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Fifth chapter. Follows Habiki. This might get retconned later? Not sure.

Not A Clue Edit

Habiki/Very early morning day 3/Lanayru Spring

Habiki found himself once more in the ethereal woods of his dreams. The Trees stirred, all turning to face him with a look of great sadness. The largest of them spoke:

Why are you still, Habiki? Do you not heed our call? You must reach us before it's too late. Now is not the time for idlesse!

Suddenly, a wall of flame engulfed the woods around him, bringing death in its wake. ***

Habiki woke with a start. He was unused to sleeping for so short a time.

But now he felt strangely energized. The cave around him was buzzing, humming, as it were, and it bubbled up inside of him like the waters of the spring he lay in front of. He reached into his throat and pulled out the Light Heart, and shone it into the waters to take a better look.

Suddenly, the water began to boil. For a moment, it seemed Habiki's magic was doing it. But soon, a colossal ball of light, not at all dissimilar to Habiki's Light Heart, loomed out of the water, and a giant serpent lurched from the depths and caught the orb in its mouth.

Habiki was frightened. He began to back towards the entrance, when the voice spoke in his mind.

Do not be afraid, child. After all, it is only through your courage that you are able to see me at all. If you will, please keep it strong, and come closer, child.

Habiki did not understand the beast's meaning, but the voice had a soothing effect on him. After his initial shock at seeing the serpent, he found himself strangely comfortable around it. The beast was somehow like him, the orb in its mouth a strange proof. As he stepped closer to the creature, his body began to float towards it.

Habiki, I was wondering when you would reveal your Heart in my presence. I could not communicate with you properly otherwise. The body in which your spirit is sealed is not exactly conducive to Communion of the Light. I had to use all my might before to save you from the fall in Lake Hylia. It’s a good thing you were close to my shrine.

Habiki’s face contorted in confusion. The serpent tried to explain.

You probably believed you had blacked out and used your magic, but it was I who took control of your body and made your power stronger for an instant.

"Who be you?" asked Habiki.

I am Light Spirit Lanayru. This is my spring. When you are here with me, time stands still. You may find that things have rushed on ahead of you.

This only served to heighten Habiki’s bewilderment. “Habiki not understand…” 

Oh, yes, of course, I forget sometimes the fragile state of your mind. Then perhaps I should skip the formalities and simply tell you what is needed of you.

Habiki/Very early morning day 3/Lanayru Spring

Do you remember what you saw on the bridge, Habiki? The chaos?

Habiki’s eyes were narrowed and his brow furrowed, clearly struggling to follow Lanayru’s words.

War, Habiki…you saw war.

Habiki nodded, finally catching onto what the spirit was saying. “War, yes, war. They die, they kill.” He seemed apathetic. The only reason what he’d seen on the bridge had disturbed him was because his own life might be in danger…he cared nothing for those who had lost their lives. Even the morbidity of it had no real impact on him. It wasn't that he was cruel, it was that he simply lacked empathy.

Lanayru sighed at the prospect.

Sadly, you’ve awakened in a time when this land is full of war. Soldiers from your homeland, the Twili territory, have invaded from the South in search of plunder, entering these lands from the Ordona Province.

Such subtleties and specifics were lost on Habiki. He tried to speak. “Bu-,”

Hush, young one. You will understand in time, I promise you. Your mind may be weak, sadly perhaps your heart as well, but your spirit is strong, and that should be enough for now.

The soldiers have reached all the way to Faron and they have shown no mercy. The woods have been ravaged by war, as you have no doubt seen in your dreams. 

In Faron live the Deku Trees…the trees that speak. They have managed to survive by sealing their clearing off with magic. None can see it, few know of it, and the flames of war cannot touch it…for now. However, their magic grows weaker by the day, as Faron Woods slowly dies.

Habiki sat there, every passing word the spirit spoke only baffling him further. All he understood was that bad things were happening, and some trees were next. But why should he care about trees…even if they talk? After all, trees are not Habiki. If they hurt, would he hurt too?

You must find your way to Faron Province, and seek out the largest of the Deku Trees, known as the Great Deku Tree, and give him this. 

The empty bottle Habiki had discarded outside floated into the room and towards Lanayru. Lanayru grew brighter and brighter, flares of light bursting off his body. The light seemed to condense and slowly pour into the bottle. Soon it began to spill over, and the stopper replaced itself, the bottle floating gently back to the ground, little embers of light curling away from it until finally, it was still again, a bottle encasing pure light.

Beware, Habiki…do not unleash this light until you reach the Deku Tree. If you do, you will be temporarily imbued with great power, but it will soon dissipate, and you will have lost the one advantage you have. I fear that your time in this world is short if you do not reach the Deku Tree soon, and such temporary power will do nothing to prolong that.

When you present him with the light, he shall give you the power you need to help protect the people in these troubled times…those on BOTH sides of this conflict. We need all the protectors we can get…

Remember Habiki, there are no true enemies. The Twili are your people, but so are the Hylians. Many will seek to make you their foe, or to tell you who your foes must be, but do not give into their anger.

There is not much else I can do to aid you, except for this: I am only one of 4 Light Spirits. When you are near the spring of a Light Spirit, you can channel their power through yourself, making yourself stronger. But anywhere else, and we’ll be lucky to reach you at all…our powers are strongest at their epicenter. 


Go now, child, and fulfill this mission that we ask of you.

The serpent slowly faded back into the water with the orb still held magnificently in its jaws, as Habiki floated down towards the ground silently. He stood there for a moment, seemingly pondering what to say, when finally words found him.

“…Habiki not understand!” He seemed almost ashamed, repeating those words again.

You will, Habiki. You will! If you only get one thing out of all this, then let it be this: Faron Woods, Habiki…Faron Woods. Do not use the light until you reach Faron Woods.

The spring was finally dark again. The subtle blue glow of the lines etched into the walls, and the small white bottle of Lanayru's Light, were the only illumination left in the room. Habiki awkwardly picked up the bottle with his good hand (the one that still had all 5 fingers, as stubby as they may be), and walked out of the spring, expecting starry night. What he found was an almost blinding noonday light from several days past. 

He grunted, just as lost as when he’d entered the cave. “Fayrun Woods,” he said to himself, having no idea where or what that meant.

Habiki/Late-morning Day 1/Lake Hylia

Habiki stood there in the bright late-morning sun, its rays shimmering brightly off the lake around him. The sun was high in the sky, and Habiki’s body seemed to bake in the reflected light like an enormous watery kiln. He was thoroughly confused, having a moment ago been standing in a dimly lit cave several hours before dawn.

The lake was as tranquil as it had been when he first arrived. One would never have guessed (especially if one were Habiki) that these waters were usually home to a race of beautiful water-beings.

Habiki idled at the edge of the water. His earlier failure at finding another Kargarok had prompted him to abandon his previous methods. He was enclosed on all sides. He began to hyperventilate. His clay lungs could barely take it, the muck building up in them. He coughed, hacking up bits of much-too-damp clay. 

He turned where he stood, feeling thoroughly trapped. Then, eyeing the stone wall in front of him, rushed towards it wildly, and, carelessly dropping the bottle of light, began to claw at the wall desperately, hoping beyond hope to scale it with his seven stubby fingers. 

“How Habiki leave now?” he thought to himself.

Finally he began to calm himself. Looking over, he saw the sign that he had torn from the ground when he had first reached the lake, now standing as if he’d never touched it. He again ripped it from its post, and sitting down, stared at the markings…it annoyed him to no end that after spending several hours tracing these symbols, the markings now seemed wiped clean of all his hard work. He couldn’t stand it...he’d put it there, it should stay there. 

Touching his index finger to the sign, he began the same strange ritual he had the night “before”, only this time with much less genuine interest…only a vague familiarity, the act somehow reminding him of papa. It wasn’t long before he had completely worn his index finger to the base. Realizing for the first time that perhaps he shouldn’t do that, he set the sign down and began to scan the lake with his eyes, searching desperately for something do to.

Habiki began to feel very dry from the sun’s rays. To anyone else, it would have seemed a gentle warmth, but to a man made of clay, who’s body was constantly in danger of drying out, it was very unpleasant…not painful, but certainly not a good time either.

He grew restless, lying on his back and turning about, trying to resist his thirst. He didn’t have a bottle handy anymore, and he wasn’t about to try another stunt like last time…it had hurt his arm, in the water.

He began to eye the bottle of light hungrily, thinking maybe he would just let the cork loose and pour the stuff out so he could get a proper drink from the lake. He stumbled over to it, and tried to grasp it, but it was becoming increasingly difficult with his pathetic excuses for “hands”. He managed to grab it between both palms, but realized he would never get the cork out like that. So he set it clumsily in the crook of his arm, and began to paw at it. He finally got a grasp of the cork, and was about to pull it out when-

“Hey, whatcha’ doin’ there, guy?”

Habiki started, dropping the bottle on the ground…which, thanks to being made of very thick glass, remained untouched. He looked at the face that peered out of the water in front of him…its skin was smooth and incandescent, a pale blue color, with strange fins coming out of its head.

“What’sa matter, don’tcha talk, guy?” said the Zora.

Habiki/Late-morning Day 1/Lake Hylia

Habiki backed into the wall behind him, crouching low to the ground and covering the back of his head with his hands. He was shaking, breathing heavily.

“Hey, come on, I’m talking to ya’, guy!” The young Zora stepped out of the water onto the land, much smaller than one would have suspected. He couldn’t have been more than 12 years old. He stopped short, seeing Habiki’s distress. 

“Hey…are you okay?” he said, his expression becoming suddenly sympathetic.

Habiki didn’t respond. The young Zora felt uncomfortable, and not knowing what else to say, looked down at his flippers awkwardly…and saw the bottle of light in front of him.”COOL!” he said, reaching to grab it.

Habiki was upon him in an instant, snatching the bottle in his hands before the child could touch it. He glared down at the little Zora.

His stare frightened the boy, who looked up at Habiki from within his shadow. To such a small child, he looked like a giant. “I’m s-sorry, mister, I didn’t mean to-”

Habiki didn’t stand there to hear the boy’s apology. He simply walked back to the wall and resumed his crouch, the bottle clasped tightly between his palms, his eyes focused intently on the light within it.

The boy approached him, somewhat cautiously.

“You’re kind of weird, guy, you know that?” he said, “Kind of weird looking too…like you’re all covered in old mud…I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

The boy blushed a vivid shade of green.

“I’m sorry…sometimes that stuff just comes out…I know I should be more careful what I say, but it’s hard sometimes, ya’ know, guy?”

Habiki’s breath had slowed substantially, and finally he looked up at the boy, and proclaimed excitedly “Fayrunn Wudds!”

The boy looked at him for a second, puzzled...”OH!, Faron Woods!” he said, excitedly. “Yeah, I heard all about that, that was terrible!” he exclaimed, his smile quickly becoming a frown.

Suddenly he seemed very comfortable with Habiki. He plopped down next to him, to which Habiki glared, but then he simply looked away and did nothing more about it.

“So, what are you doing here at the shrine? I can smell a troublemaker when I see one, and you just look lost.”

Habiki didn’t respond.

The boy, completely un-phased, simply kept talking.

“Most of the grown-ups have gone off to help fight…’cept Old Lady Loa that is. She’s looking after us. The grown-ups said we aren’t supposed to leave the Fountain while they’re away fighting, and especially not to go to the Lake, because ‘it could be dangerous right now’…yeah right, I’ve been coming to this lake every day since I was a hatchling, we all have, and I’ve never seen anything bad happen in this lake…and those crummy Twili aren’t gonna’ mess up my day, so if I say I wanna swim, I’m gonna swim, damnit!”

Suddenly the child looked horrified, his hands covering his mouth. “I’m not supposed to swear,” he said, ashamed.

He got over it quickly…

“Heh, but like I was saying, I can get away with anything when Lady Loa watches us. She’s blind as a Keese! ‘Oh, yes ‘mam, he was a perfect little darling, didn’t make a peep’”, he said, doing his best to impersonate the old lady’s voice. “Ha, I didn’t make a peep because I wasn’t there…but I really shouldn’t talk like that about her, she’s such a sweet old lady,” he said, eyeing the ground. Suddenly, his face lit up with a cherubic smile, and he turned to Habiki.

“My name’s Raki. What’s yours?”

Habiki didn’t respond.

The boy simply repeated himself, more urgent this time.

“Uh…my name is Raki. What’s yours?

Habiki looked up at him, not giving away anything about what he thought or had understood.

“Come on guy, don’tcha have a name?” he said, lapsing back into the slang he’d first presented himself with.

“Habiki is called Habiki.” he finally said, then returned his eyes to the bottle.

“Um, I take it you’re Habiki,” the boy said, suppressing a laugh at the man’s strange choice of words. 

Habiki nodded, not looking up from the jar.


“Nice to meet you, Habiki.” He said.

There was a short pause.

“It’s what you’re supposed to say when you make a new friend. Come on, try it.”

“Nais. Ta. Met.Tchu..” he said, sounding like it was a great effort learning to say a new phrase. “Rocky.”

Raki shrugged. “Eh, close enough.”

Habiki/Late-morning Day 1/Lake Hylia 

They sat there for a few minutes, allowing themselves to become comfortable with one another.

Finally the boy spoke. “So…come on, you look bored, why don’t you come for a swim with me?”

Habiki stared at the water, his marble eyes widening.

“What’s the matter, can’t you swim, Habiki?”

Habiki shrunk away from the boy, almost in the fetal position, fearful at the very idea of jumping into the water.

“I’ll take that as a no…so, howd’ja get here in the first place?” said Raki. Habiki looked up, and Raki followed his eye line towards the bridge. He spun back to face Habiki, looking shocked. 

“No WAY! That must have hurt.”

Habiki didn’t respond.

“I’ll tell you what…there’s an old canoe out by a dock near here, that we Zoras use to show tourists a fun time. I’m not supposed to use it without permission, but you look like you could use a lift to…wherever it is that you’re going.”

“Fayron Woods” Habiki said, much more clearly then before.

“Oh, you’re going to Faron Woods?” he gasped. 

Habiki had simply been repeating the words that Lanayru had promised him not to forget. He was not actually aware that Faron was his destination. But he nodded, since the boy seemed to understand what he did not.

“Wow, you must be one brave guy…well I can’t take you there, but I guess I can try to get you back to dry land.”

The boy looked around, almost like he was afraid to get caught. Then he put his hands up and gestured to Habiki to stay put.

“Wait right here, I’ll be right back.”

Habiki winced at the sight of the boy diving into the water, but then watched with strange fascination as the young Zora swam away. Raki receded quickly into the distance, and then he was gone.

A few minutes later, he reappeared in view, in one hand a towrope carrying the boat along. He paddled up to the shrine, then climbed out of the water and pulled the boat as close as he could to the land. 

He gestured to Habiki. “Well…get in.” The boy smiled.

Habiki stepped cautiously towards the boat, eyeing it suspiciously.

Raki saw his discomfort, and so climbed into the boat himself, demonstrating. 

“Look, see? No water in here.” He smiled.

Habiki put his foot tentatively into the boat, and it began to move under his weight.

“It’s okay! It’s okay Habiki, I got you.”

The boy helped to steady him, and Habiki managed to get his other foot in and clumsily sit down, the bottle of light set carelessly by his feet.

“Before I take you back, though, maybe I could just show you around the lake?” he said, knowing full well that Habiki wouldn’t make that decision for him.

“Great!” said Raki.

He took the oar, and began to paddle lazily out from shore.

Habiki looked visibly uncomfortable, staring off to the side of the boat at the water surrounding him.

They drifted there for a while, until Habiki seemed somewhat acclimated to the boat.

The Zora looked out at the water, seemingly enraptured by its beauty, by the shimmering reflection of everything around them in the crystal blue lake.

He sighed, “I lied, you know. It’s not like I’m some kind of tough guy or anything, and I’m not so thick as to think the Twili won’t try to come here.” He said this with an air of melancholy. “When I said they wouldn’t ruin this for me, that was a lie…if they come here, there’s nothing I can do to stop them, now is there?”

His eyes were glazed over, almost seeming to have forgotten Habiki for an instant.

“That’s why I’m out here…I might not get another chance to swim here.”

He looked back at Habiki.

“Ya’ know, guy? This is my home.”

Habiki grunted uncaringly.

“Sorry. I guess you’re not much for deep conversation, are you? I didn’t mean to be a downer.” He smiled, the troubles he’d just been reflecting on quickly forgotten.

He glimpsed the bottle that was lying next to Habiki. “So, what exactly is it you got there,” he said, pointing down at Habiki’s feet.

Habiki grew angry. “HABIKI NOT SHARE!!!” he yelled at the top of his lungs, bending low over the bottle to protect it from the boy’s clearly greedy hands.

Raki tensed, suddenly remembering that he was in the canoe with a strange and temperamental creature. He tried to change the subject.

“So where are you from, exactly? Are your parents from Faron?”

This question seemed to flip a horrifying switch in Habiki. Suddenly he was screaming, all his anger directed at the boy. He jumped quickly to his feet, and it seemed certain for a single instant that he would hurt the boy…but the boat pitched under his weight, sending Habiki crashing back to his seat.

The boy had cowered behind his hands, and now his eyes welled up with tears. “What’s your problem guy?” he said, his voice choked.

He turned and began to climb over the edge, ready to jump from the boat, when he heard Habiki make a strange sound. He looked back, instinctively preparing for the blow…and saw Habiki bending over the edge of the boat, looking down horrified at the water. Raki followed his eyes and saw Lanayru’s Light tumbling into the water, slowly sinking into the depths. It had been knocked overboard in the commotion.

Habiki madly reached his right arm into the water, scrambling desperately to grab for the bottle. Raki stared, aghast, as Habiki’s already barely intact hand completely dissolved into silt and spread murkily into the water. Habiki seemed not to realize he had no hand, or to care for the obviously tremendous pain, as he reached his arm further and further in, splashing furiously, his eyes lined with tears and the ache of his arm.

“What in the name of Din’s fiery red ass!” screamed the boy, quickly covering his mouth again, this time not to reprimand himself, but to stifle a scream.

Habiki/Late-morning Day 1/Lake Hylia

Raki watched in horror as Habiki pushed his arm further and further into the water, until it neared his elbow, all the while his arm slowly melting into nonexistence.

“Stop it! Stop it Habiki!” Raki cried, tears welling up in his eyes. Finally, not knowing what else to do, he forcibly grabbed Habiki’s arm and tried to pull it out of the water. Habiki merely shoved him away with his other hand, Raki struggling not to fall out of the canoe.

“Are you an IDIOT?! You have no arm! What the hell do you think you’re going to do, melt onto the bottle?” he had had enough.

“STOP! IT! RIGHT! NOW!” He shoved Habiki as hard as he could back into the boat. He was only a small kid, so if it had not been for the canoe pitching back and forth, his shoving would have been completely ineffective. But as it was, Habiki was finally forced to retract the remaining stump of his arm from the water. He gazed up at Raki with a fanatical glare, about to stand up and-

“Don’t!” said Raki. He sighed, not believing he was about to offer help. “Tell you what, I’ll get it.”

“NO! HABIKI NOT SHARE!” cried the crazed man of earth, but Raki was already gone, diving into the depths. Habiki felt wrong somehow, his whole body seeming to grow more powerful in his white-hot rage. He stood, the whole canoe buckling and growing hot under his feet, and suddenly sparks of light escaped Habiki’s mouth. 

He aimed his mouth painfully to the sky, his screams muffled by the embers shooting up into the air like beautiful white fireworks. Gravity seemed to overtake the sparks a distance above his head, and, like fireworks, the sparks rained down all about him, scorching his earthen skin. 

The boat around him began to smolder, and finally a small flame appeared by his feet, eating a tiny hole through the canoe. Water began to pour in, dousing the flames instantly. The sparks landed on the surface of the water collecting at his feet, glowing like floating jewels. He didn’t even notice, his entire being focused on the white flames of light erupting from inside of him. 

The trickle of water was not enough to collapse his load bearing legs, but the boat was slowly and confidently sinking, and soon it would be too much. His feet seemed to melt, slowly flattening and growing wider as the clay rushed down his leg and collected at the bottom, Habiki growing slowly shorter.

Tears streamed down Habiki’s face, only worsening the situation. Then suddenly, for a brief instant, his mind grew lucid. For a split second, his thoughts were clear, and the sparks subsided. Just long enough for him to scream to the world, “WHAT MANNER OF MONSTER AM I, FATHER!!!” then suddenly he collapsed into the pool around him. Just before his eyes closed in unconsciousness, he whispered in horror to himself “I shall consume everything…I, Habiki, man of Earth and Light…Habiki afraid, papa…” And suddenly, his mind clouded over again, he was still, his face half submerged in the water.

The water poured in around him, licking at his body like a flame at straw, almost hungrily feeding on him. The boat seemed near the tipping point, about ready to take its final plunge, when there came a loud “THUD” from underneath the boat, and the sound of the water rushing into the boat stopped. The hole had been plugged by a small rock.

Suddenly, there was a great **splash** and the bottle of Lanayru’s Light came hurdling through the air back into the boat.

Raki surfaced. “That oughta do it.” He said, admiring his handy work. The boat wouldn’t sink…for now. He didn’t climb into the boat, knowing that anymore and it would finally give way. He grabbed the towrope and pulled it to the dock where they kept the boat. There was a small bucket there. He snatched it up quickly, and began desperately bailing the water out of the boat.

***

Habiki opened his eyes and tried to sit up, but he had no strength left. His vision didn’t seem right, and he realized he was blind in one eye. He looked down and saw his left eye lying on his stomache. His skin was slimy and coated with muck that had once been completely part of him. Water and Gravity had distorted his legs, so they were wider near the bottom then they were at the top. He clutched at the stump of his arm with his remaining hand. He turned his head and saw Lanayru’s Light, right there in front of his head. And finally, looking up, he saw Raki, trying not to cry, scrambling with the bucket to remove as much water as possible.

Their eyes met. Habiki tried to speak. “Rocky.”

Raki collapsed into tears. Habiki uttered words he had not spoken since he last saw his father. “Habiki sorry.”

Raki wiped the tears from his eyes, and smiled at him. “I know. But forget about that right now. Right now I need to get you somewhere safe. Come on, I’ll take you to Lady Loa. She should be able to help.”

Habiki tried to smile, but considering that his face was all but dissolved on one side, it probably came off as more of a grimace.

Habiki and Raki/Just after Noon, Day 1/ Lake Hylia

Raki set the bucket down on the wooden dock beside him. He was panting, exhausted from bailing the canoe.

The boat was still damp, and now the inside of it was lined with smeared and drying clay. Habiki was barely conscious. With one arm, one eye, and 4 barely passable fingers, he was surely quite a gruesome sight. The left side of his face was completely worn away, and the empty eye socket had filled with wet earth, so there was no longer much of a socket at all.

Raki placed the bucket into the boat with Habiki, in case they needed it again. Raki let out the towrope, then, taking it firmly in his teeth, dove straight into the water and began swimming towards a distant waterfall.

His fins waved through the water, pushing the waves behind him and propelling him along at high speeds. He had no time to think of anything except getting Habiki to the fountain at Zora’s Domain. He wasn’t even thinking of how he’d be reprimanded when he got there. All that mattered was that this strange man not die in front of him…Raki was not ready to handle death at his young age.

After a few minutes of paddling, they neared the waterfall. He made sure to keep the canoe a good distance from it, so as not to let more water in and worsen Habiki’s condition. He let go of the rope, and swimming beneath the waterfall, entered a small dry chamber behind it. He pushed a small stone knot on the wall, and suddenly, the waterfall began to push outward, extending like a ramp until it was no longer vertical, but a gentle slope arching over the lake. As if the very laws of physics were reversing, the falling water slowed to a crawl, stopped, and finally, began traveling the other way, up the cliff face, upstream.

He swam back out to the canoe, jumped in, grabbed the oars, and paddled into the wake of the fall. The current quickly grabbed a hold of the boat, and they were off, the surrounding cliffs rushing past them as they traveled upstream. The waves lapped at the canoe, and some of the water did reach the inside of the boat, but not enough to make things any worse than they already were. Raki struggled to keep the boat on course with his oars.

As they went on, the waters began to slow, and finally they were simply drifting lazily upstream. Now the only thing propelling them was Raki’s insistent oaring. They had been heading upstream for several hours now.

He spoke to Habiki, trying to give him something to focus on and keep him conscious.

“You know, Habiki, today when I was swimming, I saw a strange Zora pass by the lake, wearing some pretty weird tattoos…they looked like funerary tattoos, but the guy seemed pretty alive to me. What do you think it means?”

Habiki didn’t speak, but seemed to be listening intently. He focused on making himself breathe, each inhalation a tremendous effort.

“That’s right, Habiki, just breathe, just keep breathing.”

He returned to his story.

“You know, there was an officer once, Polaris they called him, who died in battle. The day of his funeral, after he had been adorned with the tattoos that marked his death, his body disappeared. The story is always different depending on who tells it. Some say he wasn’t dead at all, that his will made him cling to life, and that he’d ran away to hide his shame. Some say that it was his ghost, coming to take the body away to the underworld. But most of them think his corpse was simply stolen by some unforgiving Zora, and dumped as a way of punishing a dead man.”

Raki’s speech had taken a decidedly different tone than the one he’d first presented to Habiki. In having to deal with the immediate crisis, his tone had become much more formal, and he had dropped the slang that normally riddled his vocabulary, as if anything but the utmost seriousness would lessen Habiki’s chances of survival.

“Some people have claimed to have seen him wandering the caves of Snowpeak, but I never took much stock in such legends. But if the man I saw was really Polaris, then it could be a very good omen for you. After all, if Polaris can rise from the grave, who says you can’t avoid it altogether?”

His words seemed to sooth Habiki on some deep, innate level, his breath becoming more even, his eye flitting about less anxiously.

“We’ll be there soon, Habiki, I promise.”

Soon they came to a gate blocking the river, next to an old cottage. Tied up to the dock next to them was another canoe.

“An old fishing family has owned this little patch of land for well over a hundred years. They’re the ones who run the tours I was telling you about. But we’re not here to see them of course.” He looked at the grating blocking off the rest of the stream, and unhooked a small latch next to it, the gate rising and allowing them to pass. The fisherman burst out of the hut, and tried to speak.

“Hey, Raki! I thought I told you not to-”

“I’msorryIcan’ttalkrightnow! Igottogettothespringbeforethisguydies! I’llexplainlater!” said Raki in one breath, paddling hard without a backwards glance, heading up to the waterfall that led up to Zora’s Domain.

The fisherman stood there, speechless, mouth gaping at the half-dissolved clay man in the boat.

The canoe entered the wake of the fall (or in this case, the rise), and they climbed slowly to the top. Raki got out and began pulling the boat on foot in the shallow water.

He stopped short when he saw a frail old Zora woman standing in the entrance with her arms crossed.

“So, how was your swim, Raki?” 

“Bus-ted!” cried one of the other younglings.

Day 1/Zora’s Domain/Habiki and Raki/Afternoon

Raki tried to start into his story. “Lady Loa! I know I shouldn’t have snuck out, but this man needs h-“

“Hush. We’ll discuss him later. Right now we need to talk about you.”

Raki looked down at the ground, not knowing what to say.

Old Lady Loa turned to the other younglings. “Alright, children, leave, all of you, I must speak to Raki in private.”

The other children just stood there.

“Well get going, I’m not going to tell you again, children.”

The young ones hesitantly began to walk away, clearly disappointed, many of them glancing backwards at the canoe in awe as they went. Habiki seemed to be sleeping peacefully, his pain at rest for the moment. 

Raki gulped, afraid he was about to get the axe.

“So, Raki, I asked you, how was your swim?” her tone was almost conversational.

Raki opened his mouth to speak. “I…well…you see-”

“Good I take it?”

Raki, not knowing what else to do, stared ashamedly at the ground. “How did you know I was gone?”

She smiled, but she seemed perturbed. “Because contrary to what you might think, I’m not, oh, what was it you said, ‘blind as a Keese?’” 

Raki’s eyes widened. “How did you-“

Her expression softened, she laughed a kind laugh, and suddenly a large bubble floated through the entrance to the domain and into her hands, images floating inside it of what it had seen in its travels.

“I have eyes everywhere, child. I’ve placed enchantments throughout our territory that allow me to see all that goes on here. Do you think they would really entrust all of the younglings to a single senile old woman if she couldn’t protect them?”

Raki kept his eyes on the ground as he spoke. “Then how come you never seem to notice when I sneak off?”

She shook her head. “I always let you get away with so much because it was always so little…you never got yourself into any real trouble before now. And I couldn’t deny you children the Lake for all the world. So when it’s necessary, I pretend to turn a blind eye…it doesn’t mean I’m not watching you.” 

This seemed to calm Raki a bit. She continued. “If any danger were to actually come to the Lake, I would know immediately, and alert the sentries at the lake to escort you back…at least that’s what I thought,” she said, here eyes flitting to Habiki momentarily.

Raki didn’t notice this gesture, simply surprised at what she had said, “There are sentries here? I thought all the grown-ups left to join the fight!”

“As I already said, do you think they would really entrust your safety to a single aged Zora? Several of our soldiers have remained behind, making sure to keep their distance so as not to disturb the children’s peace of mind.”

Raki shook his head, almost laughing. “I can’t believe I got so worked up. I saw a Zora wearing strange tattoos, and I’d half convinced myself it was Polaris, from the stories.”

Loa eyed him strangely. “Perhaps he was…I’ve seen him too, but he’s not one of ours.”

Raki was about to question her further, when he remembered Habiki’s predicament. “I’m sorry Lady Loa, but I don’t have time for this, this guy needs help.”

Lady Loa’s expression turned suddenly sad. She shook her head. “Raki, how could you be so naïve as to let this monster in here in times of war?”

Day 1/Zora’s Domain/Habiki and Raki/Afternoon

Raki nearly choked. “What? He’s not a Twili, I know what they look like, and-“

“You’re right, he’s no Twili. It is a Twili Stone Puppet! I’ve seen them before, puppets sculpted from Twili 'black clay'. This is no man, it has no will of its own, it is merely a tool, and the puppeteer was likely using it to try and kill you. What were you thinking?”

Raki hesitated for a moment. ‘Black clay?’ he thought to himself. ‘That’s what he’s made of?’ It intrigued him deeply. He decided to make a note of it for later.

He tried to speak. “You’re wrong, he’s not that, I know he’s no puppet, I saw-”

“Whatever he said to you, it was clearly a ploy to get in here. I thought I could protect you, but I never imagined being attacked from within our borders.” She seemed perplexed. “How could this thing have simply appeared at the entrance to Lanayru Spring?”

“I’m telling you, Habiki is not a puppet, he-“

Habiki, is it? This thing has a name? Well, I imagine that must have been the name of the wielder, speaking through him.” She said. “The sentries have been deployed to look for and capture the Twili.”

“Will you LISTEN to me!?” cried Raki, “I saw-“

“Raki, this thing nearly killed you, and the flares it shot from its mouth are clearly dangerous. It must be destroyed before it can cause more harm.” Suddenly she saw the bottle lying next to Habiki’s chest. “What is this?” she said, her eyes widening. She picked the bottle up in her hands.

“Don’t touch that!” said Raki. “When I tried to take it, it really upset him, he started screaming that he didn’t want to share!”

Didn’t want to share?” she repeated back to him. “He screamed? I don’t understand, this bottle is filled with spiritual light! What would a Twili want with it?”

Suddenly, Loa seemed not to be so sure of her answers.

“Rocky…” Raki and Loa both turned to the source of the noise.

Habiki had stirred. He opened his one eye, taking in ragged breaths. Loa calmly watched his chest heave in and out, and heard his pained breaths. It perplexed her thoroughly. 

“That’s odd…stone puppets don’t need to breath, they’re usually completely solid.”

Her mind was spinning, trying to comprehend the situation. She spoke her thoughts aloud, as if hoping the air would clarify them. “This creature spouted flares from his…it’s…mouth that appeared to be made of light. It’s body is made of black clay, like an ordinary stone puppet, but it…he…doesn’t seem to be solid, he seems to have a more complex structure. It appeared near Lanayru’s Spring-“

“He didn’t appear near Lanayru’s Spring, he appeared from Lanayru’s Spring,” corrected Raki. “I watched him exit the shrine.”

Her eyes widened again, and she stared at the bottle in her hands. “And he was carrying this.” Finally it all clicked.  “This man is a messenger of Lanayru!” she said, ”And he needs medical attention!” 

“Well what do you think I’ve been saying?!” said Raki.

Lady Loa looked at Habiki, seeing him for the first time, his suffering, his will on the verge of giving out.

“The poor dear,” she said.

Day 1/Zora’s Domain/Habiki and Raki/Mid-Afternoon

Loa set the bottle down beside the canoe and began to give Habiki the once over.

“Let me take a look at you,” she said, grabbing his right arm from underneath with one hand, and taking his elbow in her other, eyeing the stump where his forearm used to be. She looked at his other arm, what remained of his left hand, little more than a stubby claw. 

She began running her fingers along the surface of his skin, noting its hard and leathery texture in some places, but more human seeming and flexible near his abdomen. “Curious,” she said to herself.

“Do you feel that?” she said, touching him on his good arm.

“No, Habiki not feel.”

“So it’s numb there?” she asked him.

“Habiki not understand,” he said weakly, his breath coming in short gasps.

“It means you can barely feel anything there.”

“Habiki arm no feel,” he said, clearly not looking to learn new vocabulary. “Habiki not feel arm since wood.”

She assumed he meant the canoe. She rapped her fingers against his chest, and could feel that it was hollow, but that this hollow space seemed to contain several objects, almost like a vase. “And that?” she asked as she drummed her nails against his ribs.

“Habiki feel little.”

“You feel little?” she almost laughed. Then it donned on her “...Oh, you feel it a little.”

Habiki grunted.

She then rapped on his stomach.

“Habiki feel that,” he said before she even asked.

She continued this pattern and noticed that in many places, almost always near his abdomen, his physical characteristics more closely mimicked those of a human, but the further they drifted from that epicenter, the more like stone and clay they became, and the more numb they were.

She turned to Raki.

“He’s in pretty bad shape.” She didn’t seem pleased.

“Will you be able to help him?” Raki asked, looking troubled.

She shook her head. “I’m not sure. There’s really not much I can do, his physiology is entirely foreign to me…a man made of clay.” Seeing Raki’s expression of horror, she was quick to add “But I will do what I can.”

Habiki coughed up mud, the muck building up inside his body indistinguishable from the muck that comprised his body. Loa grimaced, the realization donning on her that to Habiki, coughing up mud was the same as coughing up his own organs.

“It seems a lot of water got into his lungs,” she said. “We’ll have to find some way of draining them before it wears a hole right through them. Raki, will you be a dear and go get some things for me?”

He nodded.

“Go into my chambers and get me the cloth that is lying next to my bed, and the bowl on my bedside table.”

Raki scrambled to his feet and rushed to get the items she needed.

Loa looked around her flippers for a sharp rock. Unfortunately, none of them were satisfactory, so she simply settled for the one that was as close as she could get.

Raki returned, the bowl and rag in hand. “Thank you dear.”

“So, what exactly is it that we’re doing here?” Raki eyed the rock in her hands.

“I’m afraid we’re going to have to cut him open,” she said firmly.

Day 1/Zora’s Domain/Habiki and Raki/Mid-Afternoon

Raki just stood there quietly, taking it in. Finally words found him.

“ Okay, if it will help him” he said. “Let’s do this. So, what, aren’t you going to give him an anesthetic?”

Loa looked at him strangely. “Well, not unless you know of any sedatives that work on clay,” she quipped. “Besides, he won’t need it. Most of his body is already pretty numb- whether from his injuries or from the fact he’s made of dirt, I can’t say - so as long as you keep him calm, this shouldn’t hurt him too terribly.”

She took the cloth and covered his face with it, covering his one working eye.

“We don’t want him to see this,” she said. Raki shuddered at the thought.

Raki knelt by Habiki’s head, and began whispering to him. “It’s okay, Habiki, don’t worry, just be calm.”

Loa took the rock, and pressed it firmly against his chest. She began applying pressure to it, and it slowly began to pierce. 

“rUAAH, huh,-hurgh”

Habiki began to scream, not so much from the dull pain as the oddness of the sensation.

“It’s okay, Habiki, you’re doing real well, just breath, you’re okay.”

Loa started to pull the stone down, slowly cutting down along his chest. The problem was it didn’t seem to be “cutting” so much as mashing the clay inward.

“Damn,” she cursed. “It’s jut not sharp enough. I’ll have to find something else.” She began looking around her flippers for a better tool.

Raki stared at her, not used to seeing the old woman swear. She was usually so composed. It was very unnerving to him.

He looked down at Habiki, and then at the less than adequate scalpel that lay on his chest, and finally down at the fins that protruded from his elbows. He reached for his right fin with his left hand, and started to pull it-

“RAKI!” cried Old Lady Loa, having caught him in the act. “No, absolutely not, your fins haven’t developed well enough yet. Trying to detach them now could cause serious damage to them, and then how would you swim?”

Raki looked betrayed, as if she had slapped him.

She smiled. “Now don’t fret. It is a pretty clever idea though, I’m not sure why I didn’t think of it before.” She reached for her left fin, and detached it effortlessly, the fin suddenly elongating as if inflated, and becoming rigid. She swept the now unneeded rock off of Habiki’s chest, and set to work. He began to scream again.

Raki whispered in his ear to calm him. The words he was speaking didn’t matter, since they would have made no sense to Habiki in the first place. But the mere act of hearing a friendly voice seemed to sooth him.

“You see Habiki, unlike Hylians, we Zora tend towards more organic weaponry, using our bodies as our greatest defense. Our fins are detachable, and we are capable of producing strong electric currents. 

In younglings like me, our fins are made up mostly of soft tissue, but as we approach adolescence, special hyper-conductive and flexible filaments slowly replace that tissue. The tissues that connect our fins to our body begin to dissolve, and a small socket is formed, from which the fin can be removed. 

These filaments become rigid when exposed to a strong electrical current, but are otherwise flexible. When attached to our bodies, the fin is connected to our central nervous system, which regulates the current, and we can feel sensation in the fins like any other limb. But when the fins are removed, these sensations are cut off, and it becomes like any other tool. Under a self contained current, the filaments expand and tense, and the fin becomes rigid, and its sharp edge and aerodynamic shape makes it the perfect weaponized boomerang, or in this case, the perfect scalpel.”

Loa gaped at him, momentarily distracted from her job. A faint trace of a ruddy brown ooze had seeped out from the line she had cut in Habiki’s chest, like earthen blood. He was clearly in a lot of pain, as she had had to cut all the way down his chest to his abdomen, where he had the most sensation.

“What?” said Raki. “So I’m a biology nerd…a kid’s gotta have something, right?”

She looked at him again, the expression on her face as if he’d caught on fire before her very eyes. She shook her head quickly, shaking herself out of her confusion, and got back to work. She made a second slice at the top of and perpendicular to the first one, creating a T shape. 

She set her “scalpel” back in its socket, the fin instantly becoming soft and flexible again, and began pushing the fingers of both hands into the gash she had made. She pulled them apart, the skin parting (or rather, molding) to reveal his ribs and organs underneath.

She looked at his internal organs, and saw the same pattern she had from the outside. The closer they got to his abdomen, the more human they became, and the less they were falling apart. His stomach in particular did not seem to be made of clay at all, but flesh and blood, but seemed to have a slight incandescence, as if light were shining from it. Looking down, she saw that his intestines connected into what appeared to be a urinary tract…Habiki had once been anatomically correct. 

She decided to ignore the oddly normal stomach, since it was not their priority right now. It seemed healthy enough, and her job was to mitigate existing damage, not to cause more exploring his unusual anatomy.

She again removed her makeshift scalpel from its socket, marveling at what a surprisingly effective tool it was. She carefully cut away the breast bone, and began to spread his ribs.

Habiki didn’t scream this time…he had passed out from the strain.

Looking at his chest, where a heart should be, there was an empty space, as if there really should have been something there. This puzzled her.

“I’m sorry,” she said, realizing that the process had been much more painful than she had expected, since he was far more human than she had expected. “Raki, could you bring me the bowl, dear,” she said.

Raki brought it over, and tried to hand it to her. 

“No, I need you to hold it for me. I need you to hold it under his lungs as I drain them.” She was surprised at how comfortable he was with all of this, as if it was almost natural to him. He was not nearly as queasy as a young child should be at this sight.

“You’d make a good medic, you know,” she said, as she made a vertical slice in each of the lungs, and water began to spill into Raki’s open bowl.

“Thanks.” Raki smiled at her. “I’ve actually thought about it before. Maybe when the war is over, I can talk to my parents about schooling.”

Loa sighed. “Considering how much bloodshed there will be, I’m afraid you may have to learn long before that. Quickly now, we can’t keep his lungs open very long, he can’t breath like this.”

She quickly took a small rock from the ground, and scraped the excess mud out of his lungs. She then closed them up, and applied a small amount of mud to the outside to seal it.

The sun was low in the sky, and the light was beginning to wane. They spent several hours working on his most damaged innards, and collecting any excess clay in a small pile next to him. They reconnected his lower digestive tract as best they could (it had clearly been years since he had been able to expel the toxins in his system), but sadly, the clay there had largely melded together into a single mass.

As the sun finally fell below the mountains around them, they began working by the light of the bottle to close him up. 

They’d collected enough clay to form a new right hand, albeit replete with any nerves or bones…it would simply have to rely on the magic that animated Habiki if it were to move at all. In the late evening Loa sent Raki out to collect some silt from the river bed, and they used that to replace the rest of his arm, to reinforce his legs, and to remold the left side of his face.

They finished by placing his missing eye back in its socket, and painstakingly attempting to connect it to the nerves that were more clay than alive anymore.

It was well past midnight when they finally wiped the sweat from their brows and were able to call it a day. Habiki wasn’t nearly as good as new, or even nearly as good as he had been before the accident, but he was functioning. The fact that his innards were made of clay certainly made survival easier…had he been human, the extensive repairs would have killed him.

Raki and Loa spoke in private as Habiki rested in the canoe.

“He’s still in pretty bad shape, Raki…it may be days before he can walk. I’m not even sure his eye or that new arm are going to be more than dead weight to him…I don’t know enough about the processes that make him tick.”

“Seriously,” said Raki, shaking his head. “He doesn’t need a physician, he needs a sculptor.” 

Loa looked at him. “You know, you’re right. There’s an old Earth Mage living in Castle Town who might be able to help him far more than we can. By tomorrow afternoon Habiki should be strong enough to travel, as long as we’re careful.” She seemed to be thinking. “How do we get him there, is the problem.”

She looked over, and saw Habiki awkwardly standing up in the canoe. Her mouth was wide open.

“Habiki walk,” he said, stumbling, and very nearly falling back into the water and ruining their hard work. He collapsed back into the boat, gasping heavily, clearly unable to stay up for long, and resumed unconsciousness.

Raki and Loa exchanged shocked glances.

Day 2/Fisherman’s Hut/Habiki and Raki/Sunrise

Habiki was engulfed in the empty purgatory of his dreams. He looked around himself, and saw nothing but darkness. All he could see was himself, but he saw himself brightly, as if midday. He seemed to be floating, drifting, completely lost in the void.

Eventually, a small gray platform loomed below him, and his stomach lurched as he realized he was not floating, he was falling. But when he touched down on the platform, he was surprised to find it was with the utmost grace, as if on a cloud.

Walls began to form around him, and the gray of the floor slowly gave way to cobbled red stone. Lying in the corner, with his body shifted towards the wall, was the old beggar from dreams past, a small bowl of cold porridge by his side. The windows were barred in this stone room. His eyes were glazed over, and he had a lonely and baffled look, as if he had no idea where he was. He was almost unrecognizable as the brilliant Light Mage who had given Habiki life.

The man didn’t seem to notice him.

Habiki tried to speak, but the place had no sound. Soon he was screaming at the top of his lungs, but still he was silent. If the man would only turn to look at him… *** Habiki woke at sunrise. He felt strangely weary, as if a great weight had been placed on top of him. For a moment he struggled to recall why his heart felt such anguish, but it was if his mind didn’t want to remember.

He opened his eyes. His vision was strange, unnatural. His right eye could see the walls of the cabin where he’d slept, but his left eye could only see dark shapes and lines, shadows. The world around him felt small, claustrophobic in this tiny window he had left in his right eye.

He looked down at his right arm. His forearm was an unfamiliar color, a ruddy brown as opposed to the stony gray of the hand that was mounted atop it, the stony gray of the rest of his body. He tried to flex his fingers, but could not move them…it was merely a solid mass of his internal clay, not the intricate network of blood, bone and nerves that would allow him to move it. He looked at his left hand, the index finger and the tips of his other fingers also formed of reddish silt. He tensed it, and while the gray moved easily, the red remained immobile.

He realized he was lying on a large mattress, towels placed over the sheets and comforters to keep him from ruining the bed. This was wise, for besides the mud and clay rubbing off on the towels, he had voided his bowels during the night, for the first time in 4 years, thanks to the work they had done to repair his innards.

He sat up. There was a vanity mirror on the nearby dresser drawer. He looked into it and saw the left side of his face was the same ruddy brown that lined several parts of his body like patchwork. His left eye was crooked, staring off into space. The day before, the sight of his face in the water had caused him great torment, and it was even more distorted now. But now, he seemed not to realize that it was his reflection looking back at him.

“Who you?” he asked, as if the sight of a mirror were a new experience for him.

The fisherman walked in at that moment.

“Oh, good, you’re up. Madam Loa had you moved here for the night, with my permission of course. They figured leaving you in a canoe in the water was probably not the best way to help you recuperate, considering what you tried to pull last night...you could have hurt yourself…well, hurt yourself more.”

Habiki looked at him for a moment, but seemed to be looking past him, unable to take him in. Then he shifted his gaze to the ceiling, and stared off into space thereafter.

The fisherman left him to his own devices. *** Raki hadn’t slept much. After treating Habiki until nearly one in the morning, and taking him down to the fisherman’s hut, he had had to wake early to begin packing. He had swam down into the main chamber of the Domain into his room, a small cave that lie in a pocket of air unsubmerged in the water. He wrapped several fish for him and Habiki to eat on their way, a few bottles of water, a few of his favorite books and of course, Habiki’s bottle of Lanayru’s Light. He slung the water-proof pack over his shoulder, and dived out of his room, back up into the main chamber.

Loa was, there, waiting for him.

“You’re not packed!” said Raki.

She smiled. “I can’t go, child. I am the eyes of this place. If I leave, I will be leaving our entire home without proper protection…the sentries can’t be everywhere. No, I’m afraid you will have to escort Habiki to Castle Town yourself. It’s not far…you should be there before nightfall if you hurry. But remember to be careful, and do be home by tomorrow night.”

“I’m not coming back afterwards.” He said.

Madam Loa shook her head at him. “What nonsense are you speaking, child?”

He stood there, resolute. “You said you believe Habiki to be a messenger of Lanayru, and I’d say that sounds about right. He told me he was heading to Faron Woods, where the Twili troops are centered, him and that bottle of light of his. Whatever he’s doing there, it must have something to do with Lanayru’s orders. But he can barely take care of himself, let alone carry out the orders of a Light Spirit under such dangerous conditions. I’m going with him to Faron, and there’s nothing you can do to change my mind.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” she said, her eyes twinkling. She knelt down and kissed him on his forehead. “Be careful, child.”

He laughed. “So I’m not in trouble for sneaking off?”

“For sneaking off, no. But you also walked up to a complete stranger from parts unknown in times of war, and nearly cost both your lives. And even though your intentions were good, bringing Habiki here could have been very dangerous, had you been wrong about him. I would be remiss if I didn’t tell your parents about this when they return.”

Raki gulped. The old Zora continued. “But it would also not be fair, considering the great lengths you went to in saving his life, to punish you…so what do you say we just keep this between us, okay?" she winked. 

Raki stood there, at the edge of the waterfall. A few of the other younglings had already woken up and had been eavesdropping, and all of them were staring at Raki. “I want to go on an adventure, too!” one of them cried.

Raki looked back at them, winked, then dived off the falls into the water. *** Habiki had been staring at the ceiling for some time, when Raki came in, the fisherman in tow, ready to carry him out to the boat.

“Hey, Habiki. We’re heading out.”

Habiki looked over at Raki, and said, without any air of recognition whatsoever. “Who...fish-kid?”

Raki didn't seem too happy about this. “Now is NOT the time. We have to get going if we’re going to reach Castle Town by tonight…and then it’s off to Faron.”

Habiki stared at him, absorbing his words. Upon hearing "Faron", suddenly he shook himself out of his stupor. He looked at the boy again.

“Rocky,” he said. He looked over at the mirror, and seemed to be seeing himself for the first time. “Habiki,” he said. It was as if a great fog had descended during the night, and was beginning to clear.

He looked down at his new hand and arm, and focused with all his might. Incandescent lines seemed to etch themselves on the inside of his hand and fingers, like tiny veins of light, then fade. The fingers sluggishly began to contract, then finally formed into a proper fist. He focused on Raki with both eyes, and his dead eye slowly ached back to life, realigning itself and growing bright again. He placed one of his legs on the floor, and it began to take his weight-

“Habiki, DON’T,” cried Raki.

But Habiki was already up and walking. He walked out the door, hopped into the now patched up canoe of his own accord, and sat there.

Raki sat there stunned for a moment, then ran out, waving goodbye to the fisherman as he went. He jumped excitedly into the boat with his new friend, eager to begin his adventure.

Habiki smiled at him. “Fayrun Wuds?” he said.

“Hold your horses,” said Raki. “We have some business to take care of first.”

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