Part One: Education
Link. Please, hurry.
That was the name she gave him; that was the mission she assigned him.
In the year that followed, battling Blight and learning once more what living was, Link carried her voice with him. Like a shell from the beach, iridescent, changing in the light, contours and chips doled out by time, he took it and held it close. In quiet moments he would seek it out – bring it forth from the crevices and hidden places he’d made. He’d find it and make it his compass. A lighthouse, guiding him ever closer, to a home, to a new beginning. Link wasn’t sure.
But it was always there. When the ground at his feet fell away, when the sky sloughed down, when the storms racked him and when the winds rattled his bones. Her voice and her face. Photos on a strange slate. Places where they had once been. All of it, but most of all the voice. It kept him functional, alive. That sweet, shining voice.
But he wasn’t ready to hear it, no. Not to truly hear it. It was not a blow he could brace for, his silence not strong enough of a shield. Because, Goddesses, she was real, so real , where everything else was just a memory or a dream.
And so when she turned; when she smiled; when she spoke -- he froze.
When she asked the question, the first question – he fell silent.
Do you really remember me?
And he had nothing to give in return.
In the far west the Sun had almost set, and the sapphire-lit Sheikah Towers dotted across Hyrule were shining like stars. From the top of Central Tower, it seemed the entire kingdom was visible; from the north, where Death Mountain pulsated with heat, to the south the south, where a gargantuan sandstorm raged across the sands of the Gerudo Desert. At the edge of Hyrule Field, just to the northwest, stood her castle, now little more than an empty shell. Flanked by the five monolithic columns and seeping with the remaining pools of Malice, it was now it’s own blight on the landscape. The presence of the gurgling purple ooze made one thing clear: sealed though he may be, Ganon's corruption still marred the land.
In moments like these, Princess Zelda could not tell dream from waking. Sunlight seemed to burn brighter for her now, and darkness seemed to creep deeper into her core. Here, the whole world felt as though it were held still under her palm, and all the ghosts she had gathered were now returned to her, whispering to her, words unbidden and uninvited. Words of failure, words of regret.
You are here, Zelda told herself. You are alive. Let the dead rest.
Words of wisdom, wisdom being the one thing Zelda felt she had been born with, where everything else was lacking. Climbing Central Tower, however? Perhaps not so wise.
“Are you sure? The platform is a long way up,” Link cautioned, peering up at the lofty Shiekah Tower. It was all he said; a concerned but polite warning. His eyes said the rest, in that strangely expressive that they were now. Zelda saw his fear, but would not relent.
"I must see what remains of this kingdom,” she had told him, marching determinedly towards the tower base. He need not fear for her, not after what they’d been through only days prior. Hand over hand, foothold to foothold, she and Link began to climb.
An hour later, Princess Zelda collapsed in an exhausted heap onto the cool stone of the tower platform.
"I'm now glad," she had said through panting breaths, as Link helped her back to her feet. "That you huff were the one--the one activating all these huff huff and not me."
Link had flashed her a wry smile. "No problem, Princess," he’d said, handing her his water skin, and she’d been so flushed and so embarrassed at her dismal display that she’d refused to take it.
No problem, Zelda thought glumly as she now gazed down on Hyrule Field. His quest to destroy Ganon had taken him almost a year, and not once had it seemed like no problem. At least not from her vantage point. Zelda had watched over him as best as she could, but her pilgrimage in Hyrule Castle had placed her in a state of being that felt somewhat like being submerged, enveloped by the immensity of her struggle against that foul beast. Already her memories of those one hundred and one years were fading. Perhaps it was for the best.
But to Link, Zelda pondered, it had been no time at all. One single year, against her one hundred and eighteen. Had he...had he really forgotten so much of it?
The eponymous Knight now stood guard behind her, his Master Sword at his back and Hylian shield at the ready, in the unlikely event that anything sinister could reach them atop Central Tower. He assumed the position like it was an instinct. Perhaps it was an instinct, Zelda mused. One hundred years later, just two kids alone in the world, what else did either of them have but their instincts? Instincts to keep them alive; instincts to move them forward.
Zelda’s instincts told her to go to Zora’s Domain. They told her to seek out the Divine Beast that lived there, to reconnect with the only group that might remember her, and to just start on some kind of return. Her instincts gave her little more than that. But it was a start. Living -- truly living -- was so new to her now. Words written in her blood, habits that ran through her veins, the sun and wind on her skin, telling her with every sensation that she was real again...they were all she had.
The last rays of sun slipped beneath the western mountains of the Tabantha Frontier, and Hyrule was blanketed in darkness. It was a moonless night: dark, and lonely, and cold. Zelda peered back the Knight behind her. Perhaps instincts were not all she had.
"Well, judging by my performance earlier, I don't think we’re in a position to climb down this tower until sunrise," Zelda announced. Link turned his head slightly to the side, a slender ear cocked in her direction. With a nod, he began preparing their things, coaxing up a small fire for their dinner. Roasted mushrooms again; neither Link nor Zelda were comfortable passing through towns yet, so arrows were rare, and game rarer.
Zelda sat by the fire, taking a mushroom skewer in hand, and looked up to see that he had re-assumed his lookout. His whole body was tense, his muscles knotted as if in preparation for an ambush.
"Afraid of flying moblins?" Zelda teased, wishing Link would relax. His caution was doing nothing to ease her nerves.
"I've heard rumours of winged Lizalfos before," Link returned dryly.
Zelda snorted, embarrassing herself, and said nothing in reply. She felt her cheeks go red. Don’t be a fool, it’s just Link, she told herself, feeling no better. After another few minutes Link must have felt that it was safe, for he turned and sat down around their little camp at last, grabbing a few skewers of now charred mushrooms to eat.
"You really don't need to worry. I'm sure that anything that manages to climb up here will be just as tired as I was..." her voice trailed off as she realised she was rambling. "I'll need to get some climbing gear like you…."
Link didn't look up from his meal, and Zelda felt a moment of clarity. "You were looking towards Zora's Domain, weren't you?"
That made him pause. He swallowed, and briefly met her eyes before looking away.
"It's a dangerous path," he said, frowning. "I just don't know how to get you there safe--"
Zelda huffed. "I'm more than capable of looking after myself."
"Are you?" Link shot back, brightening with regret the moment the words left his lips. "Princess--" he began.
"I spoke out of turn--"
Silence fell, save for the whistle of the wind through the tower lookout. The pair spoke not another word as they ate, doused their fire, and retired to their bedrolls, and yet Zelda simmered with rage for what little remained of the evening. She lay seething on her bedroll long after Link had fallen asleep, fighting the memory that came back to her with a vengeful clarity.
They had just left Hyrule Castle a few days prior, carrying what little they could take from the ruins. Link directed them through Central Hyrule, avoiding the paths and stables to keep them both out of sight. For a day or so they moved slowly across Hyrule Field while Zelda adjusted to mundane but now novel rituals of eating, sleeping and speaking. Those days after the Calamity’s defeat had been like a waking dream, characterised by long blackouts and a lingering sense of disconnection. She would be sitting atop her horse, following slowly behind Link, and then next she would be by the fire gazing unblinkingly at the flames, and then next lying in her bedroll, waiting restless for sleep to take her. To his credit, the knight did not overwhelm her with prodding questions about her wellbeing, but his (unsurprisingly) stoic personality did little to help her feel welcome. But you are here , she would think when she looked at him. We are here, once again…
It wasn’t until the second day that Zelda stumbled. Her appetite was yet to fully come back, and the lack of food made her weary. After a day's ride towards Central Tower under the bright late-summer sun -- little more than a handful of mushrooms and some thin strips of cured meat to keep her going -- the exhaustion of living finally caught up with her. Absent-mindedly she lead her horse off the rough gravel trail, seemingly quiet enough for Link not to notice. The sun was in her eyes, the afternoon breeze battering her ears, and the sounds and sights of the darkness that had enveloped her for so long came rushing back like a wave to shore. It was too much. It was too bright. Zelda shrieked, and then just like that...she fell....
Whatever had happened, she woke by the fire again, her left arm throbbing. The elbow was bruised, and had been braced with some deftly tied bandages. They were camped at the base of Central Tower, the unblinking eyes of the now-deactivated Guardians watching over them with an eerie peacefulness.
That was almost two days ago now, and still every mention of Zelda's well-being or Link's duty as her guard would cause them both to stiffen and close up. Link refused to move on at least until he was sure Zelda had regained her strength, and Zelda, admittedly, refused to talk about it.
This was the first time he'd lashed out though. And the first time she’d lashed back. Zelda felt her stomach rumble. It would be nice once they arrived at Zora's Domain and could have something more than the food they found in the wilds. It would be nice to just rest. To sleep--properly--and not wake in fear that she was trapped inside Hyrule Castle again, with decades of prayer and patience ahead of her. But that night, as with all the others so far, was plagued with cruel nightmares and sleepless hours, until finally the sun rose again.
As per usual, Zelda was the first to speak. It was the words that were novel.
“I’m sorry,” she said quietly, as they began to pack up their belongings. At first, she thought things might be as they were before; with Link saying nothing.
“I understand,” he said instead. He fetched her pack, helping her strap it to her back. “I’m ready to go when you are, Princess.”
Am I ready? Zelda took one last look over the landscape before they climbed down the tower. Hyrule Field gave way to the mountains beyond, the rivers and ponds glistening in shimmering reds and ambers as the sun peeked out over the eastern horizon, all of it bearing the scars of the Calamity. To the south she saw that the sandstorm was even greater in size. Wherever Zelda looked, not a soul was in sight. Hyrule was still asleep.
My kingdom, she thought. Just as empty and broken as I am.
Princess’ Zelda’s plan was this; they would travel first to Zora’s Domain to enact a tri-pronged plan: pay respects to King Dorephan, assert her presence in the world, and check on Divine Beast Vah Ruta. It seemed that her powers, while diminished, were still present, she knew that much by the muted gold mark on her hand, in the shape of three triangles. If there was a way to put this sealing power to use, then she would find it.
“I can take you to Kakariko Village, as well,” Link offered, pointing to the hidden little town on the map in the Sheikah Slate. “It’d only be a day’s travel.”
Zelda shivered. “One thing at a time,” she told him, trying her best to feel the words as she spoke them, and he didn’t ask about it again after that.
Regardless of where, both Link and Zelda wished to reach shelter and civilisation before too long. Link boarded their horses at the Wetlands Stable in Lanayru, and led them on a shortcut through through the Lanayru Wetlands. They would rejoin the road at the mouth of the Zora River, and make the winding climb up to the sheltered Zora’s Domain. To both Link and Zelda's relief, their travels to the Domain were relatively easy-going; they met little interference beyond a fallen log or some particularly slippery mud.
"Must be the cold air," Zelda mused, talking more to herself than Link. "It’ll be Summer’s End soon, you can see the way the leaves are changing. I suppose it would make sense if creatures not adapted to the cooler weather would adopt a hibernation cycle."
"Calamity Ganon," Link said suddenly, as if materializing abruptly. He'd been so quiet, so careful in even his movements that sometimes Zelda simply forgot he was there.
"He's dead. So there's not as many of the monsters."
"R-right. Of course. That would be a more apt explanation," Zelda wrapped her arms around herself. "It's still a bit chilly."
"Are you cold, Princess--uh, I mean--Zelda?" Link corrected himself. She had asked him not to call her that. It simply didn't feel right, not anymore.
"No, Link, thank you," Zelda returned with a half-smile. "But I will tell you when I am."
Link didn't smile back, much less meet her sideways glance at him. At least things are civil, Zelda thought with an inward sigh, if a little awkward.
Sometimes in the way Link spoke to her, or looked at her, it seemed that he saw only a stranger and not ...not what she had been. While the hundred year vigil had dulled Zelda’s own memories, at least she had them at all. In conversations they'd had, Link had explained that his was more fragmented.
"Fragmented at best," he'd qualified.
And there were other changes too. Small things at first. Mannerisms that she had remembered differently, words here and there that she had never heard him use, a look in his eye that seemed changed.
It didn’t matter. He was alive. He had come back to her. That was what mattered.
They were still a day or so from Zora’s Domain, and had progressed halfway through the Lanayru wetlands. Finding small refuge in the Goponga Village Ruins, they built their camp and set their fire, settling against the weathered stone. Link borrowed the Sheikah Slate from Zelda and to materialise a silver trident from its inventory -- one embellished with emeralds and pearls. He waded out into the low waters, focused hard on the colourful fish that swam lazily past, and held the trident balanced to strike. There was a sudden splash, and not a minute later Link returned to their camp with wet boots and two fat Hylian Bass. Zelda caught a secretive, proud smile on his face as he approached. Another instinct, Zelda realised. Another skill that need not be remembered.
Perhaps now is a good time to help him, she thought, to ease him back into the life he once had.
"You carry the Lightscale Trident?" Zelda asked quietly.
Link's brows furrowed, but he didn't look her way. Around them a light rain began to fall.
“It’s a fine weapon,” Zelda continued before he could answer, feeling foolish. Perhaps reminding Link of her was not the best place to start. “There’s no benefit letting it go unutilised.”
Link nodded silently, his attention still focused on the bass. He cleaned the fish with a pointed Gerudo dagger, skewered the meat, and held them out over the fire.
“Did you want to talk about it?” Zelda pressed. “Before.”
Link’s eyes snapped up to meet hers, his face guarded. “...before?”
Zelda gulped. There was no way around it. "Before the Calamity."
Link was quiet for a long time then, and Zelda wondered if he'd even heard her. The fish were finished on the fire; Link held one out for her and they ate in silence. When he was done, he finally spoke.
WIth a small shrug he admitted, "I suppose I don't know what to ask."
"We can start small. Your Knighthood, the Kingdom, your death--"
"Start small?" Link laughed nervously.
"Uh- I mean, if you don't," Zelda spluttered. The sound of his laughter had completely thrown her, and for a second she couldn't help but laugh along with him.
"My death," Link said. "It's not exactly-"
"-a small start, no," Zelda cut in, flustered and embarrassed at her carelessness.
"I'm sorry, I’m not much help, I know."
Link shrugged again. "I don't have anyone else," he said, drawing a weak laugh from Zelda.
The rain began to heap down, and so they ducked under a ruined thatch roof, the decaying grass and hay only just enough to keep them dry. Link scrambled to gather up their belongings, and Zelda watched with dismay as their campfire was reduced to fizzling embers. There was no choice but to sit on their bedrolls and shiver as they waited out the storm. A comfortable silence fell over them then, punctuated by Zelda's idle musings on the history of Zora's Domain.
"Legend tells that Ruta was engaged to a Hylian, and some theorise it could have been the Hero of Legend himself. It seems so unlikely to me, though. And even it if were true, I suppose it never went anywhere. Funny though, a Zora Princess and a Hylian, it seems so--" She was too late to catch herself, remembering at the last second how closely the story mirrored Link's. She looked over and saw him gazing with an empty expression at the waters beyond the ruins, hugging his knees to his chest. If he was crestfallen she couldn't know.
"I'm sorry, Link," she apologized, but this time he did not speak.
Has he had a single happy moment, Zelda wondered, since I had him placed in that Shrine?
Just as Zelda resigned to another tense evening together, Link asked, "Did you know her well?" He met her eyes, looking at her properly, for what felt like the first time in days.
Zelda felt a surge of pain in her chest. No, but you did. The guilt gripped her so tight that it threatened to strangle her.
"I know she cared about you," I know she loved you. The words were little more than a whisper. "Is this what you want to talk about?"
Link gave a little nod, though he didn't seem to relax.
Zelda tried to tell him everything that she could, though in truth she had never really spoken to Princess Mipha outside of their work with Ruta and the other champions.
"She…she loved fishing. No, that's a silly way to put it. She excelled at fishing, wielding the Lightscale Trident as you do now. The Zora said she was one of their most skilled fighters, as well as being their princess. But she--I think she never wanted to fight. She was…funnily enough, she was a bit like me," Zelda caught herself laughing nervously again, feeling underneath her own awkwardness another burst of pain. She took a breath and composed herself. "She loved Ruta, she loved learning about her, but she considered her use again Ganon a last resort, I think. She told me how Ruta could be used to stabilise the weather in Lanayru. She wanted to make it safer…for all of us."
Everything ached, so rich that Princess Zelda almost wanted to savour it. Lucidity had brought with it her grief, and she tasted salt on her lips. Through it all she could only think, I never cry, I never have.
She felt a blossom of warmth on her shoulder; it was Link, his hand on her arm to calm her. She had forgotten what that was like -- gentleness, compassion. Fighting for her own composure, Zelda wiped her eyes dry and continued to speak.
"I may not have known her very well," she concluded. "But Hyrule feels her loss, she was a rare pillar of light -- they all were -- and Mipha most of all would have been much needed now."
After it all, Link simply nodded, drawing his hand away. The rain had stopped. Without a word, he hopped to his feet and dusted himself off. He offered a hand to Zelda, and she took it with some hesitation.
"Thank you," he said after he pulled her up. "Really."
"It's nothing," Zelda began, dizzy from all of her thoughts. "Consider it my apology, for the way I've been. I shouldn’t have snapped at you."
Link smiled like he knew a secret, and began to walk down to the bank. "You don’t need to apologise. It wasn't unexpected."
So he does remember me.
"What does that mean?" she called after him, chasing him down to the water.
"I remember your temper."
"It's not a temper," Zelda shot back as she caught up to him. He was walking quickly as if running away from a joke, and she had to jog slightly to keep pace.
"Well, I have a pretty good memory," he said coyly.
"No you don't." She gave him a playful hit on the shoulder.
"Hey!" Link broke into a run, darting back and forth. He raced along the bank, before spinning on his heel and turning to sprint across one of the submerged log bridges that snaked its way through the wetlands. Zelda bounded after him, exhilarated to feel the rush of cold air in her lungs and the pounding of blood through her veins. It made her feel young, like a child. I am a child, she thought happily. She leapt to tag him on the shoulder, and raced past him with the cry of ‘Your turn!’
Zelda heard Link’s cry of alarm, but she did not stop. She fled across to the neighbouring island, and saw over her shoulder that Link was gaining on her, a wide smile on his lips at he chased her. She never wanted to stop running; never wanted to stop feeling as alive as she did in that moment. The sun had well set, but the silvery light from the moon filtering past the dispersing clouds above reflected brilliantly off the shallow waters. In the low light, another one of the log bridges was visible, and Zelda made to cross it. Sliding down the back, she leapt onto the bridge, splashing into the cool waters.
And that was when she saw it.
The gargantuan thing was spilled out across the logs, half of its mechanical legs twisted underneath it, and the other half missing entirely. Under the moonlight its dark granite body almost seemed blue, and its singular cyclops eye gazed unblinkingly in her direction. It did not move, but it seemed alive. No, it was alive. It had to be. They all were, raining fire and destruction on her home, on Hyrule.
Zelda shrieked, stumbling over backwards and falling into the water. Her head swam, the sights and sounds coming back as they had the day she’d fallen from her horse.
Father help me. Mother help me. It’s too bright. I can’t help him. I can’t hold him. I can’t--
Instinct took over. Zelda raised her right hand, and just as she unleashed a surge of energy towards the Guardian, her appointed knight came into view.
Zelda gripped Link tightly as they stumbled back towards their camp. He had pulled her out of the water, and all-but carried her onto the bank. When they reached their camp, Link set another fire, sat her down beside it, and pointedly explained that the Guardian was dead - as were all of the Guardians.
“How can you be sure?” Zelda demanded, unable to calm herself.
“I remember killing it,” Link said tersely. "And many others."
There was anger in his voice, with an urgency that almost sounded like panic. Zelda rubbed her eyes, balling her fists tight out of hysteria and shame. “I’m sorry,” she sobbed, the words feeling like a chant. Link sighed, but after a few moments she felt him drape his hood over her shoulders.
“Let’s just get some sleep,” he said, and Zelda nodded, letting him lead her to her bedroll.
When the daylight came, Zelda permitted herself to look back towards where the Guardian lay. Whatever she had done to it, she had used enough force to blast its husk almost thirty feet backwards and tear off its remaining legs. No matter what Link said, the Guardian was well and truly dead now. They trudged in silence through the remaining stretch of wetlands, and by evenfall were within close distance of Zora’s Domain.
In the rapidly-fading light, the shadow of Vah Ruta spanned across the valley. As they made their way through Luto’s Crossing, Zelda looked skyward. To see inside a Divine Beast once more, she thought, unable to fathom it. She caught a glimpse of a navy-scaled Zora atop the wide plateau where Vah Ruta stood, and felt her quiet elation melt like summer snow. The thought of meeting with the Zoras, and of discussing the future of Hyrule; it filled her with dread where she had for so long expected to feel anticipation. But Vah Ruta needed her. The Beast had not been entirely freed of the Malice, nor had any of the other three. Still, Zelda felt a paralyzing fear as she gazed up at the otherworldly swirls on stone of the Divine Beast’s body. She hoped that with the Calamity past and Ganon gone, most of the chaos was past as well.
When Zelda looked back at the plateau, the navy Zora was gone, and from the tall plateau Zelda could hear distant shouting. It seemed to grow louder and more frantic the longer she stared up at the Divine Beast. She stopped, gripping the rails of the crossing and craning her neck in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the commotion. Link had stopped beside her and he too was gazing up at the Beast, his face twisted with concern and confusion.
“Something’s happening up there. Something's wrong,” Zelda said. Link nodded in agreement.
And then the shouting stopped, drowned out by a booming shriek that filled the valley surrounding the Zora River. Zelda recognised it immediately, her skin prickling, the rumble resonating through her body; the trumpeting of a divine elephant. Vah Ruta!
Link pushed off from the rails, beckoning for Zelda to follow. Swallowing her fear, she did as she was bid.
As they raced together towards Zora’s Domain, Zelda could not strike the sound of that roar from her mind. It was a warning, an omen, one that they could not ignore. They were alive, yes, and Calamity Ganon had been defeated, but that was not the end of that.
Divine Beast Vah Ruta roared again, the whole valley shuddering in response, and Zelda knew; the world is full of chaos still.
As a child growing up in Karusa Valley, Chancellor Leilo instructors had told him that living in the desert instills peace in the soul. Peace with the harsh land; peace with one's limits; peace with oneself.
Yet peace eluded him, no matter where he went. Beyond the threshold of his shanty, the first sounds of the late-summer sandstorm had begun to fill air. The rising winds rattled the shutters and sent tremors rippling through his hut, despite its construction into the wind-hewn cliff face of the deep Gerudo Tower valley. Storms like these would bring more than sand and dust in the coming months; Hyrule had not endured a harsh winter in some years, and Chancellor Leilo could feel the oncoming darkness in his bones.
More like the darkness is already here, he mused, ever since the death of Master Kohga at the hands of that boy.
The one they called Champion; the one carrying the slate. Whispers on the trails and through the towns spoke of Kohga’s death as though it were legend. No two Yiga able to agree on just how his valiant death occurred. Some swore the Hylian boy snuck into the Master’s chamber and poured an odourless poison onto his pillow, before sneaking off into the night. Others spoke of a great battle between the two, and how the Hylian had used sorcery to stop time. Others were convinced it was a ruse, that Kohga had staged his death--to throw the boy off his guard--and would later return to them, victorious against the so-called Champion.
Chancellor Leilo suspected that none of these rumours were correct, though he had no wish to discover the truth. Havoc had ruled the Yiga in the months since Kohga’s death; for without a Master, the vacuum at the center of their clan threatened to swallow them whole.
Another gust sent the shutter battering against the window panes, and Leilo nearly wanted to cover his ears to drown out the incessant sound. Restless, he rose from his small writing desk and hobbled over to the shanty door. With weak fingers he pried it open, and called for his assistant Inglis, who was outside preparing their supper. The spry, Akkalan boy, with the pale skin of a northerner and neat, bark-brown hair loped over from the cooking pot. He was a new recruit, barely a man, and Chancellor Leilo could tell that Inglis was not too thrilled at being assigned the role of steward to one as elderly as himself.
Inglis stood to attention, his hands behind his back. He was as plain as he was polite, a quality that Chancellor Leilo found strangely irritating. “Yes, Chancellor?” the boy said.
“Finish your work, Inglis, and come inside. The storm will be here within the hour."
The boy nodded sharply, and jogged back over to the pot. For a moment Chancellor Leilo remained at the doorway, watching the boy at work over their food, before passing his eyes over the circular valley for any signs of movement. There was nothing to see except the rising heat off the sands beyond, and the leviathan-like wall of dust that crept across the desert towards them. Weary, the Chancellor turned, and returned to his desk.
Leilo had held the role of Chancellor for only half a year, and it was only three months into his new position that Master Kohga had been defeated. As tradition dictated -- and tradition was at the core of the Yiga Clan -- a new Master was to be elected, and it seemed every Yiga with more than a year’s service to their name thought themselves worthy. The role of selecting the candidates and running the election had fallen to Leilo -- and after months of infighting, bloody duels between members, and more bribery offers than he could count, Chancellor Leilo wanted nothing more than to put a few miles between him and that damned hideout. He had traveled to the desert with Inglis so that his mind could be at peace, and to select the worthy candidates among the applicants.
No less than seventeen Yiga had put their names down; more than half of them too young, and another half after that too reckless to lead. For such an old clan, the Chancellor pondered, how could it be that so many of them were idiots?
His assistant had not yet returned. Soon the sun would set, and the storm would arrive.
“Inglis!” the Chancellor called as he glanced over his notes. “Inglis, hurry up, will you!”
The door creaked open, slow and measured in a way that sent a chill down the Chancellor’s spine. Age had robbed him of his ability to fight, or even defend himself. He could not make himself turn.
“Hello, Leilo," came the voice at the door. The Chancellor recognised it immediately. Slowly, he stood from his chair and turned to face the voice. A tall and thin man stood in the doorway, no older than twenty-five, with messy red hair and piercing dark eyes. He was dressed in plain traveller’s clothes, though his trousers and shirt were too short. He carried a painted Duplex Bow.
“Bold of you to come this close to the Valley," Leilo said. “You should not be here, deserter."
“There’s nowhere I should be," the man responded contemptuously. “You however, should not be here either."
Chancellor Leilo swallowed his fear, gripping his chair for support. He had scores of years on this boy - perhaps he could not fight, but there was no honour in being afraid.
“What have you done with Inglis?” Leilo demanded.
“Inglis is just fine. He is not hurt," the man crooned. His presence in the hut brought the faint smell of cinnamon. It almost made Leilo gag.
“You use our ways against us. You are worse than a traitor."
The boy laughed, and advanced into the hut. “Us?” he challenged. “What purpose does the Yiga Clan have anymore? Or have you been in this hovel for so long that you did not hear? Did not see?”
“I will not tolerate this, deserter," Leilo barked. “Leave us! Run away with your tail between your legs - just as you did those years ago!”
The deserter ignored him, unflinching. “Calamity Ganon is dead. Slain no doubt by the Champion and that magic of his. And he lives. He’s been spotted in Necluda, travelling with some Hylian girl."
Chancellor Leilo felt his heart seize with a mixture of fear and resignation. He tried to keep his face as steely as he could, but his soul was old, and his spirit was no longer strong. The deserter noticed, wicked smile widening.
“Hyrule Castle waits to be conquered," he goaded,taking another step into the hut. “And the Yiga sit and nibble their feathers while it lays empty."
“We cannot operate without a Master,” Leilo protested, despair still swimming his mind. “My work is of paramount importance. You - you shouldn’t even care what we do!”
A gust of wind sent a fine rain of dust down from the rafters, adding another coat of silt to the already stuffy and dirt-strewn hut. Chancellor Leilo was unable to stop himself from coughing, hacking and lurching while the deserter looked on and grinned.
“Just because I’m no longer part of your little club doesn’t mean I no longer care," he said in his sing-song voice. “There’s so much to be done now that the Champion has sealed away that beast in the Castle."
Leilo composed himself, leaning haggardly against his chair for support. He knew the deserter’s heart just as he knew the cinnamon scent that followed wherever he went. Despite his aging mind, Chancellor Leilo remembered well the short years that the deserter studied under his tutelage. “You think it will mean there will finally be a place for you? You think the world will change that fast? I don’t care for your ambitions, deserter, no more than I did when you left us."
The deserter surged forward, his balled fist curving in an arc in front of him and striking Chancellor Leilo in the ribs. The Chancellor hurtled backwards as his attacker pinned him against the wall.
“You should care, Leilo,” he whispered with menace. “Because one of the obstacles to my ambitions is you."
The Chancellor squealed like a chick, his breath ragged as he battled the dust in the air and the immoveable fingers at his throat. “Inglis! Inglis! ” he cried.
“You see," the deserter continued, as if the Chancellor were making no sound at all, “I know that your Yiga will make move for Hyrule Castle the second you have a new Master. And since I’m yet to gather my forces, I figure the best way to stall for time is to prevent the election from occurring at all."
“Inglis!” the Chancellor shrieked. He flailed his arms and legs, but the boy’s greater strength kept him pinned to the wall. “Inglis!”
His assistant appeared at the doorway, and regarded the Chancellor stoically. “At the ready, Chancellor," Inglis said calmly. He nodded to the shanty’s other occupant. “At the ready, Chief."
“Very good, Inglis." the deserter replied, not taking his eyes off the chancellor.
“You...you…” the Chancellor regarded Inglis with disbelief. “With him?”
“Always have been, Chancellor." Inglis answered. The deserter seemed to take great pleasure in the exchange, his dark eyes hungry for the Chancellor’s reaction.
“My people will survive me," the Chancellor croaked, feeling suddenly faint, and light - lighter than he had felt since his youth.
“No," the deserter smiled. “There’s a new regime coming to Hyrule."
A sharp pain ripped through the Chancellor’s chest before he even noticed the dagger in his attacker’s hand. The deserter withdrew, and Leilo toppled down onto the dirt-strewn floor, his lungs afire with pain.
“Cin… why, Cine…?” he muttered before his breath left him, watching helplessly the deserter sauntered uncaringly towards the doorway.
“Come, Inglis," he smiled, patting Leilo’s assistant on the back. “We need to make it into Karusa Valley before this storm hits."
There was another creak, and the pair were gone. Chanellor Leilo closed his eyes, feeling the essence within him slowly fade. The hut stank of dust and dirt and cinnamon, and Leilo was unable to escape it, any of it. Not the stench, not his death, and not the storm.