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Era of Dusk and Shade

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Era of Dusk and Shade

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There is nothing in the sky. You look around, no clouds, no birds, no stars. Is it even night? Is it day? You can't tell. But you can see your friends waiting for you up the hill. Better hurry, they'll be mad if you make them wait.

"Your friends what kind of people are they? I wonder, do these people think of you as a friend?"

You don't understand the question. Of course they're your friends. They always have been. And always will be. Always.

Forever.

The girl is the first to greet you. She always is. No that's not true, now that you think about it the boy greets you first sometimes. Right? But this time the girl greets you first.

"I wonder, if you do the right thing, does it really make everyone happy?" She asks you. Do you know? You can't think of an answer and she just giggles. She takes your hand and leads you to the boy, he's standing under a tree.

"I wonder; what makes you happy, does it make others happy too?" The girl asks. Does it? Think about it. Why is she asking these questions?

Answer them.

The boy teases you. "Your true face what kind of face is it?" What type of question is that? Your face is your face.

Right?

Wrong.

"I wonder, is the face under the mask your true face?" The boy and girl run before you. Are you wearing a mask?

You are.

How did you not know? Your vision is restricted. Perhaps you should take it off. Perhaps.

Your friends run up to you again. The boy looks mischievously at you. "Let's play good guys against bad guys... Yes. Let's play that. Are you ready? You're the bad guy. And when you're bad, you just run. That's fine, right?" It doesn't feel fine. You don't like running.

But before you can argue they are gone. There is nothing in the sky.

"...Everyone has gone away, haven't they?"

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Chapter 1

Hyrule Castle

 

The wind swirled off the fields and swept up the battlements of the castle, sending crows into the air like a dark cloud. The shadowy murder in turn flew out into the amber sky, as if pulling the night in behind them as the sun set. Zelda stood atop a merlon, bow in hand, bowstring pulled taught, the reverse-twist of the hempen string digging into her fingers. She could feel the bite of it even through her leather gloves, the feeling keeping her alert and poised. The crows were gone, her practice hunt dissipating into the dusk. She let the bowstring loosen in her grip and resheethed her arrow.

The crisp evening air foretold the seasonal change, the crops would be harvested soon, bringing with them fetes to be had, gowns to be worn and strict traditions to be followed. Everything Zelda despised. Already the longing for next summer welled up in her, to be free to run the castle parapets and hunt crows, to ride Rhiannon around the grounds, to stalk the orchard and catch mice. She lamented the loss of freedom that the dying leaves brought with them.

Jumping back onto the floor of the parapet she unstrung her bow, packing it away in its wrapping. She didn’t need her father to know what she had been up to. She pulled her hair, the color of spun gold, out if it’s messy bun and tried to fuss it into something presentable. One day none of these pretenses would be held to her and she’d be free to do as she pleased, to be who she wanted, but until that day she was stuck.

“I thought I would find you here.” Zelda spun on her heels, confronted with her shadow. Elegant, dark and cunning, and everything Zelda wished she was, Hilda, her twin, stood against the darkening sky. Arms crossed, black hair swaying in the breeze, Hilda looked everything a queen should be. A gown of indigo and violet swept the floor around her, and a fine tiara weaved itself through her voluminous hair.

“You can’t be here, if father finds out we’re both up here do you know how much trouble we’ll be in?” Zelda exclaimed, rushing her sister towards the stairs.

Hilda laughed, a musical sound lilting across the night air. For being twins Hilda really was perfect in everyway Zelda wasn’t. “Well then, we will have to make sure father doesn’t find out we were here.” She grabbed Zelda’s hand, taking the lead and running for the stairwell, her feet softly padding the stones, she must have been wearing slippers under her gown. “I have something to show you Zel!” Hilda could barely contain the excitement in her voice. Down the steps, taking two at a time, Zelda struggled to keep up with her sister. Torches flew past them like blurs of flickering light, banners with the royal crest blended together.

Then suddenly they were at a stop. Zelda almost toppled over from coming to a halt so quickly. Hilda pressed them against the wall. Looking at her sister she placed a finger against her lips, and Zelda held her breath. They heard the sound of a guard walking down the hallway before them. Around the corner he was out of sight, but his footsteps were coming closer, the sound of chainmail and metal plates filling the hall. Both sisters started to inch away from the cross of hallways, hoping he didn’t turn their way. Zelda crouched, trying to remain in the shadows, and Hilda followed suit. The armored guard, tall and yet not imposing at all, marched into view, and just as quickly marched out of view, down the hallway and away from them.

The girls giggled, having evaded their “foe” they started a quick spurt across the hall. Hilda gripped Zelda’s hand tighter, causing them both to stop. A crested tapestry hung before them, indistinguishable from any other tapestry in the hallway. Hilda pulled the tapestry aside to the shock of Zelda, revealing a door only four feet high.

“Where does this lead to?” Zelda ran her hand around the doorframe. The wood was rough hewn and unlike most woodwork in the castle.

“It is a surprise.” Hilda winked and pulled the door open by the iron ring. The dark tunnel beyond filled the hallway with cold air, causing Zelda to shiver. Hilda drove ahead, seemingly unbothered by the temperature of the tunnel. The door slammed shut behind them, shrouding everything in a murky blackness. Momentarily they were blinded, Zelda gripped the hem of her tunic, hating the darkness, a hummed song and then Hilda held a flickering cerulean flame in the palm of her hand. A simple spell, something they had both learned early in their tutelage. Though Hilda had always taken to magic faster than Zelda.

Glancing back at the door Zelda could see an eerily familiar vestige of a eye carved into the interior, before Hilda was too far ahead and the door itself was swallowed in darkness. Following her sister’s silhouette in the blue halo they quietly made their way through the tunnel.

“Father is going to be so mad if we’re late for dinner.” Zelda sighed.

“You worry too much about what father thinks, Zel.” Hilda shrugged, holding the flame more aloft, cyan and cobalt dancing on the stones of the tunnel. “We are almost there.”

The light grew brighter as Hilda approached the end of the passage. Zelda heard a click and a creak as her sister opened a door, warm light flooded into the tunnel and Hilda disappeared beyond the door.

Hesitantly Zelda stepped into the room beyond. A study of some sort, a fire burned in the hearth against one wall, books lined the rest of the walls. A cot was built into the shelving across from the fireplace, and a desk and chair took up most of the center of the room.

“Is this not gorgeous?” Hilda spun, her gown twirling around her. “A secret library in the castle!” Zelda paced the room, inspecting the details. The only door was the one leading to the secret tunnel, a single window behind the desk gazed out into the night sky. Books were stacked haphazardly on and around the desk, notes scrawled everywhere, a plume left out, ink dried and nib bent. A globe beside the desk was faded, but covered in eyes, marking various locations around the world. Seeing it in the light now Zelda recognized it as the emblem of the Sheikah, Impa’s lost clan.

“Who lives here?” she inquired, motioning to the fire.

“Not a soul I believe, the hearth is enchanted, it lights itself and extinguishes itself as you come and go from the room.” Hilda sat on the cot, tossing dust into the air. “Clearly, it seems no one has been here in a long time.”

“This room has something to do with the Sheikah.”

“I inferred that from the insignia of their tribe. Do you think Impa knows about this place?” Hearing her name drove home how much she missed Impa. Tugging at her heart she paused to gather her thoughts. Impa would be home soon, she was just on her yearly pilgrimage. And yet every year when she leaves Zelda missed her more. It was a lonely life within the castle walls and, besides Hilda, Impa was Zelda’s only true friend.

“She’s never spoken about this, she would have told me.” The look Hilda returned made Zelda feel immature. She turned her attention back towards the globe, running her fingers over the mountains and rivers she recognized all the locations from her studies though she's never been to them herself. “What do you think these markers mean?”

“Sheikah memorials, ancient temples, secret places; who knows?” Hilda dismissed. She pulled a book from the shelf beside her, the worn leather tome brought with it the dust of a library long abandoned. Walking across the room Hilda handed it to Zelda. “The topics in this library are fascinating, look at this- it is a tome on the Kokiri tribe.”

Zelda flipped through the pages. She had heard of the Kokiri tribe but it was just things of myths and legends, stories about green-clad heroes and demon pigs. And yet this book spoke of them as if they were real, as if they had been studied, as if they were known.

Hilda opened her mouth to speak again but was cut off by the sound of Zelda’s stomach growling. “Well, it seems to be dinner time.”

“Father is going to blow a gasket.”

“Father is going to blow a gasket.” Zelda slipped the book into her bow case, if this library was truly abandoned no one would miss it.

Hilda shook her head and lead the way out. A snap of her fingers and a click of the door and they were in the tunnel lit by cyan once more. But this time Hilda surprised Zelda, taking a hard right into what she had previously thought was a wall. Zelda yelped a little then followed suit, chasing her sister down a different tunnel. “Where are we going?”

“Another surprise.” Hilda grinned back at her. She slowed as she reached a door, creaking it open she peered out before rushing the two of them into the hallway beyond. This door was also hidden behind a hanging tapestry, but the hallway they stood in was different. Zelda recognized it immediately as the lead-in to their suite.

“This was here the whole time?!” She gaped. “And we never knew?”

“Correct, there are also a few other tunnels that I have come across in there that I have yet to investigate.” Hilda guided them to their suite, letting Zelda in to change. “It appears that there are Sheikah secrets all over the castle.”

Impa had to have known about them then. That would also explain how Impa had managed guarding the twins for so long, appearing seemingly out of nowhere whenever they were about to get into trouble. But why had she never told Zelda about them? She had always assumed there were no secrets between them, but that evidently was not the case. If she managed to keep a whole secret passage system from Zelda, what other secrets did Impa hold?

***

“I am very disappointed!” their father bellowed from across the dining hall. Zelda and Hilda hurried to their seats at the table. King Rhoam Daphnes Hyrule was everything a king was expected to be: big, commanding and boisterous. Ruling the land since he was sixteen he was considered a stern but fair king that did what was needed, if not always wanted, for his people. And there was no one that was more true for than his daughters. “Apologize to our guests immediately.”

“We are ever so sorry for the delay.” Hilda led as both her and Zelda curtsied to the family across the table. Duke Plen, with his wife and son, their late mother’s brother, visiting from the Akkala Province far to the east. Everything that their father was, their uncle was like a pale shadow. King Rhoam was tall, broad shouldered and large in the way former soldiers put on weight in their old age, his strong set jaw and narrow eyes stern and observant. Plen was tall but fat, carrying his weight in his belly, his big head and beady eyes gave him the look of a skittish horse.

“Kids will be kids.” Plen dismissed condescendingly. Zelda had never liked her uncle, but he was the only living relative on her mother’s side, and her father had been an only child. She took her seat exchanging a momentary look with Ralph, Plen’s son, who gave her a sympathetic shrug. With a flaming coif as wild as his rumored personality, Ralph was brash, spontaneous and a rumored playboy. He was still empathetic for the twins’ situation, having grown up in a royal family as well. Zelda had never been close to her cousin, as Plen rarely left Akkala, where he held most of his power.

“I am especially disappointed in you Zelda, I expect the highest pedigree from you.” King Rhoam shook his head in dismay. She avoided making eye contact with her father, instead staring at the salad before her. She could feel her neck and ears burn red. Beneath the table Hilda gripped her hand, squeezing it in reassurance. For as long as either of them could remember their father had been harder on Zelda. Neither of them knew why, and as much as it frustrated Zelda, she knew it hurt Hilda more.

“Enough of the pleasantries!” the Duke interjected, shoveling salad into this plump cheeks like a chipmunk. “Have you told them the good news?”

“I have not, and in light of recent actions, I may rescind my offer.” the King huffed. “The negotiations with the Gerudo are moving along better than predicted. They have requested a council with us to sign the treaty.”

“That’s wonderful news, your Majesty.” Hilda exclaimed. She waved away the soup course as it came to her.

“That it is. I had planned on taking Zelda with me but she clearly is not mature enough to experience this monumental occasion.” Hilda deflated, turning her gaze to her plate. She didn’t speak for the rest of the meal.

“But fa- your Majesty!” Zelda yelped, a chance to go outside! To see the world beyond the castle walls! She couldn’t lose this opportunity. She had to collect herself, make herself appear regal and mature. “Your Majesty, I have worked on my studies, I have practiced my arms, I know my words. If I’m never to witness these proceedings how am I ever to learn what to do?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Duke Plen spoke up, finishing his soup and gesticulating for the next course to be brought over. “She seems a reputable girl, I’m sure this will be a fantastic learning experience. Bring them both with.”

Hilda looked towards her father hopefully.

“Very well, Zelda, you may attend this event with me. Hilda, you are to stay here and continue your studies.” The King crossed his arms, baring down at Zelda. “Do you remember your studies on Gerudo customs and cultures? They are a very strict and rigorous people, and it has taken many moons to negotiate this treaty. The last thing I need now is for you to attend this and hold a faux pas against them.”

“I remember your Majesty!” She wasn’t going to let her father take this from her. She was finally going to see Hyrule and the Gerudo Desert. This was more than she was expecting.

“Very well, we leave at dawn, have your attendants prepare your belongings tonight. It will be a long ride to the border.”

Zelda couldn’t believe it. She was getting out! She was going to leave the castle! This was possibly the best day of her life.

***

She screamed as she jumped from her covers. Heart racing she could still hear her father’s last words ringing in her ears. She looked at the dish of slop that had just been slid beneath the door. Her meager meal for the day, as it had been for all the days previous, she had no idea how long she had been in the cell. Had no idea how long it had been since they had killed her father and dragged her into this dungeon. The stone that made up the floor and walls burned in the sun and froze in the nighttime chill, and yet she couldn’t seem to keep track of days passing.

She could see the blood on her hands, seeping from her father as he lay dying on the floor of that room. The Gerudo man laughing in the corner, something cold and harsh and violent. Zelda pulled her knees to her chest and started to sob.

Chapter Text

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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You know what oppression is. You’ve known it your whole life.

Some think oppression is about the self, the tribulations and mountains you’ve climbed, but you know better.

Oppression is growing up being told your people chose to live here, where the sun takes your old and the lack of food takes your young. This land was once fertile and that was taken from your people and you were told you chose it.

Oppression is watching your people die out because you’re animals, beasts, ogres, and no one would want to have children with them. Every generation growing smaller and smaller. Soon you know there will be no one of your heritage at all.

Oppression is teaching your daughter, your children to make themselves as small as possible, to not draw attention to themselves, to take only what is absolutely necessary and hope that is enough to keep them safe from those that wish them harm.

But truly oppression is being told that you chose this life, that this is your fault. If you want better make better, otherwise suffer at the hands of your oppressor, that is your choice. You are choosing to watch your family suffer, you are choosing to watch your people die. This is your fault.

You know what oppression is. You’ve known it your whole life.

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Chapter 2

Fort of the Seven Heroines

 

“I need you to listen to me closely. Do not make any noise.” The voice woke her from her fitful sleep like a needle pulling a thread. She didn’t know where she was at first. Time moved like thick molasses as she tried to gain her bearings. And the voice came again: “We must work quickly and quietly. Zelda I need you to heed my words.”

She knew that voice. She remembered the huskiness, the crisp commanding tone, she knew who this was.

“Zelda come to the window.” on the far wall from the door, up ten or so feet was a small caged opening, letting the moonlight in- bathing the cell in a sickly pale light. A face peered into the cell as well, hidden behind a laughing mask with a single eye painted on it. “Zelda remember your training, you can do this.” The figure let a thick rope unfurl to the dungeon floor. Zelda gripped it in her hands, they seemed so small now, when was the last time she had a good meal? It didn’t matter, this was her time to escape, to finally be free of the endless days and nights in these four walls. Steeling herself, and remembering her scaling training she tightened her hold on the rope, and placed her feet against the cold stone of the wall. The first step was doable, the second step took everything out of her. She held onto the rope with everything she had and tried to catch her breath. She had so much farther to go and the window seemed like a distant goal.

“Breathe Zelda, strengthen your core and keep your eyes on the next spot up the rope. I know you can do this.” Zelda slowed her breath. She thought of Hilda, of her father, of that day. She felt the rage burning in her stomach, she had to get out of here. She would not die in a prison in the desert, she would get revenge. Focusing she started to scale the wall. With every grip of the rope her arms burned all the way to her shoulder blades. Her lungs fought against the extraneous activity. Her mind cleared as she began to concentrate only on making it out. The only thing she could think about was the laughing man. The man she would kill.

Reaching the window ledge she grabbed the outstretched hands of the masked person. The window had always seemed so small and tightly barred from the floor, but once up the wall the window was much larger than she had anticipated, and while it was a tight fit through the bars with some struggle they managed to get her out.

The masked woman stood a head taller than Zelda, white hair pulled back into a top knot. She was dressed in form fitting wear the color of the night sky. Even with her face hidden behind a mask Zelda knew exactly who it was.

“Impa!” She fell into her friend’s arms. And the weight of everything that had happened, the excitement of what was to come, the feeling of fresh air on her skin, caused Zelda to burst into tears. Sinking into the familiar feel of Impa’s body Zelda sobbed, her breath coming in ragged gasps. She couldn’t stop and continued to cry until Impa finally lifted her from the ground and started to carry her away as if she was a baby.

“Where are we going?” Zelda held onto Impa, feeling awkward. Impa moved with a powerful grace through the sands, seemingly unburdened by Zelda’s weight. She remained silent as she ran across the dunes The desert air was frigid and Zelda found herself shivering. Impa tightened her grip around her, an attempt to keep her warm. She found herself drifting off in Impa’s bosom, the rhythmic sound of her running clearing Zelda’s mind of any thoughts.

***

“Poor child, look at her, all skin and bones.” A woman ran her hand around Zelda’s cheek. It was a firm, and yet gentle hand, much larger than Zelda’s own hands. She could feel the calluses of someone who has worked hard their entire life. “They really kept her down in those dungeons for a whole year.”

Zelda tried to feign sleeping, she didn’t recognize this woman’s voice, and wanted to hear everything they had to say before she let them know she was awake.

“With my crippled intelligence it took me far too long to figure out which prison they had put her in.” This was Impa speaking now. “It took us forever to even confirm that she was alive. The suffering she must have endured-”

“Do not blame yourself, Impa.” The other woman took her hand from Zelda’s face. “We must put our trust in that everything happens for a reason. The good and the bad. You did what you could, and the princess is in our possession now. There is still a long road ahead of us, and what she will face in the future will surely be harder than what she faced in the past.”

What did they have planned for her? A whole year she had been in that prison cell, rotting away. What had happened in that time? What of her sister? What of the castle?

“She’s awake.” Zelda didn’t know how Impa could tell but she knew.

“Try to rest your head, child, do not get up too fast, or overexert yourself.” The other woman leaned in close. She was large, larger than even Impa, a Gerudo woman with warm skin and hair the color of radiant flames. Her soft moss colored eyes belied the rest of her rugged appearance. She motioned towards Impa, now maskless, but still in the midnight blue shozoku, who scrambled to bring a jug of water from the far side of the room. The Gerudo woman held it to Zelda’s parched lips and let her drink at her own pace.

The water was so cold and refreshing, Zelda hadn’t drank anything like it in so long. She soon began to chug it, wanting to fill her body with as much of the wonderful liquid as possible. The woman pulled the jug away before Zelda choked. With a reassuring hand on her back, Zelda slowly sat up.

“You said I had been imprisoned for a year?” Impa nodded. “The treaty, it was a trap, a lie. They killed my father and took me away.” She couldn’t get that memory out of her head. Her father bleeding out on the floor, her scramble to attack the man, to exact revenge. The guards dragging her away. “The Gerudo betrayed us.”

Impa’s eyes, intense and the color of burning coals, shot to the Gerudo woman beside Zelda. But the woman said nothing and let Zelda continue.

“What has happened while I was imprisoned? Did they crown my sister? Are we at war with the Gerudo?”

“We need to meet with Lady Riju.” was all that Impa replied. Getting up she helped Zelda to her feet, and the Gerudo woman took her leave ahead of them to inform Riju of their attendance.

Once alone, Impa turned away from Zelda, staring into the fire burning in the center of the room. A small pot boiled with what looked like a thick stew over it. “Things are a lot more complicated than you think.”

“How are they complicated? The Gerudo betrayed us, killed my father, lied to us, imprisoned me.”

“Do not speak ill of an entire people your highness.” Impa turned back to Zelda, her eyes stern, and mouth pulled taught. “The man you saw, he’s something beyond what any of us could have imagined. He is a demon, a dark god. He manipulated the Gerudo, manipulated the King, manipulated me. He started this dark path. Do not blame the Gerudo for that. When he rose an army and marched against Hyrule, it was the Gerudo that stood against him first.”

Impa sighed. “The Duke of Akkala gave the throne to that man as soon as he arrived at the castle gates, but you surely don’t blame all Hylians for his power now.”

“You’re…” Zelda was being brash, a fool. Even she knew that, but she had been locked up so long. Alone for so long that all she had was her anger and her sadness as company. “You’re right, I’m sorry Impa.”

“If he has taken the castle where is my sister? Where is Hilda?” Like bile rising the back of her throat Zelda was filled with horror of what happened to her family.

Impa didn’t reply at first, trying to avoid Zelda’s gaze. “We don’t know.”

“You don’t know? So she could be in the dungeon like me? She could still be alive.”

“The castle is different now, your highness, it has been twisted by dark magic. My agents cannot reach it, we have no intel on what is happening inside.” The apprehension in Impa’s voice carried how much of a failure she felt in the situation.

“We need to figure out how to get inside. We have to save Hilda!”

“Lady Riju is waiting in the ruins.” The Gerudo woman returned. Impa nodded, and ushered Zelda out of the room. From outside she could see what had looked like a tent on the inside, with multi-colored fabrics layering themselves around the walls and ceiling, was actually a cave. They were in a community of caves that were connected by ladders and rope bridges built into the side of a great plateau, looking out into the Gerudo Desert.

“Where are we?” Zelda asked.

“This is the hideout of the Resistance.” The Gerudo woman explained. “Those of us that stood with our chieftain, and refused the corruption of Dragmire, were banished from our cities. We came here to gather our forces and to become powerful enough to overthrow the false chieftain.”

Down and around the mesa they stepped carefully around the stone path that wrapped itself along the edge of the plateau and provided steady footing against the sand. The Gerudo lead the way followed by Zelda, with Impa taking up the rear. The feeling of the sun beating down on them was welcomed by Zelda. As hot as it felt on her skin it was a reminder of freedom. For her whole life she had felt that being in those castle walls were a prison, if she had only known.

Around the corner of the plateau they were greeted by great and massive ruins. Zelda’s breath caught in her throat. Seven statues rose from the dunes, reaching for the blinding sun. Each standing hundreds of feet tall, Zelda had never seen anything like them. Powerful women wearing ornate headpieces and resting her hands on sword hilts that drove into the earth, the statues were awe inspiring. Standing in the center of the circle two Gerudo women turned to the three of them as they entered the ruins.

On the left was the shortest Gerudo Zelda had seen, standing shorter than even herself, and yet carried a regality and authority she seemed much larger. Her crimson hair was pulled into a golden headpiece, flowing almost to the ground behind her. She watched Zelda closely with jade eyes that narrowed in a casual intelligence. To her right stood another Gerudo, closer in height to the woman that was in front of Zelda, her hair pulled up into a severe high ponytail. Her crossed arms made her seem much more guarded.

“Greetings young princess,” The smaller of the two started. She was wrapped in a pine colored cloak that swirled in the desert wind. “I am Riju, Chieftain of the Gerudo, it’s a pleasure to have you here, alive and well.”

Now standing before them Zelda was taken aback by how young Riju was. She was the smallest Gerudo she had ever seen because she was a child and Zelda had never seen Gerudo children before. How was this child in charge of the Gerudo? She seemed even younger than Zelda herself!

“I am Princess Zelda Hyrule. I want to thank you for assisting my bodyguard in helping me escape.” Giving the respect needed in the situation she bowed to Riju.

“Of course, Impa has been priceless to our operations here. And we have been waiting for you for a long time.” Riju made the distance across the circle to Zelda, taking her hands in her own. “I am so glad you’re alive.” The larger Gerudo woman placed a hand on Riju’s shoulder, to pull her away and to a safe distance. “Do not worry, Nabooru, I believe in our friend Zelda.”

“Believe in me?” Zelda felt so out of her water, like everyone around her knew more than she.

“Do you know where we stand?” Riju motioned to the sentinels towering over them.

“I have never been to the Gerudo Desert before, I’m sorry but I’m not familiar with any of this.”

“These are the Seven Heroines.” The Gerudo that had been there when Zelda awoke, informed her.

“Correct, Urbosa.” Riju nodded. “The Seven Heroines have protected the Gerudo people for centuries. They saved us when the Demon King came to our people aeons ago. We need these Seven Heroines now, but we cannot stand idly by, waiting for them to rescue us. We must gather the Heroines and save our lands from the Demon King.”

“This aligns itself with the legend of the Seven Sages in Hyrule.” Impa explained. “Whenever the kingdom falls into darkness the Seven Sages are gathered to bring in the light.”

“But what does this have to do with me?” Zelda wondered.

“In the stories it’s a princess of Hyrule who unites the Sages.” Impa interjected. “You, your highness, are the Princess of Hyrule.”

Zelda looked around at the seven statues, wearing with age and the harsh winds of the desert their faces had become indistinguishable from each other. Powerful women from the history of this land, not heroes in green, but heroines. “The Seven Heroines, huh?”

“They represent skill, spirit, endurance, knowledge, flight, motion and gentleness.” Riju followed Zelda’s gaze upward. “They represent the Gerudo’s ability to save themselves. They represent home. This is why we chose to place our hideout so close to the ruins.”

“I wouldn’t even know where to begin looking for these Seven Heroines.” Zelda shook her head, what were they expecting of her? She knew nothing of life outside Hyrule Castle, or her prison. How’d they expect her to accomplish this?

“The Seven Sages of Hyrule myth are connected to seven shrines. Powerful places of prayer and belief that attract their spirits.” Impa explained. “And there was once one of those temples here in the Gerudo Desert.”

“‘Once’ is the key factor in that statement.” Riju continued. “During Hyrule’s first occupation of our lands they tore our temple, the Spirit Temple, down and replaced it with an Arbiter’s Grounds to persecute our people.” Zelda had never heard of that. Never learned that in all her studies. Did Hyrule really do that? She had known that at one point Hyrule had owned the Gerudo Desert before the Gerudo themselves had risen up and seceded from the country, though that was long before she or even her father had been born. What other horrible things had they done to the Gerudo? “Either way, young princess, it will be the best place to start your search.”

“Don’t worry, your highness, I will be accompanying you on your quest.” Impa assured. Zelda smiled at her, at least that was good news. She had missed Impa so much, it filled her heart to overflowing to just be around her again.

“As will I.” Urbosa placed a warm hand on Zelda’s shoulder.

“We will also be sending Nabooru with you.” Riju added. A fact that Nabooru didn’t not seem to know.

“Lady Riju! I can’t possi-”

“Worry not, Nabooru, I have Buliara, I will be fine.” Riju waved her hand and took Nabooru’s reassuringly. “We are in dark times, and we cannot sit idly by, we must fight for our freedom. It is the Gerudo way. You hold such pride in your heart, you are a beacon of the Gerudo, and you will represent our people.”

“Very well Chief.” Nabooru bowed and joined Impa and Urbosa beside Zelda.

“Now, let’s get you rested and fed as well as equipped. You will head out this evening once the sun has set. May the moon guide your path true and clear. You are our hero, young princess, and we are depending on you to stop the Demon Lord from casting his dark shadow across all this land.”

Chapter Text

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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“I walked among you.” She is the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. Powerful, elegant and serene.

“I walked among you and I saved you.” You know who she is. You’ve always heard the stories, the secret prayers, the effigies in elder women’s homes. And yet her name dare not pass their lips.

“These lands were once fertile, emerald green. But they placed a curse upon us. The land died and with it our people. I came bringing the protection of serpents. Those knowledgeable in surviving the harsh conditions before us. They taught us how to gather food, how to withstand the heat and how to use the sands to our advantage.”

Her vestige grows and is even more beautiful. This time beautiful in it’s darkness and terribleness. And you tremble before her.

“Our serpents were considered vile by the colonizers. You let them destroy my effigies. You let them hide my temple and punish our people. You let them replace me with the three strumpets of the Triforce. And our people have been cursed ever since.”

Snakes bite and hiss and everything grows dark.

“Do not let them destroy our people like they destroyed me.”

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Chapter 3

 

Arbiter’s Grounds

 

“I managed to collect these for you. These are what lead me to believe that you were alive.” Impa brought out a familiar case and quiver as well as a sheathed blade. Zelda couldn’t believe her eyes, they were her belongings. She pulled her bow from its case to inspect it, the kokiri book fell from the case as well. She knelt to pick it up, remembering that library from a year ago, the secret Sheikah tunnels in the castle, her sister Hilda.

“Impa, Hilda and I found these secret passages in the castle. They lead to a library filled with the Sheikah crest.” Impa didn’t even have to answer for Zelda to know. It had been kept from her, Impa had known about them the whole time. She couldn’t face the fact that there were secrets being kept from her by Impa. Instead she slipped the book back into the case and took her weapons.

“There are a lot of things you aren’t privy to yet, your- Zelda.” Impa started. “I know this is difficult for you. The path ahead will be harder than what you’ve faced so far. Not everything has been revealed to you as of yet, and I promise you, by the end you will know everything.”

Turning back to her confidant Zelda snapped. “I’ve trusted you, trusted you my whole life, and yet now I find out that you’re hiding things from me. What else don’t I know? What else are you lying about?”

Impa slapped her. The sound echoed around the room, and reverberated in Zelda’s skull. She couldn’t believe it. “I am indentured to you for life, but my life does not belong to you. The time for entitlement is over. I care for you, I will defend you with my very being, but do not question my loyalty or intents again.”

Zelda was stunned silent. Never had someone spoken to her that way, not even Hilda. Instead she made her way out of the cave, hiding the tears that welled in her eyes. Perhaps she was being spoiled…

***

The moon cast effervescent light upon the dunes. Animals of the night singing their call, and the drum of horse hooves making a steady melody in the darkness. The four horse riders galloped across the desert, a cloud of sift trailing behind them.

Zelda pulled her wrappings tighter. They had outfitted her with traditional Gerudo sherwhal and poncho that she used to keep out the night air. Impa had also changed from her shozoku into a simple Sheikah robe and cape that Zelda had seen her in before. Zelda touched her cheek, remembering their conversation before.

Urbosa lead the ride, with Impa and Nabooru riding on either side of Zelda. Nabooru had warned them to keep their eyes peeled for enemies, the desert was currently overrun with enemies. From Gerudo who served Dragmire, to the Yiga clan who based themselves out of the Mesas of Doubt, and the Bulblin Raiders that Dragmire had apparently given full run of the lands of Hyrule. Even with Nabooru’s warnings the ride to the Arbiter’s Grounds, while stressful was uneventful.

Rising out of the sand and eclipsing part of the moon the Arbiter’s Grounds were like a dying Tower of Babylon. A construction of superimposed arcades that spiraled up to an amphitheatre topped with seven pillars each with a crest of the Seven Sages and the Hylian royal crest. Even though it was known to be abandoned a soft light emanated from the top of the structure.

Urbosa pulled her horse to a rest beside an outcropping of large boulders that greeted them before the ruins.

“It will be better to head from here on foot.” She declared. They all unmounted and tied off their horses near an overhang that would hopefully keep them somewhat hidden from enemy eyes. Scaling the boulders Nabooru stopped them before they could travel farther.

“Urbosa, do you see that?” Urbosa held Zelda down.

“Smoke.”

“Bulblins, I can smell them.” Nabooru hefted her glaive. Zelda had seen all three women with their weapons, but while Urbosa was playful and Impa was strict, Nabooru wielded her glaive with a power and strength that Zelda admired. Nabooru fought with a drive to protect her people and way of life that made her glaive seem like a extension of her stout arms.

Zelda and Impa both strung their bows as Nabooru explored ahead. Returning Nabooru motioned them to follow her.

“They have made an encampment of the surrounding grounds. We’re going to have to make it past them if we are to get it into the Arbiter’s Grounds.” Nabooru debriefed in a hurried whisper.

The closer they got the more Zelda was hit with the stink of the Bulblins, like unwashed leather and decaying meat, it made her stomach churn. As the tents came into view she saw the pig-like goblin people, the color of wilting leaves and mold they scrambled around the campground fighting over food and sleeping spots. There were more than she was expecting, over a hundred, with a similar amount of warboars tethered in makeshift stables throughout the camp. The whole scene lit from above by the soft ambient light of the Arbiter’s Grounds.

“How are we possibly going to get through so many?” Zelda asked. The grounds were crawling the bulblins.

“I believe I can help with this.” Urbosa winked at her. “But we’re going to have to move quickly.”

Bracing themselves for a run, Urbosa snapped her fingers and on cue a lightning bolt struck the encampment far to their right. The light blinded Zelda. Blinking away the white that stained her vision, she saw that the others were already running. Taking off after them she watched as the bulblin camp was thrown into chaos. Fires started to erupt among the tents and wooden fences. Bulblins ran for the source of the lightning strike, leaving the camp by the entrance of the ruins abandoned.

But not entirely abandoned. As her companions sprinted ahead she watched as a handful of bulblins spotted them and started their direction. Knocking an arrow she took careful aim as she ran, taking in the desert wind and remembering her training she let the arrow fly true. Striking the bulblin just as it jumped towards Nabooru, the bulblin spun out, knocking out a second one.

“Nice shot kid!” Nabooru exclaimed, clearly impressed. She swung her glaive, cleaving a third bulblin that rushed her. The four of them hastened as the gates to the Arbiter’s Grounds drew closer. Urbosa fought off bulblin with a spinning scimitar and a smirk, Impa let arrows fly clearing the path.

Nabooru reached the gates first, using all her strength to push them open. The muscles in her shoulders and back rippling against the weight. “Run! Run!” She hollered as the rest of them sprinted past her. Urbosa and Nabooru slammed the gates shut again. Urbosa hummed a spell and the gates were sealed.

“That should afford us enough time to find what we need.” Urbosa smiled proudly.

Zelda’s blood rushed, her breath ragged. She had never done something like that in her entire life. It was exhilarating. Horrifying, but exhilarating. She hugged Urbosa, who while surprised, picked her up in a hug. “You did wonderful young one.”

Setting her back on her feet they looked around the antichamber around them. A large circular room, a ten-foot statue was built on a dais on the far side. A woman sitting cross legged with serpents intertwined her body, the detailing and gold inlay showed that she was carved by someone who loved the subject. Nabooru stood at the foot of the statue staring up silently.

“Who was she?” Zelda wondered, coming to stand next to Nabooru. She remained silent, and looking at her Zelda saw tears streaming down her face. Urbosa joined them, sympathetically gripping Nabooru’s shoulder.

“No matter what they’ve done, she’s still watching over us.”

Nabooru shrugged her off. “What do you know about anything, betrayer?” She stormed off towards the stairwell spiraling out of sight to their left. Zelda began to follow, but Urbosa held her back.

“Worry not about Nabooru, child, she is valid in her anger.” Urbosa sighed and turned to Impa. “What do you think? Up or down?”

“She went towards the basement, let’s cover more grown and head upwards.” Taking the stairwell to their right, Zelda watched them disappear around the bend. She turned instead and followed Nabooru.

The stone steps slowly spiraled into a lower chamber. Cast in darkness Zelda couldn’t see much outside a bobbing orange light ahead. Nabooru was holding a torch over her head across the chamber, peering at hieroglyphics on the wall. Following the light in the darkness Zelda walked out into room, something felt off, making her skin crawl and her hair stand on end. The feeling of being watched couldn’t be shaked. Stumbling, a clacking brought Nabooru’s attention. Looking down at what she tripped over Zelda screamed at the sight of bones scattered across the floor.

“Kid! Why did you follow me?” Nabooru joined Zelda in the center of the room. “You have to be careful, there are dark spirits here.”

“What happened here?”

“Don’t worry about it. But spirits tortured and unjustly murdered reside in this haunted place. If we linger too long in one place, or make too much noise we could draw attention.” Nabooru took Zelda’s hand, leading her to the wall she had been inspecting earlier. “This wall looks different than the others, as if it had been built more recently. The writing here is in Gerudo… but it’s not written in a way we would write it.”

“What does it say?” Zelda ran her fingers over the engravings, she was unfamiliar with the Gerudo language outside the few phrases she had learned for political sake.

“‘The Sword of the Thief Lord, cursed and sealed, must remain bound here for eternity.’” Nabooru held the torch higher above her head to illuminate the wall. “It’s as if they wanted this to appear as part of the original structure, but this was definitely built by the colonizers.”

Zelda watched Nabooru’s face as she spoke. The pain that the Hylians had caused the Gerudo was clearly still fresh for her. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the atrocities my people have done.”

“Your apologies do nothing. Our pain is great and it is deep, words cannot fix what has been done.” Zelda fell silent. Nabooru, realizing how harsh she sounded paused to gather her thoughts. “I was named after a great Gerudo hero. Nabooru had helped a Hylian hero from ages past and helped free our people of the clutches of a demon. My mother raised me to know our peoples’ history, to know their stories and legends. That is why these ruins hurt me so. This was no simple ‘Spirit Temple’. This was once our greatest monument, made to our savior goddess. The erasure of the temple represents the erasure of my culture. But the twisting of our place of worship to a place of suffering and execution is truly the most heartbreaking thing. It burns me to my core.” Nabooru held Zelda’s chin, lifting her face. “But I do not blame you, these things happened long before either of us were born and I know that your apology is heartfelt, and I thank you for that.”

Zelda nodded and turned back to the wall. “There is a crest here, one of the royal family.” Nabooru was shocked by the revelation. It was carved so lightly in the bricks, shallower than the text around it, sand had filled it, making it almost invisible. Stepping forward Zelda began to sing, a song she had been taught before she could even walk. A song her mother had taught her. A song she knew to sing when she saw the crest. Glowing gold, the crest lit up the room, and then, brick by brick the wall folded away to reveal a sunken room beyond.

“You keep finding ways to impress me, kid.” Nabooru chuckled. “How did you know to do that?”

“My mother was not of the Hylian royal family, and never fully trusted them. She learned this song, something passed through generations in the royal family. She taught it to my sister and I and told us if there ever came a time that we felt locked away to sing it and the door would open.” It felt weird to talk about her mother. She hadn’t realized how much they had stopped mentioning her mother after her passing.

The room beyond was circular like the antichamber above. But instead of a floor, the room sank away into a sand pit. A large jagged sword was shoved into the center of the sand pit, chains and seals covering every inch of the blade. It was bigger than any sword Zelda had ever seen, it would take a giant of a man to wield it. The blade alone must have measured 5 feet. Stepping closer to it, she could make out that the blade was entirely black, darker than onyx. She had never seen seals written like the ones on this blade, nearing it she ran a hand over the heavy chains.

On touch they faded from existence. Not just the chain she touched but every chain holding the sword down.

“What did you do?” Nabooru yelled.

“I-I just touched them!” Zelda scrambled back up the sand. The sword began to radiate with a dark power, something like glowing but with the absence of light. Shaking violently it lifted itself from the sand pit, and doing so seeming uncorked the pit, letting the sand become a spiraling vortex beneath Zelda’s feet. Nabooru’s strong hands grabbed Zelda and pulled her out before she was sucked below.

A cackle from above drew their attention. The sword hovered in the air, and perched atop of it was a lanky jester. His skin was an unnatural color and he wore an outlandish bodysuit, looking alien in every way.

“I must thank you ever so much, it’s been far too long trapped in that form.” The strange man laughed again, something creepy and unsettling. He flipped his white bob and leaned in to get a better look at his saviors. “Now how shall I reward you wonderful heroes?” He sang.

“Oh I know, by killing you!” He cackled as his sword flew at Zelda and Nabooru. They both made a sprint back for the stairs. But the sword wasn’t the only thing that had awaken in the ruins. The room behind them was now shuffling and creaking with bones as skeletons lumbered about, reaching out blindly.

Nabooru made deft work with her glaive, swinging it back and forth to clear a path for them. Zelda drew her rapier, bracing herself against the onslaught of scratching claws and grasping hands. Reaching the stairs and Zelda’s heart beating in her throat, they lunged up the steps, taking them 3 or 4 at a time. Right behind them the eccentric demon crashed into the base of the stairs with the gargantuan sword.

Back in the entrance they bolted for the stairs leading up. Zelda could hear the sound of the bulblin outside the gates trying to force their way in. The sound of their scratching claws ringing in Zelda’s ears. She dared not turn around, the tittering of their assailant echoed behind them, spurning her on. Up the second flight of stairs they arrived at the amphitheatre of the Arbiter’s Grounds. Ahead, standing on a dais in the center of the stage floor, Impa and Urbosa stared ponderingly down at whatever was carved into the floor.

“We have to get out of here!” Nabooru called. Their companions turned in their direction. Urbosa immediately drew her scimitar and buckler.

“What happened?” Impa asked.

“I’m so sorry, I’ve awakened something deep in this place, something wicked and powerful.” Zelda heaved. She placed her hands on her knees trying to catch her breath. “This is all my fault, I was so stupid.”

“Where did he go? He was right on our tails.” Nabooru raised her glaive to the entrance defensively, waiting for their attacker.

“What foul demon are we dealing with?” Urbosa inquired.

As if on cue beneath them the floor burst open, showering stone and debris everywhere. The familiar sinister cackle and the man levitated into view on his sword. Flipping his hair he licked his lips with an unnaturally long tongue.

“Oh ho ho ho! This was a lot more fun than I anticipated. And now there’s more of you to kill!” He jumped off the onyx blade and hovered in the air above it. With a swing of his arm the sword followed suit, swiping at Urbosa. Jumping back she tried parrying the attack with who own blade. The blow sent her tumbling across the floor.

“Who are you, monster?” Nabooru charged the sword.

“Me? I’m Ghirahim, but you may call me by my full title, Lord Ghirahim.” He laughed as he swung his arm, the blade swinging towards Nabooru. Colliding with her she was thrown across the theatre. “Or not, I’m not picky.”

Impa let three arrows fly, but Ghirahim was too fast blocking them with the flat of the sword. He swung it again at Urbosa who had gotten to her feet, bloodied but still battle ready. While he was distracted Zelda also shot an arrow at him, this time flying true and striking him in the shoulder.

“How dare you?” He flew towards her himself, but slowed as he got a good look at her. “You, you look familiar. You’re someone Master will want dead.” laughing boisterously he raised his arm, bringing the giant sword over their heads. Closing her eyes Zelda waited for the final blow, instead she was shoved aside. Nabooru had jumped in the way of the blade, taking the full attack in her chest. The sword seemed to cleave her from collar to the base of her spine, but it did not budge from where it was.

“NABOORU!” Urbosa screamed, running for her companion.

No blood drained from her body, instead light, pure and golden seeped from her wounds. Still she stood there, sword lodged in her chest and feet spread apart, not collapsing, not weakening.

“No, Nabooru, why? Why would you do this?” Zelda sobbed, shaking her. Gripping her and trying to pull her free from the sword.

Above them Ghirahim was screaming “No! No! No!”

“Look at that, I was the Heroine of Spirit the whole time.” Nabooru coughed, light shining from her mouth. Her voice was so hoarse and weak.

“What do you mean? You can’t do this, you can’t die now!” Zelda screamed. “We need you Nabooru.”

“Impa, I have this fool, but I don’t know how long I can hold him here. Take them and get out of here.” Nabooru slowly turned to face Urbosa, her eyes now two beacons of light. “And I’m sorry, please protect the kid for me.” Urbosa nodded tears streaming down her face. She grabbed Zelda around the waist and sprinted for Impa.

“This is fine, this is FINE!” Ghirahim shouted. He started laughing again. “I’m impressed you’ve managed to do this, but she can’t hold me here forever, and once I return to Master. Then it’ll be over for you!” His cackling was the last thing Zelda heard as Impa pulled a contraption of her her side bag and jammed it into the bricks of the theatre, she release it and a cord shot out, wedging itself amongst the rocks outside the bulblin encampment. Pulling off her cape she ziplined down. Urbosa ripped off part of her skirt and wrapped her hand in it. With Zelda still under her arm she zipped down the line and crashed into the rocks below.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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You had siblings once. Have siblings. No one knows that. There were three of you once. Are three of you. No one knows that. 

But not here. Not in this memory, in the one before, or the one before before. One memory from before your family, before your home. That was when you had siblings. Have siblings. 

You were the oldest of four. You are the oldest of four.

Every single one of you have been punished, have been chained, have been locked away. You haven’t seen your siblings in millennia, you will never see your siblings again. 

People hate what they do not understand. People destroy what they hate.

You had siblings once. You have siblings.

You will never see them again.

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Chapter 4

 

Gerudo Canyon Pass

Urbosa’s hand was badly shredded, Zelda gently cleaned the wound and wrapped it in bandages. Holding the Gerudo’s hand in her own she concentrated on how small her hands seemed in Urbosa’s. She was so small and worthless, she couldn’t save anyone, she couldn’t even save the very heroines she was suppose to be finding.

“Don’t look like that.” Urbosa ran her free hand around Zelda’s cheek, wiping away a tear. “You did great back there.”

“Nabooru is dead, and it’s all my fault, I broke the seals on that monster. I opened the secret door. I killed her.” Zelda began to cry freely now. The light shining in from the windows reflected off her tears casting them in silver. 

“You did no such thing. Nabooru had a warrior’s death, the greatest honor any Gerudo could ask for.” Urbosa smiled wide, hiding her own tears. “And she ascended as the Heroine of Spirit, that is a wonderful thing.”

“So much is expected of me, and yet I seem to fail at every turn.” Zelda watched her tears as they dripped into her hands, folded in her lap. “I can’t find the Heroines, I can’t defeat this villain, I can’t rule Hyrule once I return to the castle. It should have been Hilda here.”

“I want to tell you a story, sweet child. You see I was once in your predicament as well. For, I am Lady Riju’s sister.” Zelda blinked back tears to look up at Urbosa. “When our mother died, it was I who was supposed to take the role of Chieftain. It was I that was supposed to lead our people. But I did not want to rule.” 

Urbosa turned away from her, her eyes staring not out the window, but instead to distant memories. Her hands clenched at her side. “In my heart I knew I was not a ruler, I knew I would lead my people astray. You see, my heart belongs to the sky and the earth. Just as my lightning strikes from one to the other I must strike out on the road. Riju, from a young age was quick witted, was intelligent, cunning, was everything I wasn’t.

“To the chagrin of our elders I abdicated the throne. Riju was destined for that position and I left Gerudo Town for the road. Nabooru and Buliara were there to help Riju grow into the role, and despite what has happened-” Urbosa paused, “Actually in light of what has happened Riju was the better choice.

“Everyday I feel regret leaving her there so young, but she’s the best Chief we’ve ever had, better even than our mother. If anyone can lead a rebellion against Dragmire it’s Riju.”

Zelda could tell the actions still hurt her, no matter what she claimed. Abdication wasn’t something she ever thought of doing, she didn’t even think it was an option. Hilda should be the ruler of Hyrule, they were twins, it wouldn’t be so strange. 

But, remembering her father’s last words, she knew she couldn’t do it now.

“All the preparations have been made.” Impa informed, leaning into the room. We leave within the hour.” Urbosa made a sweep of the room, packing their meager belongings. 

“There’s one more thing, I’ve procured disguises for the two of you. Before we make it to Kolomo you will have to change. While in Hyrule we must keep a low profile, our cover is that we’re pilgrims, traveling to the holy sites.” 

Outside the oasis was bustling with business. Beneath the beating sun sellers called their wares, haggled prices, and herded animals. It reminded Zelda of watching Castletown from her window during market days. The pool in the center of town was the main draw, a location of sustenance and hope in a harsh, barren environment. The water brought with it a menagerie of patrons, enemies and allies, seemingly at a truce for a chance of rest. Most of the shops and inns were ran by Gerudo, with Hylians, Gorons, Bulblins, and a race Zelda had never seen before, but Urbosa called them the Zuna. As Gorons were large and round, like the very boulders they ate to survive, the Zuna were small, quiet, swabbed in robes and khimar. They spoke mostly amongst each other, emerald faces turned inward and away from the others.

“You really shouldn’t stare.” Impa muttered to Zelda. She quickly averted her gaze, turning back to her steed. “Though no blame really falls on you.” Impa helped Zelda up into her saddle. “I have only heard of them in books and legends. It was assumed they were extinct. Yet, when Dragmire appeared he came with the Zuna from the Desert of Doubt.” 

As they rode out of Kara Kara Bazaar Zelda thought of the Zuna. An extinct race hiding in the windswept dunes of the desert. And the Bulblin, a race recognized by Hylians as raiders and monsters, and yet under Dragmire they exist in harmony with the other peoples. 

“It will be a day’s ride until we reach Kolomo, before we reach the gatetown, we will have to pass the Gerudo Fortress, and it will be difficult to get by without being caught.” Impa explained. 

Ahead and above, the mesas that surrounded the Gerudo Desert reached out, forming a land bridge, making a natural gate, their road winding through the canyon beneath the gate. Wind howled through the canyon as they rode forward. No other travels ventured through the pass. They made no effort to stop, instead choosing to eat atop their horses and push forward through the day.

“I’m sorry, Impa.” Zelda pulled her steed towards Impa’s. “I’m sorry for how childish I’ve been acting, it’s not very dignified of me.”

Impa gazed at Zelda, the bottom of her face was obscured by the high collar of her cape, but her eyes were soft. “I must apologize as well my liege. I acted out of hand, and I am as much to blame as you. Just know that what I do, I do for you. I have known you almost your entire life, I have devoted all those years to you and your family. I will continue to devote my years to you.”

Zelda knew that on this journey there was no one that she could trust more than Impa. Her best friend, her confidant, her partner. 

They continued their travels in silence. Zelda chose to start reading the tome on the Kokiri. She had never known much about the Kokiri, ageless children forest spirits. She had grown up thinking they were fairy tales, stories told to kids. But the book was clearly written by someone who had known them. Pictures scrawled across the pages, drawings of children in green, their measurements, and their names notated beside them. The book was written by Rauru Gaebora, some anthropologist from ancient Hyrule. Not only had he written the book but his own notes on his work were scribbled everywhere in the margins. He kept looking for the link to something, but Zelda couldn’t extrapolate what the link was between.

As dusk settled around them Urbosa slowed their march. The air was growing heavy, thick with humidity, a stark contrast to the desert air from the morning. Looking to the sky, sinking from orange to pink, to purple, to the cool indigo of night, a huge statue, appearing as a kneeling camel, formed out of the stone atop the plateaus. It glew with a pale cyan light. Zelda remembered having seen it when she had traveled into the Gerudo lands with her father’s entourage over a year ago.

“Nabooris, the guardian of our people.” Urbosa explained, no question needing be asked. “Our legends speak of a powerful heroine that navigated that beast to assist a hylian hero in defeating a monster that threatened all our lands. It was stories of this heroine that inspired me to love the road and the adventure brought with it. I aspire to be as powerful as her one day.” Urbosa winked at Zelda. 

“We’re reaching the fortress.” Impa interrupted, her voice calm but deadly serious. “The only way in or out is across the River of the Dead, and past the Gerudo Fortress. Since the fall of the Hylian family they’ve become much stricter with who passes through. If word has already gotten out of your escape, your highness, we will have a hard time getting through.”

She dismounted and walked over, handing Urbosa and Zelda folded papers. “These are our travel papers, allowing us passage, if they ask any questions you are Laroba and Seres, I am Telma, we are travelling pilgrims. Do not say anymore than you have to. The more you lie the larger hole you dig for all of us to fall in.” 

Back on her horse they neared the fortress, an imposing building of stacked buildings and towers built directly into the cliff face. Armed Gerudo stalked the walls, watching the path and the few travellers gathering around the bridge. Beside the Gerudo were people dressed in red with light armor and faces obscured behind masks. Their masks were immediately recognizable to Zelda, being the sheikah eye but inverted. Who were these guards? They never interacted with the Gerudo, but kept a close eye on the proceedings below. 

They lined up at the gate before the large slated bridge that spanned out over the ravine that the River of the Dead snaked through beneath them. A caravan was coming into the canyon, and currently the Gerudo inspectors were speaking with the owners. After a long questioning they let the caravan in, and turned to Impa, leading their procession. They inspected her papers then let her through. They didn’t even ask Urbosa for hers, waving her along with Impa. Zelda breathed a sigh of relief, they were going to get through without much trouble.

“Papers.” The Gerudo on her right, a large, imposing woman with broad shoulders held out her hand. Zelda fumbled to get the forms Impa had given her out of her saddle bag. Handing it over the inspector looked it over, reading every single line. “What was your business in the Gerudo Desert?”

“Pilgrimage.” Zelda didn’t break eye contact with her. She could feel her heartbeat behind her ears, but was determined to not falter. 

The inspector narrowed her eyes. “Where are you heading to from here, Seres?” 

“Hebra region.” Zelda’s palms were slick with sweat but she gripped her reins and didn’t budge. The Gerudo’s eyes drifted up towards the fortress, looking for something over Zelda’s shoulder. She tried to regulate her breathing, counting in her head over and over. They were going to catch her. They stood there in stalemate, until the inspector turned her attention back to her.

“Safe travels, Seres.” 

All Zelda could do was nod in disbelief. Quickly driving her horse ahead she met the others on the bridge where they were waiting for her. Once with them they said nothing and sped across the sound of the river far below, and their horses’ hooves on wood clearing Zelda’s mind. 

On the far side of the bridge they were greeted by a rock outcropping and the road curved off to the right. As the sun finished setting, covering them in darkness and starlight, they rode along, the stone formation to their left and the ravine to their right. 

Just as Zelda was beginning to doze off in her saddle they reach Kolomo Gatetown. No lights greeted them, there were no sounds of people or animals, just the song of grasshoppers and starlight. 

At one point Kolomo had been the sister city to the Gerudo Fortress, resting on the Hyrulian side of the river those passing into the desert rested and prepared for the travels forward. But now it was nothing. Half crumbled buildings and burnt signposts littered the alcove the town occupied between the rock outcropping, the ravine and the forest beyond. The large archway that once stood at the entrance to town was now smashed and the large pieces of it were scattered across the road. As they entered Zelda bore witness to what had happened, while no bodies were left, rusted weapons rested in the overgrown grass. Arrows decorated the yards and roofs of the houses like odd gardens. 

A year ago Kolomo had been bustling, traders from all over gathered trading wares with the Gerudo. Families of soldiers, who trained in the nearby garrison, growing up amongst the foreigners. When her father’s caravan had passed through they had cheered and praised him and flew banners with the family crest. 

Now nothing remained but the shells of houses that were no longer homes. Was this Hyrule under that monster’s rule? How much more had her land suffered in the year she was imprisoned?

Impa unmounted near the scorched remains of what appeared to be a stable. Zelda and Urbosa followed suit. They made camp in one of the hollowed houses. Burning a fire in the hearth and rolling their cots on the floor in the living space. Zelda lay awake, the sound of Urbosa snoring gently and the crackle of fire should have lulled her off to sleep but after seeing the ruins of Kolomo she couldn’t get her eyes to remain shut.

Impa had first watch, sitting silently in a window, watching the nightlife outside. Zelda watched her shape in the window, sinewy and strong, Impa was the last of the Sheikah. She could never imagine what it was like to be the only remaining member of a whole people. What had happened to the rest of her family? Did Impa ever know her family, her clan?

What happened to the family that lived in this house? Had they escaped into the night? Running the the Gerudo invaders? Had they been slaughtered ruthlessly in their home? Were they given a proper burial?

Outside it started raining.

Chapter Text

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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You named her Oten, meaning Heaven, because she was a blessing. You didn’t know this could happen. That perhaps the curse prevented it. Your wife was radiant that day, glowing like the Goddess of the Sands. 

She had your eyes, even then you knew she’d be trouble. 

She would change the world, you knew it. It was Oten that brought laughter into the home. It was Oten who sang as the sun set, letting you know dinner was ready. Oten lead the locals in games of chance and jolly. She was an oasis, a garden. She was a cool breeze in the harsh sands. 

Even as your wife grew ill, even as her radiance diminished.  As she slowly faded from the light of life. Even then Oten was joy, she was love.

Oten reminded you of your humanity. She reminded you to forgive, to teach, to learn. When the darkness burned within you she held it at bay. 

When the anger blinded you, she helped you see. She was your answer. She was your peace. As long as she smiled you could be you and not you .

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Chapter 5

Hyrule Fields

 

The outfits Impa had purchased for them were odd, especially Urbosa, who ended up wearing a hylian men’s riding outfit. “You couldn’t believe how difficult finding Hylian garb in your size is.” Impa apologized. Zelda had a blue tunic with black pants and heavy boots. She pulled her hair back into a braid with Impa’s help. Sitting there as Impa braided her hair childhood nostalgia hit Zelda. Her and Hilda running around the castle, Impa following them. Impa teaching her sword fighting after she begged and begged for ages. Impa braiding her hair while she sat still on her bed gossiping with Hilda.

That life had felt like such a prison for so many years and yet now she’d give anything to relive those days.

“A day’s ride from here are the royal stables and Lon Lon Ranch. From there we’ll reach the Hyrule Garrison, Tabantha Village and the Hebra Provence.” Impa mounted her horse, and the other two followed suit. “The Temple of Light is rumored to be located near Rito Town. Hopefully within we’ll find clues to who the Sage of Light is.” 

Just north of the ruins of Kolomo Gate Town was the Kolomo Garrison, one of the three walled garrisons that surrounded Hyrule Fields and prevented Hyrule Castle from being invaded. As with the town the garrison was nothing more than overgrown ruins. It was funny to Zelda how quickly nature worked to take back the land that people stole from it. The barracks was empty, its roof collapsed in and all the windows dark. They made a wide trail around it, as from a distance Impa could see that it was over run with bulblins and their feral cousins bokoblins. 

From as far away as they were Zelda could still hear their grunting and squaking, followed by the smell of roasted meat- smelling sour and rancid. They did not pass through the garrison gate, instead cautiously walking their horses over rubble and through a large hole that had been blown through one of the walls. 

Hyrule Fields greeted them from he other side, a welcome sight to Zelda. Something familiar that felt like home. The road ahead twisted off the the west, following the Regencia River north. Central and southern Hyrule were the breadbasket of the country, covered in farmland and herding fields. Marching through they passed fields of wheat and beans, fully grown and ready to be harvested in the early autumn sunlight. They passed few travellers on the road, and those they did see never made eye contact, keeping their heads down and their gazes averted. Even the air seemed to be on edge, static with a nervous energy. 

Midday they stumbled upon a caravan set up on the side of the road, right where the road started to drift away from the river. Garishly painted in teals and greens, it was equally gaudy and endearing. A salesman called them over, trying to sell them his wares. Purchasing some food from him, a strange man with a bowl cut named Beedle “That’s Beedle with a ‘D’ like dollar sign!”, they ate next to the river, watching the fish swim by. 

Back on the road they found themselves deep into the fields. As the crops grew tall and surrounded them, block any view from beyond the road, Impa became visibly tense. Her  pointed ears twitching with every sound. After riding for a few hours Impa pulled them to a stop. 

“What’s wrong?” Urbosa asked, now also nervously glancing around. Impa’s stress was contagious on the quiet path. 

The silence bared down on them, almost deafening. Where were the birds? The farmers? The wind? To their left the wheat started to rustle, something was making its way through the field towards them. They each drew a weapon. Whatever it was it was close enough now they could see the crops moving to let it through. At the edge of the road the wheat stems split and a young girl stepped out. 

All three of them let out a breath of air. Zelda’s ears stopped ringing and she felt like a fool. 

The youngling was no older than ten, with a mess of frizzy auburn hair and a dress that was covered in mud. She held a miniscule bow towards the three of them, but lowered it, seeing they weren’t monsters.

“Greetings young one, what are you doing out here?” Impa inquired.

“I’m looking for Them.” The girl vaguely answered. 

“What’s your name?” Zelda unmounted, ignoring Impa’s imploring gaze. This little girl was surely safe.

“Romani!” She yipped. Running up, she wrapped Zelda in a hug. Unsure how to react Zelda slowly hugged her back. 

“Where are you from? Where are your parents?”

“Dunno where my dad is, but my home is over there.” Romani motioned down the road. 

“Let’s take you home.” Zelda held her hand, walking her over to her horse. Romani didn’t fight and instead got really excited to be on the horse.

“My sister never lets me ride!” She squealed.

“Where is your sister?”

“At home! On the ranch!” Romani vibrated in her seat as she pointed ahead. Zelda exchanged a look with Impa and the four of them rode off. 

Zelda didn’t realize that the ranch she had been talking about was Lon Lon Ranch. The largest farming homestead in Hyrule, Lon Lon was fairly famous. A collective of houses surrounded with barns, a little farther out were their silos and then fields for as far as the eye could see. The outside of the commune had sharpened logs jutting out of the earth at various angles. Many families worked on the enormous farm, but it was own and ran by the Talon, a robust man as loud as he was large. Zelda remembered him for his bushy moustache and his accent that was not Hyrulian, and instead reminded her of her mother. 

Crossing under the wooden sign that read “Lon Lon Ranch” they were greeted by a shaggy dog, trailing around their steeds and yipping joyously. Romani clapped along with the dog. The door to the central house opened and a woman looking everything like an older Romani stepped out. Her jaw dropped in surprise, followed by her running down the steps of the porch.

“Where have you been?” She had tears welling in her eyes. She lifted the younger girl off Zelda’s horse and held her close. “You can’t run off like that!”

“I was looking for Them.” Romani squirmed to escape her grasp.

“You can’t be doing this anymore. Not after father disappeared. We thought the worst. You know there are monsters out there.” She placed Romani on the ground and looked up at her saviors. Seeing Zelda her eyes immediately grew to the size of dinner plates and she dropped to one knee. “Your Highness! I am so sorry you were burdened with my sister. I must apologize.” 

“It is perfectly fine.” Zelda blushed. She fidgeted nervously in her saddle as the woman remained kneeling. “You may rise.” 

“We all thought you were dead, assassinated with your father in the desert!” Zelda now realized she recognized this woman too. Around her same age, this was Malon, Talon’s daughter that he often brought with him when making deliveries to the castle. She didn’t know why she didn’t recognize Romani either, she had never seen the younger Lon Lon sister, but she was a spitting image of Malon. It seemed like ages since she had been in the castle and had watched them bring in crates of milk and wheat and cattle. 

“She lives, but we must let this remain a secret.” Impa unmounted and strolled around to Malon. “Do you mind if we take this indoors?”

“Of course!” Malon waved over a boy who gathered their horses and took them off to one of the stables. Malon, with Romani and the dog close on her heels, lead them back up into the main house. “I’m sure you don’t remember me, Your Highness, but my name is Malon, Talon is my father.” 

“I do remember.” Zelda nodded. “This is Impa and Urbosa, my traveling companions.” Malon sat them around a 12 person rustic table, aged wood chipping at the corners. She brought them tea and coffee. 

“You’ve been gone for so long, what happened? The kingdom has fallen into disarray in your absence. Monsters roam the lands and raiders have taken more of our neighbors than we’d like to admit.” 

“She had been held captive. Imprisoned by the Dark Lord’s forces.” Impa explained. 

“The Dark Lord.” Malon’s eyes turned towards the table. She brushed her auburn hair away from her face. “He marched the palace and the only royalty there was the Princess Hilda and the Duke. The Duke surrendered immediately. A coward.” She looked up defiantly. “I apologize for speaking ill of the royal family, but we should have fought.”

“You don’t need to apologize.” Zelda felt very small. Her uncle had just surrendered? What had happened to her sister? Was she imprisoned in the dungeons below the castle? Was her uncle imprisoned too, or by surrendering the country had he secured himself safety? “We will take back the kingdom. We will defeat this ‘Lord Dragmire’ and save everyone.”

A man walked in, jumping with surprise at seeing the strangers at the table. He was tall but carried a lot of weight in his belly. He had a moustache to rival Talon’s, but was balding atop his head, the little hair he had pulled into a ponytail. 

“Ingo!” Malon rose to her feet. “This is my uncle, Ingo. He runs one of the other households on the farm.” They nodded at him. “This is Princess Zelda! She’s alive Ingo!” 

He opened his mouth, then closed it, pantomiming speech, though no sound came out. “You must excuse me.” He ran out the front door.

“I’m sorry about him, he’s been weird ever since my father disappeared.” Malon sat back down. 

“Talon has gone missing?” Zelda asked.

“He’s been missing for three weeks now. That’s why I was so worried about Romani when she ran off this morning.” Malon shot a stern glance at her younger sister. Romani excused herself from the table, sliding out of her chair she ran off to play with the dog.

“Why are you here now? Why have you visited us?” Malon paused. “Not to sound rude, Your Highness, whatever your intentions you are free to stay with us.”

“We are travelling to stop the Dark Lord. We are searching for the Seven Sages, they are the key to locking him away.” Impa informed. “We are passing through on our way to Rito Village to find the Temple of Light.” 

“You may rest here as long as you need, before continuing your journey then.” Malon explained. 

“Thank you so much.” Zelda bowed.

***

She sat in the bay window, watching Romani play with some of the other children in the yard below them. The sun was setting somewhere out of sight. Zelda felt sick to her stomach. She couldn’t shake the fear that was gnawing at her about her sister. Was she alive? Zelda would know if she was gone. She would have felt it. 

A reassuring hand gripped her arm. Zelda placed her own atop it. 

“I’m scared, Impa.” Zelda couldn’t turn around to face her. She couldn’t let her fear eat her alive.  

“I know, and I’m sorry. I should have been there, I should have protected you.” Impa’s grip tightened. “This is all my fault. Once again we have failed the royal family.”

Zelda had known Impa her entire life. She always took her job seriously, her allegiance to the crown and her lineage as the last Sheikah shaped her. Watching everything unfold must have shaken her to her core just as it had Zelda. She turned, standing, and wrapped Impa in her arms.

“I have failed you.” Impa sighed.

“You have failed no one.” Zelda felt so warm in Impa’s arms. In these foreign places and circumstances she felt like home. 

“Zelda…” Impa breathed.

Knocking at the door drew them apart. Impa opened it to Malon standing there. 

“Come with me, Your Highness, we have a surprise for you!” She was absolutely ecstatic, almost vibrating with excitement. Zelda and Impa followed her out of the house. Urbosa and a few farmhands were standing around the gate to one of the stables on property. 

Urbosa had a huge smile on her face. What was the surprise? Malon stood beside her beaming. Two of the farm hands slid open the doors. 

Standing in the center of the stable, tail whipping flies away, mane shimmering in the failing light, was Rhiannon. Her mare since childhood, a gift from the Lon Lon Ranch when she was still too young to even ride. She had been left behind in the castle when they had traveled to the Gerudo Desert. 

“She must have escaped during the raiding of the castle.” Malon explained, seeing Zelda’s shocked look. “That’s how we knew something had happened. She just showed up out of the blue, coming to the only other home she’d ever known. Because you’re a good horse.” Malon pet her as the horse came towards them, sniffing her master. 

Zelda hugged her head, felt her stiff hair prick against her. Rhiannon’s long eyelashes brushed her cheek. Pulling away Rhiannon neighed and did a little shuffle. 

“Amongst my people, horses are a life partners. We are raised with our sister horses, a horse is more loyal than men.” Urbosa said. Zelda laughed. 

The celebration was cut short as a young man ran up to them. He was out of breath but didn’t stop to catch it.

“Malon, father is gone!” 

She spun and ran over to the boy. “Not Ingo too!” The two of them sprinted for the house to the right of the main home. Zelda, Impa and Urbosa took off after them.

“We just saw him today.” Malon exclaimed. “He could only have been gone for a few hours.”

“He went to the main house and then left, I don’t know where he’s gone, but he’s taken his horse and his room is a mess.” the boy explained. The five of them entered the house, Malon and the boy walked around entering each room. “I expected him to come back, but he said nothing when he left, and now it’s sundown and he hasn’t returned. You know what happens if we’re out after dark.” They called Ingo’s name, but he was gone.

“What happens after dark?” Zelda wondered.

“The land is cursed since the Dark Lord took over. At night those that should have been laid to rest come out to feed on the unlucky few who dare traverse the countryside at night. If my uncle is out there he is surely in danger.”  Malon informed, her lips pulled into a grim continence. 

“What is that smell?” Urbosa wrinkled her nose. “It smells like death.” 

“My father is the butcher for the farm, it’s surely his workspace in the basement.” Ingo’s son explained. He opened a doorway, steps stretching down into darkness. Malon lead the way, holding a candle aloft. At the foot of the stairs she lit the lamps around the room, revealing a butchery, with dressed and chopped animals everywhere. Large, cruel tools, hung from the walls. A solid door on the other side of the basement was held shut by a large plank barred across it. 

“That’s the storage room where he salts and brines the meat before we send it out.” Impa and Urbosa worked together to lift the thick plank and drop in on the floor. Malon reached forward and pulled the door open, the room beyond was frigid, sending a chilled air through the basement. 

Urbosa yelled out and Malon fell to her knees, vomiting upon the floor. Impa turned to help her.

“No, no, no, no!” Ingo’s son grabbed his temples, his eyes wide. The desperation in his voice horrified Zelda. She leaned in, to see into the storage room. Hanging from a hook, naked and pale, as if all the blood had been drained from his body, was Talon. 

Chapter Text

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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How many wars have you seen? Bloodshed and treachery echo the halls of your memory.

Aeons of wars and yet every time it is your people who lose. Your people are the scapegoats, the victims who suffer at the hands of others.

How many wars have you seen? You know more than anyone that the winners write the history books. They will twist whatever lie they can to justify their slaughter. The very pens they use to write the tales inked with the blood of thousands.

How many wars have you seen? Everyone dies one day. Whether on the battlefield, or slaughtered in their own homes. Everyone dies one day.

Everyone but you.

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Chapter 6

Lon Lon Ranch

 

They cremated the body behind the main house. Romani cried all night, Zelda could hear her through the walls. Malon did not shed a single tear, remaining stoic the entire time. For being a young woman, the people of the farm looked up to her to lead them. Zelda wished she carried the strength that Malon had.

Another restless night left Zelda weary and sluggish in the morning. Impa and Urbosa had already got up and prepped for the day before Zelda even pulled herself out of bed. In the dining room they had a large map of Hyrule rolled out onto the table.

“Where’s Malon?” Zelda asked sleepily. She tried rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

“Out working the fields.” Urbosa replied. She pondered at the map for a moment, her hand covering her mouth, before pointing at a location. Impa drew a circle with a brush dipped in red ink, where Urbosa had pointed.

“What are you two doing?” Zelda leaned over the table. The map had a number of red circles drawn on it.

“We are trying to ascertain the locations of the temples.” Impa motioned over the map. “Some stand openly, but many are hidden, or lost. Overgrown and forgotten with time, those we can only guess the whereabouts for.”

“Which temples do we know?”

Impa pointed to three locations, two near Hyrule Castle, and one at Death Mountain. “The Temple of Time is located in Castletown, and the Shadow Temple is buried beneath the royal graveyard. There’s a Temple of Dragons located within Death Mountains, it’s a holy location feared by the Goron people.”

“The only other temple we knew of was the Spirit Temple, which had been corrupted into the Arbiter’s Grounds.” Urbosa pointed towards the Gerudo Desert, which on this map had no specific locations placed in it.

“So there are three temples we cannot locate?” She eyed the question mark that had been written over the Hebra Province that they were heading to next.

“The Temple of Light was a Rito construct, as such they should know the location, hopefully. The same goes for the Zoras and the Water Temple.” Impa explained.

Urbosa placed a finger on the forest that consumed the bottom portion of the map. “The Temple of the Forest is surely located somewhere in the Lost Woods, but no one can seem to make it out of there alive.”

“What are these temples? Were they built for the Seven Sages or Heroines?”

“They have various origins, but they’re mostly the relics of an ancient war.” Impa painted a circle south of Lake Hylia.

“An ancient war?” Zelda echoed. Impa’s stern eyes lifted from the page and sized her up. Zelda could feel her ears burn red again. How is it that she was always out of the loop about everything?

“Aeons ago a war raged for the unification of Hyrule, the temples were built as bastions against the clashing armies. You’ll see many of the temples are devoted to gods that have since been assimilated into the Triforce belief system.” Impa pointed to Death Mountain, Lake Hylia and the castle. “Also you will come to see that many of these temples are built in hidden locations that only those of each respective race can reach, further fortifying their positions as safe havens for their people.”

Zelda had never known the bloody history of Hyrule. It seemed every day she was learning about another war in the country’s history. What else had been kept from her? What other atrocities hid in the shadows. How much more blood would she find on her family’s hands?

Outside Zelda found Romani sitting on a grassy knoll in the center of the houses. Her Hylian Retriever was curled at her feet. Zelda paused watching the girl’s back, she wasn’t crying, but her head was slung low between her shoulders.

“What’s his name?” She asked, sitting next to Romani. She blinked tears away, looking up at Zelda, clearly confused. “Your dog,” Zelda clarified.

“Oh, he’s Barkle. He was a gift from Them.” Romani sniffled and scratched him behind the ear. Barkle’s tail started to wag, beating the earth like a drum.

“Who are They?” Zelda had heard the little girl mention these enigmatic people a few times now.

“I don’t know, They came from the sky. They are strange, I know They’re not Hylian. I was suppose to protect us from Them. But I failed and now- and now…” She fell into a silent sob. Zelda wrapped her arm around the girl, pulling her in close. Romani clutched a handful of Zelda’s tunic as she cried.

“You did not fail, it was not Them that killed your father, it was Ingo.” Zelda rubbed her back. “You couldn’t have protected him. And I bet he’s proud of you. Of you trying to protect your sister and family.”

“Malon treats me like a kid. She refuses to let me do anything.”

“She’s also trying to protect you. With your father gone, you two have to stick together, you have to protect each other. Your father wouldn’t want anything to happen to either of you.”

She thought of her own father. Of watching him die there on the floor in enemy territory, nothing she could do to stop it. She thought of his last words to her. His eyes never wavered as death took him, harsh and driven even in those last moments. Zelda knew she’d never be that strong when faced with her demise.

“I know.” Romani nodded, letting go of Zelda and turning back to Barkle. “We’re family and we will always be there for each other.” Zelda watched her pet her dog. She was so smart for her age, so brave. In Malon and Romani’s hands she knew the ranch would be safe.

Standing up she turned to see Malon watching them. She joined her at the edge of the house. “I want to thank you, I heard what you said.” Malon took her hands in hers. “I also wanted to thank you for being here in these trying times, as my father’s daughter, the homestead is looking to me for leadership, and seeing you here, fighting to take back our country, it really inspires me. You give me strength to lead the rest of the families.”

Zelda couldn’t believe her ears. “N-No! Thank you, you are such an inspiration to me!” Malon’s eyes widened with shock. “To be honest with you,” Zelda let go of the other girl’s hands, letting her arms fall behind her awkwardly. “I don’t know if I can be a ruler, a savior. So many people are looking towards me for this, but there’s so much I don’t know. I have already failed so many, I’ve lost my father, ...Nabooru,” The name caught in her throat, threatening to drag out tears. “I’m not the great leader everyone thinks of me as. I’m no one’s hero, and I’m afraid of what will happen when everyone finds out that I’m a fraud.”

Malon’s face softened, for a brief second she reminded Zelda of her mother. Somehow this girl, nearly Zelda’s same age, seemed so much older and wiser. Malon took her hands again and placed them over Zelda’s own chest.

“You are no fraud, Princess Zelda Hyrule.” Her voice sounded like a song. “As your very heart beats in your chest, you are everything people believe you to be, and everything you fear. As long as you can feel your heartbeat know that you haven’t failed anyone. As long as you live you must fight, for your story ends with you a hero, and if you live your story is still being written.”

Zelda nodded numbly. Malon was right, so many people depended on her, she had to keep fighting.

“You helped my sister and that is enough for you to be a hero to us.” Malon brushed windswept strands of hair out of Zelda’s face. “Now, come with me, follow me for the day and you can learn how to run a farm.” She took her hand and guided her out to the field.

Until dusk Zelda shadowed Malon, riding their steeds through the field. Malon checked with the harvesters, guiding irrigation based on weather predictions, as well as checked on the quality of the product being picked. Zelda learned that the harvest this year was much smaller than usual, as Bulbin raiders had burnt much of their crop and razed the land in other places, leaving gaping holes in their fields. While they no longer had to supply the castle with crops and cattle Lon Lon Ranch needed to pick up the slack of supplying the local populace as many of the other farms in the area had been cleared out, either of people or crops.

Zelda learned many of Lon Lon Ranch’s sister farms had been killed out. The few survivors left they had taken in, their large homestead, and Talon’s quick call to action, building the spiked barricade, made Lon Lon Ranch a safe haven, a beacon of hope in the wilds that Hyrule Fields had become.

Zelda was surprised,even out in the fields so far from the capital, minor magic was used to help their load. Malon taught her a simple spell for summoning horses. A song that when sung or hummed carried on the wind and brought horses running. They used it out in the fields when they had walked too far from the horses they had taken from the stables. After only a little practice Zelda had the spell down.

Malon was impressive as a farm head, while Zelda had shadowed her father before in ruling duties, her father also had advisors, councilmen, accountants, and others to assist him in commanding. Malon was solo, answering questions about finances, crop output, weather, supply estimates and more. She was stern and quick with facts, but made sure to listen and understand when it came to personal matters. So many people lived in the Lon Lon Ranch homestead, so many people depended on Malon to lead them straight, and yet the young woman seemed to carry none of the weight on her shoulders. Zelda was awe inspired. Whenever she had a question Malon had an answer, or knew the right person to ask to get one. Zelda had never realized so much went into running a farm.

As the sun set they rode back into the circle of homes. Urbosa and Impa were waiting for them at the entrance to the main house.

“We leave at dawn, to head north into the Hebra region.” Impa informed them.

“Thank you, kind Malon, for opening your homes and arms to us.” Urbosa bowed ever so slightly. “Our journey ahead is a long one and this was a brief but welcomed respite.”

“Of course, you are always welcomed here at Lon Lon Ranch.” Malon ushered them inside. “We must eat for the journey tonight, and I’ll make sure you have provisions for the road.”

When Zelda finally drifted off to sleep she was full to the brim with brisket and potatoes and bread and every vegetable one could think of.

***

She didn’t know if it was the explosion or the screams that woke her, but either way Impa was at her bedside before she could even fully open her eyes. Instead of draped in soft moonlight, Zelda’s room was dancing with oranges and reds, fire blazing from outside her window.

“What’s happening?” She rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“The ranch is under attack, we have to get you out of here immediately.” Impa threw her riding clothes onto the bed. “Quickly get changed, we’re going to have to escape through the fields.” Impa turned to the door, sparing Zelda her privacy.

“What of Malon and Romani?” She asked as she slipped out of the borrowed nightgown she had worn to bed. “And everyone else?”

“They will have to tend to themselves, we can’t risk staying with them.”

“We can’t just leave them!” Zelda pulled on her tunic and spun to the window. The barricade was ablaze, fire licking at the houses and burning so hot that even from the distance she was she could feel the heat on her cheeks. People were scrambling in the complex below, a combination of a militia gather with swords and axes and pitchforks, and people gathering water from the well to put out the fire.

Swarming through the shattered front gate, bulbins clashed with the farmers, crude weapon versus crude weapon. Zelda squinted, something beyond the burning barricade caught her attention. The largest Bulbin she had ever seen sat upon a warthog, he held his jagged sword aloft screaming in the language of the bulbins. But next to him, sitting atop a horse, was the man from before, Ingo, Malon’s uncle and Talon’s killer. He watched the homestead burn from behind enemy lines.

“Princess!” Impa grabbed her by the shoulder and yanked her away from the window. “Zelda, we have to go!”

Zelda slipped from her hand and grabbed her rapier and bow from the bedside table. “I told you, I’m not leaving them.” She ran out of the room and down the stairs, bursting through the front door, an arrow lodged itself into the frame beside her head, missing her by inches.

“Princess! You can’t be out here.” Malon ran to her side. In the heat of the battle Malon appeared drastically different, her auburn hair pulled up into a hasty ponytail and her skirt replaced with slacks and boots. She hefted a broadsword in one hand and grabbed Zelda with the other. “Urbosa and Impa have the horses out back, so you can escape.”

“I’m not leaving you, or the ranch.” Zelda defied. “That’s not what a leader or a hero would do. You are fighting and so shall I.”

Malon’s face softened again, looking like Zelda’s mother. “Princess, you are so much more important than this. I must defend those here, those that depend on me. But you have everyone in Hyrule depending on you. You cannot die here on Lon Lon Ranch.”

Another explosion rocked the homestead as more of the barricade was blown away. Bulbins, sickly green even in the firelight, spilled into the circle from the new hole in their defenses.

“Go! Run now Zelda, so that you may save us later. We are a sturdy people and will survive this attack, but if you don’t liberate Hyrule it will all be for naught.” Malon’s deep blue eyes blazed in the scattered light. She pushed Zelda back to the main house, then turned letting out a battle cry as she fell into the oncoming swarm of bulbin, her blade spinning and slicing in a fury. Zelda took a step after her but a large, warm hand pulled her back.

“I know how hard this is, but the greater good is at risk now.” Urbosa’s steady and powerful voice carried over the cacophony of chaos.

Knowing she was right Zelda nodded letting Urbosa guide her away. She glanced over her shoulder one last time, watching Malon defend her home with a ferocity rarely seen on the battlefield. Through the kitchen and out the back Impa was waiting with four horses, Romani was struggling under one of her arms.

“We’ve wasted too much time, we have to ride!” Impa mounted her steed, still holding Romani close.

The girl kicked and screamed. “Let me go! I’m not leaving my sister! I can fight too!”

“Malon asked us to take her with us.” Urbosa explained, jumping onto her horse. Zelda climbed onto Rhiannon, feeling her mane and fur, it had been so long since she had ridden her horse. She almost started crying, memories of the castle and her family racing back to her.

The fourth horse was the one Zelda had ridden here from the Gerudo Desert, now packed with supplies. Impa rode ahead fighting with Romani, Urbosa took the rear, the fourth horse hitched to hers. Instead of taking the path Impa rode directly into the field, the wheat growing up and around them. The sky behind them burned orange but ahead it was indigo and dark, dotted by faint stars.

They didn’t get far before realizing something was wrong. Even Romani could feel it, falling silent in Impa’s lap.

“They’re in the crops!” Urbosa yelled from behind. As if on cue, a crimson, pig snouted monster leapt from the wheat towards Zelda.

Covered in tribal paint and screaming gibberish Zelda yelped out- “Bokoblins!” and brought up her blade to parry the swing of the goblin’s club. She kicked it back and swung hard, watching it’s limp body fall back into the hedge. But the bokoblin was the first of many, soon they were swarmed with the red creatures, crawling out of the shadows with clubs and spears made of wood and bone.

Urbosa flanked Zelda’s left, making deft work of the enemy with her scimitar. Ahead Impa was riding quickly, busting straight into any bokoblin ahead, and kicking any that came at her from the side. Zelda kept her rapier low, hastily stabbing the bokoblins poking their heads from the wheat. She heard Urbosa cursed and turned to see a couple of the bokoblins had climbed aboard their pack horse. One, seeing Zelda lunged at her, claws outstretched it barely missed Rhiannon, but grabbed ahold of Zelda’s golden locks. She screamed as her head was yanked back, almost pulling her from her saddle. Urbosa saw the attack and chopped at the bokoblin, killing it and freeing Zelda’s hair. She straightened herself in her saddle and pulled on Rhiannon’s reins, slowing her horse she ran astride the pack horse and made bloody work of the bokoblin still holding on.

Finally they were free of the fields and, surprisingly, of the bokoblins. The homestead was far behind them, but the great fire was still visible, tinging the corners of their vision in orange. Pushing north the cold night breeze blew through them, sending shivers down their spines and cooling Zelda’s tender scalp.

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Sorry about the lack of update last week, it was my birthday and I was out of town and unable to get to my computer to post this chapter! I hope y'all enjoy this chapter, I'm so excited about the places I have planned for this story, and I hope you all love where it goes too. -LX

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Era of Dusk and Shade

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Chapter 7

Hyrule Garrison

 

There was something in the fields that they couldn’t quite make out. Something dark and horrid, but they kept riding and it never drew near. Zelda couldn’t stop thinking about what Malon had said about the countryside being cursed. The dead rising to drag the living down to their graves. 

The farther north they rode the more the farmland thinned out, giving way to open rolling hills, dotted with sparse trees and the occasional hollow shell of a building. The four of them were silent, their words and breath left behind in Lon Lon Ranch. Impa pushed their horses almost to the breaking point, not slowing down until the sun crested the eastern hills.

By this point Zelda was having a hard time keeping her eyes open, each hill they rode up bringing her closer and closer to passing out in her saddle. Each time they reached the top of a hill she could make out the castle in the distance, it still stood, but something was different about it. The parapets and towers that made up the donjon were twisted and stretched, as if they were made of clay that some child had pulled and twisted into a single alien spire. Zelda didn’t know what to make of it, Impa had mentioned that the castle was touched by dark magic. What had Dragmire done to her home? 

"We near the northern garrison." Impa announced. 

Urbosa eyed Zelda carefully. "We are still hours away, I believe it's time to make rest, it is clear Zelda will pass out before we pass the walls."

Impa pulled her horse around, seeing Zelda's heavy eyes and slack arms. Romani was also asleep, clutching to Impa's chest.

"Very well, we've made good distance, let's rest for a bit." They made a small camp near a river, using a copse of trees to camouflage their position. Zelda rolled out a mat, falling asleep as soon as she laid down. Romani curled up next to her, making small whimpering sounds in her sleep.

Not knowing how long she had been asleep for she rustled awake to the sound of the two older women speaking in hushed voices. "You should tell her." Zelda kept her eyes closed, listening to Urbosa. 

"Absolutely not, it is not allowed, she can never know." Impa snapped.

"She may feel the same." Urbosa's voice sounded caring, worried even. "Nothing good will come of keeping this secret."

What secret? Was Impa keeping more secrets from her? Was she truly so naive, so untrustworthy that even her confidant couldn't tell her the truth?

"It's also quite obv-" 

"She's awake." Impa cut her off. How was she able to do that?

"Come now child, we have to head out soon." This time Urbosa was speaking directly to Zelda. She sat up, brushing her hair back. 

"How long was I out for?"

"Only a couple hours, it is still morning." Impa filled her canteen at the river and brought it to Zelda who took her fill. She followed Impa back to the river bed, kneeling down to stare at the reflection. The girl looking back was a stranger, so gaunt and tired, covered in filth. She had always had long hair (the sign of a regal ruler as her father would say), but in the year she had been locked up her hair had grown so long and so thick it was like a lynel's mane. Who was she anymore? Princess Zelda Hyrule? There was no Hyrule anymore, she was the princess of dust. 

"Impa, hand me your dagger." Her guard replied with a questioning look, but handed her the blade. Gripping it tightly Zelda pulled her hair up, twisting it around her wrist. With a strong slice she chopped off her hair, while the blade was deadly sharp she still needed to saw to get through her thick mane. 

"What are you doing!?" Impa yelled, snatching the dagger from Zelda's hand.

"Those monsters last night managed to grab my hair and make me vulnerable." She threw the chunk of hair into the river, watching the glint of gold wash away in the turbulence. "It won't happen again." 

Impa ran her hand through the jagged bob, her mouth agape. Gathering herself she straightened out. "You're right, your highness, short hair is more practical, and will help disguise your true identity." She knelt next to Zelda and started to trim up the impromptu cut. 

Zelda watched their reflections in the river, a twisted memory of when Impa used to sit on her bed and braid her hair. Who was Impa? The question tasted sour but shockingly familiar. She had been naive, she had been a fool. She knew nothing about Impa, and yet Impa knew everything about her. The last of the Sheikah, but who were the Sheikah? What happened to her parents? As much as she thought of Impa as her closest friend, she truly knew nothing about her.

"Is Sister dead?" The question took the three women by surprise. They turned to Romani, the young girl sitting on the mat, rubbing sleep and tears from her eyes.

Urbosa and Impa exchanged a heavy, weary look.

"You know Malon isn't dead, she's a leader and a hero." Zelda sat next to Romani, taking her in her arms. "It's going to take more than some dirty bulbins to take your sister down."

Romani nodded sheepishly.

"Have you ever seen your sister scared? You need to be brave like her." Romani pulled herself more into Zelda's arms.  "You need to be brave for her. Who is going to protect us from Them?"

Romani resolved herself, standing up and clutching her small bow. "You're right! Sister wouldn't be scared and neither will I!"

"Malon told me to take you to your cousin at the Garrison, and that she'll meet you there. She promised that she'd come to you, she has no plans on dying anytime soon." Urbosa rubbed Romani's head, tussling her hair. 

"We need to get back on the road, we can rest more once we've made it through the Garrison and are safe." Impa rolled up the mat and packed up the little camp gear they had pulled out.

From the road the Hyrule Garrison was clearly visible, a fortified stone wall running across the opening of a deep valley.  The Hebra Mountains jutting out of the earth on either side of the Garrison becoming like a monstrous jaw aimed at consuming the sky. After the rest their horses made quick work of the road. Romani rode with Zelda this time, sitting in front of her and pretending to shoot birds with her bow. Zelda watched her, letting her own thoughts drift off. She almost didn't hear the screams when they came. 

Pulling on her reins she scanned the hills for the source of the screams. A hundred feet out three apparent travelers, weighed down with large packs, were under attack by a masked man in a red shozoku. Zelda recognized him as one of the strange pseudo Sheikah that had been prowling the parapets at the Gerudo Fortress.

"Yiga scum." Urbosa growled through gritted teeth.  She unhitched the pack horse and pushed her own steed into a gallop, drawing her scimitar and buckle. Zelda strung her bow, preparing to chase after. 

"Something's not right." Impa hissed. "This doesn't feel right."

"We can't just leave them!" Zelda exclaimed, forcing Rhiannon racing down the hill. The travellers stood amongst some ruined stones, carved blocks half sunken in the grass and covered with moss. A stone bird totem rose above them, casting their assailant in shadow. The three of them turned and ran for Urbosa as soon as they saw her. Zelda let an arrow fly, but was too slow, the Yiga clansman flipped out of the way in an impressive feat of acrobatics.

"You idiots! How can you fall for this?" The voice caught everyone by surprise. A boy, younger and yet taller than Zelda, had climbed the bird totem. He stood, the sun shining directly above his head, his face obscured in shadow, his arms crossed and foot tapping. 

"Who are you?" One of the travelers asked. 

"Someone who sees right through your deception." Zelda turned towards the travelers, but they weren't travelers anymore,  they were all Yiga, inverted masks and red robes. They weren't running to Urbosa for protection but trying to pull her from her saddle. She kicked one away, the assassin spinning into the grass. Zelda hit another one, they let out a scream as the arrow lodged into their shoulder. 

The man atop the statue leaped into the air, spinning he drew two falchions and landed in front of the original Yiga clansman. With the precise elegance of a master swordsman or dancer he disposed of the assassin, their head soaring into the sky with a trail of blood. 

"I can't believe I was fooled so easily." Urbosa cursed as she cleaned the blood from her blade. She had killed all her assailants while Zelda had been fixated by the stranger's movements. "And who are you, stranger who saved us?" 

The young man sheathed his blades, standing on the ground Zelda was shocked by how tall he was, almost as tall as Urbosa. He was broad shouldered but slim, with the body of someone who spent many days on the road. He was wearing alien clothing, bare chested he wore only trousers and various belted leathers around his waist. He had a birds nest of messy crimson hair barely kept in place by a knotted wooden band worn on his crown. He watched Zelda intently with golden eyes. 

"My name is Cho, I was in the area trying to prevent exactly this kind of thing from happening." His voice was thick with a familiar and yet unique accent. 

"You just travel around trying to thwart Yiga ambushes?" Urbosa asked skeptically.

"I-" cho paused glancing over the corpses around them.  "I am formerly a Yiga member."

"Who exactly are the Yiga?" Zelda questioned.

"Twisted Sheikah, betrayers of the crown, worshippers of the scourge of Hyrule." Impa cut in, leading her horse and the pack horse to them. 

"It's true-" 

"You don't look Sheikah." Impa slid down from her steed and inspecting the man.

"Most of us aren't. Only the Masters are full Sheikah, many of the tribe are either partial or recruited from outsiders. People who feel they don't belong in society. They use their doctrine to lead them astray, so many Yiga are just kids, looking for a place to fit in." Cho's sun-like eyes drifted to the corpses again.

"Why did you defect?" Impa pressed a finger to his chest. "It seems a little too convenient that you were here at the right time and place to 'save' us from them."

"Th-their path is too dark, too chaotic and harmful." He held his hands up, trying to pacify Impa. "Once Hyrule was his Lord's, the Yiga didn't have a purpose, they started to travel the roads attacking and killing anyone they came across, it wasn't right!"

The Sheikah stepped down coming to Zelda's side.

"And leaving the Yiga clan is not acceptable, I couldn't just settle down in Lurelin or someplace, they would come and kill me. So I've had to stay moving."

Urbosa exchanged a skeptical look with Zelda and Impa. 

"I like you, mister! I'm Romani, this is Ze-" 

"Seres, I'm Telma and our large friend here is Laroba." Impa corrected. "We best be on our way,  thank you for your assistance in this matter." She mounted her horse and headed back to the road, Urbosa following suit. 

"Where are you heading? I'm heading to Rito Village, and wouldn't mind the company, if you are heading that way as well." 

"We are, actually."

"Not with him we aren't!" Impa called from up ahead. 

Cho pleaded to let them at least let him join them to the garrison. Impa caved, and he joined their procession. Though he had no mount of his own, he declined the offer to ride their extra horse. The rest of the way to garrison went much slower as they kept at his pace. The horses were glad for the new speed. 

Crossing the Tamio River, the garrison portcullis rose up before them. Three guards waited on the other side, but unlike crossing the Gerudo border they guards merely asked them what their business was in the Hebra Province, then let them through.

***

"I don't want to go!" Romani clung to Zelda, shaking her head in defiance.

"Come now, what is your sister going o do when she shows up for you and you aren't here?" Zelda chided. Romani dug her face into her shoulder. She tried pulling the girl away, but Romani's tight grip wouldn't budge.

"You can't possibly come with us, where we are going is much too dangerous for a child." Impa's cold tone testifying how poor she handled children.

"Romani, listen to me now, you made a promise to us and Malon to be brave. She needs you to be here for her, to hold down the fort and be courageous. She's relying on you." Zelda struggled the girl off of her and set her on the floor. Romani was crying but agreed. “Don’t worry, we’ll come and visit you as soon as we finish in the valley.” 

The cousin thanked them profusely for bringing Romani to them. She even offered to house them for the night, but Impa and Urbosa declined.

It was just past midday, but Rito Village, their next destination was a two day journey with Tabantha, the town that fell between a full day's journey ahead. As such they stayed at the Garrison until dawn. 

Zelda watched Impa, sitting in the window of their room the dying light casting her in a golden halo. Right here in front of her, and yet so far Zelda didn’t know if she could even reach out and touch her. She’d never felt so distant from Impa, had she really been a fool her whole life?

“You’re staring, princess.” Impa stood from the windowsill. “What’s on your mind?” Her white hair, normally up in a top knot, was loose around her shoulders, and she pushed it back as she walked across the room.

“Just Romani,” Zelda averted her gaze, looking at her hands in her lap. “Malon is dead isn’t she? That poor girl is going to have to grow up without any family.”

Impa paused, she reached out her hand, but pulled it back with uncertainty. The space between them stretched out infinitely. The silence rang in their ears.

"I'm the same though." Zelda pulled into herself.  "They're all gone, my mother, father, even H-Hilda. I'm alone now."

She felt Impa's arms wrap around her, warm and strong. "You're not alone."

"It shouldn't be like this, I-i've already lost my mother, I should be stronger than this." She pressed herself into Impa's warmth. 

"Loss never gets easier, no matter how many people you lose."

"She's a child, I'm a child. This isn't fair, to grow up alone. I can't be expected to save this country, I couldn't even save my own family." She was nobody, it should have been Hilda here not her. Hilda was the better twin, the better ruler. How does a twin live without their other half?

"Romani still has family and friends that will take care of her, that will raise her. Hope is not lost your highness." Impa gently lifted Zelda's head, their eyes meeting through the tears. Her eyes burned with fire, so intense that Zelda wanted to flinch away. "You also have friends that care for you, we won't let you fall. I won't let you fall." Their faces hovered, inches apart. Being this close to Impa felt equally like home, and like devastation. The corners of Zelda's mind started to blur. They were breathing the same air, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale.

She'd known Impa her whole life. 

A familiar scream snapped both of their faces towards the window. It was Urbosa. "I'm going to kill you!!"

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Era of Dusk and Shade

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Chapter 8

Tabantha Valley

 

Impa and Zelda ran out the door of the inn. Urbosa was holding Cho by the neck, lifting him wholly off the ground. He struggled helpless, grasping at her ripped arm. 

"I knew bringing a voe like you along would be a mistake." She hissed at him. With her free hand she drew her scimitar.

"Urbo-Laroba, what is going on here?" Zelda mustered all the strength she could in her voice,  disguising her previous moment of weakness.

Urbosa lowered Cho, who, once planted on the ground, scrambled out of her grip. He distanced himself from her as much as possible, rubbing his sore neck.

"This voe scum, he snuck into the stables and scared off our horses. I knew he wasn't trustworthy." She glared in Cho's direction.

"Voe is the Gerudian word for male." Impa translated.

"I know what voe means." Zelda drew her rapier and stepped towards Cho. "Is this true? Did you send off our horses?"

His eyes stretching wide, Cho waved his hands defensively. "I swear I didn't mean to Seres, I did go to the horses, and this is all my fault."  

“What were you doing in the stables?” Impa stood beside Zelda, her arms crossed.

“I will help you get your horses back. It's my fault, horses have always hated me. I should have known not to go near them." 

“But why did you go near them?” Zelda hadn’t felt that Cho was untrustworthy, had she completely misread him?

He pushed aside Zelda's rapier, stepping closer. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "I know who you are, Princess. I was looking for proof."

Impa stepped in, putting herself between Zelda and Cho. She held a dagger to the man's neck. "Who are you? An assassin? A spy?"

"I told you, I'm former Yiga. They know the Princess has escaped. They're hunting her, I came to protect her, I swear!"

"Let's kill him and be over with this." Urbosa held her sword to his back.

"Enough, both of you." Zelda stood up straight, trying to make herself look commanding. "I believe him, there will be no bloodshed for now. We have to find our steeds, that is top priority."

"Thank you, your highness." Cho dropped to his knees. 

"Gratitude is not necessary, we will still be keeping a close eye on you."

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, huh?" Urbosa nodded. She pointed out into the valley. "The horses ran off that way."

"If we split up we'll cover more ground, you two go together along the river, Cho and I will take the path closer to the mountains. Return by sunset whether you've found the horses or not." Impa commanded. Zelda didn't ask about the pairings and headed off with Urbosa, following the river that cut through the Tabantha Valley like a knife.

The trek was silent. Urbosa was normally talkative, but Zelda could tell she was still fuming about Cho. The wildflowers through the valley blew in the downdraft and made the hills look like rolling waves. Chirris, small colorful songbirds, filled the sky over head with both wings and song. Zelda watched Urbosa ahead of her, broad shouldered, strong and brave, everything Zelda wished she could be.

"Have you ever been in love?"

The question caught Urbosa off guard, swinging her head around, her high ponytail whipping around her shoulder. "Why do you ask?"

"How does one know they're in love?"

"Oh, little bird, love is different for Gerudo." Zelda's face dropped, disappointed. "But, I may have fallen to your brand of love once, many years ago. And I have studied your love as many Gerudo do in preparation for finding a voe."

"You study romance?"

"Gerudo have two kinds of love, the one that appears closest to your kind of love, it's a transactional relationship for us, the finding of a voe to have a child with. The deeper love in the Gerudo culture is that of community. We love each other and that is more important than any love we can seek out from a voe. We care for one another, we help one another, we love one another. Every Gerudo is family and we treat every single one of our sisters as an equal to help and uplift."

Zelda had never heard of such a thing, but it was beautiful to hear. A true passionate love between women in a community. 

"We understand that our concept of love is alien to your people, and as such we study your love to help find a voe partner." Urbosa paused, kneeling beside the river,  she picked a flower, the color of a robins egg, with a bright yellow stamen. "I've never seen one of these in the wild, do you know what kind of flower this is, little bird?"

"A silent princess." They were her mother's favorite, but very rare and near extinct. Urbosa reminded her of her mother.

"Your poets say love is like water, gentle and massive and heavy." She tucked the bloom behind Zelda's ear. "But I disagree. Love is like fire. Love is blazing and fast and destructive. 

"Sometimes, it explodes instantaneously on sight, other times you have to work to make it take. Nurturing the spark until it can ignite. If taken care of love can burn forever, lighting the darkest nights, and guiding those lost around it. But if left wild love will always, always , destroy everything in its path."

"I've never thought of it like that." Truthfully she had never thought of love at all.

"I don't mean to scare you." Urbosa dropped her head, her emerald eyes seemingly searching for the next word to say. "Fire is beautiful, a dance of colors and lights unlike anything else. Love is like that too, when cared for love is the most gorgeous sight."

"You said you fell for our brand of love once. May I ask with who? Did you find a man to be your partner?" 

"Oh, sweet child, I have never met a voe who could handle even a portion of who I am. Another reason it was better I abdicate the throne." Urbosa laughed. "I have a feeling as to why you asked me this question, but you need not tell me about it now. Remember we have to find our steeds!"

"Malon actually taught me a spell for this." Zelda remembered. "While we were at Lon Lon Ranch she taught me a song that calls horses to your side."

"Why didn't you say anything earlier!" Urbosa patted her on the back. "Come on, let's hear it!"

Zelda started to sing, recalling the melody. She wasn’t a talented singer, unlike her twin, but magic and music were so closely intertwined in Hyrule she had been required to learn to carry a tune in the very least. They stood in silence for a moment, waiting to see if the spell had worked. A gust of wind soared through the valley, tossing both Urbosa’s and Zelda’s hair. Her Silent Princess swirled away, across the river and into the waving grass beyond. The wind pulled with it the echo of her song and soon they were surrounded by it.

The sound of hooves on stone greeted them as Rhiannon, flanked by the other horses,  came running down the hills. Urbosa cheered, picking up Zelda and spinning her into a hug. She then went about hitching the horses to one another. "Let's get back to the others."

By the time they made it back to the garrison it was dusk, and Impa and Cho showed up soon after them.

"I see you managed to track down the horses." Impa greeted them in the dining hall. 

"Zelda accomplished it, she's truly something else." Urbosa beamed.

"Seres you mean."

"Right, sorry." 

Cho sat at the table with them, a huge bruise darkened the side of his face. 

"What happened to you?" Zelda gasped. 

He exchanged a glance with Impa. "I fell while we were out."

"That looks horrid, we should get something for it." Zelda reached across the table but he flinched away. 

"He'll be fine," Impa interjected, "Cho will be coming with us on the road. He'll be useful in stopping the Yiga."

"Excuse me, can I have a word with you outside, ...Telma?" Urbosa stood up abruptly, knocking her chair over. The travellers in the inn all glanced in their direction, but quickly turned back to their privacy. Impa and Urbosa stepped out, leaving Zelda and Cho alone.

"Your fighting style is impressive, I'm glad you're coming with us." Cho blushed, his olive skin deepening. 

"I am surprised a princess would be interested in that kind of stuff." He fidgeted with his trousers.

"I… I'm a terrible princess, this," she motioned to the inn. "Is everything I've always wanted: to be on the road, adventuring, honing my skills with the bow and blade. This would have been my dream." She paused. Thinking of her father and sister she felt so helpless out here. "If only I hadn't had to sacrifice everything for it."

"I'm sorry," he reached across the table, taking her hand in his. They were so rough and large, and yet she felt very safe with them wrapped around her fingers.

"It's best we retire for the night, we need to head out early tomorrow." Zelda snatched her hand away as Impa walked up. She eyed them suspiciously. "Come on Seres, let's go to our room."

***

Impa had them up and on the road before the sun. Zelda watched the town pass from horseback. Already missing the soft reprise it had lent them. The days were getting shorter and cooler, and the farther north they traveled the more acute it became. Zelda wrapped her arms around herself to keep warm. 

Urbosa seemed surprisingly unaffected by the drop in temperature. When Zelda asked her, assuming a Gerudo would be more accustomed to the heat of the desert, she explained: "Ever since I left the throne I have traveled these lands. Once the cold was miserable to me, those days are long gone. I only returned to the desert after Dragmire attacked. And by that point my blood had grown at home in these temperate conditions. Can you imagine that, a Gerudo who couldn't stand the heat of the desert!" She laughed full and hearty, throwing her head back. 

Urbosa really was everything that Zelda had aspired to be for so long. Someone who had thrown off the shackles of her title and inheritance to become an adventurer and hero that let only the open road guide her path. 

"We have to get off the road." Impa called from behind. Her voice was sharp and hurried. 

"What's ahead?" Zelda asked, slowing Rhiannon to match the speed of the cart.

Impa's eyes were intense, and the hair was standing on the back of her neck. "I feel something in the air. Something dangerous, we need to hide ourselves." Zelda couldn't sense anything of the sort, but the tension from Impa made her stomach drop. 

Ahead a rocky outcropping held up a huge fallen tree, creating a wall of sorts with a small cavern in the base. They hid the cart and horses in the hollow and hung low against the natural barrier listening for any sound ahead. 

"I really don't hear anythi-"

Impa shushed Zelda. Faint, distant, a humming could be heard. Like the sound of static or the feeling before lightning struck. Zelda could smell the Moblins before she heard their marching. They weren't coming from ahead, but clamoring down the mountainous terrain and heading across the valley. She peeked through the cracks in the log, there was a whole battalion, climbing over each other, spouting gibberish. Mixed among them were tall, angular lizard men, dark green scales topped with a crested fin in yellow, orange or crimson. 

But floating above them was the source of the hum. Floating above them was surely what Impa had sense. Floating above them was the demon Ghirahim. 

"Our Master says to find the girl at all costs. Fill the valley, turn over every last stone looking for her!" He cackled. "Once you find her you know what to do."

Impa yanked Zelda away from the hole, putting a finger to her lips. Cho pressed against her left side,  his golden eyes wide with fear. Zelda reached for his hand, gripping it tightly. Above them the fallen tree began to creak. As if someone was walking atop it. Looking up she watched Ghirahim stand only a foot or so above her head, shifting his weight from side to side, and watching his monsters scour the valley floor. 

She closed her eyes and prayed to the Goddesses that he wouldn't notice them, that they'd make it out of this alive. She could hear her heartbeat in her ears, it was so loud. Could he hear her heartbeat?

Urbosa waved her hand, motioning to the cavern they had left the horses in. Someone was standing among their steeds. He frantically gesticulated towards them. Impa forced Zelda and Cho ahead. They inched along the outcropping, trying to be as silent as possible. 

The person in the cave was a Goron, a gargantuan, rotund man made seemingly of stone.  Like a living golem. His sandy skin was covered in tattoos and his back was covered in rocky hard lumps similar to a tortoise shell. He wore a simple loincloth for modesty and had a bag swept across his chest.

Once in the cavern he rushed them ahead. The opening went much farther than they had originally anticipated, becoming a tunnel into the mountains. Urbosa was already calming the horses and guiding them ahead. Impa and Cho followed closely behind. Zelda could hear the ravenous monsters above and around them. That demon had said their master was looking for a girl. Was that girl her? His very presence sent shivers down her spine, he was so unnatural and monstrous in a way she couldn’t describe.

“Come along, bud, if we hang out here they will catch us.” The Goron put an arm around her and ushered her after her traveling companions.

“Thank you for helping us.” Zelda hung close to him, as the shadows krept in around them and darkened her vision.

“Of course!” He grew louder as they made it farther into the tunnel. Ahead Impa and Urbosa lit torches from their travel packs. “The name’s Gorko, traveling archeologist.” He smiled at her, his mouth full of jagged and oddly spaced teeth. 

“I’m Seres, those are my companions Telma, Laroba, and… Cho.” She realised they’d never come up with a disguise for him. “We’re on a pilgrimage to the temples throughout Hyrule.”

“Fantastic! I could tell you a thing or two about the temples.” He pulled a rolled scroll from his satchel and handed it to her. The rough hewn paper was actually leather and as she unrolled it, revealed a map of Hyrule. “Do you know of the Great Beasts of Hyrule?” She shook her head. “They were grand spirits of light, worshipped by the people that lived in these lands before the modern races. We now only know them through hieroglyphics and carvings. A great serpentine dragon, a grand owl, and a creature some claim is a boar,” He leaned in to stage whisper, “But I think looks like a monkey. When the young races grew up through the lands they worshipped these spirits, and built grand temples to them. When the ancient kings of Hyrule united the lands they destroyed these effigies, replacing them with their one true religion of the three goddesses.” 

Zelda couldn’t help but think about the Arbiter’s Grounds and how it had been a religious place for the Gerudo. How much more damage had her people done? How many more beliefs had they ripped from those they wished to control? 

“Why did you help us, Gorko?”

“I couldn’t have just left you with those pests!” He laughed heartily. “Plus I love to talk, and it’s always better to talk to an audience.” 

“Where are you heading to?” She studied the map, temples were scattered throughout the land and clearly marked here. It was impressive the amount of detailing on the map.

“Here and there, to and fro. I’m hunting down an ancient temple that is said to be lost in the ravines of these mountains, but no matter how hard I search I cannot seem to locate it. They say it fell from the sky in the old times! Can you imagine?!” The tunnel around them began to draw in, tightening to the point of making the horses nervous. But just when they thought they’d have to make the horses duck, it opened out into a massive cavern. 

Their torches were engulfed by the dominating darkness that bared down on them. Stalagmites reached to the ceiling, forming grand columns. The cavern radiated ancient energy, as if they stood in a royal hall. 

"What is this place?" Urbosa asked from ahead.  

"Zonai ruins, carved deep into the Tabantha Mountains. No one, besides I, has been here for centuries." Gorko hurried ahead. Leading them through the dark to massive totems carved around hieroglyphs in the wall. "It's fascinating, the ruins they left behind, the story these walls tell. I could tell you a thing or two about them."

"I've heard of the Zonai, they were the wild people that warred here before the Goddesses gave this land to the Hylians." This was early chapters in their history books, things barely touched on in Zelda's tutoring. 

"Oh no, bud, the Zonai were no simple primitive tribe. Before the Hylians invaded, this land belonged to three major races, the Sheikah, the Zuna, and the Zonai. These races were unlike anything today, they built massive machines and factories, they wielded both robot and sorceries. No matter all our advances today Hyrule still has not matched the science nor magic of these amazing ancient races." Gorko's dark eyes shimmered, wide eyed and enraptured. "Unfortunately the Zonai are extinct, and the Sheikah and Zuna are virtually wiped out, so we'll never know the secrets of those ancient and wondrous times."

Impa, who had been hanging back, arms crossed and glowering, stepped forward now. "Do these caves lead us anywhere near the Rito Village? That's where we need to go." Her voice was sharp and hard. 

"Of course, I'll make sure you get there in one piece." He lead them onward. Zelda brought up the rear. The totems holding her interest, a serpentine dragon, a beast like a boar or an ape, and an owl.  She ran her fingers over the etching on the owl. Something felt familiar and yet she couldn't place her finger on it. 

But, also, there was something else about the carvings, there was a fourth spirit of light. Its effigy was smashed, scratched away, its identity stolen and lost to time. What could it mean? Who was this fourth Great Beast?

Chapter Text

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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Chapter 9

Rito Village

 

"How can they just ignore us like this?" Zelda screamed in frustration. She tossed her bag across the room, missing her bed but she didn't care. "Can't they see we're trying to help them?" She wanted to pull her hair out. No, she wanted to pull the Chieftain's feathers out. "Why can't we just tell them who we are?"

Impa had been patiently following, letting Zelda vent her aggressions. "Not everyone is understanding of what happened the day Lord Dragmire wrested control of the kingdom. The Rito in particular hold a great grudge against the royal family for handing over the throne. They're a proud people and find this offense both weak and insulting."

Zelda sat on her bed, rubbing her face. The area behind her temples had started to ache. 

"Revealing yourself to be the Princess would only work to hinder us at this point. We need to be sympathetic of their stance on this."

Zelda knew Impa was correct, she was just, so frustrated. They had been in the village for three days already, and every day they had council with the chieftain, and everyday he turned them down. They would not show them the way to the Light Temple. It wasn't worth it to go anyway, as the temple maiden, a young fledgling named Medli, had left town, traveling with two of their most powerful warriors to find a way to overthrow the Dark Lord before his influence reached the valley they call home.  They had been gone a week at this point and no one had heard from them. 

"What's the plan now then?" She felt so defeated. Tears began to well in her eyes. 

"Take the loss for now. We head to the next temple and search for the Rito temple maiden along the way." 

"Hyrule is huge, the chances of us finding her are impossible. The moon would fall from the sky before we'd just stumble upon her out there." 

Impa gripped Zelda's chin between her thumb and finger,  bringing her face up to meet her own. Her crimson eyes burrowed into Zelda. Impa was always so serious, so intense. It sometimes took her breath away trying to keep up with her.

"Trust in me my liege. I am still a Sheikah, if you know me trust me to do my job and find her. Do not give up hope." Zelda nodded. She had no reason to not believe Impa, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She left Impa standing alone in the room.

Rito Village wasn’t a village at all. Built up around a pillar of stone jutting up from the center of Lake Totori, the community spiraled towards the sky like an accusing finger. The wooden huts and rope bridges clung to the rock face, defying gravity with their masterful crafting. Colorful flags whipped in the wind. And the city bustled with life. 

Rito, feathered birdmen, were scarce in most of Hyrule, were common in Tabantha Valley, and were the entire populace of Rito Village. The only non Rito Zelda had seen during their stay were the four of them and Gorko. Few traveled this far north into the valley, leaving the city isolated on its peak. For many generations the Rito were not a part of Hyrule and kept to their own society. When Zelda’s father had been young he negotiated trade with the Rito, opening the Hyrule Garrison. And eventually they became part of the Hyrule Empire, pledging allegiance to the throne. 

That goodwill was gone now though. The animosity between the Rito and the royal family was palpable whenever Zelda was in the room with the Chieftain. 

Urbosa had purchased Zelda a new coat, heavy leather with feathers, it was warm but oddly shaped. Its large sleeves were clearly meant for wings and not her arms. But it was a gorgeous sky blue and she loved it. The wind between the mountains was biting and frigid, Zelda was glad for the warmth, and pulled the collar up around her sensitive ears. While having short hair felt freeing, it also was much colder.

“Oh! Hey, bud, you’re still in town I see.” Zelda jumped at the greeting, turning to see Gorko walking up. For a goron that looked like he weighed a metric tonne he was surprisingly light on his feet. 

“Unfortunately, as it seems we may be marooned here for a while.” She bemoaned. Gorko matched her pace as they scaled the wooden steps up the central pillar. “Why are you still here? I would have expected you to be on the road to your next archaeological site by now.”

“There’s more to this valley than meets the eye.” Gorko winked at her. “My research points to a Sheikah temple in this area. I have been trying to find a way to access it.”

Zelda was blown away by the news. “A Sheikah temple? In Rito Village?” Did Impa know this already? 

“Not in Rito Village, no.” The Goron paused, placing a huge, rough hand on Zelda’s shoulder. He pointed out across the lake. Mountains circled the valley, jagged effigies to the northern cold. But nearest to them one mountain was ringed in a plateau and Zelda could clearly see some standing rocks, purposefully laid out in a circle. “There is Sheikah code carved into those stones. I know it holds a Sheikah shrine, I just have to figure out a way in.” 

Gorko waved goodbye as he entered a hut, leaving Zelda alone to scale the rest of the way up the spire. A small garden covered the top of the plateau, a spire of stone jutted out from the center, an overhang made a landing pad of sorts on top. Below stone benches circled a patch of grass. To Zelda’s surprise she wasn’t alone like she wished. Instead Urbosa and Cho stood in the grass, each with a weapon drawn. 

“You know, I’ve never met a voe worth leaving alive.” Urbosa lunged forward, jabbing with her scimitar. Cho parried with his two swords, pushing her off to his left. He swung out at her, but she brought her buckler up, the clash of metal ringing out. They danced around each other and Zelda was struck with how similar the two of them looked. Red locks swirled in the wind as they attacked and parried each other. 

“What are you two doing?” Zelda ran out between them.

“Don’t worry, little bird, we are merely practicing.” Urbosa sheathed her blade. 

“That didn’t look like practice.” Zelda snapped. “You two looked like you were going to kill each other.”

“I mean if one of us were accidentally mortally wounded here, so be it.” Urbosa shrugged while glaring at Cho. He sheepishly backed away, sliding away his two swords. 

“You don’t need to worry about us, princess.” He took a seat upon one of the benches overlooking the lake far below. “Even this hostile woman couldn’t beat me.”

“I’ll show you hostile you little brat.” Urbosa charged Cho, but Zelda grabbed her by the elbow, holding her back. Urbosa crossed her arms, leaning onto one heel. She scowled but didn’t say anything else.

The air between them grew even chillier. Finally Urbosa sighed. “You remind me so much of her.” The Gerudo rested a hand on Zelda’s shoulder, she could feel her warmth even through her coat. Her malachite eyes softened with memories and unspoken words. Zelda placed her hand atop Urbosa’s but she pulled away, and waved as she headed back down into town. 

“I am sorry, princess, you are right, we shouldn’t be fighting.” Cho leaned back, letting his torso stretch out. The sun glistened and bounced across his muscles.

“Aren’t you cold?” Zelda sat next to him, tightening her own coat against the chill. Atop the plateau the unbridled wind was frigid. 

“I-” He paused, turning inward, searching for an answer. “Weather doesn’t really affect me.” He finally shrugged off. He was such an odd boy, Zelda didn’t know what to think of him ever. 

“So, what are your plans from here?” She hadn’t even expected him to travel with them for this long, and yet here they were, all the way at Rito Village together. 

“I wanted to talk to you about that!” He jumped in his seat. Bringing his legs up, he crossed them and rocked back and forth. “I want to go with you, princess. The Yiga are looking for you specifically. You need my protection more than anyone. If I could just protect you princess, that would be enough for me.” 

She was taken aback. Would Urbosa and Cho be okay on the road together? Or would they kill each other? She would love to have Cho with them, he had shown himself to be useful in battle, and knowing the inner workings of the Yiga clan could be useful. “I mean, I am honored to have you with us, but I will have to check with Impa. She’s very particular.” 

“I’m pretty sure she’ll be okay with it.” He winked at her. They both stood, but he continued to kneel before her. Taking her hand he kissed her knuckles. “I pledge myself to you, Princess Zelda of Hyrule.”

Blood rushed to her face, exploding with warmth across her cheeks and up her ears. She pulled her hand back, and held it close to her chest as he stood again. He smiled at her crookedly, his thick lips spreading to show his teeth. With a wave similar to Urbosa’s he bid her adieu and made his way back into town. 

 

***

 

Zelda lay in bed trying to regulate her breathing. She wanted Impa to think she was asleep. The Sheikah sat on her own bed, sharpening her blades methodically. The repetitive sound of the metal against the leather strop made it hard for her to stay awake. But she wanted to explore that Sheikah temple, and had to wait until Impa was asleep.

The stropping stopped. Impa slid from her bed, her padded feet almost silent as she stepped towards the door. “I need to head out, and you need to go to sleep your Highness.” Zelda sighed, how did Impa do that? She waited until she felt it was safe, then crawled out of bed herself. 

The night air fogged her breath, but she couldn’t let it slow her down. Trying to be as light as possible she ran for the base of the island. Even as late as it was the moon was so large and bright, everything was cast in a milky white light. She kept to the shadows, though no one was out she didn’t want to risk being seen. The pillar of stone the town was built around ended at a plateau of a larger pillar that rose from the center of the lake. Large wooden bridges connected the island plateau to other raised islands, and finally across the lake to the mainland. 

Two tall female Ritos stood guard at the last bridge. Zelda straightened herself and walked out between them as nonchalant as she could muster. Neither of the guards even glanced at her. Halfway across she broke into a sprint, letting the air fill her lungs. She felt free. The stables were built on the mainland. Even this late stable hands were up working. Zelda collected Rhiannon and her saddle. 

Racing across the valley around Lake Totori, the mountains pale in the moonlight. It took her no time at all to reach the far side. Pushing Rhiannon onward she climbed the rising rocks until she crested the plateau and saw the standing stones. Immediately she ducked back behind the outcropping, for there was now a temple situated between the circle of stones. Stepping into the temple was Impa. 

What was Impa doing here? Zelda slid from her steed and watched carefully as the temple hummed with a magic cyan light. So Impa knew about the hidden Sheikah temple, and she knew how to get into it. Zelda slipped out of her boots and lightly crossed the clearing in her socks. The temple was made of mud and stone as well as something more alien. Something that radiated a foreign blue light between the spiraling pattern carved into the walls. It was surprisingly small, no bigger than a carriage or single room hut. The entrance was open but the interior appeared to just be a stone disk covered in Sheikah hieroglyphics. She cautiously stepped onto the disk and almost screamed when it gave way. Some sort of magic elevator it traveled downward at an alarming speed. Zelda hugged her knees, feeling her stomach in her throat, the sensation of falling and yet still standing on the floor was nauseating.

But then the elevator stopped, sliding into an indentation in the floor. Zelda stood up, and stepped out into a hallway. Behind her the disk floated back up to its original location. The hallway ahead of her was the strangest combination of ancient and technologically advanced. Carved of obsidian and decorated with arcane patterns of mud and ceramic it was dark except for the cyan lights that danced across the walls. 

Zelda quietly walked through the temple, following the lights. Somewhere ahead she could hear voices. The closer she crept the more she could make out what they were saying. One voice was clearly Impa’s. 

“Does she know about the legend?” An unfamiliar voice asked. Slow and raspy, it sounded like papyrus being pulled over a wooden ledge. 

“She knows enough. As I said we are hunting down the seven sages.” Impa replied. They were just ahead of Zelda now. She crouched to peak around the corner and into the room beyond.

“Will she be willing to go all the way?” A gruff man was speaking. He stood, facing away from Zelda, but even from the back she could tell he was wearing traditional Sheikah clothing that she had occasionally seen Impa wear back in the castle. He stood cross armed looking down at Impa who was kneeling on a mat in the center of the room. Facing her was the oldest man Zelda had ever seen. Leathery skin clung to fragile bones, and she couldn’t tell if he was truly alive or a mummy. A wide sugegasa, a conical hat made of straw, hung low over the ancient man’s face, obscuring it from view.

“She is strong willed and can succeed in her task.” Impa replied, her voice terse. 

“And… what of the boy?” It was the mummy of a man who spoke, his voice ancient and thin. 

“We haven’t-” Impa stood from the mat and looked around the room. Zelda quickly snatched her head from the entrance, and flattened her back against the wall. “Someone’s here.”

“Impossible, no one has been able to find our temples.” The man scoffed.

Silence stretched out across the room. Zelda could hear Impa sniffing the air. “I cannot believe this.” She hissed. “Your Highness, is that you?”

Knowing her cover was blown Zelda sighed and stepped out, holding her hands in the air. The man jumped back, though appearing in his late 50’s he was broad shouldered and large. His grizzled face twisted with surprise. “The princess followed you here?” 

“How did you manage to tail me here without me seeing you?” Impa asked.

“It was an accident. I was coming here on my own to look into this temple.” 

“You knew about this place?” The man asked. “The sheikah temples are kept hidden. How could you have found out about this place?”

“Calm down Dorian. She’s as smart as I told you.” Impa placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Only Sheikah are allowed in here, your Highness. You’re going to have to leave.”

“Are they Sheikah then? I thought you were the last one?” Zelda accused. Had everything Impa ever told her been a lie? How could there be more Sheikah and no one know?

“I can explain at another time, but for now we need to get you back to Rito Village.” Impa stepped towards Zelda, but she stepped away.

“It is okay, Impa, let the child come to me.” The raspy voice of the ancient monk halted them. Impa and Dorian turned towards him. He sat atop a pedestal on a mat, he was mostly naked except beige wrappings at his waist and gold jewelry. He didn’t move, even his chest wouldn’t inflate with breath, as if he had rigor mortis. 

Impa motioned for Zelda to come forward, but she was too afraid of this man to move. Trying to catch her breath she steadied herself and walked up to the pedestal. She knelt lowering her head. She didn’t know who this was, but the very presence of him seemed sacred.

“I am Voo Lota, and I must apologize to you for the deception that has been laid on your family young one.” His words came slow and drawn out. “But it has come time for you to learn of the history of the Sheikah.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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Chapter 10

Voo Lota Shrine

 

 

 

“The Sheikah were not always the Clan of Shadows. We were originally the people of Hylia. The watchers of the Goddess, the defenders of light. But those were early days, when the world was young. The rise of Demise, brought with it shades of change. Hylia waged war with Demise and the Sheikah were caught between, and this was the first tragedy of the Sheikah tribe .

“We sacrificed our very blood for her, our goddess. And in return she elevated the younger races. She blessed the Hylians, both with her power and name. But we have always served our goddess and we will continue to serve her. And as such, as time passed we served her protege. As Hylians rose up and conquered the lands, we followed in their shadows, guiding and protecting them . For centuries we pledged ourselves to the throne. And the kings and queens of Hyrule used our tribe to further their own agenda.

“But not all the Sheikah Tribe were satisfied with being the working secret force of the Hyrule royal family . These interlopers twisted the powers that Hylia had blessed us with. They prayed to a horned god and became masters of black magic. Interlopers of dark magic hunted the Triforce, starting a war across the land. They almost doomed the land with their corruption and greed. But the Goddesses stepped in, freeing the Triforce and banishing the betrayers.

“This opened the eyes of the King to the darker abilities of our tribe. Our role changed in the kingdom. We became spies, torturers, and shadow police for the hierarchy. In our blind devotion to serving the people of our Goddess Hylia, we came to stain our hands red to keep the hands of royalty clean . We truly became the Shadow Tribes.

“I assume you have heard of the Hyrule Civil War my child?”

The room fell silent as Zelda was taken by surprise by the question. The monk had monologued for so long she didn’t expect interaction. She of course had heard of the Hyrule Civil War, a large part of her history studies had revolved around the calamity . The war shaped much of what modern Hyrule was, and united many of the disparate tribes across the land.

“The King of Hyrule asked of us to perform dark tasks. Things unspeakable and evil to ensure his desired outcome in the war. Things that we could no longer hide in the shadows, and when these atrocities came to light he needed a scapegoat . We became war criminals. Our people were executed , sacrificed for the king’s own greed. We watched our own children die. And from this a new plan was devised .

“We hid our race, falsified the records. The history books would speak of our extinction. But we would retreat to our shrines, our hidden temples and tunnels. And here we’ve been hidden , our numbers dwindling, but persevering.”

Zelda couldn’t believe her ears. Not only was Impa not the last Shiekah but the whole race had been living in secret, hiding from the royal family… Her family .

“This is all our fault.” She muttered. Every leg of this journey was a struggle of mourning her father, but then learning of the atrocities her father committed . Her family had been the driving force of so much death and destruction. How could she uphold such a horrible dynasty?

“Do not blame yourself, your Hi- Zelda. These things all came to pass long before you were born, or even your father was born.” Impa knelt next to her, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulders.

“It’s my heritage, I’m responsible for the actions of my ancestors. I cannot hide away from this and absolve myself.”

Impa turned Zelda towards her, and embraced her. Zelda’s nostrils filled with the warm scent of familiarity and home. Zelda wrapped her own arms around Impa, feeling Impa’s muscles through the light fabric of her shirt. She was strong and lifted Zelda.

“With our secrets now held with you, you are now tied to our tribe.” She turned back to the monk, while she had been in Impa’s arms he had extended his hand, palm open to the sky. “Do you choose to step into the shadows?”

Her mind raced. Was she being brought into the Sheikah tribe? Was that something they did?

“Voo Lota, I do not think it is wise to do this.” Impa put herself between Zelda and the monk.

“I also have reservations about this. She’s not a Sheikah, she doesn’t belong here.” Dorian scoffed.

“The times have changed… We must change with them.”

Zelda pushed past Impa, and before she could stop her, Zelda reached out and gripped the ancient monk’s hand. At first she was afraid of breaking him, he felt so fragile, so old and thin. But then all thoughts were wiped from her mind as her arm burst into red hot pain. She couldn’t prevent herself from letting out a scream, and her knees buckled beneath her. But her grip wouldn’t let go.

“Let the nine seals touch you. Let them open your eye, let them guide your path.” Voo Lota started chanting. Zelda gritted her teeth until she tasted metallic. She stood again, she wouldn’t let this get the better of her. If she was to save Hyrule she had to do this. The room disappeared behind the tears blurring her vision, but she didn’t back down.

“Rin.” A sheikah emblem burned itself into her skin. Orange and white hot.

“Pyo.” Her head started to spin.

“To.” The symbols were climbing her arm, each brighter than the last.

“Sha.” She could tell that her nose was bleeding, running down her lips and chin.

“Kai.” Looking back to Impa she saw the other two Sheikah, standing, looking grim but not helping her.

“Jin.” They were making symbols with their hands. Each seal spoken by the monk was accompanied by a hand posture from the two of them.

“Retsu.” Zelda turned back to the monk, focusing all her energy at him. Fighting the pain, trying not to pass out.

“Zai.” He was glowing now, wisps of blue fire swirled around him.

“Zen.” The last seal singed across her arm. And he burst into a shattered fragment of light and energy. Zelda stumbled back, feeling the mat beneath her toes. Her mind was moving faster than her body. The pain bloomed from her arm across her chest. The monk was gone.

The last thing she remembered were the hands of Impa catching her as she blacked out.

***

Hilda stood before her. Her hair pulled back into a high ponytail, revealing how gaunt her face looked. Her round dark eyes bore into Zelda’s soul. They stood in the secret Sheikah chamber in the palace. But time was different now. Neither of them were who they had been. They hardly looked like twins anymore. The Hilda before her might as well have been a stranger. Standing five feet apart she had never felt so distant from her twin.

“You’re alive?” Zelda’s voice was raspy, a whisper into the void.

“You are no longer who you were.” Hilda breathed. She lifted a bony finger and pointed at her. “And yet you are not who you will be.”

“What do you mean? Are you hiding in this room? I’m coming to save you.” Zelda reached out, but upon seeing her arm, the nine seals burnt into her flesh, she screeched in pain. She pulled her arm back, cradling it.

Hilda continued to point accusingly at Zelda. Or was she pointing past her? Zelda slowly turned, a tall, gilded mirror leaned up against the bookshelves. But the reflection she saw wasn’t her own. A woman looked back at her, her skin a spiral of black and cerulean, and hair like flames spilling down her back. Her eyes were intense coals, burning with passion and drive. She placed a hand against the mirror. Zelda reached out with her good arm and pressed her hand against the glass.

“Wake up.” The alien woman urged.

***

“Wake up, princess.” Cho rustled her, gently shaking her shoulder. Zelda’s eyes were crusted with sleep, and her body ached, but she struggled awake. His wide, lopsided grin greeted her. “I was beginning to worry about you. I mean you’ve been moaning in your sleep for a while now.”

Memories racing back to her- Zelda jumped up. Her right arm erupted in pain, she gripped it, now bandaged all the way up to her shoulder. “How long have I been asleep for?”

“A couple o’ days now.” Cho stood up from where he had been sitting on her cot. He sat in a chair across from her, cross legged. “You wouldn’t believe how much begging it took to convince Urbosa to let me take a turn watching you.”

“I-” She didn’t know what to say. As much as she liked Cho she knew she couldn’t tell him anything about the Sheikah. “I need to see Impa.”

His face fell a little. “Well, I know I’m not the best looking guy, but I didn’t expect to be kicked out so soon.”

“Cho, stop being a knob.”

He threw his head back in a laugh. “Yes, I’m sure you have a ton of questions for her. She won’t tell us what happened to you. But hopefully that big tough silent guy act will fall for you.” He hopped out of his chair and stepped out of the room.

Zelda ran her fingers over the bandages, through them she could feel the welted skin in the shape of Sheikah letters . What was going to happen now? Was she a Sheikah? She didn’t feel any more powerful, but if this could give her the strength to fight the Usurper…

“I am glad you have come to.” Impa stepped in. The dark circles around her eyes told Zelda that while she had been out for days, Impa hadn’t slept at all in that time.

“What’s going to happen now?”

Impa sat next to Zelda on the cot, and took her bandaged hand, running a finger around her palm. “I’ll train you in the ways of the Sheikah tribe. It won’t be easy, and will have to be kept mostly secret from the others.”

“Did the mon-”

“Master Voo Lota has passed on. He gave up his life force to pass on the Kuji-in to you.”

“The Kuji-in?”

“The nine seals. They’re what allow the Sheikah magic without having to use music. They also have other powers, and will help guide you. I will teach you how to use them. There’s a lot to cover, and this is something of an… anomaly. No one that I know of has ever been allowed into the tribe. You are either born of the bloodline or not.” She stood and walked over to the window, looking out over the windswept lake. Her back remained turned towards Zelda and neither spoke. The only sound a wind spinner clicking somewhere outside.

Impa turned back, her frame back lit by the sun, making her expression unreadable. “Zelda, there’s something I need to tell you-”

“I’m so glad you’re awake!” Urbosa burst into the room. Seeing her with her red hair in a ponytail reminded Zelda of her dream. Who had that been in her reflection?

Urbosa gave Zelda a hug. Cho followed her sheepishly into the room. Impa walked away from them, leaning into a corner.

“How is your arm feeling?”

“I can move it.” Zelda stretched out her arm and flexed her hand, watching her fingers curl in and out of the beams of sunlight from the window . “But it’s still in a lot of pain, so I don’t know how I’m going to defend myself.”

“That’s going to have to be good enough.” Impa’s stern tone turned all heads to her. “Because we are going to have to leave today. Too much time has been wasted here already.”

“We can’t let her rest some more? I mean look at her.” Cho waved his hand in Zelda’s direction.

“Unfortunately Impa is correct. Time is of the essence.” Urbosa sighed. “But we’ll be careful and keep a close eye on your injury.”

“Urbosa help her get ready, I’ll go ahead and get the horses prepped for our departure.” Impa briskly left, grabbing Cho by the arm and dragging him out with her.

***

Zelda had been wrong. Very, very wrong. Riding Rhiannon was torture on her arm, every jostle and bounce sending fire through her shoulder . But not wanting to slow down the group she gritted her teeth and pressed onward. From the back of his cart Cho would not stop talking, but the pounding in her head prevented her from hearing anything he was saying .

The road stretched on forever, the constant pain throbbing through Zelda. The journey started to blur together. Zelda lost track of time until Tabantha Village appeared around the bend.

Except it wasn’t the village. At least not anymore. They froze in their tracks as the ruins of village stretched out before them. Smoke still billowing from the freshly razed buildings. The grass stained red with the blood of-

Zelda closed her eyes and turned away.

“Those monsters.” Urbosa cursed in Gerudo.

“This is our fault isn’t it? We should’ve warned them when we saw that army. They’re dead because of us.”

“Protecting you was imperative. If we succeed in our mission you will save all Hyrule.” Impa reigned her horse around and ushered them off the road. “This is fresh, recent. We need to find a safe place to rest for the night, they could still be close.” She lead them out into the outcropping of rocks. Pushing them onward, until she settled on a location covered enough and far enough to dissuade her fears .

The night chill, the pain, and the horrifying vestige of earlier prevented Zelda from sleep . Laying on the hard ground she watched the stars slowly rotate in the sky. Was Hilda alive? Was she watching the same stars right now? Her heart ached for her other half. She had never been away from her sister for longer than a week. And while the thought of her being alive lifted a weight that Zelda hadn't realized she'd been carrying, it also opened feelings she had suppressed . Her father's final words repeated themselves in her head over and over.

She had to find Hilda. She'd do anything for her sister.

And if she was under this same sky she would track her down.

***

The trek back to the Garrison was long. But eventually the rocky unevenness broke away to grassy hills. The mountains on either side growing smaller and less intimidating.

The bodies of Moblins were dotted around the field. Arrows protruding from corpses and plunged unceremoniously in the ground. The closer they got to the garrison the more bodies scattered about. The lizardmen corpses started to appear as well. When the wall of the garrison rose up in front of them, bodies were piled everywhere, including the corpses of Hylians and Rito .

The guards this time into the garrison were not as welcoming. They questioned them extensively before allowing them through the gates. The mood inside was also different, somber and heavy. A makeshift field hospital had been erected on the far side of the wall, injured soldiers lined up like fallen toys . Tents lined the opposite wall, refugees with familiar faces collected water from the nearby well .

“There appears to be refugees from Tabantha Village here.” Impa observed.

“No, I recognize these people.” Zelda took Urbosa’s hand and slid from her horse. “These are the families from Lon Lon Ranch!”

“Of course it is, you didn’t think a little bulblin raid would stop us, did you?” It was a familiar voice, beautiful and musical, but also rugged. They turned to the source and standing there was Malon, Romani at her knee.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

 

The Refugee Caravan

 

Seeing Malon standing there, Romani at her knee, was like being visited by a ghost. Zelda’s vision blurred with tears. Running across the cobblestone Zelda swung her arms around the woman. 

“Is it really you?! You’re alive!” Zelda sobbed into her shoulder. Malon hugged her back, nodding. 

“We fought bravely for our home, but sometimes you need to know when to live to fight another day.” 

Urbosa picked up Romani and spun her around. The girl giggled and laughed. Zelda could scream from the rooftops she felt so happy. 

“We also arrived just in time for this place to be attacked as well. Lucky for us there are a lot of strong, good soldiers here, and we were able to stand our ground.” Malon led them towards her tent. Impa didn’t follow, instead leading the horses off alone. “They’re getting more brazen. To think they’re just out here attacking towns now.” 

“Tabantha Village, did they all-”

“Die? No, I hear it was nasty out there, they got it worse than us. But a lot of the people here are from there as well.” Malon sighed, taking a seat on a straw mat laid out. 

“What is your next step?” Urbosa asked, sitting across from Malon. Romani climbed into her lap.

“As much as the protection from this garrison is nice, we’re simple farming people. South of here is Ordon Village, one of the last farming towns still in Hyrule Fields. We’re taking as many of us as possible and heading down there.”

“Why?” Zelda cradled her arm, tender from hugging her earlier. “Wouldn’t it just be better to stay here? To be protected?”

“To be caged is no freedom. After the fall of the kingdom Hyrule Fields was raided. We’ve lost so many farms, and yet so many people need our crops. You must help Hyrule in your way, and we must help in our way.” Once again Zelda was struck with how powerful and poised Malon was. “But how did your quest go? Did you find the Temple you were looking for?”

“We didn’t.” Zelda growled. “The shrine maiden wasn’t there, and they wouldn’t let us know where the temple was. This whole thing was a waste.” Her hand rested on her bandages. Well, maybe not all a waste…

"Ordon Village is at least a three day journey from here, how do you plan on getting there safely?" Urbosa pondered.

Before Malon could answer Zelda cut in- "With our help of course!"

"Do you think that's wise? We have our own quest." Urbosa gave Zelda the look of a disappointed teacher.

"Ordon Village is located by the Faron Woods, I remember that from my studies. You said there was a temple down there. We'll kill two birds with one stone. Plus, we can search for the Rito shrine maiden along the way."

Urbosa looked from Zelda to Malon, who aided. "The extra support would be greatly appreciated."

Urbosa laughed and threw up her arms theatrically. "You make a good point, little bird."

"Oh, ho, ho Impa is going to be livid at this." Cho chuckled from the back of the tent. Zelda's heart sank. Convincing Urbosa of this was one thing, Impa was a whole other beast.

***

“Sounds like a good idea.” Impa agreed. Zelda’s mouth opened and closed in pantemined speech, shocked by the reply. They stood in the stables, water around their feet as Impa washed and brushed her horse. “My only stipulation is- we need to be gone by tomorrow.”

“I thought this would be harder.” 

“It’s dangerous out there, and you’re injured. It will be good to have a big group that we can blend into. Especially now that we know that the Yiga clan are looking for you specifically. It was a good call.” The words coming out of Impa’s mouth sounded commending, but her stern monotone made them almost sound chastising. Zelda thought they had been getting closer, but now Impa seemed to be standing on the other side of an ice wall. 

“Thank you.” Zelda said hollowly. She made her way through the Garrison to the refugee tents. She turned away from the injured soldiers. Their ashen faces and pained grimaces were too much to look at. Was this war? It felt like everywhere she went she was surrounded by death and destruction. 

“Why so glum, blondie?” Cho rolled up next to her. He stretched his arms, linking his fingers behind his head.

“Does this not bother you?” 

His face twisted from confusion to quizzical. “Where I am from I have lived through worse than this. Life is different for the wealthy that can hide behind fancy walls, sipping fancy tea. This is reality for lots of us out here.”

Zelda didn’t know what to say. She had been sheltered her whole life. Her father had made sure of that. While she was stuck dressing up in royal garb and being mentored in etiquette, people she had never seen were suffering and struggling to survive.

“Cheer up, you’re going to save the world right?” Cho nudged her. “The hero of a generation,eh?”

“I may be the spoiled princess, but you’re a real brat.” 

***

Urbosa was wrong, three days to get to Ordon Village was generous. The caravan, carts pulled by cows and horses, people walking along beside, and frequent stops, meant the journey was looking closer to five days. Impa, Zelda and Urbosa made rounds around the train of carts, keeping close eyes on the rolling hills. They had already been on the road for three days. The fields of wheat and corn dispersing into green hills. To their right the Mesas of Doubt rose up like imposing red walls, separating the green of Hyrule from the windswept sands of the Gerudo Desert. 

The caravan spiraled into itself whenever the sun set. Creating a protective circle, with a large bonfire in the center. The families chatted and sang and danced. Large meals were prepared, and eaten communally. The warmth of family and community was like a blanket, and though the days on the road were hard, Zelda felt content at night. Though something darker crept just beyond their wagons. The warnings of whatever roamed the fields at night always burned at the back of her mind.

Everyday Zelda’s arm was feeling better and better. At night she rewrapped her wounds, staring at the scars in jagged symbols. She’d trace them with her finger and repeat their names as Voo Lota had done. 

But still the pull of the reins was too much for her arm, and so she rode mostly one handed. She followed behind the caravan today, watching Cho play with Romani in the back of one of the covered wagons. She laughed as he tossed her into the air, letting her almost fall out of the wagon before catching her again. 

“I didn’t expect you to be so good with kids.” Zelda called out. He flashed a grin at her, his canines were oddly sharp.

“She reminds me of someone from my past.” Romani jumped beside him, begging to be tossed again.

“You have a family? Sisters?”  Zelda pushed Rhiannon as close to the wagon as possible.

Cho’s eyes drifted off, remembering something from long ago. His lips mouth a name Zelda couldn’t make out. Ocean? “No sisters, just brothers, but they’re long gone.” He snapped back to the present. 

“I’m sorry.” She lamented. Hilda’s face from her dream came to mind. Gaunt, tired, weak. She was going to save her sister. 

“Don’t worry about it. It was a long time ago.” He swung Romani back into the air. Any somberness in him was completely gone. Zelda pulled on her reins, letting Rhiannon take her away from the wagon. Impa would kill her if she let something happen on her watch. 

Copses of trees were beginning to sprout up around them. Each tree growing larger than the last. They were definitely nearing the Faron Woods. 

"It's so quiet, peaceful." She felt the wind rustle her short hair. 

"Quiet does not mean peace." She almost jumped, not expecting Impa to come riding up beside her. "Monsters lay in wait. Quiet means preparation, quiet means hidden agendas."

Zelda opened her mouth to reply but Urbosa rode up instead, cutting her off. "You are going to want to see this, follow me!" She led them off without another word. Malon, sword strapped to her back and telescope in her hand, was peering out into the trees.

"What is it?" Impa took the telescope from Malon's outstretched hand, and held it up to her eye.

"It's a Lizalfos, he's been tailing the caravan. I'm not sure what he's trying to do. If he's trying to be stealthy he's doing a horrible job." As Malon debriefed them Zelda could actually make him out from this distance even without the telescope. One of the lizard men, like she'd seen in Tabantha Valley, was running through the treeline. He was swinging from branches, and making impressive ground. 

"Easy enough," Impa handed back the telescope before urging her horse forward, racing towards the treeline. The Lizalfos spotted her early and drew a spear, prepping itself as she drew her own naginata. Before their blades clashed they heard a scream from behind.

Another Lizalfos was perched atop one of the covered wagons. It held a jagged blade above its head and let out a horrid roar.

"It's an ambush!" Urbosa yelled. Another Lizalfos came running around a cart, chasing two women. Malon jumped from her horse swinging her sword with deadly accuracy. 

The Lizalfos on the wagon lunged down, knocking Urbosa from her horse. They hit the ground with a sickening thud as they began to wrestle. Both their weapons scattered across the road. Zelda hopped off her horse and yanked at the crest of leathery skin on the Lizalfos's head. He screamed and spun around, slicing at her with his claws. 

"Get back!" Urbosa commanded, Zelda ducked and rolled away, just as a lightning bolt struck from the clear sky and burst into the lizard man. Before they could celebrate a familiar scream echoed from the far side of the road. Spinning around Zelda watched as two Lizalfos carried off Romani, kicking and screaming, between them. 

Climbing back onto Rhianon, Zelda raced after them. Spotting her coming up behind them, one of the raiders let Romani go, and drew a hammer. Zelda drew her rapier with her left hand, struggling to get it out of its sheath. The clash of the hammer against her blade sent reverberations up her arm and she dropped her sword. The Lizalfos snatched her arm, yanking her from the saddle. 

The ground comes at her hard, covering her head with her arms she rolled to her knees. Her body screamed at her. Scrambling, her ears ringing, she frantically grabbed at her sword. The Lizalfos's hammer came down, smashing the grass where Zelda had just been. This time grabbing her sword with her right hand, she swung at the monster's knees. The Lizalfos crumpled to the ground, and Zelda jumped to her feet, making quick work of it.

Turning back to Romani and her remaining captor, Zelda screamed. The second Lizalfos had dropped Romani and was upon Zelda, swinging his curved blade. Before her deathblow four daggers soared through the air and lodged themselves into the Lizalfos’s chest. He looked down at his chest in shock before stumbling and collapsing. 

“Are you well?” Impa ran up to her. Zelda nodded, using the straps of her saddle to stand. She cleaned her blade on the grass before sheathing it, it felt nice to hold her sword in her right hand again. 

“You can’t run off like that, what if you had gotten hurt, or worse? I don’t know what I would have done.” Impa chided. Zelda turned to her, shocked by the statement.

“What you would have done?” 

Impa shook her head, her face turning red. “I mean, you have to save Hyrule. We need you.” 

Before Zelda could reply she felt Romani tugging at her trousers. The little girl stared at her feet, tears welling in her eyes. She didn’t say anything, but held out her arms. Zelda picked up the girl, careful to hold her weight in her left arm. 

“It’s going to be okay, I’ve got you.” Zelda nuzzled the girl. Romani cried into her shoulder. 

Chapter Text

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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Chapter 12

Mount Hylia

 

The wind that cut across the fields brought a winter chill that Zelda was not prepared for. Winter was coming early to Hyrule this year. Flocks of birds dotted the sky, migrating south. The caravan mimicked their route on the roads below.

Her arm was feeling better. She bent it at the elbow and flexed her fingers, testing her mobility. No pain radiated from her shoulder or the markings. She felt free. 

Riding to the front of the train she caught up to Malon and Impa who were deep in conversation. Malon’s face held high as she listened to Impa’s stern voice. She looked regal upon her horse, everything Zelda wished she could be.

“The last attack was clearly a scouting group. That means there’s a larger army out there.” the Sheikah guard warned.

“We’re only a day’s ride from Ordon, it’s safer to stay the course.” Malon countered. Catching a glimpse of Zelda watching them from afar, she waved her over. “What do you think your-”

“Seres” Impa cut off.

“Right, what do you think, Seres?”

Zelda rode up on the other side of Impa. “We are definitely closer to Ordon than Hyrule Garrison. As well, the Lizalfos came from the east. Wouldn’t it be safe to assume the army is also to the east? As long as we’re heading south we’re putting distance between us and them.” Malon nodded her head in agreement. 

“Very well.” Impa’s lips made a thin line. “But I will send Labrosa and some others out to patrol the area around the caravan.”

“My arm is feeling better. I think it’s time to start my Sheikah training.” Zelda waved her arm with exuberance. 

“Good to know.” Impa snapped her reins and rode ahead. 

Zelda helplessly glanced at Malon, who returned an empathetic look. “I don’t know what I’ve done, but she’s been distant since Rito Village.”

“Sometimes feelings are hard to understand, and even harder to put into words.” 

Zelda sighed, watching Impa ride farther ahead. 

“How’s Romani? She was pretty shaken up after the attack.” 

“Still silent.” Malon brushed her horse’s mane with her hand. “But I’m confident that she’ll turn around soon. She’s a strong girl and has had her fair share of hardships that she’s overcome.”

The Lon Lon sisters were both such strong women. Zelda knew she had to be strong too. 

Riding up to Impa she cut her off. “I really think we should start my training to be a Sheikah.”

“It’s not that easy.” Impa’s eyes narrowed. “Our goal is to make it safely to Ordon Village right now.” 

“Why are you acting like this? I thought you’d be excited, one of your monks added me to your tribe?”

This was the wrong thing to say. “That isn’t what happened!” Impa snapped at her. “You can’t just become a Sheikah. You don’t know the first thing about being a Sheikah. The hardships we had to endure. Your own family almost killed us all. We’ve had to be in hiding for years. The persecution of your people is all I’ve ever known. You are not training to be a Sheikah, you did not become a Sheikah when Voo Lota sacrificed himself. You can never be one of us because you will never know what it’s like to hide every aspect of yourself for your own survival.”

Zelda didn’t know how to reply. The hurt, the anger, on Impa’s face was something she’d never seen. Her hand went to her cheek, remembering the time Impa had slapped her. She really didn’t know anything about the people of Hyrule.

“We will start your training when I find it the right time.” Impa concluded. Zelda conceded, letting her continue forward. 

Coming to the side of the road she watched the caravan ride by. Families talking and playing. Horses and pack animals silently toiling away beneath their yokes. From where they were Faron woods was visible ahead stretching out into the horizon and what Hylians called the Verde Sea. A massive forest that enclosed southern Hyrule, and very few people traveled into. Before the woods a lone peak pushed its way into the sky, rocky and rough on this side before collapsing into trees on the other.

A stone effigy was erected on top of the small mountain. Something about it called to her. It didn’t take much goading to get Rhiannon to travel off the path and start the bumpy ride up the piedmont. While rocky, it wasn’t too hard for the horse to traverse. Zelda watched over her shoulder as the caravan pulled away. She wasn’t too worried about catching up to them; riding alone she was much faster than the conglomeration of wagons. 

Cresting the top she immediately knew what the effigy was. Three smaller stones held up a tall pillar rock. A makeshift grave. Taking long strides she left Rhiannon behind and stood next to the marker. It looked over all Hyrule Fields, the twisted shell of the castle in the far distance. Death Mountain's silhouette stood like an ominous god to the northeast. From here the land seemed so small. 

And yet their problems were so big.

"We didn't know what to do with him when they brought him here." Zelda spun around, drawing her sword. A man stood next to Rhiannon, petting her gently. Though he carried himself straight and strong,  he had the face of an average dad. Almost as if he was about to make a bad pun. He was garbed as a farmer,  but had a sword at his waist. 

"I apologize, misses, I didn't mean to startle ya'll." He nodded his head in a small bow. "The names Rusl."

“Who’s grave is this?” though she knew.

“The king. They were able to recover his body after the betrayal. But Dragmire’s army had started their march across Hyrule, and the Royal Graveyard was inaccessible. We did what we could.” She placed her palm against the cool stone. “I think he’d like it, watching over the kingdom from here.”

“Why are you telling me all this?” 

“I just feel it’s something you needed to hear.” The man shrugged. “I can tell you’re a girl looking for something. I know the world can seem dark at times. But the king is still leading us forward. You can count on that.” He winked at her. 

Zelda placed her other hand on the stone, spreading her fingers wide. Was this all that was left of her father? Pressing her forehead against the coolness, she felt tears welling up.

 

***

 

"Two women come forward, both claiming to be the mother of a single child."

"Yes, yes and you offer to cut the baby in half, the one who doesn't accept that solution is the real mother, we've heard this story." Zelda cut her father off. The three of them, her father, Hilda, and her, sat on a bench in the royal orchard, watching the spring sun through the trees. 

The king sighed, closing the book in his hands. "No, Zelda, you must understand the story, not just have heard it. As future rulers you must be understanding. Both of your own people and of others."

Zelda scoffed, crossing her arms, she hated these boring lessons. Hilda sighed emphatically and squeezed her hand.

Their father watched the the two girls for a while. Finally he pointed to a large, twisting tree across the creek from them. "That's a Mystical Seed Tree, your mother brought it with her when she came to me. We planted it here in this orchard, together. A symbol of our devotion to each other. They say if you eat the seeds of this tree, they will give you magic powers."

"You and mother truly love each other." Hilda whispered breathlessly. Her starry eyes stared into the sky.

"Your mother was my tree. Strong and beautiful and protective. She was the one that taught me to be a kind and understanding ruler. That is why I wish to pass these lessons down to you, it is what she would have wanted."

Zelda stared up at her father, a mountain of a main with a strong brow and square jaw. He looked like a god to her. "If mother was your tree, what were you?"

"She always called me her rock."

 

***

 

Zelda's tears darkened the stone. She missed her father so much. Her heart ached like it was bound by cord, pulled ever tighter the farther her family drifted from her. Crying freely was cathartic, but she quickly remembered the man standing there.

When she looked up, though, he was gone. She hovered around the effigy for a little longer, the emotions draining from her. Eventually she was empty, hollow, but ready to be filled up. She mounted Rhiannon and headed back down the mount. 

She could see the tail end of the caravan as it disappeared into the thicket. Urging her horse forward she sped up to catch them. 

Her father's face brought with it the murderer that took him from her. She would never forget that face,  and everything that man did. He took everything from her, her father,  her sister, her kingdom. The rage boiled up inside her, evaporating any sadness she carried. Zelda would not rest until she killed him, until revenge was hers.  

The lost princess would bring war to the Gerudo man's doorstep. And she would win. 

"Seres, I was beginning to worry!" Urbosa matched her stride. "Where have you been?"

"I needed some time to contemplate." Urbosa eyed her, could she see the vengeance growing inside her like a darkness? Zelda averted her own eyes, almost ashamed of the anger. 

"We're arriving in Ordon Village, they sent a small group to meet us." Urbosa took the lead, circumventing the caravan on the tight forest road. Malon and Impa were riding at the head with three men, one being Rusl from atop the mountain. 

"Ah, so we meet again." He chuckled and flashed a silly grin at her. Impa's suspicions visibly flared up. 

"I didn't give you my name last time, it's Seres." Weeks later and the name still tasted strange in her mouth.  

"I would say our meeting was Seres-dipity." He laughed at his own joke. One of the other men groaned. Zelda chuckled as the tension in her chest broke up. 

Ordon Village was hugged by the forest, an arm reaching around the north, west and south. But the east opened out into the fields, rice paddies and goat ranches spread out into the distance. The town itself was small, built beside a ravine that separated it from the forest proper. 

A large man of both girth and height greeted them. Looking like the very goats that they herded, he was an imposing figure. Though a group of children tumbled around him like he was a swing set and not the imposing man he was. Flanking him were three Rito, two men, standing tall and proud, and a small female, barely taller than Romani. 

Malon, Impa, Urbosa and Zelda pulled off to meet with the man as Rusl and the other men led the caravan to the far side of town.  

"Malon, it's been ages, I'm sorry to hear of your father." He lifted Malon in a bear hug that swept her off the ground. "Last time I saw you, you barely came to my knee."

"Thank you, Bo, and thank you for taking us in." Malon's eyes shimmered with tears, the most vulnerable Zelda had ever seen her. 

"Of course! Your family is our family. Assistance in the fields is also needed, we’ve lost so many to the raids, and we’re reaching the end of harvest.” Malon and Bo continued to yammer as Zelda’s focus moved to the three Rito. The girl was staring at her, her crimson eyes boring into Zelda. Pale feathers ended in dark brown, which she had pulled into a faux-ponytail. While looking young and innocent she carried herself with a grimness that belied her age. But most notable to Zelda was the robes she wore, soft blue and red and emblazoned with the Rito crest. 

“You’re the shrine maiden.” 

“And you’re the princess.” Her voice was like a song. Zelda placed a finger to her lips to silence the girl.

“Not here, there are too many prying eyes.” 

“Of course, the mayor here has graciously lent us a place to stay, we can meet there.” The shrine maiden led away, the tall white feathered guard following closely on her tail. The blue feathered one watched them pass, arms crossed and eyes narrowed.

The house the Rito were staying in was small and cozy like a cottage from some daydream. They sat on mats on the floor surrounding a low table. The white Rito guardian brought over a tray of baked goods and set it between them. Behind closed doors the girl’s personality changed completely. Her large round eyes lit up and she grabbed Zelda's hands in both of her wings, jumping up and down and yipped; "I can't believe we found you and so quickly! This is amazing. I’m Medli, this is Revali and Teba." They went around the room introducing themselves.

"To be honest we did not expect to locate you so efficiently as well." Impa replied. 

“Okay... so you were looking for me, which means you must have already been to Rito Village." Medli began taking stock on her feathers, putting together where they were in their journey. “How many other temples have you reached already?"

“Only the Spirit Temple. The Temple of Light was our next stop but then you weren't there when we arrived, and the Chieftain wouldn’t let us know the location of the temple without you, and now we're here. " Zelda explained.

“Okay! And we're so close to the Forest Temple that has to be the next stop."

Urbosa raised an eyebrow. “You coming with us little one?"

Medli's feathers ruffled trying to make herself as tall as possible. "I'm not little and I am the best person you'll ever find for knowing the ancient prophecies."

"How do you know the prophecy so well?” Impa asked. "It has been lost to time, we barely know the prophecy."

"I have known the prophecy my entire life. I've been raised for this. The Spirit of Light came to my mother when she was pregnant with me and recited the prophecy. I have known that I would be the sage of light since the day I was born." Zelda saw some of that grimness she had seen outside reappear.

"The Spirit of Light?" Zelda questioned.

"Yes, there are three spirits who were put here by the three goddesses to watch over Hyrule. the spirit of light has been watching over the Tabantha region for as long as Hyrule has existed and the Rito have known about it for ages."

Zelda remembered the holy Zonai beasts. Could they possibly be related? 

"We will travel with you until we reach Rito Village again. Teba and Revali are the two best Rito warriors, they're assistance in protecting the princess will be invaluable." Medli ended the debate. 

“It does seem to be the best idea.” Cho piped up. He was sitting in the back of the room again. It always surprised Zelda how he sank into the background when they were meeting with others, but he was always watching. 

"Very well, then we head into the heart of the forest next."

Chapter Text

 

 

Era of Dusk and Shade

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Chapter 13

The Lost Woods

 

 

"I cannot allow you into the woods." Mayor Bo stood like a stone gate, blocking the rope bridge that hung over the ravine and led into the forest. "No one who enters ever returns."

"We must, it is part of our pilgrimage." Impa pressed into him. Though much smaller she was equally intimidating.

"The children of the woods haunt these lands. Letting you through will leave your blood on my hands."

"You must not know who I am, master of the sky, nothing will happen to us on my watch." Revali spoke with a pridefulness that almost came off as uncultured.

The children of the woods sounded familiar. Were they the Kokiri? She had grown up believing them to be myths, but now the book and this village claimed otherwise.

"Let them pass Bo, their quest is just , and their path true.” the bull of a man threw up his arms in defeat. Malon laughed and walked up, taking Zelda's hands in hers.

"We will watch your horses and belongings, there was plenty of room in the stables for them. Y'all take care of yourselves out there, these woods are dangerous."

"I'm grateful for everything you've done for us, and we'll be back before you even know it." Zelda didn't want to let go of her hands, she felt like she was siphoning a little of Malon's strength, and she felt more ready to face the lost woods.

"We must be on our way." Impa urged. Zelda nodded and they headed across the rickety bridge.

"Wait!" This time Romani ran towards them. Zelda knelt and grabbed the young girl in an embrace.

"Don't worry, we'll be back." She assured her.

"I need to tell you something." Romani whispered into Zelda's ear. "Don't trust Cho, he's evil. He gave me to the lizard men."

Zelda almost couldn't even believe her ears. Cho? She glanced over her shoulder, he was at the front of the group speaking with the Rito guards, but his eyes were focused intently on Romani and her. She quickly snapped back to the girl, hoping Cho hadn't caught her staring at him.

"Thank you for letting me know. You are very brave. Now go back to your sister. I'll make sure to keep my eye on him."

 

***

 

Across the ravine the forest immediately became a dense tangle of underbrush and branches . No path led the way, and going was slow as Cho and Revali hacked their way through the flora. Zelda watched from the back. Revali was clearly strong and deft, but handled the blade awkwardly in his wing hand. Cho's back was chorded with muscles that rippled as he swung his blade back and forth.

Cho had saved her, protected her, did he really give Romani to the raiders? Surely the girl was mistaken. She didn't want to believe that Cho could betray her.

"So, do you like him or something?" Medli's voice was playful.

"What? Who?" Zelda turned away, her ears burning.

Medli motioned towards the former Yiga. "You said his name was Cho right? I saw you staring at him." Medli winked and grabbed Zelda's arm, hanging off her.

"Yeah, I don't know how I feel about him." She thought about what Malon had said about Impa. Hard to know and harder to put into words.

"Okay, what's his story? Who is he?" Medli quizzed.

Zelda realized she didn't know. She knew nothing about the man except his word that he was former Yiga. Why did she trust him? She had felt kinship to him from the beginning. He felt so familiar and close but who was he really ?

"I have to tell you something." Medli leaned in close, ready to hear her confession-

"It's an ambush!" Impa yelled out.

The trees around them burst to life as living skeletons leaped from the branches. Medli screamed as Zelda pushed the shrine maiden behind her. Drawing her rapier she stared down the monstrosities as they swarmed the party. Decaying, and overgrown with moss and vines the horrifying undead were quick to whip into a frenzy .

Zelda swung her blade, decapitating her attacker. Even without its head the body still rushed her, but a well placed kick shattered its ribcage and the skeleton crumpled .

Ahead Impa and Urbosa danced around each other, curved blades slashing through the undead . And farther up Teba and Revali had taken to the air, holding their weapons in their feet and deftly destroying their assailants . Zelda finally understood why Revali looked so awkward holding the sword with his wing .

No matter how many they took down it seemed there were more coming. Were the bones of dead fusing into new bodies?

"Zelda, look!" Medli tugged on her free arm. There was someone standing just beyond the trees of their clearing. A child judging by the size and stature, but its face obscured by a large hat of leaves and twigs, and a mask. It was motioning towards them, urging them forward. Zelda glanced around at the onslaught.

"Come on!" She called out to everyone before grabbing Medli and sprinting towards the strange child . As they neared, it bounced away in a weird clunky dance, almost as if it was a marionette. Zelda pushed forward, almost blind as thick brush and branches scratched and tore at her skin and clothes . Every time it seemed they had almost caught the creature it danced and hopped away, like it was playing a game with them . The underbrush became too thick and, her legs entangled in roots and vines that laced the ground, Zelda fell to the ground, taking Medli with her .

When they stumbled to their feet the strange forest child was gone, but they stood in a clearing. In the center was a tree stump with a small girl sitting atop it. An ocarina clutched in her hand she didn't move, but looked frightened. She almost looked Hylian, no older than twelve, verdant hair tucked behind her pointed ears . She was clothed in a green tunic that Zelda immediately recognized.

"You're a Kokiri!" The girl looked like one of the illustrations from her book came to life. She was shocked at how spot on the art had been.

"You can see me?" The girl yelped.

"What happened to the masked kid?" Medli chirped.

"A skull kid led you here?” the girl’s already large eyes widened with surprise.

“Who are you?”

“You were correct in what I am.” The girl slid from the stump. “Only those pure of heart can see the Kokiri. I… what are you doing in these woods? Do you not know you will perish here?”

Zelda stepped forward, and motioned behind her, “We,” turning she realized that either the others hadn’t followed them, or got separated from them . Medli and her were alone here. “... are looking for the Forest Temple. We are trying to find the sages and save Hyrule.”

The Kokiri gasped, covering her mouth. “You’re the princess of Hyrule!”

“You know who I am?”

“I am Saria, I am the sage of the forest, I have been waiting for you.” She held her ocarina close to her chest, turning her eyes away. Zelda stepped closer, was she crying? “It’s been a long time, and I’m ready to show you the path through the woods to the temple.”

“Should we wait for the others?” Medli pondered.

Hopefully they will find their own way to the Forest Temple, and we’ll meet them there.” Finding another temple was a palpable goal that Zelda was excited to achieve. They hadn’t found one since the Gerudo desert, and she craved accomplishing this.

“Follow me, the path is treacherous, but stay near and I will lead you straight.” Saria seemed to almost float as she led them to the far end of the clearing. Zelda and Medli ran after her. Though the forest was as thick as before, as Saria guided them it seemed as if the trees themselves moved to clear a path for her . Zelda and Medli had to scramble to keep pace with the Kokiri girl.

Around them the animals of the forest were also running, surrounding them and sprinting through the underbrush . Foxes, boars, squirrels and more, ignoring the three of them and scurrying amongst the trees .

“Where are all the animals going?” Medli asked.

“The Great Deku Tree has called for a conclave of the forest. They are heading to speak their concerns, and see the Spirits of Light.”

“The Spirits of Light are here?” Zelda yelped, remembering what Medli had told her of the spirits. Could they help them on their quest? Medli clutched the hem of Zelda’s top.

A monster of a wolf enshrouded them, forcing its way through the trees to their right. Branches and leaves showered around them. It’s fangs glistened in the low light, each as long as Zelda’s forearm.

“The elder ones are arriving.” Saria stated cryptically . The wolf didn’t acknowledge their tiny presence as it pushed ahead, disappearing into the foliage . It wasn’t long before the trees thinned out and the three of them were standing on a precipice overlooking a clearing . A tree of gargantuan size grew from the center of the clearing and into the sky, its thick canopy obscuring the sky above . The deep grooves and gnarled bark running across it’s trunk looked almost like a face. Standing tall amongst the ancient tree’s roots were two magnificent creatures, one a Ordonian goat, and the other a monkey, or perhaps lemur . Both of huge size, and both with white fur decorated with swirls of supernatural light. Zelda had never seen creatures of such power and mystery, and immediately she knew these to be the Spirits of Light .

Gathering around the tree hundreds of animals, some normal, and some of unusual size, chittered and barked and chirped . At first it sounded like the cacophony of the forest, but over time Zelda was able to make out the conversation taking place .

“Let the manthings kill themselves, this is not a matter for the forest.” A mammoth stag, its antlers branching out into hundreds of points, spoke.

“You think once they’ve fought their war out there, they won’t come here and burn the forests with their hatred and spite?” A hickory colored owl called down from the branches of the massive tree. “The conquest of men knows no bounds and once they have conquered what they know they will march into the unknown .”

Fly away Kaepora, we know your connection to the manthings!” A wolf snapped towards the bird.

“Enough, we will not bicker amongst each other!” The goat of light stomped a hoof and the animals fell silent.

“Great Spirits of Light if I may speak.” This time a baboon took the floor. Surrounding him other monkeys hopped up and down. The two Spirits of Light knelt their head to the baboon, giving him the attention of the room. “Kaepora knows the manthings more intimately than any of us, and he speaks the truth. To protect the forest we must go to war with them! We will kill them before they can destroy our homes.” The monkeys started to hoot and holler, their ruckus becoming infectious amongst the animals .

“We have never bothered with them before, their wars mean nothing to us, why start now?” The stag demanded.

“Where is Farosh? He would support us in war!” The baboon yelled. “The manthings kill our kind every day, why can’t we kill them?”

“Farosh, and their siblings have gone missing from the skies.” The goat spirit stepped forward. His light radiated more brightly and the gathering fell silent again. “These are serious propositions you bring forward Ook, are the monkey tribes ready to stand by them ?”

“We are brave! With the blessings of the Great Deku Tree we will defeat the warmongers and save the forests.” The baboon beat his chest and the monkeys uproared into a ruckus again.

“Don’t be ridiculous. The manthings live in fear of these woods. We will be safe here from their trivial infightings.” This time a fox spoke up, fur the color of golden wheat, and three tails instead of one.

“Keaton speaks the truth, they know the dark magics of these woods.” The lemur spirit, did not stand but floated, it’s impossibly long tail wrapping around itself like a mobius strip . “We are not manthings, we do not carry hatred in our souls, this bloodshed would be useless. Do you wish to curse the monkey tribe, such?”

“The Great Deku Tree wishes to speak.” The goat spirit turned to the gargantuan tree, kneeling before it.

With the sound of wood grinding against wood the face in the trunk came to life. His wide mouth opened and long dead leaves blew out. “My children have brought word from the forest.” His voice was ancient and deep like text carved into stone. The animals turned to the sky as small wooden creatures floated down, using leaves as parachutes . Each of the creatures wore a mask cut from a leaf.

“Ya haha! They are in the woods! The Hylians are here!” the child-like voice of the wood creatures sent the animals into a frenzy.

“We must go, you were not supposed to be privy to this meeting.” Saria pulled on Zelda’s hands. “If they see us we are as good as dead.”

“If we could speak with the Spirits of Light though-”

“I am sorry Princess, but we must go.” She pulled on Zelda harder until she acquiesced to the call. Saria lead them around the ledge, making sure to keep them low and hidden in the bushes. Once they were farther away she broke into a run.

“Where are the rest of the Kokiri?” Zelda asked once they were deeper into the woods and had slowed down.

“There are no other Kokiri, I am the last of my kind.” Saria didn’t look at Zelda when speaking, instead keeping her eyes on her feet. “And when this is finished there will be no more Kokiri at all.”

“What do you mean ‘when this is finished ’?”

“I told you, I am the Sage of the Forest, when I awaken as a sage and pass on, the last Kokiri will be no more.” Saria said this last part as if it was common knowledge and she was confused as to why Zelda didn’t know it.

“You mean all the Sages have to die?” Zelda looked frantically towards Medli.

“Yes, this is my destiny too, the one I’ve known since I was born.” The Rito girl replied. Nabooru dying at the Arbiter’s Grounds was inevitable then?

“No, this cannot be!” Zelda shook her head. “I won’t let either of you die. We don’t have to let this happen!”

“But we do, Princess, it is the fate of a Sage.” Saria slowed. “And facing fate with knowledge and bravery is what makes us Sages.”

Zelda couldn’t believe her ears, these girls were both ready to give up their lives for this. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right.

“We are here, the Forest Temple.” Saria turned to them, behind her an ancient and decrepit building, like a massive cathedral, rose into the tree canopy . The forest had started to reclaim the building, as vines, moss and saplings pushed their way through the masonry . Some of the walls had crumbled away.

“Lady Medli!” Revali and Teba came flying over, Impa, Urbosa and Cho close on their heels.

“You cannot run away like that, we were worried you had been kidnapped .” Impa chided.

“Well we weren’t and look, we found the sage of the forest, and the temple.” Zelda motioned to Saria, but only drew quizzical looks.

“Remember, Princess, only the pure of heart can see the Kokiri.” Saria hopped towards the entrance.

“Impa is right, little bird, it is too dangerous in these woods.” Urbosa unknowingly followed in Saria’s footsteps.

Zelda knew how dangerous it was, she had seen it with her own two eyes. She didn’t need them to tell her. She wasn’t their child to chastise. She would prove to them how capable she is.

The forest cathedral loomed before them.