There was no autumn in Skyrim. There wasn’t much of a summer, and what little good weather there was gave way to winter early in Frostfall. In Cyrodiil, Selene had been used to celebrating her birthday, which was 11 Last Seed, in reasonably warm weather. This year, however, a bitter wind blew across Jorrvaskr’s training yard and sprinkles of rain turned to sleet, stinging her skin like tiny razor blades.
“You know what Jorrvaskr needs?” she commented as she and Farkas sparred.
“An indoor training space.”
“Come on, Selene, you’re a Nord. Weather like this isn’t supposed to bother you.” His blade connected with her arm. “And it’s not supposed to distract you. Keep your mind on the fight.”
She rubbed her shoulder painfully. Farkas’s practice blade was dull, but the impact still would leave a bruise. “Easy for you to say. You grew up in this shit. I’m used to balmy weather into Evening Star.”
“Well, if you can’t handle the weather, I guess we can stop for the day.”
“Can’t handle—I can handle anything you throw at me, beautiful man.” She swung low, aiming for his knees.
He nimbly dodged the strike. “Aye, but I’m not throwing the weather at you.”
“I can handle anything Kynareth throws at me, too.”
“I’m just gonna stand over there so I won’t be in the way of the lightning strike, okay?”
Selene laughed, and Farkas used the distraction to get a strike in to her ribs.
“All right,” he relented, sheathing his sword. “I’m calling it. But your concentration is still your biggest downfall.”
“Just with you and Vilkas.”
“I’m sure that sometime in the future, you’ll fight other handsome and charming opponents, so you might as well get used to it now.”
“But I’ll never find any as modest. I’m getting out of this weather. Join me for lunch in the mead hall?”
“Sure, but before that, go see Skjor. He was asking for you earlier.”
Skjor and Selene didn’t talk much unless something was going on, usually a job or a party. He didn’t just stop her in the hall for a chat. Thus, she expected him to give her an assignment.
“I hear it’s your birthday,” he said when she found him.
“Aye. Twenty years old.”
“Well, I have a birthday gift for you,” he told her. “Meet me outside the Underforge tonight.”
“It’s beneath the Skyforge. I’ll wait for you outside.”
She mentioned the meeting to Farkas when she met him for lunch, and he nodded his understanding. “He’s going to offer you the beastblood,” he explained.
“He wants to make me a werewolf?” Farkas nodded in response, and a chill ran down her spine. “Oh, wow. I knew this day would come, but now that it’s here, I know what to do. Werewolves are so fascinating, and I had thought I would jump at the chance to become one, but this is the moment of truth and the indecision is crippling. What do you think about this?”
“I’ve told you everything I can about it.”
“But how do you feel about me taking the beastblood? I need your advice.”
Farkas sat quietly for a long moment, sipping his mead and thinking over his response. He finally sighed and shifted in his chair so he was facing her. “There’s no feeling like it. The power, the speed, the…I can hardly describe it. But it’s forever, so you need to be positive it’s what you want. And there are bad things, too: the lack of control, the lack of sleep, and the call of the beast, especially when emotions are running hot or there’s a lot of blood around, is hard to resist. You have to feed, sometimes on humans. I mean there’s nothing to say you have to feed on them, or even on good humans; there’s a lot of bandits and necromancers out there. But still, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid it all the time. My first thought is to say no, but I’d love to hunt with you and show you things you can’t even imagine. You know how hard it is to kill a troll?” He made a swiping motion with his hand. “One hit—dead. There’s other stuff, too.”
He didn’t answer, just smiled and caressed her cheek, and Selene knew what he meant. She remembered his desire, his passion the night they had made love, how contagious it was; and she could imagine how it might be magnified if they shared the beastblood
“So yes, then?”
Farkas might have said yes, but Selene knew Vilkas would say no, and she was right. She found him later and asked him what he thought, and he looked at her as if she had grown horns.
“Why would you even think about doing it?” he asked incredulously.
“Because you might think it’s a curse, but others think it’s a blessing. It’s very confusing.”
“I don’t understand why. It’s not just the lack of control. When you die, you’ll never go to Sovngarde. Hircine will snatch you up and take you away to his Hunting Grounds for all eternity.”
“Some don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”
He shook his head vehemently. “But it is. We’re Nords; we belong in Sovngarde.”
“Who’s to say I’ll go to Sovngarde anyway? Better the Hunting Grounds than Oblivion.”
Vilkas snorted derisively. “That’s just an excuse. Kid’s going home knowing he’s in trouble, and if he’s going to get a good licking, he might as well throw a few spitballs on the way.” He reached out and took her hand. “Selene, I beg you, please don’t do this. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life and beyond.”
She asked the other whelps as well, and they were split down the middle. Torvar and Ria said no, but Athis and Njada would kill to join the Inner Circle and take the blood. In fact, Njada was passionate about it. “Imagine taking down a deer with no weapons. Imagine taking down a giant with no weapons! The fight alone would be worth all the other stuff.”
“It’s always about the fight with you,” Torvar retorted.
“You wanna go now?” Njada dared him. “You don’t have any fight in you! Why are you even with the Companions?”
“Guys!” Ria snapped. “We’re helping Selene right now.”
Njada glared at Torvar before turning back to Selene. “Yes,” she declared definitively.
There was one person left to ask, and Selene wasn’t looking forward to it. She already knew how Kodlak felt about being a werewolf, and she knew what he was going to say. He was the one who had convinced Vilkas it was a curse, and he was actively searching for a cure. There was no way he would give her a positive response. However, he was a trusted advisor, and she owed it to him to seek his counsel.
She found him in his office, sitting at his desk and writing in a log book. She had only seen him out of that chair once, when he had initiated her into the Companions. He was getting up in years and his health was failing; the rot had set in, and much of the time he didn’t even feel like eating. Vilkas had said he was afraid the Harbinger wouldn’t live much longer, and Selene feared the same. He looked wearier every day, his face ashen with ever-darkening circles under his eyes.
Kodlak looked up and smiled when she approached him. “Sit down,” he said, and Selene did so. “What can I do for you this day?”
“Rumor has it Skjor is going to offer me the beastblood tonight.”
He nodded. “I heard as much.”
“I’m confused, Harbinger. Everyone has such different opinions about it, and I don’t know what to think.”
“But you told me once that it was wonderful.”
Selene shrugged. “That was when it was far in the future. Now it’s only a few hours away.”
“Well, you know how I feel, but I cannot help you make this decision, my dear. You must decide what’s right for you, and the others’ opinions do not matter.”
“But they do, Harbinger. It’s been a long time since I cared what people thought—actually, before I came here, I never cared what people thought—but they’re my friends, and their advice matters. Your advice matters.”
“My advice is to think long and hard and weigh your options. You know the good and the bad. I assume you’ve talked to everyone? If their opinions matter to you, take what they said to heart. You’re a big girl, Selene. You know what you want out of life, and you know how to ask yourself the hard questions. Ask them now. How will your life change if you take the blood? Will it change for the better? Will you be miserable for the rest of your life, or will you learn to take the bad with the good? You’ve spent your life adapting or manipulating your situation to suit you. As a werewolf, some things will be out of your control. Can you adapt to them? You already know there are no secrets. Your shield-siblings can smell your emotions, hear your blood coursing through your veins, and tell if you are lying. Do you want that knowledge? Do you want to know everything about a person by his scent? Where they’ve been, what they’ve done, what they’ve eaten, if they’ve killed, if they’ve made love—or if they want to? There are things people should not know about the others they interact with.
“You will feel closer to your shield-siblings, at least within the Circle. The bond of the pack goes beyond the physical senses and beyond family. There’s an emotional bond, but there is also a psychic connection. You will be able to sense them even if you cannot smell them, know if they’re in distress or if they’re content, and you can find them if necessary. There is a comfort in such a bond, a security unlike any you’ve experienced.”
“But that’s a good thing, right?” Selene remarked.
“Aye, it is. It is not all bad, I assure you. This is why I say you have to weigh your options. Think on it; consider. Make the right decision for yourself, not for the others. You don’t have to make it tonight if you’re not ready. Skjor will wait.”
Selene left Kodlak’s office with a lot to think about. She went to the mead hall and took a chunk of cheese and a bottle of mead from the table, then went out to the training yard and climbed the wall of a nearby watchtower. She sat for hours, her legs slung over the side, watching the world. The river flowed, the guards walked back and forth on the road, the farmers tended their crops. A rabbit darted across the meadow. All of them were oblivious to Selene and the heavy decision before her.
Sometime after supper, Farkas approached with Liska in his arms and handed her to Selene. “Somebody was missing you.”
“You all right?”
“Uh-huh. Just thinking.”
“Can’t help you with that. I don’t do it much.”
“Why do you do that? You’re always putting yourself down.”
Farkas shrugged. “Better that than let somebody else do it.”
“I’ll leave you to it. Call if you need anything.”
When he walked away, Selene turned back to the scene outside the walls, scratching Liska behind the ears absently. Liska cooed at her, and she looked into the little fox’s eyes. “What should I do, hmm?” she asked. “How would you react if I was suddenly a predator? Would you be afraid of me? You’re not afraid of the others. But you know what? There’s something nobody has even thought of. I have dragon blood. How would that mix with the beastblood?”
A Dragonborn werewolf. As if the idea of taking the blood wasn’t perplexing enough. What if she had no control whatsoever? What if she turned into a feral creature that killed everything around her? How was she supposed to fight dragons then? She hadn’t even been to High Hrothgar yet and knew next to nothing about what she was and what she could do. But what if it didn’t make any difference whatsoever? It was enough to make her head spin.
There was one thing she did know. Watching Farkas shift to his beast form was one of the most exhilarating things that had ever happened to her. She was already a hunter, already had a taste for blood. She relished sneaking up on her prey, sensing if it would notice her and dart away or stand still and let her slaughter it where it stood, the feel of the bow in her hands, the whoosh of the arrow as it flew from the string, the whimper of the animal as it hit. How would it feel to do it without the bow, to kill an animal with nothing but teeth and claws? To feed?
Yes, there was bad along with the good, but as Selene watched the sun begin to sink behind the Throat of the World and Masser appear, a pale, gray crescent in the darkening sky, she knew. She wanted this.
As the sun set, she climbed down from the wall and carried Liska into the mead hall. “You have to stay in here tonight,” she said as she put the fox down. Liska padded down the stairs, climbed into a chair in a corner away from the table and went to sleep. Selene opened the door and went back outside.
Skjor had just arrived at the door to the Underforge, which was halfway between Jorrvaskr and the Skyforge. Selene couldn’t believe she had never noticed the door carved into the stone, because now she couldn’t miss it.
“Are you ready?” Skjor asked her.
Selene nodded. He pressed a hidden panel in the ground with his foot, and the door slid open. She followed him into the Underforge.
The cave was barely large enough to hold the four tables set into the walls, the large font in the middle of the room and the couple of torches that lit it. Selene’s heart pounded as she saw that she and Skjor weren’t alone; they were accompanied by a slavering werewolf. She felt no fear, at least not of the beast, but she was apprehensive about what was coming next.
“I hope you recognize Aela, even in her beast form. We do this at night, in secret, because Kodlak would not approve. He’s too busy trying to find a cure.”
“Kodlak knows,” said Selene.
“You told him?”
“He already knew. Not much gets past him, you know.”
“Farkas told you,” he guessed.
“I’d have figured it out, though. Not much gets past me, either.”
“Did Kodlak try to stop you?”
“No, he said it was my decision. Vilkas tried to stop me.”
“Vilkas doesn’t understand any more than Kodlak. The blood is a gift, Selene, a blessing. Imagine the power you’ll have, the strength, the speed. The ceremony in the training yard was nothing. Tonight, we perform a ceremony befitting a warrior such as you. We give you the opportunity to join us in the Circle and become more than just family. But in order to do that, you have to take the Blood and be born into the pack. Are you ready to do this?”
She looked over at Aela, who stood behind the font, watching her. Her chest heaved as she panted with the euphoria of the beast form and anticipation of Selene’s transformation. Selene wondered how it would be done. Would Aela bite her? Would it hurt? Of course, it would hurt. Aela’s teeth were long and razor sharp. But she had already made her decision, and she was prepared. “I’m ready.”
The one-eyed Nord drew a dagger and approached Aela, who held her arm out. Skjor sliced into her arm, and the werewolf let her blood drip into the font. The coppery scent filled the room as the blood pooled in the bowl, and Selene realized Aela wasn’t going to bite her after all. It wasn’t going to hurt. Until she transformed, of course.
“Drink,” said Skjor, and Selene stepped up to the font. She dipped her hand into the bowl and drew the liquid to her lips, hesitating only a moment before she drank.
* * *
The next hours were an assault on the senses. The shift was screaming agony as every bone in her body broke and reformed, her skin stretched, and her face elongated into a muzzle; but the strength, the freedom, and the pure elation afterward made it all worth it. She could feel the beastblood coursing through her veins, changing her, making her into something else, something wild, feral—hungry. She sprinted across the tundra and through the woods with Aela, the wind blowing through her fur, the myriad scents and sounds, and she hunted. Oh, the hunt! Aela had to redirect her several times when she got on the trail of a human. Farkas had been right; the scent of human blood was seductive and well-nigh irresistible. Selene was vaguely aware that they were going somewhere, not just loping through the woods, but she barely noticed. There were too many new things to experience, too many new adventures awaiting her. Besides, Aela would let her know when they got there.
It turned out that “there” was just this side of Oblivion. In a fort somewhere in Eastmarch called Gallows Rock, they fought their way through throngs of Silver Hand and past prison cells and torture rooms full of dead—or nearly dead—werewolves until they came to the chamber of Krev the Skinner, this branch’s leader. Krev and his subordinates gave them quite a fight, but the real horror—the worst in the entire fort—lay on a platform at the back of the room. It was Skjor.
Bile rose in Selene’s throat as she took in the sight of Skjor’s body. Someone had ripped his armor away and cast it aside, then taken a sword and ripped a slash from his collarbone to his privates. His intestines spilled out onto the floor, and blood congealed beneath him. His face was a mask of terror. Selene barely knew him, but she knew he was a great and experienced warrior, hard to scare. But he had died in fear and agony. She whimpered and squeezed her eyes shut, trying to force the image from her mind, but it would never go away. It was burned there forever.
“No,” Aela groaned. “No, no, no.” Her scent erupted with grief and fury as she knelt next to Skjor’s torn body and wiped a spot of blood from his cheek. “Why did you come here alone? You should not have come without a shield-sibling! Why don’t you ever listen?”
“Pull yourself together, sister,” Selene urged her. “I need you.”
Aela looked up at her and shook her head. “You won’t shift again tonight, and I need to be alone. Get out of here and head back home. Tell the others what happened. I’ll see if anybody else is here, and then I’ll find a way to get him home.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave—”
Selene turned and headed for the door.
“Selene,” Aela called. When she turned around, the Huntress said, “They’re going to die for this.”
“Aye,” Selene replied, then turned and left the fort.