Love & Loss

Soul Cairn Part 2

Max let out a battle cry as he crossed blades with the final Keeper of the day. The executioner style battle-axe the faceless giant toted was tough to stop. Normally, he wouldn't be having this much trouble keeping up with the massive spirit, but he hadn’t enough soul to do this anymore. Wow. He must have been getting desperate if he was cracking jokes. He could see Serana casting a life draining spell at the Keeper from behind, but the bone men, as they came to call them, were dividing her attention. Just as they were dispatched, the Keeper summoned more. They had been fighting tirelessly since they began hitting the spires it seemed.

Max lost his balance this time when he struggled, blade to blade with the Keeper. He was dangerously close to the edge.

Serana could only watch as Max lost his footing and was pressed closer to the edge of the spire. She knew that if she didn't act fast, he was going to fall to serious injury and most likely death.

Serana upped her magic's draw power and began to animate bone men and wrath men to her cause, but the Keeper saw its opening.

Max managed to dodge another swing and kick the axe from the Keeper's hands. The Keeper lurched at him, and drove its armored shoulder into his sternum. As Max teetered back over the edge in what seemed to Serana like slow motion, he grasped the Keeper around the shoulders in a dead man's grip. The Keeper fell with Max as they plummeted to the ground stories below. Serana shouted Max's name, but it was far too late. Serana's reanimated creatures all dissipated or clattered to the ground as she sprinted for the edge. She could see they hadn't made it all the way to bottom, the lip of another floor a story or two down had caught them, which meant Max's chances of survival went up significantly. But she could only see the Keeper's remains lying askew. But then an armored figure limped towards Keeper's corpse, he cradled his left arm against his abdomen.

"Hey Serana, do you think his armor's too big for me?" Max shouted up to her, acting as though he didn't just fall two stories.

Serana shook her head and scoffed, making her way down to him.

"Are you crazy? Wait, don't answer that," She said thinking better of it.

Max smirked in a mischievous manner that made her insides flutter despite being cross with him for acting like his near death experience was no big issue.

"How in Oblivion did you manage to survive that?"

Max shrugged, and immediately winced at the pain it caused his shoulder.

"Well, I got on top of him as we were falling. He took most of the impact and I sort of rolled off, with a lot of luck involved," Max said with a cocky grin.

He hobbled over towards the Keeper's enormous body and pulled out a battle axe.

"That’s dragon bone!” Max exclaimed, eyeing the axe with awe. He was completely disregarding his injuries, as usual.

"Let me look at your injuries."

Max sighed and moved over towards the spire staircase as sat down.

"Can you help me with the clasps in the back?"

Serana obliged moving behind Max and undoing the clasps in the back. She could see the armor took the brunt of the impact and was bent or punctured in a few places. When Serana moved around to Max's front, she saw he had removed his greaves and wore knee length trousers. His knee appeared to be the source of his pain. She also saw his left shoulder dangled uselessly. It was dislocated.

"Which one first?" Serana asked.

Max pointed to his shoulder with his good arm. "Please."

Serana took a deep breath. She had never put a dislocated shoulder back in place, she didn't disclose this to Max as she began to work his shoulder gently. Serana poked around the firm muscles of his shoulder and found a good angle. She grabbed ahold of his elbow and put it at just the right angle.

"On three."

"One…Two…" Crack!

"Hey!"

Serana giggled, a smirk on her face.

"That way you don't tense up."

"Yeah, yeah," Max muttered, rubbing his shoulder ruefully.

Max had already started rubbing some healing potion on the soft parts of his knee, hoping the potion would reach the tendons.

Serana gently pushed his hands away and placed a hand on one of his massive thighs. She summoned healing magic in her other hand and placed it gently on his afflicted knee.

"We need to get back to your mother."


Valerica paced back and forth for hours. She had spent centuries in this dreadful place with nothing else to do but simply think herself to death. She had never dreamed Serana would actually find her, part of her wished, but her rational side knew that being away was for the best.

Valerica couldn't count how many times she had simply hallucinated her daughter's return, but in all of her imagination she never could have conjured up the foreboding Nord that had accompanied her. When Valerica laid eyes upon the man, she instantly noticed how well equipped he was. Looking at his face, she saw the terrific combination of power and confidence in his eyes. This man was certainly of high stature. His facial scars served as a reminder of his battlefield prowess.

This man knew what he was doing and it had immediately set her on edge. Valerica did not fail to notice the way her daughter looked at him. She also was bothered by the whiff of a peculiar smell. Scent did not exist in the Soul Cairn so she guessed it had to be the man. He did appear to be living and breathing. Valerica had all but forgotten she had a nose, and an enhanced one at that. Her vampire senses told her this man was not only a living being in the Soul Cairn but a werewolf and a vampire hunter. He must have wanted Serana to lead him to her.

While Valerica didn't blame her daughter for falling into such a convincing…and handsome trap. Serana never really had the chance to experience life as Valerica and Harkon had. It was something she regretted, but Valerica knew she had to be cold splash of water to wake her up. Valerica had toyed with the man, but he did not take the carefully set up traps in her words, nor did he ever lose his temper as she would have expected. That had puzzled her.

Either this was an exceptionally trained infiltrator, or his motives were genuine. It still didn't make sense. It had hurt her deeply to hear her daughter aptly defend the werewolf. She even went as far as saying he had done more for her than she. Her own mother.

That was a knife to the heart. Metaphorically so, of course. Hers no longer beat.

Valerica didn't understand it. Was her daughter blinded by her infatuation for the vampire hunter, or did she truly resent her so?

Valerica hung her head. She had sacrificed everything for Serana but she didn't understand. How could she? Her father was blinded by a prophecy and willing to sacrifice her to accomplish it. Her mother despised him and hid from them both. Valerica had sacrificed her friend and locked Serana away for far too long.

Valerica snapped from her thoughts when the barrier that confined her dissipated. She couldn't believe it. Serana and the vampire hunter had somehow killed the Boneyard Keepers…it was nothing short of astounding for her.

An hour or two later, the two approached. Serana looked tired, but unscathed. The vampire hunter appeared to have taken the brunt of it as he had a slight limp and gingerly held one arm to his abdomen. Valerica was impressed.

"You managed to destroy all three Keepers? Very impressive," She said, glowing eyes beading out at Max and Serana and her arms folded at her bosom.

"Can you give us the scroll now?" Max asked, he sounded tired.

Valerica pursed her lips for a moment and nodded, "Yes. Follow me," Before she turned she spoke in wary tones, "Keep watch for Duhrneviir. With the prison's barrier down, he will no doubt investigate."

As Valerica turned and made her way for the prison doors, she heard Serana pull Max aside.

"I'm glad you're here. I don't think I could be doing this alone."

Valerica pretended not to hear, but she was a both irritated and amused at the same time.

"You're just using me to kill all of the dragons," Max jested.

Valerica wondered what he meant by that, but she kept her expression neutral as she opened the gate just enough so they could fit through, and looked back at them. She heard Serana laugh. It warmed her heart, despite other concerning factors.

Max could feel the tingle in his senses…a dragon was near. He looked around the steep archway, trying to get a glimpse of the skies. He kept his new dragon bone battle axe in his hands, constantly testing the weight and balance of it.

The courtyard looked something like the arenas of Cyrodiil his mother had told him about as a boy. There was an upper level that was raised from the ground, no doubt where the action happened. As he stood on the lower level, he noticed gravestones of what assumed were the unfortunate losers. Serana seemed to notice Max's unease. She squinted at the sky.

"Wait," she said warily, "I hear something."

With that a bolt of lightning split the sky with a brilliant white flash and pierced the ground with a tooth-clattering boom. The unmistakable cry of a dragon filled the air.

"It's Duhrneviir! He's here! Defend yourselves!" Valerica said. She drew her sword and moved closer to her daughter.

Max looked at Serana, "Get you and your mother to some cover! Once I bring him down, hex the blazes out of him!"

Serana obliged and drug her mother off with her.

Valerica was confused, "Wait, what are you doing?! Is he crazy?! How can he possibly bring down a dragon?!"

Serana smirked, "Watch," She said, almost sounding proud as Max charged to the center of the arena.

Max sprinted up the incline, dodging a blast of shock. Max ran up right beneath the flying dragon and let loose the Dragonrend shout.

"JOOR-ZAH-FRUL!"

A turquoise colored energy blast flew from the Nord's mouth and surrounded the dragon. Duhrneviir cried out and plummeted down a few feet away from Max.

Valerica stared wide-eyed at the Nord.

"By the Maker, he's a Dragonborn!"

Serana said nothing but began to blast and reanimate the bone men that rose from the ground.

Max continued to swing at the dragon with all of his might. He constantly had to check behind him for the bloody annoying bonemen.

Duhrneviir knocked Max back with a swipe of his claw hand and quickly took to the skies, landing on one of the prison tower and firing another shock blast from his mouth. Max dodged and pooled his energy for another shout. He could hear the whirrs and magical explosions behind him as he tracked Duhrneviir's movements. He decided to try something different.

"YOL-TOR-SHUL!"

A blast of fire emanated from his exhale and carried up, singeing part of Duhrneviir's left wing, causing the dragon to land on another tower. Max dropped his dragon bone axe on the ground and drew a daedric dagger he wore at his hip.

Duhrneviir came around for another swoop and Max was waiting for him. Just where Duhrneviir was about to strike, Max used the whirlwind sprint shout to move to one side and dive atop the dragon, digging his dagger in between the dragon's scales.

Duhrneviir howled and clipped a piece of the prison wall causing rubble to shake loose and cloud the area. Max managed to hold on somehow.

For a moment, the Soul Cairn was silent despite the chaos moments ago. Serana could only hear her own labored breathing, as well as her mother's. Valerica reached for the Elder Scroll but it was surrounded by a magical ward of some sort. If only they were that lucky. It seemed Duhrneviir had to be defeated to release the scroll.

Duhrneviir finally circled back over the prison and swooped down over the arena and barrel rolled, dumping Max onto the ground. He bounced and rolled under the momentum of the flying dragon until he finally slid to a halt. Duhrneviir was coming around for another attack on Max as the man struggled to gain his breath and stand. He merely rolled back and forth weakly.

Serana saw that Max was in trouble. She took off in a sprint, praying she'd beat the dragon to his target. She ignored her mother's calls for her to stay there.

Serana slid on her knees in an attempt to get to Max's side before the dragon swooped and petrified him. She threw up the most powerful magical ward she could think of and held her position hovering over Max. She kept her focus despite the shock currents that sizzled on the other side of her ward. Serana saw Max shuffle to his knees and eyed his axe then gave her an appreciative look. He nodded for her drop the ward and he unleashed dragonrend again, bringing Duhrneviir to the ground.

"JOOR-ZAH-FRUL!"

Max sprinted immediately for his axe and turned to the grounded dragon and began to swing away, blood flying in all directions. Serana stood a few yards behind him casting a life drain spell.

Duhneviir was waning. His attacks grew weaker and less frequent with their combined attack. Valerica joined in on the attack adding her life drain spell to the mix. Max spun in a circle using the momentum to bring the dragonbone axe down onto Duhrneviir's skull.

The dragon let out one final sigh and collapsed. His body began to dissipate at an alarming rate and glowed as if alight. The energy emanating from it could be felt in the air. It all began to channel in a current that rushed toward Max, his body absorbing the energy with the sound of cascading water. For a brief moment, when he turned to face Serana and her mother, he had a golden aura that illuminated him as though he were one of the divines or a daedric prince. The blood that once coated his face was somehow gone.

Serana had never seen anything like this before. She had heard the tales that the Dragonborn took the souls of slain dragons, but to see it first hand was transfixing. It was one of the most definite demonstrations of power she had ever seen, next to Molag Bol himself. Serana shuddered at the memory.

Serana noticed Max looking at her mother with an intrigued expression. She took a slow breath.

"Forgive my astonishment, but I never thought I'd witness the death of that dragon."

"Well mother," Serana said almost mockingly, "You have never met Skyrim's most recent Dragonborn, Maximus Oxholm, Slayer of Alduin the World Eater."

Valerica's brow shot up, there was no denying she was impressed.

"I know of Alduin. He was expelled a little before my time. I take it he was sent to present day?"

Max nodded. "Aye, it is the Fourth Era."

Valerica blinked for a moment, taking in how long she had been away.

"Goodness," She said under her breath. Having an exact idea of how much time had passed didn’t help as much as she’d though it would.

They continued to walk towards the alcove where the Elder Scroll sat.

"Volumes written on Duhrneviir allege that he can't be slain by normal means. It appears they were wrong,” Valerica stared off into the Soul Cairn in thought.

"Unless," Valerica continued her train of thought, "The soul of the dragon is as resilient as his owner's scaly hide. It's possible that your killing blow has merely displaced Duhrneviir's physical form while he reconstitutes himself."

"How long would that take?" Max inquired.

"Minutes, hours, years? I can't even begin to speculate. I suggest we don't wait around to find out."

Max agreed. "I'm with you on that."

Serana exited the alcove with the second Elder Scroll in her hands. She a look of relief crossed her face. She looked at Max with a faint smile.

"Come on. Let's get this to Dexion," She said, casting a sideways glance at her mother.

Valerica did not follow them as they turned towards the prison gates.

"Now that you've retrieved the scroll, you should be on your way. If there's anything I can help you with, please let me know."

The thought of Max's trapped soul crossed both his and Serana's mind at the same instant.

"Uh…" Max said, feeling strange about what he was about to request.

"Could you help me get my soul back?"

Valerica didn't bat an eye. She gave Serana an impressed look before addressing Max.

"So my daughter applied some of the lessons I taught her about necromancy, did she?" Max swore he saw Valerica's glowing eyes twinkle.

Upon seeing the worried and exhausted look on Max's face she reassured him.

"Don't worry. I can help you."

Max sighed. "Good. I can use all the help I can get."

Valerica noticed the guilty expression her daughter was wearing, but didn't say anything for the moment.

"Your soul essence was trapped inside a soul gem. When you and Serana entered the Soul Cairn, it was 'given' to the Ideal Masters as payment."

Max nodded, knowing this much already.

"You simply need to find the gem. The moment you touch it, your soul essence will be restored."

"Any idea as to where it could be?"

Valerica assented with a slight incline of her head, "There's an offering altar not terribly far from here. I'm willing to bet that the gem you're looking for is there."

Max thanked her.

"Is there anything else?" Valerica asked.

"Could be your last chance," she added with a hint of sadness.

"You're staying here?" Max asked with a glance at Serana who also looked upset.

"I have no choice. As I told you before, I'm a Daughter of Coldharbor. If I return to Tamriel I increase Harkon's likelihood of bringing the Tyranny of the Sun to fruition," She looked at Serana rather longingly.

"As much as it pains me to send you and Serana back alone, I can't take the risk," Valerica said as sadly as her grace and pride would allow.

"Remember," she warned, "Harkon isn't to be trusted. No matter what he promises, he'll deceive you in order to get what he wants."

Valerica looked Max dead in the eye as she said, "Promise me you will keep my daughter safe. She's the only thing I have left."

Serana said nothing to her mother as she grabbed Max's arm.

"Come, let's go home," She said, her tone low.

Max and Serana walked through the gates in silence. He refrained from looking at her, despite his concern. He pitied her relationship with her parents. It made him appreciate his, no matter how short it was.

"Let's go find your soul," Serana said with a slight laugh that didn’t quite sound geniune.

Her laugh was cut short at the sight of Duhrneviir standing before them.

Serana almost screamed in surprise. Almost.

The dragon spoke in a tongue that Serana couldn’t understand.

"Stay your weapons." Max obliged, reaching over to Serana and gesturing for her to stand down as well. Duhrneviir's voice was mighty and intimidating, as if it were that of a god. Serana then realized he probably was. The dragon motioned to Max.

"I would speak with you, Qahnaarin."

What is it with everyone saying that? Is it a privilege to be spoken with here?

Max nodded to Serana and stepped forward.

Max spoke in dragon tongue.

"I thought you were dead."

Duhrneviir dissented, "Cursed, not dead," he corrected, "Doomed to exist in this form for eternity. Trapped between laas and dinok (life and death)."

Max could feel Serana watching him for any sign of what was being said, but he focused on the conversation at hand.

"Why are we speaking?" Max inquired.

"I believe in civility amongst seasoned warriors, and I find your ear worthy of my words. My claws have rended the flesh of innumerable foes, but I have never once been felled in the field of battle," Duhrneviir paused and did what could be interpreted as a respectful bow with his head. His terrific horns accenting his intimidating presence.

"I therefore honor-name you, Qahnaarin."

Max crossed his right arm across his chest bowed in return, it was a traditional Nord salute the dragon would recognize.

"You are equally worthy."

"You words do me great honor," Duhrneviir said, his rumbling voice made it difficult to discern humility. "My desire to speak with you was born from the result of our battle, Qahnaarin. I merely wish to respectfully ask a favor of you."

"And that is?"

"For countless years I've roamed the Soul Cairn, in unintended service to the Ideal Masters. Before this, I roamed the skies above Tamriel. I desire to return there," The rumble of the dragon's voice gave Max a chill. This dragon was old and very powerful. He could feel it.

"What's stopping you?"

"I fear that my time here has taken its toll upon me. I share a bond with this dreaded place." Duhrneviir confessed. Max also suspected that this was true for Valerica as well.

"If I ventured from the Soul Cairn my strength would begin to wane until I was no more."

"How could I help?" Max offered.

"I will place my name with you and grant you the right to call my name from Tamriel. Do me this simple honor and I will fight by your side as your Grah Zeymahzin (ally), and teach you my Thu'um."

"Just call your name in Tamriel? That's all?"

Duhrneviir almost laughed, "Trivial in your mind, perhaps. For me, it would mean a great deal. I don't require an answer, Qahnaarin. Simply speak my name to the heavens when you feel the time is right."

“Why do you call me Qahnaarin?" Maximus asked.

"In my tongue it means, 'vanquisher'," the dragon explained, "One who has bested a fellow dovah in battle."

"Fellow dovah? I am not a dragon."

"You are the Dovahkiin. You may not be one of us in body, but you have earned the right to bear this title."

Max felt indescribably humbled at this.

"Thank you, Duhrneviir," Max said respectfully.

Duhrneviir went on to explain his involvement in the wars of long ago. He also discussed how his difference in approach at 'maintaining superiority' was unpopular. It was helpful to Max. Not all were the same, even among dragons. Duhrneviir experimented with necromancy, like Serana and her mother. He sought the Soul Cairn for answers, but in his search for power he was tricked into serving the Ideal Masters until Valerica died. He had been duped, as Valerica was a vampire and therefore undead.

Max said his respects to Duhrneviir and he and Serana went on their way.

When finally they returned to Tamriel, Max and Serana were both exhausted. They decided to rest in her mother's lab before getting on the road again. Max lay on a dusty bear fur on the floor, staring up at the ceiling.

"Max?"

"Yes?"

"What was it like? Your soul returning to you?"

Max thought for a moment.

"It was…like a flood of memories and emotions and sensations rushing through you. As if you'd forgotten them."

Serana didn't respond, only staring at the purple glow.


The trip back proved to be exhausting. It was surprising how much warmer it had gotten since they last were in Tamriel.

Serana proposed they stop at an out of the way inn for a bit, much to Max's surprise. They both could use a drink after spending so long in a dreadful place like the Soul Cairn. They tied their horses up and entered the tavern at a late hour, trusting that the patrons that remained were thoroughly drunk, if not, at least impaired enough to not be able to notice the vampire among them.

The two had managed to avoid drawing any attention and made small talk. The out of the way inn itself was small and a bit musty. The alcohol was just as good as any, though.

A few regulars moseyed about the tavern with no clear destination. It wasn't until later that a few young men stomped into the bar that any sort of excitement started. They were loud and uncouth, brandishing nice weapons and armor that were common of aspiring young adventurers. The young adventurers were two blonde Nords that looked as though they were brothers, the other was much taller and had dark hair. Max ruefully remembered he was once very much like these young men, rowdy and prideful to fault. They always had a chip on their shoulder and were looking for a way to prove themselves.

Serana noticed Max was playing with his tankard irritably. She gave him a quizzical look to which he shrugged and turned his head slightly to the boisterous young adventurers. Serana shrugged in response, not in the least bothered. She continued sipping her mead and covertly observing the young men with slight amusement. It had been a long time since she had been in a social scene, particularly with young men present. Back in her mortal days, Serana had been courted quite avidly. In her day, marriage wasn't so much a thing for love, but for influence and prestige. Things hadn't changed that drastically and the elite still followed similar guidelines, but things were much more lax in general.

Serana seemed to understand a bit of Max's irritation.

"Remind you of someone?" Serana prodded.

Max looked confused at first but he caught on eventually.

He smirked humorlessly, "A bit, yes."

Serana found the situation rather humorous. Though she may not look it, she was eras older than Max. She was frozen at the age of 25 and she was partly glad for it. It was right in her prime…not too old, not too young.

Serana noticed Max eyeing the young men as they spoke in hushed tones to one another and casting hateful glances at some Argonian patrons.

She thought she heard Max mutter something like ‘bigots’ under his breath. She remembered Max speaking of his respect for Kahjiit and his dislike of the Nords' discrimination towards them. She knew the case was similar for lizard-like Argonians as well. Some things never changed.

Max stood up and grabbed both of their tankards, he was going for refills. The young men dispersed at his arrival. The brothers (or twins?) made their way towards the Argonians. The dark haired one was heading straight for Serana. She noticed the less than subtle look of pursuit in the young man's eyes. Serana sighed silently. Some people were just asking to get their blood sucked.

The young man smoothly came beside her, a dumb smile on her face. Serana held back the urge to laugh.

The young man cleared his throat, "Hi there."

"Hello," Serana said, smiling shyly.

Getting a good look at the Nord surprised Serana at first, she could see a lot of similarities between him and Max. She chanced a glance back at the Dragonborn, he was having a conversation with the two blondes at the opposite side of the tavern, somehow managing to rope the Argonians into the talk as well.

Serana returned her attention to the man beside her.

"You look like an adventurer. What brings you to this dive?"

The young man's permanent smug look didn't change as he spoke.

"We're heading for a Dwemer ruin north of here. There's a captain in Solitude that pays good money for Dwemer artifacts."

Serana had to remind herself for a moment that the Dwarves were extinct.

She smiled at him to which he eagerly returned. His features curving with his smile pleasingly.

"I'm Ander. And you are?" he asked politely.

"Serana."

Her name seemed to intrigue him, "Serana. That's a unique name."

"An old one," She added with a grin. "So Ander, looking for your fortune in the ruins?" Serana mused, trying to gauge this young man's motivations. She noticed his hair had a bit of a curl to it and his eyes were green. She liked that.

"Well, new weapons and armor perhaps. I'm hoping to join the Imperial Legion, you see," He said, a hint of pride in his voice.

"Ah, so you did not a support the Stormcloaks in the war?"

Ander shook his head, "While I don't agree with everything the Empire does, it still is good for us. We wouldn't last against the Aldmeri Dominion on our own," Ander said, shaking his head bitterly.

Serana nodded, amused at the young man's refreshing view of politics.

"You seem smart. Why not be a politician instead?" Serana tried.

Ander laughed, "I'm afraid being a stuffed shirt is a bit dry for any Nord, really. Besides, the Dragonborn does just fine shaping the world with his sword. That's Nord politics for you," He said with a laugh.

Serana joined him in laughter.

"So," Ander said, attempting to change the subject, "May I buy a pretty woman a drink?" he said, moving in a little close for comfort.

Serana could smell his blood, but she pushed the hunger away. She could feel Max's gaze upon her, but she didn't turn around.

"Sure," Serana said, forcing a smile. She breathed a sigh of relief when Ander moved away. She looked over to Max who was busy chatting with the Nord brothers and the Argonians he looked like he was telling a story.

Upon his return, Ander noticed what Serana was looking at, or so he thought. He placed a drink in front of her which she subtly sniffed for any sort of drug.

"Those two are my companions. They're twins, Eigil and Einar. A feisty pair. One is an archer and the other is a rogue. Fits their personalities well enough."

"What does that make you?" Serana inquired.

Ander seemed glad she asked. He removed a large steel warhammer from his back.

Serana laughed, "Of course. And where does that put your personality?"

"Blunt," Ander said with a laugh, which Serana joined.

"So where did you say you were from, again?" he asked.

"Uh, Morthal."

"Really?" Ander said, causing Serana to regret choosing that particular town. She bet he had family there or something.

"I've heard the war hit Morthal hard. Lots of economic struggles."

"Hence why I left," Serana added quickly.

Ander laughed uncomfortably. He appeared to be debating on something, but Serana wasn't exactly sure she wanted to know what that was.

Max had been keeping an eye on Serana and the Nord that was quite obviously courting her. It bothered him. He couldn't figure out why. The kid wasn't anything he couldn't handle and he didn't pose much of a threat to the skilled vampire. Max still couldn't help glancing in her direction every once in a while. He had gotten used to her being around, and always watching out for her, though he doubted she needed it most of the time.

Max tried to distract himself with his conversation with the Argonians Sees-From-Afar and Calls-From-Within and the Nord brothers Eigil and Einar. It was surprising to hear how the younger generations saw the war. Max seemed to have vastly underestimated how much influence he carried. These young men, albeit unaware of Max's identity, spoke very highly of him and seemed to follow his decisions unquestionably. The Argonians also thought well of him for his stance against Ulfric's exclusion of other races in main cities, particularly non man or mer species like the Kahjiit and Argonians.

Max knew this time his work was something that would not reach the bard's songs. He was glad for it. Most of the songs were awful. Part of him worried about how this conflict would end. Would he fail and allow Serana to be taken and used for whatever her twisted father saw fit? Would he be forced to kill him in front of Serana? It was something he had been suppressing for a long time. He took a moment to advise the twins in maneuvering Dwemer ruins.

Something stirred in Max's peripheral vision. He saw Serana and the Nord cozying up, much to his distaste. Max asked the group to excuse him while he headed over in Serana's direction. He had no idea what he was going to do. He just followed his body there, his mind reeling for words.

The man was the first to notice Max's presence. Serana's followed, looking slightly… Upset?

"Excuse me," Max said to the Nord, "If I might have a word with my friend here?"

The man agreed rather reluctantly and moved away. Serana glared at Max.

"What's the matter with you?" Her voice was pointed and accusatory.

"What are you hoping to accomplish here?" Max's voice critical.

Serana shrugged defiantly, "I don't know. What's it to you?"

Max reeled for a moment, as if asking himself. "I just hope you know what you're doing," he said.

"I think I'm old enough to take care of myself, thank you," Serana snapped.

Max's face tightened and he turned on a heel and exited the tavern. Serana wondered if he left for good. She hoped not, despite his infuriating bullheaded nature. But then something clicked in her head. Something Ander said echoed in her skull.

When Ander returned he appeared a bit flustered by her distant expression.

"You said your weapon meant you were blunt. What does that make a greatsword or an axe?" Serana asked a surprised Ander.

"Uh, I guess that would mean they're fairly blunt like the warhammer, but not entirely direct. Sometimes their intentions are deeper than they seem?" Ander said, almost unsure of what he said made sense.

Serana smiled. It all made sense. Max was jealous. Jealous of what?

Ander smiled back. He was a smart young man with a bright future. A whole life of intrigue and adventure ahead of him. If he played his cards right, romance would no doubt be in his future.

As for Max, his future was uncertain. He had lost any chance at a normal life long ago. She could see it in his eyes, Max wished he had that wonderful glint in every young adventurers' eye. The world at their fingertips, completely unsure of what the future held, but ready to face it head on. Max seemed to dread the future. The prospect of dying alone and unloved was ever present. Everyone had moved on from their adventurer phase. Even Mjoll. But Max was stuck in the adventurer's lifestyle, unable to settle down and live happily. From reading his journal, Serana knew Max couldn't bring himself to settle down. His past haunted him too strongly for him to spend his life in wealth and leisure.

Serana knew she couldn't be that way either. Not now. She had to stop her father and she couldn't do without Max. There was no one else in all of Tamriel that could share this burden with her so willingly.

Serana decided something then.

She thanked Ander politely and left the disappointed young man to his alcohol. She stepped outside and saw Max tending to the horses, his breath frozen above him in the chill spring air.

Max looked at her apologetically, a glint in his eye as he spoke.

"I'm sorry Serana, I was out of line."

Serana smiled warmly at him.

"You could have told me earlier, you know."

"What do you mean…Oh, I…I don't know, Serana," Max said, struggling for words. "I just don't want to complicate things for you."

Serana shook her head. "No, it wouldn't…Things are confusing right now. And it's been a long time."

"That makes two of us," Max added.

Serana laughed sadly, "I guess you're right." She looked up at him, an intense moment of eye contact followed before they both shied away from one another. Serana could still feel Max's body heat and his rising heartbeat. But when it came to her body, it didn't respond in any visible way. She hid the shame from her expression.

"Just…give it time," Max said softly.

Serana nodded in agreement.

They both mounted their horses and made off towards Fort Dawnguard. Hopefully Dexion could help them out with the next scroll.

They caught one another's lingering glances more and more as the trip went on.


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