Chapter X: Paths Parallel
It was deceptively easy to forget that they were flying from unknown and very pressing danger into similarly unknown danger. The day remained clear and bright, only a handful of clouds hung on the horizon.
Near sundown they found wolf prints, fresh, very fresh and took another rest, Ashei took first watch, stating that she had hardly exerted herself since she broke her arm and thus was better rested.
Link knew better than to argue.
They rode all the next day, hardly stopping until noon when they let the horses and Bulbin’s boar rest and ate a brief meal.
Link had little appetite.
He stirred, they had been riding since dawn, after traveling most of the night and he had been pleasantly dozing in the saddle.
“Why is it you put the bloody sword back in the first place, yeah?” Ashei demanded by way of conversation.
Link flinched slightly, “Well, I didn’t have any use for it any more…”
Ashei snorted, “How about now?”
“Well I didn’t exactly-
“Really Link, you’re the Hero of Twilight. Everyone, whether they say it or not, expects you to save the day when things like this happen.”
Link looked away, out over the waving grass.
“I never asked for this.” He said, so quietly she barely caught it. His face was turned from her so she couldn’t see the sadness she heard, but the words on her tongue withered and died unsaid.
“All I wanted was the little peace I had, if the war hadn’t come to Ordon I would probably still be there now…”
“And we’d all be slaves, yeah.” Ashei said, “I know Link, I know.” She shot him an exasperated look, “But ‘what ifs’ are all just hot air, yeah.”
She sighed expansively and seemed ready to launch into another round of verbal bludgeoning when Link reined in Epona.
“What is it?”
Link was tensed in the saddle, back ramrod straight as he craned his neck, straining to catch the wind better. There was a scent, faint as the heat of winter sunshine; a musky, woody scent…
He had smelled it recently, days ago, in fact.
Link wordlessly raised his hand, reining in Epona as he signaled the others to stop.
“What is it?” Ashei asked. Off to his left Link caught Bulbin’s eye, he sensed it as well.
“Wolves.” He said.
- Parallel -
They caught sight of them in the dip between two low hills, screened by trees, a long line of tawny gray stretching away out under the green of spring. There were warriors- many –but also women and children, and many wolves with wide, swollen bellies, which Link realized were She-wolves round with pups. This was no invasion, this was a nation on the move.
The three of them watched from a sheltered copse nestled between two large boulders, screened by low bushes.
They just kept coming, some with a large human astride, others carried slings with squealing pups and human children intermingled, and still others carried heavy bundles alongside similarly burdened humans.
“Look at them, there must be hundreds!” Ashei murmured.
The other two nodded; the line snaked away beyond the curve of the mountains and into the forest below. There was an eerie order to it all; guards wolves unburdened with gear, supporting well-armed riders, were positioned every few hundred feet in small groups, ever wary and watchful.
Bulbin nudged Link and nodded towards some shrubbery.
As he watched something moved in the trees above the line of wolves.
Link’s breath froze in his throat.
The wolf was huge, enormous; its appearance was more bear-like than canine. It was black, with scars covering its muzzle and chest so thickly it’s snout was almost hairless. It compared only to the man riding it, he was covered in thick rawhide and bone armor. Prominent, pale scars crossed his bare arms. He was painted with blue and red and supported a thick shock of feathers tied in his hair.
The wolf stopped on an outcrop of rock, scanning the line. It raised its nose to the air, then looked directly at them, the man did as well.
The hair on the back of Link’s neck stood straight up. A chill shiver ran up his spine.
“I think they caught our scent, we better get out of here…” He whispered; the others nodded their agreement.
They moved from their vantage point as quickly as they could while remaining silent. Ten minutes they were mounted again and riding hard, expecting howls and snarls any moment. But beside the sounds of their own flight and the pounding of blood in their ears all was silent.
After twenty minutes they slacked their pace to rest the animals, who were stumbling and frothing by this point.
Link didn’t know what was more troubling, the presence of that many wolves, if that is what they were, so close to Hyrule castle town, or the fact that they were moving so silently that they were almost on top of them before they detected them.
And no group that large would move without a screen of scouts shadowing it… why hadn’t they run into any? The questions spun in Link’s head, a mystery who’s answer might kill them.
Bulbin raised a hand, pointing up over the hill. In the distance, from the direction the wolves were coming there was a plume of smoke, thick and black, climbing towards the heavens. Distantly, though there were no clouds in the sky, they distinctly heard a peal of thunder, growling like a distant avalanche.
“That looks like Riverdale…” Ashei said, shielding her eyes with a hand. She glanced at Link. “You want to check it out?”
Link’s throat tightened. Riverdale wasn’t a town he was very familiar with, too out of the way, he hadn’t traveled there during the war of Twilight. But the urge, the need to go to the aid of people he knew were in peril was sharp. Up to now he hadn’t really thought this was going to last more than a month, it was just some minor infestation that could be dealt with quickly without much fuss. But now… now he wasn’t so sure, and that towering column of smoke loomed like a warning of things to come.
“…We can’t,” He said slowly, each word torn from his throat with an agony, “We need the Master Sword.”
- Parallel -
A mother with two children griping grimily to her skirt, a third in her arms, wheat-golden locks flying in the wind. They ran, not turning to look behind at the burning houses, the shadows moving from cottage to cottage as screams drifted through the choking black smoke from the mill.
Howls arose, growing nearer by leaps and bounds, hearts already beating to terror’s march leaped with fresh fear.
The wolf was on them in an instant, the mother tried to shield her children, use her body as a barrier. Powerful jaws gripped the back of her neck and twisted, then let the body fall to the ground.
Screams of terror and loss rent the air.
The beast turned its yellow eyes towards the tender young meat before it, salivating hungrily.
It exploded in a shower of red, a fine red mist that settled on the children where they huddled over the body, staining their faces and hands like heavy sunburn.
“Are you all right?”
The voice was quiet, not kind, but firm and calm. The eldest boy looked up, peering through eyes misted with tears. A man bent over them, a long pole held over one shoulder. His eyes bored into the boy, brimming with energy, his hands dripped red.
The man’s eyes swept the children huddled around the body, and a flicker of pain passed across his eyes. He knelt and felt for the woman’s pulse, then bowed his head and stood.
“Take care of your brother and sister, you are all they have now.”
The red mage turned and ran off into the smoke, eyes burning and nostrils stinging. A warrior stepped out of a cottage on his right, Heraji decapitated him with a flick of his wrist. The town square was splattered with blood, rivers of red running in the gutters. Wolves ran by, howls rending the air. A small knot of the town’s men were cornered in an alley, fighting for their lives.
Sometimes fate was kind to him, Heraji reflected, even as his mouth twisted in a famished grin.
Heraji swept through like a whirlwind from hell. A plume of smoke and flame reaching out to envelope the monsters. The howls of the wolves turned to whines and whimpers, and then silence.
The villagers covered behind an upturned cart, their improvised barricade, covered in soot and blood, terror-filled eyes scanning the smoky murk. Gradually the outline of a man bent double on the pavement resolved itself.
The man stood, slowly, surveying the blood-splattered paving stones. He flicked a length of entrails from his cloak.
He turned to look at them.
Amber, flinty eyes bored into them, the thirsty eyes of a predator.
And then, in a blinking, he was gone. So sudden and complete it was that if they had not all seen the spectral warrior they might have concluded it was a trick of the light.
- Parallel -
Two hours after sundown Heraji crouched in a low outcropping of rock three miles from the village. What remained of it, at least, the fires were still smoldering in the skeletal remnants of the houses. Those villagers that had escaped were well on their way to Hyrule castle town, bearing wild tales of a bloody ghost that slaughtered their assailants. Striking silently and consuming them in shadows.
Heraji didn’t care, let them spin their tales, it meant nothing to him. It was unlikely the wolves would return that night and so he turned his attention to more pressing business.
He nursed a long gash along his left arm where a savage had gotten in a lucky hit, swathed in bandages now. Large bags darkened his eyes, and his limbs quavered with exhaustion, but his eyes where clear as he turned the pages of the Book of Madora. Blood-magics still stirred strongly in him, his veins pulsing with heat and vigor, the yellow-gold in his eyes still hot and bright like molten gold, shimmering with the energy of those he had slaughtered. He would be awake for an hour longer at the least.
A were-light dancing in one palm, throwing up even deeper shadows on his face as he read.
“…The master sword…” He muttered to himself, “Evil’s bane…”
He looked up from the book, thoughtful. He glanced at his spear were it stood against one of the low boulders.
“What say you, Vaati?”
A ruby-red eye opened on his spear’s shaft, glaring at him.
“What could I, your lowly slave, possibly add… oh, master?” the voice was surprisingly light and musical, like a child’s, and echoed slightly as if from a great depth within the shaft.
Heraji matched the glare, “Don’t give me that, I freed you, after a fashion, and that much was more than you deserved.”
“Yes, and how may I repay such a debt?” The demon snickered, “Really Heraji, this arrangement is hardly satisfactory-
“I didn’t make it for your convenience.” Heraji reminded the confined spirit, a note of warning in his voice.
Vaati remained silent for a moment, perhaps contemplating the potential benefits and risks of additional jabs, before replying.
“Centuries ago, when I lived, there existed a sword of power…” It conceded, “But it was called by a different name.”
Heraji nodded, thoughtful, “This blade, this ‘Master Sword’, ‘evil’s bane’… it was forged by the sages of Hyrule some ages past. Are they the same?”
“Doubtful.” Vaati insisted, “The blade that struck me down granted the wielder generous magical power. I haven’t sensed any power like it since entering this pitiful valley.”
Heraji nodded, “Still, this blade is said to have vanquished Ganon once already…” he ran a finger down the line of text, a hungry light in his eye.
- Parallel -
Elsewhere, seated under an oak were they would camp for the night, Link shivered and looked up at the rising moon, wondering where the sudden chill had come from.
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