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Zelda Art The Hero of Spirits

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...Why am I crying right now?

OH WHY THE FREX WOULDN'T I BE.

Thank you for this, Az. I can't stress enough just how much I loved this story, and how much it has shown me, taught me(yes it taught me things), shared with me. I'm going to miss them all... this was incredible.

Thank you so much for writing this, Azure!
 

Vanessa28

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Teehee!! Now that was one happy ending and you had quite some turn of events here hahahah! Byrne showing up was a good thing to do. If he felt really sorry he would show up and you made him show up. Now....thank you for writing such an awesome story Azure ;) I enjoyed it and read it with pleasure :D
 

Ventus

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I literally cried as I read the last paragraph. Damn good writing if you ask me.

HOWEVER, I have a huge complaint: Naomi should've taken serious damage.
 

Azure Sage

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It's been well over a year since I finished writing this story, and I've decided to write a two-part epilogue! I haven't started on part 2 yet, but I did finish part 1. It focuses on how everyone is doing ten years later; part 2 will be the story of Alphonse and Naomi's wedding day. I'll still be working on The Dragonslayer Orphan in tandem with this.

I hope you enjoy part 1 of the epilogue! Please tell me what you think. c:

EDIT: I've changed my mind about making this a two-parter, mostly because I have absolutely no motivation to write anymore, but also because I don't really feel that the second part is necessary anymore.





Bright sunlight filtered through the trees surrounding a forest cabin. The cabin stood in a small clearing deep in the woods, about a thirty minute walk from a small village. This cabin had five residents. Only two of them were home at the moment.

Outside of this cabin stood a lone grave, marked only with its occupant's name. Before this grave sat a small child; a little girl of six. She had dark brown hair that hung down to her shoulder line and brilliant golden eyes, both of which she received from her father. Her thin lips and large eyes were reminiscent of her mother, as was her beauty. The girl was clothed in a white one piece dress.

“Hey, Big Sis? Big Sis!” the little girl called out.

Out came a girl from within the cabin. At sixteen, she was tall and had bobbed blonde hair and shining green eyes. She wore a pink t-shirt and jeans.

“What’s up?” the older girl asked.

“Well, Saria, I’ve been wondering for a while... How come this stone has my name on it?” the little girl asked.

“Oh, that goes back a few years. This is the grave of the person you were named after. She was very close to your daddy.” Saria explained.

“It’s a grave? Does that mean this person died?” the little girl asked.

“Unfortunately, yeah. It happened when I was your age.” Saria said.

“Oh, that’s sad... But how come I’m named after them?”

“Well, you see, this person was an amazing woman. She was very kind and charitable. She took me in after I lost my real parents, just like she did for your daddy. She was always smiling and warm, and she was beautiful, too. I think your daddy named you after her because he wanted you to grow up to be a wonderful person like she had been.” Saria said to the little girl.

The little girl’s face lit up. “Oh, I see! That’s cool! I think I like my name a lot more now!”

“Heehee, that’s great!” Saria laughed. “I really like it, too.”

Saria gazed down at the grave with a melancholy expression. Looking back down at the little girl, though, her spirits were lifted.

“Yeah... Rena is a wonderful name.”


The Hero of Spirits: Epilogue
Children of the Heroes


The time was ten years after the defeat of Demon King Malladus at the Tower of Spirits. The Hero of Spirits, Alphonse, as well as his comrades Zelda, Naomi, Layla, Regret, and the Lokomo Anjean and Byrne, sealed the Demon King’s spirit within the earth of the Physical Realm. The Tower of Spirits was moved to the center of the Physical Realm to serve as the lock to the Demon King’s prison, and the Spirit Tracks, spreading out from the tower, served as the chains.

After Malladus’s defeat, Alphonse no longer needed the magic power of the Spirits of Light. He returned the Lokomo Sword to Anjean, who also took back the magic power Alphonse had been borrowing. His eyes, which had been turned blue by the Stigma of the Spirits, also returned to their natural golden color. He was once again a normal human.

A new temporary government was established a year after the Hero of Spirits’ victory. It was a council consisting of an elected representative of each major race in the country of Hyleigh. Together, these council members would deal with any troubles that arose while working to establish a new official monarchy, to replace the royal family that was wiped out in the Great War. They also had the job of bridging the gap between humans and Demons, something Alphonse and his friends had started even before the war was over.

The council consisted of five members and a Demon liaison to the Mystic Realm. The human representative was Naomi, Alphonse’s wife. The Anouki representative was Firo, a long-time friend of Alphonse and Naomi. The Zora representative was called Corahl. The Gerudo representative was Oorani, one of King Ganondorf’s aides. The Goron representative was called Micah. The Demon liaison was Vespen, a former messenger to the council of Demon Kings that governed the Mystic Realm. There was no Kokiri representative, as they could not physically leave the forest they lived in.

With the council members heading up the country, restoration efforts were moving along smoothly. Most of the towns destroyed by Vaati in the war were completely rebuilt, and the country was finally regaining a sense of stability. There were also efforts to figure out how to utilize the Spirit Tracks in some way, so that they were not just taking up space on the landscape. Naomi was at the forefront of those efforts.

Four years after the war was over, Alphonse and Naomi turned twenty. They were finally of marrying age, and so a wedding was officially held for them. Nine months later, Naomi gave birth to a daughter. She and Alphonse both agreed to name her after Rena, the person who raised Alphonse after rescuing him from the destruction of his hometown.


- NABOORU CITY -


“You have a council meeting in three days, you know.” Alphonse reminded his wife as they marched through the bustling streets of the Gerudo capital.

“Yes, I know, dear.” Naomi replied.

“And you know how long it takes to travel to New Hyleigh City from here, right?”

“Yeah.”

“So remind me why we came here now of all times again? You’re just barely gonna make it back in time for the meeting.” Alphonse sighed.

“I know that, but I don’t care! This is more important!” she said, turning on her heel to face her husband. “We just got word that Layla is pregnant! With Regret’s child! How can we possibly not come see this?”

Naomi was her usual stubborn self. She even made the trip to the Desert Realm dressed in the blue robes of the council, so that she would not have to stop at home to change on their way back. Alphonse could not dissuade her when she wanted to do something, but he still could not stop himself from arguing the point.

“Well, yeah, I’m happy for them and all, but the baby isn’t going anywhere. We’d have plenty of time to visit them after the monthly council meeting.” Alphonse said.

“It’s not just because they’re our close friends! They’re the first human-Demon couple since the Mystic Realm’s creation! And they’re having a child! We’ve no idea what the child of a human and a Demon would be like! This is ground-breaking! I’m sure the council would understand if I’m late because of this.”

“That sort of thing falls under Vespen's jurisdiction, not yours. And you know that. You’re just using that as an excuse to visit them right away.“ Alphonse sighed. “And besides, I still don’t feel right about leaving Rena and Saria home alone together. I just get worried, you know?”

“Oh, don’t worry about them, they’ll be fine!” Zelda the Fairy, who was accompanying them, chimed in. “You taught Saria how to fight! They’ll be perfectly safe on their own.”

“Yeah, Zelda’s right!” Naomi said. ”You don’t have to worry so much, honey.” she said, caressing her husband’s cheek.

Alphonse grabbed her hand. “I know. It’s just... Even after ten years, I still feel weak without any magic power. I just wanna make sure I can protect them.”

“And also after ten years, you two still use pet names like you’re newlyweds.” Zelda teased.

“Oh, shut up.” Alphonse said, sticking his tongue out at his fairy friend.

“Heehee, you’re blushing!” Zelda laughed.

“Whatever. Let’s just visit them already.” Alphonse said, quickly marched forward.

“Don’t be so embarrassed, dear! I still think it’s really cute!” Naomi said.

Alphonse increased his pace, trying to hide his red cheeks. Naomi and Zelda just laughed.

“And even after ten years, some things never change.” Zelda sighed. “Who’d think you could make a twenty-six-year-old blush like that?”

“It just shows that he loves me so much! Time may pass, but people are still people.” Naomi said with a warm smile.

Zelda and Naomi caught up to Alphonse, and continued walking down one of the main roads deeper into the city. Regret and Layla had a house together not far from the castle. They lived next door to Maika, Regret’s former roommate as well as the one who discovered him in the desert after his banishment from the Mystic Realm.

After Malladus was defeated, Regret and Layla headed to Nabooru City together to start a new life. However, it was two years before either of them would admit that they were in love. And it was four years after that when they finally got married.

Such a union between a human and a Demon would have been unthinkable before, but thanks to the efforts of the council, and Vespen in particular, the people of both the Physical and the Mystic Realms were, for the most part, accepting of it. In fact, since the war ended, many humans had moved to the Mystic Realm to see what it was like, and vice versa. Humans and Demons were starting to coexist.

At one point, after learning how to cross dimensions with magic, Regret returned to the Mystic Realm out of concern for his former territory. To his delight, he found that Rinz had been named to succeed Drake as the new Demon King of that land. Regret had always felt concerned that, as a Demon Prince, he was abandoning his responsibilities. It lifted a weight from his shoulders to know that Rinz, a capable man who slowly became more accepting of humans, was ruling there fairly and justly. Knowing this is what allowed Regret to enjoy his peaceful life with Layla in the Physical Realm.

Alphonse, Naomi, and Zelda arrived at the home of Regret and Layla. When the two of them first returned to Nabooru City, King Ganondorf had offered them a palatial mansion as a reward for everything they’d done, but they turned him down. They wanted to live a life on their own terms together. The house they lived in was small, but accommodating.

Naomi wasted no time to knock on their door. “Layla! Regret! Open up! I wanna see the baby! Come on!” she yelled.

“The baby’s not born yet. According to their letter, she’s only been pregnant for a month.” Alphonse reminded her.

“Come on guys, open up!” Naomi called out again.

“She’s not listening.” Zelda laughed.

“Alright, alright! Quit your banging already!” a voice from inside shouted. The door swung open to reveal an irritated Regret. But once he saw who was at the door, his frown turned upside down. “Naomi! Alphonse! Zelda’s here, too! Awesome! It’s great to see you guys! Come on in!” he said excitedly.

“Hey, Regret! Long time no see!” Alphonse said, giving his old friend a hug.

Regret and Naomi exchanged hugs too, and everyone migrated inside. After Regret closed the door behind himself, he called out to his wife.

“Hey, Layla! Guess who’s here!” he shouted.

The inside of their house closely resembled the house Regret had shared with Maika ten years ago. There was a living room and a kitchen separated by a wall with two thresholds, and an upstairs with a bedroom and a bath. Layla appeared from the upstairs.

“Alphonse! Naomi! Zelda! Wow, it’s so great to see you guys!” Layla said as she leapt down the stairs.

“Baby!” Naomi said and rushed to Layla.

“Baby?!” Regret said.

After giving Layla a hug, Naomi knelt down in front of her and placed her ear to her stomach. “H-hey, that tickles!” Layla laughed. “It’s only been a month. The baby probably hasn’t developed enough yet for you to tell.”

“Wait, how’d you guys know Layla’s pregnant?” Regret asked.

“I wrote them a letter about it.” Layla said.

“You did what?! Don’t do stuff like that! It’s embarrassing! What did you write? I hope you didn’t write anything too mushy.” Regret said frantically.

“Dude, chill out.” Alphonse laughed.

“Yeah, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about!” Zelda said. “Geez, you’re worse than Alphonse with this stuff! You should’ve seen him when Naomi was pregnant.”

“H-hey, there’s no need to bring that up.” Alphonse said.

“Congratulations, you two!” Naomi said, standing back up. “Have you decided on a name yet?”

“Well, since we’re the first human-Demon couple in... Well, since forever ago, I guess,” Layla began, “We wanted our child’s name to be something meaningful. We haven’t talked about it much, but we did decided on a name if it turns out to be a girl.”

“Yeah. We agreed to name her Harmony.” Regret said.

Alphonse and Naomi smiled. “That would be a wonderful name.” Alphonse said.


* * *


“It sure was nice, seeing them again.” Zelda said as she, Alphonse, and Naomi were leaving Nabooru City.

“Yeah. When was the last time we were all together like that?” Alphonse said.

“I think last year’s party. You know, the party for the anniversary of the war’s end.” Zelda said.

“Oh, yeah. You’re right.” Alphonse said. “We should all get together more often.”

“I agree! It’s always best when we’re all together. It’s just like the good old days!” Naomi said. “I don’t want our group to drift apart now that we’re getting older.”

“Yeah, me neither. Though, it is tough since we live so far apart. Plus, with the restoration efforts still going, we don’t really have a lot of time for get-togethers.” Alphonse sighed.

“Yeah, and I still haven’t made any progress on figuring out how to use the Spirit Tracks most effectively yet.” Naomi said. “I know I want them to be used for transportation, since that’d be most efficient, but I can’t think of any kind of method that would allow for fast travel on those tracks...”

“Well, don’t worry so much. You’ll figure it out.” Alphonse said, putting his hand on her shoulder. “There isn’t really a deadline for this, so you can take your time and think about it.”

“You’re right. Thanks, Alphonse.” she said with a smile.

“Besides, it’s not good to wrack your brain so hard. I sometimes watch you when you draft up ideas for it at night. It’s like there’s steam coming from your head...” he joked.

Naomi suddenly froze up. “Wait, what did you say?”

“U-uh, nothing bad. It was just an expression...” Alphonse said, feeling like he’d offended her.

“What did you say?” she asked again, leaning in on him.

“Uh-oh, you’re in trouble now.” Zelda laughed.

Alphonse gulped. “Uh... I s-said it’s like there’s steam coming from your head?” he answered nervously.

Naomi was quiet for a few seconds, but then her face lit up with joy. “Steam! That’s it! How could I not have thought of it before? It’s so obvious! Alphonse, you’re a genius!”

With that, she smooched Alphonse’s cheek and raced off ahead of them with excitement. Alphonse and Zelda were left in the dust.

“Uh... What just happened?” Zelda asked.

“I dunno...” Alphonse said, rubbing his cheek where Naomi had kissed it. “Come on, let’s go after her.”


- NEW HYLEIGH CITY -


In the center of the newly established city of Hyleigh, several miles southeast of the Tower of Spirits, a large building was constructed atop the ruins of the royal castle. This building, mostly white in color, had a domed roof and stood tallest among all other structures in the city. This building was called the Council Hall, and it was where the council held their monthly meetings to discuss restoration efforts and other topics of importance in the kingdom.

Inside Council Hall was a vast open room, circular in shape. The ceiling was concaved and the walls were laden with silver. Across the floor spread a velvet carpet, and resting on top of this carpet was a white table in the shape of a ring. Six brown leather chairs encircled this table. Five of them were occupied at the moment.

“She’s late again...” the gruff voice of the Goron Micah sighed.

“That’s the third time in a row now.” the Zora Corahl said.

“C’mon, now, don’t getcha pants ‘n a twist!” Firo said. “She’s bound ta have a good reason, jus’ like she did last time.”

“I don’t care. She shouldn’t get special treatment just because she’s the Hero of Spirits’ wife!” Micah barked.

“I agree, though I do not think she’s getting special treatment.” Vespen said.

“Yes, I agree with Vespen. Getting caught up in her work to devise a method of using the Spirit Tracks is a valid excuse for being late.” Oorani said. “Besides, the citizens all look up to her. If she were kicked off the council just for being late, it would certainly cause a lot of distress for the public...”

“Getting caught up in her work?” Micah scoffed. “She hasn’t made any progress on that since she first began the project! I wouldn’t call a lack of progress a valid excuse.”

Just then, the doors swung open. “Just who has a lack of progress, huh?” Naomi said, standing in the threshold. She was carrying a rolled up piece of paper under her arm.

“Oh, good! You’re here!” Oorani said.

“You’re late again. Where were you?” Corahl asked.

“I just got back from the Desert Realm.” Naomi said, taking her seat beside Oorani. “I was visiting Regret and Layla. They’re having a child!”

“What? Really?” Vespen said. “That’s incredible. I’ll have to go have a look myself later.”

“That sort of thing doesn’t fall under your jurisdiction. You can’t use that as an excuse!” Micah said.

“That’s not my excuse, anyway.” Naomi said. “The real reason I’m late is because I had to stop home to draw up... This!”

Naomi spread the paper she was carrying onto the table. On it were blueprints for some sort of contraption. The others didn’t quite understand it.

“Whatcha got there, girl-y?” Firo asked.

“This is the so-called ‘lack of progress’!” she said, smirking at Micah. “These are the blueprints for a new type of transportation that will travel on the Spirit Tracks!”

The other council members all seemed surprised. “You mean you finally have an idea for how it can be done?” Micah asked, dumbfounded.

“That’s right!” Naomi said proudly. “I got the idea when Alphonse said it looked like steam comes from my head when I’m hard at work. That was the answer; steam! There are steam-powered boats that sail the seas of the Ocean Realm. We should be able to use that technology to devise a mode of transportation that runs on the rails of the Spirit Tracks. And that’s what I’ve done here!”

“Of course... That should be very plausible. I’m surprised no one thought of it before.” Vespen said.

“Yeah! We can feed the transport with steam from coal and control the engine just like we would a steamboat.” Naomi said.

“But I doubt something like that would be very big. It’d have to be small enough to fit on the tracks yet large enough to contain such an engine. Where will be room for people to ride it? Do you intend to mass-produce this for personal use?” Corahl asked.

“That’s the beauty of this; we don’t have to! We make it public!” Naomi said. ”We can make more transports for passenger use. Lots of people would ride in them. Then, those transports would be linked together to the one in front, the engine. Steam power should be enough to pull all those transports along the tracks, though I haven’t tested that theory yet. But this way, lots of people could ride these across the country! The Spirit Tracks pass right by most towns, so the transports could stop at each town and let people off at the stops they want. They’ll be able to travel anywhere in no time at all!”

The entire council was awe-struck with her proposal. “That’s... Simply incredible.” Corahl said.

“Very nice work, Naomi. If we can make this work, it would be a major step forward for this country.” Vespen said.

“Heck yeah! I’m all for it!” Firo said.

“Perhaps this could aid in restoration efforts, too. If it could carry people, maybe it could carry supplies as well!” Oorani said.

“I have to admit, I’m impressed. I honestly didn’t think you could come up with something like this.” Micah said. “Have you any idea what we would call this invention?”

“I do.” Naomi responded. “I thought about it, and because of how it would ‘pull’ other transport units along, I decided the best name for this type of transportation would be the train!”


* * *


Standing against the outside wall of Council Hall by the front doors were Alphonse and Zelda, waiting for the council meeting to dismiss.

“I think it’s about time for the meeting to let out. How do you think it went?” Zelda asked.

“Knowing Naomi, I bet it went off without a hitch.” Alphonse said. “She told me Micah usually gives her grief for being late a lot and for not making much progress, but I bet with this she’ll wipe the floor with that attitude of his.”

“Heh heh, yeah.”

A few minutes later, the large double doors of Council Hall were opened, and one by one, council members began to pour out. Alphonse said hello to some of them, including Oorani and Firo, while awaiting Naomi’s arrival. She was the last to exit the building.

“Hey, sweetie!” she said, running up to Alphonse and giving him a hug.

“Hey, good to see you!” Alphonse said, hugging her back. “So, how’d it go?”

“Do you even have to ask? I knocked ‘em dead!” Naomi said.

“Great! I knew you would.” Alphonse said.

“That’s wonderful, Naomi!” Zelda said. “So, how are they gonna handle your ‘train’ idea?”

“Wait, let’s talk while we walk. I wanna get home and start dinner.” Naomi said.

“Okay.” Alphonse and Zelda said together.

The three of them began to walk down the front steps of Council Hall and down the main road of New Hyleigh City. They passed by several newly constructed buildings on their way, as well as the town memorial. This was built atop the ruins of some of the homes destroyed when Vaati attacked ten years ago. The names of everyone who’d died in the attack were etched onto it, including those of Saria’s parents. There was a memorial like this in all of the towns Vaati had destroyed in the war.

Naomi explained what the plan was for her train idea to Alphonse and Zelda as she walked with them.

“So, Micah will take the blueprints I drew up back to Goron City, and he’ll have his people there start construction on the transports. We’re gonna call them ‘ train cars’. At the same time, Corahl will head to the Ocean Realm and find an engineer to work on the steam engine for the train. We’ll put ‘em together, and then test them to see if the engine will be able to pull the cars along the Spirit Tracks.” she explained.

“I see. Sounds like there’s still a lot of work ahead, huh?” Zelda said.

“Yeah, but I’m glad I could finally get something done about this!” She then turned to Alphonse. “And it’s all thanks to you, honey! Thank you so much!”

Alphonse blushed and turned away shyly. “Heh... You’re welcome, I guess.”

Naomi and Zelda laughed, and the three continued their walk home through the city. As they walked, Alphonse noticed they were heading down the same street he’d met Saria on eleven years ago. He couldn’t hold back a soft smile as he fondly recalled memories of that time.

Alphonse’s thoughts also turned to Saria’s parents, Roy and Gracia. They were no longer around to watch their daughter grow up. As he thought about that, he began to think of Rena and Oz, as well. Neither of them got to watch their precious children finish growing up, either. Inevitably, he thought of his own parents, too.

He began to feel sad, but he shrugged that feeling away. He knew better now. Alphonse knew that he and Naomi and Saria were carrying out the wishes of their parents and guardians and living their lives the best they could. And whatever Oz and Rena and Roy and Gracia missed out on, he and Naomi would make up for it by raising their own children. He already had a daughter to raise.

Alphonse decided then and there that, in order to make up for the time Rena and his parents lost with him, he’d spend all the time he could with his own daughter and watch her grow up to be a fine adult. And he’d do it all by Naomi’s side. Rena had raised him, and now he would raise the next generation of people born in a world that had been freed from war. That was the promise he’d made to himself.

Alphonse looked up to the sky just as he did the day he sealed Malladus away, and then looked to his wife. He grabbed her hand and held it tightly in his. She looked up at him, surprised at first, but she began to smile brightly. With beaming faces, the couple along with Zelda left the gates of New Hyleigh City.

“Now... Let’s go home.” Alphonse said with a smile.​
 
Last edited:

Vanessa28

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Well written Az! It's always good te read what happened after. I still giggle when I think of Ganondorf being good :P Now it's time for you to put up the next chapter about the wedding ;)
 

Azure Sage

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Wow, it's been years. And here I am with new chapters to expand the story. @Vanessa28 you may be interested in this. Also, @Rare Addict @Hylian_Monolith @Clank I don't know if you guys are still around, but I know you guys enjoyed the story, so you may like this. Any new readers should start from the beginning, obviously. Old readers may want to do the same, both for a refresher and to catch up on the content updates. If you don't, I can't say you're missing a lot, but I made a lot of things clearer and fixed some plot holes.

This new content I'm putting out are chapters that I really should have included in the first place. They come in between the Mystic Realm Arc and the Intermission Arc (see the table of contents on the first page of the thread). These new chapters tell the story of what Layla and Zelda did while Alphonse and friends were in the Mystic Realm. It will include Byrne's backstory and will bring Vino's character arc to a much needed conclusion. These are things that reaaaaally should have been in the story in the first place and I am kicking myself for having missed this opportunity. And I'm finally doing something about it all these years later. So, Chapter Forty-Six WAS the start of the Mystic Realm Arc, but now it's the start of the new Forest Realm Arc. I'll go back and update the chapter numbers and the table of contents accordingly when I'm finished. I plan for this arc to be around 5 chapters.

So, without further adieu, the new chapter. Please enjoy!





Chapter Forty-Six


Layla, Zelda, and Saria remained in the Physical Realm as Alphonse, Naomi, Regret, and Byrne vanished along with the strange intruder. Vino was gone. There was only the three of them left in the ruins of Hyleigh City.

“What are we supposed to do now?!” Zelda exclaimed.

“I have no idea...” Layla said.

“Al... Naomi... I’m worried about them. And about Regret, too...” Saria said.

“If only Anjean were here... She can use magic. I bet she could help us out.” Zelda said.

“Oh, yeah! Is there a way to get in touch with her?” Layla said, feeling a glimpse of hope.

“None that I know of. According to Alphonse, she’s kind of monitoring the Physical Realm sometimes when she’s not participating in the Great War. That’s how she knows when to appear before us when we need her most. But since she’s not appearing right now, she must not be watching us at the moment...” Zelda said.

“Oh... I guess we’re on our own, then.” Layla said, disappointed.

Layla felt hopeless. Without magic, there was no way to travel between dimensions. That was what Vino told them before he left. She had no way to go to the aid of her friends. They would have to be on their own in the Mystic Realm.

I can’t just sit here and hope they’ll come back to us alive. There has to be something I can do.

As Layla thought that, she looked to Zelda, and then Saria. The young girl looked worried.

“Are you okay, Saria?” Layla asked.

“I’m just worried about Al... Even if he does come back, that bad man still wants to hurt him, right?” Saria said.

“Bad man? You mean Vino?” Layla asked.

“Yeah.”

“You’ve got a point, Saria.” Zelda said. “He’s probably not gonna give up from something like this. I mean, he’s been holding this grudge for a while. He’s probably just waiting for Alphonse to get back before he pounces.”

That’s right... Vino...

Vino, the underground thug who wanted to kill Alphonse and get revenge for the death of his friend, Gray. Vino hired Byrne to kill Alphonse, and because of that, Byrne ended up killing Naomi’s stepfather, Oz, and Alphonse’s guardian, Rena. That was the story she’d heard just last night. As long as Vino was around, they couldn’t be safe, even if they did come back from the Mystic Realm in one piece.

Then that’s what we have to do.

“Hey, Zelda.” Layla began. “Let’s defeat Vino.”

“Huh? Just the two of us?” she asked, surprised.

“Yeah. I was watching his fight with Alphonse. I think we can handle this.”

“Why are you suggesting this all of a sudden?” Zelda asked.

“Well... Like you said, he’s not gonna stop. We can’t do anything about our friends in the Mystic Realm, so let’s do something about him.” Layla said.

“Wow! That’s a good idea!” Saira said. “Then Al can come home safely!”

“Exactly.” Layla said, patting the girl’s head with a grin.

“I see where you’re coming from. You’re right, standing here fretting over the friends we can’t help right now won’t do us any good. We should focus on what we can do, instead.” Zelda agreed.

“Then it’s a plan.” Layla said. “Now, we just have to figure out where he went...”

* * *

Layla and Zelda agreed to take Saria to Mayscore. Neither of them wanted to leave a six-year-old girl alone in an isolated cabin. Zelda suggested they leave her with Julia, a friend they knew in the town.

“So this is Mayscore, huh.” Layla said as the trio arrived in the woodland town.

“Naomi and I walked here for groceries when Al and Zel were out on their trip!” Saria said.

“Alphonse and I spent a lot of time here together. We know the townspeople well.” Zelda said.

As they walked down the main road, they soon spotted Julia. She had a brown paper bag cradled in her arms.

“Julia!” Zelda called out.

“Oh, hello Zelda!” Julia replied. “It’s been a while! I haven’t seen you since you and Alphonse went off to the Ocean Realm. Oh, and hello to you, too, Saria!”

“Hi!” Saria said with a smile.

“Oh, did you and Naomi meet her already?” Zelda asked.

“Yes, we met.” Julia said. “Oh, I don’t believe I know you, though.” she added, indicating Layla.

“Oh, hello. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Layla.”

“L-Layla?!” Julia said in surprise. “By any chance, are you... the captain of the S.S. Linebeck?”

“Huh?! How do you know about my ship?”

“Oh, so you are the one! Wow, I can’t tell you what an honor it is to meet you!” Julia said, vigorously shaking Layla’s hand. “Your first mate, Seryph; he’s an old friend of mine! We grew up in this village together!”

“Oh! You’re the friend Seryph told me about, huh? He’s mentioned you a lot.” Layla said, smiling.

I guess she’s the reason Alphonse and I met, then.

“So, Julia. We need a favor.” Zelda said.

“Of course, anything for you, dear.” Julia said.

“Would it be okay if you watched Saria for us for a few days? We’re going out to do something important, and it could be dangerous, so we want to make sure she’s safe.”

“Of course, I don’t mind, but... Is there a reason Naomi and Alphonse can’t watch over her?” Julia asked.

“Well... There is a reason, it’s just... It’s really hard to explain.” Layla said.

“Let’s just say that Alphonse is doing work as the Hero of Spirits right now. We don’t have anyone else to turn to but our friends in this town. No one that Saria is comfortable with, anyway.” Zelda said.

“Please, Miss Julia? It’s really important!” Saria said.

“... Well, all right, then.” Julia agreed.

“Thank you so much! This is a big help.” Zelda said.

“We’ll come back to get her soon. Thank you.” Layla said.

“Just be careful doing whatever it is you have to do. I may not know much about what goes on around you all, but I hear the stories. Please come back safely.” Julia said, shaking Layla’s hand.

“Be safe!” Saria added as she hugged Layla.

“We will. Thank you.”

As they waved, Layla and Zelda left Mayscore together. It was close to noon as they departed from the village gates.

“So, where are we going to look for Vino? We have no idea where he could be right now.” Zelda said.

“I have a hunch that he’ll be hanging around Hyleigh City’s ruins. That’s the place Alphonse and our friends vanished from. There’s a good chance they could return there, too.” Layla said.

“Good thinking. If Vino plans to ambush him when he returns, then that’s where he’ll be.”

* * *

The sky was beginning to turn orange as Layla and Zelda returned to the scorched ruins of Hyleigh City. A hollow wind could be heard whispering through the desolate place. Ashes and debris still littered the entire town proper. No one had come to reclaim the land, just like the other towns Vaati had destroyed. The was no sense in rebuilding what could be easily destroyed again; that was the thinking of the time. With the royal family dead and gone with the city, there was no establishment left to handle reconstruction, anyway.

Zelda quivered as she floated alongside Layla through the ruins.

“Did you know many people here?” Layla asked.

“Not as many as in Mayscore, no. But still, it was such a big city... So many people died...” Zelda said.

“Yeah...” Layla said. “It’s really such a shame. Let’s hope we find Vino fast, so the people here can rest.”

The pair returned to the spot where Alphonse and Regret fought with Vino and Byrne. There was no sign of anyone in the area. Aside from the wind and their footsteps, there was not a sound to be heard. The sky was becoming a dark scarlet. She started to wonder if they would have to make camp for the night in these ruins.

A sudden noise broke the silence. Layla and Zelda looked to their left in surprise, and spotted a figure running away from the road into the ruins.

“Is that Vino?!” Layla said.

“Let’s go find out!” Zelda said.

Layla drew her lance and dashed down the road and into the ruins of a residential district. Zelda took to the air for a better vantage point.

“I see him! Follow me!” Zelda shouted down.

Layla followed the light emitted by Zelda as it darted through the sky above her head. She dashed between buildings, hopped over burnt debris, and climbed her way past a ruined home. She sprinted across a wooden beam that began to crumble beneath her feet. She leapt into the air, sailing over more scorched wood and debris, landing into a roll in the remains of an alleyway.

The figure of the runaway became clearly visible. The man was not Vino. He was stoutly and had brown hair.

Whoever he is, he may be connected to Vino. We need to talk to him.

As she thought that, Layla picked up the pace. The man turned around, yelped in shock when he saw his pursuer, and began running faster. Zelda, who was much faster than both of them, darted down from the air directly into the man’s path.

“Wha-?!”

Caught by surprise, the man lost his balance and tumbled to a stop in the road. Layla quickly caught up to him, and as he struggled to return to his feet, Layla aimed the tip of her lance at his throat.

“Aieeeee!” the man squealed.

“Be cooperative, or my hand might slip.” Layla threatened with a glare. “Who are you?”

“M-m-m-my name is Maiza.” the man managed to squeak out.

“Do you know a man named Vino?” Zelda asked. Maiza’s face turned white as a sheet. “So you do know him, huh?”

“I... I, um...” he stammered.

“Where can we find him?” Layla asked.

“Please don’t ask me that! Do you have any idea what he’ll do to me if he finds out I told you?!” Maiza begged.

“I don’t have time for your cowardice!” Layla yelled. “My friend Alphonse is in danger because of him! Tell me where I can find him!”

Upon hearing the name “Alphonse”, Maiza turned even whiter.

“Wow, he looks like he’s gonna faint. Some thug he is.” Zelda said.

“Oh man... I knew I never should’ve come here... But if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d kill me...!” Maiza cried.

“Who? Vino?” Layla asked.

“Yeah... He told me to keep watch on this place and tell ‘em when Alphonse shows back up. Aw hell, like I ever wanted to see that guy again...” Maiza said.

“You know Alphonse?” Zelda asked.

“I saw him just once. He raided my hideout and killed my partners. Then I watched him use some freaky powers to kill Gray...” Maiza explained.

“Gray?!” Layla said in surprise.

There’s that name again. If I remember right, that’s the thug who...

“So you were one of Gray’s lackeys?” Zelda said. “That means you were part of the group that kidnapped Naomi!”

“Oh, is that right?” Layla said. Her eyes became focused and angry. “Maybe I should be the one to kill him instead of Vino.”

“Aaaaugh! Please don’t kill me!” Maiza begged.

“Then tell us where to find Vino and I’ll let you make a run for it. What’s it gonna be?” Layla demanded.

“Aw, hell...! Ugh... Fine, I’ll tell you!” Maiza said. “Vino is gatherin’ up a bunch of Gray’s old friends. His plan is to gang up on Alphonse when he shows up. He thinks he can overwhelm him with numbers.”

“He’s putting together a group, huh? This could be trickier than I thought...” Zelda said.

“Where are they all meeting up?” Layla asked.

“Vino said for everyone to meet in the ruins of Aboda Village.” Maiza said.

“Aboda?!” Zelda gasped.

“The town where Alphonse was born...” Layla said.

Upon hearing this news, the two were shocked. Soon, they would have to travel to the birthplace of their dear friend. The place where the Hero of Spirits got his start.
 

Azure Sage

Spread Smiles!
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Joined
Jan 17, 2011
Location
Magnolia City
Gender
Snow Queen: is azure sage trans
Double-posting?! Please don't tell the mods. :sweat: Here's the next chapter of the Forest Realm arc. As I've been writing, I've realized that this arc will be four chapters long. I'll push Byrne's backstory as a separate chapter right before the finale, when the group is back together.

Enjoy!





Chapter Forty-Seven


Maiza scampered off out of sight. Knowing that Vino would kill him for revealing his location to Layla and Zelda, he intended to disappear into Hyleigh’s underground. The intrepid pair were left alone in the ruined city.

“I can’t believe Vino is gathering people in Aboda’s ruins...” Layla said.

“Alphonse would be furious if he knew. Do you think Vino chose that place on purpose?” Zelda said.

“It’s possible. He probably left Maiza here to give Alphonse the word that he could find Vino in his old hometown. Knowing Alphonse, he’d rush over there right away.” Layla surmised.

“That’s low...” Zelda said. “At least now we know where to find him.”

“But Aboda’s ruins are really far away. They’re on the southwestern shore of the Forest Realm, right? We should go back to Rena’s cabin and sleep there for the night.” Layla suggested.

“Yeah. When the sun rises, we can leave. We should reach Aboda by noon.” Zelda said.

* * *

It was late at night when Layla and Zelda finally returned to Rena’s cabin. Crickets could be heard singing in the surrounding woods. Fireflies danced among the bushes and grass. The night was serene and lonesome. Layla trudged through this serenity, quickly entering the cabin and collapsing on the couch.

“Finally... I’m so exhausted after all that running around. From here, to Hyleigh, to Mayscore, back to Hyleigh, and finally back here in a single day... Yeesh.” Layla sighed.

“Better rest up. We’ll need your strength for the fight against Vino.” Zelda said.

“Yeah, and however many thugs he rounded up, too.”

Layla rose up off the couch and headed into the kitchen for a glass of water and food. After some quick nourishment, she went into the patient room she’d slept in the night before. Zelda joined her. Layla removed her lance and propped it up against the wall next to the door. She tossed aside her black blouse and was left with her white undershirt. After kicking off her boots, she slumped into the bed. Zelda floated down onto the pillow aside her head.

“Hey... Do you always sleep next to Alphonse like that?” Layla asked.

“Yeah.” Zelda answered.

“You two are really close, huh...” Layla said quietly.

Layla watched the Forest Fairy with interest. She observed how the glow emitted from her body began to dim. She wondered about what Zelda was thinking about. How much did she miss her friends? What was she feeling?

I bet Alphonse could tell with a single look...

“Hey, Zelda...” Layla began.

“Hm?”

“I want to be closer to you all.”

“Closer? Where’s that coming from all of a sudden?” Zelda asked.

“You have a really great friendship with Alphonse. You can get along with me, and with Naomi, and even with Regret, and you’re like a big sister to Saria. I thought Alphonse was the one who held this group together, but I think it’s actually you.” Layla said.

“W-wha? Do you really think so?” Zelda said.

“I do. You’re really easy to talk to, and you seem to be the one who keeps Alphonse out of trouble. You’re always around, and you kind of bring a sense of reason to our group. I... I really admire you for that.” Layla said, giving the fairy a soft smile.

“Gosh, I don’t know what to say to that...” Zelda said. “I gotta say, I admire you, too.”

Layla was surprised to hear this. “Y-you do?!”

“Yeah! You’re strong, and you can keep up with the boys even without magic. You were even the captain of a ship and commanded a lot of respect from your crew! I have to admit, I didn’t like your attitude at first, but you’re actually super thoughtful and nice! I like you a lot, Layla.” Zelda said.

Layla’s cheeks began to feel hot. “Wow, thank you...”

Layla shuffled around in the bed, trying to hide her blushing face. As she did this, she thought back to her talk with Alphonse in the Gerudo baths. Alphonse was always very kind to her, even when he turned her down. She felt lucky to be blessed with caring and thoughtful friends at last. This made her feel guilty about something.

“Hey, Zelda... I think I should tell you something. I think you deserve to know, since you’re such a good friend.”

“What is it, Layla?”

“Well... Did you know that I, um... I used to have a ‘thing’ for Alphonse?”

“A ‘thing’? ... Wait, you mean, like, feelings?” Zelda said.

“... Yes.”

“Huh. I did kinda get that vibe from you when we went to the Desert Realm. Is that why you lied about what happened in the baths?” Zelda asked.

“Huh?!” Layla said, sitting straight up.

“Remember? When Alphonse got dizzy and passed out in the baths and you carried him back to his room. I don’t know what really happened, but I could tell it wasn’t that.” Zelda said.

“.... You could tell? But you never said anything... I would never have guessed that you knew something was up.” Layla said.

“I didn’t say anything to Alphonse, either.” Zelda said. “I know he’s not the type who would cheat, so I know whatever you two did, it isn’t something I should be worried about. So I decided to respect your privacy.”

“But... You don’t care that I lied to you?” Layla asked.

“Like I said, I respect your privacy. I’m not gonna be nosy unless it’s something that’ll affect all of us.” Zelda said.

Layla felt her heart twist. She felt guilty about lying to Zelda before, yet Zelda had known all along and still admired her all the same. Layla felt silly for thinking herself untrustworthy.

You guys are too good to me. This is more than I deserve...

“You’re really a great friend, Zelda.” Layla said, smiling more than ever. “I feel like I owe you the truth.”

“You don’t, really. I mean, it’s not like you two were doing anything that would break Naomi’s heart, right?” Zelda asked.

“Probably not... Actually, he was rejecting me, so...” Layla said.

“Okay, good. Then that’s all I need to know.” Zelda said. “Besides, I can tell you’ve got a thing for Regret now, anyway.”

“HUH?!” Layla's face flushed with color.

“It’s pretty obvious. Though, I don’t think Regret realizes. Having said that, I think he’s got a thing for you, too.” Zelda said.

“Wh-wh-wh-what?! Really?”

“I think so. I think you two would be cute together. In fact-”

“OKAY THAT’S ENOUGH!”

“Hah, sorry.” Zelda said.

Jeez. She notices way more that you’d think she does...

As she thought that, Layla felt even more strongly that Zelda was the one who held the group together. She noticed the little things about everyone, but kept quiet until it was necessary. She made sure her friends kept level heads, and guided them when they needed it. Layla felt herself admiring the fairy even more.

Layla laid back down in bed, on her side facing Zelda. “You know, I’m really glad I met all of you... Tomorrow, we have to make sure to stop Vino. You’ve all given me more than I deserve. I want to make it all up.” she said.

“Yeah. We’ll take care of things here so they can come home safely.” Zelda said. “This was a good talk, Layla! But for now, let’s sleep.”

“Yeah. Good night.”

* * *

Sunlight began drifting in through the window of the patient room. The singing of crickets was gradually replaced by the singing of birds. These songs woke Layla and Zelda from a restful slumber.

“It must be morning now...” Zelda said, floating into the air.

“Yeah... Let me grab something to eat and we can get going.” Layla said through a yawn.

The girls left the bedroom after Layla got dressed. They quickly stopped in the kitchen so Layla could eat, and before long, they were ready to set out. Leaving Rena’s cabin, Layla’s thoughts wandered to Saria. She would still be asleep in Julia’s home in Mayscore at that time. Layla wanted to hurry and take care of business with Vino so that Saria could return home. She felt guilty about the young girl being shuffled around so much.

With her lance strapped to her back and her body rested and fed, Layla was ready to embark with Zelda.

“From here, it should take around four or five hours to reach Aboda’s ruins, right?” Layla asked to confirm.

“Yeah. We’re gonna be covering a lot of ground today.” Zelda said. “Oh yeah, that reminds me. Let’s try to steer clear of the woods as we travel.”

“How come? Are you worried about Stalchildren?”

“No, not them. I’m worried about the Lost Woods.” Zelda said.

“Lost Woods?”

“Yeah. It’s a really creepy section of the forest. It’s north of Aboda, and it’s between there and the Kokiri Village. A lot of the trees there are twisted and almost look like they’re in agony. The Kokiri call them ogre trees. In those woods, the wind is howling, and there’s always an eerie mist blanketing everything. People say those woods make you see things that aren’t there. Hardly anyone who goes in ever makes it out.” Zelda explained.

“Yikes. I feel like I may have read about that place before.”

“Alphonse and I spent our first few years together exploring the Forest Realm, but we always stayed away from that place. We’ve also never been to Aboda’s ruins. I don’t know exactly where the Lost Woods begin, all I know is that it’s north of Aboda. So let’s be careful and stick to the outskirts of the forest as we travel, okay?” Zelda suggested.

“Good thinking.” Layla agreed.

I hope I don’t ever have to see that place.

* * *

The sun had risen to the peak of the sky. It was nearly noon. Layla and Zelda could begin to smell a hint of salt on the breeze. Before long, they could spy palm trees in the distance. A faint roaring of waves could soon be heard, as well.

“It almost feels like I’m back in the Ocean Realm.” Layla said.

“Yeah, Alphonse made a comment like that when the two of us first set foot in the Ocean Realm. He said he missed the smell of the sea breeze and that it reminded him of his home.” Zelda said.

“It reminds me of home, too.” Layla said.

The two continued on the outskirts of the forest. Before them was a grassy plain that reached toward a beach. There was a small mountain in the distance. At the foot of that mountain, on the shoreline, was where the ruins of Aboda would be.

“We’re getting close, now.” Layla said.

As the pair continued across the plain, Zelda looked ahead to see if they could use anything for cover as they approached the ruined village. Flying high into the sky, she spotted the ruins ahead.

Aboda Village, the hometown of the Hero of Spirits. All that remained of the place were scorched buildings and rubble. The town was small, and the devastation was not as severe as it was in Hyleigh City. Still, the emptiness that was left behind in the ruins was clear. The remains of buildings looked as if they were becoming covered in moss and vines. The forest was reclaiming the abandoned land.

Zelda felt a momentary relief that Alphonse was not there with her to see the sight. It had been nine years, and he had never once gone back to this place. She always thought he never went back because it was too painful for him. She knew if he saw his hometown in this state, he would be heartbroken. She wanted to help Layla run Vino and his group out of this place. Perhaps one day, when he was ready, they’d visit it together.

Just outside the village, there was a rocky section of the beach that would make perfect cover for the pair. Zelda flew back down to Layla and lead her to this spot. The rocks were large and covered a good portion of the grassy plain as well as the beach. They did not have to worry about their footprints in the sand if they approached from the grass first.

As the two neared the ruins, they began to hear voices from within it.

“Are you sure about this, Vino?” a man’s voice asked.

“Yeah. I mean, they guy you wanna kill is the Hero of Spirits. Think carefully about this.” a woman’s voice spoke that time.

“Somehow I doubt we could handle him.” another man said.

“You imbeciles!” Vino shouted. “Why do you think I hooked us up with this anti-magic gear from the Mystic Realm?!”

“Yeah, but... Even if we do kill him, what about the Physical Realm, huh?” another woman’s voice asked.

“Dumbass! We’re rollin’ with the Demon King now! We’ll be fine no matter what happens!” Vino said.

Layla and Zelda looked to each other in shock. “Did I hear that right? He’s siding with Malladus now?” Layla whispered.

“That’s what he said...” Zelda whispered back. “That must be where they got the anti-magic weapons. But still, how did a guy like this get in with the Demon King?”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s dead-set on killing Alphonse. We can’t let them have their way. “ Layla rasped.

She reached back and placed her hand on the grip of her lance. She felt an anger well up inside her. First it was Darunia, and now even thugs like Vino; they were giving up on the Physical Realm to save their own hides. What’s more, they were willing to kill Alphonse to curry favor with Malladus. The thought of it made her sick.

As Layla began to draw her lance, a figure appeared behind her on the beach. Zelda heard the sand crunch beneath their feet, and turned quickly.

“Layla! Watch out!”
 

Azure Sage

Spread Smiles!
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Joined
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Location
Magnolia City
Gender
Snow Queen: is azure sage trans
Triple-posting?! I'm out of control! :eek:

It's time for the next chapter. This is the most action-packed thing I've written in a long while, so it was a good way to get the rust off. Next chapter will end the Forest Realm arc, and then I'll be adding a chapter to the beginning of the Finale arc for Byrne's backstory, so look forward to that.

In the meantime, enjoy the new chapter!






Chapter Forty-Eight


The shrill sound of metal rang through the air. Layla could hear this before Zelda called out her name. Her hand was already poised to draw her lance, and she did so with a spin. As she pivoted on her left foot, her lance clashed with her enemy’s sword, and she came face to face with her attacker. It was Maiza.

“You?!” Layla said in shock.

“I thought you ran away!” Zelda said.

“Vino could find me no matter where I hid. So I got to thinkin’; if I kill you, he might forgive me.” Maiza rasped.

“Sounds like you’re done shaking and crying.” Layla said. “But too bad for you. You made the wrong choice!”

Layla used all the strength in her arms to shove Maiza apart from her. Maiza recoiled, and as he did, she used the side of her weapon to land a rough smack to the side of his head. Maiza stumbled, but did not fall. He gathered his bearings and rushed Layla. Zelda took this chance to dive between them, causing Maiza to fumble with his sword. Layla quickly lunged forward, kneeing him in the stomach as hard as she could.

As Maiza choked from the impact, Layla prepared to pierce his chest with the tip of her lance. However, she heard movement behind her. Two of Vino’s thugs had appeared, hearing the commotion. They each leapt from the rocks behind Layla, swinging their weapons down through the air. Layla dove to the side and rolled back to her feet.

“Well, well. What do we have here?” the first thug laughed.

“A girl and a fairy? That’s an odd combo.” the second remarked.

“Vlad! Koron!” Maiza said. “She’s mine to kill! Back off!”

“Huh?! Why do you get to do it?” Vlad said.

“If I don’t, Vino’s totally gonna kill me!”

“I’m killing you either way, dumbass.”​

Just as the group heard Vino speak these words, a spear flew through the air. The cold steel grazed past Layla’s head, causing her to flinch. Its path ended in Maiza’s gut.

“G-ughhh!” Maiza choked. “Wh-why...?”

Blood dripped from Maiza’s mouth as he collapsed into the sand. He was struggling to gasp for air as he clutched at the spear lodged through his chest. The sands beneath him were beginning to dye red.

“You idiot. I left you at Hyleigh’s ruins to wait for Alphonse to return. Not only did you leave your post, you lead these two straight to me! If this costs me my chance to kill Alphonse, I’ll come back and stab your damn corpse!” Vino shouted.

Tears rolled from Maiza’s cheeks, mixing with the blood he coughed up. His quivering lips were stained with blood as he tried to get one last word out. At last, he could no longer take a breath, and keeled over to his side.

“Whoa...” Vlad said.

“Yikes...” Koron added.

“How could you...” Layla said.

She knew now why Maiza had been so afraid to go against Vino. The man was unstable. This was the man who would stop at nothing to kill Alphonse, and had no sympathy for anyone who interfered with that goal. Vino did not value life in the slightest.

As Maiza lay dead in the sand, the two remaining accomplices Vino had gathered appeared beside him.

“Poor bastard.” one of them said.

“Come on, Svena. Maiza was a wimp. You didn’t care about him any more than the rest of us.” the other said.

“I still don’t think he had to die, Roma. Hey, Vino, don’t you think that was overkill?”

“Shut your damn mouth. That useless fool could have ruined everything.” Vino growled. He then turned his attention to Layla and Zelda. “Hey, I know you two. You were in Hyleigh’s ruins. You’re Alphonse’s friends, right?”

“That’s right.” Layla said, brandishing her lance.

“Hey, chill out. I told you when I left the ruins yesterday, I don’t got a problem with you.” Vino said. “Byrne advised me that Alphonse will be easier to kill if I don’t get him riled up. Puttin’ you two on ice will do just that, so I’d rather not. Go home, and tell your friend to come here if he makes it back from the Mystic Realm.”

“We came here to stop it from coming to that in the first place!” Zelda said.

“Like hell we’re just gonna leave!” Layla said. “We’re gonna to put you down so Alphonse can come home safely.”

“Ha! He’s got some loyal friends by his side.” Vino said. “I had a friend like that, too, you know. His name was Gray. And he was killed by that friend of yours! I will never forgive him for that! If you decide you wanna get in my way even after I’m giving you a chance to live, then you better damn well be prepared to pay for it.”

Layla brandished her lance once more. “I’ve never seen such a self-righteous criminal. You’re not just Alphonse’s enemy, you sold out to Malladus! You’re an enemy to the entire Physical Realm now! So I’m going to bring you down!”

“You’re in for a rude awakening if you think Alphonse is the only one of us you should fear!” Zelda said.

“Pff. Fine, then. Die.” Vino turned around, waving his hand. “Vlad. Roma. Koron. Svena. Kill ‘em.”

As Vino walked away, back into the ruins of Aboda, the four thugs he’d brought with him surrounded Zelda and Layla. Vlad was a hulk of a man wielding a scimitar. Svena was a burly woman with a scar across her left eye. She carried a mace. Koron was a slim but muscular man carrying an axe. Roma was a similarly muscular woman who twirled a spear in the palm of her hand.

Layla felt nervous fighting four-on-one, but she’d faced similar odds before at Zora Hall. However, these opponents appeared to be more skilled than the group of pirates she and Alphonse had faced off with.

“Are all of you friends of Gray’s, too?” Zelda asked.

“That’s right, fairy.” Vlad answered. “You wanna know why Vino cares so much about avenging Gray, don’tcha?”

“Gray brought all of us together when we were living off the streets in Great Bay City.” Roma said. “Everyone loves to talk about how good we all had it even with the Great War goin’ on thanks to the King, but that’s a load o’ bull. There are tons of people in this country who had to struggle for food every day.”

“The royal family didn’t do **** for us low-class folk, and now that the king’s dead, things are even worse for us.” Koron said. “And things are still the same for us even with that Hero of Spirits around.”

“Everyone loves to talk him up, but what has he done for me, huh? All he’s done is killed the man who made sure I was still alive.” Svena said.

“Don’t blame Alphonse for the choices you or your friends make.” Layla said. “I may not know what all of your circumstances are, and even if you had to resort to crime to survive, that doesn’t excuse your actions! Gray kidnapped my friend and tried to sell her off! I don’t care how bad of a situation you’re in, you cannot tell me that’s okay!”

“Yeah! Don’t talk about what Alphonse has or hasn’t done for you when it was Gray’s own decisions to hurt people that got him killed. Your circumstances may be bad, but if you’re not gonna take responsibility for your own bad decisions and evil actions, then we’ve got nothing more to say to you.” Zelda said.

“So be it, then. Say your prayers to the Spirits fast.” Vlad threatened.

The four thugs inched closer to Layla, closing in on her from all sides. Layla’s eyes darted back and forth between each of them, divining who would move first by watching their feet. It appeared as though the one with the most reach, Roma, would move first. As soon as her foot began to leave the ground, however, Zelda made a move.

“Layla!” she shouted.

Zelda darted past Roma’s face, startling her. Layla did not hesitate to move. She leapt toward Roma, swinging her lance in an attempt to slash her. As she did this, Roma used her spear to vault backwards. At the same time, Vlad lunged at Layla with his scimitar. His blade grazed Layla’s arm as she dodged to her left.

As she ignored the stinging pain from her cut, Layla repelled another strike from Vlad’s sword. Svena moved next, swinging her mace with the intent to kill. Layla swiped it away with her lance, and ducked to avoid Koron’s axe as it cleaved the space above her head. Now crouching, Layla thrusted her spear forward. The tip ripped through Svena’s leg as she tried to dodge.

Crying out in pain, Svena stumbled backwards. Layla did not pursue her, but turned on her heel and blocked a strike from Vlad’s blade with her lance. She pushed forward, grinding her lance against the man’s sword until she had overpowered him. As Vlad staggered, Layla bent her back to avoid Roma’s spear. She used her left hand to grab the spear and yanked it toward her with all her might. Roma was pulled along with it, and Layla kicked her in the gut.

Roma coughed in pain as she lost her grip on her spear. Vlad had recovered by this time, and joined Koron in advancing. Each of them swung at Layla from both sides, who used her lance to vault out of the way. As her feet touched the ground, she swung her lance into a spin and knocked back both of their weapons. Spinning once more, she cut across both of their arms.

Vlad and Koron’s wounds were shallow, but they were enough to cause them to back off. Svena had finally recovered, and attempted to pin Layla against the rocks with her mace. Roma joined in by jabbing at Layla with her spear. As Layla was forced to jump back, Zelda once again entered the fray. She flew through their line of sight, causing Svena and Roma to hesitate for a moment. Svena took a swipe at Zelda with her mace, but missed. Roma continued after Layla, and their weapons locked together.

With Svena distracted by Zelda, Layla took this opportunity gain the upper hand. She once again grabbed Roma’s spear, and managed to snap the wooden grip with the strength of her arm. As Roma’s weapon fell apart, Layla cut across her chest with her lance. With her comrade felled before her eyes, Svena became enraged and charged at Layla in a fury.

Layla ducked to avoid the mace, which struck the rock behind her so powerfully that it became indented into it. Layla was now beneath the reach of Svena’s mace, and easily ran her through with her lance. As Svena collapsed into the sand, Vlad and Koron rushed back into the fray. Layla leapt forward, rolling between them and past their weapons’ reach. She spun on her heel as she stood up, swinging her lance in a wide arc as she did so. Vlad blocked this strike with his sword, but there was little Koron could do against it with his axe. He, too, fell to the sand in defeat.

Vlad was now alone. He was bleeding and out of breath. He could see the inevitability of his defeat, and so he dropped his weapon. “I give.” he said.

“You’re surrendering?” Layla asked.

“Yep. I can see when I’m beat. I don’t wanna die today, so I’m giving up.”

As Vlad said this, a sword flew in through the air from the side, impaling him.

“Wha-?!” Zelda cried out as he fell.

Layla looked to where the sword had been through from. Once again, Vino had chosen to end the life of his ally. “Why...?” she said in horror.

“Good grief, I can’t believe you all couldn’t handle this girl. There were four of you, for crying out loud!” he shouted.

“Ugh... You bastard...” Vlad rasped as he gasped for breath.

“Shut your mouth, you weakling.” Vino said angrily as he approached Vlad. “I can’t believe you, surrendering like that. Am I the only one of us who truly wants to avenge Gray? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Vino retrieved his sword from Vlad’s gut, ripping the blade through his body as he did so. Vlad cried out in agony, and was silenced by a final strike to the neck. The blade, now smeared with the blood of his comrade, was then pointed at Layla.

“You’re a heartless wretch.” Layla spat.

“You’re way too cruel to be left alone, Vino!” Zelda said.

“I should’ve never relied on these losers. I should’ve taken care of this myself from the beginning.” Vino said, his eyes now focused. “You ain’t gettin’ any more chances to run, girl. You die, now!”

With no hesitation, Vino leapt forward. He slashed at Layla, who was able to block with her lance. In doing so, she was pushed back through the sand. As her feet skidded, Vino pushed her and slashed again. His sword cut through her side as she yelped in pain. Dipping around his sword arm, she rushed to get into his blind spot.

Vino turned around, attempting to pursue her. Zelda got in his face, but it was no use. He’d seen that trick before, and he swatted her away with his free hand. Zelda cried out as she struggled to remain airborne. Layla had not gotten her bearings yet, and was open to a strike from Vino. However, she got some unexpected help.

A mace whizzed past Vino’s head, barely missing Layla in its path. “Vino, you son of a *****!” Svena shouted. “You killed Vlad!”

“She can still move?” Layla said in surprise, watching Svena clutch the open wound in her chest.

“You stupid fool! What do you think you’re doing?!” Vino shouted.

“Are you so blind with rage that you can’t tell friend from foe anymore?!” Svena shouted back.

Grabbing Vlad’s sword, Svena charged past Layla, swinging wildly at Vino. He slipped past each swing, and returned with a strike of his own. Svena was cut across her chest. As she fell, Vino let his guard down and started to pursue Layla once more. However, before she hit the ground, Svena swung her weapon one last time, with the last of her strength.

Vino was cut across the chin by Svena’s final act of desperation. He keeled back in pain, kicking her away in the process. Layla had finally gotten her bearings, and rushed at him with all her might. Stunned by the sudden strike from Svena, Vino could not fully react in time.

“Thank you for this, Svena!” Layla shouted.

Vino was cut across his chest, unable to get completely out of the way. The wound was shallow, but it was enough to drain him. Before he could fully raise his sword again, Layla delivered a powerful smack to his head with the side of her lance. Vino hit the sand in a daze.

“Are you okay, Zelda?” Layla asked the hurt fairy.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine. How about you? That cut looks like it could be bad.” she said.

“It’s nothing. Let’s go get patched up after we take care of him.”

Turning to face Vino, Layla brandished her lance. The dazed man was rising to his feet. His body shook, and his black coat was beginning to show the red of his blood.

“Son of a *****...” he rasped. “You’re not killing me today! You think I’m gonna die to the likes of you?! I am going to kill Alphonse and avenge Gray! I don’t have time for you!”

“It’s over, now, Vino. I’m not letting you walk away. If you’re not gonna give up on killing Alphonse, then you have to die, here and now.” Layla said.

“Damn you... I am not dying today!” he repeated.

Vino turned and ran. He dashed away from the beach and through the ruins of Aboda Village, leaving a trail of blood in his wake.

“I don’t think so!” Layla shouted as she ran after him.

“What a lunatic! He killed his friend for giving up, and here he is, doing the same thing!” Zelda said.

“Shut your trap, fairy! If I die, I can’t get my revenge!” Vino shouted back at them.

“So petty.” Zelda sighed.

“Come on! We can’t let him escape!” Layla said.

Vino sprinted into the forest to the north, beyond the ruins of Aboda. Layla gave chase, but her wound was impairing her speed. She had to clutch her side to keep the blood from spilling out into the grass. Fortunately for her, Vino left a trail of blood from his own wounds that painted a path through the forest for her to follow. Zelda flew quickly ahead of her, trying to keep Vino in her sights.

As they dashed further into the forest, the light began receding through the trees. Soon, it seemed as if the brightest source of light was the one emitted by Zelda. Layla had a hard time seeing Vino’s blood trail in the dimness of the forest. Soon, a gentle mist rolled in, making it even harder for her to see the trail.

“Hey, Zelda, can you still see him?” she asked.

No response.

Layla looked up, and found that she could no longer see the fairy’s glow. “Oh no, did we get separated? When?” she said.

Layla stopped running and looked at her surroundings. As she examined them, she was beset by a growing sense of dread. The mist was now impossibly thick. The wind blew with a low, hollow breeze. The trees she could see through the mist were contorted and twisted, almost appearing as if in agony.

“Oh no... Don’t tell me this place is...”

She continued to search around for any sign of her companion, but the fairy was nowhere in sight. She could no longer see the trail left by Vino’s blood, either. She was completely alone.

“No...” Layla said, despaired.

“It’s the Lost Woods...”​
 

Azure Sage

Spread Smiles!
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Joined
Jan 17, 2011
Location
Magnolia City
Gender
Snow Queen: is azure sage trans
Quadruple-posting is a new low for me. At least people who are interested get to read this all in one go. I'm surprised at how quickly I got all this out. I also still need to go back and adjust the Mystic Realm and Finale chapters to acknowledge this new arc. That won't be hard. There's not much that I have to change.

Enjoy the end of the Forest Realm arc! Byrne's backstory is next on the list.





Chapter Forty-Nine


The chill of the forest sent shivers down Layla’s spine. She could barely see a few feet ahead of herself in the thickness of the mist. The dreary ogre trees left a frightening impression in her dread-filled mind. The only thing she could hear was the hollow roll of the wind and the sound of her own frantic breathing. Zelda was nowhere in sight. The blood trail left by Vino no longer dyed a path for her in the grass. She was utterly alone.

Layla began to run. She turned around and ran back the way she came, thinking that wise. However, she could not see an end to the ogre trees or the mist. She thought she could get somewhere if she kept going straight. She ran as hard as she could to get out of the forest. And yet, even though she had been going straight for far longer than she’d been in the forest, she could not see any progress.

“What is it with these woods?!” Layla cried out as she ran.

Is this why they're called the “Lost Woods”?

Just as she was thinking that, she heard a noise to her left. Yelping in surprise, she quickly drew her lance in defense. However, what she saw caused a wave of relief to wash over her.

“Regret! Is that you?” she said, returning her lance to its sheath.

The figure said nothing, but it did indeed resemble Regret just as she’d last seen him.

“You’re okay! How did you get away from that weird guy?” she asked, happily running up to the figure.

“No thanks to you.” it replied.

Layla froze up. “... Huh?”

“You did nothing as I was taken away. You just stood there and watched it happen.” the figure said.

“I.... What could I have done against that? What are you saying, anyway?” Layla said, confused.

“I’m saying you’re weak.” it answered. “You don’t even have magic. How are you supposed to be any use to us?”

Layla felt her heart wrench upon hearing these words. “... Why would you say something like that?” Her hands were trembling, and she felt her eyes well up with tears. A lump began to grow in her throat. “What’s gotten into, huh? Why are you being so cruel?”

The air around the figure of Regret appeared to darken. “You’re useless. You’re nothing compared to Alphonse and I. Do you really think you deserve to be in our group?” it said, a voice full of malice.

The mist began growing thicker.

* * *

“Hey! Layla! Where did you go?” Zelda called out, floating aimlessly through the mist.

She darted through the air at impressive speed, avoiding the ogre trees as she rushed. She could not help but feel a chill as she gazed at the trunks. They appeared to have faces among the twisted bark. She wondered how the trees could have possibly grown into such a shape through natural means.

“These look like the ogre trees I heard about. Then, this place really is the Lost Woods?” Zelda said, now floating in place. “Geez, and here I was telling Layla we should be careful of this place just this morning... How did we let this happen? I can’t even see Vino anymore, either.”

The exasperated fairy sighed. She at least found solace in the fact that surely, Vino was suffering the same fate she was. However, she was very worried about Layla. Hearing stories about the Lost Woods from her time spent in the Kokiri Village, she knew that it was hopeless to run around randomly looking for an exit. She would have to come up with a plan to find Layla and make their way out of the woods.

A noise could be heard from somewhere behind the fairy. Startled, Zelda turned to see what had made the sound, and found relief in a familiar face.

“Alphonse! Wow, what do you know?” Zelda said, quickly flying over to meet her friend.

The figure of Alphonse said nothing.

“I’m so glad to see you! Wait, no I’m not! How did you get stuck in the Lost Woods, too?! This is just great.” Zelda fussed.

The figure continued to remain silent.

“Hey, wait a minute, how did you get back from the Mystic Realm? You okay? What about the others?” Zelda asked.

The figure remained silent still.

“Hey, buddy, you’re starting to freak me out. Got something on your mind?” Zelda said.

The figure nodded. “I think it’s time we ended our partnership.” it spoke.

“... Excuse me?” Zelda said.

“Let’s face the facts, Zelda. You’re nothing but a weak fairy. What have you ever been able to do for me? You can’t fight on your own. You’re nothing but a burden.” the figure continued.

Zelda fell into shock. “... What?” The fairy couldn’t believe what she was hearing from her friend. “Alphonse, this isn’t funny. Quit joking around. ... B-besides, who’s gonna keep you from getting lost, huh?”

“I have more reliable people for that now. You can’t even offer me that much, anymore. You’re useless.”

The mist grew thicker still.

* * *

Layla felt a heavy pit form in her stomach listening to the words she’d heard from the figure of Regret. Hearing the voice of her friend say such things to her was something she had a hard time understanding. Tears were beginning to roll from her eyes into the cold grass below.

“Why are you saying this to me?” she asked, her voice shaking. “I thought we were friends... I... I was really starting to like you, too...”

A new figure appeared beside the one of Regret. “‘Like him’? You can’t be serious.” it said.

“What?! Naomi...?” Layla said, watching the figure of her newly made friend appear from the mist.

“First you try to steal Alphonse away from me, and now that he’s rejected you, you’re throwing yourself at Regret?” the figure of Naomi said.

“I-I never tried to steal him from you!” Layla cried.

“Don’t think I haven’t seen what’s going on. You aren’t really over him, are you? You’re just using Regret as a way to escape from your guilt.” it said.

“How could you do that to me?” the figure of Regret added. “Did you even care about how I felt?”

“You only care about yourself. You’re useless, and you’re selfish. We don’t need you in our group anymore.” the figure of Naomi said.

Layla’s heart felt like it was breaking in pieces. She covered her ears with her hands and fell into a crouch. “Please, stop... It’s not true...” she cried.

“You don’t belong with us.” the figure of Naomi said.

“You should just stay here in the forest, instead.” the figure of Regret said.

The mist began closing in around Layla.

* * *

Zelda the Fairy was panicking. Her best friend in the whole world wanted to abandon her. She felt an awful, gut-wrenching sensation overtake her. She stared, quivering in shock, at the figure of her friend.

“So, what? Are you just going to leave me here?” Zelda asked.

“That’s right.” the figure of Alphonse said. “You never belonged with me, anyway. You’re an unwanted fairy. You never deserved to have the life you lived with me. You were banished, but you got to enjoy a happy life with me. How is that fair to the rest of us?”

Zelda stopped shaking. “... ‘The rest of us’?” she said.

“How did you think we felt after seeing you, happy and living a full life? You should have ended up here, just like the rest of us. It isn’t fair!” the figure said.

“... Wait a minute... You’re not really Alphonse, are you?” Zelda said, regaining her composure.

The figure lurched. The mist began to clear up.

* * *

Layla’s face was buried in her arms. She was crouched down in the grass, shaking and crying beneath the mist.

“I should just... stay here?” she said.

“That’s right. You don’t need us anymore.” the figure of Naomi said.

“Stay here in the forest. You’ll never have to worry about anything, ever again.” the figure of Regret said.

“Stay here...” Layla repeated.

She felt an odd sense of calm begin to wash over her mind. She began to feel more relaxed. Her fists unclenched, and she began to slump into the grass.

“Stay here...” the figure of Naomi whispered.

“Join us...” the figure of Regret said.

“Join you...” Layla repeated.

Her head was beginning to feel clouded. She could no longer think clearly. She barely noticed when vines and branches began forming around her arms, wrapping around her and drawing her into the earth.

“Become one with the forest.” a voice said.

“Forget about everything else.” said another.

Layla’s eyes began to grow dim as she was entangled further. Her body felt cold and numb. Her strength began leaving her.

“You don’t need your old friends anymore.” another still added.

“No Naomi. No Zelda. No Regret. No Alphonse.”

“... Alphonse... My friends...!” Layla said, light beginning to return to her eyes.

That’s right. My friends would never talk about me like that! They all accepted me without hesitation! They would never abandon me!

A fire was lit within Layla once more. Her strength returned, and she began tearing her way free of the vines and branches. The figures flinched. The voices stopped.

“You aren’t real!” Layla shouted, pulling herself free from the forest’s grasp. “You aren’t my real friends!”

The mist around her began to recede.

* * *

“I know what you are, now.” Zelda said. “You’re just like I was. You’re Forest Fairies that were unwanted by the Kokiri and banished.”

The figure let out a shrill scream. “IT’S NOT FAIR! WHY DO YOU GET TO LIVE WHEN WE WERE ABANDONED AND LEFT TO WANDER?”

“I see now. This whole forest is where you all ended up.” Zelda said. “I understand everything now.”

“YOU UNDERSTAND NOTHING!” the figure screamed. It began to distort. It no longer resembled Alphonse; it now had a face like that of the ogre trees. “YOU COULD KNOW NOTHING OF THE PAIN WE FEEL, FORCED TO LIVE IN EXILE IN THIS HELLISH FOREST!”

“You’re right about that.” Zelda said. “I could have very well become one of you if things had turned out differently. I was lucky to meet Alphonse, but the rest of you never got such a chance..”

The figure shrieked once more, now in anger. It lunged at Zelda, screaming all the way as it charged.

“I’m so sorry this happened to you all...” Zelda said.

The figure stopped in its tracks.

“I wish things could have been different for you. The Fairy Queen was wrong to banish you. I wish there was still something I could do... I’m so sorry.” Zelda said.

Moved by the genuine emotion heard in Zelda’s voice, the figure lost its shape. Forest Fairies appeared where it had been, and all of them had no light left to shine. They each disappeared into the receding mist.

* * *

“You are not my friends!” Layla shouted. “You’re nothing but fakes! My real friends would never say such things!”

Shaken by her recovery, the figures of Naomi and Regret began to change. Their faces turned into those of the ogre trees.

“I love my friends, and they love me back! They may be more than I deserve, but they each genuinely care about me! After everything we’ve been through together, I would never doubt their faith in me! And they know I have faith in them, too! Illusions like that won’t work on me anymore!”

Layla drew her lance and slashed through the two distorted figures. They dissolved into shadows that receded back into the mist.

“Never doubt the strength of our hearts!” Layla shouted once more in triumph.

At last, the mist had receded enough to grant her visibility. As such, Layla spotted her fairy friend several yards away.

“Zelda!” Layla shouted, waving excitedly.

“Layla! Oh, thank the Spirits you’re okay!” Zelda said happily, joining back up with her. “Looks like you overcame their influence on your own! I’m so relieved...”

“Just what was all that?” Layla asked.

“I told you how Alphonse found me after I was abandoned by the Kokiri, right? It looks like the Lost Woods is the home of the fairies who weren’t so lucky.” Zelda began. “The rejected fairies were forced to wander the forest in exile. Unable to find their way out, they gathered here in these woods. Being isolated like this, they slowly began losing their minds. They yearned for company, and so eventually, as the years passed, they began trapping anyone who wandered in here. They read the memories of their victims and create illusions based on those memories; illusions designed to break the spirits of their victims. And it looks like this is the fate of the unfortunate souls who get lost in these woods...”

Zelda indicated an ogre tree. As she did, Layla recalled how her body was entangled by branches and vines, and shuddered. “The lost people become the ogre trees? Is that why they have such twisted shapes?”

“Yeah. I knew there was no way they were naturally formed. Look, there’s your proof, over there.” Zelda said, indicating something further in the forest.

Layla followed Zelda, and came upon a despairing sight. There was Vino, kneeling on the forest floor. His body was covered in branches and vines, and his skin was turning black like the bark of the ogre trees. His eyes were dim and lightless, and his lips were barely moving. Layla and Zelda had to strain to make out what he was saying.

“Please... Don’t hate me... I had to kill you... Please understand... I didn’t have a choice.... I have to avenge him... I have to kill him... Kill who? ... I can’t remember anymore...”

He must have seen illusions of the friends he’d just killed.

That was the conclusion Layla came to as she watched him. Vino could no longer move. It was all he could do to mutter on the edge of what remained of his consciousness. He was beyond hope now.

“I feel bad for the fairies and the people who get lost here. The fairies just wanted people they could be close to, but they bring everyone around them to ruin.” Layla said.

“Yeah. It’s sad that there’s nothing we can do for them. It’s beyond anything we’re capable of fixing...” Zelda said.

“... At the very least, I want to put him out of his misery.” Layla said, slowly drawing her lance.

Quickly and neatly, Layla ran the tip of her lance through Vino’s neck. His eyes momentarily widened, but he did not react further than that. Blood spilled from his mouth as his quivering lips managed to get out one final word that was too quiet to be heard. As Layla withdrew her lance, Vino’s head slumped down. The branches and vines stopped growing, and he became completely still.

After gazing at Vino’s corpse for a short while, the pair turned and walked away, wordlessly. The thinned mist allowed them a path out of the Lost Woods, as their hearts could no longer be corrupted by the stray fairies. At last, it was all over.

* * *

After retrieving Saria from Julia’s care in Mayscore, Layla and Zelda finally returned to Rena’s cabin. It was late at night, and Layla was starving.

“I’m glad to be back here, finally.” Layla said as she entered the cabin.

“You look like you had a long day, Layla!” Saira said, holding her hand.

“Yeah, you can say that again.” she replied with a smile.

“It’s finally over now, though!” Zelda said. “I guess now all we can do is wait for Alphonse and the others to return.”

“Yeah... I sure hope Al and them are all okay.” Saria said.

Layla wondered the same thing as she slumped down onto the couch. Now that the danger with Vino was averted, her head began to spin with thoughts of her friends. She had no way to know what Alphonse, Regret, and Naomi were going through in the Mystic Realm. She could only hope they were able to remain safe...





 

Azure Sage

Spread Smiles!
Staff member
ZD Legend
Comm. Coordinator
Joined
Jan 17, 2011
Location
Magnolia City
Gender
Snow Queen: is azure sage trans
Well, this is it! The last chapter update. I'm surprised I ended up posting five times in a row, but then again, I did get these all out faster than I used to. I hope to see more people reading this story and commenting in the future now that it's fully come together. This is the long-awaited backstory for Byrne. Please enjoy reading it! I've already updated the past chapters for consistency, so everything is in order now.

Enjoy!





Chapter Fifty-Eight


As we relaxed at Rena’s cabin in preparation for the final battle, it felt relieving to finally have some peace in our lives. It was nice to have decided to have the battle on our own terms, but the tension was still clearly there. Nevertheless, we each did our best to unwind and enjoy each other’s company.

Byrne, however, remained distant around us. He was quiet and kept to himself, without interacting with the others very much. When he did talk, he spoke in almost a whisper, and he wouldn’t look directly at us. I was surprised at how socially awkward he could be. It felt like he was hesitant about becoming a part of our group.

I could understand why he felt that way. After all, he was the one who killed Rena and Oz. Naomi and I had agreed to move past that and work with him while we were in the Mystic Realm, and while fighting for our lives alongside one another, what happened in the past didn’t matter. But, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have any lingering feelings about it, despite thinking of him as a friend.

With an extra person staying with us now, the sleeping arrangements became even more complicated. Before the Mystic Realm incident, we decided that Naomi and I would share Rena’s room, Zelda and Saria would get one of the patient rooms, Layla would get the other patient room, and Regret would get the green couch in the living room. But now that Byrne was here, we had to think of something to accommodate him, too.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long to reach a decision. Layla and Saria had bonded through an incident of their own while the rest of us were in the Mystic Realm, and they were much closer now. So, Layla agreed to share one of the patient rooms with Saria and Zelda. Naomi and I would remain together in Rena’s room, and Byrne and Regret were left to decide who would get the couch and who would get the remaining patient room, which only had one bed.

Byrne insisted he would take the couch, but Regret was even more insistent that he’d already gotten “attached”, as he put it, to the couch. It was obvious that both of them were trying to make a sacrifice for the other’s comfortability, but if there was one common trait among our group, it was stubbornness. Byrne could not dissuade Regret, and reluctantly agreed to take the patient room.

The first night, all of us gathered in the living room to share our stories of what our two groups had been through since the incident in Hyleigh City’s ruins.

“I guess we’ll go first.” Layla said.

“While you guys were in the Mystic Realm, Layla and I defeated Vino.” Zelda said.

This came as a surprise to us, especially Byrne. “Are you serious? So... he’s dead?” he asked.

“Yeah. It was kind of sad, honestly.” Layla said.

“You won’t be happy to hear this, Alphonse, but we tracked him back to the ruins of Aboda Village.”

I felt my gut wrench upon hearing this. “... My home?” I said through the lump in my throat.

“Yeah... I’m sorry.” Zelda said.

- Knowing that Vino defiled my hometown makes me feel sick...

“He got a group together to try and overpower you. Do you remember ever meeting a thug named Maiza? He was part of the group that kidnapped Naomi. He was there, and he was supposed to tell Vino when you got back and lure you there.” Layla said.

“But we went there and wiped the floor with all of them! You should’ve seen Layla, she was amazing! She fought four on one and kicked their butts like it was nothing!” Layla began to blush from the compliments. “Then we chased Vino into the Lost Woods, and Layla and I saw some messed up visions, but we overcame them and escaped! Oh, but not Vino. He died in there.” Zelda said.

“Turns out the Lost Woods are full of rejected Forest Fairies who couldn’t make it out of the forest like Zelda did. Vino was taken by them, and was becoming part of the forest. I put him out of his misery.” Layla said, finishing the tale.

“Wow... I had no idea the Lost Woods were like that. Zelda and I always avoided the place.” I said.

- I feel sad about the fairies. I’m even more glad that I met Zelda, now. She could’ve ended up like that...

“Thank you for defeating Vino, by the way. I appreciate it.” I said.

“As do I.” Byrne added.

“Wow, being thanked by you feels weird...” Layla said to Byrne. “Anyway, now it’s your turn. What happened in the Mystic Realm?”

“Well, turns out the guy who kidnapped Regret was a Demon King named Drake.” I said.

“And it turns out I was his son. Oh, and I’m a Demon, too.” Regret said.

“What?!” Layla said, shocked.

“Ah, so that was your deal. I had a feeling something was up with you, but I didn’t know what, so I didn’t say anything.” Zelda said.

“You’re as perceptive as always, Zelda.” I said.

“Are you... okay with that, Layla?” Regret asked, nervously.

“Well, I mean... It is a shock, but I do know you, so it’s not like you're a different person now, or anything.” Layla said. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Regret smiled broadly. “Oh, thank goodness! I was worried you’d start to hate me! I guess I should’ve known better. Alphonse and Naomi were the same, after all.” Regret said. “Anyway, apparently the cause of my amnesia was Drake erasing my childhood memories with magic because he thought I was a disappointment. Then he abandoned me in the Desert Realm. Fast forward a bit, and apparently I had an older brother who just died of an illness, so Drake came back to fetch me and he tried to make me become a Demon King in his place. But I was like, hell no! And then Alphonse and Naomi came to the castle to help me, but I had already escaped.”

“Drake ended up being a crazy dictator!” Naomi said. “He ruled over his territory so harshly, and there were a lot of people who were wrongfully imprisoned at the castle! So, Alphonse and I broke them out of prison and started an uprising, and together we overtook Drake’s forces and defeated him!”

“It took Regret, Byrne, and I working together to defeat Drake. He was insanely strong. I didn’t stand a chance against him on my own.” I said. “Fighting him gave me an idea of what to expect when we confront Malladus. Defeating Drake was how I knew we were ready to take him on.”

“I see. So it all lead up to that decision, huh?” Zelda said.

“Man, to think all that went down while Zelda and I were fighting Vino. It feels weird.” Layla said.

“Okay, Byrne! Now it’s your turn!” Naomi said. “Tell us about your past! I want to know what lead to you leaving the Lokomo and becoming an assassin.”

I thought that perhaps Naomi was seeking some sort of understanding from this knowledge. It seemed as though she wanted to understand why Byrne ended up killing Oz and Rena. I had to admit, I felt the same desire. What caused Byrne to become the man he was now? We were finally going to get our answer.

“... Very well.” Byrne agreed. “But before I talk about that, I want you all to understand a little more about the Lokomo.”

Each of us adjusted ur positions to face Byrne more directly. Saria, who sat in Naomi’s lap, was just as curious as the rest of us. She was still young, but even she knew that this was the man who killed Rena. She had been wary around him, but perhaps this would give her an understanding, as well.

“To begin with, you should know that the Lokomo are beings created directly by the Spirits of Light.” Byrne started. “We are mostly identical to humans and Demons in physiology, however there is one major difference; we are functionally immortal. Unless we are killed by an outside force, we cannot die. We could potentially live on for eternity, barring circumstance. Even if we are killed, our bodies will regenerate given a few years, though we will no longer have any of our old memories. We will essentially be reborn as a new life.

“Another thing you should know about is the Lokomo called Anjean. She is the oldest Lokomo, as she was the very first to be created by the Spirits of Light. She has also never once died, so she retains all memories and knowledge gained since the day she was born. She is most likely the wisest person alive, aside from the Spirits themselves, who are far older than even she is. She is the leader of the Lokomo, and she was once my mentor.

“Lastly, I want you to understand the Lokomo and their relationship with the people of the Physical Realm. There are a handful of humans who know about us, and they are typically the more pious followers of the Spirits. They revere the Lokomo just as they do the Spirits, as we were created by the Spirits themselves. As the servants of the Spirits, we would typically act as their messengers for the Physical Realm in times of need. And, as the Spirits act as the guardians of this realm, we, too, must uphold a similar duty of protection. As such, we are forbidden from harming humans, which is the reason I am now an outcast.

“My story truly begins nine years ago.” Byrne then turned toward me. “This is not unconnected from your own past, Alphonse.”

“How do you mean? I asked.

“When Vaati first destroyed Aboda Village, I was the Lokomo tasked with destroying him in retaliation.” Byrne said.

This came as a surprise to all of us, especially me. “You were supposed to defeat Vaati?” I said.

“Yes. While Malladus was fighting the Spirits of Light, he had an army of monsters led by Vaati fighting with the Lokomo. When Vaati began attacking the Physical Realm, as well, they sent me to stop him. As I was trained directly by Anjean, I was the strongest fighter that the Lokomo could spare.” Byrne said.

“... So, what happened?” I asked.

“Well... To put it simply, I failed.” Byrne said.

- NINE YEARS AGO -

Byrne stepped through a wide field on the western edge of the Forest Realm. Dressed in the robes of the Lokomo race, and armed with a broadsword and the magic of his people, he came face to face with the Demon Lord, Vaati. The howling wind caressed the grass beneath their feet, setting the stage for their battle.

“Ha. So you’re what they sent after me, huh?” Vaati said, grinning with glee. “I’ve seen you fight in the Sacred Realm. You ain’t half bad. But, you’re nothing by yourself. What a bunch of goddamn fools, sending you off to fight me alone.”

“Enough of your bile, Demon.” Byrne said. “You wiped out an entire village. Did you really think there would be no consequences?”

“I was looking forward to them!” Vaati laughed.

Vaati lunged forward without warning. Byrne was forced to put up an unprepared guard. As their weapons clashed, sword against sword, Vaati began channeling his Demon magic into his blade. Byrne did the same with his Lokomo magic, and the two powers fought for dominance amid the steel.

Byrne felt as though he was going to push his adversary back, but Vaati vanished. Byrne’s eyes darted around, searching for any trace of the man, and he caught sight of a gleam from the corner of his eye. Quickly ducking below the reach of Vaati’s sword, Byrne retaliated with a wide strike of his own. Vaati simply bent back to avoid it, and as he rose back up, he advanced once more.

After knocking Byrne back through the grass several feet with a burst of magic, Vaati created several magical projectiles. Each violet orb tore through the air, cutting through Byrne’s flesh, one by one. As the Lokomo warrior staggered backward, Vaati reappeared in front of him, easily sliding his sword through Byrne’s chest.

“You gotta be kidding me, was that it?” Vaati cackled.

Vaati withdrew his sword, and much of Byrne’s blood followed. Gasping for air, Byrne collapsed into the now-red field. On the edge of his consciousness, he could hear Vaati’s insane laughter.

“Ha! How does it feel to have failed so pathetically? Now there’s nothing stopping me from going out and destroying more villages and taking more lives! And it’s all your fault!”

His words pierced Byrne’s chest and created a wound deeper than any sword could have made. Byrne struggled to raise his arms up, but it was in vain. Before his vision faded, he was forced to watch as Vaati escaped his reach.

* * *

Byrne’s consciousness returned to him. Quickly realizing that he was saved, he rose to a sitting position in an unfamiliar bed. He found himself in a clinic. He sat in a bed in a wide, white room. There were many other beds lined up in a row on either side of the room. Some of them had patients occupying them, others were vacant.

A woman entered the room, and when she saw that Byrne was awake, she smiled kindly and walked over to him.

“Hello, there! Looks like you’re coming around!” she said. “My name is Estelle. I’m the doctor here. You had a pretty severe stab wound, but you’ll pull through just fine.”

“...” Byrne was silent. His thoughts were still lingering on his failure.

“Do you know where you are right now?” Estelle asked.

Byrne shook his head.

“This is a clinic in Hyleigh City. We’re not very big, but we do our best with what we have, money troubles be damned!” she said with a smile.

“Hyleigh City is fairly far from where I was. How did I end up here?” Byrne asked.

“A traveling caravan found you and brought you with them here. They’ve already moved on, though, in case you wanted to thank them.” she answered.

“I see...”

Byrne began to think about his situation. He had been easily defeated by the Demon Lord he was supposed to dispatch. Because of his failure, Vaati was most likely off somewhere destroying something else as he sat in that hospital bed. He thought he should return to the Sacred Realm and seek help from other Lokomo, but he wasn’t sure who else they could spare.

Just as he was thinking this, a group of men in black suits barged into the room. “There you are, Estelle!” one of them said.

“Juno... Why are you here?” Estelle said, sounding panicked.

Byrne picked up on the fear in the doctor’s voice. He examined the men in suits, and they indeed looked threatening. Juno, the one at the head of the group, was burly and had a scar across his cheek. The men behind him carried bats and clubs. Byrne wondered what they were up to, but he could not interfere with human affairs easily, so he did his best to avoid looking their way.

“The Boss is gettin’ tired of waiting for you to pay up.” Juno said. “We helped you when this little clinic of yours was going through foreclosure, and now it's time to pay us back what you owe us.”

“Can’t you give me another month or two? Things have been slow lately... I mean, look around, there’s hardly anyone in here right now!” Estelle pleaded.

“Oh yeah? Maybe we should get ‘em to stay longer and bring in more business, then.” Juno said, snapping his fingers.

On that cue, one of the men in black suits smashed the leg of a patient with his club.

“No!” Estelle screamed.

The patient’s cries were harrowing. Estelle ran toward the man to make him stop, but was hit across the head by another’s club. She fell to the floor in a bloody mess, writhing and wailing in agony.

“Don’t screw with us, tramp. You knew what was gonna happen when you didn’t pay up.” Juno rasped.

He grabbed Estelle by her hair and lifted her up. He signaled for his men to carry her away, leaving the newly wounded patient screaming in the bed in pain. The remaining patients were cowering in fear. As the men in suits headed for the door, they found their path blocked by Byrne, whose conscience could no longer allow him to do nothing.

“Out of the way, big guy.” Juno said.

“Why are you doing this? Don’t you realize the Spirits are at war? Is this really the time?” Byrne asked.

Juno did not respond. He merely signaled for one of his men to assault Byrne. As they attempted to break Byrne’s head, as well, Byrne easily caught the club in his bare hand and snapped it in two. Reeling back in shock, the men in suits began to panic and attacked Byrne together.

The end result was the same. Their wooden weapons could not stand up to Byrne’s strength. At last, Juno drew a knife, and rushed Byrne. Catching him by the arm, Byrne squeezed until Juno was forced to drop the knife.

“That’s enough. Go home, boys.” Byrne said.

A wooden club struck the back of Byrne’s head, and he fell to the floor. One of the men in suits had gotten behind him while he was distracted by Juno.

“Ha! Serves ‘em right!” Juno laughed, rubbing away the pain in his arm. “Just for that, you get to watch me kill this wench!”

Juno grabbed his knife again, and pulled Estelle up by her hair once more. The knife began inching closer and closer to her neck. Byrne’s vision was clouded red from the blood in his eyes. As he watched the knife draw closer to her skin, something snapped in his mind.

These are the people I was trying to protect from Vaati?

The next few minutes of Byrne’s life were nothing but a blur. When he came to his senses once more, the clinic was in ruins. Juno and his thugs were dead, and their blood was on Byrne’s hands. Estelle’s body was crushed beneath the rubble of the building, as were the rest of the patients. Everyone was dead, and Byrne was covered in blood.

“... What... What have I done?”

Byrne started at his shaking, blood-stained hands. As the gravity of his actions sunk in, he let out a shrill scream. In his panicked, grief-stricken state, he could do nothing but clutch his head and scream until his lungs were sore. The crowd that formed around him brought him back to his senses, and he was forced to flee as the Hyleigh Garrison arrived.

Dashing through the back alleys of Hyleigh City, with the guards breathing down his neck, Byrne knew that his life as a Lokomo was over. After failing in his mission to kill Vaati, and then taking the lives of humans, he could not return to the Sacred Realm. He was lost, scared, and hurt. He was a rat trapped in a sinking ship.

Just then, a man appeared before him in the alley. “Nice work back there. You took excellent care of my lackies.” he said.

Byrne stopped running, and, with his mind working on autopilot, prepared to fight this man. “You’re their boss, then?”

“Slow down, big guy. I’m not mad. In fact, I’m impressed.” he said. “You can’t go back to a normal life anymore. So, here’s the deal; come work for me, or be captured by the guards and rot in prison.”

That was the moment when Byrne’s heart finally broke in two. If he were to be imprisoned, they would surely find out he was a Lokomo. Learning that one of their sacred protectors committed violent acts of murder would forever damage their faith in the Spirits, and during a time of war, that was unacceptable. Byrne knew there was only one choice he could make.

“So, what’s it gonna be?” the man asked once more.

- PRESENT TIME -

“I started out working as hired muscle for that man. As the years went by, I ended up becoming an assassin for hire. I was given my gauntlet as a reward when I started that line of work. All those years surrounded by death hardened my heart. Because I’d violated the rule of the Lokomo to never harm humans, I could not return to the Sacred Realm. Even as an outcast, I tried to protect the reputation of the Spirits and the Lokomo. But, soon enough, that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I could only live by killing others. I could only think of myself. I had forgotten the value of life.”

After Byrne finished telling his story, he took a breath. All of us were speechless. His circumstances finally began to make sense to me.

- So, this is what he meant when he said he didn’t have a choice...

“Alphonse.” Byrne said to me. “It’s thanks to you that I was able to remember the value of life. I will be forever grateful to you for that. And...” He looked from me to Naomi. “I am truly sorry for killing your loved ones. From the bottom of my heart.”

Neither Naomi nor I spoke at first. Everyone else was quiet, as well. We were each absorbing his story as best we could. It was not hard to imagine how he felt; if he had been successful in defeating Vaati, then I would have been the only one among us forced to suffer the loss of home and family. Knowing that he failed to prevent the loss of so much life must have been eating away at him. Nevertheless...

“I think I understand why you made the choices you did, Byrne.” Naomi said. “But that still doesn’t justify murder. I’m glad you told us this, and I hope now you can feel more at home with us. But, I still want you to know that your past doesn’t excuse your actions.”

“I agree. You said so yourself, you didn’t truly have to kill Oz or Rena. You can never justify those actions to us.” I said. “Having said that, knowing your story does make me feel a little better. And of course, you’re still welcome here.”

Layla and Regret appeared unsure, but they decided to respect our wishes. Saria simply grasped Naomi’s hand. Zelda, too, was quiet, but I could see her wheels spinning. She was considering this in her own way.

Byrne looked at all of us before speaking again. “I understand your feelings on this. I will never try to make excuses for what I’ve done, but... I am just glad to have finally gotten it out to someone. Thank you for listening.”

Byrne may be a Lokomo, but the path he’d been forced to tread was dark. Perhaps he stayed with us to seek redemption, but the genuineness of his words were clear. He truly wanted to repent for his actions. I found myself trusting that part of him.

“I meant it when I said you’re one of us now, Byrne.” I said. “I know it’s hard to let bygones be bygones, but I really do think of you as a friend. So, let’s work together and save the world, okay?”

I extended my hand to him, and he seemed moved. It was almost as if he felt saved by words. He reached out to shake my hand, and he smiled for the first time.

“Thank you, Alphonse.”

After our story-telling came to a close, each of us went to our respective beds for the night. Regret sprawled out on the couch, Layla went to sleep in my childhood bedroom with Saria and Zelda, Byrne entered the remaining patient room, and I entered Rena’s study hand-in-hand with Naomi.

As the two of us climbed into bed together, I kept replaying Byrne’s story in my head, over and over. Part of me wanted to be critical of it and find flaws to justify the anger that still resided within me, and another part wanted to accept it as it was and let go of the past. The part of me that was influenced by Rena’s teachings of acceptance won out in the end.

I drew myself close to Naomi in bed, and she responded by doing the same. I felt like I needed to hold her close to me that night, and guessed that she was feeling the same. Perhaps she was having a similar internal conflict of her own. However, once we were in each others’ arms, all conflicts melted away. Soon enough, we were left with nothing but the comfort of the bed and the sound of each other’s heartbeats.





 

Vanessa28

Angel of Darkness
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Yahtzee, Supernatural
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Angel of Darkness
I got all caught up! Amazing as it was back then my friend. But I sense one change. Even though your story was already grabbing me a couple of years ago, I sense you have matured even more. Especially the details. You're great with that. The backstories, the inbetweens, the whole story is really getting me hooked. Continue writing ( not only this story but in general) because I love it!
 
Joined
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Male
Wow that was one heck of a ride! I read the entire story in the course of a week and I feel mixed emotions. I'm very happy to have read a story that could be fixed into a Prelude of sorts and had such a wide array of characters we could grow attached to, my personal favorite being Layla and her sassy nature. The only reason I feel upset with this, is because it ended lol. Thank you Az, for taking the time to share this wonderful story with all of us, I can safely say that I will never forget it, and I highly recommend it to everyone!
 

Azure Sage

Spread Smiles!
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Hello, friends! Here I am once again with a new update. This will officially be the last content update for The Hero of Spirits. This is a special chapter I've wanted to write for years, and I've finally gone and done it. Throughout the story, Alphonse has talked about how he values life and is not proud of having to kill people, but I've never really explored what made him come to feel so strongly about that. That would be the purpose of this special chapter; it tells the story of the first time Alphonse killed another person. I hope you all enjoy reading about it.





“At last, we’re out of there!”

I couldn’t have felt more relieved to be saying those words. The exhaustion dragged my feet down with every step. My disheveled brown hair had a few leftover twigs and leaves in it. My tired golden eyes could barely muster a gleam of joy as I stared out at the expansive fields and woods of the Forest Realm.

“It’s about time. I’m so glad to be out of these mountains.” the light blue Forest Fairy that accompanied me sighed. “I am NEVER listening to your directions again.”

“Are you still on about that? I swear this wasn’t my fault, Zelda!” I said.

“Oh, please! We were stuck up here for a whole week! All because you had to follow that blupee...”

“Well, blupees are good luck! Of course I wanted to follow it!”

“Good luck?! We barely made it out of there alive! So many Moblins...” Zelda shuddered. “Oh, speaking of which, you still have some Moblin blood on your shirt.”

I looked to where Zelda was indicating. Indeed, there was dried blood on my right sleeve. It was difficult for me to tell it was blood, at first. The white of my jacket was quite sullied by dirt and grime. I wanted to get to a town and wash my clothes properly as soon as possible.

“You’re right. Man, rivers really just don’t do the trick.” I said.

“They don’t do the trick for bathing, either.” Zelda laughed.

“... Not funny.”

The two of us began to descend the mountainside together. In the distance, we could see a large city in a wide open plain. The city was encircled by a great wall, and a tall castle stood at its heart.

“Hey, I think that’s Hyleigh City down there.” I said.

“Oh, yeah, could be.” Zelda said. “I don’t think we’ve ever gone there since we started traveling together last year.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so, either.” I said. “Well, there’s a first time for everything!”

As I walked through the trees on the steep mountainside, I glanced over at the bloodstain on my sleeve again. I was usually more careful about getting monster blood on my clothes, but the past week had been pretty rough.

Zelda could tell I was eyeing it. “Is that stain bothering you, Alphonse?” she asked.

“A little. I want to wash it out quickly.” I answered.

“I get you. It must be tough for you, huh? You’ve had to kill a lot of monsters in our travels.” she said.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I said, my mind beginning to wander.

This was the first time it occurred to me, but she was right. I really had slain my fair share of monsters. I didn’t really ever dwell on it much before. Now that Zelda had said that, I realized I never really thought much about killing them. They were monsters, after all.

When those words ran through my mind, I felt something irk at me in the pit of my stomach. It was an unpleasant feeling. However, I pushed that feeling away quickly. I was too tired to think about it at the moment. I just wanted to get to Hyleigh City and rest. After all, I was just a thirteen year old kid. Such heavy subjects weren’t any of my business... were they?


Special Chapter
The Weight of Life


The sun was rather high in the sky when Zelda and I arrived at the front gates of Hyleigh City. Just from there, we could tell that the capital city was enormous. The main road that led into the city was absolutely bustling. It appeared as if there were a sea of people flooding the streets. Some looked like merchants, others wore soldier’s armor and carried spears, and others looked like civilians going about their business. The buildings that lined the road were tall, but not as tall as the wall that surrounded the city. This was my first time here, and I was feeling overwhelmed.

“Wow... I’ve never seen a city this big before.” I said.

“And this is just the main road...” Zelda added.

I felt myself involuntarily swallow. I was born in a tiny seaside village, and spent a lot of time in a bigger but still small woodland village after that. They felt like the boonies compared to this place. I didn’t think I’d fit in here at all. However, my mind returned to the dirt and filth that coated my body and clothes, and my apprehension vanished. My desire to be clean again easily overpowered my nervousness.

“Come on, let’s find a bathhouse fast.” I said.

Zelda and I took our first steps on the cobblestone road. The further we walked into the city, the noisier it got. The sound of hustle and bustle filled our ears and began to make us dizzy. After a week of being lost in the mountains, such a drastic scenery change was unsettling. What was worse, people were beginning to stare at us. But, who could blame them? A filthy child and a fairy wandering the streets together was an odd sight.

Feeling their stares burn holes into my back, I quickly searched the streets for signs that pointed us to a bathhouse. It wasn’t long before I spotted one. It read “Stock Pot Bathhouse” and pointed us down a branching road. Zelda and I followed this road as quickly as we could, avoiding the odd stares of the townspeople. After a handful of yards, we discovered the place nestled on the side of the street between residences.

Entering the building through the sliding doors, we found ourselves in a comfortable lobby. The floorboards creaked beneath our feet as we cautiously approached the front desk. Sitting behind the desk was a woman who looked to be in her late twenties. She had red hair and green eyes, and she looked rather preoccupied. When she noticed us, she put on her customer service face and opened her mouth to speak. However, seeing how filthy I was made her stumble over her words.

“Good afternoon! Welcome to the- ...! The, um... Stock Pot Bathhouse!” she said, trying her best to keep a straight face.

“How much for a bath and to wash my clothes?” I asked, trying my best to ignore her judgmental look.

“Um... That’ll be 50 rupees.” she said.

I handed her the money and quickly entered through the door marked by a sign that said “Men’s Bath”. Zelda stayed where she was in the lobby. After all, it would be rude for her to enter the men’s bath, being a lady.

I entered the changing room and saw that I was the only person there. Feeling a little relieved by this, I stripped off my filthy clothes and hurriedly jumped into the bath. As soon as my skin touched the hot water, my exhaustion from the past week melted away. I hadn’t felt such bliss in quite a while. It felt like I was coming back to life with every second that passed. I indulged myself a little and took my time scrubbing off the dirt and mess I’d picked up in the mountains.

* * *

After cleaning myself off and washing my clothes, I felt like a brand new person again. I was feeling very chipper. Zelda giggled to see me so happy about a bath. The next thing on our list was to find some food. We took a walk through the streets of Hyleigh City and found a small cafe.

The building was small, but it was very cozy-looking. There was an outdoor terrace, which was where Zelda and I took a seat. It was full of many potted plants and flowers. I wondered if the owner had a thing for plants. It wasn’t long before we were given a menu. Our server’s name tag read “Kafei”, and I wondered if he intentionally got a job at a cafe or if it was just a coincidence.

After ordering food and drink, I felt even more replenished than before. I felt like I had all my strength back at last. While paying for the meal and leaving, I had a spring in my step. It was hard for Zelda to miss it.

“I’m glad you’re feeling so much better.” she said.

“Thanks! I haven’t felt this good in so long...” I said joyfully.

“That’s good!” Zelda fluttered up and down happily. “Now then, what should we do next?”

“Well, this is our first time here. The crowd is beginning to grow on me a bit.” I said. “Wanna take some more time to look around the city?”

“Sure thing! Sounds like fun!” Zelda said.

She seemed pretty excited. This was just as new for her as it was for me. When we first partnered up, we knew that most of our experiences would be new for both of us. I felt pretty happy to be sharing this one with her.

As we walked through the streets, a sudden commotion drew our attention. This wasn’t the usual city noise we were growing used to. It sounded as if there were shouting and screams mixed in. Zelda and I exchanged a worried look and rushed to see what was going on. As we came up on the main street, we got an answer that neither of us expected.

A group of horses drawing a wagon dashed through the streets. Men wearing black tunics and carrying swords and maces rode them, urging the steeds to gallop faster. On the cart were what appeared to be bags and boxes. One of them was hanging open, and I could swear I saw a glint of gold. Far behind this group was a battalion of soldiers, trying to pursue on foot but stuck behind the gathering crowd of people. They seemed to be pretty desperate to reach the group of men on horseback.

“Whoa, what is this, a robbery getaway?!” Zelda said in shock.

I didn’t answer her. I didn’t have much going through my head at the time, but one thing I did know for certain was that I couldn’t stand by and watch. I sprinted off after them as fast as my feet could carry me.

It didn’t do much good to chase men who were riding horses on foot. I wasn’t having any better luck than the soldiers behind me. However, I could see that the main road was coming up on a turn up ahead. I remembered that this turn would soon take them straight to the front gate of the city.

I knew I couldn’t let them get that far. As Zelda was catching up to me, calling my name, I quickly turned on my heel and dashed into the alleyways. I thought I could catch up to them if I cut through the neighborhood that the main road curved around. I ran past garbage cans and under clothes lines. I sprinted up stairs, and hopped between walls until I reached the rooftops. Jumping from roof to roof, I had a good view of the escaping thugs. They were coming around the turn just as I started my rooftop run.

“Alphonse, hold on!” Zelda said, finally gaining on me. “What are you trying to do?!”

“I’m gonna stop them so the soldiers can catch them!” I said, continuing to run.

“What?! That’s dangerous! Wait!”

Her pleas fell on deaf ears as I slid down the roof of a house close to the main road. I leapt off the building, aiming for the group of thugs that was finally starting to pass me by. They appeared shocked to see a kid flying through the air at them. I landed on the cart, and drew my sword.

“That’s far enough!” I shouted.

After staring at me for a moment, the thugs just threw their heads back and laughed.

“Ha! What do you think you’re playing at, kid?” said one.

“Go home to mommy before you get hurt.” said another.

Feeling irritated that they weren’t taking me seriously, I used my sword and tried to cut one of the ropes the cart was tied to. The thugs stop laughing and became angry. One of them leapt off his horse and onto the cart. He easily kicked me off the cart and onto the street, and hopped down himself.

“I’ll deal with this little wise-ass. Y’all go on ahead.” he said to his friends.

The rest of the thugs agreed and continued to ride away. They passed through the front gate and disappeared into the forest. I was frustrated that they had escaped, but now I had bigger problems to deal with.

“You shoulda run when you had the chance, punk.” the thug growled, drawing his sword.

I felt my blood turn to ice. The man’s intent was clearly seen in his eyes. He was going to kill me.

- Oh, man... This is for real, isn’t it?

This was my first time face to face with another person in battle. Sure, I had fought plenty of monsters before, but never another human. And this one was twice my size and out for blood.

“Alphonse! Run!” Zelda shouted as she arrived.

It was too late for that. The man was already lunging for me. He swung his sword straight down at me. I barely regained my composure in time to block his strike. The weight of his sword was too much for my arms to bear, and he knocked me to the ground. I retained my grip on my sword, but I was quite shaken from the blow.

The man’s eyes showed no concern for me. There was no hesitation, no wavering. He did not even give a thought to the fact that I was a child. It was clear from the way he moved. He was not going to let me walk away from this.

- ****, he’s really going to kill me!

I recalled something that Rena, my foster parent, said to me while training me in swordplay. She told me my sword was my life, and to never let it go. As long as I held it, I could live.

- As long as I hold my sword, I can live...

These words drove me to stand back up. I did not want to die. I had to fight to get away from this man. I looked up at him, and he was preparing another powerful strike. I watched his sword carefully, and when I learned the angle of his swing, I dipped forward. His weapon cleaved through the air, almost taking a hair off the top of my head. After ducking under his sword, I took a swipe at his chest, being careful to not let my sword dig too deep into his skin.

“Gaugh!” he coughed. “You little ****!”

The sight of his blood made me choke up. This was human blood. Blood that I drew from another person. As my skin clammed up and a knot formed in my stomach, I lost my focus. The man took advantage of this to deliver a fierce punch to my jaw. I hit the road harder than before, and felt dazed. My face ached painfully, and blood dripped from my lip. Meanwhile, the man brandished his sword and took another step toward me.

I just wanted to cut him so he’d back off. But he didn't. He still came at me. He wasn’t going to stop. In fact, he looked like he wanted to kill me more than ever. I thought I heard Zelda shout my name, but my head was still hazy. I could only lay on the ground, shaking. The man loomed over me, holding his sword above his head.

My heart pounded fiercely in my chest. My head was spinning. My skin was ice. My eyes were fixed on the blade that was going to bring my life to an end. I was going to be killed by another human being. Why? Why another human? The Great War was raging on, so why, at such a time, was this man doing this? Why did things have to be like this?

The man’s sword began to fall.

Zelda’s voice barely reached my ears.

My heart stopped beating.

In that moment, I heard Rena’s voice, deep in my subconscious.

“Live.”

I felt a splash on my cheek. I turned my eyes to look at it. It was blood. I returned my gaze to look up. The man’s face was inches from my own. His eyes were empty. I looked down to his chest. My sword had pierced through his gut. His blood spilled all over my clothes, and covered my hand that had forced my blade into his chest.

As the realization of what I’d just done came over me, I felt all the air leave my body. I tried to let out a scream, but no sound came out. I panicked and pushed the man off of my sword. He fell to the ground beside me, lifeless. Blood continued to pour from his wound, dying the cobblestone bricks red.

I stared at my sword. Its blade was covered in the man’s blood. My hand began to tremble as my breath finally returned to me. I panted harder and harder as I stared at the crimson color that stained my hand. It wasn’t long before I finally let out a scream. It was a short-lived scream, as I nearly vomited in the middle of it. All that came out was spit, but it burned my throat and made my eyes water.

“Alphonse...” Zelda said, finally speaking up. “You... You just...”

She didn’t need to finish her sentence. I knew full well what she was going to say. I just killed someone. I just killed another human being.

The sound of marching feet drew our attention away from the dead man. The soldiers had finally arrived, much too late. They looked upon the scene in shock. Some of them whispered among themselves, wondering how they should handle such a situation. However, one of them stepped forward. He appeared to be their captain. He was a tall man with strong features. The blue eyes peering out from under his helmet looked incredibly sad.

“Well, this is quite a shock. I never imagined we would meet again like this.” he said to me.

I didn’t answer him. I merely looked up at him, confused. I couldn’t recall meeting this person before. Why did he know me? I was too out of sorts to try to think about it.

“It looks like you don’t remember me... I can understand that. You were pretty young at the time.” the soldier said. “But, I could never forget the little boy who saved my life in the forest all those years ago, Alphonse.”

When he said that, the memory came back in a rush. When I was seven years old, I found a wounded soldier in the forest and brought him to Rena for treatment. In doing so, I saved his life. I recalled his name, at last.

“... You’re Abel.” I said.

“That’s right. So you remembered.” he said. “To think this is how we meet again... You poor kid.”

Abel knelt down and patted my head. It didn’t make me feel any better. I looked back at the dead man’s body again, and my eyes began to well up with tears.

“Abel... I... I...” I started to say.

“I know. It’s going to be alright. You survived. That’s what matters.” Abel said. He then grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet. “Come on, let’s get you to the guard house. You need some time to process this.”

I didn’t answer him. I kept staring at the dead man in silence. Zelda didn’t seem to understand what was going on between us, but she spoke up all the same.

“Let’s listen to him, Alphonse. You’ll be okay, I know it.”

I finally looked away from the dead man. “Alright.” I said, keeping my eyes on the ground.

* * *

Time felt like it passed by slowly. I sat in the guard house of Hyleigh City, in a room that was made for visitors or witnesses to feel comfortable. I was given fresh new clothes and allowed to wash up. The man’s blood was gone, but I could still feel it, as if it had stained my very being.

Zelda floated around my head in circles. She appeared to be trying to think of something to say that could make me feel better. I had a glass of water on the table in front of me, sitting untouched. I stared at this glass, lost in thought.

Thoughts of what I had done tore me up inside. Every time I closed my eyes, the man’s lifeless face appeared. The vacant look in his eyes, the blood spilling from his body, the blood covering my sword and my hand... I couldn’t get any of it out of my head. But why?

I had killed numerous monsters before without a problem. Fighting them and cutting them apart was a frequent occurrence in my travels. So why was this different? Was it because I killed another human? If so, what made killing humans different from killing monsters? Did I really value monsters so little that I could take their lives without a second thought? What kind of person did that make me?

These thoughts continued to swim around in my head, making me dizzy and upset. If killing monsters was the same as killing humans, I would be a mass murderer. Yet, I had felt no guilt or shame about it until now. How awful I must be, to think so little of their lives. They were living beings, after all. And what of the animals I would sometimes hunt for food? Did I not value their lives, either? It just didn’t end. My thoughts jumped from one extreme to the next, questioning my morality with every new spin. I was beginning to feel like I would pass out.

I wanted nothing more than to forget about this, but wouldn’t doing so make me even worse of a person? Didn’t I owe it to all the lives I took to think about this? Or was I just needlessly punishing myself? I had no idea what I should do or how I should look at this. No matter how hard I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with anything.

Zelda could see my expression become increasingly stressed, and she fluttered frantically above my head. She seemed desperate to find something to say, yet still careful not to speak clumsily and upset me further. She was being quite considerate to give it such careful thought, but even I was beginning to wish she would just get something out already.

Just then, the door opened. Abel walked in, carrying a warm roll of bread for me.

“You haven’t had anything to drink yet?” he asked, seeing that the water he left me earlier remained untouched.

“He hasn’t said a word this entire time...” Zelda said, finally speaking. “I’ve been trying to think, but I have no idea what to say...”

“You sound like a very considerate friend, little fairy. That’s good. He’s gonna need your kindness to get through this.” Abel said. “It’s not an easy thing to live with, killing another person. Especially for a kid so young...”

It sounded like he was talking from experience. Finally, I raised my head to look at him. If Abel knew what he was talking about, maybe he could give an answer. Maybe he could finally quiet the whirling thoughts in my head.

“Abel... Have you ever killed someone before?” I asked him.

Zelda seemed surprised by my question, but she didn’t speak. Abel looked to be rather saddened.

“That’s a heavy subject for a kid like you... But, it seems like you need to hear this. Very well.”

After placing the bread roll in front of me, Abel pulled over a chair and sat across the table from me. He looked like he was preparing himself for our coming conversation. I found myself hoping he would be as blunt as possible. I desperately wanted answers.

“To answer your question...” he began. “Yes. I have killed people. Many of them.”

I felt myself inhale sharply when hearing him say this. I got the blunt answer I was looking for. “So... What was it like for you? Did it make your head hurt this much?” I asked.

“Make my head hurt, huh... That’s one way to put it.” he said. “Yeah, I was very conflicted about it, myself. One thing that most people generally accept as common sense is to not kill each other... Most people. There are always those people who think nothing of killing others if they gain something from it. I became a soldier to protect people like you from people like them. Guess today I didn’t do my job very well...”

“Have you ever... gotten used to it?” I asked.

“Of course not. Killing people isn’t something you get used to, if you have any sense of morality. The fact that you're asking such a question and thinking so hard on it tells me you’ve got a very kind heart, Alphonse.” Abel said.

I felt disappointed after hearing that. He was essentially telling me that this feeling wouldn’t go away. “So, then... What should I do? How do I live with this?” I asked.

“That’s something you have to figure out for yourself.” he said. “Taking lives is a judgment call. It’s all about how you weigh their lives and make the decision. For me, I weigh the lives of innocent people against the lives of those who would harm them, and I decide that the innocent people’s lives are worth more. If I have to kill someone to save someone else, then so be it. That’s what I decided not long after I became a soldier and killed someone for the first time. You might come upon a similar answer, or you may find a completely different answer. That part is entirely up to you. But I promise you, you will come upon an answer someday.”

I took in everything he had said to me. In that moment, or rather, every time I took another life, was I weighing them? Did I weigh them against my own life and decide mine was more important than theirs? Was that selfish of me?

Rena’s words came back to me once again. “Live.” She wanted me to live my life for the sake of living, and I didn’t want to die, naturally. Was killing in self defense just something that sometimes had to be done? It was true that most times that I had killed monsters, it was because they were attacking me. Was killing to preserve my own life not something selfish, but something necessary?

Abel could tell I was still twisted up inside. “Well, I don’t think I can say anything more to help you. But perhaps I can offer you something else that might.” he said.

I perked up. “What do you mean?”

“We identified the man you killed, and we know places where he and his buddies like to hide out. Would you like to come with us and help us recover what they stole?” Abel offered.

“What? You want me to come with you?” I said in shock.

“Yes. Both you and your fairy friend.”

“Huh?! Me too?” Zelda said.

“If you come with us and see how we deal with our own conflicts, it might help you find an answer to deal with yours. Of course, I do owe you for saving my life all those years ago, so think of this as my repayment.” Abel said.

I thought about this for a minute. It was obvious that Abel was expecting me to fight alongside him. I had to question his sanity to allow a thirteen year old boy to accompany fully trained soldiers on a dangerous mission. But, it was as he said, this might be the cure for my conflict. I wanted an answer. I wanted to know how to weigh life. And I would be helping to catch criminals at the same time. That was the reason I chased after those men in the first place.

“Alright. I’ll go with you.” I said.

“Alphonse?! Are you sure?” Zelda asked.

“Yes. This is something I have to do. I can feel it.”

Zelda could see the look in my eyes, and knew that I needed this. “Okay, fine. I’ll go with you. Like Abel said, I’m gonna be here for you.”

“Thank you. I’m glad you’re with me, Zelda.” I said, finally giving her a faint smile.

I grabbed the roll of bread and bit into it. I grabbed the glass of water with my other hand and barely let myself swallow the bread before I started gulping it down. I would need all my strength for this.

Abel watched me eat, and smiled to himself. “Maybe this’ll help to repay her, too...”

* * *

As the sun began to set, I rode on a horse out of the capital city with Abel’s battalion. Zelda kept pace with me in the air. She seemed nervous, but she didn’t try to change my mind about doing this. Abel’s soldiers were skeptical about my presence. It seemed they thought I was going to be more of a hindrance than anything else, but they obeyed Abel’s orders all the same.

We made camp for the night in the forest. In the morning we were going to search the first hideout location the soldiers were aware of. It was said to be an abandoned Lizalfos fortress. The intelligence was that bandits had forced the Lizalfos out, claiming it for themselves.

As we sat around the fire, soup was passed around to everyone. I had my fair share. Zelda was offered soup, and she had to explain that fairies don’t eat. Most of the soldiers let me and Zelda be, not talking to us or even really glancing at us. I felt fairly alienated. I could hear them discussing strategies of how to approach the fort, and what they would do if the thieves were there.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that I had never asked what the thieves had stolen. I assumed it was gold, but there seemed to be an awful lot of soldiers here for something like that. I walked over to Abel and asked him about it.

“Ah, yeah, I didn’t tell you yet, did I?” he said. “The thieves stole gold and a precious artifact from the royal family.”

I was incredulous. “The royal family?! They actually stole from King Dereveaux?”

“That’s right. They broke into the castle and made off with a few bags of gold. But, what’s worse is that they also stole an extremely valuable ancient artifact; the Spirit Flute.” he said.

“Spirit Flute?” Zelda asked. “An instrument?”

“It’s not just any instrument. As the name suggests, it’s a very precious and ceremonial flute. It was given to the first king of Hyleigh by one of the Lokomo, the servants of the Spirits of Light themselves. It was played in prayers and offerings by the court musician for centuries. And now that we’re in the middle of the Great War, something like that is more important that ever, even as just a symbol.”

Now I could see why they sent so many soldiers to go after the thieves. With the Spirits being locked in battle with the Demon King, prayers to them had become more frequent. The royal family would want to use the Spirit Flute now more than ever. I couldn’t believe anyone would steal such an important artifact. Like Abel had said earlier, these people must have only been thinking about what they could gain from it.

After our talk, I went back to where I had been sitting. I laid down in the damp grass as Zelda hovered over me. I glanced over at my sword, given to me by Rena. Tomorrow, I was going to use this sword to fight other humans. I had to prepare myself for that. I had to learn how to weigh the lives of other people. I felt like I owed it to myself to do this.

“Alphonse.” Zelda began. “Whatever you end up having to do tomorrow, I want you to know something.” I looked up at her. “When we met, you killed Stalchildren to save me. I will always be grateful to you for that. You chose to take lives to save mine back then, and I’m alive today because of it. I think you made the right choice to do that. So, if you end up having to make choices like that again tomorrow, I want you to trust that you’ll make the right ones. You’re a good person, and I believe in you.”

It seemed like she finally figured out something to say. I was really touched by her words. I gave her a warm smile and nodded up at her. She seemed to be happy that she said something that helped me, and floated down into the grass next to me. It was time for us to rest now. Tomorrow, I was going to be ready.

* * *

The sun had barely begun peeking through the trees when we arrived at the fort. It was deep in the forest. The trees here were tall and their leaves formed a canopy over the clearing where the fort was housed. It was built from weathered gray brick, covered in moss and vines from its years here in the wilderness. A few patches of sunlight lazily shined their way around the fort through the canopy of leaves.

It was deathly silent. Zelda, Abel, his soldiers, and myself were hidden among the brush surrounding the fort. I could hear the rhythmic breathing of the soldiers, pacing themselves, getting ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice. I felt a pang of anxiety well up. I was uncertain of what would be happening soon.

I heard Abel’s voice whisper to us. “It’s risky to approach the fort. If they’re there, they’ll easily spot us coming. That’s where you come in, miss fairy.”

“Huh?! What do you want me to do?” Zelda asked.

“You’re small and quick. You’re perfect for a stealthy peek at that fort. Do you think you can check it out without being seen?” he asked.

“I...” Zelda seemed uncertain. She turned to me, and I gave her an encouraging nod. “... Okay. I’ll give it a shot. I’ll come right back if they’re in there.”

“Good. We’re counting on you.” he said.

Zelda seemed to shake a little, but she soon darted over to the fort as quick as she could. It wasn’t long before she had disappeared inside. All we could do now was wait for her.

I felt anxious about Zelda going in alone. Sure, she was quick, but what if she got cornered? If she didn’t come back, I didn’t know what I would do with myself. She would have gotten killed because she came along with me for my own selfish reasons. Abel could sense that I was worried about her, and he put a caring hand on my shoulder.

After what felt like the longest five minutes of my life, we soon saw her light blue glow again. She flew out of an opening on the right side of the building and found her way back to us. She seemed very excited.

“Guys! They’re in there!” she said. “A whole bunch of them!”

All of us let out a breath upon hearing this. This was really happening. I felt myself getting tensed up.

“Do you know exactly how many?” Abel asked.

“No, but I’m certain there’s at least twice as many as the group that escaped Hyleigh City yesterday.” she reported.

“Did any of them see you?”

“Nope! They also seemed pretty relaxed. I don’t think they expected us to find them this fast. I didn’t really see any lookouts or anything. I think it’s safe for us to approach the fort.”

“I see. Thank you very much, Zelda.” Abel then turned to the rest of us. “I want us to split into groups of five and enter from all directions. We do this slow and quiet, and we might be able to mount a surprise attack. I want at least two men at each exit, as well, to make sure none of them escape.”

“Yes, sir!” all the soldiers replied in unison.

Four groups of five were formed. Zelda and I found ourselves with Abel and two other soldiers. There was one exit on each of the four sides of the building. My group entered from the right, where Zelda had come from. Two men stayed behind at each exit, just as Abel ordered. Looking up at the fort, I could sense the battle that was about to begin and the blood that was about to be shed. After forcing away an involuntary shiver, I took a deep breath as I followed behind Abel and the two soldiers inside.

The hallway was dimly lit by torches here and there, and dirt and moss littered the floor and walls. A damp and musty scent tickled our noses and made breathing feel like a chore. We walked with care to avoid any echoes of our footsteps. Abel peered around the first corner to make sure it was clear, then signaled for us to follow. We crept up a flight of stairs and did the same thing again. We were getting deeper into the fort with each hallway we traversed.

Soon enough, we began to hear voices. Abel signaled for us to stop, and we listened intently. The voices came from a room down the hall from us a few feet. I could barely make out what they were saying.

“Yeah, I just sent Gray out to discuss a price for the Spirit Flute.”

“Who’s the broker?”

“Some punk named Vino or whatever. I think he’s still small time right now. I don’t have much hopes for this deal.”

I couldn’t make out much from what I heard, but I was certain the name “Spirit Flute” was mentioned at some point. Abel was farther ahead than the rest of us, so I thought that perhaps he could hear them more clearly. He looked back at us, and nodded. We were going to attack soon.

This was it. The moment was about to be upon us. A real battle against human adversaries. I felt a pit grow in my stomach, but I tried my best to ignore it. This was what I had to do. I reassured myself of that, and placed my hand on the hilt of my sword.

As we inched down the hall, closer to the room where the thieves waited, Zelda shouted.

“Alphonse! Behind you!”

I flinched in surprise, but quickly turned on my heel and drew my sword. I thought that perhaps one of the thieves had gotten the drop on us, but that wasn’t the case. My blade clashed with a machete, and I was struck with shock to see that it belonged to not a human, but a Lizalfos.

“What the?!” one of the soldiers gasped as he turned around.

“Hey, who’s there?!” shouted the thieves from inside the room up ahead.

I heard Abel click his tongue in frustration as he drew his sword. Two thieves appeared in the hallway, and were surprised to see the scene that laid out before them.

“Why you-!” one of them began to say.

He had barely gotten two words out before a spear impaled him through his stomach from behind. His buddy yelped in shock at the discovery of a second Lizalfos behind him. We were surrounded; both us and the thieves.

The Lizalfos I locked blades with was fairly bigger than me. Its reptilian face was staring at me unnervingly. Blueish scales were exposed between the gaps of its armor. Its long tail flicked back and forth behind it, and its snake-like tongue hissed from between pointed teeth. I could easily sense its bloodlust.

It began to apply more pressure to its weapon, and I felt myself being forced back. I began sliding my blade down the length of its own until I was able to switch places with it. It made an odd gurgling sound as it reared its arm back, preparing to strike at me again. Its movements were easy to predict. As it swung its blade, I swung with my own to counter its blow. Its machete was knocked up, and I jabbed my sword through an opening in its armor.

The monster cried out in pain as it backed up, and was met with a spear through the chest from behind, courtesy of one of the soldiers. Meanwhile, further down the hall, the other Lizalfos had already killed the other thief, and was now grappling with Abel.

Abel dipped past swift spear strikes, and easily cut through the spear’s wooden grip with his sword. The Lizalfos had lost its weapon, and let out a frightened cry as Abel deftly cut it down. His technique was admirable, with no wasted movements to speak of.

“Damn it, where did these things come from?” one of the soldiers complained.

“They must be trying to reclaim their fort from the thieves. Bad timing for us.” Abel said calmly. “This simply means there are more enemies than we thought. Our job hasn’t changed.”

“Yes, sir!” the soldiers replied with a salute.

I was impressed with how adaptable Abel was to this situation. I was becoming more nervous, though. I gazed down at the dead Lizalfos and thieves, and wondered if I would have to kill soon, too.

I thought about the weight of their lives in this situation. The soldiers and Abel decided their lives were worth taking to keep themselves alive and to finish their mission. Would I be able to take a life for a reason like that? I supposed that’s what I came here to find out.

We continued on down the hall and checked the room where the thieves had been. None of the stolen loot was in there, so we moved on. After heading up another flight of stairs and around another bend, we discovered the bodies of two thieves, a soldier, and a Lizalfos.

“Bastards got one of ours...” Abel cursed.

He and the soldiers stopped to send a quick prayer to the Spirits of Light for their fallen comrade. I did the same quietly, though I didn’t know his name. Just as they were finishing up, though, more Lizalfos appeared behind us.

“Watch out!” I said, alerting the others.

I dashed down the hall to meet them in combat. The first one tried to jab at me with a spear, but I was easily able to duck past it. I grabbed the wooden grip with my hand and yanked the creature forward a bit. I cut the spear with my sword as it was off balance, and allowed my sword to pierce its hide before it could regain its composure. It was dead before it hit the floor. The one behind it became angry and screeched at me in a fit of rage.

It lunged forward with a rusty broadsword, and I parried its strike. I swung my sword down, and it parried that. We exchanged a few more blows before I was able to advance forward. Our swords grinded together, mine taking some of the rust off its own, and as we separated, I darted around behind it. I delivered a quick slash to its back, and it accompanied its ally in death.

I stood and gazed upon my handiwork, panting. Inside, I felt a knot in my gut over taking their lives. This feeling was new. Now that I was actually thinking about it, killing monsters did make me uncomfortable. I supposed that made me kind, like Abel said. The real test, however, would be if I had to kill a human again.

I looked up to see what Abel and the other two were doing, and was surprised to see that they were gone from sight.

“Huh? Where did the others go?” I said.

“Wait, what? Oh! Huh?! They’re gone!” Zelda said, just noticing their absence herself.

“How could we have gotten separated? They were right there a second ago...” I said.

“I don’t know... Maybe more enemies appeared while we were fighting and drew them away.” she said. “We’d better go find them, fast. They could be in trouble.”

Zelda and I stepped over the bodies of the Lizalfos and continued on. Soon enough, we came to a fork in the hallway. We listened, and heard sounds of a struggle down the hall to the left. We quickly made our way in that direction, and came upon a wide room with a chaotic scene.

This room was full of thieves and Lizalfos and soldiers, all fighting a three way battle. Each group was trying their hardest to kill the others. A thief cleaved through the body of a Lizalfos, only to be cut down by a soldier in the next moment. A soldier stabbed her spear through a Lizalfos, and was cut down by a thief before she could blink. The flow of the battle swayed back and forth like this continuously. No one was gaining any ground. It was a complete free-for-all.

“Wow, what a mess...” Zelda said. I couldn’t help but agree with her; this was a disaster.

Soon enough, I spotted Abel in this hectic sea of blood and bodies, trying his best to defend a group of wounded soldiers from a gang of Lizalfos. Some of the wounded were the two soldiers that had accompanied us. One of them looked like he wasn’t going to make it.

It wasn’t long before I was spotted. A thief made his way toward me, getting ready to strike, only to be stabbed to death from an incoming Lizalfos. This monster then turned its sights on me, and was ready to pounce when it was sliced apart by a soldier.

The soldier ran over to me. “Are you okay, kid?” she asked.

“Yeah. Thank you.” I said.

“Hey, watch out!” Zelda shouted.

The soldier turned around in time to block a thief’s blade from cutting into her. I circled around her and attacked the thief, cutting into his back. As he cried out in pain, the soldier finished him off with a sword in his gut.

“Thanks for the help. You fight well for a kid.” she said.

“Yeah...” I said, distracted.

I didn’t kill him myself, but the thief was dead with my help. I looked at his blood on my sword, and knew I was partly responsible for this. The knot in my stomach returned, stronger than ever before.

- No... It was to save that soldier’s life... I’m not a murderer...

As I was thinking this, I turned to face the battle. I saw that Abel was starting to get overwhelmed. He had just finished killing off the last Lizalfos when he was assailed by a band of thieves, without getting a moment to rest. I rushed into the fray, intending to come to his aid.

I dipped past a Lizalfos and a thief locked in battle, cutting into the Lizalfos’ back as I did so. I leapt over a dead thief and countered a Lizalfos’ sword strike from midair with a spinning swing. When my feet touched the ground, I ducked under its arm, ripping my blade through its hide as I ran past it. I locked blades with a thief that got in my way, and pushed him back. A quick swipe of my sword left him with a bloody face as he stumbled backwards. I darted around him, and I was finally upon the group that was surrounding Abel.

Now that I was closer, I could see that Abel and the wounded soldiers were also defending the stolen loot. It had been here in this room all along, and the thieves were desperately trying to reach it. Abel valiantly stood in their way, continuously parrying attacks from four thieves at once. His exhaustion was clearly showing on his face, though. No one could keep that up for long.

One of them turned around to see me, and left the others to deal with Abel as he attacked me. I parried a downward slice and jumped back to avoid a horizontal slash. Just then, the soldier I’d helped before appeared and slashed across his chest. The thief collapsed in a bloody heap, and two of his friends turned around to fight.

Another soldier ran over to join us. It looked like the chaotic battle had finally settled down. There were only the two soldiers with me left standing, besides Abel and the wounded. All of the Lizalfos were dead, and the only thieves left were the three we were fighting. This battle was coming to an end.

From between the two thieves locked in combat with the two soldiers, I saw the last thief successfully land a strike to Abel’s hand. His sword clattered to the ground as he cried out in pain. He fell to his rear, and held out his uninjured arm to defend the wounded soldiers in a final desperate act.

Abel appeared to be done for. The thief was readying the killing blow, and the two soldiers that could still fight were unable to help him. The thieves they were fighting were putting up too much resistance. They couldn’t end their battles fast enough to save their captain.

But, I was still there.

I ducked past the flailing swords and spears of the soldiers and thieves in my way. I brandished my sword, and gripped it hard. Just as the thief was bringing his blade down over Abel’s head, I cut into him.

The feedback was sharp. I felt my sword cut through bone as I slashed through his back. The blade went in deep, almost all the way through him. Blood sprayed from his wound, splashing my cheek and my shirt. At last, I could cleave no further through him, and my sword stopped. The man cried out in pain, dropping his weapon, and slumped back. I could feel his life escaping him through the hand that held the sword that impaled him. I felt every death rattle through the feedback of my weapon. I pulled out my sword, and more blood spurted from his wound onto the floor. I heard his last breath leave his body as he collapsed to the ground.

It happened. I had killed someone again, this time intentionally. And this time it was to save Abel’s life. As I looked down at this scene, I felt like I was going to vomit again. Just as Abel said, this wasn’t something a person could get used to. I felt the full weight of the man’s life on my shoulders. It was a suffocating feeling. I almost couldn’t breathe. I robbed him of his life and his future, because in that moment, I weighed his life against Abel’s, and decided Abel’s was worth more.

- So, this is what it means to weigh someone’s life...

Abel gazed up at me with a sad expression. “... That’s twice you’ve saved my life now. Thank you, Alphonse.”

He held out his hand to me. I hesitated for a moment, but I reached out and took it, pulling him to his feet. By this time, the two thieves that were left alive surrendered, and the two soldiers left standing had them at swordpoint. The battle was won. The enemy was routed, and the stolen goods were recovered. This was a victory, but far too many people had died for us to feel any satisfaction.

* * *

I straddled a horse on its way out of the forest. Zelda accompanied me as I rode next to Abel. We were on our way back to Hyleigh City. Our horses pulled a cart full of the recovered goods, including the Spirit Flute. The operation was a success, but at a great cost. Due to the Lizalfos incursion causing the battle to fall into chaos, Abel lost half of his soldiers. The eight he’d left outside the fort to guard the exits were ambushed by the Lizalfos, and only three survived. There were the two who remained standing in the last battle, and the seven wounded who managed to cling to life behind Abel. A total of twelve survivors out of twenty five, not including Abel.

It was a quiet and depressing ride back to the city. Zelda could tell I was still mulling over my own actions.

“Alphonse, how are you feeling?” she asked me.

“I don’t know. I guess I’m still trying to come to terms with everything.” I answered. “But... I think I have something close to an answer now.”

Abel looked over at me. “Is that right?”

“Yeah. I’ve decided that I’m going to always think about every life I have to take. I’ll think about if I really have to kill, and if I do, I’ll bear that weight on my shoulders. I don’t ever want this to become easy. This deserves thought every time.” I said.

Abel had that sad look in his eyes again. “It’s a failure of us adults to have made a world where a kid like you has to think about such things. I’m sorry, Alphonse.”

“Don’t apologize. You helped me learn this valuable lesson. Thank you, Abel.” I said.

That grin, the one I remembered seeing as he left Rena’s cabin all those years ago, returned to his face. “I’m glad I could repay you, then.”

We rode the rest of the way back to the city in silence. I was still twisted up inside about taking lives, but now I knew how to weigh life. Like Abel said, I was still a kid, and I shouldn’t have had to think about stuff like this. But, I was able to save a few lives today. Many soldiers died, but the body count would’ve been higher if I weren’t with them. Abel would’ve died. I was able to save his life once again. It felt odd; the first person I’d ever saved appeared when I took someone’s life for the first time. I felt the bitter irony of that cling to my mind.

Memories of my first meeting with Abel brought upon a rush of homesickness. I still had not told Zelda about Rena or about what happened to my hometown, but I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything at the time. I felt a longing to go home and visit Rena. It was getting closer to two years since I’d left. I wanted to return and tell her all about what happened to me.

I shook my head. Zelda seemed to be concerned, but she allowed me to be with my thoughts.

Perhaps it was too soon to go back home. I had just learned this valuable lesson, after all. I thought that Rena would be proud to see the man this lesson helped me become. But, someday soon, I would go home.

And whenever that day may come, I would be able to greet her with a smile.

- 2 YEARS LATER -

My ragged breaths could barely be heard over the sounds of my panicked sprinting. I could still smell the freshly smoldering remains of Hyleigh City behind me. I carried in my arms an unconscious little girl who had just lost her parents to the Demon Lord Vaati.

“Damn it... Damn it...” I breathed through tears.

Zelda flew as fast as she could to keep up with me. I tripped over myself, and quickly turned on my side so Saria wouldn’t get hurt. I skidded in the grass, getting dirt stains on my shirt.

“Damn it!” I said, louder.

“Alphonse, be careful!” Zelda said.

“We have to hurry! Rena’s house is still deeper in the forest!”

Scrambling to get back to my feet, I made sure that Saria didn’t take any of the impact from my fall. She seemed to be unchanged, but blood still dripped from her forehead. I clenched my teeth in frustration and continued to run.

Yes, Saria had lost her parents. Roy and Gracia were no more. But they were not the only ones. Every person in Hyleigh City, including the royal family, had just been killed, in one fell swoop. That was the power Vaati possessed.

As I ran, I thought about another person who had surely perished in that hellfire. The man who had helped me understand the weight and value of life. The soldier, Abel, was dead, too, unable to even get the chance to defend his city.

Tears began streaming down my face once again. They stung my eyes, and my throat closed up.

- I’m sorry... I couldn’t do anything for you. I couldn’t do anything for any of you. But, I swear, I will save Saria. I’ll at least save this one person in front of me. And I will never stand by and let a tragedy like this happen again. I will save as many lives as I possibly can, from now on...

That was my vow. That was the weight I chose to bear.





And that's that. I hope you enjoyed reading this story! I want to leave a link to the full Google Drive folder here, because it's the most complete in terms of proofreading and updates, and all the chapters are in the proper order. It also contains statistics on the full word count and page count for the entire story, each individual chapter, and each arc. It also has an afterword at the end of the credit roll which I think dedicated readers will appreciate. I know I certainly appreciate every person that has taken the time to read my story! Thank you all very much for your support over the years. It really means a lot to me.
 

Vanessa28

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Great job again Az! Well written, filled with emotions and breath taking as ever! Thank you again for another great chapter and I do hope you're going to write more ;) I couldn't help but to think about a BotW Lizalfos hideout combined with the Yiga hideout :P You're the best by far in my books !
 

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