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The Princess Who Carries the Blood of the Goddess

Chapter Text

She had slept without dreaming for so long that the fact of dreaming was, itself, a jolt. She knew she was dreaming (she always knew when she was dreaming, and how did she know that about herself when she knew so little else?) but clung fiercely onto the fact of the dream, not daring to wake up. She could feel the world outside of sleep, parallel to herself, and she did not know why but she knew that it was wrong, that something outside of her sleep was more terrible than the worst of her dreams, and she was so tired why shouldn’t she keep sleeping?

A light grew within the darkness of her sleep, and she saw the shape of her dream: herself, in a vast dark expanse with no up or down. She didn’t know how long she had been here, but the question was driven out by the golden light, and she found herself drawn to it. It was warm, familiar, important in a way she didn’t understand.

A woman with golden hair called out to her from within the light. The woman stood out in the radiance, after a moment she realized the woman was the radiance, beautiful in a way that made her suddenly terrified, hair the yellow of flames and eyes that shone like suns over a mouth shouting words she could not hear.

She tried to answer, but found she had no voice. She tried to reach out to the beautiful, terrible woman, but her arms would not move.

Desperation filled the woman’s face, a storm of fear and frustration and anger and a kind of strangling hope, and the shout was repeated. Now it reached her ears, the smallest sound in the world, but even in the vast silence of her dream she could not make out the words.

So the woman shouted again, and again, reaching out with grasping hands, eyes wider and more pleading than ever, and the radiance grew blinding and she thought she saw wings on the woman’s back. What was this? Who was the woman, whose voice built to a roar and now the woman was the dream, taking up the entirety of her awareness?

“Wake up!” The sound of thunder heard from miles and miles away, huge and terrible but faint, distant.

“You must wake up!” The stars were falling, she could see tears falling from a face that had known worlds of sorrow. She had to stop that, stop whatever was causing it.

“We’re running out of time! You must wake up! You must wake up now!

So the god commanded her; so she did.

The light shifted as she woke, yellow fading to blue. The world snapped into clarity as her eyes focused. She felt warm, and light, and rested.

She was lying in a pool of luminescent blue fluid, which even now drained away. She sat up, looked down at her fingertips, saw the fluid recede. It left no residue, did not discolor her skin, but she could feel its temperature as if she were still submerged in it. A curious thing, suggesting a kind of thermal insulation property…that persisted once it was removed? Curious indeed.

Again she looked up, at the source of the blue light: a stone edifice beneath an opening in a large blue bulb, which was anchored to a much larger edifice above it, lines of luminescent piping like the arteries of an enormous heart running from it up and into the ceiling.

“Strange,” she said, and the sound of her own voice was even stranger but she found herself better able to think as she spoke. “If the pipes connected to this bulb were carrying that fluid, and assuming this entire chamber wasn’t flooded before I woke up…” She imagined herself floating inside of the bulb, sleeping, dreamless. “Something like amniotic fluid, perhaps.” She got to her feet, found her legs steady but not quite as strong as she had expected. That told her the rest of it: she felt as if she had been completely sedentary, maybe even stationary, for an extended period. It was possible she had been a prisoner here, but that didn’t seem to be congruent with how the fluid felt, and how she had been released by it.

“I was injured, then. And…badly, it would seem.” This caused a quaver in some remote part of her thoughts, but when she reached for them she had no concept of why that would be so. “Badly enough to have lost my memory of the events. And.” She stopped, because she realized then she didn’t remember anything.

Well, no. That wasn’t true. She had one thing.

“My name is Zelda.” She looked around the chamber in which she had awoken. Left without prior knowledge to work with, she would need to build new conclusions based on the small observations she had made so far. “And I have to leave.”

The room itself was arresting, composed of a very glossy, dark-colored stone she did not recognize, set with glowing orange lines and circles that suggested constellations. The walls were lined with pillars made of the same dark stone, encrusted with a much lighter stone which also formed both a path across the floor and the two objects at the far end: a waist-high pedestal that hummed with light of that same blue color, and a door that seemed to be made of interlocking stone slats. Curiosity took her to the pedestal in firm but slow steps.

As she stepped near to it, the pedestal flashed with blue light. She did not flinch, too arrested by the sound of stone grinding against stone as the center of the dais rose from the body, rotated into a new orientation, and then the process was repeated with a rectangular block, which then was lifted into a vertical position.

“A completely separate piece, distinct from the stone in which it is set.” She leaned in and stepped around the pedestal, trying to see the object from different angles. “It has all the colors of the room, repeating the motifs of orange and blue lights, centered around what appears to be an eye.” Without hesitation she reached out and grabbed it. Trying to lift it she found that it slid easily out of place, and though it was firm and heavy in her hand it was comfortable, familiar. She weighed it, feeling its mass as she rotated her wrists, and when the center of the slate (why was she using that word in particular?) shone with a new light she leaned in close, to observe it more carefully.

Then the door ground open, the interlocking slats drawing back into the walls. Without thinking she hooked the slate to her belt, stepping through the door.

She stood in a new chamber, in structure similar to the first but in contents very different: broken and empty crates, which seemed to have once held contents that long since had turned to dust, and two stone chests that looked as if they might have endured better. She went to the chests and opened them, huffing with the exertion of heaving the lids, and inside found a pair of worn trousers and a nearly-as-worn shirt. The boots that had been stored with the trousers were so old that the leather might as well have been wood, but it all looked to be about her size and the sense of warmth from the blue fluid was fading. She dressed, found the clothes comfortable if a bit light, and kept walking.

“This whole place is one chamber,” she said to no one, the shape of the walls making it so her voice echoed back to her only very little. “There seem to be layers of locks and defenses that can only be opened from the inside, so it is not a prison. Whoever left me here,” and she consciously made space for the idea that she might have done this to herself, as she had no memory to the contrary, “wanted to make sure that I could not be disturbed. Who am I, to have such treatment?” You are Zelda, her own thoughts rejoined, and there was no answer to that.

At the end of the room was a second door, much larger than the first, and a new pedestal. Its appearance was different from its counterpart in the first chamber, covered in interlocking orange and blue lights surrounding an eye symbol identical to that on the slate she carried.

In another time, another place, another circumstance, a voice carried on golden winds would have directed the adventurer, but no such voice rang out to her, save in dreams. Her connection to the place was different, her understanding her own, and recalling how the slate had been set in the other room she held it up to this pedestal.

The pedestal hummed in a high voice, as if it were a sprite pleased with her intuition, and all the orange light shifted to blue.

“Blue and orange to blue and blue,” she said, and looked up as the door began to shift. The eye symbol lit up in the same blue, stone pillars (they were much too big for her to call them slats) shifting out of their interlocking position and receding into the wall. Then the door rose, and the light from behind it was white and blinding, as bright as the light she had dreamed of, and she shielded her eyes from it. When her vision adjusted she looked and saw that there was a rising corridor that opened into the pale blue of the sky.

“Finally,” she said, and stepped into the corridor. Her relief was quickly replaced by irritation: at the end of the first flight of steps she found a flat opening where more steps should have been; in place of stone here was grass, and soil, and standing water. To get out of the chamber she would have to scale a wall that was something like two and a half times her height. She could feel the impossibility in her limbs, the relative weakness in her legs. Maybe on her best day, but this certainly was not that.

“Well. I suppose one must deal with challenges as they present themselves.”

She walked back into the previous chamber, taking stock of what was available to her: some whole crates that were much too massive for her purposes, some decrepit crates that she would probably destroy in attempting to use them, and some even more decrepit barrels that still had their iron banding whole and in place, as unlikely as it seemed. One of these barrels she grabbed hold of and dragged across the chamber, praying that it would not fall to pieces as she did so. At the stairs she lifted it more carefully, setting it down and straightening her grip after each step. It was a long time indeed before she reached the top of the flight, and then dragged it across stone, soil, water, and grass to set it at the foot of the wall.

“No,” she said, weary but determined. “That won’t be nearly enough.” So back she went, for another barrel. Then another.

She did not rest; she knew that if she rested she would collapse, and that would not avail her anything yet. She lifted the third barrel by bracing it against the first, shoving it until it was stacked relatively neatly. So that was her support built: a barrel next to two barrels, standing like child’s blocks.

“Not the steadiest-looking staircase,” she said, pleased with herself in spite of her nerves and irritation and the way the old shirt was sticking unpleasantly to her as she sweat, “but I think it will do.”

Carefully, as if she had never climbed anything in this way in her life, she hoisted herself atop the single barrel. It was unsteady under her shifting weight, and she could feel the wood creaking ominously even as she kept her feet on its rim. If not for the iron banding it probably would have flown apart by now. That image, of herself effectively trapped here, was foremost in her mind as she carefully gripped the stack of barrels next to her. She tested it by putting weight on her arms, estimated it was not really any worse than the single barrel on which she now stood, and hoisted herself up.

She was instantly proven wrong as the entire thing began to sway, and then to buckle. Her first reaction was to panic, to flail; instead she got her feet under her, placed her hands onto the wall, and kicked off the barrel as hard as she could. She jumped, arms reaching over the top of the wall, and scrambled for purchase as she heard the splintering of wood and ringing of rusted iron falling into water behind her. She tried to find purchase with her feet, the worn leather of the boots sliding uselessly against the stone, and she could feel the roughness of the top of the wall tearing at the skin of her arms. For one brief, terrible second she thought she was going to fall, to break something and not be able to get up at all—and then her reaching right hand found a handhold, and her left another, and with panicked strength she heaved herself up and over, scrambling away from the edge and to a pile of dirt in front of the last staircase. Here she collapsed.

She lay panting for what seemed a very long time, and when her breathing slowed and her heart stopped pounding in her ears she felt the breeze coming from the top of the stairs, felt distant snatches of birdsong.

“OK.” She got to her feet, tested herself, found she was in no danger of collapsing. “Almost there. I’ll just get out of here, take note of my surroundings, then figure out what to do. Then I can rest.” Slowly, carefully, she went up the steps, or tried to. By the time she had reached the top she was taking them two at a time; by the time she came to the mouth of the corridor she had broken into a full run.

The world exploded into being all around her, overwhelming her senses with light and color and sound and sensation, a sense of place and reality so removed from where she had been a moment ago it was if she had awoken from another dream, her previous awakening only its own nested illusion. Trees on both sides of her, and the sun was high and the grass bowed gently in her passing as she ran forward. A cliff overlooked the land below it, and she stepped up to it, too enthralled to be afraid of its height.

There were no words for her; the wind took them away, carried her breath across verdant fields that stretched on forever. She could see for miles, miles and miles and miles, to the enormity of the mountains that framed the horizon, to a castle that lay far to the north, and out to the east…it was too much to take in, a scope that robbed her of her ability to analyze it. Not just a landscape but the whole world felt laid out in front of her, and in that one glorious moment she knew that she had never felt or known freedom like this in her entire life. For that one moment she forgot her dream, the cave, her name, the urgency of a woman’s words calling out to her from across the gap of time.

Then, as she looked east, she saw a path leading from where she stood, running down a hill toward what looked like an enormous temple. Partway down the path she saw a person, a man with a huge and snowy beard, and she laughed as she waved to him.

He did not seem to acknowledge her, though he looked straight at her. He turned, walking down the path to a fire that was set underneath a stone outcropping. She could not read his body language from that distance, but something about him struck her as sad.

That gave her pause. Was her presence disturbing to him? Was he a local, and she an intruder?

“It doesn’t matter,” she said to herself, as much for the assurance as for the speaking of fact. “I need directions, food, and shelter. Maybe he can provide one, if not all.”

Not knowing why she did so, she took a moment to comport herself, to call up a well of dignity that spoke calmness and surety to anyone who would see her. With that posture she walked down the path, to speak seriously with the old man at his fire.

Chapter Text

The light from the fire did not reach far, though it did not need to with the morning sun still hanging in the sky. The old man was sitting close to it, though the day was warm enough that it should have been uncomfortable. These things she noted, tried to draw some correlation between them, and came up a bit short. Strange that the bearded stranger should have a fire going this early in the day, and no real way to reconcile it.

When she stepped near he looked up, his expression surprised. “Oh-ho! Well met, stranger!”

In the space between his breaths Zelda stopped, and she thought. She was nearly positive he had seen her as she looked down at the rest of the landscape; why feign surprise? Or maybe he hadn’t actually seen her, and that was why he hadn’t waved? Could the light have played a trick on his eyes? No, the sun had been behind him. Could he have simply failed to see her due to poor vision? If so, why had he been looking right at her?

“Good morning, sir,” she said. “I saw you from atop the cliff, and hoped you might be able to help me. I’m” confused hungry exhausted alone ill amnesiac “lost.”

He nodded, his beard lending him an air of solemnity deeper than the casting of his face. “It is a terrible thing, to be lost. Few are the intersection of perils more demanding or concrete, especially with the world as it is now.” In his right hand he was holding a walking stick, from which hung a lantern; with this he motioned to the other side of the fire. “Here, sit with me and we will talk. You’ll find a baked apple by the fire. Feel free to partake.”

Her eyes cut to where he indicated, and there she saw the apple, red and wrinkled and steaming, sitting a comfortable distance away from the fire’s heat. “I would not want to impose on you,” she said, a formality running counter to the demands of her hunger.

His face was genuinely warm, and for some reason it made her relax. There was an earnestness in his expression, despite his strangeness. “Please. I can always gather more apples, and I have already had my fill. I will be much happier for the conversation than to have an extra apple I can’t even eat.”

She sat on the grass, taking the apple in her hand. It was warm to the touch, and even unseasoned the smell emanating from it was rich and deep and still tart. Wiping it on her shirt to remove ash or soil, she bit into it, and it tasted as it smelled: sweet, the sugar of the apple turning to a thin syrup, but still tart and fresh and aromatic. She wondered how long it had been since she had eaten, and if that was why she was enjoying it so much, the relief of the first bite so sharp it brought tears to her eyes. The apple was enormous, as big as both of her fists held together, and she knew she was going to eat every part of it but its stem.

“You said you were lost,” the old man suggested, his tone relaxed but curious as she ate. “I’m just an old hermit, but I’ve made my place here for a long, long time. Where are you going?”

The question was a fair one, but also potentially dangerous. She had no memory of who she was, or where, or how she came to be there; she did not think that she had enough information to construct a lie to hide the extent of her ignorance. That ignorance was vulnerability, but to let someone else know about it was a separate vulnerability all on its own, giving them power over her. Could she risk that? Could she mitigate it somehow?

She swallowed carefully, decided that she could not hide everything and still gain useful knowledge, and said, “It’s less that I don’t know where I’m going. I don’t know where I am.”

“No?” Surprise again, but not too sharp, as if her ignorance of place was not wholly unexpected. “I’ll tell you, then. We are on the Great Plateau. Legend says that this is the birthplace of the kingdom of Hyrule.”

“Hyrule,” she said, because the name echoed inside of her mind, seeking a place that it did not have.

“Yes. We’re near the center of the kingdom, though this place is not as it once was.” He gestured with his staff again, indicating down the path, to an enormous and dilapidated stone building that looked like a temple or cathedral. “Do you see that structure? Once, it was the site of holy ceremonies that were central to the culture of this land. Now it stands ravaged and forgotten.” He sighed through his nose. “Like so much in this place.”

She had no answer, and he did not urge her for more, so she continued eating. Faster than she would have thought she finished the apple, core and all, and dropped the stem onto the grass. “Thank you for sharing with me,” she said, rising to her feet, “and for your help.”

“Not at all! There is plenty to share here, if you know how to look for it. You’ll find the plateau full of apples in need of only a little warmth.”

She nodded to him, and stepped back onto the path. She could have asked for better directions, but now she had enough information to get by, at least for a while. He said he was a hermit, but even hermits usually lived near enough to civilization, and she was confident she would be able to find a town or settlement so long as she could reach a high enough vantage point. She was in no hurry—and for whatever reason, that thought was immensely satisfying.

She had only walked a few steps when the old man said behind her, “Wait a moment.” She turned, and he got up from his seat, walking over to the wall of the outcropping where she saw a torch was leaned. He picked it up, walked over to her, held it out. “Take this with you.”


“A torch is a useful thing to have. It can light your way in the dark, be used to perpetuate or create a fire, and in a pinch…” Here his expression darkened, his bushy eyebrows knitted together as if he was struggling with something. “In a pinch it can be a weapon.” He gestured with the torch. “Here, don’t be shy. I have more I can use for myself.”

“Oh. Well.” She reached out, took it from his hand, found the indirect contact between them both reassuring and off-putting at once. “Thank you. I will try to make use of it.” The operative word there being try; she was not sure if she could make a fire by herself.

“One last thing, please, and then you can go on your way without having to listen to my prattle.” He gestured with his staff again. “The path here is… not entirely safe.” Her surprise must have shown on her face, then, because he nodded at her. “I see you understand. There is one beast in particular that likes to lie in wait in the bushes, eyes on the path, and to attack travelers with the branch of a tree. You’ll find an axe in a stump a little way down the path. Take it with you. Are you much of a warrior, miss?”

She shook her head; no point in hiding that, not with how she could feel the color draining from her face, how aware she was of the relative weakness of her limbs. No, whatever she had been before, a warrior was not it.

“Then use your awareness to your advantage. The beasts that occupy the plateau are dangerous and in some cases cunning, but they are not very observant. Aware, any of them is a match and more for the average well-armed traveler,” and here his posture changed, in a way that was very difficult to identify but very easy to perceive, as he pulled back his shoulders and stood straighter and tilted his head back, “but the greatest element one can have in a conflict is surprise. If they do not know you are there, you can get past them. Do you understand?” She nodded. His posture relaxed, and his smile was genuine and warm and so weary that she almost wanted to embrace him. “Good. Be safe.” He turned, walking back to his fire and resuming his seat.

She stared at him for what felt an impolite length of time, but he never looked up. The idea of beasts attacking lone travelers banged around in her head, and the sharpness and enormity of her vulnerability fell on her so concretely that she could not believe she hadn’t perceived it before. What was she doing out here, alone? Why had she been thrust into this situation, which she more and more suspected she was not equipped to deal with? The dizzying freedom she had felt before talking to the old man and even during the conversation had given way to something else, a cloudy anxiety that colored how she saw the world as she looked down the path. The shadows were deeper, now, though the sun had grown no brighter, and the green of the trees that had symbolized life now held more dangers than she would have believed, before. She considered staying with the old man, asking him to travel with her, to ask for directions, to give up on the idea of doing all of this—whatever this was, but she knew there was something—on her own. It would be simpler to have companionship, and safer. It might slow things down, but…

But a golden voice called to her across the vastness of the dark and she remembered how the woman had plead.

She walked down the path. Her nerves were no more still, her confidence driven to no greater heights, but still she walked. In a little time she came to the promised tree stump, and the promised axe with its head buried there. With effort she wrenched it free, holding it, feeling its weight in her hands before putting it on her back. An axe was a good thing to have, she told herself, even if she wasn’t sure she had the strength to use it as a weapon. You could use it to cut firewood, to sharpen sticks, probably even to start fires somehow, if you were creative. Yes. It was a good thing to have, even if not as a weapon.

She put the axe on her back, adjusted the straps of her shoulder harness, and walked down the path.

The sunlight filtered through the foliage in dappled patterns, making the air cooler than it had been on the path. When she focused on that, Zelda found that it was easier to keep down her sense of impending panic.

The line of trees on the left side of the path had been where the beast the old man mentioned would be waiting, she was sure; there was no cover on the other side. The trees weren’t very deep, either, nestled between the path and a steep drop down a cliff, which meant that whatever the thing was it had to be in a narrow band if it wanted to keep a clear eye on the road. When she had come to the trees she’d immediately ducked into them, keeping low and quiet as she stalked through the grass between the ancient trunks. She wasn’t sure how quiet she was actually being, but the grass and ground were soft and she was keeping a careful eye out so as not to step on any fallen sticks or dry leaves. The effort of being that quiet was draining, but it was better than the alternative; the weight of the axe against her back was more of a burden than a promise, and she was more sure than ever that she wouldn’t be able to swing it in defense if it came to that. Fine. It didn’t matter if she could stay out of the thing’s sight and hearing.

Assuming it can’t smell you. Or hasn’t laid some sort of trap. Or that it doesn’t have senses that you don’t even have a name for, according to stimuli that your brain wouldn’t understand.

Yes. Assuming all of that, she crept.

The birds were lively and full-throated and happy on the Great Plateau, and she had found their song to be very calming, relatively speaking, for the past few minutes. Now she was grateful to them for another reason: they provided another layer of sound over her own footsteps, partially masking any mistakes she was making. She hoped that they would sing to each other all the louder for it.

A twig snapped, and Zelda froze mid-step.

She looked down, even though she had heard it come from her right, closer to the road. Nothing at her feet to make noise. She crouched lower, suddenly aware of herself, of the lines of sight that might reveal her to something stalking her. She looked to her right, straining to see.

There, in the tall grass, a flash of red and brown.

She raised herself, just enough, trying to see more, ready to bolt if she had to. Her legs still felt weak, but if she was chased she would run like she’d never run in her life. Great triangular red ears, like the ears of a pig, set on top of a broad red head. She was behind the thing, which even as she watched broke the twig it had been holding with another clean snap, so she could not see its face. What she did see were the corded muscles that ran along its spine and shoulders, the ease with which it lay in wait, the stick it held while waiting for prey to come by.

The axe weighed her down, and the thought of trying to hold it made her nauseous. Staying low, staying quiet, never stepping too quickly, she hurried away.

When she came to the end of the copse she stepped out, still crouched and quiet even though she was confident she was out of sight of the thing in the bushes. The sun had risen higher, now, and the day was getting warmer though it would never get beyond pleasantly cool.

“It’s all right,” she told herself, using her voice, the fact of making noise, to force herself into being convinced. “I’m past it, now, and don’t need to hide anymore.” She straightened her posture, taking careful note of what she was carrying: the torch, the axe, a few apples she had picked up while escaping through the trees. “I’m much more well-equipped than I was before I went in.”

True though that was, she wasn’t confident she was any more prepared, especially because she did not know where she wanted to go next. “Well. Lacking any other direction, the old man did say that the temple used to be an important place. If I explore it, I might be able to find more resources, even directions. Or, at least I can find some shelter.”

Convinced of the rightness of this course of action, she turned down the path, and immediately saw a speck of red in the distance. From this distance she couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked like another thing like that which had been in the brush.

Without thinking she took the slate from her hip, held it up in front of her face by the handles, and pressed a button on the side of it. It hummed, then clicked, the front of it lighting up and displaying a zoomed in perspective as if the slate were also a looking glass. She had been right, too: another one of those red creatures, though this one she could see much more clearly. Bipedal, wearing clothing, hunched over as if it were unable to stand straight, bright red, porcine facial features, and carrying a club that looked quite a bit more refined and dangerous than a stick.

Then she realized what she was doing and forgot utterly about the beast.

“Oh!” She turned the slate in her hands, watching as the perspective displayed on it shifted with its orientation. “Fascinating! It seems this device has more uses than I had given it credit for.” She crouched down, setting it on her knees, watching as the image of the ground shifted from blurriness to clarity in less than a second. “A self-correcting focus. It can detect distance, then? What else can you do, I wonder…” She turned it over in her hands again, taking note that there were various buttons on the face and top of the slate. She pressed on these experimentally, which caused the slate’s screen to shift through several displays that she didn’t understand. Mostly they seemed to be empty, with a small notation that read in Hylian “The Sheikah Slate has been damaged.”

“Damaged, are you…and now I have a name.” She flipped through several more screens, wondering at the functionality that was missing from it. If it could display images obtained through some sort of lens, the question of what else it could do set a fire in her brain. She could be holding an artifact of untold sophistication, but be utterly unable to meaningfully interact with it! In a fit of pique she kept flipping back and forth across the device’s screens, wondering at them but never sticking for too long. Then one gave her pause.

The screen was mostly blank, with blue grid lines to indicate the scale of something that wasn’t entirely clear to her. A small yellow dot inside of a large dot flashed in one section of the grid, while a yellow triangle pointed at nothing in particular.

“Plainly this is meant to indicate something, but what? Is it related to the device’s other functions? Its viewing mode?” She raised it up, as if to look through its lens at the beast in the distance, but the screen did not change. For no reason she could name she swept it to the side, as if taking in a panorama, and as she did so the triangle began to rotate.

She had to keep herself from shouting in surprise and delight to have it respond to her. She jumped to her feet, forgetting the sense of dread and danger that had so badly oppressed her before, and swung the slate around. The triangle on the display matched her degree of rotation perfectly.

“I see! So if the triangle indicates the orientation of the sheikah slate, or perhaps the person holding it, then that would mean that the blinking circle…” She shifted her position, holding the slate up in front of her, looking between the horizon and its screen as she turned. “Now, assuming reasonable scale of distance,” and by that she meant assuming that it wasn’t indicating an object that was not on the plateau, “if I orient myself properly, I find…” The triangle, which she now thought of as an arrow, swung into perfect alignment with the circle. She looked into the distance and saw a pile of rubble. “I hope it’s not as simple as that.” Swapping back to the viewing functionality, she zoomed in on the spot, then could not fight the grin that muscled its way onto her face. “Perfect.”

What seemed to be a pile of rubble was in fact a series of large stone sheets partially obscuring an artificial structure beneath them. With her naked eyes she couldn’t tell clearly, but through the slate she saw that the structure was apparently made of the same stone as the chamber she had woken up in, and therefore linked to the sheikah slate.

“It even has the proper color of lights.” She closed the viewer on the slate and returned it to her hip. “Well then! If my journey started with the slate, it only makes sense that it should guide me further.” Thoughts of the temple were totally forgotten, and the presence of the red beasts only floated at the edge of her awareness, troubling her only very little. The potential of discovering some great secret, solving some ancient puzzle which no one else had, made her steps light as she walked down the path and along the ridge toward the wide plain where her destination waited.

There were more of the monsters than she had previously assumed, but after seeing that they rarely looked up from their own routines she became much less afraid. She stayed low when near them, still, and was as quiet as she could make herself, but the old man had been right: they simply weren’t very observant. Two seated at the bottom of a ravine seemed to be speaking in a language she couldn’t comprehend, and she thought idly that if she were strong enough to shift one of the boulders atop the ravine then they probably wouldn’t even see it coming.

When she came down to the flatter part of the plateau where the ruins were located, she stopped at the head of a wide and ruined staircase to observe the route she intended to take. On the right—the south—was an open path that lead near to an enormous skull, easily the size of a building, and she wondered what kind of beast could have a head that large but did not think on it for too long because the monsters had apparently set up a watch around it.

“They have sentries and guards, and can build towers. What sort of society and culture do they have, I wonder? Clothing, weapons…”

Swinging the slate back toward her destination, she noted two of the beasts standing atop a knoll off to the northeast.

“Their lines of sight there would be quite long, and they have… are those bows?” She clicked her tongue, wishing for the ability to zoom in closer on the slate. “Hard to say, but if they are then they’re handmade. Still, it would be best to avoid them if possible…” She looked toward the ruin itself, sucking air through her teeth. “Oh.”

In front of the entrance to the ruins, before what appeared to be the only opening in the rubble, was another one of the beasts. This one was clearly guarding the entrance, and compared to its fellows it was more dangerously armed: in its left hand it carried a crude shield, and in its right it held not a club but a sword.

“Stolen, maybe? Everything else they carry appears to be handmade. But that doesn’t matter; stolen or not, the fact that it carries a sword suggests that it knows how to use it, and it may be the martial superior to its fellows.” She closed the view on her slate, put it back on her hip, thought for a moment. “Based on its posture, sneaking in behind it would be too risky. These things never seem to focus on one subject for very long, so it may turn and discover me before I’ve discovered whatever is special about those ruins.” The words of the old man, that any of these things was a match for a well-armed traveler, stuck in her mind. “Perhaps it would be easier to seek out the temple, then.” But no, there had been another of them there, too. Less well-armed, but much more mobile, much more eager in its patrolling. If she was ever going to see any part of this plateau, some degree of confrontation seemed inevitable.

Putting it that way made her stomach lurch, and for one wild moment she thought she was going to be sick.

She breathed, and it passed, and she started her walk down the half-buried steps.

She swung north, darting between fallen pillars and ruined walls, keeping a careful watch for any watchful eyes. On her left she saw a pond, and beyond that what looked like an encampment for the beasts, but they were too far to see her unless they were looking.

She made her way across the field in that fashion, swinging around to approach the rubble from the northern side, so the stones lay between her and the sentry. She was too far away to be spotted by the bow-beasts, but she crept carefully anyway, mindful that if she was wrong then she would also quickly be dead. She pressed herself against the stone of the rubble as she rounded it, not feeling its warmth, too mindful of her own movements and trying to make sure she did not betray herself with noise. At last she came to a stone that she judged to be in the right spot, and peered around it with all the slowness in the world.

There, facing away from her, the red beast with its sword and shield. It swung its head back and forth, sniffing at the air, and she wondered again if it might smell her, if she was upwind of it, if she could outrun the thing, burdened as she was with the axe. They were everywhere, all over the plateau, and if an open chase started then getting completely away from them would be impossible. They would surround her, and bring her down, and

And she grabbed hold of that thought and strangled it, tossing it onto the rubbish heap at the back of her mind. Let her amnesia take that, and she would have no more like it. Fear, she told herself but did not dare to say out loud, had no place in what she was doing. She didn’t know what that was, precisely, but she did know that one did not simply wake up in the middle of mysterious rooms and have precious artifacts left for you without some sort of purpose. Purposes, by their very nature, needed to be fulfilled, so fulfill it she would. No matter what that meant.

The beast yawned. Zelda loosened the strap holding the axe to her back, and took it in both of her hands. It was heavy, very heavy, but she had tested it earlier and knew it to be freshly sharpened, too. The beast scratched itself, and she crouched low.

Quick and quiet, she told herself, quick and quiet, quick and quiet, quick and quiet! But mostly quiet, quiet first, she told herself as her feet moved, bringing her closer and closer. She shifted her hold on the axe, praying, praying to she knew not what gods that the sweat on her hands would not be enough to ruin her grip, that the bow-carrying sentries would not wander in this direction, that the creature would not turn to face her, she raised the axe as she came within five paces and she could feel it, she could feel it feeling her there, it was going to turn around it was going to turn around NOW

The impact of the axe’s head against the creature’s spine sent a shock up her arms. It did not cry out; it dropped, limp, and moved no more. The axe was still buried in its back as it lay motionless, its sword and shield falling softly to the earth.

She covered her mouth with her hands. She could not know this, but it was the first time she had ever killed anything herself; the person she was before had never even intentionally swatted at horseflies. The echo of this fact rebounded inside of her, over and over, having no perspective with which to anchor itself and tell her why her head was filled with a scream the creature had not voiced. She crouched low, tried to stop herself from shaking. This is relief, she said to herself, and on some level this was true.

While Zelda tried to control this upwelling of a feeling she could not fully identify and did not understand, a creeping darkness poured out from within the wound on the creature’s back, quickly suffusing the entire body so that no light cast any of its features into relief. It was like looking at an emptiness left in space.

Then it burst, silently, into smoke and purple-colored vapors. Two objects clattered to the ground, left behind in its passing. Zelda stared at this, and it was ultimately her curiosity that sank its hooks into her and pulled her along. It was hard, harder than it should have been, to creep toward the spot where the creature had fallen, to cross those few steps. But cross it she did, and her relief and terror and fear and shame was slowly pushed aside as she came closer to the spot. Firstly and lastly she was curious, firstly and lastly she had to know.

“Gone,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “Gone as if it had never been here in the first place. How? Some kind of sorcery? Are these things composed of magic, though they behave according to the laws of flesh?” She reached to the two objects that had fallen in the creature’s passing. Her hands were shaking, still, and she glared at them, willing them still so that she could examine more confidently. Once she was satisfied that she would drop nothing, damage nothing, she picked up the two objects, one in each hand, and turned them in front of her face. “A tooth, and… a horn. Clean, as if they were bleached, as if they were not anchored in a living thing only moments ago. So… perhaps they were not. Perhaps these things are not genuinely alive in the first place. But… hm, too many questions.” She put the tooth and horn in a pouch on her belt, cinched it shut. She picked up her axe, strapped it to her back again, started to turn and leave.

“No,” she said. “No, the sword and the shield. You might have need of better tools to protect yourself.” So she picked these up, and strapped them to her back too. Heavy, but not so heavy as she would have thought.

Zelda stopped, still crouched, and breathed, trying to take inventory of her own thoughts. She was still upset, yes, but the nature of the creature had alleviated that somewhat. Maybe later she could stop and examine why so much of that shock had been replaced by relief, but on some level she guessed that she had already started thinking of the crimson beasts as being evil rather than properly living. That was unfair, and she would need to examine it for later, but right now, in this moment she needed that surety to keep walking. She took it.

She rubbed her face with her hands, wishing desperately for a handkerchief, and turned back to the ruin. Now, at last, she would be able to find something.

She walked quietly, because it had become a quickly-learned habit rather than out of necessity, but she need not have. When she stepped into the shadow of the ruins, she saw a pedestal much like the one that had been in the chamber where she had woken up. The orange light, the absence of both blue and the symbol of the eye, the difference, sent a pleasant chill up and down her arms.

“Place the Sheikah Slate in the pedestal.” The voice that emanated from the pedestal was high and pleasant, its diction precise and clipped and strange. This should have shocked her; she was quickly discovering that very little could, now.

“Is that what you want,” she said, leaning in, tilting her head back and forth. Indeed, there was a recess in the center of the pedestal roughly in the shape of the slate. She spent a few seconds thinking this over, wondering if she would be able to get the slate back, but ultimately deciding that trading ignorance for knowledge was quite the bargain. “So be it. But I expect you will return it.”

The voice gave no answer.

“Very well.” She took the slate from her hip and placed it, oriented vertically, in the standing slot meant to receive it. As soon as she did the entire device tilted back until it was flush with the surface of the pedestal and then it rotated with a pleasant click, so that the blue eye on the back of the slate stood out against the orange light surrounding it. The raised center of the pedestal sank in further until it too was flush with its base, and as it began to rotate she recognized that she was watching the reverse of the motions that had given her the slate in the first place.

The machine settled into place, and the orange lights glowed brighter.

“Sheikah Tower activated.” The same crisp, strange pronunciation.

“What is a Sheikah Tower?”

Ignoring her, the voice continued, “Please watch for falling rocks.”

She looked up out of instinct. “The rocks here seem quite settled.” As she was looking, she saw that the pedestal was sitting beneath an arch-like structure constructed of similar stone, and on that structure the eye symbol began to glow.

Then the earth shook, and it occurred to her that falling rocks could be a problem.

Then the earth heaved beneath her and her weakened legs gave out and she fell backward and her head slammed into the stone.

On the great plateau the bokoblins looked up in confusion and terror as the earth heaved, and when the sheikah tower rose into the sky it sent a hail of stone in every direction. This was a signal.

It was a signal to the other towers all over Hyrule, each of which rose from the earth in answer to their long-awaited summons.

It was a signal to a village in the mountains of Necluda, where an old woman looked out from beneath her wide-brimmed hat and felt new life breathed into a hope that had very nearly died.

It was a signal to that village’s sister community, where men and women in red uniforms donned masks of rotated eyes, knowing that their time was at hand.

It was a signal to the world that something was shifting, that the perilous stalemate of a century was coming to an end.

It was a signal to the beast within the castle, which screamed in fury and defiance as the world moved to stifle it. It pushed against the very seams of creation, and the earth and sky both groaned with the effort of containing its fury. So long it had been held, and now that time was coming to an end, one way or another.

She knew none of this; she was dreaming again, and knew it as soon as the dream began.

There was no preamble now, no gentle shifting from darkness to light; the woman was before her in all radiance, and she knew that she was looking upon a goddess. The woman’s eyes were soft, warm, gentle, sorrowful beyond imagining. There was an enormity of experience there, an enormity of burden and of pain, which echoed inside of Zelda as surely as if she had experienced it herself.

“You have,” the goddess said, “and will again.”

“I do not know where I am,” Zelda said, and the many ways in which that were true hung in that space, and the goddess nodded in her perfect understanding.

“We are of one heart. Know this: a terrible evil threatens Hyrule, and it grows more terrible by the day. You have slept for one hundred years, my Zelda, and in that time the world has stood on the edge of utter annihilation. You must stop it. You must save the world, and everyone in it.”

“But,” and that word was everything, but she had to add more to it. “But I can’t do that! I don’t know who I am, but I do know what I am: I’m weak, and frightened, and I have hands that have never done real work!”

The goddess’s eyes blazed, suns set in a sea of gold, but she did not look away from them. This intensity was not ire; it was compassion. “I know. But even so, you will do it. There is no one else who can, and time—your time, our time—grows perilously short.” Hands as large as the world reached out for Zelda, embraced her, enfolded her on a scale she didn’t understand, pulled her against the goddess’s shoulder. In that embrace, the goddess was no larger than Zelda herself. “Your burden is the heaviest of all burdens, save only one, but I know you can carry it. I know you will carry it.”

She realized she was weeping, some unremembered familiarity lancing through the part of her mind that was still sleeping, and she did not know why she wanted to stay here, only that she did. “I am so afraid.”

“Fear is only one of the many obstacles before you, daughter, but it is both the greatest and the one that will never leave you. It will be your companion and your nemesis. It will guide you and mislead you, by turn. I cannot take it from you, and for that I am sorry.”

“How? How am I supposed to do this?” The warmth, the familiarity, was overwhelming. She knew this light, this voice, this embrace, this feeling of belonging and being.

Hands as vast as the world gently moved her away, and her perspective shifted again, and once more she was looking at a woman whose light could fill the cosmos. “You will know what you have to do, but you must remember.”

The light grew greater, and the darkness with it, and Zelda panicked as she realized she was waking up.

“Remember,” the goddess said.

“Try to remember.”

She awoke, and the goddess was gone. Zelda still had her words, though the timber of her voice was fading, the warmth of being held by her. She tried to hold onto those memories, but they were slipping, as dreams do. She wished she could write them down, didn’t know how much it would do.

Behind her the pedestal pronounced that it was gathering information from the surrounding environment. She knew, remotely, that it was gathering up knowledge in a liquid state and transferring it to her slate, that the slate functionality was either being expanded or restored, but in that moment she had no thought to spare for it. The words of the goddess echoed in her mind and she looked north, north to a castle.

Even from this distance she could tell it was beautiful and that it was wrong. The castle itself, the surrounding city, even the countryside was couched in a whirling miasma as thick as smoke and much more persistent. Black and purple dominated the light in that space, much like the beast that she had felled. As she looked the darkness built up, up, the miasma whipped into a frenzy, and in the distance she heard a roar.

Then, above the roar, above the darkness, there was a light. As she watched the miasma whirled and thinned, and the gathered darkness dissipated. Light exploded from the castle’s keep, a (cleansing, the light was cleansing) blue light that stilled the earth with a song that rang out in an ancient voice. The earth shook once more, and there was another roaring bellow, but that voice drowned it out.

She was crying again. She did not know why, but knew that she would find out.

Zelda wiped her eyes, turned back to the sheikah slate, retrieved it. It now displayed a topographical map for the entire plateau, and informed her that more towers would expand its available data. She would need to remember to visit them, but for now she put the slate back on her hip.

The tower’s rise had put her very high in the air, and momentarily she thought that perhaps she was trapped there, but a golden light bearing a golden voice was still clear in her mind. She found the one opening in the floor, judged that she would break her legs if she tried to jump to a lower platform, and began the slow climb down to it instead.

Slowly, methodically did she descend, each time judging the distance to the next platform down, each time climbing as carefully as she was able, each time stopping to rest only briefly. The tower was more of a pillar of stone shot through with glowing veins of blue ore, surrounded by a sort of stone mesh that provided good hand and foot holds, but the climb itself was still long and difficult. About halfway down she ate an apple, decided she would need to gather more (and cook them, at that).

It was nearly three hours before she reached the ground. She was congratulating herself when she heard a call, and turned, and saw the old man sailing down on some device she didn’t recognize. It would be good to have. She stepped forward to meet him.

“My, my. It would seem we have quite the” Something in her face must have given him pause, whatever he was prepared to say dropping away from him. “What is it?”

“I need to reach the castle to the north,” she said, because it was true. “I think I will need your glider to do it. You have been very generous to me, and I am sorry that I must depend on your generosity again, but I would have it.”

His expression was carefully controlled, but for some reason she found him familiar, could read the subtleties of his face where others might not have been able to, fractions of expressions that told her that he was reconsidering her, weighing her. That familiarity itched at her, but she said nothing. Instead it was he who continued, “Would you be willing to work for it?”

She felt the weight of the axe on her back, thought of the weight of the sword and shield as she picked them up, how they would feel in her hands. The words of the goddess were still with her, though she could not remember the face, and the sense of belonging was fuzzy and indistinct. But more than either of those, more than both put together, she thought of an ancient voice singing a single note that would forefend annihilation, and a radiant blue light that stood at the threshold of the dark, beating back the doom of the world. This last, this last most of all, she knew mattered.

“Tell me what I have to do.”

Chapter Text

The structure that stood on the other side of the sunken pond, beyond the camp of monsters, was plainly of the same origin as the slate and the chamber where she had awoken (she did not remember what the word meant but she had already begun to call them “sheikah” in her head). The eye motif was there, though all the lights were in orange. As she stepped on it she took note of the circular platform before what seemed to be yet another locked door, and the pedestal that seemed so much more simplistic than the others she had interacted with so far. She held the slate to it, and the orange lights there turned to blue, giving the eye a sense of wakefulness.

“Sheikah Slate recognized,” the pedestal said, and she did not respond to it. The circle behind her lit up, and she turned to look at it as the voice continued, “Travel Gate activated. Access granted.” The door opened with the sound of stone sliding across stone, but she did not pay it any particular mind; the door would be there in a few minutes.

“What is a travel gate?” She did not walk toward the glowing circle, not knowing exactly what it did, instead crouching next to the pedestal and setting the slate on her knees and flipping through the various screens. “Perhaps it’s related to the… ah.” A new icon had appeared on the map, indicated the spot where she stood, or perhaps the structure itself. “The Oman Au shrine. Interesting. So this is the face of a shrine, and it is named, and it is known to the Sheikah Slate somehow. I wonder if there is more information to be gleaned…” Carefully and precisely she tapped on the icon for the shrine, and was presented with new text: “Travel” and “Cancel.” Supposing that it would perhaps lay out a topographically accurate path for her to take, she tapped on the word “Travel” with her finger.

There was a sound, high and clear and buzzing, and she was engulfed in blue light. She looked down at her hands and saw that the light was streaming off of her, she was becoming the light, and she was so fascinated by it that she did not panic as she unraveled utterly and the ribbons of blue radiance soared into the sky.

Seconds later they recoalesced atop the blue circle, and once they had resumed her shape she snapped back into being, solid and material. She had moved a total of six feet.

She instantly hit the travel button again, and the process repeated itself. This time she had not moved at all.

“Oh dear.”

She got up, ran behind the shrine, and traveled again.

Then she ran off to a distance of fifty paces and traveled again.

Then she jumped into the pond, holding the sheikah slate over her head, waded out into its center, and traveled again.

It was only after this last, when she coalesced in front of the shrine, still soaked with pond water, that she allowed herself to stamp her feet and smother her laughter with her hands.

“This is amazing! An instantaneous transportation system! Oh, I wonder if it has limitations on its range? It doesn’t seem to have trouble with going through matter, so if the range is long enough… this could change everything!” Even ignoring that this was probably a known technology, just the way that it affected how she intended to move through the world, even alone, was enormous. “If travel only needs to happen in one direction, then in very little time I could create a network of travel gates that would allow me to travel back and forth freely across… untold distances!” There was an icon for the tower that she had just climbed down, the Plateau Tower, and she saw that she could travel there too. She nearly did, just to test if the range was long enough.

The only thing that kept her from traveling back and forth between those two points for most of a day was the sudden realization that this secret had been revealed to her outside of the shrine, and in fact was only the key needed to open the shrine’s door.

“If this was here, out in the open, then what secrets are you hiding inside?” The old man’s offer, his paraglider for the treasure in this shrine, was nearly forgotten: the knowledge contained herein could be far greater, and if it was anything like what she had just discovered then it might make the question of the paraglider moot.

Thus resolved, she stepped into the confines of the shrine, onto the lift in the rear, and rode down into the dark. She could not wipe the grin off of her face.

The lift carried her down into the earth, opening into an enormous subterranean chamber made from titanic blocks of clean-cut stone, so huge that she wondered how they had been transported, much less assembled in this way. The symbols and architecture of sheikah construction were everywhere: glowing blue lamps that glowed brighter than fire, an omnipresent luminescence that lit up what felt like the entire world while being gentler than the sun, great stone gates that stood in the way of walking through the chamber, the encrusting stone that lent contrast and color to the dark construction, and always the repeating motif of the great, watching eye.

“Fascinating.” She tried to take the room in as she stepped off the platform—this simple act requiring her to step through a wall of suspended light that felt warm as she passed through it but offered no resistance otherwise. “How long has this been here, I won—”

“To you who sets foot in this shrine…” A great voice filled the chamber, seeming to come from everywhere, reverberating like singing that originated in the throat. “I am Oman Au. In the name of the Goddess Hylia, I offer this trial.”

The name of the goddess was like a bell being rung, and she knew that it was the same goddess that spoke to her in her dreams, but the enormity of that was too much to handle at once so instead she called out:

“Hello? Are you the one who made this shrine?” A moment later, to herself, “No answer. Perhaps he cannot hear me. But if this is supposed to be a trial, is completing the trial how I obtain the treasure the old man said was here? Is the shrine itself here exclusively to hold the trial? And why is it being offered in the name of Hylia? And…” And why was that name sitting so warmly in her mouth, like molten light on her tongue?

She pushed the questions aside, because she had no basis by which to answer them or even address them, and if she could not do that then she could only come back to them later. Given this she surveyed the room; in the center were two enormous metal plates of dark hue, and in the corner a pedestal and structure much like the one that had raised the sheikah tower.

“Well. I hope you don’t end up putting the entire shrine into the air. I’ve hit my head quite enough times today, I should think.” Still, she recognized the pattern, and jogged across the enormous room, the Sheikah Slate in her hands before she reached the pedestal. It was slotted to receive the slate, of course, and when she put the slate in place it pleasantly clicked and spun until it was in an identical position to the pedestal on the tower. She braced herself, but the earth did not shake: instead there was a hum, a gathering of light at the spot where the structure was most directly over the slate.

“Just like before. Information stored in the form of light. I wonder what it would feel like to touch it…” But she dared not, and when the congealed information dripped down onto the slate with a sound like water, the slate glowed a brilliant blue. It chirped, and she leaned in closer as the screen shifted to one of the ones that had previously told her that the slate was damaged. An icon in a row of blank ones filled in with a red shape she didn’t recognize, almost like a stylized horseshoe, and then text faded in to accompany it.

“Magnesis. Manipulate metallic objects through magnetism.” The words, when read aloud, did not sound like much, yet as she read them she could feel excitement building inside her as if it were about to explode. “Grab onto metallic objects with the magnetic energy that pours forth from the Magnesis rune. Objects held in the magnetic snare can be lifted up and moved freely.”

“Rune extracted,” the pedestal chirped, and lifted the slate to be removed. She took it, flipped to the available rune, activated it.

Viewed through the screen of the sheikah slate, the metal plates on the floor were highlighted in bright red.

“Does that mean that the slate can detect, at a distance, objects which a given rune is meant to interact with? Hmm.” Her intention was to test the range of the device, to activate it and then step closer until it did whatever it was supposed to do; instead, when she engaged the rune, invisible (though displayed on the screen) lines of force reached out from the body of the slate, ensnaring the metal plate. “Further than I thought it would be able to do that. But how can it move freely, I wonder.”

She had been expecting that there would be some resistance, some great effort that would require a level of physical strength that she did not have, but there was nothing; in being grabbed by the rune, the metal plate had been rendered effectively weightless, and by her command it was lifted to eye level with no apparent effort at all. She lifted it again, this time to twenty feet into the air. She lowered it, then raised it again. She moved it left and then right. She drew it toward her, then pushed it away. She turned and the rune swung the door around at great speed to keep it oriented in front of her, the arms of the magnetic force bending in her passage. She set the door down on the floor, near to the entrance, by deactivating the rune.

The second plate she lifted and held out from her as far as she could, turning and releasing the rune at the same time so it was flung with a crash into the far wall, hitting it so hard that the chamber shook.

She laughed like a child, openly happy and unworrying in a way that she hadn’t laughed in a century and a decade and more, delighting in new possibilities and freedoms that this had opened. Suddenly the trial was not a trial, it was a game, and she clambered down the revealed ladder and ran across the lower chamber with its running water, clambering up the staircase and seeing that she was now in the adjoining chamber. She wondered if she could reach the plates from where she was standing, but she could not; just as well; she turned and found more to toss around. There was a metallic box in the corner, which she lifted as easily as lifting the slate and carried some two body lengths in front of her, just for the novelty of having that much power. A wall composed of stone blocks with a single metallic block in its center was met with a very high-velocity box, and she pulled out the metallic block and used it to shove against the remaining stones to make an easy path.

She was given pause by the machine beyond it, saw that there was a goal past that, and by its mien and location assumed it would be hostile. This resolved she hid behind a stone block, lifted the metallic block high into the air, maneuvered it over the machine (which shifted back and forth on its tendril-like legs, eye scanning its horizontal surroundings like a good sentry), and dropped it. The block fell, and the machine was crushed and then exploded, leaving behind a series of parts. She ran out, the feeling of playing a game still with her, and picked up what had been left behind—a single, comically enormous screw, of a make so fine she had trouble imagining how it had been produced.

“This rune, the slate, is so much more than I had thought it would be. It’s not just a method of viewing the world or cataloging it, it can be used to effect changes that are almost unbelievable! Objects ensnared by it seem to retain their mass while exerting no inertia: does that mean that the quality is removed from them? No, that doesn’t seem so, otherwise I could not use one block to move the others so easily.”

As she talked she walked past the machine, over a gap that was bridged by a third enormous metal plate. Without thinking she picked it up and swung it in front of her to bridge an identical gap on the platform’s opposite side.

“In that case, the slate must be exerting enough energy to overcome that inertia, while also making it so that I experience none of it while using it. It must exert that same degree of force twice, first to do the actual motion and secondly as a buffer for its carrier. But what energy can do this? What powers it and can carry that much strength in such a small frame, if it is not mystical?”

Two metallic doors stood in front of her; one of these she grabbed and pulled back, and both swung open together.

At last, at last, the sight beyond the doors stilled her giddiness, made quiet the thoughts that had been running freely in her mind, slowed the beating of her heart, and made real again the world around her. She placed the slate back on her hip, and the quiet of that place was in her, too, as she stepped into the heart of the shrine.

This was the real shrine, she knew, a holy place at the far end of a trial: a dais of stone, and on that a great stone block that made her think of a sarcophagus. Above it was a suspended roof that hung from a ceiling so high she could not see it, and a curtain of blue light surrounded the dais, closing it off utterly from the outside. Before the dais was a set of steps that lead up to a pulpit, so that she could stand before the shrine without being in risk of breaching its holy space.

But it was the man—if man it was—seated on the sarcophagus that struck her most firmly. Guessing at his age would have been impossible; he was beyond emaciated, his dark skin drawn tight against his bones, looking more like cured leather than human flesh.  White hair was pulled back from his scalp, shaped into an enormous bun from which the rest of his hair hung loose, pooling on the dais around him and then off it, onto the floor behind him. He wore sack cloth trousers, no shirt, a necklace of huge stone beads shaped like the heads of spears, gold rings on his wrists, and on his forehead was painted the symbol of the eye. He was seated with his legs crossed, hands held up in a meditative pose that suggested the shape of a triangle.

“A sheikah,” she said, so quietly that it could only be heard in her own ears. She did not know how that was true, but she did; whoever this was, he knew the secrets of the slate, and the temples, and probably a great deal more. “But… is he alive? Is this shrine also a crypt?”

She ascended to the pulpit, leaning in close to the dais, looking at the wall of light, unsure how much evil she was committing simply by being present. The question fell away, though, as she drew closer; out of the light the symbol of the eye coalesced.

“Is this what you want of me, then? The last pushing back of my fear, against taboo? Or is it just the unknown?” Curiosity made her reach out, held her hand as her fingertips brushed against the symbol of the eye.

The light rippled from the spot where she touched it, and the wall glowed in blue so bright it was nearly white, and then it burst with a sound like a bell being struck. Strands of blue light hung in the air, fading in moments, and then were gone.

“You have proven to possess the resolve of a true hero.” That same voice, raspy and strange and aggressively human, reverberated from the entire chamber and she knew it was his voice, this was the voice of the sheikah even if his mouth did not move for his speech. In truth he did not move at all, not even to open his eyes, and as she looked at him she could not help staring at the eye painted on his forehead, as if through this he might see her face. “I am Oman Au, the creator of this trial.”

“I am Zelda,” she said, though to speak in this man’s presence felt… blasphemous, somehow. She wanted to say that she was not a hero, that she had not shown resolve, that she hadn’t even been taking this seriously until she had seen him, but these would have been a much greater affront.

“I know who you are,” he said, and there was recognition and something else, something almost sly, in his voice. “I am a humble monk, blessed with the sight of Goddess Hylia and dedicated to helping those who seek to defeat Ganon.” His voice carried a smile that his face did not reflect.

“Hylia? Ganon?” both of these names were heavy, she knew that they carried an enormity that she did not understand.

“With your arrival, my duty is now fulfilled. In the name of Goddess Hylia, allow me to bestow this gift upon you… Please accept this Spirit Orb.”

A flash of light from the monk’s chest, and from the light issued a crystal orb, tinted purple, bearing a white crest she did not recognize. It moved without being touched, and she watched it with a cautious eye as it floated through the air toward her. She made to touch it with her hand but it ignored her, moving past her reaching hand, settling against her upper chest and disappearing in a flash of light. The light swirled through the air in dancing ribbons, and then these ribbons dove into the same place on her chest. She could feel it there, the light, occupying the same space as her heart, and she had to tell herself not to panic as she touched there. If it were going to hurt her, it would have done so then.

“May the Goddess smile upon you,” said the monk.

She lowered her hand, turned to face him more squarely, inhaled to speak—and then watched, transfixed, as he dissolved into light, into glowing green particles that drifted as if on a wind that only they could feel. In seconds he was gone, and he took all of his knowledge, all of his secrets, with him.

The enormity of the light was still there in her chest, but it did not hurt; she felt infused, as if it had become a part of her, a new layer to her being that had been interwoven with what was already there.

She looked back at the shrine, now empty of its occupant and his secrets. She looked to the slate on her hip. She began her walk back to the entrance.

She emerged into the light of the sun, though the day was wearing on and soon night would fall. The old man was there, seated on a rock, lost in thought. He did not look up as she emerged, but she knew he was aware of her, could tell by the set of his shoulders.

“You have been on this plateau for a very long time,” she said, and he looked up and he had that same measuring look again, but for some reason now she found it trying and wanted him to stop. “You knew that there was a treasure in this shrine, though I don’t know if you knew what it was and, in addition, I don’t know if I can give it to you. But I have learned things in this shrine, discovered things I never would have guessed at before walking into it, and been shown the beginnings of answers to questions I did not know to ask. So:” and here she stopped to breathe in, to collect herself, “what do you know of the sheikah?”

He nodded, but did not rise. “The sheikah were once a highly advanced people, the spine of a civilization that made regular use of wonders we can scarcely imagine now. Their knowledge, their technology, delivered the ancient land of Hyrule from peril more times than can be counted. Then, at some point in the distant past, their technology just… disappeared. I do not know why.” He pulled at his beard, momentarily lost in thought. “Are you so interested in sheikah technology?”

“Very,” she said, and meant it. “I cannot say why, precisely, but I feel it to be important. It could be the thing that helps me to discover my purpose, and the secrets of the sheikah may tell me more about” Hylia “myself.”

His laughter was low and quiet and pained, and she did not know why but she allowed him this, did not feel offense at this expression of old sorrows through mirth. “I should have known.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Nothing. Just an old man letting his mind wander down too-trodden paths. Forgive me.” Using his stick he pulled himself to his feet. “Shrines like this one are scattered all over this land, waiting for some chosen person to awaken them. Even here, on the Great Plateau, there are another three. It’s possible they may have more secrets for you to unlock, more knowledge to add to your own. More,” he paused, reached out with his hand as if to snatch a word from the air, “perspective.” He gestured with his stick, toward the tower. “If you use your Sheikah Slate’s viewfinder, you can see all of them from the highest vantage there. Use its functionality to place waypoints, and you can more easily plot out a path to and between each of them.”

“You should not know that,” she said, and he looked at her with raised eyebrows but she did not shy away. “Unless you are sheikah yourself—and I do not think you are—you should not know many of the things you know. I begin to suspect,” and she recalled that sharing this was sharing vulnerability, but in this case it could also be a weapon, used to shift the balance of an adversarial relationship, “that you also know a great many things about me. Could it be that the secrets you keep would be of interest to me, sir?”

There was a gentle warmth to his smile, but the fact that it was a smile incensed her, and that must have shown on her face because his smile took on a wistful edge. “I will make you a deal, Zelda, if you will allow me.”

“I will hear your terms.”

“You will be going to the other three shrines with or without my urging, so I think you will find them generous enough. Gather the four orbs, and I will name a meeting place. Once we are there, I will tell you everything I know. There will be no more secrets between us.”

She would go to the other three shrines regardless, and a few hours ago she would have been wary or even fearful of meeting this man at a place of his choosing, but something inside of her was rapidly changing and she was ready to embrace it. That this man knew things, things about her, was enough to gall her, to push her on, if not for the knowledge then for the simple spite of wresting it from him.

“I agree,” she said. “Given that you have what seems to be a preternatural ability to place yourself in my path, I trust you will find me once I have the last orb.” He nodded, and she nodded back. “In that case, I suspect we will meet again shortly.” She took the slate in her hands, pressed a button, and was gone in a flurry of light.

Alone, the old man sighed and pulled his hood down lower.

At the camp nearest to the shrine of Oman Au, the bokoblins sat—not peacefully, because they are never genuinely peaceful, but idly. What they said to each other in their tongue, what thoughts passed between them, none could say. They were surrounded by the evidence of the dead, by rusted weapons and ruined armor and the skeletons of buildings that had once belonged to the people that had called the plateau holy.

The iron crate that sailed through the air was utterly noiseless, its arc almost lazy, before it crashed on top of one of the bokoblins, killing it on impact. Its fellows leaped to their feet, panicked, brandishing their weapons at a threat they didn’t see.

A metallic boulder smashed a second one into the ground. The third saw a flash of Hylian frame, the barest hint of golden hair, and pointed and cried warning just before the settled boulder rose up again and slammed into it at high speed.

The sentry at the edge of the camp blew on its horn, but there was no one to hear it, and the last thing it saw was a Hylian woman walking with hurried steps, swinging death on a wide, invisible arc.

For one hundred years had the wounded Guardian stood sentry against nothing, its legs lost to a conflict with men and women that had been dead for so long that their bones were now dust. It slept, as it had slept for the better part of a century, undisturbed both by the dead and by the beasts that shared the blight that drove it.

Finally, after one hundred years, something living, something worth noticing, wandered into its field of awareness. Soil and grasses dislodged from its joints as its long dormant eye was bared, and the area was filled with a low thrum as its diagnostics confirmed that its weapon was ready, though time had degraded its rate of fire considerably. It turned its head, a perfect sentry of the spot in which it had been ruined.

It could not have been said to have expected an intruder, because the Guardian did not really have a mind like a Hylian or a bokoblin. One might say, when forced to anthropomorphize it, that it knew an intruder was present, though not necessarily where—so when it turned its eye and found only a metallic stone floating in midair, it focused on this.

The stone did not register as alive, or as a threat, so the Guardian did not target it. Instead it moved, slowly, in a narrow and flat arc. The Guardian knew that an intruder was present, and if it had a mind it might have guessed that the intruder was on the other side of the ferrous mass, but it did not have a mind and so it only watched.

After a time, the boulder settled against the ground next to the corner of a wall. The intruder was gone. The Guardian went back to sleep.

The two bokoblins at the foot of the tower, holding their bows, did not even see the bomb drop from the tower’s top, nor the arm that had thrown it. They heard the heavy impact of the object striking the earth, and then the much more musical sound of the bomb exploding, sending both monsters flying and leaving their weapons to be picked up by more determined hands.

The enormous skull that Zelda had seen before did house multiple bokoblins, and keese besides, but the specific thing about it that she did not know was that one of the bokoblins in it was prodigious in its strength, its skin blue and its abilities superior to that of its compatriots.

She might have guessed, if she had known that it was in there, that it was no more observant than any of its fellows, and in this she was right. None of them heard their sentries falling from arrows fired at close range into their heads.

They did hear arrows striking the inside of their base, however, and all of them looked up together to see where they had struck, and how. As they were looking another flew in, passing too high to strike one of the lanterns they had set, missing the rope because of how gently and lazily it was swinging. The keese fluttered about, and as the third arrow struck the wall they began to grab their weapons.

Then there was a sound like a hammer striking metal, and the lamp ceased to sway. Another arrow missed, but the fifth hit the rope from which the lamp was hanging, severing it utterly. Instead of falling the lamp hung there, utterly inert, and they were so transfixed by the fact of it that they did not hear the beating of Hylian boots in retreat.

Another hammer-sound, and the lantern dropped onto the barrels of explosives that were horded in their lair, and every opening in the skull was filled with jets of fire.

The form of Zelda’s progress across the plateau is a familiar one; what she lacked in strength of arm she made up for in being unseen, in her quick and easy mastery of the functions of Sheikah Slate, in a shrewd and analytical intelligence, and in fire.

Unable to catch fish with her hands, she fished with the slate. Unable to scale sheer mountains, she walked along less direct paths. She studied often the topography of the plateau, planned out her routes, ate well of fruit and fish and eggs and vegetables and meat, slept deeply next to fires that she relit easily enough with a bit of flint and a piece of steel. She explored, seeking out every hidden nook and cranny, trying to better understand the secrets of the plateau, was rewarded with treasure she did not really want.

The goddess did not come to her again in that time, not while she dreamed or while she walked along long, quiet, snowy paths up the mountain. The way she saw things, processed things, that never changed, but something else did, albeit slowly. If asked, she would not have been able to say what it was, but perhaps she could say why it was happening: whatever was needed of her was bigger than herself, bigger than the things she believed or even knew about herself, and she knew from the sound of the castle in the north that it was all she could afford to work toward. Her own comfort, her own sense of self, her own morality… these were things she had to set aside.

In the early days of her journey, when all that was required of her was to slyly fight monsters who never saw her coming, when all she had to do was believe that the things she was throwing herself against were not people, when she thought that the face of evil was in piggy creatures that she thought might kill and eat her if they laid hands on her, it was easy to think in this way.

It would not remain so, much to her sorrow.

The air at the top of Mount Hylia was cold, and the thick doublet and gloves she wore were barely up to the task of fending it off as she emerged from the heart of the shrine.

“Well, at least it is a crisp kind of cold, and not a bitter kind.” As she spoke her breath hung in the air before her, and she wondered if perhaps some echo of her words was contained in those particles. “And if my sense of timing is accurate…” She stepped away from the entrance to the shrine, turned, and set her jaw. “Of course it is.”

The old man stood on a small crest of snow, facing the rising sun. The light threw his face into stark relief, even beneath his hood, and his expression was a mask of sorrow and old, lingering regrets. She knew that expression, that face. Why did she know that?

“Hyrule is truly beautiful, is it not?” It was framed as a question, but it wasn’t, not really.

“I have seen precious little of it,” she said. “Saving for the beasts that walk it, I would have to agree. There is something bracing and wild about it.”

“Much of the rest of the kingdom is the same. It was not this way, once.” He looked at her, though she was sure her expression was neutral. “Oh, it still had its wild places, of course, but not so long ago the monsters that stalk the plateau were rarely seen and easily dispatched. Even here, in this place, there were always people, tending to the holy sites and to each other. Would you believe that all the buildings here were white, and that they shone in the sun like mirrors? That people used to believe that it was a place where the gods would walk?”

It was a beautiful thought, but her imagination was not set to run down these shadowy paths; her concerns were more immediate, more pressing. “It is time for you to tell me who you are.”

He sighed, the sound small and quiet and short, and seemed to let go of something inside of himself. She could not have guessed what he had just decided, but he turned to face her. “The four shrines that dot this plateau. Meet me where the lines connecting them would intersect.”

“I do not see why we cannot—” but the old man was no longer there, not really, she could see the light of the sun through him, the blinding glow of the snow behind him. “Wait. What are you—”

He was gone, as if he had never been there.

“Was that magic? It wasn’t the teleportation of the Sheikah Slate… at least, it didn’t look like it. Could it be that that is how teleportation appears to the one who isn’t doing it? Or…” She stopped, shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. He will tell me with his own mouth.”

She pulled out the sheikah slate, keyed in to the travel gate for the Oman Au shrine, and dissolved into light. She did not have to consult her map; she had studied it enough over the past few days to know that she was heading to the ruined temple.

The path from the shrine to the temple was long, but quiet. She did not run; she walked, taking in the sunshine, savoring the feeling of a long journey coming to an end. She ate a baked apple as she walked, and she guessed she would never get tired of them if she hadn’t yet.

This path was empty of beasts, as she had been up it before; a ruined manse (or possibly some form of monastery, it was hard to tell with how little of it was left standing) had held one, but she had managed to lure it away and blow it up to raid the building for supplies. The only thing she’d found of use were a pair of trousers in better repair than the ones she’d been wearing, but she counted herself lucky for them and the comfortable boots that they’d been stored with.

There was another building before the proper temple, on a lower level, which itself looked as if it had been a place of some importance.

“A cathedral, of some sort. I wonder what it was that people did here, once; what words did they say? Have any texts concerning their rites survived?” She did not think so; she had been in the cathedral before, had searched it for anything of note, had found nothing except for the body of an enormous machine, frozen in a pose that almost suggested it had ceased to function in the midst of destroying that very building. She walked on past it. “I cannot concern myself with every minute detail of the past; focus is required if the necessary details are to be learned. The past is everywhere, here, in layers thousands of years deep, and if I am to accomplish what is asked of me then I cannot be so distracted.” Regardless of how nice, how fulfilling, that distraction would be. She continued up the path.

The temple was enormous, even in ruin, and something about its disrepair lent it an air of quiet dignity that Zelda suspected it would not have had in the past, like a person who has aged enormously but maintained their posture and grace. She stood outside of it, looking up at it, saying nothing, not feeling right in speaking because she understood on a level that was almost instinctual that this place was holy, had been holy since before her ancestors walked the earth (and she was right, though not in the way she knew). She was not aware of her relationship with the sacred, but the lay of her own thoughts told her that her concerns were aggressively material; still, here, now, in this place, she understood that she was standing in front of something more.

Then she stepped inside, and her breath caught in her throat.

Save for the adjoining chamber to her right, the entire temple was a single open space, an enormous hall of tremendous height and size. Thousands of people could have stood in it, she thought, and she wondered if echoes of their presence still hung here in the air like dust motes. The entire left wall had been torn away, opening the hall to the air outside, its position on a hill making the view one composed solely of blue sky. The wind blew through here gently, tugging at her doublet, her hair, whispering to her that there was more to this place than she had guessed.

At the end of the hall, the far end, stood an enormous statue of a woman in flowing robes. On her back were wings. At her feet was a halo of light.

Zelda crossed the hall with unhurried steps, taking in her surroundings with wide eyes, but over and over her gaze returned to the end of the hall, to the beatific smile and prayer-clasped hands and simple construction of a figure that she knew, knew despite how it was so unlike the goddess, how utterly it failed to capture her in any meaningful way. She did not remember her dreams, the images had escaped her days ago, but she remembered awe in a way that no work of stone could possibly capture. Still, there was something there, a quality of serenity and protection that spoke to someone’s understanding, if not Zelda’s own. This was Hylia, even if it was not her Hylia.

The statue stood on a higher level of the temple floor, perhaps so that congregants could more easily see it even when the building was full. She ascended the steps, saw that the statue was surrounded by smaller ones, cruder in their shape but bearing the same motif of long flowing (covered?) hair and wings, hands clasped in prayer. To whom does the goddess pray, she wondered.

She stopped before the statue, looking up at its face, nearly touching the pillar of light, which faded and was replaced by a ray of light through the broken ceiling. It was not sunlight; it felt too clean.

“My daughter.” The voice did not come from everywhere, as the voices of the four monks had. Hylia’s voice was not even a sound but a knowledge of meaning and intent that welled up from inside of her own thoughts, speaking to and from a place so deep inside of her that the idea of that depth within herself nearly made her afraid. “You have passed the trials of the shrines, claimed the treasures of my monks. In exchange for them, I offer you my blessing.”

Zelda should not have spoken there, in that place, to that radiant voice from a place so high and removed that it spoke to a plane of being beyond herself, beyond the very world, but she had to. The questions were more powerful than her fear of taboo.

“Goddess Hylia,” she said, “I would ask that you bless me with knowledge. I would know what it is you require of me, so that I can perform that duty.”

“That knowledge will come to you in its own time,” the goddess said, and Zelda closed her eyes and in her mind she saw the goddess as she really was, was back in that vast dark places within herself that let her see Hylia as if she were made of flesh. “Just as your memory will. Do not be afraid of ignorance, or of the struggle to remember and learn; these things will strengthen you, if you are courageous.” The warmth of the goddess flowed over her, around her. “You have undertaken the trials of the gods, and the rewards for such trials is power, my daughter.”

That gave her pause, a twinge in the back of her thoughts that made her… not afraid, but apprehensive. “I do not wish for power.”

“I know.” There was an apology behind those words, guilt and sorrow so enormous that she could not comprehend it, was ashamed for having summoned it. “Power is not your strength but your burden, driving you ever closer to a life and a place and a destiny that should not have been yours. It will not make you happy; it will compound your sorrows, and bring you to the foot of the most terrible trials that a person can face.” Silence, a moment’s respite, those words hanging in the air between them. “And yet you will need power, for without it you will not be able to do your work, and the world will fall. I will not force it upon you, my Zelda, so I ask: will you accept this burden? Will you surpass the limitations set upon you and be given sorrow in return, so that your sorrow might protect the world?”

The presence of the goddess calmed her, made her feel right, but another part of her thoughts knew that if it were not for the calming effect of Hylia’s presence then this would have thrown her into a hurricane. She did not know what that power entailed but she knew that if she could remember then she would understand, and that understanding would be couched in a fear and a sorrow so deep that it would break her to know it all at once. What could be so terrible that a celestial guardian would warn one of it? What could be so important that a protector goddess would foist that terror on one she professed to love?

Far away a blue light shone in a castle full of darkness.

“I do accept.” She felt the world shift, coming into alignment in a way it had not been before; she knew that she had just changed something, and now that she had there would be no going back.

“Then I offer you another choice; my blessing may be laid on your body, but only in part. Would you have new strength added to your limbs, or would you better stand against the abuses of the dark things that wander the world?”

The response was obvious, instant, and nearly out of her mouth before she clamped down on it. She wanted protection from the creatures that walked the land, but that answer was borne on fear, a reflex of someone who could not meaningfully confront danger. Was she that person? Had she ever been, and if so, was she still? It was not some higher reasoning that ultimately dictated her answer: it was rejection of the possibility of being managed by her fear.

“The first,” said she.

“So be it,” said the goddess.

The light that fell from the sky shifted, enveloped Zelda so that she could see it through her closed eyelids, could feel the hands of the goddess on her. It was a subtle thing, warm and gentle in a way that she imagined Hylia to be (but that was not all that she was, there was something beneath that, something deeper and older and awesome and terrible, a core of steel that informed the sorrows and the kindnesses and how did she not know before this moment?).

Then it was gone, and the weakness in her legs was gone. For some people, the difference in her strength would have been significant but not enormous; for others, for her, it was as if she had all the power in the earth poured into her. She felt as if she could run for miles without stopping, or swim a great river, or climb a mountain.

“Go, my daughter,” the goddess said. “Go and face the trials of the world, and the ones that have been left by my followers. Return to me and continue to build your strength. Return to the task appointed you and bring peace to Hyrule.”

The light went out. The goddess was gone, and Zelda was alone in a hall that seemed much smaller, much darker, than it had before.

She thought she would have a moment’s respite, but her sense of timing made her brace a moment before she heard the old man’s voice above her.

“I see the goddess’s blessing has made you more resilient.” She turned, looked up, saw him standing on the edge of a hole in the roof.

Conversing with the goddess had been draining, and she was spiritually weary even if her body felt stronger than it had ever been. She had desperately wanted a moment to herself, and was put out again by the absurdity of the old man on that high roof, and was about to tell him so—but what she saw when she looked at him stopped her short.


“Do not dawdle,” he said, turning away. “We’ll talk up here.” He was gone, then, taking the ghostly paleness of the spirit fires with him.

There was a ladder to the roof just outside of the chamber, next to the enormous break in the wall. She ascended quickly, barely feeling the effort.

The roof was broken, the tile slick, but she climbed onto its peak easily enough. She looked about for the old man, saw him standing in the belfry of the temple’s tower. Now she walked carefully, mindful of her step, and climbed the broken stones until she was standing before him.

For what seemed a very long time they regarded each other.

“You seem so sad when you look at me,” she said. It was an invitation and an apology both. She did not know why, but she knew she had hurt this dead man, somehow.

“Am I so obvious?” He said, and his smile was sad, too. “I suppose that I cannot help it. Tell me truly, Zelda: in this place, at the top of the Great Plateau, the place most sacred to our people, after speaking with the goddess herself, do you not know me?”

She shook her head. He set his staff aside, squared his shoulders, turned to face her.

“Then I will tell you. I was once King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule.” The spirit paused for a moment, considering his words. “I was the last king of Hyrule. I was its king when it ceased to be.”

A flash of light; she did not shield her eyes from it, only winced, willing herself to see. When the light faded, the man was left with what must have been his true semblance: his face was unchanged, his beard and hair the same, but on his head was a diadem and in place of his cloak he wore a heavy coat of green and gold. His feet no longer touched the ground, and the spirit fire around him was so numerous that it lit him even under the light of the sun; he no longer hid that he was a ghost.

“Do you still not know me?” She shook her head, and he no longer hid his expression, his face twisting into a mask of pain and longing. “Fate is cruel, to set my daughter before me when I am a stranger to her.”

“What?” A thousand questions burst into life in her mind, a field of flowers blooming all at once, each one crying out in its own voice. “What do you mean, you are my father?”

“It is as I said.” Regretful words, not enough to stifle the growing roar inside of her.

“Why did you not tell me before?” Her hands had clenched into fists, nails digging into her palms until she thought they would draw blood. “I have wandered this plateau for days. I have killed creatures that would have killed me, if given the chance. I have hungered, and ached, and bled, and wondered if I was alone in all the world! I don’t know what happened to me and you could have told me from the beginning, couldn’t you?” She did not wait for his answer, and the pain in his face only incensed her further. “Tell me why.”

“Because I was afraid!” There now, pain in his voice, a justification, vulnerability where before he had tried to remove himself from it. “Because… Zelda, you cannot understand, but if you remembered then you would.” Though a ghost, though unable to feel fatigue, he rubbed at his face, probably remnants of an old habit from when he had been alive. “At first I thought that you might simply remember me, and greet me as your father, and that we would talk. Then you didn’t, and I thought perhaps telling you everything all at once would cause you some harm, worsen the state you were in.”

She felt it there, could hear the excuse, the ire built in her until she thought she would explode. “You were—”

“I was afraid for myself,” he said, and the anger in her guttered. She could not have said why. “You do not remember how last we parted, Zelda, and I do not have time to tell you all of it. I earned your hatred a hundred times, a thousand times, and ever since you were laid in the Chamber of Resurrection I have had time to reflect on my failures. I failed my kingdom, I failed you as my daughter, I failed,” here he stopped, seemed to swallow, “I failed your mother. My legacy is one of failure, and I have nothing to offer you outside of that, so I am afraid. I am afraid of what you might think of me, afraid of how much harm I have already done you, afraid of the further doom I have brought upon our people.”

“Enough,” she said, and when he looked at her then his eyes were pleading and fearful and she pitied him. “Enough. Whoever we were before, whatever we are now, I cannot say. Whatever wrongs you have committed, you have paid for them and continue to pay. I… I am also sorry. Whatever relationship we had before, you seem to care a very great deal about me.” I feel nothing in return. Should she be ashamed of that? Was it a reasonable consequence of a lack of memory? “In that case I will ask you to help me. You know a very great deal that I do not; lifetimes worth of knowledge and perspective. Do you know what it is that Goddess Hylia requires of me?”

She could not have guessed at the roiling cauldron of his mind, could not guess if her words had helped him at all, though the pain he felt was still obvious. Instead of answering he pointed to the north, and she turned and looked and saw the castle, the terrible darkness that swirled about it. “You have seen what has taken residence there, the catastrophe that ended our people.”

“Ganon,” she said, and the name echoed in her mind as loudly as Hylia’s.

“Yes. Ganon, the Calamity. Hyrule Castle, the symbol of our land and its people, has contained it… but only barely.”

She could feel it now, from that distance, how it strained against the yoke that kept it sealed. “That blue light…”

“Is the only force that has prevented Ganon from breaking its bonds and devastating the world in the same way it devastated our land.” The king turned from her, looked out to the castle for himself, and somehow seemed to sink into even deeper sorrow. “If you have forgotten this, even this, then I must tell you from the beginning.”

He did. He told her of Ganon; of the prophecy of the princess with the blood of the goddess and the hero who carried the sword to seal the darkness; of the prophecy of a fortune teller who gave them word of where to find ancient weapons of war; of the gathering of Champions from throughout Hyrule; of victory nearly in grasp, and the catastrophe that came after; of an army turned against its people, and a ruin that shattered the land and drained it of both lives and structure.

“You fell in the battle,” he said, not turning to look at her in spite of how plainly he wanted to, to assure himself that she was still there. “It should have been the end of it, the end of everything…but the appointed knight went to the castle to face Ganon alone. By a strength I do not understand and using the sword that seals the darkness he did battle with the beast, driving it back into the castle keep. He has been fighting it for a century, without cease, to keep it contained.”

The enormity of the idea was absurd, so horrible she did not want to confront it. One person? A hundred years? “How is that possible?”

The king turned to her at last. “I do not know. My awareness does not extend that far; even if it did, I do not think I could understand what is taking place now. But I know this: the hero is faltering. The light that seals the darkness grows dimmer, and soon its power will be utterly depleted. When that happens, nothing will stop the Calamity, and Ganon will devour this land and every land that lies beyond it.” He was afraid for her, more than he was afraid of her he feared for her life, for her safety, she could see it in the set of his eyes and the depth of her understanding was painful to her because she could not remember why she understood him so well. “That is the task that Hylia has set before you, my daughter. You must gather your strength, reclaim the power that you once held, and return to Hyrule Castle. You must help Link, the knight. You must save us all.”

She nodded; she did not speak. There was nothing to say. The name did not strike her as important now, but she would remember it.

“Until you have reclaimed your strength, it would be foolhardy to try to confront Ganon. He maintains his control over the Divine Beasts and the Guardians that swarm over the Castle; as you are now, you probably could not even approach that place. Head east, to one of the villages in Necluda.” He pointed, and she looked, not expecting to see anything new, knowing which way east was. “Follow the road past the twin summits of the Dueling Peaks and head north, to Kakariko Village. There you will find the elder, Impa. She will tell you more about the path before you.”

Again she nodded, and he actually smiled.

“In spite of my fears, I find myself… relieved, divested of my burdens. It assures me to see you. Who would have believed that of me, if they had known me before? But looking at you now…I have confidence. And faith.” The paraglider was seated in the corner of the belfry, he retrieved it, handed it to her. “Take this, and be on your way. Hylia protect you, Zelda.”

She started, realizing he was fading in front of her, nearly dropping the paraglider. “Wait. Wait! I have more questions!”

“I am sorry,” he said. “I’ve told you everything I can.”

“That’s not true! There’s so much I don’t know yet!”

“Our story is a long one.” He closed his eyes, as if concentrating, holding onto his place in the world. “I cannot tell you all of it; there is no time.” In spite of his efforts, he was utterly transparent now, and in a moment more he was not there at all, only the ghost-fires indicating his presence. “When you remember, Zelda, I pray that you will forgive me. I am a failure, but I did love you. I love you still.”

The fires winked out, and he was gone.

Zelda tested the glider from a safe height, jumping from the belfry to the roof, and found it serviceable.

She glided from the Temple of Time to the edge of the plateau.

The sun was high when she sailed east, down to the land of Hyrule.

Chapter Text

Nanna had been tending the fire near the entrance of Kakariko Village for years, the closest thing to a guard that the community had needed in that time, but for the past week she had been addressing this duty with renewed gusto. Lasli had told her once that it hadn’t been necessary to do that, wouldn’t it be nicer to help out around Enchanted? But just in the past week, Dorian himself had come to her and suggested it was more important than ever.

“Be careful, Nanna,” and it had been a while since a man that young had addressed her so seriously, “rumor has it that the Yiga Clan stirs.” She had taken him at his word; Dorian was a very serious man, very family-minded, and he would not speak such frightening words unless he had good reason to believe them. Lasli hadn’t liked that, had liked it even less when Nanna told her that she didn’t want her staying out at night anymore, but it was a sign of the times.

Nanna had no illusions about her role as sentry; she was not a guard, the way the young men who took shifts at the front of Impa’s manor were guards. If some monster decided to barrel its way into the village, she would just have to get out of its way—the last time she’d been a capable fighter she’d been in her sixties. Now she mostly served as a sentry exactly because she seemed so harmless; she was the second-oldest person in the village, and the fact of her age meant people tended to treat gently with her. This was a bother when the younger people proved incapable of holding a decent conversation with her, but when a stranger came by and someone had to get a sense of them before they came into the village? Why, there was no one better.

When Nanna sensed the person coming to the village, she set herself upon the ground near the fire. She was in a position of repose that might also be read as one of discomfort—the first for one of those traveling merchants who came by (like that poor Bugut) and the second for anyone she did not know.

When the woman rounded the corner, golden hair hanging down past her waist, straight posture almost at odds with the threadbare doublet she was wearing, Nanna opted for the injured presentation. She grabbed at one of her ankles, winced, sucked in hard through her teeth; the whole bit was easy for her because the ankle was perpetually sore after she had fallen and twisted it some ten years back and if she put a little pressure on it at just the right angle she could trick the tissue there into throbbing as if it were wounded again. Not pleasant, but it helped to sell the charade.

The girl saw her and immediately quickened her pace, breaking into a trot, practically running before coming to a stop in front of her. “Excuse me, are you all right?”

“Oh yes, just a twisted ankle, dear.” At a glance she took in the woman’s dress and possessions: a warm shirt and gloves, good if aged trousers, solid boots worn by hard walking, a thin layer of grime that suggested a long time traveling without a real chance to stop and properly wash. The woman was bristling with weapons, an enormous axe slung to her back with an iron-bound wooden bow and a quiver full of arrows, a heavy wooden shield and a shield that looked like a relic from the Age of Burning Fields, an old soldier’s spear, and at her hip a sword of similar make. Whoever this woman was she was prepared for a fight; if not for the genuine concern she was showing Nanna would have assumed she was a threat and made a run for it to raise the alarm. People traveled with weapons, it was just the way of things, but the girl was a walking arsenal. And on her hip, a strange rectangular object—

Nanna was not like most Sheikah; in her youth she had studied under Impa’s elder sister, Purah, and learned a very great deal about the Sheikah Slate. Some part of Purah’s perspective on it had been communicated to her: it was a path laid by their ancestors, an illustration of what they had originally been capable of, a tool that could be used to affect change in the entire world. Purah had been so impassioned about it, not so much the object itself but the idea of it, what it represented for the sheikah as a people and for Hyrule.

Nanna had not thought about those conversations in years. Eventually she and Purah’s other student, Robbie, had ended up leaving the laboratory; Robbie went to Akkala, while Nanna returned home. How many years had she spent thinking on those conversations before she had forgotten them, how important they had once been? Had there been a time when she had decided not to care? She could not recall.

She could recall that it was not just the slate that Purah had spoken of; in the old days, the days where knowledge had been the only food for a hunger that had gnawed at all three of them, Purah and Robbie had also spoken together of the princess, who was responsible for field research with the slate. They had spoken of her so often, so vividly, that an image of her had been painted in Nanna’s mind: sad but determined, perpetually lonely, given over to burdens that no one pair of shoulders should have to carry. They had always been so sad when talking about the princess, and so proud to have served someone who valued knowledge as deeply as they did.

So yes, Nanna knew, when she looked at Zelda, who she was. It was not the slate that let her know: it was the simple fact that this was the face she had constructed for herself, and this was the woman who could carry that burden. That there was only one known Sheikah Slate, and that that one had been left with the sleeping princess in the Chamber of Resurrection, only occurred to her a moment later.

She pushed herself up to her feet, and the girl’s (princess’s, you old fool, the princess’s) shock was written plain on her face. She folded her hands behind her back, placing a small pressure on her lower spine so she could stand straighter, and no longer tried to hide what vigor nature had left her with.

“That is the Sheikah Slate you’re carrying,” Nanna said, and the princess’s fingers brushed against it, a protective reflex that she probably wasn’t even aware of. “Would you mind telling an old woman where you got it?”

Then the princess regarded her, shock falling away and replaced by an analytical scrutiny that Nanna had only seen in very few people. She knew what this place was, it’s why she had trekked through the mountains to get here, but she was guarding herself, guarding her secrets, not fully ready to trust the people in front of her. She wanted to speak to someone, but Nanna wasn’t it. Well enough.

Expecting silence, Nanna was taken aback when she spoke. “I awoke in the Chamber of Resurrection two weeks ago, without my memories, and the slate was waiting for me in the same chamber.” Now the girl was no longer analyzing her; her eyes were a challenge, an insistence regarding her own righteousness. “I have used the slate to try to uncover the mysteries of the past, and it has helped me enormously in moving from the Chamber to here.” The force of her personality was almost physical, pushing against anyone who looked at her, communicating depths of meaning that she couldn’t have been aware of.

“I see, dear, I see.” She smiled warmly. “Well, now, may I make a request of you?” She did not wait for the princess’s nod; she hadn’t waited on anyone in a very long time. “You must go speak to the village elder, Impa, as soon as you can. She lives at the far end of the village.”

The princess looked past her, then at her again. She was not analyzing Nanna, but she was still focused, her attention turned inward in the way of thinkers unmindful of the world around them. “I believe I will do that. Please excuse me.”

The princess walked past her, and Nanna watched her go. Her posture communicated so much work, so much toil, so much strength that one would not have attributed to the crown princess of Hyrule, who still looked like she should have been in school.

When the princess crossed the small bridge and went down the stone-lined path into the village proper, Nanna fell to her knees and made the full obeisance.

“Welcome back, Princess Zelda,” she said. Then she made the obeisance again, got to her feet, hopped over the small fence onto the field of vegetables below, and ran straight to the village (what a sight I must be). She would tell her granddaughter first; Lasli would make sure everyone else knew.

The village was a lot to take in all at once, its architecture and its mode of dress and the sheer number of people there. Before now she had only run into a few travelers on the road and the people attending the stable she had passed by at the foot of the Dueling Peaks, but she had the impression already that Kakariko Village was singular both culturally and geographically. Everything here was built into the mountainous surroundings, with no moving of land having been done.

“This place is very… defensible. Surrounded by mountains that would be almost impossible to scale, with only one winding road leading up to the village itself. Interesting. I suppose, if the sheikah were responsible for many wonders in the past and essential to the survival of the kingdom, that they would want to settle in a place where they could ensure their survival. It’s awfully remote, but if they had technology like the Sheikah Slate…”

Trials and shrines dotted the road behind her, including three on the mountain pass, and she was slowly building a network of travel gates that would allow her to return to almost anywhere she had already passed by more quickly than walking across this village. An entire civilization with that kind of ability was almost impossible for her to imagine; the way people would relate to the very idea of distance, of place, would be so radically removed from her understanding that they might as well have come from another universe altogether.

These are the things that occupied her as she walked across Kakariko Village; these are the things that she was thinking, so lost in her thoughts that she did not notice figures flitting back and forth between houses as she walked past them, voices speaking to each other at conversational levels, fingers pointed at her, an entire community slowly waking up as if for the first time in a century. The theoretical arrested her while the concrete began to rise behind her, around her.

It was easy to spot the elder’s house; it was less house than manor, placed centrally in the layout of the village and seated on a naturally occurring platform of stone. A gated wooden staircase lead up to it, and at the foot of that staircase two guards stood. She set her shoulders as she walked toward them; it would take some effort, but she would talk her way past them, no matter what it took to do so.

They saw her coming, turned to look at her; that seemed good. She wouldn’t need to get her attention. Then they flinched as if struck; that did not seem as good.

“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m here to speak to the village elder, Impa. Is she available?”

The two guards, both men in their forties, looked at each other with confused expressions. They looked at her again, down to her hip—oh, of course—and then to each other. They started to speak together, at a level so low she couldn’t hear it, but their expressions were caught somewhere between disbelief and sheer panic. She brushed the slate with her fingertips, and they flinched again.

Finally, the burlier of the two turned to her and said, “Excuse me, but is that… is that an actual Sheikah Slate you’re carrying?”

“Of course it is, you near-sighted fool!” The voice of the old woman she had met at the gate. Zelda looked over her shoulder—then yelped, jumping nearly out of her skin.

The entire village had gathered, or so it felt. Dozens of men and women and children were standing in a crowd behind her, each of them craning to try to look at her. How had she not heard them? How had they managed to group together so fast? Also, why were they all staring at her?

“The both of you know who that is,” the old woman said, gesturing at Zelda with the barest inclination of her head. “And the both of you know full well that the elder will want to speak to her immediately. Now get out of her way.”

The thinner of the two men grunted. “Nanna, with all due respect we do not know who she is; we know that the Yiga have begun to move, and that they may attempt some new subterfuge to undermine this community and the kingdom. There are… indications about who this woman is, but if we know them then the Yiga could know them as easily.” The other man, the burlier one, reacted oddly to this, though Zelda would have had trouble putting her finger on exactly how. “At the very least, we need to interview her before—”

“Enough.” A voice from the top of the staircase, like fingers brushing against old parchment. Zelda turned, the two guards turned, the entire village came into very sharp focus around the old woman who stood at the top of the stairs.

She was ancient, so shrunken with age she was no taller than a child, and her wide-brimmed hat was hung with charms that signified her great esteem in the village. Despite her age her vision seemed clear, because she looked at Zelda directly and her gaze never wavered. “Dorian. Cado. Your fastidiousness is appreciated… and unnecessary.” She never moved from where she was standing, never took her hands from behind her back, never so much as shifted her eyes or changed her expression, but the two men bowed deeply to her in a posture that suggested both fealty and regret. “This woman is who she appears to be; I know her better than I know my own face.”

She held out one hand, and a woman about Zelda’s age appeared from her side and helped her lower herself to her knees. The elder placed her palms flat on the flooring in front of her, and some part of Zelda began to scream in protest as she made the full obeisance.

“Princess Zelda.” The young woman also made her obeisance; the guards followed. Zelda turned, feeling the pressure of them all around her, and saw that now the entire village was doing it, foreheads pressed to the ground, and she did not know why but this terrified her on a level so deeply rooted that she felt like she was falling, that there was no ground beneath her and surely she would fall into nothing, fall forever. What did they know of her, what did they think of her, to burden her with this?

“We have been waiting for you for a very long time.”

“You do not remember me,” Impa said, settling onto the cushions that marked her normal seat in the manor’s main room. She waved her attendant away, and the young woman went to ensure that the door was properly closed and that they were alone. “I had thought the confusion on your face born of an expectation that I might not remember, but…?”

“No,” she said, genuinely rueful. If this woman really did remember her as she had been a hundred years ago, then they must have been very close. It was preposterous to feel guilty for having amnesia, but she did feel guilty, and knew that she had failed this good and faithful heart in some essential way. “I’m sorry, but… I don’t remember anything before waking up in the Chamber of Resurrection. Not myself, or where I came from, or… or anything. I’ve been guided by the ghosts of a past that I cannot recall.”

“Hm.” Impa smoothed out the folds of her robes, settled her hands on her knees, and seemed to relax. “It’s not your fault. You and Purah both theorized that it might be an effect of the Chamber of Resurrection; one cannot be wrested from the grasp of death without something being lost in exchange.” She looked haunted, almost, for a moment. “We were both there when you were taken to the Chamber. Purah had absolute faith, she was so sure in your return, that I had been holding onto her surety as an anchor for myself. I spent many years being afraid, bolstered up only by faith.” She refocused, looked at Zelda, and broke out in a smile so wide and so genuine that Zelda felt tears stinging at her eyes. “But you’re here now. Look at you! Like not a day has passed, and nothing ever happened to you.”

Zelda smiled in return, hoping it was more open and reassuring than she felt. “I am… grateful to you, Impa, even if I do not remember your kindness or your… your loyalty.” That word felt odd in her mouth; she had known intellectually that she was royalty since before she had left the Great Plateau, but something about the reality of it did not sit well with her. “Would you please tell me what did happen to me? My father only said—”

“Your father?” Now Impa leaned forward in truth, eyes wide and searching, and even the young attendant seated by the door behind Zelda gasped aloud. “You’ve spoken to him? Does the king of Hyrule yet live?”

She shook her head. Foolish of her, to speak without thinking, without the proper contextual couching to make that information sensical. “No. I’m sorry, he died when Ganon brought down the kingdom.” Impa’s expression did not change; she had been afraid that this would wound the old woman (my old friend, she chided herself) but she was too attentive, too intent in her listening to be disappointed to learn that there would not be more miraculous returns. “I have spoken with him, however. Perhaps I should start at the beginning?”

Impa nodded, and so she did. She spoke of awakening, of a voice couched in a golden light; of the Plateau, and the rising of the towers, and the swarming of beasts and the secrets held inside of the shrines; of the long walk here; of her father, long dead, and the ancient voice that echoed mightily from the castle in the heart of Hyrule. She told her of remembering nothing, of speaking with a dead king.

“The last thing he told me,” and it had not been the last but no one needed to know that, did not need to hear of how a dead man’s grief fell on someone who could not understand, “was that I was to come to Kakariko Village, to you, and that you would be able to guide me in my journey.”

“Tsk. Seems like he didn’t change that much.”

Grandmother!” The young woman seated behind Zelda spoke not in reproach but in horror.

Impa waved her hand. “He would have agreed with me, were he here. His Majesty, may his kingdom rise anew under the light of the goddess, was not given to trying to grasp new ideas or trying to reach beyond his very specific means.” She sighed, turning her attention back to Zelda. “He was a king, so his means were far-reaching indeed, but he married into the royal family when he wed your mother. He never really understood her relationship with the divine… or yours, to all of our sorrow.”

Zelda turned this idea over in her head. The king she had spoken to had seemed so regal, so severe, so sure of his words and his place in the world, that to hear someone as plainly faithful as Impa was speak ill of him, even in this roundabout way, was shocking. She really hadn’t understood his weaknesses over the course of that conversation; she wondered if his regrets might make more sense to her in time.

“Was he right?” That was what really mattered. “Can you help me?”

“I will try,” Impa said. “I have had a very long time to think about what went wrong, all those years ago, and how we might address those wrongs now. The world shifts and shakes every year, Princess, and those tiny vibrations have become great earthquakes and landslides leading up to your awakening. If the goddess told you that we are running out of time, it must be so; but she is the font of all wisdom, all knowing, and so if she set this task before you it must be that it can be accomplished.” She bowed low at the waist, having to use her arms as a brace to lower her torso. “May I look at your sheikah slate, please?”

“Yes, of course.” She could not have said why, but she was comfortable with Impa, in a way she had not been comfortable with her father or with any other person she had met up to this point. If they were truly friends in the past, and it seemed that they had been, then she was in a better position than anyone to be able to tell her the things she did not know. She rose from her place on the floor, unhooked the sheikah slate from her waist, held it out to Impa. “But, please… I don’t know what kind of ceremony we stood on before, but I would be very happy if you would not address me so formally. In private, at least.” There was decorum to consider, if that display outside had been any indication.

Impa pushed herself back up into her sitting position, reaching out and gingerly taking the slate with hands that did not shake at all. “As you wish, Zelda.”

“And that goes for you, too,” she said, turning back to the other woman in the room, who looked up at her from her seated position with a rising flush. “If you are Impa’s family, then I would hope that we could be friends, Miss…?”

“What! But you’re the p-p—" she stopped, trying to control her stuttering and failing spectacularly. “I can’t address you so in-in-informally, Your Grace!”

“Paya.” Impa’s voice cut through the room, and both Zelda and Paya looked over at her. She was flipping slowly through the screens of the sheikah slate, trying to remember how to use a tool she had not laid hands on in a century. “Her name is Paya. She’s very shy.” She looked up without tilting her head, locking hard onto her granddaughter with what Zelda imagined was a very carefully practiced expression of expectation and reproach. “And if you request it of her, of course she will call you however you like. In private.”

The color in Paya’s face, if anything, was even higher now. Still, she nodded, and when she did Zelda smiled and kneeled in front of Paya and extended her hand. “Well then, Paya, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Zelda.”

Unlike her grandmother, Paya’s hand shook like a leaf in the high wind as she reached out and clasped Zelda’s. Still, her grip was strong (she could probably crush my hand in hers, Zelda thought) and firm. “Hello, Zelda. I’m P-P-Pa…” She sighed through her teeth, closed her eyes as if to hide behind her eyelids. “Grandmother why are you doing this to me!” This last was a whisper, but so stricken with shame and embarrassment that, given volume, it would have been a wail.

“I’m not doing anything, Paya,” Impa said. Zelda let go of Paya’s hand and the girl gratefully collapsed into herself, bowing very formally—mostly for the sake of hiding her face, Zelda guessed. “Zelda, you mentioned that the shrines on the plateau restored previously locked functionality to the slate.”

“Yes.” She returned to her seated position, looking at Impa very carefully, studying the older woman even as the latter was studying the slate. “The other shrines that I’ve been to have been trials alone, and offer no insight into how else it might function.”

Impa nodded. “It can do so much more than back when you and Purah were trying to decipher the workings of it, but… I cannot find where it stores its images.”

“Images?” That word, by itself, did not call anything to mind for her. It was confusing in its meaninglessness. “I’m unsure what you mean…?”

“When you traveled Hyrule, before the Calamity, the Sheikah Slate could be used to capture true-to-life images of whatever you pointed it at. Like a painting, only in detail as fine as the eye itself could capture.” She held the slate out, and Zelda leaned forward to take it from her. “You took many such pictures, using them to commemorate places you thought especially noteworthy. I had hoped to find them there, but they seem to be missing.”

“That… would be a very interesting function for it to have, and useful, too.” She winced, very slightly, not wanting to continue.

“But you think that beside the point of this conversation,” Impa said. Zelda nodded. “Well, I cannot blame you. It may be. But if your memory is lost, and with it your connection to your divine power…” A thought occurred to her, and she grimaced. “I have not told you of your divine power, and you’ve not asked. Did your father mention it?”

“No,” she said, and as ridiculous as it was she felt sheepish that she didn’t know something that Impa had expected her to. “I suppose we… didn’t have much time.”

Impa nodded. “I see. In that case, listen for a moment, and I will tell you another story.”

And so she did; hers was the story of a battle ten thousand years old, and older, and the combined might of a nation rallied behind a princess and a warrior and four mighty champions. It was the story of the sheikah, of a people who propped up a country and who stepped out of the light; it was the story of an evil so ancient that there was no perspective by which it might be understood. Who could guess at the mind of real horror? They were only mortal. They could only fight it. They could only call upon the powers of a god, wielded by mortal hands. Zelda began to understand why she failed.

When she finished her story Impa stopped, closing her eyes and folding her hands again, concentrating. This pose she maintained for long minutes, so long that Zelda thought she might have fallen asleep—but then her eyes flew open, and she stared at Zelda with such force that it was like being struck across the face. Zelda empathized with Paya, sat straighter without realizing she was doing it.

“If the Goddess Hylia, protector of Hyrule and all its peoples, has sent you to me, then I must do my best to be of help to you. We lost the war with the Calamity, Ganon, a hundred years ago because we were not prepared and because we allowed it to turn our own weapons against us. Though it remains trapped in Hyrule Castle, locked in combat with the hero, still it maintains its hold over those weapons, and by consequence over our very lives.

“There are three tasks before you, Zelda, and if you wish to save Hyrule, to save the world, then you must undertake to complete each of them in turn. I do not know how you will do it; I barely know if it can be done. When Hylia warned you that you would be heaping sorrows upon yourself, know that she surely meant it, and in her mercy wished to prepare you. More, you will be seeking to bring an end to a war that we have been losing for one hundred years, facing challenges that no other single person could stand against.” Impa looked down at her from her elevated position, and in that moment she was not an attendant of the royal family, not a guardian; she was a judicator, taking measure of the person in front of her, seeking understanding and answers and promises and Zelda suddenly felt as if she were very small. “You will enter into a peril like you have never known in all your years, even greater than that to which you fell. You may lose your life. Are you prepared to take that risk?” In another place, to another person, Impa might have said that there was no shame in fear; she offered no such succor here.

What could Zelda say? She nodded, her throat locked tight.

“Good. That is well. In that case, your tasks are these.” She held up one finger. “You must regain your memory, and thereby your sacred power.” She held up a second finger. “You must free the Divine Beasts from Ganon’s control, so that we might turn them against it.” She held up a third. “You must return to Hyrule Castle, where the beast waits, and render assistance to the warrior with the sword that seals the darkness. Together you must defeat it; save the hero, and you will save us all.”

Oh, no great things, these, when lined up so prettily. The weight of them was so enormous it was absurd, laid at her feet as if the words were supposed to be meaningful in the context of her own understanding. How easily Impa said it from where she sat, not required to—

No. Zelda closed her eyes, turned her attention inward. No, it is not her fault that this is on your shoulders. If anything, it’s probably your own, and you knew it from the moment Hylia called out to you. There was some terrible failure in the past… and now I must fix it. I will fix it. He is waiting for me; I don’t know why that matters but it does, I can feel that truth reverberating in my very marrow.

Will I dream of Hylia, tonight?

She opened her eyes and looked back to Impa, and her face must have showed the determination she felt because the elder’s mouth turned up into a wide grin.

“I see. If you are so determined, and fear is pushed from your thoughts, then I know where you should begin. The first concern should be your memory, and I feel that your best hope for regaining it lies in the mementos you embedded in the sheikah slate. In Hateno Village in the east of Necluda you will find a research lab; go to that lab and you will find my sister, Purah. She is the only person who knows more about the Sheikah Slate than you did, and if anyone can repair it then it’s her.”

“Hateno… I passed by the road there on my way here.” And there was another sheikah tower near to it; she had marked it on the slate.

“Good. Then you will not need further directions.” She stopped for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “When will you be leaving?”

“Soon,” Zelda said. “First thing in the morning, I should think. It would be sooner, but I have been walking for a very long time and would be very grateful to sleep under a roof tonight.”

Impa nodded. “The inn will gladly house you for the evening, and you will be afforded every luxury with no charge.” She must have seen Zelda about to protest, because she shook her head. “I know you would prefer to have your anonymity. I would prefer it too. But that busybody Nanna informed the entire village, and though word will not spread beyond here it’s too late to ask everyone to pretend they do not know who you are. If I were you, I would take advantage of it.”

That was disappointing; this special treatment, this insistence on how special she was due to the circumstances of her birth, was galling to her. Well enough if she saved everyone’s lives, she would gladly accept free housing after that, but she hadn’t done anything yet. Still, Impa was right; if it was too late to do anything about the situation, better to make use of it…and admit when she didn’t know how. “How would you go about doing that, in my shoes?”

“Paya,” Impa said, and Zelda could feel the girl snap to attention behind her. “You have listened to Zelda’s story. What in the village do you think would be of best use to her?”

There was no pause before Paya answered. “If the pr-the prin-,” she swallowed audibly, “if Zelda wishes to continue to address dangers as she’s been doing, using stealth to her advantage, then the stealth suit she can procure at Enchanted would be invaluable.” Zelda turned to Paya, whose color rose again just from being looked at. “It’s very… very stealthy! Oh, Claree can tell you more about it!” Paya visibly tried to gain control of herself, seemed to succeed. “While we’re there, we should probably get you a fresh tunic, and a good hood for traveling. There’s no way to really make you less conspicuous, but we can still make sure that you’re comfortable and protected.”

“Good. When traveling, very little matters more than the quality of your gear.” Paya did not beam at her grandmother’s approval, not exactly, but she seemed less likely to sink through the floor. “Zelda, go with Paya to the Enchanted, and you will be fitted for your new clothes. Paya, after Claree has given her what she needs, take her to the inn, return here, and be ready to pack. You’ll be leaving with her in the morning.”


Oh, that was just what she needed. “Impa, I hardly think that necessary.”

This is not a discussion!” Her authority was so practiced, so absolute, that both younger women were struck silent by it. “Zelda, you have mentioned that you have slain monsters, by cleverness and by the use of tools. There is no doubt that you are capable. But the Yiga clan is on the move.” Her expression took on a darker cast, as if the very mention of the word “Yiga” put a foul taste in her mouth. “You can kill a bokoblin easily enough, but are you confident that you could draw your sword against a person? Could you end a man’s life, or a woman’s, to save your own?”

She did not have an answer, save for the sudden knot in her stomach, and the surety that she would fail, utterly, in that moment, and with that failure she would die, and then so would everything that mattered. She pressed her lips together, fought down her embarrassment, shook her head.

“Do not be ashamed. It is no terrible thing to shrink from the possibility of spilling a person’s blood, even if they mean you evil.” The old woman looked to her granddaughter. “Paya may be shy, and she may come across like a silly girl, but she is sheikah. I have trained her with my own hands since she was a child. There is no one in the village to whom I would sooner entrust your well-being. Paya, I know you are afraid. All of us are afraid, in these times. It is our fear, and how we address it, that will define us. I asked Zelda before if she would accept the burden of destiny, and so I will ask you the same: will you travel with this woman and protect her, even at peril of your own life? Will you give yourself utterly, wholly, to the cause of the gods?”

It occurred to Zelda that Paya did not share her apparent need to conceal her emotions; she was not openly weeping as such, but her face was twisted up with the effort of it and streams of tears were flowing down her face. Were those fear? Shame? Pride? Duty? All of those? She couldn’t say; Paya did not reveal any of it. She just bowed to her grandmother, very low, and said with a voice so shaky she could barely be understood, “Yes, Elder. On my blood and my blade. My life belongs only to Hyrule.”

Zelda and Paya began walking at the very break of day, when the black of night had given way to a greying sort of proto-dawn. The village did not come out to see them off, for which Zelda was grateful, but she could still feel all of their eyes on the two of them as they passed through the village gates.

A night’s rest in a good bed had proven the medicine that Zelda had thought it would: she hadn’t felt this rested, this ready to face another long day of walking, since her journey began. A good breakfast at the inn, served as early as she pleased, was the extra touch that the whole experience needed.

What she hadn’t expected was how much she would appreciate her new clothes. She hadn’t gotten sunburned during her travels yet, but the new hood was both light enough to be comfortable with the sun high and covered enough that she could stop worrying about her skin. The tunic, perhaps, was a bit much, she did appreciate all of its pockets. She had already begun storing scraps of paper in them, each used to jot down ideas, and had begun to categorize the pockets according to the notes that they were supposed to hold.

Paya seemed just as well-rested, which was fair; she had the impression that the sheikah woman was accustomed to getting much less sleep than she had been allowed the night before. She did wonder what Paya did in the evenings; she hadn’t been given a clear image as to her duties. Just as well.

“When we return,” and Zelda was quite sure that they would return, “I will see if the sheikah slate can transport both of us. If we’re lucky, then the trip back should take us only a few seconds.” The shrine overlooking the village had contained a guardian, rather unlike those that had dotted the plateau or that one could spy swarming over the ruins of the castle town. The intent had probably been for her to fight it with sword and shield; she had shot it in the eye with her bow and thrown bombs at it until it was dead. It had taken the better part of an hour, but the monk did not gainsay her victory.

“I hope it is that simple, Your Grace,” Paya said, then blanched when Zelda looked at her. “I-I mean Zelda! Z-Ze-Zelda. Oh, I know I can’t call you by Your Grace when we’re around people, it’s dangerous, I just have trouble with…” She sagged. “With words.”

Zelda reached to Paya, gently clasping her arm in a gesture she thought would be companionable but made the girl jump nearly out of her skin. She let go immediately. “Sorry.” She cleared her throat, set her shoulders back, announcing that they would both dismiss the past few seconds. “It’s a lovely day for walking, isn’t it?”

Paya looked up. “It is.”

And it was; the sun had risen behind the mountains so that the sky was brighter than the ground, and in the distance one could see the interplay between light and dark as the light threw the mountain’s shadows across the country. The long, winding road out of Kakariko Village was blissfully cool, and would remain so until nearly midday. Zelda thought that if they made time then they should be able to reach the stable at the foot of the Dueling Peaks in time to have a decent lunch.

“I am beginning to see Impa’s wisdom regarding our journey.”

She had floated the idea of simply teleporting herself and Paya back to the stable, since there was a shrine so close to it, but Impa had been against the idea. Well enough to teleport into the wilds, had been her reasoning, but the stables were high-traffic areas and there was always the chance of them being seen.

“I haven’t been outside of the village in so long,” Paya said, and she sounded almost wistful. “Not since I was a child. The idea of traveling instantly from place to place sounds incredible, but… I’m very glad that I’m able to be here, walking, and seeing the world again. At least to start! I don’t mean to put pressure on you, of course, you don’t have to listen to me. I just like this! I like—walking. Walking with you!”

“I rather like it too.” This was true; as enamored as she was with the powers of the Sheikah Slate and the secrets of the old world, she also loved being able to move through the world at her own pace. “I will tell you something, though it may sound a bit… childish.” Paya shook her head in protest of the idea that she would assume childishness of her princess alarmingly quickly, but Zelda decided it best to continue rather than to try to assure her. “When I descended from the plateau, it was like the whole world had spread out before me for the first time. I thought that was what being on the plateau was, but that was wrong; the world was so much bigger, so much wider than I had assumed of it, and I didn’t understand until I started walking. I knew that I had to travel to Kakariko, I knew how urgent it was, but… I took my time. I felt like I had to, even with the world hanging in the balance. I would spy an inviting hill, and ascend to the top of it, and there I would find a stone, and…” She realized her color was rising, but if she started being embarrassed in front of Paya of all people then they were both doomed regardless of whether she managed to vanquish Ganon or not. “And I would look under it, expecting to find a secret there. As if the world had currents of magic running through it, just beneath the notice of people, and by looking closer I might see them for myself. Nothing would be there, of course, but I did it all the same. And then I would spy another hill, and I would go looking for it again, trying to find the magic in the world.” She grinned at Paya, trying not to seem sheepish. “I warned you it was childish.”

Instead she was taken aback: Paya’s face as she listened was so intent, so grave, ran so counter to the softness of her features and the delicacy of her expressed personality that Zelda had to clamp down hard on herself to keep from laughing. If I laugh now I’ll never get her to talk to me again. She must have been able to control it, because after a space of perhaps ten breaths Paya finally looked at her and said, “I understand.”

“You do?”

“Absolutely.” For a moment it seemed she would continue, relating some similarity between them or telling a story from her childhood (because it was childish, and Zelda knew), but then her face shifted into a wholly different and neutral expression. Zelda was struck by suddenness and intensity of Paya’s gaze down the path. “Your Grace. Zelda.”


“There is a woman walking toward us, on the opposite side of the road.”

Zelda looked, and saw only the road that wound into the distance. “I don’t see anyone.”

“She’s walking slowly now, beneath the shade of a tree, near where that path breaks off from the main road.”

There was a break in the wall there, a heaping of stone and as she looked Zelda was taken aback; she could see the woman now, could see her looking at them. Paya’s eyes were incredibly sharp, or else she was trained in ways that Zelda did not understand. Still, the woman did not look like anyone to worry about.

“She seems to just be another traveler,” Zelda said. “I’ve passed by quite a few.”

“She is not a traveler,” Paya said. Now Zelda looked at her, but Paya did not meet her eyes. They kept walking, had never stopped walking, but something in Paya’s stance had changed. “She is not any of the merchants or tourists or artists who like to visit Kakariko. Her behavior is wrong, too; notice how she had stopped walking, is waiting for us?”

That was true; it was so early in the day that it seemed unlikely the traveler would need rest, even if she had started out from the stable (but if she had, how did she get here so fast?).

“I would hear your suspicions, if you would share them.” The word Yiga hung in the air between them.

“Not now,” Paya said. “Keep walking.”

So they did; Paya finally stopped staring daggers and Zelda pulled her hood down slightly further, as if against the light of dawn. Her hair was tied at the back of her head in a very tight bun, which was all that she could manage on her own but would serve to disguise her from any prying eyes at a distance. They walked on, ignoring the woman, who turned to watch them go with a wide, cold smile. Zelda thought, briefly, that it was nothing; perhaps she should even wave to this person, simply for the fact of getting past her sense of nerves. Hylia had told her that fear was something she would have to wrestle with.

And then the woman called out, “Excuse me there! Travelers!”

“Keep walking,” Paya said, and Zelda obeyed but out of reflex she turned her head and saw the woman and the woman saw that she saw.

“I’m completely lost, and was hoping you might give me some directions!” Directions she could have gotten at the stable. “You see, I’m looking for someone! And maybe they know that I’m looking, now!” Paya drew in her breath through her teeth next to Zelda, and the pair stopped. “I’d hoped to meet you alone, princess, so that the little surprise I have for you could be shared privately! I never imagined you’d have one of them traveling with you.”

“Surprise?” Zelda said. It was a reflexive thing, a response to absurdity, but it made the woman’s smile grow wider and toothier.

“Yes. A surprise. Still, I suppose it’s fine if you see it COMING

Things happened very fast. Paya was to Zelda’s side; the sheikah was further from the strange woman than her charge was. When the woman drew off her coat, her entire appearance changed, as if she had been disguised by magic.

A flash of movement. Red, and white, and an eye turned upside down. The woman crossed the road in the span of heartbeats, Zelda couldn’t even process how fast she was, saw only a flash of steel, and had a moment of perfect clarity as the assassin raised her long, sickle-shaped blade for a killing stroke. I have experienced this before.

A flash of white and grey, and Paya was in front of her.

She moved automatically, just as Grandmother had drilled into her hundreds of time, hearing the words as they had been said to her. Like water, flowing easily from moment to moment.

She came in low in front of the assassin, arms pulled in tightly against her diaphragm. The blade came down, swinging for Zelda instead of Paya, and Paya brought her left hand up, palm open, to catch the wrist that held it. She didn’t stop it—she redirected it, using the force of the downward stroke to twist the arm, then brought around her right palm against the extended joint of the Yiga’s elbow.

It broke, the sound like a twig being snapped underwater. The other woman breathed in sharply, not crying out. She was well-trained in handling her pain. Paya shoved at the arm, and the hand did not let go of its sickle but that didn’t matter.

Be like water.

The assassin swung her left fist, aiming for Paya’s jaw, and Paya turned her head into the blow so that it skidded against her hair, robbing it of its essential force. She drove her left fist hard into her opponent’s diaphragm, used the rotation of her torso to swing again at the now-exposed ribs with her right.

Yiga assassins gird their major arteries, but to preserve their freedom of movement their torsos are unarmored below the armpit.

She used her legs, the explosive power rising from her hips to drive her fists. Using each rebound to fuel the next punch, she struck the assassin five more times, totaling three blows to each side of the ribs. Two ribs broke. The other woman’s breathing, behind the mask, was still; she was holding her breath against the pain. Now she was reacting, her legs bunching beneath her, and Paya's coiled in answer.

They retreat like birds, and are confident in that retreat.

The assassin launched herself backward and Paya launched herself forward. Distantly the part of her that was not fighting hoped she did not kick any dirt into Zelda’s face.

They wear masks to hide their faces, and fear those who look upon them with the eyes of truth. Do not look away from them, and they will know you for what you are.

The assassin was suspended in the air during her leap, utterly helpless for that fraction of a second, unable to swing her weapon with her useless arm. She was staring at Paya’s face, Paya could feel her attentions from beyond that childish flipping of the sign of the goddess’s benevolence. How long it must have felt to her, to see Paya’s hand reaching out for her, the fingers brushing against her mask.

They are dangerous in service of their master, but in their hearts they are cowards who could not stand in the light. They are sharp blades made with bad steel:

She grabbed the assassin by the mask just as her leap was ending, hooked one leg behind both of the Yiga’s, rotated her torso, and slammed the other woman’s head into the ground with all the force in her body. The shock of it traveled up her arm, and the mask cracked open like the shell of an egg tapped firmly on a countertop. The sickle blade went spinning uselessly into the air. The break in the mask exposed the other woman’s eye and she met it, then, held it long enough to see the assassin’s terror.

Easily broken.

She leaped backward, landed lightly on her feet between the attacker and the princess. She drew her sword just as the Yiga’s hit the ground.

The entire exchange had taken perhaps seven seconds.

Just like that, it was over. Zelda did not think she had had time to breathe.

“Get up,” Paya said. She was bouncing on her feet as if ready to continue the fight, her body full to bursting with nervous energy that Zelda suspected would find its outlet one way or another.

“This isn’t the end of anything,” the assassin said from the ground. “Master Kohga knows of the princess’s return. The entire clan has mobilized; I was just lucky enough to be first.” She laughed, and coughed with sudden pain; Zelda realized that somewhere in there Paya must have struck her in the ribs, or, or something.

Get up.”

Slowly, painfully slowly, the Yiga did. Her mask fell away complete, showing the enormous bruise that was already changing the color of her face. Her right arm hung limp and useless, and she cradled her shoulder with her left hand. She was still grinning, but there was fear there too, and Zelda could see it as plainly as if the word were written on her face. That was the look of someone who had talked often of death, who thought they were prepared to face it, but had never really known the reality of it.

Zelda looked to Paya, then. She didn’t speak out, couldn’t, not when the other woman had literally just saved her life, but she was also filled with a terrible certainty.

“It would be unseemly, the greatest offense to her Grace, to spill your blighted blood in front of her,” Paya said, slowly, as if meting out words for someone who could barely hear them. “Tell your master that the princess is invincible, that her lowliest servant beat you within an inch of your life.” She lifted her sword, the tip pointed directly at the assassin’s throat, and though they were separated by ten paces Zelda knew that it would take no effort on Paya’s part to open the other woman up like a fish. “Go, and do not return.”

The assassin did not react, at first; it was not until her eyes came back into focus and she looked at Paya’s sword that she seemed to hear everything that had been said to her. “Foolishness,” she said. "This will not end until the blood of the goddess soaks into the ground." With her good arm she drew an object from a pouch at her waist, threw it down, and was gone in a cloud of smoke.

Long, long minutes did the princess and her retainer wait in the silence. The sun crept perceptibly, peeking over the tips of the mountains, and only when the light hit her face did Paya put away her sword.

What could one say to such a thing? Thanks seemed utterly unsatisfactory for what had just transpired. Zelda had never seen anyone move like that, like either of them, and she genuinely did not know what would have happened if Paya had not been there. What did one say to that?

In the end, she had a question. “When did you break her arm?”

Paya turned to her with the expression of a child caught daydreaming. “Oh. When she, uh.” The color drained completely from her face. “When I knocked her weapon away from. Away from you. With my fist, I went for the. The joint.” That paleness shifted over to green. “Princess will you please excuse me for a moment” and without waiting for an answer she turned and walked to the side of a road, and Zelda moved to follow her.

Zelda did not have the eyes or the training necessary to see what had happened in the exchange between the two, but she was not blind and she saw other things. She understood enough, hearing of this Master Kohga, to know that their journey—and what would qualify as safety for the two of them—was now very different.

She also knew that, if it hadn’t been for the assassin revealing that their whereabouts were already known, that the entire clan was already on the move, that Paya would have killed her there in the dust.

She mulled on this silently, holding Paya’s hair for her as she vomited on the side of the road.

Chapter Text

The rhythm of properly shod hooves ringing gently on the road was a nostalgic sound, and Zelda could not have guessed at where that feeling of nostalgia came from; that was a curious sensation, and she knew what it was, but she hadn’t felt it since waking up in the chamber.


“Y-yes, Prin—yes, Zelda?”

“When you feel nostalgic about something, do you usually relate it to specific memories from your childhood? I have that feeling now, but I can’t relate it to any specific moment in my past. At any other moment I would argue that nostalgia and memory are too closely related to be separated, but this suggests otherwise, I think.”

“I’m… I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

Zelda barely heard her; it hadn’t been an actual answer to her question, and though it would have embarrassed her to realize it she had filtered Paya’s puzzlement out entirely. “It suggests the question of how much I do remember; I remember how to talk, to walk, to eat. I am not reduced to the state of a newborn. But I remember nothing of myself, of any moment in the past. Can one know things that are not recalled? Is there a difference, then, between knowledge and memory? And if the two are separated, on which side of the divide would nostalgia fall?”

Paya nearly shrieked in sudden alarm, but the look Zelda threw over her shoulder was anything except for alarmed. Irritated, perhaps, in a quiet place that she would not let Paya see because it would hurt the other woman very badly. She applied the gentlest pressure to the reins of her horse, and the mare slowed down enough to draw alongside Paya’s. Paya’s horse was cream and blue like milky clouds against the sky, and covered in spots; Zelda’s own had a roan coat, nearly solid. Both were of an even temperament, so gentle that a child could ride them…if they had confidence about it.

“Soothe the horse when it starts,” Zelda said to her, and Paya nodded for something like the third time. “If you’re nervous, it will be nervous, too. You need to reassure it; it will convince the horse of how you want to feel, and it will help to convince you too.”

Paya leaned forward—too far forward, she barely knew how to balance herself in the saddle—but when she stroked the horse’s neck her hand was firm, the motion even and gentle. “I’m sorry,” she said, and it was impossible to tell if she was talking to Zelda or the horse. “Grandmother taught me all sorts of things, but I never learned how to ride. This is all new to me, and I’m not a very good learner.”

“I’m sure she understands,” Zelda said, and did not take her eyes off of Paya until the other woman was seated properly again.

Catching, taming, and registering the horses had taken the best part of a day, though she was sure it would end up paying dividends. Paya had been too afraid of going near them, afraid of being kicked, (and in fairness one of them had nearly taken Zelda’s head off when she had spooked it by moving too suddenly) so Zelda had attended to the matter herself. She was still wearing the sheikah-made stealth suit, which was both as useful as advertised and surprisingly breathable. She had pulled the mask down to rest under her chin because it made it slightly hard to breathe and the condensation of her breathing made the effect worse, but she appreciated the armor’s craftsmanship. When they ended up stopping for the night, she would change again and really examine the armor, try to understand the mechanics of it. However it did what it did was worth understanding; she never would have been able to catch the horses without it.

The road curved gently around an enormous rock face, itself very nearly a mountain, and she found that her anticipation at what might be around the corner built as they rode. The horses went at a slow walk, she didn’t want to put them to the test until they had all had time to grow more comfortable with each other, but the possibility of what lay just out of sight was so wild, so enticing, that it took an effort not to urge the mare into a full gallop. She could feel the potential of its speed as it shifted under her; before long, she would give it all the lead it needed. Patience for now, and patience for a while yet. The distance fell away, length by length. She pulled the mask back up, found that the condensation of her breath had been wicked to the outside, grinned, hoped that the mask would be enough to hide her excitement from Paya.

After an interminable length of time they rode past the stone, and Zelda looked outward and to the south and her breath caught in her throat and she eased her horse to a stop.

“The Blatchery Plain,” Paya said, stopping a little more abruptly beside her. “The site of the Champions’ last stand.”

Zelda said nothing in reply, at first. The entire field was littered with Guardians in various states of disrepair or destruction, most dead and inert and missing their legs. In the far distance, much further south than they intended to ride, a single stalker walked on long, reaching legs, casting its glowing blue eye all about it, searching for some hapless prey. It stood in contrast to the field of ruin, never coming too near to it, as if the presence of its fellows and their annihilation had been enough to warn it off.

“There must be thousands,” she said at last.

“Grandmother would know the exact number,” Paya said. A moment later she added, “Or Nanna. I don’t know exactly what happened—I like heroic stories, but this one…” She let that trail off, abandoned it. “Regardless, I think it best if we stick to the road. That battle ended a century ago, but a handful of the Guardians persist and will attack anything that wanders too near. There’s a bokoblin camp near the western edge, if you look, and you can tell where the functioning Guardians are by the… extent of their…” She looked at Zelda. “…Patrols. Zelda?”

Zelda looked out at the Guardians, lightly touched at the edge of her armor, and thought, and thought. “I was just thinking about this armor, about how it works. It deadens footfalls, doesn’t rustle in spite of being made of cloth; even the sound of my breathing is softened. Someone could tell me how it works; if nothing else, we could go back to Kakariko Village and Claree would be able to tell me about the methods of its construction. This armor is a mystery to me, and I wish to know the answer to it, but that answer is less urgent because I know where I can get it. Do you see?”

Paya shook her head; Zelda suspected that the other woman did see, even if she did not wish to.

“I wonder by what mechanics the Guardians function.” That was not the whole truth; she hungered for it, yearned for it more than thirst made her yearn for water. “By what means do they project beams of light that can burn and burst? How are they still functional after a century of being exposed to the elements? If they are from the same era as the sheikah slate, then would understanding them also mean I would better understand it?” This last was folly and vanity, and she knew that; they were headed to a laboratory run by a woman who had been poring over this very question for more than a hundred years. The font of knowledge available to her would not be as comprehensive as that for the armor she wore, but in many ways it could be more profound. Why place so much emphasis, so much importance, on her own experience?

“Princess,” Paya said, in a voice that was both shaky in sudden terror and trying so hard to project authority that Zelda turned to look at her with raised eyebrows, “we cannot try to dismantle one of the functioning Guardians.” At the look on Zelda’s face (which was more surprise or curiosity than anger, Zelda was sure) she nearly quailed, but still she managed to hold eye contact. “We can’t. It’s v-very dangerous. There are bokoblins wandering nearby, too many for us to kill them without being seen.”

Now Zelda set her jaw, and it had nearly the effect she wanted on the other woman. “I have spent the past several days sneaking around or eliminating beasts like these or much worse, Paya. Even if we were detected, and to be clear we would not be, I am confident we could outfight them.” That was foolhardy, dangerous, stupid, but she also thought it was true. Even ignoring Paya’s own absurd strengths, Zelda knew that she was not physically the same person who woke up with their memories missing. She was not an expert with the sword, but she knew enough about the bokoblins and how they thought and fed and fought that she knew that, if it came down to it, she could fight one. Hopefully more. There are a lot of them. “You said yourself that they do not go too near the active Guardians; staying outside of their patrol range should be simple.”

Paya looked ready to argue the point about being able to fight one of the beasts, reconsidered, let it go in the span of seconds. “E-ev-even so! Dismantling a Guardian is… it’s not impossible, but it requires tools we don’t have! You can test it on one of the dead ones, if you want; their armor is so thick that you can’t damage it with normal steel, and their vitals are so well-protected that you would need to strike perfectly into their eyes to create openings.” She shook her head. “They’re fas-fascinating, yes. But part of that is because they’re from an age that produced weapons like them! You would need some sort of equivalent to fight them, otherwise they… they.”

Zelda held out a long, rectangular object that was proportioned like the handle of Paya’s own eight-fold blade, only its construction was identical to the guardians, all stone set against darker stone. She shifted her fingers over the grip, and a thin segment of it separated from it, flipped upward. This part hummed into life, and a blade of bright blue light materialized. The glow it gave off was pleasant to look at, but one could almost feel the danger of it as Zelda turned it in her hand.

“Where?” Paya’s question was less curiosity than disbelief.

“The shrine above the village. The monks have many gifts, for those who can complete their trials.”

Paya groaned, burying her face in her hands.

The Guardian flared to life as Paya stepped within its range. The deep thrum of its sensors coming online was a note that reverberated in her head, in her very bones. She drew her eightfold blade, positioned her shield on her off-hand, waited for it to look at her.

“Princess!” The sound made the Guardian swing its head over to her, away from Zelda who was somewhere in the forest of dead Guardians on its opposite side. “The beams of light are not actually beams in the same way that sunbeams are! They’re pulses that leave trails of light behind them, like comets!” She didn’t think that would actually be important, but it was something to say. Maybe the princess would think it mattered, though. It was hard to predict what connections Zelda could make.

The red light focused on her, and she closed her eyes. She recited the lesson that Nanna had taught her, because she had always wanted to know how people could possibly fight things that could kill with a glance. “Don’t mind the light. Listen to it. The charge builds, and builds, and when it’s ready there will be a chime.” Her leg shook beneath her, and for one moment she was greeted with the question of what would happen if she suddenly had a cramp now. Would she be completely vaporized? Oh, that wasn’t pleasant, she shouldn’t have thought about that, now she was going to be sick.

The chime was a deep sound, too, followed by an inhalation of breath, both by her and by the Guardian. The world lit up through the lids of her eyes.

The light had aimed at her chest; she slid under it like a water sprite, already charging, her body nearly parallel to the beam as the pulse struck an object behind her and detonated with the force of twenty of Zelda’s bombs. The wind pushed at her back as she ran, her grip on the blade shifting, her eyes wide and unblinking. She made eye contact with the Guardian as the red light focused on her again, it began to chirp as it acquired its target.

She leaped into the air, and the red light tracked her as she sailed toward it.

The Guardian was too slow; Paya slammed into its head, driving the tip of her sword against its eye. The tip shivered, nearly broke, then skidded off the glowing red glass. She hissed through her teeth; she had expected to do some damage, rather than none. The thing groaned beneath her, something inside of it grinding together as its eye lost focus and its head began to turn, tracking as if it had lost its target.

“Zelda, now!” But Zelda was already moving.

Zelda did not run like a sheikah did. She had never been taught to run properly, probably didn’t realize there was a proper way to run, but when she moved now it was like she was flying, taking strides longer than Paya would have thought possible, arms pumping and body leaned forward. In this way she was unrefined, but the intensity of her body language, the look in her eyes as she focused solely on a spot on the back of the Guardian’s head, sent a shiver running up Paya’s spine.

The machine recovered and Paya struck its eye again, less firmly so that her blade did not skip but still hard enough to disorient it.

Zelda scrambled up its back, the guardian blade flaring to life in her hand. She swung artlessly but firmly, from her shoulder, her motion almost like a butcher cutting through bone as she hacked at the back of the Guardian’s head. Paya could not see what effect she was having but she heard it, a sound like breaking porcelain as blue sparks sprayed out against Zelda’s face. The princess never flinched, never looked away. The sword was pulled back and then brought down, back and down, back and down.

They had agreed that Paya would make sure the eye was disabled, but that she would not place her body in front of it in case something went wrong. This had been Zelda’s idea, though Paya had agreed to it readily, eagerly, and it saved her life as the Guardian’s weapon fired, bright blue death lancing out across the field without warning, without charging.

“AGH!” She scrambled away from it, made ready to swing at the eye with her sword, but when Zelda struck at the Guardian again the weapon fired once more, the head still trying to rotate, and this time the eruption of power was much closer, the wind from the explosion blowing Paya’s hair as if she were in a storm. “Zelda! I think it’s firing every time you strike it!” I think you should stop! could go unsaid, surely.

Only it couldn’t, and Zelda began hacking with renewed fervor, an even greater insistence. “Get away from it, Paya!”

What?!” The sound of the weapon discharging over and over, not able to keep up with the rapidity of the princess’s blows, was high and shrill and not unlike a monster’s scream.

“I said get away!” Zelda looked at her, then, and the intensity in her eyes, the command in her voice, was unlike anyone Paya had ever seen. Her grandmother would have quailed at that look. “If I’m causing this to happen then I must be near to the vital components. I need be only a little deeper, but it’s too dangerous to have both of us up here!” She was so sure that for a moment Paya believed her, nearly moved to obey.

“Then let me do it!” Paya covered her ears, stepped around the shuddering weapon’s head, made as if to grab for the weapon—only she didn’t dare. If Zelda fought her for it, and she would, then the Guardian might have time to turn toward them. There was no telling if it would be able to fire at them without needing to charge, and if it did then they were both as good as dead.

Zelda flipped the blade in her hand so that it projected out from the bottom of her fist, then jammed the tip directly into the opening she had managed to cut. The Guardian stopped firing but began to emit a high-pitched grinding squeal, as if something inside of it were jammed, and Zelda let go of the blade, turned to Paya.

“Please!” She was not pleading, but she was asking as insistently as she could, reaching out and taking both of Paya’s hands in hers. Despite herself, in spite of how ridiculous it was, Paya felt the color rise in her face at having the Princess ask her to do anything. “Paya, will you trust me to face the Calamity?”

“Y-y-y-yes, Zelda.” Of course she would. Of course that was the only thing she was thinking about while this death machine was writhing under their feet.

“Then trust me in this. Retreat, just a little way. If you think that I am in danger, pull me away from it. But otherwise, leave me to this work. I am so close, and would know these secrets. Please. Please.”

Something happened, then, as Zelda pled with Paya, as the sun was going down and the blue light beneath and around them was growing brighter, as the sheikah woman quaked in front of her liege. She did not know what it was, but Paya knew it was important, that something inside of her shifted.

“Yes, Your Grace,” she said, and when Zelda released her hands she bowed low and leaped away from the Guardian.

Zelda gave no time to hesitation; she turned back to the Guardian, drew the guardian sword out, and continued to chop at the enormous gash she had created. The machine began to fire again and Paya watched as Zelda cut away at the anterior of the gash, widening it more and more, and she could not see clearly but from where she stood the Guardian seemed to be filled with blue light and the heaving of some strange, alien life.

Then Zelda struck again and the armor broke under the stress in a much larger section and the chop went deeper than she had anticipated. The blue of the blade cut into the brighter blue of the Guardian’s insides and something very audibly broke, a crack and a whir and a burst of blue flame that spewed out of the wound and licked at the air in front of Zelda’s face. The princess did not even flinch.

“Oh, curse you!” the princess said, and the Guardian began to billow smoke from its joints.

“Zelda!” Light shone from out of the guardian as its armor began to crack, rays of blue light as bright as the sun, and Paya’s legs coiled under her as she judged the distance for reaching Zelda in a single leap. Would she be able to kick off far enough to be safe while carrying the weight of another person? It didn’t matter. She had to try.

Then Zelda turned and leaped off herself, directly toward Paya, and the suddenness of her movement caught her attendant so badly off guard that Paya could not react to it. The Guardian seemed to be composed wholly of light for one brief, brilliant second, lighting up the world as if it were noontime.

Zelda tackled Paya to the ground just as the Guardian exploded, sending a geyser of fire and earth and stone into the air. I should really be protecting her, Paya thought, almost delirious, as Zelda shifted her shoulder to shield Paya’s face from falling debris and Paya held her shield behind Zelda’s head. Zelda’s grip on her was firm, almost immovable, and she reacted not at all to the rain of pebbles and soil that fell around them and onto Zelda’s back. The blessings of Hylia had strengthened her more than anyone in the village had thought possible.

Seconds later there was silence, and stillness, and Zelda lifted her head to look around. “Well. It’s gone; no more danger, at least.” Then she looked down, and their closeness, noses nearly touching, made the heat rise in Paya’s face again. “Are you hurt?”

“No, Your Grace,” she said. “Zelda. Sorry.” She was mostly surprised she had managed to get the words out at all.

“No,” Zelda said, slowly getting up. “I’m sorry. I dug too deeply, too greedily, and… it was so close, though. I could see inside of it, for just a moment, and it was as if it was calling out to me, ready to divest itself of knowledge we haven’t had for so long, and…” She closed her eyes, shook her head, and her dejected posture became resolute. “It doesn’t matter. I made a mistake. It won’t happen again.” She turned to Paya, offered her hand. “I promise.”

“I understand,” Paya said, because she did. Maybe she should have been angry; maybe in other circumstances, with other people, she could have been. But watching Zelda charge the Guardian, the surety of her body language, the openness of her expression (even wearing that mask, her eyes could tell so much), and the… the unnamable quality that was communicated just by her presence. Paya had heard what it meant to be a person of destiny before, not a person chosen by fate but a person who rises to greatness as it is required of them. She had heard all of that, but before today she had never really known.

She took Zelda’s hand, and in the touch of their fingers realized what had changed in herself.


They took the time to gather up large pieces left behind by the explosion; when they finally returned to their horses Zelda had two sacks full of screws, springs, and various other parts that could not be as easily identified. These she tied to either side of her saddle, trying to distribute the weight evenly, before mounting again.

Both were tired and rode in silence for the rest of the way. The sun was setting, and it would be dark soon, but both of them agreed they could not sleep in the field. The bokoblin encampment and its sentries not being alerted to their presence was a matter of luck, despite Zelda’s earlier argument, and they could not rely on that luck holding through the entire night.

The walls of Fort Hateno rose in the distance, and Zelda was taken aback once more by the sight of it: Guardians, some of them nearly whole, lay in frozen ruin all over it, apparently destroyed in the midst of assault. Breaking just one of them had left her arm numb with the effort, and that with a weapon apparently designed to fight them. What force of people could have pushed back so mightily against them? What army was so powerful?

There was a clear space in front of the fort where the grass was dead. It was easy to see from far away, but the rolling land surrounding it made it hard to get any kind of perspective. Zelda hadn’t had the energy to wonder at it when seeing it from a distance; as they drew closer, she could feel alertness creeping back into her, replenishing the vitality that the fight with the Guardian had drained. What is this?

Zelda, a length ahead of Paya, slowed to a stop in the center of the clearing. Paya pulled up next to her, waiting patiently as her charge took in the sight.

The clearing was wide, and dead, and almost perfectly circular, its edges so clean-cut that it was if a curse with a very specific diameter had been placed on the spot where Zelda’s horse now stood. No Guardians, broken or functional, stood within the circle; one was seated on the edge, but an entire side of it was cut away, revealing the hollow shell where its innards had once resided.

It was hard to tell from elsewhere on the plains, but here Zelda saw that there were great holes in the landscape, circular openings in the mountains like spyholes; one from the southwest, one from the northwest, one from directly north, and… unless she was badly mistaken, there was a missing sliver on a hill to the west. Thousands or millions of tons of stone had been displaced or vaporized, and trying to imagine the power capable of such a thing made her head hurt.

Something happened here. I do not know what, but I know that it made this place, this spot, into a nexus of destruction.

She found herself wishing more and more desperately to remember. They rode on.

The stars were coming out when they passed through the ruined gate of the fortress wall, and Zelda looked up at the broken crenellations there, craning her neck to see where the reaching arms of a dying Guardian had sunk claws into the stone. Many, many of them had met their end there, at the wall. Not one had made it over.

A tree stood near the gate, tall and with a wide-reaching canopy, good for shelter in weather of all kinds. At the foot of the tree, a little way from the trunk, a man sat tending to a fire on which he had set a cooking pot. Paya nearly seized up at the sight of him (this did not mean he was a Yiga; it just meant he was a man) but when he saw them his eyes lit up and he had an eager, open honesty to his expression that made Zelda instantly like him. There was something about him that spoke to her; she could feel his need to share in some secret knowledge, and that spoke to her own desires quite nicely.

“Heya!” The two slowed to a stop, and he raised his hand in greeting. “Name’s Garill. You two here to see Fort Hateno, too?”

Ah. So that is the place’s name. Was it manned by the people of Hateno Village, a hundred years ago? Are all of them descended from heroes? “My name is Zelda, and my companion is Paya.” Paya nodded, and it was a motion so nervous it bordered on curt. “As to your question, yes,” she said, the lie coming so easily because now it was true, “though I’m afraid I know precious little about it. There are so many machines out there, broken, and not even one on this side of the wall… it seems as if a great army must have fought them back.”

Garill’s eyes lit up in a way that Zelda suspected would look quite similar to her own face, his grin wide and encompassing and just the slightest bit arrogant. “Well, there’s a very good story there, if you’d care to hear it. Would the two of you like to share the fire?”

Zelda looked to Paya, who had blanched utterly, her expression drained of all color. She was too mortified to say that they shouldn’t but several degrees too terrified to say that they should, which meant it was solely up to Zelda, who turned back to Garill with her own smile. “We would hate to impose.”

“Not at all! It’s good to have company, and nowadays it’s usually safer to have more folks around the fire. Monsters don’t tend to come too near to the gate, but you never know; I’d be glad to host you.”

Zelda dismounted, then helped Paya do the same. “We have some food that we could prepare while you tell us the story, if you’d permit us use of your cookpot.”

“Please, be my guest. I’ve already eaten, so you don’t need to worry about me.”

They threw onto the fire cubed venison, chopped Hyrulian herb, and great chunks of rock salt. The smell was instantly and ferociously appetizing, and Zelda realized she had skipped that lunch she’d been anticipating. No matter. Paya took on the duty of agitating the food with a wooden spoon, so Zelda turned to Garill, who had leaned back to recline against the tree.

“You mentioned a history.”

Garill looked off into the middle distance with unfocused eyes and the sort of relaxed posture that suggested someone who relished sharing the knowledge he had accumulated. “Have you heard the story of the hero and the princess who fought here?”

“I haven’t,” Zelda said, though Paya stiffened in a way that told her that Paya did know the story, and for some reason was worried about her hearing it. “Would you tell me?”

He nodded, looking directly at Zelda, his eyes going between her and Paya as he talked (Paya looking down, pointedly, every time he looked her way). “So one hundred years ago, we had these special warriors called Champions. This hero was supposedly one of them, and the princess was their leader. When the Calamity struck and brought ruin to Hyrule, the hero and the princess made their last stand here, at Fort Hateno. Most of the Hyrulian military had been pushed back into Akkala, leaving Hateno without its regular defenders, so when the hero and the princess fought here it was by themselves.”

“Two people?” The force of the question cut through Garill’s relaxed recitation, the weight of Zelda’s disbelief so sudden and stark it nearly spooked the horses. “All of that out there—all that destruction, all those broken machines—that was the work of two people?” I did that?

She had thought Garill might be shocked at her outburst, but instead he seemed pleased at her disbelief, at the enormity of the story he was telling. “We can’t know if that’s true or not. There are enough broken weapons out there to suggest that some of the army was here, and fell in the battle. But the story goes that the hero and the princess stood alone, even if it was only at the end. The hero was supposed to be the mightiest of the Champions, with a magical sword that cut through darkness, and the princess…” Here he stopped, thinking to himself. “I’ve never really understood her story well enough to relate it.”

“They s-s-say,” Paya said, her voice so quiet that it was almost impossible to hear her but surprisingly firm considering it was the first time she’d spoken since the Guardian exploded, “that the princess fought with the power of the g-g-goddess herself. That she leveled a heavenly blessing against the Calamity.”

Garill nodded, though something about Paya plainly made him wary. Was she that strange? “That makes as much sense as anything I’ve heard; none of the accounts seem to agree with each other. What they do agree on is how the battle ended: it seemed like the princess and the hero would turn the tide of the battle, maybe the whole war, when the Calamity itself descended on them.” He pointed toward the gate. “You saw that big circle of dead grass on your way here? They say that’s where the Calamity attacked the hero and the princess.”

Zelda looked that way, as if she could see through the wall of the fort out to the sky-lit clearing beyond it. The holes in the mountains surrounding it, the persistent death of that spot, the perfectly destroyed Guardian at its edge…

Perhaps, another part of her mind reasoned, she should be reeling at this information. She was now passing through a place where she had failed, in some way. This was a place of almost unbelievable importance, of weight, weight so terrible it hung in the air like smoke, and she did wonder at it, but more than that she was curious. Greater than her fear, greater than the possibility of shame she wanted to know, to remember, to be able to recall the images of what had transpired in that blasted plain. Had the Calamity caused the destruction there?

Or had she?

“What happened then?”

Here Garill shrugged, and it was apologetic. “No one really knows.” Paya made a soft sound; the sheikah knew, apparently, even if they were not sharing. Garill did not catch this, continued on. “The princess is supposed to have fallen in battle against the Calamity, and the hero fought on alone, forcing it all the way back to Hyrule Castle. They say he still fights there, and on some nights you can hear him using his magic sword to keep the darkness at bay.” He shivered visibly.

“And the princess,” Paya said, still quiet, just loud enough to be heard.

“The princess is supposed to have died,” Garill said. He leaned his head all the way back, looked up at the boughs of the trees, and now he seemed distant, too. “Some say that she isn’t dead, though; that she was taken away to a secret place and made to sleep until her wounds are healed and she can return to save the kingdom. If that’s true, she’d still be alive, wouldn’t she?” He believed this, utterly; his voice told the entire story, how he had no reason to believe but his faith drove him forward anyway. “I hope I’m still around when she wakes up. I’d love to see her, one day.”

“Thank you for the story,” Zelda said, and nothing else. She had nothing else in her.

They drizzled goat butter onto the meat, to aid in browning it at the end, to deepen the flavor and add a bit of much-needed oil and fat to the lean venison. It was ready a few minutes after, and they had enough for three very generous portions. The three of them ate together in companionable silence, though Paya set very close to Zelda and markedly far away from Garill.

When they were finished and all their cookware and utensils packed away, Paya said, “Y-y-you two can s-s-sleep. I’ll take f-f-first watch.” Garill accepted this happily, bid them goodnight and lay next to the fire, his back to them, but Zelda looked at Paya with raised eyebrows. Seeing the question there, Paya leaned in close, said softly in Zelda’s ear, “I only need four hours. It’s early; you’ll have enough time to rest before I wake you up.”

Zelda looked at Garill sleeping, realized what this was about, thought about the story he had told and the way he had told it. Their cheeks brushed together as she spoke into Paya’s ear, “I trust him.”

When she leaned back Paya was blushing furiously, her face so red that Zelda thought she might be in danger of passing out. Instead she only nodded and said, “I know.” And it doesn’t matter.

So Zelda bid her goodnight and lay next to the fire, and Paya took her seat. The princess tried to sleep, heard her attendant scratching notes into a book. Probably notes on the day and on the journey. She’ll need to make reports to Impa on our return.

Sleep did not come to her, not at first, though the fire was warm and she felt absurdly, ludicrously safe. What was it about being amongst history that made her feel bodily secure? Did she think that the ghosts of the past would stand watch over her with the same devotion and constancy as Paya? Did she imagine the echoes of the hero wandering this place, keeping evil at bay?

Did she imagine her own? Did she imagine herself, wielding the power that failed?

Garill had said he wanted to meet her, had spoken of her with surety and faith and patience. There was something there, a quality of trust, that spoke to something deep in her chest, pouring water onto an old, dry hurt so that it could open and be raw and new again. Why did she feel that way? Why was it that the thought of this man’s faith was leaden in her chest?

What if I fail again?

Far, far in the distance, beyond the wall, beyond the plain, beyond the interposing hills and mountains, a blue light leaked into the sky. She could not hear it with her ears, but an ancient voice’s song reverberated on a level that was deeper than flesh, deeper than the dreams where she spoke to Hylia. She could feel the weight from there, this duty, this fear. Garill was waiting for her; how many others had been? How many had died waiting for a princess who might never come back to them?

I will ask Paya to teach me to use a sword.

She slept, and it was exhausted and deep and dreamless under a clear sky. The moon hung in the air, a great eye watching them, clear and yellow-white and unclouded.

A roar built within the earth.

Chapter Text

It was early morning two days later when Zelda and Paya walked up the long hill at the rear of Hateno Village, a winding road that took them past farms, windmills, and foot-worn paths that cut down toward the shore. Monsters had reportedly been bothering the local populace at night, using those same paths; she resolved to address this before she left Hateno. To her shame she would forget, but in time she would return.

The day before had been full and violent and ugly and triumphant; in their wake they had left emptied bokoblin encampments, a Hinox slain, a traveler rescued as he was being accosted by beasts, and a very great deal of landscape fastidiously explored. They had found only one shrine on the long ride, but climbing the Hateno Tower (and how good it had felt to be able to keep pace with Paya as they had scaled it together, to realize that she could have pushed harder if she had wanted to) had given Zelda ample opportunity to take in the surrounding landscape and plan out several more excursions. Time was running out, time had been running out for a century, but this she believed: there would be only one opportunity to face Ganon, and so she had best go into it utterly prepared.

Hateno Village had been a town much more in keeping with what she had expected, architecturally and culturally, from the impression of Hyrule given by the travelers they met upon the road and the stables at which they had registered their horses. They had ridden into town late in the day, but at Zelda’s insistence had taken the time to refresh their food supplies—Paya did love to cook with rice, and Zelda with cream, neither of which they could find easily in the wild—and converse with the locals. They had heard of the sheikah who ran the laboratory at the top of the hill, wondered at the hushed tones in which people spoke of them, and even heard rumors from the local children that a very young sheikah girl had been spotted there, mysteriously. That had given Paya some pause, as there were only supposed to be two people at the laboratory and Purah was seventy years past child-bearing, but they both packed up their curiosity and waited.

They had paid extra at the inn so that their horses would be sheltered there until they returned for them, slept heavily, and risen early. Instead of waiting for breakfast to be served they had set out before sunrise, packs light and weapons heavy.

The walk up to the laboratory was long and winding but delightfully scenic, taking them past copses of trees and small fields that Zelda took absolutely no time to admire or appreciate. Ever since talking to Garill she had felt more driven, more urgent in every step, and it took a conscious effort in every moment to not break into a run, to resist her own building panic. Paya had noticed this, she knew, had seen her stress rising with every hour, so she would eventually need to talk to her about it. No good for either of them, or anyone, if she dissolved into a bundle of nerves because the weight of reality was more than she could bear.

The Hateno Ancient Tech Lab, as the signs placed as distance markers called it, was situated at the top of a rocky outcropping, the only path up to it being a narrow, curved path that snaked up and away from the lab before turning back toward it, and on both sides of the path was what Zelda would call a very steep drop.

“It’s interesting,” she said, and it was the first word that either of them had spoken since leaving the inn. “The placement of the laboratory, and the enormous spyglass,” and she used ‘enormous’ as literally as possible, since it took up a significant part of the building’s profile, “seem to be in service of observation and research. Still, walking up to it now, seeing how easily one might lose one’s footing and how small a party one must be part of to approach it, I cannot help thinking of it as also being highly defensible. Does that speak to some change in my perspective, do you think?”

“I don’t think I could guess as to your perspective, Your Grace,” and Paya did not catch herself this time but Zelda winced at her slip, “but you’re correct. The laboratory was built in the Age of Burning Fields, when monsters were even wilder and more numerous than they are now. Auntie Purah had it constructed here and in such a way that an invading force could be easily repelled by only a few well-armed defenders.” She bit her lip, thinking hard, and Zelda saw in her face some cousin of the same anxiety she felt. “Still. Now it’s only Auntie Purah and her assistant, and Auntie Purah is even older than grandmother. Monster attacks in this region are almost unheard of, but I’ll be glad to see her again.” Zelda nodded, and the rest of the way they walked in silence.

The laboratory was a wooden structure, at least in part. A white tower rose from the rear of it, its construction almost like a lighthouse, the spyglass situated on the main build’s tiled pointed toward the center of Hyrule and must have been twenty meters long, and situated to the left of the entrance was what seemed to be an ancient sheikah furnace. There was no unified sense of construction, here, as if the lab had been added to over the course of decades, never more than once by the same architect. In many ways it gave the impression of unbridled chaos, but at the same time Zelda could feel the inner workings of the disorder, the arrangement of a mind given to taking a very particular approach to learning. It was strangely intimate, this impression of the building, and that intimacy made her feel very much at home.

“’If the flame is blue, the forge is hot,’” Paya said, reading from a sign that sat in front of the lab. “’Don’t touch.’”

“The fire appears to have gone out,” Zelda said, and Paya nodded. That it was out disappointed Zelda; she had seen enough blue flames in her explorations of the shrines of the monks, true, but the shrines felt like separate worlds cordoned off from the outside, like dreams that one walked through while waking. Seeing that same blue fire out here, in this place, on the edge of a sleepy village like Hateno, would lend a sense of concrete reality to everything she had been experiencing. “A pity,” she said, and that was all. They came to the door and Zelda pushed it open, holding it for Paya and then following her inside.

The interior of the laboratory was wide and spacious, the walls lined with work stations and tables and tools of a variety that beggared the imagination. The room was lit by the sun coming in through the windows and by gas lamps. There were ancient sheikah torches as well, though they were dull and dark. What caught Zelda’s attention, though, nearly arrested her completely, was the enormous guidance stone next to the entrance, which looked nearly identical to the stones that stood atop the sheikah towers or inside of the shrines on the plateau. It gave off no light, had no energy coursing through it, but she could see it, could practically feel the potential crackling around it like the air before a lightning storm. If she hadn’t been aware of the other people in the room she would have run over to it; it took an exercise of will to resist, even then.

The man standing at the rear of the laboratory, sheikah and in his fifties with modest glasses, turned at their entrance, his face shifting over into an expression of benign surprise and then real, genuine shock. “Paya? What are you doing here?”

A young girl, barely old enough to know how to read by Zelda’s estimation, was standing on a chair next to a workbench, looking down at a set of schematics. As soon as she heard Paya’s name her head snapped up and she looked at the two newcomers, her eyes wide and owlish behind her enormous glasses. She said something under her breath, though Zelda did not catch it.

“Hello, Symin,” Paya said, bowing deeply and respectfully. “Please excuse my intrusion.” The my there was very deliberate, Zelda knew, excluding her from any wrongdoing. “We have come at the behest of my grandmother to seek Auntie Purah’s help. The woman with me,” and here she seemed to remember herself, straightening her back and squaring her shoulders, her expression grave and serious as if announcing a foreign dignitary, “is Zelda, crown princess of Hyrule. She has lost her memory, and Grandmother assumes that…”

Sometime during her short speech Paya’s eyes had wandered away from Symin and over to the young girl standing at the table, who was frozen in place like a surprised rabbit. Zelda looked from the girl to Paya, whose expression was undergoing an astonishing series of transformations: apology to sincerity to authority to surprise, and then confusion, and then her eyes widened and her jaw slowly fell agape in an expression of shock so severe Zelda wondered briefly if her face would be stuck that way. The girl, on her part, was wincing more and more visibly the longer Paya looked at her. She reached up, adjusted her glasses.

Auntie Purah?

“Um, Paya,” Zelda said, her own confusion outstripping her need to keep from embarrassing her companion, the energy in the air strange enough that she could not parse it, “this girl is only six or seven. I hardly think—”

HOW!?” The girl jumped down from the chair, stomping her way across the lab, stopping in front of Paya and placing her fists firmly on her hips. Paya recoiled as if she was about to be struck. “I haven’t looked like this in a hundred and twenty years! Impa hadn’t even been born when I was this old! How could you possibly have known it was me?”

Mouth pressed into a thin line, hand shaking like a leaf in the wind, Paya pointed to her own eyes.

“Eyes? What do you—” The girl—who Zelda had not yet accepted was Purah but had accepted that she was doing a very good job pretending to be—reached up and touched the frame of her glasses. “Oh.”

“Y-y-you never let anyone w-w-wear those,” Paya said, in a tone that spoke from personal experience.

The girl exhaled noisily through her nose, inhaled, then actually huffed. “Fine! I guess it makes sense. I don’t know how you could possibly make the leap in logic necessary to guess, but… it doesn’t matter!” She set her feet apart, pointed directly at Zelda. “You want help!” Zelda nodded, bewildered, and the girl pointed at Paya. “You want to help her!”

“Y-yes, Auntie!”

“The fire in the furnace is out! If the fire’s not lit then the guidance stone won’t work and I can’t do anything for the Sheikah Slate! Which one of you is a faster runner?” Paya timidly raised her hand. “That’s what I thought. I need you to go back to the bottom of the hill and retrieve the blue flame from the kiln! You must have seen it on your way up here!” She only came up to Paya’s waist, but the effect of her leaning in and stomping toward Paya was immediate—the taller woman began to retreat as if physically pushed. “Take that torch!” Paya grabbed it. Realizing how far that was to run, Zelda unhooked the paraglider from her back and handed it to Paya, who received it as if in a daze. “It’s probably going to rain up here, so your torch might be put out if you don’t stay under cover! Light the lamps on your way up so you won’t lose your progress if the fire goes out! Hurry up, hurry up, time’s wasting and there’s a world to save!”

“Yes, Auntie!” Paya let herself be pushed out the door, turned, bowed formally to the six-year-old girl, and then started sprinting toward the cliff in the direction that would take her most directly toward the kiln. A lucky thing, Zelda thought, that they had taken turns practicing using the paraglider to cross long distances.

“And don’t tell Impa about this!” She slammed the door with all the force of her tiny body, which shouldn’t have been very much but still shook dust from the rafters. As soon as Paya was out of sight she buried her face in her hands, slipping her fingers under her glasses to rub at her eyes in a very practiced motion. “She’s going to tell her. She won’t be able to help it. I should just write Impa a letter and explain what happened.”

“Paya is very dutiful,” Zelda said, partially because it was true and partially because she did not want ill to be spoken of her companion because of her faithfulness to her grandmother.

The tiny head snapped up, glasses instantly adjusted, and the girl walked back to the table and noisily dragged a chair over to Zelda. Once it was close enough she hopped on top of it, then stood on her tiptoes to look Zelda in the eyes. Zelda, for her part, did not quail at a child’s inspection, but something about it was familiar and authoritative in a way that could have made her nervous if she let it.

“It’s really you,” Purah said, and the relief in her voice matched her expression softening. “Oh, Princess. It’s been so long. And your memory’s gone?” Zelda nodded, and Purah nodded in turn. “It’s as we hypothesized, then. I wish we had been able to test that chamber out, tested the Slumber of Restoration, but…” Then she shrugged. “Robbie and I always used to joke that it would be Link who needed it. You never did find those jokes funny.”

“Didn’t I?” It did sound awfully macabre.

“Here, let me see the slate.” She did not snatch it from Zelda’s hands as one might expect of a child; instead she held it carefully, almost tenderly, like someone greeting an old friend they had not seen in a long time. As she ran her fingers over the surface of its screen, Zelda believed that this was in truth Purah. She could not have guessed at why she had the body of a child, but that look of yearning, of being reunited, was too real. “It’s very beautiful still, isn’t it? We spent days at a time trying to plumb its mysteries. I remember it took most of a year just to restore its ability to store photographs.” Store them? At that, Zelda’s mind began to race, so much so that she almost missed the way Purah looked at her over the rim of her glasses, suddenly teasing and proud. “I ended up building one of my own, you know.”

That hit her like a splash of water in the face. “You… built one?” She has the secrets of the technology she can tell me so much she can fix this she can help me with my memories she can repair the slate and help me to understand everything about it, about everything and the possibilities spiraled out from there like flower petals multiplying in fractal patterns that would fill up the entire universe.

“You betcha!” She struck a pose as if she was about to be painted, which seemed ridiculous except that she was so small that it nearly worked. “Took me the better part of a century, but we put together documentation nearly as good as having the object itself right in front of me.” She looked at Zelda then, and something in her face must have betrayed her mind because Purah reached over, hand in front of Zelda’s face, and she was so focused on her thoughts that she did not notice.

Then Purah flicked her on the nose.

“Ow!” She brought up her hand out of reflex, cupping it over her nose, glaring at the girl. “Why did you do that?”

“Because you were navel-gazing,” Purah said, and then she laughed. “You know you haven’t changed at all? Even your expression when you get angry is exactly as I remember it.” It was not a calming sentiment, but Zelda knew she hadn’t meant it to be, and Purah’s grin grew wider. “Listen, if my little sister sent you here to help with your memory, it must have been because of something specific. Why don’t you tell me about it?

Little sister? But tell her Zelda did, spinning out the whole thing: the lost photographs, the potential recovery of her memory, the journey over, and Paya’s accompaniment. While she talked Symin made his way over and set out tea for the two of them, and the two of them sat and drank while Zelda talked.

When she was finished, Purah nodded. “Well, it’s as good a shot as any. Restoring your power probably is contingent on your memories. It will still be a couple of hours before Paya makes it back, but when she lights the furnace I should be able to restore that functionality to it.”

“I think you underestimate how fast Paya can be,” Zelda said, taking a sip from her tea, wondering what the other woman’s sustained running speed was like. She suspected that, if she wanted to, Paya could probably outrun a horse.

“Yeah, well, our family has a history of being underestimated.” Purah gestured with an inclination of her head, nearly pointing with her chin. “You see that guidance stone over there? That’s the real secret of why I’ve been able to make my own Sheikah Slate, and test out new functionalities for it. Once it’s running I won’t just be able to restore your slate’s photographs, I can probably enhance most of its runes.”

Finally, at last, Zelda found her own reason to grin, to lean in. “You know, I had been wondering about just such a thing not too long ago! The amount of energy that the slate can put out seems almost preposterous, but it’s also inconsistent, in its way. The ability to move metallic objects of such great size with no effort from the user, or to shunt thermal energy so efficiently to create ice from running water, suggests that its power source is unbelievably potent on top of being bottomless. But this doesn’t seem to be reflected in its other functions!”

Purah nodded in sudden, excited energy, and in the corner Symin wondered where his earplugs were. “Yes! Yes, that’s it exactly! I’ve been poring over just such a question for decades, and I think I’ve found the answer to it! It doesn’t work for my slate, it doesn’t have all the same runes as yours, but based on our hypotheses from the old days we should be able to enhance the functionality of yours so that its energy output is more even and regulated. I think that the concussive force of your bombs could be as much as doubled or tripled, and the stasis you can apply to objects—though we shouldn’t underestimate the energy intensity of being able to locally stop time—could also be applied to your enemies!”

Zelda spent a few brief seconds thinking of being confronted by a Yiga assassin, freezing them in place, and being given precious moments to act before them. Or how one might be able to apply that power to fighting a Hinox. Or a Guardian. “Really?”

“Yes! But that’s not even the best part, I think, not for you.” She waved to Symin, who had been standing apart and trying hard to blend into the bookshelves. “Symin! Get over here! What kind of lab assistant are you, not being here when I need you!” Symin was nearby enough to attend almost as soon as she said this, but that eased her expression not at all. “Tell the princess about the compendium! I bet no one in the world could get better use out of it than she will!”

This was another of moment of true and unfettered joy that Zelda had during her quest, that short, precious hour before Paya returned that she spent speaking to a pair of educated researchers. They did not have enough time, as Symin outlined the exact mechanics of using the Sheikah Slate to catalog the flora, as she and Purah had arguments about the exact comparative and intersectional physics of the different functions of the slate, to answer all the questions she had. Still, she would remember this moment, and in the days to come she would return here again.

Twelve decades did Impa count as her own, though she was no longer sure. At that age, no one could really be sure what one’s birthday had been; even ignoring the effects of the Calamity, the intervening years were so great that her birth was no longer actually in living memory. Her relationship with her own age, with time, had changed since her younger days. A day was not so much to her, any more; to stay reclined in one place, to rest on her laurels while the world moved outside of her home, to meditate on herself and the world and the things she hoped and feared, was easier than the simple act of getting up and moving about and retrieving food for oneself.

She wasn’t lonely without Paya, not exactly. Impa had never been lonely in her life; she wouldn’t be familiar with the feeling if it clung to her back. But still, it was good to have her granddaughter with her, lending order and routine to the day.

All right, she said to herself, I had better get something to eat, or else I’m going to be too tired to get up and go to bed. She set her hands on her legs, stretched the muscles in her back. She was not infirm—by Hylia’s blessing and simple stubbornness she would never be unable to walk under her own power so long as she lived—but it did take a great deal of focus to set the machinery in motion. There was pumpkin stew stored in jars in the pantry, rich with goat cheese and spiced with enough herbs to clear the sinuses. That sounded good, once she got it heated.

She breathed in, breathed out, and then heard two sets of footsteps proceeding rapidly up the staircase outside. Not running, but trotting, a speed without panic but with purpose. “This quickly?” She spoke her thoughts aloud, stretching her vocal cords. “I thought it would be at least a few more days.”

She straightened her back and fixed her posture just in time for the princess to push the front door open. The light from outside was bright, bright enough to briefly throw the two girls into silhouette, and then they were inside and shutting the door behind them. Impa’s eyes took a few seconds to re-adjust to the relative darkness that had been so comfortable a few moments before.

“Pardon the intrusion, Impa,” Zelda said, “but Purah said we should return to you straight away.” The lilt of her voice had not been changed by the passage of time or by the experience of death; nor had her posture, which was straight-backed and authoritative without being presumptuous. A kind authority. For one moment Impa became unmoored in time, the darkness of her vision blurring the image of the young woman in front of her so that she was radiant in gold, and she was twenty years old again and standing at attention while waiting to hear what new mysteries her sister and the princess had unlocked.

“Of course, Zelda.” Then the feeling passed and Zelda was standing in front of her, one hundred years after the calamity, wearing the stealth suit she had procured from Claree. She had been wrong, too: Zelda had changed. She could remember the time when the burden of her duty had weighed down on her constantly, an enormous pressure that had nearly crushed her. The young woman who looked at Impa now was not like that; her eyes were wide and open and eager and friendly and trusting, as if she had never been hurt in her life, as if the fact of picking up the burden and choosing it for herself was a shield. How important a fresh start is, Impa thought.

Paya, in contrast, was so pale that she looked as if she might pass out at any moment. “Paya, whatever is the matter?”

Paya did not answer, just shook her head and looked as if she was trying not to fall over.

Zelda answered in her stead, “When Purah said that we should return to you, I proposed that we attempt teleportation together. Purah’s work is quite amazing, she’s managed to create a travel gate directly outside of her laboratory, so the most we would lose if Paya didn’t come along with me would be the time it took—” She caught herself, inhaled. “I’m sorry. Talking to the professor has been very stimulating, and I’m still in a state of excitement. Suffice to say, we did manage to teleport back here together, but Paya found the experience… disorienting.” This language was purposefully gentle; Paya looked like she might vomit at any moment, after which she would almost definitely keel over dead from shame.

“Paya,” Impa said, using the same voice she had used when Paya was very small, “lie on your back, close your eyes, and breathe slowly through your mouth. Count your breaths. Silently.” She could see the relief on her granddaughter’s face at being given a remedy. That was not actually a cure for nausea, of course, or at least she didn’t think it was, but that hardly mattered; Paya was on her back, eyes closed, and focusing on her breathing. “Good girl.” She gestured to Zelda. “Is the Sheikah Slate restored?”

“Restored and enhanced,” Zelda said, holding it out to her. Impa took it from her as she continued, “You see, it turns out that the parameters for the Sheikah Slate are really governed by,” and that is where Impa realized that she had been talking to Purah, and that she would not be able to participate in the same way her older sister had. She tuned Zelda out in the same way she would tune Purah out; not out of disrespect or because she didn’t care but because she wouldn’t be able to contribute in a way that they would find meaningful, and her attention was better spent elsewhere.

“Mmhmm,” and, “would you mind elaborating?” were weapons she deployed according to the tone and lilt of her partner’s speech; she had been doing this for so long, with so many people, that she could effectively hold a conversation without ever hearing a word the other person said. She had done it with Zelda only once, when the girl had been fifteen and explaining how a Guardian’s weapon systems worked; to return to that time made her feel nostalgic.

She flipped through the different functionalities of the slate, brightened when she noticed that Zelda had apparently taken photographs (and made some sort of informational logs?) of a dozen or so different plants and animals on her short trip from Purah’s lab to Impa’s house. Then she flipped to a different page, separate from everything else, a section of the slate that seemed locked down before. Three rows of four pictures, each depicting a landscape or structure, each out of date. The white walls of Hyrule Castle were pristine in more than one of these.

She looked up sharply, and Zelda’s talking stopped. The princess’s eyebrows were raised, expression expectant, and once against Impa wondered at her. “Yes?”

“I recognize these photographs,” Impa said, and in some secret place in her heart she was proud to have remembered that word. “You took them as you traveled with the hero, to chronicle your pilgrimage.” She held the slate up, screen turned so that Zelda could see, and was pleased when the girl leaned in, expression curious. “This is your recording of your own memories. Return to these places that were once so important to you, that marked such major events in your life, and I believe that some part of your memory will return.”

“Could it really be that simple?” Zelda was not doubting; she was curious, even excited at the prospect. “Can context and place really be such an effective trigger for recollection?”

“We cannot know for sure, but it is the best hope that we have. Do you see this particular photo, here? I recognize this; it is the east gate of Lanayru Road, on the edge of Naydra Snowfield at the foot of Mount Lanayru. Leave the village to the north, past the path you took here from the shrine, and head east once you reach a fork in the road. Follow it to the gate.” Did she dare to believe that it would work? Could she be so arrogant as to invest her own assumptions into this woman who would do the work of the gods? Did she have a choice? “If one of your memories should be restored to you, return to me. We will speak more then.”

Carefully, gingerly, Zelda took the slate from her hands, switched it into a dormant state, and affixed it to her hip. Her jaw was set, her eyes calm and determined as she nodded. “We will go at once, and return to you with news, one way or another.” Paya was already up on her feet, apparently feeling much better. “I am sorry that I must leave so abruptly.”

“Pah,” Impa said, waving them away, and both girls bowed to her (Paya’s formal and perfect, Zelda’s equally formal but wrong in subtle ways; she was just copying what Paya was doing, and the deference of her posture made Impa a little dizzy). They turned to leave, and as Paya reached to the door she remembered that she herself was leaving out an essential duty. “Before you go—how fares my elder sister?”

Zelda flinched, and Paya froze up before turning to her with an almost agonizing slowness. In a hundred and twenty years she had never seen anyone make exactly the same face that her granddaughter was making; she could not begin to pick it apart.

Instead she sighed. “Never mind. You can tell me later.” Paya bowed again, and then they were gone. “Well, Purah, whatever you did it’s got your great niece in knots. Now I’m curious.”

She hopped down from her cushions and began the long, slow journey to make herself some lunch.

Zelda had never been down that path before, focused as she had been on the pressing particulars of her journey. They passed near to the fairy fountain, agreeing that, even though it would be best to make an offering to improve their fortunes, time was of the essence and they needed to act as quickly as possible; they would stop by it on their way back.

There was a disguised Yiga on the road, and they gave him a wide enough berth that he did not immediately identify them. Paya could feel eyes on their backs, but that feeling went away once they were far enough from the village.

Walking along the road they walked at a good but relaxed pace, discussed when they would return to their horses, how best to transfer them, whether teleporting would be effective on a creature so large. There were beasts on the road, because of course there were, and many of them carried hunting horns. A river ran beside the road, and looking down into the water they spotted lizalfos; they were probably out of range of any attacks, but one could never be sure with the creatures. They did not fight as they went, did not give their enemies the chance; each of them snuck up on bokoblins or moblins and dealt them killing blows from behind, throwing stones to draw attention away from their approaches. The beasts that swam in the water were struck by shock arrows; none of them survived the initial impact.

So it was that they made their way down the road. They found a shrine hidden behind a waterfall, which had a feeling like magic, and talked about possibilities and shrines and ancient things, and Paya prepared a meal while Zelda addressed the trial of the shrine. They did not discuss the trial, because Paya did not dare to ask and Zelda did not want to impose on her; that is how it always went.

They came to the gate as the sun began to set.

Paya watched Zelda, as she had been watching her for days, as the princess’s attention was pulled into the Sheikah Slate. As they walked toward the gate Zelda kept glancing at the photo of it then back up at her environment, comparing an artificial memory to the living world around them, brow knit and serious and grave. Paya watched Zelda, and that required watching the world around the princess, seeing the things that she did not or could not see.

In the distance a lynel lurked, but they were out of its line of sight; she only knew it was there from the distant, low hum of its breathing, at the way it would roar challenge to the open air. From this far away, Zelda would only think it a trick of the wind blowing through the stones of the canyon; Paya would tell her differently, but only once the princess’s concentration had borne fruit.

“This is it,” Zelda said, looking at her, and there was hope but also fear in her eyes, a wateriness. “This is it.” She doesn’t know if she wants it, but she will take it up anyway. Oh, Zelda…

“Please, take all the time you need to.”

Zelda nodded, looked back at the slate, enlarging the picture until it took up the whole of her vision. She looked up, and Paya could see that her perspective matched that in the photograph.

When that perspective slid into place, she could feel the change in Zelda. This was not an empathetic link; the ground heaved, once, as if it wanted to quake. In the distance, a terrible roar grew much louder, changing from one of challenge to one of open aggression.

“Princess!” Instantly she was at Zelda’s side, reaching out to her, touching her lightly on the shoulder. “We have to go, now! There’s a beast coming that we’re not strong enough to fight!” Zelda did not respond; was she so focused, so entranced, that words did not reach her? “Zelda, we have to—”

The Princess’s eyes stared into nothing, and her pupils were not black; they were golden, as bright as the sun, brighter than the sun, brighter than anything Paya had ever seen.

The roar gave way to thunder as hooves the size of a man’s torso pounded against soil and then stone.

Paya saw the course of her life written out in front of her, then, and understood better than her years would have suggested. Whatever was happening to Zelda now was important, was vital, was essential to the continued survival of the world. She did not know if it could be repeated. She did not know if stopping it was possible. She did not know if stopping it would kill her charge.

A nightmare rounded the corner, a combination of horse and man and lion and ram, six-limbed, a man’s torso rising out of the body of a horse crowned with the head of a lion, and it was all out of scale, the creature must have been over fifteen feet tall, and it wore armor across its breast and carried a sword and shield in its hand. This was the expression of Ganon’s power, this was the malice and darkness given form to serve its master. It met her eyes from a great distance and she knew that it would kill her, kill them both.

She could grab Zelda and try to run. With all her speed she might be able to make it to the water, but the earth shook at its approach and the lynel bellowed and she knew that that was untrue, foolishness, fear. She could not take Zelda away. She could not fight it.

I can try to pull Zelda away and cut short this thing that must happen or I can fight it and buy her… a second. Perhaps two.

Her shield of the mind’s eye was in her left hand; her eight-fold blade was in her right. She positioned herself between the princess and this thundering apocalypse, lowered herself into a defensive posture, and prayed to Hylia like she had never prayed before in her life, wordless and all feeling and fear and hope and regret. She should have thought of her duty, of her goddess, of her grandmother, of her village, of her clan. Instead she thought only of Zelda, who she had failed so terribly.

Forgive me.

Death roared toward her, sword in hand.

Fate hinged on the power of moments, of fragments, of thoughts barely communicated.

They were waiting for her at the gate. Of course they were, of course they had come to her expecting her triumph, expecting that this time, this time she would not fail Hyrule, would not fail them all.

They hope for so much of me, she said, and she could feel the pressure pushing from behind her eyes but she fought it down, down, tried to anchor herself in the world around her, counted her own footsteps, counted his. She would not shame herself further with some selfish display of emotion. He was next to her. It would have to be enough.

It was Daruk, Daruk who saw all the other champions as his charges and wards (even me), who was first to reach out to her.

“Well? Don’t keep us in suspense.” He leaned in close to her, lowering his face to her level, matched his pace to hers as she walked. She couldn’t look at him. That he was so open with his anxieties was a bad sign; if he was in this state then she could only guess at the others, at the kingdom. “How’d everything go up there on the mountain?”

I felt nothing. I waited for hours in prayer and with every passing minute I could feel the dread growing inside of me as the silence grew sharper and I knew that my own dread was the source of my failure and then that that wasn’t it, that this had never been inside of me at all that I’m empty that I’m not what I’m supposed to be that I never was that the world is falling and it’s my fault.

If she spoke these words she would lose herself; instead she shook her head. She felt the hope bleed out of Daruk’s posture as it gave way to something else. She felt their eyes on her, eyes from all directions, disappointment and shame drilling into her like spearpoints biting into her flesh.

Revali stepped forward; when he spoke, his voice was gentle. “So you didn’t feel anything? No power at all?” Such a small thing, the tone of his voice, how he invested no judgment of her or her failure, but it was enough to give her her words back.

“I’m sorry, no.” She could not look at them. She looked at the ground, at nothing, and still their eyes were on her.

“Then let’s move on. You’ve done all you could.” Urbosa’s voice was like a mother’s, accepting instantly of what was missing in her, and that unconditional support stung at her eyes and squeezed at her throat. “Feeling sorry for yourself won’t be of any help. After all, it’s not like your last shot was up there on Mt. Lanayru.” Daruk nodded; the hope was not dead. “Anything could finally spark the power to seal Ganon away. We just have to keep looking for that… thing.”

“That’s kind of you.” Kindness was not kindness, not on its own; it was a pillar that refused to let her fall, told her she had to keep shouldering this, had to keep failing. The gods had given her a fate to make her spurn love and choke on hope; did that give her the right to do the same to others? Could she help it, if being what the world needed was so far out of her reach, if the only thing she could offer to others was sorrow? “Thank you.”

“If I may…”

Mipha stepped into her line of sight, and she could not have said why but it was only at the Zora princess that she finally responded by raising her eyes, by shakily making eye contact. Mipha was a great healer, a kind and generous heart, and a symbol of pride and hope for her people. King Dorephan had wept after announcing that his daughter would be Champion; Zelda would never forget the sight. She was small and meek and fierce and terrible in turn, a pillar to her people and to the kingdom, and in her Zelda saw the things that she could not be. She did not hate her; that had given way a long time ago to raw, unpolished admiration that bordered on envy.

“I thought you…” Now Mipha would not meet her eyes, though she stepped closer. “Well, I’m not sure how to put this into words…” Then they locked eyes, gold and blue, and there was a vulnerability being expressed here, a confession so stark that for just one instant, just the span of this moment, her failure and shame slipped away from her. “I’m actually quite embarrassed to say it. But I was thinking about what I do when I’m healing. You know, what usually goes through my mind…”

Zelda breathed in, held it.

“It helps when I think—when I think about the one I love.”

That word was a jewel passed between them, radiant, catching the light of the setting sun, and Zelda caught it and held it to her breast. There were so many kinds of love, but in Mipha’s voice she could hear what sort as plainly as if she had spoken the words herself.

The jewel was inside of her. She looked inward, saw the light reflected there.

Out of instinct she looked back at him, at the hero assigned as her guardian. He met her gaze with steady, calm eyes, and the same stalwart strength he had carried in every step of their journey.

“Oh,” she said.

Then there was a golden radiance inside of her, and in the distance a cloud rose as the calamity broke its chains.

Paya prepared to die in defense of her princess, and the lynel roared in what might have been triumph.

There was a sound like the chiming of a bell, the singing of a vast bird, the anvil-ringing at the forging of creation.

Zelda’s hand reached from behind her, past her shoulder, past her face. Her palm was open, fingers splayed. The sound, the tone, was louder than the lynel’s voice.

Light the color of dawn filled the world.

Zelda stood where the lynel had been; the unleashing of the power inside of her had obliterated it so utterly that there was nothing left, not hide nor horn nor steel of its weapons. She could still feel that power, a suffusion of every cell in her body with an energy that defied communication. The Sheikah Slate was like a child’s toy in comparison to what she had done just now.

Is this the power I was seeking? Did it awaken in that moment? If it did, why did I fail? How terrible the Calamity?

She heard Paya get up, turned to face her. She realized moisture was standing on her eye, reached up absently with the back of her hand, found her entire cheek soaked. She had been crying, weeping, and not known it.

“Princess?” Paya’s voice was all the concern in the world. There was no expectation there, only protectiveness, only duty. “Zelda? Zelda, are you all right?”

“I think I loved him.” She looked at Paya, no longer trying to wipe her face. Her whole being was suffused with power, she could feel herself changing, did not know yet what that meant. Some echo of herself from a hundred years ago, the pain and the fear and the guilt and the shame and the hope and the love, was in her still.

Paya walked toward her, her flinch so subtle that Zelda missed it. “Loved who, Your Grace?”

Yes. Of course she remembered his name.


Chapter Text

The blood of the goddess sang a high note that echoed out across the world, held out by the hand of a woman who, a century past, did not know if she even wanted it. It was not heard by every living thing; it reverberated on a level too low, too fundamental, to be known to most of the creatures that upheld the law. But on a distant mountain, a guardian god looked up in recognition; across Hyrule, dragons heard the high, clear note of the voice that had charged them in the time before time; a guardian rooted deep in the woods breathed a sigh of relief for the first time in longer than he could remember. Those most sensitive heard. The gods heard.

The Calamity heard.

In the rhythm of its unending combat with the hero it pushed against the boundaries of the walls that held it in, the still-holding bands of creation that creaked under the pressure it exerted. The combat did not stop. Rest came only rarely, for moments, and this was not one of those times. Still, without waiting for an opportunity the Calamity heaved, sending its power out into the earth.

Hyrule shook with the force of an earthquake that would swallow the entire kingdom. The inhabitants of the realm braced themselves, as they had been bracing themselves for a century against the earth writhing in pain beneath them. Death Mountain began to erupt once more, and the divine beasts, cloaked in Malice, bellowed their dominance over a world that could not lift a hand to them. Snow fell in avalanches and stone was shaken loose in rockslides and water leaped like a living thing, pressed up by a power far greater than itself, and all over Hyrule the earth groaned in agony.

Fissures opened in the ground—not great chasms, not swallowers of villages, but small things like wounds being torn open after healing. Light and darkness and smoke and death billowed out of them, and the souls of the beasts slain were restored, so that bokoblin and moblin and lizalfos were renewed, and they knew that they were undying and their laughter filled the countryside beyond the borders of the villages. Those people who braced themselves knew that for days the roads would be more perilous and travel more fraught as the reborn beasts asserted their dominance.

This was the Bleeding Earth, the wounds wrought by Ganon.

Only one creature was not restored: a lynel, obliterated by golden light, so completely destroyed that the Malice could find no purchase.

The battle was rejoined, but the Calamity left itself open for one moment longer.

The sanctum of Hyrule Castle was engulfed in light the color of fire, and the Calamity roared to quell the hopes of the gods.

The projectile that launched from the keep burned like a sun; few would be able to recognize it for what it was, for a century had passed since the last time such a thing was unleashed. It streaked across the sky, east and south, darkening the sky behind it, its tail curling off like living worms that ate at the light of the sun before burning away. It made a sound, but only a quiet one, logs burning in a fireplace.

It sailed lazily, as if lobbed by the hands of an uncaring giant, and the arc of its trajectory resolved as it streaked down to the gate of the Lanayru Road.

The Calamity heard the song of creation and here was its answer, spoken in fire and hate.

The magic struck. There was a flash of light and an overwhelming wall of darkness, Malice and soil and shattered stone sent into the air in a geyser so high and so forceful that it could be seen from atop the walls of Gerudo Town, could be heard as a faint boom from Death Mountain. The gate was shattered, blasted away alongside the mountain surrounding it, and rained down in chunks for miles in every direction. As the soil and the fire fell away it left behind a storm of lightning and darkness and a roar that was very nearly laughter. That storm would continue for hours, bringing death to anything foolish enough to wander into it.

One could not recognize the place where the Calamity had struck; for all intents and purposes, it had ceased to exist. It was a smooth depression, smoking with an acrid darkness that matched the hue of the storm that raged above it, and every feature and living thing that had once been framed there was gone as if they'd never existed.

High, high atop Lanayru Mountain, on the side facing out toward the ocean, there was a sound like jingling bells as a gathering of spirits tried to figure out what had happened.

Why would the voice of the goddess ring out so clearly, and then stop?

Chapter Text

The space in which the goddess spoke to her was a place of perfect clarity, not darkness but nothingness, the cradle in which knowledge might rock, waiting to pull itself out into the world. That was how she had come to think of it: a birthplace, a kiln, in which the act of knowing became an act of creation. It was empty and clean and safe.

But now. Now.

Now the emptiness was stricken with a sickness, an oily film that clung to the very fabric of creation, every atom of her being and every mote of consciousness twisted up with the corruption. The Malice, she thought, knowing the word though she did not remember it. It’s here. It’s everywhere, how…

But the sickness ate at her, weighing on her thoughts, pushing down, down the golden light that was calling her name. She held on to consciousness-within-consciousness as fiercely as she’d ever fought for anything in her life, until this moment she didn’t know what willpower was because she had never had to test it like this, but the Malice clung to her, crushed her.

Am I dying? she wondered, and she was.

Paya stopped, bending forward at the waist, adjusted Zelda’s weight on her back. Breathed in, breathed out. Straightened herself and continued walking, shifting her grip on Zelda’s arms so that she did not place too much pressure on any one place for too long. She didn’t want to cause nerve damage, didn’t want to cut off blood flow, didn’t want Zelda to die on her back and she began to hum to herself because entertaining those thoughts would kill her, kill them both, she had to keep the thoughts out and so she hummed, a nonsense tune without real rhythm, just noise.

When the fireball had descended she had looked up at it and thought that the moon had caught fire and was falling toward them. A strange thought; why hadn’t she thought of the falling stars that occasionally fell all over Hyrule? But it had been the moon she had thought of, terrible and pure and burning and full of hate. It had fallen toward them, too, just as Zelda was telling her that she had remembered something. She had reacted out of panic at seeing it, had thrown her body at Zelda’s, seeking to shield her from oblivion or join her in it.

There had been a tone, a ringing bell like the one that had rung when Zelda had destroyed the lynel but softer, gentler, the quietest thing in the world, a subtle flexing of power that seemed altogether too little. A flash of golden light as she had looked at Zelda’s face, and then the world had been lost in noise and violence and light and pain.

She did not remember the pain, just that it had been painful. That was probably a mercy, and as she walked she wondered if it was thanks to Zelda or thanks to the defenses of her own body, its willingness to forget things which, if remembered, would prevent its function. She remembered a sound that should have crushed her, reduced her bones to powder, but it had been muffled as if on the other side of a very thick wall.

That was everything she could recall. She had regained sense of herself in the center of a blasted wasteland, and it wasn’t until she looked toward Mount Lanayru that she had realized they had not moved at all. That thought, in and of itself, would have been enough to send her into a panic, but she fought it down, down. That didn’t matter. The fact that they were standing in the center of a crater rimmed with fire the color of nightshade and moonless nights, that they should have both been dead and less than dead with their ashes scattered so far that they could never be recovered, that the enormous hand of an angry god could have smitten the firmament and effected no change more severe than this, none of that mattered. She was alive. She could move. Zelda was at her feet, unconscious.

I must get her out of here, she thought, and so she had. Her hands had been steady as she lifted Zelda into a standing position, and when one of them dared to shake as she was locking Zelda’s knees she bit hard into the flesh at the base of her thumb, clamping down until she thought she would draw blood, but the shaking stopped first. Carefully, carefully Paya draped the princess’s arms around her own neck, lifting her like a backpack, and began to walk.

The going, in some ways, was not hard. Paya was strong, and Zelda was not very heavy. In other ways, though, when she looked up into the sky and saw the raging storm of wind and lightning and darkness that ate at the very air around it, heard the howling of a maelstrom that should have killed them as it was born and should have killed them again, now, in its infancy, she felt a weakness in her legs.

“Please, Your Grace,” she said, caught herself. “Please, Zelda. Forgive me for my failures, and hold on for a little while. I will… I will see you to safety.” She could not imagine what safety looked like; she could not imagine what safety would be, compared to whatever power had just tried to destroy them. The mountain was holy; on some level she knew that did not matter, but on another she knew that she could not go back down the road, where monsters had just been reborn from the Bleeding Earth. So, she walked toward the mountain, toward a symbol of grace that she hoped would serve the woman she carried.

The whole of reality was the corruption; she could feel it flowing into her and out of her like air, like water, it was the background of everything. It was not even painful, did not have the courtesy to cause her pain; what it made her feel was some child of both nausea and weakness, a thought-occluding draining of her strength and her sense of self. She did not have her memory; that had slipped away from her already, and the part that she did recall was being eaten away by the Malice.

I loved him, she thought. She did not feel it now, did not have the perspective necessary to feel it, did not know if she would feel it even with all of her memory returned to her, but that knowledge was precious to her. That was who she had been, what had mattered to her in the distant past, and the person she had once been had fought terribly to possess that knowledge. The Malice slipped into her mind like a hand, tried to grab hold of that thought, and she grasped onto it with the fervor of a dying woman. It was warm, warmer than fire, warmer than a mother’s embrace. Once, long ago, I loved someone. It was a source of strength to me.


The voice of the Malice was everywhere, everything, shaking the entire world, and she could feel the reverberations of its power inside of her. It was a storm, and she was but a person buffeted by a power greater than herself. It hurt now; it hurt tremendously.

The pain was a lance through her reverie, slicing open her fear and her weakness. If I am in pain then it is trying to hurt me. I don’t know how I know that to be true, but it is.


In the great darkness of that place she opened her eyes, taking in everything. The goddess was not here; it was her and the Malice in an infinite space. The interior of the soul? She could not say. But whatever this was, it was a place that was supposed to be hers, and the thing attacking her was trying to take it away. More, it was trying to take away everything.

No, she thought. Then, because thought was not enough, she found her voice in that place, and spoke, “No. Whatever you are, I’m investing too much agency to think you are trying to do anything. Whatever did this, the Calamity, possesses some degree of intelligence… but you do not.”


The words reverberated in everything, and she had to press her hands against her ears because they were so loud. She was no longer growing weaker, though her strength was not returning. She wondered if that would be reflected in her physical body; had the muscle there been sapped away? Would threads of corruption be wending across her skin? Would Paya see them? Paya!

“No. Don’t panic. Don’t think about her yet, don’t think about anything but the problem at hand.” There was a… not consciousness, but a central node through which the Malice operated. She could feel it out there, a seed from which roots spread, infecting her and her thoughts. “Some minor part of the greater whole… I don’t understand what this is, but I am surer than ever that it is not the Calamity. Still, the Calamity sent it, which means that it is supposed to have been enough to kill me. Or… not? Is death this thing’s aim?” She looked at herself, at the darkness that was trying to eat away at every cell of her, and clenched her hands into fists. “I have power… granted by Hylia, perhaps? Would that matter to something like the Calamity? Could it be that it fears it? Covets it?”

A flinch in the darkness, a word achieving resonance with a mind that was not a mind, and she felt some part of her determination flowing back, even over the thunderous YOU FAILED that shook creation.

“This was not meant to kill me… or if it was, then it was meant to neutralize my power in case of my survival.” She looked out into the dark, into the place where the heart of the Malice beat, and shouted, “What do you fear of me, creature? What is it your master would not have me do?” No words in answer, now, just an incoherent bellowing and a surge in the power of the dark, a surge that ate away at the fabric of everything, ate away at her, and she screamed in pain and then in fury. That this thing would kill this place, attempt to kill her, was an affront that she could not have imagined hours ago; she took that agony, that fury, and plunged herself into it. She was Zelda. She was the princess who had failed. She had loved, long ago. She would see the world free of the burden that weighed it down; she would walk free across verdant fields. The pain was cleansing. Her fury enflamed her thoughts, lent clarity to her vision.

The Malice bellowed, and she turned on it, took its measure, reached deep within herself to that place that had been closed to her until love had broken the lock. Deep, deep she reached, down into her ancestral being that ran back into time immemorial, and she did not know how she knew this of herself but she did, and when she called on her strength it was a strength of generations past counting. The Malice bellowed, but she did not raise her voice in turn. She let go of her fury; in its place, she found her purpose. She wrenched it free from within herself.

There was a golden light.

The fire at the edge of the crater parted for them as she drew near to it, and Paya stepped off the blasted land and onto grass that was kissed by snow. She looked back and saw the flames leap into life again, and wondered at how much of Zelda’s power was still working even as she slept. She protects me even now, Paya thought, and she was ashamed and grateful in equal parts, did not know how to reconcile these things. She walked.

Her clothing protected her from the elements; sheikah garb was adapted to almost every climate, regulating body temperature in heat and in cold. Still, she felt it when the air shifted, when the cold became too biting. Quickly she loped toward a rocky outcropping that would shield them from the wind, judging it appropriate to her purposes. Carefully, more carefully than if she were handling her grandmother, Paya set Zelda down upon the ground. She dug out the warm doublet that Zelda had been wearing when she came to Kakariko and put it on the princess in place of the stealth suit’s chest piece. After putting away the armor she checked the princess’s coloring, pulse, breathing, and temperature.

All normal. She breathed a sigh of relief. Zelda was fine… except that she wouldn’t wake up.

“Don’t panic,” she told herself, and this time they were not her grandmother’s words. “Do what you can. Or what you know to do, at least!” Thus spurred she retrieved Zelda’s bedroll, laid it out, transferred her onto it, and covered her in blankets. They were shielded from the wind and any snowfall by the outcropping, so that would have to be enough for now. Going through their supplies, she found a very great deal of hot peppers; that would serve them both, she thought, but especially the princess. She would make a few batches of pepper and carp stir fry; it would be enough to last them for a while.

She had piled the wood and struck fire from flint, breathing life into infant flames, when Zelda began to convulse.

Fire forgotten she went to the princess’s side, thinking she had awoken; when she realized what was happening her mind went white, and she ripped the blankets away from Zelda, clearing the space around her, loosening the doublet’s tie around her throat so she wouldn’t choke herself. Then the convulsion shifted over into something else, and Zelda began to scream.

The Malice roared, and she called the power from within herself. The invader was no longer a seed, it was a thing, a blight that slammed against the edge of her awareness, and as the blight pushed against her she pushed back, golden light and flaming darkness forming a barrier between them that made the world shudder.

“Be gone from here!” she called out, and the blight answered with a sound that was equal parts hate and fear. “You will not stop me! I will not be stopped, not any longer!” The power inside of her was a well and that well was deep, extending down into the firmament, down into geological ages that could only be guessed at. She reached deeper and deeper into herself, and the light poured up from it and into her, shattering the malice that clung to her, cleansing her body, infusing her mind. The power was there.

The blight was not the Calamity; whatever its power, it was not a match for her. It never had been, no matter how close it had come to killing her. This knowledge was a surety. She took hold of the golden light in her hands and it was like holding the sun, holding the very beating heart of creation, and she drew deeper and deeper of the well until she could feel the goddess there with her, until she was the radiance at the heart of everything and she could see the blight as a mote upon the surface of her being. With that strength, that burning power, she lashed out.

The blight did not even scream. It writhed, once, and then it shattered like a thing made of clouded crystal, its shards spinning and twinkling and then evaporating into nothing, leaving behind a cool silence and clarity.

She let go of the power and it was outside of herself again and she was in the presence of the goddess.

“My child,” Hylia said, and her voice was sorrowful but warm, even proud, and the merest hint of that pride made Zelda’s heart swell in her chest. “You have come through a terrible trial.”

“There are more to come,” Zelda said, not to show her knowledge but because it was true. “This is far from the worst of it.”

The goddess nodded. “It is the least of it, though the danger was no less real than in any other moment. When you recovered that memory, recalled yourself as you had been when you first felt your power stirring within you, it returned to you. In response to danger to yourself and to the woman you travel with, you used it; you could do nothing else, or you would have both died.” She folded her hands in front of her. “But that you had no choice mattered little; the using of that power created echoes across Hyrule, echoes that reached across the entire land… and were heard by the Calamity.”

“It struck out at me,” Zelda said, “just as it must have done a hundred years ago. But why? I thought the Calamity was doing battle with the hero.” With Link. “Does this mean it is now free?”

“The Calamity is still locked in combat,” the goddess said, and now her gaze was averted, looking into nothing, and the twin suns of her eyes were soft and regretful. “That has not changed in a century, though it will not last for much longer. No… the Calamity left itself open in hopes of killing you.” Then the eyes of the goddess were on her again, and the weight of that consideration was great. “Do you know why?”

On the one hand, the question was absurd; Ganon was not a person, if it had ever truly been one, and did not think in the same way that persons did. Whether more complex than her own thoughts or less, she could not guess at the machinations of its mind any more than she could a storm’s, or a fire’s, or a god’s.

“But still,” she said to herself, “the answer seems obvious.” She faced her goddess, trying to seem as great as the task that had been laid upon her, to seem worthy of it. “It fears the power I carry.”

“It fears one of them,” the goddess said, and smiled wanly at the shock that rocked Zelda. “Yes, daughter. You are the carrier of two powers, and therein lies the true danger that threatens everything.” She reached out with her hand, and though it was vaster than worlds it was the size of a woman’s hand as it tapped two fingers against the bone of Zelda’s chest. “The first of these powers is mine, carried on the conduit of your blood since before the founding of Hyrule. It is a strength that Ganon hates more than any other single thing and fears to the exclusion of all else. The hero and his sword are weapons by which the Calamity has been laid low an uncountable number of times… but in every lifetime, every iteration of this cycle, it is my power, carried by your family, that he most fervently seeks to extinguish. It is the key to defeating him, and has always been.”

And that was why it had tried to kill her. “And the other power?”

Now Hylia drew close to her, and Zelda’s sense of perspective was rendered useless; was the goddess the size of a person, or had Zelda herself grown to fill the cosmos? Were they separate at all? “That is the last secret, the one thing above which all others he covets. You cannot feel it within yourself yet, but as memory returns to you, you will. It is the very engine of creation, the power of the old gods who made the world, the power by which the world might be remade in whatever shape a heart desires. Nothing is beyond it, no wish too mighty.”

She thought, instantly, of wishing the Calamity away.

In answer to that thought Hylia’s arms enshrouded her and drew her against the goddess, and light and safety and warmth infused her. It should have been something to make her feel at peace, but it did not; she knew it was there to cushion the blow of what was to come next.

“There is the real danger,” the goddess said, and her voice was coming from within Zelda now. “Ganon seeks that power, and he is clever beyond imagining, his cunning honed over conflicts too numerous to count. That power cannot be wielded against him until his defeat is assured, until all power and form is stripped away from him, because if it is wielded too early then Ganon may steal it, and everything will be lost. That was the danger of the Blight that was sent against you; it was not here to kill you, but to seek out and steal the strength you wield. If it found only my power, well enough, and the world would be lost; if it found the other.” She did not finish the thought. She did not have to.

“I am afraid,” Zelda said, and it was true.

“We are both afraid,” the goddess said, and the more she spoke the less Zelda was able to distinguish that voice from her own. “Do not use that power until the very last moment, when victory is already in hand. I invest myself in you, as I have invested myself in each of your ancestors, in your mother and her mother on back through every age. As you regain your own memory, you will regain my perspective. Until then, know that your heart is my heart; your fears are my fears; your loves are my loves.”

“Will I speak to you again?” She did not know why she felt she was losing out so terribly, but she did.

“No,” the goddess said, and her tears were an ocean that flowed through Zelda’s eyes. “I can offer you no more guidance, my daughter… but I will be with you, for each step of your journey. We are all with you, myself and every woman in your line that I have guided, and we will do everything we can to help you.”

“I am afraid,” Zelda said, “of failing again.” There; it was out, and it was true, and that fear was greater than her memory, greater than its loss, greater than her awareness. The world rested on her back and it was heavy, so terribly heavy.

“You will not fail,” she said in answer to herself, with the goddess’s voice. It was not a promise, nor a command, nor even a statement of fact; it was an oath. “You are the light of Hyrule; shine on it, and save us all.”

The world fell away, calm and warmth and light replaced with dark, and cold, and pain. Her entire body was tensed like a single muscle, the pain brilliant, almost blinding, as every part of her from the soles of her feet to the tendons in her neck had been contracted for so long that she had begun to cramp. For one terrible moment she thought the pressure of it would snap her bones.

Then something gave, and her body dropped to the ground with a thud (she realized, distantly, that she had been arching her back, and probably on the verge of really hurting herself) as she breathed out a ragged sob. Even that hurt, her throat was raw, it felt like she had been screaming for days.

“Ow,” she said, because it seemed appropriate. It was just for herself; she did not think about who might have heard it.

“P-Princess?” Paya’s voice was above her, and had a very odd quality to it. She was hovering in that particular space where she knew she needed actual physical rest but also hurt too much to stay still. She opened her eyes, looked up at Paya, blinked away the starkness of the light.

“Paya,” she said, and her throat did hurt, her voice a croak, “you’ve been crying.” This was half-true; Paya had been crying a lot. Her face was blotchy and red around her eyes and cheeks and nose, and most of her face was still covered in a thin sheen of tears and perspiration. And, based on her expression now that Zelda could make it out, she was still crying.

There was one moment where Zelda thought Paya might make a scene; she did not. Instead she turned away, scrubbed at her face with a handkerchief, and then turned back to Zelda with a perfectly neutral expression. Her face was still blotchy, but she’d made a valiant effort.

“You’ve been unconscious for some time,” Paya said, her sinuses audibly clogged but her tone level and controlled. “Near the end you began to… convulse. And scream. I wasn’t sure what to do.” There was a fire built, and Zelda could smell food cooking on it; Paya managed to be very productive when she wasn’t sure what to do, apparently.

“Where are we?” she said, looking around. She sat up; felt no obvious pains. Paya reached to her, was about to tell her not to move, but she put up one hand. “I am drained, Paya, but I am not injured. I promise. Please: where are we?”

“We are at the foot of Lanayru Mountain.” It was not clear if she felt rebuffed, but as she talked Paya moved back to the pack where they stored their food and began to unpack some to prepare a second dish. In a bowl she began to prepare rice, herbs, and hearty mushrooms that she cut into thick slices. “After we… after we were struck by whatever that was, back there, you were unconscious, and I knew … rather, I thought I needed to get you away from there. After the Bleeding Earth, I knew that we could not take the road back until you were recovered, so I headed in the opposite direction.” Bleeding Earth was a phrase Zelda noted in her mind; that must have been the phenomenon that took place before the Calamity’s attack. Revival of the monsters they had slain was involved, though she couldn’t say why she knew that.

“You… carried me all the way here?”

Paya nodded, not meeting her eyes. “I would have gone further, but this stone seemed like a good place to spend the night, if we needed to do so.”

Zelda shifted her position on the ground so that she could look out toward the snowfield, and the storm of Malice and lightning sent a chill through her, deeper than the cold of the air could reach. The Blight had not existed in a physical space, but if it had then its power would have looked like that: aimless destruction eating at the space around it, death without purpose.

“You saved my life. Thank you.”

“Please don’t thank me. After I couldn’t stop that… After I failed to protect you, this was the bare minimum that duty demanded.” Zelda did not know how to respond to that, and so she didn’t; she just watched as Paya finished prepping the food, tested the batch she was currently cooking, apparently found it satisfactory. Zelda had been aware of the lynel, if only briefly, and tried to imagine what would have happened if Paya had fought it; Paya was strong, far stronger than she had assumed a person could be through training alone, but that beast had been a relic of a bygone age, a threat that the Guardians had been built to defend against. She tried to imagine how her companion would have done against the thing, found she could not, would not allow herself to visualize the details. She closed her eyes against the thought, and as she did Paya said, “Your Grace, may I ask you a question?”

Two layers too deep; she had been able to deal with this for a while, but she was too tired to try now. “Paya. If we are going to travel together, I can’t… have you addressing me this way.” She watched Paya’s face; instead of hurt, the other woman was confused. Good enough. “I’m grateful to you, more than I can express, but whatever I was before, I am not that person now. I know how you think of me,” and Paya flinched here, and Zelda thought that meant she had hit home, “but I do not recall that person and you are the one I’m traveling with. You’re not a servant to me, you’re a confidant. A friend, I hope. But if we’re going to travel together, if we’re going to share in the work together and protect each other and teach each other, please… my name might be Zelda, but with you, even if it’s only when we’re alone, I am not a princess. Not to you.”

Paya did not respond immediately; she adjusted the fabric of her sleeves, retying knots as she thought. Then, after a long time, in a voice barely loud enough to be heard: “Regardless of how we treat each other, or what relationship you or I might wish to have, that does not change who you are. It does not change our stations.”

It did not hurt as much as she thought it would when she moved. She crawled the few short feet over to Paya, drew her legs up under her to be seated in a position not unlike her companion’s, and took one of Paya’s hands in both of hers. Paya blushed furiously, like a switch being flipped, and Zelda was sorry to embarrass her but she needed to make this point. She leaned in. “What do you want to call me? No, do not answer right away. Think on it, and seriously; I am not asking you what duty tells you that you should call me. I am asking what you want to call me, in your heart of hearts, and what you would call me if you wanted there to be no barriers between us.” She did not know why she thought this was so important, but she did; in trying to explore this, she found a need to articulate it. “We have traveled together, eaten together, fought together, and protected each other. You held my life in your hands and carried me to safety. I would fight for you too, Paya. You cannot be a servant to me. Knowing that, knowing that I want us to be equals with each other… what do you wish to call me?”

Paya looked at her, then, really looked at her, and her regard was so frank and open that Zelda did not know how to interpret it, felt Paya’s hand like a frightened bird that might try to take wing. She did not look away, though; she had asked for this vulnerability and would not shy from it.

Finally, after a very long time, with a voice that teetered on the edge of pain, “I… would call you Zelda.”

She allowed herself a smile. “Then do. Please. And never seek permission for a question.”

The two of them prepped their own bowls of hot pepper stir fry and sat on opposite sides of the fire for warmth. Paya had spent the time thinking, quiet, and Zelda did not want to push her more than she’d already been pushed. Discomfort could lead to resentment, if she wasn’t mindful.

Zelda was still blowing on her own meal, trying to cool it, when Paya finally said, “What happened back there?”

“Which part?”

“A-all of it, I suppose. From when you stood at the gate. Your eyes turned golden and then… and then everything got very hard to understand.”

“Well.” She took a bite of stir fry, found it delectable, chewed as she thought, swallowed. “I suppose I might as well start at—oh this is so spicy—I should tell you about the memory.”

She did; she described it in every detail, the walk down from the mountain and the conversation with the Champions and Mipha’s words that had unlocked her power, how she remembered these people and had the sense that they were important but could not recall anything of them outside of that memory. Paya had been present when she had described her dreams of Hylia to Impa, so she transitioned smoothly into that, into the things she had learned about both of her sources of power and the reaction that the Calamity had to each. She described the Blight, about its attack on her and its attempt to wrest her life and power away, and how with the goddess’s strength she had shattered it. She talked about how the goddess would not be speaking to her again. Before she realized she was doing it she talked about being afraid.

By the time she was done the stir fry was gone and the mushroom congee was ready. Zelda filled both their bowls, no longer hungry but knowing she needed the food. The stir fry had helped warm her, and from the first bite of the congee she could feel strength returning to her; Paya had a very good sense of what food would best serve a given need.

“What do you want to do now?” Zelda looked up at Paya’s question, but did not immediately answer as she was chewing. “Shall we return to Kakariko Village? Grandmother did say that we should see her again once you had recovered one of your memories; I do not know if we can reach the road without crossing the storm, though I’m sure we could teleport.”

“Mm.” She swallowed. “I think… I want to go up the mountain.”

It took a visible effort for Paya to say, “Why?”

“This place is important.” That was not the half of it, and both knew that now; whatever was at the top of Mount Lanayru was the site of her last failure to unlock her power, but it was supposed to have been a triumph. “I know it’s not in the album, but I still wish to see it. It’s a holy place, I think.” Paya nodded in the affirmative. “Hylia said I would not speak with her again, but… if that place is related to her power, then I think it could still help us. Or… or at least, it won’t hurt to see.”

Paya nodded. “I think that’s a good idea.” A pause. “Zelda.”

They ate the rest of their meal in silence.

The mountain was clad in a preternatural darkness, the snow falling on it from clouds so thick they obscured the sun even during the day. The effect was fascinating to Zelda, but not so fascinating that she could devote any energy to it. The going was long, and hard, and cold, so cold that it was not even wet. She was thankful for the meals they had eaten before, for the tattered doublet she was wearing. Paya’s ability to walk through this cold wearing the same clothes she might wear in the relative warmth of the low-lands was mystifying, lending her a sense of superhuman resilience.

As they ascended Paya taught her how to spot the Ice Lizalfos who waited in the snow, how to watch for the great roaming eyes that followed them like spots of fire. They did not stop to fight; both were tired and wanted badly to reach the summit. Instead they walked around the beasts, their tread so practiced and light that they could not be heard over the wind, and where that was impossible Zelda tossed a bomb toward the monsters. Usually they did not react to it before she detonated the device and sent the Lizalfos flying off the side of the mountain.

Time was soft on the mountain, a fuzzy thing that was made obscure just as the sun was, and neither of them knew for how long they walked though it could not have been more than a few hours. Up and around they went, up and around, and as they ascended Zelda had the sense that they were walking into the past, as if the height of the world, its crown, stood at the very beginning of all time. Years melted away as they walked, and on some level she wondered if she would meet herself coming down a hundred years prior, if each of them would have some warning for the other.

Why am I thinking these things? Is that the influence of Hylia, unlocked through my memory? It was not a thought she found calming; she felt unmoored, adrift, no longer sure of where or when she was. Only looking at Paya reminded her, allowed her to put one foot in front of the other with confidence.

When they reached a height at which enormous crystals—whether genuine crystal or ice formations Zelda could not tell—began to jut out the side of the mountain, Paya said back to her, “I think we’re almost there.” They spoke quietly, even though the wind threatened to deafen them; it seemed wrong to raise one’s voice on the mountain, though neither would have said so if they hadn’t been climbing it.

The path grew more level, the walking easier, and when Zelda looked to the sky the cloud cover was gone. The sun had gone down and the stars were out. It was a beautiful sight; somehow the stars looked different here than anywhere else she’d been, even compared to the peak of Mount Hylia on the Great Plateau. She felt like she was looking into the past again, but did not feel unmoored; her feet were planted, and she was sure of herself, and looking up at the stars brought her a sense of peace. The past remained and would guide them, if they knew to follow.

Then the present asserted itself.

In her reverie, Zelda had fallen behind. Paya was some distance ahead of her, was the first to round the corner to the shrine. When she did she gasped aloud, covered her mouth with her hands and staggered backward before falling into a sitting position, still pushing herself away with her feet. She made a high-pitched, distressed sound, like a child seeing something new and terrible.

It is not physical danger, Zelda told herself, though now she was sprinting to catch up. If it was a physical danger, Paya would call out to me, would be in a defensive position. It’s not a physical danger. It’s— She rounded the corner and turned to the shrine and all thought, all perspective, all meaning was blasted from her mind, snow swept away by wind.

The dragon was beautiful; no other word so perfectly matched her immediate impression of it. Its serpentine body was hundreds of feet long, coiled upon and around the mountain’s peak, sinuously weaving back and forth like an enormous river made of scales that shone like polished mirrors. Its head was the size of a small house, the scales of its face sweeping back and transitioning into a crystalline crest that gave the impression of carefully cultivated matrices of ice. Its sides did not move as it breathed, but great plumes of condensation issued from its nostrils, geysers of glittering ice crystals that spun through the air, dancing and catching light like stars.

It groaned, and the sound was deep and enormous, borne of a diaphragm that would shake the firmament with its strength… but it had no strength. In truth it had no beauty, either, for its beauty was marred beyond recognition by the corruption that had spread over it.

She had never seen the Malice in person but she knew it by sight, the congealed form of hatred that stuck to the dragon’s skin like pulsating, breathing tumors. Four—or five, or six, or more—pools stood on the dragon’s body, reaching down into its scales, into its flesh with tendrils the color of shadow and sickness, turning its natural coloring to something else. Out of each of these masses rose stalks, almost like mushrooms except that instead of caps they were crowned by great golden eyes that glowed with an unnamed power, staring out into the world to lend perspective to a force that would see it all ruined. One of those masses grew out of the dragon’s head and there was the greatest of all the eyes, an eye so large that it nearly eclipsed the head itself, and as that eye blinked the dragon groaned again, low and plaintive and with the same tones as before. Its hands reached out for nothing, its talons dull and yielding and dark and without aim.

“This… this is profanity.” Her sense of the sacred had been sharpened by her meetings with Hylia, but before this moment she had not known what the word profane meant. Even the Blight attacking her within her own thoughts was not like this; at least that had only been a crime against herself. “This… to do something like this, to such a spirit, it…” She walked forward before she realized she was doing it, stepped past Paya.

Paya’s hand flashed and grabbed hold of hers. When their eyes met Paya shook her head furiously, never taking her other hand away from her mouth as if she was afraid that she would scream. She could not speak the words, but the plea was plain in her eyes: do not go over there. Whatever happened to the dragon can happen to you, too. The Malice wants you and it is here.

“I have to help it, Paya,” she said, and pulled her hand free. That she was strong enough to do so surprised her, surprised them both. “I will be careful, I promise, but… I will also do what is required of me.” Tears welled up in Paya’s eyes and she shook her head again and Zelda walked to the dragon.

Flashes of green and brown danced in front of her as she walked toward it and she willed herself calm, forced herself to take in the rest of the scene. The dragon was at rest on the face of the mountain above the Spring of Wisdom, which was built around a statue of Hylia. Its head rested next to the statue, its rheumy eyes rolling between the sky and the statue’s face as it let out another low, plaintive sound.

Below the dragon’s pain, below the wind, below the sound of the Malice bubbling as it ate away at the air and fed knowledge to an evil power far away, she heard the jingling of many bells.

Flashes of green and brown in the spring, along the length of the dragon between the masses of corruption. Something was there, but she did not know what, could not see. It was just on the edge of her perception.

“I have to see,” she told herself. “I have to know what this is, have to know everything that I can. I must. I must.” She turned her eyes inward, into that space within her thoughts where the goddess had embraced her. There was a light there, a single point. If she fanned it then it would grow into a flame, great and terrible and an affront to the Calamity. She did not need that, not yet. She took only part of it, the barest sliver, lifted it up out of the space inside of her, willed it behind her eyes. She could feel it filling her thoughts, filling her awareness, infusing her with a deep and fundamental knowing.

She opened her eyes. Stopped, again, in her tracks.

Little creatures—forest spirits, she immediately thought—were all over the spring, on the stone and the water and the dragon itself between the patches of Malice. They were a little shorter than waist-high, their bodies having the appearance of knots of wood with protrusions shaped like arms and legs. On the front of their bodies were affixed leaves of green and red and brown, with holes cut into them to give the impression of eyes and mouths. The leaves, nearly as large as their bodies for many of the spirits, lent them a sense of childlike enthusiasm. Despite the horror that they were dancing around, despite her own fears, she could not help finding them very cute.

They were singing. How had she not heard their singing before? They sang in children’s voices as they danced, waving flowers and leaves around in their hands, and the tune they sang was wandering and spritely and fast and harmonious, calling to mind boughs swaying in the wind. When they sang there was light, light the color of grass and healthy summer leaves, and this light enveloped the Malice, making the great eyes blink against the radiance.

One of them was dancing and singing in front of the statue of the goddess, whirling about with abandon, its legs so stubby that it had to rotate its entire body to take steps. This one she approached. It did not notice her, too absorbed in the song. She stood watching it for what felt like a very long time. The dragon sighed again.

“Excuse me,” she said, and the spirit stopped instantly, whirling on her and staring up at her with a leaf-face that looked sad and happy at the same time, like a child’s drawing. “What are you doing?”

“You can see me?” She was about to answer when it began to hop back and forth between its little leg stubs. “You can see me!” It turned back to the dragon, back to the crowd of its fellows, and shouted, “Hey, everybody! Somebody can see us!”

The dancing and the singing stopped and the light winked out as all the dozens of forest spirits turned to look at her with eyes that weren’t eyes. There was a long moment of regard between them where she felt the pressure of their attention and wondered if she had made a terrible mistake—and then they all descended from their places, whooping and shouting and laughing, and they all had the voices of children at play, and they were all talking at once.

“You can see us!”

“Nobody’s been able to see us in a hundred years!”

“Mr. Hero was the last person who could see us! Do you know Mr. Hero? I bet you know Mr. Hero!”

“You must be friends with Mr. Hero!”

“Wait! You’re the one Mr. Hero was with! You’re Miss Princess!” “Miss Princess!” “Miss Princess!”

They were a mob gathered in front of her, a tiny sea of faces and voices shouting all at once, delirious in their jubilation, and the force of their laughter and happiness could have swept her away, made her forget why she was here—but looking past them, she saw the dragon, and wrested back control of herself.

“Please,” she said, and repeated it until a hush fell over them. “What’s happening here?”

The spirits all looked at each other, and some silent communion took place before the first that she had spoken to turned back to her, apparently the designated liaison. “Naydra’s sick.”

“Naydra is the dragon?” She was not sure that “sick” was the word she would have used.

“Naydra is the guardian spirit of the mountain, and the spring, and all the land nearby!” The crowd nodded together with the sound of bells and rustling leaves. “They’ve been here for a very long time. They’ve protected everything and everyone for a very, very, very long time! But then they got sick.” It was holding the stem of a plant she didn’t recognize; with that stem it gestured at the Malice. “We’ve been trying to help Naydra get better, because Korok magic is very strong! We can heal the sickness when it’s in the ground or the water or the woods, but… something’s different. I think Naydra’s power is making the sickness stronger.”

“That… makes sense.” Images of the Blight returned to her, that creeping corruption that sought to usurp her power for itself. “If it’s drawing on the vitality of its victim, then it would be much more difficult to dislodge, provided that the spirit is sufficiently powerful. The greater the power corrupted, the more impossible it becomes for the victim to free itself.”

“Yeah! That’s what Naydra had been saying!”

“Naydra can speak?” She found the idea difficult to parse; what sounds could a mouth like that make?

“Yeah! Of course! Well, maybe not in a way that you can understand, but they can talk to us! When we first came to help them, Naydra tried to tell us what was happening. But even though we were trying to help them, they kept getting sicker and sicker, and then they stopped trying to talk at all. Maybe if more of us were here, but…” The whole crowd looked up at Naydra, and she could feel their frustration and their sadness crackling in the air above them. “Then the earth shook really bad a little while ago, and they got their voice back, but they just keep saying the same thing over and over again.”

The dragon groaned, low and loud, once more the same sound as before, and Zelda felt that she could hear the word, or very nearly. The knowledge was on the other side of her understanding; if she had all of her memories back, would she know this language?

“What are they saying?”

“They’re trying to call Hylia.”

The world crystallized around her as she recalled the sound of her own power, how it had echoed far enough for the Calamity to hear. Wouldn’t this spirit have heard too, so much nearer? Wouldn’t it have known that its protector, the protector of all things who had charged it with guarding this place, was nearby? And now it’s calling her. Calling me.

She looked to the dragon, and then to the west, seeing in her mind’s eye the castle that stood far away. She looked back to Paya, who did not know what was happening, could neither see nor hear the Koroks. The snowfield was a blasted ruin; Paya had carried her out of it. Could she subject her to that horror again?

Naydra called out, in pain and delirium, and she did not understand the language but she heard her own name in its voice.

She wiped at her face, looked down as a tiny wooden nub pressed gently against her other hand.

“Don’t cry, Miss Princess,” the Korok said, and it was trying so hard to make her feel better, its voice so earnest and tender that it twisted the inside of her chest into knots. “We know it looks bad, but Korok magic is strong. We haven’t healed Naydra yet, but we’ll… we’ll try really, really hard, OK? Even if it takes a long time, we’ll work hard and we’ll make them better. So… so don’t cry, OK?”

The crowd pressed in around her, petting gently at her legs, promising from every direction that they would make it OK, that everything would be all right.

Naydra called out to her again.

She lifted her face, set her jaw, sniffed, swallowed. “You should all go.”

“M-Miss Princess?”

“All of you go. Go somewhere safe. I will tend to Naydra.”

A wave of shock passed over them, and for one moment the Koroks were utterly still. “You can heal them?”

“Yes,” she said, and nodded. She needed to exude confidence to match their kindness; she needed strength to match the task in front of her. “Yes, I can heal them. I will heal them. But after I do, the thing that made Naydra sick is going to be very angry, so you had better run.”

There was another moment where the Koroks shared their silent communion; then they cheered and as a body held aloft their flowers, their stems, their little leaves, and began to float into the air. Their laughter was like rain falling on the mountainside. The spokesperson waved its free hand happily at her, as if it needed to catch her attention again after she had looked away for about a second. “Miss Princess!” She nodded to it. “We’re going to go back to the Lost Woods! It’s, um… that way!” It pointed in the general direction of the northwest. “Next to the big fiery mountain! You should come visit us, OK? Look for the big tree! Promise you’ll come visit us, OK?”

“I promise,” she said, both for the Koroks and because she wanted to see where these happy spirits made their homes so deeply that it bordered on a physical need.

They cheered as a body, waved to her as they ascended, shouted “Bye, Miss Princess!” “Come visit us soon!” “Bye!” “Bye, bye! Bye!”

They rose like birds on the wing and swept away as a laughing cloud at even greater speed. In moments they were gone, distant, safe.

The wind howled, and Naydra called out to her.

“Paya,” she called over the wind, turned back to her companion. Paya had gotten to her feet, which was good. “I’m going to fix this. I need you to be ready to run, to use the paraglider if we have to.” I should get a second one of those made. “Will you be ready?”

In her secret heart she did not have enough faith in Paya; but Paya had faith in her, enough to nod, to begin to stretch, to wait with expectant eyes and absolute surety in the rightness of what Zelda was doing. That faith, faith in Zelda’s righteousness weighed against a death too terrible to comprehend with the senses of the body, was like a physical force. Zelda felt it pushing at her back as she turned her attention back to Naydra.

The Malice hissed as the dragon breathed, and she felt calm. Calmer than she’d been in a long time.

She reached down, down within herself, and the golden power was there. She did not take a sliver, this time; the whole thing was in her hands, she breathed life into it until it was a furnace, until the sound filled the physical air and light shone from her like the sun. She opened her eyes and saw the aura of her power all around her, saw that Naydra’s head had lifted, that the dragon’s eyes were focused on her, in hope and pain and fear and love. The power built, and built, and built, built until it was barely contained in her skin, until the wind was still and only the ringing of her strength could be heard.

I wonder if you can see this, she thought at the Calamity at the heart of the kingdom. Then she let go, and the power roared free of her, and the world was filled with light.

The Calamity staggered with a bellow, and the Hero was upon it with flashing steel, and its fury and its pain were incalculable. It did see; it also felt, and that feeling was far more terrible.

The light obliterated the Malice, evaporating it like water, dissolving even the smoke that it left behind. The eyes all turned to look at her with expressions of cold, blank hatred, and then were gone, swept into nothing.

Its influence on Naydra’s body disappeared in an instant, a shattering of a carapace of darkness, and the color of ice and rain radiated out from inside of them. Naydra roared, and she did not know the language but she knew that it was a sound of relief, of power restored, of warning, of exultation.

The dragon’s body rose from the mountainside all at once, taking to the air as if it were moving through water. They circled around the mountain once, bellowing, as Zelda looked up in wonder. She remembered herself, then, and ran toward Paya. The two of them prepared to try to outrun death as the beast in the castle unleashed its hatred at them and a burning comet streaked from the heart of the land.

They had no real plan, save to run; when a shadow fell over them as they ran they both looked up. The sight struck still both of them.

Talons the size of horses closed gently around them, lifting them up into the air. The touch was warm, even though the air around them was freezing, even though they should have been frozen themselves. Zelda looked to Paya and she was laughing, now far past her fears, and Zelda laughed too as the dragon carried them away from the mountain. They swept down into the snowfield, and in their passing the storm abated, ripped apart by purifying cold, and the air was still and quiet.

Naydra carried them above the road named for the mountain, and the beasts on that road scrambled and hid from their passage. The wind was whipped into a frenzy, but the world was calm. The dragon was calm.

The Calamity’s fury struck the mountain on the side opposite the shrine, and the mountain shook.

Naydra bellowed, a high and musical sound, and Zelda knew that it called her name.

Chapter Text

As the ceremony went on she could feel it getting away from her.

No, that was wrong; it was out of her hands from the beginning, like a serpent that she had grabbed by the wrong place and was only turning around and biting her because she had mishandled it. She looked at the Hylian who carried the sword—at Link—at the hero without looking away, trying to keep her attention focused as was proper, but her eyes darted to the gathered champions. She could see their discomfort, their disappointment, and these were piled on top of hers. Not exactly a proper follow-up to the jubilation and comradery that they had all been expressing at having their photograph taken together, but maybe that could be reclaimed, in time. Not now.

Link never looked up; his eyes were downcast, his posture studied and perfect as if he had been practicing it in anticipation of this event. Maybe he had. Maybe he hadn’t had to; maybe it was like the sword, that he was blessed with perfect piety and duty the same way he had been blessed with incredible power.

That’s not fair, she said to herself. You don’t know what he’s had to do.

I know what he is now. She knew that he was what she was not, and looking down at him she saw that he was not even sweating, did not betray the merest tremble as he stayed perfectly still in his kneeling position. Her own hand wavered, drifting as a body will when it is made to hold still, and she had to periodically drop it to let her nerves settle before raising it again. This speech was long, but she knew it had to be; apparently it was something like the speech that had been spoken over the hero ten millennia ago, in an age of wonders. The length was not the problem. Her weakness was. Her weakness was ever the only problem.

How much like the hero of the past is he? Has he been reborn, carrying lives of experience and strength inside of him? How nice that must be; how simple.

She felt her posture begin to slip, straightened her spine as she came to the end. “That each of us might know the peace carried on the backs of the courageous, that our world might bathe in the light of Hylia, and that the kingdom of Hyrule may prosper under your protection, lift your blade. Lend us your strength, for so long as you are needed.” Finally, finally, she lowered her hand, brushing her fingertips against his brow. “Rise.”

He rose slowly, his every motion speaking to the control and mastery he had of his own body. When he stood straight he looked at her, and they were of identical height; if he had stood any closer to her it would have been too intimate, too invasive even for her designated protector, but he observed protocol perfectly. He did not speak, and she felt the weight of his eyes on her, and somehow it was even worse than the other Champions; they betrayed their boredom, their empathetic awkwardness, even as they approached now. Link betrayed nothing at all, by expression or by posture or by the language of his body. Would he hold his opinion of her so doggedly to his breast? What were they?

She suspected she knew.

“Ah, thanks for humoring me there, Princess.” Daruk adjusted his sash’s knot; he did that when he was nervous, not wanting to offend. “That was… definitely everything I asked for.”

“It was positively funereal.” The gathered champions (save Link) flinched from Revali’s words, but Zelda found them comforting, in an odd way; now that it was out in the open, she did not need to worry about what Revali was thinking. Not that knowing kept the color out of her face nor kept the shame from suddenly becoming sharper and more distinct, but at least now she did not wonder. “I suppose I can’t hold it against you, given the… material you have to work with,” and he motioned in Link’s direction with one wing, and the hero did not deign to react even to that direct insult, “but still, I don’t—"

That’s enough.” Urbosa’s tone was that of a matriarch used to speaking to people who needed instruction. But if she had expected Revali to be cowed by her then her expectations were instantly betrayed; he wheeled on her, eyes narrowed and chest out, and he looked perceptibly larger as his feathers very slightly stood on end. Regardless, the inherent challenge in his stance did not seem to faze her; Urbosa actually grinned, and it was not a grin of amusement.

“I would like to formally apologize.” Now Mipha’s turn to draw their attention. She placed one hand against her chest, inclined her head toward Zelda. “Forgive my inattentiveness, Princess. I find myself… exhausted by the events of the day.”

A lifeline, and she hated herself because she resented it. After a moment of self-pity at how easily Mipha kept to decorum compared to her, how she had not been the one to quell the rising tension of her Champions, she bowed her head in return. “There is no need for apology; the ceremony was for the hero more than anyone else, and I think we can agree that Link has been appropriately attentive.” Her attempt at humor registered, and Daruk’s tension drained out of him, a little, as he chuckled. Link looked at her, but still he said nothing.

“The ceremony may have been for the hero, but we are no less your Champions.” Urbosa stepped away from Revali, who visibly calmed as he was given his own space. “All of this is well and good—though Hylian ceremony is not quite like those of the Gerudo.” Or the Gorons, or the Zora, or the Rito, she did not have to say. “We understand, each of us, our tasks. We also understand that all of this revolves around you, Princess.” She stood in thought for a moment, staring off into space, before nodding to herself. Then she smiled at Zelda, and this smile was both affectionate and apologetic. Then she kneeled.

It took every fiber of her not to ask Urbosa to get up, not to recoil at what she was doing. Urbosa was the closest thing she’d had to a mother for nearly a decade; seeing her kneel was anathema.

“I’ve already said my oaths to Hyrule,” Urbosa said, “and we’ve all sworn to do battle with Ganon and free this land. So now I’m making a different oath: to you, the heart of the Champions. Do not mistake me; this is more than fealty. This is an oath to the task, to all of us, and to the work we will do together. I will fight Ganon.”

Unbelievably, Revali knelt next to Urbosa, and there was no arrogance or anger in him, everything forgotten, dropped on the ground in favor of something that went deeper than that. Pride? Faith? Surety in his duty? It was like what Urbosa had, and whatever it was Zelda could not understand because she did not share in it.

“I will lay down my life for Hyrule, and for you.” Daruk knelt where he stood, and there was no levity in him. “More than that, more than each of these, I will give myself totally over to the cause. I am not the Chief of the Gerudo; I am a Champion.” Mipha, who had set aside so much of the symbols of her status among her own people so that she might wear the Champion’s sash, knelt next to Daruk. “I will not fail.”

“I will not fail,” said Revali, and it was a cry against the dark, against a world that would see him fall.

“I will not fail,” said Daruk, and it was the promise of a brother, a son, a father, who understood himself only in the context of how he could help those around him.

“I will not fail,” Mipha said, and there was something there Zelda did not understand, some deep-running sorrow that she could not touch, and she thought of Sidon, the little prince.

There was a gap between Urbosa and Mipha; into this gap Link stepped, his eyes trained carefully on her face. He bent the knee to her, said nothing; his oaths were clear in every part of him. Of course he wouldn’t fail; the sword on his back was his oath, his testament, and his glory. Finally he lowered his eyes, finally he released her from the weight of his judgment, and still he left her with no understanding. The other champions bore their hearts with every word, but his remained closed to her.

And then:

“I will not fail.” Quiet, hesitant. But there.

She turned away from them, from her Champions who would make war with evil on her behalf, and looked to the castle in the distance. Could her father see her from there, she wondered? Was he looking even now? Was he watching, as she was surrounded by the courageous, who were so much more than she was even as they lifted her up?

She wished very badly that her mother was there. She did not find her words for a long time.

She gasped, pulled back to the world as if waking from a dream, the past fading from her vision like parchment set upon flame. It had been there a moment ago, she had been living it as vividly as she was living now, could feel the act of making choices and the possibilities that stretched out of individual moments, and for one second she swooned because it felt like she could have changed the past.

Paya’s hand closed firmly around her elbow, steadying her, and she leaned gratefully on her companion. “Wait.” She said this because she was still unsure, because awareness was coming back in spurts, because something was still changing inside of her. Paya waited as bidden; she was good at waiting.

Zelda took a deep breath through her nose and held it. That sense of moving through time like a room was still with her, as if she could step sideways into some unnamed angle and emerge in the same place twenty years ago, or a hundred, or a thousand, and find it no more difficult. This was not true; she was not one of the gods. But you carry one’s power, her strength is yours and how far does Hylia’s dominion reach? She laid her free hand on the one holding her elbow and squeezed Paya’s fingers, anchoring herself.

It passed, and the world grew right-sided and concrete. She was no longer dreaming… save that something was different, deep down on the very floor of her awareness. She could not have said what it was, knowing only that it was there.

“I think I resented him, too,” Zelda said, and she turned her attention to the place where the Champions had kneeled, one hundred years ago. “He was so… powerful. So righteous. I thought that quality was something inborn, that it had been granted to him by the gods without the pains that they had visited on me.” She swallowed. “All the Champions were so… strong, and good. I remember being close to each of them, in their way, and how much it shamed me to disappoint them. But I only thought this thing of Link, because he carried the sword that sealed the darkness.”

“You were under a very great deal of pressure,” Paya said, trying to be gentle, testing Zelda’s balance.

“I still am. That doesn’t… it’s not a good excuse for that…” She stopped, thought. She was still that person from one hundred years ago, wasn’t she? She had these small memories, but not the attendant knowledge and experiences that informed them. Was this new life like a resetting of herself, an absolution of her past and her sins and her failures? She could feel herself from a hundred years ago as truly as she felt herself; all she had to do was remember and it was like stepping back into that other life. Every time she remembered some new thing she changed, partially because the goddess’s power kept growing inside of her and partially because the experience of being herself also changed her, the way she saw herself and her relationship with the world around her.

“Zelda.” Paya’s eyes were soft with concern. “You look lost. I-I want you to know you can talk to me. Even… even if I don’t understand what you’re experiencing, talking will help! Or… it might, anyway.”

She released the pressure on Paya’s fingers and Paya let go of her elbow so she stood under her own power. For one moment, very briefly, she wondered if perhaps she could or even should keep this to herself; but no, she had asked too much of Paya and Paya had given too much of herself for Zelda to think that it was right to keep anything from her.

“Every time I remember something new,” she said, “I feel as if I am losing some part of myself. It is as if there are three women inside of me: me, the person you are talking to now, who woke up without her memories; the Princess Zelda, who one hundred years ago failed in her battle with the Calamity and loved the hero, even though she hated him too; and a third person, ancient, who is at one with the power of the goddess.” An idea flitted through her mind like a cinder on the wind, and it was so bright and shining that she could not divorce herself from it, not until it was spoken and out in the air. “I… I think I am the first person. But… I also think that, perhaps the more I remember, the more the other two begin to rise.”

Her hands were shaking. She balled them into fists, but that didn’t help, now her arms were trembling, and she could feel the world slipping away under her.

“I think this is what is called an existential crisis. Isn’t that funny?” It was not funny; she knew that her voice communicated that it was not funny, that she was on the edge of panicking, and she could see how nervous and helpless she was making Paya feel but now the cinder was out, and it needed more air, more breath, more fuel. She couldn’t stop. “It feels as if, if I continue on my quest and remember more and more, the Princess and the Goddess will continue to grow… and I may disappear.”

Paya’s hands were shaking worse than hers were, but still she managed to take both of Zelda’s in hers, to coax the fists open and press their hands together. She couldn’t look at Zelda, was shaking from a kind of nervousness utterly apart from the kind she carried with her into and after battle, but her grip was very strong.

“I will help,” Paya said, insistent even as her voice quavered. “N-no matter what happens. I’ll anchor you, so… so no matter how much you remember, or how st-strong these other thoughts are, you won’t disappear.” She fought, visibly, to raise her eyes enough to meet Zelda’s, and Zelda began to understand something she had not understood before. “I will keep you here. We’ll keep helping each other, for as long as it takes. I promise.”

She embraced Paya, in warmth and thanks and sorrow, and the other woman was stiff in her arms but that was all right. She let go quickly, and Paya murmured something inaudible while backing up. She had hurt her again; she would hurt her more before this journey was through. More sorrow.

Fears piled on top of each other, a bundle of snakes that writhed and dripped venom into common pools, giving rise to new fears, new shapes for old ones, and a sickness of the heart that she did not know if she could deal with. She hadn’t been afraid for herself twenty minutes ago, hadn’t been afraid for her identity and the sense of freedom that had come with it. Should she fear that change? Didn’t every person change as they grew and learned and loved, and it was normal and safe and even a happy thing to change? Every step on the path was leading her to some new memory, an increasing potential for losing herself, and that possibility was ice in her stomach.

They were so close to Hyrule Castle that when the Calamity roared, they felt the earth quake. The blue light erupted from the castle’s keep, so bright that it threw the overgrown clearing into stark relief, and both of them looked toward it in time to hear the high, clear notes of an ancient voice singing a song they could not recognize.

He is still fighting. Link is still fighting. While I am afraid, while I worry over what will happen to me, he continues the battle he joined one hundred years ago on my behalf. I am alive and enjoy this freedom because he gave himself to a war that is more terrible than the one I waged.

She looked over at Paya, saw tears running down the other woman’s face. It was something in the music, in the voice, that spoke to a part of them so deep it bordered on the primal. It communicated in so few notes the nature of the war being waged, the hero struggling forever against the dark.

The light faded, and the singing with it.

“I think,” Zelda said, “that we need to put ourselves to something… concrete. Not memories or the stuff of gods and wars and quests. We need something that we can work on and finish. Together?”

Paya blushed again and nodded, turned her eyes to the south, and listened. “There is a Guardian immediately to the south of us. I think it’s the same one that we avoided on our way here. It isn’t aware of us, but it’s tending toward this direction. Its path may bring it near enough to detect us in the next few minutes.”

“Do you think that a mobile Guardian would be more likely to survive attempts to dissect it?”

Paya made a face, with effort, trying to seem more casual and familiar than she felt, managing to communicate that she liked neither the idea of confronting a Guardian nor the expression of that feeling. “I’m not an expert, but I don’t see why it would be.”

“Hmmm.” It was true that the Malice infected each of the Guardians and actually had a mildly corrosive effect; this was the simplest explanation for why the targeting systems for their weapons were slower than records from a hundred years ago seemed to indicate. Still, if they were mobile, that meant that they had experienced less corrosion, for one reason or another, than their immobile peers. “I think it’s worth a shot.”

The Guardian’s many legs propelled it along the ground, low but aloft, easily adjusting to sudden shifts in terrain. The ease with which it hoisted itself over a stray boulder, the automatic adjustment of its central body so that it remained upright and properly oriented, was a marvel of engineering so sublime that simply watching it could not engender appreciation for it. Few were those living who would think much of it; fewer still those who would know the fineness of its craftsmanship, the singular skill of its construction. More, far more, would appreciate the menace of its wide, burning eye as it scanned the environment.

Its sensors reached no further than its immobilized counterparts, but that reach was far indeed. It detected movement, heat, life as it passed near a small copse that surrounded the remains of a courtyard. Instantly it turned its eye in that direction, seeking visual confirmation, and the sound of its clawed appendages digging into the dirt was softer than one might expect, no more than stones hitting the grass.

A few meters behind the tree line, a particular trunk fell with a burst of light, an explosion. The Guardian sprinted, seeking a target, and a chime like an enormous bell rung out. The Guardian was fast, covering hundreds of meters with a speed greater than a horse could hope to match, but it was also observant, registering and recording the repeated impacts of weapons that reverberated similarly to the chime that had rung out a moment before. Then there was another explosion, though this time no trees fell.


A Hylian voice, and a flash of Hylian silhouette, and its targeting systems painted that body with red light. Its capacitor was fully charged, waiting for confirmation of targeting lock, and then there was another chime, somewhat louder than before.

A fallen tree trunk soared out of the copse like a spear hurled by a god. The Guardian’s targeting line was broken, and it had time to interpret that it was under attack just before the projectile smashed into its eye.

The log exploded on impact, shivering to pieces in a cloud of splinters and dust, and the Guardian was rocked backward by the force of the blow. Its legs collapsed, body crashing to the ground as the shock to its primary sensor sent its systems into a short reboot sequence.

Two figures ran out of the wood, one holding a sword made of blue light, the other a bow of darkened wood.

“You’re stronger than I am,” Zelda had said. “You have to be the one to handle this part.”

“I don’t know if that’s true anymore!” Her reply had been truthful, but not by much; the blessings of the goddess had begun to tell in the princess’s body, and the blessings of the Great Fairy had armored her against harm, but there were limits to which Paya had not been pushed.

“We have to assume it is until proven otherwise. You’re better suited for either task, so it makes sense that you would do the more important one.”

“But what if its weapon fires at you? I don’t even know how deep to try to cut, or how wide to make the opening, or anything!”

“I’m better protected, thanks to Cotera, and the effective firing angle is narrow enough that I think we can avoid it. And there’s nothing to know! The armor is two inches thick, uniformly, and you will have another two inches of clearance before reaching any vital components.”

“That’s not very much room for error!”

“I have absolute faith in your abilities. If you stab into it at the right angle, especially if you can find a flaw or damaged spot, you should be able to pierce it with just the strength of your arm. Then you can saw at it to make an opening, about two feet wide—”

Saw at it? That will ruin the blade!”

“It’s a blade of light, it doesn’t need sharpening like a steel one does!”

“It still experiences physical strain, because the emitter is the fulcrum point for force applied against the blade! If we put it under too much stress it could be damaged!” She had felt a small thrill of pleasure at how this objection took Zelda aback; she didn’t know as much about ancient technology as Auntie Purah, but at least she knew enough for this.

That pleasure had withered at the set of Zelda’s mouth and the lowering of her eyebrows as she weighed the possibilities. “That’s just a risk we’re going to have to take.”

So here they were, now. Zelda was dressed in the Hylian-style tunic, since it provided better protection, and holding a sheikah-made bow that granted greater accuracy if held by a steady hand. The initial impact of the Stasis-propelled tree had stunned the Guardian long enough to approach it, and now each time it began to recover Zelda put an arrow in its eye, making it collapse again. Zelda had bought every arrow in Kakariko, and the fletcher had made a very great deal more than usual in hopes that the Princess would requisition (not purchase but requisition) more; if she wanted to, Zelda could probably lock down the Guardian for hours with being interrupted.

Paya hoisted herself onto the Guardian’s back, setting her feet just below the segmentation between the Guardian’s body and what she thought of as its head. It still twitched as it recovered, rotating by small degrees, but hopefully it wouldn’t be too much to work through. That wasn’t the real problem.

The real problem was the armor itself. Not the thickness of it, or the hardness of it, or the particular ways it might be able to disperse kinetic or thermal energy; the problem was that, on top of all of these things, it was also smooth and angled to turn away blows of force. If she wanted to pierce it without the blade skidding all over the place then she was going to need to find a flaw. She could make one herself, one good slash would probably open a divot in it large enough to steady the tip of the blade, but she wanted to be able to use a deeper crevice, if there was one.

She was lucky: after a few seconds scanning she found a missing chunk of armor, what was very nearly a pit where it looked like a spear may have struck it in some past battle. Whatever had wielded that weapon was stronger than a person; she wondered if she was looking at a wound that dated from before the Calamity’s prior sealing, back in the truly old war.

She placed the tip of the blade against the crack in the armor, gripped the handle with her left hand to steady it while placing her right against the pommel, and shoved.

There was a crack like pottery breaking, and the blade sank in an inch. To check if it would come free, she pulled, and when the blade retracted without resistance she shoved again, slightly harder.

Another crack, and now there was no more resistance as the blade broke cleanly through the outer layer of armor.

“How’s it going back there?” The Guardian shifted, its legs beginning to brace themselves against the ground, and then Paya heard the impact of another arrow hitting its eye.

“I think I’m through the armor!”

“Good! Try to be careful; you only have that much more clearance before you reach the internal components.”

She did not need to be told again. Carefully, carefully she withdrew the blade, and found that it easily slid out, as if it grew thinner—or was already infinitely thin? Looking at the blade edge-on made her eyes hurt, so she was not absolutely sure. Still.

“OK, Paya. Relax. If you have two inches of clearance and the armor is two inches thick, then you can allow yourself three and a half inches per stroke. That… shouldn’t be too hard.” Even trying to pep herself up, she was not very convincing. Still, she began to saw in short, quick, powerful motions, placing as much pressure as she could on each thrust or draw.

The smell it made was interesting; definitely burning, but not burning of a kind she had smelled before, like meat or vegetables or overdone pottery. Black flakes drifted down as she sawed, ashes from the armor being obliterated by the knife, and she wondered if they would be toxic to inhale. Probably. Best not to breathe it in, regardless. Though the armor, in its destruction, could be producing vapors that were just as dangerous.

The blade was designed in such a way that heat and kinetic energies were shunted away at all costs. That is why Paya did not feel the emitter grow hot as she sawed a roughly triangular opening, did not experience some sense of heat or warning as the blade’s mount began to hiss. It cut easily enough through the armor, and she was going at speed; that was all that mattered. The opening would be about two feet wide on each side, which should be enough for Zelda to reach inside of it and see what she needed to see.

Later, she would decide that she had been too focused on the act of sawing, that the focus required to use such small, even strokes from a strange position for an extended period of time compromised her ability to notice the state of her weapon. She never said such a thing to Zelda because she knew Zelda would want to absolve her and one should not be absolved of negligence: it was why she did not realize that the sword, which was very much meant for slashing rather than chopping and most definitely not for sawing, was at its breaking point as she came around to the end of the last side. It was why she was so surprised when it burst in her hands.


She took a moment; the reboot sentence completed, and the light in the Guardian’s eye flickered off and on for half a second before it began to move again. She loosed her arrow, waited for the impact, exhaled as the life went out of the machine again.


“The blade shattered!”

She fought down a groan. “When you say ‘shattered,’ what do you mean?”

“The handle burst, the emitter seems to have exploded, and every component I can see is smoking!” In spite of her own anxieties, Zelda more sharply felt Paya’s; she had been right, and she sounded like in reward for being right she had broken the world. Paya was trying very hard not to panic.

“Did you finish?”

“It’s… difficult to tell. There’s a lot of smoke!”

Another twitch, another arrow, another impact. “Switch places with me!”

They moved quickly, dashing past each other so that Zelda did not hear the apology that she knew Paya was trying to get out as she took the bow from Zelda’s hand. She clambered up the side of the Guardian opposite its eye, banging her knee heavily on one of its legs as she hoisted herself up. Paya released an arrow with absolute precision; Zelda knew that she would continue to do so until she ran out of arrows, and so put it out of her mind.

Paya’s summary of the Guardian Blade’s condition had been accurate, in that there was essentially nothing left of it and it was completely beyond repair. Fine. Tend to that later. Instead she turned to the opening that Paya had been working on, tracing from the point of initial incision and outlining a sort of rounded triangle, until it summarily ended in a scorch mark that was… perhaps connected, perhaps not. The margin was too narrow for her to say one way or the other.

It was not the fact of breaking the armor that was the real problem in this context, or even the loss of the weapon; what Zelda was afraid of was the possibility that the discharge had damaged the interior components of the Guardian. They could test its condition, perhaps, by letting it recover long enough to try to attack them.

“Well, we’ll return to that idea later,” she said to herself, taking out the narrow sheikah short sword that Paya had lent to her. “Let’s see… if the energy of the blade is able to cut through the armor’s material, then it’s possible that the sudden flare of it may have compromised its structural integrity, at least at the point of exposure…” Stooping against the Guardian, putting her hand against it as if to steady it and keep it from moving, she leaned in close to peer at the place where the blade had almost punched through. Gingerly she placed the tip of the eight-fold blade against the last width of armor, which was blackened and smelled terribly. It felt different enough, from that first point of contact. With the same carefulness, fearful of damaging the blade, (even though it was easily replaced and Paya would definitely blunt it on a rock if Zelda asked her to) she pressed more firmly, trying to cut at it.

Ash fell away from beneath the blade. In that one spot the armor had been reduced to a state not far removed from charcoal. Caution gone, Zelda pulled back and struck hard with the sword, and the armor shifted and groaned as the last connection broke. She pressed the sword in, angled it, and wrenched as hard as she could—and the cut segment of armor fell free, clattering down the side of the Guardian before hitting the grass.


“I’m all right, Paya! That was the armor falling away. You got it open!” She hoped the words would be enough to lay Paya’s anxieties to rest but did not ask because in that moment she had something she wanted much more desperately to examine. The opening Paya had cut was very nearly a triangular window; she tested its edge, found that it was not hot and that the interior of the Guardian radiated no particular heat, then braced herself against it and leaned in to look inside. “What in the world…”

The exact nature of the machinery that she was looking at escaped her; perhaps Purah could have illuminated the functionality of certain parts, of the piping that fed reservoirs of glowing liquid to various inner mechanisms before draining them back into reservoirs that sat atop carved lumps of blue stone, of the interlacing servos that were hooked into what she assumed were the drive motors for the Guardian’s legs, of the vast array of strange machinery that she guessed were its suite of targeting mechanisms and weapon systems, but Purah was not there. She took the Sheikah Slate from her hip and snapped several photographs from multiple angles, swearing that she would discuss the specific elements in excruciating detail, but this was just a delaying tactic on her part. The inside of the Guardian was a treasure trove of information and potential for future learning, but it wasn’t what she was really paying attention to; it was what she was looking at so that she could try to ignore the Malice.

The interior of the Guardian was infested with it, the inside of the armored housing stained and acrid with smoke that had accumulated into a film that looked viscous to the touch. Purple fire and arcs of unnaturally colored electricity crackled between components that could not have been meant to support them, and as she watched she knew on a deep, intuitive level that the power of the Calamity was eating away at the inside of it.

She knew that this was wrong, that the Guardian was not functioning as it should, and that she could know more. Her awareness was different now, she could feel the Malice and the power that it was trying to mask as clearly as she could feel the strength of her own limbs. Hylia’s power, Hylia’s awareness, brought closer to the surface by the power of her memory. It had terrified her only minutes ago but now, here, she needed it with a desperation that was more than physical.

Zelda reached within herself, drawing upon the well of her power. She needed only a sliver, only the tiniest part, a piece so small that the Calamity could not possibly feel it while locked in battle with the hero. In her mind it was only enough to fit on the tip of her fingernail, a point of light that would be lost among stars if held to the sky. This light, this power, she drew up from inside of herself and willed into the space behind her eyes. She felt the knowing spread, the understanding, and looked again into the Guardian’s heart.

“There you are,” she said.

She could see the rivers of the Guardian’s power coursing through it, systems feeding into other systems that fed into more systems, and she saw that there were carefully partitioned redundancies so that damage to smaller parts would not cripple the larger ones. This was why the Guardian was still able to move in spite of the corrosive effect of the Malice, why it could continue to serve the Calamity even as Ganon’s strength ate it from the inside. All of the systems were fed by rivers of power (and information, but those two were the same thing, light and legend married in a suspension that was nearly fluid) that flowed from the same source. That source, an orb at the conjunction between the weapon systems and the motor controls, was the heart of the Guardian. It was also where the Malice was nested.

“This energy, this power, is derived from the blue stones that sit in the Guardian’s base. I don’t know what, but…” She paused, breathed slowly, sighed. “No, that’s not true, and I shouldn’t lie to myself. These are stones that are aligned with Hylia, that are derived from her element and draw strength from the world according to her design. They’re attuned to her. Which means they’re attuned to me. Which means the Guardians themselves are, which means… all sheikah technology might be.”

The core crackled as she looked at it, as if to threaten her.

She raised her head from the opening. “Paya!”

“Yes?” She sounded happier now, but she also heard the urgency in Zelda’s voice. “What is it?”

“I’m going to try something, and there’s a chance it might go wrong. When I give the signal, I want you to stop shooting the Guardian unless it actively targets you. If I shout, then I want you to forget the Guardian and hold onto me, so I can teleport us out of here. Understand?” She knew Paya understood; she did not wait for the answer. Instead she leaned back into the opening, drawing up more of the power within herself.

The Guardian was so full of Malice that it could have probably spread the infection on its own, but the active portion of it was confined to the core. If she was right, then a properly portioned amount of her power could burn the Malice out of the core, and from there it was possible that the Guardian’s systems would spread her power through its body, cleansing it using the same channels that had been used to infect it with the corruption. If she was right, and that was a powerful “if.” But then, no, it wasn’t. She knew.

She drew on her power, praying that it would not be so much that the Calamity would hear her, willing it silent and still inside of her until she used it. The light flared within her, the world in her head turned golden, but she willed it down, down, under the surface of her skin, and she shifted the pool until all of the power she’d drawn was in her index finger. The power that could be contained in one finger against the Malice seated in the Guardian’s core. Surely that was enough.

She reached out to the core, felt the Malice inside of it hiss and try to push back against her. She pressed her fingertip against the smooth surface, and her power was like a buffer between herself and the corruption so that she was aware of it but it could not hurt her; that feeling of being protected by her own strength was, briefly, intoxicating. Zelda held that feeling of herself touching the darkness, wanting to remember how this felt for the future, and then poured her power forward.

The Malice and Hylia’s strength whirled within the core, light and dark, two differently colored liquids that refused to mix. Even from a distance and without drawing on more of her power she could feel the conflict between the two energies, how the Malice fought to maintain its own integrity as her power tried to burn it away, and the core rattled in its casing from the force of the conflict. After what seemed too long a time she wondered if perhaps she hadn’t put enough into it, if the core did not have the capacity to hold both powers in quantities that would allow one to defeat the other, if the whole thing would explode with her staring at it and then wouldn’t she really be testing Cotera’s work?

The Malice winked out like a candle being snuffed, and the core was filled with light.

The light spread at speed, blood flowing through a body carried on the beating of a mighty heart, and she saw as her strength burned away the darkness. There was power there, not just in the act but in the feeling, the knowing that she had done so much and could do so much more.

“Paya!” She took several more snapshots, then returned the Sheikah Slate to her waist. “Stop shooting!”

She climbed down slowly, carefully, as the Guardian came back to life. Paya still had the bow drawn taut, kept it trained on the Guardian’s face just in case, but Zelda walked over to her slowly, hoping that the leisure of her pace would communicate how little there was to fear. Maybe it did, but that hardly mattered; even when Zelda was standing right next to her, wiping the sweat from her own brow, the tension never left Paya’s body. She was in another place, a place that Zelda did not or could not know, where the only thing that mattered was the fulfillment of duty, the only sensation was of the bite of the string against her fingers.

The Guardian rose, its eye blinking into blue life with a low hum. Paya tracked it precisely but would not fire; the targeting system on the Guardians were enough of an early warning sign that, so long as they stayed in front of it, it couldn’t be too much of a danger to them.

Its great eye turned to them, and the aperture behind its lens shifted and contracted as it focused on them. The moment stretched out, and Zelda could hear things as clearly as words spoken: the shifting of the motors that drove the Guardian’s legs, the servomechanisms constantly adjusting its balance to keep it upright, the gentle creak of the bow as Paya pulled it even tighter. She could feel the quiet beneath the noises. The sun was very warm, out on the field.

The Guardian turned away from them and stepped slowly but surely back toward its previous path, light shining out of the hole they had made in its armor. Its steps were heavier than she had thought, she could feel it in the ground as it moved, and as it scanned the horizon she thought that perhaps it would return to its original purpose. Probably it would keep to its prior patrol path, but she also thought that perhaps it would see manifestations of the Malice—keese, bokoblins, even other Guardians—and act on them in ways that would surprise its targets. She wondered if, without its components being degraded and insulated by the powers of the Calamity, its targeting systems might return to their original efficacy. She hoped so.

When it was out of range of her arrow, Paya slowly lowered the bow and released the tension she had kept it under. Her arms were shaking from the strain of holding it taut for so long, but she didn’t seem aware of it; she looked at the retreating Guardian and her eyes were wide and wondering. Zelda thought, perhaps, that Paya had seen that same look on her face.

“What happened?” Paya said.

“I think… I think something important. Let’s go. I have things I want to ask Purah, and to show her.”

She took Paya’s arm, and the two of them disappeared in rising strings of light.

Chapter Text

“You managed to get what?!” The last word was at a register so high it made the windows quiver, and Zelda felt it like a knife shoved into her eardrum.

“Yes, well, you can see them for yourself if you like, and—” Purah snatched the Sheikah Slate out of her hands with such force it was a small wonder that her fingers didn’t go with it, the girl’s strength and insistence far exceeding the apparent limits of her frame. By the time she realized the slate was gone Purah had already dashed away, hoisting herself up onto the chair next to the table and laying the slate flat. She waved Symin over, and after Zelda and Paya exchanged glances the two of them cautiously joined the researchers.

The ease and speed with which Purah shifted through the different functions of the slate easily surpassed her own, leaving her somewhere between impressed and terrified as the tiny hands swept across the different segments of the photographic album she’d been building. Plant plant plant monster weapon plant, and then an image of a great deal of complicated machinery covered in luminescent ichor and smoke. Symin leaned in closer, adjusted his glasses, and let out a low whistle.

“Fascinating. The corruption is dispersed when the Guardians cease to function, though the Bloody Earth is capable of restoring them unless the core loses its Malice. I’ve never seen the like before.”

“Neither have I,” Purah said, leaning in close and adjusting her own glasses with a gesture identical to Symin’s. Zelda thought that she must have picked it up from him, then belatedly realized that it was probably the other way around. “How did you manage to get a look inside of it while it was functional?”

“Paya and I overloaded its optic sensor while sawing through the armor on the opposite side.”

Purah looked up, her face very close to Zelda’s and her expression disbelieving. “You looped a Guardian’s reboot sequence? Long enough to do this?” Zelda only nodded, and Purah blinked at her before looking to Paya, who must have nodded in the affirmative because Purah then sighed through her nose. “Remind me not to get into a fight with the two of you.” She flipped through multiple pictures, then flipped back, stopping to analyze each shot at different angles. “I wish I had been there. Seeing it for myself would have been worth more than all the research we’ve put into the Guardians since I moved to Hateno. See, Symin, where the servomechanisms are in different positions?”

“I believe that’s where they were positioned before we forced the reboot sequence.” Purah didn’t look up this time, but her nod was satisfying. “We did not fight it on perfectly even terrain.”

“Hm. That means that certain mechanisms don’t actually have a default position and have to be adjusted back to neutral when it’s finished with the reboot, which is probably why they’re so slow to get up when you force the cycle.” She flipped to the first picture that Zelda had taken of the interior of the Guardian after the Malice had been expelled.

The silence stretched out for perhaps five seconds, but the sudden pressure in the room during those five seconds threatened to blow the doors off the hinges. Symin’s expression was wild as he looked from the picture to Purah to Zelda and back again, his bulging eyes nearly pressing up against the inside of his spectacles. Purah was in that strange country between holding perfectly still and her entire body beginning to vibrate like a tuning fork.

Purah flipped back, checked the previous picture, tapped on the Malice, especially the Malice in the core. Then she returned to the post-cleansing picture and tapped on the clean core. The tap was loud in the quiet of the room, invested with a kind of subtle violence, and when she looked at Zelda her expression was wholly unreadable. “What did you do. No. How did you do this. I want you to tell me every detail of how you did this.”

The force of Purah’s regard was like a physical blow, and Zelda looked back to Paya for reassurance—only to discover that she had backed up a full four feet at the look in Purah’s eyes. Well. At least it wasn’t just her, then. She turned back to the woman in a child’s body, steeled herself, and told her. All of it, the power that rested in that place inside her thoughts, the way that she intuited the relationship between her power and the energy that drove the Guardians, the tiny amount that she had gathered up because the Calamity could sense it above a certain threshold, the method by which she had implanted it into the core, the way it felt as if the light had insulated her from the Malice.

“…and after I let go, the goddess’s power flowed through the same channels as the Malice had before, burning all of it cleanly away. You can see here,” and she reached past Purah, pointing at the accumulated grime on the interior of the armor and certain components, “that it did not clear out all of the Malice. But I sensed that the core was the control unit for every other function the Guardian had and thought that if I injected power into it then the rest would take care of itself, in time. The active part of the Malice was located inside of it, so unless I’m wrong then it shouldn’t be able to—”

Purah’s hand rested on hers, and though her grip was very light (and her hands too weak to hurt even if she tried) the tension in her forearm was nearly total. Purah did not look at her; both of them kept looking at the screen. “What happened after that.”

“After that, we stopped forcing the reboot sequence, and waited to see if its behavior would change.” She removed Purah’s hand, very gently, before straightening. “Paya stayed prepared to put an arrow through its optic sensor, since we were confident that its targeting system would give us time to react if it was still hostile, but… it wasn’t.” Now she grinned, because Symin’s jaw had fallen open and Purah looked like she was about to explode. “It focused on us, seemed to dismiss us as non-threats, and then returned to the same route it had been patrolling before.” Realizing that she really should have stayed to observe the effects, she coughed self-consciously into her own fist. “I theorized that, without the Malice acting as an insulator for some of its systems, it might be able to utilize its weapon systems more effectively than before, and might level them against monsters in the area, but… we didn’t have time to try to observe them. I thought you would want to know right away.” I wanted to tell you what we’d managed to do and was so excited I forgot to follow up on it.

Purah switched off the Sheikah Slate’s screen and held it out to her, her expression carefully blank as Zelda took the tool back. Then she hopped down from the chair, walked calmly to one of the workbenches that sat in the corners of the laboratory, and began to pack a rucksack with measuring instruments that Zelda did not recognize. “You’ll take me to another Guardian and show me how you did it. I will observe and try to give a more complete explanation of what’s happening.”

Zelda winced, thinking of the Guardians that patrolled the areas near to that one, and how little she knew about the routes they took and the overlap between them. “I think if we want to do that then we would need to find an isolated Guardian that’s still able to move on its own, and I don’t know where any of those are.”

“I don’t either, but Impa does. She’s been keeping tabs on every Guardian and its movements since the Calamity, so she’ll be able to tell us where to go.” Her body language was shifting as she spoke, and the urgency of her packing began to kick up, too. There was a light in her eyes, a manic energy that spoke to a hunger that Zelda recognized. There was a kinship between them, nearly as intimate as it was unnerving.

“Auntie Purah,” Paya said, and Purah didn’t look up, “you want to go see Grandmother? I mean… now?”

Now Purah stopped, set her rucksack down, looked at Paya, and planted both of her fists on her hips. Zelda could almost see the gears shifting in Purah’s brain as her excitement and hunger fed into her authority, as she plotted out the best course of action to get what she wanted. In her prime, Purah must have been formidable indeed; actually, no, she was formidable now. “Of course I don’t, but it doesn’t matter! This discovery is bigger than some petty familial embarrassment! If my little sister wants to make a scene about how surprising this is, then she’ll just have to make a scene! And where do you think you’re going?” She wheeled on Symin, who during the commotion had started to pack his own gear.

“With you,” he said, then realized the tone she had used and glared at her. “I am going with you. You think you can leave me behind when you’re going to be working on live Guardians? Repairing them? Restoring them to their original functionality and observing how they operate without the influence of the Malice? You could cut my arms and legs off and I’d drag myself behind you with my teeth!”

Purah made an exasperated sound, rolling her eyes and pushing her glasses up. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not being ridiculous! You said yourself, this could be the most important discovery of our lives!”

“I need you here, Symin! I need you monitoring the lab and making sure that these experiments don’t explode!” She put up one hand in a warding gesture to cut off his reply. “No, I understand, so I’ll make you a deal, all right? You stay here while I go out and gather this intel, and I’ll try to use what I’ve learned to see if I can engineer some way for us to override the effects of the Malice. I’m going to make a rune for it, if at all possible, a way for us to control Guardians. If I do, then I’ll let you test it. Understand? I’ll build you your own Guardian, and you’ll get to control it as much as you like!”

The negotiation could have gone on for much longer: they didn’t know if the Sheikah Slate could transport three people, didn’t know if they could find another Guardian in similar condition, and the expedition would be enormously more dangerous for someone with the body of a six-year-old. The arguments practically wrote themselves.

But the look in Symin’s eye was hungry, too, and at Purah’s offer he licked his lips, and Zelda knew he’d been defeated.

In contrast to her sister, Impa’s hand moved slowly and deliberately over the face of the Sheikah Slate. That she understood what she was seeing was beyond question, but Zelda wondered at how little excitement the photographs engendered. The elder nodded at images of the Guardian’s interior infested with Malice, then nodded again at the images of the same Guardian cleansed of Ganon’s power. She gave no other sign that she was looking at anything important.

Zelda, Paya, and Purah were standing in the main hall of Impa’s manor, Zelda at the center of the group with Paya on her right and Purah on her left. Purah was fidgeting ceaselessly, every passing moment seeing both the rise and fall of what Zelda expected were identical anxieties. She had not spoken yet, leaving all the talking to Zelda, and that as much as anything else spoke to how nervous she was about this meeting; Impa had not addressed Purah, either. Paya, for her part, was trying very hard not to let her attention dart between her great aunt and grandmother, and she was mostly succeeding.

Finally, Impa looked up from the screen. “With the goddess’s power you were able to free the Guardian from the Calamity’s control. A mighty work, indeed.” Zelda nodded and Impa returned to the images, lost in thought. “Why did you need to open the back of it?”

That question struck Zelda by surprise; what did she mean, why? The fact that she even bothered to ask, when the answer was so obvious, made her wonder if it was a trick question. But, no, if it was then she didn’t understand the trick, so it was better to answer honestly. “So that I could observe the Malice and the inner workings of the Guardian. Opening the armor also allowed me to reach in and place the light within the Guardian’s core, though that wasn’t our intent at first.”

“Hm.” Impa’s expression shifted, very subtly, into something that Zelda might have construed for amusement in anyone else. “Princess, where is the power of the goddess?”

Another trick question? “Inside of me.” Her tone betrayed her irritation; let it, then.

Now Impa raised her eyebrows. “Inside of you, you say. Where, inside of you, does the strength of Hylia rest? Is it in your chest? Your stomach? Your skull?” She gestured at her own diaphragm. “If we performed surgery, would we find the organ of Hylia next to your appendix?” She shook her head, sending the ornamentation on her hat swinging slowly back and forth. “I am speaking nonsense; that you think so is plain. Still, this is a point I want to make to you here, now: the power of the goddess is not limited to the space occupied by your body.” She hopped down off of her cushions, making her way across the room to stand in front of Zelda, looking up at her with eyes rimmed in wrinkles but still bright and dangerous. “Draw upon your power. You don’t have to show it to me, just draw on it, the smallest amount you can.”

In part she wanted to resist this request, to push back against Impa’s suppositions, but something about what the sheikah elder was saying tickled at the back of her thoughts, teased at half-remembered possibilities. As she receded into her own thoughts, reaching down within herself into that quiet darkness seeking light, an image became frighteningly sharp: two of the women within her, herself and the Princess, wanted to reject what Impa was saying because they could not intuit it. The third one, the older one who knew the face of the goddess and the touch of her power, was reaching out to grasp hold of her awareness.

She did not shrink away. She brushed only barely against the molten gold of Hylia’s strength, not actively taking any except for that which clung to her of its own accord. It was an amount so tiny, so miniscule, that she doubted it would be enough to light a candle. But… no, that is not true. Even this one mote of light could brighten the world.

She opened her eyes and looked down at Impa. From what she could tell the world around her had not changed, and there was no golden light save for the miniscule bit that she held in her… thoughts? She had not thought of it before this moment. Where was it? Behind her eyes, in her skull, as she had imagined it many times before? In her physical heart? In some secret organ of the gods, as Impa had joked? She didn’t understand and was thrilled by her own ignorance. She nodded to Impa.

“Good. Now, take that fraction and give it to Paya, just as you gave a fraction to the Guardian.”

That, now, that was… could she do that? Did it even make sense? There was a certain parallel between placing her power into the core of the Guardian and passing it to another person, but could she? The Guardians were already conduits for a power attuned to or derived from Hylia’s; a human body was not. At least, that was what she had assumed. Yet I am.

Paya’s face was crimson as the two of them shared a look, and with an effort that must have been one of the greatest in her entire life Paya extended her hand for Zelda to grasp hold of it.

“Not with your hand,” Impa said, and both girls looked at her, Zelda’s surprise shifting over into bewilderment. “Just give it to her, without using bodily contact. The idea that you must perform some physical act to impart your power in another place or another body is a relic of your own physical existence. Zelda, as your memory returns to you you will understand this better, but for the work you are intending to do it would behoove you to understand that the power you wield is not physical, or at least not wholly. It exists first and foremost on a spiritual plane that is parallel to the physical one we inhabit; distance, material barriers, the concrete, are shackles placed on your power by your perception of them as immutable. In many ways you are right, and your understanding of the world is useful in helping you move through it, understand it, and master it; but in others you are wrong, because while we in this room are mostly limited by the reality of our bodies, you are not. We are out of your arm’s reach, but nothing is beyond the reach of your powers so long as you realize it. Do not reach for Paya with your hand; reach for her with the power. Go on. Try.”

To use the power was not as simple as attempting to tense a muscle; she could not flex her temples and improve her own efficacy. It was a natural thing, in many ways unconscious, like the beating of her own heart. How could one make an unconscious action into a conscious one? She didn’t know; she had no frame of reference by which to understand what she was trying to do, much less how to do it. It didn’t even make sense.

But, no. It did make sense. She had her frame of reference. She closed her eyes.

Do not think that Zelda was not afraid; this fear was with her, had been with her from the beginning, and would continue to build inside of her until it was all that was left, if she let it. Retreating inside of herself, into the space where she carried the goddess’s power, was brushing up against ancient knowledge that she would have yearned for if it did not terrify her so badly. She was concerned with the concrete world that Impa said she should be reaching beyond, and the concrete world and its concerns called her back, back to the stability and simplicity of her feet planted on wooden flooring, of a belief that the world was mutable but understandable.

This is larger than that. This is larger than everything that I care about. It is larger than me.

That she had no frame of reference was a lie she told to protect herself; she had one. The memory of the goddess-power stirred inside of her, waiting to grow, its awareness dull and murky like a newborn. She took hold of it, of herself, wondered briefly what she was giving up by doing this. Perhaps it did not matter.

The goddess-knowledge was a fragile thing, shaky inside of her own thoughts, and as she tried to wrap her awareness around it she could feel the supports of her mind immediately trying to crush it down, make it fit a framework that she was more familiar and comfortable with. The knowledge bent and twisted in the grip of her concrete thoughts, and it was with incredible effort that she was able to push her assumptions away from it, to clear a space in her mind where it could sit, and grow, and reach out.

The world shifted, and she had to fight the urge to gasp.

Impa was in front of her, a person whose countenance was like flame, steady and calm and… she did not have the words to try to translate it into a physical likeness, the experience of this knowledge was so forceful that it shoved her physical awareness and her concrete mind away from it. Impa was, and she could feel the flow of the old woman’s thoughts, her experiences, the pain in her back that she alleviated very slightly by pressing her fist against her spine, the expectation she had that this would work, was working, some part of Zelda’s physical body must have betrayed what she was doing because now Impa’s expectation flared like a flame fed oil. Purah was on the other side, watching her, a storm of observation and skepticism and grasping with the concepts that were being paraded in front of her like a new theory of the workings of the universe. She saw here a new potential understanding, new opportunities to measure herself and the progress her people had made and hidden away, but she felt awe, too, real awe of Zelda as she stood next to her. Zelda did not want to feel that awe, but it was plainer than if Purah had shouted it.

Paya was there, cool and burning and expectant and frightened and there were shades to her that struck Zelda full in the face, confronting her with reality for what assuredly was but should not have been the first time.

Paya was infatuated with her, aflame with the passion of it, so intensely that it formed the tree around which so many other conflicting perspectives and motivations twisted themselves like ivy. She wanted to serve, and to be useful, and good, and not to reach beyond herself or her place or to drag Zelda down or bring a terrible end to the quest that they were on together. She stood on the precipice of a self-denial so enormous that this flame would go out and become something else entirely. And Zelda could not help her; not as she was, not with what the world needed of her.

Oh, Paya… Her awareness quaked as her rational mind tried to assert itself, and she shunted it back.

The idea of pretending to distance was farcical; Zelda reached out, not with her hand but with that deeper and more essential part of herself, and brushed against Paya in that realm where spirits walked. The barest touch, lighter than a breeze, and with it she passed the power on.

Paya gasped next to her, and the sound was so sharp in her ear that her physical mind, her frightened awareness that she had spent so long thinking of as her real self, slammed back into primacy. The goddess-awareness was shunted away in a flash and she found herself recoiling from it, whipping from acceptance to terror with such shock that she experienced a moment of vertigo that was more than physical. She should not be that afraid of herself. She could not show that she was.

Instead she was steady as she looked at Paya, and her voice was calmer and more even than she thought it could have been. “Did it work?” The act of asking was, itself, a kind of lie.

“I, I think so,” Paya said, and she looked at her hands and hopped back and forth from foot to foot. “I felt something like a spark in my mind, or… or somewhere, and then it… I don’t know how to describe it, but I think it worked. I feel light.” And she sounded light, too, as if she’d been given some secret thing of enormous import and intimacy. Zelda wondered if Impa had done that on purpose and if she had a better read of her granddaughter than Zelda did.

Impa nodded her head as Purah took a notebook and pen and began to write furiously. “It is as I thought. And how are you feeling, Zelda?”

“Drained,” she said, and that was the easiest truth she had ever told. “It was an effort, though not a physical one. It felt as if my physical awareness was fighting against me the entire time, and at the first external stimulus it asserted control and snapped me back.”

Again, Impa nodded. “That will fade, as your awareness grows. But now you know, definitely, that you do not need to carve up a Guardian to use your power on it. Your physical awareness will be less of a tether as your power grows; by the end, I should hope you will return to your prior state.” Satisfied, she turned away, walked her slow walk back to her stacked cushions, and Paya was next to her as if summoned, helping her settle again.

“Impa,” she said, “how do you know so much about this? You shouldn’t. Based on the memories I’ve recovered, I had no one to teach me about the power, or how it worked, or how to access it. Why would you be better equipped to explore and define it than I was, even with a hundred years’ time?”

Impa smiled and shook her head as Paya backed away from her. “I would not, except that you were gracious enough to describe it to me. I traveled with you, very briefly, in those final days, and you passed some modicum of knowledge to me. Your family has been guarding that power, matrilineally, since Ganon was sealed away ten thousand years ago, and for just as long it has been kept secret from everyone except for the next woman to inherit it. You decided that was not wise, and that at least one other person should know.” She gestured with her hand, to the sheikah slate. “It was part of a greater plan you had, for when Ganon suffered its defeated. You would have seen knowledge recovered, spread, and put to greater purpose for the people. You told me enough for me to reason out certain principles, and I have held them to my heart in hopes of meeting you again. I tell these things to you now, when we are not alone, because I mean to pass the secret on too. As you commanded.” She inclined her head, though she could not do so very far from her seated position. “Forgive me for not consulting with you. I hope that you will continue to educate Paya, so that she may also bear the knowledge when I am no longer able.”

No one said anything; who could? Purah scribbled furiously, lost in her own world, still ignored.

“But that is not the reason you’re here,” Impa said. “If you’ve come to me with news of what you’ve done, then you, being who you have always been, will want to repeat your feat to better understand it. You don’t know where the Guardians are, but my agents have been keeping track of them for years. The nearest mobile Guardian that wanders alone is to the north of the village, in the Lanayru Wetlands. Its circuit usually keeps it close to Bannan Island.”

She had seen the wetlands, standing at the ridge just behind the shrine overlooking the village. “Is that the same wetlands where the shrine is resting?” Impa nodded, and Zelda felt a surge, a thrill of possibility and purpose. If she could do this without having to open a Guardian, without even having to touch them, then… the possibilities were endless.

“I don’t know if I like this,” Purah said, the first words she’d spoken since coming to Kakariko. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. I know you need to do it. It’s more important to get your abilities working than it is for me to understand how to restore the Guardians. Still, it won’t be as effective for my research.”

A good point; given that, perhaps it would be best to take Purah back. But then, no, that thought sat poorly with her. “If I can pass some part of my power on to you, then I may be able to expand your awareness enough that you can get a sense of what is happening inside of the Guardian, not far removed from my own understanding. Would that suffice?”

Purah nodded, a slow and calm and controlled motion completely at odds with the shock in her eyes. To be able to see the world as the goddess saw it was the greatest gift that Zelda could have offered her, and that it was possible was something she would remember in the future.

“Will you be able to reach the shrine in a reasonable amount of time? If you like, I can have your horses retrieved for you.”

“Thank you, Impa, but I do not think that will be necessary. Purah built a second paraglider for us and has one of her own; it will probably be quickest for us to approach from the air.”

Impa nodded, and the nod became another stiff bow. “Excellent. I will wait for news of your success.”

Paya bowed deeply to her grandmother, and Zelda did a quick check of her tunic to make sure that all of her notes and note-taking supplies were where she expected them to be. Purah approached Impa’s seat, looking up at her younger (so to speak, Zelda supposed) sister, and her tiny hands were balled into fists. Impa looked down at her, expression impassive, though there was some hidden meaning there that Zelda was sure would be impossible to parse except for sisters who had known each other for more than a century. Impa did not speak, looking down at Purah; she waited, though not for long.

“Why haven’t you said anything yet?!” Purah’s words were an explosion, and Zelda actually recoiled at the tone. “I know you have to know what’s going on, and you must have questions! Why haven’t you asked them? I’ve been standing here stewing in my own anxiety for ten minutes, waiting for you to say anything, so out with it! I’ve had more than enough of your practiced nonchalance!”

“I have said nothing because nothing needs saying.” Slowly Impa leaned forward, her face looming closer to her sister’s as she spoke. “What we have to discuss between each other, concerning your state of being and how you arrived at it, is not for the ears of children. When we talk, it will be between the two of us, and we will speak at length. Do you not agree this is wise, honored elder sister?” Their faces were nearly touching now, and so much of her expression had not changed but now Impa’s eyes were wide and wild-looking, easily as intense and more compared to Purah’s learning of the Guardians.

Purah swallowed, and the sound was loud in the quiet of the room. “Yes. Yes, I think that will be best, honored younger sister.” She stepped back, and bowed, and Impa inclined her head in return.

Zelda and Purah left the manor. Paya, who had been hiding outside and peeking around the threshold for the past twenty seconds, closed the door behind them.

The three were huddled behind a rocky hill on the eastern side of Bannan Island, setting up supplies as the Guardian quietly but steadily continued its circular march just on the other side. The patrol range of this Guardian was probably the shortest that Zelda had seen in her travels, which suggested that something might have been wrong with its navigation controllers. Purah was of the opinion that it was probably degradation in the programming that defined where it should be patrolling, but Zelda only knew this from reading over her shoulder as she jotted down notes.

Guardians could detect voices, though the distance and volume necessarily varied from machine to machine, so they were silent out of what Purah thought was an abundance of caution but Zelda and Paya agreed was only prudence. It was without words that they agreed on the course of action, that Paya climbed up high enough to get a vantage point on the Guardian, ready to shut it down if they were detected, that Purah sat next to Zelda as Zelda reached inside of herself.

Drawing upon her power to give to someone else the first time had required an expansion of her understanding of herself; the second time was easier, though not by a very great deal. She brushed against her power, taking nearly as much as she had used to cleanse the last Guardian. Purah was next to her, but she was only aware of her by the sound of her breathing, the quiet rustle of her clothing, the click of her nails touching her glasses frames. She tried to be aware of Purah in the same way she had been aware before, not as a body but as an essential presence, but she could not.

Do not be afraid, she scolded herself. Perspective will not harm you. It might change you, but if it does then you need the change it brings. You have to believe that. You don’t have any choice. She did not believe, but it didn’t matter. She opened herself to the goddess-awareness, which unfurled more eagerly than it had before, a flower seeking the sunlight of the outer world.

Oh, why was she ever afraid of this, always afraid of this? The world was around her, and she saw it with senses that made her eyes seem like crude instruments wrought by imperfect hands. The texture of Purah’s life next to her was almost wholly different from her state in Impa’s manor; she wondered, in the analytic part of her mind that dozed beneath the goddess-awareness, if a life was simply the reflection of a moment, like a mirror held up to the greater world around it. Maybe that was so. Because she had not done so before, she turned the fullness of her attention on herself, and what she saw sent a shockwave rippling through her thoughts.

She could see the three she had thought were simply metaphorical constructs, though the state of their being was not as she had imagined. The one her mortal mind insisted was herself, the person who had woken up in the chamber, occupied the same space as the woman of a hundred years ago who had fallen in love with the hero. Zelda was like a suspension of matter in fluid, and the individual elements of her swirled in her mind, pulsing with energy and life and insistence and she did not know if that meant they would become more perfectly aligned or if one would overpower the other. For some reason, that made her curious rather than afraid. There was so much more of the amnesiac than the woman from before. Would it be the same if she looked again after regaining more of her memory?

The goddess awareness was a more concrete thing seated deep inside of her, bright and burning, not integrated so perfectly with the rest of her, though it reached up tentatively to the other selves that swirled above. A golden tether reached out from it, anchoring it to the power of the goddess seated at the very core of her being, and to turn her attention on it was like looking directly into the sun, only there was no pain, no harsh glare. It was glorious; she had no other words for it, could feel that glory inside of her as surely as if she had engineered it. Perhaps I did.

She reached out to Purah, but instead of placing all that power directly into Purah’s thoughts she shaped it into a strand, anchoring one end of it in her celestial consciousness, forming a relay with the goddess’s power for which her own awareness was a node. She narrowed the connection, packing it more and more densely until it was a golden, shining thing nearly as brilliant as the heart of the power itself, and then she placed the end in Purah’s awareness, forming their minds into a single network.

Purah gasped beside her, but she held onto herself and did not lose hold of her awareness or the connection.

Purah’s thoughts slammed into hers with the force of experience and curiosity, and the insistence and order of them made her thoughts into words in that soundless space they shared.

“How are you doing this?” Purah asked in her not-voice.

“I’m using my mind as a kind of filter, so you can see some part of my awareness.”

Purah’s mind flashed through possibilities and meanings and consequences with a practiced alacrity; the speed of her thoughts was beyond what Zelda would have thought a person capable of. “You were exhausted by much less before. This may put you in danger.”

“I do not think so... But I am unsure, and you may be right. We will work quickly.”

She moved her awareness and Purah followed her, and the two of them observed the Guardian, not as a creature of armor and mechanisms but as a collection of energies and forces that intermingled and repelled and ate at each other. She could recognize the energies of its different systems interacting with its frame, how the hum of its capacitors had not degraded but the fine tuning of its targeting systems was out of sync with the rest of it. She could feel the Malice swirling inside of it, blocking and choking the brighter energies that should have been driving it so cleanly.

Purah’s awareness flitted ahead of hers, viewing the Guardian from multiple angles, and the inventor was giving off a low, wordless hum every time she looked from a new angle. Zelda could see from Purah’s perspective, felt the echoes of her thoughts if not the specifics, and felt her understanding of the Guardians expanding as Purah’s observations enriched them both.

Seconds had passed, less than seconds, but now she could feel the strain of the outside world pressing against her awareness. Oh, yes, this was quite a lot of effort, even if she wouldn’t feel it until she let go. Mindful of how quickly she needed to work she drew upon her power again, measuring it by feel. Her body was separated from the Guardian’s by distance and by stone, but that did not matter now; in the space between spaces she thrust with her strength, and the power of Hylia poured into the Guardian’s heart.

There was a flash, and she held on—not for herself but for Purah, who was observing all of these happenings with the same giddy insistence and wild adulation that one would have expected in a researcher given the freedom of being a child again. Purah’s understanding was less spiritual, more concrete, than the goddess-awareness insisted it should be, but she could feel the way Purah was analyzing particulate interactions between the Malice and Zelda’s power and knew that those might matter, too. She had to learn, learning was the most paramount of all things, and if she could learn from Purah then she would hold on for as long as possible.

The effort told, now, and the walls of her mind began to shake. She tried to shield Purah from the impact of it, but the echo of her effort reached across the tether and Purah’s attention turned back to her for an instant. For an instant after that Purah looked at the Guardian, as if taking a snapshot of it in her mind, and then called out across the quiet: “Let go!”

Zelda let go, and the physical world crashed back into place. The goddess-consciousness collapsed like liquid and her first-self slid easily into control. She looked up at an open sky that looked like rain. She would not be afraid of the change this time. She would not. She would not.

Purah staggered to her feet, plainly disoriented and not letting it delay her in the least. “Paya!”

Paya hissed through her teeth but stopped short of scolding her great aunt as she looked down from the top of the rock, eyes wide, and then glanced back and forth between the Guardian and Purah as if trying to decide which of them was more dangerous.

“Paya, stop that, it worked, and also I can’t stand up!” As if on cue Purah’s legs collapsed under her, and she braced herself against the rock with her hands. “It’s safe! Help me up so I can watch what’s going on!”

There was a moment where Zelda could nearly see as Paya’s duty pulled her in two directions: one in obedience toward her great aunt, one in keeping all of them safe. The moment passed, and Paya’s face was set with determination, and she leaped on top of the rock face. She drew her bow, nocked an arrow, and pulled the string back. She whistled, high and shrill, a sound that she’d probably been trained to use as a signal for other sheikah agents. The Guardian whipped its head toward the sound, focusing on her, and Zelda held her breath in spite of how sure she should have been.

Nothing happened. The Guardian turned away from Paya and continued on its patrol as if she wasn’t there.


“Y-yes, auntie!”

The purging of the Malice had restored some part of the Guardian’s functionality almost immediately; its patrol route expanded during the second circuit after its repair, and Purah scribbled notes furiously as it stalked toward the shrine. There were lizalfos in that area; Zelda had avoided them when activating the portal gate. She wondered if the Guardian was aware of them, or if it would only notice them if they moved.

As if answering her question its weapon discharged with an eruption of light and fire, and one of the lizalfos was blasted to ashes on the spot. The others rose with startled howls, turning to the Guardian in confusion, weapons raised. One of them was red, two were blue, and one was black—it was this last, the greatest threat, that the Guardian fired on next.

“Curious,” Purah said, not looking up. “It seems that the Malice was interfering with its targeting systems. That probably wasn’t Ganon’s intent, but it does give us advantages when trying to bring them down for repair.” More explosions roared in the distance, jets of water and soil leaping high every time the Guardian fired.

“Oh, I hope it will be all right!” Paya’s concern was so raw that Purah looked up from her notes and Zelda looked over, too. “See how they’re attacking it?”

It was true that the lizalfos were rallying, bone spears and three-pronged swords in hand, dashing quickly forward to get inside of its legs and attack its body directly. The Guardian’s response was surgical, though; it backpedaled faster than a horse could run, firing multiple blasts in its retreat, creating cover for itself as it did so. The lizalfos staggered as a group, and it blasted the black-scaled one again, incinerating it utterly. Its sword went sailing through the air, landing nearly a hundred feet away.

“I don’t think you need to worry about it,” Zelda said, resting one hand on Paya’s shoulder. “It was built to fight like this. It would take something as powerful as a hinox, or perhaps a lynel, to stand a real chance against it.” Watching the Guardian, though, which fought on her behalf, she thought she understood some small part of what Paya meant. “For what it’s worth, I hope it stays safe too. It’s just woken up, and it only seeks to protect us, so I hope it is able to do that without losing itself.”

“I can’t believe how sentimental you two are,” Purah said, nose once again buried in her notebook. She was barely paying attention to the world around her, except to occasionally glance up and observe some specific detail about the Guardian’s movements to record it. “It’s a machine built for this purpose. Even if it did end up getting into a fight it couldn’t win, wouldn’t that be the happiest thing for it, to fulfill its purpose so perfectly?”

“Hey, is that Guardian attacking those monsters?” the Zora standing behind them said.

The three of them shrieked in unison; as she shrieked Paya spun on one heel, body low, drew her short sword and swung it upward, stopping the blade less than an inch away from the Zora woman’s throat.

“WHOA! Whoa! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you! I most definitely didn’t mean to scare you!” Her hands were held up, fingers splayed, to show that she was unarmed. “I saw what was happening and came over to see!”

Before Zelda had caught her breath, much less spoken, Paya lowered her blade and put it away. Zelda stepped past her, hands folded in front of her with a practiced air of dignity that she could guess at the origin of, and nodded. “My apologies. Paya has been assigned to protect me and is very dutiful.” She inclined her head. “I am Zelda, and this is Paya and Purah. You’ve come upon us during an experiment; I apologize that we were so distracted that this happened.” I am also sorry that you saw fit to scare the daylights out of us, whether you admit it or not.

“My name is Tula. It is a pleasure to meet you.” She recovered her composure quickly and easily, as if Paya hadn’t been about to cut her throat. “An experiment? Does that mean that you did… that?” She inclined her head toward the Guardian in the distance, which had finished dispatching the lizalfos and was now scanning the area around the shrine to be sure it was clear.

“Indeed, that was us. We’re working on a system that can be used to reclaim the Guardians.” She didn’t need to know more than that; it was already probably too much.

“That’s incredible! I haven’t heard something that fantastic in almost a century! To think that you could… wow!” Tula stared at the Guardian for what seemed a long time, lost in thought, and then seemed to remember something as she looked back at Zelda again. “This might be a silly question, but… are you a Hylian?”

Chapter Text

Between Mercay Island and Boné Pond there was a place where bokoblins and lizalfos used to tread, bridges built of wood and bones from long-forgotten, titanic beasts. That small fortress was empty now, its sentries thrown into the water or blown out of it with concussive force, weapons left where they fell. A single bokoblin horn floated in the water, pulled along by a gentle current. It had been judged too unimportant to bother swimming for.

Past the fort, on the northeast bank of the pond, there stood a rocky hill that could have been a mountain except that no one had bothered to name it. Hastily constructed fortifications stood here, too, planks of wood meant to funnel intruders along particular paths before they had been blown into splinters, independent platforms constructed to give overlapping lines of sight that had not extended far enough to see the attacks that had made them collapse. Moblins and bokoblins had guarded that place, that path up the little hill that was not important enough to call a mountain. They were gone, now.

That emptiness wound its way up the path that spiraled up the hill; here a spot of matted grass where a cloaked lizalfos had lain in wait, there a scorch mark that marked where a bokoblin’s patrol came to a sudden end. Footprints were in ready supply, the narrow two-toed tread of the bokoblins in places obscured by the heavier tread of the moblins or the much wider phalangeal spread of lizalfos. These were the only sure sign that their owners had stood on that place, and the rain was quickly washing them away.

A careful observer might see a single pair of more human footprints, here and there; there would have been two pairs, but one of the walkers had a more practiced, subtle step than the other.

At the top of the hill stood one of the Sheikah towers, the rise of which had spurred the building of the little fort and the fortifications on the hill, the collection of guards and sentries that had manned both of them, and which had drawn the two women that had dismantled it all. Atop the Sheikah tower, not at all shielded from the rain that fell in a ceaseless torrent, Zelda and Paya took in the land below them, Zelda through the lens of the Sheikah Slate and Paya through the trained sharpness of her eye.

“Inogo Bridge is a reasonable place to wait for passerby,” Zelda said. “The road that leads to the West wends all the way to Akkala, and with the rain falling the way it is there’s almost no way in to Zora’s Domain except by crossing that bridge.”

“Unless you are a Zora,” Paya said.

“Yes, excepting that.” She wiped at her forehead, flicking away the water that was standing in her eyebrows and running down into her eyes. She would have preferred to swap out her stealth armor for her Hylian tunic and hood, which would do a much better job of keeping the rain off of her, but she’d been in the rain for hours now and it was too late to have an appreciable effect on her comfort. Paya was wearing an identical set of armor, which Zelda took as an indicator of how seriously she was treating this meeting and the journey leading up to it; the white-haired woman hadn’t even pulled down her mask during the climb. Zelda couldn’t imagine what kind of training and focus it took to resist that urge. “It’s a bit of a shame that Purah wanted to go back so quickly; I think she would have liked seeing a Sheikah tower up close.”

That struck Paya enough to pull her out of her vigil, and she looked at Zelda, quietly thoughtful. Then: “I think we would have been hard-pressed to get her to come along. She was very eager to share her findings with Symin and get back to work.” The question wasn’t spoken but Zelda could hear it hanging in the air between them, so she waited, filling the time by estimating the margin of error the two of them would have if they chose an aerial approach to the shrine that sat above the bridge. Paya was deeply curious, though not wholly used to asking questions which hadn’t been set up for her. As Zelda wondered if that was perhaps Impa’s fault, Paya finally asked, “What was it like, when you showed her what you were doing to the Guardian?”

It was a function of her own self-centeredness, Zelda supposed, that she had never thought how that experience must have been like for Paya. Anchored in the physical world, focused solely on protecting her charge and her great aunt, Paya had probably only drawn three or four breaths in the entire time it had taken Zelda and Purah to finish their tasks. When she had felt the need to test the Guardian’s reactions it wasn’t simply because she hadn’t been aware of what had happened, it was because she couldn’t be. Purah and Zelda had been occupying an almost completely different reality; sharing in it had been impossible for someone who wasn’t experiencing it directly.

“It is… difficult to put into words.” She shut off the Sheikah slate, hung it from her belt. “Do you remember how you said it felt when I gave you part of Hylia’s power? That you felt light, and aware of yourself?” Paya nodded, and Zelda breathed slowly, taking the moment’s pause to try to arrange her thoughts. “What I did for Purah was anchor her consciousness directly to mine. Not in fullness, she didn’t experience things in the same way I did, but she had a similar perspective. She sensed the world around her, the objects and people and the invisible energies coursing around us, as directly as you might feel sunlight on your skin. She could see the world and herself in … not the same way as Hylia would see those things, but very closely. Oh, I’m not saying this very well. Imagine that your eyes and your hands are like words written on a page, describing an actual event or a place. The way the world looks when you use the goddess’s power is as far removed from seeing with your eyes as seeing with your eyes is from words written on a page.”

The words were clumsy out of her mouth, she could feel her tripping over the ideas even as she tried to string them together, but Paya nodded. Her mask made it hard to read the set of her mouth, but her eyes told the story well enough: she grasped what Zelda was saying, in principle if not in fact. Then: “I wonder if there might be value in that lesser experience, still. To read words on a page… we can build a world for ourselves and invest in it grandeur and meaning that our eyes would be hard-pressed to perceive on their own.” With that, she turned back to her watch.

Zelda said nothing; there was nothing for her to say. Paya’s words had, in a way, sent her spinning; on their face there was nothing wrong with them, though they ran counter to her own experiences. There was a kind of profundity in the awareness of the goddess that was further removed from the experience of her senses than she could communicate with crude words, layers of understanding that unfurled in front of her in ways she hadn’t imagined before.

But then, couldn’t that speak to a deficiency in her thinking, rather than in her senses? Was she confusing breadth of awareness with profundity? Did it make sense that to see something with one’s own eyes was necessarily more meaningful than the act of thinking on it? Did Hylia’s awareness exist on the far end of a spectrum of meaning where one’s own thoughts were the least meaningful?

The question arrested her for longer than she would have liked to admit, and she said nothing for the rest of the time they spent deciding on their next course of action. They agreed on where to go next and leaped from the top of the tower, the rain beating a staccato rhythm against their paragliders.

Sidon, Prince of the Zora, son of Dorephan, brother to Mipha who was lost, stood with arms crossed at the top of the tower standing at one end of the Inogo Bridge. His guard here had been long, stretching out over the past several days, ever since he had sent out a few of his trusted contemporaries in a search for a suitable Hylian. Some Hylians had come by, of course, and he would never go so far as to say that they were not suitable to the task that he meant to ask of them, but each of them had either run away immediately upon his greeting them or else had opted not to hear the request he had for them.

Still! He would not give up hope; there was always plenty of hope to hold onto. He was sure that a Hylian would answer to his summons soon, as sure as he was in his compatriots, in himself, and in the essential righteousness of the world. That surety was essential in a prince, after all.

He never saw the two Hylians (they were assuredly not Zora, nor Gorons, nor Rito, none of whom would move through the storm in the same way these two did, and they were much too small to be Gerudo of traveling age) directly; they were silhouettes that were tracing spirals up the hill nearest to the bridge. He never would have seen them at all, save that they were thrown into brilliant relief by occasional eruptions of blue light and force, and the path they took up the hill was marked by the screams of monsters and the tell-tale puffs of smoke that marked the places where the monsters died. He was actually taken aback by the rapidity of their movement up the hill, and the relative quiet of it; if he had tried to make the same trek himself he could have bested the beasts, perhaps, but the methodical stealth of their ascent was something well beyond him. Most of the monsters never knew they were there; even the Yiga Clan were not purported to be so skilled.

Their ascent stopped at the base of the strange tower that had emerged from the top of the hill; or at least he thought it did, as he heard and saw nothing more of them. What a thrilling possibility presented by the sudden quiet! Were they making their way down on foot, now, on the same path they had taken before? Would they be taking a more direct path, skipping down rocky outcroppings that Zora legs would not be able to navigate? Would they come toward the bridge? Oh, he hoped they would: anyone who could fight so valorously and skillfully against the forces of the Calamity must be mighty indeed, exactly the sort of person who Zora’s Domain needed in this desperate hour! The idea of meeting them enraptured him, but he resolved to be patient: if he was patient, perhaps they would come to him. If they did not, he had a better idea about where to send people in the search for these strangers.

Given that they were Hylians, and not Rito, he was not watching the sky, and in the dark of the rain he would not have been able to see them clearly regardless. It would be cruel to blame him for not seeing them, but Sidon was, perhaps, slightly cruel in the standards he set for himself. Luckily, he did not have enough time to reflect on this.

Above him, near the shrine that had begun to glow only a few weeks back, he heard Torfeau cry out in alarm.

“What in the world? Torfeau!” He could not make himself heard over the rain, and she was too distant for him to reach in a hurry regardless, but he began thinking of the best way to try to scale the walls of the cliff to the shrine. Even slipping in the rain, he would reach her faster that way than by taking the long way around from the path to Akkala, and if something could make Torfeau cry out…

“I think that is probably my companion,” a soft, polite voice said behind him.

Sidon did not start, not he; he was not especially difficult to surprise, but to startle him would require much more than one person sneaking up on him! He turned with a practiced slowness, not trying to hide how inquisitive he was feeling. The words could have easily been a threat, but they were not spoken so; they were an explanation and an apology rolled into one, speaking to a very careful verbal schooling that would have been the envy of any dignitary he had ever met.

The Hylian before him was a woman, unless he was badly mistaken, and wore the combat garb of the Sheikah. She was not Sheikah herself, judging by the golden color of her hair and by her accent, but she seemed to have had some Sheikah training or else she wouldn’t have been able to get the drop on him. Her eyes were immediately arresting, clear and fierce and forceful in their regard, the eyes of a woman with a mission who would see it through to the end no matter the effort or personal cost! Instantly he saw in her the essential qualities most necessary in the person that he had been seeking, far more important even than the fact that he was sure she was one of the two that had wiped out those monsters, that she had already proven herself a warrior worthy of renown.

“Please forgive our rudeness,” she continued before he could reply. “My name is Zelda, and my companion, who will be joining us shortly, is Paya. We were told by a Zora named Tula that the prince, Sidon, was waiting at Inogo Bridge to speak to a Hylian. May I presume that you are he?”

That name, Zelda, struck him; he knew that name, though he could not have placed it precisely in the heat of this moment. He was full to bursting now, with excitement and surety and a sense of enormous well-being. Let her see it, then, let her get a full measure of him!

“Yes! I am Sidon, Prince of the Zora!” And see, how she did not even shrink back in a way that he could perceive when he flashed his teeth in a wide smile! “And you are Zelda, traveling with Paya—what good, fortuitous, slightly familiar names! It is my enormous pleasure to meet you! Yes, as you have heard, I am searching for a Hylian, and I am hoping that you will be the one that I was looking for. I must admit I’ve been watching you—I saw your scaling of the hill, the way you dispatched those monsters on the way up to the top! Such skill, and speed, and courage! Zelda, tell me truly: you are considered a mighty warrior among your people, yes?”

Was it modesty that gave her pause, or an analytical acuity that she was actually turning toward the question? She broke eye contact with him, ridding herself of the distraction of his face, staring at a point in the middle distance. He did not rush her, not daring to interrupt whatever process would inform the answer she might give, regardless of how long it took. The answer was not instant, and probably was not easy to formulate; so much the better! How much more genuine a considered thought might be!

“I am not considered one,” she said, “because so few know of me.” Her eyes turned to him again, and now they carried a challenge, a statement, and it struck him how alike Hylian and Zora expressions could be. “I can fight. If I am not mighty then I have other avenues for addressing challenges, an ability to confront problems that would bring the mighty to their knees.”

Sidon’s soul was like a fire; he had been told that since he was very young, and he had much liked the comparison. He was hot where his sister had been cool, could use his presence to fill a room that might otherwise feel empty, and he had been told that the force of his personality was such that it could overwhelm anyone he spoke to without him meaning for it to, a weakness in a dignitary but strength for a warrior. They called him indomitable.

That was not true, and he realized it in that moment. Hearing that woman speak, recognizing the truth of her belief if not the fact of her assertion, made him feel like he was brushing up against something much larger than himself, perhaps larger than the crown he would wear. This Zelda, standing at less than half his height, carrying what he now noticed were several weapons, gave off a sense of authority and power that was belied by her frame. What was it? He had an eye for potential, for personal quality, but he could not quite pinpoint what it was that made her so exceptional, save for something at the very core of him screaming that she was, and that she was exactly what his people needed.

The realization passed in the course of a moment, only as long as it took him to flinch back from her words and for his mouth to turn upward in a grin. Truly, he was the most fortunate of princes.

“Wonderful! This is most wonderful! I could never have imagined, or even prayed, to be so lucky as to meet someone like you! Zelda, will you travel to Zora’s Domain, the home of my people, and meet with me there? The Zora are in terrible need, and you may be the only one who can help them!”

Now her response was instant. “Yes. But as it happens, I would ask two things of you. These are not conditions,” she said, so quickly and so smoothly that the thought hadn’t had time to occur to him, “because if I am able then I will help you regardless. Consider these requests, made with no relation to what you have asked of me.” She held up one finger. “My first request is that whatever allowances or accommodations you make for me should also be extended to Paya. She is a great warrior, but I am asking you to extend these kindnesses to her because she is my companion.”

“Of course! I am more than happy to extend the friendship of the Zora to anyone who would help us, and their companions to boot!” He hoped the next request would be so easy.

“Thank you. The other matter is that I was actually going to try to reach Zora’s Domain regardless, though for my own purposes. Once the threat to your people has been addressed, I would be very grateful for whatever assistance you can render in helping me reach the Divine Beast Vah Ruta. I intend to see it restored to its original purpose.”

The words were like ice thrown on his back on a warm day, a shock so severe yet so harmless that the thrill of it made him laugh out loud as his brain crackled with new energy. Of course! Of course, that is what she would ask. Why wouldn’t it be, when she was already so suited? He did not try to hide his mirth, and to her credit she did not seem disturbed by it.

“Forgive me! Please, forgive me, that is not an unreasonable request, and I will do everything in my power to see that you are aided—not just by my hand, but by all Zora. You have my word! Ah, it is so good that you are the one who came to our aid, Zelda!” He pointed across the bridge. “Follow the road and it will lead you straight to Zora’s Domain; I have no doubt that you could reach it by other means, but this rain has made the surrounding cliffs almost impossible to scale. There are monsters along the path that can generate electricity, and the rain has made them more dangerous as well. Still, as easily as you handled the beasts that guarded the tower, I have absolute faith that you can reach Zora’s Domain with no problems!”

“Thank you,” she said, her expression so neutral that he supposed she must have agreed with him! “Will you be traveling with us?”

“Oh, no. I would like to, if only to see your work up close, but preparations must be made for your arrival! We Zora are strong enough swimmers to take the river upstream, even in this downpour, and I am the strongest swimmer among my people. With that in mind,” ah, but he was forgetful to the point of rudeness. He reached into a pouch at his belt, drawing out a small flask of potion. “Forgive me. This is only a small thing, a trinket, but please accept it as a token of my faith in you. Drinking it can provide Hylians with resistance to harm from electricity, I am told.” He held it out to her, and she took it with smooth grace, inclining her head in thanks. “Wonderful! Then I will see you at Zora’s Domain!”

The energy within him was building until it demanded an outlet and so he leaped backward off the tower, turning in the air, feeling the pull of gravity guiding him so that as he twisted he was always pointed in the right direction. He was breathless, weightless, for a long second before plunging into the water.

Prince Sidon was as good as his word: he slipped into the water with barely a splash, in spite of how enormous he was, and once he was submerged he was off like an arrow, cutting through the water without disturbing its surface. He was a red blur who passed out of sight almost immediately.

“What do you think of him?” Zelda asked.

“H-h-he’s very… boisterous.” Paya stepped out of the shadows of the bridge where she’d been watching from just out of Sidon’s line of sight. “H-he’s definitely the Zora prince, and I think we can trust him, based on the stories told about him.” By which she meant accounts of his deeds and attitudes that had been meticulously verified by Sheikah observation, Zelda guessed. “If he says he’s going to help us, then he intends to.”

“That is good to hear, then. Is he the reigning monarch?”

“No, that would be his father, King Dorephan. I don’t think that will be a problem, though; the King has been a friend to the Hyrulean Royal Family for a very long time, and he is supposed to be of generous heart. There shouldn’t be any conflict between Prince Sidon’s promises and what he can deliver.”

Zelda hadn’t imagined that it would be a problem; she could not have said why but she trusted Sidon almost instantly. Perhaps it was how open he was about seeking to help his own people. No, that was just what one would expect of any monarch who was worth keeping around; was it that he was willing to seek help outside of his people? Was she just responding to his acknowledgment of his own inability in the face of an obstacle he wasn’t prepared to overcome? If so, shouldn’t she be wary that perhaps he was simply more willing to throw away the lives of someone other than his own people? But no, if that were the case then probably he could have sought any of the other peoples of Hyrule. Whatever he needed must have been something only a Hylian was qualified for, for whatever reason.

She returned to the here and the now and turned to Paya, fairly sure that Sidon was no longer close enough to look at them without them knowing. “I heard someone scream when you landed. Was there trouble?”

Paya looked away, abashed. “I frightened one of the Zora guards, Torfeau. Neither of us hurt the other. She’s a very good fighter, though.” Zelda could not have guessed how Paya might have ascertained that; she had an image in her mind of the Zora lashing out with whatever weapon she had been carrying and Paya turning away what would have been a killing blow with her own weapon, or a shield, or even a forearm. More likely Paya had managed to talk her way out of it and had ascertained that Torfeau was very skilled based on the way she held her weapon, or some other metric that would have been utterly inscrutable to Zelda if she had been there. Now that she thought of that, she was lucky that Sidon had not responded violently to being surprised. She had not thought he would be so inclined, but guessing games were a losing proposition in the end. Well, it had turned out well enough. “I warned her that you would be coming, and… and what she would see before you arrived.” She held out the Sheikah Slate. “I activated the travel pad as you instructed. You should be able to teleport there.”

She took the slate, feeling its weight in her hand. That was good—she had worried that the device being registered to her had meant that Paya might not be able to use it, but it seemed to have worked regardless. “Thank you, Paya. As eager as Sidon was for us to travel to meet him, I think he can still wait long enough for me to progress through the shrine. I will be back as quickly as I can.”

She keyed her destination into the map and disappeared into strands of light.

In the depths of the shrine Zelda threw herself against a Guardian designed to test someone mightier than herself. It did not matter; through iron nerves and fleetness of foot and the careful application of explosives she triumphed, and when she rejoined Paya she was carrying a new sword and a new shield.

Their trip along the road to Zora’s Domain was not eventful, in the sense that such a thing could be uneventful; Paya carried a spear, while Zelda carried a sword and shield that did not conduct electricity. They moved quietly, soaked through and unmindful, the rain masking their footsteps as they drew up behind Lizalfos and Bokoblins. They were never spotted, save by keese, and keese did not raise alarms.

The new sword cut as well as the one she had carried before, its glowing blue blade as sharp as any steel one she had ever used. The shield was just as wondrous, a sort of circular emitter that formed a flat disc with no added weight—but of course she had no opportunity to test it.

The road was long, and wet, and quiet, and they spoke little. Divergent paths would split off occasionally, and the languid pace of their journey was punctuated by the quiet minutes Zelda spent walking these lonely trails to find disparate stone monuments that dotted the domain. They were not in perfect order, or else were meant to be viewed by peoples who did not need to walk along these paths, but every time Zelda found a new one she would stand before it for longer than its predecessors, recording the words she found and then standing in contemplation. Paya read, too, but if she recorded the words then it was only in memory, and far more time was spent considering Zelda’s expression.

The contents of the monuments—the history of Zora’s Domain, of the reservoir, of the ancient princess who had loved a swordsman, on and on—are known. To Zelda they were new things, windows into a past that she wondered if she had been educated on, perspectives on events that had occurred while she slept. She could feel the past there, history guided by the hand of the goddess, as firmly as if it were pressing against her chest and forcing the air from her lungs.

Eventually they came to a steep hill, on which a Moblin stood sentry; once past the Moblin, Zora’s Domain spread before them.

The bridge was a bridge between worlds, crossing an expanse of open air and water, bathed in glowing lights which never dimmed or needed fuel. To cross the bridge was to actively leave the world behind you, to step into the realm of the Zora as surely as crossing into a dream, another life entire. Rising above the city was an enormous fish or whale with its tail raised as if to fan at the sun, and the rest of the domain spread out beneath it like ripples in stacked pools of water. Artisans moved with practiced surety and a newborn urgency to maintain the integrity of the ancient edifices, wending their way up the twisting staircases that lead between different layers of the city. Children ran amuck, shrieking with children’s laughter as they raced to the higher levels of the domain and then rode down the channels of flowing water, leaping to solid ground only a level or two before the channels opened into free-flowing waterfalls that pooled in the massive lake above which the city was suspended.

As Paya and Zelda crossed the bridge the domain seemed to spread, an effect caused by their crossing of the walls erected against no threat save for architectural blandness.

“This feels like stepping into a pool,” Zelda said. “Isn’t it incredible, the way that it draws the eye in so many directions, how the feeling of water is conveyed through stone? The architecture is … it’s breath-taking. You could make a lifetime of study out of it!”

“Many of the Zora have.” Paya wasn’t watching the architecture; her eyes were ever forward, and above, and everywhere, taking in potential points of attack or egress, the tactical examination of a place being so ingrained that it was reflexive. “The domain exists as it does at least in part because of the quality of the minerals it’s built out of. The luminous stone glows at night, but it also has specific physical qualities that make it uniquely suited to building in this environment. Its use is why this bridge has such good footing, even in the rain.” As she said this she tilted her head, letting thin rivulets of water run more onto her right shoulder than the left. She had swapped into her more casual clothes at the far end of the bridge. “Though I don’t imagine they planned for this much.”

Zelda adjusted the hood of her tunic; she was soaked through, just as Paya was, and didn’t know if she would ever feel dry again, but it had been her suggestion that they change into less confrontational modes of dress. She did have her shirt that Impa had given to her, and it was both sturdy and suited to the occasion of meeting a prince, but she did not want to soil it just yet. The rain really was quite awful.

“I suspect that the needs of the Zora have more than a little to do with the rain.” She saw Paya nod out of the corner of her eye and exhaled in satisfaction. Paya was well-versed in the different cultures and peoples of Hyrule, though she had never traveled beyond Kakariko Village, and to have Paya agreeing with her felt like a validation of her own ability to read a situation. That was silly, maybe even petty, but it was also true and she would continue to draw pleasure from it.

They came to the end of the bridge, which terminated in a series of steps that rose up to a flat platform framed at one end by a gate. Walking up the stairs together, they drew the attention of the two Zora guards. Zelda looked at both of them, trying not to stare, realizing she did not have the knowledge necessary to distinguish between masculine and feminine presentation for the aquatic people. She thought perhaps they were both women, but sexual dimorphism was more pronounced among Hylians than any of the other peoples of Hyrule, and she clamped down hard on her instinctive need to assume anything about them.

“Hm?” One guard looked up, voice deep and, to Zelda’s ears, masculine. “Hold, travelers. What business do you have in—” He looked from Zelda to Paya and back again, his mouth slightly open.

The other guard looked over and said in a younger, higher voice, “Father? Err, Rivan?”

Rivan waved his free hand at her. “Wait, Dunma.” Now he was staring at Zelda alone, and Zelda could see the nerves that had suddenly taken him, the recognition in his eyes. Paya tensed next to her, and without checking she knew her companion’s eyes were focused on the crescent head of the Zora spear. “Forgive me, traveler. I know it is raining, and this is not a wholly reasonable request… but I also see that you are already soaked through beneath your hood. Would you pull it back for me, please?” This was not an order; it was a request that stood on the edge of fear of the taboo.

Knowing that she was changing things in ways she did not have the perspective to understand yet, she complied, reaching up and pulling her hood back. The rain fell directly on her hair again, including the meticulous braid that Paya had woven for her. He cannot know me, she thought, as he gasped out loud and fell to one knee.

“Your Grace,” he said, eyes locked on her—flitting away only for a moment to stare at his child, who promptly fell into a similar position. “Forgive me. It’s… it’s been a century. We thought… we all thought that you had…” He swallowed. “I see. Maybe… all of this makes sense now. Please go and speak to the king. His Majesty will wish to know you have arrived.”

“Do you know me?” She asked, because it seemed impossible that he should. Did they have portraits of her hanging up somewhere? Had the stories of her been passed down from grandparents to grandchildren, rendered so precisely that they would know her on sight? That she wasn’t some descendant of the princess from a hundred years ago?

“I have known you for more than a century, Your Grace. You have no reason to remember me, of course. I was just an urchin then, a childhood friend to the Hylian Champion, and I don’t think you ever actually looked at me during your visits here. I saw you, though, if only from a distance; the Hylian princess, so elevated that she could call the Zora princess by her first name. A number of us saw you when you came to ask our lady, Mipha, to be one of your champions, and again when you returned here in the company of Li—the Hylian champion.” That name, that practiced familiarity; there was something there beneath his words, an old pain and mourning that ran in more than one direction. “There is no one here who was alive then that will fail to remember you, Your Grace.”

Dunma was looking at her now, eyes wide and almost disbelieving, and the rain was falling heavily on the four of them. Paya’s nervous energy next to her had given way to something else. Shame?

“Please stand up,” she said. “Don’t kneel to me.” She had to give more than that; she could feel it here, the power of the crown, how the respect paid to her reflected the respect paid to the Zora royalty, and the Zora’s love for their royal family ran deep. She could not say that her kingdom was gone; it lived on in her person, she could already hear him say. Fine. Half the truth, then. “I am trying to travel in secret and would be better served by your discretion.”

Instantly Rivan stood, and after realizing the severity of his posture he visibly relaxed, with effort. Dunma followed suit. “Of course, Your Grace. If that is the case, please keep your hood up until you reach the throne room. I can’t guarantee you won’t be recognized,” and his expression said that in fact he expected she would be recognized almost immediately, “but you stand a better chance the less of you we can see.” He paused, visibly wrestled with something he wasn’t sure if he wanted to say, made his decision. “Avoid talking to any of the elders, if you can.”

“They are more likely to recognize me?” It made sense; those who were adults during her last visit (though how old would they be, now? How long did Zora live?) would probably have more distinct recollection of her.

“No, Your Grace.” He looked away, not to see anything in particular but because he could no longer meet her eyes. “There’s a… disagreement, among the Zora. Those of us who were young then, the contemporaries of our Princess, the ones who knew Link,” he failed to notice his slip, “we understand what happened during the Calamity. No one could have predicted that, much less stopped it. The elders, though, do not see it as we do.” He inclined his head to her; this seemed as much as he was willing to say.

“Thank you,” Zelda said, because no other words seemed appropriate (and none at all could be sufficient). She and Paya inclined their heads to Rivan and Dunma, and then she pulled her hood back up. They walked past the guards, down the short path to the gate that lead into the city proper, avoiding the gaze of the artisan who was attending to the stonework. She felt the weight of eyes on her, told herself that this was only paranoia and ego, knew on a deeper level that that wasn’t true.

They needed no direction; the layout of the domain was almost naturalistic, lines of importance flowing out from the mouth of the enormous fish that formed the crown of the city. If this was the Zora’s Domain, laid out like streams of water running over stones, then the source of that dominion must have been the abode of the king. Still, they did not start immediately; the beauty of the place, its insistent concrete wonder, anchored their feet and demanded that they give it more than a moment’s attention. They stood for what felt a very long time, the dark of the rain giving the luminous stone an eerie, otherworldly air that it shared with all of the stone around it. A statue stood at the center of the main plaza, depicting a Zora woman (this one she could tell instantly, though she was not sure why) standing in repose with a trident. The light reflecting off of its rain-slick surface gave it a quality very much like life, though that life was cold and hard and unmoving.

As they ascended the wide, gentle staircases that lead to the upper levels of the city, they passed by what seemed like a much older Zora. Zelda knew she was better served by not looking, and more so by not staring, but as they drew near to him Zelda saw that the old Zora was standing beside a bundle of shock arrows, set against a pillar so that their tips were held aloft. As she watched, the Zora touched the electrically-charged arrowheads with a visible and audible crackle of electricity. He winced, pulling his hand back in pain, hissing through his teeth. Then he repeated the process. Again. And again.

After perhaps the eighth time he had apparently had enough, waving his hand back and forth, muttering to himself as he stepped back—and then he noticed them, his head whipping around, sending his cranial fin bouncing. “What are you looking at? Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“Please excuse me,” she said, speaking out of reflex and realizing instantly that this was a mistake. “I did not mean to stare.”

The old Zora did not reply; she saw the flash of recognition in his eyes, the moment of disbelief, flitting through possibilities, doubting himself, deciding that he trusted his senses. Then, drawing on a well of feeling she did not understand, she saw rage flare to life in his eyes, icy and sharp.

You.” His arrows forgotten he turned toward her, his back straightening so that he reared up to his full height, towering over both of them. “You come back here, now, after everything you did?”

“You should step back.” He had started to step toward her; Paya was between them as suddenly as a thunderbolt, staring up at the Zora. She had no weapon in hand, but she would not need one.

His rage was no less severe as he turned his eyes on Paya, who he did not seem to recognize as a person. “Or what, shadow of the royal family? Will I be spirited away to the dark places beneath Kakariko Village, subjected to the tender attentions of their most loyal subjects? What do you think your people could take from me, assassin, that I have not lost ten times over? What pains could match?”

Paya did not make a sound, and she did not flinch; doubtless her face betrayed nothing. Zelda could only see her back, the very mild trembling in her hands.

The elder Zora looked at her again and his expression shifted still more, as if he was remembering something even more terrible than before, and what she saw in him then was grief, grief that had grown old and festered and never been allowed to heal. “You… you. You take her away from us, and after.” He balled one hand into a fist, held it against his head as if the pressure would preserve the wholeness of his thoughts. “After everything between them… he manages to protect you… but not her.”

Neither Paya nor Zelda moved; Zelda scarcely breathed. She did not understand. She did not want to.

All at once the Zora seemed to collapse in on himself, his stoop asserting itself against the rigidity of his spine, and he looked so tired as he turned away from them. “Go. Our prince is waiting for you, because he believes that there is something in you worth believing in. So many of them do, because they were children.” He reached out with his hand, touched his fingertip against a shock arrow, held it there as electric current arced over and around his flesh. It was a long, terrible second before he drew his hand away from it. “But some of us remember, oh Princess of Hyrule. Let the prince believe; in time he will learn as we have. The only thing that Hylians can do, when we need them, is fail.”

They did not stay longer; they left him there, nearly fleeing up the stairs, not daring to look back. Zelda pulled her hood closer around her head, willing the shadows to cling to her more tightly, disoriented by the intensity of the Zora’s pain and anger. What had she done? How could it have been so terrible that the wounds were still so raw a century after? Paya was shaking next to her, unable to speak, trying desperately not to cry; probably she had never been spoken to that way before. Without thinking, from inside of a haze, she reached out to Paya and rested a hand on her arm.

That touch was enough; the flood gates opened and both of them stood there on the stairs while Paya hid her face in her sleeves and wept as quietly as she was able. They could offer each other no solace, not there, not in that place; Zelda did not even understand what the Zora had said to Paya, only how it had wounded her. Seeing that pain on Paya’s face took her own shame and confusion and replaced it with a low heat, a rising anger that she hoped would better serve her in the hours to come. How dare that hateful man wound Paya, who had never hurt anyone, who probably did not have the capacity to hurt anyone.

Paya gathered rainwater in her hands and used it to rinse her face, which Zelda dried with the one handkerchief she had kept inside a waterproofed pocket of her tunic. They returned to the trek.

No one else accosted them on their way to the throne room. The breaching fish became so large that its shape lost meaning, and as they approached its mouth Zelda took note of the guards there. The two drew closer and the guards looked at them, curious, ready to stop them and question them.

She had neither the time nor the energy to speak to them. She pulled her hood down again, let them really see her, tried not to relish the shock in their eyes as they stepped hurriedly out of her way. She and Paya entered the throne room without another word.

The hall was massive, the ceiling a high-reaching arch that felt like it took up every ounce of space inside of the enormous fish, an impression almost like a cathedral. Outside of herself and Paya, only three people were present: an older Zora, bent-backed and green-skinned, whose head resembled a deep-sea ray and who regarded them with mistrust and irritation; Prince Sidon, whose face lit up like the sun as they entered, his smile a beautiful wall of knives; and what could have only been King Dorephan, a king of such prodigious size and obvious power that one might be forgiven for assuming him to be statuary. All of the Zora had small legs in relation to their torsos, compared to Hylians, but for the king the effect was most pronounced of all; his legs were like pillars, or small trees, but his body was that of a whale, his arms of such size and width that she instantly believed the story of him destroying a Guardian with his bare hands. His eyes were deep-set in his face but wide and bright as he looked down at them from his great height.

“Welcome, my friends!” The prince’s body language was all energy, all welcoming, all friendship and easy trust. “Thank you so much for coming, and for answering the call of our great need! My lord father, these are the people I told you about. My friends, this is my father, King Dorephan, lord and protector of the Zora.”

The king inclined his head to them; not given much to ceremony, then. Looking at Zelda, though, his eyes suddenly brightened, and she felt the impending sting of his recognition, wary of it, of him, after speaking to the old Zora with the arrows. There was no suspicion or anger in the king’s eyes, but there was disbelief, as if he were seeing a ghost.

“My eyes must be deceiving me,” he said, and his voice was as enormous as his frame, so that even when he spoke softly it filled the hall like a crowd of people. He leaned forward, resting his massive forearms against the supports of his throne. “Can that possibly be you? Have you returned to us, Princess Zelda?” He did not wait for his answer, breaking out into a wide grin not unlike his son’s, as Sidon and the older Zora both turned to look at her with identical expressions of shock. “For a hundred years I thought you lost to us after the Calamity, but here you are! And you have not changed at all, it…” He stopped, and she realized she had let her confusion show. “Something is wrong. Do not tell me you don’t remember me?”

“I’m afraid that I remember nothing,” she said. “Please forgive me, Your Majesty.”

Dorephan,” he said, his voice insistent thunder echoing off the ceiling. “I did not let your mother hold to ceremony with me, and I will not have you do so either.”

“Sorry… Dorephan,” she said. “When we suffered defeat at the hands of the calamity, I suffered a terrible injury. To recover from it, I was put into a sleep that has lasted until only a few weeks ago—and, as a side effect, I remember almost nothing of my previous life.”

Ha!” The derisive bark came from the side of the throne opposite Sidon, the hunched-over Zora who was regarding her with wide-set eyes full of contempt. “Are we supposed to just listen to this drivel? That she’s Zelda I do not deny—anyone with eyes can see her, unchanged, after a hundred years, looking exactly the way she did the day she took Princess Mipha away from us!”

“Muzu,” Dorephan said, a warning, not just for propriety.

“No, Your Majesty! I will not stand here and listen to this woman attempt to obviate responsibility for the tragedy that has befallen us! To listen to her in anything is an insult to your people and to the harms they have suffered due to her failures!”

The pressure in the room was too much, the force of the personalities in it like storms vying for position inside a terribly limited space. Sidon’s voice exploded, “Muzu, how dare you speak that way to your king and his guests! Do you presume that the hurt you have suffered—that we have all suffered—means that you may heap abuses on the people who would help us? Just as the Divine Beast Vah Ruta turns against us, Zelda returns—and if I’d known that she was the Zelda, I would have carried her and her companion here on my back! They are the salvation our people have been praying for!”

Muzu growled, seeing that he was fighting against tides mightier than himself, and threw his hands up. “This is foolishness, and I will not be part of it! Ask the princess for all the help you want, and I will pray instead that we do not suffer a repeat of the tragedy that befell us a century ago! Some of us will not forget!” And he stormed out, as much as he was able to.

Sidon made a start, as if to go after him, but King Dorephan raised a hand and the prince was still. The room was quiet for the breadth of seconds that it took for the king’s enormous diaphragm to expand and remained so for the length of his cavernous sigh.

“I am sorry, Princess. Muzu is speaking out of pain; he was Mipha’s personal tutor, and she was very dear to him. Many of the elders here loved Mipha fiercely, and for many of them that love made their wounds more terrible, more likely to fester. It’s given rise to something else.” He bowed his head in apology, a mountain moving to communicate its sorrows. “Please forgive him, and the others. I fear they will carry that pain until they die, and never stop punishing themselves for not keeping Mipha with them.”

How to speak to the numbness she felt? To have hurt someone without knowing that she did so, and then to be confronted with that hurt, blamed for it; to cycle through surprise, and shock, and anger, and then unspeakable shame. It was enough to leave her bereft of any feeling, numb to the touch of words and people and the gentle hand of a friend resting on her shoulder. It was as if she could no longer think, and did not wish to.

But something was alive inside of her, and it pulled apart the most obvious part of this. She looked to the king and the prince, and when she spoke her voice did not crack.

“What of you two, then? Surely your pain is no less sharp?” Surely your hatred is just as severe.

Father and son looked at each other, their eyes speaking the secret language that only family share, and then Sidon said slowly, gently: “I do miss my sister terribly, of course. I was only a very small child when I saw her last; I remember her as a presence rather than as a person, and it is only because of the statue in the plaza that I know her face at all. What I feel is very different from what the elders must carry.”

“And I,” Dorephan said, “miss her far more terribly than do any on the council of elders.” These words, said so simply, had all the weight of boulders rolling down a hill, promising to destroy anything that impeded them. “Seggin was her instructor in the spear and thought of her as the daughter he never had. I think his love for her, his devotion to her learning, was so pronounced that it affected his relationship with his son; that is how much he loved her.” A long pause, and the stone of his chair groaned beneath him as he dug his fingers into its arms. “But she is my daughter. It is impossible to explain the love a father has for his daughter, how it differs from his love for a son. Still more impossible to explain the pride of a monarch who sees in his child the future of his people, the boundless love each has for the other, and.”

He stopped, and did not continue, and Zelda found that she couldn’t keep her hands from shaking.

“Forgive me,” he said at last. “You mean to ask if I resent you, as the other elders do. I do not. I knew the stories of Ganon as well as any monarch, knew when Mipha agreed to pilot Vah Ruta that it might be the last thing she ever did. I pray every day for her release, but every day I am confronted with my own powerlessness to help her. The biggest different between me and the other elders, Princess, is this: I know that I am the one who failed.”

Time was a sticky haze that insisted on clinging to her; Sidon’s voice cut through it.

“Forgive us, Zelda. It has been a long day, and my father and I both need our rest.” That was not true; Sidon could have swum back to the place she had met him and then returned to this spot three times before needing to stop, but he was trying to be kind. “There is an inn on the main plaza, and I have made arrangements for both of you to rest there. We will meet tomorrow and discuss the problem of Divine Beast Vah Ruta.”

It did not register for her that the Divine Beast, the greatest example of ancient technology in the world, was the thing she had been summoned to address. She said her goodbyes, and so did Sidon and the king and Paya, and the two women walked out of the throne room together.

The inn was warm and dry, and the open walls let in the sound of the rain very clearly. Paya had been hearing it all day, but there was a pronounced difference when listening to it with the smell of hot food in the air and a clean bed waiting for you.

Zelda had been almost wholly listless since leaving the throne room, barely managing to mumble her way through introductions with the couple running the inn, so badly shaken that Paya had stepped in to finish laying out the particulars of what they would need. It was still early enough that they should be able to rise with the sun and be well-rested.

They were brought hot bowls of rich, thick soup, redolent with spices and chunks of hearty salmon. It was a meal to relish, but Paya found herself distracted by watching Zelda, praying she would not have to remind her to finish her food.

Do not think that Paya was unaffected by the events of the day: there was a section of her mind, carefully cordoned off for now, that was in shambles over the encounter with Seggin. Paya loathed violence on a philosophical level, wished terribly for a life that would not require it of her, but at the same time she had never been one to shy away from the history of her people. Seggin’s words were a knife taken to the tapestry of her composure, leaving it in tatters, precisely because it was true: the history of Hyrule was written in blood by the hands of the Sheikah, who had done terrible things for the royal family so that it could be denied. That Seggin knew that was not surprising—she recognized him because her grandmother had actually spoken of the Demon Sergeant before, recounting stories of seeing him on the battlefield in the days leading up to the Calamity, and he was known to look outward in service to his king—but that he would use that knowledge against her, as a weapon, was something she could not have imagined. She had never seen evidence of such things occurring in her lifetime; in her secret heart she pretended that all of the bloodier elements of her people had been exorcised when the Yiga Clan broke away from them. Pretending was all it was, though. There was a portion of her that was screaming, screaming as she returned the emptied bowls to the inn-keepers and thanked them for their hospitality, screaming at the bloodstains that were older than her flesh, more indelible than the color of her hair. It would not stop for some time.

So, she kept it locked away for as long as it would need to be quieted. She could come back to it later, when less was needed of her. She prepared for bed, made sure that Zelda was similarly prepared, and not a word passed between them. She prayed that morning would find the princess—because in Paya’s heart she was still the princess, as often as she would deny it—in better spirits, and readier to face the challenges of the day.

Zelda was asleep almost as soon as she lay down, her exhaustions both physical and emotional pulling her down into what was probably a dreamless oblivion. Good. That was a mercy.

Paya did not sleep yet; she did not need nearly as much as most people, and more than four hours would leave her feeling sluggish and sore in the spine. She would sit up for a while, partially to keep watch but mostly to organize her thoughts.

Her mind returned, over and over, to the thought of Purah and Zelda sharing perceptions for the study of the Guardian. To Purah and Zelda it had seemed a tool, but to her it sounded like a synthesis of consciousness, an act and state of being of such immense intimacy that it beggared her imagination to do more than gesture at it. Such a thing would be almost like becoming the other person, sharing with them and of them in ways that surpassed the physical or even the emotional. She had told Zelda that there was profundity to the less direct experience, and she believed that to be true, but she had also lied in saying it the way she did. She wanted nothing more than to see the world, and Zelda, and herself, in the way that Zelda could. To share sensation with her. To share being. The idea of it sat in her stomach like a ball of hot iron, pressing down, down, and she had to try to force it out of her mind. She could not compartmentalize so many insistent thoughts that effectively. She had to try to exorcise them, somehow.

She knew what had to do; no point in putting it off. She sat on the side of her bed, watching Zelda for long enough to be sure that she was asleep. People who were only pretending often gave subtle signs of it; when Zelda gave none, Paya retrieved her notebook from her pack and began to write. She would need to remove these pages when she presented her findings to her grandmother, but that was fine; she would rebind them later, arranging them with their fellows in proper sequence.

A good diary was worth the effort.

Chapter Text

Muzu had been standing beneath Mipha’s statue when Sidon passed him by, staring up at it with an expression that seemed unmoored in time. It was rare to see him so distraught that he would come out and look at her that way; only conflict with the king seemed to affect him so badly, now. In the decades Sidon had spent under Muzu’s tutelage he had learned the ins and outs of his instructor’s expressions, inscrutable as they might be to anyone else, and in that moment he knew it best to leave him alone.

Muzu was still standing there when Sidon returned in the morning. The sun was newly risen, completely obscured by the dark of the rain clouds above them, the only light on the statue coming from the place where the stone depiction of the Lightscale Trident pierced the surface of carefully sculpted water. He took his place next to Muzu, looking up at his sister’s face. She was so serene, rendered in unliving stone, so apart and above from the cares of the living world, infinitely patient, infinitely kind. The statue of Hylia still stood at the foot of the staircase that lead to the throne room, but in many ways his sister had become the patron god of his people, their hope and their grief.

“I am sorry,” Muzu said, and Sidon looked down at his teacher, who stared at Mipha rather than at him, “for raising my voice to you and your father.” He did not apologize for raising his voice to his king and crown prince; to apologize for impropriety was not in him. He had been ancient when Sidon was born, had taught King Dorephan in the days before he had ascended to the throne, and nobody was sure of his age anymore but estimates placed him at about five hundred summers; he had seen so many royals don the crown that they were all familiar to him, family to him. That he was allowed to behave that way spoke to how much the royal family loved him, in return.

“My father would never begrudge you your honesty,” Sidon said, looking up at the statue to match Muzu. “Nor would I. You have been essential to the health and balance of the realm for longer than any living Zora. Your loyalty is beyond reproach.”

“But not my fealty,” Muzu said. It could have been angry, even accusatory, but it was not; Sidon imagined that some extreme of exhaustion had allowed Muzu to look at himself in a way that the prince did not have the experience or the perspective to understand.

“If I ordered you to assist me, Muzu, I know that you would. Instantly, and without fail, you would! But I do not wish that for you, or for us, or for the Zora people. If I could, I would have each of us work together, single parts of a greater whole, and not because some of us have powers over the others. So, I want you to know this: you are wrong about Hylians. You are wrong about a very great deal. I fear the harm that may befall us if I cannot convince you of the righteousness of my plan and the people who seek to aid us.” He looked down at his teacher, and now his teacher looked up at him. “But convince you I will, because I believe in you as surely as I believe in myself. To order you, to insist that you are less than I am… it would wound me, and it would wound what we have between us. I would sooner die.”

Muzu blinked up at him, then cut his eyes away. He lowered his head; who could say what he was feeling, then? Shame? Affection? Sidon hoped for affection; if it were shame, then he had hurt his beloved teacher without meaning to.

“You are a good man,” Muzu said, as if to answer him. Good! Even with the criticism in that statement, even knowing what was coming after, Sidon was glad. “You are your sister’s brother, in every way. If kindness and goodness were the only things a kingdom required of its leader, then you would already be peerless.” Now he looked up again, his eyes sharp. “But they are not, and you are not. Not yet.”

He nodded, because he could think of nothing else to say to that. Who would imagine themselves an ideal king? Sidon knew of his father’s insecurities better than anyone, save only perhaps Muzu. To be a good king required constant self-doubt, self-examination…a measure by which to understand oneself. One needed an idol whose example one might always pursue. He had one.

“I wonder what she would have done, in my place,” Sidon said, and the statue loomed above them and Mipha’s expression was serene. “I wonder it all the time. Would she have concocted a more elegant solution to the problem of Vah Ruta? Would it have been within her power to tame the beast, even if she were not its Champion? I see you out here, and I think of my father who avoids this plaza because looking at her breaks his heart, and I think of the person he thinks she would be if she were with us, now. I wish that I could ask her what to do.”

It felt good to say. It was freeing, to make himself so vulnerable.

“Mipha…” Muzu considered his words, struggling with them. Speaking of her was hard for him, had gotten harder in the intervening century. “She was a wise child, had a wisdom that was more pronounced than experience. You have the charisma of a leader, and people will follow you and love you, but Mipha…” He shrugged. “She always saw clearly what her people needed, even when she was very small. Almost as soon as she could talk, she spoke truth to the crown. And to me.”

“She loved him, you know.” Muzu looked up at him, baffled, and Sidon realized that, a century on, his teacher had never allowed himself to think of Mipha as she really was. His heart broke for the royal tutor, but he pressed on. “The Hylian Champion. Link.”

The old Zora’s expression went flat, as if he’d just been slapped. Sidon could see the strength of the old man’s convictions easily bouncing this idea away from him, protecting a heart that could not bear the implications. “You can’t possibly know that, even if it were true.”

Sidon nodded. “Perhaps you are right. I remember a swordsman who spent a great deal of time with my sister, and I remember being angry at him, thinking he would take her away. I would be a fool to trust my memory of so long ago.” He let that sink in a moment, a concession to bring Muzu’s guard down as far as it would go. “It is not my memory you must trust: it is the king’s, and the work of Mipha’s own hand.” He turned away from the statue, toward Muzu, and set his hands on his waist. “You know the Zora Armor that she made, in which she embedded her own white scale. You never knew who it was for, but my father did; King Dorephan was very happy for her, and dearly wished to bring Link into our family. He wished for himself a son, and for me a brother, and most of all for my sister a husband. That armor was made to fit Link, and no one else, and my father has kept it all of these years on both of their behalves. When you speak to him again, I bid you ask him about it. He will tell you.”

Muzu’s expression was very much that of someone who was lost and did not know how they had come to be where they were. “But… she never…”

“She never told you,” Sidon said, and his voice was gentle even though he knew that no tone would cushion this blow, “because of this. Your prejudices were pronounced even before the Calamity, Muzu, and nobody was more familiar with them than my sister. She thought to marry Link after Ganon was defeated and show all of us how worthy he was to stand at her side. Seggin knew. Dento knew, and taught her to make the armor. My father knew. You did not, because she feared that if you did then you would love her less.”

The sound of the rain was loud, then, a background of noise that filled up the whole world as great sheets of water fell on the domain. Muzu could not seem to keep his eyes in one place; he looked at his hands, at his feet, at Sidon, at his hands again, and then lastly up at Mipha, who did not judge him at all. Water ran down Muzu’s face, though it was not only water, and it took all of Sidon’s strength not to reassure his teacher.

“Why are you telling me all of this?” Muzu’s voice was barely a croak. “If you seek to wound me with the time and confidence that I lost, then you are succeeding. But if you are trying to convince me that I am wrong about the Hylians because your sister loved one man…”

“I am trying to tell you that you should have faith, Muzu. If not in my ability to judge the character of people, if not in the heart of my sister or in the trust of my father or in the strength of the royal family you helped to raise, then have faith that we seek what is best. Even if you do not agree with us, I am asking you to set that aside and have faith that we will win, in the end.”

Faith is not enough!” Sidon did not flinch; it took a very great deal to make him flinch. That did not make him less surprised at Muzu’s outburst, at the anger and pain in those wide-set eyes. “Faith does not protect people, Sidon! You and your father, and even Mipha now, none of you have ever understood that! Faith makes us vulnerable by causing us to set aside our experiences and our common sense. Faith kills us! Faith—”

The steps of two people wearing shoes were just loud enough to be heard over the sound of the rain. Sidon and Muzu both fell silent as Zelda approached, wearing a bright blue tunic over a white blouse and a dark-colored hood to protect her head from the rain. Her friend, Paya, followed behind her, watching Muzu warily. Zelda’s eyes were only for Mipha’s statue.

“…fails us.” Muzu nearly spit these last words upon the ground, and for one terrible moment Sidon feared that he would heap some new abuse upon Zelda. If that happened, he would have to intervene.

The royal advisor was blessedly silent as the princess of a ruined kingdom walked up to the statue, stepping between the two Zora. How much had she heard? Hopefully very little, or nothing. Nothing would probably be better; as much as Sidon liked Zelda, as much as he had instantly trusted her from the very second they had locked eyes, she was still an outsider and that conversation had been deeply personal for so many reasons. He wished that he were better at reading Hylian expressions.

“I am walking through a world of ghosts,” Zelda said, looking up at the statue. “I woke up to a world that I’ve forgotten, but everywhere I go I find echoes of the people and places that I used to know and the expectations they had of me, the ways I knew them and have forgotten. I failed her, and all of you, as I had apparently been failing my entire life, and every memory that returns to me is a new chapter in my failures, an illustration of the ways in which I wounded the world by not being strong enough, or pious enough, or…” She swallowed. “I remember thinking she was so strong.”

“She was,” Sidon said, his eyes telling Muzu that to speak now would be cruel without reason, and it was with thanks to the old gods that Sidon saw his teacher take the hint. He wanted to say more to Zelda, but what was there to say? To tell her that he was there for her, though she did not know him at all? How egotistical, to assume that his own magnanimity would be enough to put balm on the wounds of a heart he did not understand! Surely no one in the world could be that proud.

But then, what had he but pride, really?

“Zelda,” he said, and even though she did not look away from Mipha’s statue he knew that she heard him because she flinched at the sound of his voice. “Whatever happened, whatever will happen, you do not have to be defined by ghosts. Even if they inform who you are, you are not among them. You are among the living, and the living will lend you aid.” Was that enough? It couldn’t be! It wouldn’t be, for him. So: “You are not alone.”

Her brows drew low as he spoke these last words, and as he watched her eyes took on a very far-away look, her mouth hanging slightly open. Muzu scoffed next to her, finally impatient. Something was wrong, though, she looked like she was about to have some kind of seizure, in a moment’s reflex he reached out to her with one hand—

Then the princess tilted her head back and her eyes shone with a golden light.

Lanayru Road was the safest path remaining in the kingdom, Zelda thought; its proximity to Kakariko Village allowed the Sheikah to monitor it closely and keep roving monsters away from it, while the holy power of the mountain itself seemed responsible for how no beasts spontaneously generated there. One could almost feel the holy energy rolling off of it on the road, exerting the pressure of the gods and keeping the darkness at bay even as Ganon heaved against its shackles.

But, no, that was not true. She could not feel anything. Would she be able to, if she were in touch with her power? Would the leylines that channeled the power of the world have been visible to her, making old mysteries into bare facts? Could Link sense it, as attuned as he was to the sword? That he heard the ancient voice inside of it… did that mean he would hear the gods, too, were they to speak? That line of thinking would break her. She shoved it away, for what she hoped would be the last time.

They six walked as a loose, shifting crowd: Zelda, Link, Daruk, Urbosa, Revali, and Mipha. The group excursion had been Daruk’s idea, as so many of these things were; seeking to foster communication and comradery among his fellow champions, he saw every sunny day as a potential picnic. He found an easy ally in Urbosa, who took pleasure in the company of her peers, moving easily through conversations with each of them, knowing how to provoke or console with a word no matter to whom she was speaking. Revali would reliably insist that all of these excursions were a waste of time, but this time, for what should be the final trip and the awakening of Zelda’s power, he had accompanied the rest of the group eagerly, in spite of how much of an inconvenience he professed it to be. Mipha was always happy to come; she never complained and always leaped at the chance to spend time with the other champions.

It was easy to get lost in the flow of conversation, to pretend that nothing was wrong because around the Champions she felt secure, felt safe. All of them felt safe with each other, in fact, and they were confident both in this place and in her. Of all the gathered Champions, only Link had bothered to bring a weapon, and though Daruk teased him for it and Revali scoffed at how useful he would be in a fight, Zelda knew that a great deal of their collective security revolved around the sword that would seal the darkness and the hand that could wield it. Link did not share in that security; he was only burdened by it. He had grown up with Mipha, had known Daruk almost as long, was trusted by all of them… but she watched his back as he walked, never speaking to the group, never setting down his role as Champion even among his fellows. His gaze was turned ever outward, watching for danger of any stripe, removed from the warmth of company. He would be like this until fewer eyes were on him, until he felt that he could be vulnerable again. There would be no vulnerability here, even among the dearest of his friends.

It was morose of her to draw strength from that. Cruel, even. Still, she did, and denying it would not fix the problem. Seeing that even the chosen Hero of the Master Sword could buckle under pressure without breaking, could hold the world on his shoulders even as he felt it keenly… that made her feel better. Maybe not stronger, but better.

Next to her, Revali scoffed. “Listen, Your Highness.” She snapped back to attention, realizing that she had effectively been ignoring him for the past twenty seconds, and did her best to look as if she’d been listening the entire time. “Just because you’re operating under assumptions regarding your own importance is no excuse to be… inattentive. There are plenty of people who would give one of their legs to listen to me—”

“—Explain the theory behind your Gale, and how the energy expenditure is much lower than trying to achieve flight through traditional means, even allowing for the greater strain on your shoulders.” She smiled at him, the practiced smile that she’d used in court more than once. “Though it calls to mind, Revali, how you intend to teach people the use of the Gale if you won’t take on any students.”

His whole body shivered slightly as he puffed out his breast-feathers and shook his head. “Well, fine, pretend all you like, but don’t come crying to me if it turns out you need someone to carry you away from danger.” He moved smoothly away from her, picking up his pace to try to catch up with Link. For all his posturing, she could tell he wasn’t really offended: few, if any, were the people more given to moodiness than Revali was, and he sympathized even if he refused to say so.

Behind her Urbosa told some joke that made Daruk roar with laughter, and Zelda was about to slow her pace to try to ask what was so funny (how she hated missing a joke) when Mipha stepped in beside her. The Zora princess had her eyes locked directly ahead of her, but the fact of her presence brought Zelda up short, demanding her attention.

Mipha refused to slow down the group on any of these excursions, which meant that she walked very quickly on her proportionately shorter legs, taking three steps for every two of Zelda’s. By the time she reached the end of her current growth spurt she would easily outstrip them all, but for now she put in so much effort to keeping up that Zelda did not want to insult her by slowing her own pace.

“Is something on your mind?” she asked, inviting Mipha to talk partially out of courtesy and partially out of very real, very insistent curiosity.

Mipha looked up at her, and the intensity of those golden eyes contrasted with the softness of the rest of her expression. “Actually, yes. Though the matter is… delicate.” Mipha looked off to the south, across the river that ran from the snowfield and whose stream they were walking up. The promenade was across from them, the enormous waterfall there hiding a cavern in which a shrine had recently appeared. “If possible, I would like to speak with you in private.” She paused, considered that. “If you do not mind, Princess.”

She tried to think of anything about which Mipha could reasonably want to speak with her, starting with the ways in which Zelda could have theoretically offended her. A very different and much more personal anxiety welled up inside of her, and the urgent need to address this was suddenly more insistent than the fact of traveling up Mt. Lanayru.

The path to the promenade split off from Lanayru Road, leading up a winding stone staircase that ended in a bridge spanning the width of the river. They were drawing up to that staircase now. She indicated it with an inclination of her head, and Mipha nodded.

“Link!” At her call the Hero stopped in his tracks, turning on the spot to address her so that Revali walked several paces further before stopping himself. “Mipha and I are going to have a look at the promenade from atop the stairs. Wait for us, please. We won’t be very long.” Link nodded his assurance, though his posture did not relax at all, and Revali threw up his wings in disgust before going to join Daruk and Urbosa, who were politely keeping up the pretext of their conversation while not-staring at the two princesses as they ascended the stairs together.

The ceremonial dress she wore for this excursion was heavy, and she had to hold up the skirts as she took the steps. Mipha’s own steps were slow and careful, so their pace matched easily. They did not speak as they climbed, not even on the wide platforms that connected the disparate flights, and Zelda could feel the tension building. How much of that was only her imagination?

The sun was high when they reached the top of the stairs and stepped out onto the bridge. The wind was blowing, a cool breeze that brought her considerable relief after the climb. The promenade spread out before them, a series of fountains and statues that lent a feeling of antiquity and holiness more pronounced because it had stood for so long without being touched. It was one of the testaments to the piety of her people, their closeness to the gods made manifest.

“Are you all right?”

The question was a shock; it would be useless to try to hide it. “Forgive me. I find my mind wandering, of late.” She smiled again, hoping it did not look as strained as it felt. “But yes, I am fine, thank you for asking. My strength has been bolstered by the pilgrimage, I think, and I should have no trouble scaling the mountain.” She hoped that was all this was about, and that Mipha would not see that she was dodging the question.

Mipha’s expressions were not quite like a Hylian’s would be: her brow did not move as theirs did and her eyes were not identically framed. Still, there was something there Zelda recognized as the Zora princess looked up at her. Concern? Sympathy? Gods, let it be anything but pity.

“You have changed very little, Princess.”

“I beg your pardon?”

Mipha nodded. “You probably don’t remember the first time you visited Zora’s Domain with your mother. You could barely walk, but she brought you with her on all of her travels throughout the kingdoms. Even back then you were a very thoughtful child, given to pouring all of your energy into addressing whatever problem was right in front of you.” She finally broke eye contact, releasing Zelda from the force of her regard and looking out toward the waterfall. “You were so very happy, then, but every worry you had was like a little storm cloud hanging over your head.” She looked at Zelda out of the corner of her eye, and Zelda was reminded of their conversation atop the Veiled Falls. “The clouds have grown wider and darker. Again: are you all right?”

She could not deny being taken aback; she might have expected this out of Urbosa, but never Mipha. They had known each other for many years, but their relationship was almost totally formal; she could count the conversations they’d had in private on the fingers of one hand. They were not on intimate enough terms for her to answer Mipha honestly, so why was she being asked?

I am being a fool, she said to herself, and it was true. They were… were they friends? Did they know each other that well? They shared a kinship, at least, a shared past and a shared burden and an understanding of themselves. Mipha was also the leader of her people, or would be when she came of age; the Zora had cheered for her as a body when it was announced that she would be Champion. She carried all of their expectations on her back and bore them with a smile meant to reassure them not only of her infinite strength but also of the kindness that lay under and over that strength, that she was worthy not just of their adoration but of their trust.

Zelda looked to the east, where the mountain loomed. It dominated the horizon, cold and impassive, holding all the potential in the universe, for herself and for her purpose.

“I fear that I am going to fail,” she said. This was the first time she had ever said those words out loud; she had never even said this to Link, fearing to burden him with the final and most horrible picture of her weakness. Mipha did not respond, so she continued, “I fear that all of this will be for nothing, and that if Ganon—when Ganon returns, we will not be able to stop it. I have nightmares of the battle being won, of the five of you triumphant over the forces of darkness, and then… nothing happening. My power lies dormant, and Ganon cannot be sealed, and all the force in the world is not enough to bury it. I am afraid that.” She stopped, composed herself. She was not going to cry in front of Mipha, was not going to cry and then have to go down and face the other champions with evidence of her fear on her face, unable to even breathe properly because every time she cried her sinuses got inflamed and she would not. She held it back, and it was an entire ocean behind a door that she could only brace with her hands, but she would hold it. “I am afraid that when all is said and done, the only thing I will have done for the world is fail it, fail all of you, and because of my weakness all your courage will come to nothing.”

Mipha’s footsteps were very soft as she stepped beside Zelda again. “That is a terrible thing to carry by yourself.”

“Yes.” It was all she could manage.

“It is even worse,” Mipha continued, “when the people around you tell you that it will be all right. That they believe in you anyway. That there’s always another chance.” Zelda could not read her face, or her tone, or the way she stared into the distance. How could she speak to that pain and still smile? How could she sound so kind? “You feel the weight of lives in your hands, and you see shades of red standing on your skin where their blood might be if you cannot perform your duties, cannot do what is expected of you. You realize that the whole world is using you as the hub on which it turns, and you are so fragile, and you know that if too much pressure is applied then you will break. You see other people broken, people you love, and you see that it is your fault that they are hurt, and they smile and tell you that they love you and that of course it will be all right. Because they believe.”

She could not hold shut the door. “Yes.”

Mipha turned to her, reached for her hand, took it gently in both of hers. Her palms were warm to the touch, rather than the coolness that one might expect. She was still smiling her small, sad smile.

“Perhaps you will fail,” Mipha said, and there was no judgment in it. “All the people you hoped to protect will still need you when you come down the mountain. You cannot change that, and neither can anyone else. You will have to bear the burden of their belief in you, even if you fail. You will have to keep fighting, even as the world ends. We will keep fighting with you.”

She closed her eyes as if that could hide her shame. “I do not doubt that you will.”

“I made my oath to you with the other Champions, but oaths can be just another weight that we lay on the people we make them to.” Her palm was suddenly against the open air. A soft, warm hand pressed against her cheek, and Zelda opened her eyes. Warmth and comfort radiated from Mipha’s touch, a light that filled the dark places in her thoughts, and that same feeling was reflected in her expression. “So, I will make no more promises to you, but… I hope you know this. If you fail, and it seems like everything is crumbling, and the burden is so much that it threatens to crush you beneath it, and you cannot show your weakness to any of the people you love most, not even for a moment...” She let go of Zelda’s hand, and now both of her palms were pressed against Zelda’s temples, and the power of her healing magic took away the pressure inside of Zelda’s head, made the ocean feel smaller. “If it comes to that… I am here. If you want to talk, I will listen. If you want to listen, I will talk.”

The light faded, Mipha’s healing magic receding as she drew her hands away, and Zelda breathed. The anxiety was still there, that sense of the future was a heavy thing lurking on the outside of her thoughts… but there was something else, too. A warmth and buoyancy, which insisted that she would not drown. Is this what everyone felt like when Mipha used her magic on them? It was no wonder so many people went to her for their hurts.

At last she was calm. Mipha was still smiling up at her. That smile was still sad, but there was something else, too. She did not know what it was, but it made her feel… safer. “Thank you, Mipha.”

Mipha inclined her head. “We all carry the weights of our people, Princess. No one’s burden is as heavy as yours, but if the world gets darker, I hope you will remember this: I will be here for you. You are not alone.”

Who could have ever imagined such a thing? Certainly not Sidon; his imagination was not up to the task of painting the picture of a princess, wearing the colors of the Champions of a hundred years ago, engulfed in a golden light that suffused every inch of her body as if the sun was dawning beneath her skin. It was a radiance so intense that the world around it was dark, and yet so gentle that there was no need to shield his eyes—though he did not think he could have, much less would have. What he was seeing now was proof of something important, an essential piece in the puzzle that would set the world right! Oh, to be him, to be witness to these amazing things, to be present for the making of history! Ah, Mipha, if only you could see your little brother now!

Zelda had been staring at nothing as the light welled up inside of her; all around them Zora were beginning to gather, running or swimming to see the light that now stood in the plaza, gathering in a quiet hush to see the source of the radiance that stood between their prince and his advisor. Muzu, for his part, was gawking openly, all words having failed him. Zelda’s attendant stood beyond, eyes turned to the sky. The Zora watched Zelda as a body, as a people, and as Sidon threw a glance at the heart of the city he saw his father’s enormous silhouette standing in the doorway of the throne room.

Tears ran down Zelda’s cheeks like rivers of molten gold, and he barely had time to register it before she snapped back to herself with a gasp. She blinked rapidly, raised a finger to her eyes, felt the wetness there, and then seemed to remember where she was, whose statue she was standing under.

“She said…” Zelda swallowed, and he could see that she swallowed the very fact of her sorrows. What had happened? “I remember, now. She said that she would be there for me.”

In that moment Sidon knew Zelda, knew her face and the things she was no longer trying to hide. If standing beneath Mipha’s statue had restored some portion of her memory, then it had also restored some element of her self-awareness, and that was truly raw and sore. He could see her as she turned her attention inward, as if trying to restrain herself.

Every Zora knew the story of the Champions, whether they had been born in that time or not. They knew the story of the Princess of Hyrule, too, who had fought the Calamity with her hands, wielding the power of the gods, and been struck down. That she was alive and in front of him was a fact beyond doubt; that she carried scars that were more than bodily was written all over her face. To have been defeated by such terrible evil, and to have lost so much… His own sorrows seemed so small, compared to the weight of the air around her and the terrible, beautiful light that burned within her.

Then she set her jaw, and clenched her fist, and turned her eyes to him, and he felt his pulse quicken at the … he could not have said, only that he feared his heart would leap out of his chest. She looked up at him in all earnestness, as if seeing him for the first time, and said, “Now I must be there for her.”

The thrill that ran through him was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He nodded.

She turned away from him, toward Muzu, and the light was still in her and Sidon saw his teacher’s face as he confronted a being more radiant than the Sun. He saw his father’s advisor quail—but only for a moment. Then something woke up in the old Zora, too, and he straightened his back, forcing himself to stand straight as he locked eyes with the incarnation of the goddess.

“Muzu,” Zelda said, and now her voice came from everywhere, echoing off of the stone and sky and the water. “I see the pain in your heart, and the hatred that is growing out of it like a weed taking root. I am the gardener who has planted so many of your hurts, and for that I can never make amends.” Muzu did not flinch, but Sidon could see the tears standing there in his eyes. This he could not comprehend; what was his teacher thinking? How could one respond to the regard of someone who could see one’s soul? “Please understand this: one hundred years ago, I failed to defeat the Calamity. Ever since then, the Hero has been fighting it at the heart of Hyrule Castle, holding it at bay by an art I do not understand. But, Muzu, the Hero is losing. Inch by inch his strength is fading, and when he falters Ganon will walk this land freely, and the catastrophe of a hundred years ago will be as nothing compared to the devastation it will wreak.” She held up hands filled with stars. “I do not have the strength to fight the Calamity alone. I need the Champions. I need Mipha. And I need to make right the things I let go wrong, all those years ago.”

The light went out like a candle being snuffed, and the goddess was gone. In her place stood a young woman, hands folded in front of her.

“I must save Mipha. Even if she cannot help me, even if… even if it amounts to nothing else, I must help her. She was good to me, and I cannot leave her trapped in the Divine Beast. But I can’t do it alone.” She held up her hands again, now only the pale hands of a Hylian girl. “If I use too much of my power then the Calamity will attempt to kill me like it did a hundred years ago, and everything around me will be obliterated. I have to rely on others, because this is beyond my strength to do alone. Please help me.” She bowed low in the Sheikah style, her form imperfect but her meaning clear. “Please help me save her.”

The Plaza was very quiet, in the rain. Sidon watched as Muzu looked out at the gathered people of the domain, as the rain fell indifferently on the girl who was a goddess reborn.

“My Prince,” Muzu said at last, “I think we had better explain to our guests what is happening.”

The most obvious indicator of the shifting relationship between Zelda and the Zora Council of Elders was their presence, all standing in a ring on the floor of the king’s throne room as their prince explained their battle strategy to her. Before they would have jeered her, maybe even discounted her observations simply because of who she was; after seeing her in the plaza, holding as much of the power as she could while not revealing herself to Ganon, they were quieter, more thoughtful. She could not guess at what they were thinking (though I could see, if I really wanted) but they were not trying to heap new abuses on her, and that would have to be enough for now.

The schematics laid out in front of her were very detailed while also being imprecise: the parchment was remarkably well-preserved, considering it was over a century old and kept in an environment as humid as Zora’s Domain, and every inch of it was covered in careful diagrams detailing the different systems that constituted the Divine Beast Vah Ruta, with notes written in both handwriting that she recognized as her own and in a much messier, denser script that she guessed was Purah’s.

“One of the powers of the Divine Beast,” King Dorephan said from his throne, “is to produce an endless stream of clean water.” That probably wasn’t true; to introduce more water into the cycle would create unimaginable ecological imbalances in the long term. More likely it was drawing water from the environment, or possibly somewhere further away—would she be able to find documentation regarding desertification of any areas of Hyrule in the past hundred years? “This is a boon to our people, but now we are faced with a new and terrible application: East Reservoir Lake is full to bursting.”

“Full to bursting?” She looked up at Dorephan, then Sidon. “Wouldn’t it simply overflow?”

The king’s sigh was long and loud. “I am afraid not. East Reservoir Lake is very deep, but it is not designed to be able to hold the volume of water that Ruta is pouring into it. It was built to regulate the once-a-decade floodwaters of Zora River, letting the water flow in an even stream over the course of years.”

“Our engineers estimate that East Reservoir Lake is currently holding six times the flood water that falls in a given decade.” Muzu grimaced from across the room; he was trying his best but talking about the weaknesses of his people to an outsider still rankled him. “We have run out of emergency reservoirs to channel the overflow into, and the river’s current is already at its maximum capacity short of a full flood. If this goes on for much longer, then even if Vah Ruta stops of its own accord then the next time the flood rains fall, the reservoir will burst. The amount of water released…”

Zelda nodded. “Would be tectonically significant.” Never mind the resulting flood, though that would destroy Hyrule as surely as Ganon itself; that much pressure moving across the earth all at once would cause earthquakes that would reach beyond the bounds of the kingdom. It might trigger a full eruption of Death Mountain, or worse. There was literally no way to know how bad it would get, but all life in Hyrule would effectively come to an end.

Sidon tapped one finger on a note she had made a century ago, next to the schematic for Vah Ruta’s shoulder. “When studying Vah Ruta, you theorized that these orbs at the top of each of its limbs acted as regulators for the flow of water, and that they were controlled by electricity. Seggin,” he nodded to the old sergeant, who inclined his head to Zelda, “who is able to resist the effects of shock arrows better than most Zora, managed to shoot one of the orbs. The flow of water did slow, though it returned to its original rate within a few hours.”

“If I were a few decades younger,” Seggin said, “I could have taken care of this myself.” It was an apology, as near as Zelda could tell. She ignored him.

“These notes have some of the basic principles down, but they were written with an incomplete understanding of how the Divine Beasts worked.” She was fairly sure that made Sidon gawk at her, but she ignored that too, instead tapping on the four orbs as the diagram laid them out. “Principally, the Divine Beasts appear to be similar to Guardians on a much larger scale. Instead of regulating the flow of water, these power conduits likely regulate all the major functions of Vah Ruta.” In the distant past they had probably been armored; she was glad that they were not, now. “If we can manage to overload all of them then Vah Ruta should be forced into shutdown, at least long enough for us to board it.”

“Four shock arrows,” Sidon said, cupping his chin with his hand. “Well, no. Four true shots with shock arrows. None of the Zora besides Seggin and Bazz can handle even one shock arrow, and firing one would render both of them immobile afterward. No matter how you look at it, that leaves very little margin for error!”

“I estimate you will need at least twenty.” Muzu stepped closer to the table, and Paya moved to stand closer to Zelda. If he noticed, he pretended not to, though he turned his eyes on the both of them. “It would be easiest if the two of you could work out a battle strategy between yourselves, since you have the sealing power of the royal family, and the Sheikah Slate, and the ability to carry shock arrows, but before we consider any of that we need the arrows themselves.”

“Muzu has been searching for a source,” Sidon said. “And I would bet you’ve known one for quite a bit.”

Muzu inclined his head. “Yes, my prince. The easiest method of obtaining shock arrows would be trading with the Gerudo, but that would take time that I do not believe we have. The most accessible shock arrows…” He turned away from the table, pointed out and upward. “Directly east of here is Ploymus Mountain, whose peak hangs over the reservoir. At its summit you will find all the arrows you need.”

Sidon hissed a breath in through his teeth. “Ploymus Mountain, where a lynel is reported to have established its territory.” Muzu’s only response was to nod.

Zelda looked to Paya. She did not remember the lynel that had attacked the two of them, but Paya did; she had a better understanding of the danger that they represented. The two of them had fought Guardians and Hinoxes, Moblins and Bokoblins and Lizalfos, and had through skill and the exploitation of weaknesses managed to triumph over each of them.

Paya had told her that a lynel was like none of those things, intelligent and skilled and brutal and powerful in a way that other monsters only aspired to. They did not really have weaknesses, were almost impossible to sneak up on, and could crush a Hylian in a single blow of their weapons. These things were all true, and she could see that truth written on Paya’s face.

“We don’t have many choices,” Zelda said. Paya nodded, though she was desperately unhappy.

“The lynel will be fighting with the shock arrows.” Paya’s inflection was remarkably upbeat, considering the circumstances. Which meant it was still very grave. “It would be much too dangerous for anyone but us to try to take them away from it. And we don’t have to kill it to get what we need, necessarily.”

Zelda nodded. Both of them understood that it would be better if they did. How they would manage that… well.

“We will prepare for facing Vah Ruta while you retrieve the shock arrows,” Sidon said through his grin. “Leave all of that to me. I will make sure that, on your return, we will be ready to support you! Dento!” He turned to one of the elder Zora, who stood at attention. “Do you have what you need?”

The eye that the old Zora turned toward Zelda and Paya was quick, analytical, and seemed to take the full measure of them at a glance. She could see him crunching numbers in his head, his expression actually not very far removed from Purah’s. “Yes, my prince. I can get something out of storage for them, adjust it and restore it. It will be the work of only a few hours.”

“Then it is settled.” Every eye in the room returned to the king, who did not share his son’s smile; he had the look of a ruler who was sending others to do work that he wished he could partake in himself. “Zelda. Paya. Once you retrieve the shock arrows, return here and we will outline the rest of the battle plan. You have our thanks for undertaking this terrible task on our behalf, and you may trust that we will be with you in every way that we can.” He hesitated, clearly having intended to end his speech there but then thinking better of it. “Please be careful, both of you. All of us would see you back safely.”

There was a moment where Zelda took in the room around her, all the faces of these people, a few of whom had believed and many of whom only believed because she carried the power of the goddess. Does that matter? Is it enough that they believe? The king wishes for your safety, and I think it is not just for the sake of his people. She did not know what to do with that. It made her think of Mipha.

“Thank you, Dorephan,” she said, and she and Paya both bowed low before turning and walking out of the throne room together. It would be a long walk up the mountain, and it was best that they get started now.

Two hours after Zelda and Paya had left the throne room, Sidon was doing the work of coordinating the eventual attack on the Divine Beast. Attack it would have to be; Vah Ruta had grown increasingly more aggressive ever since it had initiated the rain, and by now its behavior would be almost impossible to predict. The idea that his sister’s beast, which he knew she had loved very much, should be a thing that they would attack like a bokoblin… it didn’t sit well with him.

But to be part of that! To be part of the force that would launch themselves against a power as old as the domain itself, to protect not just the Zora but all of Hyrule! To have the opportunity to even attempt such a thing, it… it was almost enough to make his stomach stop twisting into knots. Vah Ruta, should it turn its wrath on them, would be almost incalculably dangerous. Even the lynel would—

The lynel.

“Muzu,” he said, over the sound of the retreating footsteps of the messenger he had sent to check on Dento’s progress. His family’s advisor turned away from a ledger and faced him, and both of them stood in the shadow of the king, who watched them in silence. “What evidence was it that suggested that the lynel had appeared on Ploymus? A hoof? Its horn?” Its fur?

“It would take more firm sighting than mere pieces or leavings before I reported it. I am confident that it is there,” Muzu said. “Though they did not find evidence, exactly. Laflat traveled to Shatterback Point to survey the area and saw the lynel with her own eyes. That she managed to escape is a small miracle, I suppose.”

The king stood, the water at the base of his throne rising only to his knees. “Did she notice the color of the lynel’s coat and mane?” There, the question Sidon had wanted to ask for himself.

The advisor nodded. “Yes. She said its face was dark, and its pelt dark with white stripes. The mane was all white, and—”

Sidon did not hear him, paid no heed to his father calling out to him. He was running with all the strength in his body, cursing himself for not thinking of this detail. The guards practically dove out of his way as he charged past them, and people gawked as he leaped down to the main plaza. He hit the stone running, footsteps sure in the rain. He had to hurry. If he took the waterfalls, he might be able to catch them before they reached the summit.

I need my spear.

Chapter Text

The delineation between day and night had disappeared, for all practical purposes. The rain fell heavy and constant from a screen of clouds that defied the sun and shamed the stars, making a curse of a blessing, and if one listened then even from the heart of the domain one could almost hear the reservoir strain against the weight of the torrential bounty. The princess of Hyrule, heir to a crown long gone and a kingdom effectively lost, could hear stone begin to buckle. She tried to tell herself that this was her imagination, on some level she knew that that was true, but the fact of the knowledge was very different from the kind of emotional surety she sought for herself. Vah Ruta was there, seated in the center of the reservoir, its body hidden from sight while its power poured its presence across the nation of the Zora.

Zelda had said before that she walked through a world of ghosts, and that was true; more than that, though, she walked through a world where the hours were her true enemy. Every step she took was accompanied by a new layer to the essential awareness that time was running out, that there was a fundamental driving force that would not let her truly rest. She could take time with reaching Ganon, she thought (or prayed); Vah Ruta would not wait that long. How many days had this rain been falling, a rain that would have flooded the lowlands and stripped it free of habitation and Hylian life a century of centuries before? How many more days could they afford? She should have asked. It didn’t matter; she would work as quickly as possible. But not knowing meant that she felt the hour drawing near, every moment the tolling of a bell. When was midnight? She knew not.

They left traveling east, toward the reservoir and the mountain. Looking at the Sheikah Slate, its topographical information did not seem to indicate the best point of egress for the mountain; on every side it was surrounded by tall cliffs, the lowest being of a height that would have pushed her stamina to the utmost in the climbing even without the rain. But they had agreed to go, and go they would, even if that meant that they would not know how to proceed.

Zora’s Domain had three bridges, each guarded differently; the one from which they had entered was to the south, the main bridge, the bridge that connected the domain to the roads used by travelers. The bridge they took now, to the east, was a mirror of the bridge to the west, smaller and less majestic, but not lacking in equivalent elegance. This bridge lead to the foot of Ploymus Mountain and that, to the best of her reckoning, did not connect directly to any other major territories. It was naturally defended on all sides, and unless she guessed incorrectly that would mean that there was very little reason to post guards, here.

“Zelda,” Paya tapped her on the shoulder, snapping her out of her reverie. “There is a guard ahead of us. We could… ask her for directions?”

The princess (ah, she was beginning to think of herself that way without realizing it, and some part of her would mourn at the change while another part of her would be nothing but satisfied, even relieved) looked ahead, took note of the Zora standing at the edge of the bridge, back to the domain. She was tall and pale in coloring, and something about her communicated strength in a way that Zelda could not put her finger on. She wore the armor common to the guards of Zora’s Domain, and in her hand she carried the long, hooked spear that was apparently standard issue.

“Yes, I think we should. I had thought that the map could provide me with the necessary directions, but I have to admit that I’m utterly at a loss. Better to admit our ignorance than to be well and truly lost, I suppose.” This answer satisfied her companion, who resumed walking in silence.

The Zora turned and saw them coming and stood waiting for them as they approached. She raised a hand in greeting, and they did the same as she spoke in a gravelly voice, “Hello, there. Didn’t expect the war council to have dismissed so quickly. I hope you’re not headed out to see the Divine Beast.”

“We are not, though I suspect we will need to see it sooner or later. I am Zelda, and this is Paya; we aim to scale Ploymus Mountain and retrieve Shock Arrows from its peak.”

“Gaddison.” That barest of introductions out of the way, Gaddison seemed to process what she had actually said. “There’s a lynel up there. Even if you can…” She raised her fist, coughed into it as she caught herself; it was obvious that she had seen what happened in the plaza, though her view hadn’t been close enough to be absolutely sure. “They’re dangerous beasts. Are you sure you want to make that trek by yourselves?”

She looked back at Paya, who took the prompt. “We are hoping that we may be able to retrieve the shock arrows without provoking it. If not… we’ll deal with the beast as best as we are able.” Her wince told the story: how that would look was up in the air, and there was no small chance that Zelda would need to draw on the well of her strength to make it work. “The most pressing concern is that we’re not sure how to approach the mountain. We have a map, and it seems to indicate that there are no real foot paths to reach it from the domain.”

Gaddison quirked a smile. “Well, that stands to reason. Zora use the falls to travel up the mountain when we need to. To walk up it, you’d have to approach it from the northeast, which would require crossing the reservoir, and right now that’s impossible.”

“Impossible is a heavy word,” Zelda said, though it was more irresponsible from her perspective.

“Heavy but appropriate.” Gaddison turned, pointed at the wall of the reservoir. “Ever since it started to pour water out into the atmosphere in such huge quantities, Vah Ruta has grown more and more aggressive with every passing day. Early on it did not react at all to our presence as we investigated it; by the time Seggin and Prince Sidon approached it, it had begun to attack anyone who swam in the water by hurling blocks of ice at them. Since then it’s only gotten more and more aggressive; by now, any Zora trying to swim across would be risking their lives.” Her expression as she looked at the two of them was neutral, in a soldier’s way. “For a Hylian, it would be very close to killing yourself.”

“Well, we have no intention of doing that, at least. Is there no other way to scale the mountain?”

“Not by foot. There are a series of waterfalls that feed into the lakes Mikau and Lulu, but only Zora can swim up them. If you had Zora armor, that would be a different matter, but… hm.” Gaddison rested the butt of her spear on the ground and stroked her chin with her other hand, looking to the waterfalls in the distance. “I wonder. You’re going up to get the shock arrows… to try to stop Vah Ruta, yes?” She didn’t even look to see them confirm it. “If that’s the case… I’m not as strong as Prince Sidon is, but maybe, if I could find someone to stand in my place…”

“Gaddison.” Zelda jumped at the voice, and so did Gaddison, but Paya had no reaction at all. Seggin had followed them across the bridge, bent and scowling and as hateful-looking as ever, but now he was ignoring the two of them to address the guard. “Do you intend to leave your post?”

“Only if I can find someone to relieve me, Sergeant.”

Seggin tutted loudly, shaking his head. “To think that this is what we’ve been reduced to: a ferry service for Hylians.” He did not sneer at the two of them, which was… some level of improvement. “I’m not actually a Sergeant anymore, Gaddison. Haven’t been one for almost forty years. Still.” He held out his hand, palm up, fingers splayed. “I think I can defend this side of the bridge from a few foxes or wandering deer while you do what needs to be done.”

The hierarchy of the Zora military did not make immediate sense to Zelda, though Paya observed this exchange with a kind of stoic, observant quiet that suggested she was more familiar with the entire structure. Gaddison clenched her spear tightly for a moment, her eyes on the old soldier’s open hand, and then passed her weapon to him. “Be careful with it.” It was not clear if she meant the spear or her post. “If anything happens, I’ll be the one explaining things to Prince Sidon.”

“Feh. If our prince has anything to say about it, I’ll remind him who taught him to use a spear. That boy’s needed a remedial lesson in humility since he finished growing.” He took the spear from Gaddison, and as he took it one could see the comfort and ease with which he turned it, how quickly he found its balance, holding it in two fingers with the kind of gentle, familiar caress that one would expect to see in someone holding their partner. He struck the butt on the ground, as if to get a feel for the sturdiness of the construction, and laughed. “Dento’s work is still competent, at least. Yes, I’ll hold things here. The three of you hurry up. The Domain’s depending on you.”

“Thank you, Sergeant.” Gaddison saluted, throwing one arm across her chest, before turning away and gesturing for Zelda and Paya to follow. “Come on. I’ll show you the way up.”

“You two,” Seggin said, and it was an effort to not simply ignore him. They waited as he straightened his back, taking on the posture of a guard returning to his duties. When he looked at them, his expression was impossible to read: not exactly malice or disdain but something, some cousin derived from those two things, was written all over his face. “Our prince and our king have placed their trust in you for the second time. You will not have that from me, or any of the elders. We will support you however we can, but if you want our approval then you are going to have to succeed.”

“Will we?” Zelda pulled her hood back, just to look Seggin clear in the face, and stalked directly up to him. “I own all of my failures, Seggin, because there is no one else who I can give them to. I will do everything I can to make things right, regardless of whether or not you trust in me. You only have to understand this: I’m doing all of this because it’s necessary, because it is moral, because somebody has to.” She shoved her index finger directly into his face, close enough that he actually had to lean back to keep from touching her, even as tall as he was. “I will assist your people in every way I can, but you, and all the rest of you short-sighted, hateful relics on the Council, you can keep your approval and choke on it. Do we understand each other?”

To her immense satisfaction, he swallowed. “Perfectly.”

She gave him nothing else, turning away and pulling her hood up against the rain. “Come along, Paya. We have devoted more than enough time speaking to this man.” She put her shoulders back and marched into the lowlands on the other side of the bridge. She could feel Gaddison gawking at her from further up the path and heard Paya’s footsteps beating a quick rhythm to catch up with her once the shock had passed.

The world was all pressure and cold, a roaring sound filling her ears until there was no room in her head for anything else. She held on desperately, all the strength in her body focused into the arms looped around Gaddison’s shoulders, and some remote part of her mind considered calling on the goddess’s strength just to shore up her grip. It will be fine it will be fine it will be fine, she chanted in her mind as they ascended, the Zora’s body undulating under her with a speed and power that she could barely comprehend, she would be fine but she could feel the water pulling at her, she couldn’t breathe she had only to hold her breath but the pressure was there. She knew that if Gaddison were to turn her head, if there was even a moment where the streamlining effect of the Zora’s cranial fin was no longer protecting Zelda’s face, then the force of the water would rip her off of Gaddison’s back, maybe break her neck in the bargain. She didn’t know how long they’d been climbing; the passage of time felt like a remote, almost impossible thing.

The noise receded, and the air was warm and the rain was falling on her as Gaddison arced, and she let go and pulled out her paraglider, the force of her midair stop sending a shock from her shoulders all the way down into her diaphragm. She descended slowly, regaining her bearings.

Gaddison had landed on the grass and immediately collapsed. She managed to push herself up onto her knees but was panting heavily, the gills at her sides flexing unconsciously as they tried to pull oxygen to make up for what her lungs could not do. As Zelda landed, Gaddison gave her a thumbs-up. Paya, soaked to the bone and on Gaddison’s other side, was digging into their pack.

“Perhaps it would be best for us to take a break,” the princess said to the guard.

“Can still… swim.” She swallowed, gasped again. “Two down. Only one more. Smallest one, too.”

“I agree with Zelda.” The sheikah woman pulled out a few slivers of roasted mushroom. “However, you are right that time is of the essence.” She held the mushrooms out to Gaddison, who regarded them with an expression that could only be produced by a mixture of wariness and extreme exertion. “I don’t know if these will work as well for you as they do for the two of us, but you should get some of your strength back if you eat them.”

To the light-skinned Zora’s credit she did not wince as she took them, though she did allow herself a quiet “hate mushrooms” before biting into them. Her expression made it plain she did not like them; then, apparently deciding that there was no point in drawing out the act of eating them, she opened wide to eat them all at once. The split of her mouth spread out across her entire face, and one could see all of her teeth as she bit down on the lot of mushrooms simultaneously. “Excuse me,” she said, and then quietly chewed in a very hurried, business-like way, as Zelda tried very hard to reconcile how different Zora appeared when they were eating. How big was Sidon’s mouth?

The cliff shelf between Lake Lulu and the falls that fed down into Lake Mikau was wide and stony and covered in grass. If the sun had been out then it would have probably been lovely, a perfect place for a picnic or something similar; as it was now, with the luminous stones throwing their pale blue light on the world around them and the rain falling in heavy sheets, its effect was rather more melancholy. Not in a wholly bad way, of course: there was a great deal to admire in the interplay between light and water, how the droplets became blazing comets when they fell around the enormous outcroppings of the stone higher up Ploymus. The place had its natural beauty, and more than its own share, but it would be nice to see the sun again when it came out. When Vah Ruta is calmed.

She had yet to see Vah Ruta, still; she had some idea of what to expect, based on the diagrams drawn by the her of a hundred years ago (though how much of that was Purah’s work, who could say), but the reality of it would inevitably surprise her. The Guardians had done that enough, and in their case the only transition had been from the ones that were stationary to the ones that were still mobile; going from a drawing of one of the Divine Beasts to an actual view of the genuine article was probably orders of magnitude more different than that.

“Disgusting.” Gaddison wiped her fingertips on the grass, and her mouth with the back of her hand. “But I think they’re working. I already feel a lot better.” Standing, she inclined her head to Paya before looking to Zelda. “Thank you for the mushrooms. Shall we get going?”

“Are you sure you do not want to rest?”

“Better to keep moving even while resting. Less likely to cramp, that way.” She gestured with her hand as she walked toward the last waterfall. “Come on. By the time we get there I should be able to take you up the rest of the way.” She did not wait for them; they followed her, easily able to keep pace with her shorter gait.

“I do not believe we’ve thanked you, yet.” Zelda had been too angry at Seggin to say much of anything on the way to the first set of waterfalls, and the fact of swimming up one had managed to drive everything else from her mind, even the very foundational propriety that was so deeply ingrained that it superseded her amnesia. “You are putting in a heroic effort toward helping us ascend; we could not do this without you.”

Gaddison kept her gaze locked straight ahead, never shifted her posture, so for the long moment she spent walking in silence it was as if she did not hear over the rain and the roar of the waterfalls. Then, “Do not thank me. This is something that any of us would be proud to do. I’m not even the best person to do this on your behalf; Prince Sidon would be. But when I saw you walking down that bridge toward me, after seeing the light in the plaza.” Now her eyes found Zelda’s, and they were curious and slightly shy. “Was that you, who made it look like dawn had finally come?”

She nodded. What else was there to do?

“I thought it was. When I saw you coming I thought of that light, and how I heard you speaking even from the other end of the domain, as if the gods were talking through your mouth, and I… wanted to be part of it. Of this. Of what you’re doing.” Eyes forward again, though now she was rubbing her hands together, as if suddenly unsure of what to do with them. “Can you imagine? A guardian of the realm who jumps at the opportunity to shirk her duty and go on an adventure. But I don’t even want to be on the adventure, that feels like blasphemy. I just want to help. When your story is written into the history books, when people read of you ten thousand years from now, I don’t want to be the person you passed on your way to some important work. I want to be the person who carried you up waterfalls and saw you safely on your way.”

“Gaddison of the Waterfalls,” Zelda mused, and found that Zora could flush too. “It is auspicious-sounding, I think.”

Their guide said nothing, though her smile told a different story as they approached the veil of the last waterfall.

They left Gaddison behind at the top of the waterfall; they were profuse and genuine in their thanks, because the trip would have been genuinely impossible without her and she had saved them both days of travel and deep embarrassment, but she was in poor condition to receive their gratitude. She had waved them away, too drained to speak, the last and shortest of the waterfalls proving to be exactly what had been necessary to put an end to her exertions for the day. They had left her more of the mushrooms she hated, because bitter medicine was nourishing for the spirit, and been on their way.

The rain still fell heavily but now they had a sense that something else was changing in the air. It was not electricity, exactly, not the slow building of charge that warned them of the coming of the lightning, but the tension in the air grew greater and more terrible the further they walked. The path was grassy, and even though it was steep and wet the going was easy enough, but the fact of that ease seemed to belay a much deeper menace that the mountain held.

“Is it my imagination, or can you feel the lynel in the distance?” Well, that wasn’t fair; she didn’t need her imagination for such a thing, even if it were not exerting real pressure. Still.

Paya’s answering nod was thoughtful, cautious, considering of the world around them. “Yes. It’s similar to the one at the foot of Mt. Lanayru, but… different, somehow. More intense, perhaps? Lynel give off a sense of menace that the trained or the sensitive can feel at a distance, and the more powerful they are the greater that menace can feel. I don’t know if the rain or the presence of the Divine Beast might be having an effect on us, but…” The handmaiden ceased walking, her expression clouding. “Zelda, I’m sorry if this sounds impertinent or ignorant…”

“No! Not at all! Whatever question you have, I’m sure it’s well-reasoned.” More than that, she valued Paya’s questions specifically because she brought a perspective that Zelda did not or could not have; never mind that she provided company that kept her sane, she needed Paya with her in immediate ways, to keep her grounded.

That did not set her wholly at ease. “Still, I am asking these questions because it’s beyond my understanding, but… Grandmother said your power isn’t limited by distance, and you demonstrated that with both me and Auntie Purah, yes?” She was flushed with her embarrassment, now. “I was just wondering, thinking about how we can feel the lynel, even from a distance, but… can’t you reach out to the Divine Beast, like you did with the Guardians? Couldn’t you try to reach it, and bypass the entire matter of approaching it physically?”

Zelda looked at her, then at the ground, then off into the distance where she imagined the Divine Beast was, through the mountain. “Oh, damn it.”

“Please, I didn’t mean to upset you—I just thought…”

“No, Paya, that’s just it; you’re probably right. I just… I’m still limited in my thinking, I suppose. Too caught up in the concrete to consider the possibilities opened up by my powers when I’m willing to consider them.” She rubbed at her forehead. “Thank you. I feel foolish, but thank you for pointing that out to me. I’ll try to connect to the Divine Beast now, then.” She began to remove her pack; for whatever reason, she thought sitting down would help with her concentration, though that had never been necessary before.

“Is there any way that I can help you? Lend you… strength, somehow?”

Zelda sat down on top of her pack, turning her awareness inward; when she spoke, she heard herself as if from a great distance. “I do not think so; all of the power I need should be at my call. But… if you want, once I have located the Divine Beast and gotten the measure of the Malice infesting it,” because there was no doubt that Malice was indeed to blame for all of this, “I could show it to you, like I did for Purah.”

“Oh, I would like that very much!” Paya was so enthusiastic that it cut through Zelda’s inward-turned attention, reaching deep, and at once the princess of a dead kingdom knew that she had been neglecting her friend’s needs and desire. There was no remedying that neglect; she could only address it in the future and hope to do well by the person who thought her only generous, only good.

Still, waiting to connect to Paya was the best idea; the Divine Beast was much further from her than the Guardian had been on the marshes, and the concentration required to reach it and become aware of the danger would be much greater.

So, she went down into that place inside of her where the golden light sat waiting, burning, and took from it only enough to be aware, to let her senses open up to be more than themselves. The world woke up around her as she saw with more than her eyes, and she and Paya were two suns set among a sea of comets that were the falling raindrops. There was no Malice in the rain; it was only ever water, behaving as water must when pushed into particular directions or places. No use in blaming the rain. The mountain beneath them was quiet but enormous, containing worlds of potential energies and memories, and at its base were roots that reached down into the very heart of the world. There was an understanding in the mountain that begged to be explored, a new avenue of meaning and knowing that could expand the part of her that was the goddess incarnate, but it was not why she was reaching out now. She reined in her consciousness, muzzled her curiosity, and turned her awareness to the great expanse of water, the sea of light that pushed hard against the bounds that would hold it in place. She did not even have to travel, not even visualize her awareness moving; it was simply there, however shaky that new placement made her mortal selves.

Vah Ruta was in the center of the reservoir, the water flowing in it and around it, and she could see the rivers of power that swirled around it, leading the water in streams that would be invisible to the naked eye. They were like the root system of a tree reaching up into the sky and then even further, out across the land, a network of power that drew water from the far reaches of Hyrule as easy and as surely as it could have from directly beneath the beast. She could follow those—but no, not follow, she reined herself in again. The goddess part of her was nearly as curious as the human part who had woken up in the chamber, or maybe the one was beginning to affect the other (or maybe we have never truly been that separate from the beginning), and it took every ounce of her will to take her attention and turn it toward the Divine Beast itself.

Later she would see the beast with her eyes and feel this awe again, but it would not be the same as it was now; here she saw Vah Ruta as it really was, a titanic collection of powers, a palace of light, its shoulders four suns that regulated and directed the flow of that light throughout the entire structure. Size did not mean as much to her goddess-senses, but she could feel its construction, the engine that drove it, and every aspect of it that made it what it was left her in a kind of quiet awe. Was this the work of the ancients? Was this the true shape of what they’d been capable of—not the Guardians, or even the shrines, but this machine that was a breaker and shaper of worlds? Had the goddess’s power been there, at the making of this thing, and helped to shape it and drive it? She thought perhaps it had. And now something was wrong, deep in the heart of it, down past the light, past the flowing powers, at its very core.

So she dove in, down, flitting through the rivers of molten gold that were the life’s blood of Vah Ruta, towards the beating heart that powered the suns, toward the place where she could feel the familiar echo of a presence she had once known and trusted dearly. Mipha?

Then she found the Malice.

Then the Malice found her.

In the Guardian, the Malice core had been the tiniest, most delicate part of the machine, virulent and powerful but so small that it had taken almost none of her power to expunge it. That was not what this Malice was; this thing was solid, a shadow given depth and weight, like the blight that had entered into her own thoughts when the Calamity had attacked her in the snowfield. But to compare this thing to the blight from before was like comparing that blight to the Malice within the Guardian; she could feel it, its vastness and darkness and intensity, so plainly that it was like flame being put to flesh. On some level she thought that this thing was Ganon itself, as the weight of its regard resolved into the weight of its killing intent, as she felt it reach out from inside of Vah Ruta, taking its measure of this new intruder who was not holding enough power to defend herself.

Then it struck her, and the world exploded.

Light flooded her eyes and pain lanced along every synapse as she collapsed.

Paya caught Zelda as she began to slump, thankful beyond measure that the princess did not start screaming. Her first reaction was cold and clinical and distant, making sure that her charge was not in immediate physical danger; she asked no questions at first, checking her vitals with a detached urgency. Airways clear and breathing steady, pulse strong, eyes responding to light as she pulled her eyelids open. Zelda did not try to push her away, but seemed conscious.

Then she allowed herself to react, “Zelda! Are you all right? What happened?” She tried to keep her voice down, desperately aware of the lynel lurking nearby, knowing that they could hear as well as a human or better, even in the rain.

Instead of answering, Zelda grasped her by both of the shoulders. Her grip was strong and steady, and Paya had to fight the urge to ask her again what had happened, what was wrong, the particular intersection of her failures that had led her to this moment so similar to many others that they’d been through. Instead she put her hands on the princess’s, gently working her fingers under Zelda’s grip so that those grasping fingers clutched hers, and lifted the hands away from her shoulders. Zelda was breathing steadily, trying to orient herself and her thoughts. It was apparently an act of tremendous difficulty, which made Paya’s questions more urgent rather than less, but she waited. She could wait.

Finally, after what seemed a very long time, “I have to learn how to protect myself when projecting, it seems.” She still did not open her eyes, though she was clearly lucid. “My head hurts enormously. The light hurts my eyes. I feel as if failure to talk through every sensation I’m experiencing would result in me not being able to talk at all. That’s ridiculous. I’m rambling. Sorry.” She tried to sit up, and wordlessly Paya held her down. She thought that the princess would fight her, but she didn’t. “I found the Malice inside of the Divine Beast. I thought that I might be able to treat it like I did the Guardian, but that was foolish. It’s taken on an extremely potent form, becoming a monster like I haven’t encountered before. The lynel is nothing compared to the Blight that sits in Vah Ruta; it was like looking at Ganon itself.” She opened one eye, looking up through a pained wince. “I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can move. We may have to reconsider how we’re going to get the shock arrows.”

“I can take you back to the Domain immediately,” and before the words have even left her mouth she knew they would be rejected, and the shake of the princess’s head told her everything. “Failing that… I may be able to retrieve the shock arrows by myself. I won’t be able to kill the lynel, not without you there, but even if it’s keeping all of them on its person…” She couldn’t make any promises; the senses of lynel were too sharp. If it were human, even if it were one of the Yiga trained specifically in those arts, she had faith that her grandmother’s teachings would see her through. Against a lynel, though? Who could say? But she had to. “I will retrieve all that I can and then return. If the Zora still wish for us to deal with the lynel, then we can tend to it after Vah Ruta.” Though that was another thing she found herself carefully filing away to scream about later; if the thing in Vah Ruta was so much worse than the lynel, and the lynel so malignant that she could feel it like a stench in the air, then there was indeed a very great deal working against them now.

Bright blue eyes stared up at her, intense through their pain, and she felt herself becoming unmoored from making contact with them. Zelda did not like it; that was written plainly on her face. Written more subtly, in the bend of her eyebrows and the barely noticeable quirking and unquirking of the side of her mouth, was that she agreed that Paya was right. For all of her training, Zelda had left a very great deal of herself in the past, and her ability to hide her feelings on command was one of those things—or else whatever she had seen inside of Vah Ruta had simply knocked that part of her loose. Now she was running calculations, going through possibilities, trying to think of ways she could help, wrestling with a sudden sense of infirmity.

“I can be back on my feet and ready to fight in a few minutes.”

“That will be too long.” It was true: Zelda could not feel it because of whatever had just happened, but the lynel was growing closer, the weight of its awareness extended. “The lynel is actively searching for us; it’s not sure that we’re here, but the closer it gets the surer it will be. I need to go and steal the shock arrows from it, if only so that it will be confused and follow my presence instead of yours. Our only other option is for me to carry you down.”

“Fine. Give me your sword. And your shield.” Zelda’s insistence was absolute. Paya asked no questions, though she had many to ask; instead she drew the eight-fold blade from its scabbard and, once Zelda released her shoulders, placed it in the princess’s hands. “Stupid of me not to think of this before.” The princess closed her hands around the hilt of the sword, winced in sudden and pronounced pain, and visibly fought it down. After a moment of straining, during which sweat broke out on her forehead and her hands began to shake, the sword began to glow in her hands—golden, producing its own light like a star. With shaking hands she offered it back. “It’s not exactly the sword that seals the darkness, but… I think this will help, if you do have to fight.”

Paya took back the blade delicately. It felt no warmer, though it looked as if it should; she felt warmer touching it, as if the residual energies of Hylia’s power was flowing from it, radiating into her. She slid it back into its scabbard and the light was sealed when she drove it home; in spite of the beauty of the light she was relieved; that radiance and holy might would have made it much more difficult for her to move undetected. She placed her shield in Zelda’s hands, and the process was repeated, though this time Zelda did not seem quite so pained by the act of blessing.

“If you take too long,” and Zelda’s words were a promise, “I will come after you.”

Paya nodded, and gave silent thanks to the gods when Zelda closed her eyes and seemed to turn her attention inward, toward healing herself. She said nothing, dared to say nothing, because the enormity of what Zelda had just given her ran almost counter to the way that it had happened. A weapon blessed by the Princess of Hyrule—effectively by the goddess herself. Such a thing was so precious, so beyond her understanding of value or of the sacred, that it beggared belief. To be holding her sword and her shield was to be carrying Zelda’s protection, and this knowledge more than the fact of the items themselves filled her up with an emotion for which she did not have a name, until she thought she would explode in a burst of warmth and radiance that would shame every fire that had ever burned. She would not fail. The lynel drew closer and she cared not at all. She would not fail.

She retrieved her stealth armor from her pack and began to change.

Through the rain the lynel stepped, its wide hooves sinking into the softness of the wet earth, purchase thin and slick. Still its steps were confident, its patrol unencumbered, and if it was bothered by the rain or the wet then it gave no sign. The fur on its face was ridged just so that water was kept from its eyes and its nose and its mouth, and as it walked it sniffed at the wet air, picking out scents that were far too subtle for the peoples of Hyrule to pick out. The rain, by all appearances, was no impediment at all.

It was impossible to say if the lynel thought in the same way as the peoples of Hyrule; that it was intelligent seemed irrefutable, given the weapon and shield that it carried, the carefully crafted leather harnesses it used for stowing those when it was not prepared for combat. Those who had seen a lynel and lived to tell of it—and these were always those who knew when to run, because running was the only way to address a lynel and convince it that one sought no challenge—described them as having keenly measuring eyes that communicated an understanding of what they were looking at. They were also cruel, hugely cruel, cruel in a way not unlike cats or humans, a grim amalgam of both that went further than either. Its sword was cruel, shaped for ripping more than killing, crippling rather than executing, and even its shield was lined in blades that would pull at weapons or at flesh in the usage. People had died striking at lynels, not because they had taken a counter-blow from their swords or clubs but because they had found themselves on the receiving end of a vigorous parry and the shield had opened them up, turning the ground red.

This lynel, in particular, was orders of magnitude more dangerous than the one that had attacked the incarnate goddess and her attendant at the foot of Mount Lanayru; whether separated by age or experience or a greater concentration of Malice in its making none could say, because no one had observed a lynel for long enough to say whether or not they aged or grew or shared any of the common processes by which living things changed over time. All that could be said for sure was that the dark coloring of its face and the white coloring of its mane was an indication of brutality in keeping with the finer, keener make of its weapons. Like many of its kin this lynel carried a bow, which by dark arts could fire a single arrow as three; in its quiver, nearly bottomless so long as the lynel drew breath, hummed the potential of thunder.

There was a sense of power in the air, and the lynel followed it, its course ambling and slow; it was reticent to step away from the territory it had claimed for itself, that it had marked with the signs of its archery practice, shock arrows buried in the trunks of trees and even stones. Still, there was something further down the mountain, something that called to it, something that made its hackles rise in the potential for greater and more terrible furies. Two somethings, or only one with a gradient of being; it was impossible to be sure.

A twig snapped behind it and it whirled instantly, rearing up into its hind legs as it turned, nearly losing its footing before bringing its forelegs down in a crash that shook the ground beneath it and flattened the grass within five paces. It roared in challenge, daring anything in the dark to answer its call and whet its appetite for massacre.

But nothing was there. The rain fell on stones and grass and a gently sloping path, and there was no presence to suggest that anything had ever been there.

Except that some part of the presence down the hill had disappeared. Which meant it was here. Challenging the lynel. Hunting it. Seeking to assert dominance over it, claim its territory.

The lynel bellowed again, a sound so terrible the rain fell in sheets around it and for one moment no water struck the monster at all. The echo of its roar faded slowly, and it listened to the quiet after, to the no-answer that came back to it.

A twig snapped further up the hill. The lynel did not roar again. Instead it walked, slowly, drawing its sword and shield from their harnesses, body tensed, waiting for the inevitable attack. Whatever was challenging it wished to fight it within its own territory; this suited the lynel, as much as it could be suited. The ground was slick, its footing unsure, but nothing in the lynel’s posture suggested caution, or even the capacity for caution. Whatever sought it out would be met face-to-face; this was the lynel’s hunt, now, whether this other power knew it or not.

The walk back up the hill was slow, and its attention would have wandered except that every once in a great while, at irregular intervals, there would be a sound ahead of it: a breaking stick, a rock striking another rock, the barest flash of killing intent floating in the air. They were tiny sounds, and any other beast in Hyrule would not have heard them beneath the rain, but lynels were not like other monsters. They were only like lynels.

Enormous stones at the peak of the mountain obscured its line of sight; it would need to patrol now, focus on its tracking abilities to root out whatever its antagonist was. This suited it, too. It was impossible to say what the lynel believed, or if it was capable of theorizing regarding the minds of other creatures, regarding the sounds that the other presence kept making. Did it think those mistakes? Lures? Did it only process them as sounds, to be followed?

The hum of electric discharge, of wood softly releasing an object it had been holding. The lynel bounded across the clearing, toward one of the trees that it had used for target practice, its full gallop covering the distance in the span of heartbeats. It scrabbled to a stop in front of the tree, which should have been riddled which shock arrows.

The arrows were gone. The places where they had been pulled free were still steaming, the act of pulling the arrows out having activated them just enough to vaporize the rainwater that had touched the point of contact. The lynel sniffed at the air, touched its fingertips against the place where the arrows had been resting. It looked away, back toward the center of its territory. Whatever had invaded its mountain was able to hide itself, but the shock arrows…

It sniffed at the air again, catching a whiff of ozone, feeling the electromagnetic currents that shaped the air and interfered with each other in ways that could not be detected by the nervous systems of any of the peoples of Hyrule. Those could not be hidden. Not as effectively.

It bounded toward where the currents were most interfering with each other, found a boulder that had been emptied of the signs of its practice, the marking of its territory. The interference grew more pronounced, more easily pursued, and pursue the lynel did, now leaping around the peak, all caution abandoned, inspecting trees and stones and little spots on the path. At each place it would stop and examine where the arrows had been, and then it would sniff at the air, at the ground, searching for some sign of the creature that was stealing its property. It found nothing; there was nothing to find. The air around it began to boil, from rage or excitement or some other, unnamable emotion that it did not share with any other monster, and it roared once again, so loud and terrible that the sound made Zora children in the Domain look up at the mountain in sudden, almost primal, fear. There was the sound of death.

Its prey—because the word now was prey, not adversary or antagonist or even quarry but prey—had stolen nearly all of the shock arrows, and somehow managed to evade it up to now. The lynel had not seen its shadow, nor smelled its leavings, or managed to find any sign at all, but it was there, and the shock arrows were with it, and their charge called out like a song.

The lynel drew its bow, nocking an arrow from its quiver, and the magic in that bow made one lightning bolt into three. The arrows called to each other, lines of power intersecting over the entirety of the peak, and it was with perfect, blank-faced confidence that it drew the bowstring taut, aimed into the shadows of a tree, and fired.

A flash—not of light but of motion, and then light and the motion was gone. It turned and drew taut another arrow and fired again, leading based on the movement of its prey, aiming slightly off so that it would strike at a puddle just away from where it assumed its prey to be.

The three shock arrows striking the puddle erupted into domes of killing lightning, a sustained surge of electricity that hissed and roared and bit at the air, and there was another flash of movement as the lynel’s prey leaped away, fast, unbelievably fast, the placement of the puddle and the eruption forcing it out into the open.

The lynel took one moment to look at it, seemingly unsure of what it was seeing. A shadow, perhaps, with tightly bound silver hair.

The lynel put its bow away, drew its sword and shield, and roared its challenge. No one knew if lynels experienced anything akin to happiness, but the bards had often sung that they experienced fulfillment in the moment of the challenge, as if they were warriors who sought to test themselves against greater and greater powers until they found something worthy of their true fury. Like as not these ideas were nonsense: the only reality was in the violence itself, in the wickedly hooked sword and shield and the rain falling on its face as it screamed.

The shadow, with nowhere to run, drew a blade and a shield. These were much smaller than the lynel’s, but they glowed with an insistent, golden light.

Sidon had not panicked on seeing Gaddison collapsed on the ground, breathing in the great labored gasps of the truly exhausted; he could see she was uninjured, that none of her blood had mixed with the rain. There was a moment, still, brief but intense, where the possibility had assailed him and he had prepared himself to deal with the reality of one needless death, and then very probably two more.

She looked up at him as he ran toward her and stood immediately at attention, banishing her signs of fatigue through sheer force of will and wasn’t she magnificent! But she had no breath with which to greet him and so he spoke first:

“Gaddison! The lynel is worse than we had imagined! You have done magnificently in bringing our friends here, but now I must ask you for still more: please, go back to the Domain, and summon as many soldiers as we can spare! We will need all of them!”

How proud he was of her, that she saluted him, that without another word she leapt from the height of the falls and dove. She would run the entire way there, exhaustion be damned, and she would be with the soldiers when they arrived as reinforcements; but he had no time to watch her, no time for anything except to run, spear in hand, up the mountain.

His stride was as long as a Hylian’s, his footing no less sure, and he did not stop until he saw a woman in blue seated on the grass, clutching at her head and breathing aloud. His knowledge of Hylian anatomy was not so specific, or so useful, as to be trusted here.

“Zelda! Are you wounded? Where is Paya?”

Zelda looked up at him, her face a perfect expression of surprise. “Sidon? What are you—” She stopped, hissed between her teeth. “Paya has gone up the mountain. I’m… I can tell you later. The lynel had begun to track us, and she thought that she could lure it away and steal the shock arrows without being spotted.”

Before this moment Sidon had respected Zelda, who carried the world on her shoulders, but now he also felt that he understood Paya; Paya who walked without the benefit of the power of the gods, Paya whose life was lived in service, Paya who would lay that life down with happiness! To be walking on the same mountain as people of such stout, good hearts—he thought his own was full to bursting. But he imagined her, one lone woman, against the greater senses and overwhelming power of the lynel.

“The lynel is white-maned, Zelda. It’s one of the very worst creatures the Calamity has ever spawned—we thought it would be red-maned, like the one that walked Ploymus in the years before the Calamity, but the thing up there now is a walking army! We must warn her and get away from this place!”

From above them the lynel roared, a sound that could drown out thunder, and Sidon could feel the fear sinking down into his chest, the surety of death that accompanied that roar, and that fear was as terrible as the creature that summoned it.

But his spear was in his hand and his people’s faith on his shoulders, and he banished fear from his heart, and Zelda was running up the mountain and now Sidon was following behind her and the rain fell.

A lynel was no quicker than a moblin, or a bokoblin, or a lizalfos. In some ways it was slower than each of those, even—a moblin wielding a spear would thrust from its hip and shoulder in one motion, with no wind-up, to make it almost impossible to react to its attack in time. The lynel cared not at all that one could see its attacks coming—every blow was clearly telegraphed, signaled by the winding up of a body that could shatter boulders by the strength of its hands. Its face was a lion’s face, and could not be read like a person’s, but in its eyes Paya saw a malice that suggested that it wanted its opponent to see the attacks coming, to know that they would be crushed.

There are degrees of power for which technique is no answer, her Grandmother’s words echoed in her head. But they are rare, indeed.

Paya launched herself backward, somersaulting in midair as the lynel’s sword clove through the space where she had been a fraction of a second before. Their eyes met as she was suspended, as the momentum of a blow that would have cut her in half as if she were not there carried it well past where it should have tried to stop itself. Yes, she thought, those eyes were indeed intelligent. Intelligent and unbelievably, insurmountably cruel.

Her feet touch the ground and she dashed forward, lashing out with her sword in a smooth strike that started at her hip and ended with her arm fully extended, tracing an arc of golden light that ran over the lynel’s face like a viper’s kiss. Its flesh is like stone, she thought, because that was true, but the thought did not make her despair. She carried a weapon that could cut stone.

The lynel reared back, bellowing, and she dashed forward again, spinning, now inside of its stance and underneath its torso, standing behind its forelegs as they came crashing down in a stampede of boulders. She swung again, once for each of the tendons connecting its hooves to its legs, and though there were spurts of blood and a new bellow of pain and fury the tendons held.

Now the lynel leaped backward, and she understood the depths of the power it was drawing upon as it launched itself a distance of easily thirty meters, coming to a stop with its back against a boulder. It roared again, as if to challenge her to approach.

The Sheikah did not have a combat manual for addressing lynels except in groups. For a red-maned lynel, five capable warriors working in tandem would be necessary to prevail without casualty. For a white-maned—much less a silver—the preferred number was “as many as are available” and was best supplemented by explosives. To face one alone was not brave; it was foolish in the extreme, a waste of life that could be given over in service to the goddess and to the royal family. A single person, faced with a lynel, was expected to do one thing: escape.

So the lynel roared its challenge and Paya bolted. She had enough shock arrows to address the problem of Vah Ruta, and it was a surety that she would die fighting this thing; the only question was how long she would last. She ran as the Sheikah were trained to run, each step an enormous bound, body low to the ground to reduce her profile if she were spotted. The side of the mountain was badly exposed, but if Zelda had recovered sufficiently to jump from the side they could use their paragliders and be away before the lynel could catch up. She needed only to get away from the summit, out of the loose ring of stones that stood like mountains around a minor nation—

She smelled the fireball, heard it, in time to throw herself behind one of those same stones. The space she had been occupying before erupted as if struck by the Calamity, a wall of fire searing her clothes as she shielded her face with one of her arms.

The second fireball struck the stone on the other side, bursting into liquid death that flung itself forward another twenty meters, laying down fires that burned and danced as if the rain was not falling, leaving a corridor of safe earth lined on each side by burning death. She had been funneled into an obvious trap in seconds. But how would it act on that?

She was answered by thunder. She looked up, hearing the shock arrows as they sailed lazily upwards; there were three, radiance burning dark spots on her retinas as they fell, and by their arcs she saw that they would land at regular intervals along the path that the lynel had made for her. There would be no escaping them, not at the speed she could run.

Paya turned and leaped up the stone, scrabbling for purchase against the wet-slick surface, and as she reached its top she saw the lynel nocking another volley. Its expression was utterly incurious, and she felt the shock arrows explode behind her from the feeling of static that made her hair stand nearly on end. It looked at her, but no more than that, as it launched another high volley. She, who was trained to fight archers, saw where they would land; behind her and to either side of her, but now they were aimed at puddles, which would increase their effective range enormously.

She was fast enough, and she ran, legs pumping, as the world exploded into lightning around her. She had the vague sense that the lynel was trying to herd her, and she did not let it; she skirted around the radius of the shock arrows’ effects, leaning so hard into her turns that her fingers scraped the grass, and she would have fallen if not for pushing herself up, treating her hand as a third foot in her scramble. Her feet tried to betray her, slipping in the mud, and she forced them to act in accordance with her survival. She would not be hunted; above all things, not that.

The lynel charged and she dashed around a rock, and the lynel leaped over it with a roar as its hooves beat crack-lined pits in the side of the boulder, arms reaching forward with fingers so strong that they actually punched their own purchase into the stone. It reached for her and she ducked beneath its grip, slashing at its wrist, and there was a spurt of blood and a roar of fury and then the lynel’s fist swung for her. She slipped around it, tilting her body so that the beast’s arm sailed smoothly past her torso—and then the force of that fist hitting the ground was like a bomb going off, not from its sound but from the force that pressed against her back and lifted her into the air. She was a paper lantern caught in the wind, hurled over the lynel’s shoulder, over the stone, back toward the center of the clearing.

She landed on her feet and thought perhaps one of her ribs was broken but it did not matter, she spun with her sword ready as the lynel wheeled, sword and shield forgotten. It lowered its head and charged, its whole body a battering ram, presenting such a narrow profile that one could be forgiven for forgetting how enormous it was. Impaled on the horns, or ripped apart by its hands, or trampled under its hooves, she thought, thinking of the most likely ways she might die, and as it bore down on her she shifted to her left and thrust with her sword, pushing with all the force in her arm.

The resistance of the lynel’s body nearly tore the sword from her hands but she held firm and traced a long line across its side, from its armpit all the way to its horse-body’s hip. More blood, more pain, but it wouldn’t matter. She could cut it dozens of times that seriously and gain almost nothing by it. She had to get away. How was she going to get away?

The lynel slid in the mud, hooves and claws digging up great gouges of earth as it spun, and already it was turning on her, she thought to bolt again but it was already rearing back, its sword was in its hand and it was not aiming for her, it was going to thrust its weapon into the ground, and as she felt its power building she realized two things: she did not have time to get out of range of the attack, and the force of blocking it with her shield would break every bone in her body. In some remote place she hoped that the shock arrows she carried would survive. Perhaps they would be thrown down the mountain, where the Zora could retrieve them.

So, for the second of three times, she prepared to die.

The lynel lurched forward in the motion that would bring its sword into the ground and unleash the power that would scorch the entire mountaintop, and at the most forward point of its arc an arrow struck it in the muzzle. It hit the ground on its face, collapsing, momentarily robbed of its power but already gathering itself, already recovering enough to push itself up into what was almost a kneeling position.

“Zelda? Zelda, no!” She couldn’t be here, not now, not against this thing, they had to run, even working together—”We have to get out of here! Run!” She turned to the direction that the arrows had come from, ready to tell her charge to run for her life, for Hyrule, for the world, she could not fight Ganon if she was killed by a lynel—

But saw only a mighty, golden light.

Zelda put away her bow and stepped into the clearing, heedless of Paya’s warning, and she was enshrouded with the power of the goddess, the power that filled the world around her with a sound like a bell and a light most glorious and terrible. She had to ignore Paya, just for now, and focus on the lynel. She had to make sure it would focus on her.

She was not sure how much of the power she could summon without Ganon striking back against her, but she was confident that the strength needed to obliterate the lynel was comfortably on the wrong side of that threshold. So, when it regained its senses, forced itself to its feet, turned its bright eyes toward her with an expression that she could not read, she did not attack it. She only approached it.

This was her first time consciously seeing a lynel: it was like a nightmare, biological concepts strung together without a mind for sense or utility. Its upper torso was nearly as large as its lower, maybe even bigger, and she did not understand how it could support its own weight distribution, even with legs as powerful and tree-like as those. The way it turned to face her was decidedly like an enormous cat, far too graceful for that colossal frame, and she could feel the potential in its body as it looked at her.

She had no sense of perspective by which to understand how significant it was that the lynel hesitated when it faced her; she only knew that for a moment, as she approached, it did not move. Good. She needed that time.

The lynel hefted its sword and shield, and she carefully walked sideways, trying not to provoke it as she drew the Sheikah Slate from her belt and selected a particular rune. The monster tracked her with its eyes, turned to always be facing her, but for just a moment longer it was still.

Then it bellowed, and it was already charging.

Zelda!” Paya’s scream was a sound of confused anguish.

“Sidon!” In answer to her call a red blur cut across the clearing as she poured some portion of her strength into the Sheikah Slate and fired.

The lynel froze mid-charge, chained down by the temporal properties of the Sheikah Slate, these bolstered by the power of the goddess, as it drew back its sword to cut her down. Normally this would have lasted only for a second, perhaps two, but the power was Hylia’s power and against that the lynel was quite ordinary.

Sidon’s spear technique was learned from Seggin, Seggin who had taught Mipha, Seggin from whom the Hero had learned by watching. When he thrust and pulled back and thrust again it was with a speed that defied the eye to follow, blows falling on the frozen lynel with a speed to match the rain. The sound of the stasis being struck was deafening, louder even than the Prince’s battle cry, his full-throated roar utterly drowned out by the ferocity of his attack as the force of his blows was shunted away, held in reserve to be paid all at once.

The lynel was where Zelda had said it would be. Sidon was where he had been instructed; on the side of it opposite Shatterback Point. They three together perhaps could have killed it in fair combat, but it was risky. Much stronger than they, Zelda had told Sidon, was the hammer of gravity.

Twenty dozen blows did Sidon rain on the lynel, never letting up, never breathing. The slate’s power held it as momentum built up like a promise. Then the stasis broke, without warning, and Sidon’s spear touched only empty air.

The boulder behind the lynel exploded as the monster went hurtling through it, sending a cloud of gravel flowing outward in a hail of arrowheads that shredded the shrubbery on that side of the clearing. The tree it slammed into after that was similarly obliterated, shivering apart into splinters so fine that they could have been inhaled. On and on the lynel went, skipping and bouncing up the hill toward Shatterback Point.

It lived, still, the iron of its bones and the stone of its flesh mightier than the mere objects it had been sent through. Sidon’s attack told on it, opening a great hole in its side that might eventually prove to be its undoing, but in that moment it lived. Mid-somersault it planted its hooves into the earth, stopping its tumble, but the force with which it had been thrown was so great that even then it kept hurtling backward, digging four deep furrows in the ground. With its sword and its shield it dug into the earth, trying to stop itself, and it slowed and it slowed but it did not stop.

The lynel went over the edge of Shatterback Point, but not at speed; its fall was a slow thing, almost graceful, as its hooves slipped over the lip of the cliff. Pride forgotten, the beast let go of its sword and its shield and with all the strength in its arms latched onto the stone, hanging off the edge by virtue of its grip alone. Its hooves dug furrows into the cliff face, seeking purchase, and with its arms it began to try to haul itself up.

They had to run, the handmaiden insisted.

They had to kill it, the prince argued. If it did not die now, then it would only return later, and all of his people would suffer.

They could not leave the Zora to face this beast in the future, the princess decided.

Far, far, far below them, Vah Ruta turned with ponderous slowness toward the drama playing out on the mountain above it. The power that drove it tilted its head up, and the Divine Beast roared, and there was a red light.

The three of them drew close to the lynel, which was making progress in pulling itself up, but only slowly.

To draw too near to it would be death, the handmaiden warned, for its arms could tear any of them apart.

It was a good thing to carry a spear, said the prince, as they drew near to it.

Better still to have bombs, the princess demonstrated, summoning one into her hand. The lynel looked at her and seemed resigned. She looked past the lynel, seeing down into the reservoir, at the red luminescence that shone from Vah Ruta’s throat.

What was the Divine Beast doing, she asked, but she already knew the answer, reaching out with the goddess’s power and drawing Sidon and Paya bodily to her as she keyed in a teleportation command on the Sheikah Slate.

The three of them were gone, dissolved into lines of blue light, and then Vah Ruta fired.

A pillar of blinding radiance pierced the sky, tilted to the east like a tower that had reached for the heavens and then begun to fall. The clouds parted around it, stopping the rain in that region for a time. It was seen all over Hyrule; in every city, every settlement, every waypoint on the road, people stopped and looked up for the brief moments during which the sky was lit up by something brighter and stranger than the sun.

The Calamity saw this, too, and Hyrule Castle quaked with the force of its laughter.

The peak of Mount Ploymus was gone, evaporated, and the wound left behind smoked and hissed as the rain returned. The wound itself was almost tubular, the beam of destruction perfectly obliterating everything it touched, so that the surface of the stone left behind was as smooth and gleaming as polished glass.

Of the lynel, of course, there was nothing left.

The clouds closed, and the rain began to fall again as Vah Ruta sank back into its waiting posture. It returned to its task, spewing water into the air, but there was a different sense about it now, a sense of what it really was: a weapon, one of the most powerful ever built by humans or demons or gods. A weapon that stood in the reservoir, seeking to break it with the power of water, and more perfectly destroy Hyrule thereby.

Sidon and Paya and Zelda reappeared in front of the shrine in the heart of Zora’s Domain, and there was a great deal of shouting when they ran back out into the plaza, how had they survived, surely they should have died, oh we are so relieved to see you our prince, someone run and tell the soldiers not to approach Ploymus, but they three pushed past it all, staring up at the shattered, blasted face of the mountain. There the face of their task: there the mark left by the true power of the forces of the Calamity.

Above them, now, Vah Ruta roared. The rain fell, and fell, and fell.

Chapter Text

The Zora armor squeezed her diaphragm, not quite enough to restrict her breathing but enough so that she would not forget it was there. The contours of the armor were sleek, sleek enough that one might be forgiven for forgetting that it was armor at all until striking it with a fingernail, finding that there was little give. Not as protective as plate, perhaps, but this armor would turn aside a claw or spear without too much trouble. The pressure it applied to her shoulders and arms was not restrictive; she could feel the way it pushed in on her muscles, demanding more efficient action out of them. It made her feel capable of things she had not been capable of before. Stories said that Zora-made armor could not make Hylians swim like the aquatic people, but that it could give them a taste of that freedom and power. Standing in her room in the inn, she believed it.

“Is the fit all right?” Paya was fastening the buckles on her own gauntlets; her armor was the color of obsidian while Zelda’s was the color of a pearl, and the princess had to admit that Dento’s sense of what shades fit them was nearly flawless.

“I think so.” She used unsure language because she did not like to make absolute statements, not until she was positive and had tested a hypothesis, but she found herself walking that back. “I suspect that it’s perfect, in fact, but we won’t know until we use it, will we?”

In answer to this, Paya raised her arms over her head and slowly, slowly lowered them to her sides. She went through several stretches like that, moving her arms up or down or to the sides, rotating her torso, squatting, testing her range of motion by going through warm-ups that Zelda imagined might precede a sparring session. Only after some minutes of this did Paya finally stand, exhale, and nod.

“Dento does very good work. It’s not restrictive at all, but there’s no friction under the armor, either, so there should be no chafing. The pressure being applied in our limbs is actually improving our blood flow. I don’t know if it will be as effective as they say, but I am eager to try swimming in this.”

“Your approval is all the confidence I need. It’s only a shame that there aren’t helmets to go along with the armor and greaves; Cotera’s blessing makes my hood effective enough protection, but I worry that it might create drag when we’re swimming.” There was a badly worn tablet in the Domain that suggested that helmets had been made in the past, but only rarely, as rewards for acts of great heroism. And there will be no time to make an equivalent for us, of course.

Paya’s look was thoughtful, and Zelda once again found herself appreciating how seriously her companion would consider these problems. “You should wear it, if you think nothing else will be effective. It might slow you down if you’re swimming alone, yes, but that’s better than some stray projectile hitting you in the head. Though considering the scale of what we’re facing…” She shook her head, her hair waving behind her. “Protection may not matter as much as we hope. I’ll be wearing my mask, for comfort’s sake.”

At this Zelda nodded; she understood the need to feel like some precautions were being taken, to hold to comfortable forms. Still, the mask would not do for her, and the hood did worry her. Speed might end up being critically important in the hours to come, and she did not want to sacrifice that if she could help it. She hemmed and hawed for perhaps fifteen more seconds before reaching into her pack and drawing out the bandana she had been granted in the Ree Dahee shrine; it improved core strength through means similar to those of the Zora Armor. Perhaps it would help in swimming?

Well, even if it didn’t, it was still something, and would drag less than her hood. She tucked her hair into a tight bun and tied the bandana around her head, tested the hold, and found it satisfactory. That would have to do. Paya, who was finishing the adjustment of her mask, nodded in approval.

“They’ll be waiting for us in the throne room,” Zelda said, and the two of them stepped out into the rain together. It felt very different, after having seen Vah Ruta.

People were gathered in the plaza; there were always people in the plaza, but now there were many more, Zora of all ages who were trying their best to go about their normal lives, to pretend that they were not there to see the two women in Zora armor, especially the girl who spoke with the voice of the gods. They tried not to stare, but their regard was still a weight, impossible to get away from or out from under, and Zelda could feel the pressure of it far more acutely than the armor’s embrace. Mipha’s statue stood in the rain, ever impassive, and Zelda found herself trying to draw strength from the face and demeanor of the woman she sought to free. She had to focus. She had to keep her eye on her goal; if she let herself look at her own feet, or slow down for even a moment, then she would trip and be crushed by the forces pursuing her and the expectations of the people she could not fail.

Zelda and Paya walked the long steps up to the throne room, silent in the rain, and Zelda drew her confidence from having Paya next to her. Was Paya doing the same, she wondered? Was she a burden to Paya, someone to be protected when they acted rashly, foolishly? They had not spoken about what happened on Ploymus Mountain, what each of them could have done differently; did Paya dwell on it, as she did? Were her regrets and doubts self-focused, as Zelda’s were, or had Zelda given her cause to look at her charge and wonder? She remembered how Paya had called out her name, the fear and the confusion…

The throne room was full; Sidon stood at the foot of the throne, arms crossed, addressing the gathered guards of the realm: Gaddison was central among them, but almost every guard was there, each listening to their prince as he gave them instructions or encouragement that Zelda was not quite close enough to catch. Muzu, Seggin, and Dento stood around the schematics of the Divine Beast, arguing with each other about the best vectors of approach even though the plan of attack had been decided hours ago. The rest of the council of elders milled about the chamber, mostly listening, some standing behind the guards with eyes closed, perhaps reliving the days of their youth, imagining that it was to them that their prince was speaking.

Dorephan, seated above it all, watched every group and every person from his throne, and was the first to see when Zelda and Paya entered. He cleared his throat, a rumbling like distant thunder, and all conversation ceased at once as the eyes of the room found him and then followed his gaze to the two who had just walked in.

“I believe,” Dorephan’s voice echoed in that enclosed space, though he spoke only gently, “that we are all familiar with the plan of attack, and that there are no last-minute suggestions regarding deployment.” His eyes were on Muzu, who shook his head solemnly. “Good. That is well. Urgency has been a factor in how we address the calming of Vah Ruta from the beginning; after seeing its weapon deployed, I believe that same urgency is paramount. We must act, and we must act immediately.” He pushed himself to a standing position, a shifting of mass so enormous that one could feel the breeze as he moved. “Are we all prepared?”

A scattered chorus of affirmatives, the firmest from the prince, but Dorephan was not looking at any of them: he was looking at Zelda, expectant and questioning all at once. “We do need to be prepared,” she said, and she tried to project enough that she might be heard, “for the possibility that Vah Ruta will deploy its weapon against any group that approaches it. If it fires in any direction below a certain angle, it will definitely compromise the integrity of the reservoir, and the effects…” She did not have to say, she knew.

“Our destruction will be no less assured regardless of when the reservoir breaks,” Dorephan said, and there was another murmur of assent, even from the elders. Zelda felt the truth there, but still feared it. “If the weapon is fired, then we will be lost sooner; if it is not, we will be lost later. We must risk it. Should it attempt to use the weapon immediately.” His expression shifted, and though Zelda did not know how to read Zora faces she knew this one, saw written in the lines of his age the same fears and worries that had shaped the ghost of her father. “We must rely on the protection of the gods.” I am sorry, his eyes said, though his words could not; they could only place that burden on her.

Zelda understood the love that Dorephan’s people had for him; he had been a warrior before a king, and in many ways was still a father before he was a monarch. If it were his choice he would be joining them in the assault, taking to the water and addressing Vah Ruta with the strength of his arms. But that could not be: he was too large a target, too important, too sure to die in the attack, and she could see the helplessness and shame and regret written on the spaces between the lines of his face, where his advisors and son would never think to look. She did not need the goddess’s power to see the pain there.

That burden was his; hers was another, and neither could share or ease the other’s weight. So be it. The Zora needed something of their king, and something else from her; if Dorephan would give of himself, in spite of how it pained him, could she possibly do less?

“We will have it,” she said, and the Zora did not cheer; their collective intake of breath, the hushed awe of their whispers, was far more intense, far heavier on her shoulders.

There was no flash of lightning as the attack began, no roar of thunder to announce them. There was only the rain, the waves thrown up by the shifting of Vah Ruta’s legs, and then the earth-splitting roar that went up in answer to their presence.

On the edge of the reservoir they stood, the gathered courageous, silver spears in every set of hands, save two: one that held the Sheikah Slate, and one that held a bow. The spears would be useless, unless the Divine Beast suddenly sent Lizalfos after them; still, they were symbols of power, of training, of courage, and they held to them as if that courage would save their lives. Zelda prayed, to gods whose names she had forgotten, that they were right.

Vah Ruta’s slow, ponderous turn brought its side around, and its massive eyes seemed to focus on them. It bugled again, and the force of the sound was like a physical thing that pushed against Zelda’s chest.

“Remember the plan!” Sidon’s voice was lifted against the storm, crying out to be heard over Vah Ruta’s promised rage. “Distract the Divine Beast at all costs! Harry it, if you can!” When he said all costs he meant it, and Zelda could feel the weight of it on him, the pain that flared inside of him as he knowingly threw men and women he loved to what well might be their deaths. He will die before any of them if he can help it. “We want to divide its attention as much as possible. Gaddison, keep to the outside, and give Zelda the best perspective you can! Zelda, we’ll be relying on you to stymie its attacks where necessary! Paya and I will be taking every opening we can to bring this thing down. Are we prepared?”

The Zora answered in a wordless call, an ululating wail that put molten iron into the pit of Zelda’s stomach. Oh yes, they were ready. “ZORA!” They roared their name, their people, their kingdom, and the strength of their conviction made the Divine Beast seem small and petty. But it was not.

“For Mipha,” Sidon said, so quietly that only she and Paya would have heard him.

Then she grabbed onto Gaddison’s back, and Paya onto Sidon’s, and they were in the water, and Vah Ruta’s bellow drowned out the world.

Many were they, the creatures that cut through Vah Ruta’s waters, each of them an arrow that left churning white wakes behind them, swimming far faster than a human could run. Many were the paths they cut, their wakes crisscrossing as they moved to surround the beast, to pull its attention in every possible direction. Many were the vectors of attack they would create.

Many were the powers of the Divine Beast.

Water froze and rose into the air in the form of tremendous cubes of ice, each side of them as long as a Zora was tall. Five rose at once in front of the Divine Beast, a barrier that would only work against a much smaller attack force.

Then five more rose at its rear. And five more at each side. And then more, to cover the gaps. And then more, to layer the defenses, and more, until they were coming up in tens and twenties, and the attackers did not stop but their eyes were wide and they felt a deep, physical terror at the hundreds upon hundreds of frozen boulders that hung suspended in the air like winter decorations.

Then all the blocks began to move at once, a hailstorm to shame the gods.

“Hold on to me!” Sidon’s voice was unlike Paya had heard it before; she had thought he did not have the capacity for that kind of cold, reacting fear. He barely waited for her grip to shift, and above her ice blocks were exploding into vapor as if being shattered by the raindrops and Sidon dove, pulling her down into the depths of the reservoir.

Zelda’s aim was incredible, her speed at using the Sheikah Slate to break the ice blocks almost beyond belief, but still she felt and heard the water above them broken by the collision of tons of ice. The water flowed around her as if it weren’t there, feeling no thicker than the air they had been in seconds before, but she had no time to reflect on the fineness of her armor or even the power of the Zora prince whose prowess would determine whether she lived or died in the next few minutes. Sidon wheeled in the water, looking up, and Paya saw the ice blocks did not sink deep; they slowed in the water before pulling back up, their momentum carrying them toward other targets. She had not been really prepared for submerging, did not know how long she would be able to hold her breath as Sidon’s better-adjusted eyes marked the path of the blocks, trying to chart a course through them, or see some pattern in the storm…

Then the ice blocks plunged down into the water, driven by some invisible force so powerful that they lost barely any momentum, careening straight toward them.

Sidon dashed with such suddenness that Paya felt the strain in her shoulders as they threatened to dislocate, and it was all she could do to press her face against the back of his neck and hope that he would breach soon.

“Take me in closer!” She could barely hear her own voice over the sound of the Sheikah Slate discharging, and it was taking all the strength in her lower body to hold her balance on Gaddison’s back as the Zora woman swam beneath her, cutting in different directions to dodge the rain of ice blocks that Zelda could not see coming. Thankfully Gaddison had been able to avoid submerging as Sidon had, but Zelda did not have the attention to spare thinking about how uncomfortable Paya must have been.

“I can’t,” Gaddison said, turning back and speaking clearly enough to be heard over the rain and the wind and the crashing of ice against ice. “A triple portion of the ice is being thrown at you, and I can’t find a way in unless there’s less to contend with.”

Well, that wasn’t happening. She was having a hard enough time keeping track of the Zora and protecting them where possible, and trying to do that and make a path for Gaddison were mutually exclusive. She had to get closer, though, to be able to address the ice at its source, as it was being summoned, or else she’d never be able to keep up with how quickly Vah Ruta could generate its weapons. More, she needed to be able to shift her perspective, to keep easier track of the other Zora so she could determine who was in most dire need of protection. She’d lost track of Sidon altogether, and he and Paya had to get to Vah Ruta or all of this was for nothing, if only she could see

Ah, she thought, as she fired the Sheikah Slate into a block that was only an arm’s reach away from her face, showering herself and Gaddison in what felt like snow. Of course.

Then she reached down within herself, to the place where her power sat. Neither the woman who woke up in the chamber nor the princess of a hundred years ago balked, now; with all of herself she drew upon the light of the goddess, and it filled her thoughts and made the world into a storm of light.

Everything froze, then; the blocks hung suspended in the air, and Vah Ruta’s servos engaged without end, and she saw the Zora swimming wildly, caught diving and breaching, their wakes drawing complex patterns in the water. She saw it all, took it in at her leisure.

But it wasn’t really frozen; as she looked she saw water droplets move in relation to each other, and two ice blocks grinding together as they vied with each other to be the ones to smash into Gaddison. She saw Sidon streaking toward the surface of the water, saw Paya clutching desperately to his shoulders as she fought to hold her breath. She saw the battlefield moving slowly, so slowly.

The Sheikah Slate responded in her hand, as if nothing was holding it back at all. Time, it seemed, was less of a concern for the slate as its surroundings.

The world groaned around her, pressing in against the edge of her thoughts, and she felt the pressure of her mind trying to hold up the goddess’s power, some fraction of how Hylia saw the world.

I can’t sustain this for long, she realized, and “long” meant something very different from this perspective than it had before. Fine. Short bursts. Pick the moments that matter most, draw out a path…

She reached out with the sheikah slate, selected one of the ice blocks, and fired.

Two ice blocks that Gaddison had been swerving to avoid erupted into mist—and then more, dozens more, burst all over the reservoir. She could not look back, didn’t have time, but she felt and heard the power as Zelda called upon it, saw golden light thrown onto the water in a brilliant flash.

“Keep going!” Zelda called behind her, and the Hylian girl’s voice was breathless, nearly giddy. “I’m going to make a path for Sidon and Paya! Just keep moving!”

“Yes, Your Grace!” Gaddison said, cutting a path nearly perpendicular to the one she had been on before, sweeping in closer to Vah Ruta as the Divine Beast hurled its wrath at them. She was no longer afraid. She had to keep Zelda safe, but the fear that had been layered on top of that duty had given way to something else.

The water was filled with a series of low thumps as the ice blocks exploded and then Sidon shot toward Vah Ruta, truly pouring on the speed, and Paya thought in a distant way that he had more in common with a bird in flight than with a fish. She had not taken a breath in so long that she feared she might forget how; a funny thing to think, a little joke meant to ease her fears as she felt her lungs burn and vision cloud.

“We’re going in!” His words were as clear in water as they had been in the air. How could she understand him so well? “Be ready to swim!”

He breached, arcing into the air like a dolphin, and she drew a gasp of sweet, cool air. Her body screamed for more, but she knew that it would have to wait, to be satisfied with what she could give it; they were right next to Vah Ruta, and at this distance she saw that it was as large as a castle, as a mountain, she could feel the power in its profile and in that moment understood how it had obliterated Ploymus. This wasn’t fear, at least not as she understood it; it was awe, different from but akin to the awe that Zelda woke in her.

Jump!” he called to her, and she jumped. Enormous waterfalls fell from Vah Ruta’s sides, between each of its shoulders, and into one of these she plunged.

She could not have named the force that surged through her then, whether it came from her armor or was a secret of her body that the armor merely unlocked. The water parted around her as she swam against the current; she fought the flow and gravity together, pulling herself up the stream as if it were ground. It was impossible, it didn’t even make sense, it would mean that her body had never known how to swim at all and was only now realizing what it could do. To swim against a waterfall—a Zora might, but she

She leaped from the top of the falls, sailing high into the air above Vah Ruta, and with a gasp of perfect shock she saw the world laid out below her. Sidon looked up from the water, expectant and unsurprised but cheering, one fist raised in exultant salute, and near the water’s edge Zelda was flashing with golden light as the hunks of ice evaporated, and the Zora traced wild patterns in the water as the Divine Beast’s defenses whirled like a hailstorm above them, and below her the power generators of Vah Ruta pulsed and burned with a bright and sickly light. She reached the apex of her jump as she drew her bow, nocking a shock arrow in the same motion, and let fly. She watched the shock arrow as it fell, as thunder erupted from the spot where it struck the Divine Beast, as Vah Ruta trumpeted its rage and the light went out.

She dove, then, tucking her bow against her back as she plummeted back toward the water. She slipped in with nary a splash, the water parting around her as easily as air, and as she swam away from Vah Ruta the prince was next to her. She swam at the surface of the water and he matched her, and his exultation was infectious.

“Magnificent, Paya! A perfect shot!” Ice exploded over them as Zelda flashed in the distance. “Are you ready for another pass?”

In answer she latched onto his back, she who was as unsure of herself around him as she was any other young man, and he laughed again as he wheeled back toward Vah Ruta.

In his throne room King Dorephan suffered the torment that is unique to people of action who are not and can not be allowed to act. His domain, the domain of his people of which he should be steward, was in real and grave peril; where was he? Useless king, who could not do battle on behalf of his people, who could do nothing while the brave and the foolish of his guard—many of them little more than children, all of whom he had seen grown up, not least his own son—risked their lives out of love for their people.

He was not a king given to melancholy, but some gravity in his expression had caused all of his advisors (even Muzu) to excuse themselves. So, today he was not merely useless; he was also wholly and utterly alone.

Or nearly, at least.

Mipha was still on the Divine Beast. He knew this truly; the Lightscale Trident, which he kept on her behalf, told that story. The chest in which it was kept sat next to his throne, and every day he would open it and check. Every day it was alight with the same brilliance that told him Mipha was still there. Still trapped. Still waiting.

“But not for me,” he said to the empty room, his voice so low that there was no way to understand him even if he was heard. “For a hundred years I’ve prayed that some part of what I’ve wrought might be undone… that you might be free. Now the battle is upon us, Mipha. This very hour your brother seeks your release, and with him the princess of Hyrule, and so many warriors of hearts that would put myth to shame. Finally, we act… but not me. I am here, still, and all I can do is pray.”

It was possible that he was not truly alone. There might always be somebody nearby that could see him; in truth, there almost definitely was. Let them, then. Let them see him as he took the chest in his hands, as he pressed his scarred forehead against it, as he stopped trying to fight his grief, as he ceased to be a king and was only a failure of a father to a daughter who should have had the world given to her.

“Forgive me, Mipha. Forgive me for not seeing what would happen, for not… not being able to stop it. For being helpless, here, while you have suffered for so long. For my grief, which has not helped you. For not being there for you now, fighting with your brother. For.” He inhaled sharply, closed his eyes. He did not have pride, anymore, but he still had his shame. “For believing that I could protect you. Please forgive me.”

He had not moved. Still, the latch of the chest opened. Still, as he lifted his head, the lid swung up. Still, a soft and beautiful light poured out over his face.

The third shock arrow struck home, and the sound was imperceptible against the din and the rain. The waters running off of Vah Ruta slowed to a trickle; Zelda’s periodic flashes of golden brilliance coincided with the destruction of dozens of carefully selected hunks of mystical ice; the Zora swam over a wider area, and faster, their confidence bolstered. At the strike of the third arrow Sidon cheered, and the guards and soldiers cheered as they swam.

Whatever force was driving Vah Ruta, it could not compensate for the surgical precision that Zelda used in levelling the Sheikah Slate against it. Destruction of certain pieces of ice interrupted the flow of the rest of the extant weapons, making them less precise while more were manufactured. A more skilled pilot, familiar with the subtleties of Vah Ruta’s systems and the extent of its powers, might have been able to fight off the attacking force without them getting so close, without losing three of the beast’s power regulators.

This force, this Blight, was not a subtle creature. It was turning before Sidon approached it; as Paya swam up the waterfall, it turned to face the edge of the reservoir and the Domain beyond. It shifted as the third shock arrow struck home. The Zora cheer went up as Vah Ruta lifted its great nose.

The red targeting light painted the interior of the reservoir, and Vah Ruta’s capacitors charged with the rolling of thunder.

There was no more cheering.

“Hurry! Hurry!” Paya did not need to say the words; they were an expression of solidarity in urgency. Sidon tore through the water with such force that it nearly tore her from his back, regardless of the armor she wore. More than telling him to hurry she was swearing that she would, and she prepared herself to swim with all the power her body could muster.

She pushed the realities of the exterior world out of her mind, because everything depended on that. She ignored the building charge as Vah Ruta prepared to fire, blocked out the sound of the rain and the whirling of the ice, forced herself to even push away the thought of Zelda. She had to focus. She had to act perfectly.

Still. They would not make it in time, she knew. Not quite.

The world slowed to a crawl again, as the red light from Vah Ruta’s mouth shone like a beacon for annihilation.

Zelda could easily trace the trajectory of the imminent blast (and it was a beam, unlike the lesser weapons of the Guardians); it would start from Vah Ruta, evaporate an utterly meaningless amount of water, punch through the wall of the reservoir, and strike Zora’s Domain beyond it. Most of the city would disintegrate; the remainder would buckle and plunge down more than a hundred meters. It might strike the ground before the reservoir broke and unleashed a flood that would sweep Hyrule barren all the way to the Gerudo Desert. There was a cone of death, starting at the break in the reservoir wall, engulfing all of Zora’s Domain, and reaching out well into Central Hyrule, in which absolutely nothing would survive.

She and Gaddison, being directly in the path of the beam, would be instantly vaporized. Not a comforting thought, but at least they would not suffer.

In that space where her thoughts ran wildly quicker than any other person’s, the princess and the goddess gave way to the amnesiac woman. She never considered failure, or giving up; without question she would act, even if that act came to nothing.

Did she have enough power to simply stop Vah Ruta from firing? She didn’t know. Attacking the Malice that drove it was a dicey proposition and trying to shut down the actual firing mechanism might leave her too vulnerable. Could she block the beam with Hylia’s power? If Hylia was that strong, was her awareness at all prepared to channel that strength without burning herself out? If she could, would she be able to contain the force of the beam, so it wouldn’t destroy the reservoir anyway? If she did all of that perfectly, could the surrounding area possibly survive the Calamity’s retaliation?

The answer to each of those questions may well have been “yes”; but if even one of them was “no” then her attempt would kill them all. She discarded the possibility.

No, she was coming at it from the wrong angle, insisted the princess, the scientist. There were essentially two options available to them: block the beam from striking the wall or redirect it.

Redirect it? How? Force Vah Ruta to aim at her, perhaps, and lead the shot to a less catastrophic (but no less fatal, for her) direction? No, the thing wasn’t aiming at her, its target was the Domain and Hyrule beyond.

Consider your tools, she chided herself. She had the power of the goddess and the Sheikah Slate, one of which she could only use just so much. The power that drove Vah Ruta, and the Divine Beast itself, were too enormous for Stasis to matter, even if she placed her strength into the rune. Like the Guardians, Vah Ruta was magnetically inert; she could pour enough of Hylia’s power into that rune to lift a mountain and accomplish nothing at all. An empowered bomb might do it, either by damaging the firing mechanism or by knocking Vah Ruta’s aim out of alignment, but a blast of that magnitude would send shockwaves through the air and water that would pulverize everyone present...and might still destroy the reservoir, besides.

Only one option, then. She didn’t know if it would work, but it was the only way she could act without guaranteeing their destruction. Now it was a question of degrees; she reached within herself, to the dark place where the power sat like a sun waiting to be born. She was not the amnesiac, or the princess, or even the vessel of the goddess; she was one woman, focusing all of herself down to this one narrow point, seeking nothing less than surety. With the incarnate’s awareness she measured out her strength, seeking the perfect balance between efficacy and stealth.

There can be no balance here, only precision. Too little and I fail; too much and I fail. I have to use the smallest amount that I am sure will work; that is our only chance.

With all of her focus, all of her intuition, she drew on the power. She poured it into the Sheikah Slate, which hummed in her hands and shone in blue and gold. She did not have to select a new rune.

Hylia, if you can hear me at all, guide me. Please. Whatever you need of me, I need you now. Help me protect them. Help me protect us all.

Zelda aimed at the space beneath Vah Ruta’s chin, where crimson death stared out at them like the Calamity’s own eye, and fired.

Sidon leaped, and Paya jumped from his back and into the waterfall. She heard a roar, not Vah Ruta’s voice or the discharge of the laser but something else, something more immediately physical, and shut it out of her mind as she flew up the stream. It did not matter what it was. Nothing mattered except what she was doing.

A wall of white rose into the sky, filling a corner of her vision, and the roar was louder, and she did not see, did not hear. She sailed into the sky, bow free, arrow nocked. She did not hear Vah Ruta’s scream, or its weapon as it discharged.

A white fist the size of a mountain, an iceberg born out of the waters of the reservoir, rose out the depths to smash into the underside of Vah Ruta’s head. Ice exploded on contact with the Divine Beast, the tremendous pressure of the frozen wall colliding with the ancient machine sending off splinters of ice the size of houses. There was a moment where Vah Ruta held, implacable, immovable, the ice splitting under its neck and rising in twin spires on either side of its head—but the ice kept pushing, and rising, its roots reaching down to the floor of the reservoir, and from the depths of the waters did it push.

Vah Ruta bellowed, a strangled bugling sound, as the empowered Cryonis forced its head up. It fired its weapon.

The beam of blue death cut through the air above Zelda’s head, passed close enough to the top of the reservoir to scorch the stone, and by scant degrees failed to obliterate Zora’s Domain. The mountains to the southwest had a burning gouge cut out of them, and that gouge was forced upward as Vah Ruta’s head was wrenched further and further back.

The fourth shock arrow hit home. The power regulator on Vah Ruta’s shoulder darkened. The flow of water ceased, and the weapons-fire dwindled to a cylinder the width of a finger before winking out. The hundreds of flying cubes of ice fell back into the water and shattered as Vah Ruta went slack, the fullness of its weight resting against the iceberg—which, in a flash, also disappeared.

The Divine Beast sank down to its hips, undefended, momentarily dormant.

The cheer that went up from the gathered Zora was uninterrupted. Paya’s voice was joined to theirs; Zelda collapsed against Gaddison’s back, shaking, trying to hold in tears of relief. Gaddison offered her no words; she had seen how closely death passed them by, and how the Princess of Hyrule had diverted it. She reached up, laid her hand over the one clutching her left shoulder, trying to communicate through touch the depths of her thankfulness and her awe.

Past that there was no delay. All the gathered Zora converged on Vah Ruta.

Prince Sidon leaped up to the platform that jutted from the side of Vah Ruta. His heart was pounding in his chest, adrenaline running so thick in his blood that he felt as if he was seeing the world through a filter. Paya dropped off of his back and he slowly rose to his feet, feeling her armor and even the rain against his skin in a removed, remote sense. Whatever he was experiencing now, he knew that he was in a place beyond pain. How long would that last? Zelda had said there was a monster within the Divine Beast, one worse than the lynel by far. He hoped he still felt this way by the time they confronted it, that the thrill of battle was still on him.

It had to be thrill. If it wasn’t a thrill then he would have to consider how he really felt, what had run through his mind in the moment when Vah Ruta’s weapon had fired, how he had felt when the world was ending.

The guards and soldiers, including Gaddison, finally made their approach. He grinned his enormous grin and felt the joy he projected resonate in them, his facade turned genuine by the light in the eyes of his people. They were alive. They had made it. Things might still go wrong, but they would face new challenges as they presented themselves! No fear, then, not now, he would wrestle with that later. Gaddison swam close and Zelda, the savior of their people, was on her back, and Sidon’s smile as he offered his hand to her was real indeed. She took it, and her grip was strong, and he helped her up onto the platform. She stood next to him as he turned to address his people.

“From here we must go on without you.” None of them liked it, but all of them believed it for the best; save for his father, Sidon was the greatest warrior of the Zora; everyone knew that Paya had held off the lynel on Ploymus by herself; Zelda was Zelda. “You have all performed wonderfully, shown courage fit to honor our ancestors! Our work is not done, but now you must see to the Domain and ensure the safety of our people. We three will free the Divine Beast and return triumphant! Wait for good news from us!”

He did not seek a cheer; their victory was at hand but not yet achieved. Better that they saluted, that their eyes wandered between him and the two women he would accompany, knowing that he was not the whole of this mission. Not that any of them would need to be reminded, now.

Then Vah Ruta shifted, light returning to its body as it lifted itself out of the water. The guards beat their retreat, quick but unhurried, and Vah Ruta lifted the three of them up, up, the water falling away below them, and until this moment he had never realized how enormous the Divine Beast really was. What an incredible device; how incredible that he should be aboard it, and to seek to help restore it to its use against the Calamity!

“My friends!” His address took in both Paya and Zelda, the former whose attention was locked on the latter and the latter who was working up her focus, perhaps even rallying her power for the battle ahead. Faced with the enormity of their devotion, of their courage, how could he do anything but be honest? “Thank you for coming this far for us. No matter what happens next, my people will never forget what the two of you have done on our behalf. Songs will surely be sung of what we’ve accomplished today!”

“There is still one battle ahead of us,” Paya said, the mask she wore making it impossible to read so much of her expression but her eyes burning with determination and another quality he did not recognize.

“I have absolute faith in us.” They had to know; he only hoped it would be a strength to them, rather than a burden. “I have absolute faith in you. You can face whatever is before us; nothing in all the world will stand against you, when you put yourselves to the task!”

“I have to save her. I have to make this right.” Zelda’s words were soft, nearly whipped away by the wind, but they cut to the heart of Sidon like a knife. He looked down at Zelda, and she was not looking at anything; her gaze took in the horizon and beyond it, as if looking at a world that he could not. “There is so much… a lifetime, that I can’t remember. But I remember Mipha was good to me. I wish desperately to see her again, to help her as she helped me.” She looked up, then, the intensity of her gaze arresting him (and Paya too, he thought). “As much as for Ganon, as much as for Hyrule, this is for her. We will set her free.”

Over and over again, without ceasing, he was laid low by these women, by the depth of heart from which they spoke and acted. What could he say to that? Surely there was nothing equal to what he felt, no answer to the enormity of the gratitude and the awe and the admiration that filled him.

“Yes,” he managed, because it was as much as he could say.

They three stepped together into the depths of Vah Ruta, the weight of their promises, their duty, and their hopes laying heavy in the air.

In another time, another life, where it was not the princess who woke up in the Chamber of Resurrection, the interior of Vah Ruta was spackled with patches of Malice, the leavings of the Blight as it struggled to grow while choked off from the source of its vitality. There was no interference with the workings of Vah Ruta, only in moving through it, and it would take an engagement with all of its systems to clear the infection, to free it from the influence of the Calamity. Each control node activated, purified by the use of the Sheikah Slate, would force the Blight further and further into a corner; the last would finally drive it into the open, and there it might be confronted. The Blight, cut off from the power of Ganon, would not actively seek its enemy out until forced to, and was utterly stunted in its growth for a century. A terrible enemy, made more destructive to its surroundings by circumstance, but less than it could have been.

This was not that life. This was not that time.

As Sidon, Paya, and Zelda stepped into Vah Ruta, they took note of their surroundings; to two of them they were alien, constructed of two-toned stone more long-lived and durable than metal, but to Zelda they echoed the shrines of the Sheikah monks on a grander, more purposeful scale. Water flowed through the cavernous chambers of Vah Ruta’s interior, which was only the smallest part of what the Divine Beast housed within it. The hum of the machinery working deep beneath it, power fit to drive nations (or to level them), lent every step they took an almost dizzying weight.

Two presences filled the air of that place, alike in age and in urgency. One of them was restrained, calling to the gathered heroes as if from across a great distance; she cried out, investing all of her strength in an attempt to reach them, but they heard her not. Each of them, sensitive to her presence in a different way and to a different degree, only shuddered as they felt remote panic and fear wash over them.

If they could have heard her, perhaps they would have turned back; perhaps they would have pushed on, through her warnings. Perhaps a great number of things would have been different.

“Sidon! Zelda! Paya!” She knew them all, of course she did. “Please! You have to hear me!” But they did not.

The second presence noticed them, and the pressure of the air shifted. This one knew them, too; from memory, from an image of a girl carrying the goddess through a blasted wasteland, from the scent of the goddess’s power hanging in the air.

“You have to run!”

Gates slammed shut at every entrance to the enormous chamber. The three looked about them; the prince hefted his spear, and the handmaiden drew her golden blade, and the princess sought down within herself.

There was a sound, like the roar of the Calamity in a higher register. Malice and the blight gathered, and the wind began to howl, pulling at the water that flowed through Vah Ruta. Those streams flowed through the air, twisting together into a spiral that drew in the black and the purple of the malice, forming a vortex which bellowed smoke that had no smell but crackled with arcs of dark magic.

“Please! It’s been waiting for you!

The vortex slammed into the floor, and the wind thrown off of it was so strong that Zelda turned her face from it as Paya stepped between her and the emerging threat.

Then Paya’s jaw fell slack beneath her mask, and Zelda stared in horror, and even Sidon was left without words, without encouragement, as his spearhead sank to drag against the floor.

The Malice coalesced into a massive, dark shape, which throbbed and pulsated like an enormous heart. That shape rose, it had only been hunched over seconds before, and when it moved its cloven hooves hit the ground with such force that Vah Ruta shook. Its face and torso were armored with stone plates stolen from Guardians, or possibly the Divine Beast, but beneath that armor was the thing itself, bipedal, easily six meters tall, each of its limbs thicker than a man’s body and lithe, lithe in spite of that, as if it had been built for swimming. On its head it wore a cyclopean mask made from a single armored plate, and from behind that mask swept out a crown of red hair that waved and hissed and danced like fire. Great, backward-sweeping horns rose from its head, and between those horns was nested a crown of darkness which ate at the light of the room. In its right hand it held a trident of blue light tinged with purple, and that weapon was as long as the beast was tall.

For a hundred years it had waited for them; for a hundred years, drawing on the source of its vitality, it had grown stronger. The resemblance it bore to its previous form was scant, as if the Blight of a century ago had been only the first stage in the construction of this: the death of promise, of duty, of hope.

They all knew it for what it was; there was nothing else that it could be. Still, it was only Zelda, filled with the voice of the goddess, who dared to speak its name:


The Waterblight roared, and Zelda answered with the tolling of an enormous bell.

Chapter Text

The Waterblight roared, and Zelda answered with the bell that rang at the dawning of the world. Entropic fire and radiant light clashed in the air between them, and the enormous shadow of the fully realized beast was thrown on the wall behind it.

Sidon struck first. Fear would not stay him.

He was a red blur in the air, his legs launching him explosively off the floor, his spear tracing a glimmering silver arc through the air. This was the thing that had killed his sister; he did not need to be told. He was now in that place beyond courage, beyond rage, where surety filled him to the exclusion of reason. He saw the face of the beast (no, monster, for it was so much more than a beast) turning toward him as he charged, and he cared not at all.

His lashed out with his spear, thrusting for the Blight’s throat.

A flash of blue, a shower of sparks, and his thrust was turned away by the haft of the monster’s trident. The spark of the weapons clashing threw a bright light on the face of the spawn of Ganon, setting the enormity of its horns into stark relief. It looked at him, and he knew that it saw his fear.

He pulled back in retreat, and the trident’s head was in the space he had occupied half a heartbeat before. He smashed it out of the way with the head of his own spear, and that took all the strength in his body, sending shockwaves through him that reached mercilessly toward his spine. It didn’t matter. The pain was nothing. The fear was nothing. The goal was before him, his sister’s killer in the flesh, and there was only one possible answer.

Sidon let loose his battle cry, sinking back into the orthodox stance passed down among the Zora for tens of thousands of years, honed to gleaming perfection. His strength gathered, coiling in his muscles like eels. What he had unleashed on the lynel would be nothing compared to this; he could feel his limbs groaning under the strain of what he would demand of them.

Then the Waterblight, Ganon, sank into the same stance, and he understood that what he had felt before this moment had not been true fear. Behind Sidon, the golden light went out.

Zelda!” Paya’s scream was sudden, shocked, pained, confused.

I can’t look to them! I have to fight this thing! If it can use this stance, then-!

“Paya! Whatever is happening, tend to Zelda! I will hold it back as long as you need!”

If she answered, he did not hear. He could not hear anything.

He lunged, as did the Waterblight, and the song of their spears would have drowned out Vah Ruta itself.

She had not been holding enough power to fight this thing; the same mistake, repeated. She was letting her fear dictate how deeply she would draw of the goddess’s strength: fear of overwhelming herself, fear of the power erasing her sense of self, fear of the Calamity’s burning eye turned upon her. That most of all; she did not remember the Calamity attacking her at the foot of Mount Lanayru, only what had come after. She had been running from that, running from Ganon, the entire time.

But Ganon is already here, thought she, as the Waterblight’s power slammed into her, and it was true. This thing may have only been a spawn of the true Calamity, but still it was Ganon, and she felt the authenticity of its power as it smashed her into the floor.

The power filling her body protected her as the stone splintered and cracked from the impact, kept her from being crushed as the invisible hand of Ganon’s hatred pressed hard against her head.


Ah. She was letting Paya down again. The thought was distant, almost ridiculous, separated from the reality of her experience, but it was true, too. All she did was make Paya afraid on her behalf. She had to stop doing that.

Sidon cried out from across a great distance, and Zelda realized she might really be hurt. She could not hear him.

Paya, she said, then realized she had failed to say it. Zelda pushed herself up onto her hands and knees, lifted her head. “Paya.”

“Yes!” Paya was next to her, plainly afraid to touch her, and she would have alleviated that fear, but she did not have time.

“I’m going to have to use my power to restrain that thing, or at least try to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to defend myself.”

“You will not have to.” Paya’s sword was already in her hand, flashing with gold, and her shield shimmered in answer. Then she was standing with her back to Zelda, facing the Blight, sinking down into a ready stance. “I swear it.”

“Thank you,” she said, with the last of her physical strength, and then she dove inward, down, down into the power. She could not use it all; she was going to have to push, and even without trying to kill it she would need at least as much strength as she had used against Vah Ruta. Praying it would not be too much she sank down, away from the sound of spears ringing against one another.

 To thrust, slash, weave, parry, swipe, retract, stringing all of these motions together as a single unending movement, a repeating dance that had no discernible pattern, was as much as Sidon could do; in every moment, with every motion, it pushed his body to its utmost limit. And the Waterblight was matching him for every stroke.

His own eyes could not keep up with it; his body knew the dance, but it was more than he could track. That the monster could see it, could match it…

Steel rang against hard light, the sound like a hailstorm on a metal roof, their weapons clashing between them five times a second, more, the cacophony resounding and building in the narrow confines of that chamber, until he thought it would deafen him, maybe deafen them all. All the flashes between them as the silver head of his hooked spear was deflected by the point of its trident, and he looked at its face, saw that it was not watching him, that its enormous eye was focused on his hands, on his spear, tracing the arc of his motions and answering them in kind. What more could it do if it were not limited to merely reacting? What was this thing?

His arms screamed, his shoulders and his back and his chest beginning to seize; how long had he kept this up? Fifteen seconds? Twenty? How much longer could he make it last before he cramped, before he was skewered on the end of that blasphemous weapon? How long before he died just as his sister did?

As if hearing his thoughts, the Waterblight looked at him, locking eyes across the lengths of their spears. Whatever face it had was hidden behind its mask, but was… was it smiling? Was it responding to him?

Shall I tell you how she died? The Calamity’s voice was soul-blasting, piercing through his skull, sinking tendrils into his very thoughts, oh it hurt. Do you wish to know where she took her last wound?

He tried to shut his mind against it, to continue the dance, but the pain in his thoughts made the pain in his body feel like nothing, he did not know how he could keep his balance, was this what his sister had been against?

Would you know whose name she called out at the end? Will you guess? Your father, perhaps? The hero, who she loved?

The dance wavered, he could feel the intricate construction of patternless fighting beginning to unravel, and it took all of his power to keep it going, not to fuel his body but to protect his concentration, he had to fight, he could not fail, he could not stand beside these heroes in the place where his sister had died and fail! He could not fail them! He would not fail them!

Or perhaps she wept for you, her brother, who she could no longer protect. Do you think that’s what it was? Did Mipha cry out for you, Sidon?

His left arm lead improperly for a single thrust; he was off his intended trajectory by a matter of degrees. He retracted a tenth of a second too slowly.

The Waterblight swiped to the side, striking the body of Sidon’s spear, sending it flying upward with such force that Sidon’s arms were lifted over his head, his guard blasted wide open.

His eyes had not been able to trace the clashing of their weapons, so it must have been with deliberate slowness that the Waterblight drew back its trident, sinking into an attacking stance, both hands wrapped around the haft. Yes, he realized. It wanted him to see death coming.

How much of the power had she gathered? She could not say, precisely; she was not entirely sure that she cared. The Waterblight’s attention was all on Sidon, perhaps thinking her broken; if so, then it was underestimating her as badly as she had underestimated it.

Paya stood over her. She had faith that she would be safe for as long as it took to gather the power.

How much would it take? Was the gathered amount equal to the task? She knew that she could not use it all; she did not know how much all of it was. But it had to be enough. If it wasn’t enough then they would die, and everything would end regardless.

The Malice radiated from the Blight like an echo of the Calamity itself, but … there was a limit to it. It had fed off its master for a century, growing strong, but it was not boundless. She had to get inside of its guard, hit it with enough force to shut down its connection to the true Ganon.

She plunged herself into the goddess’s power, drawing it into herself. How much? How much?

Enough to match it, she thought, of one mind. She was awash with it, glowing with it, holding it in a place so deep that it would not show in her body.

Its focus was on Sidon. It did not know she was preparing. Good.

Of her power she made a spear and, from her place on the floor, thrust it into the very heart of the Waterblight’s being.

The beast’s shoulder tensed to thrust, and then the sun dawned at its feet.

Sidon’s head cleared as the creature of Ganon was enshrouded in a pillar of radiance, and the pain of its scream was genuine, ear-splitting. The prince could not say how, but he knew that whatever had just happened—whatever Zelda had just done—had reduced the demon in some way. The light faded, and the Blight looked away from him, past him, toward the form of Zelda behind him.

He moved instantly, stepping in hard as he thrust. It did not see him coming in time to stop his spear from plunging into its chest.

Instantly, truly instantly, its hand wrapped around the shaft of his spear. Zelda’s golden power crackled over it, its entire body shook, but when he tried to pull his spear free he could move it not at all. It turned its single burning eye toward him, and he looked up into its face framed by horns and fire and a crown of darkness.

Ah. He’d still managed to make a mistake.

Slowly, so that he could hear the blade of the spear gliding over flesh that slid back together as the foreign object was removed, the Waterblight forced the weapon out of its chest.

He shifted the grip of his left hand, sliding it up the length of the shaft until it nearly touched the Blight’s own, and with that leverage he twisted the spear in the Blight’s grip, trying to wrench it away. The spear turned until it stood as a barrier between them—and then the Waterblight dropped its own spear, wrapping its left hand around Sidon’s right. He shoved, and because of his better leverage he felt the Waterblight’s weight begin to shift.

Then it squeezed, and he heard the bones in his right hand pop and break.

More of the power, more, she had to keep it flowing, interrupting the Waterblight’s connection to the Calamity was an ongoing act and she could not stop unless she wanted it back at its full strength. She couldn’t turn her attention outward, there was so much to do here, she could feel the Calamity as if it were in the room with them, could feel as its attention wandered away from its battle with the Hero—

A voice called to her; it was faint, distant, indistinct. But it was there, in the place beyond sound.

His right hand broke; the pain of all those bones snapping was brilliant, hot, white, he had never thought of pain as having a color before but he experienced it as white, like nothing else he had ever felt.

But he was more than his pain. He was the prince of the Zora; he had been schooled in combat, and he was the master of his own body. He released his left hand’s grip on his spear, held his fingers straight and rigid like a knife, and then plunged his hand directly into the wound in the Waterblight’s chest.

The flesh there was hot and painful to touch but his claws tore at it, he could feel blood and ichor gushing there, and he dug his claws in before pulling back, ripping open wider the wound.

The Waterblight howled, and he took some satisfaction in the sound before it released his spear and smashed him to the floor with both of its fists.

“Who’s there?” she called in that dark place where voices were only echoes, where souls spoke directly to one another. She had not heard a voice here, a true voice, since Hylia had said they would speak no more. Was this Ganon? Was the Calamity deploying some trick, some subterfuge?

From a great distance, desperately, in pain, she heard a call:


No. Not Ganon. Still she funneled power into the Waterblight, unaware that it was beating Sidon with its fists, and then she sought for that voice, the person that had called to her.

Oh, Hylia, thought she, it’s the same presence I felt in Vah Ruta before. It’s her!

The first blow came after it had released his arms; he saw it coming enough to try to move. Because of this its great fists came down on his back, but the angle was imperfect, a great deal of the impact lost as the blow skid across his diaphragm, tearing the skin in its wake. If it had hit squarely, he would have been crushed and died almost instantly; as it was he hit the floor with a dislocated shoulder and two broken ribs, the gills on his left side bruised so badly that he did not know if he would be able to swim for days.

As if he would get out of here.

I will get out of here, he thought in defiance to himself. I am the prince of the Zora! Son of Dorephan! Brother to Mipha! There is no room for surrender, even in the face of death!

So he rolled, and the blight’s fists slammed into the floor where he had been moments before, the force of the impact bouncing him into the air. He landed on his feet, ground his teeth together as he wrenched his arm back into socket, the pain blinding him for a quarter of a second, but he was already moving, his left hand stretched out for his spear.

The Blight saw him coming and swung and only by his training did he slide under the blow, maneuvering as if he were swimming around a great stone, and the air of its passage was cool on his skin.

His hand wrapped around his spear, and with a dancer’s grace he wheeled, bringing its head around in a flash, burying it once more in the same wound he had made before. It sank deeper this time, much deeper, and he drew a grim satisfaction from that.

Then a great left hand wrapped around his face, and a great right hand smashed into his chest.

The distance of nations was as nothing in that space; she had to travel through interference, layers of Malice and hatred and fear that had been caked on top of each other for a century, she was an arrow plunging through armor, a thief sneaking into a prison.

“Zelda!” The voice, closer now, wild in her hope, her fear, her pain.

“Mipha! I’m coming! Please, wait for me!”

But Mipha did not wait; Zelda felt the Champion heave against her bonds, and in that soundless place Zelda recoiled in surprise; she had thought Mipha within the bonds, a prisoner within a fortress, but as Mipha rattled the chains that bound the energy of her life the very background of the universe began to shift. She was not within the prison; she was beneath it, the continent on which it was built.

Paya did not move to help Sidon; think not ill of her. Without knowing that the beast hid no more tricks, she could not be sure to keep Zelda safe unless she stayed by her. Forgive her the requirements of her duty; know that she screamed for Sidon, nearly left her place, as the hero of the Zora fought with tooth and claw against the beast that had laid nations to waste.

He could not say what had broken in his chest, or what had come loose in the other places inside of him. He tasted blood, knew that his internal bleeding must be very bad. He was not as frightened by that as he might have been, he found.

Yes. When facing your end, it is best to proceed as if it means little to you. Don’t let it see your pain! Let it know that you will be victorious, no matter how terrible the cost!

Is that all you can manage!?” With the mangled ruin of his right hand he swung up with the butt of his spear, striking the inside of the Waterblight’s wrist, breaking its hold on his head. He thrust again, but the motion was too slow, and the beast slapped the blow aside so that the head of the spear opened a new gouge on its chest as it tore off-course.

He pulled back again, and so did the Blight. He thrust with his spear; the Blight leaned into it, catching the blow in the same spot on its chest, and deeper still the head sank.

Then its fists crashed together, with him caught between them. His upper arms broke with a sound like wood being split. He did not scream. He did not drop his spear.

It reached for him and he slipped beneath its grip, slamming his body into its own, launching himself up from the floor so that he smashed into its armored face with his head. Its head was tilted upward, and he sank his teeth into its throat.

It was not fear that she felt from Mipha, not truly; not fear, nor pain, nor a need for release, nor torment; those were all there, but they were branches of the same essential thing, the root of the Zora princess’s entire being: love.

How can one person contain so much? How can she have so much still, after so long, through so much pain? How can I feel that love taking in everyone around her?

Why could Zelda feel it so strongly directed at herself?

She drew on even more of the power, and with it she struck at the bonds of the Calamity. They shattered, made into nothing and less than nothing, shards of Malice spinning away into oblivion. But still Mipha was not free; there was something there, something larger still, that her perspective could not take in. She didn’t have time to adjust! She didn’t have time to do anything!

“Mipha! What do I do?”

“Open yourself to me!” The Champion called across the dark.

The taste of its blood was hot and acrid in his mouth and he bit down harder, he would tear its throat out and see it drown in its own blood, let it carry the scars of their battle into the underworld and know that it was he who had marked it—

It grabbed hold of him with both of its hands and tore him away, caring not at all that its neck ran rivers of black and purple in doing so.

He spat its blood—and his—into its red eye.

“So. Will you be surrendering, now? Or shall I instruct you further?”

The world spun as it hurled him across the room. He had no sense of weight, or even speed, only of turning slowly in space. How strange things looked, as if no particular object was related to any other at all, and everything that he had assumed concrete was an arbitrary coincidence.

He hit the wall and there was another sound like wood being snapped. His spear was still in his hand. That was worth something, wasn’t it? He hadn’t lost his weapon, in the end. Seggin would be proud of him.

Sidon slid to the ground. It wasn’t until he saw his legs splayed out on the floor in front of him that he realized he could not feel them. He almost laughed at the cliché; how odd, that he had not felt his back break.

The Waterblight’s trident, hurled by its master, plunged into his chest. Its three tines drew a line from his left pectoral down to his solar plexus. Blood exploded from his mouth; he could not draw breath. Most disturbingly, perhaps, was that it did not really hurt.

The trident disappeared in a flash, coalescing in the same hand that had hurled it. Good trick, that. He should really try to learn it.

Ah, and now it was getting dark, and quiet. He could barely see the streak of obsidian and silver and gold that was Paya hurling herself at the Blight.

“I don’t know if I can! This isn’t like connecting to Purah! You aren’t like Purah!”

Was this what a Champion’s heart was like? This enormity of personhood, of self, so intense that it beggared the imagination? Was it how Mipha had stayed sane after being trapped here by the Calamity for a hundred years? Was this what the hero was like—could Mipha have been the Hero, even, if she had chanced upon the sword that sealed the darkness?

Why am I so small compared to her? Why am I so small compared to them all?

And then—then Mipha was there, with her, in the dark, of scale with her. Something inside of her threatened to break, the barrier that held back her memories and the ancient pains of her heart, and she reached out with a hand that existed only in symbol.

Mipha’s fingers interlaced with hers, and with her other hand she cupped Zelda’s cheek. Her golden eyes were sad, and hopeful, and urgent.

“Please. You can do this. I believe in you. I always have.”

Who was she to refuse?

She opened herself, becoming as vulnerable as she had ever been with another person.

Mipha was a glacier, a continent of a soul that would flatten mountains as it moved across the world. She was so cold, and clean, and powerful, and for one moment Zelda was afraid and then she banished the fear from her heart, and—and it wasn’t so cold.

In his throne room Dorephan rose from his place on the floor, his daughter’s trident in his hand. He could feel the change in the air, a hint at some goings-on that dealt with powers beyond his understanding. More than that, though, he could feel her, an echo of her, a voice that spoke to his heart as if he was recalling how to hear after being deaf for a century.

He strode from the throne room, trident in hand, and the Domain was hushed in his passing. The rain had thinned, though it had not yet stopped. That reflected nothing, told of nothing. Something was happening.

Muzu was outside of the room; perhaps he had seen as Dorephan prayed for forgiveness. Neither of them would ever mention it to the other. Still, when he saw his king leaving the center of the kingdom, his eyes went wide in their deep-set sockets and he looked up at the king whose grandfather he had served under, and he asked in the way that only close friends can ask of their lieges:

“Where are you going?”

“To Mipha,” the king replied, and on he walked.

Muzu said nothing; perhaps he did not understand. Perhaps he saw the trident in his king’s hand, and some essential knowing was imparted to him. It did not matter.

The rain fell on the Zora.

The heat left Sidon as his blood pooled on the floor, and he shivered at the cold.

Dying was not so bad, really. Getting to this part had been quite painful, of course, he hadn’t relished any of it, but the act itself? It wasn’t some great thing. Rather like falling asleep. The world had a dream-like quality to it, and he realized in a resigned way that it was oxygen deprivation to his brain that made the room seem so dark and the clash of Paya’s sword and shield against the Waterblight’s trident seem so distant. He did wish that he could help her, still; even working together they probably could not have killed it, but if they protected Zelda for long enough to marshal her strength… ah. It did not matter now. He had done as much as he could, and the cold and the quiet were the reward for his foolishness.

Then the cold was gone, and light and warmth blossomed inside of him. Gentle hands were laid on his face, and that warmth spread throughout all of him, as if he were immersed in it, and he did not know why but tears were running down his face. What was this? Nostalgia? Now? At the end?

His legs itched as the wounds on them closed.

He realized he could feel his legs only moments after, and his eyes flew open, still half-seeing.

My arms. My back. My… my chest!

Flesh knit back together without pain, blood restoring itself as if it had never been spilled, and he took a deep, hungry gasp of air with both of his blessedly working lungs. The rush of oxygen made him dizzier, he could not see at all, but now his hands went up to the ones that were on his cheeks, and those hands were wet with his tears and he did not remember her, but he remembered this warmth, the soothing of his pains, a love like a mother’s.


“Ssshhh.” And it was her voice, it was her, “rest, Sidon. You’ve fought well.”

He forced himself to see, willing light back into his eyes as his heart pumped fresh blood, and… he did not know what he was seeing. It was Mipha, but it was Zelda, too, as if they were interposed into the same space. They were radiant, but instead of the gold of the goddess’s strength the light was blue. Mipha’s power. He blinked, and it did not go away: Mipha and Zelda at once, but it was Mipha, it was her.

“Wait… Mipha, please, wait, you can’t fight that thing, it—” The look she gave him unearthed memories he had not recalled in decades, and he fell silent.

She released his face, and even though he wanted to hold onto her, her hands slipped out from under his, reaching down to the spear he had dropped onto the floor. “I must borrow this.”

“Wait! Please, wait!” And she did wait, looking at him with eyes the color of sunset, and all at once he realized he did not know what he wanted to say. He had never even dreamed of this moment, never allowed himself to hope. “I can’t lose you again, sister! Not when I’ve just found you!”

She smiled, and he remembered swimming up a waterfall, how her smiling face had been waiting for him as he ascended, how he had been reaching out to her.

“Little Sidon… you will never lose me.”

The Waterblight’s intelligence was like the intelligence of a storm, or a mountain, rather than a beast; to describe it would be like describing the intent behind continental drift. Only its actions could be read and interpreted according to a human understanding of motive. Such a strange thing, Ganon.

The woman in obsidian armor was a flashing flurry of silver and gold, as fast as the spear work of the prince. Her sword traced out golden arcs in the air, flashing, and all at once she had slashed at its wrists, the insides of its elbows, its throat, and she retreated as it thrust with its trident, her movements so lithe and fluid that she was more like water than even the Zora were.

Blood sprayed from the wounds she had opened in it. These were meaningless, and would close of their own accord soon, already spitting and burning with Malice.

She came in again, lower, aiming for the tendons anchoring its legs, and that is when the golden power of the goddess restraining the Waterblight winked out like a candle.

The Malice erupted from it, and its full faculties were restored. It saw Paya (her name is Paya and she loves Zelda and she will die for that love I will see her die for it), the from-her-body motion she would use to cut through its heels.

It smashed the butt of its trident into the floor, and Paya’s blade skidded off it. She rebounded immediately, launching herself backward. The Blight reached out with one hand and with the invisible hand of the Calamity it struck at her, seeking her very thoughts, the foundation of the being that sought to harm it. Yes, it could feel her love for Zelda, and it would hold that love in its hands and pull it apart like a spider.

It must have been instinct that made Paya raise her shield, it must have been instinct that saved her life by a matter of degrees as the stored power of Hylia deflected the Blight’s reach, burning it at the touch. Well enough. It would get behind the shield, eventually. It had nothing but time, and she was only a person. It thrust out with its spear, watched as she strained with her entire body to twist around the stroke before leaping into the air and backward, flipping. She landed on her feet, sword and shield in hand, and in her eyes was a determination that made the Blight reach out with its hand, as if to pluck out those shining red orbs.

There was another light in the room, and it was new—no, not new, but young, younger than the goddess, younger than its ancient grudge, and despite that youth it was familiar. This was the light of a hundred years ago, light that had been turned against it, light that burned inside of the soul it had bound here, light that it had ignored for a century.

It turned to the fallen prince, and the shifting of its weight was like thunder in the quiet of the room.

With its one eye it looked at the back of the woman who stood over the prince, and who could say what it saw? Did it see an interposing of two princesses, the champion and the goddess, as Sidon had? Did it see her as she really was? Did it see her at all?

But it must have seen the spear she was holding in her hands. Legs too long, torso too short, but still she held it with perfect grace, perfect ease, with an intimate familiarity born of a life given to one purpose, of a century spent in meditation on defeat.

It must have seen as she looked over her shoulder at it, as her golden eyes burned with a terrible light that Ganon itself had never known.

It hurled the Malice at her, striking at the very fabric of her soul; after being trapped for a hundred years, perhaps it expected her to disintegrate, to be banished like a ghost made to hear holy words.

But its power parted around her, smashing into her healing light and fizzling out.

Did it know fear? If it did not, it knew her, and Paya was forgotten.

She walked toward it, spear in hand, and it sank into a defensive posture, reading her footsteps, her reach, the relative length of her limbs. When she crossed into the threshold of its reach, where its spear might kiss her flesh, she would die.

Just beyond this point she stopped approaching; she must have read the distance, too. Still, it waited. I was deathly patient, and its range was far greater than hers. She had to get inside, or she could not hope to strike.

“A century ago you found me here,” Mipha (Mipha Mipha Mipha MIPHA) said to the darkness, and did it know her, understand her words? “A century ago you found me in the heart of where I thought myself most safe; a century ago you found me with hands empty. Will you fare so well when I am armed?”

She stepped forward. It struck, a perfect thrust aimed directly for her heart.

The trident pierced only empty air. The Blight looked down.

She was in front of it.

She was already pulling back, spear wet with blood and fire.

Ganon screamed, its perforated chest spewing pain and blood and life out of a dozen new wounds.

Paya had never seen anyone fight like this; she had never even heard stories of it, not any that did them justice. These were the Champions?

Mipha stayed inside of the Ganon’s reach, spear flashing like lightning bolts dancing in a thunderhead, her brother’s oversized weapon alive in her hands, and it was impossible to count the blows as the Waterblight’s torso continuously exploded in new wounds that could not close fast enough to keep up with the ferocity of her assault. It staggered backward, its enormous hooves beating the floor into gravel, and for every step it took Mipha (Zelda, but Mipha) took three, her spacing studious and perfect.

The blight thrust with its trident and Mipha swung up with her brother’s spear at an angle that used the Blight’s own strength against it, blowing open its guard as completely as it had blown open Sidon’s. Even as it was struck over and over again in its chest and shoulders it swung its free arm at her, meaning to smash her to the floor as it had done to Sidon.

She answered the swing with the point of Sidon’s spear, impaling the Waterblight through its forearm, and it screamed as she turned, using the momentum of its punch and all the force of her body to heave, and Paya’s jaw fell slack as the Blight sailed across the room to crash into the floor, the new hole in its arm spewing fire from both sides.

The thing scrambled to its feet, roaring like a wounded animal, and Paya found her senses and dashed toward Sidon, whose wounds had closed but who was still too dazed to rise. She had to take her eyes off the Blight to do it, but it did not care about her at all; Mipha was walking toward it, spear-point held level to the floor, and nothing in the world mattered outside the two of them.

Paya stopped in front of Sidon and then turned back to the fight, sword at the ready; if she could not defend Zelda (and in this moment she knew that it was beyond her, far beyond her) then she would keep the Prince safe, would pray for his forgiveness in failing him earlier.

“Incredible,” the prince said, as his sister clashed with the beast that had killed her. Paya said nothing, the words vanishing on her tongue.

She could not see their spears; past the elbow she could not see their arms, and their upper arms were blurs of motion attached to shoulders and torsos that shifted with such speed that staring for too long would give her motion sickness, while their feet remained rooted firmly in one place.

The space between the fighters could be described as two semi-spheres that pressed against each other; on the Waterblight’s side the space was filled with the blue light of ancient weaponry and the roaring dark of the malice, its weapon leaving streaks of these colors in the air so that before it was a storm of light and dark; on Mipha’s side there was light, and steel, and the space that came between her blows warping as the air rushed in to occupy the spaces that her weapon was moving through. Steel struck light, and it was impossible to say what was happening in that space between them, how they read each other or—

Then the Blight took a step back and Mipha was inside again, Ganon’s guard blasted open, and she shoved her brother’s spear into its chest in the same place where her brother had wounded it. There was a glint of silver behind the beast as the weapon pierced it through.

Again Ganon screamed, and now it called upon the stolen powers of Vah Ruta, swinging with its arm—and when it swung, the waters in the chamber flew through the air in a killing stream, as large as the Waterblight itself, and it struck the spot where Mipha had been standing, shattering the stone, punching through the flooring of Vah Ruta’s interior like paper.

But Mipha was not struck, her eyes were on the beast, and the beast drew the water in toward itself, the princess held back for half of a heartbeat—and the entrances to the room flew open, and a spout of water erupted beneath the Waterblight’s feet, its appearance like a cyclone. The spout roared into life, a stream that carried its master away, and the Waterblight fled the chamber, rushing out the exit to the south.

“Zelda!” Paya screamed, but it was not Zelda who heard her, and Mipha leaped headlong into the stream, swimming through the swirling water to give chase to the Blight.

The royal guard of the Domain did not retreat to the city; they were loyal, but loyalty went deeper than obedience. Out of love for their people and fear for their prince and the heroes that he traveled with they stood on the shore of the reservoir, spears in hand, keeping quiet vigil as Vah Ruta stood still in the waters.

They said nothing to each other as the lights inside of the Divine Beast shifted from blue and purple to gold, or as the thunder of the distant rainclouds mingled with the sounds of battle from inside of Vah Ruta. They could not know that their prince was mortally wounded; if they had, they would have gone to him, died for him, died for the Zora. They could not know. So: they were silent, and watchful.

Then a spout of water, a stream that twisted in the air like a dragon, roared out of Vah Ruta. At the head of the spout was a monster like they had never seen before, all darkness and fire and even from that distance, at that speed, they could see its back-turned horns and the crown of fire on its head and they knew it for what it was:

“Ganon.” It was Gaddison who spoke the name, but all of them nodded their understanding. But if Ganon had been in the Divine Beast, and now it was out, then what of the Prince? What of Paya? What of Zelda?

Then a red flash shot up the stream, swimming, redolent with a soft blue light, shining silver spear in hand, giving chase through water and sky. The prince? No. It was too small to be the prince. But the coloring was the same, and—

Gaddison dropped her spear, which clattered against the stone of the reservoir, and no one noticed.

They all watched, arrested, as the stream of water drew wild shapes in the air, forming a highway of water that made a long, sweeping series of loops around Vah Ruta. They watched as the spawn of the Calamity fled from their princess.

Away from Vah Ruta, above the reservoir, she caught it.

It turned to her in the stream, not truly swimming now, letting the current push it, and met her with its trident. She slipped in past it, far faster in the water than in the air, and it used its arm to protect its vitals. Sidon’s spear kissed its arm and got a rose of blood and fire in return, and it could not flee from her here.

Its eye shone, and a red light shone from it, focusing directly on her, because here, in the water, it would not need to hit her directly. Its capacitors charged as the borrowed power of the Guardians hummed inside of it.

Mipha stabbed it directly in the eye.

It shrieked in pain, its body going momentarily limp, powerful arms and legs swept back by the rush of the water that was now running out of control, without direction.

The ancient weapon discharged partially, and Sidon’s spear shattered in her hands. Inside of her, Zelda turned over with something between rage and fear.

The Blight recovered, saw that she had no weapon.

Mipha leaped from the stream, diving for the waters of the reservoir below. The Blight bellowed, its roar almost laughter, and streaked after her.

They saw her dive into the water, spear gone, and saw as the Waterblight dove in after her. The pair darted through the vastness of the reservoir, the red blur looping between Vah Rut’s enormous legs, the purple blur following it. Watching them swim was almost as arresting as watching them fight.

Only almost.

As a body the warriors of the Zora readied their spears; they did not know what they were seeing, but they knew that it looked like the princess under attack by Ganon. So, they would fight, and they would die, and it would be good to die for her, she who they had not protected a century past.

Then the King was among them, at the water’s edge, and in confusion and awe they looked up at him, at the vastness of his body, his heaving chest, the tears streaming down his face. In his right hand he held the Lightscale Trident.

None spoke to him; none dared to gainsay this moment, as his eyes fell on his lost child. He knew it was her, and he understood that she was not physically there, that she was dead, and in his grief he communicated to them that truth. Who would know his daughter, if not her father?

He drew a deep and mighty breath.

MIPHA!” It was the cry of a grieving father’s heart, and over the rain, over the storm, over the sounds of battle, it echoed across the reservoir.

He pulled back the spear with his right arm, taking only a moment’s aim, and with all his strength he hurled his daughter’s weapon to the sky above Vah Ruta. It traced a glittering arc through the air, and under the echo of Dorephan’s grief one could almost hear it singing.


Tears, then, the tears she had not known she still had. She knew that voice; who would know her father, if not his daughter?

So, too, she knew her trident.

The Blight was behind her as she rocketed toward Vah Ruta, reaching for her as she shot up the waterfall. With all her strength, all of her speed, she leaped from the waterfall, tracing an arc of light and water high in the air above her Divine Beast. She looked down, saw the Blight explode from the waters beneath her, and it was holding its own trident in its hands, its cracked eye gleaming at her.

She looked to the shore. Oh. There he was: her father was on the wall, waiting for her. Waiting for her to come home.

She extended her hand, closed it on the Lightscale Trident. The force of catching her father’s throw sent her spinning, and she let it, controlling the arc, turning, facing down toward the Blight. It saw her, then. Saw her spear.

Princess. Please be ready.

Mipha, I don’t know if I can do this! I don’t know if I can use that much power!

You can. Use as much as it takes.

There was no more argument; like a thunderbolt she fell toward the Divine Beast. It thrust at her with its trident; with the force of her spin she slammed her weapon into its own, twisted, wrenched. The Waterblight’s arms were sent wide, its grip broken, and its trident spun through the air, lost.

The Lightscale Trident plunged into Ganon’s chest, and with her whole body she shoved it deeper, seeking its heart. The Waterblight screamed, and together they fell.

Now, Zelda! Now!

From beneath her consciousness, from within the space that she had been allowed to occupy, a bell began to toll. Light blossomed inside of her, light far grander and more awesome than the light she could make, and—

They saw the figure in the air stab the Waterblight in the chest, saw them fall toward Vah Ruta. The king said nothing, prayed for nothing. He was past words, now, and his gathered guards walked that strange country with him.

The power of the goddess exploded in the sky, more than they’d ever seen, brightening the day like a new and more terrible sun, turning the figure of Ganon into a shrieking comet as it plummeted toward Vah Ruta.

It struck, passing through the opening in the Divine Beast’s back, and there was no sound—just a pillar of light reaching into the heavens, bright and warm and impossible to look away from, turning the entire reservoir into an image of paradise.

In the depths of Hyrule Castle, locked in its ceaseless battle with the Hero, the Calamity felt the death of its Blight like a physical blow. It shrieked, echoes of the pain of the goddess’s power spreading through its body like ripples in a pool, and it felt where the goddess was, where all of that hated strength was seated. Though locked in battle it pooled its strength and hurled it from the parapets, its own screaming comet of death that traced oblivion over the sky of Hyrule.

Zelda came back to her body, staring down at the trident her hands, then at the surface on which she stood—only it was not a surface, it was the Blight, and it was very dead. Its body smoked, all vitality gone from it, now little more than a husk that had been burned hollow by the power she had hurled against it.

It crumbled beneath her, into dust and less than dust, and then she felt the Calamity’s fury like a physical force.

We can teleport away, she thought, looking to Paya who was running toward her, to Sidon who had fought his way to his feet. But no, they could not, because the blow struck now would bring doom no less absolute than Vah Ruta’s own attack. I have to stop it. I have to stop it now!

She reached within herself, she was still holding all the power she had used to kill the Waterblight (it had barely drained her at all, how much power did she have?) but she needed more, the light erupted from her and her power filled her ears and Paya’s approach stopped as her relief shifted over to shock.

RUTA!” Mipha’s voice, coming from everywhere, greater than the roar of the power.

Then the floor heaved beneath them, and the three of them fell.

Death arced over Hyrule, its trajectory taking it toward the Eastern Reservoir, which it would destroy at a blow and blot out the light forever.

Vah Ruta’s eyes and servos and power generators glowed blue as it turned in the water, trumpeting defiance as it faced to the west. Lowering it legs to tilt its head up, it raised its trunk, the red targeting laser painting an arc of devastation in the sky. The charge built.

The Calamity’s attack crossed the guiding beam. Vah Ruta fired.

A pillar of blue radiance filled the sky, parting the clouds and the waters, and light slammed into darkness.

There was an eruption without sound, an unleashing of power that would have leveled mountains. The wave of concussive force flattened grass directly below the explosion, the wall of wind pressing hard against the chests of every living thing for miles.

The storm of Blight and Malice and hatred and fury beat itself to uselessness against Vah Ruta’s power, then was swept away.

The beam of light dwindled to nothing, and the wind died.

The rain ceased to fall on Zora’s Domain.

As Vah Ruta settled beneath them, Paya and Sidon were both beside her, lifting her up, speaking so quickly and so vehemently that she could not hear them past the ringing in her ears. The fury was gone. Destroyed? She had let go of the power, of the goddess-sense, and now the world seemed very quiet.

“You did it!” Sidon’s exultation was a physical thing, his arms pumping, and he beat his fist against his chest, which only minutes ago had had three gaping holes in it. “I couldn’t—I’ve never seen anything like it! Even the stories don’t tell of anything like what you just did!”

“Zelda,” Paya said, and she was supporting her physically, draping one of Zelda’s arms over her shoulders, and Zelda found herself grateful beyond words that she was unhurt. “How did you do that? What we saw, it was like—”

“It wasn’t me,” she said, and she could feel their eyes on her, the weight of their regard, their hunger for answers. “She was here, before we arrived. Mipha’s been here for a hundred years. I had to reach out to her to fight it, but now that it’s dead I think she’s free. She should…”

The power gathered, a soft light that filled her with warmth, and they three looked to the center of the chamber, where motes of radiance swirled and coalesced.

“No,” she said, with a voice that could not rise above a whisper.

Mipha did not stand before them—she floated, her feet not quite touching the floor, and she was lit from all sides by the ghost fires. The Zora princess smiled, and it was like a flower blossoming, but it was so sad, and that sadness echoed inside of Zelda as if she were an empty chamber and she was empty and she felt the world crumble beneath her as she collapsed to her knees.

“No, no, no,” because that word was all she had, and the Lightscale Trident clattered to the floor as she hid her face behind her hands, and neither Sidon or Paya reached for her. She heard Mipha approaching, footsteps that were not footsteps, and when that warm hand touched her arm something inside of her unknotted, loosened, fell slack, and the pain that swept through her was a pain that she had been hiding beneath her amnesia and it was all she could feel.

Mipha’s arms wrapped around her, pulled her into a gentle embrace there on the floor.

“I thought you were still alive,” Zelda said, and she could barely understand her own voice, she was sobbing now and couldn’t hold it back as Mipha’s hands stroked her hair. “I thought, I thought that you would be here, that you were trapped here but you were alive, and when we freed you you could go home, that I wouldn’t have failed you, that you would be OK, I…”

She let her own hands fall away, rested her head against Mipha’s shoulder, and the warmth of Mipha’s healing power was flowing through her but it did not touch this ache, this regret, this grief. She could not stop sobbing, could barely breathe.

“I loved you so much! I loved you all so much and I failed you, I let… I thought I could save you!”

Mipha’s words were soft in her ear, like the fingers stroking her head:

“You did, Zelda.”

Ah, so there was more pain to unearth, then. It built inside of her, demanding release, obliterating thought, and she wailed as her grief crushed her.

“You did.”

Chapter Text

Two princesses there were in Vah Ruta: one who died for the other, and the other who wished desperately that she had been the one to make that sacrifice. Zelda’s choked sobs had finally begun to taper off, receding to wounded whimpers as she leaned into Mipha’s embrace, and Paya, alongside Sidon, had only been able to stand back and wait during this display of deep-set grief she had neither the knowledge nor the perspective to understand.

Sidon—Sidon who had fought the Waterblight with his spear and then with his bare hands, Sidon who had waited a century to find his sister again and was now confronted only with her ghost—stood watching like a sentry, and it was not just the particulars of his Zoran features that made his expression impossible for Paya to read. That he was able to be so patient now, that he was able to give Zelda space for a grief she only half-remembered, that he had not immediately run to his sister, all these things spoke to a fortitude of the spirit that Paya did not think she could ever possess. She was not shying away from him, now; maybe she would have if he looked at her, maybe the weight of his attentions would have sent her scurrying into the dark, but as it stood she found herself admiring him, his patience and his calm and his empathy. This is why his people love him.

“I have been trapped here since that day a century ago,” Mipha said, as much to the two of them as to Zelda. “Many were the days where my heart began to waver, and I wondered if perhaps I would never be free… but you came for me. The three of you have made my hopes into a reality.”

“Sister,” Sidon said, and his voice was strained in a way that ran counter to what Paya expected out of him. “I would… I would speak with you, if I may.” He paused, then, his attention going to his feet before returning to his sister’s face. “Or, that’s what I want to say. I spent decades wondering what I would say to you if we met again. Now that you’re in front of me, it’s all slipped away.”

Mipha smiled at him, plainly amused. “The years have changed you very little, in some ways. But I think perhaps they have changed me even less. I spent years thinking of you too, Sidon—conversations that lasted for days, listening to you tell me all the stories of your life. If I were to take the spirit of what I hope to communicate to you, to parse it down to its most essential element…” Her posture changed, in a way that Paya could not tell the meaning of, but Sidon’s changed in response. “I am so proud of who you have become, Sidon. You are even stronger than I hoped you would be…” Mipha bore no shame for her tears; she neither tried to restrain them nor hide them, rejecting all artifice. “I am so glad that I was able to speak to you again.”

Sidon nodded; unlike his sister, his emotions seemed to choke him, and he did not speak.

“I am only a spirit, now; my healing powers are wasted on me. So, if you would, I wish you to have them.” Zelda looked up, then, at last broken out of whatever place she had retreated to, and she looked too tired to be wounded. “They will protect you, when things are at their most dire, and I hope that they will be a comfort to you when the world is at its most dark. Please accept them.”

There was a light in the Zora princess’s chest, and she drew it forth with her fingers; it was soft and blue and held in it the same gentle radiance that she had used to heal Sidon of his wounds. She knelt before Zelda, and Zelda’s hands were shaking as they reached out for it. For all the world it looked like a jewel passing between them, and Zelda took the jewel in her hands before pulling it against her own chest, where the light sank in. It did not disappear, leaving in the air a faint luminescence, the sound of little bells, the smell of clean waters.

Zelda held her hands to her chest, still, as Mipha rose to her feet once more. “I must take my leave, now, and begin preparations with Ruta. When the time comes, we will strike at the darkness. We will annihilate Ganon together.” She meant it, and that fact more than any other struck Paya like a blow: no one knew how the champions had died, exactly, but everyone knew that they had. Now she thought she understood better the pain, the enormity of what the Champions had been made to suffer; to be willing to return to the battle after that, to face off again with the primordial darkness that had killed and imprisoned them for so long… there was no understanding such devotion, such courage.

But I wish to, she thought, and that is everything I wish to be.

Light engulfed her, light the color of gold, and she realized that she was being sent away.

Sidon, engulfed in the same light, realized at the same moment, and called out, “Mipha! What should I tell Father?”

Mipha walked toward them, not toward Sidon but toward Paya, though her eyes were on her brother. “Tell him that I’m sorry for making him worry. Tell him that I am free, and happy, and I will see our kingdom safe from the darkness. Tell him… tell him I always followed my heart.”

Paya felt her face reddening as the Zora princess stopped in front of her, rising higher so their faces were level. She froze stock still as Mipha leaned in, lips nearly touching Paya’s ear, and then said in tones so low that no one else might hear:

“You should, too.”

The light swallowed her, and Paya was gone from that place of water and tears.

Paya and Sidon disappeared, as if transformed into motes of golden light that rose into the sky and away from Vah Ruta. Zelda watched them go, realizing that she was not with them, and that that teleportation looked a very great deal like her power. Perhaps I could do that. Perhaps I do not need the Sheikah Slate at all. It was a thought she latched onto, a raft in the storm.

Then she was alone on Vah Ruta, alone with the woman who had died for her. The warmth of the healing power (Mipha’s Grace, she thought the name though she had not heard it) was still inside of her, like a star sitting next to her heart, and it made her feel safe, and balanced, and if not more in control of herself then at least able to pretend. Zelda had seen Mipha whisper something to Paya; she could not guess at what it had been and would never ask. Shame, more than propriety, denied her.

“Mipha,” she said to the ghost’s back, and Mipha did not turn in response to her so she continued anyway, “why am I still here?”

“There is something I have to show you,” the dead woman said, and from anyone else’s mouth it might have been menacing, but from Mipha’s there was only regret and hope and fear and shame. “Will you let me?” She left Zelda an avenue of escape, and from that Zelda understood two things: that whatever this was would hurt her, and that Mipha loved her enough to want to spare her from it despite the necessity. Was it memory or a deeper, more essential element of her heart that felt that love and demanded she answer it?


The newly-revealed light of the sun was blocked out as the entrances to Vah Ruta closed, and the Divine Beast roared in a sound not far removed from joy as it drew into itself. Then they moved, and Zelda felt the floor shift beneath her, and she reached down into the goddess power, broadening her awareness, sending it outward and into the world beyond the Divine Beast.

How bright the world, how clear, outside of Vah Ruta, how she felt the rays of the sun though they did not fall on her skin, the pure water of the reservoir like a cauldron of diamonds as Vah Ruta dove into it. Vah Ruta’s being changed as it submerged, moving through the water without disturbing it and at a speed that should have been impossible for something of its size and its bulk. It was as if the water itself was not just a medium through which it moved but a wholly separate world that it occupied.

Swiftly did they move, flitting out of the reservoir, down waterfalls, along the lengths of rivers wide and narrow, and up the side of the mountains that ringed in Zora’s Domain. Where water flowed, so too could Vah Ruta, and when it burst from the shallows it needed walk only a little further to crest the massive mountain at the western end of that range. It bellowed its challenge to the Calamity, lifting its trunk, and its capacitors warmed up as the targeting laser focused on the keep of Hyrule Castle.

The outer layers of Vah Ruta opened, and the sun shone down on Zelda again. It was warm, wonderfully warm, warm in a way that sent warmth through her whole being, and she allowed herself a moment to draw on it for strength and comfort.

During the entire trip, for those several minutes, Mipha had not looked at her. Her expression had been distant, as if drawn far away, and now Zelda really looked and saw that she was looking to the west, to Hyrule Castle. To Ganon.

“What I am about to show you,” the Champion’s voice was quiet but firm, the decision already made, “is not meant to drive you to haste. I need you to understand that, before we begin. If we are to have any hope of defeating Ganon then you must gather your strength. Restore as much of your memory as you can, marshal all of the goddess’s power that you can possibly control, free the Divine Beasts… everything that you feel you need to do, do. Ganon is so much worse than it was a century ago, Princess. We will need every possible advantage if we hope to see it defeated.”

Haste. Yes, she had been thinking of that, hadn’t she, in the further recesses of her mind. There was something there as they had done battle with Vah Ruta, as they had faced the Blight that had conquered it and killed Mipha. How much worse must things be in other places? And worst of all, Ganon. Hurry. Hurry to Hyrule Castle. Make straight for there, if you can, for time is the most terrible of your enemies.

“My father’s spirit said to me that the Hero’s strength was nearly gone. Hylia told me that we were nearly out of time.”

“I do not believe that.” Mipha’s words cut across her own, not dismissive but insistent, the words of someone who genuinely knew better, and the force of them was different from everything she had said up to now. “Ganon’s strength grows, but Link will not fail. He will hold for as long as he is needed.” Then, quietly: “He promised.”

“You seem so sure,” Zelda said, and the curiosity was rising in her, now, how relieving to let it shoulder past her grief, to push to the forefront of her mind and insist that this was the place where it most belonged. “How can your faith be so absolute? How can your faith in him be so strong, knowing what he is facing?”

Still Mipha did not face her. “We were Champions. All five of us still share some connection between us, even in death. I have… watched him, from my prison, for the past hundred years. From him I drew my faith that we would see release; so long as he fought, there was still hope. But, Princess.” Mipha was shaking, the outline of her spirit quivering though the image of her remained solid. “You must see to understand. May I show you?”

She was enshrouded in the power of Hylia; in answer she reached out, mingling her awareness with Mipha’s. There was so much sorrow there, so much regret, so much pain, that it threatened to overwhelm her, to be more than her goddess-mind could bear, an ocean of it, and that ocean swept her away.

No Malice lay about the grounds of Hyrule Castle, corroding the fabric of the world around it. No monsters walked its halls. Guardians roamed or sat in silent vigil, waiting for invaders that had not wandered near in decades. The sky was dark, crackling with energy that emanated from the Calamity as it did battle, but it exerted no effort in trying to infect the world around it; all its strength was turned inward. A brilliant green light shone from the highest tower, as if battling the storm of darkness.

There was also no silence there; anywhere that one stood in Hyrule Castle, or even as far away as the shattered remnants of Castle Town, one could hear echoes of conflict. The ringing of steel was underscored by the roar of powers unleashed, darkness leveled against the sword that would seal it, the exultation of a voice more ancient than the Calamity itself.

Down, then. Starting at the Sanctum, where the throne of the Kings and Queens of Hyrule lay in pieces, one could cast one’s awareness into the enormous pit that opened in its floor, down into the foundations of the earth beneath the castle, into the enormous chamber where the Hero waged his war.

The Master Sword plunged into the Calamity’s throat, cutting its roar short, and Link tore the blade away in a spray of fire and darkness. Ganon bellowed, its shifting form staggering, the killer blow landed against it. Link landed on the ground, backed away as it fell to it knees. It looked at him with eyes, first dozens and then hundreds and then only two, that oscillated between orange and purple and golden before settling on yellow, yellow like fire.

It hit the ground on its face, the impact shaking the chamber in which they stood and the entirety of the castle above them, and its body burst into flames.

Link staggered, then, and fell to his knee, the weight of mountains settling on him. His blood pooled beneath him, not from wounds opened by Ganon but by protestations of his flesh, a rejection of the work he asked of it. He breathed in heavy, ragged gasps, his body shuddering with the effort of each inhalation—but he did not fall. The Master Sword’s tip, burning with the blood and hatred of its most terrible enemy, dug into the floor as the Hero held himself up by its hilt. He did not fall.

The fire of the Calamity’s body danced and sang and burned and swirled as its physical form shattered and faded to nothing. The eyes of the beast, twin suns that hurt to gaze upon, floated there in the flames; they never looked away from the Hero, took in every moment of his weakness, of his pain, seeming to measure him.

Ganon did not roar; instead the fire drew into itself, swirling more brightly and intensely as it condensed, and finally it settled on the floor. If one looked at it from the Hero’s perspective one would have seen it as a nearly formless silhouette of fire and darkness, staring with golden eyes bereft of feeling or expression; the Hero did not look up. There was quiet in the hall, for that brief time.

“There have been changes, since last we spoke,” the beast within the fire whispered, and its whisper suggested that if it shouted then the world would break. “Would you hear of them?”

Link spoke not; he breathed, and held onto his sword, and waited.

“She is finally on the move again. I admit to… surprise.” It was not surprise that coated its words in venom, that made the walls shake and the earth groan beneath them. “I was so sure she was dead, that you had left her corpse to cool on the grass when you challenged me, but she is returned.” The fires had no face, no hands, no shoulders, not a single part that would betray body language common to monster or beast or humanity, but still it shifted, still it seemed to grow more agitated. “All this time, I thought you were only delaying me, and that the battle was over save for you. All this time, I had assumed that time was on my side. Yet here we are, and it is growing short.”

No reaction. Did the Hero even hear? Did the Calamity care?

“I respect you, you know. I always have, though I did not always show it. To take up arms against a power greater than yourself, to seize the strength of the gods to make the world that you desire—that is worthy of respect.” It was not respect that shifted the fire, that made that voice rise above a whisper, that made the walls echo with the growls of a beast too vast to tread the earth. “But it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The two of you against me were not enough before, and while you two are so greatly reduced I am so much more than I was. Can you feel it, I wonder, how my strength builds and returns? Can you feel me—” The Calamity paused, its gaze never wavering. “I am wasting my words. Let us see if you will live, this time.”

The attack of the Waterblight, when leveled against a person’s will, was invisible to the naked eye; not so the power of the true form of Ganon. Between the flames of the beast and the crouched form of the Hero the air was alive with fire and darkness, ropes of virulent hatred so concentrated they were like an undying curse waving in the air, reaching for the prone form of the Hero. Still he did not respond. Maybe, then, he truly did not see them there.

Then the Calamity’s power was upon him and he screamed with all the force of his body, an ear-splitting howl so pained that half a country away one princess tried to cover her ears against it while the other listened with the resignation of someone who had suffered this before. He writhed, his body spasming, muscles seizing as the power of the beast flowed into him, through him, and when he screamed the power arced between his teeth like bolts of black lightning.

The earth shuddered beneath them; so much strength did the Calamity pour into the Hero that the run-off flowed away through the ground itself, seeking channels through which to rush out and restore the darkness that had walked the land. Ganon struck, and the earth bled, and the hero screamed. The golden eyes set within the fire showed nothing at all, but perhaps the spirit behind them smiled. Still the Hero did not fall.

The Master Sword was chipped and pitted, its edge worn down in places, rust betraying its integrity in others. The Malice danced across it, too, seeking to eat away at the blade as it ate away at the Hero, for did not the stories claim that the sword and its master were one, two halves of a single soul, and that to destroy one would destroy the other? So Ganon attacked it, too, and in that hall, one could hear metal creaking.

And then a single bright, clean note, accompanied by the radiance of a terrible blue light.

The light shone from the blade of the sword, pushing back the Malice, and the hero’s screams stopped. The flow of the Malice was stymied not at all; the killing intent of the Calamity was redoubled, and then more, as the weapon forged in the fires of the gods pushed back against it. The note rose and rose and rose, the dawning call of the gods, the ringing of a bell, a single voice that was the instrument of dragon song.

The space behind the wall of blue light pushing back Ganon’s power was empty, and then the spirit of the sword winked into physical existence.

None remained who knew her as she had been before; none remained who would be able to say how she had been changed. Her lustrous blue skin, once gleaming like polished steel, had grown dull and discolored in the long battle with the Calamity. The robes that hung down from her shoulders, recalling arms or even wings, were tattered and rusted. The shape of her head, which had once suggested hair and helmet both, had shifted, flowing down into a mantle that protected her torso—and this was necessary, as that mantle was pitted and gouged more severely than the blade of the sword. Only her voice, raised in the song that she had sung for the Hero in an age before ages, was unchanged.

How Ganon hated her; how the fires raged, and its growling built to a howl, drowning out the long note of her song.

“Master,” said she, in a voice older than Ganon, a voice that made the Hero look up, “please rise. Her Grace will be with us soon.” Ganon’s howl grew more terrible, the force of its attack turning into a storm, and now there was no run-off, now the strength to shatter worlds and rewrite history was being concentrated into a single terrible point, a typhoon of darkness in which stood a man and the spirit of the sword that had judged him worthy. “Rise. You are the Hero fit to serve Her Grace, and you cannot fall here. Your duty is not yet fulfilled.” The sound of Link’s fingers tightening against the hilt of his weapon was small in that maelstrom. “Yours is the sword that will seal the darkness. Yours is the spirit unbreakable. Rise! Rise, my master, and take up the blade that is yours by right! Face the darkness! For Hyrule, for life, for Zelda! Rise!

How old the Song of the Hero; in ages long past, ages forgotten to mortal and gods alike, she had sung it at the behest of the goddess. Now she sang in the language of the old gods, in a voice that shook the foundations of the heavens, so that Link might hear the call of his own soul.

It did not strengthen him; that was not the power of the song. Still his blood pooled beneath him, still his body threatened to fail him, still his limbs shook and his breath came in ragged, gulping gasps. But he heard it, and he heaved himself to his feet, the Master Sword raised in his hands.

Fi reached the last notes and, smiling, vanished.

The light came from the sword, but it was his light, too, and as the power of the Calamity leveled all its fury against him he stood unshaking in the center of the maelstrom. It did not touch him; it could not.

“Nothing is unbreakable,” the fires roared as the enormous chamber shook and danced around them. “Not this place. Not that sword. Not you.” The fires shifted, rose, expanded, beginning to fill some new shape. “I only need to win once, Hero. You will fail; your time grows short, too. Your spirit will buckle.”

“I will not fail,” the Hero said, his voice quiet in that chamber even as the maelstrom died, all the power of the beast being recalled into the flames which swelled and darkened. “I will hold you here. I will hold you until they come for me, and for you.”

The shadow grew, and grew, and grew, as Ganon crafted its own shape.

“I won’t let you hurt them.”

“Who,” Ganon whispered, towering over the Hero, “do you seek so desperately to protect?”

He was still gasping, barely able to speak the words, pausing for breath between each name. “Urbosa. Daruk. Mipha. Revali.” He swallowed. “Zelda.” Finally, he made eye contact with the beast. “You won’t touch any of them.”

The raging of the maelstrom as it was pulled back into Ganon’s body; the buckling of stone under its hooves; the hiss of metal as it lightly dragged its swords across each other; the howling of the earth, full to bursting with its evil; none of these were so terrible, so world-shattering, as the thunder of Ganon’s laughter.

It did not speak the words. Its laughter reached a shrieking crescendo, and it swung its swords, falling to battle once more.

The sound of steel ringing in that hall drowned out the world.

Zelda came back to her body, then, and fell to her hands and knees, nearly collapsing altogether. Hylia he is in so much pain and she could not go further than that, there was a barrier in her soul that would not let her confront everything that she had seen, everything she had heard.

“How,” she said, and looked up at Mipha, who was clear-eyed and dry-faced in a way that she herself was definitely not. “For a hundred years, he… how?”

“Faith,” the dead princess answered, “and duty. He has always been dutiful, even when he was very small, and he has always been faithful, too. They are armor that protects his heart, and they allow him to push himself up, even when.”


“Even when he suffers. Even when he is all alone. Hylia is wrong, and your father is wrong, and Ganon is wrong. He will never break. For a hundred years or ten thousand, he will fight for us. For you. He will never fall. He’ll just… suffer.” Another long pause. “He forgets what happened to us. He forgets that day, as if the fight is all he’s ever known of Ganon. Because if he allowed himself to remember, he.” Mipha could not get the words out. Instead, for the first time since sending Paya and Sidon away, she looked at Zelda, and Zelda saw that she had been wrong to think her calm. “You must save him, Princess.”

She thought of Link in that place, facing down the end of the world with nothing but a sword and the strength of his will, Link who had protected her from death, Link who had borne the burden of war in her place for a century. She was supposed to save him? It was preposterous. How could she even aid someone like that, much less save them from battle?

“Please,” Mipha said, and her tone was still controlled but at the edge of her words it began to fray, as if something were about to unravel inside of her, “you must. You saw how he fights, how he suffers. So many times he has struck down Ganon, and so many times he has suffered those same ministrations. My death was as nothing compared to what he is experiencing.” Her hands balled into fists. “I know… you loved him, once. That love gave rise to your power. Please… no matter what it takes, or how hard it becomes…” Then something else inside of her changed and her red hands fell loose. “I will be with you. I will add my power to yours, however I may. But please, Princess.”

There was a golden light, and it was hers but not hers, and she could feel herself leaving that place, and she did not have time to cry out, only to hear:

“Please save him.”

Mipha was alone on Vah Ruta, and it was quiet in that place. No Zelda, no Sidon, and after one hundred years there was no Ganon. What a storm whirled within her, thoughts of her brother and her father and of Zelda, but she could center herself. Now she was alone, at last.

She had controlled herself in front of Zelda; not perfectly, but she could not demand perfection of herself. Not for this. Not for the enormity of what she was experiencing.

For a hundred years she had watched him, the lacerations in his flesh and the failing of his body. For a hundred years she had been helpless to reach out to him, unable to lend him aid. For one hundred years her promise to him had been made into a lie.

Maybe now, at the end, she might be of some help to him. She had to believe that; there was nothing else to believe.

Casting her sight to the depths of that pit, she returned to her vigil. She would not look away.

Alone, at last, she allowed herself to weep for him.

Chapter Text

Bright, the sun as it shone upon Zora’s Domain for the first time in those many weeks; warm, the air in the wake of the rain. Zora’s Domain was alive with water, a thousand fountains flowing in a thousand directions as its people walked along its streams without the shadow of annihilation standing over them. The roar of the water draining from the reservoir was constant, every sluice opened to drain before the flood season returned. Every engineer was unanimous in their agreement: disaster had been averted. All the peoples of Hyrule—and the Zora not least of them—had been saved. The Domain was a glimmering jewel, and its people found their ancient pride once more.

In the heart of Zora’s Domain stood the piscine tower that marked the throne of its kings and its queens; at the base of that tower, where the throne room stood, the sun shone through in curtains that laid its occupants in shafts of light. The warmth was comforting, after the long days of darkness and rain, but Zelda drew no comfort from it. She was sweating, her undershirt sticking to her back as she spoke to Dorephan, who had listened with rapt attention as she relayed the story of the battle on Vah Ruta, of the things she had seen afterward. Paya was at her side, having also changed out of her Zora armor, though Zelda imagined that she was not so uncomfortable. Sidon, quieter and more pensive ever since returning from the Divine Beast, stood at the foot of his father’s throne, arms crossed over his chest. No one else was present in that chamber, not Muzu, not the guards, not anyone but they four.

“…And the vision ended as they fell to battle again. That is all that Lady Mipha showed me.” No need to mention what came after; no one present needed to know of their princess’s pain and grief.

Dorephan shifted in his throne, the ghost of a smile playing across his face. “That boy… Our scouts had indicated that the sounds of battle have continued unabated for a century, but it was so difficult to believe. Not just that a Hylian could live for so long, but that he could still be fighting, without food or water or rest.” He shook his head. “If it had not come from your mouth and been shown to you by Mipha, I would never have believed it. But Link is the same as he ever was.”

Was he? What a thing to say—that he should have always been this person, even before laying hands on the sword that called him to his destiny. “It would seem so, Dorephan. Mipha believes that he will continue fighting for as long as he is needed, and that to rush to his aid without preparing would be a grave mistake.”

“If Mipha believes so, then that is assuredly true. Your preparation must be of the absolute highest priority, and every advantage conferred to you. The Lightscale Trident,” and he saw her reach for it and waved his hand, “is yours to carry. You freed my daughter from her imprisonment, and I am sure it will be her great joy to join her strength to yours in the battle to come. Take it. Save the one that the Hero carries, there is no finer weapon in all the realm, and it is still connected to Mipha. I hope that it will serve you well.”

What a heavy thing—not the trident itself but the thought of it, the import of the weapon as it lay strapped to her back. She remembered the feeling of using it against the Waterblight, how Mipha’s knowledge and skill and strength had driven her limbs. Perhaps my body remembers some part of that, she mused, and knew that it was true, if only in a small way. More than the fact of the weapon, more than its use against Ganon, she thought of the stone monument that bore its history, how Mipha’s voice had spoken through it in the story etched into the rock face, and she wondered how much more the weapon was. “Thank you,” she managed.

“It will be a comfort to me to know that you have it.” The smile slipped from his face; his expression was not one of unhappiness, that Zelda could tell, but he was instantly more intent as he leaned forward on his throne, massive hands digging into the armrests. “We will celebrate you, of course. I know you would rather not—you would have preferred not even when you were a child—but we will do so anyway, because my people feel we must. But before we get to that, one question remains to me.”

Hylia, that could be anything. She nodded.

“You spoke of seeing Link’s battle with Ganon, of the wounds he laid upon it and the different ways in which they’ve been locked together. Of the wounds he suffered. Through all of this, you never related how he’s managed to stay alive for that long, or his personal condition, or even what scars the battle has left on him. So, my question is: what state is the Hero in?”

“That,” she said, the thoughts a whirlwind inside of her skull that she pieced together as she spoke, “is a very good question. Mipha told me that faith and duty fueled him, but that cannot be all, can it? But I do not know. The vision was rooted in his perspective, almost, as if Mipha’s connection to him was strictly personal.” Looking at the middle distance, toward the ground, she did not see as Dorephan closed his eyes. “I never saw him myself. I felt his pain, his exhaustion, his determination, and I felt it as he answered the call of the sword… but I do not know how he is being sustained. If the power of the sword is so great, then perhaps it is supporting him as he fights; perhaps it is some power of the spirit of the Hero, that allows him to fight on long after others would have died. Maybe it’s something inherent to Link himself. I… I don’t have the information.” She paused. Bit her lip. “No. That’s wrong. I don’t have the perspective to answer that question right now. Perhaps, with more of my memory…”

“Do not let it trouble you.” Dorephan’s voice was gentle, his expression kind. “That he fights on is the most important thing; he is devoted to his duty as the Hero and as your Champion, and if Mipha believes that he will not fail then it must be true.” Then he smiled, showing his teeth, and they were very much like his daughter’s. “May I ask a favor of you? When you defeat Ganon,” because he believed in her and in his daughter and in the Hero so utterly that there was no room for doubt inside of him, if she looked at him with the goddess sight then the fullness of his faith would crush her to the ground, “when Link is free, please bring him back here. He spent a great deal of time with us in his youth and was treasured dearly by his contemporaries. And,” here the smile faltered, briefly, before returning, “I have something I want to show him. A memento, of the life he lived here and of the love of the Zora.” The grin grew wider, but the joy was gone out of it. “In truth I think of him as a son, you see, and it would ease my heart to see him again.”

“Of course,” and the words from her mouth were sadder than she had realized, as if someone else was speaking with her voice, and for one moment she was displaced in time, standing on the precipice of some deeper knowledge. Then it passed, and she felt herself return to normal. “I can only imagine he will want to see you, too.”

There. The smile was back, genuine now, happier, and he raised his hand not in a gesture of dismissal but to let her know that she was no longer beholden to this audience. She and Paya bowed together, and Sidon, still thoughtful, stepped down from the dais to join them as they walked out of the throne room. The weight of that place was immeasurable, she thought; was that just the weight of all monarchs, all thrones, or was there something there that was particular to this place, this family? Was it the roar of the waterfalls as the Eastern Reservoir drained that leant it such import? Was it how Zora’s Domain was in many ways the most vital place in Hyrule, its sole protector against elements that would see it regularly swept clean? Or was it just that Link had walked here, a century ago, and the imprint that he had left on the hearts of its people had become an echo chamber that thundered with a voice speaking a language she did not understand? How they loved him, she thought, not understanding how right she was.

“There will be a great deal of talking,” Sidon’s voice was low, almost conspiratorial, as they descended the stairs, “about the things you have done and the doom you delivered us from. Everything said will be true, so long as it is in praise of your courage and your ingenuity and the good you have done for us. But.” He stopped, and they stopped too, turning to face him, and Zelda noticed that Paya let Sidon stand between them, which was a testament to the trust and faith he had fostered in the halls of Vah Ruta. “We are more than the actions of our hands! This I believe. Even if you had failed, even if we had all been swept away, you would still be the most courageous souls I’ve ever come across. You were willing to put your lives on the line for a people you’d never met, faced down monsters that few living eyes have ever even seen, and I feel emboldened by the stoutness of your hearts. Paya. Zelda.” He extended his hands, his left to Paya and his right to Zelda, as if seeking a hand-shake. “You are the heroes of my people, and you will be my dearest friends for as long as I live.”

She clasped Sidon’s hand with both of hers, and she felt the power there, power that had let him sink his claws into the flesh of the spawn of Ganon—but more than that he was warm, and the smile he gave her when she took his hand was so bright, so raw, so happy that she could not help smiling in return. Paya was more hesitant, only slightly, as she also clasped both of her hands to Sidon’s one. Sidon laughed, then, practically roared with it, and the sound was so jovial that Zelda could not help laughing, too, if only a little.

“Shall we?” she asked. Their hands unclasped; she still felt the warmth of his embrace, the radiance and kindness of his expression, as the three of them descended the long steps from the throne room.

The plaza stood spread out beneath them, and her breath caught in her throat—she heard Paya gasp on Sidon’s other side—at the sea of Zora spread beneath them. Every person in the Domain must have been gathered there, from the smallest children to the most aged of the elders, a sea of blues and blacks and reds and greens, countless eyes looking up at them, at her, waiting with breathless anticipation. She saw the guards who had been with them at the reservoir, who had fought alongside them against Vah Ruta—Gaddison waved from the crowd, and Zelda inclined her head, hoping the light-skinned Zora would see.

“My people!” Sidon’s voice was very loud in that place of held breath and fervent whispers. “A day ago, we faced the possibility of our end. Today, the sun shines on us once more, and the Divine Beast Vah Ruta has been cleansed of the evil that plagued it! Tonight, we celebrate the work of those who fought to free us from the shadow of annihilation, and those who fight to banish the threat of Ganon from this land! Join me, friends!” He grabbed Zelda by the wrist and she realized what was happening a second before her lifted her arm and Paya’s into the air. “These are the heroes of the Zora!”

Their voices drowned out the waterfalls and shamed the thunder, their collective roar a physical weight exerting pressure on her chest. Sidon’s laughter was almost inaudible, and he released their hands and waved with both of his, and then he called out and his people answered:





The crowd carried their names, exulting them with the name of their people, and the force of it shook the domain beneath them. Zelda waved too, laughing, forgetting for one moment the weight of what was on her. She looked at Sidon, whose face was upturned with real, unfettered joy, and then she looked across at Paya—and the look on her friend’s face brought her short.

She is still worried. For Hyrule, for us, and for me. Most of all for me. I have done ill by her. How many times have I thought that, in the past few hours alone? How many times have I been shamed by the depths of her devotion? Have I been avoiding this because of how she feels for me? Am I a coward, to not be able to face her, and will I continue wronging her because of it?

Paya was looking at her, too, and some part of her seemed torn, determined. Maybe Zelda could have understood, if she had been privy to the words Mipha whispered in Paya’s ear, or if she listened to the echoes of Paya’s heart with the power of the goddess. She had neither of these things. Only her determination.

I will make this right.

There was cheering, though thankfully no speeches; there was music, played on stringed instruments that Paya recognized but Zelda did not; there was dancing, of a style that would only be possible for a people who moved through water more comfortably than a Hylian could move on the ground. There was food, fruits and vegetables and fishes prepared in ways too myriad to try them all.

The celebrations were a release of the tensions of the Zora, defiance against the extinction that had been averted, as much for themselves as for the princess and her guardian and the prince and his guards, and once they got going there was no real way to stop them. Even as the children became exhausted and were escorted back to the communal sleeping pools, even as the aged declined dancing and instead partook of rich food and heady drink, the celebrations continued under the light of the Domain’s shining stones. No one person or group was necessary; the Zora needed this celebration as much as they needed any other essential component of life, and so it would continue.

This is what allowed Zelda and Paya to slip away with laughing, happy thanks to Sidon and Gaddison and the other members of the guard who had brought them in as if they were finless siblings. The Zora had begun to partake of drink, which bolstered their happiness, and Sidon’s grin was lop-sided and guileless as he bade the two of them goodnight.

So, Zelda and Paya returned to the inn, which was temporarily unstaffed. So much the better, Zelda thought.

She drew in her breath, trying to steady herself in the arrangement of her thoughts. She had to do this for Paya, had to make her understand how much her companionship meant to her, and… more than that, there could be no secrets between them. Not even to protect one of them.

But Paya spoke first, as Zelda set the Lightscale Trident carefully next to her bed. “It has been a very long day. If you’d like to sleep, I will take watch until the innkeepers return.”

Ah. The bite of shame, again, as she took her seat on the bed.

“Actually, Paya, I do not think I’m ready to sleep yet.” The surprise registered on Paya’s face so plainly it bordered on the comedic. “Today has been full, yes, but it’s given me opportunity to… reflect, I suppose.” How to put this, how to put this. “When I was channeling Mipha, it was… overwhelming. She possessed an enormity of spirit that I assume is shared by each of the Champions.  I don’t know if it was because she has been in that state for a century or if it’s just something that’s inherent to the people we selected to battle Ganon, but… it was frightening. Personally obliterating, almost.”

Paya nodded and—in what must have been an enormous act of will—took her seat next to Zelda on the bed. That small expression of solidarity, or at least the desire for solidarity, made Zelda surer than ever that she needed to do this.

“Seeing Link… or rather, the battle… was even worse. Not just because of the fight itself, or how he was suffering, but because it spoke to the power of the bonds that the Champions had, and how it persisted even after death. The strength of their hearts ties them together, and if not for those bonds I do not think we would be able to face the Calamity.”

Paya set her mouth, plainly thinking as if she had been presented with a puzzle. “I wonder how much of what you felt, the comparative enormity of their connection and their spirits, is because of your amnesia.”

“I’m sure some of it is due to that.”

“I think… forgive me for speaking out of turn, but I think perhaps it is a great deal more than some. You carry the power of the goddess inside of you and have the capacity to wield it with the fullness of Hylia’s strength and awareness. No matter how powerful mortal bonds are… I don’t know if they can compare to what you have. To what you are.”

What you are. Well. She wasn’t wrong, even if Zelda did not like to think about it, even if it was like a barrier between them. But that barrier was enough, wasn’t it? Enough reason to act?

“Perhaps you’re right. But regardless of who is greater, I think that the Champions all drew strength from their bonds with one another, and that the bonds I build strengthen me in a very real way. When I shared consciousness with Purah, I… intuited some degree of her understanding. I could interpret the workings of the Guardians in a more concrete, meaningful way, and that understanding carried over to our dealings with Vah Ruta and my use of the Sheikah Slate. When Mipha fought the Blight using my body as a medium, her strength flowed through me, the memory of her training, and… I think I might be more skilled with polearms than I was before. Not comparable to her, but… my body remembers the weight of her trident. My spirit recalls her spirit. I haven’t tried using her healing magic, but I have no doubt that when I do it will come to me as easily as if she were doing it on my behalf.”

Something in all of this had struck Paya; she was staring down at the hands she had clenched together on her lap, not seeing them at all, the color rising in her face. She did not speak.

So, Zelda continued. “Paya… We’ve been through a very great deal together. More, I suspect, than I went through with anyone in my prior life.” Save only Link. “You have protected me, fought for me, been willing to die for me. I would not have made it this far without you. So… it shames me to realize that I have neglected our bond. Neglected you. Wait.” And she put her hand on Paya’s shoulder, which stilled the protest that was about to come and made the color rise in Paya’s face. “You mentioned before that you wished to see the world as I do, to share in the goddess’s vision the way Purah did. If you would accept it, I would be happy to show you now.”

“Oh.” There were layers to that ‘oh’, layers that reached down to the firmament of the world, but she could not really guess at how deep they went. “I had been… meaning to ask, actually. I did not think it would be appropriate to do so today. It’s been very trying. Especially for you.”

She remembered crying in Mipha’s arms, crying as if the entire world had ended, but she did not feel the memory; it was information, not an echo of experience. As if another person altogether had done the weeping, the mourning. Was it the girl from a hundred years ago, who had loved and been loved? The goddess’s vessel, who loved wholly and unreservedly? The barrier separating these identities grew thinner and thinner; soon, she knew, she would not be able to tell them apart. But she did not feel that same grief now, mercifully—did not even feel it for Link. Was that just another defense mechanism, which would come tumbling down when reality, too insistent to be ignored, overwhelmed it?

“I am tired,” and it hurt to admit, because she wanted Paya to think that she was strong, wanted everyone to think that she was strong, “but this is important. I will rest better, I think, after doing this.”

“Then… please.” Paya cleared her throat. “Please show me.”

“It will be an easier transition if you clear your mind. Close your eyes, if that helps—” and as soon as the words were out of her mouth Paya receded, eyes closed, and from the nascent part of the goddess sense that she held onto at all times (How much has that changed my perception?) Zelda could feel the deep, meditative state the young woman had entered. Some part of her training, most likely.

Well. No going back now. She reached down into the goddess power, dipping into it with her fingertips, drawing just enough—more than she had used for Purah, enough to expand Paya’s awareness nearly enough to match her own. I made myself and Purah into nodes in a network, where our awareness each enhanced the other’s. What more can I do, for Paya? But of course she understood, on the level that the goddess understood these things.

First the connection, to make the transition easier, more gradual. Paya was next to her, but without expanding her own thoughts Zelda only felt her as a presence, rather than in the more vibrant hues that Hylia’s senses revealed to her. Of the power she made a cord, one end anchored in her own mind. Attaching the cord created a fascinating sense that she had just discovered a new limb, which up to now had been asleep and was only now coming to life as the nerves waited for fresh signals. Less than a heartbeat had passed since Paya had begun to meditate; she had given her little time to prepare, by the time she anchored the other end of the cord in Paya’s thoughts.

Next to her Paya gasped; the cord between them hummed to life, echoes of their thoughts bouncing back and forth between each other. It was not possible to understand each other, not at this level, but they would. Zelda placed more of the power in the cord, and it flowed both ways, into her thoughts and Paya’s at an equivalent rate, and as her own awareness expanded she felt Paya’s change, too, the power flowing through channels of her mind that had never been stimulated before. The world around them brightened, shifted.

Outside, Sidon celebrated among his people, a pillar of fiery life that stood in a sea of stars, and they moved around him and his laughter was music that fit with the sound of their instruments, and the light of the Zora as they danced and sang and ate and argued and snuck away to dark places together was more beautiful than the luminous stones that surrounded the domain, more vibrant than the stars.

Zelda had given them wings, but Paya’s curiosity was what carried them outward, into the world, and Zelda realized she was feeling what Paya felt, as intimately and concretely as her own experiences. A rush of giddy elation, and warmth, and thankfulness spread through her, and she did not know how much of that was herself and how much was Paya. They swept as one mind up the mountains surrounding Zora’s Domain, feeling the deep rumbling of the peaks that whispered their old aches and fresher soreness in a language that echoed down into the heart of the world, felt Vah Ruta as it stood in its vigil. Mipha was up there, her attention turned ever to the castle, and Zelda quaked with a second discovery of the enormity of her spirit as Paya felt that ocean standing on the mountaintop. Mipha did not see them—perhaps no one could—but looked always to the west, and from a distance they looked too.

The power filled them, changed them, and Zelda pulled Paya’s attention away from the castle, from Ganon and Link, with an urge that was too gentle to be called a correction.

Here, she thought, and her thoughts echoed in that wordless space that they shared, look at me.

Paya looked, and Zelda saw herself through another’s eyes.

I am not Hylia. She thought this reflexively, almost defensively, because Hylia was what Paya saw. She was the power itself, a tower of golden light that hid deeper secrets of greater import, her shoulders hidden by a folded pair of golden wings that shone with all the grace and radiance of the Sun. She realized Paya was not seeing her as she was—perhaps there was no such thing, in this place. Perhaps they all saw some signifiers of true meaning, and even with the perspective of the gods they interpreted them according to their own understanding. Tears ran down her physical cheeks because they were running down Paya’s and the echo of that feeling was in her, the awe and the duty and the hope and the love, and it was almost too much to bear.

Then Paya, as any person with even the barest measure of curiosity might, looked at herself, and Zelda showed her how she saw.

It was more intense, somehow, than how Paya had seen Zelda (perhaps just because I see things so much differently), and there was a moment in that timeless space where no word or thought passed between them. Paya was a great tree, grown greater since that day in Kakariko, her duty and courage and experience and purpose forming titanic, twisting branches that reached out in a network that would touch the stars themselves. At the heart of that purpose, that awareness of her place in the world, was the core of her: and her heart was brighter than fire, shining like a jewel, so radiant with love—

Paya gasped, and the connection broke with a suddenness that snuffed out the goddess awareness like a candle, and Zelda felt it like a blow to her head as Paya hit the floor next to the bed.

“Paya!” She could not see, had to steady herself by grabbing the headboard, shook her head and urged herself not to black out. “Paya, are you all right? What…” And sight came back to her, and Paya had pushed herself away, her back to the next bed over, both hands clasped firmly over her mouth and tears running over from eyes that looked as if they had… born witness to her life coming to pieces. No. Gently. Carefully. Oh, I’ve made a mistake, but now we’re stuck with it, be careful. “What happened?”

It took half a minute before Paya let go of her own mouth, just enough to say between her fingers, “You know?”

She could not lie; not to Paya. She nodded.

“Oh.” Paya closed her eyes, seemed to try to gather herself, failed utterly. Then, as pained as anything Zelda had ever heard anyone say: “I’m sorry.”

“Why ever would you be sorry?” Hypocrite, to ask someone else why they are wounded by their own heart.

“It.” Paya covered her face with her hands. “I am so ashamed. This is a weakness. I can’t… I can’t guard you like this. If you knew, I thought I would have to leave you, to…” She breathed, and breathed, and Zelda waited. “My duties are to the goddess and to Hyrule, even more than to you. If… if anything were to happen, and I had to rely on my own judgment to do what is right, it… these feelings compromise me. I can’t act as your guardian with my judgment impaired. I thought I would need to return to the village if you knew, that I’d have to face Grandmother with my failure and be replaced, and I couldn’t… I thought that if I kept it secret, I could stay with you. I… I lied, I put you in danger just from my remaining here, because… because I wanted to stay with you so badly.” Zelda sank slowly to the floor and crossed the space between them and put her arms around Paya, and at first the silver-haired girl flinched away from her touch but then she leaned in and Zelda stroked her back as she shook and repeated: “I’m so sorry.”

Zelda was gifted in her analysis of the world around her; that she had made it this far was testament to that. She was quick-witted, in some ways. For this, though, as Paya cried against her shoulder and was crushed beneath the image of being separated from her and by her own transgression, her own failure to not feel, she had to take her time. The white-hot anger she suddenly felt at Impa, not for any real slight but because Paya had been allowed to believe that they might be separated because of this, would do neither of them any good. She had to be calm. Strong.

“You will not be going home,” she said, and Paya grew very still in her arms. “Whatever your teachings are… whatever the rules passed down to you may be, believe this: I need you. You, Paya. We have been through too much together; our fates are entwined, now, as surely as if they had been woven. And… it is selfish, and cruel, but I trust you, and I trust you more because you love me.” There. She’d said it, and Paya flinched only a little at the word, hid her face only a little more insistently. “I would never trust anyone with my life the way I trust you. And…” She paused. She hadn’t thought far enough ahead. “I am afraid I might hurt you before this is over.”

No answer.

“I can’t answer the feelings you have for me, Paya. Not as I am now. I don’t know who I’m going to be at the end of this, or how I might change. We promised we would keep each other anchored, and we will, but… I can’t…” Ah, why did this hurt? Was it because she was hurting someone else? That didn’t seem right, but there it was. “I’m so afraid, still. Of the world. Of Hylia. Of Ganon. Of Mipha. Of Link.” There. That was true, as true as anything she’d ever said. “I’m changing, Paya. Every day I move through a world inhabited by giants and I’m changing, and right now I can’t love you like you love me, but… please don’t leave me.” Curse the gods, why was that so hard to say? Why was it so necessary? “I know it must hurt, but. Please.”

She could not say how long that silence stretched out, how long it took for Paya to rein in whatever was raging inside of her, how long she had to resist reaching down into the power to find calm in the perspective of the goddess. The innkeepers did not return; that was a blessing, at least.

At last, after ages, Paya reached up and gently touched the hand on her shoulder.

“I’m OK,” the Sheikah guard said, her voice hoarse and nose stopped up. Zelda let go, and Paya got to her feet and helped Zelda to hers. “If… if it is what you wish, I will not leave. This can… this can stay between us.”

“It is what I wish.”

“Then that is how it will be.” Paya wiped at her face with her hands; she had worn no makeup today, knowing that they would see battle, but still her face was red and blotchy. “I apologize for… all of that. I… I think I knew that you wouldn’t be able to feel the same way I did. It would be unfair to expect it of you, with everything you’re facing.” She stood straight, breathed deeply. “This isn’t how I hoped to have this conversation with you, but… I have a lot to think about, still. A lot to work through for myself. I would like to talk to you about it again, but.” She bowed low. “Will you let me choose the time and place? Will you please wait until I am ready?”

“Yes,” she said, and how much lighter she felt for saying it.

The night passed in merriment for the people in the Domain, save for those two who slept the sleep of the physically and emotionally exhausted.

The city was quiet the next morning; only the king, the prince, and their trusted advisor were up to greet the travelers and to bid them goodbye. It was a short, simple thing; Sidon promised them eternal friendship and a place among his people, Dorephan bade them luck on their journey and beseeched them to return to him for any support that he might lend them, and Muzu was respectfully, blessedly silent.

Zora’s Domain was a jewel amidst the falls, and the sunrise made it shimmer. So it was when Zelda and Paya took their leave, riding intertwining trails of blue light.

They materialized atop the tower where Sidon had first seen them, Zelda in the blue tunic she had worn in bygone days and Paya in the traditional garb of her village.

“The countryside looks so different in the daylight,” Paya said.

“It does. Everything does, especially from up here.” The Domain was not visible from where they stood, but still it was there; in the distance, if she listened carefully, she could still hear the roar of the waters. Taking the Sheikah Slate from her waist, she used its gazing function to look to the north, toward Death Mountain, and then to the west, toward Hyrule Castle. A thought occurred to her, and she flipped over to the album that she had recorded in a previous life. “I wonder…”

“Are you planning our route?”

“I had thought that we might head directly to where Vah Rudania waits, since that region is so close and I have an… appointment nearby. But it occurs to me, looking at these pictures, that I recognize several of the locations. Here, look.” She held the slate out where Paya might look at it, too.

“Oh, I see! Yes, this one should be easy to place, since it is so close to Dueling Peaks and frames them so specifically.”

“Precisely! And this one looks at the castle from the southwest, if I’m not mistaken, and in this one you can see Vah Medoh, so we know what region it was taken in. Even this one, with no obvious landmarks, must be in a particular forest near the Great Plateau, based on the trees.”

“Do you wish to restore more of your memory, then?”

“Yes,” she said, because she did, and it was perhaps the first time it was true. She looked at Paya and she smiled wide and she felt the rush of the world spreading out beneath her and Paya’s answering smile was shocked and bewildered and still unsure of itself. “I have had enough of monsters and ghosts and beasts, at least for a few days. Let’s have a little adventure and recover those memories in easy reach. What do you say?”

Paya’s answer was in her nod, her assurance in the way she cinched her pack and brought out her paraglider, anticipating Zelda’s desire.

There was more to say between them; it might be easy to predict that there would always be more. But in that moment, as the two of them sailed down from the Lanayru Tower, carried gently on the winds blowing from the Domain, it felt like there was no need for words.

Hyrule waited.

Chapter Text

The bokoblin picked a tuft of grass from the field and sniffed at it in the breathy, snuffling way that bokoblins did. Its sense of smell really was quite sharp—not on the level of a dog or a pig but several times more discerning than a person’s—and it snapped to attention as it caught traces of people. Its dark blue skin was mottled by the dappled sunlight filtering down through the branches of the tree in whose shade it crouched.

The people had stopped here. Eaten something. Something made with rice, and meat, and there was a grain of rock salt that glimmered in the sunlight and it picked it up out of the grass and ate it and its jaws ran wet with the taste of the food they’d been carrying. Oh, it wanted that food. It also wanted their weapons, because the old knight’s sword that it carried probably was not so fine as whatever they had. And maybe their meat, too, because bokoblins were omnivorous but they loved meat best of all and it was not well-documented but a little nibble here and there of human flesh was sweet indeed.

Their smell told the story of their strength, too: it could smell the material of their bows, the faint ozone of the thunder arrows they carried, the slightly different ozone that told of ancient weapons. It wouldn’t be able to hunt them alone. That was fine; its band was nearby, lead by a black-skinned bokoblin carrying a great club of dragon bone, and the lot of them together would easily be able to track those humans once they rallied. It spent a long time visualizing that before moving to act, mouth still watering as it thought of rice and bird meat and great hunks of salt. Gazing into the distance as it daydreamed, one might be forgiven for thinking it rather silly-looking.

It heard the discharge of the Guardian’s weapon just in time to look up in alarm before promptly exploding into a ball of fire and evil-smelling smoke. The shockwave of the blast sent the tree falling with a crash, and two of its teeth and one of its horns fell in the burned grass moments before its sword hit the ground some ten paces away.

The Guardian did not stop its patrol at all; in the distance a bokoblin blew its alarm bugle, and the discharge of another Guardian’s weapon cut it short. The Guardian, as well as several others in the area, responded to the sound by charging toward the spot, twisting legs beating heavy rhythms as they raced across open fields. The staccato beat of concussive explosions grew much quicker, and the howls of the bokoblins more frantic, as the Guardians converged on one of their camps.

South from there, across a small lake, Paya stood watch. The eruptions of light and fire and smoke rose up into the air like pillars of force, and she tried to imagine how many beasts the Guardians had managed to kill. She couldn’t, she found; she just didn’t understand enough about them. Surely her aunt could, or Zelda. It was a small thing, but she wished that she could have asked either of them about it. The Dueling Peaks clawed at the horizon, and she wondered at the mountains. The ruins of a building stood on a small islet in the center of the lake, and she wondered at their shared history, lost to destruction.

Behind her Zelda stood, the Sheikah Slate held in her hands, and her eyes shone with golden light.

“Tell me the truth,” she demanded, quiet because she could not voice her demand louder, “how proficient are you right now, wielding that sword on your back?”

Blue eyes (not green-blue like hers but blue, so blue they were like ice floating in water) looked away from her, not able to match her gaze. That said everything, didn’t it? Not in answer to her question, because that question hadn’t mattered. Of course, he was a master with the sword; if he wasn’t he wouldn’t be able to carry it, wouldn’t even be able to touch it, if legend was to be believed. No, the truth his silence and his reticence told was more damning: she had shamed him with the question, had shamed herself in revealing her weakness by asking.

“Legend says that an ancient voice resonates inside it.” The legends did not specify what the voice was; an echo from the world of the spirits, or a message left by the gods, or the gods themselves speaking to their chosen Hero. But it was the sign of their covenant, of the strength and duty of the wielder of the blade, of how beloved he was by the gods. Beloved in the way she was supposed to be, but wasn’t. “Can you hear it yet… Hero?”

He had been looking over his shoulder, at the hilt of the blade; now he looked at her again, and not for the first time his expression was so calm it bordered on severe, taking her in so steadily that she could feel the weight of his judgment. He was so quiet, more like a shadow attached to her heels than a man, and she had never seen him smile once in the days since he had been assigned to follow her—not even around the other Champions, not even in the celebration after their appointment. She had come to think of him as her judge; and why shouldn’t he be? She was supposed to be the other half to the legend that he had already made real; the sword that would seal the darkness was in his hands. All she had to do was fulfill a prophecy as old as the kingdom she stood to inherit, if she did not destroy it in her failure. More than her father, more than the other Champions, more than anyone else, his eyes were heaviest, more terrible because he would not speak to her. Whatever judgments he held in his breast he kept quiet, and now, even now

“I have heard it only once,” he said, and the very act of speaking seemed to pain him, his expression nearly breaking with the effort. Did he find it—her—so distasteful? “When I drew the sword from its pedestal. Ever since… silence.”

“So, you do have a voice.” She drew some petty pleasure from his flinch, his flush, how he looked away from her. Later she would be sorry for that barb, but in that moment she was just happy to elicit any genuine reaction at all. “Tell me, then: what did it say to you, when you laid hands on it and it found you worthy in an instant?”

The flush was gone, the flinch as if it had never been; now he looked at her again, unwavering, and it was as if she had said nothing at all. Probably she could have taken that as an effort on his part, a sign of some other victory; instead she felt very small. “It told me that I wasn’t done yet. That it would speak to me again when I was worthy… when I had helped you.”

A shock, cold water thrown in her face. Now she was a burden to him concretely, keeping him from reaching his real potential, taking on his real role. But that was preposterous, he was already holding the sword; what other worthiness was there for him to find? To what greater heights could he ascend?

“Are you lying to me?” She had meant to sound offended; instead her wound showed in her voice, the pain making itself more evident than any expression of her face.

A pause as he considered the words, and then: “I will never lie to you.”

She couldn’t face him or the weight of his eyes; she turned away, walked quickly along the bank of the lake, telling herself not to run, not to give any sign of what she was feeling, how heavy his regard was.

The sound of his footsteps was very soft as he followed her, like a shadow carrying the holy sword.

She came back to herself with a fading, like sunset, as the memory receded. She still felt that shame, that burden of expectation, and her desperate need to be able to blame anyone else for it. She had carried all the self-blame that she could for… so long, it seemed. Was that my entire life? She did not envy the princess she had been.

Paya stood nearby, waiting attentively, hands folded in front of her. That she was in such a relaxed posture was a sure sign that there was no danger to speak of, nearby. She waited as she always waited, open and unassuming, pressuring Zelda for neither time nor explanations.

How would I have treated Link, back then? Knowing the answer, she rejected it and said, “My pilgrimage started here, I think, or at least this is when the Hero and I began traveling together.” She pressed a hand to her forehead. “I find it difficult to talk about, because now it is one of my memories and yet I still think of it as happening to someone else, as if that girl who could not focus on anything but her own weaknesses and failures was another person altogether. I was so… twisted up by the expectations of others, Paya. Everything I said or thought was colored by that lens.”

Paya nodded as she listened, as if the act of nodding was an intrinsic part of taking in information. As she nodded her brows furrowed and Zelda watched as she set her lips in a thin line, working up the courage to ask a question that she was not sure whether she had the right to voice. That she still hesitated—after everything that had passed between them!—was almost incomprehensible to Zelda, but the princess left her guard all the time she needed to work through it herself.

“When you remember these feelings,” and Paya’s words came slowly and carefully, “when you experience them in the way we experience memories, do they affect your state of mind now?”

“I’m not sure. I can feel some part of me changing, my awareness of myself shifting, but… no. Perhaps not. I do not feel crushed by expectations from Impa, or Purah, or the Zora, or you. I can understand it, my empathy for it grows as my memory does, but… no. My past struggles are not shifting how I feel about myself or the world around me. Though they still might.”

“That is not all.”

“No. No, I suppose it isn’t. Maybe it is better to say I’m not regressing, in some way, to become the person that I was, but… do you remember what I told you, before?”

“That it was like three persons were inside of you.”

“Yes. Three persons, and I am only one. I had thought that, in regaining my memories, I would become more and more like the princess who was alive one hundred years ago, until perhaps I would disappear, and she would remain… but that hasn’t happened. She is still there, and even though she is growing more distinct as I regain my memories she is not growing larger. I am not being pushed out by the person that I was. Perhaps that is because I have so much here, now, in the present, to keep me anchored,” and she did not see as Paya looked down at the ground, “but the truth of it is unchanged regardless. What has changed…”

“The goddess.”

“Yes. Well. Perhaps not Hylia herself, but the person who can carry her power and see the world through her eyes. That person is not growing, either, or becoming more distinct… but her potential is. The power rests at the very floor of my being, and when I’m not interacting with it, it is obscured by my… self, I suppose. But the more of my memory I unlock, the more distinct it is, and the more constantly I am aware of it. I suspect that I was more powerful before I fell against the Calamity, and that by recovering more of my memory I may be able to use Hylia’s strength more effectively.” Which was, of course, what Impa had suggested, but the form it had taken was new and so she had felt the need to talk about it anyway.

“Do you wish to rest?”

“Rest? No. Thank you. No, I do not think so.” She shook her head. “This is… draining, yes, but not so much so that I am exhausted by it. We identified three memories that should be in easy reach of Hyrule Field, and this is only one of them. The next should—”

She had not heard Paya cross the space between them but was unsurprised when one gloved hand was land very gently on her forearm. She looked up from the Sheikah Slate, doubly unsurprised that Paya would not meet her eyes.

“I-I would never presume to tell you when to rest.” Paya hadn’t stuttered in front of her in what seemed like a long time; that drew her attention as much as anything. “But… please. If you feel the need, even an inkling… please be willing to take a break. N-n-none of this is as important as your well-being.”

She carried me on the mountain after my powers drained me so deeply that I went into a catatonic state. I can still see her face, how frightened she was, so sure that she had failed me and the world.

“Of course,” she said, laying one hand over Paya’s, squeezing the other woman’s fingers in a way she hoped was companionable. “Of course, I will. It would not do for me to fall ill or come to harm without cause, now would it? In fact, you’re right, I will rest, after recovering one more. Looking at the album, here, I can see I was mistaken before—the castle faces to the south and this is plainly taken from behind it, so it must be taken from the northwest. There is a tower in that direction that I think we would do well to activate, and after we have a better lay of the land we can locate the memory. Does that… sound all right, to you?”

The fact of being asked apparently embarrassed Paya enough that she only nodded instead of answering directly.

So, they left that place behind.

In the distance, the Guardians began firing again, having found another nest of bokoblins.

It would be three days before they moved on to the next memory, regardless of Zelda’s plans or Paya’s acquiescence; from atop the tower they spotted several shrines, and their priority became reaching those shrines so that Zelda could grow stronger inside of them. She moved through them quickly—more quickly than other adventurers could have, in her place—and emerged from each victorious, through various means.

After the shrines were found they returned to Hateno Village, to pray at the statue of Hylia and offer up the collected spirit orbs. While in that village they returned to the inn, to check on their horses. From there they decided that it made better sense to leave their horses at the network of stables, since lodging them there cost nothing after the initial registration; so, instead of teleporting back to the tower overlooking the plains, they rode from Hateno along the road that ran up the east bank of the Hylian River. The going was brisk, but relaxed, and during that trip they stopped several times to address the concerns of travelers whose ways were blocked by bokoblins, or to recover the function of a stray Guardian. In fact, they passed very near to the place where the third intended memory likely resided, but it was still the third and so they rode on, intent on returning.

By the time they reached the stable and registered their horses, the days of travel told on both of them, and they each took their rest in warmth and safety.

In that way the time passed. In another life, perhaps, another adventurer might have done something very similar.

But make their way to memory they did. Rising with the light of morning they teleported to the top of the tower, descending on the wings of their paragliders.

“Go on! Taste it!”

Gingerly, more gingerly than she had ever seen him do anything, he took the hot-footed frog out of her hands. He held it with two of his fingers, so that its long legs hung down beneath it. The frog, for its part, seemed rather unbothered by the whole affair; it made an indifferent ribbit as Link held it up in front of his face, eyeing it carefully before looking back to her.

“Oh, this is so perfect! All the specimens we’ve used for testing up to now have been lab-raised, rather than wild, so the effects of its diet on its constitution and the imparted benefits couldn’t be controlled in the same way! And you’re the strongest person I know, so you’re least likely to get sick, so…!” She gestured with her hands. “Go on!”

The Hero looked from her, to the frog, and to her once again, shrugged, and then popped the entire thing into his mouth like an oversize piece of candy. His cheeks bulged out at the effort of holding it, and even then, one twitching leg stuck out between his lips. The frog still didn’t seem particularly bothered, at least not enough to kick.

“Well? How is it? Do you feel anything? Oh, but don’t chew it! We don’t know how mastication will affect the particular oils and nutrients that impart the benefits, and we want this to be as controlled as possible!”

“Mm.” He tilted his head, thoughtfully considering it, which was enough to get her blood pumping. Oh, if he was taking this seriously, then she might really learn something, and everyone would stand to benefit! As soon as the thought crossed her mind he tilted his head forward, held up his hand, and opened his mouth. “Bleh.” The saliva-slick frog dropped onto his hand, resumed its seated posture, and once more seemed unbothered by the whole thing. For being so hard to catch, it was remarkably docile in captivity. Link even wiped it down with a cloth and all it did was blink.

“Well? What do you think? Please, try to be specific!”

“Can’t eat it like this,” he said.

“I don’t want you to eat it! I just want you to taste it and tell me what benefits you experience!”

He frowned at the frog, then at her. “How are these normally prepared?”

“Oh. Well, they’re used to make potions that confer enhanced swiftness of foot; they’re fairly heavily processed, and combined with certain proteins extracted from materials left behind by slain monsters, synthesized into a colloidal suspension that—where are you going?”

“The stable has a cookpot.”

“Oh yes, I do remember they have a cookpot—a cookpot?! You can’t just fry it up! That ruins the entire point of the experiment!”

“Well, I just put the entire thing in my mouth and I don’t feel any quicker, so the next logical step is to try to cook it, right?” He was already moving off, frog in hand, and she hurried to follow him.

“No! Well, I mean, perhaps. Assuming your constitution doesn’t simply render the conferred properties less effective than it would for the average person and that some level of processing is necessary to catalyze the particular proteins and acids that actually grant the effects, then I suppose some degree of applied heat would be the next thing to test for… but even still, we can’t just do this off the cuff!  We need a process!

Without missing a step Link held up the frog in one hand, and with the other hand he pantomimed moving an iron pan, or possibly a wok, over an open fire.

“Don’t you dare!” But she knew that look; it was the expression he wore when he knew he wasn’t really being ordered and wasn’t obligated to obey her. She protested, and he kept walking, and in time they came to the cook fire just outside of the stable.

Link took out his water bottle, uncapped it with his mouth, and poured a splash’s worth directly into the pot. The water hissed and spat and danced, boiling and evaporating almost instantly, and Link nodded in appreciation of its heat.

“Can I put salt on it?”

“We don’t know how elevated sodium levels, much less big hunks of rock salt, would interact with the proteins involved, so no. For this stage we wouldn’t use monster parts, either, because we want to see if the effects can be activated from the specimen itself and Link don’t even think about cooking that frog!

“Hup!” He was actually grinning as he tossed the frog into the air. As it rotated, spinning toward its oblivion, it made eye contact with her and she saw that no, it still did not care at all.

She covered her eyes and turned away, though she could not hide from the sound of oils popping and spitting, or from the sound of Link humming as he cooked.

Finally, after what seemed only seconds, the sound stopped, and metal scraped against stone as Link scooped his meal out with a military issue plate.

“…Hrm.” That sound was about as expressive as he ever got, with regards to his mistakes or his distress. It was enough to make her turn around without further inquiry, and then she saw what was on his plate.

Oh Hylia,” she said, and turned her face away again. The smell coming from it alone absolutely precluded edibility, and what it looked like… she couldn’t even begin to describe. “And what, do you suppose, have you got there?”

“Food?” he said, sounding completely unsure.

“If that is food then it has the most dubious claim to the title I have ever seen.” Oh, she was going to be sick. No. No she would not be sick, she could control herself, about this if nothing else in her entire life. “Well, you’ve had your way.”

“I have to eat this,” somewhere between a question and a resigned sigh.

“You insisted. You might as well.”

As soon as the words left her mouth she regretted them; the color of the thing, the interlacing greens and purples, the stench! She wouldn’t feed that mess to the Calamity itself. She was about to speak up, to tell Link to throw it away and that they would find another frog, when she heard a very loud crunch, which was followed by a very strained swallowing sound. He could not bear to have it in his mouth long enough to chew it, apparently.

OK, now she might be sick. Finally, she turned back to him and his now-clean plate. The face he was making was… unique.


“Eugh.” Then he stopped, considered for a moment, and nodded. “Definitely needed salt.”

The memory faded away from her consciousness, slipping back from experience into that dim country of recollection, and she found herself standing slack-jawed while staring at nothing. She turned her head and, yes, Paya was looking at her with a tilted head and knitted brow.

“I, uhm. I made him eat a frog.” Well. Taste a frog. He’d done the eating quite on his own. But, yes, probably still her fault.

Silence. Three seconds, five seconds. Then: “You made ‘him,’” said Paya, pointing with one finger at the darkness-enshrouded castle in the distance, “meaning Link, the Hero… eat a frog?”

She nodded. Why in the name of every god did I record that?

Paya looked from her to the castle and back and the knit in her brows grew more pronounced. She nodded, then shook her head. “Um. Zelda. If I may.”


“What did he do? Or, rather… why?”

“For an experiment! It was a hot-footed frog, and I wanted to see if the effects of potions derived from them could be replicated without processing them, and he was strong enough to survive if anything went wrong, and… also probably because I liked him but hadn’t realized it yet?”

Paya bit down on her lower lip, and the crease in the center of her forehead split the tattoo of the Sheikah eye cleanly in half. She looked as if she had more questions—then she shook her head, thinking better of it.

“Oh, stop looking at me like that! I don’t know! Haven’t you ever—let’s just go to the next location!”

“Of course, Zelda. Since we passed by that spot earlier, it may be easiest to retrieve our horses and ride there. Or, if you would prefer, we could proceed on foot after I prepare some potions. I’ll just need to stop by a pond, and—”

No frogs!

From atop hilltops the Guardians signalled to each other in flashes of light, emitted from and received by their enormous eyes. Information regarding their individual patrol routes, threats encountered and eliminated, subtle changes that each might make to create more efficient coverage without overlapping the range of its compatriots—all of this was communicated in the space between moments. The flashing of their optic sensors would take on an almost fluttering quality, like the wings of a small bird or a fairy that hovered in place, and then their heads would turn away from each other as they resumed their patrol.

As near as Paya could tell, the Guardians had wiped out the bokoblin presence on this part of the plain and would continue patrolling without incident until the next Bleeding Earth. They were really, very efficient; it made her wonder what they had been like in days past, when hundreds of them had worked in tandem to suppress all the monsters plaguing the kingdom. This particular group had no patrol overlap with the Guardians that wandered nearer the castle, which had likely been Zelda’s intent. She wondered if the Guardians that Zelda had freed would attack those under the control of the Calamity; the only thing she knew for certain was that Zelda did not want to find out. Not yet.

She descended from the branches of the tree, satisfied that there was no immediate threat nearby. She landed noiselessly on the ground, and of course Zelda was right where she’d been before: standing in the spot that matched the photograph, hesitating, not yet engaging with the memory itself. The reluctance in Zelda’s eyes was not quite like anything she’d seen there before.

Zelda saw her and smiled in an apologetic way and it was sad enough that Paya wished that she could do this in her place. “Sorry. This one just feels… different, somehow.” She gestured around her. “The air here is different; the shadows are different. It feels heavy.”

Paya did not have the same level of sensitivity as Zelda, for many reasons; still, she tried to focus, to bring herself to a state where she could begin to understand what Zelda meant. Some small, infinitesimal part of Zelda’s blessing was still in her mind, and she guarded it like the greatest treasure in creation, but she touched it now, in her thoughts. It was like meditating, but more pronounced: it made her sensitive to the world around her, to the currents that flowed beneath crude matter.

Still. She felt nothing of what Zelda spoke. “Perhaps you remember what it was like, on some level. Even if you do not recall the memory concretely, you still harbor a memory of feeling.” That was almost preposterous, and she felt ridiculous for saying it, but by now she knew it was better to suggest these things than not. Zelda would easily parse what made sense and discard what did not.

So, she was relieved when Zelda responded, “I think you are right. Whatever happened here… it did not affect the place so much as it affected me. Given its proximity to the others I would think this is still from before the Calamity broke free, but… then, perhaps not. My feelings toward Link shifted considerably between those last two, so a great deal of time must have passed there, too. Whether it was because of Ganon or not, though, something… enormous happened on this spot. Something soul-shaking.”

“Perhaps it was something good,” Paya said, and she did not believe it no matter how desperately she wanted it to be true. Better by far for Zelda to remember something good here, to remember something that linked her to the Hero (because all of these were about the Hero, too, he had served her so faithfully in those bygone days) on a level that would strengthen her. Better that she be happy, and that the world be kind.

But the world was not kind, and she knew it, and Zelda knew it as she shook her head. “I suspect not.”

“We could leave this, for now. We can mark this place and return to it later, after you have built up more of your strength, or… or whenever you feel you’re ready.”

“I will never be ready, Paya.” That same smile, that same sadness, and Paya had to dig her nails hard into the palms of her hands to will the tears to stay from her eyes. “I will never be so strong that I’m ready to face the past, or Ganon, or the other Champions. Yet I must, because the world will not wait, will it?” This wasn’t really a question, but Paya still shook her head, partially in response and partially in defiance of the very idea. Zelda’s smile warmed, however marginally. “No, I don’t think so either. So. Please, give me a few moments.”

Without further prompting Zelda took her place, setting her feet wide and opening the Sheikah Slate’s album in her hands. She looked from the portrait, to the scenery in front of her, and then to the middle space where knowledge lurked and attention wandered lost. The Princess’s eyes glowed with a golden light, and she was gone, her consciousness carried away into the past while her body stayed behind.

Paya was alone, or as much as she could be in that place, guarding a woman who was so much more than she was. She stood next to Zelda and looked at the lines of her face as she experienced memory. Then she sat on the ground, thinking to meditate, and found that she could not. From her seat she looked up at Zelda and thought for half a moment about touching her princess’s arm or hand, to try to anchor her physically, as if that would protect her spiritually. But it wouldn’t; that was only playing into her own desires, which was an obscene thing to do while Zelda was going through so much.

“I wish I could help you,” Paya said, sure that Zelda would not hear because she had not heard the last several times, either. “Not just protect you physically… though I suspect you will need me less and less for even that, as we travel together.” The lines of Zelda’s face were so perfect, her hair a golden halo made radiant by the light shining from her eyes. “It is like looking at Hylia, every time I look up at you. When you channeled Mipha… I could feel her strength. Not just her physical strength, but how much you relied on her. Is that how it was with the other Champions, too? Is that how it was with Link? Were they so great of body and of heart that they could stand before the goddess and really, truly help her?”

She looked out into the trees, where the wind blew softly and no dangers lurked. It was such an unusual thing, to not be on guard, to not have to be.

“I think about Mipha’s words all the time, now. She told me to follow my heart… but I’m not sure what that means. At least, not anymore. I want so badly to be by you, to be by you always, but is that all there is? Is that all the meaning I can find in serving the most important person who’s ever lived? The Champions were all by you, and … and I was there, I could feel how much Mipha cared about you as if it were written on her face, and I don’t understand how she or the others could…”

She buried her face in her hands, trying to wrangle the maelstrom inside of her, failing. She breathed, slowly, counting the breaths as if fighting off nausea.

On Zelda’s back, the Lightscale Trident glowed. Paya did not see that. But then it whispered, so low she did not understand the words, and that made her look up.

She was running in the rain, running so hard she thought her heart was going to collapse in her chest, and Link was pulling her behind him, all she could hear was the pounding of his boots in the water and the pounding of her heart in her ears and none of it mattered at all because the world had ended.

Chapter Text

They had not stopped running since Hyrule Castle fell. Such a clear image in her mind, and it would be more comfortable to pretend that her powers made it sharper but that would be a lie: the plumes of dust and smoke as the Guardians turned on the people, the smell of fires burning out of control, the screams, each of these would have been etched into her mind just as clearly if she had never awakened at all. She had seen the maelstrom in the sky above the castle, had seen the fire in its eyes flare terribly as it gazed out from the highest parapet. Her father had been dead by then; she had felt him die, by the blessing and the curse of Hylia, and as Ganon looked at her she understood that the beast wanted her to know that. Oh, it hated her, it hated her so much

And then Link had her by the hand and they had run. He was faster than she was on her best day and her dress weighed her down but they ran as if flying, his strength letting him pull her along so it was all she could do to lift her feet and keep from being dragged. The Guardians had come after them, and she had thrown the power at them like a weapon, and those at the front fell to pieces, lifeless, as those at the rear fell back. Ganon bellowed from the castle, challenging them, challenging her, but did not pursue.

The Yiga Clan appeared before them on the road, and Zelda did not even see how Link killed them; he moved his sword as if cutting the air and they fell and the knight pulled his princess on, on, to the east.

The world melted until running was all that there had ever been, until her physical body was separated from celestial awareness by the wall of exhaustion, and her breath came in great ragged gasps. The sounds of dying and the smell of fires faded as grass was replaced by trees, the green blur of the world now shot through with brown, and every step they took became indistinguishable from every other. She did not feel the rain as it fell on her, on them. She barely knew Link was there, now.

Her father was dead. Hyrule was burning. She had found the power, but not soon enough. Not soon enough. Even in her greatest moment of actualization, she had failed. Hylia was weeping, surely.

Then something inside of her body stopped obeying her and one of her feet came down wrong and she fell, her hand slipping out of Link’s. Falling into the water and the mud was a shock of cold and pressure that jolted her out of her exhaustion and she struggled up to her hands and knees as Link knelt in front of her, and she could not look at his face but she knew, knew the expression that he wore as he waited for her to rise.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” she said over the rain, not looking up. The words came slowly, her breathing was wild and she could not get it under control, quite. “We were supposed to face Ganon together. We were supposed to have time. I was… I was supposed to be ready.”

He said nothing in response; here, faced with her grief, he wouldn’t. She sometimes wondered if he was afraid of how strongly she felt things; now she understood the real truth, that he had always wanted to give her the space she needed, had never known when to intercede on her behalf. He had tried so desperately to respect her and the burdens that she bore. Everything was different, just based on how much she could see. Even her conversations with her father.

“My father,” and getting the words out was an effort so pronounced she thought she might choke on them, “I… I felt it. I felt it when he.” She swallowed. No. She had to be calm now. Even if that was a farce, so terrible a lie it drifted into the comical, she had to pretend to calm. “I thought we… I thought we six would fight Ganon, and that together we would win. And I knew someone might get hurt, but… for a moment, I believed. I imagined we would end the threat to our kingdom, and all would be well.”

Ganon’s power filled the castle in moments, the enormity of its hatred and its fury billowing like a storm that never ceased to thunder. He felt that malice in the air, as all his guards did, and it was a painful thing. Deeper than pain, though, was fear, and that not for himself.

“I imagined that after it was over, I would go to my father, and he would receive me with open arms, and he would…” Now she sat up, folding her hands on her lap. She wondered if her face spoke calm; she hoped it did. Link was looking at her, now, and no one else in the kingdom would have been able to read the concern in his eyes. “He has never smiled since my mother died. I allowed myself to dream that, the threat ended and our people safe, he would be happy again. That he would speak to me as a father, rather than a king.”

The beast was everywhere, a billowing miasma that suggested at shapes and claws and fires. The forward guard rushed to meet it, did not even cry out as it cut them down. With what force did it destroy them? He could not have said. That it would crush him as easily seemed certain.

“My awareness allowed me to reach out to him, to feel his thoughts as Ganon turned its wrath on the castle and the people in it. I don’t think he understood what we were dealing with… but why would he, when we didn’t?” She wiped the rain from her eyebrows with her fingertips. “Do you remember my father’s sword? So simple, with no ornamentation. A soldier’s weapon, meant for real use. I have never seen him hold it, but he did, at the end.”

Steel in his hands, steel bared on every side of him by his personal guard as the atrocity peered with eyes like lanterns held in the mouth of a cave. Fine. If he died, he would die fighting. Or, if not fighting, then he would die defiant.

“He wasn’t even afraid, really. He accepted his death as soon as the earth shook. I couldn’t call out to him—Ganon’s power defiled that place and I couldn’t have done it even with all my strength—but I could still hear him. And do you know what he was thinking, at the end? I thought that he had spent the last decade and more mourning my mother, lost in the shadow of her passing as I’ve been, and that he might be thinking of her, but do you know what he was really thinking?”

“Zelda,” he said, so low that the men around him could never hear it, his voice quiet with its shame and its sorrow as apocalypse bore down on him.

“He was thinking of me. He was thinking of me at the end, and he wasn’t angry, or resentful, or.” Oh. There it was, then. It was stuck inside of her and she couldn’t get it out, and the rain was falling heavily on her face.

“I am sorry I did not love you better.” The darkness took him, and he was no more.

The words were too large to get out, the pain of its so deeply-set that the whole of Hylia’s power could not dislodge it, and she buried her face in her hands and refused to breathe for fear she would wail and wished Link would look away as her body shook.

The light of the ghost fires was gentle, lacking any of the harshness of terrestrial fire. It was bewitching; one could lose themselves, looking at the flame for too long. Paya would not, though; the fact of the ghost sitting next to her was… if not alarming, then at least arresting.

They sat in the shade of a tree some little distance from Zelda, facing her so that Paya (or perhaps both of them) could keep an eye on the princess as she recalled some long-gone day. The sun that filtered down through the leaves did not hit Mipha in the same way that it hit Paya; it didn’t fail to throw shadows on her, exactly, but those shadows were indistinct, soft around the edges, as if passing through water to reach the bottom of a pool. The Lightscale Trident shimmered on Zelda’s back, apparently the medium through which Mipha could communicate with the living. That she could do this, though, was more than Paya had imagined; perhaps it was the effect of Zelda’s power.

Neither of them had spoken for nearly a minute. She couldn’t guess why Mipha wasn’t talking, after having gone to all the trouble of physically manifesting and then sitting under a tree with her, but the Zora princess seemed peaceful, almost serene, her golden eyes locked firmly on Zelda.

“It is a very difficult thing,” and Paya flinched as Mipha broke the silence, “to be oneself around people you think of as being divine. For some people that might be a monarch, or a god. In this case, you happen to be dealing with both in one body.” Now Mipha looked at her, and she felt the color rise in her face at the intensity in the dead woman’s gaze. “It can be frightening, can’t it?”

“I w-w-wouldn’t say frightening,” Paya said, focusing hard on the words, trying to pick them, flushing even harder as she stuttered. “Maybe… overwhelming. Being around her, trying to help her… it all makes me feel very small.”

“Does that discourage you?”

“No! No. It… frustrates me, maybe, but I don’t think anything could discourage me. I will follow Zelda all my life, through any danger, to see her safely accomplish her goals. It’s just that… what if I can’t help her? When the time comes, she will go to war with the Calamity itself, and fight alongside the Hero. How can I, next to those…?” She held her hands up, then lowered them. “She seems so much greater than anything I could ever be.”

Mipha turned her attention back to Zelda and was silent. The sun was warm, and the song of birds could be heard cleanly from miles away. Such a peaceful place, this, as if the weight of Zelda’s memories kept away the outside world. Maybe that was true; if anything was so powerful, then Zelda would be.

At last Mipha spoke. “You see her walking down the path of her destiny, and on her shoulders she carries the burden of the entire world. The world is unkind, unfair, and keeps piling its sorrows on top of her own. It never allows her to forget anything, to set down her weight for even a moment, and you can see how that pressure changes her, how it would change anyone. Every day she is a new person, a person more able to bear that weight—or so she tells herself, and she grows quieter, and quieter, and more distant. You see how much she carries by herself, and you wish you could help her.” Mipha extended one hand, palm up, as if reaching for the hand of someone only she could see. “But she’s so far away from you, removed from you by the fact of destiny and her burden and her greatness, and you are only yourself, and it seems like you may never reach her. Every day she gets further away. Every day you feel… more and more helpless. More and more apart from her. Until you think to yourself, ‘what can I do? How can I reach her? How can I keep her, as she was?’”

“Yes,” because nothing else was even possible to say. Mipha spoke so clearly to her own experiences that it was as if her mind was being read. But she didn’t read minds, Paya did not think; she spoke from her own experience. Maybe… maybe… “Did you.” She swallowed, tried to compose herself as Mipha’s gaze returned to her. Oh, she couldn’t ask this, but she had to. “Did you love her, too?”

And there were so many ways to read that word, but Mipha knew which she meant, and her mouth turned up in a smile so sad that Paya could not grasp the enormity of what it was supposed to represent.

“No. I loved another.”

The rain fell; it cared not for her grief. The rain fell, and the Hero waited, and Zelda lowered her hands and raised her face and she breathed and the forest was alive around her, so alive and she could feel every life like seeing points of light in a moonless sky. That feeling, that knowledge, made her calmer.

“The fight isn’t over,” Link said, his voice cautious, almost hesitant. He was trying to protect her, still, protect her even from the reality of the world around her. But he couldn’t protect her from this, and they both knew it.

“Yes. Of course, you’re right.” She tried to stand, found she did not have the energy for it yet, did not care that her leg was beginning to cramp. That didn’t matter. “The fight continues. Even if… even if the castle is lost, we can still fight Ganon. We must regroup and formulate a plan. Engage it on the grounds of our choosing. We can still save Hyrule.” Hold on to that. Hold on to it as if it’s all that matters, because right now it is. Don’t think of anything else. Push it all away, put it out of your mind, because if you let it in then you won’t be able to fight.

“We need to reach the other Champions,” he said, because he always considered himself one of them, even if he stood apart. His faith in them was even more sure than hers.

“Agreed. I will reach out to them. If I focus, I should be able to communicate; it will allow us to coordinate more effectively, and hopefully we can have a plan ready in short order.” She looked to him, then, because of course she still looked to him for his approval, and at his nod she felt a kind of relief. If he agreed with her, then it could be a shared decision, and shared responsibility.

With her thoughts she reached out—and, out of familiarity and love, first she reached to the southwest, where Vah Naboris would even now be crossing the expanse between the Gerudo Desert and the verdant fields of Hyrule. Urbosa would be there, and perhaps she would see the fires from Castle Town, and never more in Zelda’s life had she needed the assurance that the chief of the Gerudo could give her, never more did she need her strength, and with a desperate gladness she reached out—

And found nothing. And, perhaps, in that moment, she understood.

With redoubled effort she threw more of her awareness, grabbing hold of Vah Naboris itself. The beast was where she expected, standing astride the mountains that formed the line between the desert and the kingdom of Hyrule. But when she reached out for Urbosa, calling out with the strength of her heart, there was no answer, save an echo.

An echo, and then the rumble of laughter from the Blight that sat in the Divine Beast’s heart, sword wet with blood.

“No,” she said out loud, because she saw clearly in her mind’s eye what had happened and she would defy that which could not be defied. She did not see as Link leaned in closer, touching her shoulder with his hand, something that he would only do in moments of absolute need—for himself and for her.

To the northwest Vah Medoh sailed an empty sky, and its pilot’s heart beat no more.

“No! NO!”

To the east Vah Ruta bellowed at the sky and Mipha’s light had gone out within it.

“Urbosa! Revali! Mipha! Daruk!”

And Daruk was cold as Vah Rudania stalked back up the side of Death Mountain.

The world slipped away from her and she was spinning through oblivion, and she must have gotten to her feet because now she was falling, Link’s arms were around her and she was still falling, she was going to drag him down into the dark too and he wouldn’t be able to hold her up and she couldn’t help him she couldn’t help anyone.

“Please! You were supposed to be here! I was supposed to fight with you! We were… I was—”

I hope you will remember this: I will be here for you. You are not alone.

Rest, little bird. You can lean on me for as long as you need.

Well. I suppose if you’re falling, I had better catch you.

Chin up, Princess! No matter what it takes, we’ll get this done. Together.

She was the sun and she was going out, all the darkness in the universe was pressing in on her from every side and she wasn’t crying out in words anymore, she had taken the promises of those she loved best and broken them on their behalves, made them into liars even as she killed them, and they were gone and they could not be here for her. They were dead, they were all dead, and she had let them die.

The Hero’s arms anchored her, refusing to let her fall, and she buried her face against his shoulder and she began to scream, falling deeper and deeper in the dark of a world that had been robbed of its most courageous.

“Destiny pushes at her back,” Mipha said. “She’s driven by it, even if she doesn’t realize it. To say that she and the Hero are part of a cycle is… it detracts from the enormity of what they must accomplish, makes it sound like they’re only playing roles that have been laid out before them, but in another sense, it is true. The Hero, the Princess, and Ganon… they are bound together. Perhaps it is Ganon that binds the other two to him, or the Princess and the Hero who bind themselves to each other to face Ganon.” Mipha shook her head. “Link and Zelda walk a terrible road together. They have no other choice.”

That was not a new thought for Paya; she had grown up hearing stories from her grandmother, not just of the heroes and princesses of the ancient past but of the living hero and princess, who even then were in the world. When she had been a girl she had fallen in love with the stories of Link, of his strength and his devotion and his courage when battling the dark on behalf of the entire world, and she had spent long nights crying over the frustration of Zelda’s endless pilgrimage. They were the stories that had defined her entire life, had shaped how she understood heroism and goodness and perseverance; that those people were alive now, that they were carrying on the work of legends, was as if she shared the world with gods.

“How did you deal with that? The Champions were charged with aiding figures of legend, participating in a battle that has been waged since before recorded history. How did you… how did you feel like you weren’t useless?” She heard the words she had just spoken, flushed with shame. “I’m sorry. I just mean… how did…” She looked at Mipha then, locking eyes with the Champion, and now she would not look away. “I saw you fight the beast in Vah Ruta. I see how Zelda speaks of you, how much she cared about you… about all of you. How important you were to her, and how you eased her burdens. You stood next to the goddess incarnate, Lady Mipha, and could still stand tall. I can see that greatness by the effect you had on the world and the people you knew. How did you do that? How were you so heroic, so great, even when you stood next to the goddess?”

She had expected another long pause as Mipha considered the words; the quickness of the answer caught her off-guard.

“I wasn’t.” These words were spoken easily, Mipha’s tone relaxed, her smile warm and genuine. “I could fight, yes, and I had an affinity with Vah Ruta… but no one in the world can fight, when compared to the Hero, and no one knew if I would be able to control Vah Ruta when I accepted my place as a Champion.”


“When I agreed to pilot Vah Ruta, it was—at least partially—for selfish reasons. I wanted to protect my people, yes, and I knew the Calamity had to be stopped… but I had my own motives, still. Someone I had to protect, to the exclusion of all other considerations. And when I saw Zelda I understood that I was looking at someone with a destiny that could eclipse an entire age, someone whose work would save the world so completely that there was no comparing to her. She was like the center of the universe, in her way.” The ghost fires hummed, barely audible in the breeze. “But she was a person, too, and it hurt her so badly when she could not live up to her own expectations. I understood that pain, enough to reach out to her, to try to support her. We supported each other, in our way, though my support alone was not enough to keep her afloat. She needed each of us, all of the Champions, or she never would have been able to bear it.” A pause. “I still think, sometimes, of the relationship she had with Link. How they must have drawn strength from each other, too. They, entwined by fate, destined to face the Calamity together. Heroes. One of them nearly a god.” Mipha sighed. “But people, at their heart. Link closed himself off from us, but Zelda did not. She needed to be connected, so we were there for her.”

“That’s all?” It seemed too simple, so much so that she did not even mind that the question was impertinent, ungrateful, rude.

“Yes. I think perhaps you were hoping that I would share with you some secret that would unlock a part of yourself that you were not aware of, that would allow you to be a hero worthy of standing next to her by virtue of that heroism.” That same smile again, so sad that it brought tears to Paya’s eyes. “Link and I grew up together, and I can tell you with certainty: heroes are not born, Paya, no matter what destiny has in store for them. They are made through struggle, and hardship, and perseverance, and a deep, abiding compassion in the face of the worst of the world. Heroes are forged.”

They were gone, and the gap it left inside of her was as wide as the world, a pit into which every shred of her could drop and never touch the sides or the bottom. She would fall forever and ever, reaching out for their hands, and those hands could reach back, and all their fingers would slip through each other.

The world was empty. Her father vanished into the dark, the Champions’ lives lost in battles they could not even fight, and it wasn’t until that moment that she realized how much of herself she had invested in them. The pillars holding her up had shattered, and the abyss yawned beneath her.

It is impossible to say how long she was like that; time was less meaningful through the lens of the goddess’s power, and even discounting that… it was like a dream. Not a nightmare but a dream, a dream with the quality of time embedded in its fabric, and she drifted for what was a very long time.

There was no numbness; she had not one moment of respite from the rawness of it. She could not force their faces from her mind. The solid warmth of Urbosa’s shoulder. The cool touch of Mipha’s fingers on her temples. Daruk’s hand on her back, shielding her from fire and the world. Revali, wings unfurled, carrying her through the maelstrom. Gone, now, like shattered glass, except that they were not objects, they were living souls, and they had promised her they would be there, and she had promised them that she would help them, and every promise was broken.

Link’s arms were around her, holding her to him as her screaming tapered off to sobbing, as she drew the goddess’s awareness back into herself and retreated into the relative deafness and blindness of her own senses.

“Please,” she said to him, breathing in ragged gasps between the sobs, her voice raw from wailing, and she knew that she was not fully herself, would not be speaking if she was, but this was inside of her and he was out there, anchoring her, and it was all that really mattered, “please don’t leave me. I can’t lose you.” I can’t kill you, too. I would die to follow you, there would be nothing left. “Please, Link. Please. Please.”

In another life, even simply another time, she would have been ashamed of what she had just realized, would have hated herself for the weakness that it spoke to, would have rejected him simply because of her own desperation, but here, now, at the end of everything, she could not deny insistent reality: he was all she had left. Everything and everyone else she loved was gone.


Something in his tone cut to the core of her, and the haze lifted, and when she looked up the rain fell on her face and she realized it was there as if for the first time. The expression in his eyes was steady—beyond steady. If she had looked into the heart of him now she would have seen a pain to match her own, but it did not reflect in his eyes, did not show in the lines of his face or the strength of his voice. He was still here, still the pillar, and all the world might crumble but he would endure.

“We will finish this. Together.”

She relaxed, and he let go of her, and she took a couple of steps back from him. He was of a height with her, the thickness of his bootheels making him slightly taller compared to her in sandals, and she looked up at him in the rain. He never flinched; he never showed his weakness, or his exhaustion, or his pain. The darkness burning in her chest cooled in the light of his eyes. The Master Sword rested on his back, and on his shoulders he carried the world.

“I will be with you at the end.”

And the world seemed right, impossibly, obscenely, as they stood among the trees in the rain.

The world was very quiet.

Answer his strength with your own. You must be as strong for him as he is for you.

Then the bushes rustled, and Zelda tore her eyes from him as Impa leaped into the clearing. Her armor was singed and slashed open in multiple places, but she was unharmed, and her hair was still tied without a strand out of place.


“Impa,” she replied, with a calmness she would not have believed of herself only moments ago. Should I be ashamed that I drew so much strength from him, instead of myself? No. Take it, for now. “The other Champions have fallen in battle.”

Impa hissed between her teeth, which was as much emotion as she ever showed. “As you say, Princess. The defense against Ganon’s forces is no more successful in other theaters. We managed to destroy less than ten percent of the Guardians before they fled Hyrule Castle Town; word has only now reached me of their next destination.”

She nodded her head as a sign for her attendant to continue.

“The Guardians have split into two distinct groups of roughly equal size. One of them appears to be charging toward Akkala, while the other is headed toward Hateno.”

“And Ganon?”

“I do not know, Your Grace. I had assumed that the Calamity had remained in Hyrule Castle, but we don’t have the means to actually track it.” She looked up, seemed to struggle with an urge, and then decided against caution. “I had thought that your powers might allow you to.”

“It has hidden itself from me; I have not been able to detect it since my father died.” She looked to Link, in apology for not mentioning that to him before, before returning her attention to Impa. “What forces are there arrayed to stand against the Guardians?” Do not think of the Divine Beasts; pray that Ganon cannot control them yet.

“The Akkala Citadel is fully manned and armed; the captains in charge of it have been preparing for this day, in case things went awry. Hateno Fortress, on the other hand, is thinly manned, and the region behind it much more densely populated.”

So then. The choice was before her, and of course there was no choice to be made but still she would consign the brave men and women at the Citadel to die without aid.

These were the things that Ganon forced upon people.

“We will go to Hateno. If we hurry, we may be able to reach it before the Guardians breach the wall. Impa, are you well enough to travel?” No words in response; instead Impa kneeled and saluted in the same motion. “Accompany us. There is much that I must share with you.”

She drew on the power of the goddess, and the golden light filled her, transforming the rain above her into a blizzard of shimmering prisms. Impa rose, and Link betrayed nothing.

They three ran on, through the dark and the rain.

“I don’t have a lesson for you, or any easy advice.” The happy smile, rather than the sad one. “What will happen… who she is… that’s out of your hands. All you can do is support her, help her. She relies on you already, doesn’t she?”

“She says she does. I think on some level that’s true, even. I’ve… helped her, at times.” She remembered with perfect clarity the sight of a Yiga’s sickle blade, of Zelda’s expression of perfect uncomprehending shock. “But I still don’t feel… worthy. Like I should be next to her.”

Mipha’s hand was warm on her arm. “Do not try to be worthy of standing next to her. We are never truly worthy of the people we love or wish to protect. Instead… try to be worthy of the feeling you have. Be worthy of yourself, first.”

Mipha withdrew her hand, but the warmth remained.

The birds were still singing.

Then Zelda came to with a gasp. She looked around, all ease, and when she saw Paya and Mipha sitting under the tree she did not seem surprised. Instead she walked to them, feet a little unsteady from standing still for so long, and then took her place under the tree between the two of them.

Paya handed her a handkerchief, received quiet thanks in response as Zelda cleaned her face.

The sun was still shining.

“I remembered learning of when you died,” Zelda said. She was quiet. Then: “I find myself wanting to apologize to you, over and over, for my failures.”

“And I to you. I told you I would be there for you… and when it counted most, I wasn’t.”

“You are here for me now.”

“Yes. And you, too.”

The words went around her. Paya listened to them, the tones of remembered intimacies and broken-then-mended trusts, the regret and the relief. She imagined herself talking to Zelda that way; one day, perhaps, without the depths of grief. One day she’d give real voice to this warmth in her chest.

I will be worthy.

They three sat in the dappled sunlight for a while longer.

Chapter Text

Paya walked across the yard of the ruined home, surrounded by the specters of lives once lived in a quiet kind of peace. So little of the structures were left standing that it was impossible to say, with confidence, what they were supposed to be—perhaps the roof there belonged to a house, and the smaller space next to it a tool shed? Or a cucco coop? Whatever buildings had stood here, once, whatever lives had been lived, all of that was gone, replaced with the wind and the faint, rhythmic sound of dripping water, amplified dozens of times.

Paya wore her stealth armor, rendering her footsteps silent. Despite that, despite the air of silence around her, she walked openly through the middle of the yard, where she could be plainly seen from almost any direction: anything with eyes would have seen how little she paid attention to her surroundings, the sword and shield she held that each gave off a faint golden light. She and Zelda had avoided many Yiga on their journey, choosing to forego confrontation if at all possible; luckily none were present, now. Still. She was not alone.

The sound of dripping water stopped, and Paya grew very still, looking to the edge of the ruined roof, waiting. She did not need to wait for very long.

What peeked around the side of the house could not be described as having a face—to have a face was to present some impression of cohesion, of wholeness, of a natural fitting together of pieces. There was none of that on the head beneath its hood: the thing’s eyes were like an image of glowing embers that had been painted onto the front of its skull, permanently turned up in unbelieving delight, and below that were cheekbones that protruded out even further than the lump it had in place of a nose. Its mouth was turned up into a permanent rictus grin, a grin large enough to bite through a hydromelon, teeth too large to even be used as knives, taking up nearly its entire face. Each of these things, on their own, was enough; but more than that, just from looking one could not say if its “face” was fixed on its head. The robes the creature wore suggested that it had a silhouette like a human, but its face only peered out from beneath the bottom of the hood, and its arms protruded seemingly straight out of its temples.

The wild fire of its eyes flared as it saw her and the Wizzrobe waved merrily, tittering, the skeletal fingers of its hand swaying back and forth like the leaves of a frond. Paya did not wave back, but it seemed undisturbed by this. In its other hand it held an ice rod, and it was on that weapon that Paya’s eyes were set.

Then it vanished. Where it had been there was only a pressure in the air, a sense of that presence that was not bound by the concrete. The sound of dripping water started again, and with each drop the air rippled like the surface of a pond. One could trace the direction of its steps as it walked through the shadowed realm that stood next to the physical, its magic leaving impressions on the space it passed through.

It recoalesced in the air behind Paya, shrieking with gleeful laughter, waving the ice rod above its head as its magic gathered. It pulled back its arm, the rod’s cold forming a layer of rime on any surface it passed near, and its expression never changed as it prepared to kill the foolish woman who had wandered into its territory.

The fire arrow struck it in the side, and it had enough time to gasp in pain before exploding into vapor. The burst of sound was followed by the heavy thump of the now-dormant ice rod falling to the ground; when Paya turned it was noiseless, as much as when Zelda stepped out of the shadows of another building, clad in her own stealth armor and bow in hand.

“You’re getting much better with that,” Paya said, and it was true. She could have been more precise in her timing, killed the Wizzrobe as it was coming out of its woven space—but this was the first Wizzrobe Zelda had ever seen, much less fought. Everything she’d done had been based on Paya’s less-than-perfect description of what to expect. Really, she’d done spectacularly.

Zelda pulled down her mask, and under it she was grinning in the elation of a task accomplished. “Thank you. I was so nervous, I was afraid my hands would shake too much to take the shot.” She blew a breath out between her teeth, replacing her bow on her back, but she was still smiling as she crossed the yard. “Those creatures are fascinating, aren’t they? All of Ganon’s thralls seem able to use weapons, and the lynel have a deep affinity for a kind of naturalistic magic, but that Wizzrobe? It seemed like a sorcerer. Like it had actually studied the subject of magic.”

“It might have. The Sheikah have spent centuries trying to learn how their weapons are produced, but we’ve never found the answer.”

Really.” Zelda stooped next to the ice rod, staring at it. “That’s very interesting, then. If my understanding of the Guardians is correct, then ancient Sheikah technology is based on the usage of naturally occurring energies—or at least energies that can be found in the environment, even though they seem to align with the powers of Hylia.” Gently she picked the weapon up in her hands, and the air of cold it gave off was so pronounced that even at the foot of Death Mountain her breath came out in plumes of condensation. “Perhaps Wizzrobes are drawing on different sources. The energies coursing through this object aren’t wholly dissimilar to the energies that Naydra channels. I wonder if they are somehow related.”

Paya waited as Zelda turned the rod over in her hands, taking in every line, possibly turning her enhanced senses toward it. There was little else for her to do; when Zelda’s mind was turned toward the task of examining something, the gears turning in her skull would drown out the rest of the world.

After perhaps a full minute spent in silence Zelda placed the weapon at her belt, letting it hang on the side opposite of the Sheikah Slate. When she got up, dusting her hands off, she had lost that expression of elation: now she was back to work, ready to march for the rest of the day if the distance required it of her. It wouldn’t—the stable was very nearby—but something about that determination, that surety of Zelda’s purpose, made Paya feel surer about her own purpose. This was where she was supposed to be.

There was a shrine overlooking the abandoned hamlet, and it was there they went first. Behind them, the open spaces were truly silent.

Foothill Stable was much like the other stables in the network that spread across the ruined kingdom; that uniformity lent a certain comfort, Zelda thought. The stables were well-ordered, oases of rest and relative safety in the vast wilds that had swallowed Hyrule following the Calamity. She was looking forward to the rest; sleeping under the stars was wonderful, fulfilling in a way that she suspected she might have yearned for in her prior life, but there was something to be said for a real roof and a real bed, when one could have them. She was sure their horses would appreciate the shelter, too.

A woman of age with Paya and Zelda was sweeping the ground in front of the stable, though when she heard the approach of hooves she looked up. Zelda could not have said what it was in their appearance that made her grin that way, but she returned the smile as best she could, raising her hand in greeting. Paya did not respond to the woman; her attention was turned elsewhere, taking in the environment and the state of the stable and the places where shadows lay thick.

“Welcome to Foothill Stable. My name’s Gaile.” Instead of waiting for them to introduce themselves, Gaile took a quick look at them and said, “If you’re stopping by this stable, that you’re probably headed to Goron City?”

“Yes, we are! We were hoping to rest here for the night and then set out in the morning. I hope that there’s enough room, and—” she stopped, because Gaile was frowning at both her and Paya in turn, enough so that it had caught Paya’s attention, too. “Is something the matter?”

Gaile showed her teeth, not quite tutting but coming close. “Are you really going to Goron City dressed like that?”

Reflexively, Zelda looked down at herself: she had changed out of her stealth armor and back into her traveling trousers and Hylian-cut tunic. It was a bit warm, true, but the tunic still breathed excellently, and she was still perfectly comfortable so long as she kept her hood back and hair up. “Is there something… wrong with how I’m dressed?”

“See… this is how tourists get a bad rep.” Gaile shook her head and Zelda looked at Paya to find the silver-haired woman staring daggers at the stable attendant. Gaile, for her part, either did not notice or did not mind. “The path to Goron City is sheer cliff after sheer cliff, and it gets so hot past the second checkpoint that your body will catch fire.”

Zelda didn’t even try to hide her shock; the idea was so preposterous that at first she thought the woman was joking. She looked to Paya, to see if there was some element of the humor she didn’t understand, but Paya just nodded grimly without taking her eyes away from Gaile.

“Normally I wouldn’t stop a stranger from heading to their doom, but I kinda like ya. So I guess I have no choice but to sell you these fireproof elixirs. They can protect you from the burning air.” With a flourish, produced from Zelda was not sure where, Gaile presented a box filled with small bottles of dark-colored tincture. “Even Goron City regulars usually take at least three elixirs with them. Each.”

Six, then. “Fascinating! What are they made from?” Paya shifted on her horse in the way that communicated she wanted to speak but did not want to interrupt; Zelda ignored her, for just a minute.

“Fireproof lizards, locally sourced! Fortified with the freshest monster parts. Each one will last you at least six hours, guaranteed!”

“Six hours… I see. Eighteen hours to make it to Goron City, then.” Now she turned to Paya in earnest. “Paya, how long do you think it should take us to reach Goron City? Based on what merchants have told you.”

Paya tilted her head back, making estimations in her head. “Well. If we keep a good pace the entire time, and assume the monsters are as common on this trail as the one leading to Zora’s Domain, and allowing two hours for scaling the tower on our way up—” She must have assumed they would slay every monster on their way up, or at least Zelda hoped that’s what she was assuming; she intended to make the roads as safe as possible for other travelers, however temporarily. “Fifteen to eighteen hours, if we use our paragliders to save time when descending from the tower.” Then, much lower, so only Zelda could hear her though it was obvious to anyone looking that she was only being discreet up to a point: “Zelda, I must protest. We have no reason to pay for elixirs when we can make them ourselves.”

Just as low: “It’s good for the local economy, Paya!” That wasn’t true. Well, it was true, but it wasn’t why Zelda was doing this. But Paya didn’t need to know that. Then, turning back to Gaile, “How much are they?”

“It’s 60 rupees for one, 110 rupees for two, and 150 rupees for three. Buying in bulk pays off here!”

“That seems like a good deal! It will be 270 rupees for six, then?”

The shadow that passed over Gaile’s face communicated exactly how perfectly she’d read Zelda’s reasoning. “No, that would be 300 rupees. They’re sold in sets of three.”

Ah, so that was the grift, then. Zelda scowled down from her horse, then dismounted to stand on level with Gaile. Paya did not dismount, only watched the proceedings. “Do you mean to say that you would charge me 40 rupees for the third elixir, because it is better to buy in bulk, and then ask me to pay 60 rupees for the fourth?”

Now the shadow had become a genuine scowl, tinged with the sense that she was losing the sale. “Yes. They’re sold in sets of three. Every new set is according to the same pricing as the previous set. Because I like ya, though that’s starting to fade.” Zelda paid her no mind; instead she opened one of the pockets on her tunic and drew out one of her notepads, flipping through it. “What’s that?”

“Oh, this? It’s where I keep my notes on elixir-making.” First the table of contents, now to the appendices referencing the effects of different monster parts. “You said six hours of effect. What parts go into your elixirs?”

“That, uh. Trade secret.”

“Hm. Assuming you’re using readily available ingredients in addition to the lizards, then… Chuchu Jelly? No, they’re not common enough in this area. I’m guessing you’re not fighting moblins. Six hours of effectiveness…. I’m going to guess three bokoblin horns.” This was not a guess, but that not-a-guess was confirmed by the widening of Gaile’s eyes. “I thought so. The effect of monster keratin is uniform across different species, so you would want to use the cheapest part available, not to mention the one that’s least dangerous to acquire for yourself. I don’t suppose you do acquire the horns for yourself? Probably easier to buy them from travelers? And the going rate for those is 3 rupees per horn if they’re in good condition…”

“Hold on, you think these are easy to just throw together like that? Catching a Fireproof Lizard takes practice and skill! You can’t expect to—”

Paya cleared her throat, and both of them looked up at her. Calmly, with a perfectly neutral expression, Paya reached into one of her saddlebags and drew forth two wriggling Fireproof Lizards. “I caught these on the way here. They should be more common as we go further up the trail. I think.”

“I concur. They probably evolved their fireproof qualities because it is harder for their natural predators to thrive in the extreme heat of the mountain, so it should be safe to assume they will be more plentiful as we go into their preferred environ.” Gaile didn’t have to confirm it for her. Or not confirm it. At this point it barely mattered. “I apologize for my rudeness. I do. I would love to buy some elixirs from you and use them on our way up the mountain. But your pricing isn’t… consistent, and with the bokoblin organs we have we could prepare two elixirs that will last us for fifteen hours apiece, at absolutely no cost.”

“I, uh. I suppose you... could.”

“Quite. Now, obviously one would want to sell these elixirs at a price above cost, and one must also allow for the value of labor; still, I cannot help noticing that the third elixir costs 40 rupees. Shall we start from there?”

The air was not that warm, but Gaile was visibly sweating.

The next morning, six elixirs wealthier and 240 rupees poorer, Zelda and Paya set out from the stable together. They left their horses behind, as both the air and the terrain made it impossible for the poor creatures to proceed. They started out early, rising before the sun, and they met only a small number of monsters on their way up the mountain. By mid-morning they had reached the second marker.

“All non-Gorons use extreme caution,” Zelda read from the sign. They were the first words either had spoken that morning. “I suppose the Gorons don’t need to worry about the heat as much.”

“They are comfortable in temperatures that would kill either of us,” Paya said, though from her tone it was clear that wasn’t what she was thinking about. She looked back over her shoulder, as if to make sure they were alone, and then Zelda realized she had been making sure of that when she continued, “I had no idea you liked to haggle.”

“Oh! Oh, that. I don’t, actually. Do you remember the innkeepers from Zora’s Domain? They gave me some advice and told me to use it next time I suspected someone wasn’t charging fairly.” It made sense that Paya had waited until kilometers separated them from the stable; thinking about the exchange set Zelda’s heart hammering in her chest, and thinking about how forceful she’d been made her flush in a mixture of embarrassment and excitement. In some ways it had been more exciting than fighting monsters, but in others she had the sense that she should be ashamed of herself. “Was I rude to her?”

Paya bit her lower lip in the way that said she did not want to answer the question and thought she was hiding it very well. “H-h-haggling is… inherently adversarial, I think. I-I-I couldn’t do it, certainly. But that doesn’t mean it was bad! That woman was definitely overcharging. My standards of behavior are… the way I’ve been trained, it…”

“Seemed rude.”

“No! I mean.” Paya stopped entirely, pressed one hand to her face. “I couldn’t do it. Ever. Unless you asked me to on your behalf, but even then, I think I would be very bad at it. But Grandmother could! When I was very small I once saw her argue so aggressively over the price of a crate of spices that the merchant burst into tears and then gave her an extra jar as an apology.”

She couldn’t help but wince. Oh Hylia I’m being compared to a supercentenarian. She resolved, then and there, to never again haggle unless she was really being cheated.

“Well, lesson learned. Regardless, we’ve arrived. Shall we apply the fireproof elixirs?”

“I think that would be prudent.” Seeing Zelda uncorking her own bottle, Paya reached out and touched her arm. “These particular elixirs are best applied topically. You can administer them orally and it will be just as effective, but the taste is foul and might make you feel sick.”

“Oh. Thank you.” Lifting the bottle to her nose, she sniffed at its contents warily. The smell was quite pungent and would be just as pungent when applied to her skin. Maybe the heat of the air would help mitigate that. Better my skin than my breath, I suppose. “Do we need to prepare our clothing?”

“No. Your tunic and trousers are the same kind used by merchants who travel to Death Mountain, so they’re made to be able to stand up to the high temperatures without being damaged. Even if they weren’t, the vapors from the elixir create a barrier that should protect you within a hand’s breadth of your skin—if you apply it carefully to your face and neck you won’t need to treat your hair, especially if you wear it tied close to you.” Then she frowned. “I’ll need to treat mine, however. I apologize if that causes an unacceptable delay.”

“Not at all! I admit I wasn’t even thinking about my hair. Would you like help?”

She hadn’t thought about it before offering; perhaps she should have. She would have decided the same anyway, she thought. Paya tried not to look up or to look excited; her nod was very carefully calm. “Yes, please. I think that will go much faster.”

Zelda retrieved Paya’s comb from their bags and used it to apply the elixir to Paya’s loose hair, starting from the roots. It took only a very small amount of the elixir, and despite how much Paya worried (and despite how much hair Paya had) the application only took a couple of minutes. The smell of the elixir, Zelda found, was less offensive in the open air. Paya was very still for the entire process, eyes shut, studiously calm, and, despite everything between them, it was easy for Zelda to imagine that Paya had behaved the same way when having her hair trimmed as a child. She leaned around to look at Paya’s face only once.

Then each applied the rest of their respective elixirs, and Paya helped Zelda tie her hair into a tight bun that she then covered with the climber’s bandana. It was getting too hot for the hood. Paya, absorbed in tying up her own hair (a process so precise that it would be pointless for Zelda to try to help), did not notice that Zelda applied no elixir to her left forearm. That was good; she would have intervened if she’d known what Zelda was doing. It was not outside the realm of possibility (though it was very unlikely) that she might have intervened physically, and that would have been embarrassing for them both. Besides, she was protecting her hand, and that was the most important thing.

Gaile had not been joking when she described the path up Death Mountain as a series of sheer cliffs; any merchants traveling this way must have been strong indeed, Zelda thought, to haul their wares straight up the cliff face that was just beyond the second marker. Not that their own loads were light, and the cliff did have a few spots where one could stop and rest if need be, but Zelda could not help reflecting on the tenacity of the people who made this trip so regularly. It was difficult not to admire them.

They crested the cliff and before them spread what asserted itself in Zelda’s mind as the real Death Mountain: pools of exposed lava licking at the air, a heavy smell of soil and sulfur, drifting cinders that were propelled into the sky as points of light until they faded and cooled into what looked almost like black snow. The stone here was darker, perhaps as an effect of the heat or the way that the heat bent the light in the air so that everything in the distance took on a strange, wavy quality. Yes, admiration was appropriate. It was growing sharper the longer she spent thinking about it.

Their arrival startled a pigeon that had been preening near the cliff’s lip; the bird took off, away from them, and flew directly into the hotter zone of Death Mountain. Zelda’s eyes were locked on it, trying to find some different coloring that might indicate its adaptation to the harsher climate of Death Mountain, when it crossed some invisible barrier and promptly burst into flames, leaving a trail of smoke behind it as it rose into the air.

“Oh!” The little creature kept rising, though the arc of that rise was lowering—it had not planned to be on fire, it seemed. Zelda reached out with one hand as if to grab hold of it from a dozen meters away, which she would later reflect was purely reflexive, and also the entire reason that her arm caught fire where Paya could see it. “Oh!

She allowed herself one glance: yes, flames had indeed enwreathed her left forearm, small and yellow and almost intimate in the way they danced over it. Judging by the smell, the fine blond hairs on her arm were gone; in a few seconds, her epidermis would surely follow.

Quickly, with the speed that could only come with prior planning, she dumped the rest of the fireproof elixir onto her arm and slathered it into her skin. It was very effective, she found, and every spot where the elixir touched the flames winked out as if they’d never been there. When they were all out she kept massaging the elixir in, making sure that the coverage was complete with no gaps, and that it was not adversely affected by putting it on while the temperature was so absurd.

“Efficacy doesn’t seem to be affected by the temperature at time of application. Heat transference isn’t fast enough to negatively effect flesh instantly, but finer elements can be destroyed almost instantly. Any exposure for longer than a few seconds would probably be…” She realized Paya had seen the whole thing, looked over at the other woman. Paya’s eyes were wide and glaring and horrified and enraged all at once. “…Bad. Eheh.” She grinned, tried not to look sheepish, probably failed. “All fine, see? It, um.”

Paya did not grin in return.

“Well, I hypothesized that, um… you see.” She had been so sure at the start of that sentence that it would end reasonably, but she did not have any proper words to explain what she’d been thinking, or why she thought that had been a good idea, and certainly not any that she could use to justify it to another person. Perhaps a joke? Humor was good at diffusing these situations, right? At communicating contrition and humility? Yes. Perhaps a joke. “I just saw the bird, you understand, and thought I would try to… fit in with the locals?”

Paya did not laugh.

They gathered up their packs and continued walking. Neither of them said another word for a long time.

Five and a half hours later they were atop Eldin Tower, reapplying their fireproof potions. Measuring the rate of decay was interesting; Zelda found one could intuit it based on the thickness of the vapor that rose up from the skin when exposed to extreme heat. Someone who used it very often could probably give a very precise estimation of how long a given coating had left before it faded entirely. As she applied the elixir to Paya’s hair she could see the places she had yet to touch, not by discoloration but by the thickness of the vapor. It made the job very easy, if one was thorough and observant. Which she did not feel.

The silence between them had lasted for longer than any waking period since they’d met; it had persisted through the explosions of Fire Chus, through pitched combat with Moblins and Bokoblins, through shooting down a heat-resistant pigeon and finding the meat nicely seared by the time they reached the body (which had been the basis of a filling, if bland, lunch). Even the re-application of the elixirs had been done in silence, Zelda taking her cue to get started from Paya. It was getting to her; not the fact of the silence itself, she had walked in silence for days after leaving the Plateau, but the fact of her offense hung around her neck like a weight.

“I’m sorry,” she said, drawing the comb through for the last time. Paya looked back, already sheepish. “No, don’t. You’re not allowed to feel guilty for my apology. It was a foolish thing to do, and I’m sorry that I did it. I’m sorrier that I didn’t tell you about it.” She packed the comb away neatly in Paya’s bag as the other woman began to tie up her white hair. “I didn’t believe it, I suppose, that the air could just cause one to… combust. It seemed preposterous. So, I wanted to see it for myself, even though I knew people had to protect themselves from it. If I hadn’t experienced it for myself, it wasn’t real.” There. That put it all out, didn’t it? The whole ridiculous process. “So that’s why I didn’t tell you I was planning to set myself on fire. I thought you would prevent me from finding out the truth.”

“I would have,” Paya said, but it wasn’t an admonishment, not really, and Zelda tried not to sigh in relief. Satisfied with the state of her hair, Paya turned to look back at her, not rising just yet. “I was very frightened. I thought you’d been hurt.” Even her frown was sheepish, and that twisted Zelda’s guts into a knot. “That’s why I’ve been so quiet; I guess I’m still processing that panic. I didn’t want you to think I was angry with you, but I was angry. Maybe not at you, but generally.”

Silence; there wasn’t much to say.

Then, Paya’s frown slid away, and her mouth quirked—she did not grin, Zelda was not sure she’d ever seen Paya really grin in amusement or if she was even capable of laughing without being embarrassed of it—as she got back to her feet, hoisting her pack. “Did you learn what you wanted?”

“Oh, yes. I learned what burning hair smells like.”

That got a snort, followed by Paya instantly hiding her face behind her hands, trying to pretend it hadn’t happened.

That feeling of tension was bleeding away, and Zelda thought the rest of the walk up to Goron City would probably be much simpler.

As if summoning trouble with the thought, she heard a scream in the distance.

She got to her feet but Paya was already standing at the edge of the platform, leaning far out to take in the mountainside. Zelda moved to join her, drawing the Sheikah Slate and shifting to its telescopic view. The sound had come from further down the mountain, behind them. Fixing the path in the viewfinder she traced their own steps, setting the aperture to focus on the place where the footpath rounded a corner and out of sight. Five seconds passed, then ten, if they got to twenty she would start gliding back down the path to find the source of the scream—

Then a man, clearly a merchant with his heavy backpack, scrambled around the wall and came running up the trail. He was running all out, clearly seeking to escape something, his pace slowed not at all by the weight of his load. He had a shield in his hand but no weapon; had he lost it?

Behind him, at a run that easily kept pace with their quarry, were three assassins of the Yiga Clan.

“Zelda, wait!”

But she was already leaping from the tower, paraglider in her hands, and the wind and the heat whipped Paya’s words away. Perhaps Paya tried to call out to her again; if she did, then this entreaty also went unheard.

Think. Based on the speed he’s running, and my rate of ascent, assuming he keeps to the main path… they don’t seem to be gaining ground on him. Are they simply running him to exhaustion, so he’s easier to kill?

She tilted the paraglider, gaining speed as she went into a dive, and if not for the strength of arm granted to her by Hylia’s blessing then she would have lost control utterly and gone into freefall. The wind in her ears was all she could hear as she cruised down hundreds of meters, and the earth rose to meet her. She had to pull out of the dive or she was going to break something, but she had to reach the man almost on the spot or his attackers might reach him.

Careful. Careful…

With all the strength in her forearms she wrenched the paraglider up and leveled out, the force of it taking a strength that would have snapped her wrists like dry twigs when she had woken up in the Chamber. The ground was not coming at her so quickly, now, and as she looked at the man she thought she could hear him calling for help.

Twenty feet above the ground she hit the release on her paraglider, and it collapsed, automatically folding into a shape that made it easier to store. With practiced speed she slipped it into the frame that held it against her back, and then she hit the ground rolling. The shock sent a jolt through her entire body but nothing broke, nothing really hurt, and then she was on her feet and the Lightscale Trident was in her hands.

“Help!” The man’s voice was gravelly, but he must have been driven by adrenaline: he didn’t sound like he was even breathing hard. “Please, help me!”

“Get behind me!” she shouted to him. “I’ll make sure—”

Then a grey and white streak smashed him to the ground as her attendant landed on top of him. Zelda could not see the practiced strikes of Paya’s fists but she heard three rapid blows, thock-thock-thock, and then the man was on the ground clutching at his throat and gasping for breath.

“Paya! What are you doing!” She ran forward, reaching out, ready to pull her friend off the merchant physically if she had to—but by the time she reached them Paya was already on her feet, turning to face the advancing assassins. No, not even turning; she was sprinting toward them, sword and shield in hand. The assassins, for their part, had stopped dead in their tracks, momentarily stunned by the explosive violence aimed at their quarry.

“That man is Yiga!” was all Paya called over her shoulder.

“Yiga?” The man at her feet? Who’d been pursued by assassins, the same ones Paya was now throwing herself at?

She looked down at him, reflexively, disbelieving. With one hand he still clutched at his throat; Paya must have nearly crushed his windpipe. He was staring up at her, and his expression was perfectly calm.

No panic. No surprise. He hadn’t been breathing hard, had he? As if the chase had only just started. As if there was no reason for Yiga Assassins to try to kill any particular merchant. As if the only real goal was to get this man behind us, where he could put a knife into our backs.

“Princess,” he said, choking, as if to confirm her stupidity.

With his free hand he reached down and pulled open his coat. Tied against his vest was a bundle of bomb arrows; five, perhaps ten. She could not have said how many. She was not looking at them for long enough before the open air of Death Mountain put them to light.

The world was blotted out by a wave of sound, and pressure, and weightlessness.

Paya smashed into the centermost Yiga, who had been standing further forward than his companions. He did not react fast enough to bring up his weapon or turn her away; she slammed her shield into his mask, sending him crashing to the ground.

Were his eyes not on me?

Then behind her there was a roar, a wave of pressure and heat. No, he had not been looking at her. Neither had either of his fellows.

Foolishly, leaving herself completely open, she threw a glance over her shoulder.

And the world stopped, and she saw.

She saw the place on the ground where the disguised Yiga had been, the roaring flames that almost disguised the charred and broken ruin that had been a person only seconds before.

She saw the Lightscale Trident spinning through the air.

She saw Zelda, wreathed in smoke, moving as if in flight, but she was not flying, there was no life in her limbs, she was limp, and Paya could not see Zelda’s face through the smoke and the heat but her golden hair had come loose and was burning.

She saw the Princess of Hyrule, Hylia’s strength incarnate, smash into a rock like a bird into a window. Zelda lay on the ground, left arm raised at an odd angle, smoke rising from her head, and was still.

Chapter Text

Zelda was conscious for those twilight moments where she was in the air, spinning. Like Sidon she had no sense of direction, or speed, or gravity, only of turning in space. Thoughts were ethereal, fleeting things, and she could not gather herself enough to form them. It was similar to the feeling one might have on the very edge of sleep, when consciousness is slipping away but the world is not yet gone; only here it was insistent and seemed to last much longer. It did not, of course; it only seemed that way.

She only lost consciousness when her head struck the stone, and her skull shattered. Then there was darkness.

Zelda knew darkness; she had regained her consciousness in darkness, been called out to by the goddess in a dream, called up out of sleep. This sleep was like that one; this sleep was also death. She did not reflect upon it; she could not.

But death did not mean the same thing for her that it might for others; so, too, for anyone who carried the blessing of the Zora Champion, in other times or other places.

She dreamed. She was back in that boundless inner void that had framed her relationship with the divine and with herself since she had been born into new memory, only now the goddess was not there. Where had Hylia gone? Did she not know Zelda was here? Did she not know how enormous, how terrible, this place was without her?


The world collapsed in on itself, Zelda’s perspective condensing until it had reached a single finite point as an infinity of stars spun away into nothingness, and she became smaller and smaller—and then she was there, in the void, and Mipha was with her. Mipha’s hands were on her head, and a coolness filled her thoughts.

“Mipha! You… how are you here? What happened?”

Mipha winced in an expression of sympathy (but also… was that irritation?) so sharp it embarrassed her to be on the receiving end of it. “Assassins, of the Yiga Clan. One of them was carrying bomb arrows and exposed them to the open air when you were within range. Your armor protected you from the blast—barely—until your head struck a stone on the side of the path.”

Princess, he had said, and then opened his jacket to her and invited death for them both. Yes. Yes, now she remembered.

“Then I am dead.”

“Almost,” Mipha said, and now that sympathy added color to a smile. “I caught you on the edge of death, in the moment that you would have lost your life—that is the fullness of the power I have granted you. There is no blow so terrible, no cut so deep, that I cannot undo it. I will always heal your wounds.” She seemed to catch herself and blinked rapidly, though Zelda could not have guessed as to why.

“That… is far more than I thought you had given me, Mipha. I don’t know if I even understand—”

“Then I will explain it to you. Because you carry my power inside you, you can use it to heal others, but when the time comes and you are most in need I can take hold of it and focus all of it on you.” Now her expression was sharper, more severe. “Don’t think this is limitless, Princess. It is not. Though this is my power, it is now tied to your life force, and I must use all of it to save your life. Until your life force restores it, it cannot be used in this way again. When you awaken, do not fall prey to the Yiga; I will not be able to help you.”

“My life force? Is it tied to Hylia’s power, then?” Mipha had no answer for her, but she hadn’t been seeking one; she’d only been wondering aloud. “Mipha, how long will it take before it’s ready again?”

“That’s… difficult to guess at. For a strong, healthy person it might take two or even three days. When I emptied my strength utterly, I could use it again after perhaps thirty hours. For you, we will not know until it has begun to recover.” She sighed, as if letting go of a breath she had been holding for long minutes. “Which will begin soon. It’s time for you to wake back up, Zelda. Paya must be worried sick.”

Paya! She was fighting the Yiga assassins alone! Paya could surely handle herself, but—and then, without being told, she realized that time did not pass the same way in this place. Barely a heartbeat had passed since her skull struck the rock. From the perspective of someone watching, she was about to get up nearly the same instant she had landed. Hopefully that would be fast enough.

“You have been moving through your quest as a person would.” That caught her attention, Mipha’s words… not exactly carrying an edge (she wasn’t sure if Mipha was even capable of speaking sharply) but meant to be heavy, admonishing. “You cannot continue to do that.”

“I am a person.” The words were out before she had fully formed them—the idea that she had to express it was almost preposterous. But she knew where this was going, even before Mipha continued.

“You are. So am I and the rest of the Champions. So is Link. So, once, was Ganon. But we are all more than that, aren’t we? We have to be. Even if inside of ourselves we are the same weak, frail, cowardly creatures that we were born as, even if we have never truly grown at all… still we must be more than people.” So difficult to read, her face, but the set of her eyes was clear. “A hundred years ago I told you that I would be there for you, that I would listen when you wanted to talk and talk when you wanted to listen, because there was common ground between us. But now you must listen, because you need the truth, and the truth is this: you, and Link, and Ganon… all of you are of a kind.”

The void was cold, now.

“You are a person. You have the strengths and weaknesses of a person. You have the heart of a person. But, Princess: a person cannot do what you will do. A person cannot stand against Ganon. A person cannot free the other Champions or regain control of the Divine Beasts. A person cannot hope to survive when the entire Yiga Clan seeks for their blood.” Mipha took her hands away from Zelda’s temples, and despite what Mipha was saying, something in her expression made the inside of Zelda’s chest quake, not out of shame or fury or fear but love, love that was the only possible answer to the belief being invested in her now. “So, you will be more than a person. You are a legend, and you must bear the burden of a legend. I’m sorry for it, and I would help you if I could, but I cannot. You must do this yourself. Show them. Show the world that you have the strength to play your part in this story.”

Three women there were in Zelda’s mind, and often she thought of them as partaking in a quiet war for the heart of her identity: the amnesiac, the princess, and the oracle of the goddess. How often she thought of them fighting; she, the amnesiac who sought to preserve her identity and her connections and her loves and her fears against those of the other two. To be told that she could not do this, to be told that she could not preserve herself, protect herself… something raged inside of her. She wanted to be angry; not just to scream but to lash out, not to explain but to illustrate that injustice.

And it would have been foolish, she knew, to burden a dead woman with her frustrations. Foolish and small. Because she is right. Of course she is.

The golden power was inside of her, and deeper than that, carried on a level so fundamental it brushed against the primordial, something far more terrible slept. Both called out to her: both told her of the legend. She would be a part of it; her choice was to either be run down by it or to sink her teeth into it and make it her own. The goddess had spoken to her, and Mipha had admonished her, and her father had left her with the regrets of the family she had failed, and Link… Link fought on, and on, and on. Could she do less? But no, that was the wrong question, the wrong comparison to be made. It did not matter what Link was doing. What mattered was her answer to that question: would she rise? Or would Ganon prevail?

I cannot be three.

The power flared inside of her, the chiming of the creation-bell, and that void was filled with light as life returned to her body. Her awareness reached outward, and she felt another power that might answer her call. Mipha waited in front of her, looking up at her with admiration—but not awe. It was that lack of awe, that knowledge of her essential personhood that slept beneath the roaring power of the goddess, that made her finally grasp why the Champions had been so important to her.

“Thank you, Mipha. For your gift… but more importantly, for talking to me. I needed to hear that.”

Mipha bowed to her. “It is my pleasure.”

Zelda rose up out of the darkness, buoyed by a swelling of the golden power that lifted her up, up into the waking world, and through the ringing of the bell and the roar of power she could hear blood pounding in her ears, and on her lips she bore a name.

She rose with a shout, calling a name that was not pronounceable by the tongues of the peoples of Hyrule, for whom the Gorons and the Gerudo and the Hylians and the Zora had only ever been able to produce approximations. She did not speak with her human tongue; it was the goddess’s voice that thundered.

That shout was carried by a wave of the power; not so far that Ganon could hear it, but enough to be heard in the entire range surrounding Death Mountain.

The owner of the name heard it, and at once they answered: “Hylia!” in a language that was not language, in a tongue that was older than the pacts that humans had made with the gods. “Hylia!” they called again, in answer, because their pact was older by far.

They twisted in the air, and the sky split, and they plunged through the rift rent wide in the blue.

Paya saw her charge, her princess, the incarnation of her goddess (and yes the woman you love why not add that on top of it it’s not like that could make it worse now could it) crash into a stone on the side of the road. She saw how Zelda’s hair was still aflame, her bandana knocked loose, as the impact broke her skull and her spine. She saw the world end.

Save her go to her hold her help her STOP THEM

Paya’s sword was alight with Hylia’s blessing as she turned and struck, the motion practiced and fluid as her sword separated tendon and muscle from bone and a second Yiga fell, howling and clutching at their leg, to join the first.

The third was prepared for her; the sickle blade was already coming down and she slammed into the weapon with her shield, blowing wide the assassin’s guard. This one she didn’t even have to cut: she drove the hilt of her blade into their solar plexus, the blow sharp and sudden and deep, and she heard the breath leave the Yiga before they fell to the ground, unmoving, their sickle sword clattering on the stone.

Laughter, then, and lights around her: five more Yiga, moving as the Yiga moved, announcing themselves as a sign of their impending victory. She did not reflect on their improper form, or their arrogance, or their deviation from what their Sheikah roots would have made a much more dangerous formation: she was not thinking very much at all. She moved automatically, as if dreaming, because she had shut the scream inside of her mind and it had taken up a chamber so large that she was not able to think without it. She would disable these men and women. She would kill them, if they made her. Then she would go to Zelda. And.

She was wondering how long she would be screaming when the tone of Zelda’s power filled the world. Golden light suffused the air as the assassins appeared, blades and bows ready, but she paid them no mind and they likewise: every eye was turned to the princess as she rose from her place on the ground.

There was no blood on her head or in her hair; her hair was burning, but it seemed to burn with the light of the midday sun, as if the heat of Death Mountain did not touch it. Her eyes were clear, and half-lidded… and sad. Deeply, unbelievably sad, as she looked at the assassins gathered before her. No fear, no anger, no frustration, no pain. Only sadness.

“Your masters have told you that you are here to kill a girl,” Zelda said in a voice that radiated from the stones and the air.

Do not move, Zelda spoke directly into Paya’s mind, and Paya’s entire body tensed in answer to the impossibility of the request. Please. No matter what happens next, do not move.

One of the assassins, less paralyzed than their fellows, took aim with a Duplex Bow and released two arrows.

These arrows struck Zelda in the chest—and fell to the ground, their heads blunted. The princess neither looked at them nor reacted to the impact. Her armor, blessed by the great fairy, had protected her… hadn’t it? The light roared around her, and Paya wondered if it was more than the armor at work.

“Only a girl,” and the words might have been spoken by the world itself.

The air opened above Zelda, a disc of darkness rimmed in storm clouds widening like the spreading ripples in a pond, and from it spewed fire—and then the embodiment of fire arriving like an explosion. A serpent, head the size of a house and bearing a crown of horns that glowed with the enormity of the heat contained within them, plunged out of the rift, descending to the ground and taking its perch on the stones behind Zelda. The length of its body could have encircled every person there; the enormous claws at the end of its powerful arms could have easily crushed the boulders they were now latched around. It perched behind Zelda, as if framing her, framing the light of the world, and it lifted its head and its crimson eyes were larger than the people at which it stared. Paya knew this spirit from the stories her grandmother had told her, and she knew that its true name was for the gods but that her people called it Dinraal, the great spirit of fire, guardian of the spring of power.

And Dinraal had come to Zelda as if it was her guardian.

“Do you believe that?” Zelda’s voice did not betray the sadness in her eyes; still, her tone was not challenging. She wanted their answer to this question; she wanted them to leave. “Do you believe that you raise your sword against a girl? A child? Do you believe that you can carry out your task?”

The Yiga, for all their worship of Ganon and all the evil that they meant for the world, were themselves only people: Paya could feel their fear radiating from them in waves, could smell how it soured their sweat, hear how each of them trembled. The dragon looked down at them in ready judgement, but it was not Dinraal who held them: it was Zelda, alight with the power of the goddess, who kept them arrested.

Paya believed they would flee: for a long, sweet moment, so long that she opened the chamber in her mind and found she was no longer screaming, she thought they would see reason and leave this place and tell the story of how Zelda had risen unharmed from their attack and called a dragon to her.

It was, in the end, only a moment.

One of the assassins, more zealous than the rest, gathered their courage and spoke through the mask that made their voice inhuman and strange: “For Kohga!” And that was all it took. Voices rose up to join theirs in chorus: “For Kohga!” The assassin whose face Paya had struck with her shield, and the one whose nerves she had hammered with the hilt of her sword, both rose up, Kohga’s name in their mouths. Only the one whose tendons she had cut stayed on the ground though even they called out their leader’s name: “For Kohga!”

“For Kohga!” they all cried out as one, and as one they moved to attack the princess. Some, holding their sickles in their hands, charged straight for her, feet beating a rhythm quicker than a bird’s heartbeat. Others, holding their bows, made the signs by which they might move between spaces without being seen, seeking better vantage points by which to feather their target. As one, they sought to fulfill the wishes of their master.

As one they were answered by Dinraal; as one they were encompassed by the dragon’s bugling roar, by the flashing of its eyes, the flexing of its power.

As one they were engulfed in flames; as one they burned, and burned, the heat of the fires so terrible that even at a space of ten meters and guarded against the effects of flame by the elixir, Paya still covered her face with her arms. Then the heat was gone, and she looked again.

As one the Yiga had disappeared; not even ashes were left behind.

Paya looked past them, to Zelda, and saw that her princess had never looked away, never turned her eyes from the fury that the dragon had unleashed on her behalf. Now that sadness was joined by pain. The two of them made eye contact, and Paya thought to call out to her—but then she realized Zelda was not looking at her. She was looking at the last of the Yiga, who lay on the ground, hands wrapped around their leg, quietly gasping in panic, and sickness, and fear.

Steel yourself. Take that pain and put it away, deep, deep down where you can come back to it later. Bury it, knowing that it will claw its way to the top again. They are dead. You did not kill them.

I called on Dinraal. As well to have put them to the torch with my own hands.

They made their choices and left you none. Yes, confront this, but not now.

The dragon lowered their massive head to her, and she reached out and ran her palm along their brow. She would have thought the touch burning, but like Naydraa, Dinraal betrayed expectations; they were warm, fantastically and comfortingly warm, sending waves of well-being and calm up her arm and into her chest. The guardian spirits of Hyrule radiated serenity and wholeness, she thought, and for how well it masked her pain she thought she would never take her hand from the dragon’s head.

“Thank you,” she said, not in the tongue of the gods but in her own language.

You suffer,” the dragon said, in the language that could not be reproduced by the tongue of the Hylians, which she only understood with the goddess’s power and memory informing her awareness.

“I wish they had not died.” She did not wish that Dinraal had not killed them; she would never gainsay their protection. She simply wished they had not arrived at this point; the dragon understood, still.

They were Malice.” That word, which she thought of as Malice, did not translate perfectly into Hylian, and came bundled with hundreds of different textures: they were corrupted, of Ganon, spreading the hurt, against Hylia, authors of their own downfalls, on and on, perfectly precise in a way that made her own words seem almost crude in comparison.

“Even so. Thank you.” She lifted her hand.

Dinraal lifted their head, and the wind rushed in to fill the gap as it moved. “Call on us,” they said, meaning all of their kind, at any time, from any place, “Hylia.”

Without a tremor in the earth or a single stone broken loose did Dinraal rise, their body snaking through the air as if they were swimming. Fires plumed in the sky around them, and the wind roared, and somehow over the howling of the fires and the whirling air that sense of tranquility filled the world. She watched them for what was only a few seconds, but a few seconds was long enough. She turned back to Paya and the last of the Yiga, and she walked slowly and calmly down the trail. The power still enshrouded her, filling the world with a golden light more terrible than a dragon’s, but one could hear the soles of her boots tapping against the stone as if she stood alone in an empty room.

Paya was not afraid of her. She surprised herself, that that was the first thing she had noticed: after calling on the dragon, after presiding over the elimination of the Yiga, after rising from the dead, she had thought the other woman would be afraid. Had she been hoping for that? Had she been hoping that seeing her as she was, according to what she could do, would change Paya’s perspective of her? What cruel hope that would have been. What vain hope, too, because when their eyes met she saw only relief, and concern, and through the goddess’s senses she felt that same radiating love (though not the same; it was changing, however slowly) that had guided the two of them to this point.

From the woman on the ground… well.

Paya bowed to her as she stepped closer. “Your Grace.”

Zelda nodded to her, hoping the assassin saw the particular angle of her head, the implied difference in their elevation and status; now the two of them would put on a show. Each understood, without having spoken it aloud: this woman had to be shown a goddess and her handmaiden.

For woman it was; Zelda knew her, had known her from the moment Mipha had lifted her out of death.

“We have met before,” she said, kneeling next to the Yiga. With golden hands she reached for the wounded woman’s head, and though Paya was instantly at her side they both knew there was no threat; both hands were clasped tightly around the woman’s leg, stymying the flow of blood, and she bore no weapon now. Gently, slowly, Zelda took hold of the Yiga mask, the inverted symbol of the eye of Hylia, and lifted it from the woman’s face. “It had been some time since we met outside of Kakariko.”

The assassin’s lips were drawn back from her teeth in pain and panic, but she was still in the way people are still if they know their lives hang by a single, precious thread. There was a desire to harm radiating from her, as sure and even as the heat of the air around them, but no intent—the intent had been driven out of her.

The wound on her leg was bleeding, still; Paya had struck to disable, but without medical attention the assassin would surely bleed to death. Zelda could see that with her naked eye.

Mipha’s power inside of her was cool, and calming, and empty. It draws on my life force, Mipha said. It has been only minutes. Not enough to work with, yet. But her life force was not her own, at least not solely. She was not limited in the same ways that another person, or even one of the Champions, might be. In her thoughts she reached out with the goddess’s power, and Mipha’s Grace was like a chalice that stood empty. The power was a molten light, running off her fingers like shining liquid gold, and because she knew it would work she channeled some part of that flow into the Grace.

The chalice was filled; the chalice ran over. Inside of herself, she felt Mipha gasp in surprise and something very like delight.

Considerably less than thirty hours, she allowed herself to think, and then she laid her hands on the wounded assassin’s leg.

The woman gasped as if struck, and Paya was now next to her, kneeling on the side opposite Zelda, sword laid across her knees, staring into the killer’s eyes. But the assassin had no sense that Paya was there: she stared at Zelda’s face, eyes wide, and now tears began to flow.

Using Mipha’s power was much like receiving it; cool, and calming, and putting balm to the hurts of the spirit. Was it the goddess’s awareness that made it so easy? A century ago, Mipha had said she was helped by thinking of the people she loved; Zelda wondered if, leveraging only her own power and with her own will, she would need such thoughts, too. She did not, for now.

Zelda took her hands away, and the Yiga lifted hers too: the wound was closed, sinew and muscle joined once more to bone that was covered in whole, unmarked flesh. It was as if the wound had never been made at all. They two stared at it, while Paya’s eyes were ever on the assassin’s face.

Zelda let go of the golden power, and when she spoke again it was in her own voice. “I think you had better go.”

“What?” The assassin—here she reflected she did not know the woman’s name, did not want to, did not ever intend to—stared at her with shock and something like horror. “What do you mean?”

“Your Grace,” Paya said, “that may be too kind. If this woman leaves here uninjured,” because breaking her arms was a viable solution, “then she will attempt to kill you again. Failing that, she will only kill herself, for having failed her master.”

The object of their conversation did not confirm or even deny—she simply looked back and forth between her captors.

Zelda shook her head. “She will not. She cannot. Look at me.” And the woman did as commanded. “Do you believe that you, as you are, can kill me, as I am?” How wrong it felt to say these things.

The assassin stared at Zelda, unblinking, and then looked at her own hands. At the closed wound on her leg. Her eyes wandered until they found her weapon on the ground some ten meters away, which made Paya shift her weight again. Finally, once more, she looked to Zelda. “No.”

“Then you will not try again, I hope. More, you cannot die by your own hand. If you are still loyal, to Ganon and to your clan, then you must return to them and tell them what you have seen: that I am the caller of dragons, that I cannot be felled by arrow or blade or blows of force. If you were to take up your sword now and with it open my throat, the wound would close before my blood kissed the air. There is no blow so terrible, no cut so deep, that I would fall from it.”

Silence. Then: “And if I am not loyal? If I betray my people, and the god we serve?”

“Then you would leave, and you would hide, and you would make sure that your fellows cannot find you. Perhaps you would submit yourself to the mercies of the Sheikah; I do not know. I cannot dictate your course for you, though I hope it is not one steeped in darkness. Still: you should go, and you should go now.”

Silence once more. Zelda rose, and Paya with her, and the two of them stepped away from the assassin, to give her space (though Paya stayed between the other two). She stared at them, like a wary animal, and slowly rose to her feet. She licked her lips, looked down at her leg once more. Tested it, to make sure it was whole. And, once she was sure, she made signs with her hands. Orange light encircled her—and then she was gone, smoke marking the place where she had been standing a moment before.

The background noise of Death Mountain reigned again, the bubbling of lava and the hiss of the air. Zelda let out a breath she had not realized she’d been holding. Without the goddess’s power, she was so much less sure of herself.

“That could have gone worse, I suppose—”

Paya’s embrace was so sudden she didn’t realize what was happening until the silver-haired woman had buried her face against Zelda’s shoulder and dissolved into sobs that shook her entire body. In the removed, analytical part of her mind, Zelda recognized that the fact that Paya had gone so far as to physically touch her was a measure of the pain and fear and grief she had been feeling before; in the more immediate, responsive part, all she could do was return the embrace. Paya’s legs were shaky, and instead of trying to hold her up Zelda just controlled their descent as they both sank to their knees. She stroked Paya’s back, and her hair, not knowing what else to do.

“There, there. I’m sorry… I’m all right, I promise I’m all right… Paya, you’re pinching my hair…”

“I-if I don’t hold your hair against you, it’s going to catch f-f-f-fire ag—” and that was about as far as she got before the words got away from her completely.

It passed, as one might expect.

For being caught in an attack that neither of them had foreseen from an enemy they had assumed incapacitated, each outwardly agreed to mutual blamelessness while quietly blaming themselves. Zelda rebound her hair underneath her climber’s bandana, and Paya promised that she would trim the burnt ends once they were stopped for the evening.

Up the mountain they continued, eating up the kilometers to Goron City. There were monsters, and these they avoided or killed; there were animals, adapted to the harsh climate of Death Mountain, and these they catalogued (they would have hunted, but neither had the heart to make still more death with her hands); there was a Guardian, and this Zelda set to clearing the mountainside of monsters. The sounds of its weapons discharging behind them lent them a sense of security, as if it specifically had their backs. Perhaps it did. Perhaps Guardians, like dragons, knew the force that they served.

They came to Goron City, in time. They bore witness to the trials of Yunobo and participated in the repelling of Vah Rudania. Much, much happened, and will be outlined in its time.

For a moment—just for a moment—follow the Yiga woman, who fled on sure feet to the south and the west. Yiga training was not the same as that afforded to warriors of the Sheikah; in the many thousands of years since their split, they had differentiated themselves in key ways. The Sheikah produced better fighters, the Yiga better assassins. One way in which they had not drifted much, however, was in the essential and fundamental honing of their hearts and lungs. Warriors or messengers of the Yiga and Sheikah alike were trained so that they could run at speeds that would be a sprint for any other person, and they could sustain those speeds for a dozen hours or more. In this way, a determined messenger or killer of the Yiga clan might cross Hyrule more swiftly than a rider on a stout horse.

So, the killer ran. Zelda never learned her name, nor did Paya, but they knew her face, and Paya especially would have recognized the awe and fear in her expression as she left a wide berth around Hyrule Castle, truly a holy place where the holy rebirth was ongoing. No Yiga was allowed there, not since Kohga had made his pilgrimage; he had told his followers that their god was not given to fools and would seek out the faithful when the time came. So, she avoided it. And she listened to the sound of steel ringing from miles away, to a voice raised in song that made her heart pound in her chest, and she wondered at the color of the light that shone from the highest tower. And she ran.

For days she ran, pushing her body to utmost extremity; when Zelda called upon the fullness of the power of the goddess and Ganon screamed its vengeance from the heart of the kingdom, she was crossing the paths into the Gerudo Highlands. No Yiga approached from the road that lead into the desert; that place was for deployment, or intruders who wished to be feathered by Yiga arrows.

It was a testament to her strength that she made it at all; she had stopped to rest only very little and was not sure if she had slept. She was received by her sergeant, who began to ask her what had happened to the rest of her unit, and she responded with:

I must speak with Master Kohga.”

The conviction in her words carried the terror of what she’d seen; her sergeant looked at her in grim consideration, and nodded, and she was brought further into the fortress. That she had been delayed at all was a bad sign; possibly she would have been killed if she did not have important news. That did not matter now, though.

All Yiga of rank were allowed to roam the fortress freely; it was only Master Kohga’s personal chambers that one needed special permission to enter. She kneeled outside of her master’s doorway, assuming the full obeisance. A curtain of beads separated his room from the hallway, but a pall of darkness clung to those beads, making them as opaque as ink, or smoke, or the Malice.

“Master Kohga,” she said, and in spite of her exhaustion and her terror and the weight of the visions she carried in her memory her voice did not tremble. “I come bearing news that I must share with you.”

“News?” Kohga’s voice from inside of the room was high, almost relaxed, and conveyed that he would have preferred to use many more words but often restrained himself. “Where have you been, disciple?”

“My master, I have just returned from Death Mountain. I am the last survivor of the band that sought to spill the Princess of Hyrule’s blood on the southern slopes.”

Silence; more than silence; being near to Master Kohga made it possible to feel his moods, as if he could convey them through the air like the smell of incense. The tension weighed on her like a smothering blanket, pressing her down harder onto the floor, and she wondered in a very distracted way what would happen if she passed out from exhaustion and stress.

“Enter,” he said.

She rose to her feet, bowed formally once more to the closed door, and took the beads in her hands. They were heavier than they looked, crackling with black and purple energies that stuck to her fingers like oil from fatty meat, and they resisted as she pulled them aside, as if trying to retain their current arrangement.

Pull them aside she did, and she bowed her head as she entered Kohga’s chambers.

The room was full of Malice, as it had been for years; great golden eyes turned to examine her as she entered, staring unblinking; the walls were occasionally dotted by lipless mouths attached to no throats, that opened and closed and hummed in a language that she did not understand. The light in the room was the light of the Malice itself, dark purple from the otherworldly fires and gold from the staring eyes. Kohga’s bed was untouched; the mat on which he kneeled was untouched; the path from mat to doorway was untouched. Everything else was enrobed in inky darkness.

Kohga faced away from her, kneeling in contemplation of a design on the wall that connected to the ritual grounds outside, and she could not look at that design because the shape it made hurt her eyes. Instead she looked at the head of the Yiga: he was not a tall man, but no one would ever gainsay his strength of presence. He rose slowly, placing his right hand on his right knee to push himself into a standing position. Her first instinct was to go to him and help him to his feet; she thought better of it, though, knowing how sacred his mat was considered. There was no fat on him, though there was something else, and when he got to his feet the lean musculature of his back writhed as if something under his skin desperately wished to push into the open air. A faint vapor emanated from his sleeves and his collar. Standing in that room with him, she wondered how she might ever lose faith; she wondered how the servants of the liar goddess could ever think such a thing possible. Here was power personified.

He turned to look at her, and for the first time in years she was face-to-face with Kohga, leader of the Yiga, keeper of the last secrets, bearer of the mark of Ganon’s favor. Light shone from beneath the pearlescent whiteness of his mask.

“Tell me what you saw.”

Chapter Text

To walk on Death Mountain was to walk on the beating heart of the world, to feel the pulsing flow of the molten stone that was its blood. The world breathed, the world lived, and Death Mountain trembled. The mountain shifted, changed, opening and closing new faces with geological slowness, on a scale that the little lives lived in sight of its sloped could not begin to see.

Goron City gave the impression of being part of the mountain, not dug out of it but born of it. An observer or a painter might imagine the birth of that landscape: the mountainside splitting open as lava kissed the open air, red and orange light shining up between the pillars of dark stone. The Gorons, of stone themselves, might have come upon the city that way—or perhaps they were even born with it, issued forth by the mountain in the forgotten era when gods and demons walked the world together. With iron bridges they connected the stone outcroppings, creating a network of pathways that allowed them to walk the spaces above the flowing blood of the world. Goron City’s age was impossible to guess at: all its artificial parts, the bridges and the gates and even the houses, were periodically replaced, but if the mountain shifted beneath them then it happened so slowly that none could tell.

Life went on in that place, heedless of age or antiquity or the insistent reality of the burning fires that built beneath it and threatened, of late, to rise to the surface. Artisans worked their repairs on iron and stone, children rolled aimlessly and fearlessly along the narrow paths of the city that hung just over fatal drops into burning fire, and those few of the other peoples of Hyrule who paid visit during this season of burning moved quickly between buildings, seeking specific goods or specific places.

The Ripped & Shredded was the armor shop of Goron City; it sold armor made specifically for Hylians, since Hylians were the people most likely to travel to Goron City. The armor sold there was of unquestionable utility but lacked longevity: it could protect Hylians from the terrible burning heat of the mountain, and its construction meant that it would never need to be replaced, but any Hylian that left the mountain would find they no longer needed those precious armor pieces. This reality had not driven down its price, as the two women stalking out of the shop had just learned.

“I cannot believe they charge two thousand rupees for that helmet. Even if it is fire-resistant! That’s as much as two sets of the boots and one of the armor.”

The Flamebreaker armor and matching boots made heavy, almost riotous noise as Zelda walked across one of the iron bridges, now headed toward the town’s inn. It would take a very great deal of effort to move quietly in them; still, she’d never felt quite so comfortable as she did right now, temperature-wise. A psychological effect, perhaps, of knowing that she was materially safe in a way that even the fireproof elixirs would not have been able to provide for her. Yes, the boots had been an excellent purchase. Despite that, she had to admit her mood was completely shot.

“The craftsmanship on it must be quite meticulous. And, Zelda, we could purchase it, if you wanted to.”

“I know, I know… but it would deplete nearly all of our rupees. I’d sooner get you a matching pair of boots and armor, too.”

Zelda did not see as Paya winced and wrestled for an argument that would not betray how hideous she found the armor in question. “Cotera mentioned that, if we should find her sisters, then their magic might draw further benefits out of full sets.”

“She did, that’s true. Still. How irritating! For now, let’s see if we can secure a room at the inn, and then we will consider what else to do. If nothing else, it will give us an opportunity to prepare more fireproof elixirs. Oh, I hope we can increase their potency without losing too large a portion of their window of efficacy. Some areas of Death Mountain are too hot for the elixirs we’ve made, the shop keep said. I suppose, in the worst-case scenario, we could both use one of our elixirs and one of the armor pieces…”

“I’m sure it won’t come to that.”

Zelda was doing the math in her head as they walked, weighing the long-term benefits of the helmet against its cost, trying to determine if it came out properly against how long they planned to spend on Death Mountain (and how likely it was that Ganon’s Blight, which waited on Vah Rudania, would be using fire as a weapon). If they could gain the same benefit from producing better elixirs, using more effective parts, then perhaps… and so it went, round and round in her head, so that she barely noticed at all as they passed by a Gerudo woman on the near the inn.

“Good afternoon,” the woman said in her own tongue: sav’saaba.

“Good afternoon,” Zelda replied, also in Gerudo.

Then she stopped in her tracks and went back over the words in her head. Wait. What? She turned to look back at the woman, who was looking at her with an expression nearly as surprised as Paya’s.

“You speak Gerudo, little sister?” The (much, much) taller woman’s building excitement showed in her grin, the sudden nervous shifting of her weight, back and forth between one foot and the other.

“A… small amount?” Only it didn’t come out like a question, she realized: her tone, in Hylian, would have made it into a question that communicated her surprise, but in the Gerudo language that same tone didn’t carry a similar meaning, and she had failed to append the interrogative particle. Well. Keep that in mind for the next time she decided to open her mouth.

“A small amount can be vast in a sea of Hylian! It feels so good to be able to speak my own language again—I have not met any other Gerudo since coming up this accursed mountain. And who could blame them for not scaling it, with this heat? I have to slather myself with these disgusting tinctures constantly or else end up burning to a cinder, and the Gorons don’t make armor to fit Gerudo! Every day here is a misery, and I wish I could force myself to leave. Ah, but I am being rude. My name is Ramella.”

“My name is Zelda.”

“Zelda! You have a good name, Zelda. A name that signifies strength of heart. And your pronunciation is so good! You are not dropping your ‘v’s at all. You must have spent a very long time working on that.”

Throughout this exchange Paya’s eyes had grown steadily wider, and she had stopped turning her head to look between the two speakers; now only her eyes darted back and forth.

Zelda spent a heartbeat considering her response, trying to make it as true as possible: “I do not remember feeling like I was working.” She was aware of how formally she was constructing her sentences, one of the sure signs of it being a second language, but she didn’t really know how to speak in any other way. That marked the limit of her fluency, she supposed.

Ramella barked a laugh, full and deep and throaty, and something in that laugh made Zelda feel wistful. “Yes, I suppose Gerudo Town does have many attractions for a young woman, even if she isn’t old enough to drink. Ah, I should go home. I should go home! I miss my sister and her idiot friends in the guard. Sadly, I can’t leave yet.”

“Why can’t you leave?”

Now Ramella looked away from Zelda, up to Death Mountain, and scowled. “Gemstones. I’m here to gather gemstones and bring them back to Gerudo Town. There’s always a premium to be paid in the city, and if I can get the stones here then I’ll make a killing when I go home. But if I return without them, I will be financially ruined, and my family will suffer for it. So, I can’t leave yet. I may be trapped here so long as that,” and here she used a word that Zelda did not know but it was easy to guess from her tone that it was very rude, “Divine Beast keeps driving the Gorons from their mines.”

“I have gemstones!” The color rose in her face as soon as she said it; she was speaking like an eager child, happier to immediately address someone’s sorrows than that she had anything significant to add. Why would having a child’s mastery of the language shape my reactions that way? Her embarrassment might have ended the conversation, forced her to carry on in Hylian so she could be surer of her words, but when she said that Ramella’s eyes turned back to her and now they were measuring.

“Do you have rubies, sister?” She had dropped the affectionate honorific, choosing to address Zelda in the mode of a potential business partner rather than a favored child. “I can only buy them in sets of ten, and right now I am looking specifically for rubies.”

“I have rubies,” and now she was doing math in her head again. She had more than ten, though not many more. Normally it took Gorons mining to be able to unearth them, but she’d found rich mineral deposits several times in the past weeks and discovered that one could excavate them with the application of explosives.

“Excellent. If you would let me have them, I would gladly give you twenty-three hundred… no, twenty-four hundred rupees, because you have made my day much better. That’s nearly a fifteen percent mark-up compared to what you would get at the general store or the armor shop. What do you say?”

Perhaps it was the intersection of her insecurity in her language skills and Ramella’s warm tone that worked so well on her; later she would wonder if the woman had taken advantage of her own inexperience, and then feel ashamed for entertaining the thought. In the moment, she thought only of how lucky she was to have her prayers so specifically answered within her means. “Yes, please.”

The exchange after that was quick; Zelda retrieved the rubies from where she kept them in her pack, counting them out into a sack which she gave to Ramella. Ramella, in turn, handed over eight golden rupees, their sheen dazzling even in the cinder-filled air of Goron City.

“Thank you, little sister. You have eased my troubles considerably. If you ever have more gemstones and are looking to trade, come to me, and I will be sure to give you a good deal. Farewell.”

“Farewell,” Zelda replied, the one part of the exchange where they spoke with the same level of formality, raising her hand. Ramella flashed her a grin and walked on, toward the chief’s house; she did not get very far before she began audibly complaining about the heat.

After Ramella was out of range, Paya apparently couldn’t hold it back any longer: “I had no idea you could speak Gerudo!”

“I didn’t either. Interesting that I still know how, with my amnesia. I suppose that makes sense, since language apparently isn’t lost… Still. When do you suppose I learned it?”

“I wouldn’t hazard a guess. It is said that your mother often visited the Gerudo, ever since she was a girl, but I don’t know whether you were brought on those trips with her.” She didn’t speak the question that they could both feel in the air: what else did Zelda know, and not remember that she knew?

Well. That was for another time. Instead of posing another question, Zelda hoisted the sack of rupees she’d just been given, shaking it so that they clashed musically together. She couldn’t help grinning; she couldn’t help being just a little proud of herself. “What say we go pick up that helmet? And perhaps a second pair of boots, while we’re at it.”

Paya did not look happy; in fact, she was grimacing. She must have been thinking about something else.

Bludo was feeling very old.

All right! All right, “feeling” wasn’t exactly it. Bludo was old. That was just a fact. But he was feeling that fact as sharply as he’d ever felt it before, in the grinding of his bones when he did so much as … turn his head? Lift his arms? Think strenuous thoughts? He spent a moment trying to imagine something that wouldn’t hurt his back, and that made the muscles at the base of his spine seize up so hard he drove his fist into them, grinding his knuckles as deep as he could. The worst of the pain was beneath the stone outcropping on his back, and it had been decades since he’d been spry enough to be able to reach that deep. Right now, he just had to deal with it. As much as he could.

“Boss of the Gorons. Ugh.”  He was glad there was no one around to hear him, just outside of his house; that Gerudo had been full of questions—when were the mines going to open back up, when would Rudania come back around, would this heat ever ease off at all—and seeing her leave had been one of the quiet reliefs he allowed himself to experience. Being “Boss” just meant people liked to come to him with their complaints and ask questions to which there were no answers, and the tourists weren’t the worst of it by far. His day had started with a meeting with the miner’s union, and if that concept hadn’t been bad enough on its own they’d actually come bearing worse news than discontent with the effects of his leadership: the Southern Mine was going to run dry, soon. Not this year, but in the next couple. Setting up new mining operations in the Northern Mine would require routing all of the monsters in it, though thankfully the Lizalfos hadn’t damaged any of the equipment there. Worse, getting the Northern Mine running would only be a stopgap measure itself; the real goal was Death Mountain, where Rudania had destroyed most of their infrastructure.

So Bludo knew what no one else did: Goron City was running out of rupees. Maybe some people suspected, Hylia knew enough of the miners were out of work, but he was the only one who had a decent idea about when the city would go broke. He could delay it by a few years if they managed to reclaim the Northern Mine, and it’s not like anyone was going to starve, but not being able to mine Death Mountain was going to start having much worse effects, soon. Once the Gerudo and the Zora were no longer getting shipments of good Goron iron, then there would be a real problem.

As if demanding that he stop thinking about this, a white-hot lance of pain ran up his spine and burst directly into his skull. He punched himself in the back, holding his fist there, and the pressure relieved the pain for a few moments. He needed his medicine.

“Where is that kid? Knew I shouldn’t’ve sent him on his own. Probably off with his head in the clouds somewhere…”

That wasn’t fair, Bludo knew. Yunobo was a good kid, and his heart was in the right place, even if he was… soft. But he just didn’t have the grit he should have, by now. One of Lord Daruk’s own, Yunobo should have been the very image of the proper Goron, all strength and courage, but he didn’t have those things. He pretended he did, and it was enough for most of the people around him, but Bludo’s doubts about him had been growing more and more pronounced for ages. The kid’s abilities were essential in driving off Rudania, for sure, but they’d need a lot more than a fancy shield if they were going to address that problem more permanently.

Thinking of this and nursing his aching back, Bludo did not see the two Hylians until they were right in front of him. He tried not to start, but failed at least a little; did everyone have to sneak up on him today?

“Hello,” one started, their voice high and soft. They were wearing the full Flamebreaker set; that would be a very nice cash infusion, then. The other was wearing Sheikah garb, and probably a fireproof elixir.

“Greetings. Name’s Bludo. I’m the Boss Goron, though I’m guessing you already know that if you’re up here. What can I do for you, brothers?”

The two Hylians looked at each other, blinked, and he wasn’t sure if they said anything because his hearing had started to go but he was pretty sure they communicated something. Then the one in the Flamebreaker outfit looked at him again and said, gently, “’Sisters,’ actually.”

“Oh. Sorry. My mistake, won’t happen again.” Yunobo would have handled that better, he admitted to himself: the kid was a lot better at really seeing people. And how many of the guards had they had to correct on their way here? He didn’t want to think about it. “Well, if you’ll forgive me that, what can I do for you? What’s brought you to Goron City?”

The one in the Flamebreaker armor was plainly the leader between the two of them. That she was traveling with a Sheikah escort suggested interesting possibilities, but he didn’t want to guess at them… until she continued. “We’re actually here on an errand concerning the Divine Beast. Would you mind telling us about it?”

“That scorching, pain-in-my-back nuisance? Not a lot to tell, except for how much trouble it’s been causing us. Stupid thing’s been sitting quiet on Death Mountain ever since Lord Daruk died, and it’s not until the past while that it’s really decided to jump up and make problems for everyone. It keeps Death Mountain constantly agitated; do you know Goron City used to be temperate enough that Hylians and Gerudo would need to wear jackets in the winter months? Now the temperature’s so high you can’t keep from bursting into flames without dousing yourself in lizard guts. It keeps making incursions toward Goron City, and if we’re lucky it tries to show up on its own and we can drive it back with our cannons and Yunobo’s big head. If we’re not lucky it’ll send out its drones, and… well, I don’t want to talk about that right now. In short, it’s a pest the size of a mountain!”

The two women, no doubt duly impressed by this fountain of information, exchanged glances again. They sure did like looking at each other a lot. Hylians seemed to like to do that, in his experience, always looking around instead of looking you in the eye. Not their fault, probably, but still.

“You mentioned someone named Yunobo helping to drive off Vah Rudania?”

“Did I? I guess I did. Yunobo’s Lord Daruk’s descendant—he even inherited Daruk’s Protection, though it seems like that’s all he inherited, sometimes. Whenever Rudania comes down from the mountain we’ll use the cannons to drive it off, but I wonder how long we can keep it up. Eventually I’m going to give out, or Yunobo is, and… look, I’m sorry, you don’t need to hear all this.”

“No! No, not at all. We’re actually here specifically about Vah Rudania in the sense that we want to restore it to its original function.”

All right. OK. Now it was his turn to stare. A Hylian and a Sheikah showing up from out of nowhere wanting to address a problem that the Gorons couldn’t handle for themselves? He didn’t know whether to be intrigued or insulted. He tended toward insulted, which was fair given that he was pretty sure he had insulted them in turn, earlier. Maybe that made them even. But how’d they even get this idea into their heads at all?

“You intend to… restore it. What, are you going to try to replace Daruk? Or are you just looking to work with his blessing?” It hurt him physically to do so, but he turned away from them to look up at the mountainside where the faces of Goron City’s heroic ancestors were carved, and Daruk’s face was the newest of those. “Do you think he’s still watching out for us, or what?”

Her eyes must have followed his. “Is that Lord Daruk?”

“Yeah, that’s him. We memorialized him after the Calamity, given how he went down fighting. Vah Rudania’s hard for us to look at, much less deal with. Not a lot of us still remember him, but I tell you, when he was around, nothing like this—”

There was a sound from behind him, the chiming of a bell, and then a golden light brighter than the glow of Death Mountain’s blood. He did not notice the pain in his back as he turned again, looking to the woman in the Flamebreaker armor, to the golden light that was pouring out of her helmet.

Hyrule Castle looked different in the light of the setting sun; from the south, seen through the trees in the glade where Zelda had finished receiving the vows of the Champions, the darkening sky made the castle itself seem almost sleepy. The roughness of its edges, the solidity of its authority, each of these were softened as day turned to night. When night fell, and the castle became a silhouette of darkness against the brilliance of the night sky, its black outline broken by torches and candles set in windows, the impression would fade; but now, in that twilight, Zelda could look at the place she had called home for so long and think of it as something else. Something inviting, though distant; something that promised rest, rather than a compounding of her burdens. Of her failures.

She sighed. Maintaining those thoughts would be easier if she wasn’t so morose.

After the ceremony and the swearing of their quiet oaths, Zelda had not been able to speak much to the Champions. Urbosa had seen it; Urbosa, ever privy to the secrets of her moods however much Zelda might want to hide them, had steered and commandeered the conversation that came after for the better part of an hour. She was an old hand at it, Zelda supposed; an accomplished stateswoman as much as a warrior. Urbosa had been the one to suggest the other Champions return to the castle, and Revali and Mipha had agreed with her and left; the only one unmoved by her, though Zelda could not have guessed why, was Daruk. Daruk and Urbosa had an exchange that Zelda wasn’t sure she had caught the subtleties of:

“Aren’t you tired yet, old man?”

“Ah, you know. I’ll follow along in a minute, just need to clear my head, arrange my thoughts.”

And Urbosa had left, taking Mipha and Revali with her, and Daruk had stayed behind. Link had stayed behind, too, and something in that made her chest ache; when he had sworn his oath to her, she thought that he was revealing something, some deeper part of his thoughts… but, really, she was just trying to run from her doubts, wasn’t she? Now he was withdrawn again, never looking directly at her, gaze turned always outward. If she’d asked, he surely would have said that it was to watch the environment for threats, and maybe that was even true, but she could feel his scorn for her failures.

She took a seat on the edge of the fountain, breathing in slowly. The day had been long—longer than any day she could remember, of late—and it seemed like it was refusing to end, even with the sun surrendering to night. She could not be calm, not really. The weight in her mind wouldn’t let her, kept her thoughts buzzing. Would she sleep tonight, she wondered?

“How are you doing, tiny prin—err, Princess?”

Daruk walked remarkably quietly for someone his size, but it was probably a bigger testament to how self-absorbed she was being that he surprised her. Still, she didn’t let it show, and looked up at him before answering. Dusk made Daruk’s ruddy coloring seem even more so, until he bore more than a passing resemblance to Death Mountain itself. If not for his huge, watchful eyes and the wide down-turn of his mouth, the illusion would have been almost perfect.

“I am… fatigued, Lord Daruk. Though it shames me to say, I have found the day more draining than I anticipated. I will be ready to travel back to the castle momentarily, however; you need not wait for me.” I already have all the guard I can stand.

“Well, see, that’s just the thing.” Now Daruk wasn’t making eye contact with her, and his hands—either easily as large as her torso—were brought together, each picking at the fingers of the other hand. Was he nervous? She’d never seen him nervous. She wasn’t aware he could even be nervous. “Now that the other Champions have taken off, and you’ve got a moment to yourself outside of the castle, I was hoping we could have a word?”

It was true that they had not had time to speak in private since the day she had asked him to join the Champions and celebrated by eating a rock. What could he want to talk about, though, especially something that would make him this nervous? Was there some weakness her saw in her that he thought he might be able to correct through conversation (oh, how Father would be delighted if it were that easy)? Had she offended him somehow? Was there some yet more earnest oath he wanted to make to her, about his loyalty to the cause, to her, and to the war with Ganon? If the last she thought she might scream, or else collapse into herself and cease to exist.

“Of course. Link,” and the Hero’s eyes were on her instantly, “would you mind giving Lord Daruk and I a bit of privacy, for a moment?”

Something she didn’t understand transpired, then; Link nodded to her, acquiescing to her request and to her authority, but then he locked eyes with Daruk. Zelda could not glance between the two of them, for propriety’s sake, but she saw something communicated in a very small, subtle inclination of Link’s head—and then he moved away, just far enough to be out of earshot. What had that been about? Did Daruk and Link know each other? If so, what had passed between them, then? What confidence that the Champions could share between themselves but not with her?

This line of thinking was interrupted by the sound of stone grinding on stone as Daruk took his own seat on the edge of the fountain, found it entirely too narrow, and then sat on the ground, instead. Even seated he was a great deal taller than she would have been when standing, and the respectful distance he left between the two of them was respectful on his scale, which meant that she could not have reached out and touched him unless she had a very long stick.

“Do you remember the day you asked me to be Champion? When I said how, with the monsters and all, you should have an escort of Gorons following you around?” For all his fear of dogs, Daruk’s eyes were rather like a puppy’s; in response to him she could only nod. “You told me I sounded like your father. Been thinking about that ever since you said it.”

She went through and examined possibilities of meaning: had that been too intimate a thing to say? Had she committed a kind of faux pas, impugning on the institution of fatherhood as it was viewed by the Gorons? The possibilities seemed limitless, and she cursed her prior self for being so reflexively honest with what should have been a secret thought.

“I wanted to apologize to you,” Lord Daruk said, which snapped her back to reality like a splash of water in the face. “I’m… boisterous. It’s considered a good thing for the Big Brother of the Gorons to talk up his people, you know? When I said that, it was supposed to be about how strong we Gorons are. But it wasn’t. It ended up about you. So. I’m sorry for that. And what made me realize that was you comparing me to your father. I don’t want to be the kind of person who makes you feel that way.”

That was mystifying. Who wouldn’t want to be compared to the king? “Why ever not?”

He frowned at her, as if she was asking a question that she already knew the answer to. “Because, tiny princess.” He seemed to catch that she didn’t know what he meant, and his frown deepened. “I see. Yeah, fine. His Highness is an all right regent, but he’s a bad father.”

The clearing was quiet; the fireflies had only just come out to dance, and the singing of the birds had faded but the night’s insects had not started their song. In the fading light she stared up at Daruk, and it took a concerted effort to keep the surprise from her face. Was that… treason? It wasn’t treason. Hyrule wasn’t that sort of kingdom. It probably wasn’t even a crime, except one of decorum, but it was such a breaking with decorum that she didn’t have the context by which to process it, a least not immediately. It was like somebody had set off a Sheikah flash bomb inside of her skull; like the temporary whiteness left on one’s vision by watching a Guardian’s weapon discharged, only instead of a corner of her eye this whiteness had swallowed up her thoughts.

“My father,” she said slowly, carefully, trying not to sound defensive, “does as well as any man could.”

“Hmph.” Dismissive, now, almost angry. “On Death Mountain we say that the queens of Hyrule are the light of their people, but the kings have always been a bit dim.” He sighed, running his hand over his face. “Sorry. It’s gotta be hard to hear that. But I think you need to hear it. Nobody’s ever criticized your father in front of you, right?” She shook her head. “Course they haven’t. Why would they? He’s their king. But you need to hear this from someone, and it looks like it has to be me. Link would sooner cut his own tongue out than speak ill of anyone in your house, Revali wouldn’t be able to see this unless you rubbed his beak in it, Mipha’s another princess but she has a good relationship with her dad and probably doesn’t even think to relate about this, and Urbosa…” He sucked air between his teeth. “Urbosa’s heart is in the right place but she hates your old man’s guts so bad I don’t think she could string together two words about him without setting something on fire.”

Lady Urbosa hates my father?” She didn’t realize how loudly she was speaking until the words were out; she clapped one hand over her mouth, looking to see if Link had heard, but of course the hero gave no sign.

“Well, that’s for her to talk about, not me. Ah, I’m running my mouth again. Look. Maybe you don’t see it, but I do. Nobody knows the weaknesses in a father like other fathers.”

Daruk was a father, she reflected; she didn’t know how many sons he had, but she knew that it was more than one and that he was well-known as a model of Goron fatherhood. Goron. “It may be that my father doesn’t—can’t—adhere to the same standard that you do.” Why was she defending him, even obliquely? The possibility that Daruk was offering her, that maybe not every part of the rift between her father and her was her own fault, would be like a balm to the wounds of her spirit. But then, maybe that was why. Maybe the only reason she found it so appealing was that it would be so easy to obviate responsibility, to pretend that some of this blame could be heaped on her father, too. But why stop there? Why not blame him for her other failures? Is that where it would end, externalizing all her weaknesses and blaming another for it? She wouldn’t do that. She couldn’t. “I won’t deny that there is… tension… between the two of us. I would if I could, but no doubt you’ve seen it, observant as you are. But that tension is because he is the king, and I am the princess, and I have yet to fulfil my sacred duty to my people. It’s—"

“How old are you?” No anger in those words; no fatigue; no resignation; only a kind of gentle surety.


“Sixteen,” he repeated, running his hand over his face again. “By the mountain, you’re a kid. A child.”

Color rose in her face, and with that heat came anger. “If you mean to talk down to me…”

“Zelda, in a year you’ll be considered an adult. You’ll inherit your mother’s spot as monarch, and no doubt your old man’s tune will change when you come to power, one way or another. But right now, and every year leading up to now? You might be a princess, with all these responsibilities nobody else has, the threat of Ganon looming over you and the whole kingdom and all this other garbage… but you’re a child. You’re his child. And.” Again, hand over face. “I’m doing this wrong. I’m bad with words and I keep trying to use them and I’m doing this wrong.” He sighed, heavily, and turned on the ground to face her, though he did not rise. “Look. When my sons try something they can’t do, and they fail, even if I really want them to succeed, that doesn’t describe our whole relationship. I might scold them for it if I think they behave badly, but failure isn’t enough reason to,” and instead of describing whatever it was he waved his hands about in the air, as if to take in the entire world, or at least the entire context surrounding the conversation. “You have to love your kids first. Protect them. Take care of them. Lie to them, if you have to, even if neither of you believe it, because being a father means making sure they’re OK. Nothing else really matters.”

He meant for all of this to… she wasn’t sure, actually. Almost certainly not for it to have opened this icy pit in her stomach, to have let her anger and her fatigue and her hopes drain out until she was just cold. What could he understand about her, or her father, or anything between them? He didn’t know Zelda; he didn’t know King Rhoam Bosphoramus Hyrule.

“I would thank you to say whatever you feel you must say, Lord Daruk.”

“It… OK, Princess, just this. It’s not your fault. You deserve to be happy. And you deserve a father who will help you be happy, not a king who treats you as his subject.”

She was impressed by how even she could keep her voice. “I believe you have overstepped your bounds.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I guess I have.” Why wasn’t he angry? He wasn’t angry, or ashamed, or even frustrated. He just sounded sad. He got to his feet, dusting his knees off with his hands, combing his beard with his fingers. “It’s your life, tiny princess. You’re not my kid, and it’s wrong of me to act like you are. I hope I didn’t hurt our friendship, saying all this; I hope you can forgive me.” He set his fists on his hips, but she found she couldn’t look at him anymore. “But even if I did, even if you never talk to me again outside of my duties as a Champion, I hope you remember this: next time your father makes you feel small, I want you to think of the things that make you feel as tall as a mountain. And if things ever get to be too much… you can come to Goron City. Bring the little guy. The two of you can stay at old Daruk’s house, and I’ll make sure the world stays out for a little while.”

He had nothing else; no farewells, no last thoughts. He nodded to her, confirmed that the Boulder Breaker was still tied to his back, turned away, and began the walk toward the castle. Now that she was paying attention, his footsteps were heavy, shaking the ground beneath him.

Her hands were shaking. How many days had it been since her father had spoken to her? How many years, since he had looked at her without that same resignation, that disappointment, darkening his eyes? Could she even remember a time when her failures hadn’t been a pall over their entire lives? Had there never been a time, and her memories of her mother were just some kind of psychic mechanism meant to bolster her, so she wouldn’t be crushed under the weight of the world?

It’s not your fault.

She clamped both of her hands over her mouth and leaned over, tried to keep from shaking, failed.

You deserve to be happy.

She hoped that Link would stay away for just a little longer.

Paya’s attentions were divided between Bludo and Zelda. The old Goron’s expression when Zelda’s power had begun to shine—blessedly contained by her armor this time, so it wasn’t visible to the entire city and didn’t have every Goron on the mountain gathering—had been shocked at first, but after a few seconds he had shifted over to quiet and analytical and watchful. That shift, his lack of surprise or fear, spoke a lot about him; there were few men in the world that Paya would have wanted to sit down and talk to, but Bludo would have been one of them. She couldn’t read Gorons as well as she could read Hylians, or other Sheikah, but there was something there… not memory, but knowledge.

The light faded along with the chiming of Hylia’s power, and Zelda’s posture relaxed into something closer to her natural one. She reached up reflexively, to feel at her eyes, found her fingers blocked by the helmet she was wearing. Paya thought she would take her helmet off, but she didn’t.

“Zelda,” she said, trying to keep her voice low enough that the elder Goron would not overhear, “are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Zelda said, though she was still trying to get complete control of her breathing back. “We’ll talk about it—about Daruk—later. Please.” But they would talk; that was a relief. Zelda was not as forthcoming with some memories as with others, so it was always a relief to hear that there was one she wanted to talk about.

“You two.” Bludo’s voice was like gravel being ground underneath the wheels of a heavy wagon, but his tone was gently respectful—not reverent, but respectful. “If you want to help with Rudania, then you’re going to need to go find Yunobo. He’ll be at the Northern Mine, getting the medicine I need for my back. Would you do me the favor of going and bringing him back? Who knows what kind of trouble he’s gotten himself into. We can get started when you’re back.”

“Thank you, Bludo.” It was impossible to see her face beneath the helmet, as she was looking away, but Paya could hear in Zelda’s voice that she was smiling. “We will return with Yunobo, then, and discuss our course of action.”

The two of them left together, inclining their heads in appreciation to the Goron Elder, and proceeded up the winding path to the north.

They did not realize, at the time, that they should have been running; they knew the task was urgent, but the fullness of that urgency wasn’t known to them yet.

Gorons liked to pretend that they did not know fear, especially when talking to the other peoples of Hyrule. All grit and gravel, that was the Gorons. Walk through lava, dig through stone, mine for diamonds, sleep like rocks, that was the Gorons. What did they have to be afraid of? They were the mountain, and the mountain wasn’t afraid of anything.

Yunobo knew better. Yunobo knew fear.

Fear was the sight of Vah Rudania walking around the mountain, its giant head swiveling, knowing that any given pass could be the one where it decided to come down to Goron City and stomp everything flat.

Fear was knowing that you had inherited Daruk’s Protection, and that that meant you were the only person who could possibly drive Rudania away (and not directly, either—or, well, extremely directly, depending on your perspective).

Fear was knowing that your ancestor’s bravery and the power you’d inherited made people think you were basically like that ancestor made all over again. Then they’d build their sense of security around you. Depend on you. You, who didn’t have much of an appetite, and couldn’t stop being scrawny. You, who’d be just as happy leaving the mountain and living in a nice cave somewhere in the low lands. You, who shook like an earthquake every time you thought about what would happen if this was the time Daruk’s Protection broke, if the strain you felt on the impact against Rudania’s head finally told and the barrier shattered like glass and then you’d shatter, too. Then where would you be? Then where would everyone else be?

And, more immediately, fear was the sound of Lizalfos tongues flicking out into the air, tasting at the heat, trying to detect your hiding spot. Fear was the two-pronged swords they carried, and the wicked curves of their teeth.

“Oh, man. Oh, man…

He could probably make it back to Drak if he really ran. Like, all-out, just roll for it, he’d probably outpace them by enough that he would make it. But what was Drak going to do? Fight against six (or man were there seven now?) fire Lizalfos when Yunobo couldn’t? Go and get the medicine by himself? No. No, running would just get Drak killed.

Not running is going to get me killed.

That thought was like molten steel flowing down the crevices of his brain. Why wouldn’t his hands stop shaking? He clenched his fists as hard as he could but they kept shaking, if they didn’t stop then the Lizalfos were going to hear, and…

“Come on, Yunobo. Get a hold of yourself. You’re going to be OK. You’re going to be OK. You.”

A gust of wind blew, so heavy that it jostled his right arm. Huh. That must be a strong wind. He tried to shift it back, but it wouldn’t move.

He turned his head.

The eye of the Lizalfos stared right back at him. Its jaw was clamped around his forearm, its needle-like teeth drawing blood through his skin, and he thought, It looks like it’s smiling. It must be very happy it found me, I guess.

Then the pain hit him all at once and he screamed and he smashed his left fist into the Lizalfos’s face. It let go with a spurt of blood and broken teeth and his arm felt like it was on fire, then the Lizalfos was squalling and the others were swarming, a storm of lithe bodies and reaching claws and curved swords and fire, lots and lots of fire, and then they were all on top of him.

Chapter Text

Yunobo’s arm was still burning, not fire but that nerve-burning that had followed him punching the Lizalfos off his forearm (and oh man were there still teeth stuck in his arm?) and hadn’t abated at all. Weird how that was the thing that was bothering him most, considering. Weird how he was able to think about it at all, really!

He had no idea how many Lizalfos were on the outside of Daruk’s Protection (which was definitely earning its name today) trying to get in, trying to cut through it with their jagged swords or pierce it with fire arrows launched from their bone-carved bows or simply trying to cook it by belching fire at it. He knew there were too many, but he couldn’t take time to count them, because the one that was inside the barrier with him was doing its best to tear him apart.

“Come on! Can’t we talk about this? I feel like neither of us is getting anything here!”

With one hand he had its neck pinned to the ground; the other arm he used to protect his face as it clawed and hissed and lashed at him with its barbed tongue. It was writhing, trying to slip from between his fingers, but if he was strong in no other way then Yunobo was confident he had a decent grip. Well, he hoped he did, because if he didn’t then this thing was going to go for his eyes. Actually, it might already be going for his eyes, and just couldn’t reach them yet. Had it clawed open the part of his arm specifically covering his eyes? He couldn’t tell, that whole area was bleeding. Just about the only thing he could take solace in was that it hadn’t tried to bite him anymore, owing to all the missing teeth.

“OK. It’s OK. Just… think about this. Breathe. If you breathe, and you think, you can—”

The Lizalfos hissed and dug its clawed into his wrist, twisting with all the strength of its shoulders, and he could feel the skin tearing like paper. He had to try very hard not to scream. Screaming wouldn’t help. It certainly wouldn’t make this thing stop trying to kill him, or any of its friends.

In the back of his mind, Yunobo was reasonably certain that he was going to die. He didn’t have any weapons to fight with, and why had he thought it would be a good idea to come to the Northern Mine without any weapons? There were monsters! Monsters were the entire reason it had been abandoned! They’d even started calling it the Abandoned Northern Mine to reference its abandonment due to monsters! And now he was stuck here, stuck inside an impenetrable shield with a monster that very plainly wanted to kill him, surrounded by a lot more that wanted to kill him, and he had no way out. What was he supposed to do, wait for rescue? Even if he was visible from where Drak was standing, it would take the guard most of a day to figure out anything was wrong, and then hours more before he decided whether to run for help.

But he couldn’t drop the shield. The Lizalfos were everywhere, and they would definitely kill him. So, he’d… wait? And hope the Lizalfos didn’t break his grip? He’d been like this for the better part of an hour already. How long could he go without sleeping? Or eating? Or just cramping, even? Oh man was he getting a cramp now? His thumb was twitching really badly, he could feel it all the way down in his wrist, and if it started in his wrist then pretty soon it’d be in his forearm, and…

There was an explosion of sound and vapor outside of the barrier, and he screamed in surprise and panic as the Lizalfos turned in unison. He couldn’t see over them, but he saw them gesturing with their swords, hopping up and down, heard them hissing frustration and some new anger, oh man I hope nobody just wandered into this mess oh please let nobody else be in any trouble because I’m so weak.

A wave of air rolled past, so cold it left a layer of frost on the outside of Daruk’s Protection, so cold that as a body each of the fire Lizalfos screamed, momentarily frozen in looks of shock, and then exploded into vapor. Their weapons clattered to the stone, the heat of the mountain stripping the ice from them and leaving them steaming.

“Excuse me!” He could barely make out the words over the sounds of the roiling lava and the Lizalfos (which was now fighting much harder), but that was definitely a voice! A… Hylian voice? “Are you all right, in there? We saw the commotion and came as quickly as we could!”

“I’m sorry! Hold on, I can’t really hear… just a second!” Daruk’s Protection was kept up not by an effort of his body—though it was linked to his physical endurance—but by an effort of his will. He closed his eyes, concentrating, and focused on the feeling of the barrier; solid, more solid by far than his own body or even the stone of the mountain, a shield that separated and protected him from almost any danger. Bringing it down was always difficult, even if he was safe, but in this case, he barely had to concentrate at all before it winked out and disappeared. The Lizalfos on the ground was still hissing, still clawing, but with the barrier gone the echo of its voice wasn’t so deafening.

He finally looked at his rescuer; well, rescuers; two Hylian women, one with blonde hair and wearing the Flamebreaker armor, the other with silver hair and wearing Sheikah garb… save the Flamebreaker boots, which she looked very uncomfortable in. The woman in the full set was holding a small blue object that looked as cold as anything he’d ever even heard stories about. Was that a magic rod? Something like the Wizzrobes carried?

“Oh, wow! You really saved my life! Thank you so much. I would have been done for if you hadn’t shown up, goro!” The Lizalfos kicked at his face, which he only barely warded off with his arm. “Listen, I’m really sorry, since you just got done saving my life and all, but could you help me again, goro? I don’t have any weapons to fight this thing with, and…”

The women looked at Yunobo, at the wounds on his arms, and then at each other. The silver-haired one drew a bow from her back, and an ice arrow from her quiver. “Be very still.”

Oh, that he could do. The words were barely out of her mouth when he stopped moving altogether, holding as still and rigid as the stone faces overlooking Goron City. Even his arm. Even his fingers! Even while the Lizalfos was struggling, and actually it had renewed its efforts as soon as it saw the two women, and the muscle running from the base of his wrist all the way up to his elbow was starting to seize. OK, maybe he couldn’t hold perfectly still, but if he tried then—

The cramp struck at exactly the wrong moment, and the Lizalfos twisted out of his grip. It was on all fours, hissing, already lunging for the two women who had saved his life, and he had this terrible image of it sinking its broken, jagged teeth into one of them and he swung his free fist with all his strength.


The Lizalfos’s horn broke off and went spinning through the air as the Lizalfos exploded into dark-coloured, foul-smelling vapor and his fist collided with the ground (and, yes, now that he was looking at it, his arm did have broken teeth embedded in the skin). The sound of the horn clattering on the ground was even louder than the weapons had been.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry, goro! I couldn’t hold it and it was going to attack you and I panicked! Are you OK? Oh man, after everything you did, goro…”

“We’re fine!” The woman with the golden hair cut him off, smiling, trying to reassure him but also putting up her hands to let him know he needed to stop. Oh, he knew that signal. Bludo liked that one a lot when he was scared of something. “I promise. We’re fine. We have sustained no injury at all. Are you Yunobo? Bludo sent us to look for you.”

Boss sent you after me? I haven’t even gotten his medicine yet. He must be worried sick.”

“I wouldn’t say worried sick,” the blonde woman said. “My name is Zelda, and my companion is Paya. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” The silver-haired woman—Paya—nodded, and Zelda continued. “May I look at your arm, please? I would like to treat your injuries, if possible.” She didn’t wait for him to extend it, exactly; she took it in her hands and pulled it, found it much heavier than she had anticipated, and then hoisted it up so his hand rested on her shoulder. “Turn your elbow so you can keep your arm straight but relaxed. Good.” She reached forward, touching one of the long teeth embedded in Yunobo’s skin.

“Tss!” He winced, shutting his eyes and turning his head away. Ooo, he did not like this at all, but even that realization didn’t stem the tide of sudden shame. Come on, Yunobo, don’t act so cowardly in front of the people who just saved your life, but of course he couldn’t help it.

“Fascinating.” A pressure on his skin. Was she pulling the teeth out or poking the skin around them? He couldn’t tell. He couldn’t look. “To have this many broken off with such uniform spacing would require an application of force at a sheer angle, and a lot of resistance… your body is remarkably tough.”

Wait, what? That didn’t make any sense. “Well, I mean, not really. For a Goron I’m considered pretty, uh… wimpy.”

“I find that difficult to believe. Anyone who can stand up to these monsters for as long as you did is remarkably resilient.”

“That’s not really me, goro. Lord Daruk was my ancestor, and I inherited Daruk’s Protection from him. That’s really all I have to my name. Bludo’s always telling me that I need to be more like Lord Daruk, goro, or at least try to be, but I never seem to be able to do anything the way he would have. I just don’t have… whatever he had. I think he’d be disappointed in me.” Why was he being so open about all of this?

A soothing coolness spread over his arm, cooler but also more pleasant than fresh water. That coolness made him feel… calm. Everything he’d been thinking about Lord Daruk, and Bludo, and the Lizalfos all started to recede, not disappearing but becoming less distinct. He felt… lighter.

“Wow. Wow, that’s really nice, goro.” Without even thinking about it, he opened his eyes and looked at his arm, saw that Zelda’s hands were awash in a pale blue light that seemed to feed that coolness, that calmness, directly into him. More, his wounds were gone. “How are you doing that?”

“This is a healing technique that I learned from a Zora Princess.” Behind the helmet, Zelda’s smile was… sad? Why was she sad? Her being sad was making his eyes sting, he couldn’t tear up in front of her, he’d already embarrassed himself enough today. “Here, give me your other arm, too. Good. This one might take a moment longer, though—Bludo mentioned you were here looking for his medicine?”

“Yeah, I was. Bludo used to be head of the mining operations, and his medicine for his back was always kept in storehouses at the Northern and Summit mines. We had to evacuate both so fast that we didn’t manage take his medicine with us, so he’s been going without for a long time, goro, and he’s really hurting. I was trying to get to the Northern storehouse, but… well, you saw. And if I don’t get Bludo his medicine, we won’t be able to drive off Vah Rudania next time it comes around, goro!” He wanted to panic, he realized; he was leaning into that mood like a defense mechanism. The coolness of the Zora healing technique wouldn’t really let him, though, so instead he found himself wondering why he was trying to panic. That didn’t make a lot of sense, did it?

“Is that the storehouse, to the north?” It was the first time he’d heard Paya’s voice, and it took him aback: high but smooth, projecting a depth of calm that he didn’t know if he’d ever heard before. Wow! Wow he liked her voice.

“Y-yeah. There used to be bridges connecting all the islands, but between the monsters and all the earthquakes they’ve all been destroyed, goro.”

“Zelda, there are vents between most of the islands which are blowing out updrafts. We might be able to use our paragliders to cross between them.” She was looking at everything and taking it all in at once, addressing the problem like… like it wasn’t even really a problem, more like it was just a room she had to maneuver through.

“I’ll defer to you. Yunobo, can you climb?”

“Y-yeah! I may not be able to do much because I’m so scrawny, but I’m a good climber, goro! I was planning to just wade between the islands and climbs the rocks after.” It would have been warm, but he’d probably be able to take the heat long enough to get the medicine and get back without being scalded. Something in that must have struck them, because both Zelda and Paya looked at his face, and he could feel his color rising. “Y-you know. If I had made it.”

Zelda lifted her hands from his arm, patting it once, and he lifted it off her shoulder, holding it up, turning it, inspecting it. He did the same with the other arm. There wasn’t a sign that he’d been in a fight at all. Hylians who took lessons from Zora had strong healing. Maybe he should ask her to look at the Boss’s back?

“Would you be willing to accept our help, Yunobo? There are monsters in the way, still, and I notice what looks like cannons on several of the outcroppings in the lava. I think that if you showed us how to operate them, we might be able to render assistance in retrieving Bludo’s medicine.”

He looked back and forth between them—one regarded him with a warm smile and the other with a calm, measured appraisal that assumed nothing even as it observed everything. Something important was going on, here, if the Boss had seen fit to ask two Hylians to help out. Yunobo might not be able to understand much, but he understood that, and he understood that having them look to him, having the opportunity to work with them, set a fire in his chest.

The Lizalfos milled about on the small spaces they had been set to guard, the wide set of their independently tracking eyes giving each of them an enormous cone of awareness. They could not see far, but within the dozens of meters where their vision was clear almost nothing would escape their attention.

Any other subspecies of Lizalfos would have burned to death simply standing in the air of Death Mountain, much less above the exposed lava that had bubbled up from beneath the abandoned Northern Mine. These, though, were Fire Lizalfos, who held flames in their guts, who could spark conflagrations with their breath. Short of the molten stone that roiled and glowed beneath them, no degree of heat was so terrible that they could not endure it. Their weapons were constructed to the same end; though they appeared to be reinforced with bone, that was a trick of their metallurgy. No bones save their own (or, perhaps, Gorons) would last long in this heat.

The days were long and monotonous, and the Lizalfos of the Northern Mine betrayed their true origins in that they did not sleep. They were given perfectly to that single purpose: to guard, to watch, without breaking the monotony through rest or repast. What changes did come came invariably from without, and it had been some time since the Gorons were so brave as to push against them.

So, when the monotony broke, in fire and light and the color blue, it came as a surprise to them.

One sentry saw a flash of movement in the distance, but its vision was not so clear that it could be sure of anything. A blur the color of fire and stone, another blur of somewhat lighter hue, and a third that for all the world looked like a rock rolling across the lava before climbing a cliff face. The sentry stood at its full height, craned its neck back and forth, taking in the scene with both of its eyes, but could not make anything of it. Movement, yes, and there shouldn’t have been movement, but it could not be sure of what it was looking at. It did not patrol. It merely watched. That was its purpose, and so it did not pursue this strange phenomenon.

Its hearing was sharper than its eyes, though not by much, so when the voices of those blurs were raised in questions about the operation of the cannon, it could not discern what was being said. Lizalfos, like bokoblins, had their own language, and each spoke the language of the other, and all could understand Hylian when they so chose, but the sounds of the mountain were too strong, the voices too faint.

A blur of blue light, the sound of a hammer ringing on iron. The other sentry on the outcropping looked up then, too, joining its fellow in craning, and listening, and trying to understand.

Then there was a flash of blue, and the cannon fired, and they did not have time to react before a flaming, explosive projectile fell upon them. The impact, to say nothing of the eruption that followed it, sent them flying, lifeless, their bodies dropping into the exposed lava as quickly and as smoothly as if it were water. The sounds of the mountain continued, and the other sentry stations did not raise the alarm; they were spaced far enough apart that it was difficult for each to see its neighbor, and the eruption of the cannon was not far removed from the roiling of the mountain’s blood.

So it went. The creatures of Ganon saw the interlopers, these invaders-of-the-invaders, only rarely and briefly; one pair was close enough to a cannon that they recognized the threat, but they had no horn with which to warn the other sentries. They loosed fire arrows in an endless hail, but each projectile burst and sputtered and died against the crystalline light of the Champion’s power. They did not understand, quite, what they were seeing. They did not have time to wonder. The cannon fired.

Bit by bit the sentries were removed; a platform shattered, a tiny fortress rent to splinters that burned in the air almost as soon as it split, a dozen explosions punctuated by high, predatory screams. Red tails were shed in a defensive reflex that did nothing to protect their owners, and these were collected by the princess, who wondered at their properties.

This was not a long-term solution; all three of them knew that if the Lizalfos were slain here then they would only appear here again when the earth bled. To drive them out fully would require forcing them away from the mine while they still lived, perhaps by driving them further up the mountain where the climate might take care of them on its own. This was only temporary, but that did not stop the three.

They came to the supply house, which was blocked off by a collapsing stone, knocked loose by Death Mountain’s restlessness. They blasted it clear, and retrieved the medicine, and left that place together, two carried by the wind and one stepping lightly through the glowing magma. Yunobo wanted to cheer, but he did not; if he did, then his companions might think less of him, after all.

“I’m sorry these aren’t really suited to the task.” Paya’s apology was tinged with disappointment; the shears in her hands were heavy, not delicate like she would have preferred. The inn’s owner had not had any other scissors handy, had in fact handed over his own personal pair to the two guests when they’d checked into their room. “I guess the Gorons don’t really have the same considerations when cutting their hair…”

“I’m sure it will be fine; I trust you. Even if it’s not… hair grows back.” Zelda spent a second to wonder at her own hair, actually: she had been a princess, once, and doubtless she had been assisted in the care of her hair by other people. Still, she remembered what it had been like in the time before, how it had felt, and knew that she must have taken some pride in it. She didn’t feel that now. “In fact, we could skip past worrying about it! You could give me a short style… like a page’s cut! Or perhaps even shorter.”

“I-I will of course cut your hair however you please, Princess.” Never mind the fact that she’d called her Princess again, Paya’s hands were audibly shaking and so was her voice. Yes, she’d definitely chop off all of Zelda’s hair if asked, but she’d be blinded by tears while doing it.

“Or you could just trim the burnt ends a little, and we’ll tend to the finer shaping later.”

Paya sighed in relief behind her—a sigh that was cut off halfway through, as if she’d just caught herself doing it. “As you wish. I will try and determine the extent of the damage.”

Zelda could not feel her hair, precisely, but she could feel Paya, her presence and her proximity. It was probably the effect of the goddess’s power saturating her awareness, or possibly of her memory returning, or maybe even the small amount that Paya still held inside of her; regardless of the reason, she could more-than-see the care and tenderness with which she took Zelda’s hair in her hands, running her fingertips down the length of a collection of strands. Something in the other woman’s motions was … not affectionate, exactly. More than affectionate, really. Reverent? I must get my mind away from these avenues because it is not fair and she doesn’t know I can sense her but also I can’t tell her. “I can’t imagine it’s too bad. My head was only exposed for a few moments, wasn’t it?”

“A few moments,” Paya’s voice not at all betraying her flinch. “Yes. It mostly seems to be damage at the tips. I will do my best to make this as even as possible, but it will take time and I am not working with perfect tools.”

“Of course.” Forefinger and middle finger with hair laid across them, thumb holding a golden lock in place against them. She could feel it as Paya fought the urge to rub the hair between her fingers. Zelda closed her eyes, tried to think of something else. Was she holding the goddess power? She was. She’d been holding it since she had recovered her memory! She hadn’t even realized it!

She let go, and her senses fell completely back into her own head, and she breathed relief just as the shears cut through for the first time.


What a relief! To know her hair was being cut only from the sound of it, knowing what lock was being held from the faint pressure on her scalp. She hadn’t meant to do that, but it was still an invasion, wasn’t it? Paya wouldn’t see it that way; in her mind Zelda was only just removed from being a god, and these things were expected of her, but.


Metal on metal, with hair between. Good shears, if oversized. Sure, steady hands, regardless of how much Paya’s heart must have been racing. Oh, she was doing wrong even in this. Surely their closeness hurt Paya, too? That she’d told Paya she could not respond to her feelings did not mean that Paya was insulated from the effects of being near to her. She was being cruel in this. But how much crueler would it be to suggest anything else?


Metal on metal. Zelda thought of the sound of Paya fighting, her weapon clashing with those of the Yiga. She’d heard that sound so clearly when she rose up from the darkness, lifted out of death by Mipha’s Grace, even over the sound of the power and the name of the dragon. She’d heard it so clearly, even after she’d died.


“Paya. I… I know it seems meaningless, but I am sorry.” She could feel Paya about to ask why, so she pressed on. “Earlier, you were trying to protect me, and you warned me how dangerous that person was, and… everything that happened after that was because I didn’t listen to you enough. I’m not even sorry that I stepped nearer to him,” if she had; she couldn’t remember, the moment was lost to her in the roar of the bombs going off, “but I’m sorry you had to see me like that. That I scared you so badly.”

Snip. Paya went on cutting, even as she talked. “It was… upsetting. Seeing you in the air like that, wreathed in smoke, and I couldn’t see your face until you hit the ground.” She paused, plainly considering her next words. “I wasn’t thinking about Ganon, then, about what would happen if you died. Just about you. I was afraid of what it would be like to have to… gather you up, after. To carry you. To… to look at your… face…”

Zelda wanted to reach over her shoulder, to offer a hand in comfort or sympathy, but she could not; Paya had not stopped cutting. She thought about saying she was sorry again, though it would sound ridiculous, and so said nothing for half a minute. Then, once it had been long enough that she was sure Paya would not try to fill the silence herself: “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not yet. Please give me a little more time.”

“Ah. Yes, please forgive me.” She had not meant that, but well enough. It might serve as a good segue. “Bludo said that Vah Rudania would pass around this side of the mountain in the early morning.”

“I will be sure that both of us are ready for it.” As ready as they could be, Zelda thought.

Silence, then, long minutes of silence as Paya cut delicately at the burned tips of Zelda’s hair. It was slow going, not just due to the unwieldiness of the shears but also because every time Paya cut she took the time to lift away the severed length and set it gently aside. She was slowly forming a bit of a pile, Zelda could see out of the corner of her eye. What did one do with discarded hair, anyway? Treat it like floor sweepings, she would think, but somehow she didn’t imagine Paya would be enthusiastic about that option. Still.

“I can’t help but notice,” and Zelda hoped she was not being rude with this, “that you are more… comfortable around the Gorons than I would have anticipated.”

Another silence as Paya mulled over that. “Do you remember how Bludo greeted us? And Krane, at the gate? And the shopkeeper?” And perhaps a dozen others that she could have named but didn’t.

“They all called us ‘brother.’”

“Yes, because that is how they saw us. Gorons are uniformly men, but they’re not quite equivalent to the Gerudo; there are no Goron who identify as women. They’re mono-gendered.”

Zelda’s mind was suddenly racing. If that were true, why did they identify as men in particular? Why was masculinity the default? “Has it always been that way?”

“Goron historians actually think that the idea of masculinity—of gender—is something that they might have picked up after encountering the other peoples of Hyrule. The things that Gorons value culturally—strength, stolidity, boisterousness, a big appetite—were masculine-coded. Or, at least, that’s one of the theories.” A larger cut this time, slow and meticulous. “They don’t see others as being feminine or apart from that binary, ever. Everyone and everything is simply more masculine or less masculine, and to them all Hylians, Sheikah, Zora, and Rito look various degrees less masculine than Gorons.”

Shifting away from the question of culturally conferred and encoded gender felt like code switching between Hylian and Gerudo languages, and Zelda’s thoughts nearly stumbled as she shifted back to thinking of this from Paya’s perspective. “So, you’re saying that… it’s not that you’re reacting to them differently than you would other men, precisely. It’s that when they look at you, they see someone like them, more or less, and you don’t feel that same pressure.”

“I think that’s close.” Paya’s agreement was tinged with… sadness? Why was that? Before she could turn and ask, Paya set the shears on the nightstand. “Finished.”

Zelda ran her fingers along the length of her hair, grasping at the tips—and finding that they were almost precisely the same length they had been before Paya started cutting. The pile of cuttings Paya had gathered was very fine, and for how thick Zelda’s hair was that was saying something. “Is that all? I thought you would have to take off more.”

“I only cut off the burned ends, but I promise that I have left nothing behind.”

“I must not have been exposed to the heat of Death Mountain for very long.” She smiled, genuinely happy for this thing that should have been small. “It will be good not to smell of burnt hair. Thank you, Paya.”

The color leapt into Paya’s face and she bowed, trying to say something and failing utterly to do more than mumble.

“Will you help me braid it? In the morning, I mean. It will make it so much easier to wear the helmet.”

“Of course, Zelda.”

Word had been delivered that Yunobo had gotten Bludo’s medicine to him, and both were taking their rest. Zelda and Paya ate their dinner—Goron curry, prepared by the proprietors—and applied fireproof elixirs to their skin. When the owner offered to give them a massage, they declined, and took to their beds. Zelda was asleep in less than a minute, the exhaustions of the day telling on her again.

Paya sat up for a while longer. For nearly an hour she did not write, or read, or even watch the entrance to the inn; she simply sat up in bed and looked at Zelda. Made sure she was still there. Made sure that she was still real.

After that hour she rose from bed and took the small pile of trimmings in her hands. She was as good as her word, and there was nearly no gold in the darkened, twisted strands of cut hair, but in the light of the inn one could catch glimmers of that same brilliance when one looked at it.

Quietly, so she would not be heard by the innkeeper or disturb Zelda, Paya stepped outside, into the open air of Goron City. She looked around, ensuring that no one was watching—and no one was, at this time of night—then walked over to one of the metal bridges that spanned the gap between the isles of solid ground that made up the city. Standing at the edge of the bridge she looked down, into the roiling magma that was the heart of Death Mountain. She held her cupped hands out, whispered a prayer, and opened them.

“Keep her safe.”

Zelda’s hair flared as it fell, twisting into cinders and glowing and making her think of the elemental opposite of snowfall. There was no smell, save for the heavier smell of the mountain. She stood there, watching long after the light had gone out, waiting until she thought that whatever elemental particles were left might have settled on top of the glowing stone that flowed below.

She went back. Zelda had rolled over in her sleep, lying on her side so that she was facing Paya’s bed. Her expression was different when she slept—there was no stress, no worry creasing her brow or pressure weighing down the sides of her mouth—but she also looked the same.

Paya looked away from her.

She got back into bed, took out her journal, and began to write.

Four hours before they would rise she put the journal back into her pack, said another prayer—this time to Hylia—and lay down in truth.

She fell asleep even faster than Zelda had.

Chapter Text

The sun rose, and Vah Rudania rounded the mountain.

Over and around the mountain did Rudania tread, its wide-toed feet giving it easy grip on the steep rockfaces where the other Divine Beasts would find no purchase. The mountainside shook under it, though not from its weight; the heart of the mountain, fire and stone, roiled and shuddered in its passing, as if its very presence stoked the fires that would wipe the range clean. Every step was an earthquake; every turning of its head was an eruption.

To look at it one might think its shape derived from the lizards that walked freely and comfortably on Death Mountain, though that was not the truth. Its model was ancient, many thousands of years extinct, though the oldest chronicles of Goron history still bore that terrible name: Dodongo.

Even that comparison failed to capture it for what it was. Only in seeing it from Goron City, how the plumes of ash from the mountainside served to frame it, how the twitching of its tail was visible from all those miles away, could one really appreciate its insistent reality. Its enormous head pointed to Goron City, and the sound it made was like a roar from a beast more terrible than dragons; Death Mountain was its mountain, and all other peoples, even the Gorons, were only pretenders in comparison.

Goron City was a stain on the mountainside, perhaps; that would explain why it had moved on the city before, only to be driven back by its few defenders. Though they were close, though they should have been, the Gorons were not helpless against the power of Rudania. To attack them from the front invited pain, or even damage, and the power that drove the Divine Beast could ill afford to do harm to its greatest, most precious tool. More obliquely, then, it would approach; more carefully would it author the doom of the Gorons.

Chambers in the side of the Divine Beast opened, and like wasps pouring from the hive did flying machines issue forth, propellers carrying them high in the air. They bore no weaponry of their own—they were sentries, not Guardians—but each of them was connected to Rudania. What they could see, it could see, and on their targets it would unleash its wrath.

Forty sentries rose into the sky; Rudania’s internal factories would need time to make more, so it kept some number in reserve. They were points of light and darkness, flitting through the air; to watch them, one might think them only birds.

Kilometers away, Zelda and Paya stepped out of the inn, carrying only the gear they would need during the day. Zelda held the Flamebreaker helmet under her right arm, though she was otherwise fully dressed, and her hair hung down in a long, thick braid as she took in the light of morning. Paya, next to her, had foregone the Flamebreaker boots in favor of a more potent fireproof elixir, and she had prepared several more in case they should be necessary. They had had some discussion about it, though in the end Zelda acquiesced to the argument that Paya might end up needing every advantage her speed could confer.

“Are you ready?” Zelda asked, in a way that said she herself absolutely was not.

Paya didn’t answer, at first; instead she looked at Zelda, and then at the mountain, and then at the sky. Still taking in the light and the clouds, she said, “If I had known what we would be facing before the journey began, fighting the Divine Beasts and being attacked by Ganon, I don’t think I would have had the courage to come with you. If I had, I would have assumed that I would eventually get used to this sense of impending peril.” She held up her hands, and Zelda saw they were shaking. “If it’s going to happen, it hasn’t yet.”

Zelda had the urge to put her hand on Paya’s arm, to reassure her through touch, and quashed it. “We don’t know how we will be approaching Vah Rudania, but it may not be like Vah Ruta. If your assistance is not necessary for reaching the Divine Beast, you are of course free to stay here.”

Paya went wide-eyed with an expression that shifted from shock to hurt to fear to determination with such rapidity that Zelda thought there might have been a few more changes she wasn’t fast enough to catch. “If my presence is ever a… burden to you, I will withdraw. Failing that, so long as there is a chance that I may be able to assist, I will stay by you regardless of the danger.”

There was a promise there, deeper than the words, and Zelda could feel it like a physical object she was holding in her hands. She had known, intellectually and through the intimacy of the goddess’s power, that Paya was willing to give her life in the service of their quest. This had frequently disturbed her, but never quite so much as it did in that moment. She had felt herself die the day before; she had experienced, however briefly, the oblivion to which Paya would willingly consign herself. For Hylia. For Zelda. It should have been an enormous, beautiful thing, but now her stomach was twisting into knots and she remembered intimately the pain and sorrow of the Champions swearing themselves to her.

“I am walking through a world of ghosts,” and it was as true as when she had said it in front of Mipha’s statue. “I carry them with me. They speak to me. I would not have your voice added to theirs.”

Paya flushed, not in embarrassment but in a cocktail of emotions that Zelda could not parse—but even without the goddess awareness she could see the tightening of Paya’s jaw, the low heat of anger at an injustice, the need to argue. Then she swallowed all the complexities of what she was feeling, and said, “I understand. I will be safe, as best as I am able.”

Now Zelda did touch her arm, and Paya’s other hand came up, and their fingers brushed together. They were not angry with one another, and each knew that the other knew. That would have to be enough.

“I propose that we make our way to Bludo’s house.” The Gorons started their days early, apparently, as even now children were rolling about with abandon and shops had already opened, their proprietors standing outside to hawk their wares. Ramella wasn’t up yet, but other traveling merchants were milling about, taking in the sights of the city and preparing for their long day of business. “Whatever the means by which we address Vah Rudania, we will need his instruction. With luck, his medicine will have had time to take effect, and—”

ALARM!” Zelda and Paya both looked up at the sound of the guard’s cry coming from the northern end of the city, issued from a diaphragm so mighty his voice must have echoed inside every building. “ALARM! VAH RUDANIA’S SENTRIES ARE ON THE MOVE!

ALARM!” Beneath the carved faces of Goron heroes Yunobo winced at the volume of the shout, even as far away as he was.

The call of the alarm sent people running; the Gorons reacted first, scrambling and rolling into their homes, their speed a product of careful drilling and real, omnipresent fear of the annihilation bearing down on them. The traveling merchants were next, running as a group back to the inn or taking refuge in the Boss’s house, which was as good for cover as any other. Good! With so few tourists, that meant everyone should be safe, which meant there would be time to wait for Bludo to get ready, and…

“Oh no,” Yunobo said, as two Hylians ran toward the danger, only just stopped by the guard who had raised the alarm, and didn’t they know what alarm meant? The streets were empty, now all they needed was for Bludo to arrive, ready to keep out the threat—but why wouldn’t those two leave? Didn’t they know how dangerous this was? “Oh, man…”

Then he realized who he was looking at, saw a braid of golden hair disappear beneath a donned Flamebreaker helmet, the crown of silver hair on top of the other head. Zelda and Paya were running toward the danger. Of course they were! They’d done plenty of things like this already, why wouldn’t they run to help now? But they didn’t understand!

OK. OK, he could be calm about this. He could. He wasn’t in danger, after all. Daruk’s Protection wasn’t just for show, even if the only thing he knew how to do with it was stand in one place and take a beating. It was just everyone else who would be in danger if he didn’t stand in the right place, or if he couldn’t keep going for long enough, or if his channeling failed, or if he didn’t start moving soon. That’s all. Just the whole city would crumble and everyone in it would die if he was too scared, or too slow, or too foolish, or just unlucky.

Yunobo!” The same guard who had raised the alarm, his voice carrying from clear across the city even as he danced back and forth to keep the two Hylians from getting past his out-stretched arms. “We need you now!

Yunobo stood on the path that wended over and around the city, snaking beneath the mountainous faces of Goron heroes from the distant past. It was the place he came to be alone, yes, but it also let him see almost everything in the city: that vantage point was, people thought, why he liked to be up there. They’d started to think of him as a protector, why had he ever let them do that? And its vantage was no good for this situation, because he couldn’t actually see Death Mountain’s peak from his perch. He inhaled deep, and shouted: “ How close is Rudania?” His voice didn’t carry quite as well as the guard’s, but it did all right.

“It’s not Rudania! Sentries coming! Maybe three dozen! They’re nearly to the last line!”

The gravel in his guts clumped together into what felt like a boulder and it was all he could do not to be sick. There were two kinds of incursions that Vah Rudania might make: when it walked on its own, it would make the ground shake and probably destroy everything with its feet once it arrived. Still, it was relatively easy to drive off; it didn’t like taking impacts to the head. But when it sent its sentries instead, when it didn’t put itself in range of being attacked, that meant they were bringing fire.

Bludo’s cannons were set up outside of the city; the reinforcements that kept them from tearing themselves apart meant they could only be rotated just so far, and they’d be useless if the sentries slipped past the zone where their firing lines intersected. Which they would in seconds. Which meant the only way to deal with them was to shoot them down with arrows, or else throw rocks at them.

He acted without thinking: Boss had told him that if he spent too long thinking he was going to get people killed, so there was no thinking to be done. He rolled, his scrawny (for a Goron) frame tearing along the path until he hit the stone outcropping at the end of it. He launched off it, still spinning, and hit the side of the cliff face under the stone monuments. The stone cropping on his back dug into the sheer wall of rock, giving him enough traction to keep climbing. He had to get up high. That was first.

“What part of ‘run away because the Divine Beast is going to kill you’ do you two not get, brothers? Hey! Hey listen to me! I will pick you up and carry to safety, goro! Hey!

Zelda ignored the guard as Paya stepped between them, instead reaching down into herself and grabbing hold of the goddess’s power. Not so much that it could be seen, not enough to announce herself as Paya subtly but firmly forced the guard away from her, but enough to open the gates of her mind, to expand her senses beyond the confines of her body. The world around her did not fade away, but it became a single part of something much larger. With her thoughts she reached out, seeking for the emissaries of the Divine Beast, feeling for the touch of the Blight inside of them. If she could find it and snuff it out…

There. Forty of them, bits of light and stone and fire and metal whirring through the air on propellers that seemed too small to support their frames. Given the amount of energy they were putting out, the infestation should be trivial to clean. Taking hold of more of the power she plunged into the heart of one of them, and… it was clean?

“There’s no Blight,” she said out loud, and Paya turned to look at her as the Goron guard stared, somewhere between furious and mystified. “There’s no Malice in any of them at all.”

“If there’s no Malice,” Paya said, “then why are they dangerous?”

“They’re dangerous because if they spot you then Vah Rudania is going to rain death on you, goro!”

“He’s right. There’s no Malice in them, but there doesn’t have to be; they’re not independent units at all, they’re more like nodes for the instructions fed to them by Vah Rudania. They don’t even navigate on their own. They relay visual information and use relative positioning between each other and the Divine Beast as a kind of targeting system, though I don’t know how that relates to any weapon system. It’s almost topographical… but that doesn’t matter right now! I can’t clear the Malice from here! To stop it we’d have to reach into Vah Rudania itself!”

The guard made good on his promise; he lunged and reached for Paya, meaning to hoist her and then Zelda before running. Paya responded by slipping inside of his reach, planting her hip against his leg, and throwing him like a sack of grain.

“I’m guessing that isn’t an option,” Paya said, and the guard yelped and swore as he was sent rolling down the hill.

“Not without drawing on enough of the power to bring Ganon’s wrath on us, and maybe not even then.” Think, think! “There must be alternative methods for dealing with these things. Not bomb arrows, but maybe if we used shock arrows we could force them into rebooting and—”

Her senses snapped back to her body. The first of the sentries crested the top of the hill; the sound it made was much louder than she had imagined, and its frame was larger, too. The eye beneath it radiated a deep red light that stood out against the red of the stone, the red of the sky, the red of the fires—it felt artificial, aggressive, instantly dangerous. Like a lantern, almost. It was ahead of the pack, but not by very much; more would follow.

Then from above them, high above them, came the sound of a Goron screaming in a combination of determination and raw, genuine terror.

Yunobo did not see, really, as he fell; no thinking, no seeing, he was well on his way to just being a rock instead of eating them. He had to empty his thoughts to do things like this. It was a weakness, but he had to live with it. Or try to.

He didn’t really see it, but he had spaced his jump properly, and he reached out for the sentry he knew would be there. He slammed down onto it from above with his abdomen, instantly breaking the rotor and sending its shattered blades spinning off in three different directions. The stone and metal cracked and buckled from the weight of his body and the strength of his grip and the two of them dropped together like a single unit.

It exploded when they hit the ground. The shockwave went through his body, he could feel the ripple as if he were made of water, and the force of the blow blinded him for a moment. His teeth seemed to be stuck together, and the only sound in the world was a very high-pitched whine.

Well. One down.

Hands on his arms, two pairs, trying to lift him to his feet, not quite managing it.

“I’m OK,” he said, hoping he sounded more confident than he was. “I’m OK, goro. Just gonna get up.”

Yunobo!” Zelda’s mouth was pressed almost against the side of his head. She wasn’t shouting but he could clearly hear her voice from inside her helmet, only she sounded like she was echoing twice. “What is that?”

Fighting through the ringing and the haze Yunobo looked up. Red light, he brought up his arm to shield his eyes from it, and then behind the high-pitched ringing and Zelda’s voice he heard a squeal, a siren, and that made his insides turn to liquid. There wouldn’t be enough time, now. Bludo still wasn’t here, and now everything was starting, and it was about to get very bad.

“Get back! Get away, goro!”

It was the comfortable lie of the peoples of Hyrule that the Divine Beast of Death Mountain had no special powers to match its fellows. Vah Ruta summoned endless amounts of pure water. Vah Naboris could call down lightning from a cloudless sky. Vah Medoh must control the winds, for it could fly despite the Rito insisting that was a physical impossibility. No such power had ever been granted to Vah Rudania, it was thought. Swifter than the other beasts, surer of its footing on less even terrain, that was the real power Rudania was ascribed; what else would it really need? When Death Mountain grew restless, shifting and starting like a giant caught in the throes of nightmare, it was taken as an omen of Ganon. When the heat of the mountain grew so great that flesh exposed to its air would burst into flame, that was seen as an unfortunate shifting of the geological seasons. When Rudania beat its rage into the mountainside and Death Mountain vomited fire and stone into the heavens, it must have been the effects of the physical force applied to it.

So did the peoples of Hyrule continued to believe. And while they believed, the shadow that rode the spine of Vah Rudania reached out through the Divine Beast’s power. It read the information fed back by the drones—the appearance of the Champion’s inherited power, isolated from the weaponry of the city. Its location, just to the north of the dwellings of those pests on the mountainside. Two more figures, unimportant and doomed as the Champion’s descendant was. With thirty-nine points of data it could not be surer of its target.

With Vah Rudania’s power it reached down into the heart of the mountain, and earth and fire alike responded to its call. Death Mountain heaved, and Vah Rudania roared, a sound so enormous that the air around it was pushed back in a visible bubble of light and heat, and then there was fire.

Fire and lava spewed into the air, a projectile to rival the wrath of Ganon itself, tracing an arc over the side of the mountain, reaching out to Goron City. Then there was another. And another. And another.

And more would follow.

It was with arresting gentleness that Yunobo put his hands on Zelda’s arms, and she became aware in a distant way that he was even stronger than he looked, and he looked strong. Paya was there, instantly, eyes wide and not quite angry, as Yunobo pushed the princess toward her attendant.

“If you’re within ten meters of me in the next few seconds,” he said, “you are going to die, goro.”

Without being quite sure of what she was going to say, she opened her mouth—and the words she would have summoned left her instantly as Paya grabbed her by the shoulders and did not quite drag her away from Yunobo, further into Goron City.

“Paya!” She was sputtering, so surprised she couldn’t even manage to be offended. “We can’t just leave him there! Not when we don’t understand what he’s dealing with!”

“We will render him every assistance possible,” and Paya was not trying to be conciliatory; this was surely the tone Impa had used with her, a lifetime ago, when the two of them disagreed and Impa refused to obey her, “when we are sure of what the threat is.”

That made perfect sense, and she instantly rejected it. She shrugged Paya’s hands off and wheeled on her, and the look of steely determination on the Sheikah girl’s face turned to shock and shame and something like terror at the weight of Zelda’s regard. Behind them, the blaring of the sentry’s sirens was slowly being drowned out by a high whistle. “If you think for even a moment that I will—”

They were fifteen meters away from Yunobo when he was struck by Rudania’s fury.

The impact sent a jet of earth and fire into the air, the shock of force making the ground jump like water struck by a stone.  Paya and Zelda were flung into the air by the earth rolling beneath them, and though Paya landed on her feet Zelda landed flat on her back.

Yunobo did not move; Daruk’s Protection shone like a beacon, visible through the fire and the smoke, and the earth underneath him was nearly undisturbed as the force of the impact was shunted away and back into the air. So bright was the light of his power than an observer would not have been able to see the young Goron as he held up his fists in the position he had been told Daruk used when defending the other Champions, as the weight of the Divine Beast’s attack drained him of his strength. The second impact rocked the landscape, as did the third, and the seventh, and the fifteenth.

All over Goron City did the Gorons huddle in their homes, though they were not afraid; yes, the attack was closer now than it had been before, but Yunobo was there, wasn’t he? He was a descendant of Daruk. He always ate his gravel. There was nothing to worry about, so long as he did his job.

In Bludo’s house, the boss of the Gorons rolled out of his bed, the seizing of his back so extreme that he could not stand but not so extreme that he couldn’t claw his way across the floor. Ah, he could hear his bones grinding together, yes sir, not just his imagination today, but also, he barely noticed it. Impacts that close meant that the drones had slipped past every line of defense and gotten into the city itself, or as good as, and if they were following that rapidly then Rudania was trying to wipe them all out. He tried to call out, to reach his medicine (which would take effect too late to be more than useless), to do anything, and found he did not have the strength as his body betrayed him.

Outside, Zelda shouted instructions over the roar and Paya was off at a run, nearly flying up the cliff faces that would put her at a vantage point over Yunobo and the sentries. Seeing her rising, Zelda reached deep and grabbed hold of Hylia’s strength, and Goron City was filled with a golden light.

The impacts did not affect Yunobo physically. Well, not directly. There were definitely some indirect consequences, his suddenly bleeding nose could attest. The most direct effect was the heavy blow he could feel against the very foundation of his thoughts, that made it difficult to be sure of where he was or why he was doing what he was doing. Daruk’s Protection ( always Daruk’s Protection, never Yunobo’s Protection, it would never be Yunobo’s Protection because he couldn’t be a hero) blocked out the worst of the sound and the brightest parts of the light, but the world outside was still chaos, a repeating percussive din as the strength of his will was all that kept him from being pulverized by explosions.

It was his will, too. He could feel it bleeding out of him, he had never thought of it as a thing that could be limited but of course it was. What difference was there between this and when he wanted to stop while trying to eat all his food, or not wanting to continue while going through his training with Bludo, or not being able to take listening to people talk about how great Daruk was and how great he must be, how great he had to be to fill those shoes? Why wouldn’t those failures everywhere else, where he just wasn’t good enough, be any different from failing like this?

Daruk could stand in molten lava for hours, Bludo’s voice recited in his thoughts. How? Force of will! There was nothing soft or leisurely or lean about him!

Another impact, and his teeth rattled in his head as the blow against Daruk’s Protection sent sympathetic shocks throughout his physical body. The sirens were as loud as ever outside, and he thought maybe a guard was still shouting, and there was so much light out there, what was going on?

If you don’t shape up, kid, every Goron’s going to get hurt! Do you get it? You don’t get to be a crybaby, or a quitter! People’s lives depend on you! Everything depends on you!

His legs were shaking, and he could barely hold up his arms. For some reason, holding up his arms was the most important thing; he knew that if he lowered them, if he gave in to gravity and the pain in his back and shoulders then his will would be broken and Daruk’s Protection would disappear and he’d be flattened in an instant. He couldn’t let them down. His arms. But the other Gorons, too. Bludo. Zelda and Paya, even.

So, what, was he supposed to just stand here forever? There was no way to deal with the drones without the cannons, he was pretty sure. Maybe if they pushed a rockslide down on top of the whole mess of them, but it would take hours for the Gorons to get there. Could he last for hours? It had only been about a minute and he already felt himself being pushed to his absolute limit, his heart pounding in his chest so hard he thought it was going to burst, his vision swimming from dark to light and he didn’t know which of those was worse than the other, but he knew that either one was a pretty bad sign. He could feel his will running out of him like molten rock out of a pail with a hole in it, knew that it would be empty soon. Was there anything past that? What would be left, when his will ran out? What would he even be like, in the split-second before he died?

I wish I wasn’t doing all this alone, he thought. That’s when he heard the ringing of the bell.

The sentries were made to fulfill a specific purpose, and that purpose did not require proper shielding or even any armor to speak of; each time one was struck by a thunder arrow loosed from Paya’s Lizalfos-made bow, it was forced into rebooting, and crashed and shattered before it could re-engage its rotor. But, by Zelda’s count, there were thirty-three sentries left, and Paya had less than twenty thunder arrows remaining.

She was not sure that destroying the sentries would stop the attack on Yunobo, but it was the only conclusion she could reasonably draw; the information that the sentries fed back to Rudania was topographical, so they must have been acting as its eyes. Without their targeting information, would it stop its attack? She didn’t know—in fact, she had her doubts—but they had to try, because going directly after Rudania right now would have taken half a day.

With the goddess’s strength held in her thoughts Zelda sent out her awareness, seeking through the mechanisms of the drones. There was no Malice in them, as she had seen before; they were working as nodes of the network that Rudania served as the hub of. She had been dealing with Guardians by purging them of the Malice of Ganon’s influence, and resetting them back to their base function, but they were fulfilling that function in what they were doing now.

The power can do more than banish Malice.

The thought entered her mind unbidden, though it was in her own voice. She could not have guessed at its origin; she was immediately positive of its veracity. How much? she asked herself, asked of the voice that had spoken out of turn, but no answer came. So, she would make one for her own.

Yunobo’s pain radiated outward from the impact site, waves of anguish and exhaustion and loneliness so sharp that it cut through her reverie, jolting her out of her reflection. No force had leaked through his power and touched his body, but he was frightened, and he was dying. She could feel him wavering, unsteady even on the bedrock of his own mind, and knew that if she did not act then he would not last for very much longer.

The drones had a very simple power core; it fed into the surrounding systems through a feed that was not far removed from those of the Guardians, conceptually, but the scale and complexity of it was much reduced. The actuators for the rotors that determined the loft produced in a given moment had an elegant degree of variability, but the logic controlling whether they should be running was wholly binary. The energy flowing through the drones was a river of light, so much like her light, and she had only to reach out.

Paya, positioned high on the cliff, drew another thunder arrow taut. The supply would be exhausted momentarily, and there were too many sentries remaining. Could she bring them down with ice arrows?

All at once the rotors stopped, and the sound of the sentries’ many sirens took on a strange quality as they plummeted to the earth and shattered like clay pots, their red eyes extinguished.

Robbed of the necessary targeting data, the attack from Vah Rudania halted in that moment, and the last of the projectiles crashed onto the top of Daruk’s Protection perhaps a minute later. Yunobo did not respond, from inside of the barrier. The guards of the city ran to him, beat their fists against the shield’s exterior, called to him, but Zelda could see with her god’s eyes that he had fainted on his feet. As if being observed gave him the push he needed, Yunobo collapsed, the barrier following. He was left lying on a small circle of unmarked ground in the center of almost total destruction.

Zelda’s first thought on a conscious level was to run to Yunobo, to heal him, but her instinct ran deeper, and she threw her awareness at Vah Rudania instead.

So: she saw when Vah Rudania, robbed of its targeting system, planted its feet into the sides of the mountain. She realized, too late, that though she had rid it of its eyes those eyes had still seen her, in their final moments. She saw its head open like the blossoming of a flower, felt the capacitor of its weapon begin to charge, could hear the gathering of energy that would obliterate Goron City as if it had never existed.

I can’t stop it. Even with all the goddess’s power I don’t know if I can stop that blast, and even if I did Ganon’s attack would follow thereafter and Goron City would be lost in either case. Could Naydra stop it, perhaps insulate critical parts by using ice? No, not fast enough. Naydra and Dinraal together probably wouldn’t be strong enough to force it off-target.

A beam of light the color of blood, deeper than the burning heart of the mountain, painted the crest of Goron City with the promise of annihilation.

No. Not Naydra, not Dinraal, not Hylia. She didn’t have the control necessary to stop this through finesse, and she didn’t have the positioning to stop it through trickery, and she couldn’t use her own brute force without losing in every way that mattered. There was only one other force available to her:

The goddess’s voice rang out across Hyrule: “MIPHA!

The dead princess looked up from her vigil, tearing her eyes from the Hero, and looked to the north and to the west. The ghost fires around her were silent, and calm; they did not reflect any part of what she must have felt when she saw Vah Rudania aiming its weapon at Goron City.

“Ruta,” she said, barely a whisper, and the Divine Beast answered with the sound of the trumpeting of the gods, its massive legs shifting under it. The light of its targeting laser swept away from Hyrule Castle, swinging across half the kingdom as Vah Ruta turned. It settled on Vah Rudania’s torso, toward its hips. Mipha, whose connection with her Divine Beast had always been the finest of the Champions, adjusted the output of her weapon, estimating against how much armor Vah Rudania had remaining, having to feel out the question through intuition because she could not crunch the numbers in her head.

She never hesitated. If she had, the world would have been lost.

“I’m sorry, Daruk,” she said, and gestured with her hand.

Vah Ruta fired.

The defenders of Goron City shielded their eyes from the blueness of the light as it lanced across the sky.

At their construction, the Divine Beasts had been designed to withstand direct attacks by Ganon—in comparison to that, withstanding their own weapons seemed small. Millenia removed, though, suffering from the damage of two battles with the Calamity and the weight of age and soil, things were different.

Vah Ruta’s attack encompassed the back half of Vah Rudania’s body, as well as a swathe of Death Mountain’s side and a great deal of open air. The light was not turned up to its full intensity, and so the ground was not obliterated, but the earth beneath Vah Rudania boiled like water, and its legs slipped out from under it. Vah Rudania squalled, the sound of a wounded dodongo, its footing lost in the moment it fired—and the killing light, so much brighter than the one it had been struck with, lanced harmlessly into the heavens.

Both pillars of blue dwindled to nothing simultaneously.

Liquid stone ran from Vah Rudania’s legs as it pulled itself free of the molten muck, the armor plating on the back of its body flaking and cracked, pushed to the absolute limits of its endurance. Tentatively, like a wounded child, it tested its footing on the side of the mountain that had been gouged nearly clean by its fellow Divine Beast. It roared again, in defiance and in promise, and the sound was as terrible as it had been before. Then, quickly, it began to ascend the mountain, seeking the mouth of the volcano and the cover there provided.

How long had Yunobo been dreaming? Well, maybe he hadn’t been dreaming, but he’d definitely been sleeping, and usually if he was sleeping then he was dreaming. He could always remember his dreams. Was he dreaming now? He must have been, because if he was just sleeping then the question wouldn’t have occurred to him.

A light coolness was spreading through him. That was new. He could feel that in his body. Maybe he wasn’t sleeping anymore, then. Maybe he was just awake. The coolness felt like he was awake, like it was pulling him out of sleep, up towards the light of real consciousness—but it was protecting him, too. Wasn’t it? Insulating him from something. What was it—

Oh, he thought. Wow, I would be in a lot of pain if I could feel it.

A delirious thought, almost nonsense, but also true. The coolness was between him and his pain, so that he knew it was there but it could not hurt him directly. Which meant he’d gotten hurt somehow. Did he remember? He did. He’d been using Daruk’s Protection, taking the attack from Vah Rudania, and thinking about how he was going to die.

But I’m alive!

“Yunobo!” the boss called, and Yunobo sat up.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Zelda said, putting pressure on his shoulders with her hands, failing to push him. “I’m not nearly big enough to hold you down.”

The light inside of Bludo’s house—because that was where they were, and Yunobo was in the center of the floor while the boss was seated on the bed, and Paya stood watch at the door while Zelda tended to him with her healing magic—was soft, not harsh enough or bright enough to hurt his eyes. Which was good, because his eyes were just about the only thing that didn’t seem like they should have been hurting.

“Please lie back down,” Zelda said, and he stared at her, not quite processing the words. She huffed, scowling, when she saw his understanding wasn’t keeping pace with her words. “You still have internal injuries I would like to attend to.”

“Get back on the floor,” Bludo said, and Yunobo was instantly horizontal again, his head nearly bouncing off the stone. “See? You just have to know how to talk to him.”

“That’s more than enough of that,” Zelda said, and something in her tone made Bludo flinch. Yunobo wouldn’t know what to make of that for a while. “Close your eyes and rest, this will take a little longer.”

Well, he could certainly do that. He thought, when his lids fell shut, that he would fall asleep again, but he did not: instead the passing minutes allowed his mind to catch up with itself, for every part of him to come awake. Maybe it was the healing magic being applied to his head, or to his chest, but the longer he lay there the better he was able to think. To remember. To realize what he didn’t remember, had never gotten to see at all.

Without opening his eyes (because he did not want to be a bad patient) he said, “What happened?”

Zelda answered, “When Vah Rudania’s drones reached the city, you drew their attention… and the Divine Beast’s. You were using Daruk’s Protection,” and for some reason that name made him wince, “and withstood the impacts of all that fire and stone for several minutes. Paya and I were able to shut down the drones, and Vah Rudania was forced into retreat.”

“It won’t do anyone any good,” Bludo’s voice was gruff and surly from his corner, “least of all Yunobo, to not tell him all of it.” A pause, as if waiting for Zelda to challenge him. When she did not: “Kid, when the drones were brought down, all the guards ran over to try to get through to you. You collapsed maintaining the Protection—good job at that, by the way, that was way more than I thought you could handle—but as soon as the drones were gone Vah Rudania apparently targeted Goron City with a weapon we didn’t know it had. I couldn’t say exactly why,” his tone suggesting that he had some ideas and that they involved people he was talking to, “but it was suddenly convinced it needed to show its whole hand and wipe us off the map. And… I don’t know except what the guards tell me, but from what I can gather, these two have already brought the Divine Beast from Zora’s Domain under their control. They stopped Vah Rudania’s weapon with their own. Took a plug out of the mountain while they were at it. Then it retreated into the mouth of the volcano.”

“How long ago was that, goro?” How long have I been out, he wanted to ask.

“Six hours.” Zelda lifted her hands away, then breathed a sigh of relief and exertion. “There. You can sit up, now.” She had been tending to him for six hours? How much stamina could one person have? He sat up and looked at her face, trying to read her, to understand what she was feeling or expecting, but she just beamed at him. He felt his color rising. “Feeling better?”

He nodded, though he still lifted his arms experimentally, poked at his guts where he was pretty sure something had popped before, wiggled his toes. “Yeah! Everything’s in working order, goro. I don’t know how I can thank you for helping me over and over!”

“Don’t thank them yet.” Yunobo looked over at Bludo, who sounded (and looked) glum and resentful. “The reason I had them do this here, kid, rather than at your house, was because I wanted to be the one to talk to you when you woke up.” The boss got up from his bed, slowly, hand pressed to his back. “My medicine is starting to kick in, but I’m still going to be laid up for the better part of another day. But that doesn’t even matter, now. Vah Rudania’s been run off for a little while, but we don’t know how deep in the mountain it’s retreated or for how long. When it comes back, it’s probably going to try to kill us again, and it’s not going to give us a chance to fight back. Shooting you out of a cannon isn’t going to cut it anymore.” Bludo grinned wanly. “Well. I’m not good at speeches, so listen: I’m proud of you, kid. I’m not good at showing it sometimes, but I am. You’re not Daruk, but every day you try to be, and you have all the courage someone could ask for.” Yunobo wasn’t sure why that made him feel upset, even resentful, but there it was. He just couldn’t let Bludo see, and hoped Zelda and Paya would miss it. “These two tell me there’s a monster riding Vah Rudania that’s making it act that way, and to get things back to normal they have to board the Divine Beast and kill the monster. And they’ll need your help.”

Now he looked to Paya, who stood impassive at the door and looked away from his eyes. Then to Zelda, who rose to her feet and bowed very low to him. “Please. If you can bring us to the peak, I know we’ll be able to handle the rest on our own.”

He swallowed. This was fast. This was so fast. How was he supposed to be able to do something like that, like this, without being able to prepare himself? Were they going right now? Of course, they were. “I-I don’t know if I can—”

“You don’t have a choice, kid.” Slowly, painfully slowly, Bludo made his way across the room, walking not toward Yunobo but toward a chest he kept near his work desk. “It’s not fair, but none of this is fair, none of it’s ever been fair. I guess I’ve been trying to prepare you for that. Maybe I didn’t do a good enough job.” The sound of his fingertips scraping against the stone of the chest as he ran them with reverence over the lid was audible throughout the entire room. “But you’ve got power, Yunobo. And when you have power, real power, you don’t get to make choices. Not about helping people. That’s what being a Goron means.” He opened the lid, but Yunobo was no longer looking at the boss, he was looking at Zelda, Zelda whose eyes were watering as she held her bow and who could not look directly at him. She’s afraid for me, he thought. They all are. “You have a soft heart, kid. That’s not a bad thing, not really, but it makes all this harder than it should be. I wish you could have an easier life. You can’t, but I wish you could.”

Slow footsteps, nearly dragging across the room.

“You can’t make a soft heart into a hard one, Yunobo. The stone knows we’ve tried. So, take your soft heart and help these two up the mountain. I can’t help you anymore… but I can make sure you’re armed.”

Without being prompted, Yunobo reached out.

Bludo put the Boulder Breaker into his hands.

Chapter Text

The weight of the Boulder Breaker pulled at Yunobo’s shoulders, changing the experience of his every movement. The sun was high over Death Mountain, and as he looked back down at Goron City he realized he had never traveled this far from home before.

“Are you all right?” Zelda called from ahead, voice carrying on the wind, and he turned to wave an affirmative and started trotting to catch up. She and Paya had been leading this expedition most of the way, if he was honest. He’d walk with them until they spotted a nest of monsters, then they would go ahead and root the monsters out with explosives and ice magic, then he’d catch up again. There had been a lot of monsters on the trip up here, so even though they needed him with them to give directions, he had been hanging back for a lot of the walk. Even now the two women were surrounded by the tell-tale evil-looking smoke that signified where a band of moblins had been only minutes before.

He had not held the Boulder Breaker in his hands since leaving Bludo’s house.

“Goron weapons are fascinating.” Zelda was kneeling in the middle of the battlefield, examining her Cobble Crusher. Bludo had always told Yunobo that Hylians couldn’t wield Goron weapons, but she could—though, perhaps, not gracefully. “Their weight and lack of an edge seem like they would make them particularly suited to fighting enemies with armor plating, but at the same time it’s almost as if they were made for mining. They’re almost like hammers.”

“They, uh, they basically are hammers, goro.” Stopping next to Zelda he squatted, pointing at the pitted edges in the metal of her weapon. “See these? Heavy impact. The boss doesn’t like it much, but if any of the guards ever want to make a few extra rupees, goro, they’ll find a mineral deposit and crack it open.”

“So they are used for mining, too! If they don’t rely on the fineness of a cutting edge then I suppose the standards for maintenance must be very different, too.” He nodded, and she grinned—not the way she had beamed at him back at the northern mine, but a different sort. She really liked to learn things, to figure out the way they worked. And, on top of that, she was really good at filling a silence or at getting him to talk. “The differences in our strengths inform so much about how differently we live and build, don’t they?”

“Um.” They were quick to react: that ‘um’ was as far as he got before Paya and Zelda both looked at him. They were good at keeping up the charade, but not when he surprised them. Well, he couldn’t blame them; neither was he. “Listen. I wanted to ask the two of you a couple of things, before we get to the top of the mountain, goro.” He held up his hands, anticipating a question. “Not about how to handle the Divine Beast or anything, goro! I figure you two must be experts. But, um.”

Ah, man, this was hard. Way harder than it ought to be. And why should it be this hard? What kind of Goron, what kind of man was he if he couldn’t work up the nerve to ask questions? He was regretting this already. He should pretend he’d never said anything. Maybe he could tell them he forgot what he was going to ask, and then—

“It’s OK.” Paya’s voice was gentle; the sight of her standing against the backdrop of Death Mountain, cinders filling the space around her silver hair, was more calming than he would have thought. “Take your time. It’s all right to be nervous about… important questions.” Zelda nodded in turn.

All right. Fine. He took a second to breathe, to think of the way he was supposed to be, found that didn’t help at all. So, he’d be like a rock. Rocks didn’t feel embarrassment. Didn’t feel shame. Didn’t feel fear. Be a rock! Rocks didn’t ask questions, though. Not perfect.

Well, he’d push through it as best he could. “Those things that the boss said, back at his house, goro.” He thought starting would make the rest easier, but it didn’t. No rock rolling down a hill, he. “Bludo’s a good Goron and he watches out for everyone, but… all that stuff, goro. Being proud of me, and how things weren’t fair… he doesn’t talk like that.” Not ever. Not once. “The other things, about having power meaning I don’t have a choice, he’s never said those things either, but he’s said things like them, goro. But the others, no. So, I was wondering, goro. While I was out. Did you. Talk to him?”

Zelda and Paya looked at each other again, not a stolen glance to make sure the other was still there but a long, taking-in sort of look where they communicated something that he couldn’t understand.

After a time they broke it off and Zelda said, “We did.”

“Oh.” He didn’t know what he was expecting, really; well, no, he had been expecting almost exactly that answer. He could almost hear the entire thing, everything that must have been said. Zelda snapping at Bludo, Bludo being so sullen and surly, the bits and barbs that hadn’t made sense to him at the time. If he thought about it, really thought about it, he could probably reconstruct that conversation. “Sorry.”

Zelda slowly got to her feet, lifting her Cobble Crusher off the ground and turning to put it against her back. Yunobo rose, too, hefting it higher and then tying it in place for her, positioning it so it wouldn’t bang against her trident while she walked. “To tell you the truth, Yunobo, we didn’t actually want you to come with us on this expedition.”

“Eh? Why not, goro?”

“Because you had just been through something terrible! If I hadn’t been there, your injuries would have taken weeks to heal, if they ever healed at all!” He cinched the knot in the rope, patting the weapon with his fingers, and she shifted her shoulders to test the tie. “Thank you, that’s very good. Anyway, yes, we… talked to Bludo. Extensively. He insisted that you had to come with us, because you are descended from Lord Daruk and it was your right and your duty to,” she stopped, and he noticed that her fists were shaking just thinking about it, enough that he could see it through her gauntlets. “I swear, it’s as if that man had never spoken to anyone who was willing to give him a piece of their mind.”

That was probably true. “What did you say to him, goro?” When Zelda didn’t answer he looked to Paya, whose color rose before she turned away. “That bad, huh?”

“Yes. That bad. Because it’s not fair to you, and… Yunobo, it’s not my place to care about these things on your behalf, but I care a great deal about fairness. About being given the opportunity to make choices, even if they’re not really choices. We have to believe we’re the arbiters of our own destinies, or we can’t understand ourselves at all.”

He couldn’t imagine what sort of tongue-lashing would be up to the challenge of making Bludo consider his words more carefully, and was glad that he had been unconscious for it. But, still, something in the way Zelda said that, the way she was talking about the importance of choice and its intersection with destiny. He looked down at her hip, steeled himself.

“My other question is… who are you two, goro?” She tried not to show the sudden tension in her back, but it was visible even through the Flamebreaker Armor. Paya didn’t betray herself quite so readily, but that was because her blush hadn’t faded and she was just staring at the sky. “You’re here to stop the Divine Beast, you’ve apparently already done it with at least one other, and I don’t know many Hylians but the two of you are awfully young to have all these heavy experiences and thoughts on destiny, goro. You fight like nobody I’ve ever seen, you managed to stop all the sentries without using cannons, I’m pretty sure you’re carrying a Sheikah Slate, you managed to shame the boss… it’s a lot, goro. Not to mention that when you’re around other people, Zelda, you do all the talking, and Paya barely says a word. You behave like a knight and their squire, almost.” That made Paya’s color rise even more, so she was definitely still listening. “So, who are you, goro?”

“I’m not that young.” Zelda turned on her heel to look up at him, and even from inside of her helmet the force of her eyes was like a slap across the face. “I’ll have you know, I’m over a hundred years old.”

“W-what? Wait, how long do Hylians live, goro? I knew you were older than me, but—” Something in her face made him stop, and he actually took a step back. He didn’t know what he was feeling, though perhaps Prince Sidon could have told him.

“You know the story of the Champions and the Calamity. How the Champions of Hyrule fought against the Calamity and died, and the princess disappeared.”

Golden hair sheikah slate magic light blue eyes can yell at the boss—holy gravel! He looked back at Paya and pointed at Zelda with one finger and mouthed “She’s that Zelda?” and Paya nodded and he thought his head was going to explode.

Zelda turned away from him, looking to the top of the mountain. “All of them died for me, Yunobo, because I failed them. The Hylian Champion, Link, is still fighting Ganon in the heart of Hyrule Castle. I don’t know if you’v