A/N- Not much to say this time, except thank you all once again for your patience! Onto the final stretch now. I may hold off a little on the next chapter until I've mostly completed this final stretch of writing, just because I hate it when somebody fails to update during a climax. Based on my plan, it shouldn't be very many more chapters.
I am also thankful for the R&R's, they are great motivations at a time when everything seems to be coming to a head. Now, back to the Zora ruins!
Link twisted his body, the force of his parry just enough to deflect the trident into the ankle-deep water beside him. Though he heard a splash, the only droplets which hit his face were splinters of shattered metal. He let the ruined stub of a scimitar drop from his hand as the weight of his assailant forced him to one knee. Thinking quickly, he managed to reverse his force on the glaive and, despite his compromised position, slam the base of it into the monster's skull.
He might as well have not even bothered. The creature seemed utterly unfazed, straddling the hero and trying to force him down further. Link turned his head, violet flames dancing around them as he caught sight of a set of glowing, yellow eyes boring right into him. Every second seemed like a greater struggle, the weight upon him multiplying as he desperately strained to not fall into the shallow water. His legs quivered as the trident's head rose from the water, leaving behind a trail of droplets.
Suddenly, the entire room lit up with a hot light, a concussive blast filling the air as the creature stumbled, most of the pressure leaving Link's back. He quickly rolled to safety, his back immediately soaked from the water.
Rising, he gripped his glaive in both hands as he got a clear look at the assailant. Its form could pass for that of a Hylian aside from the head. Even it's exposed skull seemed normal- aside from the missing jawbone and the twin bones pointing upwards from its sides. The aberration turned away from him, storming towards the princess.
"Oh no you don't!" Link shouted, closing the distance and thrusting his glaive into the monster's back. The weapon nearly lurched out of his hands as his target spun, tearing from the beasts' side just in time. Unconcerned with the wound, the ethereal warrior pressed forward. forcing Link to backpedal as he narrowly deflected the massive trident. Though he hadn't originally felt the pain from his shattered sword peppering his face, the left side started to feel as though several angry hornets had come after him. He tried his best to push from his mind, even as the cold droplets of water running down his face were joined by warm ones.
The princess hurled another ball of light at the beast, this time landing a direct blow and forcing it to stumble away from them. "Link! The stairs!"
"Right." He murmured, blinking away the spots in his vision from her attack as he stumbled back. as the intense glow faded as he stumbled back. The princess grabbed his wrist and pulled him behind her, the water around their ankles slowly receding and turning to bare stone. Despite all the water, the left side of his face could feel nothing but the scorching desert sand being ground into it. He grit his teeth, his vision clearing as they reached the steps. corridor behind them disturbingly silent.
His first couple steps were a bit unsteady, but he soon found his stride as the two of them returned to a run as they fled down the steps. "You know princess, if you could warn me before sending off one of those blinding-"
"Down!" Zelda yelled, grabbing Link by the torso. What sense of balance he still possessed slipped away as he fell, though note before he noticed a dark ripple pass along the wall to his right. He just barely caught a glimpse of the monster's trident, its bone tips whistling through the air before crashing against the opposite wall.
Each stone step felt like a mare's kick as the two of them tumbled to the bottom of the steps, the princess landing atop him. "Oof." He gasped, the air knocked out of his lungs as pain spread over his form. One of the final steps had caught him on the base of his skull, forcing him to blink away stars. His vision spun as he heard something metal strike the ground right beside his head. His thoughts remained jumbled, confused.
"Back! You will not touch him!"
The princess' voice sliced through the fog surrounding his mind. Zora, monster, bad, Princess. With some effort, he rolled over. After a few blinks, he finally recognized the purple hilt resting beside his head. Ignoring it for the moment, he forced himself into a sitting position with quivering arms.
Blinking again, his eyes focused just in time to see Zelda leap at the apparition- Kalila's glaive in her hands and glowing with the light of the sun. She moved quickly, the Shiekan suit providing not encumbering her at all as she jabbed and weaved away from her opponent. Their assailant seemed to morph as she attacked, its physical form losing its definition and morphing into what seemed like a living shadow. Link cast a sideways glance towards the Master Sword.
Though her initial assault forced the monster onto the defensive, the darkness surrounding them only seemed to build. It was as though the glowing stones in the walls, which had lit the chamber for centuries, finally found themselves exhausting their natural energy. She landed a glancing blow on the shadow's arm, causing light to dance across its form as it released an ethereal snarl. Each time their weapons clashed, glowing sparks jumped from her weapon- causing the monster cede more ground as it fled the weapon's glare.
However, with every passing moment the glaive's glowing head grew just a little bit fainter; every blow caused the beast to flee with a little less desperation. Link groaned and he shoved himself up to a kneeling position, his pulse hammering against the side of his head as he tried to force some strength back into his limbs. His fingers twitched.
Zelda grew more aggressive even as the glow from her weapon faded, desperate to capitalize on what little advantage she had left. She danced around the figure, delivering a series of rapid strikes with the thin weapon. The dark form solidified, the violet flames growing as it refused to yield any more ground- deflecting her strikes with ease. Seeing its disregard for her assault, Zelda firmly gripped the glaive in both hands and moved for a powerful diagonal strike, the glowing tip regaining some of its brilliance for a brief moment. The monster took a single step back, angling it's weapon forward rather than moving for the easy block.
"Zelda!" Link yelled, his warning too late. The aberration caught her weapon between the prongs of its trident and thrust upwards, nearly wrenching it from her grip as both fighters were left with their polearms reaching for the ceiling. Before she could react it stepped in, delivering a quick yet powerful punch to her midsection. A violent cough burst from the princess' mouth as she doubled over, though her hands stubbornly maintained their grip on her glaive.
In the blink of an eye Link was on his feet, shouting a cry of challenge as white-blue light poured from the weapon in his hands. Even as the beast swept the princess' glaive aside and moved for a killing blow, Link swung- an arc of the ethereal light leaping his blade and crossing the distance in an instant- taking the monster completely by surprise. Link felt as though he had left his injuries behind as he charged, the Master Sword supplying whatever strength he needed.
His target stumbled back from the sudden blow, hesitating a moment as the violet flames around it dimmed before releasing a roar. It spun and hurled a cracking sphere of yellow energy back towards Link only for the Hero to swat it effortlessly aside as he advanced. Perhaps it would be better stated that the sword performed the block, he hardly had to think- just run as a hunger worked up his arms. Deflecting a second projectile, he dashed past the princess as his foe fell back and levitated into the air beyond his immediate reach. Link only smiled.
Though Kotake and Kohume ensured he knew how to channel magic from a fairly young age, this was different. There was no concentration, no exertion or pain, he merely wished for his weapon to act and it obeyed. The monster darted through the air in an erratic pattern, desperately avoiding the relentless series of bears arcing towards it even as it hurled its own crackling spheres back at Link. a prickly sensation traveled down his arms as his hairs stood up on the charged air, yet his blade was always there to deflect them from his body. He could feel his limbs as they began to quiver from the exertion, yet the sword wouldn't allow him to slow. It hungered for victory as much as he- to rend the taunting shadow and cast it from this realm.
Zelda joined the fight again as well, firing bursts of light at the beast. It rapidly turned its attention between them, desperately firing projectiles both as the attacks started to go wide. The beast simply couldn't fight with the same precision while being pressured from multiple angles. Another pulse of energy moved from the blade into his hands and body- giving him strength as a small bit of inspiration as well.
Smiling, he stepped forward as another attack neared him, getting beneath it and swinging the Master Sword above his head with the flat side facing the creature. Preoccupied with Zelda, it turned back towards the Hero only a moment before impact- the sphere slamming directly against its body. A furious scream cut through the charged air and echoed against the stone as the beast fell to the ground- barely touching the stone before Link arrived.
Dazed, the monster didn't even react as the master sword sliced through with three rapid cuts- each one bursting from its form with what looked like a swarm of silent flies- embers from a black fire. At the fourth strike, the apparition finally got it's trident into a blocking position and stumbled to its feet. Pushing the hungry blade back, it dropped back and slowly began to rise once more from the ground.
"Oh no you don't!" Link taunted, all caution thrown to the wind as he grabbed the trident and lurched forward and wrapped his other arm around what appeared to be his enemy's waste. The stone floor fell away from his feet as they launched, the weakened beast clutching the trident in both arms and trying to wrench it out of Link's grip. Unfortunately, with his sword hand holding onto the beast Link didn't have an easy way of using the Master Sword. He could feel the violet flames burning at his skin, trying to force him from their master. A portion of him suddenly questioned his decision, to hitch a ride, but he grit his teeth and concentrated. After all, the violent flames were still fire- and he managed to redirect them from his both even as more tried to take their place.
Turning his gaze upwards, he matched the glare coming from his foe's glowing eyes. Its breathing sounded labored and heavy, yet he felt no breath from beneath the bone. "Well you monster, which one of us do you think is faster?"
Without waiting for an answer he released his grip on the trident, bringing his right arm up to grab the enemy's shoulder before letting go with his left. His body swung with the motion like a pendulum, moving him away from his foe's weapon even as he thrust the Master Sword at its throat.
The low angle allowed his blade to slip beneath the exposed set of teeth and upward into its skull with only a few light snaps. The motion seemed to cut the invisible strings which held them, as they fell down together and landed with a splash. Before the water could even seep through his clothes all the way his back hit stone. He sat up, water falling from his face and shoulders as he placed one foot against the beast and shoved- drawing out his blade and leaving the husk to float lifelessly in the water. With the sound of a firm wind, the violet flames quickly devoured its remains. He merely watched, transfixed by the sight.
A series of rapid splashes drew his attention away. "Link!" The princess' voice was panicked as she drew close. "Are you alright!? Don't move!"
"Hey!" he shouted as water splashed against his face. The princess didn't respond to his annoyed interjection, kneeling in the water and putting both hands to his head.
"By Nayru's wisdom, what got into you Link!?" The princess snapped her wrist, seemingly pulling a white rag from thin air as she pressed it against the side of his head. "Did you go completely mad for a second?"
"What?" Link responded. "I killed it didn't I? Why are you so upset?"
Zelda's eyes locked with his own, no words proceeding from her mouth as she drew the rag back for a second. His eyes took a moment to focus on the blood.
"Oh." He muttered, turning to look at the Master Sword. His left hand remained fastened around the blade's hilt, much like how a dead man grips his weapon. The princess shoved the blade away.
"Would you get that out of the way?" She asked with some annoyance, though her anger was rapidly giving way to concern, "I want to lean you back to rinse the wound- then I can bandage it."
Link chuckled, "All this time you wanted me to use it and now you want me to put it down?" Though he would not admit it, he didn't want to put the sword down. B
The princess glared at him, "Now isn't the time to tease, I can't see the gash very well."
"Fine." Link responded, still stalling for a little time. "But this water is deep- if I lie down I'll drown!"
His efforts only earned him a hiss from the princess as she shifted and planted one hand against his chest. Cradling his head with her other, she not-too-gently leaned him back onto her leg. Scooping up water with her hand, she quickly rinsed away the area and produced a new, clean cloth. "That doesn't sting?"
Link shrugged, "A little I guess, but not too badly." Resting his head against her, he noticed something glimmering beneath the water's surface. Curious, he reached with his right hand and fished in the depths. His left continued to grip the blade, which now rested against his chest and out of the water.
"Hey, hold still!" The princess rebuked in an exasperated tone. Her bandage pulled at his scalp as she tightened it.
"Just... checking." Link answered, his fingers finding a thin metal shaft. He drew the object from the water and held up for inspection. It took a moment, but his eyes did manage to focus "An arrow?"
A slim hand reached from above and snatched the weapon from his grip, He couldn't help but notice the blood stains on her sleeves. An excited tone slipped into her voice, "Silver! Link, that specter must have collected them!"
Hiding them away? he wondered. "Great, well let's look for the rest of them." Leaning forward, he jumped to his feet and began to amble over to the edge of the pool. He thought he heard Zelda shout something behind him, but the cavern seemed to swallow her words. His eyes glanced across the dry stone, finding a suitable spot for him to rest the sword. His earlier reluctance to part from it was buried in his excitement with finding the arrow. Gently placing it down, he turned, "They can't be too far from-"
Without warning, the entire shape of the room shifted as the glow from the rocks blurred, squirting around into a poorly-defined spiral. He got a brief view of the princess and the large, red stain on her leg before all the strength fled from his legs, his final sensation being one more splash as his face crashed against the gentle waters.
The rhythmic, steady sound of marching echoed through the castle grounds- its chorus drifting gently upwards as it reverberated against every stone. His full army moved forth, their columns stretching from the castle gates all the way through the market and into the field beyond. Ganondorf could sense them, their stupid thoughts forming a primitive symphony. No higher purpose motivated them, their only meaning flowing from his will.
I wonder, he reflected as he gazed out the stone window. The carpeted, yet sparse, hallway extended to both his right and his left, if the goddesses view us the same way.
Almost in response to his musing, he felt a sudden stirring within him. Somewhere, a powerful spell had been cast- its echo resonating with his own magic. He closed his eyes, seeing a vision of a golden beam streaking across the blue sky- much like a comet in the night. Ah, very good.
"You know, you've picked up quite the habit of staring into the distance with your hands clasped behind your back." A feminine voice teased from behind him. "Is there some unwritten rule about that for powerful overlords?"
Ganondorf grunted. "The pieces are all in motion. Now all that remains is to wait."
"For the battle to the west?" Tricia pried, teasing him for more information. It was almost adorable how she believed that such subtleties mattered anymore.
"For the completion of this cycle." He responded, a small thrill rushing through him even as he uttered the words. Turning, he took in the inquisitive look on the woman's blue face. "Then we shall see what fate holds for us."
The Labrynnian bit her lip, her face concentrated as she formulated her next sentence. "Why then are you not out there? Surely the power you've shown could easily secure victory for your army."
Surprising her, he chuckled. "Oh Ambassador Tricia, your mind still remains focused on territory and steel. The real battle shall not be fought in the fields of Hyrule- that is only a mere distraction."
"I'm merely the Ambassador's assistant." Tricia interjected before continuing, "Why would you commission shipments of Labrynnian steel? You do want your army to defeat the Hylian/Gerudo forces do you not?
"Their fall serves my purposes well enough, though neither is it pivotal." Ganondorf responded dismissively, gazing at the back of his hand. He could feel the power of the Triforce, the resonance.
He heard a sigh from the woman, a rare sense of dejection radiating from her. "I... I don't understand."
Nor do you need to. The retort almost slipped from his lips before he stopped himself, turning his attention back to Tricia. He wondered how much of her body language was genuine and how much was a carefully choreographed image. "Tell me, do your people worship the Goddesses?"
"The Goddesses?" She echoed questioningly, her eyes briefly flickering to the back of his hand. He smiled, realizing that he had caught her off guard for once.
"Yes. You know- hewed the red earth, established the natural law, and gave life to the beings who would uphold it?"
She remained still as she sorted through her response. "Well, we don't deny them or anything. Venerating them though seems like such a... Hylian custom."
"Mhm, so you ride the fence- feeling no need to align yourself one way or the other." Ganondorf observed.
Tricia narrowed her eyes. "Are you suggesting we are wrong to do so? That we should once more determine our path based on Hyrule's customs?"
"All I am saying," Ganondorf countered, turning once more to look out the window, "Is that there is a cowardice in refusing to make a choice- to stick your head in the sand and try to live your life as though you can conveniently forget about the cosmic stage upon which we stand."
Her breathing remained steady, though he could sense her pulse quickening. Interesting, a sensitive topic?
"Is that what motivates you then? You feel this conquest of yours is making some sort of... stand?"
He shrugged. "It is a mere backdrop, a scene for where the real story shall play out. When the Princess and Hero arrive- that will be the true test."
"You think they will come here?" She moved past him, stepping up to the window and looking out- as if to try to see what he had previously been looking at. "Shouldn't you hold back a reserve then?"
Enough, no need to show your hand too soon. "I know they will come, that is the way it has always been." He turned, marching down the hallway away from the Labrynnian.
"Wait." A weight pulled back against his shoulderguard, causing him to pause and turn his head to the side. He could see her from the corner of his eye. "From what I've read of your legends that usually ends in your defeat."
"Win, loose, it hardly ever matters." He responded dismissively, "I have won a few times, grinding this land beneath my heel and gaining the crown which I once thought I desired. Now though, things are different. The Princess and the Hero are only the tools of my true enemies, and now that I realize that... things will be different."
With a gentle jerk, he pulled his shoulder from her grip. Tricia made no move to follow him as he proceeded down the corridor, the carpet failing to muffle his heavy footsteps. Yes, this time was indeed different.
The first thing which pierced the dark shroud surrounding Link's mind was the distinctive, sharp rhythm of a blacksmith's hammer. More sounds gradually joined the first: muffled conversation, a horse's neigh, a sudden snap followed by a round of laughter. Groggily, he slowly came back to consciousness, a slight throb tapping against his skull.
Link tried to turn, the thin sheet upon him brushing at his skin. Though his shoulders moved effortlessly, a weight pinned his legs in place. He opened his eyes, the first sight he registered being the clean, white fabric suspended high above him.
With a grunt, he propped himself up on his elbows and looked down towards his legs. A blonde head rested on the covers, not a hair out of place as her face sat buried inside her elbow. Balancing on one arm, Link used the other to rub his eyes- what had happened? He remembered the fight and being injured after, but not how he came to be here.
A sudden jolt leapt through his body as he spun his head, his eyes scanning the small partition where he lay even as the sudden motion brought more pain to his skull. White sheets hung around the two of them, hiding the rest of the tent from view. Where is it? His momentary panic subsided when he saw the intricate, violet sheathe resting in the short grass beside the cot- the Master Sword's hilt protruding once more from it.
The princess muttered something unintelligible as she shifted, drawing his attention back to her. In a departure from her typical fashion choice, a sky-blue dress with puffy, white sleeves which ended just past her shoulders. Link chuckled, her servants probably burned the dress she had worn the several days they traveled together. Given an opportunity, he might do the same. Though his midsection was bare he could tell he wore the same, filthy trousers.
Surprising himself, he lifted one hand and gently set it against the princess' head. Gently, he stroked the soft strands of her hair, how long had it been since he touched something besides hard steel and dried, leather reigns? The last time he felt something this soft, perhaps the castle beds the first time he visited?
And now, he would visit the castle again- perhaps for the last time. A frown passed over his face as settled back against the cot.
He froze, a hot wave rushing through his limbs and up to his face. "How long have you been awake?"
The princess turned her head to face him, her eyes unfocused and only halfway open. Despite the comedic look, she still held an otherworldly beauty. "Just... a few seconds. How about you?"
"Minutes maybe?" He responded, "What happened?"
"I don't really know." The princess' voice dropped, "One moment you seemed to be feeling fine, despite the nasty cut on your head, then you suddenly collapsed. I pulled you out of the water so you didn't drown and then teleported us back to the army."
Link sighed, the answer to her confusion making itself known to him almost immediately- as though a little voice whispered it into his ear. "You know, that sword is incredibly dangerous."
"The sword?" Zelda responded, surprised, before a look of understanding came over her face. "That's how you managed to rejoin the fight after hitting your head."
"And why I lost consciousness mere seconds after putting it down- as well as feeling almost no pain in the battle." Link looked over at the blade, his fingers twitching. "You were able to bring it back as well?"
The princess nodded, although her voice suddenly sounded almost fearful. "Yea, in the heat of the moment I didn't feel any reservation about grabbing it."
"As if you had its permission." He observed, realizing just how unprepared he had been wield such an artifact. Speaking of artifacts... "Wait- the arrows!"
Zelda sighed, "I did a quick check of the pool and found two additional ones before bringing you back to the camp. Maybe there were more, but you had me worried and I didn't want to waste any more time."
"Three arrows..." Link echoed. Perhaps sensing something in his tone, Zelda dropped her eyes to the bedsheet. "Well, in theory we should only need one to put him down. Besides, we've seen what the sword is capable of."
"The sword..." She turned her head to regard the weapon. Though it held an elaborate craftsmanship, nothing about its appearance would suggest it was anything more than a beautiful weapon. "You avoided it so long, are you really okay with using it?"
The response turned her face back to his. Link's eyes, however, remained on the blade. "As I held it I felt my body's restrictions melt away. It was like I was falling, powerless to stop the inertia which drove me forward. One touch was all it took, and now I am addicted. I ache again to feel it in my palm- to grab it and charge through the enemy's lines right up to the castle's front gate." His head continued to throb, though he didn't mention that part.
She remained silent, her eyes searching his face as his mind drifted. Sitting up, he grabbed his pillow and flung it at the blade, covering the hilt and half of the scabbard. "But it doesn't matter any more, does it? I will draw it again- perhaps I was a fool to ever try avoiding it. Perhaps Impa was right, I was only hurting everybody else with my pride."
"We have the silver arrows." Zelda pointed out, surprising him as he turned his eyes to hers. "Perhaps that will be enough. If the sword is as dangerous as you say then maybe we shouldn't use it."
Link chuckled, "I have fought Ganondorf twice now. Both times I had the upper hand while we dueled but this time will be different. We're going to need every conceivable advantage we can get."
She sighed, "I know I just... seeing you collapse. I felt something, a fear, which I have never felt before- not even as Hyrule Castle burned around me. I didn't know if you were going to make it."
Turning away from her, he slid his legs out from underneath the covers. The grass felt cold beneath his feet as he rose into a standing position. "That is war."
"Yes, but is that just an excuse? Something to sooth our wounded conscience as we leave a bloody trail in our wake?" Zelda's response was surprisingly sharp, clearly this was not the first time the question had crossed her mind. Her eyes remained trained on her hands as the white sheets crumpled in her grip. "I just fear that one day I will have to account for the choices I've made... and that not all of them will be justifiable."
Link sighed, stepping around the bed and placing a hand against her shoulder. "Maybe, but they are already made. The question is what choices we will make going forward."
The princess nodded silently before taking a deep breath, turning to him with a smile on her face. Her grin lasted for less than a second before she suddenly yelped- her head and eyes turning in the other direction. "Link! Couldn't you put a shirt on or something?"
He chuckled, a short burst of mirth which was cut short as one of the hanging sheets flew to the side. Impa quickly stepped through, her eyes darting to the princess before visibly relaxing. He noticed her hand drop from the dagger at her side. "It's good that you are both awake. The enemy force is moving much faster than we expected."
Right. For a moment, the war had seemed so far away. "What does that mean?"
"At the rate they're moving? They could be here shortly after sundown." Despite her stoic facade, Link almost felt he could hear a small hint of nervousness in her voice- one which had not been there before Mora.
"Sundown!?" Zelda asked, aghast, "Why are we only realizing this now?"
The woman didn't seem moved by the princess' outburst. "All I can say is that the scouting party rode into the camp ten minutes ago with their report."
Link swallowed the sudden lump in his throat, Afya should have gotten word to us. "How long have I been out?"
"A little over a day." the princess responded, his lack of a shirt forgotten as she turned back to him- her eyes calculating. "They must be under a forced march- surely they won't be in a condition to attack us tonight?"
Link shook his head, the motion causing his headache to flare up again. Pushing it aside, he looked over to where his pillow sat on the ground. "I wouldn't count on that. Whatever fatigue they have will be counteracted by the darkness- an attack will only work to their advantage. We need to break camp and pull our forces back."
"Break camp?" Impa asked, her tone thoughtful rather than critical. "It is past noonday already. We would have maybe four hours of marching before we would have to stop in time to setup before nightfall."
He didn't immediately respond, his eyes dropping to the floor as he considered the situation. Perhaps they could send out small groups to harass and delay the attacking force? Casualties would be heavy, but it may buy enough time for the main army to pull back. They just needed enough distance so that the sun would arrive before the horde.
"Then we abandon the camp."
Both Impa and Link turned to the princess, her face resolute. "The men can take their bedrolls and as many rations as they can carry. We march west until midnight then rest until morning, at which point the opposing force will be close but not atop us."
The Sheikah shook her head, "You know princess that such an action will end this campaign. with the camp and much of our logistics abandoned we won't be able to support the army."
"As perhaps it should." Zelda reflected, taking a deep breath. "We've accomplished our objective: drawing the enemy force out. Link and I now have our window."
"Might I remind you that you just dragged his unconscious-"
Link waved his hand. "No, Zelda is right. There is no more need to delay this." Stepping around the princess, he walked over to the pillow on the ground. The motion felt like walking downhill, gravity ushering towards where the blade rested. As he knelt, he could feel a slight, savory taste of anticipation on the back of his tongue. One fight... that was all it took for him to become addicted.
"I suppose then," Zelda added, "that we should notify the others of our return and the plan for the next twenty-four hours."
His fingers were only inches from the blade's hilt when he paused, his attention stolen for a second as he turned his head. "What?"
The princess sighed, "Only a couple of people know of our return yesterday: Impa and the two generals present when we teleported back. We thought it... prudent to not spread the word until we knew you were going to pull through."
Looking around the partition, his mind immediately noticed an incredibly obvious detail which he previously overlooked. "Racisa isn't here. You didn't inform any of the Gerudo."
"Our relationship has been... strained since you took off with the princess." Impa responded, "They've barely cooperated up to this point. We figured returning your unconscious form might be a bit too far."
What else could you be hiding? He wondered. "Fine, I'll tell them the princess and I just returned to the camp. Have your soldiers start packing the essentials- we should leave within an hour." Shoving the pillow aside, he scooped up the weapon and slung it over his head. The gold portions of it's elaborate workmanship felt like cole icicles against his bare skin. Not bothering to ask about his vest, he pushed the hanging curtain aside and walked out of the partition.
"We're low on time." He responded, though he did slow as he took in his surroundings. The tent was much larger than he had expected. Rich rugs and furs were scattered about and a full, kept bed sat at one end. "If it is important I will hear you out, but is it able to wait?"
He cast a look over his shoulder, where the princess looked at him with a moderately dejected expression. "No, you're right. There isn't any time to waste."
"We can talk on our way to the castle," he offered with a forced smile. Upon seeing her nod, he strolled through the room and out the exit.
The sun warmed his skin as he walked, though the heat remained modest when compared to the desert. A few of the soldiers held odd looks as he passed, but most of them just nodded in his direction and continued on with their duties. A surreal calm held over the camp, a thin shroud which he knew would be ripped away the moment the princess issued her orders. It felt so surreal, to watch his men go about their daily routine- unaware of how everything was about to change.
No, her men- he wasn't Hylian. Or at this point... was he? He had trained with the scimitar all his life, yet none of them had ever felt as right as the blade hugging his back. His entire upbringing, all the effort and preparation to ascend to the Gerudo throne, just felt so trivial at this moment.
Perhaps it had been rude of him to walk out on the princess like that, but just had to get away for a moment. Things were suddenly moving so quickly, and he needed to process. What little headache remained faded as he walked, the strength returning to his limbs and joints.
"It's true." An unfamiliar voice caught him off guard, causing him to stop and turn to the source. An older Hylian knight, his dark hair peppered with white strands, stood with his spear at his side. "My tutor often spoke of that blade, and of the destiny of who wielded it."
Link listened to the man with some bemusement, only to step back as the knight suddenly dropped to one knee, his arm crossing over his chest. "Hero of the goddess- it is an honor! A darkness enshrouds us all, yet your arrival shines out as a ray of pure light."
The display caught the attention of several other soldiers, who began to slowly congregate around him. He heard excited whispers pass through the crowd even as he bit back a retort. Don't you know who I am? I'm the king of the Gerudo, the people whom you all tolerate just so far as we stay out of your way and entertain your lusts! His arms quivered even as more men gathered, uncertainty and wonder written on their faces.
His lips parted as if of their own accord, "As inevitably as the sunset, so too does the shadow come." For so long now he felt as though his arms had been straining under a great load, like a massive stone which he carried with him between battlefields. Finally, he allowed the burden to slip to the ground. Drawing the Master Sword, he looked at the men around him and raised it to the heavens. "I am the Hero, and I will bring dawn once more."
Even as he said the words he wondered just how silly they may sound, but the men didn't seem to care. A cheer erupted from around him, several of the armed men slamming their weapons against their armor. The noise drew more curious onlookers, and from there the crowd swelled. He looked up at the sword, both resolve and resignation filling him as the sun's light danced across its blade.
Hidden within the shouts and excitement, he found himself whispering, "Kalila, is this what you would want?"
Though the sun's rays still beat down from the sky, Zelda felt as though night had already settled in her heart. This really was it- everything led to this confrontation. She thought back to her childhood: of her father's warm embrace but stern expression. She thought of the young man from the desert, the prince who had extended a hand of mere friendship. She remembered both those fateful nights in the canyon, two separate nights of treachery.
And she remembered her childhood friend, his strawberry blond hair fading to scarlet over the years- the two of them ran through the gardens and pranking the guards. How could it have come to this?
"You ready?" She heard the Hero's voice, a title he had adopted before her men. His choice brought her some comfort, along with shame.
"I should be asking you that, you've had one hand on that horse for the last five minutes. Ever plan on mounting?"
He smiled nervously, turning his attention back to the chestnut steed. Her black mane cut boldly across her coat. "I know, I just… kinda wish we hadn't left Epona by the ruins."
Another, feminine voice joined their conversation. "Truly, I know how you feel. Still, I can assure you that Astra is one of the finest horses I've ever seen. She'll get you there safely."
The Hero smiled, "Thank you Malon, if you think so highly of her then I know she'll perform admirably. You've been acclimating alright then? I feel like I've done a disservice by not checking in on you sooner."
The farmgirl smiled back sweetly, though her words lacked the same warmth. "I feel as though I have died- losing everything I once knew. But I have found a new life, and there is nothing I would like more than care for the horses."
"Well your new life is a loss for Hyrule, but I'm happy for you Malon." Zelda interjected, wondering how the giddy ranch girl could have grown up so fast. Though her complexion was a bit paler, she otherwise fit in seamlessly with the other Gerudo women. A strong band held back her long, scarlet hair, just like her new sisters'.
Several strides away, Racisa already straddled her mount, her words abrupt. "We really should get going."
Zelda wasn't sure about bringing the bodyguard. Impa warned that the shadow magic she felt was so strong that anybody who entered Ganondorf's presence would be helpless, aside from the two Triforce bearers. Still, Link had given the Gerudo permission to come as far as the castle's gate. Nodding, the princess pulled herself up onto her white mare.
Link hesitated, gathering one fistful of the raven mane in his hand- before a sudden whinny froze him in place.
They all turned their attention east. "I don't believe it," Malon spoke with awe, as a fluttering white mane and red coat streaked over one of Hyrule Field's gentle hills. Epona charged their position, slowing, to a trot only to avoid darting past. She approached her master before suddenly turning and nipping at Astra, forcing the other horse to flinch away.
"Less than two days, from the Zora ruins to here..." Zelda whispered, watching as the horse pawed the ground restlessly.
Link just laughed, a hearty laugh which Zelda hadn't realized just how desperately she had missed it. "Alright girl, alright. We'll go together- but you need to rest once this is all over." Wasting no more time, he pulled himself up onto her back as the three riders turned east, where a dark pool seemed to rest in the sky.