"The amount of time you spend in these things you may as well set up home in one," Serana said sulkily.
It was the fourth ancient Nord ruin they'd explored that week and she was, quite frankly, fed up of them. They were all the same dull mossy stone, edged with cobwebs and littered with bones and archaic tomes and rotting food. She had to make a conscious effort not to breathe through her nose for fear of becoming overpowered by the awful stench.
"Just because I'm a vampire doesn't mean I like every cold and dark place in Skyrim, y'know."
Rella snorted in amusement, "Well, next time we'll go somewhere warm and sunny, shall we? Perhaps to those wonderful hot springs over in Eastmarch, with the sun beating down on us…"
"Gods, you're funny," the vampire drawled sarcastically, but the younger Nord could hear the smile in her voice.
"At least here you get to gloat about how much more beautiful you are as an undead than these draugr," Rella remarked cheerfully, pulling on a hanging chain to open the iron lattice blocking their path.
Serana didn't reply, but the Dovahkiin could see her bashful smile in her periphery. If she wasn't so deathly pale, she might have been blushing, too.
They continued through the doorway and down a long, winding tunnel, hacking through a thick mesh of Frostbite webbing and slaying the rather dozy spider on the other side. Quickly passing through and travelling down a steep set of stone steps, they arrived in a small space with an obscure pressure plate in the centre, which Serana nearly triggered had it not been for Rella grasping her arm and tugging her away.
They proceeded through the next opening until Rella stopped abruptly, placing a gloved finger to her lips. She gestured to the closed cists lining the walls of the large hall they were about to enter and the vampire nodded in understanding. They started across slowly, footsteps soft and soundless.
They were halfway across the expansive room when Rella heard a loud crunch at her rear and she grimaced. Behind, Serana cursed under her breath and readied her magic as the draugr-inhabited sarcophagi began to burst open, alerted to their presence. The Dragonborn drew her bow; nocking an arrow from the quiver on her back and releasing it into the chest of the first she saw emerge. Serana moved quickly, flinging spikes of ice at the two that were lumbering towards her with gnarled war axes, debilitating one and dodging the swing of the other's weapon as another of the Dragonborn's arrows found a place in its left eye.
Rella felt a force hit her back and she stumbled, only just able to resist its impetus. Her vampiric companion, on the other hand, didn't fare quite so well and went careering into a stack of aged earthenware. The Dovahkiin spun around, retaliating against the Deathlord with her own Thu'um to hinder its advance for a short time, giving her opportunity to deal with the other lesser draugr that would soon surround them.
Serana, back on her feet, unsheathed her enchanted dagger and lunged at one of them, slicing its abdomen and impaling its chest with a shard of ice. She looked to Rella, who was slowly moving backwards unleashing arrows at an approaching swordsman. It managed to get into striking range, and she was forced to block its blow with the shaft of her bow before the vampire finished it from across the chamber with a spell.
The recovered Deathlord shouted again, hitting Rella with the brunt of it and merely causing Serana to stagger backwards slightly. The archer hastily released three arrows at it as she lurched, but only one landed and it continued towards her unimpeded, thrusting its ebony sword at her. She managed to twist her body out of the way and struck it in the head with her fist, to little effect.
Its Voice erupted again, but this time knocked the bow from her grip, and then kicked her hard in the stomach. The breath was expelled from her lungs and she was launched backwards, skidding a short distance across the dusty stone floor. She scrambled backwards, gulping the air as it raised its sword to strike her. She closed her eyes, bringing her arms up to protect her torso – for what little good flesh would do against ancient metal.
She expected to feel tremendous pain, but none came.
Instead, Serana was there in front of her as the Deathlord swung, shielding her from the blow. Blood exploded from the undead Nord's stomach and she cried out in agony, crumpling to the ground. Rella swiftly tore the dagger from the fallen vampire's belt and shouted at it to push it back, before plunging the small blade into its mottled forehead, ending its second life.
She whirled round, rushing anxiously to Serana's side. The wound was vicious and deep, stretching diagonally from the left side of her ribcage to her right hip. She was still conscious, but her face was contorted in anguish. Rella fumbled in her belt-pouch, fishing out a healing potion and ripping off the stopper. Gently lifting Serana's head into her lap, she held the rim of the bottle to her lips. "Drink this," she urged. "It should ease the pain."
The vampire opened her mouth slightly, allowing the Dragonborn to steadily pour the rosy liquid in. She groaned in disgust, coughing when the last of the vile-tasting solution slipped down her throat. "I'll be fine soon… My body just needs to heal itself…" she grunted.
Rella unfastened the cloak from her Nightingale armour and began to fashion it into a makeshift binding around Serana's stomach, being careful not to aggravate the laceration any more than was necessary. "You've lost a lot of blood," she said quietly. She'd killed a lot of vampires on her travels; they weren't invincible. Enough damage and they would perish as readily as an ordinary human.
"I'll be okay," Serana said wearily, her breathing shallow, ragged. "Trust me…"
Rella was silent for a few moments, desperate to do something to help. When she finally spoke, her voice was steady, determined. "Feed on me."
"No." The vampire's reply was quick and equally firm despite her fragile condition. Determination broke through the shroud of weariness in her eyes.
"You need to, Serana. If you don't…"
"I won't. I can't…" she rasped. "In my state, I could kill you…"
"I'll stop you before it gets that far."
"You won't be able to… I'm not going to take that risk."
Rella noiselessly reached for the dagger she'd used to kill the Deathlord, wiped the discoloured residue on her leg, and removed her hood. "I am," she whispered, slicing along the thin skin of her wrist.
Serana's body stiffened. "No… what are you…" she began to protest as Rella shifted, holding the shallow incision above the vampire's mouth. "No…" she whispered, trembling, turning her head away. Blood dripped onto her cheek, causing her to squirm in the Dragonborn's lap.
Rella kept her wrist there until Serana stilled. The temptation was too great, and the vampire's mouth closed around the small, weeping wound. An oddly euphoric feeling began to drift over the Dovahkiin, dulling the initial sting. She drank deeply.
But then, in a split-second, Serana seized Rella's upper arms and slammed her violently into the ground. The vampire straddled her, eyes frightening and blazing red, blood dribbling savagely down her chin, and sunk her fangs into the exposed skin of the Dragonborn's neck.
And then, everything went black.