Chapter 23: The Order of Dawn


The ride across Cyrodil had been uneventful, only having to make more than a couple stops than they would have liked for the sake of rest.

Rosario had shared that the very seats they sat on would have to make for their own beds, Alduin had merely found it a strange thing and Ruigus saw it as awkward as they had to sleep apart from each other like this with that light air of animosity that existed within this carriage, Caesar's attitude being much the sole reason of it's existence.
Ruigus was used to worse sleeping conditions, and it was not as though the two were terrible to be around despite it.

Currently he sat next to Alduin, awaiting the return of Rosario and Lucis who were out to hear an unrelated report as they stopped at a small Imperial Legion fort in northeast Heartlands, not too far away from entering the domain of Cheydinhal, which would then lead to their passage through an opening in the Mountains into Riften of Skyrim.

The pair hadn't had much the chance to say anything to each other in private, not that either had much need to at the moment.

"I have not had to sit in one spot for lengthy periods for a long while." She mused.

"A return to form, huh?" Asked Ruigus, intentionally giving her a stupid grin.

"A return to beating you with a wooden sword, I think I can do that from here." She growled.

Ruigus's expression appeared crazed.

"Oh!? This time I'll Shout you out!" He retorted.

"Try it, you should always be prepared for one to respond in kind." She smirked.

He then smiled.

"Well maybe later then!" He stated, having to sit around wasn't much to his usual routine.

"Now what was I saying? Ah I was reminiscing. Ruigus, you should mediate more, with me and without me."

She had asked him for what he thought was perhaps the fourth time.

"Meditate?" He asked both outwardly and internally, Alduin did not seem as though she would ever do so herself, contrary to the moments where she had with him but not on the regular, she was much too intense generally speaking, although he supposed she did seem rather wondrous most of the time, at least in comparison to the calm yet brutal and ruthless version of her old self he saw.

"I know what I said, and I've said it to you before!" Her smile turned into a look of near disappointment.

"Okay, okay, I'll make it up to you." He stated.

"I'll ignore your lack of honesty." She giggled.

Suddenly the door to the left of their carriage opened.

"Apologies, but did I hear speak of meditation? Missus Kessel you are quite loud, even through this glass but I will say I am interested in this." Stated a jovial Rosario as he entered, taking his seat on the far side.

"Yes, we were just speaking about needing to do some of it soon." She stated.

The man leaned his head forward, interested.

"Really? If you two are curious I happen to know of both some magical and physical techniques to aid you, despite what is said of Vivec if you happen to know his name; he knew some very -" Lucis spoke, interrupting Rosario as soon as he entered.

"We will be off now. We've just received word of a new development." Stated the intense Heartlander.

"What is it?" Asked Ruigus.

"The Dominion has changed the White-Gold Concordat, the Empire is now allowed to field 298,000 troops and our allotted armories and smiths have been allowed to increase in quality and size and it appears they are sending us money for a time as well."

Ruigus stared at him, unblinkingly as a bewildered expression spread on his countenance, to think that they would also be sending them gold as well.
If Ruigus remembered in his history teachings, before the Great War they were at around 300,000, by the end of it near 700,000. The highest the Imperial Legion had ever been counted was under one of the Septims, 1,410,000 Legionaries proportionally alright enough for back in the Third Era.

This of course, did not entirely account for the State armies of each of the Empire's kingdoms, Reinhard had told him that there was as many as 240,000 for Colovia itself at the start of the war, 500,000 by the end of it, such numbers were only considered a real detriment just due to the amount of people overall lost along with the territory supposedly.

Come to think of it, it made sense with the amount of warriors retired by force that many would resort to joining other conflicts.

It was then that Ruigus felt the carriage start to move.

"The Empire was not allowed to have that many before?" Asked Alduin, unfamiliar with the concept.

"Yes, the manpower limit was 250,000 beforehand." Stated Lucis as he regarded her.

"I see." She replied neutrally. Masking her own astonishment.

"It appears, for once they too do not want to see the land suffer." Mused Rosario.

"How could they? They are not idiotic enough to merely allow it to worsen, as we may end up finding a true threat to all Tamriel." Replied Lucis, crossing his arms.

Ruigus remained silent, he didn't quite understand the gesture of those who wanted to drag on their war while all the meanwhile poaching off people for worship of Talos.

"Ruigus, I assure you it is mere stance. And we understand of their desire to see the war in Skyrim drag out as long as possible, I do believe there are things even they will not allow." Assured Rosario, seemingly reading his mind.

"I understand, it just does not sit well with me." Replied Ruigus as Lucis bore into him with his stare.

"Neither does it sit well with many people." He shared.

"Yet this is good news for us, I think we should not brood over other matters that are half irrelevant and beyond us at the moment when we have our current task in Skyrim to worry about." Orated Alduin.

"She is right." Straightened Ruigus, as a hint of a smile showed itself.

"The death of all those of mankind is when they are incapable of seeing the knife that will go into their backs." Retorted Lucis in his aloof and uncaring manner that mingled itself with hostility.

"I agree with that Lucis, but with that is someone able to keep enough wits to see forwards, the energy to?" Challenged Ruigus.

"If they were capable or competent that would not be an issue anyways. An incompetent person would be guilty of that." He replied.

"That is the reason we must work together." Emitted Rosario.

Rosario applied that to their fields of expertise. It went without saying, Ruigus understood that.

Lucis remained silent at that, appearing only contemplative.

After that exchange, none of much importance was spoken about for the remainder of their time in Cyrodil.

However, as they passed through the Imperial side of the border and right into the Stormcloak side, they came to an expected stop.

The voice of a girl was heard.

"Sir Caesar! There are Stormcloaks coming to greet us!" She informed, seeming only struggling over her words a little to the pair that had hired her.

"Good, thank you. We will be out in a moment, just keep yourself ready." Stated Lucis, with a sort of kindness Ruigus had not expected.

"That was our 'bodyguard', you'll fully meet her in a moment, do join us." Requested Rosario.

"I believe they know our faces and assuredly hate us, are you sure?" Asked Ruigus.

"So what if they do? They can deal with their anger." Retorted Lucis.

"Well then, after you." Stated Alduin, to the opposite pair.

Dismounting they were greeted by the cold winds of the land. The two officials seemed none bothered by it.

"Maelia, meet the two of whom that will be with us for this whole affair."
A girl much dressed in rather expensive civilian armor spun around, her helm with the Heartlander letters that spelled "Love" drew the attention of the two's eyes.

She was certainly a few inches shorter than Ruigus, perhaps an inch shorter than Rosario, but what was most unique of her generally concealed appearance was her purple eyes.

She stretched her arm to them as a greeting.

"Introduce yourself first, Maelia." Suggested Rosario.

"...Er, I uh….My name is Maelia Bestia, bodyguard of Lord Lucis Caesar and Lord Rosario Vinceti! I am pleased to meet you!" She stated excitedly, Alduin for her own sake was taken aback by the girl's energy, it was simply very youthful.

"I am Alavia Kessel, I will be the Military head of our forces during our time with the Order." She stated, she gave the girl her best smile. This Maelia seemed so truly young to her, she suspected no less that seventeen years of age.

The girl's immaculate purple eyes widened in realization.

"P-Pleased to meet you!" She stammered, repeating herself again.

Ruigus smiled as he introduced himself "I am Ruigus Kessel. With I as the Dragonborn, I shall be fighting and sortieing much in our time here."

The girl fell to both of her knees before the two. Who both stared at her with confusion, being taken aback by the gesture.

Lucis turned away, with second-hand embarrassment and annoyance.

"I am honored!" She stated.

"P-Please there is no need." Stated Ruigus as he stared down at the girl.

She raised her head to look up at him.

"Oh! I am so sorr-"
"Let's go meet them." Interrupted Lucis, who began to pace ahead of them as he spoke to Captain Kober, who took his side.

The four stood for a moment as Rosario spoke.

"Please stand up Maelia, do not worry." He comforted. She was quick to shoot up.

"I understand." She then turned to Ruigus and Alduin. "But by Mara I cannot put to words of how much of a blessing this is to come into your presences!" She exclaimed.

It made sense to the pair as they glanced at each other that she was saying this out of their given titles at Whiterun, and out of Ruigus's own Dragonborn status.

With Rosario motioning the four followed after Lucis as they went to the front of the convoy.

"Erm, Maelia." Emitted Ruigus as he walked alongside the young girl, some inches shorter than he as he noticed.

She turned her head to stare up at him, her eyes wide as she gave her response.

"Yes sir Ruigus?!" She emitted.

"Please treat me as you would normally anyone else." He stated, trying his best to not create an awkward air.

"This girl looks as though she has never had to face a single person before, she's truly their bodyguard?" He questioned his own self as he took an interest.

Her eyes seemingly brightened. "Yes sir Ruigus, I shall!" She exclaimed.

Ruigus blinked. He supposed it was just her normal self, but she did seem to be far too excited.

"Come to think of it, I haven't interacted much with anyone ordinary back home so that I've forgotten a couple mannerisms, but I suppose she's strange too. I don't think I've ever seen anyone with a helmet that says 'love' on it." He thought as he looked over the well dressed and armored youth once more.

Upon paying more attention, he noticed strange crystal-like objects with a subtle turquoise glow around her waist as part of a sort of bandoleer. He also spotted her only visible weapon, a sword almost long enough to be a longsword by the looks of the scabbard. Aside from those two and her overall armor Ruigus noticed not much else aside from the novice way she carried herself.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the girl look around quizzically at the snowflakes that fell from the sky.
"Never seen snow before?" He wanted to ask.

"Go Imperials, stick to the roads. If you don't we will not tolerate you any further." Warned a Stormcloak as he eyed them all with a hint of contempt.

Lucis to his own merit, remained unfazed.

"Very well." He merely replied, his arms crossed as he shared a hard stare with the Stormcloak.

"Better hurry it." Was all that the Stormcloak added as Lucis turned around and paid no attention to the comment.

"How quick." Murmured Rosario as Lucis met up with them.

"I am merely pleased we don't waste our time here." Replied the Heartlander.

Rosario giggled. "And you must have wished for some true discussion with a separatist."
Lucis was not amused.

"….No. I will not waste our time." Was his response.

Rosario bent his arms and splayed his hands out in an exaggerated shrug.

"Oh well." He whispered to his own self as he passed him.

And so too did Captain Kober, who's eyes at their very corners met that of Rosario as he passed as well.

Ruigus and Alduin were left to stare after him while the young girl next to them stared off opposite of them.

Rosario paced over and was about to motion before noticing Maelia.

"Is something the matter Maelia?" He asked patiently.

The other pair turned their attention to her upon the question as she formed her response.

"I've just….Never been to Skyrim before, that was a rebel, right?" She asked.

Rosario met eyes with Alduin, he seemed to plead for her to say something to the girl.

"Yes it was, a Stormcloak. They are to help us during this time of crisis with the undead." Voiced Alduin.

"By the time this will be over, may it be weeks or months there may be war again." She added.

"I see." Said Maelia, as she turned her head to look up at the side by side pair.

"There is much I have learned and much I do not know, I have not followed much with the world itself during my time in training with the Synod." She shared.

Alduin nodded whilst having no knowledge of the organization.

"The Synod?" She questioned.

"Miss Kessel, the Synod are one of the two main mages guilds in the Empire, they train initiates like Miss Bestia and ensure they can follow Imperial standards, like most mage guilds they are scholarly in nature but also political. Not that young Bestia would be of those affected by the latter." Informed Rosario as he spoke with an interesting increase of energy.

Bestia blushed. "Y-Yes that is right, my teachings were purely educational." She stammered.

Alduin nodded, having understood it.

"I see." She stated before facing the young girl. "There is much you may come to experience in your time here."

"I would hate to end this conversation but I see Lucis and some others glaring at us, let us head back." Came the voice of Rosario once more as he began to stroll.

Alduin motioned to follow as Maelia saw Ruigus give her a smile as he walked on.

She stared at him as her shoulder unintentionally caught a snowflake that lasted for the moment she laid her eyes paid it attention, she soon jogged her way to the carriage after some contemplation.

..

.


..

.

Fort Dawnstar 8th of Sun's Dawn

"L-Lords! We have arrived!" Came the excited and loud voice of Maelia as they felt their carriage come to a stop.

"At the Fort!" She yelled once more.

Lucis in particular only stared onward, piercing the walls of their own carriage.

"After you." He stated.

Rosario went and opened the side door for them, stepping out with Maelia who was taking up some space at their exit.

"Maelia, could you move?" Gently asked Ruigus as he tried to step out, the girl and her purple eyes merely stared at him with a childish smile, her stare would be vacant if not clearly thinking for her own self.

"Ms. Bestia?" Asked Rosario as though to wake her, to which she jumped.

"Ah! Sorry!" She apologized as she stepped off the to side allowing them to exit the carriage.

Ruigus gave a nod and light smile to reassure her as the others came out of the carriage.

Their eyes all settled on what was the great fortress before them, whilst smaller than it would have seemed it's walls and fortifications were imposing, and unique with an architecture almost akin to that of the Imperial City's first line of walls.

It looked beautiful despite it's rather dreary gray walls. Even if it were without the brighter air and flora belonging to that of Riften's environment.

"Hmph." Sounded Lucis as he crossed his arms as his eyes traveled about the features in front of them.

"A pitiful reception so far. They've yet to send a greeting." He stated as he stared at the sterile and makeshift gates of the castle.

The gates were rather full, but nothing seemed to stir among those in it.

"With our numbers I have no doubt that they are finding themselves with an added weight, we may only wait for another minute or several." Advised Rosario.

"Of course, we could also all just take our stroll to them right now, they would not refuse if we did so." The masked Nibenean added humorously.

Lucis nodded, and regarded the pair next to them.
"Would you be ready? Or would you wish to wait? I would prefer we do not waste our time." He shared.

Allduin looked down at him.

"I would not want to waste it, I understand that as we discussed you will be speaking to them." Replied Alduin.

"Yes, and you may speak up at any time." He stated with a hint of coldness.

"I have not forgotten that." She mused.

"Maelia, you are coming along as well. I will ask you to practice proper etiquette when we are in." Stated Lucis.
The young girl merely went and nodded happily.

"Of course!" She exclaimed.

Lucis suppressed his sigh as Rosario motioned.

"Allow me to go forth, in the slightest chance we aren't truly welcome." He suggested.

Lucis let loose a chuckle.

"If that could ever be the case I would be tempted to give Alavia the order to burn this place down and have us deal with nonsense ourselves." Was his honest statement.

Ruigus stood with his mouth half-agape for a moment before he collected himself.

"Lucis, I mean that there are those in there who may take us wrong in the first place, yet not to a degree that they would break all that's been agreed upon and try to kill us. You exaggerate." Chided the Nibenean.

"I know that." Scoffed the Heartlander.

"Lucis, Rosario, may we continue?" Asked Alduin, breaking her earlier silence.

"Yes, are you certain that the Captain's can handle themselves?" Questioned Lucis.

"They can." Alduin stated flatly. She had come to put some faith into those three under them, they were adaptable and simply fully knowledgeable of all that was going to happen with their current proceedings for this campaign.

Tearing herself away from her thoughts, she noticed that Maelia girl walking alongside herself and Ruigus. Yet she kept her silence for someone who looked quite excited, so far she had seemed a comforting sort of girl, if not only a bit annoying on first impressions.

"Greetings! You are free to go through my lords!" Came the voice of a nervous gate guard, clad only in some padded leather for armor.

"I take it you were expecting us?" Questioned Rosario at the nervous Nord above them.

"Y-Yes, only within the next couple days we was told. Er….. we sent a runner to tell those inside when we spotted you, apologies for the lack of communication before now."

"I couldn't expect much, for this fledgling period at least." Snorted Lucis as he thought on the Dawnguard's apparent lack of professionalism, he then crossed his arms as he stared at the man.

"We understand, and thank you for showing haste regardless." Stated Rosario to only a nod of a response as the wooden gates opened.

In silence the five walked through as the curious if not alarmed members of the would be Dawnguard stared at them with a mixture of expressions.

"I thought they would be more….presentable." Stated the young Maelia.

Rosario giggled.

"They will be soon Maelia." He assured, who then turned his attention to Lucis, sensing his disappointment.

"My first impressions of this half-rabble is that they are not up to the task." Shared Lucis.

"When it comes to what ever first hurdles we will receive, it will be up to us to do the work." He then reckoned.

"Then let us be the ones who take the glory for it." Announced Alduin at a near snort.

"That….Goes without saying." Was the reply from the Heartlander.

They were soon greeted again, by only two guards who stood at the very entrance to the keep. To the five they appeared far more professional in how they stood and in how they were armed and armored.

Yet before any could speak, the rather thin doors of the keep opened and out stepped a rather proper appearing warrior-priest of Stendarr who wore a calm expression as he regarded the five before him.

"Welcome Imperials, I am Vigilant Tolan and I will be bringing you to Keeper Carcette, which one of you is Lucis?" Invited the Vigilant of whom Ruigus recognized from the attack on Dawnstar.

"I am, is it a private meeting?" Asked Lucis.

"It is not a private meeting, you are all needed." Stated the Vigilant.

"I see, lead us in."

One of the Dawnguard members pulled the door open for them to move in, and the group witnessed the disrepair the place was in, seeming to have been hastily repaired for it's use.

"Erm, I asked who you were earlier because the person meant to greet you is currently busy in the said meeting and he was meant to give a proper introduction."
"Er this is the main hall, as you can see there is an intentional opening to allow the sun to shine down in case of any infiltrating vampires." The good Vigilant informed.

"The only impressive feature so far." Scoffed Lucis without any intent to keep it to himself.

"We….We are working on it my lord."

"I know that, continue and do not have us stop for anything save for immediate importance, your Isran will show what we need after we see what ever this meeting is." Lucis bossed.

"I understand. Apologies I've been losing sleep lately." Tolan breathed.

After following several hallways and a set of stairs Tolan brought them to a meeting room, full of several curious individuals.

One, Ruigus recognized was Keeper Carcette at the very forefront, the other an especially imposing and stoically stern Redguard who seemed to wear a particular sort of armor to stand out from the others, some religious sorts in robes of which there were twelve, and three in Stormcloak armor.

All of them seemed to have heard them approaching, as they stared at their new arrivals without so much as a word uttered before.

"Keeper Carcette, Isran, here is the Imperial delegation." Tolan introduced in an uncomfortable manner.

The Keeper beamed with an expression, however she was not the first to speak.

"I am Lucis Caesar of the Imperial Government, I bring my staff as well as the agreed manpower and resources and I will skip any further pleasantries. What is the situation?"

His reception was met with some variations of anger, moreso from the Stormcloaks.

The Keeper retained a positive expression and a hint of a smirk was seen on the grizzled Redguard.

"I am pleased to have your aid good son of the Imperial City, as Brother Tolan has said I am Keeper Carcette representing all of the Vigilants of Stendarr in Skyrim." She introduced, then with a wave of her hand she regarded the Redguard. "This is Brother Isran who's reforged the Dawnguard together with me."
Isran retained his silence as he stared down at the five.
"We will have no introductions with this mongrel from Cyrodil and his pups, Keeper." Interjected a Stormcloak.

As Ruigus's eyes wandered upon the Stomcloak's countenance he recognized him as that Galmar that he had met with Tullius. He recalled that he seemed to be quite close to Ulfric.

He then recognized Ralof who kept a neutral expression, showing no hate nor elation.

And finally a third unknown one who dressed himself in heavy steel-like plate armor, much unlike Galmar.

"I already know your name, I do not need to speak with any of you so long as you ensure this does not end in failure." Stated Lucis in a calm manner. His words however scratched under Galmar's skin.

"Aye that we will, dog. You shall do the same, or else your pretty corpse won't make it back to your slum." Cursed Galmar.

Lucis did not respond, as Isran now spoke.

"At least you two know when to quit quibbling, Lucis our situation is this, up until now we were undermanned in what we wanted but now you have given us an ample opportunity. We were discussing the investigation of an old ruin near where Dawnstar is."
"Investigating what?" Asked Lucis, near annoyed.

"Tolan, you tell them." Ordered Isran to the bald nord.

"It is Dimhollow Crypt, we had a brother named Adalvald who was certain it held some sort of long lost vampire artifact, he er perished in the fighting when he submitted his findings to us two weeks prior to the attacks. Considering it's proximity to Dawnstar and what used to be our Hall we think it may even have been their main goal." Explained Tolan.

He and the other figures of the Dawnguard seemed to quite believe it, and if it was a coincidence, it was not be ignored.

"I doubt chasing one shadow will be the one that fixes all of our problems, I know there were mixes of sorts of undead attacks all across Skyrim. Is there nothing else?" Lucis prodded the question to them.

Ralof could not suppress a chuckle, earlier Galmar had issue with what they had said about that earlier. Though, they were just as blind as they were at the moment.

It earned a moment of Lucis's glare but Keeper Carcette's answer came quick.

"It is, however with both Imperial and Stormcloak armies defending settlements we are allowed to investigate and purge any sorts of active groups be it mere Necromancers or Vampires and the like."

"Have you heard of any sightings of Dragon Priests?" The serene voice of Rosario questioned.

The Stormcloaks whispered as Carcette and Isran shared a confirmation.

"No, we've yet to see one emerge, but we've heard of Draugr managing to get out of their tombs, something we've only heard of them doing for a small period of time in the past.." Stated the Keeper.
Alduin peaked up at that.

"We will have to share the information then. Now, what is it that you need of us for this Crypt?" Asked Lucis.

"We will need a group of warriors around ten for it alongside our volunteers from the Vigilants. We're hoping to discover whichever clan or clans there is that are causing mayhem." Stated the Keeper.

"I would not want you to send out some of your troops so quickly but we've had so many farm boys who've never held any sort of weapon but their father's axe that it will take time to train them into something proper." Added Isran who ended with something of a snort.

"I understand, however I will go over the matters of deployment of my group and the rest of our army in private." Replied Lucis, who then turned his head towards the Stormcloaks and merely stared.

"Alright then, I will keep only you and your two adjutants, Sir Caesar." Agreed Carcette.

Without as much as a word both the Stormcloaks and other figures of the Dawnguard began to take leave.

Rosario regarded the three behind him and Lucis.

"Alavia please arrange as best as possible with us, Sir Kessel and Miss Bestia you will have to be excused, we will see you soon. Do what you must." He finished with a wink.

Ruigus found himself chuckling.

"Alright then, I'll see you all soon." Ruigus then motioned the silent Maelia to his side who had been standing stupidly as she realized what he was motioning for.

"See you soon, Ruigus." Said Alduin as he left, sharing a hint of a smile with him.

Right before walking out Ruigus remembered something.

"Oh! Rosario!" He called.

Rosario walked over, lending an ear to him.

"Are we going to discuss the matters of a new castle or keep? I had actually written down some plans for one." Quietly announced the Dragonborn.

"I would not expect it so soon, I will remember what you have said and I ask that you share it when it comes to the time. Before you two leave, I would expect that you would go on this expedition. I believe it may bear good fruit." The masked Nibenean reckoned with a whisper.

Ruigus's expression turned serious, he felt Lucis's and the two Vigilant's eyes gloss over him.

"Understood, I am willing to take it."
"I as well!" Blurted Maelia.

Ruigus blinked, didn't she lack any true experience?
"Perhaps it may be your first sortie, go now." Approved Rosario.

The two were instant to make way.

"I recognize that man who just left, he had saved me during the first night." Stated Carcette.

"How is he?" She then added.

"He is in good shape, and he is eager." Replied Alduin.

Carcette smiled.

"A true son of Stendarr he appears to be, we are fortunate to have a Dragonborn with us. Bygone as they may be."

Lucis regarded them neutrally.

"We'd better not waste one then. Now, before we discuss our own thoughts on the matter tell us what exactly you wanted them to work on."

..

.


..

.

"Are you holding up alright, Maelia?" Asked Ruigus as the pair walked around, doing nothing other than sightseeing the Keep.

"Yes sir Kessel! I am well." She chirped.

"I am just…...I haven't gone through anything like this before, outside of where I trained with the Synod's private school." She then stated with a bit of shyness. She kept her large helm close to her chest as she held it with one arm in a proper stance.

"I see, I know nothing of them myself." He replied.

"Oh I've heard it was hardly their school, I just went under rigorous magical and religious training, some history in the mix too." She shared, which confused the older Cyrodilic man.

"I'll have to ask you about that later Maelia." Said Ruigus as he noticed a certain group of four standing around in a hall.

"Do you recognize them?" She asked.

"Yeah, seems like you will fight alongside them as well as me. You might like them." He assured as he approached.

Marcus was the first to wave him over.

"Hey would you look who it is! I almost didn't recognize you in that….suit of armor." He stated.

"Yeah. What even is that? You want to be one of the Blades or something?" Asked Hadvar.

"What? No no it's just from a good family member of mine in the Estates." Responded Ruigus.

"Always heard that thousands of strange armors were used over there, even more weird to see one now." Observed Aethan, who shared a seat with the old Hans, who regarded Ruigus with tired eyes.

"Isn't there weirder sets around aside from Colovia?" Asked Ruigus.

"Well discounting whatever it was that they use every now and then in Valenwood, not to mention Dark Elf style armor as some of them can just appear outright creepy." He informed.

Ruigus turned to look behind to see where Maelia stood, she had kept a noticeable distance as she merely stared back with a nervous smile.

Before he could formulate a thought or word he felt a light tug at his chest.

"Hey nice jacket you got there." Laughed Marcus as he examined Ruigus's cloth.

"Is this all Stee-" He was cut off by a strong fist into the side of his head.

"Scum!" A voice full of anger thundered out.

In an instant Ruigus spun to face the assailant whilst Marcus too did the same out of adrenaline as he stood straight up from where he had fallen.

"You think you can put the likes of your nibenean hands on the armor of a Colovian Lord!? Insolence!"
In fury was a man with Akaviri style armor done in the fashion of the Colovian Royal Guard, customized as it was, a man almost the height of an average nord and a most clean yet rugged face and an intense sight within his own gray eyes and body it held his controlled anger.

He appeared as a walking suit of armor with a furred helm with what seemed to be small upwards facing horns on it's mount and a mask that rested on his neck, he retained his balled hands at his own sides as he stood straight.

"Are you okay Marcus?" Asked Hans as he approached, but the young Imperial did not answer anyone.

"What in Oblivion is your damned problem?" Spat Marcus.

The Colovian regarded him with his held expression.

"You do not know where that suit comes from, you ignorant and disrespectful city boy."

"Enlighten me then you bastard!" He cursed in response as a hand went to grasp at the side that had been struck.

"That belongs to your General Tullius. You'd best show respect to the man who once wore it, and the man who wears it now. That is all I have to say to you." He stated before he turned to Ruigus.

"Ruigus von Kessel, I am Gunter Sturnhell of the Colovian Royal Guard and servant to President Balabanov. I am here to aid you and the rest of these inexperienced fools."

Ruigus sensed that he too had also just subtly called him a fool as well.

However, this was an old hero in the flesh who he now stared at, he recognized that despite his own hostility.

"I thank you for coming, I ask that you do not strike at anyone in my presence." He replied carefully.

"Foolishness, like idiocy and insolence cannot be controlled. It shall be learned out of." Stated Gunter with a neutral tone as his eyes switched over to Marcus and the others.

Maelia stood petrified as she watched.

"I take it you five and the girl behind us will be sent to that Crypt, it was already set in the heads of these organizers the moment it was brought to their attention. They are good at planning, if nothing else." Reckoned the Colovian Warrior.

Ruigus didn't know what to say to such an experienced man who had in part in his childhood, in fact he was surprised at his own self for keeping himself collected.

"Do not do that again, Soldier." He stated to Marcus who fumed.

"Whatever, do something like that again and I'd be more than happy to fight back." Growled the nibenean.

Gunter nodded, then faced Ruigus with his narrow eyes whom he noticed now had something to say.

"What brings you here to help us all out Gunter?" He asked.

"The President, my desire, and Isran." Stated the warrior as he crossed his arms.

"Your desire?"

"To kill Vampires and other abominations, experience, to further myself and my name." He then paused.

"I will not say anymore on that matter." He finished.

"I see." Was all that Ruigus replied with.

"Do you know anything about Dimhollow Crypt?" He then asked to which Gunter shook his head.

"Less than you do, if you've truly wandered the land." He stated.

Ruigus nodded.

It was most likely full of Draugr as it seemed to be an old nord ruin, perhaps some spiders, and Julianos knew how many Vampires that were there.

"There is one question that it may answer, the identity of the Clan behind the attacks on Dawnstar and Morthal, they were executed in similar fashion."
Ruigus was not sure if it was just perhaps coincidence but considering the distance of the two capitals from each other and the fact that the Hall of the Vigilants had been so ruthlessly destroyed in the first place was sense enough.

"Well if they were attacking in mainly areas that were close to the sea wouldn't it be the V-Volkihar clan?" Quipped a nervous Maelia.

"Aye, that is my original guess as well. Few are so stupid as to wage attacks such as that." Voiced Gunter, who regarded the young girl curious.

"You know well." He added.

Maelia was quick to salute.

"I trained under the Synod sir! I learned much in all fields of study!" She beamed.

The Colovian nodded slowly.
"You're certain it's them?" Asked Ruigus.

"Any old clan it could be." Gunter replied curtly.

"Wait what's this about them being close to the sea? They aren't pirate vampires are they?" Asked a voice belonging to Hadvar.

Ruigus smiled, he did much to help with the tension and awkwardness of a situation they were in.

"It is known that each bloodline, each clan has their own set of unique and shared traits, the Volkihars are able to breathe underwater but choose to stick to lakes." Spurted Maelia in an instant.

"But hiding under lakes are different from swimming around in the ocean, right?" Hadvar confusedly inquired.

"It means that they can and will live and travel under the seas, nord." Sighed Gunter.

A pair of hardly audible footsteps yet again broke the silent tension, and so did the form of Rosario emerge from a corner.

"Greetings to you Sir Sturnhell, and to you soldiers. I am glad your commotion made it easy to find you." Stated Rosario with a hint of humor as he bowed his body at a slight.

"What is it that you bring to us?" Questioned Gunter.

Rosario kept a relaxed expression.

"You all are to head to Dimhollow Crypt and investigate along with a group of Vigilants who are moving in haste, they are ill experienced however so we think it most wise for you all to make your own plans and leave within the next two hours."

"Already? We just walked in here!" Boomed a still furious Marcus.

"Our apologies." Expressed Rosario.

"It will be us six then?" Ruigus asked.

"The Stormcloaks have offered up one, she will be awaiting you on your way out, they were quite vague." He finished with a jovial chuckle.

"I take it we will have to rely on our own supplies?" Questioned Gunter, who spoke as though it was a near statement that the Dawnguard would have nothing to offer them.

"They've offered up some Colovian crossbows from the Great War, I hope you may find them useful. You may find some potions meant to combat vampiric infections as well." He stated.

Gunter nodded as he scanned over the others to gauge at their reactions.

"That is all I have to say, right now we are in deep planning with the Dawnguard and the Stormcloaks and I must be present for it. I was told that you would have to find the Blacksmith, I was not given any directions."

"I know where." Replied Gunter.

Rosario nodded.
"Understood, good luck to you all. If you wish to send any messages I am told the Stormcloaks are cooperative in that regard, though as all things are I suppose it goes without saying." He turned as he finished.

Upon his exit Marcus spoke.

"What a weird man he is." He stated.

"The mask?" Asked Ruigus.

"Yeah." He replied simply.

"Save the small talk for later, we must take the crossbows and the potions for our journey." Urged Gunter.

"Well, it may be hard trying to make sure Marcus won't get at Gunter, I think the others seem to pay not as much mind right now." Thought Ruigus as his eyes switched to study Maelia.

"I get a pit in my stomach just for taking someone as young as her, It's just for how…...especially young naive she seems." He blinked and then looked at the floor.

"Am I still naive?" He asked his own self.

"The man is right, take what you need. I will await outside." Hans suddenly stated, as he went to walk outside.

As soon as Hans started, Marcus went to up to Ruigus.

"Hey I ain't following that ass and I don't want a stinkin' crossbow when I got something better myself. Just grab the damned potions I don't care how many. I'm heading with the old man."

Ruigus nodded quietly, giving Marcus a small smile in acknowledgment.

"The rest of you with me. The Blacksmith is not far." Announced Gunter as he started without hesitation.

"Well, I guess they'd be the only one in this place. It looks like they forced everyone to be outside." Noted Hadvar as he walked alongside Aethan and Ruigus.

"Look at the cobwebs, they just went opened the doors to this place the other day." Replied Aethan as he pointed at a group of them.

"At least there's no giant spiders here." Said Hadvar.

Gunter stopped the party at the voice of a bosmer woman.

"Greetings good friends, I am no Blacksmith but I have what you need here." She stated as she pointed at several crates full of potions and crossbows.

"Thank you." Stated Gunter who went to stand over one before he paused himself and turned his torso to face the small bosmer woman.

"Does the Dawnguard have no Blacksmith currently?" He asked.

"Some in the camp, but there is no head of it yet. I've heard we are to get some professionals, with some ideas and plans for unique weapons and not foreign weapons like those. However I have to go, please use whatever there is to use." She stated to which Gunter silently turned back to the party behind him.

"If you want a crossbow and bolts take them, grab as many potions as you need, take more than you'll think you need." He ordered as he grabbed a crossbow and examined it.

Ruigus walked up to him as Marcus and Aethan took their own crossbows whilst the young girl that was Maelia merely looked over the potions.

"You are not taking one Sieghard? I imagine not, given your gift. But do not be so foolish as to think that it and melee will not solve all of your problems." Stated Gunter.

"I do not think that, I've learned that lesson myself already. I have a pistol with me." Ruigus's reply earned the eyes of Gunter.

"That is a rare and powerful weapon, expect to only use it once in a heated battle." He stated.

"Tell me, what do you know of these crossbows in particular?" The older colovian then asked.

"I...don't know anything about them." Ruigus replied honestly.

"These pieces of rushed craft are the worst crossbow any person will ever use, their only use is for their own cheapness and short rangedness. I had my hands on this as well as hundreds of thousands of others of us back in the Great War, these changed the way we waged war. Yet compared to the ways of the future I fear it will not work again."

"When it comes to fighting anyone, it does not matter who, it could even be a god, do not hesitate to use anything that can cause even the tiniest pain to them."
He went and loaded a bolt in.

"However, we are fortunate that even a steel bolt in this tool, much like those little balls for that pistol can cause great damage even to a Vampire." He finished as he latched it to the back of his armor.

"Have you fought them before?" Asked Ruigus.

"Once. I have studied them immensely." Replied Gunter in full confidence of his own self.

Gunter studied the two Legionaries, and then the young girl with the strange helm who stared at both he and Ruigus.

"What is your name girl?" He inquired.

Maelia instantly stood straight and raised her head.

"I am Maelia Bestia sir! I am here as Lord Lucis and Rosario's bodyguard as a trained mage by the Synod in several fields of magic and studies!" She exclaimed as she puffed her chest much as though she were being presented for recruitment into the Emperor's own legion.

Gunter snorted.

"Hmph, so a man without any skills or experience sends a child with a few skills but no experience. Maelia, keep yourself out of harm's way whether you are good with a blade or not. What offensive spell do you specialize in?"
"W-Well it's lightning spells in general but I've got one that's meant to be a small blast of pure energy, it's existed in spell tomes but I was able to recreate it myself!" She beamed in her report.

Gunter nodded.
"Useful." He stated.

Hadvar and Aethan held curious mixed with amused countenances.

Gunter turned to face them.

"Your names?" He asked.

"Hadvar Erik, of Riverwood." Straightened Hadvar as though he were up to an inspection.

"Aethan Sun-Beard." Aethan replied cooly.

"Honored. And the two that left?" He asked.

"You punched Marcus, and Hans is the oldest of us." Replied Hadvar.

"I see." He replied.

"Are you two done?" He asked.

The two looked at each other and nodded.

"Yeah." Spoke Hadvar.
Ruigus remembered to grab the potions Marcus and Hans would have needed as he called out with "Done!".

"Good, we leave at once!" So dictated the man of the Royal Guard.

As they walked out a thought came across Hadvar.

"Who went and made you leader?" He questioned.

..

.


..

.

As the six in part of some begrudged-ness prepared to take off it was Ruigus who remembered that they were missing someone when in a coincidence he realized that he didn't get to say goodbye to Alduin.

"Wait! There was supposed to be a Stormcloak that was meant to join us wasn't there?" He questioned openly as he sat mounted upon his horse.

"We go without them, whether or not they want to catch up is their problem." Responded Gunter.

Ruigus formed a frown.

"We will be better off without them. One so opposed to us who side with those in Cyrodil will cause only tension."

Marcus gave an audible snort at that as he paid the man no attention.

"So much for being in this together." Sighed Hadvar as quietly as he could.

"Well, if we are all with the Empire…." Trailed a wily Aethan.

"Means nothing." Grumbled Hans.

Ruigus merely gave Trun a feather of a kick to wander ahead.

Gunter joined to ride at his side, saying nothing as he did so.

Eventually as the others fell behind Gunter spoke.

"What troubles you grandson of Kessel?" He questioned.

Ruigus faced him, quite surprised he saw through him.

"I was unable to say goodbye, to someone that will remain here." He voiced as his eyes stuck his stare the gates in front of him.

Gunter glared at him, a hint of fire pronounced itself in his eyes.

"Do not be so much of a weakling as to allow it to plague you." He stated.

Ruigus returned a glare to the man who held a calm gaze.

"Anyone, especially a young man who holds strong regrets and will only drag the others around them down when it comes to what will be faced. If you cannot face the problems at hand then it will be by the shaking of those hands will your end." He warned.

"He...is not wrong. But I will miss her until we come back." Considered the young Colovian.

"It is nothing I will worry. My only real worry is this party." Stated Ruigus.

"That is nothing as long as none act in manners that regress their age." Grunted Gunter, knowing full well of what Ruigus spoke of.

As they rode the small camp of the Dawnguard filled and filled with more of the Legionaries and volunteers from Cyrodil.

"Everyone just seems so out of place compared to the other." Internalized Ruigus as he looked through all of them as they reached the gates.

He was glad that they were typically fully of eager smiles.

"Tolan's group just left a while ago, good luck Imperials!" Stated the Gate guard as the order was given to open it.

Out the very front of it and within along the road stood a hooded and robed person atop a horse that seemed to stare at them.

Ruigus blinked to see that the robed figure was a woman with a sly expression as her features became clear.

"What brings a Breton to the likes of the Stormcloaks?" Questioned Gunter as he spoke first.

"Why, it is something I simply cannot tell one such as you." She replied simply.

Ruigus recognized her as the one that he had met in Dawnstar, where she had come to his aid twice during that night.

Gunter merely stared the woman down.

"You're Joan, we met in Dawnstar right?" Asked Ruigus as he halted.

She tilted her head.

"So, you do remember." She replied with a hint of humor.

"Of course." Ruigus left it at that before he would say anything unnecessary, as he picked up on the wiliness of this woman once again.

"Will you come with us or waste our time?" Asserted Gunter as he calmly stared the woman down, without as much a hint of humor nor patience upon his countenance.

"I, Joan Amevenne of the Stormcloaks shan't waste your so valuable time. It won't matter with a man like Tolan." She stated.

Gunter growled.

"If you think I cannot save some idiot like him then shut up and fall in line." He stated as he started onward.

He looked behind at the group.

"We'll camp only when night comes!"

Gunter rode into full gallop.

"He is right to move in haste, we shall speak at an appropriate time."

"Very well." Stated Ruigus with a nod.

With a motion of a hand they galloped onwards.

..

.


..

.

Later, Gunter had the party make their stop for the night at a settlement by the name of Mixwater. As he and Joan stated, was in between three Stormcloak forts.

So far, they had been left unbothered by the Stormcloaks they had encountered who seemed to recognize that there were Imperials in their lands.

They had made only merely stopped to sleep for the night, only two campfires were made.

"Forts Amol, Gallows, and Mournhold, all three were meant to stop the West."

"They are worthless if there is nobody to hold the gaps in between them, that is the problem of both this war and the one that they have with the Empire." Was what Gunter shared on the matter as he sat with Ruigus over one.

Joan was leaning against a tree as she sat to herself, away from the others. Maelia herself seemed to stand next to the Four as they sat around the other campfire.

"I didn't expect to get a group like this." He laughed internally as his mind worked to a response simultaneously.

"You are more knowledgeable than I am on this land." Admitted Ruigus.

"I only have known what those who have lived here have told me. All those who's history I've heard and experienced."

"With a city bumpkin like you I am not surprised you lack true worldly knowledge among other things. You only know Cyrodil, truly nothing else."

"Such is the state of all people of Cyrodil, no longer as worldly as our title demands us to." Snorted Gunter.

"I came here to know this land. My only fault was having not studied beforehand." Ruigus retorted reservedly, the irritated tone in his voice was noticeable.

Gunter eyes met his.

"I understand that, young fool." He replied.

"I at least expected a man." Thought Gunter.

"What weapons is that you have with you Gunter?" Asked Ruigus as he glanced over at the greatsword like weapon he had seem him carrying.

Ruigus hoped to at least understand and communicate with the old hero before their relations could worsen more than now.

"A Zweihander, a special of Colovia." Stated Gunter as he pulled it over his lap.

Ruigus noted on the large weapon that there was a cloth wrapping in a certain point on it.

"You half such a large weapon?" Stated Ruigus, thinking he had used the right terminology.

"Is it not obvious? It's something I do under circumstance." Replied the older Colovian in a curt manner.

"I do see you use a halberd. It is a smart weapon to use." Gunter then complimented.

"Thank you, it is my first time using it."

"Hmph, even a novice like you will still preform well given common sense. This, and the spear should be the weapon of all peoples but traditions have dictated otherwise."

"Because we enforced the Shield and Sword rule across the world?" Asked Ruigus.

There was a light flare in Gunter's eyes.

"You would best not forget the difference between the we that is Colovia, and the Empire." He boomed.

"Yet….it was because of it, the weapons of Pelinal, the tools to wipe out all evil in Tamriel. As it is written in the book of the Legion."

"It is but a symbolic part of the excuse and reason as to why ingenuity in the body that is the Empire is dying a putrid death. As we will see when the time comes that Tamriel's winds are that of rapid adaptation or death. And I do not see such a beast as it changing it's ways." He stated as his eyes stared into the fire in front of the two of them.

Ruigus was wordless.

"If that is the case, then why is it that the likes of the Stormcloaks are losing?" Questioned the voice of Joan who strolled to stand next to them.

"They are losing because of a man who can adapt who possesses triple the experience of his enemies, nothing else aside from Ulfric's own utterly idiotic refusal to escalate like he should so that the Empire pouts and surrenders the land."

"Ulfirc leads a people that he can recruit from all it's rural and tribal ends. A traditionalist like him knows he has everything to lose, and yet he does not yet stake it." Observed Gunter as he spoke in a bitter manner.

"You sound as though you sympathize with him Gunter." Smirked Joan.

"Of course I do! He's much more in common with my people than those in the Capital, what baffles me is that it is someone like him that rebels for the sake of Talos. Not all of Cyrodil as by the right!" He exclaimed.

"Does your President share your same sentiment?" Questioned Joan.

"I merely state my own thoughts on the matter, if you wish to keep your life then do not question the President's stance." Retorted Gunter.

"Oh well." She replied with a smile towards Ruigus as though to get a reaction.

"What does bring you here Joan?" Asked the man she stared at.

"Why…" Her lips curved into that of a wry smile. "I am merely here on the behalf of concerned peoples from High Rock who originally sympathsized with the Stormcloaks and are now deathly afraid of the Undead scourges as well as some curiosities into the Dragons that have supposedly returned. Skyrim has become quite the lively and lucrative place as of late!" Ended Joan with a smile.

Gunter glared.

"A Glenmoril witch?" He asked openly.

Joan laughed.

"Why! Such an honor to consider me as devious and as powerful as one of them!" She beamed.

Gunter shook his head.

"Forget it." He said as he focused on his sword.

Ruigus closed his eyes for a moment as the cold air blew in again and Joan sat down.

Ruigus wasn't sure what a Glenmoril Witch was, but a witch she did not seem to be, as a matter of fact, she was lightly dressed of like how he had heard that Bretons did in their strange fashions to reveal skin in their lands.

One thing he didn't understand about this woman, how did she attain enough influence to be brought among the Stormcloak embassy of the Dawnguard, whichever size it truly was.

"Well Ruigus, slayed any dragons worthy of a campfire story to tell both I and the judgmental man next to you?" She asked, obviously fishing for info in an innocent manner of which amused the younger Colovian.

"I've only ever killed three, two of whom were smaller adults, one which had lived since the original fall. That's all." He stated.

"That's all?" Repeated Gunter, who's tone was unmistakably quite disappointed.

"Yeah, all those I've ever seen in my time here." Answered Ruigus in a half-lie.

The two opposite of him were silent.

"Well, how fortunate!" Stated Joan.

"No World Eater, no worries at all!" She stated without a hint of irony.

"What is with this Breton?" Laughed Ruigus as he thought it to himself.

"The Nords cry as always about things that were never their issue in the first place, Dragons or matters of a war they hardly sacrificed themselves for." Grunted Gunter.
"At least I know for certain that you are an inexperienced weakling."
Ruigus spun his head to retort before he spoke.

"Show me tomorrow your potential, Grandson of Kessel. I wish to see the Thu'um in use to the best of your abilty." Stated Gunter, who's tone dropped the blatant hostility.

"That I shall." Replied the younger man without a moment of hesitation.

"A confident answer." Thought Gunter, a hint of a smirk graced his lips.

"But, I will excuse myself and head to rest. It will be you that wakes me up for my time at watch correct?" Asked Ruigus.

"Aye." Replied Gunter.

"….Alright." Stated Ruigus as he arose.

Joan winked at him as he left.

"Perhaps we'll speak later." She mentioned to him as he walked away.

He made no reply.

As he found his spot to lie down Maelia walked to stand over him.

"Uh, Sir Ruigus?" She piped.

Ruigus's eyes opened to regard her.

"Something wrong Maelia?" He asked as he shifted.

"Oh no! I was just wanting to ask you if you want a blessing before sleep." She informed with her naive giddyness.

Ruigus rolled to his side as he looked at her with raised eyebrows.

"…. I thought you said you were a sort of spellsword? You're a priest as well, Maelia?" He asked humorously, trying his best to remain respectful in tone.

"N-No...I just..It's just something I did for fellow initiates when I started my religious training. Uhm I learned enough passages and teachings to where I started to tell them to people myself." She finished, her face flushed with embarrassment.

"Well, what were you going to bless me with in particular?" He asked, dragging her back on track.

"Uh it was this one saying…" She trailed off.

"From who?"

"From….Oh! I remember! It was Julianos!"
Ruigus only replied with a chiding expression.

Maelia cleared her throat.

"In the book of spiritual laws, Julianos's eighteenth teaching is that 'Patience in heart and mind is the step to a self that is in itself divine, let neither time nor rage erode it away'." She voiced with her hands clasped together and in closed eyes.

Ruigus blinked.

"I think there's a difference between blessings and teachings Maelia." He chuckled in his mind.

"Thank you." He said in full respects.

The girl opened her eyes and seemed quite happy.

"Thank you! May you get well rest Sir Ruigus!" She stated as she did a great bow and then spun to walk away.

She very well left before he could reply.

He blinked and decided to settle into the makeshift sleep roll.

"Wonderful start to…...whatever all this is already." He thought dejectedly as he forced himself to rest.

"It's all so troublesome." He finally thought with a smile.

While neither he nor the others in this camp would know it at that moment, their journey would take a turn for the far worse.

..

.


End of Chapter 23.

And I wish for a great new year!