Chapter 83 - Changing the Play
The Goron king was bent low over a corpse, a hand covering his face to hide the tears he was shedding. He had lost good friends this day. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion turned out to be a complete disaster. All he had wanted was to give his people a taste of happiness once again, to celebrate the reacquisition of the Goron Ruby. It seemed like a good excuse as any to bring laughter and delight into the community after cycles of sorrow, gloom and despair.
Darunia raised his head at the sound of coming footsteps. He barely smiled at the visage of Cayla and Saria walking up to him. He surveyed the scene of destruction and death around him. So many lives lost, and for what? The Sheikah had suffered the worst of it, there was barely any of them left save a scant dozen or so. The Gorons fared better but there was almost a hundred dead. Many were being dragged off to be thrown onto a pile that would be later burned.
“What was the point of this?” Darunia said to no one in particular, his mind was still reeling from having to wake up to chaos and killing his own people.
Cayla pressed a firm hand on the Goron’s shoulder, “It wasn’t your fault. The Defiler is a patient demon and it probably was among us long before tonight. He was probably waiting for the most opportune time to strike. We were at our weakest and this is our folly for letting our guard down.”
Darunia clucked, “You never did know how to comfort someone in their time of need.”
“No. I don’t.” Cayla said with a faint smile on her lips.
“I’m so sorry Darunia.” Saria sniffed, tears welling up in her eyes. The shock of seeing so many carcasses, especially those of her friends, was starting to tear at her heart.
Seeing the need to comfort her more than himself, he rose up and brought the diminutive Kokiri into his arms. “It’s okay my little forest flower. They all have been brought to Farore’s pastures. They are not feeling anymore pain.” She squeezed his massive frame harder at his words, they were meant for healing but it just hurt her all the more.
Presently they parted before he stood up and turned to the waiting Sheikah, his good friend over the last seven cycles. “Where is Link? And our princess?” He asked authoritatively. He was angry. He wanted to establish a game plan on what they should do next to bring vengeance on those responsible for this massacre.
Cayla crossed her arms before leaning back slightly, like she usually did when conversing with the Goron king. “Zelda’s father, our king, is dead.” She began gravely, Darunia’s face turned bitter at her words. “She is right now in mourning over what remains of his body in his chambers. Link is with her, they should be along shortly.”
“Xavier!” Darunia roared suddenly, “Stop desecrating the bodies! Let them rest in peace!”
The Cyn’Taak looked up from her sickening meal. She was lapping up the organs and innards from several open cavities in various bodies. “‘Orry! Too much ‘lood. I can’t ‘esist.” She had to be physically led away by several other Gorons to the edge of the cavern hall. Her bloodlust was overwhelming her sense of propriety.
Shaking his head, he realized he would have to do something about that creature. She was dangerous, but a valuable ally, he could see that. He wondered if they could build some suitable armor for her? Regulating the thought to the back of his mind, he turned to Cayla. “Do we have a strategy for getting the final sacred stone and destroying these bastards once and for all?” He growled. His temper was rising.
The Sheikah scoffed at his question, “Yes, but I don’t think it’s a very good one. Not the least of which is because it was suggested by Ganondorf, the current ruler of the Gerudo.” A small clearing of the throat alerted Cayla to Nabooru’s presence nearby. “My apologies, I had forgotten you were there.”
Nabooru glowered at Cayla, “Just because he is my king does not mean we are all in line with his values. I, for one, did not agree with how he ran our nation or treated our enemies. Do not presume to know how every Gerudo is like without first getting to know them yourself.” She finished with a defiant look.
“She’s right.” Saria chipped in, seemingly oblivious to the fact that this was not a conversation she should have encroached upon. “Link loves Malon and she is born from the Gerudo as well and she is the nicest person I know.”
Cayla simply blinked at her, “What?” she stated flatly. She was quite unaware of Link’s love life. Neither he nor Zelda talked about it and Malon was someone she had not met or heard of. The fact she was Gerudo was surprising. Did they mystify his mind into falling in love with one of them?
Darunia let out an abrupt guffaw, “And here I thought Link brought Zelda along because she was to be his mate! I have got to meet this beauty of his, the woman who has captured my sworn brother’s heart!”
“That’s my daughter you are talking about.” Nabooru offered.
He regarded the Gerudo intently, “If she is even half as beautiful as you, then Link is a very lucky man!”
Nabooru flushed; embarrassed that another species would call her beautiful. “I appreciate the sentiment. However, she is not here. It was decided it best to leave her behind in Glaun’rung, especially since it was quite obvious she is with child.”
Darunia whistled, “My brother is all grown up!” After a pause, “I am strangely proud of him.” He shook his head in admiration at how much Link had accomplished both on and off the battlefield.
Cayla grumbled, “We have more important matters to discuss. The plan they have agreed upon was using Link as a mole. To have him be captured freely by Nevachrea so that he would be taken directly to Naar so he could retrieve the Zora Sapphire from him directly.”
The Goron king stared at her skeptically, “Link honestly feels that he can steal the sapphire back from him? Even simple grunts in their army are like tenacious roaches. I can’t imagine how much more powerful Naar is in comparison.” He flashed a wily grin, “Although I wouldn’t mind sparing him myself. It might actually be fun!”
Nabooru narrowed her eyes, “None of us here have met the man personally, only his commanders. They alone are quite formidable and resourceful. Outside of Link himself, I don’t think anyone knows what he is truly capable of.”
“I do.” Saria interposed lugubriously. All eyes turned to her, several brows rose in piqued interest that a Kokiri would know so much about their enemy. She stuttered somewhat, slightly unnerved at all the eyes gaping at her, awaiting an answer. “Or rather…my fairy, Sora, knows how bad he is.”
Nabooru went to a knee beside her, “Feel free to share it with us Saria.” She knew during her time living with Saria that she could be cajoled far more easily with kind words than blunt orders. She could tell the Kokiri was thankful for the understanding nature of her request.
Cayla snapped her fingers, “That’s right. I remember Impa bringing back a cage with a fairy in it after saving Link. That was Sora, right?”
Saria nodded, “She was with me ever since my birth. I can’t even remember that, it’s been so long ago. She was captured the day I was rescued from the Lost Woods when Nevachrea first attacked.” She curtly stopped talking. Everyone was listening with rapt attention as it appeared she was heeding a voice inside her head. “Sora says she was taken to his very tent where he slept, alongside many other fairies. She witnessed all the horrible things he had done.”
“Wait,” Cayla stopped her, “Sora says? Where is she now?” She searched the Kokiri, trying to find some telling glow to locate her fairy.
Nabooru stepped in to answer for Saria, “She was on the verge of death seven cycles ago, the fact she survived is a miracle by all accounts. Her fairy bonded with her. I don’t know how, but that is when she got her wings.”
A light went on in Darunia’s head, “Is that why Link now has wings? Did a fairy bond with him too?” He jabbed a finger in Nabooru’s direction, daring to prove him wrong.
“Yes.” She confirmed. “It was actually his own fairy, Navi. I’d never seen her until the day it happened.”
The king slapped his thigh emphatically, “I knew it!”
Cayla rolled her eyes at him. They both knew that he had no clue as to the cause of Link’s wings up until now. “Can she continue?” She gestured to Saria. With a gruff mumble, Darunia stepped back and allowed the Kokiri to resume.
“He treats his men so awfully. He beats them, tears them apart and berates them for every little wrong thing they do.” She paused a moment, listening. “He also cries when no one is around and has a special object he always holds.”
“Odd.” Darunia commented. The rest remained silent, wondering if Saria had more to tell.
“He has magickal powers that can destroy a man and can summon weapons into his very hands from thin air.” Cayla cocked an eyebrow at this; every Nevachrean male had the ability to summon weapons, that wasn’t new. What was different was the magick abilities Naar possessed. “He is also very smart, scary brilliant actually. He reads constantly and performs horrible experiments on those he captures.” She held back a small cry as Sora informed her of the next bit, “He has experimented extensively on us Kokiri.” She stopped.
“This is bad.” Darunia rumbled. “If he is not only a skilled warrior but one who is smart, a great tactician and equipped with magick powers. How can Link expect to steal the sapphire from him alone? I agree. This plan is without merit. I do not trust Ganondorf either and not only because he sealed off the Dodongo’s Cavern many cycles ago where the veritable bounty of our prime sirloin rock resided. He was a repugnant man then, it sounds like he still is now.” He crossed his arms in consternation at the alarming news.
“We need to convene quickly on this plan and modify it for his sake.” Cayla stressed.
“For all our sakes.” Nabooru corrected.
Saria remained silent. She had spent a long time in the presence of Ganondorf. She knew that he did have a tender heart and he did honestly care about his people and those he protected. She also couldn’t deny that he had a streak of malice within him that was unexplainable. She couldn’t fathom why he was ambitious enough to allow others to suffer for the needs of the Gerudo. There had to be more to this duality in his nature.
“Although I agree with Zelda’s assessment that going in there full force would result in a massive loss of life, I also don’t think Link should go in alone. I believe several people who are well adept at hiding in the shadows should accompany him in this task.” She motioned with her head towards her fellow brothers and sisters near the grand feasting table, each tending to their wounded.
“I’d have to agree. I’ve seen you Sheikah perform some amazing things during our time here. Having you shadow him while he is taken to Naar would be most beneficial to his survival.” Darunia said with conviction.
“You’re all deciding this as if Link doesn’t have a say in how things are going to happen!” Saria spoke, alarmed at how events were spiraling out of control fast, they were all making decisions that would impact her friend without regard of consulting directly whom they were speaking of.
“Exactly.” Cayla acknowledged with a knowing look, “We all want what’s best for him and ultimately what is best for Hyrule. I’ve been gathering that Link is in a very unique position that puts him at the center of all of this. It is in all our best interests to ensure he succeeds in whatever task the Goddesses have in store for him. Throwing him away by himself to Naar doesn’t seem smart or intelligent.”
“So are we still proceeding forward with how it was originally planned?” Nabooru questioned.
“I don’t see why we cannot. Even if it was suggested by Ganondorf, I do see the intent behind it.” Cayla admitted. She began to scratch the freshly formed wounds by her lips, they had begun to itch something fierce. “We are merely suggesting a few extra safeguards that will guarantee our success.”
Darunia noted Cayla’s movement, “Dear Nayru woman! What exactly happened to your face?” He had seen so much blood and dismemberment. He had originally thought the markings trailing up her cheeks were just splatters from the skirmish.
The Sheikah shivered at the memory, “One of those demons almost had me. If it weren’t for Link, I would be one of those corpses lying in the pile over there.” She averted her gaze quickly upon locking onto one of her own, a gaping hole in the stomach where a creature had bursted forth.
“I’m glad. If I had lost you, I would lose my only punching bag in life!” Darunia joked.
Cayla snorted, “You wish. I still’ve killed far more in this war than you ever have.”
The king was about to retort when he spotted Link walking hand in hand with Zelda, the bottom of her dress was stained with the dried blood of presumably her father. Link had his pack tossed over one shoulder and seemed quite excited. He trotted up directly towards them and set the rucksack down between them. They looked down briefly at it before turning their eyes back to him.
“We have some changes we’d like to make to what you plan on doing next in acquiring the Zora Sapphire.” Darunia began gruffly.
“Us too!” Link began animatedly. “I think it’s time I finally explain to you all what I’ve had to deal with for the past few cycles.”
He undid the drawstrings on the pack and opened it up. He pulled out both the masks that lay within. One was more human in nature and bore a startingly similar resemblance to Link. The other was something from a nightmare with bloodshot eyes and horns sprouting from its head and sides. Saria quivered involuntarily at that mask.
Cayla indicated the former mask, “Is that what we discussed as the source of Nevachrea’s reviving power?”
Link bowed his head in validation. “It has no power on its own. I think it lost it the moment they started shaving slivers off of its cheeks.” He pointed to the sides where it was clear it had been chipped away. “Putting it on does nothing now.” To prove the point, he raised it up to his face and touched his nose to the interior of it.
“What about that other one?” Darunia asked.
“That…is something altogether different.” Link started hesitantly.
The Goron king sighed. “Very well. Before that, let’s help clean up this mess and retire to my chambers. We’ll confer further about the nature of these masks and what you are proposing.”
They all murmured their agreement and broke off to assist the rest of the community in removing the bodies from the main hall. It was emotionally painful work. Saria had to take breaks to recompose herself every few minutes. In time, they sent her back with an escort to her chambers to certify that she was safe. It was only when she got to her room that she realized she hadn’t told Darunia that they had the support of the dragons.
Nabooru watched as she left the cavern remembering the way Saria held herself when Link had that mask out, she whispered softly to herself, “Looks like I’m not the only one who can hear it whispering…”
Her stomach griped severly as she knelt low in the lightly frosted grass, her breath coming out in patches of visible vapor. Winter was settling in and it wouldn’t be long before the first snow would finally hit Hyrule, days at most. She turned her head briefly to see Ruto creep up beside her with Veraca trailing behind. They were clearly enjoying the fresh moisture, actively running their hands across the grass and rubbing it across their skin.
They had left the primary body of Gerudo almost two moons ago. The chimeric army had engaged the enemy just south of the Lost Woods border and were slowly working their way northwards to the heart of the encampment line. It wouldn’t be long before the messengers would reach Naar and they become aware of the deadly threat to their existence. Their goal was to infiltrate the army and secure the Zora Sapphire before security tightened up as a result of the Gerudo’s assault.
Ashley had refused to come with them. He was adamant he should remain with the primary Gerudo force. After much cajoling to get anything out of him other than shakes of the head, it was assumed he was in search of his surrogate mother, Merin. Presumably, Merin would somehow link back up with her people at some point and that is where he’d find her. Malon admitted it was a long shot but she had no control of the boy’s actions. They had no choice but to let him go and wish him luck. She still wondered why he left.
The blazing fires dotted the abhorrent landscape of men and tents, providing the only light across the green fields. Malon’s gaze wandered north to the hill overlooking the army to see the remnants of Lon Lon Ranch. Her heart ached to see the building structures torn down with nothing but rubble to indicate where they had once stood. Would it ever be rebuilt to its former glory? She narrowed her eyes as she spied several troop regiments lingering along the periphery of the ranch, almost like a shepherd keeping watch over his sheep for nearby predators.
She nudged Veraca subtly on the arm, indicating with her spear the enemy on the knoll overlooking them, he nodded in comprehension of the danger they posed. He looked up at the night sky. It was clear with nary a cloud in sight. The moon was rather bright and provided a harsh light across the plains. There was little to no cover for them to sneak up any closer to the encampment from their present position.
“So what do we do now?” Malon questioned miserably. She wanted to help Link so badly but upon seeing the full might and power of the army again for the first time since her capture over seven cycles ago, she was despairing that they might not succeed at all.
“I’m not entirely sure. What is clear,” he pointed to a rather spired tent with flapping ornamental flags draping down yards of twine, “is that could very well be Naar’s tent.”
Malon’s expression sagged, that was at least a half mile into the tent line. They would have to be like Sheikah if they wanted to get that close to Naar. “That’s impossible. We’d be caught before we even stepped within meters of that mob.” She flapped a hand in the general direction of the massive throng with frustration.
“Agreed.” Veraca said grimly, he craned his neck over to look at Ruto, “Do you have any ideas or know of any weaknesses in their defense we can exploit?”
“Hmmm?” She brought her eyes back around to them, she had been clearly distracted by something.
“Is everything alright?” Veraca interrogated, suspecting that all was not well. The grip on his trident grew tighter as he moved closer to her.
“Oh, yes. Everything is fine.” She studied the horde before them a few moments before speaking in hushed tones. “You see that gap in the torches? They are spaced at intervals all down the line, but there is an opening of about five meters between those two.” She pointed it out to them.
“That’s all well and fine, but what about them?” Malon crooked a thumb back towards the soldiers surveying the grasslands from above at Lon Lon Ranch.
Ruto sniffed quickly, “They are inconsequential. As long as we keep low to the ground, letting the foliage cover us, they won’t even know we are here. They can’t see in the dark that I know of.” Without a further word, she got on all fours and began crawling across the ground towards the break in the torches.
Veraca mumbled something unintelligible before following after her. Malon gave one last glance to her childhood home before crouching low and keeping pace behind them. Her clothes were thoroughly soaked. It was not long before she was shivering from the cold. Ruto’s pace quickened the closer she got to the squalid shelters. The stench of sweat, blood and odor was overpowering. Malon almost gagged as a gust of wind brought the scent wafting past her nose. Do they not even bathe?
“Ruto!” Veraca hissed. She had outdistanced them by meters. She was already at the line of torches. Malon jerked her head up. She had sensed something was wrong too.
Ruto quickly stood up in full view of the light emanating from the fires and gave a hearty whistle. Within seconds, several assassins garbed in black leaped down from the bivouac awnings and surrounded Malon and Veraca. Completely encircled, they rose up weapons in hand facing their assailants.
“Ruto, my beloved! Why?” Veraca cried out. His eyes searched hers, imploring her to reconsider and help fend off these men.
Ruto brought her eyes down. She couldn’t bear to look him in the face. “This is a war we cannot win Veraca. There is no choice but to join the enemy and survive.” Her pupils riveted on Malon, Malon’s eyes bearing hatred for Ruto with her betrayal. “Besides, with Malon in Naar’s grasp, Link has no choice but to come here.”
“He was going to come here anyway for the sapphire! We knew this! That is why we came here to help him by getting it first!” Malon screamed, her chest heaving with rage.
Ruto snorted, “I still cannot believe that. I am his Dark Mistress. He would have told me. He would have shown me the sapphire if it was in his possession.”
“Why are you so blind?! Didn’t you believe Link when he told you Naar had it?!” Malon shouted. With a cry, she sprinted forward with her spear level. She leaped to the side as one assassin made a swipe with his sword. She ducked low as several daggers sailed through the air. Veraca deflected each of them with his trident before rushing in to engage the nearest man.
Malon had eyes only for Ruto. She was determined to kill the Zora bitch here and now. She jammed the butt end of the spear into the ground and vaulted over two assassins as they tried to block her path. They stood there amazed that she actually avoided their intercept. Landing lightly on the grass, she continued her rush towards Ruto who had already flexed her sharp fins in preparation for the encounter.
Malon jabbed the steel tip low to force the Zora into an unbalanced maneuver to avoid it. Taking the obvious cue when she did so, she jabbed quickly upward to skewer the Zora’s heart. Ruto twirled in midair bringing her leg fin down low as it swung upwards in a wide arc. It sliced through the wooden handle of Malon’s spear cutting it clean off. Malon cried out as the business end of her weapon fell into the tall grass.
Tossing her ineffective pole of wood at Ruto, she dove for the spear tip, rolling quickly out of the way as a spray of acid boiled the dirt beneath her. Another intake of breath signaled imminent danger from the Zora. Lacking other recourse, she flung the spearhead at Ruto’s head. She had already begun spraying the torrid bile but had to turn aside quickly to avoid the soaring steel tip. The flow of her acid flung onto the nearest assassin who had dashed in to assist in tackling Malon. He fell to the ground shrieking in agony as the blistering liquid bore holes into his flesh, melting it to the bone.
Ruto coughed up green mucus before wiping off her mouth. She couldn’t sustain that stream for long. “Now you have no weapon.” She flashed her razor sharp fins, mania in her eyes. “How do you propose to defeat me? Shall we see who the best woman for Link is?” She gave a lilting laugh that seethed with contempt.
Malon heard a cry off to her right and witnessed Veraca succumbing to the blows of the garbed men. He was slowly being dragged off towards the tents when her attention refocused back on Ruto. She brought up her arms just in time to block the first blow.