The woman seemed perfectly at home with her muddy boots on the table, tilting the chair back dangerously, a bottle of mead on her hands. Her glowing crimson eyes stopped on Bethany for a dismissive second, then rested on Haraldr. He blinked, surprised.
"Serana. I didn't expect to see you here." He said.
"Miss me?" She asked with a half-smile. Bethany could swear she saw fangs in her mouth.
Haraldr frowned suspiciously. "I did, actually. You've vanished. What are you up to? I thought you didn't like Whiterun."
She took a sip of her drink. "I don't. Too many dogs for my liking."
Bethany blinked, thinking. She did not remember seeing any dogs in the city. Whiterun was in fact quite lovely, bigger than Winterhold but not nearly as massive as Kirkwall had been. It had a cozy, welcoming feeling to it.
Haraldr placed his axe on a nearby weapon hack, tripping in a bottle of mead on the way. Bethany looked down and noticed there was at least a dozen of those scattered around on the floor. The woman, Serana, didn't seem to mind adding to them, dropping the recently emptied one she held and opening another.
Bethany couldn't help but wonder how the hell she kept the chair balanced in such precarious position if she had drunk this much.
"Which brings us back to my question," Haraldr said, taking a seat next to her. "Why are you here?"
He took a nearby flagon, filled it and drunk it down, waiting for her answer.
"Not all dogs are bad," She replied, and he shot her a quizzical look.
"I'm in a secret love affair with Farkas." She explained, "Apparently, he likes the places I stick my ice spikes."
Haraldr choked on his drink, coughing with surprise.
"You're kidding me," he said, gasping for breath.
She grinned, and yes, those were definitely fangs in there.
"You haven't introduced me to your friend," She said, changing subjects. "You just left the poor girl standing. That's rude, Haraldr."
Bethany wasn't sure if she wanted to be introduced. Serana unsettled her; those fangs were rather intimidating, and back in Thedas, red eyes had been a mark of blood magic. Beisdes, the woman's attitude was a bit disturbing.
Haraldr blinked sheepishly.
"You're right. Bethany, this is Serana, the one I told you about." He turned to the woman. "Serana, this is Bethany, a friend from the College."
"Oh, so that is why you've been going to Winterhold so often!" Serana laughed. "There's nothing but snow on that side of Skyrim; I should have known there was a girl involved."
Bethany frowned, unsure about the woman's insinuations.
Haraldr scowled. "Don't listen to her, Beth. Have a seat," He said, motioning to a nearby chair.
She hesitated, but ended up sitting. She watched the two attentively.
"Did Lydia unlock the door for you?" Haraldr asked.
"No, I actually got in through the window. She was quite surprised."
He rolled his eyes. "And where is she now?"
"I sent her off to run some errands for me. Hope you don't mind," Serana replied casually with a wave of her hand.
"That you come to my house, drink my mead and boss around my housecarl? You really took it literally when I told you to make yourself at home."
"I've been sleeping on your bed, too."
"Not with Farkas, I hope."
She burst out laughing. "Oh, no, he has his own room in Jorrvaskr, though Aela doesn't quite appreciate my presence. When she's there, we have to use the inn, which by the way, I pay with your money."
He threw his hands in the air exasperatedly. "I don't remember us getting married! What else did you do, read my mail?"
She smirked, drinking down the contents of her bottle and reaching for yet another. Bethany mentally calculated how close to an alcoholic coma Serana must be.
"Indeed. There was this lovely letter from a lady, Narri of Falkreath, about some fantastic things you did with your tongue. I would never have guessed that was what the Greybeards taught you, Haraldr."
"Serana!" He censored, blushing.
That woman was turning out to be strikingly similar to Isabella.
"Also," She continued, ignoring him, "A letter from the Jarl. He wants to see you as soon as possible for a matter of utmost urgency."
Haraldr got up with a scowl. "Oh, brilliant. Thanks for telling me right away."
He moved back to the rack, picking up his axe and sliding it back to the sheath. He spilled the contents of his bag on a corner, shoving some objects on a nearby drawer and simply leaving others on the floor.
"I just wanted to enjoy the pleasure of your company a bit," Serana justified.
He finished packing and stopped at the door. Bethany got up too, ready to follow him.
"Well, I'm sure you won't mind entertaining Beth for a bit while I go see what the Jarl wants."
Wait, what –
The door banged behind him as he stepped out, leaving her behind.
Alone with his creepy friend.
Maker help me.
She slowly turned back to face her companion. Serana was grinning widely, eyeing Bethany as if she was a particularly appetizing meal. She shifted, removing her feet from the table and sitting in a slouched position instead. She bore her unsettling crimson eyes on Bethany's chocolate brown and beckoned her forward.
Somehow, the mage couldn't help but obey. She stopped nervously in front of Serana and, not knowing what to do, began collecting the dropped bottles on the floor. Taking them two at a time, she carefully lined the bottles up on the side, and then spotted the mess Haraldr had left behind when he'd emptied his pack. Sighing, Bethany sat down next to it.
The blonde man had a collectionism problem, she was sure. He couldn't help but take everything that popped in front of him and shove it in his bag with no organization whatsoever. She went through the pile, trying to salvage what she could from the chaotic conglomeration.
Cringing with disgust, she pulled a slice of bread free from a cluster of mushrooms, insect parts, roots and something that looked like a gory, ratlike tail. Without thinking twice, Bethany threw the bread on the fireplace. She shuffled through the many indefinite objects and managed to save a couple coins and some bear claws.
"So," Serana said abruptly.
Bethany jumped on the spot with surprise. She'd been so focused, and the woman so quiet, she had forgotten she wasn't alone on the room. She realized those red eyes had been watching her intently all the while.
"So…" She said hesitantly, "… Haraldr spoke a lot about you."
"He did, huh?" Serana said with a hint of irony.
"Umm, yes. He told me you are an amazing mage," Bethany continued carefully.
"Oh, I get by."
"He said you could give half of Winterhold a run for their money."
Serana chuckled. "Possibly. You know them scholars – lots of reading, not so much of actual fighting."
"I see… so, are you a blood mage?"
Smooth going, Bethany.
The woman frowned. "Is that what you people are calling us vampires now? Sounds silly. Blood is my diet, not my magical school; I don't go around calling your peers milk-mages, do I?"
Serana's frown twisted into a skeptical expression.
"Yes, vampires. You know, blood-drinking, night walking, troublesome vampires? Wreaked havoc on Skyrim a while ago?" She stopped at Bethany's blank face. "Have you been living under a rock for the last couple of years? Don't worry, I can relate."
"I'm actually from another world – Eugh!"
She pulled her hand free from Haraldr's mess and saw it was covered with some kind of disgusting glowing green goo. Serana noticed her issue and threw her a piece of cloth, in which she wiped her hands clean. It was only after she was done cleaning she realized it was actually one of Haraldr's tunics. She threw it in the fireplace and hoped he wouldn't miss it.
"Spriggan Sap," The vampire commented, "Good for Alteration magicks. So you're an Outworlder, eh? First time I meet one. Do all of you come from the same place?"
She shrugged. "I don't know; I haven't seen any others like me."
She hadn't even considered the possibility that someone else might have crossed worlds with her, but now that she thought of it, she honestly hoped not. The idea of meeting someone from her past, particularly now that she was starting to recover from it, was not very appealing.
"And have you found a way to get back to wherever?"
She tugged on the pile until she finally freed the wooded bowl from which the sap had spilled. Looking at it with distaste, she threw it on the fire as well.
"Thedas. I… actually like it here. Things were not so good back there; I don't think I want to return."
"Which has nothing to do with a certain blonde, I presume?" Serana teased.
It was almost as if she was implying… no, that didn't make any sense. Bethany frowned.
"I don't think I catch your meaning."
"You really don't, do you?" The woman said with a sigh. "Honestly, what did people do for fun from where you come from?"
"Not much," She admitted. "Mother was always very protective towards me, and the loss of Carver and the dangers of being in Kirkwall made her redouble her vigilance; I never really went out anywhere except with my brother. And then the Templars got me, and off to the Circle it was."
"It's a prison of sorts."
"You got arrested?" Serana said with a hint of amusement. "And here I thought you were the sweetest thing ever, cleaning Haraldr's mess and all."
Bethany scowled. "I didn't do anything wrong. The Templars cage mages simply for being mages."
"And they just go quietly?"
"Some escape, some rebel. But usually, the Templars take them when they're young. I – I don't really want to talk about it. I was eighteen when they got me."
"Seems like we both had bad eighteenth years," The vampire said darkly, and Bethany was taken aback by her mood swing.
"Is that so?" She ventured.
Serana stared with deep crimson orbs, and Bethany felt asphyxiated. "It was the year I got turned. Let's not go there."
She nodded, turning back to the things she was cleaning, eager to avoid the intense gaze. She heard a snort.
"So," the woman continued, "This means you never actually got to go out at night and have fun?"
She considered it for a bit. She'd met many times at the Hanged Man with Merril, Aveline and Isabella, but her brother was always present nearby, somehow spoiling the girls' night feeling. Plus, the fear of Templars, the gnawing worry about their financial situation, the incoming deadline for the Deep Roads expedition – there was always something in her mind preventing her from fully enjoying herself. It was always a bit depressing, too. The place was disgusting, like all of Lowtown.
"Well… I guess not really."
Serana slammed her mug on the table, her face in a renewed grin.
"That settles it then. You're going to have the time of your life today. Night's on me."
She blinked, surprised. "Are you sure? I mean, wouldn't you rather spend your night and your coin with the man you're seeing?"
The vampire waved it off with a light chuckle. "Farkas can stand a night alone. And don't worry about the money, I'm actually filthy rich. I take Haraldr's gold just to spite him."
Bethany gave her a doubtful look.
"Really," The woman insisted, "I even have a castle."
Before she could protest, Serana snapped her fingers absently. From the ground in front of the fireplace, a purple cloud twisted and shifted, until a demonic creature sprouted out of it. It vaguely resembled a dog, except it had three times the amount of teeth, glowing red eyes, and looked half-decayed.
It took Bethany a split second to have a fireball ready in each hand.
"Don't worry, it's friendly" Serana said, then faced the thing. "CuSith. Fetch me Aela."
It didn't seem friendly. The creature let out a guttural growl then blinked out of existence in a purple flash, leaving Bethany to wonder just what in the Void had it been.
"What was -"
She heard yelps of protest coming from the outside and someone knocked heavily. Serana whistled, standing to get the door.
"That was quick," She mused, opening the heavy wooden doorway to reveal a furious, cursing redhead.
The woman had three diagonal lines of green warpaint over her face, and was struggling irately with the demonic dog, which seemed intent on shoving her inside. She had to be the one the creature was sent for – Aela. Serana moved out of the way to allow her passage, then closed the door. CuSith shook his waist, as if wagging a missing tail, and Bethany wondered if he was actually happy.
"Why," The redhead snarled in uncontained rage, "Is your dog after me, leech?"
"Must be mating season," The vampire snapped back.
The newcomer's silvery eyes sparkled with fury and she clenched her fists. Before she could reply, however, Serana raised her hands in the universal signal for peace.
"Look, I hate you and you hate me, but can't we call a truce? For Bethany's sake?"
The redhead turned, noticing Bethany for the first time. Then, she did the oddest thing – flared her nostrils and took in a deep breath, as if actually sniffing her out. She seemed satisfied with what she got, and Bethany mentally thanked her mother for teaching her to shower every day.
"Who's the whelp?" Aela questioned.
"She's the girl Haraldr is wooing."
What the -?
"He's not –" She began to protest, only to be interrupted.
"The Outworder? She does seem better than the last one," Aela commented.
"You mean the backstabbing Redguard? Definitely." Serana replied. "This one is adorable – see, she's even voluntarily cleaning up his mess."
"Would you please stop talking about me as if I wasn't here?" Bethany complained.
"Got some nerve, too," The redhead added. "That still doesn't explain why I am here, though."
"We were doing some talking," the vampire explained, "And she told me she's never had the chance to go out and relax. I just thought maybe you and I could tag along and show her just how fun a girls' night out can be."
Serana put on an unsettling, mischievous grin, and to Bethany's despair, Aela seemed to match it with one of her own. She was sure those two knew of something she didn't, and was under the impression her opinion didn't really matter – she was about to be kidnapped.
She had a terrible feeling about this. Whatever they were hiding, it couldn't possibly end well.
"So what do you say? Peace? Just for tonight?"
"For the girl's sake." Aela conceded.
Haraldr chose that moment to barge in, and Bethany mentally thanked the Maker. Maybe she still had a chance to escape the incoming madness.
"Oh Divines! Please don't break anything on one another's head again!" Were his first words upon seeing Serana and Aela next to each other.
The two simultaneously rolled their eyes.
"Don't worry, we called in a truce," The vampire said.
"You did?" He said incredulously.
"We're taking your friend out for a girl's night," The redhead supplemented.
Haraldr's eyes widened. "You're not going to take poor Bethany out for a wild night just like that."
Please listen to him!
"No one asked you for permission, Hal." Serana snapped.
No one asked if I wanted it, either!
"Did you even ask her if she wants to?" He shot back.
Bethany opened her mouth to speak –
"Ofcourse she does!" Aela barked, pulling her arm and forcing her to stand.
"We're just taking her down to Honningbrew," Serana reassured, "Have a few drinks, maybe go out to see the lights in the sky."
"Hunt a couple mammoths," The redhead added.
Wait what -?!
"Skyrim is dangerous at night," Haraldr protested in a final feeble attempt to save Bethany's soul.
"Oh, indeed it is! Woe to us! Imagine all the kinds of hideous creatures that are out there? Divines forbid, we might even meet a werewolf!" Serana said pointedly.
They have werewolves –?
"Or some sort of heinous super vampire," Aela growled.
And that's when it all clicked inside Bethany's head. Serana had admitted being a vampire, and though she was not too sure about the specifics, she was positive the woman had casually mentioned feeding on blood. And, from what she'd collected from their conversation, Aela just might be a werewolf.
And they were about to take her out for a drink.
Haraldr sighed in defeat. "Take it easy with her? Please?"
Aela, who was still holding her arm, pulled her toward the door.
"We'll be back before dawn," The redhead promised.
"Maybe." Serana added as she pushed Bethany out of the house.
She stepped out into the chilly night. Turning around, she met two glowing pairs of eyes – one deep crimson, one bright silver. Both women were grinning. Both had fangs.
Oh shi –
"You're going to have the time of your life."
Maker help me.
I just had to do this. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if Aela and Serana went out at night together. Too bad I couldn't work Karliah in - it would have been perfect.
I've always had the feeling that, serious matters aside, poor Bethany is somehow very easy to push around, and those two are total bullies.
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Thanks for reading!