Girls' Night Out, Part I


Previously: Stentor

Viktoriyah didn't like how Sybille's words stung, but she didn't let it show. She let the mage storm past her, out of Castle Dour. Viktoriyah followed but maintained her distance, giving herself time to think--and she needed to think quickly.

It seemed the most logical course of action was to kill her, but Viktoriyah didn't want to. Much to her chagrin, she pitied the young vampire. And to be fair, Sybille had served under two kings. She knew a lot about the politics of the Blue Palace, and it would be best to learn what she knew.

I was nobody before King Istlod brought me to court.

Simple words that meant so much. It explained Sybille's addiction to extravagance, her fervent desire to remain at the palace. She'd probably been turned early, by accident, and instead leaving, she was determined to stick it out and get her due.

She probably desired him, Viktoriyah mused. Probably envied his queen, and all the noblewomen at court.

The only thing more desperate than a vampire clinging to their mortal life was a peasant clinging to their fantasy of being royal. In life, Sybille Stentor was clearly lowborn, and even now, not a great beauty; if not for her intellect, she would probably have lived and died on a farm, in a mine, or at a shop somewhere. Despite having died, that fear of poverty and mediocrity still hadn't abated. If anything, the ongoing war may have exacerbated it.

It was sad, pathetic...and Viktoriyah's only way in.

***


Sybille wanted nothing more than to bathe away the stench of the dungeons and crawl into bed, but before she could, her chamber doors opened and in stepped Viktoriyah.

The mage flashed the beautiful vampire an annoyed look, but then did a double take. Viktoriyah had changed to a strapless red gown with a black lace and a black corset. It bared a shocking amount of cleavage and made Sybille wonder if dressing like a harlot was in style at Volkihar.

The older vampire was carrying another dress in her arms, a pair of pretty black boots. "These are yours," Viktoriyah handed it to her. "Put them on."

Sybille examined her gift. It was even redder, with a black leather corset, but she let out a soft gasp when she realized the silk was elvish, not Imperial.

As if in a dream, she stripped down and stepped out of her mage robes, before slipping on her present. The dress was somewhat loose, so Viktoriyah fastened her laces extra tight while Sybille stared down at a cleavage she'd never bothered to notice before.


Viktoriyah draped a gold necklace set with a large ruby around her neck. After Sybille put on the boots, the older vampire stepped back, looking at her almost affectionately while softly murmuring, "There now...we're two spoiled noble girls."

Sybille was caught off guard, but quickly composed herself. "This isn't me, you know."

"That's what I said," Viktoriyah, "in the beginning. But if you so desire, you can have chests full of any dresses and trinkets you like. Vampires don't use gold as much as mortals, and so we have entire vaults of treasures."

Sybille knew where this was going and yet instead of telling Viktoriyah to leave, she heard herself say, "Maybe I don't want to wear pretty things and spend money. I'm a mage. I'm called to...higher things."

"As I said, we have mages at Volkihar," the tall vampire reminded her. "Alchemists, necromancers...a library with more books than I've ever bothered to count. You could spend eternity learning all manner of arcane mysteries...if you wish."

"I can't just up and leave," Sybille pushed back, weakly now. She could smell the perfume in the gown; it was magical, of course, no doubt to meant to disguise a vampire. It suddenly occurred to that there was really an entire castle full of vampires, with a lifestyle tailored specifically to them. The clothes weren't just clothes; the baubles weren't just baubles. Like Viktoriyah, there was much, much more to what met the eye. "I have to stay...and work and..."

"We are traveling by portal," Viktoriyah smiled broadly, her eyes gentle. "We'll be back well before dawn."

Sybille hesitated. "Just for the night?"

The older vampire nodded assuringly. "Just for the night."

***


The next thing Sybille knew, she was atop a tower. It was the middle of the night, and she could hear the Sea of Ghosts roaring all around her. She flinched as a snowflake landed on her bare shoulder, but then remembered she was immune to the cold.

Before them loomed the great and ancient castle of Volkihar, shrouded in night and mist beneath the falling snow.

It was bizarre to see it in real life; Sybille fleetingly wondered if it was some sort of illusion. She had heard the rumors and read a story or two, but reality did the castle no justice. It was like teleporting right into myth and legend.

She could see Viktoriyah loosening up, her shoulders relaxing, and even though all she could see was her back, she knew the older vampire was smiling.

She's home, Sybille blinked, realizing she hadn't felt this way about the Blue Palace since she was human. 

Viktoriyah turning, smiling brightly. "Come."

Sybille followed her down the winding stairs of the tower and out to the ground. They walked past the heavily armed guards who stood like sentinels in the snow, though Sybille wondered who in their right mind would come ashore an island of vampires.


The stone walkway was lined with gargoyles, and Sybille felt herself growing increasingly alarmed as they climbed towards the castle. Was everything going to be so dark and eerie? She'd been disgusted by vampires before, but never this creeped out.

She soon calmed a bit, as the great doors gave way to burning braziers and sprawling rugs of red and gold. That's when Sybille realized she wasn't frightened, she was excited...it had just been so long that she barely recognized the feeling.



There was a balcony overlooking the great hall, much like at the Blue Palace, but instead of a view of Imperial stone, climbing ivy, and palace guards, she beheld a dark vision of red and gold rugs, high arched doorways and ceilings, and vampires clad in armor.

Her first instinct was to complain, to say Viktoriyah had lied about the wealth and finery of Volkihar. But then she noticed this castle was better suited to her; the lighting level was lower and didn't hurt her eyes, her nostrils weren't assailed by the persistent stench of mortals, and there were actual jeweled bottles on the long tables, right next to the tall, polished candlesticks.

There was a ghostly pale couple near the dais with three thrones, and they were magnificently dressed. Viktoriyah led Sybille right to them; they appeared surprised not only to see she had returned, but with a friend in tow.

"Your Graces," Viktoriyah greeted in a strong voice with no curtsy, "I have returned."


"So we see," the formidable-looking matron replied. She was a Nord, but her accent was Imperial. She wore an exquisite gown of black, gray, and red, with black cloak flowing down her back. "And you are not alone."

"Lady Valerica, Lord Harkon, this is Sybille Stentor of the Blue Palace," Viktoriyah introduced and Sybille heard a note of pride in her voice.

But is she proud of me...or herself? the mage blinked. Her red eyes widened. Am I some sort of sacrificial lamb?

"Sybille has served as court mage for two high kings and the current Jarl of Haafingar," Viktoriyah continued, beaming. "Her primary disciplines are destruction, alchemy, and illusion."

"And in all that time, the mortals didn't burn you?" Harkon mused, his voice deep and rumbling. He was also a Nord, but his accent was Altmeri. His eyes fell upon her like smoldering coals. "You must be a treasure trove of information."

He briefly exchanged looks with his wife. There was no warmth between the two, but what the couple lacked in affection, they more than made up in refinement.

Even in death, the royals have dysfunctional marriages, Sybille wanted to snort.

"No...my lord," she replied. Her voice was back, low, sultry, and sardonic, and learning from Viktoriyah, she didn't bow or curtsy.

"How come you never visited us before, Miss Stentor?" Valerica asked. Her voice was as cold as Skyrim's deepest winter, but she seemed genuinely curious.

"To be honest, Your Grace, I thought Volkihar was a myth this whole time."

"I thought Sybille would enjoy a tour of the castle," Viktoriyah said. "She's never been among vampires before, not like us."

"There are no vampires like us," Harkon stated. After a beat he added, "I bid you welcome to court, Miss Stentor. Viktoriyah will brief you on our rules and customs."

"And you must join me later," Valerica invited. "I've been studying alchemy for centuries. I'd like to show you my lab."

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