It was twilight when the trio arrived to the Zoran city. The royal caravan was making quick pace ahead of them, and Lindy had suggested that sticking close might deter unscrupulous men that could be lurking the road, but it did slow their progress. A guard had hung behind to give them a quick interrogation when they noticed they were following, but Lindy chattily explained that they were traveling to Snowpeak. The guard seemed enchanted with Lindy's charisma, and they weren't accosted following this encounter.
The roads of the Zora's Domain were cobbled with bits of broken shells and pebbles, each as round as if they had been plucked from the riverbed after being worn smooth. A light dusting of sand from the feet of the waterdwelling people seemed to cover all of the ground; the stone buildings came in all sorts of shades of white and pastels, glinting in the warm, diluted sunlight that sparkled from the water. Canals swept though the city, short waterfalls matching the stairsteps alongside the street. Zoran children were being ushered indoors by watchful mothers for their supper; the salty scent of grilled fish and roasted kelp wafted through the air.
The mountain pass to Snowpeak Province was in the uppermost tier of the city, near the palace. They sped up alongside the caravan, and Lindy, still astride her broom, waved to the guard that she had spoken with earlier, winking snarkily as they passed.
"...the city is crawling with them, now," Link heard a Zora say, aside to his comrade. They stood near the entrance to a dimly lit alleyway, their scales shimmering with clear water and sunlight.
"...can't keep to their own business..."
"...look, there's their queen now," one said venemously, glancing towards the road behind them as the wheels of the carriage that carried the Hylian monarch.
Link leaned in closer to Darc, his fingers closing on the soft material that covered his abdomen, not stopping to wonder if the dull heat he fell beneath his fingertips was the gentle scalding of his skin. He suspected Darc would regardlessly deny it if he asked. His nerves jingled with anxiety, and Darc's familiar frame comforted him.
Was his form so familiar because it was his own?
"Darc, we should get out of here quickly," he urged. With what they had seen on the Great Hylian Bridge, their welcome in Zora's Domain could be quickly worn out. It was best to head on through to Snowpeak.
"Don't worry, its not too far to Snowpeak, we just have to get through the mountain pass!" Lindy replied. Link looked up at the sky. "It's getting dark, though..." he said with concern. Would a Zoran inn take them in for the night?
Darc laughed. "Link, you are with a shadow magician and a shadow. Sunlight, or lack thereof, isn't really a concern."
Link wasn't convinced, but he surely didn't want to stay in the Zoran capital. They arrived at the town gate that led into the Zoran territory of Snowpeak, a freezing river dotted with ice floes serving as the border between the Zoran monarchy and the Hylian province.
Zoran guards stood at the large, heavy stone gate, blocking the path. Another group of Zoras were talking to them, looking distressed. Darc's red gaze met theirs. "Why won't you let us pass?"
"There is a blizzard. The road is closed," one of the guards said to him wearily. He then returned his attention to the rancorous Zora group.
"We are going, regardless," one of the Zoras urged. "Snow and wind is nothing new to us, we make this trip often. It is imperative we get to Snowpeak City tonight, and we are out of time to wait out the storm. Let us go."
The guards looked reluctant. "We can't actually refuse you, but it would be irresponsible of us to allow it. It is a death wish," one offered. "Do you understand what we are telling you? The storm is unnavigable."
"We are going," the Zora, presumably the group's leader, repeated. The guards stepped aside remorsefully.
"Excuse me," Darc called out, urging Asa a few steps forward. Lindy touched down to the ground from her broom, holding it at her side like a staff.
The Zora turned to him. "Demon," he said, his black eyes narrowing. "A demon astride a horse."
"I may be a demon of luck," Darc said, a smile twitching at the edge of his lips. "Me and my party are in a hurry to arrive at Snowpeak City. We wish to accompany you through the storm."
"Bad luck, maybe," the Zora said, unconvinced. "Why should we put ourselves at risk?"
Lindy spoke up, approaching the Zoran man. She smiled, broom clutched in her hand like a dance partner. "We are those who study the arcane arts. We are adept magicians at seeing through the unseen and divining the unknown. A valuable asset in a storm, to be sure, but if that isn't enough to convince you, perhaps you are familiar with the strength of numbers? We are on a humble pilgrimage, nothing more, and wish your folk no harm."
The Zora tilted his head thoughtfully, looking at the others in his group. There was an almost familial bond between the four Zoras- Link wondered if they were related somehow.
Without a word, there seemed to be agreement. "You will accompany us, strange humans. We trust you will not make us regret our decision." It wasn't a question.
The shack where Chain had been held captive was unassuming on the outside, as most of the base appeared to be underground. He slipped out the front, his blue eyes falling scanning his surroundings. The place was oddly familiar to him- of course. This was a village he had long ago visited but, at that time, had only found one inhabitant assailed by many bulbins. It was slightly less shabby now; many of the buildings had seen a good amount of repair. He doubted that sweet old lady was still here, probably taken away with the years. The place looked empty, but it hummed with a sense of activity that made Chain uneasy.
Chain didn't have his pack- was it still in the castle, or in Kikuro's custody?- and Epona wasn't anywhere in sight. His fingers flew to his neck- his necklace was gone. Cursing under his breath, he peeked around the corner- there was one Zephyr and a few bulbin guards on patrol. He turned back inside, looking for anything that could aid his escape- a shovel caught his eye, leaned against the inner wall, caked with dirt. He picked it up, the worn wood heavy in his hands. It wasn't a sword, but...
He ran- without a bow or even a slingshot, he had no element of surprise on his side. The first bulbin to see him met a face full of shovel; a second rushed to him, a club in hand, battering Chain's ribs from the back. He grimaced as a sharp pain shot up his side, and staggered around to face the bulbin, smacking it down with the shovel just in time to avoid a flaming arrow whizzing past his ear. Chain noticed two Bulbins atop watchtowers armed with bows, and the human guard he had seen running towards him with two sickle blades drawn.
A shovel wasn't the most elegant weapon, but Chain's reflexes and footwork were as sharp as ever. He stepped aside to let the sickle slice through the empty air before slamming the shovel as hard as he could towards the Zephyr's torso- but he was deft as well, and jumped back, his sour expression scarcely cloaked by his hood.
Chain charged him, but the Zephyr's blade fell a nick too close to his arm, tearing the fabric and drawing blood. Wincing, Chain swung a foot to jar the man's footing and slammed the shovel over his head, a loud crack rang out as force struck bone. The tall man's form staggered back, crumpling to the ground. Chain dropped the shovel as he noticed a fiery arrow had stuck into the ground next to his boot, heating and blackening the leather. He drew it back quickly, extinguishing a smoldering flame, and he heard a horn sound out. He had taken out the ground-level guards, but one of the archers atop the watchtower was calling for help.
Chain ran for the narrow passage out of the town, his eyes flitting back and forth for something- anything- that could help him, his breath heavy, the footsteps and horn calls of Bulbins and men echoing in his ears painfully and sharply.
Stumbling, Chain fell to his knees; he tripped on a clump of grass he had been careless enough to catch his foot on. He looked at it, and all of a sudden was overtaken with tears, the blood from his wound still drenching the rough cloth of his sleeve and his abdomen burning with the pain of what he suspected were cracked ribs, voices filling his ears and memories filling his mind, painful memories from when he was still young and just beginning to make his worst mistakes.
"Link...you've been home for a few days, I've noticed...you haven't spent much time with Epona, so I have been taking care of her for you...you know, since you are around. I hope you don't mind me helping."
"No, that's okay, you don't have to talk to me. I know you are sad, and that's OK, because I'm always going to care about you, Link. I will be here for you always, here at home. I know since your adventure you have been restless, but you keep coming back...maybe there is a reason for that, I tell myself. Link, I know you don't really want to talk...please, look at me, at least? Humor me, Link. Can you answer a question for me?"
They were in the tree house, the house that was likely now covered in dust and cobwebs, the house that his parents had built before he was born, the home they had abandoned when their son was born. They had left him with Rusl and his young wife Uli, before she was even a mother in her own right. The house he had moved into when he turned sixteen. It was the only thing his parents left him, an empty home and an empty heart. He hadn't thought about them much since his boyhood- Rusl was as much of a father, Uli as much of a mother, and Colin as much of a brother as Link could ever hope to know, and he had accepted that by now, nineteen years old, at the cusp of adulthood and facing the newly-crowned Queen and the rest of Hyrule breathing down his neck, looking to him for guidance, hope and a future free of the plague of darkness.
Nineteen years old.
"Link, please answer me...I have to ask you this...it's important."
Ilia stood in his threshold; he was in his loft bed, facing the window, her voice carrying to his ears with the wavering vibrato of someone on the verge of tears. He slowly turned his torso to look at her, and saw her looking up at him with those watery green eyes of hers, her small lips quivering. He gave a grunt and turned back to his window.
It must have sounded like agreement to her, because she continued: "Link, you know, you were really the only boy, you know...I felt close to...here in Ordon, and...I had always thought, perhaps, that you and I...well, Link, I guess what I am asking is...you are staying here, in Ordon, right? You keep coming back...and I have to know...when will you stop this? Are you even listening? When will you look at me again, talk to me again, when will you stop running off?"
Link paused a moment before answering honestly. "I don't know. Probably never."
"I miss you," she blurted out, and it sounded almost as if her barrier had cracked, her voice trembling, tears forming and dribbling down her red cheeks. "Link...haven't you missed me too? I always though that we...ever since we were young, it seemed so obvious and plain to me...that you would be with me, here in Ordon, and we would have a family here together..."
Link didn't answer, again, unfeeling and unphased. Ilia's tears came in more strongly now, practically choking on her words.
"Link...answer me this...do you...did you ever...love me?"
Link turned to the girl, his face unreadable, and he stopped for a moment, climbed down his ladder, and looked her in the eyes, her breath seemingly stopped and her hands wringing together.
"Ilia." He said it as if he never wanted to say the name again, as if it were something he would rather forget he had known; just as she had once forgotten his.
"Link..." she reached out to him, but he brushed her away.
"Ilia, I can't...I can't love you," he said, and his own tears formed as he thought of the weight his words would have on her heart, because he had thought the same thing in their youth, that it was obvious he would one day marry the girl, just as it had been obvious he would be herding goats and fishing and eating pumpkin stew for the rest of his life, free of burden and care. But that was before he had saved Hyrule, before he was named a hero, and before he had met her and had everything taken away from him. He knew that life, just like the one with his parents in the treehouse with the son they hadn't loved enough to take with them, was gone before it started. It was gone the moment he had stepped through the Twilight's veil and woken up to that toothy grin, that smile he would come to love and treasure more than anything else on this world."Maybe I could have at one point, but it doesn't matter anymore. None of it matters, Ilia. You should go home. I am leaving in the morning."
Ilia was frozen to the spot, her arms still outstretched. "When...when will you be back?"
He sighed, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. "Goodbye, Ilia." He prepared to usher her out gently, but she resisted. She grabbed the cloth of his shirt, pressing her cold, quaking lips to his, her kiss salty and bitter on his mouth. Several moments passed, and she retreated, her green eyes searching for some kind of emotion on Link's face. She couldn't find any. Her hands were still pressed to his chest, and she paused for a moment, her eyes flitting to his neck. She reached for it, her hands falling upon a familiar string of beads, and she pulled the necklace out of his collar, finding a horseshoe flute still attached.
"Link...promise me you'll keep this always...won't you? Even if you never come home, even if you want to forget about Ordon and forget about me...just keep this. For me. For Epona."
Ilia withdrew her palms, crossing her arms awkwardly over her breast before taking a step towards the door.
"I...hope I will see you again one day, Link," she said, closing the door behind her. Link stood fixed to his spot, his hands clutching the horse call on his neck that Ilia had given him those two years ago, which he still wore, and he silently promised, yes, I will, Ilia, always, for you, for Epona.
He looked at the grass he had tripped on, reaching out for it, his fingers falling upon the reeds, breaking it off of the plant. He rose to his knees, pressing the reed to his dry lips, wetting them carefully before blowing as hard and loud as he could, so that its melody would pierce the voices and the horn-calls and reach the ears of the only one in all of Hyrule he knew he could depend on.
A neigh sounded from down the path, and Chain stood up, seeing several Bulbins closing in on him, but Epona was already by his side; he jumped into her saddle, laughing despite the pain in his chest and his arm, and they galloped away, as Epona saw the men and the monsters and was just as scared as he was, and she went faster than she had in ages. Chain pressed his hand to his breast, his fingertips again searching for the charm, which he had promised to always wear, but of course it was gone, it was with everything else the Zephyr had taken from him when he had been captured. He couldn't say whether or not he would ever see it again, the one thing he had been able to promise the closest friend he had as a boy, the one consolation he had been able to leave her.
By the time the Zephyr found their mounts and chased after him, the ex-hero of Hyrule was already gone.
A/N: Finally up! I had about five hundred more scenes planned for this chapter but it keeps getting split up into more and more parts and its getting really crazy, so hopefully those things will happen next time! ALSO: make sure to visit/follow HEROOFDARKNESS (dot) TUMBLR (dot) COM for art, progress updates and contests for my readers! Ask me questions or give suggestions for the story! Most of you guys are pretty quiet and it makes me sad. Even just dropping a review here would help me update quicker! :')
Questions for reviewers (answer in your reviews OR answer on the tumblr.)
- Would you like to see more of Chain's (Link's) past in the detail of this chapter or should I focus less on him and more on Link and Darc?
-Who is your favorite character in HoD so far?
-What is something about the story or a character in the story that you would be interested to know more about?
-Would you be interested in reading HoD mirrored on AO3 instead of FanFiction?