"We were born old so that we may die young. Unlike you, I will die with my eyes wide open. I know the Truth."
Sheikah soldier (taken from journals three days before the Last Siege)
Howll was missing.
Midna had the presence of mind to be more that just mildly alarmed because Howll, dependable, predictable Howll, would never vanish in a time of crisis. And this was undoubtedly a time of crisis. She hurried through the great halls and outside to the streets. The streets of black stone, strange and lukewarm and familiar against the soles of her feet, were a comfort. The seven obsidian bridges she'd have to traverse in her journey, however, were not.
The Twilight Realm had always been a place of contrary peril and beauty in appearance, every land mass in the realm an orbiting chunk that revolved around the Palace of Twilight, drawn to the power of the Sols. In this realm the very land they loved moved in sync to the pulse of its own universe and Midna felt quite suddenly that she had fallen out of proper tempo. Every beat of her heart to the soft slap of her feet on the stone was utterly alien now and echoed hollowly, gloriously in the deafening silence. As if she were some mistimed metronome disrupting the cadence of the Twilight.
The House of Script was in a fifth-shell orbit today and therefore an inordinately long ways away. She had the orbitals of the week memorized of course, and knew the bridge work of this city like the back of her hand – she's built part of them in her life time, after all – but that didn't make sprinting several miles any easier by any account. Midna tore the heavy robes off her back as she ran, magicked them back to her wardrobe back home and raced like a mad, feral thing up the smooth footpaths winding the homes of the old Families. A blur of slender, shapely powder-blue arms and legs, long unbraided hair raked like flame red claws down her bare neck and shoulders. For Link's sake she had set all these things into motion, certain that only she could reap the consequences and now – like always – the politics were killing her from behind.
It seemed stupid now. All of it.
'It seems I am constantly ill-suited to serve my people and my friends alike.'
She threw open the door of the great manor, banging them wide with a slamming thrust of power and panic and –
Howll looked up from the mess of books and scrollwork he'd been bent over, glowering at her with all his usual condescension. "Yes, princess?"
"What…" She paused over the words, proofread them, continued: "Pray tell, are you doing?"
"Attempting, my capricious princess, to prevent your kingdom from falling into complete and utter anarchy as you would undoubtedly allow it to if I did nothing to curb your insatiable appetite for stupidity. Furthermore, I might point out that I do not approve of this plan and when it begins – magnificently I'm sure – to fall flaming to pieces, I would remind you that I told you so." He was breathing a little hard by the time he'd finished.
Midna smiled affectionately at her advisor. "Aww, you're helping me."
"You are an insufferable fool and if I didn't Sivu would trample you into the Dark Dust!"
"Such sweet nothings."
Howll threw a book at her and she caught it in a lightening fast tendril of her hair, flipping it idly open. "Has Sivu already gathered the Houses?" she inquired imperiously, pacing around the table, leafing through pages.
"Yes, but you were right about him. He waited until after he secured the remaining Council. We managed to move first because of it – stop smirking, just because you had a moment of insight. No one's impressed – He's been planning this move for a rather long time. We've suspected as much. There are alliances between the High Houses, Lyrics at the head of the coalition and they've already rallied against you." Midna had the presence of mind to notice that her dear record-keeper was pouring over an array of vastly impressive looking maps and battle stratagems. There was a small flock of Snippet Stones hovering about his person like eager birds. He gave her a cool look. "Luckily, our own alliances have been set. You have the old Families at your command."
"Sivu counts who among his allies?"
"The House of Myst," said Howll grimly, "then the House of Shudder, Ash, Ambrose, and Aphrose. Also Grove, Mettle, Tremor… and the House of Bell." He took a darkened Snippet Stone from the tabletop, rolling it thoughtfully between his long ebon fingers. His dark eyes seethed behind the even cyanide in his syllables. "Lady Bella has betrayed us. She's taken her power to the House of Lyrics in hopes of claiming a higher place in the hegemony. She's shattered her Snippet Stone, though she was kind enough to send her best regards when she declined the call to arms."
He raised a slim hand to show the burned white scar seared into the flesh below his index and middle finger. Before he could insist manfully that he was fine, Midna put her book down and captured his wrist, closing her hands around his in a manner much similar to a prayer. When she released it, the burn was only a faint gray spot in the centre of his black palm. He inspected her work critically, as though he disapproved, before moving restlessly away from her again. He spoke without looking up from his work.
"I'm sorry, princess."
"Why? Because you couldn't convince a traitorous old bitch to honor her promises? We are Twili, Howll, treachery is what we do." She waved a hand flippantly. "It's fashionable."
His tone was mildly accusing. "You don't think so."
"No. I don't." She snapped the book shut and tossed it to her companion who caught it without looking up from his work. "But I know that all the new Houses do. Bella's treachery is unusual for a head mother of an old Family, but we'll deal with her when the time comes. We have Dusk, Murmur, Story, Flight, and Melody, all of whom are of the old tribal Families. They're strong." She took a place to the other Twili's left. "Did the House of Battle answer your summons?"
Midna sighed. "Very well. I can still use Murmur and Dusk to lead the –"
"Nevertheless," he spoke up, interrupting her, "they are yours, Midna."
"Oh?" She arched a brow. "And how, dear Howll, did you manage that? Lady War hates all that I live and breathe upon."
He eyed her disdainfully. "Just because you have the diplomatic grace of a drunken dannforb does not mean that I am without persuasive clout. I spoke with Lady War myself. Furthermore, as much as Battle hates Midnight, they hate the House of Lyrics more."
"You sly dog, she's over twice your age."
He ignored her innuendo. "We are outnumbered, princess."
"I did notice. Incompetent I may be at your form of diplomacy, counting things is something I'm rather proficient at when the mood strikes."
If Howll wanted to say something to that he didn't. Instead he magicked a couple extra books from the nearest shelf and waved them down on the table, paging through themselves until they halted at the directed chapter place. The shorter Twili investigated these tomes with unnatural interest. Midna took the opportunity to note that her companion's hands where he reached for nearby scrollwork, were trembling just slightly and because she'd known Howll long enough to know his were hands that didn't shake, she read significantly into it.
"Howll," Midna said delicately, "the House of Script is not listed among allies."
"Nor enemies. Script, like the Houses of Law and Mystic, are neutral. As always," he replied evenly.
She eyed him. "And you?"
"My House," answered Howll coolly, "does not speak for its individual members. I will not leave you to utterly botch up this attempted coup on your own."
There was a small quiet after that, a quiet between the two Twili that seemed to stretch on for an inordinately long time. Midna took the time to scrutinize her companion with extreme prejudice and he took the time to pointedly not look up at her and rifle importantly through several sheaves of mapping she didn't know anything about. He probably had the entire battle plan etched out in his mind, all the little intimate details of the Houses accounted for, their histories and hates stacked neatly into the stratagem against the coming onslaught. No member of Script knew their history like Howll and it occurred to her that her advisor, her bookish and order-oriented friend, was probably suffering unparalleled anxiety-bordering-on-panic attacks. For her. She found herself suddenly and unreasonably saddened by this and immediately moved to smother the feisty ember in her ribcage.
"You know what this is?" Midna asked him seriously. He looked up; blinking at her with what might have been honest curiosity. She nodded, pursing her lips. "This, this is a moment. We're having a moment, right here, now." She ignored his throaty growl of irritation and added resolutely. "Howll, we should hug or something."
"Your highest majesty, princess of Twilight?" he addressed her formally.
"Shut up and help me plan this battle." He turned his gaze away again, lowering his voice. "Tomorrow, the kingdom of Twilight may go to war."
"So…he's run away from you too."
The first time Ashei met her, some weeks ago, there had been something in her voice that Ashei couldn't recognize, or something that she'd forgotten somewhere during years and years of disuse. It wasn't until just then, hearing it the second time, that Ashei recognized what it was: The sound of grief.
Ilia didn't wear her regrets like most women did, bitter and simmering behind quick glances and quicker fluting laughter. Rather her mistakes seemed to rise in her gaze like sunrise and hang there in suspension, shining and bright and aware. She waited for them on the porch of her two-story house, hands folded before her, wearing a face worn smooth by a storm neither Shad nor she could dare to comprehend. In a distant and intellectual way, Ashei understood some of what that hurricane had entailed – a lightening strike of laughter and motion and when it moved on you were left standing in the wake of that, numb. This pretty golden-haired girl, with a face like a faerie and eyes like old jade, had grown up with that in her backyard, learned to read with that, played games with that, ate dinner and rode horses with that.
And now, apparently, she'd lost that.
Ilia was looking out the window now, a mug of cooled tea set on the table between her elbows. Shad was fidgeting. Rightly so, he'd just finished painting what could be considered a rather hostile picture of Hyrulian nobility and its arraying against a close friend of hers. Nevertheless, the pretty Ordonian merely picked up her mug, took it to the sink, poured it out in the basin and proceeded to wash it out. Ashei watched her move, impatience coloring her mood only slightly because – again – she understood some of the weight in this girl's movement and why it had the power to slow someone as unflaggingly bright as Ilia of Ordon, but for gods' sake this was urgent. Shad inspected the table top closely, tensely aware of something in the room, some unspoken hurt that shivered threateningly among the cracked chinaware and hand-knitted curtains.
After a moment Ilia stopped scrubbing and just stared at the cup in her hands.
"He left Ordon…a while ago." There was a momentary pause, an inhalation. "I lied to you, Miss Ashei. When you came here, looking for him last time I told you he went to Lake Hylia only a week before. Truth be told, he's been gone a lot longer than that."
Ashei didn't look away. "I know."
Ilia just laughed. One short note of amusement and Ashei could tell she was not surprised either.
"It was just outings at first, little trips to other prefectures, you know. Then it was missions from the crown and he'd come home looking…" she struggled for some idiom to speak it. Gave up. "There's something in him that won't let him stay. It's always been there. And, in a way, I always knew this would happen, you know? That he'd…leave. Even before the Twilight came down on us and the bublins came here, there was that nagging fear in the back of everything. I mean, we all knew, just never said anything about it – that Link was full-blooded Hylian. When you're a kid that kind of thing doesn't seem important, you never think about it or what it might mean or that somewhere someday it might be the only thing that matters."
There was some anger there now. She was gripping the mug too hard.
Shad shifted in his chair, like someone who wanted to say something, but hadn't he words or the know-how and realized it. He ended up exactly where he'd started, looking sad for her and sorry as hell, sitting there helplessly.
"Link is a full blood Hylian then?"
"Yes. Father couldn't keep it secret forever. He was the mayor after all and he was the one who promised Link's parents."
Ashei sat forward. "Yu' say his parents were Hylians, yeah?"
"Yes. If you wanted a firsthand account you'd have to talk to my father."
"Where is your father?"
Ilia hung her cup on a hook over the sink and examined the yard through her window with a funny look on her face. "He died a month ago."
There was a moment to take that in.
"Does Link know?"
"How could he?" There was no anger in her voice. "He's been gone nearly two months, hasn't he?"
"I'm sorry, Ilia. How…how did it happen, if you don't mind my asking?" Shad inquired softly in that gentle way he had, which Ashei could never mimic. "I find it hard to think…Link would leave if your father was ill. He spoke very well of Bo. Spoke of him like one does a father."
"I know. That's why I'm not upset. It was an accident. He cut himself on a sickle while out at the harvest, it took infection and he died a week after. Fast as that. No one's fault, but I hate that Link wasn't here, I hate that he's not part of this village anymore, because he's not. I know he's not. He might have been happy here once, but now…" She stopped herself. "I'm sorry. That's not what you're here for. Link is in trouble."
"Yes. Some trouble," said Shad.
The Ordonian pivoted away from the counter and strode very business like through a door in the back of the room. "You follow me," she called, descending into what looked to be a cellar. It was huge; one wall dominated by the expected stock of foodstuffs, dried meats, canned and preserved fruits and vegetables, crates and crates of grains. Shad was peering at the lot as though it bore some significance. Ashei dismissed him as overly studious – he was probably admiring the variety of flora and fauna – and followed Ilia across what looked like a jerry-rigged wrestling arena to where she stooped before a giant, oaken chest.
"My father kept the village records, family lines, history and traditions all written here. It's the duty of a mayor to know these and keep them safe." Ilia popped open the lock and pushed the lid up, piles of leather-bound tubes glowing softly in the lantern light overhead. "I'm mayor of Ordon now." She selected one scroll and held it out to Shad. "This is the one you want. Maybe it will mean more to a member of Hyrule. In Ordonna Link's parents were just people to be helped."
Shad accepted the scroll but faced a momentarily issue when Ilia didn't immediately relinquish the leather tube; choosing rather to eye him steadily over the document between them and make it abundantly clear that she required him to do all that he promised. Mercifully, she let go before Shad turned any brighter shades of red and left the man to probably ponder to himself how he'd come to be surrounded by so many powerful and frightening women. He murmured his thanks and like a good and dutiful bookworm unraveled the scroll and wandered toward a table, eyes down.
There was about two minute's silence.
Shad looked up.
"Oh," he said softly. "Oh dear."
"There are little suns burning inside your head!" was their captive's greeting upon waking.
"Shaa...no," Sheik replied. "No, there aren't."
They discussed the dimensional impossibility for a few minutes. During those few minutes, it became increasingly apparent that logic wasn't something this Twili liked to utilize in his dealings with reality (i.e.: "The suns are small enough to fit in your head. That's why there's still space to think.") The longer they spoke with him, the less and less coherent he seemed to grow; his sentences shattering into tangents of biting, shrieking curses only to resume his previous train of thought to its finish. After making a jump from demanding that he be let go, to singing a stanza of some hushaby then back again, Sheik's questions grew noticeably terse.
"What's your name, cheh?"
"I don't properly remember."
"What do you call yourself then?"
"I don't call myself anything." The Twili grinned at the sky, teeth glittering and slightly fanged as Midna's had always been. Bright eyes, the color of sunset and blood swung round, glittering and manic. "He gave me a name, Sheikah. It's not my real name, or it might be, I don't know. I don't remember my real name – like I said, he took it, ripped it out of my head and filled the socket with ash and water. Would you like me to tell you that one?"
He ignored the question. "Ash and water?"
"Drown me and burned me. That's how mirrors feel from the inside."
"He bound you inside a mirror?"
"Yes." It chilled your bones how he said that.
Some of what they said they said in Sheikah, softly conversing across the golden lines wrought in the sand to cage him in. The warding circle had been the last of the magic at Sheik's disposal after which he'd glared at Link as thought it were al his fault and passed out face down in the sand. Twenty minutes later he'd come to grumpy, achy, and more than a little stiff, all of which he didn't actually complain about but were made evident by the way he kept snapping at Link to leave him alone and assuring him he was completely fine. To prove it, he'd started immediately on interrogating their captured assassin and, just to be irritating, made sure to do some of it in his own native tongue, which the Twili – for reasons unknown – seemed familiar with.
Link couldn't know the exact nature of what they spoke but at several points during the conversation the former darkling lunged at the barrier, digging his fingers into the invisible veil of air and magic like he could rend it apart and get his hands on the seer's throat. Sheik, for his part, remained visibly unperturbed the entire conversation. Though – for an instant – the Twili shook him. Employing the same trick that Midna had once used to persuade Link's fears into cooperation, the rogue transformed suddenly into another Sheikah. A woman. A fighter, a tattoo running vertical down her cheek, blades and belts buckled at her hips, a knife in hand. She stood just slightly taller than Sheik, was perhaps a little fierce in her thirties with hair already stark white.
Sheik's gaze became red diamond, stainless and cold at the sight of her.
"Link, go get the horses."
The Ordonian felt the desert shiver a little and didn't immediately obey. Sheik glared sharply at him, his bloodstained hair falling into his eyes, glittering and furious and immortal as Link knew they were.
"I said go," he snapped.
Link left to find Epona and Kali only after giving him a look that clearly said, 'Don't do anything stupid while I'm away.' Sheik rewarded his efforts by glaring at him. Either way, Link took his time across the dunes; not ungrateful for a brief period to organize the events of the last few days. Little help that Sheik was, Link had nevertheless managed to divine from the irascible prophet a few solid fragments of reasonably solid fact…or at least some very logically defendable truths, the first of which being – if nothing else – Zelda trusted Sheik.
Quite frankly, if Zelda had not been elected by the Triad themselves as Wisdom incarnate, he would have had some serious thoughts about the Queen's choice in friends. This, of course, struck a little too close to home for comfort, but Sheik was not one to inspire camaraderie and confidence in those around him. Fear maybe; nervousness, irritation, blind fury; the occasional dose of self-induced incompetence, but trust and amity – not so much.
Link pushed the thought away briefly, tugging Ilia's reed whistle from under the collar of his shirt and blowing three curt notes. He sat down in the sand while he waited for Epona's approach, knowing no stable or terrified Gerudo handler could keep the cart horse contained once she heard that song. It was just a matter of time (and how many of those poor girls tried to stand in her way) before she found him. He used the spare time to keep thinking,
Now despite some divergence in their opinions during the last year or so, Link didn't think Zelda a poor judge of character; maybe a poor judge of his character, but not of other people. He trusted her to make good decisions when the need was dire. If Sheik were dangerous, she would have known and acted accordingly. If Sheik were even half the supposed madman that Nooru had described to him in that crumbled Sheikah shrine, then the former Princess of Destiny would have known and she would have sent someone else.
Nevertheless, Link knew a little about lies and the scent and shape of them on the mouths of others and – while he wasn't the expert in them that Midna or Shiek might be – it seemed to him that Nooru at the very least believed that she was telling the truth. Or a version of truth, if not all of it; a historical account that placed Sheik on Ganondorf's timeline and Link felt his stomach turn over; his arms shiver and shudder reactively. The implications burned in his veins and in his belly like the wolf transformation, base and bestial and pitiless. It took more than most of his self-possession not to seize the slighter man and shake him screaming, "How could you not See what he'd become?"
But right now seemed a poor time to bring it up. Truth or not, the Sheikah was crossed-eyed with exhaustion and crabby, meaning 'thou shalt ask no questions.' If he broached the complicated subject now, he'd no doubt get a narrow-eyed look and some obscure twiddle-twaddle for his trouble. Best to remain focused on more immediate problems, save the sordid past for sorting at a later date and query on odd happenings that Sheik might actually manage to speak straight on rather than traipse about. Namely:
1: The Shadow was a Twili.
2: Sheik seemed very unsurprised about it.
Well, no that wasn't right. He was surprised that the Shadow was a Twili, but he wasn't surprised like someone unfamiliar with the race of the half-lit realm would be. Rather he was surprised the way Link was surprised – surprised in the way that a magician, who knows the mechanics of his trick rabbit from the hat, would be surprised to pull out a gerbil. They were surprised for the same reason. Quite simply, there shouldn't have been another Twili in the Realm of Light.
During his time with her, Midna had imparted to him the various ways in which her people differed from his own; lest he get ridiculous notions in his head that Hylians were better than her race, which was quite the reverse. First, she wanted to point out that she was not really two feet tall and hideous originally, nor were her people. In fact, on the whole, Twili were uniformly tall, slender, and fine-featured (she said exactly, "A lot better looking than you lot!") They used magic more instinctively than any other race, could live well into several centuries barring any fatal illnesses or untimely methods of demise, and could not – unless imbued with magic of the highly superior kind (i.e.: exclusive royal family voodoo) – exist in their true physical form in the Realm of Light .
Link didn't think she was lying about that and thus the question lay before them:
How was this Twili, psychotic raving lunatic that he was, not only able to retain his physical form but beat the living daylights out of other people with it? There was no doubt in Link's mind that Sheik was mulling over a very similar question. Somehow this strange cursed creature was capable of keeping his corporeal form despite assurances that doing so was quite difficult, nay, bordering on impossible for anyone outside the royal family. The last Twili to do that had been Zant…ironically imbued with dark magics from the same unholy benefactor that had cursed their lonely assassin.
And more to the point, Sheik seemed to know that.
Why the seer had declined to mention that he knew anything about the Twilight Realm, Link didn't know. He certainly wanted to know, meant to find out very soon in the near and immediate future, possibly with a well due amount of threatening if it came to that, but for now he'd be content to address the subject of the feral Twili suddenly thrown to their strange mercies. Link's gut-knot conglomeration of horror, pity, and rage and Sheik's unassailable wall of autonomy, both of which would be called upon shortly to discuss what exactly you do with a mad Twili murderer.
Epona arrived just then, nickering in a manner of deep personal satisfaction. This informed her young handler that she'd laid waste to half a dozen Gerudo citizens on her way here and was supremely proud of it. She pranced about for several minutes while Kali meandered somewhat more stealthily from the nearby shadows and looked on with somber disdain. Link sighed and asked them both along after him as he returned to the dune.
Upon his return the Twili had reverted back to his original dusky blue-gray self and was scowling at Sheik in a way possibly even less friendly than it had been before. Sheik was thoroughly engaged in asking him questions and didn't look up at Link's arrival.
"How long were you his prisoner?"
The Twili snapped something, but not in Hylian.
Sheik threw a handful of sand at him and barked something in Sheikah to which his hostage made a horrible face and answered, "Too long. How long. I don't know. There is no sunrise or shadow just black and drowning in standstill," He shuddered. His teeth were audibly gritted. "How could I count the eons?"
"Do you remember how you were caught?" Sheik asked, unmoved by these dramatics.
"No. There is nothing to remember."
"You're a Twili. Do you remember being in the Realm of Twilight?" Sheik snapped his fingers sharply. "Ne! Here. Look at me. Do you remember the Realm of Twilight? Do you? How did Ganon find you? He shouldn't have been able to find you, so how did he find you? The Twilight was hidden from him, in the desert, I hid it myself so he shouldn't have –" Sheik broke off, with a huff suddenly. He dropped his voice back from a frantic growl to a murmur. "He shouldn't have been able to touch the Twili…not back then."
"I said. I already said. Too many times I've said. Ask me long enough my answer will change, but it takes a long time, Sheikah. Longer and longer. I don't remember how. No one ever catches me. I'm a shadow when I want to be and no one should have found me."
Link exchanged a look with Sheik.
"You were in the Realm of Light? You were in Hyrule when Ganon caught you?"
Those fire-amber eyes ignited, lit suddenly on Link, burning fever-yellow and hot. "I burned the caravan," he said suddenly. His grin was a crooked gash of fangs. Beneath his breath Link heard Sheik hiss and decided he must have known (somehow, he found himself too unsurprised to be angry with the seer.) The Twili sniggered and hunkered down, long fingers raking through the dark rust-colored fray of his hair. "I burned them because it's so cold in those mirrors. I was freezing, but I was burning."
"Link," Sheik said sharply. "Don't let him –"
"I killed a little girl," he breathed. The Twili's face melted, paled, became Link's; grinning maniacally, dressed the dusty green he'd never wanted to wear. "I killed a wife and three men." The mirror Hero dissolved into a tall, dark-haired girl in a black gown, pressing her body, face so near to the barrier she might have kissed it. "I killed those eight little Gerudo whores and I'd gut that Sheikah too." The woman flaked away and left Princess Zelda, garbed in funeral shrouds, murmuring sweetly, "I'll kill everything you love, Hero. I'll kill everyone and make them burn like me."
Link closed his eyes, felt the slow smolder of red-orange flame crawl across the inside of his skin and gather white-hot and dark in his belly.
He didn't look at Sheik. "That true?"
Sheik didn't look at him either. "Yes. I wagons were burning when I arrived."
"You did something?"
"I," Sheik began, then paused. He sighed. "Yes. I stopped the fires, cheh. No one else died but the first five."
"You killed them?" Link asked the Twili.
He grinned fiercely, braced his hands against the wall, back arched like a feral cat he hissed, "Yesss…"
Link studied his face for a long moment, the phosphorescent webbing of green threaded down his temple and wound down his arms, the alkali tang of Twili magic and the noxious chemical odor of Dark Art. Those great cat-like eyes the color of dusk and tangerine and riddled with smoldering holes – sanity eaten through by madness and magic. It occurred to him, this particular Twili reminded him of Midna and Link shook his head slightly.
The Shadow blinked.
"I've seen Twili kill for Ganon. Cat's-paw." Link closed his eyes. "You are not so terrible."
The Twili screamed; spitting in his own language and ground his teeth audibly. The expression that twisted his face was so utterly hideous that it stripped every aesthetic grace from him, left him ugly. Then, abruptly, he began to cry. The two other men had two seconds to be surprised before the madman grew enraged and once again flew into a fit of wild shouting. At this point he switched to a dialect of Twili tongue and in spite of Sheik's earnest attempts to persuade him, he refused to speak to either of his captors again in any language they understood. After a while, Sheik shook his head and withdrew to an adjacent dune to sit down – maybe somewhat less gracefully than usual – in the sand.
"Ah," laughed the seer a bit unsteadily. "To think I never Saw this."
There had been a suspect hitch in his voice when he'd said that, no doubt his usual aggravated front suffering at the hands of exhaustion. Mostly likely, he was just too damn tired to keep up indifferent pretenses. The Sheikah was bloody and battered as Link had ever seen him thus far. His pale hair stuck to his forehead, glued there by blood and sweat. The smell of his magic had diluted so fully that Link could barely discern the scent of him in the stark desert odors and could only surmise this meant a high expenditure of his Power. More to the point p even with all that had befallen them thus far – Link had never seen the stolid Sheikah look so tired.
"He's gone out of his mind," Sheik muttered in a way that suggested he were talking to himself and not really to Link. "Not that I'm surprised, cheh. Actually, I'm impressed he's this coherent after a century of imprisonment. He should be…shaa…" In a surprisingly human show of weariness, the Sheikah rubbed both hands over his face. "I don't know what he should be. He should be dead is what he should be. This is, ah, how can I describe to you the shape of this treachery when I haven't the means to frame its nature? This is a matter between desert peoples…"
"You know of the Twili?"
"Intimately," said Sheik. The conversational honey in his voice was laced with nightshade. "My people and theirs had the distinct pleasure of slaughtering each other in combat for the better part of several decades. I was born when their tribe and mine met in war and I was twenty when I led them all to their oblivion, brought them screaming to their knees and shattered their pride and power. We fed the desert blood enough to drown gods."
Then, like a man startled by a joke, he started laughing.
And Midna's ghost reminded Link that Twili could live as long as this cracking caricature beside him; that this was what Time could do.
Sheik ran slim fingers through the sand between his feet, picking up a handful and letting it sift through his grasp. His dark eyes were down turned, crinkled slightly with what must have been an ironic smile behind the mask. "Heh. The goddesses are laughing at me," he remarked a mite too blithely. "Much more my misery that I have to drudge up the past from its proper place at my heels and lay it out for you so that you can understand this. Cheh…This tragedy is meant for the ears of the eons past and them alone."
Carefully, Link took a seat beside the seer. He didn't mind that Sheik refused to look at him. He waited.
"Our dead lay buried in the desert, beneath shifting dunes and the shallow graves of the dead. Hills of bone and metal so vast…" He stopped, peering promptly elsewhere for something. "Shaa…by the end of it our peoples were so diminished no Path but that of destruction was left to either of us. That was the last war the Twili fought before they made their bid for the Triforce like every other race that ever died screaming in pursuit of the Goddesses' Gift…"
Sheik rubbed his palms together to scrub away the sand.
"After Ganon fell to the ancient hero, the Twili race was entrusted with the guardianship of Ganon's Dark Realm. It was there that the first Princess of Destiny banished the man a century past. His evil twisted it into a world of shadow and malice, filled with his abominations and his monsters. Shaa…it was meant to be their prison for all time and they were the gatekeepers, meant to hold the keys…"
"They didn't know," Link said.
Sheik worked through the non sequitur for a moment. "No. They couldn't have known the One Unnamed was a Twili. They would have endeavored to free him. This complication changes the situation dramatically, as it is not a Path I sought for. I meant to break the Dark Mirror that bound the dark assassin to life. Now, I cannot do this. It would kill him, as was the goal."
The seer looked at Link, eyes blood-bright and brittle somehow.
"I will not kill another member of the Twili. He needs the magicks of his own people to restore him. It's them we must reach, but the way is dangerous. We must escort the One Unnamed back to the Dark Mirror and use it to open a way between this realm and Ganon's Dark Kingdom. It may have lost its king, but the malice in that world remains potent as it ever was. This is the land through which we must cross to reach the Veil and break through to the Realm of Twilight."
The moon overhead hung heavily and bright in Link's awareness suddenly; stars and constellations he knew sparkling like pins of bright fire in his thoughts, the familiar air in his nose and mouth thick and balmy all at once and real. Sheik didn't go on, added nothing to his proclamation. He just sat there, looking tired and expectant. Link felt that his skin was too tight around his bones, that this reality was unbearable and stifling heavy in his senses. Like he wanted to tear through it.
"There is a path from this realm to the Twilight?"
"No," Sheik snorted. "There is a path from this realm to the Dark Realm and from there a path to the Twilight exists, cheh. A tenuous, dangerous, ridiculous to even consider as an option path – even when not escorting a raving mad member of the magi tribe, but I suppose it is a path nonetheless."
Link stared at him.
"Shaa. I mean, yes, Link. There's a way to the Twilight. What's more, we're taking it. How would you like to see Midna?"
Somewhat less refined than I'd like, but it'll have to do. This story is not dead. I've just started at university and that puts things on the back-burner somewhat. Love and cuddles to everyone who's waited and continues to be supportive. Reviews and ridicule is appreciated equally if its intelligent. Feel free to tell me what you think.