Just as Elda had said, the house wasn't hard to find - Sloan rounded two corners and found a two-story house with rock awnings. She knocked on the door and waited. Then waited some more. There was something about the silence that felt…eerie.
Or not. Probably just her imagination fueled by Elda’s frantic warnings. Sloan tried to ease her inexplicably racing heart and reached out to knock again as a woman and a child walked past. Sloan’s attempts to quell her own fears were washed away when she saw the woman’s reaction - her eyes widened and she gripped the boy's arm and dragged him away with a hurried stride, ignoring his squawks of protest.
Maybe it wasn’t her imagination. With growing trepidation, she reached forward and tried the door handle. The door opened with a squeak to a darkened staircase. A muffled voice mumbled indistinct words from somewhere above, which didn’t help the preternatural atmosphere. Or, rather, it helped the preternatural atmosphere far too much; the small house felt filled to the brim with dark intent.
Sloan eased up the stairs with as light of steps as she could manage. The mumbling voice grew louder with each step, and by the time she made it to the landing on the second floor, she was certain she recognized it as Aventus’, though it sounded raspy and pained, and she still couldn't quite make out what he was saying. She stepped into the room to her right, and the voice became clearer.
"…your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear." This was accompanied by a continual pounding sound. A ragged breath, then, “Sweet mother, sweet mother, send your child unto me, for the sins of the unworthy must be baptized in blood and fear.” Pound, pound, pound. “Sweet mother, sweet mother…”
"Okay, not creepy at all," Sloan muttered as the voice continued its refrain. This room was dark as well, but light splashed out of a doorway to the right. Sloan edged forward and stifled a cry of horror.
She had found Aventus. He was kneeling in front of a skeleton with a bloody heart slumped in its ribcage. The boy was gouging the floor with a dagger as he muttered his incantation over and over and over, only stopping to ask when "they" were going to be there, or to curse Grelod's name (understandably). He seemed to be aware of his surroundings, though, because he stopped at her gasp and looked up.
"Finally!" His expression went from crazed to triumphant to bewildered when he saw her. The knife continued to chop at the wooden floor, which was already littered with shavings. "Oh! It's you! What are you doing here?" His voice was raw, as dry as paper, and his eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot. He looked on the brink of collapse but the knife never wavered.
"I…I came to see how you're doing. What's going on?"
"I'm summoning the Dark Brotherhood. To kill Grelod the Unkind."
Sloan was taken aback, both by his pronouncement and by his matter-of-fact tone. "I...can you stop that? It's hard to concentrate."
"No, I can't. If I stop, even for a second, they won't come."
"Okay, but...really? The Dark Brotherhood? Are they even real?"
"Yes! Ted said so, and he knows everything. Besides, she deserves it! You know it as well as I do!" The fatigue in his voice sapped the power from his statement but the raspiness returned a gravitas that more than made up for its loss.
Sloan bit her cheek to cut her immediate response, which involved a scathing review of the worthiness of Ted’s general trustworthiness on any particular topic. “Maybe, but why would they answer your summons? You’re just a kid. With no money, I might add."
The knife faltered as his determined expression broke. But it took only a heartbeat for both the knife and his determination to resume. “They will answer. They have to answer the Dark Sacrament. And I have…things. There has to be something around here...” he gestured in a vague sort of way at the room around them, “…that’s worth something.”
Another brief pause as his head snapped up and she got a clear look at the crazed and desperate look in his eyes. "Wait, I have an idea! YOU do it!"
For the second time, she was caught off guard. "What? I'm not an assassin!" Her mind wheeled in entirely new directions. Never in a million years would she have thought to…
"I know, but that'll be even better. No one would expect a kid!"
"I understand if you don't want to. I'll just keep calling them. I've been doing this for days, now. I can keep going."
"It's fine! Go on. Only, could you bring me some water? So thirsty, but I can't stop..."
"I..." Sloan sighed. Manipulative little bugger. "Sure."
“Great! It's all settled! You go kill her and come back here."
"No, I meant..."
"Well, back to it. Sweet mother, sweet mother, send your child unto me..."
He wouldn't speak another word to her, just went back to his mantra. In the light of the sputtering candles, he looked as scrawny and drawn as a corpse. It seemed she was once again without choice - if she didn't kill Grelod the Kind, Aventus would collapse of exhaustion. She knew him and his stubborn heart - he would not stop. Ever. Even if it killed him.
A small concern about how easily she had accepted Aventus' terrible purpose went ignored, as did a secret thrill that shivered down her spine at the prospect. She buried both emotions with the practical necessities of the moment.
The house was bare of food and drink. She found an old cloak in an even older wardrobe and put it on, then headed for the market. She used up most of her remaining money on food and water, which she brought back and set next to Aventus. After a moment, she patted him on the shoulder (which he acknowledged only with the briefest of nods) and left the house.
Back to Riften, then. The thought filled her with delight. She had only been gone from the Vixen for a few days, but she found she couldn’t wait to get back. It was nice to have a place she could call home.
Edited by jfraser