Mika was having a pleasant dream. She was a child again, playing silly games with Alcia in the courtyard of her mother’s apartments. The two of them screamed in a carefree sort of way as they dodged imaginary arrows and heroically saved each other from fantastic monsters that defied convention; purple dragons that sprayed pitch from their noses, mighty elephants with snakes for tusks, birds of prey whose beaks dripped with venom, and of course, men. The men were the worst with their long, gangly arms and their buck teeth, stupidly chasing the girls around with the intention of carrying them away. But nothing could defeat the mighty Mika and Alcia, slayers of the impossible creatures their imaginations created.
Unfortunately, an all too real noise kept disturbing Mika’s dreams. It was a rustling that she at first accepted to be the crunching of oasis grass beneath her adolescent feet. She did her best to ignore the sounds, but they continued, growing louder and louder. They stirred her from her slumber, pulling Alcia farther and farther away from her. The dream slowly slipped through her fingers and Mika slowly opened her eyes to find a pitch black sky above her, dotted with purple stars.
Her blanket was unnaturally warm and when she turned to look to her side, she realized that Tyro was lying beside her. It was a moment before her dream addled mind could fully grasp what she was seeing. She gasped, sitting up ramrod straight. Around her slept Nebekah and Sapphia, both practically comatose in their blankets. Squinting into the distance, she could make out the silhouette of Link, sitting up on a hill and keeping watch by the light of a torch. She turned to look down at Tyro, who lay motionless by her side. Carefully, she examined his throat and noticed his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed.
“Faker,” she hissed.
Tyro opened one eye. “How could you tell?”
“You don’t swallow when you sleep. Any novice warrior will tell you that. What are you doing here?”
He sat up, the blanket slipping off of him. “I just wanted to snuggle up to you,” he said without a trace of his usual irony.
“Do it someplace else.”
“That sort of defeats the purpose.”
She glanced quickly around the campsite. “Someone could see.”
“Are you embarrassed by me?”
“A little bit.”
It seemed that Tyro had not been expecting that answer. His usual smile fell. “Oh.”
Mika sighed. “We need to talk.”
“I guess we do.”
“What happened in the Jaguar dungeon wasn’t normal. There were circumstances. We thought we were going to die.”
“And apparently, you felt that your last act in this life ought to be kissing me,” he said. “You did it for an awfully long time.”
“I was scared and…I don’t know. We were both in a panic.”
“Mika, you’re a Gerudo.”
“Do Gerudo normally kiss people when they’re in a panic?”
“Exactly,” he said just a bit too loudly. She gave him a pained look and he lowered his voice. “It wasn’t normal. That means there must have been something more to it. I felt something. And I know you did too.”
“Don’t fight it, Mika. There’s something between us.”
“At the moment,” she said, pulling her blanket closer to her chest, “there isn’t enough between us.”
“I want to be near you,” he told her earnestly. “I can’t help it.”
“I really wish you would.”
“I’ve never felt this way about a girl before.”
“I’m sure that’s very nice. Very flattering.”
“I’m not trying to flatter, that’s it!”
He lowered his voice again. “What I mean to say is, you’re not like other girls and I know it. Other girls would fall for flattery, so I would dish it out. But not with you. You’re different.”
“I think you’re just a little bit confused,” Mika muttered, turning to look up at Link on the hill.
Tyro caught her chin in his hand, turning her face back to look at his. “I’ve never felt less confused about anything in my life.”
And with that, he kissed her. His lips were warm and inviting, tasting vaguely of dates. She couldn’t help but kiss him back, gently brushing her fingers down the side of his hair as though this were the natural thing to do. Tyro leaned in, deepening the kiss and pressing up against her chest. For a second time, she felt his heartbeat against hers, the rhythm of life that seemed to drive her to do more. Lightly, she touched his cheek, the feel of his stubble new and exciting. Tyro brushed his fingertips against her wrist, dragging them along her arm and wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. As he pulled her close, he began to slowly lean her back against the ground, planting one hand beside her head on the blanket.
Her head began rushing, dreaming and imagining things she had never before considered. There was a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach, a bit like hunger only more enjoyable. She felt his lips brush against the skin of her neck, but for some reason, she couldn’t see it. Her vision was clouded, swimming with flashes of stars and Tyro’s hair and strange new things.
She ran her hands down his chest as he kissed her shoulder and across her collarbone. Her breathing had become a frantic race, her chest falling up and down. It was too fast. This was all happening so quickly that she had begun to panic again. This couldn’t happen. She was a Gerudo, she wouldn’t tolerate it. With brute force, she pushed him back, sending him flying away from her to land on his back. “Ow…” he muttered.
Mika sat up, pulling her blanket around her body protectively. “No,” she told him firmly.
He sat up, rubbing the back of his head and looking flushed. “Why not?” he asked.
“Because,” she sputtered.
She held her hands up, shaking her head to clear it away of the fog. “No,” she insisted.
“There is no shame in surrendering to your feelings,” he said.
“Well, I’m not sure what those are right now.”
He frowned, looking a bit hurt. “You’re not.” It wasn’t a question, but rather, it sounded like a total defeat.
“Tyro, you have to understand.”
“As far as men are concerned…well…I’ve never thought of them…that way. I’ve always…”
“Thought of us as target practice,” he sighed.
“I suppose that’s one way of putting it.”
“There is nothing unnatural about desire. It’s the opposite. Living without it is strange.”
“It may be strange to you,” Mika said, “but it’s the way I’ve known for my entire life.”
“Well, I’m glad your mother, your biological mother, didn’t feel the same way,” he droned. “Otherwise, we’d have no Hero of Time at all, would we?” His frown softened. “Or you.”
“I wish I remembered my parents,” Mika muttered. “Then maybe I’d understand this Hylian obsession with love.”
“Well, I wish you remembered them too.” He stood up slowly. “I’ll go back to my blanket. Goodnight.”
Mika watched him slink away, returning to his rumpled blanket beside Sapphia. Her head swirled with conflict. Desire, he called it. Desire was the name for the feeling inside of Mika’s stomach. There was a satisfaction of knowing that. Any beast was easier to slay when it had a name. But Mika wasn’t sure if she wanted to put an end to it. There was something pleasant about it and part of her wished to explore it further. She would never admit it to Tyro, but she was certain there was more than panic in their first kiss. That was another beast she had yet to name.
The problem was, with every longing look in his direction, with every idle thought and memory of the kiss, Mika felt a small pang, a stab in her heart as she remembered her own upbringing. Each little longing was like a betrayal to Medea and her Orca sisters, the Gerudo who had taught her everything worth knowing in the world. Mika wanted desperately to reconcile her feelings, but she knew that there was no way to bring them together. She was either a Gerudo or she was like every other silly Hylian girl she and her sisters had so often mocked and laughed about.
Tyro had looked so hurt, so betrayed when she pushed him away. That bothered Mika too. Despite all they had been through and all she had blamed him for, she found herself not wanting to hurt him. She couldn’t believe she actually felt so guilty for bruising his pride, but she did. Things had been so much simpler when she could easily hate him, blaming him for a multitude of hurts, but things were different now. She knew of his own pain and she was forced to accept the fact that Alcia’s death hadn’t been his fault. That had been an accident.
But where did that leave her? She couldn’t stay in this limbo forever. She would have to make a choice. The problem was, making a choice meant betraying someone. If she turned Tyro away, her past would be intact and her Gerudo honor flawless, but she would hurt his feelings and that, unfortunately, bothered her. On the other hand, if she surrendered to the beast, it meant turning her back on everything she had been raised to believe, on the very people who had taken an abandoned daughter into their family with open arms.
The morning was full of watching. It started with Link, ever watchful at his post, keeping look out although nothing came. He had not really expected trouble, not since Koume declared that his death had already been arranged. Somehow, he doubted very much that it would involve a nighttime ambush. Nevertheless, Link insisted on keeping the watch, in part, to avoid the trouble of having to explain why he didn’t want to sleep and in part to keep up an optimistic appearance. Frankly, it did give him some measure of comfort to keep the Topaz near. He had fitted the third Shard with the other two and the stone was beginning to take shape. He used the dull hours of the morning, puzzling over the riddle, trying to determine what it meant regarding the Topaz, its use, and protection against it.
Once everyone was up and about, there was more watching to be done. Link watched as Mika and Tyro fell behind the pack, winding their way toward the
. He watched the way that Tyro watched his sister, quite certain of what was behind that look, but not allowing himself to entirely believe it. And he watched someone that no one else seemed to notice. Sapphia. He watched the way that she watched the other two with a half reproachful, half resentful scowl on her face. Link didn’t know the intimate details of what was going on, but he felt sick to his stomach at the thought of anything getting in the way of the quest. There was too much at stake for personal grievances. Then, of course, he supposed that this wouldn’t be the first time. His own quest against Ganondorf had been practically driven by personal grievances. But then, he had been alone. Things were always more complicated when more people were involved. territoryof Dragon Pride
Not that Link particularly wanted to go it alone. Certainly, each member of the fellowship had offered a unique contribution to the journey so far. Link was grateful for his friends, new and old. Still, he couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of impending doom as Tyro gazed longingly at Mika. Certainly, he was in no position to forbid anything. Sister though she was, Link had no right to exercise any control over her life. He just hoped that whatever was brewing in Tyro’s mind could wait until after they had settled the minor inconvenience of having to save the world.
Link turned to watch Nebekah next, who marched stoically at his side as the Dragon territory enveloped them. He was grateful to see that she had returned to her old self, rid of the vengeful vendetta that had nearly torn apart her Pride a few days ago. She was determined to avenge the death of her best friend and Alpha, Miral. Link was amused to think back. Only a short while ago, she had been so reluctant to help him. Now, should anything happen to him, he felt certain that Nebekah would be ready to lead the charge against the Twinrova sisters. This was a measure of comfort that allowed him to relax slightly. If conflict tore apart the small group, at least he could count on Nebekah to remember the quest.
“Are we going to run into any trouble?” Sapphia asked a short while after they passed into Dragon territory.
“Don’t worry,” Nebekah told her. She jerked her head in Link’s directly. “Blondie here gets a free pass with the Dragons.”
“Yeah,” Link said, pulling out a small talisman. It had been given to him years ago, back when he was a child first venturing into the larger world. Not only did it mark him as an honorary Delta, but it assured all of them safe passage. And considering all they had been through so far, this was no small favor.
“The Dragons don’t have any frightening rituals we need to be weary of, do they?” Tyro muttered. “No male ritual sacrifice or anything like that?”
Nebekah shook her head. “No, the Dragons don’t have much to do with men, to be honest.”
“How do they maintain their bloodlines?” Tyro persisted.
“I think they use Heart’s Desire,” Nebekah said.
“Heart’s Desire?” Sapphia repeated. “What’s that?”
“It’s an herb,” Nebekah explained. “Small and red. It sort of looks like an apple or a mango. Some people think it’s a bit heart-shaped, actually.”
“What does it do?” Tyro continued.
“It has a fascinating hallucinogenic effect.”
“That means it makes you see things,” Link told him snidely.
Tyro rolled his eyes. “Thank you very much, Hero.” He turned back to Nebekah. “What does it make you see?”
“Well, from what I understand,” Nebekah muttered, “it makes you see the person that’s your ‘heart’s desire.’”
“So that’s why they call it Heart’s Desire?” Sapphia deadpanned.
“I don’t understand,” Tyro grumbled.
“The Dragon women take raiding parties to the villages of Hyrule at night. They slip the herb into a man’s drink. After it gets into his system, he starts to hallucinate.” Nebekah wrinkled her nose. “Then a Gerudo warrior visits the man and instead of seeing a Gerudo, he thinks that she’s the woman he desires.”
Tyro blinked. “Oh. I get it. So the man thinks the Gerudo is someone he knows and cares about.”
“Exactly,” Nebekah said.
“So he sleeps with her,” he concluded, “and then she goes back to the
and he’s never the wiser.” Gerudo Valley
“Yeah. And she produces a daughter.”
“Seems like a flimsy way to assure the continuation of one’s bloodline,” Sapphia said.
“Well, Heart’s Desire also increases fertility,” Nebekah supplied.
Sapphia folded her arms. “What happens if a woman eats the herb? Does she hallucinate too?”
“I don’t think it works the same way on women, but I’m not sure.” Nebekah shrugged. “I’ve never used it.”
“That’s good to know, Nebekah,” Link murmured.
Nebekah laughed heartily. It was a pleasant sound. “What I’d like to know, blondie, is which of your find lady friends you’d see while on Heart’s Desire,” she teased.
“Let’s not find out,” Link said quickly.
“Lady friends?” Mika asked suddenly, eyeing Link suspiciously.
“Blondie here is quite popular with the female population of Hyrule,” Nebekah said. “His newly legendary exploits include quite a few female helpers.”
“It’s not like she’s making it sound,” Link told Mika. “I just ended up having to rescue the Sages. And most of them were women.”
“Including Nabooru,” Nebekah said.
“I’ve heard a lot about Alpha Nabooru,” Sapphia said lazily, examining their surroundings.
“Me too,” Mika admitted. “My mother has spoken of her quite often. I think they once knew each other.”
“It’s likely,” Nebekah said. “Nabooru is the least sedentary of any Gerudo Alpha. She gets around. Does her own dirty work.”
“Is it true that she’s the greatest thief in the world?” Sapphia asked.
Link chuckled. “Oh yes. She’s great.”
“You shouldn’t expect anything less from the Dragon Alpha,” Nebekah sighed.
Tyro glanced over at her. “And why is that?”
“The Dragons are the finest thieves in the realm,” Nebekah replied. “Really, it’s their entire way of life. Trainees and novices learn nothing but larceny. The initiation ritual consists of a heist. All the riches of the Dragon treasury were stolen from lands as far away as Calatia and Holodrum.”
“Sounds charming,” Tyro grumbled.
“They’re really not so bad,” Link said. “They have a code of honor. They never steal from someone who can’t afford to lose. Nabooru explained it all to me. They’re really quite decent about it.”
“Do you know her very well?” Mika asked.
“Yeah, we go back,” Link confessed. “I’ve kind of lost touch with her though. We haven’t spoken in awhile.”
Nebekah stared straight ahead. “What’s awhile?” she murmured.
Link scowled, flushing a little bit. “A year,” he admitted. “Since the downfall of Dragmire.”
“That may have been a bit too long,” she told him.
“I know it’s a little excessive, but things did get a little crazy and I just couldn’t get around to –”
“That’s not what I mean,” she interrupted.
She pointed straight ahead. “Look.”
Following her gaze, Link turned to find the great façade of the Dragon fortress looming up ahead. Besides the customary honor guards, flanking either side of the entrance, he noticed a purple carriage with gold accents sitting out front, four white horses scratching at the ground and snorting haughtily into the air. Hoisted from a golden rod coming out of the top of the carriage was a white flag, gold threads neatly forming the shape of the Triforce.
“What is it?” Mika whispered.
“It’s a carriage,” Tyro told her.
“A royal carriage,” Link said.
Nebekah bit her lips together. “What would a royal carriage be doing at the fortress of the Dragon Pride?”
Link shook his head. “I don’t know.”
“Do you think there’s trouble?”
Again, he shook his head. “There’s no way to know. But whatever it is, it’s serious business.”
“Why do you say that?” Sapphia asked.
“I’ve seen that carriage before,” he explained. “And it belongs to Princess Zelda.”
Koume sat on the floor of the ice palace. She had conjured up a small mirror of ice in which she now sat admiring her reflection. Or rather, detesting it. After collecting massive amounts of Jaguar blood, she and Kotake had managed to restore a great deal of their power, but no amount of power could undo the damage of age and time. True, she could assume any youthful form she pleased, but it could not be her own. Try though she might to restore her own good looks, all Koume had managed to do so far was to make her wrinkles horizontal instead of vertical.
Despite this minor annoyance, Kotake had been in good spirits the last couple of days, humming maniacally as she went to and from the ice palace, making various arrangements that Koume herself could only guess at. Koume herself was still being haunted by her brief encounter with the Hero of Time while she had assumed the guise of the Jaguar Gamma. It felt like such a waste. She had been so close to him. A simple flick of a knife and he could have been gone. But no. Kotake insisted. The Hero had to die a painless death at the hands of a woman with child by an Alpha’s son. Somehow, this ridiculous combination of ridiculous circumstances was supposed to restore Ganondorf.
If nothing else, Koume did long to see him again. She and Kotake had enjoyed such privilege during his all too brief reign. All the years of planning and manipulating had finally paid off. The sisters had become the ultimate rules of the
and, had the Hero not dispatched them, with the help of the Kodiak, they would have restored the Gerudo to the greatness the nation had once known. This last loss bothered Koume more, she knew, than it bothered Kotake. Kotake’s lament was for the great power and authority they had sacrificed. It was Koume who mourned the loss of Gerudo unity. She desperately missed the old days, back when the five Prides and the Shards of the Topaz had been one. Gerudo Valley
She sensed Kotake long before she saw her. Given their new stockpile of potent Gerudo blood, the sisters no longer needed to travel by their wretched, decaying brooms. Those were merely for show. Now, Kotake was able to whisk in and out of the ice palace using simple parlor tricks, old Hylian magic that all citizens of Hyrule once knew. Indeed, it was only another instant before Kotake appeared, heralded by swirls of emerald flames that immediately vanished without a trace of smoke.
“You’re back,” Koume murmured, allowing her ice mirror to slowly dissolve back into the floor of the palace.
“I can see you’re overjoyed,” Kotake deadpanned. She had not squandered much of her magic on trying to restore her youth and beauty. Instead, she had dedicated ample amounts of the Jaguar blood to create an assortment of powerful jewels and tokens that hid impressive spells. Her entire, ragged body glittered with red and pink stones, most of which, if thrown or dissolved in water or eaten, could cause a variety of things to happen, most of which Koume could only guess at.
“Have you made contact with the vessel?”
“I have.” Kotake crossed the chamber to a pile of barrels that Koume had formed out of ice. They were all filled with deep crimson blood. She held her hand over one of the barrels and a small ball of blood rose up, hovering underneath her palm. Slowly, she squeezed her hand shut. A burst of light erupted from between her fingers. When she opened her palm, a new, red jewel floated before her.
“Well?” Koume asked impatiently, watching as Kotake admired her own handiwork.
Kotake smiled, never taking her eyes off of the jewel. “I’ve given her instructions.”
“She knows what she must do.”
“But will she do it?” Koume wrung her hands, feeling the sharp bones of her knuckles. “I know you’ve been worried about her loyalty wavering.”
“She’ll do it,” Kotake said breezily.
“How can you be sure?”
“It is a great honor, we’re bestowing upon her,” Kotake replied. “She shall give rise to the Gerudo nation.”
Inwardly, Koume sighed. Kotake knew just how to play her, knew just what to say to put her at ease. But somehow, even the blissful thought of a unified Gerudo nation was not enough to sway her. “You questioned her constitution before with the Saber Tooth.”
“That was another matter. It involved men. This is different.”
“This will involve men too. Remember the fellowship she’s dealing with right now.”
Kotake waved it off. “Yes, yes.”
Koume folded her arms. “And while we’re on the subject.”
“The Saber Tooth.”
“What about them?”
“I fear we washed our hands of the situation too quickly.”
“What do you mean?”
“The man who took over?”
“He’s of no consequence.”
“He might be,” Koume said.
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he is still alive.”
For a moment, Kotake was silent. Koume could detect a tempest raging behind her sunken in eyes. “Alive,” she repeated finally.
“The Saber Tooth didn’t have the good sense to do away with him?”
“They spared him.”
“Even after he took over their Pride?”
Koume shrugged. “I suppose, they viewed him as some kind of pawn in our game.”
“Unbelievable.” Kotake shook her head in disgust. “What is wrong with the Saber Tooth?”
“But,” Koume continued, “I worry about him. He could still cause trouble yet.”
“Why do you say that?”
She gestured vaguely to the telepathy tile embedded in the far wall. “I’ve been listening.”
“You’ve picked up on his thoughts?”
“Not on purpose,” Koume admitted. “I was trying to contact the vessel, but along the way, I heard a stray thought about the Saber Tooth. When I listened in, I realized it was Ari I was connecting to.”
“He was furious.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“Kept thinking about revenge.”
Kotake tapped her fingertips to her lips. “Revenge…”
“I think,” Koume said tentatively, “that he intends to seek revenge against the Hero.”
“Think of it, sister. It was because of the Hero that he lost his control over the Saber Tooth. He had the makings of a fine army. Not to mention enough Din Silver to arm them all for a slaughter.”
“And the kid took that away from him.”
“Well…” Kotake mused, “I suppose I can see how that might be a problem, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much.”
“He may want revenge. He may even plan it, but it won’t matter.”
“Again, why not?”
“Because by the time he gets around to executing any plan, the Hero should be dead, Koume. Think of it. Right now, the Hero of Time is deep within the
. My guess is that Ari is far away, safely nestled in one of the villages. Once our plan unfolds, the Hero will never leave the Valley. Ari will be too late to do anything about him.” Gerudo Valley
“Well, I suppose so,” Koume conceded.
“Planning ahead, Koume? That’s very unlike you.”
Koume gave her a disgruntled snort. “I’m going a bit stir crazy again. It was so much fun being out among the Gerudo.”
“Your performance as Deidre was admirable,” Kotake said. “But there was a flaw in the plan we hadn’t anticipated on. It would be foolish to fall into the same trap once more.”
“Meaning I can’t go out.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Nothing. There’s nothing at all to be done, Koume. Not until the vessel performs her task. Until then, all we have to do is wait.”
She didn’t say anything, though a thousand retorts were bubbling up in Koume’s chest. Wait. Wait. Wait. She was so tired of waiting. She didn’t much fancy the idea of spending the next few days cooped up in the ice castle with Kotake either. She loved her sister of course. No question about it. Still, being in such close quarters without some kind of project always resulted in disaster for them. That was another reason to long for Ganondorf’s return. At least, with their authority as rulers of the Valley reestablished, they would never want for anything to do. When life crawled by so slowly, boredom was a terrible enemy.
Link led the pack as they hurried through the halls of the Dragon fortress. It was familiar to him, easy to navigate, and filled with familiar faces. These faces did not comfort him, however. Although they did not stop to talk, Link sensed something was very wrong with the Dragon Pride. Whereas the fortress was normally filled with boisterous singing and the clashing of practice swords, things were silent today, silent except for the racing footsteps of Link and his friends as they hurried to Nabooru’s greeting chamber.
“Maybe it’s nothing,” Nebekah supposed at his side. “Maybe it’s just a diplomatic envoy.”
“Maybe,” Link said. But as he caught the tight faces of the Delta warriors around him, his instinct screamed that there was trouble.
“They’re just letting us run through,” Mika muttered. “No questions asked. They’re just standing there.”
“They know Link,” Nebekah told her.
“They don’t know us,” Mika countered.
“We’re with him,” Tyro said. “One of the nice bonuses of hanging around with the Hero of time is that –”
But he stopped short. Just then, Link led them through an arched doorway and they found themselves in Nabooru’s chamber. It was a fairly grand hall, the ceilings rising high into the sky, supported by stone buttresses carved with images of the great Alphas of the past. Dozens of plush carpets, painstakingly made and stolen, lined the floors in a vibrant, mismatched calico of purples and reds and blues. In the very center of the chamber was a small, round table made of stone. Atop the table was Nabooru’s throne, sculpted of gold and glimmering because it stood directly underneath a wide skylight in the ceiling, allowing the sun to fill the chamber. The throne, however, was not the only thing glowing inside.
Standing by one of the intricate buttresses was Zelda. In the year since Ganondorf fell, she had only grown more lovely, a fact that had certainly not escaped her countless suitors from kingdoms far and wide. Nor could it escape the fellowship as they caught sight of her. She was leaning against the wall, twirling her fingers around a lock of gold hair. It had been curled, pulled back and on top of her head with a diadem, all except for a few stray wisps which were coiled into tight springs that framed her heart shaped face like a lion’s mane. Her slender body was draped in a beautiful silk robe, deep violet, tied loosely around her waist with a gold cord.
When they entered the room, Zelda looked up, her blue eyes flashing in the sunlight. She caught sight of Link and smiled. Despite all of her beauty, somehow that smile still reminded Link of the child he had once met all those years ago. “Link!” she cried.
“Princess Zelda!” he called, stepping forward into the chamber.
“That’s Princess Zelda?” Tyro whispered in back of the pack.
“Who’s Princess Zelda?” Mika murmured.
In the middle of the room, Link bowed to the princess, but she immediately pulled him up, giving him a light hug that left her mild perfume on his arms. “I didn’t expect to see you here,” she said.
“I could say the same,” he told her.
“Whatever are you doing here?”
“Well…it’s a long story,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “My friends and I came here to…oh! Princess Zelda, these are my friends.” He gestured to the others. “That’s Nebekah.”
“Daughter of Elena?” Zelda asked. “First Beta of the Jaguar Pride?”
Nebekah blinked in surprise. “How did you know?”
Zelda smiled slightly. “As part of my duty as heir to the kingdom, I’ve been tasked to memorize the family trees and histories of all the Hylian tribes, Prides, and colonies.”
“That’s some memory,” Sapphia muttered.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Nebekah said, crossing her wrists before her chest and bowing.
“Beside her is Sapphia,” Link continued. “First Beta of the Kodiak Pride.”
Behind Zelda’s polite smile, there was some hesitation. “I’m afraid I’m not up to date on the Kodiak lines. Please excuse me.”
Sapphia laughed. “Hardly worth a fuss.”
Tyro stepped forward, bowing grandly to Zelda. “My name is Tyro,” he said.
“Malon’s cousin,” Link added.
“Really?” The nervousness faded from Zelda’s smile. “I simply adore Malon. I had no idea she had a cousin. It’s nice to meet you.”
“It’s a great, great, great pleasure to –” But Tyro was cut off when Mika elbowed him in the ribs.
Politely, Zelda covered her mouth with her hand, stifling a small laugh. “And you are?” she asked.
“Mika,” she replied. “Daughter of…Medea.”
Nervously, Link wrung his hands. “She’s kinda…my sister.”
Zelda blinked. “Your sister?”
“It’s a long story. I’d tell it to you, but frankly, I don’t even know half of it myself.”
She seemed to understand. “Well, whatever are you all doing here?”
“Oh, we came to speak with Nabooru,” Link said.
“Then…you haven’t heard?”
Nebekah furrowed her brow. “Heard what?”
“There’s been a bit of a situation, I’m afraid.”
Sapphia folded her arms. “What sort of situation?”
“Nabooru has been arrested by the villagers of Kakariko,” Zelda said gravely.
Link coughed in surprise. “What!?”
“They can’t do that!” Nebekah cried.
“I’m afraid,” Zelda muttered, “that they have.”
“On what charges?” Tyro asked.
“Theft.” Zelda walked over to the group, passing Link. “Nabooru has been accused of stealing their statue of Din.”
“A statue of Din?” Nebekah repeated. “That isn’t possible. It’s against Gerudo custom to violate an image of the goddess.”
“Forget about that,” Link said. “I’ve seen the statue. It’s enormous, nearly as tall as Nabooru. There’s no what she could have done it.”
“And there’s no way she would get caught, even if she had done it,” Zelda said. “I’m aware of that.”
“So what happened?”
“Mayor Tertias caught her at the scene of the crime. Nabooru’s a well known thief, so she became the suspect. She’s already been tried and convicted.”
Mika’s jaw dropped. “Convicted? What does that mean?”
“That means they intend to stone her at sunrise tomorrow morning,” Zelda explained.
“Zelda,” Link murmured, “You’re a princess. Can’t you stop it?”
She shook her head sadly. “I wish I could, but I don’t have the authority to interfere with the legalities of the villages.”
Link threw his hands up in the air. “Well, that’s just great.”
“I hate to say this, Link,” Sapphia muttered, “but I feel the need to point out that this is probably another distraction. Twinrova is probably trying to delay you some more.”
“Twinrova?” Zelda said, looking back and forth between Link and Sapphia.
“Probably,” Link said, “but it’s going to work.”
Sapphia gave him a disapproving scowl. “You’re seriously going to go after Nabooru? You’ll take the bait?”
“Yes,” Link answered. She looked like she was about to object, so he continued. “I have to. Besides, Nabooru’s the Alpha. She’s the only one with access to her Shard. We have to go after her.”
“You don’t know that for sure,” she countered.
“No,” he admitted, “but I know Nabooru pretty well. She doesn’t strike me as the type of person who would just leave the Shard out of her possession. I’ll bet she carries it with her.”
“There’s no way to know for sure.”
“So what are you suggesting, Sapphia?”
“I suggest we split up,” Sapphia said. “Half of us go investigate Nabooru’s situation, the other half will remain here and look for the Shard.”
He didn’t like the idea of splitting up, but Link had to confess that there was a certain amount of sense in it. “All right,” he said quietly. “I’ll go to Kakariko and save Nabooru.”
“I’m going with you, blondie,” Nebekah said immediately.
“Fine. The rest of you will stay here and see if you can find out anything,” Link declared.
Mika turned to her brother. “Link, how are you going to get to Kakariko and investigate? You don’t have long. They’re stoning her tomorrow morning.”
Link looked at Zelda. “I don’t suppose I could talk you into giving me and Nebekah a lift via Farore’s Wind? I’m out of practice.”
Zelda pursed her lips. “I can do it,” she replied. “But will someone please explain to me what’s going on?”
With a grand bow, Tyro stepped forward again. “I would be happy to explain it to you, Princess.”
“Good.” Zelda turned to face Link and Nebekah. Without instruction, Link moved to stand beside her. Zelda rubbed her hands together and a light green crackle, like static electricity formed. She whispered several words in the ancient language and the beam of light flew at the two of them. Link felt himself dissolve, becoming one with the matter of the universe. He didn’t particularly like the sensation. It felt like ants crawling across his skin, but he knew once it was over, he would be in Kakariko and the real work would begin.
After Link and Nebekah vanished, Sapphia seemed to take command. She instructed Mika to go to the east side of the compound while she explored the west side. Mika was reluctant to leave Tyro alone with Zelda. She didn’t like the way he was looking at her, but she left nevertheless. Behind her, she could hear Tyro reciting their antics thus far, with great gusto. Was she jealous? No, Mika allowed herself to feel anything to petty. There was no way she was jealous. How could she be jealous of something like that? It was silly. All the same, she found her pace quicken as she ran away from the sound of Tyro’s voice.
The layout of the Dragon stronghold was very much unlike the familiar corridors of the Orca compound. Everything here was so straight, at sharp angles and very symmetrical. What’s more, the hallways felt abandoned. She supposed that was only logical. After all, the Dragon Alpha was missing. The warriors probably had a lot on their minds. She was certain that the Beta and the other higher ranking soldiers were probably meeting in secret somewhere, discussing rescue ploys and the like. Perhaps they were even already on their way.
Without meaning to, Mika found herself in a long block of stalls. It was a bit like the Jaguar dungeon, only instead of cells filled with prisoners, there were dozens of horses, munching happily on grain, snorting and flicking their tails. There was a single attendant sitting by the door, cleaning horse hair out of a brush, but she didn’t pay Mika much heed, other than offering her a curt nod of welcome. Evidently, it was normal for strangers to wander through the fortress. Mika didn’t understand this one bit, but she supposed it was to her advantage. Then again, she supposed, perhaps they thought she was a part of the royal envoy.
As she stared down the long row of stalls, she spotted the horses that had been pulling the royal carriage. They were being gently led to a drinking trough by a woman that Mika immediately knew was not a Gerudo. She was the tallest woman Mika had ever seen, statuesque in a muscular sort of way. She had short white hair, pulled tightly back in a bun at the base of her neck. Her eyes were scarlet, positively piercing everything she happened to look at. And at that particular moment, she happened to look at Mika.
“Hello,” she said in a deep, husky voice.
“Hello,” Mika replied uncertainly. There was something about her voice that was familiar, but Mika couldn’t place it.
“Is there something I can help you with?” the woman asked.
“No,” Mika answered.
The woman planted a hand on her hip, tilting her head to one side to examine Mika. “What’s the matter? Never seen a Sheikah before?”
“No,” Mika said, but she had the oddest feeling that wasn’t entirely true. “Never.”
“Well,” the woman chuckled, “you needn’t be so shy. We don’t bite. Often, anyways. My name is Impa.”
And something went through Mika then, like an invisible shockwave. Although her eyes widened, she was no longer looking at the grand royal horses or the Sheikah woman. Her mind’s eye saw something different entirely. There was smoke. It was dark out, very, very late, but there were no stars and no trace of moonlight, as though the moon were hiding. The thick air smelled of charred wood and hair and something else that was unpleasant and organic. In the distance, there was a great deal of wailing and screaming, voices calling out phantom names only to have their cries greeted with an unnatural silence.
This had once been a village. A thriving center of commerce and activity. Kasuto had been its name. The busiest center of Hylian activity in the kingdom. But it was gone now. All that remained were a smoldering heap of ashes and the terrible memories. And a little girl. A small, blond girl trembling in the cold, hugging the side of a portly man who patted her hair, muttering, “I’m sure you’re mother is all right, Mika. She’ll be fine. Your brother too.”
“Where are they?” the little girl demanded.
“I don’t know. They took a wrong turn somewhere, but they’ll turn up,” he promised. “I’m sure of it.”
She clutched her wrist, her fingertips brushing over the smooth, blue lines that rested beneath her skin. Her mother had explained everything to her, about how these lines would help her find her brother again. Touching them made her feel safe. “Okay,” she said.
But all they did was continue to wait and wait. Any second now, she was certain she would see her mother come racing over the hill, clutching the baby and falling to her knees to pull the girl into her arms and promise that everything would be all right. But the seconds ticked by and no one came. The haunted echoes of the village continued, loved ones crying out for one another, families reuniting, in this world or the next. The last vestiges of the town’s infrastructure fell, crackling in the night and serving as a reminder of all that had been lost.
Slowly, the sky turned pink. The portly man kept his hand on the girl’s shoulder as she drifted in and out of a gentle doze, waiting for her mother to come. But it was not her mother who came over the hill. It was a tall Sheikah woman in loose robes, carrying a scroll and a quill pen. “My name is Impa,” she said. “I serve the royal family and I need to ask all the survivors a few questions.”
“Name?” she asked the man.
“Pietro Falco,” he said.
She unfurled the scroll and wrote, “Pietro Falco. Who’s with you?”
“My wife,” he gestured to the stout woman behind him. “Our four children,” he indicated his daughter and three sons.
The Sheikah looked down at the little girl. “And her?”
“The daughter of my tenant. I’m a landlord…” he scowled. “Well, I was a landlord.”
“Mika,” he said.
“And her parents?”
“Her father’s dead,” he said flatly. “Killed by Gerudo on the way back from the Oracle in Calatia. The mother’s name is Natalya.”
Sharply, the woman’s eyebrows rose. “Natalya Evenn?”
“Natalya had a son, where is he?”
Pietro frowned. “I’m afraid I don’t know. We’ve been waiting for her, but she hasn’t come with the tyke.”
The little girl looked up at the strange woman. “Where’s my momma? Have you seen her?”
Rather than answer, the woman turned to the landlord. “I’ll take her from here. Thank you.”
“Now wait a second,” Pietro said, tightening his grip on the girl’s shoulder. “I’m not just going to let her –”
“I assure you,” the woman cut in, “she will be taken care of. There’s nothing to worry about.”
He seemed reluctant, but Pietro acquiesced. The woman took the child’s hand in hers and began to lead her away from the hill. “Are you going to take me to my momma?” she asked.
“Your mother is dead,” she replied matter-of-factly.
Hot tears began to well up in the little girl’s eyes. As they did, it seemed as though the world swirled and slowly dissolved. Mika found herself staring at the bemused expression on Impa’s face as she absently patted one of the royal stallions. “Impa,” Mika said softly, her throat dry.
“That’s right,” Impa laughed. “That’s my name.”
“Do you have a name?” Impa asked.
“I don’t know,” Mika replied numbly as she turned around. Doubtlessly, Impa was staring after her, half amused and half bewildered. It was nothing compared to what Mika was feeling right now though. What had she seen? Had it been a vision? There was one time, during her warrior training, when she had spent several days in a chamber, filled with incense and perfumes, waiting to have a vision. One had come eventually, but it had been different, murkier somehow. What she had just experienced had to have been something deeper, something realer. Was she remembering something that she had long ago banished from her mind?
Link and Nebekah arrived safely to Kakariko, intact and only slightly tingly. Admittedly, they scared quite a few passersby, but Link’s face was so well known that the sight of him instantly put everyone at ease. This was both a blessing and a curse, because while it meant he wasn’t attacked with weapons, he was immediately assailed by dozens of eyes, curious to see what he was doing there.
Nebekah noticed it too. “Maybe I should head to the scene of the crime alone,” she muttered.
“Yeah,” he replied.
“No one will hassle me.”
“You head to the jail,” she told him. “Go talk to Nabooru, see if you can figure out what’s going on.”
“All right,” Link agreed.
“Where’s the statue?”
“Town square. About half of a mile south of here. There’s a big wishing pond nearby, you can’t miss it.”
“I’ll meet you there.”
And with that, the two of them parted ways. Zelda had neatly set them down about a block away from the jail. Her aim with this particular spell had always been better than Link’s. With a slight smile, he headed down the road, fully aware of everyone’s eyes on him. Kakariko was no different from New Kasuto. The people were always staring. What made it worse was that Link knew fewer people here. Kakariko had a very diverse population, where Humans and Hylians and every other kind of traveler seemed to settle. The community was isolated from the rest of Hyrule both because of its uncomfortable proximity to the
and the long, uncultivated stretches of field surrounding it on the other three sides. Gerudo Valley
Link had been to Kakariko, of course, but the majority of his visits had been on his way back and forth from the more familiar parts of Hyrule. And, he reflected, most of his visits had taken place during his quest to defeat Ganondorf. He had never really been afforded much of a chance to explore the village, not in the way that he knew New Kasuto which was much closer to
and the Zora’s Domain. Still, he knew enough to get by. He had passed the jail building on several occasions and knew exactly where to go. He had never been inside, however. North Castle
Instantly, the first thing to hit Link as he pressed the door to the jail building open was the horrid smell of the place. It reeked of unwashed bodies and waste. Quickly, he clapped a hand over his nose and mouth, stifling a weak cough. His stomach performed several impressive acrobatic feats before he managed to steady himself again. He had smelled much worse, he just hadn’t been expecting it from a jail in a town as civilized as Kakariko.
The building was small, rectangular shaped. Near the door were a desk and a shaded window with bars on it. The far side of the room consisted of an enormous, single cell with a cot, chamber pot, and wash basin. On the near side of the bars lining the cell sat a man that Link recognized as Tertias, the newly elected mayor of Kakariko, flanked by a guard. He was a pleasant looking fellow with a round pot belly and a gleaming bald spot, very much contrary to his relative youth. By contrast, beside him stood a lean and very sour looking Gerudo woman who Link recognized as Liandra, the Dragon Beta. He followed her gaze to find the third occupant of the jail.
Behind the bars sat Nabooru, every bit as magnificent as Link remembered. Even imprisoned, she carried herself with the poise and grace of an unbroken mare. She rested now, on the cell cot, her legs curled under her in a meditative position, her eyes closed. There was a thin cotton blanket draped around her shoulders, masking her extraordinary physique and her brilliantly decorated clothing Link knew all too well.
Tertias was the first to notice Link. He turned around at the sound of the door opening and grinned, stepping forward and holding out a meaty hand. The guard followed him silently. “Link!” he cried. “Fancy meeting you here!”
“Hello, Tertias,” Link said, clasping his wrist and giving it a shake. “Or should I say Mayor?”
“My name is Tertias. And never forget it. But what in the name of Nayru are you doing here? Last I heard, you were happily enjoying your retirement.”
“I came to speak with Nabooru, actually,” Link said.
At once, Tertias’ bright smile faded. “Oh,” he mumbled. “Link, I hope you realize that I gave her a trial. It was fair and equitable. But given Nabooru’s history…I mean…the woman once stole the Ring of Light from the Risan heir apparent. It was just too much…and there were no other suspects really. And we did find her standing right at the scene of the crime…No one is above the law, not even Sages…”
“I’d just like to talk to her,” Link said. “If you don’t mind.”
“Well, I suppose that’s up to her, you know…”
“I’ll speak with him.”
Link and Tertias looked around. Nabooru had opened her eyes and was gazing intently at them from behind the bars. Liandra seemed a bit surprised. “Alpha?” she asked.
Nabooru turned to Tertias. “Mayor, I am wondering, would you be willing to let me speak with Link in private?”
Tertias looked flustered. “Well, this is highly irregular.”
“I am certain you can trust me under the watch of the Hero of Time,” she said softly.
“Oh…very well, I suppose,” Tertias muttered. “But I’ll be right outside the door.”
“Thank you very much,” Nabooru said. Tertias grunted in reply and ambled out the door, the guard following after him without a single complaint. Nabooru turned to Liandra. “You too, please. I wish to speak with Link alone.”
“But Alpha!” Liandra cried.
Liandra looked torn. For a full minute, she shifted her weight back and forth, looking between them with a sour expression. “Very well.”
“But I don’t like it.” And with that, Liandra left, slamming the door behind her.
Link walked over to the cell in three quick strides. “Nabooru! What’s going on here?”
“It appears that I am awaiting my execution,” she told Link gently, pulling the blanket tighter around her shoulders.
“Did you do it?”
“Did you steal the statue of Din?”
Nabooru laughed. “It was impressive, wasn’t it? It could genuinely be argued that that is the most impressive theft in the history of Hyrule.”
“But did you do it?”
She scowled. “No.”
“That’s what I thought,” Link muttered with a nod. “Okay, listen, my friends and I are going to get you out of here, so just sit tight.”
“Are you going to make a liar out of me?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“I already told the mayor that you could be trusted not to help me escape.”
“That wasn’t what I had in mind. I’m going to find out who did it, who stole the statue, and clear your name.”
“Link, you can’t do that.”
“Please, don’t. Don’t find out who really did it.”
“Nabooru,” he said, trying to remain patient, “They’re going to kill you unless I do something.”
“Just let it be.”
“Are you out of your mind?”
“Link, if you do this, I will never forgive,” she told him with no amount of uncertainty.
He stared at her. Her expression was genuine, completely serious. From her eyes, he detected a note of urgency that he didn’t understand. “Nabooru, why are you doing this? Why are you taking the fall?”
“I’m not taking a fall,” she insisted.
“Then what is this about?”
She sighed heavily. “That theft is the most impressive piece of work I have ever seen. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know how they did it. That statue is taller than you and probably weighs a ton. Literally.”
“So, they’re blaming me. They think that I did it.”
“It’s a matter of reputation,” she explained. “The greatest theft in the world must be carried out by the greatest thief in the world.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Link held up his hands, “let me see if I understand this. You’re willing to die to protect yourself from losing your reputation as the world’s greatest thief?”
He stared at her blankly. “Have you lost your mind?”
“Link, promise me that you won’t interfere.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” he told her.
“Ever the Hero, aren’t you?”
“Maybe a little bit.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter. My execution is at sunrise tomorrow. You won’t be able to find the real thief by then.”
“Don’t underestimate me.”
“I make that mistake a lot, don’t I?”
He couldn’t think of much of an answer to that. His blood was boiling a bit, to be honest. How could Nabooru, a Sage and savior of Hyrule, suddenly turn so foolish? He would never have taken her for the kind of woman who cared so much about her own petty reputation. Didn’t she have more things to be proud of than her ability to steal things? Certainly, in his opinion, saving Hyrule was much more impressive. But perhaps that was the problem. Was becoming a Sage as traumatic as becoming a Hero? He stared at her, wondering why she really wanted to die.
“Right in here. You’ll have to pardon the mess, we don’t get visitors often.” And Mika found herself staring into a cramped little room. Kitsch littered the floor, various items of precious metal, probably stolen, rolled up carpets, boxes of jewelry, assorted weapons, and bottles of perfumes. She supposed that if the Dragon Pride didn’t get visitors often, it made sense that they used guest quarters to store their stolen booty. And there was an impressive display. There was so much on the bed she couldn’t even see the covers!
It turned out that Princess Zelda had more pull with the Dragon Pride. As far as Mika could tell, the Delta warriors respected and obeyed her like an Alpha, bringing her food and drink on demand. Truth be told, however, from the little Mika had seen of Zelda, demand seemed like the wrong word. The Princess was fairly soft spoken and polite. Immediately, her friendship with Link seemed to extend to his friends. Zelda took it upon herself to see after the rites of hospitality in Nabooru’s unfortunate absence. She deftly arranged for all the accommodations Mika, Sapphia, and Tyro could require, including this cozy little room that Mika was being shown by a pleasant Thin Blood named Kallista.
“Oh, it’s a mess,” Kallista murmured, chewing on her thumb as she examined the room.
“If there’s a bed, it’s good enough for me,” Mika assured her.
She wasn’t tired. Not really. But after her strange encounter in the stables, the idea of lying down suddenly appealed to Mika a great deal. If she could only take a few moments to center herself, then perhaps she could make sense of it all. She was certain it was a memory now. She had been that little girl and Impa had been the Sheikah. Meeting Impa had, perhaps, triggered it somehow. Mika hoped that perhaps she could recall more, delve deeper into her lost history, and maybe even discover Link hiding somewhere in there. Or better yet, her mother.
“Do you need anything else?” Kallista asked politely, folding her hands behind her back.
Mika shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Very well. If you think of anything, just ask. Anyone who travels under Zelda’s colors is a friend.”
“Pleasant rest.” Kallista crossed her wrists and bowed and then she was gone, leaving the door open.
Carefully, Mika began to pick her way over the treasure on the floor. Her foot brushed against a vase, filled with gold coins, imprinted with the image of some foreign monarch of a land Mika had never even heard of. They sprinkled to the ground, but made no noise because they landed on a pile of rich silks. Frankly, all these spoils seemed like a bit of a waste to Mika, but she could understand how one might find them impressive. She shook her head. The Dragon were still Gerudo, different though their values were. If her bizarre journey had taught her nothing else, it was that. The Gerudo nation was complicated.
She began clearing debris off of the bed, revealing a plum colored blanket beneath. As the gold and jewels scraped against the thick threads of the cover, it emitted a geyser of dust and a puff of scent. Mika leaned forward, sniffing the strange perfume emerging from the fabric. She couldn’t identify the smell, nor the explanation of how a blanket could do such a thing, but there was a pang of familiarity to it. Slowly, Mika leaned forward. She planted her knees on the bed and pressed her face down into the covers, taking a deep breath and absorbing as much of the aroma as she could. Another memory began to stir.
Again, she was a child, trembling and pale. She lay on the bedspread, pressing her face into it, the fabric wet with salt tears. They were talking about her, a woman called Nabooru and a stranger. Did they think she couldn’t hear? As she lay on that bed, trembling and too weak to cry, she listened to their voices, just beyond sight of the doorway, whispering in the halls.
“I don’t know, Nabooru,” the newcomer said.
“It’s a personal favor,” Nabooru’s voice hissed. “Have I ever asked anything of you before?”
“I just don’t like the sound of it.”
“You must do this for me, Medea.”
“The Orca won’t like it. Not one bit.”
“Why not? You’ve taken in abandoned children before.”
“This is different. This puts us in affiliation with you.”
“No one needs to know, Medea. You can just say that you found her.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Because I’ve been declared heir. I’m going to be the next Alpha.”
“And I’m very glad for you,” Nabooru said. “But I don’t see how this changes anything.”
“I can’t lie and I can’t connect our Prides just like that.”
“And doing me a favor connects the Prides?”
“Very well. How about if I pay you for services rendered?”
“What do you mean?”
“You do me the favor of taking in the girl,” Nabooru explained, “and I’ll give you something for it. Then we’ll be even.”
“Come on, Medea. Please?”
“Well, I suppose it could work.”
“Name your price.”
Medea sighed. “All I ask for is a promise.”
“There’s talk of trouble brewing up with the Kodiak. Talk of civil war and bloodshed.”
“I ask you to promise me never to lead your army against my Pride. That’s all I want.”
Nabooru laughed softly. “You will make a fine Alpha, Medea.”
“Thank you.” She paused. “Are we agreed?”
“Agreed. In exchange for this favor, I will not fight against your people, Medea.”
They could be heard clasping hands. “Thank you for doing this, Medea.”
“Tell me one thing though.”
“What is it?”
“Is anyone ever going to come after her? Seeking her, I mean.”
“Well,” Nabooru said, “her parents are dead. She has a brother though, being kept safe by others. I cannot say for certain whether or not he will come looking for her some day.”
“This worries me.”
“Don’t count on it,” Nabooru muttered. “He’ll probably never even know she exists. No, she is your daughter now, yours to raise and to love as your own. She will become a great Gerudo, under your care.”
“What’s her name?”
“Her name is Mika.”
“What a funny name,” Medea scoffed.
“Don’t go changing it,” Nabooru warned her. “It’s the only one she’s even known.”
“How much does she remember?”
“All of it, I imagine.”
“She’ll never accept me as her mother. Not while she remembers her own. And I fear she’ll never belong.”
“Give it time,” Nabooru urged.
Medea could be heard clearing her throat. “Yes, of course.”
“Now is the time to protect children,” Nabooru sighed. “With all the talk of war with the Kodiak, we must protect the weak and defenseless.” She paused. “I’ve already sent my daughter away to live with the Saber Tooth.”
“I can’t imagine how painful it must be,” Medea whispered. “To give up your child who you love.”
“We do what we must do for our daughters. That is what makes an Alpha a mother to the entire Pride.”
“Then I shall do the same for Mika.”
Mika sat up, blinking the fog away from her eyes. She looked out into the hallway, but it was abandoned, no trace of the two women who had once stood there, seventeen years ago, discussing her future. Another new memory to sort through, adding questions rather than answering them. If she had been able to remember her mother back then, why could she not remember her now? And how was she supposed to feel, knowing that she was sold to Medea in exchange for a promise of peace? For a moment, she felt her pride bruised, but no. However reluctant Medea had been back then, she knew that her adoptive mother loved her. Alcia too.
Still, a tight knot formed in her throat. She loved Medea. Which means she must have given up on her mother, a mother she had loved dearly before. And now, she was so far gone that she couldn’t even remember the woman’s face. Why had this never bothered her before, she wondered. And why was it bothering her so much right now? Everything was different now, and for Mika, who had always resisted change, it was just too much.
The sunset and brushed the sky with a light pink by the time that Link met up with Nebekah near the site of the former statue of Din. She was standing beside the pedestal, her arms folded defensively across her chest. “Trouble?” Link asked as he approached.
“You’d think being a Gerudo, I’d be used to all the glaring from the villagers,” she muttered.
“What happened to ‘we live in peace with the village?’”
“The Jaguar live in peace with the village,” Nebekah told him. “But these people all seem to think I’m a Dragon.”
“A reasonable assumption,” Link muttered. “Given the fact that they’re about to execute the Dragon Alpha and all.”
“So no luck getting Tertias to reverse sentencing?”
“No,” Link sighed. “No one is above the law in Kakariko,” he quoted. “Not even a Sage”
Nebekah frowned. “Did she do it?”
“Of course not.”
“But there’s a bit of a hitch.”
“She’s not trying to defend herself.”
“She’s ready to die for a heist she didn’t commit.”
“Did she say why?”
“Defending her title as the world’s greatest thief.”
Link nodded. “I know.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Tell me something good. Have you learned anything?”
“Well, I can tell you this much. Whoever pulled off the heist is absolutely brilliant.”
“Have you figured out how they did it?” he asked.
“I think so,” Nebekah said, with a nod.
She walked over to the empty pedestal, gesturing vaguely. “The statue was on the pedestal, attached. Whoever did this started by detaching it.”
“Look closely.” She pointed to the pedestal. Directly in the middle, doubtlessly where the great statue had once stood, there was a misshapen discoloration, indented into the stone.
“Acid?” he wondered.
She nodded. “That would be my guess.”
“Okay, so the statue was detached.”
“Some kind of acid that eats away at stone, but not metal. I’ve heard of such things. They probably wouldn’t be difficult to come by.”
“Now, the statue was solid gold. Which means that it would be really, really heavy.”
“That makes sense.”
“Unless,” Nebekah continued.
Link scrunched up his face. “Unless?”
“Have you ever taken a bath, Link?”
He made a rather indignant squawk. “I know I’m a little ripe, but we’ve been on a quest! I haven’t had time to –”
“In general, Link. In general.”
“Oh…” His cheeks flushed bright pink. “Yeah. Sure.”
“When you’re in the water, you’re lighter.”
“Which means the thief’s next move would have been to lighten up the load by putting it in water.” Nebekah walked down to the bank of the wishing pond. “Covering up his tracks in the meanwhile.”
“So he put it in the pond?”
Link shook his head. “No, it’s still gold. It wouldn’t float.”
“It wouldn’t float,” she agreed, “but it would certainly be easier to lug. Say, along the bottom.” She gestured for him to come closer. “Take a look.”
He approached the pond and carefully leaned over, looking into the murky depths. It took him a moment, squinting and moving his head from side to side, but before long, he spotted a shallow trench, running along the pond, directly in a path that someone might take to drag the statute from the pedestal to the bank beyond. “Ah ha!” he cried triumphantly.
“Whoever did it dragged the statue along the bottom and up onto the other side. He or she then pulled it into the forest, making sure to cover up the trench on the opposite bank.”
“There’s no way anyone could drag that thing through the forest without making a mess.”
“Exactly,” Nebekah said. “Broken twigs, torn leaves. Even if he or she took the time to fill in the trench, there’s no way to hide that kind of damage.”
“Unless no one bothers to look.”
“They find Nabooru at the scene of the crime.”
“And immediately assume she was responsible.”
Nebekah nodded. “So they arrested her without bothering to examine the scene of the crime.”
“Thereby missing the water trench and whatever damage was done to the trees,” Link concluded.
“That about sums it up.”
He rubbed the back of his neck. “Man,” he muttered, “the Kakariko authorities are dumb.”
“Good work, Nebekah.”
“Thanks,” she said. “So what’s the plan?”
Link groaned. “Man, do I have to have a plan?”
“Do you want Nabooru to die?”
“I have a plan,” he muttered.
“We follow the trench.”
She nodded firmly. “Good plan.”
“Came up with it all by myself.”
“Well,” she gestured grandly to the pond. “Heroes first.”
“I didn’t bring a raft in my back pocket. We’ll have to go around the pond,” he said.
Link began to walk, Nebekah following behind him as they rounded the edge of the pond. “It was scary,” he murmured after a little while.
“Seeing Nabooru like that.”
“Ready to die.”
Nebekah pursed her lips. “Do you have any idea why?”
“Why she wants to die?”
“I…I haven’t been around a lot.”
“What do you mean?”
“I haven’t been a very good friend,” he said. “I lost touch. I forgot to look into things and I have no idea what’s been happening in Nabooru’s world.”
“You’re not responsible for her, Link.”
“I know that. But I should have been a better friend. Maybe then I’d understand what’s happening.”
“You think it’s something internal?”
“I know Nabooru. Or at least, I knew her. The Nabooru I knew would never lay down and die. She’d fight. Long and hard.”
“The Gerudo spirit.”
“So…” Nebekah frowned. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with becoming a Sage,” he theorized.
“Why do you say that?”
“It’s a heavy responsibility. And it brings a lot of unwanted attention. Maybe it’s been rough for her the way being a Hero has been rough on me.”
“I could see that.”
“I saw the way her Beta was babying her. Nabooru would hate being treated as though she were fragile.”
“Interesting insight, blondie.”
“You think that’s it?” he asked.
Nebekah shrugged. “I have no way of knowing. Maybe.”
Tyro had heard many things about Princess Zelda over the years. The villagers all talked of her wisdom and her fortitude. But one thing he had never been told was how darn nice she was. Zelda was absolutely the most charming and funny conversationalist Tyro had encountered and he found himself enjoying his chats with her immeasurably, perhaps more than propriety should have allowed, but he had never cared much for propriety anyway. They had been going at it for hours now, punctuated occasionally by visits from a Delta or Sapphia. At one point, Mika had dropped by. Tyro could detect a hint of jealousy about the attention he was paying Zelda. He took this as a good sign. Maybe Mika did feel something for him after all. She certainly had nothing to feel jealous over. But that was the first sign of attraction, wasn’t it? Irrational jealousy regarding the object of your affection?
It had been hours since Mika had dropped by the greeting chamber, however. Now, Tyro and Zelda were sitting side by side on the table hosting Nabooru’s throne, deep in a conversation about Link. This tête-à-tête delighted Tyro, arming him with an abundance of embarrassing anecdotes he could one day use against the hapless Hero, if he so chose.
“I remember,” Zelda said, “his first time in court. It was after the whole Ganondorf disaster, of course.”
“That can’t have been more than a year ago.”
“You’re right. Anyway, Link seemed to think that ‘court’ meant the time when the royals conducted high level trials. He didn’t realize that it was just an anachronistic term for a gathering of rich and annoying courtiers.”
“Oh dear. What happened?”
“Well, he was very confused as to why I had invited him, for one thing.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
“So, he assumed that he was being called as a witness of some kind. Being a Hero, he’s always considered very trustworthy and honest.”
“Two words I detest,” Tyro droned.
She smiled slightly. “When he arrived, he walked up to the first person he saw. I think it was Lady Valerie Argellius. Yes, I’m certain it was she. Right before she died, sadly. Anyway, Link went straight up to her. He asked, ‘Who committed the crime?’ point blank.”
Tyro chuckled. “That can’t have been good.”
“No, indeed,” she agreed. “You see, one thing I’ve learned about my father’s courtiers is that they are not wholesome people. I’d wager that almost every one of them has, at one point, had an indiscretion or two.”
“And the other thing you must realize is that my father’s court has always been a bit like…well…a bit like a school.”
“It’s hard to keep gossip quiet.”
“Well, Lady Valerie screamed and ran away. So Link went up to another courtier. This one must have been Lady Meggot Hagen, because she’s rather incapable of keeping her mouth shut. He asks the same question. At once, Meggot begins rattling off all the gossip she knows about everyone there; affairs, embezzlements, corruptions, lies. Link was positively overwhelmed with the decay.” She frowned slightly. “As am I. It’s been hard work trying to clean up the court.”
“Have you also committed these indiscretions to memory?” Tyro asked her politely.
Zelda nodded. “And I’m tackling them one at a time. It hasn’t been easy. But certainly, Meggot’s confession to Link has helped me a great deal.”
“He told you what she said?”
Tyro laughed. “Ever the Hero.”
“And immediately afterwards, he ran away. His first visit to court was a bit overwhelming, I think.” Zelda pressed her fingers to her mouth, but couldn’t help but giggle.
“I can well imagine.”
“What are you two laughing about?” Sapphia had returned, carrying a tray with several wine glasses and a bowl of dried fruit.
“Just Link,” Tyro said.
“Ah.” She walked over to them, setting the tray down on the dais. “I brought some provisions.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Zelda told her.
“Well,” she muttered, “I’ve had little else to do. There’s no doubt in my mind, at this point, that the Shard is not in the fortress.”
“Nabooru must have it,” Zelda supposed. “I hope Link and Nebekah are doing all right.”
“I’m sure they are,” Tyro told her. “Link’s the Hero, after all. Famous in song and tall tale.”
“Not so tall,” Zelda said. “It’s all true, you know. Everything they say about him.”
“I’m beginning to figure that out,” Tyro admitted.
Sapphia was busily pouring the bright red wine into the three gold cups. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“He’s very heroic. Just like my uncle said he was. You know, I still can’t believe my uncle was telling me the truth.”
“The truth?” Zelda repeated.
“About knowing Link. I always thought Uncle Talon was making that up to impress my father. He never believed it either.”
“I think Uncle Talon was always a bit jealous of my father,” Tyro explained. “I mean, Talon ran a successful ranch and had a beautiful daughter, but my father was always one step ahead of him. However successful the ranch was, my father’s shop was just a bit better.”
“Are you indicating that you’re just a bit better than Malon?” Zelda wondered with a gleam in her eye.
Tyro laughed again. “Hardly. Malon was the one thing Talon had over my father.”
“Don’t say that,” Sapphia told him, handing over a cup to him. “You’re quite extraordinary, you know.”
He took the wine with a dip of his head. “I wouldn’t say that. Elwood Zahrt’s son isn’t widely known for greatness outside of the
.” Gerudo Valley
Zelda was sipping her wine, but she lowered the cup suddenly. “Elwood Zahrt?” she asked.
“That’s my father,” Tyro explained before taking a deep sip of his wine. It was sweet, but just tart enough that he found it almost as enjoyable as the conversation. “This is good,” he muttered, “although it doesn’t taste like grape.”
“I’m so sorry to hear about all the trouble your family has had,” Zelda said.
“Trouble? What do you mean?”
“Well, the charges brought up against your father.”
Tyro blinked. “What are you talking about?”
“I remember his name from the trials I had to memorize. He was charged with abuse.”
“What are you talking about?” Tyro repeated with greater intensity. “My father never abused me.”
“Not you. If I remember, he was brought to trial for beating his wife.”
He set down his cup of wine. “You’re lying,” he said softly.
Zelda’s eyes darted back and forth. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“Calm down, Tyro,” Sapphia added. “I’m sure it’s just a mistake. There must be lots of Elmwood Zahrts out there.” She walked over to him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Just finish the wine and change the subject.”
But Tyro shrugged Sapphia’s hand off of him. “My father was not a wife beater!” he cried. And yet, somehow, it all suddenly made perfect sense to him. His mind reeled, recalling his adventures in the Jaguar territory, learning that his mother had left his father to become a Gerudo. Until now, he had been unable to think of why, but this suddenly made painful sense. Of course she would become a Gerudo. That way, no man would ever dare to cross her again. But how could he reconcile this information? The father he had loved so dearly had been a gentle man, loved by the villagers and his family alike. How could this be the same man?
He stood up, slowly backing away from them. His vision had become hazy and blurred, with rage no doubt. Or maybe it was panic. Zelda watched him, her face pale and fearful. Sapphia looked about nervously, perhaps trying to locate Tyro’s pole arm before he could. But fighting was something Tyro simply wasn’t ready to do. He wanted to run, to hide, to make it not true. Over his shoulder, he could see the door. There was no question. He had to get away from this scene right now.
“Tyro!” Sapphia called as he made a dash. “Tyro! Come back!” She started to chase after him, but Zelda caught her arm, stopping her. Sapphia turned to say something to her, but whatever it was, Tyro didn’t hear it. He had made it to the hallway and ran, letting his footsteps drown out their conversation.
“Ah ha!” Link exclaimed.
“What is it?” Nebekah asked.
“Just as I suspected.”
“I hate you.”
The two of them had been walking deeper and deeper into the forest for hours now. At least, it felt like hours. The sun had set, but they could not see stars or moonlight from the thick canopy overhead. Unlike the Kokiri forest, which was pleasantly cleared and easy to navigate, this particular forest, which in essence served as the border between Hyrule and Calatia, was dense and cramped, filled with raised roots and snarling branches, just waiting to clothes line the unsuspecting traveler. Fortunately, the dense foliage had given Link and Nebekah a bit of an advantage. They were able to clearly make out the trench caused by the real thief’s trek with the idol of Din by following the broken branches.
“Whoever did this must have been really strong,” Link commented.
“Like a Goron?”
Link shook his head. “I don’t think a Goron would really do something like this. Might eat the gold admittedly, but definitely wouldn’t drag it for miles through uncharted forest.”
“What else is this strong?”
“I’m not sure,” he said. “Although, you know, I suppose there could have been more than one thief.”
“Well, I haven’t seen any footprints,” Nebekah said. “Which means the trench probably covered them.”
“Which means it was probably one person dragging the statue,” Link sighed. “I get it.”
“You know, blondie, we make a pretty good team, you and I. We’ve begun to finish each other’s sentences.”
“Well, you’re nicer than my last sidekick,” Link mumbled.
“Sidekick? Wait a second, blondie, you’re my sidekick.”
Link laughed. “Technically speaking, I think we’re both Mika’s sidekicks. This is her initiation quest, remember?”
“How are things between the two of you anyway?” Nebekah asked.
His smile faded. “It’s still pretty strange,” he confessed.
“Well, she’s my sister. But it’s like there’s a…I don’t know…some kind of chasm between us.”
“What I mean to say is that there’s nothing connecting us, aside from blood. We have nothing to share.”
“You share that tattoo your parents gave you.”
“I still don’t understand that,” Link said.
“What’s not to understand?”
“Why would our parents have given us these markings?”
“To find each other again.”
“How did they know we were going to be separated?”
“I don’t know,” Nebekah admitted.
“Me neither. And neither does Mika.”
“Well,” Nebekah mused. “There’s something the two of you have to share.”
“You both have the same questions.”
He paused for a moment to consider this. “I suppose you’re right,” he said. “That’s something we have in common.”
“There you go, blondie.”
Link suddenly stopped short, putting a hand on Nebekah’s shoulder. “Look,” he hissed.
Up ahead was a clearing, the first one they had really come to so far. It must have been hand made because it was perfectly round and there were still some tree trunks lying sideways on the ground. In the middle of the clearing was a small log cabin. There were no windows, but a soft orange glow gleamed out from in between the logs, hinting at a fire within. Beside the cabin was a ratty purple sheet, listening in the pale moonlight and covering something large and lumpy.
“I think we just found a suspect,” Nebekah whispered.
“Come on,” Link replied, gesturing forward.
Together, the two of them crept out into the clearing. They did their best to be quiet, but every dried leaf they stepped on sounded like a firecracker exploding. Carefully, they made their way into the muddy clearing, skulking to the sheet. Link was surprised to find it was made of silk. What would such a fine piece of merchandise be doing out in the middle of a clearing, beside a shoddy log cabin? He reached out carefully and lifted the sheet. Resting beneath it, half sunk in the mud, he saw the golden face of Din staring up at him with unseeing eyes.
Nebekah gasped. “Jackpot.”
“Not bad,” Link muttered.
“I know, isn’t she?” That was a voice that belonged to neither of them, but the moment Link heard it, he felt his insides clench tightly. Together, Link and Nebekah turned around. A silhouetted figure stood behind them, fists folded at his sides, long hair waving slightly in the breeze. He stepped forward and the moonlight hit his face, causing both Nebekah and Link to gasp audibly at the sight of dozens of cuts and bruises defiling his features. “I imagine,” Ari said, “you were not expecting to find me here.”
“You might say that,” Link said.
Ari shrugged. “Fair enough.” And with that, he pulled back his fist and punched Link in the belly. Link flew backward, falling over the statue of Din and hitting his head against the log cabin. He wheezed, gasping for air. At once, he realized why dragging the statue had been so easy for Ari. Somehow, the Risan thug still possessed some measure of Din Silver, enhancing his strength tenfold.
“Nebekah!” he croaked, trying to warn her, but it was too late. The Jaguar had already launched herself at Ari. She caught him around the ankles, toppling him over and landing on top of him. Perhaps, she though she had the advantage, but Ari gripped her shoulders tightly and threw her. Nebekah rose up into the air with alarming altitude and came crashing down into the mud.
Link rose to his feet, drawing his sword. Ari turned back to him and smirked. “A sword?” he mused. “How quaint.”
“I don’t know how you’re here, but we’re taking that statue of Din and turning you in,” Link said.
“I do not think so,” Ari replied. And with that, he swung his leg up and kicked Link in the knee. There was a pop and Link fell to the ground, his sword tumbling out of his hands. He had not expected such a blow. At once, his entire leg began to throb. He tried to stand up, but it hurt too much and he collapsed once again, face first into the muck. Ari stepped forward and put a foot directly on the back of his throat, leaning over to pick up the sword.
Nebekah rose to her feet by this point. She had pulled an arrow from her quiver and held it like a dagger, ready to spring into action. “Get off of him!”
“Or what?” Ari asked. “You’ll prick me with that arrow? I promise you, my fortitude is not what it used to be.”
“I’m warning you…”
But Ari put some more weight into his foot. “If you come any closer,” he told her, I will step down and break his neck. It is not just in my arms that my strength has increased.”
Reluctantly, Nebekah stopped, tossing down her arrow. “Fine,” she said. “Have it your way.”
“Much better,” Ari said approvingly. “Now, you are going to do me a favor. Not a favor really, I just enjoy the euphemism.”
“What do you want?”
“I understand that Alpha Nabooru of the Dragon Pride is being held prisoner in Kakariko. Is this true?”
“Yes,” Nebekah said.
“Good. I want you to go pay her a visit.”
“I understand that in order to rule over a Gerudo Pride, one must possess something called a Shard?”
“I wish to have her Shard. Since you robbed me of my reign as king of the Saber Tooth, I will take over the Dragon Pride instead.”
Nebekah blinked. “Are you out of your mind? It doesn’t work that way. The Dragon Pride won’t obey you just because you happen to have a Shard.”
“Are you refusing me?”
“I’m trying to save your life,” she insisted.
“I want the Shard. You will bring it to me.”
“It’ll only get you killed,” Nebekah continued.
Link coughed. “Just do it, Nebekah,” he wheezed.
“Yes, Nebekah,” Ari said. “Just do it. Do it or I will kill your friend here.”
“Fine,” Nebekah said wearily.
Ari tilted his head to one side. “I couldn’t help but notice you admiring my statue,” he went on, “threatening to take it from me.”
“It belongs to the village.”
“Well, it belongs to me now. If you tell any of the villagers that I have it, I will kill your green clad friend here.”
“All right,” Nebekah spat. “All right. I’ll bring you your Shard. Little good may it do you.”
“I am not a patient man,” Ari told her. “I suggest you hurry.”
“You harm one hair on his head –”
Tyro realized that being alone was very helpful at all. Rather than being able to bury his head and forget all about what he had heard, he found, instead, that it was the only thing he could think about. He replayed every instant, every word he had heard his mother say, trying to detect some indication of a reason she could have run away to join the Gerudo other than to escape an abusive husband. There was nothing there, one way or the other, merely leading Tyro back to the conclusion he had made for himself. It was just so horrible. He had loved his father so terrible and, he might add, his father had never once raised a hand to strike him. Then again, perhaps losing his wife had taught Elwood Zahrt a valuable lesson.
He held his head in his hands, closing his eyes to the small guest room he had found for himself. Pressing his hands to his eyelids, he drifted alone, swirling in a sea of colors and shapes that appeared to him in the darkness. Every part of his body, from his hair to his toenails, seemed to ache, pulsing with his rapid heart in punctuations of great pain. Why couldn’t he make it go away? Why couldn’t be return to his casual, easy air and his blasé attitude? The time in the
had changed him far too much. In the span of only a few weeks, he had lost his mother a second time and now had lost the father he knew. Gerudo Valley
A strong part of him wanted to blame Zelda for all of this, to point an accusing finger at her. It always helped to find someone to blame. But it wouldn’t work. Zelda’s comment, painful though it had been, had also been innocent. He almost felt bad for her. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. She had merely been trying to be kind. It was wrong to blame her and the guilt he felt at it now was somewhat refreshing. Guilt was better than pain.
There was a knock on the door. “Please go away,” Tyro mumbled, wondering why he said that considering how much it hurt to be alone. The knock came again. Grateful, Tyro swallowed, opening his eyes to look up at the door. “Come in,” he called quietly, trying to blink away the haze from his vision. The door opened and Mika slipped inside. She carefully closed the door behind her, leaning back against it as though trying to barricade herself inside. Her face was flushed and she looked a bit scared. She was wearing a nightgown, rather like the silk dresses they had seen the Saber Tooth women wearing while they were under the control of Ari a few weeks ago. “Mika,” he said in surprise. Of all the people he could have expected to come calling, she was the last on the list.
She examined him a moment, blinking rapidly. He opened his mouth to ask her what was the matter, but she silenced him, raising a finger to her lips with a gentle “Shhh…”
Uncertain of how to ask the question without words, he watched her, hoping that she would read it in his eyes. She moved closer to him, stepping over the many trinkets and keepsakes littering the floor. He extended a hand to her. She slipped her slender fingers into his, allowing him to pull her over the last of the debris and onto the bed where she sat down beside him. Mika turned his hand over, leaning down to kiss his palm, while all the while keeping her eyes up, staring straight at him. His skin tingled pleasantly as her lips touched the heel of his hand.
Gently, he cupped her chin in his hand, raising her up to look at eye level. She has astonishingly blue eyes, like bright cobalt stones. “Mika,” he said softly, “what’s going on?”
She lowered her eyes, wrapping her hand around his wrist. Slowly, he pulled his hand away from her chin, setting it down on her knee. She leaned forward, brushing her lips across his. It was electrifying. Tyro felt every nerve in his body go wild singing brightly at her touch. He snaked his arm around her waist, pulling her closer, giving her a real kiss. Mika leaned in on the kiss, tilting Tyro back a few degrees. His head knocked against the wall.
As quickly as it happened, Tyro pulled away from the kiss, staring at her with wide eyes. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I thought that you weren’t sure of your feelings.” Her only reply was to touch his cheek. Her hand was trembling slightly. “Why are you here?”
Again, she kissed him lightly, but pulled back before he could either accept or reject that answer. She pulled her knees up onto the bed and sat on her heels. With slow, deliberate movements, she raised a hand to her chest and began to untie the strings holding her dress on. Tyro watched, his mind swimming. For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what to say to her and that was certainly something, given his track record with women. Instead, he gazed upon her, hungrily, watching as her collarbone slowly emerged from the loose strings.
He reached out to touch her hair, but she pulled away. Was he moving too fast? He couldn’t be sure any more, so much was happening all at once. Whatever was happening, however, he liked it, wanted it, desired it. The one thing he didn’t do, however, was control it. Slowly, he let his arm fall. Vaguely, he wondered if this were all some kind of elaborate joke. Was Mika only playing with him? It all seemed so contrary to what had happened the night before.
There was hesitation in Mika’s eyes, but then she did something that erased any doubts Tyro might have. The nightgown flew up over her head and fell to the ground. Tyro’s jaw slowly fell as he drank in the sight of her exquisite body. She was beyond beautiful. She was something he couldn’t even think of a word for. And Tyro loved to talk. He tried hard to find the appropriate name for what she was. Perfect, maybe. Or even otherworldly in her beauty. As he looked at her, she suddenly flushed, seeming a bit self conscious. He had been staring too long. That was no good, it meant he was screwing it up. Immediately, he leaned forward, planting his hands down on the bed and kissing her passionately. In Tyro’s experience, there was no better remedy than a fierce kiss.
Mika wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him as close as possible, returning the kiss with equal abandon. Tyro felt wonderfully dizzy, experiencing every sense of her that he could; touch, taste, smell, sight. It was all overwhelmingly wonderful and a part of him hoped it would never end, yet some small voice in the back of his head was still nagging him, ordering him to pull away and, try though he might to resist it, he was forced to surrender.
Tyro pulled back, still close enough to smell her. “Are you sure about this?” he asked.
“I mean, after all the things we’ve said to each other, are you sure that this is what you want?”
Again, she nodded.
“Because, I mean…there’s no going back from this.” He had learned that lesson all too well.
Mika understood with a third nod.
“And you’ve never…”
She shook her head.
“I wouldn’t want you to regret…I mean…” The truth of the matter was he no longer knew what he meant. Why was he resisting this? She had thrice nodded, giving her assent. She had come into the room of her own free will. She sat there now, staring at him longingly, her gaze matching his own feelings. There was just no reason to go on fighting it.
Tyro reached to his own neck and untied the laces of his pulling. He pulled it up, over his head, fully aware of how the static played with his hair. Self consciously, he smoothed it down, tossing the tunic off to one side. Mika gave him an appraising once over, her eyes traveling up and down his impressive torso. She reached out, running her palm along his chest, letting her fingertips dip and curve around his muscles. Her very touch seemed to set him on fire. His heart raced, his mind beyond hazy as he reached forward and slowly pulled her hand away.
No more time for second guessing, Tyro decided firmly. With a flamboyant sweep, he knocked all the remaining bits of treasure off of the bed, sending them clattering to the ground. He lunged forward, wrapping his arms around her small waist. Desire driving him onward, he pulled her up against him, kissing her fiercely and feeling her return the kiss. She snaked her arms around his shoulders, one of her hands climbing up his neck, her fingers working their way through his hair. He leaned against the side of the bed, running his hands up her sides and along the flat of her back. Mika planted her hands down, firmly on either side of his head. He felt her soft hair brush against his cheek. After that, he felt his heart explode.
Nebekah raced all the way back to Kakariko. Her arms and legs were cut and bruised from all of the tangled branches and twigs, her back soaked with sweat, and an enormous stitch throbbed in her side, but her years of Gerudo training paid off in this case. She sent her mind far away, meditating, reflecting on the task at hand, how urgent it was that she do what needed to be done. Two lives were at stake; her close friend and Hyrule’s greatest Hero and perhaps Hyrule’s most legendary Gerudo Alpha since the days of unity.
Despite her mettle and fortitude, it still took Nebekah several hours to get back to the village. She didn’t like the looks of the sky. She could almost smell the sunrise coming and at sunrise, all might be lost for poor Nabooru. Nebekah had never actually met the Dragon Alpha herself, but the stories she had heard had inspired a certain spark of reverence. Nabooru was a great Alpha, no question about that, but she had also been quite a figure in the campaign for peace among the Prides. The Dragon Pride, perhaps the greatest and largest of all the Prides, had forged relations with every other Pride except for the Kodiak, who remained elusive and fierce as ever. Nabooru herself had spearheaded several peace talks among the other Alphas.
To be honest, Nebekah felt a bit nervous, her stomach flip flopping as she approached the jail building. Facing Nabooru was like facing a legend. It wasn’t the same as dealing with Link, though he had arguably garnered more fame. Link would always be a childhood friend who Nebekah could tease and rib. Nabooru was a larger than life, distant figure of reverence. It was best not to think of that though. Whatever else Nabooru was, Nebekah was anxious not to add the word martyr to that list. No good could come of that.
Surprisingly, the door to the jailhouse was unlocked. Nebekah let herself in. At the desk by the door, a guard was relaxing, his feet up on top, his head lolling back, mouth open to snore thunderously. Nebekah allowed her eyes to adjust to the dark for a moment, wondering whether or not she would need to wake him, but a voice answered the question for her.
“I told you, Liandra,” it said, “I will have no part in any sort of jailbreak. It’s not honorable.”
“You have me mistaken for someone else,” Nebekah said, passing the guard to approach the jail cell.
Nabooru looked up from her sitting position, on the bed, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. “Who are you?” she asked.
“Nebekah, daughter of Elena, first Beta…” she paused. “Future Alpha of the Jaguar Pride.”
“Future Alpha?” Nabooru repeated. “What has become of Miral?”
“Dead,” Nebekah answered flatly.
“She will be avenged.”
“Good on you.”
“What are you doing here, Nebekah?” Nabooru whispered.
“I’ve come on an urgent matter. Link has –”
“So,” she interrupted, “Link has sent you.”
“I thought I made it perfectly clear to him that I did not want to be rescued from this fate.”
“You did. And he doesn’t see why.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” she muttered.
Nebekah tilted her head to one side. “Why do you say that, Alpha?”
“Never mind,” Nabooru insisted. “Go back to Link and tell him that I wish he would honor my –”
“Link is in trouble,” Nebekah cut her off.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s being held hostage by…by the real thief.”
Nabooru sighed in a long suffering manner. “So, he went after the thief despite my wishes.”
“You know how he is,” Nebekah said with a shrug.
“But now he’s in trouble. The real thief has threatened to kill him unless I bring him back your Shard.”
She raised an eyebrow. “My Shard?”
“A strange request.”
“Alpha, he has a vendetta against Link. I have no question that he will do what he says.”
“Far be it for me to leave this world harming Link,” Nabooru said. She lowered the blanket from her shoulders. For a woman of her advanced years, she was in remarkably good shape, broad and muscular in all the proper places. Hanging from her neck was a large gold necklace and embedded into the chunky charm was a piece of Topaz. She pressed her fingertips to it and the stone popped out. “Here,” she passed it through the bars to Nebekah’s hand. “Go save Link.”
Nebekah closed her hand around it. “Thank you, Alpha.”
“It’s the least I can do.”
“Do you want me to tell him anything?”
“Tell him…” she paused, musing. “Tell him I wish I had been stronger.”
“Stronger? What do you mean?”
“I wish I could have born my shame with greater courage.”
“What shame is that?” Nebekah asked.
“Please. I want to make sure that Link understands the message.”
Nabooru sighed heavily. She turned around, pacing the length of the cell before sitting on the small cot again. “There was a time, when I was much younger, when I had no fears, no doubts. I became an Alpha at a very young age, you know.”
“I do,” Nebekah said. “I know much of your Pride’s history.”
“I don’t mean to sound proud, but I always considered myself to be a reasonably good Alpha.”
“All I’ve heard of you confirms that.”
“Not all you’ve heard,” Nabooru told her.
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sure you’ve heard all about the events of Ganondorf Dragmire’s rise and fall.”
“Yes, of course.”
She shook her head. “I’m afraid,” she said, “that I let my Pride down terribly in that disaster. Not just my Pride, my friends, my allies, my daughter. Everyone. My people.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Twinrova. The way that they manipulated me…tricked me…forced me to serve them…it is because of them that my Pride fell under Ganondorf’s rule. Because of my inability to fight against them that such horrors befell the Valley.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” Nebekah said. “I mean, from what I’ve heard of the story, it wasn’t your fault at all. The Twinrova sisters are powerful witches. No one could help it. It was –”
“It was a humiliation,” Nabooru cut her off. “And I can’t live it down, no matter how hard I try.”
“No one blames you for it.”
“Not aloud, no. But I know what I did. I know what I helped them do. How can I be permitted to continue as Alpha under those circumstances?”
“You mustn’t blame yourself,” Nebekah begged. “And you certainly mustn’t allow that stupid trick to rob your people of their greatest Alpha.”
“Most vulnerable Alpha.”
“It could have happened to anyone. Who knows, the Twinrova sisters might very well pull the same stunt on your successor.”
“Yes but…” Nabooru trailed off. “Pull the same stunt on my successor, what are you talking about? The Twinrova sisters are dead.”
Nebekah shook her head. “No, Alpha. They’re alive. And plotting revenge against Link and most of the Valley.”
“Yes, Alpha. Link and I have been fighting against them. Alpha Medea has charged us and three others with the task of collecting all the Shards. She thinks that assembling the Topaz again will be the only way to stop them.”
“You won’t be enough,” Nabooru said. “You’ll need the entire Gerudo nation behind you to stop them.”
“It well may come to that,” Nebekah admitted.
“You’ll need the Alphas to cooperate.”
“That’s no easy task.” She frowned. “You’re the only one who can do that.”
Nabooru stood up, pacing back and forth in front of the bars to her cell, her hands clasped together, pressing against her lips. “I must return to the Dragon stronghold to rally our sisters.”
“That might be difficult if you allow yourself to be stoned to death.”
She turned to look at her, her eyes racing with a thousand thoughts. “Yes, yes, this can’t happen. I must…you, you must bring in the real thief.”
“I can do that,” Nebekah told her with a nod.
“Go, hurry, quickly.”
“I will, Alpha.”
“The sunrise is only a few hours away.”
“I have to save Link first,” Nebekah said. “The thief managed to defeat him.”
“He has Din Silver.”
“Here,” Nabooru said, pulling her gauntlets off. “Take these back with you.” She thrust them out in between the bars of the cell.
Carefully, Nebekah took the gauntlets. They were made of pure silver, but seemed impossibly light. “What are they?” she asked.
“Silver gauntlets. Also Din Silver. It will level the playing field, if not give you an edge.”
“Thank you, Alpha.” She pulled off her own leather gauntlets, tossing them to the ground. As she slipped on the silver gauntlets, she felt an incredible surge of strength cut through her veins. It was a somewhat intoxicating feeling, as though nothing in the world could get in her way. It flowed through her arms, surging down into her legs and renewing their strength and power. Suddenly, the run back to the cabin in the middle of the woods seemed like no problem at all. No, Nebekah was certain that she could make the dash in under an hour and not be winded at all.
“I don’t suppose you’re going to feed me.” Sitting on the floor of Ari’s cabin for hours on end had made Link painfully aware of the fact that he had not eaten all day. He had so been expecting a warm reception back at the Dragon stronghold, complete with lavish dishes and warm wine.
“No,” Air replied dully.
“I figured as much,” Link said with a shrug. He was leaning against the wall, his wrists bound with a length of rotting rope. For the first hour or so, he had experimented with the strength of the line, tugging it subtly, wondering if he could break it. Despite its advanced state of decay, it seemed a bit doubtful. And it didn’t help that his arms were slippery with muck from his rather humiliating swan dive earlier out in the clearing. Besides, even if he broke his arms free, he’d still have to cut the ties binding his ankles together. “How about a game?” he asked. “I’d love a good guessing game.”
“Shut up,” Ari told him.
Link rolled his eyes. By far, the worst part about being held prisoner was the boredom. He wondered how his friends, the Sages, had managed to keep from going completely mad. Then again, he wasn’t entirely sure they had been fully conscious for those seven years. Lucky them. “I don’t like the silence. If you won’t talk, then I’ll just talk for the both of us.”
“I’ll gag you,” Ari promised.
“See, now that’s just not fair.”
“Life isn’t fair.”
“Okay, philosophy. Not my strongest suit, but we can start there. Life isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair.”
“Do you ever get tired of the sound of your own voice?”
“Usually, I’m more of the strong silent type,” he admitted. “But I’m just bored right now.”
“As I said, life isn’t fair.”
“Seems to be a bit too fair to you right now,” Link said. “I mean, you’re the one in charge of the situation.”
“I assure you, this is not what I call fair.”
“Not in the least.”
“I shouldn’t even be here,” Ari cried in a sudden burst of passion, slamming a fist into his palm.
Link jumped in surprise. “Where should you be?” he asked. “Back ruling over the Saber Tooth?”
“If I had my way,” Ari said, “I would never have even heard of the Saber Tooth.” He ran a hand over his badly scarred face. Link had no idea what the Delta warriors in the quarry had done to Ari, but whatever it had been, it hadn’t been pleasant. The last them he had seen the Risan exile, he had been a fairly handsome man, but now he looked mutilated, defiled, ever part of his face swollen or misshapen except for the celestial, Risan brand on his forehead.
“So if you had your way,” Link said, “If life were fair…”
“Where would you be?”
“Home,” Ari said bluntly.
“I’ve never been there,” Link said. “I’ve heard about it though. Thought I might visit someday.”
“You would not like it,” Ari snorted. “The sun would sear right through your thin, Hylian skin.”
“I grew up in a forest, that’s why I’m so pale.”
“I grew up in a palace.”
He raised an eyebrow. “A palace?”
“Beverly Castle,” Ari whispered. “The seaside, wooden palace in Risa’s capital city.”
“What were you? Some kind of courtier or something?”
Ari laughed coldly. “Risans do not have such foolish things like courtiers or servants.”
“So why did you live in a palace?”
“I was a prince,” Ari said.
“The youngest son of King Darius Ricker.”
Link scowled. “You were banished.”
A vein in Ari’s throat throbbed slightly. “My sister, as heir apparent to the throne, was given a priceless Risan artifact, the Ring of Light. It had been passed down from generation to generation. A beautiful gold ring with a sapphire the size of your eye and twice as valuable.”
“The ring was stolen!” Ari shouted, causing Link to jump. “The gold setting turned up, but the jewel was never found.”
“What’s this got to do with you?”
“The gold was found in my room! I was blamed! I was the one punished for this sacrilegious crime!”
“Did you do it?”
“Of course not! But that didn’t matter, did it? They thought I had aspirations to the throne. Me! And I was banished, exiled from my home. My family. My wife to be.”
“And so I came here. And I heard stories, stories of a great and renowned thief called Nabooru.”
Link gasped. Suddenly, the dots connected. He had heard of Nabooru’s many exploits. One of the most legendary was her theft of, “The Ring of Light. She’s the one who stole it.”
“Yes. And left me to take the fall.”
“And so now you want her Shard so you can take over her Pride. She robbed you of your family, so now you’re taking hers.”
Ari laughed coldly. “I have no real interest in ruling over a Gerudo Pride,” he said.
“So why did you send Nebekah to get the Shard?”
“To get rid of her. It will take her hours to get to the village and hours to get back here again.”
“By the time I have the Shard, Nabooru will be dead. I do not mean to deprive her of her Pride. I mean to deprive her of her life.”
“You just sent Nebekah to separate us.”
“To kill time.”
“Exactly. I couldn’t have you ruining my revenge a second time by saving her miserable skin.”
“Ari,” Link said slowly. “You have to listen to me very carefully.”
“I don’t have to do anything.”
“The Gerudo nation, Hyrule as a whole, is facing a grave crisis. If Nabooru dies, it could make things worse.”
“Do you think I care about Hylians? I am a Risan, you stupid boy. And if I cannot have my homeland, I have no home at all. So Hyrule falls. I don’t care. I can leave.”
“Are you really so selfish?”
“So it would seem.”
“Well, no wonder they didn’t hesitate to suspect you of stealing that ring,” Link told him coldly.
“You’d best be careful.”
“It is Nabooru’s death I want, but you are no friend of mine either. You caused me great trouble with the Saber Tooth and I haven’t forgiven you for that.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Link insisted.
“I’ll tell you a secret.”
“And what’s that?”
“When I fought you, when I hit you using the Din Silver to enhance my strength…”
Ari smiled cruelly. “I held back.”
Mika was walking, practically sleep walking, through the hallways of the fortress when she heard a rather peculiar sound. It was music. Of course, she had heard music before, who hadn’t? But this wasn’t like the Gerudo tunes she was used to. Those were all abrasive, beaten into drums and bellowed by obnoxious horns. This music was soft and delicate, almost like the call of a bird. It seemed so contrary with the surroundings that Mika’s curiosity forced her to follow the sound. Through the winding hallways it led her, past dozens of rooms with piles and piles of gold and silver, around an oasis courtyard with willowy trees, until, at last, she found herself right back where she had begun the day, in Nabooru’s greeting chamber.
Zelda was sitting along on the dais, her lips pressed to a strange instrument Mika had never seen before. It was a bit comical really, seeing this princess sit alone in the middle of a stronghold, playing music as though it were the most natural incidence possible. A part of her wanted to laugh at the sight of it, but Mika held back. Zelda was a princess after all, and if Mika’s upbringing had taught her one thing, it was to respect strong, female authorities. After all, stories of Zelda’s exploits had reached even the remote Orca Pride.
When she entered the room, Zelda lowered the instrument, cutting off the song abruptly. “Oh, I’m sorry,” she said, “Did I wake you?”
She shook her head. “No, I was already up. I heard the music and followed it. What do you call that thing?”
“This?” Zelda asked, holding up her instrument.
“This is an ocarina. Just an ordinary one. Nothing special about it other than the fact that it keeps hitting sharps when it should be hitting naturals.”
Masking her confusion, Mika nodded. “It’s pretty. What were you playing?”
Zelda shrugged. “A song my nursemaid used to play to me to get me to go to sleep. When I’m restless, I think of the song and it helps me to center myself.”
“Doesn’t still put you to sleep, does it?”
She laughed. “No, not any more. But it still effects me.” She gestured to the dais. “Please, join me.”
“Thanks.” Mika took a seat beside Zelda, leaving enough space between them for propriety.
“Your friends have told me all about your quest to collect the Shards,” Zelda said. “It’s just like something Link would do, really.”
“Well, he didn’t collect Shards, but he did collect Spiritual Stones and later he did collect Sages.”
“The stories of the Hero of Time reached my Pride,” Mika said, “but I have to admit, I didn’t pay as much attention to them as I should have.”
“Well, I had no way of knowing that Link was my brother. I didn’t even know I had a brother, to be honest.”
Zelda frowned. “You didn’t?”
“But you must have been three, maybe four, when Kasuto was burned. I’d think you’d remember something about it.”
“Until recently, the only life I ever remembered living as my life among the Gerudo. And it’s been a really good life. I mean, I’ve been happy. I had everything I needed, a mother, sisters, friends. And I never questioned if there were anything more to my life. I didn’t think knowing about my real origins was all that important. I almost felt like it was an evil thing, like, wondering about where I came from made me ungrateful to the family I had.”
“You’re very lucky. You never had to wonder.”
“What do you mean?”
“Link was adopted too, but a race that wasn’t truly his own. But the problem was, he never fit in, so he felt free to wonder as much as he liked. You, on the other hand, seemed to be a fit.”
“Yeah,” Mika said. “I belonged.”
“Do you still feel that way?”
Mika was silent for a moment, considering the question. Did she really belong among the Orca any more? She knew that she loved them, and of course, they loved her too. But that didn’t mean she belonged. She had seen quite a lot recently, felt a lot, done a lot, that would make her an outsider when she returned. “I don’t know,” she admitted softly.
“May I ask you something?”
“You said that until recently, the only life you remembered was with the Orca Pride.”
“What’s happened recently?”
“Lately, this stronghold has happened.”
“What do you mean?”
She shrugged. “As I was walking around, looking for the Shard, I saw…something…that made me have some kind of flashback, some kind of memory I had forgotten.”
“What did you see?”
“I saw myself leaving Kasuto for the last time. And I don’t know how I could have remembered it after so much time.”
“And later on, I was in my quarters and I smelled this strange perfume on the bed sheets. And then I remembered the first time I heard Medea’s voice. I remembered hearing her bargain with Nabooru for my upbringing.”
“Well, that all makes perfect sense.”
Zelda nodded. “Sensory input has a wonderful way of reviving memories,” she said. “A familiar taste or touch can instantly take us back to our childhood. I suppose these sensations are causing you to remember things you had forgotten.”
“I wish I could remember my mother. My real mother. I know it’s not a betrayal to want that. When I was very young, I think I could still remember her. Just flashes. But now there’s nothing.”
“Of course not.”
“And I’ve been walking around the stronghold, looking for something that might help me to remember her, but there’s nothing. She was never here.”
“You know, in my experience, no sense connects to the memory stronger than hearing.”
“Do you mind if I try an experiment?”
“Link taught me this song a year ago. When I asked him where he learned it, he said he didn’t know. He just remembered.” With that, Zelda lifted the ocarina to her lips and began to play. The tune was sweet and very simple. Mika instantly found herself swaying, feeling the music penetrate. She felt a sting on her arm and touched her fingertips to her strange, blue tattoo. When she closed her eyes, she suddenly saw something.
Staring at her was a pretty Hylian woman with long blond hair, pulled back into braids that fell over her shoulders. Her eyes were lowered, watching attentively as she worked her needle across Mika’s wrist. The ink stunt as it went in. Mika’s eyes watered, tears rolling down her pink cheeks, but she did her best not to cry. To comfort her, the woman hummed softly, her voice matching the tune that drifted in and out of Mika’s consciousness from someplace outside of the memory. “That’s my strong girl,” the woman said. “Don’t cry, it’ll be over soon.”
“Why are you doing this?” the young Mika asked.
“I’m doing this because your father warned me that it was important. He said he wanted you and brother to find each other again.”
“Are we going away somewhere?”
“Not if I can help it,” the woman said. “But there are some things that are beyond my control.” She resumed the song again, humming gently as she pricked Mika’s skin again and again, pressing down the blue ink into the strange shape.
“What do you mean, Mika?”
“What’s out of your control?”
“What’s that mean?”
“A prophecy is like…like a promise. And you know it’s going to come true, but you don’t know how or why or when.”
“What’s the promise?”
“The promise,” she explained, “is that your brother is going to be the downfall of a Gerudo king.”
“A Gerudo king? But there’s no such thing.”
“Not now there isn’t. But someday there will be. That’s a part of the prophecy too.”
“How do you learn about a prophecy?”
“You go to an Oracle.”
“Is that where daddy went?”
“Yes. The one in Calatia.”
“When is he going to come back?”
There was pain in her eyes as she spoke. “His letter said he would come back soon,” she promised. “The same letter that told me I must mark you and your brother right away.” She began humming the song again, but her voice wavered and her eyes looked sad, as if she might cry. Still, she continued to hum.
Mika opened her eyes. She looked up at Zelda in amazement. “I saw her,” she said.
“My mother. I saw her.”
Link had been staring up at the sky through a wide crack in the logs of the cabin for a long while. How long, he couldn’t say for certain since he had lost track of the time, an ironic talent for someone who boasted the title of Hero of Time. His chest ached with the foreboding sense of doom he felt, knowing that the sunrise was not far off. Ari’s plan, unfortunately, seemed foolproof. Even if Nebekah made it back before sunrise and the two of them managed to overpower him, there was still no way they’d reach the village again in time to stall off Nabooru’s execution.
He had played out numerous scenarios in his head, trying to think of some alternative he had not considered. In fact, he even went so far as to entertain the idea of using magic, but that would have disastrous consequences. Magic was too delicate an art to be used on a whim, especially after his lack of practice. The demons of his memory laughed again. It was his own fault. In his continuous effort to forget the traumatic ordeal of Ganondorf Dragmire, Link had purposefully avoided anything related to the quest, including magic. Now, he rather wished he had kept up his skills, continued practicing from time to time.
Ari was sitting on a log that somehow passed for a bench in this ramshackle cabin. Much to Link’s disgust, the Risan thug seemed quite pleased with himself. Or at least what passed for a pleased expression. His mangled face did not convey emotion the way it should have. The Saber Tooth warriors had certainly done a number on him. Guilty though it made him feel, Link had to admit that, at the moment, he was somewhat glad. This was a man who was willing to sacrifice the possible future of Hyrule for a petty revenge plot. Link had tried to explain. He went into great detail, divulging information he would have normally kept to himself. But his words fell on deaf ears. Ari wanted nothing but revenge.
Longingly, Link stared across the floor at his sword, lying on the ground, useless and muddy. If only he could conjure up the smallest telekinesis spell, just something to bring the blade toward him. He could easily have cut his own bindings with magic, less than a year ago. But without practice, it was simply too dangerous. He was every bit as likely to impale himself if he tried to move the sword.
There was a sudden explosion of sound, wood cracking as if struck by an ox or bull. The door to the cabin practically shattered, snapping in half directly in the middle, the two broken pieces falling to the ground with a clatter. Ari leapt to his feet, turning to face the door and Nebekah came charging in, looking angry. Fear flashed across Ari’s face and Link knew it wasn’t because he was afraid of the Gerudo Beta. She had returned before sunrise that was the real problem. The plan had gown awry and now Ari would have to improvise.
“Nebekah!” Link cried. He smiled fiercely, feeling his chest swell with pride. He didn’t know how she had done it, but somehow, she had managed to prove once again that she was full of surprises.
Ari composed himself almost immediately. “You’re back,” he said cautiously, taking his time.
“Yes,” Nebekah said.
“Do you have it, then?”
She nodded. “Oh yeah. I have it.”
“Give it to me. I want to see it with my own eyes. I want to know if you’re trying to foist off a fake on me.” Link smiled slightly. That would be Ari’s next ploy, he was certain of it. After seeing the Shard, real or not, he would insist it was counterfeit and refuse to fulfill his end of the bargain.
“Oh, it’s real,” Nebekah said.
“Give it to me.”
“Come over here and take it.” Nebekah reached into her boot and removed the Shard. Link examined it briefly from his position on the floor. He couldn’t tell for certain, but it certainly looked real. It looked just like the three other pieces that he carried with him in his pack.
Slowly, Ari made his way over. “It does not look real to me,” he said, most predictably.
“I think it’s a chunk of amber.”
“Come take a closer look,” Nebekah said.
“I warn you, I will not tolerate being played for a fool. My intellect is far superior to yours, Gerudo.”
Nebekah held the Shard out further. As Ari got close, however, she suddenly pulled back her fist and punched him in the jaw. He went flying across the room, crashing into the far wall. “Superior intellect,” Nebekah scoffed.
“That’s going to cost you,” Ari said, straightening himself out and touching his jaw lightly.
“Take it like a man,” she droned.
“Ladies first.” He pulled out his two chunks of Din’s Silver and tightened his fists around them. With an animalistic yowl, he launched himself forward at her, attempting to take her by the waist. Nebekah clapped her hands together and brought them down on Ari’s back, sending him to the ground with such force that the entire cabin seemed to shake for a moment.
“Nebekah!” Link cried in amazement. Yet, as he looked at her, he realized that the source of her strength was not her unfailing willingness to eat her vegetables. Link realized that she was wearing a pair of silver gauntlets that were all too familiar, etched with Gerudo runes.
Groaning, Ari pulled himself back up to his feet. “You are a glutton for punishment,” Nebekah said with a sigh.
“How are you doing this?” Ari asked. Evidently, he hadn’t noticed the change in Nebekah’s wardrobe.
“Gerudo trade secret,” Nebekah replied. Ari charged at her again, swinging his fists wildly. His anger contributed to his downfall, making his blows sloppy. Nebekah easily brushed aside his arms, striking him across the face. He flew again, crashing into the wall beside Link and slowly sinking down the side. Link scooted away from him, doing his best to keep distance. Whether or not Nebekah was a match for him, Link could do her no favors if he became the hostage again.
It didn’t really matter much, however. Nebekah made her way over to the wall and grabbed Ari by the scruff of the neck, hoisting him clean off the ground. Effortlessly, she tossed him across the room to the other wall. He hit it with a soft grunt and crumpled to the ground.
She started to go after him again, but Link stopped her. “Hey, Nebekah,” he called. “Would you mind?” He held up his wrists.
“Oh, blondie. Forgot about you there.”
Nebekah crossed over to him. Taking hold of the ropes, she ripped them clean off of his hands. “Hope I didn’t keep you waiting.”
“I was on the edge of my seat.”
“I met with Nabooru. Here.” She handed him the Shard.
“I see she gave you a helping hand.”
She ripped off the ropes around his ankles. “Well, let me put it this way. I think I’ve given her a new reason to live again.”
“Gerudo scum!” Ari yelled. “I’ll kill you!”
“Oh please,” Nebekah groaned. But already, Ari had started a third charge at Nebekah. Easily, she knocked him aside, sending him into the only wall he had not yet hit, the one by the door. He smashed into it and crumpled to the ground, this time, without getting up again.
“I really hope you didn’t kill him,” Link muttered, getting to his feet and slipping the Shard into his pocket.
She had already crossed the room over to him. Leaning down, she pressed her fingers to his neck. “Just stunned,” she assured Link.
“Good,” Link said, grabbing his sword and wiping some of the muck off by rubbing it against the wall. “We’re going to need to turn him in as the real thief if we want to get Nabooru’s name cleared.”
“Which means we have to get back to the village by sunrise,” Nebekah said. She peered out from in between the logs of the cabin. “I’d say we have little more than an hour.”
“We can’t carry him all the way back,” Link sighed. He picked up a few of the discarded segments of rope that had some length left to them. “We’ll have to tie him up and leave him here.”
Nebekah pulled off one of her gauntlets, tossing it over to Link. “Here,” she said as he caught it. “You’d better wear that.”
Link stared at it for a moment, remembering his own pudgy little ten year old hands as they had first held it. “Why?”
“Stronger legs make for a faster runner,” she said.
He slipped the gauntlet on then walked over to Ari. Nebekah joined him and silently, the two of them set to work, tying up the Risan. Silently, Link wondered if he should say something to Nabooru about her thievery. After all, while Ari was hardly a noble man, it seemed that she had set off much of his crime spree. Still, there were more important matters at stake than a theft from years ago. It hadn’t been quite so complicated when he had been fighting Ganondorf. During that particular battle, it seemed that the distinctions of good and evil had been much clearer. Things were different this time around. The tumultuous battlefield of Gerudo politics had muddied the waters. Now certainly wasn’t the time for a crisis of conscious, Link knew that. Still, he couldn’t help but marvel at how complicated life among the Gerudo had become. No wonder Sapphia spoke so passionately about unity. It was much simpler that way.
The sunrise slowly crept up over the horizon. In time, Tyro could feel the first rays of sunlight falling over his face through the window. He felt them, but he could not see them. The fact of the matter was that he had been awake for hours, but he had not dared to open his eyes. Instead, he lay there, his eyes closed, his arms wrapped around Mika’s waist, listening to her breathe. Making love with her had proved every bit as enjoyable as arguing with her and in truth, he didn’t want to open his eyes because he was afraid she would vanish like a phantom. He wanted to hold her, to listen to her and smell her and never wake up from this half sleep. Of course, he knew it couldn’t last, but he had enjoyed those hours so much.
He sighed softly. It was time. He knew it. All good things and such. Longingly, he took a final, deep whiff, drinking in as much of her as he could, just as she was at the moment because he knew, without a doubt, that things were going to change as soon as the two of them saw each other, spoke to each other. His only hope was that this change would be for the better. Finally, he opened his eyes and found his face buried deep within a soft pile of red hair. Red?
With a gasp, he pulled back so quickly that he actually propelled himself clean off of the bed, landing on the ground with a clatter as he struck the stolen Gerudo booty he had swept off last night. The wind was knocked out of him and for a moment, he lay on his back, dazed and confused as little stars burst before his eyes. From the bed, he heard a soft, waking moan and the rustle of sheets. As he caught his breath, he put his hand up on the side of the bed and pulled himself upright, peering over the side to stare in complete horror.
There, nestled delicately, a silk cover pressed to her chest, was Sapphia. Her eyes darted around the room before she spotted Tyro, completely terrified, clutched the side of the bed with his fingertips. She caught his eyes a moment and the two shared a long, hard look, but it was Sapphia who looked away. Guilty, she looked down at the floor on the opposite side of the bed. “I suppose,” she said, “you’re going to be very upset with me now.”
His throat felt a bit craggy. “How?” he wheezed.
“I wouldn’t blame you.”
“I don’t understand.”
“How did you do it?”
“I thought you were –”
“Mika?” she said. “I heard you say her name. But I would have guessed anyway. I see the way you look at her.”
“How did you do it?”
“Heart’s Desire,” she said. “In the –”
“In the wine,” he whispered.
He pressed his face into his hands. “Oh Nayru…” he groaned. That was why his vision had been so hazy last night.
“You can’t really blame me.”
That got him angry. “Oh no?” he growled, looking up at her fiercely. “You deceived me!”
“I didn’t have a choice!” she countered.
“What are you talking about?”
“I told you, I see the way you look at Mika. Longingly. Lovingly. Filled with desire and passion and energy. How do you think it feels?”
“What feels?” he hissed.
“How do you think it feels, watching the way you are with her, wishing with all my heart that you would look at me the same way.”
She laughed coldly. “Yes. Me. Remember me? The one always following along with everyone else’s plans. The one that always gets ignored or brushed aside. The eternal sidekick. No one ever thinks to ask what I want.”
“Fine. What do you want?”
For a moment, she merely stared at him. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“If it were obvious, I think everyone would know and we wouldn’t be having this conversation now.”
“I want you, Tyro.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I didn’t think you would. And I realize, of course, that you’re going to be very cross with me now for deceiving you.”
“I should be.”
“A small price to pay.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve never been with a man before. And even if you spend the rest of your life hating me for what I did, it would still have been worth it. I will carry the memory of you with me to the grave.”
“Well, you’ve buried me now. When Mika finds out –”
“No,” Sapphia said quickly. “I mean, she doesn’t have to find out. She doesn’t have to know.”
“You won’t say anything?”
“I would never do that to you, Tyro.”
“You’d just deceive me.”
“As I have already told you, I didn’t have a choice.”
“No, there is always a choice. I’ve learned that much from being out here in the Valley.”
She lowered her eyes. “And I guess you choose her.”
“I chose her. You had to come and make things complicated.”
“Tell me one thing, honestly.”
“Could you ever feel anything for me, Tyro?”
He sighed, rubbing his eyes though the last of the Heart’s Desire hazy had long since evaporated. “Maybe,” he admitted. “If you hadn’t tricked me like this. If you had said something.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“No, you’re not,” he replied coldly.
“I guess I’m not,” she confessed.
Tyro stood up, turning away from Sapphia. He touched his hands to the back of his head, tiling his chin up to stare at the ceiling. The feelings whirling around inside of him were simply too much. It was as if the person he had always been, the casual, blasé charmer, was dissolving, giving way to a new person. Why was he feeling this way? He had cheated so many times before on so many girls. Intentionally. But now, it felt like the tables had been turned, like someone had cheated him. And yet Mika wasn’t even in the room. He wished desperately to the highest powers he knew to make it untrue, to make it Mika lying in that bed, not Sapphia. But no amount of wishing to could what he had done. No. What she had done.
“So,” he whispered to the wall, “what happens now?”
“Nothing has to happen,” Sapphia told him. “We go on with our mission. We assemble the Topaz and pretend like nothing ever happened…if that’s what you want, Tyro.”
“That is what I want,” he said. “But I wish nothing had happened for real.”
“We can pretend. And…and if you change your mind…I’ll be waiting for you, Tyro. If Mika doesn’t live up to this goddess image you’ve built of her.”
He whirled around, pointing and angry finger at her. “Don’t you dare speak disparagingly of her!”
“Hmph,” he snorted, turning away again.
“I only mean that…well, maybe she can’t offer you as much as I can.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I offered myself to you. Would she be willing to do the same?”
Tyro didn’t have an answer for that, but the question so enraged him that he couldn’t speak. Instead, he merely glared at her, all his warm memories of the night before melting away like snow in this hot, unforgiving desert.
often gathered together in the town square to celebrate. There were weddings and festivals and feasts to the goddesses. There were carnivals and holidays and even the occasional funeral celebrating the life of an important figure in the town. But this was different somehow, a solemn occasion, but one that still brought a massive amount of people flocking to the town square. Of course, everyone had heard the stories of the legendary thief called Nabooru, but no one had ever actually seen her before. She was famous for making miraculous escapes that no one ever cracked. To see her in the flesh was a rare opportunity, and as they well knew, soon to be a final opportunity. villageof Kakariko
She was brought from the town jailhouse in a solemn parade, Tertias leading the way, followed by a few of the local guards, escorting the Gerudo Alpha who’s hands and been bound with chains. Following behind Nabooru were several warriors of the Dragon Pride, including her Beta, Liandra, who threw deadly glares at any villager who thought to approach, throw produce, or so much as utter a single jeer at her beloved and condemned leader. They wound their way slowly through the town, the mayor hoping to maintain dignity as much as possible by heading straight for the square. If the villagers wanted spectacle though, there was still plenty to be had for, upon reaching the site of the incredible robbery, Nabooru was placed up on top of the pedestal, right where the statue of Din had once stood.
Next, there came the speeches. Solemnly, the mayor spoke to the people as they gathered, reflecting on the direness of the situation. He spoke in praise of all the good that Nabooru had done for Hyrule, how her services as Sage had helped in the defeat of Ganondorf Dragmire, but how no one was above the law. To make an exception would be setting a terrible president, one which would haunt generations to come, corrupting the legal system and destroying everything good that Nayru had granted to the people. This, he could never condone so, though it pained him, he was forced to carry out the law to the end.
In all fairness, the mayor next let Liandra speak. She implored the people not to be so foolish. Nayru had granted them law and order, but there was no reason to murder over a simple theft. Many looked away in shame, letting their stones tumble out of their fingers. Still, the vast majority of the villagers glared at her coldly. They remembered all too well what the Kodiak Pride had done to Kasuto. If they allowed Nabooru to steal from them, what would come next? Would the Dragon Pride ride into their town for raids far more violent than their occasional plagues of Heart’s Desire? They could not allow their town to become vulnerable.
When Tertias asked Nabooru if there was anything she wanted to say, she only uttered three words. “I am innocent.” This rattled the villagers far more than Liandra’s scolding. Up until this point, Nabooru had been unnaturally silent about her culpability in the matter. But now, with those three words, she cast far more doubt than an entire tirade on the nature of good and evil. Even Tertias seemed rattled, as he slowly unrolled the scroll, reading about the declaration made by the judge and jury of Nabooru’s trial, his hands shook violently, shaking the paper.
At last, the final word, the word of death, was read aloud. Tertias bowed his head, then turned to the guards. At once, they began to push the Gerudo women out of the way of the pedestal. The woman ranted and raved, fighting against the force, but they were overcome. Tertias looked up at Nabooru, the proud, extraordinary woman. He was soon forced to look away, removing himself from the line of fire. Her fate was in the hands of the crowd now, who began to slowly converge, stones in hand.
“Wait!” a voice cried. As one, the villagers turned to see two figures approaching from around the pond. Nebekah led, her feet pounding the ground with great force, sending a cloud of dust up behind her which fell into Link’s face as he struggled to keep up. “Stop!” he shouted. “We have new evidence!”
Tertias held up his hands, halting the villagers before they could throw their stones. “Link, this isn’t a trial,” he said. “It’s an execution.”
“You have to hold it off,” Link said. “We’ve found the real thief.”
“It’s out of my hands, Link,” the mayor insisted, “the law clearly states that –”
“I know what the law says,” Link told him. He and Nebekah had reached the square. With one leap, Link jumped up onto the pedestal, standing in front of Nabooru and shielding her from any harm. “And Nayru gave us the law, didn’t she?”
“Of course,” Tertias said.
“She gave us the law to protect the innocent. And I declare that Alpha Nabooru of the Dragon Pride is innocent. To kill her would be a far worse crime than to listen to what I have to say.”
“We know where the statue is,” Nebekah told the crowd. “And we’ve caught the real thief.”
“Let Nebekah show you what we’ve found,” Link implored Tertias. “If we’re lying, then you can carry out your justice as you see fit. It’s not a lot to ask.”
Tertias sputtered. “Link…I don’t know if I…”
And suddenly, Link felt himself possessed, by what, he couldn’t say for certain. “I am your Hero of Time,” he roared. “I have fought on your behalf. And I have never once betrayed your trust. I implore you, in the name of all the services I have rendered Hyrule, do this for me now. Do not let an innocent woman die. If you do so, it will be as if nothing I did for you mattered.” Everyone was stunned to silence. Much to Link’s surprise, the nightmare demons of his memory didn’t even respond to this. Even they deferred, bowing away at the sound of his invocation.
“All right, Link,” Tertias said softly. “All right.” He turned to his guards, holding the Gerudo at bay. “Two of you, take Nabooru back into custody. The rest of you, follow me. We’ll go and see what they have to show us.”
“I’ll show you the way,” Nebekah said.
Tertias turned to address the people. “Go,” he told them. “Return to your homes. Go about your lives. There will be no execution here today.” If he expected any groans of protest, none came. It seemed that Link’s words had moved the people. They all dropped their stones, slowly shuffling away, almost as if in deepest of shame over what they had nearly done.
“Come on,” Nebekah told Tertias. “This way.” And she began to lead them back around the pond, on a third trek up to the clearing of Ari’s cabin.
Link turned around to face Nabooru. She was smiling at him. “What?” he asked awkwardly.
“I’m proud,” she said. “Proud to call you my friend.”
He shrugged. “I just…”
“I know why you haven’t come to visit me in a year, Link,” she said. “I know that you’ve been struggling with what happened. I know because I have too. But what you did just now…you owned up to it, to your destiny, to your fate, and in doing that, to your past.”
“You’re welcome. Just do something for me, all right? Be the great Alpha you’ve always been.”
“Please, give me my Shard back.”
He frowned. “I…I need to borrow it. We have to fight against –”
“Twinrova. I know. Just for a moment.”
Link reached into his pocket and pulled out the Shard, gently placing it into her palm. “Here.”
“There is an ancient ceremony,” she told him, “when the Shard is handed on to a new keeper.” She put a hand on his forehead. “Ashar nat’tan lanu, torat emmet.” Carefully, she placed the Shard back in his hand, closing his fingers tightly over it. “We don’t even know what it means any more.”
“I do,” Link said softly.
“It’s Hylian. It means, ‘…though it cannot be seen, it can be felt…’ The fourth part of the riddle…”
Nabooru smiled wryly. “Sounds like you’ve been on quite the adventure.”
“You have no idea,” he told her.
“Link, there’s something I feel the need to tell you.”
“I understand that you’ve been with Alpha Medea of the Orca Pride.”
“A bit,” he said.”
“I know her. Or…knew her once. And I think you should know that long ago, I have her something that you might be interested in.”
“Mika?” Link asked.
She blinked in surprise. “You know?”
“Like you said, it’s been quite the adventure.”
“I’ll wager,” she mused, “that it is far from over.”
“I think you’re right.” And Link smiled. The demons were no longer sniggering in the corners of his mind. No. They were gone like a bad dream. He wasn’t sure how it had happened, but somehow, he had finally made peace with them. Perhaps Nabooru was right, perhaps it had something to do with finally admitted everything that he was because that was the culmination of everything he had been through. Now, he felt ready to go through more, to become something greater. He was ready.
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