Chapter 30 – The Way Out
"Oh my goddesses…"
When Tyr's eyes opened, she was immediately blinded by the sunlight scorching her skin, and she fell to the ground in a pained daze.
She could hear quiet murmuring all around her, punctuated by the odd yelp of pain. Obviously, they had breached the spell barrier.
Tyr slowly opened her eyes, squinting against the source of all life, and searched desperately for the sound of Ayran's voice. Then she heard it, somewhere beside her, murmuring in wonder. She fought against gravity, pushing herself onto her knees, and saw him.
He sat on the ground, desperately trying to control his breathing as he held out his hands, watching the scales spreading slowly up his arms, penetrating deeply into his flesh and sometimes pushing out blood as they fought for control of his body and mind. The dragon spread through him in time with his heart, rushing forward with every damning beat, claiming more of Ayran's flesh with every life-granting rush of blood. Tyr could not tear her gaze away, but out of the corner of her eye she glimpsed dark shapes fleeing over the plain and back into the forest, some even into the air.
The Maglar were on the run. Their instincts had taken hold, and some had forgotten their human minds in favor of the comfortable numbness brought on by a lack of reason. The curse laid upon them all those centuries ago had been jump-started, allowed to run rampant, no longer reigned in by the slowing spell protecting the forest.
Tyr jumped up and gazed down at herself in surprise, feeling the familiar pain of her curse spreading. She paled as she felt the blood approach her heart, then allowed herself to relax as the change ground to a halt, safe for now.
Tyr returned her eyes to Ayran's face, and their frightened gazes met even as amber began to creep into Ayran's eyes, scales crept along his jaw. He shook as the scales finally slowed, ending in a crescent that lovingly cradled his face in the sickening grasp of unavoidable fate.
Ayran snapped his wings out, his fully-grown fangs bared as a sudden blankness flashed over his face. He spread his wings wide and stood, with his back to the afternoon sun, his eyes flashing through the shadows his instruments of flight had created.
Tyr stood and bared her teeth at him, taking his challenge head-on. But even as she prepared to lunge at this stranger, the man she knew to well for her own good returned, shaking and holding his head, sinking to the ground in shame. She vaguely heard murmuring and the force holding her legs in place was broken. Tyr rushed to him, falling to her knees in front of him and gathering him close to her, listening to his half-coherent apologies.
She held him, half holding onto the ideals that she could protect him, could save them both from their eventual fates…and as she pretended, she closed her eyes against the alien heat of the sun, and tried to weep. Only when she felt the cold noses of a four wolves pushing fearfully at the back of her neck did large, hot tears begin to roll down her cheeks.
"So, where exactly we goin'?"
"West, Shiro said. That's where all the trouble seems to be."
"I dunno 'bout this one, boys. Seems to me like we're taking on something too big for us, y'know."
"Well, we gotta try anyhows. S'not like sittin' around and waiting for those clouds to get o'er here is gonna help any more."
"Sum'thin' off 'bout that girl. She got funny-coloured eyes. Ain't never seen eyes like that anywhere."
"And that kid, too. He's awful quiet for a youngster."
"They wouldn't be here if they didn't have a will to go at 'er. They might be some o' them crazy ninjas y'hear about on the outskirts of the Forest."
"Ninjas? Nah. Probably witches o' some kind."
"Either way, they walk like they know somethin'. So best keep quiet. We'll see how they handle theyselves in a fight soon 'nough."
Zelda let go the breath she had been holding, allowing herself to relax once the conversation drifting over from the crowd of volunteer soldiers had died down. She had to admit that she was surprised by the confidence these men had in their leaders, and how well she and Kawhin had been treated so far. Any doubters had been silenced by the men around them, or Shiro had been called to intervene.
The princess supposed that this was the difference between her father's army and the volunteers. The horde made of willing, honest and hard-working people from small villages was held together by faith and trust in those who lead them, a loose and easy-going system of hierarchy, an undying optimism for the future…on the other hand, her father had chosen to let the troops fall apart under the weight of his misguided leadership, trying to use the fear instilled by his wrath to get them in line and usually losing the motivation to do so halfway through. Her father had lacked the drive to be a charistmatic leader, had lacked the love of country and citizens that the villagers had in abundance.
All at once, it hit her – her father had been a weak man, easily driven to anger and violence when questioned, only ever caring about himself, willing to let the kingdom fall to pieces around him if only he could stay shut up behind the walls he had been hiding within for so long. He had been unwilling to face the pain of who he really was.
Could she be brave enough to face herself, if need be? Could she find the strength to own up to the lies she had been using for shelter for too long?
And, most importantly, could she nurture the faint hope that someday she would cast out all the shadows that lingered in the back of her head?
Sometimes, she almost thought that she could remember things that had never happened. A long period of darkness that could have been years, and then suddenly waking up, only barely knowing what was going on, trapped and confused, but never frightened. And always, always that soft voice wrapping around her self-awareness, telling her what to say, what she needed to do, even if she could scarcely stand and had no idea what had happened, who this grown man was standing before her and staring at her like he was caught somewhere between love and hatred.
And then she would slip out of the daydreams, shocked by the thought that it might be a prophecy – and so afraid that it was, she would bury it away and try to think about something else. And eventually, the half memories would slip away, as all dreams must, and the only thing that was real was the blue of the sky, the green of the grass, the noise of several hundred men tramping, and the hurt still raw and living deep inside of her.
Kawhin always knew when she was mostly aware, because he would glance up at her, her pain washing against his mind, and he would shake his head and sigh and keep walking. What else could he do? What words could any person offer to another to help the walking dead?
And always, always, they kept the Forest of the Night on their left. They had been walking for half a day, and it seemed like they had gone nowhere. The steps leading to Kakariko had blurred into the mountainside in the distance, but there was no sign of the distinct plateau country that lead to the dry lands, the desert…and the paradise beyond the sands, as quiet whisperings had promised. It was said that if one walked far enough, brought enough water, could bear the grating sand and wind and occasional drowning rain…one would come upon a mountain range that reached beyond the clouds, and past it the greenest of meadows, filled with flowers and birds…and then the ocean. But no Hylian had seen an ocean in many milennia, so the concept was as distant as the fabled mountain range…but it remained.
Kawhin had once read of this paradise beyond the ever-shifting sands, and sworn to travel there someday. But that was before he had been into the world, and before he had learned of The Way Things Work…that dreams are just dreams, and in order to live, one must pay, and in order to pay, one must work.
Tyr had restored his hope. He drew in a shuddering breath, thinking of her burned body, hanging and still smouldering…no. He would not think of that. She had told him of the ocean, how she had been there, though refusing to reveal the way, no matter how much he asked. And now he would never be able to ask her.
As he walked by Zelda's side, he took her hand, hoping to offer whatever hope he could, and tried not to think about anything but the thunderheads gathering in the east.
"Tyr? Tyr. Wake up. C'mon, get up…"
She shook her head and blinked, realizing that at some point in time her emotional exhaustion had driven her into restless sleep. The roughness of wolves' tongues on her face made her sit up, and she saw the eternal grins of four grey wolves surrounding her, along with the worried face of one boy who was beginning to mean entirely too much to her. Before she completely got her bearings, he darted forward and kissed her on the cheek, and began reasoning with her even as a deep scarlet blush crept up his neck and over his ears.
"Listen, Tyr. There's a huge dust cloud headed this way. It must be an army of some kind. Do you know anything about it?"
She rubbed her human eye with her human hand, considered slapping him briefly, decided against it and stood cautiously. "No, I…well, there was an army the night that creature tried to burn me alive. They mostly stuck to the shadows, so I have no idea what numbers they have…but by the sound of it, there was a lot of them. And they were all pretty nasty-smelling."
The blush was already beginning to fade as Ayran got to his feet replied. "Not many of the Maglar are left. Most of their hearts were touched by their curse, so they had to leave…but Eval is still here. Furona is mostly herself, but we'll have to keep an eye on her. Rhianne is all right, and so is Gregory…but all the rest have gone."
"What about the little boy?"
Ayran chuckled. "Oh yeah, he's still alive and kicking too. He keeps looking at that dust cloud and never says anything…maybe he's gone a bit odd in the head."
Tyr turned to face that aforementioned dust cloud, noting its approach from the north and a bit east. She shielded her eyes and squinted, and could almost make out the large moving mass that must have been the army.
Ayran gently took her by the arm and turned her towards himself. "What should we do? Should we hide, or run?"
A dangerous and grim smile appeared on her face. "I vote for fighting. Or I would, if I had my swords." Her gaze became dark and inwards, and she fingered the metal bars holding her wrists together, a reminder of her mock crucifixion.
Ayran's hands slid to hers, and he pulled her attention away from the horrific memories. "Tyr. I…I'm glad you're still here."
She smirked up at him, rolling her eyes in impatience that he knew was sarcastic. "Thanks for that one, Captain Obvious."
He shook himself, as if waking from a dream, and closed his eyes, listening. "I hear…the footsteps of many beings, all coming this way." Ayran met her gaze, amber on shades of indigo. "They're getting close. We have to do something."
Tyr looked over at the few survivors. Furona was shaking, and the short horsehair covering Eval had spread to his waist and all the way down his spine. His mane had lengthened so that it flowed over his shoulders, and his hands were beginning to turn grey and his fingers to meld together. Rhianne looked no different, and Gregory's entire face was covered in soft hair, and he had acquired an odd habit of twitching his nose. He also was sporting an odd bob tail.
The child, meanwhile, had been greatly affected. His entire head had become that of a great tawny owl, and his arms were beginning to feather and stretch out and would soon become wings. His feet were now talons, and his legs had shortened a few inches. His head turned around all the way on his neck as he looked at her, winked, and then turned all the way back around to gaze at the dust cloud again.
Tyr gestured to Rhianne and Gregory, and they all went to Furona and Eval. For some reason, Tyr could not bring herself to let go of Ayran's hand. She told herself that if she didn't drag him along, he would probably get lost, the great idiot…and then she told the laughing voice in the back of her head to shut up, she had the situation under control.
She spoke quickly and with conviction, laying out their options to the ragtag band of half animals. "I don't like the look of that cloud. We could hide in the forest, but if we did, could we get out again? And where could we run? I doubt we could fight. Any ideas?"
The owl child had wandered over, and through his laughter, he said, "We should wait here." Then he walked away again and resumed his perusal of the sky.
Tyr stared after him, then glanced back at the others, who had accepted the advice of this boy and were willing to follow it without question. She raised her human eyebrow. An explanation was forthcoming in the form of Ayran.
"Tyr, the thing you have to understand about Pora…the reason why he was cursed and sent to the forest along with the rest of us is that he was a general during the wars, too. You might wonder why we let a mere child command troops…but he tends to mostly live in the future. We never quite understood how – he was always like this, a touch prescient. So when he says to do something, in that tone of voice, you do it, because no matter how odd the means, the end is always positive."
Tyr looked at the approaching horde, almost able to pick out individual shapes, and doubted.
From the branches of a tall old growth cedar, two eyes watched, peering out through an aura of shifting light and shadows, but so subdued that the flickering was hidden by the thick needles of the huge tree. The Truth sat, and thought, and watched everything fall into place.
And while everything fell into place, the Truth could scarcely keep from weeping. He had hoped for freedom, for an end to this endless cycle of birth and death, fall from grace and redemption…he had hoped that at last, sleep would be forthcoming. But instead, all of the strings were being pulled in perfect time, and all things were happening according to plan. Just as they should be. Just as he had hoped they would not.
These were supposed to be the last of the Chosen, the breakers of the chain, and ones who would stand up and somehow rise above the powers too great for even they to fathom. This was his hope in crafting their creations – this was the thought always in his mind as he had watched them in their childhoods, thrown them incentive to break their respective molds and live in a way that would defy all they had been taught.
But in doing so, in interfering, he had just made things worse. Now, these latest Chosen had caused the chain to tangle, not break.
But perhaps in the tangle of bonds, there was a weakness, a bent link lost amongst all the intertwined perfection.
He smiled to himself, hoping that the Goddesses were not listening. He knew something they did not, and it was only because they did not know that there was even the smallest hope of a permanent balance being granted to this earth.
There was one extra piece to the jigsaw the Goddesses had concocted. And he was holding it close to his heart, in secret.
He leaned back against the tree, torn between laughter and tears, and allowed a small grain of hope to crawl into his mind. For if he had hope, then he had something, didn't he?
Wow. Talk about a hiatus. ONE FREAKIN' YEAR.
Well, as you can probably tell, a lot of stuff happened. I actually started working on this a few weeks back, except then I FORGOT most of what I wanted to have happen, except for the eventual end goal…and the basic outline of the plot. So I had to go back and read the monster through about three times to get everything into my head.
I won't apologize, because I've been doing too much of that lately. And I'm sure you really don't care what happened to make me lose that spark of interest in this story, so I won't share that.
I will say, however, that I will be continually working on this story now – I can't promise regular updates, but I aim to finish this story by the end of the summer, if not before.
So there you are. Hope you enjoyed. Drop a line or not, I really don't care – I just have to get this out of my head before I ACTUALLY go insane.