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Mind Your Virtues

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I. Know your place.

The shout of other kids laughing echoes between the strikes of his whetstone.

From a young age he learns the importance of one’s station: how to bow and when to pull rank, who to please and what to do when expressing offense. He learns his station is one most could not dream to share or earn—as the pureblood son of a well-renowned Captain of the Old Guard, he owns a high position granted from birth and inheritance. From a young age he learns it is not his purpose to make friends --- but instead to train and cultivate a trusted following. Friends, his father tells him, cloud such a purpose.

He learns there are a number of titles to which hemust answer. Son. Soldier. Servant. He comes to understand it is not title alone, but the mouth out of which it is spoken, that determines it for a compliment or barb. Young Master. Little Lord. To no one else but his father and Mother, to the Council and Elders and appropriate branches, he must give proper respects. Yes, Sir. As you command. No, my Lord. By your leave.

Sworn for no greater duty but serving the Coven leadership, he must protect his ward --- or die trying.

Before the age of ten, he learns to emulate his father’s disdain for frivolity. He buries his nose within old, architectural tomes, keeps his peers at a distance, and practices the proper way to smile in his knife’s reflection.

Varga bares his teeth and thinks, no, this will not do at all.

II. A dull sword is of no use to anyone.

Times of war are so few and far between in the modern age. His father often compensates by running routine drills, sunrise to sunset. Veterans stand beside recruits. What few that remain of the Old Guard crosses swords with young bloods. Varga alternates between walking the field and stringing command, but always, their drills are supervised by an audience come to watch.

Every failure belongs to the Coven. Every victory presents an honor to the mentors, the masters, the old and wizened somehow still thought fit to lead the nation. If one does not bleed, his father says, one cannot learn. Cut your mind. Break your bones. Crack your flesh upon any and every instrument you choose to master.

Varga learns the taste of his own blood by way of pommel smashing his teeth, by the fist and the gun and the boot and the blade. His fingers ache from filling sketchbook after sketchbook, turn raw from practicing the violin, then the cello. Mother rewards such achievements by arranging routine concerts. The audience thanks him. They commend his father for having bred such discipline --- and his mother for encouraging such talent. To bleed is to live. Bleed and live. Cower and die.

His father perishes in a Lycan ambush not long after Viktor and the Elders are slain. Perhaps he is the lucky one, for he does not live to see the mortal world nearly annihilate them all.

Mother grieves openly for months. The Council offers their condolences ( the loss is a great one to kin and kind both ) as well as their accolades. The son has risen to replace the father in record, unexpected time. Varga bows his head and comforts his Mother as best he can. There are audiences watching here, too.

When they recover his father’s body, duty reminds him to mourn.

When they title him properly before the nation ( Commander of the Death Dealers and master-at-arms, last line of defense ), Varga wears a smile he does not need to practice.

III. Let them not play you for the fool.

This is one of Mother’s virtues; who knew her to be a viper lying in wait?

Mother used to tell him she loved him dearly, before his father died. “You are not him, Engel,” she’d say, and pet him like the dog starved of affection.

“So he likes to remind me.” No, Varga was not his father --- he only carried his bloodline, his legacy, his name. Before his death, his father was regarded an important man: one of the last elite soldiers turned from Viktor’s original army. Varga received so many lessons from an open hand, from a disapproving glance, and often without the man having to utter a single word.

If one were to consider the often-heard phrases to pass his father’s lips, he supposes the most common might have been inadequate.

“You are not your father,” Mother would say. Varga once took comfort in that sentiment, in the soft-spoken way she would offer it outward for him to take, and hug, and cower behind like the child struck for smiling overlong.

With his father dead and gone, such comfort twists into accusation. Mother spits venom at him and he recoils at the snake he never expected her to be. He looks at her, and he aches. With the proud frown he inherited from her upon his mouth, Varga swallows around the lump in his throat and he thinks: please --- not you, too.

Semira takes a favor to him not long after.

IV. Even a pawn can take down a queen.

Thrill of warfare is all Varga has left. It is the only place where command strikes from his mouth alone, no puppeteer’s strings attached. Semira owns him everywhere else: the halls of the Eastern Coven, the Death Dealer’s barracks, the bedchambers. The last is often the most tedious of binds to get out of. Varga wishes the phrase were purely metaphorical.

He beds her often out of duty --- and for the simple reason that he can. Varga suspects she must have grown bored with the wooing façade and is grateful to be finally relieved of it. Whether she continues this for convenience’s sake or simply out of habit, he cannot say for sure.

She bids him to inform her about the Death Dealer excursions. He relays, honestly, the uneventful routine that ends most hunts; stretching the truth for praise no longer holds much sway. Compliments are but fodder for the ego or balm for nagging doubts. Semira is required to assure a pawn of nothing; he will stand at attention when she calls for it, or suffer for the traitor he is.

When she bores of his talking, Semira silences him with her cunt. She mounts his jaw, reminds him that another servant would be grateful to service the Coven’s future queen, and puts his mouth to better use. If his performance satisfies, she uses her hands and gives him permission to spill on her belly. If she finds him lacking, the result is a ruined orgasm --- or none at all.

Varga never spends the night. He remains long enough only to wash her skin of his seed, to play dumb audience for a tiresome, running monologue, and at last to wait upon orders.

When news of Selene accepting clemency from the Vampire nation crosses the Coven’s threshold, Semira rides him to completion, and orders him to finish inside her.

V. A cornered animal strikes for the throat.

The exiled Death Dealer comes with a surprise no one expected from a traitor: friends. Lord Thomas and the son are not her intended targets --- but they will not be the first Vampiric kin Semira has slain through Varga’s hand. What are two more corpses in an empire build upon blood and ash? Bricks and mortar. Sacrifices to the cause.

Three enter the Coven.

Two make it out alive.

Only one survives to return --- and claim birthright to the Elder’s throne.

Semira is not the only one capable of keeping secrets or the upper hand, after all.Like his viperous Mother and warrior father worked so meticulously to teach, Varga finds the opportunity. He takes it with the full force of Death Dealers ready at his command. Some will later label him for the snake he surely must be, will use his changing loyalties to call him volatile, opportunistic, unworthy of neither title nor family name.

Be that as it may, Varga remembers his station. He will answer for his crimes, no longer the instrument played by a ruined ( false ) queen. He walks with a single foot in his grave, and leaves Semira barely at all the wiser as to who exactly betrayed whom.

Varga answers David’s call to war. He kneels before duty with something of a smile.

VI. Serve unto death.

Lena. David. Selene.

A new circle of Elders and Council are founded by necessity, by a swift, uncertain peace. They will come upon a later point in history before learning to trust. In that sentiment, Varga holds no grounds. Semira answered for her treachery with her life. Varga knows that it is his turn to receive judgment. In truth, part of him regrets that Marius had not torn him to pieces when he had the chance.

The Elders call for his sentencing in private, with no audience but themselves and the silence of the dead come to witness. Varga cannot begin to guess why. His part in a failed coup is no secret in these battered Coven walls. He expects no mercy. He will beg for none.

The new leadership requires nothing but disclosure. They give him the opportunity first to speak, and at last take a drink from the saucer filled to brim with his blood. Memories. Virtues. Guilt. One sip lays him entirely out to bear.

The truth grants him full clemency. It is of the rare kind, the sort Varga knows very well he does not deserve.

Loyalty is the price he must pay. Varga swears by it with his life.

VII. Treat every guest with the utmost propriety.

The new order is said to be a lofty one: coexistence between the species, and eventual alliance, if at all possible. With little more than a few hundred of their kin known left, peace is no longer an option; it is a necessity. And as Commander over what remains of this small army, Varga and his word hold remarkable influence whether anyone wishes it or not.

He is not the first to balk and bristle at the idea of a Lycan emissary. The Elders accept his right to dissent, insofar as their will be done regardless. Varga’s participation --- his hospitality and civility --- during this transition into a new era is not a request. David reminds him of the option to exile, if he should so choose.

Varga meets a once-before enemy at the gates in proper delegation and proper uniform. He does not expect the Lycan to arrive on time, without escort or procession. The duffel bag and the motorcycle, tangle of thick black hair, and irreverent grin full of straight, white teeth are near enough to earn a preemptive snarl.

He remembers to introduce himself and learns in turn the Lycan’s name is Asher, though Varga could not bring himself to want or hope to care. He does not consider his refusal to extend a hand any blunder on his part --- his orders were to receive the Lycan in good graces, not coddle it.

The Lycan doesn’t seem to take offense at the shortchange. If anything, Asher's smile merely widens.

Varga bares his teeth and thinks, no, this will not do at all.