Gods of Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter I
SILVER KNUCKLE or “Lost and Found”

Four days ago
Abrum was crouching against the outer wall of the pyramid, his head bowed. Then he noticed the air suddenly become very quiet. Lifting his head Abrum saw the storms of sand cease; he could see the night sky again with the perfect round moon high above him. There on the horizon was the ruined Gerudo Fortress, a cloud of dust still surrounding it, lit up like the breath of some demon far underground. And to the north he could just barely make out the head of the Desert Colossus, the Shrine to the Sand Goddess.

“I’m an imbecile,” he said to himself. His voice was lost to the sounds of desert windstorms and churning sand all around him. “Just as well,” he thought aloud, “I’m no one to be heard anymore…” Treating Asera as he had when she had always ever loved him… He couldn’t decide what punishment might be more fitting for him; to crush himself under some great stone or let the storms of sand consume him.

Then, as if in response to this thought, the wall behind Abrum rumbled and he jumped to his feet. Louder and yet more violent the pyramid shook, casting centuries of sand from its slanted face. Abrum stared at the wall where he had seen the door before, the wall shaking again and again with the punctuated pounding of some massive fist. Finally, the stones shifted and the wall began to open. And there—emerging from the pyramid like a butterfly from its cocoon—was a sight that defied Abrum’s ability to comprehend: a gargantuan humanoid boar holding a wicked-looking trident. Its blue-haired pelt rippled over cords of dense muscle and as it crawled out of the doorway and stood before Abrum on cloven feet. The monster grunted and squealed maliciously when it saw him, and out of the trident shot a globe of searing green light that struck Abrum in the chest, flattening him to the sand and knocking him unconscious. Before his consciousness faded completely, however, Abrum thought he heard the sound of a wicked red laugh.

* * *

“My love,” said a voice somewhere in the distance; odd, yet somehow familiar. “My love please, please wake up!” Abrum became aware that he was being shaken and that the wind around him was whipping sand in every direction, particularly over his raw chapped face. When he opened his eyes he could only see a strange silhouette against the bright light and swirling sand.

“Asera?” he croaked. His mouth was so dry. He coughed and spat sand.

“Do not speak, my love. We must get away from this place.” Abrum felt his body being pulled upward and he did his best to move away from where he was. Then something must have caused the sand around him to stop blowing for he heard the wind but could no longer feel the sand grate against his body.

“Where are you taking me?” Abrum croaked.

“Hush, now. We’re going to the Desert Colossus. There will be provisions and…”

Abrum’s weary form fell limp and he heard no more.

* * *

Abrum awoke to darkness. The first thing he became aware of was the cold. The floor on which he lay was intolerably frigid against his raw back. After this was the stiffness. He tried to sit up, but his muscles burned and his joints protested with needled arguments. He tried to relax, his nerves reeling from the aftershocks of this pain. His voice had gone from him, being replaced by a raw, dry sensation in his throat. He did not know whether he was alive or dead, but if it was the former he wished it was the latter.

What seemed like an eternity passed and he gradually became aware of light entering the room. His damaged eyes perceived what must have been the ceiling and the wall directly in front of him as vague geometric shapes described by the distribution of the light that fell on them. He managed to turn his head from one side to the other with tolerable discomfort and discovered that there was another wall to his right, but not to his left.

Then he heard footsteps. They were faint, but distinct, and they were coming from somewhere far away to his left. Abrum guessed that the owner of the footsteps was female; they must be wearing a kind of slipper or other soft-soled shoe. For a moment the faint light in the room dimmed and then returned. Then the footfalls became louder and followed very even intervals; they were climbing a short set of stairs. This coupled with the vague shapes of the room around him made Abrum think that they must be in the Desert Shrine—but surely that was impossible; he could never have been brought so far without magic, and who would help him now that he had estranged himself from Asera? Besides, he reasoned, she lost her magic to the Hylian witch’s curse just as surely as I did. Ganon, that wretch, had his witch-aunts helping him reach the Pyramid. And he realized with indignation that it had been a malformed Ganon who struck him with that magic blast from the Trident. If Abrum could remain alive his revenge on the villain would be the first thing he would seek.

When the footfalls were right beside him Abrum suddenly considered what might happen to him if it were an enemy… He did not have long to ponder this, however, for the person spoke.

“I have brought you something. Drink.” The voice was female, and Abrum thought it sounded like Asera, but something was different. Her voice was choppy and reverberated with a mechanical tone; it was not so unpleasant as alarming. Smooth glass was pressed to his lips, and his head was lifted so he could swallow. The drink was warm yet refreshing, and immediately the rawness in Abrum’s throat began to subside. In moments he felt vigor returning to his body. The floor was still cold, but he found he could move his muscles with tolerable discomfort and his joints did not ache as badly. When he had drunk all of the liquid the voice spoke again. “I will return with more. Don’t move.”

Abrum found that with all the good the drink had done him he had little choice but to remain where he was; his muscles still did not allow him to move more than a few inches. The mysterious woman returned shortly with more of the promised drink. This time the woman pulled him up against her and let him drink from the smooth glass container. After the second draught he was able to sit on his own. “How do you feel?” said the woman.

“Where did that drink come from?” said Abrum.

“There is a small oasis outside. There are fairies there,” said the woman. So a fairy spring was nearby; this confirmed to Abrum that they were inside the Desert Shrine. When Abrum did not respond the woman spoke again. “What can you remember?”

“Let me see you,” said Abrum. He wasn’t sure if he could be certain of anything in this place and if this woman wasn’t Asera he wanted to know that he was being deceived.

The woman was silent for a moment. “My love you must believe that it is me.”

“I said let me see you,” he insisted.

“I do not look the same, love. Please do not be angry.” There was a flare as of the flame of a candle springing to life and Abrum squinted at the sudden brightness. The steady light cast itself on the figure before him, still a blur to his damaged eyes. He could not tell who the woman was, but she seemed to be wearing a long flowing black robe and a curious gray headdress over her copper-colored hair. Also, to his astonishment, he realized that her skin was colored with stark divisions between white and black forming swooping designs all over her body. He thought she might be from a distant part of the world. But why would she be here, he wondered, tending to my wounds, and impersonating Asera?

“Why do you call me your love?” Abrum asked, testing her. When he saw the woman turn away for a moment he thought he needed no response, but he waited to hear what she said. Finally the woman answered; she was weeping.

“I see you will not be satisfied. Then I will tell you our story so you will know that it is I. Ten years ago I bewitched you, love. I regretted it, but it had to be done. Ganondorf wanted to get into the Hylian’s Temple. Once he got inside he would need someone to draw the Blade of Evil’s Bane from its pedestal so he could enter the Golden Realm. Someone pure of heart; someone who knew nothing of his plans, or the Blade would not allow itself to be drawn. That is why Ganondorf sent us to dance for the Sheikah, and bent our allure to his gain—to ensure that one of them would come willingly. But as I danced I found something that I never expected. I didn’t think…I would actually begin to love…” She cradled her head in her hands for a moment, then cleared her throat and forced herself to continue.

“When he found out I wanted you, Ganondorf was furious. He demanded that I kill you; he wanted no loose ends. But I pleaded with him, begged him. I promised him that I could keep you loyal to us, that I could keep you…under control. I’m so sorry for how this sounds, love, but I offered you to him as a servant. I said you could be the one to draw the sword. He agreed, but at the price of my life if you failed.

“But when we got to the Temple the Sanctuary was locked. You never had the chance to draw the Blade. In his anger Ganondorf threatened you, tried to kill you. I defended you saying you knew about the Sheikah magic—that you could teach him; blend your magic with his; make him stronger. It wasn’t the same as the Triforce, but it could get him closer. He agreed, but on the condition that your memory should be erased and that I was responsible to keep you loyal. If you ever betrayed us my life was forfeit.

“I never meant to hurt you. I never had anything but love for you. After the witches erased your memory I tried to help you remember what you meant to me, what I hoped I had meant to you. You helped us fashion a new magic from what you knew of Sheikah sorcery and Ganondorf let you stay. After you had proved yourself in the Training Grounds and on some of our minor raids he was convinced of your skill and promoted both you and me to his personal guard. Until yesterday we have served him thus; you because you knew no different and I because not to do so was to forfeit both your life and my heart.

“You were still the man I knew and fell in love with, Abrum, but without any knowledge of your life before the Gerudo. I have never bewitched you since, and I thank the Goddess whenever I think that I have your love—given freely and without compulsion.” She laid her hand on his. “That is why I call you my love. Because before you ever loved me, I loved you.”

For a moment Abrum could say nothing. He wept. No imposter could speak with such conviction, such devotion. His eyes tried fiercely to see through the mist of blindness and see her face, but it was of no use. “I have had you before me these many years Asera, to look upon, to love. And only now when I am blinded can I see. Yes, my love. Now I see that you always loved me.” He laid his head down in her lap, weeping. “I am sorry, my love. I am so sorry. Please…please forgive me.”

Asera said nothing but cradled him in her arms, stroking his hair, kissing his face with her tears.

* * *

Asera had made their camp just inside the Desert Colossus, out of the burning heat. This Shrine was where Ganondorf and his minions had made their base of operations; Asera and Abrum knew it well. There were pots of provisions stored in the entryway and along the back wall of the main room. They knew that there was a secret hatch to the floors above through the ceiling, but this was always opened by Ganondorf’s witches and Asera and Abrum had no way to access it from below. There were, however, a good many plateaus outside that served as excellent scout stations. It was a defensible—if somewhat uncomfortable—hideout.

As soon as Asera had arrived and secreted Abrum’s body in the main room she climbed the plateau to be certain of their security. Some few of Ganondorf’s remaining minions might come here to seek refuge, she thought. Ganon had lost favor with the Gerudo when he destroyed the fortress and any of his underlings would surely be outcasts now.

For the first day Asera watched the wastes every hour to be sure they would not be joined by any unexpected visitors, but the wastes were undisturbed in their tumultuous churning of sand and heat. It was likely that Ganondorf’s other minions were either captured by the Hylians or killed in their exploit a week hence. When none arrived by the second day Abrum and Asera were certain that they were the only ones left. It seemed no one knew of their presence.

After he was shocked unconscious by Ganon, Abrum’s body had been torn apart by the desert winds. Asera did her best to help him regain his strength; every hour she gave him another draught from the nearby fairy spring and soon his health returned in full. But it seemed not to matter how healthy his body became, his sight simply did not heal.

Asera had also undergone a drastic physical change. Asera explained to Abrum that Ganon had tried to kill her and left her for dead within the pyramid. What happened after that had altered her appearance, but none of her determination.

“When I awoke,” she explained, “I discovered that I could not find my way out. No matter how much I explored there was no avenue for my escape. The place was cold, dark and haunted by evil. I was trapped and desperate. Then I recalled when the Hylian witch had summoned those light-creatures to drive our magic from us.”

A week previous when Ganondorf, Asera and Abrum had infiltrated the Sanctuary of the Temple of Time they were halted by the Hylian Sages. In the midst of the battle, the queen of Hyrule had called upon the Goddesses. Then three light-spirits had appeared each in the shape of some conglomerate animal. Abrum had been subdued by a gigantic owl-moth that had crushed him to the floor. Abrum remembered the experience with distaste. “Yes, I recall.”

“As our magic was drawn from us it was hardened into the shape of a Great Helm,” she recounted, “and then it was broken. I stole one of the pieces before we escaped the Hylian Temple.”

Abrum was astonished. “You… Do you still have it?”

“Yes,” she said. She brought Abrum’s hands up to her head and let him feel what was there—the ‘headdress’ he had seen on her head before. Abrum felt two stylized horns under which two eyes would have been set. As it was, this piece of the helm had only one eye; another piece would have the other, he presumed. “When I could find no way of escape in the pyramid, the broken shadow magic I had saved was my only hope. It provided me with a means of escape, but the light-creatures must have cursed it. When I tried to use it I…changed. Now I am what you saw the day you awoke here.”

Abrum considered this. “I am more glad to have you as you are,” he said, “than not to have as you were. Though it seems it does not matter anymore,” he said chuckling. But he was sobered when his hands came up instinctively to the bandage around his eyes.

“No, my love, do not think less of yourself,” said Asera. She quickly grasped his hand away from the bandage. Then she kissed each of his cheeks just below his eyes. “I love you as you are.” This allowed his mirth to return.

“Imagine us, a pair of misfits; me a blind Sheikah-betrayer and you a Hylian-cursed Gerudo witch. Our peoples would never accept us, no kingdom would ever harbor us; we have neither nation nor home. Nothing but each other.”

“And it is enough, love.”

“Yes,” said Abrum, kissing her hand. “It is enough.”

* * *

As soon as Abrum’s body would let him, he and Asera returned to their usual sparring regimen to keep themselves at their physical peak. Asera had lost her scimitar to the sands and so it was left for them to focus on hand-to-hand combat. It was difficult at first for Abrum to fight with his damaged eyesight, but when he finally resigned himself to his blindness he was able to adapt. With each spar his technique improved. After three days he had developed a heightened sense of hearing that allowed him to fight blind as well as he ever had with his sight. Better, in fact, as it gave his opponent a disadvantage if there was no light at all.

In the meantime Asera was also adapting. With only a portion of their previous magic she was forced to improvise. As she practiced her craft, however, it seemed her skills had not entirely left her—she had always been an ingenious sorceress—and within the same three days she was able to incorporate much of her magic into a kind of ritualistic dance.

Periodically Abrum would remove his blindfold to test the limits of his damaged eyes and watch Asera practice her routines. Even with limited sight, he was awed by her talent and grace. As he watched her move, her vague form suggesting poise as well as fluidity and a kind of hidden ferocity, he remembered why he had fallen in love with the Gerudo dancer.

* * *

It was not until the third day that they began to hear sounds from the other chambers of the Shrine. The main room was closed off on one side by a great stone block—far too heavy to move for even the strongest of Hyruleans—and on the other was a crawl-space too small for any but a young child to fit through. It was through this hole that the sounds were heard.

Abrum detected them first. He was meditating in one corner of the main room when he thought he heard something echo deep in the Shrine. It seemed like nothing, but then sound became louder. Asera was sitting in the center of the room reciting incantations to herself.

“Asera, listen,” said Abrum. She was silent.

“What is it, love?” she whispered.

“There are…sounds coming from behind this wall.” Abrum set his head directly beside the hole.

Asera listened intently. “Yes, I hear it, too.” Sure enough there were the sounds of faint clangs many rooms away. “It’s must be something metallic.”

“And heavy,” Abrum added. The sounds were approaching. Abrum also noticed that the sounds were very even; whatever was making them was moving deliberately through a familiar space. “Something tells me we’re not alone,” he said. There was something about the sound that seemed familiar to him. As the clangs came closer his mind strained to remember what it was.

Asera noticed Abrum’s concern. “My love, what is it?”

“Do you recall those tall suits of armor that stood in the corners of the inner rooms upstairs?” he said.

“Yes, love.”

“Have you ever seen one move?” The metallic clangs were very close now.

“But they’re just suits, love. Surely, they couldn’t be Iron Knuckles—those were just another of Ganondorf’s impossible demands; one of the witches’ failed experiments…”

“That’s what he told us, but… Shh! It’s inside the next room.” The sound of clang, clang, clang came directly up to the crawl-space and then stopped suddenly. Just in time Abrum rolled away as thick chunks of stone were knocked out of the wall by a huge curved axe-blade. Another swing of the axe produced a hole large enough to collapse the rest of the wall and reveal the source of the mysterious sounds.

Torchlight poured into the room from behind the tall figure, glinting off the heavy, impenetrable armor covering its massive body from crown to heel. Its keen double-bladed axe was half its height and almost as wide. It moved slowly, but what it lacked in speed it made up for in strength. After the dust cleared enough for it to see, it raised its weapon high above its head and bellowed angrily. Upon seeing Asera in the center of the room the Iron Knuckle advanced. Heaving up its mighty axe, it brought it down directly on top of her. To its disappointment, however, the axe passed through thin air and struck the solid stone floor, cracking the flagstone in two. The image of Asera wavered, fluxed and finally disappeared. The Iron Knuckle grunted in astonishment.

The sound of the axe hitting stone gave Abrum his cue. “Asera, douse the lights!” he called. Asera’s steely voice reverberated from the far corner of the room, chanting some brief words in an ancient tongue. The next moment the room went pitch black and the astonished Iron Knuckle grunted again. It swung its axe wildly in the darkness, aiming vaguely for Abrum.

Abrum dodged the axe deftly, testing the Iron Knuckle’s defenses. Every clank of the armor told Abrum more about his opponent. It swung its axe in even, fluid motions which meant that its armor was weighted evenly on all sides. The layers of its armor plates also grated as it moved which meant that the buckled straps that held the armor to its body would be protected by the outer plates. Abrum dodged again and another of the Iron Knuckle’s swings landed just to his left, cracking the stone floor. Then an idea occurred to Abrum and he rolled away from the Iron Knuckle toward the broken stone wall.

Digging among the rubble Abrum found a thin shard of rock that had a good edge on it—this would do for his knife. Springing away just in time to avoid another slam of the axe, Abrum rolled around the Iron Knuckle’s legs. Just after it swung again Abrum leaped on to its back and shifted his weight, forcing it to lean forward. He thrust his hand under one of the splayed outer plates and found one of the straps with his hands. Just then the top-heavy Iron Knuckle fell over, throwing Abrum to the ground. Immediately, Abrum’s side burned and for a moment the wind was knocked from him. When he recovered he felt for his side and discovered that his stone knife had sliced along his ribcage, opening a wound as long as a hand’s breadth. Abrum could hear the Iron Knuckle advancing, closer every moment. Abrum gritted his teeth and stood, brandishing his knife. This time he would be ready.

Abrum feigned a wounded groan and immediately stepped to one side. As he expected, the Iron Knuckle bellowed triumphantly and brought its axe down where he had been only moments before. Then he circled around, leaping again to the Iron Knuckle’s back and gripped the collar of its backplate firmly in one hand. With his free hand he severed the straps that fastened the Iron Knuckle’s armor to its body. When the Iron Knuckle leaned forward again it only succeeded in removing itself from its backplate and, suddenly unbalanced, careened headlong toward the nearest wall. Abrum leaped away from its shoulders and landed on the floor a few feet away. The Iron Knuckle’s helmeted head smacked into the wall with a crunch and it fell to the ground, motionless. Moments passed, but Abrum did not hear it stir. Then a new sound was heard in the darkness; a muffled female groan. It issued out of the Iron Knuckle’s helmet.

Something clicked in Abrum’s memory and he gasped. “It couldn’t be…” Abrum thought his ears had deceived him. “Asera, come quickly!” he called.

The light in the room was restored and in moments Asera was at Abrum’s side. “Are you hurt my love?” She gripped his hand.

“Not badly. Though I wonder about our friend…”

“What do you mean ‘friend’?” asked Asera. But Abrum didn’t need to answer; the Iron Knuckle had come to and was turning over. Finally it pulled off its helmet.

“Asera, I’d like you to meet Raean.”

Asera took in the sight of her. The round ears and scarlet hair told Asera she was a Gerudo for certain, and by the look of her she must be forty or fifty years of age; well settled in her prime by Gerudo standards, who might live to be as old as four hundred.

Raean shook her head dazedly and pushed herself up to a sitting position. It seemed she had no trouble moving the massive armor she wore. She groaned again, putting a hand to her head. “Where am I?” she said, finally looking up. “Who are you?”

“Let us help you,” said Abrum, kneeling carefully next to Raean. Asera followed suit. “Asera, the armor…” Asera guided Abrum’s hands to Raean’s breastplate which he helped her lift away.

Raean unbuckled her shoulder pieces and collar, letting them fall to the ground. “Thank you,” she said, leaning her back against the wall. She closed her eyes and exhaled heavily. “I don’t even know who you are.”

“Yes you do,” said Abrum. “You must have forgotten just as I did.”

“Forgotten what?” Asera said, trying to fathom what he must know that she did not.

“I’m not sure how, love,” said Abrum, “but I feel as if a fog is clearing from my mind. I remember…I was imprisoned here. Raean, you were my cell-mate for a time. Ten years ago I was brought here to have my memory erased, just as you were. You told me you were brought here under the pretense that you would be one of the Shrine’s keepers, attendant to the Goddess. You served faithfully for some time, but then things went horribly wrong; they started to imprison the attendants. Then they began removing them from the cells one by one. None of them ever came back. I remember night after night hearing the sound of metal on stone; the feet of the Iron Knuckles as they were making their rounds, patrolling the prisons. Then one night there were no footsteps.”

Raean’s eyes widened with comprehension. “Yes. And you told me about someone. Someone you loved…”

“Yes,” said Abrum, squeezing Asera’s hand. “Asera has done more for me than any other, and nearly the only one I can call friend. She was a Gerudo, once. Now we are outcasts; enemies of our own people. Her appearance is due to the curse of a Hylian witch.”

Raean gasped, recalling. “Yes… You told me about her the night they took me. What happened to me?”

Abrum reached into his memory. “The witches were on edge, and they came for you—said you were to be a ‘special assignment.’ ”

“They wanted my gauntlets,” said Raean, brandishing her silver bracers. “But I would never give them up. These have passed from mother to daughter ever since they were enchanted by my great-grandmother. They make the wearer as strong as the Gods.”

“It is no wonder you have survived this long,” Asera said, admiring the craftsmanship of the gauntlets. “They are well-made.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Since they could not have them they brainwashed me and made me into this.” Raean recounted. She stared at the room around her and marveled. “I have spent twenty years in the Shrine and half of that was under the spell of those cursed witches. And now to think that I have escaped by the very axe they placed in my hand.” She gripped the handle of her twin-bladed axe more securely—as if in veneration. “And what happened to you, Abrum?”

“Soon after they took you they came for me,” recounted Abrum. “Iron Knuckles escorted me to a chamber. The witches were there, and they…”

“And we what?” said an aged woman’s voice.

“Brainwashed you?” echoed a second voice, nearly identical to the first.

The sound of cackling followed like thunder after the flash, and both Raean and Asera snapped to attention, on their feet in half a moment. Raean brandished her axe. Emerging from the gaping hole in the crumbled wall were the two elderly witch-twins, Koume and Kotake, hovering on broomsticks in mid-air.

“Come come, now, pet,” said Koume. “Why haven’t you taken care of these little intruders?”

“You wretches!” Raean screamed, raising her axe over her head. “I serve you no more!” She brought her weapon down on Koume, but the witch disappeared in a puff of red smoke. Halfway across the room she reappeared on her broomstick, unharmed.

Abrum followed all of this with his keen hearing. “I knew you two would come when your minion failed. It seems she has come to her senses.” Under the cover of his voice Asera began reciting an incantation.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said Koume. “It’s a shame our little pet has turned on us, Kotake.”

Raean drew her axe back again.

“Don’t move, Raean” said Abrum under his breath. Raean restrained herself, no less alert.

“But three pets are better than one, Koume,” said the other witch. “It looks like we will have to teach these children a lesson ourselves.” And in concert the witches drew back their hands and threw balls of flashing red and blue magic.
Immediately, Asera muttered a final ancient word and spun in place. The balls of magic spun about the room wildly, fizzling into nothing when they collided against the walls.

“Curse you, witch!” said Kotake. “You and your Sheikah-boy have ruined our plans enough. The Great Ganondorf will hear of this. Koume! Fire-and-Ice!”

But before either of the witches could move, Asera had already leaped into action, moving in sweeping, dynamic motions. As if unable to turn away, the witches stared at Asera’s magic dance. At times her movements mesmerized the witches, at others confused them, so that soon they were drawn to where Asera was, coming closer and still closer. Then, as Asera came out of a twirl, fire flew from her fingertips and caught on the witches’ robes. Koume and Kotake shrieked in terror, coming to their senses.

“Now!” called Abrum. And the next few seconds were a flurry of action. Abrum sprang from the floor and grabbed the handle of Kotake’s broom, pulling her down to Raean’s height. Raean swung her axe over her head and brought it down on top of Kotake, but not before the ancient witch had disappeared in a puff of blue smoke and reappeared on the back of Koume’s broom. Raean’s axe shattered the broom in Abrum’s hands, sending splinters flying in all directions along with blue and white sparks. At the same time Asera threw her hands around in circles and then shouted something incomprehensible. A great gust of wind blew from deep in the Shrine and caught the ancient witches, throwing them out of the Shrine’s main archway, far past the plateaus and into the burning, churning sands, shrieking all the way.

When it seemed the witches would not return, Raean exhaled heavily. “Thank you again. You have both saved me from slavery and rid me of my captors. It also seems I owe you apology.”

“What for?” asked Abrum.

“Nearly killing you, for one,” said Raean, slinging her axe over her shoulder. She nodded toward the wound along Abrum’s ribs.

“She speaks of your scratch, love,” said Asera.

Abrum smiled. “Don’t give yourself that much credit. My wound is my own doing. You were merely a good challenge.”

“I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment,” Raean replied. “Still, I am indebted to you for freeing me.”

“Oh, well as for that, you can thank your soft head,” Abrum replied.

“Pay no mind to Abrum,” said Asera. “We are grateful for your part as well. If you hadn’t come to us my love might not have regained his memories.” She slipped her hand into Abrum’s. He kissed it gingerly.

“I suppose I had no choice, but you’re welcome all the same,” said Raean. “In the meantime we should be moving; the witches will untangle themselves eventually and I know they have at least one more Iron Knuckle somewhere in the Shrine. Are you staying here or will you come with me?”

Abrum became sober. “Where do you intend to go?”

Raean noted his seriousness. “Back to the Gerudo Fortress, of course. It has been over twenty years since I have seen my sister. Why?”

Asera was silent.

“Tell her,” said Abrum. “Tell her what the Gerudo king has done.”

Raean became livid. “What is that crotchety old man up to this time?”

It took a moment for Asera to understand she was talking about the previous Lord Ganondorf. “It must have been just after they brought you here, Raean. Our previous king left us. One day he was there and the next he was gone. For days we were frantic. The older women saw it as an omen; they believed the Goddess had taken him to watch over the desert. In truth he abandoned us. But it is not him of whom we speak. It is he who betrayed even the Gerudo, his own people.

“The boy Ganondorf became our king as soon as he emerged from the Training Grounds,” Asera continued. “Some said he had a demon; some said he was not our king at all, but an imposter; others claimed something horrible must have happened to him inside the Grounds. But one thing was certain: the boy grew more and more evil as the years passed by. He became greedy, selfish and twisted. Yet more evil than his father, if that were possible. I served him for years, but there were those who would not. Your sister was one of them. Soon there grew a division among us; those who served the Lord Ganondorf and those who tolerated him.

“Lord Ganondorf led his followers in devious intrigues. He was after more than just the survival of the Gerudo, he wanted the Triforce; that cursed Object that has only ever brought misery to Hyrule. Under Ganondorf’s command we went among the Hylia trying to find anything we could that would tell us how to get into the Golden Land. At length we visited the Sheikah and through a series of intrigues murdered their master, sieged the Hylian Castle and infiltrated their Temple. The Golden Land was within our grasp.

“Ganondorf would have succeeded in his object if we were not halted by the Sages. We were nearly defeated, but by our fortune we managed to escape. When we returned to the Gerudo Fortress, Ganondorf denounced his own people. Denounced them. He destroyed the fortress and in the end he left, just as his father did. He sought out the Forbidden Weapon in the Pyramid of Power and we fear he is still at large and more dangerous than he has ever been.”

Raean took all this in with mixed emotions. Finally she seemed resolved. “All the more reason for me to go back to the fortress…what is left of it. If I still have a sister to protect, then my place is at her side.”

Asera lowered her gaze. “I…could not say that I have any loved ones to protect. None beside Abrum, at least. I helped him…I helped Ganon destroy the Gerudo. I could never show my face among them again.” Abrum squeezed her hand. “No, love, I couldn’t,” she said, casting her eyes over Abrum’s bandages. “You would not see their faces, but it might be more than I could bear. I am too ashamed.”

“You, my love, have little to be ashamed of compared to my deeds. You, at least, have done what your king commanded. If what you tell me is true then I have willingly betrayed the trust and honor the Sheikah ever since I left them those many years ago. If either of us have reason to be ashamed it is I…”

Raean adjusted the axe on her shoulder and bent down to recover her helmet. “Look; all I know about honor is that it’s doing what you can with what you know that counts. All the honor of your people can’t make you one whit better. And as for shame, there’s no shame in asking forgiveness, if that’s what you want. Now, there are people out there, Gerudo and Sheikah alike, and if you want to leave them to Ganon’s nonsense then fine, but I’m going. Now are you coming or not?”

Abrum squeezed Asera’s hand and drew in a deep breath…

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