Chapter 19: The
“Link, it is coming near dawn,” Kyrani said, shaking his bandaged shoulder.
Sitting up, Link rubbed the sleep from his eyes, wordlessly accepting flatbread and a waterskin from the Gerudo squatting beside him. He ate the slightly stale food, then washed it down with a few quick sips. Rising to his feet, he brushed at his rumpled tunic absently before buckling his bandolier into place, his sword and shield across his back. His quiver went at his right hip, and he held his strung bow for the moment, absently hefting its comfortable weight.
Kyrani rose with him, her embroidered white silks seeming to gather what little light existed in the overcast sky. Her twin scimitars rested on her back, but unlike the other Gerudo, she carried no other weapon, neither spear nor bow. Absently stroking her gelding’s nose, she asked, “Are you nervous?”
Examining his emotions, Link shook his head. There was plenty of nervousness from Noah, and fear from Aphelandra, but he found himself calm and composed. “No,” he responded, donning his cap. “I know I should be, but I’m not.”
The Gerudo shrugged. “I understand. We have such a narrow path to victory that I should fear to tread it, but instead I want to run across it. We Gerudo are a lot of things when it comes to battle, but never foolhardy.”
Around them, the rest of the Gerudo stirred, eating quick breakfasts as they geared themselves for the coming battle. Link glanced around, watched as the Riders stirred their Talar birds and saddled them, the people careful to avoid raising the ire of their temperamental mounts. The men and women decked themselves out with weapons, too, bows and swords and, in one bearded man’s case, a massive battle-axe. Turning, Link observed the Karradaini soldiers garbing themselves in mail and plate armor, tugging on steel-backed gauntlets and buckling breastplates in place. The mercenaries, too, donned shirts of mail, but left their faces bare, to show the lock of long hair.
Link spotted Zelda picking her way around the Gerudo, leading her white gelding by the reins. He had tried to convince her to leave, but she had flatly refused. Now, with her hair tied back and a tunic of burnished gold-worked mail over her sky blue riding dress, she seemed a queen of battles, especially with a white bow glowing with golden symbols across her back and an elegantly slender sword sheathed at her left hip.
“Link,” she greeted, inclining her head. “Kyrani.”
“Zelda,” the Gerudo woman greeted. “You are ready, I see.”
“Yes,” she answered simply. “I grew used to fighting, in the seven lost years. I will not resort to my alter ego unless things grow desperate, of course; the Partisans will expect Sheik to dart through the battle like a shadow of death.”
Struck by a sudden idea, Link removed the belt pouch containing the Ocarina of Time and pressed it into the princess’s metal gauntleted-hand, taking the dragon pin from Malon and tucking it away in a different pouch. “Keep that safe, Zelda. You always had more of a right to it than I did, anyway.”
She felt the leather pouch, eyes widening. “Link, I don’t--”
“They’ll expect me to have it,” he explained. “This way, even if I fall into the hands of the enemy, the Partisans won’t get it.”
Meeting his eyes, she nodded in understanding, hanging it from her own belt. “If I am threatened--severely threatened--I will take myself from battle and--secure it.”
He nodded in gratitude, turning as Noah and Romani approached. Pelayla dragged herself out of the woman’s quiver and fluttered to Link’s hand, where she landed, light flickering slightly. Alarmed, he asked, “Pelayla, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she panted, voice weaker than usual. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”
Placing her on his right shoulder, Link asked, “Does everyone know where they’ll be, at least at the start of the battle?”
Romani nodded absently, touching at a satchel that hung from her shoulder, probably containing spare quivers. The others nodded, all except Noah, who said, “Link, about that. May I start out in a different location?”
Brows drawing together, he asked, “Why would you want that?”
“I thought it would be more beneficial,” he mumbled, shrugging. “If you’d rather I stay to the right flank, though--”
“No, go wherever you wish,” Link insisted.
Gratitude swelled from the man. “Thank you.”
Rubbing at her palms, Kyrani said, “We need to get to those locations now, if you please.” She stuck a slippered foot through one of her stirrups, then paused for a moment, looking puzzled. Shaking her head, she settled herself in the saddle, handling the gelding with the unconscious skill that Link envied.
Finding their respective mounts, the others climbed up. Link hesitated a moment before swinging himself up onto Phantom. Something... resonated... within him. Not the Triforce; he knew the feel of that quite well. This was... darker... and deeper. Ignoring the strange sensation, he turned the dun stallion and followed Zelda’s white. Romani fell in beside him, seeming preoccupied as she fiddled with the reins.
“Link?” she said finally, without looking at him.
He glanced at her, with her red hair tumbling down over her shoulders and glistening slightly in the minimal light. “What?” he asked. On his shoulder, Pelayla tensed.
She hesitated. “Whatever happens today, I want you to know that I--” Her voice caught, and she cleared her throat loudly. “Promise me we’ll still be friends?”
“Of course,” he responded. “You helped me out, back in Termina. If not for you, I never would have found Epona again.”
Smiling weakly, Romani lifted her head and met his gaze. “She must be grown now.”
“She is,” he answered. After a moment, he faced forward once more.
The Gerudo were all in place, of course, their horses standing perfectly still. The Karradaini soldiers stood out in their polished armor, nervously shifting from foot to foot or soothing an agitated mount. At the very front, Shessn and Coruvdo sat their horses, Shessn still keeping a tight hold on the banner. They nodded to Kyrani, who placed herself between the two of them, carefully keeping her gaze from the banner and the Dragonhorn.
As Link positioned himself to Coruvdo’s right, Heartfire cantered up, Ria holding the reins in one gloved hand and her drawn rapier in the other, with Aphelandra trailing on her plump chestnut mare. The cloaked woman and priestess arranged themselves to his side, Aphelandra glancing down at her revealing Gerudo attire uncertainly. Link watched Zelda guide her horse to Shessn’s left, and then Noah heeled Arzosi to her side, staring at her almost protectively. A burst of emotion came from him, just for a moment, but it shook things into place, and Link gasped.
Noah was in love with Zelda.
Now that he knew what to look for, Link saw signs he felt blind for missing before--the way the man unconsciously oriented himself to her, how his gaze always strayed her direction, and a certain hidden light filled his eyes as he looked upon her. And, judging by the way she seemed to note where the man was at every second, Zelda returned the sentiment.
Well, that’s good for them. If they survive.
Behind the Gerudo, the Riders arranged themselves, soothing their Talar birds as the creatures squawked raucously and beat wings. The right flank of the army contained pikemen, with crossbowmen behind them, ready to confront the western pincer. To the east, Dvarn commanded the small force of Gerudo and mercenaries hidden within the copse, meant to charge out and confuse the eastern pincer. If everything went as they thought it would.
Romani, after a moment of uncertainty, heeled Storm to Aphelandra’s right, nervously biting her lip. Link forced his breathing to calm, tried to slow the rapid beating of his heart. This will be it.
How long they waited, he never knew; the thick clouds hid the sun, so it was impossible to judge time. Occasionally, a Talar would utter an impatient screech, or a soldier would shift in a metallic rattle, or a horse would stamp a hoof, but otherwise silence stretched over the army waiting in the small dip in the land. Glancing back, Link watched a mercenary loosen his sword in his sheath, and the Hyrulian sighed, brushing the hilt rising above his left shoulder. Tightening his grip on his bow, he waited.
Suddenly, something tramped beyond the hill, faint and distant yet steady and unrelenting. The Gerudo straightened, eagerness blooming on every dark face, but Link tried to ignore the sinking in the pit of his stomach.
“Keep your courage, Hero,” Ria whispered to him. “You will need it this day.”
He saw the banners first, rising into the air. A black dragon with curled horns marched on a field of blood red, clutching the Triforce in its front claws. The Gerudo hissed angrily, and Kyrani snarled softly, “Ganondorf dares twist Feraladrask to his banner! And they dare raise it!”
The army crested the hill, and all thoughts of banners were driven clean out of Link’s mind.
Avra led the way forward on a huge black stallion with a flame-hued mane, one scimitar bared and the other across her back. Behind her, men and women stood casually, clad in clothing of chain mail. Without warning, armor flowed over them, thick plates of gleaming steel and pointed helms that reflected the light, and enormous battle-axes fell into their waiting hands, double-headed and deadly. The ones in the center of the column suddenly stepped up into empty air. No, they were mounting something invisible, writhing air that solidified into the smoky form of a dragon without wings. The Greater Armored.
“Prepare to charge!” Shessn bellowed. Behind, the Gerudo readied spears and nocked arrows, while Captain Hweth and his men hefted their lances.
No doubt sensing the intention of the army--a blind fool could sense the intention of the army--Avra wheeled her horse around and barked orders lost over the distance. The ghostly dragons lashed their tails, never still for an instant as they twisted beneath the ones who rode them, and a burning light gathered in their flat eyes as they peeled transparent lips back to bare long fangs.
“On my signal!” Coruvdo yelled, raising the Dragonhorn.
Avra raised her scimitar high, the blade catching what light the thick clouds allowed through.
Coruvdo brought the horn to her lips and winded a sharp blast, the melancholy sound hovering in the air.
Avra’s scimitar dropped.
The two armies sprang forward with twin roars. Digging his heels into Phantom’s sides, Link bent low over the stallion’s neck, nocking an arrow on his bow. A cacophony of cries assaulted him from the Partisans’ army, but he voiced the only battlecry he knew. “Ikaaaaaanaaaaaaaaaaa!”
The first boulder smashed down onto a soldier and a Gerudo as they galloped forward, killing both people instantly and crushing the horses. Another rock flew overhead, and then the Riders swept upward with the furious beatings of their wings, the Talar birds shrieking as they dodged the arrows that suddenly flew up at them. Aiming at a human he glimpsed past the ranks of Iron Knuckles rushing toward him, Link fired. The arrow struck the man in the neck, and he tumbled from his saddle. More arrows flew, from the Gerudo, from the mercenaries and soldiers, from Romani. Suddenly, a blazing arrow lanced through the air and struck one of the Greater Armored in the front. The Iron Knuckle exploded in a flash of light, his dragon drifting away like mist as the broken pendant fell to the ground. The blast radiated outward, cutting down a score of Iron Knuckles before it stopped.
Link glanced at Zelda for a moment, who was already sending another Light Arrow speeding toward the army. His gaze shifted beyond her, to the east, and he saw the army of Stalfos and Dinolfos charging forward, the Dinolfos as fleet as the best of horseflesh. Eyes widening, he stared at the right side of the pincer and their resistance, which seemed to have forgotten its purpose. “The flank! The flank!”
The pikemen faltered, turning to face the Lizalfos that bore down on them. Too late, though, for the lizardmen overran them with embarrassing ease, smashing through the futile resistance and trampling them, fighting with tooth and claw as much as with the weapons they clutched. White shapes sliced through the air, and Link watched one sink into a horse’s front. The creature screamed and stumbled, pitching its Gerudo forward, yet the woman sprang up and twirled her spear skillfully, catching a Lizalfos in the throat. A Karradaini soldier was not so lucky, for as a throwing fang struck his mount, he flew through the air and landed on his neck, dying instantly.
Phantom darted forward, and Link loosed an arrow at a Lizalfos he saw raising a long piece of metal with a slack line hanging from a slingshot-like piece near the front. The reptile fell, but another fired a throwing fang, and he barely avoided it, ducking and leaning out of his saddle. Stalfos ran among the lizardmen, massive notched blades clutched in their skeletal hands, and they struck out. As Link hurriedly nocked another arrow, he watched a Stalfos decapitate a Gerudo in a single swipe, moving on to plunge his blade through a soldier’s breastplate with the screech of metal splintering metal. Those without mounts drew swords and scimitars, dashing forward to confront the enemy.
Noticing something moving toward him, Link turned and barely raised his bow in time to halt the downward stroke of the Lizalfos. The reptile bared its yellowed teeth, orange eyes glaring at him, and then it swung again, breaking the bow in half. Dropping the useless pieces of wood, Link drew his sword and deflected another blow. The lizardmen attempted to drag him from the saddle, but Phantom reared and pivoted, slamming his hooves down and killing the creature. Waiting just long enough for Link to grab the reins in his right hand, the horse plunged off into the battle.
A flash of light told him Zelda was employing her considerable magical skill, and Riders swooped down upon the enemy, Talar birds sometimes rising with a man struggling in its talons. But they were not succeeding in dismantling the war machines. They managed to destroy one catapult, but the others only hurled their stones faster, into the furthest ranks of the army. And, through the confusing masses of roiling people, Link glimpsed the ReDeads moving forward slowly.
Suddenly, a Lizalfos flung itself toward Link, only to land on a soldier as the man spurred his mount between Phantom and the reptile. The lizardman carried both man and animal to the ground, where a Gerudian horse trampled all three as its rider handled the reins deftly, wheeling the mount around and urging it toward where battle raged even hotter.
Link spotted a Gerudo in torn and bloodied silks standing alone, with only her spear for weapon. She fended off a Lizalfos and spun to confront an approaching Stalfos, but she would be overcome in a few more seconds. Galloping Phantom forward, he held out his free hand, and she took it, swinging up behind him. What he saw clutched in one hand caused his heart to falter for a moment, for she carried a blood-splattered Dragonhorn, the shoulder-strap snapped.
“I saw it!” she yelled in his ear, to be heard above the din of battle. “On the ground! I couldn’t leave it!”
“Smart!” Pelayla replied, yet though she obviously tried to yell, her voice was a weak imitation of what it had once been.
Link watched an Iron Knuckle bear down on him, one of the Greater Armored mounted upon a writhing dragon spirit, and he tightened his grasp on the Great Fairy’s Sword. Digging in his heels, he leaned forward in the saddle, watching the ghostly beast snarl in hatred, its rider hefting a massive battle-axe. At the last minute, Link pulled on the reins, spinning the stallion to the side. The Iron Knuckle, already starting its horizontal swing, could do nothing as the Hylian thrust his sword forward. The blade slammed into the armor--and bounced back, painful vibrations shooting up Link’s arm.
The Gerudo’s spear pierced the dragon’s head as though it were mist, and all the creature did was grow more enraged, gathering itself and leaping forward. Phantom reared and nearly toppled over backwards, and Link and the Gerudo barely remained on his back as he twisted to the side. The dragon missed, but then turned on a mercenary, slashing the man to bloody shreds with claws he could not deflect.
Something thudded deep within Link, and he doubled over in pain, pressing his sweat-covered face into Phantom’s black mane. Lifting his head weakly, he spotted Romani on a nervous Storm, the gray dancing and crying out in fear. But all he saw was the object clutched uncertainly in the woman’s hands, a mask shaped like her face, with white hair and blue and red markings upon it.
“Romani, no!” he screamed, so loudly a nearby Lizalfos stared at him in confusion.
She ignored him and donned the Fierce Deity’s Mask.
A wordless cry of anguish ripped out from Link, and he turned from his friend, unwilling to see her mutated by the demon that waited within that mask. He kicked Phantom forward, slashing at any enemies that came within his reach, unable to look back.
The first of the Partisans he saw was Asner, mounted on a handsome dapple, his wind-tousled hair flying about him as he fought, throwing knives and lashing out with a slender blade. Nearby, Lonnu fought, but he seemed in danger of being overcome by the group of mercenaries pressing in around him, though five Stalfos came forward to his aid. On foot, Kal darted by all in black, the hood of her cloak drawn up to shadow her black-masked face, and everyone that faced her fell, to crossbow or dagger.
Without warning, Arzosi leaped nearby, and Noah cut down two Lizalfos, one with each sword. The black turned, and Link was taken aback by the snarl twisting the man’s face, turning his visage frightening, especially with the white scar running jaggedly across his cheek. Kicking his stallion in the flanks, Noah rode forward, accounting for one of the Lesser Armored and a Stalfos, all in quick order. The distraction served to allow the swirling armies to hide the Partisans, however.
By this time, Link had fought to the rough center of the battle, and he found himself facing Dinolfos. The males, scales bright green and with impressive red crests, carried themselves with frightening confidence, but the females were the more formidable, wielding their heavy blades easily and shooting gouts of fire at the enemy. Darting among their smaller cousins, the Lizalfos, they bore down on Gerudo and soldier alike, using their considerable weights to their advantage. Link fended off a male, slamming his sword into the side of its neck and crushing the windpipe. Coughing and struggling to breathe, the reptile dropped his sword and scratched blindly at Link with his claws, scoring deep cuts in the Hylian’s right arm before he managed to behead the creature completely.
Zelda, her hair streaming out behind her as she spun her mount around, yelled a vicious challenge, her sword flashing in her hand. With ease, she cut down a human soldier and dodged a boulder as it crashed down, thrusting her blade into a Lizalfos at the same time. A Talar dove and snagged another of the lizardmen, and the princess fended off another of the monsters. Link, blade locked with a Stalfos, saw the creature running toward her, and he cried, “Zelda! Look out!”
She turned, but Ra’noyl had already drawn a deep breath, the steel plates covering her chest straining. Lowering her armored head, she sent a stream of fire out from the back of her throat, and the flames struck the gelding in the chest and front legs. Shrieking, he pitched forward, and Zelda flung herself from the saddle, landing with catlike grace. She barely stood in time to halt a killing stroke from the Dinolfos, and then the Partisan swept her steel-covered tail at her, tripping the princess. Zelda landed on her back, and Ra’noyl smiled beneath her helm, raising her heavy sword.
Suddenly, Noah rushed out of nowhere, his twin blades halting the reptile’s sword. Her smile vanished, and her tongue flicked out for a moment. “You smell of the dead king. Do you wish to know how I killed him?”
Zelda sprang back up, and then Link finally managed to shove the Stalfos away, kicking it in the ribs for good measure. Before he could join his friends, however, the battle separated them, and he and the Gerudo found themselves surrounded by human soldiers, led by King Jarj himself. The human met the Hylian’s eyes slowly, almost apologetically, and ordered, “Kill the woman.”
Phantom reared as the first soldier approached, crushing the man’s skull. Spear darting out, the Gerudo defended Link’s back as he struck out at the other humans, turning the stallion to confront the greatest threat. The horse kicked out with his hind legs, sending two men flying, and then they were free, but further from Noah and Zelda.
They’ll have to fend for themselves, Link thought, glancing once at Pelayla, who clutched at his shoulder. Her light fluttered uncertainly, and her wings twitched, but there was nothing he could do for the fairy now.
A roar sounded nearby, spectral and ghostly, and then another Iron Knuckle rode up, smashing its axe into whatever came its way. It spotted Link and the Gerudo, but before it could move, a boulder crashed down on it. The dragon winked out, and the Iron Knuckle lay beneath the stone, its arm twitching a moment before it finally stilled.
Suddenly, Phantom reared, twisted, and flung himself to the side, nearly throwing Link from the saddle. The horse stumbled as he landed, losing his footing and crashing to his front with the snap of breaking bones. Wondering what madness had possessed his animal, the Hylian extracted himself from the saddle, and then he stared at the white throwing fang embedded in the dead horse’s shoulder, a throwing fang that would have struck Link if not for the action of the horse.
He saved my life, he thought, stunned, unwilling to believe Phantom was dead. He sacrificed himself to protect me.
“Watch out, Dragonslayer!” the Gerudo called.
He spun and deflected the Stalfos, dimly aware of another bearing down on the woman. He and the skeleton settled into a deadly dance, pivoting to face each other, feet moving in intricate patterns. Slipping his shield onto his right arm, Link raised it and halted a downward stroke, his blade darting up and severing the yellowed spine. The Stalfos collapsed, sword clattering from the suddenly inanimate bone fingers, and then the Hylian turned in time to see the Gerudo go down, her sides covered in blood that pulsed eagerly.
A shape hurled itself at the Stalfos, and it fell to the furious onslaught, landing in a jumble of splintered bones. Backing off, Kyrani met Link’s gaze, her yellow eyes nearly feral, her lips drawn back in a silent snarl. Crouching, it almost seemed she meant to fight him, but then her eyes flicked to the Dragonhorn, lying on the ground. She scooped it up and knotted the ends of the strap together before slinging it over her shoulder and darting away.
“What’s wrong with... her?” Pelayla gasped out.
“I don’t know,” Link answered, turning to fend off a Lizalfos. Plunging his bloodstained blade through its leather armor, he killed the beast and backed away, then froze as a piercing scream spread a paralyzing chill through his limbs.
No, I can’t be caught. The scar on the back of his head began to throb in dim remembrance. No!
Breaking out of the binding influence with a great effort of will, Link slashed the ReDead across the chest, then chopped off its limbs, hacking them to tiny pieces. He attacked the head, mashing it into an unrecognizable lump, then backed away as he felt another shambling corpse drawing near.
A Talar bird tumbled from the sky, fighting to remain airborne but losing. Glancing up, Link watched a boulder strike another dark bird, and then, scrambling onto a slight rise, he watched the tide of battle with despair, for the Partisans had numbers on their sides and were pushing forward with all their might. They would be in no condition to continue on with more battles after this one, but they would succeed here.
A dragon’s roar cut through the chaos of the fighting, stilling everyone for a bare moment. It was not the sepulchral cry of the enslaved spirits the Iron Knuckles rode, but the sound of a living creature of flesh and blood. Turning, Link searched for the source of the noise and saw Kyrani perched atop a rise similar to his, the Dragonhorn held before her mouth, her eyes wide with obvious shock. Bringing the instrument to her lips again, she blew, and the fierce roar sounded once more.
Shessn stumbled up beside Link, lips parted slightly as she stared at the Gerudo holding the copper and black horn. Digging her nails into the fabric of the banner, she breathed, “Can prophecy be fulfilled this day?”
Kyrani dropped the Dragonhorn and faced the thickest portion of the Partisans’ army, where the Iron Knuckles and Stalfos and Lizalfos and Dinolfos had completely terminated all resistance in the area. The scimitar in her left hand slipped from a palm suddenly ablaze with a familiar red symbol, and then she ran forward and flung herself into the air, twisting slightly.
Wings erupted from her shoulder blades, massive night-dark membranes supported by elongated fingers scaled in rich copper. Beating swiftly, they bore her upward as her body stretched and lengthened, her hind legs bulging with muscle, a thick tail sweeping back, her front legs tipped with impressive claws. Her neck grew longer, supporting a roughly triangular face with tall spines connected with sheets of crimson skin sweeping back from her head and all the way down to the jagged end of her tail. The scales covering her belly glittered like polished obsidian, and those on her sides and back shone brilliant copper. Banking to one side, she alighted on a ridge, fanning her wings and digging her claws into the ground. Opening her jaws to display impressive fangs, she roared, the same sound that had come from the Dragonhorn.
Karradaini soldiers gaped at her in wonder, tears glistening in many of their eyes. A few even dropped to their knees. “Mother Tala,” they all breathed reverently.
The Gerudo reacted differently. As one, they raised their weapons and bellowed, “Feraladrask! Feraladrask ne Gerudo!”
She’s Feraladrask! Link thought, stunned by the noble creature standing there, her head raised high. He glanced to his side as Shessn laughed.
“Always knew that girl was special,” she said, tears of joy sliding over her cheeks. She released the banner, and a wind swept by and stretched it out, displaying Feraladrask with the Desert Serpent coiled about her head and neck on a field of pure white. The woman held it proudly, pure ecstasy upon her face.
Leaping into the air, Kyrani--Feraladrask--hovered for a moment before folding her wings and stooping toward the enemy.
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