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20 October 2012 @ 06:00 pm
who by fire [ch 15]  
Title: Who By Fire (Ch15 - "Perception")
Characters: Ghirahim, Zelda, others
Rating: PG
Summary: The pendulum of Time swings back and forth, past and present, back and forth.
A/N: This is an AU, exploring the idea of how Skyward Sword would have been if Ghirahim had succeeded in capturing Zelda in the Earth Temple.

Previous chapter.

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allan Poe

___________________________

On his desk are the familiar things: The half-forgotten carvings, pencils, old books. Dust.

The floorboards creak as Link steps inside his room, shutting the door behind him with a slow whine of wood. The bed is as he left it, hastily made, the corners un-tucked. A weak film of sunlight shines through the open window, flickers of dust gathering in the air.

The silence is so thick he could drown in it.

His equipment has been shed, resting safely by the door, yet a weight presses him down even still. It pulls him through the floorboards, past the earth, past the stars. He stares blankly at the wood carvings on his desk. Most are unfinished, rough shapes of birds or people.

Groose is dead.

His throat feels bottlenecked, closed so tightly he can hardly breathe.

Groose is dead.

Link flops onto his bed, bent over, elbows on his knees. His sandy blond head hangs down, blue eyes affixed to the floor.

It’s been three days since Groose’s death, since Link himself had to bury him in the Sealed Grounds, since he’s given the news. He has spent these three days as if in endless fog.  At night, he sees it over again, replaying, repeating, the image of Groose’s broken body, sprawled unnaturally, at the bottom of the pit.

In these three days, he has doubted his role as the Hero more than ever. Each victory he earns is met with bigger failure; he’s failed protecting Zelda, he’s failed finding her, and now he’s failed Groose…Groose lies in the ground away from his family, dead, dead, dead.

He looks at the Master Sword, propped by his door. Sunlight glimmers on its hilt, arching off its burnt-blue surface. His victories have amounted to nothing more than a mystical sword unfit for his hands.

Link sucks in a breath and rakes one hand through his hair. His palms are scarred, roughened with calluses which refuse to heal; each time he dresses, he finds new scars lacing their way up his flesh.

He is scarred with each new foe he encounters, his own blood soaking his tunic. In this he finds purpose; each new scar he earns is one more reason to find Zelda and bring her back, safe in the sky; safe with him.

Someone knocks on his door, but Link can’t even speak to answer it.

Gaepora shuffles inside, shutting the door with a mute thud behind him. In his hands he clutches a worn book. Grief folds around them like dark wings.

“Boy, you look awful.”

Gaepora steps closer to rest one hand on Link’s shoulder.  Link grins weakly up at him.

“I haven’t slept in a few days, Headmaster. I apologize for not speaking more with you.”

Gaepora shakes his head solemnly. “There’s no need for you to apologize. Can I join you for a moment?”

Link nods, straightening his back, shoulders hiking up.

Gaepora drags a chair beside the bed. He rests both hands on each knee, large, owl-like eyes lowered to the floor.

“The Academy staff and I have all decided to hold a funeral service for Groose in two days. We understand if you’re unable to attend; though Groose’s death has struck us all, we know your quest has more importance than his funeral service. You can still attend, if you like.”

Link bites his lower lip, turning his head toward the carvings on his desk. One, a graceful bird, is unfinished. He had planned to give it to Zelda after the Ceremony, all those weeks ago. He had planned so many things –

“No,” Link swallows. “I don’t think I’ll attend it, Headmaster. There are other things I have to do. I can’t waste time.”

The half-lie rests heavily against his tongue. Link swallows it back.

It’s a half-lie because he doesn’t have time to waste.

It’s a half-lie because he has no idea what to do after this. He has no idea how to find Zelda. He lies awake at night wondering if she’s met some terrible end, what she could be doing, if she thinks of him as much as he thinks of her.

She’s not dead. Link blinks away tears, turning back to Gaepora. He nods toward the book in his lap.

“Oh!” Gaepora fumbles. “This was the other thing I wished to discuss with you; I found it while sifting through my library. There was one passage I thought you’d be interested in.”

Gaepora flips open the old book, its pages crackling. His finger rests on one, barely-legible passage near the end of the book. Link has to squint to read it.

“It is said that the Goddess Hylia, patron of Time, was bestowed the duty of guarding The Golden Power. To aid her, Hylia brought into being two entities, which would each embody the pieces of Wisdom and Power. One, although young in appearance, possessed wisdom beyond mortal years. She would guard the Triforce of Wisdom. The other, her counterpart, guarded the Triforce of Power…”

The passage ends there. Gaepora closes the book.

Link licks his lips, brows knitting together. “But I thought only Hylia guarded the Triforce. How can you be sure this is true?”

Gaepora rubs his chin. “I have been thinking of that question for some time. I’ve come to this conclusion: Our world is dependent on balance. Relying on one being, even a Goddess, to guard such a powerful relic is imbalanced. Our world is held together by the number three. Three Pieces, three provinces, three guardian dragons…”

Link sets his jaw. “It’s not a coincidence, is it?”

Gaepora smiles beneath his mustache. “No. This is why, I believe, that this passage is true. But there’s more to it.”

He fishes out a page from within his robes and hands it to Link. Its words are blurred with age. Link reads it with difficulty.

“….her dark counterpart would come to betray Hylia and her cause, joining The Demon King’s many hordes as their leader. In return, The Demon King promised him possession of great power, should they come to defeat the Goddess. This counterpart would come to be known…”

Link feels the world swell up around him, the sunlight burning everything yellow-white. It feels like his very heart has stopped.  The paper trembles in his grip.

“I know who it was,” he says.

Gaepora leans in, bushy brows rising high on his forehead.

Link swallows, flushing all the way to his ears. His heart swings like a wayward pendulum. Clang clang clang.

He stuffs the paper into his pouch, stumbling up from his bed. “I have to go.”

Gaepora blinks. “B-but, wait! Who--”

Link is out the door before he can finish. Gaepora dashes for him, out the Academy and across the pathways, but Link is too fast for him to catch up. Gaepora stands in the town square, out of breath and sweating. Link jumps off the edge of Skyloft, appearing once again on his Loftwing.

Gaepora watches as they disappear into the clouds.

___________________________

There’s something in the air.

Impa inhales, all the way to the bottom of her lungs, gooseflesh rumbling up her dark arms. The hairs on her nape spring up. Her shoulders coil up into her neck, lean muscles cording. Her crimson eyes stare, never blinking, pupils exploding open so wide the sunlight seems to scald as it enters her gaze.

She sits in the Temple, legs tucked beneath her, sunlight glowing off her tawny skin.

She blinks. Her pupils contract, her shoulders drop, the gooseflesh disappears from her arms; the sunlight loses its burn.

That something in the air remains. It slicks the skin between her eyelids, burning through her nostrils. It sticks to her hair like grease, slithering between the fibers of her clothing. Impa swallows heavily.

She knows why the air feels this way; his powers are returning.

It’s been nearly three months since Zelda’s capture. She’s amazed her magic has withheld this long, wishing only that it could hold longer. She has two weeks, at most.

Wishes and hopes, Sheikah. Impa smiles sadly to herself.

She fingers the dagger strapped to her hip, rubbing her thumb over its sheath. She stares at it, expression blank, lips parted, eyes misting.

The pendulum of Time swings back and forth, past and present, back and forth. It swings back.

She’s on her knees in the dirt with the sunset glittering red on her skin, so close to The Goddess that she could brush her fingers against her, feel the light, let it burn up and through her. She doesn’t. Instead, she pledges loyalty beyond even death. Above her, Hylia smiles.

The pendulum swings forward.

She’s on her knees in the dirt with the moon glittering silver on her skin, her own blood splashing red down her front. She stares and stares and stares at the moonlight above her, stares until her vision blots with tears.

The pendulum stops.

Impa stands. Sunlight dazzles through the stained glass windows above her. Impa turns to her own shadow; it turns back. She doubts every spot of darkness now, finding something sinister in every innocuous shade; even her own.

She unsheathes her blade, watching it flash sunlight. Impa examines her reflection in it, the firm press of her sable lips, the flutter of her pale lashes. She is every fiber a Sheikah, a creature of secrets and shadows.

Because I am Sheikah, she thinks, I must protect Her Grace. I must protect her, because I’ve sworn to.

Impa sheathes her dagger. There’s something else in the air, tangling closely to his dark magic. It’s her, rather, her aura that perfumes the musky smell, lending it a note of citrus, just enough to be noticeable.

Impa smiles. She opens the gate of time, its great runes glowing cold blue, the entire room hushing into shadow around her. Ancient magic swirls like fog up every wall, into every crevice. The Gate of Time turns, gear after gear, waiting. She stands before it.

I must protect her…

Impa steps out of the past.

I failed her the first time. I refuse to now.

The gate of time seals shut behind her, stone after stone. Its glow flickers, before diminishing entirely.

The pendulum of Time begins again.

___________________________

“I want to ask you something, Fi.”

Link sits outside of the Sealed Grounds, legs dangling over the edge of the pit. At the bottom, the Seal rests, silent. A cool breeze rustles the trees around them, birds singing in their boughs. The air smells like thick moss and old, forgotten things.

Fi springs forth from the Master Sword. In the sunlight, her sapphire-slick skin glistens. She hovers beside him, feet barely touching the grass. She nods for him to continue.

Link retrieves the scrap of paper from within his pouch. Fi leans in towards him, a motion like curiosity.

“Headmaster Gaepora found this in his library. It says that Hylia created two beings to help her guard the Triforce. One of those beings was said to possess wisdom beyond her years. The other betrayed Hylia and joined The Demon King. Does any of this sound familiar?”

Fi’s stares, unblinking, at the paper in his hand. The wind grows silent.

“No, Master Link. I calculate a 0% recollection of this tale. According to my data, Hylia was the only being who guarded the Triforce – she made me to help guide you. That is my only purpose.”

Link re-reads the passage, brow lowering. “That may be your purpose now, but what about before you came to me? Do you even remember being created?”

He looks to her; her face is blank as it has ever been. She tilts her head to one side, much like a child would.

“No, Master Link. I do not recall my creation. I simply became. I was not, and then I was.”

Link frowns. “I see. What do you remember, then?”

Her sleeves billow, as if his questions are irritating her. “I remember coming to you the night that Zelda was taken to the Surface. That is the earliest data I have.”

Link lowers his head, staring at the paper in his hand, which flutters with the breeze. “Thank you, that’s all I wanted. I don’t require anything else right now.”

Fi disappears into the Master Sword once again.

___________________________

Zelda sits before her vanity, alone.

She looks hard at her reflection, sunlight streaming in through a window beside her. She wears the black dress, its train flowing down the chair she sits in, shimmering, effervescent. Beside her burns a red candle.

“An illusion created by magic…”

Zelda squints at her reflection. Reaching out, she rests her fingertips against the mirror. When she speaks, her reflection speaks back.

“What did she mean?”

She lowers her hand, staring, still, at her face in the mirror.

“A place where nothing truly exists…an illusion…an illusion of what?”

She dips her head, gazing sullenly at her lap.

Beside her, the candle sputters.

Zelda lifts her head, the candlelight shining in her eyes. She bites her lips, reaching out toward the candle with shaking fingers.

“If this castle truly is an illusion…”

Her fingertips come close to the burning yellow flame – she jerks them back when it stings.

With tears swelling in her eyes, Zelda slams her fists onto the vanity, rattling it. “What did she mean!? If everything is an illusion, why can I feel pain!?”

She kicks away from her seat, stalking to the window to glare at the sky. The clouds move lazily by, muffled gray against the blue heavens. It reminds her of the skies around Skyloft; it’s the same shade of azure.

Zelda’s mouth falls open.

She whirls back to her vanity, dress curling around her legs. The candle burns, undisturbed.

“I felt pain because I expected to!”

Her heart swings against her ribcage. She closes her eyes, approaching the candle, fingertips held out. Slowly, she brings them nearer to the flame.

“The candle is a cup of wine. The candle is a cup of wine. The candle is a cup…”

Pain crackles up her arm, and Zelda jerks away her hand, hissing sharply. She clutches her injured fingertips, shining red with blisters.

Screaming, she kicks the vanity chair across the floor, wood clattering against stone. It falls awkwardly onto its side, shadow lacing up the wall behind it. Zelda pants, arms held rigid against her sides.

She turns back to the candle, face scrunching with frustration. She closes her eyes and reaches toward it again.

“The candle…is a cup of wine.”

She remembers, years ago, when her father let her drink a cup of sweet-smelling wine after she was accepted into the Academy. It tasted like bitter cherries.

“The candle…is a cup of wine.”

She’s hated wine since then, refusing it at every gathering, the too-sweet smell making her stomach roil. Link spilled some on her dress, once, and she was angry at him for days.

“The candle…is a cup of wine.”

Her fingertips meet liquid.

Zelda gasps, eyes flashing open. Where once was a burning candle now rests a golden goblet, full to the brim with reddest wine. It smells like bitter cherries.

Zelda smiles.

___________________________

The first thing she remembers is emerging from the Goddess Blade.

Fi rests inside the Master Sword, a place without walls or floors, only whiteness. She could wander for eternity and never reach its end.

She floats with her head held down, sleeves rippling.

The first thing she remembers is emerging from the Goddess Blade. There is nothing else; much like the void she rests in, beyond that recollection there is nothing, not even whiteness.

Something within her flickers, an ember of memory. It echoes endlessly inside her mind.

“Oh, Fi. I only wish you could keep this form and all that comes with the pleasures of mortals…”

She searches her databanks; there is no record of anyone saying those words. There are no texts, no songs, no tales, nothing but this ember of memory she can’t recall having.

Fi looks to the sky of her sightless world, white as anything, lifeless.

She is lifeless. She is not human. She does not have memory, only data. Data cannot lie or fabricate words she’s never heard.

Fi searches her data, every syllable, every inflection, until she reaches the very end… “The one chosen by my creator. I have been waiting for you. You will play a role in a great destiny.”

There is nothing before it, only after, no matter how far back she searches.

The flicker grows. Like a stone thrown into a well, it trickles out, falling into and across itself.

“You could regain your flesh, Fi. Can you not even feel the wind upon your cheek?”

She knows that voice. It’s his; was his. Ghirahim has never spoken those words to her before.

Fi looks to her billowing sleeves, a mockery of human arms; she has no flesh beneath her clothing, no heart, not even true eyes for which to see. She shares the human form, nothing more.

Could I have shared more, at one time?

Fi curls into herself, tucking her knees into her chest, wrapping her sleeves around her legs.

No. There is a 0% chance that I could have been human. I am a weapon. I am a weapon. I am a weapon. I am…

___________________________

Grass stains her bare feet as she runs, dress and hair surging behind her.

She laughs, breathless, head thrown back to watch the sky above her. Sunlight shines down through the trees, warming her face. It’s the real sky and real sunlight, not figments of themselves. The world stretches endlessly around her, shining, fresh as summer rain.

She has escaped the castle with its blank white walls; she has escaped him. It matters not how, it only matters that she’s free.

The wind bellows against her back. Zelda laughs wildly, sprinting as fast as she can through Faron Woods. Birds sing in the trees. Up ahead skulks the Sealed Temple, old and dour, with vines climbing its walls.

Zelda looks back, hair flying. There are only trees and shrubbery. No Demons, no monsters, no laughter. No pointed teeth or white hair or strangling hands. No blank white walls with endless hallways and windows that cannot break.

She’s free.