The Lingering Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter III - Of Pigs and Swine

The first thing Link heard was an oddly jolting, unsettling laugh. Strangely, when Link awoke the yellow light had been joined by one of deep purple. Link stared up at a sky of a quickly lightening dawn and he thought for a moment that he might still have been on the fields of the moon. Then he heard sniffing sounds and realized someone was bending very close to him. As he opened his eyes further he saw what looked like a small child made entirely out of twisted branches. It wore shabby brown clothes and set on its head was a tattered peaked hat. Orange eyes glowed behind a sharp beak-like face.

“Hello,” said the wooden boy. “You smell like that kid that I met in the woods awhile ago.” The wooden boy shifted his shoulders up and down as he considered Link further. “I remember—he taught me a song! Do you know any songs?”

“Yeah.” Link sat up. He recognized the wooden boy from the Lost Woods back in Hyrule. He had only seen him a couple of times, but Link remembered selling him a mask that looked like a skull once, and he played him the song Saria had taught him on another occasion. Recently the wooden boy had also been the puppet of Majora’s Mask. Now that Majora’s Incarnation was destroyed…Link wondered whether he was completely himself again.

“Yeah, Skulki, that was me,” Link said shaking his head dazedly.

“Oh!” said Skulki, his head popping up from his shoulders. “Why so it was!” And the wooden boy tilted his head back and laughed. It was the jolting, unsettling laugh, but it was no less happy than any other child’s.

“What happened?” Link asked. He had his gilded sword still strapped to his waist and the mirrored shield on his back. “Are we home?” But as Link looked around, the world answered his question for him. He was lying in Termina Field near a giant hollow stump. Forests spread out before him and beyond that were the swamps. Just then he heard a familiar neigh behind him.

“Epona!” Link cried, standing up. Epona was nibbling grass near Clock Town’s southern entrance. He ran to her, throwing his arms around her neck. “You didn’t run off! I’m so glad you’re okay…” She nuzzled Link and he began to stroke her muzzle, but then he realized that something very large was standing over him.

A gigantic brown foot rose up from the ground somewhere to Link’s left, and then another shifted off to his right. Link quickly mounted Epona and kicked her into a gallop, toward the swamp. Skulki followed, accompanied by the yellow and deep-purple lights. When they were far enough away, they turned to see the forms of four gigantic men turn to look in their direction. Each appeared to be a gargantuan bulb of wood with beards made of long vines and enormous green leaves. From the head sprouted long, thin arms and legs which ended in hands and feet the size of wagons. These were the giants of Termina who had caught the moon in its suicidal descent. Strangely, thought Link, the moon was nowhere to be seen. In its place was a bright, clear rainbow. This was the first reassuring sign of hope Link had seen in many, many days.

The giants raised their heads in unison and let forth a deep throated drone, like a chorus. The drone was wordless, but somehow the wooden child seemed to understand them.

Skulki’s head was bowed. “You mean you didn’t forget about me?” he said. “You still think of me as a friend…after all those things I did?”

Link considered Skulki with pity. He had stolen Majora’s Mask from the Mask Salesman, it was true. But he had not chosen to do all those evil things to the people of Termina. “It’s alright, Skulki. I don’t think they blame you,” Link offered.

Skulki’s eyes glowed under the brim of his peaked hat. “Really? I sure am sorry for stealing that mask…” he said meekly. Then he turned his face toward the giants. They raised their heads and droned again. “Then you’ll forgive me?” said Skulki, happily. “Thank you, friends! Thank you!” Link thought for a moment that Skulki might cry, but he wasn’t sure whether he could.

The giants bellowed wordlessly again, and then they raised up their great feet and walked in their respective cardinal directions; one wading deep into the western sea as if it were a shallow pool, one climbing the northern mountains as if they were little hills, another stepping over the chasms in the east like narrow cracks, and the last disappearing into the fog of the swamps to the south.

“So, you’ve finally found my mask, haven’t you?” said a voice nearby. The speaker was a pale man with greasy, straight red hair, parted perfectly down the center. He wore a purple coat and upturned shoes. On his hunched back was a pack that was far too large for him. It must have been full of masks, for masks of every variety were dangling from the outside of the pack. Link even saw one that closely resembled the kind of boar that was prevalent in the Koroki woods. Most startling, however, was the smile that never seemed to leave his face.

In his hands, the Mask Salesman held a heart-shaped wooden mask that had been cloven half-way through. “The curse has left it, it seems. Yes, thank you for retrieving it for me,” he said. “And now I must return to my travels.” The Mask Salesman began waddling away, toward Clock Town, but then he stopped. “Shouldn’t you be returning home, too? All of you…?” He scanned the five of them with his squinty eyes; two fairies, a wooden child, a horse and a Hylian boy. “You do not belong here. Now that you have saved this place, this people, you must leave them behind. For when there is a meeting, a parting is sure to follow.” Then the Mask Salesman’s eyes glinted and he smiled even more widely. “How long that parting might last is up to you…”

But as he walked away, the Mask Salesman faded; his form blurring, drifting about as smoke, and then disappearing entirely. Link looked over at Skulki, wide eyed. Skulki looked back, his orange eyes glowing adventurously.

Then suddenly a series of loud explosions echoed out over Clock Town. For a moment Link thought something had gone wrong, and he drew the gilded sword at his waist. Then he realized the explosions were only fireworks—the Carnival of Time had started, and on schedule no less.

A voice came from the yellow ball of light. “Well, now that we’ve all got what we wanted, maybe you should go, Link. I think Tael and I will stay and enjoy the Carnival.” The deep-purple light hovered near Tatl.

“Yeah…okay,” said Link, disappointed. Having Tatl around was almost like having Navi back. He still hadn’t found Navi in all this time and he was certain that if he hadn’t found her by now, he would never know where to look. That parting, he thought, might last forever.

“Hey,” said Skulki, in hushed excitement, “cheer up! When we get back to the Lost Woods we should…do something. Maybe we could play some music on the way, just like we used to!” Link could think of nothing to say. He wished he could just go to sleep and wake up in Hyrule. For a moment he felt that he might never know what it was like to be home again. He knew the road he had to travel; all that remained was to travel it. Link adjusted the mirror shield on his back and urged Epona forward forlornly. They were going home.

* * *

When the knight opened his eyes again, he was laying in a bed far too small for him, his head propped up by three or four mushy feather pillows. The bed sat in the far corner of a small room which was illuminated by the light of a window somewhere to his left. The plaster walls were bisected by wide wooden beams. The knight stared at the wooden beams supporting the ceiling and realized he did not know where he was. He also suddenly realized that besides his breeches he was not wearing any clothing.

Rolling to his side, the knight saw a red-haired girl sitting on a stool in the center of the room, smiling at him. The knight jerked back, crying out, and thrust his head into the wall behind him. The girl raised her hands to her mouth, her eyes widening. She slid off the stool and approached the knight like a mother would a wounded child. He pressed his bare back against the cold plaster wall. “Oh!” she said, through her hands. “That didn’t happen last time.”

“Last time?” he asked, his head buzzing.

“Oh, did you hurt yourself?” she said through a puckered frown, reaching for the back of his head. He let her massage his smarting skull, though his eyes would have said he wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea.

“I…I thank you,” he finally managed, relaxing.

A man’s voice came from somewhere on a lower floor: “Are you a-trying to nurse that poor man, Malon?”

“No, Poppa,” Malon said, hollering so her father could hear her, still looking at the knight. ‘You’ll be fine,’ she mouthed and nodded slowly, smiling. She teased the thin strands of his blonde hair with her small fingers.

“I think I can manage, now,” he said, gently pulling her hand away from his head. She backed away, sitting on her stool again. Malon was apparently not distracted by the fact that he was not wearing a shirt, which meant he did not mind it either. “Pardon my inconvenience on your hospitality,” he said, “but what…happened?”

“Poppa found you and brung you here,” she said. “We been takin’ care of you since yesterday noon an’…well, you slept so long I just figgered I’d keep an eye on you, make sure as you didn’t die.” She had said it so naturally it was clear to the knight that she must have seen things die before. He had the sense they must have been sick or maimed animals.

“Well, I think you’ve done very well,” said the knight, hesitating slightly on the last word as he raised his hand to the back of his head. “And I owe you a debt of life. If there is anything I might do to repay you…”

“What’s your name?” she asked, looking as if she had wondered all her life.

Afton,” he said simply.

“Huh,” she said, looking disappointed. The knight was perplexed by this, but he did not have a chance to think on it further as the cart driver had just entered the room. He was wearing the same clothes as before, which told the knight the man must work in them.

“Mally, I’m needin’ a bit o’ help with the tanning if…well! Looks like our visitor’s up an’ at ‘em right shiny.” The knight stood immediately when his benefactor stepped forward.

“Poppa, this is Afton,” Malon said by way of proper introduction.

“Well met, sir,” said Afton taking the man’s hand. “I am in your debt for the service you have rendered me. If there is anything I might do to repay that debt, you have but to ask. Might I be honored by my savior’s name?”

“Well, that’s a lot of talk for a ‘how d’you do’. If’n it please you sir, I’m Talon—head of this here fine ranch.” Talon stuck his thumb at his daughter. “Me an’ my Mally take care o’ things together, since the missus, that is.”

Malon nodded. “We bin introduced proper,” she said, curtseying.

“I am sorry to hear of your wife, Faroe rest her,” said the knight. “Has it been long?”

“Bin a couple years, now,” Talon said soberly. “Funny how time goes…”

“I remember her singing,” Malon said. “It was beautiful, like what flowers sound like.” The knight listened with respect.

“Yessir. She did sing right purdy.” Talon wiped the wetness from his eyes with a single thumb and sniffed. “But you’ll be wantin’ what fer t’eat!” He smiled briefly and motioned to the door.

The knight did not press the subject. “Of course, sir, if it please you,” he said, bowing his head. “But perhaps I ought to dress.”

“Right, right-cha be,” Talon said. “Mal, go on an’ git the man his duds, I’ll git the fire started.” Malon smiled at the knight and slid off her stool, running out of the room. Turning to the knight again, he said, “when yer all gussied up jes’ come on down, we’ll have supper ready in no time.” Talon left the room.

Malon returned with the knight’s tunic—well stitched—and his shirt, both clean and folded neatly together. On top of the pile was a new pair of wool socks. She also carried in his belt and boots. “I did up yer overcoat,” she said, obviously waiting for something.

Understanding, the knight took the bundle of clothes and unfolded his tunic, pulling it over his head and smoothing it out so the repaired parts were clearly visible. They were patched together with cloth that was slightly more yellow than the white of his tunic, but the stitching was fine and appeared strong. “It is well done,” he said, smiling.

Malon smiled back. Then her eyes fell on the Crest of the Royal Family on his chest. “What does that mean?” she said, looking for the second time like she had wondered all her life.

“The crest?” he asked. Malon nodded. “The crest is a symbol of the royal family. It is a bird—an owl—to represent wisdom. The owl’s head is made of three triangles, one to represent each of the Goddesses. The large triangle made by the three is the Triforce, symbol of the Goddesses. It stands in place of the owl’s head to show that the royal family is led by the Goddesses in all that they do.”

The girl took this all in seriously. She looked as if she was going to ask another question, but was reminded of something instead. “Oh!” she said, “I forgot.” And she left the room, leaving the knight standing barefoot, wearing a patched tunic but no shirt. Within seconds she returned bearing a bucket of steaming water which she placed next to the door. “For warshin’ up,” she said, pointing to a shallow metal bowl with a flat bottom on the bed-table. He thanked her and she left the knight alone with one final wave of her hand.

* * *

The ranch house had two stories; the upper one had three rooms—one occupied by Malon and another by her father. The third (and smallest) was reserved for their ranch-hand, Ingo. The lower floor had a large sitting room, which took up almost half of the level. The sitting room led into the dining room, and then the kitchen, which opened into the back yard. Surrounding the house were large masses of rock that jutted up from the landscape. One mass of rock nearby had been built up into a stone tower that served as a silo and shed. Talon had built high reinforced wooden fences connecting one rock mass to another so that the whole ranch was secluded. Within the fence was a wooden barn topped by an iron weathercock, a stable, a track circumventing a horse-pen, and a chicken coop as well as a few trees. Currently, the shelter in the horse-pen was being used to house the tanning rack upon which was stretched the hide of the beast the knight had slain the day before.

That afternoon the supper table was spread with homemade bread and freshly churned butter, milk, cheese, roasted chicken and potatoes. The knights normally dined in the mess hall of Hyrule Castle unless they were abroad. Then they lived on rations and what they could hunt. Despite this, however, the knight relished the rancher’s meal, thinking it was a very satisfying repast (and he said so). Presently, the talk turned to the beast he had fought the day before.

“You brought it back?” the knight said, aghast.

“Well, it was a right good bit o’ strong leather,” Talon said, shrugging. “An’ seein’ as how it were already dead…Say, d’you think so much as the meat could be roasted up?” asked Talon, tearing a hunk of chicken from the bone with his fingers.

“I wouldn’t know,” said the knight, helping himself to more potatoes. “I have never seen its kind before, though if it is much like the usual boar, it may be palatable.”

Malon licked the milk from her upper lip. “You don’ know where it comes from?” she asked.

“No. And so far no one can say, or at least no one that has reported them. I only knew about this one because a man that frequents this area told me of it. They are appearing all over Hyrule. We knights were sent out to hunt them down.”

“Was he running?” asked Malon.

“The boar?” said the knight.

“No,” she said, smiling. She scooped some butter out of a small dish. “The man who told you.”

“Oh, yes. Fellow ran up to me as soon as he saw me and darted away the moment he was finished speaking,” said Afton.

“He likes to do that,” Malon said, still smiling. “He could be a right proper mail-man, fast as he runs. I doubt that beast could beat him, even if it tried.”

“Well, we’re much obliged for the one you did git,” Talon said. “We seen it afore an’ done stayed away from it, though it almost got the cart a couple o’ times. Nearly knocked Mally out once.”

“I wonder as to whether they could be tamed,” Malon said, becoming animated.

The knight was sure that she would certainly try, if given the chance. “I sincerely doubt it, my lady. Though if one could be tamed, the rider of such a beast would find herself in as dangerous a spot as any who got in its way.”

From the sitting room came the sound of the front door opening and closing. Talon’s face screwed up as if he were trying to remember something very important. “Talon!” a brash male voice called from the sitting room. Then Talon’s face lengthened and his eyes appeared is if they might pop from their sockets for as big as they got. His cheeks flushed and he pointed a toothy, innocent smile at a tall, thin man that entered the room.

The man wore overalls like Talon’s and wore a similar straw hat. His long, thin nose ended in a large well-trimmed handlebar mustache. The man’s dense eyebrows slanted down sharply toward the middle of his face and made his small beady eyes look like they were set too close together. He carried a flat bladed hoe on his shoulder and a tin bucket in his hand full of something that smelled like the beast the knight had vanquished. A small cloud of flies seemed to have followed him in. Malon grimaced at the smell. The man glared at Talon with a flat expression and looked as if he did not intend to move.

Talon spoke, “I, uh…I was plannin’ ter git you a right bit o’ help with that tannin’, Ingo,” he began.

“But you thought you’d catch a bite with the visiting royalty, is that it?” Ingo said in his brash voice.

Talon’s innocent smile widened desperately. “I had ter git him somethin’ fer t’eat,” he said, thrusting flattened hands at the knight.

The knight stood. “I am the cause of Master Talon’s negligence, if there be any. He has done me a great service by caring for me, and any hardship it has caused I would seek to alleviate.”

Ingo regarded the knight, eyeing his patched tunic and clean face. “I’d expect as much work out of you, pansy-boy, as I would out of that lazy no-account Zelda what comes to visit Malon an’ takes her away from her chores.”

Malon’s grimace turned into a hateful scowl. “You take that back! He’s right nice,” she hollered, threatening Ingo with a finger, “an’ that’s Princess Zelda to you!”

But Ingo pressed on, turning to Malon. “An’ who do you think does all those chores? Right along with all the others he’s got to do?! But seein’ as how Pansy-boy expects to put hisself to use…” He thrust the bucket of foul-smelling something into Afton’s hands, reminding the knight vividly of the beast’s breath. Ingo walked past him into the kitchen and out the back door.

For a moment nobody knew what to say. It became clear from the pained look on the knight’s face that he did not know what to do with the bucket, and did not wish to hold it any longer than he had to. “Master Rancher…?” he began.

But Malon got up from her seat still wearing her scowl and took the bucket from the knight. She silenced his protests with a raised hand and carried the bucket through the open back door. Seconds later there came a commotion from the backyard that sounded like a splat, and then a yelp, a clattering of tools, and a resounding thud as something big hit the bottom of a large metal basin.

Malon entered the kitchen with an empty bucket, which she threw back out the door. “You ought t’be ashamed o’ yerself!” she hollered, and kicked the door closed with a slam. As she stamped past the table the knight could hear her saying something about having to go ‘warsh up.’ She left through the front door.

Talon could not help but chuckle. “That’s my Mally,” he said. “Man who marries her might be in a better fix tryin’ ter manage one o’ them beasts.”

* * *

The morning light crept through the fissure into Gerudo territory. Ganondorf strode confidently through the familiar passages, taking in the cloudless desert sky far above; the dry, cragged rock face. He pondered the traitorous river as he crossed the bridge that spanned it. Finally, he had just come into view of the sun-bleached triangular flags when he was suddenly stopped short.

“Ganondorf Dragmire, you are under arrest.” Six Gerudo guards had their spears pointed at the Thief Lord. The speaker emerged from the shadows. It was Nabooru, looking murderous. She wore the ceremonial costume of the tribe Matron: a blue gown over her usual Gerudo clothing and a crown of white feathers splayed like the crest of a bird. “You betrayed our honor by turning on the Hylians. As second-in-command of the Gerudo people I hold you accountable to our laws.”

“You greet your king so? Don't stand in my way, Nabooru. Second-in-command must still bow to her rightful ruler. I go to the desert pyramid to pay my respects to the Sand Goddess. Surely you cannot deny me that.” Ganondorf stepped past the guards and made for the Wastes. The guards hesitated.

“You respect no one, Ganondorf,” said Nabooru, standing before her king in defiance. “You shall not pass. It has been forbidden. We will deny you.” Eight more guards emerged from their hiding places behind her and formed a barricade with their spears. The guards behind him likewise barred his retreat. Ganondorf was surrounded.

“Come, come, now,” said Ganondorf, grinning. “Can you really expect me to back down?” Nabooru was steel-faced. His grin became a scowl. “I never back down.” With a flick of his chin his reinforcements sprang out of their hiding places. In moments Asera and Abrum had disabled the six guards from behind and Ganondorf was joined by his minions. Abrum turned a stolen spear on Nabooru. “Deny me then,” said Ganondorf, folding his arms.

“Your father would never have let you do this,” sneered Nabooru.

“A shame he isn’t here, isn’t it?” snapped Ganondorf.

“Yes, shameful indeed,” answered Nabooru. “Shameful that his son is yet more wicked than he. Yet wicked as he was he would never have seen a Gerudo thief in league with the likes of this Sheikah dog.”

Abrum reacted quickly, thrusting the spear at the Gerudo Matron over and over. Nabooru was too quick for him, however, dodging his thrusts until she batted the spear from his hands, knocking it to the ground. In another quick movement Nabooru had curled her toe under the weapon and then it was in her hands, the tip pointed at Abrum’s heart. But Asera was already at Nabooru’s neck with her scimitar. They were at an impasse. Slowly, each backed away. The commotion had drawn a small group of Gerudo tribeswomen to the edge of the embankments.

“And now we can all see you have brought the very Gerudo against themselves,” Nabooru called, loud enough for the other tribeswomen to hear. “We are not blind, Ganondorf. We know you have recruited yet others of our number to your cause. What of them? Or are they all captured and dead at the tip of Hylian swords.” Nabooru stood erect with her spear held like a royal scepter. “Some of us have seen through your greed these many years, Ganondorf. Some of us know what happens to the women who don’t bow to your every command. Your two little witch-aunts take them off to the Shrine and have them brainwashed. That’s what you did with my sister, wasn’t it? Raean refused you and you had her mind wiped; made her your own little slave.” Ganondorf sneered. “You’re bent, Ganondorf. We may be thieves, but at least we are loyal to our oaths.” Then Ganondorf’s sneer twisted into a scowl. “You have no honor. Your Father would never have approved of…”

“My father’s crimes were no better than mine!” Ganondorf finally roared, vehement. “He sent his only son to die!” Ganondorf turned to the crowd of Gerudo women. “He had never spoken to me before that. No matter how many times I asked for him, he never came.” Then he rounded on Nabooru. “I brought him milk, if you remember. Such a precious gift as three bottles of rich milk would surely mean I could see him; speak to him. And he could not deny my part in the thing; I had brought the milk, not my trainer or anyone else. If any deserved reward it was I.” Now the guards from the rest of the fortress were gathering.

“But do you know what that milk bought me?” Ganondorf continued. He held up his forefinger. “One glance from my father. And he wasted it; smashed it on the ground. He said I had endangered the tribe by going outside the mountains and risking the knowledge of our location—said I was a disgrace, trying to undo what he had spent so long trying to accomplish—said I was never his son. Truly none else deserved the reward, and none else deserved the punishment.”

“For someone who hadn’t finished their training it must have been an honor for the Lord King to consider you ready to be tested,” said Nabooru.

“For someone who hadn’t finished training it was a death sentence! I had to fight my way in with no weapons but a shoddy bow I plucked off the last fool who failed. My father put me in there to die. I fought my way out, but by the time I did, he was gone. They said he had gone off to the pyramids in the deep desert, but I knew the truth; he abandoned me. Only then did I realize how much I hated him. I was nothing to him; a thorn in his side, someone who would only ever just take his place. He was never ‘paying his devotions.’ He was avoiding me, scorning me. No, Nabooru, don’t delude yourself—the man was as apathetic about the Goddesses as he was about his own people.”

Nabooru stood tall, robes sweeping. “And what will you do about it, Ganondorf Dragmire? Now you are all the Gerudo have…”

Ganondorf laughed at the phrase for spite with a wicked red laugh. “I am all the Gerudo have…and what am I to the Gerudo…?”

“As king you are the father of many…”

“Well I only ever had one father!” Ganondorf bellowed tersely. “And to him I never existed! And you all played along like it was a game!” Asera’s stance shifted as she glanced at her master, livid and tense. “We have only ever had what we could steal,” he continued, gesturing broadly toward the crowds of women, some of whom had young daughters with them. “I only ever had what I could take for myself. But the one thing I could never have was him. He was yours, or theirs,” he said gesturing broadly again, “but never mine…”

“Ganondorf, see reason,” interrupted Nabooru. “Now you are all the Gerudo have. If you leave this place our people will be no more. We will die, our ways will die…”

“I am done with this people and its ways!!” bellowed Ganondorf, mere inches from Nabooru’s face. The guards behind her brandished their spears, but Ganondorf ignored them. “Deluded fools, all of you. You begged your king to appease your thirst and he gave you filth to drink…”

“It was all we had, Ganondorf, you know…”

“I am not finished!” Nabooru clamped her mouth shut. “You begged him to give you sons and…”

“And he gave them you, Ganondorf…” she blurted.

“Obey and be silent, woman! I am finished with the Gerudo! Curl up in your caves and rot. I am no longer Ganondorf, king of the Enchanted Thieves. Now, I am only Ganon!”

And on the last word the Dark King drove his fist into the ground. There was a flash of purple and the earth shook violently, throwing Nabooru, the soldiers and most of the crowd off their feet. Where Ganon’s fist had struck a growing crack crept through the rock with thickening fingers. In moments it had reached half-way up the embankment. Then something else began to happen; from within the mud-brick dwellings issued shouts of alarm followed by clouds of dust. The mountain groaned and the complex of mud-dwellings folded inward—Gerudo Fortress was collapsing.

Nabooru responded immediately, commanding the guards into the fortress to help the injured. One after the other all of the adobe dwellings crumbled, burying those inside.

“Accept your punishment, fools!” Ganon barked. “Asera, Abrum!”

Called out of their shock and awe, Ganon’s minions followed their master as he strode, apathetic, past building after crumbling building. Not even when they reached the other extremity of the Gerudo Fortress did he turn to look on the place where he had become a man, crumbling to dust.

Nabooru hauled a young girl from under a pile of rubble. Dust caught in her throat. She only just caught the sight of two hunched figures riding their broomsticks out from among the rubble over the mountains toward the barren Waste.

“Sianna,” Nabooru called out when her voice was clear enough to speak. A Gerudo guard came to her side. “Get me the Silver Guantlets.”

“But mistress Nabooru, I…”

“Listen to me!” she said, grabbing the vest of the guard. “Our king is gone. I am your Matron. He will send his witches to retrieve the Gauntlets and use them for his wicked scheme. Do as I say or I will punish you and anyone else who crosses me! Get me those Guantlets now!”

“But they are in the Desert Shrine…the Waste is too treacherous to cross…”

“I know of a way—retrieve my sitar…”

“…but the entrances are far too small for…”

“…then this child shall do it!” Nabooru barked. “I will not allow my sister’s bracers into the hands of that criminal. Take her and return to me with them at once.”

“It shall be done.”

Nabooru knelt before the young girl. She wore a brave expression over her worried face. “What is your name, child?” The girl said her name just loud enough. “Din, is it?” said Nabooru. “That is the name of the Goddess herself! Did you know that, Din?” The little girl nodded her head. “Well, then. You must be very powerful to have a name such as that. Will you go with Sianna and retrieve my sister’s treasure?” The girl nodded again. “Thank you, Din. May your namesake protect you with her flaming arms and bring you back to us.” And when Nabooru had kissed her cheek, the girl left with Sianna to retrieve Nabooru’s sitar.

* * *

Abrum glanced behind him, aghast as the mourning wails of young children reached their ears. “Master, they’re dying…you’ve destroyed your own people…”

“A fitting end to a prison; I have set the captives free,” he said, and marched into the desert, a wall of sandstorms waiting to greet him. Asera and Abrum followed wordlessly. In moments two venerable figures arrived riding broomsticks.

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