Webmistress' Note: Once again my dear friend Megan has provided more background to a character from from mine and Kirsty's Zelda fanfiction series; this time the evil Mara Hespera who featured prominently in the Quest For Immortality series. It focuses on her early life, and provides her motives for eventually arriving in Hyrule. Enjoy :)
No sounds to break her silence, no warm hand to assuage her chill.
Throughout, the world was weary, cold, and devoid of the spark that living held. Stinging flakes of snow drifted from the leaden sky, and her empty void sparked only with pain. Crimson spotted, the drifts in her wake told of her injuries at the hands of ice and stumbling, and what she had ripped away from the large cloak she had stolen did little to aid the hurt. Tattered, appearing like the beaten wings of an overgrown crow, it had been her gift to herself before she had fled the latest in a string of villages that were cruel to those without rupees.
"Nowhere to stay for someone like you!" The words had been spoken over and over, repeated until they were a mantra to her fading, guttering mind. She tripped again, not paying attention to where she was staggering to, and another knife-edge of hot agony told her she'd been wounded by the ice again. She looked down at her poorly protected feet and saw the scarlet bloom against the purity. Wincing, she dragged her flagging body onward. There could be no time to lament the small pains now; there had to be someplace, no matter how meager, to shelter from the relentless elements.
The breeze slackened for a moment; reflection arrived in its pause. They had been gone for years, the only two people in the world that could have claimed to care for her; the Void had consumed them so many years ago that they were nothing but a memory washed dull with time. Now as she went, their tones were in the wind, calling, caressing, desiring. Through eyes that brimmed with tears of exhaustion and fright, she could see the gaping maw of the Void, fancying that the souls that were enmeshed within were beckoning with ethereal fingers, screaming her name in shouts and murmuring their regret that she would not give in and join their never-ending games.
Life flared bright as candle shine, pumping through her frame and pulsing in her ears; she was quick yet, and the stillness of what lay beyond was not for the likes of ones such as she. Their cries were snatched away on the resurging breeze, floating away from her ears and into oblivion.
"Mara…Mara, why do you not come?"
The cold ravaged her lungs as she gathered in a breath and allowed it out in a puff of frost. The tips of her fair hair had become glacial, icicles in spite of the fact that it was not damp, and small formations of ice littered her eyelashes like frozen fairies at play. Their summons were supplanted by a dull ache that boiled in her temples, and she could tolerate no more. Not caring for the future or her surroundings, she permitted her numb legs a rest, sinking down into the white powder. The treetops, stripped nude by the season before, shook their skeletal branches and muttered among themselves. She drew her knees up to her chin and buried her head in her arms, unable to find the strength to continue.
They called again, and her irises waxed dim, her lips started to turn blue, and her muscles relaxed. She could see them now, their warm embraces. What did it matter that running to them meant the end? Her mother's desire to hold her was in her senses, and that was all that mattered. Yet, as she attempted to move toward the figure, she found that she could not. The woman stood, her ripped skirts whipped to fever in the howling wind, her blond tendrils flowing from her wan features. Her expression yearned with a wistful sadness, and the child was remorseful that she could not join the spirit.
Mama, please stay. I can gain the strength to get up. I want to be with you!
Her thoughts could yell where her mouth had no say, and she wanted to reach with unfeeling arms to the one that waited with such melancholy patience. Yet, it wasn't to be, and as she huddled where she was, the form disappeared, the Void before her closed, and she knew nothing anymore.
Before she could realize it, her world had ended.
The sun, weak though it was, provided some heat, and as it descended, bowing out of the empty valley, the cold grew in intensity. The little one had not moved in many hours, and signs of life had all but gone.
The lantern lent the snow some color, a saffron that indicated that others had come. It was a lone being, shrouded in fur; the hands that held the light source were cloaked in thick gloves. A scarf had been pulled over the lips and nose so that only the cunning eyes showed, glimmering like dying stars; this was her domain, and no one had dared enter in many years. All that lived around here knew that she prowled this stretch of land, a jealous creature guarding what land the goddesses had given her, and woe befell any outsiders that happened to stumble there.
The illumination slanted across the still figure, and the eyes narrowed; what had dared to intrude? The footsteps became hurried, and the breath wheezed out with the effort it took to move through the thick piles of white. The hooded being drew close to the inert body, and recognizing it for what it was, knelt alongside, drawing it up out of the ice.
The woman held the child near, and leaned in close, studying the still face for any signs of vitality. The evening was clear, and in the light of the full moon, it was apparent that a thin sheet of frost had settled over the cyanotic flesh. No animation bloomed within, and the female shook her head, cradling the little one near as though her body heat had some value to one beyond need.
Turning away, she bore the child across the snow for a few long, arduous miles. Somewhere in the journey, the moon vanished into wispy cloud-cover, and the iced tears of heaven fell and spiraled about the pair; the wind began to pick up and muttered like a malcontent.
At last, the rescuer was able to catch sight of the gold that spilled across the seemingly endless drifts, and quickened her pace. Nestled among the desolation, a port in the storm, was a wooden cottage, its thatched roof spiked with icicles and patches where the winter element had pooled in colorless lumps. Reaching the door, she turned the knob and sighed relief as warmth invaded and settled in her bones; she recognized with a grim mental note that youth had finally begun to abandon her.
No sooner had she come, bringing with her a bundle of lifelessness and sharp artic wind, then a gaggle of young children came shouting, clamoring, curious to know where their caretaker had gone and what she had come bearing with her return.
"What is it, is it food?"
"Did you hunt it?"
"Can we have some?"
The woman frowned, and waved the little ones away with hands decorated in crystals. She lay the deceased frame across a wooden table that lay a few feet from the entrance, then with careful fingers pulled the hood away from her head, revealing sleek, raven colored hair that was starting to show its first hints of grey age. The visage that came into the gentle glow of the lamps that were scattered about the modest home was unlined. Full lips glowed youthfully, and dark eyes administered sharp, scolding looks to the children as they gathered about the table where the heaped child lay.
"Stay away from that, you little scoundrels," a rich voice, infused with an inflection of weary annoyance, muttered. "I found her out in the forest, and need to have the magic applied so she lives again. Keep away and don't touch." Several pairs of curious and disappointed eyes returned reproach and crestfallen gazes, and there was the shuffling of feet as several took a few exaggerated steps away. The woman shrugged away her coat, allowing it to fall before the burning hearth, then raised her arms and shook her fingers so that the circulation could come back into them.
"Where is Jeremy? Tell him to get out of bed and come here to me," the woman demanded, her tone becoming sharp. Those that were closest to the back of the crowd, unable to have a proper look as it was, muttered to themselves and went to retrieve their housemate. The woman sighed, taking up a short stool and coming to sit beside the table. Her young wards watched without speaking, even among themselves, for several minutes until a dull voice, thick from lack of use, broke the spell the firelight had woven. Several heads turned in the direction the boy had come, and a few stepped out of the way so that he could come near to the table.
"You wanted me for something, Melana?" The woman's earth-colored eyes turned to the young child, and she nodded, pointing a finger to where Mara lay, wrapped in the overlarge cloak she had been wearing. He was an odd child, hair that was so dark a brown that it reminded all that looked on it of soil after a rainstorm, and the eyes held a distinct bored air of one that was far older than thirteen seasons. These were the color of a fox's, mocha most of the time but with an amber hue that was now present; the lips were twisted in irritation.
"Bring that one back for me, I found her outside. Been dead for some hours; you may need that invigorating tea after you're through there." The other children looked to the one called Jeremy with fear and awe; Melana remembered the night he had been brought to her as no more than an infant, mewling at the bottom of a basket. From the beginning, he had been a serious and deliberate boy, removing himself from the company of the others except for when it suited him, which was rarely. The others, as a result, distrusted him and the power he wielded; even Melana herself had doubts about whether or not she had made a good choice in accepting him as one of her foundlings.
He stepped up to the table and stood quietly for a moment, looking to what had been brought to him, and a spark glittered ferally in the gaze as he rolled his sleeves up to his forearms, all the while never taking his eyes from the golden haired girl.
"Leave," he commanded harshly of the children that crowded at his back, looking over his shoulders with inquiring expressions. "I can't concentrate properly with all of you staring like that." The edict was obeyed, and slowly the youths began to scatter, going back to what they had been doing before Melana's arrival. The woman watched with curiosity of her own; the boy had begun to display these powers only recently, but she could feel in her own blood they were very potent. Now she could feel them stirring within the boy, and caught sight of an emotion in his eyes that she could not name, but felt a cool hand touch her heart. Jeremy was speaking something softly, under his breath, and eyelids came to cover the unnatural irises. Hands had been held out, fingers spread wide over the small girl's unmoving chest, and as Melana watched, the young man's mouth pulled into a rictus of concentration.
"Her soul hovers close to the Void," he murmured softly enough so that she had trouble making out what he was telling her over the crackling of the flame close by. "Come back," he whispered to Mara's stiff figure, "come back and come to the realm of the living. It is not your time." Melana could feel the fine hairs on the back of her neck, her arms, stand on end, and in the fireplace, the flame shuddered and flickered as though a strong gust threatened its existence. The magic, the spell, was happening again. She recalled the first time she had seen it with her own eyes, felt the odd sensation it produced on the atmosphere around it. The house's cat, which had been sitting in the corner licking a delicate paw, crouched closer to the floorboards, fur puffed out and pupils wide with terror. It too, knew the feeling, for Jeremy had likewise returned it to life after it had been shot with a hunter's careless arrow. Outside, the breeze snarled, throwing itself against the windowpanes as though its will was being violated, and the animal rushed from the room with a discontent hiss.
It was sudden, and Jeremy's tired eyes opened after he felt the proper sensation. He had done it, and before the house mother at his side could question him, the child on the table gasped, blood flooding the cheeks with life's blush; the fingers spasmodically clenched. Blue eyes opened to life, squinting with discomfort and blinking as the brightness assaulted them. A whimper came from the throat, and the one responsible for her return to life turned and walked away as though he had done nothing. Melana watched him go, her expression mildly disgusted, then shifted her attentions to the girl, who had begun to speak in a voice choked with gravel.
"Mama? Where am I?" Among the incoherent whispers and prattling, Melana could understand that much, and left her seat to stand above the frightened child. The girl's lips, a grotesque shade that was not quite blue but not the color of live flesh, were moving with no words coming from them; the woman felt in her depths a sort of pity for the waif.
"It's all right, child. I'm Melana, and I found you outside. You're in my home now. Do you remember anything of yourself, how old you are, what your name is?" The pupils were pinpricks in the sea of horror that the girl was mired in, and tears had started to flow unabated. The mouth trembled, and Melana carefully slid her hands under the girl's body, carrying her to the fireside where she could get warmer. For several minutes, the little one did nothing but weep, her thin shoulders hunched as though she expected some harm to come to her. Seeing the caretaker only seemed to make her fear increase, and so for some time she sat away from the miserable Mara, watching her carefully and moving only to motion for the questioning children, whose faces appeared occasionally in the doorway, to remain in their rooms.
At last, the small blonde turned her head to face the woman that had brought her to shelter. The inquiry was quiet, filled with dread as to what the answer might be, and the woman fought the urge to hold the girl to her when she heard.
"You're not going to throw me out again because I have no rupees, are you?" The black-capped head shook, and Melana came to her knees alongside Mara, whose features were streaked with both grime and tears.
"No, I would never cast you away. I take care of children like you. Now, what was your name, little one?" Mara shrank away as the larger figure drew close, shivering from both the melting snow that was soaking her as well as raw mistrust that this person could be lying. People with faces kinder than this had acted sweetly toward her only to later spurn her, place her cruelly out in the winter's ruthlessness without so much as a second thought once what payment she had was depleted. She despised such people with her every fiber as much as she was frightened of them, and wished that she had filched a dagger or something from one of the towns to protect herself.
She bolstered her courage as a flame found kindling and ignited within her dread, and she dared for the first time to look the woman in the eyes as she spoke, trying to keep the tremor from her tone.
"My name is Mara Hespera. I'm nine winters old," she stated clearly, despite the ache that had developed in her throat; surely she was on the verge of catching something from the chill she'd gotten. She held her stare, however, and noticed a troubled air pass over Melana's face, something she quickly replaced with a mask of pleasant and interested calm. For a split instant, something about the child had unsettled her, as it had when Jeremy had entered the room; but perhaps this could be attributed to a lack of sleep over the past few days, having to be up looking after ill children. Mara noticed this, but there were more pressing concerns, and she looked away into the tongues of fire that danced before her.
"What happened to me? I thought…I mean, I saw my mama and papa again, and it was so warm…" There was a catch of longing to the childish lisp, and Melana cradled her forehead in a palm. How to explain? There was no simple way to detail it without doubtlessly making the child even more wary of her, of this place. She pondered for a span, then laced some false cheer into her voice as she lay a hand on Mara's trembling shoulder.
"Maybe that should be explained later, when you have some dry clothes, some food, and some rest." Mara, had she not realized how tired she really was, would have protested and demanded to know, but instead she yawned hugely, standing on legs that still felt weak and inefficient. Melana placed both hands on the girl's shoulders and guided her past the throng of waiting and whispering wards to a small room tucked away toward the back of the cottage, and as Mara stood with uncertainty lingering in her azure eyes, produced a white flannel nightgown from the chest of drawers.
"Here Mara, let's get you situated," the woman began, and tugged at the strings that held the child's cloak closed, attempting to remove it. The petite creature stiffened, and a flare of fright and anger ignited with deep intensity in the glower she leveled at the caretaker.
"Don't! I'm not a baby, and I can do it myself," she insisted hotly, and Melana's hands were batted away as Mara turned and slowly untied the cloak from her own shoulders, depositing it over one sturdy bed post. Melana backed away, it having only just occurred to her that the girl would be hostile toward any help. Uncertain and feeling unwanted, she folded her hands before her and waited as, with her eyes never leaving Melana's, Mara started to disrobe and placed the proffered clothing over her head. It was a few sizes too large, and the elder female could see just how gangly and thin the youth really was. She made no comments as the child faced her and folded her arms, a scowl painted across the doll-like countenance. The woman took this as a wordless hint to leave, and with a soft "Goodnight," she made her way out into the hall where others waited.
Mara watched her dark shape go, then lay herself across her bed, looking to the plain ceiling above her head. The images of the nothing that had enveloped her were strong in her mind, and as she gradually began to drift, she could see again the figures of her mother and father, whom she knew to be long dead, and yet, as she had hovered, they had seemed so real, tangible…Her helpless frustration waxed.
The tears rolled down in sheer earnest then, and did not stop until late that evening.
In her rest, darkness loomed, reaching.
She was alone; she had been ripped from her mother's arms and an unholy midnight had enveloped her. She choked on its ebony poison as it sought to claim her for the rest of time, unable to scream, move, think. It whispered to her, gently caressing her fear-filled face, murmuring reassurances as it sought to end her once more. It had been vanquished before, burned away by a light that had saved her, but there was to be nothing of that now.
"Mara…Destiny calls you…Do not ignore what is asked of you…
She could not find it in herself to struggle. There was something horrid about the tone that rolled into her ears, the thunder of a distant storm, but there was something soothing about it as well. It cradled her, allowing her to soar even as her heart frantically moaned its terror in her pulse. It tugged at her intangible form, begging, yearning. Over and over, wailing and wanting, it repeated the earthly name that she felt no longer attached to.
The voice that beckoned her from sleep was not one she recognized, and her eyes came into glittering slits, the weak winter sunlight cutting into them and making her wince. Hands, cool and squeezing, were on her shoulders, and there was a lassitude in her muscles that made it impossible to hit them away.
It was the woman from the night before, and Mara's fogged brain registered her concerned face with some dim recognition. Her mouth was dry, her lips cracking, and her world was alive with a blazing suffering. Her eyelids were unable to remain open for very long, and even the faint illumination of hazy dawn was offensive to her feverish senses. A shuddering, wheezing gasp let air enter her lungs, and the rattle told Melana that liquid had couched itself there. The child was gravely ill, and without the proper treatment, would not last long.
Mara's was a tiny and shrunken body drowning in a world of white bedclothes, and the bed seemed twice as big for her as it had just hours prior. There was a yellowed pallor that had settled across her serene features, and purpled lines under the bright eyes told a story of shallow slumber and troubled dreams. Already Melana had brought with her what she had used to aid other ill children in the past—doses of herbs and tonic, water she had boiled to create a warming plaster for the chest.
"Papa, Mama…" It was a mutter that verged on a whisper, and the woman knew that again the young thing dreamed of the dead. The eyes had fallen closed once more, the veins violet and red against the thin flesh of the eyelids; small capillaries were evident on the flushed cheeks. The forehead was pearled with sweat, tears made from sickness.
There would not be much time. The candle at the caretaker's side flickered, sending wavering light across the walls as she pulled the sheets away, untying the strings to the front of the nightgown to expose the painfully evident ribcage. Shadows gathered across the walls and ceiling, crowded among themselves, blending and holding conference. Like vultures they awaited her finality, and Melana, a believer in omens, looked worriedly to them before she laid the plaster on the hardly moving body. It was never easy, losing a child that was under her care. The little thing shuddered at the first touch, the lips parting to allow a moan to escape.
Although she was not a healer, Melana could almost feel for herself the life drain as it leaked from the still form. It was nearly over.
In desperation, she called the young female's name again. This time, despair rang hollowly in her inflection.
He watched from the doorway, leaning against its frame, quiet and apathetic. She was slipping again, and he could view in flickering bits and streaks the energy as it swirled and drifted above the bed. He had seen it the night before as well, and sighed as annoyance settled into his mien. The woman was crouched over the girl as though conventional medication could be of some assistance; she was far beyond that now.
He recalled the first time he was able to understand death as it pounced, and save another from its claws. To the young boy, it was an act as natural as breathing; to others, it was something to hate and find fault in him for. It was through no blame of his own that he had been born that way, though others he had run across in his short life seemed to believe so. Fools, all of them. Yet, in this girl, there was something he could distinguish as different, so much like him that for the first time, he could feel a connection to another person.
He came to the bedside in no hurry, pausing alongside to clasp his hands behind his back and cast the near-corpse on the pallet a disinterested gaze. Melana was nearly beside herself now, muttering strained prayers as she mixed an herbal concoction and tipped Mara's head up to pour it between her slack, paling lips.
"That won't do her any good; it's a little late," he observed in his habitually careful fashion, and the woman fumbled the tiny dish, spilling its contents across the bed sheets and the invalid's perspiring face.
"Jeremy," she breathed, startled. She had not heard him come, and as she looked into the youngster's expression, she could see again that whorls of gold were in his irises again, like a trick of the inconstant candlelight. "Let me," he mumbled, brushing past the woman and settling his hands over the dying child. The light that fulgurated above her was starting to grow dimmer, lethargic now, and he knew from past experience he would have to go quickly. Quietly, he commenced to speak in a tongue that flowed into his mind through instinct, spreading twitching fingers.
Gradually, the shine was starting to grow bright again. Under his hands, another mumble escaped the sick one:
"Wh-What…do you…want of me?"
"Who are you?" She stood before the great massive figure now after asking her second question to it, a thing that wished to remain crouched in shadows. It had a voice, had a form that, if she squinted and tried to peer into the surrounding black, she could just hardly make out. The thing just beyond her knowing seemed to shift, if indeed this was possible; maybe all along she was imagining that it had a form at all.
"I am…Someone that you wouldn't understand. It isn't meant for a little thing like you to know what sort of thing I am." The reply was intoned in solemnity, the deep voice ringing from walls that she could not see or touch. Impatience flooded her, though she knew that she ought to be frightened. This, she discerned, was the thing that had come to speak to her in her dream, and she wanted to know what it wished from her. It was no secret that dreams were sometimes the portents to destiny, and it was clear that the thing did not expect to confront her once more in its own realm. There had been hesitation to that answer, and although she could not feel a body, she knew that an incorporeal one was hers in this macrocosm. With the flawed logic of dreams, she understood that this was not reality as she perceived it, but was someplace to drift in, a world that rested balanced between her globe and another.
"I asked you who you are!" she shrilled with strained humor, and the thing moved again, its timbre transforming into a low growl.
"The time isn't right for this, little one. Know that I will be a part of you. Know what destiny asks of you, and follow it as best you can. Our time together grows short."
Already, Mara could see that the being spoke true; that same light that had come to pluck her away was flaring brightly again, shining like a small sun. She shut her eyes, trying to shield her delicate organs with her hands, and as she felt herself begin to slip away, be pulled back to the misery and life she had taken leave from, she made out just barely the enunciation of the dark being.
"Fate is with you…"
"Thank the gods!"
A trembling alto greeted the tired ears; an odd sort of warmth burned in the hearth of her stomach, branching outward to reach to her fingertips, her toes. The weights that had been welded to her eyes disappeared, and she was again able to open them without difficulty. The shimmer of the flame came as an unwelcome surprise to her at first, then she screwed up her eyes and reached up to rub the film of sticky illness from them.
The first thing she could feel was the heated and slightly fetid breath of Melana, whose eyes were locked into her hardly open ones. She had felt this sensation before, but until that moment had not realized it for what it was.
"Jeremy, you've done it," relief was evident in the deep voice as the woman turned away and beckoned beyond the scope Mara could see. "Jeremy," Melana gestured to the bedside, "come say hello to Mara. You haven't spoken to her since she came here."
The exhalation was clear even to her ringing ears; whoever else was in the room with them had no desire to come over and say anything. "Jeremy!" There was a note of reproof now, and she could catch feet heavy with reluctance scrape across the space that separated them.
Such odd colored eyes, something that put her in mind of a wild thing. Yet, there was a calm in them that was almost unearthly, and she allowed her initial unease to pass. He stared down at her as though he had no idea what to make of her, and she looked back, too exhausted to smile or say a word in greeting.
"I'll leave you two for a bit of a talk, but Jeremy, let Mara have her rest." The woman's ponderous footsteps thudded out, and they were alone, both unblinking, each uncertain what to say or do. The brown head turned briefly to watch Melana leave, then his eyes were looking back into hers.
At last, she broke the silence that stretched between them, extending a branch of friendship and curiosity.
"You were the one that did it the first time, weren't you?" There was a faint waver in the strange eyes, and the response was slow and measured.
"You don't think it's odd that I can do things like that?" Both spoke inadvertently of both the night before and the instant that had passed, and the younger child shook her head. There was a bond that had formed between them already, and the boy's smile was like watching a burst of sunshine through a cloud cover.
"You're the first person to ever say that," he confided in a low voice, leaning a little closer to her so that she could hear him through the invisible cotton that stuffed her ears. Her returning smile was a faint one, and she recognized that it had been the first time she had ever smiled because of what someone else had said or done.
"The others hate me for it, and think I'm strange. The woman that takes care of us, Melana, thinks the same way, I can see it in the way she looks at me when she thinks I don't see," Jeremy's sentence dropped toward the end in what she took for sadness, and she shook her head once more.
"I'm thankful; you saved me," she yawned, and already she felt the weight of normal sleep wanting to have sway with her. Jeremy quietly took his leave of her, and before he departed looked back on the slumbering child.
Already, and for the first time, he felt a closeness to another person. A friendship that defied all odds had begun. Danger was flowering.
The others did indeed see the pair as an oddity.
In the early spring sunshine, the first clear and calm day in months, Jeremy and Mara sat apart from the other gamboling youth, heads bent together and whispering as they crouched over their secret discovery.
Its legs were curled talon-like in the air; eyes like beads no longer understood the world for what it was. Claw marks had torn away feathers and exposed naked flesh, bloodying the greening grass under the inert body. A stick gently invaded the sparrow's space, poking cautiously at a head that rested on a pliable neck.
"Looks like Jammy got it," Mara referred to the cottage cat, who was now sitting in a bright patch of sun, swiping behind an ear in an attempt to remain obsessively tidy. Bending her fair head over the little unfortunate, she gave it another tap with the branch she had procured from the ground. Jeremy nodded, placing a hand to his chin as he meditated.
"We ought to try something later," he muttered softly, and produced his handkerchief from a pants pocket, placing it over the little thing like a shroud. Wordlessly, he picked it up and held it to his chest, his expression blank as Mara questioned him with a glance. He allowed a small smile, then straightened up, the white bundle cradled in a palm.
"Tonight after dinner's over, come to my room. I have something I want to show you."
Small clawed feet stretched toward the ceiling, and the glassy, lifeless eyes reflected tiny stars of wavering yellow light. His was a figure bent over it, dark and godlike, as he overlooked the contents of the chamber to assure himself all was prepared.
It was well past what their matron would have considered a proper time for sleep; moonlight slanted inward to mingle with the candles, silver and golden. Mara had not yet arrived, and Jeremy glanced up with annoyance toward the partially closed bedroom door. He had warned her as they had settled at the dinner table that this was going to be a procedure best done with only the two of them being the wiser, and had ignored all further questioning from the child. Even he did not know why, but there was a truth to what he had said. He'd learned from years of experience not to mention his abilities to those he didn't know well, and to perform them only when asked, like a trained pet.
Mara had been the exception, the first person he had allowed into his private and almost shameful world, and when she was late in coming it seemed a slap to the cheek. He drummed his fingertips nervously on his thigh and sighed, glancing up to the door once more to see if her shadow was present.
A creak on the floorboards, and fingers curled around the door's edge, shaking just enough for him to catch. Fear. Then the head, golden as the candle-shine, made its entrance. Slow, hesitant steps, and she was in the room, gazing with wonder at what he had set out, lips parted in a wordless coo of surprise.
"You set up all of this?" The little one spoke in a tone she would have normally used instead of the quiet one he preferred, and he was fast in grasping her wrist and guiding her to a kneel, hissing for her to be more careful. She caught the fire that glowed in his eyes, that fox-fire that she had not seen since she was first brought to the orphanage, and was immediately hushed. He beckoned to the ring of weeping candles that surrounded the deceased animal; Mara was reminded of a temple ceremony, but did not voice it. When Jeremy explained, there was a timbre in it that suggested both puberty and mystery, something she'd never heard in another person's utterance that made her blood quicken.
"These are here to mark the compass directions; the goddesses made the world with order, and as they made that order, they created death and life as part of it. This is to honor their order and creation, so that the power that was given to me by them will restore the bird," the youth raised his eyes and gazed into hers for a heart-stopping second, and she nodded, feeling a change come into the air. Something in her innocent core was transformed in that moment, and before he could go on any further, she grasped at the dagger that rested near him.
"This is for blood, isn't it?" she questioned, a dark note slipping into her inquiry, and the older boy nodded. "If you need blood for this, then use mine; I want to bring it back to life." There was a taste of strength in her words that diminished the intrinsic fear of injury, but the one across from her shook his head this time, his lips pulled into a frown. The eyes that greeted hers from under the dun bangs were hollow.
"No, I must do it. You don't know what you're doing yet, and playing with things like this is dangerous," he chided, and the girl's lower lip was evident in a pout. Whatever had come to her in that dark instant had passed, storm-clouds over the moon, and she was young again.
"How do you know so much about it then, showoff?" she challenged, and the male's shoulders jerked in reply. She was growing loud again, and he warned her in an aside as he took the dagger from her reluctant digits. She folded her arms, the sulk in place, as he tried to placate her.
"Fine, you want to learn? Then watch me. I was born with it, but I'm sure I can teach y…" he trailed away and winced as the first drops of blood from his newly torn palm dripped across the floorboards, the handkerchief, the downy feathers. He watched it with a certain detachment after the first red lines of dull ache disappeared; gradually he bound his hand in a rag he had brought with him for the purpose.
"Blood is life, shed blood over what you wish to call the spirit back to, and it will come." He did not move his stare from the scarlet droplets as Mara looked on with a slight pallor. Her eyes were likewise riveted on the drops, the red that now stained the cloth of his bandage, and she could feel dinner come back into her throat, an unwelcome guest. Yet curiosity won out, and she marshaled the power to ask of him,
"Why didn't you do that for me?" His concentration broken for a brief time, he settled back on his haunches and let a breath escape.
"Your spirit was close by, and I didn't need to call it back. The gods hadn't accepted it yet, so there was no need. Watch now, and don't ask me anymore questions. You'll see in a second how it works." Once again scolded, the nine year old settled into a mope and did as she was asked. Now, in a low monotone, his words flowed to mingle with the crickets of the night; she blinked as the walls that surrounded them seemed to grow blurry. Something was transpiring before her astonished eyes, the flash of wings, gilded in the light, her reality was gone.
"Mara, Mara, look! Look quick!" He was a child again, caught in excitement, and she hadn't realized that her eyes had ever shut to begin with. She unclosed them to see that the little sparrow, walking on uncertain legs, was up and looking about, and she managed a small smile. Jeremy was positively beaming, for he had never shown someone that approved of him something like this before. Even the woman had never shown him approval, not when he'd brought Mara back to the living. His was a miracle that went unsung.
"You did it! That was wonderful, Jeremy!" The phenomenon struck her then, and she realized for the first time what a potent sensation it was. Already he had taken the wild thing in his hands, cupping it so it could not fly off and make any noise, and with a fast movement, he opened the window and released it, healed and whole, into the patient arms of the gentle spring evening.
From that time forth, Mara hungered for that might .
Time dragged onward, and in its hold, they both grew and changed. He was no longer a boy by the time that fateful period came, and she was showing clear signs of becoming a beauteous woman. Both were still loners by design and preference; children had come and gone, grown and moved on. The passage of years had brought them closer together, almost inseparable.
Spring arrived late that year. Clumps of soggy slush fell from top-heavy, leafless branches, the ground was warming, and soon the first wildflowers would poke their violet heads above the surface. The sun was biding its time, strong some days and an invalid the next, and in the throes of unpredictable weather, the completion of another year occurred for Mara. The day found her huddled somewhat miserably before the glimmering maw of the fireplace, a shawl wrapped about her slim shoulders, cerulean watch fixed on the whirling, popping dancers within.
He found her there, and held secure to the package he had returned from a week's travel with. He approached her soundlessly, feeling the red creep into his cheeks, pooling to show that his pulse was wild. He stood silently behind her, unspeaking for several beats, unsure how to break her seemingly pensive mood. The others hadn't taken notice of her birthday, for in the years she had occupied the orphanage, she had said nothing personal about herself, not even to Melana, who was now showing clear signs of aging. Her hair had gone absolutely white now, and the lines under her eyes were sharp and pronounced; she often spent time alone, staring into nothing as though secrets were hidden there. In Jeremy's heart there was some pity toward the only woman that he knew as a mother, and as she withdrew further and further into her own meditations, it was he who looked after the young children as well as her. Old feelings toward the matron had faded; he had done no magic for the past few years and she seemed to forget that he was even capable of it. Melana forgot a great many things now, distracted and absorbed to a place where no one else could go.
Mara, for her part, paid no attention to either her former caretaker or the children, wandering off most of the more pleasant days to sit alone by the neighboring river, a cold invisible wall shutting off all who came near, including her sole and dear companion. She spent great spans with a journal in hand, scribbling away with her quill. He was perplexed by it, but didn't dare ask after it. She was becoming an alien thing to him.
Now as he stood uncertain, she noticed him, feeling him situated at her back. She made no acknowledgement of him, and he cleared his throat, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Recalling what she had written of him in her journal, she could feel a blush start in her own visage, and her voice was rough as she finally spoke.
"Hello, Jeremy." She fidgeted to settle her dark skirts under her, twisting her fingers about one another, and he came around to kneel in front of her. Her eyes came up to encounter his, then looked away just as fast. "What…What is it?"
"I've…I got you something for your birthday," he thrust the paper-bound package out toward her as though making an offering to a goddess. She accepted it with apprehensive hands, not knowing what to say.
"You didn't have to," she replied slowly at last, measuring each word carefully. Their eyes met again, and she saw the pain in his, thinking that she was rejecting him. He had grown quite attractive in the years since they'd met, and in the amber illumination she noticed it quite clearly, making the rouge on her face deepen.
"But thanks," she added as she tore the paper away and looked down at the small thing left in her hands. Leather, cracked and peeling back from worn binding, letters sunken into the material, the fancy silvered embroidering coming away. She turned it carefully over and back again, then opened the cover, reading what was printed there.
"A book on necromancy? But I hear these are rare…" Mara's look settled to Jeremy, who nodded. There was finally a name for what his abilities were, and now that he knew, he wished to share.
"Yes, they are, I got that one from a merchant who asked a low price for it. I looked through it first before I got it, and I read the contents. I know what all of this is now, what I can do. This book…It can teach you, too, if you pay careful attention to it." His hands quested forth and lay themselves across hers, and her heart stirred warmly in her chest and began to pound.
"This is a wonderful gift," Mara smiled, and he grinned in return. A new connection was forged between them.
In her lonesome corner, shrouded by shadow, Melana watched with widened eyes. Her whisper, seemingly to herself, went unheard by the gamboling children nearby. She had overheard the conversation, and a wan hand tightened on the arm of the chair she sat on.
"This…This cannot be…Not again, no…"
Summer's heat hung oppressively, thickly in the air as twilight settled its blanket across the bleeding sky, and Mara sat in front of the hearth again, wrapping the wings of her cloak more tightly around herself, trying to stave away the chill. Despite the longer and warmer days, nights in Moldera still brought a nip to them, and she disliked the feeling.
Jeremy had gone off once more, taking another travel that he'd informed them all would be brief, two weeks or so, and a week had already plodded by. As much as she sometimes disliked small children, she was left to care for them, and as she started to open her book, she heard the sound of breaking glass from a room behind her, followed by a wail. She growled out a low note of frustration and unsettled herself, striding to the source.
The children had been playing in Melana's room again, as they had often been scolded not to. As she made her way to the doorway the guilty parties streaked away past either side of her skirts, and she could see that a vase once righted on the end-side table had been overturned and was now in shining pieces on the floor.
"Gods damn," she swore, stooping to look at the fragments, anger etched into her brow. How many times have I told the little brats not to be in here?
Before she moved to pick up the pieces, however, she noticed that they had also been rifling about in Melana's drawers as well; clothes were scattered about and Mara felt the need to grab the wooden paddle that hung by the front door.
With a sigh, she gathered the first few sharp pieces in her palm. The small drawer in the end-side table was opened too, and she felt a surge in her own childish wonder. Forgetting the broken vase for a second, she placed a questing hand inside and encountered something soft, yet firm. She withdrew the object and found it to be a book, much like the one she wrote in, and she flipped it open, looking to the scrawling handwriting that stretched across the lines on the pages.
Melana's diary…The realization hit, and she placed it on the floor, hurrying to take up the dangerous shards before anyone noticed she had the private book. Once she was certain all of the vase was in her hand, she threw away the bits and put the room to rights again.
Before going out to discipline the little monsters that had made the mess, she tucked the diary away in the folds of her pockets.
Warring ink sketches, a child's doodles, battled for space on the page; all was still with the exception of the occasional snore from a dreaming child or the whine of a floorboard. She had sparked the hearth with new life, and now sat consumed in its illumination, trying to decipher the young woman's flowing writing. The diary had opened with a first passage many years before, and she guessed the date to be a several years before she had been born.
"I am fifteen summers old," Mara's mouth moved to whisper the opening lines of the narrative, "and I have dreams of being a healer. Mama has asked Langa, the village healer, if she'll teach me simple spells, and she has agreed. I am so excited!" Raising a brow, Mara's upper lip curled as she continued on. Had Melana really once been so innocent and simple? She turned the page and started to read on; finding what was there boring, she turned several pages at once, watching as the next two years recorded in the diary passed in a blink.
Finally, her hands halted, and she stopped to read what had been written as one winter's bleak entry. "This morning a great tragedy has happened…I am at Grandmother's home now. I'm in sorrow and shock. Mama and Papa are gone…Killed by raiders that Grandmother has called 'necromancers.' They are evil!"
Evil…Blood turned to ice, and her heart stopped. How could that be? Jeremy had seemed so pleased to discover what secret powers he had; the book he had given her had called the art something to be admired, a thing of might and power. Her search became quick, and she turned several pages at once, jumping forward several years, then a decade, then two. The entries grew more sporadic, and she scanned them with large, intent eyes.
Then, another entry that caught her attention, and she sat reading, rapt. "I found today a basket left on my doorstep. I suspect it's from the village I left years ago…I shall name the little boy I found inside in honor of my late brother, Jeremy. There is something odd about him, something almost ethereal…"
"Mara." The cracked tone belonged to a crone thousands of years old; the young girl turned with a gasp, unaware that she had been watched all that time. Melana stood as a pillar made of immovable stone, her eyes burning through her own. "I see you found my diary. Tell me, child, did you enjoy reading it?"
"Melana." Her mouth had become dry, and she licked at her lips, feeling her center starting to pound, making the edges of the room grow hazy with her fright. There was something about the way the woman was looking to her that made her innards wax chill in dread, and as she stood to back away from the advancing figure, Melana continued, her inflection expressionless.
"That's right, Mara. Necromancers killed my family when I was a young girl. Not that much older than you. I stood there and watched them do it, take my parents' and brother's lives away for sport. I saw their blood flow, heard them scream. When I found Jeremy, something inside me told me he was unnatural, but I hadn't the heart to take his life. I thought that if I could raise him, guide him, he could be different. But the years have gone by, and I see now that in spite of my efforts, there was no saving the two of you. If I let you both go on living, you'll turn out just like the ones that took away the happy existence I once had." Melana was only a few feet away from her now, and in the crimson light Mara viewed a flash of silver.
"You're mad," she choked out, her stare fixed on the shimmering weapon the older female carried. Melana shook her head as she came a few steps closer, and a terrible leer broke her lips apart to display flashing teeth.
"I am no more mad than you are natural," she countered, and it was then that the fourteen year old understood that there could be but two options. She could flee, or she could remain where she was and let the old woman bring harm to her. In an instant, she had fled as fast as her legs could work in the direction of the front door. She flung it open, and ran into the dark without a lantern to guide her, stumbling over her skirts and feeling liquid lava, her tears, scald her eyes. She was a terrified little child again, going blindly through the snow, unsure where to go, what to do, her life in danger…
"Mara! I want to talk to you!" The horrid scream cut through the night air like the dagger Melana wielded, and she stopped still, the blood pounding in her ears. The blackness around her swirled like a tide pool, threatening to suck her thoughts into it and render her dumb and helpless. The moonlight streaked the tall, waving grass, providing just enough light to see that she was no longer alone in the presence of a madwoman.
"Jeremy! Help me!" Mara could discern that it was indeed her friend, back from his sojourn by the way his gait fell, the walk and form she had grown fond of. She could see him halt, then break into a run, trying to come to her aid. She knew he was home a week earlier than scheduled, but had no time to think on what could have brought him. She was so intent on him that she didn't know Melana had drawn close enough to pounce, and as the woman's bulk slammed into her own, both were thrown to the ground, grappling, the dagger flashing in the confusion and hysteria. Screaming was drowned in the flood of life-fluid that roared and cried in her ears, and she was hardly aware of Jeremy joining the fray, his own weapon drawn and plunging throughout the masses that moved with a snake-like grace in the anonymous dark.
A groan, and the rest was silence. Mara opened her eyes, the tears flowing, to realize that she was on her back, gazing up into the grey wisps of the summer clouds, the moon staring back at her as it shed its light. All around her was deathly still as she perceived the dead weight and the sticky warmth across the lower half of her body; she sat up and realized the woman was dead, Jeremy's dagger having delivered the last blow.
The young man himself was no place to be seen at first, then she discovered him as her ears picked up on his soft, heart-tearing sobs. She stood on wobbling legs and tripped through the ebony to find him, and she encountered him leaning heavily on the side of the cottage, his frame nearly bent double in grief's agony.
"Jeremy," she lay a hand on his shoulder, and he jerked as though slapped; she pulled her hand away, horrified both by his cries and the enormity of what had just happened. "Jeremy, oh gods…" Mara could feel the renewed vigor of her own sorrow and terror, and through her own melancholy, she could make out that he was speaking, trying to tell her through hiccoughing breaths and heaving sighs something of import.
"Mara, I…I was ou-out, and I heard so-so many things. Th-They, everyone I met, all regarded me as they did when I was a boy, like I was something unholy. They all know I'm different! I know now that I'm ev-evil, just because of what I was born as. Don't you see? Look what I just did!" The sentence ended in a howl of such despair that Mara could feel for herself the abysmal depths of it, and once again she sought to comfort him.
"Jeremy, she was mad. She thought we were like the people that killed her family, when we're not. We haven't done anything wrong! Melana was an…accident. We…we can…Get rid of her and not tell the kids where she's gone and what happened. It'll be okay."
"N-No," Jeremy's breath fairly sobbed from his shuddering body, "we can't just…Pretend like this never happened. I wanted to come home tonight, Mara. Come home early and tell you that we need to stop practicing this magic. It'll only lead to trouble, I heard stories of what they do to people like us, people like me that are…" He allowed the words to die, and she saw then in the white light that he had been battered; she recalled then that there had been something different in the way he moved when he'd come rushing.
"Jeremy, what happened to you? What did---," Mara broke off in shock as she saw the red streams that stained his clothes and streaked his puffed eyelids; lacerations were plain on his arms, exposed where his sleeves had been torn.
"I…" he puffed out a breath, and slumped fluidly into a sitting position, his back to the wooden wall, "I stopped earlier tonight and found a little girl…She had a puppy, and it…She was crying. I felt so badly that she had lost her pet, and so I brought it back, like I did that sparrow, like I did…you. But I didn't realize that people would see and react like they did. They all hunted me down like a dog, and…" In the pure moonlight, she viewed his eyelids flicker, butterflies on the wing, and his head dropped, a scarlet stream flowing from his lips.
"No, please, don't…" Mara was on her knees alongside, shaking him gently, sensing budding panic spreading its ugly petals across her center. "Don't leave me. What will we do? The children still here, and Melana…We need to--."
His reply came in bursts, made from straggling breath. She could hear his lungs rattle, and into the black atmosphere there were streaks of light, spiraling upward, emanating like steam from his broken body. She trembled, greatly upset and shaken.
"The villagers will come for the children…I caught some of what they said as they…did this. You have to leave. You know too much of what they killed me for."
"Jeremy, the light, coming from you and going into the sky, what is it?"
"You're finally gaining…skill as a necromancer….My energy, my spirit…Mara…I-I love you…"
She buried her head in his shoulder, feeling him start to grow cool with the caressing summer breeze. Near dawn, she gathered what she had, and departed with the first soft light of the new day.
Evening, and she peered up into it, squinting to catch the distant light of the cold heavenly bodies. The past few years had been a great and terrible hardship, and again without rupees, she was reminded of her wandering and emotionless childhood, ages before. She had changed since then, could feel in her heart the emotions wither and die. Human beings, disgusting creatures had made her life the hell it now was. She despised them.
"Jeremy, can you hear me from the Void?" she mused aloud, sitting on the grassy knoll as she looked up into the black, and as she shut her eyes, a vertigo swept over her enough to make her sick. Again and again, people had revealed their true intentions to her, and even those that professed a closeness could turn foul and traitorous. Into the gentle breeze that ruffled the tendrils of her reddish-saffron locks, she could hear again the deep, sonorous timbre, authoritative and commanding. She could feel the world around her grow still and hold its breath, and the voice echoed through the corridors of her mind, reminding, prodding.
She could hear spirits from time to time now, and she sat immobile, listening to the tone.
"Mara...It is me. It has been a long time. Hardship has visited you, I feel. So much hate toward people. They've all used and wronged you." A dark and rolling laugh, like a storm coming in from the windswept sea. "But I feel that you're ready now to face what you must in life."
"Who are you?" she questioned aloud calmly, forgetting that she could speak inside her mind to whatever it was that now visited her. "You taunted me years ago. Tell me who you are!"
She was nearly swept away by sheer astonishment as the dim figure became strong and vibrant in her mind's eye, the wings she had seen years before stretching out mightily, the muscles rippling under a tawny coat. Piercing eyes that were striking, bold and fierce; the creature had noble bearing, looking down its beak and straight at her as though she stood in front of it.
"A griffin…" she breathed, realizing at once the thing for what it was, and the dignified head nodded an affirmation. Her center nearly leapt from her chest, and she had the urge to stand up, see and touch this magnificent being, all the while aware that it was in the spirit realm.
"Now you see…But our paths won't cross for several more years yet. Find the country called Hyrule, and seek out the royal family. Destiny awaits you."
Just as suddenly as it had been seeming flesh, it faded away into grave dust and vanished. Her eyes opening, Mara placed a hand to her throbbing forehead and exhaled. Hyrule? That was miles from where she now sat!
"Nonsense," she muttered aloud, her expression becoming hard. "What good will that do? It can't bring my happiness back, or…Jeremy…"
The griffin was back for a flickering instant, a warning in her mind so intense that she cried out, pressing a hand to her bursting cranium.
"Do as I say, Mara! Bring me from this realm of torment, and I shall help you live forever. Become immortal, and you can take your revenge on the humanity that has harmed you, use them as they used you!"
Quietly, she stood then, her resolve strengthened.
I have suffered. So too shall they…
In the last gasps of twilight, the turrets to the Hyrulian castle glimmered. Small specks she supposed were guards milled about it, and she tightened her hold on the healing volume she held tucked in the crook of her arm. So easy to play the benefactress, the creature of light and joy. Pitifully simple to come into the royals' service as a well-meaning servant. So joyful it would be, so sweet, to interrupt and damage their happy, rich, well-fed lives! As she began down into the darkened valley, the first dimness of night spilling across the wafting grasses, her lip turned to a grimace of disgust. It had taken her years of travel, studying, and finally she was here, in the land called Hyrule.
Time for my fate to unravel…
Reaching into the black folds of her heavy traveling cloak, she ferreted out the comforting mass of the necromancy book and held it tightly.
I will become immortal…
My hate shall live forever…
My night has fallen.
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