Chapter XII: Disarm, Part 1
Slow fury in the depths of the darkness.
It was impossibly frustrating, the feeling of severance. The power was still there, but it was distant, difficult to grasp, slippery. His first effort had nearly exhausted him, and it was some time before he could again muster his strength.
And the demon had returned to him, vanquished. The weapon that should have been the undoing of the hero had, by sheer dumb luck, failed. The rage bubbling up, the indignation… was boundless.
He had miscalculated. The hero had evaded the shadow, the very creature created to destroy him.
The rage, impotent in the dark, dissipated in silence. Into the nothingness, leaving behind it a cold once more.
It mattered very little the outcome of this first strike. The hero was not in a position to interfere, and was not aware, yet, of the true sword poised to strike at the heart of all he cherished.
The shadow would require some time to recuperate, but there were other agents and resources already in place. His students were many, and were already poised to strike.
He would direct his influence against the ones most precious to his enemy, cut out the hero’s heart and leave him bleeding in the agony of his failure.
As for the hero himself… There was one, one that he might even come to trust, that would serve for such an end…
- Disarm -
The forest was silent but for the crackle of the fire. A comforting kind of stillness that can only be achieved in the time between dusk and true night, in the time between the closing of the eye and true sleep.
Link huddled, swathed in a tattered blanket as close to the fire as possible. Across form him Heraji watched, unblinking. A log split, sending up a shower of sparks into the night. Neither had said a single word to the other.
Link wrapped the blanket tighter about himself, willing the last traces of chill from his toes, and tried to lean a bit closer to the flame.
The silence stretched on, unbroken.
A sudden rumble from Link’s stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten in likely days. Heraji heard it too, his eyes narrowing minutely, after a long, measured stare, he reached over and opened a flap in his pack. He withdrew his hand holding a single stick of what Link immediately guessed to be jerky. He could smell the delightful scent from where he sat. Link unconsciously swallowed as Heraji lifted a corner of his facewrap and took a bite.
Their eyes met as Heraji chewed, eyes slightly hooded as he waded through some weighty thought process, then he flipped the second half of the stick across the fire. Link snatched it from the air and bit in.
He had eaten with royalty, feasts of great splendor, rich meats, ices, fruits from distant lands. But there, in a cold wood somewhere in Faron, he decided that he had never tasted anything so glorious as that jerky.
It was gone altogether too quickly. And his stomach reminded him, loudly, that it was still quite empty. Link cast a hopeful look at Heraji’s pack.
“There’s no more.” Heraji said quietly, staring into the embers.
The silence was deafening.
It was, Link decided, surreal. Every time he thought he had the wizard figured out he turned and did something that completely defeated any pre-planned action. When Link had dragged himself from the freezing water, shivering with cold, he had expected the wizard to kill him on sight.
It would have been over quickly. Link was trembling from the cold, hunger, and exhaustion. It was doubtful that he would have stood much of a chance against Heraji. Heraji had saved his life, directly after trying to kill him, after saving his life.
“Why is it you stole the book of Mudora?”
Heraji’s eyes traveled slowly from the flames to meet Link’s gaze.
“I needed it.” His voice was flat, expressionless.
“Did asking to borrow it occur to you?”
Heraji leaned his head to one side slightly, “Do you really think someone would actually lend something like that to me?” He gestured at his clothes, plain and stained with travel.
“If you’d stayed with us we could have put in a good word for you.”
Heraji said something in his language unfamiliar to Link, hissing between his teeth. It needed no translation.
Link shifted tactics, “What do you need it for?”
The word was spoken with such a powerful blend of emotion that Link was unsure how to respond; raw, fervent energy, coupled with pure loathing.
Link wisely decided to not probe deeper in that.
“I don’t know much about you… Link.” Heraji’s tone was softer now, still hard, but drained of the energy it had bled before. Like he was changing the subject for the benefit of painful memories.
“Tell me of your lands.”
Ordon was a quiet, simple place. The telling was not long. Link couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable though, under the heat of Heraji’s gaze. He listened to every word, eyes glowing in the flickering light of the fire. The hunger, the yearning in his eyes was unsettling as Link mentioned the various people of his village.
When Link mentioned Illia, unable to conceal the affection in his voice, Heraji looked away. Link’s narrative faltered.
“You are very lucky.” Heraji said.
Link didn’t know what to say.
“Where did you learn to fight?”
Heraji glanced at him guardedly.
Link fell silent under Heraji’s glare. Heraji turned his head and his eyes were lost behind his cowl, “I learned to fight on the burning sea, under master Jereel-al, far to the west.”
“I learned swordsmanship from Rusl, a man who came to live in our village. He used to be a soldier.” Link said.
“A year ago I also had… other instruction.” Link didn’t elaborate that he had been tutored by the guardian spirit of dead warriors.
“Ah.” Heraji intoned again. “You fought in the war of Twilight?”
- Disarm -
Elsewhere Ashei was lying awake, looking up at the expanse of trees above.
No cry had emerged from the hole, the abyss into which Link had plunged. No sound but the echoes of their own cries. Nearby, Bulbin snored, an immobile mountain of flesh.
Link was alive, that much she knew. Apart from the awkwardness of conveying the news of his death to Illia (Which Ashei knew Link would never force upon her), she understood Link, and the infuriating man would not- could not die, not in something as trivial as a fall.
That left them with only one option, they had to proceed as if their mission was unchanged. The master sword had to be collected. Though how they would go about that without Link was beyond her. She had Shad’s expedition maps, of course, but he had approached from a different route, across the Winding Dove River, to the north. She would have to trust Bulbin’s memory of the woods to get them there.
And she had heard things about these woods to make her doubt those, stories of trees that moved in the deep forest, things that crashed through the dark, giant eyes that watched travelers from the shadows above…
Ashei shivered. Not with fear, but with the enormity of the task before her. She wasn’t even certain that the Master Sword could be retrieved. All the old stories told of it being protected by powerful wards and spells, only the chosen hero could carry it.
Then, with a suddenness that jolted her to full wakefulness (When had she drifted off?) she realized they were not alone.
He was masked, dressed loosely in dark desert clothing, leaning against a nearby tree trunk, staring up at the moon where it shone in a beak in the leaves. He struck her undeniably foreign, fey, framed in pale lunar light. He turned those strange claret eyes back on her, pale brows arching, amused. The words and tone were mocking. “Misplaced your, Hero have you?”
- Disarm -
There was no true night or day after they left the river, just a gloom that shifted hues somewhat.
Huge mushrooms glowed overhead, luminous trailers twining into the bark of the trees that supported them. The air was harsh and musty, full of spores slowly floating downwards, settling on their heads and shoulders like foul-smelling snow that had to be shaken off every hour or so. Dust lay thick over everything in sight and grew deeper the further into the forest they progressed, here and there it grew marshy, fetid and stinking in the valleys formed in the roots of the great trees.
But that wasn’t what worried Link.
It was the cobwebs. Huge, sometimes the threads were thicker than rope, and coated with a glowing sheen of spores. Whenever Link brushed one he was rewarded with a fresh shower of dust. He was familiar with the creatures that made them and had no interest in meeting more of them here.
The only sound was the occasional creak in the trees.
The silence grew oppressive swiftly.
“Heraji.” The sound of his own voice sounded wrong, muted too swiftly by the dust and disuse. The silence felt disapproving, he was sure, like the silence of a church that disliked to be disturbed. But in it there was a malice he couldn’t name…
“You never did tell me why you were here in Faron.”
Heraji inclined his head and didn’t reply for some moments.
“There is, according to the book Mudora, a weapon somewhere deep within this forest capable of slaying great evil.” He said, “It is that weapon I am seeking.”
‘The Master Sword.’ Link almost said, but stopped. Some instinct, deep and urgent, warned him away. Perhaps it was the subtle inflection, the hunger in his voice; or the memory of who Heraji had appeared to be in that brief glimpse, in that scuffle in market square. Regardless, he didn’t voice the thought aloud and wondered at it, abruptly wary.
Heraji half-turned, one eye giving him a quick glance. The knowing in that glance left Link uneasy.
“Feh… I thought as much.” The bitter sarcasm returned to the mage’s voice. Something passed through his eyes and he closed up. They proceeded in silence for an hour as Link reckoned. The disapproving silence crowded in, their only company.
“What will you do with it, if you find it?”
Heraji glanced at Link guardedly, hazel met blue and the moment to carry an extensive inner debate.
“I will learn how to use it, and then do so.” He said at length, “What is it to you?”
Heraji turned away once more.
“Once, long years ago, someone took my reason for living from me. My life is meaningless now and my every thought is of revenge.” Heraji continued, every word low and deliberate. “I’ve spent my empty life looking for that one… The means by which I can work vengeance upon him.” Heraji said, “I don’t expect you to understand…”
They walked in silence, unbroken but for the creaking in the trees.
- Disarm -
The forest did not, apparently, go on forever. And sometime after the third hour, by Link’s reckoning, they met the first indication that it might be ending. Amid the twisted roots, mushrooms and mold the broken remains of something began to take shape. Broken stone and masonry, The remains of a stair, here and there a statue worn down by the passage of time until it was almost unrecognizable…
Then the great trees met a cliff and they discovered they were not alone.
A sound, like old hinges overhead, Link looked upwards again. He thought, for just a moment, he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. The next instant he was on his back, a weight on his chest that made him wonder which of the trees had fallen on him.
A single great eye filled his vision, a massive orb like a serving platter, sickly yellow and moist. He’d seen one like it before, a bigger one, different breed in the eerie, echoing chambers of the ruined temple’s past, crawling around the basement. But somehow he found this one, so close, without the comfortable weight of his bow at his back, struck a different cord of fear.
The spider hung over him, bloated body suspended on eight limbs as thick as pillars, one pinning him to the ground. The stench and flurry of rising dust made him gag. He saw the creature rear back, twin fangs dribbled venom. The Claymore was in his hand, and he trust it up into the last joint in the pinning leg.
The weight abruptly lifted, a purring, croaking sound filled the air as the spider retreated, eye glaring.
Link rolled to his feet, reaching for his shield, dearly missing his bow.
Heraji had his spear held at the ready, watching the spider with wary calm as it stumbled, joints creaking and squealing. There were other eyes now, many, many under the trees, faint glimmers of yellow scuttling in the dark, following the sound. It was as if the forest was suddenly filled with a faint, primal chant, powered by the fear of the hunted and the intent of the hunter as it surrounds it’s cornered prey.
Link’s gaze jerked back and fourth, assessing swarm as it closed about the two of them.
Then he glanced at Heaji. The wizard was looking off into the canopy of the trees, if name had to be given to the emotion in his hooded eyes it would have to be…outrage.
Heraji whispered under his breath.
Then he turned, “Run!”
Link didn’t need to be told twice, he spun on his heel and the spider was after them, running over the jagged ground with speed that belied it’s great size. It’s smaller relatives following in it’s wake like a hairy flood.
- Disarm -
High in the trees a giant stood, arms crossed over a massive, muscled chest as he surveyed his prey. Deep ebony skin and dense, corded muscles that rippled with every breath. War-paint and feathers, colorful plants and skins covered his body. A fearsome, savage air; bloodlust radiated from him like a tangible miasma. A cruel, painted mask covered his face: red, purple, green, grinning in the dark.
“Run, run.” A rumble of deep bass, laughter in the leaves “Run as fast as you can.”
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