Love & Loss

A Wild Priest Chase

Max sat on the edge of a thicket, peeking over the crest of a ridge. Below him rested a sleepy camp of unsuspecting bandits. Max clutched his crossbow anxiously as he looked on, trying his best to control the vengeance itch. His eyes glanced down at his bandaged left arm as a deterring reminder that he was in no condition to fight.

Max watched for Sorine in the shadowy night, the moon was at three quarter waxing. Max knew what would soon be coming whether her liked it or not, but he wouldn't allow himself to think of anything other than the task at hand. Though Max's hatred for bandits was difficult to ignore as the rage built within him, but the urge to become the wolf was all too tempting. When Max told Sorine of the vampires' plans, the Elder Scroll particularly, Sorine had insisted that the crossbow blueprint was even more vital to the Dawnguard's arsenal. So here they were.

Maximus could see Sorine at the edge of the camp, a crossbow in hand. There were ten raiders in all encamped around the ruined tower. It was Max's job to take care of the bandits on watch in the crumbling tower.

Sorine slowly looked up to Max on the hill and nodded so slightly that Max had to wait and see if she was in fact signaling him to attack.

Max glanced up at the tower. One bandit sat upon a chair, legs propped up on the highest story of the tower. He appeared to be snoozing.

Of all the times to be napping...

Max could see another bandit watchman on the outside stairs, leaning against the stone wall. Max was surprised the bandit hadn't seen Sorine yet. Taking aim, Max pointed the bead a few feet above and to the left the second bandit's head, compensating for the distance and wind. The bolt let loose with a thunk. The bolt landed a foot below its mark, hitting the bandit in the chest instead of the head. The bandit began to struggle and make noise, attempting to dislodge the bolt from his chest. The bandit finally crumpled and fell from his post, crunching to the frozen earth. Max's eyes darted around, his wolf blood enhancing his nighttime vision. Much to his surprise, no one moved, save for Sorine. She made her move for the chest, sneaking towards the largest tent. Max watched her vanish into the tent. He listened carefully for the sounds of alarm. Though he wasn't going to intervene directly, Max would shout the Strun-bah-qo or storm call shout, sending a lovely Skyrim lightning storm towards the bandits should the alarm be raised.

Max's eyes instinctively went to a movement at the top of the tower. The dozing bandit had awakened and stretched sleepily. Max slid another bolt into place and attempted to aim at the bandit. At best, he could get lucky, but that was too much to hope for. He watched the bandit move down the winding stairs, preventing Maximus from getting a decent shot. Max held his breath, preparing a shout in his throat. The bandit was only steps around the corner from his comrade's body, Max held his breath.

Sorine immerged from the tent, crossbow in hand. Luckily, she noticed the bandit moving to her left. As soon as he rounded the corner, Sorine put a bolt in his throat. She put another bolt in her crossbow and crept from the camp. She came up alongside Max.

"Ready to leave?"

"Strun-bah-qo!" Max unleashed the storm call shout, thunder and lightning bombarding the clearing. Screams of terror could be heard. Immune to the cries, Max stood and mounted Shadowmere.

"I am now."

Sorine gave him a disapproving look. "What was that for?" she asked.

"They would have raided countless caravans and travelers. Besides, I hate bandits." Max explained bitterly, repressing the wounds of old memories. He tapped his heels into Shadowmere's side. He reflexively began to turn the gold wedding band on his finger.

“Let it go, Max,” he reminded himself grudgingly.

Sometime after Sorine and Max met up with Gunmar on their way to Fort Dawnguard.

"Ah Sorine, Isran must really have his hands full if he's bringing us both back." Gunmar said, clearly not on good terms with the Dawnguard leader.

"Clearly. It must be important for him to play nice. He made it very clear last time we spoke that he no longer needed my help." Sorine said.

Gunmar snorted. "Uh, Maximus is it?"

Max raised his eyebrows in recognition as he looked Gunmar's direction.

"How's Isran's little fortress?" Gunmar said, referring to the massive fort as though it were a child's playhouse.

Max smirked, he was glad he wasn't the only one who didn't particularly like Isran. "It's finished as far as I know. Haven't had time to explore it, really."

As if on cue, the three came upon the sight of Fort Dawnguard in the distance.

"Huh," Sorine said, rather impressed, "Seems Isran's been busy."

The three were surprised with a strange interrogation from Isran. The three pathways from the main entrance were barred up and the torches were doused so only sunlight shone from a tiny opening in the ceiling lit the room.

"Alright Isran, you've got us here. What do you want?" Gunmar said impatiently.

"Hold it right there." Isran said rather coldly.

Isran's voice was low as he spoke, "Making sure you're not bloodsuckers. Can't be too careful." There was no hint of apology in Isran's voice.

"So welcome to Fort Dawnguard. I'm sure you have heard a bit of what were up against. Powerful vampires, ancient ones, unlike anything we've ever faced. And they are in possession of an Elder Scroll." Isran sounded much like the Imperial Legates Max had encountered, Rikke especially.

"If anyone is to stand in their way, it's us."

"This is all well and good, but do we know what they're actually doing? Where do we begin?" Sorine's voice was suspicious as ever.

"I'll get you acquainted with that. For now, familiarize yourself with this place. You'll find a room to work on that crossbow design you've been after. Do you have it?"

"Yes, I'll start straight away." Sorine said, walking towards the right archway.

"Gunmar, there's an area large enough for you to pen up some trolls and get them armored up and ready for use." Isran ordered. Gunmar also walked off, getting right to work without a word.

Isran's voice became low and irritated, like it seemed to always be with Maximus. "In the meantime, Dragonborn, you're going to tell me why a vampire showed up here looking for you."

Max's face froze in bewilderment. His mind scrambled for an explanation.

"Let's go have a little chat with it, shall we?" Isran said his voice somehow even colder than normal.

Max made his way up the stairs, as he approached Isran he could hear him mutter to himself. "I knew it would come to this one day, and no one listened to me." Isran turned and headed off down the hall. He turned to a room in which bales of hay were stacked near the entrance. Upon entering Max was shocked at what he saw. Dried blood was caked on the floor and a horrific torture device sat in the left corner. Isran stood across from none other than Serana. Max stared at her for a moment in disbelief. What was she doing here? He suspiciously eyed the torture contraption once more and then inspected the vampire for signs of injury. He found none. Clearly Serana had persuaded Isran as she had Max. Perhaps not to the same level of trust, but she must have told Isran something he wanted to hear. Isran's eyes had the look of a caged animal. Max knew he should tread lightly.

"This vampire showed up while you were away." Isran's voice showing his already obvious hatred.

"I'm guessing this is the same one from Dimhollow Crypt. Says it's got something real important to tell you."

Max noticed Isran's refusal to refer to Serana as a being or gender, showing his hatred for vampires was deeper than it appeared. It wasn't merely an act to own a fancy fort.

Max and Isran both folded their arms and looked at Serana expectantly.

"I'm guessing you weren't expecting to see me again. I'd rather not be here either," she said glancing at Isran, "but I needed to talk to you."

Max cast a brief sideways glance at Isran as well. Serana's personal stake in the matter seemed awkward to discuss in front of Isran.

"Why are you here?" Max said carefully.

"It's important, so please listen before your friend, here, loses his patience. It's…" She paused and crossed her arms.

"Well, it's about me. And the Scroll that was buried with me."

Max could hear the shame she felt in her voice, much to his surprise. He had thought Serana to be the courier of the Elder Scroll and nothing more, logically, Harkon had chosen Serana because of the sensitive nature. However, Serana's expression told a different story than her words would elaborate upon.

"What about the scroll?" Max said, turning his head slightly in Isran's direction, he glanced over to see the fierce man's expression was more intrigued than it might otherwise lead on.

"The reason I had it… and why I was down there." Serana said, shifting slightly. Her voice continued to carry the shameful undertone.

"It all comes back to my father." She said, her voice clearly displeased with Harkon. Max found himself suppressing the urge to voice his wary thought. Of course it does.

Serana appeared to read Max's mind… or his expression and filled the silence.

"I'm guessing you figured that part out already, but my father's not exactly a good person. Even by vampire standards."

Max's head remained slightly tipped back and devout of expression as he stood in a relaxed stance pressing the majority of his weight on his right leg which rested a few feet behind the left. His arms remained crossed, even as Isran paced impatiently.

"He wasn't always like that, though. There was…" she struggled for an appropriate description. "A turn. He stumbled onto this obscure prophecy and just kind of lost himself in it."

Serana's tone pleaded to the listener's humanity, which Max found quite ironic, considering she nor her father were considered human any longer.

"It's pointless and vague, like all prophecies. The part he latched onto said that the vampires would no longer need to fear the sun. That's what he's after. He wants to control the sun, have vampires control the world."

Max looked at Isran, both wearing the same stone cold expression. This was more serious than they had thought. They never would have known if Serana had not risked her life coming here. Max hoped Isran realized this.

"Anyway," Serana continued, breaking the silence. "My mother and I tried to stop him before all of Tamriel was on our doorstep. That's why I was sealed away with the Scroll."

"You took a big risk coming here," Max said.

"I'm sorry, I had heard there were vampire hunters here. I thought they might want to know about a vampire plot to enslave the rest of the world," Serana said sarcastically, taunting them both.

"No, you're right. We just have to convince the others you're on our side," Max said, looking at Isran.

"Well, let's get to work. I'm nothing if not persuasive." Serana said coyly.

Max suppressed a smirk.

"You've heard what it has to say. Why shouldn't I kill this bloodsucking fiend right now?" Isran said impatiently.

Max's patience was beginning to wane. "Because we're going to need her help."

"Why, because of that story about the prophecy? About some vampire trying to put the sun out?" Isran ranted. "Do you actually believe any of that?" Isran's voice lowered in threat.

Maximus' patience drew shorter yet again.

"Why else would she risk her life to come here?" Max pointed out. It was the only thing that made sense to him. Isran had not seen Harkon, otherwise, Max knew he wouldn't be so resistant.

"Who knows, maybe it has a death wish. Maybe it's just insane. I don't really care." Isran said irritably. The two stared each other down for a few seconds before Isran relented. "It can stay here for now, but if it so much as lays a finger on anyone here, I'll hold you responsible. Got it?"

Maximus nodded, annoyed.

Isran turned to Serana. "You hear me? Don't feel like a guest, because you're not. You're a resource, an asset. In the meantime, don't make me regret my sudden outburst of tolerance and generosity, because if you do, your friend here is going to pay for it."

Serana let the threat fall before her feet. "Thank you for your kindness. I'll remember it next time I'm feeling hungry." She said cheekily.

Serana changed the subject, "So, in case you haven't noticed, I still have the Elder Scroll. Whatever it says, I bet it will help us stop my father." She folded her arms. "But of course, neither of us can read it."

"I have the feeling you know someone who can, though." Max guessed.

"Moth Priests are the only ones I've heard of who can. They spend years preparing before they can do it, though." She said.

"Not that that helps us anyway," her tone was grim, "They're all half a continent away in Cyrodiil."

Isran, whom had been listening quietly in the corner, spoke up, "Some Imperial soldiers arrived in Skyrim a few days ago. I was staking out the road when I saw them pass by. Maybe that's your Moth Priest."

Max had to admit he was surprised by this, though he did not show it.

"Do you know where this Moth Priest is now?" Serana asked hopefully.

"No, and I'm not wasting men searching. We're at war with your kind, and I intend to win." Isran said, his voice as intimidating as ever.

"Try talking to someone that sees numerous travelers. Like innkeepers and carriage drivers. But you're on your own."

Serana nodded and looked to Max, "Any ideas?"

"I know plenty of innkeepers and carriage drivers, but where exactly would a Moth Priest go?" Max inquired.

"Well, back before I… you know. The College at Winterhold would be the first place I would go for anything magical or historical. The wizards know about all sorts of things people shouldn't. But the quicker you find him the better, I'm sure my father is seeking this priest as well." She appeared to decide something, her expression changing slightly. "Actually, now that I think of it… I'm going to come along with you. I've been wanting to get out and explore a bit."

"Very well," Max obliged knowing there was no way he was going to talk her out of it. She was stubborn like most Nord women.

"Trail a bit behind me," Max said over his shoulder to Serana, pulling Rahgot, the ancient Nordic mask from his face.

"I'm going to speak with the carriage driver," he said looking down the path, the rattle of wooden wheels could be heard ahead of them.

Serana nodded, her pale features and glowing eyes shaded by her hood. The daylight was nearly gone, but her hood remained.

Max cantered up to the carriage driver He slowed Shadowmere to a trot, the menacing horse snorted, the water vapor freezing in the air like smoke.

The carriage driver appeared startled at first. The sound of the Dragonborn's voice calmed him. Max attributed his charisma to his Imperial mother.

"Good day, Sigaar."

"Ah, Dovah. It's been too long. It seems nowadays you are too famous to travel by carriage. I'm surprised you aren't flying about by dragon." The slight Nord jested. Max laughed a little and smiled. Serana maintained her distance, but she still could hear the conversation. She found herself wanting to laugh with Max. Of course she was eavesdropping, she had been asleep for centuries and had some catching up to do.

"No dragons. The horse was given to me." Max said.

"Listen, I was wondering if there have been any unique travelers lately." Max said.

Sigaar glanced back at his passenger, a short-haired Redguard woman leaned forward on the bench with her hands clasped together. She was obviously trying to act as though she wasn't listening.

"Hmmm, that depends on what you my by unique." Sigaar said slyly.

Max's smile fell into a hard line. "A priest. Have you or any of your comrades come across a priest?"

"Yes, a few from the temple of Kynareth." Sigaar said.

Serana had crept much closer to the carriage than she had thought. The carriage driver took notice.

"Is this Aela?" Sigaard inquired. "Do you remember me? I was your ride to and from your wedding in Riften." He said cheerily.

Serana could see the muscles in Max's neck tense.

"Oh yes," Serana nearly stammered. "It is good to see you." She swallowed. "I believe the priest Max seeks is not of Skyrim. Cyrodiil, if I'm not mistaken."

Sigaar's eyes went to his horses. "I recall transporting a priest the other day to Dragon Bridge, he wasn't like any priest I'd seen before. I think he said he was from Cyrodiil. That may be the priest you seek."

"Dragon Bridge," Serana affirmed, "Thank you."

With that Max and Shadowmere bolted down the path. Serana's roan struggled to keep up. Her head was spinning as she rounded the corner, she shouted to him. Finally, he slowed Shadowmere to a stop.

Max waited for her, his eyes shameful and distant as he avoided her gaze. Serana didn't understand why he was acting this way. She found her curiosity in his feelings and actions surrounding his wife strange. Serana pushed the thought aside for the moment. It was imperative they arrive before her father's thralls.

"We need to get to Dragon Bridge before the vampires do. They'll be seeking the same thing we are." She warned.

"I see. Let's not waste any time then." Max said tapping Shadowmere's side with his heels. He seemed eager to avoid conversation.

Max continued to force Aela from his mind, thinking instead of the task at hand. Still, he could feel the darkness pull at him. Aela, the wolf inside him, called to him. After all, it was Aela's blood that transformed Max into the child of Hircine, the eventual Harbinger of the famed Companions. Max had taken painstaking care to prevent the nature of the inner circle a closely guarded secret. Only the werewolves themselves knew of the secret gift. No matter how he tried, Max couldn't cover Aela's tracks completely. She grew careless in her final weeks, but he had never understood why. It seemed she would never come to terms with Skyrim's rejection of the night hunters. Her actions, her death, was shame he wholeheartedly carried. It was ever present, though he may not show it as much as he used to. He missed her, and he always would. But in his mind, Max knew that if he remained the way he was, he would soon join her in Hircine's realm. While it was his initial intent when joining the Dark Brotherhood, he knew it was not what he truly wanted. He was not the hunter Aela was. Once Max had tasted Sovngarde, he knew there was no other place he wanted to be. In the same land as his ancestors.

Max removed the ring from his finger and strung it upon the chord he pulled from his neck. It rested next to his mother's amulet of Talos and his father's amulet of Kynareth. He returned the chord to its place and began to play with the pieces, remembering how he got them.

The amulet of Kynareth had been the first. Max could still remember that day as though it were yesterday, though it had been nearly thirty years. Max had been only five.

Alessia read the story of Tiber Septim, the famed warrior turned god. "Talos," Alessia said to Max, looking into her son's eyes, "Is the protector of questing heroes. He was once the Dragonborn, with a powerful voice that could fell an army, called a Thu'um." Max stared up at her, wonderstruck. Alessia couldn't believe how much Max looked like his Nord father. Lucky for him, she thought. For being anything but in this land is a struggle. Alessia was confident her son would make it though, he had a close friend in a neighbor girl from the hunting family looking out for him, her name was Mjoll.

"Thu'um," Max said correctly.

Alessia smiled at her boy sadly. She and Leif had done their best to be as involved as possible in Maximus' upbringing, but unfortunately their professions made it nearly impossible to be around at the same time. It had been months since she and her husband had been in the same bed, let alone room. Despite his lone wolf demeanor, Leif was a lovable man and a great father.

"Did he fight real dragons, mum?" Max asked with wonder.

"Of course he did, Max." Alessia was stopped short by a knock on the door. The trio of thuds on the door forced her heart to pound along with them. Alessia dropped the book unintentionally. She picked it up and handed it Max.

"Max, go in the other room," she ordered. Max protested but he obeyed… to a certain extent.

Max peered in from the kitchen. He could see his Mum's hand on her Imperial style dagger as she opened the door. It hung from her right hip so as not to be seen from the other side of the door. This, Max had noticed early on. He would not understand this fear his mother carried until an older age.

Alessia opened the door, Nord soldiers stood before her. Horns protruding from their helmets and the smell of studded leather could be faintly smelled on the icy breeze that entered the room. Ice and snow clung to their bodies, even dangling from their beards like ornaments. Their faces were weary and their shoulders heavy.

"Mrs. Oxholm?" one man said.

"Yes?"

"I regret to say that your husband has fallen at Markarth at the hands of the forsworn. Skyrim thanks your family for their sacrifice," the man's eyes fell, knowing no apology would suffice, but still he tried, "For what it's worth, I'm sorry. Leif was like a brother." The man said solemnly.

Max watched his mother's strong stance drop to her knees in despair. Max cried out catching everyone's attention, tears rolled down his face. His mother would not look at him though. She only stared at the floor and asked, "What of the Forsworn and of the Legion?" Both of the Nords' faces contorted at the mention of the Legion. "The Legion has betrayed and recanted on their agreement. A dark era dawns on Skyrim,"

Max expected the men to drag his mother away. After all, she was a legionnaire. But the man only said, "You have my sympathies," he handed his mother something. The other Nord at the door briefly made eye contact with Max. Then glanced back at Alessia, clearly seeing the mixed heritage in the young boy. He said nothing and followed his superior into the frosty night.

Max felt a rage build within him. He wanted his father back. He wanted him to walk through that door and scoop him up and thump him in the chest like he always did. But the Forsworn and the Legion took that from him. Before his mother could say anything, Max stormed from the house and went to find Mjoll.

Max was brought from the memory by the sound of Serana's voice.

"Aren't you tired?" she asked.

Max shook his head, "I don't sleep much anymore. Much like you, I'm a creature of the night."

Serana did not appear as though she accepted this explanation.

"And yet you always look tired."

"Werewolves don't sleep much, if at all. If we don't turn as regularly as we should, we experience… side effects," Max said, sounding uncomfortable.

Serana nodded, "Vampires grow stronger if they fast from blood, but also grow weaker to sunlight," she lifted the limp hood from her shoulders slightly, "Hence the hood."

Max nodded with a slight smirk, "Hence the dark circles."

Serana smirked. She could see the dark rings that formed beneath the Dragonborn's dark brown eyes, she also noticed the slight golden rings that encircled his pupils. Serana felt both threatened and intrigued. Max seemed older than he actually was. If she had to guess, Serana bet Max wasn't more than thirty.

After nearly a half an hour of silence Max finally spoke.

"Why defy your father? You are a vampire, would you not benefit from the ritual?" Max said, being uncharacteristically blunt.

"Well," Serana said, staring out to the dark road before her. It was nearing midnight.

"It was never really a question to me," she said looking at Max sincerely. His demeanor had softened significantly and his eyes were cautious.

"My father and I never really saw eye to eye, even when I was a child. He was always so… cold. My parents fought all the time and I was caught in the middle. When we became vampires things worsened, they became consumed with the need for power. I felt like a means to an end to my parents. A pawn. When my mother discovered his plans, she sent me away to protect me from them," Serana realized she was ranting. She looked apologetically at Max who nodded reassuringly. She still couldn't find the courage to tell him that she was the vital piece Harkon sought. She feared he would treat her differently, not like an ally, but a valuable object. He was the only friend she had and she was risking a great deal in trying to remain so.

"It's a brave thing you are doing. Skyrim wouldn't have a chance if not for you," Max said a slight smile on his lips. His words deeply sincere.

Serana was thankful for her unwavering pale complexion, for if she were truly living, she would have blushed. She still suspected Max sensed this.

She decided to change the subject, unwilling to go into full detail about everything that led to this decision. She still just couldn't tell him.

"What about your parents? Are all parents like mine?" Serana almost pleaded, nearly begging for reassurance and to forget her estranged family for a moment.

Max's face was expressionless for a while. Then a smile crept onto his face. Serana thanked the benefits of her vampirism, otherwise she never would have seen it. The starlight that danced overhead wouldn't have been enough to see the genuine smile.

"My parents," he paused briefly in thought or perhaps nostalgia, "They were good people. Strong people. They believed in Skyrim." He looked up at the sky briefly, "I miss them."

Serana face froze in shock when she realized what Max had said.

"Oh," she said awkwardly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to-"

Max cut her off, "Its fine, I have that chapter in my past squared away."

Serana breathed a sigh of relief, she couldn't help but remain curious.

"What were they like?" She asked, feeling like a child again.

"My father was a big man, broad shoulders and thick beard that tickled me when he picked me up," Max said his tone wavering into a laugh. Serana laughed with him.

"His name was Leif. He would always thump me in the chest and toss me around like a straw doll. I always loved playing with him. He never spoke much. Mum always said he was more of an action person. He was never in the house since he loved the outdoors so much and he liked to take me camping. I was five when he died in the Markarth Incident," Max said. He realized Serana probably didn't know what that was, but she didn't ask.

"Leif. That's a Nord name if I've ever heard one. He sounds a lot like you," Serana mused, "What about your mother?"

"My mother, Alessia, was an Imperial soldier. She would always read me books about the Nine, especially Talos. She would take me to Solitude on her days off and I would listen to the bards while she had a drink. It was tough taking care of me by herself. I remember the last time I spent with her, it was when General Tullius was given command of the Skyrim chapter of the Imperial Legion. My Mum was in the honor guard so I got to watch her march in the parade. I used to think that was most impressive thing I ever saw."

"So I suppose that's where you got your Imperial name from?" Serana inquired.

Max nodded, but continued to peer down the road.

Serana realized he hadn't said how Alessia had died. She wasn't sure if he was willing to share it.

"We're getting close," Max said quietly. His eyes darted around the small, sleepy village that lay ahead. Serana followed him closely as they left their horses just at the edge of the village. Serana swore she heard Max whisper to Shadowmere before he left. She followed Max into the village, his nearly black armor making him look twice as large as he walked.

A guard approached him as they entered the town. Instinctively, Serana avoided eye contact with the guard, casting her eyes down.

"Hail Sir," Max said, getting the guard's attention, "We seek a Moth Priest and were told to look here."

The guard nodded, "Aye, the Moth Priest left not too long ago, if you hurry now you can catch him." The guard pointed to the other side of the village, a path led out of town and rounded a corner.

The guard continued past them with a curt nod.

Max turned to Serana.

"We won't catch him on foot. Your father's men will have set a trap for him along the trail."

"But the horses are a ways back," Serana said.

Max placed two fingers in his mouth and whistled.

"You take Shadowmere and ride ahead," Max said, his voice made it clear he wasn't to be questioned. "I'll be right behind you."

"You want me to ride into a trap!" Serana exclaimed.

The undead horse's eyes glowed as it thundered towards them, it snorted, steamy breath visible rising from its nostrils.

"Trust me," Max said, promptly placing his hands on Serana's waist and tossing her into the saddle. Serana's eyes were wide as she looked back at where she had originally been standing. Max was already in a dead sprint for woods. A shout pierced the air as he bolted into the woods with the assistance of the Whirlwind Shout.

“You need to pick your protectors more wisely, Serana,” she thought to herself.


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