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Previously: Uninvited Guests

Indrathel barely slept. When she fought the bandits at Hraggstad, she left feeling alive, invigorated even. Fighting vampires, on the other hand, left her shaken and unable to calm down.

Thank you very fucking much, Mara, she scowled into the dark.

She could recall meeting a vampire before, not in her old memories nor her new ones. They were a thing of myth and rumor. Mostly they were seen as diseased people who were usually cured. But to see an undead bloodsucker up close, knowing that it could be either a few days old or a few centuries, was mind-boggling.

She suddenly realized that when she saw all those bodies in the towers, they hadn't been real to her. The skirmish here, however, had brought them sharply into focus.

Like her fellow soldiers, Indrathel was happy to get the hell out of Northwatch as soon as the sun came up. She didn't know much about vampires, but she knew they didn't like the sun. Unfortunately, it yet another snowy day.

"Stay together," she instructed the other Thalmor. "Do not stray from the main road. Find civilization as soon as possible and only sleep indoors." She didn't need to tell them twice.



She set back out towards the east, determined to not stop for anything. She'd only been on the road for a few minutes when she heard the clash of swords and the cry of voices.

Dear gods, she tensed, not again.

Her hand flew to the hilt of her dagger as her heart began to pound, but her feet soon slowed to a stop. She breathed a sigh of relief to find an Imperial patrol cutting down a group of Stormcloaks. Even so, she didn't join in. The sound of dying men and the smell of blood caused her tense up.

"Morning," the Legate in command coolly greeted, as she approached.

"Good morning," she greeted neutrally.

"You bound for the Embassy?"

"I am," she confirmed.

"We are bound for Castle Dour," he told her. "Shall we accompany you part of the way?"

"Of course," Indrathel replied, trying not to sound too eager.

"I am Legate Fortis Ticemius," he introduced as she fell into line with him and his soldiers.

"Commander Indrathel," she said quietly.

"You just come from Northwatch Keep?"

Her jaw clenched. "Yes," she replied tightly, working hard to betray nothing.

Fortis chuckled. "We've just come from the Reach. Awfully wild down there. Between the Forsworn and the Stormcloaks, it's like we were fighting someone every other day."

Indrathel raised an eyebrow. "The Forsworn?"

"Natives of the Reach," he answered helpfully. "They want their land, along with all its silver mines."

Her head rose and fell. "I see."

"And you? Any interesting adventures?"

The first rule of being a Thalmor agent was to share nothing. "I'm new to Skyrim," Indrathel replied. "Just arrived a few days ago. Haven't seen much of anything."

"I'm from the Imperial City myself," Fortis grinned. "The first thing I learned about Skyrim is that there's always someone--or something--trying to kill you."

***



Indrathel arrived at the Thalmor Embassy at dawn the next day. Camping in the woods with the Imperials had done nothing to lessen her anxiety; as soon as she smelled morning, she headed out on her own. Skyrim was irritatingly beautiful this morning, with blue skies and the sun shining down upon the snowy hills.

Where was this two days ago? she scowled at the sky, as she entered the Embassy courtyard. The sun would have given us an advantage against the vampires.

She got looks from soldiers and mages patrolling the grounds and for the first time since arriving in Skyrim, she felt self-conscious about her looks. They were doing double-takes, and some looked confused, as though they weren't sure whether or not she was lost.

It was one thing to fend off the occasional zinger about her ancestry, but after practically being sent to her death along with a bunch of 'undesirables', the looks she received now actually stung.


She found Elenwen on the stairs, no doubt bound for her dingy little dining room. The Ambassador was surprised to see her.

"That was speedy," the older woman raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't expecting you back for at least another week." She looked Indrathel over. "Would you like a bath, Commander?"

"Ambassador, Northwatch Keep has fallen," Indrathel told her bluntly. Her voice was different again, forceful, no-nonsense. "The fort was overrun by vampires the day before yesterday."

She took deep, perverse pleasure in watching the blood drain from Elenwen's face.

When the Ambassador finally spoke, her voice was halting. "Was it...a total loss?"

"Almost," Indrathel nodded. "Aside for myself, I estimate only four other people escaped." After a beat she added, "All the prisoners were killed."

She felt another deep pang of pleasure watching Elenwen visibly twitch.

"You should get some rest," the Ambassador whispered, before clearing her throat and speaking a little more clearly. "You've clearly been through an ordeal. I'll have Brelas prepare your room and draw you a bath. Would you like something to eat?"

***


Even after a hot bath and warm meal, after finding herself behind the safety of the Embassy walls once more, Indrathel struggled to sleep.

She was exhausted from days of traveling and fighting, and the feel of a clean, soft bed wasn't the comfort she expected. In the rare moments she finally drifted off, she dreamed of blood, fangs, and screaming. She'd wake, shivering in a cold sweat.

She rose some time after dawn and bathed again, savoring the feel of hot water on her skin and in her hair, the smell of clean clothes.

"The Ambassador invites you to breakfast," Brelas told her.

I bet she does, Indrathel smirked. And now...the cover-up begins.

Northwatch Keep had to be held and that wasn't going to happen if the any Thalmor who took the assignment if they knew the whole truth. There were would be resignations and desertions, which the Dominion couldn't afford, especially not now.

She felt oddly calm when she sat down across from the old woman who, Indrathel noted, wasn't eating.

"Did you sleep well?" Elenwen began, her voice much nicer than usual.

"Hardly," came the succinct reply.

"Of course not," the Ambassador nodded. "I can imagine what your dreams are like."

"What will happen with Northwatch Keep?" Indrathel asked bluntly, helping herself to some eggs and bacon.

"I'm diverting a number of our justiciars to collect the bodies of our fallen," Elenwen replied.

"Mm-hm," Indrathel nodded, refilling her mug with hot tea. The cold of Skyrim was a living thing, penetrating skin and bone. It's like she just couldn't get warm enough. "But what about the fort? Will we be abandoning the fort?"

There was a pause before Elenwen gave the answer Indrathel she already knew was coming.

"Northwatch Keep is a strategic location, Commander," she began tentatively. "We cannot abandon. I will deploy a new contingent to man the battlements. But, I will be sending a message to Volkihar about keeping their little bloodsuckers in line."

Indrathel stopped eat, stopped drinking, and stared the old woman in her eyes. "Volkihar?"

Elenwen hesitated again before speaking. "The seat of vampire royalty in Skyrim lies within the walls of Castle Volkihar...which you may have noticed was just across the sea from the fort."

Indrathel set her mug. "Vampires? You deployed a troop of Thalmor to a fort across from vampires?"

"One of the senior members at the court of Volkihar is a former Thalmor agent himself," the Ambassador hurriedly explained. We have understanding. Or at least had. The mortal and immortal aren't supposed to mix, not like that. But it appears they've been having a bit of a civil war themselves."

"And you knew?" Indrathel blinked, her tone clipped. "Of course you knew. That's why you sent those of us you found undesirable--half-breed, lowborn, bastards--into the path of bloodsucking creatures of the night?"

"You are not an undesirable!" Elenwen rasped. "You graduated top of your class. You came highly recommended from the Academy; I could practically hear the applause when I opened up the letters."

"And the others?" Indrathel bit out.

"The others?" Elenwen exclaimed. She suddenly looked distraught, which threw Indrathel for a loop. "There are no 'others', Indrathel. Every Thalmor who lands a shitty assignment whines about not being from a great family. For fuck's sake, my mother was seamstress and my father baked pies. Why do you think I've been stuck in Skyrim for over thirty years? Because all the Thalmor who have actual connections are back home, on their estates in the Summerset Isles. Or they're in Cyrodiil, sipping Colovian brandy in the fucking Emperor's court!"

"Fuck me," Indrathel blurted without thinking. She blinked rapidly, struggling to process this information. "Fuck...me."

The Ambassador snorted, smirking as she continued, "Did you really think any of us wanted to come here?" She actually laughed. "The endless cold, the unwashed Nords, Dark Elves moving in from Morrowind, bloody Argonians at every harbor, entire hills full of fucking Orcs--out of all the posts in Tamriel, you think any of us willingly chose Skyrim?"

Indrathel stared at her dumbly, not sure of what to say next.

"You think you're the only half-blood elf running around Tamriel?" Elenwen snickered. "I thought you were supposed to be the clever one. Indrathel, the Altmeri have been fucking anything with a pulse for thousands of years. Does the Dominion like it? Of course not, but they can't stop it. And besides, we've got more important things to worry about."

"Where are you sending me next?" Indrathel finally demanded. "We both know I'd rather die than step foot back in Northwatch Keep."

"No," Elenwen admitted. "Of course not. I'm sending you to our headquarters in Solitude. I should warn you; it's a dull assignment, and the Thalmor aren't welcomed with open arms just because it's the capital. Not to mention, Solitude's been in bit of a decline for quite some time. A lot less nobles, a lot less wealth and splendor. But the food is still fairly decent, and there are a few distractions to help you cope with your...ordeal."

"When do I leave?"

"As soon as I can make arrangements with Mirnor," the Ambassador nodded patiently. "But first, I want to everything about what happened at the fort, from beginning to end, in detail."

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