Fledge had improved significantly over the span of a couple of days; the Stamina Fruit we had gathered together after the weird incident of the cyclone had been more than enough to provide the Stamina Potions needed for his growth (and his growth spurt, apparently) to come, and soon he was throwing barrels, doing well over five-hundred pushups, and his attitude had improved remarkably. Soon, people were asking him to do tasks such as pulling carts, carrying barrels of water, and even a delivery system to some isle and back to the main island, carrying the delectable scent of hot soup.
It was mouthwatering, and I asked him about where he went to get it. He greeted me with his traditional Fledge-Classified welcome: a bone-crunching hug. He held me at arms-length and beamed at me, "Well, I go to Pumpkin's Landing to fetch the soup from the Lumpy Pumpkin. They're known for, well, their pumpkins there!"
I cocked my head, "Then why does the soup smell so...well, beefy and thick, if it's made from pumpkins?" Apparently Fledge had developed a sense of cheekiness, because he winked at me and replied, "It's a trade-secret, sorry to say, Jacqueline. The recipe is the one thing that keeps customers coming, and I'm bound-by-promise (and to my job) to never let that secret out. I can't spell out the ingredients in the open, but if you visit them, I'm sure you would be able to find out for yourself!"
The thought churned in my head like a stirring rod in a cauldron and I nodded, "I can see your point; it'd be bad for business on their island if anyone tried to copy that recipe. Still, I'll want to make a visit there! I've been busy eating food in the mess hall, which, is good by Henya's cooking (kinda tastes like crap and burned), but this is something entirely different! I can't wait to see what they put into it to make it smell so good!" Fledge laughed and released his grip on my shoulders, holding out his hand, "Here, let me mark it for you on your map. It's crowded at lunchtime, but if you go there after two-past-noon, it should be filtered out for a few hours to enjoy a snack before it fills back up for supper. I've seen it lots of times, now."
"Wow, thanks, Fledge!" I grinned as I held out a Academy-issued-sky-chart, and he took out a small travel-sized quill and ink, drawing a little pumpkin on a dollop of land. "There you go! If you stay for supper, you'll also get a chance to hear the keeper's daughter, Kina, sing on stage, too--well, you would, at least."
I cocked my head, frowning, "Would? Is she sick or something?" Fledge shook his head, "Not really, no--it's just that her last group lost inspiration and stopped playing, and now she has no stringed instrument, no tuned player, to sing a duet with. She always sings a duet; wouldn't be much of a performance without a beat or music to sing to, right?" I nodded, "I suppose...well, that's a shame. I'm sure the dining hall would be a lot livelier if there was music. I've seen it before." I thought back to a moment when I'd started plucking my dad's guitar strings and didn't quite find them to my appealing. "Anyone you know that could play an instrument?"
Fledge thought it over, "Only one that comes to mind was Zelda; she had that harp with her wherever she went. Never had to fine-tune it; it always seemed to be well-strung every time." Understanding the nature of relationship I had to Zelda, the dark swelling of pure hatred was easy for me to understand and contain, and I swallowed it without a painful lump in my throat. "Huh--bummer she's not here. I'm sure Kina would have wanted someone to do a duet with." I checked the time, "Well, that's my break; I'm going to go check on Orielle and then head in for supper. Tomorrow's more training." Fledge gestured to the sword on my back, "I don't think it will be too long before the commander lets you have your own sword and shield; I've been watching you practice, and you're getting really good!"
I rolled my eyes, trying to subdue whatever pleasure of praise was worming from under my skin, "Hardly; bet you I could still get spanked like a little girl. Thanks, though! I'll see you later!" I waved him off as he prepared to take more orders for the delivery system and I headed further along the waterwalk towards the humble little home where my first friend (apart from Link) lived.
I burst forth from the training dojo, the memory of the pumpkin soup smell fresh in my nose and my mouth, causing me to salivate. I could only dream how rich the flavor would be!
Commander Eagus let me have the rest of the afternoon off, pleased with my improving skills. I was to report "on the light of the morning after morrow", which, translated to English, meant "after tomorrow", which, translated again, meant: "Free Day Tomorrow Hallelujah". I had cleaned my training clothes and didn't change into my gown today. If I was going flying, I figured I'd do it in something I could afford to tear. I didn't want to come back to Orielle with a torn gown, just as she was finishing up my traveling gear for the Surface! Something in it seemed wrong. I dunno, just...plain wrong.
I dashed for the pier and leaped off of it, calling the bird with a whistle, and upon landing on my indigo-colored friend, we were off through the air. I checked the map, the sky-chart well-spaced upon it. I veered the bird a little ways towards the south-east and set a course for it. Exploring a new length of the sky was new territory for me, both exciting and intimidating. The air itself was relatively clear, and yet a tinge of warmth to it pierce through what should have been cold and crisp at this height. If it's getting bad up here, I can only imagine how bad it's getting down there! Be careful, both of you... The bird flapped onward, enough updraft to keep it from having to beat its wings too much.
The flight went without an issue. There was the occasional flock of birds that liked to bully things bigger than they were and somehow were making off with Rupees in their talons, but we fly by too quickly for them to react. I didn't keep a hefty purse on me, so I knew they weren't mine. "Maybe other travelers that came this way..." I ankled into the bird's sides a little, encouraging a powerful wingbeat up and over a ridge of land. I spotted our destination looming up to greet us, a fairly-obvious giant pumpkin on a floating island with a personal pier attached to the edge of it. We landed and I took the Loftwing to the side and gave it some water. "All right, not too much...there you go..." The bird was rather thirsty and eagerly beaked the liquid down, washing its face with glossamer beads of water. I smiled, "Yeah, that was our longest flight together, but you handled it really well." I stroked the beak and assessed the building.
The Lumpy Pumpkin was nothing more than a huge building carved into the shape of a rather well-sanded, well-made pumpkin. It had windows, a good-sized door, and a welcome mat. There was enough room to go around the building to the crop fields in the back, where they grew their infamous pumpkins. The building itself looked freshly-painted in some places, while other spots showed age and protruded the true-brown of the wood through the orange paint. At the top the roof was grated with steam emitting from it for the hydrolic systems, and were curved upward to keep rain from leaking into the building. A roof-pipe lined the top, so excess rain or weather would peter off harmlessly onto the grass, and from there, to the irrigation system in the back. The chimney in the shape of the stem was emitting heat, and with it, came the mixed scents of meats, spices and vegetables. My stomach growled loudly, and I headed into the building.
It was pretty empty, and I only caught maybe five souls walking around amongst the circular dining tables, the customer counter, and the kitchen adjacent to the serving counter. I assumed this would be a good way for the cook-slash-host to keep an eye on the food being made and serve customers at the same time. One guest was in a chair near to the door, head down and eyes closed. Two other guests were sitting across from one another at one table, hands folding cards. It looked like it was a stalemate, and had been that way for a while. The other two figures looked far-busier; one was a girl with dark brown hair worn up in the shape of a pumpkin, accompanied by cream-colored highlights; I assumed this was Kina. She was wearing a green, patchy apron with a comfortable-sherbert-orange gown. The other man at the counter had a rather large red moustache with thick eyebrows to match, and his hair drawn up in a high-set ponytail. He had a potbelly with a blue shirt and green tunic. His nametag said "Pumm", and I snorted at the irony.
Upon entering, Kina stopped rubbing down a chair and smiled, "Why hello! How can I help you?"
I walked forwards and looked around slowly, "I...was here for lunch, actually." The girl beamed, "Well of course you are! Everybody is--good thing we still have some left! Go ahead and take a seat; I'll be right with you shortly." The men with cards didn't break their concentration, and Sleeping Beauty in the corner didn't budge an inch. I went to a table closest to the counter and sat down, still taking in the sights of the building. Kina approached me after removing her cleaning cloth, hands clasped and eyes sparkling. She had an appeal and energy I envied, and yet couldn't help but give her a smile. "Now, what can I get you today?"
"Some of the soup and some water, please." Kina smiled broadly, "I can certainly get those for you! Hold on one moment, miss." She wrote it down with the traditional miniature travel-sized quill, I suppose standard-issued for business, and walked over to the counter. She spoke with Pumm, who began to work at a leisurely-pace to work up the plate. Business was usually slow at this hour, so I wasn't surprised how casually he moved. Still, my stomach had different thoughts. Water was provided first to tide me over, as Kina placed the glass and silverware--a spoon--in front of me. She took a seat next to me, "The soup will be ready in a little while; Papa needs to heat it up again and stir it."
"It's not a problem, really." Oh God I think my stomach's going to eat me instead! Kina smiled, "You're a new face! What's your name?" I gave it to her and she thought it over. "Jacqueline, huh? I must say, that's a strange name. Is it foreign?" I meekly shrugged, "Well, anyone would think a new name was foreign, right?" Kina chuckled, "Well, even though it's strange, it's a pretty name!" She looked me over, a gentle way of scrutinizing. "Are you from Skyloft?"
I nodded, "I'm actually from the Academy there--training to be a Knight." It was the truth, and I thanked myself for appearing casual when I said it. Kina nodded, "I recognized the training uniform; Fledge told me that one of the Trainees was helping him out."
The water helped my parched throat as I drank in a few sips. "I suppose...I don't really make a big deal out of it." Kina shrugged lightly with her shoulders and got up, "I guess not! He's been a big help, though, thanks to your efforts--Oh! Soup's ready! Excuse me!" She curtsied quickly before rushing over to the counter and retrieving the food. She brought it to the table, the heavy aroma setting my stomach churning. "When you're finished, you can pay for the meal then!" I nodded and began to eat. The food was absolutely delicious! I had no idea what they put into the food to make it so tasty, but it was a dish worthy of kings! I made sure I wouldn't talk about it around the mess hall, however.
I took my time with the food, and when it was finished, mopped up the rest of the bowl with a chunk of bread. Paying for the meal, I nodded to Pumm and Kina, "Thanks so much for the food--it was even tastier than I imagined." Their faces were aglow with pride and I smiled, "Is there any way I can take a bottle of it home with me?"
Strangely, their faces fell a margin and Kina looked regretfully to me with a smile, "Sorry, Jacqueline, but we're a bit...thin on our supplies. We need to keep as much as we can to keep the place going; when we get more deliveries out, I'll be sure to keep your name on the orders, though!"
I cocked my head, "Thin on supplies? What's going on?" They both looked to the other customers, which had trickled to the the one sitting idly in the corner, and Kina silently gestured me to follow her into the back, Pumm coming with and closing a door behind us for privacy. They both faced me, and then looked at each other; Pumm looked to his daughter and hugged her from the shoulder, drawing her in. "Our pumpkins are suffering from the rising climate and heat; they perish too quickly when they grow out of the vines that supply their nutrients. That, and crows have been settling in, pecking at the vines and stealing the smaller pumpkins, and if the other ones survive, the heat kills them off."
"Why not put up a scarecrow...?" I trailed off as they were already shaking their heads. "That doesn't work either anymore," Kina said softly, "We've tried all we can to keep the crows from peckin' away at our crops, but we're hardly doing well on for business. It's like it doesn't affect them anymore! We can barely keep up with customer orders, and we're beginning to ration so we can still keep in business for a few more weeks, try to prolong going bankrupt." I looked at the miserable little family and then at the dirty bowl I had just eaten out of. It was such good food, I almost felt obligated to help them out. And the service had been excellent as well! But how was I supposed to help? I looked to them, "So it's crows by morning? How about in the evening?"
Pumm sighed, "We can't afford to have our eyes up all during the day and night, missy--"
"What if I stay over and watch it for you? See what happens?" Both looked at each other, perplexed with the idea, and then looked to me. "Is...it too much trouble? Do you think something could be doing this by night?" I shrugged, "Even if there isn't something happenin by night, we need to find a way to save those pumpkins. Could be other problems to worm out in the dark; I'll stay up and take a look in on it and tell you if I see anything."
I woke up by the gentle shaking of Kina's hand on my shoulder. "The sun's going down, Jacqueline--are you feeling all right?" I nodded and threw off the covers to the bed, getting up and quickly combing my fingers through my hair, smoothing out any cowlicks. Kina stood back and watched me as I strapped on my training sword and secured my training gear.
Once finished, I turned to see Kina illuminated by a candle she was holding. "Are you certain you wish to do this?" I grinned, "Look, as much as I hate staying up when I'm beat-tired, I'd rather do this and face another bowl of that soup tomorrow--if that's all right with you." Kina giggled, "Of course, Jacqueline! I'll make sure to make an extra-large bowl especially for you!"
"Don't thank me yet," I chuckled, "I haven't solved the case of the Pump-Killers." I headed out the back entrance as she took the bed and into the backyard. The night was clear and cool, stars dotting the sky. Some torches were lit around the crop of harvest pumpkins, bathing them gently in a golden glow. I sat down on the fence lining and waited for a sign to show.
My eyelids were heavy and I pinched myself to keep them open, but even that began to wear off. I got up and started walking around, skipping to keep my body energized, but even then I grew bored of the task and gave up. I went to one of the pumpkins and knocked on it; it seemed rather sturdy to me. I sat down on the sturdy pumpkin and scanned the skies for crows. The hours drew on as the moon rose high into the air, and I looked at its face. It looks a lot like my moon...wonder if I'll ever get home. Thinking back to the portal that Old Impa had offered to me, I began to wonder if it had truly been a good idea to stay; the oncoming heat wave was obviously due to the World Degeneration, and I had a feeling that the cyclones coming up were partially my responsibility. If I hadn't been here, the catastrophes wouldn't be happening and people wouldn't be suffering.
Fledge would have found his courage another way...other methods could be found for these problems... Voices infiltrated my mind, worming doubt into it. I shook my head to attempt to clear it. There was always more than one answer to a problem, and I was glad that I had made friends. However, one thing was certain.
I couldn't stay after all of this was over. I would have to go back to my world. "Otherwise the World Degeneration will just keep going until nothing's left," I muttered miserably to myself and looked around the patch for anything suspicious. I blinked as I saw a cluster of winged shapes coming straight for the patch and stood up.
The crows came in quickly, squawking and screeching, trying to chase me out of the patch as a few others diverted from the flock to go for smaller pumpkins, a few birds at a time, to grip one pumpkin and slowly pluck it from the ground. I flailed my arms, yelling at the birds and trying to ward the other ones off of me. They were pulling at my hair, pecking me in the face and everywhere else that would ache later. I slapped a few off of me, tumbling them onto the ground. I saved most of the pumpkins, however the flock retreated into the air with two small ones and soared off towards the west, back the way I'd come. My Loftwing was crying out front, worried about the commotion, and I ran around the side of the building to comfort it until it went back to sleep. Kina came outside with the candle, awoken from her sleep. "Jacqueline? Jacqueline! Where are you? Are you all right?" I strode back from around the back to greet her in the pumpkin patch. "For the most part, yeah. Fuck, those bastards have nasty beaks!" She inspected me over quickly, seeing some scrapes and bleeding cuts from the sharp-tooth beaks and talon scratches. Pumm came out shortly thereafter and addressed the situation.
"....And you say that they flew off with some of our pumpkins towards the west?" I nodded, and Pumm looked at his patch in thought. "...Well, it's too dangerous to go alone at night, and I'd give you a lantern if I could, but I would feel a bit better if you got some rest before the sun comes up tomorrow; we can look into this problem later."
"Why not get some of the night watch to look into it? They're always up during the evening," I suggested. Pumm sighed, "If I could, I would; however, they need to look after Skyloft. We haven't had this problem with the crows before, but something has happened to boost their courage and even steal from us. Birds do not usually eat our pumpkins; they're far too rich for them."
I frowned, "Then what could they possibly be stealing them for?" Kina and Pumm exchanged puzzled looks and then addressed me again. "We're not sure," he answered finally, and Kina sighed, "It's all we can do to hope they don't attack in bigger hordes; we're flying on thin air as it is!" I looked off in the direction the birds had been flying, "I can see about following those birds tomorrow; at least we have a direction of where they're going."
The next morning I was served a large bowl of the soup, as promised. Still, taking the soup with the full knowledge that they were running low sent a wave of guilt through my belly, but Kina protested against that train of thought. "You've done more than your fair share as it is--and you were wounded in the process! This is the very least we can do for you, with all of your help!"
I spooned up some of the broth, "Yeah, I know--but still. Your crops are in trouble and I shouldn't be taking more than I need to eat, you know?" The girl sympathized with me, emitting a sigh, and I slurped a small bit of vegetable in. I looked towards the back entrance in thought. "What about the heat? Anything we can do about that in the meantime?"
Kina pursed her lips in thought, "Well, the soil's nutrients are being spent at a quicker rate because the heat is forcing the pumpkins to take in more to keep themselves from dying out. The pumpkins aren't getting enough time to create a natural barrier to the heat, and they rot before they are of age to harvest, and if they are, they usually are too bad to serve to customers. We'd rather run out than give our customers belly problems!" I nodded sympathetically, "Yeah, I hear you there...what about the soil?" She shook her head, "The soil's losing its vitality due to the depletion of its nutrients; without nutrients, the pumpkins won't be able to get any energy, and we'll run out."
Just like a domino effect...a chain reaction of disaster, one right after the other... I spooned in more of the soup and looked at the kitchen in thought. "...Well, what kinds of soil are rich with nutrients?" My geology wasn't exceptional, though thankfully Kina's was pretty well-rounded. For a waitress-slash-singer-slash-farmer, she was incredibly-smart. "Well, we've been trying to use some of the decomposing pumpkins as fertilizer, but because they lack nutrients themselves, it hasn't been very effective so far," she sighed and drank from a cup of milk. "We've been hoping that we can find a deposit of rich soil, something to absorb the heat the pumpkins are being forced to take from the weather." I tapped my chin in thought, "Heat-absorbing soil? Where would you find something like that?"
"We like to break down rocks and feed the earth with it, but lately our supplies has been running low, and we lost the tools to continue harvesting from the rocks. We could really use someone's help with maintaining the soil, but again, we're at a loss there." Slowly a plan began to form in my brain, though I didn't want to jump to any conclusions yet. "This may take some time, but I'll go looking for some new soil after I find out where those crows got to with your pumpkins." Kina looked warmly at me, "You're so nice, Jacqueline, it's a wonder people don't know who you are."
My chest throbbed its dead, cold feeling and I nearly choked on the next spoonful of soup. "It's nothing, really..." I finished up the soup and strapped on my training sword, ready to head out the door while the sun was still low. I mounted the Loftwing and we took off into the air in the direction I remember the crows having have come.
Nothing seemed to stand out as suspicious, silently cursing myself for letting the trail run cold. Still, Pumm's words stuck with me, having had mentioned that pumpkins were too rich for birds and that would risk getting them sick. Why would they want the pumpkins, then? There wasn't anything else special about them, so why would crows take them? I flew in towards Skyloft, soaring overhead to check and see a good place to land. As I did so, something caught my eye; something orange. My heart leaped into my throat as I spurred the Loftwing down onto the ground and dismounted, approaching the strange orange object.
It was a pumpkin, that much was for sure, but it was smashed utterly into the stone. Seems like it was dropped... I looked around for any traces of a trail, but found no answers. Still, this answered where the crows had been coming, though it didn't answer why they were returning to Skyloft with the pumpkins. Were they gathering them for something? Or someone? Fledge's warnings to me about how sacred the ingredients to the soup rang in my brain, and the suspicion of a thief came to mind. If someone was controlling the crows, that explained their irrational behavior. I decided to investigate.
I caught Fledge heading down a flight of stairs and led him to the crime scene--the smashed pumpkin. "You think someone is stealing them?" Fledge asked, and I nodded. He looked thoughtful, "Well, I hardly think that a crushed pumpkin can lead immediately to a thief; lots of people make orders for the pumpkins for their pastries and other goods, though those orders have decreased quite a bit over the past few days."
"Which is likely because this...thief or whoever they are, are stealing the pumpkins for themselves! You and I both know just how successful those things are, and just how tasty they can be!" Fledge grinned, "Yeah; eating one brings sunshine to my day and puts me in a good mood!" He looked more serious, "Well, I don't think you're lying, but I think you may be mistaken about this. Still, anything you think I can do to help you out?"
I nodded, "Can you copy me a list of your customers? Anyone that frequently orders from the Pumpkins?" Fledge took out a parchment, gazing at it in thought. "...Hmm...well, nothing in my policy that tells me I can't do that, especially if you're looking into this for the Lumpy Pumpkin. Sure, here's a list of the most frequent customers." I received the parchment and had the irrepressable urge to sudden thrust it above my head in victory with a chorus of angels. The feeling passed within a second. I looked down the list and nodded, "All right, I'll get right to it. Also, I'm going to need some help later with another errand; know anybody with a taste for history and geology, or maybe rocks and metals even?" He looked thoughtful, his brow furrowed. "Not...entirely--though if you want an expert on metals, you could always talk to Gondo the Blacksmith. He's in the bazaar all the time and forges the shields and weapons you can buy there. He knows good metals, that much I know. Also, you could go looking for Karane if you want to know anything about history; she sits in the classroom a lot more often than the other Knights and is very studious."
"All right, good--well, I'm off to go solve this! I'll go visit Gondo after this is finished, and maybe even Karane! Thanks!" Fledge wished me luck and went on his business while I went on mine, looking all over the isle and going from door to door, investigating the orders and the customers. Some of them were very open with their information, and some were naturally-defensive, always assuming people were ready to get on their bad side. My eyes trailed down the list and I arched an eyebrow at a name "'Batti'? Can't say that's a name I recognize...this location on the map doesn't make much sense either--who could be living in a graveyard?" I began to head in that direction when a frantic woman ran into me and knocked me to the ground. "Oh Goddess, I am so sorry--please, forgive me!"
I shook my head, waving her off and picking myself up, "I'm okay, I'm okay..." The woman was still very flustered and obviously looked worried. I put down the paper after a few moments of my silence, "....Can I help y--"
"Yes! Please help me find my daughter, Kukiel! I can't find her anywhere--she's gone missing since last night!" I attempted to calm the mother, "Where do you think she could have gone?" She didn't know, but had caught her daughter in the daylight sneaking around the graveyard. "I don't know what had possessed me to even let her go near such a place! And now the monster has probably kidnapped my baby! Oooh..." She moaned and I stared at the frantic mother. One problem just seems to pile on the next... Still, seeing that the mother wouldn't let me go until I agreed to looking for her daughter, I sighed. "...I was on my way to the graveyard anyway; if I see her, I wi--"
"Oh thank you, thank you so much!" The mother's worried face began to melt with gratitude, and I felt a wave of uncertainty toss me over and under. As quick as her emotions were prone to changing in a heartbeat, I certainly didn't think she'd take "no" for an answer, and I was grateful I hadn't said anything negative. I hurried along my way after she began to "shoo!" me in the direction of the graveyard, all the while hanging back near the safety of the houses. I sighed and shook my head, trudging along my way with the list of customers in my hands.
Nothing came out by daylight, and if I knew anything about ghosts and ghouls and mysteries, they typically were solved by nighttime with a fog machine or two. When I had come to the graveyard when the sun was up, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A beaded necklace had been found, and I had returned it to the mother. She had moaned and wept at the sight of it before seizing me by the shoulders and telling me to march back to the graveyard after dark. If I wanted to keep my head on my shoulders, I had to accept it. I found out her name was Wyrna, and so I stayed at Wyrna's house until the sun fell beneath the ocean of clouds.
After I had exited the building and the door was locked behind me, I marveled at how creepy and eerie the isle was after dark. Remembering the little cat-bat creatures, I had hoped that they wouldn't come out to "play".
Oh, how the universe loved proving me wrong.
Immediately one pounced in my direction, snarling and snapping. I yelped and kicked it far into the air and saw it plummet over the edge. When I went to go see if it had survived, my eyes widened as I saw it flapping its ears, remaining aloft and coming back up to seek its tiny kitten bloodthirsty revenge on me. Not only did I have to deal with the Remlits (as Instructor Horwell had told me in the past), but other nasty creatures as well. Keese were flying all over the isle, and goopy monsters like the Chu-Chus materialized out of the grass. Was this also part of the World Degeneration? Was this all part of some scheme Ghirahim was creating, to launch an invasion on Skyloft while Link was occupied? I killed as many as I could with my training sword, careful not to hurt the Remlits too much. I headed for the graveyard, determined to find my answers there. I blinked, noticing something was amiss with one of the graves; it had been pushed back, as if someone had looted it.
There's a looter on this island? Was something important buried here? I placed my fingers on the gravestone, finding nothing ultimately-remarkable about it. I pushed against it to prepare to get up and fell forward in surprise as it shifted back a little further. There was a slight hesitation and a sharp jolt, and a "click" was heard. Rattling of wood came from the nearby shed, and I turned to see a door open as the stone was pushed back. I stood up slowly and approached the shed, seeing a ladder descending from a hole.
"...Let's see where this leads..." With the beads in hand, I climbed down the ladder and reached a rickety boardwalk. Below it was a sea of clouds that made my stomach plummet from the sight. The stretch of boardwalk tilted downwards and wove around the rocky underbelly of the isle, and I began to walk down it, treading carefully.
I stopped as I heard wingbeats and saw a familiar dark mass flying nearby. They stole pumpkins again! Seems like without me there, they got more this time... I watched them as they came near, and I was almost ready to face an ongoing barrage of pecking, droppings and scrapes, but they ignored me and kept flying downward. They strangely seemed in formation, keeping the pumpkins within the center of the flock and heading in the same direction I was. I stalked after them, though there was no need. I stopped and marveled at a sight as I turned the corner.
There was a cobweb-covered house at the edge of the boardwalk, built directly under the graveyard. It looked abandoned, but there was light coming from the inside, and the crows were setting the pumpkins down in front of the door. The birds flew off, scattering in their various directions, as if released from a spell. The final crow pecked the door and fluttered off, and a minute stretched into silence before the door creaked open, and a pale, crimson-nailed hand extended from the bottom of the doorway and touched one of the pumpkins gently. It scooped up the pumpkins ominously one-by-one and the door creaked shut.
I had no idea what to make of it--until I heard an ear-piercing scream emit from inside the house. It was a little girl's squeal! "That must be Kukiel!" I ran to the door and thrust it open, leaping into the house. Upon entering, I found a monster that I'd never seen before in my life.
He had large, crimson horns like a bull's on the top of his head and great, ugly yellow wings, thumbs and bone sticking out from the joints. His eyes were bloody at the irises and yellowed around, his skin gray like a gargoyle and wearing long, dirtied robes. His claws raised to me and he snarled low. I saw the pumpkins recently taken in, and pumpkins all over the room, some withered to a white wrinkled ghost of themselves. "So you're the theif--of pumpkins AND little girls!" I stepped towards the monster, sword drawn. He snarled again, "Come closer and it shall be your essence I dine on tonight!"
"Come and take it, you fucker!" I prepared to swipe at him, and suddenly he drew his arms up, pleading and entirely changing key. "Waaaaait! Wait, please do not hurt me! I did not mean you any harm!"
"Yeah right! That's what they all say! I've seen enough movies, buster!" I was ready to swipe at him for a second time, but then another "Waaaait" came out from behind me, and a small figure dashed in-between me and my quarry. It was a little girl--Kukiel, I presumed--and she had her arms outstretched defensively. "Please don't hurt him! We were just playing a game called 'Scream-As-Loud-As-You-Can'! And I was winning, too!" I blinked slowly and began to lower my sword; was this a joke? A prank? It seemed real enough; the kid wasn't afraid of him, and he looked scared as shit. "You're...Batti?" The demon-guy blinked and sat up, still panicked but no longer screaming for mercy. He obviously didn't put two-and-two together, so I held out the list. "This--this is a list of the customers for the Lumpy Pumpkin and it says that 'Batti' lives in the graveyard, though now that I see it, you live under the graveyard. Is this you?"
He got up, his claws folded and clasped nervously, "Y-Yes...well, my true name is Batreaux, but there is no one that lives on this isle that is called that! I did not want the people to panic if they saw a name they did not recognize, and I did not want Kukiel to be taken away from our playtimes together if they went looking for me, so I had to use a different name."
"We voted on it--I won!" Kukiel squirmed with delight, and I lowered my blade entirely. "...So, you didn't kidnap the girl...but you are stealing Kina's pumpkins! Why? And how in the blazes are you using crows to do it? Those bastards gave me a hard time last night!"
Batreaux looked genuinely-apologetic and his head hung, "Yes, and I am sorry about that; you see, I am a natural demon, and so monsters will come out with my presence at night. It also causes naturally-calm animals to become ferocious during the night time, but they do not attack little Kukiel! Never!"
"Never!" the little girl chimed and echoed him with a big goofy grin on her face. I sighed and shook my head. It was clear that Batreaux posed no real threat, even though the monsters were creating a hassle at night. I was thankful that it wasn't one of Ghirahim's tricks, and my eyes settled on the pumpkins again. "Why are you stealing pumpkins, then?" Batreaux frowned, "Well, as a demon, it is only natural I feed on human blood. However, I could never bring myself to do that--sweet little Kukiel has been my only friend, and has been so kind! I have been looking for other ways to sustain myself, perhaps even quench these dark natural urges to drink blood and become human, like you! And so," he swept his arm aside to reveal the deceased pumpkins, "I have been drinking in the sweet, kind juices of these delicious pumpkins in the hopes that I will be weaned off of the blood and perhaps become human! I crave the soup just as much as any other resident on this island, and little Kukiel has been bringing me the pumpkins as much as she can. However, her parents forbade her to take anymore from their ordered stock, and so I...well, I had to resort to another method."
"So you stole." Batreaux hung his head, "I know, and I am sorry--I do not mean harm to others when I do so; I cannot change the nature of the beasts I command to get them for me, and...it's just that...I want to be able to walk in the sunlight and experience life with these people! It is so lonely here, and little Kukiel cannot come every night! If her parents lock her up at night, I will have no one to play with, and I will fall back into my old habits!" I looked at the pumpkins; even from here they looked very tasty, and I wondered what was in them to make them so appealing. A cheesy notion like "love" and "nurturing" popped into my head and I swept them from my mind. feeling like an outcast before, I was reminded of Fledge and found myself facing with the same scenario; courage and the desire to be accepted. Damn, these people have friendship problems... I sighed, "Well, what do you propose we do to get you to become human, then? Obviously you make some good points here, but you can't keep stealing; the Lumpy Pumpkin is suffering as it is because of the climate, and your crows are damaging the rest of the crop when they start stealing! If this keeps on going, there won't be anymore pumpkins to even steal!" Batreaux looked at me in horrified awe and nodded, "Oh dear, oh dear...I didn't realize it was so serious...Kukiel is too young to fly, and her family has not even been near that portion of the sky in a long time! I had no idea the pumpkins were suffering!"
You need to get out more. I nodded, "Unless something is done to protect those pumpkins, nobody is going to have soup for a very long time. Its days are numbered, now." Both Kukiel and Batreaux looked at one another, worried. "...What can we do?" The demon looked to me for answers.
"Well, for starters, call off your crow-nies..." Kukiel was left in the dark on that one, but Batreaux laughed after a moment of perplexity. I was groaning internally from my bad joke. "Just stop stealing the pumpkins; I can see about getting you a supply to ration until we can get the crops back up to regular speed. Until then, try not to drink too much of it; I doubt pumpkin juice is going to...ah, turn you into a human." The demon sighed, "You are correct...still, I feel more like a human than I have in years! The sweet love put into tending those pumpkins and the kindness Kukiel has shown me; both of those together have given me the desire to live on top with the rest of you! And your kindness, your willingness to help..." He smiled at me, "It makes me feel warm, to know that Kukiel isn't the only one looking out for me."
I was about to protest about helping the guy to the extent, and the mentioning of "warmth" and "good-natured" causing Ghirahim's shard in my chest to pulsate coldly, and I grimaced. In spite of that, I didn't feel like I wanted to refuse him; he seemed okay, he just looked scary to the people living above. I knew what it was like to be judged by them, and it took getting to know them and helping them out for me to be accepted. That same opportunity wasn't going to be the same for this guy, but there would be another way to help him. "What is it that makes you feel more human?"
He looked at his "hands". "Well, I believe gratitude is the way to go about it; you have so much gratitude coming around you that I feel much happier and warmer than this cold skin has felt in eons--" How old is this guy?! "--and I feel that with enough gratitude, I can finally become a human! Yes! That is the key to my conversion! Gratitude!" I arched an eyebrow, "So...me doing nice things for others will help you, too?" Batreaux made a helpless so-so gesture. "It is...not necessarily gratitude that others express to you, ah--"
"Ah yes, thank you, Jacqueline. What I was saying was that it isn't necessarily gratitude that others express to you, but rather the gratitude I have the more you assist others and try to help me with my problem! I can already feel it growing inside of me, and I feel much warmer already!"
I crossed my arms, the sleeves drawing back beyond my wrists. "So you're saying that if I do enough good deeds for others, you'll become human because I'm essentially doing it for you?" He bobbed his head up and down with a grin, "That's correct! Many are already indebted to you, Jacqueline, so I feel it won't be long until I'm free from this accursed form!" His smile stopped and his eyes narrowed in, squinting. I blinked and realized he was looking at my wrists, the bracelets. He looked at my collar, his eyes piercing. He looked to Kukiel, "...Ah, why not run along home for tonight, little one? Play-time is over, and Uncle Batti is tired from all the screaming."
Kukiel sulked, "But I won, right? I screamed the loudest, right?" Batreaux's eyes glanced to me, and I attempted to grin, "Naw; sorry, kiddo, but I scared him half-to-death when I came in with my blade drawn. Maybe next time--you can't win them all, but you're still the winner in most of your games!" The girl seemed to perk up at that and gave "Uncle Batti" a quick hug before she bounded out the door. We waited in silence for a bit, and Batreaux sighed, "Ah, little ones...so innocent, so pure, so full of Gratitude...that is why I feel attracted to them the most. Always so grateful and full of energy." He looked to me, "I could tell I sensed something familiar, almost comforting, about you...not just because of the gratitude, but because of the darkness you seem to hold within you. Dark, demon's magic...the same I possess."
I cocked my head, "But you're not evil--you're a demon, but you seem to be a good person." Batreaux shrugged, "I'm a demon by nature, and I used to be evil, but Kukiel helped uncover a different side to life, and I am caught halfway between my true nature and who I could be--who I wish to be. Human." He gestured for me to come closer and took my wrists, his claws over the bracers. "...Dark, dark indeed...this isn't yours alone, is it."
I shook my head, "No...someone really bad cursed me." He nodded, "I thought as much; if you touched anyone with those, they would be afflicted by your darkness. Lots of pain, lots of sorrow unresolved...small wounds, grown larger through the passage of time. It seems you're not from this world, either."
"You can tell all of that by just touching these?" Batreaux grinned toothily, "I may not be the worst demon in the world, but we were all born with dark magic in our veins. I hope to expel mine, but perhaps I am still this way to serve a purpose..perhaps even assist you." He looked back down at them, "...I do not wish to derail off-topic, but there is unlocked potential in these. You haven't used it yet, but I can teach you in time...your gratitude to me will assist me in getting stronger, and in turn, you will be able to do things you couldn't without this power." He released my wrists, "Help me with the supply of pumpkins--they are so delicious! Once you assist me with that, come back to me and I will teach you how to master this. Daylight or dusk, I am always watching."
As if that isn't creepy... Still, he made an exccellent point; Old Impa had mentioned that I had ways of using powers, like Zelda, to carry out ways of helping and assisting, but because I was the Dark Counterpart of Zelda, I had no way of knowing what I could do. If Batreaux knew of ways to train me, I'd gladly come back. I nodded and shook his hand. "All right, but firstly I'm looking out for the Pumpkins; they need those pumpkins more than you do, in all honesty." The demon nodded, "Yes, and I will call off the monsters to stop stealing them--as long as you keep your end of the deal. Otherwise I'll have no choice but to keep taking by night."
"Wait for a little bit," I replied, "and I'll be able to get some to you."