Vampires and Werewolves and Lionesses?
Shadowmere cantered over the bridge at an impressive speed. Serana flopped back and forth trying to stay upright. A tear formed in her eye as the wind whipped her face. It was getting increasingly difficult to see. Not that it mattered, the horse had a plan all of his own.
A large piece shaped like a dragon's head hung down, threatening to dismount… and possibly dismember Serana. She swung herself to the left, narrowly missing the solid stone. Serana clenched her stomach in an effort to reorient herself on the saddle. She saw trees and wilderness on the path before her, but no Moth Priest or anyone for that matter, save for a fox.
Upon cresting a small rise in the road, Serana saw the roads part. One path went to the left, heading towards a boulder covered landscape and another stone bridge. Her other option was to go directly ahead. A toppled wagon lay ahead, it looked promising, yet a knot formed in Serana's stomach. She feared they were too late. And where was Max?
Shadowmere slowed to a trot as they approached the toppled wagon. Blood pooled around the askew corpses that littered the ground. Serana's nose tingled and her mouth watered at the scent of the fairly fresh blood. It was maybe a few hours old at most. She saw vampires among the dead. It must have been a fierce fight, judging by the lacerations and defensive wounds. Something caught Serana's eye as the breeze rolled through the valley. A piece of paper lay next to a dead vampire. Serana gingerly pulled the note from underneath the corpse's arm and unfolded it. It spoke of their hunt for the Moth Priest, they had waited for him to leave Dragonbridge, just as she and Max had suspected. Despite his ego issues, Harkon was not foolish in his choices. He was tactful and patient… if need be.
Serana continued to read, the sun peeking over the mountains making it easier to see. Serana instinctively pulled her hood over her face. The priest was in the cave. They meant to make a thrall of him. Serana opened one of the compartments on Shadowmere's saddle and placed the note inside, she recognized the name Malkus. She gave the horse a slight nudge with her heel and approached the cave ahead. Her father would not win, even if she had to stop him single-handedly. Serana followed the blood trail to the cave the note called 'Forebears' Hideout'. Blood was caked on the walls. Serana hoped the blood was not from the priest despite this she knew she must hurry. She slid off of Shadowmere and drew her dagger, her free hand tingled with magic. She noticed a stag nearby sniff the air. It looked off to the east and trotted away hurriedly in the opposite direction. Serana supposed it was her own scent or perhaps the blood that scared the stag.
The green moss that lined the rock walls glowed in the torchlight from below. The downward slant was somewhat foreboding. Serana knew this place was very old, she could feel old magic at work here.
Upon turning the corner, the cavern widened greatly into a massive chasm. In the center of what remained of the narrow pathways was a central platform. It exuded a magical glow. Serana feared she was too late. There appeared to be a protective barrier around the occupants. Serana knew this Malkus would be there. She feared the Moth Priest was already a thrall.
Serana crept down the crumbling staircase of what once had been an ancient dwelling. Then again, she supposed, it wasn't much older than she was.
Thankfully, the noise from the rushing river that ran through the center of the room muffled her footfalls.
She spotted an armored vampire patrolling over a crumbling wall. Serana knew that if she wasn't careful it would be game over and the whole posse would be upon her.
Serana weighed the knife in her hand carefully and crouched low so as not to be seen. She brought her right arm back and flung the knife end over end at the unsuspecting vampire. It successfully embedded itself in the undead's face, sending him directly to the ground. Serana held her breath, listening for any sort of alarm.
She heard a few soft pads nearby and a sniffing sound. Serana's stomach dropped when she heard the growl of her father's death hounds. One barked and the sound of others on the way could be heard. Not good.
Serana scurried across the flowing stream and put her back to the stone wall. The howls of death hounds drew nearer with every passing second until a powerful, terrifying howl radiated through the chasm.
Serana's eyes widened. What had her father created now?
Serana watched breathlessly as a huge beast with glowing eyes and razor sharp teeth tore through the cave with terrific speed. It's powerful four-legged sprint nearly making it a blur. The sounds of the death hounds cowering and mass panic among the vampires made Serana think twice. She watched as the beast ran past her, completely ignoring her, save for a brief moment of eye contact. It took Serana a moment to realize something. The pair of wolf's eyes she saw looking at her, dark brown with gold around the pupil…Maximus.
Serana could hear carnage ensue as the yelps of death hounds filled the cave. Serana peered around the corner, summoning necromancer's magic to her palms. She watched in surprise as the large beast stood on two legs as if a man and hurled a death hound as though it were a doll. It flew into the large bonfire that burned at the center of the retaining wall with a high-pitched screech. The werewolf's impressive muscles bulged as it hoisted an attacking vampire up with one long, muscular arm and tore the vampire's head from its shoulders with its teeth. The sound was a rather disgusting pop. It dropped the decapitated corpse and head to the floor. It dropped down to all fours, and stalked carefully up the stairs, a low growl in its throat. Serana moved forward into the clearing and reanimated one of the death hounds that lay intact. A purplish-blue aura of magic surrounded the hound as it proceeded towards the magical barrier at the center of the room.
When Serana caught up with who she presumed to be Max in an alternate form, she saw that the individuals standing near the magical barrier had not heard the conflict outside. Serana felt a blast of wind hit her as she scaled the stairs. The source appeared to be the magical barrier.
A harsh voice called out from within, "The more you fight me, the more you will suffer, mortal." Serana presumed the voice to be Malkus.
The priest wasn't giving in though. "I resist you," he said adamantly to his captor. Serana had to commend the priest's bravery in the face of evil.
Serana glanced over her shoulder to see the werewolf maul a vampire fledgling, her screams sounding distant in the magical wind. Serana blinked in surprise, she hadn't seen the slim fledgling behind her. The werewolf growled as Malkus spoke, "How long do you think you can keep this up, Moth Priest?" the vampire taunted.
Before anything else could be said, the werewolf lunged forward towards Malkus. He gashed the vampire with his right claw, but Malkus had managed to avoid the full blow. Max's momentum sent him straight into the barrier, a loud zap filling the air. The sound was followed by a wolf's whimper. Malkus summoned a powerful spell in his hand, one that Serana doubted the werewolf could withstand.
Serana directed her reanimated death hounds at Malkus and simultaneously cast a draining spell, taking the magicka straight from Malkus' body. Malkus' attention turned to Serana, as did the attention of one of his fledglings. Both charged at her, slowed slightly by the pestering from the death hounds. Serana glanced to Max who was still trying to stand steadily, clearly attempting to recover from the after effects. Serana knew she was in serious trouble, she continued to back up slowly knowing her father wanted her alive.
"Ah, Serana," Malkus cooed, his fledgling merely growling at her.
"Your father will be most pleased with me should I return you to Vrolikhar with the Moth Priest," he said, his teeth lined with pieces of flesh and innards. "Seeing as you are one of the key ingredients to drowning out the cursed sun."
Serana began to summon the best ward spell she could come up with. Come to think of it, she couldn't even recall the name of it. It was one she learned from her mother. She quickly cast it, a ward completely surrounding her. Just as she did, her werewolf protector slaughtered both the master and the fledgling in one forceful swipe. The werewolf stared at Serana, blood dripping from his fangs. He then looked up to where the sky would be and let out a terrific howl. Serana felt the barrier before her dissipate and vanish. What remained of Malkus' posse came at them, weak fledglings that merely cowered as Max tore them apart. After a bit, a sense of urgency seemed to possess the werewolf, quickly the wolf ran off. A white light briefly lit the area in which he had headed.
Serana's attention was taken by the sound of the Moth Priest's voice.
"The Weystone! It goes in the pedestal up the way! It will release me!" his weary voice pleaded.
Serana found the glowing patterned stone lying near Malkus' shredded corpse. She gave the remains a disdainful kick and began up the stairs.
Serana set the Weystone carefully in the slot but nothing seemed to happen. Serana realized the stone needed to be pushed further in. She grunted as she attempted to budge the stone. She felt a warm presence behind her and two massive hands grasped the Weystone next to hers. The combined effort put the stone in its proper place. The barrier fell and the priest was free. Serana turned to Max who wore clothes from what looked like one of his fallen enemies. She discerned this based on the fact that it barely fit around his built body. The seams seemed to threaten to break at any moment, Max's thick shoulders proving difficult to contain. She could still see evidence of the werewolf in his features. She could actually see the hair recede from his face and his teeth shorten into that of a human's. It was almost fascinating.
Serana smirked at Max's well-maintained physique as it poked out of the fur outfit, "So I guess you're not all armor." Max pursed his lips as if trying not to say something smart back, but it did not stop his cheeks from reddening slightly, "I guess not." He said quietly. His attention immediately turned to the priest, clearly not wanting to continue the topic.
"I serve my master's will!" the Priest shouted. "But my master is dead, and his enemies will pay!"
"That can't be good," Serana deadpanned. Just as she had spoken a fireball blazed clear above their heads. They both crouched.
"What's the matter with him?" Max asked.
"He's a thrall," Serana said, "We have to knock him out to get him back to normal."
Max prepared to face the priest. "I'm on it."
"But don't kill him!" Serana shouted to the burly Dragonborn as he leapt from the upper level.
Max rolled to the left narrowly dodging a swing of the priest's staff. He used the momentum to lurch forward and uppercut the priest in the chin. His head was the first thing to hit the ground it sounded with a loud thud. Max looked back up at Serana. She gave him the thumbs up and chuckled. "That should do it."
The priest slowly moved back up to his feet.
"That… That wasn't me you were fighting," the aging priest insisted.
"Are you alright?" Serana asked.
"Yes, thank the divines for you! My name is Dexion Evicus. I'm a Moth Priest of the White Gold Tower." Max noticed the old man's impressive beard that ran all the way down his collar. He wore faded tan robes and carried wooden staff.
"These vampires claimed they had some purpose for me, but they wouldn't say what. Probably to ransom me," he scoffed, "The fools!"
"I know why they needed you, because we need you for the same purpose," Max said carefully.
The priest looked confused, "You do? Alright then, enough mysteries."
"We're called the Dawnguard, and we need you to read an Elder Scroll." Serana could see Max was doing his best to be brief without alienating the priest.
The Dexion's face was one of awe, "You have an Elder Scroll? Remarkable!"
Serana felt herself relax slightly at this. Dexion seemed to be a good natured person.
The priest glanced at Serana then spoke to Max. "If my knowledge of history serves me, I recall that the Dawnguard was an ancient order of vampire hunters," He glanced at Serana again, though he didn't appear too worried.
"I will be happy to assist you with your Elder Scroll. Just tell me where I need to go," Dexion said cheerily. Serana found herself smiling, this old man was rather refreshing.
Max smiled at the man, "Thank you. We must first go to Fort Dawnguard. We will accompany you there to make sure you arrive safely. You'll need to speak with our leader," Max turned and began towards the entrance, no doubt eager to get back into his own clothes.
Dexion seemed surprised as he spoke to Serana. "I'm not sure of whom I should be more afraid… Him or the vampires."
Serana snorted in laughter.
After collecting his armor, Max returned to Serana and Dexion, who were standing near the horses. It seemed Dragon Bridge had been in a little skirmish of its own. Vampire corpses were being stacked outside the city by the guards.
It was beginning to become light out and the Moth Priest was definitely tired. Max knew they needed to stop somewhere but Dragon Bridge was not that place. Too much had happened to simply stick around. No doubt the Volkihar vampires would be upon them if they were to linger. They needed to go somewhere more populated. Even then, they were not safe, but at least there would be more help around Max should he need it. The only place that seemed fit was Solitude, which lie a few miles northwest of Dragon Bridge. If there were any place that could hold against the vampires, Solitude would be it.
"We ride for Solitude. Our travels will be safer if we continue that direction, the Empire has increased patrols along those roads." Max said, looking at both Dexion and Serana.
"Ah, my fellow Imperials. Your trust is well placed, my friend. Though if I don't overstep my bounds, I find it peculiar for a Nord."
"We're not all the same. Some of us see the Empire as the only thing that stands between Skyrim and the Aldmeri Dominion."
Max felt uneasy at the reminder. The civil war was not a topic he wanted to reminisce upon.
Max quickly mounted the horse, attempting to hide his distaste for the topic. He looked off into the distance for a moment, then back to Serana and Dexion. He eyed the two then the single horse. One of them was going to have to pair up, or walk. Serana realized this and sighed slightly. She took a chance at lightening the mood, knowing very well it could backfire and she would end up walking.
"Oh of course, you wouldn't want a man riding behind a lady now would you? Shall I ride side saddle?" Serana said with a sarcastic curtsey. Much to her liking, Max and Dexion both laughed. Max reached out a hand, which Serana took. With one effortless pull, Serana was sitting behind the most powerful man in Skyrim. He reached over to the blue roan on which Dexion sat. Behind Dexion was Max's ebony armor. Max grabbed the fur shawl he often wore over his armor to keep him warm. He handed it to Serana.
"Something to sit on," was all Max said. Serana appreciated the gesture, placing the soft fur beneath her. It instantly made the horse's bare rear a little more tolerable. With that, they were off. Serana held onto the back of the saddle as best she could.
Serana couldn't help but think of Max's hostility towards the topic of the apparent civil war she had slept through. She could tell the civil war had been very personal for Max. Serana suspected that somehow the topic of the war and Max's mother, Alessia were related.
As Serana gazed around at the mountains in the dim light, she couldn't help but comment. "This is the kind of thing I've wanted to see. Makes everything else worth it."
Max didn't turn around when he spoke, but his tone showed some pride.
"I was born here, at the Solitude Sawmill."
As they came upon the aforementioned sawmill, Serana saw armored men patrolling the perimeter. Happy families were going about their usual morning and children played in the woods. It was a very peaceful and happy looking place to raise a family. Serana swore she heard a group of children playing 'Dragons and Dovahkiin'. She wasn't sure if Max noticed that or not, but it was kind of cute and humbling in a way. It put into perspective just how widely known Max was. Serana didn't know the exact details, but somehow Max had saved Skyrim from peril. If she ever got time, Serana intended to find out the full story.
The large windmill came into view and Serana's eyes widened, "I'd read stories about the Solitude Windmill, but I didn't expect it to be that big!"
Serana could hear Dexion chuckle. She cast him a suspicious side glance.
As they came upon the stable, a Nord man took their horses, "Hail Dovah! For you, I will keep your horses free of charge!" Max smiled at the man in appreciation, but refused.
"I appreciate the gesture, friend, but I can’t accept your kindness in good faith. A man has to make a living," Max said smoothly and tossed the man a purse of gold.
"Welcome home, Maximus." The man said warmly.
Upon entering Solitude's gates, Serana marveled at the great castle the towered over the rest of the old city. She had always looked out at it from her castle, but it was even bigger and more beautiful than she remembered. She noticed how everyone appeared to smile at Max or nod in respect. What really caught her off guard was when the Legionnaires saluted the Dragonborn, calling him 'Legate'. To which he returned a respectful nod.
Dexion was the first to act on this, "You are a Legate of the Imperial Empire?"
Max nodded, "Yes, though I'm mostly retired."
Serana didn't know exactly what a Legate was, but judging by Dexion's reaction, it was pretty impressive. What didn’t he do? Where did he find the time? How could someone his age be retired from service? Serana couldn’t help but wonder if Max was some sort of con man…or time traveler.
Busy people walked about the cobblestone streets and legionnaires and guards alike moved about their business. Children darted about, dodging one another in a game of tag. It was a very lively despite it being early morning.
Finally, Max and his companions stopped at a large estate, he peered into one of the windows as if looking to see if someone was home and then pounded on the front door. A tall Nord woman answered the door. She was dressed in dwarven armor that was a few shades darker than her golden hair. An expensive looking circlet peered out from her thick hair. A clan marking of a blue stripe adorning the left side of her face, she was and intimidating presence standing taller than the Dragonborn himself, yet she wore a pleasant smile on her face.
Max looked confused, "Mjoll? What are you doing here?"
The Nord woman, Mjoll, gestured for them to come inside. Max appeared to make himself at home, setting down his travel bags and armor and helping himself to an apple. He motioned for Serana and Dexion to do the same. Neither of them did though, too puzzled by this encounter to eat.
"I've hit a stone wall in Riften. People are still vanishing, nobles even. I don't know where they go outside the walls. The nobility in Riften are in terror, mostly their sons are disappearing, a few daughters. As much as I hate to say it, if we have no wealth in Riften the situation with crime and skooma is only going to get worse." The woman's face looked dire. An Imperial man, nearly a foot shorter than Mjoll stepped into the room as well.
"We heard from Sigaar that you were after a Moth Priest. We remembered you mentioning a vampire problem and we wondered if our goals were intertwined." Aerin said, looking at Dexion. Serana could feel this Mjoll eyeing her warily.
"We went to Dragon Bridge but the guards said you had already left. We stuck around for a while." Mjoll continued, "Lucky for them we stayed, had we not, they would have been overrun by the vampires. We decided to leave after that, figuring you had already moved on somewhere else. We decided to stay here for the night on our way back."
Max sat with his arms crossed, an apple core sitting on the table.
"As you probably guessed, we have the Moth Priest. We were just stopping to rest on our way back to Fort Dawnguard,” Max said simply.
Mjoll eyed Serana again, "We?"
Max stood, a slightly defensive edge to his motions, "Yes, this is Serana. She has been helping me. Her knowledge of the vampires' goals have allowed us to get even this far."
Aerin was the one to speak up, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't she a vampire?"
Max's irritation became more evident as he gripped the table until his knuckles turned white. It was obvious he was getting tired of explaining things to every person he met. He also clearly didn’t like the Imperial.
Serana spoke up, deftly hiding her irritation, "We are not all the same." Serana could feel Max cast a sideways glance at her.
Dexion attempted to diffuse the tension, "She isn't like the vampires that captured me. She saved my life." His voice had an endearing matter-of-fact tone that old men sometimes have.
Mjoll was the one to speak first, "If Max trusts her, I do as well."
Max nodded in appreciation, "As for your problem, I'm not sure what to tell you. I may be able to get some answers from Isran." Max changed the subject, "For now you may as well travel with us. Your sword will be of much help, Mjoll. We need to get Dexion here back to Fort Dawnguard alive and unharmed," he said.
Serana noticed he specifically avoided making any mention of Aerin. The tension between the three became more apparent. Serana couldn’t help but wonder what it was all about. Being of the nosy sort, she hoped to find out.
Mjoll smiled, folding a bent arm to her chest and bowing slightly. "It would be my honor, old friend."
"Now," Max said in a lighter tone, "I'm in need of a stiff drink. Priest, you better get some rest, we've a long journey tomorrow."
Dexion stood slowly, "You don't have to tell me twice." He left the room.
Aerin stood as well, "I'll stay here and keep an eye on him, just in case the vampires try and get crafty."
Mjoll smiled, "Ah Imperials, they always wilt after a long day." She jested.
Max laughed, "Like my father always used to say… Nords don't sleep."
Mjoll laughed along with him, "I actually remember that."
Serana paused from her laughter at hearing that, her previous suspicions of Mjoll and Max now seemed incorrect.
"Are you coming, Serana?" Max asked, catching Serana in thought.
"Oh, I better not, people might get suspicious." Serana said uncomfortably.
Mjoll waved a hand, "Oh come on, we'll be the only ones there save for the bard. You can pay them to keep a secret just as much as you pay them to sing."
Serana smirked at the two warriors laughing. It seemed the days were beginning to blur together.
She silently followed them to tavern called the Winking Skeever. Serana found the name amusing. This was her first time drinking… in a very long time.