Chapter 54 - Under the Cover of Black
The operation had proceeded flawlessly. Ganondorf swirled the ashes across the floor with his boot, grunting in satisfaction at his display of power. Apolloni and Zelda quickly got dressed into the black robes that the vile acolytes wore. Even Link was impressed at how uncannily accurate Ganondorf was in eliminating the three tyros without harming what they sported. He held the heavy fabric in his hands and wondered how they survived in this heat with these overbearing shrouds.
“Why in the world do you insist on wearing that garish outfit?” Apolloni sneered, gesturing to the Kokiri outfit Malon had created for him.
He scowled at her before responding, “It represents a piece of my life that is dear to my heart. Something you’d never understand.”
Zelda stepped up behind Link to frown at Apolloni, daring her to rebuke him. After a moment, the Gerudo backed down and indicated his cap, “Well that will be troublesome when you put on the cloak.”
Link shook his head curtly, “No it won’t.” He unfurled a portion of the robe revealing a deep pocket, “I can simply place it in here. In fact…there are quite a few pockets.”
Indeed, as they began searching through the robes, it became clear that the small pieces of bones, feathers, and other indescribable things were spell components. Hastily discarding the obscene objects, Link draped the heavy material over his head and let it drop to his ankles. They each placed on the wooden sandals that the mages wore. Link stood slightly unbalanced at the unnatural height the foot adornments afforded him.
“If you are quite finished with your fashion show, we need to move onto the next phase of the plan.” Ganondorf rumbled, sweeping out of the bedroom door and into the hall. Zelda trailed after him wondering how the Gerudo king would know about such events since the only ones she heard of had been conducted within the castle walls of her kingdom.
Emerging into the light of the rising sun, Ganondorf shifted towards the long shadows cast by the nearby buildings. If this plan was to work, he had to remain hidden and unseen. The three imposters had to be visible at all times. Swiftly moving as a trio with Link in the lead, they kept their heads down and their hands stuffed inside their cloaks. As expected, the few townspeople they did meet rapidly switched sides of the street and gave them a wide berth. Zelda began to understand what it was like to be feared.
Link glanced over at the stables as they passed Francis’ pub. He could just barely see Malon peeking out at them from inside, hopefully she had those horses saddled up by now. Flicking his eyes up towards the nearby rooftops, he saw Saria flittering from building to building; trying her best to remain unobtrusive and utilizing her inherent ability to appear trivial and unimportant. Who knew where Ganondorf was at this point, he had lost track of where that man went. He knew that once they entered the temple they were on their own. The clouds had started to come in. He could feel a storm brewing.
They could smell the rank stench of decay well before they could see it. Rounding the bend of the alley, they came across the plaza with the wretched Temple of Ballos sitting at its center like a bulbous parasite. Ignoring the weak burbles of the pitiful fountain that probably was once the majestic centerpiece of the town, they made their way directly across towards the entrance. Link’s nerves were on edge as he cast furtive glances all around. They were too exposed but knew that pretending to be one of them was their best defense.
The incessant moaning of the pathetic Nevachreans who framed the entrance sent chills down Zelda’s spine. As they drew closer, their pleading and crying became more urgent as their hands reached out to grab their robes. Several managed to snag firm grips on them as they attempted to bypass their violating hands. With a few panicked jerks they entered the gloom of the temple. A heavy pall rested on their hearts as they stood in the dim light, letting their eyes adjust. Rippling waves of dread rolled over their inner souls as they stood there, just barely inside the structure and they could already feel the evil emanating from further within.
The corridor split into three distinctive passageways, none of which gave them any indication of the correct way to go. Simply choosing the middle path Link surged ahead with Zelda and Apolloni in tow down the groaning passage, deftly avoiding any hands reaching out for some quantum of solace from their eternal misery.
Link could feel the grip of Zelda’s hand on his arm constricting the closer they moved down the hallway. There was no adornment to the walls, merely ensconced torches and the protruding bodies as décor. They came to another cross section and stood undecided where to go. Where were all the mages? Why have they not encountered anyone? At the insistence of Zelda who could feel an evil presence traveling in their direction from the left, they quickly headed right.
“How can you feel these things Zelda?” Link whispered to her.
“I don’t know, ever since last night, I began sensing things that I could not before.” She murmured.
“What did you and Impa do?” He asked inquisitively, rounding another bend of hallway making a beeline for the double doors looming on the right side.
She shook her head, unwilling to recount her horrible experience, “It doesn’t matter right now. But whatever I am feeling, it’s trying to find us. It is almost as if I’m familiar with its nature.” She shut her eyes trying in vain to block out the images flashing through her mind.
“Will you two be quiet?!” Apolloni hissed. “If it is searching for us, we don’t want to lead it straight to us by talking!”
Link opened the double doors and almost slipped on the floor. Apolloni quickly shot out her hand and caught him before he fell. The entire floor was covered in blood and various altars were set up throughout the expansive room. She could see discarded corpses and amputated limbs littering the floor. Zelda drew near what appeared to be a cadaver chained to the adjacent wall by heavy bolts. He was leaning forward while standing, allowing the chains to hold him steady.
Link spotted what she was approaching and spoke in alarm, “Zelda, I think you should back away from-”
She bounded back, stifling a scream, as the unconscious man woke up raving. Snarling and biting at thin air, his only thoughts were to rend her apart and eat her organs. Zelda backed up, horror in her eyes as she viewed the blood drenched man with animalistic hunger in his irises. She bumped against Link who wrapped his arms around her tightly to comfort her.
“Link, please, let’s get out of here. This place is evil.” She squeaked, teeth chattering uncontrollably.
He nodded his assent and swiftly guided them out into the hallway. Zelda frantically tugged on Link to continue heading down the passage away from the shouting lunatic. The feeling of demonic presence was drawing nearer, no doubt attracted to the sounds of the revived man. Quickly sprinting down random corridors, Link was getting anxious about several things. Where were all the people who were supposed to live or work in this temple? Why did it seem much larger on the inside than what it appeared on the outside? Did they really have the most current intelligence about this place, or were they set up?
Trying to control the frantic beating of his heart, he barged into the nearest set of doors to his left. Quietly shutting them he turned to see a rather curious object. The rest of the room was veiled in shadow but the central platform was lit by freshly minted torches, all visual cues commanding their attention towards the lone mask perched on an altar of bones. Link couldn’t believe his eyes as his consideration rested on the mask he thought he’d never see again. He had no idea what it was called, but it helped him tremendously during his last battle with Majora in what was once the doomed world of Termina.
“Is this the focal point of what you are feeling Zelda?” Link asked mystified as he slowly stepped up to the dais.
Zelda moved up beside him and shook her head, “No. I actually can’t feel anything from this mask. It is not the source of the evil.”
Link knelt down to examine it and observed several spots on its lower cheeks that indicated the acolytes were shaving off splinters from it. Why would they do such a thing? He couldn’t make much sense out of it, however something deep down in his soul he knew this was the reason the Nevachreans were able to regenerate every time they died. With a nod of his head, he picked the mask up.
“What are you doing?” Apolloni susurrated.
He turned to her as if she was clueless, “If Zelda can feel that it is harmless, shouldn’t it be okay to pick up?” Link looked down at his black robes. “I feel fine.”
“I’m amazed you two have survived this long lacking such common sense!” Apolloni chided.
“I agree. It has been extraordinary how you’ve eluded us for so long.” Muttered a voice from the shadows.
The three of them spun around to greet the unwanted visitor. Link’s eyes widened as he saw that there were two of them. “You!” He exhaled fiercely.
“Yes, us.” Talamir said calmly, brushing back his black hair from his eyes.
Casually running a hand through his blond hair, Timner stepped alongside his brother as they blocked the exit to the chamber. “I knew it would be a grand idea to stay behind and figure out what Francis was up to.”
“What did you do to him?” Zelda asked fearfully.
“To him?” Timner asked with mock surprise. “Nothing, but we held his youngest daughter for ransom. Knowing that, he spilled the beans on your entire plan.”
“No!” Apolloni spat malevolently.
“Deny it all you want, but the fact of the matter is that you were sold out. Francis loved his daughter far more than he trusted all of you.” Talamir smirked.
Zelda dug her nails into Link’s arm drawing blood. He winced at the sudden pain of her grip. He didn’t have to wait long to see what she was freaked out about, a cloaked man ambled through the doorway from beyond the brothers. They obediently shifted to the side to let him pass, held in his arms was an unidentifiable mass.
Looking at them with beady, yellow eyes, the man spoke in what sounded like a laughing wheeze which made Zelda’s skin crawl. “Unfortunately for Francis, he trusted the wrong people.” The man cackled gleefully.
Link gasped as the robed figured thrust the package he was carrying towards them. It hit the ground before rolling, stopping just inches from his boots. Zelda wanted to heave as she saw the hollow casing of flesh that was once a little girl, her eye sockets were empty and the body was deflated as if her innards had been scooped out leaving nothing but the husk. Apolloni swore an oath as she glared at the vile man.
Link curled his lip in revulsion as the man licked his lips, “She was especially delicious this morning.” He insouciantly went on as if this subject matter was something ordinary, “Usually I go straight for the heart which stops their squirming but sometimes I just love their expressions when I pick them apart piece by piece.”
Unable to go any further, Zelda retched the contents of her stomach as Apolloni quickly shifted away from the sloppy mess. After recovering from the upheaval, she turned to him with hatred in her eyes, “What…are you?”
Placing a hand to his chest, he introduced himself caustically, “I am Barrachas. You’ve no doubt heard of me.” He signaled to the two brothers, they quickly spawned swords and were bearing them down on Link and Apolloni. Barrachas surged forward towards Zelda before grasping her chin roughly in his hand, forcing her to look at him. “You are such a pretty thing.”
She trembled as he pulled back the hood from her cloak to reveal the golden, gleaming hair. His eyes bulged at the delectable morsel. A forked tongue slithered out of his mouth and weaved its way through the strands of her hair. Link rushed forward to attack the profane priest. Barrachas’ crooked hand shot up in Link’s face. Contorted and decaying, it seemed like the skin was sagging off the bone structure underneath. Link screamed in agony as a crushing weight slammed into his heart, buckling his knees. Apolloni grunted as she also fell to the floor, waves of dark energy pulsing through them both.
“Can I not trust you fools to keep these imbeciles at bay while I enjoy my dessert?” Barrachas emitted severely.
Not wanting to disobey his command, Talamir grabbed Link around the neck and yanked him back onto his rear holding a sword to his chin. “Look alive Link, you are going to want to see this!” The man sniggered with glee.
Timner held the writhing Apolloni in his arms. Removing her hood, he dug his nose into her hair and sniffed. “You smell great. I cannot wait to have you all to myself.” He chortled under his breath.
Talamir shot him a look, “We always share the women, brother!”
Timner shrugged in indifference, “We can always do family style. It matters not to me.” The two of them shared a cruel grin at this.
“Will you two be silent?!” Barrachas fumed. “I wish to relish my scrumptious treat in peace.” Zelda’s eye expanded in horror as the priest removed his hood revealing his jaundiced head, whispery strands of hair splayed out in distorted forms. “Do not be afraid,” He said, a small guttural sound reverberating in his belly. “It is just a simple kiss and it’ll be all over.”
Zelda wanted to scream, to run away, but she could not. He was holding her rooted to the spot, unable to flee from her inevitable demise. He clasped her cheeks and brought her lips to his. In an instant his tongue was slithering down her throat, eagerly seeking out her delicious heart. Her screams were muffled against his invasive appendage. The priest seemed in a state of euphoria at exploring her inner being. A small groan from inside his body indicated he was ready to do something horrible to her.
“Zelda!!!” Link managed to shout. Talamir cuffed him across the head and dug the blade deeper into his neck drawing a small bead of red.
At her name, Barrachas stopped his disgusting intrusion. He slowly withdrew his tongue and turned to Link. Zelda was released from her imprisonment. She crumpled to the floor, hacking up what felt like her lungs. The priest waved Talamir off with a hand as he gripped Link’s neck and lifted him clear off the ground, the man’s strength was unnatural. He couldn’t even struggle against his overbearing power.
“What did you call her?” Barrachas growled.
Struggling to breathe, Link managed to choke out, “Z…Z…Zelda.”
Promptly dropping him, Barrachas spun to Zelda and knelt down to her side. Lifting her face to look at him again, an evil leer spread across his face. “Of course…why didn’t I see you before? This simplifies things considerably. Why bother with the war at all when only one soul will do!”
Timner cued in on the priest’s statement, “What do you mean? Aren’t you here to help us win it?”
A huge shudder rocked the temple’s foundations as dust sifted down from above, the moaning of the undying rose to a fever pitch. The magick hold on them all had been lifted. Apolloni flipped up to her feet as she screamed at Link, “They are here! The witches are here! They are assisting Ganondorf now!”
Barrachas snarled, “Enough of this! I have what I seek! Talamir, Timner, it is now time to give your life in service to your god Ballos!”
The looks of confusion were apparent on their faces as the unholy priest’s fingers twisted into abnormal configurations. Within moments the two brothers rose up from the ground, helpless to do anything. Their raw screams pierced the air as their chests split open revealing the cavity within, the rib bones wavering outward like disgusting worms seeking nourishment. With a flick of his hands Barrachas smashed the two brothers together, their ribs intertwining; sealing their bodies as one.
Their shrieks turned into howls as fleshy snouts erupted from their mouths, pushing the skin away from their faces. Rows of pincer-like teeth clacked together as the cries turned inhuman. Bloody spikes exploded from their hands and feet. The combined horror hit the ground on all eight of its pointed legs. With one final bellow, a pronged tail burst forth from underneath them, spraying blood across the room. The tip of it slammed to the floor revealing its true nature to that of a dermis covered mace.
Link staggered back in shock at the abomination Barrachas had created in front of them, even Apolloni was taken aback at the otherworldly nature of it. The priest placed a firm hand on Zelda’s head, she immediately fell unconscious. Link went to grab her but leaped back when the monster crashed its tail onto the floor just inches from his face. The force of the impact cracked the brick and left a sizeable indentation. Link noted that it would be unwise to make contact with it.
Heaving the prone Zelda over his shoulder, Barrachas waved a hand to Link, “I believe this is where we must part! It was nice knowing you!” With a laugh, he dashed out of chamber and down the hall.
“Zelda!” Link yelled.
“Focus on saving ourselves first!” Apolloni castigated.
Another quake rippled through the temple as the outer assault continued on the blasphemous Temple of Ballos. Link looked back up at the towering creature nearly filling the entire room, its two snouts dripping with caustic saliva. Its dual roar was deafening. With speed not befitting its size, it lunged towards Link with both jaws gaping.