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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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    4E 202, 1st of Sun's Dawn
    Wayrest, High Rock

    Duros had heard many stories of the mages guild in Wayrest. Apparently, their guildhouse had been one of the more elaborate ones throughout Tamriel. 'Had', the Redguard vampire thought, 'being the operative word here'. Now it was just rubble. Reaching out with a simple resonance spell, designed to tell him what had happened in the not so distant past. Flashes of light filled his minds, screams of fear, pain, the scent of burning wood and spilled blood. The Redguard snapped out of the spells' vision, ensuring that the man standing beside him didn't pick up his feelings.

    Though he had no reservations about killing, even torture, if it was necessary, the murder of the mages in the guildhouse didn't seem to have any purpose behind it. At least, none that Duros could divine. Finally, he spoke to the heavily armoured Breton beside him. "You say that one elf did all this?"

    "Aye. Came into the city...Morndas, I think it was. Stayed a couple of nights, before he walked into the guildhouse, calm as can be. Then he left. Killed any guards trying to stop him, so the guard-captain says." If what the knight beside him said was true, the rogue mage was a full three days ahead of Kaast, who'd only arrived in Wayrest a day ago, a Loredas.

    "What a pity." Kaast, murmured, playing the role he'd assigned himself perfectly. Wayrest, after all, was not so far from Skyrim. And if the locals realized a vampire was traipsing about their city, he doubted they'd be so cooperative. So, he'd acquired a set of robes, with the sigil of the College of Whispers on them. The Cyrodiil-based group of mages were so secretive, it would be hard to prove that Kaast was, or was not, one of their members. His attire, and an offer of assistance, had set him on the trail of the rogue.

    He'd heard rumours of a Dunmer mage wandering the countryside, spreading chaos wherever he went. But until now, there had been only wild stories. Duros was careful to keep his optimism from showing on his face, keeping his outward appearance as sympathetic as possible. The knight of the Rose, one of the order that made up most of Wayrests' military strength, glanced at him, suspicion visible in his eyes.

    The Redguard vampire was not overly worried, though. The knights had little reason to trust someone all the way from Cyrodiil, much less the College of Whispers . He would have been surprised if the man hadn't been at least a little wary of a curious mage. "Why's the college so interested in what's going on here? One rogue mage can't be of much concern to you."

    Duros merely cocked an eyebrow, and turned back to the wreckage. "Clearly, they're more dangerous than you assume. The college has as much a responsibility to stop their progress as any Breton organization." That was a lie. The College of Whispers cared little about anything that went on outside their halls in the Imperial City.

    However, the knight either didn't know that, or had decided that Kaasts' help was valuable enough to avoid alienating him. "My brother-knights are scouring the city and countryside. No sign of the man."

    "It's unlikely he remained. Whatever he was after here, he most likely acquired it." With one final glance at the ruin of the guildhouse, he said his farewells, and made his own way out of the city. Once he'd put some distance between himself and Wayrest, he allowed his thoughts to stray back to his mission. Before Salthar had sent him to Karthwasten, they'd come up with an idea to ensure loyalty in the Coven. A group of vampires, selected from those that showed an above standard loyalty to the Coven, and were at least a little skilled in the use of magic.

    Duros had furthered this idea by suggesting seeking out and recruiting powerful mages, willing to serve. Such individuals would be trained, and tasked with seeking out and eliminating enemies of the Coven, both within and outside. They would be held responsible to both Kaast and lord Vivarian, and whoever either vampire appointed. Salthar had approved the idea, and ordered Duros to begin recruitment of these 'inquisitors' once the allied army had been defeated at Karthspire.

    Though everything had not gone to plan, the Redguard vampire was more determined than ever to see the idea become a reality. If anything, ensuring the remaining commanders and soldiers of the Coven remained loyal was more necessary than before. This Dunmer he was hunting, a powerful mage that had turned on his instructors in Morrowind, and ventured forth, destroying any that had stood in his way. Though Duros hadn't been able to discover the rogues name, he'd acquired a description from a group of mages in Cyrodiil that had survived his rampage.

    Unusually tall, for a dark elf, with black hair, and the typical reddish eyes. Duros was curious about the mers' motives, certainly, but in the long run, his wishes were irrelevant. He would serve the Coven, or he would die. Of course, the Redguard didn't want an army of slaves. Forcing powerful mages to serve him would result in him looking over his shoulder for the rest of his very short life. No, his apprentices had to want the power he wielded- and a desire to learn from him, specifically. At least until he could train others under him to hand pick further members of the group. Focused on his goal, he continued on his way, heartened by the knowledge that he was on the Dunmers' trail.


    4E 202, 7th of Sun's Dawn
    Markarth, Understone Keep

    "You did what !?" The general shouted, not caring that his voice probably carried through the closed doors of his office, to the rest of the keep. If praefect Scipio was bothered in the least by his commanding officers anger, his expression didn't reveal it. In fact, he seemed more irritated than apologetic.

    "The vampires refused to surrender the village. The only option available was to destroy them. Completely. I ordered the archers and battle mages to burn down the village. Only a handful of vampires escaped."

    Altus froze, aware of Lillians' sudden intake of breath. "Are you saying," he asked, keeping his voice under tight control, "that you massacred an entire village, and didn't even manage to kill all the vampires?"

    A muscle in Scipios jaw twitched. "I hadn't anticipated the vampires having mages capable of flight. And-"

    The general held up a hand. "Your men were too busy razing the village to notice the enemys' escape."

    "Yes, but the point is, we eliminated over three quarters of the enemy force." The praefect insisted, stubbornly holding his ground.

    Kathalon sighed, equally despairing the pointless deaths of the villagers, and already seeing the political repercussions in his mind. "At the cost of any continued peace with the Stormcloaks. And, the support of the jarl of the Reach. You're dismissed, praefect."

    Rather than depart immediately, Scipio hesitated, before removing a roll of parchment from his belt. "There was one other thing. I had scouts search the surrounding area. They found signs of large activity. Too organized to be Forsworn."

    "There was a large vampire force that fled to the mountains." Lillian pointed out, her voice thoughtful. " She looked directly at the praefect. "Do you suppose it's them?"

    "It could be little else, unless the Stormcloaks have been moving troops in secret."

    "Either way, it's worth investigating. And it might calm the locals." Altus pointed out grimly, rising from his seat. He still felt twinges where his wounds had healed, but he was more than ready to be out in the field once more. "Prepare the troops."

    4E 202, 7th of Sun's Dawn
    The Bee and Barb inn, Riften

    'Damn these vampires'
    Veridas Ashheart thought bitterly as he stepped into the establishment. He'd been halfway to the Imperial border crossing when the Coven messenger had found him. How the man had found him, was up for debate. In truth, the Breton hadn't expected to hear from the vampires again. News of their defeat, and the death of the Altmer sorcerer who lead them, was spreading through Skyrim like wildfire. None had declared the news louder than the newly formed 'paladins of Arkay'. A recently formed group, and, in Veridas' opinion, even more irritating and self-righteous than the Vigilants of Stendarr had been.

    He'd been stopped on the road no fewer than three times, by the heavily armoured, and well armed warriors, who'd warned him against collaborating with the blood drinkers. When he'd read the message, Veridas had considered ignoring it. The Coven, as far as he could tell, was scattered and broken. But he was no fool. Though defeated, he didn't doubt they'd make sure to hunt him down, if he angered them. Besides, the task had seemed simple enough. Head to Riften, go to the local inn, the Bee and Barb, and collect information from a contact.

    Not his usual type of work, but the message had promised double his usual fee. Once he'd nodded his acceptance to the messenger, the man had shoved a pouch, containing a number of flawless looking gems into his hands, and galloped off to the west. Now, Veridas was cursing himself for a fool. As soon as he'd set foot in the city of thieves, he'd discovered he was being followed. Not by the usual cutthroat, or pickpocket, but by a pair of tan-armoured warriors. Dawnguard. One an Orc, and the other an Imperial, by the look of him. Though the pair showed no extra interest in him, they stayed no less than a dozen metres away.

    Now, before the door to the inn swung shut, he chanced a quick glance over his shoulder. Both men were hastening towards the building, gazes fixed straight ahead. With little time to spare, Veridas glanced around the common room, his eyes fastening on a Dunmer male who was staring back at him. The elf was dressed like a merchant, and though he seemed young, his hair was as white as the snow outside. And braided in a rather unique style that the assassin had never seen before.
    If the merchant was bothered by the Bretons' scrutiny, he didn't reveal it, instead lifting a goblet, and inclining his head slightly. Aware of the possible consequences should the Dawnguard witness their meeting, he made a beeline for the elfs' table. "You're the contact." It was a statement, not a question. The elfs attire and demeanor made him stand out, intentionally, no doubt.

    "Oh, I'm so much more than that, my good sir." The Dunmer smiled, something he obviously thought was charming, "Jeth Laralle, information broker, merchant, and occassional dashing mercenary, at your service." The name was unusual for a dark elf, though that was of no concern to the Breton assassin at the moment. Though the last part of the elves' declaration he found doubtful. He couldn't see the Dunmer doing any kind of mercenary work.

    Getting to the point, he said, "I wouldn't be here if not for the first part, I'm guessing. What information do you have that's so important?"

    Laralle's gaze slid past him, to the door, expectantly. "In a moment. You're earlier than expected, and my other clients are coming in now." Veridas glanced over his shoulder, and cursed quietly. The Dawnguard were on their way to the table, eyes on him and the Dunmer. "Wait over there." the elf instructed, gesturing to a shadowed corner table, not too far from his own table. The assassin scowled, and moved to the indicated table, waving away the Argonian bartender when he approached.

    The Orc and Imperial arrived at the Dunmer merchants table, and began to speak. Veridas strained to make out what they were hearing. "Who was that?" The Orc was saying, nodding towards the assassins table.

    The elf shrugged, " a client of mine. Much like you, my good sir. If you're so curious about his identity, perhaps you should speak with him."

    The vampire hunter scowled, but his companion tapped his arm. "Not important. You know the information we want. It's been a week, like you asked for. "

    Laralle extended his hand, "yes. I have the answers you and your allies have been seeking. But it was not easy to acquire."

    "More coin?" The Imperial asked, incredulous. "You've already been paid a handsome amount. " He removed a coinpurse from his belt, and tossed it to him. "Now- is Vivarian dead or not?"

    "Suffice it to say- you need not worry about Vivarian. For the moment, at least." Veridas thought he heard a hint of smugness in the Dunmers' tone.

    "For the moment? What's that supposed to mean?" Exclaimed the Orc, crossing his arms, and glaring down at Laralle. For his part, the dark elf didn't seem particularly worried by the Dawnguards' irritation.

    Jeth shrugged, "you asked for information. I have provided such. The Coven is defeated, and without a leader, the survivors are not much of a threat." The Dunmer spread his hands, palm up, "of course, if you'd like additional information, I'd be happy to oblige you. For the same price."

    Both men scowled at the dark elf, then the Imperial nudged his friend, and turned for the door. "We'll be in contact if we need your services again."

    "I look forward to our next meeting, gentlemen," Jeth called after them. Veridas waited until the pair had left, and he was certain they wouldn't be coming back, before reclaiming the seat across from the Dunmer.

    "Does the Coven know you're selling information to the other side?" He asked drily. Though he didn't trust the elf, he had to admire the mers' courage in trading secrets to opposite sides of the war.

    "Of course. In fact, that's what they're paying me for. Speaking of-" He removed a sealed scroll from his belt. " Give this to dear Lucius, would you?" He eyed the small sack in Veridas' hand expectantly.
    The assassin dropped it in the mers' outstretched, coal grey hand.

    "You don't seem the type to throw in with vampires." Unlike the circumstances that had brought Veridas into the Covens' service, Laralle didn't seem to be bound to the vampires in any way. In fact, the Dunmer didn't seem bound to anyone.

    The dark elf undid the pouches drawstring, peered inside and smiled at the gems within. Then he looked up at Veridas, and stood. "Like every good businessman, my Breton friend, I'd rather be on the winning side."

    The assassin snorted. "The Coven lost the war. You said so yourself."

    Still smiling, the elf stood and made for the door. "Did they?" Before Veridas could respond, to the cryptic question, Laralle was out the door. The Breton assassin sat at his table in the busy tavern, pondering the information brokers' remark. Eventually, he rented a room for the night, fully aware that the vampires would be expecting whatever information the scroll he held contained.
     
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  2. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 202, 12th of Sun's Dawn
    Near Dawnstar

    Derek checked his axe for what felt like the hundredth time, though it was far more likely the fourth. The Stormcloak and Dawnguard soldiers around him did the same, tightening straps, drawing blades. "Your men are sure this is the place?" He asked the burly northerner beside him. The man, wearing scale armour, with a surcoat of Stormcloak blue over top, nodded. They were in a ravine, a few hours walk from Dawnstar, and though the sun was nearing its' height, pale grey clouds drifted across the sky, threatening snow.

    "Aye. Reports tell of a raids interrupting supplies from Dawnstar to Windhelm, and anything headed south ends up burnt on the side of the road."

    "Could be bandits" Derek pointed out.

    "Bandits aren't that organized. Besides, search parties never found any sign of the attackers, but plenty of dead guards. Random thugs don't take their dead with them."

    Derek conceded the point with a nod, then turned his attention back to the cave opening. It was plain, with no obvious signs that a group of vampires, not to mention vampire soldiers were using it as a base. He glanced over his shoulder to the handful of vampire hunters. Their own armour stood out among the sea of blue surcoats and padded leather of the Stormcloaks.

    The Dawnguard were awaiting his word to attack, and the Stormcloaks were getting impatient, shifting in the snow as they waited. Derek stared at the entrance to the cave, a creeping sense that something was amiss growing in his mind. He'd heard that one of the Covens' top lieutenants, had left the fighting in the Reach, to participate in raids in the north. For the vampires here to have orchestrated such successful attacks, it likely meant that a competent strategist was in charge.

    If the vampires were cautious enough to carry their dead from the field, there was no way they wouldn't notice a force marshaling this close to their base. "Bah, what are we waiting for? " Grumbled one of the Nords "Let's kill 'em!" A rumble of agreement went throughout the ranks, and the officer glanced at Derek.

    "Get a move on, Starsong. These bloodsuckers aren't going to kill themselves. "

    "Wait." Derek insisted, "something's wrong."

    The Nords' brow furrowed, and he examined the field of snow around the cave. "Hmph. Tori, Sonig, go around-" the Stormcloak officer never got to finish his order. A hail of arrows hissed through the air, from the lip of the ravine. One dark fletched shaft buried itself in the side of his neck, and a spray of blood came from his mouth.

    "Ambush! Take cover!" Derek shouted, hefting his shield as more arrows streaked in. He grunted as a trio of impacts drove the shield back against his arm. Screams split the cold air as soldiers, both Dawnguard and Stormcloak, were struck. Another shout drew his attention back to the cave. A dozen or so dark armoured vampires were advancing in grim silence, blades drawn.

    A group of allied soldiers rushed forwards to confront them, sacrificing their protection from arrows to shield themselves from enemy blades. One Stormcloak managed to parry the swing of a Coven soldiers blade, with his war-hammer, but before he could take advantage, an arrow buried itself in his chest. 'We need to get rid of those archers, or we won't last long' Derek realized, and waved a Redguard vampire hunter over. "Take some men around to the ridge. Stop those archers!"

    The man nodded, and departed back the way they'd come, a trio of Dawnguard, and half a dozen Stormcloaks in tow. Derek didn't have time to watch his comrades' progress, as the vampires had cut their way through the first of the allied warriors. Rising from his crouch, the Nord Dawnguard hefted his axe, started forwards. A pair of vampires noticed him, and turned, hefting their own weapons. The Coven soldier on the left, slightly faster, reached him first.

    Derek hefted his shield, and heard more than felt the darksteel blade skitter across its' surface. The Nord quickly retaliated, dropping his left arm, and swinging his axe in low with his right. The move was designed to sweep a warriors feet out from under him. After all, as good as the Coven soldiers were, even the best warrior was near helpless without the use of their legs. The vampire wasn't without a shield of his own, however, and blocked the attack, forcing Derek to take a quick step backwards, boots shuffling through the snow.

    His first opponent didn't pursue immediately, however, instead stepping to the right, attempting to get at the Nords' unshielded side. He turned with the soldier, but caught movement at his left. The vampires comrade was fast approaching, fangs glistening in the pale light as his mouth opened in a warcry. Derek lifted his shield just in time to stop the descent of the mans' own axe. Though he stopped it from splitting his skull, the head of the weapon caught the lip of the Dawnguards' shield.

    With a triumphant shout, the vampire pulled, his greater strength inevitably lowering Dereks' defence.
    Knowing he had little time before the second vampire rejoined the fight, he whipped his axe across, the blade finding a seam in the Coven soldiers cuirass. The man howled and staggered to the side, freeing Dereks' shield as he did so. The wound wasn't fatal- his axeblade had merely bitten into the vampires' side, but it was undoubtedly painful, or at least distracting. The Nord turned in time to recieve the other undead warriors charge, grunting as the black armoured soldier slammed into him.

    Dereks' shield was trapped between their two bodies, and the vampire had his sword free, attempting to slash one of the arteries in Starsongs' neck. Knowing he wouldn't be able to keep the soldiers' blade at bay for long, he dropped, hacking at his enemies knees. The vampire fell, and Derek finished him off with an overhand chop that split the mans' helm. He turned to face his second, wounded enemy, only to find the vampire in a pool of blood, missing his head. Looking around, he realized the fight was almost over, with a few small duels being played out in the canyon. The arrows had stopped raining down on them, he noticed, which meant the force he'd sent to the cliff had succeeded in their mission.

    The fighting ended, for now, at least, the Dawnguard and Stormcloaks regrouped near the cave entrance, save for a few men, who remained to look after the wounded. Near the cave entrance lay a large vampire, his armour notably different than the others, a flanged mace laying not far away, five corpses, in Stormlcloak blue and Dawnguard beiges and browns were arranged around him. "This one must have been the commander." He remarked, noting the man looked to be Breton.

    "They fought to the last." Someone pointed out. Derek wasn't so sure. It was possible there was something inside the cave itself the vampires didn't want them to find. While it was possible the Coven had spilled out to stop the allies from even setting foot inside, it wouldn't surprise him if they'd set up ambushes in the cave itself.

    "Let's head inside. Be careful, the vampires may have set traps." He warned, readying his axe and shield once more. The interior of the cave was lit, though dimly, and Derek found himself peering into more than one dark alcove. After traversing a fairly narrow stone corridor, they came out into a wider, roughly circular area, only slightly better lighted than the rest of the place. Against one wall, were several weapon stands, and an open barrel, probably what the vampires had used to store their arrows.

    Against the other wall, was a crude wooden table, with a large piece of parchment on it. Upon closer inspection, Derek realized it was a map of the northern holds. Trade routes, and what he assumed were troop movements were marked in ink. Several locations were circled, which he guessed meant they were ideal locations for ambushes, or where the next caravan or supply train would pass. "Well, this takes away any doubt about who was behind the ambushes. Come on." He took the map from the table, carefully folding it. On the way back to fort Dawnguard, he'd leave the map with the guardsmen from Dawnstar, with instructions to check those locations. Just in case there were indeed other vampiric raiders lurking in the Pale.

    4E 202, 19th of Sun's Dawn
    The Bloodlet Throne

    The wind howled, whipping snow past the window of the high tower Lucius had been using since he'd returned. It felt wrong, somehow, to take over lord Vivarians quarters, and he'd forbidden anyone else from taking up residence, and posted a pair of Blackguard outside. The quarters he'd taken were far from lacking. A cushioned chair, large desk, even a large bed, the covers of which reminded him of his youth in Cyrodiil. Though, being a vampire, he had little need of rest. The quill, inkwell, and candles on the desk, however, were being used almost daily.

    As soon as he and the surviving troops under his command had secured the area around the Bloodlet Throne, he'd sent out messengers, summoning those that hadn't been at the battle to return to the fortress. Some, hadn't returned at all. Those that did, for the most part, brought grim tidings. Coven forces had been overwhelmed by the allied troops, and word reached him of heavy fighting in other areas, like Hjaalmarch, especially the swamplands. Lucius recalled that Kharkov Darkstones' forces had been tasked with taking the hold. Last he'd heard the Nord vampire was hiding with his forces somewhere in the Reach.

    Whether or not he'd recognize Lucius' authority had yet to be seen. The Imperial preferred to avoid bloodshed, especially now that the Covens' army was scattered and severely weakened. He was in the middle of reading a report from the Covens' spies in Falkreath hold. It, like most of the news he'd received, was bad. Jarl Sidgeir of Falkreath had betrayed the Coven as soon as it had become obvious the war was turning in favour of the allied forces.

    Though angered, Lucius was hardly surprised. Vengar had mentioned that the jarl was only likely to be loyal so long as he beleived the Coven would win the war. He made a note to deal with the traitor in time. For now, his concern needed to be the approaching armies of combined Imperials and Stormcloaks. The enemy hadn't yet attempted to make the climb to the gates of the fortress, and thanks to the fairly steep terrain, moving battering rams or seige towers to the wall would be all but impossible. There was still the threat of trebuchet or catapult, but there were ways to disrupt enemy artillery. Especially since his forces knew the land better than any of their enemies.

    A knock at the door drew his attention. "Come." The door opened, revealing a pair of figures- the commander of the Blackguard, Senehk Kale, and Faergaen, the Bosmer steward of the keep. Neither looked happy, and Lucius felt the faint hope diminish even more. "Tell me."

    Kale spoke first, the Redguard vampire taking a step forwards as he did so. "My lord. I've received troubling reports from our near outposts, and inside the fortress itself." When the man paused, gathering his thoughts, Lucius made an impatient gesture, urging him to continue. "Desertion, my lord." The Imperial took a deep breath.

    The news was, in truth, not as shocking as it ought to be. Coven soldiers had been selected from all walks of life, but most had been men and women with at least some experience in military organizations. Their training at the Bloodlet Throne had enhanced their loyalty to the Coven, and to lord Vivarian himself. Still, unlike lesser undead, such as skeletons and zombies, they still had minds of their own. And with the recent defeats the Coven had suffered, Lucius would have been a fool to expect the soldiers to blindly keep fighting. "How many men, commander?"

    "Two dozen, that we know of. The guard caught and executed half that many this week alone."
    Lucius closed his eyes and sighed. The Covens' number were already diminished. The last thing they needed was for the men to be executed by their own.

    He could already imagine the effects on morale. However, desertion could not go unpunished, for to do so would risk more vampires following their former comrades' example. "And the Blackguard? Have any of your own men deserted, commander?"

    Senehk stiffened, as if personally offended. Considering the fearsome reputation the guardsmen had earned, he probably was. "Of course not. We are loyal, my lord. We will fight for you. Die for you, if needed."

    Chastised, Lucius inclined his head. "Forgive me. I should have known better than to question the loyalty of you and your men." The redguard nodded shortly, but it was clear his pride was wounded. Holding back a sigh, he turned to Faergaen. "And you, Faergaen? Hopefully your news is...less grim."

    The wood elf stepped forwards, holding the scroll out towards Lucius. Curious, he uncapped the leather tube that had kept the parchment safe from the elements, and withdrew the scroll itself. The contents, though not exactly 'good' were far from what he expected. "These are...plans. For a fort." He revealed, looking up at the steward. "How did you come by this?"

    "The information broker- Jeth Laralle. He's been working out of Riften for the past months."

    Lucius nodded, remembering he'd heard the dark elf was remaining in the city of thieves, and dispatching the assassin, Ashheart, to meet with him. He returned his gaze to the parchment. "These notes...they're planning to build it on the lower reaches of the mountains. Almost directly below the fortress."

    "Not an easy task." Senehk said thoughtfully, " moving the building materials all the way out here would draw a lot of attention."

    Lucius nodded his agreement, his irritation rising. He'd taken some comfort in knowing the Dawnguard and their allies were unable to maintain a conventional siege. However, with a fortress at the bottom of the mountain was just as problematic. Any attempt to descend into the rest of Falkreath hold would be difficult, though not impossible. But the allies would be able to expand throughout the hold as easily as the Coven had at the wars' beginning. The construction of the fortress had to be stopped, or at least delayed. If the Coven had been at it's full strength, Lucius wouldn't have worried.

    But the Coven wasn't at full strength. And that, the Imperial knew, was the problem. He knew Varnus Kohl, his former lieutenant, was still in the Pale, somewhere. What he needed, was Darkstones' army. It was doing no one any good hiding out in the Reach. A messenger needed to get to the mountains, and have Darkstone return to the fortress, whether Lucius trusted him or not. Realizing both Senehk and Faergaen were watching him, he dismissed them. The pair bowed, turned, and made for the door. Once left in silence, the Imperial began thinking on who to send to the Reach.

    Though he'd seen no sign of treason among the ranks, commander Senehks' words rang in his ears. If the messenger decided the task was too dangerous, he or she might instead abandon the mission, leaving Darkstone to his own devices.

    Then, the name of a promising young Imperial entered his thoughts. Severus Valte, for the most part, had proven himself brave, capable, and loyal. His thirst for vengeance against the Stormcloaks was worrying, for if he let his anger consume him, there was a good chance he'd be cut down, despite the time Lucius had spent training him with the sword.

    He'd grown quite fond of Valte during their travels, and loathed to put him in harms way. But favouritism would gain him few friends. Besides, most other scouts were dispatched throughout Skyrim. A few moments later, he had the guard at his door on his way to search out the Imperial and bring him to Lucius's office.

    4E 202, 25th of Sun's Dawn
    The Reach
    Kharkov read the scroll for a second time, then transferred his gaze to the Imperial vampire who'd delivered it. The letter, written by Lucius Draconus, identified the Imperial before him as Severus Valte, a trusted associate. Darkstone was fairly sure he shouldn't put his faith in anyone Lucius did. It was just as likely this 'messenger' had been sent to make sure Kharkov wouldn't try taking the fortress of the Bloodlet Throne . Though the contents of the message, summoning the Nord and the pitiful remnants of his army back to Falkreath didn't give him cause for suspicion.

    Whatever the case, Valte was waiting for his response. Shifting on the stone chair, he said "tell Lucius we'll be making our way to Falkreath hold within the week. That should keep him happy." He deliberately left a title out of his response, and by the subtle muscle twitch in the messengers face, it was clear he'd noticed. Iliria Vale, the insane assassin that Darkstone couldn't seem to get rid of, had noticed his proclamation of departure as well. There was a sudden joy in her eyes that he didn't care for.

    When the Valte didn't move for the cavern entrance, the Nord cocked an eyebrow. "Something else, Valte?"

    "I'm to return to the fortress with you."

    Kharkovs' eyes narrowed, but protesting now wouldn't serve much of a purpose. It would be at least a weeks march to Falkreath hold, and another couple of days at least, until they reached the fortress. "Suit yourself." He growled, turning to his lieutenant,Haskor Mercion . Besides Zar'Vanya, he was the highest ranking remaining officer in his army. "Get our troops moving. No reason for us to stay here any longer."

    Within minutes, the vampires in the cavern were filing out of the gap in the mountain. It was dangerous, he knew, to leave in the open daylight. They were vulnerable to ambush. Particularly any archers up on the high cliffs that flanked the opening. The Nord vampire made his way through the gap himself, squinting at the irritating glare of the midday sun.

    He noticed Iliria hovering near his shoulder, and felt a prickle along his neck, as if someone was observing him. He shot a scowl towards the insane Dunmer, though if she was worried by about annoying him, she didn't show it. Instead, she flashed him a smile, showing teeth. Teeth, he noticed, that had been filed into needle-like fangs. A shudder went up his spine. Now he knew what she'd been doing when she disappeared on her own.

    "Sir." Haskor said quietly from his side, "we're ready to move." Kharkov nodded, making his way to the head of the remnants of his army. They began to move, a column of dark armoured soldiers, moving silently, save for the clank of armoured boots and the occasional shouted order. To his surprise, the Coven forces hadn't drawn any attention, even from the Forsworn tribes that he knew were lurking in the hills around their base. The truth was, the farther Darkstone was from the Reach, the more comfortable he'd be. Even if he had to share the fortress with Draconus.

    Before the thought of the pompous Imperial lording it over him could take root in his mind, a shout from ahead demanded his attention. "Imperials! On the cliffs!" The alarm was repeated from the rear of the column as well, and it didn't take long for Kharkov to spot the enemy. The crimson uniforms against the chain and leather of their armour was blatantly obvious against the bleak stone of the Reach.

    Horns rang out among the Imperial reach, even as Kharkov desperately attempted to formulate a battle plan. A veteran of dozens of battles, even before he'd joined the Coven, the Nord vampire knew better than to freeze in place like skewered skeevers. "Form ranks!" He bellowed. "Shields in front, archers behind!" The order was a standard one, and Kharkov wasn't sure how much help it would be. The Imperials had clearly known about his forces leaving the Reach. And had decided to set up an ambush.

    Arrows and fire descended from the cliffs, and the undead started to scream as the magical flames caught and burned at them. An arrow caught Kharkov in the shoulder, even as Haskor slammed into his side, stopping the shaft from sticking in his throat. A second projectile, blazing with orange and white, roared towards the pair of vampires. One that could not be blocked so easily. Before it struck, a black, round shape shimmered into existence between the fireball and the pair of vampires.

    A quick glance revealed Zar'Vanya, arm extended, palm out, with her ears flattened in concentration. The fireball struck, and heat washed over Darkstone, but none of the lethal flames touched him. With a roar, the Imperial troops started their charge. The Coven lines were no longer solid ranks of darksteel. The spell and arrow barrage had punched large holes in the vampires' lines.

    The lines collided with the crash of armour against armour, and the battle was joined. Not one to stand idly by, especially when the situation was as grim as it seemed. He passed between a pair of soldiers, and was immediately confronted by a legionnaire. The mans side was exposed as he swung, giving Kharkov the opportunity to jab his own blade under the cuirrass, into the Imperials ribs. Even as that man fell away, a second stepped forwards to take his place. However, the enemy lines were clearly thinner in the area. The Imperials hadn't taken into consideration of the Coven formation. Maybe they'd expected an unorganized mass exodus. Whatever the reason, Darkstone intended to take full advantage of the mistake.

    "Follow me!" He bellowed, "push through them!" He followed his own orders, slashing through the nearest legionnaire. The Coven troops rallied around him, gradually pushing against the weaker Imperial line. Whoever was in charge of the enemy force wasn't as stupid as Kharkov had first assumed. The legionnaires parted, locking their shields as the undead forced their way forwards. In response, Kharkovs soldiers at the edge and rear of the column hefted their own shields, forcing a stalemate.

    "Sir. That cavern up ahead. Could lead into the mountains. Get us out of the open." Haskor suggested, pointing with his sword. The cave mouth in question was wide enough for two men to walk through shoulder to shoulder. The Nord was well aware that the cavern could be a dead end, and the Imperials would simply barricade the exit, or burn them out. But fighting out in the open, where the enemy had the advantage, was not a good idea.

    "Make for the cave. We can destroy the entrance if we have to." Kharkov instructed, and his second disappeared to make sure his orders were carried out. The Coven soldiers retreated to the cave, trading blows with the Imperials, and filed inside with the Imperials closing ranks behind them. The cave was large enough that he couldn't see the rocky ceiling. Making his way deeper into the place, the narrow entrance widened to reveal a dark, gloomy cave, not particularly high, but long. "Send out scouts. Find out if there's a way out of here."

    As the scouts departed, Kharkov turned towards the cave entrance. The Imperials hadn't ventured inside yet, but there was a good chance they wouldn't have to. Not if there was no exit. The question of how the Imperials had found the out of the way cave was nagging at him. Had a scout followed one of their own groups back to the cavern? Or...a more sinister possibility occurred to him. Draconus had always made it clear that he thought himself the superior swordsman. Which lead to him believing that he was superior in everything. Nonsense, of course but what if Lucius had decided to make sure he was the best remaining fighter the Coven had?

    The messenger, Valte, had been introduced in the letter he'd carried as a trusted subordinate. It was entirely possible the Imperial vampire had tipped off the legion troops to Kharkovs' base. Growling the Nord glared at Valte, though the other vampire seemed oblivious to his suspicion. Instead, he was speaking with a group of archers, stationed at an angle that would allow them to easily shoot anyone entering the wider cavern. If he was planning on having Kharkov killed, he was doing a poor job of it.

    Haskor announced his return with a short cough, and the Nord vampire turned to his second. "Scouts are back. They report passages going deeper into the mountain. No signs of a dead end, yet."

    Kharkov nodded, eager to leave the Imperials behind, and get back to the Bloodlet Throne. He'd had enough of hiding in caves. "Seal the tunnel behind us. And prepare to head out. The rest of the Coven waits for us."
     
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  3. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 202, 3rd of First Seed
    Kingdom of Wayrest, High Rock

    Artcus held the amulet in front of his eyes, admiring the ruby pendant that dangled from the silver chain. The stone was shaped like a stream of flame, and the Dunmer sorcerer could sense an affinity to flame within it. Though the destruction of the mages guildhouse in Wayrest and the slaughter of its occupants had been irritating, Vane could tell the reward was worth it. The amulet, plus the satisfaction of seeing the surprise in the master wizards' face as Artcus had blasted the life from him.

    The mages, despite Bretons being lauded as the most powerful of magic users, besides the Altmer, of course, had not presented much of a challenge. The Dunmers' own wards had easily absorbed the best the guild houses occupants could throw at him. Of course, the fact that Vane had set the guildhouse alight before entering had probably made concentration difficult. Whatever the case, Artcus had strolled through the building, annihilating any who stood before him. The local master wizards two most promising students, had been some of the three who'd had the potential to be a threat to the Dunmer.

    If, of course, he'd allowed it. The two skilled wizards had stationed themselves just outside the master wizards chambers. Probably, they'd planned to coordinate a defence against the intruder. What they hadn't considered, was that Artcus' skill with magic might extend beyonf the schools of destruction. Illusionary magic had the ability to turn friends to foe, of course, but only on the exceptionally weak willed, or those who already harboured some anymosity towards their comrades.

    Such was the case with the two at the door. Whether they'd ever planned to come into conflict in the future or not was irrelevant. At his spell, both had turned their magical arsenals on each other, reducing both sentries and former allies to charred corpses in moments. After that, it had been simplicity itself to stroll through the doors to the masters' chambers. The head of the guildhouse, a Breton, like most of the others, had put up a good fight. For a human, anyways. He'd been no match for Artcus' superior power.

    He'd stripped the amulet from the dead Breton, and fled the city. He fully believed he had enough reserves to destroy the first of the responding guardsmen and knights, but even he would be overwhelmed by numbers. Slipping out of the city in the resulting chaos, Vane had been far from the city and headed back to his hideaway before evening. He'd spent the night at a local inn, before heading out once more. Now, a week later, he was at Wayrests' border, nearing his hideout.

    Despite the long trip, Artcus' reserves of magic had yet to replenish all the way. He could have used a word of return, or one of his several scrolls to get back to his temporary home. The 'home' was a ramshackle farmhouse. An old farmer had been living their by himself, and hadn't taken kindly to finding a Dunmer sorcerer at his door.

    Vane had buried the man in a shallow grave, with the remnants of the hoe he'd swung at his head. Though not as opulent as many of the abodes he'd stayed in throughout his decades of life, it had served as an isolated base. He'd stored potions of healing and magical restoration there, as well as a few other trinkets he'd come across. In addition, he'd set it as the location for his word of return- a spell that would immediately return him to the last place he'd specified.

    After setting the place up to his satisfaction, he'd placed a powerful flame ward on the houses only door. Any looter or curious patrol of soldiers would be turned to charred bone and ash in an instant. Of course, as a competent sorcerer, he knew the dispel, and he was confident no other mages of equal or greater skill lurked in the area.

    Getting to the summit of a small hill, he came across the house. From this distance, it seemed unoccupied, and, more tellingly, it still stood. A satisfied smirk crossed his lips as he made his way to the door. Once there, he cast two spells. One, a spell of revealment, and the orange lines of the rune became visible against the dark wood of the shambles of a door. The second casting, was one of dispelling, and the rune faded away, leaving the door safe to open.

    Pushing inside the one story building, he glanced around, noting everything was as expected. A bottle of poor quality wine still sat on the houses one stable table, with a single chair pushed out from it. Artcus hadn't touched the stuff. He enjoyed a good goblet of wine, certainly, but the swill in that bottle would probably kill him faster than an enemy's spell. Shaking his head at the poor taste of the deceased farmer, he dropped his amulet on the table, deciding to leave it there until he decided to study it later.

    Then he went to the end table, where he'd stored his potions. The cabinet was set in a corner of the room, and he grabbed the handle of the first drawer. Pulling it open, he selected a potion, unstoppered it, and swallowed down the pale blue liquid inside. He made to set the bottle back with the others, and paused. He'd left four potions in the drawer. There were now two.

    "This is what you were after in Wayrest?" A voice asked from behind him, "how...disappointing." Vane turned even before the man, for it was a mans' voice that spoke, fell silent. A tall, gaunt Redguard, bald and lacking a beard, with skin that seemed unnaturally pale for his race. Artcus' newest acquisition dangled loosely from the mans' thin fingers. Even as he took all this in, the Dunmer was preparing a bolt of lightning that would blast the human clear out of his boots.

    The flash of purple-white energy heralded Artcus' victory. Or so he thought. The Redguard gestured, and the powerful bolt faded to nothingness mere inches from the mans chest. Surprised, but determined not to be undone, he fell into another casting, this time sending a crackling, if slow moving web of lightning at the trespasser. The purplish-white energy slowly expanded as it moved, stretching from wall to wall. Unimpressed, the Redguard dispelled the lightning long before it reached him.

    The Redguard gestured, and a half-dozen bluish magic bolts hissed towards Artcus. A weak attack, and one that the Dunmer easily dispelled. But that wasn't the true attack, he soon found out, as his opponent cast a second spell, a bolt of dark energy that struck Vane hard enough that he was slammed against the wall. His wards absorbed the attack, then blinked out of existence. Snarling a curse, Artcus threw a blast of pure magic at his opponent, which the man blocked with ease. "A crude attack."

    "But effective," Vane snarled back, preparing one of his more powerful spells. A blast of incendiary magic that would char the Redguard to the bone. Before he could attack, the human did something most curious. He dropped his arms to his sides and stared intently. The Dunmer had the faintest inclination that something was wrong, before his skull exploded into agony.

    It felt like a thousand needles piercing into his brain, setting fires as they did so. In vain, he tried to cast some spell to relieve the pain, but he couldn't even recall his arsenal, let alone muster the concentration to cast. Somehow, he found himself on his knees, blackness enroaching on his vision. A final surge of searing pain finally stole consciousness from him, and he collapsed forwards, sprawling on the wooden floor.

    4E 202, 6th of First Seed
    Wayrest

    After their duel, Kaast had moved the Dunmer to the farmers' single bed. Despite the elfs' tendency to collect enchanted trinkets, his arsenal of spells, the ones he'd seen used at Wayrest, and in their brief duel, showed him to be a competent spell caster. Furthermore, his relentlessness in searching out and acquiring the trinket could be useful. Especially for the group of inquisitors Duros had in mind.
    He wasn't particularly worried about the elfs' health. The spell he'd used to end the fight caused immense pain, usually in the targets' skull area. It disrupted concentration, prevented movement, and usually knocked the victim unconscious within a few moments.

    How long they remained as such, was, as far as Duros knew, completely random. He'd heard one who'd been hit with the spell could remain unconscious for up to a week. The vampire hoped it wouldn't take that long. He had other candidates in mind, and though no one seemed to have caught his sent, he wasn't willing to wait here forever, secluded as it might be. He decided he'd wait another day. If the elf hadn't awoken by then, perhaps he wasn't fit to join Kaast.

    A few moments passed, and Duros allowed his mind to wander slightly. Though he was loyal, the question of whether Salthar Vivarian was still alive nagged at him. As it had since he'd left the Bloodlet Throne to carry out his mission. From what he'd heard, no one had been able to locate the vampires' body. Which begged the question; why hadn't lord Vivarian returned to the Bloodlet Throne? Why hadn't he retaken command of their army, and turned the tide against the allies? Perhaps if he had returned, the Coven could have held against the enemy. Now, Duros estimated it a matter of weeks, perhaps months, before they were unable to launch any kind of assault.

    The Dunmer stirred, drawing Duros' attention. It quickly became clear that the elf was regaining consciousness, and his crimson eyes fluttered open. He seemed surprised, at first, to find himself still alive. Then his expression turned thoughtful, obviously trying to figure a way out of his situation. Deciding to interrupt his train of thought, the Redguard vampire spoke. "I would advise against doing anything foolish."

    The elfs' eyes snapped to him. For a moment, he seemed to be considering an attack, but finally sighed and chuckled dryly. "I don't suppose it would do me any good. Is there a reason I'm still breathing?"

    Duros nodded his approval, glad he'd been correct in assuming the elf wouldn't be suicidally resistant. "Despite your insistence on collecting somewhat...petty, trinkets, you show much promise. I have an offer for you. You're a fairly well informed, it would seem. Surely you've heard of the Coven, based in Skyrim."

    The Dunmers' eyes narrowed. "Vampires. They fought a war of some kind last year. And lost, badly. What's your connection-" He stopped, a cunning smile coming to his lips. " You are a vampire. One of the Coven, of course. But why are you interested in me?"

    "That should be obvious. Your skills can be useful to the Coven. I've come to offer you a choice."

    One of the dark elfs' narrow eyebrows rose. "A choice? I appear to be at your mercy."

    Duros smirked, "Indeed. The choices are thus- join the Coven, or be utterly destroyed."

    "Coercion?" The elf sneered, "not the most promising recruitment method."
    Duros shrugged, admitting the point. "Perhaps, but the Coven has much to offer. Resources,
    influence...power beyond your most ambitious dreams." At that, the elfs' eyes lit up. Power, clearly, appealed to him.

    "Certainly preferable to utter destruction." He said quietly, then nodded. "I accept your offer, then. My name, is Artcus Vane. I assume you're not opposed to providing yours?"

    "Duros Kaast. Head of the inquisition.Your new master."

    Vane, sitting on the edge of the bed, cocked his head to the side. "Inquisition?"

    "What I am forming, on my lords orders. You shall be my second. Once you've been turned."

    The elfs' eyes gleamed eagerly. "I'm ready...my master."

    Duros nodded,and leaned forwards, sinking his fangs into the side of Dunmers neck. Artus gasped, his body going limp. Only the vampires' grip on his shoulder prevented the elf from falling backwards. No stranger to feeding, Duros was not worried about killing Vane. He hadn't turned many vampires, but he could control his thirst. Drawing back from Artcus, whose head lolled loosely on his shoulders. Swiftly, he produced a short knife from his sleeve. With another deft motion, he slashed it across his wrist, and as cold blood trickled out, held the wound to the elfs' mouth. "Drink," he instructed, and as Artcus did so, his entire form went rigid.

    He pulled away, a ragged shriek emerging from his throat. Duros suppressed a wince of sympathy. The first moments into the change were not easy. Artcus fell silent a moment later, and the Redguard allowed him to sink back to the bed, his life already waning. Kaast stepped away from the dying Dunmer, and sheathed the short, sharp knife, glancing at his wound as he did so. The wound was already healing, leaving only a thin line, which quickly faded to nothingness.

    A day later, and Artcus Vane had joined the ranks of the undead. The Dunmers' skin had paled from its' normal charcoal grey-hue, but was distinctively still Dunmeri. His eyes, already red, had spots of darker colour in them, but nothing outstanding. He walked at Duros side, the hood of his cloak up to shield against the sun. "Where now?" He asked.

    "Cyrodiil." The Redguard replied, "I've heard word of a woman there who could be useful to us." He glanced at the Dunmer, "Until we arrive, I'll teach you of the Coven, and instruct you in more...obscure arcane studies."



    4E 202, 16th of First Seed
    The Bloodlet Throne

    Lucius, and half a dozen other ranking Coven officers, including Kharkov Darkstone, stood in the room he'd been using for meetings since the Coven had returned to the fortress. Standing on the other side of the table, the Imperial could feel Kharkovs' pale blue eyes burning a hole in his skull. Severus had gone out, and, obviously, come across Darkstone and his remaining soldiers. Upon leaving however, the Coven forces had been ambushed by a large amount of Imperial soldiers. And it was clear the Nord blamed him. The commander of the former Hjaalmarch army stood with one hand on the pommel of his sword, the other with a thumb hooked into his belt, fingers tapping restlessly against his thigh.

    "You're saying you knew nothing of the ambush." Kharkov stated, his voice dripping with disbelief.

    "Obviously." Lucius snapped, knowing that allowing his irritation with the Nord to get the better of him was dangerous. However, his casual attitude towards Lucius, bordering on insubordination, was irking. Taking a discrete, calming breath, he continued, "if I had known, I would have sent warning. The Coven needs all the soldiers we can muster."

    "We." The other vampires snorted, "I see we're making decisions together now, my lord. I suppose you want me to surrender command of my troops now?"

    "That won't be necessary. I'm not removing you from command, merely requesting you remain here."

    "Yes. Where we'll rot away while our enemies gather their strength."

    Lucius supressed a sigh. The point had been brought up by many of the lesser officers, multiple times. They weren't pleased with his cautious approach to the war. "We're at a disadvantage. The allies are strong, united in their cause. Striking now would end the Coven."

    Kharkov narrowed his eyes, "we wouldn't be at a disadvantage if you hadn't run at the battle of Karthspire. If our armies had united, we could have turned the tide."

    "I, have been regrouping the Covens' forces. You, have been hiding in a cave, until recently." Draconus pointed out, taking some satisfaction from the Nords' grimace.

    "And your man lead us into an Imperial ambush. Strange coincidence, don't you think?"

    Lucius hid a grimace of his own. He'd sent Severus out as soon as the young Imperial had returned with Darkstones' men. Varnus Kohl, his second in command, was harassing the allies in the Pale. While disrupting the enemy was important, Kohls' support was more important, especially now that Kharkov and his allies were at the Bloodlet Throne. While commander Senehk and his Blackguard had maintained order, Lucius knew the Covens soldiers would much rather be taking the fight to the allied forces.

    With Severus gone, there was no way to get his side of the story. And without loyal officers, there was a chance Kharkov would get his way. "Perhaps they followed one of your hunting parties." He suggested, then nodded towards the door. "If there's nothing else..."

    Perhaps failing to realize, or ignoring, the fact he'd just been dismissed, Kharkov set his feet shoulders width apart. A determined stance. "You seem to have forgotten- we're cut from the same cloth, Draconus. We both killed for coin before. You're not superior in any circumstance. "

    The root of the problem, then. Lucius had known, since Kharkov had joined the Coven several weeks after the Imperial had been recruited, that the Nord didn't like him. Initially, he'd suspected it was due to residual racial tensions, after all, the civil war was reaching new heights of violence. But that hadn't been it, as Darkstone had treated other Imperial vampires with little to no anonymity. Afterwords, Lucius had assumed it was the outcome of their sparring. Despite being an already accomplished swordsman, Kharkov had never been able to defeat the Imperial. But now, it was a little clearer.
    Lucius had been a noble before becoming a mercenary, pressed into fighting for coin, simply to survive.

    Darkstone, however, had always been a mercenary, and seemed to resent the 'upper' class butting in on the mercenary business. Lord Vivarian hadn't put up with the minor squabbles, but now that he was gone, Kharkovs' attitude was more aggressive. Normally, Lucius would have ignored the man, but if he was using his influence to undermine him, he would be put in his place. "And yet, lord Vivarian placed his faith in me."

    Kharkovs' hand left the pommel of his sword, and his eyes hardened. For a moment, Lucius thought he was going to draw his weapon and attack. But then, his shoulders slumped ever so slightly, and he nodded. "So he did. I'll be in my quarters if you need me..my lord." He turned and went through the door, his second on his heels.

    Faergaen, who'd been standing quietly in the corner, waited until Darkstone and his companion were well out of earshot. "Would you like me to have him followed, my lord?"

    "Yes." Lucius replied, " but quietly. Inform me if he attempts to leave the fortress, and before you take any action." As Faergaen withdrew to carry out his orders, the Imperial resisted the urge to retreat to his quarters and despair at the ruin he'd been left in charge of. No, he corrected himself. Not a ruin, not yet. The situation could still be salvaged, if he was careful. And with Kohl at his side, it would be that much easier.
     
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  4. Madrar

    Madrar The Shadow in the Dark.

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    4E 202, 28th of First Seed
    Windhelm, Palace of the Kings
    Valdmir Iceclaw stayed at the map of Skyrim spread across the table. It was nothing special, considering the maps he'd seen in numerous camps during the war with the vampires. A war, that according to Galmar Stone-Fist and Ulfric Stormcloak, was all but over. For his part, Valdmir wasn't so certain. Yes, the Coven had been all but driven out of the Reach, and a small battle near Dawnstar reported a sucessful raid on the vampires' headquarters in the region. However, Derek Starsong, the impromptu ambassador for the Dawnguard, reported heavy fighting in some areas of Falkreath hold, and on the borders of Whiterun hold.

    While he'd voiced these concerns, both Ulfric and Galmar wanted to turn their attention back to the matter of Skyrims' independance. Which just so happened to be the subject of conversation at the moment. "The Empires' still invested in this 'alliance'" Galmar was saying, "most of their troops are in the Reach and Falkreath holds."

    Chin in his hand, Ulfric murmured "what of the Forsworn? Are those filthy savages still part of this...agreement?" Both glanced up at Valdmir, who shook his head.

    "Not according to our last report. They've declared the vampires defeated, and are going back..." he paused, not entirely sure what Forsworn got up to when not raiding and pillaging. "back to whatever it is they do when not fighting us or the Empire."

    "Gathering their strength, no doubt." Ulfric said grimly, "the Reach suffered in the war with the vampires. The guardsmen there are still under strength. We should reach out to them, offer protection for their loyalty."

    Galmars' face scrunched up, revealing his doubt. "Igmunds' a stubborn one. And with the Empire in the hold, what makes you think he'll side with us?"

    "The Imperials won't be here forever. And once they start losing the war, the Reach won't be among their concerns...if we put the Forsworn in their place, the people of the hold will be with us."
    "I'll see about getting some troops slipped into the area. And I'll make sure our friends in Markarth know about our plans. Bolster support for the cause."

    Both turned towards Valdmir. "What about you, general? You're being very quiet." Ulfric noted.

    " Forgive me, my king." Valdmir said, bowing his head and knowing he'd need to approach the subject carefully. The Stormcloaks, or at least, Ulfric himself, hadn't been overly enthusiastic about the alliance to begin with. "There is still the matter of the alliance. Reports from our forces in Whiterun and Falkreath report the Coven is still fighting. Should we not focus our combined resources on finishing them?"

    Ulfric waved a dismissive hand. "Holdouts, mainly. Leave it to the Dawnguard. It is, after all, their task, if I understand their purpose. " He examined the map, "in fact, we should begin our withdrawal from this alliance. Our men and women are wasted putting down these pockets of undead. General, return to Whiterun hold. There are camps near the eastern border. Garrison your men there, and await further orders."

    Less surprised than he perhaps should have been, Valdmir bowed. "As you wish, my king." He turned to leave, but before he'd left the room, Ulfric spoke again.

    "I don't think I need to remind you; give no explanation of your action to the Dawnguard, and especially the Imperials. " The order was oddly worded, but it also made Ulfrics' plan fairly clear. He wanted Iceclaw and his soldiers in the Whiterun camps so that, when the war against the Empire continued, a force of Stormcloaks would already be within striking distance of the central city.

    With his orders in mind, he left the palace, drawing his fur lined cloak around himself to protect himself from the biting cold. Sheets of snow drifted through the air, knocked off the walls that surrounded the palace courtyard. They shimmered in the late afternoon sun, before settling on the icy cobblestones.
    Sighing, he set out for the city gates. Though he was loyal to the Stormcloak cause, the demand for secrecy weighed on him. He'd never been a very reserved person, something that had gotten him into trouble more than once. He wouldn't call the Dawnguard and Imperial commanders 'friends', exactly, but they'd fought alongside each other for several months. Then there was also the difficulty of removing nearly two hundred soldiers from a joint camp.

    Obviously, no one would believe Valdmir was sending his entire army out on patrol. Nor would they beleive he was committing an entire force to eliminate vampires to the east. Being unable to relay that he'd received new orders, the only path was to keep information spread to a minimum and leave, optimally, during the night, or late evening. Once the Imperials got wind of such a massive troop movement, it wouldn't be long before the alliance fell apart. But, he reminded himself, it was for the good of Skyrim and her people.

    4E 202, 4th of Rain's Hand
    The Pale

    Severus made his way along the road, trying his best to look like a weary traveler. Since the Pale was under allied control, and a lone warrior in armour tended to attract attention anyways, he'd stolen clothes, a pack, and a cloak to conceal his identity. His disguise appeared to be working, as, shortly after he'd changed into civilian clothes, he'd been set upon by a group of bandits. Whom he'd promptly slaked his thirst on. The success of his camouflage was encouraging, though he knew it was foolish to assume success based on the intelligence of bandits.

    He was almost glad he'd been selected for this mission. Despite his vulnerability, should a large force of enemies come across him, the most recent mission, leading Kharkov Darkstone and his forces from the Reach, had been harrowing, to say the least. The Nord had made it clear that he distrusted Severus from the start, and he'd been under scrutiny ever since they'd evaded the Imperial ambush.
    Lucius had sent him out almost as soon as he'd fed and made his report to his mentor. Even to him, it was clear the pressures of command were starting to weigh on the temporary lord of the Coven. Severus' task was to find Varnus Kohl, the commanding officer in charge of operations in the Pale. And one of Lucius' top lieutenants. Unfortunately, intelligence on the Pale, and most of the northern holds were lacking.

    He knew the general location of Kohls base, but finding it without being tracked by any Imperials, or, more likely, Stormcloaks. To this end, he stuck to the roads, promoting the image of a lone traveler, down on his luck, and hoping to find work in Dawnstar. That would be his story, should anyone come across him.

    The road was well lit by moonlight, both of the twin moons still relatively high in the sky. The snow drifts shimmered silver under their rays, and the howl of wolves in the distance were the only sounds keeping him company. Severus didn't mind the solitude. In fact, after the disastrous departure from the Reach, he preferred it.

    He walked a little further, but it wasn't long before the sounds of the Pale were replaced by laughter and talking. Severus froze for a moment, glancing to either side of the road. There was nowhere to run, and besides, his passage through the snow would leave an easily traceable path. Trusting in his disguise, he continued, ducking his head against the wind, whos' chill bite had little effect on him.
    Mere moments later, the soldiers rounded a bend in the road, and slowed when they saw the lone traveler. Severus continued on his way, wondering if they would let him pass unchallenged. He was almost among them, perhaps two metres away, when one of the men, presumably the officer, extended his hand, palm up. "Halt!"

    Severus complied, silently counting the group. Four, including the man who'd spoken. The stormcloak eyed him suspiciously. "Strange time for you to be out and about, isn't it?" As he spoke, his men spread out around Severus, preventing a quick escape. "What are you doing skulking around our camp?" He demanded. The Imperial cursed himself for a fool. There'd been no mention of an allied camp this close to Dawnstar.

    Affecting a peasants stutter, he fixed his gaze on the ground before his feet, and replied "my apologies, sirs. Just makin' my way to Dawnstar. I didn't know about no allied camp hereabouts." A quick glance at the stormcloaks expression told him his answer had far from satisfied him. Beside the leader, one of the men snorted with laughter.

    "You don't say." The leader growled. "You're no Nord. What d'you want with Dawnstar?"

    "Probably an Imperial spy. Wantin' to scout out our defences." The one who'd laughed suggested. That response set off alarm bells in the vampires head. It was almost- no, it was exactly like these Nords had reverted to the days of the civil war. Which could mean two things. One, they were stormcloaks who hadn't heeded the call for the ceasefire, or, the alliance between the three factions had dissolved. At the moment, neither option was good for Severus.

    Before he could offer a reply, the officer said "Horjin, check his pack." The Imperial sighed silently as his pack was roughly taken from him. The first item the soldier came across, inevitably, was his sword. The leaders eyes lit up. "Oh ho! Just a traveler, eh?"

    The man who'd confiscate his pack drew the first few inches of Severus' sword. "Darksteel!" He exclaimed, excitement obvious in his voice. That was when the vampire knew he had to strike. And so he did, lunging for the leader before the man could react. He got his arms around the Nords head and wrenched it to the side, hearing a muffled crunch, and feeling the man go limp. He launched himself at the second man, who was still holding his pack, and fumbling to fully draw Severus weapon.

    The vampires' fist connected with the fumbling Nords' throat, sending him sprawling, and, more to the point, causing him to lose his grip on the sword and pack. The bag dropped into the snow, and Severus retrieved his weapon, drawing it and turning on the two soldiers still fit to fight. Both stormcloaks, a man and woman, had drawn their weapons and were advancing, side by side.
    Gritting his teeth, Severus turned to face them fully. Out of his armour, he was at an obvious disadvantage against two armed, armoured, and most importantly, prepared enemies.

    However, he'd been sparring with Lucius Draconus, the best swordsman in the Coven. Perhaps the best swordsman in Tamriel. And while the younger Imperial was nowhere near his skill, he surpassed the level of any one soldier easily.

    The man on the left lunged sweeping his axe down at Severus' knees. His companion followed up with a sword thrust at the vampires' midriff. The Imperial sidestepped the axe, and parried the thrust, before launching a slashing blow of his own. The soldiers were good, Severus had to give them that. But he was better. He drew back, encouraging the rebels to come on in a rush. The first man struck at the vampires' midriff, but this time Severus was more than ready, moving away, and striking simultaneously, the tip of his own blade crossing through the mans throat.

    The Stormcloak, to his credit, didn't so much as glance at his fallen comrade raising his shield and rushing forwards. If the charge had connected, Severus would have been knocked clear off his feet. But Lucius had taught him long ago, that brawn was far from the only way to win a duel. The lean swordsman pivoted, allowing the Stormcloak to rush past. The man realized his mistake, as Severus' sword punched through the leather hauberk, and speared into his kidney.

    The Imperial withdrew his sword and plunged the blade into a nearby snowdrift to cleanse it. For a moment, he considered attempting to hide the bodies. However, his mission was urgent, and there was an equal likeliness that any who came across the bodies would assume bandits had ambushed them. That was, if wild animals didn't ravage the corpses first. Leaving the soldiers where they'd fallen, he reclaimed his things, and moved on.

    It was nearly dawn by the time he encountered those he'd been sent to find. He was at a bend in the road, a snow covered forest to his left, an old, crumbling watch tower atop a hill to his right. His one warning was the crunch of boots on the snow. He reacted quickly throwing himself backwards, and raising his hands to show they were empty. The arrow struck the frozen cobblestones several inches from him, and bounced away. A shouted order came an instant later "hold!"

    Severus turned to see a group of darksteel armoured soldiers making their way down the hill. All but one were helmeted, a short Altmer male, who had close cropped dark hair. His sword was drawn, but he held it down by his side, rather brandishing it in an attack. "Name yourself!" The elf called, stopping several metres away. "And state your purpose here."

    "I am Severus Valte, of the Bloodlet Throne. I come bearing a message from Lucius Draconus, lord of the Coven, for Varnus Kohl." The officers' expression ranged from confused to surprised in an instant. He sheathed his sword, and nodded at the archers atop the hill, a signal for them to lower their weapons.

    "I think you should speak with my captain. She'll be interested in what you have to say." With that, he turned, leading the way up the hill, his soldiers forming a guard around Severus. He was lead to the tower, where a set of stairs spiralled downwards, revealing a sturdy wooden door. "We've been stationed here ever since lord Vivarian dispatched us to the Pale." The Altmer explained.

    "Doing what?" Severus asked, making idle conversation.

    "Raiding, mostly. Nothing glorious, but it's slowed the alliances' attempt at resupplying their outposts in the area. Though lately, we've seen less and less Stormcloaks among the allied troops."

    "Interesting." Severus said, privately wondering how long these soldiers had been cut off from the rest of the war. Judging by the confused reaction to his declaration, they didn't know of Lucius' ascendance to lord of the Coven. Or the circumstances leading up to it. The door opened, and his guide brought him down a dimly lit corridor, until they reached another portal. This one, was guarded by a pair of Altmer, and a Dunmer, who was also clad in an officers gear.

    "Raethen, who's this? Why have you brought him here?" The Dunmer demanded, eyes flashing.

    Raethen, Severus' guide, brought a hand up to calm his fellow officer. "He's a messenger from the Coven. Come to deliver news to the commander."

    The dark elf stared hard at Severus for several moments, before nodding. "Wait here." He opened the door, and stepped inside, closing it behind him. A little time passed, in which the Imperial was all too aware of the suspicious stares being directed his way by the pair of guards. Finally, the officer opened the door wide. "You may enter and deliver your message."

    Severus stepped inside, aware of the elf closing the door behind him. The room he stood in was a badly repaired mix of cave and stone walls. The roof was mostly man made, but he could see snow and ice above as well. At one end of the room sat an Altmer woman, a cloak around her shoulders, her armour designating her a commander. Severus' hesitated for a moment. He'd never met Varnus Kohl before, but Lucius had told him the commander was a male. More importantly, a Breton male.
    For an instant, he wondered if he'd been betrayed, and was about to recieve a blade in the back. The Altmer womans' expression shifted to one of irritation. "Well? I assume you didn't come all this way to stare. What is your message?"

    "Forgive me, but I was instructed to speak only with commander Kohl. Is he around?"

    Surprise flashed in the womans' eyes for an instant. "No, we received word that Varnus Kohl died in a skirmish with the allies. Weeks ago. I'm the ranking officer of the Pale forces. You didn't know?" Mutely, Severus shook his head. The commander looked grave. "We feared our messages were being intercepted- when lord Vivarian didn't respond to Kohls' requests for reinforcements, my troop was sent here."

    The Imperial vampire realized he was now in a difficult situation- the troops in the Pale had obviously been cut off from the rest of the Coven, and gone without news of the wider war for months. "I'm sorry to say, but...lord Vivarian is dead. Fallen at the battle of Karthspire."

    The commanders' eyes widened, and her lips parted in shock. "Dead?" Her gaze drifted off to the side, as if she were someplace else. A moment later, she shook her head, returning to the present. "This is grim news indeed. But I will still hear your message." She eyed him expectantly.

    "It is this: all Coven forces are to withdraw to the Bloodlet Throne as fast as they can. The war...the war is lost."

    The commander pondered this for several moments, before meeting Severus' eye. "Understood. I'll gather my remaining forces, and march for Falkreath hold under the cover of darkness. Help yourself to what supplies we have, meager as they are." His task complete, Severus inclined his head and departed, leaving the commander to her preparations. And wondering how he'd break the news to Lucius.

    4E 202, 16th of Rain's Hand
    Allied camp, Whiterun hold
    "What do you mean, 'they're gone?" Derek Starsong demanded, attempting to keep some semblance of calm in his voice. The Dawnguard sentry standing before him spread his hands in a helpless gesture. The man had been sent to speak with Valdmir Iceclaw, the Stormcloak general leading that portion of the allied force in the hold. However, he appeared to have vanished. In fact, the entirety of the Stormcloak troops had disappeared, apparently overnight.

    "Their camp is empty, sir." The young man explained, "not a soul left in it!"

    "Ominous." Declared Tannis, crossing his arms and turning to Derek. "It doesn't bode well that they left without notiftying us, at least."

    The Nord dawnguard sighed, thinking of reasons the entire Stormcloak force would desert their allies. Only one seemed likely, and it was far from encouraging. They'd decided to pursue their war against the Empire. It was unlikely that a single force would suddenly decide to do so on their own, and general Iceclaw seemed the honourable type. Which meant that this likely wasn't an isolated case. The sentry was still inside the command tent. "Send riders to the rest of our camps. Find out if-"

    He was interrupted by an armoured, angry figure bursting into the tent. A figure in legion armour.
    "They're gone!" Shouted decurion Ordis Kantus. The Imperial commander of the legion forces in the camp was furious. That much was clear. "Slunk away in the night like the traitorous rats they are!" A moment later, he turned his ire on Derek. "You knew of this? "

    "We learned of it a few moments ago. I know as much as you."

    "Damn." The decanus muttered, scratching at his chin. He nodded, almost to himself. "I'll spread the word to my men. We leave in an hour."

    "You're leaving?" Exclaimed Tannis. "How will we coordinate..." the Breton trailed off, realization dawning on his features. He snorted derisively.

    "You're leaving the alliance." Derek concluded, a sinking feeling somewhere in his chest. After all the battles the allies had fought, it had come full circle, with the Imperials and Stormcloaks back at each others throats.

    "The Stormcloaks ended this alliance. Remember who's responsible when war reclaims this land." The decanus paused at the tent entrance. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry it's come to this. I wish the best of luck to both of you."
     
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