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Sunday, March 10, 2013

XII - The Inner Maze

Fen slowly pushed herself up off the ground, grimacing at the pain. She reached for Trueflame, holding it close as she slowly surveyed her surroundings. She had hoped that the gate might end this Hunter’s Game, but it seemed she was only in a new part of the maze.

“Chieftain?” Fen felt her nerves ease as the white-haired Nord offered a hand to help her up.
“I had a feeling you would be involved in this cruel game as well, Fen,” he told her as she slid Trueflame into its sheath. “We’ve little time, I fear. The frost giant Karstaag has gone ahead. Even now, I fear he may win this battle before me.” Fen frowned at the statement, but Heart-Fang did not seem to notice. “Perhaps together we may find our way to the end. What say you?”
“Of course we’ll go together,” Fen replied uneasily. “There’s got to be a way out of this place.” And so she continued through the maze with Heart-Fang at her side this time rather than Carius, which proved to be far more helpful. Heart-Fang was a better warrior and in better shape, and his strategy was to go straight toward an attack werewolf and simply lop off its head with his broadsword, a method that worked well when the claws could be avoided. Fen helped where she could but it seemed Heart-Fang needed little assistance dealing with the creatures.
The way he had spoken, it certainly seemed as if Heart-Fang intended to play the game to the end, while Fen merely wanted to get out alive. Hoping sincerely that she was wrong, she continued alongside him, making quick cuts at the werewolves as they came.
Eventually Fen came upon a pedestal like the one in the first section of the maze, but his pedestal boasted no strange round key.
“Perhaps it fell off?” Heart-Fang suggested from where he was wiping blood off his blade behind her. Fen knelt to examine the icy floor around the pedestal and was peering around the side when she felt a blade point at her back.
“This is as far as we go, Fen,” Heart-Fang said, his sword pushing into her back and making her skin prickle. “I have the key to reach the next stage of the Hunter’s challenge, and only I shall continue. This Hunt is for Heart-Fang and Heart-Fang alone.”
“We both have a better chance of living if we go together,” Fen attempted vainly, trying to think quickly. If she reached for Trueflame, Heart-Fang would draw her through on the spot.
I have a better chance of living if I defeat Hircine myself. We would have been pitted against one another eventually anyway. Better that it should end now. Many generations I have lived, Hircine’s Ring on my finger. The Hunt is my birthright!” Fen turned her head as much as she dared.
“Hircine’s Ring?”
“Heart-Fang alone shall face the Hunter. Heart-Fang alone shall earn the glory of the Hunt! See now the power I was born to wield! You now face Heart-Fang in his true from, the form he was born to wear!” Then, quite suddenly, the sharp point had dropped from the small of her back and there was a searing pain, forcing her to topple over onto her side. Fen gritted her teeth against the burning on her back and rolled to the side, drawing Trueflame. She turned and realized a werewolf stood where Heart-Fang had seconds ago, its claws bloody and its jaws quivering. Heart-Fang’s broadsword lay abandoned on the ground.
The werewolf leapt at Fen and she raised Trueflame to fend it off. The creature snarled and attempted to shove her blade aside, but she managed to push it back and place a well-aimed slice at its neck. It seemed she had managed to hit an artery – blood began to pour thickly from the werewolf’s neck, coating its pelt in sticky darkness. Fen backed up several steps and the werewolf let out a final howl before it staggered to the ground, blood pooling beneath its body. Even as she watched, the long hair began to recede into the skin, the snout shortened, and the ears flattened and white hair grew until Tharsten Heart-Fang lay dead upon the ground before her. She knelt beside him and noticed a small silver ring upon his outstretched hand. The ring was simple and unadorned save for a tiny engraving of a wolf’s head. She was about to lean in to study it when the ring began to glow suddenly and shimmered out of sight. Fen felt something cold on her finger and glanced down to see the ring had appeared there, beside Moon-and-Star and Julan’s dark telepathy ring. Fen carefully pulled the ring off and tucked it away into a pocket – she would have to experiment with what it did later. It would be a nasty surprise for something to happen to her in the middle of a fight.
Fen retrieved the next key from Heart-Fang’s body and turned the corner to find another gate. She once more pressed the key into the pedestal and watched as a gateway appeared there. Tightening her hand around Trueflame, she stepped through the gateway.
A long corridor stretched before her, the end in shadow. Keeping a close hand on Trueflame, Fen began to walk, keeping her eyes narrowed on the dark room ahead. As she came to the end of the hall, a huge chamber came into view – a dark ceiling, supported by cracked and broken Daedric pillars, the walls all ice and stone. At the back of the room, another magical gate stood. Fen narrowed her eyes against the gloom – just as she had imagined, it was not entirely empty. The enormous, hulking figure of what had to be the frost giant Karstaag stood between two pillars, staring up at her with five thin, black eyes. A fur bearskin covered his middle, hung with two tarred elf heads, and his feet and hands had to be larger than Fen’s torso. Two ram-like horns curved up from his oblong head, and his entire body was covered in a thick pelt of dirty grey fur, breached only by foot-long claws of dirt-caked black.
For a moment, Fen and the creature just stared at one another, and Fen half-hoped Karstaag would demonstrate the same peace to her that he had to the Skaal for so many years. But then he threw out his arms and let out a ground-shaking roar that caused Fen to stumble slightly, and before she could act he was storming across the hall toward her, his huge clawed feet leaving long scratches on the stone floors. Fen dove to the side, rolling down the stairs that descended into the great chamber. Karstaag tried to stop too suddenly and bowled into the stairs, crumbling them to bits. He let out a furious roar as Fen ducked behind one of the Daedric pillars. She gave a short breath, then briefly ducked out from behind the pillar to throw a fire spell toward the frost giant.
Karstaag screeched again, and with one long sweep from his claws the top of Fen’s pillar went flying across the room. She ducked to avoid the debris and quickly flitted around the giant’s knees, probing for a weak spot with Trueflame. It seemed that Karstaag had armoured skin beneath his thick pelt, and sharp as Trueflame was, she was finding it difficult to find a weak spot. Karstaag turned and swiped at her, and she ducked to narrowly avoid the points of his lethal-looking claws. Fen was reluctant to use her magicka without any potions to restore it for the next challenge that awaited her, but Trueflame was not making any difference and she was out of other options.
Fen quickly moved backward across the room, firing a barrage of fire spells at the beast. Karstaag screamed in fury and was there before Fen could act, his huge claws moving toward her once more. Fen ducked again, but wasn’t as lucky – Karstaag’s claws caught the side of her head and sent her stumbling over a broken pillar. Fen’s vision swam – she could feel blood pouring down her cheek, but if she didn’t get up now she would be finished.
Fen forced herself up off the ground, stumbling slightly as she fired off more spells at Karstaag, this time aiming for his eyes as best she could with her focus jilted. One of the spells must have hit – Karstaag let out a horrendous roar and his clawed hands flew up to shield his face. Fen seized a nearby pillar to steady herself and watched as the frost giant plunged his lethal, foot-long claws straight into his own five eyes. Karstaag screamed, wrenching his claws out, and dark blue blood poured thickly from his face as he stumbled in circles, blinded. Fen mustered the energy to cast one last spell at his feet, causing him to stumble straight into a wall of stone. The wall cracked and stone and dust rained down, burying the giant under the rubble. Fen sank dizzily to the ground as silence finally fell in the chamber, broken only by the clatters of small fallen rocks.
Fen touched the side of her head and flinched as pain pounded through it – her hand came away bloody. She was low on magicka, but the other option was bleeding out and waiting to die, so she carefully touched the wound again and cast a healing spell. The pain ebbed away and the dizziness cleared, and Fen stood again, glancing around. The chamber was very still and silent. She had only just started across the room to the portal when, in a swirl of light accompanied by the howling of wolves, Hircine appeared before her, his powerful, muscular arms leaning on his spear and his dark eyes glittering vindictively behind his mask.
So…you are the one. And now the game can truly begin.


  1. I liked this chapter - some great, action-packed scenes! Looking forward to seeing how you end it, although I have no idea what I'll read then! Out of interest, do you have any plans to write anything else?

    1. I do, actually! I have one project in particular I've been working on for a few months that will start going up shortly after this is done and a few ideas for other ones. I'm glad you're enjoying the story!

      I see you've written one as well, I'll have to give yours a look sometime! :)