Chapter 37 - The Southern Raiders
Several screams of terror pierced the night. The Cyn’Taak had found the recomposed assassins and were happily gorging on their newly found renewable food sources. That thought did little to comfort Link and the others as they fearfully backed up against the willow tree. In front of them were six Cyn’Taak, all growling deep in their bellies waiting to spring onto their hapless prey.
“Link, you take the one on the far right, Merin and I can-” Apolloni began directing with a hint of mania in her voice.
“Shut it.” Link interrupted. “There is no way the five of us can tackle six fully grown Cyn’Taak and you know it.” He had discounted Malon who was definitely in no shape to fight and Lorva who was still cringing in pain at the acid slowly boring a hole through her entire ankle.
After several more moments of indecision, Zelda observed something, “Link, why aren’t they attacking?”
“I don’t know.” Link admitted, although the Cyn’Taak were closing the distance between them, they did little to give away their intentions. They were not striking for a reason.
Merin quickly looked around and her eyes rested on the hollow at the base of the tree. Inside were writhing little bodies of infant Cyn’Taak, their eyes still glossed over with a murky film. She gasped, “The babies! They are not attacking because we are near their young!”
Apolloni spat, “Impossible! Two of them tried to kill each other, they are cannibals!” Her usual calm demeanor in battle was shaken considerably.
Dawning realization flowed into Zelda as she turned from the babies back to their mothers, “They are female. They protect the young from the males and everything else!”
Link nudged closer to the wriggling mass of infant Cyn’Taak, “So you’re saying they are not attacking us for fear of hurting the offspring?”
Zelda nodded, but dared not take her eyes off the Cyn’Taak, “That’s what I’m saying.”
Link knew what he had to do, it was completely insane and went against all rational thought. He spun around and quickly grabbed the nearest baby and gathered it into his arms. He was extremely careful in binding its twitching tail to its back with a finger. A shriek of outrage affronted his ears as the mothers glared at him for the grave insult he had performed. They snarled and snapped at him but dared not get any closer. Lorva crawled over to Malon to comfort her as she wailed; her eyes wide with terror as she watched the Cyn’Taak.
“’Ut the ‘hild ‘own! ‘Ow!’ The lead Cyn’Taak uttered, vehemently pointing a claw down to the ground to indicate what she wanted.
Link grinned, this was probably hers. “Not until you let us go will I give it back to you.”
The Cyn’Taak roared and attempted to swipe at him with her claws, he immediately placed the child in front of him. She withdrew her monstrous talons at the moment she saw the child hurtling towards her from within his grip. She moaned in agony of not being able to rend the insolent piece of meat into ribbons. Her tail began twitching anxiously. She was considering catching them off guard with a quick piercing of venom.
“’Ive ‘er to ‘e an’ ‘ou ‘an ‘eave!” The mother Cyn’Taak pleaded with little conviction. It was clear she was goaded him into a vulnerable position.
Link backed up further towards the edge of the clearing, “Like I would trust a Cyn’Taak to keep its word!” He laughed nervously. A low grumble arose from the mother’s belly at his refusal.
As one entity, the group continued to back up away from the deadly Cyn’Taak. Apolloni was dragging Lorva along with her while Malon had been picked up by Merin. Zelda was by his side, visibly shaking with fear as the behemoths edged closer. It was becoming clearer that their hostage of the child was doing little to stop the inevitable advance of the creatures. They were going to die and they knew it. One of the females lumbered over to the hollow. Resting a clawed hand onto the roots, it gazed in with relief as its young had not been harmed.
Link held the squealing bundle under his arm as it squirmed fervently trying to escape his grasp. His other hand lay open next to his sword; fingers itching to grab it but realizing it would be a fruitless gesture. The need to escape and to live was overpowering. This was not how he had wanted to die, to be filled with venom, ballooning into nothing but a bloody snack for these creatures. The thought of Zelda’s intestines being ripped out of her belly and promptly swallowed was almost unbearable. He looked over to Malon and couldn’t stomach the thought of her being eaten alive by these repulsive creatures.
A strange feeling began sweeping from deep within Link. At first he gave it little thought until the surging energy began flowing down his arm into his fingertips. A sudden horse braying startled them all. Apolloni swirled around to see three black stallions standing there triumphantly where there had been none before.
Link’s eyes opened wide at the glorious sight, “Quick! Load the wounded onto the horses!” He shouted.
The lead Cyn’Taak bellowed at them escaping, within seconds Lorva cried out in pain. Apolloni promptly dropped her charge as she saw the barb imbed itself deep into Lorva’s foot, the unfortunate Gerudo began swelling up into excruciatingly painful blood boils. Ignoring her screaming companion, Apolloni leapt up onto the nearest black mare while she hauled Aveil up onto it behind her. Merin assisted Link in slumping Malon’s body over the back of the other.
“What about Lorva?” Merin demanded, looking intently at Apolloni.
“She is lost, leave her!” Apolloni hastily ordered.
Merin scowled at Apolloni as she lifted herself onto the horse alongside Malon. Link helped boost Zelda onto the third horse before handing up his deadly package. She gingerly took the scaly child into her arms, being overly cautious of its flicking tail. They kicked the flanks of the horses and went galloping off into the forest, the majority of the marshlands behind them. The danger to their young having passed, the Cyn’Taak leaped upon the screaming Lorva. It was over within seconds.
The lead Cyn’Taak did not give into the bloodlust that had so easily claimed her brethren, her child was being taken from her. She charged on all fours with rage after the kidnappers who had violated her family. Her guttural cry was heard for miles around as she trampled through the underbrush, knocking down weak saplings in her wake. Her eyes were red for the male of the group, for the one that dared touch her baby.
Within minutes, they cleared the tree line and were racing across open plains. The land was unfamiliar to Link. He looked around by the light of the moon to see where they were headed. The open fields were flatter than the rolling hills that surrounded Lon Lon Ranch, several boulders and rocky knolls dotted the landscape at random intervals.
In the distance they spotted a small hamlet with a few twinkling lights perched around the buildings. They pressed their horses hard in that direction. A roar from behind caused Link to twist around, the mother Cyn’Taak burst from the brush with a flourish and was urgently hunting them down. The Gerudo had noticed the rampaging creature as well, for they sped up their horses.
Merin chanced a swift glance behind, it was clear the Cyn’Taak was gaining ground on them. It was far more agile and faster than the horses by far. Its massive bulk did nothing to curb her fear as it careered towards them. “We’re not going to make it!” Merin yelled.
“Shut up!” Apolloni rebuked without looking at her. “We are going to make it! Just ride!”
They were coming up upon a rather large boulder that seemed to pierce the sky with its rising spire. Swiftly passing it, they heard a loud squawk of malice just behind them. Zelda skimmed back to see ten hooded riders on horses emerge from the shadow of the rock. They had been lying in wait for trespassers! The Cyn’Taak surprised them as it bowled over two of the horses emerging from beyond the rock, its tail slashed through the air stabbing various bodies in the process.
The other eight riders split around the debacle and continued on their initial track of chasing them. The sound of whinnying and men shouting indicated the worst for them. Surprisingly to Aveil who had turned to watch the whole spectacle, the Cyn’Taak ignored its swollen victims and kept to its firm course. She cursed at their luck. She had hoped it would be enticed by that much blood.
Zelda cried into the wind towards Apolloni, “Who are those people?”
Apolloni shouted back, “The Southern Raiders. We know of them. They attack innocent people, kill them and steal all their belongings.”
Link uttered an oath under his breath, “Great! Just what we need right now!”
He acquired Merin’s attention and signaled her to follow him back. Drawing out her scimitar as he drew out his weapon, they swerved around in an arc to confront the raiders charging towards them. They surged forward at the center of the pack, keenly aware of the Cyn’Taak storming just yards beyond them. The lead rider crowed a battle cry as he lifted his spear intent to skewer Link off his horse. Zelda held tight onto Link’s waist, struggling to keep the frantic infant under control.
“Get down!” Link commanded Zelda.
She drew her head low to one side of his body as he leaned over the opposite side of his horse. He swerved his horse left as he slashed his sword at the midriff of the incoming rider. The pike swished harmlessly over his head, the momentum of the horse carried Link’s sword straight through the man’s body. The horse ran off aimlessly as its rider’s torso slumped off the stallion and hit the ground.
Zelda screamed in fright as Link twisted the horse around violently. The Cyn’Taak’s claws raked through her leggings, narrowly missing her skin. The Cyn’Taak skidded, kicking up turf and dirt trying to slow its speed. It scrambled trying to regain its thrust chasing after Link’s horse, intent on the kill. Merin had already lopped the head of one of the raiders as she sliced the snout off of a galloping horse causing it to topple over, flinging its occupant into the ground.
The Cyn’Taak scraped its claws through the legs of a nearby horse that had circled around to attack Link’s. The horse pitched forward. With lightning reflexes, the Cyn’Taak caught the poor man in its grip. With a swift snap of its jaws, the beast had ripped the man into two bloody pieces. His cry of pain was cut abruptly short. It violently tossed one of the halves at Link with alarming accuracy. They ducked under the grotesque piece as it sailed over their heads. The beast quickly threw the other half towards Merin.
Merin did not catch the warning in time. She turned to see the bloody legs of a mutilated raider flying towards her. The body knocked her off the horse; she hit the ground with a crack. She moaned in agony as she felt her elbow twist at an awkward ankle. Her horse bolted in panic with Malon still flaccid over its back.
“Apolloni?” Link yelled, his eyes skimming the chaos. He frowned as he saw her and Aveil riding off in the distance towards the hamlet they spotted earlier. That stupid woman! She left them to deal with this mess! He quickly scanned the rest to take stock of where they were, there were four raiders on horseback with one on the ground. Merin was struggling back to her feet as her horse was riding off. The sight of Malon still drooping over the horse galvanized his decision to follow her.
A thunderous boom from his left yanked him back to the present. He spurred his horse to weave right as the Cyn’Taak pounced. It missed them by feet as it landed on the ground with a growl. Its tail swung after them scarcely missing the mare’s swishing tail. His goal was to retrieve Malon before she got further away from them. Ignoring the crashing booms of the Cyn’Taak chasing after them, he merged through several raiders as they rushed in to attack. One unfortunately got in the way of the enraged mother and both horse and man were flung into the air with the force of her passing, each landing with a sickening crunch.
“No!” Link screamed as he saw dozens of more riders emerging from the shadows of the nearby boulders that dotted the plains. How many riders were there? He began to cry at his inability to reach her in time. The lead rider of the new group swiftly came alongside the freaked horse. Swiftly dismounting Malon, he transferred her onto his pommel before stabbing the hapless horse with his pike. The horse vanished in a mist of black vapor.
With a cawing yell, the man signaled several of his men to follow him to the village in the distance, the rest he had ordered to kill them. Link watched the stream of violent men galloping towards them with rising alarm. Link swerved around on the horse to assess the situation behind them. Merin was surprisingly holding her own against the remaining three riders; she had just dismounted one of the men from his horse before driving her scimitar deep into his belly. The rioting Cyn’Taak was merely upon them, murder evident in her eyes. The entire situation looked hopeless.
Link turned forward to face the looming horde before looking up at the sky in desperation, “Fuck it all! Zelda, hold on tight!” He yelled back.
“What are you doing?” She squeaked upon seeing him goading the horse into a full blown sprint at the mass of riders charging towards them.
“The only thing I can do! Attack!” He shouted with grim determination.
Ignoring the pounding in his head, he urged the horse onward into the center of the mass, his sword at the ready. Link prayed quickly to the Goddesses knowing this could very well be his last moments. He brought his sword out to the side, ready to slice through the nearest rider. He was shocked when several arrows whisked through the night and struck the leading edge of the horsemen. The riders were blown off their steeds by the force of the arrows. Link observed their bodies swelling in carbuncles. Were the arrows tipped with Cyn’Taak venom?
Link had little time to think as the horde split around them. To do as much damage as possible, he jerked his horse into the nearest rider before parrying the attacker’s spear. He jabbed forward with his sword, puncturing his chest before yanking it out for another strike on the subsequent rider. The Cyn’Taak plowed into the mass, flinging horses and men around like rag dolls. It had lost sight of Link and his horse, its fury evident in its cry.
He swerved the horse around as he sliced the neck of another raider. Zelda was frantically holding the Cyn’Taak child in her arms. Why was she still carrying this thing? She looked up over the multitude of horsemen to see a new group of six riders, each were armed with a bow and were firing with impunity amongst the crowd. Perched on the back of the lead horse was a taller man who had rescued Merin from her predicament. She had her arms wrapped around his waist and seemed thoroughly exhausted.
“Link!” Zelda pointed to direct his attention, “Make way for that group of riders. I have a feeling they are friends.”
Link perceived what Zelda was referring to and incited his horse towards the new group. Zelda quickly shoved Link down onto his horse as he cried out startled. She had saved his life as one of the raiders heaved a spear through the air at his head. It passed between them harmlessly, jamming itself into the nearby dirt. The rider cursed as he flew past behind them.
Link flicked his eyes back to understand what just happened, “Thank you.” He mouthed back to Zelda before continuing his rush towards the new group of six.
Merging with the new batch of horsemen, the leader signaled them to fall in behind him. With lack of any better direction, Link brought the horse around to rush in with the charging group. His eyes bulged as the man propped himself up to stand on the saddle of his galloping horse. He was perfectly perched on top of the stallion. He handed the reins to Merin who swiftly took them to help guide the horse forward. With the simple grace denoting years of practice, the man withdrew two swords from the scabbards across his back. Each sword had an odd, hooked end which Link couldn’t readily decipher their use.
The other five riders continued firing their bows into the tangled mess of raiders, all of which were circling the Cyn’Taak, intent on killing the creature once and for all. Its pitiable cries broke the night as multitudes of spears impaled its flanks, drawing blood with every stab.
The first thing Link noticed about the archers was that they were very young looking, their bodies were small and undeveloped. They were children! His eyes swiveled to their leader, calmly balanced on his running horse. He looked only slightly older than he was!
Link scrutinized the young man. He was wearing form fitting clothes. His torso was wrapped in a bluish tunic that was strapped up by the crossed scabbard draped over his form. On each shoulder was a bronze pauldron, no doubt stolen from previous opponents. He wore several belts at haphazard angles around his waist, holding up tights that had an intricate design flowing down the outside of his legs. The man wore thin, furred boots that reached just above his ankles. The most noticeable thing about him was his brilliantly purple hair, its sheen visible even in the moonlight.
Within moments they had come near the herd, encircling the Cyn’Taak like moths to a flame. Slightly crouching just before the leap, the man bounded from the saddle onto the nearest horse, sweeping his hooked sword low as it caught its rider by the neck. With an upward heave, he leapt to the next horse, the previous occupant hurtling head over feet into the air before slamming onto the ground.
Clashing into the startled riders, they turned to the new threat with zeal. Link deflected and blocked various jabs while quickly disarming others. They plowed through the ranks, the child archers eliminating men left and right with their poisoned arrows. Link marveled at their limber leader as he hopped from horse to horse, knocking each tenant off their saddle with a flip of his hooked swords. He made a full loop around the majority of the crowd before leaping back into the saddle of his own buck right in front of an astonished Merin.
Their unknown savior impelled the horse around towards the tree line as he yelled off to his partner, “Jim, cover our backs, will ya?”
The young boy gave him a thumbs up before surging back into the fray, the southern raiders had all but given up the battle. Some made half-hearted attempts at killing the youth. In the end, the raiders dispersed and began making their way towards the small town glowing off in the distance, leaving the massacred Cyn’Taak corpse where it lay. A small, gurgling wail emitted from its throat as it spotted Link on his black mare. The small infant in Zelda’s arms had settled down considerably but returned the call with a howl of its own. Zelda couldn’t help but feel remorse for what they had done to the child and its mother.
With the immediate danger finally passed, the young man sheathed his awkward looking swords back into his cross scabbards. He turned his head briefly to indicate to Merin she should steer the horse back towards the marshlands. Link propelled his horse alongside the leader. Merin and him shared a brief smile, it was clear her arm was very tender but she was doing her best to hide it.
“Hey.” Link hailed the youth. The man turned his violet eyes upon him. “Why are we going back to the Negev? We were trying to escape the Cyn’Taak.”
Leaning forward in the saddle, the man was apparently enjoying the ride. He simply smiled back, “What better place to hide from those Nevachreans than in the most dangerous place possible?”
Link had to admit the man made a good point, “Do you have a place of shelter to go back to?” Link queried.
The youth shook his head in the affirmative, “Yes. Follow me and I shall take you there.”
“What about Malon?” Zelda whispered to Link.
“You mean the girl they took?” Zelda jerked at his uncanny hearing, undaunted by her expression he continued casually. “I wouldn’t worry about her too much just yet. They will probably take a day or two before they figure out what to do with her; Plenty of time to rescue her.”
Link was unsure about this man’s casual attitude towards Malon’s predicament. Trying to appear friendly and appreciative, Link began warmly, “Thank you for your assistance back there. My name is Link.”
The man turned to him with a beaming smile, “Nice to meet you Link! I’m Kafei.”