The Forgotten Hero and the Eternal Swordsman

By I.K.A. Valian

Chapter Sixteen: Infiltration

Foraging in Palmacosta Ranch

Fey Nashinawa cast her green-eyed vision over the impossibly dark landscape in front of her. She and two of the strongest soldiers Neil could spare stood before what used to be the front gates of the Palmacosta Human Ranch. Over the past few days, according to her own tallying of time which she was sure had been skewed by now, the three of them had made runs to the Hakonesia Peak, the Thoda docks, the Thoda Geyser, and the House of Salvation. The only thing they'd found at every stop was blood, broken bodies, monster parts, and abandoned buildings. The Human Ranch was the only thing left and it was already showing more signs of activity.

Fey lightly picked her way through the wreckage of the Ranch entrance. The two men behind her, holding a torch each, followed her at an easy pace with their swords at the ready. Once they got inside the entrance, the found everything trashed.

The fences were ripped apart as if a giant beast had ripped through it. Of the main buildings that they could see, there were large dents in the metal and holes in certain places. The ground was littered with pieces of metal that had been ripped from the buildings and tossed casually aside.

"What in the name of the goddess could do something like this to a Human Ranch?" asked one of the men following Fey. She glanced over her shoulder and saw it was Ray, the redhead. She shrugged and kept moving further into the ranch.

"The Desians must have finally pissed off something they couldn't handle," the other man, Donald, said. "Serves them right for all the blood they've spilled."

"There's only one problem with your assessment," Fey said as she pushed a diagonally leaning metal blade that had fallen against a building. It fell to the ground with a loud, dull thump. "There are not Desian bodies anywhere here."

"Holy crap, she's right," Ray said.

"Let's move into the main building and see if there's anything useful we can bring back to Palmacosta," Fey said. "Maybe the Desians left some of their advanced technology behind."

"I'd like to get my hands on one of them Raybits," said Donald. "All the stories I heard of them make them sound invincible."

"You just want to win our next duel," Ray said. He and Donald chuckled quietly.

Making their way across Ranch, they entered the main yard of the ranch. At the other end of the yard stood the imposing Administration building, which at one time had intact door, windows, and walls. As they neared the building, a loud thump echoed across the clearing behind them.

Hearts racing, leaped into the Admin building only to hide behind the side of the door and peer out into the darkness beyond. They didn't see anything or hear anything moving as the minutes stretched on, only the pitch black darkness beyond the sphere of light their torches produced.

"Damn," Fey said as she turned to the men and their torches. "With those lit up anything can see us and we can't see it."

"But… we can't move around without light to see," Ray said. "If we put these out, we'll be blind. At least with the light we can fight back whatever comes close to us."

"Hmm…" Fey looked back out of the doorway and watched, but nothing made itself known in the pitch veil. A small itch wormed its way through the back of her mind. "We're being hunted."

"W-what do you want to bet it's whatever these Desians pissed off?" Ray asked. "We should get out of here!"

"That would be a bad idea."

All three of them spun around. The two men pointed their swords at the newcomer while Fey unsheathed a dagger about as long as her forearm and held it at the ready. Standing just beyond the reach of the light was a shadowed form that took a few steps closer. Once he stepped into the light, it became clear that it was an old man wearing a brown cloak that covered his body.

"Wha- Who are you?" Ray shouted as he waved his sword threateningly at the old man. The old man looked tired, with dark rings under eyes that were haunted by a sight none of them could see. Fey took a deep breath, sheathed her dagger, and then held out a hand toward the two men to lower their swords.

"Calm down," Fey said. She continued to hold her hand out until the blades were no longer pointed at the old man. For a moment, she thought she could see the old man contemplating impaling himself onto the two blades. Anyone who was in a Human Ranch would probably have plenty of reason for seeking death. But they needed answers. "Old man, what's your name?"

The old man sighed. His whole body seemed to shake as he motioned for them to follow him. Fey glanced at the two men and nodded. They nodded back and the three of them followed the old man deeper into the Admin building.

Once they'd penetrated deeper into the building the state of the walls and floors seemed to improve. The dents and holes decreased as they moved until there were no more left. After a good fifteen minutes of walking, the old man stopped and turned to a closed blast door. He waved his hand over a pad sticking out of the wall next to it. With a slow buzz, the door slid upward halfway before halting with a metal on metal grinding noise.

"Inside," the old man said with a hushed urgency.

"You first," Fey said, holding her hand up to stop the men behind her from waltzing into what could be a trap.

"Very well," the old said. He ducked under the half open door and disappeared into the next room. Fey motioned for Ray to go first and then followed him while Donald pulled up the rear. Once inside the new room, they found nothing but darkness. The old man had disappeared.

"Crap!" Ray spat. "It's a trap!"

Before any of them could get out of the room, the door behind them slammed shut, and the room filled with bright white light. Temporarily blinded by the light, they were grabbed, tied up quickly, and dumped onto the ground. When they were finally able to see again, they found themselves on the business end of about twenty Desian Rifles.

"So much for the Desians having disappeared," Ray muttered.

Breaking into Asgard

The young man, who turned out to be a half-elf named Harley, led them into the Kvar's Base. Raine gained a very dark look when Harley opened a door carved into the wall of the cave he was 'guarding'. As they passed it, she looked upon the rubble that had been where the door was with tears streaking down her face. While Kratos ignored her, favoring the path before him with a dark glint of his own, Genis and Zelda both kept several paces behind Raine in case that dark, mourning turned into a raging volcano.

Initially, Harley tried to fight them, but once Kratos proposed helping rescue the other villagers, Harley became quite cooperative. He'd explained that he was also from Asgard and there was one woman and her brother, Aisha and Linar, that he was indebted to. He wanted to save them, and by extension, the rest of the Asgard citizens, but he hadn't figured out how quite yet.

That was why, he said, that their arrival would help him more than they knew. He could 'escort' them around like prisoners while they actually released the citizens. Then all they'd have to do is wrangle the disoriented people into a single room and, once everyone was finally free, get the hell out of there before Kratos led his team to deal with Kvar.

That was the plan, anyway. But like all plans thought up on the spot, it didn't go quite the way it was supposed to. They passed several patrols that sneered at them while they marched to their 'doom' with Harley behind them. Then they entered the first cell block that they came to expecting to find over half the town's population. It was completely empty.

"Wha… Where is everyone?" Harley cried. He ran up to one of the cells and frantically looked through it before he ran to the next one and did the same. "They're not here! Where could all of those people have gone?"

"The Desians have moved them, then," Kratos said. He gave Harley a hard look. "You wouldn't happen to know where they are, would you?"

"What?" Harley said. "No! I thought they'd be in here! They were in here not a half hour ago."

Raine, her brow knitted in her brooding, turned her dark gaze upon Harley. He took a step back from her as she stared at him and swallowed loudly. "Tell us the truth, Harley," Raine said. "I won't forgive you if this is a trap. And for the ruins that were so callously destroyed, I will have my revenge!"

"I swear I'm telling the truth," Harley said, stammering. "I swear! I don't know whe-"

"You should believe the simpering blood traitor."

Everyone in the cell block, already on high alert, jumped a few inches into the air when the voice spoke. They quickly began scanning the room for where it came from. The source, a speaker embedded in the ceiling, became apparent when the voice continued.

"Emperor Kvar had more pressing matters to deal with at the Balacruf Mausoleum. I, Alphons Sierr, have the honor of running this base in his absence. That job involves maintaining test subjects, keeping discipline, and when the situation calls for it, taking out the trash. That would be you. Good bye."

"Get ready," Kratos barked out. "They're coming."

"So much for getting in undetected," Genis said as he pulled his Kendama out and gave the ball a few test swings. "I hope Lloyd's okay."

"Here they come," Kratos said. He unsheathed his sword and grabbed his shield. The door opened and Desians poured into the room. Kratos lunged forward and easily dispatched the first four men through the door with a single slash.

Genis was already casting a spell by this time. Harley, surprisingly, was casting as well. He held his sword horizontally in front of him, gripping the hilt in his left and holding the flat the blade against his right palm while concentrating. Side by side, there wasn't nearly as much Mana was welling up around him as around the much younger Half-elf next to him.

"Fire ball!" Harley shouted, raising his sword into the air. The spell went off and shot forward into the growing crowd of Desians battling with Kratos.

"Eruption!" As if trying to outdo the elder Half-elf, a well of fiery Mana burst from the floor in the midst of the crowd of Desians. The fire red tinged Mana gathered into a single point and then exploded, throwing Desians into the air. Kratos, not taking a single moment to get clear of the attack, simple raised a defensive barrier around himself to avoid the worst of the attack before he continue on his merry, chop-chop way.

Zelda was shooting Desian's left and right, every time she could load another arrow onto her bow. The arrows weren't doing very much to slow the Exsphere enhanced soldiers down, but it was clearly having an effect from the growing amount of bloody wounds. Whenever Genis, or Harley, let off a spell, usually ice or fire, she would attempt to shoot through the spell to add an effect to her attacks. It wasn't nearly as effective as what she and Genis did to the Diamond Stalfos, yet it caused more pain than plain old arrows.

However, of all five of them, the one doing the most damage to the most Desians, was Raine. She wasn't standing back and casting healing spells, or light spells. She wasn't running in and out, hitting one guy or woman a few times before retreating. No, the moment that the Desians started entering the room, Raine pulled out her staff and started beating the hell out of any living thing that got close to her.

"For the ruins!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. The Desian who was directly in front of her froze. That turned out to be his downfall when Raine unhesitatingly brought her heavy staff down on top of the man's head. Not even waiting to see if the explosion of red coming out of the Desian's helmet meant he was dead, Raine had already moved on to the next victim.

"YAAAAAA! For the ruins!"

And so the carnage continued.

Inside the Wind Drake's Vault

Navi bobbed and weaved through the air. Behind her glowing blue form, a line of pixie dust and magical glow created a trail for the three big people to follow. And follow they did, right in front of a three story tall, bright green scale covered, serpentine dragon.

Navi flew as fast as her little wings could move, straight for the nearest save spot she knew about. The three big people followed her as fast as their legs could move, though she noticed that the shortest one, the one who wore the scarf, was beginning to pull ahead. Not something she'd have expected from someone with short legs.

The dragon behind them wiggled and weaved its way through the air. It didn't have wings; it flew as if it were swimming through the air like a snake. Another distinctive thing the Wind Drake did was that it did not roar, like a lion, but hissed very loudly, like a high pressure wind.

"Holy crap that thing's gaining on us," Zelos shouted.

"Shut up and run faster," Sheena shouted back.

"Hurry, this way, we're almost there!" Navi shouted, "Hey! This way!" She flew into a dark passage too small to admit the Wind Drake. Her soft blue-white glow illuminated the tunnel ahead of the big people as they dashed in after the fairy.

The Wind Drake attempted to follow them in, but bashed its muzzle against the entrance. It rammed its head a few more times, hissing wildly and causing dust and dirt to fall from above, but to no avail. After a few more moments of attempting to get in, the Wind Drake gave a loud hiss and left.

"That was close," Zelos said. He was breathing hard and doubled over. Sheena, in a similar position, only managed to nod. Navi dinged, like a bell, when she came back to the three of them and bobbed about in front of them.

"Hey! You were almost dragon food! You should be more careful!"

"We didn't know about the dragon," Link said, completely not out of breath or even the least bit winded. "We were looking for a way into the Wind Seal above, but we couldn't open the door. So we looked for a back way in and fell down here."

"Oh, well, now you know better, don't you," Navi said. She bobbed around Link before she suddenly zoomed over to his shoulder and settled down there. Her wings, very much like a large insects, stilled behind her as she swung her tiny feet and lounged on her back. "Phew, that was a lot of work. Big people are too much work. Why can't you be smaller?"

"Hey," Zelos said. His breathing was calmer now. "We didn't ask to be down here."

"What are you?" Sheena asked. She walked up to Link's shoulder and peered at the blue fairy. "Are you one of the Sylph? I've heard they're fairy like."

"What are the Sylph?" Link asked. He tilted his head a little as he thought. "Are there more fairies in this world?"

"Not exactly," Sheena said. "At least, I don't think so. From the research done in the Elemental Laboratory, the Sylph compose the Summon Spirit of Wind. That's just the form they take."

"I don't get it," Link said.

"Kid, she means that the Summon Spirit of Wind takes the form of fairy like beings, but they aren't fairies," Zelos said from the entrance of the small tunnel. He poked his head out to look for the Wind Drake, but couldn't see anything behind the bend in the huge jewel encrusted cavern that this small tunnel was in. "Seems like we lost that thing," Zelos muttered. "Where is this light coming from when it's pitch black outside?"

"There's a piece of a great and powerful treasure that gives off the light," Navi said matter-of-factly. "I was its guardian until that big nasty showed up and started trashing my dungeon. Now all that's left are these small tunnels leading to the wind shrines."

"Wait…" Link said. He frowned as he tried to wrack his brain for the significance of what Navi had said. "This sounds like it should mean something."

"Well of course," Navi said. "Now that you have the scarf, that means you can probably beat the Wind Drake. To the nearest wind shrine! Well? What are you waiting for?"

"First of all," Zelos said. "What makes you think we'd listen to you? We're here for the wind seal on the surface, not to defeat some Wind Drake. Second, even if we were inclined to indulge in your request, we don't even know where these wind shrines are."

"Oh, well then why didn't you say so?" Navi said. She hopped off of Link's shoulder and hovered in front of Zelos' face. "I can show you the way back to the surface, but that big nasty probably is sitting right in front of it. You'll need to deal with him first. I also know of one of the wind shrines. I can lead you to it, but you'll have to be real sneaky like because that big nasty will feel the movements in the air and come chasing."

"I guess this means we head to the wind shrine," Sheena said. "Once we deal with the Wind Drake, we can get back to the surface and start our look for another way into the Mausoleum."

"This is such a pain," Zelos said. "Well, at least there's no chance of my beauteous hair catching fire in this place."

"Navi," Link said, catching the fairy's attention, "you said you protected the treasure making all the light?"

Navi bobbed up and down and said, "Yes. I'm supposed to be guarding it for… something important. I don't remember why, just that I have to guard it or bad things will happen."

Link nodded. "So you are one of the ancient guardians then? Like the one from the Fire Temple?"

"I haven't heard of that before," Navi said. Her wings drooped a little. "Sorry, but I don't know what a fire temple is, or an 'ancient guardian'. All I know is that I'm supposed to guard the shiny thing until the guy with the scarf shows up."

"Don't fret over it kid," Zelos said. He ruffled Link's hair and moved toward the entrance of the small tunnel. "I don't see ugly, so I guess the way is clear."

Navi zipped around the small space a few time before she shot out and into the cavern. She flew up high and then moved closer to the end of the bend to get a look into the rest of the chamber. It was really just one giant room with walls that were covered in twinkling jewels, like stars in the night sky.

Navi looked to the other end of the chamber and saw the Wind Drake. It was coiled around a pyramid like collection of rubble and jewels, at the top of which was the shining treasure that continued to illuminate the cavern. Directly above the shining treasure, cut into the ceiling, was a large hole that was the exit. The Wind Drake hissed as it looked one way, and then the next, peering into its domain for any intruders.

"Well?" Sheena asked when Navi returned.

"He's guarding the treasure but I don't think he'll notice us if we take these tunnels. They run around the main chamber for short distances, but they all reconnect eventually. In order to make it to the wind shrine on the other side of the cavern, you'll have to run from one exit to the next tunnel."

"Alright," Zelos said. He turned around and began walking deeper into the small tunnel. "Let's go."

Desian Treasures

"Hey… they're not Desians."

"They're humans!"

"What are humans doing out here?"

"Hey, old man! You brought humans here! What's the meaning of this?"

"George, untie them."

"Yes, boss."

Fey's eyebrow arched as she watched the group of 'Desians' start arguing. She glanced at Ray and then at Donald, both of whom were similarly perplexed. The old man appeared again, urging all of the 'Desians' to calm down.

"Hold your horses, everyone," the old man said. "Just calm down. It's not my fault I couldn't tell, do you know how dark it is out there? My eyes aren't what they used to be."

"Yeah yeah, whatever Doc," one of the 'Desians' said. One of the men surrounding Fey and her escort, presumably the one who'd spoken, stepped forward and pulled his helmet off. He was a brown haired human with a fresh scar forming on his cheek and hard brown eyes. "My name is Jin," he said as he held out his hand to Fey. Another 'Desian', presumably George, was just now finishing cutting all the ropes used to tie them up. "Sorry about the mix up. Doc's eye sight is horrible without his spectacles."

Fey watched the hand for a few moments before she gripped it firmly and stood up. A couple of the other 'Desians' helped Ray and Donald to their feet. Jin took a step back and swept his arm out into the spacious room.

"Welcome to our humble sanctuary," he said. It was, if Fey described it bluntly, an over glorified storage closet. There were several boxes of food that lay open on the floor, shelves had been torn off the wall to create sleeping or other living surfaces, and it smelled like a horse's stable after a couple night without cleaning. "I admit, it's not much, but it's protected us from those beasts outside."

"The poor souls," muttered one of the men. "Martel save them."

"I understand why you might not want to escape," Fey said. "The monsters have turned rather violent lately, but nothing you couldn't handle with all the technology you have scavenged so far. What's keeping you here?"

"It's what you were talking about out there," the Doc said. "That thing that was 'hunting' you. They used to be human, before the quake."

"Human?" Fey exclaimed.

"No, that's not… possible," Donald said.

The Doc shook his head sadly and continued his story. "All those people that had those damnable jewels put onto their hands; that were forced to work hours upon hours; they turned into these huge, hideous monsters. Oh…" The Doc moved over to a stool fashioned out of a shelf and slumped into it. He lifted his trembling hands to his face to rub it. "I was out there when it happened. All the Desians disappeared someplace with that darn fangled transportation magic they have. Then all the poor humans in the work yards started moaning and groaning. I wanted to help. I'm a doctor. But even I wouldn't have been able to help. Before even a minute had passed, all the humans I could see had morphed into giant beasts with green skin and pus oozing out of open wounds. They all had these great big yellow eyes that looked like a puddle of apple gel gone bad. And the smell, ugh! It's much worse than this lot, let me tell you. They broke through the fences like they weren't even there and started destroying the ranch in a rampage. I ran into this building to hide."

"That's where we were at the time," Jin said. "We were being 'processed' as the Desians called it, when they disappeared. We looked outside and saw the monsters, we didn't know they were human once, and decided to look for weapons to fight our way out with. Those thing are pretty much invincible, nothing we've tried worked." Jin hefted the rifle slung in his arms. "Not even this thing worked against it. It's like they got this weird kind of energy healing them before their wounds get too bad. That's why we haven't left yet. So we holed up in here. The Doc came by wandering. That's when we learned those monsters were human once."

"By the grace of Martel," Ray muttered. "What sickness of the mind would drive the Desians to do something so horrible?"

"From what we can tell," one of the ranch survivors said, "The Desians have to truly be the demons of myth. That's the only thing we could think of that would cause them to turn innocent humans into monsters for no reason at all."

"We found a couple of them wandering about after a while," the one called George said. "They were pretty confused and stuff, so we tricked 'em, tied them up, and tossed them outside. The monsters tore them apart."

Fey's eyes narrowed. "Not all of the Desians have gone?"

"No," Jin said. "Not all of them, but I do believe that all of the Desians in this Ranch have been dealt with by now. At least, none have made themselves known."

"We should probably report this information back to Palmacosta," Ray said. "Plus, we've finished our mission, so we gotta go back anyway."

"You're from Palmacosta?" The Doc asked. "How did you get past the monsters?"

"We weren't attacked on the way in," Fey said. "We were sent out from Palmacosta to find any survivors from Hakonesia Peak, the House of Salvation, or the Thoda area, but there was no one. You're the first sign of life that we've found outside of the city."

"This is horrible," said someone, "it's like we've truly been abandoned by the Goddess to the Desians. We've been condemned to Niflheim."

"Now now," Doc said. "Calm down. No need to get alarmed. Right before I ran into this bunch, I think I found what we've been looking for."

This bit of information perked the ranch survivors up. They all stared at Doc, waiting for him to speak. He took a deep breath, pushed himself to his feet, and said, "It would be faster if I showed you."

"Palmacosta seems like the best place to go once we're out, if these people are really from there," Jin said. He hoisted his rifle onto his shoulder and pointed to the door. "Let's get going." Then Jin turned to Fey and her group and said, "We've been looking for a secret passage that the Desians supposedly dug through the mountain range. The last Desian we captured was ranting about finding it, but never gave up the location before we tossed him outside."

"So you've found this secret passage?" Ray asked.

"Oh, I found it alright," Doc said as he ducked out of the now half open door. The other survivors all followed, with Fey and her escort bringing up the rear. They all followed Doc as he traveled back toward the entrance. The damage to the building began to increase again until they had returned to the entrance.

The survivors all used beams of light that their rifles projected from their barrels to light the way. When Doc turned to a damaged machine in the corner of the entrance, he said, "It's behind there. I'm not strong enough to push it out of the way so one of you lot will have to do it."

A couple of the survivors slung their rifles over their shoulders and gathered around the ceiling high machine. They grunted and heaved after grabbing onto it and pulling. Slowly but surely, the thing scraped across the floor, loudly shattering the deathly silent dark air. After several minutes of effort, the hole in the wall was laid bare.

"Looks like this is it," one of the survivors said. He shined his rifle light into the hole and illuminated a well carved tunnel with dead light fixtures overhead.

"This would explain how Magnius could travel to Palmacosta so fast," Fey said.

"Did you say something?" Jin asked. He turned to Fey as the survivors began filing into the tunnel.

"No," she said. She stepped up to the hole and slipped through. "We should hurry though. I don't think all that noise went unnoticed."

A/N: Even though I changed the wind dungeon, Navi returns, mostly because she's an important character, who's going to have an important part to play in the upcoming battle with Kvar on the roof of the Mausoleum (Oooh! Spoiler!). I'm cutting a lot of other things out in the mean time to speed the story along. Also, we finally see what those lovely Palmacosta peeps are doing all lone. Seems like humanity is doing just fine in the apocalypse.

Anywho, please review. Thanks for reading.

Posted: 7 – 28 – 2011