Two horses galloped at speed between the tropical trees, sprinting eastward. One, a ginger Barb horse, carried two women, who wore capes of lilac and magenta, which billowed behind them. The other, a Meadow White, carried two men, of which only one was caped. Together, they weaved beneath the jungle's shadows.
"We need to stop soon." the woman in magenta called. "Folia will need to drink. Are there any springs nearby?"
"Even if there were, I wouldn't risk it." the man in the gold armour replied. "Water in the jungle is usually infested with all kinds of beasts."
"-Wait." the woman in lilac interrupted. "Listen."
Both horses ground to a halt. The buzz of various insects replaced the stamping of hooves. All around them, the jungle hissed and growled. But there was a sound underlying the noise. A constant whisper, which grew louder and quieter.
"The sea." she breathed, and inhaled the cool night air. "Come on. We can camp on the beach. There's bound to be a rockpool or something."
Obediently, the horses galloped on, until the trees thinned out. With a blast of wind, they arrived at the very edge of the jungle, and the vast beach spread out before them. But there was something on the horizon: a group of brown bumps on the coastline. It appeared to be a very wide ship...but they were mistaken.
"Is that a village?" Davina frowned, as she halted her horse.
"A village on water?" Lamatte laughed, as his gold armour shuffled. "Don't be absurd! Only Zoras live in the sea!"
"Actually, there are boats nearby." Oneiro pointed, lifting her lilac cape. "Small fishing boats, tied to the houses."
"So it is a village, huh?" Ningan grinned, as he held onto Lamatte's shoulders. "Looks like this country has surprised us again."
Lamatte snarled, but did not reply. Together, both horses advanced across the sand towards the welcoming light of the village. The moon watched as the shadows of the jungle retreated: they're prey had escaped unharmed...
As they approached the floating structure, they found that there were only four wooden houses with thatched roofs, each perched on posts above the whooshing waves, linked by rope bridges. A wooden ramp led up to a platform in the centre, which was decorated with fluorescent green and yellow lanterns, swaying in the sea breeze. The two horses marched up the bask in their glow.
"What is this place?" Davina whispered in awe.
The silence of the smooth summer night was broken when a door creaked open. A young boy in a grass skirt peeked out. His skin was a fair brown, like his hair, so that he blended in well against the wall, where he watched the foreign arrivals.
"Hey there." Oneiro smiled warmly. "What's your name?"
The boy did not respond, and quickly shut the door.
"How welcoming." Davina groaned, and dismounted Folia, the ginger Barb. Before anybody could stop her, she hammered her leather-gloved fist on the delicate door. "Hey, open up! We only want to talk!"
The village began to stir, and they felt the glare of a dozen eyes upon them. Suddenly, the door swung open, but instead of the shy young boy, a large man with dark hair towered over Davina.
"You intrude upon our sacred land." he growled. "What brings you to this far corner of the Earth?"
"We've just travelled across the jungle for four days and nights, without any contact with civilisation." Davina explained. "The least you could do is tell us where we are!"
The man's eyes narrowed at the young made-up city woman and sighed. "You have reached the Erivan Coast. The very divide between land and sea, and the final border of the Themric Continent. I do not know where you come from, but I ask that you leave our peaceful village."
The man attempted to close the door, but Davina's boot stopped it. His face turned fierce, and Lamatte quickly dismounted his horse, sensing danger.
"Please, ignore her." he pleaded, ignoring Davina's scowl. "My name is Lamatte, and I am a Commanding Knight of the Royal Hylian Forces. We do not mean to harm your village. We just want somewhere to sleep until morning."
The man's face relaxed a little, as he turned away from the door. Davina and Lamatte waited a few seconds before he returned with a smile on his face. "I apologise for my severity. My name is Cinnopo, and I am the Chieftain of this village. If you would kindly remove your boots, you may enter. I have somebody who would like to meet you."
Davina and Lamatte glanced at one another before turning to Oneiro and Ningan. Uncertainly, they dismounted the horses and removed their sandy boots before entering the Chieftain's house barefoot.
The hut was very primitive, but rather spacious, as the four travellers placed their pale feet onto a woven rug with a green symbol painted on it. Oneiro gazed at it for a while trying to translate it, until Cinnopo kindly explained.
"That is used to cleanse the evil spirits from your feet. We cannot have evil entering the household."
In the centre of the hut was a simmering hearth, where a woman with long dark hair was tending to a frying fish. The smell welcomed them as they approached her.
"This is my wife, Dhilta." Cinnopo said. "Please, be seated by the hearth. We were not expecting visitors, so there is no fish for you tonight."
Ningan crossed his legs on the floor, and glanced about the hut with curiosity. The young boy was playing with the skull of a fish in the corner, in his own playpen surrounded by hanging charms. Four hammocks hung on the walls: one of them was engaged with a snoozing shape.
"Jitiko," Cinnopo spoke to his son with a smile . "Please wake our guest."
The boy dropped his fragile skull and dashed over to the body in the hammock. He shook the hammock feebly, so that it swung slightly, until the shape shuffled. There was a moment of muttered when the body turned on its side.
"Edgar?!" Davina gasped.
Sure enough, the pale skinned man blinked, then reached for his glasses, which rested in the ropes of the hammock. Once he had placed them to his face, his identity was clear.
"Davina?" Edgar blinked in disbelief, and scanned the faces around the hearth. "How did you get here?"
"It's a long story..." Ningan sighed.
"More importantly, what are you doing here?" Davina raised an eyebrow.
Edgar yawned, before rising from the hammock to join them at the hearth. Like the others, he was barefoot, but he wore a full leather tunic, unlike the bare-chested Chieftain. He knelt by the crackling firewood, and Jitiko hurried over to listen.
"Once the Resistance had disbanded, I gathered my herb collection, and left Zylia to pursue my botany career. I crossed many cities, but none were willing to buy my stock from the market stall I owned. No city was as booming as the City of Prosperity. Then it occurred to me that if I wanted to start a professional business, I would need a shop. So when I reached the City of Vitality, I invested in a small derelict house and opened Edgar's Oasis. But after a while, the rent grew unbearable. I had to flee the city and escape as far from Quazar as possible. That's how I arrived here, in Eriva. I was exploring the depths of the jungle, picking berries, when I was poisoned. Fortunately, Cinnopo and a few hunters found me, and healed me here. I've been resting here ever since."
"And remain here you shall." Cinnopo nodded. "The jungle is no place for a lone man, even of your herbal knowledge."
"So what about you?" Edgar asked the group. "You still haven't introduced me to our new member."
"Oneiro." she said politely. "I fled from Oblim."
"Hmm, so we're both runaways?" he grinned. "I'm Edgar, Royal Tutor, and scholar of the Hylian Forces."
He shook her hand over the smoking fish, just as Dhilta removed it from the spit. She cut it using a sharpened stick, and divided it between four of them. Davina, Lamatte, Ningan and Oneiro watched enviously as they devoured the fillets whole.
That night, the Resistance accepted their invitation to stay in the floating village. Since they had already equipped sleeping bags, the spacious floor was open to them. All four of them arranged their makeshift beds awkwardly around the hearth, which was reduced to cooling embers that glowed in the darkness.
Edgar climbed smugly into his hammock and succumbed to sleep almost as quickly as Jitiko, the Chieftain's son. Dhilta and Cinnopo offered to remains awake as a gesture of respect to their guests, but Davina assured them that they would sleep well.
Lamatte, however, decided to go outside and tend to the horses. Nobody was phased by this...except Ningan. He saw this as Lamatte's attempted escape from the group; in particular, Ningan himself. He sat awake on his sleeping bag, gazing thoughtfully into the fading embers. A chill made him shiver slightly as he remembered what had caused the tension between him and his best friend.
In the wooden square where the horses were tied, the eerie green lanterns continued to glow, sustaining their light through the night. Lamatte found it odd that the Chieftain's hut didn't have these alien lanterns, or any light at all for that matter. Opening his backpack, he fed the two horses some oats from a pouch, which they ate gladly.
The two horses, Aurarius and Folia, were male and female, and likewise, they had formed a bond with each other. Since Folia's previous owner was killed, Lamatte had took pity on the horse, and insisted that Davina should adopt it. Which she did, much to their advantage. Without a wagon, it would have been impractical to transport four people over two countries. When Lamatte looked into Folia's brown eyes, he was reminded of the girl who once owned her. The girl he once loved.
An frigid gale swept over him and he shivered slightly. After stroking his faithful steed, Aurarius, Lamatte reluctantly returned to the uninviting darkness of the Chieftain's hut. As he entered, only silence greeted him, except for a faint snoring from the hammocks. Those beside the hearth seemed to have fallen asleep rather quickly, and Lamatte curled up in his own sleeping bag.
Ningan watched him from the shadows of his sleeping bag as the minutes passed, until he too drifted into a long-awaited rest.
Ningan was awake before the sun rose. Maybe it was the howling maritime wind outside. He sat up in his sleeping bag and glanced around the hut. The shapes of the others still pulsated in the hammocks. Snoring was still sounding from Edgar's corner, so Ningan decided to take the risk.
He stood up and crept soundlessly across the room, stepping cautiously over the sleeping bodies circling the hearth. From beside the door, he grabbed his boots, slipping them on gently and slipping out the door.
The sky was in half-light: a slate blue sky of clouds that rolled in from the sea. The horses lay beneath the green lanterns half-asleep. The rest of the village seemed dead. He didn't see any faces peeking through the crude windows this morning. His hand slid into his satchel and removed a dull grey stone. Tossing it gently in his hand, the stone came alive and glowed in the still air. An eye was formed on the surface, with a single tear.
"Hello?" a voice spoke clearly. It sounded drowsy and slurred.
"Hey Jakunu." Ningan said. "I guessed you'd be the only one awake."
"Well, it is only just dawn here." Jakunu yawned. Jakunu was the owner of the Moonshade Inn, back home in the Hidden Village of Hyrule. A capable chef and a level-headed member of the Sheikah tribe, Jakunu was responsible for the accommodation arrangements. "What can I help you with?"
"I just wanted to talk to someone." Ningan confessed. "Someone I know."
"Oh..." Jakunu sounded surprised. Ningan hardly showed an interest in him back home. "I'm guessing you're still feeling a bit excluded from the Resistance?"
"No, not really. Since I found Oneiro, I realised I wasn't the new kid any more. No, it's just...certain people..."
"I'm sorry to hear that." Jakunu said, trying his best to sound sympathetic. "And I thought I was having a rough time here..."
Ningan sighed, and knew he would have to ask. "What's the problem?"
"Well, the weather's not been too great. Since Ganondorf's curse, storms are all we've had of late. They've been rotting our crops in the fields. Stocks are running out, and I'm left with the job of inventing a meal that can feed seven, while rationing what's in the Stock House."
"Sounds tough." Ningan said somewhat sarcastically. "I'll have to go soon. The sun's rising. Tell Marston I said 'hi'. Bye Jakunu."
He didn't wait for a reply before tossing the stone once more, until its glow faded. Ningan pocketed the Gossip Stone in his leather satchel, and spun round only to find Jitiko staring wide-eyed at him in the dawn sunlight. He glanced from the boy to his satchel and realised what was wrong.
"You didn't see anything, kid." he said half-jokingly. The boy continued to stare as Ningan strolled calmly back into the hut, wearing a half-smile. He didn't really know how to behave around children, but this boy didn't seem like a problem. What would he know of the Sheikah tribe?
Back inside the hut, Cinnopo and Dhilta had already risen from their hammocks, and Cinnopo already had a net draped over his shoulders. Ningan attempted to shuffle past, but Cinnopo blocked him.
"When entering my home, please remove your boots." he said sternly. Ningan obeyed the man's severe expression and slipped off his boots, until Cinnopo's smile returned. "An early bird I see. Me and my son were just about to go fishing on the boardwalk. Will you join us?"
"No thanks." Ningan replied, with a look of distaste. "I'm not very experienced in fishing."
"Well maybe you should go fruit picking with my wife and the professor?"
"Fruit picking?" Ningan sneered. "What about hunting?"
"There are no beasts on the edge of the jungle. You would have to travel a few miles to find any tracks."
Ningan contemplated this concept for a while. Wild animals were only scarce in the city. Anywhere beyond the town gates was open season. This really was the edge of the world...
"In that case, berry-picking it is." Ningan groaned, and decided to prod Oneiro awake.
After a few moments, she rubbed her eyes and blinked. "What's going on? Is it morning already?"
"Rise and shine, we're going berry-picking." Ningan smiled. He glanced sideways at Davina, and then Lamatte, who were still sleeping soundly. "I'll go and wake Edgar then we can go."
Cinnopo nodded with content and left the hut to catch up with his son. Dhilta wandered over to Ningan, who was prodding Edgar's side in the hammock. "Fruit picking is more difficult than you think."
Ningan turned around and raised an eyebrow of disbelief, before slapping Edgar repeatedly across the face until the heavy snoring ceased, and he was jolted awake.
The sun was now shining on the shores of the Erivan Coast, somewhat harshly. Cinnopo and his son, accompanied by Lamatte and Davina, equipped their fishing nets and marched to the water's edge. Autumn was approaching, yet the temperature here felt like a polar summer: sunny, but unnervingly cold. And once the team of fruit-pickers disappeared beneath the shadows of the jungle, it became rather unsettling.
Dhilta, carrying a wicker basket, guided them through the tall, tropical trees, as though she knew it like the back of her hand. She was closely followed by Edgar, whose head was still looking up, admiring the canopy above. Oneiro chased up behind him, but paused every now and again to wait for Ningan, who was trailing behind.
"I might sound a little presumptive here, Ningan, but it seems like your sulking." she said. "Why didn't you want to go fishing with Lamatte and Davina?"
"Fishing's not my thing." he mumbled. "Neither is berry-picking."
"I know it's not exactly hunting, but it's rather enjoyable." Oneiro assured him with an enthusiastic gaze. "Doesn't it feel like we're exploring somewhere new?"
"Not just 'new'...somewhere mysterious...and wonderful."
Her gaze scanned the forest floor, which was scattered with luminous fungi and gigantic, fragrant flora amongst the ferns. Oneiro inhaled the wild smells with delight, but Ningan seemed skeptical.
"It just looks like any other jungle." he groaned. "Except there's one big difference: no wildlife."
Oneiro stopped and scanned the surroundings once more. No insects, nor bird, reptile or mammal could be seen. The forest was silent.
"That is a little disconcerting...I hope nothing drove them away."
They continued to trek through the dense undergrowth until Dhilta stopped beside a spring. There were berries hanging just above the water waiting for them to pick, but she raised her finger and pointed to the treetops.
"Up there is the big fruit." she explained. "You must climb up and get them. I'll stay down here to pick the spices."
Edgar turned to the other two and smiled. "And I'll be studying the plant life down here. You two are both fit enough. Surely you can just pop up there and chuck a few fruits down here?"
Ningan glared at the lazy professor, then to Oneiro. "I guess so." she said optimistically. "It seems like a simple enough task. Shall we see who can collect the most fruit?"
Ningan rolled his eyes and groaned, but secretly he laughed at Oneiro's preposition. A berry-picking contest? Too easy. He gripped the bark tightly with his fingers and hoisted himself onto the first branch.
Meanwhile, on the sturdy wooden boardwalk on the edge of the village, eight bare feet dangled over the steady waves below. Cinnopo was the first to cast his net, as an example to the others. Jitiko's net was a little smaller, and lighter, but it was second to be cast. Lamatte and Davina hesitated before following.
"Don't you own any fishing rods?" Davina asked. "Where I grew up, my father taught me how to fish with a rod."
"A net is more efficient." Cinnopo assured her. "We catch more fish that way."
As though proving his theory, the Chieftain hoisted the net from the biting backwash, and revealed a whole load of dancing fish. Lamatte and Davina admired the catch and cast their own nets into the water. After a few moments of silence, they realised that they did not share Cinnopo's technique. Davina attempted to create a little conversation.
"So what's up between you and Ningan?" she asked carelessly.
Lamatte turned with surprise to face her. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't think you've spoken to each other ever since we left the City of Knowledge."
Lamatte looked down silently at the still seawater, as though inspecting it for fish. "If he wants to talk to me, he can. I have no interest in starting a conversation."
Davina examined his face for a falseness, but Lamatte seemed genuinely uncaring. "That's strange...from what I heard, you were the one who followed him all the way from Yosgul to Quazar."
Lamatte turned pale with embarrassment and avoided eye contact. "I was on my way to the City of Knowledge for the Ball. I found him and Oneiro lying alone in the desert. They nearly died."
Davina sighed with surrender. "Well I hope you hurry up and sort it out. I'm getting tired of living between you."
She reeled in her net and pulled in a curious crustacean the size of a rock. Lamatte did the same, only to find that his net had been cut at the bottom. Cinnopo laughed. "There are many creatures at the sea bed! Some don't appreciate our way of fishing!"
Lamatte inspected the damage and found teeth marks had sliced the rope. His eyes widened at the thought of a fearsome fish lurking below them, so he decided to sit back and watch the rest gather the meal for the village.
The delicate wicker basket was slowly filling with fruit as it tumbled down from the treetops. Ningan was clinging to the very top branch, and plucking the pieces with ease. As he tossed them down carelessly, Oneiro would catch them and drop them perfectly in the basket. The system was working well.
Meanwhile, Dhilta had located some special leaves, and was carefully selecting the spices she would need. Edgar was studying some vines that grew out of the spring and clung to the trees surrounding it. He jotted notes in his journal and even snapped a piece of to study further.
"So once the basket's full, can we get down?" Ningan called.
Dhilta paused at looked up to the treetop. "Yes. The village will be proud of our work."
"Why don't the villagers come and help you?"
"I already have three helpers." Dhilta smiled. "Why would I need any more?"
Ningan reluctantly accepted her answer, but continued to ponder over it while resting on the branch. Suddenly, a cold gust of wind disrupted his thoughts, and he turned his head in the direction. From his vantage point, he could see the top of a crumbled old stone structure. Ningan squinted his eyes in disbelief.
"What's that building over there?"
But instead of a reply, he heard the crack of a branch, and a hard thud. Ningan glanced down to see Oneiro had slipped and fallen flat on her back.
"Oneiro? Are you okay?"
He scurried down the tree trunk at speed and landed on the forest floor beside her. Oneiro's eyes were shut and her lips were sealed. Dhilta and Edgar came rushing over to investigate.
"What happened?" Edgar cried. "Did she fall?"
"Well what do it look like?!" Ningan hissed, and checked her wrist for a pulse. "She's still breathing...but she's unconscious."
"I have a paralysis antidote in my bag." he replied, and quickly unbuckled his backpack.
Dhilta glanced from the fallen girl to the trees. She pressed her hands to her lips and whistled a distinct call. Ningan's lip curled in astonishment, but then the sound of heavy footsteps shook the ground. The footfalls grew louder until a band of three male villagers arrived at the scene. Edgar produce the vial of yellow liquid only to see the men sweep Oneiro off the ground and carry her away.
"Where are they taking her?" Ningan cried.
"Back to the village." Dhilta said comfortingly. "She will be safe there."
Ningan frowned, but Edgar grabbed his arm, and the remaining three abandoned the scene to retreat to the village on the shore. The sun was at its highest point, shining brightly enough to pierce the canopy of leaves. The delicate wicker basket was now full to the brim, but there was nobody left to take it.
Back in the Chieftain's hut, a stone cold body lay lifeless in a hammock. Around her, five people were gathered, examining her with concern and curiosity.
"She appears to have knocked her head and fallen into some sort of coma..." Edgar muttered, as he flicked thoughtfully through his journal. "I gave her the potion, but it had no affect. If only I had a Widawak flower..."
"What does that do?" Ningan asked.
"It is a white flower with a scent so potent it forces the patient awake when it is wafted beneath their nostrils. Of course, there will be a short period of vomiting afterwards, and masks should be worn at all times-"
The door burst open and five more people joined the gathering. It was Cinnopo who led Lamatte and Davina into the hut, followed closely by Jitiko and another villager.
"I heard the news." he said, striding boldly in. "Is it fatal?"
"Not at all." Edgar assured the Chieftain. "She is still breathing normally, and there is no external or internal bleeding from what I can tell."
"So we just have to wait for her to wake up?" Davina said, still carrying her net.
"I guess so...but I have no idea how long that will take. It looks like we're stuck here for another few days...weeks, or maybe months."
"Let's try not to think that far ahead." Lamatte said dismissively. "How did it happen?"
"She fell out a tree." Ningan interjected, before any presumptions were made. "She was unconscious when she hit the ground."
Lamatte narrowed his eyes in suspicion, but Davina dispersed the group. "She needs space to breathe! We should all just get back to what we were doing. Edgar, you can stay and watch over her; see if she wakes up. There's still a whole pile of fish being left to rot out there."
Dhilta nodded and spoke directly to Ningan. "We must collect the fruit. Bring it back to the village."
Ningan nodded and headed for the door. Upon leaving, he took one last look at Oneiro, sleeping peacefully in the hammock. Then to Lamatte, who's cold stare was still piercing through the air. He closed the door firmly and Dhilta led him off into the jungle.
The wicker basket was sitting still beneath the towering tree which Oneiro fell from. Basked in the sunlight which cut through the branches, it seemed perfectly placed. Dhilta reached out and grabbed its woven handle.
"Can I ask you something?" Ningan said when she returned to the nearby spring. "Something's bothering me..."
"I van assure you, your friend is in good hands." Dhilta smiled. "Edgar is a good man with much medicinal knowledge."
"I don't doubt that." Ningan nodded with approval. "No, it's not about Oneiro. It's about the villagers."
Dhilta frowned. "The villagers?"
"Yes. I'm wondering why they were so quick to arrive here. Did they think we were in danger? Does this thing happen regularly?"
Dhilta shook her head vigorously. "No, not at all. We are always very careful when out in the jungle"
"So why the summoning call?"
Dhilta hesitated and glanced down at her basket of fruit. "It's just something my husband taught me. Just in case."
"And something else." Ningan added. "Edgar said that he was found in the jungle by a group of hunters. Why would a village need hunters...when there are no animals to hunt?"
Dhilta narrowed her eyes at Ningan, then looked away in embarrassment. Ningan noticed that her eyes were darting between the trees, somewhat in terror. "I cannot answer that." she said simply. "Now come. We must return to the village before sunset."
Ningan watched her step silently through the thick undergrowth and grew ever more suspicious. There was a very dark secret behind this village. The sooner they left, the better. He sped up to catch her, but did not speak until they reached the village.
That night, the village gathered around the illuminated platform in the centre of the village, standing silent. There was around 13 of them there, including the Resistance. The sun had only just set, yet the temperature had already dropped.
"Edgar." Davina hissed. "What's going on?"
"They're performing a charm." Edgar explained. "Every time a member of the village falls ill, or injured, the tribe will gather here. The Chieftain will chant an ancient spell, and then the spirits will answer their plea. I don't believe in spirits and the like, yet last time Jitiko contracted a virus, he healed in just a few days."
Davina looked skeptical but stood to attention. Meanwhile, Lamatte was shooting daggers at Ningan from across the crowd. Ningan did his best to ignore him, but the frosty atmosphere was unbearable.
"Here us, spirits of the earth!" Cinnopo called into the night. "Here us, spirits of the moon and sun! We ask for your aid in this troublesome time."
All eyes and ears were on the Chieftain, who raised his arms bathed in the green light. The lanterns swayed in the wind as the spell continued.
"Please help our dear guest, who has fallen from grace, and needs urgent attention. Please heal her of her troubles, in mind, body and soul. Please show your mercy to the people of the village and let her awaken!"
As the final word was spoken, the gale stopped. The lanterns swung still until there was ultimate silence and tranquility. The villagers closed their eyes, as did Edgar, and soon the others followed. Ningan found himself remembering the crumbling spires of the ruined structure he had witnessed from the treetop.
His eyes opened once more to find that the villagers had dispersed. Cinnopo approached Edgar looking sombre. "Our hearts our with your friend, and we hope that her health is quickly restored."
Edgar nodded gratefully, though it was clear that he dismissed their beliefs entirely.
"Let us head inside." Cinnopo said, and led the path back to the hut, yet nobody followed.
"If Oneiro wakes up right now, I swear, I will become a witch." Davina scoffed, and marched over to discuss with Dhilta.
Edgar stood between both Lamatte and Ningan, yet he seemed oblivious to the tension. "I don't know about you guys, but I feel like a bottle of herbal tea before bed."
"I'm going to tend the horses." Lamatte said simply. "I might share some when I get back."
He wandered off to visit his beloved steeds, and Ningan let out a groan. "I'm going to wash at the spring."
"Are you sure you know the way?" Edgar asked. "I could ask Dhilta or Cinnopo to take you-"
"-No thanks. I'd rather retain my privacy." Ningan sneered. "Besides: it's not as though a tiger's going to eat me or anything."
Edgar sighed and watched as Ningan disappeared down the ramp and into the shadows of the jungle. From his pocket, and retrieved a bottle and a small pouch of tea leaves for his bedtime elixir, then returned to the warmth of the Chieftain's hut.
Once under the cover of darkness, Ningan glanced back to certify that Edgar had gone. From his satchel, he removed the Gossip Stone from the previous night, and flipped it over in his palms. The familiar lilac glow began to pulsate, and a voice spoke.
"Hey Ningan." it sighed. "And what do you want at this hour?"
"It's not like you to sleep early, Stalea." Ningan sneered. "Is it a special occasion?"
"No, of course not." she replied, insulted. Stalea was Ningan's ex-tutor, who taught him the ways of the Sheikah. She was ♥♥♥♥♥y and cold on the outside, but supposedly had a heart buried somewhere. "I'm still training, as usual. I'm sure it's not as exciting as your 'fun fun adventure'..."
"My 'fun fun adventure' isn't as friendly as it sounds." he hissed. "Oneiro's gone into a coma, and the villagers are all very suspicious."
"Wait...she's in a coma?" Stalea said in disbelief. "How the hell did that happen?"
"She fell from a tree. Nothing too serious. But enough to knock her unconscious. Anyway, it's the villagers that bother me. They tell me that there are no wild animals out here in the jungle. None at all. Yet they still have a team of hunters that answer to a call."
"Maybe they're just patrolling for intruders like you?" she suggested.
"I'm sensing something much darker than that." Ningan sighed. "How are things in the village back home? I heard there have been bad storms flooding the fields."
"Yeah, but more importantly, there's some sort of conspiracy going on..." she whispered.
"Sssshhh!" There was a short pause before she murmured back into the Gossip Stone. "Certain members of the tribe have been visiting the Castle in secret. I'm not supposed to know, but when I was on my way to the Desert, I saw Marston. I started talking to him like usual, but he beat me off and strolled straight through the drawbridge. Others have been doing it too. I've been watching every day, and I've seen Georgio and Tyruja enter simultaneously. I haven't asked any of them about it, but I know there's something dodgy going on."
"Have you ever tried to ask the Princess?"
"You need Royal Invitation, you of all people should know that!" Stalea groaned. "The only reason I'm telling you about this is because you're so far out that it means nothing to you."
"We're making our way back to Hyrule." he assured her. "As soon as I get back, I'm sorting this thing out."
"Ha! I'd like to see you try and work your way round Georgio! Wasn't he the one who kicked you out in the first place?"
Ningan grimaced, and flipped the Gossip Stone over. The light soon faded and he was left at the mercy of the jungle. Suddenly, a twig snapped. Then another. Footsteps were approaching, rather carelessly. Ningan snarled and spun round. "What are you doing here?"
A sliver of moonlight sliced through the branches above and pierced through the golden armour. Lamatte stood boldly in the clearing glaring coldly at Ningan. Ningan glared back and swung his satchel round.
"What's that in your hand?" Lamatte asked.
Ningan stopped and opened his palms. "This? It's a stone.
He dropped it back into the bag, but Lamatte followed it with his eyes. "But it's not just any old stone. It can talk."
Ningan eyed Lamatte with suspicion but laughed. "I speculated for a long time, but you've just confirmed that you're mentally retarded."
Lamatte clenched his teeth enraged and advanced towards the cocky ninja. "I'm not lying. I heard you talking to it. It talked back. Just like it did when I found it; back on the Mermaid's Crown."
Ningan's grin vanished in an instant, replaced by a snarl. "You stole it?"
"I found it. And I used it. It spoke. Besides, I'm not a thief."
"No, you're just a fraud. And I forgave you for that. Yet you can't seem to forgive me..."
"What? Forgive you?" he spat. "For killing somebody?!"
"Which you are also guilty of-"
"-I was 12 years old!" Lamatte insisted. "And that man was a bastard. You killed an innocent-"
"-deranged ♥♥♥♥♥." Ningan finished. "She was going to murder you with a pair of scissors if I hadn't knocked her off. Yet I'm still the one in the wrong. Just because you wanted her..."
Lamatte scowled. "Ruby was a wonderful woman. She was frightened and confused. I could have stopped her..." He trailed off as his eyes watered with woeful memories. Suddenly, he wiped his eyes and drew his sword. "I'm going to avenge her death."
Ningan smirked at the sight of the blade. "What? You're going to fight me?" From his belt, he drew two concealed daggers. "Then let's see who's the better killer."
To begin with, the knight seemed taken aback by Ningan's proposal, but was glad to act first. He dashed across the forest floor and slashed, but he had already guessed that Ningan would dodge it with ease. The ninja slid sideways and rebounded against a tree trunk.
"You'll have to try harder than that." Ningan snorted, and kicked Lamatte straight in the back so that he fell to the floor. He growled and stood up straight before striking once more with his sword. Ningan deflected it using both his daggers, and they locked eyes with intense contempt.
Ningan eventually pulled back and ducked, only for Lamatte to bring his sword down onto his shoulder. Ningan placed his hand to the split skin and felt blood, before looking up to Lamatte, his eyes slightly watering as though in despair. Lamatte read his expression and raised his shield. He wasn't going to be fooled that easily.
Timing it just right, Ningan slid between the beast's legs and appeared on the other side to slash with his dagger, only for it to leave a mere scratch on the golden armour. Lamatte spun round and elbowed him in his weaker shoulder, causing Ningan to instinctively bash him in the nose. It shattered and bled within moments, and when Ningan realised what he had done, he felt a pang of guilt, but soon vanished when Lamatte threw both his sword and his shield backwards and leapt on the ninja with his teeth bared and his hands like claws.
They both landed flat on the floor, and Ningan's daggers fell from his grip. He watched them land in the nearby grass when he felt Lamatte's grip around his shoulders, and flinched with the agony. Blood had now seeped through his clothes and onto Lamatte's fingers. He hesitated to stare at it before being reminded of his bleeding nose.
"Go on then." Ningan hissed. "Strangle me. I'd like to see you try."
Lamatte panted and looked wildly into Ningan's eyes. He was exhausted, but the taunting fueled his anger further. He lifted his paws up to wrap around Ningan's throat. Once Lamatte had released the grip on his shoulders, Ningan quickly grabbed both his elbows and threw him sideways, reversing their positions. They landed in the grass, close enough for Ningan to snatch his dagger and hold it against Lamatte's throat. He sat on his chest, and watched as his eyes morphed from rage to terror at the sight of the blade beneath his chin.
"I could slit your throat right now." Ningan warned him, with a hint of satisfaction. Lamatte's panting ceased as he closed his eyes. Ningan let his grip loose on the dagger. It slid across the floor back into the grass. "Now you owe me."
The darkness had descended upon the jungle so that no moon was visible through the dense canopy of leaves. Ningan fetched his dagger from the patch of grass and slid it neatly into his belt. Lamatte stood up and observed the obscene amount of earth and grass stains smeared on his armour with shame.
"I'm sorry." he said finally. "I'm sorry about everything."
"Don't mention it." Ningan cut in, without looking Lamatte in the eye. He pressed the clotted cut on his arm slightly before turning to leave the forest.
Suddenly, there was a crack. Ningan froze. Lamatte drew his sword and stood poised for attack, scanning the shadows. A low grunting vibrated through the trees. Ningan's eyes followed the sound, but he remained still. There was a dark blot crossing the horizon. He tracked it with his eyes until Lamatte saw it too. He gritted his teeth and stepped forward with his sword raised, and before Ningan could intervene, he pounded into the jungle after the ominous unknown.
"Lamatte, wait!" Ningan hissed desperately. By now, the creature had probably heard his stamping feet and fled. Unless it wanted to attack... Ningan drew his daggers and joined the chase.
Lamatte sprinted through the trees wildly like a hunter, with his weapon ready to attack, or at least intimidate. The air grew mildly cooler with every stride, and he could hear more footsteps behind him. Eventually, the trees thinned out until a crude path formed. Then, without warning, a gorge. Lamatte halted just before skidding into the swirling sea below and gazed out.
Across the chasm was an intricate stone structure, carved into a cliff, with ornate, but crumbling patterns on the ivy-ridden walls. Four tall spires spiked into the sky, ancient and cracked. Beside him, Ningan appeared, and paused his panting to gasp at the view.
"And there were four spires towering above us, right into the clouds!" Lamatte cried with excitement, enticing all the eyes of those around the hearth. Ningan sat beside him with his arms wrapped around his knees, smiling.
"What about the beast?" Davina asked. "Did it attack you?"
Lamatte's beaming face faded slightly, but Ningan intervened. "Yes. I tried to defend myself, but it caught me with its claws...right on the shoulder."
He rolled his sleeve up to present the darkened scab to them. Edgar cringed slightly. "You'll need to rub Lillaleaf onto that wound."
"It could have been worse. If Lamatte hadn't arrived, my whole arm could have been ripped off." Ningan paused to revel in Edgar's distaste before continuing. "Lamatte ran out the jungle and raised his shield just in time...but the beast just managed to crack his nose."
"It sounds like you two had a blast." Davina smiled. "And here I was sipping herbal tea..."
The door flew open suddenly, and a chilly draft glided into the hut beneath the Chieftain's feet. "You have returned. Where did you go?"
"We were in the jungle." Lamatte explained. "We saw something in the trees. "A tall beast with sharpened claws."
"Don't be foolish." Cinnopo spoke firmly. "There are no beasts in this jungle."
"Then explain this." Ningan said, flashing his wound. The Chieftain narrowed his glare. "It took us straight to those ruins on the cliff."
"The Moon Shrine." Cinnopo told them. "An enchanted temple built by our ancestors long ago, when the cliffs were still whole. It was the workshop of the moon spirits, who would keep our forests filled with enough food to feed their flourishing families."
"So what happened?" Edgar inquired.
"The earth spirits felt betrayed. They released horror into our forests. A curse which battered our brothers and stole our sisters, decimating our families. My own sister was the victim of the curse...the beast."
"So there is such thing!" Ningan snapped. "And that's why you have hunters patrolling the jungle!"
"A safety precaution." Cinnopo assured them. "The beast was sealed away long ago by the spirits of the moon. When they heard our tribe's plight, they lured the beast into the temple, and placed four shackles upon it, sealing it below the earth."
"But now it has broken free." Dhilta gasped. "Cinnopo, what shall we do?"
"We do not want to alarm the village." he warned them. "Instead, we must call upon the spirits once again. With the help of our friends."
"Wait...you want us...to help you?" Ningan sneered.
"I would be more than willing." Lamatte said, dismissing him. "What do we have to do?"
"Return to the Moon Shrine," Cinnopo explained. "Lure the beast there. Once it is trapped, attached the shackles."
"You make it sound so easy." Davina sighed. "How are we going to lure the beast there? Use ourselves as bait? You saw what happened to Ningan!"
"You are an intelligent team with potential." Cinnopo told them. "You're bound to think of something."
"Well it looks like I'm sitting this one out." Edgar smiled, and stood up to refill his bottle of tea.
Ningan snarled and went to visit the hammocks. Oneiro lay still sleeping in the hanging bed. She did not smile, but she looked at peace. Ningan spoke to her quietly. "You'll be glad to know that me and Lamatte are on good terms again. A lot has happened since you've been gone..."
He stared at her lips as though waiting for a reply. When he realised that the chances were unlikely, Ningan stood up and returned to the dimming hearth, and tucked himself into his sleeping bag.
"Jitiko." Dhilta whispered in her son's sleeping ear. "Wake up. I think you should sleep with mother tonight."
The boy struggled in his sleep as his mother lifted him from his hammock into her arms. When Ningan looked back, Lamatte was gazing at him anxiously. "What have we done?"
The next morning, the tribe were wide awake as usual. Ningan stirred for a while until he was jolted awake by a gloved hand: "Wake up, Ningan!" Davina hissed. "Cinnopo is waiting!" Ningan obeyed and slipped on his boots. There was no time for breakfast, and he was ushered outside by Davina's hand.
Outside, Edgar and Lamatte were waiting beside the Chieftain. Lamatte already had his sword brandished, while Edgar was armed with a bottle of golden elixir. Davina and Ningan joined the ranks beneath the rising sun.
"I have sent most of the villagers fishing." Cinnopo explained. "This will give you enough time to explore the jungle unnoticed until noon. I expect you will work fast to capture and imprison this monstrosity."
Lamatte shot Ningan a glance before Edgar pressed forward. "I'll be keeping an eye on Oneiro while you're gone." he said, dutifully. "All I can offer you is this elixir that I conjured up a few nights ago."
He presented Lamatte with the golden flask that glittered in the morning sunlight.
"I've spent many days refining it...it's not perfect, but it will do. It can double your strength with just one sip...with just one side effect..."
"Which is what?" Davina frowned.
"A minor flaw." Edgar said offhandedly. "Nothing to worry about."
"Then I trust you are now fully prepared." Cinnopo said. "Now go. the beast wanders still."
They turned to stroll down the wooden boardwalk onto the dampened sand. The vast jungle stretched from end to end, a line of sturdy tree trunks and a sky of overhanging leaves that formed shadows on the ground. The three marched boldly beneath the canopy and into the wilderness.
There was little discussion as the three began their expedition. Not a leaf stirred on the forest ground until a heavy foot came crashing through the undergrowth. Lamatte led them with a false confidence towards the same clearing that him and Ningan had fought. Ningan hung behind Davina, who was constantly alert.
"Look!" she cried suddenly. "There are tracks in the mud!"
She knelt down in the clearing and inspected the markings, while Lamatte and Ningan stood waiting in the nearby grass. Neither of them spoke, but they knew telepathically of the trouble they had caused.
"Is this where you saw it? right in this clearing?"
The two nodded positively. Davina traced the shapes in the mud with her gloved finger. "Wait a moment..." She rose from the ground. "These are human footprints."
"They must be ours then." Lamatte admitted.
"Indeed..." Davina sighed. "It looks like there was a hell of a scrap. There are even handprints here." After some closer analysis, she spoke again. "But no pawprints..."
"Maybe we should go back." Ningan suggested. "There's nothing here. The beast would have fled."
"Unless there was no beast at all."
They stopped. Davina was glaring at them with deep suspicion. The two men stared back without faltering.
"Are you saying that we made the whole thing up?" Ningan frowned.
"Nobody's suggesting that...except you."
There was another pause. Ningan's eyes drifted down to the ground, where a faint rusty brown stain had marked the mud. Davina had seen it too.
"Lamatte's blood? Or yours?"
"I can't tell." Ningan shrugged. "It was a bloodbath."
Davina stepped forward and snatched Lamatte's sheath which held his sword. Lamatte panicked and tried to retrieve it, but she quickly slid it from its sheath. There was a line of blood which had dried on the blade.
"Like I said, it was a bloodbath."
"But not for 'the beast'." Davina snorted. "This blade has your blood all over it." She spun round and presented the sword to them as proof. Ningan did not respond. "What the hell went on last night?!"
"It was my fault!" Lamatte cried. "I got angry and-and-"
"Sliced Ningan's shoulder open?" Davina snarled with disgust. "You could have hacked his arm straight off!"
"Which is why I broke his nose." Ningan replied. "I had the last laugh."
"I don't care who won!" she spat. "How could you do this to each other? After what happened on that ship?!" Both men hung their heads in shame at the scenes that scarred their minds. "And there's no beast?"
"No, we saw-"
"You both disgust me! Coming up with some elaborate story to cause a whole village to tremble with fear to excuse your own pathetic behaviour?! I'm going to go straight back to the Chieftain and tell him exactly what-"
"-wait." Ningan interrupted. "What was that noise?"
All three fell silent. The sound of leaves crunching beneath footsteps echoes across the jungle.
"A villager. Excellent." Davina grinned smugly. "I can watch you two explain yourselves to them while I-"
An enormous roar split their ears. Davina shrieked just as a gigantic hairy body stomped into the clearing, colliding with her and knocking her to the floor. The sword slid across the ground and Lamatte gripped it tightly and slashed wildly. Ningan's jaw fell open as the beast bounded past them with a ghastly growl.