A Chance ArrangementbyAnyaWVossand©
Notice -- I don't own any of the rights to Skyrim. That honor belongs to Bethesda.
Dead. They're all dead or 'cured'. Even as I sit at the Ragged Flagon in the sweating, watery bowels of Riften I stare angrily at my mug of ale. Delvin Mallory sits across from me, also nursing his drink, and together we brood and seethe. News of the destruction of the assassin's hall near Falkreath has spread to both our ears, and on the day of its burning we had both lost old friends there. I can't be sure if Delvin and Astrid had just been friends or something more than that, but I know that he cared for her. The woman's werewolf husband, Arnbjorn, had been my friend before things had soured for him in the Companions and he'd left.
So many of us are dead. Skjor and Kodlak are gone, and the new Harbinger has honored Vilkas' and Farkas' requests to be cured of their lycanthropy. I don't want to feel that I think less of them for this personal choice, but I do. And in my travels I have learned that another, an ex-lover named Sinding, has been destroyed, his skinned body found in Bloated Man's Grotto by local poachers. The destruction of the Silver Hand, though worthy of celebration, only fills my heart with sadness. The corpses of so many werewolves were hung up in the keep like trophies. So many of us werewolves are dead that I begin to wonder if I'm the last one in all of Skyrim.
Delvin finishes off his pint and grunts, rubbing the back of his neck and his bald scalp. He's not a bad-looking man, but he's not like Sinding or Skjor. Delvin knows his limits with women, and he knows that I'm not within reach. I respect him for honoring that and still remaining genial towards me.
"I'm surprised, I must admit" he drawls, his speech halfway slurred with drink and slurred the rest of the way with his accent. "I'd expected never te see ye out of your armor, Aela."
Neither had I. But such this journey doesn't seem appropriate carried out in Companion armor. Right now I'm wearing black robes over a leather jerkin and pants, with sturdy new boots. I've even scrubbed off the face paint I typically wear, leaving my stern face unadorned. My chestnut hair is pulled back, and I wear a thin scarf around my throat, in case I need to cover my face. This journey isn't on behalf of the Companions, nor do they know that I'm taking it. I just...need time to decide what to do.
My lips pull into a tight smile as I nudge my mug away. "Your flesh crafter over there has been eying me ever since I've arrived. Do I look that desperate to be someone else?"
The old thief chuckles and scrapes his chair back as he grumbles "Aye, ye do." I see him cast a disapproving look to the mysterious figure on the 'patio' section overlooking the shallow cistern, and I can hear the flesh crafter shift in her seat uncomfortably. "Come on, then. I might have somethin' for ye."
He leads me out of the Ragged Flaggon and back to the pungent canals running sluggishly through the city. Still, it's more refreshing than the subterranean bar, and I push back my hood to let the slight breeze cool my skin. I'm not used to wearing so much clothing. Delvin doesn't stop moving, evidently not feeling as comfortable in daylight as I do, and he begins to talk without looking at me. "Have ye ever been to Solstheim, up north?"
I frown at the question, finding it odd. "No."
"What do ye know about it?"
"All that I know is what I've heard from others. Dunmer live there, but the place is covered in ash. It's been blighted by their Red Mountain, just like the rest of their lands."
Delvin's scarred lips pull up into a slight smile as he chuckles. "Not all of it's covered in ash. I've got sources there that tell me things about the northern coast. I'm told that it's like Skyrim -- cold and harsh, but natural and forested. I've heard, too, that there are folk like you there. Keeping to themselves."
My feet come to a halt, and I grip his upper arm. Delvin, to his credit, only turns to look at me with a raised eyebrow, and I ask "There are werewolves there? Still? How recent is your information?"
"A week old, my dear." He just can't seem to stop smiling. The man loves having an edge over others, especially with information. "Go and find them."
My heart's racing at the thought of finding others. An entire pack! What a thought! Yet within my elation a small splinter of confusion has dug its way in. "Delvin, who is your informant?"
His calloused hand gently but firmly takes me by the wrist and slowly pulls my hand away from his arm. "Trust me, you'll know him when you see him. You tell him that I said hello, the bastard." The thief leaves me standing there, gazing at him in even greater confusion as he laughs quietly on his way back to the Ratway.
Two days later I'm in Windhelm, chartering passage to Solstheim. I take very little with me, hoping that there's enough game left on the island to feed one more visitor. The captain is a nervous man, and as we pass through the Sea of Ghosts he tells me about strange dreams and foreboding behavior from the locals, but all I do is politely nod without comment. Sea-faring people can be unreasonably superstitious, and I assume that the man saw some strange arrangement of tea leaves and unnerved himself.
We pull into the ashen harbor of Raven Rock, and I'm greeted by an officious Dunmer by the name of Adril Arano. It takes a great deal of patience not to inform him of my association with the Companions and then knock some sense into his gray, pointed face, but somehow I manage to remain polite. After the journey on the boat and then being lectured by a man who would likely wet himself at the sight of a giant, I decide to explore the town and find a tavern with good food and even better drink.
The dust from the ash is hard to get used to, and what with the breeze flowing in from the sea that's kicking it all up into the air, the storm doesn't seem like it's going to die down soon. Even through the filthy air I can make out a small village of odd, domed huts around a central well. There's a blacksmith's forge as well, though the proprietor isn't there currently. It's useful to know it's there, just in case I require any part of my current ensemble mended. On this journey I didn't bring my bow, only a small utility dagger tucked into my boot. Perhaps it was a foolish choice, but I felt that my bow and quiver represent a reliance on human tools that I can't bear to deal with right now. I'm not human. Not anymore, and I never will be again.
Nothing here stands out as a tavern, so I ask a dunmer peddling yams. He points me to one of the domes and calls it The Retching Netch. I almost laugh in his face, but thankfully I have enough presence of mind to be thoroughly disappointed that he isn't joking. When I ask him if there isn't anything else around he just shakes his head and goes back to his wares. Preparing to be horribly underwhelmed, I open the heavy door and step inside.
The space is of an interesting construction, with a lobby on the ground level and a wide set of stairs leading down into an expansive basement, which is the true space of the tavern itself. My nose wrinkles at the scents here, so very different than the typical fare of Skyrim, but I'm willing to try it. I opt for a bowl of boar and ash yam stew (I will not eat their giant crickets, no matter what they insist on calling them) and a glass of this liquor they brew called sujamma. It's spiced and very potent, but I'm not willing to look like a weakling and so I finish my entire glass in one go.
That was a mistake. The barkeep, who looks like an ashen rat, offers me another as a handful of other patrons watch, amused, from their tables. I frown and mumble that I would prefer water, and I'm handed a cup of it. At the very least I'm not hungry anymore, but on the downside I'm confused as to why the floor seems to be heaving like a stone sea. With my hand still gripping the bar counter, I quietly ask the gray rat if he has rooms for rent. Ten gold pieces later and I'm walking as purposefully as I can towards the door he described.
Or so I thought. Was it the door on the left or right? I can't remember, and so I push on the door on the right. It opens into a small room, with lit candles, pottery, a few shelves, and a small bed. Upon which are two people, a human man and a dunmer woman, both naked and both moving vigorously. I blink and snap the door closed, feeling myself flush with embarrassment. I make for the other room and, to my relief, this is the right one. I lock the door behind me and lean back against it. It's not like seeing people having sex is all that shocking to me. But the fact that I'm so tipsy that I didn't notice the sounds they were making? It makes me feel pathetic that one drink has reduced me to this. The sooner I get out of Raven Rock the better.
It's almost impossible to tell time in here, but then again it had taken me a while to tell time beneath Jorrvaskr as well when I'd first moved there. When I wake up from my brief rest I can feel that it must be nearing night time. Luckily the effects of the sujamma have worn off, and I find that my rented room has the fixings for a meal already in it. Dried meats, cheeses, breads, and water are all plentiful, and I make sure to eat my fill before stocking up on it for the next leg of my journey. There are still a few patrons in the tavern as I make my way out, though luckily these are a new set and the bartender himself doesn't seem interested in giving me a hard time. Which is smart, really, if he ever wants my business again.
The trek north begins under moonlight, painting the landscape into a powdery silver gray. My boots slosh through ash as I pull my cloak's hood up and cover my mouth and nose with the scarf. Occasionally I see lights in the darkness, glowing stones in the hearts of draugr-like creatures shambling around, though I keep well out of their way. By dawn I reach the northern coastline, and to my relief the land is, indeed, much like Skyrim just as Delvin had said. Making sure that no one is around to see, I shift into a beast and hunt down a deer. It's a difficult hunt; the creature seems to know just how fast I can move and over what terrain. There must be other werewolves here, and I grin to myself even as I devour the meat.
For the next few days I live out in the wild. It's comfortable enough to tuck myself into a cave and sleep, and while I'm in the shape of a beast my nose is more sensitive. There are signs of other werewolves here, though I can tell they're trying to stay hidden. The fateful day soon comes when I first meet them, and I approach an open cave that is more or less a large overhang of rock. There's a fire pit glowing further within, and a few individuals lounging about wearing furs. The smell of canine is strong here, and I can see that in the low light their eyes are reflective.
A young woman approaches me, her hackles raised as she looks me up and down. I'm sure I look travel-worn in my dust-riddled black cloak and scarf. "Hold, traveler. You have no business here."
Immediately I narrow my eyes, and I lift my right hand to pull down the scarf covering my face. I pull my hood back too, and let her get a better look at me. She must catch the reflective gleam in my eyes, because soon her demeanor changes and she asks "...Wait. You... you're one of us, aren't you? A werewolf?"
All I do is nod, not keen on exchanging words with her. By the way she's wilting in front of my gaze alone I can assume that she's not the alpha of this pack.
She does her best to sound tough, but it's not convincing me as she continues "Then perhaps you do have business here... Forgive me. I'm Rakel, of the Frostmoon Pack. Welcome, sister."
The others have been watching us, their expressions alert and watchful... and nervous. Do they expect me to cause problems for them? Rakel introduces me to the others, two men and one women, and I incline my head to them. The two men, as I expect, look me over, though only one of them does so without being furtive about it. That one is the alpha, so I walk over to him and greet him.
"My name is Aela, and I have been looking for others like me."
The alpha, named Majni, looks tired, as if a long string of misfortunes has robbed him of hope. "You have found us, few as we are."
I glance from one to the other, noting how they all look at me with both curiosity and resentment. "Were there more of you?"
"Once, yes. Back in the days of Hircine's hunt many many years ago he brought his packs to this island in force. We used to be numerous in the days following the Blood Moon, but now? Now we are fading away as Hircine intends, calling us back to run with him." The way he almost seems happy to be brought back makes me feel uncomfortable. Why would Hircine want a werewolf who has given up on life? As we talk more into the day about the Blood Moon, I learn that this pack truly is one of the last here, just these four. Werebears have been one of the culprits of their destruction, along with the predations of dunmer and Skaal villagers. In a somewhat pathetic attempt, Majni tries to sell me one of the last sacred rings from Hircine's hunt. I thank him but refuse his offer. Such things should be held in sacred reverence, not pawned off like old pots and pans.
I offer to go hunting with them that evening to repay them for their kindness. The other woman, named Hjordis, offers to go with me and together we set out onto the starlit snow. Horker are plentiful here still, so we decide to go looking for one. Our trail takes us along the nighttime beaches, and we get to talking along the way.
"Aela...you're terribly disappointed, aren't you?" Her blue eyes flick over to me, and the celestial light glints on the shining scars on her cheek and lip.
I briefly look over at her, suddenly feeling those same urges I did when I waited out the night in that vampire's den. Heat flushes my cheeks and I look away. "I had hoped there would be more of you, and that things would be better for you."
Hjordis shrugs, her lanky form bared to the elements carelessly. It's as if she's always lived in such arctic conditions. "I wish that too. When my pack was destroyed by werebears, I was adopted by this one. My territory was in the northeast from here, and one day I'll get it back. Perhaps other werewolves will come here and we can form a new pack, and there will be males and pups in plenty."
With a slight smile, I nudge her arm with my hand. "Majni and his brother aren't enough for you?"
The woman smirks. "Hardly, but don't tell them I said that. They're very proud."
Before long we spot our quarry and shift. Her form is beautiful and flaxen-furred, and I admire her ferocity and bravery as she drives the other horkers away and singles out our target. Horkers are huge animals, and even werewolves must be careful not to be terribly maimed by their tusks. Yet I'd come along to help and not just watch her, so while I let her take down the target I keep the other horkers away, snapping and slashing at them to drive them further along the beach.
When I come back, Hjordis is feasting from the carcass of her kill and she lets me join in. It's senseless to carry home meat on an empty stomach, because you'll end up eating half of what you've spent so much effort dragging back. Stuffed up to my ears, we tear off large portions of meat and bring them back to the cave, where Majni, his brother Akar, and Rakel are waiting. They don't bother cooking the flesh, but rather shift and descend upon it hungrily. The way they all seem to fight for it is concerning -- it's like Majni exacts no discipline on the others and there is no social structure anymore. It's disquieting to watch.
After the pack is finished eating, most of them doze in the heat of the fire. I'm restful, but I don't trust them enough to sleep by them. Hjordis stays up most of the night with me, and we trade ideas about how to re-establish a pack back in her territory. Inevitably we come to the conclusion that in order to survive, she will have to pretend to be human as will the rest of her pack, just like the Inner Circle of Companions used to do. Neither of us like not being able to live openly, but to survive in hiding is preferable to being slaughtered.
At dawn I make my farewell to her, letting the other three continue to sleep as I begin my trek back to Raven Rock. The snow slowly fades into the ash fields again, and once more I pull up my hood and scarf to protect myself from the filthy air. By the time I catch sight of the massive pillars of the bulwark the sun is just setting, gilding the rippling sea before me. I'm tired, disappointed, and ready to go back to Whiterun to try and think of what to do. Farkas and Vilkas, while not being of the beast blood anymore, have at least some understanding of how this feels. Like as not they will try to persuade me to seek out a cure, and I will deal with that irritation when it comes.
Back in Raven Rock I sigh as I consider the Retching Netch once more. Having dined on fresh horker, the thought of old boar meat soaked in water with dusty yams is stomach-turning. Yet I need to eat, and I need to sleep somewhere. Hunting down one of those floating jelly cows, or whatever they're called here, is unappealing. And I still refuse to eat those crickets. Reluctant to head into the tavern, I glance over at the forge and notice someone working there in the glow of the fire. The man's back is to me, and as I approach I notice a strange mark by his door. It's a narrow, vertical diamond caging a circle within it, and I gasp as I realize that this is the shadowmark of the Thieves Guild.
There's another gasp, and I look back at the man who's now looking at me. It's the same man whom I had accidentally barged in on at the tavern. I clear my throat and feel embarrassed all over again. "I apologize...about the other day."
There's something very familiar about this man, and I'm trying to figure it out as his gruff voice emerges to say "Geldis really should label the doors properly." His lips pull into a self-deprecating smile, and he chuckles and rubs the back of his neck, though he catches the glance I give that symbol. In a quieter tone, he says amiably "You're new here, I'd imagine, or else I'd know you. And you'd be able to hold your sujamma a little better. Would you like something to eat that's from the mainland?"
My stomach growls at the prospect, and while his actions are more than a little furtive I'm not afraid of going into his house. If he has evil intentions, he'll soon find himself facing a seven foot tall black werewolf who is already angry and disgruntled. Yet the man remains amiable and polite within his own house, and he soon sets to preparing some food to eat. As I wait he hands me a bottle of Black-Briar mead while keeping one for himself, and just after he takes a sip from it he intones "You know of the Guild then."
"I was that obvious?" I ask, looking around his house with curiosity.
"Only to me. You must know Delvin, if you know about the Guild."
I turn back to him and narrow my eyes, puzzling out his face again. And then I have it. "You're family, aren't you."
The man lifts his bottle in toast and smiles. "I'm his wayward brother. Glover Mallory, at your service."
Interesting. "From what I saw, you're at everyone's service" I muse, nursing my mead and feeling thankful that my system can handle it.
Glover laughs and takes a seat on a stool by his cooking cauldron, watching the water simmer as he starts to cut up some vegetables. A quick glance tells me that they are proper vegetables and not those horrid yams, and I breathe a sigh of relief as he says "To be fair, that lovely dunmer maiden is the one who's technically at everyone's service, if you have the coin."