I believe before all the vampire attacks started to manifest I once or twice called my life boring. Oh how wrong of an assumption! Not much time had passed the commotion between Xian and Lights that we received news of a dragon had attacked Riften. Everyone could see the smoke from the Fort several miles away.
Those that were assigned to help with the cleaning up were told that Xian and Serana were at the head of bringing the creature down and that he absorbed its soul. If I already hadn’t known the Argonian was the Dragonborn this would have convinced me.
So much power for a man who appears to hate everything and everyone.
Those that were sent are probably still there as we haven’t heard much except from a lone member who came back to report. The Bosmer, Beleval Reni I think, relayed everything to Isran who gave his usual furrowed, calculative stare and nod. The best part of it though? Some of my Nord brethren were still helping.
What many Nords liked to forget was that there was honor in doing work such as repair and relief effort, not just in battle. Sometimes all it could take a hand, or word, to make another feel at ease. A lesson many Nords needed to learn. Especially with the civil war and vampire invasions going on; we all needed a simplistic gesture like that.
For myself and Lights? We were busy helping Sorine and Gunmar with crossbow developments and troll training and gearing respectively. Being a gifted crossbowman I elected to help the Breton with the construction.
“Now remember, Agmaer, the schematics call for precise arm measurements and make. True you could use any metal in place of the body so material make-up doesn’t matter that much. What does matter is your skill at getting the metals melted down CORRECTLY,” Jurard explained to me like it was no big deal.
“But,” I stammered, “I’ve never actually crafted anything. Living in a farm community we had only whet stones for out pitch forks.” Everything she said on smithing and smelting went over my head.
“And that’s why you have me and Gunmar around,” she smiled reassuringly. “We will have you smelting and hammering out arms in no time. Right Gunmar?”
“Sure whatever,” came the Nord’s reply over a troll’s disgruntled cry. “Come on now Lights, you’re scaring him!”
“It is not my fault I can’t help the creature not smell my trepidation!” the Argonian complained. “Far as I’m concerned we should rely on man-power and our dogs. Least the war hounds let you get close to train them.”
Gunmar continued to prove otherwise, patting the closest white furred troll on the back. It growled happily at the show of affection. “I’m sorry, you were saying something about only our dogs let you get close?”
He could only grumble, cursing to himself in defeat. For all the Argonain’s knowledge in magical connection, connecting with the wild life wasn’t a feat he could pull off. “Stupid troll,” Lights hissed. The large beast voiced his content of the colorful description before shoving the lizard to the ground. “Bastard! Stendarr take you!” The three of us laughed at the Argonian’s misfortune, further angering him. “Why I prefer books, they don’t fight back.”
“What about paper cuts?” I asked after a deep breath.
That only made me laugh harder.
We all took several long moments to calm down before resuming our activities. The progress of smelting down the ingredients for steel bars was not going so well. Getting the impurities out of the iron before mixing it with corundum proved to be over my current skill. Even with Sorine’s guidance it was a chore. Lights, on the other hand, was able to finally touch the toll’s shoulder before I could hammer out the impurities. Turned out for me that I hammered too little and created iron.
Sorine simply shook her head unable to wrap her mind around how a Nord did not have the ability to create steel. As she put it it was a mundane process, one that she got the hang of near instantly.
“You’ve also been doing this longer than I have<” I reminded her.
“Yes, yes I have,” she sighed. “Fine, we’ll move on. Night as well use the iron you accidentally made for something useful. Let’s make some bolt heads. Molds nearby?” Sorine turned asking Gunmar.
“Last I saw they were on that empty bookshelf.” He pointed to the corner of the room. A large enchanting table and alchemy set were placed close to the bookshelf. The blue and green symbols appeared to glow under the right conditions. “Is it just me or does it feel like someone is missing?”
“A little bit, yeah,” Sorine nodded. “But I don’t know, isn’t it kinda nice not hearing him say ‘Arkay this’ and ‘Arkay that’?”
“You may find it difficult to believe but I actually miss the Imperial.” The Nord chuckled as his statement as if in disbelief.
“So do I. Hah, crazy missing crazy; go figure.”
“You said it, not me!”
“Don’t tempt me Gunmar.”
“Excuse me,” Lights interrupted, “but what are you both talking about?”
“Who,” Gunmar corrected. “We are talking about a man that worked with us some years ago.”
“And he’s crazy?”
“Well that depends,” Sorine answered.
“If he is really talking to Arkay or not.”
I dropped my hammer, stubbing my toe along the way, as Lights stared at the Breton woman. “You’re joking, yes?” She shook her head. “No, that is ridiculous. Impossible. No Gods have ever been recorded to have spoken to anyone!”
“Which is why we don’t believe him. Only humor him,” Gunmar replied strapping a large bladed gauntlet to a troll’s arm. “He’s argued over and over that he can but we stick to our side.”
Retrieving the hammer I asked, “If it were true and he wanted you to believe, why is he not with you? Us?”
“That is due to complicated history between Isran and me, Gunmar and Florentious,” Sorine said over the bustle of the forge after a pause. “Ever notice- watch the iron now Agmaer- that Isran is a bit adamant with his demands and straightforward during questioning?”
“Right sorry,” I quickly apologized returning my novice attention to the now red hot metal. “Yes, I have.”
“He’s also like that with his opinions and insults. Why you or your actions were piss-poor and so on.”
“Then why does he appear more tamed and less like a wild sabre cat?” my reptilian friend asked.
“Honestly we don’t know,” Gunmar shrugged. “Your guess is as good as ours.”
“Then if you don’t mind me asking, why did Isran send Xian and Celann to find you?”
“Perhaps he realized that vampires having an Elder Scroll, which is no longer in their possession thanks to Serana, was a very dangerous prospect.” Sorine rolled her eyes and exhaled. “It’s… strange to see Serana, a vampire, helping us.”
“That monster isn’t helping,” Lights spat angrily. “Biding its time more like! How could Isran have allowed my egg-brother to have it as a travel buddy and not dispose of it?!”
“It is because the vampire would be out of his way and not bother anyone here,” the Nord answered. A gloved hand swept back a mop of sweaty red hair as the last fastener was placed on the troll. “There you are, all ready for action!” he beamed. The troll growled at the affection, liking the praise thrown his way. “Good boy.”
“Well how about Lights and I go find that Florentious fellow?” I asked while trying to cut the heated bar in half. And failed miserably.
“Why am I being dragged off on some misadventure without my consent?”
“Because you’re both absolutely terrible at the simple tasks we’ve given you1” Sorine answered. “Can’t even heat the metal right!”
“Hey, I told you I can’t work a smith!” I retorted with a shake of the tongs. “I’m more of a-”
“Not interrupting, am I?” came a voice.
Nearly dropping the tool from the surprise intrusion I turned to face her. Shit it would be her. “W-well… not exactly.”
Ameriya, a new recruit some two days or so ago and she was already a shining example of how an agent of the Dawnguard should be. The dunmer’s weapon of choice was one of our greatswords; sun runes etched into the silver-steel something Sorine probably had a hand with. Her crossbow was slung alongside her sword, a bolt already in and waiting to be launched.
I felt my heart speed up as she continued to speak.
“I see. Was wondering when more bolts would be ready. We are starting to run low, Relimations help us.”
“M-more bolts?” I stammered stupidly feeling my cheeks turn as bright as a tomato. “That-that is something-”
“You’ll have to ask me,” Sorine butted in. “I and Gunmar are the only ones who know how to make things around here it appears.”
“And I told you I’m a grindsman!”
“You’re only daggering yourself into one, deep grave Ag,” Lights smirked.
I hated it when he was right. Acting like a man-child… What would my pa think of me? What would Ameriya…?! Shit no!
“If we could get back to my question,” the dunmer said. “When will there be more bolts?”
“Give me a couple of hours to a day. Some iron and steel,” Sorine answered.
“Thank you Sorine. Puts me at ease a bit.”
“Is something troubling you?” Gunmar asked placing the last rowdy troll in the pen.
“It is nothing really,” she shrugged. I was too distracted being awe-struck by her to notice her looking at me with an arched brow. “You alright Agmaer?”
“I-I… Yeah. I mean why wouldn’t I be?”
“She pointed a gloved finger to the forge. “Because you are about to light your hand on fire.”
Looking down to the fire pit, the iron bar was buried underneath the coals, tongs submerged past the middle of them. “Fuck shitshitshit!!” I cried throwing the tool from my hand. Embers showered the ground and Ameriya, who didn’t even flinch. “By the Gods I’m so sorry!”
“Better than what some Nords do to me,” she mumbled brushing the sparks from her armor. “Again thank you Sorine. Let me know so I can put proper numbers into our ledger. And Agmaer?”
“Dumbass.” And away she disappeared to the dining hall.
“Wow,” Lights mused. “I have never seen you act so stupid before.”
“Shut up!” My disposition may have been stiff but my bright cheeks betrayed me. Like they do every time.
The Argonian laughed, as it was his turn now. “Aww, you’re sweet on her.”
“Now you can really fuck off!!” My face was red but with what I didn’t know.
“Alright boys, settle down!” Sorine intervened. Her eyes became slits full of experienced intent. “A brawl over feelings is the single most idiotic thing people fight about! And I will not have in happen in here. Do I make myself clear boys?!”
The strangest part of it all was that she was outwardly calm, still holding onto the grace that she had. Of course that could all change in an instant. Xian was the first to give me an important piece of advice, back when he arrived through the Canyon, barely a minute behind me. Appearances are always deceiving. Later I was told the same thing by Isran, Durak and Celann. Hah, common thinking, those four.
“Of course,” Lights nodded meekly after hesitating a little. “Forgive me. Silly habits, you know.” Even his green feathers seemed to droop, whether in sincerity or fear was another thing altogether. “But you cannot deny that it was funny as fuck!”
“Be that as it may,” she answered in accordance to my scowl, “a brawl isn’t something we want, nor afford, from our comrades. Like it or not we have to depend on each other. Mission or no mission.
“Similar to what Lights and I are going to do?” I replied after collecting myself. “Going after Florentius.”
“Yes. Exactly like you two shall be doing.” Gunmar nodded. “If Isran will allow it but I personally do not see him refusing additional assistance. Unlike with that vampire he allowed to travel with our hired help.” The large Nord sighed to himself.
“Why would he refuse his help?” I asked ignoring the bit of Xian and Serana. They had their own reasons to travel together. Least she was out of our hair.
“That Redguard made it very clear to the three of us back when. He did not trust, or appreciate, Florentius’ Aetherial babbling. I still don’t believe Arkay really communes with him.”
“Skipping over his banter with the God of Life and Death, do you know where he is?” Lights asked in a hopeful tone.
Both shook their heads.
“We all took our own path when we had our fill of Isran’s shit. I went to fulfill my crave of Dwemer artifacts and oddities while Gunmar played with animals or something,” Sorine answered.
“Hey now,” the Nord shot, narrowing his eyes. “Do remember I have dirt on you. Very good dirt.”
It was like the dam was destroyed, red crashing over the Breton woman’s face as memories darted across her eyes. At least from my perspective. After all if the ‘dirt’ made her blush that ferociously what exactly was it?
“Fine,” she huffed after a moment. “Gunmar went to make his taming abilities better than they were back then. Happy?”
“Yes,” he smirked.
“Fucker.” Gunmar could only laugh, causing me to nervously join in only to cease when Sorine turned her attention to me. Her eyebrow cocked just itching to be fired. “Agmaer, I wouldn’t if I were you. I have some… plans for you when you and Lights return from finding Florentius. And you really don’t wish to do the tasks at mind.”
That feeling started again. The one where it started in the pit of my gut only to slowly swell like a bubble. The pulses of the pest began spread, making my body want- no, SCREAM!- to become small. “G-got it! Sorry Sorine!”
Lights was about to enter in on the chaos and chortle as well but he was instantly silenced by a finger. “So much as a squeak of contained laughter ‘Demon in the Light’ and you will have bucket duty for a week. And poor Durak has one upset stomach.”
I wasn’t sure who to feel sorry for: the Orc or the Argonian? On one hand Durak was, and still is, my crossbow trainer and mentor on fighting techniques who was currently battling a stomach bug. The other was my fast friend.
Lights went from playful to fearful in an instant. The diabolical plan of Sorine Gurard was in motion and the boulder was in his path. Will he be crushed or jump out of the way? I wondered. Already he was imagining the disgusting, foul stench emanating from the steel pale.
“Agmaer, the fuck are you waiting for!?” he barked, grabbing and dragging me by the arm. “Time to talk to Isran!”