For once, when Katja awoke Anders was up as well. He felt alive with excitement at the prospect of embarking on this new adventure with her. Since the tumultuous events surrounding the Dragonborn’s defeat of the World-Eater (with indispensable assistance from Wyll and him), the three of them had looked on questing as a sort of sport or hobby. There were always nests of bandits to be cleared out, or they’d be sent looking for some missing artifact or another. They got great exercise, explored new places, and returned with all kinds of treasures. It was thanks to these activities (and Kat’s growing skills in crafting) that they had been able to purchase two nice homes in the span of a couple of days.
But nothing they had done was all that crucial. The population of Skyrim was not looking to them as saviors from some overwhelming peril anymore. Their service had not been forgotten, as yet; but “what have you done for me lately?” was a phrase Anders was coming to hear more and more. Now, the growing vampire threat menaced everyone’s safety. And they, he and his beloved, were going to do something about it. Whether they got the credit for it or not, it felt good just to be doing something so worthwhile. That he and Kat were doing it as a team made his happiness complete.
Katja was a bit surprised to find him rolling right out of bed with a smile on his lips when she sat up to put her feet on the floor, still yawning. Who is this man and what is he doing in my bed? she thought fondly. His cock was half-hard as he came around the foot of the bed to give her an affectionate squeeze before starting to get into some underdrawers. She decided not to encourage it. “Anxious to get moving?” she asked him. He grinned at her and nodded, his eyes sparkling. What a change from his troubled demeanor when she’d come home yesterday!
As usual before embarking on a quest, she took her companion down into the basement. Wyll was already absent from his bed, which was neatly made. She hadn’t noticed him on their way through the common room, and wondered where he’d gone. She went over their weapons and armor, improving and enchanting a few pieces for the fight ahead with an emphasis on weapons that might be particularly effective against vampires. Anders hadn’t yet gotten a good look at her new ebony armor, and he was as flabbergasted as Wyll had been. “Ow!” he cried in mock pain. “It hurts to get a hard-on in this armor!” She shot him her best seductive smile and reached up under the armor’s skirt to give him a squeeze. Gee, he wasn’t kidding.
“My plan is to make all the bandits, vampires, and hostile mages weak with lust,” she told him seriously. “As soon as I figure out what turns on draugr, chaurus, and Falmer, I’ll be prepared for anything. Oh, and dragons… though now I think of it I don’t know if there are any female dragons.” Anders just leered at her. Kat’s … tendencies might sometimes be troublesome for him, but he did love that about her. She could stiffen him with her mere presence, even though he was no longer the randy lad who had first arrived in Skyrim a decade past.
Their armament complete, Katja led Anders back up the ladder and stopped off for a consultation with Ellis, picking up some water and less-perishable foodstuffs for the trip. The whole time, she was scanning the room; and she finally spotted Wyll, sitting at a table near the rear of the mezzanine. Stuffing the last of the supplies into her pack, she made a beeline for him.
Wyll looked a bit thoughtful sitting there, drinking a mug of ale and working on a small plate of pastries. He brightened at the sight of her, though he could tell she was getting ready to tell him goodbye. He could only hope it wasn’t forever. “You’re off, then?” he asked diffidently. “Vampires, beware!” Katja replied cheerily, trying to dispel the gloom. He looked her up and down in that ridiculously sexy armor, and just smiled a little. The force of whatever it was that drew her to Wyll like a moth to a flame hit her squarely between the legs, radiating out from there in all directions to make her heart beat faster and her knees feel momentarily weak. She gave a nearly-imperceptible gasp.
“You take care of Anja and Lydia while we’re gone,” she admonished him in an effort to cover how much he had affected her. “And yourself, as well,” she continued. Then practically hurling herself into his lap, she threw her arms around him to give him a hug and a passionate kiss before parting. Close to his ear, she murmured, “Goodbye, Wyll. I’ll miss you!” He returned her hug and kiss with surprising force and murmured back, “I’ll always love you.”
That took her aback. Katja had always thought that her relationship with Wyll was a cross between the love you felt for a good friend and an irresistible lust that drew her back to his bed time and time again even when she felt she should probably not be there. But over the months, it seemed to have developed into something more. A fine time to be learning that.
Breaking away, she stood to take her leave. Anders put out a hand to Wyll and said “Take care, buddy. We’ll see you when we get back.” Was there a look of triumph in his eyes? The Dragonborn and her companion made their way to the doors of the Suite then, and in a few moments they were standing just inside the gates of Whiterun. Opening the door of Breezehome after a knock and a “Come in!” Katja found a sweet domestic scene unfolding. Lydia was at the cooking stand stirring something in the pot, while Argis sat at the dining table across from Anja. They seemed to be playing some kind of game.
Anja looked up and squealed, “Auntie Kat!” as she jumped up from the wooden bench and ran to throw her arms around the woman who was the first person she could remember seeing in her life. Kat stooped to hug her back, then pursed her lips for a loud smooch. In a moment, the little red-haired whirlwind was off again. “Uncle Anders!” she cried and he grinned broadly at her, scooping her up and tossing her in the air. Armored as he was, he couldn’t exactly fold her to his breast; but he did bring her in for a kiss before setting her down again.
Katja’s heart fairly melted. Anja was so lovable, and it gave her the greatest joy that others who she also loved felt the same way. Lydia had turned from stirring the pot and was looking on them all with a serene smile on her face, her eyes glowing with satisfaction. Katja expected their feelings were very similar at that moment. The little one was off and running again. “Come see!” she urged, leading Katja by the hand to the table where Argis sat, looking considerably less grim than the first time she had seen him. “Uncle Argis made us a game to play, look!”
Katja looked down, and saw that some brightly-painted rectangles of stiff paper were spread out on the table. Cards? She had heard of them, but had never seen any in Skyrim. “This was a game I saw in Cyrodiil,” he told her in his deep voice. “There, they play it in taverns and bet money on the outcome. You can’t buy cards in Skyrim, so while I was hanging around by myself in Markarth I got some paints and paper and made my own. See? There’s two matching of every picture and you put them all face down, then turn up two at a time and try to remember where those pictures were. When you find a pair, you get to keep them.” Looking at Anja in mock resentment he continued, “She’s beaten me four times in a row.”
Katja just goggled. The artwork on the cards was amazingly good, vivid pictures of everything from barnyard animals and more exotic beasts like dragons to human figures representing Jarls, fine ladies, washerwomen, and so forth. “These are amazing!” she told Argis. “You actually made these yourself?” He looked a bit embarrassed. This was hardly the skill a fierce warrior, master of heavy armor and two-handed weaponry, was likely to brag about. “It’s just something I picked up. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, while Vlindrel Hall was vacant.” He looked at Anja, and at Lydia, a slight smile playing across his lips. “Things have gotten a bit more interesting, now.”
What unexpected facets people kept turning up with! The gigantic, lusty warrior Wyll Jarskarvir was playful and gentle. Stone-faced Lydia had just been waiting for a child to melt her heart. And doughty, scarred Argis, bulwark though he might be, was a talented artist. Katja wondered whimsically whether Anders might suddenly demonstrate the ability to play the lute, or something equally unlikely. It all both amazed her and filled her with delight.
Recalling that she had brought gifts with her, Katja turned and opened her pack. She had brought a small stuffed toy for Anja along with the bottle of goat’s milk Lane had procured, some sweet rolls for everyone to enjoy, and for Lydia a pretty necklace. She didn’t know whether it would be recognized as an amulet of Mara, but it was decorative enough in its own right – and had magical properties that made it desirable beyond its accepted use as a signal of marriageable status. Lydia smiled and thanked her, so she figured it was OK. For Argis, she proffered a ring. This simple silver ring was enchanted with fortified ability in the use of two-handed weapons, though she suspected he scarcely needed it.
Thanks were given, then Katja announced “Anders and I are going off to join that group that are banding together to fight vampires. After last night’s attack, I think it’s time we did something about them. I don’t know how long we’ll be gone, but Wyll is staying at the Suite and he’ll be checking in with you often to see if there’s anything you need. I think Whiterun is still pretty safe during the day, but you should be careful after dark.”
Lydia might be beautiful, attired in a pretty dress and mellowed by her newly acquired status as foster mom; but she was still a swordswoman of no mean abilities. The look she gave Katja in response to this admonition left no doubt that any vampires wanting to harm Anja would have to come through her, and were not likely to make it to the other side. Katja gave her a fierce, approving smile, then turned it on Argis as he also indicated that nothing was going to get to their little girl while he was around.
Hugs and kisses, or at least hand-squeezes, were delivered all ’round. Then Katja and Anders took their leave, and fast-traveled to Riften. Katja wasn’t sure exactly where they were heading, and she was glad to find plenty of daylight when they arrived. She began asking random people on the street, until she found a city guard who had heard of the group called the Dawnguard. The name, apparently, was from the old fortress east of the city where they’d set up their headquarters. Appropriate, she thought, for an organization set up to fight vampires.
With only vague instructions to look for the path to Fort Dawnguard off the main road some miles east of Riften, Katja and Anders went back out the northern gates and picked their way around to the stone-paved main “highway.” They had been traveling for some time when they found themselves attacked by a party of Thalmor. Katja wondered, had they somehow gotten word of her activities at the embassy near Solitude? These representatives of the Aldmeri Dominion surely had neither right nor reason to be traveling around Skyrim randomly attacking everyone they met; so mustn’t they be targeting her specifically? It made her uneasy.
As for defeating the attackers, no problem! There were three of them in the familiar Thalmor robes, along with a mage; and once battle was engaged, they fell one by one before the combined forces of The Dragonborn and her master of Destruction magic. Katja’s skills with her bow had improved to the point that a single shot was usually enough to drop a humanoid opponent, and her foes would be wise to re-think their antagonism.
Feeling a bit out of sorts after that experience, as always not quite willing to believe that any reasoning person or group (bandits, draugr, and so forth excepted, obviously) would regard her as an enemy, Katja led Anders on down the road. She spotted a clear trail leading up a hillside to her right, and they followed it up into the rocky peaks flanking the road. Near the top, they encountered a squat stone tower occupied by a group of three stern-faced persons in long robes.
Katja recognized them as Vigilants of Stendarr. Members of this grim sect of religious militants could be found throughout Skyrim, rooting out Daedra worship wherever it might be found. This was all in the name of Stendarr, the god of Righteous Might and Merciful Forbearance. On the whole, they seemed to be a lot bigger on the former attribute than the latter. She found their self-righteousness and utter lack of humor repugnant, but had to concede that they did some good on occasion. Most of the Daedric Princes, and those who worshipped them, were an evil lot.
These assured her that not only Daedra worshipers but necromancers and vampires were the targets of their wrath. They were not connected with the Dawnguard, they said, but if she went back down the path she had come up by and across the road, she might find what she sought. All right, then. Katja, Anders following close behind, did as instructed. Slightly to the west of the path they had followed, she spotted another much fainter path running off to the north, on the far side of a fallen log. This led to a cleft in the rocks, and beyond that the landscape opened out into a broad canyon.
As they followed the now much more clearly-defined path forward, they came upon a young blond Nord dressed in farmer’s clothing. He greeted them in a friendly matter, saying that his name was Agmaer and that he had come to join the Dawnguard. “You don’t mind if I walk with you?” Katja assured him that would be fine. They made their way along the shore of a small lake and through some low hills, shortly coming to an enormous stone fortress.
Katja glanced at Anders, who was also admiring the edifice with a certain amount of awe. “It looks like the Dawnguard has themselves a pretty impressive headquarters,” she remarked. He nodded. A little further along they encountered a burly Orc practicing at an archery butt. He wasn’t holding a bow, however, but some peculiar construction of wood and steel that shot short, fletched bolts instead of arrows. He noticed them watching him and remarked laughing, “Never seen a crossbow before, have you?” He picked up another of the odd-looking contrivances and handed it to Katja saying, “Here. Take it and practice.”
She doubted whether such a thing could possibly be as effective as her bow, but thanked him and carried it with her as they continued down a well-trodden dirt path that skirted the outside of the fortifications. Despite Fort Dawnguard’s seeming solidity, its impregnability was more imaginary than real. Entry to the grounds was through a wide gap in a log stockade no more than 6 feet high, and from there a couple of broad staircases led to a large set of wooden doors that opened into the fortress itself. It looked as though Wyll and his axe, or maybe even Katja and her Unrelenting Force shout, could be inside here in under a minute whether anybody was trying to stop them or not.
As Katja, Anders, and young Agmaer entered, they found themselves in an impressive, circular stone entryway with a ceiling that towered above them and wide doorways leading off in three directions. A balcony ringed the room high above. In the center of this broad space stood a couple of middle-aged men. One, a Redguard, was dressed all in fitted leathers and was handsome in a grim sort of way. The other, a Nord from the look of him, was balding and dressed as a Vigilant. Both of them carried enormous axes.
The two seemed to be in the midst of a serious discussion, and Katja (along with her companions) held back, waiting for the opportunity to speak. The Vigilant said “You know why I’m here. The Vigilants are under attack everywhere. The vampires are much more dangerous than we believed.” The Redguard replied coldly, “And now you want to come running to safety with the Dawnguard, is that it?”
Great, Katja thought. The Dawnguard is run by yet another authority figure who’s so full of himself and his own importance that he can’t bend to offer compassion to someone in need. These types always seemed to gravitate into positions where they could order others around, and she was coming to accept it as the way the world was – but she didn’t have to like it.
The Redguard continued, “I remember Keeper Carcette telling me repeatedly that Fort Dawnguard is a crumbling ruin, not worth the expense and manpower to repair. And now that you’ve stirred up the vampires against you, you come begging for my protection?” Scorn fairly dripped from his words. Clearly, the Vigilants’ attitude when he was launching this project had left him with a deep resentment toward them.
The other man replied, grief in his voice, “Isran, Carcette is dead. The Hall of the Vigilants… everyone… they’re all dead. You were right, we were wrong. Isn’t that enough for you?” Isran seemed a little ashamed at the harsh tone he had taken and said more kindly, “Yes, well… I never wanted any of this to happen. I tried to warn all of you… I am sorry, you know.”
At that point Isran became aware of the group hanging back, waiting for his conversation to conclude. He stepped forward with an aggressive air and demanded “So who are you? What do you want?” This was Katja’s cue. “I hear you’re looking for vampire hunters,” she replied. Isran seemed pleased by her answer. “You heard right,” he said. “I’m glad word’s finally starting to get around. But that means it won’t be long before the vampires start to take notice as well.”
“What can I do to help?” she asked him. Isran replied, “I need someone out in the field, taking the fight to the damn vampires, while we’re getting the fort back into shape…” He went on, “Tolan was telling me about some cave that the Vigilants were poking around in. Seemed to think it was related to these recent vampire attacks.” Tolan, Katja realized, must be the guy in Vigilant robes.
Isran turned on his heel, pacing, and said “Tolan, tell her about, what was it, Dimhollow?” The Vigilant replied “Yes, that’s it. Dimhollow Crypt. Brother Adalvald was sure it held some long-lost vampire artifact of some kind.” Isran cut in, “He’s dead too?” Tolan replied, “We didn’t listen to him any more than we did you. He was at the Hall when it was attacked…”
Replying to Tolan but addressing Katja and company, Isran said “That’s good enough for me. Go see what the vampires were looking for in this Dimhollow Crypt. With any luck, they’ll still be there.” He added, “Feel free to poke around the fort and take what you need. There isn’t much yet, but you’re welcome to anything you can use.”
Tolan faced them and said “I’ll meet you at Dimhollow. It’s the least I can do to avenge my fallen comrades.” Turning back to Isran he continued, “I know what you think of us. You think we’re soft, that we’re cowards. You think our deaths proved our weakness. Stendarr grant that you do not have to face the same test and be found wanting.” At that point he took his leave, heading for Dimhollow Crypt. His attempt at chastisement had had no effect.
Isran now turned his attention to Agmaer, who he seemed to notice for the first time. “You there, boy,” he commanded. “Stop skulking in the shadows and step up here. What’s your name?” Agmaer stammered “I’m uh… my name is Agmaer, sir.” Isran bristled. “Do I look like a ‘sir’ to you, boy? I’m not a soldier, and you’re not joining the army.” “Yes si… Isran,” Agmaer got out, before he was overrun once more. For not-a-soldier, Isran seemed to have the drill sergeant thing down pretty well.
“Didn’t I tell you to step forward?” he asked. When Agmaer did he looked him over, then said “Farm boy, eh? What’s your weapon?” Agmaer replied, “Uh, my weapon? I mostly just use my pa’s axe, when wolves are attacking the goats or something.” Isran rolled his eyes. “’My pa’s axe,’ Stendarr preserve us. Don’t worry, I think we can make a Dawnguard out of you. Here, take this crossbow and let’s see how you shoot.”
Agmaer recoiled as if he were being offered a live snake. “Uh, crossbow? I’ve never…” Impatiently, Isran pressed it into his hands. “Yes, a crossbow. Best thing for killing vampires. Just take a few shots at those crates over there.” Despite his resemblance to the gormless farm boys of Katja’s youth, Agmaer didn’t seem like a complete dunce. He soon figured out how to cock the crossbow, and began firing bolts in the general direction of a stack of crates that was piled against the far wall of the circular room.
Isran looked at her and Anders questioningly. “I’m Katja and this is my companion Anders Lanya,” she told him. “You might have heard of me? I’m The Dragonborn…” Isran gave her a blank look. Evidently they weren’t getting the news of the world with any regularity out here in the boondocks. “Never mind,” she continued, sighing. She gestured to the many fine weapons slung about Anders, and a similar number that she was carrying herself.
“I got a crossbow from that Orc fellow outside, but we’re good. I’m an expert marksman and Anders is a Destruction mage. He’s also deadly with edged weapons and magic staffs.” Isran just stood there looking her up and down, a stern expression on his face. Then he nodded curtly as if reaching some decision and said, “Very well, then. Report to me when you return from Dimhollow.” And with that, he strode off.
Katja, still standing there in the entry hall, exchanged glances with Anders. He raised an eyebrow at her. “Maybe we should bring Anja to visit him?” he asked. She snorted and smiled, replying “Our little girl does seem to have the power to melt stone, but I’m not sure even she could crack that one. What a tough old nut.” After a moment’s thought she added “Well, we don’t have to like him. We’re just here to add our efforts to his cause, and likely we won’t have to be spending much time around him. Let’s explore, and then be off to this Dimhollow Crypt.”
They walked through the doorway to their left and found themselves in a broad, lightly furnished hallway. The doorway to the right from there led to a large dining hall. It had a long table and a cooking hearth, but little else. Various other doorways led back outside, to practice areas. There was a crafting workbench but no other smithing facilities. Further inside the fortress, they found a room that looked like it would make a good dormitory; but there were no beds as yet, not even sleeping pads.
“Looks like sleeping here might not be much better than camping out for the time being,” Katja remarked to Anders as she turned and led the way back out the front door. She was already scheming on how she was going to squeeze plenty of loving into this quest. They could, she supposed, simply return to the Suite and sleep in their own comfortable bed, whenever it was bedtime and they were in some location they could fast-travel back to the next morning; but part of the idea here was for them to be questing together, away from the Suite and its other inhabitants (notably Wyll).