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    OoT: The Time Lost


    • Welcome to the fanfiction, The Time Lost. It's based on Ocarina of Time, during the "adult" part of the timeline. Much of this story will cover events that happened without Link and while he was asleep in the Sacred Realm for seven years. The prologue starts before the point where the timeline splits, aka before Ganondorf enters the Sacred Realm and takes the Triforce. The first chapter will start with the day Ganondorf took the Triforce and takes over Hyrule. The focus will be on two original characters, but there will be canon characters such as Malon, Sheik, Impa, etc. involved throughout the story.

      This story is co-authored with Ruki. Either she or I will post chapters. The story is focused on our original characters: Eli and Ventus. We will likely alternate chapters between their PoVs, as they both experience a world taken over by the Dark King, Ganondorf. Ventus and other characters of his family belong to Ruki. Eli and other characters of his family belong to me. The setting, the world of Hyrule, is interpreted by me. I'll have a link to a page that describes this interpretation in greater detail at another time.

      This story is also technically a prequel to my fanfiction, The Legend of Zelda: Empire of Darkness (I'm going to change that title to Empire of Lolth when I get back to rewriting it, but most people know it as Empire of Darkness). However, that story takes place in the child part of the timeline, after the events of OoT and MM. So while some might notice characters they know from Empire of Darkness in this story, this is actually an alternant background to those characters. Their lives and their histories were different in Empire of Darkness, because Ganondorf didn't take over Hyrule in that timeline. A lot of things happened differently.

      I'll probably write other prequel stories taking place in both timelines for my original and canon characters of Empire of Darkness. This is just the first one that is the most accurate and developed.

      I hope you enjoy it. COMMENTS AND FEEDBACK ARE WELCOME.

      Chapter Index

      Prologue: Seeking Truth
      Chapter 1: The Storm
      Chapter 2: Just in Case
      Chapter 3: Eyes of Kali
      Chapter 4: A Foul Wind
      Chapter 5: When it Rains
      Chapter 6: Farore's Family
      Chapter 7: Something Impossible
      Chapter 8: The Bridge
      Chapter 9: Nothing
      Chapter 10: Live or Die
      Chapter 11: A Safe Harbor
      Chapter 12: If All Roads Lead to Nowhere

      “We must be greater than what we suffer.”
      [A Light in the Dark| Empire of Darkness |Under the Red Sea]

      The post was edited 23 times, last by Shrub ().

    • Back to Chapter Index
      Prologue:
      Seeking Truth

      It was a hot day, but the windmill cast a cool shadow over Eli and the well. He leaned on its ledge, just staring into the vast water below. Because of the shadow, the water had a darkness to its depths. Kind of like his blue eyes. They were so dark, they almost looked black in the absence of light. His eyes were something he shared with his mother, which he normally liked.

      He wondered if that was the reason they didn't like him. Everyone in Kakariko avoided the well, like they avoided him and his gaze. Did his eyes remind them of the well? If that was so, then why didn't they avoid his mother the same way? And then why did the people in Castle Town behave the same way? It also seemed too ridiculous to assume they would have such a reaction for a mere association, but people were a simple kind of creature, he was coming to find.

      Eli knew there was something different about the well. Probably like there was something different about him. That was only obvious. But instead of be repulsed, like everyone else was, he found himself drawn to its edge every time they visited Kakariko Village. As he leaned over the edge, he swore he could almost hear whispering. It was faint as if the water was muffling it. He couldn't hear what they were saying. He never could, but he was compelled to come back each time and try. That if only he could manage to hear them, they would whisper the truth to him. The truth about him.

      The truth about the reason the other children were afraid of him. The reason that even the adults flinched and looked away from his gaze. The truth about what was different about him.

      Though he did learn a little more of the truth recently. Though not from the whispers in the well, but from his father the last time they visited Kakariko. Eli had thought he had friends, sort of. Perhaps “friends” was still too generous a term, but at the very least people besides his family who didn’t avoid him or his eyes. That was why he had liked talking to them. They would smile at him, like he was just like everyone else.

      It was refreshing to say the least.

      He had been talking to Nana, the elderly woman who liked to check on the cucoo's pen, when Dad had come up with an odd look on his face. While he had his mother's eyes, he took after his father in the rest of his looks. Everyone always said that, and even Eli could say the same when he looked in a mirror. They had the same black hair that stuck up every which way, the same nose, and shape of the face. Dad was just a little tanner than Eli was, and he had green eyes.

      The face that looked like his had frowned down at Eli in confusion and almost concern.

      "Eli … who are you talking to?" There had been a strange hesitancy to his father's voice, like he was afraid to ask the question.

      "Oh, this is Nana," said Eli, gesturing next to him. "Nana, this is my father."

      Nana smiled almost sadly and not at his father.

      Dad had looked over at Nana, but it was like his eyes passed through her. The furrow in his brow and the frown on his lips deepened so much Eli felt a flip in his gut, like when one nearly trips or misses a step. He usually didn’t miss a step in most things, figuratively or literally, so the sensation was disturbing. Dad hardly ever looked so worried.

      "I … don't see anyone there."

      Dad had left in a hurry, telling Mom they needed to talk when they got to the ranch. Dad was really quiet in the wagon all the way there, which wasn't like him at all. Dad would usually chatter the whole way or hum a song if there was nothing to say. Or he would get Leita to sing a song with him.

      But it was quiet. Even Leita noticed, as she kept glancing over at Dad, nibbling her bottom lip with a sad frown and crease in her brow. Eli kept trying to read his book, but his eyes absorbed no meaning from the black Hylian script on the pages. His mind was naturally trying to solve the conundrum. The fact he saw a person where his father did not. However, that meant he needed to ask Mother questions, though preferably alone. He tapped his index finger rhythmically on the form cover of his book. Mom was calm. She sat in the wagon with the same tranquil presence that she always seemed to exude. She stroked Leita's silver hair, which was silver just like hers. In the absence of Father's sound, she hummed a song herself.

      Still, Eli's own thoughts haunted him. No one was there, he had said. No one was there. But how could that be? Eli saw Nana as clear as day. It was day even. Why couldn't Dad see her?

      Or was the question, why did only Eli see her?

      He felt his insides become hollow as the wagon jolsted him over some rocks. He remembered the words the villagers and the towns people would whisper like he couldn't hear them.

      Odd. Crazy. Not right in the head. That's what they said.

      Were they right? Is that why Dad was so upset?

      No, no reason to jump to hasty conclusions. Letting his emotions run wild with him was stupid.

      It was dusk when the wagon came to a stop at the barn side of Lon Lon Ranch. It was a two day's ride back to Lake Hylia, where they lived. They always stayed the night at Lon Lon Ranch on the way to and from home when Dad would go to Castle Town and Kakariko to sell fish. The owner, Talon Romani, offered room and board to travelers. He also had a daughter around his age, Malon. Like usual, Leita played with Malon, and Eli would usually just read a book or go look at the horses. He liked the horses, and they didn't seem to mind him so much. At least they could look him in the eyes. Sometimes Malon would try asking him to play. She wouldn't look him in the eyes, but she at least looked him in the face.

      More troubling was that right now Dad wouldn't even look at him. He just helped Leita down and took her hand, walking her over to the door without looking back.

      Mom paused after she climbed out, seeming to notice something in his hesitance. "Eli …?"

      He glanced over at her. His hands gripped the wooden edge of the wagon hard. He could handle the villagers and the townspeople giving him weird looks, saying those things, and even avoiding him completely. But if his father did the same …

      "Is he mad?" Eli asked, his grip on the wagon kept the tremble out of his voice.

      Mom just sighed deeply for a moment, gazing at him solemnly in twilight. She was pretty in that light, but Mother was always beautiful. Her long hair reached the small of her back and glowed gold in the dying light of Din's Eye though it was silver. His mother was short and petite in form with gentle and fragile facial features, but her presence was always anything but fragile, just as the look in her eyes could often tell others she was not one to be crossed.

      She reached over and grasped one of his hands. "Listen to me, and you listen well. He is not mad with you. He's just confused. He loves you."

      "He said the woman I was talking to wasn't there. Why … wasn't she there?"

      Mom helped him out of the wagon and took his hand in hers as they walked up to the house. "She was there, sweetie."

      "But—"

      "Just because only you can see her, doesn't mean she's not there," explained Mom firmly. "Everyone experiences and perceives this world in their own way. So do you."

      "But why do I see her when no one else does?"

      "Because it's your gift," said Mom as gently and calmly as usual, with the same hint of solid certainty as she did. "You and your sister are both gifted with magic. Sometimes that comes with more than being able to command and manipulate mana, my dear. Your talents are more specialized. Remember, this is why the shadows speak to you."

      Eli nodded. That had been another moment of … uncertainty for him. Another time he was starting to think that the villagers were right, that there was something wrong with his head. But Mom was a high priestess in the Order of the Three. Eli was almost certain that she knew everything, but he also knew better than to assume even she really knew everything. Still, he could always talk to her when he was worried that he was losing his mind. She never treated him like he was crazy or weird.

      "If she was not there … then what is she?"

      "She was there," repeated his mother more forcefully as they stopped outside the house. "Only you could see her because she was a spirit. She left her body but did not pass on as we normally do."

      Eli blinked. "She was dead?"

      Mom nodded matter-of-factly. "Yes, she had died sometime before."

      Eli figured this should unnerve him more than it did. Instead, he felt relief. He was just glad to know, to understand. If he could understand it, then it wasn't so unsettling. The old lady was just dead. He wasn't losing his mind, making up imaginary companions.

      "Now come. It's getting late. I'll answer any other questions you have in the morning."

      There was just one thing that made unease flood his innards more than he liked. The look on his father's face. It was all he could see when he closed his eyes. That aside, he knew that Mom and Dad were having that talk that was mentioned before. Eli rolled softly out of bed and crept through the dark, but like always his feet knew where to find the path between clothing that littered the floor even when he couldn't see.

      He inched just as silently down the hall until he found the luminescent crack that was their bedroom door. He kept his back flat to the wall by the crack and just listened.

      "—to worry about, Tori. You know acting like this only makes him more confused and scared."

      "I know …" Dad sounded tired. "I didn't mean to, it's just … How am I supposed to not be worried? I … I know my father was hard on him, and I know he didn't have the best upbringing, but is that really all it took for him to go over the deep end like that? I want to believe I can raise Eli differently ..."

      "Then do believe it," said Mother with that same tone of command in her voice. "Eli is not your brother. Having this gift does not make him anymore so, and it is a gift. His connection is deeper than any I have seen before."

      Eli was confused. He knew his dad had a brother. His uncle, Killian, but Dad never talked about Uncle Killian like that. They were twins and very close. Eli liked when Uncle Killian would come and visit. Dad laughed louder and always smiled more. Dad never talked about having any other brothers. What deep end was Dad worried he would go over?

      Those were the only answers he got that night, which had only spawned more questions. At least Eli knew now, that those people were dead. Why did only dead people smile at him?

      "Hey, Eli, you going to stare at that well all day or you going to come play for a change?"

      Eli sighed deeply for a moment before looking up to find Ventus Agni staring at him.

      Eli used to try to make him go away by just staring him in the eyes silently. This worked on all the other kids. They even had a game about who could look Eli in the eyes at all, a game that was played more frequently around holidays like the Day of Courage. The rumor among the children in the village was that they would get cursed if they looked him in the eyes. However, Ventus would stare back, but with a look on his face like he was trying really hard to take a shit. Ven would keep staring if Eli did, so that didn't work.

      Eli didn't like “playing.” He usually preferred to read or practice the sword play his father taught him. Ventus was always too interested in swords though, so Eli never practiced around him.

      "And what would I play?" asked Eli in a dull tone.

      "Well, Leita, Rini and I are playing hide and go seek. There's always tag too," the other boy answered, one of his eyebrows arching in surprise at the mere insinuation the elusive boy might play with the three other children. "I suppose we could play whatever you wanted to, since you know, it would be the first time you did so."

      Eli smiled briefly, his eyes glancing almost carelessly to the side. "Leita says I can't play hide and seek … I cheat. Thanks anyway."

      Ventus always asked, almost every time despite the fact that Eli always declined every time.

      But Eli knew by that weird look on his face when he would stare him in the eyes, that it wasn't because Ventus liked him. The Agnis were his parents' friends, so they always visited with them whenever they were selling fish in the Castle Town market, or when Ven and Rini's dad would visit Kakariko. Ven's dad, Kubera, one of Dad's old war buddies. It was like some unspoken rule that they had to play together when they visited.

      Except for Eli, of course.

      He wasn't going to force his company on anyone, not even Ventus. Especially not after the look Ceres Agni, Ven’s mom, gave him the last time he was in Castle Town. She never came to Kakariko Village at least, so that was a relief. Eli didn't really feel like upsetting his parents' friends. Even if he hadn't done anything, if only because it would upset his parents. He didn't even like to hang out with Ventus and Rini, so she needn’t look at him that way. That aside, he didn’t have the same interests as the rest of the children his age. It would have just been awkward even without the added tension of … whatever else it was about him that disturbed people.

      "Whatever."

      This was the response Ventus usually gave to the answer Eli always provided, and it was just something to expect. Honestly, it was more of a ritual between the two boys, and one only Ventus seemed interested in keeping up for whatever reason.

      "If you change your mind, the offer is always open."

      Waving his hand slightly, he walked off, no doubt, to where Leita and Rini were waiting. The wave was honestly the most polite thing about the boy at times considering how downright rude he could get, although it remained to be seen if any of his rude behaviors were actually intentional. Not that Eli really cared when it came down to it.

      Eli was sometimes tempted to accept the offer just to see the look on Ven's face if he did. He smiled at the reflection in the shadowy water. But then the resulting consequences would be too much of a bother than he wanted to deal with.

      "Eli!"

      He looked up to find Leita running over to him. Her face bright, and her green eyes—just like Dad's—alight with joy. The source of this joy was made known soon as she held out a cookie to him.

      "One of the ladies gave us cookies! You want one?"

      A soft smile moved his lips.

      Leita, his little sister, her sweetness always melted him more than he liked to admit. None of the people in the village would have ever offered him cookies. Leita knew this, but it seemed like everyone in the village was always offering Leita sweets. So she always made sure Eli got his share, even if it was part of hers. She was like a flower, attracting all the bees that buzzed happily around her. They always cooed and told their parents how sweet and adorable she was.

      And Eli agreed with them completely. His interests didn’t lay in sweets or the approval of others. Besides, he didn’t have it in him to be jealous of her.

      He draped his arms around her and just sighed, leaning his weight on her like she was his life raft. They were close in age. Leita was nine springs, and Eli was ten but would be turning eleven in the fall. They couldn’t be more different, but she always smiled at him.

      Alive and smiling at him.

      "You're heavy," she complained.

      He smiled. He liked to tease her like this sometimes.

      "The cookie is really good. Do you want any?"

      "Ventus asked me to play hide and go seek," said Eli.

      He looked down at her to watch her chew her cookie with a seriously troubled expression. Leita really had told him he couldn't play hide and go seek, because the shadows always told him where she was hiding. Of course, he had only used the shadows to hasten the end of the game, because she had to pester him into playing it with her in the first place. But now he could read the inner struggle on her face. She wanted him to come play with her, Rini, and Ven, but she also didn't like when he "cheated." He had only mentioned it because he wanted to see that look on her face. But now it seemed a little too cruel.

      "It's okay; I didn't want to play anyway."

      "Eli, honey."

      He looked up at his mother's call, his arms still around his little sister. She was walking with Dad and another really tall woman. Eli knew her, because everyone in the village knew her, even if they were just passing through. It was Lady Impa.

      "Lady Impa wants a word with you," said Mom as they reached him by the well.

      Eli looked up at Impa, who stared back at him with her red irises. She didn't flinch or look away or make that weird face Ven would. Instead, it was like she was searching him. No one ever did that, except Mom, when she knew he was hiding something. She almost seemed to tower over him, her arms folded across her chest in an imposing stature.

      Her gaze lifted only to glance to the well and then back to him. "Tell me, why do you always linger by the well?"

      Eli glanced over at Mom. She nodded gently. He turned his gaze to his father beside her. He smiled in an apologetic way and just nodded too. He even seemed relieved to Eli. So it must be okay with them to talk about it. Still, he wondered how much the Sheikah knew about the well, since she asked about it. He wondered if he answered vaguely, would she give him more in response?

      He looked back to Lady Impa. "Because … I can hear them."

      However, this seemed to be all Lady Impa needed as an answer, because she merely nodded. "Your parents have told me about your gifts. I've also heard as much from … other sources."

      "You mean the villagers," Eli suggested.

      Impa nodded. "They don't see the truth, but one can find it if they know where look … My people are very few after the war. Our ways must live on, even if not through those of our blood. I wish to train you in the ways of the Sheikah, to become an Elite Guard."

      Leita squealed excitedly, bouncing up and down and tugging on his arm. "Eli! You'd protect the Royal Family!"

      It was true. That was the role of those in the Elite Guard, which was staffed by the most talented warriors and mages of the Sheikah tribe. Still, Eli’s brow furrowed in almost more suspicion than confusion.

      "Why me?"

      Given the reactions he got from most people without even doing anything, he didn’t understand why he would suddenly be considered for such a prestigious position.

      Impa kneeled so that she was closer to Eli's eye level. "Because your gifts are suited to learning the ways of my people. The Sheikah are, were, the shadow people. Guardians of the dead. If you wish to learn the truth about yourself, then come train with me."

      That was an easy decision for Eli to make.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      "What did Lady Impa want with you?"

      It was Ventus again.

      Eli looked up from the well yet again to stare into his inquizzitive face. At least he wasn't making that other face as it was hard to take him seriously to begin with.

      Eli had still been thinking about Impa actually. He had accepted her offer, even though he had never really given a serious thought to what he really wanted to be when he “grew up.” Leita already knew; she wanted to be a high priestess of the Order of the Three, just like Mom. Eli had considered he could have become a priest of the Order himself, but he wasn’t really interested in religion as he wasn’t really sure how he felt about the goddesses. He thought about being a soldier like Dad had been before he went back to Lake Hylia to be a fisherman. Or he could be magic scholar, as he did love learning and reading about magic.

      But this, being an elite, it would be like being a little of both. Impa said she could teach him about his magical gifts alongside his mother. She would also teach him more about fighting. Dad had been a soldier, but he was no knight or anything. Impa could teach him a lot more. There was also that thing about the truth, which Eli liked the most.

      "She wants to train me to be an Elite Guard," answered Eli.

      "What?" Ventus looked surprised for a moment before scoffing, crossing his arms across his chest challengingly. "Quit lying. Why would she ask you to be an Elite Guard?"

      Eli locked his eyes on Ven's at this comment, feeling something cool start to coil in his chest. "Why would I lie?"

      Not that Eli especially valued honesty, as he saw no quam in lying when it suited him, but he had never given Ventus a reason to doubt him. Also, no one had dared spit insults directly in his face before. They usually just whispered behind his back like he couldn’t hear them.

      "You mean besides the fact you are the same age as me, don’t have Sheikah blood, and talk to nobody? Oh, I don't know," Ventus replied sarcastically, indicating with all the words he didn't say that he didn't believe Eli was fit to be an Elite Guard.

      He always had the gift to be a lot more eloquent between the lines than he did when actually talking. Though, Eli also honestly wondered if that was intentional either, as the boy had never seemed all that bright to him.

      The cold thing in his chest hardened. Needless to say, he already felt enough private humiliation at learning the people he had thought he had been talking to this whole time were actually dead. It was insult to injury to realize why people always gave him those weird looks. It was because they always saw him talking to "no one."

      He certainly didn’t need Ventus to remind him of this or use it against him in such a manner. So this time he’d say what he wanted to say. He didn't care that Ventus was the kid of his parents' friends.

      He didn't owe them, or him, or anyone anything. What had they ever done for him?

      Eli raised a single black brow at him. “Compared to what? You? An idiot who always looks like he needs to take a big shit? You’d be more … qualified?”

      It wasn’t hard to deduce the reason Ventus was being so pointedly unpleasant to him for the first time ever was due to jealousy. Ven was usually rude, but he had never been so purposefully so with him before now. So Eli could sting back in the same way, point out his own inadequacies.

      "An id—Why you son of a bitch!" Ventus' eyes narrowed and rage filled his eyes. His small hand curled in a fist and began to raise, as if to punch him. “You think I’m stupid?! You’re not better than me!”

      Eli’s feet had started to widen into the fighting stance his father taught him.

      "Ventus!"

      A tall man stalked toward them, wild blonde hair blowing in the wind. A sword rested at his side, and the left arm was shorter than other due to half of it being missing below the elbow. As he drew closer, the physical similarities between the man and Ventus only increased; just like how Eli took after Dad, it was clear Ventus took after his own father.

      "Ventus, what are you doing?" Kubera demanded, glowering down at his young son.

      Ventus shrunk slightly under his father's gaze, the anger and rage within him wilting slightly. Kubera wasn't just any soldier, like Eli's dad had been. He was a real live knight of the Royal Guard, protectors of Hyrule; captain of the guard to boot. It was a fact Ventus was rather proud of, as Eli had always heard him boasting about it.

      "Dad … he called me stupid," Ventus whined.

      "I don't care what he did or didn't call you! Striking another person isn't acceptable just because they called you names! You want to be a knight, right? Knights protect people, not start fights over hurt pride!" Kubera growled before looking at Eli, his face softening up a bit. "I just heard about you being tapped for the Elite Guard. Congrats kid."

      "Is there a problem, Kubera?"

      Eli turned to see his father come over. His father arched a brow at him. "Is there, Eli?"

      He stared at him for a moment and then glanced away. He would say what he wanted even with Father there. "Well, perhaps it wasn’t fair to compare Ventus to me in regards to intelligence, but all I said was the truth; he invited it in the first place and that does make him a fool."

      His father blinked, almost confused not by his words, more that he was speaking them this way to others. Eli normally kept to himself. Dad raised a brow at him with a still shocked face. “... Excuse me?”

      He looked up into his father's face to face that eventual disappointment directly. Eli raised his brow as he folded his arms across his chest. "What? He is. Even compared to other children more his speed.”

      "Elias." He knew he would hear the both shocked and disappointed tone in his father's voice.

      "See?!" Ventus demanded hotly, pointing at Eli. However, surprisingly, while Kubera's expression softened toward his son ever so slightly, he didn’t take his son's side.

      "Ventus, you’re going to hear a lot of shitty things—some true and some not—as you grow up. Resorting to violence though, as I said, is never the answer. You’re almost eleven, you should know better by now,” he said before sighing, as if Ventus put the weight of the world on his shoulders. “We’re going to have a talk when we get home. I’m disappointed in you.”

      That seemed to cause Ventus to wilt completely and he looked down at the ground, almost as if he was trying to fight back tears. While Eli had to fight back a smirk of satisfaction. He hadn’t even had to manipulate Kubera at all to “win” this round so to speak. Though, that made it a little boring really. His lack of having more of a hand in it also gave Eli a slight sense of disatisfaction. It felt less like a success on his part.

      "No, Kubera, it's fine. I don't know what's gotten into Eli. He's not usually like this," said Dad, smiling at his old friend.

      "As if he was going to land that hit anyway," muttered Eli.

      He saw when Ventus would play fight with his friends. The boy had no real training. Which was surprising, given who his father was. He also knew that because of who his father was, Ventus actually personally knew many of the other royal knights. He had assumed his little community in Castle Town would have imbued him with their skills. Though, it seemed they hadn’t. Eli had some at least from his father, and though Dad was no knight, Eli had still been fairly confident he would have dodged the strike and countered with ease.

      Dad turned sharply back to him. "Khaz Elias, what is wrong with you today? Why are you talking like this?"

      There it was. His first name. Dad knew he didn't like that name. It never sounded right to him. His middle name was Elias, after his grandfather, which he always liked better than "Khaz."

      Eli just shrugged. "I hardly see how the problem is with me."

      Dad sighed, pinching the bridge of his brow, and Eli watched his shoulders sag with an invisible burden. Eli felt a little bad at that. He never liked seeing Dad look tired, worn, or worried. Because he knew Dad was like that more than he showed others. Sometimes at night, Dad couldn't sleep. Eli would wake up when he needed to pee and find him working on that secret room in the storage room floor. Dad said it was just in case. He never said in case of what, but Eli knew it was in case the Gerudo ever attacked again.

      Dad finally dropped his hand from his face. He turned to Kubera with his usual gentle smile. Dad's smile was like Leita's, warm and full of light that everyone seemed to like. He gave his friend's shoulder a squeeze.

      "Again, I'm sorry. I'll also talk to Eli."

      "Don't worry about it," Kubera said, smiling back before looking down and with his one remaining hand, took Ventus'. "I guess our boys are finally at that age." He grinned slightly. "Well, at least neither of their sister's seem to be the troublemaking sort."

      Dad waved as they left, and then turned back to Eli. His stomach started to twist uncomfortably at the disappointment that weighed on his father's face. He had told himself he didn't care, but it was hard to believe that now.

      "Eli …" began Dad in a quiet voice that was no better than the look on his face.

      Eli glared at his own feet. "I just … I'm tired of everyone."

      Dad was quiet, and then he knelt down and hugged him. He sighed heavily in his ear. "I know … I'm sorry."




      “We must be greater than what we suffer.”
      [A Light in the Dark| Empire of Darkness |Under the Red Sea]

      The post was edited 19 times, last by Shrub ().

    • Back to Chapter Index

      Chapter One:
      The Storm

      “Wahhh…” Ven breathed, holding a stick he had found tucked away in the trees around the Temple of Time a year or so ago. Flicking his wrist out, the branch snapped forward and the air whistled. The scent of his mother’s bread and the overcast clouds’ promise of rain wafted over him after their lunch rush at his mother’s nearby bakery.

      He wanted a real sword, but Dad said he was too young to have one. He couldn’t wait until he turned fifteen, so he could join the Guard. While Dad did teach him some moves—because Ven wouldn’t stop annoying him—it was rare for the knight to spend any real quality time with his children due to the nature of his job. At least, Ven liked to think that was the reason. However, it got harder to believe when he noticed the other knights spent less time on duty than his father.

      Pulling the branch back and sliding into a position he saw his father take sometimes, he narrowed his eyes at an imaginary assailant—a Gerudo—before he lunged forward.

      “Fwah!” He yelled, cutting off their arm, just like they did to his father. When they fell to their knees, clutching their bleeding stump, his ‘sword’ dashed out and removed their head. Their body fell to the ground, and Ven lorded over them as drops of rain began to splatter over his clothes.

      “Heh,” he smirked, pleased at his ‘victory.’

      He had heard what Eli said about him not landing a hit. Next time he came to Castle Town, he would show the bastard not to look down on him. He was the son of the captain of the Royal Guard after all. So what if Eli was tapped for being an Elite Guard? The real heroes—who protected everyone and not just the Royal Family—were the knights after all. Plus, Dad finally agreed to teach him some more sword lessons on his birthday.

      Let the Gerudo come again. I’ll beat them all back, just like Dad, he thought. He would become a knight and the captain of the Royal Guard like his father and uncle before him. Except this time he would kill Ganondorf, the Gerudo King. Daddy said it was just a matter of time before that desert snake would attack again.

      Despite Kubera Agni and the other knights making it very clear they didn’t trust the King of Thieves and weren’t at all happy at the free reign the man had in the kingdom, the Hylian king, Desmond Nohansen, was kind-hearted and much too optimistic for his—and Hyrule’s—own good. According to Dad at any rate, who was right, of course. But this time, Ventus would make sure Mandrag Ganon wouldn’t live to regret his decision to assault Hyrule a second time—whenever that time came.

      However, his face fell an inch or so. Even now, he didn’t understand why the Sheikah woman would approach Eli of all people. What made him so special? He didn’t have Sheikah blood, like Ven did. Sure, he acted all high and mighty, pretending like he was some sort of adult, but he was the same age as Ventus—no, younger. He was just some crazy kid who spoke to nobody, stared into the well and pretty much refused to interact with anyone no matter how times Ventus was nice to him and asked.

      Then he goes and says I’m stupid, acting like he was all better or something, he thought with an angry pout. Puffed up jerks like him deserve a smack in the face. Yet, the “talk” Dad had with him that night resurfacing in his memory. He hadn’t yelled, but Ven wished he had. It was a small consolation knowing Eli got in trouble with his dad too.

      His sullen brooding was interrupted when he heard the sound of horse hooves pounding on the cobblestone street. While it wasn’t unusual for a horse to be traveling in Castle Town’s streets, the sound of the trot … it was faster than he normally heard. Like a gallop.

      Taking a step further into the street, he squinted and looked down the street and for a moment, he didn’t see anything.

      That was when he saw a brown horse appear around the bend, and in surprise, Ven leapt to the side, just avoiding being run over. His eyes widened in surprise upon noting it was Lady Impa riding on the horse, a small girl in front of her. She had blonde hair, fine clothes, and looked the same age as him; he had seen her before, but only from afar. Princess Zelda.

      On their heels was a large towering black mare, and a large man with dark skin and hair like fire rode it. There was only one male Gerudo every hundred years. So it could only be Ganondorf, himself.

      Ven froze in shock, his sword clutched in his hand.

      He couldn’t move. Even though Ven swore he would take him down, take justice, for Ganondorf Dragmire had killed Ventus’ uncle—the previous captain of the Royal Guard—during the Gerudo War.

      The Gerudo man didn’t even notice him standing there as he raced past. His golden hued eyes were anchored and burning upon the brown horse that had preceded him, and his teeth bared in a grimace of heated determination as he urged his own horse to gallop faster.

      Soon three others on horseback in hot pursuit of Ganondorf appeared. They were knights, friends of his father’s. They sometimes would even come visit the bakery and buy some bread, and on a rare occasion, would show Ventus some of their moves with their weapons. Nora in particular was more open to showing him little tricks here and there, but those were how to hit and run rather than stand and fight. It wasn’t something Ventus was as interested in—it was too cowardly in his opinion—though it wasn’t like he could be picky.

      A couple of arrows whizzed out, but they missed their target. However, as Ven followed them with his eyes, he yelled in shock when there was a large explosion. His hands flew to his ears as they rang, and he moaned in pain at the sudden din. It took him about a moment or two to hear again—screaming and crying—and there was a sick, sweet scent of burning flesh. When the smoke cleared the knights, his father’s friends, were lying broken and dying on the ground.

      “What’s going on—” Mom exclaimed, throwing the door open, her eyes wide and worried, only to see Nora, Tessa and Garrik bleeding on the ground, Tessa’s insides in particular staining the streets, and she screamed, the rain beginning to pour down harder.

      She wasn’t the only one.

      Their neighbors, who heard the explosion as well, began to peek out of their homes, and panic and confusion began to grip everyone.

      Ignoring his mother’s cries for him to come back, Ventus rushed to Garrik’s side, being broken from the spell of panic which held him bound, bending down next to him. Placing his small, shaking hand on the knight’s middle, Ventus tried his hardest to put pressure on the wound and stop the bleeding. If he could just stop it long enough for Garrik to be able to heal himself and then to heal the others …

      However, the knight reached up weakly and grasped Ventus’ wrist, causing the boy to look into Garrik’s brown eyes which were becoming duller as his life drained from his body.

      Garrik rasped, coughing up blood. His voice was muffled, almost like he was talking from the bottom of a well, and for the first time in his memory Ven had to strain his ears to hear. “Ganondorf … betray … alert everyone.”

      The last word rattled on his breath, and the knight’s grip on Ventus loosened before his hand fell to the ground, motionless.

      Standing up, tremors running through his body, his hands still covered in blood, Ventus began to run down the street, ignoring his mother’s shouts for him to come back. He needed to go tell Dad; Dad would know what to do. Dad could do anything, take care of anything.

      Living in Castle Town his entire life, Ven knew every single back alley and shortcut like the back of his hand. He slipped through crowds of people who didn’t seem to know quite yet of the horrors of what happened. No doubt by tonight when the word got around, fear would start to grip the city, yet Ventus was positive whatever came, his father and the other knights, not to mention the Elite Guard, could take care of it.

      Me too, of course, he assured himself.

      Everything would be okay.

      Feet pounding toward the castle, he noticed several people leaving the gate. While some of them were soldiers Ventus didn’t recognize, he noticed his father with Eliza and Liam on horseback leaving the castle.

      Stopping in the middle of the road, panting, his hands on his knees as he sucked in the much needed air with desperation, he waited for his father to draw closer. Now the rain was a torrential downpour, and Ventus’ blue tunic clung to his small frame, plastered on by the sheer force of the weather.

      “Ventus!” Dad shouted stopping next to him. “What are you doing here?!”

      “Ganondorf … chasing Lady Impa and the princess … killed Garrik, Nora and Tessa who were chasing …” he gasped, looking up at his father as lightning struck, lighting up the entire sky for a brief second, and was followed after with an angry growl of thunder. “Garrik said … let everyone know … betray …”

      Kubera swore, pulling on the reigns of his horse, who whined at the raging storm which now surrounded them.

      “We know—Ventus, go home and stay!” His father demanded, and when he opened his mouth to protest, his father snapped at him. “Do it, Ven!”

      Ventus recoiled but after a moment, nodded, and ran off.

      ###

      The Agni house, which was often filled with with laughter and arguments between the two children, was silent. Ventus caught the flickering candlelight with his rock, small rainbows playing across the wooden table. A Goron, who always came to the town to sell wares and always got their crusty and old bread, gave it to him as a gift. Some of the more regulars had also been wishing him happy birthday, even though his birthday wasn’t for a couple of weeks still.

      Rini, sitting across from him, combed her doll, Anna’s, straw hair without a word. The only sound which could be heard was their mother in the kitchen, preparing dinner if only because it was something to keep her busy for the time being.

      Yet Ventus couldn’t stop thinking about the bodies of the dead knights that had been lying outside their home just hours ago. It was different, imagining the fallen bodies of your enemies, only to see the broken ones of your allies and friends.

      The sickly sweet smell of burning flesh haunted his senses, uninvited. Even now, the echoes of the explosion rattled in his mind and the stench still clung to the walls, despite the bodies no longer being here. His hands still felt sticky too, even though the last of Garrik’s blood had been scrubbed clean from his hands hours earlier.

      It didn’t seem real. It wasn’t right. Nora, Tessa, and Garrik gone. Just like that. They were knights. They shouldn’t have died that easily.

      No. Maybe they weren’t dead. They were just taken away to get healed. That was it.

      “Ventus, Rini, go wash up,” Mom said, appearing in the dining room, wringing her hands, a forced smile on her face, yet her eyes shone with worry and fear.

      “I’m not hungry,” Rini muttered, pausing in her combing, looking up at their mother, searching for something.

      Ventus’ insides, twisting with nausea, agreed with her statement.

      “Is Dad going to be alright?” his little sister asked.

      Mom’s lips pressed together, forming a thin line. After a moment though, that same, tired, smile from earlier replaced the look as Mom walked over and bent down, kissing Rini on the forehead, smoothing her long blonde locks back.

      “Of course, he will, honey. Your father survived one war. He can survive whatever the world throws at him.”

      Ven heard the door creak open, and turning his head, he gave a shout of relief upon seeing his father standing in the doorway. He was soaking wet, a pool of water collecting at his feet, a worried and dejected look marring his face but alive.

      “Daddy!” Ventus cooed, launching himself out of his chair and enveloping his father in a tight hug, joined seconds later by Rini.

      “Kubera … thank Farore,” Ventus could hear Mom say, as he nuzzled his face into his father’s tunic. The cold water was a welcome relief against his skin, and a much needed distraction from the phantom feeling of Garrik’s innards on his palms.

      “Yeah … but we lost him,” Dad sighed, pulling Ventus and Rini into a bear hug all the same. “We’re still on high alert, so I can’t stay long, since we need to protect the king. Lenna may be an Elite, but it’s better to be on the safe side. Guards are already patrolling the city looking for Ganondorf, but just in case, all of you stay inside.”

      “Why was he chasing Princess Zelda in the first place?” Ventus asked, pulling away.

      It didn’t make sense to him. Yes, while the Gerudo was vile—he overheard enough his father’s talks with his knight buddies and his mother to know that—it had been ten years since the war and Hyrule had squashed the Gerudo’s assault.

      Well, attacking little children and royalty is what villains do, Ventus reasoned to himself, but still waited for his father’s answer.

      “I don’t know, Ven,” Dad sighed before giving him a small smile, ruffling his hair. “We’ll figure it out though.” He paused for a moment, and his eyes hardened. “This time we’ll execute the bastard.”

      Screaming interrupted them, shuddering through the air. Dad’s eyes interlocked with Mom’s, and after a quick command to ‘Stay here!’ he ran out the door. However, Ventus was never good at listening to directions, and, grabbing his stick, he ran after him only to be stopped when an arrow whizzed past his face and dug into the doorway next to him.

      He whipped his head to see a Gerudo woman mounted on a horse, stringing another arrow on her bow only to be struck down by a crossbow bolt from a Hylian guard. As she fell from the horse, Ventus found himself being yanked back inside.

      “Ventus, what is wrong with you?” Mom hissed, pressing the two of them to the wall, Rini standing next to the table, Anna pressed closer to her chest. Mom held a single finger to her mouth, and peered around the doorway again, eyes flicking around in the darkness of the night before cursing; the first time Ventus ever heard her do so.

      “Mom?” he asked in a breath, his hand clutching the stick tighter to stop them shaking, feeling that sick twist in his guts peak.

      “Ventus wait here with your sister for a moment, and stay out of sight!” Mom instructed, and when his mouth opened to protest, her head snapped around and glowered at him. Ventus’ mouth snapped shut, knowing well enough not to push his luck. Instead he gestured for Rini to come closer to him, and in seconds his younger sister was in his arms, her small body shaking.

      Ven could hear his mother moving through the rooms upstairs, drawers being thrown open and to the side. Outside he could hear shouting and yelling among the cracks of thunder. Every so often lightning would dance in the sky, and there would be seconds where he could see the shadows of the battle take part.

      Heart pounding in his chest, he strained his ears for any foreign sounds approaching them, but there was just so many. It felt like forever when Mom came down again, tucking the last of some clothes in a bag which she slung over her shoulder.

      “Let’s go!” she whispered, gesturing for them to follow her. Encouraging Rini to go forward, he watched his mother’s eyes dance around the house as they slipped out toward the back exit which lead to a small alleyway too narrow for a horse to get through.

      “Whatever you two do, make sure you are not seen by anyone,” she whispered, looking at her two children, her hazel eyes boring straight into them as if willing both to understand her words.

      Unfortunately, the gravity of her words didn’t seem to get through to one of them.

      “Mom, I don’t understand,” Ventus whispered back. “What’s going on? What about Dad?”

      “This isn’t the time, Ventus,” Mom whispered harshly, starting to slide down the side of the ally, keeping one hand on the bricks of the buildings. “Your father will be fine. He’s going to meet up with us later. We talked about this … if this happened again, what we would do. But if something happens to me, take your sister and go to Kakariko Village. Do you understand?”

      Ventus didn’t want to leave his mother behind, but Rini gripped his hand tighter, and glancing down, he could see fearful tears welling up in her eyes.

      Being a knight is about protecting people, Ventus, not starting fights.”

      Swallowing any further arguments, he nodded his head. Mom may not be a knight like Dad, but he was sure she was just as awesome in her own way. Even if something did happen—which it wouldn’t—he was sure Mom would find a way to return to them. Right now, he had to protect Rini. Get her out. Mom was sure to follow, and Dad he knew would be on his way later.

      “C’mon Rini,” he whispered, encouraging her further down a path he was well acquainted with—it was his favorite whenever he was sneaking out the house and didn’t want Mom or Dad to catch him. Screams echoed in the air around them, but Ven wasn’t worried.

      After all, he was a great hero. Protecting his little sister from a bunch of dirty Gerudos was nothing.


      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

      The post was edited 4 times, last by Ruki ().

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      Author's Notes: Mature content in this chapter. Viewers should be cautious.

      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Chapter Two:
      Just in Case

      The boat bobbed up and down gently in the small waves of Lake Hylia. The sun was dipping lower and lower on the horizon, setting the sky on fire with red, orange, and gold. Eli was slouched in the back with a book nearly pressed to his nose. Dad was checking his lines and nets. Leita was back at the house learning about plants and their attributes for potions with Mom. Eli was reading about the different classes of casters. Mom had all sorts of books about magic, which she often gave him and Leita to study up on. Of course, she didn't let them get their hands on any books or scrolls with actual incantations without her supervision. They were only allowed to read the books that discussed how magic works in theory. She emphasized that magic was best felt rather than mentally grasped and that books would only take them one tiny step of the way.

      Still, Eli needed to understand in some way.

      Especially after the recent visit of his Uncle Killian. He had come in the middle of the night. Eli had been up reading one of Mother's books. Because the shadows spoke to him, he never needed a candle to read in the dark. He also realized he didn't even need to open the book or turn its pages. He would just ask the shadows, and they told him what words were on its pages. So long as the book was in darkness and close enough to him, Eli could read it. He often fell asleep this way, with the shadows reading to him.

      But he had not yet been asleep when Uncle Killian came. He had heard another voice, and even though they were twins, Killian still sounded different from Dad. He was louder and his voice seemed to bark more abruptly than Dad's slow and gentle one. Eli had perked up, wondering why Uncle Killian would be visiting so late in the night. But Mom would get mad if she found out he was still up, so Eli had just crept up to his door and focused on Listening. Dad had taught him how to do it.

      They say us Hylians have long ears so that we can hear messages from the Goddesses.” Dad had chuckled. "I don't know anything about that, but I know that we can hear the faintest sounds from far distances if you just learn to focus your senses.”

      Close your eyes. Focus only on your ears. First just on all the things you hear immediately, right now.”

      That was easy enough, since he had already spent most of the evening in the dark. He listened first to Leita's soft breathing as she lay across their room in her bed, which hung above his. He listened to the sound of his own breathing and then the croaking of distant frogs and the chirping of crickets in the night, the creaking of the wind in the trees, the swishing of the water against the shores of Lake Hylia.

      And then he reached for the voices he heard deeper in the house, near the kitchen.

      "... You can't be serious …" Eli recognized his father's voice, aghast and shocked.

      Next came Killian's, more curt and nearly angry. "Yeah, Tori, because I would joke about something like this."

      "... How did it happen?" Dad's voice sounded all wrong again. All thick, heavy, like it was stuck in his throat.

      "That's the worst part …" Killian sighed. "He was struck by lightning."

      It was quiet for a moment.

      "Lightning …?" Dad asked, his voice almost dazed.

      "Yeah, lightning," said Killian, like the word meant something more than it did. "Now, how do you figure that a mage like our father gets struck by lightning? He could easily redirect it."

      "Yes, I suppose so … What are you thinking? Just say it."

      "I'm surprised you haven't gone there yourself." Uncle Killian snorted.

      "It's in the middle of the night, and you just told me our father is dead ... I'm supposed to be able to read your mind at a time like this?" Dad's chair squeaked as he moved in it.

      His grandfather was dead.

      Eli had never seen him much, the grandfather he had been named after. He had lived in Kakariko Village, but Dad didn't often take them up to the house there. They never stayed the night despite visiting from so far away. Grandfather didn't often come down to see them either, even if he knew they were in town. Eli could count the number of times on one hand that he had seen him.

      Grandfather was intimidating in a way.

      He had the same green eyes as Dad, and yet they were nothing alike at all. Grandfather's eyes were unyielding and hard, like cold, sharp emeralds. He never smiled, not even at Leita. No, actually, he would smile, just never at his own family it seemed. Grandfather smiled at others only when it benefited him to do so. Though Grandfather would ask about him and Leita, he only inquired on how their magical abilities were developing.

      His grandfather, Elias Serwen, had been a retired teacher and scholar at the magic academy in Castle Town. He was a pretty famous mage. People in Castle Town got excited when they heard who his grandfather was.

      But Eli still remembered the look his grandpa had given him, as if he were a dirty mutt.

      More than a mere look, Eli had heard him say to Dad as he left, “A pity, especially after you managed to marry well. The girl at least seems viable.”

      Dad had had his back turned to him, so Eli never got to see the look on his face. But Dad had said nothing in response. It seemed even his own grandfather knew that there was something off with him too. It made him wonder why he felt a connection to the name Elias in a way he never did with his real first name, Khaz. After all, he didn't particularly like his grandfather, but he had been responding to that name before they had even met.

      Eli heard Killian huff again. "Like you weren't already awake? Tinkering in that safe room of yours …"

      "Killian, please …"

      Killian sighed and then said after a pregnant pause, "I'm thinking it was Sylric."

      The room went still with a quiet so thick it could have clogged Eli's ears. After a few moments, Dad finally spoke and it was barely a whisper.

      "No … He wouldn't—"

      "Bullshit, he wouldn't! Look at my face, Tori, and tell me he wouldn't." Uncle Killian's voice got a sharp, angry edge to it.

      His uncle had a thick, mean scar across his face, but he was told that Killian got it in the Civil War with the Gerudos. So what did that mean? His brow furrowed. Dad wouldn't have … lied to him, would he? And who was Sylric?

      "I didn't mean it like that." Dad just sounded tired, unable to even become bristled by his brother's harsh tone. "I know what he's capable of. You don't need to remind me … I just mean, why would he challenge my threat now? He stayed away, gone for all these years."

      "The hell if I know how that bastard's mind works," grumbled Eli's uncle. "Maybe he's just gone so batshit insane he doesn't care anymore what Impa would do to him if she found out … But I'm worried that he's not going to stop with just Father. If he made that bold of a move, who's to say he won't come after you and Amaya next?"

      Dad sighed heavily. "We still can't be sure it was him. But you're right, we should be prepared just in case."

      "Tori … maybe it's time you told Impa. Why keep his secret after what he did? We should deal with him now, once and for all."

      "I … know. I just …"

      "You just what? You want to protect a necromancer? He may have been our brother, but after what that bastard necromancer tried to do to Amaya and you …?" More quietly, Killian added, "After what he did to me?"

      "He … only reanimated dead animals, not people—"

      "Oh, well, excuse me!" Killian boomed. "That just makes it all better, doesn't it? Nevermind he was completely messed in the head! Nevermind he tried to—"

      "Killian, keep your voice down," Dad hissed, and Eli heard the warm shadow of anger in his tone for once.

      That word, necromancer.

      Eli heard of them only in scary stories. They were evil mages that brought the dead back to life and pillaged villages. Never had Eli heard of them spoken as if they were something real. He had always thought of them as monsters from myths and legends. Uncle Killian spat the word, like it was dirty, wrong, an insult unto itself, but he also said it like it was a real thing that someone could be. Someone like the brother his father had never spoken of until now, before with Mom and now with Killian.

      Eli feel his insides pitch and wave sickly despite himself as he remembered why his father had finally spoken of this terrible brother. Dad had been worried about him talking to dead people, because he was worried he would end up like this Sylric.

      Eli could only continue to listen numbly as his uncle and father continued to argue.

      "Then explain to me why you're making excuses for him of all people," demanded Killian. "Why would you? I would have thought me and Amaya mean more to you than him."

      "Of course, you do," Dad insisted, almost pleaded it seemed for Killian to believe him. "I just … Dad was so terrible to him. Even though he was the only one of us who got magic, Sylric still was never good enough for him. He did everything for him. It wasn't like you and I had the best childhood either … It was just ... worse for him, and I wondered if he ever had a chance to be anything else."

      "Oh, Din, you feel sorry for him?" asked Killian, disgust in dripping from his tone. "After what he's done, you still feel sorry for him?"

      Dad sighed, sounding defeated. "I just … wanted to give him a chance to be something else."

      "A bit too late, Tori," Killian scoffed with disdain. "He was already too messed up in the head. He couldn't even think of you and me as two separate people."

      "I know …I'm still sorry about that."

      "And I keep telling you to shut up about it. I didn't bring it up to make you feel sorry for me, just to make a point."

      "I know, I know." It seemed all his father could do was sigh. "I'll talk to Amaya about it. We'll figure something out."

      If his parents had talked, Eli hadn't managed to catch them at it.

      Ever since, Eli was trying to learn as much about the different classes of casters and more specifically, about necromancers. This wasn't as nearly hard as it could have been if Eli didn't have the aid of the shadows. They easily told him which books made mention of necromancers. There was only one book in his mother's collection that ever did. There still wasn't even much about it. Eli had the shadows read it to him one night. If the darkness and shadows connected enough, he found that he could even have the shadows in another room speak to him.

      A necromancer is a Death magic adept or sorceress with Death magic as either their core type or one of their secondaries. Even a mage could be classified as a necromancer if they ever dabble in Death magic. Death magic is most known for the art of interacting with and/or exerting one's will over dead spirits and/or corpses. Reanimating the dead bodies of people or animals is strictly forbidden under Sheikah law, as is exerting one's will over dead spirits except in the case of self-defense or for the safety and well-being of others. There are other magic arts that belong to Death magic such as Draining and Decay magic.

      An adept or sorceress with an affinity for Death magic can be recognized often by their ability to perceive the spirits of people or other creatures that have died but not passed on. Their potential for Death magic can be indicated by the depth of this early connection to dead spirits. The most common is their ability to sense the spirit, though not see or hear it. The deeper the connection, the more a Death adept or sorceress can perceive dead spirits by sight or sound. Some can only hear the spirits speak, while others may only be able to see them visually. Even these partial perceptions can vary in intensity and clarity depending on the deepness of their connection to Death magic.

      Mages lacking this particular affinity or depth of connection can still commune with the dead via spells.

      Eli had laid back in his bed and stared at the dark ceiling in his room after the shadows finished reading this passage to him.

      He was a necromancer.

      That word his uncle had spat like it was a vile taste in his mouth. The thing his father feared in him. The monster spoken of in the myths, legends, and even simple horror stories told to keep children like him up at night.

      No, not children like him. Children like the ones in Kakariko Village and Castle Town, who made up bravery tests based on him and his eyes.

      He remembered his mother's words that other night when he listened by their bedroom door at the ranch.

      His connection is deeper than any I have seen before.”

      “Connection” like the book had described, but now Eli knew how “deep” it was. He didn't just only hear them, or only see them. He saw and heard the dead people like they were really there. They were as clear as if they were alive to him. He had even made the mistake of thinking that they were.

      Mother insisted it was a gift, but the way Uncle Killian had talked about necromancers made Eli question that. As did all the stories told so often on the Day of Courage in Castle Town. Gift or not, it was not something the rest of the world would love him for, not that it seemed to favor him in any case. Perhaps that was always the reason ...

      Yet.

      Lady Impa had wanted to train him. They had even made plans to start the training next month. She said his gifts made him suited for it. That had to include his necromancer abilities as well. She had to know after what he said about the well. Lady Impa was a Sheikah, and even Eli knew what the book meant when it referenced Sheikah law. Because even in the scary stories, the necromancers were always vanquished by a brave Sheikah warrior. Everyone knew that Sheikah were the guardians of the dead. They upheld the law against necromancy and punished those who violated it.

      Lady Impa didn't want to punish him, and Eli didn't want to raise the dead or exert his will over them.

      “It’ll be fine,” Eli had whispered to himself in the dark. “I’m not a monster.”

      Or at the very least, he would never present as a necromancer openly.

      The shadows had remained silent at this comment. After all, they only ever responded to a question he held in his mind. The more specific he was with the question, the more accurate the answer he received. Still, at least the shadows never lied to him.

      "Hey, Eli, whatcha readin' there?"

      Eli peeked over the top of his book at his father's summons. He was greeted with Dad's warm, loving smile. Dad may have been scared at first—with the whole talking to dead people thing—but ever since that night at Lon Lon Ranch, he acted like nothing was different.

      Though, they hadn’t talked about it at all since either.

      "Just one of Mom's books … Different magic classes." This one had nothing about necromancers in it. Eli wasn't stupid enough to be caught reading a book about them in broad daylight.

      The one he had now just described the differences between mages, adepts, sorceresses, and elementals. These were the magic user classes, or otherwise known as the caster classes. The classes were dependent on the versatility of a caster in the thirteen essential types of magic.

      Eli had been a little lost in the terminology used in that other book with the brief snippet about necromancers. So he had sought this new book out, and he also didn't need to be as secretive about it. Still, Eli preferred having the shadows read to him, but that option wasn't as readily available to him during the day.

      According to this text, mages had the ability to cast all types of magic, but it was also harder to master all of them in just one lifetime. Adepts have the deepest connection to one specific type of magic. This was known as their "core" or primary type, which limits their casting ability to that magic type. Adepts could sometimes also cast one or two other types of magic, but those were limited to only the magic types "related" to their core type. Fire magic, for example, was related to Mind, Life, Earth, and Light magic types. So a Fire adept might be able to cast one or two of those related types as what was called their "secondaries."

      From this, Eli knew that Mom was a mage-class caster. She could cast all types. He was pretty sure Leita might be a mage-class as well. As for Eli, according to the book he had the shadows read to him, he was a Death adept. His studies reported that Death magic was related to Shadow and Life. This explained why the shadows could speak to him, because Eli was pretty sure that it was his only secondary type. He didn't show any sign of a connection to Life magic. Curious as how it was related to Death magic though …

      He wondered what class his unknown uncle was. It was still unclear to him what this "Sylric" had done or tried to do to Uncle Killian and his parents. All Eli got out of that late night conversation was that his mysterious uncle had been a necromancer, a bad one, and that he had reanimated the corpses of animals and possibly murdered his grandfather. He also knew that he might "come after" his parents again.

      And he had no idea why. Grandfather being a jerk didn't seem like the complete story to Eli.

      "You've been pretty quiet lately," continued his father.

      Eli kept his eyes glued to the page, grazing over the script but not absorbing it. He kept his expression calm as he replied, "Aren't I always quiet …? And we all know I'm pretty."

      He heard Dad chuckle softly. "Yeah, but I'm your father, I know when you're being even more quiet than usual … Is there something wrong?"

      Eli shrugged. "... What about you? You seem quiet recently too, and you're not typically."

      That got Dad to pause.

      Eli listened to the water slosh up against the boat in that strained silence. He supposed Dad had never really lied to him, but he had kept things from him. Maybe it was just the shock of it that upset Eli. His father had always been so honest and open. He never really thought he could be housing such dark secrets.

      "Why did you name me after Grandfather?" he asked, finally breaking the silence, though he could almost feel his father flinch at the question.

      "Oh … Well, I suppose, it was to honor him …"

      "He never seemed very honored," stated Eli bluntly, but then he realized how that might make his father feel. So he added, "Sorry ... I guess maybe if I wasn't … If I was more like Leita, then maybe he would have felt more honored."

      "No, Eli—" Dad began but stopped, sighing heavily.

      Sighing was all his father seemed to do as of late, and he was normally so cheerful all the time. He looked up to see him rubbing his brow, his bare back slumping as his tan skin glimmered in the sun from his sweat. He dropped his hand to smile sadly at him, apologetically. Even with all the burdens his father bore, he still smiled even if they weren't happy smiles.

      It always made Eli feel a bit guilty whenever he made one of those smiles cross his father’s face. It was one of the few things that did manage to inflict him with that emotion.

      Dad scooted over, tugged the book out of his hand, and set it aside. He touched his face, and then his hand gently grasping the back of his head and pulled Eli forward, so he could kiss him on the top of it.

      Eli still kept his eyes down, as if the book were still in his hands though they laid empty on his thighs. He hadn’t felt in any need of such consolation, but he would not reject his father’s affections in any case.

      "Don't you worry about what your grandfather thinks." He leaned back again, smiling that bitter sweet smile. "He's … an impossible man to please."

      Though… it wasn’t really that he was worried about what his grandfather thought of him. There were very few people in his life of whose thoughts he truly cared about in regard to himself.

      "Yet you still wanted to please him?" inquired Eli, raising his eyes.

      Dad's gaze dropped for a moment but mostly due to deeper thoughts. "Yes … Your grandfather just had a way about him. He was enthralling without ever trying to be. So even though he was distant, I still felt compelled to try to reach him somehow … Or at least I used to. After a while, I was finally able to let it go."

      Eli nodded and looked off into the water. Dad wasn't always firm or as commanding as Mom, but he was strong in his own way. To be honest, Eli had no idea what he would have done if he was never able to please, or to reach Dad. He, Mom, and Leita were all he had, and they were really all he wanted in any case.

      Unlike the other Hylian villages and towns, his family lived out in the isolation of the lake region. They were not surrounded by their community as most families were. Though, Eli rather preferred it that way. He disliked the idea of living around other people on a daily basis. Surrounded by their whispers and flinching and hateful gazes. He enjoyed the solitude of his home at the lake side.

      It made him wonder why someone as social as his father would pick such a place to live. He knew that Dad loved fishing, hence why he was fisherman. Still, he could have done river fishing, even if he had less space with the Zora nearby. Eli knew Mom enjoyed solitude as well, but she seemed fine with being in the towns and villages too. She probably would have been fine with any location Dad chose. Besides, it was an odd choice for a Hylian to make. They typically favored being in groups, forming rather close and supportive communities. Or so it seemed anyway, Eli had really only noticed this from observing, not really experiencing it directly for himself.

      Though, Eli did notice the attention his family received for being related to his grandfather. The people of Castle Town and Kakariko also seemed to expect some kind of magical greatness from them by proxy. It wasn’t just Grandfather who inquired about their magical abilities and their progression. Practically everyone else did. It always came up in passing with the adults somehow.

      It made sense to Eli if Dad had wanted to be free of that too. Even Uncle Killian did not live a very sedentary life-style. He passed from village to village, visiting occasionally, but never settling down anywhere. Perhaps it was easier for them to escape Grandfather’s shadow that way.

      Soon Dad was done with his nets and lines, and he was paddling them back to their home in the East corner of the lake. It happened when Eli got out of the boat and looked up.

      His grandfather was standing there.

      Elias was a tall and slender man, cloaked in dark tones of black and gray. His face was lined and wrinkled with his age but reminded Eli of what his father might look like when he got that old. His dark, ink-black hair was faded with gray and lengthy, and it did not stick up and out at odd messy angles like his and Dad's did. It lay flat and straight around his face. Those green eyes were as intense and piercing as they had been in life. He stood with his arms folded at the small of his back as Eli gazed up at him, stunned.

      He was dead, but why would Grandfather visit?

      "They are coming," said Elias. "Run."

      Eli paused before he realized what his grandfather meant. But he knew, maybe it was because his father was always working on that safe room hidden with a trap door in the storage floor.

      Always just in case.

      He nodded. He felt calm, but he knew it was just a matter of time before the panic would sink in.

      Elias cocked his head slightly, seeming to really look at him now, and he looked Eli in the eyes. He had never interacted with his grandfather enough to know if he could do this without flinching, just like Mom did, whether or not somehow Grandfather was not phased by whatever the shadows cast in Eli's eyes. After a moment, to his shock, his grandfather seemed satisfied.

      "Hm. Good. Now show me that Sheikah woman was right about you. I don't have much time—"

      And then Grandfather suddenly convulsed, falling to his knees as if his whole body was in pain. Eli took an instinctive step forward, but Elias shook his head.

      "The fool keeps trying," Elias hissed and panted. He looked up into his eyes then. "Tell your father I'm sorry. Now run."

      Grandfather vanished.

      "Eli …?" His dad had that worried tone to his voice again. He must have noticed his unusual behavior just now.

      Eli whipped around. "Dad, they're coming. We have to go. Now."

      His father blinked. "Who—?"

      "The Gerudo, they're—"

      Movement caught the corner of his eye, and Eli saw Grandfather again. He was pointing. He looked over and saw two people on horses. Their hair was such a brilliant red that it shone in the sun from across the lake.

      Dad had followed his gaze and his face paled upon seeing them. There was the briefest pause before he was being scooped up into his father's arms and rushed into the house before Eli could utter another word.

      "Maya!" Dad shouted. "Amaya!"

      Mom and Leita emerged quickly from the back, confused and somewhat alarmed.

      "They're coming, Maya," said Dad. "The Gerudo, I just saw them on the north side, approaching by horseback."

      Mom's face went cold and alert but eerily calm at the same time. Her dark blue eyes pressed to Father's. "Did they see you?"

      "I don't know," breathed Dad, his voice starting to shake a little. "I don't know if their intent is to attack, but I saw weapons on them."

      Eli supposed he would have considered that too, if the dead spirit of his grandfather had not specifically told him to run. Not to mention that the Gerudo never came to Lake Hylia, despite being relatively close by. Eli had only ever seen one, and that had been in Castle Town.

      "It's fine. We'll just follow the plan, just in case," said Mom, her voice smooth and tranquil. "Let's get into safe room."

      Dad moved, still holding Eli in his arms, as he went behind the counter found at the front of the fishing pond, which connected to the side of their house. He grabbed a bag and a scabbard containing his sword from his days as a soldier. Then he followed Mom. Leita was already starting to cry softly into her shoulder as they went over to the door down off to the side of the counter.

      The storage room.

      Dad was popping open the door, which blended so seamlessly into the floor that if you didn't know it was there, then you wouldn't. That was when Eli heard the front door to the fishing pond shudder open violently. Dad exchanged a startled look with Mom, before she nodded her head swiftly toward the safe room. They quickly lowered both Leita and him into it.

      "Eli, take your sister's hand." Mom was already stuffing Leita's into his. He heard her breathe the words, "Akite darui nisemono."

      "Wait!" began Eli, but she was already closing the door on him.

      He heard her whisper another incantation just as he shoved at the trap door with his shoulder. It didn't budge.

      "Mom!" he called, but he could already hear her footsteps fading, mingling with the soft hiccuping of Leita's sobs. Her hand still clutched in his.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Tori was already on the move after he finished lowering Eli into the safe room. He left Amaya to cast the necessary spells to effectively hide their children not only from sight but also from sound. He pressed his back into the wall and peeked around the doorway's frame. His scabbard in one hand and the hilt in the other.

      It was quiet. He didn't see anyone, but the front door was still wide open. They were either hiding or they didn't actually come inside yet. He swallowed and tried to keep his breathing silent even if not steady. He chanced peeking around it more and found the fishing pond was still empty.

      He focused on his ears, distilling all the sounds around him as he had been trained to. He searched for the crunch of foot falls of strangers. He heard no breathing in the fishing pond area. He turned back to Amaya and shook his head, indicating that they weren't there. She jerked her head to the right, telling him she would check around the back. He nodded and slipped around the frame to check the front.

      He crouched and moved along the wall to the counter near the front door. Instead of going behind, he moved in front of it. Then he pressed his back against the wood of the wall, feeling his bare skin stick with his sweat, which connected the counter with the front door. He peered out, as far as he could see to the right.

      No one was there.

      Just as he was sliding back, to try to get a better angle, she came through the door. He locked green eyes with her golden bronze ones. In that instant, his sword sliced out of its scabbard and clashed against the scimitar that she swung at him.

      The twin scimitars swooshed and whipped through the air. Repeatedly, he barely managed to block them with his own steel. The Gerudo was a red and tan blur. He was losing his breath fast. He couldn't keep up with her. She was pushing him back, deeper into the fishing pond, before she smacked his sword out of his hand and slammed a kick into his gut.

      Tori was sent hard to the floor, and she was already on top of him. The blades of her scimitar stopped, though crossed, at his throat. Her orange-red hair hung to the side of her dark-skinned face. Her red lips curved into a smirk, as she settled into the straddling position she had on top of him.

      "Well," she breathed. "Aren't you a pretty thing."

      Tori panted, keeping his chin up. He could feel the sharp steel pressed but not yet cutting into his skin. He looked up into her eyes.

      "Hmm, I might just keep you."

      "Get off," he huffed, not because he actually thought this would make her do so. It was simply an instinctive response.

      She gave a chucking “hum” before responding suggestively, "I just might with a tasty thing like you."

      She ground her hips against his, and her smirk slid further up her face. Tori flinched more out of shock than the attempt at stimulating him. His brow furrowed as he instinctively jolted and began to wriggle in an attempt to move out from under her.

      "Don't struggle, sweetie," cooed the Gerudo, pressing her blades forward so that the sting of it would remind him of their presence. "It'll be less painful for you if you just relax."

      The swords forced Tori to press his back completely against the ground. His hands grasped the dirt beneath him, thinking to throw it in her eyes, but there was still the chance she would cut him open before he could get away.

      Tori had heard the stories, back during the Civil War, of the men that the Gerudo would take after demolishing a village. The Gerudo might keep them for a while and then, after they grew bored, kill them. Cold fear rushed through his insides as they turned sickly. He glanced around, looking, hoping for something, anything that could get him out of this.

      "Aw, what's the matter? Already married?" she taunted, lifting one of her swords and sheathing it while keeping the other safely at his neck. "Afraid you'll enjoy it more than with your wife?"

      The Gerudo glanced up from him, her eyes searching, the smirk fading from her lips. "Now, if you really are married, where's your wifey?"

      This was the only reason he kept silent and did not call for Amaya. If she was nearby, he didn't want to give her away.

      She looked back down at him, that smirk returning. She brushed her hips against his, experimentally, almost teasingly. "If you don't tell me, I'll take you right here, right now … Of course, she might already be dead."

      He looked up into that beautiful face but found no pleasure in it. He merely cringed, feeling his stomach twist sickeningly as her hips sought to brush and stimulate him. Tori had never really been able to say he hated anyone. Not even his older brother, Sylric, when he probably should. But if he were going to hate anyone, it would be the Gerudo. What they had done to the Sheikah village still haunted him.

      It wasn't every night that he woke in a cold sweat, the image of a flayed Sheikah man, their heads on spikes burned into the back of his eyelids, the smell of burning flesh still stinging in his nose.

      But it happened often enough.

      Killian had always said that he wasn't made for war, but Farore, who was? Who was made for things like that?

      All the same, Tori was mostly confident that his wife was not dead. Amaya had always been his father's favorite student for a reason. He just needed to wait for her to be finished dealing with the second Gerudo.

      The Gerudo pouted almost playfully. She reached down and grabbed him, causing him to jolt and gasp again in shock. "I really will fuck you right here. Don't think the love of your wife will keep you from getting hard. I'll show you how wrong you are."

      Nayru, she wouldn't really do that right here, when an enemy was unaccounted for. She was bluffing. She had to be, but Tori still felt the fear and nausea rush through him.

      Thankfully, he never got to find out.

      The Gerudo was suddenly lifted off him. Her hand clutched at her throat, as if something were choking her. Her sword was twisted out of her hand. Tori sat up and looked around, expecting to see Amaya. However, he saw no one else in the fishing pond.

      He looked back up at the Gerudo who dangled in the air and then shock shuddered through him like lightning. The image of his father faded into the air. It flickered in and out of clarity and transparency, like a light struggling not to die. He stood in front of the Gerudo, one arm held at the small of his back and the other lifted before him, as poised and elegant as he had always been, the gesture of his hold on the Gerudo woman's throat.

      "Touch him again, you wench, and I'll drag you into the abyss with me."

      It couldn't be. He was dead, and Tori had never been able to see ghosts as his son did.

      With a lazy flick of his wrist, the Gerudo was sent flying, slamming into the right wall next to the counter. It shuddered with the blow. Another flick, she zoomed back into the left wall. Elias raised his hand up, and she rose. He dropped it, and she smashed into the ground.

      He was starting to lift her up again, but Tori saw his father's image start flickering more rapidly. He shuddered, his image showing him dropping to his knees, his arms curling around his middle. The Gerudo fell to the ground again, as he lost his control over her.

      "Not now," Tori heard him half groan and growl, his voice sounding like an echo, no longer as clear as it had been before.

      And he vanished.

      The Gerudo was panting and wincing in pain, but she was getting back up to her knees, lifting her head up. Her golden bronze eyes locked on him again, her hair a wild red mess around her face as it had come loose from being thrown about. Her lips pulled back in a snarl, and her hand grasped her dropped scimitar.

      Tori realized he had been too shocked to have the wherewithal to retrieve his own sword. His eyes darted around quickly to find it, lest he be caught in the same position as before. Thankfully, before he could even scramble to his feet, he heard her scream. He jerked his head back up and saw the Gerudo writhing on the ground.

      Amaya was walking cover calmly, her dark blue sundress swaying about her knees with her stride and the soft breeze that blew into the fish pond. Her long silver hair caressing her face and shoulders. Her dark eyes had that cold and detach look Tori had come to know during their days fighting in the war.

      It was a strange scene, mostly because his wife was so small and practically dainty compared to the tall and athletic Gerudo on the ground at her feet. Amaya bent her knees and sat on her heels, just watching the woman twist and contort.

      "Yes, it hurts," she said softly, only heard between the Gerudo's pained grunting growl. "Don't worry. Soon you'll wish you were dead, and I'll grant that wish. I'm not without some measure of kindness."

      Amaya waved a particular gesture in the air and though the Gerudo obviously continued to wriggle in pain on the ground and her mouth gaped in agony, there was no sound.

      His wife stood up and looked over at him. The warmth finally turning to her eyes. She swept over to him swiftly as he managed to get to his feet. Her hands went up to his bare shoulders as she gazed searchingly into his eyes.

      "Are you okay?"

      But Tori's mind was still on the impossible thing he had just witnessed. "Did—did you see …?"

      Amaya nodded. "Your father."

      "But—how?"

      She glanced down thoughtfully. "Those with magic who linger after death can still use it. It's the soul that generates mana. Mages or those with a connection to Death magic can make themselves visible to everyone even after death, but still …" She looked up at him. "It's very difficult to do while one's spirit is still clinging to this world on will alone. It usually takes a long time for them to regain even a small portion of the magical abilities they had in life."

      Tori smiled weakly. "Well, you know Elias …"

      She nodded. "He always was a quick study."

      Elias Serwen, prodigy mage from a very young age. Amya wasn't really surprised he managed to do magic after death so quickly. She had actually known Elias and Sylric before she had ever met Tori. She met them at the magic academy in Castle Town. She had befriended Sylric out of pity more than anything else. She had only met Tori when she had been invited to do some extra training in Kakariko with his father. She first saw him fishing down by Zora's river just outside of the village. She had caught a glimpse of his green eyes and his warm, gentle smile and, well …

      She watched him swallow thickly, those gentle eyes becoming heavy and pained. "What … what happened to him? It seemed like something was hurting him and then he was gone."

      "I don't know … Well, it's not something I can be sure of right now at least." It was a lie she would have to give him for now. The painful bite of the truth could wait until later.

      Tori nodded, his hand running through his hair, his eyes cast downward.

      "But he came for you," she said, raising her hand to stroke his face. "To protect you. I know he was never good at showing his true feelings. I'm not sure if he was ever good at knowing what those were to begin with, but death can be … very sobering."

      Elias may have favored her, even been more appreciative toward her than he ever was toward his own sons or wife, but she was supposed that was only because he saw something of himself in her. She understood him somewhat. Elias was, in truth, a solitary man. Though he was good at charming, playing the social game of life to reach his own ends. Everything he did, he did almost flawlessly so. He was an extraordinarily intelligent man. It was as if Nayru herself had come down from the heavens and touched him. However, such a thing was something that others envied. Elias was not what she would have called "arrogant" though others often saw it as such. He was always very aware of his limits and his capabilities. Those capabilities just often stretched beyond what most people could fathom. He lived in a world others did not understand, not even his own parents or the people he pretended to be friends with. So he felt just as misunderstood and alone. Others held him and the perception of his perfection at a distance just as much as he held back from them. He even used this perfection as a harsh measure that continued to keep his own family at bay.

      Tori was so afraid of Eli being like Sylric, but Amaya saw Elias when she looked at her son and the struggles he faced. Even if others could have stomached her son's gaze and disregarded his budding gifts for Death magic, they would have come to know a boy who was much too smart for his age. Perhaps even smarter than most adults. Like his grandfather, Eli learned swiftly, like it was something he was put on this earth by Farore to do. He did this not only with magic but with what little Tori was able to teach him about swordplay and hand-to-hand combat. It was as though Eli were born to sort out the generational issues of his family.

      All the same, Amaya was happy to share in the karmic troubles of the Serwen family. It was why she took Tori's name, instead of having Tori take hers. "Kara" was the surname of the Sheikah family in Castle Town that had taken her in when she was orphaned as a baby. Though she was always grateful to them, it had never felt like it belonged to her. Though it wasn’t really right to say that any child without parents was orphaned, as usually the Hylian community would just raise the child as its own. It had simply been the Sheikah community that had found her instead.

      And perhaps that connection to the Sheikah was why Eli was given to her.

      And perhaps that was why she left the Gerudo on the ground to continue to experience the harsh sting of her wrath. Amaya was very aware of the fact she did not forgive them for the slaughter of the Sheikah. Nor did she forgive this one for assaulting her husband. She had seen the Gerudo at it just as Elias' spirit appeared and attacked her. She had thought it rude to interrupt him.

      Tori put a hand to his face, his brow furrowing as his face tensed with his raw and honest emotion as Amaya slipped her arms around him.

      His childhood had been filled with nothing but shameful failure in those unyielding green eyes. When he came of age, he joined the guard, at least hoping to please his mother and his community in someway. To be great in some manner or form. She had been a very skilled warrior, so much so she had been the captain of the Royal Guard before Kubera. Yet again, he could not rise to that challenge. Combat was not something that came to him as it did to his adventurous twin.

      So after the war, Tori finally decided to follow his own heart.

      "A fisherman?" He remembered Elias saying with disdain, glancing up from his desk covered in scrolls. After a brief moment, he had looked back down at his work, continuing to twitch his quill across the parchment. "It suits you as well as anything. Very well."

      It was then that Tori realized it wasn't his father's disappointment that stung in deep. It was his complete disregard. His utter lack of interest in his life if it had nothing to do with magic. It wasn't until his father had given his stinging comment about Eli that Tori finally stopped wanting to care. Because he did not want to pass on this pain and all these expectations that could never be fulfilled onto his own son. He never wanted Eli to feel this way.

      And yet Elias had appeared here, even after death, to protect him.

      Tori remembered his chilling wrath when he had dragged Killian home with the gash on his face.

      "This wound is cursed," Elias had stated, as he had signed a Healing spell. He had glared most bitingly over at Tori. "Tell me who has done this."

      That anger had only become more frightening when Tori and Killian refused to tell him. What Elias would have done to Sylric had he known was something Tori never wished to think about. But it had been one of the rare times his father had shown even a hint of interest in them.

      Perhaps Amaya was right. Maybe his father had always cared in some way.

      Tori felt his throat tighten. When Killian told him of his death, it wasn't as if he had felt nothing. He had felt both regret and hopelessness. Their relationship all his life had been full of nothing but bitter stings and awkward silences. Even if he had tried, if he had known, Tori wasn't sure those attempts would have been any more fruitful than they had been in the past.

      "Come, love, we must hurry," whispered Amaya. "There could be more of them to follow."

      Tori nodded and swallowed hard again. "Where should we go?"

      "I'm not sure." Amaya released him from her embrace. "They probably only sent a couple warriors here as an afterthought. Once they don't return they will send more to see what became of them. If they are attacking Hyrule again, they would have focused the majority of their forces on Castle Town and Kakariko. Kakariko will have a better chance of seeing the attack coming, as they will likely take Castle Town first, as it is closest. They would have more time to set up a barrier if they have enough magic users in Kakariko. That's assuming their strategy is just to attack whatever comes first. They could have also divided their forces and attacked at the same time. In any case, we won't know until we see for ourselves, and we must leave here first."

      "The other Gerudo?" asked Tori. There had been two.

      "Already dealt with." A cold shadow flashed over Amaya's face again.

      Tori just grimaced and nodded. His wife as as magnetic as she was terrifying at times. He glanced over at the Gerudo; she was still convulsing.

      "Maya … Not that I'm unappreciative, but is that … really necessary now?"

      "Go get the children and take them outside," she instructed him. "I will finish dealing with her then."

      He resisted the urge to shudder at the thought and nodded.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      "Eli," Leita sniffed. "I—I'm scared. What's happening?"

      Eli had long stopped shoving against the trap door. No doubt Mother had sealed it so he couldn't force it open. Now he was sitting on the wooden steps under it, his arms around Leita who sat on a step below his. It was dark, though dimly lit by fluorescent fungus and moss that were set into little spaces carved out in the walls.

      "The Gerudo have come, like they did before," whispered Eli.

      "Like in the war?" Her voice trembled like a leaf.

      "Yeah …"

      "What are Mommy and Daddy doing? Are they gonna get hurt?"

      He paused, not sure what to tell her. Should he lie when he didn't even know that himself? "I'm not sure … Be quiet for a little bit, and I'll Listen like Dad showed me."

      He heard his father and the Gerudo fighting, confirmed also by the shadows that were growing in the twilight. Between Listening and what the shadows reported to him, he had an idea of what was going on. His heart was pounding in his ears as his father was knocked to the ground by the Gerudo. He squeezed Leita, afraid of the finishing blow.

      It didn't come, but what followed next was a conversation that made him feel uncomfortable. It wasn't until the shadows told him where she had grabbed Dad and he heard what she last said that he truly understood it.

      "I really will fuck you right here. Don't think the love of your wife will keep you from getting hard. I'll show you how wrong you are."

      Eli's eyes snapped open wide in the dim lighting of the safe room. Where was Mom? She would make this stop. She would.

      "What is it? Are they hurt?" asked Leita, noticing his sudden anxiety as he had clutched her tighter.

      Eli couldn't answer. The shadows told him that Mom was on her way back inside, and then he heard and felt his grandfather in the fishing pond.

      "Touch him again, you wench, and I'll drag you into the abyss with me."

      Intently, Eli listened to the shadows describe how the Gerudo was thrown around, and he heard confirmation of this as well. And then his grandfather's presence was gone, just like before. Where did he go? Why did it seem like there was something wrong with him? Spirits never just vanished in front of him like that before. Something felt wrong, a sick feeling twisted his insides.

      His thoughts were interrupted by the Gerudo's scream. It had made him jump because it was so loud, he wouldn't have needed to be Listening to hear it. Leita, also, had given a startled jolt and a sob at the sound.

      "Eli!" she cried, clinging harder to him.

      "It's okay—It's not Mom. It's the Gerudo," he explained for her quickly, stroking her head.

      Mom had picked up where Grandfather left off. He asked the shadows what she was doing to the Gerudo that made her scream like that. It was a spell that simply caused pain all throughout her body. She was screaming so much, Eli had a hard time hearing what Mom was saying to her.

      "Yes, it hurts … Don't worry. Soon you'll wish you were dead, and I'll grant that wish. I'm not without some measure of kindness."

      He had never heard Mother sound like that before. Her voice sounded so empty and cold. Even while it sent a chill down his spine, he couldn't help thinking, Good.

      Then he listened to Mom and Dad talk about Grandfather and what to do next. The Gerudo was suddenly silent even though the shadows told him she was still alive and still under Mom's spell. She mentioned having dealt with the second Gerudo. He asked the shadows, and they said this Gerudo was out back and her head was crushed.

      "It's okay—they're okay, Leita," he said to her. "Dad is coming to get us."

      They waited until he heard Dad's footsteps and the trap door came open. Eli blinked and squinted as more light flooded the safe room. He turned to find his father standing above him. He reached out a hand to them.

      "It's okay now. Come on out."

      Dad carried Leita and held Eli's hand as he guided them through the fishing pond and back outside. Eli glanced over to where the Gerudo should be, but he didn't see anyone there. He looked up at his mother, who stood there waiting for them to leave. The shadows told him she had used a spell to mask the Gerudo's presence from his senses. He remembered reading about spells like that. It was called Illusion magic.

      They sat outside the house, staring out toward the lake as night began to fall around them. Dad held Leita and wrapped his other arm around Eli as they waited for Mom to finish with whatever she was doing to the Gerudo. Eli was satisfied knowing that he could ask the shadows if he wanted to, and that he knew what had happened to that other Gerudo too. Mom would make them pay, and that was all he needed to know.

      "Daddy, you're hurt," said Leita after a while, noticing the cut he had on his neck.

      "Oh, it's nothing, sweet pea," began Dad.

      Leita reached up, touching his throat and said, "Ateru."

      Her hand glowed green and so did Dad's cut until it was all gone. Dad stared in amazement. "... Honey, when did you …"

      "... I told her what some of Mom's books said," admitted Eli. "You know, the ones with actual spells in them."

      Dad's brow furrowed in confusion. "But those are locked up."

      "Yeah... so?"

      Dad sighed but didn't seemed mad at least. Just tired mostly. "... I'm going to have to talk to your mother about that."

      "Oh, really?"

      Eli turned, finding Mom standing outside by the door. She had her arms crossed over her chest but a smirk on her face. She even looked almost proud.

      "It's fine … perhaps better even." Her smile faded. "They might have to start learning and fast."



      “We must be greater than what we suffer.”
      [A Light in the Dark| Empire of Darkness |Under the Red Sea]

      The post was edited 7 times, last by Shrub ().

    • Back to Chapter Index

      Chapter Three:
      Eyes of the Kali

      Ceres huddled in a flattened patch of tall grass, hidden in the shadow of a large protruding rock, with a child under each arm. She shivered against the cold of the night and squeezed her young ones closer. She would have made a fire if she weren’t so afraid of attracting unwanted attention. Her eyes strained in the darkness, trying to keep the shadows from creating false enemies in the night. While she managed to coax Ventus and Rini to sleep, she couldn’t relax herself despite the heaviness of her own eyes. At any moment the Gerudo could attack, and without Kubera around …

      Her hand clenched at her skirt, knuckles turning white, her stomach twisting into tight knots with her frustration at her own powerlessness. Her teeth clenched with determination, but she wasn’t able to keep the tears from gathering in her eyes. Hurriedly, she wiped them away, lest her children wake up and begin to worry.

      Damn it, I should have foreseen this. Still, to not even take Ventus and Rini in … she thought, a finger caressing a strand of hair from Ventus’ face.

      She could understand, for once, her grandmother’s rage. Her hatred. While in the past she wouldn’t have minded to see Kakariko burn to the ground, this was the first time she wished to do the deed herself, and truth to be told if she had a fraction of her grandmother’s power, Kakariko Village wouldn’t need to worry about the Gerudo. Then they would have had a real reason to fear her, not that there would be anything left of that village to harbor the memory.

      Mother always said she was dangerous. Why not prove her right?

      Upon seeing those hateful eyes—those same eyes which always made Fae and herself pariahs for something they had no control over—directed at her children, she felt Kakariko Village should never have been rebuilt. It should have remained broken and in shambles after the last war. The only light that place had produced was Kubera, Fae, and the Serwen twins.

      None of them were with her now; her sister disappeared during the Gerudo War, and now her husband was risking his life, once again, for the people of the land. A sacrifice which the people of Kakariko Village couldn’t even honor. She had no idea where Killian was, but she knew Tori and Amaya were at Lake Hylia.

      Once more, she found herself unable to wait for the Gerudo to attack that village, finish off what they had failed to do ten years ago. While the scent of burning bodies in Castle Town made her retch, the smoke burning her eyes as she was forced to stick to the shadows to slip out of the city, she was sure that the same scent of burning flesh in Kakariko Village would be a wondrous perfume she could see herself becoming addicted to.

      Perhaps darkness truly did run in the family, and despite this, she wished—perhaps not for the first time in her life—she had learned how to use her abilities, no matter how illegal and taboo it was for non-Sheikah to possess them.

      But she wasn’t really a non-Sheikah either. This was accompanied with that bitter thorn of resentment that never really left her side. No matter what Mother—or anyone—said, she had every right to wield this power. Even if she had more Hylian blood, it didn’t negate the Sheikah ancestry which ran through her veins.

      Ah, but none of that mattered now.

      Their plan relied on Kubera being with them, or if Ceres was being honest, the villagers taking in Ventus and Rini even if they turned her away. It was the main reason she allowed them to visit Kakariko Village so often—to introduce them as Agni. Kubera would be unable to join them while there were still civilians to evacuate from Castle Town, but that shouldn’t have mattered.

      Yet, like her, they had been turned away as Kali.

      They saw her babies—Ventus, chasing after his father’s shadow, proud to the end, showing off to all of those who would look his way, and Rini, sweet, sweet Rini, mischievous like her father but with a quicker wit which Ceres took credit for—as monsters. They saw the great grandchildren of a necromancer long dead, who had been executed publicly for all to see. This was to assure everyone she wouldn’t raise up herself, like the numerous bodies she brought back to life to take fifty more that horrible day in Castle Town, nearly adding a hundred more before she was finally taken down.

      Yet, they were also the children of a royal knight, a hero during the Gerudo War. She had hoped that would have been enough, but was there something else she was missing?

      Did Ventus figure the truth out? Was he told?

      He hangs around with the Serwen boy a lot, she fretted, grasping, trying to find some sense in this madness. It would just be like Ventus to show off things he really shouldn’t, and Tori and Amaya’s boy was more adult than child, and he would be quick enough to figure out the truth. No doubt part of the reason he was tapped to be an Elite Guard, though she had other suspicions as well.

      She, of course, had heard the whispers spoken even in Castle Town of the boy who spoke to nobody. Something about those deep, dark blue eyes always unnerved her, and she wondered—no—that wasn’t quite right, she knew he could see what she saw, and by the rumors, maybe more so.

      Ironic that it was the grandson of Elias Serwen, the man who became famous for taking down Aliyah Kali, her grandmother, “the greatest necromancer to ever live.” Even now, she could see those cold green eyes boring into her own, goading her on, daring her, to take one step out of line. To become like her grandmother was, and if she was honest, sometimes the thought was rather tempting. Just to spite him like she did her mother.

      He had to have known her secret, though she would be more surprised if anyone from Kakariko didn’t.

      If she hadn’t known he was dead—killed by a lightning strike out of all things—she would have suspected the cold-hearted man would have been the one to convince the stupid villagers to keep them out, not that they would have needed much of it.

      There wasn’t anything she could do about it now. She sighed, waiting for morning to come. The sooner they found a settlement to take them in, the better.

      ###

      The sun was just peeking over the horizon, the second day after their first night, when Rini pointed out the smoke floating lazily in the distance. While in the past it was the sign of civilization, Ceres wouldn’t rule out a smouldering wreck of what was once a Hylian village now. Still, it wasn’t like they had much of a choice, so forcing a smile on her face, she urged her children onward.

      “You think they’ll let us in?” Rini asked, her voice a whisper, dragging her small feet along since they had left the second darkness began to lift.

      Once more Ceres struggled to quell the rage bubbling inside her soul, but she forced it down. Right now they needed their mother to give them some sort of hope.

      “Of course,” she smiled, squeezing her daughter’s hand.

      “Then why didn’t Kakariko Village?” Ventus asked, walking in front of them, dragging his stick through the tall grass.

      Ceres saw Kubera’s back in her son, strong and proud. Yet when he turned his head to look back at her, a jolt ran through her spine as she saw her eyes staring back at her—an intense hazel, blue and green with a blaze of golden brown encircling the pitch dark pupil.

      Darkness and rage swam in them, and, for a moment, she panicked.

      It wasn’t like she never saw the flashes of darkness in her son boiling under the surface, but she always did her best to stifle it, making sure her son wouldn’t grow it. So that he wouldn’t turn out like her or her grandmother. She didn’t want that sort of life for either of her children, as both had inherited her eyes. Kubera always did a better job of chasing away those shadows.

      If the Kali were the darkness, Kubera was the sun.

      “Because,” she began hesitantly, trying to find an excuse, floundering for a moment before settling on a lie which could be believable. “There were other refugees who got there first, honey. A village can only support so many people. If you overburden it, everyone suffers. Kakariko Village isn’t a farming community; it can’t support a lot of people.”

      Ventus continued to look at her, searching, but he was no Sheikah who could discern truth from falsehood. Yet somehow the darkness didn’t ebb away. It was almost like he knew she was lying. It made her uneasy and wonder if despite his blood, he was truly more Sheikah than Hylian.

      “Yeah, okay,” he grumbled in a tone which indicated he didn’t believe a word coming out of her mouth, looking away once more, swinging his stick around, batting at the grass.

      “Ventus,” Ceres murmured. “People are scared right now; the Gerudo are attacking again, and Kakariko Village was really hit hard by the war last time. I know you eavesdropped on your father and his friends before, so you should know what happened. You’ll have to forgive them.”

      Because the Goddesses know I’ll never be able to.

      “... Alright,” Ventus grunted, although she could hear the unwillingness in his voice.

      If her mother had been there, she would have beaten that tone out of Ven’s voice like she tried to do with Ceres. Thankfully, Hera Kali never met her grandson; Kubera found her hanging from the rafters ten years ago soon after it became apparent Fae was never coming back from wherever she had fled to after the attack on Castle Town at the end of the war. She and her son had become more casualties.

      When Kubera had told her the news, somberly informing her he buried her mother in Kakariko Village’s graveyard, Ceres hadn’t even shed a tear for the woman that given birth to her. There was no love lost between the two women anyway; Fae had always been Mother’s favorite. She didn’t have the cursed eyes of the Kali. She didn’t have Ceres’ darkness. She was the light the Kali needed, but the Gerudo snuffed it out, leaving the family once more in darkness.

      While Ceres would never admit it out loud, a weight had been lifted off her shoulders the day she learned mother dearest strung herself from the rafters. No more would she fear being on the receiving end of her mother’s tongue or her hand, nor would she need to fear for her children’s safety from someone who was supposed to be blood.

      “What if the Gerudo got there before us?” Rini asked, before her voice dropped even lower. “What if there is nowhere for us to go?”

      Ceres squeezed her hand tighter but said nothing in response. Her children shouldn’t be thinking about things like this, yet they were being forced to. They would have to start growing up too fast and too soon. Ventus wasn’t even eleven yet; his birthday still two weeks away, and Rini was only seven. Even if they didn’t lose their lives, Ventus and Rini would never have their childlike-innocence again.

      But anything was better than dead. The Gerudo War took her sister, her brother-in-law, and her sweet nephew. Kubera lost even more beyond his arm; many of his friends had died at the hands of the Gerudo. It was why she couldn’t fault him, despite the loneliness she felt at night, for never being home much after that. Kubera wasn’t like her; he was too kind. He loved everyone in Hyrule and wanted to protect them all so nobody would have to go through that again.

      Too bad the Gerudo didn’t share that dream.

      “There will always be a place for us,” Ceres said, trying to think how best to alleviate her children’s fears. “We just might have to carve our own though.”

      “How will we do that?” Ventus asked, looking back at his mother. Ceres smiled at him, the same exhausted smile she was sure her children were going to be getting now until the Gerudo were defeated once more.

      “By never giving up.”

      ###

      The village, miraculously, was not burned down. As they approached, Ceres could see the beginning of a wall being formed around the fields, which were still green instead of a charred black, and the buildings, made of brick and wood standing proudly without any parts of them missing or on fire.

      The wall wouldn’t hold out against long sieges as it currently was, but something would be better than nothing. It seemed word of the Gerudo attack had spread to the sleepy village, and while she spotted some children tending the field, most of the adults seemed to be working on the wall, strengthening the defenses before the inevitable would occur.

      However, much to Ceres’ surprise, she spotted a familiar face; one she hadn’t seen for a month at least. While Killian and Tori were twins, they had plenty of differences in their appearances. Tori kept his hair short and simple and his face shaved. Killian wore his haphazard hair, a trait they both shared, long. He kept it braided in a ponytail with the sides of his head shaved. A thick scar rippled through his right brow, across his nose, and into his cheek, interrupting the close-shaven beard on his face, which was part of his goatee.

      Killian was a mercenary. A lot of his work was as a bodyguard for traveling merchants concerned about getting attacked by Gerudos on the road, a fear not unfounded now. He dressed the part with dark, leather gauntlets on his hands and forearms. More leather armor sheathed his torso and a sword was strapped to his back. His thick traveling tunic was faded navy-blue though only partially seen under his leathers, the long sleeves tucked into his gauntlets. Today his clothing was dirty, crusted in red in some parts, and torn. Even if this village had not yet seen an attack of the Gerudo, Killian must have.

      “Killian?” she called out, approaching the wall, her grip on Ven’s hand becoming tighter, so her son wouldn’t recklessly run forward or do something he shouldn’t.

      “Ceres?” he replied in shock, turning and walking toward her. His green eyes glanced around, searching, and then focused back on her. “Are you all okay?”

      “Yes, we’re fine. We managed to escape … but Castle Town,” Ceres said trailing off, knowing she didn’t have to elaborate. Still, she breathed a sigh of relief, opting not to tell Killian about what happened in Kakariko Village—especially with the other villagers still in earshot.

      Rini and Ven smiled up at him. Both had come to call him Uncle Killian, despite him bearing no blood to them at all. He was their father’s best friend and often their playmate when he visited them at their mother’s bakery.

      Killian smiled down at the kids. “Hey, Rini. Ven. You kiddos hangin’ in there?”

      “Yeah…” Rini said, still hugging Anna to her chest. “Are you okay, Uncle Killian?”

      “We tried going to Kakariko Village, but it was already ‘overburdened,’” Ventus complained, swinging his stick, scowling a bit. Ceres felt her heart skip a beat, feeling as if she should have told Ventus and Rini not to mention Kakariko Village, but she hadn’t thought about it—since it would have lead to more questions.

      However, he grinned up at Killian, the scowl ebbing, and said, “But I guess that’s okay, now.”

      Killian’s smile faded at Ven’s mention of Kakariko. It wasn’t as if he was oblivious to Ceres’ background. For Nayru’s sake, he had even engaged in some of the teasing himself when he was young. Though, he rather thought that it worked out. After all, that’s how she met Kubera. All the same, he could guess the real reason they had been turned away from Kakariko Village.

      His smile strengthened almost as soon as it had weakened. “That’s right.”

      He tousled Rini’s hair and replied to her earlier question. “I’m doin’ just fine … Me and some people on the road just ran into a little trouble last night, but I’m okay.” He looked back up at Ceres, his expression becoming more somber. “Kubera is still in Castle Town?”

      Ceres nodded solemnly.

      “You know how he is,” she said, biting her lower lip.

      She wanted him here, safe, with her and the kids, not his fate a questionable unknown. Who knew how long it would take for them to meet up again? Their plan was in ruins, although it wouldn’t take Kubera long to figure out his wife and children weren’t at their home village. It felt so naive of them now, to think it would have been a good place to flee to.

      “Right.” Killian nodded, glancing to the west.

      He had only intended to stay in this little village for a brief time. Just to make sure they were on their feet—well, as much as they could be. But his thoughts were on that gentle brother of his in Lake Hylia. He just had to live so damn close to the desert. Killian wanted to go make sure he was alright, along with his wife and children. But his eyes turned back to Ceres and her Rini and Ventus. Kubera’s Rini and Ventus too.

      He had to believe that Kubera was fine. Even though this method of the Gerudo’s attack confused him. That confusion made him feel uneasy. It was like they were just attacking every village they came across. There was no strategy to it. It was as if they thought they had already won.

      But there was no way they could have won so easily. The Gerudo War had gone on for a good few years, and they had lost in the end. Even a surprise attack on Castle Town couldn’t have guaranteed victory.

      Killian also didn’t know why they hadn’t seen this attack coming. When he used to be in the guard, he knew that they sent patrols out toward the desert, just to make sure the Gerudos weren’t getting any ideas about attacking them, and if they were, they would have seen an army coming soon enough to send back word and warn everyone.

      None of it made sense, and Killian didn’t like that.

      All the same, Tori had Amaya with him. She had enough fire power as a mage to protect him and their children. They also had that safe room Tori was building. He would have to trust that they were okay. For now, Ceres and Kubera needed him more. He had to stay with them, at least until Kubera found them. After all, they were family too.

      “Well, come on,” said Killian with a sigh. “I’ll show you where you can get some food, and we’ll get a tent set up for you. It will have to do until Kubera gets back.”


      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

      The post was edited 6 times, last by Ruki ().

    • Back to Chapter Index
      Chapter Four:
      A Foul Wind

      They had to gather their things quickly and only the bare essentials. Mother did, however, take all the spells books she had locked away. She left all the others that had only contained theory of magic. She took her staff too, which had been collecting dust. Eli had never seen her use it before. He supposed it was something she had only ever needed during the last war.

      Still, he had always admired the object. It was made of ebony wood from the edges of Kokiri Forest. Embedded in it were swirling symbols of sterling silver. At the top, tendrils of the black wood held in place a deep, blue sapphire. He had read that tools like these, staves and the like, were used to enhance a caster's channeling of mana. It kept the costs of mana down and helped them focus. He supposed that was never really a concern during times of peace.

      Dad gathered other things, like food, clothing, water, and other supplies. Mom muttered spells or motioned with her hands as they climbed into their wagon. Mother whispered another spell and light glowed around them, coming from nowhere in particular.

      "If the Gerudo are around, won't they see us by this light?" asked Eli as Dad started the wagon moving.

      "This spell is a 'ghost light'," she explained, shaking her head. "The only ones who can see it, are us."

      That made Eli wonder if his shadows were affected by it all. They responded as if the light wasn't there. It seemed only true light really kept the shadows at bay.

      "Leita, Eli," Mom addressed them again. "Can either of you tell me which type of magic I just used was?"

      Eli pursed his lips for a moment. He supposed what seemed like the obvious answer was Light magic. However, since his shadows responded as if the light wasn't there …

      "Illusion," he answered.

      Mom turned her head to Leita. "And you, dear?"

      Leita worried her bottom lip for a moment. "I agree with Eli."

      "Why do you agree with him?"

      "Well … because only we can see the light," she answered hesitantly.

      "Yes, so why would that make it Illusion magic?"

      Leita worried her lip again and looked to Eli for support.

      "No, no," said Mother, gently reaching over and turning Leita's chin so she was looking at her. "Don't always look to Eli for the answer. Tell me the answer that you know."

      Leita nodded her head, still hesitating for a moment before answering. "If only we can see it … then it's not real light."

      Mom smiled. "Correct, in a sense. Illusion magic might not be considered 'real', but it can reveal very real things inside us." She turned her blue eyes onto Eli. "So tell me, how did you know that it was Illusion magic and not Light magic?"

      Eli raised a brow at his mother. Why did she ask him that after Leita gave the answer just now? True, he hadn't thought of it the way she had, but it also made sense. He also knew better than to question her. Mother was anything but stupid. She was looking for a different answer. That was the only reason he could think of as to why she would ask the same question twice.

      The only answer he had that was different was the first thing that had come to mind when Mom had cast the ghost light. "Because, the shadows responded to me as if the light wasn't there. So it wasn't real light, just something altering our own perceptions."

      Mom nodded and smiled. "You both can come to the same answer, but you can get it differently. There is never one right way. You both perceive the world in your own unique ways. This is why you should avoid trying to compare yourselves to others. Their way is not your way, nor should it be at times. The way you connect to your casting will be similarly unique. It's a journey all of your own."

      Eli nodded but looked down, thinking about what kind of casting he was capable of. The necromancy was obviously not an option, but other than talking to shadows, he wasn't sure what he could do with Shadow magic. He hadn't gotten far enough in Mother's books when he had been secretly reading them to Leita the past couple nights. He found the things he thought Leita would be able to cast. So he hadn't tried any Shadow spells out yet.

      "Eli."

      His head snapped up at her calling.

      "Tell me what you know about mana."

      He nodded. That was easy enough. "It's the magical energy generated by our 'souls' or also known as our 'consciousness'. Casters possess a 'mana pool' which is the maximum amount of mana they can hold at one time. Mana is what powers the spells that magic users cast, so the required mana is taken from their mana pool. When they run out of mana, time and rest replenishes it. Sometimes meditation can speed up the regeneration of mana, as it's rooted in our consciousness not our bodies. Sleep and a restful mind can be the most conducive to the regeneration of mana. A suffering body can be a burden to the soul, so this can hamper the regeneration of mana even if it is rooted in the consciousness. Mana potion can also restore mana instantly. But this form of mana is not as ‘potent’ as the naturally produced."

      Mom smiled and sighed. "... It's as if you are reading it word for word out of a book."

      Eli blinked, his brow furrowing. "Is that bad …? Because I'm not just repeating word for word. This is just how I remembered it."

      She shook her head. "You just remind me of your grandfather."

      "He already knows words like 'conducive'," Tori commented, chuckling to himself. "I didn't even have a third of his vocabulary at his age."

      Eli just shrugged and looked away.

      He wasn't really sure how he felt when they said he was like his grandfather. It almost seemed like a backhanded compliment, given the things he had learned and even experienced of his grandfather himself. Elias hadn't been a kind man, but he had still protected them in the end—no, beyond the end, even after death. Sometimes, Eli wondered if being kind was all it was cracked up to be anyways. His father was the kindest man he ever knew. He loved him for that, but he also worried like Killian did that night he had listened in on their conversation. His father seemed too good for his own good. Kind people were needed, but maybe the unkind ones were needed too.

      To do the things that the kind ones can't. The things that needed to be done.

      He looked out into the dark where the ghost light didn't reach. His parents had done well in taking both his and Leita's minds off the current situation. Father had even chuckled like he hadn't just been assaulted by that Gerudo an hour or so ago. They were relatively safe for now, but that didn't change that they were on the run. The shadows told him that Mother had cast the spell from before over them and the wagon. The one that made them unnoticeable. The Gerudos would not be hearing or seeing them tonight. Perhaps it was another Illusion spell.

      "It's all very well and good that he knows and understands it intellectually," began Mother, turning her eyes back onto him. "But Eli, magic is something that is also felt emotionally, not just controlled by the mind. Remember that."

      "That seems like a contradiction," remarked Eli.

      Mother smiled her mischievous smile that always seemed to hold many secrets. "Indeed."

      Mom continued to drill him and Leita on what they already knew and understood in theory about magic. Eventually, hours later, Mom and Dad agreed they were far enough away from Lake Hylia to stop for the night. Once they found ground that was even enough for their needs, Mother cast the same spell from before to conceal them from other people's senses. It was different though, because it concealed the area in general rather than specific people or objects.

      Dad had set to pitching their tent and digging out a small groove in the earth for their fire. Mom lit the firewood with another wave of her hand. Father was passing out dried fish and jerky to Eli and Leita. Mom had yet to sit down. She was still pacing slowly, staring out into the dark.

      Eli took his jerky but didn't eat it. For some reason he didn't feel hungry at all, even though his stomach had started aching over an hour ago. He stared out into the darkness as well. He felt Leita lean into his shoulder, sucking in a breath.

      "Eli … I don't feel good," she whined.

      Then he realized he felt it too. There was a nauseating ache growing deep in his lower abdomen.

      He saw Mother tense before she whipped around with purpose, muttering more to herself. "... Where is it coming from?"

      She went immediately to the center of the circle near the fire. She stood tall, her back to them.

      "I conjure thee, by infinite power; a circle now around us stands. I trace the path between the worlds, a boundary line of the divine and human."

      Her voice was strong, firm, she extended out her hand, pointing her finger down toward some imaginary line in front of her.

      "Once around I trace the path."

      Mother turned in a circle, her finger tracing her line in the air though angled toward the ground.

      "Twice it turns into a flame."

      She traced the line a second time.

      "Three times around, a wall of fire, within whose realm we will remain."

      She traced the line a third time, and then Mother dropped her hand to her side.

      "This ground is sacred, consecrated by the power of earth and air. We conjure fire to cleanse our hearts and waters deep to guard us here. In the name of Farore who watches, in the name of Din who stands, this circle bright is bound around us while Nayru works Her mighty plan. As above, from crown of heaven, now below it is revealed. Magic circle, 'O crystal fortress, by my words your power is sealed. Blessed be."

      He had been expecting something to happen, like flashing lights or a visible magic barrier. Yet, nothing happened when his mother traced an imaginary circle around them. Then Eli noticed that the twisting ache in his gut had vanished almost instantly, and that Leita had started nibbling her dried fish next to him. His stomach had also started to grumble with the normal pain of hunger.

      But he kept his eyes on his mother. He had never seen her cast something like that before. The shadows couldn’t even tell him what it was she did. It was the first time they failed to respond. However, Eli remembered reading about something like this before. It was a blessing, a protective circle. She turned to face them, standing over the fire. Her face was tensed in serious thought, the fire casting more stern shadows over it.

      "Amaya?" Dad asked, his own brow furrowing.

      "... There is … a foul wind," she began hesitantly, seeming to try to find the words herself. "A taint is blanketing us like a fog."

      "Taint?" Dad asked again. "What sort of taint?"

      "The kind that slowly seeps into your soul and feeds its dark delights and baser instincts," replied Mother. "It is … a corruption of what already lives in the shadows of our consciousness. I just don't understand …"

      She folded her arms across her chest and glared into the fire. "I don't know precisely what it's source is or what would even cause something like this to happen on such a grand scale. It's as if … as if it is coming from the very earth and sky."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Somehow, Eli managed to get to sleep, but it was restless. A sleep where he felt as though he was half-awake the whole night. He had flashes of vague dreams including images of his grandfather and a black ring with a glimmer of purple in it. He rolled awake, feeling painful cricks in his back from sleeping on the ground instead of a bed.

      Leita and Dad were still asleep, but Mother was nowhere to be found in their tent.

      Eli laid there for a moment, thinking about what he had asked the shadows that night. Mom said she didn't know where the taint was coming from. So he asked them, since the darkness was widespread during the night. This was the farthest he had ever asked the shadows to look, but they hadn’t been able to respond. It seemed his question wasn't specific enough for them, and he didn't know the right question to ask. Or perhaps it wasn’t something in their realm of knowing. He wasn’t sure. After all, his shadows couldn’t tell him what people were thinking or feeling directly. They could tell him if they were smiling or frowning, but that was just the physical outward expression that wasn’t always the truth.

      It was barely light outside now, so Eli asked the shadows what Mom was doing. She was sitting by the fire pit again, casting. However, they weren't able to tell him exactly what kind of spell she was casting. So he crawled out of his bedding and peeked at her through the tent flap. She was sitting with her legs crossed, her staff laid over her lap with one hand holding each end. Her eyes were closed, and her face was smooth and calm like the surface of still water.

      He watched her for a few moments before a smile stirred her lips.

      "Eli, you don't always have to watch from the shadows. If you're so curious, then just come ask me."

      He sighed and crawled out of the tent to sit by her. The fire pit was still glowing with red embers which warmed him in the chill of the morning.

      "What are you doing?" he asked.

      She kept her eyes closed. "I'm scrying, to see what state Castle Town and Kakariko are in. I've also checked on Lon Lon Ranch."

      Eli nodded. He knew what scrying was. She was using a spell to see places that were far away. But he had read that most casters required a magic mirror or even a cleansed water in a basin at least as a channeling medium to cast such a spell. Mom just had her eyes closed.

      "And…?" he inquired further.

      Mom sighed. "Lon Lon appears fine. It hasn't been attacked by Gerudos yet. Kakariko Village appears to have been hit but recovering, unlike … Castle Town."

      "What became of it?" Eli realized he probably could have asked the shadows this very question last night. So much had happened, and he had been tired. He also was probably a little scared of the answer.

      Mom opened her eyes now and looked over at him, searching his eyes for a moment or two. "Anyone who didn't make it out … is dead."

      Eli looked down at the glowing embers. He thought of the Agnis. They lived in Castle Town. Were they dead? Or had they escaped? How had the Gerudo done this so easily, when they had lost the last war after struggling for years? It was like they had won overnight. He had heard things about how terrible the Gerudo had been during the Civil War, but he never thought it would be like this if they attacked again.

      "We'll head to Kakariko," said Mother. "It may have been hit, but it seems the most stable place to go in Hyrule as of the moment."



      “We must be greater than what we suffer.”
      [A Light in the Dark| Empire of Darkness |Under the Red Sea]

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Shrub ().

    • Back To Chapter Index

      Chapter Five:
      When It Rains

      It was going to rain.

      Brushing his hair away from his eyes, Ven stared up at the sky, which didn’t have a cloud in sight. Still, he had never been wrong about this before. He didn’t know when, but rain would be pouring down from the heavens, shedding its tears.

      Why did this happen? He wondered this often, the same question he had been asking himself for the last two weeks with no answer in sight. When he asked mom, all she did was sigh, and give him that tired smile he came to recognize and hate.

      “Because they are Gerudo,” was all that she said, as if that explained everything. For the adults, it seemed it was enough of an explanation, but for Ventus it wasn’t. He knew that they were the ones who cut off his father’s arm and killed his uncle, aunt, and little cousin. He knew it was the Gerudo who brutally slaughtered the Sheikah. He knew they were thieves, whores, and bastards.

      Still, it didn’t give him the answers he was looking for.

      The Hylian king trusted the Gerudo king to keep his word despite his father and the other knights’ outrage at allowing the Gerudo, who killed the previous captain of the Royal Guard in cold blood, to go free without punishment.

      Anger swelled in his soul.

      It was the king’s fault this happened! If he only listened to dad then none of this would have happened. Now they and all of Hyrule were paying for it. He bent down and grabbing a log which had to be the same height as him and attempt to pick it up.

      His arms could barely wrap around the trunk, and pieces of wood dug under his fingernails, drawing blood. Still, the boy tried, grunting with effort despite being too weak to pick it up, would not be deterred.

      “Oi, Ventus, don’t hurt yourself there.”

      Surprised at the sudden voice of Killian, Ventus’ grip slipped and the log once again reunited with the ground and Ventus’ foot.

      “Shit!” the boy swore, pulling his injured appendage from out under the log, plopping to the ground as he put pressure on it, wincing. He knew if mom was here right now, she would chide him for swearing in front of Uncle Killian, but she was helping some other ladies bake food for the village.

      Killian just belly laughed and said, “What did I just say, eh?”

      “You startled me!” Ventus complained, slipping off his boot and running his fingers along his foot and squeezing his toes. While they were sore, nothing seemed broken—not that he was a healer or had magic of any kind. Looking up at his father’s best friend, who now towered over him, he scowled. “I totally had it, too!”

      Both knew that was a lie.

      “You need to know how to choose your battles, kid,” said Killian, smirking down at him, his hands on his hips. “I’m all for pushing one’s limits to the max, but that’s better saved for when the pain’s worth it.”

      “Sakriven doesn’t exactly have protection from the Gerudo like Castle Town and Kakariko Village does … or did,” Ventus pointed out, slipping his boot back on, his lips pulling back into a frown as he remembered the carnage of his home.

      Even now, when he closed his eyes, he could hear the screams of the dying on the wind and the moat’s water where they hid under the bridge for hours, waiting for a moment to escape. Sometimes, he could still feel that cold water clinging to him, slowly turning dark with blood of the victims of the attack.

      How did they even get in? After the stunt earlier in the day with Ganondorf it wasn’t like they were going to let any Gerudo approach. Even if they didn’t have that fight with the Gerudo War, any people of a king who killed three knights and terrorized the nation’s princess on horseback wouldn’t be allowed to waltz in. He had heard rumors that they were just teleported in, but there was no way that anyone can do that on a grand scale, especially not a Gerudo.

      “I’m going to do my part to keep the Gerudo at bay,” he continued after a moment, looking up at his uncle, even if Killian wasn’t one by blood. “Even if it is just building a wall. I even gave my sword up to it.”

      His sword, of course, being the stick from the tree near the Temple of Time.

      “Speaking of which, when do you think I can have a real one?” Ventus asked, excitement seeping into his voice. “Like you and Dad have? I can’t wait until I’m fifteen when there is a war going on now.”

      Killian scratched his beard pensively. “Hm. How about when you show me that you can use one. I’ll teach you, and then you get one.”

      “Really?” Ventus’ eyes light up. While his father taught him some things, mostly how not to stab his own eye out—or anyone else's for that matter—on accident, most of what the young Hylian boy knew was from watching the knights and the guards and mimicking their behavior.

      Plus his own natural talent, of course. He was sure that once Killian saw his awesome moves, he would have a sword within a month—no, a week. Even if his father was never around to teach him, he was the son of the captain of the Royal Guard. This sort of thing ran in the family. He just knew it.

      “Yeah, I don’t want you to be defenseless, but I also want you to know what you’re doing,” said Killian, flopping down on the ground next to him. “Speaking of which, how are you supposed to hold a sword with your hands all messed up? That’s what I was talking about with choosing your battles. Don’t get yourself hurt unnecessarily.”

      “My hands are fine,” Ven assured him, opening and closing them, as if to prove a point. “See?”

      “Oi, no back talk to your mentor, brat!” Killian swatted him up the back of his head and then slipped an arm around his head, capturing him, shaking him about, and mercilessly rubbing his knuckles into the top of his head.

      Ven laughed in delight, the anger from earlier dissipating into the wind, forgotten.

      Mentor.

      Ven never had one of those before, at least not officially. Whenever he asked one of the guards and knights to show him some things, they always said in the end to ask his father. Ventus could never bring himself to point out his dad was never home or had time for him, since it would sound like he was complaining. After all, Dad was providing a great service to Hyrule and a lot of people depended on him; Ventus knew better than anyone how important his dad was.

      However, his gut did twist uncomfortably at the thought.

      His uncle, Aravin, had been important to the people too, and Ganondorf still took him away.

      “When can we start?” he asked, his laughter subsiding and shrugging off the disturbing thought. He hoped Killian would say ‘now’—especially before the rain came because he doubted Mom would allow them to swing swords indoors or for Ven to practice out in the inclement weather.

      “Soon … Come, your mother has a surprise for you,” said Killian as he released Ventus and stood up.

      “For me?” he asked, scrambling to his feet as well. Ventus searched his brain, trying to figure out what it could possibly be or what for, but drew a blank.

      “Yup.” Killian smirked. “Come on, let’s not keep her waiting.”

      “Okay!” Ven agreed, reaching out and taking the taller man’s hand, his smaller fingers wrapping around the larger ones.

      The two walked hand in hand toward the small house near the center of town where they had been staying with Uncle Killian. There were other families who lived in the house, one of which had a girl around Rini’s age who his sister had become fast friends with. The two would talk under their breaths into the late hours of the night, and even though Ven didn’t try to eavesdrop, he could hear their conversation as clear as if they were sleeping right next to him. Even now, weeks later, he couldn’t understand how the adults couldn’t hear their loud chattering.

      It would keep him up, although he did learn some interesting things—specifically about Rini. He counted his name being mentioned by his younger sister no less than ten times in the conversation during the hour and while sometimes she was telling embarrassing stories about him, most of the time she was bragging about him not unlike how he bragged about their father.

      As she should; he was impressive after all.

      “You found Ventus, thank you!”

      Mom—who was chatting with a portly woman by the name of Elise—stopped in mid conversation when the two entered the door.

      “It was my pleasure, milady.” Killian gave an exaggerated sweeping bow. His mom snorted in barely contained amusement at Uncle Killian's antics, a small smile playing on her face.

      It was another reason why Ventus loved the man; Mom smiled more naturally since he helped them find a place to stay. Of course, not as much when Dad was around, but Ventus heard her thank the sword for hire for helping them out.

      “Uncle Killian said you had a surprise for me?” Ventus asked, turning his head as he heard the floor creak just in time to see Rini lunging toward him, arms outstretched. However, even with her sneak attack ruined, the small girl knocked Ventus to the ground for the second time that day.

      “Happy Birthday, Ventus!” she crooned, wrapping her arms around him tightly and it took him a moment to realize what she just said.

      Today was his birthday?

      He had completely forgotten with everything happening ever since the summer solstice two weeks ago. There didn’t seem much to look forward to with the uncertainty which surrounded them and dad not back yet, but now that Rini had mentioned it, the excitement which filled his heart before he saw Lady Impa flee Castle Town with Princess Zelda came rushing back.

      “Rini, let your brother up,” Mom sighed, but there was a smile on her face as his sister grudgingly let him stand. Reaching into the folds of her skirt, she pulled out a small bag, handing it over to him.

      “While I bet you would have preferred your father’s present more, I did manage to grab this before I left,” Mom explained, smoothing her skirt down as he pulled the black drawstrings back and dumped the contents into his hand.

      It was a necklace, one commonly given out to children his age. On a black string was a small, round emerald with the symbol of Farore engraved into the jewel.

      “It’s to have the Goddesses keep you safe,” she said softly, approaching him and taking the necklace out of his hand, unclasping it before reaching around and fastening it around his neck. “I originally got it for you because you are always getting into so much trouble … but I suppose there is another reason to pray to the Goddesses now.”

      Ventus reached up and his fingers brushed against the stone before glancing up at his mother.

      “Thanks Mom,” he said leaning forward and wrapping his arms around her. “I love it.”

      “Oi, Ven, I got something for you too.”

      “Really?” Ven asked, his curiosity perked once more. Untangling himself from his mother’s embrace, he looked at Uncle Killian, his heart beating fast in his chest.

      It seemed while Ven had been busy getting tackled by his sister and presented with the gift from his mother, Killian had snuck away and now had something long wrapped in a cloth in his hands. He smiled and held it out to Ventus.

      Ventus took the offered parcel, his heart threatening to break out of his rib cage. Pulling the brown cloth away, his breath caught in his throat upon seeing a wooden sword.

      It was slightly smaller than a real sword but it was the perfect length for a child of Ventus’ statue. It even had a hand guard and was carved to look like a real sword.

      The tiniest of “squees” escaped his lips, a wide smile blooming across his face before he threw himself at Killian, crushing him in a tight hug.

      “Thank you!”

      Killian chuckled, ruffling his hair. “Well, if I’m going to train you, you need something to train with, right? Your dad was going to get you one of these, so just think of it as being from the both of us, ‘kay?”

      Ven nodded his head excitedly, Rini peering curiously at his new wooden sword before looking up at her brother.

      “Better be careful. When you hit yourself in the face with this one, it'll hurt a lot more,” she said, her lips pulling back into an impish smirk.

      Ven felt his ears go red as some of the adults chuckled and a couple laughed. He couldn’t believe his own sister just sold him out and made him look like he didn’t know what he was doing, after all that bragging he heard her do too.

      “That was one time!” he hissed, Rini’s grin only growing wider. “I just didn't know my own strength.”

      Or how bendy his previous sword stick could be.

      He looked at his mother, who had a gentle smile on her face, her features more relaxed than they had been since they fled Castle Town. Even though the question didn’t escape from his mouth, it was evident in his eyes.

      “Go on, if Killian doesn't mind,” she sighed, before smiling at the other man. “Thank you.”

      “No problem, Ceres.” Killian returned her smile, and then turned his attention back to Ventus. “Let’s go, Ven.”

      ###

      The sky was beginning to get dark and drops of rain were already beginning to drip down from the heavens. Rini had went inside fifteen minutes earlier, following after him and Uncle Killian to watch the two of them practice even though she made her disinterest toward sword fighting well known plenty of times in the past, and Mom had just yelled for the second time for them to come inside and eat.

      “Fwah!” he grunted, making the sound effects of steel clashing against steel, swinging the wooden weapon down the way Killian taught him.

      Killian was chuckling at the sounds Ventus was adding to his training.

      “Killian,” said a deep voice, causing both Ven and him to look up.

      It was Germanin, the oldest and most experienced of the Royal Guard. He looked to be in his late fifties with dark hair and wild beard peppered with gray. He was travel worn, still covered in blood in some spots on his clothing.

      “Germanin!” A smile brightened on Killian’s face. He stepped forward quickly to clasp an arm with him. “Ha! I knew you were too stubborn to die, old man.”

      Germanin just grunted and didn’t smile back. “Guess so …” His beady brown eyes settled on Ventus. “So you’re taking care of Kubera’s kids, eh?”

      “Yeah, me and Ceres, just until he gets back. Then I’m off to Lake Hylia. I need to check on Tori and Amaya, if they haven’t already moved on that is.”

      Ventus looked up at the old man, his hand tightening on his sword as the rain began to come down harder. He knew his mom was going to be coming out any minute again to yell at him for a third time to eat something, but Germanin might know something about his dad. He learned if he stayed quiet around adults, they typically forgot he was there. It was how he learned things he shouldn’t have in the past; mostly from his dad. Mom always was well aware of her surroundings and watched what she said, and busted him on more than one occasion.

      Germanin was quiet for a moment, looking away from Ventus. “Killian, come with me for a second. There’s something I need to tell you.”

      Killian arched a brow but nodded. He glanced at Ven and smirked, flicking him in the ear. “Hey, you heard your mother, get inside.”

      Ventus frowned, rubbing his ear, but knew they wouldn’t start talking unless he was a suitable amount of distance away. Luckily for him it was dark and raining, so he didn’t need to go inside and that would have made it harder to eavesdrop on them.

      “Fine,” he grumbled, shouldering the wooden sword and beginning to drag his feet back toward the house.

      Germanin and Killian turned away, walking further from the house but still within sight of it. Eventually, they stopped.

      “So have you heard any news of Kubera?” asked Killian. “I heard Castle Town has … fallen—completely ... So he should be here as soon as he figures out they’re not in Kakariko, unless he stopped to help some poor souls on his way. It wouldn’t surprise me. Heh, he needs to think of his family more often. Quit playin’ the hero so much.”

      Germanin sighed heavily. “That’s what I need to speak to you about. You’re close to his family. I thought it would best if they heard it from you.”

      It was dark, but a stillness seemed to settle over Killian as Ventus watched.

      “No … no, don’t say things like that. It’s not funny.” Killian was shaking his head almost angrily, turning away from the older knight.

      “No, it’s not,” growled Germanin. “But not saying it doesn’t mean it’s not real. He was the captain. He was a knight, Killian. You know what risks that comes with. You’re a warrior too, even if you turned down the offer to be a knight, you risk your life in the same way as a mercenary. You’ve seen war before. You know that not everyone makes it out alive.”

      Killian was putting a hand to his face.

      “I’m sorry. I know he was your best friend.”

      Killian was just quiet for a moment. Then he sucked in a sharp breathing, but his voice still came out with a waver in it. “How did he die?”

      “Like you’d expect him to. Saving people, giving them a chance to live. He was a devoted knight to the end.”

      Ven collapsed to the ground, even the rain unable to hide his tears.

      His father. Dead.

      He choked, gasping for air, his fingers digging into his scalp. It felt like someone’s hand was squeezing his chest tightly, and he struggled to breathe.

      But Daddy … Daddy was the strongest. Nobody could beat him. Nobody. This couldn’t be real. It was a lie. All a lie, all a filthy goddamn lie.

      But Germanin wouldn’t lie about this, a nasty little voice in his head whispered, drowning out the mantra which had taken hold of his brain.

      His vision swam as he swayed in the wind. He wanted to throw up, but with nothing in his stomach, only the feeling of nausea washed over him like a wave. He tried to drown out the traitorous murmur in the back of his head. There was no way—no way he would die. He wouldn’t leave him—leave them.

      “Daddy,” he sobbed, his voice taken by the wind. “Daddy, Daddy …”

      “Ah—shit—Ventus!” came Killian’s voice over the wind and rain. Hurried wet, footsteps slapped over to him, until another pair of knees hit into the mud as well, Killian’s arms wrapped around him tightly. “Damn it, I told you to go inside!”

      Ventus didn’t answer, just began to cry louder, burying his face into Killian’s clothes as sobs of despair shook through his entire body. He clung to the older man, as if he let go, he would disappear on him as well.


      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Ruki ().

    • Back to Chapter Index
      Chapter Six:
      Farore's Family

      It took another day and a night to get to Kakariko. They did not stop at Lon Lon Ranch as they had before the attacks. They were safer under the cover of his mother's spells in any case. It was during the second day in the morning that Mother gave him and Leita a necklace each. Eli watched as Mother worked a ritual over each one, using holy water, sweetgrass, sage, fire, and blessed salt. Like with the sacred circle before, there were no flashing lights or mystical glow after each ritual was complete. It didn’t seem like anything happened to them.

      "I had meant to give you these when you came of age," said Mom as she clasped it around his neck.

      He looked down and fingered the silver chain and pendant. It was a crescent moon. He watched as Mom put a gold necklace with a sun pendant on Leita.

      "I have blessed these. They will keep you safe from the taint. Always wear them," she instructed.

      After this, Eli watched her do the same ritual over her and Father's marriage tokens: their matching bracelets.

      When they arrived at the village, darkness was falling on it. The houses and buildings were blasted and broken, bricks blackened by the fire that had been set upon them. There soldiers moving around with the people of the town, cleaning up still after the attack. They were greeted by three soldiers at the top of the massive steps that helped travelers scale the steep slopes of the mountainous area.

      They seemed to recognize his mother and father.

      "Amaya, Tori," said the soldier to seemed to take charge and walk toward them first. She removed her helmet to reveal she was a woman with short, sandy hair and purple eyes. Her face was grim, worn, and still smudged with soot.

      Mom went first to greet her as Dad helped him and Leita out of the wagon. The two women clasped each other's arms in comradery.

      "It's good to see you, Telsa," said Amaya. "Especially during harsh times. There's no one else I would be more thankful to see."

      Telsa smiled though it was weak under her obvious exhaustion. "The feeling is mutual …" Her smile quickly faded. "So you were you attacked at the lake too?"

      Mom nodded. "Only by two. So we have that to be thankful for."

      Telsa nodded. "Thank Nayru … Come, many refugees of Castle Town and other nearby villages are taking shelter in whatever homes we have available. Much of Kakariko's population was displaced after the attack as well, myself included. We are all one family under Farore, we will take care of each other. I'll help your family get settled in, and then we have much to discuss."

      "Yes, I have many questions," agreed Mother.

      Eli took Leita's hand as Dad lead the horses who carried their wagon, and they followed Mom and Telsa. The smell of smoke was still strong in the air, and everything seemed so still and quiet, even though the townspeople were moving about. Leita's hand squeezed his harder as she leaned in closer to him.

      Eli felt it too. Despair lingered like a thick fog in the air.

      They were taken up to the windmill, where it was crowded with other refugees but at least they were safe. Dad stayed with them, setting up some bedding and getting them some food while Mom and Telsa left to talk.

      Eli started to close his eyes, in order to focus so he could Listen, but then someone flicked him in the ear. He turned to pout at his father, who smiled knowingly at him.

      "Eli, you will know what you need to in time. Now eat and give your mother some privacy to talk."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Amaya strolled back down the steps of the windmill building with Telsa, her arms folded over her chest. "Tell me what happened. I know Kakariko has enough casters to get up an effective barrier."

      Telsa sighed heavily, her purples eyes looked even more exhausted upon reflecting on this memory.

      "We did," she said as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Telsa glanced around at her ruined village, searching for words. "Maya … He came. Ganondorf Dragmire. I assume after he had finished with Castle Town. But he was … looking for someone."

      Amaya paused at the bottom with her, raising a brow. "Who?"

      "The princess," said Telsa. "Refugees and what soldiers were left from Castle Town report having seen Ganondorf chasing her and Lady Impa on a horse. He killed some of the Royal Guard that was pursuing them too. After that, they weren't able to find him or Impa and the princess. But then he came back that evening and that's when … it all started."

      Amaya frowned, her blue eyes piercing. "How was he able to get through the barrier? I know that Dragmire is not only their king but their most powerful mage. Still, he couldn't take on a barrier supported by multiple mages all on his own. We saw that during the last war."

      Telsa's worn out eyes stared dully back at her. She nodded, almost numbly. Her voice sounded more dazed now as she recalled it. "Yes, I know ... and you should be right. It … should have been that way … but Amaya, he ripped through that barrier like it was paper."

      Amaya stared, not knowing what to say to that.

      After all, the proof was all around her in these demolished and wrecked buildings. If she hadn't seen it all for herself, she wouldn't have believed what Telsa said. Dragmire had been formidable during the war. He had shown that when he slaughtered the Sheikah in droves. Amaya was certain that the Gerudo had not had a magic user as powerful as him for hundreds of years. The Gerudo so rarely had magic among their people, and even fewer that had enough to be a true threat.

      But no one, not even Elias Serwen, could have done what she was saying he did.

      "Obviously, Princess Zelda wasn't here, nor was Impa," continued Telsa. "I think the only reason he didn't kill us all was because he didn't want to waste his time … He seemed determined to find her."

      Impa would know better than to take the princess to her home village to hide. Even Ganondorf knew it was the last remaining Sheikah village, even if hardly any of the residents were Sheikah themselves. So, of course, he would look here on the off chance Impa did try to hide her here. Any strategist knows to eliminate all the obvious moves just to be certain.

      Amaya nodded, looking down in thought. "But why …? She's just a little girl."

      No older than Eli.

      Telsa shrugged and her eyes narrowed bitterly. "Maybe he just wants to destroy the Nohansen line? After all, he's already …"

      She looked up sharply. "You mean, King Desmond is …?"

      The hard edge to Telsa's face softened with grief, and she nodded, her voice thick with emotion as she said, "That bastard strung his body up at Castle Town's front gate."

      Amaya closed her eyes for a moment. Dragmire did seem to have a love for hanging up the corpses of his enemies, as he had done the Sheikah. It was meant to be a warning to those loyal to the Hylian royal family. It made sense that in the end, he did the same to King Desmond himself. A warning to all who would oppose Ganondorf.

      She opened her eyes and fixed them on Telsa once more. "Can you tell me anything about how Ganondorf was able to take Castle Town so easily? We should have seen an army coming."

      Telsa let out a shaky sigh and nodded, dropping the hand that she had cupped to her face. "He … teleported them."

      "What?" Amaya's voice almost cracked like a whip. "No caster has enough mana to teleport an entire army!"

      Telsa just shrugged helplessly.

      "I know. Goddesses, everyone knows. He shouldn't have been able to break the barrier, and he shouldn't have been able to teleport an army, but he did. I don't know how to explain it, but he did. Not only that, he didn't just bring his warriors. He brought … monsters. Beasts. Invincible warriors in towering armor. These are the things that refugees have told us."

      Amaya stared at Telsa, lost for words. It all should have been impossible, but here they all were. Her scrying had shown her the smoldering ruins of Castle Town. There was no other explanation except for the impossible. Somehow, Ganondorf Dragmire had become unstoppable in less than a day.

      She had heard myths and mostly stories about casters who had made deals with spirits. Entities that were often neither good or evil, though there were some of darker and twisted natures. These myths claimed that casters could boost their power, do things that other magic users would not be able to no matter how much of their life they had devoted to the art of magic. Those were supposed to be just myths. Still, none of them spoke of things on the scale that Dragmire seemed to be wielding his magic.

      "There has to be something more to his urgent need to find the princess …" mused Amaya.

      She had no idea what. She was just a girl of ten summers. Of course, the Nohansen line had always been unique in many ways. Whatever secrets they had, only the Sheikah and the Royal Family would know.

      She sighed heavily.

      Amaya had remembered what Kubera had said not weeks before all this happened. He had been angry about King Desmond's decision to trust Dragmire's offer of peace and loyalty. He said that Desmond stressed the importance of putting aside past wounds in order to finally have peace between their peoples and make Hyrule truly whole again. It sounded like something Tori would have said, with his unending compassion, forgiveness, and kindness. Amaya rather admired those qualities. It was one of the reasons she loved Tori so much. But she recognized the weaknesses such an optimistic stance could have.

      There were those who would take advantage of those kindnesses.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Weeks went by, and Eli and Leita were put to work with the rest to help restore the village. This meant just gathering wood and brick and separating them into piles or gathering water and wood for meals. Whatever chores they were capable of, they did. Mother and what remained of the casters in the village were able to put up a magical barrier again. They heard of attacks on the villages out in the plains. They continued to receive more refugees, telling stories of Gerudo raids on towns.

      Some reported sightings of Ganondorf, saying that he was destroying some villages in his search for Princess Zelda. Eli was able to hear more things as he listened in on these refugees talking to other townspeople, previous refugees, and soldiers. He heard things he was certain his parents didn't want him to. Stories of Gerudos taking slaves, Hylian men in particular. It seemed that not all villages were destroyed. If the Gerudos seemed to think they provided good resources like food from farming communities, then they would take their harvest instead of their lives.

      They killed anyone who exhibited magical gifts, children included.

      Spirits were down even in Kakariko, where they were relatively safe. However, Eli also heard how the barrier had failed to protect them from the first attacks. Everyone knew that it could fail them again, if Ganondorf decided to come visit them.

      Dad still smiled, like he always did, but Eli could see the heaviness in his eyes. He knew he had to be worried about Killian and the Agnis who didn't show up in Kakariko. There was no way to know if they were dead or not. Dad asked anyone who came from Castle Town if they had seen Kubera Agni, who was well known since he was the captain of the Royal Guard. He asked everyone if they had seen Killian, since he traveled all the time to practically everywhere in Hyrule. No one was able to tell him about either one.

      Except for one evening, while they were helping serve dinner in the village. Everyone was sharing food and resources. They all ate together and slept crammed in houses and tents. It was like Telsa had said when they first came, they were all family under Farore and would take care of each other.

      Dad had just finished asking someone about Kubera, when a soldier looked over, perking as if it caught his interest.

      "Kubera Agni, right? That's who you're talking about?"

      Dad brightened with hope. "Yes, do you know anything of his whereabouts?"

      The guard shook his head, but then almost seemed to grimace uncomfortably. "No, but … there was this family who showed up here the night of the attack on Castle Town. A woman claiming to be his wife. I wasn't there myself or anything, but they said she had two kids with her. They got … turned away by a caster."

      Eli watched Dad's face fall.

      "What …?" The question was almost a whisper. "W-why? They weren't turning away refugees before and we still aren't now."

      The guard shifted uncomfortably again. "Well … I heard it was because the woman claiming to be his wife was Ceres Kali. You know … granddaughter of Aliyah Kali."

      "Yes, I know." For once Dad sounded angry, curt. His voice snapping sharply. "Because I know her. Ceres is Kubera's wife!"

      The soldier put up his hands defensively. "Hey, this is just what I heard. I wasn't there."

      "Then who was?" Mother had been nearby and seemed to have heard almost everything as well. Her voice had that chill to it though, like when she had spoken to that Gerudo who attacked Dad.

      "It—it was Vivian, okay?" stammered the soldier under her piercing gaze.

      Mom nodded. "I see."

      She turned away. Dad dropped his ladle into the pot of soup to chase after her, calling, "Amaya, wait!"

      Eli felt Leita grab onto his arm. He looked down at her tearful face. "Eli, why would they turn them away?"

      He didn't have an answer for her, but he would find out. "Come on."

      He took her hand and followed after their parents. He was sure he had heard that name before, Kali. He just couldn't remember. He never knew what Ceres' surname had been before she married Kubera. Normally, men took their wive's surname, but the Agnis had been like his parents. Mom and Ceres took their husbands' surnames.

      Eli weaved through the groups of people seated, chatting and eating their fill this evening, Leita trailing behind him, attached by their clasped hands. He saw their parents stop at one particular group. He arrived just in time to hear his mother speak to another woman, who was tall and slender with black hair peppered with gray rolled into a neat bun.

      "Is it true that you turned away Ceres Agni and her children?"

      Vivian looked up at her. She snorted, looking back down to her soup, gathering a spoonful and blowing on it. "And what if I did?"

      Mom's face was still as cool as ice. "If you did … that means you turned away a mother and her children."

      Vivian rolled her eyes. "I turned away a threat that we can't afford during these difficult times. We have no need for necromancers here."

      Eli felt his insides go cold. Necromancer? Then he remembered where he had heard the name Kali. Aliyah Kali was one of the most popular of horror stories when it came to necromancers. But Eli had thought she had only been a story. He never thought she had been a real person.

      Mother stared at Vivian with the same cool expression as before. She blinked, tilting her head, her eyes calculating. Dad put a hand on her shoulder, his brow heavy with both sadness and concern.

      "Amaya, please …" he whispered softly to her.

      "We are all one family under Farore, necromancers included," stated Mom.

      That was when anger sharpened Vivian's elegant yet older features. Her narrowing eyes especially accented by the crow’s feet at the corners. She shoved her bowl of soup aside and stood up to tower over his mother.

      "Necromancers included …?" the woman growled with disgust. "I was orphaned because of that necromancer! Don't tell me they're supposed to be my family when they took the family I had! Don't make me sick with that kind of talk. Anyone who knew Ceres Kali knows there was something wrong with her, just like her grandmother. You should be thanking me, not treating me like this."

      "I know Ceres," said Amaya calmly. "So does my husband. So does her husband, Kubera. If anything she seemed … troubled, but she is a devoted mother. She could be just as devoted to her community if you would only give her a chance to be. If there was ever anything wrong with her, it was because of people like you. Your ignorance makes me sick. You're supposed to be a mage, but you reject a magic type when you are capable of casting all of them. Death adepts aren't doomed to depravity; I have known those without the gift for Death magic who were just as terrible if not more so than Aliyah Kali. Don’t forget, you are a mage and, therefore, just as capable of Death magic."

      Vivian's face wrinkled darkly with her rage and disgust. "Take your disgusting love for those corpse-humpers and leave!"

      There was a dull thud that went through the air as Vivian was knocked by an invisible force into the side of a nearby building. Eli had seen Mom's hands move, but they had almost been a blur.

      "Amaya!" cried Dad, his other hand grasp her other shoulder and turning her back to face him. His green eyes pressing pleadingly into hers. "Please, don't. None of this changes that they're … gone. There is no point to fighting among each other, especially not now."

      Leita was crying softly into Eli's shoulder too, clinging to him out of fear of the violence she just witnessed. Mom sighed heavily, closing her eyes as if to center herself. Then she opened them, the ice that had formed was gone as she looked up into her husband's eyes.

      "Yes … of course, you're right."

      But Vivian was grunting, pushing herself up onto her knees. Her bun lopsided and hair loosened after the assault. "You—you whore!"

      Mom turned her head to acknowledge her, her expression becoming cool once more. "Calm down. Be glad all I did was give you a slap on the hands, Vivian. Now resume your supper, and I will leave."

      Vivian struggled to her feet, her face contorted with anger. "You think I can't dish out as much, Banshee?"

      Eli had heard that nickname for his mother before. She got it during the war. Some soldiers had said that Mom had a spell that amplified her voice so much that when she screamed it became a sonic blast that could put a large dent in Goron steel.

      "No, I don't," said Mother simply. "Now if you're going to do something, then do it."

      Dad stepped in front of Mom, raising up his hands. "Please, Vivian, let's not fight each other. We need all our magic users if we want to stand a chance against the Gerudos. That includes you just as well as Amaya."

      Vivian's face seemed to soften at his words. She half-sighed, half-growled. "Fine! I do as you ask only because I had the greatest respect for your father, Serwen."

      "Thank you." Dad smiled, then he turned back to Mom, putting his arm around her as they walked away together.

      His eyes fell on Eli as they turned to face them. His expression tensed with both surprise and almost pain. A look he didn't seem to want to show him, because he was quick to cover it with one of those heavy and sad smiles of his.

      But Eli knew why.

      Because he was a necromancer, and Father knew it like Mother did, and because of all those terrible things Vivian had said about them, called them. If they had known about him, would they have been turned away just like Ceres and her family? It would have been his fault, just because he was like this.

      Even when he had not yet done anything to earn the title of monster.

      He recalled the last time he had seen Ceres in Castle Town. Eli had heard what her neighbor had snickered at her as he went pass.

      “Oh, that's the Serwen boy … Don't your children play with him? I would be more careful about that if I were you, I hear he talks to things that aren't there. Such a shame too, given his parents and his grandfather, for him to be addled in the head like that.”

      Normally, such problems weren’t a big deal. Eli knew a boy in Castle Town who truly spoke to things not even Eli could see either. Yet, no one whispered behind his back in such a way. The community seemed to embrace and accept him.

      So why just him? He seemed to inspire the worst in others without trying.

      He remembered the look on Ceres’ face, when she looked at him. Alarmed, guarded, almost as if he might actually bite her if he got too close. But now he wondered, could it have been more than that? Was she like him too? Mom said magic seemed to pass the most through the mother's line.

      Maybe Ceres was a Death adept like him.

      Eli squeezed Leita's hand. "It's okay. They aren't going to fight."

      But he wasn't squeezing her hand for her sake alone.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Months went by.

      Ganondorf and the Gerudos had attacked on the summer solstice, during the Month of Power. Now Din's eyes cooled her flaming rays on the earth. Castle Town remained vacant and in ruins. Not even the Gerudo lingered there, or so Eli heard. There were reports of changes occurring around the castle though. The flow of refugees slowed down to a trickle. They were stretching Kakariko's limits anyway. They had to start creating make-shift shelters further into the rocky mountain surroundings. Thankfully, Eli heard that some Zoras were creating camps along the river's edge for refugees to take shelter at as well. They also brought them fish and other resources from the lake and the river, in order to help with the strain this put on their food supplies. The Gorons even came down from Death Mountain and were helping them rebuild and expand Kakariko. It was the first time Eli had seen so many Gorons in one place. The fall equinox came and went, and it was the end of the Month of Forest.

      That was when Impa returned.

      A crowd had formed around her almost as soon as she had entered the village it seemed. Excited shouts finally broke through the thick air of despair that seemed to have settled over everyone. Word raced like wildfire through the village, so it wasn't long before Eli and his family heard that Lady Impa had returned.

      He had dropped the wood he had been carrying and hurried with Leita toward the village entrance. He didn't try to get close though. Too many people surrounded her, calling, shouting their relief and questions at her. There were so many people that Eli almost hadn't noticed him.

      A boy his age with short blond hair and red eyes. His head was covered with a hood, but he looked straight at Eli, seeming to feel his gaze. His expression was blank and unreadable. He had heard that only Sheikah had red eyes or white hair, like Lady Impa. Soon the boy looked away and continued to move along with Impa who promised she would answer questions later.

      "Where's the princess?" Leita whispered next to him. "I thought she ran away with Lady Impa."

      "She's probably in hiding somewhere," said Eli. “Impa wouldn’t return with her right by her side. It would be like handing her right over to Ganondorf.”

      Though he wondered why she returned at all. Protecting the Royal Family was what Elite Sheikah did. It was their mandate. Still, he supposed what remained of Hyrule needed some form of guidance. While the princess was the last remaining member of the Royal Family, he knew she was about as old as he was. She was not old enough to rule or guide anyone.

      He didn't see Impa and the boy again until the next day. Mom approached him after dinner and said, "Come, Lady Impa wishes to see you."

      Eli had paused in confusion, furrowing his brow and then settling on arching one side. " … I hadn't thought she would after everything that's happened."

      His training really didn't seem like a priority anymore.

      Mom smiled. "There is more need for Sheikah warriors than ever … and, yes, Leita, dear, you can come too."

      She took them up to Impa's home, which was the only house that had not been stuffed with villagers and refugees. A Sheikah always needed their privacy, and out of respect, even during these times of necessity, Impa's home had been left vacant and waiting for her.

      Dad was waiting for them at the door, and they walked in together. It was dark, but there were a few candles lit. Impa was standing, turning to see them as they entered. The blond-haired boy from before was seated at a wooden table and also turned his head to regard them. His face was blank like before, but as his red eyes shifted down, Eli recognized a heaviness much like his father's, even when he smiled.

      Impa nodded upon seeing them. "Thank you for coming … Please have a seat at the table, but Eli, if you would, sit with me."

      Impa walked over to an open space on the floor and sat on her knees and then gestured to the wooden floor in front of her. Eli did as he was asked and sat on his knees in front of her and waited.

      "We will be forming a resistance here in Kakariko," said Impa. "Your parents have already agreed to join us, all that remains is if you and your sister do as well. Normally, such an offer would not be given to children, but you and your sister are different. Those like you, with your gifts budding so early, may be offered the same as well. Your training will start immediately. We cannot waste time to build our strength once more. What say you?"

      He didn't answer immediately. His brow furrowed slightly as he thought more critically about this. He turned his head to regard the blond boy sitting at the table. He returned his gaze back to Impa, raising a single black brow at her. The things he had to discuss with Impa were not for some random boy to hear. Part Sheikah or not, as made obvious by the other boy’s red irises. Eli was not willing to risk sharing his secret with someone he didn’t know.

      “You needn’t worry about Sheik,” said Impa, referring obviously to the blond boy. “He will be your peer in your training, should you chose to accept it.”

      “I don’t see how that’s supposed to comfort me, given my … specific gifts.” Eli had already assumed Impa knew, but he could feel his mother’s piercing stare in the back of his neck. Of course, while Dad and Mom must know about his Death magic, they had obviously been keeping it from him on purpose. Something he still wasn’t happy about in the least.

      “... Sheikah training involves knowing how to keep secrets--take them to the grave with you and then some if necessary,” said Impa, her own thick white brow steadily arching at him in response. “Besides, he already knows of your specific gifts, as you call it.”

      “How?” demanded Eli, folding his arms over his chest.

      “It doesn’t matter if he already knows,” dismissed Impa. “Now I suggest you stop wasting my time.”

      He locked gazes with Impa, still something he wasn’t accustomed to doing, but he clearly saw she would not budge on the issue. At least not now, and Eli would not let it go entirely. Just for now.

      "... When you said that my gifts were suited to learning the ways of the Sheikah, did that include all my gifts? Even the necromancer ones?"

      He kept his eyes locked with Impa, watching to see if there would be any hesitance in her gaze. He did not want to be lied to about this.

      "Eli …" gasped Tori. "What … how …"

      "I read it one of Mom's books. Death adepts can demonstrate their affinity for Death magic early by feeling, seeing, or hearing the dead. I can do all three." He answered without taking his eyes off Impa.

      He heard Mom sigh heavily.

      "What …?" said Leita softly.

      He felt his heart seem to attempt to retreat. He kept his eyes on Impa now only because he did not want to look at his little sister's face. Leita who loved him, admired him, looked up to him. He didn't want to see her disappointment or fear.

      Impa, at least, held his gaze fast. Eli suddenly had second thoughts about keeping his eyes on hers. For once, he felt as if he wasn't the only one peering in—but that she was staring into his soul and would glimpse the tremble in his heart.

      "Yes, it includes the necromancer ones," answered Impa.

      He nodded. "I assume I'm not punished because I haven't exerted my will over the dead?"

      Impa arched a critical brow that caused an irritated bristle inside him. "... Indeed, you have not broken Sheikah law … What do you understand about being a Death adept?"

      "It means I have the ability to interact with the dead, be it simply that I can feel, see, and hear them or by exerting my will over dead spirits or by reanimating corpses … I just don't understand how my necromancer gifts would be suitable to Sheikah training—all I can do without breaking the law is talk to dead spirits."

      Impa snorted. "...You sound like a book, child."

      This time, Eli certainly did not hear any kind of compliment in her tone. He knew Mom always said books and an intellectual understanding of magic wasn't enough, but still … Eli had only ever seemed to shock and surprise his parents. They had never sounded so condescending about any of his abilities or intelligence. He was not used to Impa's kind of response to an answer of his.

      Impa seemed to notice his anger and smiled. "I told you. Come train with me if you seek the truth. These books tell you nothing of what you need to know."

      "And what do I need to know?" asked Eli. He did not like being wrong.

      "What it means to be a Death adept and how that is exactly what makes you suitable to be a Sheikah. How else do you think we battle rogue necromancers, child? The forces that they channel through them do not follow the same principles of the other arts of magic. As guardians of the dead, we must understand and know these forces in order to stop those who abuse them."

      Eli knew that Sheikah often knew Death magic too, or at least they could counter it somehow. But no one slurred words like "corpse-humper" at them. While Impa might not see anything wrong with him for having these powers, that did not mean the rest of the village would accept him as a Sheikah worthy of protecting and using those gifts.

      "... If I join, and if I train with you to be a Sheikah … Can you guarantee that me and my family will not be thrown out of the village?"

      Eli didn't care if everyone hated him for what he was. He just didn't want his family to suffer for it.

      Impa furrowed her brow at his words, seeming confused by them. "Why would you think this?"

      Mom sighed. "Oh, I'm sorry, Impa, so much has happened I didn't get around to telling you … about Ceres."

      Impa gave a sigh so heavy Eli hadn't expected it. "Ceres … They didn't let her in, did they?"

      Mom shook her head solemnly.

      "Who did this?" asked Impa. There was no anger in her voice. It was just a question.

      "Vivian, but I've already had words with her about it."

      "Yes," agreed Impa. "However, I think it's important to remind her that she does not get to say who is allowed to enter my village … In any case, Eli, do not worry yourself about something like that. True, the villagers may never understand or accept you as you are, a Hylian with Death magic. Even if I accept you as one of my own, it's possible they may never do so. However, you do not need to fear for yourself or your family. You will not be thrown out. This I can swear to you."

      Eli nodded. "Then I will train with you. I will join the resistance."

      Impa nodded. "First, tell me why you want to."

      He blinked, his brow furrowing. He had thought all he had to do was say yes. He hadn't really put it into words. He just knew that he would need to fight. He would have to fight.

      "Mother says we are all one family under Farore and that we take care of each other," began Eli. He hesitated for a moment, but his gut told him not to try to hide his truth from Impa. He held her gaze. "But I don't know if I really care about anyone else's family. I want to protect mine, but I'll need to fight the Gerudos if I want my family to ever know peace again. It just happens that … everyone else would benefit from this as well."

      This was his truth. What did he care about these petty, ugly people who would never accept him? They never treated him as a family under Farore. He saw no need to do this for them. He would protect what was his, the only people who had ever loved and accepted him. That was all he needed in this world.

      Impa simply nodded, accepting his answer. "I see … Very well. We will start tomorrow.”



      “We must be greater than what we suffer.”
      [A Light in the Dark| Empire of Darkness |Under the Red Sea]

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Shrub ().

    • Back To Chapter Index

      Chapter Seven
      Something Impossible

      Germanin left shortly after handing over Kubera’s sword to Killian. Swords were heavy, but this one was the heaviest Killian had ever held in his hands. It was a weight that had nothing to do with its mass. After all, Goron steel was lighter.

      It was a weight that accompanied the disgust he felt in himself.

      Killian had known it was just a stupid, fleeting thought. That it wasn’t really what he had wanted. What he really wanted was not this. It was just something impossible.

      No, this—this was not what he wanted at all.

      But all the same, the thought had whispered, uninvited into his mind. He had even thought he had set those secret wants aside along ago. He had been happy to just be “Uncle” Killian. He loved Ven and Rini like they were his own. But maybe it had been living here with them—with her—like this that caused them to stir again. Had he fooled himself without knowing?

      Whatever it was, it had slithered in and whispered to him: If he dies, maybe she could be mine.

      The thought itself had shocked him the moment it occurred to him. A rebuke had followed quickly.

      Fuck, Killian, he’s your best friend. Stop being an asshat. Ceres would be disgusted with you.

      It was the same rebuke he had told himself time and time again when they were younger. When that secret had burned new and bright in his chest. It had caught him by surprise back then too. He had grown up in Kakariko, knowing the Kali girls, though he had never really talked to them much during the early years of childhood. He had never had any reason to, but it wasn’t as if he had believed all the babble about them being necromancers. However, he had still dared Kubera to go talk to the most intimidating of the pair: Ceres.

      Killian had only dared Kubera because they were bantering about who was the bravest out of them. He had only done it as a joke, but Kubera wasn’t about to back down from anything. He never did.

      Kubera had thrown all caution to the wind and asked her, “So, is it true the Kali curse anyone who approach them?”

      Ceres had given the appropriate response to a boy who only spoke to her on dare. Killian had been close enough to see the flat stare she had regarded him with before responding, “I wouldn’t worry about it. Taking a look at you, I think the Goddesses got to you first.”

      Needless to say, by the time Kubera returned, Killian was still roaring with laughter.

      “Heh, so how you feelin’? Cursed?” he had asked him when he finally managed to calm himself.

      Tori had been still giving him that softly disappointed stare that Killian had become so used to ignoring. “Killian, stop already. She can probably still hear you.”

      Maybe the other villagers would have said that out of fear, but Killian knew Tori had said it out of compassion. His brother had never spoken an ill word about anyone, even if they deserved it. He had been protesting and scolding Killian for even coming up with such a dare to begin with.

      “Actually, I’m feeling pretty blessed,” Kubera had answered all the same, turning back to where Ceres was still glowering at them before having the audacity to wink at her. “A pretty girl talked to me. I’ll chalk that up as a win.”

      From that day on, Kubera had been determined to talk to Ceres whenever he saw her it seemed. So soon Killian was around the Kali girl a lot more than he had expected to be. He found himself laughing at her sarcastic remarks, which were especially sharp during those early days with Kubera. He had started thinking that his friend was right. She was pretty, particularly when she gave them those deadpan stares but even more when Kubera got her to smile. He started talking to her himself, trying to see if he could make her smile too.

      At first, he had thought it was just the idea of being with a Kali girl that excited him. After all, his father was Elias Serwen, prodigy mage who took down Aliyah Kali. Wouldn’t that just be a stinger up his old man’s ass? The thought had amused him, but he had brushed it off. He had grown to know Ceres, and while he might be an asshat, he wasn’t the kind of asshat that would play with someone’s heart just to get back at his father. That aside, he had known Kubera was serious about her by then.

      Besides, it had seemed to Killian that Ceres didn’t need anymore hardship in her life. He hadn’t really known before. It was just something that didn’t really happen all that much, but it came slowly to him in bits and pieces. A soft touch to her arm that shouldn't have caused her to flinch that way. Nor was Ceres the type who flinched willingly; she was too proud for that. Once or twice he managed to catch sight of an ugly, dark purpling bruise on the lower part of her midriff when she was once reaching up high for something.

      Killian didn’t pretend to know what that was like. His father had never raised his voice. He never needed to. Those reproachful green eyes, staring down his nose at him was enough. His father had never raised a hand to him either, though by Din, Killian had tried his best to make him. After all, some kind of emotional response would have been something. It would have been something more than just those cold, disdainful stares. Being a good boy like Tori hadn’t worked. Killian had no magic like Sylric. So what else was an angry little shit like him supposed to do to make the bastard notice him?

      He had been smarter than Tori, though. He had caught on quickly. There was nothing that was ever going to turn their father’s head, and soon Killian found himself working to get a raise out of Elias just for the sheer spite of it. To let him know, he didn’t give a fuck anymore.

      Killian didn’t have a parent who would scream at him or beat him, but he knew what it was like to have a parent who didn’t love you.

      He never really saw Hera out and about or even with Ceres and Fae. She was a recluse, and no one really complained that there was one less Kali roaming around in the village. Their house sat off in the eastern edge of the village on a hill as the mountain side began to rise there, overlooking the village, almost opposite of where Lady Impa’s house sat in a similar way.

      No one went there, not unless they were kids playing some kind of courage game, especially on holidays like the Day of Courage. Or they were a concerned Sheikah, which he did see coming back down from the hill on occasion. While the more highly trained and initiated Elites spent most of their time in Castle Town, the Sheikah were still a people that saw through others. Though most people probably just assumed they were checking up on the Kali family to make sure they weren’t breaking Sheikah law.

      But one day, after he came of age, he had been passing by that trail that lead up the hill, to the Kali house. This time, Fae had come running down it. He had paused to greet her only to fall short of words when he saw her tear-streaked face and a reddening mark on her cheek. Their eyes had met and Fae just whispered with a tremble:

      “Please help Ceres.”

      He had ran up the hill to that house, Fae trailing behind him. He heard Hera screaming something as he approached. Killian pounded on their door until the screaming stopped, and Ceres opened it. Her eyes had been red from crying, her cheeks still flushed with the emotion, but she glared at him like he was the one being rude.

      He had grabbed her hand anyway and pulled her out of that house. He had stormed off with her without saying a word, her mother screaming after them, yelling for Ceres and Fae to come back. Killian hadn’t said anything. He just brought her in front of Kubera’s house, knocked on the door, and practically pushed her into his arms.

      By then Killian knew that it wasn’t just the idea of getting a raise out of Elias, but by then he also knew the way she looked at Kubera, and he knew the way Kubera looked at her.

      She never went back to that house. She had stayed with Kubera, and soon after, they were moving with Fae to Castle Town. Ceres and Kubera got engaged.

      What he wanted was something impossible, because there was no way for no one to get hurt.

      Killian had put it aside.

      She was happy, and that was all he could ever hope for. He would definitely be an ass if he stirred shit up just because of how he felt. He had never saw himself as the type to settle in anyway. He had wanderlust. He had always wanted to see the world, and he knew that was not exactly aligned with getting married and starting a family, and a family had been what Ceres wanted. Besides, staying single and promiscuous had seemed to annoy Elias, so it had its perks. People in Kakariko talked and gossiped like usual when he had visited, and now it was about how that Serwen wouldn’t commit.

      He’d visit Ceres and Kubera, along with Fae and her husband as well as Tori and Amaya when they were in Castle Town. Soon they all had little ones on the way, and that was enough for him. Seeing them born, watching them grow, playing with them. Killian had been content just being part of the family. A part that could come and go as he pleased.

      Or so he had thought. Hadn’t it been enough? Why did foolish thoughts plague him now of all times? Why would he think such a terrible thing?

      Fae, Avarin, Tarento, and Akata. His friends had died during the last war. Kubera had been all he had left of his friends.

      Now he held a sobbing Ven in his arms.

      Killian carried him, soaking wet and covered in mud into the house, that sword still a heavy weight in his hand.

      “Killian, where have you two …” Ceres’ question halted in its tracks as the entire house—which had been filled with merriment and cheer merely a second ago—suddenly went deathly quiet. The only sounds were Ventus’ loud sobs, which now echoed against the sorrowful rain.

      “What … what happened?” she asked just as her eyes found her husband’s sword in his hand.

      Their eyes met, but Killian’s shifted away as he set Ventus down on his feet, his hand still holding his. He walked up to her as the kind woman from before, Elise, came and collected Ven, asking him softly why he was crying. Killian finally lifted his gaze to hers, taking Kubera’s sword in both of his hands, holding it between them.

      “... Germanin came,” he began, his throat tightening on him, just as unwilling to allow the words through as he was to speak them. He hadn’t wanted to do this now, tonight. He had wanted to wait for tomorrow or maybe forever, but with Ventus like this, he’d have to do it now. “He brought this … Ceres, I’m so sorry … Kubera …”

      He was staring at the sword now, unable to look her in the eyes as he spoke. His voice choked as he felt his face contort, fighting against the grief taking shape there.

      “He’s … he’s gone.”

      Ven gave another loud, anguished wail.

      “Oh Goddesses,” Ceres gasped, her voice cracking before shattering into a million pieces. “No … not … not Kubera.”

      That was when a silent wail escaped her lips. While her son’s were loud, Ceres barely made a sound except for the small gasps for air.

      Kubera’s sword clattered to the wood floor as Killian stepped forward, his hands going to her shoulders before his arms wrapped around her, pulling her into his chest.

      “I’m so sorry,” he choked softly to her, his cheek pressing against the side of her head, his hand cradling the back of it.

      He wanted her happy, not like this. How was she supposed to be happy after this? That’s why he knew what he wanted was impossible, not without someone getting hurt and that wasn’t part of what he wanted. Why’d Kubera have to leave her like this? Why hadn’t he just left the city with them, not leave them alone? Especially when they were more alone than other families were ever supposed to be. They needed him more than anyone else. They were Kalis. You can’t just leave them alone.

      He remembered Germanin’s words. “He was a devoted knight to the end.”

      That same ugly voice from somewhere deep in the dark corners of his mind—as Ceres clung to him like he was the only thing keeping her from drowning—whispered in his ear, Not much of a devoted father or husband though, was he?

      After Ceres and Ven had cried themselves to sleep, Killian had gone outside by himself in the rain. That awful little whisper in his head drifted along with the grief that tightened his throat and ached with an emptiness in his core. It was side-by-side with the other thought that he would never get to hear another stupid arm or hand joke again. Kubera wouldn’t get to grow old. He wouldn’t get to see his children grow up. He would never know his own grandchildren.

      Maybe it was true that Kubera was never home with his family as much as Killian thought he should be. That he had seemed to have put his duty as a knight before his duty to his family. What family was perfect though? What person was perfect? What did that matter now that he was dead and could be none of these things to anyone?

      Killian’s cry of anger and grief was drowned out in the rain and wind as it tore out of his throat like an enraged and wounded animal. Anger at Kubera. Anger at himself.

      ###

      Since the news of Kubera’s death, a heaviness had taken over the Agni family. Ventus, while eager to learn sword before, began to work himself to the bone. No longer was he the carefree boy Killian had known—in his eyes, his mother’s eyes—a certain hardness and determination to learn the sword possessed him like some sort of spirit.

      Ceres would break down crying at random intervals, and it would sometimes get so bad she would need to excuse herself until she could collect herself. Her sobs were always silent though—it was almost as if she couldn’t let people hear her grieve.

      Only Rini, it seemed, to be somewhat normal. Cheerful and peppy, it was like she was Fae reborn. This began to lead to rumors around the girl—that she wasn’t quite right in the head. Some said she was grieving, putting on an act for her mother and brother. Others said she simply didn’t care her father died. Killian could understand that, though he was certain that Rini was just in shock.

      He hadn’t known what to feel either when his father died. Killian had been the one to identify the body too. Elias had always been so much larger than life, and he knew in some ways Kubera had been that for his children too, particularly Ven. It was hard to believe that such people could die.

      Either way, a quiet discontent was still fermenting.

      “Killian, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

      Ceres lowered her hands, the potato she had been cleaning moments before hung loosely in her hands. Her eyes looked heavy and tired, bags hanging under them; it was the same look he saw in Kakariko that day. This time … this time though, there was no defiance. No inner fire. It seemed like the will to live had finally left her. That scared him more than anything.

      Killian swept over, his hand grasped hers around the potato. His other went tentatively to her shoulder.

      “Hey, it—” But he stopped himself and sighed, shaking his head. “No, I’m not going to say it’s going to be fine, but it’ll take time. We’ll figure it out.”

      How could things be fine without Kubera? Killian was still caught in the middle of grieving his best friend and also hating him for not being there. Hating him for unearthing these disturbing thoughts and feelings. If he hadn’t died, maybe Killian wouldn’t be thinking these things. Yet, he still understood why he did what he did. The war had changed Kubera. Maybe before, he would have left with Ceres and his kids. But after all they had lost, Kubera said he didn’t want anyone to have to feel that way again.

      But now his family was. He supposed Kubera had also wanted something impossible.

      He squeezed her shoulder, giving her his own sad and tired smile.

      Ceres looked up at him, her brow furrowing ever so slightly, a gentle frown on her face.

      “We? What about your family? I just … can’t take you away from them,” she said; when it came to what people said—and didn’t say—Ceres could hear it all. Taking a shuddering breath, and with her free hand, rubbed her eyes. “You’ve already done so much for us, asking for more would be … selfish.”

      “Ceres, you’re my family too.” There was no way he could leave now. Though a part of him wanted to. If he left, then maybe he could also leave these thoughts behind him, but he couldn’t do that to her and the kids either. “Tori has Amaya. They’ll be fine. I’m right where I need to be.”

      For the first time since Kubera died, a small, grateful smile appeared on Ceres face. It wasn’t a large one, but it seemed to radiate.

      “Thank you, Killian. You’ve always been so sweet to me and my family. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

      Ah, she shouldn’t say things like that, while this mean little voice in him lingered and haunted him.

      Happy now, aren’t you?

      He didn’t want to be, but her words and that smile had lifted his spirits some. Like how he couldn’t decide if he hated or missed Kubera, he couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or guilty. It was some confused mixture of both. He had felt similarly even before the news of his death. He gotten Ventus that wooden sword just like he knew Kubera had been planning. He had felt self-conscious about it, so he said to think of it as from both of them. He didn’t want it to seem like he was trying to replace him.

      He didn’t want to feel so hopeful when she said things like that. Kubera was barely dead to them for a week. What could he possibly hope for? He shouldn’t even hope for it. It was disgusting, indecent of him. Nor did Ceres need something like that right now.

      He let go of her hand.

      “It’s what family is for.”

      He was Uncle Killian, and that was all.

      ###

      A month flew by. Perhaps because it was the middle of the night, or perhaps it was because when Killian woke up to go to the outhouse and Rini wasn’t there sleeping next to that young friend of hers—but the fire outside in the distance seemed painfully out of place.

      While there was always patrols at the walls, the flickering light wasn’t anywhere near the wall; in fact it was more toward the fields. Which was worrying since the fields were almost ready to harvest, if all went well. The last thing they could afford—especially with so many mouths to feed—was the destruction of their crops.

      There were no burning crops. There was just Rini sitting next to a sloppily made fire pit, staring into the flames, watching them dance.

      Killian arched his brow as he approached. When had she learned to start fires on her own? It was dangerous to say the least.

      “Rini?” he said as he came up to her and her fire. “What are you doing out here?”

      The small girl jerked in surprise, the spell the flames seemed to hold over her a moment ago now broken. Looking at Killian guiltily before her eyes darted back to the small fire, it took her a good long minute for her to be able to drag her eyes away from it again.

      “I couldn’t sleep,” she mumbled.

      Killian took a seat next to her by the fire, his arms propped up on his knees. “Why’s that?”

      “My mind is keeping me up,” Rini shrugged helplessly. “Ya know … when you start to nod off, and then you remember and think about things you don’t want to?”

      “Uh huh …”

      Boy did he know that, especially recently. Though he supposed he felt passingly better, since he decided to just put those things away again. Or at least that was what he kept telling himself.

      “So … you wanna tell me what kind of stuff is keeping you up?” Killian could imagine, but he wanted her to tell him.

      However, instead of answering him, the young girl asked him a question.

      “Am I a bad person, Uncle Killian?”

      Killian cocked his head at her, somewhat confused. Though he knew the other parents and adults in the village had been talking about Rini’s lack of reaction. Most seemed concerned, others seemed disturbed by it.

      “Of course not. Why would you think that?”

      “‘Cause I haven’t cried like Mom and Ven have,” Rini said, picking up a stick and poking at the fire before throwing it in, watching that burn. “He was my dad, but I don’t feel like crying. Doesn’t that make me a bad daughter? A bad person?”

      Killian sighed, staring into the fire. She shouldn’t have to worry about things like this at this age, but war had a tendency to force you to grow up or just twist your thoughts a bit more.

      “You don’t have to act like … other people think you should,” said Killian. “I didn’t cry when my father died either. How you feel, is how you feel. Sometimes, that doesn’t come out on the surface like it seems it should. That’s okay.”

      He looked over at her and smiled. He knew Rini was grieving in her own way.

      “You loved your dad, right?” he asked.

      “Of course!” Rini said quickly and forcefully before looking down once more, her voice becoming softer. “Of course, I loved him. He was my dad. I just wish I could cry like Mom and Ven have. Maybe … maybe it would be easier.”

      Killian shrugged. “Maybe, but you’ll cry when it’s time or if you need to. But I think it’s enough that you know you loved him. You don’t have to cry to prove it.”

      “Really?” A small hopeful look crossed her face as she looked at him.

      He smiled again. “Yeah, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone. Just be yourself.”

      Killian supposed, he had needed to remind himself of that too. He knew he couldn’t replace Kubera. That nasty voice in him was still there, but it wasn’t like he had to pay it so much attention. His unwanted thoughts had no control over him. Just because he thought terrible things didn’t mean he had to act on such things. He didn’t need to overcompensate and be self-conscious about Ceres, Ven, and Rini just because of all this. He didn’t need to prove anything. He would have always taken care of them just the same, Kubera alive or dead. Unwanted thoughts and feelings or not.

      After all, he was Uncle Killian.

      “Thanks, Uncle Killian.”

      Damn straight.

      She smiled gratefully before looking really nervous. “... You aren’t going to tell my mom about this and the fire, are you?”

      Killian smirked. “Well, that depends … If you promise to stop starting fires on your own. It’s fine if you want to, but come ask me so that you don’t hurt yourself or … burn down the crops, okay?”

      “I know how to start fires safely,” she pouted, puffing her cheeks out, somewhat resembling a squirrel with its mouth full of nuts. “It’s easy.” There was a pause. “But if you wanna watch the flames too, I guess I’ll let you know.”

      “Alright, it’s a promise though,” he said. “Or I’m telling your mother.”

      “It’s a promise,” she agreed.

      ###

      Another moon came and went. The time for harvesting was close at hand. The farmers prepared to tend the fields, and the woodsmen, woodswomen, and hunters of the village Sakriven prepared for war. News of other villages being attacked and raided for their goods had reached their ears. The Gerudos seemed to wait to attack the farming communities until they had harvested their crops. Though some attacked early, only killing some of the citizens to prove a point. It was said that the villages who had promised their harvest to the Gerudo were spared. The Sakriven people were proud and had agreed to fight for their resources. After all, how were they to survive the winter if they gave the Gerudos all their food?

      Killian was not just helping train young Ventus now but other young women and men who were of age and permitted to fight if they wished as well. Germanin had left to go aid another village who had few fighters to help in training.

      Fuck, they were all so young.

      Killian had joined the guard for the training mostly when he was fifteen, but he still didn’t see war until he was twenty. Granted, the Gerudo War hadn’t started until then. A few of the younger children of the village were also interested in the training he provided Ventus, and he trained them too even if they weren’t allowed to fight yet.

      The problem was, Ventus didn’t seem to accept that he wouldn’t be allowed to fight until he was of age.

      At every turn, he was pointing out when the Gerudo came, they wouldn’t care who was fifteen and who wasn’t. That they needed everyone who could fight, to take up arms and push the Gerudo back. That this was wartime and the rules of peace didn’t apply.

      “Ven,” said Killian with exasperation, yet again. “Even during the last war, no one was allowed to fight until they were fifteen. Obviously, I’m training you so you can defend yourself, but even so that’s only if you absolutely have to. When the fighting starts, you will be with your mother and sister and everyone else who can’t or shouldn’t fight.”

      “But why?” he complained, stamping his foot into the ground, throwing yet another miniature temper tantrum. “I’ve gotten a lot better! I’m not going to be some dead weight!”

      “Hey, don’t call your mother and sister dead weight.” Killian gave Ventus a brisk tap on the head for his lip. He wanted to remind him that he wasn’t just calling himself that. “Think of yourself as an investment. Like the crops. They have to grow, but during that time just because you can’t harvest and eat them doesn’t mean they’re useless, dead weight. You just need to have patience. Even if your age wasn’t the problem, I’m still not ready to hand over a real sword to you, kiddo.”

      “What do I need to do for you to think I’m ready?” the boy demanded, but underneath his anger and frustration, there was a hint of a plea in his voice. A desperate plea which drove him to work himself to the point of exhaustion, past his limits, and toward a dream he held since he was old enough to have a dream; to become a knight. A dream which now has taken on a twisted obsession.

      “Just keep practicing but also rest more,” said Killian. Farore, please, have him rest more. “This is the sort of thing that can’t be rushed. You’ll hurt yourself if you keep working yourself as hard as you have been. If you injure yourself, it’ll keep you from being able to train, and then you’ll just be slowing your own progress down. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.”

      That seemed to stop his protests—at least for the time being. It wouldn’t last though; Ven was stubborn that way.

      Killian flopped down in exhaustion in a seat next to Ceres at the hearth where she was helping cook dinner for the village. “I’m not sure where he gets it more from, you or Kubera.”

      He paused awkwardly, realizing he mentioned him. “Sorry …”

      Ceres smiled at him, though it didn’t quite meet her eyes. There was still a sadness to them, but she no longer cried anymore.

      “It’s fine,” she said, pushing the bread around, making sure it cooked evenly on all sides. “And Kubera, hands down. The obstinate part though is definitely me. My mother hated that about me.”

      Killian smiled, smirking in that roguish manner he did. “Pity, I always found it quite charming. Though I suppose Elias never appreciated the trait in me either … Maybe that’s why I like it so much.”

      “Don’t seem to be appreciating it too much right now,” Ceres pointed out, her lips pulling up in a slight smirk, a hint of the sass of her childhood—the sass which seemed to escape her every word before she moved to Castle Town and Fae disappeared. It was good to hear it again.

      She also sort of had him there. “It’s different,” he implored, a playful plea in his tone. “I wasn’t trying to storm off into a war at eleven-years-old.”

      Though he had to admit, he had enjoyed refusing to tell Elias who gave him the cursed wound on his face a little too much. It was one of the few times he had ever seen his father so angry. Having the power to deny the old man something he seemed to really want had been a little too delicious. That had him wondering for the first time, what was Sylric up to now? The way his scar itched on stormy nights made him hope the bastard was dead in a ditch somewhere.

      “There also wasn’t a war when we were eleven,” she reminded him before her eyes took a sadness to them. Sitting down in front of the hearth, she placed the hook like device she used to turn the pot next to her, propping against the brick. “It seemed I passed on a terrible trait. Being stubborn is one thing but nothing I say anymore will get through to him. He keeps telling me he’ll protect myself and Rini not seeming to understand he’s just a boy.”

      “Hey, it’s not so terrible a trait,” said Killian, stealing a piece of bread from her finished batch. “I mean, he wants to protect the people he loves. That’s a noble thing; he just … needs a little reality check is all.”

      “He is a good boy,” Ceres agreed, swatting his arm half-heartedly for his theft. “It’s just … I’m worried he won’t get it until something terrible happens. I mean I knew pissing off mother was never a good idea, but I did it anyway. I’m sure you have similar stories.”

      Killian smirked. Boy did he. His smile faded though as he thought of Ventus. “I know what you mean. I’m worried he’ll get hurt …” Or worse.

      A bell started ringing hurriedly in the distance. Killian dropped his bread. His green eyes locked onto Ceres’. It was the warning bell for when the Gerudo were attacking.

      “I’ll help get everyone inside,” she said, jumping to her feet, grabbing the hook device, her grip tightening around it so her knuckles turned white. “Go.” She paused and looked once more at him, adding, “And come back,” before breaking out to a run to help others to safety.

      Killian watched her go for a moment, and then was running as quickly as he could to where he had last left Ventus. There was no way he was forgetting about the little brat in all of this. As he had thought, he found Ventus trying to sneak off with a real sword that was too big for him.
      Ventus seemed to hear him approach before he said anything though; the brat’s hearing was both irritating and amazing.

      “I’m fighting,” he said, lifting the sword in a ready position, it wobbling slightly before it dipped back down. While it didn’t touch the ground, it was clear to anyone with a brain not only was it too big, but it was too heavy for the boy. Even if he was ready to fight, he wouldn’t be winning any duels with that.

      Killian just rolled his eyes and without pausing in his steady pace toward the lad, he reached, grabbed the sword, and twisted it out of his hands. In another fluid motion he was scooping Ventus up and slinging him over his shoulder.

      “How about this—you can fight when I can’t do that to you anymore,” said Killian as he headed toward to the safe designated safe “house”, a barn at the center of the village.

      “Uncle Killain!” Ventus protested, squirming in his arms, once more throwing a tantrum. “I can fight! I can help protect everyone!”

      “Uh huh.”

      He kept Ventus contained until he spotted Ceres helping an elderly man into the barn.

      “Milady, this is yours,” he called.

      Ceres ran up to Killian, taking the squirming boy—whose protests now rose in volume—from him.

      “Thank you,” she said breathlessly before glaring at her son. “Sneaking off, I imagine? For once Ventus, can you just listen. This isn’t a game!”

      “But—”

      “No buts! Inside! Now!” Putting him down, she shoved him inside the house, Elise helping usher him inside more, assuring the two she would keep “a good eye on him.” Turning to Killian, fear— and gratefulness—shone in her eyes. “Thank you. Be safe out there.”

      Killian gave her his signature rogue smile. “As you wish, milady.”

      ###

      It was loud.

      Despite nobody saying a thing, it was loud.

      The hyperventilating. The silent crying. The pounding heartbeats. The creaking of the boards. The ringing of the warning bells. Everything. It was too damn loud.

      “Ven.”

      Despite Rini’s voice being barely louder than a whisper in reality, it was like she had shouted in his ear, and he winced. Her small hand found it’s way into his as he watched more non-fighters filtering in, and in the doorway, he would occasionally catch glimpses of their mother, helping those who needed it. While he never thought of it before now, he kind of felt like Mom would have been a great knight too, just like dad. After all, a knight’s duty was to the people and even if Mom wasn’t taking up arms, she was still helping those who needed it.

      Ven.”

      Rini tugged on his hand, her voice more insistent. He looked down, finally, trying to ignore the loudness of his surroundings, but it was easier said than done.

      “What is it?” he whispered.

      “What if they find us in here?” she asked, the last of the non-combatants filtering in, Mom trailing them and securing the door behind her.

      “They won’t,” he assured her with confidence. “We have a wall around us. Food inside, not to mention a lot of fighters including me.” Once again the bitterness at not being allowed to fight bubbled inside. “This won’t be like Castle Town. This time we’re prepared.”

      Rini didn’t look quite assured, but nodded all the same as Mom came over to them, a bread hook in her hand.

      “Be quiet, you two,” she instructed in a stern whisper, her eyes flickering around them warily.

      Ven wanted to complain everybody else was being loud anyway, but one look from her caused his mouth to snap shut. He fought this battle before, pointing out he wasn’t the only one, but Mom never cared about that sort of thing.

      So he fell into a sullen silence. That was until ten minutes later he started hearing new sounds … sounds he didn’t recognize. Furrowing his brow, he tried to concentrate on them, everything else making it difficult, but his question on what they could be would be answered soon enough.

      The sounds were the barely audible crunching footsteps of people outside. Barely audible only to Ven but unnoticed to everyone else in the barn. Then there was a loud, banging knock on their front door.

      “Out NOW!” barked a harsh female voice. “Or we’ll burn you all alive in there.”

      “What?” Mom whispered, horrified and shocked, standing up as there were cries of surprise echoing around the barn. Rini whimpered, holding on to Ven’s hand tighter. “The Gerudo? How?”

      Nobody moved for the door.

      In the next moment, the barn doors were swinging open with an audible creak and whine from the hinges. A large group of Gerudos stood outside, about twenty-five of them. Plenty to kill all fifty or so of the children, elderly, or untrained of the village. They were dressed in a cool and dark shade of green rather than the typical warm and bright red and orange of their warriors. Their outfits also covered more of their skin than the typical Gerudo warrior. They had cowls, but these were now pulled down on most of them, showing their blazing red hair. Their weapons were smaller, thinner knives and blades than the larger scimitars usually seen.

      One was holding a flaming torch. A tall Gerudo next to her with long, curly hair, folded her arms over her chest. “Hmm, no, let’s keep them inside. If they don’t surrender then we can light it up.”

      The shorter one nodded. “Right …”

      Horrified silence lasted for a moment. Hearts pounded, one thought going through the minds of the gathered Hylians; What do we do?

      All except for one.

      Ven’s.

      With an enraged cry, instead of cowering or cry like some of the smaller children started to do, the boy dashed forward, his mother’s fingers reaching out to stop him but only grabbing air.

      They left him behind and now he was the only fighter right here. He would show Killian. He would show them all. He didn’t have plan, but there was no time to think, just to act.

      “I won’t let you!” he roared, going for the one who had the torch.

      The tall Gerudo merely lifted her leg and planted her foot into his gut, using mostly his own rushing force against him. Gasping for air, holding his stomach, ignoring his mother’s yells and his sister’s crying, he staggered to his feet.

      It was a minor setback.

      “Oh …? He’s up,” said the short up in what sounded like mild surprise and amusement.

      He rushed again, snarling. They were looking down on him. They all were. He could hear his mother demanding for people to move out of her way, approaching him. She was going to stop him, he just knew it. However, he couldn’t afford to let her. To let anyone. He would show her—he’d show everyone!

      The next foot struck directly in his face. He felt his nose break and blood gush. As he crashed to the floor again, a shadow fell over him. The two Gerudo’s voices drifted over.

      “I guess that’s all he could take …”

      “What did you expect? He’s just a kid.”

      “Shut up,” he growled, pushing himself upward, stars in his vision, but he wouldn’t yield. Couldn’t yield. “I’m not done with you yet.”

      The voice of the short one with the torch tinkled out in a laugh. “Oh, I like this one. Hit him again. Harder this time.”

      The tall one compiled, this time slamming a fist into the side of his head. Ven crashed to the floor again. The pain in his head pounded heavily, and it was getting hard to see, but once more he forced himself up, glaring hatefully and snarling.

      “Oh, he’s just a peach!” the shorter one laughed again. “Do it again—”

      There was a sharp cry of anger, surprise, and pain, and the tall one fell to her knees. Her hand went back toward her head as his mother stood towering over her with her metal stick.

      “Isn’t so funny now, is it, bitch?” Mom spat, raising her improvised weapon again to hit the taller Gerudo woman again.

      “Tch.” The short one snorted in distaste.

      But soon his mother was being surrounded by three other Gerudos in green. Her weapon was grabbed and tugged out of her hands as they grabbed her arms and held them behind her. The tall one was slowly standing up, still cradling the back of her head.

      “Damn … my fault though, Taina, I let my guard down.”

      The short one snorted. “I don’t care … So who’s this? Mummy?”

      “Let her go!” Ven yelled, running at the Gerudo again, this time to save his mother, clearly not learning his lesson the first few times.

      The shorter Gerudo had passed her torch off to another. She walked up and grabbed Ven’s head and slammed it down into her knee.

      “Ventus!” he heard Mom screaming as well as Rini. He gasped in pain, but he didn’t fall to the ground this time if only because the Gerudo still held his hair.

      His fingers twitched, and he pulled his little fist back and slammed it into her leg with all his might.

      “I … will … protect … everyone.”

      ###

      Ceres pulled against the Gerudo who were holding her, rage once more filling her veins. She only managed to get one good hit in, and she cursed herself for not having a better weapon or going in for a killing blow. Even though she knew somewhere in the back of her head that killing the bitch could have meant death for them all, Ceres wasn’t thinking about that.

      She was just thinking about saving her son. Her foolish, stupid son.

      Even now he was struggling valiantly, if not fruitlessly. Ever his father’s son, but with none of his battle prowess.

      If only … she thought, her eyes flicking around, looking for something somebody to help. However, the living were too frozen in place in fear and the dead … the dead were nowhere to be found. She gritted her teeth.

      She was a Kali! The granddaughter of the great—horrible, yes, but great—Aliyah Kali. Just the name sent fear and hatred into Hylians’ hearts. She had that power in her; her mother had seen it and tried to beat it out of her. However, no matter how hard she hit, Ceres could see the dead clearly. All she needed to do was draw on it and make the Gerudo fear her family name too.

      She didn’t care it would break the law. There was no law when it came to war.

      The short Gerudo chuckled at Ven’s feeble attempt to injure her. She looked over at Ceres with short red hair windswept in her face. Her fingers still gripping her son’s blond hair.

      “I respect your ferocity. You’re a mother. I get it, but … no one hits Lamra, okay? You should have been patient and quiet. Then he wouldn’t have had to feel as much pain.”

      The tall one smirked, looking over at her. “Aw, my heart’s all a flutter, babe.”

      “Shut it, Lamra.”

      She slammed Ven’s face into her knee again and then shoved him onto his back. She slammed her heel down into his gut.

      “Ventus!” Ceres cried, before glaring at the Gerudo women. “If you want to beat on anyone for hitting your girlfriend, hit me and leave my son alone!”

      “Mom …” Ven gasped, his breathing heavy as he grasped the Gerudo’s ankle and tried to push it off of him. “I said … I would protect you … didn’t I? This … this is nothing.” He glowered at the Gerudo above him. “Why are you doing this? Why … are you hurting everyone? I don’t … understand.”

      Taina the Gerudo took her foot off him. She grabbed him by the hair again and tugged him up to his knees.

      “Why? Din, what do they even teach Hylian kids?” asked Taina in exasperation. “This is why I hate Hylians. Such fucking martyrs. ‘Oh, why me? What did I ever do to you?’ What fucking bullshit. The fact you don’t even know what your people have done to mine, makes me sick. Don’t expect me to sit here and give you a history lesson. I don’t owe you shit, kid.”

      Lamra rolled her eyes. “You done yet?”

      “What, we got time.”

      That was when there was a blur of steel, and Taina’s hand was no longer connected to her forearm. Her hand fell from Ven’s head and onto the ground in front of him.

      “Taina!” cried Lamra, who lurched forward, grabbing her comrade and pulling her back before Killian could take off her head. The tip of his blade grazed her throat.

      “Fuckfuckfuck!” snarled Taina, grabbing her forearm as it spurted red hot blood.

      “Killian …” Ceres whispered, her eyes widening in shock and relief. She had thought the Gerudo woman was going to kill her son, keep on beating him for being stupid enough to ask her why she was doing this despite Ceres plainly telling him it was because they were Gerudo.

      If Kubera was her sun, then Killian was her north star. He was always guiding her; first when he rescued her from that infernal house and got her to safety, and now, in Sakriven, when he didn’t leave them and took care of them after Kubera died. Now he was blazing to their rescue when he was needed most.

      Killian stepped, swirling around, and headed for her and the Gerudo holding her. There was a flick of metal from his hand, and a knife embedded itself into the shoulder of one. She screamed angrily next to Ceres. The other two were reaching for their own weapons.

      Killian used the moment to grab Ceres by the arm and tug her away. Their nails dug into her skin, but she came loose. It the same motion, she was already behind him. His back to her as he lifted his sword between them and the Gerudo. Stumbling forward, it took her a moment for her to keep her balance before rushing to her son’s side, cradling the bruised body in her arms before turning to look back at Killian.

      “Stop.”

      The three Gerudo halted though not happily. It was Lamra. She was just finishing binding a cloth around Taina’s bleeding stump. She stood up, helping her to stand as well. Lamra’s gaze was hard and fixed on Killian.

      She growled slowly, “You are going to regret that.”

      “Yeah, maybe,” Killian agreed. “Buuut, mostly not.”

      “You’re fucking stupid!” growled Taina, panting in pain, sweat dewing on her face. “You came here alone? Heh—you’re gonna fucking die.”

      No.

      Once more the severity of the situation hit home. Killian was a skilled fighter, but against twenty-five Gerudo, his chances—their chances—of escaping alive were slim. There was plenty of hostages to choose from, and even then, if by some miracle they didn’t resort to underhanded tactics they were still outnumbered in terms of capable fighters.

      What do I need to do to even the odds?

      “Well, I’m not completely stupid,” said Killian calmly. “It’s not like I didn’t let anyone else know that there’s no way you would focus your entire force just at the front gates. That’s not how you Gerudo fight. You’re not stupid.”

      “You think having told anyone is going to save you?” inquired Lamra, putting a hand on her hip. “Why do you even think we’re here? Let your warriors come. That’s what we want.”

      She gestured and a few more Gerudos approached with torches lit and standing nearby the barn, still full of the rest of the non-combatants.

      “You always have a place to protect your weak. But you should be glad. This way less lives are lost. We’re just saving you all from your own stubbornness. Your warriors will surrender, or they will lose what they value.”

      Killian was quiet for a moment. His back still to Ceres.

      Taina’s ragged, pained breathing filled the air. A twisted giggle tinkled out of her again. She fixed her narrowed gaze on Killian. “But not you … I want to see you die.”

      No. No. No. No. She just had to think, because there had to be something. Her mother hated her for a reason. Because she was a threat. How did she make the dead bend to her command?

      Yet nothing came to mind. She learned nothing on how to use her magic. Even after she left the house, she was too afraid to. After all, Elias Serwen was in Castle Town as well, always glaring at her. She managed to find some happiness, and she didn’t want to do anything to have that taken away from her.

      It was almost ironic; she had defied her mother to the end, but it seemed when a necromancer would have been acceptable, one was not to be found.

      Lamra nodded to her other comrades, and they moved to close in on him. Killian didn’t wait for that. He went for the one closest to him, but it also helped him put space between the other two that would eventually outnumber him. He clashed steel with her, as she drew a long blade that seemed more like a very large knife.

      However, he only exchanged a few strikes and slashes with her before dodging one of hers by ducking and rolling. He veered instead off to the left, rolling up to his knees, and thrusting his sword forward and upwards into the middle of the other approaching Gerudo. Killian was rolling backwards again, almost as soon as he had stabbed her. Coming back onto his knee, he let his sword swing backwards, catching the Gerudo he had first started fighting in the ankle and cutting her foot most of the way off. She screamed and fell.

      From his knees, he was soon springing back to his feet and rushing the third Gerudo. However, Killian slammed his heels into the dirt, stopping sooner than the Gerudo was expecting him to. It caused her to miss him in her horizontal swing. The mercenary was light on his feet. He was springing forward as soon as the tip of her scimitar brushed by him. His left hand pushed forward, pressing her sword arm down as he thrust his into her chest.

      She fell, coughing blood, to his feet before lying still.

      Killian turned to face the rest of the Gerudo, resting the flat of his bloody blade on his shoulder as he did so. He was breathing deeply but in a calm and controlled way. There was only a brief pause, and the deafening silence was only disturbed by the pained grunts of the Gerudo he had injured but not killed. He surveyed the twenty or so more Gerudo that stood before him.

      Then they charged him, and he followed suit.

      They soon had him surrounded on all sides. Killian was barely visible to Ceres through the bodies of the Gerudo warriors in green. He kept moving though, weaving through them. She heard more pained and angry cries from the Gerudos he injured. When a couple more hit the dirt, either injured or dying, more replaced them. Even so, she could see from there that his movements were getting slower, smaller.

      Lamra had left Taina’s side and was circling the pack around Killian. Her scimitar was drawn but lose at her side. She weaved slowly between the other warriors, stalking her prey in the center. Soon Ceres saw her crouching almost like a lioness before she darted through an opening.

      She saw Lamra lunge forward and stab Killian in the gut with the end of her sword, and an audible gasp left her lips as Ventus cried out for his uncle.

      This finally brought him to a halt. He grabbed the dull edge of the blade and tried to swing his at her, but she grabbed his wrist and pushed hers deeper into him, causing an angry, pained growl of his own to sound against his clenched teeth.

      Then she pulled it out and yanked his sword from him.

      Killian crumpled to his knees, red blood pooling at the front of his tunic, staining the navy blue maroon. He hunched with ragged breathing, his hands going to his injury.

      “Killian!” Ceres yelled, standing up to rush to his side, only to be held back by some of the others, yelling she’ll just get killed too and to think of her children. Ventus too was trying to get to the man he looked up to; Rini, for the first time, was starting to bawl.

      Lamra gestured and her fellow warriors backed away from the dying man. She looked down at him but with no anger. Her face was calm and cold.

      “We Gerudo honor strong warriors,” she said to him. “You took ten of my warriors today. I’ve never seen a Hylian with no magic do as much on his own. You bring me honor that I shall claim your head. So I’ll give you this, a last few words before I strike you down and end your suffering … Do you have anything to say?”

      Killian bobbed his head weakly, trying to keep it raised, still gasping in pain and due to lack of breath. His blood stained his hands now and trickled onto his leggings. He lifted his head, and though Ceres could see his profile, he didn’t look to her.

      “Ceres.” His voice was thick with his pain, but it grew louder so that she could hear him. “I always loved you.”

      It felt like her entire world went crashing down, shrinking and consumed by a terrible void at the same time that it shuddered with his shocking confession. While there weren’t tears before—the adrenaline made it hard to concentrate on anything else besides attempting and failing to use her Death magic—they started to fall now.

      “K-Killian,” she choked, trying to find the words to say.

      “Hm,” said Lamra, looking over at Ceres and her son struggle. “So that’s why you took Taina’s hand … It had seemed unnecessary.”

      She looked back down at him. Killian looked up at her, his eyes heavy and unfocused. She raised her sword, and it slashed through his neck, severing his head. Killian’s body crumpled like a puppet with its strings cut. His head rolled to the ground but out of sight.

      Ventus screamed out, swearing. Rini’s sobbings grew louder, becoming a wail. Horrified gasps and crying resounded inside the barn for their fallen hero. Ceres let out a mournful cry, sagging in the arms that had once held her back. Now they had to hold her up.

      The sound of a great many more feet was heard as a group of the Hylian warriors had finally come, but it was far too late. Lamra gestured and the remaining Gerudos stepped closer to the barn with torches. Then she reached down and picked up Killian’s head by the hair of his scalp and stood, holding their strongest warrior’s head in her grasp. Her bloodied sword in her other hand at her side.

      There were startled gasps and shouts of rage from the approaching warriors.

      “HALT!” shouted Lamra. “If you come closer, we will torch your precious family members and the like! We have covered this barn in oil. It will burn swiftly before you can save any of them!”

      The warriors staggered to a stop. Indeed, the sides of the barn were wet and dark with the slick oil the Gerudo had splashed over it.

      “However, you can let the killing end with his death today.” She lifted Killian’s head and showed it to them. “Surrender and let our army in. Lay down your arms and promise your crops to us. Your lives and theirs will be spared.”

      So that’s what they meant … Ceres thought emptily, recalling the conversation they had earlier with Killian. If had only been her, she would have grabbed the torch and burn down this barn out of spite—or better yet, the fields. They had taken Fae from her. They had taken Kubera. Now they took Killian. She didn’t want any part of letting them get what they wanted.

      Yet, Ventus clenching her shirt reminded her that she had two children to look after.

      The other Hylian warriors seemed to have similar thoughts. Slowly, they all threw their weapons to their feet. With their families in the barn, what else could they do? Soon the village was flooded with the rest of the Gerudo army, as well as what had remained of the Hylian forces at the front gate.

      The fighters of the village of Sakriven had been gathered, lined up in rows, directly facing the opening of the barn where all the non-combatants were still kept. A Gerudo on a horse rode over to them. By her black and gold armor and crimson uniform, she was obviously the leader of this army. She examined the warriors of the village for a moment before trotting over to Lamra, who was supporting Taina. They were still gathered near the barn, where Ceres could still numbly hear them speak.

      They spoke of things like honor as if they knew the meaning of it. The tall Gerudo was raising Killian’s head again as if it were a prize. It made her insides turn sickly. The leader seemed vaguely pleased with it. Their words fell dull and meaningless on her ears.

      Soon this leader turned her horse and trotted back over to all the assembled Sakriven fighters. She halted for a moment, and then she raised one hand, a gesture to her warriors. The Hylian fighters were forced to their knees, and Gerudos began chopping off their heads. Outraged cries erupted from the villagers in the barn.

      “You said our lives would be spared!”

      “LYING BASTARDS!”

      The Gerudo general turned on her horse, acknowledging this outburst.

      “It brings me no honor to do it,” she admitted. “Warriors should die in battle, not on their knees. However, it must be done. Would you really promise your crops to us with warriors still able to fight for you? In the end, it is their own weakness that has slain them for not sacrificing the weak. Had they not surrendered, they might have lived even if you all died. Be grateful for your lives and think on your promised harvest. We will return then.”

      She trotted away as her warriors continued with their slaughter. Lamra and Taina did not stay long either. Lamra finally let Killian’s head rest on the ground near his body and helped her comrade leave.

      The air was filled with nothing but the thick metallic smell of blood and the mournful cries of the remaining villagers as their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts were all beheaded right before their eyes. The Gerudos finally left them when all the fighters were dead. They left their bodies on the ground for the Hylians to bury.

      Ceres made Ventus and Rini stay in the barn as she helped bury the dead. Ventus was looked after by someone who knew some medicine. She took special note of where they buried the bodies of the fallen, and she took Killian somewhere separate from the rest, taking the time to give him a funeral he properly deserved.

      She still didn’t know what to make about his admittance; with him gone, the empty ache was all she could feel. His blood and his head falling was all she could see. Occasionally her vision would blur as tears swam into her eyes as she lowered his body into the earth and covered it, her hands and limbs wavering with a slight tremor as she worked. They felt stiff and numb, as if frozen though it was only fall, not winter. Her throat was painful and tight though she wailed no longer.

      Even back then, Kubera saying he loved her was unbelievable to her. It had seemed like something impossible. For the longest time, beyond Fae, nobody loved her. Nobody but Fae cared what her mother did to her until Kubera came along. To think Killian did as well was something she had never imagined. She had never noticed. Back then, she was shocked when he had rescued her from that household but now it made sense.

      I’m sorry, Killian.

      She wished—no, they should have had more time together. She would not let his sacrifice, his death be in vain. She didn’t know how but the next time the Gerudo came, they would face death. She would do all she could to ensure that.


      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Ruki ().

    • Back to Chapter Index

      Chapter Eight:
      The Bridge

      Training started immediately, for both Eli and Leita. Though Leita was to begin her magic training with Mom and other children who showed signs of magic, she and these students also joined Eli and Sheik in the morning work out. It didn't matter whether you were training to be a warrior or a caster, everyone did work out together. Eli was on the track to be both, so he also attended magic lessons with Leita. Which workout and training groups they were placed in was determined by age. Physical conditioning was still considered as important for casters to maintain. Mother had always told Eli that physical exercise was good for keeping the mind sharp, which was an asset to a caster's ability to focus and channel their mana effectively into a spell.

      It was definitely challenging work. Eli had been usually fairly active himself in helping Dad with the fishing and carting their goods around Castle Town's market and Kakariko before this war started. Leita had also helped out, so even she handled the harder physical conditioning fairly well. Still, the conditioning left Eli sore and weak, limbs trembling as he collapsed into bed each night. However, it seemed like the workouts were harder on some kids more than others. Eli specifically noticed that Sheik seemed to lag behind, but he never complained when the other children did, not even when it made him throw up after a particularly grueling conditioning session. Not that Sheik ever said much to begin with.

      Sheik and Eli also got even more conditioning with Impa later in the day. After this, it was breathing exercises, in which she taught them how to breathe with their "stomachs" as well as in through the nose and out the mouth. This was followed with meditation practices.

      While Eli was more eager to learn about what it means to be a necromancer, he knew that Impa was no more stupid than his mother. It was obvious that everything had a starting point, basics that must be mastered before more complex skills could be attained. So he attended to these tasks with his full focus. Sheik seemed to follow the same reasoning; he never complained about these more mundane practices.

      Eli and Sheik began the beginner's martial art classes, where they were being taught the basics of self-defense along with those in their age group. Impa said she would take over their combat training more privately after they were sufficient in these. Casters were also required to learn basic self-defense, so he also saw Leita during these lessons. Impa helped teach in these groups as well.

      Mom said they were fortunate that they still had talented casters and warriors who had survived the first attacks. They were receiving training from some of the best, according to her and Dad.

      Though he wasn't sure if he would have considered Jaelic the "best."

      Jaelic was their weapons instructor.

      He was late to their first lesson. When he finally showed, he smelled strongly of whiskey with his hair crunched up to the side as if he had just rolled out of bed. His clothing was wrinkled and loose, as if he had fallen asleep in it. Dad had told Eli that Jaelic was a knight of the Royal Guard. But he wasn't at all like Kubera or anything Eli had imagined a knight would be. Jaelic was shorter than he had been expecting and smaller in build in general. He had a messy mop of red hair, a five o'clock shadow, and a black patch strapped over his left eye. His remaining right eye was a dull gray.

      Jaelic had looked them all over and grimaced before taking a swing out of a metal flask.

      "I am Jaelic Daswick," he had said as he screwed the cap back onto his flask. "And I, both fortunately and unfortunately for all of you, will be your weapons instructor for either the remainder of your little lives or until the end of this war—if you actually survive that long."

      Eli saw the other children around him shift uncomfortably and give each other disconcerted looks. One boy raised his hand and spoke.

      "What if one of us wants to learn a weapon you don't know how to use?"

      It was easy to imagine that he hoped to get a different teacher if this was the case.

      Jaelic glanced over at the boy lazily. "It's not a problem."

      "But—"

      "Oi," Jaelic raised his voice over his, his lip curling in an almost confused disgust. "Did I say this was free-for-all for questions? When I say it's not a problem—it's not a problem. Now shut your tiny face and do not make me tell you again, boy, or I will happily shut it for you. You will do what I say, when I say it or you will be smacked. And no—I don't care what your parents think of that. If they want me to train you and if you want to be trained, then you'll deal."

      Needless to say, Jaelic was no one's favorite teacher, except Norn Salzo and Aya Pax's for some reason. Though Norn was small himself, it didn't stop him from socking an older kid in the face when they were saying that Jaelic was the coward of the Royal Guard for fleeing Castle Town so quickly. Aya had followed Norn immediately, punching their victim solidly in the gut.

      Jaelic had to pull them apart, though he mostly criticized them for not knowing how to throw a punch.

      "Shut up, I don't want to hear that from a cowardly knight!" the older boy had spat at Jaelic.

      However, the knight had merely sneered at this insult. "Coward, eh? Maybe, maybe not. Sure, I ain't no Kubera Agni. The captain became captain of the Royal Guard for a reason. That reason is because everyone loves a hero, ne? But at the end of the day, bein' a hero doesn't get you much. That's why I'm standing here and Captain Agni isn't."

      It was Jaelic's last comment that caught Eli's attention the most. He didn't really care if his new mentor was a coward or not. He just wanted to know if he truly had a quality teacher. He didn't want his time wasted on anything that was subpar. He wasn't sure if Jaelic was that yet. All the same, the fate of Kubera had been pestering Eli for a couple weeks now.

      So he raised his voice and said, "Are you saying Kubera Agni is dead? Did you see him die?"

      Jaelic paused and looked over at him for the first time. Eli felt Leita inch behind him meekly, intimidated by their new mentor. He walked over to him without answering and did something he didn't expect at all.

      Jaelic stared him in the eyes and didn't look away. In fact, it seemed as if Jaelic had forgotten his question entirely and was just examining Eli's soul, leaning in closer. He stared back, somewhat surprised by his mentor's lack of shying away as most people did.

      "You must be that Serwen kid. They say you're crazy and your eyes …" said Jaelic. "I mean, fuck, I heard things, but Din, they really are just haunting."

      Eli's brow pinched together lightly.

      Needless to say, he found the comment unamusing. He was still clueless as ever as to what was it about his eyes that caused the reactions they did in others. The use of the word "haunting" hadn't really bothered him but nor did it exactly make him feel any better about it. What bothered Eli about it was mostly not knowing or understanding why his eyes were different. He merely wanted to understand himself completely and then act accordingly.

      The air seemed to have become even more still among his unusually silent peers. They all knew what Jaelic was only now openly addressing. No one had ever said it out loud, never acknowledged explicitly the effect his gaze had until now.

      "That doesn't answer my question … sir," Eli added after a pause, allowing the wrinkle in his brow to relax. He wasn't pleased with how Jaelic had disregarded his question and insulted him at the same time, but he also didn't think he would get the answer he wanted if he gave Jaelic lip. So he decided to be polite even if his mentor wasn't.

      Jaelic shrugged. "I didn't see him die, but if he ain't here helping out, then he's dead."

      It wasn't really the definitive answer he had been searching for.

      As usual, Eli found he was no more liked by the other children his age or even his other mentors than he had been before the war. While Jaelic didn't treat him any different than the rest of the children, it wasn't as if Jaelic liked him or anyone especially.

      Those who hadn't known of Eli before taking shelter in Kakariko were soon unnerved by him and educated by the others. No one wanted to be paired with him during drills and partner exercises. This was unsurprising, though Eli felt … removed from it. It was less tiring and more routine than before. Though, he supposed it was inaccurate to say that no one wanted to be paired with him. Sheik was usually his partner, though he still avoided looking Eli in the eyes.

      There was also Darius Binks.

      He was a couple years younger, but old enough to be in their training group. Eli still wasn't sure what to make of the other boy. He always tried to wear a strange wooden mask everywhere, though he was often forced to put it away by the other adults. The other kids said it was "gross" and "creepy."

      At first, Eli thought Darius was afraid of him like everyone else. The boy stared much longer, and when Eli would look at him he'd blush and look away. However, it almost looked like he was smiling. It wasn't the typical startled response he was accustomed to when he caught another person's gaze.

      When Sheik was sometimes taken by someone else as a partner, Darius Binks would eagerly step forward to be Eli's. During these encounters, Binks never said anything to Eli directly. There was much blushing and odd shivering that he would have otherwise taken as Binks being creeped out, but he smiled too much for it to be that.

      However, by comparison, everyone seemed the most curious about Sheik. The children would group around him at mealtimes and ask about his Sheikah heritage and his family, sometimes in that insensitive way children would. Eli heard as much as he needed to just by listening and without necessarily engaging. According to Sheik, he was only a quarter Sheikah. His father had been half and his mother was a Hylian. He had lived in one of the outer villages that got attacked. Impa had saved him. His parents were dead. And no, he didn’t know where Princess Zelda was. Sheik would answer most questions directed at him, but he only said as much as he needed to answer the question.

      He didn't give a lot of details.

      Eli continued to feel a sense of detachment even though Darius' behavior was certainly odd and Sheik's tale was a lonely one of loss. He had been feeling that way ever since he told Impa the reason he wanted to fight in the resistance. That he wasn't sure if he really cared about anyone else but his own family. Though to be honest, he had always felt rather detached from others even before the war, and even now, though he heard sad stories all the time from refugees and anyone who had lost anyone.

      Talon Romani had showed up in Kakariko not long after Castle Town had fallen. Apparently, Ganondorf had appeared at Lon Lon Ranch, though surprisingly he didn't destroy it. Instead, as Eli had overheard the adults during dinner, Ganondorf had seized control of it and handed the ranch over to Talon's employee, Ingo.

      Eli remembered Ingo from the times he had stayed at the ranch on the trips back home to Lake Hylia. He was a bitter and resentful person, always grumbling about how lazy Talon was and how much better the ranch would be in his own hands. Granted, Eli did notice that while Talon was very nice and kind, he seemed to sleep and drink a lot. Dad had told him that Talon had lost his wife in the last war, which seemed to have been the root of these habits. Even Malon seemed to work harder than her father, and he often saw her scolding him for not getting work done. She had always seemed to be the one taking care of him rather than the other way around.

      So while Ingo might have been kind of right, it was surprising that he had accepted this and sided with Ganondorf.

      "But he's a Hylian, like us," Leita had said, over hearing this with him, Mom, and Dad at dinner. She looked down sadly into her soup. "Why would he join Ganondorf?"

      Dad sighed heavily, and Mom replied, "It's not as simple as who is a Hylian or who is a Gerudo, love. Sometimes, you never really know what is in other people's hearts … While the taint does blanket Hyrule, it's not solely responsible for Ingo's actions. His desires were probably festering long before in the shadow of his mind. The taint has only magnified this."

      "This may be so," said Dad, but then he smiled. "But I'm told that Talon was only allowed to live by Ingo's whim. So there's still some mercy in him."

      "Yeah, but his daughter …" said Eli but stopped when Leita's lip started to tremble.

      She had used to play with Malon.

      Eli could easily imagine Ingo's reasons for betraying his own. What he couldn't understand was Ganondorf's reasons for offering such a thing to a Hylian. While it might be true that it wasn't completely about what race they were, race was still a big factor in this war. It bothered him, but he knew he wouldn't be finding the answers to that.

      Malon was still at the ranch. They heard that Ingo had not allowed her to leave with her father. That she was, for all intensive purposes, his slave. That didn't really seem like the mercy his father spoke of to him.

      Talon now spent most of his time in a drunken stupor or sleeping it off. He was usually accompanied by others like him, who had lost everything as well as their will to fight back. Such as Raedik Mizuumi, the son of Dr. Mizuumi, the elderly scholar who was their neighbor at Lake Hylia.

      Luckily, Raedik and Dr. Mizuumi happened to have been visiting Kakariko during the time of the attacks. Though Eli often heard him arguing with Dr. Mizuumi who wanted to return to the lake to continue his research. Even before this new war, Eli had known Raedik to be a silent drunk that Dad would often stop by to visit, even if he never talked much. Dad had said Raedik lost his wife and daughter in the previous Civil War, ten years ago. His will seemed to have been taken from him back then.

      It was more than just the adults too. Norn Salzo lost his mother, father, and twin sister in the attack on Castle Town. He always seemed the push himself harder than he needed to during morning conditioning and self-defense training. He was only eight summers old. Eli heard him crying in his sleep at night when they were sharing the same house.

      Aya Pax, a girl Eli's age, also lost her parents in the attack on Castle Town.

      Then there was the Talif family. Serna and Marc Talif had taken shelter with their mother from one of the neighboring villages, during the early attacks in the plains. They had had a younger sister, but she didn't make it. Their father had been one of the men taken and enslaved by the Gerudo. Serna and Marc were his and Leita's age. Their mother also drank but still helped out in menial tasks in the village, but her eyes were dull and seemed to lack any shine. She hardly paid any attention to Serna and Marc.

      All their stories were sad, and yet Eli felt untouched by them.

      The only empathy he had was the memory of when he thought that Gerudo was going to kill his father or worse when they were attacked at Lake Hylia. Other than that the only thing he felt was relief that his family had not ended up like theirs.

      And then he considered if there could be something wrong with him. Like there was with Ingo. Though he wore the blessed necklace his mother gave him all the time, and she told him that she had put a protective circle around the whole village to keep the taint out.

      Still, he wonder if he should feel something. Leita seemed to cry at every misfortune she heard. Eli only counted their blessings by comparison.

      They hadn't talked much as a family about that night in Impa's house and what he said to her. They had only bickered that night about why Eli had not talked to Mom and Dad about knowing he was a necromancer. Part of the reason was because talking about it would have been troublesome, and he had also wanted to keep it a secret that he could use the shadows to access information they would normally keep out of his reach.

      Eli had, in turn, bickered back about why Mom had never told him first. He got the usual "I wanted to wait until you were older" response. They wondered why he always had to get his answers the sneaky way. It was because they kept treating him like this. Eli knew he was a child, but he also resented these decisions being made for him just because of that. He wanted the truth no matter how horrible it was.

      Dad acted like nothing was different. Leita was just happy Impa wasn't going to punish Eli or kick him out of the village for being a necromancer. Other than that, it didn't seem to bother her at all, as he had feared it might. Mom didn't mention anything about his claim of not caring about anyone else but them. Even though this was in direct opposition to what Mom had declared to Vivian in defense of necromancers like himself.

      He supposed that was just the thing. Even if Mother was right, and they were all technically Farore's children, people seemed to forget this when it was convenient for them. Besides, it also meant they were family with the Gerudo, but that certainly was never acknowledged. It didn't stop the fighting. It didn't stop the fact that they often killed each other.

      So it didn't really matter.

      It was hard to adhere to such an ideal, when others would disregard it the moment they ever found out he was a necromancer. It didn't seem beneficial or practical to him. He had enough trouble just dealing with the dead making demands of him. The living demanding his investment was just as much of a burden in his eyes.

      Eli had started to ignore all the dead spirits he saw.

      Kakariko was already crowded, but to Eli it was swarming not just with the living but with the dead as well.

      Now it seemed that if one of them realized that he could see them, they would follow him around, begging him to take messages back to their loved ones. This usually attracted other spirits who desired the same. Eli found if he ignored them for long enough, they would give up and go away. However, it was never long before another spirit would notice he saw them and it all repeated itself again.

      Norn's family was the worst. Particularly his twin sister who sought Eli out on a daily basis, trying to get him to react to her and acknowledge her existence. Her parents would come too sometimes to beg and plead for him to speak to Norn on their behalf.

      "Please, we watch him all the time. He's in so much pain …"

      But Eli let his eyes pass through them. Their voices fell on ears he wished could be deaf to them.

      "Why are you such a jerk?!" Norn's sister had shouted at him and tried to kick him in the shins, but her ghostly foot just passed through it. "You have to tell Norn it wasn't his fault!"

      He ignored them because such requests were just impossible. Ridiculous even.

      There was no way he could just go up to their families and friends and deliver messages for them. Everyone already thought he was crazy enough, but then how could he possibly explain knowing intimate details about their relationships? How was he supposed to explain that he knew their loved ones were dead when they probably didn't know this yet themselves?

      He didn't even like doing this for his own father.

      A couple weeks after the Vivian incident, Eli had dreamed about Kubera Agni. It was fuzzy and vague, but Eli remembered he said things, things about regret or not being able to protect Ceres and his children. It was because he was dead. It was just the feeling he got from the dream.

      It took him a while to tell Dad. Partly because he wasn't sure if he should sadden his father over what was only a dream. If he didn't have any evidence, it wasn't worth troubling him. This was why he had bothered to ask Jaelic if he had witnessed Kubera's death.

      He needed proof, some kind of tangible evidence.

      He soon found it was a relief to have Impa as his mentor, because he finally could ask her questions, things that maybe only the guardians of the dead would know about being a necromancer. Thankfully, she didn't seem to mind the questions like Jaelic did.

      He usually waited until they were done with their exercises and meditation. Sheik was always there too, which was the down side. But Eli soon didn't really mind him. Sheik never talked a lot and minded his own business for the most part. After all, Sheik knew he was a necromancer but hadn't told anyone. It hadn't seemed to bother him at all either.

      "Have there been other Death adepts like me?" asked Eli. "Ones that can feel, see, and hear dead spirits?"

      One thing he favored about Impa was that she never lied to him. She looked him in the eyes, as if examining him again. As if the question itself had made him a puzzle to her.

      "No," she answered. "Anyone can sense or 'feel' the dead if they develop the spiritual capacity to do so. However, it's most common for Death adepts to have this capacity with no previous training or spiritual development. For some Death adepts, their ability to sense dead spirits was so naturally intense that they could feel the emotions of the spirits as if it were their own. However, no Death adept has ever had more than two of these particular senses or 'connections' with the dead. You are the first I have ever heard of having all three."

      This hadn't exactly been comforting.

      Even among Death adepts, Eli wasn't the same. Still, he wanted to know, even if it might be frightening. He wanted to know what was normal for necromancers and what wasn't, and where he fell in that spectrum. He wanted the truth. He wanted to know himself.

      Ignorance was something he found distasteful in general, but ignorance of himself was just pathetic.

      Though he had to admit, he seemed to struggle with sensing dead spirits still. After all, if he had been able to do that then maybe he wouldn't have mistaken them for living people for so long. He still wasn't sure sometimes, which was why he kept accidentally catching their eyes.

      "Have any other Death adepts had 'haunting' eyes?" he asked.

      Impa had turned and raised a brow at him.

      "Like mine?" he added for clarification. "It's just that it's mostly just you or my family that can look me in the eyes … What is it about mine that seem to 'haunt' people?"

      Impa had gazed back at him for a long spell before answering. She seemed to be measuring her words.

      "Your eyes are also a trait unique only to you. I have never known or heard of anyone who has eyes that 'haunt' as you describe them to … However, I do believe your eyes haunt only those who have not confronted and made peace with their own death and shadow."

      Eli's brow furrowed. "What does that mean exactly?"

      "It means that … when others look into your eyes, death is what stares back. Their own mortality and their hidden and rejected aspects that have been locked away in the shadow of their minds." Impa paused and then stared directly into his eyes. "This is what your eyes mirror for them. This is what I see as well."

      He didn't know what to feel about that either.

      "... Why?"

      Impa shook her head. "Even that is something I can't tell you. This was your gift since birth. Perhaps it is part of your deep connection to Death and Shadow magics. I'm not sure. I imagine this is something only you can determine for yourself."

      Eli remained silent after her response, staring down into his lap. Impa and his mother always talked about these things as his "gifts." But even the term "gift" seemed wrong. After all, gifts are usually things valued and wanted.

      Desired.

      What Eli had wasn't something one always desired. The reactions others had to him seemed to prove this, but still, he had found his “gifts” useful. Speaking to the shadows at least was very insightful, but he was finding communicating with the dead to be more trouble than it was worth.

      Impa spoke up again. "Eli … we are all mirrors. Mirroring each other, mirroring the universe."

      "That seems … a rather perplexing state of existence," said Eli. Like one of those "fun house" mirror rooms that he saw in Castle Town market once.

      "It is," she agreed. "Or at least it can be … Be careful to not confuse what others see in you as who you are. You are just a mirror of a specific aspect and truth of themselves. A mirror is just a mirror, it is not what it reflects. You understand?"

      "Yes …" All the same, it didn't stop everyone else from making the mistake she was describing. Even if he knew he was not what his eyes reflected for them, they didn't seem to have the same understanding.

      Impa nodded, and they meditated in silence for a few moments longer. In truth, Eli was deciding how he wanted to phrase his next question. The one he had been holding inside for too long now.

      "Lady Impa … Can Death adepts communicate with spirits of the dead in dreams?" he asked finally.

      Impa paused, eyeing him almost curiously. "I suppose so. Sometimes spirits even communicate with those who lack the gift through dreams. The dreamtime is a very universal space."

      "So … they might be able to determine if someone had died, even if it was a while ago and far away?"

      "It's possible …" Impa narrowed her red eyes at him in a piercing manner. "Eli, just be frank. Did you have a dream about someone?"

      Eli glanced away but nodded. "... Kubera Agni. He didn't really explicitly say he was dead but … I just knew he was, during the dream. It was too vague to have specifics … More of a feeling than anything."

      Impa nodded. "I see … And now you are questioning the validity of your dream."

      "Yes … because I must be absolutely certain. Because it would mean I have to tell my father."

      "... Have you considered that you're only questioning its validity because you don't want to tell your father?" asked Impa. Her red eyes focused on him in a way that made him feel pressed and exposed.

      He didn't like that.

      He felt a stubborn urge to deny her question immediately, but even Eli knew that was foolish and childish. Yet he also didn't answer it at all. He knew that question was for him more than the answer was for her.

      It was a question and an answer he knew that plagued him for the rest of the day.

      Later, he found himself alone with Dad, helping clear away debris in the evening before they would go help with dinner. The sun was almost completely set, so that the dark blue of the evening sky overshadowed the pale blue of day. His fingers were getting chilled holding the charred bits of wood as his father broke the larger pieces down so that he and Leita could more easily carry them.

      Dad put one last piece in his ladden arms. "There, that should do it."

      But Eli didn't turn away to deposit it elsewhere. He stared at it for a moment, weighing his next words for so long it made Dad raise a brow.

      "Eli?"

      He looked up into his father's concerned green eyes.

      "You should stop asking people about Kubera." Eli looked away, toward the darkening sky.

      "... Why?"

      "Because … I had a dream about Kubera. It told me that he was dead." Once he started, he didn't pause again. Eli knew there was no way to say it that would make it hurt any less. Either he would say it plainly or not at all.

      Eli looked up at Dad, mostly just to see if there was disbelief in his eyes. He expected as much. It was only a dream. But seeing that disarmed look of pain on his father's face shocked and disturbed him more than the idea of not being believed.

      Dad swallowed hard, just staring at him for a long time. The wind blew through the trees, making their crinkled leaves ruffle and click together.

      "Oh …" Dad nodded, looking down and somehow lost.

      Eli slowly gripped the broken and burned wood and brick in his arms as he looked down. He didn't know what to say now. How to comfort him. There was no way to really do that. There was nothing to be done that could ever make something like that hurt less.

      He knew how much Kubera meant to Dad. He remembered the nights they would stay over in Castle Town instead of Lon Lon Ranch. Sometimes, when Kubera got home late especially, Dad, Mom, and Killian would drink and talk about the "old days." When they were just young trainees in the guard. They would talk about their friends they lost in the war. Tarento and Akata. Ceres' sister Fae, and her husband and son.

      Dad, Mom, Ceres, Killian, and Kubera was all that was left of their group. Now his father had lost another friend.

      Eli's insides squirmed. He turned his back and said softly, "Sorry."

      He left quickly, because there was nothing he could do. He didn't go back after he dropped his pile of broken bits in the appropriate area. Instead, he went to help his mother distribute dinner.

      Dad didn't show up.

      Eli ended up giving his food to a curious Goron from his magic lessons group. He couldn't swallow it.

      He collapsed into his bedding that night, noticing that his body wasn't as sore and tired as it had been before. It seemed he was finally getting used to this regimen. He still hoped that Norn wouldn't be crying tonight. Before Eli was too exhausted to let such a thing keep him awake, but now he wasn't so certain. He knew such thoughts were insensitive and callous, but he still thought them. It wasn't as if there was anything Eli could do.

      There was nothing he could do for any of them.

      There was nothing he could do about the dead. Being a Death adept seemed pointless to him. All he could do was deliver bad news.

      He managed to fall asleep, even though Norn did start whimpering at some point. It seemed he was used to that now too. He rolled out of bed in the morning to start it all over again. Eli noted his progress was good, acceptable, in his conditioning and his lessons. He preferred focusing on this rather than his father's slumped shoulders that morning. Eli hadn't looked him in the face since last night.

      Jaelic wasn't one to exactly give a lot of praise, but he would smirk in an appreciative way that let Eli knew he was doing things right. Jaelic was starting them all out on basic arming sword and knife training. He said it was good to have moderate skill with the two most basic weapons you could ever run across.

      Jaelic stopped him in the middle of practice and asked, "Weren't you using your right hand yesterday?"

      Eli nodded and shrugged. "I can use either."

      Jaelic smirked in that appreciative way again. "So you're ambidextrous."

      "Yeah, like a filthy Gerudo," snorted Tad Quill, a boy his age.

      Jaelic stopped and angled his torso just so as to give Tad a pointed stare. He swaggered a step closer and said, "And what the fuck do you know about Gerudos? Do you even know how we won the last war?"

      "Uh, because we were better," answered Tad, like the question was a stupid one.

      Jaelic rolled his eyes exhaustively. "OH! We were better. That's fucking astute, Quill. I do hope you didn't hurt yourself too much thinking of that one."

      Tad opened his mouth to retort something, but Jaelic cut him off.

      "Well, I guess you might have been partially right," he drawled, twisting the cap off his flask. "We were better—but at something a lot more specific. Magic. We had magical might, casters like Elias Serwen on our side, and just more casters in general. Gerudos don't produce many casters and not a lot with enough talent to be much of a threat."

      Jaelic took a swig out of his flask and smacked his lips before continuing. "But what do you think we're doing here?"

      He held his hand around and turned around to look at them all.

      "Hiding behind these magical barriers? Which by the way Ganondorf couldn't take down just by sneezing at them. How do you think we've lost so much so easily? One: Ganondorf is their magic trump card. None of this would have happened this way if it wasn't for him. My point is this: when we lose the magical dick-measuring contest, who wins the melee one?"

      He didn't wait for an answer.

      "I'll tell you who: Gerudos. They are better fighters. That's a fact, kid. I know. I've seen it up close. They start training younger than most Hylians. They train harder. They train harsher. If you think Gerudos are all naturally ambidextrous, then you're stupid. They have to train themselves to use two scimitars."

      Tad snorted. "Geez, it sounds like you admire those bastards."

      Jaelic did that pause thing again. It had the effect of making others feel instantly unsure of themselves. He let the silence continue uncomfortably as he walked up to Tad and kneeled down to look him square in the eyes with his own gray eye.

      "Don't let pride or hate cloud your judgment. You always respect your opponents. Always."

      "Why?" demanded Tad. "It's not like they've respected us!"

      Jaelic gave him a quick little swatt on the cheek. "Hey, what the fuck are you worrying about that for? Can you control how they behave? No. You can't. The only thing you control is yourself. You let pride and hate get in the way, it's you who suffers for it."

      He stood up again, eyeing Tad as the boy rubbed his cheek with a scowl, almost as if daring him to speak again.

      "Now enough of this chit-chat."

      Later, for their hand-to-hand combat, they were sparring in partners. This time Impa was splitting them up herself, so they didn't get to chose who they would be with. She said it wasn't conducive to their training to get accustomed to one person's style.

      Aya Pax was the one unlucky enough to be paired with Eli. He noticed most of the children in their age group seemed to respect and admire her. She learned quickly. She was good at fighting. She had short, black hair like him, but it was curly and reached her chin-level.

      Eli looked her in the eyes. He was starting to realize that this was an unconscious habit of his when he first met someone. He would have thought with all the responses he got, he would have learned to avoid eye-contact to begin with. However, it felt as though he just sought their eyes out first, as if he couldn't have solid footing until he found their eyes.

      Aya had gray-blue eyes that shifted immediately away from his. He saw her shoulders tense up though; her body posture was puffing up in a way that remind him of when Ventus Agni would try to look him in the eyes. She glared at his nose, before managing to fix a most determined glower at his eyes. It was as if she couldn't do it if she wasn't glaring at him. Kind of like how Ventus couldn't do it either unless he made that face like he was trying to take a shit.

      Eli responded by simply putting his fists up, on guard. His feet slid easily into a half-moon stance. Aya snapped to this position as well. She glared at his nose now that she seemed to prove she could look him in the eyes.

      He felt other eyes on them. The others seemed distracted by their pairing and Aya's glare.

      He heard someone chuckle, possibly Tad, and say, "The freak is gonna get smacked."

      "Start!" Impa called out.

      Aya charged in. It was rather predictable, what with that glare she had on her face. It seemed she had decided to hate him for what his eyes reflected at her, and she was keen on attacking whatever that was.

      Like Impa said, in fights, it was often better to just get out of the way.

      So Eli did. It took less energy to dodge and block than to attack. Aya fired off a barrage of punches before she seemed to realize what he was doing.

      She stopped and snarled, "Aren't you gonna fight, cowa—"

      Eli tagged her in the gut quickly and then snapped back into his on-guard stance.

      That just made her eyes flash dangerously again, and she went for another furious pace of punches at him. She chased him around for a bit until she was panting.

      Eli went in for the metaphorical kill. She had tired herself out. She was his to play with, and he did. He would tag her here and there. It would make her snap, react, try to fight back. However, she was still too tired out to do so effectively. It lead her only further into her demise. Tagging her would open her up for another and another.

      Finally, Impa called out, "Stop!"

      Eli stopped but didn't necessarily drop his guard. He didn't put it past Aya to keep attacking even when Impa said to stop.

      However, she did drop her fists to clench them angrily at her sides. "You cowardly bastard! You didn't fight, you just ran away!"

      Eli raised a brow. "I ran at first, but it looked to me that I was winning."

      "That—that was just because you didn't face me like a warrior to start with! Because you're too scared to face me head on!" she proclaimed, pointing an accusing finger.

      "I wasn't scared," Eli stated, calmly, matter-of-factly. "It just seemed to be a better tactical advantage to let your own anger tire you out. It certainly took less effort on my part."

      "That's what I'm talking about!" Aya stomped her foot. "You're a coward. You're not a real warrior at all!"

      Hm. Eli was starting to see what Jaelic was talking about before. Being heroic and brave certainly seemed overrated if it meant he should act like an idiot.

      "In that case, I'd rather be intelligent than a real warrior," said Eli simply.

      Aya gave him a look of deep disgust but didn't get to respond because Impa was having them rotate partners now.

      His next unfortunate partner was Willow Kapuri. She was his age, also with black hair that was tied up in a familiar bun. That was because she was Vivian Kapuri's granddaughter. Her purple eyes darted nervously away from his. There was still some baby-fat that made her face round.

      "That was … really impressive—Y-you winning against Aya like that."

      Eli blinked. That was the first time anyone his age had really complimented him. He stared at her, not seeming to notice the polite thing would be to thank her for it.

      "Um," Willow began again, still not looking anywhere near his face. Her hands twisted behind her. "I-I know your mom and my grandma disagreed, but … I wanted you to know I still respect you. After all, you're still Elias Serwen's grandson."

      She said it like that really mattered.

      "You should put your hands on guard," Eli advised as he slid back into his fighting stance.

      Willow flushed and stumbled into the stance. "R-right …"

      It went on like this for the rest of the hand-to-hand lesson. Eli noted he "won" each round with a fair amount of ease. He supposed this was good, but he was now concerned about the lack of challenge. If he didn't have someone to struggle against, he would not grow and become an even better fighter.

      He needed to be the best he could be, the best that was possible. Because he wasn't going to take any chances.

      The magic lesson after this was more difficult or rather more uncomfortable. They were preparing to start doing basic spells, mana manipulation, and elemental control depending on what class and type of caster everyone was. Eli had discussed this before with Mom. He would only be doing Shadow magic during these group lessons.

      It wasn't easy, especially since they didn't always have an available teacher for every specific adept, elemental, or sorceress. This made his mother and any other of their few mages rather busy. They were attempting now to teach children who could cast certain magics into specific groups.

      Norn went off to a Goron's group, who was teaching Earth adepts. Eli was the only Shadow "adept" so far. Tad had snorted to Aya, upon learning this, that creepy Shadow magic suited Eli well.

      Right now, though, he was watching Leita in another group.

      "The first step to Life magic really is Illusion magic," Mom explained to the group. "If you're lucky, Illusion will be your secondary magic type if you wish to really master Life magic. Illusion magic is easier. It requires a great amount of focus and visualization. You must see what you want to create perfectly in your mind's eye and hold it as you cast. Life magic is the same, and it requires an even greater concentration to maintain as well as more mana depending on the size and complexity of the thing you are trying to manifest. Illusion magic is like Life magic but without substance.

      "The incantations are also different. The general Life manifestation incantation is okurimono seikatsu, and the Maya Artifice Illusion spell that would be considered its matching pair is maya nisemono. Today, if you have Illusion magic, you will attempt a small Maya Artifice Illusion. The beauty of the spell is that the illusions you craft with it can be as large or small as necessary. The only limitation is your imagination and focus. The less complex, the less difficult it will be to successfully cast it. There are also less powerful spells that create Life and Illusion effects, and thus belong under those types respectively, and they are far easier to cast. This is because the incantation guides the effect. Okurimono seikatsu and maya nisemono depend entirely on your imagination, visualization, and concentration."

      Then each student in the circle of their group went and attempted an illusion. With most, nothing happened. A couple managed to create a flickering image in the center of the circle. Then it was Leita's turn.

      At first it seemed like Leita was oblivious to it being her turn. She had her eyes closed and a dreamy little smile on her face. It made him chuckle to himself. But just when Mom was about to call her name again, Leita said, "Okurimono seikatsu."

      Butterflies burst forth fluttering in the air with white wings tipped with a blushing light pink. They flocked to Leita and landed on her.

      She still had that dreamy smile on her face, and her eyes were still closed. It was as if she didn't even need to open them to know that she had succeeded.

      More shocking to Eli and everyone else was that Leita had used the Life incantation, not the Illusion one. Those were real butterflies resting on her head and arms. Mom stared in surprise for a moment but then smiled.

      Leita opened her eyes, giggling because a butterfly landed on the tip of her nose.

      "Whoa." Eli heard Tad gasp next to Aya.

      Eli even felt himself smirk with pride.

      "Well, she is a Serwen," said Willow matter-of-factly, as if this made the fact she had only managed a flickering illusion in comparison excusable.

      "Yeah, but that doesn't mean all the Serwens are so great," retorted Aya, eyeing Eli specifically.

      Willow pouted. "Eli hasn't even had a chance to cast yet …"

      "Why not? He's a Shadow adept, right? Illusion could be his secondary; it matches his cowardly nature." Aya smirked.

      Eli rolled his eyes. They liked to talk about him like he wasn't even there. "Of course, you're a master of determining magic gifts, Aya, I forgot."

      Eli couldn't even tell which of his magic types was his core or secondary. Both seemed equally present in him, something that Impa told him was, yet again, unusual.

      "Mrs. Serwen," Aya called out. "Can't we try some elemental stuff now? I want to see Eli cast Shadow magic … if he even can."

      Eli was impressed that Aya dared to even suggest a mocking tone in her voice with his mother. He supposed she did have guts even if she didn't have brains.

      Mom rested her dark blue eyes on Aya, who suddenly seemed to realize exactly who she was talking to. Aya cleared her throat and added, "Please?"

      Mother smiled, but her eyes possessed a devilish and sly glint. "I suppose … Eli, the basic spell for controlling shadows is tatchi kage. For your first attempt just try making your own shadow grow."

      Eli inhaled and then exhaled, trying to focus on the intent of the spell and gathering his mana which give the incantation life. "Tatchi kage."

      He stared at his shadow, but it did not grow.

      He heard Aya snort.

      "Well, Miss Pax, how about we try a basic fire spell for you?"

      "W-what?"

      Eli was still frowning at his shadow. Mom and Impa always talked about how deep his connection was to his magic types. Somehow, he had assumed it would have been as easy as talking to shadows to make them move at his command. He would have to give it more practice than Leita would.

      Eli sparred with Sheik later during their individual lessons with Impa. He still found he won easily, but Sheik still did better than most of his other opponents. He thought it was admirable, since Sheik had seemed to struggle the most at first. Now it seemed he was used to the training schedule too.

      "You've gotten a lot better," breathed Eli, during a brief break in their practice.

      "Thanks," Sheik huffed in return.

      There was a brief moment of silence before Eli asked, "Are you really from the outer villages?"

      Sheik looked up, briefly meeting his eyes. "Why wouldn't I be?"

      "It's just that the outer villages typically survive on hunting, farming, lumberjacking and such. Children who grow up in these villages usually get a fair amount of physical activity daily just helping their parents in these trades. You didn't seem used to the same level of physical activity when you first started. You seemed more like a child of a scholar or caster from Castle Town, someone more accustomed to using their mind more than their body."

      "Oh, I see …" said Sheik. "All the same, why would you think I'd say something untrue?"

      Eli supposed that was implied in his question. He looked Sheik in the eyes, but the trouble was that hardly anyone would look back. So it was hard to tell if they were lying or just uncomfortable because of his eyes in general.

      There could be a lot of reasons that Sheik wasn't as accustomed to physical activity before now even if he was from the outer villages. There wasn't really any reason to think that Sheik was lying. Of course, he wasn’t stupid enough to not notice that Sheik was the same age as the missing Princess Zelda. He had thought it weird that Impa would leave the last remaining Royal Family member without her direct protection. He had considered at first that maybe it was an Illusion spell making Zelda just look like a part-Sheikah boy. However, an investigation with his shadows told him that there was no Illusion spell. Sheik was a real boy through and through.

      It was this that made Eli decide to take Sheik at his word.

      "You're right," Eli said after a brief moment. "Nevermind."

      They continued their practice in silence and then meditated.

      The day was practically over. He left Impa and Sheik to go help out with chores. The sun was starting to set. It turned the world shades of gold and auburn, matching the trees that were changing slowly from green to yellow, orange, and red. They were well into the Month of Shadow. He would be turning eleven at the end of the month.

      That's when Eli saw him in that bright light of the dying sun, toward the entrance of the village. It made him stop in his tracks and his heart leapt despite himself. He had been hoping, waiting for this.

      His feet quickened their pace toward him, feeling a smile start to shape his lips, and began to call out, "Killian—"

      "Eli, wait—" began his uncle.

      He reached out to touch him just as Killian raised his hands in a gesture to stop him. Eli's hand passed through his, making him freeze in place and dosing his insides with ice. He looked up at his uncle, taking a step back, his forehead tensing.

      Killian looked back at him, his own expression tense and apologetic.

      "Kiddo … Eli …" His uncle began but seemed unable to find the words.

      Indeed, what did you say when you were dead?

      No. He already knew why Killian was here. The world seemed to be shuddering and still all at once. His insides had seemed to vanish out of orbit. His heart was thundering like something separate from himself. His head felt coldly clear.

      He turned away. People would notice if he was talking to "nothing."

      "W-wait!" He heard Killian's voice tremble ever so slightly in desperation. "Eli … I'm sorry."

      Eli kept walking, trotting numbly forward, but he saw other dead spirits take notice of Killian calling out to him. They turned and began to follow. He saw Norn's twin sister again.

      His fists tightened as he walked.

      "Wait!"

      "Little boy, can you see me?"

      "You're that Serwen kid—you can see us."

      "Please, please I need you to tell my family—"

      Eli walked faster. More spirits followed and called out to him. Killian's voice was just one of many now.

      "Eli, would you just wait a moment." He turned sharply to an abandoned space between the old abandoned Skullatla house and another broken building. "I'm sorry—"

      "For what?" asked Eli, his voice crisp and sharp, now that he had stopped and was finally alone. He turned to turn his cold gaze onto his uncle. "For dying? For coming to me? Or is it that you regret needing a bastard necromancer's help?"

      He still remembered what Killian had called Sylric that night he had been listening. He still remembered the venom in his voice. His disgust as he spoke the word, necromancer. The other ghosts had quieted their pleas in response to his sudden acknowledgment of Killian. He didn't look to see their faces. His eyes were locked on his uncle.

      The uncle who had always treated him as more than just a child. While Leita, Ven, and Rini had been content to climb Killian like their own personal playground, Killian had talked with Eli about the places and people he had seen. His adventures as a mercenary. He would even take the time to teach Eli some tips in fighting that his father had no skill in.

      Painful shame rawly stiffened Killian's face as he stared back at him in shock, his green eyes wide. He didn't speak for a moment.

      "I'm … so sorry, Eli," began Killian slowly, his head hung. "I'm sorry that I have to ask anything of you, like this. After ... what I said. I didn't know—Tori hadn't told me until later—"

      "And that made me less of a necromancer then?" Eli shot back, his fists still tight at his sides. "I practically already knew by then, when I heard you talking about Sylric."

      That name silenced his uncle for another painful moment, shocked that Eli knew this name, his brows raising higher on his forehead. Still, soon Killian had collected himself again.

      "I'm an asshat, I know.” Killian nodded to himself, looking down at his feet, eyes heavy with that shame. His voice becoming thicker. “And I can't change what I've said …” He raised his gaze again to press that heavy stare back onto him. “But I still need you, Eli … Khaz."

      "Don't call me that." Eli already knew what he wanted, what he needed from him. It was the same thing all the other ones wanted.

      "He needs to know," Killian continued urgently like he hadn't said anything. "Please, you need to tell your father that I'm—"

      "Dead?" Eli cut him off coldly. "What else? How sorry you are? All your little woes and regrets? Like all the rest of them?"

      He gestured to the other dead spirits. He glared at Killian.

      "Please," began the spirit of Norn's mother, stepping forward. "Please, we have no one else who can speak for us—"

      "Please, Serwen boy, have mercy."

      "Please, we need you."

      "Please—"

      "I never told them how much I loved—"

      "You have to tell Norn it wasn't his fault!"

      Killian began, "Eli, you know he needs to know—"

      "I wish you would all just shut up," Eli hissed.

      And then it happened. It was quiet. Killian had stopped instantly in his sentence. It wasn't just him either. Everyone else stopped too. His uncle stared at him in shock, as if he had been stricken.

      This wasn't right. Why did they all just stop?

      Eli stared at him, waiting for the pleading to start again. But Killian didn't, nor did Norn's sister. He just stared at Eli, as if lost for words, almost just as confused. Eli felt his insides again, finally. They were twisting together because he knew something wasn't right.

      "Why won't you say anything?" he asked, barely keeping the tremble out of his voice.

      Killian just stared sadly, almost weakly at him. He said nothing.

      "Say something," said Eli, starting to hear an urgent plea in his own voice. He took a step toward Killian, his hands lifting up toward him. "You were saying something before—Say it!"

      Killian just stared at him, his green eyes like his father's tensing almost painfully.

      "All of you—any of you—just saying something!" he called out to them, but they all just stood there, helpless. Even Norn's sister.

      Dread filled him, horrifyingly, nauseating dread.

      "Why won't you say anything?" he choked at Killian.

      Still, nothing. His uncle just stared sadly at him.

      Oh Din. He didn't mean to—he hadn't meant to, but he knew what he had done. They weren't speaking because he had commanded them not to.

      He had exerted his will over the dead.

      He had broken Sheikah law.

      "Boy, what are you doing?"

      Eli's head snapped up and toward the gap between the houses that lead out to the village's center. Vivian was staring at him; the soft wrinkles from her older age deepened on her forehead.

      "Who on earth are you shouting at?" she asked.

      Eli glanced at Killian instinctively.

      She followed his gaze but only continued to look confused. His dread only grew, gnawing at his belly when her eyes widened with both shock and understanding. Her gaze snapped back to him.

      She knew. Like Mother and Grandfather had known, because they were experienced mages.

      "You!" Her hands whipped in a quick gesture to cast, and Eli felt a pressure clamp, close around his throat. His hands went to it but nothing was there. He felt his toes lift from the ground. "You … you're … Of all people …"

      Killian and the other ghosts could only watch on, horror mirrored in their own faces. He saw Killian glancing around urgently, as if looking for help, but it wasn't as if he would be able to find it.

      Vivian kept her hand raised in front of her. It controlled the force on his throat. She moved it and he floated along with her as she pulled him out of the small alley. It was the same spell his grandfather had used on that Gerudo who had attacked Dad. The pressure wasn't enough to cut off his air completely, but it was far from comforting. Like feeling the sharp prickle of a razor's edge against your skin.

      "We'll see what Lady Impa thinks of this! After admonishing me for my vigilance—there's one right under her own nose! And your mother—it all makes sense now!"

      Eli let himself go slack, just dangling in the air behind her. The cold part of him reminded him that if he didn't fight her, she wouldn't have any reason to kill him. She would take him to Impa first. He had broken Sheikah law, but he still had to try. He had to see if she would take mercy on him, since he hadn't meant to. Impa was reasonable.

      "Where is Impa? Find me Lady Impa," she barked to no one in particular.

      He was aware of how they—he—drew the eyes of everyone as they passed, the dead and the living gawked. He saw Sheik who only stared in alarm for a moment before disappearing. The cold in him said this was good. He was going to fetch Impa. He saw Willow's shocked face pale in the orange light of the sun set.

      "Vivian!" He recognized his father's call. It came from behind him. He couldn't turn to see him.

      But he could watch Vivian turn to face him. They were at the top of the steps just in front of the well. Her face was grim as she looked beyond Eli.

      "I'm sorry about this, Tori, but it's necessary. I'm pained to inform you that your son is a necromancer."

      "I know," came his father's soft voice. It was gentle, as if speaking to a wounded dog. "But please, put him down. He's just a boy. He hasn't done anything—"

      Vivian's face hardened against his words. "Tori … I'm so sorry for you. Having to keep such a shameful secret like this—"

      "Put him down," said Dad again. "We can still talk about this, but you don't need to do this to him. He's just a boy."

      "No, he is not," asserted Vivian. "He was never a boy, Tori. He—"

      "Has never done anything to anyone with Death magic." His father's voice cut her off, more forcefully, almost impatiently. "Put him down."

      Vivian closed her eyes for a brief moment, as if steeling herself and mustering some kind of saintly patience. She opened them and directed a look of pity at his father behind him.

      "I can't do that. I fear you are too weak for this, Tori. You are blinded by sentiment. I must do what you lack the strength for. This is for the good of us all—"

      "Put my son down, Vivian."

      It was no longer a question or a plea. It was a hard, thick demand. Eli had never heard his father sound like that before. He had never heard his father speak like that to another person.

      Then he heard the ring of steel which signaled Dad drawing his sword from his sheathe.

      No. Panic rang through Eli. He knew his dad was no warrior. He was a trained soldier, but his heart was not. That was why that Gerudo had almost gotten him back at the lake. Vivian was a skilled mage. His father did not stand a chance, but that wouldn't make him stop like it should. Even when it was Eli telling him painful things like Kubera Agni being dead.

      No.

      He watched Vivian's face harden as her lips parted, possibly to cast something at his father.

      No.

      He couldn't wait for Mother to save them this time. There was no time.

      He felt his will shoot out, sink into the shadows cast by the sun which was almost set. The shadow of the well and nearby building were cast over them. He did not need the words or any gesture. Because in that moment he realized that they were already his.

      They had always been his.

      Tendrils of ink-black shadow formed like ethereal plasma, of substance and yet not. They shot out, coiling themselves around Vivian's wrists, yanking them backward as a third tendril forced itself into her mouth and grasped her tongue firmly.

      He felt her focus on the spell that held him snap. He dropped lithely to his feet and then stood as the shadows dragged Vivian to her knees. She would be doing no casting with her hands and mouth seized. And if she had dared to harm his father, he had no quam in ripping that tongue from her mouth.

      The cold part of him had filled him out, chilling his veins, steadying his heart. Everything was calm and quiet inside him.

      Her brown eyes were wide with shock and terror, staring up at him now. Drool trickled from the corners of her mouth as the shadows stuffed inside, coiled around her tongue, did not allow her to swallow. He stared down at her and took a few steps, leaned forward, and breathed into her ear.

      "At least … it wasn't Death magic."

      It was dead quiet, except for Willow's sniffling in the background.

      "Elias."

      He turned and found Impa standing next to his father at the bottom of the small stone steps. He was aware of the shocked look on his father's face, but he was still in his cold place. It didn't bother him or shame him.

      It just was.

      He looked to Impa, who also didn't seem fazed by the current situation. She just stood there with her arms folded across her chest in the same intimidating manner she always did.

      "Let her go," said his mentor calmly.

      Eli glanced around. He saw warriors around the edges of the crowd with their weapons drawn. He knew the only reason they were not swarming him now was because of Impa—and yes, perhaps the hold he had on Vivian too. All the same, he didn't really think it would have been a problem. No, it would only have been the casters he would have needed to be concerned about. He didn't have much experience wielding his shadows. He didn't know what their weaknesses and limitations were.

      He had only done this now by instinct.

      He knew that the only reason he had been able to neutralize Vivian was because he had caught her by surprise. If he released her like Impa said, she wouldn't be so easily subdued again. He did not release Vivian from the grasp of his shadows immediately. He returned his gaze to Impa and walked steadily down the steps. At the bottom, he stood before her and then knelt at her feet, his hands placed on his thighs.

      Then his shadows released Vivian.

      He heard her gasping and sputtering behind him, but he did not turn to look. The only person who mattered was Impa. He trusted that she would keep Vivian from attacking him or his father. Even if she found him guilty, he knew she would never make his family suffer for his actions.

      "He's—he's a—" Vivian stuttered as she got to her feet.

      "A necromancer; yes, I know," said Impa, finishing her sentence.

      Vivian stared, blinking, huffing still. Disoriented in more ways than one. "Y-you knew?"

      "Of course, I knew, why did you think I wanted to teach him?"

      "T-teach …?" Vivian still looked disoriented.

      "I'm sure many remember that my people, the Sheikah, often had Death adepts among them," continued Impa. "It was often how we protected the dead from rogue necromancers as well as protect the others from dead spirits that have become corrupt. Is it so odd I would want to keep this balance alive? Necromancers are a bridge between worlds, Vivian—an important bridge.

      "I'll remind you again, and anyone else here, that it is not a crime to simply be a Death adept."

      "B-but he attacked me."

      "Actually, I would regard your actions as an initial attack on him prior," said Impa. "His response was self-defense. Eli has done nothing wrong."

      "Lady Impa," said Eli, looking up at her calmly. "I have done something, but I wasn’t my intention to. I need your help."

      "S-see!" exclaimed Vivian belligerently.

      "Silence," Impa commanded with a hard edge and Vivian glowered but said no more. She looked back down to Eli at her feet. "What have you done?"

      "I exerted my will over the dead spirits in Kakariko."

      He almost thought Vivian would forget Impa's demand for quiet, but she said nothing. He could still almost feel her vindication from behind him. He heard faint inhales and muttering in the crowd nearby, but it was utterly silent otherwise.

      "It was an accident," he explained. "I just … wanted them to be quiet."

      Vivian seemed unable to contain herself anymore. She stocked into view, leering down her nose at him. "And how did you learn this magic? Your mother must have been secretly teaching you, dabbling in these vile arts—"

      Impa glared piercingly with her red eyes and the mage was silenced.

      "My mother taught me no incantations or gestures … I just … did it," said Eli.

      Vivian snorted, lifting her chin. "That's impossible. No one can cast without an invocation of some sort. Not even your grandfather, Farore rest his soul, was ever able to do so. You had to learn it somewhere."

      Eli shook his head.

      He remembered what his mother said the night they had left the lake. That their journeys as they learned magic would be different and unique for each of them. Eli was different. He was always different. It seemed more the rule than the exception for him. The words had even gotten in the way, it seemed, when he had tried to control his shadow during his magic lesson earlier that day.

      "I didn't." He looked up into Impa's eyes. "Nevertheless, I am sorry. Please help me reverse it, and then do with me what you deem necessary."

      Impa stared into his eyes, for the first time he could have sworn she was surprised. Truly astounded. She searched his eyes like she had never seen him before.

      His dad spoke. "Vivian, you just witnessed it yourself. He manipulated the shadows without saying or doing anything."

      It was true. She had had him by the throat, so he couldn't speak. His hands had been clearly limp at his sides, so they had not moved.

      "No—Don't hurt him!" Leita's shrill cry shuddered the still air as she came running out from the crowd. She flung her arms around him.

      A faintly translucent pink bubble formed around them both. It was a mana shield. Leita had been learning to control mana in her lessons, but Eli had no idea she was capable of manifesting a shield already.

      "He's not bad!" she cried, still pressed against his side, looking up at Impa tearfully. "He's just different, like Mommy says."

      "What is this?"

      Eli turned his head to see his mother also emerge from the crowd, though it was more like it parted for her as she approached. Again, it might have seemed odd that such a small woman, barely over five feet tall and a hundred pounds, could have such a demanding presence. Yet everyone knew to give Amaya a wide birth when her family was in question.

      "What have you done, Amaya?" Vivian demanded, looking over at her accusingly.

      Mom raised her brow. Eli was somewhat confused as well. "Speak plainly, Vivian."

      "What spirit did you make a pact with in order to birth this—this thing." Vivian looked to Eli again, but it was different this time. Worse than when she had realized he was a necromancer. Her disgust and horror was as if she was looking at some malformed beast.

      That cold stare froze over his mother's eyes. "Excuse me?"

      "You must have done something," reasoned Vivian. She pointed at Eli. "Because that thing is not human!"

      Everyone seemed to be holding their breaths. Yet somehow Eli knew that Mother would not attack Vivian. Not with Impa right there to rein her in.

      "Don't be ridiculous."

      Mom folded her arms over her chest. "I have never made any kind of pact with any kind of spirit in my life. It's like my dear daughter says, my son is merely different. Different but entirely human. Now is there something wrong here?"

      Eli reset his gaze upon Impa who returned it.

      She sighed heavily. "It's okay, Eli—"

      "But he—" Vivian began to protest immediately.

      "Be silent, Vivian," commanded Impa, her voice actually raising this time. Her red eyes were actually set in a glower now.

      "Do not tell me what I already know," she continued. "Yes, he exerted his will over the dead spirits, but his circumstances are unlike any necromancer ever before. Necromancers before him could only break Sheikah Law with a very clear intent to do so because it required an invocation. Eli said it was an accident, and I am inclined to believe him given that he requires no invocation to cast—None of us had any idea that this would happen. I was not able to prepare Eli appropriately to control this power of his. It was an accident."

      Impa let another breath pass through her lips, as if letting her anger and impatience pass with it. She looked back down to him.

      "As for setting it right, Eli … try again, with intention, to release the spirits from your will."

      Eli wasn't sure how exactly. After all, he still wasn't sure how he had done it to begin with. He had told them to speak before, it hadn't worked like when he had told them to shut up. Yet it wasn't as if it would hurt to try again. He trusted Impa. She was probably the only person outside his family that he knew he could trust.

      He took in a breath and looked toward the spirits he could see, over Leita's head, particularly in Killian's direction. His uncle still was not far away.

      "Speak freely," said Eli, looking into those green eyes.

      He saw his uncle's eyes blink rapidly for a moment, like a wave had passed over him. His lips parted.

      "Eli, it worked. I'm fine."

      The other spirits started chattering as well and Eli let out a breath. He raised his head to stare at Impa in confusion.

      "It worked …"

      Impa nodded. "Your head is clearer now than before, am I right? Your magic is still similar enough that casting requires a clear mind in order to focus your mana."

      That made sense. He had been upset when he told them all to shut up, but his mind still had been oddly clear. It was only after he realized what he had done that his thoughts had become a jumbled mess. The danger his father had been in had caused another unusually lucid moment for him, and then he was able to control the shadows.

      "How do you even know he's telling the truth about it being an accident or that he even truly released them from his will?" demanded Vivian.

      Impa slowly turned her head to gaze icly at the older mage once more. "You ask if a Sheikah, a fully initiated Elite, is not able to sense when truth is not being spoken?"

      Eli had always heard that Sheikah were able to sense if you were lying. Vivian flushed, as if this had been an obvious fact she had overlooked. So it seemed the rumors were true.

      "How can we know your emotions are not clouding your perceptions—" Vivian began in her own defense only to be cut off by Impa again.

      "The last person," began Impa, her voice growing louder only to speak over her, "to question the validity of my insight was King Desmond Nohansen concerning whether or not he should trust Ganondorf Dragmire … So long as I am the one making decisions this time, Vivian, I will not distrust myself."

      It was quiet for a spell. The hard and cold earth beneath Eli was starting to make his knees ache.

      "Leita, you can let go now," he said, looking down at her, as she was still clinging to him protectively though she had let down her mana shield.

      She worried her lip, hesitating. She glanced up at Impa.

      The Sheikah smiled softly back. "It's fine, Leita. Eli is not going to be punished."

      Leita released her bottom lip and finally let him go.

      Dad dropped his sword to the ground as he rushed forward. His father's arms encircled him, pressing him against his chest, and Eli was lifted from the ground, his head staring over his shoulder.

      "Your family may stay in my house tonight," said Impa to Tori.

      "Thank you," Dad breathed fervently to her as he swept past, carrying Eli off and away from the crowd that parted for them.

      "Dad, I can walk," said Eli. He saw Mom and Leita following them.

      Dad didn't respond, nor did he set Eli down.

      His eyes went to Killian off in the crowd, who watched them go, not following after him this time. Neither did the rest of the spirits. They all just watched him go.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      It was quiet in Impa's house. Dad had held onto him longer than necessary even when they got inside. Eli let him, though he honestly just wanted to be alone. However, if it comforted his father then he was willing.

      He wondered how long they would stay in Impa's house. Eli assumed she had provided this option for them, in order to avoid unpleasantness that was likely to occur when sharing one of the other houses with the rest of the village like they had been before.

      Yet, all he wanted to do right then was go outside.

      Dad stopped him when he reached for the door.

      "Eli, stay inside—it's not—"

      "Let him go, Tori," said Mom. "He needs it."

      Dad frowned, hesitating, but then nodded.

      It was getting dark now. The sun had set. The air was stingingly cool. Eli closed the door behind himself and looked around. No one was there, though he could see fire pits aglow and the rest of the village off to the right, as Impa's house was tucked in a corner on a hill that overlooked most of the village.

      He sighed, trying to collect himself. He didn't feel as steady and clear as he had earlier, but it might still work.

      "Killian, are you there?" he asked, trying to put his will behind the words.

      "Hey, kiddo."

      He turned his head and his uncle was smiling at him, an exhausted and tired smile. It was odd because he was just a spirit with no physical body to wear him down.

      Eli stared at him for a moment in the dark, unsure of where to go from here. If he learned anything that day, it was that he could not run from this. He was a Death adept. A necromancer. The whole village knew now.

      Most of all, he couldn't run from Killian either.

      "... I know, I've said this a lot already," began Killian heavily, glancing down, "but I'm … sorry. All that back there, it was my fault. I put too much on your shoulders. You're just a boy … and my nephew. Uncles are supposed to help you, not hurt you."

      "I know … but it's too late now," said Eli with a shrug. "I know you're dead and Father doesn't. You were right. He needs to know. I just …"

      Eli folded his arms across his chest. His hands bunched in fists because his fingers were getting cold. Uncle Killian had always made him feel more like an equal. He was always less patronizing than other adults were. More than that, Killian only did that for him. Leita, Ven, and Rini, Eli noticed that Killian treated them more like kids. He had been different, and he had always appreciated that Killian treated him that way.

      That's why Eli didn't want to admit to him that he … was too weak for this. That he was just a child like he said. That he could not bear this burden, this thing that must be done.

      He just didn't—couldn't see his father's heart broken expression again. He couldn't be the one to bring him that news.

      "I don't have much time left," said Killian.

      Eli looked up. "What does that mean?"

      Killian smiled wearily. "It's not always easy, you know, holding onto this world. Other dead spirits make this look like a piece of cake, but for me it's not. It's taking everything I got to stay here. I'm getting weak. I'll … pass soon."

      Eli frowned. Why was it effortless for some spirits but not for others?

      "Impa says will is the most important when it comes to dealing with the dead … Is your will not strong enough?" he asked.

      Killian shrugged. "I dunno. Maybe it's just my personality. I … had things I know I left unfinished. I thought those kind of regrets would have kept me in this world like I heard it does for other spirits. But … heh, I've always been more detached than other people I guess?” He smiled weakly for a brief moment. “I never liked staying in one place for too long, even if … I had good reasons to stay there. I've always been a selfish bastard like that."

      Killian had been holding on all this time, just to find him, so that he could let Dad know he was dead. Soon Killian would leave and it would all be on Eli.

      Or maybe …

      "Lady Impa told me something interesting," began Eli. "She said some Death adepts could sense spirits so strongly that they felt their emotions almost as if they were theirs … But I wonder if I could take this a step further …"

      Killian raised his brow. "What do you mean?"

      "I mean, perhaps you can tell my father yourself."
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      The door cracked open, and Tori looked up immediately. Eli's head was peeking around the door, looking for him.

      "Oh, hey … Can you come talk with me for a moment?" Eli asked.

      Tori blinked. There was something different about him. It was hard for him to put his finger on it. It was something in the way his son spoke to him. It seemed off. Tori stood, nodding though confused and concern sharply piercing through him.

      He stepped out the door into the chilly night air. Eli stood before him, his hands resting on the belt of his leggings in a way that was familiar and yet out of place on his son, but most of all, his eyes were wrong.

      Those weren't Eli's eyes.

      There could never be mistaking his son's eyes. A gaze that was so powerful and unnerving it could make his soul tremble. Though Tori had always done his best to meet Eli's eyes, especially when he knew Eli was feeling more insecure than his self-contained son would ever admit out loud.

      But now that power, that impact wasn't there. Those were just regular, dark blue irises gazing almost cautiously at him.

      Alarm rung through Tori more than confusion.

      "Who are you?" he demanded, his hands fisting at his sides. "What have you done with Eli?"

      "Whoa!" the boy raised his hands almost in defense. "Eli is fine. Heh, damn, you're sharp, Tori."

      "Who are you?" Tori demanded again. He had half a mind to call Amaya out here. She'd probably have some idea of what was going on. There had to be some magic at work here.

      The roguish smile on his son's face faded a little at that. "Come on, Tori. It's me … Killian. I pantsed you in front of our first guard training line up, only you know that it was me and Kubera who hid rotting fish in all the gutters of Kakariko and made the village stink for weeks, and I told the whole village you were going to marry a Zora because you love fish so much.

      "And … you're the only person who knows how I feel about Ceres Kali."

      Tori stared. In a way, Eli now reminded him more of Killian when they were boys, standing there like that. But how could his son possibly be Killian right now? A painful twinge pinged in his heart, which seemed to catch on quicker than his mind.

      That smile became apologetically sad, seeming to already see that knowledge starting to dawn on him.

      "I'm sorry, Tori … I died."

      Tori inhaled softly. The thing he had been fearing for weeks now … He had both started losing hope when Eli told him about Kubera but tried to cling harder to the idea his brother would return at least.

      The boy's face, now Killian's, became heavier with guilt and shame. An expression so foreign to him on that face, because he never really saw his son wear it before. "I'm sorry about what happened earlier too. It was really my fault. I pushed Eli too hard, trying to get him to tell you about me. It was my fault he broke Sheikah law."

      Tori's mind raced back, remembering Eli's words to Impa. "I just … wanted them to be quiet."

      Oh, Farore. Eli had known.

      His insides were still reeling. His vision was blurring as his eyes burned. An ache blossomed in his throat as it began to constrict on itself. He wouldn't have been able to speak even if he had known what to say. His hands felt numb at his sides.

      "Don't worry. I didn't suffer much,” continued Killian gently through Eli’s voice. “I also don't regret it one bit. I would have done it all the same, even if I had another chance."

      Tori covered his mouth as he choked on a sob. His vision blurred completely now.

      "Oh, and Eli said that our old man had a message too—So Elias came back from the dead just to save your ass from a Gerudo? Heh … man, who knew.” The little chuckle snorted through his nose. “Eli said that the old man said he was sorry … Funny thing, I was caught in an ambush back during the first attacks, and I coulda sworn I saw him for a moment. I was also sure I should have been hit by an arrow, but …"

      Tori was sagging to his knees now, his shoulders shaking with his sobs muffled by his hand.

      "You know, I hated it when you gave Eli his name," Killian continued. "I thought it was stupid. Didn’t think that old bastard deserved anything like that. I let it go at first, because it was only his middle name. But then the little brat wouldn't answer to anything else … Heh, the glare he'd give me when I kept trying to call him Khaz …”

      He could see Killian smile, hear it through those words, though he couldn’t see through his tears as the sobs gasped, squeezed out of his throat and mouth.

      “It wasn't just that either. He was … He reminded me of our dad, as he grew up, started acting all older than his years, and it … weirded me out at first, but then … I loved the little shit, and I wondered if Dad could have been like this if … I dunno, our old man never talked about his own folks much. He never talked about anything except magic …”

      “Anyway, don't worry about Eli. He'll be fine, because he's being raised by you."

      "B-but I—" Tori finally choked, looking up at him. His hands falling limply into his lap. His teeth clenched against another sob threatening to come out for a moment before he managed to swallow it. "T-there's so much about him I won't ever be able to understand."

      He was talking to his dead brother through his son right now. He could barely handle or understand this.

      "How—how am I supposed to help him?"

      He felt so helpless with everything that his son was facing now. The powers he had, how their community would reject him, and how he still was afraid of that power himself. He didn’t want to lose Eli to it. He didn’t want to lose anyone to anything anymore, but he felt helpless in this war. He wasn’t a strong warrior. He didn’t have magic. He wasn’t good for much of anything.

      Eli's face smiled softly.

      "You don't have to understand everything about him,” he answered with a shake of his head. “He has Amaya and Impa to help him figure out all the necromancer and magic stuff. You just need to help him with the other stuff. The heart stuff.”

      Eli’s shoulders shrugged. “Maybe that's why our dad was the way he was. Sure, he was a prodigy in every other way, but maybe someone had failed him with the more important things …”

      But then those dark eyes locked back into his firmly, almost urgently.

      “Don't let Eli isolate himself, Tori. I know it's going to be hard for him, now that everyone knows what he is. But that's why it's more important than ever—don't hide your tears from him.” He reached out and touched Tori’s cheek, wet with said tears. “Show him that it's okay to be open—that it's okay to be vulnerable. Because that's what makes you stronger than me or Dad or Slyric. You were always able to do that so easily. Eli won't become a monster like Slyric... because he has you."

      Tori inhaled heavily, shakily, his tears wearing him out, touching the hand that held his face, holding it there. He stared at Killian—or his son—it was so confusing, but with his vision blurred, it was like he was staring at a ten-year-old Killian. After all, everyone had commented at how Eli looked so much like Tori, and since Killian was his twin, it was easy to see the similarities.

      But soon that smaller hand slipped out from under his, his brother letting out a sigh. "I have to go, Tori … I'm spent. I can't hold onto this world any longer."

      Tori sucked in a sharp breath as a sob nearly choked him again.

      "I love you, brother. It'll be okay."

      "I—I know," choked Tori, more hot tears squeezing out of his eyes as he pinched them closed. "I love you too."

      "Ventus," Killian suddenly said, as if a thought just occurred to him, making Tori look up at him again. But Killian’s gaze in Eli’s eyes were already starting to fade, making him seem as if in a daze.

      "If you see him, tell him a true warrior takes responsibility for his own actions. No one else can claim that burden for him or me. That's why he can't blame himself for what I chose to do."

      "Ventus? He—are Cere and them still alive?" Tori asked quickly, standing up and reaching for him. But he saw Eli's body shudder and sagg. He fell forward into his arms. "Killian? Eli?"
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Terrible, sharp and burning pain crawled and throbbed through his insides. His hands pressed to his middle, where he felt the warm and sticky blood seep through his fingers. He raised his head up to stare with blurring vision at the tall Gerudo woman that stood in front of him with a bloodied scimitar.

      He could hear his own pained and ragged breathing. He could also hear that wailing cry of a little girl—Rini. He heard a young boy yelling and cursing for the village people to get out of his way—Ventus.

      "Killian!" a woman shrieked—he could hear Ceres still through the wall of Gerudo warriors that had surrounded him.

      The tall one in front of him gestured to the others and they fell back. His head sagged for a moment, watching the red bleed into his tunic and leggings, staining his hands.

      "We Gerudo honor strong warriors," the Gerudo said to him. "You took ten of my warriors today. I've never seen a Hylian with no magic do as much on his own. You bring me honor that I shall claim your head. So I'll give you this, a last few words before I strike you down and end your suffering … Do you have anything to say?"

      He panted through the pain that blinded him. He lifted his head but didn't turn to look at Ceres.

      "Ceres …" His voice was thick with his pain, but it grew louder so that she could hear him. "... Sorry… And it'd be pretty stupid if I didn’t tell you this … I … I always loved you."

      "K-Killian …" The woman's voice choked.

      The Gerudo said something else, but words seemed to warble together.

      Everything went dark.

      Then Ceres was standing in front of him. Her expression pained as she clutched the shawl around her shoulders. The trees bare and the ground littered with their scattered brown and yellow leaves.

      "... My eyes are cursed, remember?" she said softly.

      Then he saw Ventus, standing in that same spot. His eyes raw and pained like his mother's had been. He watched him sag down and wrap his arms around his knees. His shoulders shaking with sorrow.

      "I'm sorry … I'm so sorry," the boy sobbed.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Eli's eyes snapped open. The ghost of light seeped through the crack of the house's door, telling him it was morning. After all, it wasn't as if Din would keep her eye closed just because everyone had found out he was a necromancer yesterday. He sat up, seeing that his family was still asleep. Leita was curled up in his bedding.

      His mind turned to what he had just dreamed. Had it been a dream or a vision he saw while Uncle Killian had possessed him? He would have to ask Impa about it.

      He got up carefully, laying his blanket back over Leita's shoulders. He stood there, thinking about what to do next. Soon his feet were carrying him out the door. He didn't feel like letting Dad fret over him. Besides, after last night, that was the last thing he needed.

      He headed for the clearing where his group always met for morning workout.

      He was perfectly aware of what kinds of greetings he would be receiving from his peers. They hadn't liked him much before, and now it would be worse.

      And that was fine. It didn't matter.

      These people never mattered. Impa would never kick him out for something as simple as an honest accident, and she would never make his family suffer for it like he had so feared since he heard what happened to Ceres and her children.

      After what happened with Vivian, his father, and his shadows, Eli knew it didn't matter. These people and their petty, insignificant fears—the illusions of their own making that they wove over him—none of them mattered.

      There was only one thing that mattered.

      Eli needed to train. He needed to hone his skills. He had to become as powerful as he possibly could be with everything he had. Because he had to make sure his family came out of this war intact. Alive and as happy as they could possibly be.

      Nothing and no one else mattered besides them.

      He remembered something that Impa had told him and Sheik about truth and lies.

      "Remember this as a rule, people will believe a lie either because they are afraid it is true or because they wish it is."

      He had let himself panic too easily yesterday when he had accidentally broken Sheikah law. If he had stayed calm, he could have fixed it as easily as he had done it. Impa said it was because he had a calm mind to cast. He had let his fears about being found out as a necromancer blind him to what was true.

      Eli wouldn't let himself make that same mistake again. If he wanted to be successful, to be effective, he would need to be in control of himself completely. He could not let fear or desire drive his decisions in the future.

      When the other children started trickling in, they spotted him, blanched and almost scurried away. Their faces full of hate and disgust.

      Eli sat on the steps in front of the town well, just watching them.

      None of them were brave enough to approach him. They all huddled in a group at a safe distance from him. He could hear all their spiteful mutterings, of course.

      Aya was the only one who glared directly at him. He noticed Willow stood close to her now, not looking at him but still glaring at the ground. Norn just didn't look at him. Tad went and stood next to Aya, like they were going to protect the rest of the scared children from him.

      Eventually, Leita arrived and sat with him on the steps. Her expression was sad and wilted. He could see the unshed tears glistening in her green eyes.

      More surprising was when Sheik arrived with Impa. He paused, glancing around at the group that bunched together and then to Eli and Leita on the steps. Then he walked over and sat on Eli's other side. He glanced over at Sheik, staring at him curiously, but then he stared forward again.

      Of course, Sheik was in training as a Sheikah like he was. He would not fall so easily to the fear of shadow like all the others did.

      Then Darius Binks came running up in his creepy, wooden mask. Some of the children called out, almost as if afraid Eli would bite him or something. Darius stopped right in front of Eli and pulled his mask up to beam at him.

      "You're so amaziiiing!" he squealed. "I knew it—I knew there was something so creepy about you! You're scarier than Dampe!"

      Eli raised one brow at Darius Binks. The boy said all this like it was a compliment. Binks took a seat at the step below Eli.

      Impa stood in between these groups, a stern frown forming her lips in a line and furrowing her brow. She placed her hands on her hips and called, "What are you all standing around for? Get into your lines!"

      Leita, Sheik, and Binks stayed with Eli, filling the spaces when his peers were too afraid to be next to him or work with him in pairs. He wasn't sure how he felt about Sheik and Darius at first. Though he knew, if they had chosen to stand with the other children, he wouldn't really have cared. It didn't matter.

      He would have moved forward with or without their support.

      After the morning conditioning session and self-defense lesson, it was weapons training with Jaelic again.

      The knight noticed the bunching of the children again. The majority bunched away from Eli, who had Leitas, Sheik, and Binks with him. A roguish sneer rippled his lips as he looked around.

      "Well, well, well …" He looked around at them all with his own gray eye. He sniggered at the larger group in particular. "Come on, now, kiddos. Let's play nice, eh?"

      Tad snorted, folding his arms over his chest. "You want us to play nice with that … monster? He's no better than Ganondorf—After all, Ganondorf also was able to do magic shit no one else is supposed to be able to, right?"

      Jaelic shrugged, twisting the cap off his flask. "I guess so, but if you ask me, we need a monster on our side, if we want to beat the other monster, right?"

      He took a drink and swallowed. He looked more pointedly at Tad. "Besides, war makes monsters of us all, you twat. You best just be careful of what kind of monster you choose to be."

      Eli stared at Jaelic for a moment. He decided finally that he had a competent teacher. Jaelic was not a pleasant person, but often what you needed was not always pleasant. He agreed with Jaelic.

      Perhaps, he was a monster. Perhaps not.

      He would happily become whatever monster he needed to be in order to see his family through this war.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      The day came and went. Before Eli knew it, he was up in Impa's house again, eating a private dinner with Sheik, Impa, and his family. Dad and Mom had still gone down to help out with dinner for the rest of the village. Leita had stayed with him, though all they did was read books in silence with Sheik. Their parents had brought dinner back upon their return.

      Eli knew this had to be harder on Dad. Because he knew how social his father was. Dad liked people. He liked talking and being with them. People had always seemed to like his father in return. No one had ever said a bad word about him. But now, Eli was sure, his father would not be so well received. Because now he was not just the son of Elias Serwen, the hero. He was the father of a necromancer, a monster.

      But still, he knew Dad would go and help out with the village, despite whatever cold shoulder or harsh words he would receive. He knew Mom simply went with him as support. After all, no one dared say a bad word to anyone of Amaya’s family.

      They ate their meal mostly in silence. Eli was clearing the table and fixing to help Leita wash the dishes when there was a knock at the door. He glanced at it as Sheik went and answered it.

      It was silent for a moment, and then Eli heard a voice.

      "I … um … is … I need to …" His voice got even quieter. "I need to speak to—to Eli please."

      Eli turned and looked at the door, Sheik turning to look at him in turn. His father looked up in shock. He set his dish back down in the soapy water, drying his hands off with a cloth as he headed over to the door.

      Standing in the darkness of the night was Norn. His pale blue eyes were cast down under his shaggy, dirty blond hair. He glanced up at Eli briefly but quickly stared at his feet. His arms wrapped around himself. His face had that worn and exhausted look to it. Eli supposed anyone who cried every night might look the same.

      Eli said nothing. He just stood in the doorway and waited, waiting to know what Norn Salzo could possibly want from him.

      It was dead quiet for what seemed like a whole minute before Norn spoke again.

      "You … you can speak to the dead, right?" Norn asked softly, still not looking up at Eli.

      "Yes," he answered and waited again.

      Norn swallowed. "Can you … can you speak to them for me?"

      Eli stared impassively at Norn for a moment. The cold fall air nipping at his nose and slightly damp hands.

      Norn hadn't muttered spiteful things or glared at him like all the other children did. But he also hadn't stood with Eli like Sheik and Binks had. He had still chosen to stand with Tad, Willow, and Aya.

      But Eli supposed that didn't matter either. He had a feeling he would never see the last of Norn's twin sister if he turned him down now. Perhaps his parents would give up and pass on one day, but Eli could just feel it in his gut. His sister would never let it go, and she would pester him to the end of his days.

      There was nothing he would be able to do to make her stop either. Not anything that wouldn't break Sheikah law. After all, so long as she didn't do any real harm to him, Eli had no right to exert his will against her.

      So there was only one thing he could do, to have any kind of semblance of peace with the spirits who would always come to him asking, begging, pleading for his help.

      Eli turned and looked to Impa, who nodded her permission.

      "Come inside," he said, turning to let Norn in.

      He wasn't doing it for Norn, not even with the knowledge that the boy cried himself to sleep every night after the loss of his family. Eli was doing this for himself. He would never be rid of the ghosts who would ask him for help. However, he would cooperate with their wishes, but only if their living family members and friends were willing to seek Eli out themselves. There was no point in trying to force his company and assistance on people who didn't want it. But if they did, he would be here.

      Even if it wasn't something he wanted to do, it was something he would have to do.

      Because he was a necromancer.



      “We must be greater than what we suffer.”
      [A Light in the Dark| Empire of Darkness |Under the Red Sea]

      The post was edited 5 times, last by Shrub ().

    • Back To Chapter Index

      Chapter Nine:
      Nothing

      The wooden sword in Ventus’ hand felt heavy.

      No matter how much he swung or hit it against the wooden post, he felt useless. The bruises the Gerudo inflicted on him were beginning diminish in swelling and pain, but the shameful sting didn’t leave his small, tired body.

      It was his job to protect his mother and sister, but when the time came, he was useless. If Uncle Killian didn’t come in and save him, he could have ended up like the rest of the warriors. What was more humiliating was that they didn’t even consider him worth drawing their blade over.

      Swinging the wooden sword hard at the wooden post, the impact rattled the weapon right out of his hand. Cursing under his breath, he nursed his bruised and blistered hand. Calluses had formed and his once soft hands were now rough like a true swordsman, but it didn’t mean anything now. He was the only warrior left in the village, and he wasn’t strong enough to fight even against one of those Gerudo bastards, let alone take down ten of them like Uncle Killian had.

      Killian, the man who had looked after him in a way his own father hadn’t in a long time. This thought caused fresh tears, ones he thought dried an hour ago, to come out in full force again. He thought he was done crying by now, but it seemed as of late a lot of his beliefs weren’t exactly true.

      Once more he saw Uncle Killian's head roll off his shoulders, his body slump to the ground, lifeless, and bile crept up his throat. Covering his mouth, he forced himself to swallow it down.

      What did he need to do to become stronger? Strong enough to protect everyone?

      He didn’t know, and no answers came to him. They never did.

      Bending down to pick up his sword again, he paused and looked behind him. The feeling of being watched plagued him a lot more recently since all the other warriors died; yet each time he looked, nobody was there. There were times he thought he heard something, but with no one there, he would push it from his mind. After all, when he complained to his mother once about it—before the attacks—she said it was nothing to be concerned over, reminding him they lived in a big city.

      However, it wouldn’t be the first time she lied to him in her desire to protect him from unpleasant things. Like the situation at Kakariko Village; he had heard that woman talk, and not once did she say there was no room in the village.

      She had called them monsters. He pressed his lips together, wondering why she would say such a thing. The lady at Kakariko didn’t believe Mom about Dad either. Who the hell was she? She wasn’t a villager he recognized, so why was she determining who could enter?

      Furrowing his brow, his eyes flitted over the now nearly desolate village. The adults were in a mix between grieving and arguing amongst themselves what they should do now with the Gerudo coming back in the next week or so to collect their harvest. Some wanted to take what they could carry and run, hope for the best. Others wanted to just give over the crop and hope the Gerudo left enough for them to survive the winter. He could hear the shouting even from where he stood.

      If we run, we’re more likely to die!”

      “It’ll be a quicker death than if we just stayed here and starve! Do you honestly think the Gerudo will leave enough for all of us to last through the winter?!”

      “At least staying will give us some chance for survival!”

      Mother was the only one shouting for them to fight, to make a trap and kill them all when they returned. No one listened to her though, no matter how fervently she ranted and scratched insults into their prides.

      Hearing grass crunch to his left, Ventus turned his head to see Rini approaching him—a dead look in her eyes. She hadn’t stopped crying for hours after the execution of Uncle Killian and the other warriors. Mama had made them stay inside when they buried the bodies.

      It’s not like we didn’t see them get killed or anything, he thought grimly, sniffing. Even now he could see their heads falling off their shoulders like they were never attached there in the first place. Once more, he wiped at his red eyes; he was the elder brother. He was supposed to be there for her when she cried, but how could he do that if he was crying himself?

      “Ven,” she whispered, stopping in front of him before looking at the golden fields. “Are we gonna die?”

      It was a blunt question which took him by surprise for a moment. He never expected those words to leave his sister’s mouth, but once he recovered, his answer left his lips without a second thought.

      “Of course not,” he answered automatically, turning around to Rini, who didn’t look convinced. Frustrated by this, he grabbed a hold of her shoulders and stared right into her eyes, willing for her to believe him. He didn’t seem to be having much luck though. That dead, exhausted look wouldn’t leave her hazel eyes.

      “How can you say that?” she asked. “The Gerudo killed Uncle Killian and all our warriors—”

      Excuse me—”

      The insulted tone barely left his lips when Rini interjected harshly.

      “You’re not a warrior, Ven! You’re just a kid with a wooden sword who doesn’t know when to stay down!” Rini yelled, closing her eyes as hot tears began to leak down again. “Do you have any idea how scared I was they were gonna kill you?! There’s nothing bad about admitting when someone is stronger than you! Is being a warrior more important than me—or staying alive?”

      Ven opened his mouth not quite sure how to answer her at first before finding his voice.

      “I did it to protect you and mum and everyone else!” he shot back hotly. How could she not see that? How could she say—to his face—that he wasn’t a warrior? Hadn’t he been humiliated by the Gerudo enough? Now his own sister, his own family, was throwing this in his face.

      The weakness that got Uncle Killian killed.

      “You only just started learning how to fight! You’re not even grown up yet!” shouted Rini with no intention of stopping. “If Daddy and Killian got killed by them, what makes you so sure you can take them on?! It didn’t feel like you were doing it for us; it was like you were doing it for you!”

      He winced, her voice hurting his ears and her words, his heart. It wasn’t like he didn’t already know she was right deep down.

      He knew he was weak. That he wasn’t special.

      Part of him was angry at his father. Maybe he wouldn’t be so weak and useless—so common—if his father had only started training him sooner rather than be forced to wait. Not to mention, there should be no reason he had to wait until he was fifteen to spend actual father-son time with his own dad. He was the son of the Captain of the Royal Guard—he should have had a head start in swordplay by now.

      Especially, after all, Dad and his buddies were convinced Ganondorf betraying them wasn’t an if but a when. If it had been so certain to them, why hadn’t they started preparing him for it? Preparing for the worst and hoping for the best—didn’t that make the most sense?

      Still he couldn’t let Rini have the last word. He couldn’t let her drag him down; he couldn’t let her desolation, everyone’s desolation, drag him into the pits of despair. This battle may have been lost, but they were in a war.

      “No, I did it because I have to,” he said, searching for an explanation which would satisfy her and for a moment his mind returned to a time before bloodshed haunted his nightmares, to a game he would play all the time with his friends in Castle Town. “Because I’m the hero who’s gonna save Hyrule.”

      ###

      Twilight was beginning to fall over the land. The days were already growing shorter, and it wouldn’t be long before winter came.

      Ventus stayed outside as long as he could. With each thrust he made with the wooden sword that Uncle Killian gave him, he could hear the man’s voice in the back of his head, begging him to rest.

      Just like in life, Ventus ignored him.

      There was nobody to protect everyone now but him, and he hadn’t even drawn the blood of one of those Gerudo. Unlike Uncle Killian, and certainly not like his father.

      “Hah!” he yelled, before drawing back, gasping for breath, sweat dripping down his brow before his ears twitched, picking something up on the wind.

      “I’m pissed off at you, Killian. For dying. I hope you know that.”

      Mom?

      Shouldering his wooden sword, he turned toward the direction where he heard her voice. He couldn’t see her yet. Continuing, he crept as silently as he could around the barn where Uncle Killian fought his last battle and peered toward the grove of trees where he was buried. There he saw his mother’s long blonde hair floating in the wind as she stared off into the distance. He could feel a pair of eyes watching from over there, but for once they didn’t seem to be looking in his direction.

      “Goddesses...you should have gone back to your family,” she choked, her head dipping down, and Ventus wondered if she was crying. “If you did … if you did …”

      He clenched the side of the building as he watched her, guilt sweeping over him, understanding what his mother meant. Uncle Killian had stayed around because of them, hadn’t he? Died to save them—to save Ventus. Uncle Killian's death was because of his own weakness.

      “What am I supposed to tell Tori … Amaya?” Mom whispered. Then she suddenly lashed out in anger. “You and Kubera are so damn stupid!”

      What she said next though threw Ventus for a loop.

      How,” Mom snapped, seemingly glaring at an empty space. Ventus was suddenly reminded of Eli and how he would talk to nobody. His stomach twisted uncomfortably, and he stepped further back in the shadows, hiding more. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he could hear the woman scornfully calling them monsters. “I literally cannot hear you.”

      Has … has she gone mad too?

      “You mean Eli,” Mom continued on with a sigh. “... He’s a child.”

      Yup. Definitely gone insane.

      Next thing was she was going to tell him that he was being rude by helpfully pointing out nobody was there. Although part of him wondered what happened to Eli and Leita. While he was less concerned with Eli, Leita would be sad if something happened to her brother. That and he could hear his father berating him in his head again for his treatment of the other boy, even if it was well deserved.

      Also, he was the reason Eli’s uncle was dead.

      “... I understand,” Mom continued on with her conversation with nobody. There was a long pause before she continued. “... Killain …” A stop. A pause. “Thank you. For everything that you ever did. I’m sorry.”

      That was when she began to cry.

      “If—if only there was more time…”

      She stood there, and he could hear her pained gasps on the wind. Unable to take a moment more of it, he turned around and walked away, feeling a pair of eyes following him all the way back to his house.

      ###

      The eyes were still there when he returned, although his mother was not.

      Looking around, he searched for signs of Uncle Killian on instinct, half hoping that maybe it wasn’t true. That the man wasn’t dead, but that was impossible. There was no bringing him back to life—Ventus wasn’t a monster like Aliyah Kali.

      There were some laws you just didn’t break.

      Still …

      He wanted to see him one last time.

      Then he felt the eyes again. He whipped toward the place he felt them, yet once again nothing was there yet a gaze bore right into him. He shivered, once more feeling uneasy, not liking this feeling of being watched. Being at a place where the dead were buried always scared him despite his Sheikah blood. Rini teased him for that when they were in Kakariko Village while playing with Leita and the other children.

      "There's nobody there but the dead," his sister had scoffed when he told her about the feeling of being watched; suddenly his throat constricted painfully in his throat and he pushed back the pale blonde hair he inherited from his mother—painfully nearly white, but not quite—and looked at the empty space where the eyes seemed to originate from.

      “Uncle Killian,” he said softly. “If you’re there … I’m sorry I got you killed. I thought … I tried …”

      His voice broke off, not quite sure what he should say. His words were going nowhere, yet now they were tumbling out of him.

      “I just wanted to—to be like you. Like Dad. Strong. What can I do to make things up to you, Uncle Killian? To Eli and Leita, and Uncle Tori and Auntie Amaya? They’re probably waiting for you somewhere to return, and I took you away from them. How—how do you make that right?”

      His eyes drifted downward.

      Can you make that right? I was so happy when you decided to stay … You made my mom happy too. Even though my dad was gone, at least I still had you. Was I being selfish?”

      Tears began to pour out of his eyes, and he fruitlessly tried wiping them away, turning his head up to the gray sky briefly, swallowing. More tears just took their place.

      “Uncle Killian, I want t-to see you again. I want to tell you how sorry I am, and how much I love you, and how I’m g-gonna miss you—and that I’ll do better. But you’re dead, and you can’t speak to the dead unless you are a Sheikah I heard. And I don’t know what to do to do so.”

      Sobbing overtaking him once more, he bent down and wrapped his arms around his knees, the trees bending sadly in the wind.

      “I’m sorry,” he choked. “I’m so sorry.”

      ###

      In the end, despite the shouting and arguing, nobody did anything to stop the Gerudo from taking their crops.

      Some left, refusing to bend to the Gerudo and leave their lives up to fate, but aside from a small portion of rations they were also leaving the food in the village storages. A few even tried to set fire to the fields and the crop, declaring it was better to die sooner of starvation than later, and if they couldn’t eat, neither could the Gerudo. They were stopped before they could get too far though—the instinct to survive overrode spite in the end it seemed.

      “Fools. All of them,” Mom had muttered, holding Ven and Rini’s hand, as the latest attempted arsonist was dragged forward to the town center. He was an unkempt fellow, his brown hair greasy and dirty, his clothes more dirt than cloth.

      Ventus had remembered him from Uncle Killian's lessons; his name was Roy and was somewhere in his thirties. He had initially tried to join the guard when he was fifteen, before the Gerudo War. However, for some reason, he was discharged before his career of a guard could even begin.

      He was the only one who came close to Ventus in obsession in learning the sword, an attempt to make up for lost time the Hylian child could empathize with.

      “Cowards! Don’t you see?! We’re all dead anyway!” Roy had howled with a screech. “If we are gonna die, let’s not die slowly like complacent lambs but proudly! We are the Goddesses’ chosen race! Who are we to cower before desert rats?!”

      There was some murmuring from the crowd, but nobody stepped forward to add their voices to Roy as the man was forced onto the platform in the town square. Nobody wanted to meet his fate next.

      “Listen up!” the mayor—a portly woman with blonde hair that seemed to have been kissed by the sun—yelled, an axe gripped in her pudgy fingers. “We have come to the decision to out last these trying times, no matter what those bastards throw at us. As a result, anyone who dares threaten the survival of this town shall meet the same fate as Roy Neilia! Sear this day into your memory!”

      “Let’s go,” Mother had urged them, dragging them both quickly from the crowd. “You don’t need to see more of this.”

      Still, Ventus turned his head to look back without thinking. Raising the axe, the mayor crashed it down on Roy’s neck, and he had tried his best not to think of Killian.

      Now his throat constricted as his hand tightened around his wooden sword as the Gerudo loaded the food up in wagons. His entire body hurt remembering the beating he received a few scant weeks ago just watching them, but he forced himself to look forward—to not lower his eyes. Even if everyone else lowered their heads in a show of submission, he would not.

      It would be dishonorable, after the sacrifice the other warriors were forced to give, that Uncle Killian was forced to give. He refused to mar their memories so.

      Even though his glare pierced them, and he could feel the eyes in their intensity joining with him in their hatred, the Gerudo did not turn around. Did not give them the time of day. He wasn’t sure what enraged him more—the fact the bastards were taking their food, the Hylians were being submissive cowards about it or the Gerudo couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge them.

      Occasionally he would look at his mother, to see her reaction, to see if she was as outraged as she said she was. Her face was certainly grim. He felt a similar burn as his was there in her eyes. However, he also kept seeing her eyes flicker to the side and linger, and drop down suddenly. It would repeat over and over, and not always in the same spot.

      He followed her gaze one of the times, looking at a spot near the Gerudo who were carefully packing their spoils in a wagon,and his brow furrowed ever so slightly when he realized that was the spot where the invisible eyes lingered. His gut twisted ever so slightly as he stared into the empty space, half expecting something to appear.

      Nothing did.

      With a quarter of their stores of food left, it seemed that the Gerudo were finally done. With barely a backwards glance, they climbed aboard their horses and wagons, and disappeared into the setting sun.

      ###

      Even though it was the Month of Wind, snow was already beginning to fall and cover the world in a blanket. The temperature was steadily dropping with no intention of stopping, and the day Rini turned eight was a rainy and dreary day.

      Even though they didn't have much, he and Mom tried their best to make Rini's birthday special. At the very least she wouldn't get a nasty surprise like he did—or at least he hoped not.

      “Happy Birthday, Rini!” Ventus smiled, holding out a small little dress he made for Anna from the scrap material he found laying around. Hardly his best work, but considering his limitations, not bad. He would have preferred to make his sister look good instead of her doll, but at least Rini wasn't horribly unfashionable.

      Anna on the other hand gave him heartburn each time he was forced to look at her shoddy clothes. It was a damn disgrace and nobody in his family, not even the dolls, should look like that.

      “Thanks, Ven!” Rini chirped, inspecting the dress gleefully before quickly undressing her doll and putting his gift on her. He felt the stress from being forced to look at such a horrid fashion ebb away, though he made a mental note to burn the former clothes later. Such accursed things shouldn’t be in this world. “You know, you can always become a seamster. You're actually good at this.”

      Ventus snorted at that.

      “The sin of terribly dressed people is great, but the kingdom is in greater need of my sword than my needle,” he pointed out.

      “Okay, enough,” Mom butted in, before revealing the white scarf and mittens she had been crocheting; he had to keep Rini busy and amused for hours for the past couple weeks so it would be a surprise. It had been rather difficult, because she absolutely refused to go outside; the only thing she found good about the winter was staying warm in front of the fire. He was half convinced that’s why she’s gotten so good at helping with cooking and baking—so she could stay near her precious fire without being accused of being a slouch.

      “With winter here, I thought you could use a nice pair of warm gloves and a scarf,” Mom said, smiling nervously.

      If she was worried about something, she need not to have bothered; Rini accepted them with a squeal of delight. Why wouldn't she? Even Ven had to admit his mother did a good job, and they would keep someone who despised winter as much as Rini did, warm.

      “Thanks Mommy, Ven,” she smiled, squeezing her presents close to her chest. “I love them.”

      ###

      In Castle Town, Ventus really never noticed winter.

      True, there would be snow on the ground, and it was much quieter, which gave him less headaches than the summer did. There were less whispers on the wind when the snow was on the ground, and it was like the world around him had fallen to sleep. It had always been chilly, but he was never uncomfortable.

      Sniffing, snot racing back up his nose, Ventus lifted the axe and slammed it down, cracking the log and splintering it to pieces. Rubbing his nose on his scarf, leaving white streaks on the beautiful red fabric, he rested the axe on the stump before scooping the chopped wood in his arms. While a few months ago it might have been too heavy for him, his training regimen had caused his small little muscles to build up.

      Snow crunched under his boots as he neared the home he was living at, Rini swinging the door open the second he neared.

      “Finally,” she gasped, taking the top pieces of wood from him with Ventus kicking the door closed behind him as she hurried over to the dying fire.

      “We need more wood soon,” Ventus yelled to his mother, slipping off his scarf and cloak, his brow furrowing as he held the brown cloth up to the light. The previously frayed fabric was starting to rip.

      “How can we need more wood already? It's only the Month of Courage. We still have two more months left before winter ends and the new year begins,” Jinora, Rini’s friend, snapped irritably as she worked on hemming a dress.

      She was doing a horrid job of it too. What was so hard about a straight stitch? Yet it was uneven—like her haircut—and not at all evenly spaced. That and she didn’t double knot the thread. Was she even trying?

      “I'm not sure if you noticed, but it's cold enough to turn your piss to ice while you are still taking it,” Ventus shot back, stealing a needle and thread which actually matched the fabric, plopping down in front of the fire next to Rini.

      “Ventus, don't be crass!” Mom shouted from the kitchen.

      “Yeah, Ventus, don't be crass,” Jinora sneered, and Ven really wanted to smack the look off her face. He didn't like her, nor did he like how she was treating Rini as of late. The world seemed to revolve around her needs and her wants, damned to be anyone else.

      “Well the lad is right,” Perseus, an older man who had developed a cough which sounded like he was going to spit out a lung at any second, agreed. There was some bets being made out of the earshot of adults when the old man would die. Ven wouldn’t be surprised if he was dead by the end of next month. “We need snow fer a good planting season, but if we are ter survive, we need to keep warm. Normally it's just a matter of getting more wood, but…”

      His voice trailed off, glassy eyes looking out the window beyond the wall. He didn't finish his thought.

      Didn't need to.

      Monsters had been seen on the other side of the wall. At night, Ven could hear them too when they got close.

      Rumors of stalchildren and poes now lingered on the other side of the wall, and some of those unlucky enough to be tasked to the wall upkeep swear up and down they see their glowing red eyes drawing nearer to them.

      Threading the thread through the needle, he began to pull the brown string through the fabric.

      “Well there is always going during the day, right?” Mom asked, stepping into the small room, giving Perseus a cup of hot tea. “Go out with a sleigh…”

      “That just leaves the matter of who is going to fetch the wood,” Perseus grunted, accepting the drink—but not before trying to hack up a lung.

      “I’ll go!”

      The words escaped Ventus mouth before he could stop them. If he wanted to stop them. Even with fury blazing in his mother's eyes, Rini sensing the mood of the room and attempted to slink away before becoming a victim by proxy of their mother's anger, Ventus pushed forward despite the dangers.

      “I'll get us wood!” he exclaimed, standing up, his patchwork momentarily forgotten.

      “It's dangerous!” Mom growled. “Ventus how many times now do we need to have this conversation? How many times must I tell you are just a child! What do I need to do to make you just listen to me for once?!”

      Ventus opened his mouth to protest, to fight back, but Perseus beat him to it.

      “Yet a child is the only one willing to risk his life.” Perseus studied Ventus for a moment before leaning back into his chair. “You truly are Kubera Agni’s boy, aren't you? You are going to end up like your father someday.”

      “A hero?” Ventus smiled hopefully.

      “Dead.”

      ###

      A month passed, and regardless of his mother's wishes, Ventus, as one of the few volunteers, went out to chop wood in the forest outside of the village during the day.

      Despite people dying due to lack of food and sickness, living quarters had become tight again after one of the houses had been cleared to make room for a morgue. With the ground completely frozen and bodies adding up by the day, the villagers had come to the agreement to store the bodies until spring when the ground thawed. Those who had not survived the winter would be buried in a mass grave or given a funeral pyre, when they could muster up the wood better.

      The adults hadn't agreed which one was better, although Mama was pushing hard for cremation.

      “We are already seeing necromancy at work at the forest’s edge! If it wasn't difficult at the moment to start and maintain a fire, I would say we burn them right now! Why give more bodies as ammunition? Unless, of course, we plan on eating them.”

      The tone itself was sarcastic, but for the first time in his life, Ven, from his spot several hundred feet away, heard silence until his mother broke it. “...Goddesses.”

      No answer came, and since that day, Ventus had become very wary of eating meat. He would watch the morgue whenever he could, to make sure no one was doing anything suspicious with the corpses, but he wasn’t able to keep a vigil around the clock.

      He also realized, besides those who were in the town hall that day, he was the only one aware of the possibility of eating their fallen brethren, or at the very least the idea was beginning to be considered. Some moaned about the fact the dead bodies were stacking up, pointing out the lack of food was already killing people off and they didn’t need the miasma of the deceased to add to their woes.

      After all they had no casters, and a limited number of health potions; one per family. Those who were born in Sakirven were given first choice. The remainder were given out to the refugees by lottery.

      Mom managed to win one.

      With each passing day, Ventus noticed there were more eyes watching him. It offered him little comfort now that he knew what they were. Less so that no longer how he stared into the empty spaces, nothing appeared. Once he even tried meditating—he heard Sheikah did that—but ended up falling asleep instead.

      He wanted to see Killian again. He wanted to say he was sorry. He wanted to see his father again. He wanted to tell him he loved him one last time.

      “Ma,” Ventus murmured dragging an axe behind him, his mother walking next to him pulling the sleigh.

      While the days were relatively safe—the monsters came out at night, and with the bitter weather, no Gerudo have been seen, as they wandered further into the woods—Mom still refused to let him go alone or with the other adults.

      Rini wanted to come as well, but yesterday she came down with a cough. Aside from forbidding it, Mom also didn't want to make her condition worse, so she made her stay home. So it was just the two of them and a jittery unreliable guy who was dragging his feet several yards behind them.

      “What can I do to see Uncle Killian and dad again?”

      Mom turned to him, silent for a moment, the snow on her hair causing it to appear all the more white. Even though she didn’t have the red eyes commonly associated with the Sheikah tribe, her hazel eyes reminded him of the placid stare he used to see Lady Impa with back in Kakariko Village.

      Idly, he wondered if she and the princess were safe. It seemed even now the Gerudo King chased them, destroying whatever town and village lay in his path.

      “What do you mean?” Mom’s voice was careful, guarded. Her words were barely above a whisper, yet Ventus could hear her perfectly in the silence of the woods.

      “I want to see them, like you can. That day, shortly after the Gerudo came, you were talking to Uncle Killian weren’t you? I want to talk to him and dad, too.”

      In the silence of the snow, the skip in Mom’s heartbeat was more noticeable.

      “Who told you?” she asked, her voice calm and low, betraying no emotion beyond some chattering from the cold.

      Ven’s brow furrowed at her question, and looked up at his mother. Her face had become much more ashen as the winter went on and like many, she didn't seem to have as much energy. Yet right now it looked like she had become a corpse herself with how pale she had become.

      “Nobody,” he said finally. “I just overheard you talking to him when I was outside.” He looked down and swung his sword at some dead brush, the sudden movement causing some crows watching them from the tree branches to take flight. “I can feel their eyes, but with a lot more people dying and stuff, I can’t tell who is who. Not that I could before, but with so many of ‘em, I can’t even guess now.”

      Goddesses.” Mom’s voice shook for the first time since Dad died, the plea—or curse, Ven couldn’t tell—escaping her lips.

      Chancing a glance back at his mother, the young boy was surprised to see tears starting to form and cling to her eyes, and suddenly he realized perhaps she was still grieving even though she cried no longer. Wiping away the water before it could freeze, it took a couple of minutes before she got her breathing under control again. Even then when she spoke, her voice wavered and cracked.

      “Neither are around anymore, Ventus. They moved on. They both moved on a long time ago.” Oh. An uncomfortable weight settled in his stomach as his throat constricted before his mother continued. “And even if they hadn’t, and even if I could, I wouldn’t teach you. This connection, this sight, these feelings of knowing as everyone wastes away around you—I wouldn’t allow you to take that burden on.”

      “What?” His demand was louder than he meant it to be, and his mother’s eyes narrowed at him warningly, glancing back to the man behind them, who raised his head at Ventus exclamation only to look away when mom glowered at him.

      “Why not?” he hissed in a much lower voice.

      “Because people who can see death who aren’t Sheikah, nobody understands them. They are treated as monsters, evil, even though it was a curse which wasn’t asked for. You have no idea what you’re asking for, and for your sake, goddesses I hope for your sake, it remains that way.”

      And with that, Ventus couldn’t help but think of Eli Serwen and his insides twisted uncomfortably. He remembered the look of malice on the woman who stood in the gates of Kakariko, cursing out his mother, venom in her voice.

      However, there was a glaring hole in her logic—one which Ventus was more than happy to point out.

      “But we’re Sheikah too!” he protested hotly. “You’re the one who taught us all those Sheikah stories and customs! With the clan all but wiped out, it’s up to people like us to carry on the Sheikah law and traditions.”

      “Unless your hair white and eyes red, don’t go messin’ with the dead.” Ceres Agni turned and looked at him, and there was a look in her eyes he had never seen before. “That’s final.”

      ###

      Ventus dipped the cloth into the bucket of water, withdrawing it and squeezing it out until every last drop of liquid escaped. Untwisting it, he carefully folded it and brought it over to a small room holding those who had become sick.

      “How is she?” he asked, nudging himself between his mother and Elise, laying the cloth over Rini’s forehead, her breathing labored and skin feverish. It seemed even water freshly melted from the ice and snow didn’t seem to help her ailment any.

      “She’s not getting any better,” Elise said, pressing her lips together. “Although on the same token, at least she’s not getting any worse. Maybe she’s gotten through the worst of it…”

      “You don’t sound so sure,” Ventus whispered with a frown, Mom holding tightly on to Rini’s hand, rubbing her thumb across her skin.

      With each passing day a more troubled look would cross her face, though today her skin tone seemed unusually pale. Ventus really hoped she wasn’t becoming sick too.

      Every so often his sister would whimper, crying out for Mom or himself typically. Though, lately at night, she would cry for Father as well. Whenever she did so, a strike of fear rang across his heart; what if she was doing so because she was nearing the end of her life?

      There were many in the sick bay, but more and more don’t return alive. Even though Rini had only been in here for a few days, Ven was beginning to be able to tell which of those who lay moaning on their straw mats, nestled between their furs, wouldn’t wake up in the morning; between their rattling breath and slowing heart rate, chances were they were going to die the next few days.

      “Well normally, I wouldn’t worry,” Elise admitted, wiping her hands on her skirt. “But between the cold, the lack of food or the miasma there is no telling when—or if—your sister will get better. I’m sorry.”

      “Thank you for your help,” Mom murmured, her eyes never leaving Rini as Elise stood up.

      “I’m sorry I cannot do more. The best advice I can offer you is to pray to the Goddesses and hope they take mercy on your daughter’s soul,” Elise said before shuffling away, her steps slower and heavier than when they first came here when the older woman scooted around like a hummingbird. Here one moment and gone the next.

      “Mom, Rini’s going to be alright,” he tried to reassure his mother after a moment, feeling the need to say something to break the heavy silence which had settled over them. He also needed the reassurance himself. He couldn’t lose another family member so soon.

      Mom didn’t respond for a moment, Rini was beginning to have a coughing fit again, her eyes fluttering open and upon seeing him and mom, moaned.

      “Mommy … Ven …” she whimpered. “I don’t feel so well …”

      “Don’t worry honey, I’ll get you something to eat. You’ll feel better really soon,” Mom replied softly, a gentle smile crossing her lips as she leaned down and kissed Rini’s forehead.

      Ven looked at his mother, wondering where she was going to get the food. The rations were getting smaller and smaller, and sometimes he wondered if their mother even ate at all. He himself always found himself wanting more, and whenever they went out chopping wood, he would try whatever berries he found growing outside whenever Mom wasn’t looking.

      The last one gave him the runs.

      “I feel like I’m gonna be sick,” Rini sobbed. “And it hurts—”

      Her cries of pain were interrupted with another coughing fit, and Mom’s brow furrowed once more. Slipping her hand out of Rini’s, she turned to him.

      “Ven, look after your sister. I’ll be right back,” she said before smiling once more at Rini, giving her a kiss, before disappearing.

      There was silence between them—or as good as it was going to get for Ventus between Rini’s sobs and the rattling breath of those fighting desperately for their lives.

      “Ven … am I gonna die?” Rini asked quietly after a moment. “I am, aren’t I?”

      “No! Of course not!” Ven protested hotly, grabbing her hand and bringing it close to his chest. If he could give her his life, at least some of it, to help her, he would do so in a heartbeat. Anything to keep her from dying. Anything to save her. It was his job as the eldest.

      “But everyone who leaves … is dead,” she choked. “I’m next, I know I am.”

      “No, you’re not!” he insisted, hot tears beginning to sting at his eyes. How could she say that? Was she giving up? She couldn’t! He wouldn’t let her! They already lost Dad and Uncle Killian, he wasn’t going to lose her too.

      “Listen to your brother, sweetie,” Mom said, appearing with a small cup and a bowl of oatmeal. Handing her the cup first, Ven noticed that instead of the tea she usually brewed, there was a thick red liquid.

      “I’m not thirsty or hungry,” Rini moaned, pushing it away.

      “Trust me,” mom said, pushing the cup to the lips, tipping it so the liquid went into her mouth. “You’ll feel much better after this.”

      ###

      True to his mother’s promise, Rini felt much better. By the end of the day her fever had broken, her cough stopped and her ravenous appetite which had no chance of being satisfied returned.

      Elise called it a miracle, however Ven wasn't so sure.

      Not only that, but how long would it last? How long would it take for Rini to fall sick again? For himself? Mom?

      Even though Mom tried to hide it, he noticed that her face had become paler, and was waking up later and later. It seemed even making food tired her out, and she was more prone to taking naps.

      She gave him and Rini at least half—if not more—of her food portion. Ventus felt guilty for taking it, but hunger gnawed at his stomach, crying, begging for something more. He didn’t complain though; Jinora did enough bitching for everyone.

      Still, spring couldn’t come fast enough. Yet the nights only seemed to be getting longer instead of shorter.

      ###

      Elise’s death surprised nobody, but in a village which was slowly becoming numb to the consistent loss of life, her death was one of the few which left villagers grieving.

      It wasn't that she was a well beloved member of the community so much as she was the only one willing to treat the sick. Those with no family members were beginning to band together; they had nobody else looking out for them after all. Ventus had grown up hearing the old saying, “we’re all Farore’s family” and how that meant being family to each other and taking care of one another. Yet, it seemed these days, that wasn’t the case.

      Half were orphans. Some were around Ventus and Rini's age, but there were older ones that had passed the age of fifteen, yet were still young enough to have needed parental guidance.

      They began to cause trouble, and fearing an uprising boiling under the surface, guards were beginning to be placed not only in front of the food stores, but other buildings now too as well.

      Tension was thick in the air, and Ventus wasn't sure when—for it was less of a question of if—a rebellion would take place.

      ###

      “Ventus, I'm hungry.”

      Ventus grunted, his eyes cracking open to see Rini hovering over him. He was glad she didn't shriek like a hawk like Jinora was apt to do, but he would have liked to sleep a bit longer.

      Still, he pushed himself up, the blanket falling to the floor.

      “We all are,” he groaned, turning to their mother who was still asleep next to him. Shivering, he pulled the blanket over his shoulders.

      Ven,” Rini complained, pushing against him. “I'm hungry.”

      “I heard you the first time, stop bitching,” he snapped, turning over and shaking his mother's shoulder. Honestly what did she want him to do? Mom was the one who got the food for their family, not him.

      “I already tried that. She's not waking up,” Rini told him, sitting back and wrapping her arms around her legs. At that, Ventus heart clenched uncomfortably. He tried to ignore the fact that he couldn’t hear her breath going in and out.

      He shook her harder.

      “Mom, time to wake up,” he insisted.

      Nothing.

      “Mom?”

      Nothing.

      Panicking now, he turned her over so she was laying on her back. Holding his own breath, he rested his ear against his mother's heart. Though he had always been able to hear it before without being so close.

      Nothing.




      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Ruki ().

    • Back To Chapter Index

      Chapter 10
      To Live or Die

      Ventus dug in the snow, his fingers getting numb. However, he didn’t stop until he pulled up a small acorn. Breathing a sigh of relief, he put it in the small little pouch he made from the remains of his mother’s clothing. Rini threw near a damn fit when he started cutting their mom’s clothing to make the bag, and he wasn’t even completely sure she wasn’t still sore about it.

      His tears had turn to ice, and unlike his father and Uncle Killian, whose deaths he could take the necessary time to mourn, he no longer had that luxury. With Mom dead and gone, it was up to him to look after Rini.

      Rini, on the other hand, was in a terrible state for the past couple of weeks. She would be crying one minute, angry at him for not doing the same the next, refusing to get out of bed and it was only really recently she had been able to be coaxed to go looking for food with him. He wasn’t sure if it was because she was finally getting over Mom’s death or if it was because she was hungry.

      At least she was talking to him again, and not calling him a monster or an asshole for prioritizing her life over mourning the dead.

      “Ventus, you think we can eat any of these?” Rini asked, walking over to him and holding out her hands showing some red berries and weeds she had found. Ventus glanced at them and after a moment, tossed aside some of the smaller, harder berries and held his bag out for her to put the rest of the food in.

      Awwoooo!

      Ventus’ ears twitched and his hand suddenly went to the blade on his back. While his father’s sword was still a bit heavy and unwieldy for him, he had noticed the villagers beginning to eye the Goron steel weapon. While none of them would have taken it with Mom still around, all bets were out the window now. It had only been two weeks since Mom died and their shares of food were rapidly dwindling.

      It was like they were trying to make them meet the same fate as their mother without having the courage to make it quick.

      “We’re going back, Rini,” he announced quietly, buttoning the satchel. It was only a quarter full, and barely enough to feed them, but it would keep them from starving. That was the important thing.

      “Huh? But why?” Rini asked, her voice dropping too on instinct, eyes darting around the area, taking her brother’s hand into hers.

      “Wolves.”

      “But wolves don’t usually come out and attack us…” Rini whispered, looking around, searching in the shadow of the woods for the predators. While she hadn’t heard anything herself, nor felt anything nearby, she long ago stopped asking Ventus about the validity of his hearing—she accepted that his hearing was just that better than hers.

      “I’m not taking any chances,” Ven said, pulling her along, back toward the wooden walls. He noticed they’ve been needing to go further and further into the woods and away from the walls to find what little food they can scrounge up. To make matters worse, rumors were if you went in too deep into Kokiri Forest you would find yourself in the Lost Woods.

      That, you would never come out of.

      ###

      “... There’s not a lot here.”

      Ventus scowled as he sat in the small barn, crossing his arms as a mousy haired boy looked at what little food they were able to bring back.

      “It's better than nothing,” Hikaru pointed out, picking up a pine cone, before he grazed his grey eyes around the small gathered group of orphaned children, brushing his white hair out of the way.

      Hikaru was half-Sheikah; his parents had died in the slaughter of his people in the previous Gerudo War, and he had been living with other family members since. However, they had died due to the cold just like a lot of others had. A lot of kids asked him if he had gotten any Sheikah training, but he would kindly remind them he was only a child when his parents died.

      Ventus had been told there used to be fifteen children in the group, but with Elise dying, the last adult who cared about the orphaned children and the sick was gone, and more followed her.

      Not that the little ones wouldn't have died—or at least Jack. He was a goner for sure,” Rei said as she handed Ventus blankets for himself and Rini. “Still, Elise could have saved some of the others, I bet. She saved your sister, right? Now we got nobody.”

      Even though Ventus was only eleven, he was the third oldest, although only by a few months. Hikaru was sixteen, and Rei was fourteen. While he had joined the group after Hikaru had approached him saying they would make sure he and Rini—among other orphans—wouldn’t be pushed aside or forgotten, Ventus wasn’t exactly sure how Hikaru planned on doing this.

      “We’re going to need more than this,” Rei pointed out, sighing as she leaned against the wall of the old building. While the house they stayed at before was significantly warmer, the eyes of the people after Mom died became colder. The food portions grew smaller by the day, though theirs were the only one.

      Well I don’t know why you are complaining,” Jinora sniffed shoving her face with some dried meat. Something Ven or Rini didn’t have in weeks. “You have less family members now. Besides, it’s not like you really contribute anything.”

      Ventus did smack her at that. Right across her mouth. The other adults weren’t too happy about it, but he would be lying if it didn’t feel good. Dad may have always told him that a true knight didn’t start fights, but the way he saw it, he wasn’t starting one so much as finishing it.

      All the same, the two of them left the next day.

      But ever since Ventus moved here with Rini, he found the old building much noisier despite there being less people; the wind was constantly howling through cracks in the wood, angry and bellowing.

      Just another woe among many.

      “Well it's not like there is just stalchildren and poes,” Ventus scoffed. “There are wolves in the woods too. Who knows what else is in there.”

      “I think we can all agree that it's dangerous,” Hikaru said, cutting in just as Rei was beginning to open her mouth. “But we don't have any adults to rely on anymore. If we want to survive, we need to remind the rest of the village we're here too. We can't do that if we're dead.”

      “What are you saying?” asked Marco, a boy with beady eyes who had to be the same age as Leita Serwen—and even more prone to cry. Except when Marco did it, all it did was annoy Ventus. He used to be rather portly before the Gerudo’s attack, which was why Rei still often called him fatass. However, now his face was sunken with lack just like everyone else’s.

      “Well, first, we need to get more food. We can't just rely on Ventus and Rini,” Hikaru said, threading his fingers together, leaning forward.

      Ventus bit his tongue to stop himself from reminding Hikaru that until a couple of days ago it was just him. But he didn’t want Rini to throw another hissy fit or invite her to start throwing accusations at him not loving Mom. Again.

      “Everything comes back to lack of resources,” continued Hikaru. “We are starving orphans in a run down building. We don't have proper tools. Not to mention there is only ten of us. Now I'm sure as Farore takes more, our ranks will grow, so that ain't the problem. The problem is that unless this village wisens up and realizes if they push away people like us Sakirven ain’t going to survive. However, people are stupid, so we gotta convince ‘em we’re worth something.”

      “Which we can’t do if we’re dead,” Rei said and the Sheikah teenager nodded his head.

      “While I’m old enough to speak at meetings, we need to convince more people to join our cause. More adults to support us,” Hikaru said before he stood up and approached the fire, throwing some logs on it. Then he continued to speak. “For that, we need a plan.”

      ###

      “That’s a lot of pine needles, Alicia,” Ventus said, frowning a bit as the black-haired girl dumped yet another handful into the bag.

      In the end, they had been separated into three groups: Ventus, Alicia, Rei and Hikaru looked for food outside the walls, Rini and Gene were to find sympathetic individuals in the village, and everyone else worked on repairing their ‘house.’

      “Pine needles make good tea, and they are healthy. Plus if we catch a cold, it will help,” Alicia said cheerfully.

      “And the flu?” Ventus asked, and at that, Alicia’s eyes dropped down.

      “We pray,” she said softly, before turning and beginning to walk deeper into the forest. Buttoning the satchel, Ventus quickly made way after her.

      “Hey, wait—where are you going?” he demanded. “It’s dangerous to go this far in!”

      “It’s fine,” Alicia assured him, stopping under a large oak tree, bending down and began to dig in the snow. “I’ve been deep in these woods before. I know where to look for food, and with you around, I don’t need to worry about the monsters lurking in the shadows.”

      “Why’s that?” Ventus asked, bending down and helping her.

      Alicia had told him that acorns were more likely to be found under oak trees because they were its seeds. She also showed him some other edible seeds, like walnuts, pecans, hickories, beechnuts, hazelnuts and pine nuts. It was amazing how much he missed when it was just Rini and himself.

      “Well … You want to be a knight, right? Like your father?” she replied slowly, pulling out some acorns out of the snow. Ventus nodded his head. “And I saw how you stood up to those Gerudo, plus if you want to achieve it, you need to work toward it.” She paused, furrowing her brow, trying to collect her thoughts. “Like … I want to be a royal cook, so I’ve been learning everything I could. I even asked your mother for advice, remember?”

      Ventus nodded; he did, although he never really talked to Alicia prior to this. He was too busy practicing his swordplay and making sure they didn’t freeze or starve. Rini, however, did. Though, it seemed she talked to everyone.

      “You work hard at being a warrior too. So just like you trust me in cooking, I’ll trust you in fighting. Does that make sense?” she asked turning to him with a smile.

      It really didn’t, but he nodded anyway. She recognized his greatness, and that’s all that was important.

      That’s when Ventus heard some twigs cracking and he wheeled around, drawing the sword from behind him. While his father and Uncle Killian made it look seamless, his was awkward and he stumbled a bit. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Alicia just as Rei appeared.

      “Were you going to skewer me with that?” she asked, arching an eyebrow, brushing some of her dark purple hair out of her eyes.

      Her hair had been longer when Ventus first came to the village, but shortly before Mom died, it suddenly was chopped off. While he was no barber, it looked kind of like someone took a knife to it and went at it. Luckily though it seemed to be growing back and it wasn’t looking quite as ugly as it had been.

      “You scared me,” he retorted hotly, lowering the sword. “What are you doing out here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be with Hikaru?”

      “Saw a rabbit. Was tired of acting like one and thought it would be best to move up the food chain. ‘Got away though,” she said, crossing her arms. “Would be nice if we could just eat what livestock remains.”

      “We can’t!” Alicia protested suddenly.

      “Why the bloody hell not?” Rei snapped back as Ventus turned his head, hearing a new set of footsteps and once more raising his sword.

      However, once again, his worry was for naught.

      “Because the adults are protecting it,” Hikaru said simply, entering the clearing. “Not to mention if we want to get people on our side, we cannot make ourselves the enemies—no matter how tempting it may be. But Rei’s right. We need meat. Starting tomorrow, we’re hunting.”

      ###

      Rini leaned against the building, blowing into her hands, while Gene wrapped a scarf tighter around his neck.

      She really didn’t want to be out here, doing this, but at the same time it was made quite clear to her she could no longer stay inside and mourn her mother like anyone with a heart would do. Even so, it was like they expected her to be heartless like her brother was—Ventus cried for Dad of all people, but not Mom?

      “Feel like a fucking idiot waiting out by the damn outhouse,” the mousy haired boy grumbled. “Well, it fits at least cuz this is a shit job—Why couldn't Hikaru do this? He's considered an adult; people will at least listen to him.”

      “He didn't want to make my brother, Rei and Alicia risk their lives looking for food without doing the same,” Rini reminded him, her eyes trained on the area where she knew her mark was going to appear from.

      He always came out at this time, like clockwork.

      “Well, Alicia is one thing but your brother and Rei are fucking crazy; I think the monsters need protection from them,” Gene pointed out with a scoff.

      Rini snorted in return; while Ventus got respect from the group for his stunt months ago for refusing to stand down even when the Gerudo were beating him to death, Rini still saw it for what it was.

      Selfish stupidity.

      Like he was determined to die and leave her alone, even though he promised he would always be there for her.

      Still, she couldn't help but be curious about his comment regarding Rei. From her interactions with the older girl, how limited they were, the girl didn't strike her as stupid so much as having an attitude problem.

      “What, did Rei get beat for some selfish reason too?” Rini asked, turning to the older boy for a moment.

      “Nah, she ain't your brother’s level of crazy, but I heard before she left, she straight up shanked her aunt,” Gene told her, before dropping his voice as if letting her in on a secret. “Rumor has it her parents were criminals. Didn’t your dad ever talk about the Laverna family?”

      “First off, my dad was never home,” she replied tensely, her fingers digging into her palms.

      The only real time they got to spend with their father was when he took them to Kakariko. Even then he was always hanging out with Uncle Tori or Uncle Killian if he was around, and pushing her and Ventus to play with the other kids. Sometimes—even now—she really didn’t understand why her brother looked up to a father like that. After all, he was much better for the things which counted—being there for your family.

      “Second off, Dad never talked much about his job around me and Ven.”

      “Oh.”

      That shut Gene up, and an awkward silence came between them.

      Thankfully it didn't last long; the man they were waiting for hobbled around the corner. Rini elbowed Gene, letting him know a little harder than she needed to.

      “Come on, and let me do the talking,” she whispered, quickly running toward old man Perseus.

      “Perseus! Perseus!” Rini called, Gene stumbling after her. The older man paused, coughed and scowled.

      “What da ya want, lass? Make it quick; nature is a calling,” he demanded.

      “It won't take long,” Rini assured him, smiling. “I just wanted to know how people are treating you. Are the odds still 50:1 … or no, wait, it's 75:1 now, isn’t it?”

      Perseus scowled at her; the betting on his life, or better said, his death, had slowly slipped into the mainstream conversation. Perseus wasn't too pleased about it, but there wasn't much he could do about it besides desperately claw at life on his lonesome. With as much money riding on one old man, there was no reason for anyone to help him. The causes of death had to be of natural causes for the winners to collect their money, otherwise Rini suspected he would have been found dead of mysterious causes months ago.

      Not that money had much use anymore. People were trading things like thick blankets for food now. You couldn’t eat rupees after all, and rupees couldn’t keep the frosty chill of winter from your bones.

      “Get to the point, brat,” Perseus growled.

      “Well,” Rini drawled for a minute. “I’ll just say this … they don’t have your best interest at heart, now do they? Now it ain’t right, to bet on someone’s death, to not take care of them. You—we—are all part of Farore’s family. All we want to do is remind the villagers of that.”

      Perseus didn’t say anything, but Rini didn’t expect him to. She had made her argument, now all she had to do was wait.

      “Food for thought,” she hummed, before turning around. “Let’s go, Gene.”

      ###

      “It didn’t set off.”

      “No shit.”

      “I’m hungry.”

      “For fuck’s sake, Marco, shut the hell up. We’re all hungry,” Ven snapped, trying to see where they went wrong this time.

      It was the Month of Wisdom, but Ventus sure didn’t feel any smarter; especially being outsmarted constantly by small woodland creatures.

      True to Hikaru’s prediction, as the cold winter dragged on, they got more and more children joining their cause, although some of them weren’t children anymore. The oldest was twenty, but there wasn’t something quite right with him—he seemed more bothered by sounds than Ventus was. Yet for whatever reason, he couldn’t hear nearly as far, although getting him to answer the simple question was nearly impossible—he wouldn’t look up from whatever he was working on.

      His younger sister told Ventus to just leave him alone.

      Still, while the nuts and berries were just enough to feed the small group before, it was nowhere enough now with their numbers nearly doubling. Whatever Rini and Gene were saying, it was working, that’s for sure.

      “Well, at least we know it can set off,” Alicia said, looking between Ventus and Marco nervously. “No animals probably came through here. That’s nobody’s fault.”

      “Alicia is right. We’ll just have to set more traps,” Hikaru said, adding his voice to hers, giving her a small smile which Alicia returned, along with a blush.

      However, Hikaru’s already pale skin was beginning to look like the snow that was on the ground, and Ventus noticed the sounds of growling stomachs had lessened over the past few days despite there not being any more food.

      It scared him.

      “Except we have traps everywhere it seems, and the only thing setting them off is fatass over here,” Rei growled, jerking her thumb toward Marco.

      The boy looked insulted for a half a second before thick tears began to build up in his eyes.

      “Rei,” Hikaru said sharply. “We are a family now. There’s no reason to be cruel to each other.”

      He sighed though, before dragging his hand across his face. “Still … you are right in saying we haven’t caught anything. But what are we supposed to do? Even if there was livestock left, I’ll bet every last rupee I have to my name it’s being guarded. There’s nothing else we can do for meat that doesn’t involve hunting in the available daylight hours we have.”

      There was an awkward silence at that.

      “Why give more bodies as ammunition? Unless, of course, we plan on eating them.”

      Those words Ventus had overheard what seemed a lifetime ago and had haunted him ever since, came back. The mere thought at one time was enough to make him sick, yet now ...

      He swallowed a lump in his throat, and in a very quiet voice, he spoke up.

      “That’s not true.”

      Alicia—who was closest to Ventus—turned and looked at him, surprised and confused.

      “What?” she asked.

      “That’s not true; there’s one other place we can get meat,” he said, speaking louder this time, raising his eyes, glancing around nervously before meeting Hikaru’s grey eyes. The older boy furrowed his brow, his blue lips thinning out.

      “Then why haven’t you said anything earlier?” Rei demanded, grabbing the front of Ventus’ jacket and jerking him so he was looking at her angry green eyes. “We’re starving to death, and you just think to mention this now?!”

      “I think … I think it might be against Sheikah law or something,” Ventus said softly. “That’s why I never said anything.”

      “The fuck you talking about?” Rei demanded. “Sheikah law applies only to …”

      However, that’s when she figured it out and she loosened her grip on his jacket, taking a horrified step backward, not finishing her sentence. However, she didn’t need to, because there were sharp intakes of breaths all around him; everyone else had pieced it together too.

      There was silence; even the wind seemed shocked at what Ventus just suggested.

      “That’s real messed up, Ven,” Marco said after a long moment.

      “Normally I don’t agree with the pig, but he’s right. Real fucked up, Agni,” Rei scowled, and Ventus felt his blood boil at that. It wasn’t like he wanted to do it either; he was a Sheikah too after all! Yet if they wanted to survive, they would need to break certain taboos.

      “You said it yourself! We’re starving to death, and unless we do something, Farore will take us too!” he protested hotly. “How much longer do you want to wait?! More and more people are joining us, but what good will that do because we don’t have nearly enough food to provide for all of us!”

      “The bodies are probably rotted,” Marco protested.

      Then much to Ventus’ surprise, Hikaru spoke up in defense of his plan. It was the last person he expected—the boy was more Sheikah than Ventus was by far, yet he was the only other one considering breaking the law of his—their—people.

      It was ironic in that way, those with the Sheikah blood being the ones to considering breaking their own people’s laws.

      “No … it’s been incredibly cold. They’re probably preserved,” he said slowly, his hand covering his mouth, the gears inside slowly beginning to turn.

      “What are you saying Hikaru?!” Rei demanded, aghast. “You can’t tell me you agree with this crazy plan! Meddling with the dead is strictly against Sheikah law! You of all people should know that! Not to mention when Day of the Dead comes around again, and I don’t know about ya’ll, but I ain’t too keen on having a ghost haunting me because I went and ate their body.”

      “Except Ventus has a point!” Hikaru replied calmly, although his grey eyes narrowed dangerously. “I don’t think any of us want to eat the bodies of the fallen. But what choice do we have? We’re starving. We’re hungry. We’ve been trying to trap for weeks with no success of what we wanted to catch.”

      “Eating the dead is something even the Gerudo bastards wouldn’t do,” Rei hissed angrily.

      “Except it’s because of the Gerudo we’re in this position to begin with,” Alicia pointed out softly, dipping her head low, her hair covering her eyes. Rei looked at her incredulously.

      “You can’t tell me—” she wheeled around and glowered at Marco. “What about you, pigboy? Do you want to eat the dead too?”

      “If Hikaru thinks it’s what we need to do to survive…” Marco said, trailing off, and Rei looked shocked before recoiling in disgust.

      “I don’t believe it,” she snarled. “You’re no better than necromancers. Next you’ll be telling me we should be bringing them back from the dead and fuckin’ them.”

      “Rei, first off, nobody here has magic. Second off, that’s not what we’re saying. Third, I’ll make this real simple for you,” Hikaru said, his voice growing cold. Even though it wasn’t directed at Ventus, something about the way he spoke made him feel uneasy. “Do you want to live or do you want to die?”

      Rei glowered at Hikaru for a long moment before her shoulders sagged and she looked away.

      “You know the answer to that.”

      At that, the ice in Hikaru’s voice melted away, and he nodded his head, turning toward the rest of them.

      “Right. So it’s agreed. We’ll do what must be done,” the young man said simply.

      “What will we tell the others?” Marco asked tentatively, and Ventus immediately thought of Rini and his gut twisted. He didn’t want her to burden this terrible knowledge. If she wasn’t aware of the sin, was she really sinning? Could she be held accountable for her deeds?

      Ventus would like to think she wouldn’t be.

      “We don’t,” he said suddenly. “What we are about to do stays between us, okay? No need to burden anyone else.”

      There was silent agreement from the others, and Hikaru made it final.

      “The knowledge of our sin doesn’t leave our lips until we reach our graves,” he said seriously. “We are the protectors of Farore’s family, and we will take whatever gift she has for us, no matter how twisted it may be.”

      ###

      To say Rini was surprised when the hunting group came back with meat was an understatement.

      Their numbers had grown, both with her and Gene’s—if she felt like throwing some undue credit around—hard work, but Ven, Hikaru, Alicia, Rei and now Marco were falling short in their duties to feed them. She was worried. If they were dead, the ideas she planted in the heads of useful adults would be for nothing.

      So to be sitting next to the fire, Alicia cooking actual meat, it felt like a dream come true, especially since they hadn’t anything of real substance in months. It even smelled sweet as it began to thaw underneath the warm embrace of the fire.

      Yet, even as her mouth salivated, her stomach twisted in knots—and not because it hadn’t had a proper meal in so long.

      It shouldn’t be frozen.

      Glancing over at her brother, who was sitting on a crate Leroy made, Rini pressed her lips together. Ventus scrubbed at his sword despite the blade being clean. In fact, even when he started it hadn’t been dirty.

      “Where did you even find this?” Ami asked amazed as Alicia dragged a cast iron skillet from their ‘kitchen’ and set it over the fire, allowing it to warm up. Hikaru looked up at her and smiled, but his exhausted grey eyes didn’t quite meet Ami’s brown ones.

      “We found a carcass out in the woods,” he said, handing the pieces of meat to Alicia who practically threw them onto the skillet like she was touching something unclean. “Beggars can’t be choosers, right?”

      If they found a carcass in the woods, shouldn’t it be a bloody mess? Shouldn’t it look like rot? Rini understood that they couldn’t exactly be fussy with what they ate—they were eating pine cones for goddess’ sake—but something about this seemed off.

      Not to mention how quiet and twitchy the hunting group was.

      Marco seemed to jump at every question, looking at Hikaru for answers for the most simple inquiries. What animal was it? Where did they find it? Did they have to chase away any other animals to get to it?

      More surprisingly was that Rei didn’t jump on the chance to mock him for it; the girl always seemed to find any excuse to put anybody down, but Marco was her favorite target who she seemed to torture and make fun of with sadistic glee. It was odd that she gave up the opportunity now.

      Hikaru was more composed, although he started to get snappish after the fifth question or so—something Rini never saw happen. Ventus wouldn’t answer any questions. He acted like he didn’t hear them which Rini knew was a bunch of bullshit, and Alicia seemed on the verge of crying.

      No, Rini may be only eight, but she wasn’t stupid or blind. They had done something, something bad. Something which would probably get them all in trouble. And because of that, she wasn’t sure she wanted to eat the meat.

      But after an hour of watching Alicia cook, when the bowl with the cut up chunks of meat was put in front of her, despite the nauseous feeling beginning to climb up her throat, she took a spoonful of food and put it in her mouth.

      Sweet, she thought, glancing up at the others. While for the most part, everyone was scarfing the food down, the Hylian girl noticed that for once Marco wasn’t inhaling his food but rather picking at it, like a bird might. Which was odd because he wasn’t a picky eater.

      He wasn’t the only one acting odd. Rei and Hikaru, who had the best manners of the group besides Ami and Leroy, had their mouths full of food as if they were chipmunks trying to store nuts for the winter. They would pour a bit of soup inside their mouth and swallow what they could before repeating the process. Very faintly, Rini could hear Ventus making a soft noise which he usually made whenever he saw someone wear unflattering clothes. And Alicia for once wasn’t asking anyone about her cooking, just poking at it miserably as if she had cooked something rotten.

      Glancing down at her food, Rini felt her throat constrict and she put her spoon down, fighting a sudden urge to cry.

      ###

      “Someone hit me,” Marco whispered.

      A moment later, a squeal of pain, as Rei fulfilled his request by slapping him across the face. Hard. He backpedaled before falling in the snowbank, holding his cheek as he looked at Rei with widened beady eyes.

      Normally a rebuke from Hikaru would be forthcoming, but this time there was silence. He—along with Ventus and Alicia—were staring at the trap, seeing a limp rabbit ensnared inside. The body they stole, a fresh corpse with no more living family to claim his body come spring, managed to hold them over for the past few days due to Alicia’s careful portioning. The extra energy and renewed vigor had finally paid off.

      No more eating the dead for them.

      Hopefully at any rate.

      Alicia sniffed, before choking up on tears and she buried her face in her hands as she began to sob. Something which was dangerous considering how cold it was.

      Drawing his sword, Ventus took a step forward only for Hikaru to hold out his hand in front of him, stopping him. There was a sudden glint and a knife appeared in the other boy’s hand.

      “Yours is too big,” he said softly, and Ventus nodded, lowering the sword and allowing the tip of it to bury itself in the snow, his eyes falling on the unmoving rabbit.

      It wasn’t as much as the body provided, but it wasn’t eating their own dead. His stomach growled hopefully as Hikaru cut the body free—not before breaking the rabbit’s neck—turning back to the rest of the children.

      “Let’s head back,” he said holding the rabbit up like a trophy. “Alicia can cook us a feast.”

      “I don’t know about that,” Alicia flushed, ducking her head shyly.

      Ventus frowned, thinking he heard something rustling, yet when there was nothing more, he shrugged his shoulders and sheathed his father’s sword.

      Must be the wind, he mused.

      “Still, we finally caught something,” Hikaru pointed out, smiling, walking past them, Marco stumbling to his feet. “Things are finally looking up for us. It’s even getting warmer out!”

      “Oh yes, because the blood in our veins isn’t freezing anymore means spring is in the air,” Rei shot back sarcastically. “Just in time for Year’s Beginning.”

      “That’s in a week or so isn’t—” Alicia started to say but a piercing scream shot through the air, and all of them turned around to see crimson blood stain the white snow and a wolf maw wrapped tightly around Marco’s throat.

      It was no wolf Ventus had ever seen before.

      It had glowing green eyes, despite the sun was still shining brightly in the sky, and it seemed to be hunched over and—unless his eyes were deceiving him—holding Marco between its front two claws like a Hylian might. This didn’t even begin to mention the two long talons on each of its front paws which were also decidedly not normal.

      Marco’s pudgy fingers clawed at the wolf’s maw, trying to pry it open weakly, air escaping his throat but no sound came out.

      Ventus stood frozen in fear, his feet rooted firmly to the spot as if they were frozen there by the ice and snow itself. Even as blood dripped down from Marco’s neck, and the boy’s interlocked with his own, pleading silently for his help, he didn’t rush forward like a hero would have. He stayed still like a rabbit might, spellbound as if the wolf had cast some sort of magic paralysis over him.

      That’s when a figure rushed to Marco’s rescue, and it was one nobody would have expected.

      Rei.

      Brandishing a stick she must have picked up from the ground, Rei dug the jagged end into the beast’s eye. The howl of pain snapped Ven out of his frozen stupor, as it did with everyone else.

      “Run!” Hikaru roared, and Alicia took no time in doing just that, screaming herself as she sprinted in the snow toward the village walls. However, Ventus did not join her or Hikaru, who was running as fast as he could himself. Instead, he drew his sword once more and ran forward to join Rei, cursing the fact he had even hesitated in the first place.

      The wolf, dropping Marco, reared back, and slashed at Rei, cutting across the girl’s face. The rough girl, who seemed to enjoy inflicting pain, suddenly didn’t seem to like it so much when she was on the receiving end. She dropped to the snow with a loud wail, covering her face, and in particular her left eye.

      Ventus took advantage of the opportunity and slashed his blade downward. He could feel it digging into the beast’s flesh, resisting him. However, he didn’t train this hard to fail at his first real fight and with an enraged yell, pushed all the way down.

      That’s when those green eyes turned to look at him, and Ventus was shocked at the fact that not only were they pupiless, but he had never seen something so full of malice. Its maw opened, and Ventus suddenly saw his life before his eyes and his thoughts immediately went to Rini.

      He would be leaving her all alone.

      I should have ran, he thought dizzily, taking a step back.

      However, the pain he was expecting never came. The beast let out an anguished cry and fell to the ground, unmoving.

      Staring down in shock, Ventus panted heavily before prodding it with the tip of his sword. Nothing. Just to be safe though, he hefted the sword above his head once more and brought it down on the neck of the wolf. It went through but removing it took a considerable amount of more effort, but the head was split off.

      “Son of a bitch!”

      Quickly being reminded of their current situation, Ventus looked up to see Rei had crawled over to Marco, whose eyes were beginning to glaze over—the girl shaking him hard. Blood was dripping out of her eye, and Ventus could see two long scar streaks where the wolf had struck her running across her face. Still, she looked very much alive.

      The same couldn’t be said for the other boy.

      “Come on fatass! Get up!”

      Marco’s eyes looked over at her, his mouth moving and an odd sound escaped his lips, then there was no more movement. Ventus could hear no more labored breathing. Squatting down in the snow next to Rei, who was trying to apply pressure to the wound, he put his ear against Marco’s heart—though he already couldn’t hear it—before turning to the girl to say what they both knew to be true.

      “He’s dead.”

      ###

      Rei looked like a mummy—her face was wrapped up in bandages, and they had to be cleaned constantly. She only let Ami or Ven attend to her wounds, snapping at anybody else who drew near—especially Alicia and Hikaru. There were some people she tolerated to a degree, as in the sense she wasn't crueler to them, but her attitude in general had taken a nosedive.

      There were times Ventus wasn't sure if she was more obnoxious than Jinora.

      The group worried there would be an infection, but it seemed Ami at least knew what she was doing. However, it was the day prior to Year’s End, and the older girl announced what was feared but without a healer, a foregone conclusion; Rei would no longer have any use of her left eye.

      “At least you have your life though,” Alicia offered meekly only for Rei to glare at her through the use of her good eye, causing the younger girl to shrink into herself. While the older girl had a sharp look to her, the bandages with some of the bloody scars peeking out only added to the effect.

      “No thanks to you,” Rei sneered, hissing slightly when Ami’s rag pressed too hard against her wound. “For all yer talk of family, ya sure have an easy time abandoning them. Easy come, easy go.”

      “Rei—” Hikaru started before Rei snapped at him too.

      “Don't patronize me, Nox! You were the one who started all this! Let’s all be a family, you said! Let's remind the others we are part of the village! Yet how is it only I and the idiot wannabe-hero were the ones to jump in to save fatass!” she yelled.

      “If it wasn't for me, you would be dead!” Hikaru snapped back.

      “No, if it wasn't for Ventus, I would be dead,” Rei replied coldly, and Ven shifted uncomfortably, not exactly wanting to be brought into the middle of this even if it was true.

      That's when she looked at him, as if peering straight into his soul. It wasn't eerie like how Eli’s was, but somehow it made him uncomfortable all the same. Just like Eli though, he refused to look away.

      “You take after your father,” she said finally, leaning back as Ami finished her work. “Careful with that. Heroes die before their time after all.”

      ###

      It was on the Feast Day of Year’s End when Rini figured out the universe had it out for them. It only would be later would she fully understand her role in what had happened.

      Right now though, peering up at Perseus and some other adults with no family, all she could feel was excitement. The group was beginning to fracture after Rei’s injury, and now they had actual grown ups besides Leroy, they might be able to reach their goal.

      “Well?” Perseus snapped. “Let us in, brat.”

      Rini quickly stepped aside and allowed them passage. Leroy’s pounding paused for once, and he looked up from the table he was making now that the house itself was fixed. She wasn't sure where he got the wood, but Rini didn't ask. Ever since the first time the group brought back meat, she learned to ignore the twisting in her gut.

      Sometimes there were things you just didn't want to know.

      “What are you doing here?” Rei demanded, causing another adult—a balding man desperately trying to hide it with a terrible combover—to do a double take.

      “Goddesses!” he exclaimed, and Rini remembered him vaguely as Rolas, the town drunkard. He had been forced to go cold turkey when the town’s alcohol ran dry. She remembered him being a right bastard after that; everything seemed to irritate him, and he was constantly shaking. Even now he was fidgety. “The fuck happened to you?!”

      “I saw your face and got an allergic reaction,” came the smartass response.

      “Rei got attacked by a wolf,” Leroy supplied helpfully, his voice slow, as if he was thinking out his words. His eyes drooped to the floor. “Marco got eaten.”

      “Shit how the fuck are you kids still alive?” asked a woman this time—Anna, Rini remembered.

      She had the same name as her doll, though if she had to be honest, she thought her doll was much prettier than the real thing. Of course, her Anna had Ventus’ homemade clothing, but Rini wasn’t sure even if adult Anna had the benefits of Ven’s needle, she could look half as pretty as her doll.

      “Well, it wasn’t thanks to you,” Gene complained with a growl. “We lose ‘em as quick as they come in. So what are you doing here?”

      “Well, this is the day fer giving thanks and starting the year on a new foot, ain’t it boy?” Perseus asked, sitting down on the crate they used for chairs, once again threatening to cough up a lung. After a full minute of his organ refusing once more to escape via his mouth, the elderly man continued. “I’ve been thinking what you and the girl have been sayin’, and I approached these fellers about it too. Yer right, those bastards don’t have mine—or any of these sad fucks—best interests at heart.”

      Threading his knobbly fingers together, he leaned forward, his eyes gleaming. He sort of looked like a skeleton, and a shiver ran down her spine.

      “So I was thinkin’—we all was—that we start over,” he said. “After all, we have an idea which will make sure we are all live comfortably.”

      ###

      Feast Day was supposed to be starting the new year on a good foot, but since Perseus came with Rolas and Anna—more adults beginning to stream over after that—things only seemed to get worse as Ventus was concerned.

      Year’s Beginning, quite easily the best three day holiday of the year, had nothing going on. No singing. No dancing. No magic shows or shows of strength, and no telling of the creation of their world.

      It was like everyone forgot where they came from. That they were all Farore’s children.

      When Ventus first joined this rebellion with Rini, it was because they had nowhere else to go, but it was also because Hikaru’s vision to remind the rest of the villagers they were part of Farore’s family too and the village couldn’t survive without them that he stayed.

      Now though, instead of trying to work together with everyone, a coup was being planned.

      “Are you all, listening to yourselves?” Ventus demanded, stamping his foot down as he glowered at the gathered individuals.

      There were a few members from when he first joined left—Gene, Rei, Hikaru, Alicia and of course, Rini—and besides Ami and Leroy who joined not that long afterward. Now there was a group of thirty or so gathered in the home, and they were mostly new faces. At least in the sense of they weren’t part of the rebellion until the past couple of weeks.

      “What you are suggesting is straight out murder. And for what? We’ve been managing to get food on our own, and come spring, the village is going to need us to function. We’ll just refuse to help until they apologize and make up for what they’ve done.”

      “Ya live in a delusional world, boy,” Perseus snorted, hogging the only chair they had so far. In the corner, Leroy was working away at making more, and he had been humming loudly and obnoxiously since the meeting began, making it hard for Ventus to concentrate. “They’ve been aimin’ to kill us all winter, ‘cept they wanted to make it nice and slow. Just like I bet it was for your mother.”

      “Why you—” Ventus snarled, his rage erupting, only for Hikaru to throw his hand in front of him before he could lunge forward and beat up the old man.

      “Ventus!” Hikaru snapped. “Stop it! Perseus has a point, and you know it! Plus, I’m not going to let fighting happen among our family members.”

      Ventus wheeled around and glowered at the taller boy. Since he joined two months ago now, he had nothing but respect for Hikaru. He lead the group with a calm, rational head and tried to minimize the loss of life. They hadn’t exactly always succeed, and while Ventus felt he should have at least stayed when Marco got attacked, he had still tried.

      However, now since these adults joined, Hikaru seemed to have been taken in by their murder talk.

      Everyone is part of Farore’s family!” Ventus yelled angrily. “If we want to beat the Gerudo, we can’t be fighting among ourselves! We need to work together.”

      “You’re the only one who thinks that here, boy,” Perseus growled. “Face it; it’s them or us. That’s how the world worked before, and how it works now. All that matters is getting you and yours ahead. That’s all. Either ya accept that, or you die.”

      “You can’t tell me everyone believes that,” Ven scoffed looking around. “Right?”

      However, nobody looked at him, eyes averting. Even when his eyes landed on Rini, who was hugging Anna—her doll, not the ugly older woman—close to her chest, her eyes drooped down.

      All he was met with was silence.

      ###

      Despite it being the middle of the Month of Spirit, there was still snow on the ground, though it was steadily getting warmer. Expectations were snow melt in the next week or so, and perhaps even rain.

      Though despite the good news, the entire village was on edge, as if it was dangling over the side of a cliff where one wrong move could send everyone to their deaths. As far as Rei was concerned though, they were already plummeting down. Blood would be shed before the snow melted completely away, that much was certain.

      She didn’t care about that though. She really didn’t care for much of the remaining villagers. However, she had a life debt she owed and was determined to pay back.

      The sun wouldn’t be up for hours still, but she crept over to where Ventus and Rini slept, away from everyone else after the increasing spats between Ventus and literally everyone else. While she respected his moral high ground, it was just going to get him killed—literally. She heard talks between Perseus and Hikaru, plus some other of the new blood, saying Ventus could be a liability, and probably already told the villagers of their plan.

      If he was smart, he would have done just that, but Ventus wasn’t smart—he honestly seemed to believe his words alone could change their minds. Even if people agreed with him, they weren’t going to be stupid enough to say it out loud; it was obvious to everyone but the hero wannabe that the power here had shifted.

      “Wake up,” Rei whispered, shaking Ventus, who was clinging to his father’s sword in its sheath like it was a teddy bear. The boy’s eyes squeezed shut before fluttering open.

      “Rei what are you doing here?” he asked groggily, sitting up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Looking around, his brow furrowed. “It’s still in the middle of the night.”

      “No shit,” Rei growled. “Listen, you need to take your sister and leave. Now.”

      “What?” Ventus asked, becoming more alert now, and with it, his voice louder. “Why?”

      She clamped her hand over the idiot’s mouth and looked around fearfully before glaring at him.

      “Quiet!” she hissed. “Look, dumbass, you have become a risk—a threat. They think you’re going to tell the others in the village—”

      “I haven’t yet—” Ventus protested, after pushing her hand away, but Rei plowed on right through.

      “—Because that would be the smart thing to do. And because I don’t think you’d understand it if I said it any other ways, I’ll say it in simple terms that even a stupid idiot like you can understand; they’re going to kill you,” she hissed. “So you need to take your kid sister and leave right now.”

      “I don’t understand…” Ventus whispered, his eyes going wide with shock, and Rei figured it just might be quicker to wake up his younger sister. She seemed like she was the smart one of the two after all.

      “Ngh … what’s going on?” Rini grumbled, and upon seeing Rei, became more alert. “Rei?”

      “Your brother pissed off people playing hero, and now they want to kill him,” Rei told her, deciding to get to the point. “So you need to leave. Now.”

      Luckily, Rini was quicker to grasp the implications than her brother and quickly shot up, grabbing her doll and shoving it in the satchel and shrugged on her cloak before throwing on her gloves and scarf.

      “Come on, Ven,” she hissed, grabbing his cloak, throwing it over his shoulders before hitting him in the face with his gloves and scarf as well. “Let’s go!”

      “But—”

      “I already lost Mom and Uncle Killian! I’m not losing you too!” Rini growled, standing up.

      That seemed to snap Ventus to attention, and he buttoned up his cloak before strapping his sword to his back, looking mournful as he did so. Finally he turned to Rei.

      “Why are you helping us?” he asked quietly.

      “Because,” she said, shrugging slightly. “This world needs a hero—even if they don’t last long.”




      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

      The post was edited 2 times, last by Ruki ().

    • Back To Chapter Index

      Chapter Eleven:
      A Safe Harbor

      The plains of Hyrule Field were vast and unassuming.

      The grass was long–when not covered in snow–and the trees became less the further you moved away from the Kokiri Forest. It was quiet, like the world was holding its breath. The only sound which was being made was the soft crunching of snow as two figures crept over a hill.

      “Ven, where are we going to go?” Rini asked, her hand tucked into his as she looked around nervously.

      Dawn had broken not that long ago, and once more they were mostly safe from the poes and stalchildren at least, but wolves were another story. Their father’s sword was unsheathed and ready to stab or slash at anything which dared threaten them, though so far they were able to avoid trouble; between Ven’s ability to sense eyes and acute hearing and Rini’s unnatural ability to sense heat like moth to a flame, the two kept away from any monsters.

      “Lake Hylia,” Ven whispered. “Auntie Amaya and Uncle Tori live there, right? They’re dad’s friends–I’m sure they’ll take us in.”

      Even though the words left his lips, he wasn’t completely sure of them. Especially since it was his fault Uncle Killian died, though he was sure they didn’t know that … yet.

      However, it wasn’t like they had anywhere else to go. Kakariko Village already turned them away once, and the thought of those hateful eyes made his blood boil. He wasn’t even sure if they would be any different than the villagers at Sakirven. Castle Town was completely obliterated, so no use returning there.

      “What if they’re not there?” Rini shot back, causing Ven to press his lips together.

      He didn’t think of that.

      “We’ll think of something then,” he decided, figuring that was a problem for his future self.

      ###

      It was a damn good thing Alicia showed him what was edible and how to find hidden food, even in this terrible weather. It may not be below freezing anymore, but the slightly diminished chance of freezing to death didn’t exactly help the fact snow still covered the ground, making it hard to forage.

      “Should’ve grabbed some food before we left,” Rini complained, stopping for a minute to bend down to study a footprint left in the snow. It showed an imprint of some bones wandering toward the north. Ventus pressed his lips together and looked around, his sword drawn.

      Stalchildren.

      With the constant threat of the walking skeletons–never mind the poes and wolves–it was safer to walk around during the day when they weren’t around. He wasn’t quite sure why stalchildren only came alive at night, but it was something they quickly learned when they had to flee Sakirven that night before the sun rose. It was terrifying, trying to keep the moving skeletons with their glowing red eyes at bay only for them to collapse into a pile of bones on the ground. At least they learned they could defend themselves if the need arose–Uncle Killian’s lessons were coming in handy–and he learned more importantly his paranoia was on point because it seemed without fail, he was able to pinpoint one monster down and its location if they ever drew too close.

      Poes.

      Ventus wasn’t quite sure how to fight a ghost if you weren’t a Sheikah. While he was sure Lady Impa or even Lenna and Tessa if they were still alive could take on the malicious spirits, no problem, it wasn’t like he knew how to use his Sheikah blood. And quite frankly, he didn’t feel like it was something he was allowed to invoke anymore. With wolves and stalchildren, if you hit them enough, they would die–or at least, he thought the stalchildren might sort of die, but he wasn’t really sure if they could be killed since they were already dead. When he whacked at a couple that drew too close with his sword, even when their bodies were broken apart, their bones still moved and twitched.

      “It’s not like we had a lot of time to prepare,” he reminded her, gesturing for her to follow him.

      The sun would be descending soon, and they would need to find camp. Sleeping in trees, while not the most comfortable, at least provided some level of protection if you didn’t fall off. However, Rini didn’t move, her eyes turning more toward the west.

      “A fire is nearby,” she announced after a minute before pointing in the direction she was looking. “That way.”

      Ventus furrowed his brow and looked off in the distance, and sure enough he could see the faintest outline of smoke. Wherever there was fire, Rini was sure to find it.

      “Being a pyro is good for something, isn’t it?” he muttered to himself, only to receive a bitter glower in return.

      ###

      The walls of the village reminded Ventus a bit of home with how tall they were. As they walked around the village looking for a gate as the sun started to dip below the horizon, he couldn't help but notice how well built it was. Nothing at all like the shoddy quickly constructed walls of Sakirven. Not that Sakirven had really been home, not like Castle Town had been, but it had been the last place Ven had felt even remotely safe.

      Honestly, it reminded him of Leroy’s work with the quality and well maintained appearance. Still there were spots which looked less worked over than others, and he couldn't help but take note of them.

      The sun was half-way below the horizon when they found themselves in front of the gate. Rini was shaking like a leaf, the two of them being out for hours now. It would be fantastic if either of them was a caster of any kind. He would give anything right now for some fireballs.

      “Hello?” he yelled out. There was no answer. Pressing his lips together, he cupped his hands over his mouth and hollered even louder. “Hello?!”

      Nobody answered.

      “Why aren’t they answering?” Rini asked him. “There are people inside.”

      Ven wasn’t quite sure how she knew this for certain but supposed if there was a fire and it wasn’t destroying everything, there were people inside to stop it from burning everything to the ground. He ran a hand over his mouth, before pressing his finger next to his lips. Approaching the gate, he pressed his ear and strained his ears, and very faintly he could hear some talking.

      “…are they gone?”
      “…sounded…kids…”
      who cares … no exceptions.”

      Removing his head from the wood, he turned his head and shook it. Walking back to Rini, he glared back at the walls.

      “They're not going to let us in,” he whispered. Rini whimpered, clinging to him.

      “So we have to sleep in the trees again?” she asked, her voice cracking, tears beginning to swell up. “I don't want to Ventus. I see wolves circling underneath, looking up at me with their glowing eyes just waiting. Not to mention what other things also hide at night!” She buried her face in her hands. “I just wanna go home!”

      “We can't go home! It's destroyed and probably swarming with filthy Gerudo!” he snapped, irritated. What part of going to Lake Hylia did she not get? Also, for someone so obsessed with fire, it was like she magically forgot Castle Town went up in literal flames. “And I never said we were going to be sleeping in the trees tonight! We’re going to sleep inside! And eat right too!”

      “But you said they aren’t gonna let us in,” Rini pointed out, sniffling now, choking back sobs.

      “There’s more than one way to get in,” Ven said gesturing for her to follow him. “Let’s go.”

      ###

      Ventus crouched down and gestured for Rini to stay quiet. Pressing his ear against the wood again, he listened for the sound of anyone nearby. While he could hear some voices, they sounded like they were whispered and it was impossible to make out what they were saying.

      Taking off the satchel and handing it to Rini, he judged the distance in height to the top before taking a few steps back, running up against the wall and slamming his sword into the wood a foot or so above his head, making a nice thunk sound.

      “Ven–” Rini started to protest with a hiss only for the boy to silence her by covering her mouth, pressing his ear against the wood again, straining to hear what was going on inside.

      What … that?
      Monsters?”
      “Can’t … wall.”

      The voices quieted again but just to be sure, Ven waited a bit longer to make sure they–or some friends–didn’t come back. When he was sure they were gone, he removed his hand from Rini’s mouth.

      “I’m going to go inside and look for some rope or something. Stay right here and don’t move,” he instructed her, his mind slowly constructing a hastily put together plan. One which would ensure his sister’s survival at the very least. “If I don’t come back when the sun is completely set, try to take dad’s sword out and go to the next town if you can.”

      “No!” Rini cried, tears in her eyes. “I’m not leaving you! I’ll … I’ll sit out here and freeze to death if I have to, so you have to come back! Promise me, promise me you won’t leave me!”

      Ven grimaced, feeling a headache coming on. He knew that look–she was serious. Last time she threw a temper tantrum and held her breath until she passed out just because he couldn’t go to school with him. It was hard enough already with her life on his shoulders, and he wasn’t even sure he wouldn’t get caught. Now he really needed to be sure he didn’t.

      “Rini,” he sighed, dragging his hand across his face before walking over to her and giving her a tight hug. “I’d never willingly leave you. I’ll promise I’ll come back to you, okay? Your big brother is going to protect you, so just believe in me.”

      Rini sniffled and hugged him back tightly before letting go, biting her bottom lip as it trembled. Ven didn’t want to just leave her like this, and each second he spent thinking about this plan, the more insane it sounded. However, it wasn’t like he had any other choice–they needed actual rest and actual food, and a village would provide both. It wasn’t a very heroic thing to do, he knew, but letting Rini die was even worse and completely unacceptable. He was too weak to do anything about Mom’s and Uncle Killian's deaths, and if he had acted quicker, Marco would still be alive and Rei wouldn’t have lost an eye as well. He wouldn’t screw up with Rini too.

      Looking at the sword he had dug into the wood, he took off his mittens and put them into the satchel. He would need all the grabbing power he could get.

      Taking a few steps back, he ran full force at the wall, his foot hitting against the wood, grabbing the hilt of the sword and hoisting himself up so he was standing on the flat of the blade. Problem was, there was still another foot or so of wall. Moving his back foot toward the hilt of the blade, he licked his finger and held it up. The wind was on his back.

      The wind was always on his side.

      Pushing forward, he launched himself at the wall, his fingers digging into the wood at the top and he grunted, his muscles straining as he lifted himself over and toppled over the edge.

      ###

      Rini sat next to the wall, blowing into her hands, watching the snow fall lightly on the field around them. Their father’s sword remain firmly stuck in the wood above her head, and just out of reach. Kind of like how Daddy always was.

      She wasn’t quite sure what Ven was doing inside the walls, but she hadn’t heard any screams so far, so that had to be good, right? Although her hearing was nowhere as good as her brother’s seemed to be. Though to be honest, nobody seemed to hear as well as Ventus. While Hylians had the ability to Listen–after all, they were ones closest to the goddesses–it seemed Ventus was especially gifted without even trying or honestly being aware of it.

      I wonder if he really is the chosen hero like he claims he is, she wondered, digging at the snow before a shiver went through her. If the goddesses gave him some mission ... After all … he’s the most reliable person I know.

      Yes, while she didn’t exactly have the best picking for such models, she couldn’t think of a single time Ventus never came through in the end. Like the time when she wanted nothing more than a doll. All her classmates had dolls, and they made up all these different stories with them–different stories than knights for once, unlike when she had to play with Ventus.

      She had begged Mommy for one, but despite saying she would get her one when they had time, she never did. Ven, a week later, presented her with Anna. Though she didn’t know how he learned she wanted a doll–probably heard her with that stupid hearing of his. Her doll of course wasn’t anything special, not like the other girl’s dolls. There were bits of straw stuck out of her, and her hair seemed to be a mix of yarn and straw. Her face was put together of lost buttons and knotted thread. Her clothes were clearly made out of whatever pieces of fabric scavenged up.

      But to her, Anna was–is–the most beautiful thing in the entire world. She wasn’t like the other girls’ dolls, and that’s what Rini loved about her.

      Suddenly something hit her on the head, dragging her out of her thoughts, and when she reached up to see what it was, her hand found itself at the bottom of a brown coiled rope. It looked like it was starting to fray in some spots, making it feel scratchy, and greying with age–obviously used many times over the years.

      “Rini?” Ven’s voice sounded muffled through the wood, and she pressed her ear against the smooth bark, her heart thumping in her chest.

      “I’m here,” she replied hurriedly, moving her numb fingers, which caused pricks of pain, like she was being stabbed with a bunch of tiny needles, but she ignored it. Just the sound of his voice caused her heart to beat slower, the flicker of fear which had slowly been building up in her to be snuffed out.

      “Good,” she could hear her brother breathe a sigh of relief. “I’m holding on to the other side–climb up the rope. And, ah, pull out Dad’s sword will you?”

      Rini grunted at that, wondering how exactly Ventus expected her to pull off such a feat. It sounded like he stuck the metal in there pretty tight, but even if it was a reminder of dad, it was the best thing he left them–a chance at survival. Even if she wasn’t sword crazy like Ventus, she knew they needed a weapon and nothing could beat Goron steel.

      Grasping the rope, she pulled on it to make sure it wouldn’t break on her. When it held firm, she adjusted the sack and slipped off her mittens, sticking them into the bag next to Ventus, tucked in next to Anna, and grabbed the rope. Putting one foot up against the wall, she began to walk up, sliding down slightly due to the smooth wood but when she got about halfway, she needed to stop.

      Grasping the sword hilt, she tugged on it with one hand. It came out a bit but not all the way.

      “Hurry up, Rini,” Ven urged her from the other side.

      “Hold on, I’m getting your stupid sword,” she shot back before giving it another, firmer tug and it came free. She almost lost her balance, but she somehow–barely–managed to hold on. There was no way she could climb up with it in hand though. Luckily, there was a simple solution for that. “Watch out, I’m throwing it over!”

      “Wha–” was all that Ventus could get out before she let her arm fall back, and as she chucked the sword over the wall, she could hear a–

      “Oh shit!” from the other side. Then–“Holy fuck Rini are you trying to kill me?!”

      “I don’t know how you expected me to climb up with that weighing me down,” Rini shot back, scampering up the rest of the way and hopping over the fence, landing next to her brother. She saw that the sword missed him–by less than a foot. She felt her heart drop in her stomach.

      It was a lot closer to hitting Ventus than she was comfortable with.

      “...Sorry,” she whispered, Ventus tugging on the rope and quickly pulling it back toward him, coiling it up as he did so.

      “It’s okay,” he assured her, handing her the rope. “Here. Put this in the bag. We might need it later.”

      Taking out their mittens, handing Ventus his, she shoved the rope inside the bag as neat as possible, Ven drawing the sword from the snow and slipping it into his scabbard on his back.

      “So, now what?” she asked, glancing around fretfully. They were in a back part of the village, hidden in the shadow of a building. However, she was sure if they started wandering the village, stepping into the light, they would be caught for sure–there was people all around them. She wasn’t sure what would happen if they got caught, but it couldn’t be good.

      Ventus, however, pressed a finger to his lip before sliding on his mittens and taking her hand in his, squeezing it tightly. The warmth of his hand comforted her better than any dancing flames could ever hope to do.

      “Follow me,” he whispered. “And don’t make a sound. I found a place where we can sleep tonight. It’s where I found this rope; I think it used to be a barn before they killed all their animals. We can sleep in the lofts until sunrise.”

      “How did you find it?” she murmured as they crept along the backside of the building. Pressed flush against the wall, Ventus peeking slightly over the edge, his eyes darting about. Finally he turned back to look at her, and gave a slight smirk.

      “Secret.”

      ###

      Dawn was coming again, and Rini was sleeping soundly next to him, tucked underneath some hay–the warmest both of them had been in days. Ventus ached to be sleeping next to the fire in Sakirven, or better yet, back at home in Castle Town waiting for Dad to get home, but this was their life now.

      It was just him and Rini, and he needed to provide for her, even if it meant bending his morals and breaking whatever laws this country had left.

      Slipping out of the hay, he paused and piled more on her, both to keep her warm and hidden. While he was sure this barn was now out of use, and he made sure they were tucked away in the shadows of the loft, it didn’t mean people wouldn’t ever come inside.

      He promised her a good night’s rest, but each night they stayed here, the greater chance they would get discovered. So they had to leave before morning broke–but not before he fulfilled his second promise to her.

      Landing softly on his feet, he walked to the door, taking a deep breath and let it out and strained his ears to catch whatever sound he could.

      He could hear Rini breathing as if she were right next to him, and he shivered slightly, feeling slightly unnerved. It always bothered him how people so far away could sound so close, and he didn’t understand why nobody else seemed to have this problem. He could hear some footsteps further away, crunching in the snow and arguments–shouting matches–in some homes and lovemaking in others.

      Carefully pushing the door to the barn open, the wood scraping irritably against the snow, he peeked his head out, his eyes searching in the darkness. However, while he did see the flicker of a lantern in the distance, there were no sounds immediately close to him.

      Darting across the village, being careful to stick close to the shadows of the building, he came to a stop at an unassuming wooden building. However, this one, unlike the others, had a heavy lock on it. Ventus had watched villagers earlier pull food from within these doors; he wasn’t quite sure why there was nobody guarding the warehouse, but he wasn’t going to complain.

      Pulling a small bit of wire he had found earlier from his pocket, he quickly removed his mittens and placed his ear next to the door. Inserting the pick he began to fiddle with the lock.

      “But how did they break in? Did they have a key?” Ventus asked, looking up at his father, wide-eyed as his dad looked down at him, face full of food. Kubera Agni looked surprised before chuckling a bit, swallowing as he put down his fork.

      “They didn’t need a key; they picked the lock. You know how each key is different? Well that’s because each lock has these metal pins that need to be moved up a certain degree,” his dad explained, but before he could go any further in his explanation, mom gave dad a dirty look from across the table.

      “Stop trying to turn our son into a delinquent!” she chided. “He gets into enough trouble without you helping him.”

      Still, it seemed despite Ceres Agni’s best intentions, he was becoming what his mother didn’t want him to be.

      “Come on you stupid thing,” he whispered, looking around fearfully, hearing a door slam somewhere in the distance, jarring his concentration. His heart beat painfully fast in his chest, as he tickled the pins–it seemed to take forever as he fought with it until he finally heard a click.

      Quickly trying the padlock, he growled when it wouldn’t come free. Once more, with renewed vigor, he began to pick at the lock. Another click. Still the padlock wouldn’t budge. A third. A fourth. It wasn’t until the fifth click did he finally wrench the lock free and he quickly dropped it in the snow.

      Pushing the door open, his heart sank upon realizing there wasn’t much he could skim off from the top without someone noticing it was gone. It was clear the Gerudo came here as well.

      Still, it wasn’t like he could just walk away, and instead he darted into the warehouse, pulling the door shut behind him as he looked around for something–anything–to grab for food.

      Spotting some squash and apples, he quickly put a couple of those into the satchel he brought with him. He also put in some sweet potatoes, and after a moment of thought, carrots. Buttoning up the satchel, he once more darted to the door and closed his eyes and listened.

      Still the same fighting. Still the same soft groaning and moans of someone coupling–but no feet crunching in the snow.

      Moving quickly, he pushed the door open and then shut, making sure to replace the padlock and sprinted back to where Rini should be waking up shortly, a heaviness in his heart at what he just had to do. He didn’t enjoy stealing from the villagers, especially when they already had so little to begin with. Part of him wanted to put the food back, but it wasn’t like he had much choice.

      Plus, it’s not like I stole a lot, he tried to assure himself, but he knew from personal experience with such low food stores, every bit of rationed food helped.

      And once more, his mind went back to the argument he had what now seemed like months ago with Hikaru and Perseus. About how all what mattered was getting yourself and those who were on your side ahead, damned everyone else.

      And suddenly he felt very sick.

      ###

      The Agni siblings had made lunch the next day, munching on the apples Ventus had stolen.

      The sun had begun its descent, noon had come and gone not that long ago, and now they were following it toward hopefully Lake Hylia. Ventus knew the lake was somewhere in the southwestern bit of Hyrule, and it felt like if they kept following the treeline they should come across it eventually instead of the valley where the Gerudo lived.

      That was something which needed to be avoided at all costs.

      “Do you really think Aunt Amaya and Uncle Tori will be at Lake Hylia?” Rini asked, once again pressing the same tired question for the twentieth time. Ven was getting really tired of answering it again and again and again.

      Yes,” he said angrily, taking a bite out his apple. “Auntie Amaya is a really strong mage, and it’s not like there is a lot of villages out that way, so there isn’t much of a reason for Gerudo to go there, right? Pretty sure Auntie just smited any Gerudo who got too close. Not to mention Uncle Tori was in the war too, so he knows what he’s doing.”

      “If she smited them though, then the Gerudo didn’t come back, wouldn’t their friends go looking for them?” Rini pressed.

      “They’re there, Rini,” Ventus said in the same tone of voice Mom used to use when there were no more arguments to be had. Rini thankfully fell silent after it–she was always better at listening to their mother than he was at any rate.

      The sun eventually started to set lower in the sky, and Ven was already starting to look for viable trees to sleep in, already starting to feel the eyes starting to draw closer when Rini finally announced–

      “There’s a fire not that far away.”

      “Can we make it by sundown?” Ventus asked, frowning. “I don’t want a repeat of what happened at the last place, and looking for trees to sleep in at night is a lot more dangerous. You know that.”

      “I know,” Rini said, hugging Anna closer to her. “I just rather not sleep in the trees if we don’t have to.”

      Ventus frowned. He didn’t exactly blame her; it wasn’t exactly comfortable, and with monsters lurking below–some of which were wearing a human skin–he didn’t exactly feel safe enough to sleep. He was only getting a couple hours of sleep every night, and by the looks of things, Rini was getting less.

      “We’ll walk for a couple more hours, and if it doesn’t get closer, we’re camping for the night,” he decided.

      ###

      It was with the last dying embers of the sun did they see the village, Rini, of course, catching sight of it before Ventus did.

      “Are you sure that’s the village?” Ventus asked in disbelief. Rini turned and looked up at him and practically glowered.

      “Look, I don’t question your crazy hearing thing. Don’t question me about fire,” she snapped.

      “It’s literally a mini forest in the middle of the fucking Hyrulean Plains, of course I’m going to question it!” Ventus insisted loudly, gesturing at ‘the village’ which was more of towering line of trees surrounded by shrubbery right where the supposed village was supposed to be.

      “Well, we can still sleep in the trees there, now can’t we?” Rini shot back, marching her way forward, Ventus swearing as he ran after her.

      As they approached this tree line in the middle of the plains, it became more obvious that it wasn’t just a mini forest. There were some larger, thicker trees but between them smaller trees, and all their branches were weaved together. In between those cracks, vines and moss and other smaller foliage had grown and weaved together. It had created a thick barrier, so thick and integrated that Ven could not see through the cracks.

      It was a wall.

      Rini glanced at Ventus with a condescending smirk on her face. Ventus decided to ignore that, preferring to push forward. Just because there was a village didn’t mean they would let them in; he learned that first hand from the last village. He had also never seen a wall like this one before. However, this would be easier to climb at least and sneak in.

      As they drew closer, he called out.

      “Hello?”

      There wasn’t a response, but as he listened for voices as he had with the previous town, it was a lot more muffled and harder to discern. How thick was this wall? Sharing a look with Rini, he wondered if he should just chance it and climb over the wall. He was always good at climbing things. Rini on the other hand …

      “Stay close,” he commanded, taking her hand as they approached the walls and began to make his way around, looking for some sort of entrance. If necessary, they could just scale the walls again.

      They moved along the living wall of trees and plants for a few minutes before they found the entrance. It was like a small tunnel of plants, vines, and branches woven together. There was a woven gate over the entrance. However, it was not as thickly woven as the walls were. There was a more obvious frame of branches coiled and wrapped together to suggest a gate. They formed hinges on thicker trees. There were larger gaps and cracks in the gate that allowed them to see through it more.

      Almost as soon as they laid eyes on this gate, it was opening. A man and a woman rushed out to greet them.

      “Our lookout just spotted you!” gasped the man. He was middle aged but lean in build with a thick brown beard on his face.

      “Are you two out here all alone?” asked the woman, looking around as if hoping to see others with them, maybe an adult. She looked younger, probably in her early twenties. Her blond hair was tied back in a ponytail.

      “Yes, it's just me and my sister,” Ventus sighed in relief at the warm welcome. It wasn't exactly what he was expecting, but recent experiences set a low bar to overcome. “If we could just stay for the night …”

      “Of course!” the man barked. “You can stay for as long as you like. In fact, there’s no reason for you to leave at all. It’s dangerous outside these days.”

      “Nouka never turns anyone away,” stated the woman confidently. “Please, come right this way.”

      They walked with them back to the open gates. It was shaded and much darker inside the tunnel of branches and vines. There was an earthy, forest smell inside. A young man, perhaps of age, was climbing down a ladder made of branches that extended up into a hole in the top of the plant tunnel. He hopped down, skipping the last few steps to land before them. He ran a hand through his dark brown hair, his eyes wide when he laid eyes upon Ven and Rini.

      “Holy cow, so you really weren’t my imagination,” said the young man. “Get inside! You need food and rest, eh?”

      “Oh, uhm, yes,” Ventus said a bit shocked at the sudden hospitality, the fact he stole from the other village now stabbing at his conscious even more.

      Maybe if I just explained the situation, they would have shared their food … he thought, gripping his sister's hand even tighter.

      He wondered who this Nouka was. The way they talked, this person sounded like the leader.

      “How did you find this place?” Rini marveled, looking around. She had never seen anything like this, and if she didn't know about the fire, they might not have known people were inside.

      The young man smirked, folding his arms over his chest with pride. “Well, you don’t just find places like this. Heh, forests don’t naturally form walls and gates like these. Nouka made all of this for us.”

      “Here, I’ll take you to Nouka,” said the woman as she and the older man pulled the gates closed. “It’s best you meet him anyway. He would come to greet you himself eventually. He always does with new arrivals.”

      The man reached and grabbed a wooden spear he had left propped against the tunnel wall. The woman also grabbed one of her own. It seemed they had left these weapons in the tunnel as to not alarm them outside. It was dark inside, now that the gate was closed. However, Ven could see dim light further down the tunnel through cracks of what seemed like another gate. The tunnel itself appeared to be about five feet long, suggesting the “wall” itself was also five feet thick.

      “He’s, uhm, a plant caster?” Ventus asked a bit surprised by what little he had managed to remember about magic. It wasn't a lot, all things considering, but he knew there were different types.

      Maybe this place didn't get hit by the Gerudo if there is a caster still alive. He must be pretty powerful too, he noted. After all, he heard that Gerudo had been killing off all the casters they could find even before Sakirven had been attacked. If the Gerudo killed Uncle Killian and other warriors and casters, they weren't going to leave one strong fighter of any kind alive if they could help it.

      The blond woman walked them down the short tunnel to the second gate. “Yeah, I guess you could say that. He’s a Forest adept, so he does Life, Plant, and Healing magic.”

      She unbound the next gate and pushed it open.

      Inside was a village. It was somewhat shaded by the wall of trees and plants that surrounded them. However, the center opened up to the sky, letting sunlight into their almost meadow-like dwelling, that is if the sun were still high in the sky. Now the stars were beginning to twinkle in the dark canvas above them. The homes and buildings were obviously made from normal means of carpentry, as they were not made of trees rooted to the ground like the wall was. They twinkled with lights from inside, like a mirror of the stars above.

      Ventus held Rini’s hand tightly, nodding absently like he knew what she was talking about making “mhm” and “right, right, that makes sense” as Rini threw him a look, knowing full well he was full of it.

      Ven glanced about. This place was about the same size as Sakirven–though the buildings themselves seemed to be overall in better quality, once again remembering the worn down shed they ended up having to make home for several months.

      I hope Rei ended up being alright … and Alicia … and Leroy … Ven thought, the faces of the children he lived with for a few months flashing into his head.

      Then something else caught his eye. The canopy of what had to be a wide tree–it seemed only a little bit taller than the trees that were part of the wall–emerged as they traveled closer to the center of the village.

      “I’m Abigail,” said the woman. “What are your names? If you don’t mind my asking.”

      “I’m Ventus–” Ven said and before he could introduce his sister, Rini spoke up and introduced herself.

      “I’m Rini. What’s the name of this place?” she asked, staring around in awe. Not that Ventus blamed her. It was hard enough not to spin around and stare, but he knew if he did he would run into something in the lessening light.

      “Oh, that’s right.” Abigail chuckled. “Welcome to Sickle’s Hollow.”

      People waved to her as she escorted them through the village. Some of the villagers even welcomed Ven and Rini too. Some muttered their sympathies of the two children being on their own. One woman walked up and put a loaf of fresh bread each into Ven’s and Rini’s hands.

      “I’m Wilma, and if you two need anything–especially good food–you come find me, you hear?” she told them firmly.

      Rini nodded her head wide eyed, mumbling her thanks, and start to eat it before it could be taken away from her. Ventus couldn’t help but be floored by the hospitality too.

      “We will, thank you,” he said, already tearing a piece of bread off and putting it into his mouth. While it wasn’t as good as Mom’s, it had been months since they actually had real bread, and a wave of emotion came over him. He hurriedly wiped at his eyes with his mittens–he was the adult now, and adults don’t cry over something like bread.

      His stomach growled though reminding him just how long it had been since their proper meal–even with his thievery. He could only imagine how Rini was feeling. She was littler and still growing, so she needed more than him.

      “Didn’t you guys get hit by the Gerudo?” Rini asked, swallowing, having more manners than her brother did.

      Abigail seemed to deflate a little at Rini’s question. She looked down as they walked and answered in a softer voice, “Yes, we did, actually … Nouka wasn’t with us then.”

      “Oh.” Rini said awkwardly and instead of saying anything else, shoved more food into her mouth.

      “Do Forest adepts make food?” Ven asked frowning suddenly, feeling suddenly uncomfortable now.

      The woman brightened again. “Oh, definitely! And a lot faster than it normally takes. Of course … it really drains Nouka, but he usually spends most of his mana on growing food for everyone these days. We made it through the winter thanks to him, and we’ve pretty much recovered after the Gerudo took everything.”

      “I wish we had a magic user in Sakirven,” Rini complained. “There was hardly enough to eat. We had to hunt and forage for food.”

      And other drastic measures, Ventus thought darkly, but he didn’t say his thoughts out loud.

      “Well, they probably would have died with Uncle Killian and the others anyway, so it’s not like it would have mattered,” he mumbled, pushing some more bread into his mouth, trying to push his thoughts to less unpleasant things but failing, before glancing up at Abigail again. “So, uhm … not to be rude, but where are we going to sleep?”

      “Don’t worry, we’ll find you a place. Or maybe Nouka will make you one,” answered Abigail. She stopped and pointed to the large tree that was now fully in their view.

      Except it wasn’t really just a tree. It was wider than any tree Ven had ever seen. It had a doorway that was closed off with a weaving of other branches, plants, and vines. There were windows with similar plant-like shutters on them. There was light coming from inside the tree, glowing warmly through the cracks of the door and the shutters. It appeared to have an attic at least, due to a higher window than the others. The tree was alive and also a home, it appeared. Spread out around it was a garden. Small paths carved ways through plots of plants that were just sprouted–earlier than they should be at this time of the year. The other half of the plots were empty, resting for they would be used for the next harvest. A larger, cobbled path lead up to the door of the tree home.

      “Holy shit,” Ventus said, his eyes widening. He always thought it would be cool to have a treehouse, but this was much more literal than anything he could have imagined up. A cold wind blew right through him and he shivered, making it seem very comfortable as well.

      “Look–they have food growing here,” Rini whispered pointing to the plants, focusing on what her stomach was complaining to her about. After months of having to forage for food, the fact it could just be made here was nothing short of a miracle. “It’s still cold out and food is growing.”

      Abigail beamed with pride at Rini’s words. “I know. He can grow anything at any time of year. All he needs is a good supply of fertilizer and water to keep the ground supporting it all. I can’t imagine what we would have done without him.”

      She stepped forward, guiding them down the cobble path to the door. She knocked on it. “Nouka, we have some new arrivals.”

      Ven heard the steps as someone inside walked over to the door. The man that opened it was fairly tall, but he appeared slender in his form that was draped in robes of earthy green and brown tones. His hair itself seemed to speak of his talent with plants. It was a deep, dark green as well as long and abundant. It was held in a loose ponytail that draped over his shoulder like green silk. His features were long and angular, nearly more beautiful than handsome for a man. He seemed to be around the age his father was–or used to be–his early thirties. His eyes were a rich brown. There were bags under them, speaking of perhaps the draining tasks Abigail had mentioned he undertook to provide the village with food.

      Those soft brown eyes found their way to both Ven and Rini. They widened with surprise, and then they softened again with a gentle and warm sort of compassion.

      “Ah, good evening,” said the caster, Nouka. “Please, please, come inside out of the cold.”

      He held his door open and gestured with his other arm for them to come inside.

      Ventus allowed Rini to go inside first, who of course, honed in on the fireplace and made her way right toward it like a moth to a flame. Ventus was slightly worried about a fire inside a tree, but it seemed safe enough. The fireplace itself was laid with brick, and he assumed any chimney it had was as well. That and he wasn’t about to complain with anything that kept him warm at this point.

      “Thank you,” he said, stepping inside. “Your uhm–” He tried to remember that word Mom used to use, before deciding to wing it. “Homeyness is much appreciated.”

      Nouka’s smile was no less warm and kind despite the weariness that seemed to weigh on him. Amusement still seemed to twinkle in his brown eyes at Ven’s word choice. He closed the door behind them once Abigail stepped through the threshold.

      “You are very welcome,” said Nouka. “Please, make yourselves comfortable.”

      Though the tree was large, it still appeared to have only one room on the first level. The majority of his home held places for visitors to sit and make themselves comfortable. The fireplace was centered but at the back of the room. Sofas and armchairs with wooden frames with plush padding were placed near the fireplace and along the other walls of the room. Some of the wooden frames were part of the tree itself. The circular dining table’s legs were attached to the wooden floor, though the chairs around it were not. This table itself was centered in the room. Off to the right of the room was a hollowed out portion that held a bed, practically tucked out of view under steps that spiraled up out of view. The back wall, around the fireplace, had shelves built or rather hollowed out inside them. They held other wooden and ceramic utensils as well as jars of both glass and clay holding other substances. There were mushrooms growing in places along the walls.

      Nouka paused for a moment, staring at Ven and then glancing to Rini with a brow almost furrowed in confusion, before asking him, “You are both … on your own?”

      Ventus nodded his head. It was the second time they were asked this question, and he had a feeling it would continue to be asked for a long time. At least until they got to the Serwens.

      Well, this place seems nice, he thought shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to the other and looking around. It was a drastic improvement to the conditions they’ve been facing for the last few months, but Ventus would still prefer to be with the Serwens rather than some strangers. After all, he wasn’t sure what these people were like and if they would change their mind about them staying. It was best not to overstay their welcome.

      Still …

      He glanced at Rini who was pretty much right up against the fire, making herself at home. He was a bit worried if she got any closer she would be in it, but as long as she didn’t try to set anything on fire, she should be fine.

      “Our parents died, so it’s just me and my sister, Rini,” he explained before remembering his manners. “I’m Ventus Agni, by the way. You’re Nouka, right?”

      Nouka’s eyes seemed to become pained as Ventus spoke. He stepped forward and knelt down so that he and Ven were at a closer eye-level. He stared directly into Ven’s gaze. Those brown eyes soft and full of sadness that only seemed heavier when added to his weariness.

      “Yes … I am Nouka Ottau,” Nouka said softly. He broke the direct eye contact after a thoughtful moment before returning his more heartfelt gaze back to Ven. “I am … truly sorry for your loss.”

      His voice was soft but thickened with emotion. It sounded like he really meant it.

      Ven shifted uncomfortably again, glancing away. It had been so long since it seemed like an adult truly cared about him and Rini, and quite frankly he wasn’t sure how to react. That and Nouka sounded like he was about to cry himself, and Ven really hoped he didn’t because he really couldn’t deal with that right now. His job was looking after Rini now.

      Picking at his bag uncomfortably–suddenly remembering it used to be his mother’s dress–he stopped feeling even more self-conscious. Pushing the bubbling reality of their situation down, he shrugged, keeping a stiff upper lip like an adult would.

      “You didn’t kill them,” he said, not realizing that probably wasn’t the best thing to say either until it left his mouth.

      Nouka sighed gently out his nose and smiled though it wasn’t a happy one. “No, I suppose not …”

      He stood up and went over to one of his shelves. “I see that Wilma has already gotten to you. I have some soup that goes very well with her bread.”

      Nouka pulled down some bowls and spoons. He filled a bowl for each of them, Abigail included, from the caldron in the fireplace and set them on the table. He also provided some wooden cups and water skins with fresh water inside. Ventus carefully slipped into a chair at the table, calling Rini over, though his sister already seemed to be moving as if she had a sixth sense for food now too.

      His stomach was growling more earnestly, though he was containing his desire a lot more than Rini was. The fact she was able to be pulled with no effort from the fire told Ventus just how hungry she was. He felt even worse at that; as the oldest, he was supposed to provide for her, but clearly he’d been doing a shit job.

      At least she’s still alive, he thought, giving himself that small comfort.

      Nouka allowed them all to eat in silence for a few moments, obviously aware of their overt enthusiasm for food. When their bowls were nearly empty, he spoke up.

      “How old are the both of you?”

      “I’m eleven, and Rini’s eight,” Ventus said before puffing his chest out, patting the pommel of his father’s sword which he had carefully laid against the table. “I’m an adult now, though, even if I’m not fifteen yet.”

      Rini snorted, letting her thoughts be known about that.

      Nouka smiled at their interaction with understanding. “I see …”

      Abigail raised her brow at Ven’s claim but said nothing about it. Then her face became more thoughtful. “So how come the two of you were–”

      She was stopped short by Nouka’s hand gently laying on hers. Her eyes flicked up to his quickly, obviously more sensitive to his touch than seemed normal. Her cheeks flushed the barest pink in the dim light of the fire, but then she seemed to remember herself and that Nouka was trying to silently communicate with that touch.

      “I’m sorry, that’s probably insensitive of me,” said Abigail. “We all have our own tales of woe these days …”

      “Indeed,” agreed Nouka. “Well, I’m sure the both of you are tired. I have some beds upstairs in the attic if you’re comfortable with that. We can find more suitable lodging after you’ve properly rested. It is getting late and your journey must have been exhausting in more ways than one.”

      “Anything that’s not a tree would be great,” Rini smiled, relieved before looking around and realizing the irony of her words before amending herself. “... On a tree branch, I mean.”

      Nouka chuckled warmly, his tired eyes still glimmered with the delight.

      “Is there anything we’re expected to do while we’re here?” Ventus asked warily, hoping it wouldn’t be anything too drastic.

      The caster paused, though he would have normally responded more readily if it were not for the tone and the caution that the boy seemed to exude. He chose his next words with more care, almost sensing Ven’s distrust, and that any dismissal of the matter until morning might be seen as deceit.

      Nouka then responded with, “Well, helping out with chores would be appreciated. Though I promise you, we are not slave drivers here. Any work you are willing and able to do will be just fine. We will not force you into any work you are not comfortable doing.”

      Ventus nodded his head, but he decided to hold his reservations for now. Since Mom died, he realized with their young age they were easier to be bullied around by the grown-ups, like how it was before. It was a shock to his system, especially with what he had been accustomed to the belief they were all part of Farore’s family, but it was one he refused to let happen again. He would need to see if there were any “black sheep” and who they were. In the meantime, he would make sure they would do their best not to piss off these adults who took them in.

      Nouka nodded as well, as that seemed to settle the boy’s wariness for now. He rose and took a lantern from a shelf and lit it.

      “Come with me,” he said, moving toward the wooden steps to the right. “I’ll show you to your room … Abigail, your company is appreciated, but I think the watch might be missing you at your post.”

      The blond woman stood up quickly, flushing again, and grabbing her wooden spear she had left propped against the table. “R-right. Good night!”

      “Good night,” said Nouka with a smile and a graceful inclination of his head.

      “Good night, Ventus, Rini, see you in the morning,” said Abigail as she opened the front door.

      “Night,” the Agni siblings said in unison.

      “Thank you again for the food,” Rini added.

      Abigail smiled brightly as she waved and then she closed the door behind herself. Nouka turned and lead them up the stairs into the attic. It lead up through a trap door in the ceiling. It was small, especially for a man as tall as the caster was. He had to stoop, almost kneel to fit.

      “Hold on a moment,” he said, setting the lantern down.

      He rolled out some spare bed paddings, accompanied with blankets and pillows that were stored in the same room. There were gardening supplies and wooden crates stacked on top of each other filled with bottles of bright green liquid.

      “There,” he stated, turning to smile at them. “I’ll leave you the lantern. Just be sure to blow it out when you’re ready.”

      “Okay,” Rini said as Ventus looked curiously at the green liquid. He hadn’t really seen anything like it and wondered if it was something to drink.

      “What’s that?” he asked pointing to it.

      “Ah, yes, that is my stock of mana potions,” answered Nouka. “They help me restore my mana pool without resting the required time for it to regenerate on its own. Without them I would not be able to produce as much food as quickly.”

      “Oh. Okay.”

      So it was something to drink, just nothing which Ventus would need, not having magic at all. Besides, it probably tasted weird. After all, it was bright green. It sort of reminded him of spinach. While it was good with other foods, on it’s own, not as much.

      Nouka smiled and wished them pleasant dreams before closing the trap door.

      Ven crawled in next to Rini, who was already curled up in the blankets, her eyes fluttering shut. The last few days ever since they left Sakirven felt like years, and the mental and physical exhaustion was finally catching up to them. One of the remaining thoughts which went through Ventus mind was that Rini was normally the more cautious one out of the two of them, but since he’d become the adult, he noticed that wasn’t exactly the case.

      Well, she has me to rely on now, he yawned, hugging his sister tightly as he put his sword just within reach–just in case. We’re safe here for now.

      Rolling to the side, he blew out the lantern. That’s when mushrooms lining the walls of the attic began to give off a soft green glow, almost like the stars at night. Ventus swallowed slightly, emotion began to once again creep into his chest. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but he shoved it down with the rest of them as he pulled his father’s sword closer for protection.


      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

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      Chapter 12
      If All Roads Lead to Nowhere

      Swaddled in the woolen blanket of his bed, Ven shivered ever so as his eyes opened, a wisp of fog breathed out in front of him. Blinking, vibrant colors formed blurred shapes that came into focus. His crystalized vision showed him the large scroll attached to the wall, bearing the vistage of his knighted form.

      The drawing didn’t depict much armor, a breastplate and some greaves, but there was a heavy cloak, forest green for courage, though it looked more like a flowing cape. Underneath a silver tunic could be seen with intricate designs whose overall meaning would take a sit down with a book of symbols to fully decipher–thankfully of which a scroll lay nearby hidden among his books for school. The image was complete with an ornate sword, larger than the figure by far, but in the drawing and in his imagination, Ven wielded it one-handed with ease.

      Staring at the picture, furrowing his brow, Ventus noticed it was quiet in the house, even though the morning sun was already peeking through the window. Sitting up, his insides flipped with unease. Mom should have been hollering at him to get up hours ago, and the house was sweltering in the morning, no matter the season, as the kiln was already fired up ready for the day by the time he dragged himself down the stairs. That and the Agni household was never quiet.

      Slipping out of bed and being careful not to step on the clay knights he had made–though four were already somehow broken–he paused after successfully escaping his blankets. Not only was the Agni house rarely silent, but Ventus was accustomed to hearing the early morning hustle and bustle of people on the streets setting up their wares for those early bird risers.

      Yet, that was missing in the air too. Everything was still, both inside the house and outside it.

      With that same growing hollow pit of dread in his gut, Ven slowly made his way down the stairs. When he reached the landing below and turned the corner, something caught his foot and he found himself face first on the floor.

      Lifting his head and looking behind him, he came face to face with his father’s visage, Kubera Agni’s lips pulled up into an impish grin even as blood dribbled down his lips. There was nothing else besides the head, yet it’s jaw opened up and his father’s voice, gurgling and disjointed, eked out.

      “Real knights protect people, not start fights–Why can’t you do that?”

      Whimpering and kicking the head as he backed away, Ventus watched in horror as it rolled toward a headless body which he just saw nearby, sitting in a pool of blood. When it reached the corpse, bumping against the stump of the neck, it swiveled around and the glassy, unseeing eyes of Uncle Killian faced him now.

      “You were supposed to be an investment for the future,” the older man’s voice echoed out of those stiff, lifeless lips that remained barely parted after death. “What a shitty investment.”

      Scrambling to his feet, Ventus bolted for the kitchen, heart pounding loudly in his chest, that pit of dread had overwhelmed and gripped him with icy fear. He noticed the familiar figure of his mother by the kiln.

      “Mom!” he shrieked, sprinting toward her, grabbing and pulling her close into a hug. Yet when his ears rested against her chest as he buried his face into the folds of her cloth, he noticed the familiar thump of a heartbeat was absent. Leaning back, his breath caught in his throat as he saw glazed eyes looking down upon him, lips which were normally a healthy pink an unearthly blue.

      That’s when her body collapsed, as if the strings holding her up were cut, and Ventus struggled to keep hold of her, keep her upright. Suddenly though, the pressure of her body alleviated and Ven watched in horror as shadowy strings wrapped around her joints and lifted her up. Behind her a shadowy figure stared at him, and though he couldn’t make out the distinctive features, those dark blue eyes were unforgettable as they pierced through the dark.

      “Don’t talk about the eyes to anyone,” murmured Ceres’ voice though her lips did not move, reaching and grasping his shoulders with a cold and desperately hard grip. “You can’t let them find out you're a monster.”

      Her expression distorted and once again her hand reached toward him, fingers outstretched grasping for his eyes, hand contorted like a vicious claw.

      “Our blood–our blood isn't enough to change our eyes.” Her voice gurgled as it started to merge with Eli’s, who was continuing to mock him from the shadows, even now.

      Quickly backing up, his mother made a swipe at him, her nails met and scraped against his skin, scratching, digging, gouging out skin from his cheek as he just managed to pull away from her. Ventus’ head swum as he looked around and bolted out the door only to pause when his barefoot stepped in something sticky. It clung to his foot and the overwhelming scent of rusting iron invaded his senses.

      His eyes found the crumbled form of his little sister laying right in front of him. Blood flowed from her open wounds that were everywhere, splintered bone tearing through flesh, as if a giant picked her up and crushed her between its hands into a ball before dropping her at their doorstep.

      His hands clamped to his mouth to stifle his scream.

      “Why do you only fight for you?”

      ###

      The first good night sleep Rini had in what felt like years was interrupted with a piercing wail right in her ear. Eyes snapping open, Rini’s hands flew to the side of her head, a string of curses following suit.

      Turning to her brother, she opened her mouth to demand an explanation only for the words to die in her throat. Ven’s entire body was glistening and his dirty clothes–the same ones they had been wearing since fleeing Castle Town–clung tightly to his frame. While once they fit perfectly, the rags swum on him now. He was shaking violently even though they had shelter from the bitter cold which still lingered on outside.

      “Ven?” Rini asked, her voice quivering as she put a hand on his shoulder. He turned and their eyes interlocked and her gut withered up and constricted around her heart when she saw the glistening of tears in his eyes–something which he hadn’t done since their father died. Yet unlike back then, his sobs were silent gasps for air and for an uncomfortable moment, Rini was reminded of Mom.

      The next thing Rini realized, she was being pulled into his embrace. Ventus was warm, but his body continued to shake as he cradled her, and Rini pushed a lump which formed in her throat down.

      This wasn’t like him. Ventus never cowered to anything, even if he should. Yet she recognized the expression on his face; Rini had seen it enough in Sakirven on everybody else–even herself when she looked into the mirror. Yet not on her big brother though. Never him.

      Until now.

      After a moment, she raised her arms and returned his embrace. Nuzzling into the folds of his clothes, she took comfort in the warmth he emitted. There wasn’t many things better than the heat of a fire, but her brother managed to pull ahead.

      ###

      It took awhile for Ventus to calm down. Any attempts at Rini trying to coax out what had him upset were met a shake of a head; ever since Mom died, her brother had become even more closed off and keeping to himself about things. It was aggravating–didn’t he know all they had now was each other?

      The two made their way down the ladder and were suddenly accosted by the smell of food wafting through the air. For a moment, Rini expected to see Alicia tending to the hearth, trying to make the most of what little they had, and her stomach grumbled in response.

      It was Nouka she found tending to a pot on the hearth. He looked up as they inched down the stairs and smiled.

      “Good morning,” he greeted them. “Please have a seat. The oatmeal will be ready soon.”

      Rini’s stomach growled loudly reminding her how hungry she was. It was like daggers stabbing into her gut, and with the promise of food so close, it was like twisting the knife in the wound.

      Placing a hand over her side, suddenly feeling woozy, she didn’t need to be told twice to take a seat. Ventus on the other hand seemed to be watching Nouka, his hazel eyes staring, searching for something. After a moment, he readjusted the sword on his back.

      “Do you need any help?” he asked.

      “No, no, take a seat,” Nouka insisted, pulling one up for Ventus at the table. “There’s not much left to do.”

      He turned back to the hearth and busied himself there. Ventus remained standing for a moment longer, however, before inching his way over to the table, eyes not leaving the older man’s back for a second even as he slid into the spot next to Rini. Her brother always sat across from her when they ate back at home, but now he was right up close to her, their father’s sword leaning against the table within arm’s reach.

      The caster soon turned back around, holding bowls of steaming oatmeal. His eyes lingered for a moment longer on Ven as he placed a bowl before him, a soft frown forming on his lips and a wrinkle of puzzlement on his brow. However, he moved on without a word, placing a bowl before Rini and then lastly himself. He poured them glasses of milk as well and set plates of eggs next to the bowls.

      “Sorry, I wasn’t sure if you both had a preference on how you liked your eggs cooked.” A serene smile now smoothed across his features as he poured himself some tea and took a seat. “There’s honey and cinnamon as well for the oatmeal.”

      “Thank you. Rini prefers them scrambled while I like em’ sunny side up,” her brother said, acting weird, like he was trying to imitate Mom or Dad when they were talking to other adults. His words were slow and his nose wrinkled in thought as he thought of each word, not shoving the porridge down his face like Rini was.

      At the mention of honey and cinnamon, the young Hylian girl paused, her mouth filled with food.

      “‘ou ‘v ‘namon ‘n hon’?” she asked, food dripping out of her mouth before she remembered her manners. Wiping the her face with the back of her hand, she swallowed, repeating herself. “You have cinnamon and honey?”

      She wasn’t sure the last time they had something sweet. Alicia’s food was good, sure, but there was only so many times you can take eating things picked up off the forest floor before wanting something else.

      Nouka’s earth brown eyes switched over to Ventus again as he smiled warmly. “You’re welcome, and I’ll keep that in mind.”

      He leaned forward at the same time to nudge a little pot of honey and a pot of cinnamon toward Rini, who quickly grabbed them and proceeded to determine to ruin all nutritional value the oatmeal could have offered her.

      She could feel Ventus’ judgemental eyes on her, but she didn’t care. After a moment, she could hear the slow slurps of her brother attempting not to eat like a caveman. Unlike her, who had basic table manners, Ventus continued to talk with his mouth full.

      “So that thing we were talking about last night. With chores and shit.”

      Nouka blinked but otherwise showed no offense to the boy’s crude language. He tilted his head curiously as he cupped his tea in his hands. “Yes?”

      “What’s gonna be up with that?”

      Rini glanced at Ventus, sighed and swallowed. Allowing her brother to negotiate and talk was probably going to get not them only nowhere, but accidentally make these people angry.

      “We’re just wonderin’ what sorta things we can do,” Rini explained, scraping at her bowl, noticing Ventus had only gotten halfway through his. Her lips twitched downwards. If he was going to go the Mom route and pull the same ‘I’m not hungry’ bullshit, she would tie him to a chair and force feed him like the child he was.

      Returning her attention back to Nouka, she continued selling their usefulness to him. “We’re kids, but we can do some adult stuff.”

      “Oh, there will be plenty of time to address that later,” Nouka assured them, blowing softly on his tea. “Like I said last night, we are not slave drivers here. You are welcome in this community, and though your contribution would be happily accepted, it is not something that is required. Though I think in time you would find your own place that suits you.”

      “Well, honestly, we probably won’t stay here long.”

      Rini snapped her head to look at Ventus incredulously. Was he still thinking about going to Auntie Amaya and Uncle Tori’s place even though they found a safe place with food?

      “Our aunt and uncle live near Lake Hylia, so we were headed there. We’ll stay here, regain our strength, help around a bit to earn our keep, and move on.”

      Goddesses, he was.

      Nouka’s tea cup stopped just as he raised it up to his lips. It lowered back down as he studied the boy across the table. After a long moment, he smiled gently.

      “I see.”

      “‘Scuse us for a second,” Rini smiled serenely at Nouka, before grabbing her brother by the wrist, dragging him off a ways toward the fire. The second they were nearby, she lowered her voice, barely breathing out her words knowing Ventus could hear her just fine.

      “Are you stupid?” she hissed. “We have somewhere safe to stay! They can make food! Why are you being so stubborn about finding Auntie and Uncle when we don’t even know they’re even there! It’s dangerous out there, and we’re safe in here!”

      “We don’t know these people,” Ventus murmured, glancing at Nouka, his lips pulling downward. “And we don’t know if the Gerudo will be attacking again. They were killing casters and shit, right? This guy doesn’t look like he can break someone with his voice like Auntie can. It’s better we find ‘em.”

      “Even if it’s safer being with Auntie Amaya and Uncle Tori, they’re probably not going to be by Lake Hylia! It’s super close to the desert, and we haven’t even been to their house before. We always played with Leita in Kakariko or when they visited us in Castle Town!” Rini shot back. “Also what about the poes? And wolves? And the Gerudo? There is probably gonna be a lot more Gerudo by, I ‘unno, the Gerudo Desert.”

      “We’ll stay until the spring thaw comes and it warms up, but after that, we’re leaving,” Ven growled, as if his word was final. And as if to prove it, he stomped back over to the table like the self centered brat he was.

      Rini glowered at her brother, before turning away, running her fingers through her hair and stomping her foot. He made her so mad!

      However, the thought didn’t have a chance to linger on her mind as the dancing flames caught her attention, and she paused, dropping her hands. Some part of her wanted to expand it, make it grow bigger, until her brother’s sharp voice broke her out of her revive.

      “Rini!”

      Jumping slightly, she turned to look at him, only to see him pour some of his oatmeal her bowl and point to the seat next to him. She scowled and almost yelled she wasn’t hungry before her stomach growled again. Snapping her mouth shut, Rini dragged her feet back over to the spot next to him.

      Of course he would hear her stomach growl from all the way over there. Nothing got past his hearing.

      “Pyro,” Ventus muttered under his breath, only to swear when she kicked him in the shins under the table, smirking when he swore.

      Nouka was still carefully sipping his tea as if he was just sitting alone in his own home, seemingly unaware of their antics. However, he quickly refilled Ventus’ now empty bowl. He offered more and more until they couldn’t eat another bite.

      Once they seemed satisfied, he wove his fingers together, resting them on the table, and inquired, “Would you both permit me to do a little examination? It will take but a moment, and it’s just to catch any ailments you may have.”

      “Sure,” Rini said almost immediately, not allowing her brother to get a word in edgewise in case he decided to be a butt for no good reason about this too. It was just a check-up, but Ventus was acting all suspicious over everything and deciding to be dumb, which, granted, wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but still.

      Nouka smiled, rose from his seat, and approached Rini at hers. He placed his hand lightly on her shoulder. His eyes closed as a ripple of calm blanketed his features, melting the smile from his lips which soon parted and uttered the words, “Kono karada to shite kōzan.”

      As Rini had witnessed before, when Auntie Amaya would conduct her own check ups on her and Ven, a soft blue light began to emit from Nouka, like a gentle aura enveloping him. Looking down at her own hands, the familiar blue light was also glowing around her. Knowing enough to sit still while Nouka did his work, she looked over at her brother, giving him a smug look. Ven frowned but said nothing.

      Good.

      That meant she won.

      The light only stayed for a brief moment or two before fading away, and Nouka opened his eyes, his calm smile returning to his lips.

      “Very good, well, as good as one could hope,” said Nouka, with drawing his hand from her shoulder as he smiled down at her. “Other than a little malnutrition, you have no serious injuries or illnesses to be concerned about, my dear.”

      Nouka titled his gaze back to Ventus. He shuffled a few steps toward him before pausing to offer out his hand to him. There he waited patiently, allowing Ventus to make his own decision. The boy looked at him for a second longer before glancing at Rini before finally sighing.

      “Sure. Whatever.”

      The caster nodded. His eyes closed again and yet again he uttered the words he had spoken before. Though this time he merely kept his hand gestured toward Ventus, not touching him as he had Rini. The blue light engulfed them both for the brief period as before.

      When it faded, Nouka opened his eyes again, a peaceful smile gracing his features as before. “The same as your sister. We’ll have you both as well nourished as possible at every opportunity. So nothing to worry about there.”

      “Thank you. It will be nice to have some consistent good food in our tummies,” Rini said, slowly turning to glare at her brother with each word. Ven scoffed in return. Sometimes it was easier to talk to have a conversation with a brick wall than change Ven’s mind.

      “On that note, I must insist you rest here for the day,” the caster said with the same smile. “We can decide together what you would like to do after you both are properly rested.”

      Rini wasn’t going to argue with that; taking a breath and just relaxing for once instead of looking over their shoulder to see if they were gonna be eaten by wolves or poes or whatever was a small luxury the two didn’t have for what seemed forever.

      Ven, of course, had to ruin things by picking up his sword.

      “Well, if you don’t want us workin’ today, I’ll just go train,” he grunted. “Can’t get rusty.”

      “Ah, but Ventus,” began Nouka, brushing a few flecks of oatmeal off his robe, “the reason for that is because you need to rest before you’re healthy enough for work, including training.”

      For once, Ventus seemed to pause at that and looked back at Nouka and herself. She could see the cogs slowly turn in his head before he slowly asked, “So what do you want us to do? Just sit around and do nothin? You said it yourself. We’re healthy ‘cept for being malfooded.”

      Nouka chuckled, his face wrinkling with delight, like the sun poking through the dark clouds of weariness that seemed to hang around his eyes. He sighed after a breath, lips still turned up by a smile. “Yes, and just because you finally had a suitable meal doesn’t cure you of your ailment immediately. You must rest and allow your body to bathe in the nutrients of your meal.”

      He paused a moment to take another sip of his tea. “While I may normally heal a body of an injury with mana, the true breath of life cannot be substituted for. Think of it this way, if your body was a little sick and I gave you medicine, it takes time for that medicine to have its full effect to fruition.”

      He lifted his brown eyes back to Ven. “Do you understand?”

      “But I’m not sick,” Ven pointed out, and Rini sighed, knowing this was getting nowhere. Luckily for her own sanity, she knew what would get her brother to do the smart thing and rest for awhile.

      “Well if you aren’t sick, can you fix my clothes?” she whined. “You promised you would when we got a chance.”

      “They are objectively awful,” Ventus agreed, slinging the sword over his back as he approached her, circling her as he studied her thoughtfully. “I’ll need some new fabric though. Not much I can do with this. I mean I’m good, but not a miracle worker.”

      “Do you have some fabric we could borrow?” Rini asked, looking up at Nouka, her eyes flickering between her brother and the older man, praying to the goddesses that he would take the hint this was the only way her brother would be distracted from destroying his body with his single-minded obsession of becoming like their father.

      Nouka seemed observant enough to notice she was making a look, but if he got her message was uncertain. Even as he said, “Of course, I think I can arrange for some supplies to be sent here.”

      Was he just responding to her question or did he follow her lead?

      “Also going to need some paper to draw up some sketches,” Ven continued, taking a step back and nodding his head. “Going to need to make everything from scratch. There isn’t much I can reuse, although maybe I could fix our boots …”

      Ven went back to talking to himself, rattling off different materials which would be good, and by now Rini learned to tune him out. Her eyes wandered back to the fire, watching the embers dance and crackle and she wondered what it would be like to hold it. Her hands twitched and she began to walk toward the fireplace.

      A slender hand cupped her at the elbow, pulling her back from her dance with the fire. Nouka’s observant eyes had followed her it seemed, as her gaze reached up to his. The caster tilted his head. “Are you cold, darling?”

      “I, uhm,” Rini stammered, not sure what to say as her heart skipped a beat. Part of her knew she wasn’t a Goro,n and it would burn her if she touched the flames, but the larger part didn’t care. Yet Ventus already judged her for her fancy of flames, and she didn’t want to be on constant watch either.

      “She’s just obsessed with fire.” Rini turned to glare at her brother for ratting her out. “Don’t worry about it; I’ll keep an eye on her, so she doesn’t burn anything down.”

      Nouka arched a brow at Ventus’ statement. “Is that so?”

      His hand remained at her elbow. “You like fire?”

      “It’s pretty,” she replied sullenly, glowering still at her brother. “I’m not going to hurt anybody or anythin’.”

      The pretty caster man smiled at her, not the way her parents had smiled at her obsession with flames. They smiled like she was a silly baby. The green haired caster smiled with warmth and understanding.

      “And you’ve always liked fire, for as long as you can remember?” he asked.

      A slow nod, as she turned to look up at Nouka. The last person who seemed to understand and not judge her was Uncle Killian. He had made her promise she wouldn’t set things on fire without him there, but he was gone now. The urges, however, weren’t.

      “Hmm,” the caster hummed to himself, his lips pressed together thoughtfully. “I would like to do another examination for you, my dear, but it’s a bit of a different one than before.”

      “Uh … is it going to hurt?” Rini asked nervously, Ven arching his eyebrow.

      “Not at all.” He patted her elbow. “Hold on just a moment.”

      Nouka stood up and gathered a candlestick over to the table, lighting the wick and gesturing for Rini to join him at the table. She padded closer, Ventus not too far behind and looked up at Nouka, not understanding what was going on.

      “Hold your hands like this,” he gestured, holding both his palms to face the flame in the center. He drew his own hands back and waited for her to mimic him. Rini did so, feeling a bit stupid, but she looked up at the caster all the same.

      “Kay ... now what?”

      He smiled, his face aglow from the flame’s orange light. “Now, I want you to focus on the flame and, inside, ask your soul to make the flame taller.”

      That sounded like the stupidest thing she ever heard, but she supposed she would amuse him. Taking a deep breath, she stared at the flame and willed it to become brighter and taller than it was currently.

      The flame in between her hands respond by reaching higher into the air than it had been before, making itself thinner in its reach. Nouka’s smile glowed with the light as Ventus jumped back with a surprised yelp.

      “See that, my dear?” he whispered to her over the candle. “That is the fire responding to the call of your spirit field’s will. It’s just a glimmer of what your mana can do, but it’s obvious enough that you have a gift for fire magic.”

      “I have a gift for what?” Rini demanded, shocked, dropping her hands as she turned toward Nouka.

      How could she have fire magic? Mom and Dad didn’t have magic, and she had lived in Castle Town for so long, which had so many casters, the fact nobody said she had a talent for it prior made the reveal now hard to believe.

      Ventus, however, had no such qualms about accepting the news and excitedly grabbed her shoulders and shook her as he laughed.

      “Rini! That’s amazing! You’re amazing!” he exclaimed, beaming widely. “You’re like Auntie Amaya!” His eyes light up as he seemed to fall into his own little world of make-believe. “Oh! Oh! Maybe you can do that screamy thing too!”

      “Amaya, you say?” Nouka pinched the flame out of the wick, glancing to Ventus. “Amaya Serwen?”

      Ventus turned and nodded his head. Rini blinked in surprise at Nouka knowing their aunt. She knew somewhat that Aunt Amaya was well known like Dad was, but the caster barely reacted to their last name, so she assumed he was someone who didn’t really know people who were well known in Castle Town.

      “Yeah. Do you know her?”

      The caster smiled wistfully. “Yes, we were peers at the academy in Castle Town. Amaya was always the talk of the school, even before she was known as the Banshee in the war.”

      “Huh,” Ven said, and Rini felt like there wasn’t much that could be added to it. She, of courses, had some knowledge that their aunt and uncle fought in the war like Dad did, and that like Dad, Aunt Amaya had become well known. Unlike Ventus though, Rini was never really interested in war stories and only knew the basics because Ventus wouldn’t shut up about it and always demanded to hear them again and again and again. “Did you fight in the war then too?”

      Nouka sighed and nodded. “Yes.”

      He let them sit in silence for a brief moment before saying, “But that ‘screaming thing’ that she does is accomplished by Air Magic, not Fire Magic. Though, there’s also a chance Rini could have Air as a secondary.”

      “How would I know?” Rini asked, the fact she apparently had fire magic still causing her head to swim.

      “For the secondary, I’m afraid you would need an actual priest to determine that right now. I know only a few basic tests. I certainly am more of a caster than spiritualist,” explained Nouka. “Your core type will be the most obvious manifestation for your connection with fire. It’s the dominant type of your soul. That makes it the easiest to detect. It gets more difficult to suss out the second and third types through the core’s.”

      If anything the caster said was understood by the two siblings, it certainly didn’t show on their faces–even with Ventus nodding, going ‘mhm, mhm’ and ‘that makes sense, yup.’ Rini, however, didn’t care about looking “smart” and understanding something when she didn’t. She thought what Ven did was stupid–one of these days he was going to make a fool out of himself due to his pride.

      “What does being a priest have to do with magic?” she asked.

      “Quite a lot actually, but it’s a specialization of its own,” he answered. “The soul is what generates mana when mana is found within a person.”

      “So what is it about a soul that makes me have magic and my parents didn’t?” Rini asked. If she was being honest, if anyone was going to have magic, she would have expected it to be her brother. He was the one who knew things before they got close enough for her to feel the heat radiating from their bodies.

      “That’s one of Farore’s mysteries,” said Nouka. “I’m certain scholars and theologists both have their theories about how these gifts are passed on or come to be in individuals of the various tribes. However, these are just things we can guess at, nothing anyone can be certain of.”

      She nodded slowly. That made sense, though it didn’t exactly appease her. She looked up at him, opening and closing her hands. Even if this gift was hard to wrap her head around, it was something to learn and grow. Fire magic would have come in useful so many times in the past, if only she would have known.

      A snake squeezed her insides, and wave of nausea overcame her suddenly.

      If she had known, maybe less people would have had to die.

      “So … I know you can do forest magic, but can you do fire magic as well?”

      Nouka shook his head. “I’m afraid not.”

      “Oh.” Rini’s voice was small. “Do … do you know someone who does?”

      It was Ven, however, who answered her, putting a hand on her shoulder gently.

      “Rini, I’m sure Aunt Amaya can do it. She’s a mage, remember? She can do all the magic. That’s what Dad said anyway.”

      “Well, Rini,” continued Nouka, “you’re still very young so I could help you start to learn the basics: visualization, meditation to heighten your ability to focus, help grow the germinated seed as it were.”

      Rini nodded, somewhat appeased, but suddenly understanding Ventus’ need to get stronger fast. Her brother was the only family she had left, and if she could protect him against the Gerudo, she would. In the past, it was just saving him from his own self destructive behaviors, but with this, she could do more than that.

      “Okay.”


      :heart: Rinn “Arwyn” Nailo drawn by Liah :heart:
      Rakshael: if I know one thing about Ruki, it's that she'll prove you wrong just for the sake of saying she did it
      Characters | The Time Lost | The Rumors We Believe | Ruki's Reviews

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