Sunday, December 14, 2014

Morrowind Day 114 - Under Hircine's Eyes

6 Evening Star
It is a mark of how strange my life has become that today's events do not register as anything but 'slightly unusual'. I suppose I expected it after learning of the Giant's kidnapping, but being woken up by a group of werewolves clutching each of your limbs is quite a startling experience.

It was also a short one, for there was a sudden flash of  red light and I instantly found myself standing in what looked like one of Vvardenfell's Daedric shrines. Still disorientated, I spent a few moments looking around before realizing that I was not alone.
My education on the Daedric Lords is rather spotty, but the man who stood before the only door in the room I instantly recognized as Hircine himself. The Prince appeared before me with the spotted skin of a fawn and wearing only a loincloth, foot wraps, and the large skull of an unfortunate deer. As I approached he summoned a short halberd into his hands, which he idly twirled about as he explained the rules of the Game I had come to anticipate being a part of.

The rules were simple: Behind the door was a series of arenas that the Lord had already sent the other "champions", Captain Carius, Tharsten Heart-Fang, and the Giant Karstaag, through. These arenas were staffed by Hircine's favorite werewolves and I had no doubt they were going to be dangerous opponents, especially given my complete lack of preparation for Hircine's Hunt.

As he disappeared to some deeper part of the place, he warned me that only one of "his" champions would survive the Hunt, implying that I would need to kill the others to proceed. I was dismayed at the thought of having to kill Captain Carius, but curiously felt no such regret for Tharsten, which would prove to be rather observant, as I was to find out.

The Imperial Captain was waiting just inside the first arena and was very happy to see me. He was the first to be summoned to Hircine's arena and fought the werewolves prowling about until he was wounded and forced to fortify a small corner of a wall with rubble while he awaited a friendly face. He offered to join me in fighting our way through Hircine's minions, but the man was obviously pained and I did not think he would survive whatever lay ahead of us.

He agreed to remain in his corner while I worked my way through the werewolf-infested maze. The maze was small, but that worked against me, making it difficult to isolate each werewolf I came across. Several times I would launch an arrow at an unsuspecting enemy, only to have three of them come charging at me, alarmed at the arrow strike on their brethren. I would surely have been overwhelmed had it not been for my silvered spear.
I came across a worn chest towards the center of the circular maze and retrieved a glowing medallion from it. This had the unpleasant effect of turning all of the werewolf ice statues I had been walking by into real werewolves and making my battle back to the Captain just as harrowing as the battle from.

Together the Captain and I worked our way to the center of the maze where we came upon a shimmering gate that only I, the holder of the medallion, could pass through. He said he would guard the gate as I proceeded further into Hircine's arena and that he was sure he could find his own way out. He warned me against both Karstaag and Tharsten, the latter of whose motives he was suspicious of. 

Beyond the gate was another arena, very similar to the one the Captain was still occupying. The Skaal chieftain was apparently waiting for me just inside the gate. He seemed glad to see me as well, but spoke more of Karstaag's lead over him than our cooperation or survival. Nevertheless, the man was stronger than the Captain and unharmed, so I agreed to fight with him to the next gate. Either he would fall to the werewolves or be weakened, for his speech made me certain he would turn on me soon.

Suspicious though he was, Tharsten proved to be a strong warrior and killed four werewolves to my six. But when we found a chest similar to the one from the previous room, he pushed me aside and ran ahead, grabbing the key with a triumphant shout. Curiously, he turned to face me and bragged that the honor of defeating Hircine would fall upon him and revealed that he was in possession of something he called "Hircine's Ring", which had been passed along his family's generations.

With this ring on his finger he felt that the glory of Hircine's Hunt was his birthright and refused any argument against this belief. Eventually he tired of my attempts to persuade him to cooperate and stated that my death during the Hunt would be honored by the Skaal for ten generations. Having said that, he twisted a silver ring on his finger and suddenly became a werewolf!
I was very surprised, but Tharsten gave me little time to think upon this new development. He was in front of me with one leap and a furious melee ensured. My first reaction was the one that probably saved my life: lacking the distance between us to bring my spear to bear, I carelessly shoved my weight against him in an effort to put some space between us. Amazingly this worked and put him off balance for a few moments, which is all I needed.

Standing between two narrow stones, my flanks were secure and he could not get past me. His only option was to strike head-on against the silvered point of my spear. After slaying over a dozen werewolves in Hircine's game, Tharsten proved to be not much of a challenge after all. Perhaps if he had elected to fight me in his human form he would have stood a better chance.

The ring disappeared with a small popping noise, but the key to the next gate remained, so I moved further into the arena, alone.
The next room was not a maze, but a wide open arena in which Karstaag was prowling about. Before today I had never seen a Giant of any kind and I hope to never need to battle with one again. Karstaag was a large, white-furred, horned creature standing at least twice my height, if not more. He moved surprisingly quick for his size, his hands were large enough to envelop and crush me, and his arms likely strong enough to throw me across the room or dash me against the frozen walls.
This match did not seem weighted in my favor.

Our combat turned into a dangerous game of catch: me dashing behind pillars and pieces of rubble to fire arrows and he lumbering after me, throwing the rubble aside and collapsing the pillars. Eventually the trail of blood he was leaving in his wake grew thicker from the increasing number of arrows jutting from his body and he gradually slowed down. When he paused for a moment I rushed forwards with my spear and drove it into his neck with all my strength.

He simply stared down at me and sighed before falling forwards towards me, dead. I barely had enough time to dive out of his way and none at all to retrieve my weapon. The spear shattered with a sharp crack as Karstaag fell upon it and I was left with my bow and short sword, my Daedric spear still at Thirsk.

There was a gate at the far end of the room, but Hircine himself stood before it. I readied myself for what I feared would be a very short battle, but he only asked me a question: What is the hunter's greatest strength: speed, strength, or guile? 

My first instinct was speed, for my own had saved me more times than I could count, but the Daedric Prince would not ask a question merely for his curiosity, so I thought about it a bit. Speed may be my advantage in a fight, but it was guile which ultimately brought down Dagoth Ur, so I decided that would be my answer. 

I had already fought two rooms full of werewolves and one Frost Giant, but I now had to face Hircine and minus my favored weapon at that. I gave him my answer and the battle was on. 

I do not know what difference my answer would have made, but I Hircine fought me as he appeared before me: vaguely man-shaped, with a deer skull helmet (or head, I suppose), and a short pike. Armed only with my Daedric bow and a silvered short sword I picked up from somewhere, I quickly ran away and sought some obstacle to hide behind so that I could safely fire arrows at my opponent.

I cannot say how long our battle lasted. It was one of my most difficult battles, if not the most difficult, that I have ever fought. My encounter with Dagoth Ur is the closest comparison, but I went into that fight well-equipped and rested. I entered this one exhausted from the struggles I had already had, my rest had been interrupted by Hircine's kidnapping, and I lacked the weapon I was most familiar with.

Fighting an enemy armed with a spear when you only have a short blade is a poor idea, but I had always been the one with the spear in that pairing up until today. I was forced to commit to hit-and-run attacks with my bow, but fortunately I had also brought with me to Solstheim three very rare Daedric arrows, all of which I employed against Hircine after exhausting my silvered arrows, none of which seemed to cause him any worry.

Two missed, but the third struck him in the left eyehole of his helm, rending a horrible scream from him that echoed about our frozen chamber. It seemed more in rage than pain, but he dropped his spear in an effort to remove the arrow and I quickly dashed towards him and forced my silvered blade into the right eyehole, admittedly wincing as I did so. I would never perform such a cruel strike against a mortal foe, but I felt a Daedric Prince who delighted in murdering hapless Nords and kidnapping Khajiit could be made to suffer a bit.

Even this was not enough to kill him, but being stabbed five times with his own spear was enough to end Hircine's mortal visitation.
The glowing medallion on his body opened the gate leading out and away from his arena and when I stepped outside I found I was completely surrounded by a wall of ice. I started to walk towards it, intent on seeing if the wall could be scaled, but I took no more than two steps before a bright flash blinded me and a thundering explosion slammed into my chest.

When I could see and breathe again the wall had collapsed in front of me and the underground arena behind me had fallen in on itself. The voice of Hircine sounded in my head, a congratulations on my victory and a promise of his that the Hunt would return again one day. Be that as it may, I hope I am not around to take part in it again.

I was in an area of Solstheim I had not visited before, but the shore was at my back, so I had to be on the western half of the island. After I found the northern shore I knew almost exactly where I had been and confidently and tiredly walked back to the Skaal's village.

Korst somehow knew what had happened before I said anything. He recognized Hircine's spear and told me that it was an extremely rare honor that any mortal should be carrying it, but I was too tired to feel honored, I guess. He asked after the late chieftain and I had not the heart to tell him about Tharsten's betrayal...though I suppose a Skaal might not see what he did as such. Either way, I told Korst that Tharsten fell while bravely fighting a horde of Hircine's best hunters and the shaman was satisfied with that answer. 

I rested in the village for an hour, repairing my equipment as best I could, but I was concerned that Captain Falx had not escaped the collapse and set off along the river, passing by Thirsk on my way south. The weather steadily cleared as I got closer to the southern shore and by the time I reached the coast the sun was bright and the skies were clear, cheering me considerably.
The Imperial Captain had survived his part of the Hunt as well. The troops of Fort Frostmoth were happy to have him back and repairs were finally beginning to the wrecked fort. I was directed to the Captain's chambers where he was recovering and he greeted me with a very surprising hug, something Khajiit certainly are not accustomed to, even among ourselves.

He seemed a bit embarrassed by his show of gratitude and covered it by suggesting I see Carnius Magius about some trouble the East Empire Company was having at the mine. I wished him health and went to speak to the shifty Company man. As expected, he knew nothing, but demanded that I go to site of the new town, Raven Rock, and see what the problem was.

Construction had been proceeding while I was away saving Solstheim from the ravages of Hircine's werewolves. Nothing was completed yet, but several buildings were well on their way.

After this morning's fight the problem at Raven Rock was laughable: a drunk Skaal was brawling with any workers that tried to do any work. A rather exasperated Falco asked me to deal with the Nord, but without killing the man. He and the workers had taken to calling the man 'Hroldar the Strange' and I easily spotted the furious looking Hroldar pacing in front of a half-completed building. He shouted at me, stating that the construction would incur the wrath of Nature and he was the guardian of Solstheim, or something like that.

I had little patience to deal with such foolery and grabbed the man by the throat with one hand while I sent my right crashing into his chin. I think I nearly broke my hand, but the man stumbled backwards and cried out that he had (already) enough. He accepted my demands to leave Raven Rock and thus ended a very short and strange episode of the day.

Falco has some very deep pockets, for he gave me a thousand Septims just for punching a Nord, though I suppose keeping his schedule is worth any amount to him. He asked me to let Carnius know that the construction was resuming.

Contrary to Falco, Carnius was actually disappointed that I did not kill the man, stating that the "natives" need to learn to respect Imperial steel. Quite a bold statement for a man living inside a wrecked fortress following a raid an Imperial garrison could not prevent. He had no further tasks for me today, so I decided to take my rest at Thirsk.

It has been a very long day and I evidently have accomplished a task approaching equality with striking down Dagoth Ur, but it does not feel much like that. Against the mad God I had allies, a plan, and a long road towards my eventual confrontation and victory. Here my foe was unknown until only a few hours before meeting him, I had no allies for most of it, and the conclusion of the Bloodmoon Prophecy ended before I barely knew it had begun.

I just feel confused and tired, but Hircine's spear is mine now for whatever good or evil it may bring me. It is enchanted, though I do not know with what. The future, as it always has been, is cloudy and I do not know what it holds for me. I hope I will be able to dedicate some relatively peaceful days towards the construction of Raven Rock, then perhaps I shall return to Vvardenfell for good.

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