It had been nearly a year since Link last got a decent night’s sleep, but since heading out for Kodiak territory, Link was surprised to find that he could sleep soundly. It was refreshing really. When it was his turn to take over the watch, he felt full of energy, ready to charge off to the Kodiak fortress, save for the fact that the majority of his companions were exhausted. They had been traveling all day. Unfortunately, the Kodiak lived in a very remote part of the
and without horses, it was quite the trek. Link didn’t mind though. Now that he was sleeping again, somehow, the long march didn’t seem so bad. Of course, he knew why he was sleeping now. The nightmares were gone. This had the duel effect of both enhancing his energy and leaving him with a constant, satisfied smirk that annoyed the others to no end. Except perhaps, Nebekah, which is probably why she had elected to take the second watch with him, rather than get some sleep herself. Gerudo Valley
The two of them sat close together, huddling around the fire for a bit of warmth. Link was curiously examining the Topaz in his hands. It was nearly assembled now, only one final piece was missing. He could already imagine what sort of shape it would take once it was together. What he still couldn’t imagine was the answer to the strange riddle that had been accompanying the Shards. Again and again, he whispered the words softly with Nebekah, trying to make sense out of it. “‘One thing stands between the stone and the grave…’”
“‘…it cannot be held, yet it can fill the air…’” Nebekah continued for him.
“‘…everyone who wants it can find it…’”
She sighed. “And ‘…though it cannot be seen, it can be felt…’” She shook her head. “Still nothing.”
“Maybe we’re saying it in the wrong order?” Link supposed.
“I don’t know. It makes sense to me. Clearly, the riddle we got from the Orca is the first part.”
“Well, I guess so…”
“And I don’t think it matters too much what order the other parts are in. They seem to be flowing in one continuous sentence, describing…something.”
“I just wish we know what something was.”
“Well, whatever it is, it’s apparently going to keep us alive if Twinrova get their hands on the Topaz.”
“We’re not going to let that happen,” Link said firmly.
“No,” she agreed, “it’s not.”
“Although we still need to know what the answer is. Whatever can keep us alive might also keep them alive.”
“They do love to cheat death.”
“I know,” he sighed. “It’s just so unfair.”
Nebekah laughed, a pleasant smile exaggerating her beauty somewhat in the firelight. “We’ll get them, blondie. Don’t worry.” She glanced out at their sleeping companions. “Between the five of us, there’s no way those crazy hags are getting close to the Topaz.”
“That’s not true,” Link said. “You remember what Alpha Medea said. We’re going to have to use the Topaz to kill them. They’ll have to be close to it.”
“I guess so,” Nebekah admitted.
“Well, let’s worry about that bridge when we come to it.”
She nodded. “You’ve got enough trouble looming ahead of you without having to worry about the Twinrova sisters.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nebekah,” he said, “I know you don’t like them. They killed your mother and I understand that –”
“No,” she cut him off.
“This isn’t about my mother, blondie.”
“Then what is it about?”
“Even if they had never come near my Pride, never led that attack, never submitted to Ganondorf Dragmire, I would still hate them, as would many of my Jaguar sisters.”
“Their nature is contrary to everything good and honorable. They’re barely Gerudo except by blood.”
“What do you mean?”
“How much do you really know about the Kodiak?” she asked. “Beyond your battles with Dragmire?”
Link shrugged. “Not that much,” he admitted. “The whole Ganondorf thing sort of consumed my focus.”
“And that’s how it should have been. But now is the time to educate you about the nature of the Kodiak.”
“All right,” he said. “Enlighten me. What are the notorious Kodiak Gerudo like in nature?”
“Infernalists,” Nebekah said darkly.
“What does that mean?”
“For your purposes,” she said, “they enjoy destruction.”
“For my purposes?”
“None of them really objected to Ganondorf’s idea about conquering all of Hyrule,” she explained.
“There are no heroic tales of any Kodiak standing up to him, or even saying no to him, for that matter.”
“Too bad,” Link muttered. “Can you think of how history would have been changed if someone stood in his way before he got to Hyrule?”
“Well, you wouldn’t be here now, would you?”
“I guess not.”
“Anyway, what you have to keep in mind is that the Kodiak welcomed Twinrova into their Pride back then, blondie. The sisters were responsible for Ganondorf’s conception, birth, and upbringing. And the Kodiak allowed it all because they thought it would bring glory to their Pride. The trouble with the Kodiak is that they mistake attention for glory. And when Ganondorf got them the attention they wanted, they followed him, doing his bidding, hoping to get more. When he said conquer, they conquered. When he said destroy, they destroyed.”
Link too a moment to let these words sink in. “Wow,” he murmured. “They’re like little children. They’ll take negative attention over none at all.”
“At least they were. They’ve been quite lately. Sapphia insists that they’ve changed.”
“Do you believe her?”
“Sapphia has proven herself honorable in our dealings with the other Prides,” Nebekah said with a slightly shrug. “As for the rest of her people, well, we’ll just have to see.”
“What else do I need to know about them?” Link asked.
“They follow some savage practices,” Nebekah told him. “Particularly when it comes to internal fighting.”
“What do you mean?”
“They move up in rank through assassination.”
“So that’s true,” Link sighed. He recalled hearing this once before from a woman who he thought was the Jaguar Gamma, Deidre. Unfortunately, she had turned out to be Koume, but Link didn’t even think of mentioning that incident to Nebekah. Not when it had cost her so much.
“Their chain of command is quite complicated,” Nebekeha continued. “Each of the ranking officers, the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and healer, employ private warriors among the Deltas.”
“What do you mean?”
“Each Delta, when she comes of age, pledges her loyalty to one of the four highest ranking officers. This is a way of keeping powers in check. But it also provides each of the top Gerudo with a private body guard of trained assassins to do their bidding. It’s a sort of cold war. The threat of open combat keeps each of the leaders from doing anything too rash.”
Link’s head was starting to spin with all the information. “It sounds so complicated,” he muttered.
“It is complicated,” she said. “Which is probably why the Kodiak did so well with Dragmire. They were all united under a single leader.”
“So how do they feel about men? Are Tyro and I in trouble?”
“I think they keep male slaves,” she said. “But I’m not sure they’re particularly bigoted. Not like the Orca.”
“Well, that’s something.”
“Given the fact that Sarjenka handed her title as Alpha over to a man, I’m certain she’ll at least be willing to talk to you. Assuming she’s not hot to avenge his death. I imagine she was one of his lovers.”
“The Alpha of the Kodiak.”
“What do you know of her?”
Nebekah smiled fiercely. “A great warrior,” she mused. “We faced each other in battle a few times. She nearly took my ear off once.” Nebekah ran her fingers along the delicate arch of her pointed ear. “It’s a pity, really.”
“That such a great warrior could be born to such a dishonorable Pride.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “Sounds to me like you need to be a warrior just to survive in there.”
“I’m glad we have Sapphia with us,” Link said. “We’ll have an easier time getting an audience with Sarjenka. And she’s bound to listen to her own Beta, isn’t she?”
“I hope so,” Nebekah sighed. “Still, it’s an extreme request, you know. Asking for a Shard.”
“Still…the Kodiak sent Sapphia to warn the other Prides about Twinrova. It seems to me that they’re just as eager to stop the sisters as we are.”
“That’s true,” Nebekah supposed. “Which might be a sign of hope. Maybe they really have changed.” She shook her head. “I never would have thought it.”
“You’d be surprised how things can change,” Link told her. Leaning back on his hands, he looked up at the stars above, thinking vaguely of the changes in his own life. Fondly, he remembered a pudgy, nine year old boy who first climbed a tree to star up at the same sky, dreaming of being like all the other Kokiri. That little boy had no idea what he was facing, no concept of the horrors of Ganondorf Dragmire and Twinrova, no notion of the pleasures of deep friendships with Princess Zelda and Nebekah, no idea that somewhere, probably watching the same sky, was a sister he had yet to meet. Link, on the other side of that memory, was glad to know it all, even the horrors. That was something else that had changed within him as well.
The next morning, Link was the first ready to go. He obnoxiously nagged the others, urging them to get a move on. Nebekah was highly amused by his enthusiasm, but she sensed that the others were less than thrilled. She had noticed an odd tension among them since she and Link returned from Kakariko with Nabooru. Of course, Link must have noticed it too, but if he wasn’t saying anything, Nebekah certainly wasn’t about to. Still, she couldn’t help but watch the way that Tyro, Sapphia, and Mika all seemed completely withdrawn, avoiding eye contact with one another, and generally silently following along with anything the other two said.
They were on the move soon, the silent trek punctuated only by brief warnings about a sudden change in terrain or Link’s exasperated sighs at the sluggishness of the others as he bounded ahead. Soon, the Kodiak fortress appeared before them on the horizon. The mere sight of it sent Link on another wind and he was off, hurrying along to the stronghold before the rest of them even realized it was there. “Slow down, blondie!” Nebekah called with a laugh. None of the others were amused.
Eventually, they managed to catch up with Link. Nebekah could now clearly make out the Kodiak fortress. It was not how she had imagined it from her many encounters with the Kodiak. Somehow, she had envisioned a high castle with four towers and a drawbridge falling over a moat. There was little grandeur to this place. The building was really a compound with a series of six smaller buildings surrounding an oasis courtyard that was roofed with a sheet of glass. The buildings were all squat, stone structures, no more than one story above the ground, though she imagined there were probably basements and dungeons build into the foundation below. There appeared to be no windows, not even on the large wooden door that faced out toward the Valley. Strangely enough, there didn’t appear to be any guards standing watch either. Nebekah scanned the rooftops, perhaps hoping to catch sight of a Delta pacing back and forth, bow armed and ready, but there was nothing up there but the glint of the sun beaming off of the glass roof of the courtyard.
“Sapphia,” she said, turning over her shoulder to look at Sapphia.
“What?” Sapphia replied sullenly. She seemed to have been eyeing Tyro, but quickly turned to face the stronghold.
“Where is everyone? Where are the guards?”
She frowned, as though she had only just noticed the change herself. “I…I don’t know…”
Link had rushed ahead to the door. Tentatively, he grabbed the iron ring in the middle and gave it a slight tug. With a soft moan, the door began to swing open toward him. “Door’s unlocked,” he called, needlessly.
“I’m assuming this isn’t normal,” Tyro said.
Sapphia shook her head. “Nope.”
“Maybe something’s going on,” Mika supposed. “Do you think someone’s called a meeting?”
“We’re not the Orca,” Sapphia said icily. “When we have meetings, we still leave people on guard duty.”
“Clearly,” Tyro snapped, gesturing to the empty doorway.
“What should we do?” Link asked. “Should we just go in?”
Nebekah folded her arms, eyeing the doorway critically. “Maybe Sapphia should go in first.”
“That works for me,” Tyro mumbled.
Rolling her eyes, Sapphia walked forward. She shoved Link out of the way and grabbed the iron ring, pulling the door open all the way. At once, the five of them were assaulted, not by Delta warriors lying in wait, but by something far stranger. From inside of the compound, the sound of music wafted out toward them. It was not the drums or war nor was it ceremonial. Instead, what they heard was a combination of sitar and lyre, finger cymbals and bells.
For all his enthusiasm and vigor, Link was finally stilled. “Uh…”
Tyro scrunched up his face. “Didn’t we just go through this with the Saber Tooth Pride?”
“Twinrova would never do the same spell twice,” Nebekah said, shaking her head. “We already know how to break it.”
“So then how do you explain the happy music?” Tyro countered.
“I have no idea…”
“It’s never easy,” Link said with a fierce smile. He turned to Sapphia. “Lead the way.”
Without argument, Sapphia led the way, the others following closely behind her. They traveled through a small, square tunnel, leading to the main entry way, easily the size of the Orca arena and twice was high. In the very center of the chamber was an enormous silver fountain, the basin collecting a bounty of water that was spat out of the mouth of a statue of Din, trickling down from each of her extended hands. The music was louder her, because Nebekah quickly spotted the musicians. There were some half a dozen Kodiak women sitting on the ledge of the fountain, each playing a different instrument. They looked nothing like warriors. Nor did any of the other Kodiak women in the room.
Indeed, the entire chamber was filled with people, both Gerudo and their male slaves, but their uniforms did not match those names. All of the people were half naked, draped only in flowing clothes of pinks, blues, and yellows. They were dancing around the room to the music, laughing and singing, joining hands and spinning in chaotic circles. All wore wreaths of flowers in their hair. Several women were standing beside the musicians, strewing flower petals into the air, letting them fall where they may, haphazardly over the floor.
For a moment, the five travelers stood there, looking completely dumbfounded by the entire scene. It was only a matter of time, however, before they were spotted. A perky young Gerudo, her pale red hair cut into a pixie bob, happened to spot them. “Peace and love!” she cried, racing over to them, her barefoot feet padding against the room, jingling with the clatter of dozens of anklets. “Welcome! Welcome!” A few others spotted her and followed suit, rushing over to the travelers with cries of welcome and enthusiastic smiles.
“Looks like we have a welcoming committee,” Tyro murmured out of the side of his mouth.
Link glanced at Nebekah. “These are the fierce, unforgiving warriors who advance in rank through assassination?”
All Nebekah could do was shrug. At once, the welcoming committee had descended upon them. Burbling, they passed out flowers, crowning each of the travelers with wreaths. Sapphia waved them away from her, tossing her own wreath to the floor. “Nala,” she snapped to the girl with the pixie bob, “what’s going on here?”
“We welcome you to our home, sister,” Nala said. She threw back her head and let out a wail. “Love to you all!”
“Nala, this is my home,” Sapphia said.
The other girl stared at her curiously. “Have we met?” she asked.
Sapphia blinked. “I’m your Beta. What’s the meaning of this?”
“Beta?” The other girl seemed to think about it for a second. “Oh! Yes, the archaic leadership terms, I remember those. They mean nothing now. We are all equals here.”
“Are you felling well?” Sapphia barked.
“Never better, sister. Welcome, welcome.”
“Well, this is interesting,” Tyro deadpanned.
Growling, Sapphia grabbed Nala’s shoulders. “Listen to me, I need to talk to Olma. Is she still here?”
Nala laughed. “Of course she’s still here. We’re all a family together in the stronghold.”
Roughly, Sapphia released Nala’s shoulders. She turned to the others. “I’m going to try and get some answers. You need to find the Alpha.” She took off one of her gauntlets, handing it over to Nebekah. “Show this to her and you won’t have any trouble.”
Nebekah took the gauntlet, looking down at it. It was embedded with Kodiak designs. She looked up, about to ask Sapphia how this could possibly identify her, but Sapphia had already left, vanishing into the crowd of dancers. “Hey blondie. How are we supposed to find the Alpha when titles no longer have meaning here?” But when she looked to Link, she realized that he had a slightly different problem.
A horde of Kodiak girls, scantily clad and spangled with flowers, had gathered around both Link and Tyro. In low, seductive voices, they were planting kisses across the boys’ faces, cooing gently, and brushing flowers along their chests. Link had gone beet red and was struggling to get free. Every time he pulled away from one girl, he would back into another, or turn around and nearly grope another, lying in wait. Noble to the end, he was sputtering and babbling, trying to get out apologies while at the same time excusing himself.
Tyro was a different matter. The second a girl stroked his cheek, he pulled back sharply, roughly pushing her away. She knocked into another girl, causing a slight domino effect that ended with all of the girls falling upon Link. Nebekah blinked in surprise. As she stared at Tyro, she practically didn’t recognize him. All traces of his haughty smile were gone. He was giving the girls a cold, angry look. The moment he noticed both Mika and Nebekah staring at him in surprise, he turned around, walking away from the merriment and disappearing from sight. Mika and Nebekah exchanged a brief look and then Mika turned, following after him.
Nebekah turned her attention back to the room, getting slightly nervous as several of the dancing slave boys spotted her and slowly made their way over, offering flowers and greetings of love. Under normal circumstances, she might have been highly amused to see Gerudo behaving in this manner, but this was different. These were the Kodiak, her great enemies, the ones who had caused her so much pain and devastation in the past. These were the warriors who had nearly destroyed the Jaguar Pride, who had deprived Nebekah’s mother of her life. How dare they flounce about, offering peace and love? It was a gross parody of true peace. It was a satire.
“Take us to your leader!” Nebekah cried.
“Leader?” Nala asked, turning her attentions away from a bashful Link.
“Yes, the person in charge.”
“She must mean, Jadis,” a young man said, reaching out to trail a flower along Nebekah’s shoulder.
Nebekah knocked the flower away. “Jadis?” she repeated.
“The high priestess,” Nala explained.
“Priestess,” Link said, finally managing to dig his way out of the mount of limbs around him. “Fine. Just take us to her.”
“As you wish, brother,” Nala said reverently.
“Tyro!” Mika chased after Tyro, knocking aside a good dozen Kodiak Deltas who were attempting to offer her flowers. She had already spotted the back of his head and was fairly certain he had heard her, though he didn’t stop moving until she had finally managed to catch up and plant a firm hand on his shoulder. “What’s the matter with you?”
He turned around. She was surprised to see that the anger in his eyes had given way to a clear distress that she could not begin to explain or comprehend. “Mika,” he murmured hoarsely.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“I had to get away…I had to…” He seemed at a loss for words.
“What upset you so much?”
“I can’t explain.”
“They were just girls,” she said. “You like girls.”
“I liked girls,” he whispered.
She paused a moment, noting his past tense. There was a tightness in her chest that she didn’t like. It came to her every time she was alone with Tyro, every time she thought about being alone with Tyro, and every time she felt his eyes fall on her face. “It’s okay,” she told him.
“Things have not been okay for awhile now.”
Certainly, Mika couldn’t deny that. The entire trip to the Kodiak territory had been filled with unusual, strained silences. Of course, she realized that she was partly to blame for this. Her mind had been overly occupied with the things she had seen during her stay in the Dragon fortress: So many of her lost memories had resurfaced there, that she found herself constantly occupied with an ontological question. Still, she wasn’t the only one who had been a bit self involved lately. She had taken enough time to notice that Tyro had been rather sullen, almost silent most of the trip. Not once had he attempted to speak with her or even touch her, a far cry from his slick routine prior to their visit with the Dragons. The time had come, she realized now, for the long overdue question.
“What’s the matter, Tyro?”
Much to her surprise, he laughed. There was no mirth in it, but it was a laugh nevertheless. “Oh, what a question!” he chuckled.
“It’s not that complicated.”
“Oh, yes it is,” he said. “Yes it is.”
“Because of you.”
“It’s complicated because of you! My entire life has gone all topsy turvy and I have you to thank for it.”
She folded her arms across her chest. “And,” she hissed, “just what do you mean by that?”
Instead of answering her, Tyro suddenly seized Mika in his arms. With reckless abandon, he kissed her. She was so surprised that she went rigid a moment, but gradually relaxed, letting the kiss wash over her. His touch was so warm and inviting, that Mika stopped being concerned that someone would see. In this merriment anyway, it seemed like the natural thing to do. She wrapped her arms around his neck, leaning in on the kiss, feeling his pulse knock against her chest. Tyro’s hands gathered her face, gently pulling her away from his lips. He stared into her eyes and she saw another wave of pain flash through his gaze.
“I thought so,” he whispered hoarsely.
“Thought what?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I was afraid of this.”
Gently, he stroked her face, running his hand slowly back, over the thread wraps in her hair. “Mika,” he said, “I’m in love with you.”
She blinked. Certainly, she hadn’t heard him right. “What?”
“I love you,” he said.
“You love me?”
“I don’t…I don’t know how it happened,” he sputtered. “It just did. I can’t help it. I’m in love with you. I dream about you, I see you everywhere I go, everywhere I look. It’s as if you’ve infected me with the way you smell, the way you move, the way you hurt me. All I do is crave more and I know I shouldn’t because everything about us is contrary, but that just makes me desire you as I’ve never wanted anything in my whole life.” He paused to take a breath. “I know,” he said slowly, “that I probably shouldn’t tell you this. But a small, delusional part of me would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t said something to you.”
Time seemed to freeze between the two of them. Mika stared at Tyro, his words reverberating across time and space between them like the chords of a snare drum. The strings tightened, pulling the two of them closer and closer together until Mika found herself kissing him once again, feeling his hands run down to the small of her back. She didn’t know what was happening, she was suddenly outside of herself, watching as her body pressed against Tyro’s. But no kiss could last forever and as they pulled apart, Mika was drawn back into her flesh.
“No,” he stopped her. “Don’t say anything.”
“I have to say it,” she insisted. “I…” but she trailed off again as something caught her eye over Tyro’s shoulder. There was a swish of blue fabric from a corner of the bacchanal. She turned to discover an older Gerudo matron in Orca colors dancing with several of the flower maidens. “Mother?” she squeaked.
Tyro turned to follow her gaze. Just as he did, the dancing woman turned around and the two of them found themselves facing Medea, the Orca Alpha. But she looked nothing like the woman they had left behind. Medea danced among the Kodiak, her face beaming with a bright and unnatural smile. Blossoms dotted her hair, which was flowing freely, unbound by her snood. There was a vague, distant gaze to her eyes and as they swept over Mika and Tyro, she showed no sign of recognition.
Briskly, Mika marched forward. “Mother?” she called, a bit louder this time.
At the very least, she had managed to catch Medea’s attention. She halted her dancing, turning to look at the girl with a polite smile. “Peace and love, sister,” she recited.
“Mother?” Mika sputtered. “What are you doing here?”
“Do I know you?” she asked.
“Yes! It’s me. Mika!”
“Mika? That’s a funny name.”
This struck Mika like a cold dousing of water. She instantly remembered her flashback in the Dragon fortress, when her three year old counterpart first heard Medea’s voice call Mika a funny name. “I’m your daughter,” she said harshly. “You took me in at a price of peace with the Dragon Pride.”
Medea shook her head. “No…that doesn’t sound at all familiar. But peace is such a wonderful thing. Peace and love to you too, brother,” she added with a smile at Tyro.
“She’s gone mental,” Tyro mumbled.
“She’s acting like all of the other people in here,” Mika hissed.
“We are all truly alike, under the skin,” Medea said dreamily.
“That’s not what you said when you held me prisoner,” Tyro deadpanned, folding his arms across his chest.
“Prisoner?” Medea repeated. She let out a soft, delicate laugh. “You must be mistaking me for someone else, brother. I prefer to exist in peace and harmony with all living things.”
“What are you talking about?” Mika cried. “You’re a warrior, and the finest Alpha Orca Pride has seen in a good two hundred years!”
“Prides and titles have no meaning here,” Medea said breezily. “We are all equals in the eyes of the goddess.” She threw a handful of petals into the air. “Excuse me now, I have to go. It’s nearly lunch time.” And with that, she turned around, slipping back into the crowd.
Mika’s shoulders slumped. She stood there, unable to move, unable to speak, watching as her mother, the woman who had raised her, brought her up and taught her everything worth knowing, vanished, as if she had never seen Mika before and never intended to see her again. She felt Tyro behind her. Gently, he placed his hands on her shoulders and didn’t say a word.
Jadis turned out to be a rather corpulent Gerudo woman in her late forties. When Link and Nebekah were brought to her, she gave both of them bone crunching hugs, pulling Link’s head a bit too close to her ample bosom for his tastes. Immediately, she invited the two of them to join her for lunch. They were seated at a low table, resting on pillows rather than chairs. Around the table sat dreamy-eyed Gerudo women, longingly slurping up their drinks and smiling pleasantly at the strangers.
“As you can see,” Jadis told them as she settled herself on an elaborate pile of silk pillows, “we prefer to take our meals together. We feel that it promotes peace and harmony in the family.”
Link threw a sideways glance at Nebekah. She was rolling her eyes. He turned back to Jadis, attempting to give her a civil smile. “So you’re the Kodiak priestess of Din?” he asked. Nebekah had told him stories, in the days gone by, of a great temple dedicated to Din, somewhere in the farthest reaches of the
. This was supposed to be neutral territory where the high priestess reigned supreme over all Alphas who came to visit her. Gerudo Valley
She threw her head back, laughing boisterously. “You silly boy!” she cried giggled.
He raised an eyebrow. “Did I say something funny?”
“Din!” she croaked.
“That’s the Gerudo patron goddess,” Link said with a second glance at Nebekah. She looked very serious this time, offended at Jadis and her laughter.
“Din is the goddess of power,” Jadis said, gesturing for the servers to begin bringing in the food. “She is a war goddess, a goddess of hardships and hard times for all who follow her ways and their poor victims.”
“She’s more than that,” Nebekah said icily.
“To some, I suppose,” Jadis said with a slight nod. “But she has brought bad consequences to the Kodiak in the past for following her ways.”
“She blessed the Gerudo people with their great power!” Nebekah declared angrily.
“She has been a curse, tethering us to the old ways,” Jadis replied.
“If you’re not the high priestess of Din,” Link cut in before Nebekah could respond, “then what deity do you follow?”
“I am the high priestess of the goddess Yakut,” Jadis explained. The servers began to pour into the room with the meal. “The goddess of good fortune and luck. A truly noble deity.”
A platter was set down before Link with the tingle of gold. Small portions of rice and beans littered the plate, but they were so thin he could see the designs engraved on the face, depicting the Gerudo crescent, accompanied by elaborate decoration. “I see the deity has afforded you a luxurious life,” he mumbled, running his finger along the rim of the plate.
“If it were my choice, I would serve the goddess a destitute,” Jadis said. She shrugged. “Such is the will of the goddess.”
Link raised an eyebrow at this smarmy answer, but said nothing. Beside him, he noticed Nebekah moving around the food on her plate, sulkily avoiding all eye contact with Jadis. He knew she was burning with questions, doubtlessly the same questions that he wanted to ask. He was somewhat grateful that she was leaving it to him, however. This was a delicate situation. “The Kodiak are not like I expected,” he told Jadis carefully.
“Yes, in the past we have garnered something of a reputation,” Jadis admitted with a dip of her head. “Please, eat.”
“What’s happened to change all that?” Link pressed.
“We have renounced our warlike ways,” Jadis said, “and dedicated our lives to peace and prosperity under the watchful protection of Yakut. She is protective of us, having descended to the mortal world to live among us.”
Link’s eyes flashed up. “Yakut lives in the Kodiak compound?”
“Yes,” Jadis replied.
“Then what does she need a high priestess for?”
For a moment, Link was certain he saw Jadis bristle, but she quickly smiled again. “The goddess speaks in tongues,” Jadis explained. “It is my duty to serve her by relaying her messages to the people.”
“Please, eat. Enjoy our hospitality.” She clapped a hand to her forehead. “Gracious. I haven’t even thought to ask your names.” She gave them another slick smile. “Please, what may I call you?”
Without missing a beat, Link replied, “Mido.”
“Mido,” she repeated. “Welcome to our home, brother. And you, my dear?” she turned to Nebekah.
“I am Nebekah, daughter of Elena,” Nebekah replied.
“Welcome to you as well, sister Nebekah.”
“I’m not your sister,” Nebekah hissed, but Link quickly drowned out the sound of her voice by dropping his cup with as much of a clatter as he could produce.
“Oops,” he muttered, leaning over to pick it up.
“Tell me,” Jadis continued, apparently missing Nebekah’s comment, “What brings you to our peaceful little commune? Are you interested in joining up with us and living here?”
“Maybe later,” Link said. “I guess we need to learn more, first.”
“A wise decision,” Jadis told him. “I assure you, you may ask anything you like. I think you will find that our home is one of peaceful bliss and harmony.”
Link carefully cleared his throat. “So, what happened to Sarjenka?”
“Yes, your Alpha.”
“You’ve heard of her,” Nebekah deadpanned.
“Yes, of course,” Jadis said. She sighed softly. “I’m afraid that a peaceful society means dissolving warrior and officer titles and positions,” she explained. “The role of Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are no longer required to run our society. Everything now operates according to the will of Yakut. It’s a much easier way of doing things when we’re all unified under a single leader.”
Link felt almost sick to his stomach, realizing that he had had the same thought not too long ago. “I see.”
“But please, I know how remote our lands are. It must have been quite the journey trying to get here. Eat. Refresh yourselves.”
Nebekah leaned over, sniffing at her food. Frankly, Link wasn’t all that hungry, but he politely picked up a lavish, gold fork and speared a few beans. He was about to eat when Nebekah suddenly put a hand on his wrist. “What?” he asked.
“You’re allergic to that, remember?”
He blinked. “Allergic?”
“Yes, beans are terrible for you. They make you break out in hives. You know that.”
“Oh…right…” Link had no idea what she was talking about, but from the earnest look on Nebekah’s face, he went along with it.
“Perhaps we can get you something else?” Jadis asked.
“We hate to eat and run,” Nebekah said, standing up. Link followed suit. “But we really need to eat and run. Would you mind it horribly if we looked around your compound a little bit?”
“Be my guest,” Jadis told them.
“Thank you,” Nebekah said. She looked as though she were about to cross her wrists in a Gerudo salute, but stopped herself. She clapped a hand on Link’s shoulder and pulled him out of the dining room.
Link followed her silently, the two of them making their way past a variety of dancing people, strewing flowers across the chamber. Finally, they found a small corner, near an entrance to the courtyard where more festivities were taking place. “What was that about?” Link hissed.
“There was something wrong with the food,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“It smelled sweet.”
“Yeah. It wasn’t right. Flowery.”
“Do you think she’s trying to drug us?” Link asked.
Nebekah didn’t answer right away. Her eyes scanned the compound, drinking in the sight of the crazed dancers. “Of course,” she whispered fiercely.
“It all makes perfect sense!”
“Would you mind sharing?”
“The petals of the lotus flower have chemicals in them. It’s a powerful sort of opiate,” she explained.
“Plays tricks on the memory. And let’s just say, it makes the mind incredibly maliable.”
“I really don’t like the sound of that,” Link muttered.
“It makes perfect sense. Somehow, she’s been slipping lotus flower into all of the food. It explains why everyone’s behaving in such an extraordinary manner. They’re all drugged!”
“How could one person possibly carry this off?” Link wondered.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But that’s not important right now. We need to find the others.”
“The others? Why?”
“To warn them not to eat!”
*You’re absolutely certain?* Kotake thought, projecting her voice telepathically across the
. Gerudo Valley
*Certain,* the vessel’s voice replied, reverberating pleasantly in Kotake’s head. If her old body had been able to, she might have skipped, she was so pleased with the news.
*That’s excellent,* Kotake’s mind cried.
*I await further instruction.*
*How close is the Hero to assembling the Topaz?* she asked.
*He has four pieces. The last one might prove a bit difficult. The Kodiak have lost their collective minds.*
A glimmer of satisfaction burned inside of Kotake’s chest. The vessel had, of course, already informed her of the goings on at the Kodiak fortress. After the way Kotake and Koume had been treated by Alpha Sarjenka, however, Kotake felt no sympathy for any trouble caused for the wretched Kodiak. Though allies they had been in the past, now, they were not to be trusted. No more than any other Gerudo who was not a party to the plan. *See to it that the Topaz is assembled,* Kotake instructed the vessel. *And be certain that there are no witnesses left who might suspect something of our plan.*
*Good…good…this pleases me very much. Our great king’s return is close at hand.*
*Be ready. As soon as everything falls into place, we will make our first move. You’ll know when.*
*I shall be ready.*
*Good. Now go, take care of any unnecessary loose ends. And remember, the Hero must remain alive for the time being.*
*We’ll see you soon.*
With that, Kotake pulled her hand away from the telepathy tile, feeling the immense power of the instrument slowly dissolve from her tired old limbs. She rubbed her gnarled hands together, feeling how cold they were, how boney, brittle, and old. Despite it all, she couldn’t help but smile, nay, laugh with joy. Things had taken such a fortunate turn. Now, the plan could speed up immeasurably. Joy was exploding within her.
“What’s the matter with you?” Koume’s voice croaked. Kotake turned to see her sister slink into the chamber, still sporting her comical horizontal wrinkles, evidence of her latest attempt to make herself young again.
“I’ve just spoken with the vessel,” Kotake told her with a smile.
Koume’s invisible eyebrows raised. “Oh?”
“What did she have to say?”
“Only good news, my sister.”
“Well? What is it?”
“Twilight draws near for our Hero,” Kotake said triumphantly.
“With any luck, he could be dead by the end of the week!”
Koume blinked. “You mean…”
“Well, we’ll have to be sure of course.”
“Soon as the Topaz falls into our possession.”
“How long do you think that will be?” Koume asked.
“They have four pieces now,” Kotake said. “And they’re working on the fifth right now.”
“Which one is the fifth?”
“Oh, I hope they mash her to bits,” Koume sneered.
“As do I, sister.”
“Where are they now?”
“The Kodiak stronghold.”
“Then, there should be no trouble at all,” Koume mumbled. “They travel with the Kodiak Beta, do they not?”
Kotake scowled. “Unfortunately, as I understand it, there is trouble within the Kodiak lair.”
“Trouble? What sort of trouble? There can’t be trouble, not now. Not when our hour is so close at hand!”
“Calm yourself, sister.”
“What’s going on?” Koume demanded.
“It seems,” Kotake explained, “that there has been a sort of coupe within the Kodiak.”
“Well, that’s nothing new. They’re always changing around their chain of command.”
“Not the typical sort of Kodiak coupe,” Kotake corrected her. “Alpha Sarjenka still lives, as far as I understand it, but she’s been usurped.”
“The priestess of Din?”
Koume wrinkled up her forehead, making it look like a rotten peach. “That’s odd.”
“Odd or not, it is what it is. Jadis has taken over and declared the entire Kodiak nation to be under the jurisdiction of Yakut.”
Kotake shrugged her boney shoulders. “Apparently, the goddess of good fortune.”
“I’ve never heard of such a goddess. Nonsense.”
“It is of no concern to us.”
“Why do you say that?”
“It has nothing to do with the Shard! And as far as I can tell, the Hero is in no mortal danger. Not with his pesky friends and our vessel looking out for him. The coupe is inconsequential.”
“I disapprove of the worship of these modern day gods and goddesses from the outside world,” Koume said with a sniff.
“Well, it hardly matters,” Kotake told her angrily. “Soon enough, the Kodiak, and the rest of the Gerudo will be under our control.”
“No respect for tradition whatsoever!” Koume sniffed. “I should go down there and teach them a lesson.” She turned around, as if to leave. Kotake felt her heart leap into her throat. At once, she conjured a fireball, sending it down into the floor right in front of Koume. “Hey!”
“You mustn’t go there, Koume!”
“Things are in a delicate balance now, my sister. To disrupt them could ruin everything we’ve worked for.”
“The Gerudo are worshipping Human gods!” Koume cried in complete indignation.
“It’s only temporary. Relax, Koume. Everything will be seen to in good time. Trust me.”
“I don’t know how you can stomach the thought.”
“Do not mistake my standstill for agreement. They will be properly punished for what they’ve done. But it has to wait.”
“For Ganondorf’s return.”
“But that will take so long!”
“We can accelerate it.”
Koume blinked. “We can?”
“At least to the point where we’ll be able to rid ourselves of the vessel,” Kotake assured her. “Besides, after being alive for four hundred years, another couple of decades is nothing.”
Taking a deep breath, Koume nodded. “All right. All right. We’ll wait and do things your way. But you promise me that the Kodiak will be properly punished for this crime?”
“I imagine,” Kotake said with a bit of a laugh, “the Hero will take care of punishing Jadis for us. You know how he is.”
“Always the Hero,” Koume sighed.
Tyro would always wonder for the rest of his life what Mika had meant to say to him back in the entry hall, after he declared that he loved her. In his heart of hearts, he hoped that she was going to tell him the same thing, but now, he would never know. In the wake of the awful shock of finding Medea among the revelers, whatever it was, Mika had forgotten about it now. He knew better than to press the matter. Seeing her surrogate mother had distressed her something awful and he imagined it didn’t help that Medea hadn’t even recognized her. He decided, instead, to take the comforting route, offering to be a pillar of strength for her to lean against, though the truth of the matter was that Tyro knew he wasn’t all that strong.
For a good long while after Medea departed, Tyro remained where he was, his hands on Mika’s shoulders, allowing her to process whatever it was that had just happened. He watched her face, wishing he could get some hint of what she was thinking. Whatever it was, he knew it was probably tumultuous and he wished desperately to take away her pain, but he couldn’t. Finally, without really exchanging any kind of consensus, the two of them made their way out into the covered courtyard in between the buildings of the compound.
The afternoon sun fell through the glass, and reflected back off of it, making the entire area incredibly hot. Tyro wondered at the wisdom of a covered courtyard in the middle of a desert Valley, but he imagined that the Gerudo certainly had their reasons for doing things. He was loathe to find a reason for all of the inane merriment though. Out in the courtyard, the Gerudo women and their slaves danced around lily ponds and palm trees, around and about the other buildings, in and out of the open doorways. On the far end of the courtyard was a slightly taller building with a balcony just beneath the glass roof, overlooking the festivities. There waved a banner, boasting the familiar of a deity Tyro had never heard of called Yakut.
The two of them stood amazed, watching the scene play out before them, but before long, Tyro glanced over to one side and chanced to spot Link and Nebekah walking out, leaning close to each other and whispering with nervous glances at the dancers. Gently, he nudged Mika, indicating the two of them. Together, they walked over. Link and Nebekah spotted them. Wordlessly, the group moved off to one side. Along the way, dozens of very pretty Kodiak women offered them flowers and streamers. It was really getting quite old, forcing them away. But Tyro was probably the most annoyed. Frankly, he had absolutely had it with women foisting themselves upon him. He was not quite ready to forgive Sapphia for deceiving him back in the Dragon stronghold.
“Listen,” Link told them urgently once they had managed to secure a reasonable amount of privacy, under the shade of a lone palm tree. “Whatever you do, don’t eat any of the food here.”
“Why?” Tyro asked. “What’s wrong with the food?”
“It’s been laced with lotus blossoms,” Nebekah said.
“An opiate. It’s not lethal but…”
“It’s bad for you?” Tyro concluded.
“Good to know.”
“We met with Jadis,” Link went on. “She seems to have taken over from Alpha Sarjenka. She’s the high priestess.”
“The high priestess?” Mika repeated. “The one who maintains the
?” templeof Din
“At some point she was. Now she’s turned the entire Kodiak compound into a commune dedicated to the worship of Yakut,” Nebekah said bitterly, indicating the banner with a jerk of her head, her dreadlocks flipping haphazardly in the air.
“Noticed that,” Tyro muttered. “Who’s Yakut?”
“The goddess of luck,” Nebekah explained to them. “I’ve never heard of her before.”
“She’s primarily worshipped in several Human kingdoms to the east of Hyrule,” Link supplied. “But apparently, she’s taken up residence right here in the
.” Gerudo Valley
“Well,” Mika sniffed. “Only an opiate would explain why Gerudo would turn against Din.”
“Or why your mother didn’t recognize you,” Tyro added.
“What?” Nebekah hissed.
Link raised an eyebrow. “Your mother?”
Mika threw a deadly look at Tyro, but he knew he had to continue now. “We ran into Alpha Medea. She had no idea who we were. I don’t even think she knew who she was.”
“Hmmm…” Nebekah folded her arms across her chest. “She must have been on a diplomatic trip here. Hospitality demands that a visitor is fed, after all. She must have ingested the lotus blossoms.”
“So what do we do now?” Tyro asked.
Before anyone could answer, however, a sudden and unnatural hush fell over the crowd. Even the music stopped. Everyone’s attention had turned to the balcony on the far building, so Tyro looked up as well. A large woman with a long red braid had appeared there. “That’s Jadis,” Link told them softly.
Jadis held up her hands, though the crowd was already silent. “The goddess Yakut!”
In unison, the gathered followers of Yakut began to hum, holding their hands up and waving them back and forth in some kind of reverence. Jadis backed away to one side of the balcony and suddenly, from within the building, Yakut emerged. “No way,” Tyro said.
The goddess that arrived on the balcony could not have older than twelve. She was a delicate little thing, with long Hylian ears, and pale red hair which was pulled back into a tight bun at the back of her head with a gold diadem around her forehead. Her clothing consisted merely of a white shift, over which, dozens of gold bangles and beads glittered from her neck, waist, wrists, and arms. She walked with her arms folded across her chest, like a woman in a portrait. Perhaps the most horrifying part of her visage, however, was the fact that her eyes looked completely clouded over, as though she were lost in some kind of permanent trance that never lifted.
“She’s a child,” Nebekah hissed.
“Barely out of diapers,” Tyro replied. All around him, the inane worship continued.
“She’s not saying anything,” Mika pointed out.
Link nodded. “And look at her eyes. She must be severely drugged. Enough lotus blossom to keep her shut up.”
“That can’t be healthy,” Nebekah sighed.
“Who is she?” Tyro asked. Everyone turned to look at him. “I mean, obviously, she’s not a goddess. She’s just a kid.”
“She’s Gerudo,” Nebekah said.
“Well, I’d think so. But still, they don’t recognize her. Does that mean she’s not a Kodiak?”
Nebekah scowled. “I have no idea.”
“We need to get to the bottom of this. That poor kid. That’s no way to live, half asleep all the time.”
“You’re right,” Link said. He turned to Nebekah. “Is there any cure for the effects of lotus blossom?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. You might try asking a healer.”
He nodded. “That’s not a bad idea.” He took a deep breath. “Okay, listen up. I’m going to go find the healer, see if I can learn anything about the lotus blossoms. Assuming, of course, that she isn’t drugged herself.”
“Then what are you going to do?” Mika asked.
“I’m going to try to get to Yakut, see if I can cure her.”
“Link, you shouldn’t do that alone,” Mika told him.
“She’s right, blondie,” Nebekah said with a nod. “I’ll bet they watch over her like a hawk.”
“All the more reason why it’ll be easier for one person to get in than for four people,” he pointed out.
“True,” Nebekah conceded.
Tyro folded his arms across his chest, glancing at Link. “Well, what are we supposed to do?”
“I think a big priority has to be finding Sarjenka,” Link said. “Remember, we’re still looking for the Shard.”
“Right,” Nebekah agreed.
“You know what she looks like?”
“I do,” Nebekah said.
“All right, you try to find her.” He patted Nebekah’s shoulder. “Good luck,” he told her. He started to leave, but stopped suddenly. He removed the four Shards of the Topaz, joined together, from his pack and handed it over to Mika. “Just in case,” he muttered. And with that, he turned around and began to fight his way through the throng, rejecting offers of flowers or requests to join in on the worship of the poor child god up on high.
Mika suddenly clapped a hand over her mouth, gasping abruptly. “Sapphia!” she cried.
Panic rose in Tyro’s chest. He turned around, expecting to find her behind him, but she wasn’t there. “What? What about her?”
“Someone has to warn her about the food,” Mika said. “She hasn’t eaten since breakfast, the same as the rest of us.”
“Good thinking,” Nebekah told her. “You’d better go find her.”
“Okay,” she agreed, tucking the nearly assembled Topaz neatly into her hemp pack.
Nebekah looked at Tyro. “What about you? Do you want to go after Sarjenka with Nebekah or look for Sapphia with Mika?”
He was genuinely torn. On the one hand, he wanted to stay with Mika, to be the one to comfort and protect her. On the other hand, he had absolutely no desire to be anywhere near Sapphia after what she had done to him back at the Dragon fortress. “I’ll go with Nebekah,” he said, immediately receiving a slightly hurt look from Mika that, fortunately, Nebekah didn’t seem to notice.
Link figured that the healer’s den had to be one of the big buildings of the campus. There was no good way to determine which one, so he systematically began going through them, one after another. In the first one he tried, he discovered a most unusual game in progress. Two men held up a third, one by the wrists, one by the ankles, keeping his face to the floor. They would swing him up in a circle like an enormous, living jump rope. Beneath him, Delta girls would roll across the floor so that each time, when he swung down, he would kiss a different girl, who would then roll away to allow the next a chance. Link made a face of disgust and quickly backed away before they could invite him to join.
In the next building he tried, clearly some sort of barracks, he caught the drugged dancers in an elaborate bed jumping contest, whereby they would leap from one bed to another, often landing on an oblivious couple, busy snogging, so busy, in fact, that they didn’t even notice the disruption. Glancing at some of the couples made Link just a little bit uncomfortable, so again, he excused himself quickly from the room and continued searching.
After that, he came upon the bathhouse. The people were sitting in a circle around the stove pipe, mercifully wearing bath towels, talking about philosophy as they passed around an enormous hookah. “And so,” one of them was saying, “they asked me if anyone ever wanted more.”
“More?” a girl said. She paused, taking an enormous drag from the pipe. “More is such a…negative concept.”
Again, Link quickly withdrew. He tried several more buildings, discovering the stables which were filled with giggling that he simply did not want explained, a mess hall where a clothing optional dance was in progress, and a target range for bow practice which had been turned into a studio where busy artists splattered paint over parchment, canvas, and each other. Finally, he came to a building that hosted an anomaly, a closed door. He checked the lock, but found that the door easily opened. Carefully, he leaned his back against the door as a couple of dancers passed by with their flowers. Once their backs were to him, Link leaned into the door and slipped inside, quickly closing the door behind him.
He knew at once that he had found the infirmary. Like the barracks, there were several rows of beds, these much softer and cleaner. Magical healing charms hung over the head of each bed. They ranged from pinkish crystals to Risan dream catchers that looked like intricate spider webs. Beyond the beds was a small area surrounded by privacy screens. One of them was flapped open slightly, revealing a higher bed. At the foot of the bed was a set of clay bricks, just beneath a rail that Link imagined was used for childbirth. Lining the walls on either side of the area were counters, filled with various bottles and herbs, most of which Link did not recognize. When it came to his health, Link had always had to rely on the kindness of strangers.
Slowly, constantly looking over his shoulder at the door, Link made his way toward the screens. “Hello?” he called softly. Of course, he had no real hope that the healer was immune from the lotus blossoms. For all he knew, she was out dancing with the rest of them, still, there was always a chance. He hoped she would be around, otherwise, he would be forced to turn to her books to learn about the lotus blossoms and he only knew one word of the ancient Gerudo dialect. He imagined there were probably a lot more in the healing books. “Is anyone here?”
Of course, there was no response. He should have expected as much. Sighing angrily, he walked over to the screens and picked one up. He turned around, walking over to the wall and leaning the screen against it. On the counter beside him, he noticed a mortar and pistil. There was still crushed herb inside of it. At least he could feel fairly certain that the healer had been in recently. And practicing her art, from the looks of things. With any luck, perhaps there were a few people still immune to the effects of the drugs.
When Link turned around, his hopes were dashed and his heart jumped out of his chest entirely. On the ground, previously hidden by the screen, he saw a mangled, bloody corpse, sprawled spread-eagle, face to the ceiling. She was an older woman, clearly a Gerudo from the vestiges of her red hair, pulled untidily back behind her head. Her entire chest was a mosaic of stab wounds, far more than Link could possibly have counted, even if he had had the stomach to do so. Blood was puddle beneath her, leading him to believe that some of the wounds went all the way through to her back. She was staring up at the roof, her unseeing eyes forever frozen in a look of complete and utter terror. At least her enemy had had the decency to look her in the eye before killing her so brutally.
Link felt an overwhelming sense of disgust. True, he had no love of the Kodiak, but this woman was a healer, dedicated to the art of keeping people alive. To murder her was a gross perversion of everything this woman had doubtlessly dedicated her life to. Who would do such a thing? And why? Especially in Jadis’ new utopia which boasted the slogans of peace and love. It simply didn’t make sense. All it managed to do was confirm Link’s suspicions. The inconsistency of a murder in this society clearly indicated that there was something more going on than Jadis was letting him know. Something dark.
Disgusted at the way this poor woman had been left, Link knelt down beside the corpse. Gently, he closed her eyes and took two Rupees from his dwindling wallet and placed them over her eyelids. Her face was still somewhat warm. This had happened recently. Which mean, he supposed dully, that the murderer might well be close by even now. Then again, a murderer would be rather difficult to pick out of this crowd. There was simply too much going on, it overwhelmed the senses. Sighing, he drew his sword, resting the point on the ground. He didn’t know a lot about Gerudo funerals, aside from the pyre, but he imagined that there must be some kind of display of strength. He leaned on his sword, muttering a few words that he vaguely knew to belong to a Hylian prayer for the dead.
A sudden scream forced Link to look up. Much to his dismay, the door to the chamber had been opened. There was the young girl called Nala who had greeted them when they arrived that morning. She was staring at Link, kneeling over the body, with complete horror. Quickly, he stood up, holding out his hands. “No!” he cried quickly. “It’s not what you think!” And then he saw the sword in his hand, a bit of blood from the puddle dripping off of it. Great. Just great. Quickly, he tossed it down onto the ground. The last thing he wanted to do now was draw more attention to his most unfortunate position.
Nala’s screams had brought several more people to the doorway. “What’s happening, sister?” someone asked.
“Murder!” Nala wailed.
“It’s not what it looks like!” Link shouted.
“Yes, it is a murder!” Link told them. “But I didn’t –”
“What’s all the shouting about?” Jadis had appeared, squeezing her ample body through the crowded door.
“There’s been a murder!” Nala yelled needlessly.
Jadis crossed the room, her followers behind her. She stared down at the bloody corpse of the healer. “This is a most grievous crime,” she whispered.
“I saw him standing over the body!” Nala hissed. “With a sword in his hand, sister Jadis.”
The priestess looked up at Link. “Is this true?”
“Yes,” Link said. “But I didn’t do it!”
“We seem to have a little circumstantial evidence,” she told him.
“All that blood on your clothing.”
Link looked down. To his horror, he saw that his tunic was covered in the healer’s blood. “I didn’t do it!”
But Jadis leaned over, feeling the healer’s face. “The body is still warm.”
“Murderer!” Nala roared.
Jadis shook her head mournfully. “Your violent ways have no place in our community, brother,” she said.
“What are you going to do to me?” he asked. “Capital punishment doesn’t suit your peaceful ways.”
“We are a merciful people,” Jadis told him. “We believe in driving out evil with kindness.”
“So…what does that mean?”
She glanced at her disciples. “He must be taken to the learning center.” Behind her, they all nodded gravely.
Link didn’t like the sound of that. “Learning center?” he repeated.
“Yes,” Jadis said. “It is the only way. Your violence must be driven out. It’s the only way you can live in peace and serve Yakut.”
“But I don’t want to serve Yakut.”
“Thus is the voice of all nonbelievers before they are re-educated.”
“Take him to the learning center.”
Suddenly, Jadis’ followers descended upon Link. He struggled against them, but his feet slipped in the healer’s blood and he lost his balance. The barefoot cultists had the upper hand and they hefted Link clean off of his feet, carrying him away. “No!” Link shouted, wriggling, trying desperately to worm his way free. He didn’t like the sound of a learning center and he certainly had no desire to be re-educated. Grasping and squirming, he happened to look behind and catch Jadis staring at him. He couldn’t be certain, not from this particular vantage point, but he was certain there was a gleam of something in her eye. Whatever it was, he realized that this learning center was probably not a matter of peace and love.
Tyro and Nebekah were fighting their way through the throngs of dancers. Apparently, after Yakut made her daily appearance, the festivities picked up again with a renewed energy. Frankly, Nebekah didn’t see how that was possible, given how little these cultists were being fed. She supposed, dourly, that given the fact that everyone was busy dancing, no one was taking the time to harvest and cultivate food. No wonder it was being rationed. Soon, it might very well be gone entirely. What would they do then? Starve to death while singing the praises of a child goddess of good fortune? That hardly seemed a fitting end for a Gerudo, even a Kodiak.
“So what does Sarjenka look like?” Tyro asked.
“She had red hair.”
He rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”
“And pale skin,” Nebekah added. “I think she may have been a Thin Blood.”
“Oh, great,” Tyro sighed. “More Thin Bloods.”
She glanced at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I just seem to have bad luck when it comes to Thin Bloods. They generally want to kill me even more than the pure bloods.”
Nebekah smirked then turned her attention back to examining the crowd. The dancing was getting wilder and more and more of the clothing was beginning to fly off, to no one’s objection except, perhaps Nebekah’s. But then, her opinion didn’t really seem to count for much. With this much excitement, she was interested to notice a pair of feet on the ground, under the shade of a palm tree, not moving. Curious, she moved closer, pushing aside the people in her way, hoping to get a clear view. When she did, she was ever so grateful because she realized that it was Sarjenka who was not joining in with the rest of the dancing. Instead, she stood alone, her arms wrapped around the trunk of the tree, resting her cheek on the bark.
“Tyro!” she hissed. “I found her.”
Together, the two of them made their way through the throng. Sarjenka saw them coming and immediately plastered a big, fake smile on her face. But when Nebekah looked into her eyes, she saw at once that they were not clouded over in a drug induced haze. Sarjenka still clearly had complete control over her facilities. “Peace and love, brother and sister,” she said to them. She had a low, gravely voice.
“Cut the bull,” Nebekah hissed. “I know who you are.” Only too well. She remembered facing Sarjenka in battle. It was Sarjenka who had murdered the Jaguar’s previous Alpha, Miral’s mother. Nebekah had watched the battle from a ridge. It had been a furious fight, but Sarjenka had prevailed, cleaning slicing off the Jaguar Alpha’s head with a vicious swing of her sword. It had been years ago, but Sarjenka still looked exactly the same. She was a tall, slender woman with wide, birthing hips and a long scar running down the left side of her face. Her long red hair was pulled back into a loose bun behind her neck. The thin line of her mouth was wrinkled at the corners, just beginning to reveal her age.
Sarjenka regarded Nebekah curiously for a moment. “I’ve seen you before,” she said softly.
“I am Nebekah,” she boasted, “Daughter of Elena.”
“You’re a daughter of the Jaguar Pride.”
“Well, whatever you want with me, you’ll have to take it up with Jadis.” She glanced at Tyro. “Who’s he?”
“He’s Tyro,” Tyro said. “We’re here to help.”
She laughed coldly, sending an angry shiver through Nebekah’s spine. “Help?” she repeated.
“I’m sure you’re familiar with the word,” Nebekah said.
“Indeed, I am. How are you going to help me?”
“We’re here on a quest,” Tyro explained. “Trying to stop the Twinrova sisters. We came with your Beta.”
“So Sapphia is alive?” Sarjenka murmured. “Good for her.”
“We were hoping that we could borrow the use of your Shard,” Tyro said.
“I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong person for that,” Sarjenka told him. “I no longer have my Shard.”
“Who has it?” Nebekah asked.
“Jadis.” Sarjenka sighed. “She’s taken everything. She’s sealed away all the treasures of the Pride for her own personal enjoyment.”
“What happened?” Nebekah hissed. “How did all of this come about?”
“Well, Jadis was the high priestess of Din,” Sarjenka explained. “She still is, regardless of what she says. Nothing could turn her faith away from the true goddess of the Gerudo.”
“That’s good to know,” Nebekah muttered.
“So the little girl up on the balcony isn’t a goddess?” Tyro mumbled, carefully looking from side to side.
“Of course not,” Sarjenka spat. “She’s a little girl.” She paused a moment. “To be specific, my little girl.”
“Your daughter?” Nebekah chirped.
Tyro scowled. “I don’t understand. I realize these people are drugged, but seriously, how could they not put two and two together? Yakut looks just like the Alpha’s daughter.”
“They haven’t put that together,” Sarjenka explained, “because no one knows that she exists.”
“I don’t understand,” Nebekah said.
Sarjenka laughed bitterly. “I might as well explain it to you. I have nothing else to lose.”
“Okay,” Tyro said, “what’s going on? How could they not know that you have a daughter?”
“She was born twelve years ago,” Sarjenka said. “Right in the middle of Ganondorf Dragmire’s rule of the Kodiak.” Nebekah spat. “Yes, yes, I know how you feel about that.”
“She was born twelve years ago,” Tyro prompted her.
“Right. At that time, I was Ganondorf’s chief consort.”
“So she’s Ganondorf’s daughter?” Nebekah asked in horror.
Sarjenka smiled mirthlessly. “Well, that would make things easier now, wouldn’t it?”
“She’s not Ganondorf’s daughter?”
“No. She is not. A fact that became blindingly apparent to our healer. She knows everything there is to know about pregnancy, childbirth, and genetics. Quite brilliant.”
Tyro blinked. “So who is her father?”
She bit her lips, her thin mouth all but disappearing. “I have a husband,” she finally explained. “There’s no reason not to tell you. I have nothing else to lose at this point.”
Nebekah coughed. “A husband?”
“In the village by
. It’s a secret I have kept for many, many years and believe me, it has not been easy on either of us. I see him only rarely. But that is not important right now.” North Castle
“What is important?”
“I was forced to hide Amber, that’s her name, from Ganondorf so he wouldn’t know that I consorted with another man. And in hiding Amber from him, I had to hide her from the entire Pride.”
“Which is why no one knows that she exists,” Tyro concluded.
“Precisely. Once Dragmire was gone, I sought to find a way to reintegrate Amber back into the line of succession. I wanted her to become my heir and rule over the Pride after me.”
He nodded. “I see.”
“I sought the advice of Jadis in how to do this. With her great influence, I thought that she could help. She told me that she could arrange for Amber to inherit the Pride. And like a fool, I allowed her to take any measures necessary to ensure it.”
“I think I understand,” Nebekah muttered.
“I have shamed my Pride deeply,” Sarjenka whispered. “I have allowed Jadis to addle their minds and completely destroy them.” She looked around at the displays. “Thus ends Kodiak Pride. And my daughter. I don’t know what Jadis has done to her. She used to talk without end. Now, she’s listless and silent.”
“She’s probably been dosed with the lotus blossoms,” Nebekah said. “I’m guessing you haven’t touched any food.”
“How can I eat knowing what I’ve done to my people?”
“Well, you’d best stay that way,” Tyro said. “The food is filled with lotus blossoms that’ll make you fly higher than a blind keese.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Nebekah sighed, “but we’re going to do everything we can to help you and your people.”
“You? What can you two do?”
“We’re not alone,” Tyro told her. “We’ve come with friends including the Hero of Time.”
“And your Beta,” Nebekah added.
“Where is Sapphia anyway?”
“She went to visit someone called Olma. She said she could get some answers that way.”
Sarjenka frowned. “That’s odd.”
“We’ll do what we can,” Tyro promised. “Link’s on his way to rescue your daughter right now. He’s noble that way.”
The learning center might well have been called a torture chamber from the way it looked. It was a dark and dank chamber, indeed below the foundation of the Kodiak compound. In the middle of the room was a single chair, built of iron with arm and leg straps on the arms and legs. It stood facing an enormous fan that had sharp blades which were probably used for torturing the unfortunate victims of Kodiak justice. Link was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the chair and strapped in. In addition to the bindings on his wrists and ankles, a head strap was wound around his forehead, rendering him completely unable to move his head or look away from the whirring fan blades that loomed before him. The band squeezed the skin of his forehead tightly, even making it impossible to close his eyes.
“Leave us, sisters,” Jadis told the Gerudo who had helped to drag Link down. “The healing process must begin in solitude.”
Link couldn’t see them leave, but he heard them depart, wishing peace and love to Jadis. He was a bit curious, really, because this would be the first time that he would be alone with the woman. He wondered, vaguely, why she felt secure enough to be alone with him in this particular room, but he imagined that he would soon find out, for better or for worse.
“So,” he said as he heard the iron door slam shut. “Is this the part where you conjure up some elaborate and easily escapable death for me?”
“I’m afraid that I am not Ganondorf Dragmire,” Jadis said.
“No,” Link agreed. “His breath was way better.”
“Temper, temper,” she clucked, shaking her head sadly. “Such rage in you, such fire.”
“I didn’t kill your healer.”
“Calm yourself, I have no intention of harming you,” she said, walking directly into his sightlines. She was carrying a small wooden bowl, filled with boiled rice. “You must be hunger. That would explain your temper.”
“No, thank you,” Link said.
“Come now. To deny the body is to deny the soul.” She walked over to him, spooning some rice from the bowl. “Do eat something.” She thrust the spoon forward, attempting to jam it into Link’s mouth. He kept his jaw tightly clenched, feeling the grains of rice fall down his tunic. At once, he knew it was doctored. The smell of the lotus flowers wafted up into his nose. Jadis persisted, trying to get as close to him as possible. As she did, a necklace fell out from under the neck of her dress. It was a beautiful gold pendant with a single ruby in the middle. Around the ruby, in impossibly fine strokes, he saw depictions of each of the sixteen facets of Din that the Gerudo believed in. He focused on the necklace, keeping his mouth firmly shut until she gave up. “So stubborn,” she sighed, pulling the spoon away from him.
Link spat, sending the rice stuck to his lips across the room. “I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Brother Mido, you are a difficult one,” Jadis lamented. “Or should I, perhaps, call you Link?” Link’s eyes widened and Jadis grinned triumphantly. “I thought so. I’ve traveled far, farther than any Kodiak, I’d wager, and I’ve certainly heard enough about the boy who vanquished Ganondorf to know that it was you.”
“So now what?” Link asked. “You avenge his death?”
Jadis chuckled. “Good heavens, no. I have no intention of killing you, I said that already.”
“Then why am I strapped to a chair.”
“This is part of the healing process of the learning center.”
“I’ve never gone to school a day in my life,” Link boasted. “And I don’t really feel like it now.”
“I’m afraid,” Jadis said, “that your violent ways simply won’t do in our commune of peace. That anger must be educated out of you.”
“And if I refuse?” he asked.
“I’m afraid that’s not an option.” Jadis walked over to the fan. “I’ve learned many things in my travels, aside from the stories of your great heroics. The lotus blossom was something I picked up in Calatia. It’s quite useful for manipulating the mind, of course. But there are some people, some thoroughly stubborn people, who require further persuasion. For that, I have something extra special.”
“What’s that?” Link wondered wearily.
Jadis leaned over and picked up a candle. With a shard of flint, she lit it and walked around, behind the fan, disappearing out of sight. Link sat there with baited breath, knowing better than to hope that she was gone for good. Within a few moments, there was a roar and a raging fire ignited behind the fan. The blades cast giant shadows that whirred around, casting variations of light and dark on Link’s face, making him feel quite dizzy.
“The use of light,” Jadis said, returning to view, “often has a very tranquilizing effect on even the most stubborn of minds.”
“Light?” Link said. “That’s the best you can do?”
“Do not underestimate its power,” she told him in her sickeningly sweet, girlish voice.
“I’ve found that light, when applied correctly, can turn the brains into oatmeal.” She shook her head. “But I needn’t explain all the mechanics to you. In a short while, you’ll be feeling the effects for yourself.”
“Don’t count on it.”
“Such spirit!” she cried. “Enjoy it while you can. Soon, you’ll be just like everyone else here.”
“That’s what you think.”
Jadis walked to the fan. There was a small lever attached to one side. She took hold of it, pulling it down with a few notch clicks. The blades of the fan began whirling faster and faster, making the shadows and lights to flash by so quickly that the entire world seemed to be moving in slow motion. Link felt his stomach giving way, but he swallowed, taking a deep breath and gathering all of his strength. Still, his head was starting to swim a little bit.
“Now,” Jadis said, “that’s better.”
“Sure,” Link wheezed, squirming as much as his bindings would allow him to move.
“Try to relax,” she said. “It’ll go by much quicker if you relax and just give in to the light.”
“I’m in no rush,” he mumbled. Tears had begun to form at the corners of his eyes and threatened to spill down his cheeks.
“Yes, becoming one with Yakut is often a very moving experience. You’re welcome to cry.”
Link blinked back the tears. “I won’t give you the satisfaction.”
“As you wish,” she said. “We must all experience the conversion in our own manner.”
“I choose not to experience it at all.”
“You say that now,” she sighed, “but really, you’ll be much happier once you do. Just think of it, a life free of all that hate, all that aggression. Don’t you realize what I’ve done?”
“Brainwashed an entire community.”
“Of course not,” she laughed. “I have done Hyrule a great service. Don’t you see?”
“No, I don’t.”
“The world will be so much better off once the Kodiak are no longer a threat. After what’s happened with Ganondorf Dragmire, this is the only way to guarantee the survival of a people that everyone wants dead. And just think. Once I’m certain that this will work, I can take my methods to the other warlike nations of the world. The Risans. The Sheikah. The very knights of Hyrule castle. We’ll have a world without violence. Without war.”
“Without freedom,” Link countered. “Without choice. And without memories. Once you take that, there is no world at all.”
Jadis shook her head. “You’re just misguided,” she told him. “Soon, you’ll understand what I mean.”
Link gritted his teeth. The flashes of light were becoming almost unbearable now. He felt a drift, bobbing slowly up and down as if on some kind of sea or ocean. Angrily, he bit down on his lip, immediately feeling a trickle of blood ooze from in between his teeth. “No,” he growled.
“Repeat after me,” Jadis said. “Yakut is my mistress.”
“Yakut is my light.”
“I won’t say it.”
“I love nothing more than Yakut, no possessions, no nations.”
“I’m not listening to you!”
“I am bathed in the light of Yakut.”
She smiled. “I am bathed in the light of Yakut.”
Link’s entire body was shaking now. He pulled his chin up, desperately trying to look away, but he couldn’t. Struggling, he fought to close his eyes, but it was no use. There he was, trapped in the chair, feeling his mind drift slowly further and further away from reality. “I am bathed in the light of Yakut…”
Mika had not managed to locate Sapphia, but she had found Medea again. “Please, mother,” she begged, “you must try to remember me.”
“I’m sorry, sister,” Medea said with her vague smile. “But I don’t. You seem perfectly pleasant though.”
“You adopted me when I was three years old,” Mika insisted. Medea tried to walk away, to rejoin the dancing, but Mika stepped in front of her, blocking the way. “You taught me how to use a bow when I was five. I was so good, you told me that I would become the best warrior in the Pride. You said that someday, I would make you so proud.”
Medea shook her head. “I’m sorry. I just don’t remember.” She glanced over her shoulder. “I’m hungry, I haven’t eaten all day. Come and share a meal with me, please.”
“No!” Mika lunged forward, grabbing Medea’s shoulders. “No food. You can’t eat that stuff.”
“It’s bad for you.”
“You must nourish the body.”
“But what about the mind? I have an idea. How about a ritual fast? You and I can fast and I can try to make you remember the past.”
“Well, that’s silly. How is denying myself food going to help anything? Really, quite silly.”
“If you don’t eat for a whole day,” Mika said quickly, “I’ll join your commune. How about that?”
“Really? You’d welcome the light of Yakut.”
“I’ll even join the band.”
“What a splendid idea!” Medea cried. “I will show you that the love of Yakut is stronger than food.”
“Great, fine, great. You don’t eat and I’ll join in. Only please don’t go. Please listen to me, hear what I have to say.”
“Of course, sister, of course.”
“You must remember. And not just me. You must remember yourself. Your whole history.”
“The past is not important,” Medea recited. “We must live in the moment, for every moment is ephemeral and will not come again.”
“Isn’t it equally important to remember what led up to that moment?”
“Not in a land of eternal joys. We have no strife to remember and learn from,” Medea insisted.
“The Orca Pride lives in the bottom of a large ravine in the western part of the
,” Mika said. Gerudo Valley
“A ravine? That sounds awful.”
“I can’t imagine always living at the bottom, trapped in the shadows of the cliffs above.”
“It’s how we’ve lived for generations,” Mika said.
“Dreadful!” Medea cried. She looked up at the glass roof above. The sun was beginning to set, but the sky was still a perfect robin’s egg blue. “I can’t imagine living in such a place.”
“But you do. It’s where you brought me up and taught me everything about life. We lived in the fortress, in a private set of apartments behind the arena. Our bodyguard was named Lynxana. When you were away, Lynxana used to tell us these stories about how –”
“Who’s us?” Medea asked.
Mika blinked. “Me and Alcia.”
She felt her insides twist with pain. “My sister. You adopted her the same year you adopted me. You found her on the abandoned ridge, her parents decided that they couldn’t afford to keep her, so they left her for the Orca Pride to take or for the lions, whichever came first.”
“So the Orca Pride extend their love to others,” Medea mused. “That’s very nice.”
“You loved Alcia so much,” Mika whispered, her voice getting thick with sadness. “You never gave up on her, even though she was always screwing up. She fell off a horse when she was nine and it ran over her hand, breaking half of the bones. I remember, you picked her up and told her not to cry because she had now faced something few Gerudo were brave enough to face and she would come out better for it. You carried her all the way back to Tiama’s chamber and held her as Tiama set the bones.”
“But you don’t remember any of this, do you?”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
“You don’t remember Alcia.”
“I’m sorry. She sounds very nice, may I meet her?” Medea glanced around. “Is she here?”
Mika bit her lips together. “No,” she said softly. “Alcia is not here.”
“Oh, that’s too bad.”
“Well, you’re a very pleasant storyteller…uh…I’m sorry, this is embarrassing. What was your name again?”
“Mika,” she said. “My name is Mika.”
“Oh yes! That’s right. Mika. The funny name.”
“You said that to Nabooru,” Mika murmured. “When she called upon you to take me into your care. I remember that now. I remember lying on a bed and listening to you speak with Nabooru. She begged you to take me in and you agreed, only if she would promise peace between your Prides.”
“Peace is a wonderful gift!” Medea cried happily.
“I had forgotten how reluctant you were to be my mother,” Mika told her. “Not that I blame you. I imagine it isn’t easy. It can be kind of scary, that responsibility. I can’t imagine it at my age and you weren’t much older. But you grew into the role, Medea. So very well. I never once had a single doubt in my mind, in all those years, that you loved me.”
“I love everyone!”
“And I want you to know that I forgive you for any lies you ever told to me about my origins.”
“I know they were told to protect me,” Mika said. “And I understand that now. I do.”
“Lying is wrong!” Medea exclaimed. “I can’t ever remember telling a lie to someone.”
“I’m a little bit glad that you don’t remember anything,” Mika told her. “Because it’ll make this next part much easier.”
“What do you mean?”
“I want to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
Mika took a deep breath. “I’ve been thinking…I set out on this quest to earn my rite of cast, to be initiated into the Orca Pride. But along the way, so much as happened. I’ve changed, I think. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I suppose I should blame it on the people I’ve met. My entire life, I’ve lived among the Orca, and I’ve only ever seen life from one point of view. I never realized that the world is so diverse and that people can be so…different.”
“Yes, the difference is our differences.”
“And in being around these people, I suppose, their different view points have changed me, shaped me into a new person. Someone I don’t fully understand yet, but someone I want to know.”
“We must love ourselves,” Medea told her wisely.
“I guess,” Mika said, “what I’m trying to say is…once I finish with this quest. Once I help Link to assemble the Topaz so he can defeat the Twinrova sisters…I’m not going to come back to Orca Pride with you.”
Medea laughed. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“You are,” she said. “We’ll restore your memories and you’ll want to return home. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not going with you.”
“Well, where are you going to go?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Mika admitted. “But, see, the thing of it is…I can’t go back. Even if I want to go back.”
“I wouldn’t be truly an Orca now. I’ve done something an Orca is not supposed to do and no amount of pretending can change what happened.”
“What happened?” Medea asked.
“I’ve…I’ve fallen in love,” she said.
“Love? Love is a wonderful thing!” Medea threw a flower up into the air. “Love is all we need!”
“I think I’m in love,” Mika said. With a man. “I have fought against it with everything inside of me, but I can feel it bubbling up to the surface. I’m not a Gerudo anymore. At least, not an Orca. I don’t know what I am. I guess I need to figure that out.”
Medea took a flower out of her hair and pressed it into Mika’s hand. “Yakut has smiled upon you. Love is a most precious gift. It does not come to all. At least, not the way you feel it.”
Mika took the flower. “I haven’t told him yet.”
“If you love someone, you must say it. You must shout it to the sky so that no one ever mistakes it.”
“I’m not ready for that yet,” Mika said. “It scares me. I’ve never felt like this before.”
“All the more reason to yell. Let it know that you’re not afraid. Stand up and stare it down, face to face.” For a glimmer, Mika felt like the real Medea was speaking to her, but that feeling vanished as the woman before her began to dance, throwing more flowers into the air.
Considering the fact that Jadis knew perfectly well that Nebekah had not consumed any of the lotus, Nebekah felt it best not to be seen by too many people speaking with Sarjenka. Link had left no further instructions on what they were supposed to do after finding her, so Nebekah decided the best course of action was to try and move out of sight. With Tyro and Sarjenka behind her, Nebekah moved through the crowd, smiling and doing her best not to stand out too much, a difficult feat as she carried no flowers and wore clothing that fully covered her midriff.
“How does a Gerudo end up marrying a villager?” Tyro was asking Sarjenka from behind.
“It’s a rather complicated story,” Sarjenka said. “And needless to say, very much against traditions. If anyone found out, both me and my husband would likely be decapitated.”
Tyro did not make an ironic comment. Nebekah smiled slightly. He had changed quite a bit in the last few weeks since they first encountered him, a prisoner of the Orca and about to be killed. Perhaps it would do every playboy a world of good to spend time among the Gerudo. Of course, they would enter thinking of it as some kind of extended stay with a harem, but they might leave better for it. Nebekah could not deny that she found Tyro greatly improved with time, although she suspected that somehow, Mika had played a hand in that.
They made their way across the greenhouse courtyard, heading for the building with the balcony. Nebekah had a hunch that after rescuing Amber, Link would show up someplace around there. She was surprised, then, when Tyro suddenly grabbed her elbow, pulling her to a crashing halt. “What is it?” she hissed.
“Look over there.”
He was pointing in the opposite direction, toward a cellar door. Nebekah looked to see Jadis walking up from the cellar, looking immensely pleased with herself. Following behind her, much to Nebekah’s amazement, was Link. But he didn’t look quite right. Gone was his green tunic and cap. Instead, he was wearing a blue sarong, wrapped around his waist, and a billowing blue shirt that was hanging open, exposing his chest. His weapons and equipment were all missing, but he wore a beaded necklace around his neck and was carrying a couple of daisies. Most haunting of all, however, was the enormous, stupid smile on his face.
“Oh no…” she whispered.
“So much for the Hero of Time,” Sarjenka said dryly.
“What happened to him?” Tyro asked.
“What does it look like?” Sarjenka replied. “That cellar leads to the learning center.”
“What’s the learning center?”
“Re-education. Anyone who resisted Jadis’ efforts to transform the Pride was sent down there. They all came back just like him.” She gestured around to the dancers. “Just like them.”
“You’re saying Link’s been brainwashed?” Tyro sputtered.
Of course, Jadis spotted the travelers right away and directed Link toward them. Nebekah and Tyro stepped in front of Sarjenka, hoping to hide her from sight. Link approached them, still grinning like an idiot, and held his hands up, bowing graciously to them. “Peace and love,” he said dreamily.
“Link?” Nebekah stepped closer to him. “Snap out of it, blondie.”
“I’m sorry,” he drawled. “Have we met?”
“Link, it’s me. Nebekah.”
“Nebekah,” he repeated. “What a pretty name.”
Tyro stepped forward. “Hey, do you remember me?”
“No,” Link answered. “Should I?”
“He’s gone mental,” Tyro muttered.
Angrily, Nebekah turned on Jadis. “What did you do to him?” she demanded sharply.
“I have done nothing,” Jadis said sweetly.
“He’s acting like a funny drunk I know,” Tyro deadpanned.
“You call that nothing?” Nebekah snapped.
“Your friend has seen the light of Yakut. It was his doing and her divine will. I played no part in that.”
“Yakut is my light!” Link cried, throwing his head back and waving his arms in the air.
“He’s cracked,” Tyro groaned.
“He has seen the light,” Jadis said. “And now, blessed with the love of Yakut, he is free of all burdens.”
“You mean his memory,” Nebekah growled.
“Sometimes, the past must be sacrificed in favor of the future,” Jadis mused thoughtfully.
“A bit ironic for the Hero of Time,” Tyro said.
“Now, I hope that perhaps he can share the love of Yakut with the two of you,” Jadis said.
“Yes friends,” Link said, reaching out and taking each of their hands. “Yakut is light.”
“You’ll see what there are great advantages to surrendering to her love,” Jadis sang.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Nebekah snapped.
“As you wish,” Jadis said. With that, she turned around and walked away, her braid swaying sinisterly behind her like a snake.
“I hate that woman,” Sarjenka murmured.
“For once we agree on something,” Nebekah said.
“Hate is a poison to your soul,” Link drawled.
“Okay, blondie,” Nebekah barked. “Enough is enough. You can drop the act now. She’s gone.”
“Act?” Link asked. “What act is that? I can never surrender in the act of love. I love you, Nebekah.”
“He’s lost his marbles,” Tyro sighed.
“If you use one more synonym for going crazy, I’m going to kill you,” Nebekah told him.
“Such anger, sister,” Link said, putting his palm on Nebekah’s face. “You must learn to release anger. Only then can you be free of troubles.”
She swatted his hand away. “Shut up, Link.”
“I’m only trying to help.”
Nebekah turned to the other two. “What are we going to do now? We’ve lost the Hero of Time.”
“We’ll just have to manage without him,” Tyro said.
“What about my daughter?” Sarjenka demanded.
Nebekah chewed on one of her dreadlocks. “Okay, I’ll go after Amber myself,” she said.
“Where is she being kept?”
“Din’s room,” Sarjenka said.
Tyro wrinkled up his nose in confusion. “Din’s room?” he asked.
“Every Pride keeps a private room,” Nebekah explained, “which symbolically belongs to Din, should she choose to visit the Pride. No one is allowed to enter Din’s Room except for the ranking officers of the Pride. But, Alpha, with your permission, I’ll break with tradition to go and find your daughter.”
Sarjenka nodded. “Agreed.”
Tyro raised his hand. “What should I do?”
“Find Mika and Sapphia,” Nebekah said. “They need to know everything that we’ve learned. And they may have some vital information.”
“Okay…” Tyro said, sounding a bit reluctant. “But what about him?” He gestured to Link, only to realize that Link was no longer there. Together, three of them scanned the courtyard and quickly located him. He had moved away from the ground and was now dancing in circles around the trunk of a tall palm tree, singing loudly and completely out of tune.
Nebekah blinked, staring at the peculiar spectacle before her. “That is so sad,” she said.
“Uh huh,” Tyro agreed.
“And yet I can’t look away.”
“Nuh uh,” he affirmed.
“Hello,” Sarjenka snapped. “People to rescue. Spells to break.”
That managed to snap Nebekah out of it. “All right. Let’s see what we can do.” She started to leave, but stopped suddenly. “Alpha?”
“Yes,” Sarjenka said.
“Do you know where the lotus blossoms are being kept?”
“Of course, they’re in food storage.”
“Just a thought. You might want to go get rid of those.”
Mika had finally given in, allowing Medea to return to the festivities. She wished that her confession had made her feel better, but watching her mother walk away from her only made it worse. In a grand sort of symbol, Mika realized that she was gradually drifting away from the person she had been and becoming someone else entirely. It was her decision to make, of course, and she had made it. Still, it hurt her deeply because the fact of the matter was that her childhood had been so wonderful and now, for better or worse, she was surrendering it.
She had never been terribly good at sorting through her feelings. The way was always muddy for her. It was Alcia who had always been her guide, but Alcia was gone now. It was much to Mika’s indignation that Medea did not remember her. That simple fact was like killing her sister a second time. Desperately, Mika wished Alcia were there now, and not just for her guidance. It was silly, but she almost wanted to ask Alcia’s permission to be with Tyro. Alcia had died on Tyro’s sword, even if it had not been Tyro’s fault. Of course, she knew exactly what Alcia would say. Alcia would give her blessing in a heartbeat.
So lost in her thoughts was Mika that she soon had no idea where her feet had led her. She had been wandering through the buildings of the compound, avoiding the courtyard as much as possible. Now, she found herself in the barracks. Aside from some low moaning and a few bed sheets wriggling in funny ways, the place was more or less deserted. Sighing, she sat down on an empty bed, far away from everything else in the room.
“Tyro,” she said to herself. “I love you.” She sighed. “No. That isn’t right.” She tried again. “Tyro, I think I’m falling in love with you. Ugh. That’s disingenuous.” Gently, she rubbed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “Tyro…about what you said to me. What? What do you mean, what? It was only a few hours ago…” She groaned. “Great, attack him. That’s the way to do it.”
Abruptly, Mika glanced over her shoulder. Walking down the aisle in between the beds, she saw Sapphia approaching her, looking a bit rattled by the situation around her. More than rattled. Something was clearly amiss with her. She appeared permanently startled, her eyes wide and her face much paler than it should have been. “Sapphia!” she cried, standing up. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Where have you been?”
Sapphia shook her head. “Trying to find Olma. This place is an absolute madhouse.”
“No kidding,” Mika groaned.
She rang her hands in front of her chest. Mika noticed that the skin of her palms was red and raw, as if she had been doing it for some time now. “Do you have any idea of what’s going on?” Sapphia asked.
“Some,” she admitted. “Link and Nebekah say that the food’s been drugged. You have to avoid eating it.”
“No problem.” She looked over at some of the wriggling sheets, but the look in her eyes was vague and far away. “This place has made me lose my appetite,” she whispered.
“Yeah.” Mika wrinkled her nose. “I know.”
“Where are the others?”
“Well, the last time I checked, Link wanted to go and rescue Yakut.”
“Well, according to Jadis –”
“The high priestess.”
“I know who she is,” Sapphia barked. “I thought she was back in the temple by now. She had only just arrived when I left.”
Mika shook her head. “No, she’s here. And she’s taken over the Pride. They’re dedicated to the worship of Yakut, the goddess of luck.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Sapphia cried, the fire returning to her eyes. “The Gerudo goddess has always been Din and always will be.”
“I know. And Yakut looks like a little girl who’s been severely drugged by the lotus blossoms.”
“Just like everyone else.”
“Link thinks she’s being held against her will, so he’s gone to rescue her. Nebekah and Tyro are looking for Alpha Sarjenka. They sent me to find you so I could warn you about the food.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Sapphia said.
“I could be wrong,” she continued, her face wrinkled up in a tight scowl, “but I could have sworn I saw your mother dancing out there.”
Mika groaned. “Unfortunately, I don’t think you were wrong,” she said. “Alpha Medea is here.”
“Must have come to talk to Sarjenka. Nasty bit of a shock, I’ll bet. At least until she was drugged.”
She nodded. “She’s pretty out there. But I think if she, if all of them, stop eating the food, they’ll be okay.”
“Well, I would hope so,” Sapphia droned. “I’d hate to think that this is the eternal fate of my Pride.”
“I’m sure they’ll recover.”
Sapphia’s eyes wandered for a moment. “So, I guess it’s a lucky thing for you, your mother showing up here.”
“Lucky? What do you mean?”
“Well, I just mean…this is the last Pride we’re visiting. After this, you’ll have assembled all the Shards. And now, your mother will be here to see you complete your initiation.”
She tilted her head to one side. “Something the matter, Mika?”
“No, no, nothing’s the matter.” She paused. “Aside from the obvious fact that the Kodiak are all clearly insane.”
“Then what is it?”
Mika took a deep breath. “I’ve decided,” she explained, “not to return to the Orca Pride.”
Sapphia blinked in surprise. “What?”
“It’s true. I’m not going back.”
“Then…where are you going to go?”
She laughed a little bit. “I have absolutely no idea.”
If Sapphia saw the humor in this at all, she showed no signs of it. “It’s about Tyro, isn’t it?”
Mika struggled to keep her jaw from dropping. Every instinct in her body immediately screamed for her to deny it completely, but then a small voice in her head asked a simple question. Why? Why bother to deny it now? It was the truth, wasn’t it? “Yes,” she said. “It’s because of Tyro.”
“I thought so.”
“I knew there was something between you two.”
“I wish someone had told me,” Mika deadpanned. “It might have saved me a lot of time hating him.”
Sapphia shrugged. “I guess, that’s the kind of thing you really need to figure out for yourself.”
“I guess so,” Mika supposed. She paused, examining Sapphia curiously.
“What?” Sapphia asked, folding her arms.
“How did you know?”
“That there was something between us.”
“Just something Tyro did. He kept calling out your name the night that we made love.”
For a moment, Mika was certain she had not heard properly. “What?”
“Oh, did Tyro not mention that? He slept with me. He told me that he was in love with me. I really don’t think he meant it because then in the morning, he tossed me out like laundry.”
It couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Tyro was a playboy, but certainly he would never…and Sapphia couldn’t possibly… “What?” was the only word she could seem to manage to say.
“Be careful with that one,” Sapphia warned her. “If I were you, I wouldn’t do anything foolish unless you’re sure of his intentions. And be careful. A boy like that is excellent at disguising them.”
With that, Mika suddenly had the strange sensation of falling. She could see perfectly well that she wasn’t moving, that she was merely standing in the barracks, facing Sapphia and not going anywhere, but all the same, the floor had dropped out from beneath her and she was hurling down into a dark abyss. How could this be true? After his grave profession of love, how could Tyro have shared a bed with Sapphia? There was only one logical conclusion. Sapphia was right. Tyros intentions were disguised. He didn’t really love her, he just wanted to use her for his own purposes. Mika’s chest tightened. She had nearly fallen for his trick. She had nearly given herself to him completely. And she had been certain she loved him too. But how could she love him? All she wanted right now was to strangle him.
Nebekah was surprised to find that the building with the balcony was still very much dedicated to Din, despite all the recent happenings. As she slowly crept through the doorway and found herself in the main sanctuary, she could see Din’s emblems engraved, undefiled, on the walls, filled with gold. Standing before rows of wooden benches which previously had held offerings to the goddess stood another statue of Din, carved out of marble from a local quarry and still dressed in silk robes of crimson and pink. Equally surprising to this was the fact that the building was deserted. There were no dancers or musicians waltzing through the halls. Perhaps, she mused, Jadis really did still have reverence for the goddess.
She made her way down a side aisle, toward an iron, spiral staircase in the corner. There was a certain trepidation in her walk. The Jaguar too had a high priestess of Din, who kept her own sanctuary. It was against all convention to enter this room, but times were different. Nebekah steeled herself, she knew what had to be done, but she couldn’t help but feel her heart racing and her skin crawling as she thought of exactly how the Jaguar would respond to what she was about to do.
Her soft, felt boots padded against the iron steps, ringing softly through the empty room as she ascended, turning round and round. The upper chamber slowly rose before her eyes. It was a lavish room, hung with silks displaying the Kodiak colors. Thousands of candles flickered, casting a variety of shadows all along the walls, gilded and sparkling as the firelight danced. These walls told the story of Din and how she created the Gerudo people and presented them the Topaz. They even went so far as to depict the great rift among the Gerudo, leading to the shattering of the Topaz into Shards by a high priestess with a swollen, pregnant belly. The story was well known by this point, but Nebekah found herself wondering who had first told it to the Kodiak. Had it been the Twinrova sisters, back when the Kodiak welcomed them into the fold? Was it possible that they had created this entire chamber Nebekah found herself in now? A shiver ran up her spine at the thought. It was as if she were being watched from afar.
There was a small doorway, draped with a bead curtain. She made her way to it, still admiring all the craftsmanship that had gone into the design of this room. Carefully, she pushed aside the beads, listening to them clatter against each other like hailstones falling on a rooftop. She ducked under and found the second chamber to be every bit as beautiful as the first. This one, however, was much darker and filled with a sweet smelling smoke. Nebekah turned to see an incense burner resting in the center of the room. Around the bowl of the burner were white flowers, just touched with pink at the tips of the petals. Lotus flowers.
Quickly, Nebekah crossed the room, kicking over the burner. The incense fell from it and she stomped her foot down on it, putting out the fire and, hopefully, putting an end to the dangerous fumes. Fanning the remaining smoke away from her face, she turned around. There, she found Yakut, or rather, Amber. The girl was sitting on a silk draped bench, her legs crossed in front of her, her hands resting palm up on her knees. She still had the same, hauntingly vague expression on her face as she stared out into oblivion. It seemed that even Nebekah’s brief battle with the burner had not been enough to stir her from the trance. Disgusted, Nebekah wondered just how long she had been sitting, inhaling the intoxicating scent of the lotus flowers.
Carefully, she made her way over to Amber. She knelt down to Amber’s eye level and tried to meet her gaze, but no one was home in Amber’s gaze. Nebekah waved her hand in front of the girl’s face. Again, there was no response. She glanced to one side. There was a small wooden bowl with a spoon in it to one side. She picked up the bowl. It was filled with oatmeal. Floating inside of the thick broth were small, white petals, clearly a large dose of the lotus flowers. So, as if the incense were not enough, the girl was being drugged with her food too. No wonder there seemed to be no one inside of her head now.
“Amber?” Nebekah asked carefully. “Amber, can you hear me at all?” Whether or not Amber could hear, Nebekah couldn’t say for sure. The girl merely continued to stare off into nothingness. “Amber, your mother sent me. Sarjenka. Do you remember her?” She blinked once or twice, but Nebekah couldn’t be certain if that signified anything. “Amber, I’m going to get you out of here. But I’m going to have to carry you, okay?” Nothing. Nebekah leaned over to pick her up, but suddenly, there were loud footsteps from behind. Nebekah whirled around just in time to see Jadis appear in the doorway, followed by several of her disciples including, much to Nebekah’s dismay, Link.
“Defiler of the sacred temple!” Jadis roared, pointing a fat finger at Nebekah.
“You did it first,” Nebekah muttered.
“Just as I told you, priestess,” Link said in a dreamy voice.
“Seize her!” Jadis shouted.
At once, Jadis’ followers began to descend upon Nebekah. She punched the first one who arrived in the face, but the second, third, and fourth all grabbed her from behind, pinning her arms at her side. “Let me go,” she hissed. They didn’t, of course, but instead stripped her of her quiver and bow, leaving her feeling completely naked.
“Such violent nature must be dealt with,” Jadis sighed.
Link turned to look at Jadis. “Why not take her to the learning center? You can help her just the way that you helped me.”
“I don’t want any help,” Nebekah snapped.
“A very good idea,” Jadis said, smiling at Link. “Take her away.”
At once, Nebekah found herself bustled from the chamber. She turned to look over her shoulder. Amber was still sitting there, looking blissfully oblivious to everything that was going on. Nebekah herself cursed and spat, struggling to get free, but she was unarmed and outnumbered. Much against her will, she was dragged out of the building and through the courtyard. No one seemed to mind such a violent display in their peaceful little society of love. They watched vaguely as she was pulled down into the cellar she had seen Jadis and Link emerge from earlier. She screamed, calling out to her friends, but they were nowhere to be found. In truth, the population of the courtyard seemed a bit thin. Where was everyone?
There was no time to wonder about such things however. The next thing Nebekah knew, she had been taken into a room, clearly once a torture chamber, with a whirring fan that the Kodiak used to severe the limbs of the victims. Nebekah was grateful that she was not pulled over to the fan, but instead, strapped down to an iron chair a good distance away from it. Perhaps the worst part of it was that the disciples all wished her peace and love as they tied her up, kissing her cheeks and her forehead, promising that she would soon be cursed. Nebekah spat at them, hissing like a stray cat, until they finally backed off, leaving her bound.
“Leave us,” Jadis called to them once they had done their job. “The healing process must begin.” Without a single argument, the fools began to depart. Link, however, lingered by the fan, watching Jadis longingly. “What is it?” she asked him tersely.
“She hasn’t eaten all day,” he said in the same, spacey voice. “Perhaps we should feed the body in order to refresh her soul?”
Jadis smiled. “You have such compassion for your friend, Link,” she praised him.
“I follow the love of Yakut and the love of Yakut extends to all people, even if they have not yet seen her light.”
“You will feed her,” Jadis said, pointing to another bowl of oatmeal that was resting by the fan. As Link fetched the bowl, Jadis turned to sneer at Nebekah. “Your friend will be the one to help you find a new path,” she hissed, a vindictive glee sparkling in her eyes.
“No!” Nebekah hissed. It couldn’t end like this, brought down by her own brainwashed friend. She strained against the straps binding her to the chair. Link drew closer and closer, dipping the spoon into the oatmeal and slowly extending it out toward her face. Nebekah clamped her mouth shut, turning her head to one side as much as she could, given the annoying restraint around her forehead.
Link smiled at her in his dreamy sort of way. “Well,” he said quietly, “glad to see you haven’t changed, Nebekah.”
She blinked in surprise. “What?”
“What?” Jadis snapped.
Just then, Link whirled around, hurling the bowl of oatmeal, like a discus, at Jadis. She was so unprepared for this sudden about face that she didn’t even think to duck. It struck her in the temple and she stumbled backwards. Her ample bottom struck the wall. “I’ve learned a few things in my travels too,” Link said, advancing on her. “Meditation has some great powers over the mind.”
“Violence! Violence, always violence!”
“Twinrova is back. This is their will.”
“Glad someone realizes there’s danger.”
“You don’t understand!” Jadis wailed. “None of you understand what’s at stake here!”
Link leaned over, scooping up a small glob of oatmeal. “Maybe not,” he said, “but right now, I have more important things to deal with.” And with that, he rammed his hand forward, shoving the oatmeal into Jadis’ mouth. The effects of the lotus blossom were almost instant. Jadis’ eyes glossed over and her face took on a pleasant, albeit vague, look. “Nighty night night, now,” Link muttered.
Nebekah let out a piercing whistle. “Hey, blondie. Over here.”
“Oh!” Quickly, he crossed the room and began to unbuckle the straps restraining Nebekah.
“So the entire time, it was an act?”
“Yeah,” Link replied.
“I don’t understand though, why did you blow the whistle on me when I was rescuing the kid?”
“I had to get her into this room,” Link said. “It’s the only place to get her alone. I couldn’t fight her with all those Kodiak around to stop me and try to kill me with kindness or whatever.”
“You’re not as dumb as you look,” Nebekah praised him, lightly rubbing her sore wrists.
“Thanks,” he said with a smirk.
He chuckled. “We all have to make sacrifices.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“Well,” he glanced at Jadis. “I think it’s safe to say that she’s out of commission for awhile.”
“All we have to do now is sober up the Kodiak.”
“Could take awhile, blondie.”
“Yeah…but at least we’ve got the ball rolling.”
Screaming filled the courtyard. There was a fire in the kitchen. Everyone went rushing to try and help put it out, everyone, that is, except for Mika. She moved through the throng, going upstream as Kodiak warriors, and a few Orcas she recognized, pushed their way along to try and stop the fire. Mika supposed that she should have been somewhat concerned, but the stone buildings would hardly help the fire to spread, and whatever had caused it, she very much believed that somehow Link and her friends were behind it. Let it burn, she thought.
As she passed over to a palm three, a bit of a safe haven from the flow of people, something auburn flashed by the corner of her eye. She turned around to see Tyro moving toward the food storage fire as well. He caught sight of her and stopped, moving against the ebb and flow to follow her over to the tree. “Mika,” he called.
She ignored him, moving over to stand under the shade of the tree. Looking up through the glass, she looked a the sky, a dark orange, almost red. The sun had vanished from sight and a cooling was doubtlessly settling over the Valley around them. Still, it was blazing hot within the confines of the greenhouse courtyard. Little beads of sweat prickled the back of her neck and her temples. But even if it weren’t so hot, she would still be sweating. Her nerves were on edge, her heart racing. Desperately, she wished that he would go away. Somehow, she knew that wouldn’t happen. This conversation had to take place. Now.
“Mika!” he trotted over to her, his ponytail bobbing up and down obnoxiously behind his head.
Squaring her shoulders, she turned to face him. Everything she had ever found attractive in him had already seemed to melt. When she looked at him now, she saw a disgusting, pig-faced man who desperately needed a haircut and a shave. “What?” she snapped.
He immediately seemed taken aback with her tone. Brushing it off as a fluke, apparently, he continued. “We found the Alpha.”
“She says that Yakut is really her daughter, Amber. Apparently, Jadis conned the Pride out of her control.”
“I see.” She folded her arms across her chest.
Her body language had begun to put Tyro ill at ease. “Unfortunately, it looks like your brother got dosed with the lotus flowers. But it’s okay. Nebekah’s going to take over his job until we can fix him. Which should be soon, considering the fact that we just set fire to the food storage room.”
“Uh huh,” she said, pronouncing each syllable crisply.
“Is something going on?”
“What do you mean?”
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” she told him shortly.
“You’re acting a bit…strange.”
“Well,” she sniffed, “I suppose you would know everything there is about bad acting.”
“You don’t have to be a good actor to recognize a bad one,” Tyro declared. He frowned. “Since when am I a bad actor?”
“Oh, around the time you said that you loved me.”
Tyro blinked. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Mika…what I said…”
“It was the truth.”
She laughed coldly. “Sure it was.”
“No, really. I am in love with you.”
“How man times, I wonder, have you said that before?” she asked. “Obviously, you don’t have to say it to the courtesans. They’ll give you want you want for money, not words.”
“But what about the village girls? How many of them have you loved in order to get what you wanted?”
“I’ve never said it before,” Tyro told her. “Because I’ve absolutely never felt it before.”
“I’m in love with you, Mika.”
“Liar!” Angrily, she slammed a fist into the trunk of the palm tree.
“It’s the truth!”
“You don’t love me.”
“Why are you saying that?”
“Because I know the truth about you, Tyro.”
“What’s the truth about me?”
“You’re just saying that to get into bed with me.”
“Why would you believe something like that?”
“Because it’s what you do.”
Tyro groaned, running his hands over his hair. “Sapphia,” he mumbled numbly, a look of hatred in his eyes.
“Answer me honestly,” Mika said. “Did you go to bed with her?”
For a moment, he was silent. Finally, vaguely, he nodded. “Yes. I did.”
With that, Mika pulled back her arm and punched him in the belly. Tyro doubled over, collapsing to the ground with a pathetic little wheeze. Mika kicked him in the back of the shoulder, driving the toe of her foot as far into his flesh as she could manage. Tyro groaned in satisfying pain, his shoulders hunching up defensively. She spat at him, growling, and turned away. “Good riddens.”
“Wait!” Tyro shouted.
“I thought it was you!”
“Save your breath.”
“Sapphia tricked me!”
“Oh! She tricked you!” Mika laughed coldly.
“I thought it was you. I wouldn’t have done it if I had known that it was Sapphia. She’s lying, whatever she said.”
“No, you’re the liar!”
“Because I’m the man?” he asked.
“Because you’re a pig.”
“I’m in love with you, Mika,” he coughed, slowly trying to sit up, holding himself in obvious pain.
“When this is over,” she told him quietly, “I’m going back home to Orca Pride with my mother. I assure you, I am deeply ashamed to have cooperated so openly with men. And if I ever see you again, I will not hesitate to kill you.”
“Then you’ll have to kill me,” he said, pulling himself up to his feet, clutching the trunk of the palm tree.
“Yes,” he said fiercely.
“Is that a challenge?”
“No,” Tyro replied. “It’s a promise.”
Slowly, he limped forward, moving closer. “Yes. Because, I promise, I will never leave you alone. I cannot live without you, Mika. Because I am so bloody in love with you I can’t think of anything else. And I will follow you, Mika. Follow you to the ends of time if I have to, but I will follow you and I will never stop. Because I cannot imagine a world without you.”
She spat in his face. “Then you will die.”
“Fine,” he said. “As long as the last thing I see in this world is your face.”
Mika pulled back and slapped him, his face snapping sharply to one side. “That’s what you can do with your love.”
He rubbed his cheek lightly. “Do you love me, Mika?”
The question caught her off guard, far worse than a vicious left hook. Her eyes fell on his face and she thought about her feelings, the way her stomach clenched and her chest tightened up whenever she thought about the kisses they had shared, about the night in the Valley when she was tempted by her own desires to do the unthinkable. She thought of the taste of his kiss, the way that he ran his hand down her spine, tingling enough to force her to arch her back, and how his hair felt, brushing against her cheek when they were close. Even now, standing this close and breathing angrily, she could smell him, that wonderful aroma that did strange things to her. He was so close, so wonderfully close. “No,” she said softly. “I don’t love you. How could I ever be in love with you?”
As the days wore on, the effects of the lotus flowers began to wear off. It took nearly a whole week to set things right again, though. There was a great deal of resistance to Sarjenka’s return to power, at first. The Gerudo Deltas cried out that they wanted Jadis, their leader of love and peace. Gradually, however, they calmed down. Soon, Amber herself was well enough to declare that she was no god, but just a girl, and that Sarjenka was the proper leader. And she revealed the truth of her origins, that she was the daughter of the Alpha. Once Jadis’ followers were convinced, the recovery could slowly begin.
There were many things to do, of course, before business as usual could resume. The food storage had to be repaired from the fire Sarjenka had set to destroy the lotus blossoms. As for the male slaves who had been caught up in the matter, Link insisted that they be released. Normally, Sarjenka would never have obeyed, but considering all Link and his friends had done for her, she agreed and allowed them to leave the Kodiak territory. Strangely, a few Kodiak Deltas left with them, having enjoy their little taste of life among men. Sarjenka permitted this, of course, which came as no surprise to those privileged few who now knew of her secret life.
Eventually, the entire compound was restored, swept clean of the flowers and incense and silly attire. Link and his friends were finally able to see the real Kodiak, back in their militaristic red and black uniforms, marching in ranks again and obeying the commands of their superior officers. It was strange, but Link was absolutely certain that something still wasn’t the same. He thought back to all Nebekah had told him about the Kodiak, how each Delta was under the allegiance of a different commanding officer. Somehow, he didn’t see that now. Had the lotus experience changed the Kodiak? Perhaps taught them to be a bit friendlier with one another? Link could only guess, he wouldn’t dare to ask. Still, perhaps some time out of their minds had done them some good.
It turned out that the chamber where Jadis had been keeping Amber was actually Sarjenka’s personal den. She was unaccustomed to have visitors and therefore, had no greeting chamber. Given the circumstances, however, she wanted the whole Pride to assemble for a ceremony. The entry hall was used instead, a couple of wooden crates pushed together to form a dais so everyone could see. The Alpha stood up on top, her Beta, Sapphia, staunchly at her side, looking smug. It turned out that Nala was the Gamma and she too stood up on the platform. All the other Kodiak stood before the crates, forming ranks with an aisle down the middle. At the back of the room, under the tunnel where they had first entered, Link, Tyro, and Nebekah waited.
Throughout the entire week of reconstruction, Mika had been absent since returning the nearly constructed Topaz, a fact that distressed Link terribly. Occasionally, late at night, he would spot a glimpse of her sneaking out of the kitchen with a bit of food. Her face was always tight, her mouth forming a straight line across her face. Obviously, something was bothering her, but every time Link tried to approach her to find out what it was, she would scurry away, disappearing without explanation. It was no surprise, then, that she had not joined the rest of the fellowship for the ceremony today. Link was deeply concerned, but there was nothing he could do. Not until she was ready to talk.
Sarjenka called her warriors to attention and they all snapped, stiffening, their chins raised. She gazed down the aisle to the strangers, calling upon them to approach. Together, Link, Tyro, and Nebekah walked down the aisle, their strolls a stark contrast to the militarism around them. At the base of the crate platform, Link and Nebekah both crossed their wrists before their chests and bowed to Sarjenka. Tyro just stood there, looking slightly resentful. Link had sensed something with him as well, but felt it wrong, somehow, to ask him what the matter was. It was pretty clear, somehow, that it involved Mika, and Link had elected to steer clear of that matter as much as he could.
“This Pride owes you a great debt of honor,” Sarjenka said. “You have rescued our minds from a terrible fate.” She turned, addressing the Pride. “They ask for nothing in return but a simple token. My Shard. And I give it to them, for services rendered to the Kodiak.” There were murmurs of surprise among the other warriors, but no dissent. Sarjenka snapped her fingers and Nala stepped forward, carrying a silk pouch with a gold drawstring. She held it up, over her head, for the entire Pride to see.
Link gasped, looking at the threads, forming a pattern on the pouch. Nebekah leaned her head a bit closer to his. “Does it say something?” she asked between gritted teeth.
“Yeah,” Link mumbled.
“What does it say?”
“It says, ‘…it has many homes and will constantly find others…’”
“More riddles,” she muttered.
“I give them the Shard,” Sarjenka was saying, “because they are on a great, heroic quest, a quest that will put an end to the suffering of the entire Gerudo nation and Hyrule itself. They are assembling the Gerudo Topaz.” Again, more murmuring from the crowd. “As this is a brave an honorable quest, we Kodiak have one request to make of you heroes.”
“What?” Link asked.
“The Kodiak’s honor has been besmirched, I think we can all agree. I ask you to allow us to restore our honor. Let a Kodiak be the one to complete the Topaz.”
Nebekah and Link exchanged a look. “Let Sapphia do it,” Link finally said. “She’s been on this quest with us the entire time.”
“So be it,” Sarjenka said with a smile. “Sapphia, daughter of Alondra, step forward.”
Sapphia took a step forward, snapping to attention. “Ready, Alpha,” she said crisply, looking quite excited. Nala opened the silk pouch and handed Sapphia the Shard from within.
“The Gerudo suffering is nearly at an end,” Sarjenka told her people.
Link pulled out the rest of the Topaz, stepping up to the platform and handing it to Sapphia. She carefully took it and held it over her head a moment, for the entire crowd to see. Then, with great pride, she carefully inserted the final Shard, locking it in. At last, the Topaz had taken shape. It was an isosceles triangle, the apex of which appeared to be flattened down a bit. Sapphia, and everyone else really, stared at it in wonder, but it was Sapphia who spoke. “At last…” she whispered.
“I offer you this Shard,” Sarjenka said. “And I offer you the services of the Kodiak in your fight against the Twinrova sisters. We are ready to follow you into battle.”
“Wait a minute,” Nala suddenly said, causing everyone to gasp. Apparently, this was a severe breach in protocol. Nala didn’t seem to care. “Alpha, I really must object to this.”
“Object?” Sarjenka snapped. “Why?”
“Alpha, he may be a great Hero, but he still killed Olma. Have we forgotten about this?”
Nebekah scowled. “Olma?” she repeated.
Nala barely spared her a glance. “Our healer.”
“I didn’t kill her!” Link cried.
“Wait a second…” Nebekah mumbled. “Sapphia…didn’t you say you were going to visit someone named Olma?”
If Sapphia intended to respond, no one would ever know. There was suddenly a crash from above, accompanied by an explosion of red and blue. “Aw, they figured it out,” a first voice moaned.
“That’s no fun,” lamented a second.
“Then again, any idiot with eyes could have seen this one coming.”
Kotake and Koume appeared, whizzing around the hall, over the heads of the Kodiak below on their trademark brooms of fire and ice. “What’s going on?” Link growled.
“Oh,” Kotake sighed, leaning her head to one side as she swooped down, just barely missing Link. “He still doesn’t get it.”
“Hold your positions,” Sarjenka shouted to her warriors. They watched Koume and Kotake with weary eyes, but remarkably, did not budge from their ranks.
“Impressive,” Kotake remarked. “Your warriors will make a fine addition to our army.”
“You will never take my people,” Sarjenka hissed. “Not again. Never again.”
“Well, not all at once,” Koume admitted.
“We’ll start with only one,” Kotake declared. “Koume!”
Obediently, Koume wheeled around, veering her broom directly at the crate platform. “Alpha! Get out of the way!” Nala shouted. She launched herself forward, propelling Sarjenka clean off of the crates and onto the floor below. It was a most selfless act, considering the nature of the Kodiak, but it was also quickly revealed to be entirely unnecessary.
Koume came to a hover over the crates. With surprising force for a woman of her age, she grabbed Sapphia’s wrist and yanked her forward, pulling her onto the back of the broom. Sapphia just barely managed to maintain her dignity, straddling the handle and planting her hands onto Koume’s waist. She turned to look over at Tyro, Link, and Nebekah, standing there completely stunned. There was a new look to her eyes, a hungry, conniving spark that Link would, in the time to come, feel foolish for have missing before. When she smiled at them, it wasn’t her usual, polite and considerate smile. No, this was a smirk. A silent laugh at their own pitiful foolishness. A malevolent grin.
There was a burst of color and light, forcing everyone to shield their eyes. In the next instant, when it was safe to look again, the Twinrova sisters, and Sapphia, were gone. “The Topaz!” Sarjenka cried, scrambling to her feet. “They’ve taken the Gerudo Topaz!”
“And Sapphia,” Tyro added.
Link shook his head slowly. “No. No, don’t you see? It was a set up. Sapphia’s been working with them all along.”
“How do you know?” Tyro asked.
“I…” but Link couldn’t explain it. He just knew.
“Well, however it happened,” Sarjenka said, “they’ve got the Topaz now. The question is, what are they going to do with it?”
“I have a pretty good guess,” Link said.
Nebekah tilted her head, looking at him. “What?”
“They’re going to kill me with it,” Link replied.
“What makes you say that?” Tyro wondered.
“They’ve had dozens of opportunities to kill me before. Most of the time, Sapphia saved my life. They’re planning something. Something big. Something involving the Topaz.”
“What could that be?” Nebekah prodded.
“I don’t know,” Link confessed. “But whatever it is, we had better find out something and soon.”
Far from the excitement of Twinrova’s spectacular arrival and departure in both time and place, Mika walked back to the compound from a salt water spring that was just a few paces from the tunnel leading into the fortress. She had been soaking in it most of the morning, rather hoping that everyone would be busy recovering from the revelations of the ceremony and would therefore leave her in relative privacy to think and watch the clouds roll by. There had been no question in her mind as to the purpose of that ceremony. Sarjenka was supposed to present the final Shard to Link and he would be off on his heroic quest to rid Hyrule of the scourge called the Twinrova sisters. Mika’s future, on the other hand, was a bit less epic.
She was not at all surprised to find her mother sitting by the tunnel when she returned. Over the past few days, as the Kodiak had begun to regain their senses, she had heard from others that her mother was on the mend as well. For some reason, she wanted to avoid her mother until she was healed completely. This was something she could not explain, it just was. Perhaps it was because it pained her too much to see her mother in such a miserable condition. Then again, perhaps it was Mika wanted some time on her own, to make decisions.
When Medea saw Mika approaching, she afforded her one of those rare smiles, holding her arms out wide. “Mika,” she called pleasantly.
Mika walked into her arms, hugging her mother tightly around the waist. “I’m glad to see you,” she whispered.
Medea stroked Mika’s hair absently, rocking her back and forth as though she were a child once more. “I understand that I owe your brother a great debt of gratitude for lifting this curse that befell me.”
“Link has certainly lived up to his reputation as a Hero,” Mika replied, a bit numbly.
“He’s honorable,” Medea said. “I find myself drawn to him more and more. I think he has a bit of a Gerudo heart, himself. Which makes sense, considering how much blood you two share.”
“If you say so,” Mika conceded.
“It’s a good thing he’s so like you. He’s going to need all his strength, dealing with the Twinrova sisters and that traitorous Sapphia.”
She paused for a moment. “I’ve missed you so much, Mika.”
“I’ve missed you too, mother. I think about home constantly. Especially you and Alcia.”
“She would be so proud of you now,” Medea said, stepping back and stroking Mika’s face. “As am I.”
Medea kissed her forehead. “Of course.”
“I’m ready now.”
“To be initiated.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve completed the task you charged with me, mother. The Topaz has been assembled. It has fallen into the wrong hands, but that’s hardly my responsibility. The purpose of my quest was to assemble it. Not defend it.” She realized that this excuse was paltry at best, but she had no desire to fight for the Topaz anymore. “For what purpose, I cannot say.”
“Yes.” Medea paused. “And?”
Mika scrunched up her forehead. “And?”
“What more do you want me to say?”
“Say that I’m an Orca!” Mika cried. “Say that I’ve passed my trials and I can take my place among our sisters.”
“You’ve passed your trials, of course. But –”
“But?” she interrupted.
“But,” Medea continued slowly. “As I seem to remember, you’re not planning on returning home with me.”
For a full minute, Mika was silent, staring at her mother in complete disbelief. “How?”
“How…you remember that?”
Medea laughed softly. “It was like being lost in a thick fog. A haze. But yes, child, I remember.”
“Well,” Medea said. “I remember you telling me that you weren’t going to return home with me.”
“And I remember you telling me that you felt as though you were no longer an Orca.”
“That you would never be an Orca.”
Mika licked her lips. “I didn’t know what I was saying at the time. I was speaking nonsense, being foolish.”
“You told me you weren’t a Gerudo. Not really. That you had to figure out exactly what you were.”
Medea put a hand on her shoulder. “You told me that you had fallen in love, Mika.”
“I was wrong,” Mika said quickly, her voice cracking.
“I’m not in love. I can’t be.”
“Because men are pigs! Because proper Gerudo don’t allow themselves to become their victims.”
“Victims?” Medea repeated.
“I want to be an Orca…”
Heavily, Medea sighed. “Things aren’t always so simple, Mika. I took you in for a promise of peace. You know that now. But I always knew, whether or not anyone would admit it, that someday, you might leave me.”
“I don’t want to leave you!”
“Perhaps not, but this is something you must do.”
“You weren’t born a Gerudo, Mika. You have a Gerudo’s heart, but you cannot forget about where you came from. You cannot deny your Hylian heritage. To do so would be to betray the grave sacrifice your mother made so that you and Link could live.”
“I don’t understand,” Mika said softly.
“Din has placed a path before you,” Medea told her. “And no one can say where it will lead, but who are we to deny the will of the goddess?”
“What are you saying?”
“Love is a most precious gift. It does not come to all. At least, not the way you feel it.”
“I’m not in love! I don’t love him. I can’t love him.”
“Are you afraid?” Medea asked quietly.
“Afraid? I…” But Mika trailed off. The truth of the matter was, she had never considered it quite that way. To her, it had been a matter of honor, breaking with Gerudo ways. Then it had been the fact that Tyro admitted to sleeping with Sapphia. Of course, Sapphia’s turning rogue hadn’t helped anything. Mika knew the deed had been done, but now, she questioned the advice Sapphia had given her about Tyro. Was that the truth? Or just more lies? Now, she didn’t know what to do or think. Fortunately, Medea seemed to supply her with the answer.
“If you love someone, you must say it. You must shout it to the sky so that no one ever mistakes it.”
“I’m not ready for that yet,” Mika said.
Medea put her hands on Mika’s shoulders. “You will always be my daughter, Mika. And I will always welcome you home. But this is something you have to do. For now. You must see where this path leads you.”
She thought of Tyro, of the way he had been whispering in the halls with Nebekah and Link, always looking away as she approached. “He intends to help Link fight Twinrova.”
“Then,” Medea said, “you must be at his side.”
Koume was unhappy about the situation. She wouldn’t complain, of course, wouldn’t second guess Kotake in front of the vessel, but inside, she was seething with frustration and even, perhaps, some doubt. As Kotake walked in circles around Sapphia, muttering to herself and waving her hands, she stood off to one side, her arms folded across her chest, examining one small detail of the ice palace, or another, keeping her mouth shut.
“Well,” Kotake finally said, stepping back to examine Sapphia critically, “you are with child.”
“As I told you,” Sapphia replied. She was deferential, but Koume wondered if there wasn’t an edge to her voice as well.
“Olma confirmed it for me. She knows everything there is to know on the subject.”
“A pity she couldn’t confirm it for us,” Koume mumbled. “She wasn’t given much of a chance.”
Sapphia glanced at Koume. “I was instructed not to leave any witnesses,” she said.
Sharply, Koume glanced at Kotake. She immediately knew that Kotake would have given the instruction for one Gerudo to kill another. It disgusted her greatly, but all she said was, “Oh.”
Regret, if there was any, seemed far removed from Sapphia’s thoughts. “I don’t understand,” she told Kotake.
“Understand what?” Kotake asked.
“Why didn’t you let me kill the Hero when I had the chance? The Topaz was in my hands. He was within range.”
“And do you know how to work the Topaz?” Kotake sneered.
At this, Sapphia frowned, turning her gaze down. “No,” she admitted with a touch of embarrassment.
“Then it’s best you learn before you act. Anyway, I wanted to be absolutely certain that you were carrying the child of an Alpha’s son.”
“I understand,” Sapphia said. “But, you must realize this is going to make things difficult.”
Kotake sighed. “We played our hand early, I am aware of this, but it was a necessary step to take. Besides, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that the boy will come looking for the Topaz now. He will come to us, making things that much easier in the long run.”
Sapphia nodded. “It makes sense.”
“You have served us well today,” Kotake praised her. “And you will be properly rewarded for your service. In due time, I have no doubt that you shall have great power and that your name will live forever on the lips of Gerudo for generations to come, as mother of our future king.”
“Any way I can help to restore the glory of the Gerudo nation is honor enough,” Sapphia responded, bowing humbly.
“Go,” Kotake told her. “Rest. You’ve earned a reprieve for the time being. And keep that Topaz close. In time, you will learn how to use it properly.”
“As you command,” Sapphia replied. With a second bow, crossing her wrists in front of her chest, she left the chamber, headed for a smaller one that Koume had constructed for her use.
Once she was out of sight, Koume turned to her sister. “What did you do to her?” she asked.
Kotake looked at her. “Whatever do you mean?”
“I know that was a spell you were chanting just now,” Koume said. “As you circled her.”
“What was it?”
“Just something to speed things along,” she said with a shrug.
Koume scowled deeply. “Speed things along?”
“Body or mind?”
“You realize how dangerous it is to cast a spell on a pregnant woman.”
“Then why did you do it?”
“I sense something within her, something that could be a complication to our plans.”
“Residual feelings of sympathy and doubt,” Kotake said. “The pale blush of humanity.”
“Do you think it has something to do with those she left behind in the fellowship?”
“I cannot say for certain, but whatever it is, it must be driven out of her, if she is to serve her purpose.”
“To bring forth Ganondorf reborn. It’s so simple. All she has to do is kill his murderer with the Topaz.”
“I know what the plan is,” Koume snapped angrily.
“Then you know we can’t allow such failings as love and loyalty to stand in the way.”
“To them, yes. But honestly, what good is a mother who can’t love?”
Kotake rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a simpleton, Koume. She won’t be a mother for long. Her purpose is to bear the child, nothing more, nothing less. All Sapphia is, all she has ever been, is the vessel.”
“I’m not sure she sees herself in that light.”
“Then, she needn’t know.”
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