Chapter 80 - The Enemy Within
“Do you think it was a good idea to leave her alone with him?” Zelda asked nervously. She shifted uncomfortably behind Link as she rearranged her arms around his waist. They were soaring high over the jagged peaks on top of a dragon.
Link turned his head slightly to be heard above the buffeting wind, “You know how Saria gets when she puts her mind to something. I couldn’t talk her out of it.”
He smiled as he heard a whoop behind him. Darunia was having the time of his life riding the flying serpent. He had never dared to think that such an event was possible. The Goron king was wildly waving an arm above his head as he grappled the scaly mane of the beast between his legs with the other. He seemed completely at peace with the situation, something Nabooru behind him was not. She was clinging white knuckled around Cayla, much to the Sheikah’s irritation.
The elder male dragon conceded to let them leave with the Goron Ruby. They were given just enough time to head back into the passage to gather their belongings before the proffered dragon departed. The agreement was that they would remove themselves from his presence and he would spare a female to transport them back to the Goron refuge as a token of good faith. Once all were situated onto the back of the dragon, she catapulted into the air which drew several squeals and cries of shock from those riding.
As they were assembling their clothes and effects, Saria had marched up to Link proudly with hands on her hips. Link took one glance at her before looking back down to his pack, wiping the pouring sweat off his brow before securing the masks back into his bag. “Saria, please put some clothes back on, we’re getting ready to leave. We got what we came for.”
“No.” She stated flatly. Link looked up at her curiously. “I feel my place is here, with the dragons.”
He distorted his face oddly, “Why on the Goddesses’ green earth would you want to stay here?” The heat was getting to him, and having to put his tunic and tights back on was torture.
“I think they can help us.” She shook her head. “No, I know they can help us.”
Link chuckled, thinking she was joking, the laugh caught in his throat as he looked at her determined face. “You’re serious aren’t you?” She nodded curtly. “What makes you think they’ll listen to you?”
As if explaining with authority, she rattled off, “Well, it is clear that both the dragons and the Kokiri were once servants of the Goddess Hylia. Maybe I can use that connection to help him see our plight and help us out.”
Link looked back down the tunnel at the seething mass of wriggling scales crawling all over the gargantuan beast. “I don’t think he’ll listen to reason, especially if you tackle him with that. He didn’t seem too eager to help us when he recognized Zelda for who she was.” After a moment’s thought, he added, “And he didn’t seem too keen on you either.”
“Doesn’t mean I can’t still try!” Saria retorted, her wings twitching agitatedly.
“You’re not going to give up, are you?” Link said with a smile as he turned back to his pack.
“Nope!” She said with a laugh.
Swooping Saria up into his arms, he embraced her diminutive form tightly against his body. Speaking softly into her ear, “Please be safe. I want to see you again.”
Whispering back, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure I don’t piss the big dragon off…too much.” She giggled as she released him and floated away down the passage. She turned back briefly, “Oh, don’t take my clothes, just leave them there. I’ll probably need them later.” It wasn’t until he placed a hand to his chest did he realize Saria had placed the Kokiri Emerald around his neck, dangling from a thin piece of chain.
A wistful smile still imprinted on his face, he said to himself again, “I couldn’t talk her out of it.” A gentle squeeze around the waist alerted him that they were preparing to land.
Several Gorons below were shouting battle cries and alarms. Several Sheikah were scrambling amongst the crags to fortify positions of defense against the incoming serpent. Several had arrows nocked and ready as the dragon descended through the wispy clouds, the ground hurtling up at them at an alarming rate. Xavier tensed in preparation to leap off the crazed dragon should it barrel itself into the ground.
The dragon landed roughly onto the dusty slope, churning up rocks under its talons as it gripped the earth to secure itself. Link nearly fell off the side before Zelda grasped his tunic just under the base of his wings and brought him steady back up in front of her. The beast was snarling at the entourage of Gorons and Sheikah which were aiming a variety of weapons in its direction.
“Ho! Be at ease, the dragon was just escorting us down from the mountain. We have secured the Goron Ruby!” Darunia boomed from astride the dragon. All Gorons stared up mystified that their leader had tamed a dragon and was now using it as a regal mount. None could comprehend such a thing.
Sliding down the scaly side and alighting with a grunt, the Goron king raised the ruby high into the air for all to see. A cacophony of cheers resonated throughout the rock as many Gorons praised their king. Link hopped down, utilizing his wings to soften the landing. The dragon was small compared to the male, but she was still fairly large and it was quite the steep drop. He turned to help Zelda down from her riding perch. She smiled as she took his hand and slipped into his arms before being set onto the ground.
Nabooru and Cayla deftly leapt to the ground without any assistance and proceeded to stand beside Zelda. Xavier slipped and roared the entire way down before collapsing in a heap by the dragon’s back leg. A low growl of irritation rumbled through the belly of the beast as Xavier gripped her claws into the dragon’s hind leg, trying to help herself back to standing.
“Ah, and my partner in delinquency!” Darunia roared jovially as he clapped a hand to Xavier’s back. “She has earned a place of honor in my heart! She kept up with the king of the Gorons and even had my back in the dragon’s den, for that I pronounce her an honorary Goron!” More applause and cheers erupted from the gathering ground, much to the confusion of Xavier. She was utterly flabbergasted as to what had just transpired. She numbly turned to Darunia as he addressed her directly, “You are one amazing creature, Xavier. I will see to it that my subjects create for you an armor befitting your station. What say you to that?”
She nodded torpidly, unsure of what she had walked into. “‘ounds ‘ood.” She spoke dully.
Link raised his hands merrily as he went to hug the Cyn’Taak. “Be happy Xavier! The Gorons just bestowed upon you a great honor!” He paused a moment as he considered something, “I guess that makes you a sworn sister!” He guffawed joyously, followed by the deep belly laugh of Darunia.
“Are you quite finished with your greetings?” The dragon spoke ardently. All eyes turned in shock at the female serpent, Link was unaware they could talk on their own to others outside of their kind. Ignoring the stares, it continued, “I must get back to my brood. Do not come back to our home again, Huma.” It seemed to spit the last word out like a vile oath. With a swift flap of its wings and a tumult of upturned rock, the dragon spiraled into the sky and flew eastward to the horizon.
“Good riddance.” Cayla snorted as she viewed the serpentine silhouette fading into the distant mountains. She stepped a bit closer to her charge, in a subconscious effort to better protect Zelda.
“I wonder what I did.” Zelda said softly to herself as she gazed forlornly at the departure of the dragon. She had no idea what her past self had done to lose the loyalty of the dragons, she wasn’t exactly sure she wanted to find out. Her memories were still hazy and she could only remember specific events or instances of the past, mainly revolving around the death of her champion, Link.
“Please come Zelda, the rest are heading into the mountain.” Cayla put a hand on Zelda’s shoulder as she gently nudged her towards the direction of the others as they were gleefully following their king and newly sworn sister into the caverns. Even Link had gone on ahead and was gaily joining in on the festivities. There had been a huge revelry when he was sworn in as a brother to the Gorons, despite the fact he was too young to participate at the time. He was fully intending to live it up tonight for Xavier however.
She was about to follow her protector’s advice when she noticed Nabooru standing alone, gazing out over the peaks. “Is everything okay Nabooru?” Zelda inquired concerned.
Her shoulders jumped a little as she turned to Zelda. After a moment, she smiled, “No, it’s nothing. I was just curious if Saria will be all right with them.” She inclined her chin towards the far eastern peaks where they had flown in from.
“We must pray to the Goddesses now to protect her.” Zelda said solemnly.
Nabooru scoffed, “You mean, pray to you?” She instantly regretted the words as soon as they left her lips; the expression of pain on Zelda’s face was evident. It was clear that her formal divinity was still being questioned by those around her, even to those whom she called friends. Is this what it feels like when people don’t believe you and deride your stories? Is this what they put Link through?
Cayla bristled at the affront, “Do not speak to the Princess like that!” She took one step towards the flippant Gerudo.
“Princess or Goddess?” Nabooru remarked caustically, “You should really make up your mind!”
With a cry, the Sheikah moved to strike the Gerudo, but Zelda quickly put up her hand to stay the enraged guardian. “Cayla, you need to calm yourself. You can’t overreact to everything people say to me. I understand that not all people will be tolerant with me and I accept that. I am having a hard time believing it myself that I am Hylia reborn. I can fathom why Nabooru is so against acknowledging me as a Goddess. All she has ever known was whatever her elders and the witches, Kotake and Koume, told her about their divine creators. To realize all that she believed in was nothing but a lie, and to now have me here proclaiming divinity? I wouldn’t be very comfortable with it either.”
“I apologize Zelda. It was not my place to question you.” Nabooru said, slightly bowing her head.
“It’s okay.” Zelda said, waving a hand to dismiss the argument. “You meant what you said and I recognize your feelings on the matter. All I can promise is that I hope to live up to the expectations everyone would have of me. I may not be a Goddess in form anymore, but I am in spirit. I hope to bring happiness and comfort to those around me.”
“Thank you. I…I just want to be left alone for a while.” Nabooru stated wearily, the events of the day had taken their toll and her face looked haggard.
“Very well. Please come in and enjoy part of the festivities if you can. I know there is a war going on, but we acquired the ruby. We should celebrate small victories like this when we can.” With one final grin, she turned to follow the last lingering Gorons into the cave opening. Cayla tailed her without bothering to look back at the Gerudo.
Nabooru rubbed her arms to help warm them up; the transition from extreme heat to the cold, blustery air high above the mountains was quite a shock to her system. She still wasn’t sure she had fully recovered from the sudden temperature change. Her thoughts meandered back to Saria and their talk just before preparing to dive into the submerged passage that morning. She recalled the Kokiri mentioning she had overheard her conversation with Link about the nightmare and that she understood what she was feeling…for Saria had been having the same dreams too.
It was indeed a celebration for the ages. It had been a long time since the war had started and no one had a moment’s respite to enjoy the simple things in life. The fiesta spirit galvanized the entire community. Gorons finally had smiles back on their faces and Sheikah were finally starting to let their guard down, if only for one night. It had been a welcome diversion and one that was sorely needed for morale. They had little time to prepare, but they had already strung across the room several ropes of twine with dangling tapestries depicting Gorons in various positions of carousing.
Link had unwittingly agreed to a rather raucous drinking contest between him, Darunia and Xavier. The moment the bitter drink touched his throat, he immediately retched at the awful taste of it. It felt like sandpaper in his mouth and reminded him of rock churned into mush. He deplored the drink as Darunia bellowed loudly at his sworn brother’s inability to stomach the beverage. Link marveled disgustingly as the Goron king guzzled down the chewy liquid before wiping the dribble off his mouth with his arm.
“Ugh, what is in that?” Link grimaced at the horrid cup that still roiled with black chunks.
“My brother, it is the drink of the Goddesses!” At an incredulous look from Link, he further explained with great mirth, “Its strong drink for Gorons. Never seen a Hylian consume it, but I’m willing to bet it’ll knock you on your ass!” He howled loudly as he stumbled over to the rock-hewn party table to pour more for himself into the stone goblet.
Xavier swilled the drink down in one shot. Staring deep into the cup, she grumbled morosely. “I don’t ‘hink that was a ‘ood ‘dea.”
Several other Gorons clapped her on the back, congratulating her on her brazen manner of downing the liquid. They said she looked like a true Goron chugging it back like she did. Xavier shrugged off their praises and rumbled over to where Zelda was seated off to the side along the wall. She curled up next to her chair and promptly fell asleep. Zelda placed a gentle hand on the beast’s head and began stroking it lovingly.
Walking back to the center of the gathering, Darunia glimpsed Xavier asleep. He wondered just how quick it had taken effect with her. She probably never had anything quite like that in her life. He chortled heartily, “Looks like someone couldn’t handle their liquor.”
Link thought the Goron king initially meant Xavier, but when he turned his dark pupils upon Link, it was clear he was meaning both of them. “Oh come on!” Link said exasperatedly. “You can’t expect me to drink this and not feel sick! We weren’t made to eat rocks like you.” He was hoping his logical reasoning would have reached the king’s mind, but it was clear the alcohol had already gotten there first.
“You are my sworn brother! We drink together! Like men!” He toasted to the health of Link before swallowing the next goblet full in one swoop.
With a cheer, the rest of the Gorons raised their cups of obsidian booze and downed theirs. The Sheikah were wisely staying to the edges of the room, watching the proceedings with care. A few joined in the dancing and merriment but all steered clear of both the favored drink and those especially boisterous Gorons drinking it.
Upon seeing that Link had hesitated and was still holding the stone cup loosely in his hand, he jabbed a meaty finger in his direction, “Link! Rink to your halth! It will do you gud! You need to looshen up!” The king was clearly slurring his words and already lost to the drink. Link merely shook his head, he had never seen Darunia drunk before and it was quite the new experience.
“I’m sorry, it’s disgusting.” Link’s face twisted terribly at the recollection of its bitter aftertaste.
“Drink!” Darunia commanded again.
“I will not.” Link stood firm.
“Drink!” Darunia boomed again.
After further pressing, Link finally agreed to drink the disgusting brew. He knew it was a mistake the moment he tipped the cup to his mouth. With a sudden movement, the king laughed and pressed up on the bottom of Link’s goblet so more could flow down his throat. Link’s wings contorted and knotted themselves in odd angles as he felt the chunky bits of rock tumble down his gullet before hitting the bottom of his stomach like a lodestone. He knew it would be an awful day when those had to come out.
An involuntary shiver traveled down his spine at the revolting flavor permeating his mouth, “That…” he hacked, “was awful.” Darunia roared with laughter before offering to take Link’s cup for another refill. “Whoa.” Link swooned hard as he gripped the granite bench beside him. He nearly collapsed as he lost all sense of where he was. The drink quickly muddled his brain and his thoughts began to get all fuzzy. Was this what it was like getting drunk? Did Talon really enjoy this sensation?
“Wat? Will you not shelebrate with us on retrieving our sacred shtone?” Darunia grilled as he saw Link stagger past the extended cup filled to the brim with more detestable booze.
“I don’t feel very good. I just…want to sleep.” Link mumbled groggily. He had an overwhelming urge to simply collapse and wake up to morning. Just how strong was that drink?
Cocking his head briefly at him, Darunia dismissed the refusal, “Get shom shleep brother, we hash a big day tomerrew!” With a sweeping motion he wolfed down both goblets entirely, much to the merriment of all Gorons in attendance. He howled with glee as he tripped and crashed into several Gorons, snickering the whole time.
Zelda motioned for Cayla to stay behind at their sitting place as she walked up to the stumbling Link, “Is everything all right? Do you need me to help you to your room?”
He shook his head indolently, “I’ll be all right Zelda. Just…need to sleep this off.”
With a worried look, she watched as her friend slowly walked up the slope towards the upper passages which led to their sleeping quarters. Link’s wings languidly drooped down to his sides, seemingly all control gone from his appendages. He had probably never experienced such strong drink before and was quite unprepared for it. For that matter, neither had she. She had seen her father and dignitaries drink something similar during their council meetings when she was younger.
Speaking of her father, where was he? She looked around the crowd before realizing he was not there. She took one look back to see Cayla absorbed in some game involving young Gorons bashing each other against their hard backs with their heads. It seemed amazingly dangerous yet they were hooting and hollering at each bruise and injury incurred. Seeing that her protective guardian was distracted, she headed off towards the side corridor which would lead to her father’s chambers. Unbeknownst to anyone in attendance, a shadow plucked itself from the far wall nearest Zelda and began tailing her.
Link had barely made it to his room before tumbling down onto the floor as he opened the oaken door into his boardroom. He crawled over to the limestone bed of furs at the far side of the room before hoisting himself up onto it. He slumped over and began to slowly drift off into blissful sleep before a small sound alerted his dull senses.
He looked up at the lithe form of Sasha as she gracefully stepped unbidden into his chambers. “Huh?” Confusion played across his face. “What are you doing here?”
A wicked smile spread across her features as she coyly stepped closer to him, “And here I have you away from everyone else. All the Sheikah are busy, the Gorons completely drunk and useless and you here, incapacitated and defenseless. How utterly inviting.” She licked her lips, her tongue lingering on the scar that traveled up her cheek.
“All the Sheikah? What are you talking about? Aren’t you…?” Thoughts swirled in his head, none of them making any sense. He tried to lift himself up off the bed but was firmly pressed back into the furs by a rather forceful hand.
She knelt down and brought her eyes level with his, “I would have loved to have gone inside you, tasted what your heart and organs were like, and felt the blood of your body flow through mine.”
His eyes dilated as he stared in horror at what Sasha was saying, “I…don’t understand. Aren’t you Cayla’s…?” He couldn’t even finish his contemplations, so jumbled were his thoughts.
Completely disregarding his questions, she continued, “But then you had to go and get infected with a piece of the Goddess within you.” Her eyes trailed across his body until they fixated on his brilliantly white wings. “Now I am forever barred from enjoying your body as my own. I should have disobeyed Naar when I had the chance and taken you as my own back when we had captured you!”
She pressed a hand against the plump mound that was in the middle of his wing, in an instant Link began screaming and writhing across the stone slab of a bed as lightning bolts of pain shot through his body and pierced his heart. His wings curled and flapped uncontrollably as each jolt of pain surged through his limbs. Navi was ringing incoherently in his brain. Several insect-like pincers exploded from the mound and stabbed themselves deep into the fleshy membrane beneath his plumage. His shrill cry sliced the air as he squirmed in agony. The claws were digging deeper into his wing!
Sasha looked on with insouciance, “Such a shame. You would have been quite delicious, I can tell.” She sighed with a false longing before erupting into mocking laughter. “No matter, I am willing to sacrifice one of my seed to devour you. It may die because of Hylia’s spirit within you, but at least I’ll have that taste I’ve been waiting for this whole time!”
A rather grim leer splayed across her features. The ensconced torches were flickering hideous light onto her face, displaying her scars in a disgusting way. Link’s eyes grew wide at the nonsense the Sheikah was spouting, “What are you?” He croaked in-between flashes of pain.
“Oh these?” She pointed to the scars on either side of her lips as Link stared at them. “Would you like to know how I got these scars? How about I show you?” Sasha crowed maniacally.
A sudden tearing and squishing of flesh was heard. Two hook-like claws punctured through the soft skin of Sasha’s abdomen as it spread the flesh apart, gushing blood onto the floor with the sudden opening of her body. Link’s eyes riveted on the repulsive creature pushing itself out of the widening hole in the Sheikah’s stomach, its gray platelets clinking as it wiggled its way through the gory orifice.
“Shh…it’ll all be over soon.” Sasha crooned as Link made to back away from the ghastly creature.
Link yelped as the repugnant mass of wriggling legs and snapping mandibles plopped onto his chest. It skittered up to his mouth before jamming its two large fore-hooks into his mouth. With the determination of having done this a thousand times, the creature slowly opened the split hooks, spreading his mouth wider. Beads of blood began to form at the creases of Link’s mouth as the skin began to tear. The clicking of the foul insect intensified as it saw the opening of the mouth almost wide enough to fit into. A few more inches and his neck would snap and it would be feasting time.