Shadowed Fate

By Farore769

Chapter 21: The Sacrifice of Friends


Darkness cradled him comfortingly, but something attempted to rip the protective blanket from around him. He fought to remain in blissful nothingness, but senses trickled in--a hint of light here, a whisper of sound there. A groan escaped from him, and then his eyes fluttered open.

            Link stared up at the cloudy sky, a few rays of sunlight managing to penetrate the thick gray billows. Brows drawing together as he remembered his death, he moved slightly, using his arms to sit up. Realization dawned on him, and he stared at his right arm, flexing his fingers and bending his elbow.

            “Thank the goddesses,” a familiar voice murmured nearby.

            Turning, Link stared at Zelda, her golden hair hanging around her dirty face in a blood-caked tangle. Her blue eyes met his, and she hesitantly reached out with a grimy hand to touch his cheek. He flinched, waiting for her fingers to brush the wound slashing his face, but when no pain came, he felt along his cheekbones and jaw, finding unbroken skin with a thin coating of dried blood. Glancing down at his shredded tunic and shirt, he found unblemished skin on his front, the dark smears the only hint to the fight.

            “I was dead,” he said, eyes flicking to Avra’s headless corpse. “She killed me.”

            The princess hesitated, then said, “Yes. Link, I was... I was frightened.”

            Removing the sliced gauntlet on his left arm, Link froze and stared at a pale pink scar slanting across his palm, a slight raised mark the width of a blade’s edge positioned exactly where the scimitar had dug into his hand as he tore it from Avra’s grasp. “But why do I still have this? And how has it already started to scar?”

            “I do not know,” Zelda answered, her gaze straying beyond.

            Resting his right hand on the shield lying beside him, Link stared at the aftermath of the battle, for the fighting was finished. Piles of mangled bodies mounded all over as those still living sorted through them, treating fallen ally with honor and tossing the hacked remains of enemies to the side. He saw Riders taking part in the gruesome work, performing the task mechanically, their usual swagger lost in a dazed wandering. Soldiers, their armor dented and dirty, were little better, a sense of hopelessness in their postures as they dug out old comrades and dragged them to others already extracted. Only the Gerudo seemed immune to the enormity of the slaughter before them, separating their own dead in a manner that suggested they did such on a daily basis.

            “How did I come back?” Link asked, rising unsteadily. He saw the broken remains of the Great Fairy’s Sword and grimaced ruefully. “Was it you?”

            “No,” Zelda replied, standing at his side. She touched his hand, and their Triforces resonated, beating in time with each other. “I do not have the magical power necessary to bring the dead back to true life, and I do not dabble in abominations such as necromancy. No, it was Pelayla who brought you back.”

            A grin spread across his face, somewhat awkwardly as it cracked through dried blood. “Where is she? I need to thank her.”

            “Link, she’s gone,” the princess said quietly.

            He turned to face her. “What, she couldn’t wait long enough to say goodbye to a friend? Was she really so eager to be assigned to a Kokiri?”

            Licking her lips, Zelda shook her head. “Link, it’s not like that. She... gave herself up to save you. She sacrificed herself.”

            His brows drew together as the implications began to form. “What are you saying?”

            “Pelayla’s dead, Link,” Zelda said gently. “She gave you her life force, killing herself but bringing you back. She gave it to you of her own volition. It was her choice.”

            He stared at the princess, unable to comprehend the idea that Pelayla, that feisty, outspoken fairy, was dead. Craning his neck back, he drew deep breaths, focusing on the few Talar birds that remained aloft, crying out mournfully.

            The tramp of boots announced someone else approaching, and Link knew it was Noah even before he stared in the man’s direction. With a bloodstained bandage wrapped around his chest and a limp in every step, he looked much the worse-for-wear. Absently fingering the coat hanging from his shoulders in ragged tatters, he smiled at Link, tugging at his scar. “I thought you had died.”

            “I did,” Link answered, relieved that at least two of his friends had survived. Three, actually, for he could sense Aphelandra’s stunned disbelief. “But I’m alive now.”

            Green eyes widening, Noah murmured, “I knew I felt you torn away. You’re back, now, but not as firmly as Aphelandra. There’s something different about you.”

            “I have Pelayla’s life force. She sacrificed herself to save me.”

            He gasped. “No,” he breathed, shaking his head. “Not Pelayla. Not her. She can’t be dead.”

            “She is,” Link said heavily, bowing his head. “What happened with Ra’noyl? And Senna?”

            Zelda clutched at the hilt of her sheathed sword. “I was unable to kill the sorceress. Locked in our battle, we were vulnerable to physical attack. A whole group of Iron Knuckles rode between us, and that is how I got this.” She pointed to a wound slashing from shoulder to knee. “By the time I dealt with them, Senna had disappeared. She might have been killed later, but if so, it wasn’t at my hand.”

            “Zelda and I fought with the Dinolfos,” Noah said. “She was the most challenging adversary I have ever faced, using every physical advantage she had over us--her stamina, her size, her strength, her tail, her flame. Zelda was separated before we managed to harm Ra’noyl once, and then I was sure I would die as she wielded that massive blade of hers. But then she slipped, I saw a gap in her armor, and I shoved Ailir into her. She convulsed and fought to free herself, but I managed to slit her throat. She died soon after.”

            “So three Partisans are dead for sure,” Link murmured. “Avra, Lord Faska, and Ra’noyl. But why did their armies retreat? They could have still fought on and crushed us.”

            “Many saw you kill Avra,” Zelda explained. “The different races despised working together and saw this as a chance to disperse. But I fear this is not the last of the danger we will have from them, not if other Partisans yet live.”

            Squaring his shoulders, Link stared again at the corpses littering the ground. “I want to see the battlefield,” he said, striding off.

            Zelda and Noah fell in step behind him as he surveyed the damage. Their side had not come out well, thousands of soldiers and Gerudo lying brokenly in pools of dried blood, some so mangled and slashed it was impossible to tell what race they had been. Dead horses were scattered about, and he noticed some Riders weeping loudly over the bodies of Talar birds, some burying their faces in the black feathers and hugging the dead animals close.

            The first person he recognized by name was Coruvdo, limping heavily and with her left arm in a crude sling. The Dragonhorn dangled from her good hand, and exhaustion had left circles beneath her eyes. Her yellow eyes met his blue ones, but no recognition lit them. Her silks dangled in ribbons, her slashed top revealing part of a green serpent tattooed around her breasts, but she simply stumbled on unseeing.

            From somewhere, a Gerudo woman loped up, her fiery hair streaming out behind her. She caught up to Coruvdo and seized her shoulders, asking, “What is wrong with you?”

            Coruvdo stared at her wildly. “I cannot sense her. She is dead. Shessn, my dear, my Battlesister, is dead!”

            Drawing near the women, Link frowned. “What is the matter with her?”

            The veiled Gerudo glanced at him with wide eyes. “Shessn was killed in the fighting. She and Coruvdo were Battlesisters, so Coruvdo felt her die. She is lost within herself, having her sister torn away.”

            Link exchanged confused glances with Zelda and Noah, then turned from the wide-eyed Gerudo. They continued picking their way through the carnage, and Noah averted his face at times, unwilling to look into the dead faces of people he had known once. Soldiers halted their work as they passed, following them with their eyes, but Link paid them no heed.

            He sensed Aphelandra before he saw her, holding the reins of Arzosi and the singed white gelding, with Alanar and Jendrick nearby, shadowed by their Talar birds. As the priestess turned to watch them approach, the two Riders turned as well, fatigue heavy in their eyes. The queen walked forward slowly, and then she embraced her oldest son. “I was so worried,” she breathed into his hair.

            Extracting himself from her arms, Noah tugged off his Rider’s gloves and offered them to the woman. “Here,” he said. “You said you wanted me to give these to you.”

            “Noah, I spoke in haste,” Alanar said, trying to push them back to her son. “I was furious, but now I am only relieved, and proud. I saw how you helped rally those soldiers to you. We would have lost if not for your act of leadership.”

            He blushed, his boots scuffing at the ground, but he said, “I did what I had to. Mother, you are right that I should not have what is only for the Riders; I must accept that, whatever I am, I am not and will never be a Rider. And I will leave Karradai forever.”

            Shaking her head, she said, “No, please. Noah, I love you. Today, you proved that someone does not need to be a Rider to have true importance. You are a born leader.”

            “I can’t stay here, Mother,” Noah insisted, glancing at Zelda and smiling. “Zelda has her own kingdom to tend to, and I do not wish to be parted from her.”

            The Rider regarded the heir to the Hyrulian throne with weary eyes, then nodded slowly. “I see,” she said, though it was obvious she did not. “Well, I have others to care for. Many Riders lost their Talar, and they are almost never the same afterward.” Her gaze flicked to the crested bird behind her, and she rested a hand on its feathered breast. “Truly, I would hate to be parted from my Inglu. But then, you will never understand the bond between Talar and Rider.” Turning, she strode away stiffly, her haughty mount swaggering behind her.

            Jendrick watched his mother leave before facing his brother. “You really mean to leave. Why does that not surprise me?”

            Shrugging, Noah crossed his arms. “Maybe because I never really fit into this land. I’ve never actually believed in Mother Tala, or the divinity of dragons, or any of what so many Karradaini take for granted. Those of you who do have something to believe in are lucky, because I have no notion of where to put my trust. Maybe I’ll find what Hyrule believes easier to grasp and embrace.”

            Nodding slowly, Jendrick held out a gloved hand. “Then this is a goodbye, I guess.”

            Noah clasped his brother’s hand. “You really became less insufferable the older you got.”

            “And you became less of an embarrassment these past few weeks.” Releasing the man’s hand, Jendrick donned his helm and walked to his Talar. “Dressa and I need a few days of isolation, to deal with all that has happened. I hope that you find whatever happiness you can and discover something you can believe in.” The black bird crouched, and the Rider climbed up, settling himself in the saddle with his legs before the powerful shoulders. The bird spread its broad wings and pushed off, swiftly disappearing into the cloudy sky.

            “How many of these Partisans are known to be dead?” Aphelandra inquired, staring at the three of them.

            “Three,” Link said, acutely aware that that left nine others still alive. “Do you know of the others? I mean, where’s Kyrani, and Ria, and....” His voice caught for a moment. “Romani?”

            She shook her head. “I have no knowledge of them. Noah just handed me the reins of these horses and ordered me to wait here.”

            Taking Arzosi’s reins, Noah patted the black’s neck affectionately. “He held his own today, even when we were separated.”

            Link glanced back at all the broken horses lying about, but there was no way to tell Phantom from the countless other Gerudo horses that had died. “I’m surprised that gelding survived.”

            Zelda smiled as she seized its reins. “A fine animal, certainly, and one worth any price.”

            Folding her arms beneath her bosom--which did interesting things to her breasts, considering she still wore her Gerudo silks--Aphelandra asked, “Did I see things? I could have sworn I saw Mother Tala amidst the fighting.”

            “It wasn’t Mother Tala,” Link replied absently, eyes searching for one figure in particular. As the others instantly picked up the thread of conversation, he sighed and started off.

            A boulder hurled from one of the catapults lay nearby, and Kyrani perched on it, staring at the rays of light that had taken on a reddish tinge. Approaching the woman, he sat beside her silently. Her eyes flicked to him for a moment before she resumed her vigil on the dying light.

            “Who would have thought,” she murmured after a moment. “Me, Feraladrask. Din’s chosen one. The Triforce of Power my birthright. It is rather ironic that my father stole that from me.”

            Link said nothing. He noticed Din’s symbol on the woman’s palms, three wavy lines with a single circle on each end, and glanced at the back of his left hand, almost expecting to see the Triforce shine. It did not, of course; he and the woman had nothing in common save they were both chosen by a goddess.

            “What was it like?” he asked. “Transforming, I mean. Being a dragon.”

            “It hurt, changing,” Kyrani answered, voice soft. “And changing back, too. I suppose I will grow used to it, but assuming a different body shape so swiftly is never easy.”

            Link nodded. “I know. I’ve transformed enough, and only to other people. To change into some animal, some creature with a shape so different from your own, must be extremely painful.”

            Facing him, Kyrani absently brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face. “But being a dragon was... exhilarating. I was so powerful, so intimidating, so awe-inspiring. And flight is wonderful. Riding those gliders is only a pale imitation of true flight, when it is your own muscles sweeping your powerful wings forward in steady strokes, when you can change direction whenever you wish. I cannot wait to experience it again, but there is no need to transform at the moment. I can change whenever I want to, now; I need only concentrate and begin the process.”

            Zelda joined them in the silence that followed the Gerudo’s words, and the three stared at a break in the clouds that allowed them a final glimpse of the setting sun. “The goddesses’ champions,” she murmured. “Together. ‘When the Three gather all in One Place--’ ”

            “Shadowed Fate.”

            Link turned in surprise and watched Ria stride forward, cloaked in her usual gray. Two other cloaked women followed her, one swathed in brown and the other in pale tan. He frowned, then said, “Ria, do you know what Shadowed Fate is?”

            “Stand, Hero,” she commanded in a ringing voice. “All of you, stand. That prophecy has double interpretations, but both ways are being fulfilled now. Stand, all of you, and let Shadowed Fate open the gates of the Sacred Realm.”

            “What is Shadowed Fate, though?” Zelda asked, standing beside Link.

            The brown-cloaked woman pointed at Link. “He is,” she said in a clear voice. “He is Shadowed Fate.”

            Stunned, Link gaped at the three tall women before him. “How? Ria, if you knew, why didn’t you tell me?”

            “Open the way,” the third woman prompted.

            “But I don’t know how!” he protested.

            “Think,” Ria commanded. “What makes Shadowed Fate a fitting name for you?”

            Pausing, he pondered the question. What about me is shadowed? I have been within the Shadow Temple, but I do not think that is what the name refers to. I have the shadows of others within me, though, contending with my fate. And, at least to me, my fate is uncertain. I do not know when I shall die for good, or what other quests lie ahead of me.

            “I have the darkness of others within me,” he answered aloud. “And I do not know my own destiny, or, rather, what my fate entails for me in the future.” He paused, then asked, “Why isn’t it working?”

            “Ah, but it is.” Ria raised a hand, and a golden slash appeared in the air before them. The slash widened into intricately wrought golden gates, with darkness beyond. The tan-cloaked woman made a sweeping gesture, and the gates opened inward, revealing some indistinct shape within.

            Link hesitated, the words of the prophecy ringing in his head. On to the Realm through the Gates you pass. Before you will stand a Magnificent Mass. Drawing a deep breath, he strode forward, pausing for a moment before he stepped over the threshold, passing through an invisible curtain that caused him to shiver. Emerging in whatever land existed beyond the golden gates, he moved forward, staring around in awe.

            A field of gently rolling grass spread out all around him beneath a bright blue sky that crackled golden in places for a moment. The shape he had glimpsed before was closer than it had appeared from the other side of the gates, and he approached three large statues of benevolent-faced women, each carrying a newborn child with a triangle hovering above its stone breast. The bases of each statue bore a name, and he stared at the Hylian girl in Nayru’s arms, and the Gerudo babe held in Din’s, and the male Hylian cradled by Farore. With a shock, he realized he stared at a representation of himself.

            “Goddesses,” Zelda breathed, coming from behind him. Her eyes were locked on the girl child held by Nayru. “That’s me. There is a representation of me in the Sacred Realm.”

            “This is the Sacred Realm?” he asked, though he knew it for truth. Far away, a building constructed of yellow material gleamed brightly, its domes and towers rising majestically into the sky that seemed aflame with bolts of gold. The Temple of Light. I never saw its outside before, though, just the Chamber of Sages. “I thought its sky was golden.”

            “The Triforce made it golden,” Zelda corrected, turning her head. Link, following her gaze, watched Kyrani pass through the gates cautiously, her head whipping around. Spotting them, she loped over just as the princess continued, “It’s streaked with gold now because of the Triforces we bear. At least, that’s what I think.”

            “You are correct,” the tan-cloaked woman said, striding forward. The other two followed, and then they arranged themselves in a line facing the other three. “And now, I think it is time for you to know who we are.” Reaching up with golden hands, she drew back the hood of her garment before unclasping it and letting it drop to the grass.

            A tall woman stood before them, extraordinarily beautiful, with skin that shimmered gold as she moved. Ruby eyes stared out of a solemn face with an exotic slant, and long bangs the same shade of red as her eyes framed her face nearly to her shoulders, the rest tied back in a high ponytail. A crimson dress clung to her slender figure, her arms bare save for golden bracelets above her elbows with scarlet ribbons connecting them to her top, and a golden belt encircled her narrow waist, a tabard with a familiar symbol upon it hanging from the metal. “I am Din, Goddess of Power.”

            The woman in brown removed her cloak next, and a blue-eyed woman with a smiling face stood before them, her long sapphire hair tumbling to her waist. Her cerulean gown was more intricate than Din’s, with a tight bodice embroidered with silver waves and narrow pleated skirts, her golden shoulders bared by the sweeping neckline edged in fine pale blue lace. “I am Nayru, Goddess of Wisdom.”

            With an inner lurch, Link faced Ria, knowing who his companion had to be. She let the gray cloak fall, revealing a kind-faced woman with her emerald hair hanging just below her jaw, with square-cut bangs covering her brow. Bright green eyes stared at him as her lips quirked into a smile, and then she tilted her head slightly. Her dress was plainer than the other goddesses’, sewn out of green silk and cut simply, the neckline running even with her collarbone, the sleeves ending halfway down her forearms, though a slit ran up the right side of the skirts, revealing a pale green skirt beneath that one, and a golden belt studded with emeralds and peridots accented her waist. “I am Farore, Goddess of Courage.”

            “Goddesses,” Link breathed reverently. “You’ve been with me all this time!”

            She nodded. “Indeed I have. My sisters and I decided current circumstances warranted a visit, so I entered the world first, and, lo and behold, my Hero appeared a few nights after.”

            “That’s how you knew everything about me,” he murmured. “Why didn’t Pelayla sense what you were?”

            “I can disguise myself extremely well,” she replied with a wink, her beautiful smile widening.

            “Din and I came because we were summoned in the ancient manner,” Nayru explained, her voice light and musical, like a chorus of birdsong, or the gentle cascade of a small waterfall. “Someone went to our temples and awoke the orbs.”

            Link gaped at them. “You came because Aphelandra summoned you?”

            Nayru nodded, and Din said, “That girl has good material in her. She will become one of our greatest priestesses, I think. You need to take her back to Hyrule.”    

            Smoothing her stained skirts, Zelda cleared her throat. “Why have you decided to bring us here?”

            Farore’s gaze flicked to Link for a moment--he felt her gaze, through the Triforce--but it was Din who answered in her firm voice. “We need to ensure the future of the Triforce and its bearers. If I had my way, I would tear my Power from that usurper Ganondorf and give it to my Feraladrask here.” Smiling, she reached out and cupped Kyrani’s chin. “You remind me so of my Uranu.”

            The Gerudo smiled back hesitantly, eyes wide in her tan face. “I thank you for the compliment, Creator.”

            “We need to ensure that the Triforces of Wisdom and Courage are there when Ganondorf breaks free,” Nayru continued, expression growing solemn. “I fear Hero and Princess are to be reborn until he is reduced to the barest scrap of existence and killed, and then the Triforce will need to be removed from the world. There are long years ahead for your bloodlines, but so long as you heed the call, the world will survive.”

            Link shared glances with Zelda before facing Farore again. “So what will happen with our Triforces?”

            “They will stay within you, for now,” the Goddess of Courage answered. “Courage will pass to your descendant when he is still within his mother’s womb, however, if you wish it. You must actively grant the Triforce to your heir. Or you can wait to grant it till he is grown a little more. But if you die before you pass it on, it will break and scatter across the world, and the next Hero will have to hunt the pieces down.”

            “The same goes for Wisdom, Zelda,” Nayru said.

            The princess shivered, her eyes sliding shut for a moment. Opening again, they regarded her patron goddess. “So, our children will have the Triforces?”

            “Not the way you and Link possess them,” Din answered. “Yes, they will be within them, but more in the blood, if you will, lying dormant until there is a need for a new Hero, a new Princess. Then they will awaken, and their bearers will have to choose to follow their destinies. All the descendants in between, however, will notice nothing.”

            “If this is about the Triforce, why am I here?” Kyrani demanded, planting fists on her hips.

            Facing her, Din asked, “Did Uranu bear any children?”

            She blinked in surprise but answered, “No, she did not. She may have taken part in Battle Eve, but she never voiced a lover’s claim or laid with a man save on those sacred nights.”

            “And have you voiced a lover’s claim?” the goddess continued. “I know many of your people claim some man or other their first year into womanhood, and you have been an adult for thirteen years.”

            Shaking her head, Kyrani answered, “No, I have never lain with a man.”

            “Then here is a command. While Link and Zelda need to continue their bloodlines, you must sever yours. Do not bear any children. If you wish, you may raise another’s babe as your own, as is the custom of your people, but never bring forth a child of your own womb. It is partly the nature of your spirit, and partly the blood of your father. I would like it if all who bear his blood die out eventually, to prevent any descendants trying to emulate him.”

            She inclined her head and bowed at the waist. “As you say, Creator.”

            Din smiled. “You had your place in the prophecy the Hero has been carrying around. You are the Third Force of Power.”

            The statement reminded Link of his part in the prophecy, and he asked, “Because I’m Shadowed Fate, does that mean I can open a way to the Sacred Realm just by thinking of the reasons I’m Shadowed Fate?”

            The goddesses exchanged significant looks, then Farore faced him. “Link,” she began, and he shivered as she uttered his name, “Link, you are Shadowed Fate because of the borrowed darkness within you. There is no room for more, so you repel any outer evil. If the moon of Termina were to suddenly loom large in the sky, you alone would be unaffected. Zelda may have embraced her inner darkness and forged an alter ego out of it, but even she would be affected by the Shadow Temple, or a fight with Ganondorf. But not you. Yet, in being unaffected by outer evil, you are all the more vulnerable to what you bring in yourself, such as the darkness within Darmani and Mikau and, to a much lesser extent, the evil within the dead captains of the Ikana Kingdom. This strange mix, added to the fact that your darkness is running around somewhere, no doubt struggling to keep out foreign good, has rendered your fate enigmatic and unknowable even to my sisters and me.”

            “A key does not turn itself,” Nayru picked up. “As Shadowed Fate, you are the only mortal capable of opening gates to the Sacred Realm that allow other people to pass through. But it takes someone to turn the key; in your case, it takes a goddess to use you to unlock a path mortals can pass through.”

            He nodded in understanding, then gasped at a sudden revelation. “So, Avra and the other Partisans wouldn’t have been able to use me to enter here?”

            “I’m afraid they could have,” Din responded. “You see, within the Sacred Realm, we goddesses cannot tell who uses Shadowed Fate, so we would have opened it before we realized who waited on the other side.”   

            “And they would have freed Ganondorf before you could do anything,” Zelda murmured thoughtfully, tapping her bottom lip.

            “You know what you three must do,” Din said, her voice ringing majestically. “Whether you choose to lead normal lives or to try to bring about the peace that will separate your lines, you must care for the Triforce until its time--and the time of its bearers--is finished.”

            Raising a hand, Nayru flicked it, and gates appeared and opened again. “There is a dire evil loose in the world, though it will never amount to much in your lifetimes. The Destroyer of Law is once again free, though weaker than at any other time that she has been unbound.”

            Link opened his mouth, but Farore cut him off, saying, “You must return to the world, now. We goddesses will always watch over you, but we will never come into direct contact with you again.” Sweeping forward, she laid a finger on his brow, and he drew a ragged breath at her touch. “You and your line are marked as mine forever. Farewell, and take care.”

            Exhaling loudly, Link watched Farore retreat, his fingers straying to the place her golden skin had touched his own. The back of his left hand started to throb, and he glanced down at it, watching as his Triforce mark flared more brilliantly than ever before. Instead of fadiing completely away, however, it merely dulled to a slightly metallic tawny gold, the mark forever permanent upon his skin.

            Nayru approached Zelda, and she brushed the princess on the brow, murmuring, “May you always remain true to your calling and purpose, my Princess. Keep faith.”

            Din reached out to Kyrani and rested her fingers on the Gerudo’s forehead. “My Daughter, make me proud as you lead your sisters back to the greatness they deserve. Remain vigilant.”

            Link stared at the goddesses as they retreated and stood side by side, their golden skins practically glowing. Turning and facing the gates, he watched the survivors of the battle continue to sort corpses, apparently oblivious to the pathway to the fabled Sacred Realm so near. He strode toward those gates, Zelda and Kyrani falling in step behind him, and then passed through a curtain of warmth back into the real living world.

            They were in a different location than the one they had entered the Sacred Realm from, and, glancing around, Link could tell the soldiers and Gerudo were only just starting on this section of the battlefield. Some of the bodies lay in rough piles, moved there by the necessity of meeting the foe during the fight, but many sprawled haphazardly in between, dried blood congealing in sticky puddles around them. But one body caught his eye, and he approached slowly, his heart heavy.                

            Romani rested on the ground in what he could only call a gentle manner, merely her unseeing eyes and still chest belying the illusion that she was asleep. No blood stained her dress or pooled around her; the only splash of blood-like color was the spread of her red hair, glistening slightly in the lingering daylight as night took hold of the sky. Beside her rested a colorless mask shaped in the crude image of a person’s face, cracked in half.

            So she died, too, he thought, saddened. She never did admit her feelings to my face. Poor thing, I wonder what killed her.

            “Oh, Link,” Zelda breathed sympathetically, gripping his upper arm.

            Squatting beside the corpse, Kyrani poked one piece of the mask and jerked back with a startled oath, rubbing her fingers vigorously on her silken breeches. She rose to her feet and stood beside Link, fear in her yellow eyes. “The touch of a demon yet lingers in that broken mask, but she is gone. The prison of the Fierce Deity is broken; Janthlianti is free.”

            “Nayru said we wouldn’t have to deal with her in our lifetimes,” Link replied wearily.

            Kyrani shook her head in disbelief. “This girl allowed the demon to possess her. But the Destroyer of Law was too strong for her; I yet feel the lingers of both presences in the air. The girl was killed by the immense power of the Fierce Deity, and, with the death of her host, Janthlianti was able to break free. But it will be centuries before she is able to challenge anyone.”

            “It wasn’t her fault,” Link said, turning to watch Noah and Aphelandra pick their ways toward them, a third person scuttling in their wake. “She didn’t know. I certainly did not know when I donned that mask.”

            Drawing near Noah smiled almost triumphantly, reaching behind him to pull out a human in a coat heavy with embroidery, a splinter of a man with a familiar beak-like nose. “Guess who returned to fight because he felt guilty about abandoning us?”

            Hend attempted to free himself, crimson suffusing his cheeks. “All I did was murder my ruler.”

            “He killed Jarj,” Noah clarified, beaming at the man.

            Squirming, Hend exclaimed, “I committed the worst form of treason! Jarj was leading his soldiers--men I knew from back home--against you, and I killed him before I was thinking properly, afraid they might kill me by mistake. The prince will murder me when I return to Annith!”

            “So don’t,” Aphelandra said matter-of-factly. “Come with us to Hyrule. At least, I assume we’re all destined for Hyrule?”

            “I’m not,” Kyrani said. “I will return to the desert with my people. It is my duty, my place. They have been without a leader for too long.”

            The priestess nodded, then said, “So, that’s Avra dead, and Faska, and Ra’noyl, and Jarj. That still leaves eight.”

            “But they will break apart now,” Zelda said with firm conviction. “Avra was the binding force among them. Hopefully, the surviving Partisans will return to their peoples, or lead quiet lives. If not, well, we can confront them, when the time comes. And now we must ready ourselves to return home.”


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