Here we go. Poor Iris :(


"Hurry, Nazir! I'm telling you, she's in there!"

A groan escapes Iris's lips as she comes to. Her eyes flutter open but meet nothing but darkness. Where is she?

"I'm going…as fast…as I can! I don't see you…helping!"

A thud echoes throughout her dark prison as the memories come flooding back to her.

The Penitus Oculatis.

The Sanctuary.

The Night Mother's coffin.

Claustrophobia slams into her as her breaths shorten.

"I'm not exactly built for manual labor." It's Babette. "Now, come on. You're almost got it."

Iris tries to call out to them, but her voice gets stuck in her throat. All she wants is to get out of here. Her body is hyperaware of the Night Mother's skeleton pressing down on top of her.

"One more…pull. There!"

Iris lets out a shriek when the coffin flips over, the Night Mother's bones prodding her ribs as she lands on top of it.

"Can you get it open?"

A glow fills the small space, and Iris finds herself much too close to the corpse's face.

"You must speak with Astrid. Here, in the Dark Brotherhood Sanctuary."

She nods in silence, covering her face.

Light streams into the coffin as the lid opens, revealing Nazir and Babette standing over her. Desperate to distance herself from the skeleton, she tries to launch herself out of the coffin. But the pain in her side stops her.

"Whoa, whoa, slow down," Nazir says, reaching down to grab her hand. "It's alright. You've been through a lot. Let me help you out of there."

"Astrid," she chokes out.

He frowns at her as he pulls her out of the coffin.

"Maybe you should sit down for a bit."

Iris shakes her head. "I have to speak with Astrid. She's here in the Sanctuary." Doesn't he understand how important this is?

"What?"

"Follow me." Ignoring the pain, Iris limps upstairs to Astrid's quarters. She hears the two whispering behind her, but she doesn't care.

"Do you think she hit her head?"

Stepping into the destroyed room, Iris studies every charred surface, knowing Astrid is here somewhere.

There.

She steps over a fallen bookshelf to find a secret passage behind a dresser. She squeezes through the space…

And gasps at what she sees.

Astrid lies on the ground, candles surrounding her burnt body, a dagger clutched in her hand. Her skin blisters and is raw in multiple places. She's nearly burnt beyond recognition, but somehow, still alive.

"Iris…you're alive…Thank Sithis," she wheezes out.

"Astrid…"

"Shh…please. There is much I have to say…and not much time."

Iris hears Nazir and Babette's shocked gasps behind her and kneels by Astrid's side, soaking in her every word.

"I'm sorry. So very sorry. The Penitus Oculatus…Maro…" Astrid takes a shuddering breath, tears in her eyes. "He said that by giving you to them, he'd leave the Dark Brotherhood alone. Forever." She shuts her eyes, a pained gasp wracking her mangled body. "I was such a fool. All of this…it's all my fault." Her eyes reopen, focusing on Iris's violet. "You're the best of us, and I nearly killed you…as I've killed everyone else."

Iris never thought she'd see Astrid upset, let alone cry. She'd feel sorry for Astrid if she wasn't so enraged by her confession.

"You—You sent me to die," she realizes. "You told me to escape through that door so they'd kill me."

"Yes. I set you up. I wanted you dead. I betrayed you, the Night Mother, and everything I hold dear. And now…Maro has betrayed me." She takes another breath, pain evident in her face. "I just wanted things…to stay the way they were. Before Cicero, before the Night Mother, before…you. I thought I could save us. I was wrong." Her tongue pokes out to lick her burnt lips. "But you're alive, so there's still a chance. To start over, rebuild. That's why I did…this. Don't you see? I prayed to the Night Mother. I am the Black Sacrament."

"What are you saying?"

"I'm saying you were right. The Night Mother was right. The old ways…they guided the Dark Brotherhood for centuries. I was a fool to oppose them. And to prove my sincerity, I've prayed for a contract. You lead this Family now. I give you the Blade of Woe so that you can see it through." She takes another breath, a tear dripping down her cheek. "You must kill me."

Iris's eyes fill with tears as she shakes her head. "No. I can't."

Astrid drops the dagger, but Iris doesn't touch it.

"I can't kill you."

"Iris."

She looks up to find Nazir offering her the dagger. "Astrid did the right thing. Now, it's your turn. End her suffering."

"I can't do it," Iris says, her tears overflowing.

Even though Astrid lied to her and sent her to her death, Iris can't help but mourn the loss of her friend. She thought they were friends. Astrid was like a mother figure to her. And now everyone's expecting her to kill one of the only people who made her feel welcome here?

"You have to."

Iris looks back to Astrid at her wheezed words.

"Please."

Iris shuts her eyes, her tears falling to the ground. When she reopens them, she nods.

"Okay." She takes the dagger from Nazir and sits up on her knees in front of Astrid.

She poises the dagger with shaking hands over Astrid's heart, wanting to make it as quick and painless as possible.

"I forgive you," she whispers.

A tear escapes Astrid's eye as she shuts them.

Before she can stop herself, Iris plunges the dagger down, right into Astrid's heart.

Astrid's eyes widen and lock on hers. But, with her last breath, directs her words at Iris.

"Thank…you…"

Then her face slackens as her whole body goes limp.

Iris drops the bloody dagger, disgusted with what she just had to do.

"By the sands, I can't wrap my head around it," Nazir mutters.

Iris gets to her feet with difficulty and ignores Nazir and Babette as she stumbles back to the Night Mother.

The Night Mother starts speaking before she gets there. "Astrid is dead. It is as it should be. May she find redemption in the Void."

"How could you make me do that?!" Iris cries, clutching her side.

"It was Sithis' will. But that is not all. While you live, the Dark Brotherhood lives. We must fulfill our contract. Emperor Titus Mede II must be eliminated."

"What? Still?" Iris bursts out. "Even after all of this?"

"Speak with Amaund Motierre at the Bannered Mare in Whiterun. He will know the true Emperor's location. But first, inform Nazir of your plans. For you are the Listener and must bind this Family together."

With that, the Night Mother falls silent. Swiping at the tears on her face and struggling not to dwell on everything that's happened, Iris climbs back up the stairs to talk to Nazir.

"Iris—"

"The Night Mother said we still have to kill the Emperor," she cuts him off, too exhausted and overwhelmed to listen to him. "There's a man in Whiterun who knows where the real Emperor is." Without waiting for a response, she brushes past him, meaning to start the journey to Whiterun.

"Iris, wait."

She meets his gaze to find him studying her in worry.

"Maybe you should take a break first. Go home. Rest for a few days." She didn't realize how unkempt he looked too. Smoke stains his face, his eyes reddened, and his normally pristine clothes disheveled. Babette even looks like she's been to Oblivion and back. She can't imagine what she must look like.

She sighs and glances at the ground, regretting it when she finds a burnt corpse a few feet away. Bile rises in her throat, and she blinks back more tears.

"He's right," Babette speaks up. "We have to find somewhere else to stay anyway. Probably Dawnstar."

"Fine," Iris whispers.

"Wait." Babette goes to her, holding something in her hands. "Here."

"I don't want that." She swallows more bile when she sees the bloody Blade of Woe in the vampire's hands.

"It's a exceptional weapon. Astrid meant for you to keep it."

She wipes away more tears as she accepts the dagger. She tucks it into her bag and gives the remnants of the Dark Brotherhood a tight smile before heading out the door, intending to travel to the place she hasn't been in months.

Riften.


"Maybe this isn't such a good idea," Brynjolf mutters to himself, standing up and facing Iris's bed. He's only been at her house for half an hour, but he feels strange. Honestly, he feels like he's being creepy by invading her space and waiting to jump her. Upon second thought, he doesn't think she'd take it too well. He hasn't spoken to her in over a month, and his first words would be used to accuse her of stealing the Skeleton Key?

He groans, rubbing his eyes. "What was I thinking?" He turns on his heel, heading to the door when he hears voices coming from the back door. Panicking, he dashes down the stairs to the cellar, hiding underneath the stairs just as the door opens.

"Oh, Gods." It's Iris. And she's crying. No, not crying. Weeping. Weeping like she's just lost the thing that matters most to her. He used to think it was him. Funny how things change.

"Listener, I may be dead, but even I know if you keep breathing like that, you will hyperventilate."

Brynjolf freezes at the smooth, masculine voice. Who the fuck is that?! Is that why she's been gone? She's run off with another man?! Hurt and jealousy fills his heart, a toxic mixture. He wants to run far away from here but can't unless he wants Iris to see him.

He hears her mattress dip down along with Iris's heartbreaking cries.

"I can't do this anymore, Lucien. I can't."

"The Night Mother's wishes must be obeyed," the smooth voice says, Lucien. "You know that, Listener."

Listener?

"I know. I just…" Iris breaks off in sobs. "They murdered my Family, Lucien."

Brynjolf's brow furrows in confusion. What is she talking about? He thought the Guild was her family.

"Yes. And there's still the matter of the Emperor."

Iris sniffles. "I know."

Silence falls across the two, and Brynjolf wonders if they've left. But Iris's occasional cries tell him otherwise.

"In my time, my Family was slaughtered, too," Lucien says. "There was a traitor in our midst. We were forced to perform a Purification."

"That's horrible." Iris sighs, beginning to weep once more. "I just can't believe Astrid set me up. Every time I close my eyes, I see her lying there and—"

Brynjolf wants to go to her, embrace her, let her cry on his shoulder. But he can't.

"I can't murder the Emperor, Lucien. I can't do it. I'm not a murderer."

What the fuck?! The red haired thief rubs his ears, unsure of what he just heard. Murder? The Emperor?!

Her companion lets out an eerie laugh. "Yes, you are. It's in your bones. Your very soul. You were chosen as Listener for a reason. And it matters not whether you want to do it or not. Sithis' will must be done."

Sithis. He only knows of one group who worships the taboo deity. But his dear Iris, his sweet, innocent Iris can't possibly be involved. No. Iris Liriiette would never join the Dark Brotherhood.

"You're horrible at comforting people, you know," Iris says with a sniffle.

Lucien chuckles, sending a shiver down Brynjolf's spine.

"In my defense, even when I was alive, I wasn't much of a people person. Psychopathic tendencies and all."

"I'm not a psychopath."

"I never said you were, Listener."

Brynjolf bristles, wondering how in Oblivion Iris came to form a relationship with a Dark Brotherhood psychopath. They always talked about how much they disliked the Brotherhood and how much they disagreed with the Brotherhood's whole mindset. Iris said she could never kill someone in cold blood. And now she holds a position in the Dark Brotherhood? Not to mention, she hasn't been to the Guild in months, and she's supposed to be the new Guild Master. She chose the Dark Brotherhood, a cult of murderers, over her first family. The first place she felt welcome. She told him that she'd never felt more at home than when she was at the Guild. And now? He doesn't even recognize her.

"How did you die?" Iris breaks the silence.

What?

"It's a gruesome tale. Perhaps for another time. It would not, ah, comfort you."

Iris lets out a forced laugh. "I'm already upset, Lucien. The whole Sanctuary was attacked and my Family murdered. Might as well tell me now because it can't get much worse."

"Very well." Lucien takes a deep breath. "Like I said before, there was a traitor in the Brotherhood. However, no one knew who it was. Unfortunately, we had to perform a Purification, which means we had to kill everyone in the Sanctuary."

"Why not investigate who the traitor was?"

"It wasn't that simple. I had someone who was investigating but even she could not figure out who it was. She performed the Purification and assassinated everyone in the Brotherhood. It was truly morbid. I named her Silencer and proceeded to give her contracts via dead drops. She did excellently until the last contract. She was to travel to Bravil and kill a Wood Elf. I realized Ungolim was actually a member of the Black Hand and that the Silencer killed him. I managed to intercept her as I thought she was a traitor. But, much like Astrid had done to you, we discovered we were being set up. Every dead drop since the Purification was false. The Silencer had been killing members of the Black Hand."

Iris lets out a gasp. "Oh no. They thought you were the traitor, didn't they?"

"Yes. I told the Silencer to intercept the next delivery and discover the real traitor. She was to meet me at a cottage at the edge of the forest when she was finished. However—"

"The Black Hand found you first?"

"I was not afraid of death, but they did not give it to me mercifully. I was mutilated, strung up by meat hooks, and tortured until death. I later found out the traitor was the son of a woman I had murdered for a contract a long time ago. He lost his mind to insanity and even kept his mother's severed head. He wanted revenge. Ah, but the new Speaker slaughtered Mathieu Bellamont and became Listener."

"Gods. I'm so sorry."

"It was a very long time ago."

The pair fall back into silence as Brynjolf's mind spins.

Is she talking to…a ghost?

"What troubles you, Listener?"

"It's nothing," Iris mutters. "You wouldn't understand anyway."

"A generalization. Tell me."

"I don't know." Iris sighs, and Brynjolf knows she's on the brink of tears again. "I just…I don't have anyone anymore." She bursts out into heartbreaking sobs. "Y–You know my best friend lives here? In Riften? Or ex-best friend, I don't know."

Brynjolf's heart clenches.

"I haven't spoken to him in over a month. I'm–I'm afraid of what he'll think of me." She can barely get the words out past her cries. It breaks him. "And it's been so long, I feel like there's no good time to speak with him again. And I–I…I just miss him. But I think he h–hates me. Or thinks I'm dead. I–I shouldn't do that to him. Not again. Not after everything." She takes a shaky breath.

"This is the one you didn't want to tell that you're in the Dark Brotherhood?"

"Yes. He would be disgusted with me. He would hate me. And I can't bear that. I couldn't handle it."

"Thus, you've been avoiding him."

He imagines she nods.

"Everything in its time."

Iris sniffles. "Thank you, Lucien, for everything."

"It is my duty to as Speaker to serve the Listener," Lucien replies.

"I'd like some time to myself, if you wouldn't mind."

"Of course. Call upon me when you next need me."

Brynjolf hears a whoosh and assumes Lucien has disappeared. He must be a ghost.

"I'm sorry, Bryn."

He freezes, thinking he's been discovered. But Iris doesn't descend the stairs. She begins crying in earnest, and he realizes the apology wasn't intended for him to actually hear.

He waits to see if she speaks anymore, but he hears nothing but her breathing and occasional cries.

Eventually, her breaths even out, and Brynjolf knows she has fallen asleep.

He slips out the door to the dark streets, his mind racing. He'll let her sleep for now, but he needs to speak to her. He needs to hear the truth from her own lips. He needs to know why she's in the Dark Brotherhood and why she stole the Skeleton Key. Tomorrow, he'll go to her house first thing in the morning. He'll finally confront her after not speaking to her or hearing from her for a month. He'll finally know the truth.

Tomorrow.


Someone seemed pretty jealous... 0_0

What do you think will happen when Bryn finally confronts Iris about everything?

And poor Iris, how do you think she'll handle everything that's happened to her?

Let me know in a review! And as always, don't forget to favorite and follow! :)