Chapter 5: Prison Break
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Life can be strange sometimes, I thought. If someone had predicted a few months earlier that I might one afternoon sit in Cheydinhal, having tea with an Argonian who also happened to be the head of the local chapter of the Dark Brotherhood, I would have thought that person mad. And yet here I was in Ocheeva's room, accepting a steaming cup from her.

"Well, of course he would blush, my dear child", she said as she refilled her own cup. I had just been telling her about my exercises in social interaction during my last assignment. "From your description, he appeared to be rather young."

"He was", I confirmed, somewhat awkwardly holding the cup in my bandaged hands. "He has been in the Legion less than a year, or so he told me."

Ocheeva sipped her tea. "Then it's no surprise if a beautiful woman's smile has a visible effect on him." I raised an eyebrow. "Oh, come now", she reproached me. "We may not be of the same race, but I've lived among men and mer long enough to know what appears attractive to them. You most certainly do, and don't try to tell me you didn't know."

Truth be told, I had never given much thought to it. Since I had never cared what others thought about me, my appearance and its effect had so far been of little concern to me. I just shrugged.

The Argonian sighed. "You should not discard the tools given to you so lightly", she chided. "Didn't you see how easy it was for you to get information from that innkeeper? Or the soldier, for that matter?"

"Vicente told me much the same thing on the day I first arrived here", I admitted a bit reluctantly.

Ocheeva was doing her best to hide a smile. "Ah, yes, Vicente. Of course he would see the value of your... gifts."

"He is a vampire", I said, somewhat defensively.

"So what? Do you think that makes him unable to appreciate beauty?"

Now there was a question. I was not even sure whether a vampire was able to appreciate anything. That the disease had noticeable effects on those it infected was obvious, yet what exactly the effects were, apart from the changed dietary habits, was the subject of much debate and even more rumours. Most people agreed that vampires were bloodthirsty monsters incapable of any emotion except rage and hate, but as usual that appeared to be only one side of the coin.

I merely shrugged again, and Ocheeva smiled, seeming content to leave it at that for the moment. "How are your hands?" she asked after a brief silence, rather abruptly changing the topic.

"Telaendril said she wanted another look at them this evening", I replied, feeling somewhat more comfortable with this subject, "but I should be able to remove the bandages tonight. The herbs she put in them helped, and the wounds were only superficial anyway."

"Good", Ocheeva said. "There may soon be another contract for you. From what I have heard, you've handled things well so far. Lucien was right in bringing you here."

"He does not come here very often, does he?" I asked, sipping my tea.

Ocheeva shook her head. "His duties with the Black Hand keep him very busy, and he travels a lot. But you can be sure he knows exactly what's going on. This Sanctuary is his, and he keeps an eye on it at all times, though he trusts me to handle the day-to-day affairs."

I stared thoughtfully into my cup. "He certainly seemed to know a lot when I met him. I assume he frightens the wits out of the clients he negotiates with."

The Argonian grinned, showing her needle-sharp teeth. "I expect he does." She cocked her head and gave me a questioning look. "Are you afraid of him?"

"No", I said after a moment's thought. "When we first met, he could have killed me before I even knew he was there. He chose not to, and now I am protected by the Tenets. Even if I were not, I do not take Lucien Lachance for a man who kills without reason, just because the fancy strikes him. He is too rational for that."

"Contrary to popular belief not all our Brothers and Sisters are homicidal maniacs", Ocheeva remarked drily, "although we do have our share of those. However, they rarely rise to any position of influence."

I suddenly had to think of Antoinetta. During our training sessions she had confidentially told me that she was sure she would one day claim Ocheeva's position. I had refrained from commenting, pretending to be busy with my exercises, but the notion did strike me as somewhat ludicrous. I was uncertain whether Ocheeva was aware of our young Sister's ambitions, but I thought it fairly likely. However, if she was not, it was certainly not my place to bring it to her attention.

"I have found quite a lot of things here running contrary to popular belief", I said instead. "And I readily admit that I am grateful to Lachance for bringing me to this Sanctuary."

Ocheeva patted my arm. "You will do very well, I believe."

Absently, I put my empty teacup down and scratched at my left hand, which had begun to itch uncomfortably under the bandage. "I think I will go and look for Telaendril", I said. "I would really like to get rid of these things."

Ocheeva nodded sympathetically. "Do that, dear Sister. I shall see you later."

I thanked her for the tea and took my leave. As I made my way towards the living quarters, a loud bang sounded from the direction of the entrance, followed by more or less rhythmical rattling and clanging.

"Welcome home, Gogron", I called, and sure enough, a moment later the Orc's hulking figure came into view.

He grinned and waved at me. "Thanks. You know what they say: home is where you hang your enemy's head. Still, it's good to be back."

"Did your contract go well?" I inquired politely.

"Yes, thanks for asking. Our client wanted us to make a statement, and I think I did that." He patted his enormous axe lovingly. "And how are you, little Sister?" He cast a look at my bandaged hands.

"Quite well, thank you. I was just going to find Telaendril so I could get those bandages off."

Gogron accompanied me to the living quarters, where to our delight we found Telaendril and the remains of a roast suckling pig. While the Orc attacked the food, I asked Telaendril to have a look at my hands. She did so, was satisfied with what she saw and allowed me to leave the bandages off. Relieved, I flexed my fingers.

We chatted for a while, meaning that Gogron told us at length about his contract and we listened with the rapt attention that was expected. Eventually I extricated myself and went to look for Vicente. After all, he did not know that I was ready for work again, so I had to inform him.

As expected, I found the vampire in his quarters. He was seated in one of the armchairs with a book on his knees and a goblet in his hand. He looked up and smiled at me as I entered, gesturing invitingly towards the other armchair.

"Good evening", he said, filling a second goblet with wine. "I won't offer you what I'm drinking. This should be more to your taste."

I took the proffered wine and tried it. He was right, it was excellent. "Enjoy your supper", I said with a glance at his goblet.

He chuckled softly. "Thank you. I'm glad to see it doesn't make you nervous."

"Why should it? It is part of what you are." I looked at him thoughtfully. "How long have you been... like that?" I asked a bit hesitantly, unsure whether this question was a little too private.

"About three hundred years", he said, apparently not annoyed at my curiosity. "It happened during an expedition deep into the Ashlands of Vvardenfell."His look became distant as he remembered those days long past. "I was a mercenary at the time, and a group of prospectors looking for ebony deposits hired me together with some others as guards. We were several days from the nearest settlement when we found ebony - a mine rich in ore, and seemingly as yet undiscovered. As it turned out, we were wrong about that last point. The mine was inhabited by vampires, and it had been long since they had last fed. We had no chance against them."

He took another sip before continuing. "Most of our group died during their attack, and I escaped only by chance. I remember one of them biting me. I ran her through with my sword, but then I slipped and fell down a chasm. I hit my head during the fall and passed out. When I awoke, it was over. I climbed out of the chasm, and I remember feeling quite ill. It then dawned on me that I had been infected, and that there was no healer nor temple within several days of the mine. I searched the bodies of my fallen companions, but they had nothing that could help me."

His hand went to the golden amulet he was wearing. "This I took from the body of the one who had infected me. I left then, hoping to find help before it was too late, but of course I didn't make it. When I awoke from a brief rest three days later, the change had happened."

I did not know what to say. I have never been good with situations like this. Fortunately, Vicente appeared lost in his memories and seemed to have completely forgotten my presence for the moment. "I wandered around for about a century, slowly making my way back to the mainland and from there to Cyrodiil. I was shunned and sometimes hunted, of course, but I managed to remain hidden most of the time, so I was never caught. And then the Brotherhood found me and saw the value of my gifts, and so for the last two hundred years, I have had a home and a family."

"Have you ever tried to find a cure?" I asked after a moment's pause.

He nodded. "At first, of course. But during the first century or so after my change I was much too busy just staying alive. And now... frankly, I don't see why I should. Quite apart from the fact that such a 'cure' would probably kill me instantly, since I have long exceeded a normal human lifespan, I have come to value the powers my current state grants me." He looked at me thoughtfully. "In truth, I now see it as a gift rather than a curse. A very valuable gift, which is why I am always very careful not to infect anyone accidentally. Such powers should be passed on only with consideration and to those who are worthy of them."

Suddenly he smiled, as if to lighten the rather sombre tone our conversation had taken. "So, you see, I am really quite content with my existence. There is no need to feel sorry for me."

I blushed a bit. "I did not mean...", I began, but he waved aside my apology.

"I don't mind", he assured me. "After all, I encouraged you to ask questions, didn't I?" He winked at me, and I had to smile. "That's better", he said, settling back into his chair. "Now, I'm sure you didn't come here just to interview me about my life, did you? What can I do for you?"

"I just wanted to let you know that I am ready for another contract, if you have one."

He nodded approvingly. "Good, good. I do indeed have something, and I think that you would be just the right person to take care of this matter."

I looked at him attentively and waited for details. He laughed softly. "You'll like this one. You won't have to talk to anyone." I grinned. "In fact", he continued, "this assignment requires an expert in stealth and infiltration." His expression grew serious. "This is no trivial task, and I would normally give it to someone with more experience, but for reasons I'll explain in a moment, I think that you are quite uniquely suited for this contract.

"We are talking about a prison break. The catch is that you are not to break out of prison - you must break in. The Imperial Prison, to be exact. We need a prisoner... silenced. Can you do it?"

I stared at him for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts, wondering how much he really knew about me. Slowly, I nodded.

"Excellent", he said. "Your target is a Dark Elf named Valen Dreth. He thinks he's safe in his cell. He is tragically mistaken. A prisoner recently escaped from the dungeons, using a set of secret tunnels connecting to the Imperial City's sewer system. It's a perfect way inside." He was watching me closely as he spoke, and I was doing my best to keep a neutral face. I knew I was failing miserably.

"Just outside the Imperial Prison is a grating that leads to the sewers", he continued. "It has recently been tightly locked, but I will provide a key. It should be easy enough to locate Dreth in his cell."

"I know the way", I said softly.

He nodded thoughtfully. "I thought you would. Valen Dreth has been imprisoned for many years. His tongue is sharp, but his body is limp and frail. He will prove an easy, pleasurable kill."

I remembered Dreth's tongue alright, for it had been busily at work during the entirety of my brief stay in the cell opposite to his. Foul curses had alternated with lewd comments in my direction and insults at the guards. Silencing him would indeed be pleasant.

Vicente's voice penetrated my thoughts. "You will receive a bonus if you fulfil the contract without killing any of the prison guards. Is there anything else you need to know?"

I thought for a moment, then shook my head. "I will need potions, or a spell, but I will see M'raaj-Dar for that."

"Do that. Remind him of the Tenets if you have to, but I assume that won't be necessary. Dreth's death is an offering to Sithis, and M'raaj-Dar serves him as we all do."

"I will leave as soon as possible", I said, rising to my feet.

"May the Night Mother go with you", he replied. "Return safely."

Deep in thought I wandered along the hall and nearly bumped into Teinaava. Again.

"Careful", he laughed, catching my elbow. "I seem to be invisible to you, Sister."

I cleared my throat in embarrassment. "I apologise, Brother. It is nothing personal, I was just thinking about my next assignment..."

He raised a hand, smiling. "I will accept your apology only if you tell me all about your contract."

"The Imperial Prison", I said.

Teinaava looked surprised. "No Dark Brother or Sister has successfully infiltrated the Imperial Prison in over three hundred years. This isn't going to be easy."

"There is a back entrance", I replied. "Through the sewers. Vicente gave me a key."

"Ah, yes, the sewers..." the Argonian mused. "I know them quite well. Tread carefully down there, Sister. Rats and mudcrabs are the most harmless inhabitants - it is rumoured that there is a lair of vampires somewhere."

"I will take potions", I said, remembering Vicente's tale. "just in case. If all goes as planned, I will avoid whatever lives down there altogether."

The Argonian looked at me earnestly. "I wish you luck, Sister. This is no small matter, a true test of your skills. Walk in the shadow of Sithis."

A door banged, and metal clanged behind me. "What's that?" Gogron's voice boomed. "Off to work again, little Sister?"

I quickly explained. The Orc whistled in surprise - I had not even known Orcs were anatomically capable of whistling. "Better you than me, I guess... I would certainly make a mess of this one", he admitted. "Sneaking around just isn't my style." He exchanged a look with Teinaava. "Don't say anything", he muttered. Teinaava carefully kept a neutral face.

"Anyway", Gogron continued, "beware those guards. They are heavily armed and professionally trained." As if I did not know that. "If discovered, don't be a fool. Flee."

"I do not intend to be discovered", I assured him.

"Well then, happy hunting", the Orc said. I thanked both of them for their advise and excused myself. I needed to find M'raaj-Dar.

I found the Khajjit at the far end of the hall, where he was sitting in a chair reading. He did not appear too pleased at my interruption, but I was in no mood for his games. "I need supplies", I told him curtly. "An invisibility spell, and a potion for curing diseases."

He shot me a disdainful look. "You want to cast spells? That needs a certain intelligence, ape."

I levelled a cool gaze at him and said nothing.

"Oh, alright then", he grumbled. "But by Sithis, hurry it up. I don't have all day."

He showed me the appropriate gestures, which were not too complicated. It was a basic spell which would not last more than about half a minute, but it would be enough for my purposes.

Muttering and cursing, he also sold me a potion against diseases and some new lockpicks. Finally, I was satisfied. "Just take your trinkets and go", M'raaj-Dar spat, not before he had greedily snatched my gold. I ignored him, carefully gathering my supplies, and then left to do what little packing was necessary.

 

I had not expected to return to the Imperial City so soon, much less to its prison. As I slowly made my way along the banks of Lake Rumare, the prison's tower rose beside me like a needle stabbing the bleeding evening sky. I wondered whether any of the guards would recognise me, should I run into them. My stay in the dungeon had been mercifully short; I had been in my cell for less than a day before making good my escape during the turmoil surrounding the Emperor's assassination. Uriel Septim had done me the greatest favour by getting himself killed. I did not want to imagine what might have happened had I not been able to get away so quickly. The looks the guards had given me when they locked me away had not boded well, and what Antoinetta had told me (who, unsurprisingly, seemed to have spent quite some time in the cells), nobody upstairs really cared what happened down in the holds.

I wrenched my thoughts away from the past and concentrated instead on the task ahead. I was not overly concerned about finding my way through the sewers. During my escape several weeks ago I had not met anything more dangerous than a couple of rats. The guards were more of a problem. The invisibility spell would help, but the whole business was still very risky. However, Vicente had appeared confident that I could accomplish this, and I did not intend to disappoint him.

A faint stench drifted along the shore, indicating that I was approaching the sewer outlet. A few minutes later, I stood in front of the massive metal grate that closed off the tunnel entrance. A shiny new padlock secured it, and I had to admire the workmanship. Whoever had crafted this had known exactly what they were doing - without the key, I would have had no chance to get it open. Drawing a last deep breath of moderately fresh air, I unlocked the grate and stepped into the darkness beyond.

The grate screeched as it closed behind me. I looked around carefully, but nothing moved. What little starlight fell through the bars barely made it to the floor, so I used my night vision spell once more, blinking as everything around me lit up in bright blue light.

Contrary to what one might expect, the sewers were by no means narrow and cramped. Tunnels with surprisingly high ceilings connected rooms that appeared at times cavernous. During my first visit I had already suspected that much of the system had been here even before the ancient city above, and that it had originally served another purpose and only been converted to a sewer when the city had been built on top of it. Being no scholar, though, I could not be sure about this.

The air was cool, damp and permeated by a foul stench which I knew would become worse as I progressed through the tunnels. Moisture was everywhere, of course, since parts of the sewers lay beneath the surface of Lake Rumare, and water seeped here and there through the cracked walls. The floor was slimy with moisture, moss and algae and littered with debris. The soft sound of dripping water accompanied me, mingling with its own echo and creating a constant, slightly confusing background. Occasionally, a small animal squeaked somewhere or rustled among the detritus, but apart from that, everything was silent as I made my way forward.

It did not take me long to reach the first intersection where my tunnel opened into a larger hallway, in the middle of which a broad canal carried dirty, slowly moving water. A narrow bridge spanned the canal, and I could dimly make out another tunnel on the far side.

I was just about to step onto the bridge when I noticed movement on the other side. Warily, I stopped and readied my bow.

Something was moving among the shadows, and a soft rustling sound drifted towards me over the gurgling of the water. I stood perfectly motionless, my arrow pointed towards the movement.

Suddenly a small nose appeared from the shadows, followed by two little jet black eyes. The rat scuttled forward, then stopped and began to sniff around at the canal's edge.

With a sigh I relaxed and lowered my bow. The rat was unusually large, to be sure, but it was certainly no threat to me. As I moved towards the bridge, it lifted its head and looked at me suspiciously, but made no move to attack. I stepped around it and into the tunnel without looking back.

 

Half an hour later, I stared at the iron ladder disappearing above me into the gloom. This was the last leg of my journey. The ladder, as I remembered, led upwards to a hatch in the subterranean complex of the Imperial Prison, an ancient, partly ruined structure probably dating back from the time of the Ayleids.

I recalled vividly the night I had climbed down this very ladder clutching a rusty short sword I had scavenged, a dead Emperor behind me and my freedom in front of me. I had told nobody in the Brotherhood that Uriel Septim had actually spoken to me before his death, and I suspected that not even the well-informed Lucien Lachance knew the secret he had told me.

With an effort I shook off the memories. All that was past, and I had a task before me which would require all my concentration. So far, the trip had been an easy one, but that would change once I climbed this ladder and entered the complex above.

The rungs were rusty and slippery with moisture and algae, so I ascended very carefully. The hatch was locked, of course, but I managed to open it even though I had to hold on to the ladder with one hand while I worked. A drop of oil from the can I had brought with me assured that the hinges worked noiselessly as it finally swung open.

Voices greeted me as I swung myself up through the hole. I stayed in a crouch beside the hatch and looked around. As I remembered, I was in a small niche that branched off from a corridor. The corridor was fairly well lit, but my immediate surroundings were shadowy, which suited me well.

The voices were coming from behind a bend in the corridor. Two guards were chatting, and apparently they were not altogether happy with their duty.

"Of course I'm proud to do my duty. But... It's a waste of time. What are we guarding? Cold stone and shadow. That's it."

Another voice answered, equally morosely: "I'm not disagreeing with you, believe me. Those assassins got what they wanted. The Emperor is dead. They've got not reason to come back."

"That's exactly what I'm saying!" the first voice grumbled. "But will the Captain listen? Noooo... 'We must have a presence!' 'The prison must remain secure!' " He spat out in disgust.

"Yeah, well, I guess you can't blame Captain Montrose too much", his comrade conceded. "This is his big career move, after all. Got to impress that lot upstairs."

The first guard snorted. "Yeah, what a laugh, huh? Just who are we keeping secure? Dreth? Since that other one got away, he's the only one rotting down here."

So, my target was still in his cell. I had not really expected anything else, but it was always good to be certain.

"Yeah, true enough." The guard sighed deeply. "Ah, well, I'd best be getting back to my watch. Hey, don't forget, we're meeting for drinks later at the Bloated Float."

"Oh, I'll be there!" I could almost see the man's broad grin. "How could I miss a chance to see you cower before that big Orc bouncer?"

His comrade was audibly annoyed. "Pfft! I ain't afraid of no one. Courage is my middle name! I... Oh, nevermind."

"See you later, then." Apparently cheered, the guard made his way back to his post. I listened carefully to both their footsteps receding, then finally decided that it was safe to leave my hiding place.

The corridor was dimly lit by a few sputtering torches. They gave barely enough light to see by and left plenty of shadows for me to hide in. Slowly, carefully I crept from one dark place to the next, pausing every now and then and listening for signs of the guards returning.

A few steps in front of me, the corridor opened into a room which was lit somewhat more brightly. Sounds of movement came from there; apparently one of the guards was pacing up and down. I decided not to take any chances. With a quick gesture, I became invisible, then boldly stepped from my hiding place and into the room.

The chamber, as every other part of the complex I had seen so far, was partly ruined. Chunks of stone had broken from the walls and the tall pillars supporting the ceiling. To my left, some steps led up to a gallery. Up there, I knew, was also the door that would lead me to an abandoned part of the complex and from there to the dungeons. As I had suspected, one of the guards was pacing to and fro in the centre of the room, a bored look on his face.

Upon entering the chamber, I had immediately noticed the faint smell of old blood that hung in the air. Now that I stood in the room, I could see where it came from: a niche to my right held a table which was virtually covered in dried bloodstains. A sheaf of parchment was lying on it, and next to it some folded garment of bright scarlet cloth. The garment I recognised instantly: it was a robe like those worn by the assassins who had killed Uriel Septim. Curious, I stepped closer to have a look at the parchment.

The document was a notice from the same Captain Montrose the guards in the corridor had talked about. Apparently, Montrose had been charged with investigating the assassination, but judging from his report he had not made any progress to speak of. One passage, however, caught my attention. Montrose wrote, "I have seen the Dark Brotherhood's handiwork more times than I care to remember, and this just doesn't fit their usual pattern."

I could not but agree with him. I had been there and watched those assassins, whoever they had been. Like Montrose wrote, their modus operandi had something ritualistic - and who but members of some sort of cult would wear bright red robes on a mission which required stealth? Besides, I had been a member of the Brotherhood long enough that I would have heard at least some rumours if Sithis' children had had a hand in this. No, I was sure that Montrose was right to look elsewhere for the killers - but fortunately this was none of my business.

I hurried silently past the pacing guard and up the steps before my invisibility wore off. The door was slightly ajar, and I quickly slipped through. Beyond lay silence and darkness. I knew I had almost reached my goal.

 

As I made my way onward, I felt an icy calm come over me. I had not been particularly excited since I had entered the sewers, but this feeling was something new. I felt detached in a strange way - everything about me was sharp and clear, but it did not touch me. I felt like I was walking in someone else's dream, but could clearly see and interact with my surroundings, whereas the dreamer could not.

The feeling did not abate while I walked up the narrow corridor and finally emerged in the cell from which I had escaped what seemed half a lifetime ago. Voices came from the corridor, and almost absently I became invisible again before stepping forward to the bars.

Just like I remembered, Valen Dreth still occupied the cell opposite mine. A heavily armed guard was leaning comfortably against the wall next to the grating. It was his voice I had heard.

"I have to admit, I'm going to miss you, Dreth. The late-night beatings, your pitiful little cries for help..."

"Filthy cur!" Dreth spat. "I told you I was going to get out of here! My time's almost up, and there's nothing you can do about it."

A cruel smirk twisted the guard's features. "Yeah, well, what's it been? Seven, eight years? We've had a good long run, you and me. I always knew it would end someday."

Dreth seemed undaunted. "Eleven!" he raged. "Eleven years in this rat-infested hole! But I'm getting out, and you'll still be stuck in here!" He laughed loudly, more than a trace of madness showing in his voice. It appeared that the years in prison had not been kind to Valen Dreth, or his sanity.

The guard snorted disdainfully. "Oh yeah? And where will you go? Huh? What will you do? You can't survive out there, Dreth. You're an animal. You belong in that cage."

The Dunmer's eyes glittered insanely. "I'll remember that when I'm lying on the beaches of Summerset Isle with your wife, you Imperial pig!"

The guard laughed. "Right. And you'll be rich, too. Oh, and you'll become a king! You know what I think, Dreth? I think you'll be back. You lot always come back."

Dreth was actually frothing at the mouth. "You'll see, you Imperial dog! When I get out of here, all of Tamriel will know my name!" He threw back his head and shouted, "Valen Dreth! Valen Dreth!"

The guard raised his hands to cover his ears, grimacing. "All right, all right. I'm tempted to let you out right now if you'll just shut up..." Muttering to himself, he stomped off. The Dunmer's insane cackling echoed after him as he marched up the stairs and banged the door shut behind him.

The cold feeling inside me had intensified during the exchange. As I stepped out of the cell I had the distinct impression that I was no longer alone inside my body. Someone, or rather, something else was in there with me, something cold and terrible, yet I knew instinctively that it did not threaten me. Calmly, I picked a set of keys from the table in the corridor and turned to face Valen Dreth's cell.

As I stood in front of his door, my spell wore off and I became visible. Dreth gasped and retreated a step. Then his eyes narrowed and he looked at me. "You! I... I remember you. You were there the night the Emperor was killed. They went through your cell. You lucky strumpet!" His look became pleading, and his voice took on a disgustingly wheedling tone. "Come on, let old Valen out of his cell. You've got your freedom, now give me mine. What do you say?" I said nothing, merely looking at him. "Come on, friend", he begged, his voice becoming desperate.

I inserted the key into the lock and turned it. Dreth's eyes lit up, his joy quickly giving way to confusion as I moved to block the door once it had opened. I felt like I was watching myself from the outside as I drew Sufferthorn and said softly, "The Night Mother says good-bye."

Dreth paled and stumbled backwards. "The Night Mo... no! No! Guards! Guards! Assassin!" In his panic, he almost tripped over his own feet. In one swift motion, I grabbed the front of his rough shirt and slit his throat, carefully stepping aside to avoid getting hit by the spraying blood. With a gurgling sound, he went limp in my grasp. I let him drop, and he was dead before he hit the floor. I bent to wipe my blade on his clothes, then sheathed it and walked away without looking back.

 

To this day, I remember the journey back to Cheydinhal only dimly. I wandered through the mazes of the sewer and eventually out into the night like a sleepwalker, dreamily certain that nobody would see me. And nobody did. I do not remember how many people I passed on my way out of the city, or whether there was anyone on the road. I moved from shadow to shadow like a ghost, sometimes invisible, sometimes not, until I finally arrived back at the Sanctuary.

 

"It occurs occasionally", Vicente told me, handing me a cup of tea. Seeing my slightly bewildered expression, he smiled. "In fact, you have been blessed."

"It was a strange feeling", I said, struggling for words to describe it. I found none.

The vampire nodded. "Yes, I know. It has happened to me a few times, and indeed to most of us here." He cocked his head and regarded me thoughtfully. "Though I can't remember it happening to anyone who has been so briefly in the service of Sithis as you have."

"But what was it?"

"Sithis", he said simply. "You have been touched by our Dread Father, and he was with you as you killed."

I suppressed a shudder. "I do not like the thought of losing control over my actions, and yet I cannot say that I was afraid. It felt... cold. Terribly cold and empty, but..." I shrugged, again at a loss for words.

Vicente leaned across the table and placed a comforting hand on my arm. It did not feel cold at all. "Don't worry", he said soothingly. "It's part of what you are. You serve Sithis now, and he has accepted you into the family. Rest a while before your next contract, and come see me when you're ready." He hesitated. "Or anytime if you need anything", he added.

Suddenly I felt very tired. "Resting sounds like a very good idea", I conceded, dragging myself to my feet. "And... Vicente?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you", I said softly. Then I left, leaving him to stare after me with an unreadable expression.

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