Chapter 79 - The Order of Masks
For the first time in her life, she was free from her parents. Xavier bounded through the snow with wild abandon, kicking up fluff and debris into the air with each scrape of her claws. Darunia was beside her, laughing as he kept decent pace with the Cyn’Taak, both reveling in the cold snow. They were vaulting up the steep incline, leaping over sarsens and diving over escarpments with the force of their momentum. Darunia was impressed with her ability to utilize her powerful arms to propel herself through the air with each leap.
This was the first time Darunia was alone with the creature and he was quite fascinated with her. The Goron king had never seen anything quite like her. She was covered in bluish-green scales that scintillated in the blinding light reflecting off of the snow. A rather odd hue of red fur was trailing down her back, ending at the base of her scorpion like tail. Her snout was that of a crocodile but with far more teeth. She currently had her tongue lolling out of it with the pure ecstasy of their impromptu race.
“So where are you from exactly Xavier?” Darunia queried as he sprang over a rather large boulder utilizing his arms to help thrust him over the top, his hammer jangling slightly upon impact within its strapped loops attached to his back.
She had to think about it a bit before answering, “I ‘on’t know.” She truly didn’t. The first memories she had were of Link and Zelda taking care of her, supplying her fresh meat to eat and blood to drink.
“That’s okay. Sometimes I don’t even know where I’m from either!” Darunia chortled as he flung a huge clump of snow onto her muzzle, blinding her slightly with the slush flinging up into her eyes. He went manically laughing the whole way up the hill as she roared with irritation at him securing the lead on her.
Her tail twitching irascibly, Xavier scampered up the slope shaking the snow from her snout. The imposing site of an irate Cyn’Taak might have given anyone other than Darunia pause, instead he just hooted louder at her perceived affront. She was almost upon him, ready to tackle his hulking form when he curled up into a ball and rolled down hill much to her surprise.
She spent several moments gazing down upon her quarry as he hurtled down the mountain gaining speed. Figuring she could do the same, she somersaulted forward and nearly flopped over onto her tail as it whipped back around and slapped the snow sending puffs of sleet in every direction. Frustrated yet determined to catch up with the irksome Goron, Xavier clamped down hard onto her tail to keep it close to her belly and began the roll again. Utilizing her arms to boost her forward with each rotation, she managed an admirable rate of descent down the mountain side.
Xavier had truly begun to enjoy herself. Barreling down the slope, casting snow in a pitched arc around her, she blazed a grooved path clear as day for anyone to follow. It wasn’t until she heard a muffled cry off to her right that she realized something was wrong. She released her tail just as it cuffed the snow roughly, sending her catapulting over the precipice revealing a sudden drop of thousands of feet. She yelped dreadfully as she comprehended that she was still meters away from the other side of the ravine when she began her fatal descent.
Darunia, seeing the danger to the ignorant beast, altered his course and began rolling quickly to where she was to launch off airborne. He shunted off the edge just as Xavier flew over the abyss. He unfurled in midair and grasped the business end of her flailing tail just below the venomous barb, with a mighty cry he twirled in the air taking the hapless creature with him. On the upswing, he pitched the Cyn’Taak up onto the opposite ledge. She rammed into the ground with the force of a piston sending spires of sleet spiraling into the air. She immediately crawled panting to look over the edge as she spotted the fading form of Darunia plummeting into the misty depths below.
“‘Arun’a” Xavier howled into the void, her eyes scanning the hazy fog enveloping the ravine.
Her small, swept back ears were flicking to and fro trying to garner some hint of life from below. She looked around her seeing nothing but steep crags burdened with heavy ice, it had begun to snow again and the wind was picking up something fierce. Xavier began to hyperventilate now that her new playmate had left her. Was she to be left all alone on this mountain with no hope of food or water?
Her frantic, ragged breathing instantly quelled as she heard a singular smash reverberate up the valley. Another pounding strike echoed right after the first. Within minutes she could hear excessive grunting accompanying each bang. She scurried over to the edge once again and looked over to see Darunia struggling mightily to scale the vertical surface. Utilizing the pointed end of his hammer, he pulled himself slowly higher with each pounding swing.
“‘Arun’a!” Xavier rumbled happily, she was almost panting with excitement that he was alive.
“Ha!” Darunia grinned as he gripped a rather large outcropping with his hand before extricating the hammer from the rock and swinging it above his head, crunching it deep into the firm stone. “It’ll take more than that to kill a Goron!” He bellowed loudly.
At length, he reached the top and promptly bowled over onto his back, heaving with the exertion of the climb. He lay there for several minutes as he watched a joyful Xavier dance around his body asking nonsensical questions about what it was like scaling the mountain. She had never learned to be like her kin, leaping from branch to branch in the marshlands or utilizing her massive arms for anything but capturing small prey. She was woefully inadequate when it came to upper body strength and carrying her own weight through the air.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm for my safety, but please be quiet for once!” Darunia exhaled, he was still quite winded from the ascent.
“‘kay.” Xavier grumbled, slightly off put. “What do we do ‘ow?” She asked flatly, her fervor subsiding.
Darunia turned himself over onto his stomach before pushing himself up onto his knees. He looked up the slope towards the distant opening in the rock face. A small sliver of smoke was rising from the roof of the opening and slowly wafting away with the wind. He pointed in the cave’s direction, “That is where the others will be, if they haven’t drowned by now.” He shivered at the thought of the water rather than from the cold of the oncoming storm. “I pray to the Goddesses that they are all right. Hopefully Zelda’s newfound powers led them to the right path and I’m wrong about their fate.”
Xavier furrowed her brow which made her look quite menacing, despite her actual confusion at the situation. “‘Hould I have ‘one with them instead?” She questioned openly.
Darunia shook his head, “I don’t think you would have gotten far with them. Underwater passages have a nasty habit of turning impossibly small for folks like us at the drop of a hat. Not to mention there being any air pockets available depending on its length. But if I know Cayla, she wouldn’t let any of them attempt the journey if she didn’t scout it out first to ensure its safety. So I am not worried there.” He thought for a bit before turning to the Cyn’Taak, “Can you even swim?”
She just swung her tail in a lazy circle as she thought, “I don’t ‘now.” She admitted honestly. She never had thought to try and swim before, she wasn’t sure if she even had the aptitude for it.
“Well then,” Darunia started, pulling himself back onto his feet, placing the hammer on the ground as leverage, “Let’s not waste any more time here. I believe we took the fast way across. It’ll probably be an hour yet before we even see hide or hair of our companions inside the cave.” The Goron king smirked as he gave an askance look to Xavier, “Care for another race?”
The sweltering heat was nigh unbearable for Link and the others. Nabooru lost all pretenses at modesty and stripped completely bare within minutes of traversing the melting corridor after emerging from the submerged passage. The rest quickly followed suit, much to the dismay of Zelda. Still unnerved at having her private matters the night before laid bare in front of the entire group, she was still somewhat hesitant to reveal her nude form again in front of Link. Presently, she had no choice but to remove her clothes and dump the sweat drenched fabric on top of the pile with the others.
“I understand that Darunia said the dragon’s den would be hot but I didn’t expect it would be this blistering!” Zelda despaired, taking extra caution not to place her hands on the walls. They had all kept their footwear on for it was the only piece of clothing that prevented their feet from getting burned from the ground. The very rock was slowly melting, forming molten clumps in various places along the passage.
“We have no choice.” Cayla encouraged the others. “Our goal is the Goron Ruby. He said it would be in the den itself, along the outer edge of the chamber. We do not have to engage the dragons if we can help it!” She wiped her forehead drawing a rather sickly amount of sweat pouring off her skin.
“I can’t stand it. It’s too hot!” Saria wailed, wanting nothing more than to dive back into the pool of water. It was quite warm but at least it was better than being in the humid, fetid cave passage.
“Don’t complain now Saria.” Link smiled. “You asked to come along on this mission. You reap what you’ve earned.” He chuckled as she shot him a rather ruthless glare.
“Enough.” Nabooru and Cayla said in unison. They both turned to each other in shock before looking back to the others.
“I hear the dragons further down the path, we have to be quiet. I do not know how well their hearing is or if we’ve already given our position away.” Cayla warned sternly.
“Yes mother.” Link said jokingly, drawing a rather snorting laugh from Saria before being silenced by Cayla’s stare.
With Cayla in the lead, they silently padded down the corridor with weapons in hand. The hilts were slowly becoming warmer with each passing moment and the steel itself was searing to the touch. It wouldn’t be long before they would have to discard their weapons, possibly permanently. The prospect of facing the dragons without any sort of steel left a great sense of foreboding among the group. They quickened their pace so they wouldn’t have to abandon them should this ruby search get prolonged.
Link stretched his wings, flapping them slightly ever so often, to remove the massive amounts of sweat coalescing within his plumage. He hated the foreign feeling of perspiration slowly dripping through each individual feather on his wings, it unnerved him greatly. What was worse was the squirming inside the soft, fleshy mound on the center of his wing. He still had no idea what exactly had happened during his recovery but it had always ached. Now in the stifling heat of the cavern, it was irritating the healed wound and Link had to look again when he thought he saw movement under the skin.
A tap on his shoulder jolted him out of his ruminations, Zelda pointed to a rather large boulder jutting sharply out of the ground just to the right of the cave opening. They looked out into the massive chamber and beheld a monstrous sight. The depressed center portion of the chamber was alive with millions of scales writhing and twisting to and fro.
It took several seconds to filter what exactly they were looking at. There was one massive dragon surrounded by dozens of smaller serpentine dragons. Saria gasped when she realized what the smaller dragons were doing. Each one was clutching tight onto the larger, elder dragon, biding its time before pleasurably impaling itself onto its massive phallus. After a time, it’d move off and allow another of its kin a chance to straddle the gargantuan beast. She turned aside blushing. This was a dragon harem with a lone alpha male!
Cayla whispered in awe, “I’ve never seen a dragon of this type before.”
“Probably because he sends the smaller, female ones out to do the dirty work.” Link pointed out.
“What do you mean?” Cayla asked, turning to him annoyed that he would know more than she about the dragons they had been facing for seven damn cycles.
“Well first, look at what they are doing to the larger male.” He pointed to the nether regions of the dragon where multitudes of twisting scales and flames were vying for dominancy over their depraved activity. “They are his progeny that he uses to produce more offspring.”
Cayla flushed at the straightforward explanation Link purported. “How would you know this much about these dragons?” She prodded testily. They had little time to find the ruby and it was getting hotter. She was beginning to wonder if they would even get out of this situation alive.
Link began to fold his arms until he decided that was a bad idea to do, considering the streams of sweat making his skin sticky. Shaking off the moisture, he expounded, “I encountered one once at around this time frame when Ganondorf was in possession of the Triforce of Power. It looked quite similar to this and was female, so seeing this now makes a whole lot of sense given what I was up against then. Darunia at that time explained to me later after I saved him the nature of these beasts, he probably wouldn’t remember that since I was sent back in time before all that happened.”
Cayla blinked as she stared at him like he was a lunatic. Zelda quickly rushed in and placed a dripping palm on his arm, “Don’t mind him Cayla. These are just some fantastical stories he used to tell when he was younger and living with us in the castle.” She jerked her head closer to him. “Link! You know better than to confuse people with crazy stories like that.”
Link grinned, “They are all true Zelda. Besides, it was worth it for the look on her face.”
Cayla made a move to reprimand the impudent whelp when a deep growl resonated throughout the cavern. “It is rude for guests to stand in the doorway long after an invitation has been given to enter.”
All eyes peered around the jagged rock to see the enormous dragon lounged on his side, one wing draped behind him along the ground, the other slowly fanning himself above all the females. He was idly scratching an itch on his jewel encrusted belly as he lazily looked upon their pitiful forms, broiling smoke drifting upwards from his nostrils.
Their legs were rooted to the spot, terror gripped their hearts. None of them dared move a muscle to confront the overwhelming dragon and its presence. A small tug of the heart from Navi was what propelled Link to make the first step and emerge from the shadows of the chamber. Fully bearing his wings proudly, he stepped forward unashamed and casually held his sword at his side.
“We did not hear an invitation.” Link stated, trying to forcibly control the waver in his voice.
The dragon emitted a low rumble from its gut which sent vibrations rolling through their bodies, it appeared to be laughing. “You are not dead yet. I believe that was invitation enough.” The beast lowered its head as it tried to peer around the boulder blocking the cave entrance. “What of your crew? Have them step into the light so that I may see them better.” It was casually spoken but it was evident that it should not be disobeyed.
With a shaky hand motioning the others to stand beside him, the rest tiptoed out afraid that even a loud footfall would enrage the beast. The only one who seemed the least bit interested in the dragons was Saria, she was gazing upon them with curiosity. She had never seen such a majestic creature so large and magnificent. The rest were fixed with terror.
The deep rumble resounded through the chamber again as the dragon soaked in the rest of Link’s company. “Looks like we have something in common Huma.” The beast motioned with his snout the throng of females clamoring for his favor. Link blushed crimson at the dragons insinuation. “Do they follow you around like fleas?” More rumbling.
“We want no trouble here. We just came to procure one single token…a trifle really.” Link bluffed. He had no idea if dragons could read minds or perceive lies, especially male dragons.
“You mean this charming trinket?” With a self-satisfied grin of teeth, the dragon unearthed the Goron Ruby from the mass of gold beneath his bulk and flicked it with a talon towards them. It landed a mere dozen meters from their position. Zelda gasped as she saw the brilliant glow of the ruby oscillating around the cavern as the light from the dragons played off of it.
Stunned that it should be so easy, Link shied away from the ruby thinking it might be a trap. “What is the stipulation in taking it? Or are we free to go with the ruby?” He tried to sound strong for the others who were stricken with muteness by the presence of the dragons.
The elder dragon rumbled deep, “A smart one you are. There is a price to pay for releasing such a valuable gem from my collection.” The beast paused as he pointed a lengthy claw towards Zelda and Nabooru. “Those two would make a mighty fine snack and would be an adequate price.”
“No!” Cayla shouted, finally free from her dread. “You cannot have her!”
The dragon raised a scaly eyebrow as it considered the bold defiance, “Are you saying you are willing to take her place? For that would also be suitable.” Its forked tongue licked its lips, “It has been a while since one of the females have brought me Sheikah to eat. I have grown tired of Gorons as of late.”
With a low, unintelligible growl, several serpentine dragons detached from the elder beast’s body and began snaking their way across the ground towards them. They were nowhere near the size of the male but each was as big as several houses in their own right. Splaying his wings out defensively, Link brandished his sword and readied himself for the skirmish.
A roaring cry emerged from his right as a rolling rock bowled into the cavern before unfurling and slamming a hammer into the snout of one dragon. The beast’s head snapped back before collapsing to the side causing a minor earthquake as the rest of the body followed suit. Quick on the draw, Darunia swung the hammer around in a wide vertical arc and smashed the creature’s brains out.
The alpha male turned over onto its feet as it flung all the raging females off of its body. “Who dares?” It bellowed horribly, causing silt and rocks to fall from the high, arched ceiling above.
“I dare, you vile serpent!” Darunia spat, holding the hammer firmly with both hands. The other nearby dragons backpedaled as the Goron king made to advance upon them. Xavier bounded through the cavern and sided with him in threatening the other beasts.
“If death is what you desire, then death is what you will receive!” The male shouted, rearing his head back. The scales on his abdomen flapped wildly as a deep breath was heard throughout the chamber.
“Run you fools!” Darunia shouted as he gripped the Cyn’Taak by the tail and practically dragged the poor creature towards the only source of protection in the room, the boulder. Everyone made a mad dash for the passage hoping that the jutting rock would protect them from the deadly dragon fire.
“Zelda…no!” Link screamed as she tripped on an errant stone and fell to the floor scraping her arms and legs. He made a move to rush out to save her but Darunia pushed him and Cayla back.
“There is no time! We will all die!” Genuine panic was in his eyes. Dragon fire was one of the few things that could easily kill a Goron and there was fear palpable in his eyes. Even the Goron king had never encountered a male dragon before. This was entirely new to him.
Before anyone could react, Xavier dove out from shelter and covered Zelda’s entire body with her own, wrapping Zelda up in her cool scales which were startlingly refreshing to the touch. Cayla screamed as Nabooru and Link tried to hold the Sheikah back. She was on near hysteria that her charge was about to be incinerated alive and was being defended by an abnormal beast she didn’t quite fully trust with Zelda’s safety.
The intake of breath broke as liquescent flames billowed forth from the throat of the elder dragon, its conflagrations licking the sides of the walls as it blustered towards the hapless Cyn’taak. Within seconds, the creature was enveloped in thrashing flames swelling around them. Link cried out in anguish as he lost sight of them within the inferno. He was slammed back into the burning rock by Saria as the remainder of the dragon fire crashed up against the boulder, circling around them and delving deep into the passage beyond.
Peeking one eye open, Nabooru gasped as she beheld the Cyn’Taak completely unharmed. The creature lifted its head up and gazed around blinkingly. “Did I do ‘ood?” she rumbled as she looked to Link.
“Impossible!” The male roared as he thumped one clawed foot to the floor throwing several off balance with its aftershocks.
Dawning realization settled in on Link as he praised the Goddesses for such a blessing as Xavier. “There must be some element of magick to dragon fire!” He exclaimed amazed. “Cyn’Taak are resistant to magick!”
Moving with a speed abnormal to its size, the alpha dragon lumbered into a position where the next breath would be unavoidable. Link felt something thrust into his right hand but when he looked, there was no one there to have given him the mask. Lacking any other recourse, he raised the mask over his face, mere inches away from his nose and faced the dragon head on.
The dragon stopped and glided its face closer to the mask being held up, taken in its bloodshot eyes, its multi-colored hues and horned crown. Its maw of teeth was mere feet away from Link, its mouth large enough to hold dozens of people at once and swallow whole. Link involuntarily shivered as he stared at the inner wood façade of the mask, unaware of what was going on just in front of him. Time seemed to stop as the rest of the female dragons turned to the alpha, awaiting his command.
“Now that is a face I have not seen in a millennia.” Growled the dragon. After a few tense moments of silence, the dragon coolly ordered, “Lower the mask so that I may view your face one more time.” Visibly shaking, Link brought the mask down to his waist. The dragon turned his snout to the side as he inspected Link with a single, scrutinizing eye. “You look remarkably like him.”
“Like who?” Link asked, keeping his lower lip from quivering. He glanced briefly to the side to see Cayla rushing Zelda to safety behind the stone as Xavier looked eager to leap to Link’s rescue. It took Saria’s petting of her mane to calm down the creature’s bristling nerves.
The dragon drew his neck back and looked out over his brood of females and the myriad of eggs beyond the piles of gold. “The interloper. The defiler. The killer of the one who held the rift at bay.”
“I don’t understand.” Link said baffled.
Zelda stepped forward, shaking off the protective arm of Cayla. “I do. The greatest of your kind was deceived by the one sent by Demise, the one who wore the fascia of a hero and brutally killed the one dragon who kept good and evil separate.”
The dragon looked down upon the golden haired Huma with obvious interest, “You know much for someone so young. There is no way you could have known that unless…” The massive maw was brought down to her level as he inspected her too. “Well, well, if this is not a surprise. I did not recognize you for the disguise you placed around your spirit…Hylia.” Nabooru inhaled swiftly. So it really wasn’t some weird dream, she had doubts Zelda was even telling the truth. “You do not live as long as I have without being able to recognize your Goddess.” The dragon thundered.
“Your Goddess?” Zelda murmured disbelieving. “Does that mean you will help us?”
The male snorted, spouting flames from his nostrils in irritation. “We do not serve the Goddess any longer. The time of our loyalty has ended. We leave the fate of this wretched world in your hands now.”
Without thinking of what she was doing, Saria zipped up to his nose and drew level with his muzzle. “But you have to help us! If she truly was your Goddess, what is preventing you from helping her now? Have you really lost your faith in her?” She didn’t know why she said the things she did but she felt Sora applauding her every word.
Jerking its head back to better view the buzzing Kokiri, the dragon cocked its brow at the interesting creature. “And what are you? An annoying bug?”
Trying not to sound affronted, she clarified, “I’m a Kokiri.”
The deep reverberating laugh resonated through the cavern, “One of her most cherished creations. I had almost forgot your kind existed. Do not speak to me of faith and your Goddess. I want as little to do with her as she did with us.” Deeming the conversation over, the dragon kicked the ruby with its foot over to Link as he knelt to pick up the scalding hot jewel. He had to apparate a piece of cloth just to be able to even touch the stone. “Take your prize.” The dragon growled.
“That’s it? You’re not going to kill us?” Darunia asked hopefully.
The dragon’s gaze shifted down to the mask Link still held in his hand, “Not today.”