Actions

Work Header

Waking Nightmares

Chapter Text

This story makes more sense if you read "Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf" first, but it is not necessary.

Sequel to "The Dark Brotherhood Forever"

 

Cicero hit the ground with a sickening thud following the loud crack of being slapped by Elaninde, the High Elf Listener of the Dark Brotherhood.  Elaninde stood proudly over the prone figure of the Keeper, her expression disdainful and disapproving, but not quite a full frown or scowl. Elaninde never allowed such gross expressions to mar her exquisite features—and no Altmer ever presented anything but their best face in front of others.

"Cicero, my darling Keeper, do you wish to explain what this is?" the Listener said softly. She held a finely cut dress in one hand that used to be white but was now obviously slightly pink. Her manicured fingers ran over the cloth accusingly before throwing it in Cicero's face.

Behind Elaninde and to her right Arnbjorn stood smiling wolfishly. Ever since Elaninde saved the werewolf's life during the burning of Falkreath Sanctuary, he had become even more of a sheepdog to her than he ever had to Astrid, his dead wife. The Nord looked like he would burst into barking laughter any moment and if he had a tail he would no doubt be wagging it as he watched the Listener berate Cicero. Arnbjorn had hated the jester since had laid eyes on the man and he reveled any time Elaninde punished him which seemed to be quite frequent since coming to Dawnstar Sanctuary.

Cicero slowly pulled the dress off his face before slowly sitting up. A trickle of blood ran down his lip where Elaninde had struck him, but he didn't bother to wipe it away. Cicero made a show of looking critically at the dress, examining every inch of the thick material, before stating, "Why, it is a dress, my dear Listener! Lovely Elaninde's dress, no doubt!" He laughed as he impishly looked at Elaninde's face which was sliding dangerously to a frown.

Behind him, Cicero could hear someone gasp at his arrogant tone. No doubt the initiates were taking in this display. After all, Elaninde had struck him down in front of the Night Mother's coffin as Cicero was attending to his Keeping duties. Positioned near the front entrance, the sarcophagus was in view of heavy traffic of initiates coming in and out of Sanctuary.

"I know it's my dress!" Elaninde barked loudly as she kicked Cicero's wrist hard enough to make it go numb. Cicero allowed the dress to fall from his grasp, but he didn't cry out in pain. He glared defiantly making his own anger evident, but he refused to cry out which only maddened Elaninde further. "It was white and now it is this garish stained pink and I wish to know why."

"Hmm, very interesting question," Cicero murmured as he placed his good hand under his chin in false contemplation. The other wrist throbbed dully, but at least nothing felt broken. "Maybe silly Cicero accidentally put the Listener's dress in with his own laundry when he was cleaning. Oh yes, that was it! Industrious Cicero was saving time by doing two people's laundry at once and Cicero's motley colored Elaninde's dress. Oops," Cicero said before bursting into self-deprecating laughter.

"You fool!" Elaninde screamed her voice as shrill as a fox's. She made as if to hit Cicero further, but paused to glance at the Night Mother. Suddenly her demeanor was calm and collected as she ran her hands down her side, smoothing her clothes. "I'll simply have to go to Solitude and buy more clothes to replace the ones you ruined. In the meantime, you are banished to your room as punishment. You will remain there until I return." The Altmer flipped her blood red hair over one shoulder disdainfully as she turned to leave.

"But Cicero has his Keeping duties!" Cicero protested. He crawled on his knees to Elaninde and prostrated himself before her. "Please, Cicero must attend Mother!" The Keeper mentally raged at the indignities he'd had to suffer at the hands of this elf since the Listener was the only member of the Brotherhood who had authority above his. But Mother was everything, and he would do whatever it took to protect her—even if it meant demeaning himself before the rest of his family. Cicero rained kisses on Elaninde's feet wishing they were vicious bites instead.

"Oh, very well," Elaninde conceded. She smiled viciously at getting what she wanted, making Cicero beg. "I'll allow you one hour a day to attend to Mother while I'm gone. That should be more than enough time for you." She turned smartly and walked away, barely missing kicking Cicero in the face as she left, but only because he had dodged at the last minute. Arnbjorn followed like a pup on her heels, his eyes sparkling in amusement.

"You should have let me beat him for you," Arnbjorn offered.

"Next time," Elaninde said. They knew there would be a next time too. Elaninde keep piling ridiculous chores on Cicero despite knowing he would intentionally foul them up because it amused her to humiliate the Keeper who would never retaliate. He Kept the Tenets always which had caused the rift between Listener and Keeper.

When Elaninde had decided she wanted Arnbjorn for her own, despite the fact he was already married to Astrid, she had proceeded to claim him because she felt it was her right as a superior race. Cicero had warned her to stop as she was breaking the Fourth Tenet: Never steal from a brother or sister. Maybe he had been too specific in that Elaninde was betraying the vow between Arnbjorn and Astrid, but the spirit had remained. Elaninde had ignored Cicero's counsel and he told her in no uncertain terms that he would alert Astrid of what was going on behind her back. Elaninde had merely laughed forcing Cicero to take action.

Astrid's devastation at the betrayal had led her to make her foolish deal with Commander Maro, which in turn had led to the destruction of Falkreath Sanctuary. With their home in ruins, Elaninde had led the survivors to Dawnstar after discovering its existence from Cicero.

As the Listener and her hound walked away, Cicero stayed on his hands and knees struggling to force his face to go from deadly frown to foolish laughter. He tried a few chuckles until they sounded natural enough to himself before standing. The jester smiled broadly at his siblings who were still standing around gawking. He laughed and danced a jig among them before bounding down the hall to the floor below where the bedrooms were.

None of the siblings would look at Cicero as he passed. All of them were too ashamed and most wore their cowl masks to hide their faces. Only one brother, an older Dunmer wearing robes of Mara, met Cicero's gaze. For one brief second, Cicero thought that seemed off for an assassin to be dressed as a follower of Mara, but the moment passed and Cicero forgot he had even noticed the dark elf.

As soon as he was out of sight of the rest, Cicero stopped his act and slumped against the cold stone wall. He clenched his fist and slammed it into the wall, wincing from the pain. He slowly continued his path to his room. Elaninde had said he had to go, but she had neglected to mention how quickly. Unfortunately, no matter how slowly Cicero walked, he was at the door of his room within moments.

The Keeper pushed the door open, entered, and then locked it behind him. No candles were lit and none would be. Elaninde had established early on that Cicero was to have no light and he could not leave until she gave permission. Even leaving to use the privy was not allowed which had caused severe discomfort and an unsavory mess the first time, but Cicero had quickly made sure to keep a chamber pot in his room afterwards.

Elaninde had originally not even allowed Cicero to leave his room to attend the Night Mother, but those times had been for overnight or two or three days at the most. No doubt she planned on making her trip to Solitude last and would be gone closer to a week, which was why she had granted Cicero permission to leave his room for an hour to attend to the  Night Mother. That would be pushing the Keeper's limits of obedience, for his loyalty was to the Night Mother first and always. They both knew the only thing keeping Cicero locked away in solitude in his room was Cicero.

"Why do we stay here, brother?" the Jester whispered in his mind. "Why do we allow that bitch to punish us for not being her scullery maid instead of the Keeper? We could leave at any moment."

"She is this Listener," the Keeper responded. "She bears Sithis' favor and we must obey. The Tenets…"

"Damn the Tenets!" the Jester rallied. "Looks where they have gotten us!"

"Never question the Tenets, my friend," the Keeper hissed, outraged at his other half's audacity. "We are nothing without the Tenets."

Cicero lay on his bed with his arms crossed behind his head and his feet crossed at the ankles. He flinched at the war in his head, both sides wanting opposite things in the first time ever. The Jester wanted to rebel and make the Listener suffer for her arrogance, while the Keeper merely wished to serve and obey. The Assassin had long ago curled up and gone to sleep, probably to never be heard from again.

Terror was building in his chest. The memories of long years of loneliness and darkness were crowding in his mind again, mewling to be released, its bitter flavor tasted once again. Cicero tried to push the fear and pain away, but it was impossible. At least before he had Mother, but now there was only Cicero in the dark, alone, alone, alone.

Gods, this was why Elaninde delighted in this punishment. Cicero suspected she was trying to break him, but why he still was not certain. Amusement, maybe? Plain cruelty? Revenge for telling Astrid? Cicero served faithfully and still Elaninde found every reason to banish him to be alone in the dark.

The cruel irony was almost too much. Cicero had suffered in Cheydinhal because there had been no one else. Now he was surrounded by family again and still he was alone, forever alone. Tears, screams, sobs threatened to burst out of his chest and fill the room. Anything to kill the silence. But Cicero wouldn't allow that; he would never allow that. Instead, he forced himself to chuckle, to laugh, to keep away the terrible, maddening silence and darkness. A part of him knew the others must pass by and hear the desperate laughter, but it was acceptable that they wonder at that instead of pitying him for his screams.

Maybe he would go completely mad again. Lose the years like he did before when he had been reborn. He could float in the Void lost, lost, lost and he wouldn't care as long as he took care of Mother. There was a certain joy in that thought.

Hours passed with Cicero lying on his bed laughing, laughing, laughing. Evening passed into night which passed into the quiet hours between midnight and morning when only assassins walked Tamriel. A soft scratching at the door grabbed his attention immediately. "Who's there?" Cicero barked. He jumped to his feet immediately reaching for his dagger.

"A sister," came the soft reply. A pause. "Why were you locked away this time?"

"Don't you know?" Cicero said bitterly. "Everyone was there to see how poorly Cicero does laundry." He walked over to the door and knelt before it.

"I was out."

"Why are you here now?" Cicero asked suspiciously. The Listener had never explicitly said he was not to talk to anyone, but that had been implied with his banishment.

"I wanted to check on you," she said. The sister's voice was low and pleasant, almost hesitant in a virginal way. "I heard you laughing and it worried me. I hate how she treats you."

"Are you real?" Cicero blurted out. He hit himself on the side of the head for his foolishness.

"Last time I checked," she laughed softly. Cicero would easily imagine this sister daintily putting her hand in front of her mouth as she laughed. He smiled at the image.

"What's your name?" Cicero asked feeling shy.

There was a pause for the longest time and Cicero wondered if she had left. Then he heard the creak of the wood as the sister leaned against the door. They were only inches apart, but still worlds away. "I shouldn't tell you. What if she found out I had talked to you? She might get angry. I don't want her to punish you because of me."

"Fear not, Cicero will be punished because of Cicero," he laughed. "Please tell me your name so I know you're real and not my imagination."

"I cannot. She scares me. I'm not scared of anything and she terrifies me," the sister said. "I'm sorry."

Cicero could hear her stand and begin to leave. "Please come back?" he asked, feeling that he was hoping for too much.

Once again the long, terrible silence. "Okay, tomorrow night around the same time." Then soft pads as she walked away.

Cicero leaned against the door, a huge goofy grin on his face. He laughed, but this time it was of joy. A friend! A sister to help push away the silence. A secret just for Cicero!

"A friend like I was so long ago, brother?" the Jester asked cruelly.

"She said she was real!" Cicero protested.

"Just like me!" There should have been laughter to taunt poor Cicero, but there was only silence now because he had become the Laughter years ago and could no longer hear it. Cicero pressed his hands against his ears to block out the quiet and curled up on his side to wait the long hours until daylight when he could be by his Mother's side if only for a short time.

 

The days passed slowly and without much change. Cicero would wait in his room until he could spend one miserly hour with his Mother. Time that flew much too quickly. Then he would return to the darkness of his room to wait for the sister to arrive in the dead of night and speak a few minutes with him.

Every night he would ask her name and every night she refused. Cicero was getting more and more frantic with needing to know.

"Just make up a name and we'll pretend that it is mine," she offered one night. Cicero thought it was the fifth night he had been locked in his room, but he wasn't sure. He had developed a fine sense of time after living below ground in Cheydinhal, but the days still slipped by unaccounted.

"That's no good," Cicero scolded. He pressed harder against the door hoping if he got close enough somehow he would know anything or everything there was about this sister who visited him when no one else dared look at him. "Cicero's mind could be making it up. You must tell him something he wouldn't know on his own." He waited for her reply. She was always so hesitant to commit to anything he asked.

"Open the door," she suggested. "You could see me."

"Cicero cannot. It is not allowed," he replied cursing himself for his obedience. So many problems could be solved if he just opened the damn door. If only if he could forsake the Old Ways and abandon everything he had sacrificed for time and time again.

"Step back." Cicero moved away, but he could still hear the soft rattle of a lock being picked. The door swung open and Cicero would make out a feminine silhouette slip into the room before the door closed swiftly behind. Soft lips pressed against his ear and warm breath brushed against his hair as the sister whispered, "Is that better?"

"Oh yes," Cicero sighed giddy with relief. "Much, much better." He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled the sister tight. She squeaked from the pressure, but Cicero didn't let up. He was enjoying how soft she felt under her leathers and how pleasantly she smelled.

"I should go," she whispered, "I've stayed too long."

"Too soon," Cicero said.

"I'm sorry," the sister said before she wiggled loose. The door opened to the dark hallway and only her shadow could be seen before she was gone.

 

"She still could be our imagination," the Jester suggested.

"We felt her, smelled her, we even saw her," Cicero protested.

"Maybe we thought we did," the Jester countered. "She still doesn't have a name or a face. We easily could have recalled what a woman felt like from before. You do remember what a warm and willing woman felt like, don't you dear brother?"

"Are we planning on stabbing someone?" the Assassin asked sleepily.

"No! Go back to sleep. There's no killing here," the Jester scowled. "We never kill any more, remember? It's not allooooowed."

"Okay," the Assassin yawned before rolling back over in his rest.

"What does any of this have to do with Mother?" the Keeper growled. "We are worrying about some sibling who may or may not be real because the Fool wishes to obsess about it instead of just accepting her as a fact."

"We've never had a female in our midst," the Jester mused. "Maybe our brother is having an identity crisis. Maybe he secretly wants to be a woman and created this sister."

"Shut up," Cicero snapped. "I'm sick of your mouth."

The constant loneliness and darkness were getting to Cicero. It was blinding to go out for his hour to take care of Mother. He felt like a mole poking its head up to the sun when walking the dim candlelit halls of Sanctuary. Thankfully, he had learned his duties by heart years ago and didn't need much light to do his job.

Elaninde had to be back soon. It had been six or maybe seven days since she had left for her shopping spree in Solitude. No doubt she was having the time of her life shopping at the Radiant Raiment having Taarie and Endarie fuss over her.

Cicero wished he could pass the time by sleeping, but he never could sleep well especially when it was so damn quiet. Back in Cheydinhal he passed the time with dozens of different projects – writing in his journal, writing songs, making new dances, painting, sewing, cleaning, but all of those needed light and that had been denied to him. It was even harder to try to rest with the voices in his head arguing. The Jester was being particularly obnoxious.

Cicero was so wound up that he almost fell out of his bed when the scratching on the door signaled the sister's return. Before he could call out, the door opened and a slim figure slipped into the room. Soft footsteps scurried across the floor and a weight settled next to Cicero on the mattress.

"I'm back," she whispered against his ear. Cicero could feel the cloth of her cowl instead of her lips tonight. He had to suppress a groan as she pressed the length of her body against his. It had been a long time since Cicero had been with anyone and this sister was so warm and soft.

Even in the dark, Cicero would tell the sister was about the same height as he. Her form was over all slim, but her hips were wider than one would expect. Cicero pulled away her cowl to feel long hair braided into a crown that circled her head. He quickly pulled off his gloves so he could run his fingers over her face.

"What are you doing?" she whispered amused.

"Trying to see your face with my hands," Cicero chuckled.

"Oh," she said quietly.

They both turned at the same time causing their lips to brush together. Cicero felt like he had been hit with a lightning spell from the jolt that ran through his body from that simple contact. He instinctively pressed harder against her enjoying the taste of her lips. There was a hint of snowberries that she must have eaten earlier. Cicero thought she would pull away and was pleasantly surprised when she didn't. Instead she leaned into the kiss and even nipped his lower lip playfully.

"This is new and interesting," the Jester mused.

"Shut up," Cicero thought back. "I'm busy."

When they pulled apart, Cicero sighed happily. He rarely made physical contact with anyone and had almost forgotten what it felt like. He used to pamper and oil the Listener before she had turned cold to him and before that there had only been Mother.

"Hecate," she whispered. "My name is Hecate."

"Hecate," Cicero repeated. He giggled at how right that name felt. He leaned forward to kiss Hecate again when the door to his room flew open.

Bright light flooded the room as several balls of magelight erupted into being. Cicero cried out from the sudden change. His eyes watered from the piercing light.

"What do we have here?" Elaninde purred evilly as she entered the room. Her blood red hair flowed down her back over the new expensive clothes she was wearing. "It looks like the Keeper is being naughty and while on punishment. Arnbjorn, my dear, I do believe I made a promise to you last time regarding Cicero's discipline."

"You did," Arnbjorn growled. The large Nord threw himself towards the couple on the bed. They managed to scramble away before his huge body slammed into the frame causing it to crack. Cicero didn't try to retreat and Arnbjorn grabbed the much smaller Imperial by the neck.

Within seconds, Cicero saw stars as his vision darkened. He hoped if he passed out Arnbjorn would release him. It would be more inconvenient for Elaninde to have to try to train a new Keeper, right? Cicero had survived by appearing weak and helpless in the past, but Arnbjorn had a personal grudge against him and had ignored the Tenets for years making it all too possible for him to kill the Keeper now.

"Leave him alone!" Hecate screamed. She slammed her fists into Arnbjorn's side. One particularly wild swing slammed into the Nord's face causing him to howl in anger.

Arnbjorn casually threw Cicero to the side as he turned towards the other Imperial. There was no fear in Hecate's eyes as he advanced, even after Arnbjorn began his terrible werewolf transformation. Skin and nail were rent into fur and fang with sickening tearing, but Hecate did not flee or beg. She kept her brawler's stance and backed away slowly.

Elaninde's cruel laughter filled the room as Hecate backed away from the raging werewolf. Cicero was still sprawled on the ground trying to recover from Arnbjorn choking him. There was stars and darkness clouding his vision, but he clearly saw Arnbjorn, Hecate, Elaninde and the older Dunmer from many days ago still wearing his monk robes and Amulet of Mara. Elaninde paid the Dunmer no mind as she grabbed Hecate by her hair.

"Who do we have here?" the Listener asked amused. She pulled the mass of hair hard enough that it loosed into a braid that fell down Hecate's back. "A harlot for the Keeper? I thought he didn't care for such company."

Arnbjorn was in full werewolf mode and did not hesitate when Hecate was distracted by the Listener. He lunged forward and sunk his long, jagged fangs into her side. Hecate screamed in pain as blood gushed out of her side. Surely Arnbjorn had hit an artery for there to be so much blood. Hecate slumped to her knees. Her face was already too pale for Cicero's comfort.

"You always did seem happier to have a corpse to keep you company," Elaninde laughed. Arnbjorn howled his own form of laughter to join hers. "Why don't you stay here for three more days and get to know your friend a bit better? My gift to you, Keeper."

Hecate was in Cicero's arms even though he had not moved. He looked down at her face and saw the light fading from her eyes. A small trail of blood streaked down one side of her lips. She was quite dead despite the warm sticky blood pouring from her body. Cicero looked up at the Dunmer who was still quietly standing in the room. The Dark Elf's expression was one of sorrow even in the fading magelight.

"This is a nightmare!" Cicero screamed. "This is nightmare!"

 

Erandur looked down at the two Imperials who had ventured into Nightcaller Temple with him to try to help remove the influence of Vaermina, Daedric Lord of Nightmares. One was a young woman who looked in her twenties wearing leathers while the other was an older man in his fifties with red and silver hair wearing a jester's motley. He had been hesitant to bring them, but they had been very insistent on helping and no one else in Dawnstar seemed willing to try. They were prone on the ground and unconscious. Occasionally they twitched or whimpered reacting to some horrific scene in their minds.

"Your friends are surely doomed," Vaermina taunted. "There is no way they can resist my visions."

Erandur struggled against the psychic bonds Vaermina used to keep him hostage and forced him to watch his companions slowly die from the Daedric lord's psychological torture. She would take her time with them enjoying their suffering and making it last as long as their minds would hold. When she wearied or they could no longer find strength to resist, the two would die.

"I have faith in Mara that they will succeed," Erandur spat. "I will pray to my goddess and give my strength where I can."

"Your sad goddess has no power here," Vaermina said, "and I doubt she would want to help these two. Don't you know who your companions are?"

"No," Erandur admitted. "I only know they offered to help when no one else would."

"Fitting," Vaermina chuckled. "It's a shame I won't be able to claim them for the Quagmire, but their deaths will amuse me. You have thoughtfully brought me the Listener and Keeper of the Dark Brotherhood, Erandur, and their souls belong to Sithis when they die. Until that time, their misery will bring me great power. Excellent work, my old servant, excellent work indeed."

Chapter Text

This story makes more sense if you read "Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf" first, but it is not necessary.

Sequel to "The Dark Brotherhood Forever"

 

Cicero hit the ground with a sickening thud following the loud crack of being slapped by Elaninde, the High Elf Listener of the Dark Brotherhood.  Elaninde stood proudly over the prone figure of the Keeper, her expression disdainful and disapproving, but not quite a full frown or scowl. Elaninde never allowed such gross expressions to mar her exquisite features—and no Altmer ever presented anything but their best face in front of others.

"Cicero, my darling Keeper, do you wish to explain what this is?" the Listener said softly. She held a finely cut dress in one hand that used to be white but was now obviously slightly pink. Her manicured fingers ran over the cloth accusingly before throwing it in Cicero's face.

Behind Elaninde and to her right Arnbjorn stood smiling wolfishly. Ever since Elaninde saved the werewolf's life during the burning of Falkreath Sanctuary, he had become even more of a sheepdog to her than he ever had to Astrid, his dead wife. The Nord looked like he would burst into barking laughter any moment and if he had a tail he would no doubt be wagging it as he watched the Listener berate Cicero. Arnbjorn had hated the jester since had laid eyes on the man and he reveled any time Elaninde punished him which seemed to be quite frequent since coming to Dawnstar Sanctuary.

Cicero slowly pulled the dress off his face before slowly sitting up. A trickle of blood ran down his lip where Elaninde had struck him, but he didn't bother to wipe it away. Cicero made a show of looking critically at the dress, examining every inch of the thick material, before stating, "Why, it is a dress, my dear Listener! Lovely Elaninde's dress, no doubt!" He laughed as he impishly looked at Elaninde's face which was sliding dangerously to a frown.

Behind him, Cicero could hear someone gasp at his arrogant tone. No doubt the initiates were taking in this display. After all, Elaninde had struck him down in front of the Night Mother's coffin as Cicero was attending to his Keeping duties. Positioned near the front entrance, the sarcophagus was in view of heavy traffic of initiates coming in and out of Sanctuary.

"I know it's my dress!" Elaninde barked loudly as she kicked Cicero's wrist hard enough to make it go numb. Cicero allowed the dress to fall from his grasp, but he didn't cry out in pain. He glared defiantly making his own anger evident, but he refused to cry out which only maddened Elaninde further. "It was white and now it is this garish stained pink and I wish to know why."

"Hmm, very interesting question," Cicero murmured as he placed his good hand under his chin in false contemplation. The other wrist throbbed dully, but at least nothing felt broken. "Maybe silly Cicero accidentally put the Listener's dress in with his own laundry when he was cleaning. Oh yes, that was it! Industrious Cicero was saving time by doing two people's laundry at once and Cicero's motley colored Elaninde's dress. Oops," Cicero said before bursting into self-deprecating laughter.

"You fool!" Elaninde screamed her voice as shrill as a fox's. She made as if to hit Cicero further, but paused to glance at the Night Mother. Suddenly her demeanor was calm and collected as she ran her hands down her side, smoothing her clothes. "I'll simply have to go to Solitude and buy more clothes to replace the ones you ruined. In the meantime, you are banished to your room as punishment. You will remain there until I return." The Altmer flipped her blood red hair over one shoulder disdainfully as she turned to leave.

"But Cicero has his Keeping duties!" Cicero protested. He crawled on his knees to Elaninde and prostrated himself before her. "Please, Cicero must attend Mother!" The Keeper mentally raged at the indignities he'd had to suffer at the hands of this elf since the Listener was the only member of the Brotherhood who had authority above his. But Mother was everything, and he would do whatever it took to protect her—even if it meant demeaning himself before the rest of his family. Cicero rained kisses on Elaninde's feet wishing they were vicious bites instead.

"Oh, very well," Elaninde conceded. She smiled viciously at getting what she wanted, making Cicero beg. "I'll allow you one hour a day to attend to Mother while I'm gone. That should be more than enough time for you." She turned smartly and walked away, barely missing kicking Cicero in the face as she left, but only because he had dodged at the last minute. Arnbjorn followed like a pup on her heels, his eyes sparkling in amusement.

"You should have let me beat him for you," Arnbjorn offered.

"Next time," Elaninde said. They knew there would be a next time too. Elaninde keep piling ridiculous chores on Cicero despite knowing he would intentionally foul them up because it amused her to humiliate the Keeper who would never retaliate. He Kept the Tenets always which had caused the rift between Listener and Keeper.

When Elaninde had decided she wanted Arnbjorn for her own, despite the fact he was already married to Astrid, she had proceeded to claim him because she felt it was her right as a superior race. Cicero had warned her to stop as she was breaking the Fourth Tenet: Never steal from a brother or sister. Maybe he had been too specific in that Elaninde was betraying the vow between Arnbjorn and Astrid, but the spirit had remained. Elaninde had ignored Cicero's counsel and he told her in no uncertain terms that he would alert Astrid of what was going on behind her back. Elaninde had merely laughed forcing Cicero to take action.

Astrid's devastation at the betrayal had led her to make her foolish deal with Commander Maro, which in turn had led to the destruction of Falkreath Sanctuary. With their home in ruins, Elaninde had led the survivors to Dawnstar after discovering its existence from Cicero.

As the Listener and her hound walked away, Cicero stayed on his hands and knees struggling to force his face to go from deadly frown to foolish laughter. He tried a few chuckles until they sounded natural enough to himself before standing. The jester smiled broadly at his siblings who were still standing around gawking. He laughed and danced a jig among them before bounding down the hall to the floor below where the bedrooms were.

None of the siblings would look at Cicero as he passed. All of them were too ashamed and most wore their cowl masks to hide their faces. Only one brother, an older Dunmer wearing robes of Mara, met Cicero's gaze. For one brief second, Cicero thought that seemed off for an assassin to be dressed as a follower of Mara, but the moment passed and Cicero forgot he had even noticed the dark elf.

As soon as he was out of sight of the rest, Cicero stopped his act and slumped against the cold stone wall. He clenched his fist and slammed it into the wall, wincing from the pain. He slowly continued his path to his room. Elaninde had said he had to go, but she had neglected to mention how quickly. Unfortunately, no matter how slowly Cicero walked, he was at the door of his room within moments.

The Keeper pushed the door open, entered, and then locked it behind him. No candles were lit and none would be. Elaninde had established early on that Cicero was to have no light and he could not leave until she gave permission. Even leaving to use the privy was not allowed which had caused severe discomfort and an unsavory mess the first time, but Cicero had quickly made sure to keep a chamber pot in his room afterwards.

Elaninde had originally not even allowed Cicero to leave his room to attend the Night Mother, but those times had been for overnight or two or three days at the most. No doubt she planned on making her trip to Solitude last and would be gone closer to a week, which was why she had granted Cicero permission to leave his room for an hour to attend to the  Night Mother. That would be pushing the Keeper's limits of obedience, for his loyalty was to the Night Mother first and always. They both knew the only thing keeping Cicero locked away in solitude in his room was Cicero.

"Why do we stay here, brother?" the Jester whispered in his mind. "Why do we allow that bitch to punish us for not being her scullery maid instead of the Keeper? We could leave at any moment."

"She is this Listener," the Keeper responded. "She bears Sithis' favor and we must obey. The Tenets…"

"Damn the Tenets!" the Jester rallied. "Looks where they have gotten us!"

"Never question the Tenets, my friend," the Keeper hissed, outraged at his other half's audacity. "We are nothing without the Tenets."

Cicero lay on his bed with his arms crossed behind his head and his feet crossed at the ankles. He flinched at the war in his head, both sides wanting opposite things in the first time ever. The Jester wanted to rebel and make the Listener suffer for her arrogance, while the Keeper merely wished to serve and obey. The Assassin had long ago curled up and gone to sleep, probably to never be heard from again.

Terror was building in his chest. The memories of long years of loneliness and darkness were crowding in his mind again, mewling to be released, its bitter flavor tasted once again. Cicero tried to push the fear and pain away, but it was impossible. At least before he had Mother, but now there was only Cicero in the dark, alone, alone, alone.

Gods, this was why Elaninde delighted in this punishment. Cicero suspected she was trying to break him, but why he still was not certain. Amusement, maybe? Plain cruelty? Revenge for telling Astrid? Cicero served faithfully and still Elaninde found every reason to banish him to be alone in the dark.

The cruel irony was almost too much. Cicero had suffered in Cheydinhal because there had been no one else. Now he was surrounded by family again and still he was alone, forever alone. Tears, screams, sobs threatened to burst out of his chest and fill the room. Anything to kill the silence. But Cicero wouldn't allow that; he would never allow that. Instead, he forced himself to chuckle, to laugh, to keep away the terrible, maddening silence and darkness. A part of him knew the others must pass by and hear the desperate laughter, but it was acceptable that they wonder at that instead of pitying him for his screams.

Maybe he would go completely mad again. Lose the years like he did before when he had been reborn. He could float in the Void lost, lost, lost and he wouldn't care as long as he took care of Mother. There was a certain joy in that thought.

Hours passed with Cicero lying on his bed laughing, laughing, laughing. Evening passed into night which passed into the quiet hours between midnight and morning when only assassins walked Tamriel. A soft scratching at the door grabbed his attention immediately. "Who's there?" Cicero barked. He jumped to his feet immediately reaching for his dagger.

"A sister," came the soft reply. A pause. "Why were you locked away this time?"

"Don't you know?" Cicero said bitterly. "Everyone was there to see how poorly Cicero does laundry." He walked over to the door and knelt before it.

"I was out."

"Why are you here now?" Cicero asked suspiciously. The Listener had never explicitly said he was not to talk to anyone, but that had been implied with his banishment.

"I wanted to check on you," she said. The sister's voice was low and pleasant, almost hesitant in a virginal way. "I heard you laughing and it worried me. I hate how she treats you."

"Are you real?" Cicero blurted out. He hit himself on the side of the head for his foolishness.

"Last time I checked," she laughed softly. Cicero would easily imagine this sister daintily putting her hand in front of her mouth as she laughed. He smiled at the image.

"What's your name?" Cicero asked feeling shy.

There was a pause for the longest time and Cicero wondered if she had left. Then he heard the creak of the wood as the sister leaned against the door. They were only inches apart, but still worlds away. "I shouldn't tell you. What if she found out I had talked to you? She might get angry. I don't want her to punish you because of me."

"Fear not, Cicero will be punished because of Cicero," he laughed. "Please tell me your name so I know you're real and not my imagination."

"I cannot. She scares me. I'm not scared of anything and she terrifies me," the sister said. "I'm sorry."

Cicero could hear her stand and begin to leave. "Please come back?" he asked, feeling that he was hoping for too much.

Once again the long, terrible silence. "Okay, tomorrow night around the same time." Then soft pads as she walked away.

Cicero leaned against the door, a huge goofy grin on his face. He laughed, but this time it was of joy. A friend! A sister to help push away the silence. A secret just for Cicero!

"A friend like I was so long ago, brother?" the Jester asked cruelly.

"She said she was real!" Cicero protested.

"Just like me!" There should have been laughter to taunt poor Cicero, but there was only silence now because he had become the Laughter years ago and could no longer hear it. Cicero pressed his hands against his ears to block out the quiet and curled up on his side to wait the long hours until daylight when he could be by his Mother's side if only for a short time.

 

The days passed slowly and without much change. Cicero would wait in his room until he could spend one miserly hour with his Mother. Time that flew much too quickly. Then he would return to the darkness of his room to wait for the sister to arrive in the dead of night and speak a few minutes with him.

Every night he would ask her name and every night she refused. Cicero was getting more and more frantic with needing to know.

"Just make up a name and we'll pretend that it is mine," she offered one night. Cicero thought it was the fifth night he had been locked in his room, but he wasn't sure. He had developed a fine sense of time after living below ground in Cheydinhal, but the days still slipped by unaccounted.

"That's no good," Cicero scolded. He pressed harder against the door hoping if he got close enough somehow he would know anything or everything there was about this sister who visited him when no one else dared look at him. "Cicero's mind could be making it up. You must tell him something he wouldn't know on his own." He waited for her reply. She was always so hesitant to commit to anything he asked.

"Open the door," she suggested. "You could see me."

"Cicero cannot. It is not allowed," he replied cursing himself for his obedience. So many problems could be solved if he just opened the damn door. If only if he could forsake the Old Ways and abandon everything he had sacrificed for time and time again.

"Step back." Cicero moved away, but he could still hear the soft rattle of a lock being picked. The door swung open and Cicero would make out a feminine silhouette slip into the room before the door closed swiftly behind. Soft lips pressed against his ear and warm breath brushed against his hair as the sister whispered, "Is that better?"

"Oh yes," Cicero sighed giddy with relief. "Much, much better." He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled the sister tight. She squeaked from the pressure, but Cicero didn't let up. He was enjoying how soft she felt under her leathers and how pleasantly she smelled.

"I should go," she whispered, "I've stayed too long."

"Too soon," Cicero said.

"I'm sorry," the sister said before she wiggled loose. The door opened to the dark hallway and only her shadow could be seen before she was gone.

 

"She still could be our imagination," the Jester suggested.

"We felt her, smelled her, we even saw her," Cicero protested.

"Maybe we thought we did," the Jester countered. "She still doesn't have a name or a face. We easily could have recalled what a woman felt like from before. You do remember what a warm and willing woman felt like, don't you dear brother?"

"Are we planning on stabbing someone?" the Assassin asked sleepily.

"No! Go back to sleep. There's no killing here," the Jester scowled. "We never kill any more, remember? It's not allooooowed."

"Okay," the Assassin yawned before rolling back over in his rest.

"What does any of this have to do with Mother?" the Keeper growled. "We are worrying about some sibling who may or may not be real because the Fool wishes to obsess about it instead of just accepting her as a fact."

"We've never had a female in our midst," the Jester mused. "Maybe our brother is having an identity crisis. Maybe he secretly wants to be a woman and created this sister."

"Shut up," Cicero snapped. "I'm sick of your mouth."

The constant loneliness and darkness were getting to Cicero. It was blinding to go out for his hour to take care of Mother. He felt like a mole poking its head up to the sun when walking the dim candlelit halls of Sanctuary. Thankfully, he had learned his duties by heart years ago and didn't need much light to do his job.

Elaninde had to be back soon. It had been six or maybe seven days since she had left for her shopping spree in Solitude. No doubt she was having the time of her life shopping at the Radiant Raiment having Taarie and Endarie fuss over her.

Cicero wished he could pass the time by sleeping, but he never could sleep well especially when it was so damn quiet. Back in Cheydinhal he passed the time with dozens of different projects – writing in his journal, writing songs, making new dances, painting, sewing, cleaning, but all of those needed light and that had been denied to him. It was even harder to try to rest with the voices in his head arguing. The Jester was being particularly obnoxious.

Cicero was so wound up that he almost fell out of his bed when the scratching on the door signaled the sister's return. Before he could call out, the door opened and a slim figure slipped into the room. Soft footsteps scurried across the floor and a weight settled next to Cicero on the mattress.

"I'm back," she whispered against his ear. Cicero could feel the cloth of her cowl instead of her lips tonight. He had to suppress a groan as she pressed the length of her body against his. It had been a long time since Cicero had been with anyone and this sister was so warm and soft.

Even in the dark, Cicero would tell the sister was about the same height as he. Her form was over all slim, but her hips were wider than one would expect. Cicero pulled away her cowl to feel long hair braided into a crown that circled her head. He quickly pulled off his gloves so he could run his fingers over her face.

"What are you doing?" she whispered amused.

"Trying to see your face with my hands," Cicero chuckled.

"Oh," she said quietly.

They both turned at the same time causing their lips to brush together. Cicero felt like he had been hit with a lightning spell from the jolt that ran through his body from that simple contact. He instinctively pressed harder against her enjoying the taste of her lips. There was a hint of snowberries that she must have eaten earlier. Cicero thought she would pull away and was pleasantly surprised when she didn't. Instead she leaned into the kiss and even nipped his lower lip playfully.

"This is new and interesting," the Jester mused.

"Shut up," Cicero thought back. "I'm busy."

When they pulled apart, Cicero sighed happily. He rarely made physical contact with anyone and had almost forgotten what it felt like. He used to pamper and oil the Listener before she had turned cold to him and before that there had only been Mother.

"Hecate," she whispered. "My name is Hecate."

"Hecate," Cicero repeated. He giggled at how right that name felt. He leaned forward to kiss Hecate again when the door to his room flew open.

Bright light flooded the room as several balls of magelight erupted into being. Cicero cried out from the sudden change. His eyes watered from the piercing light.

"What do we have here?" Elaninde purred evilly as she entered the room. Her blood red hair flowed down her back over the new expensive clothes she was wearing. "It looks like the Keeper is being naughty and while on punishment. Arnbjorn, my dear, I do believe I made a promise to you last time regarding Cicero's discipline."

"You did," Arnbjorn growled. The large Nord threw himself towards the couple on the bed. They managed to scramble away before his huge body slammed into the frame causing it to crack. Cicero didn't try to retreat and Arnbjorn grabbed the much smaller Imperial by the neck.

Within seconds, Cicero saw stars as his vision darkened. He hoped if he passed out Arnbjorn would release him. It would be more inconvenient for Elaninde to have to try to train a new Keeper, right? Cicero had survived by appearing weak and helpless in the past, but Arnbjorn had a personal grudge against him and had ignored the Tenets for years making it all too possible for him to kill the Keeper now.

"Leave him alone!" Hecate screamed. She slammed her fists into Arnbjorn's side. One particularly wild swing slammed into the Nord's face causing him to howl in anger.

Arnbjorn casually threw Cicero to the side as he turned towards the other Imperial. There was no fear in Hecate's eyes as he advanced, even after Arnbjorn began his terrible werewolf transformation. Skin and nail were rent into fur and fang with sickening tearing, but Hecate did not flee or beg. She kept her brawler's stance and backed away slowly.

Elaninde's cruel laughter filled the room as Hecate backed away from the raging werewolf. Cicero was still sprawled on the ground trying to recover from Arnbjorn choking him. There was stars and darkness clouding his vision, but he clearly saw Arnbjorn, Hecate, Elaninde and the older Dunmer from many days ago still wearing his monk robes and Amulet of Mara. Elaninde paid the Dunmer no mind as she grabbed Hecate by her hair.

"Who do we have here?" the Listener asked amused. She pulled the mass of hair hard enough that it loosed into a braid that fell down Hecate's back. "A harlot for the Keeper? I thought he didn't care for such company."

Arnbjorn was in full werewolf mode and did not hesitate when Hecate was distracted by the Listener. He lunged forward and sunk his long, jagged fangs into her side. Hecate screamed in pain as blood gushed out of her side. Surely Arnbjorn had hit an artery for there to be so much blood. Hecate slumped to her knees. Her face was already too pale for Cicero's comfort.

"You always did seem happier to have a corpse to keep you company," Elaninde laughed. Arnbjorn howled his own form of laughter to join hers. "Why don't you stay here for three more days and get to know your friend a bit better? My gift to you, Keeper."

Hecate was in Cicero's arms even though he had not moved. He looked down at her face and saw the light fading from her eyes. A small trail of blood streaked down one side of her lips. She was quite dead despite the warm sticky blood pouring from her body. Cicero looked up at the Dunmer who was still quietly standing in the room. The Dark Elf's expression was one of sorrow even in the fading magelight.

"This is a nightmare!" Cicero screamed. "This is nightmare!"

 

Erandur looked down at the two Imperials who had ventured into Nightcaller Temple with him to try to help remove the influence of Vaermina, Daedric Lord of Nightmares. One was a young woman who looked in her twenties wearing leathers while the other was an older man in his fifties with red and silver hair wearing a jester's motley. He had been hesitant to bring them, but they had been very insistent on helping and no one else in Dawnstar seemed willing to try. They were prone on the ground and unconscious. Occasionally they twitched or whimpered reacting to some horrific scene in their minds.

"Your friends are surely doomed," Vaermina taunted. "There is no way they can resist my visions."

Erandur struggled against the psychic bonds Vaermina used to keep him hostage and forced him to watch his companions slowly die from the Daedric lord's psychological torture. She would take her time with them enjoying their suffering and making it last as long as their minds would hold. When she wearied or they could no longer find strength to resist, the two would die.

"I have faith in Mara that they will succeed," Erandur spat. "I will pray to my goddess and give my strength where I can."

"Your sad goddess has no power here," Vaermina said, "and I doubt she would want to help these two. Don't you know who your companions are?"

"No," Erandur admitted. "I only know they offered to help when no one else would."

"Fitting," Vaermina chuckled. "It's a shame I won't be able to claim them for the Quagmire, but their deaths will amuse me. You have thoughtfully brought me the Listener and Keeper of the Dark Brotherhood, Erandur, and their souls belong to Sithis when they die. Until that time, their misery will bring me great power. Excellent work, my old servant, excellent work indeed."

Chapter Text

"Loneliness is this one's primary fear," Vaermina said, returning her attention to the jester. Cicero whimpered in his sleep. Frown lines creased his face as his head jerked back and forth. "His previous dream focused on echoes of the memory of being alone with the Night Mother in Cyrodiil, but the presence of others made it tolerable for he was not truly alone. Why don't we take a trip down memory lane and return the Night Mother's Keeper to those memories?"

 

It was exactly sixty-two steps from the Black Door to the middle of the main room where the Night Mother's coffin resided in Cheydinhal Sanctuary. The shrine always held exactly five nightshade flowers; one for each child sired by and sacrificed to the Dread Lord Sithis. There were always thirteen candles lit and surrounding the stone resting place as per the Keeping tomes. Whenever a stub grew short, Cicero would quickly light a new candle from its successor before replacing it.

Originally Rasha had ordered that the Night Mother's coffin to be stored in an old room that once belonged to a vampire brother during the end of the previous Era, but Cicero had dragged her up to the main room after Garnag disappeared. It had seemed criminal to leave Mother all alone in the dark, almost forgotten room. Granted it was a fine room if a sibling desired privacy instead of sharing the common sleeping room with at least a handful of other siblings, but Mother had no such needs. She was dead after all!

Cicero felt it was important that the first thing the Listener saw coming into Sanctuary was their beloved Mother. Dark and terrible, she should be the first thing every sibling saw returning to Sanctuary! What mother didn't wait patiently for her children to return home and tell her of their adventures?

"Every child sees Mother, since loyal, dedicated Cicero sees her first every single day and there is no one else!" he exclaimed with loud, jagged laughter. There were large, dark circles under the redhead's eyes. Cicero didn't sleep much anymore and most waking moments were dedicated to making sure Mother's shrine was immaculate. The floor had to be scrubbed almost daily, the coffin wiped down, Mother's body checked for filthy, filthy bugs and spiders. And always the flowers and candles must be refreshed. No piles of melted wax or wilted petals for his Lady!

Cicero tsked to himself as he walked around the coffin confirming that it was clean and the accruements didn't need replacing. When he finished in front of the Night Mother's coffin, the Keeper bowed deeply before turning to his left to walk towards the training room.  With his duty currently satisfied, Cicero would allow himself a few moments for his own pursuits.

It was exactly thirty-nine steps to the training room. Cicero pulled the door open and stepped in. Only a few candles dimly lit this room. Cicero intentionally kept the light down to better house the illusion he had created here. Straw dummies had been pulled down from their perches on the wall and were arranged in various poses throughout the room. Cicero had borrowed—for he would never, ever steal from his beloved family—clothes from abandoned chests and used them to outfit the dummies.

"How are you today, dear sister?" Cicero giggled as he slid onto the bench holding the dummy dressed in lovely Sabrinda's clothes. "Cicero hasn't seen you in quite some time."

"Oh, I've been out on contract," he answered using a falsetto for the fake Sabrinda's voice. "It was so much fun to go out and kill people for our Mother. It's a shame you cannot go too, dear brother."

Cicero frowned. "You don't have to be such a showoff," he hissed. He jerked his head away angrily. "It's not Cicero's fault that his blade must be retired. Mother must have a Keeper and although loyal Cicero did not ask for such an honor, it is still his burden to no longer take souls for Father."

"Aw, don't pout, brother," Sabrinda-dummy cajoled. "I was only teasing. You know how much I love to tease you."

"I remember," Cicero smiled at the memories of stolen kisses and heavy panting while hiding in hallways together. Sabrinda had been a horrible tease, but she had also liked to share her favors with Cicero when the mood struck her. He slid his arm around the dummy, but not even pretending was enough to forget the dummy was stiff and full of straw instead of soft, warm, and full of hot pumping blood. Cicero's smile melted into a deep frown as he pushed the dummy off the bench. This game was stupid anyway.

The Imperial stalked around the training room and gazed over the various dummies decorating the room. One wore shrouded robes similar to the Keeping robes Cicero wore that used to belong to Pontius before a bandit killed him. It was posed with a bow pointing towards a target full of arrows carefully arranged in a pattern. Another was wearing poor, dear Andronica's leathers and was posed with one arm high above its head while the other arm was defensively positioned low; both were armed with punching daggers. Cicero had managed to find some flax and weave it into a fair wig with a braid that fell down the back. There was one who had been painted green and wore a black silken eye patch to emulate loyal brother Garnag.

"Where are you, brother?" Cicero lamented. Garnag had left for food months and months ago and never returned. Not a peep or whisper of his most loyal brother. The not knowing was almost more maddening than mourning his death. Had Garnag deserted the Brotherhood? Had the orc deserted poor Cicero?

Food, food, Cicero should get some food.

The Keeper turned to leave the training room and its strange occupants, but the accusing stare of Sabrinda-dummy burned into Cicero's back. "Are you really going to just leave me here like this on the floor, dearest brother?" her face asked. "Would you really treat me so poorly?"

"Cicero is sorry that he lost his temper," Cicero muttered as he picked up the figure and dusted her off before replacing her on the bench. "It's just been so hard on me, you know. The loneliness hurts more than any dagger."

"I understand, brother," Sabrinda-dummy whispered in Cicero's ear. "I'm lonely too. I have lost my twin Synniu." Sabrinda and Synniu had been identical twins and virtually impossible to tell apart. Cicero had always been able to tell when no one else could reliably. Sabrinda had been the only one he had a physical relationship, but there had always been the secret hope she would suggest or invite her lovely other half.

It had seemed foolish to make a dummy for Synniu for it would only look exactly like Sabrinda. Cicero had loved her as he had loved all of his family, but they hadn't been particularly close despite his relationship with her twin. Maybe even because of it. Cicero knew some people got oddly attached and possessive of their significant others. At least he knew he would never be so foolish to obsess that way.

Still, if Sabrinda was lonely for her other half it would be Cicero's duty to get her back. They had been two peas in a pod and deserved to be together in death as they had in life. Yes, yes, Cicero would get some of Synnui's clothes and make her for her sister so they could be together again! Maybe he could style her hair slightly different so he'd feel a little better about making the dummy. It was just so humdrum to make the exact same thing.

But first Cicero should get food. Sometimes he forgot to eat as the days got away from him. The only way to tell time was from the entrance that led through the well, when weak sunlight fell through the rotten planks that covered the exit. Cicero hadn't been to the surface in months and months. Not since Garnag disappeared. Surely he hadn't fled, no, no, no not loyal brother Garnag! Most loyal brother of all! Other than sweet Cicero, of course. Ha, ha, ha!

It was exactly thirty-nine steps back to Mother and to check on her again. Nothing had progressed enough to be replaced to Cicero's critical eye. He bowed to the Unholy Matron again. "Just shout out if you need me, Mother!" he howled with laughter.

It was then ten steps to the hallway that held Rasha's old room and five more steps took Cicero to that place. He looked into the room and grinned evilly at the thing pinned to the wall. Rasha's corpse, minus eyes that had been gouged out a long time ago, was firmly affixed to the wall. The arms, legs, and tail were symmetrically arranged similar to a star formation.

Although the cat had been dead for at least two years, three years maybe, his body was still perfectly preserved. Cicero had taken great pains to carefully stuff the body with herbs similar to those used for the Night Mother. Not exactly the same, mind you! Rasha didn't deserve that particular honor, oh no! But he would serve as a useful reminder for those who thought to deceive and lie to their family or to disrespect the Night Mother with their filthy, filthy lies.

"Ha, ha, ha."

Cicero whipped around searching for the source of the laughter. The jester was back! "Where are you?" he barked.

"He, he, he," was the only response.

That damn laughter! It was the only thing that broke the silence poor Cicero must suffer through. The maddening silence or the infuriating laughter. Really it was too much to bear.

Cicero stalked the fifteen steps to the end of the hall, hooked left, went down the seven steps of stairs, and then ten more steps to the old vampire's lair. The room was mostly bare for it had been cleaned out when Mother had been given residence here. Rasha had deemed it proper for Mother to be away from the corruption of the remaining family members, but now there was no one but Cicero and the laughter and even Cicero knew that laughter was contagious but not really harmful in the slightest.

The Imperial went the four steps into the room to the secret floor panel. He pulled it loose and looked into the dark, dank tunnel that was underneath. It led back into Rasha's room and must have originally been included as a backdoor for escape in case of treachery. The tunnel also opened up to the sewers which Cicero didn't think was part of the original design, but had proven useful for him.

Inside the tunnel were about a half dozen dead bodies. The top body was an older Dunmer male wearing the priestly robes of Mara. His face was one of horror and half rotted above his slit throat, but it didn't stop a large skeever from chewing on him hungrily. Cicero grinned as he flicked out his blade and threw it unerringly into the back of the large rodent. The pest died with a sharp cry that was music to Cicero's ears as it fell on its side.

Cicero leaned down and pulled the rat out of the tunnel. He expertly skinned the creature and threw the parts he would not use back into the tunnel since it was such an efficient trash disposal chute. He whistled as he worked, but the tune sounded off. Cicero would have to practice his singing later. Meanwhile, he would cook and cure the rodent meat. With the moss and mushrooms that grew underground in the dark, the Imperial would eat. Maybe not well, but he would eat.

Cicero thought about the bodies in the tunnel. They had accumulated from people he had found either squatting in or investigating the abandoned house that stood above Cheydinhal Sanctuary. He would hear them sometimes moving around upstairs and it was his responsibility to bring them to Mother. Cicero remembered reading in a book about how the very first Listener had heard Mother's words as he was walking by an abandoned house. How appropriate it would be if the same were to happen again!

So anytime someone would be found, Cicero would take them to Mother. He would try to explain about the Dark Brotherhood to the strangers, but often they were too busy babbling or crying and not listen to Cicero in the slightest. He hoped they would Listen to Mother, but time and time again they failed. The ones who told the truth died quickly like the Dunmer. Those who lied got to share Rasha's fate for a time. Dirty, filthy liars!

Sometimes Cicero was lucky and the strangers had bread and cheese on them. Even more rarely real vegetables like cabbage or potatoes. Cicero always tried to make that last as long as possible since he never knew when he would get more again, but he couldn't store them for too long before they went bad. He remembered one time he forgot about a cache of food and when he found it, it had been covered in mold. He had wept bitter tears as he painstakingly scraped off the inedible parts and quickly chewed and swallowed the tough remains instead of simply throwing the waste out.

Once the meat had been cleaned and cut into manageable portions, Cicero took it back to the sleeping room. There was a table there and he could dry and cook the food there. After that particular chore was done, he cleaned up the blood, oh precious, hot blood, and changed out of his Keeper's robes.

"Ho, ho, ho." That laughter again! The jester, Cicero's only friend and nemesis, was back. "Are you going to wear it?" the laughter asked tauntingly. "You should. It suits you."

Cicero looked over at the mannequin that stood in the corner of the sleeping area next to his bed. It was dressed in the motley that had belonged to the Jester, Cicero's last contract. Wearing only his loincloth, Cicero ran his hands over the soft velvet. It was strange how such fragile cloth could feel so comforting. The fabric felt warm and almost alive under Cicero's touch. The Imperial found it hard to breathe as he ran his hands lovingly over the cloth.

Maybe, just maybe, if he wore it then he could tumble and dance for Mother making her laugh just once. Then she would take her gift of laughter back and speak for poor, sweet Cicero. He would become the Listener and save the Brotherhood. Yes, oh yes, please Mother speak just once for your Keeper. Your loyal, loving, listening Keeper!

Cicero's head jerked up suddenly as he heard the sound of a foot scrapping on the stone floor above. Another intruder? How long had it been since the last one? The Dunmer had not looked that decayed; at least Cicero didn't think so.

No time to pull on his leather armor and his Keeper's robes were too filthy. Cicero quickly pulled on the jester's motley. It felt both strange and right on his skin. If this potential Listener failed like the others, then surely Cicero's plan to make Mother laugh would work. Yes, yes, yes!

The Keeper quickly and quietly made his way to the Black Door and to the tunnel below the abandoned house.  His eyes narrowed as he saw a shadow of someone dance on the walls and then pull away. Whoever the shadow belonged to was trying to leave, but clever Cicero wouldn't allow that! He hastened his stride to catch the stranger, but caught only the glimpse of a foot leaving.

"Come back," he muttered darkly, "we have so very much to discuss, you, Mother, and I."

No matter how quickly Cicero walked and then ran, he couldn't catch up with the retreating figure. He would catch a glimpse of a small hand, booted foot, or even a black braid of hair, but never could he clearly see the person he was following.

Finally, Cicero found himself standing before the door of the abandoned house that led outside to the real world. The world that was not home, Sanctuary, or Mother. Cicero suddenly found that he was shaking all over in terror. It had been so long since he actually left Sanctuary. Not since he had officially became the Keeper, and that had been three or four years ago.

If it was finally the Listener, Cicero had to go! There was no one else. Only loyal, patient, faithful Cicero!
The Keeper nodded and opened the door. The light was blinding but Cicero still stepped out to Cheydinhal determined to find the person who had entered the building above Sanctuary. He blinked, slowly adjusting to the noonday light.

Why was it so quiet? There should have been numerous people walking around doing chores, running errands, or even talking about nothing with friends and neighbors. It was the middle of the day! It was always busy to some degree in the bright hours of daylight.

Instead there was nothing. No one was to be seen as far as Cicero could see. He looked left and saw nothing. He looked right and saw nothing. He opened his ears as wide as he could and heard nothing, nothing, nothing! Not even the mocking laughter of his friend the Jester.

No people, no horses, no cats, no dogs, no birds. Nothing! There was nothing.

Cicero ran through the streets. "Hello? Anyone? Is anyone there? Please! Please! Please!"

Everyone was gone. At some point while Cicero was hiding away from the world, everyone was gone.

"Someone answer me, for Sithis's sake!" Cicero screamed.

The only answer was silence.

 

"Someone answer me, for Sithis's sake!" Cicero screamed. Tears ran down the weeping man's face as his arms flailed helplessly. One gloved hand fell against Hecate's hand and Cicero squeezed it like a drowning man squeezed a floating piece of driftwood. The Imperial immediately calmed as he held onto the woman's hand and she squeezed back.

Erandur could feel Vaermina's disapproval. "Their bond is strong, but not stronger than I," she bragged. "The next dream will tear them apart and then I will finally feast on their souls before they flee to Sithis for his final judgment."

Chapter Text

Our Hero, our Hero, claims a warrior's heart
I tell you, I tell you, the Dragonborn comes
With a Voice wielding power of the ancient Nord art
Believe, believe, the Dragonborn comes

"There is one they fear. In their tongue, he is Dovahkiin, Dragonborn!"

There never could have been any doubt that the Dragonborn would be an Imperial. Talos may have been born a Nord, but he was best known as Tiber Septim, the father of the Empire. He was commonly considered the best Emperor of all time and it was his descendant Martin Septim who ended the Oblivion crisis by becoming a dragon. Truly only one of the Imperial line could bear the prestige of a dragon's soul like might Talos himself!

For one to be a Voice Master, then they must train with the Greybeards, but before that honor was given, the Dragonborn trained as a bard in the Bard's College in lonely Solitude. There he refined his voice to one that made women swoon and men weep.

The one of prophecy was the master bard Cicero – supreme singer, expert guitarist, and light footed dancer. In addition to his titles of bard and Dragonborn, Cicero also had a darker destiny. He was the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood, the one who heard the words of the Night Mother, a dark entity who answered the prayers of the petitioners of the Black Sacrament.

Cicero stood enjoying the feel of the wind blowing back his long, red hair as he watched the sun set into the ocean east of Solitude. One foot was rested on the skeletal remains of a dragon that had been foolish enough to attack him and his companion as they traveled to return to Dawnstar Sanctuary. The rush of absorbing the dragon soul never got tired and he felt elated and undefeatable. Nothing could ruin this moment.

Unless his companion started talking.

"Ooooh, Listener! You were so strong and powerful!" the little, lithe figure in the jester's outfit bounced around like a hyper puppy just fed two pounds of sugar and given a new rubber ball for playing. Her black hair was in two fat braids that bounced up and down as she jumped, tumbled, and skipped next to her beloved leader. "You stabbed, stabbed, and stabbed that nasty dragon so very much. Hecate is so jealous of her mighty Listener."

Before he could stop her, Hecate launched herself into Cicero's arm and wrapped her legs around his waist. Cicero grunted, but he managed to keep his footing as the jester wiggled in his arms. Sometimes he wondered why he had spared the Imperial woman's life after she tried to kill Astrid, like right now when she was being much too exuberant. He couldn't help but laugh as Hecate rained fat, sloppy kisses all over his face.

"Behave you," he said sternly as he detached the insane Keeper's grasp and placed her on the ground.
"As you wish, my Listener!" she chirped, not bothered in the slightest by Cicero's rebuff. "Is there anything else? I'm always eager!" Her mad eyes twinkled mischievously at her not so subtle innuendo. Especially since she was rubbing her form against Cicero rather vigorously.

"Um, no, that's all for now! We should keep on heading home or we won't make it back before dark," Cicero stammered as his face flushed red. It seemed like Hecate was always trying to get him to sleep with her. He picked up his lute and rapidly headed east towards Sanctuary.

"Hecate doesn't mind if it gets dark and she must share a bedroll with her sweet Listener," the Keeper yelled as she ran after the Dragonborn. "Hecate promises to keep her Listener warm all night long! Ha, ha, ha!"

Cicero sighed. Sometimes he wished….

 

XXXXX

"What in Oblivion?" Vaermina swore.

The sleeping form of Hecate had started laughing out loud in what could only be described as unadulterated joy. There was no mania or fear from the vision of the nightmare he had given her. She seemed to be honestly amused by the scenario of her being the mad fool instead of the gifted child of destiny.

"I don't understand," the Daedra prince muttered. "What kind of maniac would want to be insane?"

"It seems you underestimated your victims," Erandur smirked. He didn't quite dare to laugh in the Daedra Lord's face, he had spent too many years terrified of the entity, but the Dark Elf was amused. He had never seen anyone actually rebuke the Nightmare Lord's visions before.

"Impossible," Vaermina shouted. "It was a fluke. The next vision will have her screaming for mercy!"

 

Hecate was so happy that she would barely breathe. She never had thought this day would come. The Imperial had been many things in her years – wanderer, bounty hunter, child of prophecy, the Dragonborn, and the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood, but she never once thought she would one day be a bride.

The Temple of Mara in Riften was beyond beautiful. It was perfect. Maramal had outdone himself with decorating the place with white winter lilies and snowberries. The various swords and daggers were just the perfect touch too. Hecate didn't think her groom could ever be happy if he wasn't surrounded by sharp, sharp steel. There wasn't any blood, but she knew he would understand.

"Are you ready, Listener?" Babette asked. The little vampire had poked her head into the private room the bride used to get dressed.  "Oh, you look lovely. Good enough to eat." She smiled a huge toothy smile that would have made even General Tullius scream in fear and run the other direction.

"I think so," Hecate swallowed hard. She could feel a blush race across her face at the thought of hundreds of eyes turning towards her when she entered the chamber in her off the shoulder Cyrodiil wedding gown.

It was time.

Babette nodded and ducked back out. A few moments later choral music started playing indicating Hecate's cue to join the wedding ceremony. She tightened her grip on her own perfect bouquet of lilies and turned to nod to Aventus. The Nord boy smiled happily as he grabbed her twenty foot long bridal train to keep it from dragging too much on the hard wooden floor. The ten-year-old had been thrilled when Hecate asked him to be her attendant.

When Hecate stepped out, she was temporarily overwhelmed by the sheer number of guests who had decided to attend her and Cicero's wedding. It seemed like all of Skyrim was here! Slimy Belethor, uppity Taarie and her bored sister Endarie, sweet Adrianne Avenicci and her husband Ulfberth War-Bear were in attendance. Hell, it seemed every merchant she had ever invested in had decided to come today!

The jarls were all in attendance from Jarl Balgruuf to Jarl Elisif. Even Ulfric was here today. The large Nord was weeping loudly into a handkerchief while leaning on his right hand man Galmar's shoulder. "She should have been mine, old friend," the Bear of East March sobbed. "The High King of Skyrim should be married to the Dragonborn."

"It will be okay, my friend," Galmar said gruffly and not just in his normal gravelly voice. He too was overcome with the emotion of the day. "She'll see the light someday."

Lydia sat nearby with her head in her hands shaking it sadly. "Where did I go wrong?" she muttered over and over. "I swore to carry her burdens. Wasn't that good enough?"

Even the Night Mother had come to this joyous occasion. She had the honor of her coffin placed in the seat reserved for the groom's mother and some thoughtful soul had draped nightshade all over her in a wreath. She had her own handkerchief crumpled in her rotted hand and if there was a trail of tears of happiness running down her withered face then everyone had the good grace to not say anything about it.

In reality, Hecate didn't see any of these people. Her eyes were only on her jester, her Fool of Hearts, her Keeper. Cicero looked so handsome wearing his trademark jester's motley. His foolish grin couldn't have been bigger than hers as she walked slowly towards her groom.

A Dark Elf wearing the priestly robes of Mara stepped forward so he was in front of the happy couple. He recited the words of the ceremony of binding, but Hecate didn't hear one word of it. She could only see the sparkling amber eyes of her best friend and lover who was going to become her husband forever and ever and ever. Life was going to be perfect!

The ceremony ended quickly, but not nearly quickly enough for Hecate. She casually tossed her bouquet behind her into the crowd.  She vaguely heard Babette say, "Congratulations on catching the bouquet, Nazir," followed by the Redguard's cry of anguish.

"I love you," Cicero said as he swept his new bride into his arms.

"I love you," Hecate gushed back.

"No, I love you!" Cicero insisted.

"I love you more!" Hecate declared.

"No, I LOVE you more!" Cicero countered.

"NO, I LOVE YOU MORE!" Hecate almost Shouted.

The two Imperials started kissing each other without abandon. The crowd cheered happily for the happy couple. No one could be happier this day than this happy group. Surely happiness was defined by this display of happy love.

"Let's kill someone," Hecate whispered in her perfect husband's perfect ear.

"Oh, yes," Cicero sighed, "and then we could…."

 

XXXXX

The dream ended abruptly again when Hecate started screaming with laughter. This time she writhed on the ground kicking her legs as she guffawed loudly at the vision. Next to her, even Cicero had a faint smile on his lips.

"I don't understand!" Vaermina practically whined. "She was specifically terrified of marriage. What happened?"

Erandur noted that the two assassins were still holding hands despite how violently Hecate was rolling around on the ground and smiled. He thought he had an idea of what was giving the woman fortitude, but he didn't want to think about it too deeply in case Vaermina picked up the thought and turned it against the couple.

"There is one fear she still has," Vaermina snarled, "and it is the root of her past fear of marriage. The fear of being bound to one place, to one idea, to one identity. I will exploit that fear!"

 

XXXXX

When the door opened and light flooded into the room, Hecate cried out in pain. Even the dim candlelight hurt her eyes after hours (or was it days?) of sitting in complete darkness. She raised her shackled hands up to her face to block the light, but it didn't seem to help.

"Oh, Listener, is it too bright for you? Cicero is sorry!" the mad jester chirped as he bound into the room carrying a platter with bread, cheese, and meat. He placed the platter on the side table next to where Hecate had been sitting before skipping over to examine the Night Mother's coffin.

While Cicero's back was turned, Hecate grabbed the food greedily and crammed it into her mouth barely chewing it enough before swallowing. She couldn't remember food ever tasting so good.

"Listener, you are so hungry!" Cicero smiled broadly as he cleaned the Night Mother's coffin.

"What day is it?" she mumbled around a mouthful of cheese.

"Sundas," Cicero said simply. "Cicero has come to oil Mother."

"You left me here alone in the dark with Her for three days, Cicero," Hecate said sighing. "Of course, I'm going to be hungry."

"No, no, no," Cicero shook his head vehemently. "It cannot have been that long."

"It was," Hecate said gently. She didn't want to upset the Keeper so he stormed off. Maybe this time she could persuade him. "It would be easier if you let me go."

"Cicero cannot do that," he grinned evilly. "Not after the naughty Listener tried to run away again."

Hecate could feel large tears threatening to fall as she remembered the first time she had tried to run away. It had been right after the fall of Falkreath when the Penitus Oculatus had destroyed the Brotherhood.

The cave had burned from the gallons of oil the Oculatus had soaked into everything they could before setting it ablaze. Hecate hadn't been able to save anyone, not even Nazir who had been the last one to fall in front of her very eyes. She had never found Babette's body and part of her hoped that the eternal girl had used her small form to her advantage to escape, but without seeing her Hecate had to assume she was just as dead as the rest.

Cicero had dragged her and the Night Mother's coffin out of the little pool that formed at the base of the waterfall after the sarcophagus had been flung through the window from the blast of the heat of the flames that had ravaged the Sanctuary. Hecate had crawled into the madman's arms and wept over the loss of her family for what felt like hours.

"They're all dead," she rasped, barely able to speak after crying for so hard and long. "There's nothing left. We're done. The Brotherhood is destroyed."  

"Oh, no, no, no, sweet Listener," Cicero crooned comfortingly into her ear. "As long as there is the Night Mother and a Listener, then the Brotherhood will never truly be destroyed. We can rebuild and be stronger than ever."

"I cannot do this, Cicero. I've never been suited to be an assassin. It was a mistake to accept Astrid's offer," Hecate hiccupped sadly into her jester's lap. Turned facedown, she never saw how his grin slid into a dangerous frown. "The two of us could leave. Cyrodiil and Skyrim are too much in turmoil, but we could go to Hammerfell or Elsweyr. I'm sure you'd love the catkin."

"No." It wasn't so much a statement than a growl. "Cicero will never leave Mother." Amber eyes narrowed angrily. "And neither will you."

The short man jumped to his feet so fast that he was a blur. His grip on Hecate's arm was like iron as he hauled her up with him. "What are you doing?" Hecate cried. "You're hurting me. Let me go!" The next day she would gingerly rub the finger shape bruises left in her pale flesh wondering how she hadn't known Cicero would react the way he did.

"We're never leaving Mother, do you understand, you stupid twat?" Cicero screamed. His face was as red as a tomato and his eyes wild like a sabre cat's. "Cicero suffered away from Mother because Hecate promised that she would make everything better, but he won't leave her. I won't leave her! Do you hear me? I won't leave her ever again!" Each sentence was a violent shake and when Cicero finished his tirade, he threw Hecate to the ground.

When the woman cried out from landing heavily when her hips hit the ground, Cicero suddenly smiled and all signs of outrage were gone. "Oh, sweet Listener, are you okay? Cicero didn't mean to be so rough. It's just he worries so for Mother!" The jester offered a helping hand that Hecate only accepted because she feared refusing would bring the dark Cicero back out. "We can rebuild. It will be hard, but we can do it for our Mother." His eyes glittered dangerously. "For she's your mother too, yes?"

Hecate nodded meekly while keeping her eyes averted from Cicero's. If she directly looked at him, then he would know the lie that was in her heart. They spent the rest of the night trying to clean up as much of the rubble as possible, especially the rocks that barricaded the Sanctuary chapel where the Night Mother's coffin had rested.  Part of Hecate did sincerely mourn the loss of the beautiful blood-red stained glass mural.

That night while Cicero was sleeping in his bed, Hecate crawled out of her own bed and skulked through the ruins of Sanctuary towards the exit. She didn't even bother to stop to grab anything to take with her. Almost everything had been destroyed in the fire and anything she needed she could either buy from a nearby town or make on her own when she found a forge. Money would not be a problem for she had several caches hidden throughout Skyrim and many of her personal residences had some pocket money. Hell, there was always the possibility of finding Lydia and asking for her help if she couldn't access any of her other resources.

As she ascended the stone steps to the Black Door, Hecate almost didn't see the lithe figure casually leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed in front of him. She gasped when she saw Cicero standing there without his jester's cap. Soft velvet boots tapped a tune impatiently.

"Cicero, what are you…?" she stuttered barely stopping from asking what the madman was doing there waiting for her.

"Trying to leave?" Cicero hissed. "Clever Hecate didn't notice that sleeping Cicero wasn't breathing?" Hecate stifled a groan when she realized he had made a stuffy man to trick her. The jester had known she would try to escape.

"No, my dear Keeper," she said, her voice sounding hollow and fake to her own ears. "I couldn't sleep and thought I would go look for Babette. See if she was okay or if some of the Penitus had escaped and were still roaming nearby."

"You promised you'd always be there for him," Cicero said lowly with his head turned aside. "Yet, you keep leaving me. First at Dawnstar and now here." He turned so he was looking directly at Hecate. "Don't bother trying to lie to me! I know you better than you do, so don't you dare lie to me!" The jester pulled off his right hand glove and slapped Hecate across the face as fast as lightning.

Hecate lost her balance as she fell to her knees from the impact of Cicero's strike. He hadn't held back at all in hitting her. The left half of her face felt numb and when she gingerly touched her cheek it already felt swollen. A pointy-toed boot quickly followed slamming into her stomach which sent her spiraling down the stairs. Sharp pain ran up her back when her spine crashed into the corner of the stairwell. Hecate wasn't able to keep track of the blows she suffered as Cicero hit her repeatedly. At some point, she blacked out and when she woke she was in her bed.

Her right eye wouldn't open and her left one barely could open halfway.  Every part of her hurt, much worse than how she had felt after Cicero had discovered her in the Night Mother's coffin and almost beat her to death. Turning her head to the right had been excruciating, but she had managed and found Cicero faithfully sitting by her side with healing poultices and warm broth to eat.

The second time she ran away had been three weeks after her first attempt, as soon as she had been able to get out of her bed unaided. Hecate had made it all the way to Falkreath before Cicero caught her and dragged her back screaming and fighting on Shadowmere's back. The demon horse had not helped her in the slightest and the mare's expression could only be described as disappointed.

The third time Hecate had thought she was going to make it. She had made it all the way to Markarth and was waiting for a caravan to go into Hammerfell and join them as either a guard or a lady paying her way, whichever option looked safer. She felt tired and weak after weeks of Cicero hitting her and being confined to her room to recover, but the thought of being free of the mad Keeper and his dead Mother gave her strength to continue.

Hecate had made the mistake of sleeping the night before she was going to leave. She should have had a healthy fear of Cicero by then, but she had hoped he would look for her eastward towards Elsweyr. She woke to a heavy weight on her chest, a gold swirled glove over her mouth, and a mad, grinning face of a jester assassin leering at her. She tried to scream or even Shout, but the muffling made her helpless.

"Shush, shush, sweet Listener," Cicero had whispered in her ear like a lover, "Poor Cicero would never kill you. He only disciplines you so you can be the leader Mother needs. Loyal Cicero follows the Tenets always. Always."

When they returned to Falkreath, Cicero had shackled her for the first time. When Hecate complained, he had looked at her dead in the eye and said, "It is either the shackles or I permanently hobble you. Maybe lop off a foot, or maybe just the heel. Cicero hasn't decided yet." Hecate wasn't sure what was worse: the cold way Cicero said the threat, or the carefree smile he wore while saying it.

After that, he left her in the chapel with the Night Mother. The old window had been boarded over with heavy boards and the iron doors firmly locked leaving no escape. Hecate would spend hours alone with the corpse who was silent, always so damn silent. She prayed that she would go mad so the situation would finally make sense, but honestly who would answer her? She had disrespected her goddess by trying to flee instead of making the family her Matron craved.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk. This just won't do. Won't do at all!" Cicero scolded bringing Hecate back to the present.

"What? What did I do wrong?" Hecate practically screamed. She didn't want to anger Cicero. Never anger Cicero. Gods, keep Cicero happy!

"You're filthy, Listener," Cicero said sternly. He played with her stringy hair. "Cicero cannot allow that. Mother cannot be touched by the corruption of the living. How will she speak to you otherwise? You must bathe before Cicero oils Mother. Come." The jester pulled out a collar and chain that he deftly attached to Hecate's neck.

The only time Hecate was allowed out of the chapel was when she bathed or used the privy. Cicero didn't trust for her to not to try escape so he had devised the leash to keep a hold of her even then. It was humiliating that she couldn't do anything privately for she was not supposed to even relieve herself when she was in the chapel. As far as Hecate was concerned what Cicero didn't know didn't hurt him and did rarely use the bucket left in the chapel, but only when she absolutely couldn't wait any longer.

The Keeper led the Listener down to the waterfall in the main room. She meekly followed with her head down and her hands close to her chest. Hecate had tried several times to overpower Cicero while she bathed. The first time she had thought she could catch the man off guard. Maybe even use her nudity to her advantage by startling him, but Cicero had never worried about the social niceties of modesty and it had afforded her nothing but almost being drowned as the redhead held her under the current for what felt like hours.

When they got to the water's edge, Hecate didn't bother to ask Cicero to turn away when she disrobed. He would just laugh.  Not that she blamed him at this point. The jester did carefully unlock each shackle so Hecate could remove her clothes instead of just cutting them off her as he would do if he thought she was being especially naughty. "Thank you," she whispered hating how shamed she felt. How fucking helpless.

"Anything for my Listener," Cicero said so kindly that Hecate thought she would start crying again. It seemed like she cried all the time ever since Astrid's betrayal.

She kept her back to Cicero as she entered the pool. Just because he watched her didn't mean she had to make it easy for him. The pressure of the water falling on her shoulders felt good and it made Hecate realize how stiff she felt from sitting for so long in the chapel. She groaned in pleasure before dunking under the churning water to soak her hair.

When Hecate reemerged, she felt a presence behind her. Cicero's hands clamped down on her shoulders massaging the muscles. "You're moving stiffly. Do you want my help? I could help clean you. I'm always eager," he offered; his voice deep with desire. At some point, Cicero had removed his jester's outfit and wore nothing but his loincloth which did nothing to hide his erection as he pressed against her.

Hecate shuddered in fear. She had wondered when this was going to happen. Cicero's eyes were always on her when they were in the same room, but they were always more…attentive when she bathed. The two of them had been in an awkward dance of sexual desire before everything came crashing down and Hecate doubted Cicero's mad mind would understand that had changed when he had taken her captive.

"Are you going to rape me?" she asked quietly. Although her head was bowed meekly, she silently swore that she would still fight him even if he permanently harmed her in the struggle. Hecate would never submit to a man forcing himself on her.

"What? No! No, Cicero would never take from Hecate what should be freely given," Cicero protested. She turned at the hurt tone in his voice and saw how pained his facial expression was to match. Amber eyes were wide with sincerity. Weeks, maybe months of physical abuse and being held prisoner, and Cicero acted as if it was completely unreasonable for her to fear rape from him. She couldn't help but laugh at his outrage.

Clearly confused, Cicero laughed with her. He seemed happy that she was laughing again since she hadn't done so since the fall of Falkreath. "Humble Cicero lives to serve," he said lowly and just a tad bit suggestively.

"You obey the Tenets," Hecate said making it neither a statement nor a question. A realization was slowly coming over her and she didn't understand how she hadn't accepted it sooner.

"Always," Cicero said firmly.

"The Third Tenet is 'Never disobey or refuse to carry out an order from a Dark Brotherhood superior. To do so is to invoke the Wrath of Sithis,'" Hecate said gaining confidence.

"Yes," Cicero agreed slowly meeting her gaze challengingly, "that is true. And the only person who is superior to the Keeper is the Listener."

"Unlock me," Hecate commanded as she held her shackles out to Cicero. It wasn't a request or begging like before. "Release my chains, Keeper."

Cicero stared at her defiantly and for a second Hecate's confidence waivered, but she didn't dare allow it to show on her face. She was the Dragonborn, dammit! A mortal with a soul of a dragon and dragons were made to dominate. It was in her blood just like it was in Paarthurnax and Odahviing's blood. She was the one in control. She always had been, but only if she was willing to take responsibility.

"As you wish, my Listener!" Cicero said joyfully. He splashed through the water to his clothes and retrieved the key to Hecate's chains. Within moments, the hateful chains and leash were removed. Hecate sighed in relief as she rubbed her wrists and neck. "Is there anything else? I'm always eager!"

"Yes, there is," Hecate said calmly before throwing her arms around Cicero and pulled him close kissing him deeply. The jester comically flailed his arms from the sudden affection before returning it with wrapping his arms around his Listener.

The Dragonborn moaned with desire as she pushed Cicero to the edge of the pool until he fell backwards. She quickly climbed on top of the Keeper and pinned his arms above his head. A voice in her head protested, "What are you doing? He held you captive! He beat you and kept you prisoner and you reward him with sex?" Oddly enough, it didn't sound like her normal internal worrying voice, but someone else completely.

"Listener," Cicero murmured happily, "command Cicero and it will be done." He arched hungrily against her and the feel of his flesh pressing against hers made her groan with desire. It had been too long, much too long.

"I need you," Hecate confessed as she ran her hand over Cicero's cheek. "I've always needed you and as long as we're together I can face anything." She leaned forward to kiss her Keeper, but before she could do so the dream faded away.

 

XXXXX

"I see," Vaermina growled. "The secret of her strength given away thoughtlessly at the very end." She turned her attention to her formed worshipper. "I suppose you had already figured it out, oh child of Mara, goddess of love?" The disdain was thick enough to cut with a knife.

Erandur nodded. No sense hiding the truth now after the Nightmare Lord had figured it out. "The first set of dreams had them torn apart. Only when they were together, regardless of the circumstances, was the woman unfazed. The lord of Nightmares defeated by a pair of assassin lovers. It's almost enough to make you laugh."

"It's ridiculous!" Vaermina snarled. The Miasma was thick as fog now coating everything. In her frustration, Vaermina had almost taken a physical form. Her mage robes swirled in the cloying essence that had encased this tower for decades.  "Assassins should be dark, broody loners who cannot connect with anyone, not a jester or a former hero. I have half a mind to go to the Void and lobby a complaint! No matter. Now that I know the truth, I can truly destroy them. Send their pathetic souls screaming to Sithis. Maybe after an Era in the Quagmire to teach them proper respect for fear.

"One final dream," Vaermina promised. "One final terror before the dawn."

Chapter Text

Cicero growled in frustration as he slammed his hands against the offensive broken wagon wheel. The Imperial sighed as he leaned back on his heels and wiped the back of his hand over his forehead, leaving a streak of mud. His jester's suit was covered in the same mud. It had been raining off and on all day leaving poor Cicero frozen and drenched while the damnable wagon slowly sunk into the mire it created.

"Oh Mother, my poor Mother," Cicero lamented loudly. The rustle of birds taking flight from the noise reminded Cicero of how loud he was, but the Keeper didn't mind. He often spoke out loud to alleviate the dreaded silence. "Still, too still, but not at rest. If only if Loreius would help poor, sweet Cicero with his tools!"

They had been stuck here at the edge of the Loreius farm all day. Hours and hours of Cicero alternating staring helplessly at the wagon wheel that had forsaken him and his mother and Cicero trudging up to the farm to beg the Imperial farmer to help him with repairs. Cicero had offered shiny, gleamy coin in return for the farmer's help. Cicero was not stingy! He knew how to reward well, very well.

But the farmer refused! Time and time again! What kind of world was this where not even the promise of coin was enough to guarantee a man's arm?

Cicero scowled at the wheel. Loyal, resourceful Cicero could do many things. He could sing, dance, tell stories, cook, clean, paint, and patch clothes. But wagons were outside of clever Cicero's expertise. Maybe given enough time Cicero could figure out how to fix the wagon on his own, but not without tools and not without help. Lifting the broken axle was at least a two man job and there was only poor Cicero. Always lonely Cicero!

There was Mother, of course, but no one would expect her to help. Not only was she dead, but she was his precious Matron.  Cicero would never, ever think that his dear Mother should do manual labor. Plain, mundane physical labor? It would be a ridiculous joke!

Cicero's mare, Chuckles, nickered nervously causing Cicero to look up expectedly. A huge grin broke out on his face when he saw that an armored figure was riding south on the Pale road. Oh happy day! Maybe Cicero's luck had finally changed and a kindly stranger would stop and help repair his wagon. Go up and convince Loreius with sweet, honeyed words so poor Cicero and his dear Mother could continue to their new home with their new family!

Cicero jumped to his feet and started to wave his arms desperately to flag down the stranger. To his dismay, the stranger, wearing even stranger armor of some exotic scales, didn't stop or slow down in the slightest. Cicero could barely make out that the passerby was a woman as she blurred past on her horse.

The animal's passage caused a puddle of mud to splash up and completely covered Cicero from head to toe in freezing mud. The jester cried out in disgust as he tried vainly to wipe the dripping muck off his face. His efforts only caused the gunk to smear on his skin no matter how much he tried to wipe it off. Turning his head to one side, Cicero spit to rid his mouth of the foul dirt.

Cicero had been leery of leaving his precious Dawnstar Sanctuary. His sanctuary! The thought of Astrid's cell being something different, something wrong, had left him uncertain that he would find the Listener there, but he had to try. Cicero, in a moment of clarity, had accepted that he was not the Listener and that he never would be. The Keeper had to venture out to the remnants of his failing family. If Cicero didn't find the Listener with Astrid's group, then Cicero wasn't sure what he was going to do.

Still, one step at a time. The discovery or, Mother forbid, lack of a Listener could wait until Cicero made it to Falkreath. For now, Cicero had to get his wagon moving again. The jester threw back his shoulders and nodded firmly. He would give Loreius one more try. Yes, yes! Cicero would woo the man or his wife into compassion for his plight. Generous Cicero would still give them coin, plenty of coin, because he was the soul of…um, generosity!

Cicero laughed gleefully and danced a little jig that ended with him jumping in the air and clicking his heels together before running up the hill towards the Loreius farm. Cicero hummed happily as he knocked on the farmhouse door. Surely, Loreius wouldn't refuse poor Cicero for a seventh time!

The door swung open to reveal the scowling face of Loreius. "You again? Oh for the sake of Mara! I told you already that I don't want anything to do with you or whatever is in your wagon, you damned fool."

"Oh yes, Cicero is indeed a Fool! The Fool of Hearts to be exact, my dear Loreius," Cicero giggled as he capered. Maybe if he made Loreius smile, the man would help poor Cicero. "Maybe Loreius would find it in his heart to help me? I would pay you greatly, I promise!"

Loreius opened his mouth to retort, but then paused. The man rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a second. "You know what? I've changed my mind. I'll help you get your wagon moving again. After all, if there is something illegal in there, then I definitely don't want it on my property." Cicero didn't particularly care for Loreius' smile, but he decided that he wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

"Oh thank you, thank you, thank you," the jester gushed. It wouldn't hurt to lay his gratitude on thickly. "Cicero will wait patiently while Loreius gets his things!" Cicero fairly tumbled down the hill with a series of cartwheels.

About an hour later, Cicero was getting suspicious that Loreius was not coming. Had the man actually tried to lie to Cicero? That would be madness!

The sound of approaching footsteps grabbed Cicero's attention. Oh! There was Loreius… and a Pale guard? Why was there a guard with Loreius? No matter. Cicero hadn't done anything wrong. Maybe the guard had been called in to assist repairing the wagon.

The jester greeted the approaching men. "Hello, hello! Cicero is so happy you're…." He stopped talking when he saw the guard pull his sword and pointed it at him.

"Halt! You're under arrest for crimes against Skyrim!" the guard declared.

"What has Cicero done wrong?" the Keeper whined.

"You have been accused of transporting illegal contraband in the name of the Empire. You, your wagon, and all of your possessions will be taken to Dawnstar and searched."

Cicero gritted his teeth in anger. Back to Dawnstar? Back to his starting point? After weeks of carefully traveling south to avoid detection and protect Mother? This was a nightmare!

Loreius would pay. Oh yes, Loreius would pay for his treachery.

Xxxxx

"Could the Listener please explain to poor Cicero again why we've come to this gods forsaken place?" Cicero asked plaintively. "High Hrothgar is no place for people like us."

Hecate smiled as she turned around on Shadowmere to face Cicero who was riding behind her on the demonic horse. Both assassins were heavily swathed in thick furs to keep warm and the added warmth of riding double made the trip bearable, but only barely. They were about halfway up the seven thousand steps to the Greybeard monastery, and it was already colder than the worst days in Dawnstar.

"You said you wanted to go somewhere away from everything else," she teased, "and nothing is further away from everything than High Hrothgar."

After Calixto joined the Brotherhood, the necromancer had immediately been assigned to create a proper new crypt for the Night Mother. After weeks of work, the tombs below Sanctuary had been properly consecrated to be shroud blessed for the Unholy Matron. With the proper rituals in place, the Night Mother no longer required a Keeper to protect her body from earthly corruptions which left Cicero free to pursue other interests.

Of course, Cicero still held the title of Keeper. Hecate would never revoke that sacred privilege from him for the Imperial had long ago earned it. Cicero would still weekly check on his Mother to insure her continued happiness and maintenance, but he was no longer required to spend every single day cleaning her shrine obsessively or oil her. If he wanted, he could even take off for several weeks at a time for missions. Hecate had officially reinstated Cicero's blade instead of the emergency status it had held since the fall of Falkreath Sanctuary.

"Cicero had something a little more intimate in mind when he requested that, dear, Listener," the jester grumbled good-naturedly as he nibbled at the hollow of Hecate's neck. "I thought we could revisit the Winking Skeever or Proudspire Manor for some sweet Solitude."

"You should have said something sooner," she laughed while trying to refrain from reacting from her lover's attentions.

"Cicero thought we were going to Riften! Cicero thought we were going to visit our cousins, the Thieves' Guild, and tease them mercilessly with our superiority. Or maybe Hecate was going to drag poor Cicero to the Temple of Mara and force him to marry her."

"Never!" Hecate howled with laughter at the thought of Cicero in his motley and her in the blood red and black leathers of the Brotherhood standing formally in front of the peaceful statue of Mara.

Hands slid under Hecate's furs and caressed her body familiarly. She gasped in surprise when she felt buckles been loosen and those same hands roamed over her bare flesh. "What are you doing?"

"Showing my Listener how much I want her," Cicero growled in her ear. He nipped her ear as he leaned heavily against her back. "It's been too long."

Hecate groaned loudly as Cicero ground against her. Gods, he always seemed to know exactly what was needed to cause arousal. She threw back her head to allow better access to her neck for Cicero to keep licking and kissing her neck.

Shadowmere suddenly stopped and shot a look over her shoulder that could be only described as disgusted. She tossed her head and nickered loudly at her two passengers in a tone that clearly said, "Do you two mind?" The horse stomped a hoof and indicated the next pilgrim's shrine.

The two Imperials laughed and quickly dismounted before running to the small stone that held an etching with a short poem about how mankind learned the thu'um. Cicero pushed Hecate to the ground before landing on top of her. He kissed her deeply as he continued undoing her clothes.

"I hope you realize that these stopping places are intended for mediation and prayer and not what you're currently doing," Hecate teased.

"Hmph," Cicero snorted. "Rules don't apply to us. Only the Tenets matter."

"Well, regardless, I am not having sex in the snow," Hecate protested pushing Cicero away. "I have no desire getting to the Greybeards and one of us losing a toe or finger from frostbite because of your libido."

"Is that so?" Cicero said as he arched an eyebrow. "Cicero understands and obeys." He grinned wickedly as he scooped up a double handful of snow. "Snowball fight instead then! Ha, ha, ha!"

"You cheating bastard!" Hecate screamed as snow was dumped on her exposed chest. She laughed and kicked as she threw back her own handfuls of snow at Cicero.

To be honest, Hecate had never been happier in her life. The Brotherhood was flourishing, her family was close, and Cicero was finally able to be the assassin he longed to be while still being the Keeper. She had decided to go to High Hrothgar to meditate and finally get back whatever stupid mental block kept her from saying the Binding Words normal people say so she could finally tell her Keeper that she loved him.

Things couldn't be better.

Xxxxx

Things couldn't be worse.

After the Pale guard had arrested Cicero, he had been dragged back up to Dawnstar for trial. The jester had been imprisoned for a whole fortnight while those bastards rifled through his things. Thankfully, Cicero had not kept poison or any other questionable materials on him since becoming Keeper. He was very careful to always keep his blade sheathed no matter how much someone might deserve it, so they didn't find anything to use against him.

The worst indignity was that they insisted that Cicero open up his dear Mother's coffin. Cicero had refused, of course, but had been told that if he didn't, then they would do it themselves. The thought of heathens looking upon his dear Mother's flesh was bad enough, but for them to simply run their dirty hands over her unchecked was too much to bear!

Shamed Cicero had unlocked the coffin and allowed the men to examine Mother. Thankfully, they had been looking for weapons or other unidentified war contraband and didn't examine the Night Mother too closely. Else they would have noticed that she was much too persevered to have been Cicero's real mother or that she was a Dunmer.

"Hm, it seems that the suspicions against you were false," the jarl said lazily. "Luckily for you, Imperial. You may be on your way." No word of apology or compensation for time lost. Cicero had even been charged for the repairs to his wagon instead of the hold covering it.

Cicero looked north to where Dawnstar Sanctuary was. He wistfully thought about returning to his joker's retreat, his own personal Sanctuary. He had felt safe there despite the beast that roamed the caves nearby. That had been his and Mother's home and they had been safe there. No stupid Nords molesting his mother there!

But there was no Listener there. There had been only poor, loyal Cicero and there was no Listener in him. No, no, no, Cicero must keep traveling to Falkreath Sanctuary. He would get there and it would be like Cheydinhal all over again. Well, not the everyone dying part, but the part where he would be welcomed warmly and accepted as part of the family. Cicero closed his eyes and smiled blissfully at that memory.

What if Astrid's group was different in that they killed without the guidance of the Night Mother? They had survived and it was that type of strength that Mother wanted in her children. They had survived and adapted. If they had moved away from Mother's leadership, then they would learn how to listen to her again. Surely some of them were old enough to remember the Old Ways! Cicero only needed a Listener and if there wasn't one immediately, then he would do the sneaking and the saying just like always.

What could possibly go wrong?

Cicero passed through the quiet village of Falkreath with no hassles. It seemed like a pleasant enough place with its huge cemetery. Cicero could learn to like it here! The wagon easily made it down the path that lead to the Black Door with its skeletal imagery.

Cicero knew something was wrong immediately when he saw the door standing wide open. No Sanctuary ever left the Door open. What would be the point of Sanctuary if anyone could just walk in?

"Cicero will be right back, Mother," he muttered as he dismounted. The jester quickly ran into the cave and down the stone stairs. Cicero pulled his dagger as he ran. His blade was retired, but that didn't mean he couldn't defend himself.

"Hello?" Cicero called out. No sense being quiet. Either Cicero was wrong and a family member would greet him or he was right and the perpetrator would openly present himself. Good doers always were proud of their eradication of such places. "Just a silly jester here who's gotten lost on the road. Not an assassin in the slightest ready to slit your belly open."

No answer.

Silence.

Maddening silence.

Cicero turned left and found a small chamber that led into a bedroom. Inside was a cozy set up of a large double sized bed intended for two people. It had all the charm of a couple with a wardrobe, a small table with two chairs, and a fireplace that looked cold. The only thing that was out of place was the huge, white haired Nord lying face down in a pool of blood. Cicero had a moment of confusion because the dead man was wearing no shoes. That seemed much more wrong that finding a dead man, but that was the sort of life Cicero lived.

The jester quietly turned around left the room. In his heart, Cicero knew what he was going to find next, but he didn't want to believe it. Cicero had to see it first for it to be real. Walking through Sanctuary, room by room, Cicero found more dead bodies. At the bottom of the stairs, there was a forge and training area and there he found the dead Argonian.

Up the stairs to the left, Cicero found the alchemy and enchanting room where the dead Dunmer was sprawled across a wooden table. Down the stairs from there into the kitchen and eating area, Cicero found the Redguard face first in a pot of congealed stew. Up the stairs into the communal sleeping area, Cicero found the old Imperial wizard gutted in his own bed. The man hadn't even woken up fast enough to defend himself; a cruel death for an assassin.

Cicero felt numb from head to toe as he walked into the hallway leaving the sleeping area. There was no sign of Astrid, the Nord leader of this Sanctuary. Maybe she had survived! Maybe she had gotten away and taken more family members with her. Surely this couldn't be it.

"Hello?" he called again thinking there would be no reply.

"Hello," came the soft answer of a child. Cicero whirled around with his dagger ready and saw the figure of a ten-year-old girl. She smiled confidently revealing sharp fangs.  "You must be Keeper Cicero. Astrid told us that you would be arriving soon."

"I am," he said hesitantly. "And you are?"

"I am Babette," the girl said sweetly. "As you can see I am a vampire. I thought I was the only survivor of the purge, but I guess you sort of apply."

"The only survivor?" Cicero said blankly.

"Yes," Babette nodded. She turned and went back to a small room that was off to the side. Cicero followed her and found it was a private room with a stone slab for a bed. "We were attacked two days ago. Some woman wearing dragon scale armor came tearing in here and killed everyone. Not me though. I told her I was a poor little girl who had been kidnapped by the evil Brotherhood after they killed my mommy and daddy. Fool let me run off outside while she finished killing everyone else." The girl paused and looked at Cicero's outfit. "No offense."

"None taken," Cicero laughed weakly. "What of Astrid?"

"As far as I can tell she was killed when she tried to recruit that woman," Babette shrugged. She threw some articles of clothes into a traveling bag. "That's what happens when you try to recruit a hero. Astrid thought she could blackmail the Dragonborn with having killed Grelod the Kind in Riften. Technically the Dragonborn stole our contract since everyone knew Aventus Aretino was trying to contact us, but to be honest Astrid had dismissed that contract ages ago. What could a kid possibly offer for payment? His allowance?"

Cicero felt like his heart was being ripped into tiny pieces and thrown into the wind. Falkreath destroyed? How could he ever find the Listener if everyone was dead?

"Cicero is glad the un-child survived," he said laughing nervously. Babette threw him a strange look, but he ignored it. "We can start over. The three of us – Babette, Cicero, and Mother. The Brotherhood isn't destroyed. This is just a minor setback."

"Um, no," Babette said as she closed the backpack and threw it over her shoulder. "I'm getting out of here. The Brotherhood is done. There's nothing left. Two people and a corpse? I would ask you if you're insane, but the answer is pretty clear. No, thank you, dear Cicero. I'll take my chances as a vampire on her own. I survived for a good hundred years before joining this little family and although the last two hundred years were fairly interesting, I think I am ready for a different venue. Maybe I'll find my sire and see how she's doing."

"You cannot leave!" Cicero whined. "Cicero just got here and you're the only one left and I need you to help me because I cannot do this anymore by myself. I cannot! I cannot be alone again!"

"Tough titty said the kitty, as the Khajiit used to say," Babette said casually as she walked past the Keeper. "You cannot keep me here and I'd like to see you try to fight me. I might not be much to the eye, but I still have all the powers of a vampire at my disposal as well as centuries of experience as an assassin which is much more than you." She turned and for a second her face did soften to one of sympathy. "Take my advice, Cicero. Leave the Night Mother here. She'll pick her Listener when she's good and ready. At that time, she'll call out and the Listener will answer. The Brotherhood could rebloom then. Until that time, go and live. Make your own life of some sort."

"Loyal Cicero couldn't possibly leave Mother!" Cicero said aghast.

"Then stay here and die," Babette said shrugging. "There's only death here and I would know." She waved making it a casual salute. "Kill well and often." The traditional Brotherhood farewell sounded sarcastic as the vampire turned and left.

Cicero slumped to his knees and dropped his head. What now? Gods, what now?

Xxxxx

Hecate and Cicero were holding hands as they walked. It was the last leg of the trip to High Hrothgar and she had suddenly had the need to take a little bit more time getting there. Once they were at the monastery, it would be a matter of business talking to Arngeir about possible word walls, if Paarthurnax was back, any problems with the Blades, and all the other matters related to being the Dragonborn of prophecy.

She wouldn't be Hecate while at High Hrothgar. Instead she would be Diana Dragonborn and although she had enjoyed helping the people of Skyrim, she had hated being only the title and legend. She had lost her identity as a woman and it had galled her. Dragonborn, always Dragonborn, to most of the people she met and never as Diana.

It was one of the reasons she loved Cicero. He had met her as a random stranger on the road who had helped him out. Even if she became the Listener later, she knew that he had been drawn to her when he hadn't known.

"Aren't you glad that you're off duty for a change?" Hecate asked playfully.

"What does the Listener mean?" Cicero asked innocently. "Cicero is always on duty."

"No," she frowned, "you've taken nights off before. Remember our first night together?" She blushed a bit at the memory. It was one of her happiest because they had shared some of their backgrounds together and it was the night they really became a couple even if she hadn't slept with Cicero again for five months later.

"Oh, that," Cicero cleared his throat. "Um, about that. Cicero lied that night."

"What?" Hecate stopped in her tracks. "What do you mean you lied?"

"When Cicero drank the brandy, he lied about taking the night off," Cicero said laughing nervously as he placed his free hand behind his head. "Cicero only said that so Hecate could feel more comfortable."

She dropped his hand as her fingers went numb. Hecate could feel the blood draining out of her face as she paled. She had feared this for a long time. That Cicero didn't really care for her as a person, but only as the Listener. "You mean you were only fulfilling your role as Keeper all this time?"

"Oh yes," Cicero smiled oblivious to Hecate's reaction. "Cicero is always Mother's Keeper first and always. But that doesn't mean that Cicero doesn't enjoy his responsibilities! Cicero has always enjoyed tending his Listener just as much as he enjoys tending Mother. In completely different ways, of course!"

"You…jerk," Hecate said choking on the words. Fat tears ran down her face. "You insisted that you loved me. You tricked me." She covered her face with her hands out of shame. Stupid, stupid, stupid! she thought over and over.

"Oh, oh, oh! Don't cry, sweet Listener," Cicero said gently. "I do love you…as a sister. Cicero loves all of his family and the Listener most of all. Except for Mother."

"I know you love Mother most! You don't have to remind me with every sentence!" Hecate screamed. "I hate you!" She ran away from Cicero and towards the monastery.

As Hecate ran towards the large stone structure, she noticed someone was waiting for them. She hoped it was Arngeir, but the clothes were wrong. Instead of the dark robes of the Greybeards, the figure was wearing dragon scale armor. As Hecate got closer, she saw that it was Lydia.

"What are you doing here?" Hecate asked. She hated that her face was blotched from crying and she tried to walk past her old housecarl without stopping.

"I am here because I am trying to talk you out of this madness," Lydia said tersely. "Come back with me. Reclaim the Dragonborn title and we can save Skyrim together. We need you…. I need you. Please, my Thane, see reason."

"No," Hecate shook her head, "I left that life behind. This is my life now." She moved to open the door of the monastery, but Lydia grabbed her arm.

"If you left everything behind, then why do you keep coming here? If you separated your life so thoroughly, then why turn to the pacifists to save an assassin?"

"That's what I keep asking her," Cicero said smugly. He was standing next to Lydia. "I tell her they have nothing they could possibly teach her, but she keeps coming back here."

"You cannot have it both ways," Lydia insisted. "You cannot be the Dragonborn when you want and the Listener when you want."

Cicero nodded. "You cannot be a woman when you want and the Listener when you want. You have to be both all the time." He grabbed Hecate's other arm and pulled on it. "We should leave. Their ways are stupid."

"Leave me alone," Hecate muttered. "Just leave me alone."

"Last time you were alone, you went off and became a leader of a murderous cult. I think it would be best if I stayed nearby," Lydia responded.

"Last time you went off to be alone, Mother grew angry and you had to fight Meena for leadership. I think it would be best if I stayed nearby," Cicero retorted.

"LEAVE ME ALONE!" Hecate Shouted. The thu'um activated and the force of it slammed into Cicero and Lydia so hard they flew backwards.

Right off the Throat of the World.

The last Hecate saw of either of them were Lydia and Cicero's eyes, wide in confusion. They didn't even realize what happened to them as they plummeted to their dooms.

"Cicero? Lydia?" Hecate whispered. She ran to the edge of the mountain and looked down. Maybe they had landed on a ledge. Oh gods, let them land on a ledge.

But there was nothing. All the way down were sharp mountain sides. It was so steep even goats couldn't find purchase.

Hecate slumped to her knees and dropped her head. What now? Gods, what now?

Xxxx

Cicero lovingly hugged the Night Mother as he placed her on the table in the front room. The surface used to hold a map, but he had taken it off before he placed the Night Mother on it. The coffin stood open and empty nearby.

Cicero took the rope that he normally used to secure the Night Mother inside her resting place and looped it into a noose. He quickly tied it and threw the long end over a beam in the ceiling.

There was nothing left. No Brotherhood, no Listener, nothing. What did Cicero have if not his family? He had tried for so long, so very long. Cicero was tired. He would join his kin in the Void and if Sithis decided he would be judged poorly for his final actions, so be it. But Cicero could not go on any longer.

He looked into the Void and the Void looked back.

Xxxxx

Hecate lovingly kissed the ring Cicero had given her before their fight with Ulfric. He might have claimed that he never loved her more than a sister, but he had still given her the engraved ring before their Matron and declared his devotion for her.

The Listener stood at the edge and looked down. She knew some day that Cicero would die and that it would be long before her own death. Hecate had the soul of a dragon and had absorbed many more since she discovered she was the Dragonborn. She would live centuries, much more than most humans did.

But she had never anticipated that she would be the cause of his death. The knowledge that she had killed him and Lydia with a thoughtless Shout was too much. There felt like there was nothing left. She felt hollow. She felt already dead. How could she live like that? How could she live centuries with that knowledge and that hollowness?

Hecate shifted closer to the edge. She would join her Keeper in the Void and if Sithis decided she would be judged poorly for her final actions, so be it. But Hecate could not go on any longer.

She looked into the Void and the Void looked back.

Xxxxx

Cicero climbed onto a chair and checked the rope one last time. No sense botching this final kill. Cicero had always taken pride in his work and this would be his final assignment. He only hoped that the un-child was right and that the Night Mother could call out to her Listener when it was time.

"Coming, Mother," Cicero said calmly as he dropped the rope around his neck. He closed his eyes and steeled himself for the final step.

"Wait! Don't do it!"

Cicero opened his eyes and saw an older Dunmer male wearing the robes of Mara running towards him.

"Don't kill yourself! If you die in the dream, you die for real," the elf yelled. Cicero remembered that the man's name was Erandur. How did Cicero know that?

"What are you doing here?" Cicero asked accusingly. A part of him realized that he should be glad anyone was here, but a priest of Mara?

"I didn't want to use my old powers from Vaermina to enter your dreams. I have sworn myself to Mara and to use the old powers is dangerous," Erandur explained. He looked pale, too pale to be healthy. "I couldn't stand by why the two of you killed yourselves. You have to find something to hold on to and use that to come back."

"Two of us? Does the elf mean Cicero and Mother?" The Keeper looked over to Mother and frowned. Mother was already dead.

"No, her," Erandur pointed back to the stairwell to a woman wearing Dragon scale armor.

Although the armor was intimidating, the woman looked small in it. Her blue eyes were sad and lonely, a feeling Cicero knew all too well. He suddenly remembered a night by a fire with his arms around this woman, but that hadn't happened. Instead, she had just ridden past him to go kill his family.

"I've entered both of your dreams, and I can connect them," Erandur explained, "but you have to remember first."

"Vaermina," Cicero hissed. He removed the noose and stood down. "The Nightmare lord. Cicero has had nightmares for years; he is familiar with her touch." He looked over to the Dragonborn and saw that her look was more predatory now. Her mouth was full of fangs and her smile smeared with blood.

"You're not the real one," Cicero said simply. Now that he was aware of where he was there was no power over him. The Keeper walked over to the figure and hugged her. When he let go, she was gone. "Where is the real Listener?"

"There," Erandur pointed to a portal that appeared and Cicero could see Hecate looking over the edge of a mountain. Her look of despair told him everything.

"Take me there," he demanded. When Erandur held his hand out, Cicero took it and the two of them vanished.

Xxxxx

"Cicero," Hecate whispered. She closed her eyes and held her left hand, the one wearing the ring Cicero gave her, over her heart. She put her left foot out over the edge and leaned forward. Hecate could already feel the wind pushing her hair back as she fell forward.

She was falling and soon it would be over.

Until a gloved hand grabbed hers and stopped everything.

Hecate opened her eyes and saw her smiling, laughing fool staring back. Cicero was precariously leaning over the edge with only one curly toed boot on the surface. His other hand was holding onto Erandur, who was standing firmly on the mountain and holding a pole that hadn't been there before.

"Where does Hecate think she's going? There's nowhere you can go that I won't follow," Cicero laughed. He pulled her back so the two of them were safely on land again. Cicero wrapped his Listener firmly in his embraced and whispered her real name, the name only he knew, in her ear.

"You are alive," Hecate said in shock. Three little words. Three such important little words.  She leaned forward and whispered three more words in Cicero's ear. The Binding Words.

They kissed and it was like falling into the Void, but in a completely different way. A very pleasant way instead of the despair they had been feeling moments earlier.

"I am happy for the two of you," Erandur said embarrassed, "and normally I would just leave the two of you to your own devices, but we still need to defeat Vaermina."

"Sorry," Hecate said as she broke the kiss. She blushed prettily as she looked away from Cicero's pleased smile. "What can we do?"

"Now that you're aware that you're asleep, it shouldn't be hard for you to awaken. Vaermina has the most control when her victim is unaware, but now that you're lucid you're back in control. Just tell yourself that you're awake and you should rejoin the real world. I'll need you to create a distraction so I can complete the ritual to end Vaermina's control on this plane. It will send her back to the Quagmire."

"How do you distract a Daedra lord?" Hecate asked.

Erandur shrugged. "Hey, that's why I brought you two along. Maybe…" He stopped when the world started to shake. "Looks like she's noticed my interference."

Xxxxx

All three mortals snapped awake as the dream fell apart. Vaermina had taken a complete physical form while Erandur was gone. She had the traditional long mage robes and wooden staff. The angry scowl was new.

"How dare you three defy me?" the Nightmare Lord declared. "Enough! If I cannot destroy your frail minds, then I'll just as easily destroy your mortal bodies!"

Hecate struggled to move, but found that her limbs didn't respond. A thin layer of green mist hung over their bodies, the Miasma Erandur had called it, and it kept her from moving. She looked to her right and saw that Cicero was in the same predicament.

"The Miasma has you completely trapped," Vaermina laughed. "Just like the last set of fools who came here."

"I might not be able to move, but that doesn't mean I'm powerless," Hecate yelled. "FUS RO DAH!" The Relentless Force shout erupted from her lips and washed harmlessly over the Daedric Lord.

"Fool! Did you really think that the words of dragons could have any effect on one such as myself?" Vaermina taunted. "I am ageless, I am Daedra, I am…"

"Shut up," Cicero said simply. Vaermina stared, open mouthed, at the Fool in shock. "Blah, blah, blah. Cicero hears nothing but the wind from Vaermina and it reminds him of one of Shadowmere's farts."

Hecate burst into laughter at the horrified look on the otherwise dignified Daedra's face. She tried to choke it off, but when Vaermina switched her glare to her, she found that she couldn't stop. Cicero's conspirator wink didn't help matters at all.

"What kind of evil mastermind sits there and expositions their plans to their fallen follower?" Cicero continued blithely. "You sound like some sort of hack villain from a third-rate bard. It's insulting really to the rest of us who are trying to get work done. Cicero supposes he should be grateful that Vaermina is propagating such a stupid image so real villains can take advantage when heroes mistakenly think that's what is going to happen, but honestly it just makes you look bad. Even Sheogorath doesn't do exposition. His monologues are much more interesting. And he gives you cheese!" Hecate was laughing so hard that her sides ached.

"How dare you!" Vaermina growled. Behind her, Erandur was shakily getting to his feet and moving towards the spot where the Skull of Corruption sat. It was Vaermina's artifact and the source of the local nightmare problem.

"Cicero dares because he isn't afraid of a few stupid nightmares!" the jester threw back. "Nightmares! What a worthless gimmick. They aren't real and they cannot hurt you. The moment one of your 'victims' realizes that, then you're completely powerless. Cicero's master, Sithis, is true power. He is true fear. Sithis is the Void and he encompasses everything! Vaermina is only a bully on the playground compared to the rest of the Daedra Lords."

"I'm…I'm powerful. I'm important," Vaermina whined. "Fear me!"

"You couldn't even come up with new or different nightmares," Cicero scoffed. "You just gave poor Cicero the same stupid theme every time. Yes, Cicero doesn't want to be alone, but surely Vaermina could have come up with something different. Teeth falling out? Late for his contract? Last day of school and Cicero hasn't been to any of his classes all semester? Even being naked in front of Astrid and her crew when coming to Falkreath for the first time? Come on, be creative!"

Cicero joined his laughter to Hecate's. Erandur looked over during his ritual and saw that Vaermina looked smaller now. Her form was becoming translucent and wavering. "I'm scary," she cried. "I'm a Daedra Lord!"

The mingled laughter of the two assassins was too much for the Nightmare Lord. As Erandur finished his ritual, the Skull shattered into a million tiny pieces. Vaermina cried out in anguish and disappeared back into the Quagmire.

With the Daedra gone, Hecate and Cicero were finally able to move. The two of them got shakily to their feet as Erandur joined them. "That was simply inspired, my friend. What made you think to taunt her back?"

"Cicero learned years ago to laugh at his troubles," the jester said with a wink. "Sometimes you either have to laugh or cry and laughing is a hell of a lot more fun than crying."

Erandur smiled. "Very wise."

"Ah, poor Cicero is just a fool," the jester shrugged causing the other two to laugh.

"Is there anything else that needs to be done?" Hecate asked returning to the topic at hand.

"I don't think so. The nightmares were channeled through the Skull. With it gone, Vaermina's direct influence is gone too. She won't be able to siphon power from people's dreams anymore." Erandur looked around. "I would like to stay here for a bit and clean up the place just to make sure we haven't missed anything. At the very least, there should be some tomes here that should be saved."

"If you don't need us, I think we'll be off then," Hecate nodded.

"Thank you so much," Erandur said offering his hands to the assassins. "I agree that you're the oddest pair of assassins I've ever met, but I am still glad you came. Dawnstar owes you much. Mara's blessing on you both."

"It was my pleasure," Hecate laughed. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention what you learned today."

"I understand about taking a new name and life," Erandur said. "I don't judge you, and I hope you find that you've chosen well."

"I think I have," Hecate said shyly as she glanced at Cicero. The Fool smiled as she entwined her hand in his. "Farewell, Erandur."

"Farewell, assassins."

Xxxxx

"I don't know about you, but I cannot wait to go home and crawl into the bed," Hecate said as they left the tower. She stretched with her arms high above her head. "Everything hurts."

"Oh, silly Listener, we slept all day!" Cicero mocked. "Surely we could do something more fun in the bedroom."

"Oh, you!" Hecate laughed. "Is that always on your mind?"

"It seemed to be on yours judging from you dreams," Cicero leered. "What was it you said to Cicero, hmm? Three certain Binding Words?"

"I didn't…" Hecate stammered, "That doesn't count!"

"Oh, come now, say it now to sweet Cicero! Just three little words!"

The Listener danced away from the Keeper's grasp as he lunged to pull her into a hug. She ran down the hill towards Sanctuary and home while sticking out her tongue and making a rude gesture. "In your dreams!"


A/N: This was a fun venue of writing stories that had small opening hooks but nowhere I could really go with it. The root of the story was what I called "The darkest fic ever," which was Cicero's final nightmare. What if he had both been betrayed during "Delayed Burial" and came to Falkreath after "Destroy the Dark Brotherhood"? I felt maybe that would have been the straw that broke the camel's back for our poor fool. It wasn't something I wanted to write alone because it was so damn depressing for me, but including it here was perfect.

Sometimes I wish I could have an opening or closing theme. There are lots of little bumps I could do with cliffhangers or dumb jokes that I cannot do with fiction. So pretend this author's note was the credits rolling at the end of an episode and this next little bit is an Easter egg similar to the ones at the end of the Marvel movies.

Thanks for reading!

Xxxxx

Vaermina sneered at the two assassins sleeping happily in the bed before her. They might have destroyed her direct influence in this world, but nightmares would always exist and thus her power was never completely gone. She chuckled evilly as she sent out one last dream. Let the jester enjoy the creativity of this one!

Xxxxx

The room is dark enough one cannot see, but the sound of labored breathing is heavy in the air. The tone picks up as the two bodies thrash hungrily against each other. Limbs intertwine and mouths nip, lick, and kiss passionately.

"Oh, oh, oooooh Mother!"

An awkward silence follows.

"Did, did you just call out the Night Mother's name when you orgasmed?" the other voice asked in disbelief.

"Yes," the reply is small and ashamed.

A candle flickers and in the light Cicero is glaring at Hecate. He shakes his head at her embarrassed expression. "Oh, Listener, for shame!"