As the group loaded up to head out, Serana counted the number of horses. There were four. She looked back at their traveling party. There were five. Serana narrowed her eyes as she glanced around at everyone, but no one seemed to notice. She made her way over to Max.
"We're short a horse, what are we supposed to do with Dexion?" Serana inquired. Max smiled at her in a peculiar way, "Dexion, is going to be riding your horse. And you are going to be riding with him."
Serana opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. She glanced over at Dexion whom was already on the horse. He gave her a good-natured wink. She turned and glared at Max who was barely containing a laugh.
"Well, I'm glad to have brightened your mood!" She said sarcastically.
Max smiled, "Yes, but I do have something for you."
Serana's curiosity piqued despite her irritation, "What?"
"I know you lost your dagger in that last cave we were in, so I found one of mine. He pulled a sheathed dagger from his bag, the blade was curved and looked to have been quite old…maybe even older than Serana herself. When Max drew it from a sheathe somewhere on his armor it turned a reddish color, revealing it had some sort of enchantment.
"It's called the Blade of Woe. One prick," Max said, mimicking a stab at an invisible opponent, "And a little of their life force becomes yours." She grabbed the dagger and inspected it more closely.
Serana did her best to hide how impressed she was.
"Is this a bribe?"
Max smiled, "Is it working?"
Serana continued to turn the blade in her hands, "Yes."
Serana looked up to Dexion, "You hear that old man? Let's keep things civil."
Dexion smiled, "I'm a priest. What could I possibly want with conflict?"
Serana laughed as she climbed onto the back of her blue roan.
Max hopped on Shadowmere, taking the lead of the pack. They took on a triangular shape. Max was at the point, while Mjoll and Aerin fanned out on each side of the road. Dexion and Serana on their horse were at the center of the protective arc.
They took off on their long journey to Fort Dawnguard and its surly leader, Isran.
After a day's travel, the mortal beings of the party pleaded to stop for some rest. Well, Aerin that is. Mjoll seemed content to continue riding, no doubt used to strenuous travel. Dexion was obviously tired, though he didn't complain. After arguing for a half an hour, Max relented, allowing them to stop at an abandoned camp just out of sight from the road.
Serana grew tired of looking at the scenery and tried to start up small talk with Mjoll. She found the tall woman keeping guard on the side of the camp opposite Max, near the woods.
"Mjoll!" she called out.
At first she seemed alarmed, assuming that Serana was alerting her of an attack, but she calmed when she saw no worry on Serana's features.
"What is it, friend?"
"How are you feeling?"
Mjoll's expression was cheerful. "Better than ever. The fresh air is exactly what I need."
Serana smiled, she then glanced over at Max who was keeping watch of the road. He didn't appear to notice their conversation or perhaps he was simply ignoring it. Aerin and Dexion were busy cooking and moving equipment.
"How'd you meet your friend here?" Serana motioned to Aerin. Serana wondered if Mjoll heard her for she appeared distracted.
Before anyone knew what was happening a man flew from the woods, hissing. He pounced on top of Mjoll before she could draw her weapon and knocked her to the ground. His disgusting yellowing fangs protruding from his mouth as he moved to bite his prey. Mjoll managed to get her forearm between her neck and the vampire's fangs, taking the impact in a less fatal location. Mjoll grunted in pain as the poisonous fangs pierced her arm. They managed to slip through the openings in her dwarven gauntlet. Though the gauntlet managed to prevent the vampire from doing any severe damage.
Serana moved to attack the vampire when the sound of more hissing behind her mad her stop dead in her tracks.
Serana turned just in time to see a female blooded vampire lurching towards her. Serana rolled to one side, avoiding the attack completely. She came back up to her feet and plunged the Blade of Woe into where the heart should be. The vampire twitched as the power was sucked from her. Serana could feel the tingle of life force filling her veins. She knew the vampire wasn't dead so she thrust the Blade of Woe into her again and again, blood spurting in all directions. Serana ruefully remembered why she preferred magic, much cleaner and less gruesome… in most cases.
Serana worriedly glanced over at Mjoll. She could smell her blood, knowing the attacking vampires did too. Mjoll was still struggling with the vampire. Serana could see Max sprinting at an impressive speed towards his fallen friend. He let loose a powerful thu'um that sent Mjoll's attacker flying.
More vampires descended on the wounded Nord. The snap of Max's leather back sheathe could be heard as he drew his ebony longsword.
Max swung the heavy sword as though it were paper, his mighty blow decapitating an oncoming vampire, blood sprayed everywhere in a morbidly impressive fashion. Max spun with the momentum of his sword and delivered a backwards thrust at his left hip, piercing the torso of another vampire. He forced the sword downwards into the vampire's torso and pulled it free. Another blooded vampire used the opportunity to jump Max. The vampire's bite managed to scratch Max's face, but the vampire found himself impaled upon Max's sword. Max took the full weight of the attack and reversed it. Sending the lifeless vampire's body to the ground, and stomping onto its body. With a quick effort, he pulled his sword free. Max drove his shoulder into the next oncoming vampire and drove him into the ground. Another vampire leapt at Max but he cut it from the sky.
Serana sprinted forward and fired an ice spike at the grounded vampire, which put the stunned vampire out for good. Serana looked over at Max who glared off into the distance. Three gashes went down the side of his face crossing his brow and going down onto his cheeks. He didn't appear to even notice as the blood began to trickle down his face. Serana instinctually held her breath in attempt to ignore the whiff of his blood.
Angrily, Max let loose a growl. He appeared to speak under his breath but Serana couldn't hear what was said as it was no more than a whisper. She could feel the tingle of magic as he spoke though. His eyes darted around looking for more vampires, but he appeared to see none. Serana glanced around looking for more vampires too. She found none, secretly she wondered how Max could possibly know there weren't any more vampires around but she decided now wasn't the time to question his judgment, considering his incredible success. She watched Max run over to Mjoll, he was breathing heavily. Serana could see Dexion and Aerin unharmed and moving over to them as well.
Serana looked down at Mjoll's injuries. They weren't severe, but the formidable Nord was still writhing about as though in the worst possible pain. Serana knew exactly what the problem was. It was the poison of the vampire's bite. If not treated soon, Mjoll would turn into a vampire herself.
Max looked at Serana's desperately. Without a word, his eyes pleaded her to do whatever was necessary to save his old friend.
Serana stood and sprinted over to her pack. She fumbled through the potions, finding the cure disease one. She could still hear Mjoll's groans of pain and Max's attempts at calming her. Serana walked as quickly as she could without spilling the potion vial's contents. She saw Max shove Aerin away from Mjoll without looking up, trying to create room for his friend to breathe. Dexion appeared to have gotten the message and grasped the Imperial's shoulder, still he fought to be closer to Mjoll. Serana had always sensed a tension between Max and Aerin, this was no exception.
Serana returned to a kneeling position beside Mjoll. She looked at Max. "Sit her up."
Max apologized multiple times to his friend as he gently sat her up. Serana reached forward with the vial and began pouring it into her mouth.
"Drink it," Serana gently prodded.
Mjoll obliged, though she continued to thrash about in pain.
Max's eyes were wide with terror. "It's not working!" he yelled at Serana.
Serana felt a bit attacked by his words, but after a glance at Mjoll she saw he was right.
"I can't…" Serana stammered.
"You can't what? Max asked.
"I can't heal her. We need something to purge the poison like…"
"My blood," Max said, finishing her sentence.
Serana felt her gut drop. She didn't want him to do this. He was already injured enough.
"Max it's too risky!" Serana tried.
Max wasn't having it.
"Give me the vial." He ordered, pointing to the recently emptied vial.
"Max-" Serana protested.
"Give me the vial!" He pressed.
Serana obliged reluctantly.
Max removed the gauntlet from his injured hand and held it over the vial. He looked at Serana, his eyes more determined than she had ever seen them. He removed a gauntlet and dabbed the wound on his face. He smeared the blood between his fingers but didn't appear to be satisfied with the amount of blood.
"My wrist." He said, nodding towards it.
Serana realized what he was asking her to do.
"I can't do it myself, Serana. Not with that blade." Max explained, referencing the Blade of Woe's magical powers. His voice was firm and reassuring.
"Serana, now." Max ordered.
Serana wiped the leftover blood from the blade on her pants. She slowly brought the blade towards Max's wrist. She took a deep breath and held it. Hoping it would delay smelling his blood. As if smelling Mjoll's wasn't enough. The blood of a werewolf wasn't a pleasant scent to vampires, but one that must be extinguished.
Serana reached out at slit Max's wrist lightly. Much to her surprise he pressed against it, making the cut deeper. Dark blood seeped from his veins, but yet Max showed no signs of pain. Once he was satisfied with the amount he began to pour it into Mjoll's mouth. Serana could feel her system resist the enchantment's effects. Werewolf and vampire blood crossing was all but impossible.
Serana felt the overwhelming power of the fragments of his life force as it crossed over to her via the dagger. If was becoming nearly impossible for her to resist all of the blood in the vicinity, Max's especially, having indirectly tasted its power. Serana knew now, why her father had offered Max their pure blood. He was powerful enough to tip the balance on whatever side he chose. Serana was glad Max was on the side of the Dawnguard. Though she wondered where it left her.
Max was desperate. He couldn't lose the only family he had left. He couldn't lose Mjoll. He knew what he asked of Serana was more than he had ever asked of anyone. Part of him felt guilty of this. If Serana were to turn on him, it would ultimately be his fault.
His eyes never left Mjoll's as she struggled for a few minutes. Gagging and sputtering then she went very still, letting out a long breath. Max's eyes widened desperately. No… He looked over at Serana who shook uncontrollably. She was struggling to stay calm.
Max looked back at Mjoll who had regained some color to her cheeks, her chest moved up and down slightly. She was alive. Max looked back at Serana with a thankful expression. It took a great deal of control not to hug her right there. It wasn't an appropriate gesture at the moment anyways, he was covered in essentially food in Serana's case.
Max looked up to Dexion, "Get all the blankets you can ready, she needs to stay warm and near a fire. But once you set her down move out of sight. Take some herbs with you and break them up. She won't smell you that way."
Dexion nodded and drug Aerin with him. Max dipped a hand in the snow and began to use it to clean his wounds.
"You're stronger than you think, Serana." He said, confidence and trust apparent in his eyes.
Serana nodded and smiled slightly. The glow in her eyes was especially bright. It was taking all of her self-control. He glanced at his bleeding wrist and pressed it against his side, hoping to slow the bleeding.
Max wrapped his arms around Mjoll and lifted her with relative ease. This was no simple feat as Mjoll was not a small woman, and in heavy armor, no less. As he stood, the wind began to pick up. He made sure the wind was at his back, not disturbing Mjoll before he carried her towards the tent nearest to the fire. He sat her down gently and with the help of Dexion, he covered her with numerous blankets.
Max looked at his wounded friend one last time before standing and letting her be. Dexion expertly wrapped Mjoll's forearm with bandages before he too, left her be. As he walked away, Max began to bandage his wrist and dab the scratches on his face with a clean cloth. He squinted into the wind and let out a shout.
He seemed satisfied as the environment began to warm slightly and the snowy wind ceased.
Aerin was waiting for him. Serana could hear the Imperial tearing into why he and Mjoll were involved in this vampire campaign in the first place.
"Mjoll was nearly turned into a vampire's thrall and yet we remain here, waiting to be slaughtered?" Aerin's hair flopped about as he carried after Max, berating him.
"We stopped here because you and Dexion were tired. We expect skirmishes such as these when traveling anywhere in Skyrim. This was why Mjoll came with in the first place. To help us get the Moth Priest back to Fort Dawnguard."
Aerin didn't appear to be all that dissuaded.
"I don't know about you, but I don't generally expect vampires to ambush me when I'm between Winterhold and Riften."
Max dabbed the bloodied cloth on his wounds once more.
"Better vampires than dragons," Max said pointedly.
Aerin appeared to accept this. As he seemed to cool off a bit.
"And you trust your wolf blood has saved her from the vampire taint?"
Max appeared regretful at this.
"Had I any other choice, I would have taken it. But yes, I do trust that the wolf's blood will purge the vampire's taint."
Max glanced at Serana as if looking for confirmation.
The pureblood vampire confirmed his assertion with a shaky nod.
Max glanced back at the fire that blazed at the center of the camp, "Speaking of which, you had better gather Dexion and hide in the far tent. There should be enough herbs in there to cover your scent."
Aerin moved quickly despite how alarming Max's orders were. He wasn't taking any chances.
"Max- what did you?" she asked weakly, pressing a palm to her forehead.
Serana could see Max's eyes widen. Something was different about Mjoll.
"Serana, run!" he shouted. He began to toss his armor to the ground. Which Serana found peculiar. Given the fact that Mjoll was turning into a werewolf, she figured Max would want as much armor between him and Mjoll as possible.
Serana was too weak to move. She could still smell all of the blood around her. She was very hungry, having yet to feast upon blood since her awakening. Her vampire senses tingled, warning her of a werewolf's presence. She felt a hiss coming to her lips.
Max ran over to her, clad only in the clothes he wore under his armor.
"You need to go, Serana. Now!" Max urged, "New blood wolves are powerful."
Serana nodded shakily. She could see the worry in his eyes. Though she wondered for whom it was intended.
She did her best to get her feet to move. At a mediocre pace for a vampire, Serana carried off into the woods. She knew that Mjoll would soon be upon her if she didn't figure out a way to hide. Serana jumped as a terrifying howl pierced the night.
Serana could hear the sound of running feet behind her. They were unnaturally fast, yet heavy. Serana knew that the werewolf would catch her soon and the only defense she had was to summon the vampire lord form, which she only used in last resorts. Even now, in a last resort situation, she didn't want to use her ability to turn. She hated it.
She thought that if she were killed, at least her father wouldn't be able to turn Skyrim into a nightmare.
Serana could hear the thundering footsteps grow even closer as she continued her desperate sprint. She could hear the growl of a wolf close behind her. Serana knew now, that she was probably a goner. She glanced over her shoulder to see her pursuer. Golden colored fur, similar to that of Mjoll's blonde hair told her that it was the newborn werewolf hot on her heels. Serana could hear the wolf growl and grunt with effort. Serana's instinct told her to stop running completely. Serana dug her heels into the ground, reaching down and catching herself from slipping onto her behind by grabbing hold of a branch. Serana watched as the wolf landed a good twenty feet in front of her. Mjoll had attempted to pounce her, anticipating her pace. Serana's quick thinking had outwitted the blood-lusting werewolf for the moment.
Serana began back in the direction of the camp, knowing that Mjoll would be on her in an instant. Serana was startled when she saw an even bigger creature running towards her. Serana was prepared to turn into a vampire lord when the larger werewolf breezed past her, standing between Serana and the golden newborn werewolf. This wolf was much darker in color and much bigger in physique. The larger werewolf growled at the smaller, appearing to send it a stiff warning. The other wolf, whom Serana guessed was Mjoll didn't back down as she stalked even closer to Serana. The bigger wolf cut the golden one off, stepping defiantly between them yet again. It stood on its haunches and growled again. Its ears laid back and golden eyes sought to discourage the younger werewolf from Serana. If she wasn't the potential dinner, Serana would be amazed at what she saw. But the fact remained that she was, in fact, the werewolf's natural enemy.
Mjoll appeared to relent to the bigger wolf and carry off into the distance with a sorrowful howl. Serana watched her go sprinting at an impressive speed. The larger werewolf turned to face Serana, causing the hair on the back of her neck to stand at attention. She could feel the wolf's warm breath on her cold skin. Calm golden eyes peered out at her as the wolf came down on all fours to meet her eye level. Serana soon realized that she was in no danger in Max's presence. Serana reached up tentatively to touch Max's fur. It was softer than she imagined, and perhaps warmer than the fire at camp. A thought suddenly occurred to Serana, though she knew little of a man in werewolf state, Serana hoped that Max would at least hear her question.
"Why do you trust me so easily, Max? Why risk so much when you can take my father down by yourself?" she asked.
Max looked down at her silently, it was almost as if he was thinking, but Serana couldn't right tell.
Serana looked down slightly disappointed. He probably couldn't understand what she was saying. In her saddened state Serana knew her distrust for those who were supposed to care for her was caused by her parents. To them, she was just a pawn. She couldn't possibly understand why Max would think any different.
Serana was pulled from her thoughts by a warm, furry nudge against her shoulder. She took a staggering step back to catch her balance. She looked up at the wolf that was looking right at her. At that particular moment, Serana could do nothing but look into the wolf's eyes. It was as if he could read her mind. She could see the wolf pant lightly and whine happily, in attempt to cheer her up. Serana couldn't help but smile. Max had a way with words even as a wolf. She saw him look back to the camp as if urging her to return there. Then he let loose a magnificent howl and bolted off into the night. No doubt he had a newborn to keep an eye on.
Serana spent the next few hours staring into the fire in thought. She was thinking of her parents and their seemingly endless fights in the years after becoming vampires. It had never been a matter of choice, being a vampire. But Serana didn't exactly regret it. She too had wanted Molag Bol's blessing, and eternal life had its upsides. It was strange when Serana thought of how different werewolves were from vampires. To be a vampire was to be essentially dead. Cold, pale skin and a solitary lifestyle were the name of the game often enough. To gain friends or followers one must turn them into a thrall. To destroy a living being and turn them into an empty shell of a person that blindly follows their master. In order to survive, a vampire must leech the life from another. This was not Serana, but yet here she was. Now to be a werewolf was to be alive. The brotherhood of the Companions was unrivaled in its strength. Wolves often hunted together and shared in the spoils of the hunt. To be a wolf was to be one with nature and become the night hunter. Your heart remained beating and your skin warm and alive. Serana sighed at this thought.
She was so deep in thought that she didn't realize Mjoll was sitting next to her. She noticed the injured Nord had rallied marvelously in the few hours since her near death experience.
She looked at Serana rather shyly.
"Max tells me I owe you an apology for trying to kill you," She said rather sheepishly.
Serana turned to look at her, unsure of what to say.
"Max tells me that newborn wolves hunt everything in sight and it is difficult to control such urges. So nothing personal," Mjoll said, her accent as amusing as ever.
"Well, no harm done," Serana said, forcing a smile.
Mjoll also smiled rather weakly.
"I met Aerin outside Mzinchaleft. Max and I had been fighting a dwarven colossus. We were both badly injured. Max and I managed to escape but I was in no condition to walk. So Max took off in hopes of finding help. Being injured as he was he was a bit disoriented and headed for the Skyrim border to the east. There he was captured as a fleeing Stormcloak by accident.
As for Aerin, he was the one who found me and nursed me back to health. I've been in Riften ever since, trying to deal with the corruption there." She said shaking her head.
Serana nodded in understanding, "So how was… being a werewolf?"
Mjoll smirked, "It's a lot of power to handle, but you are only as powerful as the wolf you received blood from. I received mine from the Harbinger of the Companions, so there was a lot of power to harness," She smiled. At first I was angry, but this is a wonderful gift.
Serana smiled back.
Mjoll nodded, "I just learned this a few minutes ago but basically the Harbinger is our leader. Max was passed this from his Harbinger. He and Aela shared the role in each other's absence. After all, she was the one who turned Max. It's still difficult for him sometimes, every time he turns it's a reminder of her," Mjoll said sadly, she glanced off into the woods.
"Where is he?" Serana asked.
"He needed some time alone," Mjoll said her voice sympathetic.
"I remember the first time. It's always the most intense, I envy you," Aela said crouching over Max who was sprawled out on the ground. He had no idea where he was and how he got there was all a blur. He noticed that he was naked and covered himself in embarrassment. Aela didn't appear all that bothered by his lack of clothing and handed him his gear.
"Welcome to the Circle. You have earned your place among us. Now, get dressed, we don't have much time. We have to deal with the Silver Hand. Our sworn enemies, they are werewolf hunters and wish to see us slaughtered. Skjor scouted on ahead, we will meet him there."
Max began to dress though he still kept his eyes on his shield-sister. He found himself quite in awe of Aela. She was as deadly and fierce as she was beautiful and her choice of clothing… or lack thereof was quite distracting and left little to the imagination.
Max's crush on her was something he kept to himself, especially after hearing Njada and his other shield-brothers and sisters gossiping about Skjor and Aela going out hunting together despite it being strictly forbidden. Max also knew from his mother's teachings that it was inappropriate to have relations with your fellow soldiers, particularly your superiors. Max had always had a thing for the forbidden women. The ones who defied the odds and weren't afraid to do what was necessary. He found women who played the part of the damsel quite annoying. That was something he got from his father.
The raid on the Silver Hand hadn't been what he and Aela were expecting. The Silver Hand had clearly been expecting them and Skjor was nowhere to be found. After the fierce battle had concluded, they had discovered Skjor. He had been cut into pieces and his body parts, namely his head, had been mounted on a pike. That moment was hard for Max to forget, even years after. He had seen his brothers and sisters in combat savagely treated before. The thing that stuck with him was Aela's reaction. Skjor had been a well-respected member of the Companions, even though some of his choices, this one in particular, indicated his pride was something of an issue. He still was seen as a fiercely loyal and powerful member. Max could tell then for sure that there had been something more between Aela and Skjor. For after the initial rage, Aela was quiet for quite some time. In her rage for revenge, Aela and Max together had all but eradicated the Silver Hand. Aela had managed to find satisfaction in that. Max knew that from the very day he was initiated into The Circle, Aela was quite literally a part of him.
Max stared off into the distance sadly. He knew she still was even years after her death. He still missed her and loved her, but she was gone beyond his reach and there was nothing he could do but carry on. He could think of no better way to honor her memory than to silence a vampire plot to launch Skyrim in a reign of terror. Max smiled at that. She would be damn proud.