Breaking the Silence
LDR: I should probably write an actual story about Shata instead of posting disconnected one-shots relating to random parts of her life. Oh well.
I don't own anything relating to Skyrim except for my own ideas and characters.
A black-scaled hand released its light hold on the reins of a dappled gray horse, claws catching purposefully at loose threads in the weathered cloak that the Argonian wore as she spotted a guard ahead of her on the road. Pine green eyes dropped to her ensnared claws as she tried to free them, the movements being used to surreptitiously hold her garment closed, hiding the black and red leather armor of the Dark Brotherhood that she wore. Her tail, hanging down the same side of the horse that was visible to the guard, twitched forwards slightly, covering a sliver of the armor that the long cloak failed to conceal.
As her horse drew level with the guard, Shata let out a frustrated mutter, complaining about poor craftsmanship and cheap clothes. Her volume was just loud enough to reach the guard's ears and she could have sworn she heard a stifled chuckle from within his helmet as they passed each other. With practiced ease that she had lacked under the guard's gaze, the Shadowscale tugged her claws free of the threads, both hands once again holding her steed's reins to guide it along the road. The sky was beginning the darken. She knew from her journey northward along the route that she was now following back south that there was farm coming up. Maybe she should stop and seek lodging there for the night. Or perhaps she should turn off the road now and set up camp.
Shata straightened up, her crest of feathers fluttering in the breeze as she scanned the surrounding landscape. A handful of ornaments hanging from her horns swayed as she shook her head. She couldn't see anyone. The whispery voice must have been a figment of the imagination of her tired mind. She tugged her horse's reins to the side, to turn the beast off the road so she could find a suitable place to camp.
"No. You are close. Continue to the farm. Come, find me."
"Who's there?" A hard tug on the reins brought her horse to a stop she could lift her glass bow from its place strapped to the side of the saddle. An ebony arrow was drawn from her quiver and nocked on the bowstring before being drawn back. Shata looked this way and that, a frustrated hiss escaping her as she realized there was nobody else around.
"Ride further, child. Find me. Find the Keeper. Tell him 'Darkness rises when silence dies'. You are my chosen one. My Listener."
Shata almost dropped her weapons. She wasn't tired enough to be hallucinating something like that. She slid her arrow back into her quiver, strapped her bow to the side of the saddle once more, then turned her horse back to the road and dug her heels in. Astrid had mentioned that the Keeper, an eccentric fellow who called himself Cicero, would be arriving at the Sanctuary with the Night Mother's body sometime within the month. That had been about three weeks back, right before Shata had set out on a string of small contracts. Who could have imagined that her return route would bring her into early contact with the Keeper? Or that the Night Mother would speak to her?!
At least, that's what she was assuming was happening. Who else could have a voice as cold and mysterious as the Void yet instill the warmth and care of a mother speaking to her child? Not to mention there was the whole 'find the Keeper' and 'speak the words' deal, and she'd been directly addressed as Listener.
"Bother and befuddle!"
The Argonian halted her horse as the voice reached her ears, gazing upon the sight of a wagon marooned at the side of the road with a broken wheel. A horse was hitched to the wagon, head bent to crop the grass along the roadside. And there was a man. Standing next to the wagon. Glaring at it.
A jester, by his clothing.
This is going to be annoying, Shata thought as she dismounted.
"Have patience with the Keeper, my Listener."
She twitched in surprise. So the Night Mother could read her thoughts? "Hey. Jester."
As the Keeper turned to face her, the Shadowscale drew closer. A delighted, hopeful grin spread across his face. "A kindly stranger, come to help poor Cicero?" he wondered.
"Darkness rises when silence dies." She let her cloak fly open, revealing her Shrouded Armor. Cicero went still, his expression morphing into one of shock. He glanced at the coffin that sat in his wagon, then bounded towards Shata with an excited squeal.
"The words! Those are the Binding Words! Ooh, Cicero would have been excited enough to meet a Sister on the road but he never imagined he'd meet the one! You! You are the Listener!" The little man wrapped his arms around her in a bear hug. "Cicero is disappointed, of course, that our sweet Mother didn't see fit to choose him, to speak to him and to fill the empty, empty silence, but–"
"Get off me, Fool," she hissed, interrupting his shrill ramblings and pushing at him. He just clung tighter, nuzzling against her like an overly affectionate cat.
"The Listener must help us! Must help poor, humble Cicero and the Unholy Matron, yes yes! I was taking Mother to the Sanctuary, I was. The last living Family. But...aggh! Wagon wheel! Damndest wagon wheel! It broke! Don't you see?"
"I can't fix it. How am I supposed to help?" She grabbed a fistful of his motley, shoving him hard. "I said get off!"
He retreated a few steps, sweeping his cap off his head and lowering himself into a deep bow. "Of course, dear Listener, of course. Cicero apologizes. He didn't mean to upset the Listener. Humble Cicero lives to serve." Straightening up, he placed his cap back on his head. "Cicero couldn't expect the Listener to do something as menial, as mundane, as boring as fixing a wagon wheel, oh no no no. But Loreius can fix it. He has tools, yes. But he refuses! He won't help poor Cicero and I can't leave Mother alone long enough to go up to the farm and...persuade him to fix it." The jester's voice darkened at the end, a dangerous bloodlust glinting in his eyes that impressed Shata. It seemed he was more than just an eccentric fool.
"Of course he is. Cicero is a member of the Dark Brotherhood. He is every bit the deadly assassin as you," the Night Mother whispered into her mind.
"I'll go have a chat with this Loreius fellow," Shata agreed. "I'll bring him to fix the wheel. We can't have our Unholy Matron stuck on the road. There's a guard that patrols along here. If he comes by while I'm gone, kill him. It would be problematic if he were to see what's about to happen."
"It will be as you say, Listener."
"He should come from that direction." She gestured back the way she'd come. "Once I arrive with Loreius, go wait down the road a bit that way. If you see the guard coming..."
"Kill him?" Cicero asked hopefully.
"Yes." That simple answer brought on a bout of gleeful giggles as he leapt from foot to foot, clapping and grinning. "Be still! And quiet," Shata grumbled as she turned to the dirt path winding up towards the farm. Nostrils flared as she came close to the house, taking in the scent of something cooking. Must be the farmer's wife, preparing his dinner. Perfect. She ghosted right up to the front door and silently let herself in.
Two pairs of eyes turned to her. Shata paused only long enough to determine which set belonged to the wife and which to the husband before she lunged for the former, slamming her up against the wall and unsheathing her elven dagger to hold the blade to the woman's throat. "What are you doing?" Loreius hovered uncertainly nearby, looking both angry and frightened.
"Grab your tools, Loreius. You have a wagon wheel to fix."
"Alright," Loreius growled, straightening up after gathering together the tools he'd had spread on the ground beside him. "The damn wheel's fixed."
"We appreciate your help," Shata hissed from where she stood, restraining Curwe, her dagger still at the woman's throat.
"Aren't you going to let my wife go? You promised."
"Hm, I suppose I did, didn't I? And it's important to always make good on a promise, isn't it Keeper?" She glanced to where Cicero was seated atop the bloodied body of the guard that had been patrolling the road. He grinned at her, nodding enthusiastically while humming some inane little song. Shata's gaze returned to Loreius. "But I believe my exact words were that if you fixed the wheel, I would release your wife. And so I shall. Release her into the eternal care of the Dread Father." She slashed her elven dagger across Curwe's throat, Cicero's delighted shrieks drowning out the woman's gurgle as she choked on her own blood.
"Damn you, lizard!" Loreius screamed as Shata wiped her blade clean on Curwe's clothing and tossed the body aside. Then she sheathed the weapon and stalked slowly towards Loreius. Three words left her mouth, murmured so quietly but thrumming with so much power.
"KRII LUN AUS."
Loreius collapsed, writhing in pain as the power of the Shout leeched away his life. Shata watched blankly, still moving closer, until she could press her foot down on the man's throat, crushing his windpipe. Once he had fallen still, she dragged him over by a rock large enough for her needs. Then she dragged Curwe's corpse beside Loreius's, coating her hand in the woman's blood to leave a crimson print on the rock. "Bring that guard over here. Drop him by these two." She stepped back, watching as Cicero leapt to his feet to obey.
"The Listener is powerful. Very powerful, yes yesss. How did you do that? To inflict such pain, such suffering, with your strange magic words?" He paused to admire the bloody handprint on the rock.
"I am Dragonborn," was the Shadowscale's only reply as she strode towards her horse. The beast was tossing its head, eyes rolling nervously, at the reek of blood. It looked close to bolting, until Shata grabbed the reins and tugged its head down, calming it with some gentle strokes and a carrot that she pulled from her provisions pack on the saddle. "Hurry to the Sanctuary, Keeper. I will ride ahead to inform Astrid of your arrival."
"No, my child. Ride with the Keeper."
"Why, Mother? He'll slow me down. I want to be home."
"It would be best for the two of you to forge a stronger bond that of master and servant. Already, bitterness rises in Cicero that I chose you over him. Befriend him."
"Hmph. I shall obey, Mother. The Tenets command that I must."
"Ooh, you speak to her! To our Lady! Long has Cicero wished to hear his sweet Mother's voice. Does she...have anything to say to humble Cicero?" he asked hopefully.
"The Keeper has done well."
"She says you've served her well." Shata mounted her horse, watching Cicero caper about happily, dancing and singing. "And that we're to travel together. So come on. Get on the wagon. We'll stay in the farmer's home tonight. There's already a meal prepared. It would be a pity if the food just went to waste."
"Indeed it would, indeed it would!" Cicero bounded up to the driver's seat in the cart, taking the reins. Together, the pair headed for the farm.
"Of course, we'll need to take turns keeping an eye out for that guard's replacement. We can't let word of this be carried back to Whiterun until after we've left. I'll take first watch. After I've eaten."
"The Listener is too kind. Oh, but Cicero insists, the Listener should get to sleep first. I'll go watch for the guard. And if he comes..." The jester trailed off with a dark giggle.
After several days of enduring Cicero's seemingly never ending plethora of rhymes and songs, she had finally arrived at sanctuary. The sanctuary of the Sanctuary, that was. Oh dear, the creepy little jester wasn't rubbing off on her, was he? With a shake of her head, Shata gave a final heave to pull the wagon through the Black Door. Both her horse and Cicero's were dead, hers to a dragon that had attacked during their journey and his to the Shadowscale's own elven dagger just a few minutes before. As if she was going to chance the Sanctuary being discovered because a horse was standing around outside!
"Okay. Let's get the coffin out." She moved around to the back of the wagon, where Cicero had been pushing, and together the two of them began to carefully slide the great wooden box out of the wagon. She grunted as she realized just how heavy it was, nearly dropping it. Someone came up beside her, helping stabilize her side of the box. She knew even without looking who it was. "Veezara. It's good to see you again."
"Welcome back, Shata, my love. And what sort of payment have you brought back with you?" he chuckled, one finger tapping against the wooden planks of the box to show what he meant.
"Story later. Things to deal with first. Hey, get moving, Keeper. That way." She nodded towards the passage leading into the main room. Cicero shifted around so his back was to the passage and began to walk backwards, his end of the large box dipping down slightly. Shata and Veezara moved with him, and the three carried the box into the main room, setting it down once it was out of the way enough. Already, the rest of the Family was beginning to congregate, likely drawn by curiosity.
"Home! Home at last! Cicero is grateful that the kind Listener traveled with him, yes he is. Kept away the silence and the loneliness and the solitude. Cicero doesn't like solitude. The feeling or the place!"
"What was that?" Shata turned around, face to face with Astrid. "What did he call you?" This should be a joy to explain...
"Veezara, dear, I have to speak with Astrid before we can catch up."
The other Shadowscale's head dipped into a nod. "Of course, Shata. I'll be waiting for you."
She grinned at him then addressed Astrid. "If we can speak privately, I'll explain everything."
"Yes. Come with me. I want to hear the full story." Astrid walked away, headed for her quarters. Shata followed, her grin fading away. She knew Astrid well. The other woman wouldn't be pleased at all that someone else in the Sanctuary held a powerful title. This would have to be handled delicately to prevent any conflict.
"Before I begin, you heard the Keeper correctly. The Night Mother has named me Listener. But I'm content to continue life as it has been, under your leadership. I have no desire to take anything away from you, Astrid. Now then, I was on my way back, traveling the road that led south into Whiterun..." As she launched into a brief retelling of her meeting with Cicero and the journey since then, Shata was pleased to see that Astrid appeared to have grown less tense. Good. Maybe the woman's paranoia wouldn't kick in to complicate things after all.
Maybe life could continue on as normal.
LDR: So there we go. I just had a thought the other day while perusing fics that featured Cicero...most people just follow what the game does exactly. Cicero is met by Loreius's Farm, the Night Mother breathes not a word, and then life goes on. I decided it might be interesting to have that be the point that the Night Mother speaks instead of when Astrid makes you climb in the coffin to eavesdrop on Cicero.
Anyway, if you want more of Shata, pop over to my other one-shot featuring her, Why Cure Madness, and if you want more of Cicero you can check that one out or give Complaints a read. Hooray for shameless self-promo!
Drop a follow or a favorite or a review if you liked it. LDR out!