The sun was just beginning her journey into the pale, scorched sky; the holy valley held the shadows of night tight in her stony hands. Poes drifted from from memorial spire to monument headstone, occasionally stopping to chitchat with one and other, to themselves, or to no one at all. They went about their routine seamlessly, just like they had every day before for decades; some for centuries.
The golden light of morning slid over the cliff top and upon the stone relief over the entrance to the Shrine of the Fierce Goddess; the translucent desert marble glowed in the shadowy gloom. The entryway, still frigid from the windswept night, slowly illuminated as sunlight poured into the valley.
From the temple entrance a tiny green-clad Poe came zipping, whirling and giggling with glee. "Oh my Goddesses! So exciting-- so excited!" she squealed, embers spilling and spiraling from her lantern as she spun recklessly through the air.
The narrow valley was full of grave markers of all shapes, sized and materials. One specific mausoleum was the source of the little poe's attentions; an open gazebo of white marble, aged shrouds tied around the narrow pillars to block out casual peeping eyes and the twisting winds that managed to get into the valley.
"Wake up, wake up! It's time to wake up!" the Poe squealed, passing through the shrouds and diving toward a makeshift bed. She grabbed the top blanket and yanked it away.
The bedding below-- several layers of fraying woven grass mats-- was unoccupied.
"Oh land, life and law, he's gone!" she squeaked. "I lost the Prince!"
"Ghola? I'm right here," came a voice from behind her.
In the center of the small mausoleum, sitting calmly in lotus position, was a young Gerudo boy. His only scrap of clothing was a loincloth, but his ears were lined with golden hoops and studs, and a gold and ruby ornamental crown rested on his forehead. He rolled his eyes at the frantic poe.
"I thought I'd lost you!" The tiny poe, Ghola, squeaked, "she woulda killed me if I lost THE PRINCE!"
"You're already dead, you can't..." he started to explain, but stopped as he noticed that she wasn't listening. She continued to wail and lament her imagined punishment.
He stretched his legs, leaned back and watched her gestures and flailings for a moment, before turning back to his meditations. Instead of returning to the lotus, he rolled backwards onto his shoulders and lifted his feet further and further over his head until his toes rested on the ground. As his weight shifted, the crowd slipped off his forehead, thin golden chains slithering to the floor. He grunted in frustration.
"But I found you! Yay! No one gets in trouble and we can both go see Maman!" Ghola concluded.
"Maman?" He swung his legs back over his head and pushed himself upward, landing on his feet. He didn't stay on his feet, however; gravity and his thin, gawky body conspired against him, and he landed unceremoniously on his rump.
"Ow! Every time," he muttered.
"S'cause your so tall. You were this tall once," Ghola said, sinking to a foot from the floor. She dipped down and grabbed the crown before rushing upward and draping the chains into his unruly hair, "But now you're this tall, big gangly Gangrel.
He ducked away from her tiny hands, quickly sorting out the chains and replacing the ornament upon his forehead. "Don't call me that in front of Maman," he said sternly as he grabbed his pants from the foot of the bed and pulled them on.
"Why, are you embarrassed? Gang-grel?" Ghola teased.
"No, I'm not. I like my name, it's the only one I've got, but Maman ordered me not to leave the valley. Falon's ranch is definitely out of the valley, and 'gangrel' is not exactly a respectable name for a Prince," he snipped playfully, fastening his belt.
"Oh Goddesses, you're right! She's gonna be so mad if I mess up!" Ghola gasped, hiding her face in her hands.
Gangrel slipped his boots on, shook his head, tossed the curtain aside and headed out of the gazebo.
"Okay! I promise I won't mess up at all, okay? Gangrel?" Ghola said, bobbing confidently, then looking around the empty room. "Gangrel, where'd you go?! You need to eat before we go!"
"Are you coming, or not?" He called.
The Gerudo Prince ran his dark hands along the cool, softly glowing stone hall. Ghola floated along behind him, watching motes dance in the slim beams of light that drifted from the ceiling. To either side of the main hall stairways wound up to private chambers, long empty. There was an alter between the stairs, and beyond that a long torchlit hall, extending deep, deep into the mountain.
"Wow," Gangrel whispered, "I've never seen the temple lit up before. It's a lot bigger than I thought."
"The temple is way bigger than what you see here," Ghola said, lowering her lantern. "There are small prayer halls, sleeping chambers, store rooms and if you keep going down the hall you come to the temple proper. Those lanterns haven't been lit in like ten years. The Poes don't need them, and normals like you aren't allowed any further, so I wonder why..."
"Normals? I am the future King of the Gerudo, I can go where I want," Gangrel informed her.
"You're not a priestess, so no you can't. Only a follower of the Fierce Goddess can enter." Ghola gave a loud raspberry to the indignant prince. "The memories and memorials to Gerudo come and gone are locked within. The secret to entering the temple proper died with the last acolyte. She took up all her courage and for that the Fierce Wolf spared her, but then there was light, and She died. Her secrets were buried in no grave, lost to the dust."
"Ghola, are you... Wait, did you say wolf?"
The tiny poe spun in a circle and bobbed cheerily, "am I what? Courageous and amazing? Yes. I am."
"Y-you didn't really see a wolf, right? It was an illusion, or a dream... It had to be."
"Of course I didn't see a wolf, I wasn't there-- She was, and She did, but She's dead now," she said, twirling her lantern and throwing shadows across the halls. "Maman, there you are!"
Gangrel wasn't able to inquire further before a husky chuckle fell upon his ears as Maman materialized beside him. An enormous poe, easily as tall as the eleven year old Prince and-- lanky as he was-- many times as wide. Her tattered robe had once been of the same sage green as Ghola, but the centuries of ceaseless existing had faded her very essence, making her seem pale. A glimmer-y golden sheen of a crown, similar to Gangrel's own, rested on her shadow-hued brow.
"My Prince," she said, bowing low, "Sister Ghola."
"Maman," he replied, bowing lower.
She swatted the back of his head, nearly loosing his crown again. "A king bows to no one-- how many times must I tell you?"
"For as long as you are my Maman," he replied, looking up at her.
"Humility does not suit a king, you must be strong and stalwart-- but I can not be mad at you," she replied, her thin, bony hand brushing his hair back. "My handsome little Prince. You have said your prayers today, yes? You practiced the holy steps?"
"Of course Maman," he said.
Her eyes burned dim, and her face, though so dark as to be featureless at a distance, was full of concern, and sorrow, and agelessness. "You remember the tenets?"
"Of course, Maman."
"The Three Goddesses created all," he recited. "They gave us life, the land and the laws. It is our duty to use our skills to protect these sacred things. Those with courage must do all they can. Those with wisdom must teach all they know. Those with power must protect all without. Strive to have these holy attributes. There is no sin in fear, only cowardice. There is no sin in foolishness, only ignorance. There is no sin in failure, only surrender."
"Hold them in your heart, my Prince, the kings of the past forgot them..." Maman said, placing her pitch black hand over his heart. She closed her eyes and began to chant. "Praise the Goddesses, creators of all--"
Ghola coughed, "uh, Maman? Focus."
"Hmm?" The ancient Poe intoned, looking between the two as though she had forgotten they were there. "Oh, my Prince, good morning, you have said your prayers?"
"I understand the importance of the tenets Maman," Gangrel said, hoping to get her back on topic, "but I'm sure you didn't call me here to hear me quote holy words."
"Yes, yes, I recall now. I have an important task for you-- and urgent task. One that will take you out of the valley, far into the desert. Are you ready to explore your kingdom?
"O-out? B-but you said not to leave the valley-- not until I was an adult," Gangrel said obediently.
"I did, I did." Maman said, her glowing eyes narrowing, "and did you listen to me when I said that?"
Gangrel looked to the side, grimacing, "yes... I listened."
"Did you, Gangrel?" she said. "I know about the goatherd girl, Falon."
His dark cheeks blanched; shame pulled his gaze to the cold, dim floor.
"Oh no! I didn't tell, I swear!" Ghola squeaked, waving her arms. "I promised I wouldn't, and I didn't! Not even a little!"
"I know, I believe you," his eyes turned to the tiny green Poe, and he gave a small smile before turning back to Maman, "I'm sorry Maman. Yes, I listened to you, but I didn't obey you. I tried to stay in the valley's shadow, but once I got into the sun there was so much to see. I had to know what was out there. I made a friend-- and I trust her."
She sighed, a dry and dusty sound. "I will not punish you for curiosity, Prince. I forbade you from leaving for my own well being, as much as for your safety. I worry, greatly, for you my little, little Prince. The world is much bigger, and much harsher, than you know." Her wide, luminescent eyes closed. "I will not punish you for breaking my rules, but time will tell if you will punish yourself for the consequences."
"...Maman?" Gangrel asked softly.
"No, now is not that time," she said. She twirled in the air, summoning her own large, bright lantern. Blackened by time and soot, the lantern was of an older style, different from the oil lamps and candle cages most of the poes carried. Maman twisted the fasteners on the top and opened it, causing the light within to pulse and twist. Holding the lantern with one hand, she reached in with the other and pulled out a long, glowing, indistinct shape-- far longer than the lantern itself. She held the glow out to Gangrel.
"Those with Power must protect those without. Will you accept your duty as a Prince? Will you protect those less powerful?"
"I-I don't have power."
"You are the Prince of the Gerudo, Son of Dragmire. You do have power. How will you use it?" she thrust the light-obscured item toward him again. "Will you protect those who cannot protect themselves?"
Gangrel reached for the proffered items, but hesitated and looked at his own hands for a long moment.
He'd been barely a toddler when he'd last seen another Gerudo-- or so he had been told. They had dark skin and wide eyes, red hair and golden jewelry, just like him, the poes said. The Gerudo villages were always heavy with incense and song. They were happy and peaceful people; studious, strong and brave.
He wanted to say he remembered them; that he remembered something: flashes of color, certain smells, distant voices, anything.
He didn't. He'd never known them. If the words he’d heard outside the valley were true, he never would. He was alone in the world. A boy amongst ghosts.
He remembered fear. He remembered a bright, cold flash and being dropped into the sand, a warm, guiding light and then nothing but growing up in the Memorial Valley.
It made him angry.
It made him furious; a burning hatred festering in his heart toward whomever had done it, whomever had ordered it, for those who had allowed it, for those who hadn't defended themselves, for those that had died and left him alone, for himself not fighting harder-- No.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Violence was not the answer. It was never the answer.
He prayed, for the power to restrain himself, for the courage to keep going, for the wisdom to know that the past couldn't be changed, but the future was open. He pushed the anger down, bottled it up and turned it away.
Opening his eyes, he reached and took the item from her, pulling it close and clasping it in both hands, "I will. I swear, on the sand, the wind and the water, that I will. I will protect those who can not protect themselves. I will be a Prince-- I will be a King-- that you can be proud of."
The glow abated and revealed, clasped in his hands, two swords. Just over a foot each, but so sharp they nearly sang. Etched on the base of the blade was the symbol of the Gerudo and several old Gerudo runes, which meant nothing to him. The hilts were simple time-hardened wood and metal, with long red clothes tied around the blade collar.
He turned his arms and looked at the shining, deadly blades. There was power within the metal.
At his feet the dust began to prickle and sway.
The power to fight.
Power pulsed within him, with his heart beat.
The power to avenge.
The sand gave the power shape, concentric circles of scales dancing around him, crackling with power.
The power to kill.
"No!" He dropped the swords to the stone and stepped back; the dust fell still. "No, I changed my mind, I don't want it!"
With a sharp flash of light, the blades returned to him, materializing in two scabbards hooked to a belt around his waist.
Maman sighed heavily, "it was never truly a choice."
"No, life is sacred, I must protect it, not end it! I'm not a killer!" He screamed, pulling the swords from his belt and discarding them again.
"You made a promise to protect."
They returned, again.
"No, no, no!" he whimpered, this time trying to loose the scabbards themselves from his belt, "I won't be a murderer! I'm not a monster!"
Maman simply watched him struggle, her lantern distinctly dimmer now than before. "You must," she said, and nothing more.
Ghola flew to him, "Gangrel, calm down. Hey, look-- look at me-- look at this," she said, holding up her lantern.
Confused and struggling for composure, he looked the lantern; thin braided leather cords bound a cup of green glass; luminescent smoke drifting over the rim and inside a small, but bright orb of light rolled in slow circles. He stopped struggling with the scabbards and his eyes flickered between the lantern and Ghola.
"Hold out your hands," Ghola said.
Slowly, he brought his hands up, cupped in front of him.
She set the lantern in his hands, letting the unnatural warmth from it soothing his shaken nerves. Floating up to his face, she set a tiny hand on his cheek.
"You don't have to kill anyone. Swords are not for killing, they're for protecting," she said, drifting beside him and stroking his hairline gently.
"I don't have anyone to protect," he whispered.
Gangrel went silent, his eyes falling to the lantern in his hands. It was small, but glowed with a fierce, courageous light.
"For now, you just have to protect yourself," Ghola whispered. "Don't worry, I'll go with you. I'll protect you. I'm good at that."
The lantern was heavy in his hands; he'd known Ghola as long as he could remember. Though silly and somewhat carefree, she was the most lucid poe in the valley, always concerned with his safety and well being. She was protective to the point of annoying, always bugging him to eat more, not to climb on things, not to pick up wild animals and insects, and to not have any fun unless she was involved. Whenever he got out of her sight, he always ended up messing up, or getting hurt, and she would have to clean him up, saying nothing, but never forgetting.
"Yeah, you are," he admitted.
"You mustn't dally, you must go beseech the Goddesses for their blessings," Maman said. "The Great Goddess, the Merciful Goddess and the Fierce Goddess. The Desert Colossus, the Oasis Library and the Memorial Hall."
"He's not a priestess, he won't be able to get into the Hall proper," Ghola said.
"He is the Prince. I imagine the Goddess with make an exception for him," Maman said.
Gangrel stuck his tongue out at Ghola, also holding her lantern out to her; she raspberried back, snatching her light back.
"Children, this is a serious time. Please." She twirled, holding a length of cloth as she came to face him again. She wrapped the cloth over his head and shoulders, "this will protect you, from the heat of the sun, and the chill of the moon. Go now. Pass through the Memorial Hall and speak to the Fierce Goddess. Beyond the hall you will find the Haunted Wasteland. The spirit guide there can take you to the Desert Colossus and the Desert Oasis. Go now, and be safe."
Gangrel nodded, running his fingers along the soft, cool shawl on his shoulders, "I will return-- and I will keep myself safe without killing anyone, I swear."
"Do what you must."