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The Concerto of Spirits

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Greetings, friends! I have a brand new story to share today! The Concerto of Spirits is a story I came up with after I rode the wave of inspiration that writing Spirits, Winds, and Time made for me. This is a direct sequel to The Hero of Spirits, my first fanfiction. Writing that story has done a lot for me as far as being a creator is concerned. Having that under my belt has been pushing me forward, even through Ride the Winds! and Spirits, Winds, and Time. And it continues to do so, even now that I'm on my fourth story.

The Concerto of Spirits seeks to describe how Link and Tetra ended up establishing New Hyrule, while still falling in line with what I established back in The Hero of Spirits. I want to take the sandbox of events from that story and wrangle it into something that could have actually happened in canon. Not to say “this is definitely how it happened” but “what if this is how it happened?” and “here’s how I can make that make sense”. As such, if you haven't read The Hero of Spirits, a lot of this may be confusing. Nonetheless, whether you've read my previous works or not, I hope you find it enjoyable. I plan to run it for 41 chapters and an epilogue, and my goal is to structure it like an orchestra. I'm really challenging myself on this one, including more characters and branching/conflicting plotlines than I have in past stories. It should be a lot of fun to write.

Without further ado, let's begin! I'll be uploading this concurrently both here and on my AO3, linked in my signature. Enjoy!

* * *
At one time, there were heroes in Hyleigh. When the Realms were threatened, the Hero of Spirits rose to the challenge and saved the land. Now, two thousand years have passed, and the place he protected stands as a ghost of its former self, hanging on by a thread as monsters outnumber the people. Sitri Beldine, descendant of the Hero of Spirits, tries to defend her land by mirroring the path of her ancestor. In the Mystic Realm, the Demon King Mikhaeyla honors her family line and upholds a pact of peace between demons and humans, and she worries for the land her forefathers came from. The Lokomo, too, do everything in their power to manage the Physical Realm and keep it from the hands of monsters. And in the midst of all this, voyagers from a distant sea stumble their way onto Hyleigh’s shores, looking to build a new Hyrule kingdom. When all of these forces come together, it will change Hyleigh’s fate forever.





“Land, ho!”

This shrill cry from the crow’s nest grabbed the attention of the entire gangly pirate crew. At last, they could make landfall again. It’d been weeks since their last stop, and their supplies were running dangerously low. Their patience was rewarded at last.

“Your Highness! Did you hear that?” the smallest of the crew squeaked.

“I told you not to call me that!” she answered crassly, causing him to flinch.

“Land, at last... It’s about time!” her first mate said, sounding awfully relieved.

One member of the crew, dressed in green garments that stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the rest, dashed excitedly to the bow. He climbed upon the railing so he could get a better view, and waved the surly lady over.

“See something good?” she asked, joining him. “Well, blow me down, that’s a lot bigger than anything we’ve seen yet! This could be promising!”

The rest of the crew was at their sides before they could blink, each trying to catch a glimpse for themselves. Sure enough, the land that crept up over the ocean’s horizon line looked absolutely massive. Its muted silhouette betrayed that of a mere island. It was so wide, it took over their entire view, as if the sea just ended there. They’d never seen anything like it.

“Hey... You don’t suppose this could be one of those ‘continents’ we read about?” the tallest among them suggested.

“Think so? Yeah, I’ve never seen an island anywhere close to this big before, so it’s gotta be... I can’t believe we really found a ‘continent’...” the lady pirate mused.

“With all that space, there’s gotta be room for us to settle in, yeah? We can finally make your dream come true, Princess Zelda!” the first mate said.

“Ugh, for crying out loud! I literally just yelled at Niko for that! Why is it so hard for you people to call me what I ask you to call me? At least wait until I actually have a kingdom to rule before you use that name!” she shouted, prodding the man’s side.

“Gah! S-sorry, Captain!”

“Tetra, look!” the boy in green spoke up.

The captain followed his gaze and watched a flock of white birds she’d never seen before approach the shoreline. As she did, she began to see the outline of a town sitting on the seaside.

“So people do live there already... How much you wanna bet we scare the daylights out of ‘em when we land?” Tetra chuckled.

“Come on, if we’re looking to settle, we should avoid causing problems, yeah?” a composed member of the crew pointed out.

Just then, a foghorn pulled their attention to a white steamboat chugging along next to them off the port side. The tones sounded positive and jubilant to their ears.

“Heh... Sounds like Linebeck’s getting excited for this, too.” Tetra smirked. “It’s been two years, after all... Maybe this really will be it. What do you think, Link?” she asked, turning to her green companion.

Link pulled his eyes off the horizon, and gave her a big, cheerful grin. Those clear eyes told her his answer. As for what they’d find in this new land...

“The future is in our hands... Right, Father?” Tetra whispered to herself.



The Concerto of Spirits


Chapter One
Entreaty to Defend​


Peaceful streets. Happy citizens. A bright early morning illuminated this tranquil sight within a town nestled in a lush valley. Many sorts of people happily went about their daily lives here, uninterrupted by the goings-on of the outside world. People with round ears, people with pointed ears, and even those with fangs and horns intermingled as if it were the most natural thing to do. This was a hard-fought peace. And within the castle overlooking it all, there were still those fighting to keep it that way.

A scene opposite to the peace outside unfolded within the topaz halls of this castle. A stuffy meeting room covered with tomes and documents was tucked down an adjacent hallway to its throne room. The occupant of that throne, who should have ordinarily been sitting upon it, was found instead in this musty makeshift library, pouring through reports that would normally be below her attention. But these were not normal times.

“Yes, twelve casualties were reported.”

This briefing came from a stalwart young gentlemen, dressed in a sort of mix between military uniform and ceremonial robes. In his arms, he carried a stack of papers and folders of great import. His tone was as serious as the look in his eyes.

“Twelve... How awful. That’s more than last time. Those poor people...” the recipient of the news mourned, seeming not to take it well.

“How shall we respond?” the young man asked.

“Send relief supplies proportionate to the damage. I wish we could do more than that...”

“I shall handle it. By your leave, then, Demon King Mikhaeyla.” he said, bowing to his liege.

“Thank you, Rasta. I greatly appreciate your efforts as our Hyleigh Council representative.”

“Your words are too kind for me. This is just as personal for me as it is for you.” he said, turning on his heel.

“Of course. Send my regards to your wife.”

Demon King Mikhaeyla shuffled in her leather seat as she watched her faithful aide take his leave. Long had she reigned over Saint Versailles, just as her family had done before her. Much like her forefathers had done, she chose to carry the weight of coexistence between her people, the demons, and the people of Hyleigh, the humans. She had the blood of both races running through her veins, filling her with pride and motivation in equal measure.

Still, such a weighty task had to lead to difficulty and stress. Managing her own territory in the Mystic Realm while still keeping cross-dimensional tabs on the Physical Realm was the source of many of her sleepless nights. She reclined back in her seat, pinching the skin between her eyes to keep herself awake just a bit longer.

If I could just do more than respond to incidents after they've happened... Maybe it's time I discuss a more active role with the Council. The time of worrying how far I'm overstepping my bounds might be long past...

Before she could get lost down that train of thought, a new voice lured her back.

"Aunt Mikha!"

The cheerful timbre of these words brought a little comfort to the exhausted Demon King. She looked at the door to see a smiling girl waving to her. Long locks of vibrant green hair, golden eyes more brilliant than the sun itself, and a young face that made a plain sight of her innocence... This was her human niece, alright.

"Sitri! How lovely to see you. Did Rasta let you in?" Mikhaeyla asked.

“Yeah, I just passed him by. He’s always so busy... Well, I guess we all are, these days.” Sitri said sadly.

“Well, I’m never too busy for my adorable niece. Come sit. Let’s have a chat. I assume you’re here for another lesson?” Mikhaeyla offered.

“I am! Thank you!” Sitri beamed.

Sitri excitedly pulled up a wooden chair beside her demon aunt, and settled in with a cup of tea from a pot that was already growing cold. They were not blood relatives by any means, but Sitri was a descendant of humans that were extremely close with Mikhaeyla’s own forefathers. A connection that transcended blood, race, and even time itself.

“So, what are you interested in learning from me today?” Mikhaeyla asked.

“Well, I was thinking a comprehensive history lesson might be nice...” Sitri said. “The state Hyleigh is in right now... It’s just awful, even though the Hero of Spirits worked so hard to save it from Demon King Malladus all those years ago. I want to know why things turned out like this. Especially since...”

“... Since that Hero of Spirits is your own ancestor.” Mikhaeyla finished her sentence.

“... Yes.” Sitri quietly nodded.

Mikhaeyla folded her hands together and gazed at her troubled niece. She knew a lot had already been placed on the girl’s shoulders, even at the tender age of fourteen. Losing her parents to monsters and rushing across dimensions to her for help since she had nowhere else to go was just one of many. Ever since taking her in, Mikhaeyla treated her as family and raised her as best she could, even with the many other duties on her plate.

She’d taught Sitri how to fight and was responsible for most of her schooling. Even after she’d returned to Hyleigh when she was old enough to care for herself, she’d still make frequent visits to her dear demon aunt for lessons. Today was one such time. Mikhaeyla felt a pulling on her heartstrings. She wanted to care for and protect her niece for as long as possible, but Sitri seemed to have ideas of her own lately.

I can’t always be there to watch over what she does... At the very least, I can make sure she’s equipped to deal with whatever she gets herself into...

“Very well. Let that be the topic of today’s lesson.” Mikhaeyla nodded. “If we are to understand why Hyleigh is hanging on by a thread today, we must look to its past and examine the history of events from the very start, beginning from when Alphonse defeated and sealed away Malladus. Are you ready?”

“Yes!”

Sitri nodded quickly, leaning forward in her seat. Her hands were on her knees and her eyes were sparkling expectantly. Mikhaeyla found it difficult to refuse that face. She took a sip of her cold, bitter tea, mulling over her next words in her mind for a moment. When she was ready, she placed the cup back on the saucer and faced her niece squarely.

“You know this already, but it was two thousand years ago now that the Hero of Spirits, Alphonse, defeated Demon King Malladus. He did this with the aid of his fairy partner, Zelda, his allies Layla and Regret, his beloved Naomi, and the Lokomo Anjean and Byrne.” Mikaeyla began.

“And we’re each descended from those heroes! Alphonse and Naomi were my ancestors, and Regret and Layla were yours!” Sitri added pridefully.

Mikhaeyla let a small smile slip. “That’s right. Thanks to them, the all-powerful Malladus was sealed within the earth of the Physical Realm, an act that created the Spirit Tracks and caused the Tower of Spirits to appear at the center of Hyleigh, locking the seal in place. In the aftermath, the Hyleigh Council was created from the ashes of the capital city, and in ten years, Naomi invented the trains that run on the Spirit Tracks all across the country. Aboda and Papuchiya were rebuilt, though Snowhead’s ruins were left alone.”

“The Hyleigh Council was supposed to be temporary to help re-establish the monarchy, right? But the Council still exists today, meaning that failed...” Sitri said.

“You’re correct. The entire Hyleigh royal line died out as a result of Demon Lord Vaati’s actions in the Great War. With no royals left, the council had to find a new royal family to take their place. But as you can imagine, that was easier said than done. At the time, Alphonse was clear that he didn’t want to be seen as a conqueror, and refused the Council’s requests for him to lead the country many times. And as you know, your family continued to live ordinary lives even after he’d passed away, adopting the surname ‘Beldine’”.

“That was Rena’s family name... Alphonse didn’t have one of his own, if I remember...”

“Right. And, well, you already know your own family history, so let’s move on.” Mikaheyla cleared her throat before continuing. “The situation in Hyleigh didn’t change much for a long time. In the Mystic Realm, which was a new ally for Hyleigh, things were a little more exciting. Two hundred years after Malladus’s defeat, Regret and Layla’s daughter Harmony took over as Demon King of St. Versailles, with Demon King Rinz absconding the throne and returning it back to its former ruling family. This was not done lightly, and it was testament to Harmony’s political skills.”

“Harmony created the permanent portal joining the Mystic and Physical Realms, right?” Sitri asked.

“That’s right. My great-grandmother possessed exceptionally powerful magic, which was surprising since she had a human parent. At the same time as the portal’s creation, Demon King Harmony drafted an official pact of peace with the Hyleigh Council, and the position of demon liaison became a permanent seat at its table.”

“And that’s what Rasta’s job is now!”

“Yes, and he does it splendidly. I owe him a lot. But, moving on... Thanks to the portal, humans and demons began intermingling more than ever before, resulting in the St. Versailles of today. But the good times didn’t last forever... Five hundred years after Malladus’s defeat, the situation in Hyleigh suddenly changed. The Kokiri, who had long been hidden away in the depths of the Forest Realm, were discovered to have vanished along with their Fairy Queen, after a traveling caravan got lost and accidentally wandered into their village.”

“The Kokiri were forest spirits, so their presence denoted the health of the land, right? That’s what I remember reading...” Sitri said glumly.

“Good memory. Yes, if the Kokiri and the Fairy Queen had disappeared, it was a poor omen. Monster attacks were already on the rise, and once news of this got out as well, conditions began gradually worsening. Eventually, both the Zora and the Gerudo decided it was time to move on from Hyleigh, and left to find other lands. All that remained were just the humans, the Gorons, and the Anouki...”

“I still can’t believe they’d just abandon Hyleigh like that... Thinking about it makes me so angry!” Sitri grumbled.

“It’s hard to blame them. The living conditions were getting worse all the time, and they had to look out for their own. The same sort of thing was happening here in the Mystic Realm, as well. With all the inter-marriages, demons and humans were starting to see what mixed offspring were really like. As you can see from me, horns started appearing as a new demon trait, only in those with mixed blood. This was very off-putting for the demons at the time, and the relationship between our realms began to sour again. Thanks to my family, St. Versailles remained largely unaffected, but most of the Mystic Realm regressed to less welcoming attitudes.”

“That’s so awful! It’s not like your horns are a problem or anything...”

“Yes, but you know how people can be. It was new and different, and so it was scary.”

Mikhaeyla briefly became conscious of her own golden horns, sticking out of her head just above her pointed ears. She twirled a strand of her hair in her fingers for a bit, and then sighed.

“I’m sure that for Harmony, it was very disheartening. Her portal saw less and less traffic, until it mostly only became used for business. Thankfully, there was never any violence as a result of this.”

“Things didn’t change again until after her time, right?”

“Yes. More than one thousand years after Malladus’s defeat, something inexplicable happened that changed Hyleigh forever... the Great Flood. No one knows how or why it happened, but the southern shoreline of the country vanished underwater overnight. Aboda Village had to be moved further north, and the path to Harmony’s portal nearby had become submerged, leaving nothing but the Spirit Tracks remaining above the water. Papuchiya and Great Bay were forced to become floating cities as many of the Ocean Realm’s islands were lost. Half of the Desert Realm was swallowed under the sea, as well. It was catastrophic. This event is even speculated to be the cause behind the volcano in the Fire Realm becoming active again.”

“The Snow Realm changed too, right? The already subzero temperatures got even worse, and the Anouki were forced to move south to where Snowhead used to be...” Sitri added.

“Indeed. The flood also agitated the monsters, making their activity worse than ever before. Their populations and even their types were constantly changing. The situation only continued to spiral out of control from there...”

“That’s when the Lokomo finally stepped in, right?”

“Yes. Anjean, who had resigned herself to be a passive observer within the Tower of Spirits, finally took action around five hundred years ago. Concerned about the exploding monster populations affecting the Spirit Tracks, she restructured the inside of the Tower to contain new rooms and traps to help support the seal. She also started selecting Lokomo to aid the people of Hyleigh as relief workers. But even with all that, the situation hasn’t improved. I’m getting reports about more monster attacks and deaths every day...”

“You send a lot of relief supplies all over Hyleigh, even though you’re so busy with your own territory... I really appreciate that.” Sitri said kindly.

“Thank you. It never feels like enough, though...” Mikaheyla lowered her gaze to the floor for a few moments, thinking back to the report she heard from Rasta before Sitri arrived.

“So Anjean took action five hundred years ago... And the situation’s been the same ever since?”

“More or less. Actually, it’s more accurate to say it’s still deteriorating, just more slowly than before. Even with all our efforts, Hyleigh continues to crumble. We’re all at our wits’ end. I can’t help but wonder how the Hero of Spirits would feel if he could see what’s become of the home he saved...”

Sitri bit her lip. “We need someone like him again. A great hero to set things right... But he’s not around anymore. He died a long time ago, so... It’s up to us...”

“‘Us’, is it? Are you planning something?” Mikaheyla asked suspiciously.

“N-not especially! Thank you for the lesson and the tea, Aunt Mikha!” she said, suddenly leaping to her feet.

“The tea was cold, you know.” Mikhaeyla laughed. “Are you leaving already?”

“Yeah! I’m feeling really inspired right now, so...”

“Inspired to do what?”

“Ah! Um...”

Sitri grew quiet and fidgety, unable to look her aunt in the eye anymore. Mikhaeyla sighed again and rose to her feet. Sitri winced as if she was expecting to be admonished, but that’s not what happened. Her dear Aunt Mikha decided to draw her into a tight hug instead.

“Huh? Uh... Aunt Mikha?”

“Listen. I know I can’t always know what you’re doing or stop you from acting on what’s in your heart... So at least promise me that whatever you do, you’ll do it safely, okay? You have family right here that’s always waiting for you to come home, so don’t do anything foolish and throw your life away...” Mikhaeyla pleaded.

Sitri seemed stunned for a few moments, but she soon hugged her aunt back and sniffled a little. “Oh, Aunt Mikha... I’m sorry for worrying you. I don’t wanna put anything else on you... You already do so much. So I promise you I’ll be fine.”

“Then that’s all I can ask.”

Mikhaeyla pulled back a little, and her eyes caught the sword that’s been strapped to her niece’s back for the past few years. Her heart would always ache at the sight of it, but she knew what it meant to the girl. It was everything to her.

Sitri got one last squeeze from her aunt before she was on her way. After she was gone, Mikhaeyla gazed back over her table, covered in reports all pertaining to different incidents in Hyleigh that had yet to be fully resolved. She let out a deep sigh and hugged her arms to her chest.

“A great hero to set things right, huh? If only it were that simple...”

* * *

Sitri walked briskly through St. Versailles, the lesson she received from Demon King Mikhaeyla spinning through her mind. Without Alphonse, or rather, without the Hero of Spirits, Hyleigh was never able to recover from the damage Malladus did. That was her takeaway.

Alphonse and his friends ended the Great War, but that wasn’t enough... Why not? What were they missing that could have put Hyleigh back on its feet? And what can I do to help...

As she pondered this, she arrived at the train station on the edge of town. This was where Harmony’s portal opened in the Mystic Realm. The frame of it was a large stone arch, the center of which appeared as a swirling vortex of light. A small section of the Spirit Tracks were made to poke through it, allowing more convenient travel between the Realms. It was from there that Sitri was able to come and go, despite not possessing magic to cross dimensions.

The conductor took one look at Sitri and quietly waived her fare. She smiled to herself about this and hopped aboard. If there was one thing she could do, it was this... That thought played out in her mind as the train backed out of the station, passing through the portal back to the Physical Realm. Sitri felt as though she were being squeezed through a crack in a big, thick wall.

Once the feeling passed, the smell of sea salt filled her nose. She poked her head out of the open window of the passenger car, gazing out to the southern shore of Hyleigh. Harmony’s portal opened in the Physical Realm from within an identical stone archway to the one in St. Versailles. It was located on a spire of rocks towering out of the ocean, just off the coast of the Forest Realm. This was nestled behind a mountain, and at its foot sat Aboda Village, the famous hometown of the Hero of Spirits. It was also Sitri’s hometown.

Sitri clenched her jaw as she gazed at her birthplace, letting the train rock her along. The sound of the engine chugging forward, the spinning wheels, the steam pistons... All of it melted into the background as she considered her position.

I am a descendant of the Hero of Spirits... His blood is in my veins... So, it should be up to me, right? Just like Alphonse, I lost my family at a young age and I learned how to fight... I even have Rena’s Sword, the one thing I have left of my family... I have the chance to do it, just like he did! We both started the same way! So I can do it... It has to be me...

The cooing of a dove pulled her out of her thoughts. A pure white bird with curly feathers fluttered in through the open window, landing on the train seat right next to Sitri. The dove looked at her expectantly, cocking its head sideways before cooing at her again. It carried a canister around its neck. Inside was a small roll of paper.

“Oh, Chino! You have a message for me?” Sitri said to the dove.

It cooed again, allowing her to retrieve the canister it carried. Sitri popped the cap open and slid the bit of parchment into her hand. She quickly read it, her eyes widening at its contents. A shaky smile formed on her face.

“Thank you, Chino. Here you go.” she said, fishing some tasty treats out of her satchel.

The rotund little dove was fed and enjoyed some gentle pets for a job well done. Once Sitri was finished doting on her avian friend, it flew out through the train window just how it’d come in. Sitri cracked her joints and stood up.

“Papuchiya Village, huh... Let’s do it!”

Sitri felt the weight of Rena’s Sword on her back. That sword was passed down through her family ever since Alphonse’s time, carefully maintained all the way. It was the one thing she was able to take with her as she escaped that horrible night her parents were slain in a monster raid on Aboda Village.

She had the same origin story as her esteemed ancestor, Alphonse. She even carried the same sword he once used. These facts drove her forward, instilling her with a strong sense of purpose.

Hyleigh is crumbling away... Monster attacks are getting worse and worse... Someone has to do something. And I can be that someone! I, Sitri Beldine, am going to be the next Hero of Spirits! I know I can do it!

Thinking this, she strode to the front of the cabin to tell the conductor of her next destination.


First Movement: The Sonata of Heroes
Overture​
 
Last edited:

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Time for the next chapter! The stage and the perspective changes to some more familiar faces from the Zelda series... This one ran a bit longer than I intended, but I still covered everything I wanted to, so no biggie, I guess. Enjoy!





Chapter Two
The Outlanders​


The boy in green’s heart was set ablaze by the rocking of the ship as it approached land. He could hardly move his eyes fast enough to look at everything. He spotted a steep hill rising from the shoreline, and a moderately-sized village in its shadow. There were also strange lines along the ground and even stretching out over the sea next to the town. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out what those were, and that only excited him further.

“We’re comin’ up on the village now. We placin’ bets on the landlubbers freaking out when we pull in or nah?” the first mate said, manning the wheel.

“Why bother betting on that? We already know they will.” the tallest said.

“Hold on... Is there even anywhere to pull in? All those piers look too small for our ship.”

The first mate was right. The green boy couldn’t see any that were of a suitable size. The village looked like it was made up of a lot of small islands clustered together, each with their own house and walkways connecting them together like a web over the water. Most of these had small dinghies, probably for fishing. There wasn’t anything bigger than even a canoe.

There were townsfolk bustling around those walkways, carrying jars and baskets to and fro. A lot of kids were running around or playing in the water, all within sight of their parents. It was an idyllic scene... at least until they took notice of the pirate ship. Their response to that was perfectly predictable.

“Pirates?! Oh no!”

“Run for it!”

Baskets and jars were dropped to the ground or thrown into the sea. Children’s arms were yanked up and into the safe embrace of the adults. It was a scramble to get to the far side of the village. The green boy couldn’t hold in a wry sigh.

“Hah! I love the sight of ‘em scattering like that... Being the terror of the seas never gets old!” the captain gloated.

“Except now we’ve no one to ask about this place.” the composed crewmate said sheepishly.

“Eh, they’ll come back in an hour or two once they’ve figured out we aren’t pillaging them. It’ll be fine.” she snapped back. “Hey, Gonzo! Just pull up next to that bigger island over there.”

The captain pointed off to a spot at the rear of the village. There was a lot of open space there filled with crops and wheat. It was the only place the green boy could see nearby that had enough room for the ship. Gonzo, the first mate, complied with his orders and steered the ship toward this area. Their companion white steamboat chugged along next to them, finding a spot on the opposite side of the island.

“Hey, Zuko! See anything good up there?” the captain yelled up to the crewmate in the crow’s nest.

“A few things, Captain Tetra! There are a lot of strange lines all over the ground, and there seems to be a giant tower way off in the distance!” he yelled back.

“Strange lines, huh? Oh! I can see them from here!” the smallest pirate said.

“You’re right, Niko. Fascinating... They seem almost mechanical. I wonder what those are...” a short crewmate with cracked glasses mused.

“If even you don’t know, Mako, then it’s sure to be a heck of a mystery.” the tall one said to him.

“Hm?”

The green boy caught sight of something else strange. Another one of those white birds he’d never seen before flew into the sky at breakneck speed. From the glimpse he caught of it, it appeared to have something around its neck. It flew off toward the west, following one of the lines.

“See something, Link?” Tetra asked.

“Just a weird bird.” he said.

“Huh... Hey, Nudge, Senza! Get the gangplank down! I think it’s time we used our legs instead of our eyes.” Tetra barked.

Nudge, the composed man, and Senza, the tall man, followed her command swiftly and without complaint. In less than a minute, Tetra’s boots hit the sand. Link was right behind her, and Niko toddled after him.

“Mmmm... It’s nice to have solid ground under me again. It’s been a while.” Tetra said, yawning and stretching.

Across the field from them, the white steamboat lowered its own anchor with a loud sploosh. From below deck, a tall, lanky man in a blue sailor’s frock emerged. Tousled brown hair and dark circles beneath his eyes belied his apparent enthusiasm. He rushed over to join the pirates as soon as his feet touched the ground.

“Link, my boy! My lad! Just look at this place! You can practically smell the riches from here!” he said excitedly, his eyes sparkling.

Link just giggled and nodded. Tetra, however, groaned and furrowed her brow. “Don’t get carried away just yet, Linebeck, you old dog. We don't even know what we're dealing with here." she said.

“Bah! Pishposh. You can’t tell me you don’t see what I’m talking about. My instincts are screaming at me! There’s definitely something amazing about this place!” he retorted.

“Come on, give it a rest for now. Let’s just take a look around first, yeah?” Gonzo suggested.

The remainder of the pirate crew had all come aground. They were all armed with cutlasses or knives for protection from monsters, and maybe to scare some landlubbers if the need arose. Link, in comparison, was equipped more like a knight than a swashbuckler. With a sturdy sword and shield strapped to his back, along with a bow and a grappling hook at his belt, he looked more heroic than piratey.

Linebeck swiftly positioned himself immediately behind Link, urging the lad half his size to lead the way. He and Tetra started off toward the village, with the rest of the crew falling in with them in practiced speed. Link mulled over the best way to approach the frightened villagers as he walked. He was hoping to avoid any undue threatenings at swordpoint this time.

As they walked, Link couldn’t help but notice that many of the homes and walkways were damaged and in the midst of repairs. A lot of holes were haphazardly boarded over with wood and nets. Building materials were scattered all over the place, as if ready to be used at a moment’s notice. There were even some medical supplies and foodstuffs left laying around. He couldn’t help but wonder at the story behind all that.

“Sheesh, this place is a wreck. Even if we wanted to pillage it, there wouldn’t be anything worth taking.” Tetra grumbled.

Her observation was shared amongst the rest of the crew. Curiosity got the better of them, and they began cautiously poking around. Rooting through baskets and peeking into unoccupied homes didn’t reveal much about the situation, though. After a lengthy and thorough comb of the area near where they disembarked, they were only left with more questions.

“Wonder if they were attacked by monsters...” Senza said aloud.

“That would explain a lot. Why don’t we ask them?” Gonzo said.

“Hey, it could just as easily have been other pirates, far as we know. We should let them be the ones to approach us, once they realize we aren’t doing anything.” Nudge advised.

“Yeah, with all our snooping already, wouldn’t be surprised if they mistook our intentions. As much as I love scaring folks, that would just turn into a big pain in the neck.” Tetra agreed.

“So we’re just gonna wait around? How boring! There’s undiscovered riches just laying around this place somewhere, ripe for the taking!” Linebeck whined.

“Oh, chill out! You aren’t gonna find any riches in these shoddy huts, even if you were a pirate! Just hold your gulls.” Tetra barked at him.

Linebeck cringed back a bit and tried to shrink himself behind Link. The boy being used as a shield didn’t seem to notice, though. His eyes were on the horizon. A mysterious sound he’d never heard before had pricked his ears. It sounded very repetitive and mechanical. It almost reminded him of the engine on Linebeck’s boat, but it sounded bigger than that.

Tetra noticed that his mind was elsewhere. “What’s up? Something bothering you?” she asked.

Link just quietly nodded and kept staring off to the west. He remembered that this was the direction he saw the weird bird fly off to a while ago, and only got more curious. That couldn’t have been related, could it? His feet were drawn toward the far side of town to get a better vantage point. The pirates, looking between themselves, shrugged and followed after him. They knew his gut was usually spot-on.

When the group reached the other side of the village, they found the townsfolk there, all bunched up together and shaking in terror. Many of them held makeshift weapons at the ready, but these weapons weren’t much deadlier than shovels and pitchforks. A few of them inched toward the group, trying to be brave. Still, they each looked like they’d pass out on the spot.

“Heh. Relax, we aren’t here to do anything to you.” Tetra said to them.

It didn’t seem to help. Their shaking only continued. The captain merely rolled her eyes at them and continued following after Link, who walked on as if entranced. At the furthest edge of town sat a large platform with steps and benches, and in front of this ran the strange line they saw from their ship earlier.

Upon closer inspection, it appeared just as mechanical as Mako hypothesized. They seemed to have some kind of metal rails attached, running parallel and equally spaced all the way across. They were also adorned with a criss-cross pattern along the length, underneath the rails. It was quite large and wide, but it didn’t look like a road for walking. No matter how long they stared at them, none of them could figure out what they were.

And then the strange repetitive sound Link could hear earlier grew louder. He looked to the west at the top of the hill, where the sound was the loudest. He spotted a pattern of smoke puffs, billowing up and trailing off. They seemed like they were almost on the same beat as the sound. Then, below the smoke, something appeared that defied all explanation. If beasts could be made of metal, this is what they would look like. That was the only thing he could conceptualize from it at first sight.

Whatever it was, it was on many sets of wheels. The front was cylindrical and ended in a point. There was a tower spewing those smoke clouds sticking out at the front, and behind that some windows. At the rear of this contraption, many large and rectangular boxes covered in windows were hooked together, each with their own set of wheels. This metal monstrosity chug-chugged along, riding the very rails that were set atop the strange paths on the ground. The crew could hardly believe their eyes.

“Wha... Wha... What the heck is THAT?!” Niko squealed.

“Issat some kinda monster?!” Senza said.

“Inconceivable... Is that beast actually a machine?” Mako said, his jaw agape.

“What in the seven seas... I’ve never seen anything like that before! I told you lot, there was something special about this place!” Linebeck shouted excitedly.

“Whatever it is, it’s coming this way! Hey, you people! Explain!” Tetra yelled at the villagers.

The townsfolk looked at each other awkwardly. It seemed they were very confused by the pirates’ confusion. They were also still too scared to decide whether they should speak up. Meanwhile, the metal beast chugged ever closer to the platform.

The entire crew backed away, fully on-guard. They crowded together behind Link and Linebeck, who were too transfixed with awe to feel any sense of danger. Even Tetra found herself using the boy in green as a shield this time.

The alien contraption had all of their eyes at attention. It started to slow down the closer it got to the village. Once it was coming up on the platform, the wheels locked in place and a shrill, screeching sound rang through their ears. The beast seemed to whine as it came grinding to a halt, lining up perfectly with the platform. Once it had fully stopped, blasts of steam and hot air spewed out from valves and pipes running along its sides. A sharp whistle blared out from the front, startling each of the pirates.

“Hey, you’re the hero, here. Go check it out.” Tetra whispered in Link’s ear.

She seemed to be the only one brave enough to speak at the moment. Link, on the other hand, took that invitation the same way an uppity dog would take its leash being removed. He could hardly contain himself as he darted toward the strange machine.

Before he could get close enough to investigate, however, a door on one of the rear boxes swung open, and a girl leapt out onto the platform.

“Whoa, look at that! People can ride in that thing?” Gonzo whispered.

Link stopped in his tracks and stared in wonder at the girl. She was a bit taller than him, maybe even a bit taller than Tetra. She looked to be his age, though. She carried a sword like he did, but she was sporting a thick, white tunic and brown knee-high boots. She had long, dark green hair and bright golden eyes, the latter of which were currently scrutinizing him. Her face scrunched up suspiciously as she looked from Link to the huddle of pirates behind him.

“What’s with the kid?” Senza said.

“She doesn’t look very happy to see us. Well, what else is new for us, eh?” Nudge said quietly.

Link inadvertently took a few steps back, rejoining with his friends. The girl hopped down from the platform, standing across from their group with her hands on her hips. She looked over at the villagers, who all seemed relieved to see her. Her brow furrowed even further, and she turned back and glared hard at the pirates.

“So who are you lot supposed to be? What have you done to these people?” she said angrily.

“Excuse me? Who do you think you’re talking to with that attitude?” Tetra barked back, taking it as a challenge.

Her apprehension at the strange contraption was now focused on the girl. She began to march toward her. Link, sensing an undue confrontation forming, tried to hold out his arm to stop her. She simply brushed past him and folded her arms at her chest, matching the girl’s ire.

“You’re givin’ a lotta lip for someone who just got here.” Tetra spat.

“I won’t have you pirates hurting these poor folks! Times are hard enough as it is!” the girl said.

“Who says we hurt them? We literally just got here! We don’t need your smart mouth only an hour after stepping ashore!”

“Don’t lie to me! Just look at how scared these people are! They even sent a note to me for help!” the girl argued.

“Huh? What note? Don’t accuse me of lying when you’re the one talking nonsense!”

“A note...” Link mused.

Once again, he recalled the bird he saw with something around its neck. He wondered if that’s what she was referring to. If she was, that would be an impressive long-distance alert system. That, combined with the still-unidentified machine, made this place even more interesting to him.

“There’s no way I can trust anything a pirate says! Get out of here, or... Or I’ll make you!” the girl said, beginning to reach for her sword.

“Hah! Now you’re speaking my language. Think you got what it takes?” Tetra challenged her, reaching for her own cutlass.

Linebeck darted to the back of the group, as if that were his cue. The rest of the pirates were on edge, reaching for their own weapons to back up their captain. This snapped Link back to the present situation. He looked at the girl, and she seemed awfully nervous. She was naturally at a heavy disadvantage, being outnumbered like she was.

Link could tell the girl wasn’t a bad person. She was just trying to defend people who she thought were in trouble. But Tetra and the rest weren’t going to concern themselves with that. The pride of a pirate could be a nasty thing to run up against. And so, he took swift action before things could escalate further.

“Stop!” he yelled.

He jumped between Tetra and the girl, holding out an open palm in front of the both of them. They flinched and drew back a bit.

“Hey! Get out of the way!” Tetra said angrily.

Link shook his head and turned his back on his captain. The others all gasped quietly at this act of defiance. Tetra looked as though she were slighted, and she was glaring at Link now instead of the girl. He could feel her eyes digging holes in the back of his head. For the moment, he decided it was best to ignore that and speak to the girl.

“Hi! I’m Link.” he said, smiling at her and extending his hand.

“Uh... Huh?” the girl said, lowering her hand away from her sword.

As Link calculated, it was difficult for someone with a conscience to attack a person reaching their hand out in friendship. He knew Tetra and the other pirates would just see that as an opportunity, but his instincts told him this girl was different. She answered the villagers’ call for help, after all.

She stared at him quietly for a few moments, looking very unsure of herself. She started to raise her hand to take his, but she quickly took it back and rubbed her palm on the hem of her shirt. After a few more seconds, she cleared her throat and spoke.

“I, um... I’m Sitri. Sitri Beldine.” she said.

Link grinned broadly and nodded his head in approval. Sitri still looked at him distrustfully, but her shoulders drooped down and her posture relaxed. Behind him, the tension left the pirates, as well. Many of them sighed with relief and stopped reaching for their swords, just as Sitri did.

Tetra, on the other hand, was still angry. “Link, you jerk! What gives you the right to step in the middle of my fight like that? I’m the captain here, you know!”

“It’s better not to fight.” he answered her, not fully turning around yet.

“Ugh! You’re such a goody-two-shoes. You’re gonna pay for this later.” she growled.

“Ah! Hey, Captain! Why don’t we ask this girl about that strange machine?” Nudge quickly suggested, attempting to divert Tetra’s attention from this topic.

“Huh? What strange machine?” Sitri asked, confused. Link pointed to it, still parked at the platform behind her. “What, that? You mean the train?”

“‘’Train’? What the heck is a ‘train’?” Tetra said, the distraction seeming effective.

“That is. You’ve never seen a train before?” Sitri said, confused.

“Of course not! They don’t have those... whatever those are anywhere else I’ve ever been!” Tetra said.

Link nodded concurrently. “That’s new to us!”

The villagers started whispering among themselves, growing less on edge by the minute. Sitri didn’t fail to notice that. Their makeshift weapons were steadily lowering, and the children were slowly being released from their parents’ arms. The pure innocence, or perhaps it was ignorance, of the pirates seemed to diffuse the situation.

“Hey... Are you guys really okay? Did they really not do anything to you?” Sitri asked them.

The adults nodded, agreeing with each other that these particular pirates didn’t seem to have any intention of harming them unprovoked. Sitri grumbled to herself before looking back at Tetra. The easily-angered pirate captain glared right back at her, but Link was still smiling.

Finally, Sitri sighed. “So you really haven’t done anything here yet...” she said, sounding exasperated.

“Yeah, like I said! You should have just asked those sheep over there from the start!” Tetra complained.

“B-but you guys are still pirates! Just because you haven’t done anything yet doesn’t mean you aren’t going to!” Sitri stood her ground.

“We won’t.” Link said plainly.

He was hoping his sincerity would get through, both to the girl and to the villagers. After another several moments of quietly standing off with each other, Sitri and Tetra both sighed.

“Fine, whatever. But I’ll know the second you try to pull anything!” Sitri warned. “You’d better not cause any trouble, or I really will chase you out of here!”

“I’d like to see you try!” Tetra scoffed.

“I mean it! You better not!”

After confirming with the villagers that they felt safe enough for her to leave, Sitri headed back to the “train”, as it was apparently called. She spoke with someone at the front who seemed to be controlling it, and then she got back into the windowed box. In just a few short minutes, the train let out another ringing whistle, and it started chugging off on the rails once more. It seemed to follow a curve before heading back in the direction it’d come from. And with that, Sitri Beldine was gone.

“Amazing... So the ‘train’ must be a kind of transportation?” Mako wondered.

“Looks like it... Maybe that’s why there aren’t any big boats here. Look, the rails even extend over the water out that way.” Nudge said, pointing off to the east.

“What a wonder of technology! My instincts, honed to a fine point even on the worst of days, seem to have led us to the jackpot here!” Linebeck said proudly.

“Oh, hush. As if you’re the one that brought us here...” Tetra growled. She seemed to still be in a foul mood, which shut everyone else up pretty fast. “That Sitri kid had a lot of nerve. Talking to me like she’s the boss of us... I’m gonna remember her face, damn it.”

“It’ll be okay.” Link said, trying to sound assuring.

“You, too! Don’t think I’m through with you yet, either!” Tetra snapped, to his dismay. “Sheesh... Well, if we know nothing else, we’re certainly not welcome here. Wherever here is...”

She glared over at the crowd of villagers, who were much calmer than earlier but still looking antsy. She rubbed her temple and kicked the dirt around a bit with her boots.

“I’m starting to think this place may be more trouble than it’s worth...” she groaned.
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Chapter Three is ready! The setting shifts yet again, and we see some new original characters. Ones I've blogged about before, in fact. :eyes: I hope you enjoy! Things are starting to get rolling now.





Chapter Three
Misguided Rage​


Golden grass and golden lights filled the horizon almost as far as the eye could see. At one time, the entire realm was nothing but this. A sky that always appeared as if the sun was rising, spheres of golden light rising from the grass into the eternal blue, and a gentle, warm breeze caressing everything it touched... This was the Sacred Realm, home of the Spirits.

At one time, this Realm stood unchanging. But change is always inevitable, even for those who wish it otherwise. The sole structure in the entire realm had crossed dimensions, and in the millenia that followed, smaller buildings were erected in its place. Congregating around these temples were the Lokomo, servants to the Spirits and protectors of the people.

“Urk... This one’s heavy.”

One of these protectors was having a difficult time lugging a crate of supplies through the temple halls. Just as she was about to set it down, a second pair of hands were wrenched under it.

“Allow me to assist.”

One of her own had come to her aid, just in the nick of time. She gave her compatriot a warm smile.

“Thank you, Byrne. This will be a lot easier with the two of us.”

“Think nothing of it, Lady Kuudo.”

“You can drop the formalities in exchange for helping me pick up the next one, too.”

The two Lokomo were as different in size as they were in rank. Byrne was an apprentice acolyte, who helped carry news and supplies between Realms. He was a massive man with dark hair and a quiet voice. Opposite him, Kuudo was short with long, richly blue hair and large, green eyes. She was half his size, but this didn’t stop her from fighting better than most of her brethren. She performed a lot of relief work for her charges, the denizens of Hyleigh who lived across dimensional borders.

At the moment, the pair were working to gather relief supplies in the heart of the central and largest temple, so they could all be transferred to the Physical Realm in one go. The supplies they could offer were limited to clothing and medicine; the Lokomo had no need to eat or drink like the mortals, so they had no foodstuffs to spare. However, the grass of the Sacred Realm had healing properties when properly ground up, and they could produce clothes with magic. Their aid, while not complete, was still important and useful.

The Temple of Gears, as it was called, was laid out like a ziggurat with widely-spaced pillars instead of walls. In place of stairs, it had ramps to accommodate the Lokomo that moved on wheels instead of their feet. The smaller surrounding temples housed the living quarters of most of the Lokomo, and the Temple of Gears was mainly where they communed with their creators. However, it had been repurposed into a relief workshop by the leader of the Lokomo, a wise and ancient woman named Anjean. It was through these hallowed halls that Kuudo and Byrne now carried their load.

“Phew... You wouldn’t expect bottles of medicine to be so heavy, huh? There must be hundreds of phials in here...” Kuudo guessed.

“It adds up. Let’s hurry.” Byrne said, beginning to sound strained.

The rate of their footsteps grew with their extra effort. They quickly arrived at the heart of the temple, where a large stockpile of supplies was building up high over their heads. Many other Lokomo brought crates of their own here, only adding to the volume. Kuudo bit her lip, both at knowing that all of this was necessary, as well as knowing that it still wasn’t enough.

After setting down their load, Byrne stretched out his back and Kuudo wiped her brow. Once the fatigue had faded a bit, she opened the crate to inspect the contents. She found a surprise waiting for her inside. Instead of medicine or clothes, it was rations. This left her confused.

“Hold on... Byrne, how did we get food in here? We don’t have any to give.” she asked.

“Oh, that’s one of the boxes I brought in earlier. That was donated to us by Her Majesty, Lady Mikhaeyla of St. Versailles. She wished for us to add it to the clothes and medicine we’re already bringing.” he explained.

Kuudo scrunched her eyes. “So I’ve been carrying demon food this whole time? I hope you checked it for poison first...” she muttered under her breath.

“What? That’s uncalled for.” Byrne said sternly.

“Indeed it was. You best not speak like that outside these halls.” a new voice chimed in.

The pair turned to see a small Lokomo in a wheeled cart rolling his way over to join them. Kuudo recognized his poofy green afro immediately. This was Gage, one of the oldest Lokomo apart from Anjean.

“Sir Gage! I didn’t know you were here...” Byrne said, bowing in respect.

“Sir... I don’t see the point in hiding from the truth. We can’t trust anything the demons do.” Kuudo said, clenching her fists.

“You don’t see the point because you don’t see the truth. Open your mind, little dove. You will find that they are no different from us.” Gage said.

“He’s right. I’ve had many interactions with Lady Mikhaeyla in particular. The demons are not-” Byrne began.

“You wouldn’t know, Byrne. This ‘you’ wasn’t alive to see the Great War. You didn’t live through those battles like I did. How many of my brethren did I have to watch die and be reborn? It was all Malladus’s fault! We can’t trust the demons!” Kuudo ranted.

“I, um...” Byrne hesitated to continue for a moment. “I know my last ‘self’ was alive during the Great War, but...”

“As you know, it is in extremely poor taste to discuss a life that no longer belongs to the ‘you’ of today.” Gage said, shutting down his query. “And as you should know, Kuudo, Malladus was just one demon out of many. You’ve been alive for more than two thousand years, you really ought not to be thinking in such black and white terms, missy.”

Gage’s comments made Kuudo’s cheeks feel hot. Lokomo may be functionally immortal, but precious few of them had been alive long enough to think of their brethren as young pups. Only Anjean, Gage, and a handful of others could speak like that. His wisdom was worth taking to heart. Kuudo knew that, but her memories of participating in the Great War still gnawed away at her from within. The sight of watching her friends and allies torn limb from limb by Malladus’s monsters still set her in a rage, even after two millenia. Her fists trembling, she averted her eyes.

“I-”

A cacophony of screams and explosions suddenly put a halt to their conversation. The ground shook beneath their feet, and their heads whipped around in unison to see what was happening. Through the open pillars of the Temple of Gears, they could see all the way outside. The golden grasses beyond the gray stone of the temple were burning and filling the air with smoke.

The three Lokomo didn’t waste another breath. Kuudo and Byrne leapt forth to investigate while Gage took control of the situation inside the temple. They knew such an event could not be an accident. They were under attack. Kuudo grinded her teeth, feeling that she knew the only explanation for this.

Kuudo and Byrne were each equipped with the standard Lokomo broadsword a their waists. Drawing in tandem, they dashed out of the temple and into the neighboring field. As the grasses burned and smoldered, so did the walls of the nearby temples. Pillars and ramps were destroyed and collapsed down on unlucky Lokomo. Those not helping to pull folks out of the rubble stood surrounding the supposed source of the chaos. His laughter could be heard echoing even over the crackling of the fires.

When Kuudo caught sight of him, she felt an almost elating sense of vindication. The man was tall and sturdy-looking, with dark purple hair and piercing pink eyes. He was dressed in blacks and dark violets, laughing hysterically as he swung a massive axe around his head. More strikingly, he had long, pointed ears and clearly visible fanged teeth. These were unmistakable demon traits. When his axe struck the ground, a destructive burst of pink fire sent the row of Lokomo fighters tumbling down.

“You see what I mean? This is exactly what I was talking about!” Kuudo shouted over the noise.

“No! This is not what you think! He’s-” Byrne started to say.

“You can’t try to defend the demons when there’s one literally attacking us!” Kuudo yelled.

“He’s a rogue! That pink-colored magic is very rare! This man can only be-”

“”HEY! If you’ve got time to chat in the middle of this, you two had better be strong!”

The demon interrupted Kuudo and Byrne himself, leaping at them with a wide swing of his axe. The Lokomo jumped apart and brandished their own weapons as sprays of pink fire assailed the space they’d just been standing. Kuudo filled her sword with the brilliantly gold magic of her people, and created a wrapped chain around her left arm from it.

“As I thought... This must be the Laughing Reaper. He’s been assaulting both the Physical and Mystic Realms looking for strong opponents... It seems he’s finally set his sights on us.” Byrne said.

“Hahahaha! I’m thrilled that the Lokomo know of me! I hope that means I’ll be facing your best fighters now!” the Reaper cackled with delight.

“Wait, the Mystic Realm, too? He’s attacking his own kind?” Kuudo asked.

“That’s right. You have the wrong idea here, Lady Kuudo.” Byrne confirmed.

“Who the hell cares about that? Stop talking and come at me, or I’ll come to you!” the Reaper yelled.

Waiting not a second more, he lunged right for Byrne. He hardly had the chance to put his guard up in time. The Reaper’s massive golden axe was shaped like the sun, and it exploded in a fantastic display of pink flames whenever it made contact with anything. Byrne’s sword was no exception. His arms were scorched badly from the strike.

As Byrne was sent reeling backwards, Kuudo dipped in behind the Reaper for a swift strike. The demon continued to laugh as he dodged and retaliated with a flurry of swings. Kuudo, having seen what happens when that axe touches something, focused on evasion tactics. She was forced to jump back out of his range.

“Ha! What’s wrong? If you’re too scared to attack me, this won’t be any fun!” the Reaper laughed.

Fun? You think this is fun, you sick freak?!

Kuudo clenched her jaw in anger. It seemed the Reaper was the very epitome of what she thought demons to be. She remembered how Demon King Malladus relished in battle and enjoyed causing pain to those who stood up to him. She saw that same sadism in this demon. The harrowing cries of her brethren as their guts were ripped from their bodies resurfaced in her mind.

I won’t let this monster get away with this. Any enemy of the Spirits... of the Lokomo... and of Hyleigh... must be eliminated!

Rushing in once more, Kuudo aimed her sword right for the Reaper’s neck. He lifted his axe to guard, and she sent a burst of magic running through her blade. When the strike connected, an eruption of pink and gold sparks forced the both of them to skid backwards. As soon as she came to a stop, Kuudo unfurled the chain wrapped around her left arm and swung it at the Reaper.

He tried to swat the chain away with his axe, but it became entangled instead. A burst of flames still shook the air around it, but Kuudo was safely at a distance this time. She pulled with all her might, trying to disarm her opponent. The Reaper, never seeming to stop laughing, pulled back just as hard.

The two were in a fierce deadlock for several seconds. Just as it seemed like Kuudo’s chain was going to break, Byrne rejoined the fray. He aimed for the demon’s arms, trying to aid Kuudo in her efforts. The Reaper, however, sidehopped him with ease, and then hopped right back into a roundhouse kick. Byrne was once again knocked to the ground, and in the same motion, the Reaper created more leverage with the chain, pulling Kuudo off her feet.

Thinking fast, Kuudo let the chain dissolve back into golden light. She used her now free hand to break her fall and vault back up. The Reaper, ignoring the downed Byrne, charged toward her instead, laughing all the while. Their weapons met in another flash of gold and pink, shaking the ground beneath their feet and forcing them further apart.

“Hahaha! At least you can put up a fight!” he declared with glee.

“Silence! I’ll kill you yet!” Kuudo snapped.

“Oh? You’ve got some rage in you, too! Good! That’s what I like to see!”

The Reaper paused to examine his surroundings. More and more Lokomo were arriving on the scene. In just a few short moments, he would be completely surrounded. However, this situation only made him grin wider. He raised his axe above his head, and a vortex of pink aura surrounded him.

“Hahahaha! The Lokomo weren't as entertaining as I thought they’d be, but you have some potential! Let’s put a pin in this for now! I think I’ll go see what kind of fun is waiting for me in the Physical Realm!” he said.

Oh no! He’s going to cross dimensions!

“Hold it, coward! You’re not going anywhere!” Kuudo roared, lunging after him.

“Haha! I’m looking forward to our next battle!”

It was too late. The Laughing Reaper vanished just as suddenly as he’d appeared. Kuudo’s strike hit nothing but empty air. After a few moments of quiet panting, she tightened her fists and screamed in frustration.

No! I can’t believe I let him escape! And he said he was going to the Physical Realm... Hyleigh is in grave danger!

Byrne staggered over to his furious compatriot. “Are you injured, Lady Kuudo? I am sorry, I was no help in that fight...”

“I’m going after him. I can’t let that monster hurt the people of Hyleigh.” Kuudo said, not sparing a thought for her ally.

“Wait, right now? We should regroup first and-”

“There’s no time for that. His escape is my failure. I will hunt him down myself. That’s my job as a defender of the people.” Kuudo rasped.

Using her own magic, Kuudo opened a vortex of golden light in front of her. Despite Byrne’s protests, she hurried through. She felt the unmistakable, splitting sensation of being dragged through a crack in a wall. Before she knew it, that feeling was gone, and she was standing on the outskirts of a forest.

The heat from the Reaper’s fires melted away, and she was met with a cool, relaxing breeze and fresh air instead. Chirping birds and rustling leaves helped release some of her tension. In the distance, she could see large stone walls encircling a town, and northeast of that, a massive tower piercing the clouds.

“The Tower of Spirits... It never fails to bring me to awe.” she said quietly.

That demon is out here somewhere... He’s nothing but a beast that wants to hurt people for fun. I will do what I was unable to do with Malladus... I will find him, and I will end him...

a a a

“She's gone...” Byrne groaned.

Kuudo had abruptly left the Sacred Realm to give chase to the Reaper, without listening to a word he was trying to say. He found himself very exasperated by this. Nevertheless, it was out of his hands for the moment. He needed to make sure the Temple of Gears and the relief supplies contained inside were undamaged.

“Byrne, my lad... Are you alright?”

Gage wheeled his way over, looking none worse for the wear. Byrne was relieved to see him safe. The old Lokomo took swift action, encasing Byrne’s arms in golden light. Before he knew it, his wounds were healed.

“Thank you, Sir Gage... How fare the others?” he asked, sheathing his sword.

“There were a lot of folks injured from the fighting and the rubble, but there were no deaths, and the relief supplies are untouched, too. We are quite fortunate.” he explained.

Byrne let out a deep sigh. “Oh, thank the Spirits. I’m so glad no one died... We may be immortal, but regenerating without our memories is... quite frightening.”

He was speaking from experience. Byrne knew that this was not his first life, and he was aware that he’d lived during the times of yore, the Great War that everyone always spoke of. He was able to piece together that he had previously died at the end of it, but that was all he knew. No one would tell him what his past life was like. This was the rule the Lokomo held themselves to. As Gage said earlier, there was no point in dwelling on a past self that is no longer the current self. Baggage from a past life was best left in the past.

He knew this, and he agreed with it, but he still couldn’t help his curiosity.

If only I could remember what it was like during the War... Maybe then, I could understand Lady Kuudo’s perspective a bit better. She still has so much rage, even after all this time has passed. So much that it’s driving her to recklessness... Something must be done.

“Sir Gage, I think I had better report this to Demon King Mikhaeyla.” Byrne said.

“Yes, good thinking. I’ve heard of this Laughing Reaper myself, but I don’t know anything more than rumors. It’s possible young Mikhaeyla has more information on this fellow.” he agreed.

“Will the Temple of Gears be alright if I leave right now?” Byrne asked.

“Of course, lad. You aren’t the only strapping young Lokomo we have here. Do what you must.” Gage assured him.

Byrne nodded gratefully, and then turned to make a portal of his own. This one would lead to St. Versailles rather than Hyleigh. He made frequent visits to Demon King Mikhaeyla, wanting to keep their two Realms in contact. Concerting their relief efforts together was to their mutual benefit, and the exchange of information was also helpful in keeping the Lokomo up-to-date with the happenings in Hyleigh. As such, he had a good working relationship with the kind King.

And so, Byrne stepped through the vortex of magic, crossing into the Mystic Realm.

* * *

“The Laughing Reaper... I can’t believe he actually appeared in the Sacred Realm.” Mikhaeyla said, pressing her palm to her forehead.

Byrne was seated in Mikhaeyla’s makeshift study, sharing a pot of tea that had long since grown cold. As always, he was impressed by the sheer volume of books and reports. He found the Demon King’s efforts inspiring.

“Yes... He caused quite a bit of damage, but he seemed only interested in fighting for the sake of it.” Byrne reported.

“Yes, that sounds like him. I’ve had a few run-ins with him, myself.” she said.

“What? In person?!” Byrne said, flabbergasted.

“Yes. He attacked Hawthorne, the Demon Lord who serves my territory. But even he was no match for the Reaper... I had to step in to save his life.”

“I can’t believe the Reaper is strong enough to defeat a Demon Lord... Now I’m even more concerned for Lady Kuudo.”

“Mm... Her actions are worrying. From your report, it doesn’t sound like she's the type to normally do this sort of thing?” Mikaheyla asked.

“No, not usually. She’s always seemed rather even-tempered to me. I think there’s something about this Reaper that’s getting to her... Any information you have on him would be a great help.”

“Well, the most we know is that he’s fairly young. I would gauge him at less than a hundred and fifty years. His only interest is in fighting, and there’s no limit to the things he’d do to provoke a fight with a strong opponent. I’m not sure what his motivation for this behavior is, but if he’s even willing to challenge the Lokomo, it must be a strong obsession...” Mikaheyla explained.

“I see... And what of his origins? Do we know where he came from?”

“Well, Hawthorne managed to goad him into revealing his given name. He is called Zoie. We haven’t discovered his family name yet, and just ‘Zoie’ isn't enough to narrow it down for a search. However, the pink-colored magic he possesses is extraordinarily rare. Most demons have red or violet magic auras, so his uniqueness may be a useful clue.”

“Zoie, is it... I will include that in my report to Sir Gage.” Byrne said thoughtfully. “However, we must still do something about Lady Kuudo. If she’s going to be chasing him through the Physical Realm, things could become messy.”

“Well, we can’t have that. The people of Hyleigh are suffering enough as it is.”

Mikhaeyla took a sip of her tea, even as she grimaced from the bitter taste. She reclined back in her seat for a few moments, then suddenly sprang up as if she’d just thought of something.

“In fact...” she began.

“... Your Majesty?”

“I think this could be just the excuse I need to get out there, myself.”

Saying this, Mikhaeyla rose to her feet and stretched out her arms. She had a determined look on her face. Byrne could sense where this was going.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. It may be impertinent of me, but I shall head to Hyleigh in person. I trust you to smooth things over with the Council for me. Please tell Rasta what I am doing.” she asked.

“It shall be my pleasure. For a Demon King to personally intervene, this cannot be done lightly... But I am sure we can work it out. I doubt we have much choice now.” Byrne said.

“I am not waiting around for their approval this time. I have a certain niece who has a penchant for seeking out trouble... and Zoie is not the kind of trouble I want her finding.”

Byrne involuntarily gulped. The look in Mikhaeyla’s eyes could only be interpreted as righteous fury. He had never witnessed what a Demon King could truly be capable of, and now he found himself hoping he wouldn’t have to.
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Time for Chapter Four! I struggled a bit with how I wanted to pace it, but I'm satisfied now. Now that the stage is set, we're starting to get into the meat of the first movement here... I hope you enjoy!





Chapter Four
Caught in the Middle​


“Easy... Breathe easy...” Sitri said soothingly.

Her only answer was labored panting. Sitri clutched the woman’s hand tighter, and applied another layer of healing ointment to her wounds. The woman’s eyes were covered by bandages, stained red from her own blood. Sitri wondered what she’d see in those eyes if she could behold them.

The young girl was kneeling in the heart of Mayscore, a village in the Forest Realm of Hyleigh. It was the victim of an intense monster raid a few days back. Twelve people died, and she was determined to make sure this woman wouldn’t become the thirteenth. With practiced hands, Sitri bandaged her reopening cuts and kept her head elevated.

“Sitri... Thank you, let me take it from here.”

The town’s doctor had arrived. Sitri was helping him treat the injured, something she’d been doing frequently for the past two years. All across Hyleigh, there was always some sort of monster attack or incident. Hardly a month went by without anything happening. As such, most towns had makeshift militias to defend themselves. Sitri had accrued a decent measure of fame assisting them in fighting off raids and treating the injured.

“Dr. Calip, how’s it looking? Will she pull through?” Sitri asked.

“Hmm... You did a good job keeping her stable. I can’t promise anything, of course, but there’s no need for you to worry.” he said kindly. “Go wash up now and see if anyone else needs some help.”

Sitri nodded and walked over to a small bucket full of cold water. Her hands were caked with dried blood, but it was nothing some good scrubbing couldn’t clean off. As she watched the water turn red, she grimaced. A pit in her gut was screaming at her. She had to do more for these people.

She stood up and undid the ponytail that kept her green locks out of the way as she worked. She closed her eyes for a few moments, allowing the forest breeze to pass around her. She could hear the groaning of the wounded and bustling of the relief workers. She listened to the sounds of crates and clothes and bandages and medicine being passed around. She heard crying children and crackling fires that were heating up rations. All of these sounds came together inside her, stirring her heart.

We’re still trying to live... Despite everything, we’re still trying to live... I won’t give up. One way or another, I will find a way to fix all of this. I will be the next Hero of Spirits!

Reaffirming her ambitions, Sitri clenched her fists and looked up. She was about to turn back toward the injured, but the cooing of a bird stopped her. A round and fluffy dove quickly settled on her left shoulder before she had the chance to do anything else.

“Wah! Chino, you startled me! Wait... Oh no, did something happen again?”

Sitri hurriedly retrieved the message tied around Chino’s neck. She almost fumbled the canister in her haste. She popped it open and unfurled the parchment. Her blood turned to ice when she saw what was on it; “PAPUCHIYA MONSTER RAID” in messy, scrawled handwriting.

“Oh no, oh no... Dr. Calip, I’m sorry, but I have to go! Thank you, Chino!” Sitri said, feeding her dove as fast as she could.

“Sitri? Be careful, you hear!” Dr. Calip called after her.

She was already rushing toward the train station as Chino fluttered into the sky above her. Her mind was racing with dark thoughts. Papuchiya had already suffered a monster raid just weeks before Mayscore did. Another one this soon was unusual. She had a bad feeling in her gut.

Then she remembered who she met in Papuchiya just earlier that morning.

Those pirates... They better not do anything bad!

a a a

“What the hell is going on?! Why are there so many monsters?” Tetra yelled.

The rowdy pirates were still hanging around Papuchiya Village even after Sitri had left. Hours passed by, and the townspeople were gradually beginning to speak to them. They were able to learn that the land they’d found themselves in was called Hyleigh, and that trains were a common sight to see. However, they didn’t get any farther than that before a horde of monsters suddenly appeared atop the overlooking hill.

“Sheesh, that’s a lot of miniblins... I guess they’ve got those here, too, huh?” Gonzo said.

“Yeah, but those big ones don’t look much like moblins to me. What are those?” Nudge wondered.

“Uh, hello? We shouldn’t be curious about the bloodthirsty beasts charging down the hill at us, we should be running! No treasure in the world is worth dying for!” Linebeck pushed.

“For once, I agree with him. That’s way too many monsters for us to handle. Let’s get back to the ship, and fast.” Tetra commanded.

Her pirates fell in quick under her orders. Even as the townspeople were running around, grabbing children and valuables and anything else they could carry into their arms, the crew kept calm and swiftly began to move. All except one.

Link stood stock still, his eyes flicking between the monsters and the innocent villagers. Tetra was the first to notice he hadn’t regrouped with them, and she immediately knew why.

“Ugh, Link... No way. I know you heard us talking. We’re leaving.” Tetra barked at him.

He didn’t answer her. Once again, he kept his back to her, refusing to look in her direction. That was twice in one day he’d snubbed her orders. Tetra became furious.

“Damn it, this is not up for discussion! Now is not the time to be a hero!” she yelled.

“Then when is?”

He only said three words, but Tetra heard a lot more beneath them. Was he only supposed to be a hero when she needed him to be? When she told him to be? Could she really make him, who had crossed oceans twice over helping people, be a bystander when there were people in need? What’s more, could she be a bystander at a time like this?

The way it cut into her like a dagger gave her the answer. Of course this left a bad taste in her mouth. She might be a pirate, and she might enjoy pillaging poor saps like these folks, but she was never a murderer. As much as she tried to tell herself otherwise, she did care what happened to the people here. She didn’t want to see them slaughtered.

“Man... You are such a bad influence on me, you know. It’s your fault I ended up just as mushy inside as you.” Tetra grumbled, standing at his side.

“Heheh. That’s supposed to be a good thing.” Link laughed.

“Fine, I guess we’re doing this... Hey, change of plans, boys! We’re gonna stop these jokers in their tracks!” Tetra ordered.

“What?! Captain, you can’t be serious! How are we supposed to fight off that many?” Gonzo protested.

“Well, if we use the houses and the walkways in the village to our advantage... We can work something out.” Mako said, pushing up his glasses.

“Good thinking, Specs.” Tetra said. “Alright, then. Linebeck, Niko, you two are the most useless in a fight, so go lead the landlubbers to the far side of town! Link, you and I will take on those big lugs. Everyone else, mop up the small fry like you’re being paid for it!”

“Aye, aye!”

Their initial hesitation dissolved under the ferocity of her commands. Her voice did not waver a bit, so neither did her men. That was how Tetra’s Pirates fought. And with Link, a seasoned hero and adventurer on their side, there was nothing to fear. Tetra truly felt that. Even if she was angry with him, she could always trust him.

Jeez, it really is all his fault... He’s definitely making this up to me later.

The townsfolk were surprised and confused to see that the pirates were going to protect them, but they followed Niko and Linebeck’s directions and hurried off toward the wheat fields. Meanwhile, the group of Gonzo, Nudge, Senza, Zuko, and Mako took up position on the walkways connecting the web of little islands together.

Standing bravely as the horde of monsters rushed down the hill, Link drew his sword and shield, and marched over to the train station. There wasn’t a hint of fear or hesitation in the boy. Tetra found herself encouraged by the sight of his back and his silhouette, facing down insurmountable odds. Briefly, she recalled the battle they shared atop a tower under the Great Sea, and grinned.

“You ready, Link? If we’re doing this, we’re doing it right.” she said.

Link nodded, and he brandished his sword as Tetra drew her cutlass. The monsters were almost on top of them. It was hard to get a read on their numbers, but the captain was sure she counted at least forty miniblins. Leading their charge were four large brutes that heavily resembled the moblins from the Great Sea, but these pigish fiends were more top-heavy and stocky. They looked as though they’d trip over their own body weight as they dashed down the hill.

It was implicitly agreed between Link and Tetra that they’d use teamwork to chip away at the four big ones. The miniblins would be left to the rest of the crew. Those little trident-wielding imps with large floppy ears and curly horns weren’t normally much of a threat, but in such large numbers, they were sure to do some major damage if left unchecked. If the whole lot of them swarmed the village, it would be unlikely for the townsfolk to survive.

The miniblins seemed uncharacteristically out for blood. They were chittering and guffawing with each other, which wasn’t unusual, but these ones were frothing at the mouth. In fact, they barreled right past Link and Tetra and headed immediately for the town, like they couldn’t contain the urge to break things any longer. Tetra couldn’t help but wonder what got them so wound up.

The big lugs, on the other hand, had no problem slowing down to meet the pair in battle. Each of them wielded a large, spiked club, and they looked eager to put them to use. Something about their eyes unnerved Tetra. Their pupils almost seemed to be spinning in their sockets.

Nevertheless, the two geared up for a fight. They had to push them back, or they’d be just as dead as the villagers.

a a a

“Phew... We should be safe here, everyone!” Niko called out weakly. “Man, I am not suited for this... Why did the Captain have to give me a job like this?”

“Worry not, Niko. My manly charisma and charms will help us appeal to the crowd.” Linebeck assured him.

Niko didn’t look convinced. The townspeople were all in a state of panic. That was natural, though. They could already hear the sounds of monster feet hammering the ground from this far out. It was hard to tell how the crew was faring against such a swarm.

“Oh Spirits, why must this happen to us again?” one of the villagers said.

“Please, Spirits, save us...” another prayed.

“Spirits, huh? Wonder what that’s about...” Niko thought. “And he said ‘again’... I guess that explains why the town was such a wreck.”

“Mmm. Perhaps you’re right. You must have a decent brain in that noggin somewhere, Niko, so think! What should we do if those brutes manage to slip past our compatriots and head our way?” Linebeck asked.

“I-It won’t come to that! They’ll be fine! Even if something happens, we can get the villagers onto the ship and push off... They won’t be able to reach us on the water... I hope...” he said.

“Ah! Astoundingly good idea, lad. They really oughta promote you up a few ranks.”

“Your flattery is as empty as your coffers, you old coot!” Niko huffed. “Still, we’ll be fine... I mean, Link is out there, after all...”

a a a

Papuchiya Village, being made up of criss-crossing walkways connecting a cluster of small islands, wasn’t the most accessible place. Unless they were prepared to swim (which was impossible, as every land-based monster sank like a rock), the miniblins would only have three walkways to choose from. Mako had directed Gonzo, Nudge, and Senza to stand on the far side of each of them. If the miniblins wanted to enter the village, they would have to go through them.

Drawing their cutlasses, the three burly pirates became unto walls blocking the way into town. Meanwhile, Mako and Zuko climbed up on top of nearby houses, readying slingshots constructed by Mako himself. The two of them were smaller than the other three, and not as strong or skilled with a blade, so ranged support was their best way to contribute.

“Sheesh, you’ve outdone yourself with this plan, Mako!” Gonzo said, rolling his shoulders.

“You said it. None of them are gonna get by us.” Senza agreed.

“Get ready. They’re coming in fast.” Zuko warned.

Just as he said, the pirates watched the horde of miniblins charge right past Link and Tetra, as if they couldn’t even see them. Jaws hanging open, strings of drool trickling out, the pack looked weirdly unstable. But Gonzo had no time to think on it. They had reached the walkways.

Right away, Mako and Zuko started slinging rocks at the miniblins from on high. The ones that were clonked on the head tipped over and fell into the sea, drowning almost instantly. Not a single air bubble surfaced where they fell. The others, either the ones they missed or the ones that didn’t get a clean hit, kept barreling forward in a single file line. And they marched right into Gonzo’s cutlass.

One by one, Gonzo cut them down. Swinging his sword expertly and quickly, the little weevils barely had the chance to strike back. They may have been wielding tridents and pitchforks, but Gonzo was more than twice their size, and that gave him the advantage in range. And because the planks were so skinny, the miniblins had no choice but to go one at a time. It was as if they were lined up for slaughter.

Senza and Nudge’s paths were much the same. The sea was beginning to turn red with all the monster blood that was being spilled into it. If no one made any mistakes, even a force of forty monsters could be whittled down in time. The miniblins, too, didn’t seem to be in the right enough mind to rethink their strategy or back down.

Man, do these things even care if they die? Why are they so jumped up...

Gonzo couldn’t keep that thought out of his head as he hacked away. The crazed state of the monsters was extremely eerie, and left him with a bad premonition on the edge of his mind.

a a a

The first two brutes lunged right for Link and Tetra. The pair exchanged a glance, and in the same moment, they dodged in opposite directions from out beneath their clubs. The brutes' attacks smashed to the ground, missing their targets and creating clouds of dust.

Moving in tandem, the pair circled around behind the brutes. They jumped up and slashed into their backs. Concerningly, they didn't react much to the pain. Right then, the other two brutes appeared behind Link and Tetra, swinging their clubs violently.

The two jumped apart again, and the brutes' strikes slammed into the backs of their own allies as they traveled through their arc into the ground. They staggered forward, but didn't utter much of a sound. They seemed to have a high tolerance for pain, even as they bled. A new strategy was in order.

All Link and Tetra had to do to communicate was meet each other's eyes. In that split second, they formed a new idea. Using his shield arm, Link unraveled his grappling hook and tossed one end to Tetra. She hooked it around the hilt of her sword, and they laid it out over the brutes' clubs, which were still stuck in the ground from their attack. With a quick sprint, the two traded places, sliding under their foes' arms, and they pulled on the rope with all their might.

The brutes' arms were entangled by Link's grappling hook. When they tried to rise up, they got stuck and tumbled forward. Their heads were in striking range now. Link and Tetra didn't miss their chance. They both jumped forward and lodged their swords into the sides of their heads.

Their spinning eyes glazed over and lost their light. Their mouths drooped open, blood spilling from their lips. They didn't so much as grunt. It seemed to Tetra like they were entranced by something, so deeply that they didn't feel anything, not even the moment of their own deaths. This was worrying, but the two remaining brutes were turning around now. There was no time to consider it.

The pair didn't have a chance to untangle the grappling hook, so they dropped it at their feet and leapt out of the way of their clubs. They were swinging wildly now, forcing Tetra to back off. However, Link had a shield, and he put it to use.

The shield was a beautiful blue with a silver, mirrored plating. The mirror looked fragile, but when Link parried the monster's strike with it, it shone vividly for a second instead of shattering. The club went flying right out of the brute's hand. Now wide open, Tetra moved in to strike its legs. Even if it didn’t hurt, the damage was still done. When it fell to its knees, Link finished it off with a stab to the head.

The final enemy continued lumbering after the duo, not seeming to notice or mind that it was the last one remaining. Deliriously, it kept slamming its club down, trying to turn them into lumps of bloody pulp on the ground. Using the same tactic as before, Tetra jumped behind it while Link disarmed it with a shield parry. It was just as dead as its friends before it could blink.

As its blood slowly spilled out from its wounds, Link and Tetra stood still and caught their breath. Quietly examining their work, Tetra felt a small pang of relief. She’d expected the fight to be more difficult than it was. If these monsters had been in their right minds, it certainly would have been.

Quickly turning to look at her crew’s progress, Tetra was pleased to see that most of the miniblins had already been exterminated. There were still stragglers, all marching to their deaths the same way those before them had done. It really struck her as odd how none of them seemed to want to retreat, even in such an unwinnable situation.

“Man, what the hell... These monsters ain’t right...” she said under her breath.

Without a word, Link sheathed his sword and shield and worked to unravel his tangled grappling hook. Tetra kept her weapon drawn for the time being; she didn’t feel secure yet. She kept scanning the horizon, expecting more monsters to show up, or maybe something even worse that she hadn’t thought of yet. Something about this was wrong.

I dunno, I get the feeling we just stepped in something we shouldn’t have...

She looked back at Link, and he seemed content that they were able to protect the townspeople. Sure enough, she couldn’t help but feel the same way. However, she was still a pirate. She had a reputation to maintain. Perhaps she’d ask the villagers for a sizable reward... Though, judging by the state of the town, they probably didn’t have anything she’d be satisfied with.

A shrill train whistle snapped her out of her mind. She and Link cocked their heads to the west and watched a train barrel down the tracks at top speed. It zoomed down the hill so fast it made even Tetra nervous. It slowed down once it reached the station, but only enough for a passenger to jump out safely as the train kept going past the platform entirely.

This passenger tucked their legs into an expert roll and leapt to their feet. Tetra recognized them immediately. It was Sitri Beldine, the young girl who’d threatened them a few hours earlier. She felt a sensation like heartburn as she instinctively furrowed her brow.

“Ugh, her again... What is she doing back here?” Tetra grumbled.

Link quickly ran to her side, looking ready to play peacemaker again. But before he got the chance, Sitri marched right on over to the two of them. She looked at them, and then at the dead monsters, and then at the other pirates who were climbing about the village. She was absolutely furious.

“I can’t believe you guys...” Sitri said. “You would seriously pillage a town in the middle of a monster raid?”

“What?! What the hell are you talking about? We’re not pillaging anything!” Tetra said, offended.

Link rapidly nodded, trying to convince the girl that she had the wrong idea. But Sitri shook her head right back.

“No way! I won’t be tricked again! This time... This time, I’m going to run you out of here!”

Saying this, Sitri drew her sword. There seemed to be a momentary hesitation in her movements, but she steeled herself nonetheless. Link gulped, but he didn’t reach for his weapon. Tetra could tell that even he knew there was no talking their way out of this one. For a fleeting moment, she thought that perhaps this was inevitable...
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
It's already time for Chapter 5! I was feeling pretty inspired so I was able to get it done quick. It's shorter than the others so far, but that's fine. I hope you enjoy! I had a lot of fun writing it.





Chapter Five
Duel of Heroes​


At the center of Hyleigh stood the Tower of Spirits, the source of the Spirit Tracks on which the trains ran. In its shadow was the capital city, named after the country itself. This was where the Hyleigh Council lived and convened, and together they tried to solve problems that affected the whole land. This was the current basis for Hyleigh’s establishment.

The Council building was large with a domed roof, resting in the heart of the city. Inside, one member from each of Hyleigh's races sat at a round table, debating with each other over relief aid for towns in peril and other such matters. One member, however, had stepped outside the meeting room to address an important messenger.

"So, Lady Mikhaeyla is already here... Her lack of restraint in this case speaks volumes." said Rasta, the demon member of the Council.

"Truly. Her resolve to stop the Laughing Reaper is inspiring." Byrne agreed.

"I don't think it's just that." Rasta said. "She has a human niece she looks out for. She's probably more concerned about that than of the rules at the moment..."

"Ah, she did mention something to that effect." Byrne said.

"As I suspected. Lady Mikhaeyla is well aware of her position as a Demon King, and of the fact that it was another Demon King that started the Great War. She has been very careful about interfering with Hyleigh’s affairs, lest her actions be misinterpreted. For her to personally come out here regardless... She would move mountains for young Sitri. Not that I don't understand where she's coming from..." Rasta said quietly.

"I do think that Zoie presents a very great danger. He's attacked the Gorons before, hasn't he?"

"Yes, as well as Hyleigh City itself, looking for a fight with the Council members. Who knows where he’d strike next..."

"Well, we will have to leave that to Lady Mikhaeyla. In the meantime, I will search for Lady Kuudo before she does something rash." Byrne said.

"Yes, please do. I'll inform the Council of Her Majesty's actions. I can already imagine their reaction..." Rasta said wryly. "I only hope that she isn’t too late..."

a a a

Sitri stood brandishing her sword at Tetra and Link. She was enraged by the sight laid out in front of her. Big blin corpses on the ground proved the letter asking for help was real, but these pirates had the audacity to pillage the town after the fact. Why else would they be stalking around the village and its houses with their weapons drawn? She couldn't see any townsfolk, and she saw a lot of blood on the ground. She connected the dots very quickly.

"Hold on! We just defended the place! Don't you see the dead monsters everywhere?" Tetra said.

"I've had enough of your lies! I'm sure you defended yourselves, all right, but I'm seeing what you're doing with my own eyes!" Sitri challenged.

"You're not seeing the whole story!" she snapped back.

Link was desperately nodding his head to agree with Tetra. He looked awfully distressed, and Sitri recalled how he seemed innocent and trustworthy before. But, he was still one of the pirates. She couldn't believe that he was honest anymore. Not after seeing what she saw.

I can't trust pirates... A real hero would seek justice... If I'm going to be the next Hero of Spirits, I can't back down!

"You might be strong enough to defeat big blins, but you won't defeat me!" Sitri proclaimed.

Not waiting for any further rebukes, she rushed forward. Tetra jumped back, and Link stepped in with his shield raised. He still hadn’t drawn his sword. Perhaps he was trying to show that he was serious, but Sitri wasn’t falling for it. She would not be swayed, and withheld her strike so she could dart around him.

Spinning on his heel, Link parried her next attack. Strangely, his shield glowed white for a split second, and Sitri’s arm was repelled by a fierce burst of force. She managed to hold onto her sword, but she staggered backward from the recoil. Tetra moved in to strike her this time. She had to roll out of the way.

Grinding her teeth, Sitri quickly changed her stance. She kept her limbs close to her body and her sword at the ready. Staying low, she advanced on Tetra next. When the pirate captain swung her cutlass, Sitri dipped below it, swatting at it with her sword. She was able to knock it off-balance, and while Tetra fumbled with it, Sitri hopped in with a strong kick to her gut.

“Ugh! Damn you, back off!” Tetra rasped as she tumbled over.

Link gasped, and quickly ran to defend his captain. Another shield parry forced Sitri to step back before she could attack the downed Tetra. She watched the boy’s eyes and mouth quiver, like he was making a difficult decision. After a few short moments of hesitation, he drew his sword at last.

“I’m sorry... But I have to protect her.” he said softly.

“You... Don’t you say that as if I’m the bad guy here, you pirate!” Sitri said, feeling something gnaw at her inside.

“You are, you idiot!” Tetra yelled angrily as she got back to her feet.

Sitri bit her lip. I’m not! I’m not, I’m not, I’m not! Shut up! Her frantic and repetitive thoughts kept her distracted from that awful feeling in her gut. She was doing the right thing. She was on the side of justice. She had to be.

Once more, Sitri lunged forward. Her blade crashed against Link’s, and they stayed locked together for a few moments. She tried to ignore the pleading look in his eyes and shoved him back. Quick on her feet, Sitri danced around, swinging her sword at Link’s blade instead of his body. Trying to get a feel for how he was holding it, she thought she could suss out a way to disarm him.

Link raised his shield again. Expecting another parry, Sitri quickly turned the blade to its flat side. When he bashed his shield, the recoil was more controlled than before. She kept a tight grip on her sword and leapt backward with the momentum. Landing on her heel, she sprang right back forward and ran towards Link again. He kept his shield up, but that was what she wanted. Instead of using her sword, she faked him out and switched to another kick at the last minute.

He was surprised enough that he didn’t get the chance to parry. She kicked his shield hard, and he stumbled backwards and almost dropped it. But when she lunged forward to strike him in that opening, he leapt backwards into a full backflip. With impressive acrobatics, he landed firmly on his feet with his shield back at the ready. And now Tetra was gunning for her again.

This time, Tetra was on full guard. Keeping her cutlass raised in a blocking position, she zigzagged toward Sitri. When she was close, she flicked her arm forward in a fast motion. Sitri almost couldn’t see it coming. Their blades caught each other just before any injury occurred. And as they were about to lock together, Sitri switched her sword hand.

She did it so fast that Tetra did a double take. With this maneuver, Sitri had a new angle to apply pressure from, and it tripped up her opponent. Tetra, growling in frustration, had no choice but to drop her cutlass and jump back before she was run through. Finally, she had disarmed one of her opponents. Her ambidexterity was a useful surprise tactic. However, she couldn’t take advantage of this success. Not with the other foe still standing in her way.

Sitri faced off with Link once again. She was now wielding her sword left-handed, the same as he was. This changed the angle of her strikes, and it threw him off a bit, but not enough. Over and over again, their swords crashed together and split apart. Neither of them had the strength required to knock their opponents’ weapons up with brute force. This was a battle of pure swordplay.

When Sitri swung at Link from a left-to-right angle, he ducked under it and rolled around behind her with incredible agility. She spun around to counter him with equal speed, and they were back to exchanging blows again. This time, Link tried sneaking a parry in to throw her off. But Sitri noticed the movement of his shield arm, and quickly flicked her sword back into her right hand. Link’s shield missed its mark, but he was able to leap back in time to avoid the blade.

It was a true stalemate. Sitri’s adaptability and quick thinking were at perfect, even odds with Link’s reflexes and precision. Neither of them could gain any ground. For a moment, they could each sense a small measure of respect forming between them. Perhaps, even, a small understanding.

The two swordsmen jumped apart. Still standing on guard, they took a short, mutual break to catch their breath. Their eyes met once again, and something inside Sitri was starting to bubble to the surface. Something she still desperately wanted to pretend she didn’t notice.

“Oh, no... Hey you two, cut it out! We’ve got bigger problems now!”

Tetra’s sharp voice made both of them flinch. They looked where she directed, and Sitri’s heart jumped into her throat. Cresting over the western hilltop was a new wave of monsters. A veritable horde of miniblins and a handful of big blins charged down the hill with no delay.

“More?!” Link said in shock.

“Damn it, we just finished killing the last of them, too... Where the hell are these things crawling out from?” Tetra complained.

“No... Why now?” Sitri cried.

She looked back and forth between the horde and the pirates. Her head was spinning. How was she supposed to tackle both threats to Papuchiya? What would Alphonse do? What would a hero do? She kept asking herself those questions, but she couldn’t come up with an answer.

“Hey!” Link said to her.

“H-huh?” Sitri said, startled.

Link gestured to the monsters, a courageous look on his face. Then he nodded at her, like he was asking for help. Sitri stared blankly for a few moments. She wasn’t sure what was right, but the more she met his eyes, the more she started settling on a decision.

“Together?” he asked.

“Fine... Together. But just this once.” Sitri said.

The cheery boy grinned widely and nodded his head in approval. She saw that same innocence in him she’d seen earlier that day, and the pit in her gut only dug into her more. She didn’t want to think about what it meant if they were telling the truth about not pillaging. What that meant for her.

“Great. You two figure this out, while I go figure out why the hell my boys haven’t noticed we were being attacked by this self-righteous lunatic.” Tetra said, running off toward the village.

Sitri’s cheeks burned from that comment, but she would have to let it go for now. She understood that the monsters were more of a danger than the pirates at the moment. Link wanted to help fight them off, and she couldn’t find it in herself to complain about it. The two unlikely allies stood tall and faced down the approaching horde.

And just as they reached the village, their front line erupted into a storm of pink flames.

“Whoa?! What just happened?” Sitri yelped, bracing herself from the burst of wind that came with it.

She peered over the arm she blocked her face with, and Link peeked over his shield. The ground was scorched, but the air felt cold instead of hot. The monsters had been sent flying in several directions; the ones that were still alive, at least. Most of them had been turned to ash in an instant. The answer to how it happened was standing at the epicenter, laughing his head off.

Her body shivered from the sight of him. Dark purple hair, a tailed black leather coat, a massive axe shaped like the sun, and pink-colored magic... This man was unmistakably a demon, and one she’d heard her aunt talk about before. In fact, she’d heard stories of him many times in her travels around Hyleigh.

No... Why? Why him? Why here? Why now?! What is going on today...?

Link seemed stunned by that display of magic. He looked slack-jawed, like he’d never seen a demon before. Still, he stood his ground and kept his shield up. Sitri gulped nervously, knowing that this man was likely only here for one thing. He proved her fears true as he spoke with a big, fanged grin.

“Hahahahaha! Well, what have we got here?” he cackled. “A big ol’ fight, huh? Any room for me to join in on the fun?”
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Let's get to the next chapter! We're already in the second half of the First Movement... I feel like I've hit my stride. I'm excited to keep going! I hope you enjoy the action!





Chapter Six
The Reaper Comes Calling​


Link was no stranger to magic. From his humble beginnings in the Great Sea to his voyages through the Realm of the Ocean King, he'd seen his fair share of parlor tricks and more. Yet there were few times he'd encountered such a spine-chilling display of raw power like the one emanating from this laughing man in black. He felt as though he were once again in the presence of a certain dark lord from his past.

He glanced over at Sitri, who seemed to recognize the man. She was highly on edge, holding her sword at the ready with trembling hands. He gleaned from this that the laughing man was not their ally. He may have wiped out the monsters, but he was not here to help them.

“You... You’re the Laughing Reaper, aren’t you?” Sitri said anxiously.

“Hah! So even a random human whelp knows of me! Excellent!” he said, sounding highly pleased.

“What are you doing here? You’re not going to... to find any worthy opponents here!” she said, stumbling over her words a bit.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so sure of that! After all, you two look promising!” he sneered.

Sitri gulped and gripped her sword tighter. Link was starting to put the pieces together. This man came here looking for a fight. Nothing he could say to him would change that. Realizing this, he brandished his sword and held his shield at the ready. There was still a town to protect, and he didn’t want this man going there to find some other opponent.

His instincts were spot on. The Reaper grinned, noticing that Link was getting ready to fight. With a gleeful screech, he bolted forward, swinging his axe right at him. His shield was poised, but he could sense that something about that axe was bad news. So instead of parrying, he leapt aside. His caution was rewarded when he watched the ground burst into flames where the axe landed.

The Reaper laughed, his eyes tracking where Link moved. He reached down and grabbed his axe with both hands now, and dug out part of the ground as he swung it after his target. A spew of pink fire raged forth and the ground shook. Link was fast on his feet and sprinted around to safety. He slid to a stop and raised his shield again, keeping a careful watch on what the Reaper was doing.

Meanwhile, Sitri stood rooted to her spot as she watched the two duke it out. Her eyes traveled from Link and the Reaper and back again, several times. Her lips quivered and her arms shivered, like she was stressing over something enormous. What she was conflicted over, Link couldn’t guess.

Charging forward like a mad dog, the Reaper swung his axe with blinding speed. Even with one arm, the massive weapon moved through the air like it was weightless. Link caught sight of pink sparks along his arms and legs as he moved, and realized he must be using magic to enhance himself. All Link could do was duck and weave beneath those heavy blows. Desperately, he searched for an opening.

One presented itself soon. Link stayed close within the Reaper’s range on full alert. When the Reaper swung his axe wider than usual, he saw his chance. Link kicked down on the ground and zipped forward, swinging his sword at full tilt. The Reaper barely had time to evade, but the blade narrowly missed his side. Link clicked his tongue and spun around to face him again. However, the Reaper was just a bit faster.

The second Link turned, the golden axe was inches from his chest. His reflexes took control faster than he could think it through and he managed to get his shield in between the blade and his body. But, at that speed, he didn’t have time to parry the strike. The axe slammed into his shield dead on, and Link was lifted off his feet.

Link expected to be burned, but instead the magic fire was frigidly cold. Even as it scorched the ground where he stood, he felt his limbs stiffen up and his energy was sapped away. He tumbled through the air backwards and hit the ground on his side. For a moment, he couldn’t move his body. He was the one wide open now.

“Hahaha! That was fun, but if that’s all you got, this ends here!”

The Reaper pounced on him without hesitation. Link forced his shield arm up in a last measure to defend himself, gritting his teeth for a hit that was surely going to hurt, or worse. Just then, Sitri moved.

Finally seeming to find her courage, she ducked under the Reaper as he swung his axe down. She aimed her sword for its hilt and struck it with all her might. She was able to knock him off balance and halt his attack. As soon as she did, she rushed over and pulled Link back to his feet.

“Aha! I knew there was a fire in you somewhere! Very good!” the Reaper said.

“Thanks!” Link said, the feeling finally coming back to his limbs.

“Yeah, I, um... I’m sorry I didn’t act sooner.” Sitri said. “For a minute, I thought... I thought I’d let him take you out, so there’d be one less threat to deal with... But I realized that’s not what I... That’s not what a hero should do.”

Link nodded his head and gave her a big grin. He didn’t mind what her reasons were. He was just glad she’d come around. Together, they turned toward the Reaper and brandished their swords. They’d seen firsthand how powerful he was, but he was only here to fight. If they could somehow satisfy that urge, maybe they could get him to leave. That was Link’s thinking, and Sitri seemed to agree.

“Hahahahah, yes! I love that look in your eyes! Let that fire out some more! Come at me, both of you at once!” he howled with joy.

The Reaper kicked off the ground and barreled toward them at blinding speed. He was aiming for Sitri now. She rushed forward and dipped around him as he smashed his axe to the ground. An eruption of pink flames trailed off in the direction she’d just been standing in. Link followed her lead and ducked around to the other side. They were behind him now.

Their eyes met for a brief second. Link felt an understanding between the two of them for how they should proceed. Sitri had figured it out while watching him fight, and Link figured it out from watching her intervene. The Reaper’s weapon had a weak point.

The axe head itself was dangerous; the slightest touch would cause a burst of magic fire. However, when Sitri attacked the hilt, no such explosion occurred. That made sense, since the Reaper wouldn’t be able to hold his weapon otherwise. However he was enchanting it, it wasn’t perfect. This was their path to victory.

Fast as ever, the Reaper spun around and swung his axe in a wide horizontal slice, trying to cut both of them down in one move. They both jumped back to avoid the blade, and then quickly got into a pincer formation. Sitri attacked from the right while Link attacked from the left. The Reaper would be forced to dodge, and then he’d be open again.

However, he instead chose to counter them both at once. He swung his axe at Sitri, who managed to catch its hilt with her blade. At the same time, he swung his arm at Link’s sword. When they connected, Link could feel his blade dig into his flesh. But, it didn’t cut all the way through. It stopped short of his bone, and pink sparks began flying from the wound.

Link jumped back just in time to dodge a small burst of magic, much smaller in scale than the ones coming from his axe but still virulent. Meanwhile, Sitri switched her sword hand again and grinded her sword along the axe’s hilt, trying to disarm him. Just as she got close to his fingers, the Reaper shoved into her with a fierce shoulder bash, and she staggered backward.

Even though his arm was injured, he didn’t seem to mind. He just kept laughing away, as though he was having the time of his life. Sitri was accosted with a flurry of axe strikes, and it took all her effort to dodge. She had no room to attempt a counter. Link moved back in to assist her.

As he rushed him from behind, the Reaper grabbed his axe with both hands again and let loose with an intense spin attack. Those freezing flames billowed out with the arc of his spin, washing over the unprepared Link and Sitri. They both stumbled backwards to the ground, feeling their strength fading from the cold.

“Hah! Didn’t think you’d be seeing fire if my axe didn’t hit you, huh? Naïve!” he boasted.

Link grumbled in frustration. If the Reaper could produce magic flames from his arm, there was no reason to think he couldn’t do it just by swinging the axe, either. They got caught up in trying not to touch the axe’s head. The Reaper was more clever than he let on. And now, both of them were downed by that sapping cold.

The Reaper raised his axe up high, looking at Link and Sitri like he was selecting goods from a merchant’s shelf. He bobbed his head back and forth, trying to decide which of them he should end first. As they both struggled to get back to their feet, he grinned widely and settled on Sitri.

“Sorry, but he’s more fun than you right now. Goodbye.” he said casually.

Sitri’s eyes grew wide in terror as she fought like mad to get out of the way. Link desperately tried to move to intercept or at least interrupt the incoming strike. But neither of them had enough strength back yet. Just as they thought this was it, a handful of rocks came hailing down on the Reaper's head.

“Gah! What the hell?!” he yelped, startled by the sudden attack.

He turned toward the village, where the rocks had come hurtling from. To Sitri’s utter disbelief and Link’s great relief, Tetra was there, standing tall with her crew of rowdy pirates. Link’s allies had finally come for them.

“Tetra! You guys!” Link cried out.

“Sorry we’re late, yeah? Some of them miniblins got past us and slipped into the village.” Gonzo said.

“And we couldn’t exactly leave that alone. The Captain would have our heads if we failed.” Nudge agreed.

“Damn right I would. Speaking of failing, looks like things got way out of control while I was gone.” Tetra said, rolling her shoulders and pointing her cutlass at the Reaper. “I’m gonna have you answer for hurting my crewmate, you pink laughing freak!”

The Reaper cackled with delight. “Hahahahaha! More of you, is it? Can’t say I like dealing with small fry, but if you want a fight, who am I to turn you away?”

“We’ll show you who the small fry is, jerk!” Niko squeaked from his safe position behind Senza.

All of Tetra’s Pirates-- Gonzo, Nudge, Senza, Mako, Zuko, Niko, and the captain herself-- spread out in a line and charged toward the Reaper. Full of glee to have so many new opponents, he met their charge head-on. By this point, Link and Sitri were both able to move again.

Sitri chased after the Reaper, but Link decided it was time to try a new tactic. He sheathed his sword and shield and drew the bow he’d been keeping on his back. He reached into his quiver and nocked an arrow, pacing around to regroup with his fellow pirates.

“Don’t let that axe hit your swords! He uses magic!” Sitri called out to warn the pirates.

“You heard her, boys!” Tetra confirmed.

Tetra, Gonzo, Nudge, and Senza all jumped out of the way as the Reaper came in swinging. The four of them surrounded him, taking turns swiping at him with their cutlasses. At the same time, Mako, Zuko, and Niko joined up with Link and aimed their slingshots to interrupt the Reaper’s actions.

Whenever the Reaper tried to retaliate against the first four, he was met with rocks or arrows from the other four. It was efficient teamwork that kept him in check. He was being wounded left and right, albeit shallowly. If he had been a normal opponent or a monster, this may have been enough.

Once more, the Reaper raised his axe high over his head, laughing the whole while. The pirates thought this was their chance, but Sitri and Link knew better.

“No! Get back, now!” Sitri yelled.

Tetra was the only one to react immediately. As she turned on her heel and dove away, the Reaper smashed his axe down at his feet, creating a wave of pink fire bursting out around him. Gonzo, Senza, and Nudge were knocked on their backs, stiffening up from the cold.

Link fired an arrow, hoping to stop him from doing anything else. But even as it cut through his shoulder, the Reaper continued laughing. Grabbing the hilt with both hands, he once again dug out the ground with a wild swing. A spray of debris and magic showered toward the pirates who were fighting at a range. Link was able to evade, but Mako, Zuko, and Niko were hit dead-on.

In just two moves, the Reaper had incapacitated almost the entire crew. Each of them lay sprawled out on the ground, rigid and moaning in pain. Link was horrified. None of them stood a chance. It quickly sunk in that this enemy was one of the crew’s most powerful foes yet. It was looking less and less like they were going to come out of this safely.

“Damn you... You’re gonna pay!” Tetra rasped.

Still on her feet, she recklessly charged at the Reaper. Sitri was right on top of him already, but the two of them were still outmatched. As Tetra swung her sword at him from the front, and Sitri from behind, the Reaper threw his axe into the air above his head. Using his hands, he grabbed both Tetra and Sitri’s arms and yanked them forward, shifting his body to avoid their blades.

The two were pulled in opposite directions. In this motion, he tossed Sitri forward, and she hit the ground hard. At the same time, he kicked Tetra in the gut, without releasing his grip on her. She choked up spit and sank to her knees at his feet. At this moment, the axe fell back down, and the Reaper gracefully caught it with one arm over his head.

“Hah! Small fry like you aren’t any fun, after all. Get lost!” he said, preparing to cleave her in twain.

“No!” Link shouted.

His entire body screamed at him to defend Tetra, even at the cost of his life. He jumped in between them, his shield raised high. Taking a risk, he tried to parry the Reaper’s axe. This time, when the blade met his shield, a bright flash of white light filled their eyes. Link shoved with all his might, yelling out hoarsely. His grit paid off with a successful parry.

Not only was he able to repel the axe itself, he miraculously sent the burst of flames right back into the Reaper’s face. He gasped in surprise and staggered backwards, almost tumbling to his feet. However, this success came at a cost. The recoil had forced the shield clear off Link’s arm, nearly twisting his arm off as it went flying to the ground.

“Link, no...!” Tetra breathed, collapsing to the ground.

“Hahahah! Damn, that was unexpected! That’s a hell of a shield you got there, kid!” the Reaper said, still enjoying himself immensely. “No one’s ever done that before! You’ve got some real potential! It’s almost a shame to finish you off now... Almost.”

Link clenched his jaw and held his sword up in a guarding position. He refused to budge and leave Tetra undefended. Everyone else still lay on the ground, unable to move yet. The Reaper, despite being hit with his own magic, was relatively unfazed. He marched back toward the unflinching Link, twirling his axe in his hand.

“Heh... Not gonna run? I like it. You’re different from these losers on the ground. What do you say? If you back down, I’ll let you and only you escape. Maybe you can grow from this into an even better opponent! Hm?” he said.

Link didn’t hesitate to shake his head no. He continued standing on guard, blocking the way to Tetra. The captain raised her arm weakly, grabbing his trousers. She urged him to run, but he stood adamantly in place. Sitri, at least, was beginning to stand again. Seeing this, the Reaper shrugged his shoulders.

“Well, can’t say I didn’t try. Nice knowing ya, kid.”

He raised his axe once more. Link refused to buckle. Instead, he gripped his sword tighter, eyes locked on his weapon. He could still hear Tetra’s voice pleading for him to run, and he could hear the groans of his pirate friends calling out his name, too. Even Sitri’s voice reached his ears. He found this comforting. And yet, he did not think this was the end. He was not giving up. Not yet.

The axe fell. Link was ready. His eyes were tracking its path, and he was sure he could hit the hilt and swat it away. Before he could move, however, the Reaper froze in his tracks. He stood still, eyes wide, like he’d sensed something incredible and new.

Before Link could make sense of this, a bright burst of red erupted from beneath the Reaper's feet. He howled in pain and was knocked back several feet. In between his surprised blinks, a new person appeared before Link’s eyes, standing where the Reaper once stood.

This person was encircled by a vibrant red aura. This light was very similar to the Reaper’s magic, but it felt much warmer and kinder. The person in question was a woman with long, richly pink hair almost down to her waist. Peeking out between those silky strands were pointed ears much longer than his own. Atop her head was a diadem and, shockingly, a pair of golden horns. When she turned to look at him, he was struck by the gentle look her deep, blue eyes held.

She smiled at him, filling him with a sense of calm. “You’ve done well, young man. Your friends are lucky to have you. Now allow me to take it from here.” she said.

“It’s you... Aunt Mikha! It’s really you!” Sitri cried, looking the happiest Link had ever seen her.

“Hahaha... Boy, is it my lucky day!” the Reaper said, rising back to his feet.

“You will not take any further action toward these people.” the woman said to him. “I will defend them and I will have you take your leave. I swear this on my honor as Mikhaeyla, reigning Demon King of Saint Versailles.”
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Chapter Seven is here! We take a breather from all the action, and we'll soon see what our characters are going to do after such a chaotic situation... Enjoy!





Chapter Seven
Kind-Hearted Demon King​


Mikhaeyla quickly surveyed her situation. Her worst fears had been realized and Sitri was at the mercy of the Laughing Reaper. It seemed like she’d been put through the wringer before she’d arrived. She didn’t let it show on her face, not yet, but she felt an outpouring of gratitude and relief that Sitri had survived. If the enemy weren’t still staring her in the face, she might just have been knocked off her feet by the intensity of her feelings.

Aside from her niece, there were a lot of people she didn’t recognize. A young boy who looked to be Sitri’s age was the only one still on his feet. Shimmering blond hair stuck out amongst the greens of his tunic and matching cap. His curious eyes were the same color as his garb. Even at just a glance, she could tell he was skilled and experienced.

The boy was protecting another girl his age. She had darker blonde hair, almost looking a bit green itself, and bright blue eyes that were weary from what was surely a tough battle. Her tan and toned skin proudly showed itself off from under her blue vest and red ascot. She had the countenance of a well-traveled seafarer, as did the rough-and-tumble assortment of folks laying on the ground around them.

This information swept into Mikhaeyla in a matter of seconds. As her eyes darted over each person, she swung her right arm up quickly. In tune with her motion, a crystalized wall of magic appeared, separating them all from the Reaper. Inside the confines of this barrier were just the two of them.

“Oho? Is this arena just for little old me?” the Reaper said coyly.

“This is no arena. This is to keep you away from the others.” Mikhaeyla said frankly. “You are going to leave now. There is to be no further fighting.”

“Hah! Why the hell would I do something as boring as that when I have a Demon King right in front of me? This time, I’m going to make you fight me seriously!” he said, aiming his axe right at her.

Mikhaeyla heaved out a dramatic sigh. “You are such a fool. Do you really think I would use my full strength with all of these people around? Even a barrier of my own making wouldn’t last long. Besides, you are wounded already. I’m sure you wouldn’t want those cuts and scrapes to slow you down in a fight with a Demon King, would you, Zoie.”

The extra inflection she put on his name caused him to cringe back a bit. “Feh. I’d prefer my title. You’re killing my brand recognition here.”

“Titles are for those worthy of them, Zoie. Go lick your wounds, and maybe I’ll consider a serious fight next time.”

Zoie grumbled and scratched at his head. His groaning and frowning were soon accompanied by his rapidly stomping feet. He looked at Mikhaeyla, then at the boy in green, but his eyes lingered on Sitri the longest.

"Fine, have it your way. But next time... Next time, you're going to fight me with all you've got!" Zoie proclaimed.

Saying so, he hooked his axe on a sheathe strapped to his back. Then he raised up his arm and disappeared in a vortex of pink light. At last, he was gone. Everyone felt the tension evaporate from their bodies all at once. Mikhaeyla sighed again, this time from relief, and allowed her barrier to dissolve.

"Is everyone alright?" she asked, looking around the group.

"Oh, Aunt Mikha...!" Sitri cried.

She staggered to her feet and wiped her eyes. She started rushing toward her aunt, but she froze in place. Still holding her sword, she looked over at the others on the ground.

"I'm ok! Thanks!" the boy in green said cheerfully.

"Wait, Link... This lady, is she..." the girl at his side began.

"She's my aunt! So you be polite to her, or else!" Sitri snapped.

"Seriously? How do you still have the energy to give us a hard time? How about a 'thank you' for saving your life?!" the girl growled.

Sitri's face turned bright red. "You... You...!" she stammered.

Mikhaeyla held up her hand. "Hold on, my dear. I think introductions are in order."

She looked like she wanted to protest. But under the warm gaze of her aunt, she lowered her eyes to the ground and sheathed her sword. Meanwhile, the girl rose to her feet, as did the fellows laying around. The group all stumbled together behind the girl and the boy in green, looking anxious.

"I'm Link!" the boy said, extending his hand with a smile.

"And I'm Mikhaeyla. It's lovely to meet you." she said, smiling back.

Link's lack of hesitation and Mikhaeyla's kind reception seemed to put the others at ease. They shuffled around in their boots, awkwardly rubbing at their arms. The girl was the next one to step forward.

"My name is Tetra. These louts here are my crew. Gonzo, Senza, Nudge, Mako, Zuko, and Niko." she introduced, pointing to each of them in turn.

"Aunt Mikha, these guys are pirates!" Sitri said.

"Yeah, and we didn't do anything to you or this village!" Tetra argued.

"Liar!" Sitri argued back.

"I see. So that's what's got you so wound up, Sitri?" Mikhaeyla asked. "Did you confirm with the villagers if they've done anything?"

Sitri bit her lip and shrunk back a bit. "Well, I... There was a monster raid, and I saw them pillaging!"

"We were defending the town!" Tetra said.

"No way! Why else would pirates walk around town with their weapons out? Who ever heard of pirates that protect people!" she reasoned.

"Well, I can see why you would think so..." Mikhaeyla said. "But I cannot sense any malice or ill-intent from these folks. They don't seem like your average pirates. I think we can believe them."

"But...! But they..."

She choked on her words now. She looked ready to cry, or crawl into a hole, or both. Mikhaeyla looked on her with sadness and worry in her heart.

She's trying so hard... Perhaps too hard. I'm sure she acted impulsively and got into it with these people before she understood what was going on. Dear Sitri... You really are trying to be like Alphonse, aren't you?

"I just... I just wanted to..." she cried quietly.

Mikhaeyla put a comforting hand on your shoulder. "There's no need to be in such a rush. You'll get your chance someday. Your time will come for you when it's meant to be."

She didn't answer. She merely sniffled and nodded her head. Mikhaeyla patted her shoulder before turning back to the pirates.

"Glad somewhere around here has some sense..." Tetra said. "Not that much else around here makes sense. Are you really... really a Demon King?"

Mikhaeyla smiled. "I can hear the apprehension in your voice. You must have traveled here from a long ways away, I take it?"

"You can say that again. Between demons and magic and monster raids and these 'train' things, I've got no idea what's going on. What kind of land is this?" Tetra asked.

"What kind of land, huh... I suppose that's a long story. Will you hear me out? I think you should know what you've gotten involved in." Mikhaeyla said.

Tetra and Link nodded, though Link did so more eagerly than his captain. The other pirates scratched their heads and shrugged their shoulders, sitting down behind the group to rest as they listened in. Sitri stayed, too, seeming not to want to leave her aunt’s side. She still didn’t look convinced that the pirates weren’t up to no good.

And so, Mikhaeyla began the long-winded explanation of Hyleigh. She spoke of frequent monster raids, tales of the Laughing Reaper, and legends of millennia long past. The Hero of Spirits, the Demon King Malladus, the Tower of Spirits and the Spirit Tracks, and the Lokomo and the Spirits of Light all had a place in her story. She also described the Mystic Realm and the demons, making sure the pirates understood that her people were just as complex and varied as any other.

When she was finished speaking, Tetra grubbed her face with her palm. “Wow... And I thought our homeland had some serious baggage... Huh, Link?” she said.

Link grinned and nodded. Mikhaeyla smirked, finding that reaction charming.

“You speak as though you’ve had your own share of problems. If you don’t mind, I’d like to hear about where you’re from. Hyleigh almost never gets outside visitors.” she said.

“I can’t promise it’s as grand as you’re imagining... But I’m surprised you'd be interested in us. You’re definitely not a typical Demon King, are you?” Tetra asked.

“Ahaha! You’ve got me there. Though I suppose a typical pirate wouldn’t pick up on that, would they?” Mikhaeyla laughed.

Now Tetra was grinning. “I like you, lady. Alright, sure, I’ll tell you.” she said, clearing her throat. "So, uh, me and the boys here are all from the Great Sea, which is really far away from here, like you guessed. Now, my family has been pirating for generations. Me, my mom, my grandmom, and her grandmom and even long before that. I was content to continue that tradition, but then I met Link here, and my entire life changed."

Link bashfully rubbed the back of his head, which earned him a sharp elbow jab from Tetra.

"This guy is the real deal. A genuine, bona-fide hero. When I discovered that my family was only acting as pirates to hide their royal blood, and this crazy dark sorcerer came after me for my special power, it was Link who stepped up to save me. Even after that, when I got taken by some life-stealing monster, he chased after me until he could rescue me. He always goes above and beyond for others. I wouldn't be here without him."

The boy's cheeks were rosy pink now. Mikhaeyla tried to stifle a sheepish chuckle as he buried his face in his arms.

"I can clearly see how much you trust each other. Bonds like this are a rare thing. I hope you treasure them as much as you seem to." she said. "And you say you have royal blood? How interesting..."

"Yeah, but from a kingdom that doesn't exist anymore. It's been swallowed under the Great Sea. My father-- er, well, he's like my father, I guess, wanted for me to plant the seeds of our future. So, that's what we're trying to do. We wanted to find a place to plant those seeds; to start our own kingdom."

As Tetra's explanation ended, Mikhaeyla thought deeply about what she heard. The crew of pirates were experienced enough to thwart a monster raid, and had enough heart to want to do so. Link in particular shone brighter than the rest. His desire to help others and his strength and courage were displayed proudly in his eyes.

I wonder... If this crew sticks around, what would transpire? I find myself wanting to see it...

Sitri, on the other hand, was still not impressed. “Royal blood and special powers, huh? I’m not sure if I believe that, but I know one thing for sure; Hyleigh isn’t your playground. You aren’t planting any seeds here if I have anything to say about it.”

“Sitri...!” Mikhaeyla said, shocked by her niece’s behavior.

She defiantly crossed her arms. “I’m sorry, Aunt Mikha, but I just can’t abide them. I don’t care where you guys start your new kingdom, just as long as it isn’t here. Don’t you even think about conquering Hyleigh, got it? My home has suffered enough!”

“Sheesh, we get it, this place is struggling, you’ve made your point!” Tetra said, sounding exasperated.

“Then you’d better move along, and fast. The last thing Hyleigh needs is people gallivanting around for fun. It needs... We need a real hero. Not some pirates playing games.”

“We aren’t playing. We’re serious.” Link said.

Sitri narrowed her eyes. “You, at least, seem ok, Link... Please keep your friends in check. And, um... Thanks for fighting alongside me. And for saving me...”

Saying as much, Sitri marched off to the west. There were still no trains at the station, likely because of the monster activity in the area. She walked alongside the Spirit Tracks, heading toward the Forest Realm. Mikhaeyla watched her back as she went, and didn’t fail to notice her quivering shoulders. She could tell even from that distance that the girl’s head was swirling with frantic emotions.

“I am sorry. She isn’t typically this confrontational.” Mikhaeyla explained.

“‘Confrontational’ is an understatement...” Tetra grumbled.

“If she’s your niece, then does that make her a demon, too?” Nudge asked.

“No, she’s human. Her family has been close with mine for generations. In fact, she’s a descendant of the Hero of Spirits that I described to you earlier. That’s why this is all so personal for her. I hope you’ll come to forgive her...”

“No worries!” Link said.

“Hey! I’m still mad at her, you know!” Tetra said, prodding Link’s side.

Mikhaeyla smiled. “Thank you. Do get along with each other, okay?” Then her eyes flicked off to the north, sensing something. She rolled her shoulders and continued speaking. “I must be going now. I’d like to attend to the village, but I think it’s in safe hands with you all. I hope you’ll give your next steps some careful thought.”

With a polite bow, Mikhaeyla turned to leave. As she did, she observed uncertain expressions on the crew’s faces. Whether they left Hyleigh or not was their choice. Mikaheyla wasn’t going to force them to do anything, of course. Their path was theirs to make, and she was looking forward to seeing where it would lead.

She walked a good distance away from the village, far enough that she had attained a decent level of privacy. After all, she felt a certain presence begin to call for her during the tail end of the conversation. A magical presence she was all too familiar with.

The Ocean Realm wasn’t home to many forests, but there was still a small section of woods in the outskirts of Papuchiya Village. It was from this spot that she felt the calling. And sure enough, she discovered its source. Waiting amongst the trees was her faithful aide and the demon member of the Hyleigh Council, Rasta.

“Humble greetings, Your Majesty. I’m glad you were able to sense me here.“ he said, deeply bowing for her.

“Hello, Rasta. You found me rather fast. I see I can’t hide from you out here.” Mikhaeyla said playfully.

“Surely you jest. Unless you actually make an attempt to conceal it, I could sense your location from any corner of Hyleigh. Your magical energy is unmistakably massive.” he said.

“I take it you’ve come to update me on the Council’s decision?” she asked.

“They have agreed to allow your personal presence in Hyleigh, on the condition that I report all of your activity to them.”

“As I expected. I knew that I would make waves by coming here. I do hope I haven’t lost any of the trust I’ve built up with them.”

“Not at all. They are just nervous that a Demon King taking direct action may agitate the people. However, the Laughing Reaper’s actions are enough of a problem that they felt it was worth the risk this time.”

“Mm. They’re right to think so. I just came out of an encounter with him.”

“What?! So, he was here?” Rasta said, incredulous. “Are you injured, my lady?”

“See for yourself.” she said, flourishing her arms. “Not a scratch on me. I was able to diffuse the situation before he could even make a go at me. However, dear Sitri wasn’t so lucky.”

“Sitri was involved, too? That is unfortunate... Is she alright?”

“If she wasn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Mikhaeyla said wryly. “She was banged up, but she survived. She had help from some visiting pirates, believe it or not. They are some truly interesting folks... I think their presence in Hyleigh could spark something.”

“Pirates, huh... I will keep my ear to the ground for them.” Rasta said. “And what of the Laughing Reaper? He escaped?”

“Yes, I let him go. Starting a fight with him right at the gate of a human town was bound to end in disaster.”

“Wise call, my lady. And what of the Lokomo called Kuudo? Have you seen her?”

“I have not, nor have I seen Byrne since I arrived. I cannot sense Lokomo magic, so I don’t know where they are... As for Zoie, he must have either left the Physical Realm, or he’s hiding his presence...”

“That’s troubling... He doesn’t strike me as the type that would want to hide. I hope today, at least, is free of further incidents.”

“Indeed.” Mikhaeyla said.

She gazed over in the direction of the Forest Realm. She couldn’t get the image of her precious niece and her shaking shoulders out of her mind. It had surely been a long and trying day for her, and she wasn’t sure if she’d offered the girl the amount of comfort she needed. And then she remembered how Zoie’s eyes had lingered on her longer than on the others, and a sinking feeling appeared in her gut.

“Indeed...” Mikhaeyla said again.
 
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Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
At long last, Chapter Eight is here! I wanted to get this out sooner, but October is always busy for me. Plus I had some trouble deciding how I wanted to structure the second half of this chapter. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy!





Chapter Eight
Captain’s Orders​


Tetra watched as Mikhaeyla walked away, feeling a great uncertainty welling up inside her. She glanced back at her crew, who were returning to their feet with their eyes still stuck on the ground. She checked on Link, and saw he was quietly retrieving his shield and fixing his gear. If he had any anxiety, he sure didn’t show it.

What were they going to do now? When they arrived in Hyleigh, their hopes were running high. There was so much land, they thought there’d have to be space for them somewhere. But after dealing with a monster raid, getting attacked by a wannabe hero and a crazy demon, and learning about the country's deep-rooted troubles, that idea was looking less and less realistic.

There’s so much wrong with this place, I don’t even know where to start... Should we really be here? Is this the right place for us? I wonder what Link thinks...


Before she could vocalize any of those thoughts, someone came running over to them from the village. A certain salty sailor in a blue frock.

“Aha, here you all are! I knew you’d be safe! Just as expected from you talented folks!” he said.

“Linebeck, you dog...” Tetra grumbled. “And just where the hell have you been all this time, huh? While we were getting our decks mopped by that lunatic demon?”

“Augh! You wound me! Are you implying that my lack of presence was due to fear or cowardice?” he said, looking very taken aback.

“Well, if the boot fits...” Niko said.

“I was making sure the good citizens were safe! You know, just as I was ordered to do!” he protested. “And of course, I trusted each of you to handle the danger! It’s not like I could have done anything about the demon or whatever that fellow was, anyway...”

“Whatever. I’m too tired to argue with you right now.” Tetra groaned, stretching her muscles. “Ugh, my gut is killing me... That bastard, Zoie or whoever he was... If I ever see him again...”

“Let’s hope we don’t have to.” Mako said, adjusting his glasses. “Ah, my lens is cracked...”

"You ok over there, Link?” Nudge asked.

Link nodded and smiled. His seemingly boundless energy put the rest of the crew at ease. As they gathered themselves together, Linebeck went right to Link’s side and roughly patted the boy's shoulders, shaking him around a bit. They had all pulled through alive, and it was time to figure out their next steps.

“So, what are your orders, Captain? What do we do now?” Gonzo asked, wasting no time getting into it.

“Yeah, that is the question, isn’t it...” Tetra said, grubbing her chin.

“Well, I personally vote we get the hell out of here.” Senza said. “I’m not looking to get mixed up in all the nonsense this place is offering. We’re not gonna put down roots in a place as messed up as this.”

“Hmm... You’re probably right.” Nudge agreed. “We clearly aren’t wanted, and if that Laughing Reaper was anything to go by, we’re in over our heads.”

“What?! You all can’t throw in the towel now! We only just got here! Think of the undiscovered riches!” Linebeck urged.

“You’re the one who said there’s no treasure in the world worth dying for! Besides, you didn't lift a finger to help us when we were fighting! Don’t you talk about throwing in the towel when you didn’t feel that freaky cold fire!” Gonzo said.

“‘We only just got here’ is right, and we’ve already been dragged into more trouble than I’d care to see in a lifetime...” Zuko said quietly.

“I find it hard to believe we’d find much treasure we could take with us if people still actively live here, anyway. At that point, we really would just be pillaging.” Mako said.

“Urk! Well, you all make convincing arguments...” Linebeck said. “But something here is calling to me... I don’t know how to explain it, but my gut tells me that something amazing is coming if we stick around here!”

“Yeah, amazingly bad...” Niko said.

“Alright, alright, break it up, you lugs.” Tetra said, interrupting their debate. “It sounds like most of us think we should leave. Honestly, I’m of a mind to agree... We’re looking to build a kingdom, and there’s no point in building one in a place where people already live.”

“Yeah, we ain’t lookin’ to be conquerors...” Gonzo agreed.

“If we can’t fulfill our goal here, there’s no point in staying.” Nudge said.

“That’s what I’m thinking.” Tetra nodded. “A good pirate knows when to cut their losses. We should pack it in and get out of here before the next crazy thing heads our way.”

Saying as much, she looked over at her green companion. Link had been oddly quiet during this whole exchange, moreso than he usually was. He was staring at the village with concerned eyes. She knew what that look meant right away. Tetra sighed deeply, and walked over to tap him on the shoulder.

“Hey.” she said curtly.

Link jumped and looked at her with wide eyes. His reaction was a little amusing.

“You want to check on the villagers before we leave, huh?” she said.

Link’s face lit up, and he nodded vigorously.

Gonzo scratched the back of his neck. “Of course he does... That’s our Link.”

“Fine, fine... We went to the trouble of saving them, so we might as well make sure they’re still on their feet before we go...” Tetra said.

Link stared at her hard, looking disbelieving. She frowned at this.

“What? Got more to say?”

“I’m surprised you’re not saying no.” he said.

“Heh. Yeah, me too...” she laughed. “But it’s whatever. It’s the least we can do, yeah?”

“Yeah!” he said, beaming widely.

Tetra found it hard to say no to that smile of his. Whenever she looked at him, unwaveringly and unhesitatingly going off to help others, she felt a strange feeling in her chest. It was an odd discomfort, something akin to the sensation of melting. She was very bothered by this and tried hard to pretend she didn’t have an idea of what it was.

Even still, she followed in his footsteps as he headed into the village. Her crew faithfully followed behind her, not offering any complaints. They were nothing if not loyal. Even Linebeck, quietly frumping to himself, kept pace with them.

As they walked, they could see fresh wounds on the landscape. Sides of houses were smashed in, walkways had new holes in them, and more belongings were scattered around than before. It wasn't hard to guess why.

Gonzo looked embarrassed for himself. "I'm sorry... When Sitri showed up earlier and attacked you guys, I got distracted and those miniblins ran right past me..." he said.

"What's done is done. Let's just make sure the villagers aren't hurt. They can always rebuild again." Tetra said.

She seemed oddly forgiving at the moment. Gonzo was genuinely surprised to have avoided a scolding. Maybe she was too drained to bother. Still, having to hop over the new gaps in the walkways seemed to irritate her. The entire crew felt as though they were stepping on bristles instead of wood.

In time, they reached the far side of the village. The residents were still gathered in the wheat fields where the crew left their ships. They were huddled together, parents soothing children and adults reassuring each other just as much. When they spotted the pirates, many of them leapt to their feet.

“You’re back!” a man at the front of the crowd exclaimed. “We could hear those awful explosions from out here... What was going on? Are you safe?”

“Are we safe? I’m surprised you care.” Tetra said.

“Of course we do! You said you’d protect us! Anyone who’d stick their necks out for strangers is worthy of our concern.” a woman said.

“Huh... Now I’m surprised that you believed us.” Tetra laughed.

“What choice did we have? But look, no monsters came our way. There’s not a scratch on any of us. You truly kept your word. Pirates you may be, but you have saved our lives and our home. We can’t possibly thank you enough.”

As the man said this, he deeply bowed to the crew. The rest of the villagers followed suit fast, putting their palms together and lowering their heads like they were praying. This caught the pirates completely off-guard. Each of them bashfully kicked the dirt around with red cheeks. They weren’t accustomed to such shows of gratitude.

“We-he-hell, if you really want to thank us, you-” Tetra started.

Link gently elbowed her side and shook his head.

“Ugh, fine. Alright, so we’re good, then? No hard feelings for freaking you out when we first showed up?” she said.

“Yes, I’d like to apologize for that on behalf of our village. You came with no ill intentions, and yet we assumed you were here to pillage us...” the man said.

“Hey, that was the correct reaction. I’d be the one concerned if you had no problem with pirates rolling into your village.” Tetra said. “... So, you someone important? You must be, if you get to speak on behalf of everyone.”

“Ah, yes...” the man said. “My name is Tarno. I am the son of the village elder... Or I was, before my father was killed in a monster raid a few weeks ago...” he explained.

The sound of sadness in his voice was palpable. This appeared to be a fresh wound for the whole village, not just for him. It was no wonder they were so jumpy and full of anxiety when the crew first showed up. Tetra felt a small pang of sympathy somewhere in her heart. She looked over at Link, and predictably, he looked to be feeling Tarno’s pain as his own.

“So, you got stuck with his job after he died, huh? I can relate.” Tetra said. “Tell you what... We’ve got a bleeding heart here in our crew who wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less anyway, so how’s about we help you pick up around here? Just for a bit, mind you.”

“What? Truly?” Tarno said, looking shocked. “I couldn’t trouble outsiders with that...”

Tetra didn’t get the chance to respond before Link interjected. “Don’t worry about it! I want to help!” he said excitedly.

“And there he goes, the bleeding heart in action...” Tetra said wryly. “Besides, some monsters got in the village because of my crew’s mistakes. We’ve got our own sense of honor to uphold. We’ve got to at least make that right.”

Gonzo looked like he wanted to crawl in a hole, but he nodded his agreement. As did the rest of the crew. Linebeck grumbled something about manual labor, but he quickly changed his tune after Tetra shot him a sharp glare. The villagers looked more relieved than ever, and they all swarmed the crew to offer their thanks. It was highly overwhelming, but also gratifying.

Phew... I could get used to this, maybe.

Thinking that, Tetra stretched out her limbs and followed Tarno through the village. Together, they took stock of the new damage and the materials they had on hand to fix it. When they knew what needed to be done, they each divided tasks up between the villagers and the pirates. Link had a spring in his step as he ran around Papuchiya, ferrying materials and supplies from one place to the next.

As everyone worked, Tarno invited Tetra to his home for a short respite. She insisted on being out there doing the same work as everyone else, but Tarno wouldn’t hear of it. There was something he wanted to show her.

“You started saying something before about wanting to be thanked, weren’t you?” Tarno said.

“Ahahah, you heard that, huh? It’s fine. You and your village don’t have anything to give.” Tetra said.

“What a strange thing for a pirate to say.” Tarno said, his turn to laugh. “What you say is true. We don’t have anything to give you... Nothing material, anyway.”

That caught Tetra’s interest. “Oh? And what is this immaterial something you have to give?”

“As it happens, my family has been blessed with the gift of fortune telling. Not just him, but all of the generations before us have possessed this ability. This includes myself, of course.” he informed her.

“You don’t say. So you’d like to thank me with a free reading?” Tetra said. “I guess that’s better than nothing. Lay it on me.”

Tarno stared quietly at her for a moment. “You know, I almost expected you to decline. I would have pegged you for the type to not believe in fortunes.”

“And you’d be right. As a pirate, I make my own destiny. But if you’re just doing it to thank me, I don’t see the harm in hearing you out.” Tetra shrugged.

“As you wish, then.” Tarno said, clearing his throat.

He stood up and quickly paced around the room, closing the beaded shawl at the door and pulling down the curtains on the windows. The lighting and atmosphere changed almost immediately. The dim purples and grays of the decor and the walls lent themselves to the fortune telling mood. Tetra was rather impressed in spite of herself.

Tarno lit some incense and sat back down in front of Tetra, facing her squarely. “Hold out your hand.” he said.

His entire countenance seemed to have changed. He was almost like a different person. Tetra felt just a smidge of nervousness, but she buried it fast and did as he asked. When she extended her hand, he turned over her palm and traced the lines on her skin with his fingers. It tickled a bit, so she had to stifle a laugh. His eyes almost seemed to glaze over, but they dutifully followed wherever his finger went.

After a quiet minute of this, he suddenly snatched out with his other hand, cupping Tetra’s between them both. This gave her a start.

“You... The inheritor of the lion’s will... Trials and tribulations await you in this ancient land... You will face pain and loss before you find success and glory... The seeds of your future will be sown...”

These eerie words sent violent chills down Tetra’s spine. Never in her life had she encountered such an acute premonition. She yanked her hand away and leapt up toward the door.

“What... How did you...” she stammered.

Tarno cleared his throat again. “Did I frighten you? My apologies. I don’t always understand the things I say when I read a fortune. It’s almost like a trance, you see. I at least hope it was illuminating for you.”

Tetra gulped. “Maybe too illuminating...”

* * *

The last remnants of sunlight vanished into the horizon, putting an end to the day's work. Torches were lit to take its place, and the mood changed. The villagers joyously celebrated their survival and safety along with the pirates. Dragging the crew into dances and passing around drinks, the merriment put smiles on everyone's faces.

Everyone except for Tetra. She sat away from the noise and cheer, perched on a fishing dock and gazing at the water. The reading she received from Tarno weighed heavily on her mind.

She was never one to put stock in fortunes. Her path was her own to blaze. As far as she was concerned, she wasn't going to be led astray by a bunch of hocus pocus designed to drain her rupees. That was her impression of the art. Or at least it was until tonight.

Lion's will. Seeds of the future. Pain and loss. These warnings swirled around in her head to the point of making her dizzy. It had to be a real fortune, because there was no way Tarno could know about her past. Even so, she still wavered.

If the fortune is true, then we can accomplish our goal here. But that bit about pain and loss... Does that mean if we stay, someone's going to die? And how are we even going to build our new kingdom here? I might be a pirate, but I won't be a conqueror. Is there another way to do it? And is it even worth the risk of losing someone? I just don't know...

She wasn't going to get an answer just by staring at the water. She stood up and turned around, hoping to pick Link’s brain about this. She hadn’t said a word to any of her crew about the fortune yet. But when she turned to face the crowd, something inside her jumped up and glued her feet in place. She watched the scene unfolding before her eyes in silence.

It was as if someone had painted a picture of pure joy. Link was running through the wheat fields, letting kids chase him down with make-believe swords. Linebeck was arm in arm with an old man, laughing and throwing back booze together. Gonzo, Senza, and Nudge were playing cards with some of the men in the village, laughing like a bunch of maniacs whenever someone folded. Mako and Zuko sat with the younger folks, tinkering on some machinery together. Niko was surrounded by older ladies pinching his cheeks and handing him candies, to his great embarrassment. It was an absolutely delightful sight, and not one she would have ever gotten to see anywhere else. She was sure of that.

Something deep inside her welled back up to the surface again. A feeling she still couldn’t put to words got stuck in her throat. As she watched all this happiness play out, she came to a sort of epiphany. Maybe this was it. This was what she really wanted. All the pirating in the world couldn’t produce a scene like this. No matter where she went, she was going to strike fear in people’s hearts just by being herself. As enjoyable as that was, it didn’t compare to the feeling she felt inside in that moment.

Tetra swallowed dryly and balled up her fists. Fortunes be damned, she thought. If they could stay in Hyleigh, if they could keep helping people, would she see more scenes like this? Whether she was going to build a kingdom in this land or not, she wanted to help the people here. At last, she felt that she could be openly honest with what she truly wanted to do, just like Link. His valor inspired her to be more than a pirate. Maybe, she thought, just maybe...

Maybe I can be like him... At least until I get tired of this feeling... Until I figure out what I want to do and how... But right now, I want to cherish this moment. I...


“... I want to stay.” she said aloud.

She stood quietly as she was enveloped by the surrounding noise and warmth. She’d said it out loud now, and it felt good. An electric sensation shot through her body, from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. Now that she knew for sure that she wanted this, she blew a sharp whistle through her fingers. Her crew instantly reacted, jumping up and clumsily scrambling toward her. This roused some laughs out of the townsfolk, but the crew paid that no mind.

Once each of them, including Linebeck and Link, were standing at attention before her, she cleared her throat and made her intentions known.

“I know what we talked about earlier, but I’ve changed my mind. We’re going to stay here and help these folks for a while. This of course means we’re putting our journey on hold for the foreseeable future. We won’t build our New Hyrule here, but we can’t abandon this place to its fate, either. At least, I’m not going to. I’m going to work for a better tomorrow for Hyleigh. And I hope each of you will remain at my side as I do.” she announced.

Link gasped and smiled his biggest smile of the day. He was so happy, he jittered around in place. Linebeck, too, was excited to hear this. He couldn’t restrain himself from pumping his fist in the air. The rest of the crew looked shocked, mouths hanging agape. They looked at each other in confusion and apprehension, but in moments, they each shrugged.

“If those are your orders, Captain.” Gonzo said, saluting.

The rest of the crew followed his lead, saluting their captain proudly. Tetra grinned. They each had a taste of it, too. They knew how good it felt to help others now, and they weren’t ready to let that go. Not yet, anyway. For however long this would last, they were in it all the way with her. And in that moment, she couldn’t have been more pleased to be the captain of such loyal fools.
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Next chapter time already! I had a very clear idea of what I wanted this chapter to be from the start, so the work went fast this time. And with this, there's only one chapter left in the First Movement. The opening arc of the story is about to close, and we're almost a quarter of the way through... Enjoy!





Chapter Nine
Opposing Thoughts​


The Forest Realm was dark at night. Leaf canopies blotting out the sky and scant light sources made it difficult to see. Byrne was dealing with this very predicament, fumbling his way between the trees. Once in a while, he’d catch a glimpse of the moon and stars above, and felt a small relief. There was no night in the Sacred Realm, just that perpetual sunrise, so he relished the chance to experience it whenever he could.

Fortunately for him, his goal was almost within sight. There was no road to follow out in the woods, but he did have a trail. A magical signature belonging to that of his own kind, the Lokomo, led him through the darkness on the edge of his senses. Just as the demons could sense each other, so too could the Lokomo. And in time, the back of the person he’d been searching for all day finally came into view.

“Lady Kuudo! Please wait!” he called out.

Kuudo’s shoulders jolted and she whipped around fast. An expression of disbelief took hold of her face.

“Byrne?! What are you doing here?” she asked.

“At last, I caught up to you...” he said, panting. “You’ve been on the move constantly. Even if I can track you, keeping pace is another matter...”

“... My apologies. It seems I’ve worried you.” she said, looking a little ashamed of herself.

Good, it looks like she’s returned to her senses for now. Thinking as much, Byrne pressed into the topic at hand.

“Are you alright, Lady Kuudo? Have you any luck with your search?”

“No, I’m afraid not. That dastard Reaper has evaded me all day. But I’ll find him yet...” she rasped.

“So, you are still not giving up the chase...”

“That’s right. I will not return to the Sacred Realm without his head.”

This is unfortunate... She may have calmed down, but she’s not relenting. What should I do?

“I suppose there isn’t any chance I can convince you otherwise.” he said.

“No, there is not. I am sorry I left without tending to you or the injured, but I trust things are back to rights by now. So I'm asking for that same trust in return.”

Byrne put his hand on his chin, considering the situation. The fire in her eyes was fierce and gave him shudders. As one of the best warriors of her people, Kuudo had her own sense of pride about such things, but there was still more to it than that. This was something personal for her, something she just couldn't abide. That only made Byrne more concerned. He couldn't find it in himself to leave her to her own devices.

“Well... If you really feel that strongly, then at least allow me to accompany you.” he suggested. “I know I was useless in our last encounter, but I would feel more at ease knowing you aren’t going this path alone. And I’m sure you would, too.”

Kuudo’s eyes sank to the ground. She seemed troubled by the proposition, and the reason for her hesitation was not a secret. Byrne was infamously unskilled as far as Lokomo fighters go. His work as an acolyte was mainly relegated to delivering messages and the like. The battlefield was not a place for him to be. Byrne himself understood this very well.

Nevertheless, the desire for company won out. “Alright, you may join me. Two people will hunt out twice as many leads, I hope.” she said.

“Thank you, Lady Kuudo! I’ll do my best not to slow you down.” Byrne said happily.

Kuudo smiled softly. She gestured for him to walk at her side, and together, they continued on through the woods. Companionship on a dark night like this was welcome for the both of them. Yet they walked silently, each occupied with their own thoughts about their mission.

Lady Kuudo is fixated on hunting Zoie, and it has something to do with her past experiences in the Great War. That’s all I know... It’s not enough for me to understand why, though. I hope the answer becomes clear as we work together.


* * *

Further time passed, and the two had explored a fair chunk of the southern forests. Weary feet led them out of the woods for a respite, and as they walked, they espied a settlement. Judging by their location, they quickly deduced that this was Mayscore. The Spirit Tracks that ran by were empty save for a small number of cargo transports. No doubt they were carrying relief supplies.

A light came on in Byrne’s head. “What say we head to the village? It may be late at night, but surely there are some folks awake. We can rest, and perhaps we can gather information.” he proposed.

“Hmm... Good thinking.” Kuudo agreed. “Let’s not tarry too long, though. If they have nothing to offer us, we must move on quickly, or that Reaper really will give us the slip.”

Byrne felt put off by her desire for haste, but he said nothing and followed behind her as she marched toward Mayscore. Torches were lit at the entrance and throughout the town proper, illuminating a grisly sight. Many injured were laid out on makeshift beds, moaning in pain. There were indeed folks still awake, tending to them. A doctor with half-rimmed glasses and a receding hairline seemed to be working more tirelessly than the rest.

Not far off from this spot were a group of crying children, and a middle-aged man gripping them close to his chest. At their feet was a corpse. It was draped in white blankets stained red with the blood of their occupant. It appeared to be newly deceased.

“How awful... That poor family.” Byrne said.

“Right, Mayscore was just hit by a monster raid a few days ago... It’s unfortunate that I do not know healing magic. You, Byrne?” Kuudo asked.

“No, I’m afraid that skill is beyond me, as well... Still, we should do what we can while we’re here.” he said.

Kuudo frowned. “Hold on. I said that we mustn't tarry here. If we don’t stop the Reaper, all that awaits Hyleigh is more of this.” she said sternly.

Now it was Byrne’s turn to frown. “Lady Kuudo, we are Lokomo. Our first priority should always be to the people. If we don’t help the ones before our eyes, we do a poor job of living up to the honor of that responsibility."

She bit her lip and averted her eyes back to the ground. Byrne meant every word he said, and he felt a bit disappointed that Kuudo would prioritize hunting Zoie over helping the people. His words drew out a sense of shame, wearing itself plainly on her face.

If she’s really going to leave these people be, then I...

Before he let himself finish that thought, he noticed something new. Sitting close by the grieving family was a young girl who didn’t look related to them at all. Still, she seemed just as upset as they were. She sat on the cold ground hugging her knees, tears dripping from her eyes. As he looked at her, he felt a pang of recognition.

“Hang on... I believe I know that girl from somewhere.” Byrne said, approaching her. "Excuse me, miss. Are you alright?"

When she was addressed, the girl gasped and quickly wiped her eyes. She stood up so she could properly face him. Now that he had a better look at her, the greens and golds of her hair and eyes were definitely familiar to him.

"H-hello... I'm alright. It's just... This woman was still alive when I was here this morning. I was tending to her... I thought she'd pull through... But when I returned in the evening, she was..." she explained.

Succumbed to her wounds, did she...

Byrne quickly pieced the girl's story together. He could tell she was an unrelated party to the woman, but she felt the family's pain like it was her own. Her arms shivered and her voice cracked as she spoke. She was deeply saddened by this untimely death.

"I'm sure you tried your best to help. Please don't blame yourself." Byrne said soothingly. "Pray, what is your name, young lady?"

She cleared her throat. "I'm... Sitri. Sitri Beldine."

At last, Byrne recalled how he knew her. "Ah! So you're Sitri. Yes, I thought so... I've seen you coming out of Lady Mikhaeyla's castle before. You're her niece, aren't you?"

Sitri lit up. "Yes! You know my Aunt Mikha?"

Kuudo furrowed her brow, but she stayed quiet. She stared hard at Sitri's face, as though she also recognized her somehow.

"I do. My work keeps me in frequent contact with her." Byrne said.

"Your work... You two are Lokomo, aren't you? I can tell by your robes. Have you come here to deliver aid?" Sitri asked, tilting her head curiously.

"Not... exactly. But we are Lokomo, yes. This is Lady Kuudo, and my name is Byrne."

Sitri's eyes widened in shock when she heard his name. "You...! You're Byrne?! Oh my gosh! I can't believe it!" she said excitedly.

Byrne was confused by her reaction. "You... You know of me?"

"Of course I do! I can't believe I'm getting to meet you! Do you not remember? Two thousand years ago, you-"

"Stop." Kuudo firmly interrupted. "That was a past life. You must not speak of it to him."

"Oh... Is that the rule? I'm sorry..." Sitri said glumly.

Wait, this girl knows my past? But how? Two thousand years ago, she said... That was during the Great War. I've been suspecting that I was involved in it... Ah, if only Lady Kuudo hadn't stopped her from speaking.

Byrne wasn't expecting a clue to his past to rear its head here. He knew that he wouldn't be able to ask for further details as long as Kuudo was around. He felt frustrated, even if he knew he shouldn't. He held his tongue as Kuudo took over the conversation.

“I’m surprised you know of something so specific from that long ago... Or perhaps I’m not. I’ve been thinking that your face is familiar since I laid eyes on you.” Kuudo said. “Your eyes in particular... You’re a descendant of Alphonse, the Hero of Spirits, aren’t you?”

Sitri’s jaw dropped, and her cheeks filled with a little color. “You can tell...? Do I... Do I really look like him? Wait, did you know him?!”

“Not personally, no. I only saw him once. I was there during his final battle with Malladus. I witnessed it firsthand.” Kuudo explained. “You do resemble him a bit... And that explains why you know about Byrne’s past life... I’m sure your family has passed down the most accurate telling of his story.”

Unbeknownst to Kuudo, she had let slip another clue about Byrne’s past. He was connected to Alphonse. That was the implication of their conversation.

So I was involved in the Great War, as well as with the Hero of Spirits... I wish I could know exactly what happened back then, though. I know it’s forbidden, but I really want to find out.

This desire of Byrne’s was starting to bleed through on his expression. Kuudo, glancing at him, managed to pick that up. She quickly changed the topic.

“That’s enough small talk. We are here to gather information, and we are in a hurry.”

“I see... I’m really happy to meet a Lokomo that knew my ancestor. I wish we could talk more about it, but if you’re busy...” Sitri said dejectedly. “What kind of information are you looking for?”

“The whereabouts of the Laughing Reaper, or any leads on his recent activity. I must hunt him down.”

Sitri gasped yet again. “The Laughing Reaper... You didn’t hear? He attacked Papuchiya Village this afternoon. I was there, and I fought with him.”

“What?!” Kuudo and Byrne exclaimed in unison.

“Yeah... I guess the news hasn’t spread too far yet? I don’t know where he went after that, though.”

“Ugh... He was off attacking people, while I was uselessly trudging around the Forest Realm... I swear, whatever it takes, I will find him...” Kuudo growled.

“You said you fought with him? Are you alright?” Byrne asked.

“I’m okay... But honestly, I only survived because Aunt Mikha showed up and saved me. If she hadn’t chased him away...” she began.

“Wait, what did you say? Demon King Mikhaeyla is here in Hyleigh?!” Kuudo exclaimed.

“Not so loud, Lady Kuudo... The townsfolk are beginning to stare.” Byrne said, addressing the number of eyes they were drawing. “And yes, she is. I spoke with the demon Council member on her behalf.”

“You knew about this?! What is wrong with you?” Kuudo said, shocked by her companion’s lax countenance. “Unbelievable... So now we’ve got two demons running amok in Hyleigh.”

“Hey, what is that supposed to mean?” Sitri said, looking confused by Kuudo’s attitude. “Aunt Mikha isn’t doing anything wrong! She’s helping!”

“There’s no such thing as a helpful demon. It’s all their fault that Hyleigh is in this state.” Kuudo spat.

“That’s going too far, Lady Kuudo.” Byrne said. “The demons are not responsible for any of Hyleigh’s current problems. I’m appalled that you would lay the blame on their feet...”

“Excuse me? None of this would be happening if it weren’t for Malladus, you know!” Kuudo said, feeling challenged.

“But that has nothing to do with the rest of the demons, or my aunt!” Sitri insisted.

“Your ‘aunt’? You’re a human, Sitri. Mikhaeyla is not your family. You’d better reconsider associating with demons, if you don’t want to be stabbed in the back.”

“Lady Kuudo!” Byrne gasped.

He looked at Sitri, and sure enough, tears were spilling from her eyes already. Her lips quivered and she hiccupped quiet sobs and sniffles. Her fists balled up so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. She looked fit to explode right then and there.

“How could you... How could you say that! You have no idea what you’re talking about... You're... You’re awful!” Sitri cried.

Covering her face with her arm, Sitri ran off. Byrne tried to reach out to her, but he didn’t have any of the words that could help. He clenched his fist and directed his attention back on Kuudo, who looked wholly offended and confused by Sitri’s outburst.

I’m awful? You’ve got to be kidding... It’s no wonder Hyleigh is falling to pieces. No one here is thinking straight!”

“Kuudo.” Byrne said, at last dropping his respectful tone. “You just insulted a child’s family and drove her to tears. Think about your actions. Is this how a Lokomo should conduct themselves?”

“What? You, too? Why am I the only person who sees that something’s wrong here?” Kuudo said angrily.

Now she was the one to storm off. With a hard turn on her heel and a deadly grimace upon her lips, she stomped her way back toward the village entrance.

“Where are you going?” Byrne called after her.

“To do what I know to be right!” she yelled, refusing to look back at him.

And just like that, both Sitri and Kuudo had left Mayscore, leaving Byrne standing in the center of town by himself. The villagers who were still awake all stared at him, making confused and befuddled expressions. He couldn’t blame them; he was just as perplexed as they were.

What a fine mess, this is... I doubt Kuudo is going to allow my company after this, but I still shouldn’t leave her be. I’m afraid she’s going to do something drastic at this rate... And I’m also worried about young Sitri, but I don’t know where she went. What should I do? I can’t go after them both...


Byrne felt like he was between a rock and a hard place. He sighed and gazed up at the stars, thinking blearily that perhaps they held an answer for him. The gentle white glow that painted the sky provided him with nothing now, though. As they twinkled unhelpfully above his head, he drooped his shoulders and resigned himself to a night of confused respite in Mayscore.
 

Azure Sage

Join your hands...
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
It's now time for Chapter Ten! This marks the end of the First Movement, and the opening arc of the story. We're a quarter of the way through now. It feels good to have hit this milestone. So far, the story is turning out how I envisioned it, and that makes me happy. I'm excited to start diving into the Second Movement soon... for now, though, enjoy!





Chapter Ten
Wounded Memory​


Sitri had a very awful, stressful day. It felt like one of the longest days of her life. She got mixed up with pirates, she got attacked by the Laughing Reaper, a person she was helping to treat had died, and to top it off, she had a distressing argument with a Lokomo. That last one in particular stuck in her head.

"So what if I'm human... That doesn't mean I can't..." she muttered to herself.

She walked away from Mayscore into the forest. By this point, the moon was at the height of its arc across the sky. There, in the dead of night, she wandered without purpose, trying to clear her head. Her whirling thoughts eroded away at her all the while.

"Hold on! We just defended the place! Don't you see the dead monsters everywhere?"

“I’m sorry... But I have to protect her.”

"Did you confirm with the villagers if they've done anything?"

“Your ‘aunt’? You’re a human, Sitri. Mikhaeyla is not your family. You’d better reconsider associating with demons, if you don’t want to be stabbed in the back.”


Sitri's eyes watered from this onslaught of thoughts. "Why has nothing gone right today? All I wanted to do was help, and..."

She felt like her chest was too tightened up to breathe. A sensation like pins and needles ravaged her skin while her stomach felt like a hole had been ripped into it. It was like the whole world sat on her shoulders. She tried to take slow, steady breaths to calm down and reduce all these sensations. When she looked around at her surroundings, she was surprised to see where she ended up.

A small clearing in the woods spread out in front of her. A bed of red wildflowers sprouted up toward its northern end, caressed by a gentle breeze. Sitting in front of these blooms stood a lone, weathered stone. The writing etched into it had long since faded to the passage of time, but Sitri knew very well what it once said.

"This is... the site of Rena's grave. This is where Alphonse grew up. I wonder if this is fate..." she said quietly.

Back when her parents were still alive, they made the trek up from Aboda Village with her to show her this place. This land was precious to her family, for good reason...

x x x

“You see, Sitri, a very long time ago, our ancestor, Alphonse, once lived in this spot.” a large man said, standing before his wife and daughter.

“There used to be a cabin here back in those days, and it was the home of a kind doctor who had taken Alphonse in.” the wife described.

“That doctor’s name was Rena Beldine. It’s thanks to her that we have our family name!” the husband said pridefully.

“Oh, I didn’t know that...” little Sitri said, clutching her mother’s hand. “So this big stone is where she lives now?”

“Where she sleeps now, you mean. No one except the Lokomo can live for two thousand years, silly.” her father said.

“I don’t think a six year old is going to grasp how long that really is, dear.” her mother laughed.

“Hey, I know it! It’s a really, really, really long time!” Sitri pouted.

“Haha, you’re right. It was so long ago that you might not think it matters anymore. But because of Alphonse, and because of Rena who raised him, Hyleigh still exists today!” her father said.

“Yes, it’s all thanks to him that Demon King Malladus was defeated, and that Hyleigh stopped having conflicts with demons! Your Aunt Mikha, who named you, is a Demon King, you know. But she’s our friend, and not evil like Malladus was.” her mother explained.

"That's right! And her ancestors were friends with ours! And our Alphonse became the Hero of Spirits and did so many amazing things with them!" her father nodded.

“Oh. I don’t really get it. What's a hero do?” Sitri asked.

“A hero, huh... Well, they save people from danger, and they need to be strong for that.” her father said.

“And they’re also kind to everyone they meet.” her mother added.

“But I think the most important thing a hero does is be there when people are in trouble. They gotta be someone who stands up to bad guys, even when they’re scared. As long as the hero’s around, there’s nothing to fear!” her father embellished.

"And that's exactly what our ancestor Alphonse did for Hyleigh!" her mother said.

“Wow... We really had someone in our family like that?” Sitri said. “I wonder if I can be like that, too...”

Her parents smiled wide, and her father roughly patted the little girl’s head. Sitri's eyes sparkled as she looked at the grave marker. In her mind, she pictured a shining swordsman battling monsters, imagining that she was the one wielding the blade.

x x x

Sitri knelt in front of Rena’s grave, reminiscing about the past. Her family was happy at one time, but now she was all that remained. She badly missed the feeling of her father's big hand on her head. She missed the warmth of her mother's hugs. She missed them both more than she could stand. Her lips trembled from the weight of these memories, and she was on the edge of tears again.

The coos of a dove made her jump. Her round, avian friend Chino landed on the grave and ruffled his feathers. Sitri thought that he carried another message for her and quickly leapt to her feet, but when she noticed his canister was empty, she sighed in relief and sank back down into the grass.

"Phew... I thought something was wrong again." she breathed.

She crossed her legs and planted herself at the foot of Rena's grave. Chino cooed again and hopped down to join her, sitting on her knee. Sitri smiled weakly and gave him some gentle pets.

"Did you just come to see me? Thank you. I'm sorry I'm such a mess today..." she said quietly.

Chino was a gift from her dear Aunt Mikha. She was hoping a companion would keep the loneliness at bay when Sitri went off on her own. In time, Sitri was able to train the dove to carry messages for her when she started doing relief work and helping the militias. Chino was both an invaluable partner and a friend.

Aunt Mikha is always so busy... If I didn't have Chino, I really would be all alone. Sometimes I wonder if I should just live in St. Versailles like Aunt Mikha wants... But if I did that, then...

Her petting slowed down as her thoughts became muddled again. Maybe she would have a happier, more peaceful life if she just stayed with her aunt. But that wasn't what she wanted to do. She had her own ideas about how her life should be spent, all starting from that fateful night she lost her family.

It was two years after that first visit to Rena's grave when monsters raided her home in Aboda Village. Many people were killed, including her parents. She clenched her teeth, vividly recalling the horrors she faced.

x x x

Horrible sounds filled Sitri's ears. The laughter of monsters, the screams of people, the crackling of fires, the drumming of her feet as she ran with her parents, and her own heavy breathing all mixed together chaotically. Her skull pounded with fear and confusion as her mother pulled on her arm. Her father marched ahead, holding the family sword at the ready.

"Airha... Where do we go?" her mother said.

"We need to get to the woods... Damn it, where is the militia?! Reah, Sitri, stay close!" her father said.

"Mom, I'm scared..." Sitri whimpered.

"It's okay, honey..." Her mother tried to soothe her, but she couldn't hide her own fear. "We're okay. We're going to be-"

The ground shook behind them, making Sitri stumble and lose her grip on her mother. When she turned around, her breathing stopped. A big blin had pounced on them before they could process what was happening. Sneering delusively, it swung a giant poleaxe at the little girl.

"SITRI!"

Reah screamed and shoved her daughter out of the way. Her final act of motherly love was paid for in blood. She was split in two messy halves.

"NOOOO! REAH!"

Her father roared with rage and sadness in equal measure. Reah was dead before she hit the ground. Blood and organs oozed out from both halves, staining the dirt red. Sitri fell backwards, her eyes wide and mouth agape at the sight. She was so stunned, she couldn't even manage a sound.

Airha charged forward and slashed through the big blin's gut, crying out for revenge. The brute didn't seem to mind, though, and swung its axe at him next. Airha's left arm was taken off, and he screamed in agony as he staggered back.

Finally, the gory sight broke through Sitri's state of shock. She started hyperventilating and crying as she scrambled to her father's side.

"No...! Mom! Dad! This can't..." she cried.

The big blin's body belatedly reacted to the wound, and it fell flat on its face even as it tried to strike at Airha again. Realizing this was his chance, he turned to his daughter. There was only one thing left that he could do.

"Sitri... I'm sorry. It's too late for us, but you, at least..." he said, biting through the pain.

"Dad, no! Come on! We can still-"

At that moment, a group of miniblins wielding pitchforks crawled out from the rubble behind them. They giggled excitedly with a crazed look in their eyes. Airha gritted his teeth, knowing that he couldn't fail his daughter again.

"Here... Take this and run!" he said, pushing his sword into Sitri's hands.

"Dad!" Sitri cried again.

"This sword was Rena's! It was even used by Alphonse! I know it will keep you safe! Now, go! Run to your Aunt Mikhaeyla! Please, hurry!" he begged.

"I can't leave you! Please come with me!" Sitri pleaded desperately.

The miniblins had reached them. Before they could be surrounded, Airha gave one last shout and shoved Sitri out of the way.

"RUN!" he yelled.

That was the last thing he got to say to his daughter. The next moment, the miniblins impaled him all across his back with their pitchforks, laughing with glee. As Airha screamed in agony, Sitri squeezed her eyes shut. They stung with tears as sharp as blades. Finally, she turned and ran.

x x x

Sitri's body shivered as those memories wracked through her mind. It was six years ago, but the wounds still felt fresh. She remembered how she'd run as hard as she could as the miniblins chased her out of the village. She remembered running on top of the Spirit Tracks through the mountain and over the sea to reach Harmony's portal, never once stopping, gripping Rena's sword to her chest all the while. And she could never forget collapsing into her Aunt Mikha's arms and crying for hours, until she fell asleep in her safe embrace.

Witnessing the violent and cruel deaths of her parents changed her forever. As she studied with Mikhaeyla, she learned more about her family history, and she discovered that Alphonse, her ancestor, had experienced the same trauma she did. She found herself comforted by this connection. As though it were the only way she could cope, she had buried herself in the lore of the Hero of Spirits and the Great War. It didn’t take long after that for her to decide on her course in life.

"Alphonse was just like me..." she said to herself. "He was just a little kid, but he lost his parents when his home was attacked... And from that pain, he rose up and became a hero... Rena raised him and taught him how to fight, and he defeated a Demon Lord all by himself and became the Hero of Spirits... I'm almost as old as he was when that happened, too..."

Chino tilted his head, eyeing her curiously. Sitri smiled at him.

"I can do it, too, Chino. I'm sure I can... We both experienced the same pain... Our stories started the same way... We even have the same blood in our veins! It's got to be me... No matter what anyone says, I know I can do it. I just have to keep following in Alphonse's footsteps. For my parents who were killed, for Aunt Mikha, for all the people of Hyleigh... I am going to be the next Hero of Spirits!" Sitri said proudly.

Coming to this place seemed to put her whirling mind at ease. She renewed her commitment to her home, and felt more confident than ever that she could do this. Hyleigh needed a new hero. Who else could that possibly be but her? She was the only one. That's what she’d convinced herself. And she was determined to make it real.

Suddenly, Chino perked up and froze. Before Sitri could puzzle out what was wrong, the little dove took off flying away in a fright.

"Chino?"

The sound of a twig snapping underfoot startled her. She leapt to her feet, and the color drained from her face right away. Standing on the other side of the clearing was a grinning man in black.

"Well, well. Looks like following you was the right call, after all. My gut was telling me you were hiding something inside; a big, burning fire just waiting to burst out. And you just proved it.” he said coyly.

“Zoie...!” Sitri gasped.

No... Why is this happening again? What does he want with me?!

Don’t call me that. You’re gonna spoil my good mood.” Zoie spat.

Sitri took a step back and gulped. The villainous demon glared at her for a few moments, but his grin returned to his lips in short time. He casually strolled across the clearing in the woods, making no attempts yet to grab his axe.

“What... whatever you’re trying to do, you’re wasting your time! I’m not going to fight you, y-you hear!” Sitri said bravely.

“Ha! You’re not Mikhaeyla. You can’t fend me off.” he sneered. “But who would have thought a wimpy little girl like you was descended from the Hero of Spirits himself... This really is my lucky day.”

“Wh-what are you trying to say?” Sitri asked.

“Come on, you can’t be that slow! I would give anything to be able to fight the legendary Hero of Spirits, but obviously I can’t fight someone who’s long dead. But a descendant of his, and one looking to take his place, even? Now that right there, that’s the next best thing!”

“You... Why are you so obsessed with fighting people? What do you have to prove?” Sitri said.

“Isn’t it obvious? That I’m the strongest!” Zoie laughed.

The conversation ended there. He drew his axe and leapt through the air, and the blade was engulfed in a billowing pink flame. Sitri dove out of the way without reaching for her sword. She remembered how Mikhaeyla forced him to back down by refusing to entertain his desire to fight. She thought maybe she could do the same thing. At least, she did until he landed.

Zoie crossed the clearing in an instant and swung his axe down where Sitri had just been standing. In doing so, his cold fire scorched the earth and uprooted the soil, taking along whatever was nearby. Rena’s grave was shattered to pieces.

When Sitri saw that, she stiffened up. Every muscle in her body went rigid, and her blood boiled in her veins. Her voice got stuck in her throat, and every second that it was, she felt a base anger welling up. She thought she was going to explode. Her head pounded so hard, she was seeing double for a few moments. When she could finally speak again, she screamed.

“YOU MONSTER! THAT WAS... THAT WAS...!”

“Hahahaha! Now that’s what I call a fire! What, did that rock mean something to you? Good! Come do something about it!” he taunted.

“SHUT UP!” she screamed again.

How could he... How could he! That was Rena’s grave! It’s all gone now... This place... He ruined it! He’s gonna pay. He’s gonna pay!

This fury filled her brain, replacing all of her rational thought. She drew her sword and rushed at him like mad. He geared back to swing his axe at her, and when he did, she slid under it and swiped at him. He was forced to jump back, and he laughed the whole time.

In a brief moment of clarity, Sitri recalled Mikhaeyla’s words from earlier in the day. "There's no need to be in such a rush. You'll get your chance someday. Your time will come for you when it's meant to be." This only spurred her on more. She squared up with Zoie and brandished her blade.

This is it. This is my moment. Alphonse defeated a Demon Lord when he was my age, and he did it all by himself. This guy is at least as strong as one. This is my chance to be like Alphonse!

Sitri kicked down on the ground and shot forward, keeping her arms close to her chest. Zoie, laughing loudly, twirled his axe between his fingers to show off. When Sitri was close enough, he gripped the hilt hard and swung right at her. A brilliant streak of pink fire trailed behind it, a sign that he was not holding his power back like before.

Gritting her teeth, Sitri stopped just short of the axe’s arc, feeling the eerily cold flames lick at her tunic. She felt momentarily woozy, but since it wasn’t a direct hit, she didn’t collapse this time. Before Zoie could redirect his axe, she lunged forward. Gripping her sword with both hands, she let loose with a powerful vertical slash.

Zoie was crafty, though. He leaned back and kicked the tip of her blade upward, his boot flashing with pink aura for a split second. She was wide open, and he was ready to swing back toward her now. Sitri clicked her tongue and copied Zoie’s actions, leaning backward out of the range of his swing.

The cold fire once again sapped a bit of her strength, but she remained outside the threshold of a direct hit. She quickly changed her stance, angling her body to the side and holding her sword like a rapier. She leapt forward with fast jabs, hoping to catch him unprepared.

With a big grin, Zoie took the rapid shift in tactics head on. His arm was grazed from the first strike, but he blocked the next ones with the hilt of his axe. Sitri was too fast now in this stance for him to do another full swing, at least not at this range. He focused on defense, his eyes scanning for an opening.

As Zoie tried to bash her sword away with the hilt of his axe, Sitri crept ever deeper into his space. She did not let up for a moment with the lightning-fast stabs, and when her right arm was beginning to fatigue, she flicked her sword into her left hand in a motion that lasted a mere second. She repositioned her body at the same time, never losing any ground. Zoie laughed with pure joy at this.

He was acting like a kid at their birthday party. His attitude angered Sitri even further. After another series of jabs, she had gotten close enough to strike at his body. Expertly grinding her sword against the hilt of his axe, Sitri ducked below into a spin and rammed her shoulder into her foe.

With a dull grunt, Zoie stumbled backward. Sitri swung with all her might, aiming right for his neck. She hoped she could at least nick his chin or catch one of his eyes. She prayed for any kind of significant wound to slow him down. As if he reveled in her desperation, Zoie reached out and grabbed the blade of her sword with his bare hand.

Sitri’s eyes widened, but she didn’t let her shock deter her. She pushed harder, trying to cut through the bone. If she could take him down an arm, she would win for sure. But her adversary still laughed. Spitting in the face of her confidence, he tightened his grip, and her sword stopped in its tracks.

Even as blood flowed from the cut and stained his clothes, Zoie continued to keep a firm vice on her blade. Sitri tried like mad to push it deeper in or even twist it free, but she couldn’t even budge it. It felt like it had been lodged into the side of a mountain. All of her effort was in vain.

“Heheheh. Still as naïve as ever. You fought me before, so you should have remembered that I don’t shy away from taking hits when it suits me.” he said, sounding disappointed.

The very moment he finished speaking, his leg shot up with tremendous force, nailing Sitri in her gut. Her vision blurred and the air was forced out of her lungs. She felt her feet lift off the ground, and her body was cradled by rushing wind in the next second. And before she could finish processing this, she’d slammed against the ground at the foot of where Rena’s grave once stood.

Sitri coughed and gasped for breath, clutching her stomach in agony. As her spit rolled down her cheeks, she looked over to see Zoie twirling her sword in his wounded hand. He was so deft about it, she questioned if he could even feel the pain. She tried to move, but her body was frozen stiff and rigid. His kick had been reinforced with magic.

“Tsk, tsk. You should’ve let go of your sword and backed off when you had the chance. It would’ve saved you from the kick, at least.”

He spoke like he was offering unsolicited advice. Now that the anger and adrenaline had given way to pain, Sitri’s rational mind started working again. She tried to steady her breathing, but her chest and stomach were writhing too much for her to succeed.

“Aw, what’s wrong? Did I break something? Internal bleeding, maybe? I’d be surprised if not. You humans are real fragile, you know.” he prattled.

His mien was infuriating. Sitri could do nothing but lay there and take it. Still, a shred of pride remained in her. Her left arm was gradually returning to use, so she started reaching out toward him. Her lips quivered, and her sputtered breaths finally let out some words.

“... Give it back.” she managed to spit out.

“Hm? Give what back?”

As he said this, he twirled her sword more showishly. He knew exactly what she was asking for. His grinning face said it all. Sitri clenched her jaw and tried to force herself up.

“Give it back.” she rasped.

Zoie smirked like he was enjoying the show. He casually tossed her sword back, and it clunked down on the ground right in front of her. Even though everything hurt like hell, Sitri still tried to crawl toward her blade. If she could just take it up again, one more time, then she could just-

Her thoughts were interrupted harshly. Zoie’s arm snapped out and grabbed her by the scalp, pulling her up toward his face. She cried out in pain, but he didn’t loosen his grip or let her go. He leaned in and gave her face a good once-over. Then he nodded as if he were satisfied by what he saw.

“Yep, you’re about to break. I can see it in your eyes.” he said. “You’re trying to hold on, though. There’s still a fire burning inside you. I like that. That’s why it’d be a shame to kill you now.”

Saying so, he finally let go of her hair. He had used his injured hand, so some of his grimy blood had stuck to her. It dripped down her forehead, forcing her to close her left eye. Zoie stood at his full height now, standing over Sitri as she lay crumpled up in the dirt.

“You’re a twig, and you make stupid mistakes. Even so, you have an impressive pedigree and you know some neat tricks. I’ve never seen anyone switch up their stance or change their dominant hand, and you do both so effortlessly in the middle of battle... It’s inspiring. So, that’s it for me. I’m done for now. Lucky you.”

“You’re... done? What are you... talking about?” Sitri said between heaving breaths.

“I’m saying I’m gonna let you live today. But listen up, kid. Don’t make me regret this later. You take in this bitter loss, and all the hate and resentment that comes with it, and use it to grow into an even better opponent. Once you’ve done that, I’ll come find you again... if you don’t find me first. And when that happens, you had better give me a fight worthy of a descendant of the Hero of Spirits!”

After that long-winded explanation, Zoie sheathed his axe and gave a coy little wave. With that malicious grin plastered on his face, he disappeared in a vortex of magic flames. Everything went deathly quiet after that.

Sitri lay still on the ground, unwilling to believe he was actually gone. It was unthinkable. Completely unreasonable. He had come all this way, followed her out into the woods late at night, wrecked a historic site that her family held dear, and beat her to a bloody pulp, all for what? To leave halfway through? To insult and humiliate her?

If that was his goal, he had succeeded with flying colors. Sitri clenched her fists so tightly she punctured her skin with her nails. Stinging tears flowed from her eyes, from both the pain and the anger. Her shallow, wheezing breaths were insufficient to calm her down. She was still too hurt to get up. She curled into a ball there in the dirt, hugging her knees and shaking from too many different emotions.

Several seconds passed. Seconds turned to minutes. She was no better for it. Chino still had not come back, so she didn’t even have someone to vent to. Rena’s grave was a pile of rubble and the field of wildflowers had been reduced to frozen ashes, so not even the serenity of this place remained for her. It was dark and cold, and she was in so much pain, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She was hopelessly alone.

She broke.

Wailing into the dark, Sitri cried. She cried like she did the night she lost her parents. Her throat grew hoarse almost immediately from the force of her screams. She couldn’t bring herself to think about anything. All she could do was helplessly, powerlessly cry.

A warm and gentle hand touched her cheek. She jolted and rolled over, trying to get away. She had no idea who or what it was, and she was still terrified and hurt. But when she actually looked, she felt what was perhaps the biggest relief of her life.

“Sitri... Come here.”

“Aunt Mikha...”

Somehow, some way, Mikhaeyla had found her. Sitri could hardly see a thing through her tears. She had no idea what kind of face her aunt was making at this moment. But still, she crawled forward, toward the warmth radiating from her only family.

She was quickly pulled into a safe embrace. She still couldn’t see clearly, but she felt Mikhaeyla’s arms shaking. She felt the rising and falling of her chest as she breathed. She felt the comforting squeeze of her hug, and the soft layers of her clothes. It felt like she was home again.

“I’m so sorry... I sensed Zoie’s magic and came out here as quick as I could... I’m so sorry that I didn’t make it in time...”

“Aunt Mikha...” Sitri bawled.

The pain was fading away. She could feel her stomach and ribs stitching themselves back together every second she spent in that embrace. Through her blurry eyes, she could see a faint haze of red light blanketing her skin. Mikhaeyla was casting healing magic, and she was very skilled at it. Even when Sitri was younger, whether it was injuries during training or just simple accidents, Mikhaeyla would come running to heal her. The familiar sensation opened the floodgates.

“Aunt Mikha...” Sitri cried again. “I tried so hard... But everything’s going wrong! With the pirates, with the relief work, with the fighting... I can’t do anything right! Why can’t I do it? I just... I just wanted to be like Alphonse... I wanted to be a hero... But nothing’s working! What am I doing wrong? I just want it all to stop... Why can’t something just go right for once? It wasn’t supposed to be like this! Why... Why does it have to hurt so much...”

Mikhaeyla said nothing as Sitri rambled and vented. All of her frustrations came pouring out into her aunt’s arms, and they were met with quiet comfort and soothing. Even as she worked her healing spell, Mikhaeyla gently ran her fingers through Sitri’s hair, wiping away the blood. She didn’t offer any answers to her questions.

Perhaps there was no answer. At least, not one that could come from Mikhaeyla. In a lucid thought, Sitri realized that she had to answer her own questions. If she was going to be a hero, she needed to find her own path to reach that goal. And her aunt’s embrace assured her that she’d have a safe place to go whenever she stumbled on her way.

And for tonight, that was enough. At the end of the longest day of her life, Sitri Beldine closed her eyes and surrendered herself to her unknown path, comforted by the fact that she wasn’t walking it alone.


First Movement: The Sonata of Heroes
Conclusion​
 
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