Unto the Breach

 

Shit.

Vingalmo's sage, astute advice was the last thing she wanted to hear right now. She was home, she was enjoying being back home--Viktoriyah didn't want to hear about work and prices and sacrifice and politics. Yes...she knew having a castle and maintaining a court required resources, but the responsibility of that had never fallen upon her shoulders.

But now she was starting to see just how important her mission was and she didn't like it. The vampires of Volkihar needed peace in Skyrim. They needed science, commerce, agriculture, mining, and the arts to thrive; they needed a full, healthy population to feed on. With the wrong person sitting on the throne, their comfortable lifestyle here could be destroyed.

Like it or not, she was in it for the long haul and was going to have to start taking her job much more seriously...while being careful not to end up like Sybille.

***


The night was ending but Viktoriyah absolutely refused to leave until it was just before dawn. She didn't know when she'd be back here and she wanted to enjoy the pleasures of Volkihar while she still could.

...Even if that meant having a drink with Salonia Caelia.

An Imperial sired by Vingalmo back during gods-know-when, Salonia was exactly the type of nobody Sybille was terrified of being. Even among vampires, she held no rank at court, she was sent on common errands (not missions), and like Sybille, she was no great beauty. Like Viktoriyah, Salonia favored black vampire armor; unlike Viktoriyah, however, she didn't look good in it. She didn't look good in anything.

She spent her nights in a small antechamber off the great hall with a tall, strapping thrall, because after centuries at Volkihar (and fucking half the castle), Salonia still didn't have any friends.

And yet...she was a fellow vampire and right now, that was good enough.

"How are the men?" she asked, leisurely sipping from her goblet.

They wouldn't like you. "Mortal," Viktoriyah shrugged honestly. "I haven't taken much of an interest in the men, to be honest."

"You never do," Salonia snickered. "Not even here. Every man in the castle wants you--except maybe Vingalmo--but you never gave any of them a chance. I used to think you probably had some lover out in the wild, but the more I got to know you, I saw that was impossible."

Except maybe Vingalmo.

The words stung, but Viktoriyah didn't show it. Salonia had been in love with Vingalmo for centuries and deeply resented his utter disinterest in her. Unlike Salonia, Viktoriyah expressed neither her affection for him nor her own dismay at his apparent lack of interest in her as well.

"There's a Salonia at the Blue Palace, you know," she changed the subject. "I share a room with her. Lady Salonia Carvain, Countess of Bruma."

Salonia's red eyes widened. "An Imperial countess? Of Bruma?"

Viktoriyah smiled, nodding, grateful to be talking about something else. "Her husband is Plautis Carvain; he's the one with the actual title, but she's the one with the money. They don't like each other much, so they sleep in separate rooms. She has a bit of a drinking problem, so she's not very popular at court."

Salonia unironically grinned and raised her goblet. "My kind of girl."

***


Before leaving, Viktoriyah rummaged her belongings, looking for dresses, trinkets, anything that might be of use. When she was packed and finally ready to go, she went to bid the royal couple farewell.

"You're leaving?" Valerica asked, now back in the main hall. "So soon?"

"I must return before dawn and start altering memories," Viktoriyah nodded wearily. "I need to give them the impression Sybille is dead. Her replacement has been waiting for this moment for years."

"Don't forget to take more potions of blood," the lady reminded her. "And do try to return often. The portal charm has no limits. I now realize the stress and length of your assignment, and if it weren't so important, I would have it ended now. I don't want that place to drive you mad."

Viktoriyah was genuinely touched. "Thank you, my lady."

"And don't worry about Sybille," Valerica assured her. "Even if she does become upset about your deception, I will continue your work with her. I'm sure I can make her see that this is best place for a vampire like her."


"I'm not worried." As if on cue, they both turned to see Sybille Stentor emerge from the library and take a seat at one of the long tables in the great hall. A thrall served her a fresh heart, and she promptly began devouring it without hesitation. "As I've been explaining to her all night, Volkihar doesn't require much adjustment."


Viktoriyah was bound for the doors when she was headed off by the castle weapons master, Fura Bloodmouth. The towering Nord vampire, ever clad in her in gray armor, flashed her a chastising look.

"Were you really going to leave without so much as a sparring match?"

"Fura," Viktoriyah sighed, fully tired now, "I have to get back. The mission continues."

"The mission is making you weak," Fura raised an eyebrow. "I can tell you're not practicing."

"You're right," Viktoriyah nodded. She'd been slacking in that department. "I will resume training upon my return."

"And your friend?" Fura demanded. "Who was that petite little redhead? She's a Breton, I assume."

"Sybille Stentor," Viktoriyah said, for what felt like the millionth time. She turned and pointed. "That's her sitting there. She's new to court. And she's a mage, not a warrior." She turned back to Fura and narrowed her eyes. "Be nice to her."

"Oh, I intend to," Fura raised an eyebrow, her lips smirking. "I intend to be so nice to her."

She came closer to embrace her former student. "Be safe out there, young blood. I hear it's getting wild."

"Of course, I'll be safe," Viktoriyah assured her. "After all, you trained me."


It was still snowing when Viktoriyah returned to the portal atop the tower roof outside. She breathed in the cold air, even though she didn't need to, just to savor the smell of the island. At the Blue Palace, she could hear the Sea of Ghosts, but this was different...the sound wasn't marred by the sound of boats and bells and mortals. Here it was just the roar of the waves and the winter winds.

She tried to tell herself she wasn't going away forever, but that didn't make her feel any less desolate. The mission continued, and she had to go back.

Next: Epilogue

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