Chapter 67: On the Prowl

Intoxicating.  As the transformation completes its course, my mind sings, releasing itself from the abstract rudiments of logic, the rigid rules of language, the shackles of convention by which we humans bind our thoughts.  A flood of sensation pours through my body, heightening my perception far beyond that of mere human sensibility.  In the space of a heartbeat, I am aware of the surrounding forest in all its sublime detail, rendering the darkness insignificant.

Clear as a flash of lightning, a trail of scent wafts like a banner from the treeline.  Nose twitching, I turn my head and feel the steady breeze on my face, carrying the unmistakable smell of prey.  Upwind.  Good.  Facing into the wind, I lope out of the gates, pausing by a rotten log to roll in its soft shards.  Crushing the pungent wood into my fur to mask my scent, I note that the prey is moving closer.  With growing excitement, I open my mouth a little wider until I can almost taste the rich aroma, and a sudden spike of hunger makes me salivate.

Preparing for the chase.
Preparing for the chase.

Drifting past the snow line, I enter the deep woods, adjusting my pace and direction to match that of my target.   Now that I’m close enough to distinguish individual scents, I discern that there are several deer moving in a tight group, cautious but as yet unaware of my presence.  Creeping forward by degrees, I conceal myself behind the edge of a hill, keeping to the shadows as I come within sight of my quarry.

The deer have stopped to feed in a moonlit glade.  Occasionally one will glance upward, ears twitching at the slightest rustle from the trees, before lowering its delicate head again to crop the frosted grass.  Patiently, I remain concealed and await my moment.

Time passes imperceptibly as the shadows deepen.  Lulled by the peace of the dreaming forest, one of the smaller animals separates itself from the main group to inspect a stand of immature pines.  Sniffing at the slim branches, it begins to pull off strips of the fragrant bark, releasing the sharp scent of resin and covering my scent even more effectively.  As the unsuspecting creature moves closer to my location, I tense my muscles in anticipation of a swift catch and an easy meal — when a sudden noise from the road causes the entire herd to bolt.

The chase is on.
I really hate losing my dinner.

Dropping down on all fours, I race after the terrified deer.  But fear gives them wings, and soon I can no longer sustain my initial speed.  I continue tracking one of the creatures at a slower pace, barely managing to keep it in sight — but just as I gain my second wind, the frightened animal dashes up a steep hill and vanishes among the trees, leaving behind no trace of its flight.

Angered by the failure of my hunt, I turn back to the road, seeking the cause of the noise that scared off my prey.  In moments, I catch a new scent on the breeze — definitely human, with an underlying reek of something rotten.   As I silently close the distance between us, I’m able to discern the reason for their unusual odour — this person is acutely ill.  It’s evident that their days are already numbered, and I’m about to reduce that number even more.  From the shadows, I pounce — and this time I don’t miss.

Werewolf math involves a lot of dividing.
Don’t go out at night when you’re sick.  You’ll catch your death.

As I administer my version of euthanasia, I hear a muffled shriek behind me.  Another human has appeared on the road while I’ve been distracted.  He turns to run, but instead of heading into the shelter of the woods, he dashes toward the light of a roadside lantern, crying out to be saved from the vile werewolf.

Far from a great escape, all it does is make his location extremely obvious.  Since my appetite has not yet been satisfied, I’m strongly inclined to show him the error of his ways — at least for the remaining few seconds of his existence.  Besides, I’m rather insulted.  I’m not vile at all — in fact, I’m perfectly clean except for a few bits of wood, and the pattern on my fur is actually quite attractive.  Some people are just too stupid to live.

NOM NOM NOM.
Fortunately, someone with poor taste can still taste good.

With my appetite satisfied for the time being, I experience a burst of energy.  Instinctively I know that the forest is filled with innumerable delights as yet undiscovered.  Exhilarated, I sprint along in a headlong rush, drunk on the very scent of the night air and an inexpressible feeling of sheer power.

Nothing like a late-night run.
Nothing like a late-night run.

I cover a great deal of distance as I race along the road, and eventually find myself on the other side of Falkreath.  Recalling the fate of the last local werewolf, I make sure to give the town a wide berth.   Now that I’ve tasted human flesh, I feel that I understand Sinding a little better — except that he was careless enough to attack a small child in front of witnesses.

Remembering the sordid tale, I snort in disgust.  No wonder Hircine wanted him dead.  It’s not like there’s a lack of prey in the woods.  Wait long enough and some sort of game will jump out at you — like, for instance, this assassin here.

Maybe you should rethink your life choices.
Maybe you should rethink your life choices.

My attacker manages to stab me while my back is turned, but with two or three rapid swipes of my claws, the masked Argonian is soon cowering at my feet.  I can’t imagine what would entice an assassin to attack a fully-turned werewolf, other than an overdeveloped work ethic coupled with a severe lack of intelligence.

The assassin rises to his feet, but I’m forced to finish him off when he threatens me again with his dagger.  My instincts tell me it would be a bad idea to leave the ravaged body so close to town.  The last thing I need is to give the Falkreath guards a reason to start a werewolf hunt.

Resigned, I look down at the fresh corpse.  Guess I’m about to find out what adrenaline-laced lizard tastes like.

Actually it's not that bad. Tastes like chicken.
Actually it’s not that bad. Tastes like chicken.

After I’ve finished cleaning up the evidence — and the blood off my fur — I notice that the sky has become significantly lighter.  Dawn is fast approaching, and my heightened perception is starting to dim as familiar human cognition slowly returns.  Thankful that I’m on a road during this transition instead of lost somewhere deep in the woods, I turn and start making tracks back to Helgen.  Hopefully I can get back to the keep before anyone realizes I’ve left.

Roadsigns are handy for all sorts of reasons.
Good thing I don’t have to ask for directions.

At the first light of dawn, I find myself approaching the gates of Helgen just as I start to transform.  I hide among the trees until the change is complete, in case a patrolling soldier or an early-morning traveler happens to catch a glimpse of the metamorphosis.  Afterward, I find myself somewhat nauseated, which confuses me at first — until I remember what I was feeding on last night.  Eurgh. 

For a few stressful moments, I nearly lose all the contents of my stomach.  I consider helping the process along, but then I think better of it.  I’m feeling weak and shaky enough without adding to the problem — and besides, if I walk into Helgen pale and shivering, someone is sure to notice.  With this in mind, I wait until I’m in control of myself again before I head back.

Feeling like myself again.
Just out for a morning stroll.  Nothing to see here.

By sheer luck, I return to Helgen just as the guards are in the process of changing from night watch to morning patrol.  Casually, I manage to enter the keep without anyone noticing that I’ve been outside the city walls.  As I approach the sleeping quarters, I take a peek inside the room. Most of the soldiers are waking up, but Jenassa is still asleep in her bedroll.  I wander in, glancing around for the slightest hint of trouble, but no one takes any notice of me except for a friendly nod.

On the side of the room opposite the beds, the old soldier Marcus sits at a table, sipping at a tankard full of steaming hot liquid.  My wife is just starting to awaken, so I bend down to give her a soft kiss on the cheek.  Then I pull up a chair, take a seat at the table, and wish Marcus good morning.

I could use a drink myself, actually.  It’s been a wild night.

Just don't ask me if I've had a good night.
Just don’t ask if I’ve had a restful sleep.

 

Travel Map 44.
Travel Map 44.

 

 

 

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