Amelia Stormbringer sat comfortably on her bed, reading a book. She was at peace, a long, well-deserved peace, and it had come in such strange circumstances that it was still hard for her to imagine. If someone would have told her five years ago that she would end up in this place, on the path she now walked, she never would have believed them. She had always been a fighter—she had been a mercenary since the age of eighteen—but fighting and murder were two different things.
Amelia was twenty-seven years old. She was tiny—just under 5’2” tall. Although Vallanil said she was a raving beauty, she had always thought of herself as cute. But she could work with cute. She had red hair that she had always kept short because long hair could be used as a handhold by the enemy. She usually wore black and red, whether it was her armor or clothing, although she rarely wore dresses. She wasn’t fond of most jewelry, with a couple of notable exceptions, one of them being earrings. She loved them and always wore them, and she had over a hundred pairs in her collection. Her eyes had once been blue, but they were red now. Only a magical ring kept them from glowing red all the time and giving up her nature.
Amelia was a vampire.
The ring itself was a diamond solitaire with four sapphires surrounding it. Her wedding ring. But it was more than that. It was enchanted to change her eye color, skin temperature, paleness, even the color of her blood-red tears so that they looked normal. Being married to a powerful mage had its perks.
Vallanil Stormbringer, a stunningly handsome Altmer with shoulder-length brown hair and pale-blue eyes that didn’t change unless he was very hungry, had turned her on their wedding night, in an inn in Wayrest. As she sat here now, she could still remember his cold skin and the feel of his teeth biting into her throat—painless due to the glamour he had placed on her, but alarming nonetheless. She loved and trusted him, but she was terrified. All he could do to comfort her was take her hand, but it had helped.
She looked over at him on the bed, engrossed in a book himself, and smiled. All Oblivion had broken loose when they had returned to Rivenspire after the wedding, but her fears aside, that one night in Wayrest had been the best, most important night of her life.
Vallanil looked over at her. “Why are you smiling at me?” he asked her.
“I was just thinking of our wedding night.”
He chuckled. “You do that,” he said in an accent that hinted at a couple of centuries in High Rock rather than the Summerset Isles. “You’re such a . . . girl.”
“You just hush,” she said as she swatted him playfully on the arm.
Placing a marker in her book, she closed it and put it on her nightstand. She blew out the candle—which was really unnecessary with her night vision, but old habits died hard—and kissed her husband goodnight, then slid down beneath the covers. She slipped down into the torpor of the dead in minutes.
* * * * * * *
The next morning, just as the sun was rising, they awoke next to each other and made love. After four years, they were still in the honeymoon stage of their relationship, barely able to keep their hands off each other, and they clung to together, their cries and moans rising through the air in a chorus of ecstasy. After they both were spent, they held each other for a long time before finally rising to greet the day.
Amelia had met vampires who burned to ash in the sun. Fortunately, Vallanil had not been one of those, and they were free to roam Nirn during the day. They were more powerful at night, but the sun did little to weaken them. They dressed, fed from bottles of preserved blood, and then made their way to the Sanctuary. They lived in the Gold Coast, the southwestern part of Cyrodiil, less than a mile from the Sanctuary that was their second home.
After Amelia and Vallanil had married, they had endured a couple of great tragedies before finally getting their existences back on track. After that, they had continued Vallanil’s career of working as mercenaries, and some of their actions had caught the attention of the Dark Brotherhood. An assassin named Baronus had come to them, offering them a family, a place to live, and an exciting career. Amelia had never thought of herself as assassin material, but Vallanil had been intrigued by the offer, so she gave it a try. And she had never been happier.
The Sanctuary was at the end of a mile-long, high-banked trench in the north-central part of the Gold Coast. The door was well hidden and password protected, and as far as Amelia knew, no one had ever gotten in without permission. The Sanctuary was built into the bedrock, and all the walls of the cavernous structure were made of stone. It had all the comforts of home, though—sleeping areas, mess hall/kitchen, crafting stations, even recreation and training halls. There were a few private bedrooms, but the majority of the assassins lived in a large dormitory hall. Their areas were widely spaced, but there was little privacy, especially for a married couple. The mood of the Sanctuary was usually light, with everyone having taken out their frustrations on their targets or in training. Today was no exception, and two of their brothers—Argus and Runs-in-Shadows, were standing in the doorway to the kitchen, drinking coffee and exchanging jokes. Vallanil kissed her cheek and headed for the Speaker’s chamber.
Amelia chuckled at her brothers. “You’ve both told those jokes a hundred times.”
“A hundred and one now,” said Argus with a wink.
“Well, get out of my way. I want some coffee.”
They let her into the kitchen, and she went to the cook fire where a wood-handled iron kettle hung from a hook, holding a delicious smelling brew. Speaker Maximus was responsible for brewing the coffee, and Amelia had no idea where he found such a delicious blend, but she couldn’t get enough of it. He made it several times a day, and she would stop for a cup as often as she could, or just carry it around with her.
“You have no need for mortal food and drink,” Argus said as she poured herself a cup. “Why do you insist on drinking all our coffee?”
She took a sip and said, “You know, some vampires can’t taste anything but blood. Food tastes like ash in their mouths, and liquids other than blood have no flavor whatsoever. I’m just glad I’m not one of those.” She held the cup up in toast and then took another drink.
She sat down at the table and drank her coffee, laughing and joking along with Argus and Shadows. When she was finished, she poured another cup, then went to find the Speaker.
Speaker Maxiumus was a scary man. He was pale-skinned, having rarely left the Sanctuary in several years, and his cold blue eyes could bore into your very soul. His voice was deep and sinister, perfect for someone dealing in death-by-delegation. That said, he was warm and caring of other members of the Brotherhood. He stood alone in his chamber, hands behind his back, contemplating Sithis knew what, when Amelia walked in.
“Has Vallanil already been here?” she asked.
“Yes,” the Speaker said softly. He was a man of few words.
She took a sip of coffee. “Do you have anything for me today?”
Maximus shook his head and smiled. The smile changed his whole face. He went from creepy to fatherly, in a way. “Nothing,” he replied. “Consider it a day off.”
“Thank you, Speaker. I’ll be in the training hall with Vallanil should the need arise.”
“Enjoy your day, Amelia.”
She joined Vallanil in the training hall, where he was busy setting a dummy on fire with his flame staff. He didn’t train much these days. He was over three hundred years old and had long ago become a master of destruction magic. He preferred to spend time in his lab, working on myriad experiments, enchantments, and potions. Amelia, however, tried to train some each day. She was adept at swordplay, unarmed combat, the bow, and some Dragonknight magic, but she still had a long way to go before she could claim mastery.
Her trainer, a Dunmer named Azarath Sadrano, waited for her on the mat in the center of the training hall. She took a sip of coffee and then left it on the floor with her swords and joined him. Vallanil finished his practice and sat in a chair next to the wall to watch.
“Good morning, Azarath,” she said amicably.
“You’re late,” he barked.
“No, I’m not, and you know it. I’m right on time. You’re just early. And cranky.”
He shrugged his agreement and attacked her. Amelia had an easy time of grabbing him by the lapels and throwing him over her shoulder.
“Good,” he said. “Let’s go again.”
She and Azarath trained in unarmed combat for about an hour before switching to practice swords. Azarath was just over ninety-five years old and did call himself a master. He was a patient teacher, at least with Amelia, and she had learned much from him in the two years since she and Vallanil had joined the Brotherhood. Today they worked on a couple of new combat strategies he had recently taught her, with the goal of perfecting her technique.
“Always my best student,” he said proudly when they finished, patting her on the shoulder.
“I’m your only student,” she reminded him.
“Not for long. We have a new recruit joining us from Dawnstar in Skyrim. He should be here any day now.”
“That’s lovely. I look forward to meeting him.” She walked over to where Vallanil sat and said, “Well, it looks like we have the rest of the day off. Care to go to Anvil and do some shopping?”
“Of course, if you’d like.” He stood up, towering over her by more than a foot, and bent down to give her a quick kiss. “I want to stop at the alchemist’s and get some—what was that?”
A cool breeze flowed through the room. Shouts rose up from the area near the exit, as did sounds of battle. Amelia picked up her swords and ran down the hall behind Vallanil to see what the commotion was. It was most definitely a battle, as Imperial soldiers fought against her brothers and sisters. How they had found the Sanctuary, much less gotten in, was a mystery. Amelia and her husband rushed in to join the fight.
Amelia engaged a snarling Imperial, knocking his sword out of the way with one of her blades and jabbing the other into his abdomen. He fell easily enough, but one more was behind him. They seemed to be swarming the place all at once, and there must have been forty of them against the twelve assassins. Everyone in the Sanctuary fought them, even Speaker Maximus, who barely picked up a weapon these days. Amelia didn’t have time to wonder if he was rusty as one of the Imperials came up and stabbed him in the back while he was distracted by another soldier. He fell dead between the two.
Shadows was the next to fall, and Minnie, a husky Breton woman, died next. Vallanil obliterated the soldier who had engaged him, setting him aflame and sending him screaming into one of his comrades, who also caught fire. That one careened into a banner, which also went up in flames.
The fire spread rapidly, almost as if it were enhanced with an accelerant. Amelia had to wonder if the Imperials had managed to sneak in and douse the place before anyone had noticed them. She gaped in awe as she watched the very stone begin to blaze. Then another Imperial attacked her and skewered her through the shoulder.
Amelia snarled and bared her fangs, making the Imperial cry out in fear and let go of the sword. She yanked it out of her shoulder and threw it aside, then advanced on him, catching him easily and biting him in the throat. Her wound healed as she drank, and by the time she dropped him to the floor, there wasn’t even a mark. There was another Imperial, though, and she barely had time to bring her swords up. This one wasn’t as experienced as the others, and he died easily. But she could see that her brothers and sisters weren’t as lucky. Several of them had always said they were assassins, not fighters, and the fact that the Imperial soldiers were overrunning them was proof positive.
Adele, the Matron of the Sanctuary, dashed over and handed Amelia a portal stone. It was how they got around to carry out contracts, and they were all adept at their use. Amelia had always been fond of Adele. She was a matron in every sense of the word, even to the point of nagging them to clean up their messes. She was extremely protective and would kill to defend them. She had even taken it upon herself to murder a client once when he had insulted Minnie. The veteran assassin stood there now with tears in her eyes. “We’re going to lose,” she said. “Take Vallanil and get out of here.”
“Adele, how did this happen?”
The Matron shrugged. “I have no idea. I would know if there were a traitor in our midst.”
“Perhaps it was the new recruit that was on his way.”
“Perhaps. But it doesn’t matter now. All that matters is saving whomever I can.”
Amelia couldn’t get to Vallanil. He was on the opposite side of a wall of fire. “Vallanil!” she cried.
He turned to mist and tried to waft to her, but he couldn’t get past the wall of flame.
“The flames are enchanted,” he called to her. “Go, and I’ll come find you.”
“Where will this take me?” she asked Adele.
“Skyrim. Falkreath, I believe. I’ll tell Vallanil where to find you. Now, go!”
Amelia was never one to run from a fight, but as she looked around her, she realized that Adele was right. They were going to lose. In mere minutes, the Gold Coast Sanctuary would be no more. She could stay here and die with them or leave and tell the tale. She nodded to the Matron and retreated to the training hall where no one was fighting. She swiped her finger across the rune and muttered the incantation. Blue light surrounded her, and with a whoosh and a pop, the light coalesced into a large, oval portal. She stepped through, and suddenly she was elsewhere.
She stood outside a black door adorned with a skull, and an eerie red aura floated around it. A pool of dark water rested in the yard behind her, and the whole area was surrounded by thick foliage. She couldn’t tell where she was, but it was quite a bit colder than the Gold Coast Sanctuary, so figured she was indeed in Skyrim.
She knocked on the door, and it whispered to her.
“What is life’s greatest lie?”
Amelia had memorized the responses to all of the sanctuaries’ questions long ago. “Innocence, my brother,” she replied.
“Welcome home.” The door opened, and she stepped inside.
Characters and settings ©2016, Zenimax Online Studios, Inc.
Earrings by Aegean-Prince on DeviantArt: http://aegean-prince.deviantart.com/art/Celtic-Knotwork-125583316