Shadowed Fate

By Farore769

Chapter 18: The Gathering


Straightening his tunic, Link shook his head for what felt like the hundredth time, still marveling that the Gerudo had sewn him a new outfit at his direction, including a new cap. Now, he absently wrung it in his hands, staring south at the hill that sloped gradually upward, with a bare scattering of trees at the top. A larger copse sat further to the east, large enough to conceal perhaps a hundred men or so. Anything that would provide any bit of advantage had to be utilized, no matter if it was seen as fair or not; war was never fair.

            Three more days, he thought. Three more days, and that crest will be covered in enemies.

            From where he stood, he heard the Gerudo clearly, talking of previous battles and something called Battle Eve, which, when he had listened closer, made his ears burn and his face turn bright crimson. From what he had gathered, a few of the women were about to face their first fight, having just changed from child to adult because they had turned thirteen. The thought of thirteen year old girls in the thick of battle made him sick, but when he said such a thing to a woman, she had nearly snapped his head off, shouting that she was not a child. How had he been supposed to know that Gerudo were done growing physically at thirteen, that by that year they had the muscle and size of a Hylian in mid-twenties?

            Link glanced back at the camp, watching a Gerudo instruct two of the mercenaries in her people’s style of riding, oddly hunched over the horse’s neck and seeming one with the animal. Two hundred eighty-one mercenaries followed Dvarn, it turned out, and they trusted the man’s judgment on which conflicts to enter. But they were mercenaries, armed with whatever weapons they chose, some on foot and some mounted.

            “Where are Zelda and the others?” Noah asked, approaching him.

            Link had no need of the no’tzennok. “Coming here, but slowly. I’ve tried to impress upon her the necessity that she gets here as fast as possible, but she is always distracted.”

            Shrugging, Noah said, “Maybe it’s better if she and the others don’t get here in time for the battle. Then they won’t face death.”

            “They’ll just face death later.”

            Noah shook his head. “Dragons, this is wearing on a person’s nerves! How can you stand the waiting?”

            “I do because I have to,” Link replied. Turning, he sighed heavily and flexed his hands within his gauntlets, the worn leather moving smoothly. Glancing down, he stared at his bare fingers, the skin crisscrossed with tiny scars and calluses. “There is nothing else we can do now.”

            Noah raked his fingers through his hair. “Link, do you think it’ll be possible to settle back to a normal life after this?”

            “For me, normal doesn’t exist; it never has. But I doubt it, and I’m sorry for you, that you had to lose a chance at happiness because of me.”

            Clapping him on the shoulder--it had only been badly bruised, and the dark splotches had almost entirely faded away--Noah smiled. “I was never happy here,” he said. “I think I can still be happy. I think you can still be happy, even if a normal life eludes you.”

            Link shook his head, moving a few steps from his friend. “I’m not so sure. I’ve seen too much in my life to be content anywhere. I’m too afraid I’ll hurt someone by coming to care for them too much. If I married, what would happen to my wife if I died in a fight? And where would I live? The longest I have stayed in one place is ten years, and that’s just because I had nowhere else to grow up. Every place I go, I am reminded of something that makes me wish to move on, so I can attempt to forget. But every place holds those reminders.” He sighed heavily, weary to the very core of his being. Glancing back, he frowned a moment as someone galloped into the camp. With a start, he recognized the gray horse, and he said, “It looks like Aphelandra is back.”

            The two men watched her ride among the Gerudo at a brisk walk, and she drew rein before them before. Sliding down, she took the reins in her left hand, a faint smile on her face and quiet pride drifting from her. “It is done.”

            “What’s done?” Noah asked. “Awakening the orbs?”

            She nodded. “Yes. Din’s orb lit up with such vivd scarlet light that I was forced to shield my eyes. And Nayru’s shone azure. The inside of her temple, though--I cannot wait to study it in detail!”

            “You might not get that chance,” Link said, absently noting that she still wore her torn gown. “It depends on whether or not you survive the upcoming battle.”

            “Cheerful fellow, aren’t you?” Noah muttered. “Aphelandra, I’m sure the Gerudo could provide you some new clothes. I mean, they sewed Link’s garments specifically for him.”

            “Oh, clothes are just a minor detail,” she said, waving a hand. “Now, battle?” Suddenly, her gaze became sharp, attentive. “Battle. Noah, I don’t know how I know, but you are key to this battle. Without you, we’ll fail. We might still fail, but you’re important.”

            “Since when were you a seer?” he mumbled, but he seemed unnerved by the words.

            Walking a few steps away, Link stared up at the overcast sky, at heavy gray clouds that would take days to drift away. For the ReDeads. ReDeads can’t move in sunlight. He just hoped there were not too many of the animated corpses. Those things alone could decide the battle.

            With his gaze turned upward, he saw the dark speck in the sky first, hurtling toward them and angling for the ground. It was still a fair distance away, but at the rate it flew, it would reach them soon. Puzzled, he said, “Something’s flying this way. I can’t see what it is, though.”

            Noah tilted his head back, eyes narrowed in a manner that tugged at his scar. Abruptly, he laughed in delight, and then he shouted, “The Riders! The Riders are coming!”

            Now that Link was aware of the nature of the shape flying toward them, he identified it as a mass of smaller figures, soaring in trim ranks--though occasional shifting occurred when a new Talar took the lead--that allowed him a rough guess as to the number of Riders. There can’t be as many as I think I’m seeing....

            The Gerudo spotted them, too, for they pointed with the curved blades of their spears. Dvarn, seated near a Gerudo with bound hair that barely reached her shoulders, nodded thoughtfully, toying with the longer lock of hair that was the mark of his company. He spoke to the woman, who promptly rushed off toward Shessn and Coruvdo.

            As the Riders reached the army camped below, some of the great birds locked wings and dove toward the ground. The first Talar landed about a stone’s throw from Link, folding its long wings fastidiously as its Rider dismounted, then followed with its swaggering stride as the man approached Link. Overhead, the huge... flock?... boiled, the birds weaving in and out and swirling into a feathered cyclone, and then some banked to the side, diving down with the people they bore parallel to the ground. The birds straightened before they reached the earth, of course, but Link still shook his head at the antics. He might like flying--might!--but not with acrobatics like those.

            A Rider--a woman--strode toward Link, Noah, and Aphelandra, removing her helmet to allow dark brown hair to tumble down, framing Queen Alanar’s face. Tucking the crested helm beneath her arm, she halted before them, regarding her eldest son with unreadable eyes.

            “You summoned us,” she said finally, in a flat voice. Behind her, her Talar tossed its head. “Why?”

            “We need the Riders,” Noah answered simply.

            Her eyes blazed, twin emerald fires. “You need Riders? Your brother and I were rallying everyone to roust that traitor Senna from the kingdom! If not for your fool stunt that lasted so long every Rider wanted to know the desperate need, we could already have driven her out!”

            “No, you couldn’t have!” he protested passionately, clenching a gloved fist. “Mother, beyond that hill is the greatest army Karradai has ever seen. In three days, they will be here, and we are sorely outnumbered. With the Riders you have brought, we will be about half their strength. And Senna is one of the leaders of that army. Here is your chance to strike her down. Here is your chance to end the strife in your land. Here is your chance to end a war that, if allowed to continue, will ravage all of Karradai and leave only broken remnants of our grandeur behind.”

            Sometime during Noah’s passionate discourse, Jendrick had approached, glancing from his mother to the Gerudo army. Riders still landed further back, though they had to move out of the way immediately, the Talar birds swaggering off. As his brother finished, the Rider said, “Mother, I believe he is telling the truth.”

            Alanar stiffened, fury flashing across her face, then drew a great breath before exhaling it slowly. “Noah,” she said, each word carefully measured and weighed before she uttered it, “once this battle is in our past, you will give me those gloves, and, if you are still alive, you will leave Karradai and never come back.”

            He shrugged carelessly, but Link still noticed the trace of sorrow that passed over his face and hummed faintly in their sense of unity. “Fair enough.”

            “And,” she continued, drawing herself up with regal bearing, “if this fight does not come in three days, we Riders will leave.”

            Jendrick gaped at her, but Noah simply shrugged again. “That, too, is fair.”

            Her face softened, and she cast him a sad smile. “You would have made such a good king, Noah. A pity you were not a Rider.”

            “I may yet be king,” he whispered, so softly Link was sure only he heard it.

            Turning away, the Hyrulian watched Shessn and Coruvdo walk forward, still carrying horn and banner, though he had yet to catch a glimpse of whatever was on the standard. The two Gerudo approached Alanar, identifying her as a person of command, and then Shessn said, “You are the leader of these people?”

            “I am,” Alanar answered. “I am Queen Alanar--”

            Coruvdo cut her off with a peremptory gesture. “How are your people best employed in battle?”

            She frowned. “What?”

            “We need to know where to place you for the upcoming battle,” Shessn explained, a touch impatiently. “Link and Dvarn need to know, too. They are among the best tacticians I have met outside my sisters.”

            The queen’s gaze flicked to him before returning to the Gerudo. “I hope you have sent scouts out. It all depends on what we are facing.”

            “You think we are not aware of that? Come.” Shessn gestured toward the camp. “We will tell you. You may even talk with some of the scouts, if you wish.”

            Inclining her head, one leader to another, she strode off, her Talar bird swaggering in her wake. Jendrick followed her for a few steps, then halted, head swinging to stare at Noah. “Weren’t there others with you?”

            “We were... separated,” the man replied, scratching at his scar. “Link, Aphelandra, and I had some business to see to, and we wound up a fair sight further away than this. The others will meet up with us here.”

            The Rider studied the priestess for a moment before pursing his lips, his eyes narrowing. “You. You’re one of the heretics.”

            “You may think that, but you’re wrong,” she stated sublimely, unaffected by the tattered and bloodstained gown she wore. “You see, there are actually three goddesses, Din, Nayru, and Farore, and they--”

            “Now’s no time to discuss religion.” Link glanced at the people confronting each other, both proud in where their beliefs rested, and said, “Give it a rest for now, will you? We have a battle to plan for. One that, unless we gain more reinforcements, we will lose.”

            Jendrick nodded once, though he still eyed Aphelandra sideways. “You are right. Now, what do you know of the force so far?”

            “Not much,” Link admitted, “but the scouts--”

            We come.

            He swayed at the force of the words, ringing through the no’tzennok, with telepathy driving them home. Zelda?

            We come, she repeated. Look north.

            Turning , his back to the hill the Partisans would come over, Link watched as four mounted people appeared, leading three horses. He smiled, recognizing Phantom and Arzosi, Storm and Heartfire. “They’re here,” he said. “Zelda and Ria and Romani and Kyrani. And Pelayla,” he added, noting the speck of light on Romani’s shoulder.

            “’Bout time,” Noah complained, grinning. “That girl was starting to worry me.”

            Link opened his mouth, then stared as another person rode up beside the women, resplendent in burnished armor and a helmet lacquered black and inlaid with beaten copper, with three thick red plumes rising from it. Another armored man cantered up behind the five, then another, and another. As the four women moved forward, an entire army followed, men on foot shouldering pikes or hefting crossbows, mounted men carrying lances tucked into stirrups. An impressive sight, with dark green streamers fluttering as a breeze tugged at them, they lurched forward together, grouping behind the plumed officer, who raised a gauntleted fist into the air and barked orders. 

            Beside Link, Noah gasped, “But that has to be every reserve soldier in the country! How did she gather them?”

            “That’s why they’ve been moving so slowly,” Link murmured, watching the army continue forward. The Gerudo had noticed, of course, and most stood to watch the approach. “They’ve been stopping at the garrisons and emptying them.”

            Noah laughed. “Ha, we’ll show those damned Partisans! Bet they never expected us to scrape up such huge forces so quickly!”

            “It does seem we will stand a greater chance of surviving,” Jendrick stated in a measured voice, hands clasped behind his back.

            Without waiting, Link sprinted forward, grinning.  He ignored the startled Gerudo as he dodged around them, eager to be reunited with his friends once more. Nearing the women, he cried, “You’re here! And with an army!”

            Zelda smiled at him, brushing a wrinkle out of her silken riding dress. “I thought you would be furious, judging by your impatience and by your insistence that I come as fast as possible.”

            His grin became rueful. “Sorry. I was panicking. How many do you have with you?”

            “Two thousand or so foot and around a thousand horse. You, too, seem to have gathered quite an army.” She leaned forward in her saddle, resting an arm on the pommel as she gazed at the mass of people gearing themselves for the coming battle. “How many do you have?”

            “Three thousand Gerudo, about three hundred mercenaries, and a little over a thousand Riders.”

            Romani’s eyes were wide in her face as she glanced around. “So many! Surely this is unfair!”

            “Unfair? We’re facing ten thousand in three days. I’d hardly call eight to ten unfair on our part.”

            The redhead shifted uncomfortably in her saddle. “I know nothing about battle or fighting. I thought it was like hunting, at first, but the deer won’t think around your possible actions and ambush you.”

            Sympathy welled up inside Link. Once, he, too, had been just as innocent. “Maybe you should stay out of the battle, then. One person more or less won’t make much difference.”

            “No!” Her defiant shout caused many of the soldiers to eye her strangely, and she blushed. “I will fight, whenever the battle comes.”

            Kyrani’s black gelding snorted, and she absently patted the side of his neck, her eyes wide beneath the bedraggled hair that fell over her face as she stared at the Gerudo encampment. Link, noting her gown of dark gold wool, said, “You may join them, if you wish, though if you’d prefer to change--”

            “No!” she hissed vehemently. “I am an outcast! I cannot join them!”

            Noah and Aphelandra jogged up, Noah smiling like a child surrounded by sweets, Aphelandra filled with suppressed excitement. Suddenly, Romani burst out, “What have you been up to, Crow? Quit grinning like a fox among chickens.”

            “Sorry, Ranchgirl,” he replied, his grin broadening. “How’ve you been keeping?”

            Planting fists on her hips, she scowled at him, quite fiercely. “Fine, no thanks to you, running off without so much as waiting for me to wake. You had no real pressing reason to go off; you could have stayed a few more hours.”

            Zelda shifted in her saddle, then turned her head to regard the plumed officer beside her. Clearing her throat, she said, “Have your men set up camp here, Captain.”

            He clapped an arm across his breastplate in a salute, then wheeled his deep-chested roan around, shouting orders to the soldiers. Link glanced at him once before gesturing down toward the Gerudo army. “You will want to speak with Shessn and Coruvdo.”

            Kyrani spluttered, her face paling, if such a thing were possible with her swarthy complexion. Grasping the pommel of her saddle desperately, she breathed, “Shessn? And--and Coruvdo?”

            “Did you run into trouble with them?” Link asked, approaching Phantom. The dun stallion snorted loudly, and he smiled, mounting.

            “Not... not really,” she answered unsteadily. “But they--It doesn’t matter.” Yet she bowed her head, allowing her knotted hair to cover her face once again.

            Letting the topic drop, Link heeled Phantom to Romani’s side and cast her an encouraging smile. She did not seem to notice, distractedly worrying her lower lip with her teeth while patting at her saddlebags. Pelayla, however, fluttered over awkwardly and alighted on his shoulder. “I was beginning to worry,” she said.

            The torn edge of her missing wing caused him to cringe, hating himself for the deed. “Well, it’s almost done. I don’t care if that prophecy gets fulfilled; I’ve found Zelda, and once this battle is finished, I’m heading back for Hyrule.”

            “Well, I’ll accompany you, at least part of the way. I’ll expect some excitement, mind.”

            Grinning slightly, he watched Aphelandra attempt to calm her dancing chestnut mare, handling the reins poorly but laughing the whole time. Noah, with practiced skill, rode to Zelda’s side and whispered something in her ear. Link sensed nervousness from the man, and he frowned, wondering what it was about.

            “So, it comes to battle, then,” Ria murmured thoughtfully, twitching a fold of her usual gray cloak with a gloved hand.

            “Captain Hweth, will you accompany us down to the Gerudo camp?” Zelda called.

            The man joined the line of riders, and then at Zelda’s nod, they all started off down the slight incline. Link took the lead, angling toward the two Gerudo and Dvarn, who conferred with Alanar and Jendrick. As the horses moved past with the creak of saddle and the jangle of bridle, Gerudo stopped what they were doing and stared, many pointing at Kyrani’s hair with something close to disgust. She kept her head down, however, concealing her features, and if anyone came close to glancing directly at her, she averted her face swiftly.

            Shessn noticed their approach first and turned to meet them, her hand holding the white banner tight against the haft of her curve-bladed spear. The four other people turned as well, and Coruvdo tapped her lips thoughtfully, unconsciously adjusting the Dragonhorn. Planting fists on hips, Alanar stared at Zelda and demanded, “Who are you?”

            Dismounting smoothly, she replied, “I am Princess Zelda, heir to the throne of Hyrule.” She tugged her gloves off calmly and tucked them away. “And you?”

            “Queen Alanar,” she answered, practically bristling. Link was reminded of Avra confronting Senna, of two strange she-wolves with no great liking for each other forced to work together and coordinate, though the hostility was nowhere near as great between these women. “This is my son, Rider Jendrick,” she introduced, resting a hand on his shoulder proudly. “He is heir to the throne of Karradai.”

            “Jendrick and I have met before, briefly,” she said, inclining her head. “And Noah has told me of his brother.”

            Alanar’s mouth tightened, but all she said was, “And who else is with you?”

            “This is Captain Hweth,” Zelda continued, gesturing the the armored man. He removed his helm and set in before him in the saddle, revealing a face of hard planes, with gray streaks in his auburn. He bowed respectfully. “You may not be familiar with him, but he commands all the soldiers of Karradai. And you have met Ria and Romani before, but the fairy is named Pelayla. And this is Kyrani.”


            Everyone turned to stare at Coruvdo and Shessn. Though it had been Coruvdo who spoke out, the women were twin images of barely restrained fury, eyes wide, free hands clenched into fists. Striding forward, Coruvdo forcefully pulled the gown-clad Gerudo out of the saddle and shoved her hair out her face. Link winced, noting the long nails of the older Gerudo dig into the jaw of the younger as she examined her. “Where have you been?”

            “I don’t want to be a puppet,” she muttered, almost sullenly.

            Coruvdo released Kyrani, but only to slap her, throwing her whole weight into the blow. Kyrani nearly fell to her knees, eyes watering, but Shessn dragged her upright. “You abandoned your people. And look at you, shaming the name Gerudo!”

            Reluctantly, Kyrani met Shessn’s gaze. “I did what I had to,” she said quietly, apparently oblivious to the thin stream of blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.

            “Is this the way you respect those who raised you, who named you?” Coruvdo demanded. “I almost cannot believe it is you, Kyrani.” Without warning, she grabbed the right side of the woman’s skirts and tore them open, revealing a slender yet muscular leg, with two tiny round scars on the outside of the thigh about two finger widths apart.

            Link, wanting to protect Kyrani from any further punishment, said, “Shessn, Coruvdo, you don’t--”

            “Stay out of this, boy,” Shessn snapped before rounding on the unfortunate Gerudo once more. “So, it is you.”

            Kyrani raised her head defiantly. “What would you have of me?”

            The Gerudo stepped away from her. They regarded her with twin gazes of intensity, then, as one, moved forward and embraced her. “Welcome back, Daughter.”

            Kyrani froze for a moment, then returned the hug fiercely, and then they parted. “I am shamed,” she said simply, bowing her head.

            “You are back among your sisters,” Coruvdo said with a smile, lifting Kyrani’s chin. “You must don the proper attire, of course. And, will you lead? The ideas of using you died when you fled.”

            Biting her lip, Kyrani appeared uncertain. “I... don’t know. It feels... strange, surrounded by our people.”

            “You had plans concerning your mother, didn’t you?” Shessn said solemnly.

            Link glanced at the woman, then Kyrani, remembering the hate in her voice as she spoke of the one to give her life.

            “I hardly consider her my mother,” she replied flatly, yellow eyes growing flinty. “You two are my mothers, for you named me and raised me. And I have no father.”

            Coruvdo hid a smile with an upraised hand. “Twenty-six, yet with all the fierce pride of a girl just turned thirteen and desperate to prove herself as merciless as a warrior of four decades or more. Still, why doesn’t it surprise me to find you in the company of your father’s chief opponents? Oh, fine,” she added, noting Kyrani’s scowl, “the man who sired you. Is that better?”

            “A little,” she said stiffly.

            Tired of trying to understand, Link asked, “Kyrani, what are the names of your parents? And don’t say Shessn and Coruvdo. They may have raised you, but they didn’t give birth to you.”

            She sighed heavily, turning her head to regard him with eyes suddenly heavy with unidentifiable emotions. “Promise you won’t hold it against me,” she said. “You Hylians are peculiar with your notions of parentage, as though a child has any choice of who carries her in the womb, and who fathers her. I am the daughter of Avra and Ganondorf.”

            Link clutched at something--the pommel of the Great Fairy’s sword, he realized, the weapon lashed to the saddle near his shield, bow, and quiver. “Truly?” he said finally.

            “Yes, truly,” she snapped, anger playing across her face. “But I hate them with all my being, so don’t think that during the battle I’ll suddenly turn on you.”

            “I never thought you would,” he lied. He had considered that, for one brief moment, then discarded it immediately. The lie still burned in his mouth, though; lies always did, but he had grown adept at ignoring the insignificant pain.

            In the process of dismounting, Link noticed a Gerudo loping through the encampment, the narrow black band at the bottom of her veil naming her a scout. Dismounting, he held Phantom’s bridle, barely noting the others climbing off their horses as well. On his shoulder, Pelayla twitched her two largest wings, and Noah and Aphelandra both emanated agitation.

            “The great battle draws us all,” the scout called out as she neared Shessn and Coruvdo.”

            The women glanced at Kyrani, who sighed, pressing her face into her gelding’s mane before facing the approaching Gerudo. “Better to join the fight willingly. What have you seen?”

            If the scout held any surprise or confusion at Kyrani addressing her, she showed no sign, facing the woman in the torn gown. “The army is moving forward, due to reach this location in the three days we have estimated. Their battle leaders often change location, but the ranks themselves rarely fluctuate. Iron Knuckles lead the middle column, Greater Armored flanked by the lesser. Behind them are the humans, half armed with longbows and such, the rest flanking them with cavalry, and they travel with catapults. The column that will no doubt swing to the west is comprised of Lizalfos and Stalfos. The Lizalfos carry throwing fangs.”

            Shessn and Coruvdo both lowered their brows darkly, but Link asked, “What’s a throwing fang?”

            “Deadly, that’s what.” Kyrani answered. “The things themselves are long conical pieces of bone, sharpened to a deadly point, with a slight hook on the underside. The contraptions that hurl the fangs are basically a cross between a bow and a slingshot. The Lizalfos holds it, hooks the fang onto the bowstring, draws it back, and releases. They can fly very far, and they are dipped in a poison that will kill in less than a minute.”

            He nodded, storing the information away. “I assume there’s another column? It seems they are planning a pincer move, to hold us in place before slamming down with a hammer.”

            The scout nodded. “Yes. The one to the east contains Dinolfos and more Stalfos. And, at the rear of the whole army, there are ranks of walking corpses.”

            “ReDeads,” Link growled.

            “So, what is our battle plan?” Dvarn asked.

            It’s just like what Captain Keeta faced, Link thought, remembering that battle. “We should have a reverse force hiding in the copse, maybe fifty mercenaries on horse and fifty Gerudo. That way, when the left pincer is closing in on us, they can strike at it and confuse the Dinolfos and Stalfos, forcing them to split their attentions.”

            “I never would have thought of that,” Coruvdo admitted. “But it is smart.”

            “And what of the Riders?” Alanar demanded, haughty and proud.

            When no one spoke up, Link continued, “If there are catapults, it is imperative we destroy them as soon as possible. But they are bound to be deep within the army.” The scout nodded agreement, and he nodded as well. “So that is the first objective of the Riders--fly to the catapults and whatever other war machines they have and dismantle them.”

            “You make it sound like there’s another goal for the Riders,” Jendrick noted.

            Link nodded. “It was foolish on their part to position the ReDeads at the rear. Senna, the necromancer and controller of those corpses, must be cut down. Kill her, and the ReDeads will attack any living thing they come across. That includes us, but they will become preoccupied with the armies they were supposed to be assisting as well, as they will be nearer.”

            “Very smart,” Zelda complimented. Beside her, Romani clutched her bow to her front, looking decidedly ill.

            He shrugged. “What’s the best way to utilize Gerudo in battle? We should create something that will draw that hammer down on us, but without the pincers fully in place, so that we can wriggle away and strike at them.”

            Stroking the Dragonhorn, Coruvdo appeared thoughtful. “I would say a frontal charge, with columns breaking off to either side, to meet the pincer, if not halfway, at least part of the way.”

            “Part of my cavalry can join you in the charge,” Captain Hweth said. “No offense, but they have a better chance of actually reaching the enemy force in their armor than you do in those silks.”

            Shessn grinned. “We will see about that. You will be surprised at how adept we Gerudo are at reaching the enemy. What about your pikemen?”

            “They can protect my archers,” he replied. “And they can stand up to a charge.”

            “Unless it’s Greater Armored you face,” Coruvdo said.

            Carefully, Link stepped back from the people as they began to hammer out details. With the bare sketch of a battle plan created, he felt no need for more; certainly, the captains of Ikana had never planned anything out in more detail than what had already taken place. Battle is unpredictable, he thought, slipping away with Phantom, who blended in with the other Gerudian bred horses. Create too many details and you won’t know what to do when things don’t turn out the way you wanted.

            He thought he was alone, but then Heartfire nipped at Phantom. Glancing at Ria, he asked, “Do you think that plan will work?”

            “It is a good plan,” she replied. “All plans are, until they are put to use. But it is better than some I could think of. It is rare for someone so young to be such a skilled tactician. In later years, people may come to study with you, to learn how to create the best plans for battle.”

            He snorted. “That’s assuming I survive this fight. That’s assuming anyone survives this fight. Aphelandra seems to think it hinges on Noah, somehow.”

            “Well, the girl has the second sight. Unlike you or Zelda, however, she does not dream the future; her vision is overlaid by portents. She is a true seer.”

            Link shook his head, not even bothering to wonder where the cloaked woman had learned all that. “So he is important, then? Well, I wonder how he’ll take that.” Glancing once at a Gerudo working with needle and thread on some black fabric, he frowned, attempting to puzzle something out that he had pondered on for a long time, now. “Ria, you seem knowledgeable. Do you know what caused Dark Link to come out of me? What caused him to be created?”

            She sighed heavily. “The Chamber of the Pool of Reflections, as it is called, was originally a normal room in the Water Temple, just another place to pay homage to the element of water and, to a lesser extent, Nayru. However, a few centuries ago, some Sheikah betrayed the Royal Family and, having uncovered ancient forbidden magic, melded it with the powers of people who had once followed the two great demons. In an experiment, they spread a net of their magic over that room and created a terrible curse. Any who walk through the water will have their inner darkness torn from them. They cannot feel it, at first, but then, in the beginning, there is still a connection between light and shadow. That connection lessens the longer the two are apart, and it was severed when you defeated your darkness. In that moment, you turned your evil into a thing of flesh and blood, independent of you.”

            “But if my evil was torn out, why do I still experience ‘evil’ feelings, so to speak?” Link demanded. “I don’t feel any different since having him out of me. Oh, at first I did, but it’s grown smaller and smaller.”

            Your evil is gone,” Ria said. “He is off somewhere, probably thirsting for your blood. But nature abhors anything that is totally good, or totally evil. Such beings do not exist naturally, not without some greater intention. I do not know what has happened to Dark Link, but for you, your own nature shied away from what you had become. And so it searched for anything with which to replace what you had lost. So every bit of evil--pronounced evil, not just that which dwells in any ordinary person--has been snatched at by your being, taken within you, to substitute your own darkness.”

            He gasped, staring at her. “So every evil thing I have come across is, in a sense, inside me?”

            “Not every,” she corrected. “The evil that permeates the Shadow Temple was really the first to make any sort of impression on you, with Ganondorf following soon after. And that stayed with you when you returned back through time and went on to Termina. The moon in that land was a creation of pure malevolence, and that accounted for your less than pleasant mood your whole time in that land, I believe.”

            Saying nothing, Link stared down at his boots. He had been bitter and cynical in Termina, only helping people because of the rewards he would get. And that whole time it was the moon affecting me.

            “You reached your quota for evil when you donned the Fierce Deity’s Mask,” Ria said. “The demon Janthlianti, the presence sealed away within the mask, no doubt found you an abhorrent host, lacking any personal darkness for her to attach to and manipulate, but her evil rubbed off on you. Since that time, you have balanced out, though there are still upsets once and awhile, mainly from whatever piece of the demon remains inside you. Still, your body holds a revulsion toward any malevolent acts. I very much doubt you could murder someone in cold blood, unless you awoke that piece of the Fierce Deity within you. And even simple things such as lying come with consequences.”

            He was shaking, he realized, once more wondering if he could trust the gray-cloaked woman, who seemed to know more about his life than he did. But is that me, or some other bit of evil that’s floating around inside me? “I can still fight.”

            “Against an armed foe, yes. Against someone you believe is threatening your life, yes. But I believe that is the extent of it.”

            Bowing his head, Link closed his eyes momentarily. “We just have three days of waiting, now.”

            “Yes,” Ria agreed solemnly. “Three days, and this adventure will draw to a close. What will you do, if we manage to prevent total war from breaking out?”

            He thought about it seriously. “Return to Hyrule, I guess,” he answered finally. “Though, I’m not sure what I’ll do. I never know what to do after I set out with some purpose; I never plan ahead, because it’s hard enough surviving. Sometimes, I think I might even want to die, just because then I won’t have to worry about living anymore.”

            “You may court death, but do not hurry toward her. Fate yet has her firm hold upon you.”

            Shaking his head, Link sighed. “It’s been awhile since I’ve had a full say in my life.” They had reached the edge of the army by this time, and he swung up into the saddle. “I’m going to inspect the terrain.”

            Ria said nothing, merely nodded her hooded head. Digging his heels into Phantom’s sides, Link urged the stallion forward, trying to understand what he had learned.


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