Chapter Two: Baptism of Fire
A few days later, Arbelle found herself in the ancient city of Windhelm, accompanying Gabriella on some vague task. She hadn't been too specific, and frankly at the moment Arbelle had little reason not to trust Gabriella, for she knew if the Dunmer meant her harm, she would have come to harm already. Everything in the past few days had happened so fast, she still found herself having trouble coming to terms with her sudden fate and the choices she had so hastily made. However, she was desperate for any way out of her previous, damnable life, even if that meant taking a chance and trusting a complete stranger. No fate could possibly be worse than being left to rot in forgotten depths of Riften's Ratway for the rest of her days. Gabriella had even supplied the young Breton with a fresh set of clothes to replace her old tattered rags. No matter where things went from here, her future was looking up.
Gabriella had found them a table on the second floor of Candlehearth Hall. Since reclaiming Skyrim from the Imperials, for the Empire had fallen into further chaos following the assassination of their emperor, the place was more rowdy and celebratory than ever before. The Dark Elf bard played the classic "Age of Oppression," while a number of local Nords sung along to the beloved tune. Arbelle didn't care one way or another about their war, such matters were mere trifles to her. It's not like she had much time to ponder politics while starving half to death every night. Arbelle noticed Gabriella had barely looked at her the entire time, mostly keeping her eyes on the staircase leading to the floor.
"Care to tell me exactly what we're doing here?" Arbelle asked, yet trying her best not to sound impatient or ungrateful.
"Took you long enough to ask," Gabriella replied with an amused chuckle, showing she had been waiting for the question. "Before you can truly join our family Arbelle, I'm afraid I'll have to give you a bit of a test."
"A test? I thought you said I already showed I would be useful," Arbelle noted, suddenly feeling a bit worried and confused.
"You have, you have, but I need to know you have the stomach for our line of work. It's certainly not for everyone, even if they have talent."
"I . . . I see," said Arbelle, doing her best not to look nervous.
"I'm sure you'll do fine, I have a very good feeling about you. Honestly my dear, I think we were meant to find each other."
"Why would you say that?" Arbelle asked with a curious, mystified look.
"Shhh, here he is," Gabriella shushed Arbelle as a lumbering, clumsy figure appeared from the stairs.
"Here who is?" Arbelle asked, looking to the man in question.
He looked like a drunk dressed in rags, muttering something under his breath as he staggered into the room. Gabriella made sure her face was hidden by her hood as the drunk made his way past their table. He looked unimpressive, to say the least, so Arbelle didn't understand why Gabriella was so apparently interested in him.
"Who is that slob?" Arbelle asked when she was sure he was out of ear-shot.
"That charmer is known as Rolff Stone-Fist, a well-known lay about and bigot. He despises my people, the Dunmer, as well as the Argonians who work the docks in this city." Gabriella answered, looking a bit more relaxed now.
"So that's why you were covering your face," Arbelle deduced, although why she was looking for him was still unclear. "We're here for him? Why?"
"Simple, my dear, because you're going to end his miserable, wretched life," Gabriella said lowly, almost whispering to the Breton.
Arbelle stared back at the excited looking Gabriella, soon realizing she was as serious as serious can be. Arbelle could tell Gabriella hated the man with a passion, and why shouldn't she? The man was a bigot against her people, but was that the only reason?
"Why him? Just because he hates the Dunmer?" Arbelle inquired, stealing a look over in Rolff's direction.
He sat at a table alone, downing another bottle of mead, even though he was already so drunk he could barely walk a straight line. Arbelle had always disliked loud drunks, and there was no shortage of them in the Ratway, but a bigoted loud drunk? Arbelle had only been in his presence for less than a minute, and she already despised him.
"Scum like him I would love to kill for fun, but this will be business as well as pleasure," Gabriella replied, joining Arbelle's gaze in the drunkard's direction. "There's a contract out on Rolff, several actually. No shortage of people want that fool sent to the afterlife. Sadly, the contract's been lingering for a few months now. Most of us have been busy with more high-profile targets, what with all the business coming in now. The job doesn't pay much, so no one's taken it yet. That's where you come in, sister. Consider this your official initiation."
"Can any member of the Dark Brotherhood just recruit more members? How high up are you in the Dark Brotherhood, exactly?" Arbelle asked curiously, for Gabriella had described herself earlier as only a "talent scout."
"You are speaking to a member of the newly re-established Black Hand, the ruling council of the Dark Brotherhood, so yes, I can recruit whomever I wish."
Arbelle hadn't been aware of Gabriella's status until now. For someone of such high rank to be interested in her was both flattering and curious. Gabriella seemed particularly excited at the idea of recruiting Arbelle, and she couldn't help but wonder why. Not that she was about to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"So, uh, how should I handle this? Any advice? I mean I can't exactly just walk up to him and stick a fork in his eye, can I?" Arbelle asked in a sarcastic tone.
A smile appeared on Gabriella's face at the sweet, soothing thought.
"As satisfying as that would be to watch, such an act would only serve to get you killed. Fear not sister, I don't plan on abandoning you to your own devices on your very first contract. I happen to know of a perfect opportunity to strike out at Rolff. Every night, without fail, he goes down the Grey Quarter, a slum the Dark Elves are forced to live, and shouts insults and racial slurs at any Dunmer unfortunate enough to cross his path."
"Classy," Arbelle replied, growing to hate the Nord in question more and more by the moment. "How does that help me?"
"The Grey Quarter is dark and secluded, and everyone living there has had to put up with that vermin's insults and abuse. Even if they were to see you kill him, I doubt they'd be too eager to call the guards. They despise him."
"I'm guessing one of them is most likely responsible for the contract in the first place," Arbelle surmised, looking back to Gabriella now.
"Perhaps," Gabriella said with a telling grin. "I'm afraid all contract givers are assured full confidentiality, even to other members, due to . . . security reasons. Anyway, all you have to do is wait for him to leave, and I can almost guarantee you, his next stop will be that slum. That's where you strike."
"You'll sure he'll go there?"
"He goes down there every single night. If nothing else, at least the man is quite consistent," Gabriella said with a bit of a shrug.
"How long do you think I'll have to wait?" Arbelle asked, trying her best not to stare at Rolff much and draw unwanted attention.
"That, I cannot tell you. You'll just have to patient. Good luck, sister," Gabriella said as she rose up, beginning to depart.
Arbelle spun around in confusion and alarm.
"Wait, where are you going?"
"You can't expect me to hold your hand the whole way, can you? This is your show now," Gabriella asked, only adding to Arbelle's displeasure. "Don't worry, I'll be keeping a close eye on you. You won't see me, but I'll be watching, and admiring."
With that, Gabriella left Arbelle's presence down the same stairs Rolff had emerged from moments before. Arbelle actually found Gabriella surprisingly personable, especially for a homicidal cutthroat. She wondered if all Dark Brotherhood members were this way, unnerving, yet somehow strangely charming. She supposed she'd be finding out soon enough, provided she lived that long. Arbelle turned back to Rolff now, suddenly a lot more nervous than before. She had to keep her nerve, otherwise her life in the Dark Brotherhood would be over before it began. If she botched this opportunity, she knew she wouldn't be getting another one.
Arbelle wasn't sure how long she had been waiting, after a while she began to lose track of time. The only thing that mattered was keeping her eye on Rolff. Thankfully, he was too drunk and everyone else was too distracted to realize she was constantly looking back over to him. Time was beginning to drag agonizingly slowly, and almost like waiting for your own impending death, or in this case, someone else's. When Rolff finally stood up from his chair, Arbelle's heart practically burst from her chest. She kept her cool as best she could, letting Rolff pass her by before turning after him. Hopefully he would make no stops, and just head right over to the Gray Quarter like Gabriella said. Speaking of which, Arbelle desperately hoped Gabriella would help with the escape, because after killing Rolff she wouldn't have the slightest clue what to do, other than just make a break for it. She wondered how Gabriella would be watching her, for she was certainly nowhere in sight. For all Arbelle knew, Gabriella could have been setting her up for a fall, but something told her to keep the faith and trust her.
Arbelle made sure to keep her distance from Rolff as he exited Candlehearth Hall, yet at the same time keep him in sight. Arbelle had never been to Windhelm before, so to her this city was so alien it might as well have been a plane of Oblivion. She wasn't used to it being this cold. She could feel the chill in her bones as the freezing winds just swept straight through her body. In such a late hour of the night, the streets were mostly abandoned by the common folk, so hopefully there wouldn't be any witnesses. Arbelle's mind was going in six directions at once as Rolff turned down some stairs to a lower, more decrepit part of the city, which Arbelle assumed had to be the slum Gabriella had spoken of. At least things were going to plan so far. All that was left now was for Arbelle to keep her nerve to actually do the deed. She was nervous, of that there was no doubt, but that wasn't all. There was a sense of eagerness. Excitement. A rush of blood and emotion was building up inside with each second she edged closer to the kill. She knew she had been given an easy first contract, but there was still plenty of ways to screw this up if she wasn't careful. Rolff was far too drunk to even notice Arbelle's presence, let alone realize she had been following him. Now that he was firmly in the depths of the Gray Quarter, the shouts and insults began pouring from his ugly, wretched mouth.
"Dirty, filthy gray-skins! Go back to Morrowind! Alla yous!" Rolff shouted into the empty streets, slurring his words quite badly.
"A true charmer," Arbelle said quietly, echoing Gabriella's words.
At the moment there was no one on the streets with them, but that could have changed at any moment. She had built herself up long enough. The more time she wasted, the worse off she'd be. She needed to get this done and over with. For her new life to start, this man needed to die. For Arbelle, after all that she had suffered, it was an easy choice. She ahd already killed before, and she could do it again. She was nervous, yet not afraid. She had been soaking up punishment and abuse from fools like Rolff her whole damn life. Now it was time to retrun the favor. To give it all back, in spades. In fire and blood.
An intense heat began crackling in Arbelle's hands. Rolff must have heard the sound of the nearby spell, for he turned in Arbelle's direction.
"Hey, you're not a gray-skin. What, what're ya doin' here in this pisshole?" Rolff asked, not seeming to register the deadly spell about to be unleashed upon him.
Arbelle didn't even flinch. She was locked in and the words came to her as naturally as death itself.
"I'm here for you, Rolff. For your blood, and your soul."
Before Rolff could muster a response, Arbelle let the spell fly, straight into Rolff's chest. The ignorant Nords' life was extinguished in an instant when the inferno consumed his being, silencing the bigot forever. Arbelle should have run the moment she had done the deed, but she found herself unable to look away from the charred, still carcass Rolff had been reduced to. Admiring her work. Reveling in the moment. For the first time in years she felt alive, like she had finally found her life's true purpose. It was a glorious feeling, and she already wanted more.
Arbelle was snapped from her trance when an unseen force grabbed her and pulled her away from the scene. Seconds later she heard a startling shock, for the body had no doubt been discovered. Suddenly Arbelle found herself running alongside Gabriella, who had pulled her from the fire just as she said she would. There would be time to talk later, for now the only thing that mattered was escaping the city. The city gates were slightly ajar, and no guards to watch them. Obviously Gabriella's handiwork, Arbelle thought. The gate guards had either been paid off, run off, or killed off. Arbelle and Gabriella slipped past the doors and out of the city like clockwork, but they didn't stop running until they were over the bridge. When the two were sure they were out of danger, they stopped for a moment to catch their breaths.
"By Sithis girl, you could've been a bit more discreet," Gabriella said, although clearly more amused than annoyed.
"You said dead, not discreet," Arbelle said back between breaths, managing an audible laugh. "That was fun, real fun," Arbelle admitted, looking back at Gabriella with eager eyes. "So, am I in?"
"Oh yes, you're definitely in," Gabriella replied with a sly grin. "You were born for this my girl, I can see it in your eyes. I think you'll go far with us, very far. Welcome to the family."