Chapter 44 - We Are the Monsters
“Zelda, now!” Link yelled as he threw his sword directly at Kafei’s head.
She sprinted across the grass, crouching low, as she came up on Kafei. The youth sidestepped the thrown weapon as it smacked into the wooden façade of the building. Springing towards Zelda in a spinning motion to gain momentum, Kafei crashed his sword down onto Zelda’s rod as she brought it upwards. The force of the impact caused her to bow to a knee, she was shocked at how innately powerful Kafei truly was.
“Merin, help!” Link shouted as he surged past the dueling pair, hoping Zelda would be able to last long enough for them to find Malon.
Merin’s head jerked up as she deflected another arrow from Clarence. His undivided attention was focused on killing her. Thankfully his supply of arrows was quickly dwindling. She noted that Toby was hastily running away from Apolloni, who was trying in vain to slice him to ribbons. The crafty Bomber boy was rapidly gathering any unspent arrows that had been strewn across the plaza and tossing them back to Clarence for more ammunition. She looked back to see Link dash into the building which was slowly catching fire. She cursed an oath before hurrying after him.
Link rounded the corner of the doorframe to find Malon lying naked on the floor, blankets draped over her in varying ways of chaos. It was clear she had tried to get up from the bed and fell to the floor. She looked up into his eyes as he entered. A look of panicked relief flooded her face at the sight of him.
“Link! Please help me!” Malon screamed, struggling to inch across the floor, her lungs breathing fire.
Merin swept into the room and took stock of the situation. The flames were raging at one end of the room and slowly creeping its way towards them. She raised a hand to signal Link she would take care of Malon. She wrapped the blanket covering over her nude form. Malon let loose a few whimpers at the rough handling but did nothing to stop her. At length, she was decently covered enough to be moved.
“Link, I need you to help get Malon onto my back.” Merin directed as she knelt down to one knee. Link swiftly propped Malon up onto her back. With both of Malon’s arms locked around her neck she stood up before charging out of the door with Link in tow.
They emerged from the building to a cacophony of sound. The rest of the women had retreated to their homes only to return with spears, swords and other elements of steel. All were intent on annihilating the bandits that had so brutally killed their men. Link’s gaze flicked over to where his sword was left in the wood only to find it missing. Ingo had apparently recovered and was fighting alongside Zelda in pushing Kafei backwards off the wooden walkway lining the front of the building.
Evaluating the situation, Kafei felt it was time to leave. The operation had been a failure. “Clarence, round up Toby and let’s get out of here!” He shouted into the din.
The young boy nodded in assent. Quickly spurring his horse around, he galloped past Toby extending a hand down for him to catch. With a quick heave, he pulled his brother in arms up onto the back of the steed. They met up with Ashley at the front gates, who simply remained where he was; his eyes soaking in the carnage.
With a vengeful cry, Ingo slashed down with Link’s sword, intent to ravage this impudent man for murdering his entire family. Kafei easily caught the telegraphed attack with a hooked end before sliding the weapon out of Ingo’s hand. He retaliated by jamming a boot into Ingo’s stomach causing the older man to buckle. Sweeping low under Zelda’s swipe, he tripped her; crushing a fist into her chest in mid fall, the ground flew up faster into her back. She coughed as the air rushed out of her from the impact.
With a laugh, Kafei surged past Link in a dead sprint towards Ashley’s horse. With one bounding motion, Kafei tackled the rump of the horse, vaulting himself into the saddle before stealing the reins from Ashley. Goading the horses into a run, the four youth raced across the plains towards their hide out. Link ran out of the gates cursing them the entire way. At length he stopped to catch his breath, infuriated at the betrayal.
Firm conviction in his eyes, Link spun around and stalked up to Ingo, recognizing the man for who he was at last. “Will you protect Malon?” Link demanded. It was not a request.
Ingo drew himself up to full height as he casually held Link’s sword in one hand, “What makes you think I’d cooperate with you? You let those butchers in and decimate my entire family! Why shouldn’t I kill Malon right now?!” He spat spitefully.
Link’s eyes flared; his voice a low growl, “I was deceived by Kafei. I will ensure that your wife and child are avenged.”
Seeing the deadly look in his eyes, Ingo backed down, “Very well. I suggest you don’t come back here unless you’ve killed them all.” He snorted before handing back the sword to Link, pommel first.
“Thank you.” Link nodded at his cooperation. He turned quickly to Merin who still had Malon hoisted on her shoulders. “Please stay here with her. The rest of us will go after Kafei. Understood?”
Without another word, Zelda and Apolloni followed Link out of the gates. Their destination were the horses they had tethered beyond the rock. Ingo stood absently staring as their forms disappeared from view. His gaze swept over the town as he took stock of the damage that had been done. Ignoring all other stimuli, he walked over to his wife. Slumping over her dead body, he wept. He had no idea how long he laid there.
The three riders were bolting across the flat fields, their quarry in sight. They observed the boys flow into the tree line before vanishing from view. Apolloni shifted on her horse as she motioned to Link and Zelda, she warned them that the boys could utilize the cover of the trees to their advantage. They nodded in understanding as they pressed forward.
Her suspicions were correct, several arrows careened from between the branches. An archer had perched himself in one of the trees. As one, they divided the three horses into three separate tracks, complicating the overall firing solution for the sniper. Link and Zelda made a careless mistake as they spurred their horses closer together. One arrow stuck the foot of her steed. Link promptly grabbed Zelda from the blistering stallion, plopping her down behind him as they swept past the unfortunate braying of the doomed animal.
Within moments they broke the line of trees and were covered in shadow. Their eyes darted back and forth trying to steer the panicked horses through looming trees that appeared just seconds before they needed to swerve to avoid them. Link could hear the clopping of other hooves somewhere behind them. The raiders had waited at the edge of the forest and were now chasing them down.
Link’s eyes brightened as he got a devious plan, “Apolloni, Zander, follow me and make as much sound as possible!” He shouted back at them.
“What? Are you nuts? What in Din’s name do you think you are doing?” Zelda asked nonplussed.
Apolloni caught on to what he was doing, “He’s trying to summon our cavalry. Zelda, just do what he says!” Both Link and Zelda turned in shock at the use of her real name. Apolloni grinned, “Don’t think I didn’t catch that slip back at the village Link!”
Anxious but not really worried about the reveal at the present time, Link turned back around and charted a course for the grove of trees, each of them yelling at the top of their lungs like lunatics. They spied a sliver opening that denoted the entrance to the grove, it was going to be tight but they urged their horses onward to leap through the gap. Each horse whinnied in irritation as they cleared through the trees, scraping their flanks against the rough bark.
Kafei and the other three boys dismounted their horses; that became clear as they calmly stepped through the opening into the copse. Kafei’s hooked swords were drawn while the other three boys had their bows at the ready. Link and the others had dismounted from their horses before stepping forward to meet the Southern Raiders, their voices raised in unison.
“Would you stop yelling like a bunch of idiots!” Kafei grimaced.
A slight crashing of trees in the distance confirmed what Link was hoping for. He made a sign for Apolloni and Zelda to stop. The Cyn’Taak had heard their cries and were inbound with enthusiasm. The youth also had heard the incoming danger, Toby and Ashley were whimpering slightly at the impending menace.
“You brought this fate upon yourself Kafei.” Link calmly stated, leveling his sword towards the young man.
Listening to the crashing of the trees creeping closer, Kafei sniffed in indifference, “We’re all going to die here anyway.” He scoffed as he stepped forward a few paces, “We could have done something revolutionary brother. It is a shame you did not choose to join me in the fight for freedom!”
“That is not freedom!” Link stabbed the air in the direction of Yolland, “Killing women and children who have no part in the war is not revolutionary, it is murder!”
A sudden burst of nickering, snarling, snapping and squishing was heard from outside the grove, the Cyn’Taak had found the horses the boys left outside the clearing. The animals’ pitiful cries were agonizing. They all listened in silence to the horrible spectacle. The behemoths were feasting on the innards of the poor creatures while they were still alive. In time, multiple Cyn’Taak were plowing their clawed hands in-between the scrunched trunks, the space too narrow for their wide girths to fit through.
“So it has come to this.” Zelda began shakily, “After all you’ve been through, is this how you are going to honor Anju’s memory?”
“Don’t you dare speak her name, wench!” Kafei fumed, jabbing a finger at her. Clarence smirked at the reaction.
Link edged closer to Zelda before whispering, “Cut all the ropes down but one.” She looked upward and immediately understood what he was getting at. Link turned to face Kafei directly, “You know what I think? I feel Anju is spitting down on you from above. She would be ashamed of you!”
That did it. Kafei rushed forward with a screaming cry. Link pushed Zelda backwards as she caught her foot into the loop. Kicking the winch system, she rose into the air as the counterweight came slamming down. Apolloni dodged the first two arrows before closing in on the three boys. Ashley promptly dropped his bow and ran for cover, terror apparent in his eyes. With two quick movements, she disarmed Toby and knocked Clarence to the ground.
Aware that Kafei was adept at removing weapons from his opponents, Link changed his tactics against the man’s skills. He stepped aside from the first swipe before bringing down his sword onto the hook. With a quick flick of the wrist he flung the weapon towards the fire pit. Kafei cursed as he flipped away from the incoming strike. Link signaled to Zelda to begin cutting the ropes as he took another up into the treetops.
Seeing an opportunity to eliminate one of her opponents cruelly, Apolloni grabbed the scruff of Toby’s shirt as she dragged him screaming across the ground. She quickly riposted Kafei’s lunge before sweeping below his twirling counter. She aimed a quick heel to his knee, shattering it with the force of the blow. Kafei cried out as he crumpled to the ground clutching his injured leg. As much as she wanted to finish the brazen youth, the opportunity that had presented itself was slowly dwindling.
Dragging the flailing boy, she grabbed the nearest rope and jammed the loop around the boy’s neck. With a gratifying kick to the nearby mechanism, she sneered as the counterweight pulled the strangled boy into the air, his legs convulsing in jerky movements. Within moments, Toby hung still at the base of the elevated platforms, lifeless. With murder in her eyes, Apolloni roved onward towards the unconscious form of Clarence.
Kafei watched in disbelief as Toby was choked in midair. Yelling in wrath, he grabbed both swords before limping over to the nearest tree. Ignoring the ravenous roars of the Cyn’Taak that had surrounded the grove, he utilized his surprising strength to scale the tree. Placing each sword hook into the trunk, he swiftly climbed the tree to the upper canopy. Zelda stood amazed at his agility; reality sinking in, she cut the last unused rope watching it flutter to the ground below.
Kafei swung up onto the bedding platform before pacing across the narrow plank to the central tree spire. His homicidal eyes were on the two of them. “You’ve destroyed everything I had to live for!” He screamed at them.
“Good.” Link refuted coldly, “Then this will make things easy.”
“Link!” Zelda gasped, shocked at his heartlessness.
“Very well Link. To the death then!” Kafei confirmed his course of action.
The clashing of steel above her was but a dull stimulus to Apolloni’s ears, her eyes were on Clarence. The young boy had already recovered and was meeting her assault with a short sword ready in hand. Chortling at his cheek, she drew out her two scimitars and advanced upon the youth. Clarence bobbed and weaved through her spinning slashes, effectively avoiding all of her attacks. She grunted in admiration at his natural ability to evade.
The boy spun around aiming a blow to her legs, she leaped over the swing before smacking him with the butt of her sword as she landed back onto the grass. He sprawled forward but immediately rolled out of the way of the incoming thrust. The boy jabbed his sword towards her belly, she caught it between the two scimitars and pressed forward with urgency. The imbalance knocked him off his feet, throwing the sword out of his grip.
Apolloni advanced forward bashing her foot into his head dazing the boy. She looked over toward a small opening to the thicket and smiled with sadistic glee. Smacking him once more across the head to ensure he would be sufficiently incapacitated, she picked the youth up and carried him over to the slathering Cyn’Taak, eagerly clawing through the gap between the trees.
“May you pay for the death of Aveil!” She cried, pressing the boy through the opening.
Clarence realized his predicament too late. He spread his legs and arms out against the trunks to stall the inevitable. Apolloni shouted in anger at his refusal to die, she pushed harder towards the impatient Cyn’Taak. The boy screamed in misery as the claws began slashing through his abdomen, tearing out chunks of flesh and viscera with each swipe.
His body went limp as a crimson barb flashed in impaling itself deep into his head. Utilizing the few seconds of leverage, Apolloni pushed the body further until it wedged itself tight against the two opposing trees with the corpse’s expanding form. The Cyn’Taak dove its snout into the nearest blood boil and began feeding hungrily on the fleshy organs of Clarence. Laughing manically, Apolloni swirled around. Where was that other boy?
Zelda was out cold on the ground, blood slowly trailing down her face, staining her blonde hair a dull shade of pink. Kafei flashed an evil grin as he kicked Link back onto the bedding platform; his sword tumbled down to the ground below. Kicking out the unbolted plank off, watching it plummet, he laughed at Link’s helpless situation.
“You’ve got nowhere else to go Link!” Kafei leered, spreading his arms wide to reveal redundantly that Link was trapped on the spoke platform with no way off but down.
“I wish things could have been different. I knew you once,” Link started, reminiscing his times in Termina. That seemed like ages ago. “I saw you and Anju together. You were happy.”
“Liar!” Saliva spitting from his mouth as he screamed, “You are no better than those Nevachreans you so claim to hate!” With deathly calm, he turned around to reach for a bow perched up against the central spire. He turned to Link before serenely nocking an arrow. “Good bye brother.” Kafei spoke coolly.
Link’s primal urge to survive instigated that familiar feeling deep within his core. He could feel the inner energies surging up through his chest, flowing out down his arms. He had felt this once before when those three horses appeared from nowhere, allowing them to escape the Cyn’Taak. The materialized black, leather bow in his hand startled Kafei long enough to jolt his aiming. The arrow sailed through the air, whistling through strands of Link’s hair as it thunked into the trunk behind him.
Without missing a beat, Link spun around yanking the arrow from the bark before slinging it back to Kafei. The arrow rammed through his chest. Kafei fell to his knees as carbuncles began filling with his life blood. He screamed in ire as his eyes were filled with hate for Link. He could do nothing but gurgle on the massive flow of red essence foaming at his mouth.
“I pray that the Goddesses take pity on your soul Kafei. I can rest easy knowing that at least your partner in Termina is happy. That your better half has made her happy.” Link stated with little emotion. He felt like a piece of him had died this day.
Zelda had awoken and was standing behind the disfigured Kafei. With a nod from Link, she nudged him off the platform with her foot. He screamed the entire way down before impacting the ground, bursting in a huge explosion of blood, guts and flesh.
Link directed Zelda to remove a loose plank from another spoke and place it down so he could cross back to the central platform. Quickly grabbing their packs from their sleeping spaces, they took the remaining rope back down to the forest floor.
Zelda started as she saw Apolloni dragging the final boy by the hair over to the nearest Cyn’Taak. “Stop!” She cried.
Apolloni jerked her head in their direction. Her expression was animalistic and contained no traces of humanity. “What?!” She snapped.
“Don’t kill him. The battle is over; no more innocents need to die.” Zelda pleaded.
Roughly tossing the quivering boy to the ground, she turned to them crossing her arms in frustration, “I highly doubt this child is that innocent.”
“That may be true,” Link agreed, “but it is clear he doesn’t want to fight.”
Ashley dared not move from where he was thrown down. He covered his ears with his hands, trying to shut out the guttural sounds of the raging Cyn’Taak which had encircled the grove. Link regarded the situation before making his decision.
“Take what you can. We ride out of the primary opening on the horses.” Link gazed over at the stallions. They had huddled next to the center tree, their eyes wide and noses flaring. “I will ride with Apolloni, Zelda you take the boy.”
At Zelda’s insistence, Link grappled the crying infant Cyn’Taak, which had been huddling beside the fire pit, and passed it up to her on the horse. Efficiently mounting the steeds, they situated themselves before grabbing several nauseating chunks of Kafei. Throwing the disgusting limbs through crevices on the opposite end of the grove, they utilized the distraction of the Cyn’Taak bloodlust to provide an opening to ride through. The horses neighed in pain as the bark of the trees scraped across their skin. They landed back to the ground with a thud and surged onwards.
Within moments they broke the tree line and were heading towards Yolland. The Cyn’Taak did little to chase them across the plains, preferring to stay behind to kill easier prey. The cool, night breeze felt refreshing on their faces as they pressed across the flowing grass, blowing in the wind.
Link turned to see Zelda crying, “What’s wrong?” He asked concerned.
“Why did it have to come to this? Where we are killing children just to survive?” Zelda moaned.
“War makes monsters of us all.” Apolloni blurted unceremoniously.
They rode in silence back to the town, the events of the night weighing heavily on their hearts.