Work Header

The most dangerous game

Work Text:

"I don't quite have my mother's gift, but I've seen things." That's what Idgrod told most visitors to Morthal. They'd heard about her mother visions, and assumed the Jarl's children were the same. That wasn't the case. Joric was... complicated, and as for Idgrod... She wasn't exactly lying, but she wasn't really telling the truth either. Not that there was any reason to tell the truth. Visitors were just strangers, what right did they have to know what she dreamed about? Even if they knew, they wouldn't understand it anyway.

Her mother's dreams were easy to understand. Either they were clear dreams that led to useful predictions, or they were weird dreams that led to vague predictions. Idgrod's dreams, well... She didn't dream often, but whenever she dreamt, it didn't feel like a dream at all. It felt like she woke up in a different body, sometimes even in a different world, or a different time. It was hard to tell, because she forgot most of it as soon as she woke up.

Tonight was a night with a dream. The first thing she noticed was the ground flashing by, trees flashing past. She heard the panting of a dog and realised it was her, she was panting, like a dog, no, like a wolf. She looked down and saw her paws, carrying her as fast as they could. She became aware that she had a tail she could move, ears that were flattened against her head. Where was she running? Towards or away? She wanted to slow down, but her body protested, so she kept her speed up.

She looked around. She was in a forest, a pine forest, with low hills. The light was weak, whether it was dawn or dusk she couldn't say. She sniffed, and smelled the forest around her. Trees, leaves, plants, birds, old traces of deer and elk. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, she couldn't detect any frightened prey. The only fear she could smell was her own, and now that she had smelt it she could feel it inside her as well, driving her forward. So she was running away. Away from what? She raised her ears, and moved them around. It took her a while, but then she detected a thumping, the thumping of feet, six feet, thumping in three different rhythms. Three creatures, about two hundred feet behind her.

They were humans, she realised, human hunters. It eased her fear. She'd been human too, once, in a distant past. Humans were slow. She'd outrun them easily. Why did they even bother chasing her when she was so much faster than them, so much more at home in the woods? Then she heard a fourth rhythm, somewhere from her north-east, and a fifth, from her north-east as well, both moving perpendicular to her path. So that was their plan, eh? Chase her into the arms of their friends? That wasn't going to happen. She turned left. They couldn't hear her like she could hear them, and they were going too fast to follow her tracks. Soon she'd have lost them and she'd be free.

Her smugness soon disappeared, however. After less than a hundred feet she almost collided with a cliff. It was too steep to scale and too high to jump. What now? She stood still and hesitated, wasting precious seconds. To the left? No, she'd walk straight into the arms of the three hunters behind her. To the right then. She ran away and focussed on her ears again. The hunters who had been chasing her were further away now, but the ones who were trying to cut her off were still going steady. Still, it looked like she was going to make it. The hunters to her north-east were slower than the ones behind her. Unless there was another cliff somewhere they'd get on her trail only after she'd passed them. She allowed herself some cautious optimism.

Then she stumbled. Before she knew it she was in the air, suspended in a net. She squirmed and tried to bite and claw her way through the ropes around her, but to no avail. She looked around and saw the humans behind her. One of them raised his arm, a stick flew towards her, and everything turned dark.

A few nights later she had the same dream again. She realised it as soon as she became aware of her surroundings, flashing past her. This time she didn't need to get accustomed to her new body. This time she'd be prepared, she thought. She focussed on the sounds of the forests. Behind her she found the three hunters again. To the north-east their two colleagues again. Which way now? Going left would just give the same result as last time. Straight ahead? That would lead her straight into the hunters' arms. To the right then, this time.

The forest was the same everywhere, it seemed. The hills gently sloped up and down and up and down again. The rocks and plants and trees were all different and yet all the same. The only thing that told her she was still going the right way was the sun. And her ears, of course. Her plan seemed to have worked. The two who had been trying to cut her off were nowhere near her. The three who had been chasing her had noticed her deviating from her path and were still somewhere behind her, but she was gaining noticeable ground on them. She felt her confidence rise. Soon she'd have escaped her pursuers and she'd be free to roam her forests once again.

But when she suddenly found herself out of the forest and on the edge of a large clearing her optimism vanished as snow vanishes in the sun. She stopped and hesitated. Going back into the forest would mean a certain death. Walk on the edge of the forest and the field? That would make her path too predictable. What's more, the edge of the forest was a logical place for traps. Across the clearing? She'd make an easy target for the hunters' arrows. But it was her best chance. The clearing wasn't that large, and it had a hill in the middle, preventing her from seeing the edge of the forest on the other side. If she ran fast enough she'd be on the other side of the hill by the time the hunters entered the clearing and they wouldn't be able to shoot at her. She pressed on.

She was halfway up the hill when she heard the hunters enter the clearing. What would they do? Chase or take aim? The answer came a few seconds later, when a bolt flew a few metres past her. More followed, but the hunters had bad aim and none of the arrows hit her, though some came close. She ran as fast as she could. Just a few metres more and she'd be past the top. Then an arrow hit her right front leg. The impact made her stumble, but she quickly got up again. The arrow was stuck halfway in her leg. The pain was excruciating. She limped forward, fuelled only by adrenaline. All she thought about was reaching the top of the hill. The arrows kept flying past. Less than a few steps before the top another one hit her, this time in her stomach. The force sent her flying over the top, where she landed on her side on the grass.

She tried to stand up, but her wounds were too severe. Not that it mattered, she thought. In her current state she wouldn't even be able to outrun a hedgehog, let alone the hunters. Her life was over. She looked ahead, to see the forest one last time. To her surprise another hunter was approaching her, a red-haired woman with a painted face. The huntress had already noticed her, and quickly ran over to her. Idgrod closed her eyes, waiting for her death.

"You were weak, and you paid for your weakness."

She opened her eyes again and looked up. The huntress had knelt down beside her and looked at her indifferently. Idgrod opened her mouth, trying to speak, but she could only produce a soft whimper. The huntress patted her side and stood up again.

"Easy now. Watch and learn."

The huntress slightly bent her knees and stretched her arms out. Then her torso started rapidly expanding in size, her limbs elongated and became more muscular, her hands and feet grew large claws and her thick fur grew all over her body. Idgrod couldn't believe her eyes. In a few seconds the huntress had turned into a monstrous creature. She had some wolflike features, but not only did she stand on her hind legs, she was also at least four times as large as Idgrod herself.

The huntress flattened herself against the ground. A few moments later the three hunters who had been chasing Idgrod appeared at the top of the hill. As soon as they noticed the monster lying in wait they drew their knives. The huntress launched herself at them. One died instantly as she landed, burying her claws in his rib cage. She tossed his lifeless body aside and turned her attention towards the remaining two. One attacked her with his knife, but she swatted his arm away and then broke his neck with a single punch. The other ran back towards the forest, the monster on his heels. Idgrod did not see how he met his end, but it must have been a quick one, for after only a few seconds the huntress returned, covered in blood but in her human form again. She knelt down next to Idgrod and patted her side again.

"Sleep now, little one, and fight another day."

The huntress drew her knife, and everything turned dark.

A few nights later she found herself in the same body, the same forest and the same dream again. It was only the third time but it already felt familiar. The hunters chasing her, the hunters trying to cut her off. Everything was just like it had been the previous two times.

What now? The last two times she'd tried to flee, but that hadn't worked out. Try to fight, like the huntress had told her? There was no time to hesitate. If she didn't change her course, she'd soon see her path cut off. Well, she might as well confront her pursuers head on this time, she thought. It couldn't go worse than previously. She pressed on. The hunters weren't far away.

She saw them before they saw her, but they still spotted her long before she reached them. They grabbed their bows and tried to take her down, but the trees and the underbrush provided her with ample cover. She zig-zagged to make it even harder on her opponents. Now that she wasn't caught in a snare or on an open field, she had the advantage.

The hunters must have realised this too, because she noticed they stopped aiming at her and instead aim to her right. Clearly they still thought she was trying to escape and were hoping to steer her into a trap. It would be one of their last mistakes, she thought grimly. She was only a few yards away from her when they realised she wasn't trying to escape at all, but was coming straight at them. They threw away their bows and reached for their knives, but too late.

She jumped the one on the right to the throat. The hunter's flesh, protected only by a hair-thin skin that was no match for her sharp teeth, was soft and yielded easily. Before she knew it she'd crushed the windpipe, her mouth was filled with blood and flesh and her victim's lifeless body was falling backwards, taking her with it. With a soft thud they landed on the ground. She spat out the mixture of flesh and blood and stared at the dead human below her, a little dazed.

A strong kick in her side swept her off her feet. She quickly jumped up again and growled, silently chastising herself. She'd completely forgotten about the other hunter, who had grabbed a knife and was standing in a crouched position. How should she proceed now? This one wouldn't be taken down with a quick jump to the throat. If she tried that, she'd be skewered.

Luckily for her, the hunter took the initiative. Feigning an attack to the left first, he did two quick steps towards her and jumped at her, hoping to use the weight of his body to pin her down. However, her reflexes were lightning-fast, and she jumped to the side and on his back. When they landed she went for his head, but he turned around, throwing her off him. He tried to stab her but she'd expected him to and welcomed his outstretched arm with her mouth, biting as hard as she could in his wrist. He screamed and dropped the knife, holding his wrist with his other hand as if it was severely hurt. As soon as she got closer it turned out he was faking, for he punched her head with both his fists, sending her flying. They both stood up and she lunched at him. Instead of biting in his throat her teeth found his left arm. She tried to tear into it but then saw his right fist swinging towards her. He'd laid another trap, with his own arm as bait.

She quickly let go, but not quick enough. The hit sent her flying a metre away. When she landed she didn't jump back up but whimpered and tried to pretend that she broke something. She'd use her opponent's own strategy against him. The hunter approached her, knife in his hand again, standing straight up, looking a bit less careful. As soon as he was in her range she jumped at his throat. Before she knew it another lifeless body was lying in front of her and her and her snout was covered in blood.

"Well done."

The voice came from behind her. Shoot! She'd been so engulfed in fighting these two hunters that she'd forgotten about the other three. She turned around, expecting to be torn to pieces by arrows in a few seconds. To her relief she saw the huntress standing there, covered in blood again. She walked towards her. Only now did she notice that her legs, no, her whole body was hurting. The huntress patted her head.

"A bit messy, but not bad for a first time. Come with me. There's a lot more hunting to do."

The huntress walked deeper into the forest. Idgrod hesitated for a few moments. Then she walked after her.