Gods of Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter III
FIRE and ICE or “Wicked Witches”

1360 HR

A boy dressed all in black emerged from the darkness of the Training Grounds. His face and hands and intense red hair were filthy. His clothing was saturated in perspiration…or all but the hems, rather, which were frayed and singed. Directly across his chest was what looked like the rip-marks of huge claws.

“Hey, kid. How’d it go?” asked a young Nabooru. “Took you long enough.” She leaned against the outside of the locked gate casually.

“Give me the key, woman,” said the boy. He approached the gate, glaring at her sternly. She retreated out of his reach.

“Not so fast, runt,” she mocked, “you’re supposed to find the key yourself.” Nabooru removed a silver key from her girdle. “I’m only supposed to use this if you fail—you know, to drag out your corpse so it doesn’t stink too much.” She laughed.

The boy remained sober. “Do you think my death is funny? I said give me the key.” He thrust his hand through the bars. “Now.”

“You know, you’re a little demanding for not being king yet…”

“I am king,” he said, never flinching.

Nabooru eyed him warily. “Fine, then. I’ll trade you the key for Lord Ganondorf’s ring.”

The boy’s face hardened. He removed the blue-stone ring from the first finger of his left hand and threw it on the ground just outside the gate. “Come and get it,” he said.

Nabooru smirked and rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so touchy,” she said, bending down to retrieve the ring from the ground. In a moment the boy’s hand had shot out and grabbed her throat. His strength was uncanny; Nabooru gasped for air, but try as she might she could not breathe.

“Do not trifle with me. Give me the key or you won’t live long enough to cross me again.”

Nabooru brought the silver key to his empty hand. Once his fingers had closed around the key the boy’s other hand loosened, allowing air to rush into Nabooru’s lungs. She sat heavily on the ground, coughing. The boy unlocked the gate, drew it aside and walked out of the Training Grounds paying Nabooru no heed.

But Nabooru was not to be threatened by the likes of this boy; she hooked his ankle with her toe and pulled away violently, attempting to trip him. Oddly, the boy’s foot did not move. Instead, he sneered down on Nabooru and grabbed a handful of her scarlet hair. “You should not have done that,” he hissed, and bent her head backward, baring her neck. And then somehow he had drawn the dagger hidden in her girdle and had it pressed it to her throat. “Never hold my freedom over my head like that again, do you understand me?” Her breath escaped her mouth in uneven gasps. “Never,” repeated the boy. He turned and walked away, dropping the knife on the sand.

Nabooru drew herself up from the ground, laying a hand over her throat and clenching her other hand over Lord Ganondorf’s blue-stone ring.

* * *

1384 HR—Present

Nabooru was in her tent, brooding. She turned the blue-stone ring around the first finger of her left hand, staring moodily through a pillow near the entrance-flap. On the edge of her consciousness she became aware of a commotion somewhere outside, near the eastern gate of the Gerudo grounds. She looked up when she heard hurried footsteps approach. The entrance-flap flew back.

“Matron!” A guard entered Nabooru’s tent with a hasty bow. “The Red Maiden of Hyrule has just been here. She says that Ganon the Betrayer is dead.”

Nabooru’s brows came together. “Dead, did she say?”

“Yes, Matron! Ganon was defeated by a Hylian boy. They’re calling him a hero.”

Nabooru rose from her sitting pillow. One boy? Nabooru remembered the four young men who had visited the village—what had happened to the other three? “Thank you, Sianna; that will be all.” Sianna bowed and left hurriedly the way she had come. Nabooru waited until she was sure Sianna had gone. “Din, you can come out now.”

A young girl emerged from behind the large pillows stacked in one corner of the tent. Nabooru had rescued her from a crumbled dwelling four days ago when Ganon had denounced them and destroyed the fortress. Since then, as is the Gerudo way with orphans, Nabooru took her as her own daughter. Din was perhaps no more than twelve years of age and had scarlet hair that shone like fire in the light. She also had startling red eyes—typically a Sheikah trait—and it was with these calm but piercing red eyes that she looked at Nabooru now.

“Why are you hiding me?” she asked. Din was also unbearably blunt.

Nabooru was not accustomed to feeling uneasy around people, especially women, and especially women younger than her. But she could not deny that Din caused her to second-guess herself. “Because, Din, I don’t want the tribe to get the wrong idea about you, that’s all.”

Din sat on one of the large pillows. “When people say ‘that’s all’, what they really mean is ‘that’s what I want you to believe.’ What you mean is that you don’t want to forget him, isn’t that right?” It was not a question. “You feel that by taking me in as your daughter you’re replacing him; forgetting him.”

Nabooru considered the child for a moment. She was irreproachable. “I am going outside. Stay here and don’t let yourself be seen.” Nabooru went to one corner of the tent and retrieved the white-feathered headdress that distinguished her as the tribe Matron. When she turned around Din was looking directly at her. Seeing Din sitting on the pillow as if it were her tent; as if Nabooru was being dismissed… Nabooru could not help feeling that it was Din, not she, who had somehow gained power over the tribe.

Nabooru donned the headdress and paused in the tent’s opening. Just before she let the tent-flap go she took one last glance at the girl to be sure she would stay in the tent. Din hadn’t moved. Nabooru suddenly felt she was being made a fool.

The women of the fortress were gathered in a crowd away from their tents, talking and laughing. The guards, too, had come away from their stations to hear the news and celebrate with the other women.

“What is this?” called Nabooru. “Are the Gerudo a pack of peahens that gather and twitter? I should expect as much from little Hylian girls. Guards, back to your stations! Danger has not fled simply because the Betrayer is dead. Move!” The guards responded immediately, returning to their posts. The women who were not obligated by duty, however, remained.

“What? Aren’t we to celebrate the death of Ganon the Oppressor?” said one of the women. Nabooru knew her as the second-in-command of the Gerudo Fortress Guard and one of Ganon’s more faithful attendants. Faithful though she was, however, her loyalty was born of an acute knowledge of her master’s affinity for punishment. “Is it to be all sobriety and seriousness for you, Nabooru? Or are you not glad that he is dead?”

“I will be glad, Aveil, when our people are safe. Had you not considered that our people will die without a king? Are you so glad—being his former attendant—that you have no need to worry for your security? I might wonder if you are glad that the Gerudo and their ways will now vanish because Ganon—Betrayer though he was, Oppressor though he was—is now dead!” Aveil and the other women said nothing. Nabooru was breathing heavily. “We are broken…”

And as if in answer to her statement a heavy blow landed on the western desert-side gate. Every woman in the grounds jumped, turning like startled cats toward the west. Again came the sound, and again, and each time it was louder and more violent, throwing sand and dust from the gate, threatening to crack the crossbars. None of the women moved.

Nabooru scanned around, confirming the location of her guards. “Why is there no one on the gate-tower?! Someone get up there!” called Nabooru. A guard ran from the nearest post and began climbing the ladder to the top of the gate-tower. But by the time the guard reached the top Nabooru realized the blows had ceased.

Nabooru paused, straining to hear any indication of the abrupt callers. “They have not gone…Sianna!” In a moment her chief guard was at her side. “What would you say if I told you this is our king returned from the dead?” Nabooru stared at the desert gate, as if to look through it and dare the Gerudo’s former king to be there, threatening them again.

“Returned from the dead? Matron it’s unthinkable…not unless…” Sianna gave Nabooru a meaningful look.

“Not unless he had not truly died?” asked Nabooru pointedly. Sianna cast her eyes downward, as if looking for an answer in the sand. “Or do you think he may have the Weapon?”

“But Matron, any Gerudo knows it is foolishness to take the Forbidden Weapon. Evil spirits live in that Cursed Object, no Gerudo would willingly take it unless she were…”

“…unless he were mad,” finished Nabooru. “Thank you Sianna; I think you have just helped me make up my mind.” Nabooru faced Sianna directly. “Scavenge for every last sword,” she said. “Bring me every bow, every scimitar, every spear; I want every woman equipped, even these peahens who call themselves Gerudo. We will be ready when he comes. To arms!!”

In less than a minute any Gerudo woman who could hold a weapon was armed. Nabooru organized fifty souls on either side of the desert-side gate with the rest of the Gerudo in various parts of the ruined fortress, resolute and ready to fight none-of-them-knew-what. It was just as Aveil and the other guards had delivered the last scimitar to a wizened but sturdy old woman that the wood-crunching blows began again. Boom! The women jumped, startled. Aveil and her guards brandished their weapons.

Nabooru turned, facing the gathered women, unflinching. “We will not die like helpless children,” she called. Boom!—the gate rattled. “We are not the food of vultures, to be picked apart like carrion!” Boom!!—the hinges groaned. “We are the Gerudo! Our enemy will find before we die that its prey has teeth; its quarry has claws, and like the mother cat protecting her young (BOOM!!—the gate buckled) if I have a breath remaining in my body I will not allow the Gerudo to fail.” BOOM!!!—the crossbars squealed. “Now, to the conflict!” SMASH!!!

Finally the gate collapsed inward, the crossbars snapping like wire. The first sight any of the archers had was of a heavy cloud of dust and the vague outline of a gigantic creature within it. Huge gouts of flame issued out of the cloud and the archers drew back their bowstrings.

“Release!” shouted Nabooru. The archers let their arrows fly into the cloud of sand and dirt. When another gout of flame issued out of the cloud the archers prepared themselves for another volley. Then Nabooru felt a small hand grasp her own. It was Din.

Nabooru knelt, gripping the child by her shoulders. “Din what are you doing here? Get back in the tent!” Din didn’t move, but looked up at the gate guard.

“It’s the witches,” Din said calmly.

“It’s the witches!” shouted the gate guard from atop her tower. Nabooru looked up in astonishment.

“They have an Iron Knuckle,” said Din.

“They have an Iron Knuckle!” shouted the gate guard.

Din stared at the Maron with her piercing red eyes. “Another volley?” said the child calmly.

Sianna bent near Nabooru. “The archers await your command, Matron. Another volley?”

“Din, stop!” she said frantically. “Get back to the tent!” She released the child, staring into the cloud of dust and sand. Slowly a figure emerged. The sun glinted off the edge of a broad, two-bladed axe and a shining helmet.

“It’s coming!” shouted a woman. Then the call bled through the ranks: “the witches!” Another gout of flame rushed past the Iron Knuckle, licking the rock wall and driving the Gerudo back from their posts.

“Orders, Matron?” said Sianna shifting her feet in the sand. She adjusted the grip on her spear. “Matron, send a volley?”

Nabooru glanced between the Iron Knuckle, the gate guard, and Sianna. “Volley,” she said, finally. “Volley!”

“Release!” shouted Sianna. The Gerudo women released another volley of arrows into the cloud.

“They’re coming through,” said Din. Nabooru looked down; the child was still there.

“They’re coming through!” shouted the gate guard. And in the next moment a thirty-foot tall swarthy-skinned woman emerged from the churning cloud. On her scarlet-haired head she wore a gem of red and blue and in her hand she held a rod that ended in a live flame as large as any of the Gerudo’s tents. She brandished the fire rod and from it leapt another gout of flame. The fire shot past the advancing Iron Knuckle and blackened the rock on the other side of the gate. The Gerudo women retreated again and gathered around Nabooru.

Nabooru stared at the enormous woman before her. “By the Goddess!” The Matron might have been gladder to see that her enemy was the Betrayer. At least then she would know what the Gerudo were up against.

“Orders!” shouted Sianna.

Nabooru was pulled from her trance. “The servants of Ganon come! Full attack! Ground units: the Iron Knuckle. Archers: the witch—continuous fire!”

The women obeyed. The Iron Knuckle stopped, bracing itself for the oncoming melee.

“Sianna, get Din back to the tent!”

“But Matron…” Sianna began.

Din refused to move. “Let me speak to you,” she said.

“Not now, Din,” Nabooru had had enough. “Sianna, I said get her out of here!”

“Let me help you,” Din repeated.

“Matron, I don’t see…” But Sianna did not get a chance to finish, for a ball of fire had leapt from the witch’s rod and exploded between her and Nabooru. Nabooru was thrown to the ground, singed and dazed.

Nabooru shook her head. Then she looked up and…were her eyes deceiving her? The child Din was standing before her engulfed in flames…but she was not harmed. Instead, the child stepped forward calmly, toward the giant witch. The fire had utterly consumed her clothing, but it enveloped the child so completely that Din appeared to be made of the fire… As she walked, Din’s body was lifted into the air, hovering just feet above the sand.

Din stopped, turned to Nabooru and spoke; her voice was thick and resonant. “Your ring, Nabooru; make ready.”

Nabooru looked down at her hand, remembering something that had happened many years ago—the night Raean had gone to be an attendant at the Shrine—the night the son of Lord Ganondorf had been sent to the training grounds… Nabooru drew herself up from the ground, turning her hand over to look at the blue-stone ring on the first finger of her left hand; the one she had traded Ganondorf for his freedom. Oh, Goddess, she thought. Forgive me. I freed him; I let him out. If only...

But her attention was drawn from the ring to the Iron Knuckle caught in melee with the Gerudo women and the enormous fire-bearing witch wreaking havoc on Nabooru’s archers.

The Iron Knuckle was avoiding combat, blocking many of the Gerudo’s blows and allowing others to simply glance harmlessly off its armor; in effect it simply tied up more of Nabooru’s forces. The archers were not having much more success as their arrows kept vanishing in flames before they could strike the thirty-foot-tall witch. This battle was waxing too long; eventually her women would literally have exhausted their ammunition. But as Nabooru observed the blue-stoned ring she realized that she had never given more than passing consideration to the frost that had always gathered on it. Suddenly she seemed to understand something she did not before…

Nabooru hurried to the nearest archer: “Give me your bow!” The woman obeyed. Nocking an arrow to the string Nabooru pulled back, resting the tip of the arrow on her blue-stone ring. Touched by the stone, the arrow began to glow with a faint blue light and frost gathered along its shaft. Taking aim, Nabooru fired the frosted arrow at the flame-witch’s heart. The witch raised her rod and the flying arrow sizzled as it flew. It did not burn, however, and narrowly missed the witch’s left shoulder. Nabooru swore.

“Hold my hand,” said Din, extending her flaming fingers toward Nabooru. “I cannot harm you.”

Nabooru considered the girl’s request. Din’s words reverberated in her head: ‘Let me help you.’ This child was enveloped in flame and she was not consumed. Surely, she must be a creature of magic, thought Nabooru. She quickly grasped the fiery girl’s hand.

Every flame in the vicinity was suddenly drawn into Din’s body. Fire streaked above the Gerudo warriors’ heads in a blazing whirlwind, pulling from the flame-witch’s hair, rod and even from the fires that dotted the battleground. The witch and the Gerudo women all stared in astonishment. When the fires were extinguished and the fire-witch was drained of her magical flame Din turned again to Nabooru.

“Now,” said Din calmly.

Nabooru released Din’s hand and drew the bow back again—tapping the arrow on the stone—and fired at the witch. This time the witch could not prevent the frosted arrow and it pierced her leg, spreading ice crystals over her body as fast as spilled water. More and more crystals crept down to her feet, flooded up her chest to her arms and inched up her neck. The witch shrieked with indignation until the ice covered her mouth and nose. Finally, the witch was still—a wicked scowl frozen on her face. When Nabooru saw that the witch did not move she exhaled.

But then the witch’s eyes glowed orange and the ice began to melt. In moments the magical ice evaporated and the witch was free enough to move again—and she was heading directly for the Matron.

Her enemy had not been defeated, but now Nabooru knew that her weapon would work. Her resolve renewed, Nabooru never took her eyes from her enemy. “Every weapon to me! Form a line!” she called. The Gerudo responded; the ground units fell back from combat with the Iron Knuckle and they and the archers assembled behind Nabooru. The Iron Knuckle did not pursue.

Nabooru stood on one end of the line holding the blue-stone ring aloft. “Weapons ready—on my mark!” She held up an arrow, tapping it on the ring. It frosted over and glowed blue. The frozen witch was coming faster now. The Gerudo women held out the tips of their weapons. “For the Gerudo!” Nabooru called, and she ran the length of the line, striking Lord Ganondorf’s ring against their blades, spear-heads and their arrows. Then—as soon as each weapon glowed with magical frost—its bearer rushed the advancing witch, brandishing her scimitar, hurling her spear or releasing her bow-string. And as two-score weapons found their marks the enormous witch was encrusted with crystals upon crystals of frozen moisture. The giant woman’s legs and arms seized and in moments she was completely encased in feet of enchanted ice. When the ice did not melt and there was no sign of life coming from the witch’s form, Nabooru exhaled a second breath.

Suddenly the Iron Knuckle animated. For a moment Nabooru thought it would attack but then the armored warrior turned, hefted its axe over its head and hurled it at the frozen witch. The blade of the axe sank into the magical ice and in a moment a line bisected the witch’s form. A terrible squealing issued from within the ice as it twisted against itself, sounding like the pained groan of a tortured pig. Then the line became a crack and all at once the body of the ice-encrusted witch shattered, falling in a pile of quickly evaporating shards, none of them leaving any trace of the witch’s physical form. She was gone.

Calls of triumph followed shouts of joy; “the witch is dead!” But Nabooru could hardly credit what she had witnessed. There was the Iron Knuckle, stooping to recover its axe from the ground, standing up again and heaving the axe over its shoulder. Nabooru’s face hardened—this was no ordinary Iron Knuckle…

Nabooru strode forward, stopping short a few paces off. “You! Reveal yourself!” The other women ceased their celebrating to see what the matter was. The Iron Knuckle paused, turned and faced Nabooru directly. The armored warrior advanced suddenly, but paused again when it saw Nabooru’s alarm. Nabooru’s eyes sharpened when the sun glinted off the silver gauntlets the Iron Knuckle wore. Laying down its axe, the Iron Knuckle spread its arms wide, showing empty hands. Then it reached up and drew off its helmet.

Nabooru gasped. “Raean?”

Raean threw her helmet to the ground beside her axe. “Nabooru…” she choked on the name. “I’m so sorry.”

Nabooru stared at her older sister in disbelief. Then she was in her arms, ignoring the fact that they were clad in cold metal. For all the world she could only feel the blood pumping through her own heart, telling her that she was alive and she was holding her sister again. “I’ve missed you so much…” she said.

“You too, sis. You too. It’s been a long time.” Wetness leaked from Raean’s eyes.

The other Gerudo women were stunned into silence. Nabooru was embracing the Iron Knuckle. When Nabooru noticed the scores of eyes on her she pulled away from her sister and turned to face the Gerudo.

“What is this?” asked Aveil, incredulous.

“This Iron Knuckle is my sister, returned after twenty-four years absence. Proof that the dead can live again, Aveil.” Then Nabooru turned to her sister. “I was right, wasn’t I? Ganondorf had you brainwashed, didn’t he?”

“His witches did, yeah. But they’re gone now, thanks to you.”

“Raean, there’s something I want to tell you…” Nabooru could not restrain a wide smile. “I… I have a child…” Then Nabooru paused and her face changed. “By the Goddess—Din!” She looked around frantically and then hollered the name. “Din?” She walked in the direction of the tents, looking one way, then the other. “Din!” The child was nowhere in sight.

“Nabooru, are you all right?” asked Raean, following.

“She’s…she’s not here,” Nabooru said finally.

“Of course she’s not here, Nabooru, she’s a Goddess; you wouldn’t see her wasting her time after a battle…”

Nabooru turned to her sister directly. “I need to go check my tent for something. It would probably be better if you came with me…” She glanced around at the other women. Aveil was already voicing her opinions to more than a few of the others.

“I would, Nabooru, but look; I need to ask a favor of you,” said Raean.

Nabooru was impatient. “Yes, of course, but come with me quickly.” Raean complied. Nabooru led her to the Matron’s tent at the center of the grounds. She opened the flap and looked inside. There was the child Din, seated on the pillow where Nabooru left her.

“Din! How did you get back so fast?”

“What do you mean?” Din asked innocently.

Nabooru entered the tent. “You were with me at the battle and then you were gone. I saw you…”

“But I’ve been with you the whole time,” Din replied.

“That doesn’t make any sense Din; I left you in the tent.”

“Just because you don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

“Enough riddles, Din…I saw you. First you started saying things before everyone else did and then you…” It sounded crazy to say it, even to Nabooru: “You caught fire, but you didn’t burn up; now how is that possible?”

“What is it, Nabooru? You don’t believe a child can be so powerful?”

“I just… Please; tell me what’s going on! I am at my wit’s end!”

“Are you certain you want to know?” asked the child soberly.

For the second time Nabooru was caught in her own words. “I want… Din, I saw you… Please, just…” Nabooru could not explain why, but she was crying. She looked over her shoulder to be sure that Raean was still there. She was—just outside the tent. Nabooru’s chest heaved and she felt the weight of her words in the air as she uttered them, as if they were an oath: “Tell me why you’re here. What are you?”

Din’s face was stone. “If I show you who I am will you hear the words I have to say?”

“Yes,” said Nabooru, desperate for an explanation.

“Then hear the words of your Goddess:” and in that moment Din’s red eyes lit up and her whole body was engulfed in flames of bright gold. The flames quickly spread to the pillows, the blankets, and over the rest of the tent, consuming everything. Then Nabooru was engulfed in them, her body shrinking, withering away in the fire. Soon her physical form was consumed and she was alarmed to discover that she was still conscious.

All the world was fire; nothing existed but Din and the flame. So suddenly it had come upon her, this world of golden flame, but somehow to Nabooru it felt like home. More alarming to her than this was that she did not feel warmth or cold, but an intense, almost suffocating glory emanating from the child; as if Din was not simply contained in that small being, but that she filled all of existence, even within Nabooru herself.

Then Nabooru became aware that the child was aging. At first Din was child of barely twelve—then a young woman of sixteen—then a mature woman; always made of golden fire, stunning and terrible. Then, as quickly as Din had aged, time suddenly paused and the adult Din’s shining hair floated up from her bare shoulders like living flames suspended in water.

Din spoke; her voice thick and resonant. “Nabooru, I am Din, Goddess of Power. I have been with thee these past days to test thy mettle and prepare thee for the oncoming conflict. Thy people, the Gerudo, are my own. I have cared for you these many years and now ye are on the brink of ruin. I am come now not to bring thee tidings of thy deliverance but to tell thee of the war that is to come; that thou wilt understand thy role in it, and the role of thy people, who are my people. I am come to tell thee of the Balance of the Gods.”

Nabooru could do nothing but listen.

“Before the beginning of time, many ages long past, we goddesses were One; that Goddess that you worship, yet understand not. We were whole, complete and eternal. But then we were broken; fractions of what we once were. In spite and anger I fought against my sisters and subdued them with my power, using them as little more than slaves and puppets. Since that time I have repented of my ways and over many millennia we Goddesses have sought to reunite ourselves and be one as we once were. And such was our resolve for unity that the Triforce sprang into being in that spot where we left this fair land. From that time the Triforce has remained in its place of hiding deep within the Golden Land to serve as a reminder and a warning to the peoples of Hyrule.

“This, then, is the path of the Gerudo—to be one with the people of Hyrule as I, your Goddess, have sought to be one with my sisters. Ye are brought to ruin now as a token of penance for the crimes you have committed, as I seek penance for the crimes that I have committed against my sisters. By enduring this trial ye will understand what it means to be broken as we have been broken. Seek out Worlu, the Protector. Only by calling to restore the Balance of the Gods can this war be won. And when it is won we shall become again that Goddess that ye worship, yet understand not. Know that all of the races are favored of the Goddess. Soon thou wilt receive wisdom from those you once called your enemies. These are the words of Din, the Goddess of Power…”

* * *

“Nabooru! Nabooru wake up! Talk to me—say something!” Raean had doffed her armor and was cradling her sister in her arms outside the Matron’s tent. “Again!” called Raean, and a woman held a bottle of salts under Nabooru’s nose.

Nabooru coughed, her nose burning with the salts’ fumes. She sat up.

“Nabooru!” said Raean, cradling her sister in her arms. “What happened?”

Nabooru looked around her. Guards were gathered on all sides and behind them were the other women. “Where is the child?” Nabooru drew back the tent flap and looked inside. No one was there. “Where is Din?”

Raean tried to hold her sister still. “Nabooru, what are you talking about? No one has seen a child named Din. There is no such person! Nabooru listen to me…!”

Nabooru stopped. “No one has seen the child?” she looked around at the guards’ faces. “Where is Sianna? Get me Sianna!” Sianna emerged from behind the others. She was heavily bandaged and leaning on another woman’s arm. “Sianna, do you remember the child that was with me just now at the battle…? I told you to take her back to the tent.”

Sianna shook her head with wide eyes. “No, Matron, I saw no one. You were speaking to empty air, and then…”

“But she was there! She was… Don’t any of you remember? Din drew all of the fire from the witch so that we could freeze her.” The women gave Nabooru blank stares. “The child was on fire, but she was not harmed…didn’t anyone see?” Nabooru suddenly felt she was being made a fool again.

“You did that with magic, Nabooru,” Aveil said. “I don’t know how you did it, but all we saw was you reaching out your hand and then the fire gathered to you. It was unusual, to be sure, but not impossible. And there was no flaming girl.” The other women mumbled their agreement.

Nabooru was at a loss. She knew she was not crazy, but she felt helpless to explain. What was she supposed to say? She could not expect them to believe the child was the Goddess Din herself.

Then another woman spoke. “I saw her.” It was a venerable Gerudo; one of the few remaining sorceresses under the old king, before Ganon. “I saw the girl. It was as the Matron says.”

Little pools gathered in Nabooru’s eyes. “Yes, thank you.” But some of the women continued to murmur.

Raean stared at her sister as if she were a complete stranger. If the last twenty years had changed her, what had they done to Nabooru? “Maybe you should get some rest.”

Then Nabooru remembered what Din had said. “No. We have to leave. We need to go to the Hylia and be one with them.”

“What?!” crowed Aveil. She shook her head in disbelief. “You want us to go to the Hylia? What about ‘losing our ways?’ ”

“It has to be done,” said Nabooru. “If we are to be ready for the war that’s coming we have to be one with our enemies.”

“Well, I’ve heard enough,” said Aveil. “Any of you women who think this is nonsense, come with me. I’ll lead the Gerudo since it’s obvious Nabooru here expects us to believe she talks to invisible girls.”

“Where would you take us?” said one woman. “Yes, what would we do with our king gone?” said another.

“Steal and plunder, of course, like we’ve always done,” said Aveil. “What do you say, girls?” About half of the women, mostly guards, shouted their assent. The other half, including the venerable sorceress, remained silent.

Then Aveil looked upon Nabooru with an expression that caused the Matron’s heart to chill. It reminded her of when Ganondorf had nearly strangled her to death; a kind of smug satisfaction. But just as Nabooru saw it, Aveil turned away.

“Move out!” called Aveil. “I want tents on all the remaining horses, and pick up those scimitars. Fill every waterskin from the stores; we’ll need to be prepared…” Aveil’s followers obeyed.

“But you don’t understand,” said Nabooru, reaching out to the women. “They’re coming to offer us wisdom…”

“Leave them be, child,” said the venerable sorceress. “They’ve chosen their path.”

After Aveil’s followers had busied themselves with their new leader’s orders, Nabooru looked gratefully on the remaining women. There were about twenty of them, mostly dancers and weapons trainers. “Thank you,” said Nabooru. “Thank you for believing me.”

“Well, we never said that…” said one woman. It was one of the trainers. “All the same, we’re better off; did you see the way Aveil was handling her blade? All show and no business; she’s always been that way. She won’t last the week.” Nabooru allowed herself a faint smile at this.

Then one of the remaining guards came up from the field-side gate. “Matron! There is a Hylian emissary outside. He requests permission to enter.” Nabooru was stunned. She didn’t think things would happen this quickly. Din’s words were being proven true already: ‘…soon you will receive wisdom from those you once called your enemies…’

“Let him in,” she said. “And the rest of you, gather whatever the traitors have left behind and consolidate camp. As soon as we have gathered our provisions we will leave this place for Hyrule Castle; the Gerudo are to become one with the other people of Hyrule. Get it done!” A score of women animated, hurrying to follow their Matron’s orders. Raean lingered with her sister, watching the other women busy themselves about the camp.

“You sure know how to put on a show, sis,” said Raean.

Nabooru turned to her sister. “Please say you believe me, Rae…”

Raean studied her sister’s face, searching it for something, anything that she could say she remembered from when they were younger. But there was so little that was familiar about her, now. “Nabooru, I… I just don’t know. I’m not sure what to think about all this; I’ve been gone for so long. I just found out about what Ganondorf did here…”

Nabooru looked down, and then out at the camp again. “Ganon,” she said. “He calls himself Ganon, now.”

Raean folded her arms, her Silver Bracers flashing in the sunlight. “So instead of just being ‘King of the Enchanted Thieves’ he’s just ‘King,’ now, huh? Sounds like him; always wanted to be king of everything.”

A heavy silence fell over both of them. Then…

“Rae, I have to tell you about someone…someone very important to me…” and Nabooru looked like she might have continued, but just then the Hylian emissary arrived leading his horse behind him. He was flanked by two Gerudo guards.

“Hail! Matron of the Gerudo,” called the emissary. He approached Nabooru and bowed deeply. Nabooru sighed. Raean could tell whatever it was, Nabooru had something important to say, but she knew it would have to wait.

“Get this man and his horse some water…what there is left of it,” said Nabooru to the guards. One of the guards jogged away obediently. Then Nabooru faced the emissary. “You are welcome in this place; deliver your message.”

“The King of the Hylia extends to the Gerudo wishes of peace and good-will in light of the recent events clouding the land of Hyrule. His Majesty would know your favor if there be any to relay.” The emissary bowed.

“Thank you,” replied Nabooru. “You may deliver the message to his Majesty that I will be arriving soon to discuss the matter with him personally.” Raean stared at her sister, astonished. The emissary bowed again. Just then the guard returned with water. The emissary drank, gave some to his horse and then took his leave. The guards returned to their posts. Nabooru stared out over the camp. “You’ll come with me, won’t you Raean?”

“Yeah,” Raean said finally. “It’s just…this is all so different than when I left it. And you’re different. When I left you weren’t wearing the Matron’s headdress… Anyway, I’m sorry.”

I’m different? I’ve never known you to apologize for anything,” said Nabooru. Raean smiled. “I have been wondering about something, though…”

“What’s that?”

“What in the name of the Goddess possessed you to lure a fifty-foot tall fire-witch into the camp? We could have been killed!” Nabooru punched her sister in the gut. Taken by surprise, Raean almost punched back but remembered just in time that she still wore the gauntlets.

“Fifty-foot? Right, and I was fighting a hundred Gerudo. You know if you wanted a fight you could just say so—let’s go, it’ll be just like old times,” offered Raean. She raised her fists, ready for mock battle.

“I’ll pass,” said Nabooru, eyeing Raean’s silver arms. “You’d have a slight advantage just now… But how did you know we could defeat the witch?”

“I didn’t. I just figured you were my only chance. We were crossing the Waste and the witches caught up to us. We couldn’t handle them on our own, so I thought I’d knock on your door. If that didn’t get you ready to fight, nothing would.”

“Wait…we?” asked Nabooru skeptically, crossing her arms.

“Well, I picked up some friends on the way and seeing as how we’re all misfits around here I thought they could come with us… That was the favor I was going to ask.”

Nabooru heard a woman’s voice speaking in an ancient language and for a moment she thought her mind was playing tricks on her again. But then two people Nabooru did not recognize materialized out of the hazy desert air. One was a woman wearing a grey stone head-piece and dressed in a dark robe with swooping areas of black and white covering her body. The other was a man, lean but well-muscled, his eyes bound with a strip of black cloth.

“Nabooru, I think you’ve met Asera and Abrum…”

* * *

Felso snuck through the underbrush, two masks hanging from his neck. Almost there, he thought, just a few more steps. Sitting on the edge of a chasm, where the forest stopped abruptly, was the figure of another stick-child wearing a broad-brimmed straw sunhat. The chasm spread out endlessly in both directions and the sound of churning water drifted up from far below. Felso approached from behind the figure as quietly as he could…

Then something fell on top of Felso, flattening him to the ground against the masks. “Get off!” He crowed, and in moments he realized that he had been had; Solfe stood before him, a stick-child without a sunhat. “You cheater!” squealed Felso. “I was supposed to scare you!”

“Well, now who’s scared?” said Solfe, plucking the sunhat from the stick-dummy and placing it on her own head. She pushed the dummy over the edge of the chasm. “Oops!” she said. They both poked their heads over the edge to watch it fall; the dummy bounced against an outcropping of rock and shattered apart.

“Wow!” said Felso, looking across the chasm to the other side. “That’s so far not even a bird could jump it!”

“Bird’s don’t jump, stupid; birds fly…” said Solfe. “Hey, what’s that?”

Felso looked down at his chest where the two masks hung. “Hey, look, masks!” he said, removing his peaked hat. He pulled one of the masks over his neck and handed it to Solfe. It was a grotesque wooden mask displaying the young face of a child—painted white—on one half and the gnarled face of a wizened old man colored by the dark wood on the other.

“Oh, this one’s ugly! I want that one,” said Solfe, trading masks with Felso. Solfe held the second mask in her hands, admiring her new possession. It was a porcelain mask with delicate tracery surrounding the edges. The face was of a beautiful woman with a somber, thoughtful expression. She placed the mask over her face. “How do I look?” said Solfe.

“That’s fun! Hey, watch me…” said Felso. But Solfe was not watching. “Solfe, watch me… Hey…” Solfe reached up to her face, trying to remove the mask, but it would not come off. “Solfe, what’s wrong?”

But the stick-child did not answer; Solfe’s body locked in position and then fell to the ground, convulsing and coming dangerously near to the chasm. Her sunhat fell from her head and was caught away in a gust of wind. The hat drifted off into the mist, far out of sight. Felso grabbed the stick-child’s legs to keep her from falling. “Solfe, wake up! Wake up!”

“I am awake you imbecile. Unhand me!” Felso cowered as he watched Solfe rise to her feet. From all appearances she was not harmed, but this was not Solfe. “Who are you, timid creature? And why do you have my brother’s mask?”

For a moment Felso was too frightened to speak. “S-Solfe?” he said finally.

“Such impertinence! Why do you call me…?” Then Solfe stopped, tilting her head to one side. “Ah, yes, here it is in this primitive mind. You are forest children…and my host is your friend and…oh, what chivalry! Yes, this will do nicely, I think… Now to awaken you, my brother!” And Solfe reached forward and grabbed the mask in Felso’s hands, shoving it onto his face.

“No, stop!” Felso cried. But his attacker was too strong. His fingers plied at the mask’s edges, wood grating on wood, but the mask would not budge. Then Felso’s arms went limp and like a lifeless ragdoll he collapsed to the ground, motionless. Solfe watched Felso’s twisted body attentively. In another moment Felso’s neck snapped to one side, then the other. Like a marionette being lifted on its strings, Felso rose into the air and then stood upright on both feet.

“Sister? Where are we?” said Felso, looking around him in wonder. Solfe said nothing, but raised her twig-like hand to Felso’s masked face. Suddenly Felso’s head twitched to one side. He raised his shoulders, stretching his neck. “I see. These hosts are perfect; they will be easy to manipulate. But we will need more strength if we wish to…”

“Hush!” said Solfe, turning suddenly toward the chasm. “Do not frighten them away.” Seconds passed and then a terror of ravens emerged from out of the forest on the other side of the chasm. Just as they were flying overhead Solfe turned to Felso and nodded. Felso raised one hand toward the sky; the birds’ wings moved slower and slower until they were completely motionless, seized in mid-air.

Then Solfe raised her hand toward the birds. After another moment she spoke. “They are migratory; they have roamed far and seen much. This land across the chasm is nothing; an uncivilized place. Recently there was a beast of considerable size and strength who bested an armored one on a horse. The earth was moved and shadows came to life… But this battle is nothing…

“Where the birds go on the other side of this forest…yes. There are fields, a ranch, a town, people…a castle and a temple…We will find strength for you there, Tempus, there are many lives to claim. And to the east of the town there is a village—there, on the side of a mountain where fire flows like water. This village hides secrets. Yes, there are many who keep their knowledge and tell it to none; secrets held within the minds of the weak and fearful… Ah, a feast for one such as Sophia.” Solfe lowered her hand and she faced Felso. “Their minds have gone dark, now. You may have them.”

The fingers of Felso’s outstretched hand closed into a tight fist. Felso inhaled deeply. “Thank you, sister. Come; let us broaden our kingdom.” The pair of masked children walked away from the chasm, into the forest. And falling behind them with quiet thuds was a trail of dead ravens; withered and drained of life.

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