Chapter 86 - The Game of Death
It had just begun to snow. The dirt, with its multitude of boot prints spread out over the camp, had turned to a muddy sludge with the falling moisture. A raucous din could be heard for miles around the epicenter of the army encampment, all concentrated around a rather crude makeshift arena. It was constructed by rotting boards soaked and stained with cycles of booze, urine and other excrements from the rabid audience filling the stands. There were several holes damaging the overall structure where fights had broken out as a result of the brawls that occurred there daily.
Several spitting torches were hammered into the ground at various intervals in the interior of the field within reach of the combatants or players within, many applauded deaths stemmed from the usage of those torches. The ground itself was a mixture of dirt and blood, for games were played here as well as entertaining combat. Many victims of the army were killed here, never to regenerate like their opponents. It was indeed a cruel fate to be faced against such hopeless odds.
The crowd had gathered in excitement for what was to be a game of epic proportions. Many had heard tales of Link through whispers and rumors but many had never seen the youth. Many stared wide-eyed at the winged man as he was drug from Naar’s tent all the way to the prisoner cages just outside the arena walls. Upon seeing the ostensibly underwhelming boy who couldn’t have been more than twenty cycles, hordes of men eagerly signed up to play in the game that would feature him.
Link woke up to two things: a small fleck of snow tickling his nose as it fell softly into his nostil and the second was the roaring of noise just feet away from his head. He jolted upwards with a start but immediately doubled over vomiting as the throbbing in his head reached a fever pitch. The last thing he remembered was Naar swinging some weapon down on his skull. After having emptied the contents of his stomach, he felt the back of his head for the damage. It was amazingly sore and he could feel the dried blood caked into his hair.
Carefully getting onto his knees and looking around, Link realized he was behind iron bars that were showing their age with cycles of rust and grime. He dared not touch the bars for fear of contaminating himself. Highly sensitive to his aching head, he turned around and looked up towards the stands of the arena. He could see multitudes of men laughing, drinking, eating, fighting and even raping women where they sat while waiting for the event to start.
Shivering from their curdling cries, Link examined himself. He wasn’t worse for wear and he breathed a sigh of relief as he saw they had not stripped him of his Kokiri garb Malon had made for him. He heard grousing coming from the other cages surrounding his and noticed several Hylians and even some children being held like he was. It was clear they had not undergone the profane ritual the Nevachrean soldiers did since they were missing limbs or had massive lacerations inflicted upon them, some were looking rather infected.
“Navi.” He spoked urgently into the air. “Is there anything you can do to dull this pain?”
I could try to help you not become dizzy from it, but I can’t remove the throbbing. She chimed miserably.
“That’ll have to do.” Link accepted gratefully. Within minutes, the ebbing had stultified and he could lift his head up once more.
“My beloved!” A tittering cry came from his left past the first row of tents. Link swiveled to see Ruto, garbed back in a navy blue cloak, the hood pulled over her head. Seeing her again and freely walking amongst the men told him everything, she was still with the enemy. He turned around away from her, sat down and wrapped his wings around himself to block out her visage.
She ran up to his cage and placed a hand on the bars, “My love, are you not happy to see me?” She was momentarily startled to see Link with glorious, white wings. It was an unexpected shock to behold his radiant plumage. She could not imagine him getting more beautiful than he already was but she was proven gloriously wrong. She wanted him now more than ever. “I know Naar can seem a bit ruthless but I’ll talk to him and sort this all out. Once he sees that we are in love, he’ll surely let you go and become my personal manservant.”
She reached through the iron pillars and caressed some of his feathers. He viciously whacked her hand away with the wing before spinning towards her. “There is no reasoning with him! There is no talking to him! Are you so childish and naïve to believe he would honor any sort of relationship vow you’ve made? Grow up Ruto! You are not joined to me! You never have been!”
The anger in his eyes derailed her composure briefly. She cleared her throat before reattempting, “But Link, with us together and on the side that is winning, clearly he would let you live as long as you caused no trouble to him.”
Link scoffed at her puerile notion, “I know what drives that man and it is not love. He wants us all to suffer like he has and will do anything to accomplish it.” He glared at her intensely, “As I told you before, he has your sapphire Ruto. It is why I have come, to reclaim it back from him.”
A twinkle in her eye revealed that he had said the wrong thing, “So you do want to be joined with me?” The earnest look of innocence in her irises was heart breaking. Just how did she survive all those cycles in Naar’s care? By thinking of him? How twisted was her mind that her singular goal was to find marital bliss?
“No Ruto.” He derided, “I’ve come to claim it to access the Master Sword. It is clear you’ve thrown your lot in with them, I have no further need to speak to you.” As if to emphasis his point, he backed up against the opposite bars of the cage. Bringing his knees to his chest, he wrapped his wings around his body to help block out the world.
Ruto kneeled down and sat on her shins looking into the cage at the magnificent specimen before her, it was something she could never have. A single tear trailed down her cheek as she whispered, “It was always her…”
Link lifted one wing to reveal an eye, “Always who?”
“Malon.” She sighed visibly, “The one woman who has stolen your heart. Did you know she lost one of your children?” She informed him morosely.
The statement did not have the intended effect, “What?” He demanded. Removing both wings and spreading them out wide behind him, his whole body trembled with contained rage.
She shrank back slightly from his ire, “Oh…that’s right, you wouldn’t know.” She looked off down the lane of prison cages for a moment before turning back to him, “She was on her way to the Gerudo desert when I met up with her again.”
“Why would she be there? She was supposed to be in Glaun’rung.” Link stated with gritted teeth.
Ruto shrugged her shoulders, her glistening eyes adoring his muscular form, “I don’t know. Something about tailing some witches. She was captured and one of her children was killed by them.”
“One of?” Link cocked an eyebrow menacingly.
“Yes. She was pregnant with twins. One was killed. The other still resides within her.” Ruto informed him. As much as she hated giving him this painful information, she felt he had a right to know about the fate of his future offspring.
His words took on a darker tone, “If she was with the Gerudo, then why is she captured and now in Naar’s possession?” Ruto cast her eyes downward. She said nothing because there was nothing to say. Her lower lip quivered from the result of her preceding actions. Her silence told Link all there was to know. In a fit of wrath, he spat at Ruto before screaming at her, “You filthy Zora witch! You betrayed them all! You very well may have cost Malon and my remaining unborn child’s life! I hate you! May the Goddesses burn your fucking soul in the forge!”
He tore his arm through the bars and slapped her across the face. He scurried back to the other side of the cage and wrapped his wings back around himself. A soft sobbing could be heard. Stunned at his outrageous behavior, she brought her fingers up to feel the globule of spit trickling down her cheek. She looked at the saliva between her fingers as she pulled her palm back. She could barely comprehend what had just happened. He had forsaken her. There was no reaching him from this point onward.
“Link?” Her voice wavering, “Link?” No response. He simply remained where he was, crying over his lost child and the potential fate of Malon and their remaining baby. “Link!” She shouted. “Link!” She began to get hysterical. She had just pushed away the one thing that made any sense in her life, the one thing that continued to give her hope. He had rejected her! “Link!” She gasped, choking on her own weeping.
“It is time.” A stern voice from behind said. Ruto looked up to see Argonim towering over her, a leer spread across his face. Serves the Zora bitch right to be shunned like this, he laughed to himself at her misery. Shoving her aside, he undid the locks on Link’s cage and dragged him out by his wing. He gasped at the abysmal nature of his treatment. Pain shooting down his spine as his appendage was stretched to the limit, he allowed himself to be dragged into a standing position just to avoid further agony.
“What?” Link exclaimed, defiantly looking up at Argonim’s face, staring him down.
“Game time.” He sneered convivially.
Argonim spun Link around and pushed him forward to several other men who quickly shackled his wrists together before stringing him along behind them. Ruto watched them in despair as they drug Link along by the steel chain. Sniffing and wiping her eyes away, she stood up and strode off to take her position beside Naar for the event.
Not wanting to stir up any trouble until he was fully aware of his current situation, he willingly complied and followed the serious men towards what looked like the entrance to the primary arena. A side conversation could be heard to his right. He glanced over to see several men examining and wondering how such an odd boulder could appear out of nowhere or if it was always there to begin with. Link smiled cruelly, looks like their plan was still proceeding forward as expected. A small flicker of a shadow beneath the stands indicated that it was.
Link looked up at the dilapidated arch rising over the entry to the center field itself. He noted several bodies hanging by several nails being driven through the corpses. Each one sagging down in various stages of decay, each one assumed to be a prisoner of the war who was not deemed worthy enough to join their ranks.
The cacophony was absolute as he entered the primary arena. There were about a dozen men naked from the waist up standing at the opposite side. On each end was a goal post made of wood with a small circle of steel affixed to the top of each. Midway down the field on the left was a crudely built viewing box where Naar had positioned himself.
Link’s blood began to boil as he saw Naar casually bouncing Giana on his lap, as if she were a doll, his other hand holding a chain linked to a collar around Malon’s neck. She was beneath him like a footrest. Her arms were visibly shaking from the toil of holding up the weight of his boots on her back. Sweat was pouring down her brow. She knew if she faltered but a little, he would beat her severely like he already had done once.
Behind him was Ruto, she stood off in the shadows and remained aloof from the proceedings. He could not see the indignation in her eyes as she beheld the Zora Sapphire around Naar’s neck. He had brazenly adorned it in full contempt for them all at the futility of acquiring it. Link looked away back to the burly men opposing him on the field as the shackles were removed from his wrists. So Ruto finally realizes the truth. It’s about time she faced reality and stopped living in her own dream world.
Naar boomed out over the crowd which immediately died down at his commanding voice. Link suspected some magick was at play to have his voice amplified to that degree. Upon further inspection, he noticed a second cloaked figure beside Ruto, his face hooded in darkness. He was manipulating his gangrenous hands near Naar’s head. So he has demons within his ranks. Link wondered if Naar was aware or just simply didn’t care.
“Gentlemen!” Naar thundered. “We have gathered together to witness a grand spectacle!” He held his palm out towards Link, laying Malon’s chain across his legs, “Before you stands Hyrule’s hero!” Jeers reverberated throughout the crowd. “He is the one the prophecies spoke of and whom you’ve been hearing about.” Several curses flew as many shouted how they’d rip him to pieces. Link stood stoically and stared straight ahead, his mind on the event to come.
“I don’t think I should hide it from you men any longer. We have been sitting here squandering our time in hopes of securing the Triforce.” Murmurs surged through the crowd as many were finally informed of the true purpose of their constant vigil for the past seven cycles. “With this man, Link, it has been rumored he alone can access the Sacred Realm where the divine power resides. With that power in my possession, Nevachrea will reign in a new age of prosperity and peace!”
Link snorted derisively, he knew Naar was just playing the crowd. He wanted to drum up support for his cause when there had been cycles without purpose for these men. His mind was bent on figuring out how to get up onto that platform to snatch the sapphire from around Naar’s neck. The wind had begun to pick up and was blowing more sleet into the arena, covering the ground with a white layer of slush.
“However, since we could all use some relief and entertainment, I felt it apt to have you watch just how well Hyrule’s hero can fail before we march on to the Temple of Time and claim the Triforce. After all,” Naar chortled, “we only need him alive, not intact!” A roar of laughter echoed from the stands.
Naar raised his hand once more for silence, “As you all know, we are going to play ‘igra na letalnyj isxod,’ as it is said in our ancient tongue. Two teams: Link by himself and your fellow comrades on the other.” Sniggers and smiles were exchanged between the audience members as they knew it would be a one-sided battle. “The rules are simple, get the ball from one end of the field to the other and throw it into the hoop to score.”
Link cracked his neck as he assessed the playing field. Was that it? The rules seemed simple enough. Showing disregard for Naar’s speech, he spoke up out of turn, “That’s it? Seems easy. Any other rules I should know of?” A grin spread across his face, which incensed Naar.
“No.” He stated flatly. “That is the only rule. Everything else is free game.”
“Huh.” Link affirmed. It was going to be that type of game then. If they weren’t going to be following any rules, he wasn’t either.
Argonim walked to the center of the field and dropped the ball. Link’s eyes popped as he viewed the macabre object. It was a spherical ball of steel warped by the multitude of metallic plates that comprised it and bolted together with rusted nails. Along the circumference was a string of spikes that would severely injure any unwitting player. To top off the gruesome playing object, the remaining gaps inbetween the plates were stuffed in with human fingers and toes, congealed to the steel by the blood.
The beefy man stepped back from the ball and paced over to viewing platform before leaning up against the rotting wood. He crossed his arms and prepared himself for what he thought was going to be an entertaining match. Giana was crying openly but Naar paid her no mind, his attention was rapt on Link. Malon chanced a look over at him, seeing him spread out his wings in preparation for the sprint towards the ball. She prayed silently that the Goddesses deliver them out of this plight.
“Navi?” Link spoke into the frigid air.
Yes Link. I am here with you. She chimed softly.
“Please help me this day.” Link entreated.
You know I will. Navi jingled lovingly.
Naar clasped the chain and pulled on it roughly, causing Malon to gag and vacillate. A swift heel to her back steadied her again. “Begin!” He bellowed.
At once, all twelve men made a dash for the ball. Link flexed his wings and flapped them once to propel his initial momentum forward. He sprinted quickly towards the center of the arena. Navi called out to a man on his right brandishing a fell blade. Link ducked low before twirling around to slice the man’s torso through with a sword of his own. Casting the sword into vapor, he continued his turn to face the ball and kept running, ignoring the anguished cries of the man behind him.
Link reached the ball the moment several others had come upon him. He picked it up and slapped the nearest man with his left wing before spinning around to stab another with a rapier through the heart. Leaving the sword in place in the man’s chest, he rammed the spikes of the ball into the third grunt’s face. The man fell to the ground roaring. Link removed the ball harshly, hearing the suction of the air as it rushed in to fill the void of the man’s skull.
He bobbed and weaved through the remaining men as they made grabs for his extended appendages. The flurry of his wings and his erratic movements confused his attackers and distracted them from the inevitable feeling of cold steel puncturing their bellies or necks. Two more men stood between Link and the goal post. He took a running leap, kicking off the chest of the first man before flapping his extensions to create enough loft to bring him high enough over the brute.
Falling down from the height, Link threw the sphere at the second man, catching him squarely between the eyes. It rebounded off his head and back towards Link’s outstretched hands. With a heave, he tossed the ghastly ball through the iron hoop. Several members of the audience had to scoot aside as the ball landed mere feet away from their former positions.
Link whipped around to view the strewn array of dismembered brutes, several of which were crawling back to their mutilated limbs. A flash of thought danced in Link’s mind as he summoned a bow and nocked an arrow to the string. He leveled it calmly towards Naar, taking careful aim not to hit Giana. He let the arrow fly as he shouted, “Your game sucks Naar, is there another?”
Naar booted Malon aside as he stood up quickly, knocking Giana off his lap to collapse to the floor with an unceremonious thud. He swung his arm upwards in an arc, ricocheting the arrow off to the side as it struck harmlessly against his magickal barrier. He pointed down at Argonim angrily, “Remove his wings. He is too effective with them.” Naar marveled at how effortlessly Link had maneuvered through those dozen soldiers, decapitating and decimating them without so much as breaking a sweat.
With an affirmative grunt, Argonim stalked forward towards the winged youth, his bare hands flexing with the anticipation of tearing into that white, fluffy plumage. Link apparated more arrows and sent them sailing through the air towards the absurdly tall brute. Argonim groaned with each arrow piercing but continued inexorably onward. He removed the arrows swiftly from his body, snapping them at the tips and flinging them back at Link like lethal daggers.
Navi ringed and chimed warnings to Link seconds before each dagger would reach its mark. Utilizing her sixth sense, he deftly avoided each returning arrowhead. Realizing Argonim would be upon him within seconds, a bastard sword quickly materialized within his hands and he sprung forward plowing the man through with it.
The crowd hushed as the burly man looked down at the weapon penetrating through his abdomen. With a ragged breath, he reached and grabbed Link’s fist holding the hilt and dragged him closer, impaling himself further onto the blade. Argonim used the initial shock of his action to grab behind Link at the base of his wings and yank downwards.
Link howled at the appalling sting that seemed to split his spine in half. The pain surged through his entire being as he was forced to his knees. He released his hold on the blade as Argonim brought him down to the mud. He had never experienced such pain in his life. The wings were extremely sensitive and seemed vitally connected to his entire nerve system.
“It’s a shame Naar has your woman now.” Argonim smirked. “I almost had her first. She was within my grasp, my fingers between her legs; moaning for more like the bitch she is.”
An expression of pure hatred spawned on Link’s face as he looked up at the ugly man. He meant to rise to strike out at his groin, but Argonim brought a sudden knee to his jaw. Utilizing the opening, Argonim threw Link onto the ground before straddling him with his arms twisted behind his back. Giana screamed from the viewing platform, horrified that her knight in shining armor was going to die.
Removing the sword with a slurp, Argonim stabbed it into the dirt beside Link’s head before steadily groping the base of each appendage on his back. The veins in his arms bulged and puckered with the strain of tearing the rooted wings, Link bayed and writhed beneath him. Various weapons of different varieties appeared beside them, each apparating in tune to his screams. Several horses clomped nervously nearby, unsure of why they were summoned or what they were even doing there. Naar had to marvel again at the extraordinary display of Nevachrean power being expressed through Link’s pain.
With a squishing crack, both wings were ripped from their very foundations. Blood spurted all over them as it shot high into the air. Link’s cry could be heard throughout the arena. Navi was screeching in his head as if her own wings had been torn off. Argonim rose up with a whooping holler, raising both sets of bloodied wings high into the air.
Ruto couldn’t take anymore of this. Seeing as Naar had brought down his barrier, she took one quick glance at the mage standing nearby before making her move. She flexed her leg fins to razor sharp lengths before swinging around a swift kick to his neck. Naar’s head went sailing through the air before landing into the mud of the game pit. She clutched the sapphire necklace as it soared high from the thrust. She danced out of the way as the mage shot a bolt of energy crackling towards her position, exploding out the back portion of the wall sending fragments and shards raining on the soldiers beyond. Several dark figures had leapt off the stands and were racing toward Link.
Link could not take anymore of this, it had all gone wrong. He barely comprehended what was happening on the platform. He used his tongue to dislodge a small pill before biting down deep into it, cracking it open. He quickly spit it out onto the ground before it shot up into the air and exploded in a menagerie of light and colors. He then passed out from the excruciating torment of losing his wings. The world around him erupted.