and just played along. One night, I told her I had prepared everything. I ‘snuck’ her out of the sanctuary and made my way to Falkreath. There we hopped a wagon for Whiterun.”

“Wow, she really led you on.” He remarked.

“Oh, you have no idea brother.” She said enthusiastically. “Anyway, in Whiterun, we were supposed to meet up with her ‘parents.’ I led her to the inn and we waited in the top room. An hour later, Astrid and Nazir waltzed into the room with grimaces on their faces.” She cringed at the thought. “They chastised me for thinking I could make off with their slave so easily, berated me for being so careless and swore that I would suffer extreme pain before I went to meet Sithis.”

“That’s...a little extreme.” He said. “Just how long did they let you sweat for?”

She shrugged. “Astrid produced a blade and I closed my eyes. When I felt the edge press to my throat, I opened my eyes and saw Babette holding the knife. At first I was confused, then shocked and betrayed. Finally, I settled on staring daggers of my own back at her. Once I did, she took the weapon away from my throat and had a good hearty laugh. Nazir and Astrid joined in. Then they proceeded to enlighten me about Babette’s true nature.” She smiled ruefully. “It took me almost a year to live that one down.” She finished her story and turned to look at him. “Well? Aren’t you going to poke fun at me for my own shortsightedness?”

He shook his head. “You already suffered for it. You don’t need to feel belittled by me as well.”

“Even though I’ve belittled you about your relationship with Babette?” Her tone was disbelieving.

“Even so.” He agreed humbly. “To be honest, fooling people has never interested me. I might not tell someone everything about myself, but I won’t lie to them either.”

“Oh really? Babette told me how you tricked her into thinking her life was in danger on your way to kill Ennodius Papius.” She countered.

“Did she tell you why that happened?” He inquired.

“She...wouldn’t go into it.” She said uncertainly.

“Well, the reason I did that to her is because she was poking fun at me after a major emotional crisis.” He gave her a stern look. “It was in poor taste so I reciprocated.”

“She...didn’t tell me that...”

“No. I asked her not to speak of it to anyone.” He explained. “But she trusts you, so I’m going to trust you too. Remember how I said I moved to Morrowind from Cyrodiil?”

She nodded.

“Well, after I moved there, I met someone. An Imperial woman by the name of Samandra. I could speak at length about what kind of woman she was, but suffice to say that she was one-of-a-kind. Eventually, we married. After that, I also adopted a young Imperial oprhan girl, Lianis. And we lived happily ever after in Gnaar Mok.”

“Except you didn’t.” She countered. “You’re here and your family doesn’t appear to be.”

He winced at the thought of what he was about to say, but he soldiered on through it. “My family is dead. They were taken from me when vampires attacked Gnaar Mok. That was also when I became a vampire involuntarily.”

Gabriella looked upon him with pity in her eyes. “I’m...sorry doesn’t seem to be a strong enough word. I didn’t know, brother.”

He waved his hand dismissively. “Of course you didn’t. How could you? I only spoke about it to Babette and she was the first person I’ve ever spoken about it to since it happened.” He stared forlornly back at her. “In many ways, you remind me of Samandra. She had your same playful attitude, your same blasé flirtatiousness. Perhaps that is why you make me so uncomfortable with your advances.”

She looked at the ground. “I... ... ...I don’t know what to say...”

“You don’t have to say anything. Just promise me you won’t speak of this to anyone except Babette. I have no wish to constantly relive or be belittled about my past.”

She met his gaze with a serious glint in her eye. “You have my word, brother. I shan’t speak of this to anyone.”

He smiled appreciatively at her. “Thank you. I’m glad we had this chance to talk.”

“So am I, brother. So am I.” She said sincerely.

The two of them continued to walk up the road. Around them, the heavy atmosphere that had once hung between them dissipated like mist in the morning breeze.

Chapter Text

“Honey, I’m home!” Oniyama called jovially to no one in particular as he marched into the sanctuary. Despite all that was going on, he couldn’t help but feel slightly happy about having gotten to know Gabriella at least a little better. Sure, Astrid still wanted to sleep with him and sure, she was still destined to be killed for her disrespect, but that just seemed so far away right now. He had a contract to work on, he’d made some new friends and he’d found fulfilling work. Life was a lot better than it used to be.

Behind him Gabriella sniggered. “Someone apparently sneaked some skooma on the road here.”

He turned and glared at her. “Well excuse me for being happy for once!”

She was still smiling evilly. “There’s a difference between being happy and being a total fool.”

He shrugged. “This line of work is too serious. Sometimes you just need a bit of tomfoolery.”

“Oh, trust me. I know.” She shot back with a suggestive glance downward.

He saw her glance and frowned. “I thought I asked you not to do that.”

She giggled. “Oh come now. I’m not serious!”

“Yes you are.” He replied knowingly.

She blushed a little. “Ok, maybe I am, but I don’t expect you to reciprocate.”

He shook his head and turned back to continue marching down the stairs. When he got to the bottom he saw Astrid waiting for him with an icy look in her eyes. Instantly, all the joviality and mirth he’d been feeling evaporated like an ice cube in a desert.

“You sure took your sweet time getting back.” She commented crossly.

“I was injured during my escape. I needed to heal my wounds before making my way back here.” He gave her a defiant look. “Or did you want me to bleed out instead?”

“So, your excuse is incompetence?” The glare from her eyes could have melted hardened steel.

“Excuse me?” He responded indignantly. “I assassinated the target as ordered. Even fulfilled the bonus. And you accuse me of incompetence?”

“Well what would you call it?” She fired back. “Veezara made it back days ago. According to him, you made your escape at the same time he did. Yet he comes back the same day with a few minor cuts and you come back days late with another girl in tow?”

Gabriella, who had been standing behind him watching the exchange, spoke up. “Excuse me? Another girl? What kind of insinuation is that?”

Astrid turned her stare on Gabriella. “I happen to know you were in Dragon Bridge. With Babette. I also know that Dragon Bridge is right down the road from Solitude. Sure enough, immediately after coming back to the sanctuary with Babette following behind, now he arrives with you instead.” her eyes narrowed. “You must think me a blind fool.”

“I can’t speak for my sister.” Oniyama interjected. “But I personally think you’re just paranoid.”

Astrid looked at him again. “Oh...paranoid is it? You expect me to believe that you just happen to rescue and then be rescued by your little love interest and her best friend and you didn’t spend those extra days ‘recuperating’ with the pair of them?” She put air quotes around recuperating.

He repeated the gesture. “I did, in fact, ‘recuperate’ with both of them. By which I mean that I almost died and they nursed me back to health with blood and potions.” His tone was extremely furious now. “But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I did what you think I did.” He turned the full fury of his gaze upon her. “Pray tell, what business is it of yours?"

“What business?” She asked harshly. “What business?! My ‘business’ is that we’re on a tight schedule and you’re fucking away our windows of opportunities! That’s my business, you insolent prick!”

“Well, I wasn’t ‘fucking’ them away.” He defended himself. “I screwed up my escape and I nearly paid dearly for it. Were it not for the fact that Babette and Gabriella were in Dragon Bridge, you’d be doing the next phase of this contract without me.” His glare had not subsided. “I’m certain Veezara did not fail to tell you how badly wounded I was.”

Astrid continued to glare daggers at the both of them.

“Now, I’ve completed the contract on Vittoria Vici. Do you have another contract or am I free to go? I have things I need to do.” It took all of his willpower to stand there and await her reply.

Astrid nodded, though her furious expression and tone did not abate. “You are to return to Dragon Bridge. Commander Maro of the Penitus Oculatus will be sending his son Gaius out to inspect all the major cities in Skyrim. Your job will to be follow the whelp and discreetly assassinate him. Gabriella will provide you with a forged letter that will seem to implicate Gaius Maro in the plot to assassinate the emperor.” She turned from them and walked to the map table.

Despite knowing what she was going to say, Oniyama refrained from antagonizing her further and walked up to look at the map table beside her.

“There’s a bonus involved. We need the news that Commaner Maro’s son was involved to spread quickly. To do that, we need his body found promptly. Thus, if you manage to kill Gaius Maro discreetly while his is inspecting one of the cities, I’ve authorized Gabriella to award you with a unique bonus.” She looked up from the map table with a neutral face. “Olava the Feeble is a good friend of hers. The woman’s a powerful seer and able to pierce the veil of mystery that is the future. If you complete the bonus, Gabriella will provide you with a token that entitles you to one reading from her.”

He looked back at Gabriella. She reached into her robes and produced an odd, almost skull shaped, token. Then she put it back in her robes. When her hand came out a second time, she was holding the forged letter. She approached the pair of them. “Here is the letter you’ll need, brother.” Her tone was carefully guarded.

“Thank you, sister.” His tone was equally guarded as he accepted the letter and placed it securely inside his armour.

Astrid watched the brief exchange with a sneer. “Oh, don’t start pretending to be cool toward each other when I know you were probably screaming each other’s names not one day ago.”

He turned back to her. “I refuse to rise to your bait Astrid. We did no such thing. If you don’t believe that, I can’t help you.” He brushed past her and made his way down to the main hall.

Astrid watched him go. She wanted to discipline him for his disobedience, but she knew deep down that she was being unreasonable. She had no cause to not believe his story. Certainly Gabriella’s outburst was testament to her being mistaken. Gabriella had never been one to hide when she’d made a new conquest. It was highly unlikely that she’d manage to keep landing such a fine specimen as Oniyama under wraps. She shook her head. She was married! ‘Yes, but looking and appreciating isn’t cheating.’ Her mind ‘helpfully’ supplied. Which was true, but if she was only looking and appreciating, why did she feel such intense jealousy toward Babette and now Gabriella?

A cleared throat caught her attention. Gabriella was still standing there, not looking terribly impressed with her. “Yes, sister?” She inquired.

“I’ve completed my task in Dragon Bridge. Do you have more I need to do?” Her tone was still carefully guarded, like she was speaking to a suspicious town guard.

“...No...not at this time.” She replied distractedly. “Be on your way.” She winced internally. That sounded almost belittling.

Gabriella did not react to the rude dismissal. Instead she nodded once and turned to head down to the main hall as well.

Astrid wanted to follow her, but she had no idea what she’d do if Gabriella questioned her. She just wanted to make sure the two of them weren’t spending time together. The question was why. Why did she care so much? Why did her heart yearn for his sweet caress? She was happily married to Arnbjorn. And yet, she caught herself thinking more and more of the newest recruit. He was strong, likely stronger than her husband, though she didn’t know that for sure. He was confident, bordering on insolent, just like her husband. And he didn’t put up with any bullshit. She could see in him all the qualities that had originally attracted her to Arnbjorn. Why, then, did she feel so attracted to him and not to her husband? She barely even knew him! She shook her head. Best that she stop thinking about it entirely for a while or she was likely to drive herself crazy. She retreated to the bedroom of of her antechamber to distract herself.

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Oniyama gathered up the ingredients he’d left in his room. When he’d made his suit of armour, he’d also made a lot of mistakes which had necessitated extra ingredients. Now he needed those items again. Thankfully, he didn’t need too many. Daedra hearts weren’t easy to come by, but he’d still managed to stockpile four or five. Ebony ingots were a lot easier, he had almost twenty of those and leather strips were almost as cheap as dirt. He counted and recounted to make sure he wasn’t forgetting to bring enough. There was a forge in Falkreath and the alchemist’s store had an enchantment apparatus as well. After he made himself a new weapon, he’d have to set out for Dragon Bridge again. He didn’t intend to stop back at the sanctuary for the Astrid harangue version two point oh.

A knock at the door made him turn. Gabriella stood there. “Want some company on the way back?” She asked evenly.

“I would have expected Astrid would have something more for you to do.” He observed.

“She says she doesn’t. I’m taking her at her word and doing what I like for a day or two. After the way she treated me, I think I could use the time away from her.” Her words were harsh, but her tone was sad. “This is so unlike her.”

He nodded. “I know. Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know her all that well, but Babette agrees that she’s been behaving oddly.” He gathered up the ingredients and tucked them into his pack. “If you want to come along, I won’t say no. I just have to make a stop in Falkreath to forge myself a new weapon.”

She glanced at his pack and nodded. “I’m fine with that. Maybe you can make me a dagger to match Babette’s.”

“If I have time. I have to get back to Dragon Bridge.” He said noncommittally. “I can’t rely on Babette to keep Maro and his son in Dragon Bridge. I need to get back there and do my job.” He looked at her with a guilty expression. “Not that I think Babette is incompetent or anything! I just don’t think she can contrive enough excuses to manage it without blowing her cover or putting herself in danger.”

Gabriella smiled and giggled. “It’s OK. I get what you mean. Well, shall we be off then?”

He strode to the door, stepped through it, waited for her to exit and closed it behind them. “Indeed. We should make for Falkreath." He turned and headed for the main hall with Gabriella in his wake.

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Babette watched like a hawk to see if any activity was apparent. She hadn’t slept in days. She couldn’t risk missing Commander Maro’s arrival. She had to be ready to delay him any way she could. He was supposed to be here by now and the lateness of his arrival worried her. Of course, there could be a thousand reasons why he was behind schedule. At first she’d worried that he wasn’t coming to Dragon Bridge, but she’d quickly dismissed that thought. They had checked and rechecked. This was the only active Penitus Oculatus outpost left in Skyrim. If he wasn’t coming here, he wasn’t coming at all.

It had also been a bit of a chore keeping the innkeeper from getting suspicious. She had kept up the lost little girl routine as best she could, amending it to say that her ‘guardian’ was off on a job and she was to wait for his return. It probably wouldn’t have worked, but she had plenty of gold on hand to extend the rental of the room she was in. As long as she kept paying, the innkeeper didn’t seem to care all that much.

The much bigger chore was keeping a surreptitious watch on the outpost. She had to rely as much on her hearing as on her sight. It would have been far too suspicious to just stare at the outpost from the window of the inn. Even if her appearance was innocent looking, the Penitus Oculatus would be hard pressed not to notice the same face staring from the same window at them for days on end. Instead, she spent much of her time outside, pretending to play like the little girl she was supposed to be. It allowed her free access to watch the outpost without drawing attention.

Now she was worried about the lack of her brother’s return. She wasn’t concerned that something had happened on the road. Even unarmed, he was more than a match for simple bandits or wildlife. No, she was concerned that he wouldn’t be back in time to catch Gaius Maro’s departure. True, Maro wasn’t even here yet, but she’d feel much better when Oniyama was here with her.

She walked away from the window and threw herself down on the bed. She’d snuck an hour of rest in during the nighttime, but she was still very tired. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard to sneak out of her room and feed on the other guests of the inn while they slept, so at least she wasn’t starved on that account. Her main issues now were her tiredness and her boredom. Playing like a little child was a perfect cover, but she was not a little child any more than this Commander Maro was. She wanted to go back to work, whatever that work was. She wasn’t obsessed with killing, but there were a thousand better things she could be doing with her time than just watching this gods forsaken outpost in a little corner of the province.

She almost wished she got horny more often, if only because she could pass the time by masturbating and dreaming about Oniyama. It wasn’t something she usually considered doing, but it was a testament to just how bored she was that she was actually debating attempting to turn herself on.

Come on, it’ll be good practice for when he wants to do it.’ A little voice in her head reasoned.

Commander Maro could show up at any time.’ Cautioned another.

So we’ll keep our ears perked. You know you want to dream about his rough tongue running through your cunt.’ The first voice countered provocatively.

At least make sure the door is locked first.’ The second voice ‘said’ in a resigned tone.

Satisfied with her reasoning, Babette got up and double checked that the door was securely locked. It was. Returning to the bed (with a stop by the window just to check things out quickly) she laid down upon it and hiked her dress up to her abdomen. She thought about taking it off completely, but she’d want to be able to right herself quickly if something happened. Next, she lifted up her hips and slid her underwear down her smooth legs. She set these under the bed. She’d put them back on after she was done, but if she had to right her dress in a hurry, it was unlikely anyone would notice them in their current location. Finally, she spread her legs and reached tentatively down with one hand to caress her womanhood.

The smooth skin was cool to the touch. She had been turned before she'd ever started growing hair down there. It had been a massive turn on to the pedophiles she used to use to satisfy her sexual needs. She wasn't sure if it was a turn on for Oniyama, but if it wasn't, there wasn't much she could really do about it. She ran her fingers through the folds of her twat. The sensation of that alone was not enough to arouse her, at least when she was doing it, but her imagination usually worked pretty well. Plus, she had a very recent experience to recall. That helped a lot too. She stroked herself a little harder.

She closed her eyes and sent her thoughts back to that night in Morthal. The look of affection and lust in his eyes. The sound of his deep, growling voice. The taste of his lips and tusks as he kissed her. His rough tongue intertwined with her soft one. She sighed lightly. That tongue. She'd thought it was amazing when he was kissing her. When he had started licking her, she'd thought she was going to go insane. The texture, oddly reminiscent of fine grain sandpaper, tickled and stimulated her in ways a human tongue never had.

Next she thought about his fingers. They were large and callused. When he'd shoved one of them into her little hole she'd orgasmed, but only lightly. It was a thoroughly pleasurable feeling, that finger rubbing her insides raw. She hadn't been exaggerating when she'd told Gabriella that. He had been rather forceful with his fingers compared to the sensually smooth motions his tongue had been making. It might even have been too forceful if she hadn't been so thoroughly aroused by him. It excited her to think that, if that was what his fingers were like, his penis would fuck the living daylights out of her.

She remembered the sensation of his cock sliding in and out between her legs, massaging her pussy and coating itself in her juices. It had felt so rigid, so solid that she thought it could possibly have been carved from some kind of rock. It was a long, thick member, smooth on all sides with a warm throb to it when aroused. She'd felt his orgasm when he came all over her ass. It had been almost scorchingly hot. She loved how it made her feel, to feel his release and know she had done that. Plus the forcefulness of it made her wish he had been inside her when it had happened. It probably would hurt, but she'd welcome that kind of pain.

She ran her fingers through her pussy lips again. The warmth of them told her she was on the right track. There was a bit of moisture on her fingers when she finished tracing them through her folds. 'That's right. Dream of that stiff shaft spreading your flower open and filling your womb with its cream.' She thought to herself. She stroked herself harder. It was working. She was turning herself on. 'That mouth on your clit, those fingers in you, the cool breath as he exhaled onto your most intimate places.' She almost felt like moaning. Her fingers increased their speed as she felt more of her juices come forward from her depths.

"Oni...Oniyama..." She moaned softly to the air of the room. "Fuck...me...brother..."

Her one hand was now moving very rapidly indeed. Two of her fingers were sliding in and out of her little twat, coating themselves in her warm honey. Her thumb was rubbing her inner thigh. She felt her legs start to lift off the bed slightly as the pleasure increased. She moved her second hand in and pinched her clit roughly. The resulting jolt nearly made her cry out as her head jerked off the pillows before falling back onto them. She took her fingers out of her pussy just long enough to lick the honey off of them before putting them straight back in.

Now she was in full swing. Her thoughts kept dashing this way and that, to his penis between her legs, to his rough kiss outside the sanctuary, to the feeling of his rough tongue on her womanhood. For a brief moment she even thought of Gabriella standing next to the tree, her well trimmed cunt on full display. Babette wasn't sure why she'd think of that but it didn't matter. She was absolutely gushing now. Her fingers were sliding in and out with wild abandon. Her other hand was massaging her clit violently and she'd started breathing heavily from the arousal. She thankfully hadn't started moaning very loudly. If the innkeeper heard her doing that, it would be kind of awkward.

She could feel her climax approaching. A ball of fire was building in her midsection. She increased the pressure on her clitoris and the ball of fire burned hotter. Her thoughts were a wild flurry of different images and sensations. With a long, low moan, she came onto her fingers in several mid sized squirts. It wasn't nearly as intense of an orgasm as she'd had in Morthal, but she'd never expected it to be. She kept rubbing fiercely, coaxing a few aftershocks from her throbbing clitoris. Her legs settled onto the bed from where they had been raised into the air. She kept sucking in air through her lips in great heaving gasps. For a self induced orgasm, it hadn't been half bad. She lay there for several minutes, recovering from the lethargy and euphoria that always accompanied her finishes.

A noise attracted her attention. Moving quickly, she reached down and grabbed her panties off the floor. She fumbled a bit putting them back on but she got them eventually. Then she stood up from the bed and smoothed her dress back into position. She couldn't really do anything about the pungent scent on her fingers. Instead, she went to the window and peered out.

Oniyama and Gabriella were walking into town from the direction of Markarth. They were chatting animatedly, though she couldn't hear about what. She stared at her mate as he strolled confidently into the small hamlet. The looks he garnered were likely no different than the stares he used to receive, but they glanced off of him as surely as iron arrows would have. As she sized him up, she saw another difference as well. Where before he'd had the haft of a mighty battleaxe protruding from above his shoulder blades, now a mean looking grip extended from an even meaner looking sheath at his hip. Gabriella also sported a new daedric dagger, not unlike the one Babette herself still carried. Her sharp eyes could still see the dings and punctures in her brother's suit. Evidently he'd only had time to make himself a new weapon, not fix the damage to his suit.

She checked the outpost again. No activity. If Commander Maro had arrived, he had done so extremely quietly. No, if he had arrived in the time since she had begun her little excursion, there would be far more going on than currently was happening. She breathed a sigh of relief. It would have been incredibly embarassing to miss his arrival after days of close scrutiny because she had gotten bored. She was also relieved that Oniyama had made it back in time. He was behind schedule, but so was Commander Maro, so ultimately it did not matter. She was also relieved that Oniyama and Gabriella hadn't arrived just a little bit earlier. True the door was locked, but if he had heard her moans and mistaken them for cries of pain, that door would have been matchsticks in seconds. That would have been mortifying. Counting her blessings, she checked herself one more time to make sure she didn't look too disheveled then went out to greet her family.

The pair of them were just entering the inn. She rushed out to meet them. "Big brother!" She cried with all the childish innocence she could muster. "You're back!" She hugged him around the midsection.

He wrapped his arms around her and cradled her head. "Shhh...There is no need to fear. I would never leave you." He growled softly at her.

Gabriella joined in on the act. "I trust you've been a good little girl while we were away?"

Babette removed herself from her brother's grasp before turning to her sister and saying. "Yes. I didn't make trouble or nothing!" She beamed up at her.

Gabriella's eyes danced with laughter. This was a top notch performance but she knew better than to ruin it by bursting out laughing. Her eyes roved to the innkeep who was watching the three of them with a frown. She moved past the pair of them and approached her. "Does she speak the truth? Has she behaved herself in our absence?"

The innkeep, a Nord female, seemed almost shocked to suddenly be addressed so directly. "Y...Yes." She stammered.

Gabriella nodded. "That's good to hear. Here, for keeping an eye on the little one." She handed the woman one hundred gold from her coin purse.

The innkeep looked a little hesitant, but ultimately accepted the money. Then she turned to go back behind the counter. Right before she got there, she turned back and said. "By the way, the room is only paid for up to today. If you need to stay longer, you'll have to pay more."

She nodded. "We're quite tired from our journey, but we'll be along presently to settle accounts." She turned without waiting for a reply and proceeded into the rented room along with her brother and sister.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Babette dropped the act. "Gods, I am so glad you two got back here. It has been an absolute bore watching that forsaken outpost."

Oniyama took a quick glance out the window at the building. "Does that mean Commander Maro and his family have not arrived? If so, they're behind schedule."

She nodded. "I've been watching it like a hawk for three days straight. If Commander Maro has arrived, he did so with an invisibility potion and the stealth of a cat burglar."

He turned to her. "We're sure he would have arrived here and not in one of the other cities?"

Gabriella answered for her. "We've checked and rechecked our information. This is the only Penitus Oculatus outpost in Skyrim."

He focused his gaze on her. "Couldn't be building a new outpost somewhere else?"

She shook her head. "Our agents would have heard about such a large undertaking. It would have required months of preplanning and logistical support. No, if he's not coming here, he's not coming at all."

Well, I guess we're playing the waiting game then." He said to no one in particular. Then he turned back to Babette. "Although you can leave if you want to. I'm sure you've gotten sick of waiting by this point."

She shook her head. "I've gotten sick of waiting alone. With the two of you here, I won't be forced to pretend I'm a little girl all the time. Besides, I need to be relieved so I can feed. You don't use much blood just waiting around, but I don't carry that much to begin with."

He nodded. "I could stand a meal myself. We got jumped by bandits on the way back and while I didn't wind up as badly as I did when I first got here, I still could use a little nourishment." He walked over to the stool in the room and sat down heavily upon it. It was a testament to the stool's craftsmanship that it didn't even creak in protest under the heavy load. "But that will have to wait for nightfall. I should also change out of my armour. It'll draw less attention when I try to break into someone's home."

"No need, brother. There's several patrons staying at the inn. We can just feed off them." She helpfully supplied.

"Well, we still need to wait until they go to sleep. We're probably going to have to visit all of them since we don't want to kill any of them." He started undoing his armour.

Gabriella, standing by the window, said. "Well, we can always pass the time with certain...activities."

Oniyama looked up at her. "Ha ha. Don't know you well enough for that. Besides, Babette wouldn't be in the mood. She's already seen to that herself."

Babette had been idly examining the cracks in the wall timbers and turned around with a furious blush on her face. "I...I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about." She said guiltily.

"Oh sure you don't." He countered evenly. "That stain on the bedsheets was where you spilled some of your glass of water then? Doesn't smell like any water I've ever drunk." He looked up and flashed an evil grin. "Well, not from a glass at any rate."

Gabriella was now looking toward the bed and scrutinizing it closely. When she spotted the stain, her eyes lit up with a mischievous gleam and she started to speak. However, before she uttered any words, she locked eyes with Babette.

Babette glared at her and smiled back with a knowing look.

She stopped, mouth open, and began to blush furiously. Then she slowly closed her mouth before reopening it to say. "I don't see any stain brother."

Babette nodded and turned away from her. "Course you don't. He's just trying to get under my skin."

He looked up from removing his greaves to see Gabriella blushing furiously and Babette with a knowing smile on her lips. "I see I've been outmaneuvered." He said resignedly. "Well, you can fail to notice all the stains you like, Gabriella. I'm fully aware of what recently transpired in this room."

Babette looked pointedly at him. "Drop it, brother. Whatever happened in this room is no business of yours. Why don't we find some dice or cards to whittle away the time instead?"

Gabriella jumped on the chance to change the topic. "I bet the innkeeper has dice. They usually do. Besides, we have to extend the rental of the room." She walked quickly to the door, opened it and disappeared through it.

Once she was gone, Oniyama turned to Babette again. "So, how was it?"

"How was what, brother?"

He grinned cheekily. "Your little...adventure." He glanced meaningfully toward the stain on the bed.

She gave him a not-impressed stare. When he didn't wilt under its fury, she relented. "it was...a nice distraction. I can't begin to tell you how dull it has been waiting here with nothing to do. I couldn't even brew potions or something because there aren't any herbs in the surrounding area and the alchemist would get suspicious if a little girl wanted advanced alchemy ingredients."

He nodded. His cheeky smile was replaced by a sincere one. "I understand. By the way, I haven't slept with Gabriella yet no matter what she says to you."

She nodded back. "I know. The way you shot down her suggestion was a rather clear indicator of that." She smiled at him warmly. "I meant what I said though. Gabriella's sex drive is far more active than mine. I have absolutely no problem with you using her to keep yourself...relaxed in that department." She walked over and pecked him on the cheek. "Just wait until we've done it first. Gabriella did it to me several years ago and I want to get her back for it."

His expression turned inquisitive. "I sense a story there."

She put her finger to his lips. "Another time. I can hear her returning with the dice."

They separated from one another just as the door opened and Gabriella brought in the afternoon's entertainment. Oniyama wasn't keen on dice games, but it was a good chance to relax before a tough assignment. He wasn't going to get too many of those chances he was sure, so he'd take this one. "Alright, now this may come as a shock to the both of you, but Orcs don't spend their days around the fire honing their dice acumen. Someone needs to explain the rules, preferably as we go."

Gabriella looked surprised. "You've never played dice your whole life? Or unlife?"

He shrugged. "Too busy being a kickass smith and fighter I guess."

Babette sniggered. "Seems like you wasted your time considering how your escape from Solitude went."

He gave her his own not-impressed stare. She was just as unfazed by his as he'd been by hers. "Oh, laugh it up, you little succubus. Once I get these rules down, I'm gonna show you what a quick learner I am."

Their laughter and camaraderie carried on to the sound of rolling dice and cheers.

Chapter Text

(Eighty three years previously)

Oniyama struck the hot metal with a resounding THWANG! The dark surface of the blade seemed to dance with an inner light that had nothing to do with the forge reflected in its surface. He turned the blade over and gave it several good thumps with his hammer.

The daedric weapon was taking shape. He'd only learned the absolute barebone basics of daedric smithing, but he was keen to try it out for himself. The daedra heart had been both expensive and repulsive but when he had cast it into the forge, he'd watched the ebony ingots transmogrify into the much more menacing and heavy daedric metal. It was almost enough to instill a sense of wonder in him. Even though the blade ought to be dull as the hammer he was beating against it, he could already see an edge forming in the soft metal. He'd have to hone it down, but it appeared as though the metal was aware that he wanted it to become a weapon and was fulfilling some of the work of its own accord. He'd never seen anything like it.

He moved the blade from the anvil over to the forge and reached for his sweat rag. Beating even a basic shape into daedric metal was hard work, much harder than anything he'd ever worked on at the forge previously. He was glad he'd made himself an ebony hammer before attempting it. The steel one he used to use would surely have cracked by now. Still, it was a good kind of hard. The craftsmanship that he would have to put into this kind of weapon was sure to drive the price up sharply. Not many people had the chops to work with this kind of material and the few pieces he'd seen on sale in Vivec were exorbitantly expensive. If he could manage to sell his items for even a third of what the Vivec merchant's guild charged, he could practically buy the entirety of Gnaar Mok for himself.

He stepped away from the forge and wiped his brow. He was thirsty. He'd head inside to get some water and the blade would be ready for more work by the time he got back. He made his way across the short distance to his house and went in through the open doorway.

Inside, the house was much cooler than his forge had been. It was absolutely refreshing just standing in the shade his abode provided, but he still wanted water. Samandra was sitting at the kitchen table tallying up her alchemy ledger. She looked up as he entered. "Enjoying yourself out there?" She asked sassily.

He grinned. "Not as much as I could be enjoying myself in here." He slapped her gently on the leg as he walked by.

She grinned right back. "You know that aboslutely everyone in Gnaar Mok would hear us." She challenged.

He chuckled. "You say that like they can't hear us all the way back in Vivec at night."

She feigned indignation. "How dare you! I'm a prim and proper lady I'll have you know!"

He laughed louder. "Hahahaha. Yeah, and I'm actually Hortator of House Redoran."

She got up from the table and curtsied. "My lord. If you had told me you were coming, I would have prepared a proper greeting."

He smirked. "Yeah, I can just imagine what kind of welcome that would be."

She smiled at him affectionately. "You started us down this road, my husband. Do you want to...ride it...to its inevitable conclusion?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm still working on that blade. I just came in to get a drink of water."

She pouted. "Boo. You can always make another blade."

He shook his head again firmly. "Not without a daedra heart I can't."

Her eyes lit up. "So you're..."

He put a finger to his lips and nodded silently.

She sat back down at the table. "Well, don't let me keep you then. Dinner will be ready in a few hours."

He nodded again. "I look forward to it, my love." He reached down and scooped some water out of their supply with a medium sized cup. Downing it in a few swigs, he returned both the cup and the basin to their spots. Then he made his way back outside.

The forge was waiting for him much as he'd left it. He grasped the handle of the blade in the fire and hauled it back onto the anvil. He raised his hammer to strike when a noise made him pause. It sounded like a grunt of exertion. Lowering his hammer, he walked around the side of the forge to investigate.

Lianis stood opposite a training dummy with a blunt wooden sword in her hand. She was stabbing forward into the targets on the dummy's body before hopping back into a defensive stance. He watched her do this several times before making his way over to her.

She saw him coming and broke out of her stance. "I'm practicing just like you taught me, dad!" She cried breathlessly.

He smiled. "I can see that. I just thought I'd advise you against this much exertion." He stepped up and took the blade from her. "You're panting heavily. You've tired yourself out. When you're exhausted, even the most precise teachings become slow and dull. Your form is excellent, but you need to work on your stamina."

"And how do I do that?" She asked innocently.

"Practicing will definitely help, but you should also look into either running or swimming, maybe both." He advised. "All I'm trying to say is this: you've picked up on what I taught you very well, but you need to pace yourself until your stamina increases. The best swordsman in the world will lose to a rank amateur if he's dead tired going into the fight." He handed the sword back to her.

She took it from him, then dropped it and hugged him around the waist. "Thanks, dad."

He wrapped his arms around her gently. "Anytime, little blade."

She picked up the sword again and went back to fighting with the dummy.

As he made his way back to the forge, he smiled to himself. Lianis had been the biggest surprise of the past two years. When she'd first come to Gnaar Mok, he'd set about trying to find dolls and other toys for her to play with. He wasn't able to play with her himself. His work was too busy for that, but he read stories to her every evening to help her settle for bed. However, she had refused the toys and dolls he'd acquired for her, instead stating her desire to learn swordplay. He'd cautioned her that such interests were very demanding and that learning them would take time and a hell of a lot of effort. She'd just beamed at him with renewed determination in her eyes.

And so he had taught her. He was by no means an expert, but he'd picked up the basics of swordsmanship during his years on the road. And by the Gods, but she had learned. It had taken some doing to get a pair of wooden swords balanced like actual blades, but she had taken to her lessons with such gusto that she was now approaching his own level of skill. It wasn't really all that impressive in the grand scheme of things, but she had a grip on the fundamentals of offence and defence.

It was, in fact, this insatiable thirst for knowledge of combat that had driven him to look into daedric smithing in the first place. The short sword he was now pounding into shape was to be Lianis' birthday present. (They didn't actually know her birthday, as she had been too young to remember it when she lost her parents, but they celebrated the day they had adopted her as her birthday instead.) He'd talked things over with Samandra and she was all for it, as long as it was impressed upon Lianis that such a weapon was no toy.

In addition to the sword, he also planned to go to Vivec in the next couple days to see if he could find a master swordsman who could be hired to teach her advanced techniques. Neither the trainer nor the sword had been forewarned and so they were looking forward to Lianis' face tonight when they presented her with her gifts. The first 'birthday' celebration had been a monumental success in and of itself. Lianis had been moved to tears when they had presented her with a birthday cake and several new dresses. She'd tried to refuse the gifts, stating her own unworthiness, but they had calmly and lovingly explained that the gifts were not due to any worthiness of hers. They were simply because the pair of them wanted her to be happy. It had taken some time, but she had eventually come to accept the gifts.

He shook his head. He needed to focus. The blade had to be done by tonight. He swung his hammer down onto the hot metal with renewed determination.

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The three of them sat around the dinner table. In the distance, the sounds of night filtered in through the window. Their plates were filled with roast deer and mixed vegetables.

Oniyama was trying to keep his expression neutral. He'd managed to finish the blade barely an hour ago and now it was hidden under the covers of his bed. His wife had travelled to Balmora to get a birthday cake yesterday. Now, as they watched Lianis eat her dinner, they both struggled to keep straight faces. Watching that little girl's eyes light up in wonder and gratitude was just about the best feeling in the world.

Lianis was munching on a particularly large piece of carrot. She knew what today was. Some part of her was cautious not to expect too much, but the rest of her was also trying to keep a straight face so as not to tip off her parents that she was already expecting what was to come. True, she didn't know what precisely they would give her for her birthday, but they were certain to gift her all the same. Deep down she still felt unworthy of receiving such luxuries, but her parents had never shown her anything but affection and kindness. Her first birthday celebration had been a much more somber event. She'd been worried that they were setting her up for some sort of cruel joke. That they would give her the dresses and the cake and then snatch them away and ridicule her for her naiveté. Yet no matter how long she had waited, they had never done any such thing. Eventually she willed herself into believing they were sincere and things had gone much more smoothly at that point. She was determined not to express the same doubts a second time. It wouldn't do to make her parents frown after all the work they would surely have gone through to make this day special.

At last the food disappeared from their plates and the dishes were swept up to disappear into the sud filled sink. Fresh ones were placed out along with a jug of milk and three cups. Samandra disappeared into the master bedroom and returned with a covered box. "Happy birthday, child!" She cried delightedly as she set the box in front of Lianis.

Lianis sat and looked on in awe as the top of the box was lifted to reveal a delicious looking cake. The icing was a rich brown and there were fresh strawberries on top. Immediately, she reached out and plucked one from where it sat and plopped in in her mouth. Her eyes watered from the incredible sweetness. The strawberries were coated in sugar. "Thank...thank you..." She stammered.

Oniyama was beaming. "No, child. It is we who are thankful for you. You have brought much happiness into our lives. Much more so than we ever would have found without you." He got up from where he sat, crossed to her side and leaned down to kiss her affectionately on the cheek. "This is our way of thanking you for the joy you have given us."

Lianis giggled at the sensation of his rough lips and tusk on her face. "Thank you, dad. I...I just don't know what to say."

His eyes twinkled with love. "Say whatever you wish, my daughter."

Her eyes continued to shine with tears of joy. Then she leaned forward and hugged him as tight as she could. "I don't have words. I just want to stay like this."

He wrapped his muscular arms around her. His hand came up to stroke her hair. "Of course, child. Tonight is your night." He whispered into her ear.

Samandra stood on the other side of her, watching the tender embrace with a grateful affection of her own. "I don't know what I did to deserve such a husband and daughter. There's no place I'd rather be than here right now." She said almost to herself.

Lianis broke the embrace with her father and turned to her. Then she stood from her seat and embraced her as well. "I don't know why I have the best parents I could ever have wished for, but the gods have my undying loyalty for it."

Samandra looked at her husband. She motioned with her eyes towards the bedroom.

Catching her drift immediately, he rose from where he was kneeling. "Lianis, this cake isn't the only gift we have for you. Sit at the table and close your eyes. When you open them again, your new gift will be upon it."

Lianis stopped hugging her mother and sat eagerly at the table. She plucked another strawberry from the cake. She chewed on it with relish, then closed her eyes as instructed.

Seeing her in position, Oniyama made his way to the bedroom and retrieved the sword. He brought it carefully to the table and gently placed the weapon upon it. Then he stood away from the table and said. "Now, open your eyes."

Lianis' eyes opened slowly. At first they were drawn to the cake again, but then she caught sight of the sheathed blade on the table. With a cry of joy she swept it up and started examining it from every angle. "A sword! This is a sword!" She cried happily.

Her parents watched her with complete happiness. Then they looked to each other and smiled in unison. This was definitely the happiest moment of their lives.

Lianis started to draw the blade out of the sheath, but Oniyama stepped in and halted her progress. "Hold child." He cautioned. "You should know that this sword, while yours, is extremely sharp. This is no toy. This sword is so that you can defend yourself if ever you find you need to."

She looked up at him. He had a serious expression on his face. She nodded somberly. "I understand, father."

He nodded and removed his hand. "Then look upon your new blade."

She grasped the handle and drew forth the blade. Immediately she saw her look of wonder reflected in the shiny black surface. Mindful of what her father had said, she didn't run her thumb down the edge but instead ran it down the flat of the blade. The metal was slightly warm to the touch. She grasped the grip in both hands and brandished the blade. It was much heavier than her wooden training sword, but it was balanced in much the same way. Mindful of where she was and who was around her, she didn't swing it. Instead she carefully replaced it within its protective sheath. Next, she carefully placed the gift on the table. Finally, she turned and hugged Oniyama again. "This is the best gift ever." She stretched up on her toes to kiss him on the neck.

He blushed. "Now then, it's too late for you to try your blade on the practice dummy. Let's all have some of that cake before you wash up for bed."

Lianis' eyes lit up. "You mean we can have a bath?!"

He nodded. "Samandra has been heating the water in the forge. It only seemed fair that you should be clean on your birthday."

She hugged him again. "Dad, can we bathe together?"

He jolted slightly out of shock. "Lianis...that's not something parents usually do with children your age."

Her smile did not diminish. "We're not a very usual family. You could stand to get cleaned up yourself. Besides, I want to do this."

He mulled it over. "I suppose that bathtub I made is large enough for two people. It wouldn't fit two of me, but thankfully you're not nearly as big as I am."

She beamed at him. "Then it's settled. Let's have some cake!" She sat back down at the table.

Oniyama looked to his wife. She smiled and shrugged. "You said it yourself, dear. It's her birthday, she can do what she wants."

He hung his head in mock defeat. "I did say that, didn't I?"

She walked over and kissed him on the cheek. "You know, after you're done with Lianis, I've got something I want to give to you." She smiled seductively.

He grinned back. "Don't tell me that now. I'll die on the spot if you give me a hard on while I'm in the bath with her."

Samandra laughed. "She won't mind."

He gave her a not-impressed stare. "She won't. I will."

Samandra went to the kitchen to get a knife to cut the cake with. As she left she tossed back. "You always were a stubborn one."

He snorted. "Look who's talking."

Lianis looked up from the table at them. "Can we please eat the cake now? I can't wait any longer!"

His gaze shifted from his taunting wife to his impatient charge. He laughed when he saw her expression. "Of course, child. How callous of me to deny you your treat."

The three of them returned to the table to eat the cake and share in the happiness of each other's company.

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The hot water splashed over Oniyama as he sank into its warm embrace. Bathing wasn't something he usually did since it was so time consuming and the benefits were vastly outweighed by the effort required to reap them. Still, he had to admit that such an activity was extremely relaxing. When he'd made the tub, he'd only been thinking about utilitarian purposes. He'd never thought to make one that could encompass more than one person. It was an oversight he would have to correct one of these days.

To one side, Lianis was stripping out of her dress and smallclothes. Her figure had grown beautiful in the two years since she had been adopted. The first time she had been bathed, Samandra had related to him how gaunt and sickly she looked. Now, after two years of steady meals and plenty of exercise, she was as full bodied (if not as matured) as his wife. Her breasts had started to accentuate and her womanhood was beginning to grow peach fuzz in preparation for the hair that was to follow.

He averted his gaze and reached over the other side of the tub to grab up a bar of rough soap. Since his skin was so much more calloused and rough than either his wife's or his daughter's, he needed a much more abrasive soap to get it clean. He dunked the bar into the water and began scrubbing along one of his arms.

Lianis finished undressing and stepped into the tub. As she sat down into the water, it sloshed over the side and onto the towels it sat upon to keep the floor from becoming too waterlogged. She cooed in appreciation as the hot water engulfed her. She was facing Oniyama, perched in between his legs and sitting almost uncomfortably close to his manhood. After soaking in the water for a few seconds she reached over to grasp the much softer bar of soap that she and her mother used to clean themselves. With it in hand, she leaned back and started to scrub herself clean as well.

"What made you want to do this?" He asked her while continuing his cleaning.

"I don't get to spend enough time with you, dad." She said warmly. "The stories are nice, but I wish I got to spend more of my day with you. Now I've got you all to myself."

He looked at her. She met his gaze without a trace of embarrassment. She smiled at him. He could see affection in her eyes...and something else. "Lianis?"

"Yes, father?" Her reply sounded as innocent as it could be.

"Do you harbour feelings for me? Feelings of more than just father/daughter love?" He asked cautiously.

Her smile turned almost sultry. "Would it be so bad if I did?"

He frowned. "You recall what I told you the first night you were here, two years ago?"

She nodded. "You said that that kind of behaviour isn't done by children to their parents."

He nodded as well. "That's right. So, with that in mind, why do you have these feelings for me?"

She looked uncertain. "You rescued me. You took me away from that vile Orc and his mean teachings. You never asked for anything in return. Even now, you won't accept anything I try to give you as repayment of the debt I owe to you." She looked down at herself. "I...I honestly don't know why I feel the way I do, but the feeling's been there for a while now." She locked eyes with him again. "Maybe I can't repay you for what you've done for me. Maybe I never will, but I find myself drawn to you in a way that I just can't explain."

His brow furrowed. "You shouldn't even be interested in boys for another year or two."

She shrugged. "I guess things don't always go the way you expect them to."

He chuckled lightly. "No. Clearly not."

They both returned to their ministrations. He scrubbed both of his arms clean, then started on his broad chest. She started with her midsection before moving on to her legs. They worked in silence for a few minutes.

"Father, will you wash my back for me?" She suddenly broke the silence. Her hand extended with the bar of soap on it.

He washed the abrasive soap off of himself before replying. "Of course." He set his own bar of soap on the table next to the tub and took hers in his hands.

She stood up from the water and knelt down so her back was facing him. Then she leaned back so that her butt was almost touching his member. "Is this good enough?" She asked.

"That's fine, Lianis." He replied quickly. He dunked the bar in the soapy water and started dragging it up and down her back in long, slow, fluid motions. Contrary to how he washed himself, he was barely using any pressure at all. No matter how soft the soap itself might be, it could do serious damage if he used all his strength applying it.

"Father, can you scrub a little harder?" Came the plaintive question.

"Yes, child." He replied perfunctorily. He increased the force with which he rubbed the soap on her back.

"Harder, please." Came another response.

"Are you certain?" He asked tentatively.

She looked back at him. "Yes, please. You need to really scrub to get the dirt out. Mother taught me that."

He increased the force again.

"Mmmm...Yes, that's better." She responded to his ministrations. "That feels so good." She started to lean back even further, pressing herself into his arm.

"Lianis, keep yourself upright or you'll fall." He cautioned. In truth, even if she fell backward, she'd land on him. the issue he was really trying to prevent was her sitting down on his penis. He wasn't erect right now, but after deciphering his daughter's intentions regarding him, he didn't really want any misunderstandings between them.

"But father, it feels so good!" Came the almost moaning reply.

"OK, that's that. Your back is clean." He dropped the soap into the tub and started splashing water on her back to wash the soap off. He moved away from her, or he tried to. He was already crammed up against one side of the tub.

She looked back at him with an almost disappointed frown but she said nothing. After a moment, she perked up. "Now it's my turn to wash your back!"

He held up his hands. "No, I don't think that's appropriate. I can wash it myself well enough."

She turned back around so she was facing him. "You said I could do whatever I wanted. I want to wash your back. Besides, you're already in the bath. You know you can't reach all the spots on your back by yourself. Why waste a perfectly good bath and leave it dirty?"

He hung his head. He was really coming to regret his earlier words. "OK. But only my back, clear? I can wash all my other parts without assistance."

She nodded eagerly. "Of course, father! Now, turn around."

Sighing once, he stood up from the water and maneuvered so his back was facing Lianis. "Hand me that bar of soap I was washing you with, Lianis." He requested. "I need to switch it with the soap you'll need to dig the dirt out of my pores. Her hand came into his field of view with the soap. He took it from her, switched it with his and returned this bar to her waiting hand. "Now, just scrub as hard as you can. Don't worry about hurting me."

She dunked the soap in the water and placed it upon his back. He felt her apply pressure before scraping it down his back with all the force her tiny body could muster. She sank below the waterline and came dangerously close to his butt, but stopped and began the return journey toward his shoulders. It would almost have been pleasant if not for the fact that he was so on edge about this startling revelation of hers. How had he not seen it? Even more of a shock was the fact that she was apparently interested in sexual matters even though she was only ten. He'd expected he'd have to defend her honour from some scoundrel who only sought to deflower her. He'd never expected that he was to be the object of her affections.

Her little hands continued to scrub their way up and down his back several more times. Finally, she set aside the soap and started rinsing the soap off. "There, isn't that better?"

He nodded. "Thank you, Lianis." He stood up from the bath and reached for one of the towels. "I think it's about time I stepped out."

"But, you haven't washed all of yourself yet!" She exclaimed disappointedly.

"I got the main areas." He countered. "Besides, I need to get to sleep. That blade I forged for you took me most of the day today to make. I need to get up early tomorrow so I can get more work done for my contract."

She still looked disappointed. "Ok...Thank you for bathing with me, father."

"You're welcome, my daughter." He replied. "You should towel yourself off and get dressed for bed. I'll be by in a little while to read you more of that story."

"Ok, dad. See you soon!" She stood up as well and reached for a towel.

He left her to it and retreated into the master bedroom where his wife was already lying in bed. Her eyes were inquisitive as she saw him walk in with an apprehensive look on his face. "What's the matter, dear?" She asked softly.

He sat down heavily on the bed. "It's Lianis. She's...how do I put this?" He sighed. "She's in love with me."

Samandra's eyes widened. "In...love?"

He turned to her. "Yes. She's developed some kind of infatuation with me. It's why she wanted to bathe with me tonight. She confessed her feelings for me and made a few...advances."

Samandra seemed to take this calmly. "What did you say to her?"

"I asked her why she felt the way she did. From what I gathered, her feelings are born out of a desire to 'pay me back' for everything I've done for her or possibly she just finds my selfless nature appealing." He speculated.

Samandra sat up in bed and smiled at him. "Gods above, can't imagine how anyone could come to that conclusion."

He looked at her and tried to smile back, but failed miserably. "Ha ha. I'm not saying that I can't understand her feelings, but I don't return them."

Samandra processed this. "So what are you going to do about it?"

He shrugged. "What can I do? I have to try and let her down gently. I love her. I always will, but not in the way she wants me to love her. I think she just needs to meet other children her own age. She'll form attachments to one or more of them and the whole thing will be solved."

"Perhaps we can take her for a visit to meet my father. She may not be his blood, but I'm sure he'd make time to make a little girl smile. Plus she'd meet other children." She suggested.

He pondered this. "That...could work..." He turned to her. "I'll check in with him when I go to Vivec to hire that swordmaster. Thank you, my love. You always have good ideas." He leaned in and kissed her.

She kissed him back with passion. "I know. Now, go read her a bedtime story."

He dressed himself in a bathrobe and left the room. He crossed the house and walked into Lianis' room. She was sitting there on the bed, dressed in a nightgown and looking at the book with the colorful pictures.

She looked up and smiled when she saw him enter. "Come read to me, father." She patted the bed next to her.

He sat down heavily on the bed. Swinging his legs up he stretched out and picked up the book. Lianis nestled up to him and rested her head on his chest. It was the position she always took, so he didn't mind. His mind might be racing with thoughts of what his daughter's admission would mean for both of them, but now it was time to put such thoughts out of his head and read her a bedtime story. He opened the book. "Once upon a time, in the faraway Land of Dragons lived a beautiful princess..."

His words tickled her imagination and she purred into his embrace like a kitten. Eventually, she reached up to stroke one page of the book as her mind danced with thoughts of the tale. Finally, her head began to droop as she nodded off to sleep.

Oniyama felt her breathing become shallow and watched as she slid down off his chest to come to rest on his midsection. Moving slowly, he gently lifted her off of him and placed her under the covers of her bed. Then he turned and blew out the candle on the bedside table. Immediately the room was cast into near darkness. Finally, he leaned down and kissed Lianis gently on the forehead. "Rest now, little blade." He said softly. Then he turned and headed back to his own room.

He'd expected Samandra to be asleep when he got back, but she was sitting up waiting for him. He disrobed before climbing into bed in the nude. She watched him get settled before speaking. "Are you still troubled by her admission?"

He turned onto his side to gaze at her. "Yes. I know she never had any positive experiences before we adopted her, but I didn't expect her gratitude to blossom into this." He sighed heavily. "I don't want to break her heart, but I cannot lie with her as I lie with you. It isn't right."

Samandra gazed back at him. "Are you certain that it isn't right?"

He gave her a confused look. "What do you mean? As I recall, you were just as horrified as I the first night she was here when she...well, you know what I'm referring to." Even in the privacy of the house, he still didn't like to say 'Lianis blew me' out loud.

Samandra nodded again. "I know how I reacted back then. And it was warranted. Lianis hardly knew you. True, she knew you a little, but she did what she did out of a misguided sense of debt. I would be shocked at anyone who tried to repay their dues in such a fashion."

"So why do you now question whether I'm right to reject her feelings?"

She smiled. "Because she has grown to know the man that I know and she finds the same qualities attractive that I do. I can hardly fault her for that." She maneuvered closer and kissed him lightly. "Besides, she's started growing into a beautiful young woman, wouldn't you say?"

He frowned at her again. "I honestly expected you to be firmly on the side of 'this isn't right.' That you seem to be OK with it at all is disturbing. As for Lianis growing into a beautiful girl, I can't lie and say I haven't noticed, but she's still too young to be forming these kinds of attachments. I think she just needs to meet new people. There are others who will surely capture her heart and her preoccupation with me will fade."

Samandra was still smiling, almost condescendingly. "I wouldn't be so certain. If you remember, I was a young eligible woman in Vivec and I didn't find a single person who entranced me until I met a blacksmith in Balmora."

His frown deepened. "You're not inspiring confidence."

Her smile widened. "What can I say? I expected this to happen. You're far more selfless and compassionate than any man I've ever known. It's only natural that she would grow attached to you. Especially considering what kind of life she had before she met us."

He gave her a piercing stare. "Are you honestly telling me that you'd be OK with me...sleeping...with her?"

Her smile faded. "Well..." She looked away, uncertain. "I can't rightly keep you all to myself. I've had to share you with her ever since we adopted her. Is it so wrong that I don't mind sharing you in this way as well?"

He was now seriously confused. "Samandra, you're...you're OK with me sleeping with our daughter?"

She still looked indecisive. "I mean...I don't want you to force yourself on her, but if it's what she wants..." Her resolve seemed to firm up. "Then yes, I guess I am."

Oniyama couldn't believe his ears. "And if I don't want to reciprocate?"

"Of course, I would never ask you to do something you don't want to." She answered placatingly. "But if the idea of it strikes your fancy...why not? It's not like she's your flesh and blood daughter."

He looked away and laid his head down on the pillow. He was so completely dumbfounded. Perhaps it ought not to have come as such a shock that Samandra wouldn't mind if he slept around on her. Her sexual appetite was considerable and his wasn't exactly moderate either, but with their own daughter? He needed to sleep on this. He hadn't felt so lost since the night that he'd been spirited away from his tribe. He was still quite sure that, even with her admission, he had no interest in sleeping with young Lianis. He'd have to let her down as gently as he could. It might hurt her, but the alternative was not something he was prepared to face. Suddenly he was glad that he was leaving to go to Vivec in the morning. It would give him time to process how best to make his stance known. In any case, he needed sleep. It wasn't going to be easy, but he had to sleep now or he'd drift off while on the road tomorrow.

He felt a hand on his back. He rolled over.

Samandra was staring at him with concern in her eyes. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have voiced my opinion on the eve of your trip. You feel troubled now." It wasn't a question. There was certainty in her voice.

"I..." He began.

She put her finger on his lips. "Don't explain. I think I know you well enough to see what you're going through." She snuggled closer and kissed him on the cheek lovingly. "Let me help you put your troubles out of your mind since I was part of the reason they surfaced to begin with."

He almost told her that he wasn't in the mood, but as his mouth opened to form the words, her hand slipped beneath the covers and grasped his manhood firmly. With a small yelp, he felt her start to stroke him. She was very good at that. He felt his prick start to harden almost immediately.

Samandra felt her husband's member start to turn into the stone pillar that always satisfied her. Even now, six years later, it was still her favourite toy. The amount of sex they'd engaged in had somewhat lessened with the arrival of young Lianis, but she still found time to pleasure him and be pleasured in return. By this point, she considered herself to be well versed in the arts of love. Tonight was just going to be another performance. She increased the pressure on his dick. "Honey, I think you need to give me some of your cream." She whispered softly in his ear. She kissed him again.

He growled softly into the kiss. Her techniques for pleasing him had gotten very adept. As he started to feel lust for this cream-skinned goddess before him, he spoke his desire. "I'd like to feel those luscious lips of yours milk me tonight."

She smiled seductively. "You shall have your wish." And she slid below the covers.

He felt her move around underneath the comforter until her hair brushed up against his thigh. He slid his hands down and stroked the top of her head.

She purred into his touch for a second or two before bending down and placing her tongue on his balls. With a slow, deliberate motion, she stroked her tongue up between them and onto his shaft. She continued up his shaft all the way until she flicked off the end with a slight "mmm" sound. Then she bent down and repeated the process.

Immediately he stiffened. His cock, already decently erect, shot to full size almost immediately. She was really good at that. His hand tightened on her head slightly before he purposefully relaxed it.

Satisfied with his reaction, Samandra licked his rod several more times. On her fifth trip, instead of flicking off the end, she secured the tip of his member in her lips and started sliding them down his length. Inch after inch of him disappeared into her hot, wet, hungry mouth.

He growled almost angrily. His hand tightened on her head again.

She held him in her mouth, tonguing him softly and evenly. He still tasted great. The years he'd spent in the forge had given his skin a slightly sooty taste that she found highly appealing. It was there when he kissed her and it was especially strong when she blew him. Slowly, she moved her lips back up until they were perched on the tip of him before sliding them back down to engulf him in her warmth again.

All thoughts of Lianis and what had occurred earlier were now being blown clear out of his mind. His second hand moved under the covers and gripped her head. With a steady motion, he started to guide her head up and down his cock.

Samandra moaned as she felt him establish his dominance over her. It excited her to no end when he let go of his inhibitions and started forcefully taking his pleasure from her. She was already somewhat turned on, but now she felt herself growing positively soaked. She was looking forward to riding his stone snake tonight. While her hands were free, she started rubbing her clit to arouse herself further.

Oniyama could feel an orgasm start to build up in the deep recesses of his mind. He didn't want to finish like this though. As fun as cumming in her mouth was, he'd decided that he wanted to shoot his seed into her throbbing pussy. As he eased her head off his cock, he rumbled softly. "I think I want to be inside you."

From under the covers, Samandra exhaled and worked her jaw in a circle. Even with him controlling the movement, it always made her chin sore to work his member over. Not that she really minded. Sliding up from her previous position, she came up out of the covers and kissed him deeply. Her tongue danced in time to his. As she did so, she moved her legs and sat astride him. She cast back the comforter and broke the kiss so she could rise to her full height. She gazed longingly down at her mate.

He drank in the fabulous body of his wife as she sat up. She was absolutely perfect. Her eyes were two brown balls of pure desire, her breasts were full and supple, her crotch was well trimmed and glistening with her arousal. The best part was that she was all his. Her pussy hovered just above his love muscle. She was staring into his eyes with a look of anticipation. As he locked his stare onto hers, she slowly sank down and onto his waiting penis. He watched as the lust grew in her as she slid down his length, watched her bite her lip to try and hold back a scream that might have awoken Lianis. He knew his face was similarly contorted, feeling her hot tunnel engulf his thick rod. When she finally hit bottom and was sitting fully astride him, she bent down and kissed him. He brought his hands up to cradle her head and hold her to him as he kissed her feverishly. Instead of one long kiss, they shared several shorter almost pecking kisses. It was sensual and utterly erotic.

Samandra was in Aetherius already. Oniyama's cock never failed to make her feel full and the sensation of it throbbing inside her was almost enough to give her a light orgasm right then and there. As she broke off from the frantic kissing and returned to her original position, she put strength into her legs and started sliding up off him. When she felt his tip sliding past her pussy lips, she sank back down onto him, much quicker than she'd gone up, with a long moan of satisfaction as she felt him fill her up again.

Oniyama closed his eyes as his wife started to ride him slowly and sensually. For the last six years, he'd only had sex with this one woman. He supposed that some men might start shopping around for other avenues of sexual release, but he was not like that. No matter how often he got horny, she was always down to fuck. He could approach her at literally any time of the night or day and she'd drop everything to suck him off or give him a ride. He counted himself extremely fortunate that she was in his life. He couldn't even begin to imagine why other men cheated on their spouses. Admittedly, not all spouses were as sex crazed as Samandra, but either way, he was simply not interested in sleeping with other women. As he felt his wife sink down onto him again, he growled lustily. Oh yes, he doubted any woman could match the kind of treatment he received so regularly from the demure looking sex goddess above him. His hands moved up and roughly grabbed two handfuls of Samandra's bust. Without stopping, he began to massage them roughly.

Samandra couldn't hold it. She let out a loud moan as she felt him begin to abuse her breasts. They never really did get enough attention, so they always turned her on even more when he did remember to play with them. She reached her hand down to feel his shaft sliding in and out of her. She recalled the first time he had done that. How much it had hurt. Now she plunged him into her twice or maybe even three times as hard as he had that first time. It was glorious. In that instant, she came hard onto his dick.

Oniyama felt his wife tense up as an orgasm rocked her. He opened his eyes as she moaned. Her face was contorted by the pure pleasure she was feeling. He increased the force with which he kneaded her boobs. He pinched her nipples and pulled on them.

Samandra felt the assault on her bust increase in ferocity. It caused her to hit a second high and cum straight after she had just done so. Her pussy tightened up on his prick in time to her heartbeat. Suddenly she had an idea. Grabbing at her husband's hands, she wrenched them off her breasts. After that, she quickly got up off him and stood up from the bed.

He watched her stand up from their lovemaking. "Something wrong, dear? Need to take a break?" She didn't need to do so very often these days, but anything was possible.

She smiled seductively down at him. "No. I just want you to fuck me in a different position." She walked over to stand beside the doorframe leading out to the main room. Bending over, she put a hand on her ass and pulled. "I want you to fuck me in the ass until right before you're ready to come, then I want you to stick it in my cunt and blast me into Oblivion."

Oniyama levered himself up off the bed. He moved into position behind her. "If I do that, you might get a splinter in your chest from the wall." He cautioned.

She looked back at him and winked. "That's the hope, darling." She took her other hand off the wall and used it to pull her other butt cheek open. "Now...fuck my slut brains out."

Oniyama didn't need any more encouragement than that. He moved in close, put the tip of his dick against her ass and slammed it home. The sudden pressure on his cock was almost enough to make him cum right there, but he restrained himself.

Samandra felt his hot rod slam into her ass with the force of a hammer blow. It was enough to give her a light orgasm on the spot. She let go of her butt cheeks and braced herself against the wall once more. Slowly, she leaned her chest into it more and more until at last her bosom was pressed up against the rough wood. Almost immediately, she felt a small pinprick as a sliver of wood pierced the skin next to her nipple. She moaned heartily as she felt it. 'This was absolutely the right idea.' Her mind marveled as the pain from her chest and the burning friction from her ass assaulted her from both sides.

Oniyama was watching his wife's ass slide onto and off of his dick with wild abandon. It was such an obscene sight. He was starting to whip up a sweat. So much for the bath. He wasn't going to hold out too much longer now. "Honey, I'm gonna cum soon."

"I'm not your honey. I'm a dumb slut whore and you need to fuck me until I can't tell which way is up anymore." Samandra called back over her shoulder. Her husband wasn't much for dirty talk, but she knew that hearing her say it drove him absolutely wild.

He heard the words from his wife and his member twitched in response. It just wasn't who he was to call her such crass names, even in bed, but the way she described herself was amazingly obscene. He was heading into the home stretch now. The pressure in her ass was intense. It was nowhere near as lubricated as her pussy, but the wholly different sensation of the almost burning friction on his dick was quite welcome nonetheless. Thinking of something, he reached out and grabbed a handful of Samandra's hair. With a yank, he pulled her head back and kissed her fiercely.

Samandra moaned into the kiss. She liked it rough. With his immense bulk, he was capable of hurting her immeasurably, but he always knew just how much strength to apply so that he hurt her, but did not injure her, at least not permanently. It was times like these that she wished she still had long hair. Hers was still shoulder length, usually tied up in a simple ponytail or bun, but if it was longer he'd be able to force her head into all kinds of crazy positions. As things stood, this was a reasonable compromise.

He broke the kiss suddenly and shoved her head into the wall she was leaning against. The impact wasn't hard, but it dazed her. As he did so, he pulled out of her ass and impaled her pussy with his engorged shaft. Almost before she realized, he was shooting his hot ballista bolts of desire into her hungry depths. She cried out as she almost always did when he finished. Even years later, the force of his ejaculation was painful but, despite that, it was a kind of pain that she craved. He shot into her so many times that it couldn't be contained within her tunnel and it started to leak out onto the floor.

Samandra half moaned, half sighed as she felt his release. Her eyes started to refocus and that was when she caught sight of something that made her freeze.

She had been braced against the wall next to the doorframe and from this position, one of her eyes was able to see out of their bedroom and into the main hall. Across from them, the doorway into Lianis' room was clearly visible. And sitting to one side, watching their passion, was Lianis. Their eyes locked onto each other and Lianis similarly froze. It wasn't entirely clear from her vantage point, but it looked like Lianis had been masturbating while watching them fuck. Immediately, Samandra looked back at her husband to see if he'd noticed. He'd stepped away from her and retreated a half step toward the bed. From his angle, he couldn't see into the main hall. Returning her gaze to Lianis, Samandra held up one finger to her lips.

Across the hall, Lianis nodded.

Turning back to her mate, she saw that his penis was still upright. "Oniyama, dear, it seems you aren't quite finished. Why don't you fulfill the rest of your desire in between my breasts?"

He looked up almost dreamily. "Thanks, but I'm starting to feel a bit tired."

She shook her head. "Nonsense. If we don't take care of that now." She gestured to his still erect dick. "You'll be delayed tomorrow when we take care of it then. Now come over here and satisfy yourself." She knelt down and pushed her breasts together.

He looked at his penis then looked at her. "You make a good point." He gestured to the bed. "If you come up here, your knees won't get sore."

Samandra shook her head. "I want my knees to get sore. Besides, you'll tire yourself out more if you're standing up, which means you'll sleep sounder."

He mulled this over. "Can't argue with your logic." He stood up from the bed and crossed to where she knelt. "Are you ready?"

She nodded. "Now, close your eyes. You'll feel the sensations much more clearly if you do."

He nodded again and closed his eyes.

She leaned forward slightly and sandwiched his dick between her breasts. Looking up at him to make sure his eyes were closed, she cast a glance through the doorway.

Lianis was now sitting in full view. Her nightgown was nowhere to be seen and she had two fingers buried up to the hilt in her own twat. When she saw Samandra looking her way, she started to withdraw them.

Samandra smiled warmly at her and motioned for her to continue. Then she turned back to her own task. She pressed his dick between her breasts firmly and began spitting on it to give it more lubrication. Slowly, she started moving her breasts up and down. His member would disappear between the folds only to come snaking its way back out again. It twitched erratically.

"Oh, Samandra, that feels divine." Oniyama moaned.

"You haven't felt anything yet." She replied. She leaned down and opened her mouth. When his shaft came up this time, suck closed her lips around the tip and sucked hard.

Instantly, his hands flew to her head form the immense stimulation.

She opened her lips and let his tip fall from her and slide back down between her boobs. When it slid back up, she repeated the maneuver. Every time she did so, his hands tightened their grip on either side of her head and he growled softly.

Out of the corner of her eye, Samandra watched as Lianis started rubbing her own clit. The look in her eyes was half shame, half lust.

Oniyama was already close to the edge after just a few minutes of this treatment. With his eyes firmly closed, he could feel every contour of her breasts, the outline of her lips, even the sucking seemed more intense. His hands were locked firmly around her head, but he made sure not to force it in any direction. His dick was pulsing wildly now. He knew it wouldn't be long before he blew his load a second time.

Samandra was watching Lianis as best she could. The girl was up to three fingers in her cunt and she was moving them as fast as she seemed able to. She was biting her lip hard enough to leave a mark and her other hand was almost a blur as she rubbed her clit harshly. Releasing one hand from her breasts, Samandra held her fingers out to Lianis, then slowly curled them into a 'C' shape. She moved her hand back and forth in the air a few times then pointed to her own pussy.

Lianis watched her movements intently. When Samandra pointed at her own vagina, she nodded. Her fingers twitched and she suddenly tensed up. Her eyes nearly popped out of her head and it took all her willpower not to cry out.

Satisfied with her lesson, Samandra motioned Lianis to return to the bed.

Lianis nodded, stood up silently and disappeared from view. She reappeared a moment later with her nightgown on. This time she was peering around the corner with one eye. Apparently she wanted to watch the finish to this little show.

Samandra nodded as best she could to her and returned her full attention to her ministrations. Thankfully, she didn't have much work left to do. Pressing her breasts together firmly again, she spoke to Oniyama. "Alright, dear. I'm going to suck you off now. Just tap my head when you're about to finish so I can feel you spray it all over my face."

He grunted his affirmation.

She released his cock from her breasts and moved her head down to engulf it once more in her mouth. She tongued him fiercely the entire time. She kept her teeth back, not because she didn't want to hurt him, but because she didn't want to break them on his stone pillar cock. The twitching and throbbing of his penis was so erotic it was making her dizzy. At last, she felt him tap her on the top of her head. She went down on him once more, gave him a bit more tongue, then drew her lips off just in time as his second orgasm of the night shot out onto her face. Thick streams of cum hit her in the face and neck. She opened her mouth to receive some of his pleasure directly on her tongue. This time, the natural bitterness of his seed was offset by the sweetness of the cake he had eaten. It was absolutely delicious and a welcome surprise. She chanced a glance to the side.

Lianis was still watching rapturously. Her thighs were rubbing together under the nightgown.

With a small gesture, Samandra motioned for her to go back to bed.

Lianis nodded slightly and disappeared from view. This time she did not return.

Samandra was certain she knew what Lianis was going to be doing for a second time tonight. If the thought that she had just facilitated her daughter's first orgasm was supposed to be alien to her, it just didn't come across that way. Maybe it would be different if Lianis was her flesh and blood daughter, but she wasn't. Men like Oniyama were rare but women who were attracted to men like him were quite common. Contrary to what she had previously said, she did have an issue with him cheating on her, but only with women she didn't know. She did know Lianis. She was quite fond of the girl. It didn't bother her if Lianis wanted Oniyama the way she did. She supposed it ought to, but it didn't.

Oniyama stepped away from her and collapsed onto the bed. He sighed contentedly. "You're amazing at that as always." He complimented.

She stood up from the floor. Her knees screamed in protest from supporting her weight and a fair share of his on the hard wooden floor for so long. She grabbed up her nightgown and wiped her face and breasts clean. She'd have to wash it tomorrow, but it was worth the effort. "Thank you honey. Now you can sleep like the dead all night long."

He yawned. "That's exactly what I feel like doing." He got himself situated under the covers.

She climbed into bed beside him and leaned over to kiss him goodnight. "Sleep, my husband. I will be here when you wake."

He kissed her back lovingly. "I will see you in the morn." He replied affectionately. He turned to lie on his back and as asleep almost immediately.

Chapter Text

The bright morning sun beat down on Oniyama's face as he got off the silt strider. He hadn't seen Vivec city in six years. That said, it hadn't changed much. It was still a bustling hub of trade and culture. Already, he could see merchants and nobles making their way in between the...what were those called? Ziggurats? They seemed like ziggurats. He'd go with that. He thanked the strider caravaner and turned to head down into the city.

His business in Vivec was twofold. He was here to buy more raw materials for ebony armour. As per his contract, he received roughly eighty percent of the ore he needed to craft the armour suits for House Redoran and House Hlaalu. The rest he was expected to procure on his own. His main supplier was a mining and shipping company that called Vivec their home. He'd come to know the man in charge and was considered one of the company's preferred customers.

Ore wasn't his main concern, however. He was also looking to stop by the Fighter's Guild. While it wasn't a guarantee that someone there would aid him, the Fighter's Guild was the most logical place to begin looking for a swordmaster to bring back to Gnaar Mok with him. With any luck, he'd find a woman. As Lianis was female, a female sword fighter would be uniquely aware of all the challenges and advantages Lianis possessed.

He'd start with the ore. He struck out from the strider dock and made his way past the Ordinators into the city proper.

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Lianis struck the practice dummy with her new weapon. It had a surprisingly acceptable weight to it. It tired her out more quickly to use it, but the nicks and marks it left on the wood were highly satisfying. Wary of what her father had said, she had resisted the urge to test the sharpness of the blade. It was quite apparent even without the thumb test that this sword could probably chop down a maple tree with little effort. Well, little effort from a full grown person. It might take her all day to accomplish the same and it would almost certainly ruin the blade in the attempt. She'd already caught several stares from the townsfolk. Apparently, they disapproved of a child wielding such a menacing looking blade. Not that any of them were likely to actually speak to her about it. The folk of Gnaar Mok generally stuck to one rule: mind your own business. A few of them were genuinely envious of her new instrument, but they knew better than to interfere with Oniyama's daughter.

A presence approached her from behind. She recovered from the inertia of a swing and turned to face this newcomer. Immediately, she saw from his appearance that he wasn't one of the inhabitants of the village. His elven features looked down on her, both literally and figuratively. He was very pale, almost sickly looking. His eyes were appraising the weapon in her hands. "That's a fine blade you have there, girl." His voice was smooth and cultured, but the tone was almost menacing.

Lianis' street senses went off immediately. Whoever this man was, he didn't have any friendly intentions toward her. Taking a step back, she dropped into a semi combat stance. She kept her weapon held low. "It is. Is there something you wanted?" Her tone was carefully guarded.

He smiled. It could have been mistaken for a warm smile, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "I was wondering where you got such a finely crafted weapon."

"It was a gift from my father. He made it for me." She replied cautiously. She knew better than to answer his questions blindly, but he hadn't asked anything that was out and out offensive yet.

"Your father? Might I speak with him?" Still that same voice, playful but ominous.

"He's...busy right now. He should be free to meet with you day after tomorrow." Lianis almost said that he wasn't in town, but she caught herself. Knowing that a strong blacksmith wasn't nearby might well encourage the Elf to be reckless. She silently cursed herself for claiming him to be 'busy.' The Elf might pick up on his absence from that.

"Oh. My mistake. I shall await his return then." The Elf turned and walked back the way he had come. He turned back to face her after a few steps. "Keep up the practice, your form is excellent."

She nodded but did not otherwise acknowledge the compliment.

He turned and walked away.

She watched him leave until he turned past a rock on the outskirts of town and disappeared from view. Then she ran from her practice dummy into her home.

Samandra was doing laundry. She looked up as Lianis raced into the abode, weapon in hand. "Child! What's the matter?!"

Lianis locked eyes with her. "A strange man just approached me outside. I don't know who he is or what he wants, but I know he's not friendly."

Samandra stood up from the washbasin. "Calm yourself child. Start from the beginning."

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Oniyama stepped down off the ship which housed the captain of the mining company he dealt with. The man had been glad to see him. Apparently, business wasn't quite as good as it used to be, so someone looking for a bulk order was most welcome. While negotiating price, he'd also gotten directions to the Fighter's Guild. Now he was on the way there.

The Fighter's Guild had a long and storied history, none of which had ever really been of interest to him. Not that great battles weren't interesting reading material, but most of what the Guild did was hard to follow. They were effectively mercenaries, working for the highest bidder. No matter. He had a large pouch of gold with him today and he was clad in his ebony armour. He was certain he could find someone who'd be willing to train his daughter in sword techniques.

It took him next to no time at all before he was pulling open the door that led into the Guild proper. The captain's instructions had been very precise. The first thing he noticed as he walked over the threshold were the stares. Even someone as buff as he, someone clad in a very respectable suit of armour, with a weapon at his hip and a bow on his back, even he was not welcome within these halls. The few fighters who were within eyesight of the front door were all watching his entrance with barely concealed looks of condescension. They thought themselves better than him. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't, all that mattered to him was finding one that didn't immediately irritate him so much that he tried to behead them on the spot.

He pulled the door closed behind himself and made for the front desk. It was altogether odd that such a guild even had a front desk. Secretarial work wasn't something one thought of when they pictured the Fighter's Guild, but of course even they would have need of such.

The woman behind the desk was clad in simple leather armour. She had a handaxe sitting on the counter next to her, easily within reach. She watched him approach with the same disdain the others displayed. As he locked eyes with her and settled into a position in front of her, she spoke. "What business do you have in the Vivec Fighter's Guild?"

He cleared his throat. "I seek to hire a swordmaster."

She gave him a blank stare. "For?"

He raised an eyebrow at her. "To train my daughter in the art of combat."

She gave him a look over. "Where is your daughter?"

He was growing tired of this. "She's back in Gnaar Mok. I aim to hire someone to accompany me back home and tutor her."

The woman turned her nose up at him. "Well, you can ask, but I doubt you'll find anyone willing to demean themselves for a whelp."

He very nearly punched her right then and there, but he restrained himself. He was here to hire a swordmaster, not fight them. He turned and walked around the desk, heading for the main room.

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Samandra and Lianis watched from the window as the Elf and a group of his followers took up a secluded, though not altogether concealed position partway out in the swamp that Gnaar Mok was situated next to. It was clear to the both of them that this group had plans of some sort for the town, though exactly what they planned to do wasn't clear. It also wasn't clear why they were waiting. The sun was high in the sky. If they were planning a raid, now was the best time to assault. If they were planning a robbery, why were they so obviously positioned? Logic would dictate that they would want to remain unseen until they had finished their heist, if that was their plan. It was a very odd situation. Gnaar Mok didn't have much in the way of the law. They had already informed the innkeeper of the strangers but the town didn't have any guards from either House Redoran or House Hlaalu. They passed through every couple of weeks just to check in, but there were none stationed here permanently. The Camonna Tong had a presence, but they were a crime syndicate. Local law enforcement wasn't their purview and they made sure everyone was aware of that.

So it was that Samandra and Lianis sat in their house, only too aware of how vulnerable they were. Samandra desperately wished she had convinced her husband to make his trip to Vivec a family outing. But her alchemy business wouldn't run itself, so she had stayed back. They had also figured that Lianis would be keen to practice with her new weapon, something she wouldn't be able to do at all if she went of the trip to Vivec. She wouldn't even be able to wear it openly within the city's streets. So they had decided that he would set out alone. Now, watching the Elf and his crew settle in among the reeds, their eyes trained on the small village, she felt a shiver of fear run down her spine. The group of men and women in the swamp, their intentions, while not perfectly clear, were clear enough. And the straightforward way in which they were settling in made it obvious that they didn't fear reprisal or discovery.

Beside her, Lianis was huddled into her bosom. "What are we going to do?" She asked fearfully.

Samandra shook her head. "All we can do is wait. I'll make us some dinner. After that, we'll lock the doors and await your father's return." She stood up off the floor and crossed to the pantry to check and see what they had.

Lianis remained on the floor. Her eyes were glued to the swamp. Now that the group was settled in, it was hard to make them out amongst the reeds. She could spot them if she looked hard enough, but she might not have noticed them if she hadn't seen them set up. She had never been much of a devout child, but now, with such a threat so close, she bowed her head and prayed. "Gods above, let me see my father again. Gods above, keep me from harm."

In the silence of the house, Samandra heard her daughter's prayer. It echoed her own silent one. She continued her work. Lianis was already tense enough. The best thing she could do now was put on a strong face for her child to draw from. Deep down, she was just as worried as Lianis, if not more. The strange group was an ill omen. Only time would tell what that omen foreshadowed.

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Oniyama was running out of patience. He had talked to more than half a dozen fighters. All of them had barely tolerated his presence. It was extremely grating. He hadn't been expecting fawning and subservience, but surely they treated potential customers with something approaching at least mock respect? How did the guild stay in business with this kind of derision? Surely there had to be at least one halfway decent fighter who wouldn't spit in his face.

He turned a corner and came to a halt. In the practice room ahead of him stood a solitary occupant. She was Nord if he wasn't mistaken and she had rather strikingly beautiful features. She wouldn't be out of place as the wife of a nobleman, but here she was in the Fighter's Guild. Her blonde hair was tied up in a neat ponytail and she was practicing deftly with a pair of shortswords against a training dummy not altogether different than the one he'd made for Lianis back home.

She noticed him staring at her and stopped what she was doing. "You lost?" She asked neutrally. Her voice was definitely girlish, but it had an abrasive undertone to it. Clearly, she wasn't one for putting up with bullshit.

He shook himself out of his reverie. "No. I'm looking for a swordmaster."

She chuckled. "Well, at least you came to the right place. What do you need one for?"

He moved forward to the doorway. "My daughter is interested in learning how to fight. I've taught her all the basics I know, but I'm a blacksmith, not a warrior. I want to hire someone to come back to my village and tutor her."

The female fighter pondered this. "I would've expected your elders to be her teachers." She observed.

It was his turn to chuckle. "Under normal circumstances, you would be correct. However, I do not live with my tribe and my daughter is no Orc. There aren't any fighters that call my village home, so I came here to look for one."

Her eyes seemed to brighten. "I take it the others haven't been too keen on your proposition?"

He laughed. "You could say that. I got the distinct impression they would have run me through as much as look at me."

She laughed in return. "That's them for you. If a job doesn't give them the glory to get to Sovngarde, or whatever their version of heaven is called, they're flat out not interested. I, on the other hand, am quite practical." She sheathed her weapons and moved forward with her hand extended. "I'm Helena. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

He reached out and shook her hand. "I'm Oniyama. Blacksmith out of Gnaar Mok."

She nodded. "Well Oniyama, we can certainly discuss terms. My time isn't cheap and it sounds like I'll be in your employ for quite a bit of it." She motioned for him to join her at a table in the room. "Come. Sit with me and we'll discuss details."

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The sun was setting over the village of Gnaar Mok. Lianis, try though she might, could no longer make out the Elf and his cohorts in the reeds outside of town. Dinner had come and gone and she had eaten her fill, but she was still on edge.

Across from her at the table, Samandra was sitting tallying her alchemy ledger. She was just as worried about the group watching her village as young Lianis was, but apart from keeping the doors locked, she couldn't really do anything about it. Prior to the sun going down, she'd brought several weapons in from Oniyama's weapon shed. She didn't have any experience using them, but if they were attacked, she'd go down swinging. Lianis' new sword was also here. It was in easy reach of the girl if the time came to use it.

The pair of them were engaged in their own separate tasks. They didn't move. They didn't speak. They both just waited. With the setting of the sun, the danger increased dramatically. The hope that a House guard would arrive was also disappearing. No House guard would dare patrol under cover of night unless they were moving in large groups and Gnaar Mok had never seen more than two guards come into town in such a fashion. No, they were quite clearly going to have to deal with these outsiders on their own. All they could do now was hope that the outsiders just had a love of swamp camping. It was a foolishly slim hope, but it was the only one they had left.

"Lianis, dear, you should come sit at the table. You're just going to get sore sitting on the floor like that." Samandra called.

Lianis was reluctant to move from her position. Ultimately though, she couldn't see the Elf's group in the fading light. The best thing she could do was conserve her strength in case it was needed later. With a heavy sigh, she levered herself up off the floor and crossed to the table. She took a seat next to her mother and watched as she continued tallying up the figures in her book. While the scribbles didn't make much sense to her yet, Samandra had promised that she would take the time to begin teaching her how to read along with basic math skills. She wasn't certain what use she would find in reading or math, but having them was certainly impressive.

Samandra finally pushed the ledger away and stretched. "That's enough of that." She said. She turned to Lianis. "I wanted to talk to you about what happened last night."

Immediately Lianis blushed a deep shade of crimson. "I..." She had never felt more embarrassed in her life.

Samandra waved away her attempt to defend herself. "You don't need to apologize. I understand your feelings for him." She stroked her daughter's cheek. "In fact, I find it adorable that you're so infatuated with him."

Lianis was still blushing, but she maintained eye contact. "You're not upset? Or jealous?"

Samandra laughed. "Jealous? Why would I be jealous? Men like Oniyama are very rare so it's no surprise that he's the only example you can find." She smiled warmly. "I actually quite admire you for having the courage to admit your feelings for him have changed."

Lianis still looked uncertain. "I thought you'd be upset. I thought I would have to hide my feelings for him from you."

She shook her head. "Lianis, darling, I understand why you wouldn't be forthright about this topic. I'm glad that what happened last night happened when it did. Your father is aware of how you feel, I'm aware of how you feel and neither we nor you should be ashamed of it."

Lianis smiled. "Why did you let me watch?"

Samandra pondered this. "Your father..." She took a breath. "Your father doesn't share your feelings. That's not to say he never will, but he doesn't for the foreseeable future. There aren't any other children in Gnaar Mok for you to develop attachments to and your admission in the bath made it clear that you'd started having impulses of...that...nature. I 'put on a show' for you last night because it might be the only way for you to satisfy yourself in the near future." She had started blushing a bit herself.

Lianis hugged her. "Well, thank you. It was a wonderful show."

Samandra hugged her back. "Don't count on always being able to watch us, but I'm glad you enjoyed yourself all the same."

The two of them held in an embrace for several seconds when a noise caught their attention. Outside, someone was yelling. It wasn't clear what they were yelling about. As the pair of them rose from the table to go to a window and investigate, suddenly a blood curdling scream tore through the night. Almost as soon as it started it was cut off amid sounds of battle and panic.

Samandra and Lianis froze on the spot. They stood there, staring at the door into their abode. It was securely locked, but any intruder could get through it with enough time and effort.

Samandra was the first to break out of her daze. She rushed to the table and picked up an ebony longsword. She drew it out of its sheath and held it low.

Lianis saw what she was doing and rushed to pick up her own daedric weapon. Samandra motioned with her free hand for her to stop. Puzzled, she kept the blade in its sheath and went over to her.

"Lianis, you need to hide. If anyone enters, I'll hold them off. You stay by the back window and bolt out of it as soon as you hear anything, got it?" Her voice was deathly quiet and serious.

"But mother!" Lianis protested. "You can't hope to stop them!"

Samandra smiled at her. "It doesn't matter if I can stop them, dear. All that matters is that you need to get clear of the village. Run for Balmora. It's the closest city. Find House guards and tell them what has occurred. Do not look back, do not stop no matter what you hear."

Lianis was torn. She did not want to leave her mother behind, but she understood that if they both tried to flee, they would almost certainly be caught. With tears in her eyes, she solemnly nodded.

Samandra had tears in her eyes as well. "Good. Come here." She put the sword back on the table and motioned Lianis to her.

Lianis ran to her, dropping the sword and embracing her in a fierce hug. She buried her face in her mother's hair, inhaling her sweet scent one last time. "I'll miss you, mother." She cried softly.

"Not as much as I'll miss you and your father." Samandra replied gently. "You have my love. You and your father both. Be there for him. He will mourn my loss unlike any that he has suffered before. He will need you." She pulled Lianis away to look her in the eye. "I will always be with you, my daughter. Keep my memory safely in your heart and I will watch over you through all of your days." She leaned in and kissed her lovingly on the forehead. Then she broke from her and picked up her weapon again. "Now, go!"

Lianis watched as her mother picked up her weapon and prepared to sacrifice herself. Behind her, the door rattled as something tried to open it forcefully. Realizing she had little time, she picked up her birthday present and made her way into the master bedroom. As she left the main room, she heard Samandra call after her. "Don't open the window until you hear the door give. The sound of the lock breaking will cover your escape." She nodded, even though her mother could no longer see her. Instead, she took up residence beside the window and strained to hear the signal.

Back in the main room, Samandra watched one of only three people in the whole world that she loved with all her heart disappear from her sight for the last time. Even though she knew her death was imminent, she felt no fear for herself. She had to hold until Lianis got clear. That was all that mattered to her. Oniyama would be heartbroken, but Lianis would help him to cope with his grief. She would keep him from forswearing life in the name of vengeance.

The door rattled a second time. She turned to focus all her attention on it. Despite having no formal training in combat, she'd watched Lianis and Oniyama practice enough that she understood a few basic fundamentals. Don't swing wide, try to keep your back to a wall, don't chase a wounded foe. She would make him proud. She would defend their daughter with her life.

The lock snapped with a violent CRACK and the door swung open to reveal her fate.

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Oniyama and Helena were on the silt strider on their way out of the city. The negotiations had lasted for quite some time and now the sun was beginning to set. Originally, he'd thought that he'd have to wait until the next morn to bring Helena back to Gnaar Mok with him, but she had enthusiastically agreed to make the journey this evening.

"I want to meet your daughter as soon as possible." She'd said excitedly. "From all you've told me, I'll have an eager and apt pupil waiting for me."

And so they were now on the strange bug thing that served as transportation between major ports of call. Helena was looking out in the direction they were travelling. Her hair was loose and free now and she looked for all the world like a shieldmaiden of ancient lore. Her short swords were crossed over her back.

He sat on one of the few seats that were apparently carved straight into the creature's carapace. He never really liked riding on these things, but he certainly wasn't about to suggest walking the one hundred or so miles from Vivec to Gnaar Mok. He decided to strike up a conversation to pass the time. "So, Helena, have you tutored other children before?"

She turned to look at him. "Not children, no. I've taught a fair few number of people, but none of them were younger then eighteen."

He processed this. "So why did you accept to tutor such a young child?"

She laughed. "Children are the best students as long as they are willing to learn. From what you've told me, young Lianis is feverish with anticipation for what I have to offer." She looked back out over the passing landscape. "Besides, it's been a while since I've left Vivec. It's good to get out and stretch every now and again. The fact that I'm getting paid to do so is just more incentive."

He couldn't argue with that logic. "So, how long do you think it will take for you to teach her all you know?"

She shrugged. "I'll have to see how fast she learns. To be precise, I'm likely not going to teach her everything I know. That would take far too long. I'll start with the basics. If she's as up to date on them as you led me to believe, we'll move on to advanced forms and techniques. How much she learns will depend on how fast she learns." She looked into his gaze. "Do you mind if I ask you a question?"

He shook his head. "Of course not."

"You say you're married to a beautiful Imperial woman and you have an Imperial daughter." She stated. "Forgive the ignorance, but how exactly did you manage that?"

He chuckled. "You are not the first to question why a brutish looking Orc like myself has such a smoking hot wife. Even the priest who married us could scarcely contain his disbelief." He smiled at the memory. "Truth be told, I don't know how I 'managed it' as you put it. Apparently, she found me attractive. I didn't understand why until a while later."

Helena processed this. "Well, I guess I can sort of see why she might be attracted to you. You're very articulate and well-mannered, if you don't mind me saying so." She smiled at him. "At the same time though, you don't put up with bullshit. It's a very attractive combo. I can honestly say I'm a little jealous that she found you first."

He stared at her.

She laughed at his expression. "Oh, don't get me wrong, you're not the only example of a kind yet courageous man out there, but your kind is exceedingly rare. Every single one that I've ever met has been taken by the time I met them."

It was his turn to shrug. "It boggles my mind that this is apparently the case. I get that not every man has my temperament, but to be as rare as you claim? Utter madness." He shook his head in disbelief.

"Believe or don't believe, it's the truth." She smirked. "You don't have any brothers do you?"

He shook his head again. "Sorry. Only child."

She laughed again. "Rats. Just means I'll have to keep looking."

They lapsed once more into silence. Oniyama turned to observe the passing countryside. It never ceased to amaze him just how attractive women of all races apparently found him purely because of his combination of kindness and assertiveness. It made him feel both pride, because of his prowess, but also sadness, because there weren't more men like him and he was certain the world would be a much better place if there were. He sighed heavily. It was of no consequence. Soon he would be back in Gnaar Mok. He would see the smiling faces of his wife and daughter and all would be right in the world.

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Lianis sprinted just as fast as her legs could carry her. As far as she could tell, she'd managed to leave the village behind. Now she was trying to make her way quickly in the dark. The problem was that the ground was uneven and her shoes weren't meant for this kind of abuse. She also wasn't certain she was heading in the right direction, but turning around wasn't an option anymore. the road was thankfully easy to see, even in the low light of night.

She came to a halt, her lungs heaving and braced herself against the trunk of a tree. It felt like her chest was on fire. Her feet were sore and sweat was running down her brow. She couldn't keep this pace up. It didn't help matters that she was still clutching her daedric short sword to her chest as she ran. The extra weight was tiring her out more quickly than normal. Still, she could hear faint sounds of battle and commotion behind her so she ran on.

All of a sudden, a root seemd to rise up from the path and ensnared her foot. She tumbled forward, casting her arms out to break her fall but refusing to let go of her weapon. She smashed into the cobblestone of the road with enough force to knock any remaining breath out of her. She lay there for a moment, panting heavily, trying to get her stamina back. As she tried to get to her knees, she felt a presence in front of her. She lifted her head up to try and get a look at who was standing before her.

Above her, the Elf from the swamp looked down at her with a malicious smile on his face.

The sudden burst of adrenaline from seeing him was enough for her to scramble backward and get to her feet. In an instant, her sword came forth from its sheath, reflecting the moon with a menacing sheen. "Stay back!" She cried.

"Hello, little one." The Elf intoned. "Fancy sword you have there."

"Keep away from me!" She yelled.

He smiled. As his lips parted to show his bone white teeth, she saw that some of them were elongated into fangs. "Where are you going so quickly? Didn't your mother teach you that it's rude not to invite a guest in?" His hand came up from his side and he wagged a finger at her. "Naughty, naughty girl." He scolded.

Behind her, she could sense other presences. She chanced a look back.

Other members of the Elf's (the vampire's she corrected) group were standing behind her, watching the exchange. From the blood on their clothes and their mouths, it wasn't hard to figure out what they had been doing.

A sound from in front of her made her whip her head back to watch the first vampire. He was walking toward her, hands raised. "You wouldn't want to disappoint your mother now, would you? What would she say?"

She was about to reply, when one of the vampires from behind her, a female, spoke. "Why don't we find out?"

The leader looked in the other vampire's direction and smiled even wider. "Yes. Let's."

Lianis slowly turned to face the vampires behind her. As she did so, her heart nearly stopped in her chest.

Dangling by the hair from one of the vampire's hands was Samandra's head. It had been neatly sliced off of her body. The mouth was open in a horrifying silent scream and the fear was still plain in her eyes. Blood dripped from the neck. The woman holding it grabbed its mouth and started a poor mimicry of her voice. "You should know better, child. I'm very disappointed in you." The vampire pantomimed the words by opening and closing the mouth.

Lianis felt ill. She was as scared as she had ever been in her life, but she was also feeling something else. The sight of her mother's decapitated head was turning her knees to jelly, but deep down inside a voice stirred to life. 'How dare they desecrate her corpse!' It seemed to yell inside her. 'They will pay for this insolence with their lives!' She could feel the vampire ringleader coming up behind her, laughing the whole way, but suddenly she didn't care anymore. She broke from where she had been standing and brought the sword in her hands to bear.

The vampire holding her mother's head had their eyes closed and was laughing extremely hard now. They didn't see her coming.

The vampire leader tried to shout a warning, but Lianis was too close.

Without halting her momentum, Lianis skewered the vampire straight through the chest with her daedric birthday present. In an instant, the laughter was cut off, replaced by a shrill cry of anguish and pain. She plowed into the much larger person and, between the thrust and her momentum, knocked them onto the ground. With all the hysterical strength available to her, she ripped the sword out of the vampire's chest to a gout of blood before bringing it down on her neck and cleanly beheading her. Samandra's head rolled to one side and into the ditch.

All around there was a flurry of activity as the remaining vampires snapped out of their revelry to look upon her with shocked faces. Two of them rushed her. She tried to bring her weapon to bear again, but she wasn't fast enough. It was knocked out of her grasp. In the next instant, a blow rapped the side of her head and she fell into darkness.

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Oniyama and Helena walked side by side on the road from Balmora to Gnaar Mok. It was fully nighttime now, with the stars and the moon lighting their way. Helena had a torch out but Oniyama, as an Orc, had no need of such. They had engaged in sporadic conversation all the way from Vivec to now, but at the moment they were enjoying the peaceful serenity of the night.

Helena spoke. "Quite the calm atmosphere out here. I can see why you'd choose to live where you do." Despite the levity of her words, he could see that her eyes were constantly scanning the road and nearby wilderness for threats. He expected no less.

"Yes, it's quite the lovely little village." He agreed.

"They're quite lucky to have a blacksmith as skilled as you in town." She observed.

He snorted. "The way some of them treat me, you'd think I was a nuisance instead of a boon." He sighed lightly. "That's not entirely fair. There's just a few racist idiots that give me a hard time. Most of the townsfolk are fine upstanding people."

She sighed as well. "Isn't that always the case? People'll look down on you for any reason they can think of, just so they can feel superior about literally nothing at all."

He chuckled softly. "Your friends in the guild aren't much better. True, they're part of the high and mighty Fighter's Guild, but the way they treated me made me wonder how in Oblivion they manage to stay in business."

She smirked at him. "I wonder that myself sometimes. If they stopped turning their noses up at nonhumans, we'd be twice as rich and three times as well known as we are these days. They're just a bunch of prejudiced morons." She shook her head. "I wouldn't even call the guild my home if it wasn't for the fact that..." She trailed off. She'd noticed he was no longer following her. She turned back to see him squatting to one side of the trail. "What's wrong?" She asked.

Oniyama was crouched over a shoe. It might not have belonged to anyone in particular, one often encountered discarded clothing while walking the roads of Tamriel. This one was different though. It was a child's slipper, not a full grown man's boot. He picked it up. Bringing it to his nose, he took a whiff. The scent of soap was unmistakable. He rose from where he'd crouched with the slipper in his hands.

Helena looked at him with a puzzled expression. "What is it?"

He shook his head. "I'd swear that this slipper belongs to Lianis, but what's it doing out here on the road?" He started looking around the area.

Helena, too, started looking for signs of...well anything really. There were none to be found. As she and Oniyama returned to their starting position, she asked. "Does your daughter usually go on nighttime walks? Maybe she just lost it."

He looked at her seriously. "No. She knows better than that."

Helena shrugged her shoulders. "Perhaps we'd best get back then. You can ask her about it yourself."

He nodded. "I think that's sound advice." He tucked the slipper into a pocket of his armour.

They proceeded another hundred feet up the road before he stopped again. "Can you bring the torch over here?" He asked her.

She turned to see him looking at a dark patch on the ground. Striding over, she leaned down and shone the torch over the patch of dirt. "What is it?" She asked cautiously.

He touched a finger to the patch then held it up to the light of the torch. The redness of it shone through even before he replied. "Blood." In a grim tone. He was very worried now. It was entirely possible that Lianis had been here much earlier in the day and lost the slipper then, only to have someone coincidentally get injured or murdered just a few dozen feet from it. Possible, but unlikely. He stood up. "I have to get home. Now." He braced himself to start running when something caught his eye.

Just off the trail, in a bush, an eye stared back at him. He wouldn't have seen it at all if the torchlight hadn't reflected off it at just the right angle. It was such an odd sight and potentially foreboding. He had to investigate. "Helena, someone's in that bush there." He pointed to it. "You have the torch, I'll ready my blade. Let's see if they know what happened here."

Helena moved to the bush indicated. The eye in the bush didn't track her movement at all. It remained fixated squarely on him. It almost seemed familiar somehow. Helena brought one of her swords out of its sheath and cautiously grabbed at the bush with the hand that held the torch. She signaled that she was ready.

Oniyama drew forth his ebony longsword and leveled it at the eye. It still hadn't moved. It hadn't even blinked. He took his eyes off it just long enough to nod to Helena.

With a quick tug, Helena ripped the bush aside and exposed the person lying under it.

In an instant, the blood drained from Oniyama's face as the sword fell from his numb fingers. He dropped to his knees as he stared transfixed at what had been revealed.

Samandra's lifeless eyes bored into him. A look of pure terror was written on her features. From the slight cloudiness that he could now make out in her eyes, she had been dead for several hours at least. He couldn't tear his gaze away from the most horrifying thing he'd ever seen. Now his mind was picking up on the little details, like the fact that the blood trail extended from the large patch all the way into this bush, or that even with the cloudiness, those were still the rich brown eyes of the woman he loved.

Helena moved in front of him and blocked his view. All at once, his stomach threw up its contents and he turned and retched onto the road.

Helena watched him be sick for a moment before asking him timidly. "You know her?"

He coughed and retched several times. He couldn't look back at her. He just couldn't. "That..." He coughed again. "That's Samandra. That's...my wife..."

Immediately Helena blanched. She put her sword back in its sheath She turned back to look at the severed Imperial head. Mindful of what was likely going through her companion's mind, she reached down and softly closed the woman's eyes. She had no words.

Oniyama knelt on the road, feeling his world crumble around him. Then, in an instant, he recalled the slipper in his pocket. "LIANIS!" He cried. he tore himself up from the road and sprinted in the direction of Gnaar Mok.

Helena was caught off guard by the sudden maneuver and hurried to catch up with him. She saw him sprint through a swamp at full speed, waking up and startling the netches that made their nest there. She saw the village he was sprinting toward and her stomach turned.

Whatever Gnaar Mok had been before, it was a graveyard now. Several houses were on fire and those that weren't were slick with blood. There was a tree not far from the water's edge and more than six people had been hanged there. Bodies littered the space in between houses. The stench of death was heavy in the air.

Oniyama paid heed to none of this. He sprinted up to one of the larger houses and now stood in the doorway, frozen like a silhouette. As she made her way past the spooked netches and up to the town proper, her companion suddenly collapsed to his knees again and howled in grief and agony at the night sky.

Making her way over to him, she brought the torchlight to bear on what was inside the house. She immediately sorely wished she hadn't.

Inside the house, strung up into a rough standing position, was the naked body that belonged to the head she'd seen on the road. It had been impaled through the anus with a sharpened stake to allow it to remain upright. Her breasts had been cut off and were sitting on the table by her feet. Her belly had been cut open and her guts had been draped around her stump of a neck like a scarf. One hand had been chopped off and was now perched on her neck. The other was still attached, but all the digits were stripped to the bone, making it look like an obscene finger-less glove. Whether out of sheer spite, cruelty, or to maintain balance, metal spikes had been driven through her feet and into the table. There were fluids on the vagina and thighs that suggested she had been raped, though it was impossible to tell whether this had occurred before or after the mutilation.

Helena had seen her fair share of battlefield injuries and gruesome deaths. Even so, the utter mercilessness and brutality of what she saw in that house sickened her so thoroughly that, like her companion before her, she fell to her knees and retched up the contents of her stomach.

Beside her, Oniyama howled to the heavens in grief. Why had he left them? Why hadn't he taken them with him? He looked once more upon the carnage that his wife had suffered. He prayed that she had died before they had set upon making her into such a grotesque effigy. He turned away and howled his despair once more. What had he done to offend the gods so? Why had he not been given a chance to repent? 'Curse the gods!' he thought bitterly. 'Curse them, and all they stand for! She never harmed anyone! And yet they visit such savagery upon her?!'

At last, his voice was run ragged. He had shouted and cried his despair enough. He stood from where he had knelt. Without another glance, he took off in the direction of the inn.

Helena glanced up as she heard him leave. She couldn't bear to look into the house again, so she carefully stood up and planted her back firmly to it. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Oniyama disappeared into the inn. She heard him rooting around inside it. She was just thinking of going to see what he was doing when he reappeared, this time with a barrel slung over his shoulder. The sloshing sound as he walked indicated it was full or nearly full of some kind of liquid. As he approached the house, he motioned for her to stay back. Then he disappeared through the doorway. She didn't think anyone would willingly enter that house ever again, but he made no sound. Instead, she heard him crack open the barrel and begin spreading its contents around. He walked from one side of the house to the next, bringing the barrel with him. At last he reappeared, without the barrel, and made his way to the seaside. She heard him splash around in the water a bit before he came back to where she was standing. He motioned her to give him the torch. She did so. Without even turning, he lobbed the torch into the open doorway.

Immediately, the flames spread from the torch into the house. The grisly trophy was lit up for her to see and she quickly averted her eyes. The fire spread through the house at a record pace. Evidently the barrel must have been lantern oil. As she watched the house go up in flames, she heard Oniyama speak from beside her. "Do you see the shed beside the house?"

She looked beside the house. Just out of reach of the flames was a sturdy wooden shed. She nodded.

"Break down the door. Inside are all my weapons and armour. Take it as payment and head back to Vivec. I have business I must attend to." His tone was hard but flat. She was certain rock was softer.

She shook her head. "You didn't find your daughter did you?"

He turned to her. There was no kindness in his eyes. There was a burning hatred that she was fervently glad she wasn't the target of. "They took her. Whoever did this to my town took my daughter. They will have left tracks. Plus I can follow her scent. I will hunt them. I will find them and I will kill them." He cast one glance over the inferno that had been his home before stalking away into the night.

She watched him go for a moment before hurrying to catch up to him. "Two warriors will succeed where one might fail."

He stopped and turned to her. "This isn't your concern. They attacked my village. They killed my family. They will die by my hand."

"And if they kill you?" She countered.

"I am certain to die. Orcs in a blood rage don't survive battles. But first they will all be made to suffer my wrath. Orcs in a blood rage don't stop, give up, get tired or pay attention to injury. They cannot stop me. If there are a thousand of them, they cannot stop me."

"That may be true, but I would accompany you nonetheless." She wasn't sure why she was pushing for this, but she was going with him regardless. "You hired me. Originally it was to tutor your child. Well, now the job is to rescue your child."

He surveyed her with eyes that were simultaneously dead and yet burning with barely controlled fury. "Very well. Go to the shed. You'll find better swords and armour than what you have. I will wait here."

She turned and dashed toward the house. The fierce blaze was already obscuring the horrific monument within it. She was glad for that. She sprinted up to the shed and, without stopping, bodychecked the door. It gave a little, but it stood firm. Backing up, she took another run at it.This time, it gave all the way. She found herself in an armory stocked with ebony weapons and armour fit for House Redoran. She quickly found a couple of short swords and replaced the steel ones on her back with the finely honed ebony ones. Next, she grabbed up an ebony helmet. She didn't have time to change out of her studded leather, but she was much more used to fighting in the lighter leather and would sacrifice combat potential for safety by switching to ebony now. Instead she donned the helmet and made her way back to Oniyama.

He was a short distance away from where he'd said he would wait, but he was examining the ground intensely. When she reached him, he stood up. "I have their tracks. Let's go." He took off at a brisk walk.

Helena turned and surveyed the destroyed town one last time. It hadn't at all been what she was expecting when she'd agreed to terms, but she was determined to see it through nonetheless. She turned and fell in step behind her employer.

Chapter Text

Oniyama and Helena approached the mouth of the cave cautiously. There were sounds of revelry from within, raucous laughter and the sounds of heavy drinking. They could also hear cries of anguish and misery echoing out but the laughter, along with the sheer number of discordant wails, made it impossible to determine exactly how many were or who was crying.

Oniyama had tracked this group all the way from Gnaar Mok to a cave close to thirty miles away. It had taken him most of the night to be certain he didn't lose the trail and now, approaching the cave that held his daughter's captors, the sun was beginning to rise. In his mind, he was reliving the moment of gruesome discovery over and over. Samandra's face in the ditch and her body desecrated in the house. He had no idea who attacked Gnaar Mok, but he was certain it was people. Animals had no need or desire to inflict the kind of barbarism that had been executed upon Gnaar Mok. No, a group of humans or nonhumans had done this. Why was not a question he had an answer to, but he also didn't really care. They had his daughter, they had killed his wife. Their lives were forfeit. He had been carefully stewing in his own rage, stoking it but never letting it boil over. It occurred to him that this was what his father had tried to beat into him, this killer instinct. He'd always thought that it just didn't exist within him. Oh how wrong he was. It was there now, a chained beast roaring and clawing trying to escape its bonds. It wouldn't be set free yet. The time was fast approaching, but it was not here yet. Woe betide the inhabitants of this cave. They were about to face the full fury of a blood raging Orc.

Behind him, and watching his every movement with unease, Helena was trying to be as quiet as she could. Stealth had never been her strong suit, but it was clear that Oniyama wanted to get as close to these monsters as he could before charging into battle. As his employee, she was honour-bound to at least attempt to do the same. If she was being honest, she had no idea how he'd managed to track his quarry all this way in the dark of night. She knew Orcs had a lot easier of a time seeing in the dark than most races, but it was still an impressive feat. Now, as she listened intently for any sign that they had been detected, she tried to ready herself for whatever might come. She was only too aware that there were sentient beings in this cave. The carnage they had inflicted on Gnaar Mok meant that they were sadistic and cruel. She just had to hope that their combat prowess started and ended with massacring defenseless villagers.

Oniyama brought his hand up and they halted. He turned to his companion. "From the sounds of things, we'll be spotted as soon as we're inside the mouth of the cave. I'm not even going to bother with stealth. I think it will be much more effective if we just charge in and try to catch them off guard. Do you concur?"

She looked at the mouth of the cave. One plan seemed as good as any other and she really wasn't good at stealth. "Works for me. Go when you're ready. I'll be hot on your heels."

He nodded. "Just so we're clear, if, at any point, the fighting is too much for you, run. This cave will become my cairn but there is no need for it to become yours as well."

She shook her head. "What if your daughter is still alive?"

His eyes stared into the rocky dirt between them. "If she lives, I will see her safely out of here. In that scenario, I ask that you take her back to the Vivec orphanage. It is not a life I would wish for her, but it's still better than the one she would otherwise return to."

"You won't consider your own safety even for your daughter's sake?" She asked incredulously.

He brought his eyes up to meet hers. They were hard as granite. "I would not be the father she has come to love. My kindness died in that house. I am empty now. There is only pain and despair where once there was life, love and laughter. Lianis' father died in Gnaar Mok. I am just the incarnation of his final wishes."

She could scarcely believe what she was hearing. Just a day ago, this Orc had been a caring, loving father who was trying to make his daughter happy. Now he was a hate-filled vessel of vengeance for whom living held no appeal. The stark juxtaposition of these two realities was jarring. Still, it was not her place to lecture. She solemnly nodded and readied her new ebony shortswords.

He turned from her and refocused his attention on the cave. Drawing his longsword, he proceeded cautiously into the breach. Rather than charging straight in, he was determined to at least get a quick glance at the inside layout of the cave before rushing whomever he found within it. He was moving painstakingly slow now, aware that the slightest scrape of metal against a sharp rock or the tumbling of a loose pebble could give away his presence. The interior of the cave slowly came into view. He froze.

The cave entrance was on a raised section, with a rough ramp, possibly naturally formed, leading down to what could be called a dining and lounge area. Two long tables were set out with a multitude of dishes and cups. Approximately a dozen men and women were around these tables, laughing, dancing and carrying on. At the opposite end of the cave, on another raised platform with a solidly built chair on it that could reasonably be called a 'throne', stood a lone Elf figure. From the layout of the cave, it looked almost like the Elf was lording over the rest. Neither he, nor any of his 'subjects' had noticed Oniyama yet. Casting his eyes to either side, he saw cages. Each of them contained a single occupant. And there, in the far corner, Lianis was lying on her side. He couldn't tell if she was alive or not. Despite his previous statements to Helena, a small flame of his former self stirred within him. Lianis was in danger. Yet, even with that spark inside him, the raging beast of his retribution wasn't going to stay chained much longer.

He turned and spoke softly to Helena behind him. He relayed all that he had seen. "We're going to have to charge over a decent amount of open ground. There's at least a dozen of them. If you're following me in, be prepared for a fast and furious fight."

She nodded. She tightened her grip on her weapons. A dozen people? Two of them? She could handle six assailants. She'd be in trouble if they were master combatants, but Oniyama was telling her they weren't even armoured and didn't seem to have weapons to hand. This might end up being a massacre of them. Still, recalling the carnage of Gnaar Mok, she didn't have any problem massacring them.

Gripping his own weapon tightly, Oniyama turned back and surveyed the crew in the cave one last time. The occupants still hadn't noticed him. Reaching down inside himself, he gripped the chain holding the beast of his rage. With a sharp tug, he snapped the chain. He felt his rage boil up inside him. The imagery of his destroyed life flashed before his eyes. A low growl escaped his lips and they curled back into a snarl. They were going to die. He was going to kill them. All that was left was to charge in and deliver the good news.

The Elf at the back raised his eyes and locked them with Oniyama. The surprise on his face bordered on pure shock.

He broke from cover and rushed down the ramp, an angry roar breaking free from his mouth. The revelers turned to look in his direction. Their surprised and confused faces brought him a primal and visceral joy. The closest to him, a woman, was trying to bring her hands up to shield her face. Instead, he gutted her. His sword ran through her midsection and came out her back. Her eyes flashed with pain. He didn't even hesitate. He ripped the sword out of her and proceeded to the next combatant. The whole action had taken less than two seconds.

Behind him, Helena skewered her own first assailant in a near perfect mirror of Oniyama's first strike. Her sword wasn't as long as his but instead she had a second one. As her first sword sank in to the hilt, she brought the second one to bear and beheaded her opponent. She yanked her sword out of his chest and spun to find her next opponent.

Oniyama darted forward to the next victim, also a woman. Surprisingly, she was also charging him. As he brought his sword up to slash at her face, she suddenly jumped to the side and raked her claws down the arm of his suit. 'Wait.' He thought hurriedly. 'Her claws?' He followed her hand as it came off the metal to a sharp whining screech. Sure enough, the woman's hands ended in feral-looking claws, half an inch in length and appearing almost razor sharp. He glanced up to see her face. She had her mouth open. Several elongated teeth were visible. There was no doubt. 'She's a vampire!' He thought. In other circumstances, he might have backed off out of concern for his odds against such a foe. Now, however, there was only rage. This entire revelation had only lasted a second or so. She was still recovering from her dodge. He slashed out with the longsword, faster than she was ready for. She reflexively brought her hand up to block the blow. He'd heard that vampires had bone and muscle strong enough to block steel. Unfortunately for this vampire, he was swinging ebony and he was likely strong enough to rip her arm right out of her socket, vampire or no vampire. The end result was her watching her severed arm go flying to a spray of blood. She locked her eyes on the terrible wound, but he didn't give her time to admire its savagery. Cutting short his momentum, he brought the blade back across and slashed her throat open.

Her eyes went wide as she felt her lifeblood spray over him. She dropped like a sack of rocks in a lake.

He turned to face his next assailant. The feeling of the relatively cold blood on his face brought the beast within him a surge of primal hunger. 'Yessss.' It seemed to say. 'Bathe me in the blood of the unforgiven! I will feast on their fear and pain!' He was only too happy to oblige. Several vampires jumped at him, aiming to claw at his unprotected face. Rather than turn away, he charged in. The closest, a man, watched as his target surged past his outstretched hands and soundly headbutted him in the face. Without retreating, Oniyama then bent his neck and bit down into the man's neck. The leverage wasn't great and his teeth were nowhere near as sharp, but the sheer force of the bite coupled with his wild abandon proved enough to rip open the man's jugular. More lukewarm blood sprayed onto his face. He followed this up with a knee into the man's midsection. Finally he thrust him to one side, knocking him to the ground.

The remaining two vampires had also missed their marks while he was doing this, scraping their claws off his armour amid more screeching and whining. The one to his left tried to get to his face again. The one on the right was readying some kind of spell.

He focused his attention on the one to the left. As his claws surged toward Oniyama's face, Oniyama's sword flew up between them and lopped off three of the man's fingers. It was such a fluid motion that it took him a second to realize he'd been maimed. In the span of that second, Oniyama spun and decapitated him.

The man's head flew off in the direction of the second vampire. As it fell between them, he cast his spell.

Immediately, Oniyama felt his strength begin to weaken. He wasn't sure what the spell was doing, but it only served to enrage him further. He charged the caster.

The mage vampire tried to retreat, but he couldn't move backwards as fast as Oniyama could move forward. He also couldn't see where he was going. His leg bumped into a table and he faltered.

With the rage seething in his veins, Oniyama steeped in close and punched the man in the face. So hard was the blow, his skull caved in around his fist. The man had probably died on the spot, but the beast wasn't letting him go that easily. Grabbing onto the ruined remains, he brought his sword hand up and skewered the man through his ruined eye socket. As soon as the blade went in, he let go with his free hand. then he wrenched the sword out of the ruined face and the man fell. He turned to survey the carnage.

There were several vampires circling him, watching and waiting to see what his next move was. Off to his right, Helena had discovered that she was facing vampires as well. Three of them were encircling her, preventing her from dodging and weaving and whittling her down with the occasional nick or cut with their claws.

He could have ignored her and gone for the remaining vampires, but he recognized that she was in over her head. Besides, the vampires circling her weren't paying him any attention. He lunged toward them. The vampires watching him tried to shout a warning. To their credit, two of the vampires circling Helena attempted to break off and defend against him, but Helena, capitalizing on their distraction, picked that moment to spin and quickly chop at one of their legs. The sharp blade sank into the leg deeply, just above the knee, but she lacked the raw strength to cleave it off entirely. Still, the vampire certainly felt the injury and collapsed.

He reached the second vampire. His rage was reaching new heights with all the bloodletting going on around him. this time, when he shoved his sword through her chest, he didn't take it out. Instead, he left it there and jumped at the third vampire barehanded. Well, as barehanded as ebony plate gauntlets counted.

Helena turned to face the vampire as well. Behind the pair of them the other vampires were closing in rapidly. She had to take this guy down before the others drew her attention away. She lunged for his face. Predictably, he tried to swat her weapon away, but this attack was only a feint. As he swung at the edge of her weapon, her second blade moved in and impaled his groin. the look of surprise on his face was priceless. Before she could maim him further however, Oniyama jumped in and tore the man off her sword. Leaving him to inflict what he would on the wounded monster, she turned to face the rest of their quarry.

Oniyama was through wasting time. He was now optimizing for maximum carnage in minimum time. Driving the man into the wall, he crushed his skull against it. As soon as the skull stopped squishing flat, he dropped his victim and spun to get the rest.

Surprisingly, Helena was holding them back. Even more surprisingly, the vampire he'd stabbed in the chest was still standing, albeit shakily. His anger-fueled mind immediately saw an opening. He rushed forward to exploit it.

Of the remaining five vampires, three were engaging Helena and two were trying to edge around her, looking for an opening. He sprinted in between all of them. Passing one on his left side, he clotheslined him harshly into the ground. A second one on his right caught a running haymaker to the chest. He was sure he heard ribs crack from the impact. The third one in front of him tried to claw at his face again, but he ducked. He spun and lashed out with a backward kick, dislocating his target's knee. As he did so, he grabbed the sword from the wounded vampire's chest, yanked it out and cleanly beheaded the faltering, knee-dislocated vampire. It all happened in one smooth, fluid spin. He didn't even stop to seethe results of his mayhem. He charged toward another.

Helena was in over her head again. Even with Oniyama's help, these vampires were just plain old moving too fast for her to properly fight. She might manage it one-on-one but they were always engaging her in groups. She felt another cut open on her leg as a vampire managed to get through her defences. It seemed as though she really ought to have taken the time to don ebony armour after all. Too late now. She lunged desperately at one of her assailants, but was repulsed easily. She saw his claw come up to gouge out her eye but in the next instant, he was lying on the ground, dazed from a monstrous left haymaker that had floored him. She jumped forward and sliced his head off.

There were only two vampires left. Despite the legendary speed and endurance of such creatures, they had proved little challenge for the rampaging Orc. As they looked between the wounded Helena and her blood spattered partner, they decided discretion was the better part of valour and broke for the cave entrance. Not content to simply let them go, Oniyama hurled his longsword at one of them. Unfortunately, his rage threw off his aim and the blade only nicked the creature. The pair of them sped up and out of the cave.

Oniyama turned to survey the aftermath. The cave was littered with bodies, just like his home. If only rock were flammable, he'd burn this tomb to the ground. He glanced over at Helena. She was breathing heavily but smiling nonetheless. She sheathed her swords and started toward him. the next instant, a clawed hand exploded out of her chest to a spray of gore. The smile on her lips was replaced by a look of pure horror as she saw the ragged remains of her heart and lungs on spindly, razor sharp fingers. then she was cast aside with all the disdain of a child throwing away its doll.

The Elf from the dais stood behind her, licking the blood from his digits. As he turned his attention on Oniyama he spoke. "This has all been great fun, but I'm afraid it's over now."

The rage inside Oniyama had started to burn itself out, but one glance at his fallen comrade was enough to rekindle it slightly. "You have made your final error." He growled. "Your peers are dead and you are soon to follow."

The Elf laughed. "My peers? They were just fodder. Fun to lead, but hardly what I'd call my peers. I can make new ones. You've spoiled my fun, that's all."

Oniyama sized the Elf up. He wasn't certain how he'd managed to sneak up on the pair of them, but he was either very fast or well versed in the more mystical arts of vampirism. He didn't look all that strong, but Elves were always an unknown quantity. There were Elves that surpassed even his own considerable bulk, yet hardly looked strong enough to lift their arms over their heads. Still, this Elf had just claimed to lead this troupe. That meant he was responsible for everything Oniyama had witnessed. That meant he was going to die. He spoke one last time. "By rights, you have killed my wife. You have enslaved my daughter. Your life is mine. Beg for mercy now and I will grant you a painless death." It was more than the beast was willing to allow, but the beast wasn't nearly as hungry now as it had been.

The Elf laughed again, louder. "You grant me a painless death? You'll be lucky if I let you die at all. I'm going to make you suffer for interrupting my party." His eyes narrowed. "You will experience the kind of suffering that only an elder vampire like myself can inflict. You will live on in constant pain for centuries unending. You will watch as I rape your daughter every day for a hundred years and every night you'll go to sleep listening to her clean my dick with her little whore mouth." He smiled one more time. "And, at the end of it all, when I finally let you die, you will watch as I make her kill you." And he rushed forward.

Oniyama also charged ahead. He tried to punch the Elf in the face, but he simply dodged to the side. Unlike his contemporaries, he didn't try to catch Oniyama in the face. Instead, he grasped at the joints of his armour, cutting straps with his claws. Oniyama tried to land blow after blow, but his opponent was too fast for him. It also didn't help that his blood rage was coming to a close. The Elf had timed it perfectly. He'd let Oniyama's blood rage expend itself on his cohorts and only revealed himself when he knew that he was 'coming down' so to speak. Even with the inflammatory words he'd heard, his inner beast was too tired, too sated with blood and death to care. And so, despite his earlier success, he watched as pieces of his armour started to fall away as the straps keeping them tethered to his body were sliced off. First his arms, then his legs. Soon even his torso lay exposed as his chestplate slid off him. Yet even though he was apparently entirely at this man's mercy, he was not injured. The Elf had cleanly and surgically removed his armour without inflicting so much as a scratch on him.

As he missed another punch to the groin, suddenly his foe took the offensive. He blocked instead of dodging and parried each attack with ease. Oniyama started taking blows to the arms, the chest, the groin, even some to his face. Just as he'd feared at the beginning, the Elf was pounding him the strength of ten men and the precision of a master duelist. At last, apparently bored with the ease of his beatdown, the Elf grabbed Oniyama by his short cropped hair and tossed him effortlessly across the room. He smashed into the cages of slaves with enough force to dent one. He hit the ground and felt the wind leave him. He rolled onto his side and curled into the fetal position. Each breath was a struggle now. The bruises were starting to ache and he was starting to feel dizzy. He had no fight left in him. Instead, he crawled. Lianis' cage wasn't far away. He was going to die, but at least he could ease her mind one last time. One of his arms was too sore to move, so he crawled with just the one and his feet. It was pure agony but the thought of Lianis kept him going.

Behind him, the Elf was watching his progress and chuckling to himself. "Yes. Go see your daughter. Lie to her one last time before I start delivering you your punishment for your hubris." He watched Oniyama crawl forward. Then he 'hmmph'd and strode forward. "You're taking too long. Let me help you." He grabbed Oniyama by the hair and dragged him to the front of Lianis' cage. He dropped him there unceremoniously. "Now. Say your goodbyes." And he stepped back to watch.

Oniyama turned over to peer through the bars. This close, he could see Lianis' small back rising and falling. Her clothes were torn and there were bruises on her neck. He rapped on the bars as hard as he could but the only sound they made was a gentle 'ding!' "Li...Lianis..." He called.

Slowly, the girl in the cage turned over. As she turned to face him, he let out a strangled yelp.

Lianis' eyes had been gouged out and her eyelids cut off.

She whimpered. "Fa...Father?" She asked timidly. Her hand slid slowly out from under her and started probing between the bars. "Fa...ther...I can't...I can't see you..." Her voice was hoarse from crying and screaming.

"Li...anis." He sobbed. He reached his hand through the bars and grasped her hand. "Lianis...I'm so...so sorry for leaving you alone."

Lianis shook her head softly. "No. I'm sorry for not defending mother. She...she told me to go but I..." She sobbed and coughed. "I should have stayed."

"No, Lianis." He said quietly. "She told you to go. She wanted you to survive."

"It's...dark." She cried softly. "I...I can't see anything."

He didn't have it in him to tell her the truth. "Don't worry. It's dark for me too. We'll see each other when the sun rises."

She squeezed his hand tightly. "I...I want that. I want to see you again. More...more than anything."

Oniyama could feel the tears running down his cheeks and onto the ground, forming a puddle. He knew what he had to do. He knew that the vampire behind him fully intended to do what he had threatened to do. He could feel him standing behind them, watching their reunion with a sick, sadistic glee. Oniyama had no idea when he'd have his fill, but he had no intention of letting this...this filth...lay one more hand on his daughter. He let go of her hand and reached farther into the cage. "Come here, my child. Let father comfort you."

Lianis scurried forward. He brought his hand up and cradled her face with it. She leaned into his touch.

"My dear, sweet Lianis." He started. "Rest now. Rest in your father's arms. I..." He paused, knowing that if he continued, his voice would break. He swallowed hard. "I...will be here when you wake...my little blade."

"Yes...Father..." She replied solemnly. "I...I love you..."

His heart was stretched to the breaking point. He was sobbing openly now. "I...I love you...too...Lianis." He forced out. Then, with a quick motion, he called upon the last of his strength, grabbed the side of her head roughly and slammed it into the floor of the cage. It squished on impact and her brains splattered out in all directions. The last thing he saw was the smile on her face.

His heart shattered into a million pieces.

Behind him, the Elf was snarling. "You sly little bastard!" he growled angrily. "How dare you take my toy away from me?!" He rushed forward, grabbed Oniyama by the hair and cast him roughly in the direction of the raised dais.

He hit the chair on the dais with a crash and toppled it over, despite its sturdy construction. He rolled with the impact and came to rest on his side, facing away from the Elf. As he lay there, he caught sight of something that made the pieces of his heart ignite in a final, desperate bid for vengeance.

Lying in front of him was Lianis' daedric shortsword. Its sheath was missing and there was blood on the blade. The sight of it made the tears in his eyes burn with the shame of what he had just done to the girl he had vowed to protect.

Behind him, his executioner was ascending the ramp. He only had seconds.

He dragged himself into a kneeling position and grasped the shortsword in his right hand. He kept it lying on the ground in front of him, hoping his back would keep it from view.

The Elf marched up to him. Even without looking, he could feel the fury the man had for him having been outsmarted by him. "That was a foolish thing for you to do." He spat angrily. "Now, your suffering will be ten times what it would have been. I don't think I'll end your miserable little life for the next thousand years or so. Not until you've provided me with enough entertainment to make up for her loss!"

"I could live...a thousand lifetimes...with your punishment." Oniyama replied without turning. "If it means...that she doesn't have...to endure another second of it."

"You say that now." The Elf replied skeptically. "But once the punishment begins you'll change your tone."

"I rather...doubt that." He replied with as much venom as he could muster.

"You won't even last ten minutes." The Elf replied menacingly.

Oniyama sensed his chance. "Look me in the eye and say that."

The Elf was shaking with fury now. "So be it!" He reached down, grabbed Oniyama by the shoulder and shoved him roughly to spin him around.

Oniyama threw himself into the spin, simultaneously falling onto his back. The sword, held tightly in his grip, whipped around in a flash of black metal and sliced cleanly through the Elf's neck.

As he fell heavily onto his back, the impact knocked the sword from his grasp. He looked up into the face of his tormentor. The shock and disbelief were almost a healing salve in and of themselves. His eyes darted to the sword lying on the ground, then back to Oniyama. He opened his mouth to speak. In that instant, his head slid off his body and landed on Oniyama's face, bouncing off and rolling to the side. His body collapsed forward, also landing partially on him. He tasted the man's blood in his mouth and tried to spit it out, but he was too hurt to move. Instead he rolled his head to one side.

In the foreground of his vision, the daedric weapon gleamed with malice. Maybe it was his imagination, but it seemed almost as though the blade was absorbing the blood. Then his eyes focused on the background. He could just make out the destroyed remains of his daughter's head, still oozing blood and gore onto the rock floor below it. Immediately, he was wracked with guilt and shame. His wife was dead. His daughter was dead. All that remained now was for him to die and join them.

Slowly, his eyes closed amid the howls and wails of those still trapped. With tears in his eyes and guilt in his heart, he slipped into darkness.

Chapter Text

Oniyama opened his eyes. He could feel the tears streaming down his cheeks. He rolled his head to the side.

Beside him, Babette was staring into his eyes with a look of sorrow written across her features. Behind her, standing close to the window, Gabriella was similarly looking his way with concern.

He sighed. "I was speaking in my sleep again." He said softly.

Babette nodded. "I tried to wake you, but whatever nightmare you were reliving would not relinquish its hold on you so easily." Her voice was full of sympathy. "You dreamt of your wife and daughter again?"

He looked away from the pair of them and focused on the ceiling. He nodded. "I was reliving the day they died."

From across the room, he heard Gabriella gasp quietly.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Babette said from beside him.

He shook his head but he said. "I suppose I have to. You have both questioned me about my past. I'm certain you want an explanation."

Babette reached out and grasped his hand. "Only if you wish to speak of it, brother. These memories are agony for you. We would never demand that you relive them solely for our curiosity." Behind her, Gabriella nodded in agreement.

He sat up. "No. It should be now. We are alone. The memories are fresh in my mind. I'm not going to be able to sleep anytime soon anyway." He wiped at his eyes with one hand. "I will try to explain. Please bear in mind that this will be the first time in my life that I have ever told anyone about what happened that night."

Babette sat up next to him. Gabriella glanced out the window before crossing the room and sitting next to the bed on a stool. They focused their attention on him. Babette replied. "Take your time. Dawn is many hours off. We will listen for as long as you are willing to speak."

He gazed at her. She was so much like Lianis, yet she was so entirely different as well. The flaming sword of his guilt stabbed through him again. "If you recall, I told both of you that my family was killed by vampires."

They both nodded.

He sighed heavily. "The truth of the matter is that I was away in Vivec when vampires attacked my town. I was there to, among other things, hire a swordmaster to teach Lianis, my daughter, advanced combat techniques." He paused to take a breath. It was entirely unnecessary given his vampiric status, but it was a calming habit that had carried over from when he was alive. "By the time I returned to Gnaar Mok, the vampires had destroyed the entire town. I discovered that they had killed my wife and...desecrated...her body." He watched their faces go pale at the implication. "They captured my daughter and took her back to the cave they called their own."

"I am sorry you had to endure this." Babette responded quietly.

He looked from her to Gabriella and back again. "So am I, sister. So am I." He paused to take another breath. "After I dealt with my wife's body, I tracked the bastards to their base. The swordmaster I had hired to teach my daughter decided to accompany me despite my express permission to go back from whence she came with money in her pocket for literally zero effort. She followed me to the cave and helped me slaughter the vampires inside." He recalled the look of horror on Helena's face when she was killed. "For her trouble, she was slain by the leader of the vampires. I buried her body according to Nord funeral custom."

"What about Lianis?" Babette asked.

He frowned deeply. "Lianis was inside the cave but I didn't get to speak with her for some time. First I was busy massacring the vampire lackeys that the leader commanded. Then I tried to kill the leader." He thought back to his futile battle with the Elf. Even now, decades later, the thought of the Elf's words stirred his killer instinct within him. "He was cunning. He saw how effortlessly I dispatched his minions. So he waited until my blood rage began to subside. Then he killed the swordmaster in a surprise attack and proceeded to beat me almost into unconsciousness." He was speaking very fast and perfunctorily now. He knew if he stopped to process his emotions, he might not manage to start back up again. Best to just get all of it out as quickly as possible and ride the emotional tidal wave afterward. He continued. "After he knocked me around for a bit, he decided the best way to torture me was to let me speak to Lianis one last time before committing unspeakable deeds against her while I was forced to watch." In his mind, the scene of young Lianis, mutilated and terrified, flashed before his eyes. He opened his mouth to continue, but this time, his emotions beat his motor functions to the punch. Instead of words, a great heaving sob escaped his throat. "I...I had to..." Was all he managed before he broke down in a fresh crying fit. For the first time since he had become a vampire, he sat and wailed like a lost child. Some part of his mind was railing at him not to show such weakness in front of his family members, but there was nothing to be done about it. The guilt and shame were drowning him. He threw himself down onto the pillows and buried his face in his hands. It was amazing he'd gotten as far as he had. He just lay there, bawling his eyes out, the world around him forgotten.

Next to him, Babette looked away from him and met Gabriella's eyes. This was so unlike anything she had witnessed before. And yet, she knew the best thing for him was to simply lay there and cry. It was odd seeing an Orc, a race known for their stoic and uncaring nature, howling and crying his eyes out but Babette knew that Oniyama was no ordinary Orc. He was the man she was coming to love and it pained her to see him in such misery.

Gabriella was entirely lost. Not lost in the sense of not understanding his story. She was quite clear on that. No, she was lost because she had no idea what to do with regards to this big Orc who was wailing like a mother who had lost her child. 'That may not be such a far fetched comparison.' She lamented to herself. Normally, her response was to poke fun and try to lighten the mood but even she was aware enough that such an attempt would be in extremely poor taste right now. So she just sat there, lost, completely and utterly.

Oniyama wasn't sure if he should feel cursed or blessed that he had no need to breathe. On the one hand, he was in no danger of suffocating because he couldn't breathe through the pain and the despair, but on the other hand he was in no danger of suffocating and thus his torment wasn't likely to end any time soon. Now he remembered why he had run from this pain. It shot through him like a ballista bolt made of hellfire and seared into every part of his being. The pain was unbearable. He rolled onto his side, toward Babette, somehow managing to shriek like a banshee in his deep, gruff tone.

Babette had seen enough. He was suffering, that much was obvious. He needed to let this pain out but now it was consuming him. He was drowning in sorrow. He needed help. Without a second thought, she reached out and pried his hands off his face. His blood red eyes were filled with tears. They were the eyes of a broken man. Without hesitation, she leaned in and kissed him.

Oniyama cut off mid howl as he felt the cool, soft lips of his sister lock onto his own. His eyes, narrowed into a squint from all the crying, were suddenly as wide as cup saucers. He felt her push against him and he rolled onto his back. She followed him and was now lying atop him, her lips still locked to his. The bewildered state of his mind flitted from one thought to the next with reckless abandon. 'This is wrong!' to 'She's so compassionate!' to 'You can get through this with her help.' Finally, his heart did the only thing it could and shut his mind off. Moving on instinct, he kissed her back and cradled her to him.

Beside the pair of them, Gabriella still sat uncomfortably. She knew that she ought not be present for this but she was afraid that getting up and leaving would startle them or ruin the moment. And so, she just sat, hands in her lap, and tried to look at anything that wasn't her brother and sister on the bed.

Suddenly, Babette's hand broke off from where she was holding on to Oniyama and made a walking motion to Gabriella. She repeated the gesture several times.

Thankful that at least her sister was aware of her, she got up off the stool and left the room, softly closing the door behind her. She made her way to one of the main room tables and sat down. She waved at the innkeep to bring her something to drink. She had a feeling that she was going to be sitting at this table for a while.

Back in the room, Babette opened her mouth and licked Oniyama's lips. He responded in kind and opened his mouth for her to explore. Her small, soft tongue was soon enveloped in his large, rough one. She moaned into the kiss at the sensation.

Now it was his turn to take control. He rolled her over onto her back, following her so he was now on top of her. She could feel his considerable bulk crushing down on her. Thankfully, she had no need of air. She could stay in this position all night if she wanted to. She was still moaning lustfully into the kiss. Underneath him, she was squirming and rubbing her thighs together.

He ran his hands up into her shoulder length hair and gripped her head. He increased the force of the kiss. He was growling into the kiss now. His hands were groping her soft, luxurious hair, marveling at its texture.

Babette was getting wet. She felt his rough hands kneading her hair. It pulled at her scalp a bit and caused a slight stinging sensation that she found most enjoyable. She was moaning louder now, though it was still muffled by his mouth covering hers. Damn the consequences, damn the mission, damn everything just now. It was time for her to give him some sexual healing. She pushed up on him gently to break the kiss.

He felt her push him back and he compliantly broke the kiss. He opened his eyes to see her looking up at him with a lustful twist to her lips. He was mesmerized by those eyes.

She looked up into his face. He was watching her almost curiously. She was in control now. "Get naked for me." She commanded.

He heard the words and complied without a second (or really even a first) thought. He'd gone to sleep in his travelling clothes and he surrendered them easily now. First his overshirt came off, revealing a tighter fitting t-shirt underneath. This he drew off almost sensually, drawing it up across his torso to slowly reveal his well toned, muscular chest to her. When his head popped out of it, he cast it to the side and started undoing his pantaloons. As before, he took the actual pants off quickly, as though they were burning hot or made of bees. His underclothes he slid off deliberately, at a relaxed pace, watching her eyes as she saw his manhood pop out of them to stand at attention. At last he stood beside the bed, naked as the day he was born, looking down at her with an almost feral look in his eye.

She looked him over from her position on the bed. She had to admit, he was well toned everywhere, not just in his chest. Admittedly, as a blacksmith, this was to be expected. Still, his form was exceptional. His manhood was a proud eleven inches and it was twitching in time to his heartbeat. "Very nice." She complimented. "Now, lie down on the bed. It's my turn to strip for you."

He did as he was told and laid down on the bed once more. He settled into position and fixed his eyes on her.

She waited until he was comfortable, then bent down to grab the hem of her dress. She straightened up slowly, dragging the hem of her dress ever upward. When she had straightened to her full height, she had exposed her smallclothes to him. She continued stretching her arms above her, sliding the dress off over her head. She had to readjust her hand holds a couple of times, but she managed to maintain the slow, sensual pace. Her breasts, if you could call them that, were now exposed. She saw him lick his lips almost greedily at the sight of them. They weren't anything special, but if they turned him on, that was good enough for her. Next she gripped either side of her smallclothes. Turning to the side, she lewdly slid them down her smooth thighs, keeping her eyes locked on his the whole way down. When she reached her ankles, she carefully stepped out of them and tossed them onto her crumpled dress. She straightened up, running her hands along her body as she did so, running them over her crotch and cupping her breasts. She turned away from him to show off her petite butt before turning toward him and revealing her now drenched pussy. She reached down and ran a finger through her wet folds. Then she brought the finger up to her lips and sucked on it softly. She grinned as she saw his dick twitch in response.

Oniyama was adrift in a sea of lust. He was operating entirely on instinct. This female wanted him. That was obvious. As long as he did as he was told, he was going to get to plumb her depths to his heart's content. He lay there awaiting his next order. The grief and sorrow from moments ago was being transmogrified into a burning lust.

Babette walked to the head of the bed. She stepped up onto the mattress and stood over Oniyama's face. "Look at me." She ordered. She reached down and spread her pussy lips before his eyes. "Look at my flower. Look at all the delicious honey. You want to taste that honey don't you?"

His eyes were glued to her. He nodded hungrily.

She smiled evilly. "Good. Taste me." She knelt down and brought her cunt to his lips.

Without pause, he opened his lips, stuck out his tongue and lapped at her hot depths. Her hands flew to his head as she felt his tongue connect. Despite having experienced a very similar sensation not all that long ago, this time it hit her with the force of a wagon at top speed. She gasped loudly and her mouth froze open in a silent scream of pleasure for several seconds. When she'd adjusted to the sensation a little, her silent scream became a very not silent moan. "AHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh!" She cried as she felt him lick up her juices. Her hands were massaging his short cropped hair forcefully as she rode the wave of pleasure he was driving her over. Her long moan became a series of smaller panting moans. "Gods." or "Fuuuuck..." or sometimes "Brotherrrr..." She was in Aetherius but she had to brace herself. It was just getting started if things went according to plan.

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Out in the main room, Gabriella swished her mead around in her mouth. She could quite clearly hear what was going on through that door. It was making her horny. Babette was going to get the full measure of her revenge against her for that Redguard back in Whiterun. No matter how much she might deserve it, tonight was going to suck.

She wasn't the only one who could hear the sounds coming through the door. The innkeep was eyeing the door with a mixture of apprehension and disgust on her face. She turned to Gabriella. "Are they doing what I think they're doing in there?" She asked brusquely.

Gabriella looked at her disinterestedly. "They have a very loving relationship." She took another swig of her mead.

"That's not right! I'm going to have a word with him about this!" She moved out from behind the bar and started making her way to the door.

"You open that door and she'll kill you." Gabriella called after her.

The innkeep turned to look at her. "Don't you mean 'he'll' kill me?"

She shook her head. "He'll probably be upset at you. No, I mean she will kill you."

The innkeep looked very confused. "I can't just stand by while he rapes a minor!"

Gabriella sighed. "Sure you can. I mean, come on, does it sound like rape in there?"

The innkeep shook her head angrily. "It doesn't matter what it sounds like! No minor can ever give informed consent! I'm stopping this right now!" She turned and headed for the door again.

"I'll give you five hundred septims if you mind your own goddamn business like a good little innkeep." Gabriella called after her.

She turned around with a skeptical look on her face. "Five hundred septims?!" Her reaction wasn't all that surprising. It would take her two months to earn that normally in a small out-of-the-way town like this.

Gabriella reached down and untied the coin pouch from her waist. She hoisted it up onto the table where it landed with a loud series of clinks and jingles. "There's around five hundred septims in that. Count it out, give me back the change and keep the mead flowing."

The innkeep looked toward the door but then looked back at the big pouch of coins. She was struggling to decide if her morals were for sale. However, in the end, they were. She walked back to the table, picked up the pouch and scurried off to count it.

As she watched her go, Gabriella muttered to herself. "The things I do for my family." She took another swig of mead.

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Babette rocked back and forth on Oniyama's face as she orgasmed in his mouth to a loud cry of "YEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSsss!" Unlike last time, he hadn't even used his fingers. He was just that good with his tongue. If she was being honest, he'd also used his teeth on her clit. He'd bit down on her hard enough to draw a bit of blood. The sheer pressure with which he was biting her was enough to push her over the edge. Now she was twitching from the aftershocks. His previous performance in Morthal had been a cheap imitation to what he was doing now. She could stay in this position for hours and she'd probably cum a dozen times or more if she did, but there were other attractions in this one room amusement park tonight. She shakily got up off him and stood above him once more on knees made of jelly. "How was that?" She asked rhetorically.

He licked his lips and bit at the air several times.

She smiled. "Good. Now, it's my turn to taste you." She walked slowly backward until she was standing above his crotch. next, she knelt down until his cock was right in front of her face. She looked past it and into his eyes. "Try not to cum. I just want to prime you for the main event." Truth be told, he was probably already primed but she wanted to taste that throbbing shaft of his for herself. She saw him nod at her. She bent down and placed her lips on his balls. She puckered and sucked on them lightly. She heard him groan from the sensation. Next, she stuck her tongue out between her lips and wiggled it back and forth.

His hands twitched where they lay. It was obvious that he wanted to grab either side of her head but he was restraining himself.

Satisfied with his reaction, she stuck her tongue out further and proceeded to lick her way up his balls, onto his shaft and off the tip. The salty iron taste of his precum was delicious. She licked him again, balls to tip and he groaned again. His shaft was so incredibly hard. It felt like she was licking a stone column, albeit a stone column that twitched and excreted juices. She opened her mouth and took the tip of him inside her lips, snugging them closed over it. Inside, she lightly ran her tongue over the head in a circular fashion. It was a soft, erotic mouth massage. The groans of pleasure just kept coming.

Oniyama was struggling to keep his hands off Babette's head. Her ministrations were utterly divine. He could cum very easily at any moment under this kind of treatment. His toes curled from the extreme pleasure.

Babette felt his legs tense up on either side of her. It was clear that he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Now, she wanted to increase that enjoyment. Moving forward, she started taking more of his length inside her mouth. Since she was in a ten year old's body, this didn't amount to much more than an inch or two plus the glans. However, that was all that fit into her mouth. Her throat was quite a bit longer. She started trying to deepthroat him. Unfortunately, her throat was small and his girth was somewhat engorged. She didn't have the strength to force him further inside of her. Instead, she had an idea. Her hands up to this point had been playing with Oniyama's balls, kneading and massaging them. Now they moved up to his hands. She grabbed them and brought them down to rest on either side of her midsection, just above her hips. She angled her eyes up to catch his gaze. He was looking at her with a questioning look. She tried to force herself forward, but the resistance of his penis in her mouth kept her from making progress. She motioned for him to shove her further onto his member.

Oniyama watched her motions with a slight amount of surprise. Did she really want him to do what she was seemingly telling him to? Ultimately it made no difference. His mind was only in control as far as it needed to be to facilitate his lust's commands. With little extra thought, he put pressure into his hands and forced Babette toward the base of his cock.

Babette felt his hands put pressure on her and knew she'd succeeded. The next moment, she felt his prick start to force its way down her small throat. Inch by excruciating inch, more of him disappeared into her. She kept her eyes locked on him to see his reaction. Several times he paused as a wave of pleasure wracked his body. Soon, however, only two inches of his dick remained out of her mouth. At this point, she felt she could go no further, even with his assistance. Instead, she made a motion back and forth.

Picking up on her intent immediately, Oniyama started sliding her off his dick. He came out of her throat and his glans retreated back to the edge of her lips. Then it went straight back in, slightly smoother and faster this time. The sensation of this unique kind of face fucking was making his dick throb with desire.

She broke eye contact with him as she had a light orgasm. The pure pleasure of his dick forcing its way down her throat, coupled with the knowledge that he was experiencing something only she could give him and loving every minute of it, was turning her on immensely. If she thought she had been drenched before, her pussy was positively another ocean by now. There was a fair amount of pain involved with this interaction, but it was all worth it for the look in his eyes and the throbbing of his member deep inside her. She almost wanted him to cum in this position, but there was no telling how long his animalistic sexual desire would last before the grief took over again. If she might only get one serving of his cream, it was going in her pussy. No doubt about it. Sensing how volatile his dick was, she motioned for him to stop.

He reluctantly slid her down and up his length one last time before releasing his grip and allowing her to pop his cock out of her mouth. She climbed up to his face and kissed him deeply. He could taste himself on her. It was intoxicating.

She broke the kiss after only a few seconds. She looked him in the eye, desire and lust plastered all over her features. "Fuck me." She said in a soft tone. "Fuck me any way you want to. As hard as you want to. For as long as you want to." She saw the look in his eyes change from mere desire to pure sexual mania. She watched him cast his eyes down over her body, taking note of her dripping wet twat. Then he brought his hungry gaze up to meet hers.

Oniyama was gone. All that was left where once he had been was a fiery desire to claim this female for his own. She had invited him to do as he willed. He certainly wasn't arguing with that. With a feral growl he threw her down onto the bed.

Babette giggled as she bounced from the impact. This was what she wanted. She lifted her legs and braced them on his midsection. They didn't reach his shoulders. In front of her, he knelt with his weapon of lust in his hand. She reached down and helped guide it to her petite opening. Once it was lined up, she removed her hand and draped them above her on the bed. She saw Oniyama look up from where they were about to be connected and stare into her eyes with a piercing look. She opened her mouth lewdly and nodded.

He rammed his hips forward in one great mighty thrust.

In a flash, she felt the skin of her pussy tear from the sudden girth it was expected to accommodate. She also felt her hymen rip to pieces in a blinding, searing burst of pain. She let out the loudest "AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhh!!!!" She'd ever screamed in her life. The pain was so intense! It was one of the sad realities of being a child vampire: since she (unfortunately?) hadn't been abused before being turned, her healing factor always repaired her hymen after sex. The end result was that sex was always a painful prospect for her. Thankfully, for whatever reason, sexual arousal seemed to either turn off or at least tone down her healing factor. Her hymen only repaired itself a few hours after the sex was over. She'd just learned to derive pleasure from the pain of losing her 'virginity' over and over. In this particular case, the pain was much greater than any she had felt before while lovemaking, but that was to be expected. The pedophiles she used to hunt for always had small penises and they always tried to 'be gentle' so she would not cry out so openly and possibly get them discovered. Oniyama was neither of these things. He had a very well endowed member and he was using it with no regard for her comfort or pleasure. Under other circumstances, it might have been a terrible memory for her. With him, though, it was going to be something to treasure for decades to come. She felt so incredibly full. His throbbing column was vibrating her entire belly in time to his heartbeat. The heat of their connection felt like it was melting her insides. Her eyes had squeezed themselves shut reflexively when he'd penetrated her. Now, as she started relaxing and adjusting to his size, she opened them.

He was kneeling there, watching her reactions. When she smiled at him, the fire returned in full force. He yanked himself out of her and thrust back in.

The sensation of his monster cock slamming into her tunnel was more than she could bear. Her pussy could only accommodate slightly more than half of him but that half was ravaging her in a way that she had never experienced before. It was divine just how satisfied she felt with him plunging in and out of her. Her first initial scream was now being followed up with panting moans and squeals. "Oh fuck." along with "Give me more." plus a "Fuck me silly" here and there. True to what she'd told him previously, these weren't soft spoken nothings, but full on moans likely loud enough to be heard clear across town.

Oniyama, too, was growling and snarling like a wild animal. His bestial instincts were focused entirely on drawing out the pleasure from this tiny female. The look in his eyes was completely feral. He was lost to the pleasure. The only thing he cared about now was claiming her as his own. He was even beyond words.

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Gabriella was sorely wishing she had gone for a walk instead of trying to get drunk in the common room. Her brother and sister were coming through quite clearly and it was rather obvious that they were fucking each other senseless. She was so incredibly horny now. She desperately wanted to go in and join them but she knew Babette would never forgive her if she did. There was the small consolation that the two of them were finally fucking. It meant that, if she could get into his pants, there was nothing preventing her from doing so. It wasn't much comfort to her now, but it was a light at the end of the tunnel.

She surveyed the common room. The innkeep was in the back, trying her best not to listen to what was occurring within one of her rooms. Whenever Gabriella called to her, she brought out a fresh mug of mead before quickly retreating. It was obvious she still wanted to intercede, but she had no intention of losing her payday over it.

Gabriella was also marveling that none of the other patrons of the inn had come forth to complain about the noise. The inn wasn't full or anything, but she knew there were at least a few guests here this evening. Oh well, if they were content to listen, or if they were sleeping through it somehow, then it wasn't any of her concern. She glanced down into her half empty mug. This was her fourth cup. She was starting to feel the effects. If she kept this up much longer, she might stumble back in and demand he fuck her in a drunken haze. Probably best if that didn't happen. Things would get rather awkward at the sanctuary if they did. This would have to be her last mug. She dearly hoped they were coming to the finish line.

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Babette's eyes rolled into her head as she orgasmed again. The furious pace which Oniyama had set was causing her to build up to orgasm every few minutes or so. She was trying her best to match her rhythms to his own but every time she came, she froze up and twitched for several seconds. It was ruining her tempo. Not that she was really complaining. She hadn't had this many orgasms in quick succession in a long, long time. Usually, once she'd had one orgasm, her libido quieted down and she lost interest in continuing. This time, however, each time she felt herself come down from the sexual high, it slowly came back under the continued assault. With a little effort, she was coming to realize she could have a much more active sex drive. She marveled at how Oniyama hadn't cum yet. It felt like he was constantly on the edge, yet he never seemed to drift over it. Not that she really minded that either. She'd been lusting after him for days now. If he wasn't interested in stopping now that she had him, she wasn't about to suggest it.

Oniyama wanted to cum, by the gods did he want to, but his lust didn't want his sexual fervor to end. It was keeping him from finishing while it ravaged her tight little hole (which wasn't so tight anymore after its continued pounding.) He needed to switch things up. He needed a different source of stimulation. Something to push him over the edge. So he leaned down and grabbed the sides of Babette's head roughly. He craned his head downward, wrenched her head upward and smashed his lips into hers in a ferocious kiss.

She felt him grab onto her. When he started pulling her head off the bed, she saw his intent and craned her neck up to help him. When his lips slammed into hers, she squealed again. Their tongues immediately locked together and they moaned and growled into each other. His hands were still in her hair, massaging it roughly. This was extreme. She didn't want this to end. This night of zealous passion, of fiery sexual release, it was her own personal heaven and she didn't want to leave it. So it was that she almost felt a pang of regret (not quite but almost) when his dick throbbed harder than it had yet and started unloading his lust into her greedy depths.

He felt his desire start to pour out of him and into her waiting depths. They were still locked in a fierce kiss, but when he started ejaculating into her, she wrenched her mouth off his and half-moaned, half-screamed with a cry that could have woken the dead. Her legs tensed around his midsection, kicking ineffectually at nothing while she locked eyes with him and her screaming moan trailed almost painfully off into silence.

She felt spent. She'd had more orgasms than she could count this evening and yet somehow, this last one had been so...so...she didn't have the words for just how impassioned her finish had been. All the other ones seemed like cheap proxies by comparison. Even now, she could feel the aftertaste of her climax lingering in the recesses of her mind. She felt gluttonously full of his desire. He'd cum so much that it had flooded her insides entirely and was now leaking out onto the sheets. She refocused her eyes on him. He was still above her, braced on his arms and staring into her eyes. He looked spent as well, but instead of looking satisfied, it seemed like he was on the verge of tears. Slowly, almost like a chopped tree, he tumbled to one side and collapsed beside her.

With his lust dissipating, Oniyama's mind returned. Now he was coming to terms with what he'd just done. And there in his mind, the voice that haunted him stood condescendingly above him, scorning over him with derision. 'You just raped a little girl.' It seemed to taunt him.

'She's a three-hundred year old vampire.' He countered feebly.

'Irrelevant. You might as well have raped Lianis. You're no better than Papa. You're no better than the Elf.' It responded fiercely.

He turned his head, trying to escape the voice's gaze. 'I...I wasn't myself. I was blinded by lust and desire.'

The voice laughed at him. 'Do you think that excuses you? Do Orcs who kill people not get hanged because they were angry at the time?' It seemed to turn hostile. 'You make me sick.'

"No!" He cried out loud. He wrenched himself to the side of the bed. "I'm nothing like them!"

'You're exactly like them!' The voice chastised. 'You're a monster! You're a monster! You're a monster! YOU'RE A MONSTER!'

He scrambled off the bed and ran to the corner. "No! I'm not them! I'm not! I...I loved her!"

'The Elf loved her too.' The voice spat at him. 'Papa loved her too. And you claim to be nothing like them.' He got the sense the voice was staring at him with a disgusted frown. 'You should kill yourself. It won't end until you do.' It began to chant. 'Kill yourself. Kill yourself. Kill yourself. KILL YOURSELF!'

"No! I don't want to die! I AM NOT A MONSTER!" He howled into the wall.

He felt two arms encircle him. In a panic he tried to fight them off but they were more co-ordinated than he was and soon they had a grip on either side of his face. With surprising strength, they forced his head to look in the voice's direction.

Babette crouched beside him, still nude. The tears were flowing down her cheeks.

He sat there, stunned. He couldn't move. Slowly, his mouth opened. "I am not a monster. I..." He began to cry. "I love you."

She leaned in and kissed him. Not on the lips, but on the forehead.

In a flash, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into a tight embrace. He sobbed into her bare shoulder. She placed her hand on his head, rubbing it soothingly. "You are not a monster. You are my brother." She cooed at him.

"My daughter..." He sobbed through his tears. "She fell in love with me. Not as a daughter loves her father, but as a woman loves a man." He coughed and hiccuped. "I...I rejected her. Then I left for Vivec." He broke off and sobbed for a moment. "The next time I saw her, she had been mutilated. She had been tortured and possibly raped." Another cough. "I couldn't beat him. I couldn't beat the vampire who attacked my village. He gave me one chance to say goodbye to her."

"It's alright brother. I am here. I am not leaving you." She comforted him.

He heaved a heavy breath. "I...I couldn't...He was going to torture her more. I couldn't let him do that to her." His words were shaky. The destroyed face of his daughter flashed before his eyes. "So...I...I k-....k-..." He couldn't say it. He couldn't make his mouth work.

"You killed her, to save her from him." Babette supplied. Her voice cracked as she said it.

He howled into her shoulder. "I...I did..." Was all he managed before breaking down crying again.

She held him there. His tears were pooling on her shoulder and running down her naked back. The tears in her own eyes were streaming down her face. She held him, rubbing his head and kissing his forehead again. "You did all you could." She consoled him. "You saved her from a fate worse than death. If she could, I'm sure she would thank you."

"I KILLED MY OWN DAUGHTER!!!" He shouted suddenly. "I swore to protect her and she died by my hand!" He wrenched himself back from her and retreated into himself. "I should die for my crimes." He lamented.

She cast her eyes down for a second, then moved forward to fill the space between them once again. "No. You saved her. She was going to die anyway. You gave her a merciful death." She cradled his head to look at her again. "I'm proud of you, brother."

"I'm a monster!" He cried, trying to look away.

She held him fast. "No. You are a loving father and you did the only thing you could to spare your child." She kissed him on the forehead once more. "Don't believe the lies you are telling yourself. Trust in me."

He looked into her eyes. The compassion and concern overwhelmed him. In his mind, the voice that had haunted him all these years tried to harass him, but the warmth and kindness of her gaze drowned it out. In its place, a memory stirred.

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"Father! You're not fighting fair!" Lianis cried as she tried to swat at him with her wooden sword.

"Of course I'm not fighting fair. No one is going to engage you in a fair fight, little blade." Oniyama cautioned. "You were the one who wanted to learn swordplay. Well, here is your first lesson: always make things unfair for your opponent. He will certainly do the same to you."

Lianis smiled as she tried to get through his defences. "You're not my opponent! You're my father! Aren't you supposed to let your daughter win?"

He and Lianis were standing at the edge of the swamp leading out of town. The sun was shining bright and the town was bustling with activity. A pair of House guards had watched them idly for a few minutes before continuing on their route. The two of them were trying out the well crafted weighted wooden practice blades he had brought back from Balmora. In the distance, Samandra stood watching the pair of them with a smile on her face.

Lianis tried to dart in under his guard again but he blocked the blow easily. "Come on! I'll love you forever if you let me win!" She bargained.

He laughed again. "Does that mean you don't love me forever already?"

She pondered this. "Well, I'll love you forever twice. How does that sound?"

He put a finger to his chin. "Hard deal to refuse. OK, I guess I'll take a dive." He lowered his sword.

Lianis jumped forward and 'stabbed' him in the chest with all her might. "Yay! I win!" She cried. She turned back to Samandra. "You see, mother? I won!"

Samandra chuckled. "You're ready to sign up for House guard duty, little one."

Lianis beamed at her. "You'll make me blush!"

Oniyama snuck up behind her and grabbed her around the waist. He lifted her into the air amidst her shrieks and squeals. "Looks like I win the second round!" He taunted.

She tried to squirm out of his grip, but he held her fast. "No fair! You didn't tell me we were starting the second round already!" She giggled.

He spun her around to look at him. "Don't tell me you forgot lesson number one already?"

She pouted at him. "But I'm still learning. You should take it easy on me."

He laughed in her face. "If I take it easy on you, I'll be doing you a disservice. Now, try and hit me again!" He dropped her gently to the ground and swung his blade up to defend himself.

Instead of attacking, Lianis dropped her sword on the ground and ran up to him. She hugged him around the midsection. "I love you, father." She said sincerely.

Caught off guard, he dropped his own sword. He wrapped his arms around her gently. "I love you too Lianis. I always will."

She nuzzled into his shirt. "Father?"

"Yes, little blade?"

"No matter what happens, I want you to know that I'll always be glad that you were my father." She proclaimed.

"Nothing is going to happen." He protested.

She looked up at him. "I know. But if something did, I know you'll always do right by me. I trust you. Now and forever. I won't hate you as long as I live."

He looked down at her with concern. "Lianis, where is this coming from?"

She smiled up at him. "I just wanted you to know that you're the best thing that ever happened to me. Don't forget that, father."

He felt a tear well up in one eye. He looked away to wipe it off. "I...Thank you, child." He said, embarrassed.

The next instant, she ducked out of his gentle grasp, picked up his dropped sword and bashed him in the nuts with it.

His eyes widened and he fell to his knees. As he came face to face with his assailant, the look of pure disbelief was all over his features. "That..." He cried. "That's not fair!"

She beamed maliciously at him. "Don't tell me you've already forgotten lesson number one?"

He tried to laugh, but it only came out as a pained wheeze as he crumpled to the ground.

Lianis spun on the spot and called out to Samandra. "See? Now I've won!"

Samandra was on her knees and howling. "You sure did, little one! Now you're ready for the Dark Brotherhood!" And she collapsed into giggles.

Above the tender, if painful scene, it seemed the Gods themselves smiled down on them.

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Oniyama felt his vision clear. In his mind, the prison that had protected his fragile heart melted away. He looked into Babette's eyes. She was staring back curiously into his. He smiled. "I am not a monster." He said simply.

Her eyes searched his. Finding their mark, she smiled back at him. She brought her face forward and kissed him on the lips.

He kissed her back. The memory of Lianis' words warmed his heart. The voice that had haunted him was gone. He wasn't a monster. He was Oniyama. Smith. Enchanter. Friend. The anguish that he had run from all these years finally stopped chasing him and vanished.

Behind them, the first few rays of light filtered through the window as the dawn welcomed them into its warmth.

Chapter Text

Oniyama, Gabriella and Babette watched as Commander Maro and his entourage marched into town. The Commander looked haggard, as if he'd been marching through Oblivion instead of Skyrim. 'Might actually be true, considering the civil war.' Oniyama reasoned. He'd always tried his best to stay out of that kind of business. Even though Ralof, his good friend, was wholeheartedly a Stormcloak supporter (and likely one of Ulfric Stormcloak's soldiers if Oniyama was being honest), Oniyama had no interest in fighting another country's war. The Commander didn't have that luxury. Now, as he marched downtroddenly up to the outpost, Oniyama felt a pang of pity for the man. He was just trying to do his job. He almost certainly didn't deserve the injustice that was soon going to be delivered upon him.

He shook his head. Vittoria Vici hadn't deserved her fate either but he had still killed her. Ultimately, he'd always known that this choice of profession would include days like these and he had pursued it anyway. It might have seemed comical, an assassin with a heart, but it was true all the same. He would just have to grit his teeth and deal with it.

Beside him, Babette watched the scene unfold with slightly less compassion. She'd never had any trouble dealing with targets before. This one wasn't any different. She eyed the Commander's son, bringing up the rear of the group. Soon he would be serving Sithis in the Void...

Oniyama turned away from the window. "Well, they're here. Now we just have to wait for them to leave again and follow them." He walked away and sat down on the bed heavily. "I don't know about the two of you, but I think I could use a nap." He swung his legs up off the floor and stretched out.

Gabriella nodded. "Enjoy your slumber, brother. We'll wake you if they leave."

He nodded to them and closed his eyes. He was asleep almost immediately.

Gabriella watched his still form for a moment. "Looks almost peaceful, doesn't he?" She whispered to her sister.

Babette nodded. "I don't blame him for trying to catch some shut-eye. He had a traumatic episode earlier this morning. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say he's emotionally exhausted."

Gabriella smirked at her. "From the sounds last night, he's not just emotionally exhausted."

Babette smirked right back. "That's right, how was your evening, sister?"

She frowned. "You couldn't have kept it down? It cost me five hundred septims to keep the innkeep from interrupting you."

Babette's smirk grew wider. "Keep it down? You woke all of Whiterun with your moans and howls, sister!" She sniffed the air. "Besides, I wanted you to experience every detail of what it's like to be incredibly horny and having no outlet for it."

She sighed. "Last night wasn't the first night I've experienced that." She lamented. "But fine, I understand completely what it was like for you that night in Whiterun."

Babette grinned. "Good. You now have my express permission to score with him. It's quite the experience."

She narrowed her eyes. "So...tell me what it was like." She licked her lips.

Her sister laughed. "Oh...there are no words. I mean, he ate me out like he'd been doing it every day for the last eighty years." Her thighs squirmed as she recalled the sensation. "And he's a great kisser. I mean, I know I don't have a lot of experience there but I'm certain you won't forget what it feels like to have his rough tongue massaging your gums."

Gabriella closed her eyes and sighed lustily. "I'm trying to picture it now."

She smacked her on the arm lightly. "Trust me, no matter how good your imagination is, the real thing will blow you away. You remember that kiss he stole from me in the clearing outside the sanctuary?"

Gabriella blushed but nodded. She knew exactly what Babette was talking about. She just hoped she wouldn't reference what else was going on.

Babette smiled wide. "Once I knew it was him, that kiss made me have a light orgasm. It was that good."

Gabriella rubbed her thighs together. She was going to regret this next question, but her curiosity was just too great. "So how was the ride?"

She closed her eyes and 'mmmmmmmm'd' to herself. Then she opened her eyes and caught Gabriella's gaze. "I didn't actually ride him. I was on the bottom the whole time. That said, Gab, I can honestly say it was the best sex I have ever had. He just pounded my pussy like an alpha male wolf. It was so big it ripped me open." She raised her eyebrows. "Not metaphorically either. His dick was so huge, it ripped my pussy to a new width. And of course, thanks to the size difference, it filled me to the brim. Only about half of him fit inside me, but that half blew my mind into little pieces. And the climax? Oh Gab, it was so forceful I think it bruised my cervix. If it wasn't for my healing factor, I'd be walking funny."

"Oh Babs..." Gabriella whined. "I need him inside me!"

Babette laughed. "Be careful. Once you have him, no one else will satisfy you ever again."

Gabriella looked over at his sleeping form. "You think he'd mind if I sucked him off while he slept?"

Babette shook her head. "Don't try it. I don't think it will go over well."

"No fair! What am I supposed to do about myself now?!" She hissed. "I'm so turned on, I could drown the next person who eats me out!"

"Now you know how it feels." Babette replied callously. "Go screw a Penitus Oculatus or something. You won't find any sympathy here."

She frowned and sighed. "This sucks."

Babette laughed. "Now you know how I feel." Her expression turned serious and she looked back at Oniyama's sleeping form. "He's been through so much more than I gave him credit for. I might be four times older than him, but he's suffered through more than I could ever bear."

Gabriella turned to look at her brother. "I heard shouting after the fact. Something about his daughter?"

Babette nodded. "His wife and daughter were killed in a vampire attack on Gnaar Mok. Well, his wife was. His daughter was taken captive. He set out to rescue her, but the vampire who captured her was too powerful. In a sadistic turn of events, the vampire left him weak and dying to say goodbye to his daughter before he tortured them both, likely to death."

She turned to her sister with a disturbed look on her face. "I might be an assassin, but that's just pointlessly cruel."

She nodded. "He couldn't bring himself to let his daughter suffer through such a terrible fate so he killed her to spare her from further suffering."

The two of them stared solemnly at the sleeping Orc. Gabriella was the first to break the silence. "I don't blame him for running from that memory. It's heartbreaking."

Babette sighed. "Yes. Yes it is. I also suspect it's the reason he had qualms about having feelings for me. Apparently, right before his family was massacred, his daughter confessed romantic feelings for him. They weren't blood related, but it still disturbed him. He felt guilt because he couldn't return her feelings the way she wanted him to and some part of him irrationally blamed his rejection for her death."

Gabriella sighed as well. "He mentioned to me that I reminded him of his wife. He said that was why my aggressive advances repulsed him. He's not like any man I've ever met before."

Babette looked at her sister with a surprised expression. "How likely is it that he'd have a loving family, lose them, then run into two women who so perfectly remind him of that which he lost? If I wasn't such a cynic, I'd almost believe otherworldly intervention was involved."

Gabriella shrugged. "He's the Listener isn't he? Maybe the Night Mother orchestrated all this."

Babette immediately shot her sister a sharp look. "How do you know that?!" She hissed.

Gabriella chuckled. "The two of you aren't quite as discreet as you think you are. I overheard the two of you talking in his room back at the sanctuary."

Babette processed this. "You managed to sneak up and eavesdrop on two vampires? Impressive."

Gabriella waved off the compliment. "You were both distracted. It wasn't hard to listen in."

"So you know. What do you think?"

She shrugged again. "It's not any of my business as long as Astrid is still around. I'm keeping my nose strictly out of that particular pot as long as I can." She sniffed the air. "Honestly, with the way Astrid's been acting, I'm not surprised the Night Mother chose someone more stable to assume a leadership position over us."

"You do know what's going to happen to Astrid though, don't you?" Babette asked cautiously.

Her face fell. "Yes. She was a good leader for many years and I don't want to see those years of service thrown away so casually, but everyone knows you don't contradict the Night Mother or her Listener and live to tell the tale." She shook her head. "I don't want to see Astrid die, but I'm not willing to side against the Night Mother to save her. For all that we haven't adhered to the Tenets for years now, I'm too fond of her new Listener to oppose him."

Babette sniggered. "Too fond of him? I think we both know exactly what you're fond of here."

Gabriella cast her eyes to the ceiling and huffed in exasperation. "Yes. I want to fuck him. That doesn't mean he's just a penis on legs to me."

"Could've fooled me." Babette muttered under her breath.

It was Gabriella's turn to give her sister a sharp look. "Fine! I admit that when I first laid eyes on him, it was all I could think about! But don't stand there and try to tell me you were thinking any different. Even Nazir noticed you were smitten with him the first time you laid eyes on him!"

Babette blushed. "He did not!"

She smiled triumphantly. "Oh, he sure did. He was speaking to Arnbjorn about how 'our little undead witch' was smitten by the sight of a burly Orc in daedric plate." She stared down at her sister with an evil glint in her eye.

Babette squirmed under her sister's eyes. "So what if I was?! Love at first sight happens to vampires too you know!" She locked eyes with her aggressor. "Why don't we revisit your little indiscretion in the clearing outside the sanctuary?"

Immediately Gabriella went from staring down triumphantly to looking away uncomfortably. "Let's not..."

Babette grinned evilly. "Yes. Let's drop both of these subjects and get back to watching for Gaius Maro's departure."

"You know, it's hard to sleep when two ladies are having a pseudo catfight just twenty feet away." Oniyama called out suddenly from the bed.

Gabriella and Babette both froze to the spot and blushed furiously. "How...how much did you hear...brother?" Babette asked shakily.

Oniyama, still lying on the bed with his eyes closed, responded. "Right around the time Gabriella admitted she knows I'm the Listener. I wanted to say something but then my curiosity got the better of me. I am still dead tired though, so if you'd maybe continue this somewhere else, or at a lesser volume, I'd greatly appreciate it."

The pair of them, still blushing as hard as was possible, turned and filed meekly out of the room.

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Night had fallen on the town of Dragon Bridge. The stars were shining through clearly as the cloud cover was minimal. The moon was a nice sliver, bright enough to illuminate the night, but not by much. It was more than enough light for Oniyama's Orcish darkvision to be eminently useful.

He was outside the inn, dressed in his full armour set with his new longsword at his waist. Babette and Gabriella were still inside the inn. It had been discussed that the pair of them shouldn't leave until a day after Oniyama's own departure. Otherwise, they were likely to draw attention. This might not have mattered to the target, but his father was also present. They felt it best not to take any chances. He was leaning against the outer wall of the inn and taking advantage of the illusory darkness that shrouded his face to keep a keen watch on the outpost. In this low light, he might actually be invisible but he wasn't about to assume so.

He watched as Commander Maro, his wife and his son left the building where they had stayed for the duration of the day. The woman's expression was fearful but both her husband and son were putting on brave faces for her benefit. Their own body language told Oniyama much, though. The father was as worried as his wife and the son was anxious to be off. It didn't appear as though the dangers of his task had really filtered through his mind. At least not yet.

The Commander was speaking. "You have to be careful. Skyrim is a dangerous place. The Stormcloaks could be behind any corner."

"You're being paranoid. I'm inspecting security, not charging into battle. There's not a lot that can go wrong." Came the son's reply almost petulantly.

"Vittoria Vici was getting married. 'There's not a lot that can go wrong' with that either, yet she was assassinated." The Commander countered. He was a sharp one alright.

"I'm a lowly Penitus Oculatus foot soldier. I'm not in charge of anything except this inspection. What assassin would find it worth their time to target me?" Gaius replied dismissively.

'Oh, I think you're going to get a very detailed answer to that one, boy.' Oniyama thought menacingly. He grinned at the irony.

"You may not be the Commander of the Penitus Oculatus, but you are my son. That makes you a prime target." He said gratingly. It was obvious he'd given this assignment and its consequences and implications a lot of thought but either he'd been overruled or, more likely, persuaded to give his son a chance to prove himself. "Anyway, what's done is done. Off with you now." He turned to go back into the building before stopping himself and adding. "Safe travels, my son." He turned back and headed into the building.

Gaius' mother stepped up next. "Well, this is it then. Look after yourself, Gaius. You're doing your duty and I'm proud of you for that. But you'd better come back to me, you hear?"

Gaius' expression softened. "Oh Faida. I may travel alone, but you know I always carry you in my heart. I'll see you soon, my love."

'Oh.' Oniyama thought. 'She's his wife, not his mother.' Not that it made any real difference.

Faida stepped up and kissed Gaius. It was a small thing, just a peck on the cheek, but Nords in general were never the kind of people to engage in obscene public displays of affection. Then she too turned and headed back into the outpost.

Gaius watched her go before turning and heading off in the direction of Solitude.

Oniyama watched him march out of town with purpose in his stride. He had no idea where the kid was going, but if things went according to plan, he didn't need to know. Now was the time to see if things would go according to plan. He pushed off the wall and turned to follow Gaius Maro. As he passed by the window to their rented room, he waved his hand to the pair of faces that were surely watching his departure. It was a subtle thing, delivered from the waist, but he was certain they'd catch it.

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As Dragon Bridge disappeared into the distance, Oniyama sped up his pace to gain on the lone figure of the kid marching ahead of him. He made no attempt to silence his heavy gait or the clanking of his armour. He wanted the kid to know he was there. Already he could tell the kid had been alerted to his presence. He hadn't turned to look at him but his stance was much more rigid. The steps were smaller, the better to maintain balance should he suddenly need to whirl on his attacker. His hand was now resting firmly on the hilt of his longsword. His head was cocked to the side slightly to better listen to Oniyama's footfalls.

Suddenly, he darted to the side and off the trail. Oniyama wasn't concerned. With his superior hearing, he could tell the kid had dodged into the underbrush and behind a large rock, but had gone no further. Gaius likely hoped that he would also break into a sprint and 'follow' him through the forest. He wasn't. He didn't even break stride but instead continued to make progress. He marched up on the rock, willing himself not to lay his hand on his own longsword's hilt and listened intently for sounds that Gaius was coming for an attack.

Suddenly, rustling came from behind the rock. At first, he thought it was Gaius, but then he heard a roar followed by a surprised yelp. Reacting quickly, he dove into the forest and rounded the rock.

Gaius Maro had his back to the rock as a large, angry bear stood on its hind legs opposite him. Evidently the bear had been napping next to the rock and the Pentius Oculatus agent had disturbed it with his hasty entrance. Now, with the bear almost certainly looking forward to a midnight snack, he simply stood there with eyes as wide as the rock he was pressed up against.

Wasting no time, Oniyama rushed forward and ripped his longsword from its sheath. The bear either saw or heard him coming and started falling back onto all fours to face him, but it was never going to beat his blinding speed. With a quick slash, he lopped the bear's head clean off. It went sailing off into the forest. The bear's bulky body, robbed of its brain, tipped to one side and crashed into the undergrowth with a thunderous THUD! Oniyama stood next to it, sword frozen in midair with blood dripping from it, poised almost like one of the heroes from the children's tales he used to read to Lianis. Slowly, he straightened to his full height and brought his sword back down to the ground. He flicked it to one side, casting the blood off it, before sweeping it back into its sheath in one fluid motion. Finally, he turned and looked at the shocked kid standing opposite him.

Gaius Maro was staring at him with just as much shock as he'd been staring at the bear with. It was actually rather comical. However, laughing at him was almost certainly going to result in his ruse failing, so he restrained himself. Instead, he took his helmet off and said. "Nice work, hotshot. If I hadn't been hired to save your bacon, you'd be bear food by now." He intentionally injected as much gruff disapproval into his voice as he could manage.

Maro snapped out of his reverie. "I...I guess I shoud thank you." He said shakily.

"That's right you should. I was told I was going to be protecting a seasoned warrior, not some wet-behind-the-ears novice who freezes at the sight of wildlife." It really wasn't hard to keep the disapproval in his tone.

Maro narrowed his eyes. "Wait...what do you mean 'you were hired?'"

Oniyama started walking back to the road. "I mean exactly that. I was hired to ensure your safety on this little expedition of yours."

"I'm a Penitus Oculatus soldier. I don't need your protection." Maro replied defiantly.

Oniyama glanced back at him. "Yes...clearly." He motioned to the bear carcass.

Maro blushed furiously. "I...I would have managed! I was...I was just startled!"

He turned back to look at the little pipsqueak. Well, maybe he wasn't a pipsqueak, but compared to Oniyama, he was tiny indeed. "Look, kid. I don't give a lick if you're the second coming of Talos himself or as new to swordplay as you are to gratitude. I've got a job to do, so can we please get moving?"

Maro didn't move. "You didn't tell me who hired you."

He stopped, turned to face the kid fully and sighed in exasperation. "You seriously gonna make me have this conversation now, kid?"

Maro nodded.

Oniyama cast his eyes to the heavens. "Fine! Some buxom lass named Faida paid me to protect your sorry ass!"

Maro started at the name. "F...Faida? She wouldn't do that!" His voice was loud, but Oniyama could tell there wasn't any firmness to it.

"Look, kid, you wanna discuss it? Come back out on the road and I'll play twenty questions with you all the way to...wherever the fuck you're going. I'm getting paid either way, but I only get paid if you actually damn well make it back home. The sooner we get moving, the sooner that day comes and the sooner I can get back to never thinking about your stupid ass again." After such a shameful display, it didn't take any effort on Oniyama's part to maintain the gruff scorn necessary to sell the bit. "If we stay in the trees it'll be easier for us to get ambushed." He turned back and made his way to the road.

Maro, after a slight pause, followed.

Back on the road, he turned to face him again. "There. Now, lead the way." He gestured to the road ahead of them. "I'll answer any questions you've got while we walk."

Maro looked like he wasn't entirely comfortable having Oniyama at his back, but he started off down the road nonetheless. Oniyama fell into step behind him.

"You said Faida hired you. Why didn't she tell me?" He said over his shoulder.

"She knew you'd object. Or tell your father. Skyrim's a dangerous place. It doesn't hurt to have an extra blade at your side and it wasn't like the Penitus Oculatus were gonna spare extra soldiers for a simple inspection."

"Faida told you what I'm doing?"

"Of course she did. The more I know, the better I'm able to protect you."

"When did she have time to hire you?" He asked suspiciously.

This was the dangerous part. If Oniyama got it wrong, he'd have to fight and kill Gaius Maro out here. He'd forfeit the bonus. He wasn't concerned in the slightest about the actual fight. If this whelp couldn't even handle being surprised by a bear, there was no chance in Oblivion he'd match a vampire in daedric plate. Picking his words cautiously, he took a shot in the dark. "Before you left to come to Dragon Bridge. She sent a missive on ahead to the Companions. Asked for the best fighter they could spare for guard duty. Most of the lifers weren't interested, but Kodlak didn't want to outright refuse. So he asked me. Work has been scarce for a mercenary like myself these days. You'd think the civil war would be great for opportunities, but neither the Legion nor the Stormcloaks want anyone who doesn't believe in the cause. The coin she offered was substantial, so I agreed." He hmph'ed. "I would have asked for more if I'd known I'd have to guard an amateur like you."

Maro spun on him, a fierce look in his eyes. "I am not an amateur!"

Oniyama matched his gaze without flinching. "Coulda fooled me, the way you 'handled' that bear." He shrugged. "Look, kid. I've been paid upfront half the sum I was promised and I don't break my word. Like it or loathe it, I'm accompanying you on your little task. You can bitch about it or you can get on with it. If you do the latter, we'll be out of each other's hair that much sooner." He watched carefully for any sign that his attempt to fool the young soldier hadn't worked but there wasn't any. Either Gaius Maro was a master actor or he'd swallowed the bit, hook, line and sinker.

Finally, Maro broke his gaze. "Fine. Let's just get on with it." He turned back and resumed walking. "Just stop calling me 'kid.' My name is Gaius Maro."

"You want Gaius or Maro, kid?"

"I don't care. Just stop with 'kid.'"

"Have it your way, Maro."

"And you? What's your name?"

For a second, he thought about making one up but dismissed the idea. The kid wasn't going to live long enough to use his name for any purpose other than calling his attention. "Oniyama."

He cast his gaze back over his shoulder at the Orc. "Oniyama? That's the oddest name for an Orc I've ever heard. Might be the oddest name I've ever heard, period."

"Tell you what, buttercup. When you've demonstrated to me that you actually know which end of your sword goes in your hand and which end goes in your enemy, then and only then can you rib on me about my name." He replied brusquely.

Maro blushed again and swung his head forward to hide it. "Fuck you, Oniyama. Fuck you."

"Love you too, Maro." He replied facetiously. "Why don't we drink in the beautiful Skyrim scenery quietly for a while?"

Maro nodded his agreement and the two of them walked on in silence up the dark, tranquil road.

Chapter Text

The sun was beginning to rise over Skyrim as Maro and Oniyama marched down the road heading in the vague direction of Whiterun. Oniyama had initially been afraid that Maro was intending to inspect Solitude first, but he'd thankfully changed direction and headed south at the crossroads. He'd also not even glanced toward the wagon for hire sitting just up the road. Either he didn't have money, or he had been instructed to proceed on foot. Oniyama had thought about insisting they take the wagon, to save time, but he'd barely managed to get Gaius Maro to fall for his ruse as it stood. He could put up with walking to a major city if it meant he got the bonus for this contract. Truth be told, he could have simply staked out a major city and waited for Gaius Maro to appear there, but with this plan he got to work on his lying skills and he would know exactly when his target arrived in a suitable location. The other bonus was that every second he was on this little outing, he wasn't back at the sanctuary lying to Astrid and trying to dodge all the minefields her schism had thrown into the mess. While this also meant he wasn't spending time with Babette or Gabriella, if he was being honest with himself, he needed some time away from the pair of them to process his thoughts and feelings on what had transpired. His misgivings about having a relationship with Babette had all but disappeared. He now understood that it was his lingering guilt over what had almost transpired between himself and Lianis that had caused such a reaction. He still wasn't physically attracted to a ten year old girl, but Babette really wasn't a ten year old girl. She was a three hundred year old vampire who was suffering from unfortunate circumstances. Viewed in that light, it wasn't hard for him to admit his feelings for her. It might look weird to outsiders but damn them all to Oblivion. They were attracted to one another and that was that.

What was causing him more trepidation at the moment was Gabriella. He'd been shocked to hear her say that she'd overheard the pair of them discussing his Listener status. Evidently they hadn't been as careful as they'd thought. More to the point, she clearly almost desperately desired to lie with him. Babette had already weighed in on the matter. She had no qualms with him helping himself to the Dark Elf's worldly pleasures. By her own admittance, she didn't get horny often enough to ensure his sexual needs would be taken care of. The problem wasn't that she had an issue with him sleeping with her longtime friend. The issue was that he just didn't have the desire to sleep with her. It was common knowledge that Elves and Orcs hated each other and Dark Elves were especially disliked among Orc tribes, but he had never hated anyone for being what race they had been born as so that wasn't it. It also wasn't the case that he didn't find her beautiful. He could tell, even though she was somewhat advanced in years, that there was a lot of beauty left in that body of hers. She had a refined, elegant grace to her movements and a curvaceous figure that was apparent even through the loose fitting robes that she wore. Perhaps it wasn't that he didn't have the desire to sleep with her. Perhaps he was just uncomfortable with the idea of being 'just another conquest.' The woman's sexual appetite was formidable, if her behaviour was any indication. He hadn't been lying when he'd said that her aggressive pursuit of him had been disturbing. She reminded him of his wife, plain and simple. That should have endeared him to wish to lie with her but there was one crucial difference. Samandra, for all that she had aggressively sought out sexual encounters with him, had proven that she loved him for who he was before they had ever lain together. He'd known that it was no passing phase of hers to lie with an Orc then go back to Vivec City and brag to all her lady friends. With Gabriella...well, he was sort of sure she wasn't going to brag to the entire sanctuary if she succeeded in her goal. That said, every time she mentioned the pair of them being together, he always got the feeling that she was interested in the sex purely because of his apparent size. That she viewed him like a prize winning stallion instead of a living person with thoughts and feelings. Certainly there were many men who might be satisfied with such an outlook and sleep with her just because they craved sex. Oniyama wasn't like that. He didn't need to be married to her to sleep with her but he needed more than "I just want to ride a large cock" to convince him to go through with it.

Then again, on the road after the bandit attack, he had chastised her for her behaviour and she had seemed genuinely penitent. She had also listened sympathetically to his emotional recollection of the death of his family. Yet, perhaps the most striking indicator that her behaviour had changed was that she hadn't tried to insert herself into the lovemaking that he and Babette had engaged in yesterday. She had patiently and discreetly left the room and furthermore had ensured that no one else would interfere with their tryst. She had shown remarkable restraint and courtesy. Maybe she respected him enough now that he would consider sleeping with her.

"It's really disturbing, having you just staring blankly at me like that without saying anything." Maro said suddenly.

Oniyama snapped out of his thoughts. He realized that the face hole of his helmet, with its illusory darkness covering it, had been pointing more or less straight at his travelling companion. "Sorry. I was lost in my thoughts." He replied, embarrassed.

"Aren't you supposed to be protecting me?" Maro snarked back. "Pretty hard to do if you're spacing out about Gods know what."

"I'm sure I'll manage. Run into any bears lately?" He quipped.

Maro glanced back and glared at him. "You ever gonna stop bringing that up, douchebag?"

"Sure. When you prove to me that you can handle a sword. Or, more likely, I'll stop ragging on you about that when we go our separate ways after a job well done." He grinned evilly. Maro couldn't see it but he was sure Maro knew he was doing it all the same.

Maro locked eyes with him (well, he locked eyes with the illusion of darkness) for a second longer before turning back to the road with a disgusted sigh. "You want me to prove I'm competent? How about I gut you here and now?"

He laughed. "You attack me and I'm going to have to kill you. I miss out on the second half of my payment but I got the first half upfront. Listen, Maro. You've got a steel sword, a wooden shield, and steel studded leather armour. I'm wearing daedric plate with a daedric longsword. I'll carve you to ribbons in moments. Just try it."

"Fuck you." Was the only reply.

"Let's just focus on making progress. We hate each other. Nothing says we have to be friends. But unless you draw on me, I'm protecting your backside all the way back to that Faida of yours." He didn't want to keep egging Maro on but he'd already established what kind of mercenary he was pretending to be. All of this would be a complete waste of time if Maro attacked him here on the road. He could have slaughtered him back when he'd saved him from the bear. He had an actual interest in getting Maro to at least the first stop on his inspection tour.

His sharpened hearing picked up on footsteps other than their own. "Maro." He said quietly. "Armoured people are coming the other way."

Maro's hand drifted to his weapon. "How many of them?"

"Hard to say. I'd guess around five."

"How long before they're upon us?" There was apprehension in his voice but that was to be expected. It was a complete toss up whether the group coming up the trail was an Imperial patrol or a Stormcloak ambush squad.

"Seconds at best. We won't have time to hide without alerting them that that's what we're doing." He moved to stand beside the young soldier. "We'll just have to wait for them and deal with them if they're hostile."

Maro opened his mouth to reply but he caught sight of legs coming around a bend in the trail. These were quickly followed by the bodies they were carrying and the both of them had their worst fears realized.

It was a group of Stormcloak soldiers coming up the trail. Their weapons were drawn and their helmets were on. Either they were hunting someone else, or they had been expecting Gaius. They hesitated for just a moment as they caught sight of the pair. Hunting someone else, it seemed. That didn't mean they were going to let a target of opportunity like a Penitus Oculatus soldier pass them by. Already they were tapping each other's arms and gesturing towards them.

Oniyama took the moment to draw his own longsword. Maro, beside him followed suit. "We have no quarrel with you." Maro called out.

"That's too bad, Imperial. We've got a quarrel with you." The man at the head of the pack shouted back menacingly. "You'll make a fine hostage to get some of our brothers and sisters out of Imperial jails."

"That's not going to happen." Oniyama growled at them. "This man is under my protection. Be on your way or face my blade in combat." He brandished his weapon.

"You think we're afraid of a lone swordsman just because he bought himself a nice suit of armour?" The man's derision was plain.

"I think you should be more afraid of the Orc inside it than of the armour itself." Oniyama replied. "You don't afford armour like this without the kind of skills that should be making all of you think twice."

"I think we're more than prepared to handle one obstinate fool." The leader shot back. He raised his sword. "Men! Capture that Imperial! Kill the Orc!" And they rushed forward.

Rather than waiting for them to come to him, Oniyama rushed forward as well to meet them head on. Maro, having settled into a defensive stance to await his attackers, was caught off guard by his bodyguard rushing forward to meet the threat. From the sounds behind him, the kid was now hurrying to rush forward as well. Oniyama grinned privately. This was a good chance for the kid to showcase that he was indeed competent with a sword. Despite that, he still needed to survive the engagement. Putting all thoughts of anything except these opponents from his mind, Oniyama brought his sword in low and aimed for the knees of the lead man.

Despite attacking an Orc in full daedric plate, the man proved he was no stranger to combat by jumping over the low weapon. On the way by, he struck out with his own longsword but it scraped harmlessly off the daedric chestplate. As he landed from the maneuver, he spun and attempted to stab Oniyama in the back.

Instead of giving him the chance, Oniyama continued his forward momentum while bringing his sword up to waist level. It was still held in a low grip but it was ready to go high or low as the situation required. His next opponent saw the weapon coming and held his own sword out in a crosswise block.

The two weapons clanged together sharply. Instead of drawing his weapon back to strike out again, Oniyama kept the pressure on his opponent's blade and pivoted himself around using the connection between swords as a pivot point.This brought his gauntleted hand within reach of the Stormcloak's face and he roughly punched him straight in it. The sheer force of the blow caused the man to drop his weapon in a daze. Capitalizing on his disarmament, he brought his sword forward and skewered the man in the chest, just below the heart. He twisted the sword in the wound before wrenching it back out to a gush of blood and anguish. He followed the meager inertia of the weapon to spin himself around and take stock of the situation.

Gaius Maro was engaging the leader of the five man (well, three man and two woman) patrol along with another soldier who had evidently circled past Oniyama to engage him. Despite being outnumbered by proficient foes, the kid was quite clearly capable of handling himself. While he didn't have Oniyama's bulk, speed or agility, he was nonetheless withstanding the attacks of both soldiers with little effort. He was patiently biding his time and waiting for an opening to present itself.

A presence came up behind Oniyama and rapped him on the side of the head. In his distraction, he'd forgotten the remaining two Stormcloaks who were quite clearly not happy with him about their brother's death. He could sense the pair of them behind him. Rather than simply turning to face them, he spun sharply in their direction while also dropping to one knee as he did so. His longsword whipped around with the force of an oak branch in a windstorm. The soldiers behind him, not expecting such a maneuver, fell victim to his unorthodox tactics. The blade spun around at knee level and swiftly amputated the first soldier's legs at the knees. The woman cried out as she fell, spurting hot red lifeblood in all directions in a gruesome display. The second soldier, somewhat aware of what would happen if he remained, had jumped backward in time to avoid a similarly horrifying fate.

Standing from his kneeling position, Oniyama faced the soldier. His comrade's blood stained the Orc's armour, giving it a menacing look that had the Stormcloak shaking in his boots. Credit where it was due, the man was obviously terrified of this black-clad demon that had just decimated two of his friends but he didn't turn and run. He should have but he didn't. Sprinting forward, Oniyama brought his sword down on the man in a mighty two handed blow. He tried to defend the heavily signalled move but the sheer force of it, coupled with the blade's sharpness caused his own weapon to be carved in twain. In the next instant, the daedric armament bit down into the man's shoulder, nearly carving it from his body. Immediately, he went limp as life left him. Wrenching backward, he yanked his blade free of the corpse. He turned once more to survey his charge and how his situation was progressing.

Gaius Maro had been fighting for his life against two opponents for some time now. His skill with his sword and shield were quite apparent. Both Stormcloaks had cuts and nicks in their armour where the kid had scored non definitive hits. Maro himself was untouched. Eventually he would absolutely slaughter both opponents. Oniyama had no interest in 'eventually' however. He ran up behind the pair of them, brandishing his blade as he did so.

Maro, seeing him coming, went on the offensive. He attacked both foes aggressively, trying to hold their attention long enough for his comrade to blindside them. He sliced at their faces and tried to bash them with his shield. He was leaving himself open for possible counterattack but they were never going to get the chance to capitalize on it.

With almost no sound apart from his clanking armour, Oniyama swung his sword at the back of the leader of the patrol. To the man's credit, he either heard or felt him coming and tried to spin to defend against him. Unfortunately, he was never going to beat a vampire's reflexes. The only result his attempt at defence got him was that the edge that killed him cleaved its way through his stomach instead of his side. A pained wheeze escaped his lips as he watched his life bleed away through the great rend in his armour.

The last Stormcloak, the other woman, seeing her last comrade fall, saw discretion as the better part of valor and bolted. Maro moved to chase her but Oniyama held him back. "I've got this." He said. He dropped his longsword and drew out his daedric bow. Drawing out one of his daedric arrows, he drew a bead on the fleeing woman. Despite hauling ass, she was travelling in more or less a straight line. This made it incredibly easy to loose an arrow that plonked her straight through the back and into her heart. She tumbled to the ground in a mad jumble of limbs and flailing. Then she came to a rest and lay still.

Oniyama replaced the bow on his back and picked up his dropped longsword. "I'm gonna go check her. Make sure she's dead." He stalked over to her. He bent down and checked for a pulse. There was none. As he'd first seen, his arrow had gone straight through her heart. She had died instantly. Grasping his arrow, he pulled and it slid out of her with a little scraping. Despite the blood and guts stuck to it, it was quite obvious that the tip had been severly damaged, either by its initial trip and tumble or by his brusque removal of it. Either way, it wasn't salvageable. Sighing, he tossed it aside. He could make more if necessary, it was just nice to not have to. Oh well. It wasn't like he was running out or anything.

"Well?" Maro called from behind him.

He stood up and shook his head. "She's gone. What about the others?"

"No. They're all dead too."

"Good. Let's continue then." He walked back to his dropped weapon and replaced it within its sheath. "I don't know which city you're going to but I'd like us to get there as soon as possible."

"Yes...let's." Came the distant reply.

They started down the path again. The sight of the battle had barely disappeared behind them when Maro spoke. "So...do you accept that I'm not a rank amateur in swordplay?" His voice was guarded but there was a note of...well, it almost sounded as though Maro was seeking his acceptance.

He took off his helmet to look him in the eye. "You handled yourself well. I thought I was gonna have to fight them all myself but you fended off two of them quite adeptly." He allowed a minor note of admiration to creep into his voice. "Gods willing, the rest of this journey will be far more uneventful."

"We share one desire it would seem." Maro agreed. "We're headed for Whiterun. By my estimation, we should get there by dusk if we don't run into any further hiccups."

Oniyama gazed in the general direction of the sun. Looking straight at it brought the discomfort it lashed down on his vampiric countenance to the forefront of his mind. He nodded sagely. "I reckon you're right." He looked back at the kid. "You sure you don't need to rest or anything? You've been marching since last night."

"What's the matter? Too tired to keep up?" Maro jeered.

Oniyama snorted. "I could march on no sleep for a week straight. I just don't want you collapsing on the road because you tried to 'act tough.' You don't need rest? Then lead on." He gestured to the road ahead of them.

Maro nodded and marched on ahead. Behind him, Oniyama replaced his helmet on his head to alleviate some of the discomfort of the sun's rays. There was an odd feeling in the back of his mind. Now that he knew for certain where they were headed, some part of him was anxious to get there. Yet, he couldn't deny he was also enjoying the relative serenity of just walking from one place to another. After the rather hectic week and a half he'd had, it was nice to just focus on one single task and put the rest out of his mind. Best to just enjoy it while it lasted.

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The sun was disappearing over the horizon as Oniyama and Maro stepped through the gate and into Whiterun proper. The guards had given them a once over and noted Maro's armour before motioning them through the gate with no issue. Once inside, Maro stopped and turned to face him. "This is where we part ways for now." He said.

"Huh? Why?" Oniyama asked reflexively.

"Because there's no way I'm taking a hired mercenary with me to inspect security measures. I've got all the guards in Whiterun to protect me if someone tries to attack me here. If I leave the city, I'll let you know. Go buy a room at the Bannered Mare. I'll be by later tonight to eat and catch some rest." He replied factually.

He considered this. "You've got a point. Alright, I'll go set us up with a couple of rooms. If you need to find me in the next hour or so, I'll be perusing the marketplace before it closes."

Maro nodded. "Fine by me. Just make sure you set those rooms up first, clear?" He waited for Oniyama to nod before turning and marching off in the direction of Dragonsreach.

Left to his own devices, Oniyama followed Maro at a distance until he turned left and started ascending the stairs that led to the jarl's castle. Oniyama himself proceeded straight into the Bannered Mare at the end of the lane.

Inside the door, he surveyed the scene. There were several patrons enjoying the music and atmosphere. Several of them had taken notice of the finely armoured Orc that had just entered their midst. The innkeeper as well eyed him warily as he closed the door behind him. He paid them no mind. It was the same wary look that he garnered everywhere he went. Except it wasn't. One patron was watching his every move with a carefully controlled look on their face.

Nazir sat in one corner, mead in hand, trying very hard to keep a neutral look on his face. It was obvious that Oniyama's appearance had surprised him but he didn't want to spoil any ruses or other plans the Orc might have prepared. How very considerate of him.

Paying his brother no mind for the time being, Oniyama approached the bar where the innkeeper was standing. "Two rooms for the eve, if you've any." He said in a crisp tone.

"That'll be forty septims, sir." She replied flatly. It seemed like she wanted to say something to him but was well aware that whatever it was, it wasn't any of her business.

He reached into his coin pouch and drew out a rough handful of coins. He counted out thirty of them and had to reach in to get the remaining ten. These he pushed across the counter to her. "Forty septims as agreed." He said.

She brushed them off the counter and into her hand. She recounted them before placing them into a pocket of her dress. "One room's through there." She motioned across the main room to a doorway on the opposite side. "The other's upstairs." She pointed behind her to a set of stairs leading upward. "Rooms are yours until an hour after sunrise tomorrow."

He nodded his approval and turned from her. He made his way across the room and sat down at Nazir's table. "Fancy seeing you here brother." He said by way of greeting.

Nazir's face broke into a cautious smile. "You're telling me. Last I'd heard, you were in Dragon Bridge setting up for a contract." His rich and cultured voice contained a hint of skepticism.

He shrugged and spoke in a quiet tone. "I was supposed to ambush my mark in a major city if I wanted to claim the bonus. Rather than try to sneak into a heavily defended Penitus Oculatus outpost and steal a travel schedule, I opted to trick him into believing I was a paid mercenary hired to protect him and simply follow him to one of those major cities."

Nazir looked slightly impressed. "Very deceptive of you brother. I take it your 'charge' isn't here right now?"

He shook his head. "No. He's off inspecting city security. Said he'd be by later to eat and catch some shut-eye." He looked around the inn. "So, that's me. What are you doing here brother?"

It was Nazir's turn to shrug. "Just because we're involved with a large contract doesn't mean we can just forget about the smaller ones. I'm taking a tour of my own through the cities, meeting with our agents and collecting those side contracts the rest of you take off my hands." He eyed Oniyama shrewdly. "Though, from the looks of things, I won't need to do it for much longer."

He was instantly suspicious. Nazir struck him as the type of man who chose his words carefully and the look he'd given him before saying that was clearly indicating something more than just a wild guess. "I don't know what you're insinuating, brother." He replied guardedly.

Nazir's piercing gaze searched his eyes for a moment longer before looking away. "Sure you don't. It doesn't take a genius to put two and two together." He took a swig from his cup. "That jester's arrival, Astrid's odd behaviour, your sudden prominence in the largest contract we've handled in decades, not to mention your blossoming romance with our little undead witch. All in all, things point to some kind of leadership schism. But who could rival Astrid in a leadership role? It couldn't be anyone within the sanctuary, we're too devoted to her management. And you're too new to try and usurp that power, at least on your own. Coupled with the complete deference Cicero now treats you to I think there's only one logical conclusion." He refocused his gaze on him. "The Night Mother has chosen a new Listener. How am I doing?"

Oniyama was flabbergasted. Unlike when Gabriella had declared that he and Babette hadn't been as discreet as they thought they had, this was just Nazir putting his sharp mind to use. It didn't change just how right he was. It only served to make his deduction more impressive. Oniyama knew he'd already answered the question with his shocked silence so he didn't bother formulating a verbal response. He simply nodded.

Nazir watched his reaction with a grin. "I thought so. No idea why the Unholy Matron chose you but that's not my business. I keep my nose out of anything that doesn't directly affect me. So far, this hasn't so I'm just leaving it the hell alone." He glanced over the rest of the inn. "Anyway, I have to meet my contact here soon so I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Not that I don't trust you but my contacts are very wary of fresh faces."

He waved his hand dismissively. "It's fine. I probably shouldn't be conversing with a strange man from Hammerfell when my 'charge' comes waltzing in." He stood up, nodded once to Nazir and headed back to the bar. "One mug of mead please, innkeep." He called. The woman produced a cup from underneath the counter, took it to the backroom and came back with it filled with the delicious brew. He dropped several septims on the counter by way of payment and took his drink to a far corner to watch for Maro's arrival. The bard was playing The Age of Aggression and several patrons were tapping their mugs to the tune. All in all, it was quite peaceful. Not at all the kind of atmosphere one would expect an assassination to occur in. Oniyama smiled to himself. Maro would come back eventually, have a bite to eat and settle down for rest. He would never wake. He'd already planned it down to the lowest detail. He would creep into Maro's room in the wee hours of the morning and feast upon the kid's blood. He had kept himself remarkably well fed over these past few days, but more blood was always welcome. If he drank his fill before Maro expired, he'd simply crush the boy's windpipe to finish the job. Then all he'd have to do would be to plant the forged letter in one of his pockets and let the innkeeper do the rest.

The door opened and he focused his attention on it. Maro stepped through the door and closed it swiftly behind himself. The look in his eyes was one of abject exhaustion. No matter what he had told Oniyama on the road earlier that day, it was quite clear his stamina was at an end. Only hunger was keeping him on his feet now. He spied Oniyama sitting in the corner and went to join him, motioning to the innkeeper as he went.

He sat down heavily across from the Orc. A tired sigh escaped his lips. "I'm sure you can't possibly begin to relate but inspecting security for an entire city is hard work." He lamented.

"You're right. I can't relate." He replied gruffly. "Mercs don't do inspections. We don't run em, we don't attend em. If anyone cares about our appearance at all, it's only ourselves and only because a clean appearance helps garner more work."

"You're lucky then." Maro grumbled. "I took several shortcuts and the inspection still took an hour. I want to prove myself to father but this is menial and quite frankly humiliating work."

"You never followed your pops into battle?" He inquired.

Maro shrugged. "Bandits, thieves, one Stormcloak patrol. Battle though? No, never into a full fledged battle."

"Still. Stormcloak patrol ought to've proven your ability." He consoled. "Pops must be one uptight fucker, if you don't mind my sayin so."

Maro grinned tiredly. "You don't know the half of it, Oniyama. I get that he's in a high pressure job. I'm part of the same organization after all. That said, he's treating this visit to Skyrim like it'll be the emperor's last."

"Assassins lurk round every corner. Isn't every visit possibly his last?" He asked.

Maro nodded. "Exactly what I said to him. Just because there's a civil war on doesn't mean the Dark Brotherhood's guaranteed to swoop in and assassinate him." He paused as the innkeeper finally approached. "About damn time woman. Bring me a plate of food and a mug of mead. Sharpish now, hear?"

The woman gave him a skeptical look but nodded all the same. She hurried off to fulfill his order.

Maro watched her go before turning back to his companion. "As I was saying, my father seems almost paranoid that the Dark Brotherhood is planning the emperor's downfall. I told him 'there is no more Dark Brotherhood. They died out a decade past when Alisanne Dupre was slain' but he doesn't believe me."

'He's right to disbelieve.' Oniyama thought privately. Out loud he said. "You're right. The Dark Brotherhood's finished. Friend o mine, she did the Black Sacrament a year past. Prayed for twelve straight hours. Waited a month and no one ever showed up. Eventually hired me to take care of it instead."

Maro 'hmmph'd' in response to this story. "You're more rational than my father is. I know that the head of the Penitus Oculatus needs to be looking for threats in every corner but living in fear of a dead assassin order? Pure fallacy. Oh. Here we go!" He said appreciatively as the innkeep came back with a steaming pile of food and a mug. He reached into his coin purse and drew out a rough handful of septims. "Here. Keep the change." He said curtly.

The innkeeper looked over the small pile of coins in her hands. Satisfied it was enough to cover the costs, she dropped them into a pocket of her dress where they clinked with more coins already there. "Have a pleasant night, sir." She replied courteously.

Oniyama snorted. She hadn't been that courteous to him. Whatever. It wasn't anything he wasn't used to.

Maro watched her go before turning back to his plate. "Excuse me, but I'm absolutely ravenous." He picked up the fork that came with the food and began shovelling it into his mouth roughly.

"Fine by me. I already ate earlier." He replied with a wave of his hand. "I gotta ask though, if you're so sure the Dark Brotherhood is out of the picture, why even agree to a security inspection in the first place?"

Maro chewed furiously to swallow his food without choking before answering. "A question I'd expect from a mercenary. Just because the most successful and feared group of assassins doesn't exist anymore doesn't mean there aren't