fleets: I'm doing a bad thing by starting a story before finishing my other one... expect big long wait times between updates for this story until I finish Soulbound Princess, because that story is my priority. I will probably write chapters for this one when I need a break from Soulbound :)
This story is an AU. It doesn't fit any particular Zelda timeline.
This story is also unrelated to my Demonbound Sheikah series. However, I do mention locations referred to in that story here, and it's the same desert (e.g. "Valley of the Dead". Not super important, but if you came here fresh from that story, it's a small trivia thing, heh).
This story will contain elements of VaaSheik.
Sheik uses male pronouns in this story. The exact nature of their identity will probably be explored as the story progresses.
This story is about friendship and retribution. Expect some level of angst.
The Endless Desert
Red eyes struggled to open, heavy-lidded. They squinted closed again when the blinding ray of the sun burned white their vision. Calloused fingers brushed against sand, hot against their skin.
Red eyes fluttered open again, reluctant. The young man slowly lifted himself up, the sand falling away from his faded beige tunic. He lifted a hand to his head gingerly, nursing a faint headache and brushing away the blond locks away from his face, and he pushed away the tattered cowl that had fallen over his head. He looked around at the unforgivingly vast and empty expanse of sand with no hint of life for miles, and he tried to remember what had happened.
His mind was as empty as the desert around him. Where was this place, and how did he get here?
I will see you soon, Sheik…
He looked around, trying to figure out where the voice was coming from. The voice was androgynous, and wispy and dry like the desert around him. He couldn't see the owner of the voice anywhere, and by the time it drifted away like an echo, he wondered if he hadn't imagined it. However, the voice had left him with a name, and somehow he was sure that the name was his.
The young man crawled up onto his feet slowly. His legs felt a little numb at first, and he had to wait a few minutes for sensation to come back to them again. He looked at his own clothes, and judging from the faded, tattered linen that was frayed along the edges, it almost seemed like he was wearing the bare clothes of a prisoner or slave.
Perhaps he should have been concerned, but his pulse was steady and he was somehow calm about the situation he found himself in. It was almost like a part of him knew what all of this meant and that he'd expected it, even if he wasn't consciously aware of it. He was more unnerved by how calmly he was handling this situation more than anything. It left him with even more questions: what had he been expecting in this goddess forsaken desert…? He couldn't remember anything, and the only thing that he knew right now was his name.
Movement surprised him, and he whirled around towards its direction. His eyes widened when he suddenly noticed that he wasn't alone like he'd first assumed. Lying just by his feet was another young man, barely conscious and wearing the same tattered rags that he was. Confusion flashed across Sheik's face as he wondered how in the world he'd missed him when he was lying just next to him. As though in answer to his thoughts, more movement caught the edge of his eye, and he snapped his head towards the horizon. He caught a glimpse of something that looked like ruins in the distance, before they disappeared once more, making him question if he'd seen them at all.
There was something strange about this desert. It tricked the senses.
The young man next to him stirred with a faint groan. Perhaps he'd always been there, but the strange properties of the desert had hidden him from him. Sheik watched him as the young man sat up with some difficulty, and Sheik remembered the numb sensation of his legs when he'd first awoken. The stranger, his back turned to him, looked out at the desert expanse in awe and surprise. Then, he turned around, finally noticing Sheik.
His eyes were red and piercing, the intuitive eyes of someone who knew when someone was or wasn't telling the truth: formidable if a friend, dangerous if an enemy. His skin was exceptionally pale, almost to the point that it shone white in the sun, and his light lavender hair fell messily over his shoulders. He seemed out of place in rags.
Sheik blinked, and then realized that the stranger had mistaken him to be the owner of the mysterious voice that he himself had heard before. He shook his head, which sent a shadow passing over the stranger's face as he thought some more about the situation he found himself in.
"What is this place?" the young man asked again after a while. Before Sheik answered, the young man came to the answer himself. With a bitter snort, he turned away from Sheik and looked out towards the yellow haze of the horizon. "You don't know, do you," he murmured to himself.
Sheik nodded quietly, and the two of them continued to look out at the hopelessly empty sands, each lost in their own thoughts. Sheik was curious about the stranger who'd woken beside him, wearing the same tattered rags and seemingly without knowledge of where they were and how they'd gotten there. From the stern yet almost cynically accepting expression of the other's face, he sensed that the pale youth had also experienced the strange feeling of having expected finding themselves here.
After several minutes of silence, Sheik noticed that the stranger had been glancing at him from time to time, no doubt curious about his presence as much as he was of him. Their eyes met, and for a brief moment Sheik saw distrust and caution mirror back to him before the stranger flipped his head away again to stubbornly stare back at the horizon.
Neither of them trusted each other, that much was clear.
However, they were completely alone in an unforgiving desert, and aside from the mysterious voice, all they had right now was each other. Sheik could begin to feel the sweltering sun burning against the exposed parts of his skin, encouraging urgency to find some kind of escape from the desert. He decided to break the tension between them first.
"Do you have a name?" he asked.
His question prompted the stranger to lift his head slightly. He was quiet for a while, contemplating on whether or not to tell him, before he finally answered with a sigh.
Sheik stared at him. The name unfortunately wasn't familiar to him, and no memory came to him that suggested that they ever knew each other. He wondered again for what purpose they were there, and why the two of them in particular.
"So who in Farore are you?" Vaati demanded, impatience finding its way to his voice.
Farore. Something about that name rings a bell…, Sheik thought, momentarily distracted by the name he finally seemed to recognize. He couldn't get a firm grasp on the memory, however, and he realized that Vaati was beginning to narrow his eyes into a glare when he'd taken too long to respond. "Sheik," he replied quickly. Vaati didn't seem satisfied with the answer, so he added, "I don't know much beyond that, I'm afraid."
For once, Vaati looked sympathetic, and his scowl from earlier softened just a little. "I see…" he said, and though he didn't elaborate further, Sheik understood that Vaati had woken the same as he had: no memory of his past save for his name, with a strange voice urging him to wake.
The voice had insisted that they would see them soon…
Vaati seemed to have the same thought he did, and he suddenly looked up again. He still seemed cautious, but slightly more open to conversation now that he knew that Sheik was going through the same thing he was. "You heard the voice too, didn't you?" When Sheik nodded in response, Vaati frowned, anger just bubbling beneath the surface. "They must know what happened to us," he muttered under his breath, "when I find them, they're going to give answers…" he trailed off, with an undertone of a threatening, unspoken "or else."
Sheik opened his mouth to point out that they probably wouldn't even have to look for the owner of the voice, considering they'd promised they would meet them soon. Then, he decided to keep his silence. Being smart wasn't going to earn favors, and it would be advantageous if he could keep this Vaati on friendly terms, if possible. For all he knew, the youth could be someone dangerous.
Though, he supposed he could say the same of himself as well.
At any rate, they couldn't sit in this desert forever, and they needed some kind of plan. Sheik trusted the voice when it had said they would meet soon, but he didn't want to wait and find out that he'd been wrong. The sun was almost at the peak in the sky, and they needed to find some kind of shade before it hit the hottest point in the day. Between the two of them they had no water or provisions, and they weren't going to survive long if they didn't find something fast.
Sheik began to walk towards a tall sand dune nearby, hoping to see something other than endless sand from the top of it. As he did so, his ankle caught something, and there was an angry exclamation behind him. Turning around, he saw to his surprise that chains had suddenly appeared around his and Vaati's ankles, binding them together.
At least, he thought the chains had appeared suddenly. He would have noticed them if they had been there before, wouldn't he? And if not him, then Vaati surely would have realized that there were thick, metal rings around his ankles…
He exchanged shocked glances with Vaati, who initially had an enraged expression but had since become one of confusion. Vaati looked spooked, even, and Sheik took that as a sign that he hadn't indeed imagined the chains having suddenly appeared.
He could have wondered about the meaning of the chains, where they came from and why they were there, but Sheik preferred to tackle problems that had obvious, immediate solutions. It wasn't going to do much good to just sit around and think about strange hypotheticals. They needed to escape the desert: that was their first priority.
"Follow me," he said, and cocked his head towards the sand dune he'd been walking towards. Vaati took one look and quickly got up to follow with a short nod. Sheik almost smiled in relief. Though his companion seemed rather irritable with a difficult personality, he at least seemed sharp and quick to pick up on things without the need of lengthy explanation. Finding a way out was going to be quicker if the two of them were on the same page.
The walk to the summit of the dune was long and exhausting. Vaati seemed to struggle with the climb more than Sheik, but whenever he looked back at the pale youth, he glared back something fierce as though daring him to ask if he was going to be okay. What pride he has…, Sheik thought to himself. He had to respect his companion's determination, though. It was the kind of determination that could lead one to do great things, regardless of whether they were on the brink of death.
Sheik had been ready to be disappointed when they reached the summit of the dune, so he was surprised when they did actually see something other than a sea of sand surrounding them. Straight ahead of them, they could see a shimmer along the horizon, some shadows breaking the light. The heat distorted their vision and it could very well be a mirage, but the way the darker shape cut the horizon made him hope that it was real.
It was a lone tower sticking up out of the sand, and from the way it was leaning a little suggested that it would be decrepit when they reached it. However, it was something other than sand, and would provide them with some shade while they decided what to do next.
Perhaps they would even find the owner of the mysterious voice there.
Someone pushed past his shoulder roughly.
"Let's go," Vaati said roughly, hiding the exhaustion in his voice. The teen's face was beginning to turn a burnt red under the cowl, but still he continued onwards with a fiercely determined expression. Sheik followed closely behind him, the chains jangling loudly with each step.
They made no further conversation until they reached the tower that they had seen from the top of the dune in order to conserve energy. The walk had been a lot farther than it initially seemed, and several times Sheik had thought that they would never make it. If even one of them collapsed, then the other wouldn't reach their goal as well, since the chain between them was thick and impossible to break. Several times Sheik worried that Vaati, who had a physical build that was frailer than average, would fall, but each time he even looked at him to offer help he was returned with an annoyed glower. Progress was slow with the sand slipping under their feet, and when they finally made it to the tower both of them fell under its shade in relief. Just as Sheik had predicted, the tower was in ruins with no sign of anyone living there. Even so, they couldn't have been happier to escape the harsh sun, and they leaned against the refreshingly cool stone beneath the tower's shadow.
When Sheik glanced beside him, he thought he even saw a crack of a genuine smile on Vaati's face. It surprised him after seeing nothing but the most annoyed frowns on his companion's face for most of the day.
The smile didn't last long, however. A voice, the voice that had spoken to them earlier, could be heard from somewhere above them. Both Sheik and Vaati jumped immediately to their feet, ready to fight or to run as they searched for the origin of the voice.
"Sheik and Vaati. I have been expecting you."
Sheik caught a glimpse of a figure standing at the top of the broken tower, two stories above them on the crumbling white stone. They dropped down, or rather floated down, and they slowed their descent just before their feet touched the ground.
The owner of the voice wasn't human. They stood upright like a human, about as tall as a grown man, but their head was the head of a black canine. Similar to a… Keeton?
Sheik wasn't sure how he knew what a Keeton was, but apparently some of his memories were intact, just buried away in confused depths.
But yes, a black Keeton. Their large, searching eyes were yellow like the sun, and their pointed ears poked out from holes cut into the white hood that covered their head. The creature wore the clothes of a desert traveler, loose and held together with some leather belts with small inventory pouches hanging from them. Ornate, jeweled gold rings decorated its furry tail.
"No doubt you have questions," it said, its voice reverberating through the air.
"Where do I even begin?" Vaati said, his patience running thin and sarcasm lining every word. Beneath his bravado, however, there was a barely noticeable hesitation in his voice, and Sheik was relieved to know that he hadn't been the only one to be unnerved by this creature.
There was something about it that just… wasn't right. And he didn't mean it in the sense that the creature wasn't human, but a gut feeling that they were a bad sign. Sheik's instincts were telling him to run far, far away from this thing, whatever it was. Boring yellow eyes swerved towards him, and Sheik froze in place. Still hovering in the air, the creature tilted its head, seemingly amused by the fact that it had unnerved the two youths.
"This place is called the Valley of the Dead," it continued, "A barren place that stretches beyond the Gerudo Desert."
"Who are you?" Vaati demanded.
The creature didn't seem to take any offense by Vaati's forceful tone. The way it carried itself made Sheik think of how a god might stand before mortals, as though it didn't care of the opinion of lesser creatures. All of a sudden, Sheik had an unpleasant, passing thought. What if this thing really was a god? It certainly held itself like one, and there was something about the way it casually floated in the air that seemed to say that it was a creature with hidden power. Did gods really walk among mortals? Would anyone know if they did? Either way, Sheik prayed that they weren't enemies.
"I am Thuban. I am always the first to welcome all those who wander here. I am also tasked to help you find a way out."
Sheik didn't allow himself to relax, but he tried to find some comfort in the fact that Thuban claimed that they were there to help them. He didn't sense any deceit in Thuban's words, though he kept some level of caution. After all, there was no saying that the way 'out' would lead them somewhere better than this empty desert.
"Thuban," Sheik addressed the foxlike creature. He tried to ignore the lump rising in his throat when the yellow orbs swerved towards him again like it was peering into his soul. "Why don't we remember anything, and why are we chained together like this?"
All this time, Thuban hadn't revealed much expression aside from a small glimmer of amusement. Now, however, their lips pulled back revealing rows and rows of pointed teeth of gleaming gold. Sheik could only describe Thuban's grin as demonic; there was just something unsettling about it that he couldn't quite put a finger to.
"All those who come here have come here for a reason," Thuban chuckled, teeth clacking together as they laughed. "Those who walk the Valley of the Dead come here seeking answers. They will find them at the end of their journey."
"Tell us now," Vaati cut in, not amused by Thuban's obvious evasiveness. Sheik had to admit that Vaati was brave to continue prodding the mysterious creature like that. Brave, or recklessly foolish.
"I cannot," Thuban replied simply.
"You can't or you won't?"
Thuban's disturbing grin stretched wider. "The truth will be granted to those who deserve it. Follow the path, and the truth will come to you." Without warning, they whirled around in a circle, and a hooked golden cane appeared in their hands. Sheik and Vaati flinched when Thuban tapped the backs of their hands with the cane.
There was a tingling sensation where the cane had touched him, and Sheik cautiously looked at the back of his hand to see a gold glowing compass etched into his skin. One of the directional needles of the compass glowed brighter than the others, and the one that was brighter changed depending on which way he pointed his hand. Vaati, too, had the same glowing compass on his hand as well.
It was indicating a particular direction.
Before they could ask the creature any more questions, Thuban, still with their unsettling grin, faded and vanished into the air leaving behind only their voice. By the time the voice disappeared, the two teens were left wondering if any of what they had seen and heard had been real. The only proof they had that Thuban had existed was the glowing compass on both of their hands.
"You have both come here, together, for a reason. The answer you seek is beyond the desert."
"Be warned that the answer you find may not be one you like."
fleets: Thanks for reading the first chapter! Again, I'll be updating this sporadically until I finish Soulbound Princess, since that one will remain my main focus.