At the Hideout
“Anders?” Katja asked. “Have you ever heard of this ‘Forebears’ Hideout’?”
He pondered for a moment before replying. “It’s one of those underground fortresses,” he said. “The entrance isn’t all that far from here, if I recall… I think it’s off in that direction.” He pointed to the east and a little south of where they were standing. He had been questing in Skyrim for a decade before Katja arrived, and there were few places he had not visited at one time or another.
They set off down the road a bit and soon found a spur road leading off in the right direction. In moments they were standing before a likely-looking cave entrance. With little hesitation, the three ventured inside. They had gone down a narrow stone corridor for only a short distance when they found themselves on a stone balcony overlooking an immense cavern.
Massive stone fortifications arose on the far side of the cavern, through which a river was running. There was a large bonfire visible in a courtyard on the near side, and farther back some kind of energy field was creating an area of glowing blue distortion that made it impossible to tell what lay within it. Katja stood quietly for a minute or two just assessing the situation, and in a while she spotted a figure patrolling the battlements closest to where they stood. She put a couple of arrows into it, and it was obviously severely wounded; but it did not fall. That must be a powerful vampire, to withstand such a sneak attack. Most bandits would have fallen dead on the first shot.
Feeling a little annoyed to have revealed their presence without taking down the enemy, Katja led the way down a staircase to the left. This gave onto a stone pathway, then to a bridge that crossed the stream and allowed access to the fortress on its other side. Eyes wide, alert for danger, she soon spotted movement and took down a death hound. A second one, alerted to their presence, fled with an arrow in its flank and she had to chase it down and put two more into it before it fell dead.
Crap, Katja was thinking. Is there anybody here that doesn’t now know we’ve arrived? She had intended to make their invasion so stealthy that the bad guys wouldn’t know what had hit them until it was too late. As it turned out, though, their less-than-flawlessly-executed approach had not alerted as many enemies as she feared. After crossing the bridge and finding an entrance to the courtyard with the bonfire, they discovered only the one wounded vampire on guard. Incredibly, he had attempted to resume his guard duties without raising the alarm.
She finished him off, then climbed some steps that led to the rear part of the fortifications. As they approached they could hear a man’s voice speaking from the center of the area whence the mysterious glow was emanating. “Must… resist…” Could this be the kidnapped Moth Priest, under some kind of a mind attack? Katja needed to figure out how to shut down the field before he was overcome.
But as the trio came closer, they suddenly found themselves attacked by four or five vampires including one that appeared to be Malkus, the boss of the operation. Arrows flying, Katja dropped or slowed each of their attackers as Anders and Serana finished them off. In a short while, all was quiet except for the continuing glow of the magical barrier and the occasional sound of anguish from the man trapped within it.
Quick! Katja thought, searching the body of the man who appeared to have been the boss. Sure enough, she found a mysterious sphere on him, carved with a pattern of glowing blue lines. Grabbing it, she ran up a flight of stairs looking for some kind of controller. There was a short pillar at the top, overlooking the plaza where the field was glowing; and it also had glowing lines on it. At the center was a circular recess, and when she set the sphere in it the barrier vanished without a sound.
As it did, the figure of a man emerged from the space that had been enclosed and began climbing a set of stairs leading up to the level they were standing on, with apparent hostile intent. And on their right, another vampire minion appeared. Katja fired an arrow into the first man, and he collapsed to the ground in a posture of submission. Ignoring him she went after the vampire, with help from her companions.
In another moment or two all of Malkus’ evil crew appeared to be dead, and as they made their way down the stairs they found what could only be the kidnapped Moth Priest. He had been enthralled by his captivity within the vampires’ magical barrier, but her arrow shot had broken the spell somehow. Now recovering his health along with his mind, he did not seem to hold a grudge against her for having shot him.
“Are you alright?” Katja asked, concerned. She’d been supposed to find this guy, not kill him.
The long-bearded, dun-robed Priest replied “Thank the Divines for you!” Recovering from his excitement he went on, “I’m quite alright, thanks to you. Dexion Evicus is my name. I’m a Moth Priest of the White Gold Tower.” She breathed a sigh of relief.
“These vampires claimed they had some purpose in store for me, but they wouldn’t say what. Probably hoping to ransom me, the fools,” Dexion continued.
“I know why they needed you,” Katja answered him. “Because we need you for the same purpose.”
The Priest seemed relieved. “You do?” he asked. “Alright then, enough mysteries.”
“We’re called the Dawnguard,” she told him, “and we need you to read an elder scroll.”
He appeared astounded and, surprisingly, delighted. “You have an elder scroll? Remarkable! If my knowledge of history serves me, I recall that the Dawnguard was an ancient order of vampire hunters. I will be happy to assist you with your elder scroll. Just tell me where I need to go.”
Wow, that was easier than I expected, Katja thought. Though, she supposed, being rescued from the clutches of a pack of evil vampires might incline anyone to be friendly. “You can find us at Fort Dawnguard, near Stendarr’s Beacon,” she told him.
“Very well,” he replied. “I’ll hurry on my way there before more of these vampires turn up.” With that, he turned and began making his way back out of the cave. They followed him.
“Dexion,” Katja called to him as they all emerged from the cave entrance, “let me take you with us.”
The man considered that, then agreed. It made no sense for him to try to walk to Fort Dawnguard alone, when she could fast-travel them all there in moments. He seemed to be still half-dazed from his ordeal. After all he was elderly – fifty at least – and had just spent a hard few days traveling from Cyrodiil only to be kidnapped by vampires and enthralled. It was a wonder he was able to walk.
The four of them appeared within a short walk of the front steps of Fort Dawnguard. Katja was riveted. She had never before seen a situation in which the fast-travel point to a particular destination changed. Perhaps in her dotage, after she’d retired from questing and had settled down to raise her and Anders’ brood of children (and after, of course, working out that hot bath spell), she would devote herself to the study of magic maps.
They entered the hall and found Isran waiting for them. “I’m impressed you could find a Moth Priest so quickly,” he said. Katja just smiled at him. He took charge of Dexion and shepherded him to some quarters where he could rest and freshen up. Katja had Serana hand over her elder scroll to him first, which she didn’t seem too reluctant to do – even though she’d been wearing it like an extension of her body since they had first met.
The other three in the party then adjourned to the dining hall, where they met Sorine. She told them that she and Gunmar had already established full smithing facilities, and she was at work on a new crossbow prototype that she felt would be much more powerful and effective. Katja was a little leery of her (and other Dawnguard recruits’) reactions to Serana, but the fact that Serana was a beautiful woman with an engaging personality, along with the help that she had so far provided, seemed to be working in her favor. The others were polite if not cordial, and they all got along reasonably well as they ate what food was available and sat talking for a couple of hours.
Katja tried to draw Serana out on the subject of her family relations, and the reasons for the rift between her parents. The vampire woman seemed very reluctant to discuss these issues, however; so the conversation ran to things like weapons and armor, gargoyles, death hounds, and the spell Serana used that allowed her to re-animate one of the foes Katja had just killed to fight on their side. The first time she’d seen it in action, she had tried to kill the revenant again – before realizing it was no longer fighting against them.
“The spell is called ‘Animate Dread Zombie,’” Serana told her. “I find it very useful to have a little extra help in a battle – especially since your reanimated ally is a match for its former comrades.”
“Good point,” Katja said, musing over the possibilities. First of course she’d have to find a spell tome for it. Then, she’d have to become a lot more adept at Summoning magic. She was becoming so good at archery, and it was now so effective, that it was hard to consider switching to less-powerful magical attacks when her life was on the line.
After they’d hung out for a few hours they went to check with Isran and found that Dexion was now recovered from his ordeal and ready to read Serana’s Scroll. They all gathered in the entry hall for the event. “Have my companions made you feel welcome?” Katja asked him. She was beginning to feel a certain degree of responsibility, as she had now recruited three people to the ranks of the Dawnguard.
“Oh most certainly!” Dexion replied eagerly. He might be old, but he still seemed to have a zest for life and his calling in it. “Let’s find out what secrets the scroll can tell.” He pulled the scroll out and opened it, saying “Now, if everyone will please be quiet, I must concentrate.” After studying the scroll for another few moments he went on, “I see a vision before me, an image of a great bow. I know this weapon! It is Auriel’s Bow!”
The name sparked recognition in Katja, but she could not place the memory. Some ancient fireside tale? Dexion continued, “Now a voice whispers, saying ‘Among the night’s children, a dread lord will rise. In an age of strife, when dragons return to the realm of men, darkness will mingle with light and the night and day will be as one.’” Reading further down the scroll, he went on “The voice fades and the words begin to shimmer and distort. But wait, there is more here.”
Dexion seemed to be trying to figure out the meaning of the next words the scroll presented to him. “The secret of the bow’s power is written elsewhere,” he said. “I think there is more to the prophecy, recorded in other scrolls.” A pause. “Yes, I see them now… One contains the ancient secrets of the dragons, and the other speaks of the potency of ancient blood.” He tailed off, then: “My vision darkens, and I see no more.” Had he been blinded? Katja had not forgotten the warning she had read a few months ago, when her search for the scroll that opened the Time Wound had led her to the library at the College of Winterhold.
Perhaps not. Dexion went on, “To know the complete prophecy, we must have the other two scrolls.” Though he looked strong and upright, he added “I must rest now. The reading has made me weary.”
“Come, old man,” Isran told him. “You should get some rest.” Isran shepherded Dexion back to his quarters. Katja stood there, her mind churning. She had never figured out how, despite all she had read, she had been able to read her own elder scroll (which she still in fact kept tucked in her pack, not wanting it to be lost or stolen) without suffering any ill effects. Was her Dragonborn heritage responsible for her seeming immunity to the insanity, blindness, or death that were supposed to be the results of reading the Kell?
Katja had the feeling that was one puzzle she was not going to unlock any time soon. Instead, she turned to Serana. The woman had a look of suppressed excitement that suggested Dexion’s reading had triggered an idea of some kind. “What’s on your mind?” she asked her.
“That Moth Priest, Dexion,” Serana responded. “He said we needed two other elder scrolls. I think I know where we can start looking.”
A sharp thrill of excitement rippled through Katja’s mind. When there was a puzzle to be unraveled, she became like a fox on the trail of a fat hare. “I believe I know where the dragon one is. I already have it,” she told Serana. “But you know the location of the other one? Why didn’t you say something earlier?” she asked.
Serana replied, “Half the people in your little crew would just as soon kill me as talk to me.” Now that was a complete exaggeration. Isran most definitely would, but most of the rest were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Serana went on, “That doesn’t exactly make me want to open up. I got a warmer welcome from my father, and that’s saying something.” Katja sighed internally as she considered the Isran problem and Serana’s self-admitted daddy issues. Isran couldn’t be diplomatic if you tied him up and beat him for a month. As for Serana’s daddy, who wouldn’t have issues with that guy? What a psycho.
Hoping that Serana didn’t harbor any lingering loyalty toward her father, Katja asked “Does Harkon even care about you anymore?”
Serana replied, “You know, I’ve asked myself the same thing.” Her eyebrows knit, and her face took on an expression of woe. “I thought… I hoped that if he saw me, he might feel something again. But I guess I don’t really factor in at this point. I don’t think he even sees me as his daughter anymore. I’m just… a means to an end.”
Katja felt a twinge of sympathy. Her relations with her own parents had been fine. They had loved her and supported her even when it became clear that their eldest child was a maverick who was not going to conform to the standard mold of Breton society within their small rural village. She’d have probably been out of there years earlier, otherwise. But having known the love of a father, she could feel for Serana in the loss of hers. He might still breathe, but he was not the man she had known.
Changing the subject Katja asked, “So where is this elder scroll?”
“We need to find my mother, Valerica,” Serana replied. “She’ll definitely know where it is, and if we’re lucky, she actually has it herself.”
“You said you didn’t know where she went,” Katja reminded her.
Serana responded, “The last time I saw her, she said that she’d go somewhere safe… somewhere that my father would never search. Other than that, she wouldn’t tell me anything.” Considering for a moment, she continued “But the way she said it… ‘someplace he would never search.’ It was cryptic, yet she called attention to it.”
Encouraging Serana to continue her train of thought, Katja remarked “Sounds like she was being cautious.”
“Maybe,” Serana replied. “What I can’t figure out is why she said it that way. Besides, I can’t imagine a single place my father would avoid looking. And he’s had all this time, too. Any ideas?”
Her mind ticking over the possibilities, Katja suggested “In Castle Volkihar?” It would, perhaps, be the last place Harkon would look.
Serana’s eyes widened. “Wait,” she said. “That almost makes sense!” Katja could see the wheels turning as the vampire woman put together the pieces of the puzzle. “There’s a courtyard in the castle. I used to help her tend a garden there. She used to say that my father couldn’t stand the place. Too… peaceful.”
Now playing Devil’s Advocate, Katja asked “Isn’t that pretty risky though, staying around the castle?”
“Oh absolutely,” Serana replied. “But my mother’s not a coward. That is,” she continued after a moment’s hesitation, “I don’t think we’ll actually trip over her there. But it’s worth a look.”
“They aren’t going to let us use the front door,” Katja pointed out. She’d felt lucky to have escaped with their lives.
“True,” Serana responded, “but I know how we can get to the courtyard without arousing suspicion. There’s an unused inlet on the northern side of the island that was used by the previous owners to bring supplies into the castle. An old escape tunnel from the castle exits there. I think that’s our way in.”
Katja looked to Anders. He’d been following the conversation, his own fine mind considering their best course of action. He nodded slightly. She assumed the role of boss when they were questing, but she’d think twice before overriding him if he saw any flaw in her approach. As it appeared they were in accord, she said to Serana “let’s go to the castle’s secret entrance, then.”
Serana nodded in turn. “It’s around the side of the castle. Let’s move.”