Distant Hills

The island bathes in the sun's bright rays

Distant hills wear a shroud of gray

There were birds in the sky.

Normally, Ico hated the feathered creatures, hated them with every fiber of his small being. Always, without fail, whenever one of the fowls appeared on the horizon, gliding with ease upon invisible currents, soaring above the vast forest canopy, hooting and squawking and cawing loudly – piercing out above the many earthly emissions of Mother Nature – without fail Ico would feel his shoulders hunch over, his back tense like a rod, his face freeze over and a ugly scowl bloom in its place, fierce and unyielding, with his teeth bared like a rapid dog's.

Before, the young horned boy did not truly care about the birds at all. The great variety of them – doves, pigeons, eagles, ravens, hawks, vultures, bluebirds, mockingbirds and the like – they had all been the same to him. Birds had not played a role in his previous life save for the given fact of their existence; a simple presence that flickered and faded into the background of his everyday life back in the village.

But then he was sent to be sacrificed – and everything changed.

After that, a new-found hatred for birds was the least of the many transformations that occurred. In that sense, the Elder Eyes of Morisiwa had gotten what they wanted – the boy who had been sent to the Castle in the Mist was dead. It had happened all so suddenly too, in a flash, like that of a sudden lightening strike. In the span of a single day, Ico had morphed into something different, something foreign. Even with his struggle all behind him, locked safely away and buried deep within, still he surprised himself with his small quirks- with the way he jumped at every shadow that crossed their woodland path, or how the first thing he had done the moment he entered the forest was climb up a tree and knock down a branch, or how the moment she pushed herself up from the sandy shore Ico had immediately grabbed onto Yorda's hand, and dragged her forward. Unaware, at least, until she made a small squeak of protest, that he was squeezing onto her hand so tightly. Actually, the last one was not so surprising, after all, every single change was because of her.

There was a flock of birds above their heads – seagulls, as they normally were since the two of them had not wandered too far away from the beach yet – but, for once, Yorda was not sparing the birds even a single glance. Normally, this would be a pleasant turn of events, because usually whenever a bird flew up above, Yorda would drop whatever she would be happening to be doing at the moment and simply stare and stare and stare with this great, wide grin on her her pale, ghostly face. Birds, no matter what kind or shape or form, were absolutely captivating to her. Much more so then her partner apparently; Ico had lost track of the rare times that Yorda's sweet smile was directed at him only to have the moment snatched away by a single hoot. He had lost track of the times he had wished – so desperately wished – for Yorda to look at him that way, as if he was the sole center of her universe, the sole reason why she was living at that moment, at that hour, at that place. It was not as if she didn't look at him, or didn't smile at him, or was not fond of him, Ico knew, knew, knew, just how close they were. But there was something different in the way she looked at the birds, a different quality to her gaze, a different glint in her almond eyes, that made her entire body seem to glow and shimmer in the sunlight. She was real, truly and completely real at that moment, and not like the sprite he normally took her for, ready and willing to vanish into mist before his very eyes. So why, why couldn't he be the anchor that holds her here? He, Ico, her friend, her companion, who saved her, protected her, been at her side the entire time, who – who – who -

Ugh! Ugh! What was so interesting about dumb birds anyway, huh?

Ico was well aware that it was foolhardy to be so, so – confused, angry, upset...hurt – over the simple fact that Yorda liked to watch birds. Many girls back in Morisiwa were similar in that regard, but that's where their commonality ended. Those girls didn't dare even glance in his direction, or glance in a place that he was expected to have once been, or even hint that a horned boy lived in their village at all. No, Yorda was hardly like those girls at all. Yorda was hardly like anyone he had ever met before. She was hardly like any human or living creature that had ever crossed his path, yet she, for all extent and purposes, seemed to be here to stay – with him. So why be so...upset? (He would not say jealous, not even in his own mind) Ico still didn't know. All he knew is that he wanted Yorda to look at him. Not at the birds, or the plants, or the sun, or later tonight at the stars (because he already knows that she will, of course she will) or gaze at the distant hills just barely seen on the horizon; no, he wanted her to look at him and him alone.

And, for once, it seems that the Colossi were actually listening to him.

Up in the sky, the last of the birds vanished from view, and still there Yorda stood, still as stone and as white as marble. She had not moved an inch, and hardly seemed to be breathing at all. Ico wasn't sure if she even needed to breath, or eat or sleep. Such a thing didn't seem to suit her, as if she was above such mortal tasks. White, ethereal, otherworldly, yet there she was, in her entirety, simply there, simply standing, simply staring – at him. His head was spinning and his heart was pounding in his chest at the beat of a drum, like those massive ones that would be erected in a circle around the border of Morisiwa at the harvest festival, where the hardiest men, at the prime of their youth, would stand atop tall ladders and strike the drums with long wooden sticks and the fairest of maidens would dance around the drums, ribbons in their hair and ribbons around their wrists and waists. The Elder Eyes would see and a match would be made and vows be exchanged. Every year Ico watched, every year Ico ached, for those rites would never be his.

He wished that Yorda would dance now, white gown twirling around her thin form, but that would be too normal.

Mere seconds ago, everything had been fine. He had been holding her hand as they made their way through the thicket, with his makeshift walking stick held before him, batting away low hanging branches and other vegetation to make a clearer path for the waif of a girl behind him. But then, suddenly, her hand had slipped out of his. Ico had whirled around to see Yorda simply standing there, anchored in place. He met her eyes. And then the world became unsteady.

Never before had he seen such a fervent fire in her eyes. Or in anyone's eyes. Nor had he seen a grin that ever radiated such immense joy. Her smile, right then, right there, was of a different kind then her normal one, and the grin easily put it to shame. In fact, for one dizzying moment Ico wondered if he had ever truly seen her smile before, a real smile. Or, for that matter, seen anyone truly smile before, or be truly happy before, if the look, the expression, on Yorda's face was considered happiness, everything else was a mere mirage, a pale placebo, of it. And that smile was for him. He, Ico, the cursed child, the horned boy, the outcast, the shame of Morisiwa. The One Who Should Not Exist. No one had ever smiled at him before – or even looked at him. But Yorda was smiling and looking. No. She was staring and staring and staring. And Ico felt so giddy, so lightheaded that he didn't know what to do, or what to think, or -

Yorda's hand moved.

A eerily familiar sense of deja vu came over Ico at that moment. He remembered their first meeting, where she stretched out her hand to touch him just like this, with the same hesitance. But there wasn't curiosity in her eyes now. There was something else, something right on the tip of his tongue but just a bit unreachable, like a dangling chain that hung from a vaulted ceil – no. Pick something different -uh, uh, like- like a apple pie! Yes, it was like a apple pie that hung on a top shelve that he just couldn't reach even though he was on his tiptoes. There was happiness, yes, but there seemed to be a more tender emotion that was layered behind it, one that was a bit more complex. Could it be relief? Why would she feel-

And then the realization dawned.

Yorda's hand was not reaching for his face, but for up higher towards his head, and immediately Ico's heart, which had been beating like the village drums, plummeted down like a rock in a lake. His innards pulled and twisted and knotted and he opened his mouth to say no, knowing, if only by his intonation, that she would understand, but nothing could come out. His body was frozen, his mind was frozen, his face had frozen over again. A flock of birds squawked above, and Ico felt a wave of immense relief – now she would. No. Yorda didn't spare them a glance, and Ico felt the thin hope shatter. With shaking hands, his shoulders heaving up and down, he tried to reach up to move Yorda's hand away. But by then it was too late.

Yorda's hand touched one of the stumps of his horns.

It came like a sudden jolt, flushing down his body and riding over him in a storm. Like the hide tides on the lake shore, where the waters glimmer next to the village in the summer and frost over during the winter, the feeling rushed through his body and then retreated again suddenly, only to push back in and retreat again. All in a blinding moment. But then, the sensation registered and her happy, ecstatic mood suddenly made a horrible, twisted, terrible sense. For, he now knew, jutting out from one of his stumps was a small, tiny, point. Yorda tilted her head, her face a bright white and her tone even lighter, "Deston tuea zon!" They are back. Is what he heard, and the words echoed and echoed and echoed and echoed. They are back. They are back.

The floodgates were blasted open.

Shadowy creatures storming over him, hitting him, punching him, clawing him, throwing him. Falling, falling, falling. Hand held out for him. Screams, screams. They're taking her! Stabbing, killing, I just killed- They are back. Run! Run! No. No. No. No! This is for the good of the village. Yorda is happy. She must have been worried all along. She wanted him to become better, and now he is all better. All better. All bett- He is a demon child! He should be killed! He should be killed! Yorda's smile is gone. Evaporated in a instant. Her hand jerks back. She says something. But he doesn't hear it. You're a dumb beast! The children taunt. Beastman! Beastman! Why don't you go run into the wild where you belong, huh? The stags will be your friends! Stone walls, stone tomb, the last light flushed out, they're going to leave me in here? They're going to leave me in here! So tired. So tired. So hungry, burning, burning, burning. They are back. She's nice, isn't she? She doesn't look like the other girls do...they are back, but she's so – frail, they are back, and those – those things, keep coming after her. And she's so unused to this place, and he couldn't let them take her! They are back! She's sweet, isn't she? So nice to him – despite – despite – despite...

They are back.

They are back.

They are back.

They are back!

They are back!

THeY ArE baCk!

thEy aRe BAcK!

Yorda was screaming his name now. Funny. Ico thought before he hit the ground with a loud thud.

She knows my name.

He did not dream.

Later, Ico would realize that such was another blessing of the Colossi. His last dream was among one of the many things he already wished to forget, or to simply ignore, for he refused, absolutely refused, to look at Yorda in any negative light whatsoever. Not she, who was kind to him. He should also be grateful because it would likely be the last time he would ever have a sleep that was not plagued by nightmares of some kind. Be it of Shadows that crawl and slink and steal and hit and claw and shriek, or be it of other humans, who are not that different from the monsters in the end. It was too much, and he could not think of it, he could not. So he did not, and all was well.

The first thing Ico remembered upon waking up was the feeling of warmth beneath his head. Next were the sensations of the forest, the pressure of the rich earth beneath his back, the swaying grass that tickled his bare arms and hands, the salty kiss of the wind as it peppered his cheeks with a sharp wetness. He felt a tingling sensation in his hair too, one that shifted between being pleasant and painful at equal turns. Sounds, soft, quiet, barely audible at all, played and teased at the corner of his mind, first there was the sighing of the wind, then murmured words, then a owl hooting, then that of leaves falling, then crickets chirping, a few hiccups here and there, and then there was a splash as another splotch of wetness struck his nose, and then a feathery sensation as something dripp- wait.

Slowly, painfully, Ico opened his eyes. Blink. He looked. Blink. He looked again. It still didn't make sense. His head...his head was on Yorda's lap. The girl was now sitting cross-legged with the hem of her gown sprayed out on all sides of her. Her hands, so pale yet nearly pulsating in the darkness, were tangled in his hair and she was combing through them at a rhythmic pace that was offset by her quiet sobbing. For as he looked up, Ico could clearly see the many trails of tears as they made their way down her checks, nose and chin, to finally drop onto him. For a moment, he was simply too stunned to move, to speak, to think. Yorda's eyes were shut firmly closed, yet her shoulders were shaking. Moonlight shinned up above, framing her figure, highlighting her jaw and her gray locks that fell limply to either side of her head. For a a moment, a brief, insane moment, Ico thought she faded out of sight, flickered and molded and shifted into the moonlight and starlight and darkness of the night. The wind seemed more substantial, at that bright, intimate moment, and Ico thought her hands would suddenly fall through him, as if they were not truly there at all.

Just like the birds, the night sky was stretched out overhead, but Yorda's only concern was him.

A tension that Ico had not even realized was there oozed out of him and he smiled. She was truly beau-

Yorda's eyes snapped open, her hands tightened, and Ico's head was suddenly on fire.

"Ico!" She gasped out in surprise and relief. But when his only response was to grunt out in pain, understanding flashed in her gray eyes as she let go of his tangled tresses and scurried back, seemingly heedless of the grass stains that were marring her elegant gown. She was out of sight. Ico was left to stare up at the night sky – how long had it been anyway? With a groan, the horned boy rolled over on his stomach and pushed himself up.

Yorda sat across from him, back against a tree, arms wrapped around her breast and her eyes still glistening from tears both shed and still pent in. But at least she wasn't shaking anymore and beneath the trail of tears was a elated smile. But, nevertheless, Ico found a deep frown on his face and pain flooding through him everywhere. I have hurt her. Came the thought, and it was true and he hated it and it was true. She was worried. She should never have saw that. I should have been stronger!

Yorda's stopped hugging herself and instead pressed her hands against the ground beneath her, in order to press herself away from the tree and to peer more closely at him, even though, up above, the stars twinkled in their place. But Ico couldn't take comfort in her acknowledgment, not now, when he knew it was only because he had frightened her so. He could see it in her eyes, and hear it in her voice when she piped up, softly, as if the wind might snatch the words away, "Elinm vist tuea?"

Ico pulled himself up to his knees and then looked at her again. It was a question, he could hear it. She was expecting...he bite his lips, and then licked them. She wanted to know if everything was alright, and he had to convince her, he had to make her trust him again. He couldn't show this pathetic weakness ever again to her. She relied on him, he knew that. She knew it. So, he nodded his head and said, "Yeah. I'm fine." And he then rose to his feet, as if to prove it. And he was impressed by how steady he was. Briefly, as if to make up for Yorda's lack of attention, he glanced up at the sky. A couple of hours had passed. It would be best to try to find some place for the two of them to settle in for the night. But, before that, he had to find food and water. The last tree with fruit he had recognized had been a good mile behind them, and the meal had long been gone. With the beginnings of a plan in mind, Ico glanced back at Yorda, already expecting her to be easing herself up off the ground with her usual grace, perhaps brushing off some dirt and grass from her dress. He had seen it so many times, that the image was already engraved into his mind. Yorda would stand up, glide over to where he stood and wait for him to grab her-

Ico's eyes widened as he watched Yorda rush at him.

The next instant, a pair of thin white hands were at the collar at his tunic and Ico suddenly felt his back be slammed into a nearby tree trunk. There had not been a lot of force applied, even the weakest of Shadows had packed more of a punch, but he had simply been unable to react, unable to respond, unable to comprehend. Even now, as his back was pressed against the tree and Yorda was standing right in front of him, for once using her taller height and glaring down at him, tears once again freely coursing down her face, even then Ico could not truly grasp the fact that she was screaming at him, the soft, poetic, nearly musical timbre of her voice now shaped into a bludgeon to strike out at him, "Dolithe con vinti!"

And then he was lost under her storm of nonsensical words.

"Tuea vist ithe elinm! Tuea milith! Tuea wonlth! Tueava guon, guon, guon!" She said the last word with a snarl, and one of her hands slipped to his shoulder and was squeezing. But Ico couldn't move. He stared, captivated as his – his, as she ranted on, "Ulin con! Melin ulin co! Er conth rolinath! Conthia est collin murel! El mion Lanlait!" Her face caved in at that, and then, just like that, Yorda collapsed into him, clutching at his tunic and sobbing into it uncontrollably, as if her world had been stripped away from her. And, just like that, the bubbling, queasy, conflicting emotions, those he had just barely felt beneath the immense shock, was swept away. For it was then that he realized, that none of it had to do with him. And, even more importantly, was the fact that she needed him again. So he wrapped his arms around her and held on tight, trying to keep his own tears, his own pain from seeing her like this, deep inside of him. Why did they make it through such a hell if only to come out broken like this? He couldn't let her be in pain. Before he knew it, Ico was rocking the larger girl in his arms, murmuring the soft sounds of a lullaby he had once heard a Advocate hum to one of the newborns in his village. Yorda relaxed slightly after that, but the sobs continued, and with it the words, "Lanlait ulinha! Lanlait ulinha!"

Lanlait. Ico's blood ran cold. The emphasis, the emotion, the pain – Lanlait was important.

Then he understood, Lanlait was a name. Could it be-

Suddenly, the memories came up out of nowhere and slammed into him. Now he was crying too.



1. Deston tuea zon!: You are healed!

2. Elinm vist tuea?: Are you alright?

3. Dolithe con vinti!: Don't lie to me!

4. Tuea vist ithe elinm! Tuea milith! Tuea wonlth! Tueava guon, guon, guon!: You are not alright! You're exhausted! You're hurt! You've been fighting, fighting, fighting!

5. Ulin con! Melin ulin co! Er conth rolinath! Conthia est collin murel! Vinti mion Lanlait! Lanlait ulinha! Lanlait ulinha! : For me! All for me! But I'm useless! I couldn't even fulfill my purpose! To help Mother! Mother's gone! Mother's gone!

Here's a couple last minute notes...an excuse, if you will. First off, and I know this is a nitpicky thing, but I realize in the game Yorda's language doesn't actually have a alphabet. Rather they appeared onscreen like runes, sort of like the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egypt. However, since I am unable to reproduce such a thing in this fanfiction I decided a scrambling of words would be a better way to depict her language.

Ico has always held a very warm place in my heart. The story behind it, the characters, the setting, the simple feel and mood of the game has always inspired my interest. To be honest, this work was long in coming. However, there's still so much more that could be done. But, for the moment, I will leave this work as a oneshot, though I am in the process of writing other chapters. Maybe if there's enough interest I'll post them up. But I'm mainly writing this for my own enjoyment, because I've always longed to know about what happened after Ico, just how the two characters grew and adapted afterwards. In some ways, I think my story is mainly a character study, exploring the backgrounds and complexities of two very unique individuals.

Because of that, before I conclude, I would like to ask a couple of questions. Firstly, about I am very curious about my portrayal of Yorda. I tried to stick pretty well to the image of her that is shown in the game, that of a ethereal, almost otherworldly adolescent. Yet at the same time I tried to give her a bit of depth with her breakdown at the end. What I want to know is if I managed to capture Yorda in her humanity and complexity or if I simply wrote her out of character. Secondly, I want to ask about the language itself. I was hoping to convey that it was an actual language with its own vocabulary and grammar, and did so my repeating certain words like con for me and tuea for you, but I'm curious about whether or not anyone managed to catch onto the pattern in her speech prior to reading the translation at the end or not.

Anyway, I hoped you all enjoyed it! As always, a kind comment and constructive criticism is always appreciated!