The Plot Thickens
While Max went out with the twins, Serana remained in the Underforge meditating on her multiple lifetimes of experience with magic and alchemy. The more she thought the more Serana began to wonder. Having swiped Max's journal for what felt like the tenth time, she began to flip through. She recalled him saying that he had read an Elder Scroll before. It was in the days when he was hunting a way to defeat Alduin. Serana flipped to the appropriate time period. The word lexicon seemed to stick out to her. Yes, the dwemer creation was used for protecting their Elder Scrolls. Serana should know, her family had stolen more than one of them. Continuing on, she discovered that Max had struck up a deal with yet another Daedra, Hermaeus Mora to be exact. Serana mused that Max's interactions with Daedra might even exceed her own. She had not interacted with this particular Daedra, his interactions with the mortal world were few and far between. It was rather impressive that the Daedra of knowledge and memory would grant Max such an impressive book of knowledge and power. Needless to say, Serana was a bit envious.
Further in the journal Serana discovered that the Elder Scroll Max had read had shown him a vision of the first time the Dovahkiin had defeated Alduin. Max learned the powerful Dragonrend shout and defeated Alduin in the mortal realm. Parthunaax had told Max that in order for Alduin to truly be defeated, he must be killed in Sovngarde where he was at that time drawing strength from mortal souls. Serana snorted at the uncanny resemblance this destructive dragon bore to her megalomaniac father.
Serana lost count ages ago how many innocents her father had sacrificed in the name of Molag Bol. Then one day, the vile Daedra made her father the very first pure-blooded vampire in Skyrim. Slowly, her father made his own following and played at god. After Harkon discovered the prophecy, Serana and her mother became mere tools. Even her power-hungry mother had to see what became of Harkon.
Max hadn't reported any side-effects of his first Elder Scroll reading, why would he be having them now? Unless it wasn't the Scroll's doing… Could it be something else?
Serana realized what was bothering her. She could not understand was how Max had become champion for so many Daedra. How could he swear loyalty to all of them and not a one notice? Sure, Max was smart, but Serana doubted any mortal could successfully trick a Daedra, they were all-knowing and seeing from their planes of Oblivion.
Something occurred to Serana then. Which Daedra had the most pull with Max? It was obvious. Hiricine. The conversation with Aela came back to her. How could Aela trick the Daedra prince? Serana recalled that Hircine rewarded the hunters who followed him for great feats.
Maybe Aela was especially accomplished? No, that couldn't be it. Serana also suspected that what she saw was Hircine's doing, maybe he wanted her to try and cure Max. Aela had even implied that turning him into a vampire was better than allowing him to die with moon blood. Maybe it was a dare, knowing very well that Serana did not want to. Serana did not regret her vampirism, it was a gift with many powers, but to do to change Max against his will…she wasn't sure she could do that. Maybe there was another way.
Max and the twins had been enjoying their mead in Jorrvaskr for a while now, swapping stories and reminiscing on the earlier days. No one could beat Max's story about his night of drinking with Sanguine, though he hadn't known it was the Daedra at time. It was amazing how quickly he had traversed great distances that night, but he suspected the Daedra helped with that. The Wabbajack had left its mark on the Gildergreen of Whiterun. Vilkas had turned the obnoxious Talos 'prophet' into a bleating goat. They had a good laugh over that. They had also turned the various benches near the Gildergreen into various farm animals. Later they were so inebriated Farkas got the 'brilliant' idea to try and turn their silverware into alcohol which by the time Tilma forced them to put it away. Max was feeling the buzz pretty strongly at this point. He exited the hall and went outside hoping for some fresh air. No matter how he tried to forget it, the inevitability weighed on his mind. Unless, Serana worked some sort of miracle, he would soon be like her. He was surprised that the thought didn't bother him as much as it would have years ago. The more he thought on it, the more he realized how much of his humanity had been lost with every strike of his sword or release of an arrow. He was nothing more than a well-oiled instrument of death at this point in his life. There wasn't much left keeping him afloat. Max sensed a presence near him. He turned to look, watching a small girl walk from the shadows.
"Babette. What are you doing here?" Max was surprised to see her.
"I'm passing through here on my way to a contract. I heard you were here and the rumor is you're having some trouble...seeing," The un-child said. Cicero's description of her had been fitting. Come to think of it, he hadn't checked in with the Brotherhood for a while. No wonder the Night Mother was plaguing his dreams.
"That would be accurate," Max confessed blandly.
"It took a lot of charm, but the carriage driver also told me that some believe you have joined the Dawnguard."
Max dodged the question with a jest, "Still preying on the good will of old men, I see?"
"Always, Listener," Babette smiled her unsettling evil smile, being on the face of a child made it even worse. She bristled for a moment, crinkling her little nose.
"By Sithis, you smell like a meadery," she reached into her little satchel and pulled out a small vial.
"Drink this," She urged disgustedly. Max found the results of the drink very sobering.
"Anyways, I thought I might offer a solution to your problem. No amount of alchemy is going to help you, but I do happen to have a certain condition that could help you recover your sight," Babette said with a wan smirk, folding her tiny arms.
Max's expression was calculating, "Why help me? I've been scarce recently."
Babette shrugged as if the question wasn't important, "Well, someone has to get us contracts. I'd be so bored otherwise. And besides, I don't want to have to smell wet dog every time you come to the sanctuary."
Max smirked. He'd heard that before.
Both of the Dark Brotherhood assassins jumped in surprise when another voice joined their conversation.
"Who's that you're talking to?" Serana asked, looking at the child Max was speaking to.
Max visibly blanched, but it was the child who spoke.
"Is she?" the girl said to Max. He nodded.
Serana stared at the child with more scrutiny this time. Her eyes glowed and her scent was right. This child looked unsuspecting but Serana saw what she really was. A well-disguised predator.
"Serana, this is Babette one of my best assassins. Babette, Serana," Max introduced.
Serana was intrigued.
"A child vampire. That is rare. How old are you?"
Babette smiled at her, "About three hundred years old."
The two vampires seemed to size one another up while Max waited uncomfortably.
"I was just trying to persuade Max here to let me bite him."
Max gave the girl a withering look, though his eyes missed their target. "In your dreams, un-child."
Serana folded her arms and looked at the two as they glared at one another (Max's was a little off the mark).
"Actually, Max, I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
He looked in her direction. Serana glanced at Babette for a moment, trying to decide if it would be better to wait.
The three entered the Underforge silently. Serana was the first to speak.
"Max, I don't think you lost your vision because of the Scroll. You've read one before when fighting Alduin and didn't have any problems."
Babette appeared to have something to say for she stepped forward.
"It's his moonblood."
Serana couldn't deny the girl's answer but was curious as to how she knew.
"He's been suppressing it and its starting to fight back."
Serana was surprised at how accurate that was, though not entirely on the mark.
"What she means is you have to give it up. Whether that means curing yourself or having me turn you." Serana said, purposely leaving out the parts about Hircine.
Babette gave her a scrutinizing look. There was something odd about being seized up by a child.
"What makes you think you should turn him?" the child said contemptuously.
Serana resisted the urge to attack the snappy little vampire.
"Because I'm the pureblood. He will need that power to help me to stop the prophecy from happening."
Serana almost laughed at Max's stunned expression, clearly uncomfortable being caught between arguing women, and vampires to boot. Being blind probably makes you much less concerned for your facial expressions Serana supposed.
Babette appeared to consider this for a moment.
"The Tyranny of the Sun," Serana provided.
Babette looked confused, "What makes you want to stop it?"
Serana shook her head, "I don't regret what I am, but blackening the sun would only increase the attention placed on destroying vampires."
Babette gave her a smirk, "So you ask a vampire hunter for help? Next time you should look me up."
Both vampires turned their attention to Max, though he couldn't tell.
"So, what'll it be Listener?" Babette goaded.
Max appeared to consider his options for a moment.
"It was Kodlak's
wish to be free of his wolf blood and rest in Sovngarde, I wish to do the
Serana nodded in understanding. Babette scoffed, "Come on, Listener. It's not that bad!"
Max looked at her as if considering what she said.
"I'd prefer not to at this point."
Babette shrugged, "Well, I'll be on my way to my next contract. Stop by the sanctuary if you change your mind," The un-child turned and left silently.
Serana and Max were left alone staring at one another...or at least as close as Max could get to looking her in the eye.
"What's wrong with me, exactly?" Max asked.
"Babette was pretty close. I'm not entirely certain myself, but I think it has to do with how little you've been feeding. If your inner wolf isn't healthy, it's going to have repercussions on your normal body as well."
Max nodded, "That would make sense. I don't plan on feeding it so I think it's time we killed the beast. What do you know of the process?"
Serana shrugged, "Very little."
Max rubbed his whiskers for a moment.
"We need to go to Ysgramor's tomb. I'll explain more once we get there."
Serana stared down at the Glenmoril witch's head in disgust.
"Where did you say you kept that thing?"
Max shrugged, "In a box…with lots of ice."
Mjoll laughed, "Vilkas says Tilma curses you every time she has to fill that thing with fresh ice."
Serana laughed with them. Max had asked the twins if they wanted to come along, but they declined stating that they wished to retain the wolf blood as a safeguard until after the vampire threat was taken care of. Having wolf blood protected them from becoming infected with Sanguinare Vampiris.
The group came up on an ancient circular tomb entrance.
Max was carrying the Shield of Ysgramor on his back. It was one of the spoils from his previous pilgrimage here. He blindly felt his way through the entrance and up the platform of Ysgramor's statue as though he'd been here many times before. On his hip, Max had a strange sword that he called Dawnbreaker that had glowed at its hilt. Opposite his scabbard was a severed witch head. The frail white hair securing it to his belt as it bobbed about with a horrid expression on its lifeless face. Max hefted the ancient hero's blade into the hands of his likeness. There was an immediate effect to this action as the scraping sounds of stone shifting could be heard.
Max stepped down from the platform and motioned for Serana to come to him. He placed a hand on her shoulder and urged her to go forward. Mjoll made no move to follow them, knowing quite well that she was not ready to see the Companion creator's tomb just yet. It made Serana feel uneasy. Then what right did she have to enter? Max had asked her, she supposed that would have to be enough.
Serana was surprised they met no resistance as she led Max through the ancient halls. Max had explained that he had fought the spirits of Companions on his way through here the first time. He recalled Kodlak saying that a Harbinger passes through these halls unmolested, for he or she does not need to be judged. Or perhaps they just cleared the place out thoroughly the last time they were here.
As they drew closer to what seemed to look like a throne room, Max's hand tightened on her shoulder.
"Before we go in there, you must know what you face."
Serana knew next to nothing about werewolves or how to go about curing them. Come to think of it, she hadn't a clue how to cure even her own condition.
Max took her silence as compliance and began to explain the ritual.
"Once I place the head into the brazier at the center of the room, the wolf spirit will split from me and attack us."
Serana nodded, it made sense that the wolf spirit would fight to stay with its host.
Max didn't appear to be finished.
"This won't be simply physical attack. That is why I couldn't bring Mjoll with me. The wolf spirit is a part of me and knows me well. It has seen everything I have and will seek the opportunity to use that against me. I couldn't allow Mjoll to see certain parts of my past… She doesn't know about them."
Things were starting to make more sense to Serana. She was flattered her chose her to come with. She knew most of his secrets whether he liked it or not. She bet Mjoll didn't know about Max's moonlighting as a Dark Brotherhood Assassin.
"I'm not sure how vampires are turned, but for werewolves, the experience is very painful, followed by the most unbelievable rush. You'll never feel the way you did the first time you became the wolf. The longer you stay one, the harder it is to separate."
Serana avoided Max's gaze, thankful that he couldn't see her expression. She hoped she never had to tell him how vampires like her came to be.
"Some of the things you might see are things I never told anyone. So I'd appreciate it if what you see never leaves this room," Max waited for her answer.
Serana nodded, "You have my word."
Max continued, "I knew this was going to be hard with my sight. Without it…Well, be prepared to strike the final blow."
Max drew his sword and shield and began towards the throne room. Serana took a moment to look around. This tomb was older than she was. Serana silently thanked her vampirism for her pristine preservation.
The sarcophagus of Ysgramor sat at the center of the room, raised above the rest of the graves, clearly showing his prominence. A metal cage surrounded the tomb to protect it from looters. Serana turned to see Max staring at the burning brazier at the center of the room. The blue fire burned calmly in the bowl as it had for goodness knows how long.
Serana watched as Max expertly walked himself through some attack and defense combos despite his loss of sight. Fighting is second nature to Nords, especially one as seasoned as Max. Serana supposed she should get ready as well. She surveyed the room, looking for something to reanimate, finding a few intact draugr lying about with arrows in them. She would need them to keep a solid offense, for she couldn't count on Max to do that as he usually did. Serana plotted her moves following that. A vampiric drain wouldn't be the best idea, as the wolf may still bear some connection to Max, and the fact that it was a spirit meant it wouldn't be nearly as effective. Serana opted for a shock attack from her left hand and an ice spike from the other. The Blade of Woe rested at her hip, ready for action as well.
Max turned to face her, his expression suggested he was nervous or even scared.
"Ready?" he asked, voice filled with vigor.
Serana took a deep breath, "Ready."
Max tore the witch's head from her belt and tossed it into the fire. No sooner had the head touched the flame, it had vanished. And a phantom wolf's head emanated from it. Max let out a drawn out breath as the wolf circled the room, clearly in reaction to a piece of him leaving. The wolf circled the room and finally rested on the platform below Ysgramor's tomb.
Maximus… The wolf called out. Its voice was deeper than was natural and was accompanied by a growl. Serana realized the voice sounded like a warped version of Max's…and Hircine's as if binded into one.
I was a gift…Your source of power. Why do cast me out?
The words the wolf spoke echoed in different voices as if they were different spirits altogether. The words 'Maximus' and 'why' continued to chasm from the walls as the wolf took another form.
The wolf stretched into a humanoid form. Suddenly the room filled with the sounds of burning, battle, and horrific screams. A woman clad in steel armor sprinted through the chaos. She intercepted an attacker and cut him down with impressive skill, her long braided hair whipping in the wind as she went. Her breath was ragged and her eyes wild. A man emanated out of seemingly nowhere.
"Alessia!" he shouted, "We have to get out of here or we'll all die!"
The woman shook her head adamantly, "No, go without me. I have to find my son," The woman took off at a run, leaping through flames and fearlessly fighting more men as she entered a burning building.
"Max!" she called through the roar of the flames. "Maximus! Where are you?"
The building collapsed upon her.
The wolf's voice returned and it leapt from the shadows at them, snapping.
Serana hit it with a shock spell. And swung the Blade of Woe to keep it back, trading blows with the wolf spirit.
Your mother died. All because you couldn't tell her you ran off with your little friend. Had she known… she might still be here.
Serana stared at the recreation of the burning heap that consumed Max's mother with her mouth agape. She cast a fearful glance at Max who look positively wounded at what he saw.
The wolf turned took on another form, bringing forth another scene in the past.
Snow fell softly on a desolate battlefield. Bodies were scattered across the land from both allegiances. It appeared to be focused on one particular body. A Nord male with fair hair and a thick build, his facial features resembled someone familiar.
“After his loyal service through the Great War, your father took up his sword once again. Fighting and dying alongside his brothers at what would be known as the Markarth Incident, stopping the Forsworn Uprising. The Empire promised that if Ulfric Stormcloak and his men helped free the Reach, they would restore the worship of Talos to Skyrim. But the Empire spat on that promise. They spat on what your father stood for. And when civil war came to Skyrim with Ulfric on one side and the Empire on the other, you chose your mother's allegiance.”
Max's father's body lie in an askew pose with grisly wounds littering his torso.
Max finally rose his voice to speak.
"What Ulfric did to those people was wrong! My father, had he lived, would never have stood for that! My parents rest in Sovngarde for their deeds in life."
Serana felt a question rise. If Max's mother was an Imperial how was it she ended up in Sovngarde? A question for another time perhaps. Serana could only imagine the sort of pain Max was feeling…but things were only going to get worse.
The wolf began to form another apparition, still not allowing any opportunity for them to attack. It was putting up one hell of a fight.
A woman stood before them. She was quite familiar. When she spoke, Serana knew exactly who it was.
"Hello, 'dear' husband," Aela said to Max disdainfully, "You knew all along who I truly loved." Aela embraced a bald man with cold eyes that stared out at them.
"When Skjor died, so did a part of me. A part of me no one could ever fill. But I liked you, you got things done. So to exact my revenge, I called upon the rising star of the Companions as my secret weapon. There was no easier a choice. You never did connect with the wolf the way we did. You never understood. I lost my mate and that's something you can never replace. I thought for a time I could, but after a few years of forced happiness, I staged my death. I was never pregnant. It was the only way to keep you from the truth. I died to get away from you.”
From the corner of her eye, Serana could see Max visibly shaking.
He unleashed a powerful fire breath shout scattered the wolf's form for a moment.
The wolf only reformed on the other side of the room and resumed stalking about. Max somehow tracked it and charged the wolf, hacking at it madly. Serana fired a few spells but they seemed to die on impact. The wolf growled as it changed form again. Back to the torture.
A tall Nord woman stood before them. She was younger here, but still unmistakable. Mjoll.
"You left me to die, Max. We were both wounded and confused, but you never came back. I believed you were dead until you walked into Riften one day with a beautiful Companion at your side, claiming to be the Dovahkiin. You didn't even recognize me at first! All that time and you were out adventuring you never looked for me or even wondered where I was? I used to think we had something special. You were my friend from the beginning and we bonded through our loss. I even grew to love you. But it never occurred to me that you did not feel the same until you left me bleeding outside a ruin and never came back. There was a darkness inside you I never saw until then. So yes, Max. I chose Aerin. Because you made it so."
The wolf circled them as if taunting them. Max appeared to take the bait and lurched forward, swinging his sword madly at the beast. He might feel that if he slayed this beast inside him that it would bring him closure, but that was unlikely. Maybe these insecurities would go away? Serana wondered how much truth there was to these mirages, when another began to take form.
Another woman appeared. She was a beautiful Imperial girl in a wedding gown, but an arrow protruded grotesquely from one of her eyes.
"My wedding day was to be the happiest day of my life. My husband and family were all there to witness it. Not only did I love my groom, but our marriage would secure an alliance between Skyrim and Cyrodiil. It was step toward a mended relationship. But that day was cut short. The speech that I had prepared for weeks was ended abruptly when an arrow struck me down. To you, I was merely a contract. Another kill for an aspiring Dark Brotherhood assassin. In that moment between life and death, we locked eyes and for a moment I saw all of the pain and self-hatred inside you….and I pitied you, even as my spirit departed my body. Even as I left everyone I loved behind. At least it wasn't them, for I couldn't live with that. I took that arrow for my people and for my husband. But I was just a stepping stone for your guild of murderers, I was nothing but another notch on your bow."
Serana spotted a few skeletons making their way for Max. It was clear he did not see them, too distracted by the scene before him. Serana fired a trio of ice spikes with a flick of her wrist and they were no more. This was too easy. There had to be something big coming. But when?
Another grotesque woman appeared, continuing the barrage of emotion. Her flesh looked as though it were burned from her body. She was stiffly posed in a star shape and only her eyes and mouth told she still lived. Her lipless teeth moved as she spoke.
"I knew you were special the moment you set foot in my sanctuary, but I never dreamed you'd be the Listener. When that insane fool showed up with coffin full of bones I didn't know what to think. I felt threatened. Was my guidance not enough? Then when I sent you to spy on Cicero, you come to me claiming the old crone spoke to you? It became obvious you were part of whatever the mad jester was planning. You had to be scheming with that jester. I couldn't part with my power and you were getting in my way. Assassinate an Emperor? Our guild wasn't nearly skilled enough for that. Even you, my star pupil, couldn't accomplish such a feat. So I tried to protect my family to the best of my ability. I sold you out. I never claimed to be honorable, we're assassins. How could you hold me to such a standard? I was too late to see the error of my ways and I paid for it. Will you pay for your mistakes too?"
Max lunged out blindly as the wolf as it took form again. The blow seemed to impact, but the wolf struck back, knocking Max to the floor. Serana sprung into action and drove her blade into the wolf, driving it back for the moment. It wasn't done with the psychological game just yet.
An elaborately dressed old man appeared above the wolf. He spoke with a commanding voice.
"You thought that killing me, an emperor, would restore your vile guild to its former glory. No, no you assassinated me with such care, such cunning and skill because you thought it would avenge your dead brute of a father. I was the enemy. If not for my surrender, your father would have lived out his days a retired soldier, free to worship Talos and raise you. So to reconcile, you kill me and what I represent. And to further reconcile my killing, you killed the hand that release your arrow, the one who ordered my slaying. You killed Motierre to help yourself live with the guilt. You and I…We have a date with destiny…"
Max's thu'um filled the tomb as he roared at the apparition. This appeared to finally weaken it and the massive wolf spirit returned. Serana threw everything she had at it. The wolf put up quite the fight, slashing and biting at her, though its attacks had no visible effect, Serana could feel her life force begin to drain. Out of the corner of her eye Serana saw a spirit take form. A quick glance and she saw that this spirit was separate from the wolf. The Nord man was tall and well-built for his age and he toted a large axe. His long, white hair fell past his shoulders and a clan marking was painted down the right side of his face, just beneath his eye.
You stood by me when I slayed the beast. So I shall stand by you.
The spirit leapt into action against Max's separated wolf spirit. Max blocked the wolf's attacks with Ysgramor's shield. This allowed the opportunity for the spirit to strike the wolf's flank. Serana launched a shock spell, the lightning tingling as it shot from her fingers. The wolf began to falter as the assault continued. Serana saw her opening and threw in a vampiric drain spell, it should prove to be the tipping point. The wolf's attention fixated solely on her. Before Serana could react, the wolf had pounced on her. The spirit's will paralyzing her as she lay unable to move. When the wolf looked her in the eye, Serana felt truly afraid. Something about that look, the fact that this wolf was no longer under Max's control startled her. Desperately she tried to wriggle and arm free. As the wolf bit at her, Serana could feel scratches open on her face. The world around her was mere echoes as she struggled beneath the massive wolf. Max attacked the wolf ferociously but the spirit would not budge. He didn't seem to have as much of an effect on it as she did. It was a part of him. Serana felt her strength begin to return and she managed to wrestle an arm free from beneath the wolf's large paws. She groped at her belt and found her dagger. The wolf let out a small gasp as she slid the dagger between its ribs. The wolf spirit, howled a long, sad howl and dissipated. The spirit of Kodlak Whitemane also faded.
Serana and Max were left panting heavily. They looked at one another differently than they ever had before. Everything Serana had seen hung with her, the images were so vivid and the words spoken so profound. It made her understand Max more. They were more alike than Serana had thought. They were kindred spirits, forged by loss, pain, regret… They were in no way perfect but yet they still found the righteous path. Stopping Harkon was a way for them redeem themselves.
Max knelt not too far from her, his heavy breathing not subsiding. He stared blankly at the floor, his mind obviously in another place.
"So now you know," Max said solemnly. Serana realized he was probably embarrassed. She knew so much about him and he knew little about her.
"It's hard to separate from a part of you. Especially when it was a gift from someone you loved," Max said it as if Serana would know this feeling. He probably thought Harkon or Valerica had turned her.
"My parents were not the ones who turned me," Serana admitted solemnly.
Max looked at her carefully, unsure of what to say.
"To be a Daughter of Coldharbor, the trial is…degrading," Serana said, trailing off. She wanted to tell him, but yet she wasn't sure if he would be able to handle it. She didn't want him to pity her, or think differently of her. Why did she care anyway?
Max shifted into a sitting position seeing that Serana was about to tell him her story. Serana couldn't believe she was about to tell him this. Never did she think she would tell anyone this story, but then again she never planned on someone like Maximus the Last Dragonborn (and thousands of other accolades and titles) waltzing into her life. But she trusted him with this, something told her she wouldn't regret it.
It was the 20th of Evening Star and Molag Bol's summoning day. The day of the fabled ritual. All of the women in the cult that had come of age would be there. Her friends would be there. Serana felt the tingle of nervous excitement, this was her year to join the ranks of Volkihar. Serana wanted to be vampires like her parents, her mother especially. The way the others revered the Daughters of Coldharbor, it was hard not to envy them. The power her mother wielded, even her father had to be wary. Her father's transformation had been different than her mother’s. Harkon had sacrificed thousands to become what he was. While Valerica had successfully completed the ritual, though she never explained what exactly that was.
Serana checked her appearance in the mirror one more time before heading out. After all, this would be how she would look forever. It was paramount you looked your best. Before heading out into the great hall, Serana listened. She heard no screams. This meant it was safe for her to go down among her father's court, it was not feeding time. Serana had grown accustomed to all of the death. She was desensitized from the screams of agony that echoed through the halls of Castle Volkihar. The blood spattered everywhere in the great hall was commonplace. 'Power take precedence' father had said, so Serana viewed these souls as expendable. Her father was freeing them of their mortality.
Serana smiled proudly at the banners that hung from the castle walls. They had once been a source of pride for her. Now, they represented the destruction of her family by greed. Volkihar was a testament to her father's influence, Molag Bol was quite fond of Harkon and it was hard to argue against such success. Harkon was one of the first pureblooded vampires and being in his good graces could only mean good things. Lesser vampires flocked to Volkihar, a beacon of utopian vampire society.
As she strode proudly through the halls, all of the vampires of her father's court wished her luck. Their expressions showed they knew something she didn't, their well wishes superficial. Her father gave her a respectful nod…a rare gesture. But when Serana's gaze moved to her mother, there was something in her eyes when she said goodbye that Serana would not understand until after.
Serana made her way by a Candlelight spell through the wood to Molag Bol's temple. Serana could see the glow of other torches in the distance and her excitement only grew. She wondered what it would be like to stand in his presence. She wondered what the great and powerful Daedra prince looked like. Was he really the monster they portrayed him as in the scrolls she read?
Serana saw a priest standing at the door.
"You may enter, Lady Serana. It is almost time for His glorious return."
Serana said the traditional piece.
"Bend the knee and give thy soul."
The priest nodded and shoved the door to the temple open. Serana was startled by the how final the door slamming shut sounded as it echoed through the halls. She followed the sounds of anxious whispers to find where the others had gathered.
There were only women there. No priests or worshippers were present. Serana found her friends anxiously whispering to one another. Their parents were also vampires of her father's court. Serana was something of a vampire princess to them so it was only expected she be given this honor.
"What do you think will happen?" Lamae asked nervously. She never questioned her duty, the ever vigilant no-nonsense member of their little party.
"No one ever talks about it," Sotha always the wary one of the bunch. She naturally questioned everything she heard, which thinking back on it now, she was right.
Serana considered what they said, but didn't let it dampen her excitement.
"It will be fine," Jenassa said with a passive wave of her hand, "And we'll all be Daughters of Coldharbor! Think of the power!" Her voice squeaking barely contained excitement. The whole group laughed at her expense, Jenassa giggling right with them. She was always so vibrant and fun, which was opposite most Molag Bol followers.
Suddenly the entire room full of women stirred at a faint sound. The whispers stopped and the room went silent. A slight rumble could be felt underfoot and a beam of red light struck the bloody altar at the center of the small room. Gasps and whispers came again until an otherworldly voice filled the room. The voice was to this day the horrific thing she had ever heard. Serana instinctively cupped her hands over her ears.
In a flash, a horrific creature stood before the tributes. The large beast was a terrifying combination of monkey and snake. Molag Bol's stood on two muscular legs with a built torso, long arms, and a monkey's tail. His face looked feral and frightening as his snakelike eyes darted about. His skin was a sick green color trimmed with armored black scales. His horns and claws were a similar black to his scales. The only covering he wore was a purplish colored loincloth that dangled between his legs.
Serana did not scream like the others but fear was in the forefront of her mind. She was too afraid to say or do anything.
The great beast laughed at their fear. It was obvious he mocked them.
"Fear not little lambs. I have come to free you of your flesh and blood prison. I shall free you of your mortality and give you power beyond your wildest dreams!" His terrifying voice seemed to shake the very foundation of the temple. The Daedra stalked around and caressed a terrified girl's face before continuing.
"But in order for me to grant you this gift. You must give me something in return."
Serana’s eyes widened as it hit her. This was why it was so important the offerings remain maidens. The fact that they were referred to as 'offerings' made more sense now. It was more than just a gesture of purity.
After what felt like hours of enduring the sounds of the brutal rape of every single woman in the temple Serana was face to face with the Daedra prince. Serana looked over at her friends' motionless bodies, half nude and bloody, a glowing tear resting on each of their cheeks.
“You are no prince,” Serana thought, “You are a monster.”
The Daedra looked at her as if he heard her. His soulless black eyes bored into her.
"You are right. I am the lord of domination, corruption, and slavery," His sharp claws scratched her cheek, drawing blood at his caress.
"I know you, Serana. You are the daughter of Harkon and Valerica, my most loyal followers. If you expect me to be softer to their progeny you are sorely mistaken. But you are strong, I can sense it. You will not enjoy this. But should you survive, you will be my daughter, gifted with immense power," His voice was so powerful, Serana could feel her hair blow back. She resisted the urge to cower or whimper, closing her eyes as he forced her down on her back and pulled her legs apart. She tried her best to distract her mind from the unbelievable pain, but it still felt like an eternity. Serana endured the feeling of being ripped apart from the inside, biting her lip until it bled.
“Don't cry out. Don't cry. Don't make a sound,” Serana told herself through the whole ordeal. Molag Bol had destroyed what was supposed to be the most sacred and beautiful part of being mortal. She would awake next day in a pool of her own blood, but instead of pain that she knew should be there, Serana felt nothing. She wasn't thankful, but it was at least some respite. She sat up and wiped a large, icy tear from her face and looked around at the other women as they lie lifeless on the floor. Her eyes found her friends' bodies and she sadly noted that she was the only survivor. Her mother would arrive soon after and instead of hugging her like Serana so dearly wished she would, Valerica would only say, "You are now one of us my daughter."
When Serana finished with her story, she was shaking. This was the first time she ever spoke of what happened to her. When she reluctantly looked at Max, she couldn't quite tell what she saw in his eyes.
"That's… beyond words," Max said gravely. Without thinking he reached out his hand and covered hers. Serana pulled back reflexively.
"I do not want or need your pity," She said perhaps too sharply.
Max nodded understandingly, "I know. You survived torture despite the odds, that's a testament to your strength."
Serana found herself accepting his words. She accepted his hand and he pulled her to her feet. She noticed his hand wasn't nearly as warm as she remembered. He looked pale, but notably younger and healthier. They both noticed how beautiful the other was in that moment. They looked at each other for the first time, knowing exactly who was behind those eyes.
"I'm definitely in agreement with what happens in the cave, stays in the cave," Serana added sagely. Max laughed.