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Kindred

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     “I know you have the best intentions, Meraxes, but you can’t be bringing vampires into Jorrvaskr. There’s a certain—“

     “Can you hear yourself speak, Aela?” The half-Nord rose from her seat, drowned in three times her usual helping of wine, then pointed an accusatory finger at the huntress. As if someone had strapped a massive weight to Meraxes’s back, she stood like a hermit, unbalanced. “Because it sure fucking seems like that’s the only reason you’re talking.”

     Aela’s face turned awry as she snorted with contempt, her nose beginning to contort with the slightest trifle of anger. At feeling the monster within her grow disturbed, the huntress felt helpless inside. Those were feelings she wouldn’t dare convey to someone who’d fought in any of Skyrim’s wars, even if she’d been battling the beast inside herself for as long as she could remember. All she could think about was Skjor. Getting over herself had been difficult enough, but her mourning hadn’t stopped.

     “I’m sorry. I’ll take her outside if you’d prefer it.”

     The voice had come from behind Meraxes, and when she turned, there stood the taller Nordess, clad in the robes of Clan Volkihar. Anywhere she went, the Daughter of Coldharbour was unmistakable. Aela caught her brilliant eyes for a fraction of a second before the vampire turned to Meraxes. In the air, the huntress could smell tension so thick she could snap it like an arrow, a musty twinge of disgust, and powerful curiosity.

     “Serana.” Meraxes turned to her companion with a half-sunken face; the kind one could only have after a long night of drinking.

     “Oh, save it,” The vampire retorted bitterly, and instantly, Aela could identify the source of the disgust. And the tension. “I hate it when you’re like this.”

     Weighed down by her steel armor, the drunken Whitemane grasped the edge of a table to prevent herself from falling—no, it was a chair, but she thought it would have been the table—and it seemed there were four chairs there, when somehow there had originally been two. Her mind must have been playing some sort of dirty trick.

     “There’s an idea. Take her outside, and why don’t you do us a favor and get lost with her?” Aela could feel the anger she thought she’d suppressed swelling up inside her; threatening to bite. “You shouldn’t have come here to begin with. Your kind isn’t welcome.”

     Serana’s expression, despite the hue in her eyes, which remained alight like boiling gold, was as frigid as her blood. 

     “Tell me why. Why do we have to leave? This is the only home Meraxes has, and you already heard her story. We have to move, anyway, before—“

     “We don’t want the Dawnguard here. That’s certainly a part of it. While they’re not much for numbers like their Silver Hand counterparts, they certainly make up for it with their technology.”

     Motioning towards the door with a frustrated wave of her hand, the huntress led Serana, who practically dragged a staggering Meraxes with her, to Jorrvaskr’s little backyard. Outside was empty. Quiet. The sounds of new-bloods calling to Eorlund, announcing they had weapons ripe for sharpening, was shot to Oblivion. Farkas was absent, a feat about which Meraxes would have remarked if she were capable of paying attention. He was usually at the training site, swinging his greatsword to slice the head off a hay-and-flax dummy. Instead, Farkas remained in Kodlak’s quarters, locked along with his brother, Vilkas, as the Harbinger wished to prevent them from murdering Serana out of cold blood.

     “You really don’t understand, then? Vampires and werewolves have always been at odds. The Circle, save Kodlak, are bound to see you differently. And that’s not even the half of it! There are a number of larger issues present which tell me only that you need to leave immediately.”

     Aela’s expression grew increasingly unforgiving as she spoke, hardening with disappointment as Meraxes’s face twisted stupidly askew. The huntress blamed both the alcohol and her companion’s insolence.

     What an idiot...though I have to admit that I miss her sober days.

   She shook her head, clearly having lost some belief in her Shield-Sister. Shield-Sister. Sometimes, Aela didn’t even feel like granting her that formality.

     “At least there’s hope for one of you. Meraxes won’t remember a damn thing I say, even if I swore it on Hircine’s hide.”

     No matter how frustrated Aela grew with Meraxes, she could never bring herself to hate her. The huntress was the reason Kodlak took her in; Meraxes had been a mercenary who’d lost most of her humanity. She still feared, after all these years, that the veteran would never regain her remorse.

     And Skjor...

     Aela thought of her love lost, and the frustration she felt melted into a partial sadness. He fought in Skyrim’s wars, too. I don’t want to send Meraxes away. Not like this. But if the vampire stays, Farkas will kill her.

     “What are those issues? I don’t know Skyrim anymore, but I’ll find somewhere to take her, if you can explain,” Serana thought it was within her rights to know, yet, if it somehow wasn’t, she’d be more than fine with uprooting to leave. After all, her and Meraxes had only been at Jorrvaskr for a couple of hours. Those hours, however, had been dreadfully eventful. “I don’t intend to harm anyone here.”

     At how disturbed Aela’s countenance became when Serana said she didn’t know Skyrim anymore, she grew slightly concerned. Perhaps the vampire should have refrained from commenting. After all, not many would believe that she’d been trapped in stone for several generations.

     “Did you notice that Kodlak took two of our members downstairs?”

    Serana’s eyes shifted as Meraxes fixed her gaze momentarily at a butterfly, groaning when she realized her head hurt too badly to follow it with her eyes. The next morning would be a tough one, if the half-Nord lived to see it. Serana wasn’t sure whether she should have felt anger or pity towards her.

     “Yes, but I didn’t think much of it.”

     Aela’s brows furrowed as, like an unwelcome neighbor, her frustration returned.

     “You might not have, but our family gathers at the table for each dinner. What went on was out of custom. If Meraxes were sober enough to see straight, she would have certainly thought it odd.”

     Serana gave Meraxes’s shoulder the lightest shake, an experiment to gauge her consciousness, to which her shorter companion didn’t respond. For a moment, the vampire stared. How much of the time she spent with Meraxes did the veteran even remember? She’d been drunk so often.

     “As I was; Farkas and Vilkas are their names. And, if you take a single step in what they could remotely consider their territory, they won’t hesitate to kill you. Especially not Farkas.”

     “Well, it’s not like I’m not already dead.”

     “You know what I mean.”

     “Yes, I do, but why?”

     Aela’s gaze drifted to the hills of farms beyond Whiterun walls as she thought of fabrications that might have made the world just a bit more livable for Serana. As much as it was difficult for the huntress to grasp her own emotions, sometimes, she simply didn’t agree with Farkas and Vilkas, even if they were her Shield-Brothers. She held steadfast to the thought that, no matter what an individual’s alternative form, the true tell of a monster resided within its personality.

     Serana didn’t seem monstrous to Aela at all.

     Her resolve hardened at the belief. She had to tell the vampire the truth.

     “Farkas and Vilkas’s father fought in a war with many casualties. I’m sure you’ve already heard about it, being in Meraxes’s company for a moment, although she wasn’t old enough to fight in that conflict. We call it the Great War.”

     “The Great War.”

     Serana repeated, as if she were reading a book aloud. History fascinated her, and she’d missed so much of it. 

     “...Right. To continue, their father...”

     It had never been easy saying goodbye to Jergen, either. Another upstanding man lost to a war which, over the years it raged on, began to seem less and less Great. “He never came home.”

     Aela had a harder time telling this story than she’d remembered. The one thing Meraxes had been good for in that moment—that ice-brained drunk—was smiling like an idiot, as if she couldn’t hear the painful words that danced macabre around her ears. She’d managed to mask the whole world with a violet veil of wine.

     “Jurgen was a member of the Circle. A werewolf, like me. Like Meraxes.”

     She continued as Meraxes slumped over in Serana’s grasp, nearly unconscious. “Later, after investigating Jergen’s death to see if the Silver Hand had any involvement, I discovered—“

     CLANG!     

     The back doors of Jorrvaskr slammed open, banishing the peaceful silence of moments ago. Standing before the tables, one of which had already been knocked into a wooden derelict on the ground, were Farkas and Vilkas. 

     “You! Why are you taking to that fucking leech?”

     Farkas’s voice contained within its deep majesty a horrific and unusual hiss, which struck Meraxes as out of the ordinary even in her half-conscious state.

     “Wha—?”

     Inquired their drunken Shield-Sister, or, rather, she attempted to, as Farkas advanced with his greatsword drawn. Serana was tempted to shake her, although she supposed that it wouldn’t do much. Meraxes looked as helpless as a child, so the vampire would have to defend herself. The promise Meraxes had made—that she wouldn’t get in Serana’s way if Serana didn’t get in hers—was equal parts hilarious and disappointing, now.

     “I’m not here to—“

     Serana began, but someone cut her off. 

     “We didn’t invite Molag Bol to dinner, and quite frankly, none of us want anything to do with him.”

     Vilkas.

     He’d always been kinder than Farkas, but Aela failed to see that kindness now, as he readied his weapon to strike down someone who’d done nothing to him.

     Then again, didn’t the Companions do that every day? Surely, not all of the Silver Hand wielded Skjor’s blood, just because one had struck him down. Aela shook her head at her dissonance; at nothing anybody else could see. She’d save those thoughts for some other time.

     “Could you all shut the fuck up? Talos have mercy.”

     Farkas lowered his greatsword, but not because he inclined to grant Serana any benevolence. It was because the voice had come from Meraxes, who was bound to fall face-first into the broken table if the vampire let her go.

    “What’s your Divines-damned problem, Shield-Sister? You must’ve had a whole keg to drink if you think you’re doing something good in defending a leech. Step out of the way so I can—“

     Another voice bellowed from behind the twin brothers; one clearly recognizable to all of those in the Companions, and moreso, the feuding members of the Circle:

     Kodlak Whitemane.

     “By Ysgramor; what is this nonsense I’m hearing? You all are fighting like little children.”

     Vilkas crossed his arms after sheathing his weapon. He was the more reasonable when compared to Farkas. At least he chose to stay true to himself then.

     “My lord.”

     Farkas, on the other hand, offered the Harbinger the greeting of a readied greatsword.

     “Could someone tell me what happened here?”

      When Vilkas opened his mouth to speak, Kodlak silenced him with a wave of his hand. “Someone reasonable. Vilkas, your emotions consume you.”

     His gaze fell on Aela. Momentarily, Serana was mesmerized. For a mortal, Kodlak’s eyes shone with a great amount of wisdom, and with the recognition of his limitations. You remind me of my father, before his hands touched that prophecy, She thought, before coming to realize that she’d been staring. Serana promptly averted her eyes.

     If only Harkon Volkihar still wore a similar countenance, then perhaps he wouldn’t be so cruel. 

     “I say we remove these two from Jorrvaskr, but only temporarily, my lord. Meraxes has been drinking since she’s been here, and her friend—“

      “I wouldn’t say we’re friends.”

     Serana wasn’t too shy to correct Aela’s assumption. She’d only known Meraxes for a short time, and despite the fact that the vampire felt as if she owed the veteran her life, she’d acquired a dislike for Meraxes’ behaviors when she fell deep into her habits.

     Aela’s shoulders tensed as she grew exasperated. The huntress continued:

     “She’s a vampire.”

     Kodlak simply nodded. It was a slow and peaceful gesture; not as frantic as those of the twins or even Aela herself. The brothers watched Serana through narrowed eyes, Farkas staring daggers at even Meraxes, the Sister with which he’d lost Skjor. 

     “I’m aware. This is why I shut Farkas and Vilkas inside with me. I did not believe they had it in them to rebel physically, but I certainly stand corrected.”

     Silence came, and Kodlak spent it deep in thought. That is, until he finally came to a decision.

      “For Meraxes’s well-being, she cannot stay here. House Whitemane, though it is safe for Meraxes as a member of the Circle, is not so for her traveling companion. I will, however, pay for a room in The Bannered Mare, but on a single condition.”

     What could Meraxes possibly offer this man in such a drunken state?

     Serana pondered the few possibilities and turned to her rescuer, who lay almost limp between the vampire’s arm and a table. She wondered who had really saved the other in that moment.

      “You could let me slay the vampire. That would fix everything.”

      Farkas spoke through gritted teeth, yet Serana didn’t seem afraid. Instead, her own bitterness haunted her mind. To see a man so blinded by the unreasonable reminded her of her father.

      Raising his hand yet again, this time to silence Farkas, the Harbinger turned to Serana and announced his wish:

      “Tell me who you are, and how Meraxes found you.”


     The inkeeper, a mild-mannered Imperial, seemed more than grateful for a share of Kodlak’s gold. She grinned ear to ear as he passed the sack over the bar, and in exchange, handed him a rusted key.

     “We don’t have any two-bed rooms open, but I’d be happy to bring an extra bed roll in for...”

     Trying to smile at the drunk heap of armored adventurer that was Meraxes, the inkeeper only swallowed nervously. “...for her.”

     The Harbinger nodded, a gesture with which he was more than comfortable, and took the key.

      “That would be ideal.”

     The rest of House Whitemane were children to Kodlak, or as close as he’d ever gotten to having his own. He would never leave young Meraxes without a place to sleep, even if she’d caused an entire riot in Jorrvaskr. Perhaps his kindness was weakness, but that was never how Kodlak himself saw it. The beast inside of him was one he rejected; his behavior only opposed what he was most afraid of becoming.

     In the momentary silence, a bard began to strum the lute and sing:

     “I loved a maid as fair as summer
with sunlight in her hair.”

     Koldlak was about to chime on his taste for that particular, under-sung tune, but the vampire remarked instead:

      “She’s heavy, even for me.”

     Serana gripped Meraxes’s legs, letting the drunk’s head rest, unconscious, on one of her shoulders. If the half-Nord dared drool on her, she would be angry. After all, it’s not like she’d been locked in that monolith coffin with an extra change of clothes. 

     The vampire would have been ready to set Meraxes down as soon as possible, but something felt strange. No. It felt wrong.

     ”Her leg.”

     Voiced Serana, leaving the words hanging in the air for Kodlak to capture. “The pulse. It feels...off.”

     Kodlak turned his head, and that was the first time Serana had seen a frown spread across his face.

     “She didn’t tell you why the Imperials discharged her, did she?”

     The bard continued, his voice unwelcome to even Serana, who had not heard a song in hundreds of years:

     “I loved a maid as white as winter
with moonglow in her hair.”

      Serana gracefully hid her confusion, although that didn’t mean it was any less present.

     “We’ve known each other for a week.”

     Kodlak simply arched his head forward into another nod.

     The Daughter of Coldharbour could tell why the city called his House “Whitemane.” His beard, grown from time and experience, appeared pale as snow under the lights of the inn; even paler than Serana’s own skin. 

     “She never was the most open girl, but I will give her the benefit of the doubt in that we all have our monsters. Some lie within us as dormant beasts, but if we allow them control over us, we will become them.”

     Serana owed Kodlak’s statement some thought. Whether or not Meraxes had known a monster too many couldn’t possibly excuse her actions, but perhaps it could explain them. She was slowly losing faith in anyone’s capacity to tame her rescuer’s beast within.

     As the innkeeper returned moments later with the spare bedroll, Kodlak tucked his drunken foster daughter gently into it, while Serana perched herself at the foot of the room’s wooden bed. It had been a while since she’d seen a bed, let alone sat on one. The vampire preferred resting in them herself; she hated the small, dark spaces coffins provided her kin. The deep sleep the rest of her brethren could achieve within them would always remain a mystery to her. 

     “I know. She seems determined to drink herself to death, too.”

     Serana’s twinge of sarcasm registered to Kodlak, but as a coping mechanism more than anything. He had his way of seeing through people, and his reading on The Volkihar woman suggested she’d met many beasts of her own. No wonder, even if the two didn’t get along all the time, Serana remained with Meraxes.

     “She was not always that way. Not before she enlisted in the War. Although, perhaps she should be telling you these things.”

     Kodlak sat in the room’s only chair, etches of determination still present on his aging face. “Serana, is it?” The Harbinger already knew the answer to his own question. He didn’t wait for a reply. “If you tell me how Meraxes found you, and why she of all others brought you to Jorrvaskr, it would help me better understand why the Dawnguard is after the both of you.”

     From what Meraxes had told her about Kodlak, if she was remotely trustworthy, than so was he; likely even more so. Serana would have been reluctant to spill such details to questionable characters, but Kodlak had given Meraxes the only home she currently knew.

     Serana could confide in him. She had a feeling, which resonated within her bones, and no matter how old her skeleton grew, those feelings were never wrong. 

     Her porcelain visage hardened to stone.

     “It began with a man named Isran.”


End of Chapter 1.

Next: Serana‘s rescuer is not what she expected.

Chapter Text

     Meraxes had never seen purple fire before.

     Of course, she’d borne witness to many things out of the ordinary: magic, undead Atmorans, and even dragons, yet nothing had prepared her for the encounter she was about to have.

     The half-Nord pushed the final brazier into place, the flames within it burning an intense violet, when the ground beneath her began to shake.

     An earthquake? She hadn’t signed up for that.

     “Stupid wolf-man,”

     Meraxes cursed aloud, as her boots and body trembled, through gritted teeth. Insulting her own kind seldom bothered her the way it likely would the rest of her kin. Isran represented werewolves poorly; always smelling like wet dog. And the Dawnguard? Meraxes could hardly convey her frustration with them at the moment; they’d sent her on what seemed like an endless quest. She’d been out of both water and mead for hours, too, and needed a drink. “Fuck Ser Isran. No, fuck The Dawnguard.”

     The earthquake split the ground apart into two, even pieces. There were no cracks. No tears at all; only ends that fit perfectly together with a gaping hole in the center.

          All of this was deliberate. A sign that the artifact for which Isran sent Meraxes would soon emerge.

      And there it was.

     Rising from the crater in the ground was a stone monolith, about the size of a coffin, which held within it the item that would complete Meraxes’s quest.

     “If this thing is too heavy, then by Talos—“ She scoffed as the massive stone came into view. If the object filled most of the space within that monolith, there was no way Meraxes could carry it all the way to the Fort. Tolan had died, too, so she certainly wasn’t about to get anyone’s help. 

     Then, it opened.

     As the rock turned, revealing slowly what Meraxes would then take to Fort Dawnguard, she drew her greatsword. Often, structures like these were traps, prepared to spring a volley of arrows or treacherous spikes. Sometimes, they even alerted creatures. She needed to be on the ready. 

     But she wasn’t ready for what happened next. 

    Lying within the stone wasn’t something. It was someone.

     “A woman?”

     Suspiciously, and only a sliver, Meraxes lowered her sword to observe the contents of the tomb.

     “A...corpse?”

     But it couldn’t have been. If this woman was dead, then why did her body appear so fresh? It wasn’t decomposed like the undead Atmoran; the draugr. Meraxes muttered bewildered curses. The day was full of firsts; she’d never seen anything like this before. “What the fuck? 

     Anger and confusion rose in the pit of Meraxes’ stomach. Did Isran truly send her all the way to Dimhollow to fetch a cadaver?

     Then, she saw it:

     The Elder Scroll. Strapped to the woman’s back; radiating with magical energy. Powerful, and worth a fortune.

      Perhaps that was what Isran wanted, and not the woman it shared a tomb with.

      It’s worth at least two thousand septims...

     Thought Meraxes. What would happen if I pawned it instead of giving it to Isran? The College of Winterhold would probably buy it.

     But she was a knight, forbidden from actions of dishonor. A day didn’t go by that Meraxes did not regret that promise, nor did a week in which she didn’t break it.

     “Fuck that stupid oath.” Meraxes cursed the commitment she’d made with contempt, adding it to an endless list of her other grievances. 

       No,

      She grunted frustratedly, pondering her lost fortune for moments longer as she reached across the dead woman’s shoulder to retrieve the Scroll. But perhaps I can sell the thing after Isran finds a way to read it.

      Then, the scent in the air changed, and something warm gripped Meraxes’s wrist. The sensation bore the heat of summer, despite even the dreary blizzard raging on outside. The veteran felt as if radiant magelight had spread across the cavern, yet everything she saw remained shrouded in darkness.

      Everything, save a pair of alight, amber eyes, which casted aglow Meraxes’s arm as she reached to claim her expensive prize.

       “By Ysgramor! Fuck!”

       Attempting frantically to pull her wrist away, the adventurer exclaimed, retracting herself from the tomb. She’d certainly given up on the scroll then; that ghastly woman could have it!

      She would have taken a moment to calm down, if she’d had one to spare. Meraxes’ breaths grew rugged—nearly frantic—until she noticed that the woman had released her arm.

      A mistake.

      As Meraxes raised her greatsword, the tip pointed at the stranger’s throat, she steadied her footing. The adventurer would not reveal so soon that she was shaking.

      “How?”

      Releasing a gritty breath, the veteran gathered the courage to ask a single question. Her voice echoed through the depths of the cavern. It was strong, despite her qualms. Steady. “How are you alive?

      Instead of responding to Meraxes’s inquiry, or appearing even slightly alarmed at the greatsword held to her throat, the woman pressed a hand to the side of her head. Those were gestures which suggested a painful headache, something that Meraxes was well-acquainted with on account of her drinking habits.

      “Where—who...”

      The woman struggled to speak. It seemed, then, as if she had questions of her own. However, Meraxes did not lower her sword. She only pressed it further until it touched the stranger’s skin, threatening to break its protective barrier.

      I will not fall for some temptress’ tricks,

      Meraxes was a drunkard. A fool. A stubborn bastard. A liar, sometimes, and a cheat most of the time. But she was not an idiot. Yet, as her eyes remained fixed on the woman before her—glued to her beauty by a mysterious force—she felt like an idiot. There was something about the woman’s face that mesmerized her.

      The air between Meraxes and the stranger seemed so thick, looming with a million curiosities, that she could cut it with her greatsword.

      She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Damned seductress.

      The stranger reminded her of a witch from one of Kodlak’s stories; one made from clay by a Dadera who promised an Atmoran prince a grand power, then cursed him and his children for eternity. Growling under her breath, the half-Nord shook her head once. Under the shallow surface of the many things she was, the mercenary was still there. She had to conjure it again if she were to complete the quest at hand.

      Meraxes’ greatsword no longer wavered, and her voice rang with a regained confidence.

      “Out with it, if you can give me a reason not to gut you where you stand.”

     The stranger seemed to brush her brashness away like a dust of snow.

      “Who sent you here?”

      Meraxes raised her head, arrogant and bitter, as she shifted the grip on her greatsword to one that would render the woman headless within seconds, if she willed it. Thoughts hidden in the depths of Meraxes’s mind pushed inexorably to leave the woman alone, yet she knew from years of warfighting that if she withdrew, the temptress might kill her where she stood. She fought herself with a ferocity. Her thoughts could not betray her today.

    “So you can talk,”

     She retorted condescendingly. “I think you should let the woman with the sword ask the questions.”

     Lest I ruin your pretty face with the dirt,

     Thought the veteran bitterly, until she noticed something form inside the woman’s hand:

      Ice.

     Shit.

       Meraxes lowered her head, cursing the sudden appearance of magic in her mind.

      “You think? What...”

      Despite the biting, rhetorical nature of the woman’s question, Meraxes noticed that she seemed perfectly calm. How could she be, with a sword pressed to her throat?

       Is she even human?

      “What is that light?”

      Everything in Dimhollow remained dark; there wasn’t a single glow in sight. What in Nirn could the woman have seen?

       All right. She’s insane. That explains everything.

      “There is no light. Are you mad?”

      The stranger pointed, without a word, and strode incautiously closer to Meraxes. Too close for comfort. The adventurer raised her sword in defense, but then the ice melted away, as did some of the glow in the woman’s eyes.

      “What the fuck are you—“

      “This light.”

      One of the woman’s hands rested quaintly—harmlessly—atop Meraxes’s head. She was quite unsure of how that happened, with her sword remaining at the ready the entire time.

       Was it possible that this stranger had brought her guard down?

       “That’s my hair, and I don’t want you touching it.”

      Meraxes shoved the woman roughly, enough that she almost stumbled over. The glow in her eyes, which had been intense moments before, slowly drained until it nearly disappeared. The stranger suffered a gradual drop in posture, leaning against the cold stone she’d just escaped.

      “Need to... drink.”

      Feeling slight guilt at the pit of her stomach, but bitterness overruling it, Meraxes raised her greatsword again. Her eyes didn’t leave the stranger’s face, which somehow seemed paler than before.

      “Yes, I imagine being trapped in a monolith makes one thirsty,”

      The adventurer gritted her teeth, exasperated. “Unfortunately for you, my canteens are empty.”

      Nearly slumped onto the ground, the woman weakly shook her head.

      “Not water,”

      She muttered, her voice almost a rasp; dull eyes trailing down Meraxes’s face. They stopped wandering at the crevice of her neck.

      “Blood.”


      As soon as the stranger slipped into unconsciousness, Meraxes strapped the Elder Scroll onto her own back. That way, if the stunt the woman pulled were a trick, the adventurer would have the best of her. She swore painstakingly that on every quest she took, someone fell unconscious. Whether it was usually her or someone else was a matter of debate.

     The things I do for answers,

     Thought Meraxes as she held tightly a canteen she’d never drink from again; one that contained the blood of a thrall she’d killed in the cave’s tunnels. This smells like shit.

    Draining the thrall had been difficult, considering he hadn’t the pulse for a constant flow of blood. She’d cut out his heart to fill the entire canteen.

     Kneeling and glad to be rid of the death-smelling substance, Meraxes poured it into the woman’s mouth, accidentally tilting the canteen too much at first. Her eyes followed the trickle of red as it leaked beneath the stranger’s exposed cleavage.

     Meraxes’ own blood rushed to her cheeks, and as she felt her face grow hot, she mentally cursed herself.

    Shit. What is with this woman’s dress?

     Then, the stranger woke, coughing and sputtering the cold blood; her eyes fluttered open with the glow they’d possessed before it had faded into nothingness.

     “This blood...”

     Her gaze fixed back onto Meraxes, her expression equal parts disappointed and disgusted. “Is this yours? It’s horrible.

     Grunting, the veteran shook her head in denial. 

     “And here I am after going through all the trouble to get it for you. I believe you owe me some answers.”

     Then, the woman laughed. Her tone was not light and mirthful, but derived from stress and tension, designed for relief from those feelings.

     “Are you laughing at me?”

     “What if I am? You’re not...”

     With that, the stranger’s laughter ceased. A hard seriousness replaced her former countenance; a change in mood that bewildered Meraxes to her core. “You’re not like me.”

     “No. Blood isn’t typically my first choice on a menu,”

     Meraxes’s brows tightened sternly as she wondered whether this woman was toying with her. Did she think the adventurer was an idiot? Meraxes wouldn’t allow it! “And you can’t distract me so easily. Do you have a name?”

     “Serana. Good to meet you, although you’re not what I expected.”

     Meraxes sneered.

     “I won’t apologize for not being up to your standards. What are you, a princess?”

     Shaking her head, Serana took a long sip of the blood, suppressing a gag as she did so.

     “That’s not your concern, but to answer your earlier question, I’m not alive. I’m undead.”

     “Excuse me?”

     “You seriously didn’t know that? You just watched me drink half a unit of blood.

     If a simple blink could carry frustration, then Meraxes’ did. What was Serana trying to do to her? Whatever the vampire’s intentions, Meraxes vowed she would not allow them to work against her. She replied nonchalantly:

     “I’m not the greatest at this type of math.”

     “You should have been able to smell it, wolf.”

     Then, Meraxes seethed, instantly forgetting her vow. Wolf. She’d spent years already searching for ways to cure her lycanthropy; a curse that she so hated.

     “Meraxes,”

    Retorted the adventurer, her tone spiteful. “That’s my fucking name.”

     “Okay, Meraxes, who sent you here?”

     “I’ll ask the questions, you stupid smartass. You’re lucky I want information instead of to lop off your pretty, little head, my occupation considered.”

     The vampire stood, quickly ascending beyond Meraxes’s eye-level. She was sizing her up.

     “What is your occupation? You know what? Don’t tell me. Whatever it is, I don’t believe you could kill me, or that you truly want to.”

     Gritting her teeth, Meraxes dared ignore her statement, although it bothered her to her core. She posed yet another inquiry.

     “Why’d you touch my hair? That was a stupid fucking thing to do, since I could have sent your head rolling then.”

    For a fraction of a second, Serana’s porcelain face blushed, flustered, as if she’d forgotten what she’d done moments ago.

     “I...”

     For the first time in her fully-conscious state, Serana’s mind blanked. Meraxes triumphantly lifted her chin. She’d tongue-tied the smartass!

     “I couldn’t see clearly, and I haven’t met a lot of blondes. You can probably see it’s not in my lineage.”

     Short, wheat-colored hair hung just above Meraxes’s eyebrows. It was a man’s cut, and one beyond its time at that. She snorted coldly at Serana’s reply, especially the tone of sarcasm that accompanied the last few words.

     “So, do you want to kill me?”

     Meraxes released a forceful, frustrated sigh. She hated the nature of these questions, and her damn thoughts; they betrayed her.

     No.

     “Yes, if you don’t shut up and let me do my job.”

     Serana did not seem interested in the proposed silence.

     “Who sent you here?”

     Meraxes exhaled forcefully, clearly exasperated. She all but pinched the bridges of her nose in her annoyance.

     “If I tell you, will you shut the fuck up?”

     “Yes.”

     “He’s a man named Isran.”


     “Could you tell me about this Isran?”

     Kodlak leaned forward, still deeply engaged in the reminiscing. Perhaps, if he understood Isran’s reason for wanting either Serana, the Elder Scroll, or both, he’d learn why the Dawnguard was tracking her and Meraxes.

     “I’ll get there.”

     Serana responded almost coldly. In telling the story of her “rescue,” all of the emotions she’d felt in Dimhollow resurfaced:

     Confusion. Curiosity. Fear. Abandonment, in remembering who’d trapped her there, and frustration at the adventurer who’d supposedly saved her. She had so much she wanted to learn, and so much to tell Kodlak if he was going to derive anything important from the tale.

     “I’m taking a break.”

     Without asking Kodlak any permissions, Serana stepped away from the bed’s foot and retreated into the main tavern. She’d seen a bookshelf upon their entry and figured reading would serve a suitable pastime.

     She gripped the first book by the spine, reading its title, The Beginner’s Guide to Homesteading, and then placed it back on the shelf. She had no use for a book like that, without a home to stead.

     Upon the discovery of a particular book, Serana felt a shiver travel down her limbs. Her blood seemed to freeze in place. As if reliving her awakening hadn’t been enough, the book’s title filled her mind with a sense of heavy, heavy dread.

     It was called Coldharbour.

     After seconds of freezing up, she continued her search until she’d found a suitable book, although her temptation to throw Coldharbour into the fireplace hadn’t faded.

      She’d settled on The Bear and The Maiden Fair. It certainly sounded like a romance, which appealed to Serana’s interest. It would have been bested only by a history, but the tavern owned no books of that sort.

     Upon opening it, Serana discovered it was a poem. She read it silently, drowning out the sounds of the crowded tavern with the words inside her mind:

A bear there was, a bear, a bear!
All black and brown, and covered with hair.
The bear! The bear!

     Serana didn’t know what it was about the poem that made her smile. Despite its simplicity, she found it amusing. Perhaps that was what made it good.

Oh come they said, oh come to the fair!
The fair? Said he, but I'm a bear!
All black and brown, and covered with hair!

And down the road from here to there.
From here! To there!
Three boys, a goat and a dancing bear!
They danced and spun, all the way to the fair!
The fair! The fair!

Oh, sweet she was, and pure and fair!
The maid with honey in her hair!
Her hair! Her hair!
The maid with honey in her hair!

      Then, the cause of her entertainment clicked in her mind: the poem was redolent of the many facets of Serana’s life. The bear was an unexpected thing such as her damnation and her rescue. She recalled Kodlak’s lesson of the beasts within each person. Perhaps, when that beast controlled a man, he became the bear, while the maiden danced uncorrupted.

     How nice it’d be to be a maiden still. Serana wasn’t given the choice.

Oh, I'm a maid, and I'm pure and fair!
I'll never dance with a hairy bear!
A bear! A bear!
I'll never dance with a hairy bear!

I called for a knight, but you're a bear!
A bear, a bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair!

     Serana turned the page, but before she could read the next stanza, the sound of a man’s cry resounded throughout the tavern:

     “JUSTICE FOR ULFRIC STORMCLOAK!”

     The man stumbled, clearly drunk, and summoned two, armed comrades to his side with a wave of his hand. Anger aged him, causing creases in his devilish expression. When he had the inn’s full attention, including Serana’s, he continued:

     “Let it be known that the individual—“

     The man hiccuped, but didn’t allow the momentary pause to stop him, “—who murdered the Jarl and rightful High King of Skyrim, Ser Meraxes Whitemane, is here in this tavern!”

      Serana’s eyes widened for a fraction of a second, like a wild elk faced with magelight, before she left the book on the table. Kodlak needed to know it was time to go. They could stay at The Bannered Mare no longer, if Meraxes was truly marked for death.

      As she gripped Kodlak’s attention with a frantic wave, calling him to his senses, Serana wondered what other things Meraxes had done that she didn’t yet know about. She’d come to doubt, in some of the moments they’d shared together, that the veteran was truly as bad a person as she’d initially thought. Of course she’d murdered someone important. Why did that fact surprise Serana so much?

     “I am Thorald of House Gray-Mane, and when I find her,”

     She could still hear the drunken man’s call to arms from inside their room. It made the blood within her veins feel rigid.

     “I’m going to set her head on a spike, just as she did to Ulfric!”

     Glancing at the bedroll where Meraxes slept, Serana felt anxiety rise into her throat. The warrior had awakened her; she’d saved her life more than once. No matter what promises Meraxes had broken, or how many crimes she’d committed, it was time for Serana to repay her debt.

    She could hear tankards clinking, followed by the unsheathing of weapons. Daggers, probably, based on the slight scraping of steel she’d made out among other sounds.

    “JUSTICE FOR ULFRIC!”

     They shouted once more, however, that was not what disturbed Serana the greatest.

     It was that, after the drunk’s cries rang through the tavern, she could hear the commoners begin to cheer.

     “Come on, Meraxes, get up!”

     Serana shook the warrior by her shoulders, pouring a tankard of cold water over her head when she didn’t respond. It jarred the vampire’s conscience how confused Meraxes looked. Wrought in her expression was a type of innocence, something Serana couldn’t place. Meraxes needed to know what was going on, and fast.

     “Get up, you idiot! I can’t let you die.”


 End of Chapter 2.

Next: Meraxes owes Serana an explanation for the attack. Serana adopts a new pet.

Chapter Text

     “There’s no window in this room. One of us will have to create a distraction if we’re to get Meraxes out unscathed.”

     Briefly, the Harbinger shut his eyes. Serana wondered whether he was calming himself or preparing for something to come. When the vampire scrutinized his face, the wisdom Kodlak possessed shone plain on his eyelids in the absence of his knowledgeable stare.

     Kodlak had contracted Rot years ago. The disease still consumed his body from the inside, though the Companions couldn’t tell the effect it had on his spirits. Nevertheless, it had been some time since Kodlak had done what he dreaded he might do next:

     Engage in combat.

     The Harbinger unlatched the leather straps on his back, releasing the warhammer that, for years, had been confined within them. In his hands, the weapon felt cold, but familiar. He only hoped he could stay from warming it with the blood of those that would harm his daughter.

     “Serana, do an old man a favor,”

     Kodlak’s tone dropped, suddenly grave, as he dislodged a hand from his hammer to grip the door handle. Serana could hear rapping at each of the entrances adjacent, followed by cries of panic. Not only were the Gray-Manes scouring the main tavern for Meraxes; they were invading every private space for the sake of their search. She couldn’t blame the common folk for screaming when the armed men rushed in.

     Serana knew it was only a matter of time before someone barged through their door, more likely than not with the intention to kill Meraxes. To survive, and to keep her alive, the vampire would have to act before that happened.

     “Try not to kill them. The Gray-Manes might seem unreasonable people, but they are not at heart.”

     “What should I do?”

     She had grasped Meraxes under the armpits, her own hands interlocked over the warrior’s chest to stand her upright. If only her armor hadn’t made her so damn heavy, then they’d already be fleeing the site.

     Kodlak frowned in Serana’s presence for the second time when something blunt pounded on their door.

     Their time was up.

     “Outside the city gates, there’s a stable,”

     His voice grew hurried—almost desperate—upon hearing the new sound; a sound which meant that someone who sought to murder his kin stood ready on the other side. Despite the situation’s gravity, Kodlak’s urgent tone put Serana off. He’d seemed the type that would be impossible to unnerve. “Ask the carriage driver to take you to Riverwood. The fee is cheap enough for Meraxes to cover. Then, meet me in The Sleeping Giant Inn.”

     ”Open the door!”

     Ordered a male voice from just outside as knocking reverberated throughout the room. Serana looked to the exit. There was only one way out, and now someone stood in their path of escape. Serana loathed, more than anything, when others got in her way. 

     The Harbringer’s request was the only barrier preventing her from seeing that the transgressor pay dearly.

     Kodlak, who’d been grasping tightly onto the knob, flung the door open hard to the exterior, as if he’d intended to kill somebody with the force behind his shove. His face twisted into an ugly snarl; a look Serana never could have imagined on him, even in battle.

     THUD!

      The door had connected with something, which hit the ground. Supposing it was the mysterious knocker, Serana realized the cards had turned in her and Meraxes’ favor.

     If we run now, we could make it, but...

     Meraxes was too heavy. Serana contemplated removing her armor to lighten the overall load, but if she did, she’d only be leaving the warrior’s chest bare for the sword. She’ll die if I leave it on; she’ll die if I take it off...

     Aggressively, and almost violently, Serana shook Meraxes’s body within her arms, hoping the motions might set her upright. The hungover adventurer couldn’t seem to detect the urgency of the situation at hand. For the first time since they’d met, the vampire felt genuine anger towards her.

     Come on, you idiot, just stand up!

     Serana’s thoughts derailed when she heard Kodlak’s bootsteps traversing the tavern’s crowd, only losing his trail when her mind returned to Meraxes. Then, the vampire’s eyes stilled, frigid. If she was going to get the veteran out of The Bannered Mare, she would have to let Kodlak worry about himself.

     As she began to drag Meraxes towards the door, the adventurer’s boots hanging lifelessly along for the ride, Serana caught a single word, propelled spitefully from Kodlak’s throat by sheer contempt:

     “Thorald!”

     Then, she could hear steel clash against itself. Within her lips, Serana’s teeth tightened. The Harbinger had only been outside for moments, and he had already engaged in a fight.

     Be safe, old man.

     Serana swore that Kodlak would not die on her watch, but every second she spent trying to drag Meraxes proved a waste. Her golden opportunity faded with each passing moment, and she grew apprehensive of the minute it expired. 

     “Meraxes, get up! If we don’t go, you’ll die!”

     Perhaps it was a miracle, or maybe dumb luck, but then, the warrior rose within the vampire’s grip. When Serana’s eyes met hers, the glint within them shifted, troubled and pained. Meraxes groaned as soon as she supported her weight on her own feet.

     Her headache was one for the books.

     “Serana? Where...”

     Without hesitation, the vampire gripped Meraxes’ wrist, ready to drag her by an arm if she had to. Serana didn’t know how long Kodlak could hold the Gray-Manes before something went wrong, and, quite frankly, she wasn’t willing to risk it.

     “I don’t have time to explain, but we have to get out of here. Now.”

     Then, something in the tavern crashed.

     Turning towards the door in response to the sound, Serana’s palm raised in preparation, ice beginning to form within it. It had been minutes after she’d had her perfect opportunity to leave; to evacuate Meraxes without a fight.

     She’d been too late. 

     Through the open entrance, a cloaked man stumbled, an unsheathed dagger brandished in his hand. Serana could not see his face, a fact enough to trouble her. Was he an assassin?

     Until it became a long spike, Serana’s ice stiffened and straightened, sharpened and prepared for an impaling. If she had to fight, then so be it. The debt of life she owed Meraxes was one she was determined to repay.

     “It’s...”

     The cloaked figure uttered his first word.

     Contrasting the demanding shout Serana had heard outside, his dialect was meek and quaint. 

     More potent to the vampire was the overwhelming scent of his fear, which made the air around her thick. She could smell his mortal blood; hear his heart beating faster, faster. In all her life, she had only sensed a greater dread once:

     In Coldharbour.

     When he spoke again, still enveloped in the shadows of his clothing, the vampire realized that his voice was not a man’s.

   “It’s...her.”

    It hadn’t finished deepening to signify his adulthood. It was a boy’s.

   However young the hooded stranger was, he was armed. With Meraxes scarcely unable to defend herself, Serana was in no mood to gamble. Her eyes, narrowed to scrutinize the child that seemed awestruck by his own situation, did not leave the dagger in his hand. She would kill him if he stepped any closer.

     Meraxes, however, had recently been disturbed to her feet. She gripped Serana’s shoulder tightly in her gauntleted hand, gesturing momentarily at the small weapon in the boy’s grasp.

     “Where’s my...”

     She muttered, extending an empty palm as if to grab onto something. In her state, however, she would likely drop anything heavier than a book. “...greatsword?”

     Now’s not the time...

     Serana had expected the strange child to charge on with his dagger as soon as he caught Meraxes distracted, but instead, he only pointed. Though his expression lingered only a shadow beneath his hood, the vampire could tell that his gaze remained fixed on the hungover knight.

      ”It’s on your back, you idiot, like it always is.”

     Serana brushed away Meraxes’s hand, prepared to send her icy spear through the boy’s chest if he dared move. Of course, that method was not something she would prefer; killing anyone under an unnecessary pretense reminded her of her father’s quest for power. After all, there was a blood price to become a master vampire. One that Serana had paid.

     “You have two options,”

     Threatening the boy was the best she could do to honor Kodlak’s favor. If he fled then, she could refrain from releasing the deadly magic she’d been withholding since his arrival, and perhaps her chance to escape undetected was not completely lost.

     “You can run away and take those other men with you, or I can end your life right now.”

     The boy’s finger, as he pointed, began to quiver. As if the scent of fear had not been strong enough, it intensified so much then it that Serana could taste it.

     Run. Please...run.

      The vampire prayed to an unknown force. If she could avoid it, she didn’t wish to hurt the child.

     “W...wait,”

     The boy removed the hood from his cloak, cautiously pulling it down to his shoulders, and raised his shaking hands in surrender. The dagger dropped to the floor, a soft clang echoing against its wooden surface. Serana guessed, after a brief examination of the boy’s features, that he couldn’t be older than fifteen. The skin on his cheeks was tight and youthful, wrinkles absent from his face. Although he was dark—abnormally dark—Serana noticed pale, vertical patterns; visibly slight streaks raised on his jaw and lips:

     Scars. Not to mention the mark the door had left on his forehead.

     Gaping at the vampire, the boy’s lower mandible shuttered apprehensively. Serana understood. If she were in the presence of someone who could murder her in an instant, she, too, would choose her words carefully. “Thorald and Avulstein...“

    His voice shook until it broke. By the time the boy made another sound, tears streamed from his eyes.

     His eyes.

     When Serana gazed into them, she realized they were as black and endless as the Void.

    “...they want her dead.”

     The vampire’s lips tightened; the only indicator of her stress at the sitiation’s gravity. How long could Kodlak distract Thorald and Avulstein before they killed him? 

     How long would it take for them to kill Meraxes, too? Dread rose high in the vampire’s throat. She’d made her decision.

      I will not be the cause of their end. Not Kodlak, nor Meraxes, nor this child.

     “I know they do. If you don’t, you’ll leave us and pretend you never saw a thing. Then, I’ll let you live.”

     The vampire still worried that the boy was pressing her for time; stalling until his elder compatriots came to his aid. If that were true, she’d have to kill them all. She’d break the promise to herself, and destroy Kodlak’s favor.

     It could have been his last. Serana wanted only to honor it.

     “No! I can help! Just...”

     When the boy pulled the cloak from his shoulders, Serana realized she’d never, in all her life, seen someone with such dark skin. Given how Skyrim treated its abnormalities, it was no wonder he had worn a hood. “Here!”

      It was then that Serana concluded definitively that he wasn’t an assassin, which certainly served his case well.

     Taking a hesitant step forward, the boy offered the vampire his cloak. All he wore underneath was a simple tunic—like the sort guards gave to prisoners—with pants that were probably older than he was. He wore two sheathes—one on either side of his waist—but upon inspecting them, Serana only saw a blunt, wooden stick contained in the right one.

     Without a stake, he couldn’t do much damage to her, and without a dagger, he certainly couldn’t hurt Meraxes.

     Still, as the boy approached, Serana held the ice so close to his upper back that he could feel a chill across his spine. If she was not wary, and something happened to Meraxes, it would be her fault.

     Serana accepted the cloak in her free hand, her gaze unwavering as the boy retreated a few, balanced steps. He wasn’t too afraid to tread properly anymore.

     “Why would you help us?”

     Asked Serana as she threw the cloak’s hood over Meraxes’s head, refusing to look away from the boy long enough to put it on properly.

     “I...I’ll explain later, if you want. Just...follow me. Please.”

     “Why should I?”

     He dared to face the door, turning his back to her and her dormant ice spike. Either he’d grown braver, or he’d run out of options, because he did not retrieve his dagger from the floor.

     “Because I can’t...”

      The boy started, swallowing nervously as he continued to cry. When Serana inhaled, she could still smell his fear, though agony and sadness accompanied it.

     “I...can’t live with them anymore.”

      Serana’s eyes, which had been focused like a statue’s on the boy, dared venture to Meraxes as she fixed the cloak, ensuring it completely covered the knight’s face.

      “Here’s what we’re going to do,”

      Declared the vampire, applying pressure to the small of Meraxes’s back to force her completely upright. If they were going anywhere, she had to be able to walk. “I’m going to lend you my trust just once, because I don’t see any other way out. But, if you fail to stay out of my way, or if you make any attempts on mine or Meraxes’s life, I will kill you, whether they be direct or not.”

      The boy’s breath caught for a moment before he exhaled unsteadily. Then, he pushed the door open, turning quickly left, then right. He moved fast; too fast for someone who had never fled from a fight.

     After the brief scan, his black eyes met Serana’s; a signal that it was safe for her to run.

     “Hurry!”

     Heeding his silent yell, Serana pushed Meraxes onward, following her herself. The door was just in sight; a few more steps and they’d be outside. Escaping was easy work from there, as long as they made haste so the falling snow hid their trail to the stable.

     Serana turned the final corner and urged Meraxes out the door, her hand still grasping the knight’s wrist. Behind her, she could heat steel clashing again, accompanied by rugged, exhausted breathing, and shouting:

     “It was war, Avulstein! What was the girl supposed to do, let Ulfric keep his head?”

     Kodlak.

     The vampire let a thin sigh of relief escape her lips; the old man was still alive. Perhaps she hadn’t the cause to worry about him as much as she did.

     “Would you have let Tullius keep his?”

     The time for eavesdropping had passed. Serana knew that Kodlak had no way to tell whether she’d fled, but his grapple with Thorald and Avulstein had to end one way or another. Hoping silently for his victory, she pulled Meraxes along by the wrist, the boy shivering in his tunic behind her.


     As the horse thrashed its head against its bridle, trotting down the road from Whiterun to Riverwood, Serana returned the boy’s cloak.  He’d been freezing during the entire trek to the stable, and she had no more use for it now that Meraxes was far away from the Gray-Mane menace.

      “Here. You’re probably cold.”

     She even took the liberty of reaching across the carriage to drape it onto him.

     “What’s your name? I want to properly thank you.”

     “Serana. Good to meet you.”

     “Well, thank you, Lady Serana, for saving me. I’m Soren. Well, Soren Gray-Mane, unofficially.”

     Unofficially? 

     The remark struck Serana oddly, although, as far as politeness was concerned, she thought Meraxes could learn a thing or two from Soren. She couldn’t remember ever hearing the knight thank her, although she figured she would this time, for saving her life.

     “Just Serana will do.”

      That was one of the many things Meraxes owed her for, in addition to using her lap as a pillow, which the vampire hadn’t personally condoned.

     She figured the alcohol was probably still talking to her, somewhere.

     When she finally sobered for the night, maybe Serana could convince her to abstain from alcohol for a little while. Maybe. Until then, she resisted the burning temptation of gauging Meraxes’ reaction to being shoved onto the carriage floor.

     “Why not officially?”

     Serana finally asked.

     “I’m a bastard,”

      Tightening the cloak around his shoulders, Soren met her eyes, his gaze a black hole. “Thorald is my father, which would make me a member of House Gray-Mane.”

     “...Oh.”

      Silently, he fiddled with the wooden stick Serana had seen earlier. As much as his anxious fidgeting made her wonder, Soren didn’t seem to mind talking about his past as much as she’d thought he would.

     “What’s it like being a bastard in Skyrim?”

     Soren shrugged, holding the stick horizontally. When he rotated it, Serana spotted holes along its side, deliberately aligned. It was a flute.

     “It wouldn’t be so bad, except everyone can tell my mother was a Dunmer. That’s the part that brings real shame upon my family. But I apprentice with Eorlund at the forge in the Plain District, so I’ve learned a couple of things.”

     The Dunmer, in Skyrim? I must have been asleep much longer than I thought.

     Still listening to Soren, Serana decided that if Meraxes was going to use her as a pillow, it was only fair if she used the other as an elbow rest. Planted on her armor, the vampire supported her chin on her hands, gracefully suppressing a confused expression.

     “What’s it like being a vampire?”

     Pondering through her memories, Serana found the experience ineffable, at first. Vampirism was, at best, a gift, but only for those who could see it that way. She’d witnessed the ability at its worst—the beginning of an endless quest for power—that, if it were achieved, would destroy Nirn as everyone knew it.

     “It’s something I’d never give up, but if I were a mortal with the option to be turned, I’d refuse.”

     Soren nodded—a gesture which indicated a false level of understanding—as he remained stagnantly bewildered. Then, his focus shifted to Meraxes, who laid asleep.

     “Is it true that she...you know,”

     Sliding his finger across his throat, Soren gestured a beheading. “Killed Ulfric?” 

     “I don’t know, but I can’t say it would be surprising.”

     Serana replied, steadily monitoring the knight in her lap.

      Nor do I know what to do with her, most of the time.

     “Every time we go—well, anywhere—I learn something new about her, and it’s usually nothing positive.”

     “Oh, I thought you—you know...”

     Soren shifted awkwardly in his seat, brushing fresh snow off his flute.

     “You thought what?”

     “I thought you knew her well. You seemed to really care about her back then. You know, when you threatened to kill me and stuff.”

     No, I don’t know her at all.

     Changing the subject was all she could think to do, as she couldn’t answer Soren’s question and didn’t particularly fancy the topic.

     “Why did you seem so happy about the fact that we’re eventually bound for Solitude?”

     The switch had certainly worked, for Serana watched a smile spread across Soren’s face.

     “Oh! I was hoping to go to the Bard’s College. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

     Before the vampire could ask him why, the carriage came to a stop. The driver turned his head, his expression so drained that Serana would have been surprised if he’d heard any of their conversations.

     “We’re here. That’s forty septims.”

     She was tempted to enthrall the driver, wondering if she could avoid searching through Meraxes’s pockets, but settled for gold-digging in her knapsack.

     Then, she shook Meraxes awake by her shoulders.

     ”Hey, the fun’s over. We’re here.”


     Meraxes, though unconsciously, was maintaining a record. Though the potion for her headache had certainly helped, she hadn’t drank any wine or ale in almost an entire day. If Kodlak didn’t come soon, she’d probably destroy her streak of sobriety, especially since Serana had adopted Meraxes’ least favorite variety of pet while she was asleep. She was bound to drown out Soren’s banter with Black-Briar Mead at some point.

     When the knight turned her head, she noticed Serana approaching from behind. Every time the vampire came around, she asked Meraxes for something, so it was only natural to wonder what she wanted this time.

     Meraxes had already taken her sweet time going anywhere near Solitude, let alone bringing Serana home like she promised. If not for all of the inconveniences she dragged her through, she was sure she’d already be there.

     Meraxes was beginning to feel guilt. And sobriety.

     Two things she hated.

     “Kodlak risked his life for you.”

     Serana sat on an adjacent bench, her gaze focused on Meraxes’. She’d forgotten, because of the flames’ reflection, that the knight’s eyes were the silver of a werewolf. She was also sitting close to the fire in a full suit of armor. How long until she started to cook?

     Speaking of food...

     Serana felt a strong urge to feed, especially considering the amount of energy she’d expended in a single week after waking from a nap of a few hundred years. Her body was still becoming used to the rapid change.

     “It’s not the first time he’s done that,”

     Meraxes turned to Serana, interrupting her stranger-growing thoughts, and allowing their eyes to meet. “I’d be dead without him. And you.”

     She’s finally going to thank me! Aha!

     “But can we talk about the kid? Why did you bring him with us?”

     Serana’s hope fled as fast as it came, though she hid her disappointment well. At least Meraxes was sober enough to recognize that she’d been saved. That was progress.

     “Because his racist father beats him, treats him like a servant, doesn’t allow him a last name, and won’t let him pursue his dream.”

     Holding a hand to her face, Meraxes released a forceful sigh. How did Serana even know that? Meraxes could never talk to a child for long enough to learn that much about them.

     “I hate children. And their stupid fucking fathers.”

     “Soren saved you, too. He disguised you so you could escape.”

     Oh, so it has a name.

     Meraxes thought, but abstained from replying. Instead, she stared into the fire, although Serana’s eyes didn’t leave her when she did. Particularly, they trailed along her neck, the place where the vampire could best hear her pulse. 

     “Hey, Meraxes...”

     The knight didn’t move a muscle, save her mouth when she spoke. Serana wondered if she was thinking about something. 

     “What?”

     “Can I feed from you?”

     Then, Meraxes, turned to meet Serana’s hungry stare. Perhaps she was starting to cook inside her armor, but she didn’t want to be a meal.

     “Fuck you. I understand that you saved my life, but that doesn’t mean you can drink what you would have licked up if I’d been stabbed, cleaved, or smashed—“

     Meraxes stopped herself when she heard someone else’s footsteps. She turned around, hoping it would be Kodlak, and that he’d be in perfect condition, but disappointment shone in her eyes when she noticed it was only Soren.     

     The boy approached, wearing clean clothes in his size and carrying several extra pairs. Extending his arms, he offered them to Meraxes, seeming unfazed by her frustrated countenance.

     “You and Serana are my saviors. Please accept my gifts and let me clean your weapons and armor.”

      With a notable lack of gentleness, Meraxes grasped a pair of pants by a leg, unfolded them, and inspected their length. 

      The knight’s lip curled with displeasure.

     “Do you have anything longer?”

     Soren shook his head. Meraxes was leaving him with quite the first impression, but it was still somehow better than any interaction he’d had with Thorald.

     “Good for nothing kid,”

     Meraxes muttered disapprovingly. “Fine. I’ll take the shirt and boots, but I’m sticking to my pants.”

     “Why won’t you wear clean ones?”

     Asked Serana, placing the new pair on the table in case Meraxes changed her mind. She wasn’t as offended as she sounded, since the pants didn’t meet all of the qualifications of a gift anyway. The vampire had sent Soren to buy them with Meraxes’ leftover knapsack money, but what the veteran didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.

     “Because I like my own fucking pants.”

     Without another word, Meraxes snatched the shirt and boots from Soren and stalked into one of the rooms—which had also come at her expense—to change.


     “Wait a fucking second, could you?”

     Meraxes had heard enough knocking for one day. Regardless of who waited at the door, she wouldn’t allow anyone into her space until she’d put both her boots on. After lacing them all the way up, she opened it.

     “Serana? You have your own room, and I checked my inventory, so I know I paid for it.”

     Defensively, the knight crossed her arms. She’d hoped Serana and Soren would sense that she wanted to be left alone, or, if their instincts failed them, that a locked door would be enough of a deterrent.

     It seemed they’d missed the hint.

     “Why aren’t you in there, or hanging out with your new best friend?”

     Placing a hand on the door, Serana peered over Meraxes’ head and into her room.

     “I don’t have to. Delphine is paying him to play the flute.”

     “Who the fuck is Delphine?”

     “The inkeeper.”

     Gently, Serana pushed Meraxes’ door as if to coax it open with minimal effort. The veteran, however, pushed back. Meraxes was not letting Serana in until her terms had been set.

     “What do you want, then? I already said you couldn’t feed on me, and that hasn’t changed.”

     “I’m not here for that.”

     “Then what are you here for?”

     Meraxes’s tone already indicated her impatience. In letting her temper slip, she tended to reside on the losing end of any verbal exchanges she had with Serana. To her, there was always a mammoth in the room; something her and Serana had never bothered to address. In part, that was because Meraxes had never known what it was. She blamed it, however, for the fact that interactions between her and the vampire only seemed to grow increasingly awkward. 

     “Answers, mostly. But also to keep you from drinking.”

     “Why would you do that? And what’s any information I have to you?”

     More firmly, Serana enclosed the door’s width in her palm. It had to budge eventually. Either Meraxes would become too impatient to tell the vampire off, or her persistence would begin to faze her. Either way, Serana was painfully aware of how uncomfortable Meraxes was with letting down her walls.

     “Because I don’t hate sober Meraxes, but I do hate you when you’re drunk.”

     Meraxes scoffed.

     “And the information?”

     Then, Serana pushed, gentle still, and the door finally opened.

     “This Ulfric...”

     Sure enough, she had won again. “I’d never heard of him before we stayed in that inn. Is it true that you killed him?”

     Sighing deeply; releasing what sounded like days of frustration in her breath, Meraxes motioned with her hand for Serana to stand aside. When she swept the tavern with her eyes, no one looked their way. It didn’t seem like anyone hadn’t heard her, but Meraxes wasn’t about to risk anything after the Gray-Mane attack at The Bannered Mare.

     Nodding affirmatively, Meraxes closed the door behind her and Serana, hesitating at the handle.

     “...Yes.”

     Serana sat at the foot of her bed, looking onward at some of the shelved books.

     “Tell me the story.”


End of Chapter 3.

Next: Serana hears a tale of the Civil War.

Warning: Chapter 4 contains graphic depictions of violence and death. Reader discretion is advised.

Chapter Text

     “Why the fuck would you ask that of me?”

     From the handle, Meraxes turned to Serana, her gaze severe. She was almost convinced letting the starving vampire feed would have been easier than telling her the story of Ulfric’s death, but that wouldn’t change the scenario at hand.

     Serana wanted to hear the the true tale; the one for which Meraxes was largely responsible. The one that pained her most to tell.

     “Because I want to know why I had to save your life back there.”

     “You didn’t have to do anything.” The knight snarled, regretting her ferocious tone as soon as the words escaped her throat.

     “I expected a ‘thanks,’ not to be growled at. You sound like a wild animal.”

     The adventurer shamefully held her thumb and forefinger over her own cheeks, covering her mouth with her palm. Serana had only been in her private space for a few moments, and she was already frustrated with both the vampire and herself.

     “You don’t need to know the fucking story. That’s the problem I have with this.”

     Serana mockingly cocked her head.

     Damn smartass.

     Swearing the other’s persistence would end her someday, the veteran’s lip curled into an expression of distaste.

     “But I want to.”

     She didn’t see a way out of lending Serana some information, especially because Kodlak was probably far behind the both of them. Meraxes possessed many a power, but one could not simply stall for that long, especially not if Serana was the person asking.

     “Fine,”

     Defensively, she folded her arms to her chest. “Fucking fine. But, if I’m going to tell you, we have to make a deal.”

     “How about this: I already saved your life, so can you tell me the story and we’ll call it even?”

     “I think you’re forgetting who freed you from your crypt and saved you from a bigass dragon.”

     Eyeing her rental bed, Meraxes figured it’d be a dangerous game to sit next to Serana, who was still perched on its foot. She elected for a chair instead, as remaining close to a hungry vampire probably wasn’t the best call she could have made.

     “Touché. How about I tell you a story from the College of Winterhold?”

     “That depends. Is it an uncomfortable subject for you?”

     Serana stared back at the books before scrutinizing Meraxes‘ cold stare, assessing her for an ulterior. Why would she ask her that? Was that her attempt at making the exchange even, or was there a reason the knight would want Serana to feel hurt?

     “Let’s just say it was an experiment I conducted early in my necromantic apprenticeship, and that it may have gone horribly wrong.”

     Meraxes snorted, amused. She had to admit that Serana’s story had her interest.

     “All right. Deal.”

     Still wondering why in Nirn Meraxes was so disinterested in clean pants, Serana placed her elbows on her knees, supporting the weight of her chin and head on her hands. In any logical case, Meraxes should have been there—on her own bed—instead, yet she’d gone and let the vampire take it. 

     The room’s brief silence made her uncomfortable, but, thankfully, the knight broke it after only a moment:

     “When I returned to Whiterun from the war, Kodlak told me something I’ll never forget.”

     The veteran fiddled gently with beads that hung around her neck; Serana recognized each, little ball as a combination of gold and a complementary metal. Perhaps it was copper or brass, because it could not have been silver. The vampire would have certainly noticed if Meraxes had worn that.

     Do werewolves hate silver, too? She wondered.

     The amulet was beautiful. Serana was surprised she’d never seen it before, even since Meraxes had always worn her armor over it. Though the trinket had her curious, the vampire wouldn’t ask about it until the time felt right. After all, she’d made listening to Meraxes her priority, first, because the half-Nord would grow impatient with her if she failed to, and second, because Meraxes had agreed to tell Serana a heavy tale for the first time. She knew first-hand how difficult it was to discuss those matters, having never told a soul the story of her turning.

     “What’d he say?”

     “That there are four ways to tell a war story. Each time I do, I have to be careful which I choose.”

      “How are there four ways to say the same thing?”

      “You couldn’t run out of questions if you tried.”

     Meraxes wished she could toss a book onto Serana’s lap and that she’d be satisfied with reading it. Any historian’s account of Ulfric’s death would inform her more objectively than the knight ever could.

     “The first is the one you tell a child. You water it down enough for their taste, and erase the parts that are too hellish for young ears.”

     That fact was the largest contribution to Meraxes’ hatred for children. To tell them of battle while allowing them to remain safe and innocent, she practically had to remove every aspect of the conflict that made it a war. The truth, if simply put, was that wars were hell, and children would never understand that unless they one day fought their own.

     “The second is the one you share with recruits. If there’s someone interested in joining your side, you give them the guts and the glory with none of the realism.”

     Spinning the atrocities of war into a compelling call to arms wasn’t difficult for those who did it every day. Both Imperial and Stormcloak recruiters had been equally talented at the skill.

     “Third is the tale from the perspective of a historian. It’s didactic. It doesn’t get much into any glorification or personal perspective, but it’s the kind you can read in factual accounts.”

     Serana certainly was was most familiar with the third, as the vampire was more than fond of historical volumes. She had yet to encounter any of the Skyrim Civil War, though.

     “What’s the last one?”

     Meraxes’ gaze shifted from Serana’s to the shelf of books where the vampire had been looking earlier, as if she were actually scanning for a tale to satiate the others’ hunger for knowledge. There was something about preparing her own words for the war that made her apprehensive; it would have been so much easier not to tell it herself.

     “The fourth is the story from the soldier’s perspective. It’s the truth about what we thought; what we saw—what we felt—in combat. It’s purely individual...”

     ...and hard for any veteran to discuss.

     Decisively, Serana leaned her head further in, her focus trained on Meraxes’ impending tale. She knew, then, what she wanted.

     “I’d like to hear the fourth.”

     As the knight turned back to meet Serana’s countenance, she couldn’t quite place her expression. She could smell Meraxes’ fear; her vulnerability, yet it did not appear anywhere on her face.

     “Of course you would,”

     Replied Meraxes, her hands clasping themselves within her lap. “It began when we declared the siege on Windhelm successful.”


     “Legate Whitemane!”

     She turned to the beckoning soldier, her greatsword prepared in case more Stormcloak dogs came to test their bite against her mettle. With a blood-streaked face and shoulder marked with a gash she’d bear forever, her eyes met the caller’s.

     Relief spread across her face.

     It was Tribune Hadvar, her best and most loyal man; the one who’d helped her survive the attack on Helgen years ago. To say he deserved the promotions she and Tullius was an understatement, as he’d saved her life countless times.

     “What would you have me do, ma’am?”

     Meraxes’s grip on her greatsword tightened, crimson gore splattering onto her officer’s helmet as a nearby soldier hacked open a Stormcloak’s throat. 

     “We storm the King’s Palace!” Alert, and an icy blue, Meraxes’s eyes narrowed. They’d always reminded Hadvar of Riverwood in the deep winter, only, during combat, they always fell on him more frigidly than the biting blizzards he’d grown up with. “It’s time to end this fucking war!”

     “Hear, hear!”

     Hadvar held his stained sword vertically to his platoon; a signal that meant moving forward was most imperative. It was part of a code of communication Meraxes had helped Imperial Captains teach recruits, which had remained a secret within the Army ever since.

     When she spotted General Tullius just ahead, Meraxes sped into a steady run, recalling his plan for all of the Legates to rendezvous with him as soon as the remaining forces finally pushed to the Palace. 

     Before the General, Meraxes lowered her sword, the promise of her alliance intensifying in every inch of its travel until it reached the blood-splattered ground.

     Death was none short of everywhere, and had taken enough souls to last it several years. Meraxes used her free moment to look around, but she hadn’t expected the Battle for Windhelm to be one of the most casualty-producing operations she’d seen. On the scarlet-covered floor, being sorted into piles for identification, were her fallen enemies and fellowmen. Which side they allied with hardly concerned Meraxes then.

     All corpses smelled the same; every soldier shit himself before he died. The only differences in the dead were the causes of their individual demise, but, when Meraxes and the other survivors would inform the families of their loss, they would tell them all the very same:

     “Your son served a noble cause, but was defeated on the field of battle. We thank you for his invaluable and loyal service, and we hope you will allow us to assist in the matter of his funeral.”

     The officer did not look forward to repeating those words.

     “It is done, sir.”

     Meraxes turned to the voice’s unfortunate source—Rikke—her nose wrinkling in angered disgust. For a blissful moment, she’d forgotten that “all of the Legates” included her, too.

     “And the Palace doors?”

     “Already secured, sir. No one will move in or out but us.”

     When Rikke caught Meraxes’ venemous glare, her smile faded, and her mouth tightened uncomfortably. The knight raised her greatsword slightly from the ground, seething.

     She should squirm. One day, I’m going rip her into a thousand pieces and feed the mess to the dogs. 

     “Keep your weapons readied. Remember, we need a documented surrender before we execute him if we’re going to present this well to the public.”

     “Yes, General Tullius.”

      Replied Legate Rikke, her glare no longer trained on Meraxes’.

     “Yes, sir.”

     Her sword raised in preparation, Meraxes opened the Palace, her back to the door. That way, if any surprises awaited the knight, no one would be able to stab her from behind.

     She found Tribune Hadvar’s soldiers lined straight along the walls, guarding each of the Palace’s openings. Their commander, standing at the throne, held Ulfric Stormcloak and his Executive Officer at swordpoint along with a circle of his higher-ranking men. 

     Moments ago, Meraxes had wondered whether she’d ever see the light of another day, but surrounded by the soldiers she trusted the most, the Legate had seldom felt safer. She looked forward to the battle’s end, when she would offer each man a golden septim, hold him by his shoulders or his cheeks, and thank him for serving with her. For the first time, Meraxes realized that even though the war’s end meant peace for Skyrim, leaving the family she’d found was going to burn her heart for months.

     Except she’d never have to see Legate Rikke again, and that thought left a sweet taste in Meraxes’ mouth. She hated that stupid witch, and she always would.

     The General and his Legates approached the throne, weapons drawn. On the way, they stepped over the few casualties on the Palace carpet. The mess was nothing, when compared to outside.

     Meraxes lowered her sword—still holding the hilt in one of her palms—to grip Hadvar’s shoulder, her strength unrelenting.

     “I knew I chose the right Tribune,”

     She grinned, a drop of Stormcloak blood dripping from a strand of her hair, down her chin, then onto the floor. “You’ve made me proud, and so has every one of your men.”

    Hadvar raised his hand to hers, covering it with is own and offering a light squeeze.

     “Look at all of this blood, yet you still remind me of my daughter.”

     When General Tullius reached the throne, too, Hadvar released the Legate and readied his weapon once more.

     Meraxes took the hint and followed suit.

     “Ulfric Stormcloak,”

     The General declared, his expression neither angered nor satisfied, although Meraxes had fully expected either. When the war’s end arrived, she’d always thought Tullius would feel something immensely powerful. Instead, without a hint of emotion, he announced Ulfric’s charges:

      “You are guilty of insurrection, murder of Imperial citizens, the assassination of King Torygg, and high treason against the Empire—“

      Then, the Stormcloak officer, Galmar Stone-Fist, drew his axe.

      “Stand down.”

      Legate Rikke sheathed her weapon in response to the General’s order. Meraxes’s brows furrowed, and she raised her greatsword higher.

     “It’s over, Galmar.”

     “Stand down. We only wish to accept Ulfric’s surrender.”

     Galmar grunted, shaking his massive head in enraged disagreement. Clotted blood—certainly not his own—matted his auburn beard.

     “Don’t you see what’s happening? He’s not surrendering, and I’m not, either. Not while Skyrim lives under your corrupted Empire.”

     Growling, Meraxes brought her sword all the way to the high-ready.

     “Yet you proposed Ulfric became the new High King. You didn’t want to influence the system; you only wanted to change the man perpetuating it.”

     “Stand down, Legate Whitemane. This is not a negotiation.”

     The General ordered, staying his hand to rest it on her drawn weapon’s blade. When he pulled it away, his print was covered in enemy blood.

     “Do you know what happens when you crown another King? He dies, just like any other fucking mortal. Just like all of our soldiers who gave their lives today, and then we crown another. Every Empire comes to an end, Galmar, but not mine,”

     Meraxes turned her weapon—displaying it flat—an offer of a one-on-one battle. If Galmar accepted, they would fight to the death. “Not today.”

     “Divines damn it all, Legate!”

     Rikke, her weapon already sheathed, raised her unarmed hands. As Meraxes failed to obey his command, Tullius’s contained anger began to give way to his age, the wrinkles on his cheeks tightening.

     “We need the documented surrender! Stand down!”

     The Legate’s lip curled into a snarl as Galmar, in return, showed her the blunt of his axe.

     He’d accepted.

     “Don’t you see, sir?”

     She waited, turning her greatsword properly in her hands.

     “He’s never going to give us what we want.”

     Galmar charged.

     Then, it was too late for the General to say anything that could stop her. If Tullius didn’t know better, the Legate thought that fine, but she was not going to stand idly by while a Stormcloak officer attacked her commander. How had he not seen that coming?

      The rival officer, his battleaxe raised high, struck vertically, the blade tearing hard and quickly through the air until it stopped with an ear-splitting clang.

      “Grah!”

      Blocking the axe from slicing any further was Meraxes’ own greatsword, which she then used to push Galmar away. As hard as she could, she shoved him.

     The Stormcloak officer staggered, but wasn’t sent sprawling. With respect to the knight, he was a large foe.

     Behind them, Ulfric watched the fight. Meraxes assessed the fear in his eyes as he met the fire in her own, knowing that at the end of the day, he’d die crying and shitting, just like the piles of his rotting soldiers who laid dead outside. 

     As Galmar doubled back, the Legate swept her sword horizontally, narrowly missing his legs, although she’d left a narrow scratch below his knee.

     “Is that all you’ve got, you red-cloaked cunt?”

      Meraxes chortled at his gloat.

      “You speak boldly for a bleeding man.”

     The Legate could hear whispering over her shoulder—voices that likely belonged to Tullius and Rikke—although neither of them could stop her battle with Galmar, no matter how they tried. It was far too late, since the first blood had already been drawn.

     “But I will say, you’re far braver than your commander,”

     Her gaze locked with the Stormcloak’s, frigid. “It’s a shame your courage will only go to waste.”

     “I’ll say whether or not it will, Ser!”

     Bellowed Galmar, his battleaxe sweeping like a torpedo to her throat, but she’d ducked her head. As as he followed through with the swing, the Stormcloak made a grave error:

     His back oriented towards his opponent for far too long as he spun, launching his own weight in an unstable circle. Without a moment of hesitation, Meraxes impaled him from behind, her weapon’s long blade protruding from the front of his chest.

     When Galmar’s mouth began to bubble, sputtering his own blood into his beard and onto the Palace floor, he met Ulfric’s gaze a final time, offering the man a proud, stiff nod.

     Tears welled in the Jarl’s eyes as he looked on, dismayed.

     “Galmar...”

     “It’s...time, sir,”

     He croaked. “For me...to go to Sovngarde.”

     Galmar coughed, spitting his life’s red liquid into the air, then stumbling to his knees. When Meraxes removed her greatsword, blood flooded from his wound, and vitality quickly drained from his eyes.

     “This is...”

     Hard, Galmar gripped Meraxes’ hand, his gaze firmly meeting her own. She could feel his palms grow colder. “...a good death—a true...”

     He coughed, smiling fiendishly at the knight. “Nord’s death...”

     Then, his body began convulsing, his arms and legs quivering their last. In only seconds, Galmar Stone-Fist’s head fell lifelessly onto the ground.

     General Tullius spent a moment silent, but as he turned to the Jarl, his expression regained its emotionlessness.

     “Ulfric, if we do not receive your surrender, we will execute every living Stormcloak like the traitor he is.”

     Meraxes gently shut Galmar’s eyelids, then turned, her greatsword dripping heavily with his blood. The scarlet tear in the dead man’s chest continued to spill over, both of his lungs deflated beneath his ribs.

     “Sir, is that really necessary?”

     Asked the Legate, standing, with her defiled sword pointed towards the ground.

      “Do you fail to see every Stormcloak as a traitor? You are a Legate, Whitemane. Do not give me any more a reason to send you home demoted.”

     Upon hearing the General’s threat, Meraxes swallowed a wad of rising anxiety, recalling shamefully all the things she’d done to earn her position. Remaining in the Imperial Army was the only chance she’d had to hold a job after the end of her career as a mercenary, as Kodlak had shoved her towards the war to teach her what it was like to use one’s talents in contribution to a cause.

      Meraxes, however, had learned nothing from the experience but pain. Her blood had only spilled in thin rivers as a mercenary, but in the Army, the knight had memorized its darkness when it poured, like rain, into an ocean.

      “I won’t...”

      Ulfric’s shaky exhale interrupted the Legate’s making her promise. She thought it better to leave the sentence unfinished, anyway. Then, General Tullius couldn’t hold much against her if she broke it.

     “I will not surrender Skyrim to you.”

   Rikke placed a hand on the hilt of her sword, but Tullius gestured a halt. The last thing he wanted was for two of his Legates to drift beyond his control.

     “Skyrim doesn’t belong to you, Ulfric.”

     “No,”

     Said the Jarl, examining his sordid company with a hopeless, distant expression. “But I belong to her.”

     “The only place you belong is with the dead.”

     Tullius knelt by Ulfric’s seated form, unafraid of what the Jarl might do at close range. Perhaps he’d been right to be incautious, for Ulfric did not raise his fist to challenge him.

     “We’ll try this one, last time,”

     The General unsheathed his sword once more, signaling the end of the stand-down. Rikke followed his lead.

     “You are guilty of insurrection, murder of Imperial citizens, the assassination of King Torygg, and high treason against the Empire. What say you?”

     Ulfric’s head lowered. Meraxes thought his words courageous, but the man himself a coward for refusing to fight for his life.

      He was going to die there, and soon.

     “I will not surrender Skyrim or her people.”

     General Tullius nodded to the Legates curtly, his eyes darkening. He stepped back when Meraxes raised her greatsword once more.

     “Have you any last words?”

     Ulfric sighed one of his final breaths and locked his gaze with Meraxes’. Something about his expression was warm, far warmer than her own or than Tullius’. There, he saw her standing—an executioner for the Empire—prepared to strike down her final foe. 

     “Talos, preserve me.”

     Before the General read Ulfric’s last rights, Meraxes felt guilt rise in her stomach. Why were such feelings stabbing at her conscience? Why, when the end of the war was all she’d wanted since she joined as an Auxiliary?

     “May he always.”

     The Legate whispered, which the Jarl acknowledged with a grateful nod.

     “What was that, Whitemane?”

     Meraxes grit her teeth at the General’s accusatory tone, her sword unwavering.

     “I’m only saying goodbye.”

     “Very well,”

     Tullius, ascending one of the stairs to the throne and beside Hadvar, passed his sentence:

     “Ulfric Stormcloak, Jarl of Windhelm, you stand guilty of high treason against the Empire, among other crimes. I, General Tullius of Cyrodiil, on behalf of Skyrim, her people, and Titus Mede the Second, Emperor of Tamriel, sentence you to die.”

     Meraxes offered Ulfric a gentle nod. He exposed his neck, facing the bloodied floor; obedient to his executioner until the end.

     Hard—and with her eyes wide open—Meraxes swung her greatsword to the ground, watching the sickening collapse of the Jarl’s head from his body.

     “It’s over,”

     Tullius muttered beneath his breath, as if he had, moments ago, forgotten the possibility of Ulfric’s death.

     “The war is won.”

     By the hair, the General held Ulfric’s dripping head, pieces of separated skin hanging from his war-torn face.

     “We’d better tell the soldiers outside.”

     Said Rikke, gesturing with her gauntleted hand toward the Palace doors. From their stations, Hadvar’s men cheered, a few already beginning to dance or laugh with one another. As they hadn’t even cleaned themselves, Stormcloak blood still stained some of their eyes.

     “They’ve waited more than long enough.”

     Hadvar added, patting Meraxes a single time on her shoulders. Her eyes trained on Ulfric’s severed head for a moment longer, until she turned to Hadvar with a nod and a plastered smile.

     “Every one of them deserves the world for what they’ve done. It’s a shame all we can reward them with is Stormcloak’s head.”

     Squeezing her arm, Hadvar laughed,

     “To some of those boys, Ulfric’s dislodged head is the world.”

     “Fair enough.”

     Meraxes grinned once more, her happiness real at the prospect of her battalion’s excitement.


     “You ended the war, then?”

     Serana asked her first of many questions. “Why didn’t Tullius execute Ulfric himself?”

      I thought I did...

     Meraxes greeted the vampire’s inquiry with a still and momentary silence, still staring at the wall. Nothing had prepared her to answer that, but, after a pause, she decided to grant the vampire a half-truth.

    “Because I wanted to do it.”

     But, if anything, I only made it all worse.

    “What was it like coming home?”

    Meraxes’ eyes narrowed, but only for a moment, as she removed the necklace Serana had seen a part of earlier. She guessed there had to be hundreds of tiny beads welded onto it, as the vampire had noticed there were several strands which connected to the main around Meraxes’ neck.

     Then, her breath caught. Serana swore she saw Meraxes’ hands shake when she caressed the sigil on its pendant; the first time she’d ever seen the warrior so uneasy. Why now? She thought it could have been the alcohol withdrawal...or, perhaps, gripping it caused Meraxes true pain.

     The knight held an upside-down, handless axe, decorated with ornate swirls. It had been forged in gold. Serana rose from the bed, approaching Meraxes.

     “May I?”

     She extended her hand, offering to touch the amulet herself.

     “Drop it, and I kill you.”

     Oh, well.

     At least, if Serana died that day, she’d have done it having gained a minuscule amount of Meraxes’ confidence. The vampire was grateful for that, even if it was only a sliver, considering how much they’d mistrusted one another at first. With Serana’s mother gone, and no knowledge of whether or not her father had changed, Meraxes, Kodlak, and Soren were the only others she had in her life.

     Sitting back onto the bed, the vampire made work of counting each bead until she finally held the pendant firmly between her fingers, careful not to release it. She couldn’t drop it, after all, or she’d be killed.

     The thought made her smile, and so did the amulet’s intricate beauty.

     “There are over two hundred beads. What’s that about? Don’t tell me you’re collecting all of Skyrim’s metals.”

     Meraxes stood to retrieve her necklace, Serana passing it cautiously back to her, ensuring the other had a solid grip on the strands before she let them go.

     “It...

     She started, “It...keeps track of my debts, to some capacity.”

     That was all Meraxes felt comfortable saying, although, despite her lack of willingness to share, the veteran noticed a grateful glint in the vampire’s eyes.

      “Thank you for telling me that story, and for doing it the fourth way.”

     Serana met her expression, only hoping she’d stay sober for a while longer. The way Meraxes had described her deeds during Civil War, she’d been a great person. And—if Serana were to be truthful—she was staring to see a glimpse of that individual, when she wasn’t drunk.

     Yet, she was also beginning to understand why Meraxes drank so much. Like her, Serana had done so much; had seen more than anyone had ever needed to. The other had yet to learn those things, however if and when Serana was willing to tell, and, in turn, Serana knew she couldn’t force Meraxes to tell her life story.

     “I believe we made a deal.”

     “We did.”

     Serana watched as Meraxes fit her neck through the loop of the amulet, adjusting it until the axe lay in the center of her chest. 

    “What are you looking at?”

     As Meraxes turned her back, retreating towards her chair, Serana grabbed her wrist, pulling her around so the two faced each other. 

     “You.”

     The knight mainly felt confusion, although that certainly wasn’t what was making her face burn so much. While her eyes wandered back and forth, scouring her room as if she’d never seen it, Serana’s stare was unwavering.

     Then, the vampire slid her arms around Meraxes’ shoulders and pulled her close. 

     Meraxes froze, dumbfounded and warm.

     Very warm. For someone supposedly undead, the vampire felt like a burning, purring engine. Awkwardly, she cleared her throat, extending an arm against Serana’s lower shoulderblade in an estranged half-embrace.

     “What the fuck are you doing?”

     Muttered Meraxes, her tone more exhasperated than Serana had ever heard. Beneath the veteran’s crisp shirt, the vampire could hear her heartbeat rise and quicken until the pulse in her throat was deafening.

     She was was awfully tempted for a drink, then—even a very brief feed—but Serana was quite sure she’d have to find another source that night, as the other would not allow it. Still, Meraxes had held her in return, even if it had been awkward and one-handed.

     That was progress.

     “Get off,”

     Meraxes barked, though her apparent frustration hadn’t stopped her blood from rising to her cheeks. Serana could see that much when she released her. “What gives?”

     “I feel like I’m starting to understand you. I’m sorry for yelling at you at The Bannered Mare, by the way, and for calling you an idiot.”

      The vampire was beginning to think that perhaps she shouldn’t have moved so suddenly.

     “When did you—“

     Bringing a hand to her own face, Meraxes sighed into her palm. “Look, I don’t remember that, but maybe you should ask people before you go on grabbing them. Not everyone wants to be squeezed like a fucking lemon.”

     “That didn’t seem to bother you when you slept on me in the carriage. You seemed to quite enjoy my lap,”

     Serana tried once again to hide her disappointment at the lack of Meraxes’ thanks, although the knight could hear it in her tone. Attempts to fluster her were the only gestures the vampire felt she could use in retaliation. “How about we do this your way and make a deal?”

     Rolling her eyes, Meraxes finally took her seat once more. It took quite some time for the color to drain from her face. While she appeared calm, her mind raced:

     I didn’t actually use her as a pillow, did I? Why didn’t she push me onto the fucking floor?

     “You know what?”

     Meraxes had accepted her defeat. “Fine.”

     “I ask you if I ever want to touch you again—though it’d be bold for you to assume that I ever will—and you don’t drink any alcohol for as long as I’m in your company.”

     The warrior released a vanquished sigh.

     “All that does is make me want to get rid of you faster.”

     Serana snorted in response, then asked:

     “Deal?

     “Fine. You got yourself a fucking—“

     Firm knocking fell onto on the door. Upon hearing its resonant sound, Meraxes silenced herself, hoping it was Kodlak. If it were Soren, she would not hesitate to punch him in the face.

     The knight was still pissed about him joining her party.

     “You still owe me that College story.”

     “When we have the time, you’ll hear it.”

     Nodding, Meraxes pulled the entrance open, approval in her eyes when she saw Kodlak on the other side. The feeling had even begun to seep onto her mouth in the form of a barely-noticeable grin.

     Her smiles were rare. Serana took note of that one, standing to greet Kodlak out of gladness for his return. She could smell his blood, although it looked to her that his wounds were quite minimal.

    When Meraxes heard the tavern’s song, though, her grin faded and she pinched the bridge of her nose.

     Fucking Nords.

     Of course, someone had to request “The Age of Agression.”

”Down with Ulfric, the killer of kings!
On the day of your death, we will drink and we'll sing!
We're the children of Skyrim, and we fight all our lives!
And when Sovngarde beckons, everyone of us dies!”

     She looked to Serana, who nodded in understanding, then to Kodlak, with tightened lips.

     In return, the Harbinger appraised her, resting a firm hand on her cheek. He was hopeful of her escape, but had no way to tell that his daughter-figure truly survived until he found her.

     “I’m glad you’re alive.”

     Meraxes told him, gently brushing his hand away from her face.

     “I am, but...”

     The Harbinger’s gaze turned, for a moment, to one defeated. “I had to kill Avulstein to get away.”

     Meraxes’ eyes met his.

     “He’d always had it coming. You know what he did to me.”

     I’d wanted so much to end him myself.

     Thought Meraxes, awkwardly itching the back of her neck as she processed the Gray-Mane’s death. She’d need to tell Soren, but not before she relished in the news first.

     “I have to return to Jorrvaskr soon. Harbinger is my primary duty,”

     Kodlak broke the brief silence, and as he did, Meraxes wondered how he could focus so intently on his priorities after murdering a man. He hated having blood on his hands; it destroyed his conscience. Meraxes derived anguish from that knowledge alone. If there was any way to help him carry that burden, then she would. “But I want to know why the Dawnguard is searching for you, Meraxes, and Serana as well.”

     The vampire exchanged a brief glance with her companion, who returned her attention to Kodlak following a curt nod. From the bar, she could still hear Soren’s song:

“But this land is ours, and we'll see it wiped clean
Of the scourge that has sullied our hopes and our dreams!”

     “I’ll tell you.”

     “Excellent. Would we speak over a drink?”

     Meraxes grit her teeth in a slight embarrassment, tucking her arms into her chest.

     “I’ll have a water.”


End of Chapter 4.

Next: Kodlak learns why the Dawnguard is after Serana and Meraxes.

Warning: Chapter 5 contains graphic depictions of violence and death. Reader discretion is advised.

Side Banter: Am I alone, or is team Merana killing you slowly?

Anyway, I’ve been posting additions a lot lately, since I’ve been getting so many hits. If you guys like the fic so far, I’d appreciate a bookmark a comment, or a simple kudos. Questions regarding theories, remarks on favorite characters, or almost anything else is welcome and encouraged!

It might be a couple of days before I update Kindred again, as my personal life can somethings grow demanding. My career is Military, so it gets tiring sometimes :) I hope you understand!

If you’re reading this little blurb, that means you’ve probably gotten decently far into what I consider the first act of Kindred, and I am extremely grateful for your support!

Chapter Text

     “Your name’s Delphine, right?”

     Meraxes observed the steady stream of water as it spilled into her tankard, disappointed in its purity. Any other night, she would have ordered the strongest mead the innkeeper was willing to sell her. It took all the self-control she had not succumb to the latter. 

     The real joke was on Serana. As soon as the vampire turned her back, she was going to get trashed.

     In response to her question, the inkeeper offered Meraxes’ arm a gentle touch—one that felt awfully suggestive—which the knight swatted away without a second thought. The woman’s attempt at subtle seduction only made the recipient awfully skeptical of her.

      Why can’t I go two weeks without meeting a sketchy seductress?

     “Who’s asking?”

     “I am.”

     Replied the veteran, briefly looking to Serana, who watched the entire exchange with an awkwardly blank countenance. It was the first time she’d ever seen the vampire without an idea of what to do or say, but she couldn’t blame her for that, given the scenario’s oddness.

     “Yes, that is my name,”

     Delphine leaned in, as if to listen to Meraxes, although she found herself close to the other’s face. “And you’d better stay out of my business if—“

     For the knight’s comfort, she was too close.

     “Well, fuck you, Delphine,”

     Meraxes swallowed what had been a deliberately long sip of her water, wiping the excess off her chin, and all the while maintaining a scathing glare at the inkeeper. “Next time you want a bard, hire one instead of using a kid. And it wouldn’t hurt for you to learn the definition of ‘personal space.’

     Kodlak clasped his coin purse tightly, evidently embarrassed by Meraxes’ crassness.

     “What she means is that she hopes the boy is paid fairly for his time.”

     Delphine grunted, but seemed to suppress her vexation with a curt nod. Serana, at least, could tell that she was far more aggravated than she let on; the tension surrounding the innkeeper was more hostile than anything else.

     “All right. You all do what patrons do: enjoy the stay and the drinks, but get out of my hair.”

     “I hate business-owners.”

     Meraxes snorted after she turned heel and left. Even though she was glad Delphine was gone, and that Soren was sleeping, the warrior was easily annoyed by the inkeeper’s nature.

     “I thought The Smiling Knight was an inn, Meraxes. Don’t you have the building title?”

     Kodlak inquired, taking notice of the irony of her statement, although he didn’t relish in it. He counted out his gold on the table while he spoke, presumably to pay for the round he’d just ordered, although Meraxes didn’t notice the tip he’d included as a subtle apology for her behavior.

     “About that...”

     “Someone burned it down.”

     Serana hadn’t voiced her opinion aloud, but something about Delphine had roused her suspicions as well. Briefly, she monitored the innkeeper as she entered an empty room, then shut the door behind her.

     “Who did?”

     “I’m still not sure. Could have very well been the Gray-Manes, or even the Dawnguard.”

     The Dawnguard.

     That was why Kodlak had come to The Sleeping Giant Inn. He would later remind himself to ask the younger about her business, as finding the person—or people—responsible for destroying it was something he wanted to look into. For the moment, however, he required information about the most immediate threat to her well-being.

     “Speaking of the Dawnguard, I must know why they’re tracking you two.”

     Serana offered Meraxes a questioning expression, to which the other nodded her approval. She knew that, if vampire hunters were truly targeting them, Kodlak was one of the only men who could assist. His experience with the Silver Hand would be invaluable to them.

     “Right. As soon as we departed Dimhollow Crypt—where I’d been...locked away—Meraxes took me to Fort Dawnguard.”


     “I can’t bring you home immediately. I’ve already promised to take you somewhere else.”

     Serana wouldn’t have been the first lost puppy Meraxes returned, but, then again, the vampire had been trapped in Dimhollow for more than a few centuries. “Are you sure you even have a home anymore? It’s been...well, ‘a while’ is an understatement.”

      “I’m sure. It’s just north of Solitude.”

     Meraxes nearly stopped in her tracks at the remark. Fort Dawnguard was just south of Riften, making that a trek from corner-to-corner of her map.

     That would be the longest trip on which she’d ever embarked; Meraxes dreaded how much her pack would weigh upon departure, if she was going to set up at least four days of camp.

     “Do you know what you’re asking me to do?”

     “Yes,”

     Serana replied, her tone laced with the beginning of an exasperating streak of annoyance. She bore such a distrust for the one who freed her that she’d debated an attempt to find someone else. What stopped her from doing so was the fact that she had to go home, and no matter how detestable she was, Meraxes would take her. “I’m requesting you return me to my family, where I belong, unless you’d rather keep me around and listen to my complaints for an eternity.”

     Meraxes spoke into her palm, having already grown tedious of Serana’s banter.

     “No, you’re asking me to take you from one end of Skyrim to another. Why didn’t I just kill you?”

     “Because, if you’d tried, I would have killed you first.”

     Scoffing frustratedly, the veteran checked the roadway signs to make sure the arrows still pointed towards Riften. Divines forbid they’d say anything else, as changing tack on one of Skyrim’s paths often brought ill fortune, usually in the form of a pack of wolves or a crew of bandits.

      For some time, their journey was quiet; Meraxes thanked Talos for the silence under her breath. Serana must have heard it, though, because she piped up as soon as the other finished her grateful statement:

     “These trees are beautiful. I’ve never seen them in these colors before.”

     “By Ysgramor, you dumb vampire, they’re just trees.”

     Serana seemed to relish in Meraxes’s discomfort, or at least the scene appeared that way to the knight, who wished only for the rest of the trip to remain completely question-less.

     “Now that we’re on the topic of beautiful things, did you mean it, back in the cave, when you called me pretty?”

     That caught her off guard. Meraxes couldn’t remember stating that, specifically, or anything similar.

     “I never—“

     “You said you were going to, and I quote, ‘lop my pretty, little head off,’ is that incorrect?”

    Oh. Right.

     Blood boiling, the veteran seethed inside, her patience wearing thin.

      I did that.

      She did not snap at Serana, although her tone stood on the verge of aggression:

     “Just shut the fuck up until we get there, okay?”

     Then, the silence came again, although it went just as quickly. Such peace, when traveling with Serana, was apparently the scarcest resource in Tamriel.

     “Where is ‘there,’ my charming savior?”

     Meraxes was in no mood for the vampire’s games, and, quite frankly, she’d been sick of her attitude as soon as she’d found her in Dimhollow. As her thoughts raced, she released a ragged, angered sigh. Of everyone she could have been stuck with, why had she lost the lottery?

     “Hey,”

     Declared the knight, a growing impatience now showing plainly on her countenance; it was all she could do to prevent enraged wrinkles from crinkling her face. “You’d better fucking listen up!”

     Without an ounce of gentleness, Meraxes grasped the clasp on Serana’s cloak, dragging her into a proximity so close that the vampire could taste her breath. From the corner of her eyes, the veteran could see the ethereal glow of Serana’s magic, but her grip did not falter. “I won’t hurt you, but I will get through to you. Right now, you’re in my company; I’m not in yours. So you’re going to follow my rules, shut your stupid mouth, and keep moving. That way, I can take you to this Fort, get you home, and return to the way things were before you became a gargantuan pain in my ass. Got it?”

      Serana roughly gripped Meraxes’ hand, pushing it off her clothing and away from her body. If the knight were able to detect emotions in the vampire’s gaze, she would find the beginning of a deep-seeded resentment.

     “Or, if you try that again, I can kill you and find someone else to take me home.”

     Meraxes’ knight’s lip curled disapprovingly. She, who had met people with every flavor of problem, could hardly stand Serana. What was a lesser traveler to do in the event of such an encounter?

     “No one else is going to want to travel with a vampire.”

     “Speak for yourself, wolf-girl.”

     Not wanting to grant her the satisfaction of a reply, Meraxes quietly resumed her trek. The truth was, she despised being seen as a means to an end, or as a tool to be used, even when there was money involved. Serana, despite that, had the the audacity to ask the knight to take her home for free.

      On the bright side—if there was one—she’d finally reached the Riften stable. It wouldn’t be long until they arrived, and then Meraxes could take Serana home and move on with her life. What’s more was that The Rift provided the most spectacular sunsets, and night was preparing for a descent upon Skyrim. For orange light to burst triumphantly through, illuminating the edges of petals and blades of grass, the clouds parted to drown the sun into its nightly rest.

     “Oh, Meraxes, look at these flowers. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them!”

      Serana had her thinking she might’ve earned a momentary peace of mind, but, of course, such a grant would have been wildly unrealistic. The adventurer’s brows furrowed in restored exasperation.

     “For the love of Talos, keep your mouth—“

     Something sounded in the distance, which rendered Meraxes silent.

     “Do you hear that?”

     “There’s definitely something nearby. Do you think it could be—“

     The knight held a finger immediately before Serana’s face—not quite touching her—a signal demanding her quiet compliance. Meraxes thought the mysterious noises were strange, since they weren’t accompanied by any rustling.

     “Why don’t you shut your fucking face so I can figure it out?”

     “Don’t you mean my ‘pretty, little—‘“

     Suddenly, an unholy shadow leapt over the travelers’ heads, unleashing an ear-splitting sound as its passing over enveloped the world beneath its wings in darkness. Below Meraxes’ feet, the ground shook, reminding her of the earthquake she’d faced before Serana’s tomb emerged.

     A guard’s helmet rolled past her feet, followed by its armored owner, who urgently screamed:

     “DRAGON!”

     In its deadly wake, the beast’s tail collided with a tree, which snapped violently in two, the upper half wilting to the ground below. Then, Meraxes watched it descend above Merryfair Farm. Out of its mouth, in unstoppable floods, came a sea of flames which engulfed the wheat below.

     There goes a third of Dravin’s income.

     She’d been gawking so much over the dragon’s capacity for destruction that she hadn’t noticed its physical nature—the distinctiveness of its pitch-black body and ruby eyes—nor had she taken any measure to protect herself.

      It was him. The one responsible for Helgen; who’d saved her, but threatened to consume the world.

      In the midst of the chaos, Meraxes had forgotten that Serana was there, too, until she grounded the knight with another snide remark:

     “I’m not exactly resistant to fire, if you know what I mean.”

     Action, then, was a matter of now-or-never, as certain death awaited those who doted during a dragon attack.

     “Shut up and stay close to the wall!”

     Meraxes pressed herself against the stablehand’s quarters as the dragonfire burned across Dravin’s gourd patch, igniting each crop in its path. If someone didn’t handle that beast, or those flames, then Riften—in a manner of speaking—was screwed.

     The city is surrounded by water, anyway. What could go wrong?

      Trying to convince herself that everything remained in perfect order, the knight held fast to the little protection she maintained with her back to the wall.

      “Lass yah nir.”

      [Life, seek, hunt.]

     That is, until, after uttering words of some foreign, probably-ancient language, the monster reared its ugly head, its crimson gaze burning directly into Meraxes’ silver with all the intensity of the sunset behind it. 

      Before she could react properly—whatever that meant in the event of an arson-by-dragon—Alduin descended towards her, hovering menacingly in the air as he scrutinized her every movement...

     Which, then, was none at all. She had frozen up.

      For as long as she’d remembered, Meraxes had been brave; stupid, even, in her ordinary acts of courage, which she’d so often performed blindly. In the presence of this giant beast, however, the knight’s legs shook. Why, of all moments, was she afraid then? Why, when she relied on her recklessness the most?

      Was it because she, in that moment, was not blind? Because she could see? 

      Was Alduin a reflection of death and its Void-like blackness?

     Fuck no,

      Meraxes would not surrender without a fight. She refused, with so many actions on her agenda undone. The veteran had demons to face, revenge to enact, people to save, and most importantly, alcohol to drink, before she left Nirn.

      I still have two canteens of wine to finish! I can’t die now!

      When she unsheathed her greatsword, time seemed to slow. The adrenaline that coursed through her veins made the world spin, as, in her unrelenting grip, Meraxes held her weapon in an instinctively defensive stance.

     “Since you’re not fireproof, now might be a good time to duck!”

     Luckily, Serana didn’t negotiate the order, and shielded herself with none other than Meraxes’ own body. Scoffing, the other held her greatsword higher, cursing aloud: 

      “Damn you!”

      Although the knight didn’t know what happened when vampires were scorched, and didn’t want to find out, she hadn’t thought that Serana would deign to hide behind a mortal.

     ”Mal kendov, mu grind mindin.”

     [We meet again, little warrior.]

     Life would have been much easier for the former Legate were she a proficient archer. Then, she’d just shoot the damn thing out of the sky. Unfortunately, Meraxes couldn’t hit a target even for a coin purse or an ale, so, as the dragon hovered above her and Serana, they were essentially defenseless.

      She couldn’t understand the beast, either. Under her breath, the knight muttered curses:

     “It doesn’t speak Common. Worthless motherfucker.”

     Meraxes would never know whether the reptile wanted something, and, in exchange would spare her life. Convinced the language barrier would cost her everything shortly, the veteran ceased her attempt at a negotiation and instead wondered if the alcohol in her canteens would explode if Alduin decided to use a breath attack.

      She hoped not.

    “I believe that’s Dovahzul, the language of dragons. I’ve read about it in—“

     “For fuck’s sake, I don’t—“

     A glint of bright, hot light reflected in the dragon’s throat. 

     ”Get down!”

     When the fire came, Meraxes had thrown her sword and leapt to the ground, holding Serana face-down in the dirt. While eating the earth probably wasn’t the vampire’s first choice, the other thought it was better alternative to Isran’s complaining. After all, if she were to complete her mission successfully, she had to keep her annoying companion breathing.

     “Vah su'um ven fah nu...”

     [Farewell for now...]

     Unfortunately, in attempting to preserve the undead package she’d set out to deliver, Meraxes had taken the brunt of the flames. Fresh burns covered the places on her arms her armor didn’t protect, and the parts it did felt terribly hot.

     “I hate that big, black, fucking dragon.”

     If she had killed Alduin at Helgen, he wouldn’t have caused her so much unnecessary trouble. At least, for the moment, he sounded as though he was flying away. Yet only when all traces of him disappeared did Meraxes wonder what he’d told her, doubting the words held any particular importance.

      At least, until her fellow traveler’s voice intercepted her thoughts:

      “Enjoying yourself? I sure am.”

     ”Oh, shit—“

     Distracted by her pensiveness at the dragon’s disappearance, and by observing the raging fire that consumed Merryfair Farm, Meraxes had forgotten that she was splayed out on the ground, Serana directly beneath her. Quickly, she stood, finding the ground with her feet and adjusting the crooked straps on her armor. Most of the metal was still hot from the fire.

     “You said you hate that dragon. Do you know him?”

     Meraxes grumbled indiscernibly as Serana lifted herself from the ground. Unbeknownst to the knight, her breathing was still unsteady as a result of accelerated heart rate. She focused, after her pulse slowed, on the dust that had covered the front of Serana’s outfit when she’d forced the vampire into a nose-dive.

     “Hey, my eyes are up here.”

     The veteran nearly choked in response to the vampire’s remark, especially since Serana’s corset ceased to be at a very distinctive line near her cleavage, and it might’ve seemed to the other as if she were looking there.

     “I’ve seen him before, once.”

     In the midst of her incredible awkwardness, Meraxes mustered a reply, thankful that Alduin was flying elsewhere. That likely meant he was seeking a new victim, although that didn’t mean she couldn’t be thankful that he wasn’t her problem, for the time being.

     “How does one become acquainted with a dragon?”

     “How does one learn to mind her own business?”

     Serana snorted—a sound she’d intentionally copied from Meraxes—then turned to the other, who’d taken a moment to more thoroughly inspect her injuries. For the most part, they looked minor, except for the burn on her elbow, where many of the protective layers of her skin had peeled away at the flames’ touch.

      Yet she’d started off anyway, as if her physical anguish didn’t matter. Serana couldn’t help but wonder how she was so callous for a mortal, as she could smell Meraxes’ blood and charred flesh from downwind.

      Didn’t the vampire owe her, too, for the save from that dragon?

     “Are you all right?”

     Meraxes stopped short, but didn’t meet Serana’s gaze. Instead, she waited for her to catch up, then continued in the direction of Fort Dawnguard, all the while selecting the strongest wine from her cache of canteens.

      If there was a time to drink something as potent as what she had, it was when it held the power to mask her pain.

     “Why the fuck do you care?”

     Unable to wrap her head around why Serana would worry over her health, especially after she’d snapped at her, Meraxes lowered the canteen to her waist. It wasn’t like her physical state mattered, anyway—Meraxes was merely the means of Serana’s return home—a pack mule with an excellent cognitive map.

     “Let me heal you.”

     “Why would I let you anywhere near me?”

     Then, Meraxes’ skeptical countenance fixed itself onto Serana’s, which shone with apparent and genuine concern. How could someone remain so friendly after receiving such a horrible verbal attack?

     “Because you can’t take me home if you’re dead.”

      Well, that explains it.

     “Do you know restoration magic at all?”

     Serana shook her head, negating the warrior’s statement, although she didn’t want to over-explain herself:

     “Vampires can heal minor wounds. It’s a power Molag Bal granted to us, presumably to preserve our food.”

     “Preserve your food?”

      Though moments past had been awfully tense, Serana allowed a gentle laugh to escape her chest. Meraxes presumed the dragon attack had terrified her, so it was most likely a delayed reaction to the fear she’d felt then.

     “Well, you know...so our thralls don’t lose all their substance.”

     “And you swear you won’t eat me?”

     “I’ve never been apt to trying blood with that type of content.”

     Serana gestured to the canteen with her fingers, an expression to which Meraxes replied with an exasperated snort.

     “I’m going to expect you to honor that.”

     “Oh, Meraxes, please,”

     Feigning defensiveness, Serana raised her hands palm-out, as if to prove her innocence to the other. “If I was at all interested in eating you, I already would have.”

      “Somehow, I actually believe that.”

      Meraxes’ eyes didn’t leave Serana’s hands as she unclipped the straps on her gauntlets and shoulder attachments. Though the vampire had only pretended to be offended by the knight’s statement, the other was still distrustful of her and remained uncomfortable with the notion of giving her too much control.

     “Hold still. This is going to hurt a little.”

     “Why didn’t you mention that—“

     When Serana pressed her fingers to the open wounds, Meraxes‘ face contorted at the new presence of a sharp, searing pain, although that didn’t prevent her from watching in fascination as her skin mended itself together like she’d never been burned.

     Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit...

     The veteran grit her teeth, stifling an expression of her agony, as the vampire’s healing process felt worse than the injury she began with.

      “This one is too severe for my powers to mend, but I can improve it slightly, if you’d prefer it.”

     “It’s fine,”

      Meraxes had lost Serana’s gaze as, instead, the vampire focused narrowly on a scorched portion of her elbow, where the dragon fire had charred more than just flesh. She noticed, too, how tightly the other gripped the gauntlets she’d earlier removed; her hold remained so strict that her knuckles had turned white. Perhaps Meraxes was in still in more pain than she let on. “I’ll buy a potion in Riften and pour it into a bowl. That will take care of it.”

     “If you’re sure.”

     Was all the vampire said, continuing to follow Meraxes down the road. She’d learned from entering the knight’s company that it was likely best for her to pipe up later, as the other wouldn’t change her mind at Serana’s recommendation. But she couldn’t blame her; not for being reluctant to trust her. The vampire was the same way, after all, even if she had only few to rely on.

     What she didn’t know was that Meraxes still confided in her so little that she wanted to monitor her every move, until she received a staunch reminder:

     “Mind walking in front of me?”

     “What, feel like you’re missing out?”

     At Serana’s attempt to retaliate, Meraxes snorted, unable to decide whether she was amused or annoyed. Traveling with the other was going to take some getting used to.


     By the time the two reached Dayspring Canyon, night had fallen in Skyrim, and Meraxes had put her wine away.

     She’d decided approaching Isran drunk—and with a vampire in her company—was not the greatest idea, and Serana had agreed that she was probably right. For a while since her healing, she’d been quiet, too, which pleased Meraxes, but, like any of Serana’s silences, the peace was all too fleeting.

     “What are you?”

     The question caught Meraxes so far off guard that she stopped in her tracks to attempt thoughts regarding it, although she turned up blank. When she turned around, however, Serana didn’t seem confused in the slightest.

     “What do you mean, what am I?”

     “Well, I can tell you come from a Nordic background, but there’s something else I can’t quite place.”

     The knight huffed, accepting her defeat. It wasn’t very obvious that she was mixed-race, as she’d inherited her mother’s wheat hair and blue eyes instead of her father’s dominant, darker coloring, although that didn’t mean she wanted to talk about it. Since Serana had somehow noticed, however, Meraxes knew there was no escaping providing an answer.

     “My father was an Imperial.”

     “Well, that does explain your name.”

      As if she’d wanted to say more, Serana opened her mouth to speak, shut it, and momentarily alternated between the two. The veteran could see her self-control slipping. At last, the question came: “Was?”

     “His fate is none of your business.”

      Meraxes remained on the path as the clouds above her began to separate. Despite her noticing the newly-revealed beauty of the moon, stars, and the lunar light reflected onto the foliage, she’d begun to grow agitated.

     “I missed weather like this.”

     “Funny, this is one of the first things you haven’t complained about.”

     The path within Dayspring Canyon was meandering but brief. Soon, Meraxes and Serana would arrive to Fort Dawnguard, where the knight could at last complete her quest. She looked forward to not only her reward, but eventually disposing of the smartass vampire in her company. In returning to her solitary life, no one would ever tell Meraxes what to do or how to live, or if they did, then she could choose not to listen. Even when the Companions attempted to guide her hand, a free lifestyle was the one she preferred to live.

     After all, in a world with no laws or promises, there would be nothing Meraxes could break.

      “I’m actually quite glad to be here with you.”

     The other, having her thoughts interrupted, turned to Serana, her gaze burning, and scoffed.

     “Shut up.”

      Relishing in the quiet as she passed beneath the arch that marked the canyon’s exit, Meraxes finally caught sight of Fort Dawnguard. As she did every few minutes, the knight briefly monitored Serana, checking her movements. 

     The signals she’d been receiving from the vampire had changed; she’d bunched her shoulders up a bit, which made her appear concerningly nervous. 

     “What gives?”

     “I don’t like the look of this place.”

     “I can’t leave you alone out here.”

     Serana stifled anxious laughter. Fort Dawnguard, though much smaller than Castle Volkihar, was significantly more imposing; her stomach churned at the sight of it, although she did not want the other to know how much the foreign place bothered her.

     “Meraxes, as unsettling as this is, I can protect myself, you know.”

     “From silver?”

     As they passed a weapon rack rife with several types of fishing rods, Serana took note of a man seated beside the creek whose hook floated loosely in the water. On his back was a weapon she’d never seen before—a wooden one, shaped almost like a chevron—with a matching quiver full of silver, bullet-like arrows.

     “Why would you bring me here? I’m not entirely immortal, Meraxes. Those could kill me.”

     It didn’t take long for them reached the Fort’s doors. If Serana had a pulse, her heart would have been racing, as—for the first time in several centuries—the vampire feared for her life.

     “It’s just the job. They won’t hurt you if I have a say in it, either, since you’re technically what I’m supposed to deliver here.”

     “Well, aren’t you some courier?”

      Serana folded her arms, her expression, for once, giving way to some form of emotion.

      And it wasn’t good. It became increasingly evident to the half-Nord that the other was angry at her. “Is this what you meant when you were talking about your occupation?”

      Meraxes sighed, relenting.

      “In a way. Listen, I promise I won’t let anything unnecessary happen to you. As much as I hate you, I’ve already said I’d take you home. So that’s what’s happening. But, right now, Isran needs to see you.”

     “And here I thought I didn’t entirely dislike you. Who even is—“

     Serana’s questioning ceased when one of the doorguards took notice of Meraxes’ return. The knight seethed when she realized her ‘welcome home’ consisted of a crossbow pointed straight at the vampire’s chest. 

     “Why did you bring it here?”

      Meraxes drew her greatsword, challenging the guard. She had no issue with negotiating, although she had no idea who the man was behind his helmet, so she’d lost her ability to measure his reason.

     “Hey, lower that fucking thing,”

      That didn’t matter. The Dawnguard were friends to her, so she was going to try. “Remember when Isran sent me to Dimhollow Crypt to retrieve that ancient artifact? Well, she was what was hidden in there. So I’m following his orders by bringing her here. There’s no need to stand in the way of our progress.”

     While Meraxes couldn’t see the guard’s expression shift beneath his helmet, she certainly took notice of his exchanged nod with the one protecting the door’s other side.

     “If that’s true, Isran won’t want the monster inside the Fort. Agmaer,”

     Registering the sound of his name, the other armored man’s head swiveled. It was no wonder to Meraxes that he hadn’t drawn his weapon in an act of mimicking his comrade; she and Agmaer had joined the Dawnguard together. He wouldn’t hurt her. “Fetch Isran while I keep eyes on this vampire. Tell him it’s important.”

     Would he?

     Before Meraxes could think anymore, Agmaer disappeared. When the door closed behind him, the remaining guard removed his helmet, revealing a familiar face.

      “Celann?”

     “Where’s Tolan?”

     Meraxes’s gaze met Serana’s for a fleeting second. She’d never seen a vampire afraid before, at least not the ones she’d engaged with—even the fledglings charged into battles like nothing at all could weaken them—like they’d live forever regardless of their kindred bloodshed. There was something about Serana’s fear that was purely human—ineffably so—which made Meraxes begin to see that if she let anyone at Fort Dawnguard harm Serana, she would not only fail in the task that Isran assigned her, but she would eliminate from the earth yet another misunderstood individual. 

      She knew what that was like. While she was growing up, Kodlak, who was insecure of his beast form just as she was, had told her:

     “Meraxes, if we stay only with the monsters we know, and seek to destroy all others, then we are no better than the Silver Hand.“

     “I won’t speak with you until you lower your weapon, Celann.”

      “You see, all of us have them, even if they’re not with us physically.“

     The warrior recognized the poorness of her usual judgement, even supposing that it might apply in the decision she was making to keep Serana alive. She’d remembered, however, the feeling of running from death only because of what she was, without any regard for her intentions or person. That mentality, which belonged to the Silver Hand, was something Meraxes thought had begun to infest the Dawnguard.

     “It’s your most important task to ensure the balanced is maintained between those which are misunderstood and those which are valid.”

     “Have you gone mad? You’ve brought a leech to the last place anyone wants to see one! Any sudden movements and I’ll put a bolt through her head.”

     Meraxes sneered, her frigid stare meeting the Brenton’s. She was no longer willing to negotiate.

     “Lower it, Celann. I’m not going to say it again.”

      Celann’s eyes reflected the knowledge the knight had been afraid to bestow upon him—that Tolan had died in Dimhollow Crypt—which enraged the former Vigilant. Meraxes knew how he could tell, too: because she wouldn’t remark on the incident.

     Instead of retiring his crossbow, the hunter only raised it higher, a round aimed at Serana’s temple. His hand was dangerously close to the trigger well.

     “Watch it!”

      Without hesitation, Meraxes shoved Serana aside, an act that would have appeared brutal according to any human measure, in the absence of the context.

      After the bolt escaped its chamber, it buried itself in a tree just past the veteran’s head.

      The vampire wasn’t so lucky. She hit the dirt, mainly because she hadn’t expected for someone to actually pull the trigger, although she was more grateful for the save than she let on.

      “If you’re truly protecting this monster, you’re crazier than I first thought.”

      “Celann,”

      Meraxes held her greatsword steady. How could he not see she needed Serana to complete the quest Isran had assigned her? The vampire was literally essential. If Celann was so determined to stand in her way that he was willing to kill Serana, Meraxes would have to cut him down.

     She didn’t want to resort to that. The thought of harming an ally pained her. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

     “Usually, I’d say the same to you, but look how you’ve abandoned your reason!”

     Once more, the Brenton raised his crossbow, only to receive dreadful feedback from Meraxes’ greatsword. In a fraction of a second, the wooden weapon exploded into splinters so jagged they would hardly make adequate firewood.

      From her periphery, Meraxes could see Serana regaining her footing, and to her front, Celann drawing his war axe in response.

      “No, you’ve abandoned yours. Isran and I may be wolves, but we’ve never expressed a desire to rip you apart. What makes Serana different, aside from the fact that she talks way too fucking much?”

     Celann’s gripped the axe so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Then, the doors opened, and Isran arrived upon his mention. 

      Serana immediately noticed his height; Isran was one of the first she’d met since her awakening who stood taller than she. His armor was likely quite heavy as well, and his warhammer...

      ...silver.

     “What is the meaning of this? Meraxes? Celann?”

     Turning to the Brenton—his most trusted friend—Isran tucked his heavily-guantleted arms expectantly to his chest.

     Before Celann could answer, the Dawnguard leader’s expression suddenly changed. His eyes narrowing until the pupils themselves slitted, Isran’s nose wrinkled in disgust. Only one, unholy creature agitated him so: 

     Vampires.

     What’s worse was that he’d noticed the undead woman before him. If Meraxes didn’t act soon, Serana was as good as dead.

     “You!”

     Isran snorted so angrily, steam might as well have risen from his nostrils. “Why did you bring this monster near my Fort?“

      Behind Isran, Meraxes watched Celann deliberate, his stare attached, unwavering, to the unfolding scenario. In one moment, he appeared confused—guilty, even—although something always brought back his resolve.

      “I believe the creature has bewitched our recruit. We have an obligation to Skyrim to rid of it.”

      Celann and Isran made steady eye-contact, the Brenton restoring his aim on Serana with restored conviction. Meraxes, however, wasn’t about to let her former comrades attack without an attempt at being reasonable. After all, she’d associated with the Dawnguard for about a month; she’d thought they would confide in her upon her return.

     Was I wrong to believe that they might listen?

     “Are you joking?”

     It was Serana who spoke up instead, to Meraxes’ chagrin and worst fear. If the vampire drew attention to herself, she was only asking Celann to shoot her again. “Bewitched? She doesn’t even trust me enough to walk behind her, and I’m pretty sure I’m the new reason she drinks.”

     “If you know that, then why—“

     “It can speak. What a disgusting discovery.”

     With a growl in his voice, Isran glared disappointedly at Meraxes. He’d had high hopes for her, detecting immediately the potential she’d had as a vampire hunter. Although she was still mortal, she’d become the next-worse thing: a vampire sympathizer. He’d have to fix that, or kill her, too. “Whitemane, I don’t know what you were thinking. Kill it and we’ll get on with our plans. I have to brief you on your next mission.”

     How could I have been so blind? Of course they want to hurt Serana.

     Meraxes, in observing Isran’s vehement hatred, felt like an idiot. How could she have seriously thought that, if she’d brought a vampire into a den of thoroughly trained hunters, they might value her quests’ completion and seek meaning in her discovery? 

      I can’t do that. I owe it to Kodlak, at least.

     Her resolve hardened.

     “No.”

     Replied the knight, squeezing her greatsword. It was warm; she’d held it ready for some time, waiting for an excuse to hear the ringing sound of it in action. 

     She took pride in her response to Isran’s request. Even if Serana was among the most annoying individuals Meraxes had ever met, that didn’t mean she was simply going to run her down. 

      I don’t have a cause to end her life. There’s no brotherhood, no money...

      No. Meraxes was not going to stick to the monsters she knew.

     ...and at the end of each day, Kodlak is the only real mentor I’ve ever had.

      She was going to leave them for the ones she loved instead.

      I’m not a mercenary anymore.

     “Excuse me? I just gave you an order, recruit.”

     “I thought you would get it, Isran.”

     From the tightened, leather straps on his back, the Dawnguard leader unstrapped his warhammer, bringing to his hands its weathered silver. A well-trained blow from his weapon would destroy anything undead or nocturnal without discrimination.

     “What is there to understand, other than that if we’re to solve Skyrim’s vampire crisis, all of them must die?”

     “The Vigilants threw you out for the same reason you want to kill Serana. Did you ever think about that?”

     Isran shot Meraxes a warning glare that threatened to crush her where she stood, his hands finding the firmest possible grip on his warhammer. She knew, when they stared at one another, that she and the Orc were much alike in the sense that they normally struggled to express their emotions through words alone. What she saw was raw anger, and spite which shone in his eyes as the most blatant denial.

     Then, the door opened once more. Agmaer emerged helmetless, armes with his crossbow as if he’d made hasty combat preparations, although he saw only a flash of metal as Isran’s warhammer made crushing contact with Meraxes’ greatsword.

      He’d certainly arrived late to the affair.

     “If you won’t kill her, I’ll do it myself!”

      Meraxes grit her teeth, as fending his blow required nearly all of her present strength. As he slid the hammer across her grip—in a clear attempt to reach her face with its blunt end—sparks flew across her weapon and into the night sky.

     Then, a shard of ice hit Isran square in the chest, unable to penetrate his armor, but still nearly taking him off his feet.

      Behind Meraxes, Serana formed another cold spell in one hand, and in the other, some crimson magic that seemed to reach into the Void itself. Although the knight appreciated the vampire’s assistance, she worried that the other had made herself an easier target for Celann’s and Agmaer’s crossbows.

     “Hhrah!”

     The Dawnguard leader struck again after Meraxes proved herself distracted, easily tearing past her greatsword following her delayed attempt at self-defense. In her haste, his hammer’s blunt edge made contact with her shoulder, crushing the armor surrounding the veteran’s joint.

     That single blow was enough to make Meraxes taste her own blood. It rose within her mouth, threatening to exit it. Her vision grew hazy—too hazy to notice that Isran, taken aback by his own violence, was hesitating—although, suddenly, that fact became irrelevant, because she saw Celann.

      He’d aimed a silver throwing axe at Serana’s chest, waiting for the proper moment to release it.

      Beside him stood Agmaer, who remained frozen in all parts but his eyes. 

      Everything was still, for a moment, as if the world had stopped to ask Meraxes whether or not she was sure. 

      Did she truly want to harm her allies for the sake of a dumb vampire, who had vexed her the entire way to Riften? Did she want to end Serana’s life to prove her loyalty to the Dawnguard and end this momentary strife?

      Time slowed for Meraxes, the way it did during the dragon attack, as she pondered the world’s many injustices, excluding the fact that her shoulder had been bashed in.

      She’d probably deserved that.

      No, it’s too late. Too late to think now.

      Meraxes spit in the dirt, her saliva mixed with blood that had risen from her throat.

      They’re just like the Silver Hand. I can still make this right.

      Then, as a blinding flash of light shot across Meraxes’ line of vision, the scene came back to life.

      With her draining spell, Serana had seized Isran’s diverted attention. Meraxes could see his vitality weakening, although, more importantly, she spotted Celann behind him, prepared to decisively release the axe.

      When his arm raised, charging the release, she swept her greatsword across his legs. Her shoulder buckled, as she’d nearly forgotten, in her rush of adrenaline, that Isran had hit her there. Quickly, she lost control of the blade.

     Meraxes had done more than simply hinder Celann. She’d gotten carried away—far beyond her intentions—and had severed one of his legs.

      The Brenton gaped at her, dropping his axe behind him and crumpling to the floor. As he laid, still attempting to sit himself upright, his life’s liquid squirted from the wound with each coming of his heartbeat.

     “Celann! Fuck!”

     Screamed Meraxes, horrified at what she’d done to her old friend. She could see Celann’s pulse from his wound as his blood drained in seemingly-infinite pools, mixing with the dirt to look like sanguine coffee grains.

     Then, Agmaer met her gaze once more, and the farm boy within him had returned. He looked like an elk in bright magelight, terrified of the moments past and those to come. Without hesitating a moment longer, Agamer turned his heels and fled, sprinting down the path to Dayspring Canyon, leaving Celann, Isran, and the bloody scene behind.

      Meraxes stood in a haze, her eyes transfixed upon Celann’s bleeding body as Agmaer fled. He was far from the first person she’d mutilated, but one who’d been far too close to her for comfort. 

       No matter how much the Brenton hated vampires, he didn’t deserve that.

      She only looked away when blood started trickling down his chin. Soon, Celann’s body would force him into his horrid final movements, which the knight did not want to watch.

     It’s...my fault.

     That’s when Meraxes noticed the movement to her periphery. She’d forgotten, in the obfuscation that Celann’s fatal wound caused, that Serana had been fighting Isran himself.

      Though his chest still rose and fell rhythmically with his breaths, Isran appeared dead. Serana, stood over him with merciless, glowing eyes, but did not deliver a final blow. Instead, her spells fizzled into nothing within her hands. Meraxes was amazed. How did Serana defeat the Dawnguard leader, and why wouldn’t she finish the job?

     “Hh—“

     Then, something sharp stole the air from Meraxes’ lungs. 

     Checking her chest; feeling for any discrepancies after moments of struggling to breathe, the veteran touched something abnormal.

     There it was—protruding from her breastplate—a steel bolt.

     What Meraxes hadn’t known when Agmaer fled is that he’d dropped his weapon, and that Celann had picked it up. When the knight raised her head, she met the fading glow of the Brenton’s eyes, and the emptied chamber of the crossbow which had shot her.

     “Meraxes, we have to get out of here!”

     “Celann!”

     He had fired the short arrow straight into Meraxes’ chest, yet she still failed to forgive herself for killing him, especially while she watched him die with her own eyes.

      No longer able to hold Agmaer’s crossbow in his shaking grip, the Brenton slowly retired to the ground, his blood ceasing its squirting to flow in slow, desperate trails instead.

     “As soon as someone else realizes what’s happened out here, they’re going to call in backup. We can’t stay!”

     Serana reaches for Meraxes’s arm, but the knight promptly swatted her away. Instead of fleeing after Agmaer, she knelt by Celann’s side, watching the light permanently leave his gaze. Guilt stuck itself in her throat.

     “I’m so sorry.”

     That was the first time the vampire had ever heard Meraxes sincerely apologize. Something about the others’ tone made her stomach sink, as she could feel her lamenting in her own bones.

     “Meraxes...”

      Serana gripped the knight’s hand, in turn feeling the gritty wetness of sanguinary sands which the veteran had propped herself above to observe Celann’s brief deathbed. “Let’s go.”

      Shoving Serana away, Meraxes stood, staring blankly at the vampire with the coldest expression she’d ever seen. She knew the knight was distant, but this? Her gaze was nearly pale as ice, and just as frigid.

     “It wasn’t your fault.”

     “Just...”

     Meraxes checked Celann’s pulse.

     She felt nothing.

     Then, she sheathed her greatsword without bothering to clean it. Serana was right. If they stayed too long, reinforcements would come. So, before she even thought of closing Celann’s eyes, the half-Nord started back onto the road to Dayspring Canyon. “Shut up.”


     Traveling to Falkreath was different. 

      It’d become apparent that the carriage sides were good for leaning on after being shot. After all, if Meraxes dared move, a searing pain coursed throughout her entire body.

     Serana could smell her blood, and Celann’s, which still coated her hands. Though it was dry, the vampire was hungry. Trying to suppress those thoughts for the sake of simple politeness was difficult, as she hadn’t fed in almost a day.

     “Can I see it?”

     Gesturing to the bolt still protruding from Meraxes’ chest, Serana offered her hand. Perhaps she could tear it out, and then the two could both be done with it.

     “Why? What the hell can you do about it? I can’t even take my fucking breastplate off, so good luck helping me.”

     She’d noticed how stern he knight’s tone was. Even though Meraxes was rude—unnecessarily so—crass, and not an overall charmer, Serana had never heard her remark so savagely before.

     “Then we have to take it out.”

     Meraxes didn’t respond. Instead, she grasped the wine canteen she’d had earlier, and took a long, deep drink. 

     “Let me do it. I’ll see what I can do about sealing the wound afterwards.”

     Scoffing, the veteran stared out the carriage and into the moonlight, wondering how long it would take for the Dawnguard to find them. Then, they’d both be dead for good, and the bolt in her chest wouldn’t matter. The fact that she killed Celann wouldn’t matter.

     She wouldn’t feel anymore.

     “Hey, look at me,”

     Serana’s voice sunk to one lower than before, containing a hint of something like sympathy. Something the knight had never quite caught onto. “Meraxes, I’ve done so many things I wish I could take back—so many things I can never atone for—“

     Meraxes fixed her gaze on Serana’s for only a moment before tipping her head back for another swig, but—even if barely—she allowed the vampire’s words to reach her ears.

     “But what makes life worth living, even if it lasts thousands of years, are the people you choose to save. You’re writing Tamriel’s history without even knowing it.”

     “Bullshit. Is that why you’re telling me you didn’t kill Isran?”

     Although Meraxes had finally piped up, not much had changed; her expression remained just as pained as before. “You had the perfect opportunity to do it, if you’d wanted.”

     The vampire knew grief well and in nearly all its forms. She understood that tearing down Meraxes’ walls, if she decided to attempt it, would not be an easy feat.

     Something about that stupid drunk made her want to try, though.

     “The world needs people like Isran,”

     Serana replied, staring for a moment at the night sky. For a long time, she’d missed the stars. It was nice to see them out again, even if the circumstances of her viewing weren’t as spectacular. “As much as factions might war, one thing books taught me is that sometimes, that’s the only way to fix things.”

     If Meraxes knew what Serana did, perhaps she would have been able to see things the others’ way. The ancient vampire plot to destroy Nirn did not yet linger in the back of her mind. She was silent, though. Remarkably silent, even if she had been somewhat before.

     “Why did you save me?”

     For the first time in what might have seemed like a steady conversation, the two made eye-contact. Meraxes’ stony countenance met Serana’s own, which burned beneath her expression with a hidden fire.

     Because I was wrong about them. All of them.

     Meraxes couldn’t bring herself to say what she thought. Not exactly, anyway. The things Kodlak taught her existed in her mind as tenets, even if she didn’t always follow them.

      Even if the mercenary she once was wanted to return every once in a while and destroy whatever progress she’d made.

     Because maybe the truth about monsters isn’t in their body or their blood. It’s in the way they treat others. It’s in the degree to which they discriminate against anyone who’s not enough like them. I mean—for fuck’s sake—Celann shot me.

     “I thought perhaps it was best if I branched out from the monsters I know.”

      Serana’s body language remained affirmative as the carriage rolled onward, even if she didn’t understand. There were times to ask things like these, and it didn’t seem a prime opportunity to interrogate Meraxes after she’d slaughtered a friend.

     “Well, it seems are certainly enough of them to go around.”

      The remark was simple enough to suffice, and following it, Serana let her rescuer enjoy the silence of the night.

      Perhaps she didn’t understand her strange companion, or why she’d saved her life. All she did know was that, when her and Meraxes arrived to Dead Man’s Drink, she was taking that arrow out whether the other liked it or not.


End of Chapter 5

Next: Kodlak returns to Jorrvaskr. Soren learns difficult news. Meraxes finally sets the course for Serana’s home.

Side Banter: Sorry this chapter took me so long to release! It’s definitely my longest one at around 8,000 words, so editing took forever! Thank you for your support if you read the whole thing, and I hope you’re enjoying my fic so far!