Posted on January 01 2021 by Alison Brunyee
|| Previous Chapter || Next Chapter ||
When I awoke from my groggy slumber, dusty pink clouds passed quickly overhead, some in the shapes of rabbits or cats, others more like dragons. For a moment I did not know where I was until I heard the familiar squeaking of wheels. I sat up, disturbing the large black and white ball of fluff next to me. Kilton?
The husky barked; his cheery greeting far too loud.
“Shush now.” I stroked Kilton’s fur, it was warm, tangible. So, it was just a horrible dream, I thought. But my stomach clenched and the lingering unease remained. It could not be dismissed as an overactive imagination. Something had changed. I had seen… What had I seen?
“Finally, you’re awake.” Yasei gave the briefest of glances over her shoulder.
“Yes, yes, I am.” My foot felt cumbersome as I tried to walk on it. “Although, I have to admit, I was surprised you came back for me.”
Hunched forward in the driver’s seat, she snapped at the reins.
“Must have been quite the job to get me back in the wagon.” I stamped at the pins and needles trying to ignore the pain. “I appreciate it.” Still no response. “Yasei?”
The cool reception from my friend matched the evening air. Shadows of nearby trees had grown long and I was pretty certain that we should have passed Kokiri Forest hours ago.
“Are we going to reach Lake Hylia on time?”
“Nope.” She kept her eyes on the road.
“Because of me?”
My heart sank, every success business knew that late deliveries and profit did not mix. “I’m sorry, I did not mean to cause such inconvenience.” I scrambled over the bench to sit beside her. Only now aware that I still did not have any shoes and socks on. I wiggled my toes, trying to think of a way to make things right. “I could reimburse you?”
“I don’t want your rupees.” Yasei snapped the reins again and the wagon moved even faster.
“Then let me explain to Dr Mizumi what happened, it is my fault after all.”
“Got that right,” she agreed.
“Better not, I heard he keeps a pet shark in his lakeside laboratory. He might throw you in, can never be too careful with scientists, they get some funny ideas sometimes.”
More and more I began to understand that out here in Hyrule Field, danger seemed to come from anything, anywhere, and anyone. I began to pine for my Happy Mask Shop, where my worries had been of a less life-threatening nature. Painting masks an exact shade of taffy pink for example. How long had we been on the road? Less than a day? I hung my head. Life as a travelling merchant was far too exhausting.
It was then something wet pressed against my arm.
I looked up and saw Kilton. “I have no biscuits,” I told him.
But the husky was not to be put off and nuzzled against me. A roll of parchment tied with string, swinging between his teeth.
“Oh, what have you got there?” I asked, feeling slightly foolish for talking to a dog.
Against the judder of the wagon, I pinned down the edges with my palms trying to stop them from rolling back together. The random annotations reminded me of a game of noughts and crosses, but this was in fact a different map from before. On the back, I found some notes in Yasei’s spidery scrawl. The letters mingled together and it was like trying to decipher a peculiar language, but I did not voice this out loud. It would not do to upset my friend any further. In addition, the threat of being hunted by Stalchild at night, alone, was still playing on my mind.
“Cow trapped in underground hole, Postman’s route, Peahat infested field?”
Yasei jabbed my shoulder and pointed.
The land to our right was fairly flat and deep emerald green. I wondered what possible cause for alarm there could be, but then I saw it. Bright red leaves poking out from the tall grass. Burrowed in the ground, a gigantic plant quivered. From a distance, its exotic yellow and green appearance seemed quite harmless.
“It looks just like a pineapple.”
Yasei pulled a tongue at the Peahat. “That pineapple can fly and cut you to ribbons. I’d stay well clear if I were you.”
“Ah, so you are talking to me now?”
“I’m still thinking about it.” The ghost of a smile played on her lips, but it disappeared as swiftly as it had come. “Why don’t you tell me about your nightmare?”
“Nightmare?” I said innocently.
“You were crying out in your sleep; who’s Azamuku?”
“Oh, him.” My hands drew together. “Well, Azamuku is a magician. That is, he was a magician, no, more of a sorcerer really.”
“Get on with it, Ronri.”
“You could say he was the leader of the Interlopers, but he died, at least I thought he had. In my nightmare he came back.” I cleared my throat. “They all came back. I heard their voices coming from a skull of ashes.”
The wagon took a sharp turn, heading away from the Peahat fields. “So, who are these Interlopers meant to be?”
“A tribe of powerful sorcerers. King Hyrule brought the entire army to defeat them, but they were banished from our world by the Light Spirits.”
She sighed. “Trust you to get mixed up in something like that. Pa always said nothing good came from magic; it hurts people, messes with their head.”
“Yes, he said that to me before I even entered Castle Town. But I have witnessed magic do incredible things, and I strongly believe it depends upon the person and their intentions.”
“Maybe, but you don’t have anything to do with magic, right?”
“Me?” I looked her in the eye and smiled. I sent Father flying through the air and had to leave home because of magic. I wonder what you would say to that? “Absolutely not,” I replied.
Yasei, however, was not convinced. “I’ve seen other traders smile like that, usually when they’re scheming. You never used to smile like that when we were kids.”
“If my smile offends you so much there are other places you can look!”
“It doesn’t, not your real smile anyway. But that smile looks creepy, and… Sorry Ronri, but ever since that letter, I can’t believe a word you say.”
It had been a long time since someone had called me out on a lie. It was typical of Guru-Guru’s meddling. Then I thought of Akisin, and how she had always known something was wrong too, no matter how much I tried to hide it. I realized how much I missed them. When they were gone, I pretended all was well in my world. It was easy to fool strangers with small talk. They did not really care about the private hobbies and interests of the Happy Mask Salesman. But Yasei was like Kilton with a bone, she would not let go.
“Do you want to hear about this nightmare or not?” I grumbled.
“Go on then.”
So, I told her. I told her how when swallowed by the skull, I tumbled down a hole where thin bony fingers snatched at my shirt. Faces with bulging eyeballs screeched. Doors creaked and slammed around me, and every time I fell through one, strange words tried to cram inside my brain.
“Sounds grim, no wonder you were lashing out.”
“It felt like my head was going to explode, I begged Azamuku to make it stop. But he just kept telling me to keep my promise.”
“Oh, just a little thing really. To steal the Sacred Realm from the King and bring the Interlopers back to life.”
The horse brayed in alarm. We jolted forward as the wagon squealed to a protesting halt. “I suppose you think that’s funny,” she snapped. “If you don’t want to tell me, fine, but to make a joke of it. You wouldn’t be laughing with your head beneath an axe, that’s for sure. Punishment for treason is death you know or torture.”
“I thought we were friends,” she huffed. “Look, you may be the Happy Mask Salesman, but you don’t have to wear a mask with me. I remember when you took out giant’s teeth and played knock and run on Mrs Kibishi. Where is the boy that used to stuff his face with berries? The one that went dragon hunting in the woods?”
“That was eight years ago!”
“I want to help you, bring back the old Ronri I knew.”
The old Ronri? Who is he supposed to be? I felt at a loss. I could not understand what Yasei wanted, a boy that life had changed beyond all recognition. “I do not mean to upset you,” I began gently, “but this is who I am now. I could never be the Ronri I was back in Kawaranai. Surely, you understand?”
She nodded and we sat in silence for what felt like an eternity. Twilight came, the sad part of the day, when the last of the copper sunset was stolen by beckoning shadows of night. Kilton’s ears shot up and he growled again. A chilling howl was heard from far away as the full moon began to rise.
“We really need to go.” Yasei lit a lantern and the wagon set off once more.
But then a high-pitched laugh came from behind us. I peered over the side, wondering if it was just my imagination. There were scuffling sounds and a mound of soil appeared. Fighting back a scream, I watched as something the size of a child dug itself out of the ground. The skeleton paused, shuck itself off and then stalked forward. Illuminated red dots instead of eyes, caught us in its sights. Claws swung wildly back and forth trying to catch the wheels as the wagon raced by.
“Stalchild…” In morbid fascination, I caught a glimpse of enormous teeth, blood-stained and jutting. A collection of long and short incisors that did not match the size of its skull. A crudely fashioned grass skirt covered whatever dignity it had once had in life. “I thought you were pulling my leg.”
Yasei swerved around a pothole. “I wish, walking corpses have no business here, even if they did die in battle,” she muttered.
I could not help but feel pity for those undead soldiers. I remembered the war, how the unlucky ones had lain face down in the mud. Had it not been for Carter’s invention, it could be me wandering Hyrule Field as a restless soul.
For a brief moment, the Song of Healing came to mind, but I had no instrument to call my own. Trying to summon something in front of Yasei might not be prudent at this time, and so, I endured the sorry sight with a dull ache in my heart.
More Stalchildren lumbered and surrounded the path, but dare not step foot on it. I was very glad for the wagon, the thought of walking with the undead for company made me feel quite ill. Until sunrise, I recalled with disbelief. Hopefully, we would reach Lake Hylia soon and be rid of our pursuers.
“Do you often travel on the road at night?” I asked. “It seems rather dangerous. I hate to think you might get hurt.”
Yasei rolled her eyes. “Kilton isn’t just for show, he could tear your head off if I told him to. My bow and arrows aren’t exactly cute and cuddly either. I try to avoid travelling at night, but you get delays. Rock slides, roadblocks, sinkholes, storms and monsters.” She eyed the Stalchildren warily. “Still, could be worse.”
Could be worse? I thought flabbergasted. What could possibly be worse than this?
Even if we had parted company, I should have known better than to tempt the fate of the Goddesses. When a horn sounded to the far right, Yasei’s mouth set in a hard-thin line.
“Take the reins for a minute, would you?” She reached into the back of the wagon and pulled out a large leather pouch. Upon attaching this to her belt, she grasped for the dragon mask worn at our first meeting. “Kilton.”
The husky barked and headed towards the back of the wagon.
“Yasei, what is going on?” I did not like this secret code between dog and master.
“Things are going to get a bit rough.” She patted me playfully on the head. “No matter what, keep the wagon going straight. When you see a bunch of fences that’s the entrance to Lake Hylia. There’ll be a gate, this is the key. Don’t lose it, okay?”
I thrust the key deep within my pocket. “Why? Where are you going?”
She hesitated for a moment. “I… have to take care of something.”
“Take care of what?”
Yasei fixed the dragon mask into place, before replying, “Just some bandits.”
Featured art: Alison Brunyee via Canva.com
Alison Brunyee is an Original Content Editor for Zelda Dungeon. She likes reading manga and collecting Japanese wind chimes. Her favorite Zelda game is Ocarina of Time. For a bit of escapism during this tough time, check out more fan fiction from her alter writing ego – Otwl. Stay safe x