The bright, glowing head of the Staff of Lightning cast eerie shadows along the walls of the long, cramped stone tunnel. Link Fenris, Hero of Lightning, strained his eyes against the darkness, following the scattered trail of bright green glowing blood left by their foe, the Moorwen.
Behind him, he could hear the heavy footsteps of his Goron companion, Dar, along with the giant rock-man's deep, worried breathing. The adult Moorwen they had encountered had taken the wizard Majacen back to its lair, to which they now hopefully followed its offspring.
As he cautiously made his way down the uncomfortably small stone tunnel, Link kept a wary eye on the thin stream of magma partially lighting their way from a deep, narrow crevice that ran along one side. The long-healed burns on his legs throbbed at being in such close proximity to intense heat, and the Hero had to grit his teeth and try not to think of the unbearable agony he had endured when caught in the eruption of Death Mountain after his battle with the Sorcerer.
His friend Dar had thankfully found him during the eruption, and shielded the Hero from the mountain's fury with his own body, but still Link had been severely burned on his back and legs. For months afterward, even sitting close to a fire had been intensely uncomfortable. Even now, two years later, he could still faintly feel the volcano's fire.
Aside from the faintly glowing trail of green blood, Link saw no sign of their quarry. The tunnel was silent, almost ominously so, aside from their footsteps and the faint hot bubbling of the molten rock flowing alongside their path.
The Hero and the Goron reached a triple fork in the tunnel, and were dismayed to find that the trail of glowing blood from the wounded juvenile Moorwen ended there. Link explored a few steps down each of the three paths, but saw no sign of the monster in any of them.
"Now what do we do, Little Brother?" Dar asked, peering into one of the tunnels as Link emerged from another. "We should not split up, not with at least two of these beasts in the tunnels with us."
"Definitely," Link agreed. He frowned at the split path, and began pacing back and forth in front of the three gaping holes in the wall.
Suddenly he stopped in front of the right-hand tunnel. "That one," he said.
"How do you know?" Dar said, puzzled.
Link waved a hand in front of his face. "As our wizard friend would say, when in doubt, follow your nose." At Dar's puzzled look, Link gestured to the tunnel. "This one smells worst, so the monster's lair is most likely that way."
"I see," the Goron said. "We must be careful, then; we know these beasts prefer the dark."
Link held up the Staff of Lightning, with its crackling, shining halo around the golden metal ball at its head. "I'm ready for them," he said determinedly.
They continued on through the tunnels for what felt like hours. Link's eyes were beginning to ache from the stark white light cast by the Staff in contrast to the inky blackness around them.
"We are very deep in the earth now, Little Brother," Dar said in hushed tones behind him. "These caverns go on for miles. Are you sure we are going the right way?"
Link, who had been trying not to breathe through his nose, pointed off down the tunnel with his sword. "It's stronger than ever," he said quickly. "We must be close."
He heard a crunch behind him, and a grumble from his friend. Suddenly Dar's footsteps stopped. "Do not look down, Little Brother."
Link lowered the Staff of Lightning and looked down anyway, and instantly regretted it. He choked back the urge to vomit, bringing his leather gauntlet up to his face to block out the renewed smell of death and decay.
Piled beneath their feet were mounds of bones and rotting meat, some still smeared with blood. The Moorwen had either lived in these caves for years or else had a truly voracious appetite; the bones were knee-deep in places, scattered carelessly about the tunnel floor and even more thickly in the cavern ahead which Link could now see in the light cast by the Staff of Lightning.
"Turn off the light, Little Brother," Dar said warningly. "I hear something."
Link relaxed his concentration on the ancient weapon and allowed its harsh white light to fade away. The oppressive darkness seemed to swallow them, and knowing what lay beneath its smothering inky blanket, Link fought to keep himself calm and his breathing under control.
After a few moments of stillness, Link's eyes adjusted, and he realized it was not completely dark down here; a very faint pale blue light was coming from somewhere, just barely bright enough that he could see reflections in his greatsword and the eyes of his Goron companion.
Faintly, so faintly that he wasn't sure he wasn't imagining it, Link could hear a sort of crackling noise, like the electricity cast by his staff but far, far more quiet.
The pale blue light faded slightly, and the sounds died away...
Then, with world-shaking suddenness, a blindingly bright bolt of lightning erupted out of the darkness and smashed into the ceiling high above their heads, accompanied by the deafening, echoing rumble of thunder.
Link stumbled back against Dar, who braced him with a massive hand. For a surreal moment, Link thought the thunder from the powerful electric discharge was continuing to echo weirdly about the cavern, before he realized the noise he was hearing was the adult Moorwen roaring.
He saw a sudden brilliant shaft of white light appear from the darkness, and heard Majacen's familiar deep, rich voice shout a challenge. Another, smaller bolt of electricity leaped across the cavern and briefly lit up the wizard, surprisingly far away. A red smear of light erupted out of the darkness, and was met by the glowing white shaft that Link now realized was the wizard's sword.
With a challenging shout, Link raised the Staff of Lightning and allowed its head to flare into luminance. Raising his Goron-made greatsword above his head, Link charged across the cavern, only half paying attention to the floor to make sure he did not slip into a crevice or stumble over the bones. He heard the heavy footsteps of Dar behind him, whose voice rose into an earth-shaking roar, like an eruption of his fiery home.
When Majacen cast another bolt of lightning at the Moorwen, Link sighted along the blinding bolt's arc and unleashed his own, blasting a stream of elemental fury across the cavern at the glowing red streaks of their opponent.
Their bolts hit the Moorwen in rapid succession, and it bellowed in pain. The blue lights atop its tail carved glowing furrows through the darkness as the Moorwen thrashed in agitation, screaming in pain-wracked fury.
In the combined illumination from his staff and Majacen's sword, Link could now see the creature more clearly. The enormous adult Moorwen's body shone with red lines, but now bright green trails of glowing blood flowed down its flanks, and one of its eyes no longer reflected light, looking burned and streaming shining green.
"Again!" Majacen shouted commandingly, dark green eyes burning with determination. The wizard ran forward, cloak and long hair streaming behind him, with both hands on his glowing white sword.
As one, both he and Link hurled bolts of power from their weapons, but to their surprise, the wounded Moorwen actually managed to dodge both of them, tail snapping.
The Moorwen narrowed its remaining eye at Link, and leaped right for him. Link lowered the Staff of Lightning and jammed the head into the monster's mouth, building up a charge, but with a violent thrash of its head, the Moorwen wrenched the ancient weapon from his grasp.
The creature rolled to the side, still holding the Staff of Lightning in its jaws, and the glowing blue points atop the tendrils of its tail swirled through the air in a luminescent flourish.
The Moorwen contemptuously tossed its head and flung the Staff of Lightning across the cavern, where it bounced with a metallic ring off the wall and vanished into a hole.
Before any of them could react, the Moorwen sprang up and with an agile twist of its muscular body, pushed off the wall next to it and over toward them. It landed atop Dar, knocking him to the ground, and its long tail leaped out like a striking snake and slammed into Link.
The Hero blocked the deadly tail's razor edge with his shield, but the sheer force behind the blow knocked Link completely off his feet and sent him sprawling across the rough stone floor. Just as he thought his uncontrollable slide was about to end, Link slipped through a sudden hole in the cavern's floor and plummeted, out of control, into a very long drop.
Impenetrable darkness rushed past him, and Link could see nothing; he could only hear and feel the air flowing around him before he was, without warning, plunged into shockingly cold water. His fingers loosened, and Link very nearly lost his grip on his greatsword before his warrior's reflexes took over and he tightened his grip on the weapon instead.
Link fought his way to the surface and sucked in a huge breath, then coughed out the water he had accidentally inhaled when he had landed. Violent wracking coughs shook his whole body uncontrollably for a few moments, and Link struggled to keep his head above water until he finally regained control of himself.
Still shaken by the occasional cough, Link carefully reached back and slid his greatsword into the scabbard on his back by touch, letting go only when he felt it slide securely into place. Next he slipped his shield into his magic 'pocket' and concentrated on treading water for the moment.
He could see nothing in the abyssal darkness, and heard only the faint splashing sounds created by the subterranean lake. From the echoes, Link guessed this new cavern to be incredibly large; it was very deep, judging by how long it had taken him to hit the water after he had fallen in. Link felt no bottom beneath his boots, either; as far as he could tell, there was only water in a depressingly large area around him. He was potentially trapped in an underground ocean.
For several long moments Link focused on keeping himself afloat while he thought about what to do. The three of them had located a carving in a temple describing something called 'Icarus Wings' a few months ago, but unfortunately they hadn't found that particular item yet. Link had nothing else he could use to fly or even levitate his way out of the watery cavern, and, even more worrying, he had nothing he could use to breathe underwater, either.
All these thoughts suddenly vanished, and a chill even more frigid than the water swept through the Hero as he felt something brush against his leg, briefly wrap around his calf, and then let go.
Link shouted in panic, but due to the training mercilessly drilled into him by the Gerudo shortly after he had become Hero, he quickly regained his wits in time to realize that the echo of his shout meant he was very close by one end of the tremendous cavern.
Without hesitation, he immediately began to swim as fast as he could in the direction he thought the wall was, trying to ignore whatever had grabbed his leg for the moment. His strong arms and legs drove Link swiftly through the water, so swiftly that he managed to brain himself on the wall when he encountered it more quickly than he expected.
Link drifted back in surprise, clutching his aching head, and he flailed for the edge before he managed to hook his arm on something that felt like a flat area above the water's surface. Boots scrabbling against the edge of the rocky protuberance, Link hauled himself up onto it and rolled onto his back, gasping both for air and in pain. He ignored the scabbard digging uncomfortably into his back and instead held his head, where it still ached fiercely an inch or two above his right eye.
Splashes echoed through the cavern in the darkness, and Link thought he saw a flash of blue light under the water for a moment, bright as the sun to his light-starved eyes.
Slowly, the Hero of Lightning raised himself to a sitting position and waited for his head to stop spinning. Once he was sure he would not immediately fall down again, he slowly got to his feet, moving carefully on the slick wet stone upon which he stood.
When he felt a little steadier, Link drew his greatsword again, drawing a measure of comfort from its familiar weight in his hand. In the dark, he carefully probed his temporary shelter with the tip of the five-foot-long weapon, trying to determine the size of the protuberance above the water.
A loud splash in the water very close by disrupted his thoughts, and Link froze for a long moment, hardly daring to breathe lest he attract the attention of whatever had made the noise. He heard a few moments of thrashing in the water, and then all went still once again.
"Majacen?" Link cautiously called into the blackness. "Dar?"
He heard no answer save the gentle lapping of the underground lake against its shores.
A momentary pulse of ominously familiar red light deep beneath the water's surface was all the impetus Link needed to resume his search for an exit from the cavern.
He frantically scraped the tip of his greatsword along the rocky ground, and stopped when it encountered a wall. Link blindly groped out until his fingers encountered the wall, and he reached out with the sword again to try to determine the wall's shape. He encountered no resistance whatsoever even when he stretched the long weapon as high above his head as he could, and it splashed into the water only a few feet to the right.
To his left, the sword scraped along uninterrupted, oddly smooth stone, and Link carefully followed it in this direction until he encountered empty air again.
Behind him, Link heard another loud splash, and suddenly he cursed what seemed to him to be the thunderous crashes of water dripping from his hair and clothes onto the bare rock at his feet. He was at a terrible disadvantage here; somehow he knew the Moorwen could see in the dark when he could see nothing but black.
Moving more quickly but still as quietly as he could, Link investigated the empty area to his left. His foot splashed into water again, but it only rose to his knee, so he pressed on.
Link bit back a curse when he whacked his shin on an unexpected obstacle in front of him. He reached out with his sword and his other hand and discovered he had been walking in the path of an underground stream; he had stumbled into the edge of the channel it had worn itself over centuries down here in the dark. He carefully climbed up onto the edge of the stream's channel, and found it to be reassuringly dry.
The young warrior stayed there for a few moments, straining his ears for the sound of any pursuing creatures, but he heard nothing aside from water.
He warily set off again, and soon found himself in a passage that sloped reassuringly upward. Link followed it, sword held in front of himself as a guide against any more unexpected obstacles.
After what could have been hours or only a few minutes of climbing the passage, Link heard heavy footsteps behind him, and he spun, greatsword at the ready. He could see nothing, but Majacen and the Gerudo both had taught him to fight using only his other senses. He listened to the way the sound of the footsteps bounced off the stone walls, and made an estimate of the source.
Deep, wheezy breathing gave Link pause; it sounded familiar. He decided to take a chance.
"Dar, is that you?"
Out of the darkness came an affirmative wheeze; the huge Goron sounded out of breath and very, very tired. Link's shoulders slumped with relief. He waited until the heavy footsteps drew closer, then spoke.
"I'm up here," he whispered, even this seeming too loud in the unnervingly quiet cave. "Be quiet, though; that thing might be down here with us. I heard it fall in, I think. I'm pretty sure I saw it, too."
The tired, heavy breathing continued, and stopped a few feet away from Link.
"Ready? Follow me," the Hero said, setting off along the tunnel again. The heavy breathing and footsteps followed him.
A short time later, Link thought he was starting to hallucinate points of light in the darkness until he realized that what he was seeing was bioluminescent lichen. The cold blue light of the clumps of lichen seemed almost welcoming after so long in the dark; Link stumbled toward them eagerly.
"Hey Dar, help me scrape off a few of these; they might be enough for us to see at least a little bit."
He received no answer, only heavy breathing from behind him. Curious, Link turned.
And barely hurled himself out of the way in time as the hulking shape now silhouetted by the dim blue light of the lichen suddenly flared with its own glowing red streaks and leaped at him.
Link stumbled into the wall, and hurled himself to the ground as the blue points at the end of the Moorwen's tail whipped out and smashed into the rock just above him.
The Hero rolled aside as the punishing whips snapped down at him, and when it was free, he swung his greatsword up at the glowing blue dots in the darkness.
To his surprise, the Goron-forged blade sliced right through several of the tendrils, sending a spray of bright green blood out into the darkness.
The Moorwen shrieked in pain and flared with red lines again, backing away a few steps. Lit by its own bioluminescence, the Moorwen regarded Link with momentary suspicion; it had clearly never encountered anything that could hurt it this easily before.
Emboldened by this small success, Link charged forward. The Moorwen made an agile leap backwards, but still the long blade caught it across the snout, carving a bloody furrow through its face.
The creature snarled in pain and thrashed its head, sending a spray of glowing green blood over both of them. Link blinked away the droplets that splashed across his face and swiped his wet hair out of his eyes, then took hold of his sword with both hands and swung for the Moorwen's neck.
Again it dodged, but the greatsword sunk deep into its back, and it howled in agony.
The Moorwen backed away, out of reach of the Hero's weapon, and stared at him with its one remaining eye. It allowed its lines to fade away, until the Moorwen was only a vague, hulking outline in the dim blue light cast by the lichen. Its plunge into the subterranean lake, combined with what appeared to be its extremely quick healing process, had rid it of most of the telltale glowing green blood; Link could see the blue reflection in its eye and a bit of the curve of its back and snout outlined by the trickles of glowing green blood from its most recent wounds, but otherwise all details were hidden by the darkness.
Link backed up until his heels met the stone wall, his sword at the ready. "You know this can hurt you," he called to the silhouette, unsure of whether the creature was capable of understanding him or not. "I've fought uglier things than you with this," he raised the greatsword for emphasis, "and now that I know your tricks, I can kill you, too."
He heard nothing but the creature's breathing, but he noted that the pattern was different now; it had been imitating Dar earlier. Encouraged by this what this realization suggested about the creature's intelligence, Link went on.
"I've been thinking," he said, fighting to keep his voice from shaking. "You didn't attack us until we went into your cave. If you let me and my friends go, we'll leave your territory, and we won't come back."
The young warrior shifted his grip on the wire-wrapped hilt of his weapon. "You can hurt us, but now you know that we can hurt you, too. We don't have to kill each other; as I said, if you let us go, we won't bother you again."
The Moorwen gave no sign it understood his words, or even that it knew he was trying to communicate. It just stood there in the darkness, barely visible as an outline, great flanks heaving with breath.
A minute ticked by, neither of them moving.
Finally, with dreadful slowness, the Moorwen allowed the lines on its body to begin glowing, until it stood as a terrifying, shining spectacle in the abyssal darkness surrounding them. The blue lights atop its tail thrashed threateningly, and Link braced himself, every muscle in his body tensing in preparation.
The Moorwen took one slow step forward and lowered its head. Its teeth-filled jaws opened wide, and the creature roared loud and long, the echoes bouncing all around them until it seemed it had a hundred brethren all snarling at the warrior alone in the dark.
Link's breath came faster and faster, and he tightened his grip on his sword until he could feel the lines of the wire wrapping digging into his palms. The enormous weapon suddenly seemed very small faced with the full, horrifying power of this foe.
When the last echoes of its roar finally died away, the Moorwen snarled at Link again, but took him by complete surprise when it suddenly turned and ran off through the tunnel behind it, the light from its bioluminescent lines rapidly drawing away until he could see no sign of it.
The young warrior was unable to move for a moment, frozen in shock. Had it understood his words and accepted his offer? Or had it merely realized the threat he presented and decided to not risk its life against an unpredictable opponent?
Link did not move again until he heard heavy footsteps approaching behind him. He whirled, ready to put all his strength into a blow against what he thought was the Moorwen charging at him from another direction.
But, he nearly collapsed in relief when he recognized the familiar shape of Dar, the real one this time, approaching down the tunnel, dimly lit by the glowing lichen. The Goron was in a sort of worried jog, but he slowed down when he realized Link was alone.
"I heard the monster roaring, and I feared the worst," he said. Dar peered off down the tunnel past his friend. "Did you scare it off, Little Brother?"
"I have no idea," Link said tiredly, suddenly realizing just how drained he felt. He sheathed his sword and gestured back in the direction from which the Goron had come. "Let's get out of here."
Bright white light heralded the approach of the wizard Majacen, who soon appeared with glowing sword in hand, by all appearances ready for battle. He peered suspiciously at the tunnel behind Link and Dar. "Where is the creature?"
"It left," Link said. "I don't know why."
"Puzzling," said the wizard, still staring at the dark tunnel. He turned to Link, and a relieved smile came over his face beneath his dark beard, then faded into a grim expression. "It matters not. Let us leave while we still can." He turned and started to lead the way up the tunnel, but suddenly Majacen paused and reached beneath his cloak, then produced the Staff of Lightning. "I retrieved this for you, young Link, but it seems you did not need it against the creature after all."
Link accepted the ancient weapon, but cast a wary eye back down the tunnel. "Let's get out of here," he said again.
Neither of his companions disagreed.
The Three Wanderers set off up the tunnel, and tired though he was, Link did not allow himself to slow down until he saw sunlight once again.
The feeling of eyes on his back spurred the Hero the entire way.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt into horror and suspense; I've been wanting to experiment with those for a while now. But also, I wanted to further explore the hints in the movie 'Outlander' that the Moorwen might be more intelligent than it seems, and use that to put an interesting twist on my 'monster story' here.
Moorwens will make another appearance in 'The Secret War' 300 years later, now that I've come up with some good ways to work them into the plot. Not 300 actual years, mind you, though it may feel I'm taking that long to put out new chapters lately. ;)
Since this is a bit different than what I usually write, I'm especially interested to see what you guys thought of this story. That goes for all of my writing; even if it's been up for a couple years, I'm still always interested to know what people think of my work. Feel free to leave a review on anything of mine you read. I don't bite, I promise. ;P
Thanks for reading!