The gods of excitement weren’t finished with me yet. Not by a long shot.
We moved on, and the fighting became more frequent and more fierce as wave after wave of an unholy alliance between the Silver Hand and the furious draugr came over us. Sometimes we witnessed them fighting each other, waiting in the shadows until we would only have to face the survivors. But hiding in the shadows wasn’t easy with Farkas around, and as soon as they detected us, both parties turned reliably on us. The werewolf was their common fiend.
And the werewolf showed now mercy either. Farkas pressed on, relentless and urgent. This wasn’t just an adventure or a test for me any more… it had become a mission, to retrieve the fragment and even more to eradicate the Silver Hand warriors that had and still threatened him – him and his siblings. And they were warriors like us, well trained and well equipped, their silver weapons the biggest danger. Once he got slashed by a blade, a sloppy strike that didn’t leave more than a scratch, and still I heard him cry out in pain as if he was burned. It was frightening, and I did everything to get us both out of here as fast as possible.
Not that I had a choice. After the trap and his turning, I recognised an edge to him that was new, the playful enthusiasm he had shown so far turning into a cold resolve that took him over completely, his mind on nothing but the next foe, the next blood he’d spill. We still worked in a team, in a fluid pattern of movement and attack, with me taking the lead, hinting at traps and taking out single enemies with my silent arrows whenever possible. Only if my target wasn’t dead at once or its death alerted more of them, he stormed past me with a roar while I stayed in the shadows and took them out from afar.
I still had the feeling that he had my back, he had been deadly before, dispatching whatever came against us with the efficiency and skill that only came with decades of experience. The difference was hard to make out, subtle and more in his mood than in his behaviour, until I once watched him as he jabbed his sword through the chest of a Silver Hand fighter with so much force that the tip pierced through the back armour, widening the wound with a twist of his wrist until a gush of blood coated his gauntlet although his opponent was long dead. Naked bloodlust and hunger stood in his face as he let the corpse fall from his blade, his eyes already darting around for the next foe to impale. When he catched me staring, he bared his teeth in a feral grin.
I realised that the wolf was still there, not entirely buried by his humanity. Perhaps it had always been there, and I just wasn’t able to see it. But now it was more than obvious, the change in him undeniable – he didn’t even try to hide it. My resolve to get out of this cursed tomb as fast as possible only grew.
On and on we went, without break or rest, through the endless tunnels and chambers of the tomb. And it was literally endless, divided into several tracts, the dull monotonous corridors only sometimes interrupted by raw caves or animal dens. A giant frostbite spider had made its lair deep in the tunnels, and Farkas stood for a long time motionless in front of an enormous net that blocked the entrance, pale and heavily breathing, until he squared his shoulders in determination and tore it apart with a single strike.
The beast was towering above both of us, far too many eyes and far too many legs that skittered across the floor with a sound that made my skin crawl. Farkas lunged for it with a yell that sounded nearly desperate, trying to behead it with his first strike, but the spider was frighteningly fast and manoeuvrable, turning to him before he could bring his sword down, mandibles dripping with poison snapping shut. He recoiled and darted away as my arrow hit one of the huge eyes, but it was only one of many and barely seemed to have any effect. My mace had though when I rushed in and hammered with everything I had against the chitinous joint between head and body. A blade to pierce it would have been better, but it seemed I had hit something important, and it gave Farkas opportunity to thrust his sword into the soft hairy underside when it reared up.
A flush of blueish, translucent slime gushed out of the wound and coated his arm. He jerked back with a terrified cry, doubling over, retching and coughing while the spider collapsed behind him.
Seemed he didn’t like spiders. When I laid a hand on his shoulder to get his attention, he grabbed my wrist and pulled me with him, disgust and nausea in his expression and only stopping when we had left the last cobwebs behind. He gave me a thankful but feeble smile when I handed him my waterskin.
“Hideous…” he muttered, leaning against a wall, his face sickly pale under all the blood and gore.
“You wanna take a rest?”
He shook his head frantically. “No. Gotta finish this. Can’t be far now.”
I was tired and exhausted and would have liked another short break, but I could press on as long as he. After all, I had slept the night before and he had not – and I wanted to get out of these cursed tunnels just as much as him.
It wasn’t far any more, and the Silver Hand didn’t get beyond the spider lair. But when we finally reached an enormous circular hall, coffins and sarcophagi lined up on the walls, in niches and on the three levels that led up to the back of the room, the true madness began.
Open coffins were bad enough, but dozens of undisturbed ones were worse, because we knew they’d still contain something. On the far end we could see a massive black altar littered with gravegoods, the wall behind it covered in signs none of us could read. This had to be the heart of the whole complex, and we could only hope that the fragment of Wuuthrad we had come for was indeed here.
Standing in the doorway, I caught Farkas’ inquiring, impatient glance. We both knew we couldn’t just stroll through this hall, take the fragment and leave. It couldn’t be that easy. Shrugging, I entered the room and and moved along the wall, all my senses alert to make out every motion, every sound that would announce the rising of the dead. Farkas’ armour behind me clanked in a way even the deafest undead had to hear him.
But it stayed quiet. Too quiet. My skin prickled, I felt the hair on my arms and in my neck stand on end, and a distant beat seemed to evolve directly in my head, making it hard to concentrate on my surroundings. Something was horribly wrong, and I had no clue what. Nothing hinted at anything unusual going on, the eerie silence racking my nerves. Shivering I stopped and looked back to my companion, but his questioning look and the gesture urging me on didn’t help at all – he was alert, but not half as nervous as I. I had no choice but to continue.
I tried to focus on the altar, but my eyes seemed to arbitrarily fixate the wall behind it. Even worse, my field of view began to narrow the closer we got… I recognised it, tried to fight against the effect but could do nothing about it, until suddenly everything but these strange signs, these incomprehensible scratch marks was wiped from my awareness. The sound in my head became louder and louder, and it became a word – only one syllable, hammered into my brain with unearthly force. I had stopped sneaking long ago, and when finally a single line of signs burst into blinding blue light, I rushed towards the wall and dropped in front of it. The signs, the light and the sounds in my head all became one overwhelming impact of knowledge – it was the pure power of Fire which gushed into my consciousness, burning itself into my mind and erasing everything else.
When I came round, I felt only exhaustion. Like an afterglow of the strange experience, something that burned up the last remains of my energy, something that filled my body and my mind to the brim. As if I had never before known what fire was, but now I did and had no idea what to do with this knowledge. More than anything else, it was confusing.
Something patted my cheek. No, not something. Someone, the metal of Farkas’ gauntlet cool on my face. When I finally managed to open my eyes, I found myself lying on the ground, my head in his lap, and the way he looked down on me would have been funny if I hadn’t been so dizzy.
Whatever had just happened, it was scary. Somehow I had lost control without any obvious reason, over my senses and my own actions. Something had taken this control, and it was terrifying.
And Farkas looked down on me as if I had lost my mind.
“What in Oblivion was that? Are you insane to run off like that?”
He hadn’t experienced what I had, obviously. All he had seen was his sneaky shield-sister suddenly jumping like mad over coffins, just to drop dead in front of a wall. No wonder he was puzzled. And worried. And angry.
I turned my head, studied the weird signs on the wall looming above me. There was nothing mysterious about them, no light, no sound. I didn’t understand them any more than before – apart from this single line I recognised at once, although nothing distinguished it from the rest.
My head throbbed in protest when I sat up and knelt before the wall, tracing the mysterious signs that had burned themselves into my brain.
“This,” I turned to Farkas, “means Fire. And don’t ask how I know. I have no idea.”
He watched me, disbelief in his eyes. And impatience. “What has happened?”
I sighed, leaning my forehead against the wall. When I closed my eyes, the flashing was back. “You haven’t seen the light, have you? Or heard those sounds… this word?”
Somehow I was certain that it was indeed a word. YOL.
He shook his head full of doubt, slung both our packs over his shoulder and offered me a hand to help me up. He didn’t believe me, and I couldn’t blame him. “We need to get out of here. Fast. How are you, can you walk?”
He was right, and the fact that we were still trapped in this dead silent tomb renewed my strength. I didn’t understand what had happened, but it would have to wait – now I wanted nothing more than to leave this dreadful place. He looked relieved when I nodded and let him pull me to my feet, my vision blurring again slightly when I stood on wobbly knees, but when he handed me my bow and pointed at a small wooden stair which seemed to lead out, I squared my shoulders and marched towards it, eager not to show any weakness again.
Passing by the altar, Farkas grabbed the fragment and stuffed it into his pack. And of course it couldn’t be that easy.
Every single coffin broke open at once, releasing an army of Draugr. Very angry Draugr. Heavily armoured Draugr with huge weapons, Draugr with bows and Draugr with the glittering of magic between their decayed hands.
Farkas recovered from this surprise much faster than me, the gods bless his experience. Immediately he backed away and pulled me with him, back to the altar. With the phalanx of moving corpses approaching, I could see the hate in their undead eyes, glowing blue with the vicious power that held them in their undead state. Hate… and envy. And I knew it were our living spirits they wanted, even more than the trinket we had stolen.
Farkas yelled in my ear. “Get up and take out the mages first, I will keep the others from reaching you!” Our approved method of me firing from the shadows obviously wouldn’t work here. I jumped on the huge platform and was immediately hit by a lightning strike, and this was the last bit of energy I needed to overcome my fearful daze with anger. My first arrow hit the mage directly in one of his gleaming eyes.
What now followed was worse than every other fight before, it was bloody and gory, scary and painful, and more than once I was convinced we’d never make it out alive. And still, the way we worked together, fought for our lives knowing that we’d either survive both or none, it was an incredible, new, beautiful experience. Never before had we both been in such a glaring mortal danger together, never before had we been so dependent on each other. And to feel that it worked, that we became attuned and aligned to each other, that we saved each other’s lives in split second decisions – it was overwhelming, and it made me feel alive.
For the first time I truly understood what it meant to have a shield-brother.
Our back was sheltered by the semi-circle of the wall, but I couldn’t dodge anything thrown at me, and the stings of arrows and impacts of magic were painful. Soon I bled from many small wounds, but my arrows found target after target. Below me, Farkas somehow managed to keep the onslaught under control. His armour became dented, I heard him gasp for breath and saw him slip on the heaps of gore around him, but his sword plied along methodically from corpse to corpse to keep them all busy and focused on himself. Slowly, very slowly we decimated our enemies, but when the last one finally fell, we were both shocked by the sudden silence.
Finally, the tomb was full of death again.
I fell to my knees, but Farkas was worse off. He leaned motionless against the altar, his broad frame seemed to be smaller than before, as if he wasn’t able to carry his heavy armour any more. Relief took over when I let myself drop down to him; his breath still came in heavy gasps, but a crooked, tired grin crinkled the layers of blood and dirt on his face.
“Well fought, whelp.”
I sagged against the altar beside him. “We’re alive.” My voice was strangely weak and my head swam, but I pushed myself off and grabbed my pack. “Let’s get going.”
He gave me a once over, a muscle in his jaw switching. I asked myself if he felt as weak as I did, and if he didn’t where he took the strength from. If it was only the enchanted necklace. “Yeah. You… we need rest.”
We left the Cairn through the same door we had entered it, and I dropped my pack and myself against the wall of the pit, looking pleadingly up to him. “Can we stay here? It’s safe enough.”
We both looked horrible, our wounds not life-threatening but plenty and manifold. The light of both moons standing on the clear sky above us revealed that it wasn’t long until dawn, and we both needed nothing more than to tend to our injuries, get something proper to eat and a few hours of sleep.
Farkas gave me a haunted gaze, but he nodded and when he offered to take the first watch, I didn’t argue. Never before did I feel so exhausted, the effort to crawl into my bedroll nearly too much.
And again the sun had already risen when he woke me, pacing restlessly along the rim of the tomb’s entrance while I got ready to leave. He looked horrible, tense and exhausted to the bones at the same time. His behaviour made me nervous. I missed his usual composure.
“Wanna prove that werewolves don’t need to sleep?”
I tried to sound rather flippant than angry, but the grin he flashed me wasn’t more than a reflex. He didn’t deign me with an answer, started to march towards Whiterun as soon as I had climbed the stairs.
I called after him. “Have you at least eaten something?”
He stopped and turned abruptly, shoulders tight, jaws clenched, hands balled into fists. A golden ring lay around his pupils, flaring with… I didn’t know what it was. He didn’t look angry. Just… frenzied and desperate and incredibly tired.
“Farkas?” I whispered.
It seemed to take a moment until he recognised me, but finally his shoulders sagged, and he relaxed slightly. Now his smile was weak, but genuine. “Can’t sleep,” he muttered, “not after the change.”
Oh. He made a step backwards when I made a step towards him, lowered his head. “Will you be okay?”
He nodded. “Yes. Just let’s go home.”
We wouldn’t make it back to Whiterun that day, but I didn’t press any further, and he set a fast pace. After a few miles, when the sun had fully risen, he seemed to ease a bit, and when I stopped at a small creek and told him firmly that he reeked and I wouldn’t make another step before he had washed and eaten, he complied with a forced laughter, although he still appeared harried and stressed.
Farkas had suggested an abandoned shack he knew as our campsite for the night, and I was glad that we had a goal and he wouldn’t try to march through until Whiterun, especially when thick clouds piled up above our heads and started to release a light but steady rain. He was taciturn and tightly controlled, nothing of the lightness in our dealings I had cherished so much during the first days, but there was nothing I could have done. Perhaps his behaviour was only normal – I had to trust that he knew how to deal with this.
And I had much to think of anyway. The strange signs that had so utterly overwhelmed me still burned in my mind, I still meant to hear that booming choir, still felt my senses flooded with this new understanding that felt so alien. If I thought very hard about it, the experience became so surreal that I could nearly blame my exhaustion, the endless fights and perhaps the foul, decayed air down in the depths of the Cairn. Nearly.
When he suddenly stopped moving, it took me a few seconds to notice.
“Qhourian!” I heard his whisper behind me.
Looking back, I saw him frozen in place, eyes wide open, a distraught expression on his face.
“Farkas, what’s the matter?”
“Don’t you smell that?” But I smelled nothing beside the wet earth and the oil and steel and sweat of the man beside me.
“It’s burning flesh. Burning human flesh. Necromancers!” The last word came as a growl.
The Farkas I knew – the friendly man, the skilled warrior – was gone, lost behind instincts that took him over. He didn’t look at me. He didn’t explain anything. He just moved, icy eyes focused on a goal I couldn’t see.
“This is my prey! Stay back!”
His expression let me obey, but I followed him, carrying both of our packs. Soon I smelled it as well – smoke, and something else. Something dreadful. I vanished into the cover of a few trees when my shield-brother approached our destination for the night. The abandoned shack wasn’t abandoned at all.
He came over them like a storm of fury and hate.
They were three, clad only in dirty black robes, and the raging figure appearing between them with a beastly roar killed one of them with his first strike. But the others weren’t half as shocked as I would have expected, they backed away in different directions, and I saw the lightning and fire forming in their hands. Farkas was hit, but the impact only seemed to increase his furious rage.
He was fast, but he didn’t pay any attention to his surroundings. I watched him in horror – the raw bloodthirst and the unbridled rage on his face had not much human any more, and it made me shiver. This Farkas was much, much worse than the real beast he had revealed in the cairn – now he was beyond control and therefore much more frightening. I knew, even if I dared to approach him, nothing could stop him now.
But he didn’t fight like he would have with a clear mind, like he had done it at my side in the tomb. He was careless and made mistakes. Darting after one of the mages, he left the other one alone who immediately took the opportunity to cast. But the spell forming between his palms wasn’t released on the frenzied warrior. Instead the corpse of Farkas’ first victim floated and rose, covered in tendrils of blue light, and methodically threw lightning bolt after lightning bolt. Terror and fear froze me in my hiding place. Farkas’ plate armour didn’t protect him the slightest against magic, and now it seemed he wasn’t even able to kill them.
He had reached his next enemy now and ended his life with a fierce blow. Turning, he saw what had happened, that there still were two remaining attackers, and he obviously didn’t care, answering the new challenge only with a furious roar. But the spells hurled at him slowed him down, and I could see the flicker of pain beneath the rage in his eyes. Before he could reach the next foe, the double impact of spells forced him to his knees while the mage still alive backed away further.
Pure willpower made him get up again and chase his fiend, but it escaped his attention that the door of the shack had opened. I knew at once that the Dunmer stepping out on the porch was an even bigger danger than the others, his robe ornated and clean, the cruel smirk on his face full of curiosity and satisfaction. He was the greatest danger of them all, and his appearance let me finally draw my bow. Farkas wouldn’t survive this encounter if I didn’t intervene.
The mer, nearly hidden on the porch of the shack, started to form a spell, a pale blue glow forming between his cupped hands. At first I thought he would revive another thrall, but this one was different. He released the magic with a casual flick of his wrists, his face indifferent as a whirling line shimmered in the air between Farkas and him.
The moment it hit him, Farkas dropped back to his knees with a terrified, terrifying scream, his arms raised like in a prayer, his eyes suddenly fixed on this new foe. This spell wasn’t only an attack – there was a connection between them, something incredibly cruel and evil was going on, and he was overwhelmed and defeated in the blink of an eye. Never had I seen such an expression of torment and hopelessness, of purest dread. I released my arrow the moment he finally toppled over and rolled motionless to the side. It found its target in the Dunmer’s throat and ended his incantation once and for all.
A second arrow killed the remaining mage who took his undead creature with him into the void. The sudden silence was ear-battering.
I knelt beside the motionless body of my shield-brother. He breathed, but only barely, his face deadly pale, but the worst were his still open eyes, staring into nothingness in a tortured expression of fear. Shaking his body didn’t trigger any reaction.
My helpless despair broke free in a dry sob, but I knew the decisions I had to make now would determine our fate. His fate. No way I could move him away, especially not in his heavy armour, as much as I wanted to get away from this place. We would have to stay here, between the corpses and the remains of the Necromancer’s horrible experiments, rotting flesh and human bones.
The camp was set up soon. Raising the small tent and lighting a fire took only a few minutes – I didn’t care about anybody noticing us, if anything I hoped someone would find us and help, and we needed the warmth. When I dragged the corpses of the necromancers behind the shack, something fell out of the pocket of the Dunmer – a cylindrical stone, pitch black, with sharp edges and a feeling of lubricious warmth. To touch it sent a shiver down my spine, never had I seen something like this, something that emitted such a pure evil. Though every fibre of my self screamed to get rid of it, I stuffed it deep into my pack.
Farkas was still caught in deep unconsciousness. His eyes were closed now, but he had started to shiver – a shiver which was caused by something different than just cold and rain.
To dispose him of his armour and drag his lifeless body into the tent and under some furs should have left me exhausted, but I didn’t feel it. His trembling had become violent, his whole body shaking beneath the covers, cold sweat flowing from his face and his eyeballs rolling rabidly under his closed lids. His condition was frightening. I had found no fresh wounds, but something had hurt him much deeper.
Kneeling beside him I had to realise there was nothing I could do, just sit by his side and watch his body and mind struggle against the unnamed horror inside. The sudden feeling of absolute uselessness was overwhelming. How could our mission go so horribly wrong? We had obtained the fragment, had overcome much more difficulties than we had anticipated, but before I came back to Jorrvaskr without Farkas, I’d better not return at all. Nothing could be as valuable to the Companions as his life.
The damp, cold skin beneath my fingers when I washed the smear and sweat from his pale face and his violent trembling revealed that the heat of the fire did nothing to him, that he didn’t warm up, that he’d perhaps freeze to death.
There was nothing I could do. Nothing… but to try to keep him warm myself. To share my own bodyheat with him. I tried to repress the idea, tried to make myself believe that this possibility didn’t even exist. But the huge, shivering frame of the man lying in the small tent made it impossible to lie to myself. Fear struggled with compassion, self-pity with my responsibility for his life. His survival lay in my hands, he was dependent on me. He had revealed his darkest secret to save my life. We had saved each more than once, had fought an army of undead and come out alive. And now it was my turn to save him, to give him my warmth, and to allow a closeness I never wanted to endure again.
Farkas moaned, a sound from his tortured unconscious mind which finally blew away my doubts. After all, I needed to rest as well, no way I’d be able to stand watch the whole night through. If somebody found us – I couldn’t help it. I got rid of my armour and squeezed myself into his bedroll as close to his shivering body as possible, used my own as an additional cover and rested my head on his chest. To listen to his rattling breath and how it gradually became steadier and quieter, to feel how the shivers subsided calmed me down as well, but it took hours until I finally dozed off. The night was pitch black, only the quenching fire shot some sparks into the cold air.
I awoke in the dim light of the rising morning, a heavy arm slung around my waist. Terrified I tried to recoil, to get away from this body of a stranger but it was too tight under all these furs and his grip too strong. Only slowly the memory came back, the events of the day before and how I had spent the night, the helplessness and fear and the decision I had made, and I forced myself consciously to relax and my own heavy breathing to ease.
Opening my eyes, I found them locked in the gaze of a beast, intense gold, nearly glowing in the dim light, searching, distraught, full of incomprehension. And beneath it, a glimpse of silver, a glimpse of reason. I became stiff beside him, but I didn’t struggle. His grip tightened briefly, then I felt him relax.
“Thank you, sister.” The whisper was barely audible, and he closed his eyes. His breath had eased. He slept.
It was pure luck that the merchants found us, a Khajiit trading caravan travelling from Markarth to Whiterun. The shack I was confined to wasn’t far from the main street, and if I had known the landmarks and terrain better I would have realised that fact and actively searched for help instead to spend days in this horrible place, with Farkas never truly waking again, unable to leave and unable to aid him. The Khajiit only wanted to spend a night in the shelter of the hut they thought abandoned as well, but they took us with them, the unconscious warrior resting on a carriage between piles of furs and crates with whatever they held in stock.
Farkas’ recovery took far too long… in fact, he didn’t recover at all. Beside a few scorchmarks he didn’t have any injuries I could have tended to, he shifted however between uneasy sleep and deep unconsciousness, often mourning and fighting against something unseen. The few potions I could give him showed no effect at all, and I barely managed to make him drink some broth during the brief periods he was halfway awake. I waited for a sign, a word, any hint of recognition or conscious thought, but he seemed to have withdrawn into some part of himself where nothing was able to reach him – where he wouldn’t allow anything, anybody to follow him.
It took a load like a mountain off my mind when Vilkas and Skjor showed up at the Whiterun stables to fetch their companion. The courier I had sent ahead of the slow carriage had done his job, and they carried him away without a second look.
I didn’t mind. Tired and weary, my head full of whirling thoughts and my heart full of guilt I trudged through the streets of Whiterun, following the men slowly. Only a few days ago I wanted to leave this place behind once and for all, but to return to the Hall like this wasn’t a good feeling either. During this mission, I had ultimately proven that I wasn’t worthy to become one of them, had demonstrated more than once that having me as shield-sister was more dangerous than going alone. My unreliability and stupidity had brought Farkas into mortal danger several times, and when it should have been my turn to save him, I had been too late. I felt much like just turning and vanishing back into the wilds. But there was still the fragment of Wuuthrad in my pack – to deliver it to the people who were entitled to it was the least I had to do.
Athis warm greeting on the stairs leading down to the fire catched me off guard; he had been waiting for me, no member of the Circle in sight. Their absence filled me with a strange relief.
“Good to see you back,” he said friendly, grasping my wrist.
“Is it?” I dropped heavily onto a chair and opened my pack, avoiding his gaze.
“Yes. We worried.” Njada had come over as well, standing behind Athis as he sat down beside me. Her remark started me up until I realised that it was Njada and what she probably meant.
Of course they had worried, for the mission, for their shield-brother, for the fragment. We had been gone for ten days on a job that should have been taken five or six at most, and Farkas had come back more dead than alive. I rubbed my forehead with the back of my hand, then handed the fragment to the mer, wrapped carefully in a piece of leather. It was a relief to get rid of it. And now I only wanted to sleep and leave this disaster behind.
“Here,” I said quietly, “at least we got this.”
He unwrapped the bundle curiously, and his face lit up when he revealed the charred shard. “Another one,” he said reverently. It was only a broken piece of a blade, but it was also a symbol for the bond that had formed the Companions for thousands of years and the honour to be a part of them.
But Athis handed it to Njada and turned to me. “Are you hungry? Kodlak wants to see you… but if you want you can eat first.”
I shook my head. “I want to get this over with.”
“They’re waiting for you in his quarters.” They, that was probably the Circle. All of them, including Vilkas. I groaned inwardly, but I stood up and made my way to the stairs, feeling Athis’ sympathetic gaze in my back.
The whole circle was gathered when I entered Kodlak’s rooms. The Harbinger’s welcoming smile dispelled some my fears, but Vilkas’ pacing in the small chamber was unsettling. Not unexpected was his smouldering, hateful look. “What happened to my brother?” His question came with a growl, I hadn’t even taken the seat Skjor was offering.
“Vilkas, please sit down. I’m sure Qhourian will tell us everything she knows, if you let her.”
Kodlak turned to me. “Qhouri, Farkas’ condition is alarming. Danica has looked after him, but he has nothing she could have helped with. We need to know what happened, perhaps we can find a clue together.”
Yes, that was why I was here, to give account of the events.
It was cathartic to tell these people everything. I didn’t care how they’d judge me; I just wanted to get this burden off my mind, and I wanted do whatever possible to help Farkas become himself again. I told them about the bandit assault, about the Silver Hand, their trap and how he had to reveal their secret, about my strange experience in the crypt, the final battle against the army of draugr and his insane assault on the necromancers on our way back. Nobody interrupted me, they listened with awe and astonishment. Only Vilkas growled quietly when I came to the werewolf part.
“It must have been the necromancers,” Kodlak said thoughtfully, “it seems he was okay before.”
“No, he wasn’t!” I interrupted him brusquely. “I told you how he has changed, that he didn’t sleep. He hasn’t been his old self since he had to change!”
Kodlak’s gaze flitted over the faces of the others until Aela gave him finally a subtle nod. Vilkas’ wary scowl only deepened when the Harbinger took a deep breath.
He watched me from calm eyes. “I hate to ask you this, Qhouri, but… when he changed in the cairn… do you know if he fed?”
I furrowed my brows in confusion. “Fed?” When I realised what he meant, my stomach revolted and I had to suppress a gag. “You mean, if he ate the corpses?”
Kodlak nodded. I pressed my palm against my mouth and shook my head. The bloodbath had been bad enough, but to think of him feeding on them… Divines, that was an even more horrible image.
I saw relief in the faces surrounding me. Relief and concern.
Skjor was the first to speak. “It wasn’t complete,” he mumbled, “and then he lost control.”
Seeing my clueless look, Kodlak gave me a weak smile. “You know it anyway. Now we can just as well tell you the rest.” He rubbed his temples nervously. “You know what we are, and you’re a hunter yourself. Have you ever seen a wolf – or any predator – kill just because they could?”
What a strange question. “No. They kill because they’re hungry. Or to defend themselves.”
“Exactly. And it’s the same with us.” He shook his head sadly. “Farkas changed to defend himself – and you – but for us, the change is not complete as long as we haven’t fed. Not to feed keeps the wolf in control. The problem is, we don’t feed on people. Never. We kill them if we have to, but we don’t feed on them. That distinguishes us from those that are feral, the wild ones. Among other things.” He looked incredibly weary. “His change wasn’t complete. That’s why he went berserk against the mages.”
I listened in awe to his explanation. That was why Farkas was so different on our way back, so tense and absent. He struggled with his wolf. “A situation like that is the worst possible, he had to change but nothing to feed on. He should have hunted after you left the cairn, but I assume he didn’t want to leave you alone after your strange experience. Or upset you further.”
“But this doesn’t help us!” Vilkas shouted out, despair in his voice. “Yes, he went berserk on the necros, but it doesn’t explain why he’s like that!” He pointed to the door.
Everybody fell silent, helplessness in their faces, when it struck me. “There’s something else I need to show you!” I darted out of the room and fetched my pack from the bunk I had dropped it on.
When I presented them the strange black stone on the palm of my hand, still pulsating with its unnatural warmth, Vilkas’ eyes widened in horror. “That’s a soulstone! A black soulstone!”
Everybody winced away from me at his words, and the bewildered look on Kodlak’s face made me flush with shame. What had I done? Why didn’t I get rid of this awful thing at once? Was Farkas’ condition my fault, because I had kept it?
Seeing my confusion, Kodlak took the stone slowly from my hand and wrapped it into a piece of cloth. “We need Farengar, immediately. He’s the only one in Whiterun who can help with this. Who can – perhaps – understand what happened.”