A/N: Nudity, sexual situations. NSFW and inappropriate for children.
Dolff sat on the throne, leaning on his elbows with his face his hands as Coranil stood before him, relaying the information he had obtained at the College of Winterhold. He cursed himself for thinking for even a moment that his job as Jarl of Windhelm was easy. He had known the hard decisions would come sooner or later, but he hadn’t realized it would be this soon or this hard. Things had gotten worse since Rowan and Ben had left and issues had started piling up. Without them there to set his mind at ease, he’d had a rough time juggling his responsibilities, remaining objective, and even keeping his thoughts organized. In a fortnight he would have his eighteenth birthday, but right now those eighteen years seemed like eighty.
And now Coranil was standing here, telling him he would have to send Rowan and Ben into Coldharbour.
“You’re absolutely certain?” he asked the elf, his voice heavy with dread.
“I am afraid so, Jarl. All pieces must be present if the Coat of Storms is to be destroyed. If you would like me to continue the search for confirmation, I will do as you ask, but I fear we will prolong all of this only to discover what we have known all along.”
“You’re right. Divines help me, I know you’re right.” He looked his operative in the eye, despising him for the news he had brought, even though he understood it wasn’t Coranil’s fault. Dolff loved Coranil; he was a dear friend who had done everything he could to comfort him and ease his transition into his position as Jarl. But as he regarded the Altmer, who stood there looking superior, with a derisive sneer on his face, he wanted to run him through.
No, that wasn’t right. Coranil wasn’t sneering. He was just standing there. If anything, he looked sympathetic. Why was Dolff seeing things that weren’t there? The fact that he knew exactly why didn’t help his attitude toward his friend.
“So tell me exactly how I’m supposed to send Rowan and Ben through that portal, will you? How are they going to survive that?”
“They are strong, Dolff, excellent fighters. If anyone can survive it, they can.”
“But what if no one can survive it? I’m sending them to their deaths.”
“Then I will go.”
Dolff laughed mirthlessly. “Do you honestly believe Rowan would let you go? She would be furious with me for even entertaining the possibility. There’s nothing for it; I know I have no choice, and I can’t wait too long. I’m already feeling . . . off . . . even though I haven’t worn the Jagged Crown. It’s like the Coat of Storms knows I’m its owner and is forcing its magic onto me.”
“What are you feeling?”
“First it was just overprotectiveness for Rowan, but over the last few days I’ve been edgy, quick to anger—more so than normal, I mean.”
“It could just be the stress of your new position.”
“It’s not the stress of the position!” he snapped. “Do you always have to—” He stopped himself and threw up his hands in frustration. “See what I mean?”
“Then make your decision, my jarl. My offer to go in Rowan’s stead still stands, but I concur with your postulation that she will not agree.”
“And likely not forgive me for it anytime soon. Talos help me.” He turned to his steward, who stood off to the side. “Very well. Kira, bring me the Dovahzul dictionary and prepare to take a letter. And tell that courier from Castle Volkihar that I’ll have a response shortly.”
* * *
5E 20, 2 Sun’s Height
The days and nights Ben and Rowan waited for word from Dolff went by quickly. The vampires were cordial, except for the occasional vampiric innuendo, and he and his sister had found plenty to do. Orthjolf and a couple of the other vampires sparred with them in the courtyard, and Ben spent some time in Vingalmo’s lab, although he didn’t disturb any of the vampire’s work. He mainly just studied the books and stared into the portal, pondering the mysteries that lay on the other side. Fortunately, nothing ever looked back at him, or he might have wet his pants and run away screaming. It was frightening, yes, but he had to admit it was seductive as well. Ben loved danger. He got such a rush from fighting an enemy or stepping into a dark cave or ancient tomb with no idea what awaited them inside, and though the thought of crossing into Oblivion to search for Stormthorn was terrifying, it was also thrilling.
And Serana had been right: at least one of the beds in Castle Volkihar—hers—was very comfortable.
Ben had slipped into her room the morning after they had arrived at the castle, and she had been very amenable. Bedding a vampire was a novel experience, even after he got past the fact that her heart didn’t beat and she didn’t really breathe. It was volatile, intense, carrying him away every time in a flood of passion that rocked his very soul. Then again, that could have had nothing to do with the fact that she was a vampire and just been the emotional connection between them. And oh, there was that.
He propped up on his pillow and watched her sleep. It turned out that a vampire’s sleep wasn’t all that different from a mortal’s. Serana dreamed, turned over in her sleep, snuggled her pillow, and mumbled occasionally. Once, she had even hissed. Ben liked to watch her sleep; it allowed him to look on her sweet face uninterrupted and gave him time to think and try to come to terms with his feelings. He had fallen in love a dozen times, had even joked that he’d been in love with Serana since he was little, but as he watched her scratch her nose in her sleep, so perfect and so vulnerable, he knew she was special. Childhood crush or no, she wasn’t just some wench who had let him into her bed; and when he finally left Castle Volkihar, he wasn’t going to be able to put her out of his mind like the others. As she lay there now, on her back with one hand on her belly and the other resting on the pillow next to her head, he wanted her.
He brushed his fingers across her breast, nuzzled her neck, and began covering her cheek with kisses until she laughed and turned her head to meet his lips. She threw her arms around him and kissed him deeply. He rose up to his knees, pulling her with him, and Serana mounted him. Ben played his hands over the curves of her bottom, her back, and her breasts as she rode him. She was so tight, her skin was cool to the touch but incredibly soft, and her breasts were supple, with pink-tipped nipples that just begged to be licked. He bent his head and took one of them in his mouth, teasing it with his tongue. Serana gasped and rocked against him, and he sucked her nipple as he thrust deep inside her.
“You’re so warm!” she exclaimed. “You feel amazing.”
“So do you. Gods, how can you be so cold and so hot at the same time?”
He trailed his lips and tongue over her torso and throat, driving harder and faster until she finally threw her head back and called out his name, grabbing onto him, spasming around him. His eyes rolled back in his head, and he cried out as he exploded inside her, his head rushing and his heart hammering hard and fast enough for both of them.
Afterward, they clung to each other for several minutes, kissing and caressing each other, until she finally moved off of him and lay down. He stretched out next to her and brushed a lock of hair out of her face. “You are so lovely,” he breathed. And that will never change, he thought to himself.
Serana fell asleep after a little while, but Ben wasn’t tired. He was hungry, so he kissed her cheek and got out of bed, pulling on his breeches, tunic, and boots, and heading for the kitchen. He and Ro had been surprised to learn Castle Volkihar even had a kitchen, but Serana had reminded them that they did have thralls to feed. The kitchen was well stocked, and she even had thralls who hunted, shopped, and cooked for the others.
None of the other mortals were around, so he grabbed a couple of eggs and scrambled them over the cooking fire, wolfed them down with some mead, and then made his way to Rowan’s room, knocking on the door and opening it before she answered. She was sitting on her bed, reading a book and absently stroking CuSith, who had been following her around since the first night. He had even slept in her room, curling up at the foot of her bed.
When Ben walked into the room, the deathhound looked up at him, yawned, and lay his head back down. Rowan waved him in.
“Afternoon,” she greeted. He sat down in one of the chairs at the end of the bed, and Rowan sat across from him.
“I’m getting my days and nights mixed up in this place,” he said. “We should get out to the courtyard today and train some during the day.”
“Aye, because it’s lack of sunshine that’s causing the problem. It has nothing to do with you sleeping in a vampire’s bed all day.”
“Hey, don’t judge me.”
“I’m not judging. I think you two are adorable, especially considering that she’s several hundred years old. I didn’t want to wake you up too early, but we got a letter from Dolff.”
Rowan shook her head as she retrieved the letter from her skirt pocket and handed it to him. “No, it’s not good. That’s part of the reason I was putting off showing it to you.”
My Dearest Rowan,
Coranil found out we can destroy the Coat of Storms, but we must have all the pieces to do it. Execution into Coldharbour approved. For the love of Talos, be careful, and keep me overwhelmed.
All my love,
“You think he meant ‘excursion’ and ‘informed’?” Ben assumed.
“I think he probably did. You know, Ulfric should have been teaching him Dovahzul since he was a child, like Mama and Daddy did for us.”
“Still, he’s picking it up pretty quickly.”
Someone cleared their throat, and Rowan and Ben looked up to see Serana leaning against the door jamb. “Are you really that interested in the jarl’s understanding of the dragon language, or are you putting off dealing with the implications of that letter?”
“I thought you wanted to sleep some more,” Ben said, going to her and slipping his arms around her waist.
“I got lonely.”
“Sorry about that,” he said, placing a gentle kiss on her lips. Then he took her hand and drew her into the room with him, sitting back down and pulling her onto his lap. “I’m going to go with putting off dealing with it.”
“I’m going with you, of course.”
“No, you’re not. You’re a Daughter of Coldharbour, one of the chosen of Molag Bal, and you’re openly defying him.”
“How am I defying him?” she asked defensively.
“You’re changing the way vampires hunt and feed, even the way they treat mortals. That’s gotta piss him off. In Nirn, you’re relatively safe, but what do you think he would do to you if he got ahold of you in Coldharbour?”
“He’s right, Serana,” said Rowan.
“I can take care of myself, you know,” the vampire grumbled.
“I’m not doubting that for a second, love,” Ben told her. “But even if the thought of Bal capturing you doesn’t frighten you, be practical about it. Say you do get captured, and we have to rescue you—because you know we will. Leaving you there would be out of the question—it will distract us from our mission and cause delays, and it might get all three of us killed in the process.”
Serana stroked his cheek. “You are much too young to be so sensible.”
“That being said,” Rowan remarked, “if you have any ideas or advice that can help us while we’re in there . . .”
“Oh, I have an idea, but you won’t like it.”
“What is it?”
“Coldharbour is not a place for the living. It’s dangerous enough for those of us whose hearts don’t beat, but for your kind, the risks are monumental. Think about what would happen of Bal got ahold of you. He has captured mortals before, enslaved and tormented them for decades—centuries—used them as power sources, done unspeakable things to them.”
“So we’ll just make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Ben.
“The living stand out in Coldharbour. The dead will be able to smell you and hear your hearts beating from far away, and so will Bal. The best way to keep from garnering attention is to become like everyone else: dead.”
“What do you mean, dead?” Rowan asked.
Ben knew what she meant before she even said it, and it didn’t even occur to him to say no. He wondered what it would feel like.
“I could turn you,” Serana suggested, confirming his thoughts. “Then you’ll go into Coldharbour stronger, deadlier, and without a beating heart to get Molag Bal’s attention.”
He locked eyes with his sister, and he could see the apprehension building in her face. This might be what he wanted, but it filled her with terror.
“But I don’t want to be a vampire,” she protested.
“There’s a wizard in Morthal who can change you back when all this is over. Look, you don’t have to do it this way. You asked for suggestions, and I gave you one. It’s up to you.”
“I’m in,” Ben declared, “but if you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. I’ll protect you.”
“Or you’ll bite her,” Serana said. “You’ll be a new vampire in a place with an incredible amount of negative energy. You’ll be thirsty, there will be nowhere to feed, and I won’t be there to help you. Even if I send you across with potions of blood, the temptation to feed on living blood, especially when it’s so close, will be too much to withstand, and you could become just another creature she has to fight off. No, either you both do it, or neither of you does it.”
Rowan looked helplessly at him, but he shook his head. “Oh, no, don’t look at me like that, Ro. You know how I feel about it, but that doesn’t mean I have to do it right now. I’m not going to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. This is your decision.”
She stared at him for a long moment, considering, and she finally asked, “You’re sure this mage can turn me back?”
“Yes, Rowan,” said Serana. “He’ll need a filled black soul gem, which we already have here, and a couple hundred gold; but he can turn you back, and he will.”
“How bad does it hurt?”
Ben chuckled. “Gods, you’re such a baby!”
“Aw, don’t do that,” Rowan pleaded. “I’m just as brave as you are, and you know it. But this is uncharted territory, and it’s huge.”
“My experience of becoming a vampire was vastly different from what you will go through,” Serana said, “so I can’t say for sure. But from all accounts, the process is disconcerting because the change is swift and sudden, but it’s relatively painless.”
“What will it do to you?” Ben asked her.
“Next to nothing. I can turn you both right now without any detrimental effects to myself.”
“Let us get ready to go first,” said Rowan. “It’ll give me a while to think about it and make sure this is really what I want to do.”
“So yes?” Ben asked her eagerly.
“At this point, yes.”
* * *
They spent the day preparing for their trip into Coldharbour, and it wasn’t really all that different from their preparations for any other trip, except that Serana brewed several blood potions for each of them to take along. She also gave them instruction on what would happen when she turned them. She would bite them and take some of their blood, then bite her wrist and feed her blood to them, essentially bypassing the Sanguinaire Vampiris virus and immediately turning them into vampire lords, who were much more powerful than the normal vampires who wandered Skyrim. They would be able to change form, and while their appearance might be shocking, they would be immensely stronger and faster, and they would be able to fly, walk on water, and deal more physical damage. Ben’s magic would also be more powerful. If they decided to stay on as vampires, other powers and abilities would develop over time. Although sunlight wasn’t deadly, it did weaken them, but that wouldn’t be a problem in Coldharbour, where eternal night dominated the land. And of course, they would need to feed. Serana would give them plenty of blood potions, but she recommended feeding on living mortals before crossing into the realm.
To say Rowan was apprehensive didn’t begin to cover it. She was less afraid of venturing into Coldharbour than she was of becoming a vampire. While she didn’t agree with Vilkas, who believed that all vampires were monsters, that didn’t mean she wanted to be one. By turning her, Serana would essentially be killing her, and she wasn’t ready to die. Biting a mortal, feeding on them, just seemed like such a violation, even for the bandits, killers, and Thalmor agents the Volkihar vampires brought home. How was she going to be able to do something like that?
And what would Dolff say? He had asked her to marry him, had promised to spend the rest of his life with her. But what if this man in Morthal couldn’t or wouldn’t change her back? Would Dolff still want her if she was a vampire? She had seen how horrified he had been over the activities at Castle Volkihar. How could he love her if she had to stay that way? It was simple; he couldn’t. If she had to remain a vampire, she would lose him.
Ben was so sure about it. A lot of that had to do with Serana; he did tend to think with his penis instead of his brain. But Rowan couldn’t help wondering if that was the only thing or if there was more. What was the attraction? Dolff liked to say Rowan was a daredevil, but Ben was the one with a wildness about him. Even though they were as close as twins, there was always something just a little bit other about him. Mama had figured he’d want to become a werewolf, but his interests had always lain elsewhere. Perhaps it was the magic that appealed to him, or maybe he wanted to stay young and live forever.
Whatever it was, if that was what he really wanted, Rowan said more power to him. But it wasn’t what she wanted.
She couldn’t deny, however, that traveling to Coldharbour as vampires was less dangerous than going as living mortals. Serana was right: entering the realm alive would make them magnets for every creature who wanted to feed on them, enslave them, torture them, or deliver them up to Molag Bal. This was necessary, and Rowan would just have to hope and pray that the mage in Morthal could reverse it when it was over.
Late in the day, when they had everything ready for the trip, Serana took her and Ben to the dungeon to talk to Vingalmo.
“So you’re going after it, eh?” he asked. “Are you sure that is wise?”
“Maybe not,” Ben said, “but we don’t have a choice. We need to know where you took it.”
“And Vingalmo,” Serana interjected, “I’ll only tell you this once: you will give them all the knowledge they need to find the sword and get back out alive. Once they’re back safely and you close the portal, I’ll set you free and hopefully there will be no hard feelings. If they don’t come back, or if I find you’ve somehow led them into a trap, you’ll be begging me to kill you long before I’m done with you. Do you understand?”
The captive vampire sighed and rolled his eyes. “Serana, I want that portal closed as much as you do. As for our friends here, if they find it absolutely necessary to go after that gods-forsaken sword, it is their choice, whether I agree with it or not.”
“We’re going to destroy the sword,” Ben said.
Vingalmo raised an eyebrow. “Really. Well, that gives me some small comfort, although I have to tell you, I do not see you making it out, no matter what I tell you. The undead will hear and smell you coming from miles away.”
“I’ll take care of that,” said Serana. “Just tell them what they need to know.”
“Very well. The portal will take you to the woods outside a village.”
“There are villages in Coldharbour?” Rowan asked.
“Boggles the mind, no? Yes, there are villages in Coldharbour. Who resides there is anyone’s guess. The portal faces north, so swing around behind it and go south, skirting around the village. I would not recommend going through it. On the other side of the village lies the river. Turn west—to the right—at the river and follow it. For Divines’ sake, do not turn east; it will lead you straight to Molag Bal’s prisons. Half a day’s journey will take you to a small cemetery on the north side of the river. There is a crypt in that cemetery with the name ‘Bierce.’ The door is trapped. You do know how to disarm traps, don’t you?”
Ben nodded. “We’re okay.”
“Good. The sword is inside, encased in a sarcophagus in the second room, and protected by a lightning rune.”
“Are there draugr in Coldharbour?”
“No, but that does not mean the crypt will be empty. I destroyed a handful of feral soul shriven just placing the sword inside. I cannot guarantee there won’t be more.”
“The dead who are enslaved there,” Serana told them. “The longer they’re in Coldharbour, the more diseased their minds become, until they finally become feral.”
“Big fun,” he muttered. “Okay, what else?”
“That’s it,” said Vingalmo. “Except for coming back through the portal. Be prepared for a jolt.”
Serana grunted. “A ‘jolt’? You were unconscious for days.”
“Fine. Be prepared to be knocked unconscious for days when coming back through.”
“You haven’t said much,” Serana said to Rowan.
“Don’t have much to say,” she answered, her apprehension coming through in her voice. Everything inside her screamed at her to flee this place, to tell them all to go screw themselves, and just run for the hills.
The vampire placed a gentle hand on her arm. “Everything will be all right, sweetheart,” she said softly. “I really believe that.”
Rowan drew a quivering breath and nodded. “Let’s just get on with it. Thank you, Vingalmo.”
“Yes, well, do be careful. Apparently my well-being hinges on whether you come back safely.”
Serana led them back out to the great hall, where the other vampires were just beginning to filter in for the evening. Orthjolf approached and said hello, and Serana filled him in.
Orthjolf sighed and shook his head. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. Coldharbour is not a place one should go willingly. So you’re turning them now? I can do one of them if you’d like.”
Serana looked questioningly at Rowan, who shook her head. “No offense to Orthjolf, but if it won’t cause you any detrimental effects, I’m more comfortable with you.”
“It won’t. I promise.”
Orthjolf nodded his understanding, patted both Rowan and Ben amiably on the shoulder, and then walked away.
“Who wants to go first?” asked Serana.
“Let me go first,” Rowan said. “If I watch you turn Ben, I might chicken out.”
“Very well. Are you ready?”
“As ready as I’m going to get.”
The bite did hurt, but not terribly. Rowan had experienced far worse pain when fighting or training. But the sudden weakness and dizziness was disconcerting, and she grabbed onto the vampire for support. Serana fed for a couple of minutes, then pulled back and bit into her wrist, holding it up for Rowan to drink.
“You don’t need to take much, just a few swallows, enough to let the magic take hold.”
She took Serana’s hand and watched the blood drip down her skin, hesitating for a moment before placing her mouth over the wound. It tasted better than she expected, salty, a bit coppery, and with the first swallow she felt the thirst rise within her and a power rushing through her body. Though Serana’s blood was cold, the power radiated warmth through her extremities and produced a wealth of goosebumps. Rowan drank voraciously, grasping the wrist possessively until Serana pushed her away.
“That’s enough. It won’t have a detrimental effect on me unless you bleed me dry.”
“Sorry,” Rowan said, wiping blood from her lips. She was aware of Serana asking Ben if he was ready and then biting him, but she was so distracted by the new rush of sensation coursing through her that she barely noticed them. Her eyesight was sharper, her hearing keener, and the scents in the room were breathtaking—specifically, the scent of blood. A thirst like she’d never had before overcame her, and her throat felt dry, hot, as though she hadn’t had anything to drink in ages. She could hear and feel her heart beating, slower with every repetition, until it stopped altogether. And yet she still stood. “Oh, gods,” she gasped, sinking down into a nearby chair.
Orthjolf was next to her in an instant. “You all right?” he asked.
“Aye, I’m just . . . well, I’m dead, aren’t I? And thirsty. Can I get one of those blood potions?”
The burly Nord shook his head. “You need to feed on living blood; you know that. Come with me.” He led her to one of the tables where a female Altmer was chained. He took the elf’s hand, bit into it, and held it up for Rowan. “It’s all right. It won’t be any different from feeding on Serana.”
But oh, was he wrong. She had wondered how she would ever be able to feed on a mortal, how she could violate them like that, but once she latched onto the Altmer’s wrist, she couldn’t imagine how she could ever let go. The blood was sweet, warm, and rich, and heat poured through her extremities as she drank. And so did the power. With every swallow, she felt stronger, faster, smarter, more alive. With a tingle in her gums, new fangs protruded, and she bit the elf and drank more fervently. She could take on the world now, whether it was Nirn or Coldharbour, and not only would she survive, she would thrive. She heard Orthjolf tell her to slow down or she would kill the elf, and she managed to pull away, still unwilling to take that step but understanding how easy it would be to do so.
“Sweet Sanguine!” Ben gasped across the room.
“Indeed,” she said softly.
She watched him feed, noting that Serana had to warn him to stop, too. He was totally entranced. After he fed, he came to Rowan, his eyes glowing yellow and sharp, new fangs showing in his mouth. “Did you feel that too? It was like all of a sudden my body was on fire, and then everything was just so . . . so real. Ro, everything is just—” He reached into his mouth and poked at one of his fangs, then chuckled. “This is so bizarre.”
“You like it?” she asked with a smile.
“Gods, yes! You?”
“More than I expected to. The fact that we’re dead is a little disturbing.”
“I don’t feel dead.” He placed his hand over his chest and made a face. “Hmm. I guess that part is a bit disconcerting. But Divines, Ro! Everything else is just so—I keep saying that, don’t I?”
Rowan chuckled. “Aye, you do. But it’s new, and you’re excited.”
Serana gave them both time to adjust to the changes in their bodies, and after a while, she said, “Do you think you’re ready to brave Coldharbour?”
“Wow, just like that,” Ben mused.
“You can wait till tomorrow if you’d like. Spend the night getting used to it and the day resting.”
Rowan shook her head. “If he’s okay, so am I. Let’s do this.”
They geared up and followed Serana to Vingalmo’s lab, where they stood before the portal. Ben wrapped his arms around Serana and gave her a long, passionate kiss. When he pulled back, he whispered, “I love you,” then climbed up on the arcane enchanter and went through.
Rowan hugged a dumbfounded Serana and then followed her brother, leaving Nirn behind and stepping into a nightmare.