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Chapter Twenty-four – The Dark Docks of Solitude



“What are our guests doing this morning?” asked Elisif from her throne, watching the back of the last supplicant of the morning heading for the stairs.


“They've had breakfast, then went out to the courtyard to practice their combat skills,” said Falk with a short laugh.


Elisif had woken with the dawn, taking care of all her correspondence while eating a small breakfast. She was tired of sitting this throne day after day, listening people complaining about some injustice or other. Some of their petitions were important, and some just self-serving pap. But it was her job to listen to them all, and it was driving her to distraction.


“I wish I could go with them when they leave,” said Elisif, looking over at Falk. "To live a life or romance and adventure, what I always dream of these days."


“And that is impossible, Elisif,” said the Steward, shaking his head. “You are too necessary here. And the road is hard and dangerous.”


And you think I would be dead meat out there, she thought, frowning. She knew she had some skills that could come in handy in an adventuring party. She could fight, and she could shoot a bow. She hadn't always been a pampered noble, and her late husband hadn't found her in any party. But Falk was probably right. It had been a long time since she had had to fight, and even then it wasn't life or death.


Her guard captain, Wulfgar, walked into the room with a grin on his face.


“What are they doing?” asked the Jarl, leaning in the captain's direction.


“They are putting the Dragonborn through her paces, my Jarl. Throwing magic at her, shooting blunt arrows her way, even swinging swords at her. She is switching between wards and offensive spells, blocking with shield, and may the Gods help me, her bare hand. I've never seen anything like it. And I am happy that we backed down yesterday, or you would be looking for more guards this day.”


“And as I told you, Elisif,” spoke up Falk. “We should keep her here. If we can have her to come around to our point of view we would have a formidable defender in Solitude.”


“I will not hold her against her will,” growled the Jarl, pointing a finger at her Steward. “She is the hero all of Skyrim is waiting for, all of Tamriel, not just Solitude. Holding her here would not be something that would engender the good will of the other Jarls, or the people. Plus, if she really wanted to leave, could we stop her, short of killing her?”


“A point, Elisif,” said Falk, nodding. “Still, it would be good to keep track of her movements, in case we really need her help.”


Elisif thought that was a prudent precaution. And she really wanted to follow the exploits of this woman. She might not be able to follow her on the road, but she was sure that there would be many tales to tell of this woman who was a hero on two worlds.


“General Tullius to speak with you, ma'am,” said one of the downstairs guards, leading the Imperial officer up the stairs.


Elisif frowned as she watched the Imperial approach. It seemed to her that he ruled Haafingar Hold, when it was supported to be hers to rule. He was followed by Legate Rikke, his second in command. She at least was a Nord, and often took Elisif's side in the arguments she had with Tullius.


“Jarl Elisif, I understand that you have a guest of unusual power. I would like her brought to Castle Dour so we can have a talk.”


“You mean for an interrogation, General?” said Elisif, standing up from her throne. “That will not happen. As you said, she is my guest, and under my protection.”


“Now see here, Elisif,” said the general, holding up a hand to silence the legate. “We need to determine if this woman is a threat to the Empire. I must insist.”


“You fucking insist,” screamed Elisif, hands on her hips. “You are supposed to be our ally, yet you are always insisting, as if you rule this Hold and not me. She is a treasure to us Nords, and you will not treat her as a criminal. Do I make myself clear?”


“But, the threat...”

“The woman killed a dragon yesterday,” said Falk, coming to the aid of his Jarl. “Ate its soul and put it into the ground for good. Something our guards and your men have not been able to do. I say she needs to be free to pursue her destiny.”


Elisif gave her Steward a surprised look. The man had been advocating for her to keep the Dragonborn in the palace, by force if necessary. But these were Imperials, and they had been rubbing everyone the wrong way.


“General,” spoke up Rikke. “She is Dragonborn. A hero from Nord legend. If you dare arrest her you will have more trouble on your hands than you can handle. Holds that are loyal will rise up in revolt. Don't do this.”


Tullius appeared to be heading into a rage, and Elisif was concerned that in his pride he might actually ignore Rikke's good advice. He stood there red faced for some minutes, then let out a breath and crossed his arms over his chest.


“Very well. I already have enough on my hands without having to deal with more rebellion. But if she turns out to be a threat to the Empire, and you let her go when we had the chance to contain her, it will be on your head.”


The general turned on his heel and stormed off, Rikke in his wake.


Elisif fell back into her seat, legs weak. She couldn't believe she had cussed at the general. She was not one prone to profanity, but sometimes the judicious use of the word fuck went a long way.


“That could have gone better,” said Falk.


Elisif thought it had gone as well as could be expected. She was not a child, to be bullied by the Imperials in her own palace. But standing up to Tullius had been, frightening.


“Thank you, Falk. For standing up for me.”


“My job, my Jarl.”


*     *     *


“Friend Nora,” said Ri'jaro, sitting at his stand with his wife, Dra'Zira. “We found a nice tract of land on the other side of the stables, but the Nord refused to consider selling it to us.”


“Change of plans,” said Nora, handing the male Khajiit an envelope.


“What is this?” asked Ri'jaro suspiciously.


“A letter from the Jarl. Declaring you citizens of Solitude and giving you permission to buy land in the city.”


“But, that is wonderful,” cried Dra'Zira, holding her hand to her face. “How did you get this done?”


“It's a long story, but let's just say that the Jarl and I are now good friends. But there's more my friends. I found a building I think will be perfect for the restaurant. Large open room on the ground floor, along with another that would make a good kitchen. A couple of bedrooms on the next floor. And the owner has agreed to sell.”


“How can this cat thank you?” said Ri'jaro, smiling.


“First off, we're partners. I'm having papers drawn up to that effect. I expect you to work hard and make a profit, and I will take a share. Not so much that you have trouble surviving. In fact, I want all of us to get rich.”


“We will work hard, friend Nora,” said Dra'Zira, her own smile growing. “I will beat this cat if he becomes a lazy fool.” From the way the female said it, Nora thought there would be no problem getting her husband to work hard. “It will be so good to get off the road. No more camping, no more dealing with the weather, no more bandits.”


“Then get over to the address I scrawled on the envelop and make a bargain.”


“You did good there, my Thane,” said Lydia as they walked toward the gate and the docks.

“Yeah,” agreed Nora. “It's not about killing monsters and bandits all the time. Sometimes it's about holding out a helping hand and making lives better.”


“You are a most unusual hero, my Thane,” said Valdimar, grinning as he walked slightly behind Nora. “The heroes of legend never had time for the common folk.”


“You people are turning my head. It's not a big deal. Now, let’s get to the docks and see what there is to see.”


There was another gate, with guards of course. There were actually a dozen places in the city that let onto the docks, but Nora wanted to walk the length of the district. On going through the gate she was hit with the refreshing salt air. It was chill, like every outdoor area in this region. Then she noticed the other odors, and the sounds.


Ships rocking in the water, masts creaking. Men yelling to each other as they unloaded cargo. The squeal of winches. Merchants hawking their wares. There were scores of ships in sight, and the docks seemed to stretch forever. And people. Everywhere, walking to and from jobs, or going to a destination, or to shop directly from the ships. There were Hold guards in strength, and some in a different livery.


“The East Empire Trading Company,” answered Valdimar when Nora remarked on it. “There is a lot of smuggling down here, which means theft.”


Nora noted that many of the stevedores were Argonians, most bundled against the cold. There were also some Khajiit, along with Redguards, and all three types of elves. None of them looked comfortable with the temperature, though the Dunmer seemed the most inured. There were dozens of different flags hanging from masts, and Nora inquired about them all, Lydia and Valdimar filling in the details. Flags of Skyrim, of Blackmarsh, of the Isles and Hammerfell. Flags for every seafaring nation of Tamriel. A mile of merchant ships, loading or unloading.


“That's the East Empire Trading Company docks,” said Lydia, pointing to a large wooden building, a sign with the symbol of a ship hanging from a post, another attached to the body of the building.


“Then let's see what we can get done.”


Nora walked into the building like she owned it. She was still in her fancy clothes, magical jewelry on fingers, ears and hanging from her neck, Dawnbreaker sheathed by her side.


“Can I help my Lady?” asked a man sitting behind a desk.


“I'm here to see Vittoria Vici,” said Nora, flashing a smile at the man.


“Do you have an appointment?”


“No, but I'm sure she will want to see me.”


“She's a very busy woman. Are you sure I can't help you?”


No, thought Nora, giving the man a scornful look. Shit rolls downhill, so I need to talk with the big boss.


“Elisif said I needed to talk with Vittoria,” said Nora. Elisif had said no such thing, but Nora was sure that had she remembered to ask, Elisif would have given her a letter of introduction. Fortunately her clothing and name dropping seemed to work, and the man was on his feet and walking through the door into another room.


“Can I help you?” asked an Imperial woman in her early thirties, brown hair and eyes and good clothing.


“I've come to talk with you about a shipment of spices you have been holding. My friend, Evette San, has been waiting for it so she can make more of that wonderful spiced wine of hers.”


“So,” said Vici, eyes narrowing. “Now she's getting high born ladies to come beg for her.”


“Well, what is the problem?” asked Nora, realizing that she was dealing with a bureaucrat who wanted every i dotted and t crossed.


“There's no problem. As soon as Ms. San pays the five thousand septim tariff on the spices they are hers.”


Fuck. Five thousand gold, thought Nora. All the woman had was a small stand, and while her wine was expensive, it wasn't the costliest in the city. She was caught in a government cog that was threatening to grind her business up.


“How much is the shipment valued at?”


“Five thousand septims.”


“What? You double the price of the fucking goods and call that a tariff. What the fuck?”


“She gets her spices from the Isles, and we have a high tariff on some of those goods.”


“So you can't do anything directly to the High Elves, so you screw over a poor woman just trying to make a living.”


“We have nothing else to talk about,” said Vittoria, looking down her nose. “I obviously mistook you for a woman of quality.”


“Ms. Vici,” said the functionary who had greeted Nora. “Her sword.”


“What about her sword?”


“It's her. The woman who killed the dragon yesterday.”


Vici turned around, eyes wide, then smiled. “You're quite the hero in this city, Dragonborn. And I would have half the docks beating on my door if I denied your request.”


“Thank you. But something needs to be done about that tariff if it puts people out of business. I happen to really like that spiced wine.”


“Very well,” said Vici after a moment's thought. “This current shipment will be at her door today. And from now on we will only charge a thousand for a five thousand septim order.”


That still seemed high, but the United States had charged more on goods from foreign powers. “That seems reasonable.”


“Good. And would my Lady like a tour of our facilities?”


“Why not. I'm trying to learn as much about Skyrim as I can.”

“So, you're not a Nord? Then where is my Lady from?”


“Nora, Vittoria,” said the Dragonborn, realizing that this was a woman who liked to be on a first name basis with the rich and famous. It probably made what was essentially a rubber stamp bureaucrat feel important.


Actually, the operation was quite impressive. Scores of people checking on the shipments of the company. Goods coming off ships, food, furniture, magical items. Everything that a large city needed. Nora now saw how the city was fed. They were importing enough food to support a population that was so close to the permafrost line. It was non-sustainable, and she wondered if the Hold was going broke, or if the Empire was throwing them a bone to keep them loyal.


“Thank you, Vittoria. Very impressive.”


“Why thank you, Nora. We try our best to keep the trade open.”


“And are you the only shipper on the docks?”


“Oh, by the eight no. There are many local shippers. Including many from Windhelm and Dawnstar.”


“Aren't those enemy Holds?” asked Lydia, speaking up for the first time since they had entered the warehouse.


“We don't let politics get in the way of business,” said Vici, shrugging her shoulders. “People need to survive, no matter the politics of their rulers.”


That struck Nora, from a world where economic warfare was a viable strategy, as counterproductive. How fast would Ulfric fold if his city started starving. That is, if he didn't produce a surplus in his own Hold.


Nora left the East Empire Trading Company with many thoughts to mull over. This world needed some changes, and she was thinking of things she might be able to do. Not right now, though. She had bigger fish to fry.


After several miles of commercial docks they reached the military quays. A dozen long ships, probably the navy of Haafingar. Large Imperial ships, three sailing vessels tied up to as many docks, with room for many more. And, she saw through narrowed eyes, a Thalmor ship, flying their flag, the pier guarded by many of the elves in their smooth armor, looking over anyone that passed by. One of the elves shivered and Nora smiled.


Good. I hope you freeze your fucking nuts off.


She looked up and forgot all about Thalmor, catching sight of the rock sky bridge that Solitude was built on. A huge arch of rock, over a mile long, the Blue Palace on one end, many other buildings leading to the rest of the city, built on more stable ground. It was a breathtaking image, but Nora wasn't sure that she would trust such a perch to put the palace of the ruler of the kingdom upon. A strong earthquake and it might come down. However, it had been up there for thousands of years, so maybe the people of Solitude knew what they were doing. So she walked on for some time gawking like a tourist, hearing Lydia and Valdimar talking and laughing behind her, probably over her reaction.


Then they were at the last section of the docks, mostly empty as the fishing boats were out in the water. Multiple stalls sold seafood, both raw and cooked, and men and women boxed up fish and crustaceans for transport into the city. She saw a mage pouring cold magic into a box, and thought that seafood would find its way to some of the inland Holds.


“Let's get something to eat,” said Nora, looking at the many stalls, unable to make up her mind. “What looks good to you?”


“I think the fish and shrimp,” said Valdimar, eyes wide as he took in a near stall. “And they have fried potato slices.”


Nora felt her eyes going wide as she saw what he was talking about. “French fries? They have French fries?”


She hadn't had those since her last visit to The Bleachers, chatting with Mr. Dr. Pepper and the gang. She missed them, but here was a chance to get a little slice of home.


“I'll have some fish and shrimp, and a triple order of the potatoes,” she told the woman manning the counter.


“Sure you can handle all of that, sweety?” asked the woman, raising a laugh from her followers.


“I've died and gone to Sovngarde,” said Nora as she chewed on a piece of fried potato dipped in vinegar. Of course they didn't have ketchup, or even mayonnaise, and she thought she might look into finding out if she could get those locally produced. She was sure that they would be well received here. There were many opportunities to get rich on this world if she took advantage of them.

Nora felt a body close to her, then something pushing on the flask that was sheathed over her right kidney. The pressure released, and Nora knew exactly what was going on. She dropped her food and spun around at speed, right forearm sweeping, just as she felt the prick of a blade on the verge of being thrust into her body. Her arm hit the blade arm of the assassin, knocking it aside, and feeling the knife, which had sunk less than an inch into her body, tear through her skin.


A Redguard man in body covering robes stood to her front, trying to pull his knife back into line for another attack. Nora popped a fist into his nose, following it up with a smashing blow to the stomach. The man doubled over with a grunt, and Nora followed up with a knife hand to the temple. The assassin fell to the ground, unconscious.


And suddenly Nora felt sick to her stomach and fell to her knees.


“Poison,” shouted Lydia in a panic.


“What's going on here?” asked an authoritative voice.


“An assassin tried to kill my Thane,” cried Lydia, her voice sounding distant to Nora, whose vision was fading in and out.


Nora fell to her hands, her stomach contents erupting from her mouth to splatter on the stones. The area over her kidney hurt, a horrible pain.


Not like this, she thought, closing her eyes and trying to force herself to get up. She had fought dragons, vampires, undead, and come through it all. To have it all ended by an assassin was, terrible.


She felt healing magic being sent into her. Eldawyn and Sofia were not with her, so she wasn't sure who was healing her.


“Will she be okay?” asked a worried Annekke.


“I don't know,” answered the voice of a man. “I don't have the ability to cure poisoning. All I can do is try to keep ahead of the poisoning through healing.”


Nora forced a hand into the air and mumbled the words of her own healing spell, sending the divine energy into her body. Her own body was also fighting it, her amazing healing factor reconstituting cells and cleaning up the proteins of the poison. It was touch and go, but after a few minutes she was starting to feel better and started to get up from her hands and knees.


“Whoa, my Lady,” said the priest, who she still could not see. “You're lucky to have survived that poison. Take it easy.”


“I'll be fine,” said Nora, getting to her feet, still feeling a bit unsteady. “Now who in the hell was that man who attacked me?” And why?


“Looks to be Dark Brotherhood,” said the guard officer who was pulling back the robes of the unconscious man. “He's wearing the black leathers they prefer. Someone hired them to kill you. Any idea why?”


“No. I don't.” Nora was sure she had made enemies, but for someone to hire an assassin. “Shit,” she growled, seeing her seafood and french fries lying on the stones.


“She's hungry, so I think she's going to survive,” said Annekke, Valdimar and Lydia both barking a short laugh before the seriousness of their situation again took hold.


“Someone please get me a fish and shrimp, and one order of fries.”


“Yes, my Thane,” said Lydia, going back to the stall.


“Thane?” asked the guard officer. “Not of this Hold. I know all of the Thanes here.”


Oh shit, thought Nora, making it a point to talk to her people about revealing information that didn't need to be revealed.


“I'm a Thane in Whiterun,” she said, waiting for the hero worship. Fortunately, the man did no such thing. And then came the next unwelcome intervention.


“Penitus Oculotus ,” barked a woman in Imperial armor, looking down at the unconscious assassin that the guards were now tying up. “Dark brotherhood, huh. This is now our jurisdiction.”


The Solitude guard officer gave the Imperial a look that reminded Nora of the interactions of Feds with local cops on her world before the war. Like he resented the woman stepping on his toes.


“Any idea why a member of the Dark Brotherhood would come after you?” asked the Oculotus agent, giving Nora a suspicious look. “Anyone who might want to see you dead?”


“No clue,” said Nora, shaking her head, wondering if she would need to look over her shoulder in cities from now on. “I know I have enemies, but most of them either don't have the means, nor would they resort to such a tactic.” She couldn't imagine bandits hiring assassins, and dragons? That thought was ludicrous.


“Well, we are taking the assassin to Castle Dour to question. I would like you to come there when you are able so we can ask some more questions. Just to see if there might be something you haven't thought of that might help us track down the person who hired them.”


“In a couple of hours then?” asked Nora, not sure if the Penitus Oculotus would prove helpful at all.


“Good enough.”


The Imperials led the now conscious but restrained assassin away, while the guards looked on.


“Jarl Elisif will be concerned about you, Dragonborn,” said the guard officer, huffing out a breath of relief now that the Imperials were gone.


“Please tell her that I am fine. And I will see her tonight at the palace.”


The party did some more shopping along the way, picking up some odds and ends before entering the city main again. Nora felt uncomfortable the entire time, looking over her shoulder and into every shadow. She didn't like the feeling of being the hunted, and knew that she couldn't go on like this. The next time the assassins hit she might not be as fortunate.


Fort Dour was a hulking pile of stone with Imperial banners everywhere. Imperial soldiers stopped them at the gate, looking them over.


“We're expected,” said Nora, looking at a suspicious Imperial officer. “A Penitus Oculotus officer asked me to come see them.”


The officer looked over a piece of paper and stared at Nora for a moment. “Come with me.”


Nora wasn't sure she wanted to be there. The Imperial officer didn't seem very welcoming, and she didn't like walking into a fort full of people who seemed at the best indifferent to her, and might possibly turn hostile. But once she was in the fort, the gate closed behind her, she was committed.


“Is this the Oculotus office?” Nora asked as she was led into a large room in which some officers in ornate armor were looking over a map.


“What are they doing here?” asked an older man, stomping over, turning a glare on the party.


“This was the woman you wanted to talk to, General,” said the officer, bringing a fist to her chest.


“The Dragonborn,” said the officer. “I'm so glad you came to see me. I'm General Tullius.”


“I'm here to see the Penitus Oculotus,” said Nora, not sure what was going on. “Something about an assassin.”


“Get the Oculotus leader in here,” said Tullius, establishing that he was in charge. “Legate Rikke. Get over here.


“Now,” said the General, gesturing for Nora to follow him over to a side room, steering her away from the map. A quartet of soldiers followed. “I need to talk to you.”


“What about?” asked Nora suspiciously. This man reminded her too much of Elder Maxson, the deposed leader of the Brotherhood of Steel. A true believer who thought that his judgment was unassailable.


“Your loyalty to the Empire, of course.”


Oh shit, thought Nora, feeling that she had made a grave error coming here. She wanted to remain above the conflict while she could, so she could move freely across the kingdom. And this man wanted to pigeonhole her into declaring allegiance to his government.


“Look, General. I am not declaring for either side.”

“Unacceptable,” growled Tullius, as a woman in her thirties, also in ornate armor, came into the room. “You are an asset we cannot ignore. And I can't take a chance on you joining the other side.”


“I'm not on any side,” growled Nora, the echoes of the voice resonating through the chamber and making the other soldiers there to make sure she was kept in check anxious. Nora got under control and huffed out a breath. “Look, I sympathize with you, or at least I had before you tried to back me into a corner.”


“And why should I let you leave this castle?” asked Tullius.


Because if you don't I will cut my way out, thought Nora in rage. She realized that was a non-starter. Even if she killed most of the men and women in the castle, something she had no intention of doing, there were just too many of them. Her party would probably go down, dead with her, the hope of the world, alongside them. But she couldn't allow this man to control her. She just wanted to clean out some of the evil of this world while getting prepared to take on the world eater and save everyone. Just like she had done in the Commonwealth, though here the stakes were even higher.


“Look, General. I am trying to save you all. But I can't do that if you restrict my movements.”


“How noble of you,” said the General in a sarcastic tone. “And this power you have over the Nords will never tempt you to go for the throne of the Empire? To take the place of the Emperor?”


“No,” shouted Nora. “Do you even know where I came from? I was the leader of a nation, a position I didn't even want. One of your damned Divines brought me here against my will, to save your sorry assess. And I have to put up with this bullshit?”


Nora could see that her people were not taking this well. Annekke, Lydia and Valdimar all had hands on weapons, while the four Imperial soldiers in the room did the same.


“General,” shouted out the woman, the legate, holding out a hand. “I told you what imprisoning this woman would bring about. Do you want to lose Skyrim to the rebellion?”


“Legate. I didn't ask for your opinion on this.”


“General. I am a loyal officer of the Empire. But I am also a Nord. And right now I am thinking about resigning my commission. If you hold the Dragonborn captive, I won't be the only one.”


“The Dragonborn,” blurted one of the soldiers, a Nord. In fact, three of the men were Nords, and they looked decidedly uncomfortable.


“See, General. All of the Nords will be rethinking their positions in the Legion if you do this. That's three quarters of your troops, and a good percentage of those throughout the Empire. And all of the guards in this Kingdom.”


“I have their oaths.”


“And they have their traditions, which go much deeper than oaths,” exclaimed Rikke, pleading. “You have already asked them to ignore one of their traditional gods. Don't ask this of them as well.”


Nora found that interesting. In her experience most Nords still believed in Talos, even if they did keep their belief secret lest the Thalmor visit them. And the Empire needed all the soldiers they could get.


Tullius was silent, thinking it over. He let out a breath and turned to look at Nora. “Unfortunately the Legate is correct. But know this. We will be watching you, and if you turn on the path of rebellion we will put you down.”


“Thank you for being so welcoming, General,” said Nora with a sneer.


“Get out of here,” growled Tullius, pointing to the door out of the room.


“And the Oculotus office?”


“Show her to the damned Oculotus office, Legate.”


Nora followed the woman out of the building and across the courtyard.


“Thank you,” she said to the officer. She wasn't sure how high a legate was in their rank structure, but she was thinking colonel.


“My pleasure, Dragonborn,” said Rikke, smiling. “Is it true that the end of the world is upon us?”


“Not if I have anything to say about it,” said Nora, a distant look coming over her face. She looked over into Rikke's eyes, seeing fear there, along with hope. “I have fought things on my world that seemed insurmountable. Not as much as what I am facing now, but know that I will not give up. Ever.”


She took her leave of Rikke at another guarded doorway. For a moment she was considering just leaving the castle. There was no telling what the Imperial intelligence agency had in store for her. But she was here, in front of some of their soldiers, and walking away might bring more attention down on her.


“I was hoping you would show up,” said the woman she had met on the docks. “You seem to have gotten yourself in a lot of trouble. The Brotherhood never gives up.”


The woman had an expression on her face like she was looking at someone already dead.


“Just who are the Dark Brotherhood?”


“And just where are you from?,” asked another agent, this one in armor. “Everyone knows about the Brotherhood. Damned cowards. Responsible for more deaths than I care to think about, including quite a few Emperors.”


“Don't frighten the poor woman to death, Servius,” said the woman. “And I am Lieutenant Elorya Ashart.”


“Pleased to meet you, Lieutenant. Though I could wish it was under better circumstances.”


“So,” said the woman, now all business. “We talked with the guards who observed the incident. They said you were a visiting noblewoman from Whiterun, a confidant of Jarl Elisif, and little more. Though one mentioned that he had never seen anyone move so fast. And you survived a strike of a dark dagger.”


Nora heard Lydia gasp and Valdimar curse.


“A what?”


“A dark dagger is a Daedric weapon that is poisoned by its very nature. It kills quickly.”


“He didn't get a full strike in. And a priest happened to be near. I got lucky.”


The agent gave Nora a suspicious look but didn't dispute her.


“And where do they come from?” asked Nora, an idea forming.


“As far as we know, their sanctuary is located somewhere in the central part of Falkreath hold. No one knows the exact location, or at least no one is talking. It's said to be behind an enchanted door that will only open with a password. Something about silence.”


This woman seemed to be giving out more information about an active investigation than Nora would have thought. It was like they wanted her to have the information to act on. But that couldn't be, could it?


“You realize that these people don't give up. They will keep coming after you until they fulfill the contract, or there is no one left to send. I feel sorry for you. We can assign a protective detail to you while you are in Haafingar, but even that won't deter them forever.”


“Wow, so hopeful,” said Nora, though she did feel a shiver. Falling in battle was one thing, but struck down by an assassin.


“Just being realistic,” said Ashart, giving Nora a sympathetic look. “Now, who have you pissed off bad enough for them to perform the Dark Sacrament?”


A worried Elisif awaited her at the palace. Nora had been thinking of a return engagement with Auryen Morellus, something she had been contemplating since their first session. Now, though, she was reluctant to put the man at risk. She even worried about her own followers, and had considered cutting them loose. But without them she was no longer a going anti-evil concern. They were also her best protection.


“I heard about the assassin,” said Elisif, her face anxious. “What are you going to do?”


Nora thought Elisif wanted to hear that she was going into hiding. That was not Nora.


“What I always do when I find an enemy coming after me,” she said fiercely. “Find their home base and take them out.”


“How? No one knows where their base is,” said Elisif, on the verge of tears.


“Remember that tech I showed you during our dinner last night? That should find them for me.”


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