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The Vengeance War

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"Yet another child has prayed to their mother..."

Alexander jolts upright and draws his dagger from under the pillow, urging his eyes to focus through the blurred vision of an interrupted sleep. Adrenaline surges through his veins and sends his mind reeling as he aims his weapon this way and that, desperate to find the source of his panic. To both his relief and his frustration, he finds no immediate threat to his life through the dim glow of a lantern's flame dancing peacefully across the bedroom. Without a second thought, Hamilton tosses the intricate blade onto the lush comforter near his feet and drops back down to the unfamiliar pillow.

"I gotta get my own place," Alexander moans, splaying the crook of his arm across his eyes. Despite what felt like an eternity of sleep, he still feels the weight of exhaustion pulling him down and threatening to fuse him to Hercules' mattress. Though, that always seems to be the case whenever he sleeps so clear to the Mother.

He rolls over onto his side and lightly kicks at the dagger by his bare feet, hissing slightly when he feels the tip of it press against his toe through the blankets. How funny is that? Alexander Hamilton, the infamous Lion that stalks and terrorizes Skyrim for a living, who stands as one of the most skilled assassins in all of Tamriel, and who is quite possibly the best thief to have ever lived in the realm of Nirn, doesn't have a single property to his name. No—not anymore, at least.

Hamilton catches himself gritting his teeth and forces himself to release the tension in his jaw. Silently seething, he pries open his eyes and stares into a dimly lit shelf placed against the wall ahead of him. Yes, that's just hilarious isn't it?

With a huff, Alexander begins to tear the blankets off of himself and sits upright in the bed. There's no way he'll be able to get back to sleep now, especially not with the looming temptation of a new target dangling over his head like a chunk of meat on a rope. He almost hates himself for carelessly sleeping so close to her. It's never worth it, so why does he keep—

A shrill clang pierces the silence of the room and sends a shockwave through his body. With a long, knowing sigh, Alexander leans to peer over the side of the bed and lays eyes on his dagger—his gorgeous, one-of-a-kind, custom-made glass dagger—laying along on the cold, stone floor.

"You know, for something so perfect, you really are a pain in my ass sometimes," Hamilton tells it, though he doesn't get much of a response. With a grunt of effort, he scoots himself over to the edge of the bed and splays himself over the side of the mattress, reaching for the dagger that seems just a bit too far away. Blood rushes down to his head and creates a deafening ringing in his ears, introducing the tell-tale signs of an incoming headache. His night shirt slides up his chest at the awkward angle of his body, to which he nearly falls to the floor trying to adjust, only for it to slide right up his chest again. Forget it.

The dagger spins in place by its handle, catching the light and glinting beautifully as Alexander's fingers graze its surface. He lets out another grunt of effort as he skims it, but he only seems to push it even further away. Really, it would just be easier to get up and get it, but it's at the tip of his fingers...

A harsh knock resounds through the room, and Alexander's heart leaps in his chest in a panic. Flailing his body this way and that, he kicks violently to try to get himself back upright in the bed, but only manages to tie his legs around the pile of blankets he had tossed aside just a minute prior. With the dagger entirely forgotten, he pushes upwards from the floor to try to pull himself onto the mattress.

Alexander hears the creak of the door far more clearly than he'd have liked, and jerks his body as best as he can to get himself back into a presentable position. His heart sinks as the arm supporting him on the floor suddenly gives out. Shit!

"Are you trying to kill people in your sleep again?" a voice calls out. But as the door opens wider and reveals more of the bedroom he occupies, the only response she's met with is the dull thud of Alexander's body hitting the floor, tangled helplessly in a knotted mess of blankets. He lays his head down on the stone in surrender, his face resting just inches away from the dagger he had tried so hard to retrieve.

"I don't wanna talk about it," Hamilton grumbles before she can interject, watching her climb up the handful of steps to the stone platform the bed rests upon. With a sly smile he's not sure he was meant to see, the lady in red kneels down by his side and takes the glass dagger into her hands, beginning to twirl it delicately.

"What are you doing?" she hums, and Alexander swears he can hear the grin in her voice. He rolls his eyes and attempts to move his legs within the bindings. Of all the messes he could have gotten into...

"I'm slaughtering bandits, what does it fucking look like I'm doing?" he hisses, managing to pry one of his hands out from underneath himself to try and unravel the blankets manually. "Are you gonna help me or not?"

"I could, but..." Alexander's body halts at the sensation of a cool, metal surface pressing into his throat, threatening to draw blood. Daring to glance down, he spots the familiar glimmer of turquoise and gold, and lets out a shaky breath.

"Maria Reynolds, don't you fucking dare," he threatens, trying to keep his voice level. Of course, out of all the people in the world who'd want to kill him, he's probably the least surprised that it would be her to do it in the end. At least other people might let him put some pants on first.

At this, Maria gives him a coy smile and drops the weapon, leaving Alexander to cringe at the sound so close to his ears. "You really don't think I'd kill you, do you?" she smiles, taking his chin into her cold, manicured hands. "After all we've been through?"

Hamilton gives her an indignant huff and jerks his head out of her grip, trying to get his shaking under control. "Can't be too careful..." he mumbles, rolling himself over just enough to loosen the blankets. One by one, he slides his legs free from their bonds and readjusts his clothing before she can see too much of him. Again.

"You really need to learn to take a joke," Maria lightly scolds. "I might kill you if you don't.

"Ha-ha, you're so funny," Alexander mocks, sitting upright. "Did you do what I told you to do?"

Maria tuts lightly at him, tapping the tip of his nose with her finger. "Changing the subject so soon? That's very telling, Hammy."

Hamilton swats her hand away and gives her a pout. He is really far too tired to be dealing with this right now. "Did you or did you not?" Seeing an opportunity, she delivers a firm slap onto the arch of his back, nearly knocking the wind out of him in one go.

"Would I be here if I didn't?" she asks, crossing her arms over her chest indignantly.

"I don't know... would you?" he challenges through his labored breathing, and waves her away to give him room to stand. With a small smile, she decides to humor him.

"For the sake of our friendship, I'm gonna ignore that," Maria teases, brushing the creases out of her red, leather armor. Shakily, Alexander stands, trying to ignore the pounding headache surging through his head.

"Is there anything about the mission that I should know about?" he asks, slowly leaning down to pick up the pile of blankets and tossing them back onto the bed. He'd have to remember to clean that up, or Hercules might actually use him for fireball target practice for leaving his bedroom in such disarray.

Maria shrugs one shoulder and bends down to pick up his dagger. Alexander is about to protest when she turns toward the light and begins to rotate it back and forth in her hands, trying to make out the symbols as they shimmer in the flamelight. "I don't know. She left you a gift, if you care about that."

The Lion furrows his eyebrows and rips his eyes from the dagger to meet her eyes. By this point, he had become quite familiar with her methods, and saw through the lines before she even finished speaking. "What do you mean by that?"

With a deadpan look, Maria meets his eyes and tosses the dagger at him without warning, leaving him to scramble to catch it without cutting himself on the blade. Dramatically, she gestures her way through her sentence. "She. Left. You. A. Gift," Maria repeats slowly and mockingly. "Do you want me to spell it out for you? She likes you."

"No—" Alexander groans, pinching the bridge of his nods. He should have just stayed in bed. "Are you telling me that she's not here?"

At this, Maria gives pause, and makes a small glance around the bedroom. "She refused to come with me, even after I told her what was going on. She wanted to go to Riften.

He sighs. Of course she did.

"Fine," Alexander relents. "I... guess maybe I should thank you for going and doing that for me. I know it was last minute."

With a shrug and a smile, Maria turns away from him and heads down the steps from the elevated stone platform. "You know you can always count on me, Hammy."

Silently watching her take her leave, Alexander feels himself relax. That much was true. He can count on her to help whenever he needs her most. Though she's frustrating and a little difficult to work with, the pain is always worth it in the end.

--

Hearing the soft pattering of approaching footsteps, Hercules lifts his gaze from his book and watches with confusion as Alexander enters the main hall. "You done sleeping already? It's only been a couple hours," he asks with concern.

Hamilton, now dressed rather lazily in a green garb clearly meant for commoners, gives his friend a long sigh before glancing up through the iron bar wall to the second floor. As if knowingly, Hercules gives him a sympathetic nod, and watches as he drops his bag to the floor.

"I hope you have good news for me," Alexander says wearily, pulling a chair out from Hercules' desk to sit.

"I do," Mulligan says, closing his book and allowing it to levitate off to a nearby bookshelf. He reaches across his desk to the pile of scrolls he had been presented with earlier in the day and grabs a tidy roll of paper tied off with a brown ribbon. In one smooth motion, he removes the ribbon and unravels the paper to present to Alexander to look over. "It didn't take too long, don't worry."

The Lion purses his lips, glancing over the foreign symbols dotting the page before him. "And you're sure this is the right one?"

Hercules gives a small snort and nods. "I'd bet my ass on it," he claims, and turns the paper back toward himself to look it over once again. "It's pretty amazing, actually. This type of spell is rare but totally worth the effort to make."

Alexander's eyebrow can't help but cock with interest at that, and he just barely catches himself before he's able to ask any questions. He knows far too well that Hercules would give him a full-blown lecture and urge him to join some school of magic before he could get his hands on that scroll again. In times like these, it's best to simply nod and bite his tongue. And so he does.

"Great," Hamilton says, sitting upright in his chair, "then I'll just take it and be on my way." Expectantly, he reaches out his hand to take the scroll back for himself.

Hercules, however, simply moves the paper out of his reach without much effort, leaving the Lion to lower his eyebrows suspiciously. "I already agreed to split the money with you, don't tell me you've changed your mind already," Alexander accuses, readying himself for a challenge.

But the other man only scoffs at his antics. "You gotta work on your trust issues, man," Mulligan scolds, swatting the smaller man's hand away. Begrudgingly, Hamilton retreats his hand and crosses his arms firmly over his chest, narrowing his eyes at his friend.

"Then what's this about?"

Turning the scroll back towards Alexander, Hercules runs his finger along one sentence on the page. "This isn't a blinding spell," he lectures, finally resting his finger on a single word of text that Hamilton only squints at. "It's a binding enchantment."

A beat of silence passes between the two, with only the sound of the wind howling above them to fill the space. Alexander twists his wrist questioningly and gives his friend an unamused look. "Am I supposed to know what that means?"

Tossing the unfurled scroll back onto his desk, Hercules leans back in his chair with an audible creak and begins to rub his face between his hands. He then scoots to the edge of his seat and leans forward until his own face is only a few inches away from Alexander's. Taking on a deathly serious expression, he says, "An enchantment is a type of spell that mages put onto objects to give them magical properties."

Hamilton lets out a loud grown and throws himself back in his chair, pressing his fingers into his temples. "I didn't come out here to be lectured about magic, Herc." God damn it, this is exactly what he was trying to avoid.

"I wasn't finished," Hercules deadpans.

Alexander pouts and crosses his arms over his chest again. "You're gonna turn this into some huge lecture and I'm gonna hate it, and then you're gonna hate it because I hate it, so why don't we skip the bullshit and you gimme my scroll back."

"Shut up and listen," Hercules snaps, much to the Lion's dismay. "Enchantments give objects magical properties. Enchanted objects, like armor and jewelry, don't need any additional magic to use them. So a person who doesn't practice magic can still use enchanted objects. Are you still with me?"

Hamilton sighs and points his thumb over his shoulder toward the exit, allowing his head to slump over lazily. "If you're gonna talk to me like I'm a child, I'm just gonna go back to bed."

"If you're gonna act like a child, I'm gonna treat you like a child," Mulligan scolds unapologetically. "Listen, Alex. This scroll, when finished, is gonna give the user the ability to enchant an object with a spell of binding."

Furrowing his eyebrows, Alexander gives him a bemused frown. "Well that's useless," he argues, gesturing wildly. "Leave it to some dumb mages in some far off land to reinvent stupid ways to do the same shit we already know how to do. You don't need a magic spell or an enchantment or a potion or whatever to build a house or to sneak through shadows. What's the fuckin' point of some dumb spell like that?"

Hercules slowly inhales and exhales, which Alexander recognizes as him considering his battles quite carefully. "Okay. I'll give you an example, since you're so interested to know." The Lion snorts at that. Apparently the answer is to avoid the battles entirely. "If I were to use this enchantment on a pair of boots, and put those boots onto another person, no other person in the entire world, aside from myself, would ever be able to take those boots off of that person."

Silence follows as Hamilton feels his blood begin to boil. Watching the anger creep onto his face, Hercules motions his hands as if to calm him, but it does nothing to quell the Lion's fury. "What the fuck kind of a spell is that?! That's downright torture, Herc, and you think it's a good spell?!"

"Chill out, I'm not do—"

"The Thalmor are behind this, aren't they?! Only their disgusting mages could come up with something so fucking horrible to torture people. And all because we reserve the right to worship a god they don't believe in. And the mages at the college! They must be cooperating with them to make this spell, they have to be—"

"If someone willingly puts on an item with that enchantment, then only they would be able to take that item off. No one else could," Hercules bulldozes, raising his voice to top Alexander's. Silence quickly follows as Hamilton stares at the mage, quickly forgetting his anger as he lets the reality of Hercules' words settle into him. He breaks eye contact only to stare at the unfurled scroll on the table across from him, as if trying to understand its secrets.

"Are you saying," Hamilton begins slowly, "that if I put on a piece of armor enchanted with that scroll, nobody would ever be able to take it off... except me?"

As if in relief, Hercules lets out a sigh and nods. "That's what I've been trying to explain, man." Holy shit. Alexander feels his heart begin to race in his chest, and the possibilities begin to appear in his mind faster than he can process them. With power like that...

"I could be unstoppable," he only barely manages to breath out, breaking into a delighted grin, which earns a light chuckle from the man across from him.

"I really do want what's best for you," Hercules muses, taking the scroll back into his hands and beginning to roll it up. "I wasn't kidding about the trust issues thing, by the way."

"Herc," Hamilton halts, leaning forward to put his hand on the man's knee with a serious expression on his face. "Could you do that to an item that's already enchanted?" The guildmaster frowns as he watches Alexander turn to dig through his bag on the floor, and levitates the brown ribbon to tie the scroll off neatly once more. "Shit, where is it? It's in here somewhere..."

"What could you possibly have that's enchan—" Hercules begins to doubt, until he's presented with a pale orange mask that glints a soft red in the flamelight. Against his will, the mage lets out a gasp and snatches the mask from his hands. "By the gods, where did you find this?!"

"From some shitty mage in a shitty house in the middle of nowhere. It's not important," Alexander dismisses, watching him turn the mask over and over in his hands, inspecting every little nick and ding that it's managed to accumulate in its long history. "Apparently it's enchanted, but he never really explained what's on it. What I wanna know is, can you add that binding thing to this mask?"

Hercules rubs his thumb along the thin eye holes of the mask and lets out a delighted laugh. "I never thought I'd see the day... The Lion, in all of his awful glory, wearing the dragon priest mask of Volsung... And better yet, for it to be entirely unremovable...

"So you can do it?" Alexander rushes out, his eyes widening like a child receiving a brand new toy.

"I'd have to overwrite an enchantment or two, but yes. I can do it."

To both of their surprise, Hamilton leaps out of his chair and punches joyfully in the air, accepting this turn of events as a monumental victory. "Hell fucking yes!" he exclaims, earning a laugh from his companion. "Gods, I'm so pumped! The next time I get arrested and the guards go to take the mask off—to finally see the true identity of the Lion once and for all—only for the mask to stick right on there! The looks on their faces will be legendary!"

Hercules laughs heartily and motions for him to sit back down, but Alexander is entirely unwilling to comply through his glory. "Calm down, calm down. We have to go to the College of Winterhold to finish the scroll before I can go and do any kind of enchanting." At this, Alexander seems to deflate almost instantaneously, and he gives the man a defeated expression.

"I forgot about that," Hamilton mumbles, slumping back into his chair rather dejectedly. "The College has gotta be heavily guarded, especially now that they know I stole their scroll. How are we gonna get through?" God damn it, he can't ever have anything good in the world, can he?

At that, Mulligan can't help but cackle in a way that only manages to startle the smaller man. "You're joking, right?" the guildmaster manages to get out. "You're the fucking Lion, man, and you're concerned about getting caught? Don't kid yourself, you could sneak right past them and they wouldn't bat an eye."

With a small shrug of his shoulder, Alexander glances up and down at him. "I'm not the one I'm concerned about..."

Hercules waves his free hand dismissively, seeming unwilling to let go of the mask. "Don't insult me. I didn't become the guildmaster of the Dark Brotherhood for nothing, you know."

"Could've fooled me," a voice calls from the doorway, leaving the two of them to turn toward the approaching figure. To Alexander's relief, he watches as Maria trails into the room with a simple brown package in her hands and a challenging smile on her face. "Seemed to be pure luck that you ended up in that position. I'm sure you'll recall the guild's... little accident."

Hamilton is unable to hold back the coy grin that creeps onto his face, and knowingly glances at Hercules with expectation. The two assassins before him had been friends since before the Lion had ever become a member of their little guild, and mockery had always been a love language to the two of them. So when Hercules does nothing but give her a firm, pensive glare, Alexander can't help but shift his grin into a frown.

"Alex," Maria beckons, offering the package to him. "The gift I mentioned." Obediently accepting it, Hamilton mumbles a simple 'thank you' and places it into his lap. He feels the contents rattle with each slight movement, and he stares down at it with creeping knowledge of what exactly is inside.

"What is that?" Maria asks, pointing at the mask with a strange look on her face. "A new face for Mother?" Alexander snorts at her.

"No. Check it out, we found a spell that can—"

"Maria," Hercules interrupts with a disgusted glare on his face, throwing both Alexander and Maria off guard. "I need to have a word with you."

The lady in red gives a short glance between the two of them before letting off a sly chuckle, as if to calm her own tensions. "Did you finally realize I'm a better guild leader than you? It's cute that you want to preserve your pride by discussing this change of leadership in private, but I think Alex can handle—"

"Now," Hercules demands, placing the mask of Volsung on his desk and standing from his chair. In one motion, he turns on his heel and makes for the hallway leading out of the room. Maria furrows her eyebrows and silently follows behind the guildmaster, leaving Alexander to himself once again.

"What was that?" he mutters with a frown. In all of their years of friendship, he had never once seen Hercules act like that toward an experienced member of the guild. Maybe to a recruit or two after a particularly nasty screw-up, or even when James Reynolds had betrayed the guild and paid for his life, but never to someone who didn't deserve it. Least of all, to Maria.

With a small sigh, Alexander turns his attention back to the brown package in his hands. Instinctively, he begins to tear it open, only vaguely listening as the rattling becomes louder with every sealed layer he peels away. For a brief moment, he regards the sender fondly for the care and dedication that was always guaranteed, but it dissipates quickly as his mind his drawn back to Maria. What the hell could they be talking about back there? It lurks in the back of his mind like an itch he can't quite scratch.

Peeling away the final layer and freeing the contents from its bonds, Hamilton lays his eyes on four bundles of magnificently crafted glass arrows. Tucked between two of the bundles is an elegant note written in a cursive so complicated that his eyes cross trying to make out the letters, and he gives up immediately. He can't help but furrow his eyebrows. It must be an important matter considering that Hercules had pulled her away so suddenly. But he was in such a good mood just a short while ago, so what happened?

Alexander leans down to grab his bag and opens it up, dumping the bundles of arrows into it without much thought. He makes a mental note to restock them into his quiver later, but it's quickly forgotten as his mind shifts gears once again. What the fuck is going on back there? He needs to know.

With a huff and a pout, Hamilton quickly stands from the chair and snatches the mask and the scroll from the desk, shoving them into his bag in one motion. He turns on his heel and begins to head for the hallway the pair had gone down previously, throwing his bag over his shoulder and taking on a determined expression.

"I'm the fucking Lion," Alexander thinks to himself. "If I wanna go see, I have every damn right to." Besides, it's not like the two of them would ever be able to tell he's in there, anyway. So what's the harm?

As he travels down the hallway and makes his way to the dorm rooms, the Lion takes great caution not to be seen by any recruits or members of the guild on his way. Though he doesn't have his special-made sneaking armor on, it's only natural that someone of his caliber should be able to stalk through the shadows without much difficulty. And as he hears the pair of voices get louder with every step, he trusts in his skills to protect him.

"... gotta be kidding me," Alexander hears Maria groan, her voice echoing through the dorms. "How long have we known each other now? And you seriously think I'm betraying the Brotherhood?" What the fuck? What is she talking about? The Lion furrows his eyebrows and silently approaches the door to her bedroom, which is open only a crack. Even so, it's just enough for him to peer inside without being seen.

"Don't think you can squirm out of this," Hercules spits, wearing the most disgusted expression Alexander thinks he's ever seen on the man. "Your husband was a traitor, and so are you. You've followed in his footsteps. I should have seen it coming."

"What? Is that what this is about? He's dead, Herc, and you know damn well I had nothing to do with that."

"I don't fucking believe you anymore."

Maria lets out a loud groan that makes Alexander's stomach churn. "Then what? What do you want me to do? Pray to a daedric prince to come down and make things right? Do you want me to plead to the Night Mother and beg for her to vouch for my innocence? To prove you wrong? Is that it?"

"I want you to leave," Hercules demands, and Alexander's heart seems to stop. No, no, no, this can't be happening. This can not be happening. There has to be a misunderstanding, an error, a lie. Something isn't right. What is it? What?

He considers throwing the door open and barging into her room, demanding an explanation from their guildmaster. He considers vouching for her, to give his input and defend her as she would surely defend him. He considers pulling her aside and reassuring her that everything will be alright, that this is just a phase and Hercules will change his mind by the end of the day.

But as Maria shouts profanities and hurls insults to Hercules, all he can do is hide behind the door and watch. And as she storms for the exit and throws the door open, slamming it against the wall in her fury, he can only dive for the shadows for protection and coverage. And as her red figure disappears around the corner at the end of the hallway, he just can't bring himself to call out and bring her back.