Chapter 70 - Entrenched in the Desert
A racking spasm rocked his body as his chest contracted from the pain, he spit out a globule of blood onto the red soaked dirt floor of the tent. The hulking man steadied himself up on his hands as the excruciating pain of regenerating took its toll on his body. The gaping lacerations in his chest were slowly shriveling to nothing more than red welts. He groaned in misery. Even though he was no stranger to war wounds, the process of healing was no less agonizing.
A slender soldier burst into the tent, spear held high and torch aflame in his opposing hand, “Argonim! The Gerudo are gone, they have taken-” The man stopped short when he saw his colonel recovering from a grave wound. He was still naked from the waist down, his trousers cast aside from the night before.
“I know, you idiot!” Argonim spat venomously. “The filthy bitches! I almost had that dainty wench! Who the hell were those other freaks?” He demanded.
“I-I-I’m not sure. Three of them were Zoras, one of which was professing to be the Dark Mistress!” The man stuttered. His superior was an imposing man. Argonim towered over the average person by a sheer gap of three feet. His muscles bulged grotesquely with veins protruding from the sinuous lumps, permeating down his limbs. To complete his visage of lethality, his chest and arms were covered in tattoos of death and torture. His head was shaved bald leaving only the scruffy beard to frame the lower half of his face.
“Where is the Mistress now?” Argonim interrogated furiously.
“That’s the thing, sir…” The soldier hesitated, “She is gone with the rest of the group. We have no idea where they are!”
“What?” The colossal colonel roared. “Are you fools that imbecilic that you can’t capture a single female?” Feeling much more composed physically, Argonim vaulted himself up onto his feet, staring the man down.
Gulping audibly, the soldier shifted uneasily in his armor, “We were outmatched sir. The Gerudo have those blasted bombs that obliterate us like nothing we’ve-”
The man did not have any time to react as Argonim’s beefy hand wrapped itself tightly around his scrawny neck. He could feel the air leave him as the colonel’s thumb pressed deeper and harder into his larynx, cutting off his breathing. Within seconds he felt steaming blood, frothing up in his mouth as the oversized finger busted through his skin and crushed his windpipe.
“With excuses like that, no wonder we lost! They took my female away and I’m still incited! You will be a fine replacement for her.” With a maniacal guffaw, he jammed the man’s mouth full bore onto his erect phallus. The soldier gagged and choked but was unable to fight against the brute’s unholy strength.
“It is a shame I can’t kill failures like you anymore because of this damn curse.” Argonim drawled, his thickset hand gripping the man’s hair tightly as he plunged the face onto his member over and over. “Now I have to come up with far more interesting ways of punishing you. Death is too simple a treat for you!” The pitiful soldier went slack as he gave up and allowed the colonel to take over in earnest.
“Sir!” Another soldier, slightly heavier set, barged in. He stopped short as he saw the debauchery occurring before him.
Argonim cocked his head in the new man’s direction, never ceasing his incessant pounding of the poor failure. “What is it? I’m currently occupied with my least favorite subject.”
Recovering quickly from his shock, the soldier saluted and reported, “We have a message from General Naar. He requested his deployed colonels to return back to central hub for repositioning.”
Argonim jammed the first soldier’s face fully down, “What in Ballos’ name does that mean?”
“It means you are to leave immediately to report in with General Naar. I don’t have any other details than that.” The man said, slightly nervous at the treatment of the previous messenger, he did not want that fate.
A sudden hacking alerted Argonim to resume the rhythm, “Odd. This is highly unusual. Something must have happened to have him recall all his leaders. He usually leaves them to their own devices until the mission is accomplished.”
“I agree sir.” The messenger said, trying to avert his eyes from the slobbering meat puppet at the colonel’s mercy, barely hanging on to breathing. “Maybe he is displeased with how we are conducting the Gerudo campaign? We should have been finished moons ago.”
Argonim pondered that thought carefully, “You may be right. I should prepare myself for a very unwelcome return to his presence. Do we still have our bargaining chip?”
“Yes sir! They are keeping her safely under supervision. As per your orders, they are leaving her unspoiled.” The man replied confidently.
“Good. See to it that she accompanies me on my trip back. I want to present her to Naar.” Argonim grinned maliciously.
“Very well sir, I shall arrange for your departure this afternoon.” Eager to be away from the ghastly spectacle, the messenger turned quickly to leave the tent.
“One more thing.” Argonim casually intoned, the man cringed as he turned around to face the colossal man. “How certain are we that our plan will get through their defenses?”
“Very certain sir! They have not detected the packages yet, when we are ready we will surprise them!” Finally something to grin at with the colonel, they both shared a look.
“I am confident in the assumption that the Gerudo took my prize deep into their damned mountain. I want you to personally find her and detain her until I return.” Argonim ordered.
The soldier stood there dumbfounded, “Sir? They all look alike, how are we to find a specific woman amongst all of them?”
With a loud grunt, Argonim ejaculated deep into the man’s throat, the fluid gushing out of the orifice created in his neck. With a casual toss, the unfortunate failure was thrown across the tent like a piece of discarded trash. He landed on the ground with a moan, coughing up a disgusting mix of blood and bodily fluid. It would be hours before he fully healed from this humiliating ordeal.
“She is smaller than most Gerudo, yet she appeared to be fully an adult. She also had,” He indicated a couple lines across his left cheek, “some cuts or scars as if she was scratched.” He lifted his leather tunic to reveal his rippling abs, pointing to two places on his stomach, he continued, “She had two puncture wounds which looked like arrow strikes.”
“Well, that will certainly narrow things down a bit.” The messenger commented dryly.
“See to it that she is captured and brought to me when I return.” Argonim commanded.
The man bowed low, “Your word is my law colonel.”
Argonim grinned as the messenger walked out of the tent flap. This was going to be a great day. Giving one last, swift kick to the stomach of the miserable mistake burbling on the floor, he paced over to the bed and flopped a rather unwieldy knapsack onto the furs before slamming gear into it.
The throbbing in his head was torment. It pounded into his brain with the force of a hammer. He groaned huskily as he tried to find purchase with his hands, he tried to lift his head up to inspect his situation but quickly brought it back down when he felt the swelling increase. He did not want to pass out again. A tender, but steady hand placed itself on his shoulder. He couldn’t turn his head easily to see the young boy next to him.
“You’re that boy that saved me.” Veraca mumbled painfully.
Ashley smiled and nodded his head. He had a freshly carved arrow in his right hand and was leaning back against the brick wall behind him. The boy had apparently fashioned a new arsenal since they last saw each other. Veraca marveled at the boy’s resourcefulness. Struggling to crane his neck, he viewed the comatose form of Ruto lying beside him, encircled around her wrists were several branches of coral. Did the boy confiscated his hand cuffs and use them on her when he was unconscious?
“Where are we?” Veraca inquired, as he limply rolled over onto his back, taking a few moments to recover from the rush that it gave to his brain.
The boy sat mute as he motioned with his chin to have Veraca look over the parapet. Since it appeared they were in no rush, he clambered slowly over to the edge and hauled himself up gingerly onto the brick. The view before him was a vast sea of torches and firelight, spread across the desert was the Nevachrean army. They had entrenched themselves into the bowl-like dunes of the desert colossus, content to wait out the Gerudo from the outside. It was only a matter of time before famine and disease overtook them and Nevachrea would win.
Casting a furtive glance upwards, Veraca noted they were high up on the bluffs just below the right elbow of the colossus. How in Goddesses’ name did they get up here? Did that boy bring them single-handedly to this overlook? The surging pressure slammed back into his head, forcing him to crumple back to his knees and cradle his head in his arms. Something had to be done with the agony in his head or he would be of little use to Ruto.
Without a word, Ashley knelt down beside the Zora and raised a hand up in supplication. Although he held tightly in one hand an arrow shaft, it seemed clear that he wasn’t about to harm him. Veraca allowed the boy to examine his wound on the back of his skull. At length the boy grunted and lodged the arrow tip under one of the bony structures jutting out from beneath his head flipper. A sharp gasp of breath and a fleeting stab of pain, the pressure was released. Veraca let out a thankful sigh.
“Thank you.” Veraca said gratefully. Ashley nodded before sitting back up against the wall, resuming his carving of the next arrow for his quiver. After a time, Veraca’s curiosity got the better of him, “How did we get here? What happened to that girl?”
Ashley inclined his head at the awakening Ruto. Veraca bounded to his feet preparing himself for a potential attempt at an escape from her. The Zoran queen moaned softly as her wrists were slightly punctured by the coral cuffs, her eyes fluttered open to gaze upon Veraca. Several moments went by before she recalled where she was and how she got there. With a squeal, she squirmed backwards from him. She cried out as the coral dug deeper into the flesh, its searing poison threatening to knock her out once more.
Veraca stretched out an arm, “Please don’t run again Ruto! I only want to help you, to protect you from yourself.”
Ruto stopped moving for fear of passing out again, but shied away as best she could from him, “I’ve told you before, I just want to be left alone. I did my duty, I gave you heirs. The Zoran royalty can continue. You don’t need me anymore!” Tears began forming at the edge of her eyes.
His heart melted. Why couldn’t she see that she meant more to him than just a means to an end? Over the course of their time together, Veraca had grown fond of his queen. He saw glimmers of hope during their late night talks, the recollections of days long since gone when they were just kids. There had been hopes and dreams there. It pierced his heart to see all that destroyed by vile men. Veraca vowed in his heart that if he ever met the man responsible for this travesty, he would personally see to it that he never did it again.
“Ruto.” Veraca calmly stated, “I can’t do this without you. Where would our children be without their mother? Where would I be without my queen?”
The dam broke as her tears flowed unbidden down her cheeks, “Why must you torment me so Veraca? You know I can’t resist your wiles when you talk to me like that.”
“It is only the truth.” He smiled.
Ruto sniffed before looking down at her hands, “Can I have these off now? I promise not to run away.”
Veraca loved her deeply, but he was no fool. He wasn’t sure yet that she would remain calmly by his side should he remove the coral. “Why did you run off in the first place? You got my comrades killed and I almost died myself. Not to mention,” He motioned over to Ashley, “this young man and his friends. I have no idea where they even are at this point.” He crossed his arms firmly as he looked down upon her.
She looked away ashamed of her actions, she felt like nothing but a big burden to everyone. “I’m sorry. I truly am. I just want…” Her voice trailed off, her mind lost in a swirl of thoughts.
Ashley looked back and forth between them before shaking his head in exasperation. He neither knew nor cared much for relationships between men and women, they seemed needlessly complicated. He commenced his wood shaving once more when a cackle trilled through the warm, night air. Ashley lunged forward and leapt on top of Veraca, bowling him down onto the sand. He frantically waved for Ruto to get low as well.
Two silhouettes cut across the starry sky, briefly passing over the moon. They were uncovered and in the open and Ashley knew it, he feared they would be discovered. To his relief, their objective was not them but rather the left arm of the colossus. With a chortle, they rained hate from above onto the unsuspecting army below. A cry went up as several flaming arrows surged into the air from multiple locations throughout the camp.
Wheeling high above their heads, the witches gleefully poured frozen flames into the throng of bloodthirsty men. It wasn’t until several bolts of magick blasted forth from several tents that the sisters finally retreated into the safety of the colossus. Ashley observed it all intensely. He knew that the mages were situated amongst the larger tents while the archers were stationed by the smaller tents around the outskirts of the camp. Storing that bit of information away for later, he crept back to the two Zoras.
Veraca had just unclasped the coral cuffs from Ruto as she began wiping away the infuriating sand that seemed to chaff rudely against her scales. She looked over at the young man, appraising him in a way that made him slightly uncomfortable. “What is your name young man?” She cooed, old habits creeping back.
Veraca cleared his throat as he placed a gentle, yet firm hand on her shoulder, to remind Ruto where her place was. She needed to behave. “He won’t talk.” Veraca offered. “Trust me, I’ve already tried. I recall hearing his friend calling him by Ashley.”
Ruto cocked her head at the boy. He seemed well built for such a young thing. His entire stance was one of confidence. He seemed at home in these situations. His gaze was intense and gave her pause as he stared at her with indifference. He didn’t seem the least bit interested in her as a woman. A pity, she mused. “So where are we? What do we do now?”
Veraca was also at a loss for direction. His singular goal was to retrieve Ruto and bring her back to her people, getting others involved in their affairs was not his intention. He felt a debt needed to be paid to the young man and his friends whom they entangled in their quarrel. He looked to Ashley for guidance. The youth looked up and indicated a small crevice which they could find purchase. Following it further up the monolith, it would land them directly above the right arm of the colossus.
Veraca turned to Ruto with resolve, “As much as I’d love to bring you back now to your home Ruto, I cannot. The way back is most likely filled with Nevachreans blocking the pass, we’d never make it alone to the marshlands.” He looked to Ashley for confirmation and smirked when the boy bowed his head is assent. “We will steal ourselves away inside the enemy’s fortress and find his friend.”
Ruto scoffed, “His friend? Isn’t she a Gerudo? She is in safe hands with them then!” Waving her hand in dismissal at the gargantuan statue, she turned to leave.
Veraca placed a hand on her arm and brought her back, “All the Gerudo are enemies. They never took well to us Zoras and we shouldn’t expect any less treatment from them just because the Nevachreans are at their doorstep. We have no idea what they’ll do if they discover that she is not one of them.” At a sudden thought, he whipped around to Ashley, “Didn’t she have a small child with her?”
Ashley nodded yet again, growing slightly bored of the conversation. He leaned slightly onto his bow hoping they would just finish up their discussion so they could get a move on. Veraca plodded on, “What’s more, I’m positive if the Gerudo raided the camp as thoroughly as we’ve come to expect from them, they should have found the child as well. It is our duty to rescue them both.” He spoke with finality, his eyes boring holes in Ruto.
Unfazed by his determined gaze, Ruto walked over to the low bulwark and considered the vast contingent of soldiers occupying the desert plains. She knew this was but a fraction of the army, the bulk was still encamped across Hyrule Field just outside the gates to the castle. “What hope do we have of getting out of this alive? Wouldn’t it be better to just surrender ourselves to them and assist in destroying the Gerudo? They’re going to win anyway. At least then we might find your girl that you so long for when they break down the walls of this place.” She sneered at him.
“No!” Veraca fumed. “What good would that do us? They’d kill me on the spot and most likely utilize you for wicked purposes. You’d wish death before the end!”
Ruto lifted her chin in defiance, “I am Naar’s Dark Mistress! They will allow me to lead them into battle. It is the only way we will be able to get in there and find your ‘precious’ woman.”
Both of them turned to the sound of falling rock and small grunting, Ashley had already tired of their company and was scaling the sheer cliff face up to the path that would lead him onto the right arm of the colossus. Veraca spat to the side vehemently, “You bear that title like a trophy of honor. It is one of disgrace!” Hoping his words would bring her around, he flung his hand off in the direction of the horde below them, “Fine. Go off and ‘lead’ your troops. I highly doubt they’ll believe you to be the Dark Mistress, they didn’t last time you tried it if I recall.”
Without a further word, Veraca hiked himself up onto the brick and began fumbling up the rock face, the brick gave way to stone and became a lot harder to scale. Furious at her indecision, Ruto jerked herself back to the overlook. Why shouldn’t she just march on down there and declare herself to the Nevachreans? Naar would protect her. However, she knew deep down that she saw confusion and doubt on the faces of those men when she entered their camp the previous night. Would these men have the same reaction? Naar was at the castle, he wouldn’t be here to prove her word.
Seeing no other viable alternative, she sighed heavily before stalking over to the wall. Looking up, she saw Veraca several dozen meters above her already with Ashley far beyond him. One small slip and they would most assuredly fall to their deaths. Would that be any different than turning herself in to those men? Ruto shook her head angrily before stepping up onto the first brick.
She yelped in pain as she stubbed her left foot onto something hard. Cursing her clumsiness, she bent down to look at the offending object. Ruto stared at it oddly, it certainly looked like a brick but something was off about it. She gripped the cloth and pulled it aside. How peculiar! The piece of fabric was made to look like brick. Underneath were small bundles of rolled up material, each one as hard as a rock but feeling much heavier.
Ruto couldn’t make sense of it. Shrugging her shoulders she abandoned her investigation and began climbing the cliff. Her training with the elite unit of Naar’s assassins garnered her some ability to scamper up the cliff. It was simply another physical drill. She innately rose up to the challenge. Within minutes she was already passing by Veraca. Although Zoras do not sweat, it was quite evident the toll it was taking on him. He was concentrating heavily on keeping his grip on each small handhold.
At length, the three of them finally reached the top. They leapt down onto the arm and tiptoed their way towards the elbow. Tucked into the side of the monolith was a small crack that looked much like a doorway. Fearing Gerudo guards to be posted, Ashley and Veraca looked in first, sure enough there were two women lounging against the nearby masonry casually chatting about their day.
Holding no love for the Gerudo themselves, Ashley let fly an arrow towards the nearest woman. It lodged into her brain and blasted out the other side, taking her ear off with it. The second Gerudo shrieked in surprise as she brandished her scimitar, rushing towards the entrance. Ashley sidestepped as Veraca surprised the woman from the side, knocking her out cold. Not wishing to give enemies a chance to kill him later, he picked up the dropped scimitar and plunged it into her stomach.
Having a weapon again was a comforting feeling to Veraca. He turned to Ashley and nodded before they moved further within. Ruto gazed down at the two dead women as she passed by, they certainly looked dangerous! A shrill, blood curdling scream rent the air, sending shivers down their spines. Without pause, they raced forward down the nearest corridor towards the cry; they knew deep in their hearts that it was Malon.
None of them noticed that when they left the room, two copies of each woman began to rise up from the corpses of the old.