Of Love and Madness
Both Max and Serana were surprised at how long the kiss lasted. It seemed they both had been waiting for this. As they pulled apart slowly they looked at each other breathlessly, studying the others face for a reaction. The silence continued for a few more moments before Max reached out and drew her forehead to his. He looked her in the eyes and smiled.
"Thank you," Max said, still smiling.
Serana smiled back, "For what?"
He laughed a little, "For a lot of things."
Max seemed to realize he was without clothes and blushed a little before covering himself with the vale cat pelt. Serana laughed at him.
"You don't have to do that," She said coyly.
Max grew a deeper shade of red.
"We'd better get moving anyway. With your father darkening the sun and taking over the known world and all," He joked, scrambling to get into his armor.
Serana laughed, "Ah yes, that."
They both packed up and continued the tedious journey to the remaining wayshrines. They found themselves glancing at one another in a different way. After a while Max finally said, "How did you do it?"
Serana cocked her head, "Do what, exactly?"
"Go to a plane of Oblivion and whisk me out," Max provided.
"Well,” she thought for a moment, trying to decide how best she could summarize it, “Being a vampire and for all intents and purposes, dead, it makes moving from realm to realm much easier. Also, being in a daedra's favor helps as well. Molag Bol has taught my mother and I much in the ways of magic and necromancy."
Max's face contorted a little at the mention of the forbidden art.
"You don't have to agree with it, but it did come in handy, didn't it?" Serana said smugly.
Max nodded meekly, "Yes, it did."
Max was about to say more when he realized they were near an icy lake. A few layers of snow had accumulated on the ice, making it difficult to see any cracks or openings. It would be slow maneuvering, but Max wasn't about to pass up the opportunity to take a shortcut. He was growing very tired of this valley.
After several minutes of shuffling across the ice, Max and Serana were scared out of their wits by the deafening crashing of two dragons bursting through the ice. They circled one another before descending on the recovering duo. As Max and Serana tried to shield themselves from the dragon's fires, they noticed that unlike others they had encountered, the fires did not damage them outright. The wounds they took were more subtle. Max could feel his stamina drain and his thoughts grow fuzzy.
"It's a drain attack!" Serana shouted to him. She took off in the direction of a standing stone that sat in the center of the lake. Max followed suit, realizing that the text written upon the stones were that of the dragon tongue. Three words stuck out to him, it was the words the dragons were using currently. GAAN-LAH-HAAS. Each word represented a physical reserve. GAAN meant stamina, LAH meant stamina, and HAAS health. He said them quietly to himself a few times to memorize them. Max continued to run and attempt to elude the dragons, it was difficult to much of anything other than fight them with their own words, but Max's gut told him to try something different. It had never failed him before, so he decided to listen.
"DIIL QOTH ZAAM!"
The sky appeared to split and a dark chasm with a purple glow opened, bridging the Soul Cairn to Tamriel... or wherever they were.
A roar filled the air, a rumbling roar that only a dragon could produce. In comparison to the two dragons before them, Durnehviir was much larger. Max could see the ancient dragon reveling in the crisp air.
The undead dragon called as he soared through the air. He sized up his opponents and growled at them. An air battle ensued, a war of words. The two smaller dragons circled Durnehviir and tried to overwhelm him with their shifting and circling. Durnehviir summoned powerful blast of fire, almost knocking one of the attacking dragons from the sky. Strangely, the other dragon winced as well, but recovered momentarily. The other dragon moved in and began to attack Durnehviir from behind. The large dragon spun mid-flight and brought his claws to bear on the smaller dragon. After the clash the dragons parted. Something changed then, it seemed the dragons were at an impasse. Glaring at one another and communicating silently in a way that even Max could not understand. Durnevhiir spoke to them, but Max couldn't make it out over the howling winds and wing beats.
Max looked at Serana for a moment, she looked as puzzled as he felt. The dragons merely hovered high from the ground. Their wing beats lifting the snow from the ice. It looked as though they were merely bobbing with a lazy tide as they hung effortlessly in the air. It was strange to see dragons when they weren't attacking someone or something. It was a rare moment of peace. A beauty few had ever seen before. But Max and Serana had developed a knack for seeing the extraordinary lately, as it would seem.
If he had to guess, Max would say Durnehviir was putting in a good word for him. He seemed to sense that Max didn't want to simply kill every dragon he sees. Durnehviir sensed a compassion in Max, or so he had implied at their last conversation.
Max and Serana stood at the entrance to the Chantry of Auri-El. They paused and looked at one another for a moment.
"What happened back there?" Serana asked. It was evident by Max's expression that he didn't fully understand either.
"Some sort of agreement. Though I'm not sure what exactly," Max said of the strange 'altercation' between the undead legend Durnehviir and the twin dragons Naaslaarum and Volsaarum. But they had been allowed to pass through the rest of the vale and final wayshrine unmolested. Max had also picked up a new Thu'um from his undead dragon ally in addition to the one from the dragon wall. It was very intriguing to have met twin dragons. Neither Max nor Serana could recall ever hearing of such a thing before.
Serana could tell Max was relieved he didn't have to kill the dragons. She also could tell dragons were a touchy topic with him, it was obvious his destiny bothered him. It gave her hope that there may be a chance for mercy for her father. But now was not the time to discuss this, nor their budding…relationship. Serana shook her head, things just kept getting more complicated. Not that she was upset about that particular development.
Max studied the massive statue of Auriel carefully. The craftsmanship that was on display here was nothing short of remarkable. Auriel's angular face stared confidently out at the vale before him. His crown of fire made it seem as if they sun itself sat upon the crown of his head. A sun held up by two spires was just above his head.
Max took note of the exquisite armor the god wore. It was of a make and material that Max had never seen before. It was nothing short of godly. It made Max wonder where this sculptor got his inspiration from. Or was it even created by man or mer at all? He wondered what it had felt like to be the Knight of the Nine Divines three hundred years ago. Babette claimed to have encountered the fabled hero in Cheydinhal, and even went so far as to allege that the Champion was a Listener for the Black Hand. Max had initially had a hard time believing that, but the more he thought about his current situation. It would seem that he and the Champion of Cyrodiil weren't all that different at all. Max recalled his mother had told him that her family had descended from the Champion, though he wasn't sure if that was merely a tale or the truth. There was no way of discovering that now.
Max's eyes then moved to the two staircases that skirted each side of the statue. Max began up the stairs. It took Serana a few moments to realize he had left, she was so caught up in the scenery before her. She took the stairs two at a time and found Max dumping the contents of the ewer into a large, ornate basin. Max found himself unable to hold the ewer despite his strength. The ewer appeared to be caught in a current as it flowed past them and towards the Chantry door. As the ewer touched the door, its intricate locking system began to click and whir. The doors swung open, pulled by an unseen force. Max and Serana both froze when the saw the scene before them. Falmer were frozen in place as though statues. Some appeared to be in the middle of a skirmish while others clutched prized possessions.
Max heard Serana hum from behind him. He turned to see her closely inspecting a Falmer holding an ornate necklace.
"This just screams trap," Serana sounded amused, grinning at Max for a moment.
Max felt a strange fluttering feeling in his stomach when he saw her smile. It was growing impossible to resist Serana's charm. She had a way of flirting without knowing it. Max had fought his desires this long, but the kiss had destroyed his willpower. It was amazing. Max ran a hand through his hair as he scanned the room. He wasn't the type of man to have flings. He never could bring himself to use a woman in such a way, even if the using went both ways. It didn't feel right to him. The orphan in him always yearned for attachment…a deeper connection. Did he have that with Serana? His heart believed it to be so, but his past grappled with it, reminding him of what had happened with the others. Rage, heartache, and agony.
“She's a vampire, Max,” he reminded himself.
Max was startled when his peripheral vision stirred. Serana had come up beside him and placed a hand on his side. Her fiery orange eyes looked concerned, but she didn't say anything. Max felt the need to make the concern go away. He couldn't stop himself from glancing down at her hand on his side.
"Let's go get that bloody bow,” He said, hiding his emotional turmoil.
Serana smirked. "Lets."
Max lay sprawled out on the ground. He tried to clear his head and figure out where he was when Serana crouched in front of him.
“Are you alright? Come on, we can do this. I knowwe can.” She urged, grabbing his hand and pulling with surprising strength.
Max stood and surveyed the area. They were on a rooftop of the entire fortress. It overlooked the icy landscape and the bitter wind whipped violently. They made their way to the balcony, Max following Serana’s determined strides.
"Enough, Vyrthur! Give us the bow!" Serana shouted, her tone was as icy as Max had ever heard it.
Max sucked in large breaths as he tapped into his energy reserves. Fighting Falmer and running after the maddened Snow Elf was tiring work.
"How dare you. I was the Arch-Curate of Auri-El, girl. I had the ears of a god!" Vyrthur cried.
Max wondered if the former Arch-Curate realized how ridiculous he sounded to people that knew nothing about the Chantry. Of all of the appendages men and mer had, why would anyone want the ears of a god over, say, the arms or face of god? Max shook his head. The more adventures he went on, the stranger people became.
Serana wasn't having any of his sob story. "Until the 'Betrayed' corrupted you. Yes, yes. We've heard this sad story."
After entering the crumbling throne room, Vyrthur had presented them with his best excuse for what had transpired here eons ago. Most of it had come across as a madman's ramble and Max and Serana found themselves fighting the newly defrosted Falmer and taking chase after Vyrthur.
Vyrthur turned and faced the Forgotten Vale as it spanned out before them as they stood on the balcony.
"Gelebor and his kind are easily manipulated fools," Vyrthur turned sharply, causing Max to make a hasty move to intercept him.
"Look into my eyes, Serana." He challenged, "Tell me what I am."
It hit Max as quickly as it did Serana. His eyes had the same glow as hers did.
"You're…you're a vampire?" Serana said, her voice trailing off. It was clear she hadn't anticipated this. Her brow crinkled as a protest raised in her mind, "But Auriel should have protected you…"
Vyrthur's expression changed little. "The moment I was infected by one of my own Initiates, Auri-El turned his back on me. I swore I'd have my revenge, no matter what the cost!" His eyes seemed to burn unnaturally, even for a vampire. Much like Harkon's.
Serana seemed to be as floored as Max was. "You want to take revenge…on a god?" Serana was astounded, her tone indicated she was struggling to make sense of this. Try as she might, she could not fathom the depths of Vyrthur's madness. It rivaled that of her father. The more he thought about it, Max believed that even Harkon wasn't as mad as this demented Snow Elf.
"Auri-El himself may have been beyond my reach, but his influence on our world wasn't. All I needed was the blood of a vampire and his own weapon, Auriel's Bow," Vyrthur said standing tall, despite his injuries and moving closer to Serana.
"The blood of a vampire... Auriel's Bow... It... it was you? You created that prophecy?" Serana said incredulously. Loose ends were being tied, though they were far more twisted than she thought. It all made sense. The sun was said to represent Auriel. The Tyranny of the Sun.
Vyrthur started to pace back and forth. "A prophecy that lacked a single, final ingredient... the blood of a pure vampire," He turned quickly to face Serana his eyes burning as he looked at her hungrily. "The blood of a Daughter of Coldharbor."
Serana closed the distance between the two with incredible speed. She gripped the neck of his armor and lifted him off the ground, showing incredible strength. To say Max was shocked was a bit of an understandment. Everyone underestimated her, even him. He was indescribably proud…and dare he say infatuated?
"You were waiting... all this time for someone with my blood to come along. Well, too bad for you... I intend on keeping it. Let's see if your blood has any power to it!" the air was filled with electricity as Vyrthur summoned a powerful spell that broke Serana’s grip. The Arch-Curate was surprisingly nimble for being eons old. He managed to get to his feet and summon a frost atronach. Max blasted it with is fire breath and slashed at it with his axe. He let Serana handle the Arch-Curate for the time being. She was more than up to it. He’d never seen her even close to this angry.
Max could see a powerful duel happening in his peripheral vision as he fought the minions Vyrthur summoned. It was like watching a dance as the two mages traded powerful spells. Bright colors flashed and the air filled with an electricity that everyone could actually feel.
Vyrthur threw icy spears the size of small trees and icy blizzards at Serana, but she somehow managed to fight through them and return fire. Using vampiric drain and fire blasts to counter the Snow Elf's all out ice attack. It would seem the two were deadlocked for neither could land a solid hit on the other.
Max was caught off guard when a Falmer leapt onto his back and dug its claws into his shoulder. Max growled in pain as he used the rage to summon his strength. He reached up and seized the Falmer by its feeble neck and slammed it as hard as he could onto the pavement, finishing it off with a vicious stomp. Looking around, he quickly realized there had been a lull in the battle. Both Serana and Vyrthur were standing, their chests heaving from exertion. Their magicka appeared to be drained. Vyrthur moved in and struck her down, lowering his shoulder. Max let out a shout of defiance before he moved to intervene
Serana didn't know how she ended up on the ground, but yet here she was, too weak to do much of anything. She was spent. Vyrthur was moving in to finish her when suddenly, he simply wasn't there. Serana limply turned her head to see Max standing over Vyrthur with his axe raised. Though her eyelids fluttered closed for a moment, she didn't need to open them to know what would happen.
By the time her eyes opening again, Max was kneeling over her, his handsome face was etched with worry. His words were muffled and she struggled to make them out. Suddenly, she was on her feet again. She wobbled about, but felt strong arms close around her and pull her close to a warm body. Serana's head lolled onto Max's shoulder for support. She tried to speak, but nothing seemed to come out. The last thing she heard was, "Rest Serana, I will protect you." Then the world went black.
Serana awoke in an unfamiliar place. She glanced around, puzzled, and wondered how many centuries had passed. Her thoughts instantly went to Max. She needed to find him.
As she stirred in bed, she noticed that her hand struck something. Grabbing hold of what felt like wood and pulling it out from beneath the blankets. Her eyes widened when she realized what it was. Auriel's Bow.
The door opened, revealing a familiar blonde Nord. Mjoll smiled at her as she approached.
"Good, you're awake," Mjoll said cheerfully.
Serana rubbed her forehead absently as she sat up.
"What? Where am I?" Serana asked quickly.
"You're in Jorrvaskr. Max came to the door carrying you yesterday. He looked like he hadn't eaten or slept in a long time. But he insisted that you were the priority, so I saw to it," Mjoll explained. Her words plainly showed she was privy to their relationship's recent advancement, or at least it was made obvious to her. Serana didn't miss the slight glint of jealous that cross Mjoll's face for a brief moment.
Serana could scarcely believe what she was hearing.
"I must've passed out…but how…" Serana trailed off. "Considering I'm not a pile of ash. I guess that makes sense," Serana glanced around at the room. She was lying in a king sized bed covered in furs. The room around her was well decorated. There was a shield adorning the far wall. She immediately recognized it. The Shield of Ysgramor. This must be Max's room.
"Where is Max?" Serana asked, feeling slightly embarrassed. She silently thanked her unchanging appearance for not blushing.
Mjoll didn't appear fooled at all though. "He is in the yard out back, training. I can take you to him."
Serana nodded and rose from the bed. She ran a hand over her clothes to smooth the wrinkles as she moved to follow Mjoll.
"Max has been busy," Mjoll said, not bothering to turn to face Serana as they walked side by side. "He has sent word to Fort Dawnguard and begun to gather forces."
"To attack Castle Volkihar?" Serana asked.
Mjoll nodded, "We're going to need every advantage we can get for this assault. Vampires live forever, assuming they aren't killed, and they probably have a great deal more experience than our most seasoned members." They had stopped just before the staircase, Mjoll's giant hand held the door closed, preventing any thru traffic.
Serana felt a little silly for not having considered that. "That is true. Though I will say, the great bane of vampires is not garlic or even the sun. Our greatest enemy is hubris. Especially in my father's case."
Mjoll smiled hollowly at Serana for a moment. "Good to know," Her smile suddenly faded to a more serious expression.
"I know how Max feels about you. The way he looked at you. The way carried you as though you were a small flower he was afraid he might crush. You can tell me you have feelings for him as well, but that won't mean anything when it comes down it. When it's us or your kin. Your own father or Maximus. Who will you choose? If I get any sort of feeling that you might be using Max's feelings for you to make him weak and get him killed…I will not hesitate to tear you to pieces and light you on fire like the rest of your kind," Mjoll's demeanor had gone from pleasant to pure ice. Serana could swear the room's temperature had dropped.
Though she understood what Mjoll was doing, Serana wasn't about to take it.
"I've been nothing but honest with Max from the very moment I met him. It took a while for me to fully trust him, but I see him for who he really is and I trust him with everything I am. I've had plenty of opportunity to let him die, but instead I chose to return the favor and save him. He's the only person I trust to help me see this through. I know that you care for him and want to protect him, Mjoll, but I'm not the one you should be worrying about. I love him," Serana said. She took a breath and reflected for a moment, surprised at how quickly she had responded and what she had said. As the words rattled around in her head, Serana realized they actually fit. This was the feeling she had been denying, even fighting. And here she was.
Mjoll's expression changed to one of amusement. "You make a good case. I believe you."
Serana was relieved, despite her more aggressive side reminding her she didn't need Mjoll's approval.
"Have you told him yet?" Mjoll asked, a small smile on her lips.
Serana shook her head, "No, I haven't,” she immediately remembered the last time someone had asked her that…and how much she regretted not saying it.
Mjoll left it alone and headed up the stairs, Serana chose to follow. She moved through the mead hall and towards the sets of double doors on the closer side. Mjoll pushed the doors open to reveal a yard full of Companions. There was a large group of them that were all focused on one lone figure. Serana laid eyes on a familiar figure that she felt as though she hadn't seen in ages. It was Max, standing at the center of six Companions. He battled them off with a longsword. As an added bonus, he wore nothing from the waist up, exposing half of his well-maintained physique in all of its chiseled, manly glory. A thin layer of sweat covered his skin, adding to her viewing pleasure.
Despite his size, Max moved fluidly with the sword, as though it were an extension of his being. He moved like a dancer as he deflected sword blows, dodged axes, and countered attacks. Even when his back was directly towards an attacker, he seemed to have a sixth sense as to when someone was about to strike him. He moved quickly and without hesitation to stop them. He continued parrying, countering, and knocking back his opponents until they decided to call time to catch their breath. He smiled as he clapped hands and cajoled with his friends.
As if he sensed her, Max's eyes immediately found her. His face visibly lit up upon noticing her, it made Serana feel something she hadn't felt in a long time, and never at this level. While he was momentarily distracted by a fellow Companion, Serana noticed Njada Stone-Arm move over and sit on a bench near Serana and Mjoll, taking a rest from the exercise. She made a disappointed noise when someone tossed Max his tunic. The three women exchanged an agreeing look.
Max came up to them immediately after and looked at Serana for a moment before looking at Mjoll and the two communicated silently in their own little language they developed over the years.
Serana realized what they had communicated when Mjoll stood up and said something about sweetrolls in the mead hall. That got everyone's attention. They all trudged into the building, leaving Max and Serana alone. Suddenly, the silent language wasn't so infuriating.
"I'm glad to see you are well," Max said, clearly having trouble finding words. It was clear he was trying to keep things professional. He was unsure of Serana's feelings towards him and didn't want to pry too much.
"Thanks in no small part, to you," Serana said appreciatively. Her dead heart danced at the thought of him holding her all the way here, just as she had kept vigil over him when he slept. It was such a romantic notion, she never thought anyone would do that for her.
"It was no trouble," Max said brushing it off.
"No trouble?" Serana said, moving closer to him, "Max, no one has ever done anything like that for me,” She said reaching out a touching his cheek lightly. She realized her hand might be cold and tried to retrieve it, but she found her hand held in place by a much larger and warmer one. He didn't say anything, he only looked at her. She realized the look in his eyes was the same one he had when he talked about Aela, but there was no hurt present this time.
"Serana, I…" Serana reached up and silenced him by placing her fingers on his lips. She smiled, "I know. I feel the same way about you."
Max couldn't resist how beautiful she looked when she smiled.
Her smile faltered and her expression hardened. "That's why you can't be there when I face my father. If anything were to happen to you…I…I couldn't forgive myself," Serana’s eyes watered at the thought.
Max shook his head in protest. "I can't do that, Serana. Not after all of this. I can't lose you too." He didn't care that his words sounded pleading.
Max’s words cut deep. Serana was surprised… she was feeling…. Something she hadn't done until she met him. She hadn't really thought about that until now.
"You won't, Max. I can take him. Who knows what he'll do when he's cornered," Serana said worriedly.
Max grasped her shoulders and looked her square in the eye, even bending down to her eye level. "What about you Serana? Who knows what he'll do to you. The prophecy calls for your blood, not mine."
"You've protected me through all of this. It's time I protect you," Serana said firmly, arms crossed defiantly.
"I respect what you're trying to do, but I'm not being left behind. Not this time. Never again," Max said firmly, his brown wolf's eyes glinting with resolve.
Serana sighed and wrapped her arms around his neck, "We can argue about this another time." Max nodded in agreement.
"For now, let's just enjoy this." Serana said into his shoulder, pleading to the universe. She inhaled his scent and sighed in relief. She felt a gentle hand guide her chin up to face him. They kissed. This time, there was no hesitation.
The sound of someone clearing their throat interrupted them after a time. They both turned and looked to find Babette looking at them with her arms folded.
"I see you're warming up to our kind," The pint-sized vampire observed mockingly, pretending to pick lint from the shoulder of her dress. "It's a shame you're still planning on dispatching the oldest and most influential conclave of them in Skyrim."
Max leveled a glare at the 'child'.
"I was being facetious, calm yourself Listener, by Sithis," Babette said, raising a placating hand. "I just came to say that we are prepared to aid in the attack if you need us. It would seem Nazir can't get off his duff to tell you himself," she said disdainfully.
Max smirked at the 'child'. "Thank you, Babette."
Babette didn't linger long, taking her leave almost immediately but not before exchanging a look with Serana. Max wasn't sure what exactly it was about, but he didn't pry.
"Let's go inside, Isran and the rest of the Dawnguard should be arriving soon," Max said placing a hand lightly on Serana's shoulder. She nodded her agreement and followed him back into the mead hall, she did not voice her reluctance at being around the dreaded wet dog smell though.