North of Whiterun
Max and Serana had been travelling for about a day before they finally stopped what Serana guessed was Max's estate. It wouldn't have made sense otherwise for them to be here, using someone else's forge. Max had only said that he intended to make Serana some better armor, otherwise he said nothing about where they were and why. While her outfit wasn't the best for combat, she liked it. It was flexible and not to mention stylish. Serana reminded herself that her outfit was in style a few eras ago. She sighed and looked at her fingernails with a dull expression. Max looked over at her as she sat slumped against the stone wall near the tanning rack.
Max wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and sighed tiredly. He looked over his repaired gauntlet, the hole had been expertly patched. Max had taken most of the afternoon to touch up their weapons and armor.
Max sat the armorer hammer down and headed towards the estate's entrance, he stopped for a moment and looked back at Serana.
Serana's chin slid into her upturned palm as she sighed.
The estate grounds were impressive. Looking around Serana could see stables and a paddock where their horses rested. Next to the stable's silo was a practice field with sword and hand to hand dummies as well as archery targets. The grounds looked deserted. Serana decided to explore the grounds. Coming out from under the roofed forge, Serana was able to appreciate the landscape more. Directly to the rear of the house was a majestic mountain range. Views didn’t get much better than that. It was an impressive sight that made Serana want to just sit and stare at it. Glancing behind her, she could see a wraparound porch with chairs at the back of the house facing the mountains. Serana stepped onto the practice field and discovered a wooden longbow perched against one of the targets. Serana pulled the arrows from the painted bale of hay that served as a target and made her way to the first marked spot, deciding to give it a go.
Serana secured the grooved end of the arrow onto the string and pinched the end. Then came the tough part. Serana hadn't had much practice with a bow, why would she with all of her magic. The skill intrigued her nonetheless. She struggled to keep the arrow’s notch on the bowstring as she pulled it back. Her grip faltered a bit before it was fully drawn and the string shot forward, sending the arrow a short distance before it stuck haphazardly in the ground.
Serana glared at the arrow for a moment before attempting to repeat the process. She hadn't anticipated the string to be so heavy.
Again she drew the string back and shakily aimed at the target. The arrow wobbled as it fired. The arrow stuck in the lower portion of the hay, well below the colored rings. She set the bow down after a few more tries. Maybe she'd take the time to practice when this was all over. There were a lot of things she hadn't had the opportunity to try.
Serana wandered over towards what looked like the entrance to a root cellar. The closer she got the colder she began to feel. Serana's better judgment told her not to go any closer.
Max walked gloomily around his estate. This estate reminded him too much of the months in which his marriage had struggled. It hadn't lasted of course, but he always regretted it. He knew Aela wasn't one for marriage, but she had made an exception for him.
Serana entered the estate as quietly as she could, remembering Max specifically telling her not to go in here. The foyer was well furnished in the characteristic Skyrim décor, arms and armor.
At the center of the wall sat a sword and bow on each side of the ancient Dragonborn symbol that sat at the center of the wall. She was surprised at how well maintained the house was. That was if Max's earlier statements were an indication of how long it had been since he last returned. Serana looked through the doorway at her left, discovering a large kitchen just past a modest dining area. Peering to her right, Serana saw a large study with lots of books and comfy looking sitting chairs. Artwork adorned the walls. This she had to see.
Serana found herself padding into the great room, completely intrigued at what she might discover. She didn't exactly peg Max as an art collector but most wealthy families hung art for show and to demonstrate their prestige. Serana of all people knew this.
Unlike many estates, Serana noticed there was no family coat of arms emblazoned on the wall, instead there were a number of sketches and paintings that dotted the room.
Two pieces in particular caught her eye. One was of a painting younger Max dressed in expensive looking armor. Serana assumed it was the Cyrodiilic Empire Max had spoken of earlier.
The next was a sketch in which a beautifully handcrafted bow hung beneath, as well as a small end table with a few trinkets.
The sketch was of a fierce looking woman. Her eyes grey and piercing. Serana found it difficult to look away from them. Even though the woman wasn't really there, she could feel her eyes looking right through her.
Serana noticed the woman's defined facial features, especially her defined jawline. She was quite attractive, Serana must admit. The clan markings that ran across the woman's face looked as though she had been slashed by a bear claw. Serana thought she had seen these markings before, but she couldn't remember where. The woman's armor was traditional Nordic armor, complete with the swirling knot work designs in the pauldrons and gauntlets. Fur peeked out from beneath the shoulders and a leather vest with open sides covered her torso. Serana couldn't help but raise a brow at how revealing the leather vest was. The vest looked to have been made of animal pelts, combining that with the bow on the woman's back suggested she must be a hunter.
Serana examined at the corner of the frame where the artist commonly leaves their signature.
'Aela the Huntress'
Serana's eyes widened as she looked up at the woman again. It was Max's late wife.
Serana looked down at the small end table with lit candles, it was like a small shrine. Serana found herself drawn to a peculiar looking idol. She felt an urge to reach out and touch it. She could feel the magic emanating from it. It was a very ancient magic, but Serana knew she could handle it.
Serana found herself in a void. Dark, shadowy trees and long grass were all around her. The constant sound of rushing wind told her all she needed to know. She was on a plane of Oblivion.
A powerful voice called out to her, echoing terrifically throughout the realm. No doubt the voice of the Daedra it was owned by.
"I sense the presence of a vampire, but not just any, a woman of Molag Bal himself."
Serana found herself standing face to face with a wolf, its coat a reddish brown color and steel colored eyes. The wolf bore its teeth and eyed Serana suspiciously.
"Yes, I am Serana," Serana said weakly.
A shirtless man carrying a spear immerged. He wore stag's antlers upon his head and he had a stag's face as well. He stood next to the wolf. The wolf appeared to settle at his appearance and sit back on its haunches.
"Serana," the man said thoughtfully, rubbing his long, pointy beard with his free hand.
"You are Harkon's daughter, are you not?" the Daedra speculated.
"Yes," Serana said dubiously.
"Molag is quite pleased with him," The Daedra said simply.
Serana looked from the Daedra to the wolf and back, unsure of how to proceed.
"I however, am not," The Daedra said, his voice slightly irritated.
"Do you know to whom you speak, cold-blood?"
Serana ignored the insult and glanced around at the plane. The wolf at his feet was the biggest hint, along with the howls in the distance. More wolves had gathered around the Daedra.
"You are Hircine."
"How astute of you," The Daedra mocked.
"But why are you here?" Hircine asked slowly, sounding almost rhetorical. It was obvious Hircine did not like her. She was after all, a vampire, the spawn of Hircine's brother.
"You have been in the company of one of my most famous and esteemed children, vampire," Hircine said, speaking of Max.
"He has done a great deal to help…and hinder me through the years. Yet he still remains of some value," Serana noticed the wolf next to Hircine stir slightly, it almost made her jump.
"What do you mean?" Serana inquired, not so sure she liked where this was going.
"Years ago when Maximus joined the circle of the Companions, he and his bloodbearer, Aela, discovered their brother, Skjor had been murdered and his body desecrated by the werewolf hunters, the Silver Hand. They sought revenge and waged their own war against the entire Silver Hand between merely the two of them. They took great risk in going behind the back of their Harbinger, Kodlak Whitemane."
Serana followed everything so far. She noticed Hircine touched the wolf sitting at his feet and the wolf turned to a Nord woman. There was no mistaking that it was Aela.
"Max and I did not see the repercussion our secret war would have. Kodlak sent Max on a special mission to lay waste to the Glenmoril witches that so long ago gave the first werewolf companions their power. When Max returned the Silver Hand had attacked our hold and killed Kodlak." Aela said sadly.
Serana found Aela’s voice to sound exactly as she had expected.
"When all of the Silver Hand had been slaughtered we traveled to the tomb of Ysgrammor and spoke with Kodlak's spirit, they freed him of his beast blood and he was allowed to rest in Sovngarde and prevented him from paying the price for his gift," Hircine said
"My husband became the first true Harbinger of the Companions since Ysgrammor himself. He led us well. But as the years went on and he defeated Alduin, he wished to be rid of his power after seeing his parents in Sovngarde. He longed to join them." Aela said.
"This path would not allow him to join me," Hircine said bitterly, "He chose his kin over his beast blood and restricted the hunting of dragons."
"Later into our marriage we spent less and less time together as our responsibilities grew. The difference in choice of afterlife caused a rift between us. Eventually, I was able to come up with a compromise. We searched and found the Ring of Hircine, a ring that would allow me to control my transformation. Upon doing Hircine's wishes we were granted the Savior's Hide and the ring. But soon after Max began to struggle with control of his power, the more he tried to cure himself."
"To put an end Maximus' resistance, I approached Aela in a vision. I told her of how her husband had strayed from the way of the wolf. I told her that should he continue to attempt to give up his power, I would regrettably take his life and doom him to an eternity in my realm as my favorite pet. Instead, Aela requested to take his place, for this was an afterlife she desired, her ancestors rest here."
"There was so much yet for Max accomplish. Skyrim needed him," Aela said calmly.
Serana was surprised at how at peace Aela was with this, but the again she had plenty of time to think about it.
"Why are you telling me this?" Serana asked, unsure of what was expected of her. The scene before her instantly began to warp into a new place altogether. She was alone with Aela standing before her.
"I am telling you this because you are the only one who can protect him from this fate, no matter what," Aela said unblinking. Her eyes never moved from Serana's. Serana almost felt like prey under Aela's gaze, but she knew it was a look of conviction.
"Why me?" Serana asked again.
"Your curse. It may burden you, but it can save a man from an unwanted fate. This journey will test both of you greatly."
Serana's brow stitched together, "You know how it will end? Max will die?"
Aela's face did not change at all from its determined expression.
"I cannot say what I know, only that there are many different paths in which fate can play out. Your decision to defy your father has given Skyrim a chance it did not otherwise have."
Aela's words began to make sense. She had always speculated at how the universe worked and fate had always puzzled her.
"Max is a survivor, but even he is not invincible. He needs someone looking out for him."
Serana realized what the huntress meant but she wasn't going to accept it without a few questions.
"I thought that person was you," Serana said honestly.
Aela broke into a smile for a brief moment, "Of course Max has many watching over him from many realms. But in Tamriel itself, Max is alone. He trusts no one and relies only upon himself. It has allowed him to succeed in many great things, but at what cost?"
Serana's gaze fell to Aela's crossed arms. They were impressively muscled in a way that was not unbecoming of her femininity. One arm was more defined than the other, the telltale sign of an archer. She could see what Max saw in this woman. She was a breed all her own.
One question still lingered in Serana's mind.
"So…Were you truly with child?" Serana said, absently rubbing her hands together.
Aela shook her head, "No, I was not with child. We spent a lot of time apart during our marriage. Both having many duties required of us. I told Max this so he would stay with me for the last few months of my life. He could not know the truth."
Serana's jaw fell slightly. "How is having him believe he lost his wife and his child better than knowing the truth? Why not tell him of the vision of Hiricine?"
Aela's firm exterior crack for a moment.
"I did not want it be that way, but I saw no other way for things to happen. Max cannot know of this because he cannot stand the fact of others sacrificing themselves for him. He would end his life if he knew the truth. Max cannot be cured. Hircine desires his soul because it’s something he's never had before. A Dovahkiin is quite the power in the hands of a daedra. I tried to point Max in the direction of Hircine's artifacts so that the daedra couldn't affect him. This way Max's fate is in his own hands. He can no longer separate the wolf from his soul unless…"
It all made sense to Serana.
"Unless I turn him into a vampire," She said solemnly.
"I assure you that my daedra lord is no more merciful than yours," Serana chided.
Aela nodded, "I know. But he does not have to stay that way."
Serana was still hesitant.
"I can't let him die a werewolf, so I turn him into a lifeless corpse? How is that a better alternative?" Serana said to no one in particular. When she looked up at Aela, she saw in the Nord's eyes that she too wished there was another way. But when playing with daedra, nothing was simple.
"Ancestors guide you, Serana," Aela blessed the vampire as she slowly faded.
When Serana finally returned to the present she saw Max looming at the edge of the room. She wondered if there was time difference between Oblivion and Tamriel. She suspected there was for Max didn't appear to suspect anything strange had happened. Moved over next to her and looked at Aela for a moment.
"I see you've met Aela," Max observed.
Serana gave the portrait a good once over.
"Yes, this is a beautiful commission," Serana commented.
Max breathed a small laugh, "That was no commission, Kodlak Whitemane drew that before I joined the Companions."
Serana crossed her arms and nodded approvingly.
"What about that one?" Serana said, pointing to the portrait sized sketch of Max in what looked like some sort of steel military armor. The fact that he held a helmet tucked beneath his left arm also supported Serana's observation.
"Legate Rikke drew that shortly before the Battle for Fort Greenwall. I was promoted after that. It's funny really, a few years earlier Rikke nearly ordered my execution," He chuckled mildly.
Serana raised a brow, "Why?"
"I got a little lost when I was looking for help. Mjoll was injured at Mzinchaleft. The Imperials thought I was party to the Stormcloaks they caught near the border. But thankfully Alduin showed up."
Serana gave Max an incredulous look.
"I never thought I'd hear thankfully and Alduin in the same sentence," Serana jested.
"It is quite ironic," He agreed with a laugh.
"Which reminds me. I recall asking that you keep out of my house." Max pointed out. His tone was as much chastising as it was joking, making it difficult for Serana to decide how to react.
A smile touched her lips and she folded her arms, "You know better than to ask me that."
"I suppose you're right about that. You are much too nosy," Max lightly chastised.
"I prefer the terms 'curious' or 'inquisitive'." She retorted with a smirk.
Max's head bobbed once in silent laughter.
"That doesn't mean I'll agree to it." He said with a smile.
They both laughed for a moment until Serana noticed Max glancing uncomfortably over her right shoulder. She knew what he was looking at. Serana wished she could tell him what she now knew. It wasn't fair for her to keep such a secret from him, but Max's life had been a long string of unfair circumstances. Serana reminded herself it was for his own good after all.
She decided to distract him, "This estate is beautiful."
When she saw his sheepish expression, she decided to continue.
"But I get the impression you don't spend much time here."
Max shook his head, confirming her assertion.
"I have no idea what to do with so much space. It was to be a place to raise a family out of the prying eye of the public, but…things didn't exactly work out as I initially thought they would," Max said with a shrug, trying to show he was at peace with that.
"I believe I have some new armor for you," Max said.
Serana's eyes lit up. "Oh? Let's see it then."
Max left the room for a moment, only to return with the most spectacular set of armor Serana had ever seen.
"It was given to me by a friend. I had to make a few adjustments to fit you."
Serana's mouth was still agape as she stared at the armor. It was a strange hue of grey that shone eerily in the light from the picture windows. The intricate design was breathtaking. There were no words to do the design justice. The multifaceted chestplate bore an insignia in which Serana vaguely recognized, though she couldn't remember where she had seen it. It was a bird of some sort with outstretched wings that encircled what looked like the moon. Attached to the beautifully sculpted shoulder pauldrons was a jet-black hooded cape that hung to the back of the knees. Serana loved capes for some inexplicable reason. She loved incorporating them into her wardrobe, after all it was style way back when. The gauntlets were surprisingly supple looking, making her less adverse to the idea of armor on her deft hands.
"Where did you get this?" Serana said breathlessly.
Max shrugged and said, "If you have to ask, it isn't a gift."
Serana had heard that statement before, which lead her to believe that it was somehow connected to the darker part of his past. After all, he had said the same thing about the Blade of Woe.
Serana decided not to press further, mostly because she was unable to contain her excitement and began to try the armor out.
Serana noticed instantly how light the armor felt on her shoulders despite its sturdy appearance. As she slid the gauntlets on, Serana felt as if she weren't wearing any gloves at all. She slid the deep hood over her head and summoned magic to her fingers and found the armor undamaged. In fact, it felt as though her illumination spell had more kick to it. She hopped up and down on one foot, awkwardly sliding into her boots. Serana realized she could not hear her own footsteps as she walked around to test them out. Serana noticed an intricately designed sheath of the left side of the greaves. She slid her Blade of Woe into the holster with surprising ease. It was as if the sheath was made for it. Serana raised a brow and turned to look at Max once more. His expression was unreadable.
"Max, where did you get this? I'm pretty sure you wouldn't fit into female sized armor," She said, half joking.
Max frowned slightly.
"I called in a favor."
Serana's eyes narrowed even more.
"Where did you get this from?"
Max bit his lip for a moment before speaking.
"Technically, I am still the Listener of the Dark Brotherhood. So I still have contacts that I made through the years."
Max's eyes darted briefly from Serana to beyond her, then back to her.
Serana a wave of coldness pass through her. It reminded her of the cellar out back.
"Who was the contact?" Serana asked plainly.
Max obviously didn’t to want to answer that.
"It was someone outside of the Dark Brotherhood, I’ve worked with them a few times," Max answered vaguely.
Serana glanced down at the insignia on her chest.
"This wouldn't be a Daedric symbol would it?" Serana said. Noticing the brief flicker of surprise in Max's eyes.
"Not exactly, no," he said weakly.
Serana pursed her lips, but decided to let it alone. The energy that emanated from the armor was unmistakable.
Max appeared uncomfortable. "I should go get things ready for the trek back to Fort Dawnguard."
Serana nodded, hiding her displeasure in returning to the vampire hunter's stronghold.
As Max exited the great room and headed for the front door, Serana felt the urge to poke around the estate. This place had to be filled with information about the Dragonborn. Serana couldn't shake the feeling that she was in the house of a celebrity. But this was different in the fact that she knew Max on a personal level as well. As much as she wanted to discover everything she could about this deeply private man, she did not want to betray his trust nor did she know what she would find.
Serana knew her nosy nature had gotten her into loads of trouble, but she could not deny that it had saved her life numerous times. It had saved her from being her father's pawn, but then again, Serana suspected she still was. Even more so, she was one of Molag Bal's playthings, a burden she wished to be free from.
Serana turned to look at the books on the gigantic bookshelves. There was a sliding ladder that went to the top most tier, above which Serana observed a walkway. Serana craned her neck to see where the walkway went. The railing went the length of the room, but there was no staircase to it in this room. Serana decided to climb the book ladder and clamber her way up onto the walkway. It wasn't too difficult reaching the top and Serana immediately spotted a circular staircase that lead up some sort of turret. Serana reached the top and realized this room was an observatory. Star charts were posted on the walls and strewn across a desk. Serana couldn't believe how massive this place was. Serana peered through the high-powered monocle… thing… She wasn't sure what this instrument was, but all she could see was the blur of the cloudy sky. Serana looked back at the desk and began to shuffle through the papers. Most were simply star charts but a packet of papers held together by a leather strap caught her attention.
Serana untied them and realized they were constellations in alphabetical order. She also noticed that they mentioned the location of their respective standing stones. Serana drug her finger down the list to find her own sign, the Lord. She observed that the effects written here were the same ones as her parents had told her. She was tough and naturally resistant to injury, especially the effects of magic. Curious, Serana flipped through the packet, looking for a signature as to who wrote this. Serana found Max's name written next to the sign of the Steed. It only made sense that its standing stone was located in Haafingar, the region in which Maximus was born. Now Serana understood why Max wore his armor all the time, it did not encumber him in the least. In fact, he seemed at home in it. He moved so gracefully amid all the plate and padding, it gave him quite the advantage without sacrificing his protection. Serana realized this packet must have been collected and written by Aela. Serana wondered what the huntress' sign was and began to flip through. When she discovered it, Serana realized how painfully obvious it had been. There was no better fit for the wild woman than the Shadow. What better ability to have when pulling back your bow than to be invisible? Serana was no hunter, but she her inquisitive nature lead her to people watch and eavesdrop on hunters' stories in the local taverns. Most of the hunters moonlighted as vampire hunters, so it served as an easy excuse to use on her father for her whereabouts.
Serana put the packet back where she found and it carefully slid down onto the ladder, unfortunately her left foot slipped and she dislodged a book from its place, causing it to plummet to the floor with a loud thud. Serana cursed and made her way down the ladder. When she went over to pick up the book she saw it had fallen open to a page with Molag Bal's terrifying likeness on it. Serana shuddered and gingerly picked the book up and decided to flip through it, making a point of avoiding the page with Molag's hideous inhuman face.
Serana prayed there was no mention of the Sisters of Coldharbor in it. Flipping through it, she read about how Molag Bal's main desire was to 'harvest and consume the souls of mortals and to bring mortals souls into his sway by spreading seeds of strife and discord into mortal realms'. Serana sighed and frowned, they sure got that part right. Why did her parents have to choose such a malevolent Daedra to worship? Serana wasn't power hungry or vindictive like her parents. Though her mother drew the line at family, Serana still understood that her mother was as guilty as Harkon was for the state of things. Valerica attempted to redeem herself in the only way she could. Serana sighed again.
She was startled by the sound of Max's voice coming from her flank.
"What is it?" Max inquired.
Serana turned to face him, closing the book and holding it behind her in an attempt to hide it from him.
"This hide and seek gets tiresome. Does it ever get easier?" Serana evaded.
Max shrugged, "I don't know if it truly gets easier, you just grow accustomed to it, I suppose."
Serana nodded slowly, it wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear.
"I never used to hide, not like this anyways, almost everyone worshipped Daedra back then. Now, since I've awoken everything's happening so quickly."
Max smirked, "What? Missing your beloved coffin already? Or do you turn into a bat or something?"
Serana laughed lightly, "No, definitely not." Serana went and placed the book back on the shelf, not unnoticed by Max.
"It's occurred to me that I'm not a very good vampire," She admitted.
Max smiled, "That isn't exactly a bad thing, you know."
Serana smiled weakly in response.
"I guess if you want to try and remedy that you could always bite me or something. Get your vampire score up," He joked.
Serana laughed briefly but then looked at him seriously, "Don't joke about that."
Max waved her off and headed for the door, "I'm not worried."
Serana was growing saddle sore, but she kept her grievances to herself. They were still a long ways out from Fort Dawnguard. Serana trusted her mount to stay on the path and gazed at the scenery around her. The mare just followed Shadowmere like a lost puppy anyways.
Serana's peripheral vision continued to make her uneasy, something kept prompting her to look behind her. They were being followed. Serana wasn't one to disregard her instincts, especially now, she was hunted constantly by her father's minions.
Serana tried to get Max's attention subtly, it took a few grunts and a throat clearing to get his attention.
"I think we're being followed." Serana said, trying her best to keep her voice down.
"Nay," Max dissented, "There are a few agents tailing us and checking the road ahead for us."
"Agents?" Serana said, puzzled.
"A few of my loyal assassins," Max said with a peculiar expression.
Serana felt a phantom chill up her spine, "Oh…"
Max seemed to sense her unease, "I'm the Listener, meaning the Night Mother's on my side. They work for me. Besides, we make much better time when we're not worrying about your father's biddies."
Serana fumbled over her words for a moment before speaking coherently, "Good to know," She managed to choke out.
"I can send them away if you'd like," Max offered.
Serana shook her head, though she was tempted to take him up on it. She prefer the blind optimism that she wasn't constantly being watched. She thought of the Legion patrols but realized they were too far and few between. So the assassins stayed.
The rest of the ride was rather uneventful and the assassins dispersed (she hoped) when they reached Fort Dawnguard, another one of Serana's favorite places in Skyrim.
Upon entering the keep Serana and Max both found themselves staring at Dexion, if it were not for the sounds of their armor, Dexion would not have noticed them. He stumbled about the room with a blindfold over his eyes, staring at a point past them. Max and Serana looked at one another for a moment, perplexed.
"Ah, hello," Dexion said cheerfully, as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
"I trust your quest was successful?" he inquired.
Max stroked his beard thoughtfully, unsure of what to say. Serana decided to try her hand. The old priest seemed to like her, despite her condition. Serana the friendly vampire, he so fondly referred to her. She didn’t like that very much.
"It was, but Dexion, why are you wearing a blindfold?"
Dexion paused for a moment.
"Ah, yes this," He took a few careful strides in a random direction, clearly not used to relying on his other senses for direction.
"Unfortunately I cannot assist you with reading the Scrolls any longer. It's my fault," He said regrettably.
"In my haste to lay eyes on the first scroll, I did not take proper precautions. I thought with my training, I would be able to allay the effects, but I was wrong. Clearly, I am now paying for this mistake. I am blind," The old priest's face fell in shame.
Max appeared nervous, "What are we to do now? How will we read the other scrolls?"
Serana cast Max a chiding look before gingerly placing a hand on Dexion's shoulder.
"What Max is trying to say is, we are sorry for what happened to your eyes," Serana said smoothly, "Is there anything we can do to restore your vision?" she added.
Max rolled his eyes but said nothing.
Dexion laughed musically, "I appreciate your sentiments, though there is nothing you can do for me, unfortunately. I must allow it run its course. My vision may not return at all. But that is not important," he said, waving off their worries, "I understand your eagerness to foil the prophecy at all costs, but first I must ask, what are you willing to risk to find Auriel's Bow?" Dexion asked, his usually pleasant voice stern.
Max glanced at Serana for a moment, the look on his face reflected Dexion's question. She realized this whole thing hinged on her. If she were to back out, she would likely be captured and Skyrim would fall. Serana knew there was no safer place than with Max. Sure, the vampire hunters were tentatively on her side, mainly because of Max's insistence. If it were another vampire hunter in Max's place at Dimhollow Crypt everything would have been drastically different. Of that Serana was absolutely certain. She was going to see this through no matter what. With Max at her side, Serana felt as though they could not fail. Even if there was an odd tension between them.
"What must be done?" Serana asked.
"I cannot guarantee you'll be free from harm," Dexion warned, "Going blind would be the least of your worries," He added offhandedly.
"Don't worry about that. Just tell me."
"Very well," Dexion cleared his throat, "Scattered across Tamriel are secluded locations known only as Ancestor Glades. There's one in Skyrim, in Pine Forest. Performing the Ritual of the Ancestor Moth within the glade should provide the answers you seek."
Max's arms were folded at his chest and his eyes were dead set on Dexion. Serana couldn't stop herself from observing how attractive his all business face was.
"Explain this 'ritual'."
Dexion clasped his hands together.
"It involves carefully removing the bark from a Canticle Tree which will attract ancestor moths to you," Dexion said, looking at Max.
"Maximus must be the one to do this as he is, ah, living," Dexion said carefully. Serana hummed in agreement.
Dexion returned to explaining the ritual.
"Once enough of the moths are following, they'll provide you with the second sight needed to decipher the scrolls."
Serana's brow stitched together.
"How exactly do we 'carefully gather the bark'?"
Max tried his best not to smile at her inquisitive expression. Even though her nosiness made him uncomfortable at times, a part of him found it cute. It was hard to make an ugly expression with that beautiful face.
"In keeping with tradition," Dexion's graceful voice brought Max back to the task at hand. He never got distracted like that, not since… Max forced himself to focus on Dexion's voice.
"…Draw Knife," Was all Max heard of Dexion’s instructions.
"By Sithis," he mentally cursed.
"Every Moth Priest is taught this ritual, but few ever get the chance to perform it… you should consider yourself fortunate if it works for you."
Max's expression was dim. "If…" he thought to himself.
"Do I read the scrolls in any particular order?" Max asked.
Dexion thought for a moment.
"From what I saw in the vision, the Elder Scroll which foreshadows the defiance of the gods with the blood of mortals is the key to the prophecy."
Max could see Isran peering down at them from the walkway above. He hated being watched so closely, but Isran was necessary, especially against Harkon.
Serana continued to speak to Dexion.
"Is it normal for Moth Priests to go blind?" she asked, trying to sound curious rather than concerned.
Dexion sigh, "Sadly, yes. It's the inevitable fate we agree to pursue when reading Elder Scrolls."
That wasn't what she wanted to hear. She unconsciously pursed her lips and twisted them to one side in thought.
Dexion seemed to attempt to allay her fears.
"It generally doesn't occur until a Moth Priest is in his latter years, but in my case I simply wasn't preparing myself properly."
Serana was mildly relieved, so Max's vision might not go immediately, but at some point when he was older. That was…good.
"What went wrong?" she asked.
"An Elder Scroll is no ordinary book. There is a lot of ritual and focus required to successfully perform it. It can take months or even years to complete a single scroll and even then, months to recover."
The nervous feeling Serana already had surged at his words.
Serana looked at Max from the corner of her eye, he appeared unfazed as usual.
Serana knew she would have to force a talk about this at some point before they got to Pine Forest.
"Thank you for your help Dexion," Serana said gratefully.
Max voiced his agreement.
"Grando imperatori," Max said in a language Serana didn't recognize. He had a peculiar smirk on his face when he said it.
Dexion acknowledged the language.
"Ave," he responded with smile.