Level 3 - (5/30) + 3
Word Count: 3718
Link cocked his head at Shulk’s explanation. The land regenerated? He thought he knew what that could mean, but the way Shulk said it this was on a much grander scale than any blood moon he’d even experienced.
“It was a dragon.” Link said. “An enormous dragon, black as midnight. Spat acid. I managed to get a picture while it was circling. It’s not good, but…” He pulled out the slate and flipped to his album, pulling up the shot he’d taken of Tora, Poppi, and the Cadet perched up on the dragons back and showing it to the boy. Nopon for scale.
“I think those people might have it handled, but. I’d still like to make it back if I can. They ran into me on their way to fight it. I was in a sorry state, and they stopped to help me. I’d like to return the favor if I can.” He looked around at this, sighing. “Unfortunately, to do that I need weapons, supplies, and directions because I have no idea where they are. My guide just flew the coop.”
Seeing a fellow adventurer in need was all Shulk needed before he chose to lend a hand. “Well, I’m happy to help! We can get you kitted out in a jiff. This whole town’s basically made for adventuring, after all. You’ll want to head there.” He pointed out smoke rising from a sturdy brick building down the street. “The Sisters of the Forge. They’ll do your weapons and armor. If you don’t have the cash, you can even get stuff on credit, long as you sign the ledger. And Miss Dragon landed by the market square, where you can get your general goods. If you need better stuff, Malo Mart will do the job, but Malo doesn’t offer credit.” Scratching the back of his head, he looked out toward the horizon in the southwest. “As for direction, uh...the End is at the far side of this region. The scouts say there’s a big, dark orb, like a hole in reality. That’s where the big hunt is on.” He gave a bright smile, hoping that his words were of assistance.
Link’s eyes widened as Shulk mentioned that the local blacksmith worked on credit. A terrifying memory flashed through his mind. Him standing in a Goron shop as the heat made his fingers smoke, eyeing the armor that would keep him from bursting into flames the moment the magic potion that was chilling his body wore off while a Goron who seemed fully content to let him burn to death should it come to that counted out the exact Rupee amount he needed to purchase it. Of all the close calls he’d had on his adventure that was the one that sometimes kept him up at night. These sisters, he decided right then, must be the golden goddesses themselves.
“Thanks Shulk.” He said, following the smoke the boy had pointed out to the Sister’s forge. Malo was out if he didn’t offer credit, but he could at least get a shield. He was sure that he’d more than make up the cost on the trek back to that black sphere.
Ren watched him go, considering his options now that a little more information had trickled his way. The ‘End’ that Shulk mentioned sounded a long distance away. He remembered the good look he’d gotten at the rolling grassy hills and picturesque swaths of forest, seemingly extending forever, and the student couldn’t see any dark orbs from here no matter how big the scouts made them out to be. That just landed him and his team right back where he started--in dire need of transportation. He heaved a frustrated sigh, missing that cat’s oftentimes helpful advice right about now. Still, if he couldn’t get a hint from Morgana, he could at least get one from Link. Better to try and speak with him after errand got wrapped up, after all. While Link kitted himself out, so could he.
Ren turned slowly, watching the crowd. Things went back to normal pretty fast after Mym left, with almost no trace left behind of the ruckus she inadvertently caused. Even the pigs returned to their jovial selves, working to establish relations with Lumbridge through their mercantile talents. Though his sharp eyes swept over the available goods, nothing tickled his fancy, or rather he couldn’t get a good grasp of their worth. He left the marketplace behind and headed for the guild hall. Rather than enter the castle, he followed the sounds of combat toward a lot behind it. There he came upon a number of adventurers hard at work bettering themselves in an elaborate training ground. With obstacle courses, all sorts of dummies, a few interesting-looking
dummies marked as ‘combat adjudicators’ that seemed to be on the more challenging side, and other various facilities, it offered everything a budding quester could want. Ren leaned against a palisade wall and watched, arms crossed. Nobody really noticed him or questioned his presence, thanks to his ordinary looks and marginal presence. His stare swept over every adventurer present in turn, sizing them up one by one.
Meanwhile, Link entered the smithy to find the sisters on break. Fresh -or rather, tired and dirty- from what appeared to be a serious session of forging, Ramona, Rena, and Renee sat around the front of the workshop, trying to cool off. Of the three, the youngest happened to notice Link first. “Hiya!” she greeted, waving a mitted hand. “What’s shaking?”
Link waved back, slightly surprised to see how on point he had been about the goddess idea. “A lot.” He said. “About as much as a giant dragon can shake. I’m low on funds and in need of a sturdy shield. Shulk advised me that I could get one on credit here. I assure, I can find something in the wild or perform some favor in order to reimburse you. Anything you need.”
Ramona perked up. “Hey, that could work.” She leaned forward on her chair, resting her elbows on its back. “I’ve been thinking about writing up a quest for salvaging equipment. We’ve been working with local materials, which is fine and all, but we don’t have access to rarer metals, crystals, and so forth.” One hand went up, gesticulating as she explained. “We can arm you for now, but in return, when you go hunting around the countryside, bring back any high-quality weapons ‘n armor you find. We can study ‘em to learn new tricks, then melt ‘em down for their materials. Or maybe just repair and resell ‘em.”
Her older sister looked pleased. “That’s a wonderful idea, Ramona!” Rena glanced over at Link, a big smile on her face. If he held true to his word, he’d be bringing in a lot more wealth to the smithy than he took out today on credit. “So, a shield, you said. We can hammer out a damascus-inlaid heater for you that’s both tough and lightweight. Anything else?”
Link did enjoy collecting weapons, and he’d kind of done this sort of thing before. It had been just showing off various weapons to a kid but he’d enjoyed it. He’d always ended up with more than he could carry anyway. “Yeah, I can do that.” As for anything else, he considered that for a moment. “Do you have any weapons you were just going to trash? Mistakes, accidents, things rusted to uselessness? Stuff you can’t do anything with, it doesn't matter if it would only last one hit.”
He received varying levels of confusion from all three. “Uh, maybe. Don’t know why you’d want that, though,” Ramona remarked. Renee jumped off her bench to skip into the back and get looking. “We try to make use of whatever we can, which means melting it down if it turns out wrong,” she explained. “Most adventurers just toss the remains of whatever breaks on the ground, too. So pickings might be light.”
Renee returned after a few moments. She held a small bundle in her arms, which she unceremoniously tossed down in front of Link. “Ta-da!” Rena narrowed her brows at her, prompting the youngest sister to give an exasperated sigh. “What? They’re not getting any crappier.” She turned and presented their visitor with a broken straight sword
, a bent pickaxe
, a shattered axe
, a fork
, and a brandistock
. “Well, those last two are probably fine, albeit a little fragile,” she observed. “But nobody buys weird polearms. Just swords, swords, swords, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Link picked up one of the pair of weird polearms, testing its weight in his hand. He’d never seen a design like this before, with the three short barbs on the end. Still, the girl’s assessment was sound. It seemed like a fine weapon all its own.
The first three, though, had been exactly what he’d been looking for. Complete trash. He especially admired that axe, which looked like it legitimately had one or two swings left in it before it turned into shrapnel. “These are perfect. I’ll take the lot off your hands.” He picked up each of the weapons in turn, and one by one the things vanished from his hands to be stored wherever the sheikah slate stored them. Noting the confusion of one sister over his choice of armament he said, bashfully, “Even the very best weapons tend to break when I use them. I like to keep a few on hand that nobody would miss. I wouldn't want to destroy anything rare before I got it to you.”
“Hmm. I see.” Rena knew a few adventurers who stood at the opposite end of the spectrum, who could wield weapons (or more usually, a single weapon) without sustaining any equipment damage at all. “Well mister, we’ll get started on your shield in a few minutes. Since we keep prototypes around to speed up standard orders, it won’t take long. Come back soon!”
Ramona dragged herself to her feet. “Aaalrighty then, I guess break’s over.”
After taking a deep breath, Kai
adjusted her cap so that she could wipe the sweat from her brow before pulling it back into place. With practiced precision she re-engaged the safety on her rifle and stowed it in a carrying position. A half-turn brought the Four Swords into view, who’d all been waiting with barely-suppressed patience for their turn on the firing range. Since according to the others their over-enthusiasm often left a mess, she’d been quite particular that they hold off while she got her daily training in. No sooner did she step away, however, than the four boys sprinted into the firing range with bows, boomerang, and bombs, hooping and hollering. The hint of a smile played about her face as she shook her head and joined a few other fighters on their way out of the practice yard. A young man with frizzy black hair fell in behind her, but she thought nothing of it.
Halfway through Lumbridge, however, she began to take notice. The boy followed at a respectful distance, but he followed nonetheless. Given what Kai knew of this town’s idyllic nature, it seemed remarkable that anything off-color would happen, but the soldier was determined to take no chances. She turned away from the door to the Malo Mart, circled behind it to the patch of dirt that lay between it and the smithy, and stopped. Sure enough, the sound of footsteps signalled the approach of her pursuer.
When he drew near Kai stepped out from behind the building, her face intimidating. “What do you want?”
“Negotiation, already?” the boy remarked, more to himself than as an answer to the soldier. He cleared his throat, looking unperturbed by the confrontation, and examined Kai’s eyes. Kai herself eyed his hands in his pockets, but she couldn’t make out the shape of any hidden items. “Well, I want to undo the distortions plaguing the world of cognition, of course. Just everyday stuff. How about yourself?”
Confusion welled up within Kai, but she kept her features stern. What did she want? He was acting as though this were an everyday conversation, not a tense standoff. Now that she got a good look at him, he appeared to be about highschool age. What exactly did he think he was doing? “To go about my business in peace. Why are you following me?”
“A serious one, then,” the boy observed. His tone grew more straightforward. “Actually, I was hoping you could lend me your power.”
Kai bristled. Things were not as they seemed. “I’m not an adventurer. If you need help, submit a quest to the guild. Now leave me alone.”
Her pursuer shook his head, looking disappointed. “Oh, well. I hope you’ll forgive me, but I am not going to accept this distorted world. Not now, not ever.”
Kai’s hands went to her rifle. In a flash it was in a combat-ready position, not yet pointed at the boy, but able to be. He withdrew his hands from his pockets and held them up. “Careful, shadow. I’d be happier if you joined me. Allow me to jog your memory. I’ll show you my rebellious spirit, my true self. Come forth, persona!”
The boy burst into blue flames. They washed over him, changing his attire into a black suit and coat, and his glasses into a white mask. Behind him
a shape rose from the fire, adopting a humanoid form, until its wings spread wide and its form
emerged. Kai’s eyes went wide and she raised her rifle. She pulled the trigger. A bullet struck the thief in the chest, and while he staggered, he did not go down. “What?”
He held up his own hand, a pistol pointed at her. When did he get that?!
Not expecting a fight so soon, Kai was far from cover. She dove, but her assailant fired. Eight shots, much quieter than her own, pelted her in quick succession. She gasped, holding a hang to her stomach, but felt no wound. Baffled, she could only watch as the thief snapped his fingers. “Arsene!”
The winged specter released a blast of dark energy that burst against Kai like fire. With a cry of pain she fought to her feet and held out a hand. “Stop! Don’t kill me!”
The thief held out a hand, bidding the creature stand still. In reply Arsene disappeared, leaving the two alone. “Ready to negotiate again?” the boy asked.
“Yes, yes,” Kai assured him, trying to bide her time. As gunfights went this wasn’t a loud one, but someone had to have heard it in a town like this. However, the moment she said that, something seemed to change. There was some kind of feeling, a ringing maybe, in the back of her skull. Like she knew something was wrong. “What do you want?”
“For you to be my strength,” the thief declared, as if that explained anything.
Kai grit her teeth and tried to play along. “And what does that mean exactly?”
The thief crossed his arms. “It means we take up arms as comrades. That we cooperate through thick and thin. That we weather whatever challenges may come our way as warriors of honor, watching one another’s backs, leaving nobody behind.”
Kai found herself laughing at the corniness of his response. Still, though she didn’t know if he meant them, his words resonated with her. She stood up straight with a wry expression. “Hmph, what a load. There’s no place for kindness or honor on the battlefield. You rather remind me of...myself…”
She staggered as if shocked by a sudden realization, her eyes wide. The sunset-red within them drowned within azure flame. “What in the!?” Her head was spinning, her thoughts jumbled and her memories afire. She held her head with her hand, staring out at the thief. “I...I remember…” Her gaze fell on the palm of her hand. “I don’t belong here...I’m not from this world. I’m from the sea...of humanity’s souls.” Straightening up again, she saluted. “My name is Leena Schulen. I’ll serve as your mask as you march into the future.”
So saying, she disappeared into blue fire that flowed into Joker’s mask. He held it as if putting it on again, standing still for just a moment, before his garb reverted back to school clothes. His fingers lay on the rim of his glasses, as if he’d been adjusting them. “Just as I expected,” he said aloud.
“What, that she was a ghost?” Came a voice from behind him.
Link stepped out from behind the corner where he’d caught the very tail end of whatever it was that had just happened. He’d been left with thirty minutes to kill and had been getting the lay of this town when he’d heard...well, it was hard to say. The small explosion. A sound that he’d never heard before, but was at the same time familiar. Like he’d heard it recently, in some forgotten memory or maybe in a dream. Whatever it’d been the noise stirred up unpleasant feelings in his chest. It warranted investigation.
What he’d found was a girl wreathed in blue fire, swearing loyalty to a boy in a mask before vanishing into it. The boy had pulled a quick change after that, reverting to what Link could only think of as his disguise. After all, he’d seen the opposite more times than he could count. Assassins had stalked the lands of Hyrule, a whole clan adept at hiding their true faces right up until they were close enough to bury a sickle into Link’s chest.
He kept a wary distance from this boy. He didn’t know what sort of situation this had been, but between that sound and the mask he viewed the entire thing with evident suspicion. The girl seemed like she’d been lending him her aide intentionally, but she had also just immolated. Maybe that had been “spirit fusion” in it’s own way.
“Then again that fire wasn’t exactly the kind I've seen surrounding ghosts. So, what exactly was it that you expected? What did I just watch?”
Ren regarded Link with curiosity. He didn't try evaluating him, since the swordsman was an ally in the fight against Galeem and neither did he plan to try and deceive him. Still, he didn't need to waste time trying to explain things to shadows, even if they were on his side. "We formed a contract," he told Link. "It's a...talent of mine. She's agreed to be my Persona." He didn't hold off on the jargon, suggesting that any further inquiry would be similarly difficult to understand. Few, he imagined, would spend their time trying to understand the minutia of how things in this hodgepodge world worked.
“Is that anything like becoming a striker?” Link, who had time to kill, asked.
Shrugging, Ren turned to walk his way, his hands slipped in his pockets. “I wouldn’t happen to know what that means. Still a lot to learn about saving the world,” he joked.
“Apparently.” Link said, following after him. More to keep an eye on him than anything. “Though, I’m not much more in the know than you I think. If you want to save the world there’s this group I was with before I got hauled back here that has most of the answers. I’ll be headed back their way in half an hour, but it’s apparently a long trek.”
“So I’ve heard.” Ren guessed that Link must not have noticed him standing around earlier. “I’d like to join this quest, but I figured I should gather Personas first. The shadows around here are pretty carefree, but they might attack en masse if they found out, so I set about doing it discreetly. See any that seemed useful?” As the two emerged on the main street, with none of the nearby pedestrians apparently any the wiser, Joker looked both ways. “I’m in the same boat as you otherwise. I need a way to get around.” He flicked his head to indicate the guild castle. “Maybe we’ll find both over there.”
Link looked around with him, trying to figure out where these enemy “shadows” were. He saw people going about their day, adventure’s headed between the various shops, one guy chasing a cucco through the street, but he didn’t see anything that looked like it could attack them in mass. Unless...he thought back to his amnesia, and the conclusions he’d already come to about where that Tora guy had probably gotten the slash across his chest. His eyes flicked back to the kids, watching as they moved over the villagers. No doubt about it, he meant them.
Could that really happen? Everyone here just turning on them? Looking at them now he couldn't believe it, but then again seemingly normal people put on masks and became assassins.
“No, no one really caught my eye.” He lied, deciding to focus his attention to the guild building. “If nothing else we might be able to at least get a general map. Hiking isn’t bad once you get used to it, but I can probably find something for us to ride.”