Chapter 45: Fire in the Sky

Alessia

"Lydia!" Alessia shouted as she and Serana burst into Breezehome. "Whiterun is under attack! Get the girls!"

Not a surprise the housecarl was already fully armored and downstairs. She immediately turned to obey the order. It wouldn't have mattered. Both Lucia and Sofie stood in the doorway of their room, both looking frightened. Sofie clung to her older sister, who held in her hand the small sword Alessia had given her for her birthday a few years ago. "Mama?"

"Girls, stay with Lydia. Don't go outside. Serana." Her mate followed her downstairs into the armory. It took only a matter of moment to get Serana into her armor, so they focused on that first. When Serana reached for the dragon scale armor, Alessia shook her head. "No time. I'll make due with the leather. Go to the girls."

There was a loud boom from nearby overhead, shaking the very stone beneath their feet. Serana cursed, "What the hell are those?"

"Some form of fire pot, I think. That's what shattered on the wall earlier." Alessia said, fastening a strap on the armor.

She nodded to Serana. "Go on. I'll be right up."

Serana paused, striding over and stealing a kiss before running up the stairs two at a time. Alessia followed less than a minute after, Gelebor's bow in hand and Dii Lokal on her hip. The girls were dressed in something far more appropriate for what they were about to do; shirt, pants, and boots. Their long hair had been tied back and away from their faces. Lucia had donned her sword belt. Sofie was slinging her small quiver of arrows over her shoulder and held her child sized bow in her hand. Pride shot through Alessia at the sight. The girls were scared, she could see their little hands shaking, but they were also fighters. Hopefully, they wouldn't need to employ what they'd learned to defend themselves. Not tonight.

Serana approached and spoke softly. "Do you think they know we have the weapon?"

"It's the only thing I can think of that would justify this attack. As fierce as it is, the vampires will have no chance of sacking the city once-" A long and loud horn blew in the distance, from the directions of Dragonsreach. It shook the dust from the rafters.

A little startled, Serana looked up and all around. "What was that?"

"The Horn of Paarthurnax. Balgruuf just called for aid from the dragons. They'll be here within the hour, depending on how bad the storms are at the Mouth of the World."

"And the bow?" Serana's eyes went to the weapon in Alessia's hand. "Why don't you have it with you?"

"It's safer if I don't carry it. Even if they figure out which house is ours, they won't be able to get to the bow."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Suffice to say… I found a better hiding spot than the bottom of the ocean."

Before Serana could ask anything else, Lydia called, "We are ready, my Thane. What is the plan?"

"Right." Alessia went to the girls and knelt, speaking to them softly. "We're going to make a run for the keep. Your mother and I need to meet with the jarl and join in the defense. I want you two to stay close to each other until we get there. Sofie hold on to your sister's sword belt and don't let go. Lucia, should we be attacked, I want you to lead your sister somewhere and hide. You know all the best hiding places. Do not come out for anyone other than a Whiterun guard you recognize by name and face, or one of us. Understood?"

"Yes, Mama." Both girls nodded.

Alessia stood and looked to the other adults. "Lydia, I want you out front leading the way and stopping anything that rushes us. Serana you follow after Lydia. Focus on the skies. If any gargoyles come swooping down at us, your magic is really the only thing that can hurt them. I'll bring up the rear and watch our backs. Girls, follow your mother. I'll be right behind you."

The streets were chaos. Fires raged at every turn. Townsfolk ran about trying to stop the fires from spreading. Numerous little conflicts were happening, guardsmen in desperate battle against either the imposing stone creatures, or small groups of dark hooded individuals. Vampires no doubt. Nothing challenged them as they passed through the Plains District, but that changed when they reached the Market District. One of the girls cried out, Sofie Alessia thought, then something huge and heavy slammed into Lydia.

The gargoyle hadn't made a single sound as it fell from the sky. Had Sofie not spotted it, the housecarl might not have gotten her shield up in time. The big brute shrieked and raised its thick arms up to crush the woman pinned beneath it. Serana hit it square in the chest with a solid blast of cold magic. The blow staggered the beast but it didn't release Lydia. While the two were busy with the gargoyle, two hooded vampires came up behind Alessia. The first took an arrow to the neck, falling and dying right away. The second got in close before she could loose another shot or even draw Dii Lokal. He was fast.

Alessia dropped the bow and rotated her body to dodge the dagger. It missed. She rolled again to dodge the second strike. That caught her across the ribcage, but just barely. The third strike she caught on her forearms, the tip of the blade angled at her throat. It then became a battle of strength and will. The vampire's supernatural strength pitted against Alessia's own. The vampire bared his teeth in a fierce smile, then struck with another weapon in his other hand. The firelight gleamed off more steel. It was a shiv of some kind, more of a thick needle rather than a knife, and maybe four inches long. Less used for slashing and more for a quick piercing thrust. More than capable of getting the deadly job done.

She twisted a little, which turned the ensuing mortal stab into only an extremely painful one. It hit bone, glancing off her ribcage rather than piercing into a lung. And it wasn't steel. It was silver. Alessia howled as the poisonous metal burned her flesh. When the vampire came again with the shiv, she pushed away from it instinctively. It did little good. The silver stabbed into her arm, blood sizzling. Wolf roared and slapped the shiv away fiercely. When the dagger came, she caught the blow and twisted her whole body, forcing the vampire up and over Alessia's shoulder and into the ground. The dagger, now in Alessia's possession, came down on him. He screamed as she buried the sharp edge to the hilt in his chest.

Alessia's vision blurred as she fell to a knee. The poison in her blood burned, but her life was in no danger this time. Serana's Silver Poisoning Potion was already coursing through her veins, and had been ever since their last encounter with silver wielding vampires in Volkihar Castle. It would hurt like a son of a bitch, but it would pass in a few moments. Kneeling on the ground, vision hazy, Alessia didn't see the third vampire until it was already bearing down on her. It, or rather she, shouted her triumph as she brought down the business end of her war axe to chop off Alessia's head.

Before the blow connected, there was a solid thwap and the vampire stumbled. She dropped the axe and literally twisted herself into a bow to reach something at her back. As she turned, Alessia saw the red fletchings of an arrow sticking out from the female's lower back. There was another shout, only this one familiar. The female vampire jerked from a blow, then just stood there staring at something Alessia couldn't see from her position. Then she noticed the tip of a sword protruding from the vampire's back. After a long moment where both Alessia and the vampire simply looked on in astonishment, Lucia jerked her little sword from the dying vampire's body. As she fell, Alessia could see Sofie standing only a few dozen steps away, her bow still held up in a firing position. There was another arrow with red fletchings notched and ready.

Alessia blinked at her daughters as they ran over. "Mama, are you alright?"

"Yes, I'll be alright in a second." She wheezed through the pain. Her eyes narrowed at the girls. "Didn't I tell you to go hide? This is not hiding."

"We did, but that vampire was going to chop your head off." Lucia said, her sword pointed to the dead female.

Sofie looked a little glum. "I was aiming for her neck. Missed."

Even though it hurt, Alessia chuckled. "That's alright, Little One. The first battle is always hard on the nerves. You'll learn to keep yourself calm in time."

"Alessia!" Serana came rushing over, Lydia right behind her. Her mate practically slid into her, grabbing frantically at Alessia's hand covering the first shiv wound. It bled more than it really ought to for such a small cut. "Let me see."

"I'm alright. It was a glancing blow. Silver." Alessia grunted. "The potion is working, don't worry."

Serana glared at the wound, sighing in relief as the bleeding slowed on its own. "I knew we should have gotten you into the scale armor."

"Wouldn't have done any good against that thing." Alessia pointed to the shiv lying nearby, then to the approximate area on her body where both the weapon hit, and to where the dragon scale armor chain mail would have been. Not hard dragon scale. "Chainmail isn't meant to stop that focused of a point. And the male knew exactly where to strike."

"My Thane, we must go. Can you stand?" Lydia said, eyes scanning around the immediate area. The woman looked no worse for wear. Not a scratch on her despite the gargoyle's best efforts.

Alessia stood with help from her wife and daughters. Her ribs ached and her arm still burned from the silver, but she could move. Lucia handed over the bow she'd dropped. "Alright, let's get moving."

Valerica

Valerica opened her eyes, bright lightning shocking her into wakefulness. Her… everything hurt. Tenderly, she touched the side of her head just above the ear. It was painful to the touch, and her fingers came away bloody. She stared at the blood, confused. Though it hurt, she tried to get up. Failed. Tried again. Failed again. Slowly, she crawled a few feet to a stone wall. It was difficult, but she managed to sit up against it. That was as far as she got before the nausea set in. The world around her spun mercilessly and she fought down the urge to vomit. The coliseum was in ruins. Well, more so than it was previous to the vampire attack. The small battlements torn asunder and the walls broken.

What happened? Valerica struggled to remember exactly how she'd gotten where she had. Difficult. Nearly as difficult as moving. The very effort of thought hurt. Her mind felt slow, sluggish. She breathed through the foggy agony in her head and focused. What had happened?

The dragon had fallen from the sky while trying to fly Valdhmar to safety. He'd crashed into the coliseum… after Harkon had struck him down. Harkon… Suddenly the pain in her body was replaced with a very frightening realization. Harkon was here.

Something moved not far away. Valerica's heart leaped into her throat. Slowly, painfully slowly, Durnehviir drug himself out from under a mass of rubble. He shook himself, dislodging dust and a few more stones. "Lady Valerica? D-Do you yet live?"

"I am here, Durnehviir." Valerica called. Speaking hurt far more than thinking. "Where are Eveete and the others?"

"I do not know. Ack… I lost Valdhmar when I fell. I did not see what became of the others." The dragon began dragging himself across the floor towards her. His wounds were gave. There was a great gaping hole in his chest. One wing was simply gone. Broken and shattered bones. How he was still living, Valerica could not say. Once he reached her side, he placed his large head near her. One of his great horns had been broken off. He saw her looking him over, and thrummed. "Do not fear for me, Lady. My suffering will not last much longer. I fear for you though. You must go. Now. While there is still time. I will hold him as long as I am able."

"Would that I could, my friend." Valerica found herself stroking the great beast's scaly muzzle, as she had before. The thrumming grew in volume. He even closed his eyes and leaned into the touch. She chuckled softly, smiling despite their impending doom. "So like a cat, you are. A big, ugly, undead cat."

The big chest huffed, the breath from his nostrils scattering the dust and dirt. "I have not felt the gentle touch of another in ages. It is… as pleasant as I remember. Thank you, Lady."

Before Valerica could respond, a voice she hadn't heard in four thousand years came from the shadowed archways. "Ah, yes. The touch of a beautiful female… I too remember what that felt like, beast. You are right to enjoy the experience. It will be your last."

Harkon emerged from the shadows, tall and dark and as handsome as the first day she'd laid eyes on him. Never had she seen such a man. He'd been kind, loving, gentle then. Now… that man was dead. Murdered by the creature that stood before her. A creature with eyes so dark and empty that Valerica felt she could get lost in them. Harkon stood there, straight backed, arms folded neatly behind him, eyes locked on her, with an evil smile on his face.

"Hello, my Dear. It has been too long." He said with a slight bow.

Valerica sneered. "Not nearly long enough."

"Awe, now is that any way to treat your husband? After all, I am not the one who betrayed their family for the moral kine. That was you, my Dear. A deed you will be paying for shortly." The bastard started picking at his nails, as if he were bored. "Now if you would, Darling, come with me now and I will consider not killing the wyrm. Resist and he will die."

Slowly, painfully so, Durnehviir rose to his feet and crouched protectively over Valerica. He hissed menacingly, the spines on his back rising like the hair on an angry cat. "I will die soon enough regardless. While there is still life in this body, I will not allow you to take her."

Harkon tisked, a slightly disapproving sound. Disapproving, but not disappointed. He crouched low, drawing a wickedly curved sword in one hand and calling red lightning to the other. A mad smile rose to his lips as he said, very calmly, "I was hoping you would say that, worm. Let us see who is the bigger monster."

Alessia

They met resistance on their way up to the Gildergreen. Thankfully the fires hadn't touched the beautiful pink blossoms. It was an island of pure beauty and stillness amongst chaos. The Companions were at war beneath the massive tree's branches and atop the steps to Jorrvaskr. The old mead hall burned. Alessia's heart lurched at the sight. A few of the recruits were working to put out the fire, but it wasn't likely they would succeed.

"Archers! Here they come again!" Aela's voice rang out over the din.

Alessia's eyes rose to the sound of displaced air on wings. A handful of gargoyles bore down on the battling Companions. Aela the Huntress and a small number of her hunters rose and notched their arrows. They looked battered and bruised, but determined. The first volley bounced off the gargoyles' stony hide, doing little to no damage at all. The second the same. They had time for only one last shot.

"Lucia, stay with Lydia. Serana, Sofie, with me." Alessia said as they stepped forward. Serana's hands glowed with bluish cold light, while Alessia handed Sofie one of her special arrows. "Remember to lead your target, Sofie. With this, you won't have to hit anything vital. Just hit it, alright?"

The small girl's hands shook a little, but stood firm between Alessia and Serana. The three took aim and fired their shots. Serana's first ice spell hit one gargoyle a little high, encasing it's entire head and upper torso in ice, and the second in the shoulder. Alessia's shot hit in the same spot on her target, freezing both wings instantly. Sofie's shot was a little too leading and a bit low, but still struck the brute in the leg. The added weight dropped it out of the sky like a… well, stone, with the rest of it's comrades. They all shattered on impact.

Sofie looked at her bow with a huge smile on her face, "Wow."

Alessia ruffled her hair. "Ice enchanted arrows. Got the idea from your mother a little while back."

"Cool." The girl giggled.

Aela whirled around, eyes searching for the source of the arrows. When she saw the group, her eyes sparkled. "Harbinger!"

Alessia and company came over, and they traded grips. "Aela. Good hunting?"

The female huffed. "Majority of the cowards won't land long enough to fight with honor. That was the last of our flying beasties, though there will probably be more. They've been dropping vampires all over Whiterun. There's no telling how many are within the city walls."

"The keep?"

"Secure, for the most part. We've held the courtyard since the beginning of the attack." Aela pointed towards Dragonsreach with her bow. "The way is clear. The jarl's men have passed through this way into the town proper. Taking the fight to the enemy."

"Aunt Aela, did you see me? Did you see?" Sofie practically bounced up and down.

Aela gave the girl a wolfish grin. "That I did, young huntress. A fine first kill."

"Second. I shot a vampire too."

Lucia chimed in, "I'm the one who killed it."

"Yeah, but I shot it first."

The two went back and forth for a moment before Alessia silenced them with a soft growl. Now was not the time for bickering. Aela eyed both girls, her grin widening even further. "Quite the vicious young you have, Harbinger. You and your mate should be proud."

"We most certainly are." Serana said. "Alessia, we need to get to the keep. I don't want the girls out here any longer than necessary."

Nodding, Alessia grabbed what remained of her ice arrows and handed them to Aela. "These will take down any other gargoyles that show up. Good luck."

"To you as well, Harbinger. You and your family." The two traded grips again and they were off.

The keep was simply more chaos, albeit organized. Guards ran about herding the servants into safety, and carrying out their orders. No less than ten guards challenged them as they entered, most eying Serana with cautious eyes. Alessia needn't worry. A commanding voice immediately called them off.

"Stand down, men! That one's one of ours!" Irileth shoved her way through the crowd of men. "Thank the Gods you're not dead."

"Irileth, my children. Will you see to their safety?"

The dark elf looked to the two girls standing between their mothers, her dark eyes softening. "Gunndor, Filnrod, put these two with the jarl's children. Guard them with your lives."

Alessia hugged both girls, placed comforting kisses on their heads and brows before letting them go. Serana did the same. The two guards saluted their captain, then swore to Alessia and Serana that not even Mehrunes Dagon could wrest the children from them. It was a big promise. One Alessia hoped would never be put to the test. Irileth led the three through the busy room and up a flight of stairs. Alessia had been in the war room many times before during the Dragon Awakening. Balgruuf, his brother Hrongar, Frothar, Proventus, and Farengar all looked up from the table at the females entered.

"Ah. Harbinger, Lady Ambassador, Housecarl Lydia, I'm glad you're here." Balgruuf stood to greet them.

Frothar stood as well, worried eyes darting all around in search of one person in particular. Alessia smiled at him, nodding back the way they came. "Lucia is safe. She and Sofie are with your siblings."

The young man looked to his father, who nodded without a word. Frothar bowed to his father, bowed to Alessia and Serana, then darted down the stairs. Once he was gone, Balgruuf let out a sigh of relief. "He's been wanting to take a few men and go looking for your daughter. I am glad it is no longer necessary."

"Brave lad." Alessia said. No doubt Lucia would be pleased to hear of his worry and determination. She shook the thought out of her mind and focused on the here and now. "Where do we stand, Balgruuf?"

"The vampires have breached the city walls. Their constructs…"

"Gargoyles, my Jarl." Farengar corrected.

The nordic jarl glared at the wizard, but continued. "The gargoyles started fires throughout the city. My men are busy putting those out while trying to get the townsfolk to safety, and fighting the invaders."

"And the dragons?"

Jarl Balgruuf looked grim. "Nothing yet. We were about to signal for them again."

His words made Alessia's stomach drop. The dragons hadn't come? It had been well over an hour since the first call from the Horn of Paarthurnax. Worried, Alessia and her cadre followed the men out onto the huge balcony where both the Horn and the Snare resided. Alessia gazed up at the gears and chains of the Snare, remembering how she'd lured Odahviing into the trap. He'd… not been pleased, but agreed to take Alessia beyond their world and into the After in exchange for his freedom and loyal service. Near on a lifetime ago it seemed now.

Serana walked up beside her, eyes looking over the Snare. "That's intimidating… Is that what you used to catch Odahviing?"

Alessia nodded. "It's what Dragonsreach was built for long ago. To catch dragons."

The two watched as Hrongar mounted the steps to the Horn. Serana gazed out over the night darkened landscape. "Why do you think the dragons haven't come?"

"I'm not sure. Perhaps they've already left for the coastline. The Horn is powerful enough to reach the Throat of the World, but it won't reach the coast. We might be on our own here."

"We still have one dragon we can call. Durnehviir would relish the chance to smash a few gargoyles." Serana leaned out over the balcony railing, her eyes scanning upwards for any of the stony beasts. "I'm surprised there aren't any trying to get in this way."

Alessia pointed to the huge war machines mounted every few yards or so on the balcony. Four giant crossbows in all. "No doubt they've tried. Those ballista are not something they want to tangle with though. One of those bolts would completely obliterate a gargoyle."

The Horn of Paarthurnax bellowed, the sound deafening now that they were mere feet from the thing. The horn was white, gold metal and wood. Near the size of a full grown man. Even the arguably large Hrongar seemed small in comparison to the horn. He blew one long call, took a large breath, then blew again. If the call went unanswered, then they would need to revise a plan. As it stood, the vampires could be taken care of. But with those gargoyles in the air, they would lose many, many lives before dawn. The horn call disappeared into the distance, relative silence following. It made Alessia's blood run a bit cold.

"I think I'll call Durnehviir. At the very least he can buy us time." Alessia stepped to the side of the room, facing a undead dragon sized area of open floor. She'd seen only a few moments of Durnehviir's reveal the first time she'd summoned him under the frozen lake. But she'd seen enough to know that he came up from underground. She took a few controlled breaths, then Shouted. "Dur Neh Viir!"

Expecting a slight tremor and some violet light, Alessia stepped back. Then… nothing. Surprised and a bit confused, she looked to Serana. Her mate shrugged and gave a "try again" gesture with her hand.

"Dur neh viir!"

Again, nothing.

Serana glared down at the stone floor, as did many other people. "Maybe he's busy?"

Alessia thought about that for a moment, her own eyes downcast. "I don't think I like the sound of-"

Everyone's eyes were focused elsewhere, even the handful of guards manning the ballista. Which was why no one saw the shadowy figures dive through the balcony opening. The gargoyles showed a surprising bit of intelligence in attacking the giant crossbows first. They were smashed, if not to pieces, then at the very least to uselessness. The two that didn't target the war machines, descended on Serana. Took her by surprise. Within the blink of an eye they snatched her up and dove back out into the darkened sky. There was barely any noise save for the shriek of metal and wood being bent.

Alessia froze for a single, horrified heartbeat, stunned. They'd just taken Serana. They took Serana. They had Serana! The world went still. Her heart, her breath, her body. Something… fundamental broke. Snapped. The very thought, the very idea, that her mate had just been taken… Taken beyond Alessia's reach. Wolf howled with pure, undiluted, blazing hot, world destroying rage. The bastards had taken her mate! Alessia roared and charged. The four gargoyles that remained turned on her and bellowed a challenge of their own. Lydia was a split second behind Alessia, with Hrongar and a contingent of guards right behind her. Irileth had most certainly pulled Balgruuf back away from the attacking creatures, her duty to her liege to protect him above all others.

Lydia bellowed the same challenge, somehow getting ahead of her Thane and forging a path through. Her shield crushed through solid stone then spun, shoving Alessia towards the balcony and guarding her back. "Go, my Thane! I will hold them!"

The gargoyles turned with them, their claws raking at the armored housecarl. The mountain of a woman held her ground and took the punishment on her shield. It lasted only long enough for Hrongar and the guards to close in from behind. Then their battle began in earnest. Alessia hardly noticed. Her eyes were on a small speck in the darkness. A glint of reflected firelight in the dark. Serana…

Alessia dare not risk a shot with her bow. Even if she could hit the receding shadows, by some miracle not hitting Serana, she'd given her ice arrows to Aela. Even then, knocking the gargoyles out of the sky would only serve to kill Serana. A fall from that height, even with her vampiric strength… Alessia growled in frustration. The Shout she'd been working on to fly still wasn't ready yet. Wings would get her there, but…

"Dovahkiin!"

Alessia's eyes dropped from the fading figure, down towards the owner of the voice. A pale ghost of a shadow soared quickly over the trees, a massive winged beast she knew well. She called to him, pointing desperately towards Serana and her captors. "Paarthurnax! They have Serana!"

"Jump!"

Without a moment's contemplation, without even a second of hesitation, Alessia backed as far as she could without getting into the snarling fray behind her then leapt out into open air. She fell a long ways, but trusted that her brother would not let her hit the ground. The huge dragon banked sharply, flipping himself up and around in a tight loop so that his outstretched talon snatched Alessia out of the air and pulled her in tight to his body. It was an action they'd performed hundreds of times, and from even greater heights. Paarthurnax roared his excitement, then turned to give chase. There was not a beast alive that could outrun a dragon.

Alessia squirmed her way out from Elder Brother's claws, clinging to his rough scales and spines until she crawled her way up onto his shoulders. Paarthurnax kept his eyes on their goal as he spoke. His great voice rumbling the hide beneath Alessia. "It is fortunate we arrived when we did, Dovahkiin. What has happened?"

It took only a few moments to fill him in. Alessia growled the last of it. "How could I have let this happen? Why by the Gods did I let her so close to the balcony?"

"For such large and clumsy beasts, these 'gargoyles' are silent fliers. I, and the dragons who accompanied me, did not see them until we nearly crashed into them." Paarthurnax rumbled. "Fear not. My dragons will drive the scourge from your skies, and you and I will hunt down Zinaalkiim's abductors. They will pay, I swear it."

"As much as I like that plan, Brother, I just want her back." Alessia readied her bow. "I'll hunt them down after she's safe."

As they gained ground, the targets grew that much clearer. Three gargoyles hauling ass away from Whiterun, two carrying burdens. One held Serana captive, though from the way she laid limp and unresisting, it was obvious she had been knocked unconscious. The other carried a rider on it's back. Another female it appeared, thought Alessia couldn't be certain. The female must have heard Paarthurnax's approached, or felt Alessia's hateful eyes on her. She turned, gazing upwards just as Alessia loosed her first arrow. The female shrieked and jerked her mount to the side. The arrow whizzed by harmlessly.

The vampire hissed something else and the only unburdened gargoyle turned towards them. The big brute bellowed and shoved itself into Paarthurnax's face. The dragon snapped at it, only to have his teeth chomp down on empty air. The thing was faster than others of it's kind, dipping and dodging in and out of their range of attack. Alessia's arrows were nothing but an annoyance to it's stone skin, and Paarthurnax couldn't get close enough to smash the thing. All the while they struggled with the damned gargoyle, the others were slowly gaining distance on them. Alessia howled her rage and frustration.

"Iiz slen nus!"

The gale of frozen wind hit the gargoyle squarely. It struggled to break off the ice slowly covering it's body, but to little avail. Eventually, it's wings were compromised and it tumbled out of the sky. Paarthurnax growled his approval and started towards the fleeing female vampire again.

Paarthurnax growled. "I cannot strike at them without fear of harming Zinaalkiim!"

"Just get me close!" Alessia shouted, stowing away the bow over her shoulder. Carefully, Alessia stood to her feet while gripping one of her brother's massive spines. This was going to be rough. "I really wish I'd had time to try this first."

"Briinah, what are you-"

"Bod viing su!" Alessia Shouted as she dove.

At first, Alessia felt nothing. The Shout was one of her own creation, much like Dragon Rend was a Thu'um of Man's creation. She'd spent many an evening trying to work out the particulars with the only other individual in history who'd successfully done the same thing. Felldir felt confident the Thu'um would work, but he'd advised testing it in a less… dangerous way. Perhaps from a very low height. Certainly not when leaping off a dragon hundreds of feet in the air and careening down towards a very small and moving target.

Something tugged at her shoulders, slowing her descent drastically. The wings were transparent, a ghostly suggestion of dragon's wings. Suddenly, Alessia's shoulder muscles tensed along with her back, neck, buttocks, legs and abdomen. The wings didn't necessarily become part of her physical body, but they did require direction from her own muscles. Muscles that were not used to, nor capable of maintaining, the strain of flying. And it wasn't at all flying. More like a controlled, agonized, glide or fall. At best she could steer herself, but no more.

The aim had been to plow into the gargoyle holding Serana, hopefully surprise it into releasing her. Then Alessia would roll into a plummeting dive to catch her mate. By then, Paarthurnax should be right on her heels ready to catch them before they hit the ground. That was not what happened. Alessia's inability to maneuver properly pointed her in a collision course with the wrong gargoyle. The female vampire again turned just in time to see the strike. Alessia was close enough to see the whites of her eyes before hitting head on.

Though she had the sense to dismiss the wings before they drug her off the gargoyle's back, the crashing blow knocked Alessia senseless for a crucial second. The female vampire too. The gargoyle… not so much. It bellowed in shocked surprise, suddenly unable to keep itself airborne. The three plummeted from the skies, the stone beast shrieking and the two females hanging on for all they were worth. When the gargoyle stabilized, Alessia rained heavy blows down on the female's upper body. She defended herself, slipping in a few strikes of her own. The female had claws of iron, some sort of metal glove with sharp tips. She slashed it fiercely at Alessia's face, drawing blood from a few cuts on her cheek.

The struggle seemed to last a lifetime, but in reality it was only a matter of seconds before Paarthurnax's warning calls finally broke through Alessia rage clouded mind. Her eyes rose up from the female, growing wide with sudden fear. The female took advantage and socked Alessia in the nose. She rolled back and off the gargoyle, falling only a few dozen feet and into the bows of a huge tree. She caught herself on a limb, thankfully. The fall hurt only a little, and Alessia looked up in enough time to see the gargoyle and his rider crash into another large tree. It was actually quite comical. The vampire turned around just in enough time to see the hit coming, but do nothing about it but shriek.

The impact shook the tree, causing wood chips and leaves to fall to the ground along with with pair. When they finally came to a stop on the ground, the gargoyle shattered and the vampire landed with a meaty thud. The second gargoyle, the one carrying Serana, swooped down and hovered over it's fallen mistress. Alessia snarled as she started peeling herself out of the tree's grasp. Now was her chance to kill the bitch and reclaim Serana.

By the time her boots hit solid earth, Paarthurnax had already turned about and was coming in for a landing. The massive male crashed through the tree canopies, tree trunks snapping like twigs under his scaly hide. The commotion roused the downed female vampire. She leapt to her feet, spinning to face the oncoming mass of teeth and fury. To Alessia's horror, the vampire commanded the gargoyle to land at her side. Paarthurnax bit down on his already blooming gout of fire, smoke rising up from between his teeth. If he breathed fire, it would catch Serana in the blaze. And he was still far enough away that the female could tear Serana's throat out before he got there.

But… The female's back was to Alessia. If she moved quickly enough, she could stab the bitch through the back with Dii Lokal. She would much rather shoot the vampire in the back with her bow, but the weapon had been lost during her fall and climb in the tree. The sword would have to do. Like the predator she was, Alessia stalked the female. Her boots made no sound on the soft grass and dirt as she moved, her sword likewise as she drew it forth.

"Hold, Harbinger!" Someone shouted from above, a male's voice.

The female vampire spun around, hissing once she realized how close she'd been to death. The female smiled coldly and took a single step towards Serana, resting that damned metal claw gently on her throat. A threat. A promise. Alessia snarled her own threat and promise should she female dare harm her mate. Wolf howled, the rage building again as another vampire mounted gargoyle descended through the opening the first gargoyle had made. It landed gracefully next to it's kin. He dismounted, glancing first at Paarthurnax, the big dragon hissing and whipping his tail like an angry cat, then to Alessia, who growled with her eyes locked on the gloved hand holding her mate's life hostage. When at last he looked to his female kin, he frowned and shook his head.

The newcomer was tall, broad. His beard and mop of long hair was a reddish brown and wind wiped from flight. From his look and bearing, a regal sort of male, Alessia guessed he was Orthjolf; one of two senior advisers in Harkon's clan. The other had been Vingalmo. Serana had mentioned the male more than once, often stating how he and his counterpart were serious rivals and coveted the Volkihar Clan throne. He was a snake rather than a bear, despite his size and bearing.

The male sighed, then turned his attention back to Alessia with a warm smile. "It is good to finally meet you, Harbinger. I am-"

"I know who you are, vampire." Alessia growled. She pointed her sword at him. The blade hissed with the beginnings of a raging fire. It made the female vampire narrow her eyes, and tighten her grip on Serana's throat. "I will say this only once, Orthjolf… tell your harpy to remove her claws from Serana and step away. Both of you. Do so and I will let you leave in peace."

Paarthurnax's hiss echoed her words. Orthjolf glanced back at the white dragon, but seemed highly unimpressed by the display. He sighed again, crossing his arms behind his back. "I am sorry, Harbinger, but I cannot do that."

Alessia's growl made both vampire's flinch. "Then you are both dead."

"Just try it, mongrel." The female vampire hissed. "I'll cut her throat before you take even a single step."

"Do that and you burn, sosin!" Paarthurnax roared, rivulets of flaming drool seeping from his maw.

"Now, now, Modhna. Don't be rude. The Harbinger and her… uh, dragon… have every right to make their demands. We are, after all, at a slight disadvantage here." The male vampire's eyes darkened as he glared at his companion. "And you would do well not to threaten the Princess. You know as well as I what punishments you would bring down upon yourself should you harm our Lord's beloved daughter."

The female, Modhna, blanched and lessened the pressure on Serana's throat, though she didn't remove the iron claws.

Orthjolf nodded his approval before turning back to Alessia. "That said, Harbinger, I stand by my statement. We cannot hand our Princess over to you. We can, however, make a bargain."

"Bargain?" Alessia repeated.

"Aye, a bargain. A deal." The male nodded. "My Lord has authorized me to negotiate on his behalf. I have something you want, and you have something Lord Harkon wants. If you are willing to trade, I would be more than happy to return the Princess to you here and now. Unharmed, and with the promise that she will be forever free from any and all familial obligations. Including, but not limited to, participation in any and all of her father's current and future plans."

Damn… Alessia blinked. Harkon was… willing to let Serana go? Give her freedom? She knew exactly what Harkon would demand as payment, Auriel's Bow, but… Making that trade would serve him absolutely no good. It just didn't add up. Without Serana, the weapon was useless. Without the bow, Serana's blood was unimportant. So… If Harkon was willing to part with Serana to gain possession of Auriel's Bow, then he must have some other means of obtaining the blood he needed. Another Daughter of Coldharbour.

Alessia's blood ran cold. There was only one other Daughter of Coldharbour. Just the one. And she was hiding right under her husband's nose. Had been for four thousand years. And suddenly Alessia's failed attempt to summon Durnehviir made sense. The undead dragon had been tasked with protecting Serana's mother, Valerica. The only other Daughter of Coldharbour. Gods… Harkon had Valerica. That's the only thing that makes this whole charade make any sense. Of course he was willing to trade Serana, the daughter Alessia truly believed Harkon cared for in his own… damaging way, because he already had what he needed to complete the prophecy. Everything save for the damned bow.

"Yes, you know what my Lord demands. You are no fool, Harbinger. My Lord knows you are no fool. He respects you as a… worthy adversary. An equal. Which is why he is willing to part with his most prized possession in exchange for the weapon you possess, Auriel's Bow." Orthjolf tried to hide the sneer that accompanied the lie, and did fairly well at it. Alessia knew damned good and well Harkon would never, ever admit that anyone was his equal. She frowned at the male as he continued. "Give me the weapon. Do this and you have my word, and the sworn oath from my Lord, that you will never hear from the Volkihar vampire clan again."

Another lie. No doubt once his prophecy was complete, Harkon would send his hordes to their doorstep within hours. He was the kind of male that didn't permit anyone to challenge him. And that's exactly what Alessia and Serana had been doing these past months. Foiling his plans at every turn. Making his minions work for every inch of ground they claimed. That insult would not be forgiven. Not ever.

Alessia looked at her mate. Serana remained perfectly still in the gargoyle's stone grip. Wolf snarled, angry at their helplessness. Alessia could not hand over the bow. Would not. Even if the vampires honored their word, Serana would never forgive Alessia. Never forgive her for letting the world fall into darkness for her sake. But it wasn't in Alessia to let them take her mate. To sacrifice her love, her heart, for the sake of the world. Hadn't Alessia sacrificed enough already? Was everything she had not enough? Couldn't she be selfish just this once?

No, Alessia thought. Serana wouldn't want it. Not if it meant the world would fall.

Time. She needed to stall for time. Time enough to storm the castle and kill that bastard, Harkon. Time to rescue Valerica and Serana both. But how exactly to do it? They obviously knew she had the bow. Or at least she'd been in possession of it at one time. Now it was far beyond Alessia's reach, even if she wanted to reclaim it. Which she didn't. But they didn't know she no longer had Auriel's Bow. Not ever Serana knew. If questioned, or… Gods forbid, tortured, she couldn't tell them where it was.

"Alright, I agree to your terms." Alessia lied, feigning defeat. The two vampires seemed a bit surprised that she'd actually agreed. So too was Paarthurnax. The dragon seemed about to argue, but she silenced him with a glare.

Orthjolf grinned widely, showing a lot of fang. "Excellent. I knew you would see things our way eventually."

"There is a slight problem though, vampire. The bow is not in my possession. Unfortunately, your brutes burned down my house. Currently, the weapon is buried under tons of fiery wood and stone. It will take time for me to retrieve it." Alessia lied again, dropping her sword's point towards the ground. A little show of trust on her part. Something to keep the vampires thinking she was willing to play their game. A hunting horn blew twice in the direction of Whiterun. It was a familiar sound, often heard on long hunts with the pack. Aela's horn. Lydia must have enlisted help from the Companions to ride to their Harbinger's aid. "Time that I believe we are running severely short on."

The male vampire remained silent, thinking. After a few seconds he nodded to himself. "Go then. Retrieve the weapon and bring it to the castle. My Lord will wait for you there."

The vampires remounted their gargoyles, Serana still in the beast's arms. Though she knew they would take her now, Alessia fought back the instinct to rush them. Bite and claw at their exposed backs. If she did, Modhna was still close enough to slit Serana's throat. Every muscle in her body tensed, Wolf trying to force her to act. To do something. But she would not. Could not. All she could do was watch as the gargoyles rose into the air and disappear into the darkened sky. She remained perfectly still until the sound of the massive wings was gone. Then… Alessia howled.

She howled and howled until there was no more air in her lungs. Then she took a breath, and howled some more. Her Brother stayed with her, but dared not get too close. When the Circle found Alessia, she'd torn the surrounding trees and bushes into so much kindling. Wolf snarled and howled her pain and fury, claws tearing into the earth in her madness. Her beast raged, bursting free of her human form. The next few hours were a blur, not even Wolf could recall much in the days that followed.

When Alessia came to her senses, she was underground in the hollows of a great tree. There was blood and mud caking her naked body, and for a moment she feared what she might have done in her rage. She curled in on herself and moaned. An animal's agonized whine. Something moved nearby, something alive. A warm body pressed up against her back. Soft, smooth skin against her own rough and scarred flesh. Bare breasts pressed against her back, and she flinched away quickly. Alessia's nose informed her it was someone she knew.

"Easy, Alessia. Easy." Aela's voice came from the dark.

Alessia scuttled away, placing distance between herself and her forebear. The female was naked, covered in far more mud and blood than she was. Aela showed no reaction to the rejection, not even a frown. Though it wasn't uncommon for the pair to awaken nude and curled up together after a long hunt as wolves, Alessia just couldn't handle it right then. It felt too much like a betrayal, especially now that she knew Aela had at one time desired her affection.

Wolf growled a warning as Aela moved closer. A threat of violence. Her forebear ignored the threat and crawled nearer. The growl turned into a snarl, bared fangs and raised hackles. Aela bared her own teeth and snarled, "Stop that."

A horrible, sorrowful keening cry tore its way up Alessia's throat as Aela wrapped herself around her. She snarled and snapped her teeth, but the forebear paid no heed. It was an empty threat, an attempt to distance herself from reality. Alessia shuttered at the touch, her body wishing it were someone else's skin pressed to hers. Aela either didn't notice or didn't care. The female pressed herself against Alessia, despite her resistance.

A part of her knew Aela's advances were not as they appeared. The female's touch was not sexual in any way, save that they were both naked. The touch was a comforting touch. A supportive touch. A language that all wolves understood. As Alessia's forebear, Aela and only Aela could cow her into submission despite her dominant Alpha status in the pack. It was a wolf's way of forcing calm. A bite that demanded she listen and obey. A rebuke for the out of control behavior.

"Breath, Alessia." Aela said into her ear. "Search for your reason. Use it to make the beast sleep."

Alessia obeyed, taking in deep, calming breaths. It cleared the red haze from her thoughts. Lessened Wolf's rage inducing influence. Regaining control after losing it so thoroughly was never an easy task. Which was why Aela was there. To provide comfort, friendship, guidance, safety… Pack. Alessia's entire body trembled from the effort, but her forebear kept talking. Soothing the beast until it relinquished control.

That was when Alessia smelt the blood. Aela's blood. Her voice was rough when she spoke, "You're hurt."

"I will live. The wounds are not serious." The female said instantly, tightening her arms around Alessia when she tried to turn and look at the wounds. Obviously, Aela didn't want her to see.

"Did I…" The thought was like a punch in the gut. Alessia fought the sudden urge to vomit.

Aela spoke before she could continue. "You were not yourself. It was not your fault."

"Gods…" Alessia did throw up then. Her forebear helped her sit up and rubbed her back as she emptied her gullet.

After she was done, Aela pulled them both away from the stinking pile to the other side of the hollow. She kept them close together, Alessia's back pressed to her front. The feeling of a warm body next to hers was… odd. She was so used to her mate's cool vampiric skin. To Serana's skin… Her mate's name tore another agonized groan from Alessia. She wept, the tears cleaning away the dirt on her face.

"We will get her back, Alessia. I swear it." Aela's arms around her tightened.

"I can't give him what he wants, Aela. I can't give him the bow." The words felt like acid on Alessia's tongue. "He's going to kill her. And I just… let her go. I let her go."

Slowly, Aela rose up to her elbows and loomed over Alessia. She was close, close enough that Alessia could see the small specks of gold in her emerald eyes. They were beautiful, often harsh, eyes. Cold, with rare moments of tenderness. Aela was a hard female. Always had been. There were times when, thinking back on their relationship over the years, Alessia saw the… desire in her forebear's eyes. The longing. She'd just never put two and two together. The eyes that looked at her now were much the same. Warm, longing… regretful.

She didn't fight when Aela kissed her, though Wolf rose in protest. It was a soft kiss, nothing more than a light brush of her lips on Alessia's. It was over in less than a heartbeat. Alessia felt nothing, and that made her own heart break for her friend. She didn't regret what she had with Serana, and never would, but it still hurt to see Aela's pain. The kiss was… sad. A good-bye, even though they'd never had anything more than that one kiss. Perhaps the female hadn't truly believed in Alessia's bond with Serana. Hadn't, until she'd seen Alessia completely undone in her grief.

"I'm sorry, Alessia. I just…" Aela voice broke and she tried again. "I needed to do that, if only the one time."

Before she could respond in any way, Aela reared her hand back and slapped Alessia across the face. The loud smack of it was more a shock than the actual strike, though the sting registered a moment later. Fire rose in Aela's eyes, replacing the sadness and longing with an anger that was far more common in them.

"Now, get your sorry arse up!" Aela snapped. "Now is not the time for self loathing! Get up!"

When Alessia didn't act quickly enough, Aela smacked her again. "Damn! What in the flaming hell is wrong with you?"

"Me? What the 'flaming hell' is wrong with you? Laying here, bawling like a whelp!" Aela swatted at her, and Alessia snarled. "Get your useless hide moving, Harbinger! You're mate isn't going to save herself!"

Grumbling Alessia stood, or tried. They needed to crouch in the small space. "Some supportive forebear you are."

She yelped as Aela slapped her on the backside. "I said move, whelp!"

"Cold hearted bit-" Smack! "Ow!"