The Scoundrels of Virtue

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The whole way back up the mountain, Endel and Maia kept nervously looking at each other. The deed had been done, their victim was going to be punished for a crime he didn't commit, there was no going back now. And at any rate, they had to get the hammer, and there wasn't any other way. Still, he needed to tell Maia something to soothe her nerves...

 

"Hey..." Endel nudged her gently. "Do you want to talk about what just happened?" 

"I don't know  if I want to, but we probably should." Maia kept her eyes on the ground as they spoke.

"You know, it isn't your fault. Rueben... no, Most of us would have done it anyway. You're not a bad person."

Maia nodded but kept her gaze on the ground. Endel squeezed her hand affectionately.

"We're all trying to save our friends, and... well... even if they don't think we're doing the right thing, you and I still have each other, right?"

She looked up at him and smiled. He gave her a quick kiss and wrapped his free arm around her. Their affection didn't fix what had been done, but Endel had to admit, it made him feel better about the situation.

 

The crags and gaps of Death Mountain Trail seemed to belch steam and gas almost constantly. The plates of rock would shift and tremble even more than they had in the past as the group was led back up the burning slopes of the volcano. Endel always thought this place seemed more primal than any other landscape in Hyrule, somehow. Even the darkest jungles of Faron had nothing on the chaotic fissures and rumbling pathways of Eldin's wasteland. It was only fitting that a god bent on destroying them all would be sealed here; each tremble seemed like the sleeping fits of a titan trapped under the earth. As they ascended the roughly-hewn staircases of the Gorons, Endel had to grip the stairs tightly in case another earthquake threatened to shake him off.

"The mountain really likes to fight back," Rueben warned them. "Keep a steady grip, or you'll be thrown down by the quakes before the Gorons get their chance."

Endel thought this sounded like an improvised speech, but he wasn't sure why. He shrugged it off and gave Maia a hand as she climbed the staircase.

 

They were approaching the very summit now, where  Rueben told them they'd have to descend into the crater. "Death Mountain used to be unbearably hot, but over time the whole thing cooled off inside and out. Even Hylians can survive in the Goron Mines if you folks don't mind getting sweaty." Endel could tell Rueben was being serious now. "We won't be going that way, though. There's a weird set of ruins down in the bottom of the crater, we won't be able to miss them, that should be our destination. I hope you lot enjoy spelunking!"

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"Isn't there another way?" Maia asked Endel, trying to only let him hear what she was saying. She didn't want Rueben to comment that she was whining. She just wasn't fit for these kind of things.

"I'm afraid not... Rueben would have said so if there was. But I'll help you", Endel smiled, giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. 

Maia sighed. "Thanks." 

They watched as Rueben went first and Torianna following short after. 

Maia still felt bad about this whole 'quest'. The talk with Endel had made her feel better, but she doubted that the bad feeling would go away soon. But she was glad she still got Endel, and that he felt bad about it too. Not that she hadn't expected anything else...

Lorcan went down next and Maia felt more and more anxious to know that she would be going down soon. 

"Maybe it's best if you go now?" Endel proposed. "That way you aren't the last one to go and you have two people to help."

"Guess I'll have to..." Maia sighed and readied herself. 

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Both Torianna and Rueben's leather jackets sat in a small pile just a few steps behind them as Lorcan came skidding down the rope, leaping carefully off the crater wall. Torianna began to roll up her shirt sleeves, while her accomplice kept a firm grip on the rope to keep it anchored. It was hot as hell down at the bottom of the crater, not to mention dark; and the female thief was not enjoying it.

"Was it this hot last time you were here?" she asked as she pulled her hair back, fixing it up with a thin piece of string. "I swear Jaydon said it wasn't that bad..."

Rueben turned to her, his eyes wide in a warning sign as Lorcan freed himself from the rope. He quickly gave three sharp tugs to signal to Endel that the next person should start descending, before turning to give Torianna a knowing look.

"Take it easy," she assured her friend. "Lorcan already knows."

Rueben turned to give the boy a dark look, his eyebrows drawn together. "How come?"

"He's got a crystal ball and some creepy skill for reading it. Isn't that right, monkey man?" Lorcan gave a solemn nod to affirm the news, and Torianna continued. "But it's not like you need to worry, he can't talk anyway."

"Fine," Rueben sighed reluctantly, turning back to the rope. "But if this all blows up, I'm blaming it on him."

It took Maia a while to make her way down the rock face, meanwhile Lorcan divested his additional layers, shooting Rueben dirty looks all the while. Torianna could practically taste the disdain between the boys, and was doing everything in her power to diffuse the situation. Frankly, she was relieved when Maia joined them, and even more so when Endel and Cheval found their way down too. Once everyone was safely on the ground and suitably dressed, they set off in search of the ruins that Rueben had promised them.

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Endel was surprised at how dark the crater of the volcano was; he'd expected at least some light to accompany all that heat they had to deal with. It was unbearable, but thankfully Rueben had come prepared; he passed around a series of red, silky headbands for them to wear. "This is a special fabric made by the Gorons. It'll keep your heads cool so you don't get heatstroke." Their guide explained as he tied his own around his forehead. Endel felt  the temperature of his head go down as he wound the cloth beneath his hairline, making it significantly easier to focus on his surroundings.

 

The first thing he noticed were the typical signs of intelligent life in the area. There were tunnels and roads clearly devised by laboring hands, even the dysfunctional remains of a pathway leading back up the crater wall to his left. There was a strange, stone slab on the ground just ahead that had been pulverized by quakes and falling rocks; it was impossible to tell what purpose it had served, but Endel suspected it was a landmark. There were also chunks of cut stone everywhere, but nothing resembling significant architecture. Whatever had been standing as a monument in this crater had long ago fallen to ruin, leaving Endel to conclude the Gorons hadn't been active in this place for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, they'd left a long, straight tunnel ahead leading who-knows-where burrowed into the side of the mountain, not far from where everyone had landed. The far end of that tunnel was glowing ominously, so that they were reluctant to follow Rueben inside.

 

"There's old stories of this place, it's a temple to worship the forces of fire." Rueben told them. "The Gorons respect fire, because the fires of the volcano create new magma rocks for them to eat. But they also acknowledge the destructive force of flame, which is why they prayed here to contain its ruinous power. They supposedly communicated directly with some sort of god that was trapped here... guess we know who that is now."

"If you have a god of fire locked up in your temple, why would you stop coming to check on him?" Maia asked.

Rueben only shrugged dismissively.

 

"Someone, or something, must have convinced them to stop." Cheval suggested. It was a pretty clever point, Endel had to admit. "People don't just give up on their gods... er, most people." Endel glared at Cheval for the passive barb he'd made.

"Well, if anyone managed to relieve the Gorons of their duty, it's safe to say we'll run into them up ahead." Rueben told them. "Look."

 

They'd reached the end of the cave, where the unearthly glow was at its strongest. Candles littered the room, circling a hole in the ground with a well-repaired ladder descending into it, indicating someone had been there not too long ago. Everyone immediately readied their weapons.

"I didn't expect a fight in here-before the dragon, I mean." Cheval remarked. "Guess I might get a few practice sessions with his barbaric looking hammer we stole."

"Everyone should go ahead of me. I'll take up the rear and cover you guys with my bow, just in case." Endel instructed them as he peered down the chasm in the center of the room. Pitch black... he picked up a candle and dropped it; the sound of its collision with the floor wasn't too far off. He handed each of them candles and took a deep breath to steady his nerves. "Pay close attention to your surroundings, I don't expect whatever's living here to be hostile, but you never know. Don't attack first, if you can help it."

 

The others began their descent into the vertical passage, giving Endel a moment to nock his arrow and give the area one last check. He looked back into the tunnel they'd came from expecting to see blackness, but the other end of the cave was distinct enough that he could gauge the distance they'd traveled. But something was odd... there were lights on the far end of the tunnel that he didn't remember, two white orbs that almost seemed to be looking at him. Suddenly, he realized they were eyes, belonging to something wrapped in a green cloak, peering at him with caution. It was just like the strange, sentient thing they'd encountered in Kazdan's hidden tunnel network at Kakariko, the one that had called itself a "subrosian" or something. He thought about calling out to it, but the figure scurried before he could make any response.

"Did you guys-" Endel stopped when he saw the others were already on their way down the ladder. He dashed to the edge and hollered down.

"Someone's headed our way! I don't know what they want, but keep your eyes peeled for any friends he might have!"

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