Word Count: 3905
Level 9 - (37/90) + 4
Location: The Cold MonasteryFeaturing @Lugubrious
“You’re right, some of these are pretty creepy.” Linkle whispered, her eyes lingering on the three skulls arranged along the top of the latest altar. Skulls or no, though, this was the first one to even come close to what they were looking for in that it prominently featured symbols. Unfortunately the symbols weren't the ones they were after. Nevertheless, something in the spooky thing had piqued Albedo’s interest. He paid far more attention to it than any of the others they had passed, so when he turned around and gave her the lead to keep looking around she held for a moment. “What’s on your mind?” She asked quietly, looking over his shoulder at the shrine. “Something about that one caught your eye. What was it?”
The alchemist looked contemplative. “There were inscriptions on the skulls, but I could not identify the language. The strange assortment of objects and figures, and intricacy of their design and layout...I suppose you could say I was interested. Even though it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with our objective. That’s all, really.” He glanced at another time, perhaps wondering what worship at the little shrine looked like, or what deity might hear the prayers made there.
They made their way to the other side of the tower, the careful eyes of the two guards following after them as they crossed the room.
The first thing they came across was a series of shrines set into the wall, each receptacle intricately carved from wood and stone. Each one contained an item, maybe an offering or some kind of icon representing the god it honored. They followed the receptacles, passing a short chain, a mirror, a still green and blooming rose, a hammer, a gear, a pinwheel, a model of a tower, the fearsome head of a bull, a branch from a tree,
and a bust of a horse.
As they passed, like most of the shrines they had already passed, Linkle nodded her head and offered a short prayer to each of them. It was just a simple thing, an acknowledgement and a show of respect. She didn’t even know their names so it was the most she could do, but it couldn't hurt.
At the end of the trail of shrines was another set into the corner of the room. A wooden table sat there, a red book sat on its center flanked by a pair of candles. Above the table was a depiction of a graceful winged woman.
Despite its surroundings and how obviously cared for this table was Linkle couldn't actually be sure it was a shrine. Someone had brought a chair from somewhere and had placed it in front of the table, and on one of the wings they had placed a collection of bottles, rolls of bandage, and a collection of herbs beside one of the candles. Was this just somebody's desk?
Linkle stepped forward, then gasped and beconded Albedo roward. “Look, look! That’s a weird language.” She urgenty whispered.
He came up and, seeing the odd symbols written on the cover, pulled out his own notebook to compare the two. After a few moments he shook his head at her. “I don’t think this is the language we’re looking for.”
“Let’s make sure,” She said, gently opening up the book to a random page as the two of them leaned over it. They spent a few minutes comparing the language of the tattoos to the one in the book, and while they found a few symbols that looked kind of similar if you squinted and tilted your head a bit Linkle eventually had to admit she had led them to a dead end.
“Nice hardware,” came a quiet voice from down at her side. Linkle tore herself away from the book and looked down to find a man crouched at thigh height, hand cupping his chin as he examined the crossbow holstered there. As she watched him his eyes ficked up to meet hers, and Linkle let out a short yelp and tried to step away. She accidentally knocked into Albedo as she did, shoving the boy so roughly he had to catch himself on the table.
“Ah, Albedo. I’m sorry. Are you okay?” She said, helping him back up as the man rose to his full height. He was actually pretty handsome, with a shock of heroic green hair and a white coat over a burgundy undersuit not that dissimilar from hers.
An alabaster white crossbow was strapped to his leg under the fold of his skirt.
“Whoa. No need to jump out of your skin.” He said. “Hey, what’s that look for?” He asked. Linkle regarded the guy testily. It wasn’t that he had gotten that close that made her uncomfortable, it was that even with the Cold Monastery being as quiet as a church mouse, she hadn’t heard him approach or sensed his presence at all. “Come on. What, are you the only one that can check out somebody's stuff without their permission?”
Linkle looked between the book and the man, putting to and to together, and stepped away from the table. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know if it was a shrine or a bench or what. The book was just sitting there, so I thought...”
“Don’t worry about it.” The man said, waving her off. “If curiosity was a sin in the eyes of Aidios, I’d know.” He extended a hand to the two of them, shaking each in turn as he introduced himself. “Father Kevin Graham, at your service.”
“You’re a priest?” Linkle asked in surprise, turning to look towards the pair that had greeted them. Those two matched her idea of holy people much more than the man standing casually before her, wearing an expression that all but screamed “Yeah, I get that a lot.” She found them looking at her too, or at least in her direction. Whether those stinkeyes were for the yelp she’d let out or at Father Graham for instigating it she couldn't tell. Father Graham didn’t seem too worried about it, waving at the pair before leaning forward to Linkle and Albedo.
“Not all of us have a stick up our ass.” he said, extra quiet. “Some of us try to shepherd the flock with smiles on our faces.” He leaned back up, throwing a thumbs up at the guards as he did. Seemingly mollified, the pair went back to what they were doing. Kevin wiped his brow in relief. “On that note, what can we humble priests help you with?” He leaned over and looked over the notebook, still open on the table. He raised an eyebrow. “You don’t seem like pilgrims.”
“We’re not.” Linkle said. The priest was odd but he didn’t feel dangerous. “I’m Linkle. This is Albedo. We came looking for information on a man we’re trying to defeat.”
“Huh.” Kevin said, flipping his book closed. “And here I was betting on naturalist and his charming bodyguard.” His gaze flicked to the gun on Linkle’s shoulder. “Hitmen was my next guess though.”
“Hitmen?” Linkle said, taken aback. “No, no, it’s not like that at all. Let us explain.” So Linkle and Albedo, at least as much as they knew the priest might believe. About the Stranger, how he had tried to kill her, his seeming invincibility, the markings on his body, and they’re theory on how he had gotten his powers. As they did, Father Graham’s expression became more and more serious and he went back to the notebook to examine the sketches in more detail. As they finished he frowned and handed the alchemist his book back.
“Sorry. It’s not anything from my neck of the woods.” he said, shaking his head sympathetically. “Where is this guy now? He’s not going to kick in the door looking for you, right?”
“I left him buried under an iceberg when nothing else worked.” Linkle replied, looking proud.
“Whew.” he said. “Good thing too. I can’t think of too many ways to protect you from a man who can’t die.” He thought for a moment, then started walking away while waving the other two to follow him.
“You wouldn't have to fight him.” Linkle said as she hurried along behind him. “I sure if he showed up I could kick him off one of these cliffs this time.”
“On the contrary. Anyone who disturbs the tranquility of the monastery answers to us. There’s a reason monks learn how to fight.” He replied confidently, looking down at her and smiling. “Besides, you remind me too much of a friend of mine for me to not get involved. It’s why I believe your crazy story. Girls like you couldn’t lie to save their lives.”
“You’ve known me for, like, a minute.” Linkle said.
“I’m an excellent judge of character.” He said as they reached the door. He laid a hand on it. “Did they give you the whole ‘you can only go in the first three towers’ spiel?”
“You’re in luck, then. I think I’ve seen something like those symbols in tower two, where some of our gods live..”
“There are gods there?” Linkle asked, unable to contain her surprise.
“Technically.” Father Graham said. “You’ll understand once you see them.” With that he pushed the door open, causing a blast of cold wind to race into the room. It made him shiver, but he pointed across the open space to another tower. Linkle thanked him as she set out through the door and the buildup of snow.
On their way to the second tower there wasn’t much in the way of scenery, except for strings of multicolored prayer flags flying between the buildings. Along the way they got a look at the entrance to Tower Three, and Linkle spotted an odd orange lump laying on the steps beside the door. She stopped as the lump poked its head up, revealing itself to be a scarred fox
with a cute pink bib wrapped around its neck. As she looked on, the fox lifted its nose to the air and took a few interested sniffs before lowering its head and staring right at her.
Linkle’s attention was torn away from the animal as Albedo called to her from up ahead, and she realized that she had stopped in the middle of the frigid yard. She hurried on to catch up with him at the door, and together they opened up and stepped inside the second tower.
The difference in atmosphere was apparent the moment they stepped inside. While it had the same decoration as the first tower, Linkle had become acutely aware by this point of the sensation of warmth on her skin. This tower was warmer than the first one, and the scent of incense wafted through.
The other main difference is that no one was there to greet them at the door. No one human, anyway. Instead what stood before them were statues. The room was positively packed with statues. Small statues
, big statues
, broken statues
and brilliant ones.
Every one meticulously cared for, no matter its state, with a collection of offerings laid out in front of each. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what they were supposed to be, and as Linkle stared in awe at the giant fin-headed statue that loomed over the entrance she whispered, “There are gods here.” She cupped her hands around her mouth and tried to whistler yell “Hello” to the fish man but his stony visage offered no response. Unperturbed, Linkle started walking down the line and trying to coax some life out of the statues with short prayers.
She got an impression from two of the initial batch that she encountered. When she approached the broken one a sudden question flashed into her mind, like a ray of sunlight breaking through an overcast sky, asking her to join...something. It wasn’t clear, but it didn’t feel like it was bad. It felt warm and helpful, and she was desperately tempted, but after a few moments she backed away. The statue, or whatever manner of being inhabited it, took this as a no and the warm impression vanished from her mind. She didn’t think it was a good idea to go pledging herself to more otherworldly beings.
The other statue was the one living the hourglass above its head. This one more wanted something from her. It felt less like a religious experience and more like a business transaction. Linkle flashed back to the Malo Mart. “Buy something already.” Yeah, that was what this felt like. A shopkeeper eyeing somebody who was obviously just there to browse. She broke away from that one too.
“There’s something in these two.” She informed Albedo, looking between the statues. As she did she noticed something else. While the normal statues just had incense and simple food offerings, the offerings for those two were more specific and at the same time more eclectic. The broken one had no food, but a collection of coins of all sorts of denominations. All gold, from the familiar mushroom kingdom one to a strange one with a bug printed on it.
The other’s theme seemed to be simply “red.” A red stole, a wilted red flower, a red marble, a fresh apple, but mostly muddy dark red crystals, small and with organic shapes like amber., or scar tissue.
For his part, Albedo had been intrigued by the sensations that interacting with certain statues prompted. It didn’t seem that far-fetched to imagine that these icons held their own little sparks of power, not necessarily facilitators of direct communion with deities, but interfaces through which one might invoke their power nonetheless. “Fascinating,” he breathed. “This place is nothing short of a wonderland. One could very well spend a lifetime of experimentation and research here. It’s certainly a tempting prospect, but…” Albedo considered the attentive priests, prepared to defend this holy place if need be, and even the capable-looking monks he saw attended their rituals. “I don’t suppose they would take kindly to prying.”
The mysteries of this place could wait until the visitors solved the mystery of the Stranger. Though fewer worshippers and guards could be found throughout the second tower, Linkle and Albedo couldn’t say they felt isolated while surrounded by various statues with unknown powers. Unflinching and unfamiliar gazes plus strange interactions with them hurried the pair as they searched. Albedo progressed through the okace warily lest he awaken some kind of latent curse, but wherever symbols appeared he put them under careful scrutiny.
Eventually the pair found an object that stood out from everything else along one wall. It appeared to be a wooden cabinet, but the intricately carved logs on either side featured miniature warriors at the top, and between them lay an expanse of gold handiwork that looped and spiralled with elegance. When they swung open the cabinet doors, Albedo and Linkle were faced with a large triptych, each of its three panels painted, adorned, and carved to tell a story through image.
Though the identity and meaning of the characters, creatures, and places the triptych depicted could not be easily discerned, the work of art made one detail manifest: each section bore a caption of runes scratched into the wood by knife-point. “Aha.” By now Albedo had checked the sketched tattoos often enough to get a very good feeling just by looking at these new inscriptions, and sure enough, when he flipped open his sketchbook for comparison some of the runes on both the triptych and the skin of the Stranger were a match. “Well, there we go,” he breathed, something akin to excitement stirring in his heart. “The first step on the road to understanding.”
It took Linkle a little bit observing the scenes laid out before her before you started to get an idea of what was going on. It wasn't until she took a step back and noticed that the entire circle in the middle picture was the snake from the first and third that the picture slid into focus. “So we’ve got the lady feeding the snake, gross, and then the snake becomes the world? And then, here…” She grimaced as she noticed the two big puncture wounds in the warrior, and the simple dead bodies floating under the snake. “It killed everybody.”
“Sooooo, if she created the world by feeding the snake then maybe she’s the god we’re looking for?” Linkle said excitedly. “Albedo, do you think you could sketch her?” They may not have had a name yet, but if this was right they had a legend. A whole creation and destruction story to work with.
Her friend nodded and got to work. He seated himself before the shrine and began replicating the triptych’s depictions in miniature. “I will also copy down the runes, on the chance that we meet someone who can read them,” he said as he worked. “I doubt that translating the characters in the man’s tattoos would spell out a weakness of some kind, but recognizing the language would be a quick way to tell if anyone we meet might know.”
While he wholly busied himself with the contents of the triptych, Linkle wasn’t left with much to do, and the myriad contents of the monastery tower made it easy for her eyes to wander. There was a lot for her curiosity to discover and wonder about, but as she roved around she began to become aware of an ever-so-slight pull to a specific section of tower. It was as if something was guiding her, gently enough to be mistaken for her own instinct or intuition, without any kind of real force behind it. Should she decide to follow the soft impulse, she would soon pass a magnificent floating clock
to come upon a basin with a cluster of stone pedestals in the middle, of various heights, on which a few figures rested. She spotted a twin-crickets carving
, an armor or golem
, and a gleaming artifact
, but Linkle’s focus lay on one in particular: the modest, undecorated stone statuette of a praying goddess
. Though it didn’t move, it somehow reached out to her in other ways, as if desiring a connection.
Linkle stepped closer to the pedestal holding the goddess. “Is this you?” She asked, tapping at her chest. None of the other Gods in this place had reached out like this, unprompted. For a single paranoid instant she wondered if this was a cruel Skull Heart trick, some new subtle joke whose punchline was primed to spring out of the darkness at the last moment. But, no. The figure was very simple, stylized to the point where it could be universal and yet it felt undeniably familiar.
Slowly the girl stooped down in front of the statue, falling to her knees. She bowed her head, clasped her hands in front of her, closed her eyes, and started to pray. Not a short one, not just the show of respect she had shown the other gods. She said her prayers as she had when she was a child, fervently sending her thoughts and wishes to the goddesses above.
A moment passed in serenity. Like smoke from a campfire, or a child’s precious balloon, her sincere words spiraled upward, through the heights of the tower and to the heavens. Surely this hallowed place had channeled countless such benedictions, but hers was no lesser for it. And just as with her predecessors, she held still, listening despite the odds for any trace of reply. Seconds passed, but Linkle heard nothing--neither from without, nor within. In that quiet she could feel at peace, and even a sort of lightness inside her. In that moment the nebulous weight that sat in the lowest point of her soul didn’t seem quite so heavy. It was a nice feeling.
But with that relief came a worrisome realization: that even though she’d been a Skullgirl for less than a day, she’d already started getting used to the hollowness, and begun to forget what it felt like to be well. To be normal. The whispers had been nibbling at the back of her mind so steadily that she’d stopped realizing they were there until they were gone.
She raised her head as felt the weight settle back onto her, a gasp escaping from her lips. Had things really gotten that bad so quickly? Placed next to each other the difference between how she’d felt just a few days ago and how she felt now was as stark as night and day. She gazed up at the statue, and despite everything managed a grateful smile. She had a pretty good idea of who this might be now. “Thank you.” She whispered. Whether it was an attempt to banish the heart, a warning, or just a hand of comfort she thanked her all the same.
She stood up, patting her pouches until she found the spikey round berries she had gotten from the wolf spirits. She took one out and placed it on the pedestal in front of the goddess. Not a profound offering, but it was what she had. She clasped her hands again and gave a short bow. “I won’t let you down.” With that, she walked away from the circle of pedestals.
A few seconds later she came back and clasped her hands again. “And I’m sorry we named a cucco after you. That’s just Grandma’s sense of humor, she didn’t mean anything bad by it and it was a really good girl. Yosh, off to save Hyrule now!” Nodding one last time to the goddess she turned on her heel and made her way back through the sculpture filled room.