The lost story of what happened to Taden, Lynn, and Chamdar, when they ventured to a rarely visited Inn deep in the southern woods.
Lynn and Chamdar chat while Taden watches.
Nothing to See Here
CONTINUES FROM Six Months Later Part II P#50
Lynn Hothlight, Late Afternoon to Evening 1, Somewhere
"Care to find out?"
Lynn's hand slipped beneath the tails of her surcoat to caress the hilt of the knife on her thigh. "You rid Hyrule of Taden's vile touch for a few centuries, perhaps, but blame for my possession falls squarely in your lap. Had you managed to eradicate Hothnight, we would not be her, now, would we? So... if you care to risk even more of the innocent lives you claim to protect, then carry on as you are. Let us find out what will happen. If, however, you would prefer to see the Hated eliminated, for all and ever, then let me finish my work and be gone from here."
Chamdar's fingers flexed around Aurgelmir's hilt, but the sword stayed sheathed. His restraint was too much to make a bigger scene in the midst of the uninvolved villagers. His lips twisted in the mildest hint of a sneer, words beginning to form before the innkeeper interrupted his burgeoning response.
"Listen. Both of you. Keep your voices down and argue your end of the world conspiracy theories in the corner, and I'll get you both another glass of drink. If not, then get out! We don't want any of your trouble-making doom and gloom hero fantasies here in the Ragged Maiden, and we really don't need'em! We've got our own problems; we've got real problems. No need for you making up any more of your own and trying to sell'em on us!"
Lynn's gaze flicked to the middle aged man, ready to put him in his place and show him what a real problem Taden was. Chamdar had other ideas.
"Yes. These people should be neither of our concerns, Annei. Your threatening them does little to convince me of your freedom or sincerity."
Lynn gave a soft derisive snort. "I threaten no one. I merely warn you against the potential collateral damages of a-"
"Enough!" shouted the innkeeper. "Out! Both of you! Out!"
Chamdar took the opportunity to side the man, forcing Lynn to exit the Inn even as he was being manhandled out, albeit cooperatively. Despite Taliesin's advanced age, his Scion heritage was enough to see Lynn through the door with her blade still sheathed. The innkeeper dusted his hands as he returned to his patrons. From inside Lynn heard him say, "There. Now. Who needs another round? There's more to drink long as you've still got more to pay for it."
Chamdar squared off against her. She almost smirked at that. Not so confident now you've no innocents to hide behind, eh, Taliesin? But she had lost interest in this mummer's farce. Chamdar was not the enemy, even if he was no more an ally. She had to find the new-come stranger the villagers had mentioned. She had to be certain Taden's taint would not corrupt this village. With luck, those people inside would stay innocents. And if they didn't, she was prepared to do what needed to be done for the sake of the greater good.
Chamdar took a moment to scan the area for any potential victims of the fight he no doubt expected her to give him. Now, at that she did smile as she slipped away into the night-time shadows of the street.
Chamdar Taliesin, Hidden Forest Village Streets, Evening One
Aurgelmir burned cold as the depths of Snowpeak as Chamdar watched Annei steal away into the encroaching darkness. He suppressed a sigh, knowing that the Sheikah girl might well still be about. In fact, he was certain that she was, for the blade still radiated its inner chill, still reacted to the piece of Hothnight's soul embedded within her.
After six months, it was confirmed. The Hated soul still held sway within her, there could no longer be any doubt. He was unsure if she was even aware, but he'd seen enough. Eventually he would draw his blade in anger against her, and her soul would suffer a fate it was never meant to suffer. Collateral damage would be unavoidable. For now, though, it was only verification he'd required. To get a full measure, recent and accurate, was necessary in order to move forward with the next phase.
The innkeeper's brother, he thought it was Glen, had pulled up with a wagon full of wine, but it was a large chest he heft under one arm and staggered with to and through the Maiden's front door. He could hear chatter back and forth from within, but none of it concerned him overmuch. These people wanted little to do with the events plaguing the rest of Hyrule, and he was happy enough to leave them in peace for as long as he could. Order still prevailed in Gilba Gilba, if of a peculiar sort, and he wasn't one to inflict the chaos of war upon that. No, let the village folk here maintain their illusions for as long as possible.
With no business in Gilba Gilba any longer, Chamdar adjusted the drape of his robes and, using his carved staff as a walking stick, he strode through the murk down the winding, cobbled thoroughfare. He passed beneath a wooden arch, the road turned to packed dirt beneath his boots, and he approached the wood, where the path ahead meandered into and eventually was lost beyond the trees.
And still, he realized, Aurgelmir burned cold on his hip.
His left hand, unburdened by the wooden haft, came up and an orb of radiant white-gold light burst to life around it, illuminating the area, revealing that which was hidden.
"Pursue me not, Lynn Annei," he called sternly into the night. "Now is not the time for fates to be decided. There is much yet to be done, ere the time is right."
Taden Horwendil, Forest Inn, Night 1
Just past the torchlight in the distance, Taden heard the loud clunk of the shopkeeper's brother dropping his locked chest to the ground beside his wagon. He had escaped into the cover of the underbrush with more than enough time to spare.
From his perch along the Inn woodline, Taden could see Taliesin draw near the forested trails and enter, a ball of light following him as he receded. Almost as if he wanted it to be known where he absconded, or merely cast off whatever shadows may lurk behind, the monk slouched away under a curtain of shimmering daylight. Anything more Taden could have learned from him tonight would have to wait for another time.
Not so for the shadowclad girl Chamdar had followed to this town. What did she have to offer? He sat on a stump munching a mouthful of bacon and baguette, watching her slight figure with steady eyes in the deepening dark. As she approached the rear of the Inn, where the frost of his shattered window still glittered in the starlight, he took a final swig of his wine flask, and rose to his feet.
"'Hoy, you there," he called, in a high tone, not so loud as to rouse anyone inside, but enough to make the woman stall and vanish into the shadow. "Can you teach me to do that?"
She was invisible, impossibly melted into the shadows on the side of the Inn's wall as if nothing were there. He could see only the virtue in such surreptitious skill.
"Tell you what," he said, leaning back against the narrow wall, "These rednecks got ahold of something bigger'n they know what to do with." He folded his hands behind his head and glanced up at the stars. "If you help me nab that muscley fella's treasure chest, I'll split whatever's inside with ya. The two of us oughta be enough to hoist it off fast enough. Heck, I'll let you keep the whole thing, if you show me a trick or two."
Around the corner from them, at the entrance to the Inn, the man unpacking the wagon had stepped inside to deposit another crate. His chest was left unattended for the moment, out by the wagon Taden had already pilfered earlier.
Taden looked left and right, one eye open and searching for any sign of the ninja. "Whaddya say?"
Lynn Hothlight, Evening 1, Inn
Lynn watched a brief moment as Chamdar limped away with his staff and then made her way around the Inn, avoiding the new arrival with his cart and chest. He was of no concern to her. She slunk warily toward the storage room window and paused. It was already shattered and rimed. How..?
Her investigation was interrupted by a quiet voice calling out to her. "Hoy, you there, can you teach me to do that?"
She melted against the side of the Inn, shifting to hide herself from the voice's owner. She spotted the young boy easily enough where he leaned against a nearby wall.
"Tell you what," he said, full of confidence, "These rednecks got ahold of something bigger'n they know what to do with. If you help me nab that muscley fella's treasure chest, I'll split whatever's inside with ya. The two of us oughta be enough to hoist it off fast enough. Heck, I'll let you keep the whole thing, if you show me a trick or two."
Snot-nosed brat. She sneered at his offer. But somehow, oddly, he triggered a memory buried deep inside her. A young Kae Bryseis, crying in the training area. Trying so hard to learn, but having no one willing to spend time on her teaching. It was Lynn Annei who had finally taken that little girl under her wing. It was Lynn Annei who had helped create the Scion of Nayru. But it was also Lynn who had abandoned Kae to her war-torn fate. No, it was Lynn who had thrown her headlong and as-yet ill-prepared to the wolves of that fate.
Perhaps a new apprentice would help to alleviate some of that guilt. Perhaps in this child, she could undo the terror she had wreaked in the life of Kae.
She stepped from the shadowed wall of the inn, revealing herself to the boy.
"I say the chest is of little to no concern, and hardly a good lesson. There are more important things to be done, and more important skills to be taught." She pointed to the broken window. "I have quarry in this inn; a man who could potentially threaten not only this entire village but the world at large." She beckoned the child to join her. "How soft is your step, boy?"
Taden Horwendil, Ragged Maiden Inn, Midnight 1
"The colder the night, the deeper the sleep."
Spreading his fingers out with his palm down, Taden lowered his hand as if he were telling his newfound companion to keep her voice down, and the temperature of the second story hall where they lurked began to fall. The cold air seeped through the seam of the wooden door on the other side of which lay their sleeping stranger. A faint blue light emanated from Taden's hand in churning wisps of blue flame.
"Not a bad trick," the stealthy woman sneered. "But I'm curious to see how you get past this door?"
Taden tried the doorknob and turned it slowly, revolving it until he met the resistance of a lock. Looking left and right, he squatted down and looked through the thin keyhole, seeing the dying embers of the guest's small fire, catching the slightest whiff of an overcooked cabbage. This strange guest hadn't been listed on the ledger.
He brought two fingers up to the keyhole gingerly, then carefully began to turn the knob again. When it stopped, a quick spark of Blue Fire coated the handle. Out of the gap of the small keyhole there now hung a thin crystal shard. Taden balled it up in his hand and turned to face his accomplice.
"Will this do?" he said, opening his hand to reveal a small, jagged key made of glistening ice. His new mentor furrowed her brow, studying the thing in his hand, then reached for it herself. He drew it back quickly, and looked up to catch her eye.
"One more thing," he whispered, his breath clouding as he spoke. "Fair's fair. If I help you find your mark, you help me find mine." He extended his hand, offering the makeshift key.
The dark woman considered the key for a moment, looking at the crude shard in the boy's hand, with its delicately shaped teeth on the fine end. Then she plucked it from his hand. "And who might that be?"
"It would appear you know him well, whoever you are." He suppressed a smirk and glared at her, the sapphire spark in his eyes reflecting in her own.
Chamdar Taliesin, On the Road, Midnight One
Wearily, warily, Chamdar wandered north along the wooded way, ever wondering, his mind walking familiar paths through the past. Such was his way, this venerable vagrant, this timeworn tramp. Especially of late, half of his mind tended to sleep and delve, whilst the other half lay awake, ever conscious, always alert. The partition between the two parts of his consciousness—one cognizant and the other abstracted—was a thing few others could accomplish, a thing that came only from a thousand years and more of self-mastery.
His waking mind watched the road ahead, meandering in and out of the trees. It reveled in the brilliance of the moon on a cold winter night in the south of Hyrule, and the stars glittering in the vast, milky blue-black expanse like crystals of ice suspended in the heavens.
His dreaming mind continued back, tracing the trajectory of his life in reverse, past all of the wars and the schemes and the conflicts. That part of his mind returned back to the beginning, and as he began to recall again the days of his youth, somewhere in his pocket a golden light began to blink, all unseen.
Adjacent an Ancient Camp, The Land Before Time
He'd presented for Celeste a brave face, pretending not to care that he'd been weighed and measured in the eyes of the Goddesses, only to be found lacking. The truth was that inside, he was simmering.
Of course they were probably right. He might be a good fighter, for a mortal man, but what chance had he against Demise or any of his Primordials? Any one of them could tear him apart, so ancient and vicious and hateful were they. So powerful.
Upon their return, and at his first opportunity, Chamdar had parted ways with the Living Goddess. Even in the private recesses of his mind, it still felt strange to consider her such. Oh, she'd been a goddess in his eyes long before the Three had spake her calling, but matters were different now. There was a distance between them he'd never felt, and he knew she felt it too.
He walked now along the bank of an old river. The water was turgid, sluggish, bubbling through the shallows, swirling around rocks coated in slimy, wet moss. At a spot where the bank was almost level with the river's surface, he stopped and, bending down, scooped up a flat rock from the dirt. After regarding it for a moment, tracing the inconsistently looping lines of different mineral compositions, he cast it across the water with a casual flick of the wrist, watching it skip thrice before it disappeared beneath the surface.
A few more times he did this, bending all of his focus upon the stones, pushing all else from his thoughts. It was night beneath a bright sky; the wind was warm and smelled like swaying grasses. It was almost enough to soothe him.
He did not flinch when he heard the crunch of footsteps approaching from behind. For an instant the air cooled, and he knew without glancing back over his shoulder that the one approaching could be no other but Polaris Eridanus, the enigmatic, wizened crimson Zora. The Red Ice General.
"I thought I might find you out here," came Polaris' low voice. After a few more crunching footfalls, the Zora stepped up to Chamdar's right side, looking out even as he was to the gently babbling watercourse. "Hylia told me what the Goddesses said."
Chamdar grimaced. Of course she had. After all, why wouldn't she entrust the information to her noble guardian? Since his arrival, Polaris had done nothing but show himself to be one of unimpeachable honor and unyielding strength. He was a warrior, an advisor of great wisdom, and a trusted confidante.
Of course, that didn't mean a damn thing to Chamdar just then. Still, it was impossible for him to direct whatever residual anger and resentment he might feel in the general's direction.
"It makes no difference," he said softly in answer. "Celeste sought a warder, a guardian, when she already has one. You provide greater strength than ever I could."
Silence enveloped them for an instant then as a warm summer breeze ruffled his hair and whipped at his coat.
"There are all different types of strength," Polaris said at last. "The strength of a man's arm, or what force of magic he possesses... these are but a few. Hylia draws strength of will from you, Chamdar. She draws comfort from you, and the resolve she needs to do what must be done. That is a kind of strength that I will never be able to offer her."
Chamdar's mouth twisted sourly, as though tasting the words of the Red Ice General and finding them bitter on his tongue. He almost spat.
"What good does such strength offer if I lack the power to keep her safe?"
Silence again. In his periphery, he saw the Red Ice General give him a sidelong glance, his eyes knowing.
"I think you're more than you understand, Chamdar," he mused. "And in the end, what does it matter what the Goddesses have to say on the matter? If you would be Hylia's guardian, then be so. Piss on their logic and their protestations. If that is what you would be... then be."
Without another word between them, the red-scaled Zora, so old and so wise of the ways of the world, turned and headed back into the night, back in the direction of their encampment, back to whatever duties had been laid upon him.
And, alone once more, Chamdar realized that he was right.
Lynn Hothlight, Mignight 1, Inn
Lynn's brow creased in contemplation. "What business would you have with Chamdar?"
The impish little boy just gave her a mischievous smirk, dangling the key as a question between them. It wasn't as though she needed help with this quest. She didn't even want help. The less people wrapped up in the affairs of Taden, the better. But still... some small part of her wanted to leave a better legacy than that which she was already building. And knowing the old Scion, they were going to run into each other sooner or later, whether she sought him or not.
She shrugged. "Taliesin seems to gravitate toward me, though admittedly I do not try to avoid him. Stick with me, kid, and you're bound to meet him at some point."
She shifted her gaze to the door. "But, now, let's see what this mystery guest is hiding..."
Her new apprentice nodded assent and silently slid his makeshift skeleton key into the lock. Just before he began to turn it, footsteps came clunking up the stairs at the end of the hall. Lynn melted into the shadows as the Inn-Keeper crested the top of the staircase. The boy at the door failed to react as quickly and was caught in the middle of the hall.
"You!" grumbled the old man at the stairs. "Bet you're the one filching from the pantry, you little brat!"
Taden Horwendil, Place, Midnight 1
“Bet you're the one filching from the pantry, you little brat!"
Taden froze in the hall as the big lug loomed before him. With his hands still on the doorknob and the crude ice key, all he could think to do was turn the lock and dash into the room.
Taden scanned the room in a panic, until he saw an open window with curtains fluttering on its far side. A thin beam of moonlight poured over a wide, empty bed strewn with hide pelts and straw quickly thrown aside. He dove towards the wall and rolled under the crooked bed.
The innkeeper poked his head into the dark room, and raised a small, hissing lantern to his squinting eyes to look around.
“Oh ho ho! Ol’ Blommy knows how to deal with the likes of you…,” the man called Blom snickered into the darkness.
Taden could only see the towering innkeeper’s feet from his position under the bed, wrapped in mudstained canvas houseshoes, but as he raised a clomping foot to enter the room, a slew of caltrops silently slipped underneath from the shadows. When the man stomped down, he let out a cry of pain and seized one foot in his hands, nail tips sunk deep into his instep.
“Din’s tits!” he shouted, hopping around the room on one leg. Taden watched him draw close in the bouncing lamplight, and before his pursuer could right himself Taden spat out a Yeti curse that slapped a small ice patch on the floor out in front of him. Blom slipped over the ice and went head over heels onto the clattering floorboards, flinging his lantern high into the air.
As the great shopkeep’s girth slammed into the floor, his lamp shattered on the foot of the bed Taden hid beneath and burst into flame over the fur blankets and straw. He scampered back to beneath the headboard, and it was there his hands fell on the ornate pommel of a small, thin shortsword in a blue leather sheath, tucked into the bedframe.
“Huh?” Taden thought, pulling the weapon close, but with no time to study its emblems. All of a sudden the bedposts shook all around him, and as the fire spread over the floor Blom flipped the burning bed over against the far wall to expose his quarry like a cornered rat.
“Good bye. Good riddance,” Blom gritted through stained teeth.
In one fell swoop, he grabbed Taden by the leg and smashed him into the burning wall, blasting through the thin wood and hurtling the boy and down into the rear yard of the inn. He landed by the treeline in a heaping bonfire of debris.
Taden coughed and struggled to rise to his hands and knees. As he craned his neck up, he caught a glimpse of Blom standing tall on the inn’s upper floor, silhouetted against the flames and dancing embers that lined the jagged teeth of the demolished wall. Even from the ground, Taden could see the smirk lining Blomgrin’s face, wet eyes and teeth shining in the flame.
“I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but you’ve caused nothing but strife since before even we met.” A dark chuckle echoed above the cackling flames as Blom hunched down, then leapt into the night air to land before Taden with an earth-shattering crash, a crater bursting from under his burlap shoes.
Taden’s panic only deepened as Blom loosed the heavy staff slung around his broad shoulder, and wielded it with both hands over Taden’s head. He hoisted it high, Taden shrunk back from the blow, but when he closed his eyes Blom suddenly gasped and stopped breathing.
He looked up at Blomgrin, and saw him clutching his throat, eyes bloodshot and agape as his staff plopped to the earth. He wobbled on his massive legs, then drooped to both knees, blood gurgling up and dribbling down his lips. For a moment, his eyes met Taden's, and the sheer homicidal rage behind his gaze slowly gave way to a resigned vacancy. He collapsed into the dirt inches from Taden’s face. And in the back of Blom’s neck, he saw the same shard of ice that he had fastened into a key only moments before.
“But how?” he asked aloud. Then looking up, he saw a second shadow outlined against the growing flames: the long figure of Lynn Hothlight. Under one arm, she held a small locked chest on her hip, its metalwork shining bright silver in the fire and moonlight. He rose to his feet and tried to call out to Lynn, but raising his voice started a coughing fit, so he waved the small sheathed sword in the air towards her. Her narrow eyes searched the smoldering wreckage below; casualties aside, their Hylian enemy eluded them still.
Lynn Hothnite, Midnight 1, Inn
Lynn dropped down from the second floor of the inn, treasure chest held under her arm. She cast a brief, dispassionate gaze onto the corpse of the innkeeper, the icy blade of her magicks beginning to melt in the nape of his neck. Her nose briefly wrinkled in judgement of the dead fool. She tossed the chest at the surviving child's feet.
"Here's your damn chest. What the hell were you doing? That was... well, that was awful. One of the weakest showings I've ever seen from an apprentice. You've got a lot of learning to do. Best to stick with me, lest you get killed, with the stupid chances you're taking, based off that poor showing."
She stepped past the boy. Wherever that supposed messenger from the crown went, that was where she had to be. More than likely, he was the source of corruption she was sensing.
"Come, child. We have work to do, and you have learning to do. Don't fall behind."
She made her way to leave the Inn. It was now a matter of finding that man.
"How is your tracking skills.Do you think you can track the man who fled from that room? Show me."
Everything was a test.
Taden Horwendil, Morning 2, Faron Woods
Taden crouched down in the high grass and brush of Faron Woods, newfound treasure chest in his hand. It's silver binding and locks made it surprinsgly lightweight in his messenger bag. A short distance a way, he kept an eye on the beaten trail Chamdar had taken earlier, before Lynn's arrival; the other eye he kept on Lynn herself.
"I saw a man making his way down this path before you arrived. We should follow it and see where it leads."
He kept chase with the wizard along the dirt path, and eventually found white traces of aura lingering over the leaves and stones where Chamdar had passed like shimmering mist. Sorcerers of such power were not hard to detect in the enchanted airs of the forest, thick with a mystic air that intertwined all its life.
They dashed and darted through the earthen underbrush of Faron Woods off the beaten path, leaping over streams and hopping from the canopies of trees. Eventually, Taden signaled for Lynn to stop from a tree branch below him.
"I can smell your flithy royal from here," he called back to his master. "We're not far."
"How do you know we're not on the trail of some other spook fleeing your arsonist' stunt?" Lynn chided. "Surely a ghost or two has made it out of your haunted housefire by now."
"With any luck, the flames will create a distraction for us until morning, right? We'll have a head start on any mercenaries."
"That wasn't my question," she gloated. Useless minion.
Taden dropped from the branch and flattened onto his belly. He began crawling to the top of a ridge overlooking an upcoming bend in the path. Already, he felt the far-reaching aura of the forsaken priest drawing closer. Looking down, the faint white blow of Chamdar's luminous staff crested the turn before him. He wouldn't be long now.
Taden brandished the blue shortsword pilfered from the Inn, and coated it in a fuming sheen of frost. "Your emissary will be along any second now," he whispered, waving to draw Lynn up to this perch behind a rock. He signals to a large, black tree on the far side of the path casting a black curtain of shadow in the moonlight, and Lynn dashes across to weave herself in its umbral folds.
Chamdar Taliesin, On the Road North, Morning Two
Night wore on, and the Scion of Order did not sleep. He hadn't truly slept in so long he could hardly recall the sensation. Something barely remembered, barely memorable, out of the extreme dimness of his youth, such as youth could be measured to one like him.
No, the partition in his mind allowed him to sleep even whilst awake, a meditative rest that took his larger mind even as a part of him, a sliver of his consciousness remained alert, performing the duties as the body required. He walked by rote, traversing the wagon-worn path north from Ordon's furthest reaches into Hyrule's eastern lands. He moved inexorably forward, step by automated step, but his mind was still elsewhere.
Events moved with haste now in ever tightening gyres toward the centerpoint that he had long intended. Yet as the critical moment drew nigh, matters worsened. Bloody anarchy was loose in the world. Famous words spoken long ago in the wake of a war long past, yet embossed into the very fabric of the world, came to him.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
The world grew ever darker, and its champions darkened to match it. Light seemed a fading memory. The souls of men were fragile things, and forces conspired to twist them into wretched illusions, carnival-mirror reflections of their former nobility.
He sank back into what had brought him hence.
In a Twilight Wood, A Land Before Time
The demon was a hulking thing. Fully a head and a half taller than he, it was its breadth of chest and shoulder that truly daunted. This was no lesser demon from the faceless horde, but a shock trooper, a living battering ram. Armored scales sheathed its hulking musculature, and black saliva ran down the jutting chin from the gaping, slavering maw. It advanced on cloven feet, a rumbling growl emitting from deep within its throat. He faced it down in a forest glade beneath the waning moon. The air was dry, as was the earth, desperate for a rain that had not come. Something about the rise of the demons had warped the weather patterns of the land. The land was parched, dehydrated and slowly dying.
Bokoblin corpses lay all about, many rent into pieces by Chamdar's blade as he'd come upon them suddenly. Those had fallen quickly, assassins utterly thwarted by their lack of surprise. It was hardly their fault, of course. Chamdar had received advance warning. Demise was growing desperate. He sought to topple Hylia ere she could ever face his endless dark on the field of reckoning.
"The Scion Hylia dies, caster," the demon somehow managed to snarl, though its mouth seemed ill fitted to human speech. "The Demon King, Lord of Darkness, wills it."
He had not even the time to utter a response, for despite the beast's incredible size it lurched into motion with remarkable speed and ferocity. The club it bore, a wooden cudgel heavily knotted on one end and wrapped in crumpled iron, smashed the ground where Chamdar had stood, kicking up a cloud of dust on impact. He was rolling over his right shoulder, springing to his feet to the back left side of the demon. He spun and lashed out, catching the beast across the back of the shoulder.
His blade, even invested with borrowed magic, barely cut a sliver into the hardened scales. He was forced to leap straight back as the cudgel, lightning fast, passed through the air where moments before it would have caved in his chest.
For the next several moments, he was on his heels, forced to dodge and dive out of the way of blows that would have left him a bloodied mess, his bones crushed if not nearly liquefied. This assassin could well have fought its way through half of their war camp before it was brought down, if Chamdar hadn't been alerted to its coming.
A loose rock underfoot. A misstep that made him lurch and stumble. A vicious backhand that sent him sprawling paces backward into the dirt. He struck and rolled, coughing as blood came to his lips. All of his training with the Red Ice General had made him a terror with a weapon, but these demons could still hurt like hell. He would catch grief from Hylia and Polaris both when he returned to camp. Hylia especially did not approve of his self-appointment as her protector. She certainly did not care for his freelancing against monsters such as these, so far beyond mortal ken.
The beast advanced slowly now, as if it had gained a modicum of respect that he at least could be difficult to pin down, even if he could hardly pierce the thing's hide. It brought the iron-shod club up, but didn't move to strike yet.
That gave him the opening he needed. He rolled away intentionally now, as though trying to escape before the assassin could lower that titanic weapon and leave his corpse unrecognizable and alone in the wood. It hastened its lumbering steps in response, as though fearing now that he would escape.
He rolled backwards over his shoulder and came to his feet. He was just far enough away that--as the beast stepped into the barely visible image he'd carved in the dirt while awaiting the assassin's on the road--he could throw down a handful of blessed sand to ignite the spell. The emblem flared to life, an image written in brilliant golden-white lines that enclosed the demon entirely, rooting it in place. A sacred triangle, a spell to ward off demonkind. Or ensnare them.
Breathing a heavy sigh, Chamdar pushed the point of his sword into the earth and leaned on it, breathing heavily. He could feel keenly where the demon's backhand had struck him, and he knew well how bruised he would be in the days that followed.
"I admit I wasn't sure if that would work," he mused through heavy breaths. The demon snapped and snarled, flinging black spittle into the twilight, yet it could not raise one hoof from the dirt. "But it seems these magicks are proving more useful than I would have ever thought possible.
"Now, I think we're going to have a little chat, you and I." He straightened, pulling his blade free and working his shoulders in slow circles to work out some of the trembling soreness and pain as he began to walk a circuit around the beast. "Your master is getting desperate these days, it seems. He sends new assassins before he even knows whether the last have succeeded or failed. If not for some good fortune on my part, I would never have made it out here to intercept you before you reached out camp. Tell me when the next is coming, and from where."
If the mouth of this horrid creature could have been said to smile, it did so now. Held firm in the grasp of a blessing that was anathema to it, the demon practically grinned. The sound that came from its throat, half growl and half chuckle, raised the hairs on the back of Chamdar's neck.
"The next already comes, though it comes from far. Prepare all you wish, with your schemes and clever tricks of magic, Guardian. Even if by the grace of your wretched Goddesses you succeed and cast him down, Lord Abatheras always rises again. Even if you best him, even if you or your Red Ice General or even the Scion Hylia herself cast him down, he will outlast your endurance. Lay him low a hundred times and he will come still.
"The Scion Hylia dies, caster, because Lord Demise wills it."
Unable to move, unable to flee or dodge or block, the demon was helpless as Chamdar's blade cut threw the softer scales of its exposed throat. Abatheras. The Primordial Flame. A horrid creature near as old, near as powerful, as Demise himself. The Primordial Flame, the fires of chaos. The one men called, in hushed whispers as they gathered around their nightly fires, deathless.
He broke into a sprint, the aches and pains forgotten.
On the Road North, Morning Two
A cold sweat prickled on his face as something, a distant sensation, drew his thoughts from the past. He was rounding a bend in the road, one that passed beneath an overhanging ridge on one side and was sheathed by trees casting deep shadows on the other. The partition faded and his mind became whole once more, awake and alert. Something was not right as he approached, but he could not place his finger on it. A chill on the air, deeper than its normal briskness.
No. Not on the air. On his hip.
Aurgelmir had grown cold again. If it was Lynn, to what end had she taken up this pursuit? And if not Lynn...
Perhaps it was the recollections of a hasty, headstrong youth, but alerted to what might lie ahead, he turned the bend and strode forward without a hitch in his step. Waiting for what might come. While he might lack the passionate intensity, he certain did not lack for conviction.
Moving Forward, Never Back
Lynn Hothlight, Morning Two, Forest Road
Lynn blended into the leafy shadows of a tree opposite the road from her newfound apprentice, eyes trained on the dim sheen slowly brightening as its source crested the far ridge. Said source revealed itself to be a magically illuminated staff, and shortly thereafter the silver-haired mane of Chamdar Taliesin followed over the ridge.
Lynn hissed a soft curse under her breath. Damn old fool. No wonder he didn't want to be followed. At least now I know what he was doing in that besotted town.
She quickly motioned to the boy, indicating he should stay hidden as Chamdar closed the distance. A snap decision had to be made. Ambush, or a more peaceful parley? The wiser call of caution took her, in light of their recent parting, and she stepped from hiding to stand unveiled in the middle of the forested roadway.
"Hail, traveler. I'd warn against the dangers of the elderly traveling these roads at night, in the dark... but you aren't traveling in the dark, and elderly as you may be you are hardly defenseless, now, are you, Chamdar?"
His tense reaction to her blatant approach but her on edge. This was a man ready to fight and kill, whatever his normally calm disposition. She remained at a distant, arms held loose at her sides in convey she meant no threat to him.
"So, you were hunting him in that town, too? My search for this 'messenger' has taken an ironic turn, I think. Tell me, how do you track the Hated?"
Taden Horwendil, Faron Woods, Morning 2
"Tell me, how do you track the Hated?"
Taden slinked down from his rocky perch above the trail where his Sheikah guide now engaged the sorcerer who had summoned him from the arctic several moons ago. It would seem his guides, former and new, knew each other from some past unbeknownst to him. For Taden, this only raised one question--whom he could trust.
A strange aura emanated from the long sword at the tall man's hilt. He could sense it, even from his vantage on the ridge above. It felt not unlike the magicks coating the small blue blade he had acquired at the Inn. Somehow, this man carried a weapon with a similar energy to his own. Had this been what drew him northward to Taden's sanctuary in the first place? And what did this Sheikah woman have to do with it?
Without anything more to go on, Taden thought it best to remain in the shadows. As the sun began to peek over the windswept eaves, he held fast to the lingering traces of night all around him. The pale blue light cast from his sheathed blade began to fade gradually as the dawn poured over the sky. Stealth was his only ally now. With deathly silence, he made his way to the bend in the road that the male traveller had just rounded. Now, while the Sheikah kept him occupied, he and his new cohort had the sorcerer surrounded.
"What mystery lies between these two wanderers on the road--the wizard who summoned me, and the witch who bids me follow? With no strength of arms to aid me, I must see what espionage will show..."
Taden nestled his small frame behind a thicket of trees on the trail, and watched as the man in the long travelling cloak stepped closer towards his new Sheikah ally. For starters, he listened closely for the names they knew each other by, and whatever intelligence they had about this Hated they both hunted.
Chamdar Taliesin, Faron Woods, Morning Two
"So, you were hunting him in that town, too? My search for this 'messenger' has taken an ironic turn, I think. Tell me, how do you track the Hated?"
The blade still burned cold in its sheath as Lynn stepped out into the road ahead of him. How had she moved so swiftly ahead of him? He had neither slept nor so much as broken stride on his trek north through the night. She could only have taken a direct route, eschewing the natural curves and bends of the road and loping through the trees like a deer, moving swiftly.
"No, I am hardly defenseless, Lynn Annei," he uttered in response to her first question, before moving on to the second. "As for my methods... it should suffice to say that I have numerous such at my disposal."
Something about this meeting by morning's light felt off. The icy aura created by Aurgelmir's reaction was natural, easily explained away by Lynn's appearance, and yet something felt amiss. A chill prickled at the nape of his neck, raising the bristling white hairs thereupon. Even with her Sheikah skills, how had Lynn tracked him north if her route had taken her off the road upon which he'd left his tracks? How had she so easily overtaken him? How had she so poised herself to obstruct his path? There were too many unanswered questions. It seemed that Lynn had her own methods and he had few doubts whence they'd originated.
He needed to know more. Needed to identify all of the variables before they could be accounted for. There was too much at stake, and events once again hastened toward calamity.
"It occurs to me, Lynn, that perhaps our encounter yesterday was too tainted by posturing and antagonism. Whatever our differences, it seems that our goals in the short-term at least are aligned. I have been around long enough to know it is foolishness to cast aside a potential asset over petty differences of opinion." He shifted his staff from one hand to another and took a step toward the young Sheikah woman. "Let us find Hothnight together, and let the dice fall as they may. I dare say we both know the importance of this task.
"What say you? A free exchange of information, then? If you tell me how you tracked me, how you overtook me, how you knew to place yourself in this exact place to waylay me, and what you intend to do next, then I will share what I know, every scrap of information that I have on Hothnight, gathered over the course of a thousand years since he and I first met." He leaned in, one bushy white eyebrow arched. "Does that not sound equitable?"
Lynn Hothlight, Morning 2, Forest Road
Lynn eyed the ancient man. Caution was the better part of valor, she had once heard tell. Chamdar was an old fool, perhaps, but a powerful one. And he was right in one thing: his storied past with Taden was indeed long. In a way, the tale was written on her soul. Small truths did not build trust, nonetheless. He had his secrets, no matter his promise of an open exchange of information.
No matter. She had her own, as well.
"Three questions, you ask, to my one? I will remember that, Old Man. Wait a moment, here, while I fetch my things hidden aside the path. Your offer is... equitable. At the moment." She began a slow stroll to the treeline, continuing to address him. "How I knew to waylay you here is simple. I am Sheikah-trained, lest you forget. We are taught the arts of ambush from a young age. No arduous task, then, when you come along with that silly glowing stick announcing yourself to all within proximity."
She glanced back over her shoulder, small smirk over her lips. "How I overtook you? Well..."
Lynn quickly slipped into the shade of thick trunks, blending with shadow in movements that came naturally to her when before even her teenage years. A hasty shimmy up a tree, and silent traversal of their limbs, brought her to her hidden apprentice. She touched finger to lips for silence, and gesture to the trunk he had lugged from the village.
Then came the true test of deception. Aloud, she continued to address Chamdar, but in a voice barely above a whisper, she gave orders to her tiny follower. "Follow, but stay hidden. You've likely figured it out, or I'd hope so after all this. If he acts too suspicious... What, no guesses? Come now, Old Man. It's the same Sheikah training. We are taught to move quickly through inhospitable terrain. I had a straight path where you meandered the curves," She glanced back at the road, no expression on her face, "...kill him."
She then took the chest and lept from the tree, rolling back onto the path and into Chamdar's sphere of light. "And for your final answer, the same as the first. Bright light, dark road? Easy tracking. Though, truthfully, it was not you I tracked."
She hefted the trunk to indicate it. "I wanted the owner of this. A man who mysteriously came to that village before our arrival, claiming to represent the Crown. Perhaps you recall mention of this odd story, before our.... altercation?"
IC: Taden Horwendil, Faron Woods, Morning 2
"If he acts too suspicious...kill him."
Taden leaned back in his perch among the trees atop the low ridge overlooking the road below. He held his hand to his chin and considered the two warriors now beneath him. He saw Aurgelmir hanging at Chamdar's hip, felt its glow, icy even to him; and yet, Taliesin detected him not. Could it be some other life form awakened its argentine gleam?
The man in white called his newfound mentor by her name, Lynn Annei, and yet she seemed to bristle at the sound of it. She only revealed to him as the Old Man, but Taden knew him by another name. After their brief encounter in the arctic, Chamdar Taliesin had once again crossed his path.
His mind raced with questions. Chamdar knew so many more secrets than he had revealed in the North, about Taden's past before joining the Yeti. He had honed his skills as a hunter, as a conjurer of the winds, under the Yeti elders' tutelage; but always he felt a deeper force lurking within him, unattainable in his current state. He felt it calling to him at night, in a cold, distant voice, whispering from behind the empty eyes of his Yeti Mask.
"Trust...no one..." Seated on an obsidian throne at the bottom of the blackest ocean, a demon made of grey stone held a Medallion in his hand. The features of untold creatures from this underworld had been absorbed into him: the horns of a ram, the serpentine tail of a fish, a raptor's talons on the fingers of an ape. The combined magic of the Golem body forged in a forest-dwelling madman's laboratory, and the evil spirit of the Ma that had possessed it, created a living, intelligent vessel for all the beasts of the underworld to enter into. Like the souls of the faithless Hylians that Penumbra had formed into the behemoth Taden made into the Warp Mask, this towering leviathan bore the evil of every minion of darkness he could consume.
In the thick expanse of the oceanic abyss that stretched on into the horizon beyond him, a shining sun seemed to emerge, and down from the surface world came none other than the serpentine Light Spirit, Lanayru. At his helm the Golem creature could sense an unexpected power: his own Dead Heart. Never in all eternity had he expected to be reunited with Habiki's Heart like this. Unable to move, an idle statue encapsulating the power of any demon who drew too close, the sleeping giant was startled to find his own stone hand rising up to present the Medallion to Lanayru. In his palm, the Storm Medallion seemed but a miniscule coin, but when the rider at Lanayru's back took hold of it, it was as wide as his ghostlike, translucent hand.
Taden's Ghost reveled in the surge of power that erupted forth from his hand holding the Storm Medallion, a white and silver nebula exploding all around him but muted in the mirky abyss. His hair, skin, and clothes all became a blinding hue like streaks of lightning, bluest white, tearing across the black expanse. The ghost of the Sage of Storms had returned, reunited with his Knife, but wanted still for a body more powerful than this accursed Dead Heart.
In the other hand, the ghost held a large black orb, the Dead Heart kept in the Hated's own phantasmal chest, and used to revive him on the material plane of Hyrule. In this black abyss, speech was impossible, but Taden's Ghost mouthed the inaudible words of gratitude he would never have a reason to speak in the world above. He nodded to the empty sculpture once known as Habiki as the orb of his heart sank slowly into its chest. Lanayru had departed, his obligation met. The Light Spirit had no interest in witnessing such dark, unholy rituals as this.
All was darkness now, save for a single point of light in the Golem's chest, where his heart had not yet fully submerged. In this narrow light, the glint of Taden's Hated Knife was almost invisible, until it came down on the immobile demon's chest all at once, stabbing him in his core. Simultaneously, Taden took the Warp Mouth from his face and pressed it over the Golem's, unleashing all the forsaken souls of Hylia into his empty mind to dance with the wild spirits of the demons within. As the mask sealed onto the stony chin, Taden opened his hand, and likewise the lips of the Warp Mouth parted, opening the Golem's mouth and revealing his empty throat. Into this, Taden pressed the Storm Medallion, until his entire arm was sunken into the Golem's chest.
The supernova of frozen light that had surrounded him now began to swirl into a vortex collapsing on the Golem's head. The wisps of Taden's phantom self were swept up in this cosmic eddy, until it threatened to pull him down into the stone corpse. As if to fight the inevitable, with his free arm he raised his Maskmaker's Knife high once more, even as his body was introduced into the Golem's chasm. And when nothing but his own hand holding the Knife remained outside, Taden struck, stabbing the demonic Golem between the eyes, and then twisting the knife around the edges of his face before allowing himself to be consumed.
The Maskmaker's Knife sank to the base of the dark throne, nestling at the feet of the faceless statue. Above it, the statue's face, which now resembled an elder Yeti shaman, began to float upwards toward the surface. Inside, it was laced with the silver of the Storm Medallion, propelling it upward into the unknown by some ungodly magnetism. As he listened to her colloquy with Chamdar, Taden began to realize there was more to Lynn than met the eye. Not by accident was it that he had found her in this shadowy wood, wither such weird whispers had summoned him. He watched the silver chest under her arm closely--perhaps this thief knew the worth of her bounty better than he first thought. The Yeti Mask had only begun to reveal its secrets. What mysteries did it still conceal?
Chamdar Taliesin, Faron Road, Morning Two
He watched closely as Lynn melted into the gloom of early morning, when the low sun cast long shadows through the misted wood. He listened with care as her voice called haltingly from the obscurity of brush and low-hanging boughs.
She thinks herself too clever by far, but speaks out of both sides of her mouth. She was not within a proximity to have seen my light and followed. Not for at least an hour or more, judging by the whiff of smoke clinging to her clothes. Sheikah skills are considerable, but her attunement to the arcane is too new to be so sharp that she might have tracked me by other means.
She thought him a fool; she spoke it plainly. Chamdar was content to allow her these illusions. He had been at work in the world far longer than she, and he had come to read signs even as she did tracks. The cold aura from Aurgelmir and a bank of dark storm clouds gathering in the distance, closing like a curtain that would soon block out dawn's light, told a troubling narrative.
The conclusion came to him easily then.
There is something else at work here. Could it be...?
He eyed the chest beneath her arm as she hefted it. The sun rose higher still on the eastern horizon, though the storm grew thicker and would soon smother it, and the first rays peaking through the foliage glinted off its silvery surface.
"I recall your story, Lynn," he said at last. "But I am not so sure that this chest belonged to any representative of the king. I've seen that manner of construction before. It's characteristic of a very old acquaintance who is known for his... peculiar experimental devices. I would urge strong caution with anything that once belonged to--or was crafted by--Sirius Fulmaren. Particularly given your singular obsession.
"After all... I'm hardly alone in having a long history with Taden Hothnight."
CONTINUES ON Lab Experiments P#191