Another update? Look at me go – a whole summer of nothing and now twice in a week. It seems I only ever really want to write when I have classes and such to deal with. That's right, dear readers, you're a procrastination tool.
Okay. Chapter 8. Lets do this.
One of the things a traveler must learn quickly is that in Hyrule field you do not stray from the path at night.
In fact, to be safe, most of the smaller kingdoms and villages that border the field enforce curfews and did not allow anyone to take the risk of traveling the vast winding roads at night. After all, it only takes a few missteps to find oneself away from the mysterious and magical protections of the road (the origins of which have been long forgotten by most), and when one is no longer protected, an unthinkable nightmare begins.
In Hyrule field, even the lightest footfall reverberates deep underground. Each snapped twig, each bent blade of grass screams out in the night to their neighbors below ground. When roots quiver from the force of wagon wheels digging into the flesh of the earth, the world explodes in a flurry of dirt, gravel, and bone.
Just as mysterious as the protections placed on the roads are the creatures that must be protected against. They are the Stalchildren, horrifying monsters that wake at sunset and attack with a blind fury when disturbed. They are bleached, shambling masses of pieced together skeletons, unnerving in their small stature that gives them their name. It is whispered that the first victims of these horrid beasts mistook them in their rags to be hungry orphan children but were only correct in the assumption of their hunger.
Many a warrior, and even a few groups of merchants, have earned the respect and awe of their colleagues by telling tales of nights caught unawares by droves of the things. They are brittle and slow and thank the goddesses for that, many have laughed; but just as many have had their last breath choked out of them by a half-dozen bony arms. For the stalchildren are never lone opponents. As soon as one claws its way out from the field, one can safely assume that another five are somewhere just beyond where you can see in the darkness.
Why they are there, and why they strive to end all the life they see is unknown; although theories abound. They could be spirits of the forest who left the protection of the trees and were driven mad by the outside world, some say. Conversely, others think that they might be foolish mortals who have done the unthinkable and wandered into the endless maze of the lost wood and now find their restless spirits shifted back under the land they once knew, but can never return to. A popular bedtime story asserts that they are children who disobeyed their parents and ran away from home.
Regardless of their origin, it seems plain that they cannot be stopped. Or not permanently, in any case. Yes, they are fragile, and even a child with a stick might be able to survive an encounter with one if they could muster up the courage; but when the body is destroyed and returns from where it came in a flash of unnatural flame, another shoots up to take its place immediately. Whether this is the exact same spirit, or whether the numbers are far too great to ever count is unknown. Thankfully, as long as one can jog away and find a tree to climb up, a house to take shelter in, or if all else fails, a body of water to swim in, the rising sun will soon put an end to the walking horrors - the gentle touch of the dawn is the one thing they fear.
All of this lore is known well by every Hylian, Zora, Goron, and Gerudo in the land. It is an unfortunate part of life, but all are used to it as one becomes used to the occasional dangerous storm or onset of disease. A storm can be bigger than any prediction, however, and some diseases can destroy civilizations. In this fashion, the Stalchildren were an underestimated and largely ignored threat for most.
That would change on this night.
The few travelers who wandered under the full moon tonight would wonder only briefly at the incredibly frigid and howling wind that struck their bodies with a force that left them weak in the knees. It was strange, but all of their attention would soon be focused squarely on the fact that every square inch of the ground, path included, was rumbling, cracking, and exposing gleaming red eyes full of hate.
Lon Lon was perhaps the quietest place Link had ever spent the night in. Back in the forest, the shuffling of creatures both benevolent and malicious acted as a constant melody, accompanied heavily by a thousand crickets' songs. In the nights he had spent around Clocktown and even in Kakariko, there was always somebody milling about, some carpenter working by lantern-light or at least an errant owl's hoot. But for some reason, a blanket of complete silence seemed to fall along with the sun here at the ranch.
So when Link woke from his hazy nightmare to the sharp sound of something shattering outside, he knew something was wrong. When a loud panicked series of whinnies soon followed, he instinctively reached around to the side of his bedroll where in most other circumstances his sword would stay at all times. But that's right, it was over there in the corner...
Malon was awake as well, blanket clutched tightly and lifted up to cover the bottom half of her face. "Link... did you hear that?"
"Yeah, I did," The reassuring clink of his sword shifting slightly in its scabbard made his heart stop beating quite so fast, despite the continuing cries of anguish coming from outside. "What do you think it is...?"
Malon shook her head, eyes darting back and forth between where she knew Link was in the dark and the silver light shining through her window. "I don't know... It could be Mister Ingo or Dad, but..."
"Would they scare the animals like that?"
"I...I don't know... maybe?"
Link slid the strap of his sword over his shoulder, tightening it until the weight and pressure was how he was used to it being. When he gave away his intentions by pushing open Malon's creaky bedroom door, the young girl protested with startling intensity.
"No, Link! What if it's a really mean animal, like a wolf? Or a lion?"
That caused Link to pause for a moment, looking back over his shoulder at Malon. Slowly, and to Malon's great relief he turned and walked back towards his bedroll – but kept on walking until he reached his pile of equipment. Grabbing his boots and plopping down on the floor, the boy hurriedly began the process of getting fully dressed.
"What are you doing?" Malon asked, even though she had a pretty good idea.
"I'm too awake to just go back to sleep right now, anyway." Link replied, grunting as he wiggled his foot into its place within well-worn leather. "I'm going to go outside and see what's happening."
"But...but..." Malon was out from under her blankets now and looking out her window, trying in vain to see anything but darkness and the outline of the Lon Lon fence, which her window faced. When she looked back again to see Link putting his shield firmly in place, she bounced off of her mattress and landed squarely in front of the boy, so close that it was impossible for him not to see the worry etched in her features. "You don't know what's going on down there, and it is really dark!" The whinnies were beginning to grow softer now, and Malon took note of it. "I think it was probably just a fox or a lost dog. I'm sure that Dad heard it... and... well... maybe it didn't wake him up, but Mister Ingo is probably awake now and..."
A violent renewed series of animal noises, this time paired together with a scream that was obviously from the man Malon had just been talking about made the poor girl shriek and jump up in the air involuntarily. That was all that Link had needed to hear. Grabbing his hat and mashing it on top of his head, Link rushed to the door, only to be halted instantly by Malon's fearful "Wait!"
At Link's involuntarily compliance, Malon continued, shaking all the while. "D-Don't leave me alone up here... I'm coming too!" Without waiting for an answer, she too donned her shoes, foregoing socks and clothing other than her pajamas completely. Link wasn't sure if it was the best idea to take Malon with him, but he didn't really like leaving her alone, either. Shrugging his shoulders, he whispered at his comrade to hurry up.
Quickly, but quietly dashing towards the door was made less efficient than usual with a partner who was still getting used to the low light. Link heard Malon let out a yelp as she tripped over her too-long pajama pants just soon enough to turn and see her fall backwards onto the arm of the living room sofa, over-sized shirt getting tangled in her arms as she tried to get up quickly.
Not wasting any time with words, Link rushed to her side and hefted her back up to her feet. Then, holding her hand in his so she wouldn't trip over anything else, he led her to the door. As he raised his free hand to turn the knob, however, it started rattling and turning independently, causing link to give a surprised cry of his own. Motioning to his companion to back far away, Link placed himself right in front of the door and yanked his tarnished shield and gilded sword from their perches on his back.
The Hero of Time squeezed the handle of his weapon and imagined himself as a rock statue, immovable and solid. From behind the wooden barrier, the creature could be heard growling lowly to itself as it fumbled with the knob, obviously filled with a powerful blood lust – Link knew the sound of something looking for trouble when he heard it.
Link really hoped he wouldn't accidentally mess up any of the furniture in the house...
The door swung open far more quickly than Link had thought it would, but his naturally quick reflexes kicked in just as the dark silhouette of the intruder came into view. Before the thing could step inside, Link's sword was at it's throat, causing his opponent's growl to stop sharply with a "-GURK-" that was followed shortly by more screeching; screeching so horrible that Link found himself frozen in place as if under the spell of a re-dead's empty stare.
"WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING? YOU TRYING TO KILL ME, KID?" After fully coming to grips with the fact that he had mistaken the grumpy farmhand's muttering for monstrous growling, Link quickly removed his blade from its threatening position and opened his mouth to apologize, but couldn't get a word in edge-wise. Ingo was slowly gaining steam, slamming the door behind him and walking forward menacingly with each word.
"I knew it..."
"YOU CAME HERE TO KILL ME! First the horrible song..."
"You KNEW what that would do to me..."
"And you KNEW about the monster in the lake..."
"Wuh? I-" Link began to have a sort of morbid fascination with how impossibly red Ingo's face was growing with each scream. It was impressive enough that it could be seen in such poor light, but before he finished, it would seem to be bright enough to serve as a lamp. But wait, no, that red patch sort of looked like it was an injury of some kind...
"But when that didn't finish me, you decided to just do it the old-fashioned way, didn't you? Or did you always plan on doing it yourself? Wait- THAT'S why you healed me!" Noticeable amounts of spittle were landing on the poor boy's face. "THAT'S how you even could! I knew something was up, NOBODY does something like that for free! YOU KNEW THAT IF THE DOCTOR TOOK ME AWAY, (pant, pant) THEN I'D BE OUT OF YOUR REACH! DIDN'T YOU? You're a- a- a demon who has been sent to make my life even more miserable and then- END IT! ADMIT IT! ADMIT IT, YOU MONSTER!"
"Mister Ingo!" The furious ranting halted, although whether it had been Malon's words or simply the end of what the paranoid man had to say, it was difficult to tell. "I don't know what you're talking about, but... but..." All the screaming, all the fear, all the rage; it made Link cringe, but it made Malon feel like her heart was breaking. "Why would you..."
Today had been such a hard day for her already, but now things were starting to spill over. She felt so sad she was beginning to feel angry and she felt so confused that she wanted to start giggling. In this torrent of clashing thoughts, Malon sobbed and wobbled her way into her father's chair where she curled up into a ball.
Uncomfortable and unsure of what was going on and how he had gotten trapped in the middle of it, Link awkwardly slid his weapon back in its sheath just as Talon began his noisy entrance into center stage, fully dressed and unusually alert.
"What in tarnation's goin' on in here? The animals are goin' crazy, but instead of calmin' 'em down, Ingo, yer in here YELLIN' at these KIDS?" Link had never heard the rancher sound quite like this, still much calmer than Ingo, but definitely animated. It didn't last very long, however, because when he saw his daughter shaking and letting out small, sad hiccups in-between bouts of tears, his manner softened immediately. As he stroked her hair he cooed, "Aw darlin', what's the matter? What's been goin' on down here?"
"I'll TELL YOU what's been going on!" Ingo seemed to be attempting to stab everyone in the room with his words as he stomped toward a chest of drawers and started roughly rummaging through it. "This KID is... is... I don't know who or what he is, but ever since he got here, the world has been trying to do me in! And now..." He giggled in a strange, high pitched way at the thought of it, "Just now he tried to slice me up! As if it wasn't enough that I just got my FACE POUNDED IN!" To illustrate his point, Ingo wrenched a box of matches out of the drawer, fired one up with a tangible ferocity, and lit up a candle sitting on the the drawers so that his swollen face was now visible.
The man was a mess. The pinkish-black bruising that rose on top of his forehead, left cheek, and eye looked like decomposition in the flickering candlelight. Luckily Malon was still curled up and did not look, for if she had, she would have certainly been frightened by the combination of bruised flesh, wild eyes, and gnashing teeth.
"What happened to ya, Ingo?" Talon asked, his empathy apparent, "I thought ya were all fixed up...?"
"I was..." The man raised his hand to gently prod at his wound, but seemingly thought better of it. "But somebody-" an accusatory look removed all doubt as to whom Ingo suspected, " Somebody scared the horses and I've been passed out all day, so I couldn't sleep... I went out to see what was going on, of course, and THIS is what I got for my trouble!"
He paused, as if waiting for someone to challenge him on anything he had said thus far. Poking at his face again seemed to give him the fire he needed to continue. "GAH! ...I don't know why the horses are acting like this, but its obvious that they didn't all get together and decide to start screaming, thrashing, rearing up and kicking everyone that walks in... I knew something fishy was up, and then I walk into the house to get ice for my re-arranged face – AND HE'S THERE WITH A SWORD AT MY THROAT!"
"Link? What's going on here?" Talon asked incredulously, not really betraying any belief or disbelief, just utter puzzlement.
"I... I'm sorry Ingo." Link offered lamely, feeling immensely guilty and somehow responsible for Ingo's injuries. "I... uhm... I thought you were a monster-"
"YOU'RE THE MONSTER!" Ingo's retaliation was harsh and caused the scrunched up Malon to bury her head under her shirt completely. The horses outside sounded like they were about to explode. "Ever since you- ever since you came it's like a- like a-" Now the man was sputtering, tripping over his own tongue as he tried to spew out his venom and fear. "It's like a nightmare! You know what you did! YOU KNOW! You can't hide anything from me! Nobody can! You think that you can beat me and embarrass me; ruin me with your song and crush my spirit as well as my body! But NO! I know! You-you-you... YOU'RE A-"
The door behind Ingo cracked, cutting off what he was about to say.
For a second, everything was completely silent, even the tortured neighing had stopped, but everyone in the house knew what they had just heard. It didn't take long for new sounds to pile on top of each other in a cacophony of unpleasantness, however. The wet shake of a dozen rattles, rain-sticks, a sudden onslaught of noise. Over what could have been a chittering spider's laughter, more cracking and splintering of the door.
Nobody had really noticed over Ingo's yelling and the braying in the background, but a great and violent force had evidently been gathering, and now it was being applied to the rickety wooden barrier that was the only thing separating the people of Lon Lon from the unknown. A quickly escalating THUMP, THUMP, CRRRRK, THUMP prompted Malon to shriek and hide in her father's chest. Talon cried out some sort of warning, but it went unheard, because Malon couldn't hear anything over her own voice, Ingo couldn't hear anything over the rattling, and Link couldn't hear anything over the thumping of his heart in his head.
When the door fell, Ingo was scrambling over the furniture, already having dropped and extinguished the lone candle, plunging the house once more into darkness. Talon had made a dash for Link, but when the lights went out and he saw what had just broken down the door, he had turned around and ran for his bedroom, the safety of the girl in his arms his top priority.
Link had stepped towards the chattering mass. Although it was inching forward menacing and foreboding as thick black storm clouds, Link walked to meet it.
He remembered what Navi had told him on the first night he had spent with her out in Hyrule field. He whispered it to himself.
"Don't be afraid..." He wished he had just a little light – something to help him see more than just the crimson pinpricks in their hollow sockets. Then again, it was just as well. There were more than he could ever count. "Just attack repeatedly."
Hmm... I had planned on tacking on the action sequence at the end of this, but I'm having a bit of trouble with it – making a sword fight fun is a bit difficult for me. For now, I'll leave it at this.
Y'know, I almost forgot to have Ingo close the door back so it could get ripped apart. I think I might be rushing through a bit here because I'm trying to get to parts I'm excited about - I didn't really self-edit this one too much, so if there's something I missed or need to fix, let me know.
As always, thanks for reading! And for reviewing, too!