Love & Loss

Of Course It's Not That Simple

Maximus came upon the snow-covered entrance to Dimhollow Crypt. He saw Tolan's roan ground tied nearby and led Shadowmere there as well. Max observed the cave entrance, "I suppose they wouldn't be vampires if they didn't like dark, frightful places such as this," he said to Shadowmere.

Max entered the cave with his sword drawn, a precaution he often took in uncertain situations such as this. Maximus had explored many crypts, caves, and ruins in his time, and this particular crypt didn't appear any different.

Max entered the cave, the entrance was scattered with signs of battle and corpses. There were four vampires and two ash piles in total spread throughout the bloodstained room. Max discovered Vigilant Tolan's corpse leaning against the ancient stone walls. He hadn't gone down without a fight, the ideal Nord death. Max respectfully closed the Vigilant's eyes and continued onward.

Fighting through traps, vampires and draugr, Max felt wonderful getting back into the type of combat he loved best: close quarters, with multiple enemies. Maximus had hated the sneaky, cloak and dagger style of the Brotherhood. There was so much sitting and waiting, and innocents were no fun. They never fought back. He had to admit though, the style of the Brotherhood had taught him a lot. He made a habit of gathering more information on his targets and the terrain, checking the area out before charging in headlong, and also the ability to do away with someone quietly. All and all, it had made him a well-rounded warrior.

After at least an hour of good ol' hacking and slashing, Max came into a large open part of the cavern. The center of the room held a massive stone monolith of some sort. It sat in the center of what looked like a ritual epicenter that was surrounded by water on all sides. The only entrance was a solitary bridge. It was nearly as ancient as the caverns themselves, but remarkably intact. Light from above shone down in a heavenly fashion. A sense of irony struck Max as he looked at it. He presumed this beautiful construct contained whatever the vampires were after, and light after all was a vampire's worst enemy. Approaching the bridge, Max scanned the area thoroughly. The last thing he wanted was to walk into a trap.

Getting closer, Max could see a ring pattern surrounding the monolith: the rings grew smaller the closer they got to the monolith. At the center, the monolith rested upon a pentagon. Five lines then shot out from each of the points. When line and circle met, there was a sizeable hole; in some, a brazier with glowing purple embers could be found. Max inspected the braziers carefully, he tried to move the braziers, surmising that there must be a pattern involved, but they would not budge.

Max approached the central point and stood on the pentagon, blinking up into the light as it poured down on the monolith. Something was clearly important about this spot. A button lay atop the monolith; it was odd looking: a slight red glow emitted from it, strikingly similar to that of blood. Max reached out his hand cautiously and pressed the button. A spike shot out from the button and pierced his hand, the pain bringing him to his knees. Luckily, his armor prevented the spike from impaling his hand. Looking at the wound, Max removed the broken ebony gauntlet and ripped a spare leather strip from it. He wrapped it the wound tightly. Max remained calm about the injury. After all, he had definitely been through worse.

What Max had not immediately noticed was a purple glow began to come from the circular ruts, each leading to a brazier. Max smirked, now he knew what to do. He cautiously waved a hand at the purple glow, but realized it did him no harm. After a few minutes of sliding braziers around so that a purple fire glowed from each, the pentagon separated. The pool of purple matter, the button, and the monolith rose. It grew much larger as it elevated from the glow. The glow subsided, leaving Max staring in wonder. Some very powerful magic was at work here. Max reached out to touch the monolith for a reason he was not entirely sure. As he was doing so, half of the monolith began to slide out.

As the door slid down, a sleeping or dead, young woman lay within. Her arms were crossed at her chest, and a very strange looking staff was strapped onto her back. Her clothes looked as though she were from another time, and her skin was as pale as death. This theory was soon laid to rest when the woman bobbled and began to fall forward, very much alive. Max jumped forward out of reflex and stopped her from falling on her face, steadying her with his good arm. As she groaned, he noticed her skin was very cold, perhaps from being trapped in the strange monolith in a freezing cave had something to do with it. She acted as though she had just woken from a nap. As she came to her feet, Max noticed she was also very beautiful; she had dark brown hair held back by four small braids.

The mysterious woman turned to Max and groaned again, "Where is-" she mumbled in a sleepy voice. She changed her question upon seeing him more closely, "Who sent you?" She crossed her arms expectantly, her oddly colored eyes almost glowing as they inspected Maximus from head to toe.

Max was unsure how to respond. He wasn't sure what side this woman was on, and so he chose a neutral response, "Who were you expecting," Max inquired.

"I was expecting… Someone like me, at least," she confessed.

Putting the pieces together quickly, Max was surprised at how open she was, "You're a…"

"Vampire, yes," she answered.

Max thought of killing her, but her openness made her seem as no threat at all. He was more curious than afraid. No vampire has ever dared to speak to him before, nor has anyone ever been so honest.

"Why were you locked away like that," Max asked curiously.

"That's complicated… If you want to know the whole story, help me get to my home," she said. Max suspected she didn't trust him. He got the impression part of her wanted to, otherwise she wouldn’t have asked for his help.

Max decided he would be doing the Dawnguard a bigger favor if he found this 'home' for them, at the very least. He might also discover whatever this 'whole story' was, though his intrigue in this vampire was mainly why. Max was not particularly good at following orders. He was of a curious sort.

"My family used to live on an island near Solitude. I would assume they still do," the woman said, "By the way, my name is Serana, nice to meet you."

Max bowed his head slightly, "And you as well. I am Maximus."

Serana's delicate, full lips curved up slightly, "Interesting name. Imperial, is it not?"

Max felt a genuine smile trickle across his face “Yes,” he chuckled lightly.

"Well, any idea how we get out of here?"

Serana shrugged, "Your guess is as good as mine."

Max nodded, "Follow me, then. Can you fight?"

Serana smirked, "Of course."

Serana hadn't lied. She was quite the ranged combatant, wielding magic Max had never seen before. After killing a few draugr and even a gargoyle, Max discovered a gate before them; it was locked however. He spotted a lever above them and headed up the stairs to pull it.

"How long have you been here?" he asked.

Serana looked up towards him, "Good question. I can't really say. It feels like a long time." She paused, "Who is Skyrim's High King?"

Max eyed her curiously, "That's actually a matter for debate."

"Oh, wonderful," she said sarcastically, "A war of succession. Good to see Skyrim didn't get boring while I was gone. Who are the contenders?"

"The Empire supports Elisif, but there are many in Skyrim loyal to Ulfric of Windhelm."

Max flipped the lever and made his way down to Serana. She looked confused, "Empire? What Empire?"

"The Imperial Empire… From Cyrodiil," Max answered, rather surprised.

"Cyrodiil has a seat on the Empire? I must've been gone longer than we planned. I need to get home to figure everything out," Serana said wearily.

Max nodded carefully and continued forward, his ebony great sword in hand. From behind him he could hear Serana grunt in pain, two draugr were attacking her.

Max sprinted back and in one swift move, shattered the draugr to pieces. He noticed when he turned back that Serana's wounds had healed.

Max looked at his own wounded hand, the leather strip was soaked with blood. I wish I could do that. Max thought to himself.

Max pulled vial from his belt and poured a little healing potion on it. That should do the trick. He glanced at Serana nervously, but she didn't appear to notice his wounds. It was most peculiar, given vampires were such fans of blood.

They entered a strangely built room, it was steep and had stairs on all sides, leading into a central fire, where two charred corpses lay. It must have been something of an arena or seat of council.

"Something isn't right here," Serana said, "We should be careful."

Max charged down into the room. He spotted a few skeletons and cut them down with ease. He let out his powerful Fire Breath shout and crumbled the rest. He spun around on instinct, and parried the blade of a draugr deathlord, its tall horned helm unmistakable. Max parried repeatedly waiting for his opening, and finally, it came. Max slashed the undead's legs and then brought down his heavy blade on its skull.

Serana came down the stairs, two skeletons followed her, a bluish aura surrounding them. Max lifted his blade ready to do away with them, when Serana told him to stop.

"They're mine, I reanimated them," she explained.

Max squinted slightly, "I don't know what that means, other than I shouldn't kill them."

Serana snorted slightly in laughter, "Yes, I suppose that's good enough," she switched gears, "You're pretty good at this. Should I know your name?"

Max cocked his head to one side slightly, "Well, you probably should know that those legends about dragons are true, and that they now roam Skyrim."

Serana laughed, "You're kidding, right?" When she saw that Max's face remained serious she stopped, "You are serious. So where do you come in?"

"I'm the Dovahkiin," Max said simply, when he saw that Serana didn't make the connection he rephrased, "The Dragonborn."

Serana's eyes widened, "Really? Why do you say 'the' Dragonborn' aren't there more?"

Max shook his head, "No, unfortunately. Just me."

"So that's what that shouting was," Serana said, tactfully changing the subject.

Max nodded, he spotted the door chain and pulled it down. The door slid out of the way and revealed a snowy path which they followed out into the bitter Skyrim landscape.

"Ah! It's so good to breathe again," Serana exclaimed as she followed Max to the horses.

Max hopped onto Shadowmere and Serana took Tolan's horse. Max nodded towards the path signaling for Serana to lead the way.

After three hours on horseback, Serana rode towards the sea. She looked into the distance and then down to a small dock and boat. Max watched as a snow fox padded quietly through the icy landscape, but he repressed the emotion that came with his late wife's memory better than he ever had before.

"That's it there," she said and pointed to a shadow. The shadow appeared to contain a large structure that loomed in the fog towards the north.

"There's the boat. Let's go."

She and Max dismounted and boarded the boat. As they floated along the coast, a large castle began to emerge through the mist.

Max watched as it continued to expand through the mist the closer they got. It was quite impressive. As the boat docked Serana's expression was tense, "So… This is it. Home sweet… castle."

Max smirked at the comment.

"You didn't tell me it was massive," Max mused.

"I didn't want you to think I was one of those, you know… Women that sits in their castle all day. Coming from a place like this… It really isn't me. I hope you can believe that," Serana said, her voice slightly concerned.

Max said nothing for a moment. He was surprised that she cared what he thought about her.

"Upon meeting you I wouldn't come to the conclusion that you lived in a massive castle on a secret island, no," Max joked in attempt to ease her tension. It worked as Serana laughed.

Max inwardly questioned himself. Since when was he his old joking self? He reminded himself to focus on the task at hand. As he followed Serana up the stone bridge, she turned to him and said, "Hey… Before we get in there…"

Max raised an eyebrow, "What is it?"

"I just wanted to say thank you for getting me this far," Serana said. "I think I'm going to go my own way for a while. I think…," she trailed off. "Most of your friends would want to kill everything in there, but I'm hoping you can show more restraint than that," she said. "Just let me do the talking, and try not to draw any attention on yourself."

Max only nodded, deciding that now wasn't the time to ask questions. He eyed the gargoyles cautiously, having only hours ago been attacked by those savage stone creatures.

The watchman opened the gate without saying a word. The first man inside however, noticed Max instantly. "How dare you trespass here," he hissed, "Wait… Serana? Is that truly, you? I cannot believe my eyes!" He ran onto the balcony before him, "My Lord! Everyone! Serana has returned!"

"I guess I'm expected," Serana deadpanned. She walked towards the middle railing of the grand staircase that parted on two sides. Three long tables in a rectangular 'U' shape faced Serana. The vampires seated at the tables all looked up at her in astonishment.

Max finally got a good look at the strange staff looking object on her back. He recognized the intricate designs instantly. It was an Elder Scroll. Maybe this was what the vampires sought. But why bury it with Serana?

A man stood in the center of the long tables, his arms were outstretched dramatically, "My long lost daughter returns at last," his voice as dramatic as his pose. Max could feel his megalomaniac warning pinging in his head. Something about the man's tone sounded like he was more interested in pleasing his audience than he was excited to see his daughter. This man truly belonged in a castle… or a museum. "I trust you have my Elder Scroll," he asked. Max smirked Ah, now we get to the real reason he's excited, he thought.

Serana didn't miss a beat either, "After all these years, that's the first thing you ask me," she sighed, "Yes, I have the Scroll."

Serana's father glanced quickly around to his vampiric audience, who were happily munching away at human corpses, "Of course I'm delighted to see my only daughter, must I express that aloud," he asked, trying to win back the others. Max rolled his eyes. This guy was head case.

Serana's father cupped his chin and looked upward, "Ah, if only your traitor mother were here. I would let her watch this reunion before putting her head on a spike." Max could see Serana was affected by this statement.

The lavishly dressed lord turned to Maximus, "Now tell me, who is this stranger you've brought into our hall?"

Serana stepped forward, her voice had a slight edge of defensiveness, "This is my savior, the one who freed me," she let the last words hang in an attempt to shame her father.

The lord stepped closer, his voice sounding less scripted and instead more conversational. Something in the man's glowing eyes made Maximus' feel on guard. "I have you to thank for my daughter's safe return," the lord said evenly, "Tell, me who are you?"

"I am Maximus. Who are you?"

The Lord's voice returned to his cheesy act, "I," he paused dramatically, "Am Lord Harkon, lord of this court. By now my daughter will have told you what we are," he said with a sideways glance at Serana.

Maximus contained his irritation at this man's lack of directness. Gee, you don't think the corpses on the table gave away?

"You're vampires," Max said, hiding his impatience.

"Not just vampires," Harkon corrected, "We're among the oldest and most powerful vampires in Skyrim. For centuries," he began to pace, and tell about how they lived here for centuries carelessly, until his wife betrayed him. However, Maximus mostly tuned him out until he finished.

Max decided to cut to the chase, "What happens now?"

"You have done me a great service, and now you deserve to be rewarded. There is but one gift I can give you that is equal in value to the return of my daughter and Elder Scroll. I offer you my blood," he said, letting it sink in, "Take it and you will walk as a lion among sheep, men will tremble at your approach and you will never know death."

Max's face tensed in consideration, men trembling at his approach sounded pretty good. He thought of his werewolf blood, and wondered if he could even become a vampire this way. He glanced at Serana, who looked as though she disproved of her father's offer.

"I'm a werewolf. Does that affect your gift?"

"Yes, I can smell it on you," he hissed, "The power of my blood will purge that filth from you and make you whole again."

Maximus was hurt at this statement, not because Harkon had insulted him, but because he had considered giving up what Aela had given him herself. Max looked down at the ring on his finger, and began to twist it thoughtfully. Serana appeared to notice this and frowned, she had not known he was a werewolf.

While Maximus wanted to move on, he did not believe this was the way. He snuck a glance at Serana. He had enjoyed her company greatly. Since meeting her, he had begun to feel alive again, but she was to go her own path.

Maximus met Harkon's gaze, "And if I want to remain a werewolf?"

"I will banish you from this castle. I will spare your life this once, but you will be prey after that," Harkon stated. He looked at his audience, "Perhaps you still need convincing," he said, voice filled with bravado, "Behold!"

Blood began to seep from every orifice as Harkon convulsed. Blood spattered everywhere as he assumed a new form. He became a horrific grey skinned demon with sharp claws. Its skeletal wings flapped rapidly. It wore a strange spiked crown that appeared to be made of gold. A long loin cloth hung from its waist, adorned in ornate decoration.

"This is what I offer you," the demonic form said proudly.

"Now make your choice," Harkon's demon body threatened.

Maximus wouldn't back down however, "I don't want to become a vampire," he said, "I refuse your gift."

"So be it," Harkon said slowly, "You are prey like all mortals."

Harkon raised his voice, "I banish you!"

Maximus turned and looked at Serana one last time, she appeared torn.

Max nodded to her, and then began towards the exit of Castle Vrolikhar without looking back.

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