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18+ Origins

Discussion in 'Skyrim Fan Fiction' started by Madrar, Sep 25, 2014.

  1. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    This is a rewrite of the origins of the Bloodlet Throne coven. Lore is going out the window on this one, folks. If you don't like, don't read. This fic will go from the beginning of the coven to quite a while afterwords. Buckle in if you're going to read. Short opening chapter for today.
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    4E 401, 11th of Rains' Hand

    The Bloodlet Throne

    The sun was covered by dark stormclouds, and rain fell in icy sheets, mixing with the icy slush already on the ground. It would freeze by nightfall, most likely. Spring in Skyrim barely got warm enough to be considered warm. And it was never warm this far up in the mountains. The only sounds were the clatter of stones and bricks, the clink of tools, and the grunts of peasant workers. They'd been drawn away from their homes, some from the villages and hamlets around Falkreath. Others, were former bandits that had made their bases in or near the Jerall mountains. Yet others had been Imperials, taken from across the mountains. Now, it didn't matter.

    Dozens of people, of mixed race and equally mixed clothing toiled in the rain and cold. The old fort was being rebuilt, piece by piece. It was slow going, especially since the architects behind the reconstruction needed to be cautious. Attracting attention to it could be fatal for them, after all. The architects previously mentioned stood in the rain as well, though they were not bothered in the least by it. After all, the dead have no need for warmth or dryness.

    The pair of them were silent, one wearing robes, clearly the apparel of the Thalmor, though customized with red stitching. His hood was down, revealing shoulder length black hair. His skin was pale gold, and his eyes were gold, flecked with blood red. He was taller than his companion by barely an inch, but that wasn't the most noticeable difference. The shorter vampire had the same pale golden skin, and eyes, but his hair was slightly shorter, and instead of robes, he wore armour. Few would have guessed they were brothers. Fewer still would have guessed that until a year ago, they'd been mortal.

    Their names, were Salthar and Vengar Vivarian. Descendants of a proud line of Altmer, and both had fought in the Great War against the Imperials. Both vampires stood still as stones, watching the work progressing. Eventually, the armoured vampire stirred slightly. "The work is going well. Another few months, at most" his hands rested easily on the twin axes at his sides.

    The other vampire, Salthar, nodded. "Good. Very good. Meanwhile, what is the status of Skyrim? I realize Ulfrics stunt in Solitude has caused some commotion"

    Vengar smirked. "That, is an understatement. The Imperials aren't too pleased. According to them, Ulfric just murdered the legitimate ruler of Skyrim. Imperial troops are moving in from Cyrodiil to restore order." Salthar snorted, not surprised by the brutish behaviour of the Jarl of Windhelm. He was, after all, a Nord. The war would benefit them though. It was a distraction, and one that would keep both the Stormcloaks, Legionnaires, and local authorities busy.

    "Come." Salthar said, motioning his brother to his side. " We have much to do, and the work here will proceed without our supervision"

    "Finally" Vengar replied, turning his back on the work. The pair of the vampires took their time walking down the icy slope. Salthar smirked. If there was anything his brother hated more than waiting, it was waiting while there was a war on. Or starting, anyways. And wars bred opportunity. Namely, in Salthar's case, an opportunity for vengeance. For power. For the rise of a new order.

    They made their way to the road without incident. "What's our next step?" Vengar asked, as the pair turned towards Falkreath.

    "We need others to share our vision with. You know of what I speak. Those that are shunned. Those that need direction. Those that have lost...others" He hesitated on the last listing. The pain was still raw.

    Vengar didn't need to say anything, so he simply inclined his head,and muttered "understood."

    The two of them walked in silence until they reached the walls of Falkreath. The inn there was accommodating the two vampire brothers. Though how much the innkeeper knew, was yet to be decided. She was smart enough to accept their coin, and keep her mouth shut. And, as far as they knew, she had. 'Otherwise, she'd be a dead innkeeper' Salthar thought.

    The woman hadn't wronged him, but he was not ready for his or his brothers existence or the work on the Bloodlet throne to be revealed. Yet. He smiled at her as he handed over the gold for the nights stay. The woman accepted the coin and tucked safely away. "Same rooms, m'lord. As you requested yesterday"

    "Much appreciated" Salthar murmured. He headed to the room, and laid on the bed. It was hardly classified as comfortable, but he'd slept on worse, in nastier places. Besides, he needed his rest. The next few months would be very busy for him and his brother.
     
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    #1 Madrar, Sep 25, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2014
  2. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 16th of Rains Hand
    Imperial Encampment

    "Five hundred." The Imperial sergeant sitting at the table said shortly. The man across from him, a tall Imperial, with red, shoulder length hair and forest green eyes, scowled at the soldier.
    "You told me a thousand" he objected, resting a hand on the hilt of his sword. "Does the Imperial legion rely on deception to get others to do their dirty work now?"

    Now it was the sergeants turn to scowl. "Look, mercenary. War's come to Skyrim. If you were any kind of decent, you'd sell that armour, cut your hair and join up" he snapped. "Five hundred is the most you'll get, and you'll like it."

    The man sighed, seeing the futility in arguing with the man any further. He turned away, leaving the bustling encampment, and breathing in the cold, Skyrim air. There was a hint of imminent weather, an icy bite, promising snow. Or rain, or perhaps both. Apparently, it was supposed to be spring in Skyrim. It hardly felt like it, even if he'd only been in the tundra province a few days.

    The mans name, was Lucius Draconus, formerly of the Imperial city of Skingrad. His family had long been of the nobility of the city, and among the few to know of the counts dark secret. However, that had changed in the recent years. House Draconus' fall from the nobility had killed Lucius' father. Leaving Lucius as the sole heir to what had once been a noble legacy. The gold, and respect had all but drained away, over the years. Lucius had always been skilled with swordplay, and had a little magical ability as well. He'd honed these until he was a professional mercenary. What he earned, he passed on to his family back in Cyrodiil.

    With the Stormcloaks launching their rebellion, job opportunities were everywhere. But Lucius tired of the mercenaries life. He wanted some purpose to his life. Not simply living hand to mouth. To fight for something that had real meaning, rather than fixing someone elses problems...that was what he aspired to. 'But for now...' he checked his sword, ensured that his armour was buckled on properly, he headed out of the camp.

    He had a feeling the legionnaires weren't too sorry to see him go. Nor was he sorry to leave them. Soldiers and mercenaries did not mix well. Or at least when they weren't killing things. He consulted the written instructions once more. A group of Stormcloaks were harassing the Imperial supply shipments. And without supplies, there could be no war. And with the Imperials held up fighting the 'real war', it fell to mercenaries like Lucius to take care of the rebels. They were based in a pass from Cyrodiil, near Falkreath, which was where he needed to go.

    It took him several hours by carriage to make his way to the rainy, cloudy hold. It was almost nightfall when he arrived, but he decided it was best if it was night. That way, he'd be able to get closer to the encampment before they spotted him. It was raining in Falkreath. Like he'd heard it always was. 'Blasted Skyrim. When it's not snowing, it's raining. Even when it's sunny you're freezing.' He thought, pulling the hood of his cloak up. The garment had once been rich, but had become tattered from use. Still, it did its job fairly well.

    The mercenary made his way along the wet cobblestone road, avoiding the actual town of Falkreath itself. After a short time spent walking, he came across a caravan of Imperial traders. A few guardsmen strode at the sides of the wagons, hands on their spears, eyes casting about, searching for the enemy they knew to be there. He approached the group head on, not wishing to be mistaken as a raider. "Be you friend or foe?" The caravan leader shouted from his seat in the lead wagon.
    Stepping into the torch light, Lucius replied, "I'm no enemy of yours. I'm here for the rebels" even with his features nearly hidden by the wide brimmed hat he wore, the caravan bosses fear was obvious.

    "The rebels? They're here?" The man stuttered. The guards had stopped moving now, staring out at the craggy walls of the pass.

    "Sure. You don't think they've chosen this pass because of the lovely weather, do you?" Lucius drawled unsheathing his sword.

    The first arrow struck the side of the lead wagon. Chaos erupted as the caravan guards that had bows lifted them and returned fire into the darkness. He didn't hear any screams of pain, though over the shouting, on the ground, it was hard to tell if anyone had been hit. He lifted his hand, and sent a bolt of flame towards where he thought he'd glimpsed movement.

    Though he didn't hold a candle to a true battle mage, wizard, or sorcerer, he did have some magical ability. The bolt impacted the rock face, briefly illuminating a pair of figures before it burnt out against the wet rock.

    The Stormcloaks, apparently, had decided that it was time to take the caravans defenders on in close combat. Lucius could hear the battle cries, and clatter of boots on rock. 'I wonder. Is there a natural rock path leading down, or did they cut one out?' He mused. Then the rebel soldiers were upon them.
    The guards met them in battle, Lucius stepping in where he was needed. But it was a small force, and the fighting was over quickly. Stepping over blue clad corpses, he stared up at the cliff face. "You should leave. Head to Falkreath before more of them arrive." The caravan boss nodded and urged his team on.

    Lucius moved to the side of the road, allowing them free passage. Soon, he was alone, except for the corpses. Or so it seemed. However, the mercenary couldn't shake the feeling that he was being...watched. He glanced around, but saw nothing, and considering Stormcloaks weren't ones to remain covert while their fellows died, he dismissed it as an unusual bout of nerves. "Time to get to work" he muttered, heading towards the rocky sides of the pass.

    A short time later, he'd reached their camp. If it could be called a camp. Firelight flickered from a hole in the rock, obviously an occupied cave. A pair of guards stood underneath a small overhang, protected from the rain.

    Lucius blew the first man off his feet with a lightning bolt, slamming him into the rock even as lightning danced over his flesh and armour. The second guard was still in the middle of drawing his axe from his belt when the mercenary ran him through. He eased the dying Stormcloak to the ground, before stepping inside the cave.

    Though he couldn't shake the feeling of being watched, he was focused now. His job was to kill the rebels in the cave, and that was fully what he intended to do. He made his way into through the caves first, narrow passageway, walking as silently as his steel shod boots would allow.
    The first rebel he encountered was a young man, eighteen, maybe nineteen, with ice blue eyes and a shock of straw blonde hair on his head. The boy managed a gasp of surprise before Lucius thrusted with his blade. The sword passed between the mans ribs, and penetrated his left lung. The mercenary lunged forwards, easing the gasping Stormcloak to the cave floor. The less noise, the better. He moved on, and came across a large open area in the cave. Whether it had been formed naturally, or hewn from the rock, he couldn't tell.

    What he did care about, was the group of rebel soldiers clustered around a small fire. Four of them. None of them were looking at him, and their speech was loud and carefree. Crouching at the entrance, in the shadows, Lucius did some quick calculations. He could take out one, maybe two of them, but one of them, a large man with a two headed axe leaning on a wooden bench beside him, seemed to be the leader, and looked a little more attentive.

    'Time for an attention grabbing manoeuvre' he decided, summoning flames to his free hand. Abruptly, he stood up, and in confirmation, the leaders head snapped around, his eyes narrowing as he spotted the mercenary. Directing the flame bolt at the fire, he released it, and the flames, for an instant, flashed out from the ring of rock surrounding them. But an instant was enough. Two of the men stumbled forwards, the fur and wool of their clothing catching fire. Lucius sprang forwards, his sword slashing through the mans' hastily thrown up guard.

    His sword sliced through the mans flesh and muscles, sending him tumbling to the ground. The leaders axe swung in, towards Lucius' skull. The Imperial back-pedalled quickly, wary of the larger, heavier weapon. And despite its greater weight, the Nordic warrior wielded the axe with as much ease as someone else would wield a sword.

    ' I need to end this. Quickly.' Lucius thought, avoiding a swing that would have split him in half, would it have landed. He lanced for the Stormcloaks heart, but the mans reflexes were nothing to laugh at. The blows Lucius did manage to land were deflected by his scale armour. Lucius would have attempted to use his magic on the man, but for that he needed a little time. And time was something he didn't have at the moment.

    He lead the Stormcloak in a wide circle around the fire and the corpses of his men. The mans' lips were set in a snarl, and fury danced in his eyes. The kind of fury that appeared in a warriors eyes when they were at the point of no return. The man wouldn't stop until Lucius was dead. Which was unfortunate for the mercenary. He was a skilled swordfighter, but a swordfighters skills lay in their abilities to parry and deliver blows. With the axe, both actions were out of the question.

    A crunch of steel impacting bone caught Lucius off guard, and the Nords axe struck him. But there was no strength behind the blow. The hateful determination in the mans eyes had faded away, and he toppled to the ground. The cause was soon apparent. A large chunk of his skull had been crushed by an axe. The wielder of said axe stood with the weapon at his side, watching Lucius closely.

    It took the Imperial mercenary only an instant to recognize his saviour as an Altmer. But there was something wrong with him. Most noticeably, his skin and less noticeably, his eyes. Lucius hadn't met many elves, least of all Altmer, but those he had, didn't have the pale gold skin of this warrior elf. Nor the red ringed irises. 'Vampire'. Lucius wasn't certain if he'd heard of ways to recognize vampires, or if some innnate, animal instinct warned him of it. At the same time though...he found the easy grace with which he moved intriguing. "Lucius Draconus" the elven vampire said. "We have a proposition for you"

    Almost against his will, he heard himself reply "I'm listening"
     
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    #2 Madrar, Oct 27, 2014
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
  3. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201 ,2nd of Second Seed
    Dead Mans Drink, Falkreath
    "Our agents report that the war has started in earnest, my lord." Reported the swarthy vampire standing beside the chair. The Altmer in the chair allowed a thin smile to come to his face.

    "Excellent." He murmured, the word loud enough for only his dark skinned companion to hear. "You've done well, Devos. Return to the others and inform them I'll be arriving at the Bloodlet Throne shortly." The vampiric spy inclined his head, pulled up his hood, shielding his paler complexion,and red-flecked irises from the mortals, before heading out the door.

    A gust of wind slammed the wooden door shut on his heels. Salthar waited a little longer, before he too, stood and went for the door. It was a quiet day in the dreary town of Falkreath. Of course, with the near constant cover of clouds, the inhabitants rarely had cause to leave their sturdy wood and log houses.

    Though he wouldn't shed a tear if the town was razed to the ground, he held no particular hatred for the majority of the citizenry. They were wise enough to keep to themselves, despite the abundance of strange characters, generally hooded and cloaked, moving through the town.

    Outside, the vampire glanced at his hands. A ring sat upon his right hand, the band itself was gold, with a round sapphire set atop it. The precious stone was half the size of a grown mans fingernail, on the smallest finger. It was both Salthars greatest and most painful secret. Though any spellcaster worthy of the title would be able to discern the immense power within the tiny stone, what they would be unable to tell was the rings history.

    A history that had caused Salthar to very much become who he was today. With a start, he tore his gaze away from the band. The past, though important, was better to remain in the past. "If Ulfric wants a war, then he'll get one." He muttered to himself. Of course, the growing coven that made their home at the Bloodlet Throne was a formidable force, there was no reason for them to join the war on one side or another.

    With the Imperials sending troops to the province, and more farmhands and peasants joining the rebellion, there was a good chance the warmongering Nords would tear Skyrim apart. And from the chaos, a new order would rise. One that would ensure peace, and more importantly, ensure prosperity for the vampires of his coven.

    But that was far off, at best. When Salthar finally did reveal himself, he wanted his companions to be ready. The world did not lack for fools that fancied themselves paragons, and hunters of all manners of vile creatures. Salthar suspected that most of them were simply acting. Boasting of slaying werewolves, vampires, and other creatures was certainly a way to garner attention. And affections of the fairer sex.

    'Scratch a hero...' He thought, not bothering to finish the old, cynical saying, even in his own mind. He glanced up at the sky, and noticed that though rain had yet to fall, it was only a matter of time now. The clouds, which had been a pale grey before, were now turning a more steely tone. The vampire felt the stares of the guards, but he didn't return their gazes.

    He was outside the gates moments later, his robes billowing around him, the wind bringing the scent of pine trees, and the imminent rain. The seldomly used path that lead up into the mountains was hardly hidden, but no mortal had climbed past the treeline in recent weeks. Any that did vanished, never to be heard from again. Though Salthar didn't doubt that the inhabitants of Falkreath believed some strange accident had befallen the unfortunates, in reality, they'd been captured by Salthar's forces. And either fed upon or put to work on building up their fortress.

    The floor of dirt and pine needles turned gradually to snow. He continued on his way, the path leading into a mountainous pass. the mountains prevented the Bloodlet throne, and the work going on there, from view. A short time later, he reached the fort. The work was progressing remarkably well. Already, the once cracked and crumbling walls were rebuilt and reinforced. The gate was covered first by an iron portcullis, and behind that, a pair of sturdy oaken doors. The left tower was nearly complete, while the tower on the right was halfway to completion.

    Figures in dark armour patrolled the walls, and as the Altmer vampire approached, one of the figures pointed, and both the portcullis and the oak gates opened. A familiar figure waited for him, red hair shifting slightly in the breeze. Lucius Draconus had adapted well to the role of a member of the coven. No longer was he dressed in the garb of a mercenary soldier.

    His scarlet hair had been cleaned and brushed, and his attire was made up of a pair of black, knee high leather boots, dark fabric trousers, and a black, long sleeved, high necked tunic. A steel sword hung from a belt on his left side. As Salthar approached, the Imperial bowed, before turning to walk alongside him. "A pleasure to have you here, my lord" Lucius said, the gruff tone of a mercenary dispensed with. He now sounded like a highborn noble of the Empire.

    "A pleasure to be here. Among friends. It seems you've been busy since your journey to High Rock." Salthar mentioned, noticing that quite a few of the vampires inside the walls were of Breton descent.

    Lucius nodded. "We have. Work on the main hall is complete. The workers have found vast veins of ebony inside the mountains. Your brother and I agree that the ore should be used for our purposes. The walls themselves, as you can see, are completed. The towers are in progressing well, and most of the main keep is well under way" he finished his report.

    "Impressive. Most impressive, Lucius" Salthar said, genuinely pleased by the progress that had been made. The two vampires made their way across the courtyard, towards the central keep. The building was angular, tall, and built into the mountains themselves. Staring up at it, the Altmer vampire couldn't help but feel a sense of awe. Any intruder would feel the same, faced down by the intimidating dark stone, marked with arrow slits. A pair of square, stone towers stood at each corner of the keep, and they too were backed and built into the mountain sides.

    "The keep is ingenious." He murmured softly, and Lucius smiled.

    "Your brother insisted that it be made impenetrable. At least by conventional assault. The keep is still under construction, but when it's finished...it'll take nothing less than an army to conquer." The Imperial announced.

    They entered the keep, ignoring the noise of picks, hammers, and the scrape of mortar being lain. "And where is my brother, exactly?"

    "He told me he had some business to take care of in the North." Lucius replied. Salthar frowned at the answer, but he had no need to monitor his brother. If Vengar thought a trip to the northern reaches of Skyrim was necessary, then it probably was.

    "And your own trip to High Rock? Obviously, successful, but were there any snags I should know about?"

    Lucius thought for a moment. "Nothing from the mortals, but I encountered some of the native vampires. Glenmoril Wyrd, and they were none too pleased to see me."

    Salthar had never met any of the vampiric clans in High Rock, but he had no doubt their loyalties lay with Molag Bal. "Ah. I should have warned you. Vampires like those that dwell here are...despised by the rest of our kind. They've lost their will to Molag Bal, while we have resisted his call on our souls." He explained.

    "They both hate and fear us for this distinction. It's our duty to exterminate them, along with the rest of Molag Bals followers. Do not pity them. They're no longer what they were in life. Now, they are merely slaves of the Daedra. Nothing more."

    Lucius inclined his head. "As you say, my lord. We will continue our efforts to make the Bloodlet throne ready. We will not disappoint you."

    Salthar smiled slightly. "I know you won't. I have the utmost confidence in you, my friend."
     
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    #3 Madrar, Dec 28, 2014
    Last edited: May 17, 2015
  4. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201 ,3rd of Second Seed
    Dunsten, Cyrodiil

    Severus Valte sat on the bench outside of his home. A column of Imperial Legionnaires were marching through Dunsten. The news of a rebellion in Skyrim had long since reached the village. Since Dunsten was so close to Cyrodiils northern border, troops had been using it as a rallying point. From there, they crossed the mountains, and arrived in Skyrim. For the past couple of weeks, troops had arrived and departed. Business for the villages merchants was better than it had been in some time.

    Severus merely wished that his villages sudden prosperity was caused by happier circumstances. Making money off of men that were going to fight and die in some far off land seemed...macabre. The column continued on their way down the street, making their way out of sight. He left the bench, and glanced up at the sky. It was just after dawn, and the air was crisp and cool. So far, the sky was clear and blue, promising a pleasant day. His father would be out in the surrounding forests, gathering herbs for his wife, Severus' mother.

    Both his parents were exceptional herbalists and healers. The pair of them took care of the entire villages ailments and injuries. Which meant they were well loved, and they'd even made friends among the Imperial legion.

    Deciding a stroll would do him some good, Severus left the porch, and made his way towards the forest. As he was heading out, along the path that lead to the forest, a voice calling his name had him looking around. It didn't take long for him to spot the owner of the voice. Her name, was Alicia Corvyn. She was a year younger than Severus, with a fair complexion and long, brown hair that fell past her shoulders. He also happened to have been courting her for several months now. He smiled warmly and waved. Alicia, approached, smiling back, a basket of something in her arms.

    As she got closer, he realized they were tomatoes, red and shiny. The Corvyn family weren't farmers. Allissa's father was the village blacksmith, while her mother worked around the household. Their daughter had started a small vegetable garden in the back of their house. Severus had seen her tending the plants with an almost religious fervor. Obviously, her tender ministrations had paid off.
    "Hello, Severus. Do you like my tomatoes? I just picked them this morning." He wrapped an arm around her waist and drew her in close.

    "They're nice, but I think you've got them beat." He murmured in her ear, bending to give her a kiss on the cheek.

    She blushed, almost turning as red as the tomatoes. "You're in a good mood today." She noted.

    "Everyday I see you is a good day." He replied. Alissa smiled and turned in his arms stare into his eyes.

    "You still haven't spoken with father, have you?" She asked. Gared Corvyn was a bear of a man, standing just over six feet tall, with a coal black beard and brown eyes that could make one feel like the iron he hammered all day. Nevermind the fact the man had arms like hams. Despite all that, Severus knew Gared was a kind and honest man, and wouldn't hesitate to help the inhabitants of the Dunsten if they needed it. Of course, Severus was fairly certain he wouldn't be nearly benevolent when asked to give his daughters hand to Severus.
    "I'll talk with him tonight. I promise."

    "Okay. I'll see you later." He kissed her again, this time on the mouth, and they parted ways, her heading towards her home, and Severus along the path to the forest.

    It wasn't hard for him to find his father,as the man frequented the same places he and Severus went to when they were searching for necessary herbs. Severus' father was kneeling near a small bush, a leather sack open near his feet. He straightened as Severus approached, and smiled. "Come to give me a hand,Sev'?"

    Severus' father, Kenyon Valte, was tall, a with a few lines around his eyes and mouth, a bit of a paunch, but he was still in good health. Severus glanced at the sack, noticing a fair amount of herbs already in it. Severus identified a few dozen foxglove flowers, whose nectar could be used to cure poisons and increase a persons resistance to diseases, alongside mandrake roots, and sprigs of lavender. "It doesn't look like you need my help."

    "Hmph. Well, since you're here, you can help me collect some ginseng and monkshood root. We're running low on both." With that, the pair of them got to work, searching for the necessary plants, roots, and mushrooms they needed for the herbalists shop. After they'd finished, the pair of them headed back to the village.

    Severus glanced at the sun, noticing it was late afternoon. He and his father headed to the herbalists' shop. The building was not terrifically noticable. A small sign announced its function, and a couple of windows allowed passers-by to look inside. Kenyon stepped inside first pushing the door open, and Severus followed. His mother, Lara, stood behind the counter, her black hair tied neatly behind her, and her green eyes taking in both her husband and son. "I see you've got something for me. Quite a lot, actually." She turned her attention to Kenyon. "A good haul today?"

    "Yes. I started this morning, then Severus joined me, and we collected enough for...well, for a while." His father stated, opening one of the bags. Severus' mother smiled as she selected a few samples from it and inspected them.

    "Lovely. This should do nicely. Well done, boys." She set both bags on the counter, and began sorting through them. Kenyon made some excuse, and backed out of the store, but Severus remained. He'd always been fascinated by the herbalists' art, especially how, with the lack of magical ability in his family, such potent, beneficial tonics and elixirs could be distilled. Together, they examined and stored the various herbs, roots and seeds. After they'd finished, it was well past afternoon, and heading towards nightfall. And Severus had to meet someone. Leaving his mother after she'd locked up the shop and headed home, he made his way to the village smithy.

    Gared had already doused the flames of the forge, and was locking up the last of his tools. Setting his nerves aside, Severus approached the smithy. Gared must have heard him, or glimpsed him in his peripheral vision, because he turned to face him, and nodded a greeting. "Severus. Something you need?"

    "No. I-" Severus had to stop and clear his throat. The romance between Alicia and himself had never been much of a secret. Nevertheless, Gared was a big man, and asking for his daughters hand was a big step. 'Don't be ridiculous. If you love her, you've got nothing to fear.' "I've come to ask for your daughters' hand in marriage, sir."

    Gareds reaction was far from what he'd thought it would have been. The big mans face split in a grin, and he laughed outloud. "About time, boy. I was starting to think you'd never get up the courage to ask!" The heavily built smith made his way down the stairs and wrapped his muscular arms around Severus. He felt like the man would snap him in two, but he simply set him down, patted his shoulder, and headed inside. He turned and was heading home when he saw a familiar figure.
    "Well?" Alissa asked, and Severus grabbed her around the waist and kissed her full on the mouth.
    "He's agreed. I think it's time we start planning the wedding." He told her.

    4E 201, 7th of Second Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne
    Derek Starsong grunted as he hauled the large stone block off the wooden pallet and onto the thick layer of mortar. The pallet, part of one of the many cranes, lowered itself back to ground level. He adjusted his stance on the wooden scaffolding as he prepared to move the stone into place. There were groans, curses uttered by the others working alongside him. He glanced down to see the cause of their dismay. Below, yet more blocks had been loaded onto the pallets. Derek regulated his own response to a weary sigh.

    He, as well as the others up on the scaffolding with him had been working since dawn. That wouldn't have been so bad, if not for the weather. Clouds had been hanging over the fortress since before dawn, and they periodically shed snow mixed with ice rain. As it had been for most of the month. The Bloodlet throne was not a place where somebody went for the weather.

    Derek had been chosen to work up on the walls because of his size. He was tall, almost six feet, and muscled enough to give all but the foolhardy or bravest pause before starting a fight. He'd been a smith in his past life, mostly repairing farm tools and making horse shoes for farmers. He'd had a family, a wife and daughter of eleven. Lucia, and eleven year old Allanna.

    That was before the vampires of the Bloodlet throne had come calling. They'd been searching for capable hands to work on their fortress in Falkreath hold. He'd refused, of course. He had no interest in working with vampires. Not that they'd cared either way. He'd been taken, along with hundreds of others throughout Tamriel, to work on the fortress as slave-prisoners. That had been three months ago. Since then, he'd seen dozens fall to their deaths due to the treacherous weather.

    Or those that had attempted to escape and been...punished for it. Their bodies had been displayed where the others had seen them. The workers were kept in wooden barracks, and heavily guarded by a half dozen vampires. Though they generally left the workers alone, they weren't above doling out punishment, for offences real and imagined. Of course, they were always careful to keep them in working shape.

    He shoved the stone into place, wiped his brow, and then waited for the next block. "They sure are in a rush to get this wall completed." A voice from his left stated. Derek glanced towards the owner of the voice, a Breton man, about the same size as Derek, stood, hands on his hips. "Three full days of work in a row? They want this finished as soon as possible."

    "Why? You think they're expecting something?" Derek asked, genuinely curious.

    "Keep your voices down!" Hissed a third man, this one a Nord, like Derek.

    "Oh, be quiet, Ulfjar." Snapped Tannis.

    Ulfjar, a bear of a man with a bristing blck beard,eyebrows, and hair, snorted. "Fine. But it's on your own heads if those bloodsuckers catch you talking on the job."

    Derek looked around. The vampires typically left the workers alone while they were on the job. Today wasn't starting to look like an exception. He ran a hand through his short brown hair and sighed. For a big man, Ulfjar worried entirely too much. But the man was also a loyal friend, and knew how to keep his mouth shut.

    "There's none of them up here. You need to relax." Tannis said, turning back to his work as the fresh stone bricks arrived. Derek lifted the stone, and set it beside the first stone. He gave it a good shove, sending it to the edge of the wall. It slid into place neatly,and he grunted in satisfaction.

    "Don't be stupid. They have ears everywhere." Ulfjar warned.

    "Maybe it's time...we stop being afraid." Derek said. His thoughts had returned to his home, his family. And the thoughts of maybe returning to them some day. Or at least ensuring that they no longer needed to live in fear that maybe the vampires would one day return. The effect that his words had on his companions was not unnoticed. Tannis had a look of approval on his face, while Ulfjar looked nervous but resolute.

    "You have an idea? Something that could get us out of...this?" Prompted Tannis.

    Derek was about to expand on his statement, but Ulfjars words came back to him. "Not here," he said quietly. "Meet me in the barracks tomorrow night. With whoever you feel we can trust."

    "Will do." Promised Tannis.

    "I just hope you know what you're getting yourself into." Ulfjar muttered.

    The conversation ended there. All three of the men got back to work, and continued to do so until the sun had set. Then Derek and the rest of the workers climbed down from the scaffolding. Their first stop, was the toolshop, where vampire guards waited to collect the equipment that the men had been using. The vampires were careful to collect anything that could be used as a weapon.

    Derek was very aware of the guards on the completed sections of wall, armed with crossbows. The wooden 'barracks' if that's what they could be called, waited for them, along with some cold food and bread. 'Nothing special, but it keeps us alive.' Derek thought, taking his seat. After the evening meal, he went to his cot, adorned with a thin blanket. Though, the determination he felt stopped him from getting much sleep.

    Morning, as usual, came early for the workers, but as soon as Derek stepped outside, he knew something was different. A dozen vampires stood in a line, facing a crowd of confused looking workers. He spotted the red haired Imperial, Lucius, or whatever his name was presiding over the events. Whatever the event happened to be.

    He glance at Tannis as the Breton took a position at his side. "What's going on do you think?" Derek could only shrug, but he had a creeping feeling that he knew what the vampires were doing. He noticed Ulfjar sidling over to him.

    "They know. I told you to keep your voices down." He whispered. Derek scowled at the man.
    He looked up as the gates to the fortress opened. A pair of elves rode in on horses, both of whom were familiar, and vampires.

    One wore dark robes, with gold and red threading. The other wore heavy, dark plate armour, with a pair of axes at his sides. "Oh." Whispered Tannis. "I recognize those two. The robed one...I've heard that Imperial, the one in charge, calling him 'my lord'."

    Ulfjar paled, and Derek swore quietly. Before he could elaborate, the lord and his companion rode past the line of vampires, and crowd of workers. He paused to speak to the Imperial, before heading into the main keep. One of the vampires shouted for them to get to work.

    The work itself went quickly. By the end of the day, Derek and the others had finished the work on their section of the wall. The fortress was starting to look truly formidable, and the more completed it got, the harder it would be for Derek and the others to escape. As he returned his tools and made his way to the barracks once more, he saw a wagon, laden with crates just inside the courtyard. What was in the crates, he wasn't sure, and he was more interested in the people arranged around the wagon.

    A man in fine clothes, obviously a merchant of some sort. Across from the man stood the lord from earlier that day, along with Lucius. He slowed his pace, trying to gather as much information as he could. Unfortunately, he also drew attention to himself. The butt of a crossbow struck him in the lower back and he stumbled. "Move, prisoner." One of the guards commanded, and Derek joined the others, but not before both the lord, and Lucius had turned to watch him. The lord looked a little curious, while Lucius merely looked irritated.

    After he and the others were inside, and had eaten, Derek, Tannis, and Ulfjar along with a dozen others were seated at one of the long tables. "What are you thinking, Derek?" Tannis asked, and the others made their curiosity known as well.

    Derek took a moment to look at the faces around him, lit by a few flickering candles. Some looked hopeful, while others were impatient, irritated, or just plain bored. However, Tannis and Ulfjar trusted these men. And all of them had faced injustice at the hands of the vampires. "Escape."
    The one word changed the attitude at the table dramatically. In an instant, he had their undivided attention.

    "Are you mad?" Hissed Ulfjar. You'll get us all killed!" A few of the others nodded, but most whispered for his silence.

    "Listen; the construction is almost finished. What do you think they'll do when it is? Thank us for a job well done and set us free?" He asked. "No. A bloody end is all we'll get if we stay here."

    "I'm with you, but how do you plan to escape? We're not unsupervised out there." Tannis pointed out.

    "The next time that merchant shows up. The vampires keep the gates open while he's around, and they won't expect an escape attempt." Derek explained. "Until that time, gather as many weapons as you can, whenever you can. The vampires think we're broken. It's time to show them we're not." The men, even those that had sided with Ulfjar at first, grinned and thumped their knuckles against the table. They were with him.
     
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    #4 Madrar, Mar 25, 2015
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  5. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201 ,12th of Second Seed.
    Castle Blaze,Cyrodiil

    Anton Carsus, knight-commander of the Knights of the Blazing Sword, sat at his desk in castle Blaze. The hour was late, but the room was well lit. No less than three candles sat on the desk, and a pair of torches lit up the rest of the room. A window above the torches removed most of the smoke. Across the desk, a half dozen reports were scattered. Most of them detailed activities of the knights across Cyrodiil and Skyrim. However, the one that concerned him the most, was the report out of Falkreath hold, in Skyrim.

    Dozens of disappearances had been filed with the local guard. A passing knight had chanced upon some of those same guards in the towns tavern. The knight had heard the guardsmen tales of vanishing hunters and explorers. He'd written his report and handed it to his own knight-captain in the province. The captain, a friend of Antons, had sent the report on, via courier. Anton had read similiar reports, perhaps in lesser numbers, disturbing anyways. At first, Anton had suspected a series of attacks by wild animals, due to the townsfolk and hunters vanishing in the same general area.

    He'd been forced to discredit that theory when more reports trickled in. Hammerfell, High Rock, even Cyrodiil; people vanished and were never seen again. To further discount the wild animal theory, no bodies were ever found. The report mentioned the ruin of an old fort up in the Jerall mountains. The area around the mountains was where most of the disappearances occurred. And there were only a few things that inhabited the old forts of the world.

    The order of the Blazing Sword were dedicated to destroying such creatures, but Anton wanted to be certain before committing his fellow knights. Especially during war time. The order was neutral, but Anton knew that if the rebel Stormcloaks came to the wrong conclusion, there would be a bloody fight, with pointless deaths. A knock at the door drew his attention. "Come!" He called. The door swung open, revealing knight-caster Ferros Gardain standing at attention. The man was a tall Breton knight, with dark hair and a clean shaven face. Like all mages that were part of the order, Ferros wore white robes with stylised flames on the hem.

    "You called, commander?"

    "Yes, I did. Come look at this." He waved his fellow knight over to the desk. Ferros approached, and took a seat acros from Anton. He glanced over the reports, brow furrowed. After he'd finished, he slid the parchments back to Anton and cocked an eyebrow. "Your findings?" Anton asked, eager for the knight-caster to confirm his suspicions.

    "It looks to me like the disappearances are the work of a vampire. Perhaps a group of the creatures." Ferros said, "but you don't need me to tell you that. So why have you summoned me?"

    "Because," replied Anton, unfolding another piece of parchment. This one was dated later than the other reports on his desk. Almost two years older. "A pair of Thalmor justiciars disappeared there nearly two years ago." When Ferros continued to look confused, he elaborated " the Thalmor don't simply write off lost Justiciars. Especially since the area those two were in was unoccupied by Stormcloaks."

    His fellow knight frowned. "If the justicars had been killed, by whatever vampire lived in those mountains, or Talos worshipers, there would have been a major crackdown by the Thalmor."

    "But there hasn't been" Anton pointed out, "at least none that we've heard about."

    "Which leaves one conclusion. Those elves are the vampires behind the current disappearances." Ferros said, then frowned, "why haven't we acted on this?"

    "Because," Anton said, pulling out yet another report, "one of those justiciars turned vampire is Salthar Vivarian. A particularly unpleasant fellow, even before undeath claimed him. And not only that but cunning as well." He handed the parchment over so Ferros could read it for himself.

    The knight skimmed over the report, brow furrowing as he read. "It says here, that he arrived in Falkreath hold two years ago. The Nords were still riled up about the White-Gold concordant, and Talos worship was still rampant in that area." Anton allowed his friend to continue reading.He'd already read the report in detail, since receiving it a couple of years ago, and more recently, once news of the disappearances had reached him. As with most of his intelligence reports, this one had been brought in by a member of the order, in Falkreath hunting a savage werewolf. How, exactly, he'd found out how long Salthar Vivarian been assigned to the hold was a mystery. The Thalmor didn't exactly hand the information out.

    " Vivarians group of Justiciars skirmished with some armed Talos worshipers. The Nords fled into a house, and could have held out for days, weeks even." Ferros continued reading, his face paling. "Vivarian had inhabitants of the village assembled in front of the house, ordered the doors and windows boarded up, and set the house on fire, burning the souls alive."

    "And one that embraces vampirism rarely becomes more humane" Anton pointed out. "Worse, with all these abductions, there's only one thing he could be doing in the mountains." He said grimly.

    "Building an army. With Skyrim in turmoil, now is a great time for vampires to try something."

    "There's no doubt. He must be stopped." Anton held up a hand to stall his friend.

    "I could not agree more strongly," he said, "but we dare not bring the full strength of the order to Skyrim. The local rebels would most likely take interpret it as the order siding with the legion."

    Ferros frowned, "what do you suggest, then?"

    " Select a dozen knights. Volunteers only, and tell them of the situation. " Anton instructed him. "We leave for Skyrim, at first light. And then we cut the head off the snake."

    4E 201, 13th of Second Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne

    Salthar Vivarian sat in the grand hall of the Bloodlet Throne. The hall had been completed just over a week ago, along with several expansions. The formerly ruined fort had been renovated extensively. Now it was almost four times the size it had been, with straight, thick walls, ending at the natural rock wall provided by the mountain side . Several towers were still under construction on the multi-tiered keep, but the quartet of towers, two guarding the gate, two others at the front corners of fort walls were complete.

    As for the hall Salthar currently sat in, it had a high, vaulted ceiling, with dark stained glass windows opposite each other. The end of the hall was slightly elevated, where the dark oaken chair stood. It wasn't quite elaborate enough to be called a throne, though it served its purpose. The rest of the hall was empty, leaving only the stone flagstones. At one end of the hall, were a pair of large, heavy oak doors that lead to the courtyard. Behind the raised rear of the hall, was another door, one that lead to a set of stairs and deeper into the keep.

    To say the least, he was pleased with the work. Neither the Stormcloaks nor the Imperials had noticed the fort near the mountains. Dozens of people had disappeared, over the past few months, but so far people seemed to be crediting bandits and wild animals. However, he didn't expect the ignorance of mortals to last forever. In fact, he doubted it would last much longer. His coven had grown to nearly fifty strong, and was continuing to grow.

    He glanced up as one of the doors to the hall entrance opened. Lucius Draconus stepped inside, followed by a gust of wind carrying rain and wet snow. The door closed, and Lucius bowed, before straightening and approaching. " My lord. I trust you're enjoying your new accommodations?"

    Salthar smiled, "it's certainly better than the inn. I must say, what you have done here is rather impressive."

    Lucius smiled. "My thanks, my lord. The walls are nearly complete, and when they are, this fort will be impenetrable." That was an understatement. With the Jerall mountains backing the fort, and the isolated location, it was unlikely any enemy would be able to maintain a successful siege. Lucius had kept the workers in line, with minimal casualties. Of course, a few of the more rebellious workers had been made an example of, to discourage rebellious activity. Salthar was impressed by the former mercenary. In fact, the attitude of a mercenary that the Imperial had held when they'd first met was gone.

    He'd become much more...dependable. After joining the coven, he hadn't once asked for payment, though with the new ebony mines being discovered, and the merchants that were invited to the fort for trading the stuff, Salthars coven wasn't hurting for gold. Gold that they used to buy silence from local gossips and inn-keepers for the most part. When that silence didn't call for a blade.
    Speaking of ebony, Salthars eyes were drawn to the longsword at Lucius' side. The weapon was impressive, certainly, but contrary to most of coven, he'd kept the steel bladed weapon, rather than change to ebony. "I must ask; why have you not taken up an ebony blade? Are they not to your preference?"

    Lucius' hand went to the pommel of the weapon. "This blade...has been passed down through my family for generations. It's one of the few remnants of my family's golden age." He explained softly. "It has served me well for many years."

    "I understand." Salthar said, and meant it. His own hand strayed to the gold band on his finger. "By all means, keep it. I was merely curious."

    Lucius nodded, then glanced behind him as the door opened behind him. Another vampire, this one a young Bosmer, stepped inside. His eyes flicked from Lucius to Salthar, before bowing. An envelope was clutched in one of his hands. "Forgive me, my lord. I did not intend to interrupt. I can return later if you'd prefer?"

    Salthar beckoned the vampire closer. " Not to worry. What is it?"

    The wood elf, brandished the letter. "One of our agents in Falkreath met with a courier from the Thalmor embassy. He gave me this letter. It's addressed to you, my lord."

    Salthar frowned. Officially, he was still part of the Thalmor. Which meant he was still subject to their orders, though he had no problems with that. So far, their orders had not interfered with his own goals, and he was happy to eliminate those Talos worshipers. He gestured for the elf to approach, and accepted the letter from him. The Thalmor seal was certainly the real thing. Breaking the seal, he removed the single sheet of parchment inside.

    More than a quarter of the page was consumed by pleasantries. The Thalmor ambassador to Skyrim, Elenwen, was requesting his presence at the Thalmor embassy, to 'discuss' some disquieting rumour of Talos worship. Salthar had a feeling that there was more to it than that. There were dozens of perfectly capable justiciars operating in Skyrim. Many of them closer to the embassy than Salthar. Which meant Elenwen wanted him specifically, for something. Knowing that denying the request would merely turn it into a direct order, he folded the parchment and regarded the pair of vampires before him.

    "You did well to bring this to me as swiftly as you did." He congratulated him. Then he turned his attention to Lucius. "I'm needed in the east. I may be gone for some time. Until I return, you are in charge." He rose from his chair, and made his way towards the oaken doors. Lucius followed after him.

    "My lord. What about your brother? Should he not be left in charge of your affairs here?"

    Salthar glanced over his shoulder. "Normally, yes. But I'll be taking Vengar with me. I may need his assistance. Have him meet me in the courtyard. We leave as soon as he's prepared." Lucius bowed again, and turned on his heel, searching for the younger Vivarian.

    4E 201, 15th of Second Seed
    Dawnstar

    Anton Carsus drew his cloak around himself and shivered. The freezing weather of Dawnstar was not what he was used to. Even in his armour, with the woollen underclothes and heavy cloak he wore, the chill still got to him. They'd taken a ship from Cyrodiil, originally planning on making port in Solitude. Unfortunately, a vicious storm had blown them off course, and they'd been forced to land in Dawnstar, instead. The jarl was far from happy with the arrival of fourteen heavily armed and armoured knights in his city.

    Anton had managed to convince the jarl, and the guardsmen that called the city home, that none of his knights had come with the intent of taking Dawnstar. He wasn't sure how convinced they were, but Anton and his knights had been allowed to take rooms at the local inn. It was late, now and the place was largely abandoned. The miners that brought in most of the citys' profit had long since left for their beds.

    Many of the knights were sleeping as well, getting their rest for the trip tomorrow. None of them were eager to remain in Dawnstar. Falkreath was quite a distance from Dawnstar, and there were many Stormcloak patrols between the two holds. He had no doubt that his men could handle the rebels, but Anton didn't want to enter into conflict with the rebels. Worse, they had the greater numbers, and the order wouldn't be able to send reinforcements. With the Imperial legions engaged with the rebels, it was unlikely they'd come to the knights aid either.

    He glanced up at the sky, clear, except for the smoke rising from the chimneys of numerous houses. 'We can't risk travelling to Falkreath as we are. It invites an assault.' Inspiration struck. They couldn't travel across Skyrim as they were, but if they were disguised as the locals...the order of the blazing sword was a group dedicated to hunting creatures of the night. And as a knight-commander, Anton knew a fair amount of other groups of monster hunters.

    The most prominent, so far, anyways, was a group known as the 'silver hand'. Werewolf hunters, and he'd heard rumours they went after the occasional vampires as well. More importantly, they had a large base, Driftshade refuge, to the south east of the city. Rumour also had it that they were no more than bandit thugs, willing to prey on farmers as likely as they were to hunt werewolves.

    That was irrelevant at the moment. The Stormcloaks probably didn't like them any more, but they were locals, at least. If the fourteen of them were to travel across Skyrim disguised as the silver hands, they would have less trouble. Not that they'd like the idea. Hiding their identities lacked honour, but to bring down a creature like Vivarian, sometimes honour needed to be set aside. With that thought in mind, he turned to head inside, wanting to get some rest before he revealed his plan to his companions.

    XXX

    "You can't be serious." One of the knights said, standing from his seat, his cheeks flushing. Anton kept his face expressionless, knowing the reaction could have been worse. However, only one of the knights had reacted in such a fashion. The others seemed to accept his plan, though none of them were happy about it.

    "Sit down, Tycus." Ferros said quietly, from his spot at the table. The knight-enchanter rarely had to rais his voice, and this morning was no different. The outspoken knight retook his seat, and stated into the mug in front of him. "Commander, I don't like this idea, none of us do. But if you feel that it's the best way to catch Vivarian off guard, we will go with it."

    The others nodded, some voicing their agreement. They knew that not only would their armour and weapons draw the attention of the stormcloaks, the vampires would doubtlessly hear about them as well. "How will we convince the silver hands? We've never met with them before now." Another knight pointed out.

    "They'll have no choice. Our mission here takes precedence over anything else right now." Anton explained. The expressions of the others turned grim. None of them relished the idea of killing men, but sometimes they simply didn't have a choice. The group ate their breakfast in silence, and then assembled outside, mounting their horses.

    They rode until noon, when the sun had reached its hull height. Despite the time, the increase in temperature was barely perceptible. Driftshade refuge had, apparently, once been a fortress in Skyrim. Now, looking at it from a distance, it was little more than ruin. "Not much to look at. Are we sure there's anyone in there? " Ferros asked. In response, Anton pointed just above the entrance. A figure stirred there, obviously watching the group of knights.

    "I'd say there are. Ferros, Tycus, come with me. The rest of you, stay here, and be ready for trouble." The others acknowledged, and Anton dismounted, starting towards the ruins. Ferros and Tycus followed his lead, their boots crunching through the snow as they followed him. They were two meters from the door leading into the remnant of the fort when their observer spoke.
    "That's far enough. What's your business in these parts?" Their observer, now revealed to be a Nord wearing a mixture of fur and leather armour asked. "You sure don't look lik travellers."

    Anton raised his gauntleted hand in greeting. "We've no ill intentions. We come to discuss a problem that effects your organization and ours."

    "Oh yeah?" The man sneered, "and what problem is that?"

    Tycus opened his mouth, probably to retort, but Anton caught his eye and shook his head. Now was not the time for a fight. Tycus was hot-headed, but dependable. His jaw clamped shut, though he couldn't help but glare at the sentry. "A vampire lord. He's known to work with the Thalmor, as well, and based in Falkreath hold. "

    The man didn't reply for a few minutes. However, Anton was certain that, bandits or not, the silver hand didn't have any love for the Thalmor. He was vindicated when the man came to a decision, nodding to himself, and saying "wait there. I'll let you in shortly."
    Relieved, Anton and the others waited. Moments later, the main door to the building opened. "Come on in. The boss wants to talk to you."

    The three knights, escorted by the sentry, made their way inside, examining their surroundings. The interior of the place was nothing special. The entrance opened up into a larger room, where several men of various races, all armed with the silver edged weaponry of the group. "This way." The man instructed, leading them up a flight of stairs.

    At the top of the stairs was a large room, with a rectangular table in the center of it. At the head of the table sat a man in steel plate armour, rimmed with dark fur. Anton suspected it had been cut from the pelt of a wolf. "Welcome to Skyrim. Pull up a chair. You told my guard that we had a mutual problem?"

    Anton and the pair of knights with him took their seats. "Yes. Salthar Vivarian. Maybe you've heard of him. Thalmor, assigned to Falkreath hold?"

    The man scowled. "Aye, I've heard of an elf sitting up in one of those ruins near the mountains. Also heard of a couple of Thalmor justiciars disappearing up there. Was hoping the Stormcloaks had done us a favour. "

    "No such luck I'm afraid. Perhaps you can help us remove the undead filth?" Anton said, hoping to seal the deal as quickly as possible. The sooner the knights got moving again, the sooner they could deal with the vampires. The silver hand stared at him, a curious expression on his face.

    "What were you thinking? You've got good armour, good weapons, I'm not sure how we could help you."

    "I suggest a trade. You would outfit us with your own arms and armour. In exchange, we would pay you, and provide you support in your fight against lycans."

    The head of the silver hands grinned. "You've got a deal." A little less than an hour later, Anton and his knights were riding to Falkreath hold, dressed as members of the silver hand. Now all they had to do was kill the Altmer vampire that had drawn them to Skyrim in the first place.

    4E 201, 17th of Second Seed
    The Thalmor Embassy

    The pair Altmer vampires rode up the road to the Thalmor embassy. Neither of them covered their faces, not bothered by the faint sunlight. Nor were they bothered by the fact they'd be easily recognized as Altmer, and to an experienced eye, vampires. Salthar was counting on the guards at the gates of the embassy recognizing them. He had not ridden out to the semi-hidden embassy only to be turned away by an ignorant fool. Beside him, Vengar stared at the walls of the place and said "remind me. Why are we here?"

    "Because the ambassador requested our presence." Salthar replied simply, not taking his gaze off the iron gates. Thanks to the embassys' remote location, not many of the Stormcloaks knew its location. Those few that did, were unwilling guests of the Thalmor. A good thing it was, too. While the embassy had stone walls, with iron fencing on top, the place would not hold out long against any kind of determined assault.

    "That explains why you're here." Vengar pointed out, turning to look at his brother, "but why am I here?"

    Salthar shrugged. "Perhaps I wish to remind the ambassador that we are not trained dogs, to be summoned when she has need of us."

    Vengar smirked and turned his attention back to embassy. As the pair of Altmer approached the gate, a pair of guards with spears left the embassy grounds, and crossed their weapons in front of the gateway. "Halt!" The Altmer on the right shouted. "State your names and purpose!"

    Salthar tugged on the reins of his mount, Vengar following his lead. "I am lord Salthar Vivarian of Skywatch, lord of the Bloodlet throne. This is my brother, Vengar Vivarian." He said, "our presence was requested by the ambassador." The guards exchanged glances, and when the one on the right nodded, his companion turned and went back inside the walled complex.

    A few minutes later, the guard returned, accompanied by another Altmer, the markings on his armour and uniform revealing him to be a captain. "Lord Vivarian. The ambasador is expecting you. We will take care of your mounts, if you'll follow me." Salthar dismounted, handing the reins of his horse to one of the stable hands waiting just inside the gate. Vengar followed his lead, and from there, the pair of vampires followed the captain.

    He lead them to a building behind the main embassy, leading them up to the stairs, before turning to face them. "The ambassador awaits you inside." The captain said, "but you'll need to leave your weapons outside."

    "What? Why?" Demanded Vengar, hands going to his axe-hafts. The captains eyes flicked from the vampires red flecked eyes to the weapons.

    "I'm just doing my duty, sir. None are permitted to see the ambassador while armed." Vengar snarled softly, and began to draw the axe, but stopped when Salthar reached out and placed a restraining hand on his arm.

    "There's no need for violence." He said reasonably, "if the ambassador wishes for me to disarm, I will of course comply. " He unbuckled his sword belt, wrapping it around the hilt of his weapon, and handed it to the captain. The mer accepted the weapon, but kept his eyes on Vengar. "My brother will remain outside. Surely he'll be allowed to hold onto his weapons then?"

    "Ah..." the captain looked like he would have preferred Vengar be as far as possible from the embassy grounds. "Yes, that would be possible." The heavily armoured Almter vampire crossed his arms, and stood with his back to the door. Salthar stepped past him, into the building. Vengar had performed admirably, successfully intimidating the embassy guards. A less than subtle reminder that the pair of them weren't merely obeying orders.

    Salthar stepped inside, and winced as sunlight, amplified by the glass on the ceiling. At the far end of the room, on the other side of a fancy desk, sat Elenwen, the Altmer ambassador. "Lord Vivarian. I'm glad you could make it. Word has spread of your work in Falkreath hold.Especially the burning of a group of Talos worshipers, with the entirety of a village watching."

    Salthar took the seat opposite the ambassador, trying not to look too uncomfortable in the sunlight. Any question that Elenwen was ignorant to what he was left his mind. Clearly, she thought the sunlight would discourage Salthar from giving in to his...darker nature. She needn't have worried, but he wasn't about to tell her that. "That was my intent, madame ambassador. That one action has brought down blatant Talos worship down astronomically."

    "Yes...unfortunately, that action also means most heretics we come across would rather fight to the death than surrender." Elenwen said, scowling.

    "Madame ambassador, I somehow doubt you sent for me simply to scold me. What is it you want?"

    "Despite your somewhat...unorthodox methods, you get results. There is...an issue, that requires your attention. "

    When Salthar merely lifted his eyebrows, she elaborated. " A talos worshipper, a filthy heretic, has taken up with the Stormcloaks in the Reach."

    "Hardly surprising" Salthar said, "these Stormcloaks are the ideal army for any rabble with the slightest bit of training to join."

    "These heretics are no untrained rabble. One of them, was an Imperial general during the great war. He was with the army that retook the Imperial city."

    "Interesting" admitted Salthar, paying closer attention, " and the name of this 'issue'?"

    "Simus Psyrakon. Our agents in Cyrodiil attempted to eliminate him several months ago, but he and his family ran. Our forces slew several members of the family, but the general himself and several of his children managed to escape into Skyrim."

    "And why haven't you taken steps to kill him in Skyrim?" Salthar asked.

    "We only located him a week ago. Like I mentioned, he and his men been causing all kinds of trouble for our forces. You will travel to the Reach, and dispose of him."

    "No." The simple word seemed to shock Elenwen. She blinked rapidly, then her expression turned dangerous.

    "No?"

    "There are dozens of justiciars who would leap at the chance to remove this thorn in the Thalmors side. Why not have the fool who blundered so badly in Cyrodiil delivered to the Reach to finish his mission? I have other duties as well."

    "Oh yes. We know all about your 'coven' of bloodsuckers. We tolerate the condition of you and your followers because you keep Falkreath hold in line through fear. Do not make us regret that decision." The ambassador said coldly. "You will go to the Reach. You will kill Simus Psyrakon, along with any other heretics you find. Go now."

    Salthar stood, towering over the Altmer woman, a glint of anger in his gold-red eyes. Then he inclined his head, "as you wish, ambassador." He said, and turned to make his way to the door. When he'd reached it, he paused and looked over his shoulder, "just remember; my coven is loyal to me, not the Thalmor." Before she could respond, the robed vampire was out the door.
     
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    #5 Madrar, Apr 16, 2015
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  6. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 19th of Second Seed
    Dunsten, Cyrodiil

    Severus stood outside the house, Alissa at his side. The pair of them watched the people of Dunsten go about their business. Most of that business included taking the villages small herd of sheep to a nearby pasture to graze, or tanning leather for shoes, gloves, or other things. Alissa glanced at the sky, and noted "looks like rain." Severus glanced up to see for himself, and couldn't help but agree. Unlike the day he'd asked for Alissas' hand in marriage, the sky was overcast with greyclouds.

    "Emeline is going to be angry. She told me she was planning on hanging some hides out to dry today." He said, mentioning the village tanner.

    "Not as angry as Vitius. He was planning on taking his granddaughters out to the forest today." Alissa said. Severus nodded. Old Vitius had taken in his twin granddaughters after their parents had died. The circumstances of the couples death weren't known to him, and Vitius didn't like to talk about it.

    He turned to Alissa, taking the moment to admire her. She glanced at him and smiled "what are you thinking?"

    "How lucky I am." He murmured, wrapping an arm around her waist. She laughed and leaned against him.

    "Flatterer."

    Severus smirked at her. "Is it working?"

    She laughed again. "You need to ask? Anyways, I was thinking about an autumn wedding, when the leaves are just starting to change colours. If it's a nice day we could have it outside..." Alissa trailed off as she realized Severus was no longer listening to her. His eyes were locked on a shop down the road. A small group of legionnaires had assembled outside. One of them was knocking on the door, though the soldiers didn't look ready for battle. Rather, they looked almost...mournful.

    The shop door the legionnaires were knocking on belonged to Severus' family. He tore his gaze away from the door to look at Alissa. "Stay here...please." He murmured, leaving the house, and walking towards the Imperial soldiers. One of the men turned towards him, curiousity in his eyes. "Can I help you, citizen?"

    The soldier that had been knocking at the door and the last man turned to look at him as well. Severus gestured to the door behind them, and said "I was about to ask you the same thing."

    Surprise blossomed on the faces of the legionnaires. "This is your shop?"

    Severus frowned. The troops that had been stationed in Dunsten on their way to Skyrim knew the shop belonged to Severus' mother. He looked at the soldiers again, noticing for the first time their battered armour and shields. "It belongs to my parents. They're the local herbalists. "

    The lead soldier, the one that had been knocking, opened his mouth, but before he could reply, Severus' father opened the door. The older mans eyes flicked from the legionnaires to Severus, alarm creeping into his demeanor." Is there a problem here, soldiers?"

    The lead legionnaire didn't answer the question directly. Instead, asked, "are you Kenyon Valte?" Severus' father nodded, and the man pulled a roll of parchment from his belt. "The legion has need of your skills. This is a conscription order."

    Kenyon read the paper, a frown etched on his face. Severus stared, unable to comprehend what he was hearing. "Are you crazy? My father is in no condition to travel to the front lines! There must be capable healers in-"

    "Severus." Kenyon said sharply, cutting off his sons protests. The herbalist turned his attention to the soldiers. "If the legion has need of my skills, of course I'll come with you. If you don't mind giving me a few moments to say goodbye to my family?"

    The soldier looked uncomfortable. Obviously, he wasn't happy with his orders, but he was carrying them out nevertheless. "Of course, sir. Take as long as you need." The soldiers stepped away from the shop door, allowing Severus to get inside.

    Kenyon closed the door, and Severus rounded on him. He was aware of his mother watching the pair of them warily. "What are you thinking?" He asked. "If anyone's going to march off to war, it should
    be me."

    "Don't be foolish." His mother spoke up. "You're getting married. What is Alissa going to say if you leave her to fight in this stupid war?"

    Kenyon brought a finger to his lips and glanced at the door. Despite the motion, it was clear he agreed with his wife. "Severus, please. I may not be a soldier, but I've more experience with herbs and dealing with injuries."

    Severus snorted. "Not that much more than me. Besides, I'm more fit than you, father." He turned to regard his mother. "I'm leaving so that Alissa and I can have a future without worrying about the war."

    Kenyon and Lara Valte shared a glance, and Severus noticed the sorrow in both their eyes. His mother shook her head, very slightly, and Kenyon sighed. "There's no convincing you, is there Sev'?" When Severus shook his head, the older man sighed again and nodded. "Okay. If your mind is made up, I won't stop you. You aren't a child anymore."

    Kenyon Valte went to the door, opened it, and started to explain the change of plans to the soldiers. Lara turned, taking a large satchel off one of the lower shelves, and carefully began placing vials, a mortar and pestle, bandages, a needle and thread, and various herbs and other things used for wound treatment. "I'll make sure your things are packed. Go and see Alissa."

    Severus wrapped his mother in a hug. "Thank you, mom. I'll make you proud."

    She returned the embrace with surprising strength. "Just be safe out there."

    He left the shop, and made his way back to the house. Alissa had waited for him, but she left the porch and met him halfway down the street. "Severus, what's going on? Are you in trouble?"

    He shook his head. "No, but... I need to go."

    "Go? Go where?" Alissa asked.

    "With the soldiers. They need me. I need to help them. If I can keep a few more soldiers alive, it could mean the Empire wins this war faster."

    Alissa was quiet for a long time, but when she spoke again, her voice was surprisingly strong, though tears trickled down her face. "Just...come back to me."

    "I will." He promised, "after this war is over, we'll have all the time in the world to spend with each other."

    "I like the sound of that." She drew close, and Severus wrapped his arms around her, kissing her softly.

    He heard the clank of armour, and someone cleared their throat behind him. The soldier stood there, looking apologetic. "Time to go." Severus nodded, and followed the man. He was aware of other soldiers falling in around them, and his mother handing him a pair of bags. As the Imperials moved north, towards the mountains, Severus looked over his shoulder, towards Dunsten. 'I will survive this war.' He promised himself, 'and I will return.'


    4E 201, 24th of Second Seed
    The Reach

    Vengar Vivarian must have checked the rocky sides of the narrow ravine the two Altmer were riding through at least a dozen times. Salthar, on the other hand, kept his eyes straight ahead, besides the occassional glance at his brother. It had taken them the better part of a week to ride from the Thalmor embassy to the Reach. The pair of them had taken pains to travel during the night, and used the paths that were less traveled by common folk.

    "Stop." The armoured vampire said suddenly, bringing his mount to a halt. Salthar followed his brothers lead.

    "What is it?"

    "We're being watched." Vengar jerked his chin towards one of the rock ledges. Salthar glanced up towards the rocks. It was certainly a concealing position. If he'd been planning an ambush, that was where he'd have deployed his men.

    "Stormcloaks?"

    "I don't think so. The rebels don't know we're coming, and this pass isn't used very often."

    "In that case, let's say hello, shall we?" Salthar climbed off his horse, and strode a short distance away from the animal. He stared up at the cliff, taking in the terrain. Though steep, a skilled climber could make their way up. Or down, if they were so inclined. "We know you're there." The Altmer sorcerer called. Vengar joined him, sliding the axes out of holsters on his belt.

    A moment after he'd spoken, an arrow arced towards the robed vampire. Salthars wards stopped the projectile a handspan away from his torso, and it clattered on the ground. Someone from the cliffside loosed a warcry, and the attackers revealed themselves. A half dozen scantily clad warriors, rushed towards the pair of vampires.

    Salthar lifted his hand, and a blast of purple-white lightning sprang forth, striking the lead warrior in the chest. The man nearly completed a backflip before slamming into the hard ground. However, the others weren't dissuaded by the death of their companion. If anything, they simply ignored his death. When the Forsworn had covered all but two meters of ground, Vengar stepped forwards, engaging the leading pair of warriors.

    The Altmer warrior deflected the blade of the first warrior. His axe swung in, catching the warrior in the side, and chopping through his armour. The second man slashed at the thick armour covering Vengars back. The vampire turned and hacked through the sinew of the mans neck. The three remaining warriors exchanged nervous glances. Salthar struck the man on the right with another lightning bolt, while the leftmost Forsworn rushed Vengar in a desperate assault.

    The heavily armoured vampire let the woman force him backwards with a flurry of sword sword assaults. Salthar turned to the last warrior, obviously the leader. The man gripped an axe in his hand, watching Salthar. Waiting for him to make the next move. Salthar extended his hand, but this time, instead of a lethal assault, he hit him with a telekinetic blast. The man was blown off his feet, but unharmed.

    He then turned in time to see the conclusion of his brothers duel. Vengar had taken the womans right arm off, and finished her with a sweep of his second weapon, decapitating her. He looked up from his kill, and his eyes locked on the last Forsworn warrior. "You missed one." The armoured vampire pointed out. He approached and brought his axe up for a decapitating blow. Salthar stopped him with an outstretched arm.

    "Not him. We may have a use for this one." He explained. Vengar stepped back and glanced at his brother. The leader of the failed ambush looked at him too, confused at his postponed death.

    "What are you thinking?" Vengar asked.

    "I won't tell you where the rest of my tribe is, elf. Not even if you torture me." The man promised, jutting his chin out defiantly.

    "That's not what I had in mind, actually." Salthar replied casually. "You must know where the Stormcloak fort in these parts is. I want you to tell us about it."

    The man frowned. Clearly, he hadn't expected a pair of elves, one of them clearly Thalmor to do more than execute him. "What's in it for us if I tell you?"

    Salthar arched an eyebrow. "Us?"

    "The Forsworn. Give me a reason to help."

    The Altmer sorcerer chuckled, impressed by the mans bravery. "Would a new base of operations in the Reach suffice?"

    "What base?"

    "Why, the Stormcloak fort, of course. If I recall correctly, the Forsworn have more reason to hate the Nords than most."

    The mans expression ranged from surprised to suspicious in a few seconds. "The Thalmor would just give us a fort? "

    "No." Salthar said shortly. "However, my brother and I are part of an...independent organization. You'd supply the manpower, and we would make sure your assault succeeded."

    "Made sure? How?"
    Salthar smiled. "I'm afraid I can't reveal that. However, if you're interested, meet us here with what forces you can assemble, by this evening.After you've told us about the fort, of course."

    The Forsworn warrior shrugged. " It's to the north east of here. Open ground all around it. It's well defended, that's for sure. We haven't been able to find a way in, and neither have the Imperials." The man summarized. "Patrols ride out three times a day, looking for any scouts, I'd guess. Whoever's in charge there knows what he's doing."

    Salthar nodded. That made sense as to why the Thalmor hadn't been able to slip into the fort to remove this Simus Psyrakon. If what the man said was true, the fort was operating at readiness levels that hadn't been seen since the great war. "Thank you. Consider my offer. My brother and I will be here tonight, shortly before sunset."

    After the man had scrambled back into the hills, Vengar turned to Salthar, looking annoyed. "We should have just killed him and be done with it."

    Salthar smirked. "Perhaps, but even you could not kill an entire garrison of Stormcloak troops. "

    His brother shrugged, then grinned. "Maybe not...but it would have been fun to try. So what do we do now?"

    "What I said. We'll meet with him and whoever he chooses to meet with here tonight. And then we shall see how Simus Psyrakon deals with an organized force of Forsworn." Salthar said. "But first, let us see if we can't find some travelling merchants or farmers. A fight always makes me thirsty."


    4E 201, 24th of Second Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne

    Derek was in a line of workers, heading back to the barracks when he saw Tannis out of the corner of his eye. The Bretons expression was equal parts excitement and worry, and he realized the man had news. Derek pretended to slip on the wet cobblestones of the courtyard, and fell to his knees. The vampire guard nearest him, an Altmer woman, snarled something about him being a clumsy oaf, and shouted for the prisoners to keep moving.

    Tannis knelt by his side, grabbing him under the shoulders and placing his mouth next to his ear. "The head bat is gone." He whispered.

    Derek shot his friend a quick look, and, moving his lips as little as possible, murmured; "you're sure?"

    Tannis started to respond, then thought better of it, hauling Derek fully upright. "Later" he hissed as he moved past him.

    For the past two weeks, Derek, Tannis, and any other prisoner interested in escape had been secretely sneaking tools into the barracks. Some smaller than others, but all together, they had a promising assortment of makeshift weapons. Over those two weeks, the dozen or so men that had decided to escape had grown to nearly fifty.

    As far as he could tell, the vampires hadn't caught on to their activities. It wasn't hard to think that the bloodsuckers had grown overly confident in their fortress. They didn't believe anyone could cause trouble in the isolated, heavily defended location. If they had been expecting trouble, Derek never would have dreamed of escape. There were nearly a hundred vampires in the Bloodlet throne, and more seemed to arrive every week. The fact that one of the nightspawn was easily as strong as three men, didn't help matters.

    He made his way into the barracks, and found most of the men he and Tannis and the dozen others had recruited waiting. "So? Is it true?" One of the men demanded.

    Tannis nodded. "He left a little over a week ago. I waited to make sure it wasn't a ruse."

    "Good thinking, Tannis." Derek said, "anything else we should know?"

    One of the prisoners Derek didn't know, a boy, barely seventeen, by the look of him, rose from his seat. "I overheard one of the guards, talking about how they're expecting a merchant two days from now. At night."

    Derek couldn't remember the last time he'd heard such good news. "Then that's when we'll make our escape. What's your name, lad?"

    "Hannig. I bring water to the men at the quarry." The boy replied.

    "Well done, Hannig." Derek said, then turned to the others. "Get some rest. In two days, we'll be free men." The table shook as the men pounded it enthusiastically with their fists.


    4E 201, 25th of Second Seed
    The Reach

    Salthar sat on the boulder, hidden, from view to the road below, except for the keenest of observers. Around him were over a dozen Forsworn warriors, all of them radiating excitement. "Why are we doing this? You promised me a fort, not a random massacre." A gruff voice said from behind him. Well, almost all of them were patient. Salthars offer had been taken up by the Forsworn tribe in the area. He and Vengar had been only been left waiting a few minutes when their former prisoner returned. With several dozen Forsworn warriors, and a small group of shamans. The leader of their group, was a Forsworn warlord by the name of Gwydionn Harghest.

    It was clear, to Salthar, at least, that the man had no grasp of tactics. From what he'd heard, the warlord had simply been throwing his forces at the Stormcloaks. And been slaughtered. He'd made it perfectly clear that he didn't trust Salthar, and was only putting up with him because he'd promised him a new fort. Without turning, he said "We are doing this, warlord, because, as you've discovered, throwing soldiers at a stone wall accomplishes nothing."

    "Don't speak to me as if I'm a fool, elf." Harghest grumbled. "I'm the one in charge, and you'd better not forget it."

    This time, Salthar did turn around. Gwyndion Harghest was a large man, wearing a mixture of hides and furs, decorated with bear claws and sabre cat teeth. Unlike many of his warriors, he wore no helmet. His hair was a dark blonde, and his face was scarred from many battles. His beard and hair formed a bushy main around his head.

    "I was under the impression you wanted my help. Just because you don't understand my tactics doesn't mean they're wrong. Ambushing the Stormcloak patrols will lower their morale significantly. Besides, killing this patrol now means they'll have less men at the fort. Do you understand now?" The warlord grumbled something that was vaguely affirmative, and Salthar turned back to watching the road.

    Vengar was on the other side of the road, with another group of Forsworn. They would cut off any rebels attempting to get back to the fortress. Salthar fully intended to help the Forsworn kill Stormcloaks. Not, however, for the reason he'd told their prisoner the day before, or the warlord on the evening of the same day. He had no intention of handing the fort over to them. An important step to understanding an enemy was to see how they reacted in a battle. The Forsworn were fodder, nothing else.

    He motioned for silence as he heard the sounds of an approaching patrol. He peered around the rocks he was using for cover. The patrol made their way around a bend in the road, a half dozen Stormcloaks, in full uniform. They were surprisingly well armed for rebels, though there was an easiness to their bearing. Their recent victories over the Forsworn, Imperials, and occasional Thalmor, had given them confidence. It was time to rattle that confidence. "You may commence your attack."

    Warlord Harghest stood and bellowed a warcry, brandishing a long shafted, two handed axe. The Forsworn swarmed down the hillside, and the Stormcloaks met the descending group with battle cries of their own. It didn't take Salthar long to realize that these Stormcloaks were more disciplined than most. They fought like Imperial legionnaires, not unorganized rabble. Still, they were being overwhelmed by the sheer ferocity and numbers of the Forsworn.

    He spotted one of the group who was not a brandishing a warhammer or blade. Instead, she brought her hand up, a pale blue aura surrounding her forearm. Salthars' lightning bolt struck her in the chest, and she collapsed. By now, Vengars group had cut the remaining rebels off from the way they'd come. A few moments later, the fight was over, and the Forsworn were cheering, elated at their victory. Salthar examined the bodies, and was satisfied to see an amulet of Talos on all of them.
    "What now?" Demanded Gwyndion, making his way towards Salthar.

    "Now?" Salthar knelt and tore the amulet from of the bodies. "Now I show the rebels what happens to heretics." He looked up at the warlord. "How long to the fort?"

    The man shrugged. "An hour on foot, moving slow. Half that if we move quickly. When do we attack?"

    "Nightfall. Now be silent, I have to concentrate." The warlord frowned at the answer, but he didn't speak, instead crossing his arms and watching the Thalmor vampire. Salthar removed each amulet from around the necks of the dead Stormcloaks. Then, using the leather strings, he bound them to the right wrist of each soldier. When he'd finished, he sat back and looked over his handiwork.

    Vengar approached, and stared over his shoulder. "A message?"

    Salthar smiled. "Of a sorts. No doubt Psyrakon has realized by know the Thalmor know he's in Skyrim. He doesn't strike me as stupid. Consider this..." he gestured to the row of corpses, "a formal challenge. If we're lucky, he'll grow careless at the death of his men, and one of the Forsworn will slide a blade into him. "

    "And if we're not lucky?"

    Salthar shrugged. "Then we'll have learned something else about the man."

    Vengars eyes narrowed. "You're intrigued by him." He said bluntly.

    Salthar laughed and glanced over his shoulder. "An Imperial general who escaped persecution in Cyrodiil, to flee here, and then join the Stormcloaks? Doesn't he intrigue you?"

    The other vampire sighed. "He's a mortal. He'll die like anyone else when I put an axeblade in his skull."

    Salthar merely sighed and shook his head.

    "How are you planning on getting these bodies to the fort? I don't think the Forsworn will agree to carry them." Salthar glanced at his brother and smiled, then turned to the first corpse, the one on the left and of the line. He beckoned to it, channeling necromantic magics into the motion. The corpses eyes flew opened, but there was no hint of the mans former self. Just a glazed over, hungry stare. It clambered awkwardly to its feet, and stood, arms at its sides. The other corpses followed the lead of the first, climbing stiffly to their feet, and forming a line facing the Altmer vampires.

    "Black magic!" Hissed one of the shamans, bringing her own magics to her hands.

    Salthar gave her an admonishing look. "Don't be foolish. Necromancy is a tool. A tool that might win us the coming battle." He turned his attention to warlord Harhest. "We are ready to leave for the fort."

    4E 201, 25th of Second Seed
    The Reach, Stormcloak fort

    Simus Pysrakon stared out across the rocky foot hills that made up most of the Reach. He and his men had been stationed in the fort several weeks ago. Their primary duty was to stop Forsworn raids, and harrass Imperial and Thalmor troops. So far, they'd been wildly sucessful. Neither the Thalmor nor the Imperials had expected the Stormcloak forces to move into the Reach as soon as they had. That was probably a good thing. With the Imperial legions only recently mobilizing in force, the Stormcloaks had a chance to secure much of Skyrim, and bring a swift end to the war.

    Though a veteran of countless battles, Simus was tired of war. Or, more accurately, tired of the pointless civil war that was starting to emerge in all corners of Skyrim. He knew the Stormcloaks were the only ones that could purge Skyrim, and then the whole of the Empire of the corruption and intolerance that had seeped into it. He took no joy, however, in the deaths of the Imperial legionnaires he faced. Those men, like Simus and the men under his command, were merely obeying orders.

    He knew who the real enemy was: the Thalmor. The radical group that had ruined his life in Cyrodiil, and the lives of countless others. Once this stupid war was over, the legion and the Stormcloaks would finally be able to eliminate them. And reforge the Empire into a force to be reckoned with. "One day." He murmured to himself, feeling the cool wind on his face. The final rays of the sun elongated his shadow, the heavy, Stormcloak blue armour he wore making the shadow appear a bulky giant.

    "Sir." He turned to see Gunjar, one of his men. The man looked rather anxious, all things considered. They hadn't been attacked by Imperial or Forsworn forces in several days. Things inside the fort were running smoothly.

    "What is it, Gunjar?"

    The soldier nodded out past the walls. "One of our patrols is late. The look outs haven't seen hide nor hair of them for some time."

    Simus frowned. It was not like one of his patrols to be late. Or, to forget to send a runner to inform the garrison what they were up to. "How late?"

    "Several hours, sir. Do you want-" He was interrupted by a shout from one of the lookoouts.

    "I see them!" A lookout shouted.

    Simus turned back to the field and hills beyond the wall. Gundar joined him. Sure enough, the patrol, all six of them could be seen, making their way to the gate. Simus frowned. Something was wrong about the way the patrol was marching. His soldiers were well trained, but these six...their movements were too synchronized, and much too rigid. He heard the gates start to open below him.
    'Something's wrong.' He realized, then shouted "close the gate!" The reinforced gates slammed shut. Gunjar turned towards him, confusion on his face. Simus ignored him for the moment. "That's far enough." He called to the patrol. The setting sun didn't offer much of a view of their features, but even with one eye, Simus could tell something was off about them.

    "Report." Several Stormcloaks that had come to the wall, drawn by the return of their comrades, shot Simus strange looks. He'd never done this before. The patrol was spreading out now. When all six of them were in a line facing the wall, they saluted, right fists to their hearts. Then, the same arm stretched out, something small and glinting in the sunlight dangling from them. It was hard to make out from such a distance, but their were only a few things Stormcloak soldiers carried that were that small. Then the group stepped forwards, into the dying light. Simus felt his breath catch upon seeing them properly for the first time.

    Dried blood clung to their uniforms and armour, and their skin was pale. Simus knew that no man could lose that much blood and survive, which meant- "By Talos." Gunjar breathed. "Are they-"

    "Dead." Simus confirmed. "Someone or something reanimated them." As if that statement had been what the walking corpses were waiting for, they collapsed. The men on the wall watched for a little while longer, to ensure they really would be staying dead. Then Simus sent a small group to confirm what he'd already suspected.

    "It's their amulets, sir." Reported one man, after returning from beyond the wall. As soon as he'd finished speaking, multiple horn blasts rent the air.

    Gunjar, standing beside him, frowned. "Those are Forsworn horn blasts. Are they responsible for this?"

    "I don't think so." Forsworn had no interest in who the Nords worshipped. And, as far as Simus knew, none of them were necromancers. However, it didn't take a genius to realize who'd orchestrated the march of the dead. "Prepare for battle." He ordered, "and keep your eyes open for Thalmor mages."
    The Forsworn were patient. They waited until the sun had disappeared completely. Simus had the braziers on the wall lit. Though the flames gave away their position, in order for the soldiers on the wall to be able to see anything, they needed to be lit. Simus stood on the battlements, his one good eye staring into the dark.

    Moments later, the horns sounded again, and the Stormcloaks could hear the battlecries of Forsworn warriors as they rushed the fort. "Archers!" Simus shouted over the war whoops of the enemy. Over a dozen forsworn fell with feathered shafts protruding from their chests and necks. Yet more came from the darkness, avoiding more volleys of arrows.

    "Grappling hooks!" Someone along the wall shouted. Simus turned to see one such hook lodge itself between a pair of battlements. He drew the pair of ebony swords and advanced. Before he'd gotten to it, a warrior wearing the hide and fur armour of the Forsworn. The man let out a yell and swung the crude axe at Simus' head. The Imperial moved fast for someone of his age, dodging the axeblow, and slashing at his opponents middle.

    The warrior leapt back, avoiding Simus slash, but wasn't fast enough to dodge the other mans' shoulder rush. The Forsworn toppled backwards off the wall, and Simus used his sword to hew through the rope. " Don't let them on the wall!" He shouted, though he wasn't sure his men heard him over the clash of combat.

    His men surged around him, holding the line against the press of Forsworn warriors. The Forsworn that did make it to the top of the wall fought ferociously, they simply couldn't hold the wall. Thanks to the high ground, the Forsworn were forced off the walls. The reachmen launched several more assaults, which the Stormcloaks repelled. Then a horn blast sounded from the hills, and the Forsworn retreated in droves.

    Simus lowered his weapons and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Then he returned to the place where the reanimated patrol had arrived. The Thalmor were behind the attack. He was certain of it. And yet...he hadn't seen any of the distinctive armour of robes of the Thalmor justiciars. "The cowards send the Forsworn against us but don't dare come within bow range."

    Gunjar, approached, sporting a long gash on his forearm. "What was that sir?"

    Simus turned to the man and gave him a reassuring smile that he didn't feel. "Noting. Go get that wound looked at, soldier. I want a full casualty report by the nights end." He left the walls to retire to his quarters. And think about why the Thalmor would choose to threaten him in such a morbid manner.

    4E 201, 25th of Second Seed
    The Reach
    "This is a disaster!" roared warlord Harghest. The bushy bearded man paced back and forth behind Salthar. The warlord, the two vampires, and several of the higher ranking shaman had observed the battle from a safe distance. The warlord hadn't been pleased about the vampires not participating directly in the battle. By the time the Stormcloaks had routed the Forsworn forces, Harghest was furious.

    "A disaster is a mild term for it." Salthar said dryly, watching the surviving Forsworn warriors stagger past him. Towards the safety offered by the hills, "but, " the Altmer sorcerer said, " I learned quite a lot about the garrison commander. "

    Harghest turned to him, incredulous. "This was all just an exercise to you? Those are my men out there! Bleeding out on land that's rightfully theirs. All because you wanted to see how the Stormcloaks would react?"

    Salthar turned and started walking away from the field of dead Forsworn, and the Stormcloak fort. "Well, you know what they say about those who poke a sleeping bear. Someone is bound to get mauled." He called over his shoulder.

    "I'll have your head on a stick for this you elven-" the warlord started to say, but his voice was cut off when Salthar turned on him, making a pinching motion with his thumb and forefinger. Harghests threat turned into a gasp as his breath was telekenetically cut off.

    "Please. If you're going to threaten someone, at least make it...original. For example; if you presume to threaten me again, I'll have the skin flayed from your body. Your people served their part admirably. " Harghest had fallen to his knees, hand scratching at his throat. Salthar released the spell, allowing the warlord to suck in a lungful of air. "Goodbye, warlord. I'll remember you once I've established my new order." The pair of vampires made their way into the night.

    4E 201, 25th of Second Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne

    Lucius Draconus sat alone in one of the many rooms in the keep of the Bloodlet throne. A candle flickered on the desk beside him as he pored over various scrolls. He took the responsibility of overseeing matters at the fortress seriously. Ocassionaly, he paused to marvel at the situation. A couple of months ago, he'd been a skilled sword for hire, desperately scraping coin together to support his family in Cyrodiil. Now? He was, to date one of the best swordsmen in Tamriel, and a respected member of an organization that wasn't trying to tear apart an empire.

    He'd thought he'd lost his chance to be someone of import when his father had been arrested and his family had fallen out of the empires good graces. Salthar Vivarian had given him a purpose, one that didn't include desperately doing what was asked of him. And he'd be damned if he was going to disappoint the Altmer.

    Even if his duties in the Bloodlet throne lately had involved more paperwork and less swordplay. He glanced wistfully over at his ancestral longsword, leaning against the desk. It had been far too long since he'd practiced his swordsmanship. Hopefully, when Salthars decided he was ready to emerge from hiding in the Bloodlet throne, Lucius would be chosen to lead the assault.

    'Enough of idle day dreaming' he reprimanded himself. He turned his attention back to the parchment in front of him. It was a note, informing him that the latest shipment of ebony ore would be arriving the next evening. Making a note to be at the gates at the designated time, he set it aside. He was about to move on to the next sheet, when there was a knock at the door. "Come." He called, privately glad for the distraction.

    A Dunmer vampire in the covens' ebony armour stepped into the room. He was holding the upper arm of a burly man with a shaggy black beard. A mortal man, most likely one of the workers. "I'm sorry to disturb you sir, but this prisoner says he has information. He insists it's urgent."

    Lucius regarded the man. Despite his size, their was no hiding the fear in his eyes, or the way his hands trembled. "Is that so?" The Imperial vampire inquired, motioning for man to speak up.

    "Y-yes, sir. There's going to be an escape attempt...tomorrow night."

    "Is there?" Lucius gestured to the chair on the other side of the desk. "Why don't you take a seat and tell me about it?"


    4E 201, 26th of Second Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne

    "Everything is ready, Derek." Tannis said quietly as the men handed out makeshift weapons. In Dereks opinion, the news couldn't have come at a better time. Work on the Bloodlet throne had finished that day. He was certain that if they didn't escape now, they never would. He took a small axe for himself. He had no idea how the man that'd slipped it into the barracks. It wasn't exactly inconspicuous.

    He looked around at the grim faced men, and noticed one was missing. "Where's Ulfjar?"

    Tannis scanned the crowd for himself, and shrugged. "Who knows? Who cares? If he doesn't want to break out with us, that's his problem. We don't have time to look for him." As much as Derek hated the thought of leaving a friend behind, Tannis was right.

    He turned to the men. Now was not the time for speeches. If the guards outside overheard anything, the whole plan would crumble to dust. "Now's our chance. Keep low, keep your voices down. Once we're at the gates, run. If we get bogged down in a fight, we'll have alerted the entire fortress on us." He eyed the door, took a breath, and nodded. "Let's go.

    As soon as he'd left the barracks and taken a few steps, he knew something had gone wrong. "Where in Oblivion are all the guards?" Tannis hissed from his side.

    "I don't know, but we're not waiting around to find out."

    They made their way out of the courtyard and towards the gatehouse. And found the guards. Nearly a dozen vampires, clad in ebony armour, wielding dark swords and shields, stood in front of the open gates. At the front of the group stood Lucius, longsword in hand, wearing the same dark clothing that he always seemed to wear. Beside him was- "Ulfjar?" Derek wanted to think that it was some trick of the light, but he knew from the expression on the big mans face; Ulfjar had betrayed them.

    "I'm sorry, Derek. I don't want to die." The Nord called, looking genuinely miserable.

    Lucius spoke up. "I'm surprised at you, Derek. Don't you want to see your family again? You performed your work on the wall admirably. There's no need to sneak out like thieves in the night."

    "He's lying!" Derek said, hearing a few uncertain murmurs behind him. "All we'd get as payment is a bloody death! Remember our fellow workers, murdered and left out as warnings!" The uncertainty behind him turned to anger. "Make for the gates!" He could see the team of horses and the wagon full of crates. The vampires hadn't set about unloading it yet.

    The men surged forwards, and Lucius signaled. There was movement above, and a half dozen crossbowmen appeared, firing into the crowd. Crossbow bolts tore through flesh and muscle like wet parchment. The man in beside Derek fell, bolt lodged in his throat. Someone else screamed as another bolt buried itself in his leg. Then the remaining forty-something workers were among the vampires.

    Derek dodged a swing from a Bosmer vampire, and struck at the elfs' head with the axe. The vampire blocked with his shield, then stiffened and fell forwards, a long, sharpened piece of wood lodged in his neck. The boy, Hannig, stood behind him, another similar improvised weapon in his other hand. "Good lad. Get to the gate and get out." Derek instructed him. The boy nodded and vanished into the melee.

    Derek made his way after him, only to find the way barred by the Altmer vampiress that had been on guard duty two days earlier. She had no helmet, and her lower jaw, her sword, and armour were smeared with blood. He very much doubted it was hers. He swung the axe, and she parried with her weapon, bearing her fangs in a derisive sneer. Derek slammed into her, trapping her shield arm between his body and hers. Then he disengaged his axe, and buried the blade in the side of her head. She collapsed instantly, and Derek moved on. He spotted a few black armoured vampires, but many more prisoners lay unmoving on the cobblestones.

    He made his way to the gates, and found Lucius dueling three men. Two other prisoners lay nearby. The two of the remaining men were armed with clubs, and the third had picked up one of the vampires swords. Lucius stood with his own longsword outstretched,dancing between the three weapons opposing him. As Derek watched, the vampire killed all three men. The first with a riposte that had his blade peircing the mans heart. The second with a looping swing that slashed through the tunic and flesh beneath of his stomach, followed by a backhand that neatly slit the mans throat. The third, with a slash to the leg, and another thrust, one that slipped between the mans ribs, into his heart.

    Then he stepped away from the corpses, and his eyes locked on Derek. Swearing to himself, he glanced at the ground, and found what he sought. He stooped, and came back up with a scavenged shield. Lucius continued towards him at an unhurried pace, bloody sword at his side. Derek hefted his sheild and went towards him. He swung his axe at the mans unprotected side, only to have the vampire parry the blow. "Really, you'll have to do much better than that." He chastised, and Derek growled.

    He attempted the same maneuver that had worked on the Altmer woman, aiming to trap Lucius sword between the shield and the vampires body. Lucius stepped back, his arm moved, and Derek felt a burning pain just below his hairline, stretching to his right eyebrow. Something warm and wet rolled down his forehead, and an instant later, blood trickled into his eye. He blinked furiously, to no avail. He was now half blind. He swung the axe madly, trying to keep the vampire at bay. The longsword in the vampires hand gave him the advantage of reach. A blow bounced off his shield, and a second slapped his axe aside.

    Movement to his left caught his attention. What he'd at first assumed was another vampire coming to finish him off, was actually Tannis, rapidly cutting through the harness that held the team of horses to the merchant wagon. The animals were panicked by the scent of blood and noise, and when Tannis succeeded in severing the harness, the team bolted. Right towards Derek and Lucius. The vampire noticed this as well, and attempted to force Derek back and get room to leap away.

    Derek refused to move. With snarl, the Imperial vampire leapt backwards, to safety. Or, tried to anyways. By the time he'd realized the danger, the horses had already arrived. They caught the vampire in the shoulder and he spun away, slamming into the wall and from there, falling to the ground. Derek ran. He made it through the gates, aware of the surviving prisoners alongside him, and the crossbow bolts hissing through the air. He never looked back at the fortress. Freedom was finally his.
     
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  7. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 29th of Second Seed
    Markarth, The Reach

    Sathar Vivarian and his brother rode into Markarth, the city of stone, late in the afternoon, three days after the failed assault on the Stormcloak fort. Surprisingly, the Forsworn hadn't harassed them in any way. Of course, the pair of vampires had noticed the less than friendly eyes watching them during their journey. News traveled fast in the Reach, especially among the scattered Forsworn tribes.

    Upon reaching Markarth, the vampires were confronted by a small group of Thalmor justiciars. "Sir." One, a woman with captains markings greeted Salthar, "we've been expecting you."

    Salthar glanced at his brother and frowned. "I wasn't aware we were expected, captain." He dismounted, and handed the reins of his horse to a waiting stable boy.

    "Commander Ondolemar received news you were in the Reach, my lord. He believed you'd be stopping in Markarth." The captain informed him. Salthar was impressed. He'd only met Ondolemar a few times before leaving for Skyrim, and he hadn't thought the mer would remember him. Or perhaps he was simply extending a courtesy to a visiting justiciar.

    "Very well. My brother and I have a little time to spare. I assume he's in the keep?" From what Salthar remembered, Ondolemar had been very keen on being visible to figures of authority. A constant reminder that the Thalmor were watching, and could arrest even the highest ranking of Skyrims nobility. Such as it was.

    The captain inclined her head, and the soldiers with her fell into escort positions around the two vampires. The group of elves received a few odd looks from civilians and guards alike, but none of them commented. Salthar had heard rumours that the Markarth guards were some of the best in Skyrim. 'With Stormcloaks and Forsworn on their doorstep, they'd have to be'. He thought. If it was true, it was no wonder the rebels hadn't moved on the city of stone.

    The group made their way up to Understone keep. The doors of the keep were flanked by a pair of thundering waterfalls. The guards at either side of the doors opened them, watching new arrivals warily.

    As they made their way through the torch-lit hallways, Vengar muttered "the place is built more like a fortress than a city. No wonder the Forsworn haven't been able to take it."

    They entered the main hall of the keep, where Ondolemar waited, flanked by a pair of Thalmor soldiers. "Salthar Vivarian. I wondered when you'd make your way to craggy wretch of a city."


    Salthar cocked an eyebrow. "I take it you're not enjoying your post then?" The escorting soldiers and Ondolemars guards melted away, leaving the two vampires and the Thalmor commander alone.
    Ondolemar shrugged. "Markarth may seem beautiful enough to visitors, but after a little while, the ugly truth becomes apparent. The city is full of Talos worship. Why, just this morning I had a man arrested for heresy. Add to that those savages outside the walls taking potshots at whoever walks a dozen meters from the city itself, the pleasantry of it all wears thin quickly."

    "Talos worshippers is what brings me here. Storm-" Salthar started, hoping to bring up the issue of general Psyrakon and the Stormcloak garrison. Ondolemar held up a hand for silence, glancing at the Nord officials going about their business.

    "Not here. There's a good chance the rebels have spies in the city. Come to my office, we can speak freely there." He lead them down a short hallway, and into his office. The room was fairly large, with a pair of chairs on one side of a stone table, and a single chair on the other. The three of them took their seats, and Ondolemar motioned for Salthar to continue.

    " I assume you've come across general Psyrakons Stormcloak rebels?"

    The justiciar nodded, a look of distaste crossing his features. "I have, though I sorely wish I hadn't. It's difficult enough keeping the Forsworn in check, with these rebels ambushing patrols, it's nearly impossible to maintain order outside the walls."

    "What if I told you I had a way to deal with these Stormcloaks?" Salthar asked quietly.

    "I'd be rather grateful. How do you- wait. You haven't come to Markarth to secure the assisstance of the guards in assaulting the fort, have you?" The Thalmor commander asked, suddenly worried. "They may be competent guardsmen, but they'd make terrible soldiers. They're loyal to the jarl of Markarth, and more than that, gold."

    "Hardly. I came to Markarth because we-" he gestured to Vengar and himself, "-need a convincing story. I trust you've heard of the anti-Thalmor terrorist group on Alinor?"

    Ondolemar sneered. "Indeed. What of them?"

    "My dear brother here, is their representative in Skyrim." Ondolemar stared at the heavily armoured vampire, a question on his lips. Vengar turned to Salthar obviously not having expected that statement.

    "Hold on. I'm what?"

    "Think about it. What better way to infiltrate the Stormcloak fort than to pose as an ambassador for the group?"

    Vengar frowned. "Sure, but look at me. The rebels might not be very smart, but they can recognize a vampire."

    "A simple glamour will change that."

    "Intriguing..." Ondolemar murmured, rubbing his chin. "That could work. What do you need from me?"

    Salthar smiled at the commander. "An execution order."

    Understanding dawned on Ondolemars face. " I see. And your brother presents the order to the garrison commander, lending legitimacy to his claim."

    Vengar stood and glanced down at his armour. "What about my gear? Not exactly standard armour for terrorists."

    Salthar shrugged. " Tell them that you've been using the armour to pose as an Altmer mercenary down on his luck."

    The other vampire sighed. "Alright. Make me look good." Salthar stood as well, while Ondolemar dipped a quill into the inkwell on his desk.

    "Will you be using your real name, or a fabricated one?"

    Vengar grinned. "Put Sanaedhel on the order."

    Ondolemar paused,quill hovering over the blank parchment. "That's a little obvious, don't you think?" Sanaedhel was an elven word for vampire.

    Vengar shrugged. "It's not like they'll figure it out. Not before it's too late, any ways. "

    He turned to face Salthar, who was just finishing his spell casting. "It's done." The Altmer sorcerer took a moment to look over his work. Vengar Vivarian no longer looked like someone Salthar knew. His hair was now a dark blonde, almost brown, his eyes were a pale green, without the telltale marks of vampirism. His skin had taken the golden hue of a healthy Altmer male that spent most of his time outdoors. The armour and weapons remained the same, of course, but that wouldn't give anything away.

    Finally, he took one of the quills from Ondolemars drawer, and connected the magic of the glamour to it. He handed it to his brother, who frowned at the object. "What's this for?"

    "Once you no longer require the glamour, break the quill. It'll cancel the enchantment."

    Vengar nodded his understanding, and accepted the order of execution from Ondolemar. "Psyrakon won't know what hit him." He said, before turning on his heel and leaving the office.

    Salthar glanced at the commander "have your men spread the word, quietly, of course, that our forces in the reach are hunting an Altmer rebel. Make sure any Stormcloak spies, suspected or otherwise, find out about it."

    Ondolemar nodded, and rose to speak with his lieutenants. Salthar settled in the surprisingly comfortable chair. He looked forwards to speaking with his fellow Thalmor. Ondolemar had always been someone dependable. It was good to see that hadn't changed in the past few years.



    4E 201, 29th of Second Seed
    The Reach, Stormcloak fort


    It had been four days since the Forsworn attack. For the most part, the garrison had returned to its normal routine. The more seriously wounded men and women, six in total, remained in the infirmary. Simus had read the report written by Gunjar. The Forsworn hadn't looted anything, hadn't set anything on fire, and as far as the patrols could tell, hadn't stuck around. That was the most confusing piece of information. If the Forsworn had been working with the Thalmor, it was unlikely the elves would simply give up after one failed attack.

    Because of this, he'd doubled the watch and had patrols go farther away from the fort, alert for any sign of the enemy. He knew his men were tired of the constant vigilance, but Simus wasn't willing to take any chances. He'd experienced first hand how determined the Thalmor could be. He didn't really expect them to forget about him or Alice, or the rest of his family. 'I'm surprised it took them this long to track me down.' He thought grimly.

    He was in his office, a fire crackling in the hearth behind him to keep the cold away. Even in spring, Skyrim was nowhere near as warm as Cyrodiil. A knock at the door had him on his feet, wondering what could warrant his attention. He opened the door, and was greeted by Jorst, his second in command for the day. Gunjar was out on patrol for the day. "What is it, Jorst?"

    The Stormcloak had an expression of...disbelief on his face. "Sir, you, ah, might want to come and see for yourself. I hardly beleived my ears when he showed up at the gate." Curious, Simus followed the soldier throughout the fort, emerging in the courtyard. Standing in a ring of spear, sword, and axe wielding Stormcloaks was a high elf. He wore a set of dark, heavy armour; not quite ebony, and not quite steel. Short spikes protruded from his gauntlets, elbows, and bicep armour. A pair of axes rested on holsters at his belt. He had gold eyes, like most Altmer, dark golden skin, and dark hair that came halfway down his neck.

    The elves eyes flicked from one soldier to another, though he seemed to be wondering how fast he could kill them, rather than fearing for his life. "Jorst." Simus muttered, thoughts of Thalmor assassins in his head. "Do we know who he is?"

    Jorst shrugged. "He introduced himself as Sanaedhel. Says he's part of the Altmer anti-Thalmor movement.

    Simus had never heard of any Sanaedhel before, nor the anti-Thalmor group he was a part of. Though, if what the elf said was true, the group would take great care to keep their existence, and the identities of their members hidden. "Do you believe him?" He asked.

    "Our spies in Markarth say there's an execution order out for him. They also say that another Thalmor officer joined the existing garrison in the city this morning." That made sense. The Thalmor would want to capture and interrogate this mer as soon as possible.Before he had a chance to flee the Reach.

    "Why's he here? What does he want?" Simus asked. After all, the elf had taken a great risk staying in the Reach with Thalmor hunters so nearby.

    "He arrived asking to speak with the garrison commander. I placed him under guard until you figured out what you want to do with him."

    Simus made up his mind, and started walking towards the man. "I want to talk with him. If he does have something to offer against the Thalmor, I want to hear it." He passed between the ring of his men, stopping out of arms reach of the Altmer. "You wanted to speak with the garrison commander? That's me. Simus Psyrakon."

    The elf turned his attention to Simus. "Ah ,commander. I've heard little about you. It looks like you haven't heard much about me or the people I represent."

    Simus shrugged. "That's right. It looks we both have the Thalmor after us.Which means we should probably work together." He might not trust the elf, but if he really was a member of a resistance group, they needed to work together. Though Ulfric might not see things the same way. 'One problem at a time.'

    "Yes. I've come as an emissary. The Stormcloaks have a good chance of liberating Skyrim and maybe pushing the Thalmor out of Cyrodiil afterwords." The elfs features turned regretful. "I wasn't aware the Thalmor knew I was coming. I've been traveling under cover as an elven mercenary ever since." That explained the armour and weapons at least.

    " I see. We have a couple of empty rooms here. You can rest up and we'll talk later. The Reach isn't the easiest place to travel in. Especially not with Thalmor hunters after you."

    The elf nodded, clearly grateful. Simus thought he saw something else in his expression as well, but a pair of Stormcloaks were already escorting him inside. He grabbed Jorsts arm as the man turned to follow. "Have a pair of guards stay outside whichever room he's in."

    Jorst watched the elves retreating back, eyes suddenly narrowed. "You think he's lying, sir?"

    Simus shrugged. "I'm not sure. We can't exactly send word to the Somerset Isles and ask if they sent one of their people here." His second in command nodded, and went off to ensure his orders were followed.

    XXX

    Some time later, Simus was out on the battlements, watching the shadows lengthen. He'd spoken with the elf, Sanaedhel, for a couple of hours earlier in the day. The elf seemed genuinely interested in joining forces to take down the Thalmor. Of course he was. The Thalmor may have set up shop in Cyrodiil and other locations in the Empire, but they all but owned the Somerset Isles. Simus sympathized with the elf, though he remained doubtful Ulfric would agree to any kind of alliance.

    Sometimes, the old general worried about the leader of the Stormcloaks. Over all, Ulfric was a decent enough man. He genuinely beleived that war was the only way to make Skyrim independant, and force the Empire to realize how low it had sunk. However, with more and more radical forces joining the Stormcloaks, it seemed the goals of the organization were becoming mixed with racism.

    Simus had more than once heard the phrase 'Skyrim for the Nords!' both at the fort, and among other Stormcloak forces. Even Ulfrics second in command, Galmar Stone-Fist, was less than supportive of equal race rights. It seemed foolish to put Nords above everyone else, but now was certainly not the time to get into that. Not with more Imperial troops entering Skyrim every week. The war was heating up, and dissent in the ranks was exactly what they didn't need.

    The clunk of boots announced Jorsts' arrival. He didn't bother turning to face the man. "How's our guest doing?"

    "He's fine so far. He said something about turning in early and headed to his room. It's too bad. He missed out on a good meal tonight. The cook must be doing something right." Simus grunted his agreement. The food had been surprisingly good; roasted boar with baked potatoes. Maybe that wasn't especially enticing to an elf.

    "He doesn't act like most of the Altmer I've met. Mind you, most of the other Altmer I've met have been Thalmor agents." Simus admitted. "How are the men taking his presence?" His only response was a wet thud. He spun on his heel to see the Stormcloak laying face first in a pool of rapidly epanding blood.

    "He won't be answering you." A familiar voice stated. Behind Jorst stood a familiar figure. The elven 'diplomat' wore his heavy armour, and held his axes at his sides. Although it was obviously the same elf, his features had changed. Paler skin, higher cheekbones, and his eyes were flecked with red.
    Simus barely had time to draw his ebony swords before the assassin was on top of him. The Altmer moved faster than he should have been able to, axes swinging in to strike almost before Simus could get a blade in to intercept. However, Simus was a veteran of many battles, and he'd won his fair share of individual duels. He lashed out, one sword engaging both axe blades, while the other weapon slashed at his opponents face. The assassin stepped back, but not fast enough to avoid a glancing blow along his cheek.

    Simus followed up with a powerful horizontal slash that struck the mer across his breastplate. The elf staggered backwards, and the old general followed up with a lunge that would end the fight. His opponent recovered surprisingly quickly, taking two quick steps forwards and trapping Simus' blade between his left arm and his torso. The elf moved even closer, and, with his other hand, smacked Simus' second blade away and hammered the haft of his axe down on his left wrist.

    He felt his hand spasm as pain lanced its way up his arm. The sword tumbled from limp fingers and clattered against the stones of the wall. The elf rammed his elbow into Simus' chest, and he felt the spike drag across the armour. Luckily, the trusty plate armour held, but the force of the blow knocked him back a step. He wasn't sure if his wrist was broken, but it sure felt like it. Every time his left hand moved, the wrist it was attached to burned like fire.

    Now he was down a weapon, and his elven opponent wasn't even breathing hard. Simus hefted his remaining sword and took a ready position. He wondered vaguely why his men hadn't come to see what all the noise was about. The clash of moonstone imbued elven axes on ebony blades certainly wasn't quiet.

    The elf took another couple of steps forwards, and launched a salvo of attacks. Simus was too preoccuppied keeping the axeblades at bay to call for help. A pause in the assault allowed him to get his breath back, and bring his guard back up. "You're good, Psyrakon, I'll give you that much." The assassin grinned, seeming to enjoy the fight much more than Simus was. Then he shrugged, "but not good enough."

    He rushed forwards, chopping with one axe, and hooking the underside of his other axe onto the sword blade, near the hilt. The elf pushed forwards with one axe, pulling with the other. Simus cursed as the weapon spun down into the courtyard. He wasn't completely helpless, however. Although he wasn't a traditional mage, he knew a few spells, and they came in handy in situations like this. He raised his uninjured hand, and called upon the magic. A second later, a bolt of purple-white lightning leapt from his hand, and struck the assassin square in the chest. He flew back, landing several metres away. Almost immediately, he began to get back up, giving Simus little time to decide what to do.

    His eyes fell on Jorst. The man lay face down, but he could still see the pommel of the Stormcloaks sword sticking out from underneath him. Simus lunged forwards and grabbed the weapon. It was an iron blade, not the greatest quality, but better than nothing. He remained kneeling by the body, hoping his opponent would think him too tired to continue the fight.

    "Pathetic, Psyrakon. You have a daughter, don't you? Maybe after I've finished with you, I'll go pay her a visit." Simus' jaw tightend. The elf had just made his fatal mistake. No one threatened his daughter and got away with it. He sprang up, stabbing as he did so. The blade passed between the elfs' breastplate and lower torso armour, running the assassin through. His opponent grunted and stumbled backwards, and Simus released the weapon, relieved at the fights conclusion.

    Then he realized the elf wasn't dead. He was simply staring at the hilt of the weapon as if he found it mildly interesting. Then, to Simus' horror, he slid one of his axes into the holster on his belt, and grasped the weapon. He drew it out slowly, blood running from the wound and blade, before tossing it at Simus' feet. He met the generals gaze and smiled, revealing a pair of long, white fangs. 'Vampire'. Simus dropped to a knee, snatching the sword up. 'Go for the head. Or the heart.' He told himself. "I shouldn't be surprised the Thalmor are sending a monster like you after me."

    The vampire advanced, but instead of striking with his weapons, stepped close, grabbed Simus, and lifted him a good couple of inches off the ground. "Monster?" The vampire snarled. "How about I so you how much of a monster I am?" The elf pulled him close, opening his jaws. His fangs, Simus reflected, were surprisingly clean, for a bloodsucking beast. He gathered his strength for a last desperate attack when he heard a shout from behind the creature.

    The vampire snapped his mouth shut, and tossed Simus towards the battlements. Luckily, he struck one, and sank to the wall top, rather than clearing them and striking the hard ground below. A group of Stormcloaks had finally arrived, and the vampire had turned to face them, drawing his weapons. The first soldier lunged with a spear, but the vampire was too quick. He sidestepped the attack, and chopped with an axe, cutting the haft of the weapon completely into half, rendering the spear useless.

    The warrior stepped back, and his hand flew to the dagger on his belt...not fast enough. The elfs other axe struck him in the side, and Simus winced as he heard the mans ribs break with a crunch. Several other Stormcloaks faced the elf, and kept him busy, though two more fell in the space of a minute. Then soldiers arrived on behind the vampire, placing themselves between the fiend and their general. The vampire knew when he was beaten. He lashed out with his weapons, placed a boot on the edge of the wall, and leapt off, disappearing into the night.



    4E 201, 30th of Second Seed
    Markarth, The Reach

    Understone keep was surprisingly silent, Salthar reflected. Besides the distant sound of conversation and the cooks preparing the jarls breakfast, and the guard patrols, of course. He'd spent much of the previous day touring the city of Markarth with Ondolemar. Despite his loyalty to the Bloodlet Throne, Salthar occassionally missed speaking with his fellow justiciars. He'd spent much of the night speaking with the cities resident Dwemer expert, Calcelmo. Though the mans knowledge was impressive, Salthar got the distinct impression that he made the mer uncomfortable.

    As morning came, Salthar was in the main hall of the keep. Though he preferred the lack of daylight, he was surprised at the willingness of the humans, namely the jarl to remain underground all day. The place was certainly defendable enough, as Vengar had pointed out the day before. With the Forsworn activities becoming more common in the Reach, perhaps it was wisdom to remain in the more protected areas of the city.

    The sound of boots drew his attention. A courier stood before him, a folded parchment in his hand. "Lord Vivarian? I have a letter for you." Salthar accepted the letter, sealed with red wax, and clearly unbroken. The Altmer vampire opened the letter and felt his good mood evaporating. He recognized Lucius' writing, describing how a large group of prisoners had escaped the Bloodlet throne and made off into the wilderness. Several vampires had been killed, and Lucius himself was wounded.

    Lucius wanted to know if he should send a contingent of troops after the escapees. Salthar knew that would be a mistake. While the escaped prisoners might mention vampires, and their location, they didn't know the covens full strength. If A large group of vampires was discovered pursuing the men, there was a good chance others would investigate. And that, Salthar did not want. Not until the coven was ready to reveal itself to the rest of the world, at least.

    The sound of heavy boots announced his brothers return. From the sour expression on Vengars face, Salthar knew something had not gone to plan. "I assume Simus Psyrakon still lives?"

    Vengar nodded. "I had him. His men just showed up at the last moment. Lucky for him."

    Salthar waved the subject of Psyrakon away. "Irrelevant now. Psyrakon can wait, and if we're fortunate, some Imperial soldier will kill him for us. We've bigger issues than disappointing the ambassador." He said, showing his fellow vampire the letter. Vengar read it and scowled.

    "I suppose this means we're leaving for Falkreath hold?"

    "Yes. I think this matter is best attended to immediately."



    4E 201, 6th of Mid Year
    The Bloodlet Throne

    Salthar sat in the hight backed chair in the main hall, attended by his brother and Lucius Draconus. Vengar stood to his right, and Lucius stood in front of him. Though it had been over a week since the escape, the Imperial still carried a cane. Thanks to the quick healing of vampires, his bones had mended, though they were still weak. However, Salthar suspected Lucius' pride was more injured than his body. As soon as the Imperial vampire spoke, his words were confirmed.

    "Please, my lord. Allow me to ride out; hunt down the prisoners, and drag them back here for punishment."

    "No. I'll not risk the rest of the world discovering our strength because of wounded pride. "

    Lucius seemed more agitated than when he'd first walked into the hall. "It's more than that, my lord. You entrusted me with the security of this fortress. I failed in my duty."

    Salthar took a moment to examine the walls, ceiling and floor, before returning his gaze to the Imperial. "This hall is not crumbling around us. There's no angry hordes at our gates, and I did not see any siege weaponry assaulting our walls. I would say you've performed your duty admirably." Lucius looked like he might protest, but Salthar held up a hand for silence. "You could not have foreseen the escape attempt. Besides, many of those men who escaped will flee to their homes and family. They have no interest in raising an army. Those few that do, will certainly attempt to cause trouble, but they will be dealt with, in time."

    The Imperial vampire looked slightly less worried. "Then what would you have me do, my lord?"

    "I have need of eyes and ears in the Imperial court. I need to know where battalions will be deployed, where the next battle will be fought, and, perhaps most importantly, whether there are any in the Empire who might be...shall we say, persuaded to join our cause."

    Lucius' brow furrowed. "A spy? My lord, surely there are others more suitable than myself."

    "I'm sure there are. Yet, you've told me your history. Some of it at least. You know the Imperial court better than anyone here."

    "I cannot return to the Empire. If I did, I'd be laughed out of court, and be of no use to anybody."

    "I never said you were to return as yourself." Salthar pointed out." There's an Imperial scribe in Bruma. For the right amount of coin, one could buy themselves an entirely different identity. I've managed to secure his services, along with a moderate plot of land a short distance from the Imperial city. How you get there, and who you choose to be is up to you. I'll be expecting reports on your progress."

    Though Lucius didn't appear happy with his task he bowed. "As you wish. When do I depart?"

    "Immediately."

    Lucius bowed again, and strode away, his cane tapping on the stone floor. Once he'd left the hall, Vengar glanced at him. "Are you sure that was wise? He may not be able to secure a position where he's able to learn anything valuable."

    Salthar smiled. "There's no doubt in my mind that Lucius Draconus will be immensely useful to us in the Empire."
     
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    #7 Madrar, May 16, 2015
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  8. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 7th of Mid Year
    Cyrodiil, a manor several leagues from the Imperial city.

    Lucius Draconus stood on the threshold of a manor that he had never seen in his youth. Though the manor wasn't as large as that of the Draconus house, it was impressive. Fitting, for a lord new to the Imperial court. The brass knocker was held between the fangs of a gargoyles head. He grasped the knocker and delivered three blows to the dark wood door. A few moments passed. Lucius was wondering whether he should knock again, when the door opened. A man stood there, and for a moment, Lucius thought he faced a reanimated corpse for a moment.

    The mans flesh seemed to hang off his bones, and he had dull, black eyes, that barely seemed to percieve the vampire before him. His wisps of hair were greying and greasy. His nose was crooked, as if it had been broken multiple times. Despite this, his clothing was fine, signalling that, while he might not be wealthy, he certainly was no peasant.

    The mans face split in a smile, revealing a set of surprisingly well maintained teeth. "Welcome!" The man bowed so low Lucius thought his nose would scrape against the floor. "We've been expecting you, master!"

    "We?" Lucius queried as he stepped inside. The place had been furnished before he'd arrived in the Empire, or shortly, after, anyways. The entrance was wide, with a pedestal upon which stood a suit of armour. To either side of the knights armour stand, were gently curving mardble staircases, leading up to the second floor. An iron chandelier hung from the ceiling, holding half a dozen unlit candles.

    "The rest of the servants, sir. I've assembled them in the drawing room. Eh..." He stared at Lucius. "Forgive me, but who shall I announce you as?"

    The Imperial recalled the name he'd created for himself, with the help of the scribe in Bruma. "I am lord Damien Pycus. Son of the late Dorian Pycus."

    The man smiled and nodded, taking a left in front of the stair cases,continuing to lead Lucius deeper into the house. "Who are you?" Lucius asked. The man may have been playing the part of the humble steward, but something seemed off about the man. Something about the way he carried himself that hinted he wasn't what he appeared. The man glanced over his shoulder, and smiled. Lucius thought their was a hint of nervousness to the expression.

    "I'm Adolphus Rook." The man stopped in front of a closed door and bowed. "A humble servant of our master, and for all intents and purposes, your steward."

    Understanding dawned on Lucius. If Rook was in Salthars service, it was likely he knew what Lucius was. The nervousness stemmed from fear that Lucius would decide to remove him from the equation. Though Lucius had no need for a steward, or any servants, come to think of it, but it would help keep up appearances.

    "I see. And what is it exactly you do for our lord?" Lucius asked, suspecting the man wasn't a mere steward.

    The man smirked. "I'm a necromancer, first and foremost. As you can imagine, it got me in quite a bit of trouble with the mages guild. Our lord had me released from prison, so long as I serve him." Lucius nodded. The man didn't seem so much loyal to Salthar as he was in fear of him. Or rather, fear of what would happen should he fail the Altmer vampire.

    "I see." Lucius said, nodding towards the closed door. "Shall we continue?"

    Adolphus nodded and opened the door. Inside was a common room, with a hearth, an armchair, couch, and a small table. Four Imperials stood before him, two women, and two men. The quartet watched him with respectful curiosity, and were dressed as servants of a minor lord should be. "Allow me to present lord Damien Pycus" Adolphus exclaimed, and the servants bowed.

    The necromancer and steward turned to face Lucius. "We're at your service, my lord."

    Lucius couldn't help but wonder how willing they'd be if they knew his real identity. Perhaps Adolphus did, but his loyalty seemed to have been bought by lord Vivarian. He doubted the others owed the Altmer vampire quite as much. Either way, it wasn't important now. He turned his mind to making his way into the Imperial court. "Tell me of any events going on in the Imperial city. Specifically events that involve the lords and ladies of the Imperial court."

    "There's an event gathering donations for the war effort happening at the Arboretum tomorrow night, my lord. Perhaps that might tempt you?"

    Lucius considered for a moment. With the war on, many Imperial lords would be eager to be seen showing support for the troops. It would also allow him to get acquainted with the influential lords and ladies of the Imperial court. "That will do nicely."

    4E 201, 7th of Mid Year
    Dawnstar

    Anton held the crossbow bolt up to the flickering candle light. It looked to be a simple crossbow bolt, like many the knight-commander had seen before. Ferros Gardain sat across from him, a half dozen similar bolts on the table between the two men. "It looks completely normal. Will it work?" He asked.

    "It's supposed to look normal. " Ferros explained. "I've placed two enchantments on it. One, an explosive fire spell on the head. If this Thalmor vampire is any kind of competent, his wards will stop that." The knight-enchanter tapped the bolt. "The second enchantment is what will bring him down. A drain magic enchantment, one of the more powerful ones. The final enchantment mimics the first, minus the explosion. It should weaken him long enough for you to take him out."

    Anton felt his brow raise." Should, weaken him, Ferros?"

    The knight-enchanter looked uncomfortable for a moment. "I've never done anything like this. It's guaranteed to give him pause at the very least. The rest will be up to you." Ferros looked uncomfortable saying that last part. Anton had chosen only a small number of his knights to accompany him.

    Initially, thoughts of storming the vampires lair in broad daylight had appealed to him. Despite the common myth, vampires did not sleep during the day. Though, they were much weaker, their strength closer to that of a mortal man. Now, he wasn't so sure. If the reports were true, the Thalmor vampire was creating an army. An anonymous note, threatening to inform the Imperial legion of this had been sent by Anton two days ago. It had called for a meeting, at an abandoned barrow. It had also called for the vampire to come alone.

    Though Anton was sure the vampire would suspect a trap, he was counting on the creature being arrogant enough to assume it could handle any trap with ease. And then Anton would eliminate him. He didn't like the plan, despite it being his own. It felt more like an assassination, rather honourable combat. Sometimes, however, the order needed to resort to less than noble tactics to save lives.​
    He shrugged his shoulders, trying to get the unfamiliar fur and leather of the Silverhand armour to settle. It was certainly not the tempered steel armour the orders knights usually wore.

    His hand settled on the silver bladed sword that had replaced his enchanted longsword. The hilt felt strange in his hand, and he hoped it wouldn't come to a fight. There was nothing worse than fighting with armour and weapons that were not your own.

    Anton glanced out the window. The four knights he'd chosen as his companions were saddling their horses and checking their gear. "It's time to go." He announced, standing. Ferros stood as well, and extended his hand.

    "Knight-commander. We'll await your arrival here." The knight enchanter said, handin him the ensorcelled crossbow bolts.

    "Understood. If we're not back within a week...head for home. And prepare."

    Feross face became grim. If Anton and his men failed, there was a good chance that the vampire they were after would attempt to cause trouble in the Empire. Feross' job would be to prepare the knights, and warn the Imperials of the threat. Whether or not they'd listen to the warnings was up to them. "Good luck, sir."

    "Thank you, Feross. It's been a pleasure." He turned on his heel and made for the door. The cold air still hit him like a hammer blow, despite having been residing in Dawnstars inn for several weeks. He slung his crossbow over his shoulder, placed the enchanted bolts in his belt pouch, and mounted his horse, which had been saddled and was waiting for him. He tapped his mounts sides with his heels, urging the gelding into a trot.

    After several hours of riding, they arrived at one of the old Nordic barrows that dotted Skyrims landscape. Anton didn't relish the thought of waiting for a vampire in an underground cavern full of the dead. On the other hand, he doubted Vivarian would agree to meet in a crowded tavern. Nor would that work for Anton. In a way, it was fitting that the vampire would meet his end in this crypt. He would be in the ground, like the dead ought to be.

    The place was surprisingly empty of the ancient Draugr that Anton had heard of. Whether that was a good or bad thing, he wasn't sure. Would the creatures obey a vampire? Legend told that they had once served the dragon priests of old. Liches that had fought for the dragons in the dragon wars many years ago. Either way, Anton didn't have time to worry about that now. The four knights with him were there to deal with any unwanted surprises, and were than capable of handling a few shambling corpses.

    Once they reached the central chamber, a rectangular room with ancient chairs and a table at the center, he turned to them. "Spread out near the entrance. Our target should have some form of Thalmor regalia on him. If the reports are correct." He instructed. "Cut down anyone or anything else attempting to get inside." The knights nodded, and headed to the entrance, while Anton took a seat near the door, and waited.

    4E 201, 7th of Mid Year
    The Bloodlet Throne
    The Redguard stood in the center of the hall. He was tall, nearly as tall as Salthar himself. He was gaunt, as though he hadn't eaten in quite some time. His face, however, was neither lined nor pinched with hunger. He had no beard, and his head was clean shaven, apart from a pair of thin, dark eyebrows. His eyes were a dark, almost golden colour, with the flecks of crimson that marked him as a vampire.

    A pair of vampires stood to either side of him, their darksteel armour battered. Obviously, they'd seen combat recently. Despite the fact that the Redguard was a stranger in the covens' home, and visibly armed, a pair of scimitars on his belt, they seemed content to leave him unbound.
    Salthar, for his part, studied the Redguard with interest.

    The coven had only a few Redguard vampires, and none of them seemed quite like this one. For one, he wore the robes of a Thalmor justiciar, despite quite obviously not being a member of the organization. He was obviously familiar with the blades at his sides, though Salthar suspected they weren't his primary means of defence.

    Breaking the silence, the Altmer vampire asked "your name?"

    The Redguard replied in a smooth, deep voice, "Duros Kaast, my lord. Of Gilane."

    "How is it, Duros Kaast of Gilane, that you've come to possess a set of Thalmor robes? When last I checked, the Thalmor were not interested in non-mer members."

    Duros looked over his clothing, as if noticing it for the first time. "I admit, I hadn't given much thought to my attire of late. I came across these during the war. To show my...support of the Aldmeri dominion."

    Salthar cocked an eyebrow. The man seemed genuine, though Salthar was aware of how unlikely the story sounded. Redguards were not naturally inclined to show any kind of support towards the dominion. "I see. I suppose there's some reasoning behind this choice?"

    The vampire nodded. "My- the Redguards killed my parents in one of their territory disputes. What better way to distance myself from them than don the garb of their enemy?"

    "And what brings you here? I know you are not one of Bals abominations. You never would have made it within a dozen meters of the gate, otherwise."

    The Redguard composed himself for a moment, before answering "I'm a necromancer. And illusionist. I fought both Crown and Forebear forces, during and after the war I was forced into hiding. The Reguards had found me in an abandoned fort roughly around the same time a group of your vampires did." He gestured to the pair of vampires at his side. "They saved me. Offered me an existence where I would no longer need to hide. I accepted, and I've come here to offer my magics, and my blades, if you'll have them."

    Vengar, who'd been standing at Salthars side, leaned in close. "I believe him. Valon Tash and a half dozen others were headed to Hammerfell, looking for new recruits."

    Salthar nodded. Valon Tash had been a loyal member of the coven, and it was a shame to have lost him. And four of the vampires with him, though, if Duros Kaast was truthful, they'd gained a powerful new member of the coven. "Duros Kaast. Welcome to the coven. These gentlemen will find some quarters for you. And see the blacksmith if you wish to upgrade your weapons. We've recently received a new shipment of ebony ingots."

    After the Redguard vampire and his escort had departed the hall, Salthar noticed the Bosmer vampire, the same that had delivered the Thalmor summons. His name, he'd learned, was Faergaen. As it had been before, he held a roll of parchment in his hand. Salthar motioned him forwards, but unlike before, there was a nervousness in his step. As he reached Salthars seat, the Altmer vampire realized why. The wax seal was plain, unmarked. That either meant that the sender didn't want their identity known, or that Faergaen, or the agent that received such letters had opened, read, and possibly altered the contents.

    "Did you read this?" Demanded Vengar, and the wood elf took a cautious step backwards, shaking his head.

    "No, my lord. It was like that when I met our agent outside of Falkreath. I would never presume to-"

    "That's enough, Faergaen." Salthar interrupted. "Thank you for your honesty. You may go."

    The Bosmer vampire bowed, and turned on his heel, heading for one of the doors that lead deeper into the keep. Salthar turned his attention to the parchment. He broke the plain seal, and unrolled it.
    It was a letter, addressed to him. It revealed that the sender knew, or at least suspected what Salthars' plans were. The writer also demanded that he meet with him, alone and unarmed in a Nordic barrow, south of Dawnstar. There was no signature at the bottom of the parchment, nor any other identifying mark.

    He handed the letter to Vengar and sat back to ponder the content of it.
    On one hand, it was unlikely that anyone besides the coven members themselves knew of Salthars' plan. On the other hand, it wasn't impossible. On one hand, it wasn't likely that an individual, shouting about an army of vampires would be heeded. On the other, it was possible the man had friends or allies ready and willing to help him. Salthar couldn't risk an Imperial or Stormcloak force coming to investigate the Bloodlet throne. Not yet. Which meant he really had only one option. "I suppose I'm going to meet our friend and secure his silence. One way or another."

    Vengar finished reading and shot his brother a concerned glance. "Alone? What if it's a trap?"

    Salthar smiled slightly. "It is almost certainly a trap." He rose from his seat. "I leave immediately."

    4E 201, 8th of Mid Year
    The Arboretum, the Imperial City, Cyrodiil

    The carriage came to a stop on the cobblestone paved road of near the arboretum. Lucius listened as the driver left his seat to open the door. Lucius Draconus, or rather, Damien Pycus, left the carriage, stepping out onto the stones of the road. Winding paths lit by torches lead deeper into the Imperial gardens. The sound of voices reached him, along with laughter, and the scent of mortal blood.

    He was reminded of the dark wooden cane in his hand by the dull ache in his left leg. It had been weeks since the escape, and his broken bones had long since healed, but the bone in his leg was still strengthening. And occasionally, it reminded him of that. 'At least it's not uncommon for a nobleman to carry a cane. Even if he's not in need of one.'

    Moments later, he came across the crowd. They were assembled near the statue of Talos, in the center of the Arboretum. Lucius felt his lip curl. The elite, privileged of the Empire, standing about, as if there wasn't a war going on.So used as they were to having everything handed to them on a silver platter- Lucius cut that train of thought off quickly. It hadn't been so long ago that Lucius had been exactly like them. And, fortunately for Lucius and the coven, he still remembered to be a young lord.

    Plastering an eager, if somewhat nervous smile on his face, he strode towards the group of assembled lords, ladies, and retainers. He made sure to use his cane, letting it tap against the stones of the garden. One of the ladies, and elderly woman, noticed him before several of the others. She approached, smiling, even as her eyes went to the cane in his hand. Lucius made sure to lean slightly on it.

    "And you must be lord Damien Pycus! We've been expecting you. Glad you could make it!"

    Lucius smiled wider, playing the part of a novice lord. "Believe me, my lady, I am glad to be here."

    "I'm sure you are." The old woman said, taking his free arm and leading him towards the others .

    "You know, I didn't even know old Darmus had a son until a couple of days ago."

    "My father and I had a falling out some time ago. He only recently contacted me and appointed me as his heir." Lucius replied, reciting the carefully planned story he'd arranged. "I can't seem to recall your name, my lady." Lucius had visited the Imperial court with his father, many times, and he recognized several of the other lords and ladies present. However, he couldn't quite place his escort.

    "Lucia Maevis. I normally stay at my estate in Cheydinhal. I can't stand these self aggrandizing young ones. Always puffing themselves up with how important they are, whose family business is doing better, who has the most wealth, that sort of nonsense."

    Lucius managed to keep from smiling. They'd reached the main group of nobles, and several were offering lady Maevis and Lucius curious looks. "Everyone, may I introduce the new lord Pycus." Many of the assembled Imperials offered words of congratulations, some of confusion, and perhaps less so, condolences. It appeared Darmus Pycus was not very missed in the Imperial court.

    A man with black hair, cut short, in something just shy of military style, stepped forwards. His piercing grey eyes examined Lucius' face. "Damien Pycus, was it?" He didn't wait for a response, instead extending a hand. "Barus Calerus. I'm sure you've heard of me. Or my family, at least. Most of them have been in Cyrodiils first legion since the Empire has had a first legion." Barus jutted his square chin out, as if daring Lucius to argue. His grey eyes continued to scan his face, as if looking for something out of place.

    Lucius knew there was nothing about his appearance that give away his true identity. He'd fed moments before leaving for the Arboretum, and as for his eyes, that could be explained away as some obscure condition. Which meant something else had Calerus on guard. The mans' eye lit with comprehension. "Forgive me, lord Pycus, but I knew the, ah, former lord Pycus, and he did not have hair like yours."

    "My mothers." Lucius explained quickly. "She had hair much like mine. I assume you knew my father?"

    "Not very well. I spoke with him at a few events like this." Seeing someone else among the crowd, he nodded to Lucius. "Enjoy the party, lord Pycus." He disappeared moments later into the crowd of bodies.

    Lucius was left on his own for a precious few moments, examining the assembled nobles. He knew his mission had two objectives. One; to pass information on to the Bloodlet throne, and two; to discover any that might be sympathetic to the cause. So far, he'd failed to do either. Lady Maevis didn't seem to be in a position to help anyone, and Barus Calerus would probably demand a duel if Lucius suggested such a thing.

    His few moments of solitude were interrupted by another approaching noble. This man was obviously the opposite of Barus Calerus in almost everyway. He had curly blonde hair, that seemed to bounce when he walked. He was fairly pudgy, and looked like he'd never held a weapon, nor had anything to do with the legions in his life. Despite all this, there was an air of arrogance that hung thick about him. A woman, thin, long hazel coloured hair, wearing a gold coloured dress, a bejeweled necklace, and several bracelets hung off his arm.

    "So you're the new lord Pycus?" The man glanced over his clothes and boots. "Not much to look at, are you? Still, I suppose you're better than the old Pycus. Never did like that miserly fool."

    Lucius replied, "I've learned that looks aren't everything, lord..." he waited for the man to provide his name. As the pride- wounded lord swelled up like an over filled pig skin container, Lucius turn his attention to the lady at his side. Clearly, she wasn't his wife. A courtesan then, hired to be his company for the night. There was something about her that Lucius couldn't quite place.

    "Surely you've heard of me! Lord Opiter Blandus! My family owns most of the theatres in the Talos district."

    "Ah. I've never been one for theatre. I'm a man of action, rather than pretense." Lucius said, with a wink at the woman. It had the desired effect. The woman giggled, earning a hurt glare from Blandus. Her gaze drifted to the cane in his hand, then his limb.

    "What happened to your leg, my lord?"

    "A riding accident. Nothing to worry about." Lucius explained, completely ignoring Blandus. Hoping to regain control of the situation, the man thrust himself in front of Lucius.

    "I'll warn you, lord Pycus. The watch has little tolerance for ruffians. Come, Icilia. I've suddenly lost interest in this party." Tugging the womans arm, he turned on his heel, stormed away from Lucius and the others. As the offended lord Blandus and his female companion made their way from the Talos district, she turned her head and smiled at him. She crooked a finger of her free hand at him, beckoning him to follow. Intrigued, Lucius followed, excusing himself as he did so.

    Keeping a discreet distance, he followed the couple into the temple district. Icilia kept shooting discreet glanced over her shoulder, though lord Blandus seemed oblivious to his follower. He lost sight of them as they turned a corner into an alley. He hastened to catch up, rounded the corner, and nearly bumped into the couple. They were locked in an embrace that was hardly appropriate for the public. Blandus stood with his back to Lucius, completely oblivious.

    Icilia broke away from her companion, met Lucius' eye, and smiled. Then she bit her companion. For a moment, Lucius was confused, until she pulled away, fangs glistening scarlet. Blandrus maoned and leaned against the vampiress. Lucius realized what she was doing. She wasn't draining the life from him. She was merely taking a mouthful at a time, without letting him realize what, exactly, she was.
    He wondered how he could have missed the fact that she was a vampire. 'Now I know what was bothering me.' He mused, deciding to retreat to the estate and ponder what he'd discovered. At that moment, his healing leg decided to send him a reminder that he wasn't entirely healed.

    His boot heel dragged on the cobbled street, and the pair broke apart. Opiter Blandus spun on his heel, drawing a dagger with so many jewels set into the blade and hilt, Lucius was fairly certain that it would be useless in a fight.

    Still, Lucius didn't want to provoke the man into a fight. Not in the middle of the street, like common thugs. "You!" Gasped Blandus. His expression ranged from surprised to embarrassed to infuriated. "You're no lord! Following us like a common thief!" What did you plan to do? Follow us home and rob us, or worse?"

    "How peculiar." Icilia said softly from Blandus' side. From the smirk on her face, it was clear she was enjoying herself. "Its lord Pycus, from the party."

    Lucius felt a smile tug at his lips. If the vampiress wanted to play innocent and ignorant, that was fine by him. He bowed from the waist, and said "at your service, my lady."

    "Enough!" Snarled Blandus. " I ought to kill you here, dog!"

    Lucius returned his attention to the sputtering lord, an idea occurring to him. His companion intrigued him, but it was clear Blandus wasn't about to let them converse while he was still there. "If you want blood, lord Blandus, it's blood you shall have. I propose a duel. Tomorrow, at dawn." He reached out and with slapped the lord in the face with the palm of his hand.

    Blandus stared at him, lips moving, but no words emerging. Finally, he managed to stutter "I..I...I-"

    "Yes, I know. You ought to kill me here. You've said as much.Perhaps you'll be able to come morning." Lucius bowed to the vampiress again, and turned on his heel, disappearing into the night.

    XXX

    The morning came quickly. Rather than return to his estate, Lucius had lurked in the slummier areas of the Imperial district, and fed on a courier as he went about delivering the morning mail. The dawn was overcast, grey clouds veiling the sun. A gentle breeze stirred Lucius' hair as he waited on the bank of the river, just outside the Imperial city. Several weeping willow trees stood nearby, their branches drooping, as if already mourning the death that was about to occur.

    Opiter Blandus arrived shortly after, dressed in a scarlet tunic, white breeches, and a pair of finely polished, leather boots. His second followed closely behind, a pair of fencing swords in his hands. Icilia came last, clothed in a dress of pale blue material.Lucius tossed his cane aside, feeling the healed bones of his leg hold his weight. The second approached Lucius, offering a nod as he did so. As the challenger, it was his right to pick the first weapon.

    Besides the guard, and a slight variation in the hilt, the blades length and width were identical. Lucius chose the rapier with a single curving piece of leather wrapped steel that extended from the circular guard, down, until it was nearly touching the pommel. He had fond memories of practicing with a similar weapon in his families courtyard. Though he preferred his family longsword to a dueling weapon, he was no stranger to the rapier. "Have you made your choice, sir?" The second asked deferentially.

    Lucius nodded and looked down the length of the blade. Opiter received his blade, and the second retreated with Icilia. "My lords. Take your positions. The duel is to the death. On my word....begin!"
    Lucius rose from his en garde position, right hand holding the rapier, left arm behind his back, in a common duelists pose. Blandus was the first to advance, his weapon leading. He launched the first strike, a slashing move with absolutely no finesse. It became painfully clear that the lord had no idea what he was doing.


    Lucius picked off each of Blandus' lunges, never letting more than a couple inches of his weapon come into contact with his opponents. It didn't take long for Blandus to realize that Lucius was toying with him. The lords lips locked in a snarl, and he pressed harder, attempting to break through his opponents defences. Lucius quickly tired of the game. Blandus' attacks caused more irritation than they did alarm. He stepped back, and then went on the offense.

    His first move was a feint towards the mans left thigh. When Blandus whipped his rapier down to intercept, Lucius withdrew, and slapped the mans wrist with the flat of the blade. Finally, he lunged, the thin blade slipping easily between the mans third and fourth rib. Blandus gasped, a bloody foam coming to his lips. Lucius withdrew his rapier and stepped away, allowing the dying man to tumble forwards and lay facefirst on the ground. He wiped the blood on the fallen lords tunic, before returning the rapier to the second.

    Icilia approached, applauding. "Very nicely done, lord Pycus. You owe me dinner."

    Lucius smiled at her, looking forwards to getting some answers. "Let's take a walk." He suggested. They left lord Blandrus and his second by the weeping willows. They'd made it a fair distance when he turned to her. "I assume you know what I am, if not who."

    Icilia turned to him, a puzzled expression on her face. "My lord?"

    Lucius' arm lashed out, fingers fastening in an iron grip around her throat. "Don't play coy. You wouldn't have revealed yourself if you thought me a mere mortal."

    The woman hissed, her nails digging into his forearm. He didn't loosen his grip. "I'll destroy you if I have to. I'm sure there's others of the Order Vampyrum in the city."

    The womans response was not what he expected. Rather than surrender or reveal she was with the Order, her eyes narrowed. "We're no more with the Order than you are."

    Lucius loosened his grip slightly. "Do you expect me to beleive that? The Order wiped out every other Cyrodiilic coven, centuries ago."

    The woman had ceased her struggles. "Not...every coven."

    Lucius released her, and she stepped back, out of arms reach, shooting him a disgruntled glance. "Explain." He ordered.

    "My coven. When the Order came for us, we hid. Fed only scarcely, and never killed if we could help it." That explained how they'd avoided vampire hunters and their fellow vampires. Most hunters looked for corpses, not living victims.

    "You implied you know who I am. How?"

    "We recognized you as soon as you entered Bruma. Our sisters there sent a message to us." Icilia smile, revealing her fangs. "Welcome back to Cyrodiil, Lucius Draconus."

    He smiled back. Now they were getting somewhere. "Since you know who I am, I assume you know I'm no solitary hunter." It was risky revealing that he was part of a coven. However, as he'd said, he wouldn't hesitate to kill her if it became necessary. Besides, he didn't sense the same taint about her as he had when fighting the Glenmoril Wyrd coven in High Rock.

    The woman cocked her head to the side. "Yes." She said, drawing the word out. "We've heard of Salthar Vivarian and his secretive coven in the mountains. We look forwards to seeing what happens when he is eventually discovered."

    "Discovered?"

    "It's inevitable. The disappearances in Falkreath hold will be traced back to him....unless you know something we don't?"

    Lucius hesitated. Though he didn't believe she had any allegiance to the Daedra, revealing Salthars plans was dangerous. Despite that, having a network of spies in Cyrodiil could be extremely beneficial. "It may be safe to say that Salthar will not wait to be discovered."

    "Interesting." Icilia said, "he intends to march on the world of the living?"

    "Perhaps. If he does, he will need allies. Especially allies that can pass as mortals in the cities of the living."

    For the first time in the discussion, the Imperial vampiress paused, and appeared to think over what Lucius was implying. Then she nodded slowly. "I understand. I will meet with my coven. Meet me in three days time, in the Arboretum."

    She turned away, and strolled towards the city at a leisurely pace. Lucius waited a few minutes, before making his way after her. Instead of following her into the city, however, he met his driver, and had him take him back to the Pycus estate. Lucius had a lot to think about.


    4E 201, 9th of Mid Year
    The Pale

    Salthar arrived at the barrow described in the letter on the evening of the ninth . He got off his horse, and approached the iron doors. They opened without much difficulty, indicating they'd been used not long ago. Though he didn't see anyone, he sensed the quartet of living beings watching him. They made no attempt to hinder him, and so he kept moving. He noted the lack of the ancient Nord dead, the Draugr, with interest.

    He didn't make a habit of delving into ancient crypts, but those few he had entered had been teeming with the creatures. As the note had demanded , he'd come alone and unarmed, though, with his magic, leaving his sword behind hadn't concerned him. He was confident he could reach some sort of agreement with the sender. And if not, he was sure his magic was more than powerful enough to deal with them.

    He made his way down a long, dimly lit corridor. Another door, this one of wood, barred his way. He reached out, shoved it open, and stepped into the room. It was rectangular in shape, with an acient stone table and several chairs around it. Salthar advanced further into the room, sensing the presence of another mortal. "I know you're here. You might as well come out, so we can conclude our business and be away from this place."

    The door behind him closed, and he turned to see a man in leather and fur armour step out of the shadows. "Salthar Vivarian. I've heard quite a lot about you." Salthar stared at the man. He was an Imperial, though he wore the fur and leathers of one of Skyrims many bandit groups. The only difference was the silver sword at his side.

    Immediately, the Altmer vampire was on his guard, though his voice didn't betray it. "Good things, I hope?"

    The man shrugged. "Depends on your point of view, I guess. Do you consider ordering innocents burnt alive a good thing?"

    "What is it you want? I understood the silver hand were only interested in killing lycans."

    "Killing a monster like you is in everyone's interest." The man said, hefting a crossbow and firing.
    Salthar lifted his hand, intending to burn the bolt to nothing before it reached him. The bolt ignored his attempts, and lodged itself in his right shoulder. With a his of pain, he reached over with his left hand to pull the bolt out. That was when its enchantment activated. A wave of searing pain rippled through Salthar, sending him to his knees. He heard the clatter of wood on stone as the silver hand tossed the crossbow aside.

    The Altmer vampire sank to his knees, reaching for the magic to blast the foolish Imperial into a smoking corpse. Nothing. The magic was there, ready to use, yet he couldn't channel his magic into a spell. "Problem casting magic, vampire?" The man drew his sword, "Any last words?"

    "You fool" Salthar hissed. "My new order is the only way to bring a lasting peace to Tamriel. People like you cannot understand. If a few must die, then so be it."

    "A noble excuse." The man said. "But a monster like you would say anything to stay alive. "

    The man brought his sword arm back for the killing blow. Then the mans forearm detached at the elbow in a spray of blood. The sword, and the arm with it, fell to the floor. The silver hand thug stared at the bleeding stump in disbelief.

    Then fell to his knees as someone struck him from behind. Vengar Vivarian stood there, armour and axe blades spattered with fresh blood. "I thought you might need a hand. What do you want to do with him?"

    "There were four others. I assume you dealt with them?" Salthar asked, tearing the bolt out of his shoulder. The burning pain that had seized his nerves eased, and he could feel his magic returning.

    "Yes. They weren't expecting company."

    Salthar approached the kneeling Imperial. The man tore his eyes from the stump of his arm to meet the vampire lords eyes. He found a little humour in the sudden reversal of the situation. "It was no excuse." He told the man, then signaled to Vengar. "Unfortunately, you will not be around to witness the new order." A moment later, the mans head joined his forearm. "Thank you. They had me at quite a disadvantage."

    Vengar nodded. "What now?"

    Salthar turned his attention to the corpse. "We can't let the silver hand go unpunished. Go to their headquarters, near Dawnstar. Teach them the folly of striking against us."

















     
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  9. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 15th of Mid Year
    The Pale, Driftshade Refuge

    The sentry the sentry on the roof was getting tired. Vengar could see it in the way he paused every three steps instead of every five. The way he brought a hand up and wiped it across his eyes. Vengar was crouched in a rocky crevice, about twenty meters from the ruin that was called Driftshade refuge. According to the people he'd asked on the way to the ruin, it served as the headquarters of the silver hand.

    Vengar licked his lips, savouring the thought of carving through all those arrogant mortals.
    Salthar was sending him to teach the thugs a lesson. He hadn't said Vengar couldn't enjoy himself while doing it. He waited until the sentrys' back was turned before stepping out of his hiding place. Not that it would have mattered if the sentry (I)had(I) seen him. He summoned the magic innate to the coven.

    Shadows coiled around his body, merging almost perfectly with the night air. Then he leaped, feeling his body shift as it transformed into a vaguely man-shaped blur large, black wings extending from the shadows that embraced him, trailing a dark mist. Vengar willed himself higher, rising until he was well above the man.

    Then he descended in a rush, the wings folded at his side. He oriented himself so that he landed feet first, the shadows that had borne him into the sky obscured his body and features, before melting away, taking the dark, bat like wings with them. The sentry began to turn, so far oblivious to the dark armoured vampire behind him. Vengar made sure he remained so, burying the blade of one of his axes in the humans skull. He wrenched it free as the man collapsed, striding off the edge and falling the three meters to the snow covered ground.

    He landed easily, and tried the door. Unlocked. "Good. Would have hated to have to kick the thing in." He muttered. The entrance was dimly lit, by a pair of flickering torches. The vampire warrior approached, calling upon the magic once again. Both torches went out, bringing darkness to the room. Vengar heard a curse a few meters in front and slightly to the left of his position. He pressed himself against the wall, waiting for his eyes to adjust. It took mere moments, before his low light vision kicked in and he saw speaker.

    A Nord, not unlike his sentry friend. Probably the mans relief. He was groping his way along the wall, towards the torch bracket. The man had almost reached it when Vengar struck. He reached out grabbing the mans head with both hands, and giving it a quick twist. He eased the man to the ground, and stepped over his body. Then he took a moment to look around. The room was small, with nothing except a chair, and an empty barrel inside.

    Directly ahead was a flight of stairs, which lead to a corner, going down those, he discovered another flight. Beyond that, was a small hallway, leading to a closed door. He eased the door open, revealing a much larger room. It was well lit by a couple of large candlebras, as well as a cobwebbed chandelier that was suspended from the ceiling by chains. A pair of men were inside, speaking in low voices. Rather than take the stairs, Vengar took two swift steps to the right, and dropped down.
    He winced as his darksteel boots made a rather loud clunk noise. "What was that?" One of the men questioned his companion.

    "Nothin'. You're just hearin' things again." Grunted his companion. The other man cursed at his companion, and the pair went back to their duties. Thankful for the stupidity of the man and his friend, Vengar slipped around the staircase, placing his feet carefully, to reduce noise.

    When he saw the pair of silver hands, both had their backs to him. Or rather, one had his back comepletely to Vengar, the other was only just starting to turn towards him. Vengar sprang from hiding, axes in hand. The turning man, an orc with a nasty scar across his forehead, died first. One of the elven vampires axes catching him in the side. The werewolf hunter collapsed with a wet wheeze, indicating that the vampires axe had punctured a lung.

    His companion heard his demise, and spun around, one hand going to the hilt of his sword. He was too late. Vengar swatted his hand away with one axe, and embedded the other into the Imperials chest. The human tumbled backwards, and the Altmer vampire tore his axe free. Truth be told, he was enjoying himself. It was just like the good old days, when he'd been in the Aldmeri army, tasked with infiltrating an enemy fort. Except, back then, the enemy had worn uniforms, and presented at least a little bit of a challenge.

    With a wistful sigh, the vampire continued on his way. The ruined fort was larger than he'd assumed. Though it didn't look like the group had put much effort into renovating it. He opened a door, revealing a pair of empty beds, that were beside a collapsed wall. A cupboard and a storage chest also occupied the room, though neither interested him. Closing the door, he continued down the hallway, hearing voices up ahead. He came to an open doorway, that led onto a balcony.

    The balcony was accesable by a set of stair that led down to the main floor. The balcony went all the way along the walls of the room. Well, almost all the way. What looked like a support pillar, or maybe a chunk of wall had fallen and taken a good meter of balcony away. On the other side, stood another member of the silver hands, this one with a bow and quiver full of arrows.

    Vengar could have gone to the far side of the room and cut her down. Of course, that would give those down below a warning. Cautiously, he edged forwards, to see how many were down below. Three, and it looked like they, including the archer, were on high alert. Something must have tipped them off. Vengar wasn't sure what, exactly, but he knew it wasn't a good thing. If however many of them were left escaped, he'd waste hours, maybe days hunting them down.

    'Nothing for it then.' He decided, grabbing onto the guard rail, and vaulting over, drawing one of his axes as he fell. As soon as his boots hit the ground, the archer was calling a warning, and the three silver hands were drawing their weapons and turning to face him. Vengar parried the first set of attacks directed at him, axes meeting the silver blades of two of his attackers.

    The third man strode forwards, swinging a silver claymore. Vengar rolled away, avoiding the weapon. When he came out of his roll, he was a good two meters away from the man and his claymore. Something struck him in the left shoulder, between his shoulder bell and breastplate. Vengar hissed, glancing at the cause of his pain. The shaft of an arrow protruded from his shoulder. Judging by the burning sensation, it was silver tipped. He glanced up at the balcony, where the woman with the bow had another arrow ready.

    The vampire warrior tore the arrow out, dropping it on the cobblestones. He stepped back as the silver hands on the ground caught up to him. He dodged a stab from one, parried the chop of another, and hopped backwards to avoid the horizontal slash of the third. Then another arrow narrowly missed him, instead clattering against the far wall. Vengar shot a hateful glance at the archer, but didn't have time for much else.

    The three were coming for him again, but he was tired of being on the defense. It was time that he did what he was best at. Rather than stepping backwards to avoid the swing of the claymore, he strode forwards, bringing his axes to bear on the man. The other two both landed blows on his sides, but Vengar trusted the darksteel to keep him in one piece. For the moment, anyways.

    His own attacks were much more effective. With the man unable to use his claymore effectively at such close range, he was forced to retreat. Vengars first axe struck the mans weapon, but his second, cut deeply into his torso. He collapsed as the Altmer vampire turned to face his two remaining opponents. An arrow narrowly missing the back of his head reminded him there was still the archer to deal with.

    The two silver hands on the ground came at him, and Vengar had to decide whether to goe left or right. Making up his mind, he stepped to the right, swinging his axes at the silver hands exposed ribs. The man was fast, but not fast enough. He went down, and Vengar continued his onslaught against the remaining warrior. Through luck rather than skill, the man managed to parry a couple of blows, before he too was brought down. The archer remained, firing another arrow. That one missed by a couple of feet, rather than inches. "Getting nervous, are we?" He backed away from the balcony, gauging the height.

    Setting his axes back in their holster, he took a running start, leapt, and grabbed onto the edge of the balcony. He heard the archer let out a startled curse, and the hiss of a dagger being drawn. Too little, and far too late. Vengar hauled himself the rest of the way up, and stood, to see the woman backing away, dagger held out in front of her. To her back, was a door, one that she was probably hoping to retreat beyond.

    The vampire advanced, swatting the dagger aside as the woman attempted a swipe. Grabbing her hair, he pulled her head back, far enough to reveal her throat. The archer managed a panicked noise before Vengar sank his fangs into her. He felt the wound on his shoulder closing. There'd be a scar, of course. Silver always left scars on creatures like him. He fed until the human stopped her struggling, then tossed her body off the balcony, hearing it land with a wet thud.

    He tried the door, and frowned. This one, was locked. Shrugging, he stepped back, lifted his armoured foot , and kicked the wooden door clear off the frame. It opened into a large room, with an elevate area holding a table and several chairs. the rest of the room was fairly open, except for a fireplace, and large chest against the far wall. A woman in steel plate armour, wielding a shield and sword stood slightly in front and to the left of an archer. The archer was bringing his bow up, fumbling, trying to put an arrow to the string.

    "Not this time." Drawing his axe, and cocking his arm, he threw the weapon. Of course, it wasn't a throwing axe, so it didn't fly nearly as smoothly, but it got the desired result. It struck the man between his neck and shoulder, and the bow clattered to the floor. The archer screamed, but Vengar was no longer paying attention to him.

    The woman in armour, no longer having the support of her archer friend, hefted her shield and rushed the vampire. He backpedaled, avoiding her shield bash, and the follow up stab. Clearly, this woman was a little more skilled with her weapons than her dead companions. However, even with only one axe, Vengar Vivarian was no push over. He parried a slash, then sidestepped another , circling around her as he did so.

    The silverhand followed closely, harassing him as he retreated towards the fallen archer. For a moment, he thought the weapon in reach, but then the human chose to rush at him once more. Snarling in frustration, he leapt away, to the stairs leading up to the table, pursued by his adversary. She was quick, he'd give her that. For a mortal to be holding up against a vampire for so long was impressive. Then again, these people did hunt werewolves. Even if most of them were no more skilled than a common bandit.

    The woman bashed with her shield again, and Vengar backed away from the imminent follow up stab, but he'd forgotten about the table and chairs behind him. In his haste to avoid the womans blade, he stumbled over the furniture, losing his grip on the axe, among the crashing and cracking of the table. He snarled as his opponent approached, laughing. Obviously, she thought the fight was over.
    Vengar went still, waiting for her to get closer. He felt her boot tap his leg, and heard her snort derisively. "Thought you could take on the silver hand, huh?"

    The Altmer vampire sat up abruptly, sweeping his leg out, knocking the woman off balance. He rolled to his feet as the surprised silverhand tried to get her feet back under her. Before she could bring either sword or shield to bear, he stepped forwards, taking her throat in a cold, iron grip. She started to fight back, but Vengar tossed her away from him. She struck the far wall, fell, striking the iron and wood chest and then the floor.

    Vengar recovered his axe, and slid it into the loop on his belt. He made his way down the stairs, taking his time. "You know," he said casually, " I would have killed me. And then mocked the corpse." He arrived at the woman. She wasn't dead, though he was sure the impact with the wall had broken a few bones. The silver hand was attempting to push herself off the ground, though one of her legs wasn't moving, and blood spattered on the ground near her face.

    He idly kicked away her supporting arm, and she collapsed once more. He considered, for a brief moment, letting her live. She'd put up a good fight, and she might have had him, had she pressed the advantage. But orders were orders. Lifting an armoured boot, he brought it down on the back of her neck. It broke with a satisfying crunch. He stepped away from the womans body, and took a look around. He'd been sent to deliver a message to the silver hand, and, from the state of the place, he'd say the message had been delivered. He turned and left the ruined fort, retrieving his axe as he did so.


    4E 201, 16th of Mid Year
    The Imperial city, Arboretum




    Lucius Draconus, or rather, Damien Pycus, walked into the Arboretum, though during the day, rather than evening this time. The place had rather less people now that no young nobles were hanging about the place. A few Imperial citizens went about their business, or enjoyed the gardens. Lucius ignored them all, even those that bowed, recognizing his garb. There was one that stood out among the others in the gardens.

    Icilia cupped the head of a Columbine flower and bent to sniff it. He noticed that the dress she wore was the same shade red from the shoulder down, and faded to a pale yellow-white near the hem as the flower. She must have sensed his approach, because she glanced up when he was still a few meters away.

    She smiled, though there was an uncertainty to it. Revealing himself and his allegiances had shaken her. Though, he was certain that if she'd truly feared for her safety, Lucius never would have seen her again. The Imperial city was a big place. She approached him like she might an old friend, and curtsied once she was within earshot. "Lord Pycus. You humble me. I had not expected to see you again."

    He cocked an eyebrow. "Let's drop the act, shall we?"

    Iliria stepped to his side. "Honesty can be dangerous in the Imperial city, my lord." The vampiress murmured. "All kinds of secrets can come to light. Secrets that might be better off left in the dark."

    Lucius smirked at her. "And I suppose you know these secrets. Or have guessed them, at least."

    "Most." The Imperial said, taking the lead. "Follow me. My mistress has decided to speak with you."

    "Indeed? With such little time to consider?"

    Icilia smiled again. She seemed to be in a good mood, at the moment, anyways. "Perhaps there was not much to consider."

    The Imperial vampiress lead him from the arboretum, into the Talos district. He was noticed by a fair amount more people there, but Icilia either didn't notice, or didn't care. Eventually, the pair of them came to a building with almost exclusively male clientele. Lucius' eyes were drawn to the sign above the door. "The brothel of the red lotus?"

    The vampiress smirked at him. "What's the matter, my lord?" She teased, "afraid to see a little skin?"

    He scowled. That was far from the real reason. He was sure that many lords made discreet visits to brothels justs like this one. The operating word being 'discreet'. Walking inside in broad daylight was just the opposite of that. If Damien Pycus was seen striding into a brothel, it could ruin what little good will he'd built up over the past week.

    Icilia, just inside the doorway, turned and cocked an eyebrow at him. Sighing, he followed her lead. Inside, was what might be expected of any brothel in the Imperial city. With one major difference. Every woman in a courtesans dress was a vampiress. It became clear that they weren't ignorant of what he was, either. Vampires, whether from the same coven or not, could always recognize one another.

    He followed Icilia to a door at tha back of the place. It opened to reveal a set of stairs, leading down. "A coven of prostitutes? Interesting."

    "A coven of information gatherers." The vampiress corrected him. "Men are most off their guard when drunk, or after sex. They say things to strangers they normally wouldn't, and we're here to collect that information."

    "The Order Vampyrum would be most impressed, I'm sure." He said dryly.

    Icilia shot a look over her shoulder. "You'd do well to not utter that name too loudly here, my lord."

    "Apologies." Lucius followed her to bottom of the stairs, and emerged in a large, underground hallway. It was somewhat less luxurious than the brothel above, but by no means modest. Tapestries depicting a red lotus flower were spaced evenly, among torches. He also noticed a pair of narrow water channels, running on either side of the corridor, near the wall. Though curious, he didn't bring it up.

    At the far end of the hall, were a pair of large, iron doors. Before they went through them, Icilia stopped him. "When you address my mistress, you will address her as your majesty, or the lotus queen. Understood?"

    "Majesty? That's rather presumptous, don't you think?" Lucius smirked.

    Icilia cocked an eyebrow. "Yet your master presumes to call himself a lord, despite being far from his homeland."

    "Fair enough." Lucius conceded, impressed by her knowledge. It turned out they were indeed very well informed. Icilia turned to the door, and rapped upon it three times with her knuckles.

    Both doors were pulled open, from inside the room, allowing the vampires entrance. Lucius stole a glance over his shoulder, and caught his first look of armed members of the coven. The pair of vampires standing to either side of the doors wore sleeveless dresses, much like Icilia. A pair of wavy bladed swords of a design he'd never seen hung from their belts.

    Directly ahead, against the wall, was a high backed, heavily cushioned chair, much more elaborate than the wooden chair Salthar took his audiences in. Two either side of the throne the water channels he'd seen emptied into large pools, that had red petaled lotus flowers floating in them. The sweet scent coming off the lotuses was almost overwhelming.

    In the throne, sat a woman in an elegant looking red dress, the same shade as the lotus petals in her platinum coloured hair. Her skin was lightly tanned, and unmarred by scars or any other kind of blemish. To an unobservant visitor, she seemed the same age, if not younger than the other vampiric women in the room.

    It was the piercing blue eyes that gave her age away. They were the eyes of one who'd seen centuries. She raised a trimmed, expectant eyebrow, and Lucius delivered a sweeping bow. " Your majesty. Allow me to introduce myself; I am-"

    "Lucius Draconus, vampire of the Bloodlet throne coven. We know. Masquerading as lord Damien Pycus." The woman interrupted, sounding almost bored. "Why are you here?"

    Lucius frowned. Surely, she knew why he was there. After all, he'd been summoned by her. "Your majesty? You-"

    "I know why you're here. I meant why are you in the Imperial city? What's your goal?" She interrupted once more.

    Now he understood. Or rather, he suspected what the woman wanted. Her spies had informed her of Salthars coven, his origins, and more recently, of Lucius' arrival in Cyrodiil. However, they hadn't been able to fathom his purpose, it seemed. With a small smile, he replied "unfortunately, your majesty, I am sworn to secrecy on that matter. A great many things may depend on my mission."

    The lotus queen nodded, as if he'd answered her question to her satisfaction. "Espionage of some sort, then. " The woman was quiet for a moment, the nodded. "We know your lord plans to march on the world of the living. When he does, we will be ready to help." She said. "As you can guess, we're no warriors. We could, however, send information on troop movements, among other things."

    "A most generous offer, your majesty. And what would you be expecting in return?" He asked.

    The woman smiled, "clever man. What we ask is simple; once your lord has gotten what he wants, he destroys the order Vampyrum."

    Lucius inclined his head, not quite believing that the meeting had gone so well. The coven had gained a useful asset, in return for destroying a group of abominations. The Cyrodiilic vampires were powerful, of course, but their power was more political these days, rather than military. "I shall send word to lord Vivarian immediately. I thank you for this audience, your majesty."

    "Go. And do not make us wait too long, Draconus."

    Lucius bowed again, and turned on his heel, heading for the doors. Icilia joined him, escorting him back to the surface. They allowed him to use the brothels back door, and he made his way out of the Imperial city, to report to Salthar Vivarian, and quite possibly, solidify an alliance.

    4E 201, 21st of Mid Year
    The Bloodlet Throne
    Duros Kaast watched the mix of rain and snow fall with something nearing awe. He hadn't seen any snow in Hammerfell, and while he'd seen some on the way to the fortress, the cold, white precipitation still amazed him. He was inside, though the cold wouldn't have bothered him if he'd been out on the walls. He was currently in one of the towers of the fortress. The library, by the looks of it. Bookshelves lined the walls of the interior, most of their titles either dealing with arcane subjects, vampiric or lycanthrope lore.​

    He was fascinated by most of them. He hadn't read much since he'd fled to the abandoned fort in the Alik'r desert. What especially caught his eye were several books that he glanced through that detailed the histories of 'rogue' vampire covens. Covens that hadn't worshiped the Daedric lord of domination, Molag Bal. According to the histories, most of the covens had been small, and destroyed by the scions of Bal.

    Duros was well aware of his covens hatred of Molag Bal. Valon Tash, his sire, had explained that the vampires of the Bloodlet throne were a seperate breed of vampire than those he'd heard stories of in his childhood. Mysterious powers, magics, and, from what he'd seen a large presence of disciplined troops.

    "I see you've found our library." A voice with a distinct Altmer accent said from behind him. He turned to see Salthar Vivarian standing in the doorway, wearing the same thalmor robes he'd been wearing the first time they'd met.

    "My lord. You've amassed quite a collection here."

    Salthar turned to one of the bookcases and ran his fingers along the spine of one of the books. Duros spotted a slight stiffness to the Altmer vampires movements, especially when he moved his arm.

    The elf noticed his gaze and smiled. "I ran afoul of a rather unpleasant man with a crossbow. The enchantment on the bolt has slowed my healing." He shrugged as if it was nothing important. Salthar returned his attention to the book his hand rested on.

    "Do you know what power is, master Kaast?"

    "Knowledge, my lord. Of yourself and your enemies."

    "Precisely. Knowledge. Not swords, or magic, or gold. If you know your enemy,their strengths and weaknesses, defeating them is a simple matter. "

    Duros nodded, glad that he and the leader of the coven agreed. He'd had plenty of time to meditate on his own strength and weaknesses on his self-imposed exile to the desert. He couldn't help but be a little curious, though, about Salthars presence. Surely the Altmer vampire hadn't sought him out simply to talk about the importance of knowledge.

    "Speaking of knowledge; I've heard that your mastery of the school of illusion is quite impressive."

    Duros appreciated the praise, though he didn't let it go to his head. "I've had quite a lot of time to perfect my technique, my lord."

    "I can imagine." Salthar replied, "and now I believe I have found a use for it. If you're willing, that is."

    Duros was intrigued. He'd been expecting a request for his skills, just not from the lord of the coven. "Of course, lord Vivarian. What is it you need, exactly?"

    "I have heard that illusion magic can be used to determine a persons state of mind. Whether they're honest, lying, things like that."

    Duros knew what spell Salthar meant. It was a spell that most skilled practitioners of the illusion school could use. "Veritas." Duros provided the name of the spell. "And, yes, my lord, I'm acquainted with the spell."

    "Excellent." The Altmer turned, motioning for the Redguard to follow. " About a month ago, nearly fifty of the prisoners that had worked on the wall here staged an escape." Duros had heard talk of an escape several times since he'd arrived. Now he knew what they were referring to. "One of their number, a Nord man named Uljar informed us of the impending escape. Obviously, he was a friend of those men who escaped. And I want these escapees silenced before word of our presence here spreads. Obviously, we can't send our own troops to find them, it would raise too many questions."

    "So you wish to use this informant?"

    "Yes. Though I need to know if I can trust him, first." Salthar explained. "For all I know, he could be in league with the escape prisoners, and remained behind to pass information to them."

    "You wish for me to speak with him. Discern if he can be trusted, or not."

    "If you would. He's being held in the dungeons, at the moment."

    Duros inclined his head. "As you wish, lord Vivarian."

    Salthar began to walk away, then stopped, as if he'd suddenly remembered something. "I took the liberty of having fresh robes made for you, along with something a little more protective than what you have now. See me in the great hall once you've spoken with Ulfjar."

    Curious, Duros watched the lord of the coven take his leave. Then he made his way down to the dungeons. He'd heard from his escort on his first day at the fortress that the dungeons had been built inside the mountains that backed the Bloodlet throne. The only way for an incarcerated person to escape was by fighting his or her way through a fortress full of vampires.

    He noted the rocky walls, and dimly lit corridors. Escape would be a nightmare, if the vampires placed an archer at the end of the corridor. The hallway opened into a slightly larger room, where a bored looking Breton jailer sat at a desk. "Can I help you?"

    "Yes," Duros replied, " I'm here to speak with a prisoner, Ulfjar, on lord Vivarians behalf."

    The Breton pointed. "Down that corridor. Last cell on the right."

    Duros frowned. The dungeons weren't exactly brimming with prisoners. "Why the last cell? Wouldn't it be more convenient to have him close at hand?"

    The other vampire barked a laugh. "That's where we had him at first. The idiot wouldn't shut up, bleating about he was innocent, about how he'd helped us. Nearly drove me insane. So I had him moved down there...you'll see what I mean."

    Duros followed the Bretons instructions, and came upon the mans cell. Ulfjar sat on a stool, hands on his knees, eyes bleary. He had a shaggy black beard, and a tangled mane of hair. "Have you decided to kill me? Or are you just here to taunt me? Either way, get it over with."

    "Neither." Duros said, waiting for the man to move his gaze from the floor to his face. Upon seeing a new person, rather than the usual vampires, the man cautiously stood. He took in the Redguards' appearance, looking rather nervous. Duros could understand why. Even before his vampirism, he'd been rather thin and tall. Now he was gaunt, with pale, caramel skin, and dark hazel eyes, flecked with red. His lack of hair drew attention to them. He supposed he could come off as unnerving.

    "I don't think it would do any good to claim my innocence, would it?" Ulfjar sighed.

    "Not really. I don't care either way. Lord Vivarian may have a use for you."

    That got the mans attention. "What kind of use?" He asked, unable to hide the suspicion in his voice.

    "Finding your old friends. Getting out of this cell. Serving some purpose for what remains of your life."

    Ulfjar frowned. He stared at the Redguard vampire before him, as if expecting some trap. While the man deliberated with himself, Duros discreetly cast his spell. He was hit with a surge of emotion as the spell took effect. Fear, doubt, suspicion, but these were overridden by hope for a second chance for freedom. Finally, the Nord heaved a sigh. "I'll do it. I'll find my old friends. I'll serve whatever purpose you see fit."

    Duros detected no dishonesty in the mans mind. He nodded and turned back the way he'd come. "I'll see about having you released." He said over his shoulder. It took him a quarter of an hour make his way from the dungeons to the great hall, where Salthar waited.

    "Ulfjar will do as you command, my lord." Duros reported. "I detected no duplicity in him. It's possible he had nothing to do with the prisoner escape."

    Salthar nodded once. "I trust in your abilities. I'll have Ulfjar dispatched to track down his former acquaintances in the morning. As for you-" he motioned to a vampire behind his throne. A vampire in the darksteel armour of the coven stepped forwards, a wooden crate in his arms. "I believe you've earned these."

    Duros stepped forwards and removed the lid of the crate. Inside was a folded pair of robes, very similar to the Thalmor garb he wore now. Except that these robes were more flowing, with the chest uncovered by cloth. Their colouration was different as well, the gold trim of the Thalmor being replaced with crimson. Underneath the robes was a shirt of leather and darksteel mail, expertly made. "Thank you, my lord. I shall put them to good use."

    "I'm sure you will. Welcome to the coven, Duros Kaast."
     
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  10. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    Chapter Nine
    4E 201,13th of Suns' Height.
    The Bloodlet Throne

    The great hall had gained a new addition in the form of a large, dark wood table. It was accompanied by high backed chairs, arranged around it. A number of vampires sat in the afore mentioned chairs. Salthar Vivarian had the head of the table, with the chairs to his immediate left and right empty. Beyond that, on the right side of the table, sat Duros Kaast. Beside him, was the Breton vampire, Varnus Kohl, on Kohls right, sat the Altmer vampiress, Nirana Loeraithe. On the left side of the table, chairs were occupied by the scarred Imperial, Marcus Threnial, casting the occasional glance at Karsh, the Khajiit assassin who'd only recently joined their ranks. The final vampire at the table was Faergaen, the Bosmer steward.

    "The war is escalating, my lord." Duros Kaast said. " Our spies in Whiterun and Eastmarch holds report build ups of both Imperial and Stormcloak troops."

    "Interesting, but not unexpected. What news from Cyrodiil, Faergaen?" Salthar asked.

    "My lord. Our, allies in the red lotus coven have been supplying lord Draconus with information on troop movements in Cyrodiil. The Empire seems to realize the rebels pose a more serious threat than initially thought. A thousand soldiers are assembling at the border, under a general Altus Kathalon."

    "I've never heard of this general Kathalon. Marcus? You were in the Imperial army, were you not? What do you know of this man?" Salthar, along with the others at the table, turned their attention to the man.

    The scarred Imperial vampire nodded. "I was, my lord. " He paused for a moment, thinking. "General Kathalon is a very...focused officer. He's known for putting down the High Rock rebellions a few years ago. He won't let something like the Stormcloaks slow him down. If the Empire is bringing him in, they've given up on reconciliation with Skyrim. They want to show the Nords who's in charge."

    "The Stormcloaks will be wiped out, in other words." Kharkov Darkstone stated.

    "Something we can't afford." Salthar said quietly. "Not if our new order is to be implemented. Marcus, disguise yourself as an Imperial scout, and ride to pale pass.Join with the army, and provide the general with false information, but keep his trust."

    Marcus nodded. "As you wish, lord Vivarian. "

    Duros Kaast stirred. "My lord...how, exactly, to you plan to implement the new order? As we've seen, these Nords are fiercely independent. They barely accept their own rulers."

    "I'm curious as well, my lord." Kharkov said. " The Empire can't control Skyrim. What makes you so sure we'll prevail?"

    "After this war, the people of Skyrim will be exhausted, and the Empire will be in no position to reclaim it. The Nords will accept my authority, or I'll destroy them."

    There was a silence at the table. Not necessarily a doubting silence, but surprised, certainly. "When do we reveal ourselves?" Nirana asked, eagerness glinting in her eyes. Salthar knew the former Justiciar had held a grudge against the Stormcloaks since her companions deaths at the hands of the rebels.

    "Not yet. Once the generals men have been worn down, and the fighting is at its' peak, we will strike. Remember, our advantage is the element of surprise. Once we reveal ourselves, we will be faced with both the Empire and Stormcloaks."

    "And if these Nords refuse, even under the threat of violence? We could face a new civil war." Kaast persisted.

    "There will be no civil war." Salthar stated firmly. "As you, all of you, should know, if the right people are coerced, captured, or killed, any resistance falls apart shortly after its' formation."

    "And if the Empire returns? They haven't exactly committed their full strength to Skyrim." Varnus spoke for the first time.

    "They won't. The Empire is nowhere near the strength it was before the great war. They control a handful of handful of provinces, and High Rock has never been eager to aid the Empire. Nor can Morrowind afford to send troops. If the Empire acts, it'll be Cyrodiilic Imperials that make up the bulk of its army."

    "I'm afraid I don't see your point, my lord. Cyrodiil is the heartland of the Empire. Every citizen will take up arms in its defence." Kohl pointed out.

    "Not necessarily." Salthar said, "Lucius is taking care of that problem. Subtly, of course."

    Those seated at the table exchanged glances. "This one was not aware Lucius' mission entailed such...operations." Karsh said, tilting his head to the side slightly. "Perhaps if we knew some details..."

    "I'm afraid that's not possible. I'm not certain of all the details myself." He replied.

    "And your brother? He's not been here for sometime. I'm told it has something to do with your new guards?" Kharkov Darkstone motioned to the six, robed, heavily armoured vampires, named the Blackguard, arrayed on either side of the hall.

    "Yes. He's currently out of Skyrim, searching for more recruits."

    Kharkov nodded, apparently satisfied.

    "If there's nothing else, I suggest we all get back to our duties." There was silence for a moment, before the others started to leave the table, in ones and twos. The covens first war council was over.


    4E 201, 23rd of Suns Height
    Fort Dawnguard

    "So let me get this straight." The gruff Redguard man said. "Your entire band were prisoners of a vampire coven, in the mountains."

    Derek and Tannis exchanged glances. They'd heard of the shadowy organization calling themselves the Dawnguard shortly after their escape. Many of their group had returned to their families, but just over twenty of the former prisoners had remained with Derek and Tannis. As much as they would have loved to return to their families, but they knew the danger presented by the coven.

    Joining with the Dawnguard was the best chance they had. All of them had fought the vampires, but that didn't make them experts. From what they'd heard of the Dawnguard, they were veteran vampire slayers, and had been for years. There were other, less encouraging rumours, but the ones that dominated mentioned the Dawnguard could destroy the coven. Which, as far as Derek could see, was the only way to ensure the safety of his family.

    The only problem was, the current leader of the Dawnguard, Isran, didn't seem to believe them. At all. "We didn't just waltz out the front door." Derek said, and when Israns bushy brow lifted over his slightly bloodshot eyes, he added "sir."

    The leader of the Dawnguard chuckled, and looked over his shoulder at one of his companions. "I like this one." He pointed at the axe, still at Dereks side. "You know how to use that?"

    "I can hold my own." Derek replied, "and so can the others with me."

    "Even the boy?" A Nord with a large beard, and light brown, braided hair.

    "Even the boy." Derek said. The bearded Nord seemed impressed. The pair exchanged glances, and finally Isran turned back to Derek and Tannis.

    "I'm not going to lie. We've heard tales of riders, hooded and cloaked, riding throughout Skyrim, and beyond."

    Tannis stepped forwards "why haven't you done anything about it then?"

    "Because." The Redguard vampire hunter said, "They've not been attacking Skyrims people. There's another group of vampires though, more violent. The hall of the vigilant was destroyed by them. We're trying to locate them, but we haven't had any luck."

    "So you're not worried about the coven that's kidnapping people to build their fortress in the mountains?" Tannis asked, his tone harsh. Derek shot his friend a warning glance. Tannis had agreed to join the Dawnguard, but he hadn't been convinced they'd help the former prisoners, and it was obvious in his tone.

    Isran crossed his arms. "We are. That's just not our priority right now. Like I said, these vampires aren't causing us problems, and we know where they are, thanks to you. These others need to be stopped, as soon as possible."

    "Something you could do, if you had more people." Derek said. "We can provide those people. We already have experience fighting vampires. All we'd need is armour and equipment."

    Isran considered for a moment, then nodded. "Okay. Welcome to the Dawnguard. Gunmar will show you where you can store whatever possessions you have. And remember-stay vigilant."

    4E 201, 27th of Suns' Height
    Pycus manor, several leagues from the Imperial city

    It was late. Very late. The servants had since been dismissed to the smaller building outside the manor. Only Lucius and Adolphus remained in the great house. The Imperial vampire sat in a comfortable, well cushioned chair in the common room. A goblet was in his right hand, the blood within magically preserved and cooled, to prevent it from congealing. His eyes were fastened on the roaring fire in the hearth.

    To his right, was a carved, four legged table, with a round top. Atop it, lay a folded piece of parchment. Beside it, was a small bell, made of bronze, and commonly used to summon servants. Lucius would have preferred the more common, and extravagant silver bell, but had no wish to burn his hand every time he touched it.

    Every so often, Lucius' eyes strayed to it, and he felt a jolt of apprehension. The contents of the letter were something he'd been expecting, and dreading since arriving in the Imperial city. The letter informed Lucius that the sender knew who, and what he was. The sender went on to threaten to reveal his identity to the authorities, unless he agreed to meet with the sender, and agreed to his terms. The letter had arrived several hours before, and the sender mentioned he planned to arrive at the manor shortly after midnight.

    'Fine. If the fool wishes to walk into the lions den, so be it.' He thought. A heavy knock at the door drew his attention. A minute later, the sound of the door opening reached Lucius' ears. Two sets of feet made their way towards the common room. The door opened, with Adolphus leading an Argonian male.

    Lucius glanced at the newcomer. He wore dark grey trousers, with a black, long sleeved shirt. He had no horns, though his head was graced with a frill of feathers. His scales were a pale green, darker near his nostrils and eyes. The eyes themselves were a dark yellow, with the slit pupil of a reptile. As far as he could tell, the man was unarmed. Or extremely skilled at hiding his weaponry.

    The Imperial vampire didn't bother to stand, though he didn't take his eyes off his 'guest'. "Please," he gestured to the armchair opposite him, "take a seat. Can Adolphus get you something to drink?"
    The skinny necromancer lingered near the door, eyes flicking between Lucius and the Argonian.

    "No." The sender of the letter said in his gravelly voice. "I'm not here for drinks, night stalker."

    "Ah, well. That will be all then." Lucius said, addressing the necromancer, who, still in his stewards role, bowed, and retreated from the room, pulling the door to the room shut.

    The Argonian had taken the chair, and leaned forwards, hands on his knees. "My terms-"

    Lucius cut him off with an upraised hand. "Before I hear your terms, I need to know how much you know."

    "Why? My word isn't good enough for you?"

    " When dealing with matters such as these, it never pays to take someones word."

    The Argonian curled a lip in the sneer of his kind, then said "I have some...associates, waiting outside the Imperial city. If I don't come back with my terms met, or if I have an 'accident' , they'll have the Imperial guard breathing down your neck before you can find a new hole to hide in."

    "Really? The guard now takes the word of commoners, above that of Imperial lords?"

    "My friends have some very convincing proof."

    "I'm sure." Lucius sighed, feigning defeat. " Let me hear your terms, then."

    The Argonian grinned, tasting victory. "First. You tell no one about this discussion. Second, you will send a delivery of ten thousand septims to a location you'll be sent after I leave. Third, you make no attempt to track down me or my companions. "

    "I'm sensing an 'or else' " Lucius said drily.

    "'Or else' ", the Argonian said, " your friends in Skyrim and that brothel in the Imperial city will pay."
    The Argonians clumsy threats normally wouldn't have worried Lucius too much. It sounded like it was his first time blackmailing someone. Or, blackmailing someone Lucius' position, anyways. Or perhaps the Argonian was presenting a facade. Either way, his knowledge, however limited, of the alliance between his coven, and the coven of the red lotus made him dangerous. Which meant Lucius needed to deal with him. In a way that would remove him as a threat to lord Vivarians plans.

    That meant Lucius could not let him leave the manor. He would have to deal with the guard, and any of the Argonians 'associates' when they arrived. In the time he'd spent in Cyrodiil, he'd built some small connections with other lords in the Imperial court. There was a good chance he could dismiss the charges leveled against him by the Argonian. If he actually had any associates. Lucius set his drink down, summoning as much incredulity as possible. "I'll do no such thing. And I think you'd better leave, before I have my servants 'throw' you out."

    He began to reach for the bell on the table top. "Don't." The Argonian leaned forwards, capturing the vampires wrist in his hand. Lucius locked eyes with the reptilian blackmailer. "There's...really no need to involve anyone else in this...right?"

    The Argonian released his arm, and Lucius leaned back in his site. "You still believe you can threaten me? Had you alerted the guard before coming here, you might have stood a chance."

    "My companions-"

    "Aren't relevant." At those words, the door to the common room swung open, revealing Adolphus Rook standing in the doorway. The Argonian managed a startled grunt before a bolt of green magic struck him in the chest. Immediately, he went stiff and silent, limbs paralyzed by Adolphus' magic.
    Lucius stared at the immobilized, would be blackmailer, inspecting the necromancers work.

    "Impressive. How long will he be paralyzed?"

    "Several minutes, lord. I've had much time to perfect that particular spell."

    "Good. Take him downstairs. Find out what he knows. I'll be along shortly to check on your progress." The former lord Pycus had harboured a fondness for a private interrogation room, built underneath the manor itself. Though it didn't look like it seen occupants in quite a few years, Lucius felt it was long past time it fulfilled its purpose once more. As Adolphus dragged the unmoving Argonian towards the stairs leading to the interrogation room, Lucius sat back and finished his drink.

    XXX

    Lucius waited for several hours after the unfortunate Argonian had been taken to the interrogation room. As each hour passed, and no knock at the door came, the Imperial vampire felt the tension draining out of his shoulders. There were no 'associates' waiting to summon the guard. Or, if there were, they cared less about their companion than he'd assumed. Still, it was clear the Argonian had information that could prove harmful to the coven. Lucius wanted that information.

    He stood from the comfortable seat, and made his way down the stairs, following the path Adolphus had taken with the prisoner hours ago. The stairs ended at a stone corridor, lit with only a quartet of torches. At the far end of the hall was a single iron door, currently closed. Lucius reached the door, and stepped inside, glancing at his reptilian prisoner as he did so. What he saw made him wince. Adolphus had not been idle during the hours he'd had alone with the Argonian.

    Tools of the torturers trade were laid out on a sturdy wooden table, that was situated in the center of the room. The Argonian sat in wooden chair, arms strapped down with thick leather belts. Most of the scales around his mouth and finger-claws had been torn out, along with all of his head feathers. His exposed flesh was raw and bleeding, with a few burn marks here and there.

    "I hope you're willing to talk. For your sake." Lucius said taking a seat across from him. Adolphus lingered nearby. The prisoner opened his mouth, but only a choked sobbing noise came from him.

    The Imperial vampire shot his subordinate a concerned glance. "You left his tongue intact, I hope?"

    The necromancer nodded. Seeming all to eager to continue his torment of the helpless Argonian. Lucius doubted he would have been half as eager, if he'd been armed and ready for a fight. Turning his attention back to the wretch that had once been an overly confident blackmailer, he said "the sooner you tell me what I want to know, the sooner all this ends."

    "W-w-water." The prisoner rasped. "P-please."

    Spotting a pitcher of the clear liquid resting on the table. He nodded, and Adolphus stepped forwards, grabbing the pitcher with one hand, and the Argonians jaw with the other. He poured a generous measure of water down the miserable creatures throat. Though he proved unable to swallow it all, and ended up spluttering and coughing it up. After giving him a moment to recover, Lucius cleared his throat. "Let's start with your name."

    "Weeros. Weeros Norfareth."

    "Weeros. Perhaps you'd like to tell me the names of those others you were working with?"

    The Argonian shook his head. "Aren't any others. I'm on my own...thought I could score big. Be made for life."

    "And the information?" At that, Weeros' jaw tightened. Lucius left his seat "I see you need some time to think about your answer." He turned to Adolphus, "call me when he's ready to speak."

    XXX

    It didn't take long before Adolphus called him back to the room. Predictably, Weeros was in worse condition than before. The scales on the underside of his jaw had been ripped out, and the Argonian lacked the strength to look up when Lucius stepped into the room and took his seat. "Ready to talk?"

    "Yes." Weeros said brokenly. "I'll tell you everything."

    "Perhaps you could just write it-ah." It was rather hard to write with no eyes. "Never mind. Where is the information?"

    The Argonian told him. He'd acted alone, watching Lucius meet with contacts from the Red Lotus coven, and shadowing him as he'd gone about spreading little bits and pieces of dissent against the Empire. And he'd recorded it all down in a notebook, that he'd planned to take to the authorities, after he'd been paid. Lucius had to admit, he was impressed.

    For a group, even a small group, gathering the information would not have been terribly difficult. Weeros, however, had worked alone, constantly gathering details about Lucius' dealings. The Imperial vampire was ready to admit, he'd probably been more careless than he should have. Though, now he was moments from correcting the issue. Weeros revealed that he'd concealed the information in a cave not far from red ring road.

    "Thank you." Lucius said, then stood once more. "Make sure his death is painless. Then dispose of the body, and retrieve the information." He instructed Adolphus. "I must contact lord Vivarian." With that, he left the interrogation room, and the broken Weeros behind, heading to his quarters to report on the situation, and assure his lord that it had been resolved.
     
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  11. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 13th of Last Seed
    The Rift.

    Iliria Vale crouched behind the fallen tree, her piercing red eyes observing the group passing through the forest. The fact that this particular group were travelling well away from the main road, it was safe to guess that these were not ordinary merchants or farmers going about their business. "That's a lot of bandits." The Imperial man beside her murmured. Unlike her, he was prone, due to the fact that the log had long since rotted away where he lay.

    She shot a glance at her companion and mentor, Caiden Sorius. How long had it been since he'd found her staggering around the wilderness, dehydrated, starving. A month? No, more like two months ago. She found it was hard to remember the little details like that. He'd taken her in, and turned her. Brought her to his clan, his...coven. She remembered how they'd stared at her, and chastised Caiden. 'Unstable' they'd called her, 'untrustworthy', little more than a feral beast. The gaunt Redguard in particular had been against letting her survive.

    Caiden had stood up for her. He'd said a bunch of things, most of which Iliria couldn't recall now. What she did remember, was the master of the coven. He'd supported her and Caiden. Believed in them. And then sent them all the way out to this place. The Rift, she thought it was called. She loved the colours of the leaves in the trees. Morrowind didn't really have trees. Just ash, and the nasty monsters that dwelt in the wastes.

    "What's the matter?" She taunted, "scared of a few smelly bandits? I could take them in my sleep." Not that she slept anymore. But that point was irrelevant. She probably could have taken the bandits with her eyes closed, then.

    "Don't boast." Caiden chastised quietly. His eyes never left the group of thugs, though they seemed completely oblivious to the pair of vampires. "It doesn't suit you."

    Iliria pouted. "Well I could." She muttered.

    "Get ready. I'll attack first, head on. Wait until they're focused on me, before you strik from the side."

    "You always get all the fun" she huffed, drawing the curving, dark bladed weapon from her side.
    Caiden smirked, and rose to a standing position. The Imperial wore steel armour plates over his upper torso,with steel gauntlets, and greaves. Over that, he wore a dark travelers cloak, which he now tossed to the ground. The darksteel greatsword on his back was revealed, and he drew it easily, with one hand. He nodded to Iliria, and then was gone, his body seeming to blur as he rushed the oblivious bandits.

    Iliria itched to charge alongside him, and join in the killing, but she had her instructions. And she was determined to abide by them. She would prove she was no feral beast. The fingers of her free hand dug into the rotting wood of the log, leaving gouges in the rotten bark.

    Caiden reached the first bandit, switching to a two handed grip on his greatsword as he did so. He delivered a powerful horizontal blow, cutting the leading bandit in half at the waist. The others cried out in equal parts surprise and outrage. The bandits swarmed around Caiden, attempting to surround him and beat him down with their variety of weapons. One man stayed back, stringing a bow, and putting an arrow to it. He would die first, Iliria decided, springing up from her position.

    The harsh ring of darksteel on iron filled the air, as Caidens sword cut through a bandits poor quality weapon, and continued to carve a bloody furrow in its wielders chest. Then Iliria reached the archer, who had yet to notice her. She corrected that. A quick strike cut the bowstring in half. The bandit, perhaps more experienced or wary than his friends, dropped the now useless bow, and turned towards her, hand going to the dagger on his belt. The Dunmer vampiress flashed him a smile, and stabbed him in the throat.

    She moved on as the bandit fell, clutching at the mortal wound. The scent of blood was enough to make her want to stop and feed, but she reminded herself that focus was key. Perhaps she could single out one of the bandits to quench her thirst. Later, though. For now, she dashed forwards, cutting low at a Nord man with a two handed warhammer, ready to smash Caiden. The Nord bellowed as her keen blades edge hamstrung him. He staggered around, swinging his weapon in a diagonal slash that could have crushed her head.

    If she'd still been there. She let herself fall to the ground, and rolled, coming to her feet at the mans side. Before he could turn again, she slid her blade between his ribs, puncturing his heart. That left three bandits still on their feet. Caiden stabbed one through the chest, and his companion turned to confront Iliria. To his credit, the man parried one strike. Iliria then launched a flurry of blows, cutting apart the bandits poorly armoured torso. She finished him with a flick of her wrist, cutting one of the important arteries in his throat.

    That left one trembling bandit. He looked to be barely a man, with only the hints of a beard on his chin. For a moment, Ilirial wondered why Caiden hadn't taken care of the remaining bandit himself. Then she dismissed it, and stalked towards the boy, who was now shaking like a leaf, though he managed to keep his sword out in front of him. She lunged forwards, disarming him with a flourish. The bandit staggered backwards, until his back struck a tree. He had nowhere left to run, and he knew it.

    Iliria brought her blade up, preparing a slash that would finish him off. She brought her blade down....onto a blade of identical colour, if longer and straight. Caidens' greatsword. "Iliria, no!" He shouted, taking her momentary confusion to place himself between the boy and her weapon. He kept his blade up until she stepped back, lowering her own weapon.

    Once he was sure she wasn't going to attack, he turned to the boy, grabbing a fistful of his fur armour. "How old are you, boy?"

    The would-be bandit, surprised at the fact he was still drawing breath, stammered "s-s-sixteen, sir."

    Caiden grunted. "Sixteen. Thought you'd try your luck killing merchants and raiding villages?"

    The boy started to nod, then shake his head, apparently too frightened to speak.
    "Run home to your mother,boy. If we catch you out here again, you wont be so lucky. Go!" He released the boy, giving him a shove for good measure. The boy ran, not looking back once.

    "Why did you do that? He was a bandit, same as the others. You showed them no mercy."
    Caiden sighed. "No one should die before they've had a chance to live." He motioned to the dead bandits. "I killed them, because those were my orders, and they were bad people, preying on innocent villagers."

    Iliria shook her head. "I don't understand. Why kill if not for the pleasure of it?"

    "Because. Some things are more important than your own personal satisfaction. If you go around killing without need or reason, the Bloodlet throne will hunt you down. They've no tolerance for rogues." He wiped his sword clean on one of the bodies. He looked like he wanted to say something else, but turned away, sheathing his weapon as he did so.

    "And if I'm not wrong, there's a bounty on this particular group. We just need to-ah." He stopped by one of the bodies, knelt, and used the mans own weapon to remove his head. He pulled a sack from somewhere and dropped the head into it.

    "Bounty?"

    "From Riften itself. We're going there to turn him in, and collect the reward." He finally turned back towards her. "And, I think it'll be a good test for you."

    Iliria scowled. "Test? What do you mean, test?"

    "Of your restraint." He said, retrieving his cloak and starting off in the direction of Riften. Still scowling, Iliria sheathed her weapon, and followed.

    It took them a couple of hours to reach the walled city of Riften, and from what Caiden told her, it was the capital of the Rift. A pair of guards in purple tunics and scale armour blocked the gates. "State your names and business in Riften." The man on the right instructed.

    "Caiden Sorius and Iliria Vale." Her mentor replied. Iliria herself concentrated on keeping her mouth shut. Caiden had once said that she had a bad habit of blurting things out that she shouldn't. Especially when her mind wandered. Like it was doing now. More importantly, she was focused on not biting one of the two guards. Or clawing her way inside, to get to the delicious mortals she could hear and smell inside.

    She restrained herself to a small growl, barely audible. Caiden shot her a warning glance, but otherwise waited for the guardsmen to finish pulling upen the iron bound gates. "Keep yourselves out of trouble while you're here. Otherwise, we'll be seeing you again."
    The thought of a pair of guards attempting to arrest her was....ridicoulous. And that was putting it mildly. She suppressed the urge to burst into peals of laughter, and settled with a smile and a wink, before following Caiden inside the city.
    4E 201, 13th of Last Seed
    A small cave, west of Whiterun

    Duros Kaast waited with the patience only the dead could accomplish. It had been little more than a week since lord Vivarian had named him 'Inquisitor' and sent him to discover the location of the escaped prisoners. The trail had long since gone cold, but Duros had always been persistent, and he had ways of accessing other peoples memories that were considered...unique. He would discover the location of the prisoners, even it meant he ended up waiting weeks. Months, even. He had time his prey simply did not. And he did not intend to fail, not when he was so close to discovering their whereabouts.

    The prisoner turned informant had sent word that he was on to something. He'd sent word that he would be bringing an individual to the cave in question. There were plenty of caves in this region. But the contact had been specific- A cave, visible from the road, shortly before the bend in the path. A narrow mouth, but with a roof high enough to allow a man to stand upright. It had only taken Duros and his travelling companions three brief explorations, and an encounter with a pack of trolls, to find the right cave.

    Reminded of his companions for the first time he glanced at them. Both were inside the cave, at either side of the entrance. They were adorned in the black armour and robes that marked them as the elite Black Guard. Salthars bodyguards. One, was an Altmer woman, with hair only a slight shade paler than her skin. The other was a Nord male who looked like he'd run afoul of a sabrecat sometime during his mortal life. If the scars stretching from one side of his face to the other were any indication.

    Both held the long, blade topped staves that made up the Guards' primary weapon. Crossbows were strapped to their backs, pouches filled with bolts hung off their belts. Each also had a sheathed sword on their belts as well. From what Kaast had seen during the encounter with the trolls, both guards were formidable warriors.

    The scuff of boots on stone drew the three vampires attention. A young Redguard woman stepped into the cave, not noticing the pair of guards to either side of the entrance. Instead her eyes fastened on Kaast, and her full, rather lovely lips parted in surprise. She didn't recognize him, of that, Duros was certain. He'd left everyone and everything of his old life behind years ago. Perhaps it was the surprise of seeing another Redgaurd, even a pale skinned one such as he, in Skyrim that drew her attention.

    She was followed by the form of the prisoner Duros had spoken with, Ulfjar. The Nord did not miss the presence of the guards, and the blood drained from his face. Kaast had known that trusting the Nord informant to cooperate was a bit of a gamble. However, he'd been counting on the fact that the man knew exactly what would happen to him if he attempted to betray the coven. The burly Nord crossed his arms and remained near the exit.

    Finally, the woman spoke. "Who are you?" She turned her head to look at her companion, and caught sight of the guards. Her expression changed from confused to frightened in an instant.

    "You have nothing to fear. We have some questions for you." Duros spoke in a calm voice, not wanting to scare the woman into an ill-considered escape attempt. "I'm told you recently had an interaction with a large group of men, ill equipped, probably broke." As he spoke, he silently wove a spell, easing the womans fears and blocking out all but his voice.

    The anxiety faded out of the womans face, and she nodded complacently. "That's right. I was working at the Bannered Mare, in Whiterun." She closed her eyes, the better to remember. "It was a late night. Raining outside, I think. A man, Nord, he walks in, just wearing a torn tunic and pants. Some ratty shoes, barely holding together. He wanted a place for he and his companions to stay." The woman snorted. "Flat out admitted he was broke. I would have turned them away. But Hulda...she said that he could pay her back when he'd made some money. Let the whole group stay the night. They left before sunrise, said they were heading south east."

    The Rift. An interesting direction for a group of desperate escapees to choose. Though, thinking about it rationally, it made sense. Riften was about as far away from Falkreath hold as one could get, while remaining within Skyrim. Why they'd want to stay in the province was still a mystery to Kaast. He guessed the woman had nothing else to tell them. Torturing her was just needlessly cruel.

    "Thank you. You were most helpful." Kaast said, and meant it. Then he cast another spell, and her eyes rolled up into her skull. She slumped over, the spell did her no harm, physically, at least. It was designed to wipe her short term memory. She'd be physically fine, though she would be unable to remember the events of the last couple of days. Then he turned his attention to the fidgeting Nord, standing just inside the cave entrance. "You managed to garner some useful information, at least. Well done." He pointed to the unconcious woman. "Take her back to Whiterun. Then make your way to the Rift. Make contact with your former friends. Regain their trust. We'll be expecting reports on their location and weapons weekly."

    "Are you crazy?" Ulfjar blurted. "I helped your kind! If they see me again, they'll hang me!"
    The Blackguard were highly trained. Duros didn't even need to signal before the Altmer woman stepped forwards, swinging the lower half of her sword staff into the back of Ulfjars knees.

    She stepped back a moment later, reclaiming her position near the door. "Then I suggest you don't fail." Kaast said, making his way towards the cave entrance. "For your sake."

    4E 201, 15th of Last Seed
    Falkreath hold

    General Altus Kathalon, leader of the Imperial fifth legion, and a veteran of over fifty battles, sat on his horse, a roan gelding, and surveilled the land he'd been sent to take. Below, and to the right of the cliff he'd ridden up to get a better view, the men and women of the fifth legion marched into the area known as Falkreath hold. For the most part, it seemed to be made up of tall pine trees, and he could see a river winding below. Above the army, the sky was filled with grey clouds, threatening snow or rain soon.

    Three people shared the rocky overlook with him. The fifth legions bannerman, a young Breton lad, that reminded Altus very much of his younger self. Then Praefect Hadrian Ilnius, in charge of the legions second battalion. Beside him, was Caldris Scipio, his second in command, and finally, Lillian Genevar, an Imperial battle mage that had saved his life on more than one occasion.

    "Terrain looks fairly flat. Shouldn't have any problems moving supplies through the hold." He noted.

    "The natives are supposedly friendly to Imperial troops. Shouldn't have any problems from their direction." Praefect Ilnius added.

    "From the jarl, at least." Praefect Scipio corrected. "Who knows how the local thanes will handle another legion marching through their land."

    Altus shot the younger man a look. "This is the Emperors land." He said sternly. "The locals have forgotten that. We're here to remind them of it."

    Scipio nodded and directed his gaze to the tree covered land of the hold. Altus was all too aware that the Praefect wasn't overly fond of him. Most of the officers under his command had earned their way to the top. Not Scipio. The mans father was some high ranking Imperial noble, and thought it would be good to have some influence in Imperial military affairs. So Altus had been stuck with the man. Scipio was an able enough fighter, and an adept tactician, but he was also lazy, and lacked respect.

    "We had a scout report in, shortly after we came through the pass." Lillian said, smoothly changing the subject. "He's waiting for you, down there."

    "Let's not keep him waiting. The sooner we wipe out these 'Stormcloaks' and restore order, the sooner we can go home." Altus said, turning his horse. The four of them rode down to the main army, where camp was being set up. Sure enough, the scout in question was waiting patiently, accompanied by a pair of legionnaires.

    The scout saluted properly, standing at attention, awaiting permission to speak. And yet...there was something off about him. He was scarred, but that was nothing new. The Empire was at war after all. His skin, perhaps. The man was unnaturally pale, and his eyes...there was something about them, too. A...hunger, of some sort.

    Altus didn't point it out to the others though. It seemed unlikely that any one serving in this part of Skyrim got much sun. And he needed the valuable intelligence the scout was no doubt carrying. "At ease, soldier. You part of Tullius' legion?"

    The scout nodded. "Yes, general. I was stationed in Whiterun hold, until my patrol was whiped out by a Stormcloak ambush. I was assigned here shortly afterwards."

    "You're the only scout to report in so far." Praefect Ilnius pointed out. "Should we be expecting more?"

    "I'd be surprised, sir." The scout replied. "Plenty of nasty stuff in the hold that's not rebels. I know the place well enough to navigate safely."

    That was disappointing, but Altus knew the risks of warfare. There were always opportunistic scum waiting on the sidelines, with petty grievances, or wanting to make a little coin. "Tell us what you can. Then get yourself something to eat, and rest up."

    The scout nodded. "This hold is mostly untamed. Lots of bandits and other types of scum in the wilderness. I've heard that there are a few smaller stormcloak camps a short distance from some of the northern villages of the hold. For the most part, the hold is friendly to the Empire. The same goes for Whiterun hold. Terrain is mostly flat, with a few foothills at the Whiterun-Falkreath hold borders."

    Satisfied, Altus nodded. " Very good, son. We can use this information. What's your name?"

    The scout turned to him, and a grin tugged at the corner of his lips. "Marcus Threnial. Welcome to Skyrim, general."

    4E 201, 16th of Last Seed
    The Rift

    They left Riften at first light. Caiden and Iliria made good time towards the small, abandoned hunters shack that had served as their base in the region. When they'd arrived, Caiden stopped outside, watching the shallow, wide stream pass in front of him. Iliria stared at him, wondering why he'd stopped. He seemed to be working up to something. He hadn't said much throughout the trip back to the shack. Iliria wondered if she'd somehow disappointed him. She hadn't attacked anyone in Riften, despite the little voice in the back of her head that kept urging her to just give in and feed.

    FInally, he turned to her. But his expression wasn't displeased, or even the usual neutral blankness he'd kept on like a mask in Riften. Instead, he was smiling. "Congratulations, Iliria. You've passed the final test. Walking among mortals, and keeping your urges in check. I've taught you all I can."

    Iliria frowned. She wasn't sure exactly what that meant. "So what happens now?"

    "We head back to the Bloodlet throne. Lord Vivarian or someone else will have an assignment for you."

    "What about you?" She wasn't going to admit it, but Caiden was the only friend she'd had in a very long time. He'd brought her back from the brink of madness. He'd given her a gift that few others could have matched. More importantly, he'd been there for her when the memories from her past life surfaced. Helped her build a cage around them, locking them away.

    Caiden considered the question, and continued to move towards the shack. Then he stopped, stiffening. Iliria noticed his change in posture, and her hand strayed to the blade at her side. "What is it?"

    "Listen. Something's not right." He instructed. She did as she was told, and knew what he meant almost immediately. There were no animal, bird or otherwise noises in the immediate area. It was almost as if the area was holding its breath...waiting for something.

    Iliria drew her weapon, and felt soething heavy strike her in the chest. At first, she thought she'd been shot, until she splashed down, into the stream, and realized it was Caiden that had shoved her. A second later, he hissed in pain as an arrow thudded into his arm. "Stay down!" He ordered, drawing his greatsword using his uninjured arm. From her position in the stream, she saw figures emerging from the surrounding forests. Bandits. Probably there to take vengeance for their slain comrades. How they'd found out about their deaths was beyond her.

    Caiden tried to close the distance with the archers, sprinting towards them. Once he had them in range of his greatsword, they'd stand no chance. But more bandits armed with bows showed themselves, firing at his sides and back. Most missed, but a pair buried themselves in his back, another leaving a smoking furrow in the side of his neck. Caiden staggered forwards, finally reaching the archers in front of him. One man drew a dagger, but the Imperial vampire unleashed a roar, and swung his weapon. The blade opened the man up from shoulder to hip, and he fell. Then, as if fate had conspired against them, bandits armed with melee weapons arrived.

    They arranged themselves around the Imperial, working as a team. Caiden managed to parry a few blows, but even he couldn't be two places at once. The mace of one bandit struck him in the back, while anothers axe hit his side. The vampire finally went down, greatsword tumbling from his fingers. And Iliria could no longer stand by and watch, no matter what Caiden wanted. Her lessons fled her mind, as she fastened her gaze on the bandits, laughing and joking. Congratulating one another on a job well done.

    The tiny voice in the back of her head, the one that urged her to give in, to hunt and kill, spilling the blood of mortals, was screaming at her now. Instead of beating it down, caging it away, she embraced it. The first of the bandits looked up in time to have his throat torn out. The skirmish was brutal, bloody, and over quickly. She returned to Caiden, after, falling to her knees at his side. He didn't respond, not even when she tore one of the arrows from his side. It burned her palm and fingers as she did so, which meant it was probably enchanted.

    "Come on, you can't be dead. You can't just die." She pleaded. But he could, and he had. With the combination of the enchanted arrows, massive damage caused by the weapons of the bandits, and the sunlight, regeneration was pretty much impossible. In desperation, she brought her wrist to her mouth, biting into the soft flesh of the underside of her forearm, allowing her blood to trickle across his wounds and lips. He'd mentioned that blood from another vampire had potent healing abilities. Nothing. She lowered her head, and remained like that, kneeling over her fallen mentor, for what felt like hours. Then, she stood, a little unsteady, turned in the direction of the Bloodlet throne, and started to walk, a new, dangerous light in her eyes.

    4E 201, 20th of Last Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne

    The great hall was silent, except for the thunder of rain striking the roof far above the heads of the seated vampires. In addition to those that had been seated at the dark wood table the last time they'd met, Lucius Draconus and Vengar Vivarian had joined the group. They'd ridden back once messages, sent by Faergaen, on Salthars behalf, had reached them. Once attention was directed towards Salthar, at the head of the table, the lord of the coven spoke. "Faergaen. You have news, if I'm not mistaken."

    The Bosmer vampire, and the covens spy master inclined his head. "Yes, my lord. Marcus Threnial reports that general Altus Kathalon and the Imperial fifth legion have entered Falkreath hold. They've engaged small Stormcloak forces, and are, for the most part, finding victories across the hold."

    "Very good." Salthar actually smiled, directing his attention to Lucius. " And lord Pyrus? Are his affairs taken care of?"

    "They are, my lord. To any who inquire, lord Pyrus is out of the province, on 'business'." Lucius replied.

    "And our armies, Vengar, Duros?"

    "We've got nearly a thousand of our kind trained, equipped, and eager." Vengar replied. "I also managed to, ah, persuade two companies of mercenaries to fight for us. The Mournfangs and the Icehammers."

    "Our necromancers have raised nearly twice that many skeletal, ghoulish, and zombie warriors, my lord. As well as several dozen wraiths and banshees."

    "Very good." Salthar said again, motioning one of the nearby guards, holding a large piece of parchment, forwards. The vampire laid it out in the center of the table, offering the assembled lords a good view. It was a large map of Skyrim, detailed with known Imperial and Stormcloak camps and forts. Villages, towns and cities also dotted the map, labelled with black ink. "We'll split into three forces. Our initial targets will be as follows: fort Neugrad, Morthal, and Markarth." He pointed out each of the locations as he spoke their names. "Vengar and I will be departing to take the fort, as well as Helgen, and Falkreath. Kharkov, you'll be taking Morthal. Lucius, your target is the most difficult of all. Markarth. Once we've taken these locations, we'll regroup the army, and march upon Solitude."

    "My lord, why Morthal?" Kharkov asked, his tone suggesting he was insulted at having been given such an easy target.

    "Because, once we've pacified Falkreath hold and the Reach, Morthal will be one of our staging points for the assault on the capital. And on Whiterun hold, should we need to."

    "And what of the other holds, my lord?" Duros Kaast asked, "they'll hardly sit idly by while we march upon their capital and allies."

    Salthar gestured towards the quite Khajiit at the table. "That is where Karsh and his fellows will come in. Sow discord among the ranks of the enemy as they prepare to march on us."

    "As you wish." Karsh replied.

    Finally, Salthar stood. "You have your orders. It is time to remind the realm of mortals why the dark is to be feared."
     
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  12. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 21st of Last Seed
    Falkreath
    Veridas Ashheart stared at the older man sitting across from him. He'd only arrived in the capital of Falkreath hold a day ago, and already someone was trying to hire him. Apparently, his reputation had reached the tundra province before he had. And truthfully, he needed the gold. Travelling from Cyrodiil to Skyrim hadn't been cheap, or especially easy. The tavern room he'd rented wouldn't pay for itself. "Alright, old man. What's the job?"

    The man glanced around wildly, as if expecting someone to be listening in on their conversation. "You must have heard the rumours, assassin. About the disappearances? That fort up in the mountains?"

    Veridas scowled at the Nord. "Speak plainly!"

    "Vampires!" The man hissed at him, staring at him as if he was a fool for not knowing about the creatures.

    "Vampires? I'm an assassin, not a witch hunter, old man." The dark haired Breton pushed his chair away from the table, and made for the door. The heavy thud of something heavy and jingling striking the table turned him back. A sack of gold sat there, between Veridas' recently abandoned chair and the Nord. A big one, and he could just make out the gleam of septims inside. Cursing his lack of gold, he retook his seat. "Who's the target?"

    "A filthy elf. The leader of the coven. Damned powerful magic user, if the stories be true."

    'A mage.' Veridas felt the familiar hate surging up through his chest. It stayed there, a little burning ball of rage. He'd never dealt with a vampire mage before, but he'd certainly killed his fair share of ordinary magic users. His father had been a mage. Veridas didn't remember much about him. He'd left when he was still young, leaving his mother to do her best to raise him. And then, when Veridas had been about ten, his father had returned...and murdered his mother. Without a hint of regret or hesitation. The Breton assassin had spent years honing the assassins craft, before hunting down and killing his father.

    He still remembered the look of surprise, and more importantly, fear, that had been on the old mans face, just before he died. Mages weren't omnipotent. This elven vampire probably wasn't much different. The fact that he was a vampire made it slightly more difficult, but Veridas would find a way to get the job done. "Okay, old man. I'll take the job." He said out loud. The Nord seemed satisfied.

    "It's southwest of Helgen. You can't miss it. This" He patted the gold. "Will be waiting for you when it's done."

    This time, Veridas really did leave the tavern. It was early morning, and he judged he had plenty of time to reach the fortress. He stopped first at the stables, and bought himself a horse. A gelding with dark brown fur. No longer on foot or forced to rely on carriage drivers, he set out for the fortress. For any normal contract, he would have waited until nightfall to strike. Since he was dealing with vampires, that strategy would likely get him killed. Without so much as a glance back at Falkreath, he rode onwards.

    XXX
    It was just past midday when he arrived at the fortress. And it was a fortress. The old man had told him it was little more than a ruin, but if this was a ruin, Veridas didn't want to see what qualified as a real fort. Shrugging off his sense of unease, he scanned the walls for guards. None revealed themselves, though that didn't necessarily mean anything. He made his way to the cliffs that backed the fortress. For most people, the walls, both hand made and natural, would have been unscalable. But he wasn't most people. From his belt, he removed a deceptively thin rope, a grapple hook on the end.

    He began to swing it in a wide, vertical circle, before releasing the grapple rope in an underhand throw. The hook attached to the wall with a satisfying clink noise. Pulling it taught, and satisfied it wasn't going to fall, he climbed. It took him a short time to get to the top of the wall, and once he was satisfied it was abandoned. Resting a hand on his sabre, his eye caught a large hall. "If I were a vampire...that's where I'd hide. If I wasn't in the crypt." He muttered to himself.

    He exchanged his grappling hook and rope for a pair of gloves, with short, curving spikes. They were made primarily for climbing, and that's exactly what Veridas did. Though, he had to admit, it was somewhat more nerve wracking to rely on a pair of gloves and his physical prowess to keep him from a messy death. He made it to the battlements of one of the smaller towers, and rolled onto its' surface. A door was at the top, leading to a staircase. Unlocked, unguarded. He took the stairs down until he reached a corridor. Remembering the position of the hall, he crept in its general direction, sabre in hand, his free hand on the serrated blade dagger on his belt. As he progressed, he became more and more unnerved by the lack of guards.

    Their were always gaps in security, but from what Veridas could tell, these vampires were downright careless. Finally, he found an archway, a pair of double doors set within, one of them slightly ajar. He nudged it the rest of the way open, to reveal what he'd expected to see. The great hall, from the inside. A highbacked, dark wood chair sat in front of him. And beside it stood a tall, robed Altmer male. He had shoulder length hair, the colour of night, with high cheekbones and yellow-gold eyes. "Welcome. We've been expecting you."

    Veridas didn't bother asking what the elf meant. It was clear he'd been set up. Either the old man had been lying about the whole thing, or the vampires had spies in the town. He lunged forwards, or, started to, at least. Something struck him in the kidney so hard, he felt he'd like he'd been kicked by a horse. Veridas was launched forward, striking his face against the cold stone. He heard bootheels striking the stone from behind him, and tasted blood. A boot struck him in the ribs. "This is the legendary assassin?" The boot prodded him again. "Doesn't look like much."

    Hands seized his arms and hauled him to his feet. The black haired elf, Vivarian, probably, had been joined by a similar looking elf, though this one wore dark armour, with vicious looking spikes in multiple locations. The elfs face was similar, though his hair was blonde, rather than black, and shorter. Brothers, probably he mused, though that bit of information didn't benefit him. He glanced at the vampires holding him. Both were in black armour, robed, and had secure grips on both of his arms.

    A third, a Redguard woman, stepped into his field of view, and snatched the dagger from his belt. The robed vampire took a position in front of Veridas. "We've heard much of your exploits. Some even call you the best assassin in Tamriel."

    The assassin narrowed his eyes. "You seem to know alot about me, for a blood sucking parasite."

    The blonde haired elfs' eyes narrowed, and he took a step forward, but Salthar extended a hand. The other vampire stopped abruptly. "I make it my business to know about potential threats. And take the appropriate action."

    Veridas sneered. "So if you're going to kill me, do it already. Speeches are for amateurs."

    For the first time in the conversation, Vivarian looked confused. "Kill you? Don't be ridiculous. I want to hire you."

    The assassin wasn't as surprised as he probably should have been. The elven vampire wasn't the first target that had attempted to buy his services. He was, however, the first to have him at such a disadvantage. "Hire me? " He glanced around at the assembled vampires, more of who'd trickled inside as they spoke. "You've got a whole group of bloodsuckers at your command. What do you need me for?"

    Salthar smiled. " I don't need you. But I'd rather have you working for me than against me. The choice, is, of course, yours."

    "And if I refuse?"

    "I sincerely hope you don't. For your sake." He gestured towards the blonde haired elf, who'd picked up Veridas' sabre, and was eyeing the assassin with something akin to scorn. Veridas realized his position wasn't exactly negotiable.

    "If you can pay, my blades are yours." He ground out.

    "Excellent." Salthar gestured, and the two vampires released his arms. The blonde haired vampire stepped closer, and thrust the sabre at the assassin, hilt first. Veridas accepted and sheathed it, wondering what, exactly, he'd just gotten himself into.

    4E 201, 24th of Last Seed
    Fort Neugrad, Falkreath Hold

    The thunder of hundreds of boots striking the cold ground sent birds flying, and rabbits and foxes alike running for their dens. The dead were coming. Hundreds of corpses, bearing wounds that would have rendered a mortal man useless shambled forwards. Behind them, resembling disciplined soldiers, were rank upon rank of skeletal warriors, some clutching swords and shields, others armed with bows. Behind them, marched a group of just over a hundred vampires, armoured in the menacing, black darksteel armour.

    Almost the entire Imperial garrison had rushed out onto the walls upon the reports of an approaching army. Now they stared at the tide of death, disbeleif and horror etched on their faces. But these were Imperial legionnaires, not some poorly trained militia. They'd barred the gates, and large cauldrons of oil were boiling on the wall. Grizzled veterans barked orders, and their soldiers responded with typical Imperial discipline.

    At a hundred metres from the fort, the undead just....stopped. The zombies and skeletons parted in the middle, allowing a group of three to ride through their ranks. Two wore the same dark armour as the other vampires. One held a banner unfamiliar to the Imperials; a red bat, on a field of black. The central vampire wore robes, and as he drew closer, it was clear they were modified Thalmor robes. When the riders were within twenty metres of the gates, they came to a halt.

    "Greetings." Salthar Vivarian called up to the defenders. Silence met him, the Imperials watching warily. Undeterred, the Altmer vampire continued to speak. "As you can see, you're hopelessly outnumbered. Fight, and all of you will meet your deaths." He waited a couple of moments, letting the initial statement sink in. "However, I am not without mercy. Surrender, and you will be treated well. Even allowed to return to your homes, if you swear not to take up arms against the Bloodlet throne coven. What say you?"

    An arrow arced from the walls. Salthars wards stopped it a full metre away. It dropped to the dirt path at the hooves of his horse. The vampire stared at it for a few moments, before glancing up at the walls. "So be it." The army of the dead closed ranks and began to march forwards, some of the zombies shuffling forwards to reveal a battering ram between them. Others hefted ladders, and made for the walls. He turned to Vengar, sitting beside him. " Wipe them out. All of them." Vengar smiled, and joined the horde of the dead surging towards the walls.

    4E 201, 25th of Last Seed
    Stormcloak camp, just south of Knifepoint ridge.

    The rain had started up again. Vengar glanced up at the overcast sky, then over his shoulder at the group of vampires behind him. They waited in grim silence, keeping their horses under tight control. They'd managed to sneak up on the Stormcloak camp, and the Nordic sentries hadn't noticed their presence. He motioned the vampires forwards, flicking the reins against his mounts neck, and tapping its sides with his heels.

    The others urged their mounts forwards, and ghouls, that had been laying low in the underbrush, sprang up, shrieking and howling, charging towards the Stormcloaks. Some hefted crude clubs, fashioned from human femurs. Others brandished yellowed fangs, and filth encrusted claws.
    As they entered the clearing around the Stormcloak camp, the sentries cried out in surprise and fear. The first rebel guard fell back, a spear plunged in his torso.

    The vampire who'd attacked drew her sword and rode past the dying man, onto the main camp. Another sentry turned in the riders wake, bringing his bow up. Vengar tugged on the reins, and the mare swerved smoothly, bringing him into range. The archer fell, head toppling to the muddy ground, but Vengar didn't see it. He was already among the main camp, hopping from his horse. He trusted the beast not to get herself skewered by a vengeful warrior.

    A warcry from his right drew his attention, and he parried a Stormcloak axe, returning the attack by sending his own axe into the mans side. The ghouls arrived among the camp, rending, clubbing, and biting at the defenders. The rebels weren't novices, but the grey-green skinned ghouls were made brave by their numbers and the scent of blood. Soldiers scrambling out of their tents were beset by packs of the creatures. Those that managed to fight their way free were ridden down by the vampires.

    Vengar made his way through the camp, an eye out for the commander. At the moment, the Stormcloaks were disorganized and demoralized, but if their commander managed to rally them, the tide could quickly change. After several moments of searching, he spotted the man. A bear of a man, wearing scale armour over his Stormcloak uniform.

    Vengar admired the skill with how he wielded his warhammer, crushing the skull of one ghoul, and pinning a second to the ground with his spiked boots. Despite this, he still had to die. The Altmer vampire made his way towards the man, ignoring the sounds of battle around him. The Stormcloak commander looked up from finishing off the second ghoul, and caught sight of him.

    The man charged, and Vengar, in a rare spot clear of bodies, living or dead, waited for him. The Stormcloak opened with a two handed swipe, which he evaded by stepping back quickly. His opponent recovered his balance quickly, and took a step back. Vengar closed, axes chopping. The Nord stepped away, parrying one, dodging the other. The Stormcloak commander was good, but he was better. The vampire stepped close, hooking one axe against the haft of his enemies hammer, near the head.

    The commander realised what was happening a moment before it happened. His eyes widened slightly, and he began to turn away, before Vengar pulled with one hand, and swing with the other. His axe bit into the side of the mans neck, and the warrior fell like a felled tree. He wrenched his weapon from the corpse, and surveilled the remains of the camp. The battle was over by now, and the ghouls were feasting on the corpses.

    A dismounted vampire brought his mount over. "Your orders, sir?"

    "Get ready to move out again. If our scouts are right there's another half a dozen camps in this area."

    4E 201, 30 th of Last Seed
    Eastern Reach, Fort Sungard

    "Scouts report an Imperial fort ahead, sir." Lucius Draconus nodded, signifying that he'd heard the vampires report. After days of marching, the army under his command had finally arrived in the eastern part of the Reach. The outriders under his command had noticed scouts bearing the livery of Whiterun hold following at a distance. However, they'd made no attempt to attack, and Lucius had no wish to engage an enemy that could, in theory, strike his force from the rear.

    The undead didn't need to worry about supply lines, the lesser dead had no need of food or water, and the vampires could feed on the country peasants. They'd still be in dire straits if caught between two armies, though. Taking the nearby fort, would allow Lucius to station a rearguard to slow anything the Imperials could send to reinforce the 'city of stone'. "Anything else?"

    The other vampire nodded. "A small group has ridden out from the fort. No more than four of them. They're headed for us, under the flag of parley." That was certainly a surprise. From what he'd heard of fort Sungard, it was heavily defended, or had been, at the wars start.

    "Very well. Assemble a party of three, and have them join me when they've mounted." Lucius didn't have to wait long. Three vampires, one of them a Redguard wizard by the name of Gwenna Baemoor, joined him on horseback. Without a word, the four of them set out, heading towards the Imperial fort. When they'd covered about half the distance, the Imperials came into view.

    A few minutes later, both parties were several metres apart, facing one another. The commanding officer, a tanned Imperial male, with a crescent scar stretching from his cheek to lower jaw, and brown hair going grey at the roots, scrutinized the vampires. Lucius found the man vaguely familiar. Realization struck the man before the Imperial vampire could speak. "No..it can't be....Lucius Draconus?"

    "Last I checked...Aurius." The Imperial gave a disbelieving little chuckle.

    "I'd heard you were exiled to Skyrim after that nasty business with your father. I was sorry to hear of his death. He was a good man." Aurius Decius had been a good friend to the Draconus family, and one of the few who hadn't abandoned them when the rest of the Imperial court was doing its' best to bury them under accusations. He also lead an elite unit of Imperial soldiers, the Imperators.

    "The exile was...self-imposed. I couldn't remain in Cyrodiil."

    The commander nodded. Then his eyes flicked from one vampire to the other, and beyond, at the army assembled behind them. "I have to admit, when I saw you again, I didn't think you'd be leading an army of the undead into the Reach. Are you a..." he let the sentence die, but Lucius nodded anyways.

    "A vampire. In the service to the Bloodlet throne, and lord Salthar Vivarian."

    Aurius repeated the name under his breath, and his eyes widened in surprise. He hadn't been at the battle of Bruma, but every Imperial recruit had read about it. "Vivarian? You hate the empire that much? You'd join up with the likes of him?"

    "I don't hate the empire. I just don't care very much for the people in charge." He thought about that statement. And found that it was true. He didn't bear the citizens of the empire, or its soldiers any ill will. But its leadership was in need of change.

    "How does that connect to you becoming a vampire and marching into the Reach?"

    "Times are changing, Aurius. Lord Vivarian has a vision for a new order. One with peace, prosperity, and security for all Tamriel."

    "That explains why you've joined him. You were always griping about the empires' feet dragging when it came to anything that required attention. But why are you telling me?"

    "Join us, Aurius. You can't win this fight. Not without reinforcements, and the regional commander won't send any. Not with all the Forsworn activity in the hills."

    Aurius stared. "Join you? As what, mindless zombies? Looks like you've got plenty of those already."

    "No. As something far more powerful. Immortality could be yours, and your mens. I can guarantee you'll have a place in the new order."

    The commander broke eye contact, chewing his lip, obviously thinking hard. Finally, he spoke once more. "I can't make this decision unilaterally. I need to consult with my men. Be here at nightfall." With that, he turned his horse, and with a curt command, rode off, back towards the fort.

    4E 201, 1st of Hearth Fire
    Falkreath hold, Imperial encampment.
    The scout standing in front of him did not look happy. Then, people were seldom happy to be the bearers of bad news. In the command tent, Altus and his lieutenants waited for the man to speak. "General...it's the garrison at fort Neugrad." Altus had sent word to the garrison a week ago, ordering them to join his forces as soon as possible. There had been no reply, no reinforcements. He'd sent a troop to see what was taking them so long. This scout had arrived only a few minutes ago, back from Neugrad.

    "They've been delayed?" He asked, ready to accept that the weather in that part of the hold could have delayed travel. For a time, anyways.

    "No, sir. The garrison...it's been wiped out. To the last man."

    There was a moment of stunned disbelief in the tent. "Wiped out." Altus repeated the words, trying to come to terms with them. Out of all of the old Imperial forts in Skyrim, Neugrad had been in fairly good shape. For every soldier their to have been killed was...inconceivable.

    "Who's responsible? Stormcloaks?" Ilnius asked, but the scout shrugged.

    "Possible, sir, but we don't know for sure. The attackers didn't leave any bodies behind."

    "What about a magical assault? That would explain how the attackers got past the forts defences." Lillian wondered.

    "Again, possible. We found a little damage caused by what could be magic. And some bodies that seemed to be in advanced stages of decomposition."

    "Interesting" Lillian mused, then fell silent.

    The scout remained, nervous, almost as if he expected to be berated for his report. That was nonsense, of course. Altus was strict, and he expected the best out of his men, but he didn't punish them for events that were out of their control. "Thank you, soldier. Get yourself something to eat and drink before you head back. Inform the squad of legionnaires at Neugrad to rejoin the army as soon as possible."

    The man fidgeted, and seemed to grow even paler. "Um..general..."

    Altus stared at the scout with an air of disbelief. "There's more?"

    "Yes, sir. Ah, we received word from one of general Tullius' patrols in the Reach. It, uh, it appears, sir, that an elite Imperial unit, the Imperators, has gone missing."

    "Missing? Not dead?"

    "Apparently. There was no sign of battle near or inside fort Sungard. Their posting."

    "And what do Tullius' men believe happened that they would go missing?" Altus asked. He knew the Imperators reputation. They wouldn't go absent without leave.

    "They believe the Imperators defected, sir."

    "Defected!" Scipio exclaimed. "To whom? Not the Stormcloaks, surely!"

    "We don't know that." Altus stated, though he had to admit that it was rather unlikely the mainly Imperial unit would defect to the Nordic Stormcloaks. "I appreciate the report. I'm assuming nothing else?" When the scout shook his head, he motioned for the man to leave. He made for the tent exit, and glanced up at the sky. For once, it was a clear day, with only a few clouds gliding across the sky. Aside from the news, it was a pleasant day outside.

    Altus, followed by the rest of his commanders left the tent, and began to tour the camp. He made a point of letting the men see him, addressing their concerns. They'd set up camp overlooking most of the hold. The elevated ground discouraged any type of frontal assault. The sentries were doing their rounds, diligently scanning the trees. He knew they weren't happy about having to patrol during the day, but Altus knew that ease lead to disaster. So the men were on sentry duty.

    The general and his retinue had barely made it halfway across the camp when Altus noticed another scout jogging towards him. He sighed, and came to a halt. The man stopped, saluted and pointed out past the camp perimiter, to the north. "General. We came across a Stormcloak camp."

    "Good. Stay close. I'll prepare the men." Altus was more than ready for a fight. His mood improved slightly. A good fight would clear his head. He turned to issue his orders to Ilnius and Scipio, but the scout cleared his throat.

    "Ah, sir. You might want to take a look at the camp, first."
    His recently acquired good mood starting to fade, he frowned at the man, but didn't see any reason to not comply. He had his horse saddled, and together with Lillian, Ilnius, and Scipio, followed the scout. After ten minutes of riding, their guide brought his horse to a stop, and Altus followed suite. The man dismounted, and pointed down towards where the camp must have been. A glance at the sky had him on guard. Carrion birds circled above, occasionally descending towards the camp.

    "Down there, sir."

    Altus and the others dismounted and headed to the camp. And stepped into a scene of carnage. Stormcloak soldiers lay dead, skewered by spears, or pincushioned with arrows. Around them were..."what are those?" He asked, staring at the long armed, pale skinned creatures strewn about the camp.

    Lillian stood by a body, a throughtful frown on her face. "They look like ghouls."

    "You're saying a pack of undead wiped out a camp of soldiers?" Scipio scoffed.

    "Ghouls aren't undead...technically." The mage pointed out. "But that's not important right now.

    Ghouls are vicious, but they won't attack large groups or settlements. Not unless they're under the guidance of a necromancer, or vampire."

    "Are there vampires here?" Ilnius asked.

    The scout shrugged. "There were rumours about a large coven in the mountains. No one ever was able to confirm it."

    "So...the question is- why would vampires be interested in attacking a rebel camp? Were there signs that prisoners were taken?" Altus asked.

    "No,sir. Just signs of battle. And boot and hoofmarks."

    "Going which way?" He asked, interested in the answer. If there were vampires in the area, he wanted to know which way they had gone.

    "Towards Whiterun hold, sir. I thought it would be best to get back to camp and report to you, general."

    "A band of vampires roaming around? Sounds like trouble." Ilnius predicted grimly. Altus was inclined to agree. Vampires could cause problems for his troops. And supply lines that the Imperials relied upon. He motioned for the group to remount and head back. The similarities between the massacre at the Stormcloak camp, and the report of the deaths of the Neugrad garrison, were troubling, to say the least. Perhaps it would be best to seek out and eliminate this group of vampires.
     
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  13. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 11th of Hearth Fire
    Stormcloak camp, several leagues east of the village of Halmir


    The fast moving ribbon of water could hardly be called a river. It wasn't deep enough to drown a standing man, nor was it very wide. But it was fast moving, and it was cold, capable of sweeping even the sturdiest of men off his feet. And so, it warranted that a bridge be built, stradling it. The bridge was wide enough for a carriage to cross, or six men, standing side by side. The river sprang from lake Ilinalta, and seperated a fair part of Falkreath hold off from the rest of the hold.

    Valdmir Iceclaw, and a contingent of five hundred Stormcloaks had arrived in the hold, under general Stromma. Since their arrival, things had been going badly for them. Bandits had been raiding their supply lines, and for the most part, the population supported the Imperial rule. There had been talk of abandoning Falkreath hold in favour of engaging the Empire in areas such as the Pale and the Rift.

    However, word had reached them that the thane of the small vilage of Halmir was speaking out against the Empire, and wanted to join with the Stormcloaks. The Empire had cracked down on the village, arresting thane Gormin, and moving into the village, which just happened to be on the other side of the river. Stromma and his men had arrived on the other side of the bridge, tired, and demoralised from constant bandit raids. In this isolated part of the hold, the thick forests presented many opportunities for hidden camps.

    To make matters worse, the Imperials had been ready for the Stormcloaks. They'd struck down the first wave of Stormcloak warriors with a hail of arrows. General Stromma had panicked and pulled the troops back. They'd lost nearly forty men, and the retreat had very nearly turned into a rout. A day later, Stromma had left with nearly two hundred men, including all the Stormcloak cavalry, to 'find an alternate route across the river.' Valdmir doubted he'd see the general again. The man had always been a coward, and he wouldn't put his own men ahead of his own skin.

    Valdmir, being the highest ranking officer left, had the job of somehow pulling a victory out of the debacle. Though, at this point, he'd be lucky if any of his men made it out of Falkreath hold alive. He scowled up at the grey clouds, visible through the thick pine branches above. From his seat on a fallen log, he surveilled the camp. Tents were pitched in typical military fashion, and smoke rose from several campfires. Normally, the smoke would have been an issue, but the Imperials already knew where they were. The soldiers moved among the camp, getting food, or sharpening weapons. None of them looked very optimistic. The crunch of heavy boots on the pine needles and branches littering the ground drew his attention.

    Magrin Stormhaus, a grizzled veteran of the last war, and a good friend of Valdmir, was approaching. Without asking permission, the man took a seat beside him. "Scouts are back." He reported. "It's not good."

    Despite the bleakness of the situation, Valdmir smirked. "When is it ever?"

    Magrin chuckled. "True. Our boys spotted a company of Imperial knights. It doesn't look like there's any battle mages, but that could choose if the commander decides to bring up more troops. Speaking of, their infantry is massing on the other side of the bridge. Looks like they're getting ready to push us out of the hold."

    Valdmir snorted. "It took them long enough. Their own scouts must have figured out that our glorius leader took most of own men."

    Magrin spat. General Stromma had never been well loved by his men, and having ridden off with their only chance of taking Halmir, hadn't increased the troops loyalty. Valdmir stood, and cupped his hands around his mouth. "Gather 'round!" The Stormcloaks gradually congregated around him and Magrin, awaiting his orders.

    "Now, you know why we're here. Our Nord brothers in Halmir have decided to throw off their Imperial oppressors. But they need our help. The Empire thinks we're weakened, that they can kill us off with one swift stroke. Are we going to let them?" The assembled Stormcloaks growled and shook their heads, he even heard a few denials shouted out. "That's what I thought. That bridge back there-" he pointed in the direction of the river, "is their only way to cross for leagues around. We're not going to give it to them without a fight. For every foot they advance, I want them to pay in blood!" Shouts of agreement and the clash of shields being struck by axes and swords echoed throughout the woods.

    "Now come with me, and let's show these Imperial dogs what men of the north are made of!"
    He turned towards the bridge, Magrin at his side, and heard roars of approval from a few dozen throats. Not nearly enough. They might all die, but the Imperials would know what it meant to fight a determined force. He grabbed a young man, the youngest among them, named Tommen. "Tommen. Get a horse, I don't care where from. Find general Stromma. Let him know what's happening. See if you can't convince him to come and make himself useful." Tommen hesitated, but only for an instant. Then he saluted, and began making his way back the way he'd come.

    "That was a good thing you just did." Magrin said, drawing his axe from his belt.

    "Let's hope Talos thinks so too. I have a feeling we'll be meeting him soon enough."

    "Aye. Let's go kill us some Imperials, eh?"

    "Aye." Valdmir drew both of his weapons, a pair of axes, that he'd owned since he'd been a young man. The trees thinned as the Stormcloaks neared the bridge. Like Magrin had said, the Imperials were marching towards the bridge. A column of men, six across, marched forwards, The Imperial banner fluttering among them. "Form up!" Valdmir barked. "Sound the charge!" The hornblast shook the trees, and Valdmir lead the charge onto the bridge, roaring a battle-cry. Magrin was at his side, as were four other men.

    The Imperials started and stared, losing precious moments to surprise. It was clear they hadn't expected a charge. One of their officers shouted an order, and the Imperials tightened ranks, and
    surged forwards to meet them, lowering spear, hefting shield. Valdmir reached the middle of the bridge, and used one of his axes to slap aside a spear that would have skewered him otherwise. With his other axe, he chopped down, cleaving the mans helmet and his skull with one blow. One Stormcloak, to his right, wasn't so fortunate, and was skewered through the torso, a spray of blood emerging from his men.

    Another Imperial stepped over his fallen friend, slashing at him with a sword. He parried the blow, and hacked into the soldiers ribs. Another stepped forwards, sneering as he swung at Valdmirs head. He parried again, and returned the attack, which the soldier blocked. And so it went, men fighting and dying around him, Valdmir himself doing his best to stay alive, aware of Magrin snarling and cursing as he fought. The sun had nearly disappeared before a hornblast sounded. The Imperials hefted their shields, and retreated.

    Valdmir sagged, weary to his core. He hadn't noticed it in the heat of combat, but he'd sustained quite a few wounds. A long gash along one forearm, a shallow stab wound in his left thigh, and a badly bruised shoulder, where an Imperial had shield rushed him. A quick look around him revealed that his men weren't in much better shape. Bodies, both Stormcloak and Imperial were heaped two, and in someplaces three high.

    "Look!" Someone behind him shouted, and Valdmir felt his heart sink as he spotted a unit of heavily armoured Imperial knights approaching.

    "Be ready!" He shouted, forcing his aching arms to lift his axes.

    Magrin grabbed his arm. "Wait. They're flying a flag of truce." Valdmir focused on the leading Imperials, and noticed that one indeed did have a white flag. He lowered his weapons, and watched warily as they approached.

    The leading Imperial brought his mount to a halt a few metres away. "Greetings. I am Decanus Nemis Pandren. You have fought with honour. I see no need to continue the bloodshed into the night. Collect your dead. Rest. And if you value your lives, I urge you to leave Falkreath hold. You cannot hold out another day." Without waiting for a response, Pandren turned his horse and cantered off towards the Imperial camp.

    "Nice of him" Magrin said.

    "No reason for him not to be." Valdmir said, turning to look at his own men. Out of the fifty men that had charged into battle that afternoon, only a dozen remained. Despite the heavy losses they'd inflicted on the Empire, they were still badly outnumbered. "Gather our dead. Get some rest. Tomorrow, we make our stand." The soldiers obeyed, collected their dead comrades, and building pyres to burn them on. They returned to camp, bound their wounds, and waited for morning.

    XXX

    Dawn came sooner than Valdmir would have liked. And, it came with bad news. "The Imperials are bringing up their main army." Magrin reported. "Thousands, by the sound of it."

    "Thousands?"

    The veteran warrior shrugged. "The fleeing man counts every foe twice, but even if they did..."

    "They still outnumber us." Valdmir sighed. He'd expected this, of course. Though not a force of thousands. Presumably with plenty of archers, cavalry, and battle mages. Fighting today would see the surviving men wiped out, possibly without a single Imperial death. Pointless. He returned to his tent, and searched through a small chest of his belongings. Inside, he found a map, went out to Magrin. Opening the parchment, he set it down on the log. "We're here." He said, pointing to the river. "If we retreat to Riverwood...we should reach it before the Imperials catch us."

    "Aye. And maybe we'll see general Stromma on our way."

    "Him, I don't mind if the Imperials catch up with." Valdmir growled. "Prepare to move out!"

    The small band didn't take long to move. They marched for Riverwood, and hoped to reach it before the Empires full forces crossed the river and caught them. With the amount of troops they had, it would take them at least a day to cross over. Possibly more, but Valdmir wasn't holding out hope.

    Suddenly, one of the leading men lifted his hand. "Wait!"

    As one, the Stormcloaks froze. "What is it?" Hissed Magrin.

    The soldier who'd spoke turned a frightened gaze on him. "Horsemen. Moving slow. Ahead of us."

    Valdmir frowned. It didn't make sense that the Imperials had made it across the bridge, and made it ahead them. Unless, of course, it was scouts. But then, it would have been nearly impossible to hear them. "Stay here." He ordered, "I'll go take a look."

    He left the others, listening hard. Now that he focused, he could hear the low rumble of hooves on the ground. Not moving fast, though that meant nothing. As he moved closer, he recognized orders being shouted, in a Nordic accent. A clearing in the trees revealed a column of cavalry. Blue clad cavalry. With the white bearhead of the Stormcloaks on their shields and banners. Heart lifting, he rushed forwards, shouting. Curious, the soldiers looked over, and stared at the wildman rushing them, with a torn, bloodied uniform.

    Finally, one of the men shouted "halt!" And weapons were drawn. "Who are you? Where'd you get that uniform?" An officer demanded. "Speak quickly!"

    "I'm Valdmir Iceclaw. Part of general Stromma's force. An Imperial legion is moving this way. I ordered my surviving men to retreat to Riverwood."

    "A likely story." The officer sneered. "I think you're a filthy deserter. Take him-"

    "Wait!" Someone else shouted. A familiar voice. Valdmir stared as a Tommen emerged from the ranks of horsemen. Followed by the Stormcloak commander of Falkreath hold, Thorygg Sun-killer.

    "This is your commanding officer?" Thorygg asked.

    "Yes sir. He saved my life." Tommen insisted. The blonde haired commander nodded.

    "I see. Go find his men." He ordered the officer who'd challenged Valdmir. Then he turned to him. "A whole legion, you say?"

    "Yes, commander."

    "That makes sense. And it matches what he says." The man jerked a thumb over his shoulder, towards a man who sat upon a horse, with wounded dignity. "We captured him fleeing north. His men told us you'd been stationed near a bridge leading to Halmir. We'll make for Riverwood and do our best to fortify it. I've sent for reinforcements, but I don't know how long it will take them to reach the village." He glanced towards one of his men. "Get this soldier a horse! We ride to Riverwood!"

    4E 201, 12th of Hearthfire
    Falkreath Hold

    The dead Stormcloaks would no longer be holding anything, let alone the tower that they'd been using as a lookout post. With a sneer, Vengar prodded a young Nordic warrior. his back slashed open from neck to hip. He hadn't landed the killing blow, but the boy had loosed an arrow that had torn a long, shallow cut alongside his cheek. He glanced up at the skeletal warrior who'd landed the killing blow. Blood still dripped from the long blade in the creatures bony fingers. He turned to the other corpses in the tower, those lying quietly on the ground, and those that stood at quiet attention.
    "None escaped?" He demanded of one of the skeletons.

    The undead shook its head. "None, master. We slew them all." The words were spoken in a whispering, rasping voice. Of course, since the skeletons throat and tongue had long since decayed, so its voice sounded inside his skull.

    "Pity. I would have enjoyed the hunt." He sighed, glancing at his axes, both free of blood. He turned and left the tower. The main army had moved on, after Salthar had ordered him to take the tower. It was on the edge of Falkreath holds territory, and Salthar believed the Stormcloaks would use the tower to eventually supply an offensive into the Imperial aligned hold. "Let's get moving. Fall in with the others." He ordered, leaving the tower. The other undead quietly followed.

    The sound of hooves rapidly beating upon the earth caught his attention, and he stepped aside, allowing the column of troops to move past him. The rider in question appeared soon after, garbed in chainmail and a dark cloak. "What news?" Vengar asked.

    The rider inclined his head in an abbreviated bow, and reported, "our spy in the Imperial forces reports they've changed direction. He believes they're heading for the Bloodlet throne."

    Alarm gripped him. By all reports, the Imperial troops that had emerged from Cyrodiil were still unbloodied, and with most of the covens forces in the field, it wouldn't be hard for them to take the fortress.

    "Good work getting to me. I'll alert lord Vivarian. Stay with these troops. Someone will be along to relay your orders." The rider inclined his head, and Vengar dipped into the magic that seemed innate to most of the higher ranking members of the coven. His limbs and body became shadowy,
    mistlike in quality. An instant later, he was airborne, soaring towards the position of Salthars forces.

    XXX


    "Interesting." Salthar Vivarian murmured. Vengar stood before him, having just delivered the news of the sudden change in Imperial direction. The two brothers were in the midst of their army, a short distance from the capital of the hold, Falkreath. The cities defenders had long since detected the army of the dead, and several minor skirmishes had already taken place. Vengar found himself clenching his jaw. Salthar didn't seem even a little worried by the news. In fact, he seemed almost reluctant to acknowledge it.

    "I'd say alarming. If we lose the Bloodlet-" Vengar started to say, but Salthar cut him off.

    "We're not going to lose the fortress." Salthar said, turning to one of the robed acolytes standing near him. Some human necromancer who'd joined, hoping for...what? Power? The gift of Vampirism? Vengar had a feeling the man would eventually be fed upon and turned into one of the mindless zombie thralls that made up the bulk of the army. "Go to Peak's Shade tower. Inform the rider there that he's to pass these orders to Marcus; have him inform the Imperial commander that Riverwood is under attack by a force of undead." The acolyte bowed, and left the tent.

    An instant later, the thunder of hooves leaving the camp could be heard. "What are you talking about? We don't have troops anywhere near Riverwood!" Vengar demanded.

    "Patience, brother." Salthar said calmly. "Falkreath is about to surrender to us."

    "Surrender? We haven't even besieged the city."

    "Nor will we. The local jarl is more reasonable than most. He's agreed to meet with me, and discuss terms for the surrender. In fact, we should be leaving to meet him now. Come along." The Altmer sorcerer left the tent, Vengar following in his wake. The elite guard standing outside snapped to attention. Salthar mounted his horse, a black furred mare, leaving Vengar to pick a horse of his own. He selected a roan gelding, and followed his brother at a trot. The guardsmen followed behind, keeping just behind the pair of horses.

    After a short ride, they were outside of the city of Falkreath, waiting just outside of bow range. The gates were opening, and a man in rich clothing, a sword on his hip, mounted on a grey pelted horse of his own, rode out. He was accompanied by a pretty, elven woman, and an armoured and armed Nord man. Behind him stood a group of nearly a dozen guards, who were nervously eyeing Salthar and his guard. "Jarl Siddgeir. I'm glad you saw reason." Salthar said, not bothering to keep the triumph out of his voice.

    Siddgeir, a man that, despite the sword at his side, looked like Vengar could have snapped him in half with one hand, licked his lips. "I still have to deliver my demands." Despite the situation he was in, his voice still remained arrogant.

    Vengar narrowed his eyes, but Salthar merely smiled and inclined his head. "I'm listening."

    The jarls tongue darted out and wetted his lips again, before he spoke. "To start, I keep my position as jarl. Second, Falkreath remains free of the undead. No garrisons, no overseers. Finally, any villages and towns in Falkreath remain free as well."

    "In return, none in Falkreath hold will attack or otherwise try to impede our progress."

    "Of course not. You have my word."

    Salthar cocked an eyebrow. "And your thanes will abide by your decision?"

    "They won't like it, but they'll obey if I command it." Siddgeir said.

    "If they object, perhaps you should remind them what became of the garrison at fort Neugrad." Salthar said, his voice remaining pleasant. The jarl paled, and nodded. "Very good. I'm glad we came to an agreement, jarl Siddgeir." He turned his horse, and Vengar followed his lead. The Blackguard remained behind, watching the jarl and his men return to the city.

    "That was easy." Vengar remarked.

    "Of course. Siddgeir is a pragmatist. He'll side with whichever side he thinks has the best chance of victory. " Salthar said.

    "You don't actually trust him, do you?"

    His brother shot him an incredulous look. "Of course not. I fully expect him to betray us at some point. He will be dealt with after the war."

    Vengar nodded, satisfied. "And now?"

    "We head to Riverwood. I would hate to disappoint the Imperials."

    4E 201, 13th of Hearthfire
    Falkreath hold
    Altus Kathalon brought his horse to a stop, hearing the rushing water that signified the small river that seperated this portion of Falkreath hold. He could just make out the bridge from his position, and the red of Imperial uniforms, as the legions forces crossed the bridge. A couple of days ago, a battle had been fought for the bridge, between an Imperial division, and a badly outnumbered rebel force. According to reports, the rebel troops had held the bridge for hours, against the superior force. Casualties had been massive. The general held a certain respect for the brave souls that had decided to fight, though he wasn't surprised they'd been forced to retreat.

    The vanguard of the main force had arrived a day ago, and commenced crossing. The rebels had fled in the face of that force. Now Kathalon and his troops were crossing the bridge, heading to Riverwood, where, apparently, a large undead force was marching upon it. Marcus, the scout that had been attached to the Imperial troops in Falkreath hold, had reported that bit of news to him the day before. The sudden change in the direction of the undead seemed like an improvised move on the part of the vampiric commander.

    Clearly, they were worried about his troops reaching their base in the mountains. But crushing the vampires at Riverwood meant they could move on to their base when they were ready. More importantly, Marcus had noted that many tracks indicated a force of Stormcloaks had retreated in the direction of Riverwood. Taking the village might convince the jarl of Whiterun to side with the Empire.

    "I hope you're right. Otherwise the vampires will be able to cut apart our supply lines."

    "I'm sure of what I saw, sir." The scout replied. "The vampires and rebels are converging on Riverwood."

    "We should let them kill each other off." Scipio said. "Save us the trouble."

    "No. If we keep this pace, we'll reach Riverwood by late afternoon. With the strength to fight. Winning there will eliminate the threat of the undead and the rebels in the hold. We need to be at Riverwood." Legate Ilnius said.

    "Agreed. Move out." Kathalon ordered,urging his mount towards the bridge.

    XXX

    Several hours later, the Imperial troops were overlooking the village. From what Kathalon could see, it did not look good. The rebels had destroyed the bridges leading into the village. All but the one leading to the foothills and small mountains that separated Riverwood from the rest of Whiterun hold. Clearly, they planned to use the stone bridge to retreat into the hold. They'd also set up barricades on the road leading to the shallow parts of the river, meaning a swift cavalry charge was out of the question.

    From his position, he could see the blue uniforms of the Stormcloaks milling about. Archers, most likely, along with standard infantry. What he didn't see, were any vampires. Legate Ilnius returned
    from marshaling his troops. "All commanders report ready, general. Your orders?"

    He scanned the terrain. The river crossing to get into the village itself would be bloody, but otherwise, he saw nothing that would stop a disciplined advance. So long as the rebels didn't have reinforcements hidden on the Imperial side of the bank. "Infantry advance. Archers, suppressing fire on the rebels across the river. Lillian, you and your fellows join in, but try not to damage any of the buildings. We want the village intact." The battle mage smiled, and turned to meet up with her fellow spell casters.

    Ilnius and Scipio began bellowing orders to the men, and moments later, the legionnaires began to advance. They were met with thrown javelins, arrows, and axes, from the defenders on the Imperial side of the river. Stormcloak archers on the far side of the river popped up and started firing at the Imperials, only to be peppered by arrows and spells from the Imperial ranged units. Screams and battlecries rang out.

    4E 201, 13th of Hearthfire
    Riverwood
    Valdmir looked up from sharpening his axes as Thorryg Sun-killer approached. He started to stand, but the commander of the Stormcloak forces waved him down. His wounds from the bridge battle had been treated, and he was more than ready for combat, but the story of the last stand of Valdmir and his men had reached almost legendary status among the men. "Everything's ready." Thorryg said. "We've set up barricades to stop any cavalry charge, and we've destroyed all the bridges except for the one leading into Whiterun hold. If everything goes wrong, we're to retreat that way. Archers are stationed in the village to support the troops on the other side of the river."

    Valdmir glanced at the sun. It was late in the afternoon, and this late in the year, the sun was just starting to set. "You think they'll be here soon, then?"

    "Oh,yes. Scouts spotted them just under an hour ago. They're marching towards the village. No question of whether they know we're here or nor."

    "Good. I'm ready."

    "Good man. I want you and your men across the river on the village side. You're to delay any Imperials trying to cross, and help our men across when they start falling back."

    "My men, sir?" He already saw the men who'd survived the bridge battle with him as his men, but he hadn't been sure if Thorryg was going to absorb them into his forces or not.

    The other Nord grinned. "Well, general Stromma insists you're a trouble making rogue who should be in shackles instead of him, but I've got a good feeling about you, Iceclaw." At that moment, a scout ran up to the commander, and reported the arrival of the Imperial legion. Sun-killer nodded, and glanced at Valdmir. "You have your orders, Iceclaw. Hop to it. Talos be with you."

    Valdmir hopped to his feet, and made for the crossing, passing archers as they rushed to their own posts. Most of his men were already in position, including Magrin and Tommen. The old warrior grinned at him. " 'Bout time you got here. Imperials are already pushing in." He pointed with his axe, and he looked across the river to see the Imperial troops marching forwards, shields up, taking a beating from arrows and throwing weapons from the Nords on the other side of the river, but pushing forwards anyways.

    A shout signaled the Nordic archers, and men popped up from their side of the river, some evenon top of house roofs. They launched dozens of arrows into the Imperials, and the red uniformed soldiers began to stumble and fall. Then the Imperials responded. Archers and battlemages popped up, firing arrows and hurling lightning bolts. Men on the Stormcloak side of the river started to scream and fall.

    "Shields!" Valdmir bellowed, grabbing one from a fallen archer.

    He hefted it and cursed as one,two, then three arrows thudded into it. A lightning bolt flashed past him, blasting a small crater into the ground, a meter to his left. Unopposed, the Imperial troops crashed into the Stormcloaks on the far side of the river. Both sides hacked into each other with a vengeance, but with the number of Stormcloak archers steadily declining, the Imperial numbers advantage began to show. A horn blast sounded, and the rebels on the far bank started to retreat.

    Slipping one axe into his belt, he splashed forwards, into the river. "Help them get across!" He ordered, and the others leapt into the water beside him, grabbing wounded soldiers and hauling them across. He cut down an Imperial that got too close, leaving him to tumble into the deeper water. "Back! Everyone pull back!" He caught a sword on the edge of his shield, and stumbled. The legionnaire brought his weapon back for a final blow, then collapsed, a thrown axe embedded in his chest.

    Someone grabbed the back of his tunic and hauled him to his feet. A horn sounded from somewhere behind him, and the few surviving archers fired their shafts, and dropped down from the roofs, falling back. Keeping his acquired shield up, he retreated with the others. On the recently taken bank, the Imperials began to reform. The Stormcloaks arrived at the village center. Thorryg stood there, ordering soldiers into defensive formations. He shot a glance at Valdmir.

    But his attention was drawn by a young scout running towards the commander, face white as snow, eyes nearly bulging out of his skull. "They're coming, they're coming!" The scout howled.

    Thorryg scowled at the young man. "You been sleeping, lad? The Imperials are already here!"

    "Not them. T-t-the dead!"

    Valdmir frowned, but Thorryg had grown still, and the colour slowly drained from his face. Then he shook his head. "Iceclaw! Hold off the Imperials! I'll deal with the dead." Without so much of an explanation, he turned on his heel, shouting orders to his men.

    Magrin frowned at Valdmir. "The dead? What's he on about?"

    "What do you think?" A new, familiar voice joined in. Valdmir turned to see general Stromma, in armour, unbound, and with a sword in his hand.

    "Who let you out?" He demanded.

    The general sneered. "Some in this army still hold loyalty in high regard."

    "What are you talking about?" Valdmir asked. As far as he knew, he hadn't betrayed the general. Stromma had left his men to die.

    "You should have had me set free as soon as you crawled out of those woods. Instead, you took the glory, and curried favour with Sun-killer." He drew the sword at his side. "Now. I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourself. Take your band of traitors, and hold off the Empire, while I see about turning this mess around."

    Valdmir felt his hand tighten around the haft of his axe. A quick glance at Magrin and the others under his command revealed they were watching him. Waiting for his orders. Ready to fight Stromma and his men, if they needed to. But Strommas men were ready for trouble, weapons already in their hands. And they were also closely watching him. He shook his head discretely. "Very good...sir." He ground out, turning back towards the Imperial positions.

    He could hear the clash of blade on blade, and screams of pain and terror from behind him. Where Thorryg and his men had gone off to.

    He drew his axes from his belt and lead the soldiers with him towards the Imperial position. The Imperials saw them, hefted their shields, and advanced. The Stormcloaks roared and charged. The next hour or so was a blur to Valdmir. He was aware of fighting and killing, swinging his arms until they felt like chunks of iron attached to his arms. He was also aware of Magrin and Tommen hauling him backwards, towards the village center.

    The sun was nearly set. Valdmir and his surviving men reached the village square just in time to see Stromma and his men staggering around the corner. The general was in the lead, his face pale,
    eyes wide with fear. The same panicked expression was pasted on the faces of his men.
    "The Imperials are advancing...general." He reported, surprised by how hard it was to speak.

    "Retreat!" The generals voice nearly broke with panic. "Full retreat, to Whiterun hold."
    Something about the mans voice seemed off. It was more than the general cowardice in Strommas voice. A primal fear. Something that didn't come from fighting your fellow man. "Where's the commander?"

    "You fool!" Stromma all but shrieked. " He's dead. They're...they're all dead."
    He said other things toothough Valdmir must have taken a blow to the head, because he was having trouble following the generals panicked rambling. "We need to...to hold the village. No place in Sovngarde for cowards."

    "Fall in, Iceclaw!" Stromma all but screamed, face deathly pale, eyes bulging. But Valdmir was no longer paying any attention to the man. Movement behind him had drawn his attention. Entering the main village square was something shambling, a weapon dangling from its hand. A glint of sunlight struck the figure, and Valdmir recognized Thorryg Sun-killer. Except it wasn't.

    Most of the Stormcloak commanders face had been shorn off. One eye was gone, along with his nose, and the skin on the left side of his face. More like him emerged, from the direction he'd gone in, what seemed like an eternity ago. A cold hand of fear gripped Valdmirs insides. And his defiance withered and died. "Aye." He whispered. "Retreat." He turned and left Riverwood to the dead. And the Imperials, should they want it.
     
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  14. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 27th of Hearthfire
    Under Hjaalmarch mountains

    There was under the mountains of Hjaalmarch, save for the strange, glowing mushrooms that grew on the natural rock pillars, and ceilings. It was remarkably quite, as well, compared to the world above, Kharkov Darkstone noted as he and the army accompanying him made their way through the caverns and tunnels. Not that the lack of light or sounds really bothered him. Now, the only noise was the rumble of hundreds of feet striking the rocky ground. Nevertheless, there was something bothering him. Perhaps it was the strange smell of the strange vegetation, or the fact that they were marching underneath a mountain that could, potentially, collapse on them.

    Whatever it was, he found himself gripping the hilt of his sword, and grinding his teeth. Gradually, he became aware of a new sound. Something that had been at the edge of his hearing, and was only now becoming clear. Rushing water. That was hardly surprising- many of Skyrims rivers and streams originated on or in the mountains of the province. He'd heard stories of adventurers coming across amazingly pure flows of water, that had carved deep channels in the stone over centuries. That posed a problem for him. He had hundreds of undead following him. Most, were shambling zombies and skeletal warriors.

    A deep ravine would make it nearly impossible for him to get the army across. Even if they were able to find some natural rocky bridge, Kharkov seriously doubted it would be wide enough for an entire army to march across. Not in any reasonable amount of time. And the army needed to be in position to assault Hjaalmarch within the next two or three days. By his estimate, and the estimate of the other vampires he'd chosen as his officers, that was when lord Vivarian would be leaving Falkreath hold for Solitude.

    If the plan was to succeed, any Imperial troops in the area had to be destroyed. Along with the local guard contingents. To do that, they needed their army above ground and large enough to crush any troops present in the area. Kharkov was beginning to wonder if deciding to take the subtle approach had been the right choice. His army would be worse than useless if they were wandering around, trapped beneath the mountains. If they could follow the flow of the water, however, it would eventually lead them to the surface. Or near enough.

    With a sharp gesture he motioned to the vampiric spell casters, charged with providing spell support and controlling the army. A moment later, the undead began to shuffle and march forwards, towards the sound of water. One such spell caster, a Khajiit woman by the name of Zar'Vanya, stopped at his side. "You are sure we will reach the surface in time?" The Khajiit womans voice was accented with the raspy voice of her people.

    He glanced at her. Though the glow from the mushrooms added a shade of bluish light to almost everything, he knew from past encounters her fur was a pale grey, decorated by black stripes that lead from just over her yellow eyes over her head, and to the back of her neck. Presumably, they continued all the way down her back. He narrowed his eyes, wondering if she'd guessed what he was thinking. He'd never really trusted spell-casters, and despite the fact they were both vampires, Zar'Vanya was no exception.

    "Of course." He assured her, "so long as you keep the troops moving."

    The Khajiit womans' ears tilted back. "We are doing our best. Corpses do not make for good marching troops." She nodded towards the moaning, groaning procession. "Nor are they very sneaky."

    Kharkov started to walk again, aware that a good dozen or so zombies had made their way past him. "No, but nothing inspires terror like fighting a dead man." He heard the womans boots striking stone as she followed. His casual dismissal of her concerns probably hadn't earned him any points with her. Not that he was particularly bothered by that. The sound of water was louder now, and he could hear the water splashing across rocks that interrupted the current. That probably meant it wasn't terribly deep. Good news, as far as he was concerned.

    As the zombies continued to advance, a large, claw-like contraption sprang from the wall, and eviscerated several of them. One was pinned completely to the wall, though the stupid thing kept trying to go further, only succeeding in 'injuring' itself further. Something green skinned and hunched over dropped from higher up on the wall. It straightened slightly, and made a noise between a snarl and a hiss. Kharkov cursed. "Falmer."

    Zar'Vanya shot him a confused look. "Fal-what?"

    "Kind of like ghouls. Blind, but their hearing is damn good. I heard someone say they used to be elves." The Khajiit stared at the hunched creature, her lip curling in disgust. It advanced at a swift pace towards the zombies, its' serrated blade in hand. More of its kind joined it, dropping from niches in the wall, or approaching from further along the tunnel. A clicking noise signaled the advance of the Falmers insectoid pets, the Chaurus.

    Chaurus he had encountered. Sometimes in the swamps near Morthal, sometimes near the entrances to caves. "Watch out for the acid." He warned.

    "Acid?" Before he could explain one of the black , enormous insects came into view, and reared its head back. A glob of green-black goop flew from its mouth and struck a zombie full in the face, eating through flesh and bone with a sizzling sound. The undead soldiers collapsed and didn't get up again. "Oh." Zar'Vanya said, her hands already summoning magic. "This one sees what you mean now."

    The Falmer were doing impressively well, slashing savagely at the undead troops. The shambling zombies were too slow to keep up with the quick, leap-attack-retreat- tactics of the corrupted beings. Already the most of the dozen or so zombies that had been ahead were down, either decapitated by Falmer swords, their skulls bashed in by war-clubs, or their limbs so crippled they were useless in the over all fight. Without any verbal orders, more zombies advanced at a sort of half run. They fell upon the Falmer, ignoring globs of acid that ate through their bodies. Wounds that would have a living man out of action, if not dead.

    Eventually, the numbers advantage the undead held began to show. First one Falmer fell under four or five of the living corpses. Its war cries turning to screams as the undead dug into living flesh. A lightning bolt from Zar'Vanya blew apart a Chaurus, sending pieces of scorched chitin flying. After another three losses, two Falmer and another Chaurus, the Falmer decided they'd had enough. They turned and ran flat out back the way they'd come. The way they'd come, which just happened to be where the sound of flowing water seemed to be emanating from.

    The zombies shuffled back into formation, and began marching forwards once more. Kharkov followed behind ,drawing his sword. He knew the Falmer weren't all gone. The beasts congregated in underground cave like rats. There were bound to be more of them nearby. Soon, the rushing water became visible, spilling slightly downhill, towards a source of light large enough to illuminate fair amount of the cave. Kharkov could smell fresh air billowing in, just as water flowed out.

    There was only one problem. "A hive." He snarled quietly. From what he'd heard over the years, it was extremely rare for Falmer to set up one of their hives so near the surface. Usually, they stayed near the Dwemer ruins, and kept to themselves. Why this particular group of Falmer had decided to move within spitting distance of the surface. Of course, they could have been planning a raid. In his mercenary days, he'd been hired to protect travelers and merchants moving through the mountains. Regardless of the Falmers reasons and intent, they needed to be dealt with.

    Zar'Vanya crouched beside him, awaiting his orders. Silently, the rest of the vampires filtered through the undead ranks to his side. "Do you have a plan?" The Khajiit asked, careful to keep her voice down.

    "Of course." He replied, turning to another of the vampires. "Ghorbal." The tall, wide shouldered Orc warrior turned to him. The crimson tattoos that marked his pale green skin standing out, even in the dim light of the cave. "Take the others to the cave entrance. Don't let any of these freaks escape us. We need to make this quick and clean. Any groups of Falmer roaming around Morthals swamps will raise suspicion." The Orc nodded, and waved for his fellow vampires to follow him. The group slunk away, surprisingly stealthy, considering their arms and armour.

    Kharkov turned his attention back to the Khajiit woman, who still waited at his side. "Archers forward." He muttered, wincing as she nodded, and summoned the skeletal archers. The sound of bone striking stone was sure to draw a little curiosity. Fortunately, in a few moments, that wouldn't matter. The undead position was slightly elevated, compared to the Falmer hive. The fairly flat cavern floor beneath them offered little cover from arrows, and even less places to launch and ambush from. At a motion from Kharkov, the archers nocked arrows, and drew their bowstrings back. With that done, and no alarm raised, he breathed out a sigh of relief.

    With the undead, there was no risk of an archer foolishly releasing his shot before ordered, or tiring, and letting the arrow slip. They would stand there, ready to fire, for an eternity, if so ordered. Not that they'd need to wait that long. Kharkov turned his attention to the far end of the cave, near the entrance. He could just make out the forms of Ghorbal and the other vampires, fanning out in front of it. "Fire a volley, then have the ghouls charge in. Feel free to kill anything you like after that."

    He instructed, standing as the archers began to fire. Dozens of dark fletched arrows poured into the Falmer hive, most striking the strange tent like homes of the creatures, or bouncing off the cavern walls and floor, but more than a dozen Falmer fell, pierced by arrows.

    Shrieks and snarls sounded behind him as the slavering ghouls eagerly charged into the fight, heedless of the arrows and acid coming from the surviving Falmer and their pets. Kharkov didn't wait for the ghouls to reach their prey, instead, standing and leaping from the ledge. He landed easily, and drew his sword, sprinting towards a cluster of Falmer. A primal bellow escaped his lips as he reached them. His first blow was a horizontal slash, the tip of his blade cutting through a Falmer warriors throat like a hot knife through butter. The spray of blood didn't tempt him in the least. The simple act of combat had his veins burning with the joy of bloodshed, and he parried several savage attacks, from the surviving Falmer.

    He intercepted a lunge from the creature on his right, twisting his wrist just slightly, so that the tip of his longer blade sliced into its' weapon arm. The Falmer hissed and struck out, attempting to bash him with its' chitinous shield. Kharkov stepped back, avoiding the blow, and retaliated with a quick slash, just above the rim of the shield. The Falmer fell backwards with a spray of blood, and he turned to deal with the final combatant, only to see he wasn't needed. A group of ghouls had jumped the unfortunate creature, and were busily tearing him limb from limb.

    Kharkov continued on his way, stepping over the corpses of Falmer punctured by arrows, or blasted by the vampiric spell casters. The only warning of an imminent attack was the clack of mandibles from his right. He turned swiftly, spotting a Chaurus rearing its head back. A moment later, a glob of acidic spittle hissed towards him. He dodged away from the attack, and sprang forwards, closing the distance before it could attack again. He planted a boot on the Chaurus' back, lopping off its tail stinger as it brought it around to attack. Reversing his blade, he plunged his blade between the chitinous plates protecting the bugs neck. It died with a shudder, and Kharkov stood, taking in the overall battle.

    The ghouls had overwhelmed most of the surviving Falmer. Some had tried to run, only to encounter Ghorbal and the rest of the vampires. His attention was drawn by a single Falmer who had neither fallen nor attempted to flee. Instead, it made its way in his general direction, stepping carefully, listening for the sound of approaching enemies, most likely. Though Kharkov was no necromancer, every vampire, even those not of lord Vivarians coven, could raise and control the dead and those like them. To an extent. With a surge of his will, he sent a pair of nearby ghouls scampering towards the Falmer warrior.

    Without hesitation, the blind creature lashed out, its jagged blade cutting down one, then another ghoul, without recieving so much as a scratch in return. It then continued on its path towards him, weapon at the ready. Kharkov felt a smile tug at his lips. None of the others had been much of a challenge. This one, however, might prove a little entertaining. He stepped forwards sword at the ready. With surprising speed, the creature struck out, blade lunging towards his face. The vampire was fast enough to jerk his head to the side, but the tip of the weapon still left a long scratch along his jaw.

    He hissed as the wound started to burn. 'Poison'. He should have known, considering the type of pets the little beasts kept. The potent toxin would have dropped a mortal man in an instant. However, Kharkov could already feel his vampiric blood working to purge it from his system. He took a step forward, parrying his opponents backhand. The Nord vampire strung the Falmer along, toying with the Falmer. Now that its' poison trick had been played, and countered, it was outmatched by Kharkovs' sheer speed and skill.

    He forced the creature back with a series of horizontal and diagonal slashes. Within moments, he had the Falmer on the smooth bank of the underground current. He executed a final low slash, well under the Falmers guard. The darksteel blade opened up the creatures knee, sending it off balance. His backhand opened the creatures throat, nearly removing its head.

    He turned his back on the corpse, and walked to the cave entrance, where the other vampires had assembled. Outside, grey clouds were gathering over Hjaalmarch, and he could see faint columns of smoke from the small swamp villages. "We're finished here. And we still have a town to take." With that, he started forwards, his fellow vampires, following, the rest of the undead army trailing behind him.

    4E 201, 29th of Hearthfire
    Fort Dawnguard.

    "Derek, we have to do something" Tannis hissed in his ear as the pair of Dawnguard novices made their way down one of fort Dawnguards many corridors. Derek shot his Breton friend and comrade an irritated look. Ever since news of the fighting breaking out in Falkreath hold had reached them, Tannis had been yearning to bring the Bloodlet Throne Coven to Israns' attention. The only problem was, Isran wasn't terribly interested in hearing about the Falkreath based coven. All his efforts were on some Volkihar clan rumoured to dwell off the coast, near Solitude.

    Though he'd been on countless searches of dark caverns and abandoned towers, the Volkihars were being very reclusive. They'd been on break at the fort, for the past several days. Now though, Isran had sent for both Derek and Tannis to meet with him. The room the Dawnguard used for planning was on the lower floor, with rows of benches on either side of it. The room itself was lit by a large hearth, and several torches, mounted up on the walls.

    The leader of the Dawnguard was inside, leaning over a group of parchments. He glanced up as Derek cleared his throat. "Ah. Good, your here." He greeted them in his gruff manner. When the two men reached the table Isran was at, he finally straightened. "You probably heard already. Those vampires of yours...from Falkreath. It turns out they're the ones who've been wiping out Imperial and Stormcloak camps. We've also received news from the Reach. An army of the dead. Making for Markarth, as far as anyone can tell."

    "So you admit it. We were right!" Tannis exclaimed triumphantly.

    The Redguard scowled at him. "Fine. Yes, you were right. That doesn't mean we can do anything about it."

    "What about the Imperials? The Stormcloaks?" Derek asked, "they must be willing to do something."

    "I'm sure some of them do. But we'd still have to get two sides, who've been fighting for the better part of a year, to work together."

    "Not impossible." Derek pointed out. "Especially since the vampires don't seem to care who they kill."

    Isran sighed. "Well then. The pair of you might as well serve as negotiators.Try to find a neutral ground, and get the Imperial and Stormcloak in charge to play nice. At least until we can take care of these vampires."

    "We'll do it." Derek assured him, then nodded to Tannis. "Come on. We'd better get moving if we're going to make any progress."

    "Speaking of progress...I've got someone who might be able to help." He looked pasts the two men.

    "You can come in now."

    Puzzled, both turned, and Ulfjar walked out of the shadows. Derek was at a loss for words. Tannis, on the other hand wasn't. There was a rasp of steel on leather as the Breton drew his sword. "You filthy traitor! How dare you set foot in here!" He started towards the unarmed Nord, and probably would have run him through if Derek hadn't grabbed him.

    "Stop!" Isran shouted, taking a couple of steps forwards.

    "You don't know what this man has done." Tannis snarled, "he betrayed us to the vampires. People died because of him."

    "Not by choice." Ulfjar said quietly, meeting Tannis and Dereks accusing gazes. "Now I need to make things right. The vampires think I'm spying on you for them. I can be your man on the inside."

    "Right. Like we'd trust you to tell the truth." Derek said, calmer than Tannis, but not exactly trusting of the man who'd nearly gotten him and his fellows killed.

    "Doesn't matter if you trust him." Isran interrupted. "We need him. And frankly, at this point, I'd take assassins from the Dark Brotherhood if they agreed to resolve this crisis. Now go out there, and work out a deal with the Imperials and Stormcloaks."

    Reluctantly, Derek motioned for Tannis to precede him out of the room. Reluctantly, the Breton obeyed. Once they were well on their way, his friend turned to him. " I don't like this, Derek. Ulfjar will rat us out to the vampires as soon as he gets the chance. Just like he betrayed us when we escaped."

    "Maybe." Derek said. If Ulfjar had sought them out on his own, that meant he could have had a genuine change of heart. Or it meant the Nord had become alot more cunning since they'd last met.

    "You don't believe him, do you?" Tannis demanded.

    "No. I guess I don't. But if the vampires think he's switched sides, they won't beleive anything he tells them, either. Now come on. We have work to do."

    "Fine. Where to first?"

    "Whiterun hold, I think. If we can get the two sides to meet on neutral ground, we might be able to get them to listen without coming to blows."

    4E 201,1st of Frostfall
    Hjaalmarch

    The march to Morthal had taken longer than Kharkov would have liked. The swamps were treacherous, and he'd lost a couple dozen zombies to the deceptively deep waters. However, they were now only a few dozen metres from the capital of Hjaalmarch. He could see guardsmen scrambling to assemble something like a defensive line. Kharkovs own skeletal archers were already sending volleys of arrows at the inhabitants. Corpses dotted the boardwalks, and floated in the murky water, black fletched darts sticking out of them.

    "Infantry advance." A moment later, the zombies and skeleton warriors surged forwards, sloshing through the water and muck, brandishing their weapons. The guard archers opened fire, their own arrows embedding themselves in the torsos and throats of the zombies. To their credit, a few of their shots actually struck the creatures in their eye sockets or skulls, killing them for good. It wouldn't be enough, though. Even if every guardsman managed to kill ten zombies, the town would still be overrun.

    The shambling corpses had made it about halfway to the line of guardsmen when a fireball soared over the heads of the defenders. It exploded in the middle of the front line of zombies, the initial explosion destroying at least a dozen of them. Others staggered on, flesh and clothing ablaze. Another fireball blew apart a group of skeletons, and a third struck a trio ghouls. Kharkov felt himself clenching his teeth, a snarl growing in his throat. If this continued, the entire force would be badly depleted by the time they reached the town itself.

    Those fireballs had to be stopped. And as far as he could tell, their was only one mage behind the line. Drawing his sword, he moved forwards, hearing a chorus of battle cries as his fellows followed his lead. A fireball arced towards him, and he started to throw himself to the side, but Zar'Vanya, at his side, gestured, and the spell faded to nothingness well before it struck Kharkov. "Bring me that mages head." He snarled.

    "As you wish." The Khajiit sorceress replied, her body dissolving into shadows. The shadows launched themselves skywards, arcing up and over the line of guardsmen. A few arrows flew after her, but the defenders were much more concerned with the undead that had now reached their line.A few moments later, Kharkov was among the defenders, slicing through them. He saw no sign of Zar'Vanya, but he could hear the detonations of a magical duel going on further in the town.

    The fighting was over sooner than he'd thought it would be. After the undead had punched through the defenders line, they'd flowed throughout Morthal. Those civilians that hadn't fled before hand, died. The few guardsmen that hadn't died in the fighting were executed. Several buildings were on fire, though Kharkov wasn't sure if it was the towns resident mage that had set them, or the guardsmen, trying to deny the vampires use of them. Either way, Morthal was theirs. Now all they had to do was deter any Imperial response.

    4E 201, 5th of Frostfall
    The Reach
    Lucius Draconus was in the center of the Coven encampment in the Reach. His army, enhanced by the Imperators, had arrived several weeks ago, sweeping aside Imperial and Stormcloak forces as they went. The Imperials had counted on an early warning from the Imperators, and the Stormcloaks had been too busy fighting the Imperials to pay heed to any other foe. Because of this, the first weeks of the campaign had gone relatively smoothly.

    That was until they'd come across the Forsworn tribes that lived in various forts, caves, and redoubts in the wilderness of the Reach. They'd foreseen resistance from the Reachmen, of course. What Lucius hadn't expected, was the Forsworn and Reach guard working together. They'd halted the undead advance in most areas of the Reach, and those forces that had punched through, ended up being surrounded and eliminated. Meanwhile, the Imperial troops were reorganizing, reinforcing the guardsmen and Forsworn. But neither side had gained or regained any ground.

    So far, Lucius had his troops intercepting Imperial and Stormcloak messengers, attempting to leave the hold. Now, Varnus Kohl, and several other officers stood around a relatively flat topped boulder, a map of the Reach and its immediate surroundings atop it. Lucius had summoned them to discuss the strategy going forwards. While the Imperials were happy to stay near Markarth itself, awaiting reinforcements, the Forsworn were not. At least once a day, they launched raids on the outskirts of the army, cutting down a few skeletons and zombies, before retreating back into their hidden camps. Normally, the undead would win a war of attrition. Any enemy casualties would replenish their ranks. But the Forsworn had caught on fast. Whenever they could, they brought their fallen comrades with them, and presumably burned the bodies.

    As a result, the vampires were being forced to raid outlying village graveyards to make up their troops. "An all out assault is out of the question." Varnus said grimly, pointing to the map. "The terrain in most of the Reach won't allow us to move our entire force in at once. We'd be picked off by the defenders. And right now, we don't have the troops to launch multiple attacks throughout the hold, and hope to be successful."

    Lucius had expected that response. Feared it, even. For the campaign to be successful, Markarth had to fall. The question was-how? Save for a few locations, the Reach was a land ripe for ambushes, and favoured the defenders heavily. Even with the Imperials fighting on two fronts, they were holding strong. What the Coven forces needed, Lucius reflected, was to seize a Forsworn camp or two. The Reachmen were aiding the local guard regiments, but if the vampires removed their bases of operations, both guardsmen and the Forsworn would be weakened. "We need to find their hiding places." He announced. "Find the root of the problem, and tear it out."

    "Sir, with all due respect, we've been searching for the Forsworn camps day and night, with no luck." One of the officers protested.

    "Because we don't have knowledge of the terrain." Another growled. Lucius could sympathize. He'd always had a keen grasp of tactics. Which made it all the more painful to admit the officer was right. Without having more than a little knowledge of the Reachs' terrain, it would be nearly impossible to find a Forsworn camp. However, there was a solution, and the more Lucius thought on it, the more possible it became.

    "What role do the Stormcloaks have in all of this?" He asked.

    "Scouts saw a small band entering a mountain pass in the early hours." Varnus replied. "Perhaps seeking to flank around us and link up with a relief force, to flank us."

    "No, I don't think so. We've only encountered light Stormcloak resistance. At the moment, they're more than happy to let the Imperials and Forsworn be worn down by our forces. It's more likely they plan to strike an Imperial target. If we can capture some of their group, we could easily use that same pass to get behind the Imperial lines."

    "A small group of riders could catch them up, if they knew where they were going." Kohl pointed out.

    Lucius nodded, reaching out and tracing the Druadach mountain range that bordered the Reach and High Rock. "It's unlikely they're headed to High Rock or Hammerfell. Though, the range does end near Falkreath hold. And from their they can enter Cyrodiil. Provided they're careful about it."

    Varnus frowned. "You think they're headed to Cyrodiil?"

    "Why not? Even isolated out here, they must have heard of the Imperial reinforcements. And what better way to draw the Imperials out of Skyrim than to raid along the boarder? There are an abundance of small villages, likely with little to no guardsmen."

    The other vampires considered, and one by one, agreed with his conclusions. " Who would you like to go after them, sir?" An officer asked. "I can have a dozen riders ready to leave in minutes."

    "Make it half that." Lucius commanded. "And I shall see to this operation myself. Kohl, you have command until our return."

    The officer was true to his word. By the time Lucius had reached the outskirts of the camp his horse was waiting, along with a half dozen mounted vampires. He mounted and urged his horse forwards. And they went hunting.
     
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  15. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 11th of Frostfall
    Whiterun

    "Here we are." Tannis said, staring at the walls of Whiterun. Banners, depicting the horses head motif on a yellow field fluttered above the towers, driven by a cold wind. Winter was coming, and if the winds were any indication, Derek reflected, it would be a brutal one. He pulled the collar of his cloak up, glad for the fur lining around the hood. It provided some protection, but his face was still numb from riding into the breeze all day. It took him a couple of tries before he could get his numb lips to cooperate.

    "Aye. You have the papers Isran gave us?" The papers he referred to were to ensure that they actually got an audience with the jarl. From what he'd heard of the man, jarl Balgruuf was a fair if stern ruler. Hopefully he'd agree to their request. Despite keeping Whiterun hold neutral, he might still be nervous about having Imperials and Stormcloaks in his hall.

    In response to Dereks question, Tannis held up the scroll. "Hopefully he's willing to listen. I've heard that the Imperials are still pressuring him to join up with them. No word on whether the Stormcloaks are talking with him either."

    Derek scowled. There was always the risk one or both sides would refuse to attend the meeting, even if it was on neutral ground. "So long as they listen to us, I don't care. They can get on with this stupid war after the vampires have been dealt with."

    Tannis glanced at him. "Why did you never join the rebels?"

    Derek turned to regard his friend as they rode towards the stables. During their captivity, the question had never come up. "Same reason I joined the Dawnguard. I've a family to look after, and getting myself killed or captured by the Empire won't do them any good. Not that the Stormcloaks didn't ask. I'm pretty sure I had a recruiter visit me once a week, asking if I'd changed my mind."

    The breton nodded. "As good a reason as any." They reached the stables, and the two Dawnguards dismounted, Tannis speaking with the stable master, and handing over a purse of gold. Derek started towards the gates, and the other man caught up to him. The guards watched them approach, with expressions ranging between curious and wary.

    "State your business in Whiterun." One man demanded.

    "We've come for an audience with the jarl." Tannis announced, handing the man the scroll. The guard unrolled it, gave it a cursory glance, and nodded to his companion.

    "You'll want to go to Dragonsreach then. Top of the hill. Show this to the guards there." He said, handing the parchment back to the breton.

    They thanked the guards and pushed in through the heavy, reinforced gates. "That was easy." Tannis muttered.

    "Probably the easiest it's going to get." Derek replied. "Now we need to convince Balgruuf that this is the best course of action."

    They made their way up the gently inlcined streets, moving through the crowded streets, and market. Dragonsreach was indeed at the top of the 'hill'. A series of stairs led up to the carved doors of the hall. A pair of guards waited outside. The men crossed their weapons in front of the doors as the two vampire hunters approached. "Your business?" One challenged.

    Tannis handed him the scroll, and after a few moments, the guard nodded. "Wait here. I'll announce you." He turned and went inside, leaving Tannis and Derek to wait with the second guard. A couple of minutes later, the man was back. "Head inside. Jarl Balgruuf is willing to meet with you."

    Derek pushed through the doors, entering the hall. He was impressed by the carved pillars and high roof, but that wasn't why he was there. Balgruuf sat at the far end of the hall, his advisor, a balding man that looked to be either Imperial or Breton, sat on his right. On his left was a Dunmer woman, wearing leather armour, with a steel sword on her belt. Clearly, she was some sort of bodyguard.
    The two Dawnguard stopped a respectful distance away, and bowed. "Jarl Balgruuf. We've come with a proposition for you." Derek announced.

    "Yes, I read the letter from your leader. You want me to host a meeting between the Imperials, Stormcloaks, and I presume, members of the Dawnguard. Because of some...vampire threat?"

    "You have concerns." Derek said. There was no question about that. Balgruufs expression showed that he was doubtful of any peaceful meeting between the rebels and the Empire. Honestly, Derek shared the mans concern. It was a good idea to have the two sides meet on neutral ground. In theory. Realistically, there was a good chance either the Imperial commander, or Stormcloak commander would decide it was a good opportunity to eliminate the enemy.

    "Yes. If I send out heralds to draw the Imperials or Stormcloaks, there's a good chance either side will see me as declaring for one side or another. With a fresh Imperial legion approaching from Falkreath hold, and Stormcloaks in the Pale, it's a position I can't risk being in."

    "What if we went to either side with invitations? The Dawnguard is staying out of the conflict. This way, no one can say you've aligned with anyone. You keep your neutrality, and we get our meeting."

    Balgruuf looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he nodded, " that could work. I suppose you'll want to leave as soon as possible?"

    Derek nodded. "As soon as we have what we need, jarl."

    "Very well. Proventus. Write up a draft, inviting the Imperial and Stormcloak leaders to Whiterun. We'll have our friends on their way as soon as possible. "

    "Thank you. We appreciate this. We'll be down at the Bannered Mare, until the invitations are prepared."

    "I'll send someone with them. Good luck."

    The pair of Dawnguard bowed once more, turned, and left Dragonsreach. "We should split up." Tannis said. "I'll head to the Imperials, near Falkreath hold, and you can meet with the Stormcloaks. "

    Derek nodded. "Sounds like a good idea. All we need to do now is wait for Balgruuf to send those letters to us. For now, get some rest. It'll be a long ride, for both of us."


    4E 201, 15th of Frostfall
    Imperial Camp, Falkreath hold.

    Severus was in the midst of placing healing potions inside a travelling case. The Imperial garrison was preparing to move out of the hold. Falkreath had recently surrendered to the vampires that had spread throughout the hold. Many of the legionnaires in the camp had been in favour of taking the fight to the vampires, and punishing jarl Sidgier for capitulating to them. However, orders had come down from general Altus Kathalon just over a week ago, summoning the garrison to march to meet with his army near at the border of Whiterun hold, near Riverwood.

    From what he'd heard, there'd been a battle at the village. A force of nearly two hundred Stormcloaks had been wiped out, and the few survivors had retreated into Whiterun hold. Reports indicated that a larger force of rebels were massing in the Pale, on Whiterun holds northern border. Once general Kathalons men met with them, there would be heavy casualties.

    He glanced up from his work to see decurion Gordin Ervecis, the highest ranking officer in the camp, approaching. He nodded once in greeting, "pack your bags, Valte. You've been approved for leave."

    Severus frowned at him. "Sir? I never applied for leave."

    The decurion shook his head. "No, but I did, on your behalf. You've worked your arse off, tending to wounds, making potions, and you're not half bad with a sword. Hell, half the men here would be dead if not for you. And you haven't applied for leave once, in the five months you've been here. It's time you took some rest for yourself."

    Elation filled Severus' chest. A chance to return home, see Allissa again, couldn't be passed up. He nodded cautiously. "Thank you, sir. I'll just finish packing these potions and be on my way. How long do I have?"

    "Two weeks. Say hello to your lady friend for me, will you? A courier will arrive at your village with instructions on where to meet our unit. We'll try not to win the war without you."

    XXX

    Because of its proximity to Bruma, and the Jerall mountains, winter had come early to the forest near Dunsted. Severus shivered and drew his cloak closer to his body. The wind was bitterly cold here, and he found himself looking forwards to the warmth of his familys' home. He continued on his way through the leafless forest, towards the village. But icy cold wasn't the only thing the wind brought. Smoke. The scent of burning wood was among it, but something else as well.

    Something that Severus had become intimately familiar with during his weeks and months of war. The stench of burnt bodies. He came to a stop, fear gripping him. There was only one thing that could mean. "No." The word slipped from numb lips, as he dropped his pack in the shallow snow, and sprinted forwards. He could see the smoke rising above the trees, thick, black smoke, being blown almost sideways by the strong wind. When he cleared the forest, it was clear what had become of Dunsted.

    Most of the buildings were burnt to the ground. Some still stood, but only as ravaged skeletons, the beams charred and crumbling. Severus moved towards his home like a zombie. He knew what he was going to see, and yet, he did not want to see, as if blinding himself would make the make the truth before him a lie. He forced himself forwards, not needing the familiar buildings in order to follow the familiar street. When he reached his house, he saw the inevitable. Most of the roof had caved in, the whole front of it burned away. He could see humanoid shapes, buried by ash and snow. He felt his legs give out, though he barely felt the impact as his knees struck the cold ground.

    It was gone. Everyone and everything he'd ever known and loved...gone. Tears streamed down his face, though he made no noise. No cries of grief were ripped from him. Perhaps it was the shock. Perhaps he'd grown too used to seeing death. A noise, one of the few he'd heard for miles, drew his attention. The sound of cloth, fluttering in the wind. He looked around, his vision blurred, from tears, but he could still make out the distinctive, familiar blue cloth, caught on charred beam, looking like it'd been torn from a tunic. Or a uniform.

    Stormcloaks. This close to the border, who else could it have been? Severus' hands curled into fists. "I will avenge you." He said into the cold air. "I swear it." He sat there in silence, for what felt like an eternity, but really, was only a few minutes. The sound of galloping horses reached him. They beasts and their riders stopped outside the smoldering ruins, and Severus could hear a voice giving orders. A couple of minutes later, a man came into view.

    He was tall, with crimson hair, and green eyes. His skin was startlingly pale, almost the colour of the snow. He wore all black clothing, high boots, and a black cloak, over it all. He was Imperial, or at least partly so. Still, Severus couldn't help but feel there was something off about him. A moment of study, and he realized what it was. Despite the cold, no fog of breath came from the man. The man gestured to the wreckage around him. "You knew these people?" Judging by his voice, the man was or...had been a noble of some sort. At one time.

    Severus nodded. "My family.Friends."

    "I am sorry." There was a genuine not of sorrow in his voice. Something else, as well. "What will you do now?"

    "Track down those responsible. Make them pay. "

    "I may be able to help you with that."

    "How?"
    "You must know what I am. Or at least suspect."

    Severus glanced at the man. Pale skin, lack of breath. Even without checking for a pulse, it was a safe bet the man was dead. Well, in technically. And then there were the reports throughout Skyrim..."You're a vampire."

    "And I can offer you the opportunity to avenge your loved ones. In exchange for your loyalty."

    "If you can give me this opportunity...you have my loyalty"

    "Very well. Take my hand."

    4E 201, 21st of Frostfall
    The Pale
    General Stromma hadn't outright called Valdmir a traitor. But the way he and his men acted, Valdmir might as well have been. The surviving men, most of them loyal to Stromma, or at least, following his orders, avoided him. The glances they sent his way revealed their opinion of him. His challenging of Stromma in Riverwood hadn't gone unnoticed. Though Stromma, and everyone else in the village had been to concerned with running for their lives, rather than worrying about who was, and wasn't a traitor. Now, though, things were different. Stromma had ordered Valdmir, Magrin, Tommen, and the rest of his men confined to the Pale camp.

    A large Stormcloak force, under Ulfrics second in command, was waiting for them. Well, perhaps not them personally, but Stromma had certainly sent word. The presence of Galmar Stone-Fist probably meant that the Stormcloaks were preparing for a counter assault on the Imperial legion. And, since they were so close to the Whiterun border, it was a safe bet to assume Galmar planned to take the neutral hold by force, if necessary.

    Valdmir was shaken out of his thoughts by the sound of soldiers approaching. Margri, sitting at his side, looked up and growled, hand going to his weapon. Valdmir placed a cautionary arm on his friends shoulder. Getting into a fight would not help their cause. Finally, he too looked up. A group of four Stormcloaks stood, looking down at the two men, hands on their own weapons. One of them, his features obscured by his helmet, spoke; "the general wants to see you." There was no point arguing. He got the impression the soldiers would take him by force, if necessary. Wearily, he nodded and climbed to his feet.

    The walk to the generals tent wasn't long, though even that short march drew the attention of many Stormcloaks. By the time they'd reached the tent, a large crowd had formed. Stromma was already standing outside his tent, glaring at Valdmir, triumph and malice shining in his eyes. Beside him, stood the distinctive figure of Galmar Stone-Fist. Ulfrics second in command gave Valdmir a once over, then turned to Stromma. "This is the traitor you mentioned? Doesn't look a traitor to me."

    "He attempted to countermand my orders . If my own men hadn't seen through his poisonous lies, we might all have died at Riverwood."

    "That so?" Galmar returned his gaze to Valdmir. "Well? What've you got to say for yourself?"

    " I'm no traitor." Valdmir said, "in fact, I have come to the conclusion general Stromma is no longer fit to lead. He turned tail and ran, leaving a handful of us to die. He's nothing more than a coward, made brave by his authority."

    Stromma's face had turned an alarming shade of red. "You dare-"

    "I challenge general Alric Stromma for the position of general." Valdmir declared, raising his voice to ensure those among the crowd heard him.

    Galmars bushy eyebrows shot up, but there was a glint of what could have been approval in his eyes as well. He turned to the general who was, by this point, sputtering with rage. "Well, Stromma? What say you?"

    Seemingly regained control, the general glanced around. His, Galmars, and even some of Valdmirs men were watching intently. He couldn't refuse, and keep his honour and reputation intact. His hand went to the sword at his side, and he wetted his lips. "Clear a space!" He bellowed. "I'll teach this treacherous cur a lesson!" He drew his sword as Galmar stepped back and the rest of the men scuttled away, creating a large semi-circle. Valdmir drew one of his axes, and tossed the other behind him, at the feet of the observers. He wanted there to be no question that this was a fair fight.

    The general made the first move, rushing forwards, swinging his blade in a low sweep, meant to force Valdmir into a retreat. However, the experienced soldier stepped forwards, lowering his axe to intercept the blow. Standing toe to toe, the two men each tried to gain the upper hand. Stromma finally took two quick steps back, slashing at Valdmirs face. The other Nords axe swept up to parry once more and both combatants stepped back, measuring each other.

    Valdmir noticed his opponent was already breathing hard, sweat trickling down his face. Stromma hadn't had to fight for real for quite some time. And now it was showing. The general needed to find some way to end the duel quickly. With a shout , he charged forwards, swinging his blade in a savage back and forth pattern. Valdmir allowed himself to be forced backwards, and prepared to end the fight once and for all. He had no intention of killing the man though. He took a quick step to the left, throwing Stromma off balance, and swung his axe in a calculated horizontal arc.

    The haft of his weapon struck the general in the side, and he stumbled. Then Valdmir struck, taking a two handed grip, he hammered on the mans sword. Panic finally revealed itself. Stromma leapt backwards and dropped his sword. "I yield! Please!" Valdmir stopped, axe held high.

    "Like I said." He said, voice carrying to the men around him, "nothing more than a coward." He turned his back on the man. A snarl sounded from behind him, along with the rasp of a blade sliding against the cold ground. Valdmir whipped around, avoiding the lunge, and brought his fist across, connecting with his opponents nose. With a howl, Stromma collapsed, dropping his sword, to cup his nose.

    "That's enough." Galmar announced. He pointed at Stromma. "Get him up." A pair of Galmars men dragged the bleeding Stromma to his feet. The bearded warrior pointed at Valdmir. "Your name, soldier?"

    Sliding his axe back into its holster, he replied, "Valdmir Iceclaw, sir."

    "It's general Iceclaw now. You have a problem with that, Stromma?" The former general shot Valdmir a hateful look, but shook his head. "Good. You're now a captain, under Iceclaws command. Now get out of my sight." The men holding the now captain Stromma, turned and guided him out of the circle. Galmar stepped close. "That was well done. Damn risky, but well done. Never liked that milk-drinker. Now come on. We need to talk." He lead Valdmir into Strommas former tent. 'My tent now, I guess.'

    "Now. I read the reports. Stromma might be a coward and a liar, but I don't think he was lying about what happened at Riverwood. The battle part, anyways." Galmar stated. "Vampires. Lot's of 'em, and from what's been happening so far, they're on the war path."

    Valdmir fought back a shudder as he remembered Thoryggs bloodied, shambling corpse. "He wasn't lying. The vampires are coming. And I don't think they care who they kill."

    The other Nord grunted, and nodded, as something had been confirmed for him. " I suppose it doesn't hurt to let you in on this then: the Imperials aren't the only reason I'm here. A couple of days ago, a messenger from the Dawnguard arrived in Windhelm. Vampire hunters." He said in response to Valdmirs confused expression. "Jarl Balgruuf is willing to hold a meeting between us and the Empire. The Dawnguard wants us to ally with them and the Imperials. At least until these vampires are kicked back to whatever hole they crawled out of."

    "So we're going to Whiterun to talk?"

    "Aye. Ulfric thinks, and I agree, that vampires running around, ruining our plans could cost us the war. Plus, a truce with the Empire could give us some time to regroup. Get your men ready to move out. I want you as my second at the meeting."

    4E 201, 29th of Frostfall
    Whiterun, Dragonsreach
    Altus glanced to his right, where general Gaius Tullius stood, along with his second, legate Rikke. The two members of the Imperial fourth legion looked less than happy to be called away from the war. Altus himself had been skeptical, when the Dawnguard messenger had ridden into his camp, nearly a week ago. But both Lillian and his other officers had encouraged him to atleast listen to the messenger. And the truth was, even with two legions stationed in Skyrim, they couldn't win, if they were forced to fight on two fronts.

    After Falkreath had surrendered, Helgen had followed, and scouts reported that Morthal had been all but destroyed by a vampiric army. At the same time, more reports had come in from the Reach, reporting that another army was fighting a mixed force of Forsworn and Imperial troops. The tipping point had come when news reached general Kathalon of a large Stormcloak army marshalling in the Pale. And the news that Galmar Stone-Fist, perhaps the most warlike of the rebels, was willing to talk.

    Tullius and Rikke, stationed in Solitude, had been harder to convince. But after the reinforcements Tullius sent to Morthal were, apparently, wiped out, they'd reluctantly agreed to join Altus in Whiterun. Movement at the top of the stairs leading to the long table where jarl Balgruuf waited, drew his attention. One of the Dawnguard was approaching. "Generals. Thank you for coming." The man said gravely. "Follow me."

    Tullius and Rikke went first, and Altus followed, Lillian at his side. The Stormcloak representatives, Galmar, and a dark haired younger rebel, were already sitting there, beside a dark skinned, bearded, Dawnguard. The Imperials took their seats opposite the rebels. Balgruuf sat at the head of the table, as was his priviledge, being the host. The dark skinned Dawnguard spoke first. "Thank you all for coming. And thank you, jarl Balgruuf, for agreeing to host this meeting."

    "Let's get on with it. The vampires aren't going to wait." Galmar grumbled. He directed his attention to Tullius and Altus. "First things first: your people leave the Rift, and the Pale."

    Altus frowned and Rikke scowled, but Tullius was the one to speak. "We're not here to talk about your grievances, Galmar. The vampires are the issue. Besides, we can't just concede territory to you."

    The man shrugged. "If you want us in on this alliance, that's the price. Imperial troops leave both those holds."

    "And if we do? What does the Empire gain?" Altus spoke up. Personally, he wasn't enthusiastic about conceding anything to the Stormcloaks.

    "Time to lick your wounds. You don't want us to force you out. Especially with all the territory you've been losing."

    "We're not the only ones." Rikke reminded him. "Last I heard, the Stormcloaks had been forced out of Falkreath hold."

    Galmars eyes narrowed. "You've heard our terms. Agree to them, or we walk."

    "Enough." This was from the dark skinned Dawnguard. "We haven't the time for your fighting. If we don't band together, their won't be any of you left alive too fight your petty war."

    Galmar grunted. "Big talk from someone who's spent most of his time hiding in the Rift."

    "He's right." For the first time, Galmars companion spoke up. "I was at Riverwood. I know what they're capable of. Killing each other only helps the vampires."

    Altus remembered the slaughter at the Stormcloak camp. And the recent reports. "Yes. He is." He looked to Rikke and Tullius. His fellow general sighed, met Altus' gaze, and nodded.

    "Okay, Galmar. We'll work with you. For now." The people around the table slowly relaxed.

    "What's our next step?" Altus asked. "My men can be ready to march immediately."

    "As can ours." Galmar announced. "I'll be heading back Windhelm to marshal more."

    "Then it's official. We are allies in this." The Dawnguard leader announced.
     
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  16. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 7th of Sun's Dusk
    Druadach Mountains

    Vampirism was a new experience for Severus. He no longer felt the cold, or hunger. He didn't need to eat or drink, mortal food, anyways. In fact, the red haired Imperial, Lucius, had warned him that such substances would make him ill. A vampires' body was meant to ingest only one thing; blood of mortals. His first feeding had been an...awkward affair, one of a group of highwaymen that had made the mistake of attempting to rob the vampires. Since then, on their travel through the mountains, he'd become used to it. Lucius had explained to him he'd learn to control his thirst, and eventually, not need to feed for long periods of time.

    As they'd traveled, Lucius had revealed that he and his companions had been hunting a group of Stormcloaks that had crossed over to Cyrodiil, in order to distract the Imperials. Their second objective, had been to find a way for the Covens forces to flank the Imperial soldiers in the Reach. Severus wasn't sure how he felt about that. He'd sworn his loyalty to the Coven, but he'd served with the Empire for months. He still felt something for them. At least his own unit was out of the Reach. Hopefully it would stay that way.

    The group had stopped in a small cave, part of the pass, while the sun was at its highest point in the sky. Lucius approached, a sword, presumably borrowed from one of his companions in his hand. "On your feet." He ordered. "Let's see how you handle a sword." Obediently, Severus stood, accepting the weapon. He noted the steel of the blade was a lot darker than the typical sword. Almost black, like the vampires armour. He'd seen an ebony weapon, once, but this weapon seemed different. For one, it was double edged, and straight, with a slightly curving crossguard, pointing towards the end of the blade.

    The hilt itself had wire wrapped around it, with leather over that, to improve the users grip. It felt different than the ridged grip of the Imperial short sword he was used to. Getting a good grip on it, he took up a stance, blade at his side. The other vampires in the cave had cleared away to the edges, watching with interest. Lucius drew his own longsword, distinctly unique, compared to the others weapons. He ran a critical eye over Severus' stance, then nodded. "Attack me."

    Severus stepped forwards, arm swinging in a forward arc. An expression of contempt crossed the other Imperials face, before his blade flicked out and slapped the sword away. Severus tried for a horizontal slash next, aimed at his opponents midsection. Lucius flicked his wrist, and driving the sword down and away in one smooth motion. Severus lunged at the mans torso, but, predictably, the attack was deflected. "Focus." The other vampires snapped. "You're gripping your blade too tightly." Chastised, Severus loosened his grip, and swept his sword at his opponents side. And promptly had his blade torn from his grasp. It clattered across the cave floor, and Lucius rested the tip of his own sword over Severus' heart. "And now, too loosely."

    The red haired Imperial sheathed his weapon, and picked up the dark bladed sword, returning it to its owner. "You show great promise." Lucius said, turning his attention back to Severus. "Even if you lack knowledge of individual combat. You've obviously had some combat training."

    He nodded. "Yes, with the legion. Most of it focused on fighting in a unit."

    "I see. With some proper instruction, you might become quite formidable. But for now, rest. We're close to the Skyrim border. We'll move back into the Reach come dusk."

    XXX

    Dusk came quickly, and with it, the group moved again. Though it wasn't yet nightfall, clouds blocked out the setting sun, leaving the group travelling in near complete darkness. Not that it was any problem for him. His night vision had improved greatly since turning, and with the absence of the sun, his eyes no longer stung. By his reckoning, they'd crossed into Skyrim once more. He'd never been to the Reach, but the frequency of snow covered mountain tops had increased since they'd entered the pass.

    Lucius, at the head of the procession, held up a hand, bringing them to a halt. "We must be close to the enemy by now. Tramen, scout ahead." He ordered, and one of the vampires dismounted, and slunk off into the shadows.

    It wasn't long before the scout returned, his expression troubled. "They know we're coming." He said shortly. "Or suspect it, at least. There's a couple dozen men guarding the pass. Imperial as well as Stormcloak."

    "You're sure?" Lucius pressed, "Actual Imperials, not just Stormcloaks dressed as such?"

    Tramen nodded, "yes, sir. There's no mistaking it."

    Lucius cursed quietly. " And they've probably got reinforcements waiting, should we attempt to fight our way through." The red haired Imperial pondered for a moment, then shook his head. "There's no point in storming their position. And if the Stormcloaks and Imperials have allied against us, lord Vivarian must be warned."

    "Back the way we came, sir?" Another of the group asked.

    Lucius nodded, turning his mount. "Yes, and double time. We haven't the time to waste on stealth." He urged his mount forwards, and Severus fell in beside him.

    "When I was with the legion, there was no talk of an alliance with the rebels. How can we be sure these aren't just deserters?" He asked, not wanting to think of his comrades in arms so casually throwing their lot in with those they'd been fighting against. Those that had massacred his village.

    "An interesting thought, but unlikely. Tramen would have known the difference. More importantly, we haven't the time to disprove his story, and given the amount of men stationed there, it's irrelevant."

    Severus nodded reluctantly. "I suppose you're right. I just...I don't beleive the Empire I know would so casually ally with the rebels."

    Lucius glanced at him, "the Empire will do anything to make the people of Skyrim beleive it's what's best for them. Don't forget, this entire war started because of Imperial concessions to the elves. If the Empire can win Skyrim back by defeating us, the Stormcloak cause will fall apart."

    "I- yes, you're right." Severus said reluctantly, "it's just hard to imagine."
    The other vampire looked at him again, a cool,measuring,look. "Not having second thoughts, are you? You pledged yourself to the Coven."

    "No." Severus said, steel entering his voice. He hadn't missed the warning tone in Lucius' speech. But he needed no incentive or threat to remain with the Coven. The Stormcloaks had taken everything he'd lived and fought for. If the Empire was willing to side with them, they would find no hesitance from him. "I have no doubts." He replied, and meant it.

    4E 201, 10th of Sun's Dusk
    Reach-Whiterun border


    Salthar sat upon his horse, eyes fastened upon the mountains and hills of the Reach, no more than a couple of days journey ahead of them. They'd skirted the edge of Whiterun hold, keeping well away from the larger villages and outposts. The central hold had been neutral in the fighting so far, and he hoped to keep it that way, at least until the Reach had fallen. From the reports he'd received, the Forsworn, local guard contingents, and Imperials, had banded together to hold back Lucius' army.
    Whoever was in charge, they knew that Markarth would be nearly impossible to reclaim, if the vampires took it. And, at the moment, the locals were using the terrain to their advantage. However, once Salthars army arrived to reinforce them, the Imperials would be overrun.

    "Helgen has finally fallen." The Altmer sorcerer was shaken from his thoughts by his brothers voice.

    He started to nod in recognition, then frowned "it's taken this long for Helgen to surrender?"

    Vengar scowled and gestured to the report. "Says here that the Imperial garrison there refused Siddgiers order to surrender. They arrested the local thane, and held out until our troops smashed the gates in. Commander Loeraith killed the troops, and set up a garrison. Her troops are on the way to meet up with us now."

    "Unfortunate." Salthar said. " I would have preferred to keep Helgens defences intact. Having a garrison stationed there isn't ideal either. I sense Siddgeir isn't entirely sure he's chosen the right side. If we fail to take Markarth, we may lose his support."

    His brother made a rude noise, clearly expressing his opinion of the jarl. "As if we need him."

    "Perhaps not. But I'd rather not alienate him until we've taken Markarth and Solitude. Is there anything else?"

    Vengar retrieved another piece of parchment from his belt. "There's a force of Stormcloaks marching on us. Scouts estimate another hour, maybe less, until they're on us."

    Salthar found it strange that any Stormcloaks were able to move unchallenged throughout Whiterun hold. "How large of a force?"

    "A few dozen infantry, plus a dozen riders."

    "Cavalry? Unusual for Stormcloaks." Salthar said, then came to a decision. "We might as well meet them in battle. Having them harass us on the way to Markarth could be problematic. Have a hundred of our forces remain with us. The rest are to continue on to join Lucius' army."

    XXX
    A little over an hour later, the force the scouts had spotted arrived. The Stormcloak infantry marched forwards, flanked by the smaller group of mounted men. Focusing on them, Salthar came to a startling discovery. "Those aren't Stormcloak riders. They're mounted Imperial auxiliaries."

    From his position at Salthars side at the rear of their force, Vengar scowled. "Imperials? That means-"

    "Yes. They've finally come to the inevitable conclusion. Impressive."

    "Impressive? You're not worried?"

    In response, Salthar pointed to the approaching enemy. The riders had split away from their infantry companions, and were hanging back. The infantry, on the other hand, were making a straight line for the Coven troops."Their troops aren't coordinated. They'd be more efficient if their cavalry struck our flanks, before the infantry reaches us."

    "Hmmm." Vengar replied, an eager light coming to his eyes. "Swords and archers to the front line?"

    "And spears to our flanks."

    "Just like the good old days."

    The Stormcloaks weren't blind. When the first volley of arrows arced towards them, those with shields lifted them, allowing the black fletched darts to strike them. However, the archers adjusted their aim slightly, and the second volley arced over the first rank, striking those that had no shields, or weren't paying enough attention. A dozen or so men crumpled, and the auxiliaries finally decided to advance. As per standard protocol for lightly armoured cavalry, they surged towards the flanks of the group. And were met by a thicket of spears.

    A short time later, the battle was over. The Imperials had fled after their disastrous flank charge. The Stormcloaks, predictably, had fought to the last man. Vengar rode towards him, axes coated with blood. Salthar cocked an eyebrow at him. "I don't suppose you left any survivors?"

    The other vampire grinned at him. "Actually, there is one. I thought you might want to have a word."

    A moment later, a pair of wights, magically enhanced, heavily armoured, skeletal warriors, approached. Between them, they dragged a battered, brown armoured human male. One side of his head was caked in dried blood, though there was still defiance in his eyes.

    "Well. You certainly aren't a Stormcloak. And your armour is like nothing I've seen Imperials wear before. Dawnguard, I presume?" Salthar deduced. He motioned for the wights to drag the man to his feet. Though he seemed a little unsteady, he still managed to jut his chin out, and held his tongue. Salthar smiled coldly. "Allow me to say what an absolute pleasure it is to make your acquaintance. I, am Salthar Vivarian. Lord of the Bloodlet throne Coven. What might your name be?"

    The man glared and spat at him. "You're finished, vampire." He rasped. "More of us are coming. We're going to destroy you."

    Salthars' smile faded. "I highly doubt that, my friend." He glanced over the Dawnguards' shoulder, and one of the wights rammed its ancient blade through the vampire hunters chest. The altmer sorcerer turned his back on the dying man, gesturing for Vengar to follow. He re-mounted his horse, and with a single command, had the host of the dead moving towards the Reach once more.

    "The Dawnguard are in on this? I thought Kaast was supposed to be dealing with them." Vengar said from his side.

    "I'm certain he's doing his best. However, I doubt he'll be able to keep them from attempting to interfere. I have little doubt they've organized this 'alliance' between the Stormcloaks and Imperials." He shrugged. "Or, that our former prisoners have joined them."

    "And you think they're the ones who brought us to the Imperial and Stormcloaks attention?"

    "No. They would have recognized us as a threat sooner or later. I'd have preferred to take Markarth before they did." Salthar sighed. "Now, it's become a race to take the city of stone, before the allies catch up to us. Or general Tullius sends reinforcements from Solitude."

    "We could have Kharkov launch an attack on Solitude, keep the soldiers there busy." Vengar suggested.

    "No. Kharkov is occupied with legion troops in the swamps near Morthal. Besides, I'll need his troops ready to join us for the siege of Solitude."

    "So it's going to be a bloody fight all the way to Markarth. Good." Vengar said, and Salthar had no doubt that his brother meant it. "Will we wait for Loeraiths' troops to join us?"

    "We haven't the time, I'm afraid. I want to oversee the campaign in the Reach personally, and I'd rather do it before the allied forces in the Reach are reinforced.Besides, I doubt this group is the only one nearby." With that, he made his way to the head of the undead force, Vengar at his side.

    4E 201, 13th of Sun's Dusk
    Whiterun hold, allied camp

    "Most of our forward parties have returned, generals." The Imperial scout reported. Valdmir glanced to his fellow general, Altus Kathalon. Though he wasn't sure how he felt about the man personally, he had to admit, the Imperial was nothing but professional in his dealings with the Dawnguard and Stormcloaks.

    "Most of them? Who're we missing?" Kathalon demanded.

    "Two parties never returned, sir. Commander Yngars, and Decanus Tyrus."

    Valdmir felt his heart sink. Decanus' Tyrus' party had been sent after Yngars men after they'd failed to report back. It was a safe bet both groups had been ambushed by the vampires. "No sign of them?"

    "Scout Threnial has been dispatched to look for them. He should be back sometime today."

    "Unless the vampires caught him as well." Kathalon muttered darkly. He turned back to look at a map of Skyrim, with small flags, black representing known vampire positions, red and blue, the allies. He picked up a couple of flags near the Whiterun-Reach border and moved them off the map.

    "I'm sorry about your men." Valdmir said.

    "I'm sorry about yours as well. But we can't let that distract us. And we know the vampires are headed to the Reach. Markarth."

    "Aye." He pointed to the map. "Probably to reinforce their friends."

    "And we can assume they know we're working together. They need to take Markarth before we catch them." The Imperial said. "Once Threnial is back, we should move out."

    "Agreed." This was from a new voice, and Valdmir turned to see the Dawnguard leader, Isran, entering the command tent. The man had only recently rejoined the allied army, after heading back to Ivarstead to meet a group of Dawnguard coming from their fort in the Rift. "The vampires will not wait for us. And last I heard, the Imperials and Markarth guard have been holding them near the border."

    "And Stormcloaks as well." Valdmir added.

    "Yes. Stormcloaks as well." Isran admitted, nodding an apology. "But that will not last if the vampires are reinforced."

    Shouts from the sentries drew the attention of the three commanders. "Sounds like your scout is back." Valdmir said. A few moments later, the tent flap was drawn back, and a legionnaire entered, followed by a scarred Imperial in a scouts gear.

    "Scout Threnial for you, generals." The soldier announced.

    "Good, you're here. Make your report, scout." Kathalon ordered.

    "Those two parties are dead, sir. One looks like they engaged the vampires head on. The other, looks like they attempted to ambush them, but were charged from the rear. Possible reinforcements, from Falkreath."

    Valdmir noticed the scouts gaze move to Isran. The Dawnguard leader was staring, hand edging towards haft of the large hammer on his back. "Vampire." He snarled.

    Before any of them could act, the scout moved. He struck the soldier behind him in the throat with his elbow, and kicked the table into Israns' path. Then the vampire turned and ran from the tent. Valdmir drew one of the axes from his belt, and pursued. The man was heading for a horse, probably the one he'd ridden to the camp. Pointing with his weapon, Valdmir bellowed "vampire! Stop him!"

    The nearest sentry, a Stormcloak, grabbed the horses reins, and received a boot to the face. Before any of the others could shoot him, the mounted former scout rode for his life. Isran and Kathalon stormed out of the tent, weapons out. Valdmir shook his head. "He's gone."

    "Prepare your men to move out." Kathalon ordered. "I'm going to send a message to general Tullius, see if he can muster enough troops to reinforce us." He turned to Isran. "How did you know what he was?"

    The Dawnguard leader snorted. "These vampires might not look like those the Dawnguard are used to, but I can still tell one apart from a mortal man. The eyes always give it away."

    "What are the odds of us coming across any more infiltrators?" Valdmir asked.

    "Now that the Dawnguard are mixing with your forces? Not very likely. But I'm sure they've snuck spies into most of the cities around here. No one looks for a lone spy in a big city." Isran answered.
    "Which makes it even more important we bring this war to an end."
     
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  17. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 18th of Sun's Dusk
    The Reach
    "This is the place?" Vengar asked, nodding towards the cave entrance. The army had arrived in the Reach several days ago, and on Salthars orders, they'd started assaulting the allied forces all over the hold. For the most part, they'd won. But the Forsworn and guardsmen were putting up one hell of a fight. He respected them for that. He was still going to cut them down, of course. He knew their was no way the assembled mortals could win the war of attrition. Only a few caves and hastily fortified ruins still stood.

    On the other hand, scouts reported that the allied army was close on their heels. All the troops in the Reach needed to do, was hold out until relief arrived. The cave Vengar, four of the Blackguard, and a dozen soldiers, accompanied by several dozen skeletal and zombie troops, was one such holdout.
    "Yes,sir. Mostly Forsworn, with a few guardsmen. Last report indicates they're low on supplies."

    "Hmmm." He acknowledged the soldiers words. "That means they'll be desperate. Desperate men are the most dangerous. Keep your wits about you." He slipped into the cave mouth, following by the vampires under his command. They moved like ghosts, keeping to the shadows, while in the narrow entrance corridor of the cave. The group entered into a larger chamber, obviously used by the Forsworn as their base. He motioned the Blackguard to follow him, while the other soldiers silently spread throughout the cave.

    The few Forsworn closest to the entrance could obviously sense something was wrong. They'd ceased their conversations, and were stringing bows or drawing weapons. Then the undead warriors surged forwards, skeletons brandishing their weapons, zombies simply shambling forwards, eyes fixed hungrily on the enemy.

    The defenders cried out, and fired their arrows while others emerged from deeper in the cave. Vengar waited until the two sides had fully engaged each other before leaving the concealing darkness. A pair of guardsmen, rushing to support their recent allies, were his first victims. As they fell, the Blackguard launched attacks of their own, stabbing and slashing with their swordstaves, cutting through the lightly armoured Forsworn with ease. The vampiric soldiers charged as well, shoulder to shoulder, and smashed into the defenders flank.

    Vengar leapt forwards, eager to get into the thick of the melee. He shouldered between a pair of zombies, contemptuously smacking away a Forsworn warriors overhead chop. The vampires other axe swept low, crunching into the warriors knee. The man screamed, his balance and concentration gone. An instant later, his pain, too, was ended. The undead around the Altmer surged forwards, driven by his will, and lust for blood. Another of the defenders fell under his axes, blood splashing against his armour.

    The defenders were on the verge of collapse, when a hornblast rang out from behind them. A Forsworn warrior, taller, with a large, horned helmet, made of the same hide and bone as most of his kind, was visible. A pair of large axes were clenched in his meaty fists. His chest was bare, revealing a bloodless hole, partially plugged by something Vengar didn't recognize. The horn blower stood at his side, the defenders rallying around him.

    The Blackguard formed up around him, cutting down any Forsworn foolish enough to approach. Vengar made eye contact with the enemy leader, and saw the other mans eyes narrow, and he spoke to the soldiers around him. "The big one is mine." The vampire said. "Kill the others, and don't let anyone else interfere." The guard leader, a dark elf woman, nodded and passed his orders on to the other three. With that, he lead them forwards, carving their way through the defenders.

    The Forsworn champion was neither blind nor stupid. He approached Vengar, eyeing the Blackguard as they formed a loose circle around the pair. The vampire flashed his fangs, and took a step closer. The champion didn't flinch, eyes, focused on his opponents posture. Vengar swung his left hand axe in at the Forsworns hip, his other weapon going up high. The man stepped backwards, parrying the high swing, and dodging the low.

    The fight continued in that manner for a time. Vengar, in accordance with his style, on the offensive. The Forsworn champion was good. If Vengar had been mortal, the man might have had a chance. As it was, the altmer warrior wasn't mortal. The man died within three minutes. By that time, the main battle was over, the defenders corpses scattered over the cavern floor. "Come on. There'll be more caves like this one. Lord Vivarian wants this area cleared out by nightfall."


    4E 201, 24th of Sun's Dusk
    The Reach, Coven main camp
    "My lord, we've just received news. The enemies forward defensive emplacements are crumbling. Our forces are moving forwards." This report came from Lucius. The Imperials expression was carefully neutral, though Salthar suspected he was still rather irritated that Salthars forces had taken charge of the situation in the Reach. Upon his arrival several days ago, the altmer sorcerer had dispatched both Varnus Kohl and Nirana Loeraith to the northern holds, with orders to harass the enemy's supply lines.

    Vengar had lead the forces ousting the Forsworn himself, and Karsh, along with his Night Talons, had slipped beyond the enemy lines to disrupt and demoralize the defenders. Though the allied forces were still putting up a determined resistance, Salthar didn't think it would last much longer. Not with most of the Covens' forces in the Reach. Duros Kaast had recently returned from the Rift, and was leading forces against the enemy near Karthwasten. Kharkov, of course, remained in Hjaalmarch, ambushing Imperial reinforcements that attempted to retake or travel through the hold.

    "Very good. What news of the allied forces to our rear?" He asked.

    "They still advance, though our troops have slowed them with ambushes near the border. We've managed to capture or drive off their scouts, as well."

    "I see. And Solitude? Has there been any troop movement from that direction?"

    "Some. The Imperials are definitely massing troops on the borders, but they've made no move to reinforce Markarth." Lucius reported. "Darkstone reports Tullius is still sending parties to engage his forces near Morthal."

    Salthar stepped to the edge of the rocky outcropping overlooking the Covens camp.The vampires had set up their main encampment in one of the rarer, flat areas of the Reach. The camp was ringed with foothills, with a rocky cliff overlooking the immediate area. The command tents were set up above the main camp, overlooking it.Dark armoured soldiers milled about, sharpening weapons, or drilling. A small distance away, the camps of the mercenary companies, the Icehammers and the Mournfangs, were set up. "And the mercenaries? Have you had any problems working with them?"

    The Imperial vampire shook his head. "So long as we keep paying them, they do as we say. Though I've received reports of several conflicts between the two groups."

    "Anything serious?"

    "Minor squabbles. It's never escalated to a full out battle, though if they don't see action against the enemy soon, that may change."

    Salthar inclined his head, "I see. Send a couple companies out to engage the Stormcloaks based in the Reach. That should give them something to do." Turning his back on the view of the camp, he headed back to his own command tent. "Come. We have the siege of Markarth to discuss."


    4E 201, 25th of Sun's Dusk
    The Reach-Whiterun hold border, allied camp


    Derek scowled at the man. His uniform was torn, and blood trickled from a gash on his upper arm. "What in Oblivion happened to your party, soldier?" The mans group had been sent to scout out the Coven forces. From the looks of his armour, and the absence of his companions, they'd charged straight into the vampires.

    "Ambush." The man reported, weariness evident in his voice. "Same as the other areas. I was the only one to escape."

    Derek sighed and nodded. That didn't come as much of a surprise. The vampires had set up ambushes on most, if not all the ways into the Reach. Most scout parties who went out, never returned. Which meant, they knew little, if anything, about the strength of the enemy force. "Okay. Get some food, and get that wound looked at." Technically, he didn't have an officers authority, but because of his, and his fellow escapees' imprisonment at the Bloodlet Throne, many of the Imperial and Stormcloak soldiers saw them as experts on the Coven.

    Deciding to report the failed scouting attempt, he headed towards the command tent. The guards outside acknowledged him with nods, and Derek headed inside. Isran was inside, along with the Stormcloak and Imperial generals. The leader of the Dawnguard only needed a glimpse of Dereks features, before he sighed and waved him forwards. "Another failed mission, then."

    "Yes, sir. It looks like we'll have to go after the vampires blind." Both the Imperial and the Nord scowled. Isran, however, merely looked thoughtful.

    "Maybe not. " He nodded over Dereks shoulder, and the tent flap was swept aside, allowing Ulfjar inside. The dark haired Nord shot Derek a nervous look, before stepping forwards.

    "You sent for me, sir?"

    Watching the man that had nearly gotten him recaptured the day of his escape, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of suspicion. The man claimed to have switched sides, but he still had his doubts. "Yes. I've found a use for you. You said yourself the vampires sent you to us as a spy." A rare smile tugged at the Dawnguards' lips. "So that's what you'll be."

    Ulfjar frowned. "What?"

    "Surrender to the vampires. Feed them false information. And find out what you can about their troop strength."

    The dark haired Nord swallowed, but a sudden determination shown in his eyes. "I understand. I'll leave now."

    Isran nodded, turning his attention back to the map of Skyrim. "You're dismissed as well, Starsong." He muttered. Derek saluted, and followed Isran.

    "Ulfjar." The other man stopped and turned. "You know the risks involved. If you go, there's a fair chance you won't return."

    The bearded man stared at his boots for a moment, then he met Dereks gaze. "I know. I also know that Vivarian won't stop here. Surviving doesn't matter, if I can help stop him." He hesitated. "For what it's worth...I'm sorry. For betraying you. And the others. If I don't come back, I thought you should know." Then he turned and headed towards the mountains of the Reach.

    4E 201, 26th of Sun's Dusk
    The Reach, Coven main camp

    Salthar stared down at the map of the Reach. Duros, Lucius and Vengar stood around the table, discussing the campaign. The forward allied line of defence had finally crumbled. The allies behind them were advancing only hesitantly. Blinded by the Covens ambushes, they had no way of knowing how strong the Covens forces were. Those forces in the Reach had been bloodied, and were falling back to Markarth. Despite the recent victories, the city of stone was still in the hands of the enemy.
    As the discussion on how to take the rest of the Reach from the allies continued, one of the Blackguard stepped inside. "My lord. Our forces captured a Dawnguard scout. He claims to have information for you."

    Salthar was aware of the others watching him. As far as he knew, he hadn't sent any spies into the allied camp. At least, not since the Dawnguard had arrived and recognized Marcus for what he was. "I see." He turned his attention to the others. "Leave us." As they obeyed, he added, "except for you, Duros."

    The redguard sorcerer paused, sending a confused look his way. "My lord?"

    "Remain in the shadows. I have a suspicion as to who this 'spy' might be." Kaast nodded, and stepped away from the entrance to the tent, his flesh darkening as he summoned the shadowy magics, fading from sight. Salthar stepped back to the map, and motioned for his guard to bring the man in.

    He was not waiting long. A pair of guardsmen brought in a dark haired, burly, bearded Nord. The man wore the armour that marked him as one of the Dawnguard. "Ulfjar, wasn't it?" Salthar inquired, his tone pleasant, conversational. "I hope this information you have is worth leaving your assignment in the Rift."

    "Important enough, my lord." The man said, a hint of defiance in his tone. "You must abandon this campaign."

    That, Salthar was not expecting. He chuckled, "must I?"

    "If you don't, the allied troops will trap you here. Fort Dawngaurd would be easy pickings, with most of the Dawnguard here."

    "Indeed." The mans insistence that the Coven leave the Reach was suspicious, to say the least.
    "And you believe I'm not expecting such a trap?"

    "I was released on the condition that I tell you about-"

    "You were released, to track your escaped friends. And infiltrate the Dawnguard, as per Kaasts' orders.Not, to abandon your post to tell me things I already knew." He took a moment to glare at the mortal. Though Salthar couldn't place it, there was something different about the man. The cowardly, sniveling prisoner was gone, replaced by a resolute, quietly defiant warrior. The change was interesting, but at the same time, troubling. The vampire lord somewhat doubted Uljar had been filled with loyalty to the Covens cause.

    Whatever the reason, it was unlikely the nord was going to confess it to Salthar. "I will take your...recommendation into consideration. I'll summon you when I have further use for you."

    A muscle in the mans jaw twitched. "I was thinking I'd return-"

    "To the allied army? Fort Dawnguard? No, I think not. Remain in the camp."

    Ulfjar bowed, and turned on his heel. Salthar waited until he was sure the human had departed, and wasn't attempting to eavesdrop. "Well?" Duros stepped forwards, the shadows around him coalescing to reform the redguard vampires body.

    "He lies. I'm not sure about what, specifically, but he's attempting to deceive you about something."
    Salthar sighed. "I believe I do. Have some vampires assigned to follow him. If he attempts to leave the camp, have him brought to me."

    Kaast inclined his head. "As you wish, my lord."
     
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  18. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 201, 3rd of Evening Star
    The Reach-Whiterun hold border,allied camp

    On the afternoon of the third of Evening Star, winter finally came to the Reach. Snow blew nearly horizontal, from dark grey, almost black storm clouds. The snow swept through the allied camp, dampening spirits, and the healers were busy treating cases of frostbite.

    Valdmir tugged his cloak close to his body as he made his way through the rows of snow covered tents. Sentries, Imperial, Dawnguard, and Stormcloak alike, saluted him as he did so, despite their rather displeased expressions. No one was happy about the cold. And the lack of action wasn't doing much for morale, either.

    Valdmir himself was on his way to the command tent, a scrap of parchment clenched in his hand. The parchment contained news from Galmar Stone-fist. True to his word, he'd assembled a fresh army of Stormcloaks, and was headed to the Reach, to join with the rest of the allies. Time was running out for the allies to strike. None knew better than the Nords how harsh Skyrims winters could be.

    And how much damage they could cause armies. Supply lines were cut off, passes were blocked, and sickness and cold reaped a toll in bodies. The vampires wouldn't even need to fight them. The winter would take care of them if the army didn't move soon.
    Retreat was out of the question.

    The vampires would, if they were smart, seize the opportunity to take Markarth. The cities supplies would run out faster in the event of a winter siege. And the allies would be in no position to help while the vampires sat outside the walls, starving the defenders out. 'I just hope we can move out before another storm moves in.'

    The Reach was bare even in the summer months, with only a few villages running farms. And many of those farms had already suffered at the hands of the vampires.

    The command tent came into sight, the guards standing stiffly outside the tent flap. They saluted, and one said "general Kathalon and leader Isran are waiting inside, sir." The nord general acknowledged this, and stepped into the tent. A pair of small braziers had been set up, making the interior of the tent slightly warmer than outside. Kathalon and Isran watched him expectantly. Valdmir had sent messengers to both as soon as Galmars' man had handed him the report.

    "What is it, general?" Kathalon asked, crossing his arms, "your messenger said you had important news."

    "Yes. Galmar Stone-fist is on the march. He should be here by next week, the latest."

    "A week?" Kathalon moved to the table in the center of the room, and stared down at the map upon it, his expression thoughtful.

    "Where is he, exactly?"

    "Halfway across Whiterun hold." Valdmir handed the other general the report.

    Kathalon nodded, and picked a blue flag from the side of the map, placing it squarely in the middle of Whiterun hold. "Good. We need to move out soon anyways. This weather will cripple us faster than the vampires could." He turned his attention to Isran.

    "Has your spy reported back yet?"

    Isran, looking grim, shook his head. "Not yet. It could be he hasn't had a chance to sneak out of their camp. Or he's been captured."

    " Possible. I'd like to have as much information as possible before marching to meet the vampires...but we can't depend on him. He has until Stone-fists' army arrives. Then we end this war, once and for all."

    4E 201, 5th of Evening Star
    The Reach, Coven main camp

    It had been two days since the years first major snowfall. And, so far, the weather showed no sign of relenting. Snow covered most of the Reach, blocking up many of the smaller mountain passes. For the Coven, this was good news. The vampires were not affected by the bitter cold, or lack of supplies.

    For their mortal foes, however, the recent weather was a nightmare. Salthar, once again in the camps command tent, was surrounded by his officers, including Lucius and Vengar. "This weather favours us." Vengar was saying, "we should strike now, while they're disoriented by the cold and snow."
    The leader of the Icehammers, Lormar Hammerhand, spoke up. "The enemy aren't the only ones affected by the cold. My medics report quite a few cases of frostbite. And our supplies won't last forever."

    "The situation is the same with my warriors, my lords." Trinic Almeran, the leader of the other mercenary group under the Covens command, the Mournfangs, added.

    Vengar scowled. "Then we attack. Today." Both mercenary leaders, and the various vampire captains in the tent murmured their agreement.

    "No." Salthar said simply. "I will not give the enemy near Markarth the chance to recover and strike our rear." He turned his attention to Lucius. "What is the status of the Reachs' overall defences?"

    "Most have retreated to Markarth itself. However, our scouts report a small contingent has holed up at Karthwasten, and so far, has resisted all attempts to remove them." The Imperial vampire pointed to the map. "There's more. Scouts have also reported that a large force of Imperials entering the Reach from the direction of Solitude."

    "Tullius, probably." Vengar guessed. "This Kathalon couldn't have slipped troops past us, not even if they traveled along the Karth."

    Before Salthar could reply, the flap to the command tent opened, and a distinctive redguard vampire stepped inside. Duros Kaast looked positively triumphant. Salthar cocked an eybrow at the vampire, "I trust you have something to report, regarding our nord friend?"

    "The sentries caught him trying to slip out of camp this morning. He attempted to run when questioned. As you ordered, I've had him brought here. He's just outside."

    "Leave us. Lucius, Vengar, stay."

    The officers and Kaast filed out of the tent, and a moment later , a pair of guards marched Ulfjar inside. The nords face was bruised, though there was still a defiant glint in his eyes. "Ulfjar. I must say, I'm disappointed by your betrayal, though unsurprised."

    "Shove it. If you're going to kill me, just do it."

    Salthar drew his sword. "Any last words?"

    "You've lost. We're going to stop you."

    "You know, that's the second time I've heard that." Salthar said conversationally, and swung his weapon. The nord spy collapsed, and the altmer vampire wiped his blade clean with a cloth, tossing it onto the dead mans chest. "Take him away."

    As the guards dragged Ulfjar from the tent, he turned back to the two remaining vampires. "I intend to send Duros to Karthwasten as soon as we've finished here. I don't want Tullius reinforcing the village."

    Lucius inclined his head, but Vengar stepped forwards. "I can do that" he objected.

    "I'm aware, but I need you here." Salthar explained, glancing at the Imperial, "both of you."

    His brother must have sensed something in his tone of voice, because his next protest died on his lips. Both vampires regarded him intently. "In the event that I fall in battle, I am going to pass on my final wishes to the both of you here and now." Once again, his brother made to protest, but he forestalled him with an upraised hand. "Don't deny it. My death is a very real possibility."

    The heavily armoured vampire scowled and crossed his arms.
    "Lucius. Should the upcoming battle take a turn for the worse, I want you to take command of the Coven in my stead. " His announcement was met with stunned silence. The imperial glanced at Vengar, before take a step forwards.

    "You honour me, my lord, of course. But I am merely a former mercenary. Are you certain I'm the right man for the task?"

    "You're much too modest, my friend. You may be a former mercenary, but you're also the son of an Imperial lord. More importantly, you inspire others to follow you. "

    "And myself?" Vengar said quietly. There was a certain disappointment in his brothers eyes. "Is there a reason I am not worthy of the title of leader?"

    Salthar regarded his brother. The two of them had been inseparable, even before they'd fought together in the Dominion army. But Vengar had always been Salthars' subordinate. Even when he'd been turned to vampirism, he'd seemed content to follow orders. Those times he had been chosen to lead, he'd done very well. However, he'd also shown a certain recklessness in battle,throwing himself into the thick of the fighting. A leader who constantly took such risks would not stay alive for long.

    "It's not a question of worthiness." He said softly. His hand dipped into one of his robe pockets, and pulled out a small scroll, sealed with red wax. "I have another purpose in mind for you, my brother." He handed the rolled parchment to Vengar. "If I should fall, open this scroll. Keep it safe." His brother accepted it and stepped back, storing it in one of his belt pouches.

    Wishing to change the subject, he gestured the pair towards the map of the Reach. "Now. Let us choose our battlefield."

    Vengar pointed at a location on the map, labelled as Karthspire. "There's some flat terrain here. Good enough for an infantry line, anyways. Might be risky, for cavalry, though."

    "Agreed. Prepare the army to move. And send word to Kharkov. His army shall strike the flank of the enemy." Lucius and Vengar departed to carry out his orders.

    Salthar remained for a moment, staring at the map, Ulfjars last words echoing in his ears. Shouted orders drifted to him on the wind, and the vampire lord left the tent.

    He walked through the snow to the edge of the overlook, and saw his forces were already on the move. The dark armour of the vampires stood out in sharp contrast to the white covered stones of the Reach, as they marched towards Karthspire. "So it begins." He murmured.

    4E 201, 9th of Evening Star
    The Reach-Whiterun hold border, allied camp
    "General Iceclaw, sir?" The voice roused Valdmir from a restless sleep, and he propped himself up on his cot. An Imperial soldiers head was poking inside the tent, and it was obvious he was the one who'd spoken. "General Kathalon requests your presence, sir."
    Then he was gone, off to deliver the same message to Isran, if the leader of the Dawnguard wasn't already at the command tent. The nord left his cot and dressed in his tunic and armour, before fastening his belt and axes on.

    He left the tent and started making his way along the makeshift road to the command tent located at the center of the tent. On the way, Magrin fell in beside him. "Have you heard yet?" The veteran warrior asked.

    Valdmir shot him a look. "Heard what?"

    "The vampires are on the move. Heading away from us."

    "They're beginning the siege of Markarth? Already?" The mountain passes hadn't yet been snowed shut. The allies could still catch up to them, if they hurried. Unfortunately, a messenger from Galmars' army had arrived, the night before, reporting that a vicious winter storm had delayed their progress.

    " That I don't know."

    Valdmir nodded towards the command tent, that had come into view. "I suppose I'm about to find out." Magrin waved farewell, and headed off towards the mess hall. The suns first rays lanced through a spot of clouds, though it was quickly covered by additional clouds. It hadn't started to snow, yet, but the cold was still intense. He entered the tent, and found that Isran was indeed already there.

    "Good, you're here." Kathalon didn't waste anytime, instead moving to the map. "The dead are moving. Following the Karth."

    "I heard." Valdmir replied, approaching the map. "What are we doing about it?"

    "That's why I had the pair of you summoned. General Tullius reports his troops are in position. They can intercept the vampires, stop them from laying siege to Markarth if they need to. Hopefully, it won't come to that. If we march now, we can catch them here. Karthspire."

    The nord general frowned. "If we march now, we'll do so without Galmars' reinforcements."

    "And if we don't march now, there's a good chance we lose general Tullius' entire army." Kathalon shot back. "Besides, there's always the chance Stone-fist' can catch up to us."

    Valdmir was opening his mouth to object when Isran interrupted.
    "Generals. Arguing about this only gives the enemy time to get away from us. If there's a chance we can catch them and end this threat, we must take it."

    The leader of the Dawnguard was right. Destruction of the vampires was the sole purpose of the alliance, after all. "I'll assemble my men." Valdmir said, nodding toKathalon. "General."

    "General." Kathalon responded, gesturing for the nord to precede him out of the tent. Valdmir marched outside, to issue his orders and marshal his forces into marching formation. It was long past time they ended the threat of the undead.

    4E 203, 10th of Evening Star
    The Reach, Karthspire
    'So we come to it at last.' Altus Kathalon thought grimly. They'd marched all day, and through the night to reach the rocky fields by the Karth river. Messengers reported that Galmar Stone-fists' army was mere hours behind the main force. The vampires had taken a position with their backs to the Karth river. General Tullius' army reported that his army was moving to prevent the dead fleeing to Markarth.

    A glance at the sky revealed that the day would be the same as it had been for most of the week, so far. Grey and cold, though snow hadn't fallen yet. He sat at the head of the army, the stormcloak, general Iceclaw, on his left, and the leader of the Dawngaurd, Isran, on his right. All three were mounted, including a pair of banner bearers, who waited to either side of the three allied leaders.

    "Well, they definitely know we're here." Isran murmured. The vampires had already formed ranks, thousands of skeletal and zombie soldiers forming their front lines. That wasn't a surprise. Altus hadn't been planning to sneak up on the dead. He urged his mount forwards. "Come. We've to deliver terms."

    The three of them had argued long and hard about whether or not to deliver terms to the vampire leaders of the enemy army. Isran had been in favour of simply attacking and wiping them all out. Valdmir had been concerned Altus would attempt to gain something that benefited the Empire. However, in the end, Altus had prevailed.

    He cared very little about the vampires among the enemy. They'd made their choice to stand against them. And he cared not at all for the skeletons, zombies, and other undead creatures that made up the bulk of the army. They were just unfeeling puppets, after all. But there were also several thousand mercenaries among the enemy.

    Despite his uncompromising reputation, Altus never enjoyed killing, or sending men to their deaths. If he could convince only a few hundred of the mercenaries that changing sides was in their best interest, it would keep more imperial soldiers alive. The five of them rode forwards, trusting that Vivarian wouldn't simply order his archers to kill them as soon as they came into range.

    When he judged they were within range that the vampires could hear him, the group came to a stop. "We are here to deliver our terms of your surrender!" Altus shouted. " The vampire, Salthar Vivarian, is to surrender to face trial and judgement at Solitude! His army is to be disbanded, never to take up arms against Cyrodiil or Skyrim again! To the mercenaries among the enemy, we offer you clemency. Lay down your weapons and quit the field immediately, and no sanctions will be leveled against you!"

    The response, was laughter. Emerging from hundreds of throats, and colder than the wind that carried it to the groups ears. Isran shook his head, "I told you they'd never agree."

    Altus shrugged. "I had to try. Back to our lines."

    The five of them rode back to the allied force, and the undead began to advance, their skeletal archers nocking arrows. The black darts further darkened the sky, arcing down towards the mass of Stormcloak, Imperial and Dawnguard troops. Officers cried out in unison, and shields were hefted.

    The thud of arrows striking shields mixed the screams of soldiers who were unfortunate enough to be hit. Once the volley stopped, the allied archers fired in turn, sending their own projectiles against the dead.

    Those arrows that struck the skeletal warriors, caused them to stagger, though few fell. More of the putrid zombies, and many ghouls fell. Altus signaled, and commands were bellowed. The infantry began to advance, preparing to meet the approaching enemy.

    The vampiric sorcerers were the first to strike with their spells. Black, choking mists brought down knots of soldiers, and dark bolts punched fist sized holes through armour and flesh alike. The allied battlemages struck back with a thunderous cacophony of lightning bolts and fire balls. Dozens of the undead fell, opening large holes in the enemy lines. More of the dead stepped over their fallen brothers, and continued to advance.

    The allied soldiers began to move faster, trotting towards the enemy, building momentum. Then, with a bellow from thousands of throats, they charged at the line of the dead. In response, the undead surged forwards, eager to come to grips with the enemy. With a crash of armour and shields against bones and rusted weapons, the two sides met.

    Both sides hacked and slashed at one another, neither managing to gain ground against the other. Horn blasts announced the arrival of general Tullius army. "Right on time." Altus murmured, allowing himself a moment of pride at the punctuality of the Imperial forces. In response, the vampires among the enemy shifted their position, to face the approaching soldiers. Screams rang out from that side of the field as the elite of the undead showed what they were capable of.

    If they managed to tear out the heart of Tullius army, the undead army would be able to flee farther into the Reach. Sitting among his fellow leaders, and the allied reserves, he watched the battle progress. Despite being assaulted on both fronts, Vivarian was managing to hold both the allied force, and Tullius' men at bay. And, despite the fact the allies had two armies on the field, compared to the vampires one, the sheer amount of lesser undead made up for it.

    "This isn't working." Isran growled from his side. "If the vampires break free-"

    "I'm aware." Altus interrupted him. He glanced at Valdmir, who'd been silent for most of engagement. "How long to Stone-fists' arrival?"

    The Stormcloak general shook his head. "Not soon enough. And the last report I received was that they'd noted another force of vampires approaching."

    Altus hissed a curse. "We need to cut off the head."

    The other two regarded him with surprise. "You mean fight our way through that?" Isran said, though he seemed more eager than anxious.

    "Vivarian's probably at the heart of that group near the river." He pointed towards the knot of vampires that hadn't made any move to engage them.

    "Aye." Valdmir agreed reluctantly. He turned to his second, a grizzled veteran. "Magrin, assemble some men. We're going to push through the enemy line." The Stormcloak saluted and started assembling a group.

    Turning to his own second, he said "Legate Hadrian. Assemble our cavalry. We're charging right through them. Ilnius saluted, and began passing on the orders. Within moments, a force was ready to ride. "With me!" Altus shouted. "We end this now!"

    The group charged across the rocky field, lowering spears and hefting axes and swords as they approached a weakened spot in the undead line. The horsemen smashed into the zombies and skeletons, cutting down dozens of the beasts. Altus slashed at a zombie that grabbed at his leg, taking its' head clean off. Then they were through the enemy line. He took a moment to orient himself and assess his forces. A dozen men were down, and several more wounded. The fighting behind him still waged as furiously as ever.

    Ahead, inside a ring of black armoured, robed soldiers, bearing long half spear-half sword weapons, stood Salthar Vivarian. Altus had seen a sketch of the altmer officer after the end of the great war. Vampirism hadn't changed him much. He locked eyes with Altus, and a smile came to his lips as he drew his sword. With a shout, the Imperial general urged his horse forwards. Ilnius Hadrian rode at his side, the rest of the soldiers alongside them.

    The vampire leaders' guard moved, suddenly, their long swordstaves cutting through the cavalry, bringing down horses and their riders. An instant later, a blur of motion, and Ilnius' horse was down, an axe embedded in its skull. The legate went flying, crashing into the hard ground. Altus followed the weapons trajectory back to an altmer vampire in dark, spiked armour, another axe in his hand. He was stalking towards Ilnius, but Altus had no time to rush to his friends aid.

    He brought his sword up, intending to cut down Vivarian in one pass. But the vampire had no intention of making his demise simple.

    Altus' horse suddenly screamed and came to a halt, refusing to get any closer to the generals target. Knowing how dangerous it was to be a stationary target, he leapt from his horses back, and advanced on foot. Altus was no master duellist, but he'd spent a lot of time practicing his swordsmanship. Besides, if he didn't kill the fiend, one of his companions surely would. The remaining cavalry who weren't engaged in battle with Vivarians guards, dismounted and charged the vampire lord.

    They passed Altus battle cries on their lips and weapons ready. Then they fell, screaming, as black flames burst from their flesh, consuming them.

    Determined not to let such a fate befall him, he rushed forwards, hewing towards the elfs torso. It met against the blade of Salthars' own weapon. The pair of them exchanged blows, their guards killing and being killed around them. But both were oblivious to it. A single distraction would be fatal, to either of them.

    Despite the vampires greater speed, he was still on the defensive. Altus stayed on the offensive, letting the few less accurate blows slip through his guard to clash against his heavy armour. But he knew the fight had stalled. If the vampire held out long enough for his guard to kill off Altus' men, it would be a small matter for them to kill the tiring general.

    Growling, the imperial slammed his blade against the vampires, forcing him towards the edge of the rocky cliff overlooking the Karth. Vivarian retreated a couple of steps, then a smile came to the elfs' lips. He disengaged and lifted his empty hand. Bolts of black lightning struck Altus in the chest, stealing his breath, scorching his flesh.

    He screamed, struggling to advance, never mind stay on his feet. His leading leg crumpled, and he landed hard, barely managing to keep himself from falling to the stone. The altmer vampire advanced, letting up on the lightning, and prepared to deliver a killing blow. Then a shout from his right, and Ilnius Hadrian entered his field of vision. A quick glance showed the heavily armoured vampire engaged by a pair of Dawnguard warriors, confusion and rage on his features. Vivarian flicked his wrist, and blood sprayed from Ilnius neck.

    The legate hadn't so much as inconvenienced the vampire. But he had bought Altus the precious seconds he needed. The general lunged, sword tip leading. The blade punched through Vivarians robes, and the flesh beneath. The vampires expression changed from triumph to surprise in and instant. His eyes traveled from Altus' face to the blad buried to the hilt in his chest.

    Altus clambered to his feet, as the vampire tore the blade free. A faint smile touched the elfs' lips. "Well done." He murmured, barely heard above the clash of combat. Then the leader of the vampire army toppled off the edge of the cliff, into the raging waters of the Karth below.

    A howl of rage and grief sounded from the heavily armoured vampire who hacked through his last surviving opponent and charged Altus, who in his weakened state, could do nothing but lift his arm in a pathetic attempt to ward off the blow.

    But Isran stepped forwards, warhammer forcing the vampire back, as more of the allied soldiers broke through the faltering undead lines, and advanced on him. Eyes blazing, the altmer warrior stepped away, his body transforming into a mass of shadows, and taking to the skies.

    The Reach, Karthspire
    Lucius, on Salthars orders, had lead most of the vampires in the army to destroy the imperial army that was attempting to trap them against the larger allied force. They were making good progress, the Imperial vampire reflected. The legionnaires hadn't been expecting a full out assault through the center of their line. Surrounded by a ring of Blackguard, Lucius watched the Imperial soldiers gradually fall back, their officers attempting to restore order, and reform units.

    The darksteel armoured vampires pushed through the Empires army, and began a reformation of their own. If they could strike again while the Imperials were in disarray, they might not need the reinforcements of wights on their way.

    Before he could give the order, shouts of despair and disbeleif reached his ears. "Lord Vivarian has fallen!" Lucius was in the middle of fighting an Imperial decanus who had gotten past his guards, while his own men engaged the black robed warriors. The sudden, unexpected announcement caught him by surprise, and he nearly let the decanus' thrusting blade slip past his parry.

    He swept his blade down, intercepting the weapon, and dispatched the human with a quick thrust of his own. As the man collapsed, the Blackguards around him finished off the Imperial unit. Their leader, a dark skinned Redguard, turned to Lucius, surprise mixing with anger on his face. "Your orders...my lord?"
    Lucius glanced around, noting that a ripple of shock was going through the ranks. Darks shapes shot skywards, abandoning the fight outright.

    Skeletons and wights, robbed of the necromantic power keeping them together as sorcerers fled, dropped into piles of bones. Now it was the Covens officers attempting to restore order, as the vampires numerical superiority evaporated.

    The line of troops facing the allied army began to collapse, forced back by greater numbers. The Imperials were rallying against Lucius' force, and a captain was rushing towards him. "Sir. Another allied force is on the way. Darkstones' army won't be able to reinforce us in time." A decision had to be made, and it had to be made soon.

    Otherwise, the allies would crush the surviving vampires, and the Coven would die here. "Order the retreat. Back to Falkreath hold." The captain nodded and passed on the orders.The Coven forces did their best to join together, moving to flank the allied force, leaving the zombies and any other surviving lesser undead to hold them. The Coven troops retreated, outpacing the allied troops.



    The Reach, Karthspire
    Kharkov glared at the skybound shadows, and the Coven infantry, retreating away from the main allied armies. "Damned cowards." He growled, taking in the situation. The allied troops below them had met up with a smaller army, and were cutting apart the zombies that had been left behind.

    For a moment, he considered ordering the charge into the mass of the enemy, killing as many as they could until they were overwhelmed. But no. Some of the Coven had survived, and even if they'd lost this battle, lord Vivarian would want them to join up with his forces, maybe draw the allies into a trap.

    One of the airborne shadows descended, reforming into the Khajiit sorceress. Her feline features, were hard to read, but Kharkov guessed it was something like shock. "Well? Report!"

    "It's lord Vivarian. Everyone this one spoke with say he- he fell in the battle. Our troops are in full retreat."

    Kharkov looked down at the Coven troops. They were retreating in good order, but the allied troops had seen Kharkovs troops, and were moving between his army and the remaining Coven troops. And there was a stormcloak army coming up behind them. Fighting here and now would only get his forces killed.

    He snarled the command. "Retreat. Into the mountains. Leave the corpse walkers. They'll only slow us down. Kill anyone that comes after us." His orders were passed on, and the army turned away from the field of slaughter, leaving their zombies behind to buy them some time.


    4E 201, 13th of Evening Star
    The Reach, Markarth

    "The vampires have retreated out of the Reach." General Iceclaw said. "Some actually fled into the mountains, but they've made no attempt to stage a counter attack."

    "Yet." General Tullius said, turning to Altus. "We'll need to up the number of troops in the region, for a while, at least."

    Altus nodded, glancing at the pair of stormcloak commanders. With the vampires defeated, the alliance was at an end. Soon, the Empire and the rebels would be back to killing one another.
    He frowned, noticing Isran looked unconvinced. "Something bothering you? Vivarian is dead, the vampires are broken."

    The dark skinned leader of the Dawnguard looked unconvinced. "I don't know. The vampires retreat was a little too organized. And we've recieved reports of attacks in the north and near the Falkreath border. The vampires may have lost this battle, but the
    war's not over."

    Iceclaw scowled. "You mean this battle was for nothing? They're just going to regroup and come back?"

    "Not nothing." Altus corrected him. "With Vivarian dead, they've lost their tactical genius. It shouldn't take much more to break them completely."

    "We received a message from jarl Siddgeir. He's willing to help oust the vampires from Falkreath hold, if we commit troops." Iceclaw added.

    "I suppose we're allies still, then. Until we've liberated those areas." Tullius said.

    "Aye. I'm guessing the Dawnguard are still with us?" Stone-fist said, and the four of them regarded Isran.

    The leader of the Dawnguard nodded. "We are. It is, after all, our purpose. But first, we should see to our dead. Their sacrifices will be honoured."

    4E 201, 13th of Evening Star
    The Karth River
    The war was over. For Vengar, anyways. After he'd failed to avenge his brother. At first, he'd hid, watching the allies wipe out the zombies, ghouls, and those vampires that had chosen to stay and fight, rather than run. Then he'd remembered the scroll his brother had handed to him, and opened it. A spell had been penned on it, and Vengar recognized it as Salthars' hand.

    Unlike Salthar, however, he was no sorcerer. Fortunately, spell scrolls like this one needed only to be read. He did so, though it took him a few tries, as he stumbled over the unfamiliar words.
    Once done, he felt a compulsion to move, specifically, to the river.

    To that end, he'd...'borrowed' a local fishermans boat, and down the river. It took him hours of rowing, when something caught his eye. A figure, propped up against the rocks on the bank, drew his attention. The compulsion vanished as he approached. The body against the rocks..."Brother." Salthar Vivarian was laying there, and as Vengar approached, his eyes opened.

    The warrior beached his stolen craft and leapt ashore. Salthars' eyes flickered open. "Hello, Vengar. Any chance we could leave this place?"

    "Of course. Lean on me." With Vengars' assistance, the sorcerer managed to get to his feet, though he stumbled and nearly fell after his first step. His brother ended up nearly carrying the weakened leader of the Coven. "We should get back to the Bloodlet throne. Lucius will be-"

    "No." Salthar interrupted. "Take us to the coast. A ship will be waiting."

    "And then where?"

    "The isles. Alinor. If the Coven is to survive, our enemies must believe I am dead. Now row. I must rest."
     
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  19. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 202, 1st of Morning Star
    Border of Falkreath hold
    Severus Valte dodged away from the stabbing blade of an Imperial legionnaire, and responded to the attack with a quick jab, that skated over the mans' gorget, and plunged into his throat. As his latest opponent fell, the vampire realized he had a moment of respite. He took the chance to look around, taking in the battlefield. The Coven had finally been caught by the leading edge of the allied vanguard. They were at the border of Falkreath hold, and the terrain was changing from the flat plains and foot hills of Whiterun hold, to the pine forests of Falkreath. Snow covered the trees and the ground in equal measure, though the snow nearest him was stained red with the blood of both friend and foe.

    The trees prevented the two forces from fighting in a traditional battle line. Instead, knots of soldiers, or individual fighters battled it out underneath the needled branches. The vampires had the slight advantage, due to their speed and strength, but the enemy had greater numbers. And most of them were veterans, no strangers to their foes abilities.

    The army under Lucius' command had retreated from the Reach in good time, engaging smaller parties of enemies as they went. For the most part, Lucius had maintained order, and kept even the most stubborn of the Covens' surviving officers in line. However, there was a difference between a fighting retreat, and a full, reckless, rout. At the moment, the army was straddling that line. Constant battles had worn down even the most bloodthirsty of the Covens warriors, and the increase in casualties was telling.

    The clash of metal on metal drew his attention. A vampire was kneeling before a pair of enemies, shield blocking the heavy blows a maul-wielding Stormcloak, while engaging a redguard in the leather and mail of the Dawnguard. As Severus watched, the vampires' blade found a gap in the redguards defences, and slipped through, piercing his gut. The man doubled over, dragging the Coven soldiers' blade down with him. The Stormcloak changed the angle of his attack, and brought the maul down on the side of the vampires head. The powerful blow crushed through the darksteel helm, and the skull beneath it.

    The familiar thirst for vengeance came rushing back, and almost before he realized it, Severus was upon the nord. His blade struck the man just below the protection offered by his helmet. He fell without a sound, but his attack hadn't gone unnoticed. A shout announced the charge of another Stormcloak, wielding a large axe. The Imperial vampire turned to face his newest opponent, sword at the ready. The nord, obviously experienced with his weapon, stopped short, swinging the weapon at the vampires' midsection.

    Severus took a quick step back, and the axeblade passed mere inches from the chainmail covering him. The man recovered quickly, able to block Severus' retaliatory slash, and retreated in the face of further attacks. The Imperial may have been fairly inexperienced by the reckoning of Lucius Draconus, but compared to a mortal, he was deadly fast. He pursued the nord striking quickly against the mans' increasingly slipping defences. Severus finished the duel with a lightning fast stab, slipping under the Stormcloaks guard, and up, into his ribcage.

    He turned his back on the dying man, and surveyed the battlefield. For the most part, the battle was over. The enemy had underestimated the Covens' strength, and paid for it, dearly. Severus saw his mentor walking across the snow covered ground, his sword in hand and red with blood. The Blackguard, those that had chosen to follow Lucius, stayed nearby.

    The new leader of the Coven spotted Severus and waved him over. "Severus. I'm glad you're unharmed. " Despite the statement, there was no smile on his face. Though, to be fair, Lucius hadn't truly smiled since the battle of Karthspire. Severus couldn't blame his mentor. From the tales Lucius had told him on their way to the Reach, the Imperial had been good friends with Salthar Vivarian. Though he hadn't had the opportunity to meet the lord of the Coven, he sorely wished he had. How he'd met his end at the hands of an Imperial general, while surrounded by the best fighters the Coven could muster, was beyond the dark haired Imperial.

    "What do we do now?" Severus asked, gesturing to the fallen. "If anything, this proves the enemy are on our heels."

    "Same as we've been doing." Lucius said, motioning for Severus to follow him, and walking back towards a stand of trees where their horses waited. "We fall back to the Bloodlet throne, and dig in there. The terrain is too treacherous for the allies to send any cavalry to harass us, and it will be nearly impossible for them to roll siege machines up the mountain paths."

    "And what of our forces that haven't joined us yet?" Despite the fact that Lucius now lead the largest remnant of the Covens' forces, many, such as those under a nord vampire named Kharkov Darkstone, had not yet joined them in Falkreath.

    Lucius' expression was grim as he replied, " I would like to await their arrival. But the enemy will not give us that luxury. If our troops can reach Falkreath hold, we should do our utmost to combine forces...until then, we will simply have to continue on." He nodded in the direction of Whiterun hold. "I've already sent scouts to supply our lost forces with our location."

    Severus glanced over his shoulder, wondering if any of his fellow vampires had survived the defeat at Karthspire. Some must have, surely. And according to reports he'd heard, Darkstones troops had still been fresh when the battle had been lost. Why they hadn't joined the battle and perhaps turned the tide, he didn't know. Perhaps he never would. Either way, the survival of the Coven, as Lucius had put it, was now all that mattered, not throwing away their lives in some spiteful, pointless counter attack. Turning away from Whiterun hold, he mounted his horse, and fell in beside Lucius, the rest of the army marching behind them.

    4E 202, 7th of Morning Star
    The Reach
    The guardsman walked alone along the rocky path that lead to the heart of the Reach. He carried his spear in one hand, but his shield was slung casually over one shoulder. It was heavy, and he'd worked up a bit of a sweat on his patrol, despite the cold. A hollowed out goats' horn rested on a strap at his hip. On his other side, was an iron headed war-axe, slid through a holster on his belt. He knew his commander would have bellowed himself hoarse if he saw the guardsman walking his route so casually.
    The guard didn't particularly care. Nor was he concerned for his safety. The Forsworn had lost many in the fighting in the Reach. And now, their surviving numbers were besieging Harmugstahl, one of their former fortresses. The stronghold was held by the Icehammer mercenaries. Thugs who had thrown their lot in with the vampires. As for the blood suckers themselves, the guard had no fear being attacked by them, either. They'd faced the might of Skyrim at Karthspire, and been crushed by it. He hadn't been there himself, of course.

    No, he'd been stuck in Markarth. Manning the walls, day in and day out, watching for an army of the dead that had never arrived. He was grateful the war in the Reach was over, though, official statements from the allied leaders insisted that the vampires remained strong in the mountains near the border. The nord wasn't too concerned by that. If the blood drinkers wanted to hide in their caves and rot away, that was fine by him.

    The only way he'd die out here, he thought to himself, was if he slipped on the treacherously icy path, and fell to the valley below. With that in mind, he took a cautios step away from the edge, moving closer to the rock wall on his left. The wind was brisk, and tugged at the thick tunic he wore over his boiled leather gambeson, and chainmail shirt. Despite his fur lined boots, gauntlets, and trousers, he shivered. He found himself looking forwards to a mug of hot cider back at the silver blood inn.

    He was nearing a bend in the path, and the rest of it was obscured by the same rock wall that he walked alongside now. He rounded the bend, and at least noticed a figure, sprawled out on the ground. It was covered in a grey cloak, and not moving. He hurried over to it, noticing the slender fingers, a pale grey, emerging from underneath the garment. A dunmer, probably. He bent, grasping the cloak and pulling it away. "Hey. Are you-" before he could finish the sentence, the figure leapt up. The last thing the Reach guardsman saw, was a womans face, and a pair of glistening, white fangs in her mouth.

    XXX
    Iliria Vale drank her fill of the unfortunate guard, before letting him fall to the side of the path. "Much better, thanks to you." She giggled, absently wiping her lips with the back of her hand. Then she glanced back down at the corpse and wondered what to do with it. She could, of course, leave the body where it was. On the other hand, his comrades would come looking, probably along this path. If they found him, it would be harder for her to find fresh prey.

    With an overly dramatic sigh, that no one but the animals of the wild, should there be any around, could hear, she stooped, and grabbed one of the mans' wrists. With a grunt of exertion, she hauled him to the edge, and let his body tumbled down to the valley floor. She allowed herself a small smile as she saw the man come to a rest, then continued on her way.

    As she walked, her smile eventually, faded, and with it, her good mood. She was reminded why, exactly, she was out in the Reach, and not among her fellows at the Bloodlet keep. Lord Vivarian....was gone. Not dead. She refused to believe that. The master of the coven exuded power. He couldn't die to some simpleton waving a sword. She'd killed all three of her travelling companions for suggesting such a thing. She knew most in the Coven would disapprove of her actions. But they'd been simple soldiers, and were easily replaced.

    She made her way back along the path, towards the mountain cave that served as the headquarters for her current leader. The cave was nothing spectacular, but it was large, and far from the main roads. There were no guards outside, but she could feel the gazes of the vampire archers on her. She didn't like it. It made her want to squirm away from them. Or remove their eyes. But the others in the cave would probably object to that.

    Atop an elevated shelf that gave a good view of the rest of the cavern sat the current leader of the band of vampires. Iliria knew of Kharkov Darkstone, and his brutal conquest of Morthal. It seemed they were kindred spirits, which was why she'd sought him out. But once she'd discovered him and his remaining soldiers, cowering in caves, only going at night, and then to strike at lone travelers and caravans, her opinion of him had lowered considerably. Still, she'd spent the past few weeks with him, attempting to convince him to strike back at their enemy.

    Now, he, along with the pretty, if arrogant Khajiit sorcerer, regarded her suspiciously. Kharkov was the first to speak. "Where have you been?" He demanded, "I ordered that no one was to leave until nightfall."

    Iliria shrugged as if it didn't matter, and to her, it truly did not. "I was bored...and thirsty. So I went out." Her smile showed the outcome of that venture.

    Kharkov looked as if he'd just seen an insect recite poetry. "And I guess you didn't think that you might have been seen?"

    She shrugged, "it was one guard. Besides, the allies have moved on chasing Draconus' army to the south and east." She slunk closer to the Nord vampire. "We should strike back at them now. While the Reach is undefended!"

    The Nord shook his head. "Kaast was right. You are insane. Why lord Vivarian didn't have your head put on a spike when he first saw you is beyond me."

    Iliria snarled and advanced. "At least I'm not too much a coward to step foot outside this stinking cave!"

    The rasp of half a dozen blades being drawn stopped her cold. Their argument had not gone unnoticed. Kharkovs' followers watched Iliaria carefully. She stopped, recognizing that her outburst might get her into a fight she could not win. She longed to wipe the satisfied smirk off the Nords face, with a blade, perhaps, but not here, or now. " I took you in because youwere useful, or so Vivarian said." He shrugged, "but then, he's dead, and I'm not."

    Her anger returned in an instant. "He's not dead. He's not!"

    " Every report I've heard says he is." Kharkov retorted,unphased by her outburst. "Killed by an Imperial general at Karthspire. You remember the battle, don't you?"

    " That doesn't mean-"

    " Until I see otherwise, it does." Interrupted Darkstone. "And if you want to stay here, you'll do as I say. Understood?"

    Considering her surroundings, and her alternatives, Iliria had little choice in the matter. "Yes." She managed between clenched teeth. She'd obey. Until such a time when it was better for her to not.

    4E 202, 11th of Morning Star
    Markarth
    "We have patrols roving up and down the Karth, general. No sign of Vivarians body." The Imperial officer standing before him reported. The man was filling in for praefect Scipio, who'd replaced Altus' dear friend, Ilnius Hadrian. The Imperial had given his life saving the general from Salthar Vivarians blade. The younger, more arrogant Caldris Scipio, was capable enough, but something had always seemed....wrong about him. Given another choice, the general would not have assigned the younger man such a position of power. Unfortunately, there was no other. At the moment, praefect Scipio was in the vicinity of Karthwasten, skirmishing with groups of vampires who'd taken the populace prisoner.
    Altus was stuck in the city of stone, Markarth, recovering from the lightning blasts, Salthar Vivarian had bestowed upon him. And those were the more serious of his injuries. In addition, the local and Imperial physicians informed him he had three cracked ribs, a fractured wrist, and badly lacerated calf, from crashing into the stony ground. In the weeks since the battle, he'd been recovering. His burns and cuts were mostly healed, and his ribs were on the mend.

    Still, the medics and healers who'd been tending to him had ordered him to remain in the city, on light duty, for another couple of weeks, at least. The warrior in him chafed at such restrictions. Two weeks might as well have been an eternity. But the wiser, predominant part of him knew a general who could barely stand, let alone fight, would be of use to no one. So he remained in Markarth, a guest of the jarl, trusting Scipio and Lillian to carry out his orders. The most recent news to reach him, was still disappointing. He didn't doubt the thoroughness of his men, but it had been weeks since Vivarian had fallen from the cliff, and still there was no sign of a body. Which left Altus with only one viable conclusion. "Then he survived. He must have."

    The officer struggled to mask his doubting expression, and Lillian did no such thing. "General, you stabbed him. You saw him fall. So did nearly half a dozen others."

    "I know what happened. But don't forget, he is a vampire. And bodies don't just turn into thin air."
    "My scrying shows no sign of him either. Even if he survived, I doubt he has the power to mask himself from magical eyes." The battle mage persisted.

    "How far did you look?" Altus retorted, and the woman paused, clearly surprised, and a little hurt by his harsh tone. The old general felt ashamed immediately. Lillian was his friend, it was unfair for him to unleash his frustrations onto her. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for." The Imperial nodded, placing an understanding hand on his shoulder.

    "If I may, general," the officer spoke up, "it is possible that the vampires' body was dragged along by the current. We're assuming it was snagged on the rocky outcroppings near the bank, but the Karth is strong enough to carry a lightly armoured corpse some distance."

    "Double your search area." Lillian ordered, and Altus nodded. It was always possible, that the vampire had been carried much further than they originally thought. The soldier saluted, turned on his heel, and marched back out into the city itself. Once he'd gone, Lillian took a seat on the stone chair on the other side of the bronze, inlaid stone table that the general sat at. "You really think he's still out there, don't you?"

    Kathalon nodded. Despite their failure to find any sign of the Altmer vampire, or perhaps because of it, he remained convinced Vivarian was still at large. "You read the reports on him, the same as me. Vivarian was a master strategist. He didn't engage unless he was certain he could win. So why would he allow himself to be trapped and brought down by some Imperial general?"

    Lillian shrugged, her expression both troubled and a little confused. "But he fell. You ran him through, and he fell off a cliff. Even a powerful sorcerer would have trouble coping with that. And, I don't think he let himself be trapped." She pointed out, "there was no way he knew about general Tullius' army marching on his flank. Or the Stormcloak reinforcements that were on the way."

    Altus blew out a sigh. Lillian was his friend, and had been for many years, and he'd come to value her advice highly. But in this case, she was wrong. However, he didn't want to alienate her by dismissing her opinions and suggestions outright. Instead, he shrugged and nodded. "Maybe you're right. I suppose I could be being paranoid. Old age, and all that."

    The Imperial chuckled. "Yes, that must be right. You've become so feeble all you can do is sit back on your stone throne and have your underlings chase ghosts."

    He snorted, and mock glared at her. "That might be so, but this feeble old man can still have you thrown in the stocks for insubordination."

    They shared a brief laugh, that lasted, perhaps a little longer than it should have. Then it was back to business. "Is there anything else I should know about, while you're here?"

    Lillian regarded the stack of reports she'd placed on the corner of the table when she'd first arrived. She picked up the first one and handed it to him. "The vampire armies might have been chased out of the civilized areas of the Reach, but they're still around. Every few nights we hear of a shipment that's failed to come in, or a guardsman will disappear. But bandits or beasts could be responsible as well." Her expression showed what she thought of that. She selected another piece of parchment. " The Forsworn are also becoming less cooperative. They believe the threat has passed. We're getting reports that they've begun raiding mines and villages near the mountains again."

    "No surprise there." Altus remarked, "I never had high hopes for a peace with the Reachmen."

    "Finally, the Dawnguard and other allied forces are spreading back towards Dawnstar and Windhelm. Reports indicate that there are cells of vampires intercepting supplies and troops."

    "I wondered where Iceclaw had gotten to." The Breton general said. "Which also brings up the question of how long this alliance will last."

    Lillian shrugged, "as long as the Stormcloaks keep their side of the bargain, I'd guess."

    "So not long, in other words." Altus stated, motioning for the woman to hand over the parchment.
    "Not that I imagined men like Ulfric would settle for a peaceful resolution."

    "Or that the Empire would accept a peace. Not with half the province still ready and willing to wage war on us."

    Altus could only nod at the observation. "We'll tackle that problem when we come to it. Spread the word among the officers, quietly, of course, to be ready for action when the time comes." With that, Lillian stood, said farewell, and went about the rest of her duties, leaving the old general alone with his thoughts. And his fears.

    4E 202, 13th of Morning Star
    A merchant ship bound for Alinor
    The deck heaved under Vengars' boots, as it made its way across the Abecean sea. The water was clear enough, though it was deep enough that seeing the bottom was impossible. For some reason, the depths made the Altmer nervous in ways that even the most desperate fights couldn't. He pushed himself away from the rail, wincing at the sun as it reflected off the water. He was protected from its' direct rays by the hood and cloak that he wore whenever he came onto the deck.

    He wore a dark tunic, pants, and a pair of boots, rather than his distinctive armour. His gear was in the chest that the sailors had dutifully brought aboard when they'd left the Solitude docks. The vampire remembered the dark days of hauling his badly injured brother out of the fishing boat, and through Skyrims' wilderness. By the time they reached the docks of the capital city, Salthar had been moving under his own power.Barely. An east empire trading vessel, had been about to set out, and was willing to take on a pair of well-paying passengers.

    In the month of the journey that had passed, Salthar had recovered further, and the pair had slipped off the ship to feed at every port they'd stopped at. Now, the dark haired elf stood at the prow of the ship, leaning over the railing, apparently ignoring the salty spray of sea water. Salthar nodded an acknowledgement as Vengar leaned against the rail beside him. "The captain says we should be landing at Skywatch within the hour." The other vampire, cloaked and hooded like Vengar, nodded and pointed. Following the gesture, he noticed the towers of Skywatchs' harbour, gleaming in the sunlight. "What's the plan once we reach Alinor then? "

    Salthar looked at his brother. "I am unsure. Things may have changed since we were last here. The Thalmor in Skyrim have almost certainly passed on word of my somewhat less than enthusiastic assistance of late."

    "You think they'll turn us away?"

    The other vampire shrugged. "It's possible. Their cooperation depends entirely on how many remember our actions during the war. And when we first arrived in Skyrim."

    "So a gamble." Vengar concluded, trying to keep the disappointment out of his voice. He'd been hoping the Thalmor in Alinor would be at least a little willing to lend support...in some form. Of course, it was possible that Salthar was wrong, but unlikely.

    "More or less. I'm certain we're not completely without friends. I'll be heading to the capital as soon as we dock. I want you to find us lodgings in Skywatch."

    Vengar frowned. "You're sure you don't need me? Your injuries-"

    "Have healed." Salthar interrupted firmly. "Besides, I'd rather face the Thalmor alone, and take the responsibility for whatever derelictions of duty they choose to lay at my feet."

    "As you wish." Vengar replied, turning his attention back to the approaching city. They arrived soon after, and the brothers parted ways, Salthar searching for transport to the main island, and Vengar heading deeper into Skywatch itself.
     
  20. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 202, 18th of Morning Star
    Alinor, Sumerset Isles
    Salthar hadn't expected it to take long before news of his return to the capital of the Dominion became common. As sure as the sunrise, two days after his arrival on the mainland, he received a summons, to the Thalmor headquarters, based in the capital. Now, three days later, he was strolling through the gates, watched by his fellow Thalmor. Their expressions, as they watched the vampire, ranged from curious to suspicious. Some, recognizing who he was, were outright hostile. Apparently, his recent exploits in Skyrim hadn't gone unnoticed. The Altmer vampire wasn't terribly bothered by their staring. He hadn't expected to be welcomed back as a hero.

    The great carved doors to the Thalmor headquarters awaited him, the guards at either side glancing at him once before returning their attention to the courtyard. Placing a gloved hand against the dark, heavy wood, he made his way inside. He was inside a great hall, built in the typical, curving architecture of the Altmer people. Tall, coloured glass windows let shimmering sunlight in, bathing the marble floor in a multitude of colours. Pillars, made of the same, glasslike material as the towers of the city, lined the hall. Banners, Thalmor along with the Dominion, hung from the high rafters.
    Despite his recent disagreements with his fellow Thalmor, he couldn't help but feel a surge of pride. Alinor was the center of high elven culture, and the Thalmor were what kept their homeland a bastion of order.
    However, his plans didn't involve enforcing the Talos ban. Not any longer. He'd been struggling with the decision since his brother had fished him from the Karth river. He'd been so certain that a show of force would bring the Nords to heel, and at least give the Empire pause. But the unified response of overwhelming denial, not only from the Stormcloaks and Imperials, but the Forsworn, Dawnguard, and any peasant that could heft a pitchfork had joined forces.

    His army, as far as he knew, was defeated, scattered. Lucius, he trusted to gather the survivors, and lead them in his absence, even if there wasn't much of the Coven left to lead. He still intended to return to Skyrim, with or without the Thalmor leaderships approval. However, perhaps brute force was no longer the way to restore order. A lighter touch while the Imperials and Stormcloaks fought for the land, the Coven could subtly manipulate events in their favour. The idea appealed to him, but his thoughts were interrupted by a young Altmer woman.

    Like most of the elves in the hall, she wore Thalmor robes, without a hood. "Salthar Vivarian?" At his nod, she turned on her heel, and began walking. "The council is ready for you." It did not escape his notice that, although she was almost certainly of a lower rank than he, she did not address him by his title. An interesting development, though hardly unexpected. He kept his mouth shut, pondering the implications. Technically, the Thalmor could not strip him of his title. He and his brother had been born to a high ranking family, and Altmer, if nothing else, adhered to traditions and formality.

    On the other hand, the Thalmor were, for all intents and purposes, the ruling force on Alinor. If they wished to strip Salthar of his status, there wasn't much he could do to stop them. Once again, he was brought out of his musings as his guide knocked on a pair of carved doors, the entrance to the council chambers. The doors swung open, apparently under their own power. His guide gestured him to enter. Once inside, the doors slammed shut behind him.

    The council chamber itself, had a narrow hall, leading to a large circular room. The council themselves, sat in a ring, elevated from the main floor. It was lit from above, by several glass windows in the ceiling, allowing the sunlight to stream in.

    Despite the half dozen Altmer, Thalmor officials, or individuals affiliated with them, looking down at the vampire, Salthar was unimpressed. He was not some stumbling underling, to be intimidated and chastised. Drawing his shoulders back, he met the gaze of each council member. They returned his gaze, save one. After a few moments, the head of the assembled Thalmor, and Altmer a few centuries older than Salthar himself, spoke.

    "Salthar Vivarian. You've been summoned before this council to answer for your actions in Skyrim."

    Though he knew full well what the mer meant, he cocked an eyebrow. "I've taken many actions in Skyrim, your eminence. You'll need to be more specific."

    Another of the council, a thin faced, golden haired lord, leaned forwards, scowling. "Your lack of respect is most telling, Vivarian."

    Casually, the Altmer vampire turned his gaze on the angry lord. "I intended no disrespect. Perhaps your lack of attention is the cause of this misunderstanding."

    The lords' brow furrowed further, and he looked as though he might throw a spell or two at the impudent vampire. "You dare-" he started, but Salthar cut him off.

    "Indeed." He said, "though, how, exactly, I'm being daring is beyond me. I was summoned before this council to explain my actions. I should be happy to do so, once clarification is granted." He fought back a smile as the lords' complexion darkened considerably. A few of the other council members looked more amused than troubled by their colleauges consternation.

    "Peace, lord Gaethar." The elder mer said, turning his golden eyes back on Salthar. "And don't be flippant, young mer. It doesn't suit you."

    Salthar returned his attention to the speaker. "My apologies."

    The older elf glanced at a piece of parchment on the desk before him. "Though I'm sure you know what actions are meant, I shall clarify." He said dryly, "it is well known, that you formed an army, of vampires, no less, and declared war upon both the Empire and these...rebellious nords."

    "Ah." Salthar nodded, not surprised in the least. It wasn't as if his sudden divergence from acceptable Thalmor doctrine would go unnoticed. "I should think my actions, especially those particular actions should need no explaining. War is war. If the end result is the destruction of our enemies, all the better."

    A few murmurs went around the chamber, but the older elf simply lifted a gold-grey brow. "And you decided to take this task upon yourself? Without consulting your peers and superiors in Skyrim?"

    "I saw no need to involve my fellow Thalmor. Especially not in a war that would if, all had gone to plan, ended within the year."

    "But all did not go to plan, did it?" The question was so obviously leading, the Altmer vampire barely kept a sneer in check.

    "Obviously not." He replied, awaiting a response that had, more than likely, been prepared long before he'd arrived in the chamber.

    "And because of your failure, Skyrim is closer to being unified than before. And, with your ill-concieved assault, you've ruined months of planning."

    Salthar frowned, "I was not made aware of any plan or operations in Skyrim."

    "Whether you were, or not is now irrelevant." The older mers' tone had become harsh, "the only matter up for discussion now, is what your punishment is to be."

    "I assume there are charges to be leveled against me?" Salthar asked, keeping his tone neutral. "A public trial, perhaps?"

    "The charge, is dereliction of duty. There will be no need for a public trial. Judgement will be passed immediately."

    The council sat back in their seats, and Salthar could feel the flow of magic in the room. They were conversing silently, most likely through illusion magics. For his part, Salthar remained silent. The charges weren't terribly surprising. Elenwen had made it clear that she'd not appreciated his response to her orders. And he hadn't expected the Thalmor to support his coven. Not now that they were an enemy of both the Imperials and the Stormcloaks. The lack of a public trial did not bode well for him. He knew full well what happened to individuals who mysteriously disappeared. He'd arranged for such things to happen more than once, during his days as a justiciar.

    The silent debate went on longer than he'd expected. Finally, the elder mer stirred, rising to his feet, and smoothing his Thalmor robes. "Salthar Vivarian, judgement has been passed. In light of your exemplary service during the Great War, and your more recent service as a justiciar, the sentence will be...lenient." He cleared his throat before continuing, "from this day forth, you are no longer a member of the Thalmor. Any protection, lands, or titles granted to you through your service with us is hereby stripped. Do you accept this judgement?"

    Salthar knew what the alternative was. The Altmer vampire was honestly surprised by the leniency of the council. If there was one thing the Thalmor were not known for, it was tolerance. Rather than respond to the question, he turned to the one Altmer who, for the duration of the trial, had refused to meet his gaze. "And what say you, father?"

    Salthars' father, his features much like Salthars' own, including the dark hair, though now streaked with silver, finally turned his gaze upon the vampire. There was recognition in his eyes, though no affection. "If it were up to me," the older Vivarian said, his voice cold, "I'd have you staked and burned, like the monster you are."

    The words should have hurt. His father had supported him throughout his training at both the arcane and military acadamies. He'd been one of two voices of advice in his ear since his earliest days in the Aldmeri army. Yet, rather than pain, Salthar only felt...disappointment. "So be it." He turned back to the head of the council. "I accept your judgement."

    "Very well. Go now. Do not return, on pain of death." The Altmer vampire did not need to be told twice. His departure from the headquarters of the Thalmor was not hurried, but neither did he have any desire to remain. In a sense, he felt lost. He'd been among the Thalmor for several decades. On the other hand, he was now free to do so much more, without the judgement of the organization hanging over him. When he returned to Skyrim, it would be without any obligations to the Thalmor.

    The sun stung against his flesh as he walked through the streets of Alinor, wondering what, exactly, he would do now. His return to Skyrim would need to wait, at least for now. The Imperials, or Dawnguard, at least, were surely still on the alert for him. Staying in the Altmer homeland, for the moment, was a far wiser course of action. Despite his lack of support from the Thalmor.
    "Lord Vivarian?" torn from his contemplation for the third time that day, Salthar turned to the source of the newest interruption. An Altmer male stood a couple of feet behind him, robed not in the black and gold of the Thalmor, but the intricately designed robes of a mage.

    He frowned, not recognizing the elf, though something felt familiar about the brown haired, green eyed Altmer. "Can I help you?" He asked cautiously. When dealing with mages, offering help was often dangerous. Especially unknown mages. However, Salthar was confident he could handle a single mage, even in the daylight.

    "On the contrary, my lord. It I who can help you." The mage explained with a brief bow.

    Salthars' frown deepened, though he was interest was piqued. "And who might you be, that you so freely offer your assistance?"

    The mage, taking this as an invitation, stepped closer, and lowered his voice, though it was unlikely anyone would have overheard the pair in the crowded street. "My lady sends her regards. " The mage motioned towards the city gates, "if you'll come with me?" The mage took a step closer, only to be frozen in place, by a quick spell from Salthar. "My lord!"

    "I'll not be going anywhere with you. Not until you've explained yourself. Who do you mean by 'your lady'?" The Altmer vampire said coldly. At this point, he was in no mood for the political games of Alinor.

    "He means me." A soft, melodious voice stated from behind him. He turned slightly, so that he could get the speaker in his field of vision. The Altmer mage stumbled slightly, as the distracted vampire lost focus. The speaker was an Altmer woman, with the high, narrow cheekbones of their people, a pair of golden eyes, and flowing, pale gold hair, that fell nearly to her waist. She was dressed in a flowing deep green emerald robed, and a ring with a gem of the same colour was upon one of her slender fingers. "It is good to see you after so long, my son."

    4E 202, 24th of Morning Star
    The Bloodlet Throne

    "With all due respect," the pale skinned breton was saying, in a tone that relayed little, " the only your word that lord Vivarian appointed you in charge." This one, Lucius realized, wasn't acting alone. He was merely the spokesperson for a larger group of Coven officers. And he had to put and end to the rumours that he'd seized power for himself and abandoned lord Vivarian.

    As he finally matched the mans' name with his face, he replied, "I assure you, commander Caeryll, I did not seize my position in a coup. His lordships brother was present at the time of my appointment to command."

    The commander did not seem reassured. "Yes, sir, but he's missing as well."

    "Commander-" he was interrupted by another vampire walking into the hall.

    "Apologies, sir." He nodded to Caeryll, then bowed to Lucius, "my lord, someone is making for the fortress. I thought it best you were present to meet them."

    "Your concerns will have to wait, commander. For the now, at least." The Imperial vampire said, already making for the door. He could heard the Breton start after him, clearly curious about whoever was approaching. Lucius' first instinct was to look to the closed gates of the fortress, but the guard their were making no motions to pull open the heavy doors. He glanced up to the sky then, and noticed several shadowy forms descending towards the courtyard at high speeds.

    He noticed several nearby soldiers, gripping the hilts of their weapons, eyeing the approaching shadows warily. Lucius watched as the visitors touched down, darkness swirling around them as they regained their corporeal forms. The first to be revealed, was Duros Kaast. The redguard vampire looked around the courtyard, before his gaze locked on Lucius. The gaunt vampire nodded once, then began making his way to the staircase, ignoring his companions, who, Lucius noticed, showed signs of battle on their armour. He remembered that Kaast had been sent to force the enemy out of Karthwasten, though whether they'd been successful, he wasn't sure.

    He hadn't been seen at the battle of Karthspire, and he certainly hadn't made any attempt to rejoin the Covens' forces during their retreat to Falkreath. To appear now...Duros' motives had always been a mystery to the Imperial. And he'd never been fond of being kept in the dark, especially when it came to an individual of Kaasts powers. Lord Vivarian had vouched for his trustworthiness, certainly, and Lucius could not, even if he wanted to spare the resources to fight the Redguard, if he decided to replaced him as the temporary head of the Coven.

    These thoughts flashed through his mind as his fellow vampire reached the top of the stairs, and stood facing him. The redguards thin lips were curled in a faint smile, and Lucius suddenly remembered a rumour he'd heard concerning the man. Some had said that Kaasts mastery over the illusion and alteration schools were so great that he could read a persons' thoughts, as one might read a book. That thought in particular, was not comforting to the Imperial vampire.

    As if he really had been perusing Lucius' mind, the Redguard bowed at the waist. "Lord Draconus. I am relieved beyond belief to find you here and well. When word of the defeat at karthspire reached us, I feared the worst."

    Keeping his expression neutral as Duros rose back to his full height, he replied, " I am equally relieved that you managed to find your way back to us, master Kaast." He decided to play the situation diplomatically. In the days to come, having such a powerful mage as an ally would be invaluable. "Tell me, what happened at Karthwasten? Unless more of your forces are enroute, it seems that some misfortune befell you."

    For the first time since his arrival, a grimace crossed the features of the vampiric illusionist. Though Lucius would never admit to it, he enjoyed seeing the redguard so troubled by his failure. With a sigh, Duros explained, "taking the village was simple enough. The enemy was heartened by the imminent arrival of the allied forces, and weren't nearly as vigilant as they should have been. "

    "I assume the enemy weren't so ignorant after the battle." Lucius said dryly.

    "Not at all. An Imperial force arrived several days ago, and demanded we release the inhabitants, and surrender. Obviously, we refused." The Redguard sighed, "I'm sure we could have fought our way free, had the enemy decided to enter the village itself. Perhaps the enemy commander knew that. He had battle mages burn the village, with our forces and the civilians inside. Only a handful of us escaped."

    Lucius winced. "That seems an unusually brutal tactic. Even if you refused to surrender. You have my sympathies."

    Duros waved the words aside, turning back to the courtyard. Lucius followed his gaze, and noticed that out of the half dozen or so vampires that had survived, all but two wore the dark grey and red of Coven mages. And all four of those mages were heading inside, none of them speaking. It struck the Imperial as a little strange, but he didn't want to alienate Duros. "Have you wounded? We've plenty of blood, if they haven't healed already."

    The Redguard shook his head. "We won't be staying long. Or at least I won't."

    Lucius frowned at the man. "What do you mean? I can't afford to have members of the Coven drawing attention to us. Not before we've had time to prepare for a siege."

    "The allies won't bother with a siege, your lordship." Duros replied, "in fact, I doubt this 'alliance' will last much longer."

    This argument, was not a new one. Many of the Covens' officers, and even Severus, had brought up the question of how long, now that the Coven was defeated, would the Imperials and Stormcloaks maintain their alliance. "Perhaps not," Lucius allowed, "but if they can certainly work together long enough to destroy us."

    Duros' tone was that of one trying to explain something to a small child. "Which is why I'll be departing, and soon. If the Coven is to survive, it'll need more members. More to the point, lord Vivarian and I discussed my departure before the battle. I would be leaving anyways."

    Lucius bristled, "as you can see, the circumstances have changed. Drastically."

    The other vampire shook his head. "Not so much. This is merely a setback. One easily remedied, given enough time."

    "Time we may not have."

    Kaast finally turned back to the Imperial vampire, a thin smile on his face. "Lord Draconus, you're starting to sound paranoid. Of course, I'll remain if you order it, but I'd rather not. But my task is not easily set aside." Lucius could sense what the dark skinned vampire left unsaid; ordering Kaast to remain would make an enemy of him. And that, the Imperial did not want.

    "Very well." Lucius granted, trying to hide his irritation. "See to your task, but I expect significant results."

    Smile still on his face, Kaast bowed. "Of course, my lord. We shall be gone before the next nightfall." He turned and headed into the keep, leaving Lucius wondering if he'd just made the worst mistake in his short history of command.
     
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