A/N: Collaboration with digipup.deviantart.com
Brynjolf and Karliah stood by the font in the Twilight Sepulcher, preparing to summon their Lady Nocturnal. They had already known about the sun’s disappearance before receiving Selene’s letter, but until now, they hadn’t acted on what they had learned. Even after hearing from Selene, Brynjolf was skittish about summoning the Daedric Prince, preferring not to draw attention to himself and the others. He had made his commitment and would honor it, but the thought of lingering as a ghost in the Sepulcher until Nocturnal decided he had fulfilled his contract scared him. There was no set amount of time, just Nocturnal’s whim. What if, when they called on her, she decided to extend the contract as payment for her inconvenience? What if she never let him out of his contract? He would just float around the Sepulcher for all eternity. And if she did end it, what then? He would become nothing more than a shadow. Would he be conscious? Would he know what was happening to him? And would he care?
Ultimately, he decided that the best course of action would be to stay alive as long as possible. Antagonizing a Daedric Prince did not fit within that plan.
“Brynjolf,” Karliah said sharply, bringing him out of his thoughts. “Are you with me?”
“Aye, sorry. Let’s get this over with.”
Karliah raised her hands to the Evergloam and called, “Lady Nocturnal, we call upon you during this troubled time to beg for your assistance. If it please you, appear before us now.”
At first, nothing happened, and Brynjolf wondered if the Daedric Prince had felt they weren’t worth her time. Karliah had said Nocturnal was happy with them, but how could she really know? It wasn’t like she and the Daedra spent a lot of time in the Sepulcher chatting over tea. And even if she was happy with them, perhaps she wouldn’t like being summoned like a common atronach.
After a moment, though, a swirl of blue light rushed before them and a flock of black birds emerged from the font, flying up through the shaft and into the night above. The lady herself rose out of the font a moment later, subtly glorious in her robes with plunging neckline and high-slit skirt. Her delicate toes curled and flexed on the surface of the font, and her arms extended to hold two nightingales, who peered down at Brynjolf and Karliah curiously.
“Well, look who decided to pay a visit. You seem to be missing someone.”
“She is away,” Karliah said, “investigating the phenomenon—”
“‘Phenomenon,’” Nocturnal repeated with a chuckle. “Interesting way to phrase it. The sun’s disappearance caused quite the stir, no?” She looked down at Brynjolf, her dark eyes boring into his soul. “Frightened, are we, Brynjolf? Or do you always look that pale?”
He didn’t answer. Instead he said, “My lady, we were hoping you might help us learn the source of the phe—uh, you know. Is it a spell perhaps?”
“As thieves, I would think you would appreciate the darkness more. Spell or not, the sun returned, did it not? All is well now. So why are you wasting my time?”
“We want to find the cause,” Karliah told her, “so that we might prevent it from happening in the future. Yes, we appreciate the darkness, but even a thief must walk in the light sometime.”
“And yet your werewolf walks with the darkness.”
“What does that mean?” Brynjolf asked. “I don’t understand.”
“The disappearance of the sun was an isolated incident; you need not concern yourself with it. Besides, it is not the darkness you should fear; it is the light. Even now, Stendarr’s faithful strive to bring those they believe to be wicked into the light. The god himself knows that for there to be light, there must be darkness. For there to be Divine, there must be Daedra. Even the shadows have their place. But the Vigilants and their pesky offshoot, the Dawnguard, would seek to eliminate all shadows, and the balance they provide.”
“But what does this have to do with us?”
“Until now, the Dawnguard has concentrated their forces on fighting vampires. But the vampires’ numbers are waning and they have begun to broaden their scope. As with the Vigilants before them, all Daedra worship is considered suspect. Even my sisters who walk in the light are not immune to their ministrations. Azura’s shrine has been defaced and her priestess brutally murdered. It will not be long before they turn their sights on the Twilight Sepulcher and you, my faithful. As my agents, you have long walked the line between light and dark, between good and evil. It is a thin, blurry line, and when Selene returns, that line will blur even more. You must be ready.”
“Ready for what?” Karliah asked.
“For war.” With that, the light began to swirl about Nocturnal again, and she sank back into the font. The flock flew back down the shaft and followed her to the Evergloam.
When the Sepulcher was quiet again, Brynjolf looked down at Karliah, who was staring up at him, her violet eyes wide with concern. “Guess we got more than we bargained for, lass.”
“Speaking with the immortals produces unexpected results.”
“What did she mean, Selene walks with darkness? We’re always saying ‘walk with the shadows,’ but somehow I don’t think that’s what she was saying.”
“Perhaps, but it is her way to be cryptic.”
“Well, she’s being cryptic about my wife. And telling us to prepare for war wasn’t exactly subtle.”
Karliah placed a comforting hand on his arm. “Selene can take care of herself; she will be fine.”
“Let’s just get back to Riften. I need to put Rowan to bed.”
“Just don’t, all right?”
“Have you forgotten? Along with everything else she said, Nocturnal told you Selene would return. I know you’ve been worried, but you will see her again. I’m sure of it.”
“If you think that’s going to stop me worrying, you don’t know me very well.”
“No, Brynjolf. I didn’t think it would stop you. But I do what I can to help. Come, let’s go get your daughter.”
* * *
After a decent rest, Blanche and Selene got back on the road, and they arrived in Solitude late the next morning. Blanche was anxious, worried about the impending conversation with Sybille. The court mage could be unpredictable, even mischievous, especially if she saw some advantage in it for herself. Blanche didn’t trust her not to cause trouble, but she could see no way to avoid meeting with her.
They made their way to the Blue Palace, where they said hello to Selene’s good friends Jarl Elisif and Falk Firebeard, who held court in the throne room. Elisif nodded a friendly hello, but Falk took Selene in his arms and hugged her warmly.
“It’s good to see you, old friend!” he greeted. “How is that baby of yours?”
“Getting bigger every day. Her hair is as red as yours and so curly I can barely get a comb through it.”
“And your husband?” Elisif asked. “Is he at home with her?”
“Aye. Blanche and I are investigating some disturbing events in Eastmarch, so Brynjolf is babysitting. Do you two know Blanche?”
“Aye, she’s taken care of a few giants, bandits, and a madman on the streets for us,” Falk replied with a chuckle.
“It’s good to see you both,” Elisif added. “But if Ulfric thinks I’m responsible for whatever happened in Eastmarch, I can promise I had nothing to do with it.”
“Did someone try to assassinate him again?” Falk almost sounded hopeful.
Selene narrowed her eyes at the steward. “Do you have to be like that? No, it was an . . . atmospheric phenomenon. The sun disappeared.”
“You heard me right, Falk. We have some ideas we wanted to run past Sybille Stentor. Is she here?”
“You know she’s a day sleeper, Selene.”
“For this, I’m going to ask that she be awakened.”
“Aye, I’ll have it taken care of at once.” He spoke with one of the servants, who went to retrieve Sybille.
Blanche was cool and level as usual, and she made a point of pleasing Elisif with small talk. Her coolness was a forced, though, try as she might to contain it. Selene would notice, but hopefully she would write it off to impatience. Elisif could be a little flighty, and Blanche was the no-nonsense type; with luck, Selene would dismiss it.
Sybille walked into the throne room a few minutes later. When she saw Selene and Blanche, she raised an eyebrow. “Well, well. I didn’t realize you two knew each other. Now, what is so important that it couldn’t wait until this evening?”
Selene glanced at Elisif and Falk, then said, “We might want to have this discussion in private, at least at first.”
“Of course.” The court mage led them back to her quarters, where she motioned for them to sit down. She had a little sitting area at the end of her bed, just the perfect spot for visiting with the women and having a glass of wine. Except Sybille didn’t drink wine. Blanche knew what was in the cut-glass bottle on the table.
“So this is something you don’t want the steward and the jarl to know about? I’m intrigued.”
“I told them the basics,” said Selene, “but I don’t know how much they know about your . . . condition . . . so I thought it best if we didn’t broadcast it to the court. The sun disappeared in Eastmarch for several hours.”
Sybille raised an eyebrow and looked over at Blanche. “Did it, now? Did either of you see it?”
Blanche met her eyes with a solid stare. “Yes, I saw it.”
“And?” Sybille asked expectantly.
“Erm . . .” Blanche blinked, focus suddenly broken. “. . . And it was dark.”
“Oh, my. Thank you so much for that insightful description! You believe magic is involved, of course. Am I also correct in assuming you’ve visited the College of Winterhold?”
Blanche took the sarcasm with a sickly-sweet smile while Selene nodded. “Aye, the librarian is doing some research there, but we had an idea that vampires might be involved, so we thought we would talk to you.”
Sybille leaned back in her seat and crossed her legs, not an easy feat in mage robes, but she managed it. She eyed Blanche with amusement, a sentiment Blanche herself did not share. “Well, there was some chatter about the Volkihar vampires looking for an Elder Scroll.”
“Volkihar vampires?” Selene asked.
“Yes, there’s a castle a ways offshore on the west side of Haafingar. It is known among some that it is—or was—ruled by a very powerful vampire lord.”
A little put off by the quip, Blanche narrowed her eyes, daring Sybille to keep talking. “And?” she mimicked the mage.
“And one might consider looking into them. If one knew any Volkihar vampires, that is.”
“Let’s assume we don’t know any Volkihar vampires,” said Selene, who looked back and forth between Blanche and Sybille with mild confusion. She was starting to notice the tension. “It’s not as though we can just take a boat out to this island.”
Sybille tittered. “I don’t know; you might try. You’re both very courageous. What do you think, Blanche?”
It was such a game, and Sybille was winning. Selene was the mouse, cluelessly scooting around an inch away from the cat’s claws, but Sybille was unpredictable, living among humans but retaining her condition as she did. Her loyalties were unknowable. Blanche had even strolled right in with her bow and tainted arrows—the very culprits of Selene’s mystery—on her back, blatantly challenging Sybille to spoil the surprise with an anticlimactic twinge and make an end of it all. But instead, Sybille had taken an entirely different stride. She had decided to make Blanche dance.
“I think,” Blanche replied slowly, contemplatively, “that a nest of vampires and their overlord may be too much, even for us.”
“Very well,” said Selene, “what’s our next move? The only other thing I can think of is asking Meridia for help, and who knows if she would even speak to us?”
Gods damn it. It came down to a choice between Castle Volkihar and Meridia, two of the last places in the world Blanche would want to turn. It was looking more and more as though there was no way out of this. She just had to orchestrate it carefully and take control of the situation so she and Selene didn’t end up killing each other. She sighed, still giving Sybille the evil eye. “As much as Meridia hates undead, I don’t exactly trust her. Daedra are Daedra. Maybe we should just head to the place and scope it out, see what we’re up against?”
“Sure. I’m assuming there’s a ferry or something to take us across? I don’t know how easy it’ll be to sneak up on the castle, but I’m willing to try.” Selene got up and leaned over, squeezing Sybille’s hand. “Thanks for your help, Sybille. I knew we came to the right place.”
“I hope you find what you’re looking for, my dear. Should be an interesting trip.”
Blanche paused after Selene had left and glared at Sybille for a moment longer. The court mage smiled innocently and shrugged her shoulders, and Blanche couldn’t contain the growl that escaped her lips. She turned and stalked out of the room with Sybille giggling behind her.
* * *
Selene and Blanche said goodbye to Falk and Elisif before leaving the castle and heading west. Rather than figure out what to do with their horses when they crossed the water, they left them at the stable and walked.
Selene didn’t know what had been going on between Blanche and Sybille, but the Redguard’s whole mood had changed since the visit. She was even quieter than normal and a bit snippy, her shoulders tense and her expression grim. When Selene asked her what was wrong, she shrugged and replied that the court mage grated on her, but wouldn’t go into detail.
As they approached the shore, Selene wondered how she could have missed the castle before. She had been right here at Northwatch Keep and never noticed the massive structure looming half a mile off the coast. She must have been really distracted. It was dark and forbidding, surrounded by jagged rocks and bearing several towers with precipitous roofs and a steep ramp to the portcullis from the dock below. A small, black watchtower stood at the foot of the ramp. Maybe it was more difficult to see during a storm or blizzard. Whatever the case, there was indeed a little dock and a dinghy that would take them across to the castle.
“Are you ready to do this?” she asked Blanche, climbing into the boat.
“I guess so. Looks pretty foreboding, doesn’t it?” Blanche climbed in and took up the rear set of oars.
Selene started rowing, but when they got about halfway across, she suddenly got the feeling that something wasn’t right. Blanche’s scent had changed, but she couldn’t identify just how. She didn’t see anybody standing watch at the castle, but alarms were going off in her head like crazy. She was just about to turn and ask Blanche what was wrong when she felt a sharp pinch on the back of her neck. Blanche was biting her!
“Blanche, what–?” She fought, but Blanche was stronger than she was. After a moment, she began to weaken and become light-headed, and before long she blacked out altogether.