Chapter 51 - Reunion at the Gates
It was a morbid sight. Zelda had to hold her lunch as she beheld the horrific temple. Multitudes of bodies were encased in its structure, still alive and in constant throes of misery. The moans from those unfortunate souls were heard for blocks around. The twisted structure rose up in haphazard spires centralized around a grand dome. Several sheets of human skin were draped over the curved surface like some disgusting display of artistry. The ungodly mix of both organic and inorganic material to construct this abomination of a temple was repellant to her.
“Why do they keep them alive?” Zelda said with a slight rise to her tone. “What purpose does it serve?”
Francis grunted as they peeked around the corner of the condemned shop, “Well, for one, they use the bodies as a means to strike fear in the hearts of the simple minded villagers who remain in Glaun’rung. No one would dare approach the place, so they are left relatively unchecked in their daily activities. Second, due to lack of materials at the time, Nevachrean bodies sufficed for the job.” Seeing Zelda grimace, he explained further, “They keep them alive because if they died, their corpses would ultimately decay and cause the entire structure to become unstable. Indeed, it is a fate worse than death.”
Link spotted several black robed figures emerge from the one and only temple entrance they were able to detect. “What about them? They seem relatively unarmed.”
Francis shook his head knowingly, “I wouldn’t try it. They may be apprentices under Barrachas, but they are highly skilled in the dark arts.”
Apolloni cursed under her breath, “If there was only one of them, I could probably dispatch him singlehandedly.”
“I’m sure you could.” Francis humored her with a smug look.
Ignoring her scowl, Link pressed further on a topic Francis glossed over, “Who is Barrachas? You speak as if he is the leader of their order.”
“He is…in a manner of speaking.” Francis nodded. “A very…unpleasant fellow. He trusts no one, not even his own acolytes. Barrachas entered into Nevachrean history about twenty cycles ago, well before my first child was born. Whatever he did, enabled Naar and the rest of his entourage to become immortal. He set up shop here in the capital and instigated Naar to build that profane temple. I do not know what goes on inside, but sometimes late at night I can hear the screaming.”
Malon shivered at his tale, she waited for the robed figures to disappear down an opposing alley before speaking, “Is this some sort of perverse religion? What do they worship?”
Francis shrugged as he motioned for them to retreat back behind the cover of the building. “They call him Ballos. I have never heard of such a god nor seen any of its powers. Barrachas came to Nevachrea looking for converts and he found it in Naar. Utilizing his kingship, Barrachas was able to swiftly convert many to his cause. I don’t know what his final aim is. All I know is that his ambitions are quite different from Naar’s.”
“How do you know all of this?” Link asked, it obvious the man was quite knowledgeable in the ways of the enemy.
Francis crossed his arms, leaning back against the wall, he began recounting, “I’m an owner of both a pub and an inn. You hear all sorts of stories, rumors and gossip when you are in my profession. My brothers and I moved here about twenty five cycles ago during the heyday of the army. There were many volunteers traveling from far and wide to come sign up with the greatest army the world had ever seen.”
He continued as Link and Zelda gave him surprised looks, this would put them right at the time the first Nevachrean invasion occurred in Hyrule. “Many were promised glory, riches and land. All supported the invasion of Hyrule and signed up eagerly to accomplish the mission. My brother Ingo was the smartest one of us, he knew this could only end badly; he proceeded northwards into Hyrule to start a new life there. Given the vast resources and militia of Hyrule, it was obvious who the clear winner would be.”
Francis pondered a moment before speaking further, “My other brother, Regan, was drafted into the army and went northwards. We do not know what became of him. I chose to smartly stay in the capital. If I was to keep my head on my shoulders, I needed a job that was in demand. Setting up a pub to please the soldiers and local populace secured my position in the city. Granted, they no longer need sustenance with the way things are going, but simply tasting what is no longer useful to them is a comfort. So here I am still bartending.”
“That matches up with when my mother had me.” Link murmured.
Zelda looked at him forlornly, “As did mine.” Zelda added, “If I recall, my father made a pact with the Gerudo king at that time. He was an old, feeble man, basically on his death bed from what I’ve been told. Utilizing the new, rising male of the Gerudo as keeper of the pact, the Gerudo set up a barrier between our country and Nevachrea.”
Francis indicated his assent, “You are right. After we were sealed off from your country, the entire nation fell into ruin. It was then that Barrachas started turning the dead into unholy murderers. Naar gave up his kingship and preferred to command his legions as their general. He left the ruling of his country to Barrachas. Something I feel was a mistake.”
“Is that why Naar doesn’t care about his country anymore? It seems all he cares about is conquering Hyrule.” Link mused.
“I agree,” Apolloni muttered, looking around the dilapidated streets; her mouth contorted disgustingly as she noticed a man open up his shutters from an upper floor window and toss out his bucket of feces onto the dirt below. “This city is a place of squalor and seems hardly defended outside of the barrier wall and the few regiments of troops that man it.”
Francis looked over at the piling mound of steaming refuse under each window, “There is so little here of any value anymore that it’s hardly worth defending. The only thing Barrachas covets is what lies inside that temple. That much I do know. With him and all his followers, they don’t need much else in the way of protection.”
Malon had been absently listening to the conversation as she continued to stare at the macabre structure in the center of town. She quickly tugged on Link’s sleeve as she pointed at two armored men exiting the building. She only saw them for a few moments, but she would never be able to forget their faces. Link turned to see what she was referring to and stopped dead in his tracks. Talamir and Timner were here…in the capital with them!
“Francis!” Link hissed. “You didn’t tell me Talamir and Timner were here!”
His eyes popped open as Link spoke the names, “I didn’t think it was relevant! Where are they headed?” Francis asked nervously.
Link popped his head around the corner again, “It looks like they are headed in the direction of your pub.”
“We must return quickly! They are regulars at my establishment! Ingo is filling in my place, but if he goes to serve them his cover will be blown and most likely ours too!” Francis squawked.
The group immediately scrambled down the narrow alleys and streets, leaping and dodging over disgusting piles of excrement and urine. The smell was overpowering but they gagged it down and continued their frantic pace. Every few blocks, they looked down perpendicular backstreets to gauge how far along they were in comparison to the brothers. Talamir and Timner were minutes away from the pub as the crew busted in through the entryway shutters, startling Ingo half to death.
“What is it?” Ingo exclaimed, mustache quivering. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes!” Francis yelled. “Get upstairs to the bedrooms and don’t make a single sound! No one is supposed to be occupying those rooms at this time! You too Ingo!” He violently pointed up the stairs as they blundered up and crammed into a single room, slamming the door quickly behind them.
Francis had just stepped alongside the counter as Talamir burst through the entrance. The two brothers sidled up to the bar and smirked at Francis. “Well, you will be glad to hear that we leave today. We thought it a good idea to come have one last drink, on the house. What do you say?” Timner sniggered.
“As you wish.” Francis absentmindedly spoke. He grabbed two tankards and began filling them from the tap.
Talamir raised an eyebrow at this peculiar reaction from him. Normally Francis would have some witty, disparaging remark about their bad natures. Something was obviously bothering him, “Oh, don’t be so down Francis! That was only your second daughter, you can always make more right?” His tone was intended to sound concerned, but they all knew otherwise. Timner started guffawing, pounding his fist on the wood.
Francis shot them both daggers as he slammed both tankards in front of them, “Just drink your fill and get out.” He demanded.
Timner recovered from his laughing fit and joggled a finger at him, “You better watch yourself Francis. If you piss us off, I’m sure Barrachas would love to know you have a third daughter somewhere.” They both laughed uproariously at this. They loved to torture him to no end.
Francis’ eyes welled up, “Please, just get out.”
Talamir gulped down his drink before setting the tankard back down, “Very well, be good Francis and we won’t have to reveal your little secret.”
They both turned to go as Timner finished his drink. They were almost to the door when a loud creak from above gave them pause. Timner turned to Francis before quietly uttering, “Are there any tenants in the house at this time?”
Trying his best not to look guilty, Francis quickly replied, “Not tonight, no. This is an old building, sometimes it makes odd sounds, you know, from the settling.”
Timner looked back up to the ceiling, trying to pinpoint where he heard it, “Indeed.” After a moment, he shook off his suspicions and headed out with Talamir. “Farewell Francis, we head north. Keep the hearth warm for our return, eh?” The two of them laughed the entire way outside.
Giving himself a few minutes more, Francis finally collapsed onto the bar counter, panting heavily with anxiety. Once he had sufficiently calmed down, he headed upstairs and opened the door to where the group was hiding. Zelda, Link and Malon were perched on the bed while Apolloni had taken up residence over by the window. Ingo was sitting in a chair by the dilapidated vanity. They all gazed over at him as he entered the room.
“Is everything all right?” Ingo asked of his brother as he quickly got up and moved over to embrace him affectionately. Given that his own family had died at the hands of Kafei and the third brother unaccounted for, that left Francis his only living family member. The warmth of Ingo’s familial love for his brother ran deep.
“Yes, they are leaving this afternoon to report back up at the front.” Francis said with a relieved sigh, things were about to get less hectic around here. Barrachas and his tyros rarely came in to his pub, so it had only been the last few orbits with Talamir and Timner that were tense.
“Who is buried out back?” Apolloni asked, gesturing towards the freshly dug grave in the pitiful garden below the window.
Francis choked up briefly as memories returned of her ghastly death at the hands of Barrachas. “That would be my eldest…or rather my second eldest, Olivia. That garden was her personal project. I encouraged her to pursue her passions. I do not know what happened to her older sister.”
Malon cocked her head at this confusing description. “You had two daughters?”
“Three.” He corrected. “My oldest, Terra, was taken from me by the army and sent to be used as entertainment for the troops. That was seven cycles ago, I do not know what has become of her.”
Malon shivered at the thought, remembering the brief glimpses back when she was captured. She had a vague idea of what happened to poor Terra. In fact, she might have even seen her and not realized it. “I understand. I’m sorry.”
“And that one?” Apolloni said unceremoniously, jerking her finger at the window.
Zelda scowled at Apolloni for her lack of tact, “He’s already lost two daughters. Why must we bring up the pain for him yet again?”
Francis held up a hand to belay the inevitable tirade Apolloni was about to unleash, “It is okay. It is probably good that you all should know how vile these people are. I lost Olivia to Barrachas only a week ago.”
“Did he kill her with his magick?” Zelda probed.
“Worse.” Francis looked dejectedly at the floor, “He ate her heart.”
“What?” Link gasped shocked, Zelda and Malon had similar reactions. Apolloni merely snorted before looking back out the window at the grave.
“I don’t know what Barrachas is, but after all the unholy things I have seen in my time here, I would not doubt he is something else entirely.” Francis intoned dubiously.
“You mean he is not a man?” Link said, trying to confirm the suspicion.
“I don’t know, I can only speculate. I have seen him do things that I would consider unnatural; the death of my daughter being one of them.” Francis walked over to the vanity and sat down on the chair heavily, its legs creaking under his weight.
“You said you had three daughters, where is your third?” Zelda asked; a bit worried for the fate of his final offspring.
His face had aged considerably in the past few minutes as he turned to Zelda, grief clearly in his eyes. “She is safe at the homestead. Even if she were old enough to help me in the bar, given what has happened recently to Olivia, I doubt I’ll ever bring Lily here again.” He placed his elbows on his thighs as he covered his face with his hands, “What a wretched life we live; where my last daughter can’t even leave the house for fear of being taken away or killed or worse!”
Zelda bounded off the bed and placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, weeping bitterly into his hands, he did little to resist her consoling touch. “I’m so sorry.” She said clumsily, it all started to make some sense, Francis had warned the females not to leave the inn in broad daylight. He knew little of their skills in battle, so he was simply being cautious as well as considerate for their welfare. Her heart boiled with rage to see what Barrachas had turned this city into.
“They are here!” Apolloni tersely stated, rising tall. All eyes were on her as she looked out of the window, scrutinizing beyond what she could see of the wall. She was strangely communicating without even talking. Zelda looked closely and could almost see flickers of light dance within the ruby encased on her forehead. After a moment, Apolloni turned to the others, “Ganondorf is here with a few others, he did not expound on them. They have encountered Merin and they are about to kill Xavier.”
“What?!” Zelda and Link yelled in unison.
Apolloni huffed arrogantly, “Apparently, they think the Cyn’Taak is another mindless beast and it’s acting quite aggressive towards them. Ganondorf is furious with Merin for defending it.”
Zelda rushed to the door before being called back by Francis, “Xavier will not back down until she knows Link and I are safe!” She said anxiously.
“Why in blazes would a Cyn’Taak listen to you?” Francis asked skeptically.
Link followed Zelda out before turning to him, “We took the creature from its mother some time ago. We are the only beings it has been with.” He gave an askance look to Apolloni, “It sort of…considers us its parents.”
“Gracious! And you are simply intent on leaving out the front gates as you are?” Francis cawed.
“No,” Link refuted, “we are going over the wall which you pointed out last night.”
“By Farore’s light! Do you want to get seen?” Francis declared, as if talking down to a child. “I told you that the guard relaxes their watch during the night. It is the middle of the day!” Exasperated at the rashness of youth, he heaved himself off the chair and tramped over to the doorway, pushing the two of them out of the way. “Follow me, we’ll ferry you two out of here the same way you came in: through the front gate. The rest of you stay here and keep watch. Ingo, will you run the bar for me while I’m gone?”
A flurry of activity followed with Apolloni and Malon setting up the new rooms according to Francis’ specifications while Zelda and Link prepped the wagon that was parked in the alley. Ingo wiped down the bar and set up the pub for the evening clientele, of what little there would be. Within minutes, everything was in order and Francis was rousing the horses from their apathy. With a clap of the reins, they were off.
Francis had to quickly fabricate a logical explanation as to why he was leaving yet again so soon after his previous delivery. He hoped that the current cadre of sentries didn’t come to his bar tonight and see a carbon copy of him tending it. With their dull witted minds falling for the false story, he urged the two steeds onward down the path until they rounded the bend where they could safely navigate back into the sheltered copse.
No sooner had they pulled into the grove and released themselves from the barrels could they hear Xavier snarling. Link and Zelda sprinted through the thicket, branches swatting their faces, towards the commotion. They both yelled for everyone to cease fighting as they stumbled across them. Merin was violently parrying blows with Nabooru, who was just as intent on killing Xavier as Ganondorf was. The beast was attempting to stab the Gerudo king with its barbed tail, but he irritatingly dodged every attempt.
Saria screamed Link’s name as she saw him, forcing the others to terminate their altercation. Zelda rushed to Xavier’s side and gently rubbed the trembling belly of the monstrous Cyn’Taak. It was very agitated and seemed to resist calming down to her soft touch. Ganondorf backed off as he perceived the threat nullified, with a huff he turned back to his horse and relaxed up against it, watching the others with a wary eye.
Saria rushed into Link’s arms as he crushed her in a bear hug, elated to finally have his childhood friend back in his life. With a squeak, she pushed away from him, almost forgetting her little visitor inside her tunic. He looked at her quizzically, “Is something wrong?”
She shook her head, joyful to be in his arms again, “No, just happy to see you is all.”
Link let her go and allowed her to fly beside him as he walked over to Talon who was still sitting on Harden, covering a frightened Giana in his arms. He beamed as he walked over to them and placed a hand on her shaking, petite arm, “Hey princess. You are safe, your knight is here.”
At his voice, her head jerked up. Tears still in her eyes, she leaped from the saddle into his arms, “Link! Link! I’m so glad it’s you!” She sobbed into his shoulder. It was evident this trip had been hard on her.
“It’s good ta see ya, my boy.” Talon grumbled affectionately. Link merely nodded, holding the little bundle of joy in his arms.
“You keep some strange company, Link.” Impa crooned behind him, gesturing towards Xavier.
He smiled dangerously, “I do what I can!”
Impa laughed at his humor. “Cheeky as always. I swear I’m rubbing off on you.” She ruffled his hair as he playfully swatted her hand away. “There is someone who dearly missed you.” She moved aside to reveal Epona behind her.
As if waiting all day for this moment, Epona rammed her snout into his hair and began nipping fervently; neighing with pleasure as she tried to get as close as possible to her master without trampling him to death. “Hey, stop Epona! That tickles!” Link laughed as Giana giggled at seeing her shining knight being assaulted by his own horse.
“So what now?” Zelda turned to Francis, ignoring the playful banter of Epona. Francis seemed flummoxed at how he was going to conceal all these people.
“Too many women, too many children and too many people.” He sighed. “We can’t simply take the wagon back in, it is far too soon. We will have to wait until the cover of nightfall to reenter the city.”
“What is the problem?” Ganondorf rumbled. “You have a dark wizard at your disposal. We can simply walk through the front gates now.”
“And they have dozens that won’t die easily.” Francis exhaled discouragingly.
Ganondorf massaged his beard a few moments, “That does change the plan slightly. Very well, we will follow that course of action and wait until darkness.”
“We’re all coming, right?” Saria asked hopefully.
Francis smacked his forehead, “No…you’re all going to be the death of me.”