Chapter XIV: Savage Lament
The clearing was much as Link remembered, silent with the kind of stillness that belonged to sacred places that had existed since the dawn of time, and would exist while the world endured. It was a sacred kind of silence, one that gave the impression you were an unruly child speaking in a church whenever it was broken. The pedestal was as he remembered it, an edifice covered in lichens below a blade that seemed somewhat out of place, brilliant and bright as the day it had been forged.
“You’re shorter than I imagined.”
Link spun to find a man leaning against the crumbling wall at his back, half-concealed in the shadows. Dark blue cloth melted into the gloom, pale facewraps obscured his features, all except for a single ruby eye, screened by a veil of pale blond hair.
The man detached from his wall, walking towards Link. He moved with an inhuman grace, the fluid motion of a cat that instantly put Link on his guard. This was a warrior of considerable skill.
The man inspected him, circling to take in every angle. His disconcerting, claret eye seemed to be searching, probing for… what?
He stopped, apparently coming to a decision, “Meh… The goddesses aren’t too picky are they?” He brushed his bangs from his eyes idly, eyes never leaving Link.
“What do you want?” Link demanded.
The blond considered him for a moment, “There is some spirit in you then… you’ll do, I suppose…”
“Who are you?” Link asked flatly, all remaining patience for nonsense expended.
Something stirred in those strange eyes, gone before Link could catch it’s meaning, “I’m no one and nothing, to you. Feh… But as for a name; Sheik, you can call me that.”
“If I had time to explain these things, cheh, I would certainly do that, Hero, but as it is the need to move is very, very urgent,” Sheik said, then inclined his head to one side, as if listening.
“Well?” Sheik looked at him, almost furtively. “Are you going to take it or not?”
Link glanced at the sword, evil’s bane fixed to the pedestal. His mark glimmered faintly on the back of his hand. His gaze returned to Sheik as he reached out and seized the hilt, drawing it from the stone in a single, fluid motion. The mark on his left hand flared, then smoldered a steady gold.
“The paths have just changed…” Sheik mused, “I’d prepare yourself if I was you.” He nodded over Link’s shoulder.
Heraji was standing there, looking at him, eyes wide and staring. Staring at Link’s hand.
Sheik chuckled and leaped up into the trees. Whatever followed would be sure to entertain.
- Lament -
Heraji’s gaze snapped back and forth, incredulous as the pieces fell into place.
“You… You hold one of the fragments of the Triforce!” his voice was a strained whisper, Heraji’s throat worked, “The Hero of Twilight…” His head bowed in thought.
“Heraji…” Link began. He trailed off as low, dark, chilling laughter filled the glade. Haunted and scornful, ruined, cracked and broken; Heraji threw his head back and laughed, shoulders shaking.
“All this time I’ve searched, years spent looking for the elusive golden power, only for it to turn up right under my nose!” He lowered his gaze once more, and underneath his cowl his eyes glimmered yellow.
He carefully reached under his robe and drew out a bottle, sluggish fluid sloshed, black in that light.
“… and now… Finally, within my grasp!” Heraji threw back his head, gulping the bottle’s contents. The bitter, spicy smell reached Link’s nose and made him cough slightly. Something in the air made his hair stand on end.
“I’ve waited for this moment my whole life…” Heraji rasped as he lowered the flask from his lips. Something radiated from him then, an aura of malice, a tangible air of intent.
“Heraji!” Link shouted, “What are you doing?”
Then the hair on the back of his neck stood on end, because the air was suddenly filled with the smell of magic. Just moments before it had diluted to the point Link could hardly sense it, but now…In his exhausted, weakened state, Heraji should not have been capable of producing so… Much…
But it grew stronger and stronger, stronger than it had been on Hyrule Plain, stronger than market square.
Heraji struck out like a snake. Link was saved by instinct only, leaping to one side and slashing at Heraji in the same motion. The point of Heraji’s spear snagged Link across the chest, a flesh wound. The master sword opened a shallow gash across Heraji’s shoulder.
Heraji hissed and Link leaped away, the surge of energy was almost tangible, and stung Link’s nostrils.
The accompanying explosion, like a surge of gunpowder, lifted them all up and tossed them like feathers into the forest.
- Lament -
Bulbin looked up, far off through the trees he could just see the plum of dust and smoke.
Ashei swore and grabbed her sword, tearing off towards sound. Bulbin fumbled for his own weapon and followed, puffing and wheezing in her wake.
- Lament -
Link waited, a statue as Heraji drew even, hand idly rested on the hilt of his sword.
There was one instant, the last possible moment before Heraji’s strike would land. He waited, felt it. Moved.
Heraji’s eyes widened in surprise as he backpedaled, clasping one hand to his chest.
Link wasn’t untouched. He coughed once, wiped blood from his mouth. Heraji had struck him across the ribs with the haft of his spear.
The wizard swore, Link lowered his stance, drawing himself lower against the coming assault.
Heraji lashed out with his spear, the blade passing close enough it whistled in Link’s ears as it passed.
Both of them leaped back from the other.
“Heraji, what’s wrong with you?” Link demanded, putting a hand to the slow trickle of blood.
Heraji’s face was clouded with anger, and hunger, the emotion hidden just under the surface, threatening to boil over, out of control.
“You have one of the three pieces of the Triforce… The Triforce of courage, isn’t it?” his voice was eerily calm and quiet in the stillness of the glade, “The power of the goddess Faeore?”
Link took a step back, “Yes.”
“It happens that that is what I am looking for.” Heraji growled, reaching up to unclasp his cloak. The tattered red cloth fluttered to the ground. Underneath he wore a loose linen tunic and pants of matching brown, a sash of white crossed his chest. Here and there symbols and pentagrams had been added to the cloth.
Heraji drew a pentagram on the stone with the blood from his shoulder, hurriedly sketching symbols in a circle around the star, all the while chanting.
The circle glowed faintly, and the spicy tinge of magic assaulted Link’s senses. The circle glowed suddenly, caught fire, Heraji pressed his palm to the center with a final word. Smoke billowed up, followed by what looked like blood. The spurts solidified to form runes, long, snaking lines of jagged, sharp text that looked as if the language it came from was only used in describing instruments of torture, pain, and sorrow.
Heraji laughed, his face fading as Link’s vision misted over in foggy blackness and lines of red.
“Welcome to my nightmare!” the voice echoed from what seemed like an unfathomable distance, “The pain and misery you and your kind forced on me and my mother and sister!” He leaned forward, eyes glowing with malevolence, “Cry out like a lost child!”
Link doubled over as white-hot pain exploded across his torso, threads of runes wrapping themselves around him. Flame engulfed him, eating away at clothing, hair, and skin. Demonic laughter surrounded him, dark and gravely-
- Lament -
-Link knelt on the broken stones, sword hanging limply from his nerveless fingers. Heraji stood nearby, watching him with detached interest as muscles twitched and his body trembled, sweat glistened on his bloodless face, imagined pain torturing his mind. Heraji grinned; remembering how he had reacted when he had first been taught the curse. The curse of seven pains, his master had called it… which one had it been? Heraji’s brow furrowed, there had been many… the name escaped him. Oh well.
He walked over to where Vaati had fallen. Link had knocked it almost forty feet with that single move. Impressive strength, but far out of his league, of course. He retrieved his spear and walked back towards the man were he knelt, trapped by his own fears.
Heraji lifted the Vaati over his head, after the man was dead he would extract the Triforce shard from his body.
A step on the pavement behind him, he turned. It was that girl. Ashei.
She drew her sword, a slender rapier, and spoke through clenched teeth “Get away from him or so help me-
“You’ll. Do. What?” Heraji said, watching her from the corner of his eye, not turning to face her.
“I don’t know, yeah? But I don’t think you’ll like it.” She said, eyes glinting, “And one of us is gonna end up dead…”
Heraji chuckled and opened his mouth to speak.
Without warning Ashei was on him, slashing at his throat. He backpedaled, thrown off-balance by her ferocity. She lashed out with a foot, connecting just under the chin, his head snapped back, instinctively he parried the follow-up lunge from the rapier.
She slashed high again and he dodged, coming in low, planting a hand on her unguarded stomach. Ashei felt a jolt and collapsed, as limp as a rag doll.
Heraji smiled thinly under his face wrap, “That was very good, taking me by surprise like that, but as you can see, not nearly good enough. Now, excuse me.” He turned back to Link.
Suddenly a weight slammed into his leg, he stumbled. Ashei had somehow thrown herself at him, wrapping her thin arms around his ankle.
Heraji hissed in annoyance and lifted his spear, slamming the butt into the small of her back, when she still did not release he lifted the shaft for a second blow.
- Lament -
-Pain, so much pain, limbs where frozen and shattered in an instant, body consumed in an inferno the next. Acid ate away his eyes, lightening caused his muscles to flex until they tore. Link was falling in a bottomless whirlpool of agony. No time existed in this place, only the endless pain.
Link screamed, but no sound emerged.
He thought his mind and soul would dissolve in the torment when some thing broke through the shadows, a face and a ray of light, gone in an instant. But like a drowning man he grasped at it, clinging with all the energy he had left. At first nothing seemed to happen, it was like soap, constantly slipping from his grasp as he clasped it harder. He fought, clawing through the runes clouding his vision, fighting up towards the glimpse of light.
Then something broke, a face swam into focus.
She turned and smiled at him, eyes laughing.
Then he was on the broken cobblestones, dry heaving, covered in sweat. He was trembling, exhausted, and the triforce mark of his left hand was pulsing, burning hot and bright. But the pain was gone. Oh goddesses, the pain was gone!
Link drew a shuddering breath, another.
A loud cuff followed by a whimper. Link lifted his gaze from his hands.
A few feet away Ashei pinned Heraji’s feet, face molted in fresh bruises. As Link watched Heraji lifted the spear and slammed the butt end into her back, then across her face.
“Let. Go. Of. Me!” Heraji snarled, punctuating each syllable with a fresh blow to the girl’s face.
Finally abandoning the blunt end Heraji spun the weapon, bringing the blade up to end Ashei’s persistent resistance.
So focused was he on the girl that when Link slammed his shoulder into Heraji’s gut, sending them both rolling down the slope, it took him entirely off-guard.
- Lament -
They came to rest at the bottom of the slope, by an ancient walkway that had once run along the cliff, providing a majestic view of the ravine below. Now the walkway was crumbling, falling to pieces. The cliff wall enclosed them on one side, the depth of the gorge extended endlessly below on the other.
In the silence, as the two regarded each other, one could make out the sound of rapidly rushing water far below.
Heraji had lost Vaati somewhere in the struggle, and his facewrap had come free. Link was minus his shield and Claymore. The Master sword glittered hungrily in his hands, held in a two-handed grip.
Heraji wiped a fleck of blood from a cut lip, “Hm. You escaped my curse… That’s never happened before. I wonder how you managed…”
Link smiled thinly; “I found something to hold onto, through the pain.”
“Oh? And what would that be?” Heraji sneered.
“I’m not telling you!”
Heraji shrugged, “Not that I really care, you’ll just die slower this way.”
Link’s eyes grew steely, “Heraji, I don’t know what I did that earned me your eminety, but by the goddesses, if you continue this I’ll kill you.”
Something snapped in Heraji’s expression, he smiled and chuckled. Mad light danced in his eyes.
“The goddesses? Don’t make me laugh! I stopped believing in them the moment my mother died, killed by heartbreak and my father’s cruelty. He left us all alone, to fend for ourselves. The desert isn’t kind to orphans. And when my sister died, killed by the lusts of bandits, then I learned to hate them; the goddesses, humanity, the world…” Heraji laughed, and it was painful to hear, a broken, formless sound. Bordering on mania, shifting between sobs and crazed laughter. “…But you know who I hated the most? Those the goddesses gave their power to, those that they selected on some whim they dressed up as fate. You. Your Queen. My Father…”
Far below, the river seemed to roar more hungrily. Link stood, thunderstruck.
Heraji raised a hand, the air about it danced with power, glowing with malevolent energy so that the sleeve below smoldered. “I’ll take your power, consume it, and become powerful enough to devour him, banish him from all existence! Destroy him so completely he never arises again!” The dancing aura grew, flowing outwards to encompass Heraji completely, his clothing smoking with the heat of his rage. Stones cracked at his feet and dry leaves caught fire.
“But first, to do that, I need to kill YOU!”
- Lament -
Ashei limped down the slope, feeling her way with care. Her entire body stung with the sensation of pins and needles, and feeling still had yet to return to her toes. She found the place they had rolled over the cliff’s edge and had a moment’s panic. She stumbled, fell, and dragged herself the rest of the way to the precipice. She breathed a shuddering sigh of relief when she saw them on the walkway below.
“They’re not dead…”
Not dead yet, she reminded herself.
- Lament -
Heraji lunged forward, magic surging through his body, giving no heed to the sword in Link’s hands. He came in low, then leaped upwards. The crown of his head slammed into Link’s jaw, followed by an uppercut. Heraji landed a kick to Link’s gut then grabbed his head as he caved, slamming it into his knee. Link felt his teeth click together, tasted blood. Heraji turned, throwing Link over his shoulder with crushing force. The Ordonian flew against one of the low stone guardrails over the gorge. His vision blurred, but he stayed conscious. Somehow he’d kept a grip on the Master Sword.
“What? Aren’t you even going to fight back?” Heraji taunted.
Link stood with difficulty. He had fought Magic users before. Zant had possessed considerable power and Ganondorf even more so. But both had taken a general approach to combat, tactics. Heraji fought with such abandon, such venom and intensity, such utter lack of restraint… it was like trying to stop a landslide.
Heraji took a long step towards him, ducked a swipe from the master sword and grabbed Link’s forearm, slamming it back into him, pinning the sword to his side. Link could feel two rocks at his back shift and fall into the void beyond. Blood ran down his chin.
Heraji punched Link across the face, then caught his nose with the backswipe, Link felt it break.
Heraji grabbed his tunic and wrenched the Master Sword free of his grip, throwing it away behind him. He lifted Link a foot from the floor.
“Is this it? You’re pathetic.”
He threw Link with a flick of his wrist, tossing back onto the crumbling walkway. Link landed and rolled, coming to his feet in a single motion. He met Heraji with a fist to the jaw, then one to the stomach. He felt to wizard’s breath leave him in a gasp. Link slammed an open palm into Heraji’s face, grabbing the cloth shrouding his head, pulling it down over Heraji’s eyes. He punched the man’s gut, once, twice, three times. Heraji fell to his knees, Link missed the talisman he’d palmed.
The flagstones shivered and bucked, tossing Link backwards as they suddenly leaped up at him. The entire walkway shuddered. With a rumble the section Heraji had ensorcelled collapsed, falling away into the gorge below.
- Lament -
The rumble of falling stone faded into the greater roar of the river below. Otherwise all was silent. Link picked himself up, wiping blood from his mouth. Across the hole in the walkway Heraji tore the turban free.
It was the first time Link had seen him without the headwrap. His hair, red like blood, tossed in the wind; some of it held back in a semblance of order by a loose braid, most wild now. Without the cloth shroud he looked less like his sire, and younger, Link realized he couldn’t be older than he was.
Blood ran freely from Heraji’s nose down his face, he reached up and wiped at it once, without effect. Helooked back at Link with unadulterated loathing, vivid hazel eyes burning. Gold glinted in his ears and on his brow.
He raised a hand to the sash of his robe, drawing out three parchment tags. He smeared them with blood from his nose and leapt to the wall beside the vacant section, running along the cracked pavement like a lizard. With a snarl he spanned the last few feet in a leap.
Link sidestepped the wizard as he passed, dodging the tag he held. Heraji swiped at him with a tag again, missed as Link leapt clear, landing a solid kick to the wizard’s face in passing. Link felt a snag on his shoulder and reached franticly.
He seized the tag and twisted, throwing it and leaping away as Heraji spoke. An explosion shook the walkway, throwing Link to the ground. Somewhere he heard stone shift.
Link rolled to his hands and knees. A few feet away Heraji stood, swaying slightly, two tags still clutched in his bloodied hands.
Link looked down, the Master Sword lay by his hand. With leaden fingers he clutched it and fought his way to his feet.
They regarded each other a moment, each exhausted, barely keeping their feet. Link saw bewilderment in Heraji’s eyes. The wizard was running out of tricks.
With a howl Heraji half-ran half-stumbled towards Him. Link sidestepped, rolled and slashed at Heraji, sword scything at the wizard’s hamstrings. Heraji leaped out of the way, hitting the cliff wall. Link rolled forward, coming up in a rising stab. Heraji somersaulted over him, Link felt him plant the last tag on his shoulder as he passed. He scrabbled, grabbing the tag and throwing it away. He leaped for the floor.
When no blast followed Link scanned for Heraji.
The red wizard was by the outer guardrail, leaning heavily on it…smiling.
Wait, there were three…
Link spun, there, stuck to the wall two feet away.
Heraji’s grin grew wider, “Bombos!” Link threw himself from the wall with the last of his strength.
The Walkway shuddered with this final explosion, then with a sickening grinding, tearing sound, began to give way. Quivering and groaning as the weight of several hundred tons of rock overcame the weakened supports.
Heraji clung to the guardrail, utterly spent. The blast spell had taken the last of his flagging energy reserves. He looked for the body, there had to be a body, the explosion was far too small to have destroyed him completely…
The stone beneath him cracked the section of the walkway breaking loose.
…Where was the body? He had to have the body. As long as there was a body, he could-
He caught sight of Link ascending the staircase, assisted by Ashei, his back singed and charred but very much alive.
The hero turned to look over his shoulder…
Their eyes locked. With a final rending sound the ancient masonry gave way and plummeted into the depths below, Heraji along with it.
He never made a sound.
- Lament -
They rested by the edge, too tired to move any farther. They said nothing, nothing needed to be said. They had done what had to be done.
Bulbin found them thus, and looked into the abyss into which Heraji had fallen. He stood looking out into the mists below for a long time, lost in thought. When they felt well enough to move he led the way back.
They never looked back.
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