The air was dense with the smoke from the brightly lit fires and the rancid smell of the vampires' feast. She leaned over the ornate stone railing and gazed down at her kinsfolk tearing greedily into the flesh of the unfortunate cattle that lay prostrate on the tables, her expression vacant, her mind not really registering what her eyes saw. She felt tired, and somehow... empty; just the way she had suspected she'd feel upon her return to the castle, though during her journey back she had been persistently telling herself otherwise. She had no illusions about this place - it had stopped being a home just as her family had stopped being a family... but she would so have loved to prove herself wrong.
The sound of light footsteps coming up the stairs from the great hall into the entrance corridor made her emerge from the depths of her thoughts, with a rather violent start - much too violent, she noted to herself. She glanced over her shoulder to see who had made her display such an unfitting degree of jumpiness; it was her rescuer - 'the young one', as she called him, for, as he himself had confessed, his life span had not yet exceeded that of an average mortal - a sinewy, dark-haired Bosmer with a strange look on his obligatorily gaunt face, a look that she found herself incapable of deciphering; nothing definite could be said about it, apart from one thing: it certainly differed from the expressions of the other vampires.
He smiled as she greeted him with a curt nod, 'Lady Serana...'
'Don't call me that,' she said wearily, turning back to gaze down at the hall. 'You sound almost like Vingalmo'.
'I am sorry,' he hurried to correct himself. 'Serana'.
'That's better. So,' she spoke with barely any emotion, just for the sake of keeping her mind occupied with something other than lurking doubts and dark memories. 'I hear you have been out and about a lot. Making yourself useful to the court, like that poor kinsman of yours living in the corner of Sadri's alchemy lab? Trying to get on my father's good side? Last time I checked, he had none, so I'd take care if I were you'.
The Bosmer - Midir, if she recalled correctly; he had only mentioned his name once, at her father's command - gave a small, polite laugh, 'I try to stay away from politics. There are more than enough dogs growling over the most tasty bone without me cutting in. Though I am very grateful to your father... for the great gift he bestowed upon me'.
'The Vampire Lord power? He makes so much fuss out of it... And how do you use this, uh, great gift?' she turned to face him, suddenly vaguely curious about the reply he'd make; whether or not it would be like any of her father's tirades. 'Do you come down to the mainland to maul unsuspecting mortals and suck in their souls? Walk as a lion among sheep, was it?'
'Oh, no, nothing like that. The thing that fascinates me most... is the ability to fly'.
She raised her eyebrows, 'And that is all? You transform into a Vampire Lord... to fly?'
Midir nodded enthusiastically, 'It's really worth it. It's...' he sighed in exasperation, 'Gods, I wish I knew the right words for describing it!'
There was a small pause, after which Midir coughed and added, slowly, hesitantly, looking down at the cuffs of his sleeves, which he had begun to pluck at with his fingers, 'You know, since you share your father's blood, you could... well, you could join me and see for yourself. That is, if you...'
She cut his hovering short, her senses beginning to stir beneath the veil of weariness, 'Rest assured - I have nothing better to do. Nothing whatsoever'.
No one noticed them slip away into the billowing whiteness of the night - at least, no one called out after them. They stood side by side on the edge of the pier, allowing their lungs to relish in the sharp, fresh smell of the dark water that was lapping somewhere at their feet; a welcome change from the oppressive atmosphere of the great hall. Then, Midir looked at Serana and gave her a firm, silent nod. Upon this signal, the two of them transformed, gasping for breath as blood coursed more and more rapidly through their veins, making their bodies swell up and their limbs and faces mould themselves into new, grotesquely beast-like shapes, as if they were wax pressed by the fingers of some deranged sculptor.
'There,' strangely enough, the voice that came out of the mouth of the monstrous, bat-like creature, as it swayed slightly with the pain of two webbed, clawed wings shooting out of it broad grey back, was still Midir's. 'Now, follow me'.
Together, they soared upwards through the snowy murk; and as if for the sole purpose of pleasing them, the dark storm clouds began to disperse, and soon enough, they were two grey dots lost in the shoreless sea of darkest blue, with waves generously powdered with glittering stars.
'See? That's the island with Castle Volkihar, way down there,' Midir pointed his long-clawed hand at the spot on the edge of the dark expanse of the Sea of Ghosts, with what looked like some strange, rather twisted dollhouse perched in its middle. Her keen vampire sight allowing her to discern - and marvel at - every detail, Serana found herself almost unable to tear her gaze away.
In the meanwhile, Midir went on, 'Amazing how you can see everything from above, isn't it? We can take a look at the entire province this way, if you want to; I was amazed when I discovered the distances my wings could take me'.
The distorted face that had several minutes ago been Serana's became even more distorted as its lips parted in a broad leer, which is the nearest thing to a gleeful smile that a Vampire Lord can manage.
'I think I am beginning to understand...' she said quietly. 'I must say I never looked at our powers this way... Well, what are you waiting for? Lead on!'
In strong, rhythmic movements, their wings pushed them forward through the cold night air; Midir flew a little way ahead of Serana, glancing at the stars every now and then to check their direction and drawing his companion's attention to the places that rushed beneath them, as if they were sliding over a large, meticulously compiled map.
'The Solitude docks! Right below us! Look at the ships - I always want to reach out and touch one with my... well, I suppose you could call this thing a hand... And now, the marshes of Hjaalmarch - those small pools of glittering silver... We are moving to the south-east now, will be passing over Whiterun soon... I say, how about coming a little lower and seeing if we can maneuver among the treetops?'
Lord Harkon would probably have flown into a rage if he saw two Vampire Lords doing something as degradingly childish as playing tag - still, there they were, bizarre as it may sound, chasing each other among the tall, snow-covered fir trees, frittering away their gift in a most ludicrous manner... and not caring one bit. Serana did hesitate at first - but it is rather hard to resist when a fellow Vampire Lord tags you with the palm of his hand (trying very hard not to scrape your shoulder with the tips of his talons) or cries out something along the lines of 'Last one to this mountain is Orthjolf's toothpick!'. And soon she found herself rushing with the speed of the wind, and turning over, and doing loops and other stunts among the treetops, drunk with the clear, crisp air and with the sensation of her wings' strength; and Midir was by her side, just as senselessly ecstatic as she was, and far below, was the great province of Skyrim, belonging, in all its rugged, wild beauty, to no one else in the world but the two of them.
They woke a little from their daze when they were flying over the Rift; Serana was just about to perform some elaborate somersault when Midir tugged at her hand, pointing eagerly at the sky above them. She followed the direction of his taloned finger with her gaze - and froze in awe. The bluish, star-dotted dam had burst, and through the gap a stream of colour came gushing, streaming across the heavens, flooding them - a mighty torrent of all shades imaginable, ever shifting, heaving, enthralling.
'The Northern Lights,' Midir whispered, his face dreamy almost to an extent of losing its terrifying, feral aspect, sparks of green and gold and crimson dancing in the black depths of his pupilless eyes.
Too absorbed in watching the grand display of colour unfold before them, they must have relaxed their wings and come down low enough to be seen from the ground - for suddenly, catching them completely unawares, the enchanted stillness of the night was broken by two sounds: first, a soft swoosh of a steel bolt, and then, a squelch of flesh being pierced; Serana let out an inhuman shriek of pain, clawing at the bolt's tip, coming out just above her left collar bone, and tumbled down, circling in the air like a faded leaf, her body melting away back to human form. Midir watched her fall, petrified - but only for a few moments; with an angry roar of an awakened beast, he flung his arms wide apart and dissolved into a cloud of bats, reappearing just in time to catch Serana a few feet above ground.
'This is so... storybook...' she smiled faintly, looking up at him as he glided down to a small clearing encircled by tall, silky-barked birch trees, gripping her tightly in his outstretched arms, taking great care not to press her against his chest - one cannot allow oneself to treat his lord's daughter frivolously. 'I'd be sick because of the cliché if I wasn't sick already...'
Midir said nothing in reply - just laid Serana gently onto a rustling heap of foliage, and turned to face the Dawnguard scouts that were advancing at him, their armour-clad figures outlined darkly, ominously, against the misty gloom in the gaps between the trees, crossbows and axes on the ready.
There were five of them in all; and while four headed across the clearing straight towards the dread Vampire Lord, allowing it to amuse itself with watching their bodies fly around in all directions, limp like ragdolls, at the impact of the blood-red, swirling orbs it tossed at them, - one turned out to be sharp-witted enough to try and finish off the other creature of the night, which lay curled up among the fallen leaves, already wounded by one of his comrades and so obviously weakened and not at all inclined to strangle him in the clutches of its blood magic. He leaned over the vampire, closely followed by the unblinking gaze of its burning eyes, and lifted his axe in the air, ready to bring it down at any moment, in one swift, abrupt, fatal movement. The creature smiled, slowly, languidly, as if it was not in pain, on the verge of death, face to face with an enemy - and as it did, the scout suddenly realized that he was no longer able to think of it as, well, it. It was a she, a woman, and a very beautiful woman, too... He wondered what had prevented him from seeing that before. He laxened the grip of his fingers on his axe's handle, allowing it to drop into the grass with a small thud, and squatted in front of the woman, peering intently at her ashen-white face; she stretched out her hand and touched his cheek gently with her fingertips; breathless, enchanted, losing control over his own actions, the scout leaned even closer, his lips searching hers... His sharp cry as she sank her teeth into his neck was drowned out by the noise of the battle.
'Are... Are you all right?' Midir asked anxiously, transforming back to his normal vampiric self, leaping over the picturesquely piled corpses of the Dawnguard and hurrying towards Serana, a healing spell blooming out of his palm. She carefully wiped her mouth and took to extracting the bolt tip from her wound, 'Yes... Yes, I suppose I am. By the Blood, I detest doing this Seduction thing - but one has to heal oneself... Ah, and out it comes. Now I am as good as new'.
Midir looked away, his fingers once again tearing mercilessly into the delicate fabric of his cuffs, 'I am sorry... This shouldn't have happened... I...'
'If you are about to say I will never take you for a flight again, don't say it,' Serana said sharply. 'This is the best thing that's happened to me in weeks. Including the fight with the Dawnguard. Now, I suppose we should be heading home? Race you to that cloud!'.
The returned to the castle at dawn, two days later, looking somewhat dishevelled but most unvampirically cheerful.
'Oh look, here is a nice ruin, he said!' Serana called out mockingly, plucking a Hagraven feather out of her hair. 'Let's come down and hide from the sun inside it, he said!'
Midir shrugged his shoulders helplessly, 'How was I supposed to know there were Forsworn there? At least we did some dungeon delving...'
'Don't get all defensive! I am just teasing you!'
Serana laughed, loudly, heartily, joyfully - and then stopped abruptly, passing her hand over her throat in silent wonder. 'Oh gods...' she whispered, struck with a sudden revelation. 'I haven't laughed this way since I... since we... well, since when I was still human. I didn't even know our kind could laugh'.
'You laughed quite a few times before this,' Midir reminded her politely. 'Remember? When my wings stuck among fir tree branches? And when you beat me to that mountain top? And when we flew through a waterfall? It didn't sound quite like laughter in Vampire Lord form, of course, but...'
He allowed his voice to trail off into silence, seeing that she wasn't listening.
'Say, Midir,' Serana said at length, her tone at once thoughtful and slightly mischievous, 'Are you doing anything special tonight? Running errands for Garan and company, perhaps?'
He shook his head, 'No, as a matter of fact I am doing nothing special'.
'Well, what a coincidence! Neither am I! See you at the pier at sunset?'
'Pier at sunset,' he echoed dreamily, watching Serana disappear down the corridor.