The raiders had left as quickly as they had come. Their horses trampled the grass and filled the air with a clamor. They left behind the ruins of a shattered village.
Nothing was whole. Every building had been looted and pillaged. Any men inside were dragged outside and beaten senseless. Any women were savagely raped and left with their throats cut. Children had their bellies cut open or their eyes poked out. Some lost only an ear or their hair. Some lost their head. The raiders smashed the windows, splashed the walls with the blood of those they killed. They dented the walls with hammers and doused them with barrels of ale and wine in the cellars of the houses. They lit torches and set the houses on fire, turning what had once been a small town of the Sheikah into an inferno of hatred and death.
From under the fallen wall of a house came a cough. The wall shifted, sending some ashes tumbling to the ground. Rubble and masonry fell and cracked as the person underneath the wall brought herself out from her cocoon of stone and wood.
It was a girl, barely out of her teens. Her beautiful face had been caked with soot, her eyes red from smoke and tears. The loose dress she wore had been torn at the shoulder, and the gilded belt around her waist had been ripped open. Her silvery hair hung loosely, framing her face. A large purple bruise on her face showed the violence she'd endured.
She stood weakly, not knowing what to do. The raiders had tried to rape her. When she fought back, they'd given her a crack on the face and left her for dead. They'd dragged down the walls of her house, inadvertently covering her in the process.
Slowly the girl dug through the crumpled remains of her house, wordlessly moving like a machine. Finally, she brushed off a heap of ashes and found there, whitish and thin, her sister's arm sticking out from under one of the walls. It lay there, ridiculously pale against the dark, and she knew her family was dead. Silently she stood and let the tears run down her face. She turned and walked out of the village, not knowing or caring where she was going.
Behind her, a radiance grew from the sky, specks of brilliant dust drifting softly to the ground. Somewhere, from miles or worlds away, came the faintest sound of a harp playing. The light grew brighter and brighter, until the girl turned around.
It was plainly visible now: there were three lights, merging to seem like one. Green, blue, and red beams from the sky. Trickles of stardust collected in the beams, forming the shapes of three women. The shapes solidified and became distinct, bathing the girl in a brilliant light not of this world.
They were beyond beauty, beyond pure, beyond the heavenly light that the girl had been taught of since she was a girl. There was no doubt in her mind that these were the three Goddesses: Din, Nayru, and Farore, covered in a shimmering veil of true splendor.
Din was wearing a suit of armor over her broad shoulders, silver armor with red trim. On one shoulder was a golden Triforce symbol. Underneath the armor, visible in the gaps over her upper arms and thighs, was a suit of chain mail, red and gray. She wore no covering for her head, and the girl could see her flaming eyes and crimson hair. On her pointed ears was a pair of small blue earrings. A scabbard, buckled to the golden rings around her waist, bore another Triforce.
Nayru did not have the broad shoulders and muscular arms of her sister; most would have even called her plump. Her cerulean eyes were darker than the pale azure of her hair. She wore a long, loose robe with a v-neck and extremely deep sleeves. It was a pale blue with looping, interconnected swirls of a deeper shadow blue. On her wrist was a green pearl bracelet. Around her neck was a golden Triforce on a silver chain, matching the golden hoops in her ears.
Farore's hair was a startling green, pulled back into a ponytail that reached to her waist. Her eyes glowed emerald, matching her hair. She wore a thin strap of cloth across her chest, colored a deeper grass green. Below that, she wore a pair of wide harem pants with the Triforce emblazoned on each knee. A tiny pair of red slippers adorned her pale feet. Wrapped around one hand, as though just plucked from someone's pocket, was a golden chain, at the end of which was a large emerald.
They had come to speak with the girl.
"Proud Sheikah," said Din, in a voice like a bell ringing. "You have been spared by the raiders."
"We have come to tell you of your destiny," Farore said softly. "We will tell you of what you must do."
The girl's mouth opened slightly in surprise and shock. Nayru drifted close to her and stroked her cheek.
"So young," she murmured. "And so full of promise." She turned to the other two deities. "She is the one." Nayru turned back the girl and stood up to her full height. "You have been spared for a purpose, young Impa."
Impa took a deep breath. "A task for the Goddesses? What can I do? I could do nothing to defend my village, nor spare my family from the raiders." She was surprised at her audacity.
"It is your destiny, Impa...a destiny that has been foretold before even we were created. One day, you will play a role in the salvation of Hyrule. You were spared from the chaos that swept this land for that purpose," Din responded.
"We had no hand in it," Farore agreed. "We came to tell you of your task."
Impa sighed. "What task is this, that requires the destruction of my race?"
"I tell you, we had no hand in it!" Farore snapped back. "We have no wish to see the Sheikahs destroyed-"
Nayru calmly held up a hand to stay her sister. "Painful as it may be to accept, Impa, you are now the last of your race. If it was within our power, we would have smote those raiders with all our strength. But," she sighed, "we had no choice. You were to be spared, and we were to tell you of your task."
"Spared? Spared at what cost? You have killed my family, destroyed my home, ravaged my homeland, all for the sake of this task! I have been chosen out of thousands to be alive when all I know are dead!"
"You have been spared out of thousands for the task of saving millions...perhaps billions," Din said quietly. The girl shrank, her rage quelled. "Your task will take years, and in the end, who knows what will happen? We only know that if you do not accept this, the world will be consumed with evil for all time." Din stared with her fiery eyes at the girl. "We can tell you nothing of what you will find on your quest, only where you must go to begin. Listen."
* * *
The desert sun flared with a heat unimaginable. Vermilion light spilled like wine across the golden sand. Nabooru, Queen of the Gerudos, stood on the top of their fortress and stared across the sand.
Not that there was much to see. No one dared approach the fortress of the female thieves, not unless their wits had taken leave of them. Occasionally a wayward traveler, not aware of the Gerudos' peculiar habits and traditions, would stumble upon the fortress. If it was a female, she was given any help she required and sent on her way. If the traveler was a male, he would be seduced by one of the sisters and taken to bed with her. Not, in Nabooru's opinion, one of the most savory habits, but it was how they'd lived for centuries.
Out on the sands, looking for all the world like a tiny ant, was a figure on horseback riding swiftly. Nabooru peered out at the figure and smiled. Only a total fool would approach the fortress so blatantly-a fool, or one who knew the Gerudos. An enemy? A friend? Well, in any case it would be a welcome distraction.
Impa rode her horse quickly, his hooves churning up waves of sand in his wake. She wore a thick black hooded cloak-unbearably hot in this place, but perfect for a disguise. The Goddesses told her it was hot here, but this was insane! Well, once she reached the fortress, she could speak to the Queen, whoever she was, and begin her training, as the Goddesses told her.
Without warning, a heavy weight dropped on her back. Impa instinctively shouted something in an alien tongue and a blast of magic rippled from her hand, knocking the person off her back. As the attacker fell, he or she was able to grab the edge of the Sheikah's cloak and pull Impa off the horse. Impa rolled on the ground and dodged out of the fabric. The attacker-a red-haired woman with a slim figure and scant clothing, Impa could now see-rolled the other way and tore a thin knife from her belt. Impa jumped up and dodged the blade. The woman stepped back, then leapt like a tiger, the blade in her outstretched hand like a claw. Impa grabbed her wrist and tried to throw her to the ground, but the woman spun on one foot in an incredible maneuver and sunk the other foot in Impa's midriff. Impa grunted and fell to the ground, instinctively readying a shot of magic in her hand. The woman fell with her, catching the blade in her other hand and bringing it swiftly up to Impa's throat, even as Impa pressed her ensorcelled hand against the woman's head.
There the two combatants sat still for a moment, breathing heavily. Impa was surprised at how quick the woman was-the whole fight took less than five seconds. Nabooru was amazed by this strange woman's reflexes-they were equal to hers, even though the woman obviously had had no combat training. For a long minute neither moved. Then Nabooru sighed.
"I must say, this is one of the better stalemates I've gotten myself into," she said.
"Oh? This isn't your first?" Impa said dryly.
"No...but all of the others ended with me being injured or the other person dying. Seeing as neither one's happened yet..."
"Well, it isn't the best first impression I could make...what's your name?" Impa said without moving her hand or letting the spell drop.
"Nabooru. And you?" Nabooru's blade didn't waver an inch.
"Impa. I suppose that's"-she waved her free hand in the direction of the large group of buildings in the distance-"the Gerudo Fortress?"
"Oh yes, that's it. Sorry for the rude impression of the place you're probably getting, but you were approaching in plain view. We don't usually assault travelers...unless, like you did, they come straight on for the Fortress."
"Oh, no trouble. What do you do with the travelers?"
"Nothing to most of them...you know, this is starting to make my hand hurt. I don't suppose it's too much to ask that we drop our weapons?"
"I'd like that, but I'm not sure I can trust you."
"I can't trust you either."
The two continued to sit there without moving. Sweat started to show on Impa's face as the sand she was kneeling on grew warm from the sun. Nabooru blinked tears out of her eyes from the wind that was coming up. Finally, through some sort of unspoken agreement, the two dropped their hands at the same time. They sighed simultaneously in relief. Impa let the spell dissipate and rubbed her aching hand. Nabooru sheathed her knife again and wiped her eyes. Both stood. Now that they were both standing, Impa could get a better look at the woman.
At first glance, it seemed as though she had some strange obsession with jewelry. She wore a band of fabric stretched across her breasts and extremely loose harem pants-almost the same outfit, in fact, that Impa had seen Farore wearing. But practically every inch of her skin was covered with some glittering bauble. On both of her arms, she wore a silvery filigree design imbedded with precious stones. The belt she wore was silver as well, along with her ankle bracelets. Pink fingerless gloves covered her arms, and Impa could see many rings adorning her fingers. The neckchain she wore was of the same design as the armbands, silver and jewels. Directly below the neckchain, between her breasts, was a brooch with a large red ruby. On her forehead was another brooch-like object, with a greenish jewel in its center. Topping it all off was the silver piece with an enormous jewel in it which pulled the woman's hair back into a lengthy ponytail.
But despite all these rich trappings, the woman still seemed to project an air of confidence, of knowing that no matter what she walked into, she could walk out of it alive. Total and unwavering faith in her strength. This woman was dangerous, and deadly, and Impa knew that she was not one to be trifled with. Impa took this all in in a moment, then grabbed her cloak and draped it over her horse. Nabooru looked at the girl curiously.
"You're a Sheikah, aren't you?" she said. The girl stiffened up, and Nabooru knew it was the wrong thing to say.
"I...yes," she said quietly. She turned quickly to look Nabooru in the eye. "I need to speak with the Queen of the Gerudos. Can you take me to her?"
"You're speaking to her."
"Good." Impa reached into her pocket, then stopped with her hand grasping something. "I've been told to get my training here."
"Told by whom?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you. They knew you wouldn't like the idea, so they gave me this to gain your trust." She pulled out her hand and let her fingers unclench.
Sitting neatly on her palm was a small silver piece of jewelry-almost like a brooch. In its center was a reddish jewel that seemed to glow with an inner light. Nabooru glanced curiously at it, and then froze. Her eyes grew wide as she stared at it. Slowly she looked up at Impa. The Sheikah could see the confusion and accusation chasing each other across the Gerudo's face.
"Where did you get this?" Nabooru said softly.
"From the women who told me to come here."
"And who were they?"
"You won't believe me." Impa sighed. "They were Din, Nayru and Farore-the three Goddesses. They spared me when the raiders took down my village so I could complete some huge task for them. And they said that I'd need to be adept with weaponry and trickery, so they told me to come here. They also said that you wouldn't trust me, so they gave me this"-she tossed the brooch up in the air and caught it again-"to gain your trust."
Nabooru delicately plucked the brooch from Impa's hand and brought it up to her eyes, inspecting every surface, every facet of the jewel. Impa watched her, not saying anything. Finally, after a few minutes of Nabooru's inspection, she could hold her tongue no longer.
"What is it?"
Nabooru looked at her, startled at the interruption. "It's a tradition among the Gerudos. Every Gerudo wears one, but the queen always wears a specially crafted one, and it's usually her mother's. This was my mother's...but when I was crowned Queen, we couldn't find it. We thought some errant thief had taken it..."
"Apparently the Goddesses plan ahead."
Nabooru, in one swift motion, removed her current head-jewel and replaced it with the one Impa had given her. She turned to Impa. "Come. You can begin your training soon, but first you must see the Fortress." Nabooru started walking towards a rock outcropping without looking back. Impa, confused, called her name. The Gerudo turned, and beckoned. Impa grabbed her horse's reins and led her to the rocks, where Nabooru was prodding at a few small pebbles that were scattered loosely over the boulders.
"The Fortress is that way, isn't it?" Impa asked, pointing.
"Yes...but there's an easier way," Nabooru replied, still brushing at the pebbles. After a moment, her hand came to rest on one, seemingly identical to all the others. "Ah!" she said. "I hardly ever use this way, so I can never remember where the lock is." She pushed with all her strength at the stone.
A grinding noise came from the stones, and one of the giant boulders rolled back, exposing a deep tunnel underneath the stone. Impa stared at it, amazed. Nabooru looked back at the girl's surprised face and grinned.
"We have secret tunnels all over the place here. Get in. It's faster than going across the desert, and also quite a bit cooler." She walked down the first few steps and picked up an unlit torch by the entrance. Impa looked back at her horse, who was tossing his mane unconcernedly.
"What should I do about my horse?" she said to Nabooru.
"Leave it here," she said. "I'll have someone come and lead it up to the stables." She lit the torch from one of the brackets lining the wall and started down the tunnel. After a moment's hesitation, Impa followed her. The rock closed behind them with a thud.
They walked a while in silence, the musty rock stifling any conversation. Finally Nabooru spoke.
"If you're going to live here, you're going to have to know more about us. I suppose you've never been taught about the Gerudos?"
Impa shook her head. "No. The first I heard of you was when the goddesses told me."
"Then we're doing our job well. We have lived in the desert for centuries, being thieves who plunder others of their treasures. Years of such life have made us adapt perfectly to such actions. We can walk across a tiled floor in a suit of full armor and not make a sound. We can scale a wall of glass covered in grease and not fall. We can rob kings and queens of their gold in broad daylight. This is how we have lived for centuries, and it is how we will live for centuries more."
"Most of us. We train to be thieves, but those sisters who wish to stay here and guard our vaults can do so."
"Sisters? The males don't become thieves?"
Nabooru laughed. "You really don't know much about the Gerudos, do you?"
"I've never been taught, that's all," Impa said indignantly.
"Of course, no one ever told you...I forgot. Every Gerudo is female."
Impa was startled at how Nabooru said it in such an offhand manner. "Every one? Then how do you..." She waved a hand suggestively, turning bright red.
"Any male travelers that come through here, we capture them and bed them. Not how it's handled in most other places, but...you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess."
Impa shook her head. "So there isn't a single male Gerudo anywhere?"
"Not quite...every hundred years, a male is born. He becomes our lord, and stays our lord until he dies, or the next male is born. Our last one, Lord Hunadel, died just a few years ago. It isn't the best tradition though, since there aren't any standards for the King. The last three lords have all been total idiots. Here we are."
Impa looked up. There was a wooden trapdoor set in the ceiling. Nabooru pushed it open and hoisted herself up in one motion. Impa tried to do the same and fell on her rump. Nabooru, looking down, chuckled.
"I see you don't exercise much, young Impa." Impa glared at her and tried to jump up again, with the same result. A dark-skinned hand reached down through the hole. Impa looked up. Another Gerudo had come over to help with the newcomer. She crooked her hand and smiled. Impa took her hand and pulled herself up. She thanked the guard, and followed Nabooru down the hallway.
"That was sister Malakili you just met," Nabooru said casually when Impa had caught up.
"And?" Impa snapped. She was starting to get a little tired of this woman.
"I believe she's the one carrying our next lord. She is only two moons along, and in seven moons it will have been one hundred years since Hunadel was born."
Impa looked sidelong at Nabooru's face. "Why tell me that?"
Nabooru stopped and turned to look at Impa. "Because I think you will need to know that. Because you are connected in ways I can't even begin to understand to our next lord. I have visions, visions of the future, of people I'll never meet and places I'll never visit. I have visions of you in particular, and though nothing is said, I know that you will meet our lord many times. I can see this as clearly as I can see you now."
"You can see the future as well?" Impa said quietly.
Nabooru looked Impa in the eye. "What do you mean, as well?"
Impa looked down. "I can see something of the future also. Sometimes when in my dreams, when I look into the sun, when I look into a pool of water...they come and go. Two months ago, I saw you while I slept, even though I did not know who you were. Two weeks before the raiders came, I saw our village in flames as I bathed in the river. I don't know why I can do such a thing; not even Sheikah royalty can see the future."
Nabooru looked at Impa for a moment with a strange look in her eyes. "Your gift springs not from royalty, I think. Nor does mine. They are gifts for another purpose entirely, something that will have us meet once more, in the future." Nabooru shook her head, as if trying to clear out the dust that had settled there. She started off once more, Impa following her through the corridors.
Impa, eager to get off the subject of prognostication, remarked, "I have always wanted red hair like yours. Is it natural?"
"All Gerudos have red hair, even the males. It's an odd trait of ours." She laughed softly. "The Gorons and Zoras have no hair, we have red hair, the Hylians have only gold, brown and black...what color hair do Sheikahs have?"
"All colors left over. Silver, orange, purple, blue...shadow blue, streaked with the blue of a tranquil ocean, or the blue of a rainy sky..." A single tear formed in the corner of one eye.
Nabooru nodded. "Very poetic." She turned to say something to Impa, and only then noticed that the girl was crying. She laid a hand on the Sheikah's shoulder. "Impa, what is it? What did I say?"
"Nothing...it's just...that's what my sister's hair is-was-colored...deep blue, streaked with lighter strands..." She took in a shuddering breath. "I keep remembering them, thinking of my family, when they were still alive...and then it comes crashing in on me again, that I'll never see them again, until I die as well..."
Nabooru patted Impa's shoulder comfortingly. "I know."
Impa shrugged the Gerudo's hand off. "You don't know," she said scathingly. "You can't know...my sister, my family...my entire race was killed by a bunch of rampaging drunks who killed for the hell of it! I saw my mother's throat slit, my sister raped before my eyes and then stabbed through the heart! Then they came after me, tried to rape me...I kicked one of them in the belly and punched another on the cheek...one of them tore a plank out of the wall and broke it over my head. When I woke up, I was lying in the ruins of my house. I dragged myself out, only to have the Goddesses give me a long speech about how I was spared for some almighty purpose." She shook her head, the tears coming down in streams. "You can't know."
"I do know." Nabooru's eyes grew misty as she delved into the memories she'd kept silent for years. "One of the gifts of the Gerudo queen is prolonged life. When I said that the last three lords were idiots, I was speaking from firsthand experience. I'm over three hundred years old. My mother died, my sisters died. The way they pick the next queen around here is to line up the queen's children, and whichever one doesn't visibly age after a few years, they crown. I was lucky enough to be that one, lucky enough to watch all of my sisters die. Every friend I've ever had has died...some on battlefields I've never set foot on, some in countries where they've never even heard of the Gerudos...but most of them died in my arms. I held them as their heart stopped, their mind grew silent, as their life slipped away from them and flew into the sky. Trust me," she said softly, "I know."
Impa looked into Nabooru's eyes and suddenly saw, like a window opening, exactly where Nabooru was coming from. The authority she possessed came at a high price: the seeming immortality that defended her from Time, while her friends and family grew old and succumbed to death. The ever-present mortality that surrounded her forced her to adapt to her longevity by hiding her depression behind a devil-may-care attitude and forced humor. This woman's heart was enclosed in a cage forged of sadness, and Impa suddenly saw with utter clarity that it would take years for someone to open it-but that someday, it would surely open, and all her emotions would pour out like a dam bursting.
The months pass...
Impa jumped up the last few stairs to the top of the tower. Nabooru was already waiting for her in front of the heavy stone door.
"At last," she said. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to."
"I was held up by the sisters at the base of the stairs. They were adamant about the fact that only Gerudos were allowed up here. I had to pull out that pass you wrote up for me."
"Now that you're here, I can tell you why I called you up to here." Nabooru drew in a breath. "You have at last completed your training. But for one thing, you are now a Gerudo thief. That one thing is your armor. Every Gerudo receives a suit of armor, even those who do not go out as a thief." Nabooru pushed open the door, revealing the darkness behind it. Impa stepped inside and lit the lamp.
The room was full of armor, suits of all styles and sizes, of all metals and all fabrics. Gauntlets hung from pegs on the wall next to breastplates, glinting softly in the low light. Some were made from inch-thick metal for full combat, while some were made only of hardened leather for hand-to-hand fighting. Impa could see some suits that were obviously designed to accommodate pregnancy, the cornerstone of Gerudo society. Nabooru walked past them all and stood at the end of the room.
"You may select anything here to use-gauntlets and leggings, breastplates and helms, and chain mail if you think you might use it."
Impa picked up a gauntlet off the wall and tried it on. She replaced it on its peg and tried another. She wandered around the room, trying on pieces of armor from different suits. Finally she shook her head and walked up to Nabooru.
"None of these things seem to suit me. They are well-crafted, but...they simply aren't right."
Nabooru beamed. "I was hoping you'd say that." She walked to the back wall and pushed an inset stone panel.
The entire back wall swiveled around on some hidden dowel. The other side was nearly bare, except for a full-body mannequin upon which hung more armor.
But this armor was different. Even from ten feet away, Impa could feel it. The neckguard was connected to a small plate that hung down the front of the chest. Below that was a silver front that went down to crotch level. A pair of short pants hung below that, with knee-high boots covering the feet. Two shoulderplates were attached to the breastplate by thick straps of leather, and two fingerless gloves completed the ensemble. Impa stepped forward and ran two fingers across the metal almost reverently. It was oily smooth, shining wetly even in the dim gray light of the armory. She turned to Nabooru.
"It's beautiful," she said softly.
"I made it myself. I knew you'd be wanting something special for yourself."
Impa looked it over more carefully. "But there's no protection for the upper chest, the arms, the legs, and nothing for the head." She bit her tongue immediately after saying it, knowing the comment sounded like a criticism.
But Nabooru seemed to take it as a compliment that the Sheikah had noticed. "There is strong magic in the desert, and strong magic in the Gerudos. Yes, there are plenty of open areas, but if you wear it into battle, your enemy will find it quite difficult to hit those areas. Try it on."
Impa stripped down to her undergarments and pulled on the armor. The metal fit perfectly, yet was light as cloth. She flexed her arms, and grinned.
"It feels like I'm wearing a cloud," she said happily. "This is incredible! How did you-"
Suddenly there came a knock at the door. Nabooru frowned and went to see who had come. A sister stood outside, panting as though she had been running.
"It is sister Malakili," she said breathlessly. "She is having the child."
Nabooru turned to Impa. "Normally, only Gerudos are allowed at a birth." She cocked her head to the side. "However, I believe that this is something you should be present for. Follow me." Nabooru walked out the door with the sister, and Impa followed.
* * *
Impa had been taken into the birthing chamber, which was simply a large hall with a room at the end where the Gerudo actually gave birth. Nabooru had said that they only performed a ceremony like this when it was a Gerudo's first child, or when the child was their next lord. The other Gerudos stood in the hall, standing in some kind of preconceived order according to rank. Impa had no idea where to stand, so she stood off in one corner near Nabooru, still wearing her armor. The voices of the midwives, and occasionally Malakili's voice, came from behind the door of the birth room.
Much sooner than Impa had expected, the midwives came out with the child, along, to Impa's surprise, with Malakili. In most of the world, it was considered a fact that birth was long and weakened the mother. Of course it's easy for them, Impa realized. Birth has been the focus of their life for centuries, so they're much more suited to it. The midwives took the child up to the front of the room, and immediately every Gerudo fell flat on her face, even Nabooru. Impa stayed standing, curious.
The front of the fabric wrap the child had been in was pulled open. In the cloth was a baby boy, his eyes wet and shining. As the light hit his eyes again, he let loose with another shrill cry, and as his eyes opened fully, Impa could see that they were a brilliant, violent orange.
And as she looked into the eyes of the child, Impa saw another vision of the future. This child was lord of the Gerudos, yes, but his will was not a peaceful one. Impa could see that this child would grow up to be corrupt, would grow up with a hunger for power. This child's will would smash the underpinnings of this world, and his power would kill thousands.
The midwife holding the child turned to Malakili and said, "What will his name be, sister?"
Malakili smiled happily. "His name is Ganondorf."
Impa swallowed, and turned and fled the hall, her boots clicking on the stone floor. Nabooru saw and heard her leave, but she did not stop the Sheikah, for she had seen the same vision.
* * *
Impa rode out on her horse, clothed in a thick cloak that obscured her figure completely. The rain outside lashed at her and churned up the sandy ground until it was as thick as pudding, but Impa pushed her horse on. She did not know where she was going, and did not care. The sight of that boy had frightened her with a nameless fear.
The rain beat down on her cloak harder, and Impa knew she would have to stop for the night soon. She turned towards the forest, hoping to find a relatively dry spot, when she noticed a glow further off in the forest. Impa turned her horse towards the glow, hoping that whoever was tending the fire welcomed strangers. She hopped off her horse and pushed through the brush.
Finally she came to the glow, and found it to be a small fire held in a circle of stones. On the other side of the crackling flames sat a person in a dark cloak. Impa could not make out the face behind the darkness of the person's hood. Tentatively she tied her horse to a fallen tree and sat in front of the fire.
"I hope you do not mind me staying for the night," she said softly. "I have ridden far, and must ride farther. Will you give me shelter for the night?"
"You may stay," the person said in a woman's voice. She stirred the fire slightly with a long stick. Sparks flew up from the flames and hovered almost magically in the air, dancing on an unseen wind. Three small sparks dropped down and touched Impa's arm before disappearing. The remaining pinpoints of fire remained hanging in the air, impossibly strung up. Impa's mouth opened slightly as she slowly digested the sight. Her gaze reluctantly flicked over to the woman across the fire, who was sitting quietly, completely unfazed. The woman nodded almost imperceptibly, as if responding to some unspoken question. She raised a hand gloved in leather and snapped her fingers. As she did, every speck of light vanished with a puff of air.
"You run from a boy, young Sheikah," the woman intoned. "You run from a child that cannot yet speak, yet will perform such acts of hatred and evil in the time to come that whole countries will fall at his will like so many leaves on a tree. You run," she said quietly, "from the future."
Impa drew in her breath silently. "Nayru."
The woman drew back her hood to reveal a kind, plump face, framed by cerulean hair and pointed ears with golden hoops. The woman sitting across from Impa was the Goddess of Wisdom and Order, Nayru. Nayru smiled.
"Very good, my child," she said softly. She stirred the fire again. "I have not simply called you here to give you shelter, young Impa. I have called you here to tell you two things. Firstly: do you know of the legend of the Sages?"
Impa frowned and thought back to what she'd learned as a child. "There are six Sages. They are people with a strength of magic that rivals even yours. They are sworn to protect Hyrule from all danger, and one day, it is said, they will be instrumental in helping the Hero of Time."
"Good. And what do the Sages represent?"
Impa thought hard. "Fire. Water, Earth-no, Forest. Light, Spirit, and...Shadow."
"Correct. But there is something else that no one knows about the Sages. Before they have even awakened to their power, those who will become Sages have a gift of their own...a gift of visions. Of seeing the future."
Impa took in a shuddering breath. "Then I am a Sage."
"You are quick, young Impa. You will become a Sage eventually, with all the powers of a Sage. You already have your magic, and that shall grow in time."
"Which Sage am I, Nayru?" Impa asked.
Nayru brought up a hand to brush back a loose strand of sea-blue hair behind her ear. She studied Impa for a moment. "You are a mystery, young Sheikah," she said at last. "You have not the calm serenity of the Sage of Forest, nor the quickly shifting emotions of the Sage of Water, nor do you have the giddy lust for life that is the Sage of Spirit." Nayru smiled mysteriously. "In fact, Impa, you are so much of an enigma that one might say you are a woman masked in shadow."
"The Sage of Shadow, then."
Impa smiled tiredly. "And what is the other thing you need tell me?"
"My sister Farore was correct when she said, all those months ago, that we have no wish to see the Sheikahs destroyed. As a matter of fact, you are now the only living Sheikah in Hyrule."
"Which means that I am the last of my race."
"Not quite." Nayru smiled again. "Even now, as we speak, the seeds of three young girls stir in your womb."
Impa stared at the Goddess, not comprehending her words. Then the realization sunk into her fogged mind. Slowly, with infinite care, she placed two fingertips on her belly. Her head bowed slightly.
Impa's head snapped up again. "This cannot be," she said sharply. "I am still young, only fifteen summers, and I have never been with a man in my life! I have barely begun my monthly courses! And now you are asking me to be a mother and a Sage!"
"You need not be a mother," Nayru replied softly. "We can take you to an island, an uncharted island, and let your children be born. After that, you can leave, and your daughters will be raised by their Auntie Din," she said with a slight grin.
Impa shook her head. "But what of Ganondorf?"
"Ganondorf is still a babe, and nine months will not change that."
Impa bowed her head again. The thought of her being a mother, at only fifteen! Her mother hadn't even married until she was twenty! Now she was going to give birth in nine months to triplets, to save the Sheikah race. She was overwhelmed.
Nayru could see the confusion racing across Impa's face. She said quietly, "Impa, you will not go through this alone."
"No," Impa replied, her head still lowered. "For I am merely a tool, a tool you will use to recreate one of your toys...my race."
Nayru sighed. "Impa, someday you are going to have to learn that nothing is ever accomplished alone."
"No journey is made alone," said a voice behind Impa. She turned quickly. Din stood there, in a cloak similar to Nayru's. The tall, red-haired Goddess smiled down at the Sheikah.
"And no battle is ever fought alone," said Farore, coming out of the bushes to Impa's left. Nayru and her sisters stood before Impa.
"You are not a tool, Impa," Nayru continued. "Think of yourself as a piece of a puzzle, a link in the chain. No link, no piece is more important than the rest. We need you to do this for us."
Din raised her arms high in the air. A crimson luminescence filled the air, and with a whisper-kiss of magic, the four disappeared.
* * *
The months passed quickly on the island. No ship had ever seen it; it was not marked on any charts. No one could disturb its quiet serenity. Din, Farore and Nayru remained there with Impa, providing her with food and drink as her belly grew and swelled.
Late one afternoon, Impa sat, contemplating her reflection in a pool of tranquil water. She slowly traced a finger across its surface, watching the ripples shatter her face. She leaned back and laid on her spine, staring up at the trees and thinking.
A low rustle from the bushes disturbed her meditation. She sat up as Din came through the brush, still in her armor. Impa supposed that the Goddesses didn't change their clothes out of tradition. Din walked over to Impa-surprisingly quiet in her steel garments-and sat down next to the young girl.
"How fare you, daughter?" she said politely.
Impa shifted her sitting position slightly. "I'm not sure...I feel uneasy. As though something is happening or will happen soon."
"Is it the children, do you think?"
Impa shook her head. "No...it isn't the children. It feels like..." she paused, trying to express this papery feeling she felt. "It's as though there's something happening that I should see...something that is happening elsewhere."
Din smiled and nodded. "Your gift serves you well." She dipped a finger in the pool, and ripples spread to all the edges. The ripples slowly turned a dark vermilion, and the quiet pool was replaced by a picture.
The image was of a young girl, possibly ten or eleven, with golden hair and a bright smile. She was dressed in an elaborately made dress with the symbol of the royal house of Hyrule on the side. As Impa watched, the girl smiled prettily at something the Sheikah couldn't see.
Impa looked at Din. "Who is she?"
"She is Princess Alina of Hyrule. She is only eleven, not much younger than you, and will one day be crowned as Queen of Hyrule. And when that day comes, she will become inextricably tied with Ganondorf and all his plans." Din stared at Impa as though she was waiting for something.
Impa took in a deep breath and closed her eyes. She focused her still-rough magic inward, looking to the future, staring into the ethereal depths. Images flitted past her mind like so many birds startled by a shout. And slowly, gracefully, a string of ideas formed, a picture of what was to come...
Impa's eyes flicked open. "I must protect her from Ganondorf. Ganondorf will come into Hyrule soon, and he will attempt to steal something from Alina..." Her voice trailed off. She looked up at Din again. "Is that it?"
Din smiled slightly. "Almost, my child. It will not be Alina you must protect. It is the child she will have, a daughter. Her name will be Zelda."
"Zelda...Ganondorf will come and attempt to steal something from her...something priceless."
"Indeed. It is often said that the Sheikah are wise beyond their years, and you fit the saying perfectly." Din stood up. "After the children come, you must go to Hyrule and become Alina's nanny. You can use the techniques of disguise you learned from the Gerudos to make yourself look older. After Zelda is born, you will become her guardian and protect her from Ganondorf."
Impa sighed. "More tasks? More of my destiny? Am I to be a tool again?"
"You are not a tool, child. Nayru made that perfectly clear." There was just the barest hint of steel in Din's voice. "I am not demanding you do these things. No one is. I am simply telling you what must be done if we are to stop Ganondorf from ruling Hyrule."
Impa stood up angrily. "Then maybe I don't want to play your games, Din. Maybe I don't want to be just another link in the chain, another piece of your damnable puzzle! What if I were to walk away and live my life the way I want to?"
"You may, if you want to. I would even take you away myself."
That threw Impa off track for a moment. Her mouth opened and closed. "You will take me away from this place, let me have my daughters in peace?"
"Of course. But if you do that, Ganondorf will succeed in his bid for Hyrule, and the world will follow."
"I don't give a damn about the world! My family, hell, my race is gone! I have nothing left!"
"Then go," Din said quietly. "We will leave you to your own affairs, if you so wish." Without another word she walked out of the clearing. Impa watched her go, then sat and thought for a while.
* * *
Nayru pulled the blanket over the three girls, who were sleeping peacefully in their crib. The full moon shone down on the four figures below. Impa was wrapped up in a robe, and Din stood at her side. Farore was washing her hands in a stream, for she had birthed the children.
"You did well, child," Nayru whispered. "Your task here is done."
"And now I am to go to Hyrule?" Impa said in a cynical tone. "Leave my children in your care, never to see them again?"
"You will see them later, Impa." Farore's face bore the faintest hint of a smile. "You will see them, for they are not the last of an old race...they are the first of a new."
"So I go to my next task, my next battle to fight." Impa's voice grew louder. "I go now to do your bidding again, is that it? What must I do now? Burn a town? Kill the King? That would be a dandy; the last one committed suicide just a few years ago and they're still butchering each other about it over in Hyrule. But I suppose that just fit your plan, didn't it?"
"As a matter of fact, it did. But that is not a tale for you to hear," Din replied. "Those are not your tasks now. You must go-"
"Go and protect Alina. Go and protect your precious Princess and her priceless daughter from the nasty Gerudo man. Go and-"
"Shh," Nayru shushed. "You are waking your children."
Impa looked guiltily over to the crib. Two of the girls were flailing, close to crying. As they turned over, their eyes opened, and Impa could see that one had eyes of deep red, and the other of grass green. One of them touched their still-sleeping sister, and she awoke as well, her sea-blue eyes opening slowly.
Impa stared at them for a moment, stolid and unmoving. "Maybe so," she said after a minute. She swiveled her head to look at Nayru. "Maybe so. But then, they're not really my children, are they?" Impa turned to Din. "Take me back," she pleaded.
Din did not move for a moment, then reluctantly raised her arms and a crimson glow filled the island.
Impa and Din reappeared a moment later beside a stream somewhere deep in a forest. Impa noted that Din had brought along all of her possessions, including her Gerudo-forged armor. Din stood, not moving, watching Impa as she stripped down and started to wash herself off. Impa, soaking in the cool water, scowled at Din.
"Must you watch?" she demanded. "We Sheikahs have something called modesty."
"Why are you so concerned about your privacy? I do not care if I see you naked."
"Well, I do!" She stood up angrily and started to pull on her armor.
Din, still watching, said, "Why are you so angry, child?"
Impa jerked on her boot. "Because I was looking at those girls, and when they opened their eyes, I finally realized something. I realized that they aren't my children. They were conceived in me by Nayru, birthed by Farore, and you will raise them. They aren't really mine. I was a tool, a tool you will use to bring back my race." She pulled on the other boot.
"Then where do you go now, Impa?"
"I'm going to go become the nanny at the castle."
Din cocked her head to one side. "I thought you said that you would not do what we asked of you."
"Yeah, well, I realized something. I realized that if I don't stop Ganondorf, no one will. So when he comes after Zelda, I'm going to kill him." Impa pulled out a small can of silver paint, and streaked three sharp spikes down from her eyes with it. She then dipped her finger in it and painted on her chestplate the symbol of the royal family of Sheikah-a stylized eye, shedding a single tear.
"Killing him will do more harm than simply stopping his quest."
"I don't care. I'm going to kill him, and I'm going to do it soon. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to the castle." Impa grabbed her belongings and stormed off through the trees.
Din smiled in the darkness. "Just like me," she said to herself.
* * *
"Are you an experienced nanny, Impa?"
"Of course, your majesty." Impa's eyes traced over the throne room of the castle. The king peered at her-he was obviously half-blind. Impa pointed at the servant that had introduced her. "My mother can vouch for me."
The old woman took the hint and nodded vigorously. Impa had paid her good money to introduce the Sheikah girl as her long-lost daughter. The old woman was half-Sheikah, with graying hair, and needed the money, so she accepted. Now Impa was inside, and the king was seriously considering her as a candidate for the position of nanny. If all went well, she could start soon.
"Very well then, Impa. You may start right away. Your room will be in the west hallway. Here's the key." The king motioned to the guard behind him, and he tossed a key to Impa.
"Thank you, your majesty." Impa could see Princess Alina sitting next to her father, her eyes shining brightly, her face pretty like a picture. Impa smiled. "You won't regret this."
The woman in black came galloping up to the gate on her horse, the rain spattering lightly on the dusty trail. She stopped directly in front of the gate, and her horse reared back. She came down hard, and jumped off the horse. The guards came up and demanded her identification. The woman pulled back her hood, and let her long silver hair spill out. The guards opened the gate, and the woman rode through.
Impa ran up the stairs, still shaking off the rain. She thrust off her cloak. Underneath she wore her armor. Finally, at the top of the stairs, she thrust open the door.
Inside, Queen Alina was looking flushed but happy, her hair in disarray around her smiling face. She was feeding her new child, the new Princess Zelda. Impa had arrived too late to see the birth, but she didn't mind that-her own had been messy enough. But Alina looked overjoyed.
Impa smiled. "She's beautiful."
Alina laughed slightly. "Her father's eyes." She stood up and placed the girl in her crib, tickling Zelda's chin as she did so. For a moment she let her eyes linger on her new daughter. Then she turned suddenly to Impa.
"Why did you lie to me, Impa?"
The question completely threw Impa off for a minute. She shook her head. "What?"
"When you came to my father, you said you were Kelun's daughter. The only reason daddy believed it was because he was half-blind and about as smart as a rock."
Impa sighed. "You're right, I'm not her daughter."
"I knew it. Why did you lie to him, though?"
"It's one of my tasks."
Alina looked curiously at Impa. "What tasks?"
"It's my whole life story, really. And you're part of it."
"You're talking in riddles, Impa. One of the first things you taught me was to never talk in riddles."
"You want to know what I mean?" Impa was getting angry, and she knew it. "Fine. I was born in Turyn Town, the last Sheikah town to resist the raiders. My entire family was killed, in fact, my entire race was killed. When I crawled out of the wreckage of my town, the three Goddesses came down to me and told me that I'd been spared because of my destiny. They sent me to the Gerudos to be trained in their arts, and I witnessed the birth of their next lord, Ganondorf. The problem is, Ganondorf is evil, and will grow up evil. I fled the Fortress, only to meet Nayru. Nayru made me pregnant with triplets, all pure Sheikahs. I gave birth when I was fifteen, and I left when I realized that those girls really weren't my daughters-they were the children of the Goddesses. I left, paid off Kelun to say I'm her daughter, and here I am. Now I'm supposed to protect Zelda from Ganondorf, because he'll be coming into Hyrule very soon. The only reason you won't protect her is because there'll be a plague coming down from the hills in a few years, and you'll be one of the first to die." Impa took in a deep breath. "Answer your question?"
The answer seemed to stun Alina for a moment; all she could do was look down into the baby's cradle. Impa could see the woman's hands as they gripped the wood tightly. Alina looked up at the Sheikah with wet eyes.
"How do you know this?" she asked, her voice tight. "How can you claim to know the future?"
"I don't claim to know it, I do know it. Do you know exactly why I've been away from the palace for seven months? Because I was meeting with Rauru, the Sage of Light and last of the old Sages. I am destined to become a Sage, with all the powers and responsibilities of a Sage. Trust me," she said with a tired look. "I know the future."
Alina let go of the cradle and took two weak steps into a nearby chair. "A plague," she whispered. She laughed, incongruously. "And I am the first to die?" she questioned Impa.
"Near the first. Thousands die before the healers find a cure, and you are among them."
"And my husband?"
"He catches a mild case, but his body fights it off. When the plague has been eradicated, though, he faces a larger enemy: sorrow, the sorrow from your passing."
Alina sighed. "What of Zelda?"
"She is untouched, as am I. Your husband is so saddened by your death that he becomes a hermit, never leaving his room. I alone take care of Zelda."
Alina stood, her hands brushing limply against the folds of her robe. "Promise me, Impa," she said softly. "Promise me you'll raise her like I would."
Impa nodded, and kept her word.
* * *
Impa screamed a high, wavering war cry and kicked the man in the stomach. The man grunted and fell over, clutching his torso. Impa jumped over him and ran swiftly to the throne room.
She slammed open the doors and went straight to the king. "Your majesty," she said tersely. "We've got a problem. Ganondorf is not what he seems."
The king stood up. "What?"
"He's the leader of a group of thieves. I think they're going after Zelda. We need to get you and her out of the castle."
Everyone turned as a whole to look at the doorway. There, framed in the light, stood Ganondorf, leader of the Enchanted Thieves. His metal armor gleamed wetly, and Impa could see a few bright red spots on the hands. Ganondorf was no slacker when it came to fighting. He laughed loudly.
"I think you'll find that your nursemaid is indeed telling the truth. I want Zelda-or, more accurately, I want her Ocarina. And you really shouldn't try to stop me."
Impa wasted no time on words. She lifted her arm and let loose a brilliant beam of energy. Ganondorf, surprised, had barely enough time to form a shield around his body. The light shattered and splintered on the shimmering dome. Ganondorf grimaced.
"So you're a bit of a sorceress, eh? Well, that's no problem." He lifted his arms into the air, and a thousand shards of light shot up from the ground, twisted in mid-air, and flew towards Impa.
Impa flipped her hand contemptuously, and the shards disappeared. Ganondorf's jaw dropped. "How..." he said, disbelieving.
"It's called power, Ganondorf." Impa drew a circle in the air, leaving a glowing trail hovering. The circle filled with purple light, and a ripple of force slammed into Ganondorf's body. Ganondorf was tossed like a rag doll into the opposite wall. Impa turned to the king.
"Now! Go out the back, while he's out! I'll get Zelda out!" She shoved the king towards the door, and turned to run for the door.
And just as quickly jumped back around the doorjamb, dodging the arrows that flew past her ear. Three of Ganondorf's thieves were waiting at the top of the stairs with bows and quivers. Impa looked out at Ganondorf, who was starting to move around on the ground. Impa grabbed a cerimonial sword, hanging on the wall. She took a deep breath, then ran through the door.
Her mind sharpened on one point, and she felt the flame of magic fly through her blood. As she jumped for the stairs, the world seemed to slow down, seemed to almost stop. Impa jumped through the air, surprised at how high she could jump. The arrows flew by her, but they were so slow, why, she could just dodge them like that...
And she landed behind the thieves, and the world sped up again. Impa cut one of them down in a second, then turned her blade on another, disarming him and then throwing him down the stairs. She ducked beneath the third's blade, and spun her legs into his, knocking him to the ground. She lept through the doorway and rushed to Zelda's room.
Zelda was sitting on her bed, not even moving. She jumped a foot when Impa threw open the door, and looked into the Sheikah's eyes with total conviction.
"It's Ganondorf," she said. "He's come for the Ocarina."
Impa said nothing, but picked Zelda up bodily and grabbed the Ocarina from her bedside table.
Ten minutes later, they were riding on a horse out from the castle. Impa flicked the reins and the horse flashed over the drawbridge. Impa thought she saw a person standing there, but it was so quick, she wasn't sure. Zelda raised her arms up for a second, then lowered them to her sides. It seemed like she was praying.
Finally, Impa stopped the horse in the woods outside the castle. Impa hopped off the horse and looked back. There was no sight of Ganondorf. A small cough came from behind her. It was Zelda, looking very forlorn. Impa squatted down to the girl's level, and said, "Zelda, we need to stay away from the castle for a short while. Ganondorf, the bad man you saw, was in there. You're safe now, but we won't be able to return for a while."
Zelda nodded. She seemed very much ten years older. Impa laid her hand on Zelda's head, and pulsed a very small spell through the girl's head. "You need to sleep now, Zelda."
Zelda blinked her eyes owlishly, and without protest, laid down on the grass and fell asleep instantly. Impa sighed, then stood up and covered the girl with a blanket off the horse.
"I see you have kept your promise, Sage of Shadow."
Impa turned, and knelt before the aged Hylian man. "Rauru. My lord."
Rauru nodded slowly. "Rise, Impa. There is much we must discuss." Impa rose, and stood before Rauru, looking into his eyes with the grim face of a warrior. Rauru, in response, sat down and crossed his legs-something very un-sagelike. He motioned for Impa to follow suit, and she did.
"You remember I told you about the boy, Link?" he said after a moment.
"Of course. The Kokiri boy with the Emerald. You told me about him when we last met."
"I also told you my fear that Link would become Ganondorf's target." He sighed mightily. "It appears I was wrong. Our Gerudo enemy is smarter than he looks. He's been stringing the boy along, letting Link take the stones and try to get the Ocarina. He figured that, if Link were to find the artifacts and open the door, he could simply follow him in and kill the boy without much trouble."
"What is the problem, then? As long as Zelda has the Ocarina, Ganondorf..." her voice trailed off as she saw Rauru's face. She shook her head incredulously. "No."
"Yes. Zelda threw the Ocarina to Link as you passed over the moat."
"I thought I saw her raise her arms. I thought she was praying," she said almost pleadingly. She lowered her head into her hands. "Then Ganondorf is already inside."
"No. Link opened the door, but the King is quite clever. He ordered his soldiers to form a cordon around the Temple of Time and not let anyone through. Ganondorf is not in yet, but he will be before long."
"Then I have failed my task."
"No," Rauru repeated. "You completed your task perfectly, as did everyone else. Ganondorf has been fated to take the Triforce for all his life. The things we did only served to set up a plan for the future. When Link returns from the cocoon I placed him in, we will be nearly ready to strike down the Gerudo."
"Then you believe Link is the Hero of Time?"
"Of course. He completed the tasks the Hero was supposed to complete."
Impa laughed humorlessly. "Always tasks," she said cynically. "Why is it we always have tasks?"
Rauru stood. "As someone once said to me: it matters not what we must do, only what we do. I must go." He threw Impa a mock salute. "In seven years."
Impa returned the salute. "In seven years." Rauru vanished in a spark of light, and Impa was left alone, looking up at the stars.
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