Chapter 23: Apple Tea
The tunnel was splotched black and gold.
Sheik couldn't smell anything anymore. There was too much blood… his mind must've stopped processing it, because it didn't just disappear. It defied ontological intertia…
Ontological… that was…
Stuff. It was stuff being stuff. … probably. The world was blotchy.
Warm hands on his face. Skin too pale for Link. Maybe Zelda?
But that was a man's voice. Kafei?... no, no… Kafei's eyes were red… and he didn't… didn't glow like that…
"You've really done a number on yourself. You're just as bad as my first one."
A man who was laughing at him.
Warm metal in his mouth. The taste filled up his throat. His stomach growled.
"Go on… drink up. We'll be back with the pretty little hero before you know it."
Sheik's head bobbed once, twice. He passed out.
It had been years since she'd been, but the Twili palace was just as she remembered. Glowing floors, impossible architecture, and floating blocks. Ah, yes. She couldn't stay away long. She'd managed to steal a day, this time, and that would have to be enough.
Her arrival (quick and not-quite-announced, but Midna had known it would be like that and promised to keep a clear enough schedule to accommodate) had been right smack in the middle of the twili's sleeping cycle, regrettably. Zelda was led to her room without preamble by a servant, and while they walked the halls she came to the jarring realization that, aside from the tower, she'd never actually been in the castle at all!
Moreover, she'd never been to Midna's room.
The servant knocked twice, let out a noise like a churchbell from miles away through a pillow, and waddled off down the hall.
Awaiting her host found Zelda running over her thoughts again: the traitor who killed the king, the traitor's master, and whatever madness had mastered him to take such a course, the threat to her claim on the throne by an almost-estranged uncle twice removed (or some equally confusing nonsense), her health, her trepidation, her newfound belligerence. There was a life and beauty that had been restored in her with the immersion of her feral other into herself, a physically maturity and panacea to the frailty that had until now ailed her.
Midna was exceedingly skilled at looking at a field of chaos, grabbing a few pieces and gifting her audience an end result that, while often cryptic, was shockingly whole and insidious with its insights. Zelda much looked forward to her musings on all these matters, though not without some trepidation. It was Midna, after all, who'd pushed her uncaringly over the precipice of despair she'd been dangling on as a child, to see if she could fly. She had no doubt that that stroke of viciousness would always remained unchecked, and-
The creak of the hinges cut off her near-frantic fidgeting. In what was, in reality, about two minutes after Zelda had been announced, Midna had come and opened the door. She stood there completely naked while giving Zelda a confused look. "Oh. I thought it was Zant." She peered at Zelda a moment, eyes squinting, then shrugged. "Sorry."
Zelda thought she might die on the spot.
Kafei sighed, stretching. "That was a really long trip." He mumbled as his back popped.
Hell, busy looking around Tot in some kind of mute stupor, did not reply. Majora flounced up the road toward their house without a care in the world.
Kafei caught a passing sheikah to hand over a scroll sealed with red wax. "Message from the queen. You want to get that to the council?"
They disappeared into the crowd. Kafei glanced back, got Hell by the edge of his cloak, and led him through the outskirts of the city. "We're running by my place to rest. I need a nap like you wouldn't believe."
"Excuse me? I've been the primary target of your addle-minded lunacy. I know better than you by now." Hell looked ready to swat him for it, too.
Kafei stifled a laugh. "Ah… and Kishin's waiting to greet us, too."
Since looking at Kishin would be a better answer than any words Kafei could ever string together, he pointed.
White hair, tan skin, blank eyes. Armor from a foreign territory, though he couldn't say where, and many tattoos in bright, bright colors. The kind that made Majora sort of pouty, actually. (He wanted to monopolize the motley clown look on this mountain.)
Then there was the fact that the man was clearly visible over the crowds swarming around them. And his prominent musculature.
And that his tights were shiny and he had really impressive thighs sticking out from under that short little white tunic.
Well, Kafei thought with a bit of wry humor, perhaps they can bond over their fashion sense?
"Kafei," The man called in a deep, dull drawl as they came closer, "Something was dropped off about an hour ago. It might be of interest to you."
"Eh… really? But…" Kafei blinked and jogged up the hillside, leaving Hell to walk alone.
Hell glanced around the city and sadly conceded to himself that, yes, trying to disappear into a crowd here would be a moot point. It wasn't as if he could just leave, anyway. Damn it…
"Are you decent now?" Zelda asked from behind folded hands.
"Really? You swear?"
"Promise on your life!"
"Oh, come on, it's not as if it's anything particularly new to you-"
"Alright alright! I promise, totally decent, I'm wearing my Hylian court ensemble just for you, you can come in with eyes uncovered. Really. Hurry it up if you don't mind, this is uncomfortable!"
Zelda uncovered her face to pout. Accepting Midna as decent, she entered the Twili queen's parlor.
"I had wanted to talk with you…"
"Oh? You seem lively tonight." Midna smiled, leaning against a table with hands braced on the edge. "Haven't seen you with such bright eyes since you decided you were regaining your throne."
"Perhaps it is because the circumstances are similar." Zelda admitted in a soft murmur, and Midna's brow furrowed.
"What's all this now?" She asked with a note of strong dislike resonating on her features.
"Sir Dietrich of Weiss, my… well, I suppose he's my uncle." Zelda shook her head in exasperation. "He's demanding I marry his son."
"The one whose servant committed acts of murder and terrorism before fleeing." Midna deadpanned. She and Zelda had corresponded at length over the matter after Kafei had… informed her of the truth of Sheik's minor betrayal. (Zelda was more than a little pissed at him for lying about it, as if that should soften the blow! … but she had understood why he'd done it, even if she wanted to beat him over the head for it.)
"The self-same." Zelda confirmed with all the grimness her name and title should demand. "I don't much like anyone from Weiss at the moment," She added absently.
Midna could concur. "Well, what did you say?" She dearly hoped it was something amusing – Zelda could read as much on her face. Regretfully, it was not so.
"Well, I had almost told him that I couldn't because his son had run off with a sheikah from the mountains, but considering certain… campaigns of Sir Dietrich that would be unwise." Zelda sighed.
"He was the one chiefly responsible for the culling, almost twenty years ago." Zelda looked to the ground, shame-filled for the atrocities that not her race, but her own flesh and blood had committed. "He claimed it was recompense for the murder of his heir, Viilinn of Weiss. But I…" she paused, considering the floor. "He had exposed his prejudice to the sheikah before that. When his daughter came into office, she… changed laws and organized events. She never apologized, but that's not really something you can just say sorry over, is it?"
"'Oh, my dad has been trying to have your entire race brutally murdered but hey, let's be buddies anyway?'" Midna was so incredibly dry. It was little wonder she and Sheik got along. "No, systemized racism and genocide are rarely healed by an apology. But the admittance that it's happened and it's wrong, that might have been a start."
"Perhaps…" Zelda shifted, sighed and crossed her arms to hide from it all. "This is getting a bit depressing, however."
"What sort of backing does he have?" Midna seemed unfettered by her discomfort. Typical.
"A fair amount in political circles. Mostly dry old bastards looking to maintain their own power." Zelda curled her lip in distaste. Midna laughed.
"Well, you have my support, and I wager that if you patch up relations with the gerudo you can get theirs, too. And we all know the hero of time is on your side, and that's a beautiful beacon to the public, their little unknown hero… Fight fire with fire, yes?"
"Politics give me such a headache." Zelda confessed to the ceiling with a groan. It was the bitter truth.
"And that's why I'm the schemer." Midna tsked with a wicked grin. "Now come along, dear, you didn't come to visit so that we could talk about men all night." She put a hand around Zelda's shoulder, all the better to steer her with.
"I was under the impression that was what women our age discussed?" She said, leaning into the touch with exquisite trust and ease.
"Only in shite tabloids like the ones that keep fighting about what you keep in your skirt, dear." Midna was quick to correct. Zelda's nose wrinkled.
"I… what?" That was hardly their business. Why, she had a couple throwing knives, a scimitar, a baton… but that was still none of their business!
Midna seemed to sense her point had flown well over Zelda's head. "Never mind. Point is that real people have more sense than that!" She told Zelda instead with the haughtiest airs one might imagine.
And that was how Zelda got talked into raiding the Twili kitchen at half past one with the giggling queen.
Once Midna's impressive appetite had be satiated, she and Zelda sat down to actually speak. And did Zelda have interesting news for her…
The biggest concerns were always the first to be laid out. "I'm a bit disappointed that you can't glow in the dark anymore." Midna said not long after the revelation of the shadow caster's separation. Zelda puffed her cheeks out for it. "Oh, wait, and you can have kids now I assume?" Yes, that was the order of importance. Glowing abilities, then children. "Lucky you… little screaming… brats." Midna appeared unenthused by the concept.
"Little screaming brats." Zelda echoed, imagining what it would be like if she had a child. "… oh my god. I couldn't do that. NO ONE could deal with that again."
"You'd never have time for anything." Midna tossed up her hands, "Certainly not running a kingdom."
"Unless a nanny raised the child." Zelda wrinkled her nose. "And I'm told childbirth is quite unpleasant…"
"And the vomiting for four or five months before, at least…" Mida waved, putting a hand over her stomach protectively, "I can't even imagine why some people willingly…"
"And… you know… I've heard the mother will… when the child is coming…" Zelda's nose wrinkled, and she waved in her attempts to express the knowledge without saying it. "I mean to say…"
"You know, I think we should just perish the thought and move onto something else." Midna suggested delicately, to Zelda's profuse agreement.
"… So, fencing."
"Yes, I was thinking about taking up fencing again." Zelda said agreeably.
Midna, who was a mage and so avoided any combat that didn't somehow allow her to drop a small bridge on her opponent, found the standard martial arts somewhat barbaric and unpalatable, but listened as good friends were wont. If getting nasty and sweaty sparring with the knights made Zelda happy she was quite welcome to it.
Just… "Don't expect me to spar you, dear Zelda."
"Of course not." Zelda smiled and folded her hands. "You'd cheat."
She would. Midna smirked and kicked up her legs. "Have you told Sheik?"
"Well, no, but I'll speak to him once he's returned. For now I've got Impa arranging a schedule for my lessons." Zelda beamed. "I'm looking forward to it, to be honest. I've heard she makes students cry."
Who said that with a smile, anyway? Zelda. Zelda did. "Masochist…"
"She's a good teacher! At any rate, I'd rather not be treated lightly. Suppose I need to defend myself and all I've known was kidgloves?"
"Pfft. You'd die." Midna said it with a glorious carelessness that belied the truth; that Zelda had been there before, and she had.
Died, that was.
Zelda gave her a smile, hands clasped in her lap. The scar on her throat gleamed pretty in the light and reminded Midna of a broken doll in a tower watching the rain.
"You know," She began with a gentler tone, her hands wringing together slowly while her eyes stayed considering and set on Zelda's face, "You seem much happier than I've ever seen you."
"I feel more alive than you've ever seen me." Zelda promised, her smile turning a bit giddy on its edges. Her fingers played over gloved hands and wrists like skittering spiders. A shiver seemed to lance through her. "I have to confess… I know I should be worried, but I feel a bit… excited."
Midna's lips twitched in amusement. "Ah, the mad queen. Going to go running around like a strapping young man again?"
"I've never understood that. I don't see anything particularly masculine about taking action. Seems more to do with confidence." Zelda said with enough to inspire an army. Good girl.
"Keep thinking that." Midna said easily. "You'll go far." She offered Zelda her hand. Zelda took it unthinking, and Midna tugged her to her feet so they might dance around a bit, pointless and relaxed and lips waxing with smiles and laughter. "You're the queen. Make the most of your misery!" She proclaimed with excessive regality, because, well, that was just how Midna made proclamations. And it worked, so!
"Yes, Midna!" Zelda snorted into her hand and took the lead, which was incredibly awkward with Midna being the taller one, but they'd make do.
Their time was regretfully short, though Zelda left with a lighter heart and more nerve in her steps. Midna was as sharp and frank as Impa – she wouldn't lie when Zelda spoke to her in confidence.
Jaw set, Zelda departed, firm in the convictions she now carried beside her heart. She would deal with Dietrich of Weiss, she would deal with her father's killer, and she would see her brother and her best friend home alive. She had seen herself bleed out in a gutter surrounded by death and misery, her city falling to ruin around her, once. It seemed like a lifetime ago the same as it seemed only hours had passed from that moment…
Once one had fallen so low and been revived, the only way to go was up. Zelda put her hood up and disappeared into the twilight.
Midna watched her go from the window with a smile that was maybe a little too fond, but she had always had that soft spot for foolhardy blonds. She liked to blame it on a dalliance in her youth with a farm boy in the south and left it at that, usually. With Zelda (and the need for modesty) now gone, she shut her door and began to disrobe. She hadn't been kidding when she'd complained about finding hylian court wear uncomfortable.
"You're so full of it." A voice informed her from the vanity at her back, and… well.
Midna was impressed. Her guest had managed to avoid blurting that out until the door was shut and Zelda was gone. That was some serious restraint on his part, the smartass that he was.
"Zant? Really, you thought it was Zant." The shadow caster continued, walking forward and waving a hand which, Midna was curious to note, had blood on it. Eager to find the source, she looked around and found… a lump on her bed, which on further inspection turned out to be a man who was passed out and covered with even more blood. How delightful. Well, that explained that.
"Well, who else would come to my door at this hour?" She wondered, going over to see what she could do for the poor bastard ruining her coverlet.
"And you answer the door naked for him? Ha."
"You're such a cruel thing, Shadow Caster." On inspection… her other guest had no injuries. Though Midna was certain this was his blood.
"Belial. I have a name now." The caster corrected happily. Midna sighed and waved him on. "And a purpose! I had come to tell you about my severance from the little canary queen… but it seems she beat me to it…" And more.
Midna snorted while she shrugged on some robes. "Belial, huh? Thing for irony? Because even I see an issue with naming yourself like that…"
"Now, now. It was a gift and I can only accept those graciously."
"Mmmmhm. What are you doing, Belial?" She rolled it around like a curse, tasting every syllable for what it was. Epithet for a devil… not quite the devil. But. Getting there.
(No, Belial thought, the epithet for the devil would remain belonging solely to the fallen.)
"Right now?... biding my time."
"Of course." Well, birds of a feather. "Wait and hope, right?" Midna nodded to him on her way by. "I'll be back later, if there's still something you need."
"Of course." Belial smiled at the door's click as she shut it.
Hell was surprised to find out that, yes, Kafei was not technically a sheikah (though he had the eye of truth cut into his chest? Whatever…) and, no, Kishin was not an ogre.
Majora called him an ogre. But he was not an ogre.
"Why aren't we looking for Schwarz?"
"Because Sheik and Link are looking for Schwarz, apparently, so he'll probably just end up running from them and into town." Kafei explained.
"Uhm, Kafei…" Kishin began from the window.
"Furthermore, because I needed to get my good knives and supplies before we go into the catacombs…"
"And because I need to make arrangements for you to stay here, because you'll die in the catacombs-"
Hell tuned Kafei out and went to see what Kishin was looking at.
Kafei blinked when the duke then ran out of the house, slamming the door. "… they just walked into town, didn't they?"
"SCHWARZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE YOU THINKING!?"
Kishin smiled and pretended not to notice Kafei rubbing his face on the way out.
"Babysitting, I'm babysitting…" He could be heard reminding himself. Kishin smirked and went to start on dinner.
The sheikah who had escorted the prisoner to Kafei's home left only after assuring themselves that no one would be leaving without the entire city knowing.
Hell was cranky and guarded and hovering, and Kafei was about to smack him one.
Majora was probably on the roof. Kishin was making dinner and gracefully ignoring the mistrustful looks their guests (prisoners) kept giving him. Kafei rubbed his forehead.
"So. Just… let me run through this again." He begged. "Link and Sheik went after you two in the catacombs, and now they're both missing, and the patrol for the tombs found you instead."
Schwarz nodded, blind eyes cast to the floor.
"You committed regicide."
Hell looked ready to argue. Schwarz nodded, and all color seemed to flee the duke. "Schwarz! Don't-"
"I did do it. For you." Schwarz confessed, and Hell looked ill.
Kafei took a deep breath. "My brother and the hero of fucking time are lost to the catacombs, I have a pair of traitors on my floor, and I have to explain this to the queen. Fuck. This. Noise."
He grabbed his blades from the mantel and walked out.
Kishin smiled at the guests. "Milk?"
Unsurprisingly, neither of them was very hungry.
Knil looked up from his book. "I swear he's fine, you know. You can stop pacing."
"I want to see him."
"You will turn into a monster if you enter the twilight." The twilight was a probably imaginary place that Belial claimed to be escorting Sheik to earlier. "I have no idea how Zelda does it, honestly. Probably because she's… you know what, never mind." Link had tried to run Belial through, of course, but Knil had sat on him until sheikah and shadow caster were long gone. Link was quite sore about the whole endeavor, as most people are when potential enemies (or proven ones, which he more aligned Knil and Belial to be) take away their beloveds… which, yes, Link was over denying that Sheik was. It was an annoying, embarrassing truth, but a truth nonetheless.
"Tell me." Link growled, and Knil arched a brow.
"Hell to the no. This is my home. You don't tell me what to do."
"Tell me or I will GUT YOU. AGAIN."
"You don't scare me without that stupid hammer, Link." Knil sneered.
Link threw a white Keaton mask at his head, and Knil blinked when he caught it.
"… what's this?"
"Kers's mask. Kers is a demon, right?"
"And demons can go to the twilight, right?"
Knil paused, eyes homing in on Iblis's amulet. "Damn, didn't think of it at all. But you're right."
"But you don't need this, so I'll just be taking it…"
"Hey!" But Knil had already stuffed it into a shadow pool, and hell if Link was following it through there to see where the rabbit hole led.
"Before you go though, humor me."
"Not cutting off your head so far doesn't count?" Link seethed, and Knil kind of laughed it off.
"Oh, man, you're really pissed. Usually I'm the fight-happy… never mind. Uh. So I've been looking into this mess you jumped in, headlong. And everything seems to root back in Weiss. So, maybe instead of chasing symptoms… you should be looking for a disease?"
"On what evidence?" Link groused.
"In the seven year war, Kafei says there were rumors of traitors in the hylian nobility that sped Ganondorf's work to see the king. See, that makes sense, because central Hyrule really looks down on gerudo, so there'd be no reason for a gerudo king to get any respect… but, somehow, he did, right?" Knil waved, and, seeing for once that Link was listening, carried on. "But a letter from some noble house or another got him in, and bam. Suddenly there's a gerudo king talking with Hyrule's over, of all things, race relations. A decade or so after hylians called for a culling of sheikah, that's pretty fucking rich. To the surprise of like, fucking no one but the king, it was a trap. All the nobles of castletown were thrown in the dungeons, and you know what was left? Ordon, Weiss, and Tot. Ordon's a farming province south of Weiss's swamps. Tot was almost destroyed before its races banded together and most of Hyrule isn't even aware it exists. And what about Weiss?"
"… I don't know." Link admitted. Knil laughed.
"So I read up on that, too." Knil admitted, ignoring the look he got for his mirth, "And they totally lost someone! They did! The duchess of Weiss, one Lady Viilinn, was assassinated… along with her newborn son, by her own guard. Shortly before relations with the gerudo began, of course. Ganondorf had been in power since three years prior. So the duchess's dad took Weiss back over until his son was of age, and in the meantime tried to get another culling of sheikah brought about, but it was ultimately overturned thanks to the king's newfound affection for them. Relations have improved vastly since then, thanks to one Impa Aminbahadur, who opened up Kakariko to Hylians who'd lost their homes, first in the economic downturn that proceeded the war, and then, well.. war." Knil shrugged and awaited a response.
Link… was stunned. "What have you been doing since the water temple?!" It was a fairly natural response, most would find.
"I told you, fuckwit, I've been reading." Knil rolled his eyes. "Did any of that get through your thick skull?" He added, acidic as the gunk around Bongo Bongo's hellhole drum pit.
"I don't get how it relates to checking Weiss." Link said immediately, immune to nonverbal 'you're an idiot' signs. Knil rolled his eyes.
"The duke that started convincing townspeople sheikah are evil is from Weiss. Weiss's last duke has been trying to get sheikah culled for decades now. A guy who committed fucking regicide AND ADMITTED IT TO US AN HOUR AGO is from WEISS." Knil took a deep breath. "So pardon me for thinking, oh, I dunno, that maybe something's up in Weiss. Just a thought." He didn't want to call Link stupid, because he didn't want to believe Link was stupid, since that would make him stupid and that was not a reality he could accept!
"… yeah." Link's nose curled in dislike.
Knil smiled. "Then maybe you and Sheik should check out Weiss, yeah?"
Link opened his mouth to reply when another thought struck him. "… hey… Dark."
"Knil." The shadow corrected, arching a brow at him.
"Schwarz called me Viilinn. Think that… maybe there's some reason for that?"
"… besides him being crazy?" Knil shook his head. "I wonder. At any rate, stay alive. I stop existing if you do, so I guess I'll try and be helpful from now on."
"Thaaanks." Link began pacing anew. "You can make portals, right?"
"… only to places I've been."
"Tch. Have you been to the twilight?"
"… no, but I know someone who has." Knil said, casting his gaze upwards. "You won't like it."
"I don't need to as long as it gets me there."
"Don't say I didn't warn you."
Link would say loudly to anyone who would listen that Knil didn't warn him.
Gangly limbs, piss-and-poison eyes, the teeth of a monster bared out at him from a viciously grinning face. That fucking mask perched on its forehead, shaped into a heart and painted bright with swirls and curves with spikes jutting from the edges. A creature he thought only existed in his nightmares, the mask who'd brought down a moon.
"While I did enjoy that lengthily description, Majora will do just fine," the spectre announced with a smile and a grandiose bow. Link twitched away from the offered hand and its inch-long nails. Majora hummed and chuckled and clicked its tongue. "Well then," It looked around with a smile that could wither plants, "Shall we get going?"
Link couldn't even fathom a death awful enough to punish Knil for this. But he needed to see that Sheik was alright… He took the devil's hand, and Majora smiled wide and pulled him through a portal.
Back in the twilight Midna was curled up in the window sipping a cup of tea with another pretty blond in her lap when the servants came calling. She waved it off and told them to send up her newest guest, and when he was standing in the doorway staring at her in disbelief she grinned.
She had just hit the mother lode this week.
"Afternoon, Link," She said cheerfully, while stroking Sheik's ear. He was passed out sprawled in her lap, cleaned of blood now and recovering quite peacefully. Link seemed to have no words. "So you'll give him a kiss to wake him up, right?"
Link made a face at her.
"No? Ooh, you're no fun." She waved it off again. "He's sleeping fine, though, you see. Just needed a bit of rest. I had heard that you caught the murderer, Link
"… what's it to you if we did?..."
"Oh, no more or less than it is if you didn't. More pressing matters have come to my attention. Sit, sit. Tea?" She pressed a plate with a steaming kettleful towards him, scented of crisp apples and leaves.
"What's more important than catching the person who hurt the princess?" Link asked, complying with her requests because he tried to be polite, really, he did (except with Knil, whom he didn't much like.)
Midna wagged a finger, lips tilted upward in an impish grin. "Why, stopping the one who wishes to harm her now."
Link's eyes narrowed and, with all the viciousness of a wolf, a growl rumbled in his chest. It was loud and animalistic, so glorious in its presentation that it stirred Sheik from sleep and made him sit up a bit to listen.
"Who?" Link asked, seeming more beast than man, crushing a mask of white in his hands. Midna sighed, a little bit love-struck at the animosity he was wearing.
"Dietrich of Weiss." She held out a hand and Link, understanding her, gave over the Mask of Carnage. "Now, take Sheik and go. I believe you have work to do."
"You should really talk to the man's son." Midna said, lounging back on her window with long legs stretched out languid and dainty.
"Who is that?" Link's ears flicked to attention.
Midna smiled. "The duke Hell, of course." She crooned, eyes sparking with cruel amusement, "But you already knew that? Right, Sheik?"
Sheik sat up, a haze of anger in his eye. "We'll take care of it," He promised in a rasp.
Thank you to both Kitsune and Abomination2 for reviewing, as encouraging reviews are quite healthy in keeping authors from neglecting things. Huge thanks to Trolly's Barachan for betaing and being an awesome friend, and Weiila who encourages me to keep writing as well.
I've been working on this version of Static red for something like three years now? And while a lot of it is just plain confusing, I've learned much from writing it and made at least one great friend thanks to it. And while I wish it made more sense, I don't regret all the lunacy on the way. Hopefully I can make the end a little bit clearer…
Not that we're quite there yet.