Stentor

 

Viktoriyah hadn't paid too much mind to Sybille Stentor upon arriving at the Blue Palace. She was a young vampire, and much weaker as well. And not just physically, but magically; after years among mortals she had barely scratched the surface of the mystical range of her abilities.

She was clever by mortal standards, but as far as the undead were concerned, she still had a lot to learn.

And still...Sybille made Viktoriyah uneasy. After her talk with Melaran and her notes to the Lord and Lady of Volkihar, she finally realized what was bothering her: she simply didn't have a plan for dealing with Sybille.

If she revealed herself and Sybille attacked, she'd have to kill her. If she did that, despite being able to easily conceal her complicity, Sybille wasn't just some nobody. If the long-lived yet never aging mage of the Blue Palace suddenly died, a lot of people would notice.

And a lot of them are probably hoping for it, Viktoriyah sighed.

She had no choice. Things were being set in motion, coming to fruition, and Solitude simply wasn't big enough for two vampires.

Viktoriyah decided to do some spying first, and she didn't even need an invisibility potion to evade Sybille. Her illusion magic was so powerful she stood right in the middle of the mage's chamber, and completely went unnoticed.

The sun was going down as Viktoriyah followed the mage from court. Her blood warmed as she realized what was happening; Sybille was living up to the rumors and heading to Castle Dour to feed on prisoners.


As court mage, her standing automatically granted her access to such a tightly secure military installation. But it was her gold that granted her access to the prisons below--no questions asked.

The stench was vile. Everything was foul, rotted, and stale. The prisoners groaned in misery, beaten and starved until they were half-dead. The whole place was covered in dust, cobwebs, and straw that was never swept, and yet it was here...here that the silk-clad sorceress of the Blue Palace came to feed.

At first Viktoriyah was appalled, then embarrassed, and then...sad. Sybille had been alone for so long, hiding in plain sight alone, feeding alone. To a vampire--any vampire--such solitude was unhealthy.




Viktoriyah allowed herself several minutes to compose herself before dropping the veil. By then, Sybille was seated, blissfully enjoying a small tankard of freshly harvested blood. Unlike the blood of the well-fed thralls of Volkihar, prisoner blood smelled rank and thin.

At the sight of a young woman suddenly appearing from nowhere, Sybille jolted, briefly choked, and then froze.

"You know there was once a cult of hunters who considered themselves Guardians of the Dawn," Viktoriyah murmured. "They hunted creatures of night all over Skyrim. And they would tell the thanes and jarls to be wary, lest one pose as a visitor at court." She smiled slightly. "I was sent to the Blue Palace to be such a visitor, but Elisif's already got one advising her, doesn't she...Stentor?"

***


Sybille was on her feet in a flash, eyes glowing like angry red coals. The woman before her seemed vaguely familiar; she'd seen her at court but couldn't really place her. Not that it mattered right now.

"Who the fuck are you?" the Breton vampire snapped.

The stranger's silvery gray eyes brightened with amusement. "My name is Viktoriyah."

It was like watching mist melt away or a heavy drape slowly fall from a window. Her brain seemed to clear itself some sort of fog, and even her vision seemed to sharpen.

As such, she began to experience realization in waves, in steps, piece by piece. First...the woman before was no woman at all, but a vampire. And yet...her skin and hair were perfectly clean. She smelled of lilac perfume and her dress cost enough to feed a small village. Sybille even caught of flash of diamond on one hand.

This..., she gasped to her, is a Volkihar vampire.

She couldn't recall meeting any before. She'd heard whispers and rumors, but had never paid any mind. Vampire hunters were rarely reliable, and the mere notion of a royal court of civilized vampires was simply laughable.

"What do you want?" the mage demanded.

"To get to know you," Viktoriyah shrugged. When Sybille's body tensed as though preparing for attack, she warned, "Don't do anything stupid, Stentor. I've got decades on you. I could tear out your spine without blinking...but I'd rather not."

Sybille's heels returned to the floor, but she didn't unclench her muscles. She wasn't sure if the stranger was lying, but she didn't want to risk it.

"I've seen you," she bit out, "at the palace. I thought you were just another spoiled little noble girl."

Viktoriyah chuckled. "I like to immerse myself in the characters I play. I don't get to play a character like this often." She cocked her head to the side. "And I'm not the only spoiled one here, Stentor. I've been to your bedchamber."

"I've worked for everything I have," Sybille's eyes narrowed. She paused, taking in the other vampire's silvery gray eyes and healthy complexion. "If you're a vampire, why aren't your eyes red? And your skin...how does it look so--"

"The Ring of Alythia," Viktoriyah raised her hand, showing off her diamond set in gold. "Forged by an illusion mage much older and far more powerful than either of us. The ring has the power to change my eyes, my skin...even provides minimal protection from the sun, so it doesn't feel like my blood is boiling." She waved her hand slightly, and her eyes turned red, her skin seeming paler and dryer. She waved again, restoring her youthful, glowing illusion.

Sybille gasped. She felt confused, but also astounded and intrigued. "I could've used one of those a long time ago."

"It wouldn't have stopped the court gossip," Viktoriyah said, suddenly stern. "Honestly, Sybille...sleeping during the day? Bribing your way into the dungeons to feed? Walking around with red eyes and a face that doesn't age year after year?"

"I have some illusion magic of my own," Sybille countered defiantly.

"It's weak," Viktoriyah scoffed. "This...life has made you weak. You pose as human, and in so doing lessen yourself. Decades of studying magic like mortals, feeding off dying prisoners, and this all you have to show for it?"

"And I suppose it's better at Volkihar?" the mage sneered. "Yes, I've heard the stories. Supposedly a big castle full of fancy vampires," she laughed.

"Volkihar is a big castle," Viktoriyah nodded. "With mages, and warriors, and nobles. We have magic books older than the Blue Palace and a stable full of clean, healthy, well-fed thralls. We drink blood from goblets, Stentor."

Sybille winced slightly at the other woman's disgusted expression. She'd always known being a vampire was repulsive, but it never occurred to her that she might be the kind another vampire would find uncivilized.

"You would do well at Volkihar," Viktoriyah nodded, suddenly confident, resolute. "There's so much for you to learn. Imagine being free to be who you really are without fear of death. No illusions, no hiding, no bribing."

Sybille's eyes widened in panic. "I'm not leaving the Blue Palace," she vehemently shook her head. "I worked hard to get there. I was nobody before King Istlod brought me to court. Now I've failed to protect his son, there's a whole war going on, Falk and Elisif need me, and I have a life--"

"You are dead," Viktoriyah reminded her. "You've been dead for decades. Everything you're describing is from the life of a person who no longer exists."

"And you?" Sybille fired back. "With your fancy clothes and your proper accent--you're not fooling me. You show up at the Blue Palace a few days ago to pose as Elisif's attendant, but you dress better than her Thanes!"

"A few days?" Viktoriyah snickered, shaking her head. "No, Stentor; I've been here, watching and learning and erasing everyone's memories for weeks."

Sybille was shocked and horrified, but didn't let it stop her. "You're literally lecturing me about not hiding well enough," the mage snorted, "while you're barely hiding at all! These people may not notice magic, Viktoriyah, but they will notice money...and remember."

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