I: The Stag.
You've been marked. Branded. It's obvious.
You trace your fingers over the pale, wrinkled flesh, and wonder about the scar's purpose. Is it there to remind Hircine that your soul is his to collect?
The hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
It's there to remind you.
It appeared two weeks ago. Two weeks ago when Vilkas lay dying from spider venom. Two weeks ago when you begged Hircine to spare Vilkas' soul, and take yours instead.
Your mouth feels dry. It feels as if something is stuck in the back of your throat. You swallow.
Since his death, Kodlak's journal has become your talisman. Your holy book. You go to it looking for advice. Comfort. Always scanning the entries in hope of finding some underlying thread of guidance.
The journal lies open in front of you.
You pick up it up, turn the pages in rapid succession.
A page creases under your clumsy fingers. You smooth your hands across the parchment and try to push out the wrinkles, fearful that they might smudge the ink, distort the former Harbinger's words.
You stare at the words on the pages until they blur together. Realisation hits you. The words are empty. Nothing more than the relics of a dead man.
Kodlak's books and clothing are still dotted around the room. They reinforce the feeling that he isn't dead, he's gone somewhere and could return soon. No one knows what to do. You don't know what to do. Is it too soon to remove his possessions? Will the others think you are trying to remove every trace of him?
In the pit of your stomach, a feeling stirs, like a flock of birds startled from a corn field. The chair legs scrap against the wooden floor as you stand.
It's gone past midnight. There's no one in the main hall of Jorrvaskr. Mugs lie abandoned on the table. It's dark apart from the faint glow of embers from the open hearth.
Your breath quickens. Before, you never minded the dark. But now you feel like the shadows betray you, conspire against you and conceal those that wish to hunt you.
You long for noise to fill Jorrvaskr and chase away the night. The brash, garish revelry, when drinking games are in full swing and stories are swapped around the fire.
A pain, like you've been stabbed by a dagger made of ice, exudes from the scar. When the pain subsides you're left with an ache that creeps up and coils around your arm. You slap your hand on top your arm and squeeze your fingers down and around the scar beneath the sleeve of your shirt.
Since two weeks ago, the cravings have become stronger. Before you used your wolf form to gain an advantage in battle, but you've never felt the need to change any other time.
You pace from one side of the hall to the other, sweep a hand through your unkempt hair. The hall walls, the ceiling, it feels like they are about to fall in on you.
You could change here.
No. You couldn't.
You see the ghost of Kodlak's body where the others lay him next to the hearth. He's eyes are closed. He's bleeding out. He's dead because you weren't at Jorrvaskr.
If you changed - just this once - would Kodlak be disappointed?
The embers in the hearth sing their elegy with a hisses and snaps.
Not here. You can't change here. What if the other Companions saw you? You're meant to be setting an example. Besides - you look over your shoulder, around the room, and the stairway you emerged from - you can't help but think that Kodlak's dead gaze is fixed on this place.
The forest lies ahead of you. You can't see what lies behind the veil of darkness that winds around everything but the first boarder of trees.
You've crossed fields. Passed the wooden buildings with their thatched roofs of Pelagia farm and Honningbrew Meadery. Now that Whiterun is behind you, you feel nothing but the urge strip and run until you meet that point where the sky meets the horizon and the oceans cascade of the edge of the world.
You breathe through your nostrils. The wind catches your hair. You begin to tug at the shirt you're wearing and then you stop.
A stag ambles out from the darkness of the woods. It bends its head and nibbles on some grass.
Your eyes narrow.
The creature appears translucent.
Is it a ghost, some kind of wisp?
The stag lifts its head, stares at you with hollow eyes.
It gaze cuts through your body and sears your soul. You take a step backwards. When you breathe, you inhale air unsteadily.
The creature darts back into the woods, lighting up the shadows with its eerie glow.