10:00 pm, Last Seed 16
At last, Piper was able to find a lonesome bench, undoubtedly flung into a far corner of the dining hall during the vampiress' macabre stage play. She kicked it upright unceremoniously and sat down roughly, the joints of her armor clanking as her limbs bent. She had just laid her head against the wall behind her and began to rest her eyes when the Imperial felt the bench sink lower.
Her brother had seen far better days. Sagax's eyes were ringed with dark circles that seemed to dampen his normally bright green gaze, and his usual confident countenance had faded into a melting expression of exhaustion.
"That certainly took long enough." He said, rubbing his eyes with his knuckles. "Have they finally finished decorating you?"
Piper snorted. "Decorate? I'm lucky the Duchess gave me what she did: a proclamation of what a good girl I am. Aside from that, I didn't even get a pat on the head, and there wasn't a sweetroll in sight!" she whined sarcastically. Her brother smiled for just a moment. That made her happy.
"Where were you, then? I know you can't sit still for more than five minutes, so I imagine you've been doing something to pass the time." Piper winced as she stretched her neck and felt a pop. This one damn near shook her whole body.
"Oh, well..." Sagax began. "I was almost arrested." He rubbed his eyes again.
"Niernen, Wylendriel and I..." He paused momentarily at Piper's vacant expression. "The Dunmer and Bosmer women, I mean, we ended up causing some damage. Not only to the castle, but its guests."
"You're shitting me!" Piper interjected. "They know the spooky bitch used magic on everyone, right? That wasn't your fault!"
Sagax held up his hand. "Hold on, Piper, I was getting to that. It took some convincing on part of the others in our company, but they did eventually yield on all charges...for Wylendriel and I, at least. Gustav had to bribe them to clear Nie-"
"You're clear, and that's all that matters." His sister interrupted brusquely, "I wasn't concerned about the other two."
"Of course." He replied calmly. "Let's go. I'm tired of looking at this place."
Piper nodded approvingly. "I was thinking the same thing. The company is moving out soon, anyway. We don't want to be here when they start building the pyres."
10:15 pm, Last Seed 16
"Pardon me!" A voice rang out. Sagax kept walking.
"Sir, pardon me!" The voice grew insistent, and was now closer than before.
Sagax and Piper turned around to see a well-dressed woman waving at them. Her brown hair was tied in a tight bun on the back of her head. A pair of wire-thin lips accompanied a sharp-jawed face and serious brown eyes. The smile did not do much to soften the woman's features.
"Yes?" Sagax responded cautiously.
"Good afternoon. You wouldn't happen to be Sagax Speculatus, would you? Son of Caius and Equa Speculatus?"
Sagax shot out his hand and gripped his sister's wrist as she began reaching for her blade.
"We are. And who might you be, friend?" The emphasis on 'friend' carried with it a note of distrust.
The woman bowed. "I would be called Priscilla. Some of my friends call me Ciri, however." Priscilla played with an amulet as she spoke. From what Sagax could see, it was in the shape of the Imperial insignia, but instead of a dragon there was a golden eye in the center. He struggled to remember which branch of the Empire it belonged to.
"Nasty business tonight, no? Vampires, gargoyles, and nobles, oh my!"
"What do you want?" Sagax snapped. In truth it was a sharper interjection than he intended, but his nerves were frayed and his mental state was precarious at best.
"Oh dear..." Priscilla mused, "You're quite prickly tonight, mmh? Not at all what your file suggested..."
File? What was she talking about?
"Though, I suppose one does not acquire such a foreboding title as 'The Fury of Windhelm' by being made of taffy and creme treats, mmh?"
'The Fury of Windhelm'...Frald had come up with that one. Where did she learn it?
"I find that my patience grows thin these days." Sagax answered slowly.
"Of course...who could blame you? You have been through a great deal of trials. My sympathies." Priscilla stopped fidgeting with her amulet. "I shall state my business succinctly, then. Do you know of a Nord woman that goes by the name of Sevine Varg-tuk?"
Sagax bristled at the mention of Sevine. The woman had already been through so much. What did this stranger want with her? "Yes." he answered curtly. Piper looked between him and Priscilla, wondering when one or the other would begin the brawl.
Priscilla smiled again. "A rhetorical question, I already knew you did. But your honesty pleases me, even if I gleaned your truthfulness from your file as well."
Again with the file...who was this woman really?
"You see, she injured a centurion quite grievously during the Skyrim Civil War...nay, it would be more accurate to say she mutilated him. That centurion was my brother." She leaned closer, to Sagax specifically. "I want you to kill her for me, my dear..."
He watched her, choking on her own blood as his dagger seared through her neck, convulsing manically, trying desperately to draw breath. He could feel the blood soaking through his boots. It would be so easy. She didn't stand a Fire Atronach's chance in a Winterhold blizzard of reacting in time to stop him.
Sagax blinked. In front of him was the stranger Priscilla, alive and well. And awaiting his answer.
"And what exactly," he growled in a low voice through grated teeth. "makes you think I would ever so much as entertain that thought?"
Priscilla nodded. "A fair question. Allow me to give a broader context...I am a Professor of the Penitus Oculatus. Our organization, in case you are not already aware, deals with any and all threats to the Emperor and his empire. Threats...such as vampiric insurgents. The Seventh Estate comes to mind."
"Your family, as you know, is under investigation for their involvement with the Seventh Estate. Your father is still at large, but we do have your mother...and we have been, ah, questioning her about his whereabouts..." Priscilla handed Sagax a small paper folder.
Inside the folder was a bundle of papers, all full of notes written neatly on both sides. Some simply detailed honest questions asked of Equa and her subsequent answers. Others detailed more intrusive means of information gathering. A variety of "truth serums" that made her violently ill, a broken leg, a pulled tooth. From the most recent notes, they had taken a finger from her.
Sagax shoved the folder back towards Priscilla, eyes full of revulsion and hate. She simply smiled.
"Assist me, Sagax, and I promise I will do what I can to rein in the suffering being inflicted on your mother."
"And if what you 'can do' amounts to 'not a godsdamned thing'?" Piper asked heatedly.
"It won't." Priscilla said with confidence. "I am very well respected within the Penitus Oculatus. Interrogation sessions can be placed on hold. Perhaps the Administrator could be convinced she truly knows nothing, which to be honest is the most likely possibility at this point."
The agent pulled her face back into a disgusting mockery of a seductive grin. "What do you say, dear? The life of one hotheaded tramp in exchange for your mother's comfort?" She began to twirl her amulet between her fingers. "She is getting quite old. I'm not sure how much more her poor, frail body can take..." Priscilla added with an unconvincing tone of concern.
The Agent and the Rogue locked eyes. Eventually, however, the Agent received her answer.
11:30 pm, Last Seed 16
Piper decided to stay behind; Sevine was his friend, not hers. He would be able to get close to her easily.
He could hear crying, her choked sobs faintly penetrating the oak door of the room she had buried herself in. Finally, after an eternity of standing with his hand half-raised, Sagax knocked. He gave three soft raps before announcing himself.
"Sevine, are you in there? It's Sagax...we're back from the mission, and I thought you might want some company."
The crying stopped, replaced by a slow shuffling that crept towards the door. When the lock unlatched and the door opened, Sagax was greeted with a sorrowful sight.
The once-proud huntress's hair was in wild tangles, and liquid stained her clothes. Undoubtedly some of it came from the tears that leaked from her puffy, bloodshot eyes, but he could smell the rest. It was not the sweet scent of mead on her breath, but hard ale and wine. Bottles of the stuff were scattered across a ramshackle wooden table in the corner of the windowless room.
Sevine smiled as her friend came into full view. He could not tell if it was genuine, or a mask.
"Sagax...it's so good to see you. How are you this morning?" Her words came out slow and at a near whisper. Sagax's heart sunk; the Nord had never seemed so small. She opened the door wider and stepped aside, inviting him into her den.
He stepped through the small doorframe and smiled back. "I am fine. Though it's only about midnight, still."
Sevine stared at him for a moment in confusion before stirring again. "Oh...yes, of course. I'm sorry. I-I haven't been outside much lately..." She shut the door behind her before taking a seat next to Sagax at the table. He had rearranged the mess to make some room.
"Don't think too much of it, you've had a lot on your mind. Speaking of..." he said, placing his hand on Sevine's. "How are you feeling? Truly, I mean. I know you're strong, Sevine, but everyone has limits. I'm here for you."
She waved her free hand lackadaisically. "I'm coping, Sagax. I'm fine, really. I...I'm fine..." The Imperial's eyes pierced Sevine's and bore into her heart.
Long, long ago during his childhood, a wandering priestess of Mara had visited the Imperial City. Sagax was tending to one of his chores when she beckoned him over to her. She was old, but she wasn't like the grouchy crones he knew. She seemed more like a kindly grandmother, and her soft voice put him at ease.
She gazed into his eyes, like he was now doing with Sevine, for some minutes before finally speaking.
"Our Mother has given you a wonderful gift, little cub. Oh yes, I can tell...those little eyes of yours can pierce the most fortified of hearts, and oh my, how strong they will be when you are grown!
She had hugged Sagax and then gripped his hands firmly. "People are tricky things, cub. They will hurt and they will suffer, but instead of letting it be known, most of them will hide it. Lock it away like something cursed. You...hmmm...you will be a breaker of many locks indeed. But you will be most skilled at breaking the locks constraining people's hearts. You have the ability to unseal the floodgates...and you must be there to snatch them from their wild currents.
He never saw the priestess again, but he had made it a point afterwards to take her words to heart. His sister had always commented on his uncanny ability to make her reveal her carefully-guarded feelings, and now, if the quivering lips and watering eyes were any indication, he had opened Sevine's emotional floodgate.
A sharp wail pierced the air before being muffled as Sevine buried her face into the table. Sagax gripped her hand tighter, reassuring her that he was still there, but allowing the huntress time to compose herself.
When she finally lifted her head up, Sevine's face was red and wet. She was quick to clear the tears from her face with the sleeve of her tunic.
"I...I just...I miss them, Sagax..." She swallowed hard as a lump started to form in her throat. "Jorwen, Solveig...Roze...a-and..." Sevine tried to continue, but choked on her words.
"Do'karth." Sagax finished gently. Sevine nodded, her face screwed in anguish.
"I can't do this any more Sagax...by the gods, I feel so weak saying this, but...I'm going home. I'm going back to Falkreath."
You're not weak, Sevine. You're human.
"I understand, Sevine. No one will think any less of you when they get the news. A person can only take so much, and this company isn't, and shouldn't be your main priority. You have other places where you're needed."
Now was a good a time as any to get to what he really came to Sevine for. Priscilla wanted results before morning, so he had to get to work.
He took a deep breath. "Sevine, I wanted to talk to you for another reason..."
"Hm?" She asked, lifting her head curiously. "What's wrong?"
So much, Sevine. So much is wrong.
"After the banquet, I was approached by a woman...said she was affiliated with the Penitus Oculatus. Imperial secret service, basically." He paused for a moment to give Sevine time to ask questions. He took her silence as his cue to continue. "She said you injured her brother during the civil war...and she wants something done about you."
"Ah..." Sevine sunk into her chair. "I knew that would come back to bite me one day..." She stared off into the distance at nothing, remembering how she had become Sevine, 'The Huntress'.
The Huntress met Sagax's gaze again. There was a great sadness in her dark green eyes. "So...you're here do me in?"
"No." He answered coolly.
Sevine's brows arched questionably. "Then...who?"
"Sagax, you're...you're confusing me. What are you going to do?"
He kept his hand on hers. "No one is going to kill you...but you will still die." At that, Sevine tilted her head, awaiting an explanation.
"This woman wants proof of your death...however, she didn't specify what kind of proof she wanted." He glanced at the axe, bow and chitin shield set up against the far wall of the room. "I was thinking of bringing her some personal affects, rather than your head."
Sevine followed his eyes. "Ah...my gear..." She paused to reflect, but quickly came to an answer. "I hate to give them up, but...if you think she'd buy it..."
"She'll want the bow, to be certain. It was the one that did in her brother, after all. The shield...well, not too many people are walking around with Falmer-made equipment, are they?"
Sevine nodded in agreement.
"You can and should keep the axe, however. It's fairly generic, and hundreds of people in Skyrim alone use ones just like it. That brings me to the next thing..."
"The part where you need to die." he said, folding his hands together on the table. "See, we still need Sevine the Huntress to be dead...but you do not need to be Sevine the Huntress."
Sevine came to full attention, a sign of her understanding. "I need to become someone else..."
"Exactly." He nodded. "My suggestions? Cut your hair. Make it short. Change your name, obviously, but I'll leave that to you, it will be safer for everyone that way. If you are confronted by anyone, and I mean anyone, you are to scream for the guards or whoever is around to help...no one must know how dangerous of a combatant you are. The weaker you can make yourself, the better. And under no circumstance are you to respond to your old name, not so much as a turn of the head."
"And finally...I know how much you hate it, but I would suggest you pick up some jewellery at some point, maybe a ring or a nice bracelet. It would help to learn how to use makeup, as well."
He wasn't sure if she would agree. It was a lot to ask of someone, especially with how much Sevine had been through in the past few weeks. Sagax was certain, though, that this was Sevine's only chance at survival.
Sevine stared at the table, thinking long and hard. She would need to leave her life behind entirely and become someone else. It was either that, or this mysterious agent would kill them both. After a few minutes or thought, she looked back up. "Aye...I can follow that plan."
Sagax smiled sadly. Though she would be safe, this was most likely the last time he would ever see his friend. Just one more to the ever-growing list. "Good. I'll be taking the bow and shield...whenever you decide to leave, do it quietly and quickly."
They both stood and embraced. "Take care, Sevine. May Mara bless you with health and long life...don't do anything I wouldn't do."
Sevine smiled coyly at that comment. "And where exactly, Imperial, is that line drawn?"
2:00 am, Last Seed 17
Back alley behind the Anchor's Point Inn, Evermore
With the chitin shield and Sevine's bow slung over his shoulder, Sagax approached the meeting point designated by Priscilla. His footsteps were as silent as a still night in the forests of Cyrodill. As directed, he knocked on a nearby rain pipe. Ding...ding...ding...
"There you are, my dear. I was beginning to think you wouldn't pull through..." Priscilla's sickly sweet voice rang out from an adjacent alley. On either side of her were two men in a variation of legionnaire armor. The golden eye insignia was sewn onto their leather body armor.
The two men approached and held out one hand each, the other on their swords. Sagax handed one the shield, and the other Sevine's bow, which they walked back for the woman to investigate.
"Aaah!" Priscilla exclaimed. "The bitch's bow...the very same, I wouldn't doubt, used against my poor brother..." She caressed the curve of the weapon tenderly. "Oh, what a prize you have brought me..."
She turned and examined the shield next. "And of course, the strange chitin shield that animal had taken to flashing about recently..." She waved it away, clearly not as interested in it.
"You've done very well my dear...not to dampen your achievement, however, but what of the body?"
Sagax shrugged. "Do you know how to talk to slaughterfish?"
Priscilla grinned. "Point taken."
"Good. Are we finished, then?"
"I believe so. As I promised, I will do what I can to free your mother from whatever torments the Inspectors have planned." She paused briefly, but continued as if she had forgotten something. "Oh, and please do know, dear, that I have nothing against your family...this was all simply a window of opportunity, you see."
"Glad to be of service." He replied gruffly. "Now get out of my face, witch."
"Oh, my, such a temper you have! Very well, I'll leave you to brood and sulk, then...but really, dear, it is so unbecoming of you."
"So long..." She ended in a singsong before turning away and leaving with her lackeys.
With business concluded, and in a satisfactory manner in addition, Sagax returned to the company. It was time to move on. Next stop, Wayrest, and whatever hell the world planned to throw at them next.