Chapter 6: What Waits In the Night
“Is all of Karradai this flat?” Romani asked, glancing around and shivering. “Aren’t there any mountains?”
“A few,” Noah replied. “But except for the
to the west, they aren’t very tall. I heard one foreigner say he had seen hills taller than out mountains. Why do you ask? Does it bother you?” Ordonian Mountains
“I just feel so... vulnerable without any mountains in sight.”
Link silently agreed with her. He felt too exposed without forest or mountain waiting upon the horizon. Even a city would have been welcome, just something to break the monotonous landscape.
“You mentioned something about riders,” Pelayla prompted. “Who are they, and why is it bad if we get on the wrong side of them?”
“The Riders,” Noah began, dislike obvious in his voice, “are a group of people supposedly chosen by Mother Tala to redeem us from our sins. They view themselves as better than everyone else and are constantly looking for lawbreakers. They hope to purge the world of all evildoers.”
“Who is this Mother Tala?” Romani asked.
Noah sighed heavily, eyes raised to the clear sky overhead. “To think I’d be discussing theology!” he muttered. Lowering his gaze, he said, “To get the full explanation, you’d be better off asking a priest, but I’ll try my best. Mother Tala is our patron goddess, creator of us all. It is she who selects those who are to be Riders.”
“And how are Riders chosen?” Link inquired.
Appearing extremely uncomfortable, the Karradaini explained, “If a Talar bird approaches you on your fourteenth birthday, you are a Rider.”
“What does Mother Tala look like?” Pelayla queried.
“All the images I have seen of her depict a great copper and black dragon, though people sometimes change her coloration to fit the kingdom’s colors.”
“The closest beings to gods that I know of are the four giants, the guardians of the world,” Romani said. “I remember that day in the Year of the Moon, waking up to see the giants standing around
with a rainbow overhead. Their presence comforted me, let me know I was safe and cared for. They are all I need for gods.” Clock Town
“Careful who you say such things to,” Noah warned. “If a Rider heard you talking about these giants of yours, you would be branded an unbeliever. And Riders do not deal kindly with unbelievers.”
“Are there no other religions here?” Link asked. True, the majority of Hyrule followed the Golden Three, but smaller sects existed that recognized other deities, and though the average Hyrulian might view them as an oddity, they were allowed to follow their own religions. He found the idea of hiding what he believed in, what he knew was true, rather uncomfortable.
“If there are, the followers keep them hidden.” The Karradaini shifted in his saddle. “So, what are you looking for, Link?”
He placed a hand over the pouch where the Ocarina of Time rested; he had hidden the prophecy in there the previous night. “Information,” he replied. “A library with old manuscripts and treatises would be helpful. And I’m looking for someone. A woman.”
Romani cast him an unreadable look, but Noah nodded thoughtfully. “Information, eh? Then we’ll head to
New Crescent. It has the largest library, next to , and if your woman isn’t in that city, we’ll head to the capital, which is only about two hours away. It’s really a wonder our two largest cities are able to thrive, being so close together.” Crystal City
“Are we halting soon?” Ria asked, the first thing she had said all day.
Leaning forward, Noah squinted as he peered into the distance. Pointing ahead, he said, “If we pick up our pace, we should make that small wood by nightfall.”
Link increased the pressure of his knees just a little, and Phantom sped up. The other horses increased their paces as well, and in only an hour, the group reached the stand of trees.
“I’ll make a fire,” Noah volunteered as he leaped from the saddle, leading Arzosi toward the thick wall of trees.
Just as Link dismounted, three rabbits burst from the undergrowth and bolted. Before he could do anything, an arrow flew through the air. While that one was still shooting toward the fleeing rabbits, another arrow joined it, then another. The first pierced the lead rabbit, who tumbled and collapsed, while the next transfixed the second, and the final projectile embedded itself in the third animal’s hide.
“How did you do that?” he asked Romani as she dismounted and calmly returned her strung bow to her back.
“Practice,” she replied, retrieving her arrows and wiping them on the grass before returning them to her quiver. “If I have to work on a ranch, I’d rather protect it than milk cows or feed them.”
Ria swung down from Heartfire without disturbing her cloak and picked up the rabbits in thick-gloved hands. Placing them upon her saddle, she seized the gelding’s bridle and led him into the wood.
“Come on, Grasshopper,” Romani called, taking Storm’s reins.
Link carefully made his way among the thick oak and elm and ash, Phantom trailing behind. Once in the campsite Noah had chosen--an area cleared of brush and undergrowth with a ring of stones around a fire--he hobbled the horse before sitting down, absently fingering the enameled pin clasping his cloak at his throat. Ria sat across the small clearing from him, while Noah rested on his heels beside her, gloves and coat off as he skinned the animals, grinning like a child surrounded by candy.
“This isn’t so bad,” Romani commented, unfolding her blanket and spreading it over the ground. “I rather of like this adventuring stuff.”
Link laughed mirthlessly. “You like it? Wait until you face someone who wants you dead, wants you dead just for being yourself, who will kill you despite your best intentions. Wait until you kill so much it becomes second-nature, you no longer feel any abhorrence as you rob something of its life, only a grim satisfaction. Wait until you no longer even trust your friends, wait until everyone you ever loved and cared for is gone, never to see them again. That is all part of adventuring.”
Suddenly, he noticed that everyone was staring at him askance, and only then did he realize his voice had picked up intensity till he was near yelling. “Are you okay?” Pelayla asked tentatively, rising a few inches from Phantom’s neck.
“No, just leave me alone!” he shouted. Rising, he plunged deeper into the small forest, away from the campsite. He found a secluded spot and sat down, hugging his knees to his front. Furious tears streamed down his face, and he angrily wiped them away.
The rustling of the undergrowth warned him of the approaching person. “Go away,” he said harshly, voice raw.
Someone sat beside him. “You are in pain, Hero of Time,” Ria said.
Link glared at her cloaked and hooded form. “If you know I’m the Hero of Time, you must know why. And why don’t you ever use my name?”
“Names can be changed. Destinies--fulfilled destinies--cannot. And I understand why you are so scarred, but your anger surprises me.”
“Just because I can’t be evil doesn’t mean I can’t be angry,” he replied sullenly.
“It’s more than that, though,” Ria persisted. “Your anger--when it comes out--is stronger than it should be; it is almost another’s anger. You were changed irrevocably when you first wore the Fierce Deity’s Mask.”
“I only wore it once,” he protested. “How can something I wore only once change me?”
“That mask is powerful,” she explained. “Powerful, and evil. When you put it on, you allowed a terrible evil to enter you, and both you and the mask used each other. You used evil for good. It used good for evil. A bond has been forged between you and the being within that mask.”
“Why did this happen to me?” Link burst out. “Why couldn’t I just live a normal life?”
“Fate chose you, and you chose fate,” Ria replied. “Still, wearing that mask isn’t the only thing that changed you.”
“Dark Link,” he said softly.
She nodded once. “Yes, the Chamber of the Pool of Reflections changed you, but so did leaving the forest. So did meeting Zelda. So did teaching Skull Kid Saria’s Song and later agreeing to be his friend. Learning Epona’s Song, meeting Tatl and Tael, healing broken souls and giving their spirits rest after their business with the living had ended--everything you’ve ever done has changed you. Some for the better, some for the worse, but all have shaped who you are. You can accept your unfortunate lot in life, allow destiny to browbeat you into what she wants you to be like and moan over how no one understands you, or you can take charge, forge yourself to be what you want to be. It is a terrible burden, holding a piece of the Triforce, but it doesn’t mean your life is ruined. You can still find the way to happiness, if you want to; your heart is courageous and true. As long as you listen to your heart, you will find happiness in the end.” Ria stood, the edge of her cloak brushing Link. “Supper is ready, if you care to eat.” Turning, she disappeared among the trees, moving as noiselessly as a shadow.
Link sat there, staring at nothing and deep in thought. It truly frightened him, how much Ria knew about him. Still, she’s right. It is up to me to shape myself, not fate. Rising, he dashed the last of his tears from his eyes and returned to the camp.
“Thank you,” he said as Romani handed him part of a rabbit. “Romani, I’m... I’m sorry for yelling at you.”
“It’s okay,” she replied, donning a relieved smile. “You’ve obviously been through a lot. I’m sure the One of Many Shapes also loses his temper.”
Link froze, the meat halfway to his mouth. “What do you know of the One of Many Shapes?”
She shrugged, kneeling before folding her legs under her. “Not much. He summoned the giants to catch the moon and save the world, like prophecy foretold, and then he disappeared. I wish I could have met him, just once.”
Should I tell her? Link wondered, slowly sitting on the ground. Should I tell her that I am the One of Many Shapes, though I did not know that name when I fulfilled that role?
“Hey, how do you like my cooking?” Noah asked with a lopsided grin. “I think it’s fantastic.”
Romani nibbled her rabbit and made a face of mock-disgust. “Oh, it’s horrible!” she cried sarcastically. “Someone just kill me, to put me out of my misery!”
“Okay.” Picking up a small rock, Noah threw it at her.
“Ow!” she exclaimed as it hit her arm. “That hurt!”
“Damn, I missed,” he laughed. “I meant to hit your head.”
Slowly, Link bit into his rabbit, rolling the strangely spiced yet savory meat around his mouth before swallowing. He grinned as Romani tore some meat off with her teeth, juices dribbling down her chin. “You’re quite the messy eater,” he commented.
She wiped the juices with the back of her hand. “What do you expect? I’m only a ranch girl.”
Pelayla alighted on Link’s shoulder. “Ranch? What ranch?”
“Romani Ranch,” she answered with a hint of pride, taking another bite. “Home of the famous Chateau Romani.”
“Aren’t you a little young to have a ranch named after you?” Noah joked.
“I’m seventeen,” she answered coldly, hooding her eyes in a haughty manner. “And I was named after the ranch.”
“Hey, I’m eighteen, and there’s no place called Noah Town!”
Link laughed as Romani glowered at the Karradaini. Finishing his rabbit, he set his bow and quiver off to one side and unbuckled his bandolier, setting that by the weapon. He slipped his gauntlets off as well as his cap, tossing them beside his equipment. After a moment’s deliberation, he unstrapped his sheathed sword and held it close as he wrapped himself in his cloak before lying down, a macabre version of a doll. “Everyone, shut up. I want to sleep.”
Settling beside his head, Pelayla bobbed a little. “I second that. So you younglings go to sleep, too!”
Noah groaned. “But I don’t wanna sleep, Pelayla! I want to pester Romani!”
“Noah, if you don’t go to sleep, I’ll give you something to pester about.”
Reluctantly, he dug out his plain cloak and walked back to his flamboyant coat, dragging his feet the whole way. Pulling the gaudy garment on, he swathed himself in the folds of plain cloth and practically threw himself on the ground, muttering, “Stupid bossy fairy!”
Romani pulled her blanket over herself, saying, “Don’t worry, Noah. One day, if you’re good, I’ll bake a special pie for you, just the right size for a willful boy like you.” She giggled. “You’ll eat it, and then I’ll tuck you in bed and sing you a song.”
“Shut up, Ranchgirl,” Noah mumbled sleepily. “That’s what I’m calling you from now on, Ranchgirl.”
“And good night to you, Crow. That’s what you sound like, a crow, with all your squawking and cawing.”
“Shut up!” Pelayla yelled with surprising force.
Silence filled the camp, broken only by the popping and cracking of the fire and an occasional sleepy murmur. Link, however, could not fall asleep. He wrapped his hand around the pouch hanging from his belt, the pouch containing the Ocarina of Time and prophecy. He always wore it, even when he slept. After a moment, though, he managed to drift off to sleep.
For once, ordinary dreams awaited him, plain and ordinary. However, after what seemed only a few moments, he woke again. He wriggled deeper into the cloak--despite the late spring weather and the protection of the wood, the night was chill--and froze as he heard someone rise and walk toward the edge of the camp. Curious, he listened.
“Ria?” Romani asked quietly. “I was wondering.... Could you... could you help me?”
“How?” the older woman inquired, just as softly.
“Well.... It’s about.... It’s about--love.”
“What about love?”
“How does a woman know she’s in love?” Romani asked.
There was silence for a moment. “There are no beacons or heralds to declare affection. Generally, feelings such as love take time to grow. Oh, the seed might be planted at the first encounter, but it takes time for the plant to flourish and bear fruit. A few times, though, someone will know as soon as they clap eyes on another that they love them. If you are true and follow what your heart tells you, you will know whether you love someone. Why do you ask?”
“Ria, I think--No, I know I’m in love. But I know he doesn’t love me. I don’t know what to do. Should I tell him? Or should I keep these feelings locked up inside me?”
“Only you can make that decision,” the older woman responded finally. “Ask yourself what would be best for both of you, not just him. By keeping your feelings sealed up, you are hurting yourself.”
“I just want him to be happy. I don’t want to hurt him, and I know I will if I tell him.” Romani seemed on the verge of tears. “But I love him so much. I knew that the moment I first saw him.”
“Only you can decide what to do,” Ria counseled. “But, if you do not mind my asking, who is the man you’re in love with?”
A hint of a response reached Link’s ears. Ria had apparently failed to understand as well, for she asked, “What was that?”
“Link.” Romani’s tear-choked response carried across the camp. “I love Link, and I don’t know what I should do.”
“In time, an answer will come to you.”
Muffled sobs sounded in the darkness. Someone rose and stumbled back before throwing herself into her blanket, burying her face in the fabric and weeping. Link wished he could close his ears to the sound of Romani’s sorrow, but he stared off--wide-eyed--at nothing, heart hammering wildly.
Link supposed he had fallen asleep, for awareness returned suddenly, letting him forget a nightmare of Volvagia and the Fierce Deity’s Mask. At first, he had no idea why he had woken up; no one else was up, and all was quiet. Even the fire had died to glowing embers. Then, quietly, metal scraped against metal, the sound of blade being loosened and drawn from a scabbard. Holding still, he waited. Soft, nearly silent footsteps approached him, the sound only carrying to him because he was straining his hearing. Carefully, he wrapped his left hand around the hilt of his sword, his right gripping the scabbard tight. Feigning sleep, he rolled over just as a dagger plunged down where his shoulder had been.
Scrambling up, Link tore the scabbard off his sword, shouting “Att--!”
A cold metal hand clamped over his mouth while a strong arm wrapped around his middle. He screamed and tried to hit his attacker with his blade, but the hand muffled his cries while someone forcibly yanked the weapon from his grasp before hastily lashing his wrists behind his back.
“Take him,” a man whispered while Link’s ankles were bound together. “The others will finish his companions off, but we must take him alive.”
“Do you have the ocarina, boy?” the person holding him--a woman--whispered in his ear, her breath oddly... metallic... against his skin. “Do you have the Ocarina of Time, Dragonslayer?”
“Just take him back to Avra,” the man said. “She’ll know what to do with him. She’ll know how to make him talk.”
Suddenly, Pelayla burst upward, a vivd crimson light surrounding her. A man, his features indistinct in the darkness, grabbed her in one hand and slowly squeezed his fist, crushing the fairy. Link fought against the hand across his mouth, screaming and crying out, and then the man released the magical being, letting her broken form with its bent wings fall to the ground, the light dull and weak and fading.
Link struggled to free himself, but the woman only laughed softly, lifting him easily and tucking him beneath her right arm. She turned and started hurrying away when a familiar voice--familiar, but freezing with blazing anger--ordered, “Let him go.”
Ria? Link tried to see, but his captor held him tight.
“A meddler, eh?” the woman said, sounding distinctly amused. “Asner, dispose of her.”
Suddenly, Ria leaped into view, hurrying toward the man, a long, slim rapier in her hand. Asner drew a shortsword, and then blade clashed against blade. Noah sat up and grabbed his matched swords just in time to fend off some slinking creature, and Romani hastily strung her bow and fired arrows at the unseen attackers. The horses screamed, Phantom and Arzosi rearing and slamming their hooves down in an attempt to crush anything that came near.
“You’re coming with me, much as I love fighting,” the woman said, longing in her voice as she started running. “No noise, now.”
“Link!” Romani cried desperately. Link tried to turn his head, but his captor yanked it back cruelly.
“Don’t worry, we’ll deal with your little girlfriend.”
Someone wrapped a thick scarf around his eyes while his jaws were forced open, and a thick wad of cloth was stuffed in his mouth, another tied over it and around his head to keep the gag in place. He fought as much as he could, but someone gripped his hair and shook his head from side to side. Dazed, he could do nothing as someone--the woman, perhaps?--lurched into a run and carried him away.
“Hold on, Link!” Romani screamed. “I’m coming!”
Someone cranked on a crossbow, winding it tight. With a soft click, that someone fired, and Romani cried out in pain, no doubt with the bolt inside her.
Clashing swords drew nearer. Link tried desperately to discern the source, but aside from the clang of blade meeting blade, the contenders made no noise. Suddenly, faintly, Noah grunted, then screamed in agony, almost drowning out a strange hissing laugh.
Without warning, the person holding Link dropped him, just as he heard an arrow strike metal. He fought against his bonds, but all he succeeded in doing was make the scarf slip enough that he could see out of his left eye. Ria leaped over him and swung her rapier at the swordsman and the woman, her cloak billowing behind her yet still concealing every inch of her. “Go, Link!” she shouted, striking the man in the thigh--he stumbled and fell--and driving the woman back. “Go, Hero of Time!”
The armed man burst after the cloaked woman, limping heavily yet moving lightly. Weaving in and out in an intricate, deadly dance, the two people disappeared among the trees, the woman crashing after in a blur of movement.
Link tried to break free of the cords around his wrists and ankles, but they refused to budge, however hastily they had been tied. Branches crackled close by as someone emerged from the nearby trees, and undergrowth rustled in another direction. Boots padded over the ground a few feet to the side, and he closed his eyes, forcing himself to go limp and feign unconsciousness. A different woman’s voice hissed, “Asner will get himself killed unless we go help him; I saw what that cloaked person did to him just now. What do we do with this one?” A boot nudged his shoulder, far from gentle.
“Leave him there,” the woman who had carried him replied, her voice heated with excitement. “After we deal with those others, we’ll come back and collect him. I do not intend to simply run from this fight, no matter how great our catch is.” Bushes rustled, and the two women continued to converse, though their voices faded as they walked away.
Furious of the woman’s confidence that she would be able to return and pick him up--and frightened that she might be able to do just that--Link strained against his bonds, his boots scuffing in the loam. The scarf slid down a few inches, but after a few futile minutes, he wriggled forward on his belly, realizing how turned around he had gotten. Picking a direction, he crawled into the underbrush.
An hour passed, an hour in which he writhed forward one inch at a time, desperately chewing at the gag, leaving a trail a blind dog could find. Suddenly, a scream of rage rang out, startling dozens of birds from their roosts, followed by shouts of, “Find him! He can’t have gone far; he is not trained enough in magic to free himself, and he is too trussed up to move fast. Find the Hero, or you’ll wish you were a Hylian facing Kal’s anger! Find him!”
Link frantically crawled faster, traveling away from the voice, and then he hurried beneath a fallen tree, wriggling beneath a small gap between bole and roots and into a hole, with a gap just large enough for him to peer out through the tangled roots. Hunkering down, he waited with a fast-beating heart.
Moonlight penetrated the trees overhead, and because of the illumination streaming down, Link saw the two people immediately as they approached each other, certain features clear and detailed, others lost in stark shadow. One was a woman in a faded black cloak, the edge trimmed in dirty white silk, but all he saw of her were her eyes, twin orbs of furious pink with blood-red pupils shining out of her raised hood. The other was a man, tall and with flyaway hair styled in a rogue manner, though color and his facial features remained indistinct. A sword rode at his hip, the metal pommel catching the light, and he rested a hand on it in a knowing manner.
“Any sign?” he asked. Link remembered hearing a name put to that voice--Asner, wasn’t it?--which meant that he was the one who had fought Ria. He put most of his weight on one leg, the other bearing a long bloody gash, and a dark spot stained the side of his coat.
“No,” the woman replied curtly, dislike evident in her voice, though whether for the search or for Asner, Link could not tell. He recognized her voice, too; she had talked with whomever had grabbed him and attempted to abduct him. “No, last I saw him was when the general assured me we could collect him later, since she didn’t want to carry him with her battle-blood heated. Well, those damn long ears of his kind came in handy for something at last; he apparently heard and got away as fast he could. I found his trail, but it disappears near here, almost as though he decided to use magic to transport himself. But what happened to you?”
“I... underestimated my opponent,” Asner admitted disgustedly. “She was stronger than I expected, much faster than I am”--resentment tinged his voice--“but I struck her a fatal blow. If she isn’t dead by now, she will be by morning.”
Goddesses, Ria. It unnerved him that it had take an act of self-sacrifice for the woman to prove that she had meant him good. Ria, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Oh, goddesses, watch over her.
“Well, you always did prefer a dagger in the back to a sword,” the woman said, walking a few steps away. “Swordsmen are stupid; they may get all the glory, but the assassins survive.”
“You heard Avra,” Asner said, following the woman. “We’re not to kill him, not yet.”
Clenching black gloved-fists, the woman said, “Oh, wait till I lay hands on him. He will wish his parents had never seen each other! I believe a little ear-trimming is in order, to begin with.”
“Think of how you’ll break him some other time,” the man counseled. “We need to find him. In another hour, we’ll need to head back to Avra. If he isn’t found by then... well, there’s always another day.” Without another word, he plunged among the trees, somehow seeming a part of the shadows.
The woman stared after him a moment before muttering, “I won’t break the Hero; I’ll break every Hylian alive, teach their children that they are animals to be trained and hunted and feared without a handler.” Whirling around, she strode off, disappearing into the forest as effectively as Asner.
Why does she hate me? he wondered, shifting a little. Who are they, to know I’m the Hero, and to know I carry the Ocarina of Time?
Something sharp scratched against his hand, and Link wriggled aside, staring down at the rock embedded in the dirt, one part honed to a jagged edge. Struck by an idea, he rubbed his wrists against it, fraying away at the cords. After an eternity--or so it seemed--they fell away, and he rubbed chafed and bleeding wrists, massaged his hands and fingers, restoring circulation. Tearing out the gag, throwing the blindfold to the ground, and freeing his ankles, he huddled in the sheltered hole, wary of venturing out with those people searching for him. How many are there? Those two just a few minutes ago, the other woman, that thing that attacked Noah--was that even a person?--whoever fired the crossbow, unless that was one of those others. And this Avra. Six?
Something padded nearby, and he held perfectly still, straining to hear anything over the pounding of his heart. It halted and inhaled deeply, a slight hiss accompanying the sound. After a moment, it stalked away, leaving him in silence once more.
Wrapping his cloak around him, Link curled up and laid down, prepared to wait out the night in his hiding spot. The others. Are they dead, too? One hand drew out the Ocarina of Time and turned it over and over before placing it back in its pouch, next to the prophecy. They wanted that. But why? Unable to figure it out, he stared through the small gap, exhausted but determined to stay awake, so he would at least have some warning before those people found him.
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