Red on his hands, red on his clothes, red all over him, red all over the grass and on the trees and even some on the rock structure nearby. It spreads slowly across the ground like an oil spill in water, dark and thick and coating everything it touched with lurid murky shades and a harsh gleaming on the surface. It spread, and it ruined everything it touched, contaminating it.
He looked up and saw the death scattered around him, corpses lining around himself and the man in his arms. Nothing else moved unless a breeze shifted the cloth armor that adorned the rapidly decaying bodies (bodies that decayed unnaturally fast, far quicker than anything of this world should, seeming to turn into mere ash in a matter of minutes before his very eyes). Eventually, the only things that remained were himself, the man, and the sullied garb the...creatures...had worn.
That, and the red.
Slowly, reluctantly, he looked back down and tried to ignore the red that absolutely blanketed everything, finally focusing on the man in his lap. The body was young, somewhere in its twenties, wrinkles only just beginning to mark its slackened face... Eyes glazed and drying out, the film covering the surface stiffening and making it difficult and unbearable to decipher the coloring.
Clenching his eyes shut in an attempt to block out the world, the gruesome image remained in his mind's eye, hands clenching around the man's dark blue tunic tightly.
He...really shouldn't be grasping so desperately at a corse (really shouldn't be touching it at all, actually), but despite knowing that, he held the body all the tighter, as if someone might physically rip it away from him. Something deep inside himself, a niggling feeling that had no name, insisted that the man was safe. Familial. Paternal. Father.
"Link, stay behind me, okay? It'll all be over soon."
A reassuring blue eye peered over a shoulder before attacking the monsters that had ambushed them in earnest.
A (toy?) wooden sword in his (tiny tiny tiny) hands as he desperately stabs a lizard-like creature in the eye, his aim true despite the terror, blood spurting onto his hand and staining on his shirt. The thing writhes and recoils away, stumbling before falling off the edge of the nearby drop off. It had crept up behind them to kill them while the older man was distracted with the obvious threat.
The fading shriek of the lizard-thing was enough to make the man falter and turn, letting the another monster take the chance to attack, though mortally wounded themselves. The monsters are gone now, but there is no feeling of victory while watching the life fade from the blue-eyed man's eyes, bleeding out on Link's lap and being helpless to do anything, the gore covered sword still in his trembling grasp.
Wetness ran down his cheeks and he wilted, crumpling into himself and over the husk of a man that he never even knew, couldn't truly remember knowing. His shoulders quaked and quivered uncontrollably, nausea rolling in the pit of his stomach with chill, as if he had swallowed cold stones. Link felt so physically ill, like he had committed the worst mistake of his life with the terrible doubt of not-knowing if he had made the right choice looming over him. He felt so small, so helpless, vision tunneling and dread devouring him whole from the inside-out. Link wasn't wailing or screaming, didn't make much noise at all beyond gasping breaths and quiet whimpers. It was choking him, the fear and the terrible, looming sense of failure. Trembles continuing to rack his fragile frame as if on a high dosage of albuterol (he didn't know what that was, but the comparison came so very easily, images of a white room and white bedsheets, and being awoken every hour on the hour to breath in air from a machine through the plastic mask, hands shaking nonstop and being unable to breathe—).
The tears weren't something he could control or help, just came from somewhere deep within that somehow knew it had lost something significant, even if he didn't remember or understand why he felt that way.
Nothing made sense anymore, what was one more thing in the face of it all?
A roughly-hewn wooden bowl heavily bounced against the ground with a muted thump-pa-bump, before scrapping away more clay-dirt mixture. Tiny hands covered in dust and blisters lifted the makeshift bowl away from the crude trench to the large pile of dirt, assorted stones, and hardening clay. It was getting more difficult to dig any further, it being already about a meter deep, and being already so exhausted made it harder to throw stones at the stupidly-persistent birds that kept trying to peck at the man.
Also, any deeper, and he might have just dug his own grave instead.
Slowly, exhaustedly, Link heaved himself over the lip of the oblong hole and fell over to lie down. The sky seemed to spin and tilt lopsidedly, tall pine trees looking as if they were bending and swaying unnaturally without a sound, and he blinked lethargically, eyes falling in and out of focus.
He really, really started to hate that color.
With a strained heave and a burn in his stomach, the blonde got to his aching feet and stumbled over to the man, standing over the corpse and staring down at it. At first, said stare was blank, not even really registering what he was seeing, spinning a little in place on unsteady legs as a dizzy spell came and went. Pawing at his eyes with a grubby hands, Link blinked hard several times before turning to look at the body again, as if noticing for the first time. He hadn't thought much of how the man had died or how those other creatures had died, just had mostly been operating on autopilot, giving himself one simple task before another in avoidance of another uncontrollable breakdown. He just accepted that they were dead and responsible for all the red. And that he was here, alone with them. Er, it, rather... The rest of the bodies had disintegrated into ash, right.
Link wondered how heavy the body was, consider how much larger it was than his tiny form at the moment... Probably lighter than it would be without that shield and sword in its hands, clasped in a literal death grip.
(it's not grave robbing if there is no grave)
He stuck the large broadsword with all his might into the churned ground as far as it could go to mark the spot and settled the shield on top of the mound. He couldn't exactly bring them with himself, wasn't completely sure how to use them even if he could, and they belonged to the man anyway. Something to mark the place as its own... And in any case, once he wiped off the wooden sword on the grass, he had his own minuscule defense. Hopefully it would be enough to bide him time to escape should something dangerous appear.
Taking in the scene in from of him, Link couldn't help but feel that it was almost symbolic to bury the man beside an ancient structure that looks like a shrine of some sort... He supposed that he might have been religious (was religious?) at one point, but everything seemed so blurry and faraway. All he knew for sure was that it felt right for him to do this, right for him to honor the dead. The man had been alive like Link, and on that merit alone he would respect what was left of the man, even if said man was stranger that somehow felt like family. Actually, probably especially because the man felt like family.
Adjusting the straps of the man's hip-pouch over one shoulder like a messenger bag, Link walked away from the red and the grave. Armed with only the pouch which contained some rations, a canteen, and a map that he had poured over earlier, wishing longingly for a compass. He had also discovered a scroll, found stuffed in his pants leg earlier when he had stood up to dig the grave. And what a scroll it was! Much more likened to a poster in it's size, it didn't seem too important, but his eyes weren't very discerning in concerns of value, as just a few moments earlier, he had used a wooden bowl that he had scavenged from the surrounding area (so many wood utensils strewn about, like those creatures had ambushed him and the man as they had settled down to have lunch on the stone flooring in front of the shrine; food scattered, crushed, and ruined with specks of blood and dirt) to dig a grave of all things.
He fiddled with the scroll idly, mulling over if he should place it in the satchel or return it to its place secured under the waistband of his shorts. It had an official seal in a navy blue wax, the color under the sea where everything was muted and faint, far away and not-red (it was "his" and he was fond of the color, so he kept it). With much deliberation, Link replaced it under his shirt and partially inside his pants, figuring that if it worked before it would work now as a hiding spot. And if he really wanted to later, it could always be used as a walking stick...
(...what was he hiding it from again? He knew he needed to protect it, but from what? What was so important that the older man would die to guard it from monsters?)
In any case, it was time to move on, so the Hylian child headed towards his best guess at civilization: those two strange and glorious structures, if such a piece of craftsmanship could be called something so mundane, posted beside a bridge. There was a breath-taking view from the shrine, and prominently featured was the two diamond-shaped (watch?) towers with spires on the top. It actually looked a bit like a giant lance had been driven into the ground, leaving the top half, guard, and handle be the only parts shown. Link gazed down at his destination, eyes lidded in muted-appreciation, having had several hours to drink in the sight already. Even still, despite having grown slightly accustomed to the view, Link could only a humbling sense of awe at the sight before him.
The two pillars seem far too ethereal to have been made by the clumsy hands of man, towering far above the bridge side they flanked, like a check point or a greeting gate. Wrought of stone granite and luminous fluorescent crystals (blue fluorite? but how could it shine like that in the middle of the day? ultraviolet lighting maybe...? but no, that needed darkness too...) of colossal proportions gave the pair a weighty feel, both in their presence and their literal monumental size easily giving them a mass of several elephants, or around seventy tons at least. Each. It was a wonder that the base didn't just snap under the substantial weight, being slimmer on the bottom than the top.
Link wondered what it looked like at night or on dark, overcast days... and wanted to see it for himself, despite the very real danger of possible night-creatures if he remained, but a close up view would have to do for the moment, provided that he figure out a way to reach the bridge.
Only a meter or so away from the shrine and grave was a steep drop-off, far too dangerous for tiny little Link who couldn't possibly be any older than three at most. Still, just how did he and the man from before reach the shrine, if not from there? Maybe around the back? But how could that be, when large rock formations surrounded along the sides...? He didn't have much choice between the two, but climbing up had to be safer than climbing down, especially as the journey up would be a smaller distance than the climb down would be.
Studious checking around the shrine revealed that on the left side of it was a rock formation that tapered off and was lower on that particular side. With a bit of scrambling in the tight crevice between the two boulders as leverage for his right foot and with his left providing counter pressure, he clambered on top of the first boulder without too much of a struggle. The second, and last, one didn't have another surface for him to cicada-block his way up. The side, however, was more of a forty-five degree slope which Link could scamper up with no problem, bits of gravel sliding under his cloth-shoes and rolling down with tiny clatters.
He didn't look to see where they went.
Reaching the top almost felt anticlimactic, but he would much rather have that than it being panic-inducing. In fact, he was praying that the rest of his detour around the mountainside to the bridge would continue to be as uneventful as possible. Leveling up could wait until later after a tutorial or something.
(Link frowned at that strange train of thought, a memory niggling in the back of his mind, frantic and urgent, as if this was all painfully familiar in the worst way possible... but just like before with the word albuterol, he dismissed the thought as unimportant for the moment, something for future-Link to worry about... which made the feeling even worse, something about a hypothetical future Link...?)
Everything seemed to be going downhill from there, in the literal and not figurative sense. Link carefully sat on the grass and butt-scooted down the steeper parts, as the image of him losing his balance and tumbling face first into a tree or bush wouldn't leave him alone. It also prevented him from running down the rest of it, making him take his time.
He knew to use the sun as a marker, the skill came long with the impression of trying to earn a badge and moss on tree bark (although for what purpose was beyond him at the moment). The skill along with his fairly good sense of direction, kept him from getting turned around in the woods, he just needed to keep heading left until he got around the mountain... Skittering down the steep hill, he tried to keep himself pointed in the general direction of the slowly beginning to set sun. With roughly three hours until twilight, he estimated and really wanted to be either on the dirt path he spotted earlier or somewhere by the river bank, if the bridge didn't prove promising. Before night fell when more of those...creatures...began to stir and other dangerous things crawled out of the woodwork.
Because he knew without a doubt in his mind that he wouldn't stand a chance against anything in his condition; scrawny, weary, and dazed. That he would die before the night ended if he didn't have some form of shelter in the form of an inaccessible bolt hole or a place not easily spotted. That the red he despised so much would be the very last color he would ever see if Link didn't find help and quickly.
So, the Hylian child pressed on, kept walking even when his shoulder ached from carrying the satchel, even when blisters formed on his moccasined feet from the fabric soles that weren't meant for long walks. Throat parched and rasping, vision stinging from tears and snot accidentally rubbed into eyes, hands throbbing from hard labor of digging a shallow grave with only a lacquered bowl as a tool... There's a splinter in the fleshy webbing of his thumb that he doesn't dare dig out for fear of aggravating it and encouraging infection.
There came a point where nothing felt real anymore. Pain became muted and distant, the throbbing dulled as he kept moving forward. Step after step after step after step. His body wasn't his body, just shell, and he observed, as if from a distance, everything seem to meld into itself. Trees and bushes into smudges of green and brown. Stones and rock into spots and spatterings of grey. The sky visible, but not the focus, perhaps it was blue, but he doesn't know anymore; it didn't matter. Link walked on the barely-there road and continued to trudge along it, pebbles and the sharp corners of rocks easily felt through the soles of what amount to slippers.
(it made sense, he reflected, that his shoes would be so flimsy, as the-he-who-was-him-before-he-was-he would have been carried by his father(?) or riding on a horse... Link wondered if the hypothetical horse got away or it had been eaten, since he hadn't exactly been able to track where hoof prints led, if there were any to be had, or what distinguished what prints from before or after the ambush...)
He just kept walking and walking and walking, forward forward forward. It all came automatically now; even when he tripped, he only stumbled forwards to keep going, legs moving of their own violation. His mind was quiet and no thoughts moved through it, the passage of time seeming meaningless. Senses dulled and slow.
It took him several long minutes to identify it, the meaning of the noise having being temporarily forgotten. And he continues to walk there, head tilted back lazily as he frowns in a squinty sort of way at the sun, mind churning sluggishly to properly register what he's hearing. And when he does, Link just about burst into tears again and wasted no time in racing towards it, the sheer relief returning life to him for the time being.
It's the sound of rushing water.
Sprinting, stumbling down, the barely-there path that vague passed as a road, past a simple sign that looked like it would break apart any minute to the river's edge. The bank is deep but the slope isn't too sharp of an incline, so Link goes down as far as he dares before eagerly washing his face, panting heavily from the exertion and his head hot, to remove as much of the red and dirt as he can, lingering not on his unfamiliar features. There's no use for inner-reflection, only survival.
But it bothered him.
It all bothers him because it's all so wrong. He's so confused and his head hurts, feels like it's breaking in twain. Feels like he's sitting against the door in a large murky room where the air is heavy. And someone is hammering at the door, making every knock echo in a hollow sort of way and his body almost reverberate in time with each resounding meaty pound. He feels the fear like he has something to hide or is about to discover something he shouldn't. Like he's about to be caught red-handed, hand hovering just barely above the fire alarm.
(what is a fire alarm? he doesn't know, but there's a loud buzzing clattering and grinding sound, or rather the impression of such like a faraway memory, in his head now too along with the pounding and he groans lowly to himself, craddling his aching and throbbing head in too-tiny pulsating hands; his heart thumps as sluggishly-but-loud as a giant rolling drum, and his whole body pulses to following in time to the beat, like a bad bruise... he just wants it all to stop...)
He hastily moves to standup, but only finds that he cannot. Nothing wants to move and his head spins slowly. He needs to rest if he wants to actually get anywhere. Pushing himself so hard is reckless and just stupid. He's only three, no matter how close to being four he feels like he is.
So, he takes the time to really look at his surroundings, and think about his next move, resting by the river's edge and trying to ignore how the sun steadily moved closer to the horizon... Just around the river bend, he can sort of make out the large stone-and-crystal watchtowers and a massive rock-pile-thing blocking the way. The sight of climb he would have to make before reaching goal is enough to make him groan out loud and let loose a half-sob. It makes him feel tired just from looking at it, not to mention the walk to get from where he was seated to even just the bottom of the mound of large boulders blocking the way. Still, he manage to rise onto his protesting feet and make the attempt.
Link's fortunate, for erosion makes the angles not as sharp as they could have been and he can pick out a pathway leading near the top. It's smooth and crumbly and not something he'd normally climb if he could get away with it, but he's not entirely sure he can swim, especially not against a current no matter how slow it was at the time. Reaching the crest of the seemingly mountainous hill, breathing labored, Link finally stares ahead where the road crumbles from the rock mound he just climbed into another dirt trail continuing on towards the bridge.
He had done it; he was practically there. It's all a gentle slope downhill, and he thinks he can see a couple people by the bridge!
Except...Except they aren't really people as he knows them, covered in scales and fins swaying gently when they walk and gleaming dark armor and long silver spears. It's too late to run, and honestly it's amazing that he's even still standing upright on his beginning-to-bleed blistered feet. They already know Link's there, and watch him hesitantly, murmuring quietly amongst themselves and trying to decide what to do next. None of them move to act or approach, so the pint-sized hylian only eyes them equally as cautiously, unsure whether to label them as a threat or not. He had never seen something like them before, but they didn't exactly inspire fear. They didn't ooze malicious intent like the nightmarish phantom-memories of those lizard monsters did, had done...
Link was alone, weak, and terribly outnumbered; clearly, he wouldn't stand a chance if the fishmen wanted to do anything to him. And somehow, despite everything, these people, too, felt familiar the way the man had. So on a hunch, he gave weary wave, exhaustion dripping from his frame.
He had been right, the fishmen (Zora, a tiny voice within himself corrected quietly) knew him, against all odds.
One asked him questions of all kinds and while the other fretted over the blood that stained his form. Link... didn't know how to answer them, couldn't find the words to explain what little he knew. He ended up taking out the scroll and tapping at the official-looking wax seal wordlessly. The Zora guards stared back, completely at a loss, before looking at each other helplessly. Eventually, it had been decided that one of them would escort him to the Zora domain immediately while the other remained standing guard in case other Hylians appeared.
The stronger swimmer was the one to carry him, recognizing the utter exhaustion that weighs Link down. The scroll is stored in a waterproof pouch and Link tied securely to the Zora's back, all he has to do is hold on tight and remember to hold his breath when they reach waterfalls. The water seems to freeze with the night approaching and the wind from how fast they were moving whipping against him, making him chilly and his hands stiff with cold. Link feels numb and empty, so the chill is welcome, giving him something to focus on. He's just so tired, but the day wasn't yet done; for the moment Link's feet touch solid ground, he was instantly led up a set of stairs, a smooth scaly hand gently holding his tiny one...
Which brings him to the present, where he's being stared down as he stands in front of possibly the largest person Link had ever seen in his life.