Volyn sat back, reclining into the chair as he closed his eyes. To his left, in the rooms just beyond the wall, he could hear the rest of the Family stirring to life. Save for Babette of course, who shared his state of being. The sun was rising and he felt the call of sleep just as everyone else was rousing.

In the months following Alduin's defeat, Volyn, had been very busy. Splitting his time between Castle Volkihar and the Sanctuary was easy enough with Serana and her mother's help, but contracts had been flooding in once word got out the Dark Brotherhood had assassinated the Emperor.

Dragons loyal to Alduin had also become a problem. They had a nasty habit of attacking him while he was traveling, but that wasn't even the 'problem' part. They also liked eating livestock and townsfolk, and burning towns, to get his attention. Then people would look to him to save them, even when the guards had it under control. It wasn't like Alduin was still around to raise them from the grave again!

The Dunmer opened his eyes, deciding it was time for a bit of actual rest. He stripped down and crawled under the covers.

When he woke, it was nearly sundown. He was glad he'd slept so well, and was reluctant to get up, but he had work to do.

As he redressed in his armor, the black armor of the Brotherhood, he noticed one of the books on his shelf giving off a green glow. He realized this wasn't just a book, but a Black Book, one he'd collected from Soltheim. Hermaeus Mora was calling.

Taking a deep breath, Volyn slid the book from the shelf and opened it. Instantly, black-green tentacles shot up from the pages, giving the Dunmer a start though he knew it would happen, and wrapped about him, tugging him inside.

No matter how many times that happens, I shall never grow used to it, he thought, eyes unfocused, legs wobbly. Even his vampiric body had a hard time with traveling to Oblivion.

"Hello, Champion."

That was surely the Prince's voice. Volyn had become quite familiar with the slow cadence of his voice.

"My Lord," Volyn greeted, looking up.

He was standing on one of the black walkways floating above the greenish sea of…whatever that stuff was. And hovering five feet above the walkway in front of him was the Daedric Prince in the usual form of several eyes with thick tentacles waving in all directions. The eyes moved and blinked independently of each other.

"I have need of you," the Prince said, "You must retrieve knowledge which is hidden from me."

Not another dwemer box, the vampire hoped.

"There are other realms beyond Nirn. You shall be traveling to one such place."

"Will it be another plane of Oblivion?" Volyn asked.

"No. Imagine Nirn as a sphere. Within this sphere are your plane, Oblivion, Sovengarde, and so on. These places are separate, but connected. Tied. You will be going to another sphere entirely."

Volyn was startled, but had seen so much at this point, he wasn't really surprised. "But my Lord, if these worlds are separate, how am I to travel there?"

"There have been…ripples. Something has been set in motion that shall allow travel, though the window will be brief, I believe."

"And how shall I return?"

Hermaeus Mora chuckled, a sound that shot shivers up the vampire's spine. As he did so, the writhing mass of tentacles jutting from the dark center behind the many eyes quivered. One of the tendrils brushed Volyn's face, leaving a slimy trail across his cheek. He forced himself not to wipe it away, though it made him itch not to.

"I would not leave my Champion stranded. Take with you one of my Black Books and it will bring you back here, to Apocrypha, easily allowing me to return you to your own mortal plane."

"Is that a certainty, or speculation?" the Dunmer dared ask.

The Prince pretended not to hear. "Prepare yourself, Champion. You leave in the early evening of Fredas. You must be at the summit of the Throat of the World, where time and space has already been torn by the Elder Scroll. And don't forget the Book."

Volyn woke coughing hysterically, lying next to the now closed Black Book. There was green residue still on his cheek.

Wonderful, he thought, just what I needed to add to my schedule.

Fredas was only two days away, leaving him little time to prepare everything.

He rose from the floor, leaving the Book where it lay. As he did so, he heard footsteps fast approaching. He knew those footsteps.

"Listener, are you all right?" came the high voice from the hallway, just before a certain jester burst through the door.

"I'm fine, Cicero," Volyn replied. "But I've just received some…news. Call the Family together. In the common area. We don't have much time."

"Of course, of course! Right away, Listener!" the Fool of Hearts said cheerily, then turned on his heels and headed off.

Meanwhile, Volyn retrieved his pack, placing only his essentials into it. The Book, a set of regular clothes and boots, two blood potions, a few vials of paralytic poison, and his quiver of arrows. He decided not to bring any ingredients or money. If he was entering another world, bringing too many foreign objects he couldn't explain could get him into trouble.

For this reason, he left Auriel's Bow and Dawnbreaker on their respective weapon racks, choosing instead to take the Blade of Woe and an ebony bow he'd enchanted himself. He'd named this bow Heartrend for its powerful life drain effect and his own accuracy with the weapon. They were far less conspicuous than the previously mentioned weapons, what with their holy glow and whatnot.

He left the gathered items on the table, then headed out to meet the rest of the Family. They were all assembled, either sitting at the tables or standing.

"You have news, do you?" Nazir asked as soon as he saw Volyn. He was, as usual, standing with his arms crossed, leaned against the stone wall.

"I do," Volyn replied, "It seems I'm going to be going on a bit of a journey. I'd rather not go into details, but I have no way of avoiding this trip. I don't know how long I will be gone."

There was silence among the Family. Which was considerably larger than when Volyn had first joined. Besides Nazir, Babette, and Cicero, they had gained seven new members in the last few months. Soon, perhaps they would be able to re-establish the Black Hand and various other Sanctuaries.

Not with this setback, Volyn's mind taunted.

"But, where will you be going?" one of these new members asked, a young Nord woman named Brisa.

"I can't say. Only know that I cannot avoid it. While I'm gone, Malcar, please continue teaching Lars." The high elf nodded. Volyn looked to Nazir. "I will be giving you a list of contracts, and it is long, believe me, and you will be in charge of giving them out. Babette, continue giving the newest recruits lessons in poison making, if you wouldn't mind, and Cicero, take good care of Mother."

Cicero's eyes widened. "But of course, Listener! Don't I always?"

Volyn smiled, just a little. After reading the jester's journals, he had a bit of a soft spot for the madman. Not that he'd ever admit that to anyone. The Listener of the Dark Brotherhood having a soft spot? Certainly not.

"Yes, but she'll have no Listener until I return," Volyn pointed out, "And I wouldn't want her to be lonely."

Looking as solemn as he ever did, Cicero nodded. If there was anything the Dunmer could count on, it was the fervent devotion Cicero had to the Night Mother.

"And for the love of Sithis, don't get killed. We are few enough as it is," Volyn told them. Each member of the Family nodded.

After addressing the Family, Volyn returned to his room to retrieve his bag and make the list of potential contracts. Before he disappeared, he wanted to make sure everything in his life was settled, just in case. Was he perhaps thinking a little too much about this? Maybe. But better to be safe than sorry. He'd learned that very early in life, growing up on the Waterfront District of the Imperial City.

He shook those memories from his head. His life was much better now. He had a purpose, people that accepted him, and money with which to buy whatever he wished. And you'd better pray that it is all still here if you return.

Before leaving, Volyn knelt on one knee before the Night Mother, head down and eyes closed. He thought, Mother, I must go. Hermaeus Mora has called upon me and demands I travel to another world. I am unsure of how long I will be gone, or even if I can return. I'm sorry. But I feel I've left the Family in capable hands. So long as they obey my orders and stick to the Tenets, all should be well.

I know of your predicament, my son, came the voice into his head, Worry not. I have given your Brothers and Sisters much to do. And I know you will return to me. One way or another.

The thought was more comforting than Volyn could express.

Outside the Sanctuary, in the cutting cold of northern Skyrim, he summoned Arvak to his side. The skeletal horse whinnied as he appeared, forming from the grey and purple mists of the Soul Cairn. He mounted the creature and rode off.

Just before sunup, the misty visage of Castle Volkihar appeared before the Listener. It rose from the horizon like a mountain in the center of the ocean. Volyn doubted any mortal eyes could detect it from where he stood.

He was impressed with his time. Had Arvak been any normal horse, he would surely be dead. However, thankfully, Arvak was already dead. Volyn dismounted and dismissed Arvak, who snorted and pawed the ground once before crumbling into nothing.

Volyn greeted the human thralls that defended the gates and continued inside. It looked as it always did, really. Dark and cold, though none of the inhabitants minded. He certainly didn't. And thralls kept the place clean, save for occasional blood spots you could find after a Death Hound had wandered by.

Garen Marethi met him as he descended the stairs into the main dining hall.

"Good to see you back, my Lord."

"Thank you, Garen, but I'm afraid I won't be here long. Has anything happened while I was gone?"

"Nothing we couldn't handle," came a woman's voice from beside him.

Serana stood in the doorway to the forge room, the slightest sheen of sweat on her forehead, sword still in her hand. She'd been training, apparently.

"Nice to see you, Serana," Volyn said, smiling.

"You too, Mr. Hero." Her pet name for him, ever since releasing her from that vault. "Been a while since we've seen you. Busy?"

"My Lord," Garen said, making a sharp, sort bow before dismissing himself from the conversation.

"Quite. The Brotherhood had grown and it seems work is never done. Will people ever stop wishing death upon one another?"

Serana smiled, sheathing her blade. "Probably not. From what I've seen, at least. So what brings you back this time?"

Ah. The news. He gave a sigh.

"Come with me. I'd rather not discuss it here."

Since even before Harkon's death, whenever they had something sensitive to discuss, the pair would meet in the garden. No one ever went there, even after the rubble had been cleared away so there was an easy path.

They sat on the far side, across from the door to the dining hall. Valerica and her daughter had begun working on the garden again after Harkon was dead. Their work was paying off. Alchemical ingredients and simple flowers blossomed now in great abundance, giving the air a good, natural fragrance.

"I have to leave on a sudden…journey. It's a task given to me by Hermaeus Mora. I cannot refuse, as you can probably imagine."

"You make acquaintances in strange places, my friend," she answered.

"That I do. And I suspect I will find more on my trip. This is no simple task I've been handed. The Prince is sending me to some other world."

Volyn related what the Daedric Prince had told him, earning a steady, though stunned, gaze from Serana the entire time. It was one of the qualities he liked about Serana; she actually listened when others spoke, unlike most here at the castle.

"That sounds dangerous. And possibly a one-way trip."

Volyn shrugged. "I didn't know if I'd be able to return from Sovengarde either, yet I went."

"The fate of the world was a good motivator," Serana pointed out.

"The possibility of punishment by a creature entirely composed of eyes and tentacles is also a good motivator," Volyn replied dryly.

Serana laughed. "Yeah, I would think so."

"So, that's why I came. I wanted to let you know and make sure everything was fine here."

"Like I said before, nothing we can't handle. Mother and I can keep things under control. Be safe on your trip, okay?"

Volyn nodded. "I will. As safe as I ever am, anyway."

"Are you staying here tonight?" Serana asked.

The dark elf nodded. "I need to be present here. And I enjoy your company."

Serana raised an eyebrow. "Oh do you now?"

Both knew their relationship was purely platonic, but they often joked as if it were not.

Once composed, Volyn asked, "I saw you were training. Would you like a sparring partner?"

It was nearly time. Volyn sat by the broken Word Wall, waiting for whatever was going to happen. The Prince, as usual, hadn't been exactly direct about what was going to go on tonight. Was it going to be something dramatic, like Aludin's death? Or was it going to be something underwhelming, such as being named Thane?

We'll see, he thought.

Through the snow, he could see the ripples where the Scroll had ripped the dimensions, looking almost like heat rising from hot stones despite the whipping snow.

The dark elf looked to the horizon. Though the sun had long since disappeared behind clouds, he could feel that it was almost time for it to set.

As the time drew closer, the more nervous he became. A new world. One which even the Daedric Prince of Knowledge had no information on. Would he survive this trip? Would his magic work? What sort of people did it have?

Don't think of that now. It isn't as though you have a choice.

Something was happening at the Time Wound. A green light was sparking behind it, like green lightning. Perhaps this is what he was waiting for. Now what? Walk into it? Should he have brought the Elder Scroll?

The light got brighter and a strange sound could be heard now, the creak of someone heavy walking across a wooden floor. The light came in intervals, pulsing, but faster now. Volyn wasn't sure he wanted to be any closer than he was now, but curiosity got the better of him.

Slowly, the mer rose and took careful steps towards the tear. A moth to a flame.

Then everything exploded into green light.