“Draga, what are you doing?”
It’s morning. Or rather, it’s about to be morning, as the sun is still far from rising and the night’s darkness holds position over the world. Zelda stands barefoot in the grass. The damp blades cling cold and wet on her skin, rainwater running over her shoulders because it hasn’t stopped raining since they came down off the mountain. The water is soaking through her tunic, is soaking through her hair, making wet ropes of it around her head as she stands there.
Draga kneels by the shore some distance from the lake cottage, far enough away that by all accounts Zelda did not hear him so much as feel him doing what he’s doing – like someone holding a candle near the back of her neck until she woke, frightened, to find him missing. He doesn’t look at her.
He says, “Go back to sleep, Zelda.”
Steam rises from Draga’s skin. In one hand he has a knife. It glows cherry-red, warmed by the fingers that hold it, hissing in the rain. With it, he is cutting and cauterizing thick deliberate lines along his forearms. There are symbols and she thinks she knows them from feel, if not sight – protections against evil, against influence, against darkness, against roving things in the night. He looks up at her. For a moment he doesn’t speak, just kneeling there in the sand with his hand resting against the top of his thigh, blood running from his arms, his skin saturated with magic to the point Zelda can feel it like a hum around him. She moves toward him, stops by his side, then bends at the waist to look him in the eyes. Rain drips from her chin.
She says, “Do want me to help?”
He studies her eyes in the darkness. “I thought you’d disapprove…”
She swallows, hard, but she manages to say, “I won’t stop you, Draga, if you think it’s necessary.”
Because the shadows deepen, now, when Draga stays near them. Because she sees that the wound across his right cheekbone has opened again and begun to bleed. His eyes have a glow in the darkness and she knows, beyond doubt, that she is seeing the furnace lit within him and it seems, now, closer and hotter than ever before. Something kindled in him that laid as embers until a dragon breathed Din’s Fire into his lung. The air smells like burnt skin, like iron and earth and rain. Draga’s skin is holds heat like some terrible engine.
“You’re bleeding,” she says.
Draga wipes at it, but only succeeds in smearing blood across his cheek.
“Here,” she says, raising two fingers.
“I’m okay,” he says.
He looks at her when she says that, a little confused by her tone. Eventually, he nods and lets her use the light to wipe the wound away, her thumb sliding along the split and leaving smooth skin behind. That leaves her standing there with her hand against his cheek, his blood in her palm and she hates how frequent this is becoming: Blood in her hands. Her heart racked by fear too tight to stand. She tries to smile.
“Now you’re perfect,” she says.
Draga doesn’t allow her this moment.
He says, “This is a Gerudo matter now. We need to go to Riju.”
“I disagree.” She drops her hand, feels her palm ache. “If anything, it’s a matter now exclusively between the three of us. To be settled between us.”
“I think, for eons past, that has been a case. If you are satisfied with that solution, then by all means, let us keep it between us three.”
Zelda grits her teeth. “Don’t say that...”
“Then take me home,” Draga growls. “Riju will listen and even now Gerudo Town is built on foundations of protection. They can forget, but the stone does not and Riju’s mother knew our ways. She was ko’tame .”
“Will they help?”
“Riju can help. It is the responsibility of the People to finish unfinished business.”
“What if they don’t? What if they just… do what people do when they are afraid?”
He looks at her. “Then they would be the first people to end the cycle before it begins, Zelda. That would not be the worst outcome.”
And for a moment Zelda is struck by an image – not a memory, but very much like one – of herself on the throne of Hyrule, glowing and fine, the sunlight filling the great interior of the hall, her court assembled around her. Before her: a man that looks very much like Draga. He’s on his knees. In her vision, Link draws the blade at her behest and before the eyes of all of the kingdom she… She shakes it off. She blinks rainwater from her eyes and Draga’s eyes are the same here as they are in her mind – familiar eyes dark with unfamiliar depth.
“You trust Riju?”
“I do. Link does.”
“Then we’ll go.”
Draga touches her cheek. His skin feels too hot.
He says, “Thank you, Zelda.”
They pack up together and leave Lake Alumeni behind.
The rain won’t seem to stop.
The thunderheads build and build in the sky until the world is dark and split by lightning. Mud boils in the road until the path is so much soup that they are slogging through beneath a lightning-shredded sky. Even so, they push on, wordlessly, relentlessly, for hours proceeding in the direction they’ve decided, powered by the unspoken agreement that the cannot let weather slow them down. If weather can slow them down, then what chance do the stand against the thing on the mountain? (The thing on the mountain which is not really confined to the mountain, but they cannot consider that.) And so, they keep going until the lightless skies are so dark it’s like a second night has fallen and Draga says, quietly, that he thinks they should stop and make camp.
Zelda tries not to consider that, maybe, he says that because he can see things in the shadows.
Eventually, they find a small traveler’s waystation beside the road – horse posts and a single rickety roof set on stilts. They tie up the horses. They hang up their wet cloaks from the low rafters. Link produces dry kindling from his bottomless pack and in moments they have a fire. Then sit together under the roof to wait out the weather
Link paces before he comes in.
Zelda hasn’t asked him what he’s doing exactly; he started circling their small campsite about five minutes ago, walking a series of slow careful laps with a deliberateness that makes her feel there’s a purpose behind it, like there is a purpose in a wolf circling – he’s following one of those rawer instincts she has no notion of.
Eventually, he stops circling and moves to take a seat on Draga’s left, crouching by the fire with his arms draped over his knees. Zelda has the notion that the air around their rest area is… lighter. If Draga notices, he doesn’t mention it. He just stares into the fire. The posts of the hutch have seals pasted to the wood. Draga also made and burned a witch’s ward in the fire and in the smoke, Zelda can feel an invisible bite, one that ghosts over her human skin, seeking darker adversary.
For a while no one says anything. The rain comes down even harder
Zelda breaks the silence.
Draga looks at her.
The firelight caught in his eyes plays tricks on her, eliciting impressions of magic, of embers burning low in the back of his gaze like coals to be kindled with a breath. Then he blinks and the light is just light, reflecting in his stare. Link pulls his wet hair out of its tie and drags his fingers through it and Zelda can’t explain why his nonchalance makes this so much easier. Draga’s sitting with his knees bent up slightly in front of him, leaning back against their stacked travel bags. It’s been a while since he’s said anything so she carefully lays a hand along his inner elbow.
“Nothing’s changed. We’re going to protect you.”
He closes his eyes, manages a crooked smile.
“I believe you may be… overly optimistic.”
Zelda takes sarcasm as a good sign, but then again, Draga’s always had a remarkably chipper attitude toward being generationally cursed. She squeezes his arm a little and he doesn’t pull away or tense. She leans against his shoulder and he still does not tense. Eventually, she takes his right hand so she can run a thumb over the mark in his skin, the one that’s on her and Link. On all of them.
“What did you call it?” she says.
“The Triforce.” Then in Gerudo: “ The heart of the world.”
She nods. “I’ve never heard that word.” She run her thumb again over the mark. “But I know that it’s right.”
Draga says, “You and Link have carried your portion of it for a hundred years now. It seems the last piece was freed during your last battle and, now, has found its way to you.”
He flexes his hand and the dark triangle on his hand pulses once, gently, gold and Zelda feels a tug in her. Like a fishing line drawn from her heart through the palm of her hand and her mark also glows – a call and response. She shivers. Link, still crouched nearby, inspects the back of his hand and she can see the faint light dimming across his knuckles. He’s unreadable. Unflappable. Neither alarmed nor thrilled by the sudden enacting of magic on his person. But then again, he’s held many powers now that were not his. Perhaps, horribly, he’s just used to it.
“I knew there was a notion of pre-determination in our meeting, but I thought it was just magic of the regular sort. Power connecting to power.” Draga sounds both bitter and amused about it. “It did not occur to me that you two had additional destinies you might need to fulfill much less destinies having to do with me. We met over a horse, after all.”
“No one is doing anything destiny related,” Zelda mutters. “We’re done with that.”
“Many, many real physical and present facts and realities would suggest otherwise, princess.”
“Don’t call me ‘princess.’”
“My not calling you ‘princess’ will not make you any less the princess of Hyrule as your optimism will not make me any less cursed.”
“It’s not optimism I’m relying on,” Zelda says. “It’s magic. The great big bunch of it I still have left over that I intend to use to keep you safe until we can figure this out. Thank you very much. You’d do well not to underestimate me.”
Draga’s expression, finally, gives a little. “Zelda…”
“I appreciate what you’re doing… but this is no small affliction undone with study and the correct application of power. This is a curse with one breaking.” He turns his head. “And Link’s got it in a scabbard on his back.”
Link continues to finger-comb his hair and look unflapped.
Draga eyes him. “Don’t mistake me, I’m not asking you to…” a really ugly ominous pause there “…to do anything premature. I’m saying you should face the possibility –”
“Nah,” Link says, tying his hair back.
He shakes his head and sits down properly, cross-legged, removing his wet boots and leaving them to dry by the fire. His cloak he hung with the rest of their wet travel things near the front of the hutch which hang now as a makeshift curtain, keeping in some of the warmth from the fire. The rain is coming down even harder now. Link rummages in his pack and Zelda watches Draga physically getting more annoyed by the minute with the other man’s determined dispassion about the whole thing. If there is anything Link does better than anyone, it’s behaving unruffled in the face of awful things. A skill that is wonderful for the Hero of Hyrule while the end of the world bares down on him, but less wonderful for friends who are decidedly more than friends and it’s coming across as disrespectful
“Will you take this seriously?” Draga murmurs.
“I am,” Link says.
“Then act like it.”
Link doesn’t answer.
Draga stands up, glaring down at Link, shoulders set as a broad shelf of tension and anger.
“The Calamity Ganon was a gestalt being – part demon and part human. Perhaps you have slain the human part once and for all, but the demon lives on.” Draga’s jaw is tight, outlined in the firelight. “I didn’t fight for all these years to give up now that I know the truth of it and if that means, in the end, I come to the end of my strength and must rely on you to...” He stops. “Do you understand?”
Link unstraps the sacred blade from his back.
“I do,” Link says.
He lays it aside in its sheath.
Then he turns. Link, as always, moves too fast to stop when he wants to. Link’s suddenly directly in front of Draga. He side-steps and from a better footing shoves the larger man, hands hitting Draga at the waist and well below his center of gravity. Draga – who rather reasonably was not expecting that – topples back into the pile of saddlebag where he ends up half seated, legs caught in an obtuse angle to brace. Before he can reorient enough to be angry, Link’s hands find Draga’s hips and pin him where he is.
Then neither of them move.
Draga’s anger still catches up to him. Link has rules about anger, so he just stands there, with his hands against the Gerudo’s waist and his face far too close, his hair in his eyes. Link waits until rage gives way to something, some non-verbal language he can read and –
Link closes the space between them.
His mouth catches Draga’s and Draga lets him do it – lets her knight lick his mouth open and kiss him, push a terrible urgency into him, relentless and rougher than Zelda ever imagined he could be. Teeth and tongue and roving intention. Shoving against the other man, holding him in place even though Draga’s not trying to move. Link’s standing between Draga’s boots, one knee shoved against his inner thigh so he can lean against the Gerudo, body-to-body. His mouth finds Draga’s throat and he pushes forward. He rocks once, hard, into the V of Draga’s hips and that’s enough to break the trance.
Draga shoves Link off him. “That doesn’t help,” he snaps.
Link takes the rebuff more gracefully than seems conceivable. He appears to think it over, then says, reasonably, “It might.”
Draga glares. He maintains the glare. Link maintains his calm. Like he’s waiting for Draga to weigh in further on the matter.
“Can you honestly not take this seriously?”
“I am serious,” Link says, completely deadpan.
“It’s very easy to hate you sometimes,” says Draga matter-of-factly, like you comment on the weather.
Link nods. “Apparently, we’ve hated each other for thousands of years, so that’s natural.”
Draga stares at him.
Zelda, appalled, also stares at him.
Link, reincarnated Hero of the Goddess, says nothing, but his mien of determined indifference is spoiled somewhat when, again, the scar along Draga’s cheekbone pulls open and fresh blood runs down his face, dripping from his jaw. He doesn’t appear to notice it’s happening until he sees Link’s eyes widen. Then he seems to register the blood. He frowns and wipes at it with the back of his hand, the bright red vanishing against the color of his skin. There is, actually, more blood than he seems to know what to do with but for whatever reason, the absurdity of bleeding from an unhealable wound while arguing with Chosen Light of Hyrule about his responsibility to maybe murder him (not kiss him), seems to hit Draga all at once.
He starts laughing.
Link and Zelda glances worriedly at one another.
Draga calms down a little and takes a seat on top of the pile of saddle bags, bracing his elbows against his knees and sighing. For a moment, it’s quiet. Draga stares into the fire, his hands folded between his knees. The orange light from the flame is a burnished glow in the high plane of his cheekbones.
“This was not supposed to be my life,” he tells them after a while. “This. All this – standing on a road with you two arguing about…” He trails off, staring into the middle distance with a kind of commemorative longing. “I’ve always had very clear notions about what my life was going to be. Brutal but something worthwhile , if not long-lasting.” He closes his eyes. “Not… this.”
Link is standing near enough to touch him. So he does. He reaches one hand out, two fingers gently set against Draga’s jaw, turning his face so their eyes meet.
“We all had a story before,” Link says. “We all had… lives before the Triforce. Plans and people…” His voice hitches. “… people we loved before.” He seems to struggle to keep speaking so he says, “I’m sorry, Draga.”
Draga studies his face. “What did you lose when the sword chose you?”
Link stares, blank, then says, “Everything?” like it was obviously so.
Like they should both know that.
“But,” he says, “I’m still here.”
Draga moves his right hand, curls it around the back of Link’s neck, pulls him forward. Kisses him, once, deep enough to feel desperate, then abruptly lets him go and pulls away. Link watches him stand up and leave and Zelda registers how he almost rises to follow him… then does not. Draga disappears into the rain outside and neither of them pursue. Instead, Link looks to her like she’ll have an explanation, but she doesn’t. Because from the moment he said ‘everything’ there’s been a hole put between her ribs. She stares at him. She doesn’t say anything, but he stands up and moves to kneel in front of her.
He signs , ‘When the sword chose me, I did not anticipate a future. So, I severed my ties to the life I had before.’
Hylian Sign is so lovely. It makes a poetry out of agony.
Link hesitates, then goes on, hands moving faster now, like he needs to get it out. ‘Mipha was the only one who refused to let me go. She did not let me become a weapon in my entirety, even when I was very much allowing myself to be such.’ He shakes his head, inhaling, his Sign getting more urgent. ‘ She NEVER gave up on me –’
Zelda reaches up to take his hands in hers, stopping his words. When he stares, she draws his hands together between her palms and bends her head, carefully, to kiss his fingers, then his knuckles, then the palms of his scarred hands – rough with callouses and old injuries. Then she takes one of her hand, loops it around the nape of her knight’s neck and draws his forehead against hers, presses her other hand against his heart so he can feel it as more than words on her tongue.
“We will not leave Draga to a terrible fate.” Zelda feels it – gold in her veins, light in her throat when she swears, “We’ll stop this.”
Link gathers her head in his hands, her hair tangling in loops between his fingers.
“Thank you,” he says.
“This rain won’t let up,” she says. “We should try to sleep. Can you make sure Draga finds his way back?”
Link nods, presses his mouth to hers, holding there for a moment like someone getting a breath, then he pulls away. Zelda watches him go, acutely aware of her palms and her lips – the aching fade of body heat leaving her skin – and in the wake of his touch she thinks, There are fates worse than death… Then shakes the thought away like debris caught in her hair. She shivers. Outside, there’s a flash following by a deafening crack of thunder, indicating that the storm is directly upon them.
A very long night lies ahead.
Zelda is standing in a valley of sand.
The ground beneath her feet is a fused road of corroded armor and bone. She can feet a terrible pulse in the metal, terminating through the cenotaph into the bones of her feet. Like a sound travels through water. The walls of the valley are slithering, like there are an innumerable number of snakes traveling beneath the sand and she can hear the soft hiss and rattle of scaled bodies sliding together. She keeps walking anyway, toward the black metal monolith at the end of the road.
Her skin feels wet. Salt on her lips. Like she’s walked out of the sea.
Her footstep evaporate behind her, burning away on the grave-metal street.
She is looking for Draga again. She knows this without linear context. The structure at the end of the road, like the road itself, is built of fused metal melted by an inconceivable heat. A tower. Like the one in Hyrule castle, where she study was built. She has a vague notion that it’s the same structure, the exact same, but a mirror image of her own. The door is rotten, smells less like decaying wood than a putrefying corpse. When she takes the handle in her hand, it’s warm. Like living bone.
Zelda pulls the door open.
The interior air rushes out and she covers her mouth at the stench of sulfur and rot. The inside of the tower is not a room like she thought, but a long lightless tunnel. The walls are organic mass from which pieces of bone, armor, and weaponry glint. Like the throat of some great animal. The light from her skin penetrates the dark, but only by two or three meters in front of her. She cannot see the end of the dark maw. She senses that it goes for miles though, that there is a black heart in the core of the iron fortress and it’s there, if anywhere, she’s going to find her friend. Her hand is against the side of the doorway, shining and gold.
She can feel the metal eating at the light and she hesitates.
You don’t have to go after him, says a voice.
She glances over her shoulder. There is a Sheikah warrior on the road behind her. He’s her height. His face is covered but Zelda knows the scars on his fingers like she knows them on her own. She knows what is to walk in his skin and bones until they are more real to her than the one she was born with. The Sheikah in the road speaks again.
He’s trying to disrupt the cycle. He will draw you in, the both of you, and in the final moments when you cannot strike the blow… he’ll take power.
I don’t believe that , Zelda says.
You are the wise one. The brave one has already gone in after him. It will fall to you, not him.
I made a promise.
You’re not a little boy from a forest. You’re a queen and commander. It falls to you. It always does.
Zelda faces forward. You are not my other half.
The road is empty again behind her.
Zelda enters the monolith and –
For the second time in as many days, Zelda wakes up to an act of violence.
This time, it’s not a candle flame alerting her to some distant discomfort, however. This time, something heavy hits her across the ribs and knocks her to the ground, her head striking earth hard enough to send a sick jag through her brain and through her bones. She rolls away from the source of the impact, light swarming into her fingers, but when she pivots she finds no attacker.
What she does find is Link fighting with Draga.
He’s fighting with Draga, because Draga is having a nightmare so powerful, it’s making him thrash in his sleep like there’s something on top of him, like he’s trying to throw some great beast off his chest. Zelda stares, stunned, stepping back another pace when Draga wrenches his body so hard he falls sideways, twisting, and puts his entire arm into the campfire embers. Link snaps forward, seizing his forearms, and pinning the other man’s wrists to the ground to stop him from doing it again. But Draga doesn’t wake.
Draga cries out and his bones burn, go cherry red inside him and in seconds Draga’s skin is like iron in a forge. The air goes hot, stinks like metal and Link grits his teeth as his palms blister . He maintains contact for a split second longer. Then, with a cry he wrenches his hands from Draga’s wrists, rears back and punches the other man across the face.
Draga wakes, the skin across his cheekbone split open.
Link, straddling his chest, one bloody fist crooked up, stares down at him. His eyes are so blue they seem luminous in the dark.
“Just a nightmare,” Link says softly.
It’s meant to be a comfort.
“It’s not just a nightmare,” Draga says through his teeth.
Draga pulls something from his wrist, one of the dozen leather cuffs. The one he pulls free starts to smoke and blacken before their eyes, warding script dissolving and shriveling with the leather. A burning that has nothing to do with the fire. Draga swears and throws the charm aside. Link climbs back to his feet for a moment, giving Draga his space. He hides his hands behind his back, but Zelda can from this angle what Draga can’t – that blood drips from his fingers and his hands shake, twitching uncontrollably. Parts of his palm are black. Zelda starts to move toward him but Link, his expression empty of the agony, just jerks his chin ‘ no’ .
In Gerudo Draga is saying , “I see its face. When I close my eyes, I see its eyes staring back…”
Zelda moves to kneel at his side instead. “Your arm…”
“You’re burned and you’re bleeding.”
“I’m fine ,” Draga says, frustrated. He’s rubbing his right arm, from the elbow down, ignoring the charcoal and ash. He shivers. “I don’t understand. How could it even… you’re both right here, next to me, how could it even bear to be near you? With that?” He points the sword. “With you.” He gestures to Zelda. “How can it already be so close to me?”
Zelda lays a hand against his shoulder. “We’ll start keeping watch. Until this is over, we’ll keep watch.”
Draga looks at her. “You can’t be there every second of my life, Zelda.”
She looks back at him, calm. “Then it’s a good thing, I just mean tonight.
“I can feel it,” Draga says. “At the edge of me, always, like I’m holding a door shut and it’s there on the other side.” His jaw tightens. “Waiting for me to let go…”
Zelda grabs his chin between her thumb and forefinger, glaring into his startled green eyes. “Then do not let go,” she hisses. “Don’t you dare . Do not let it in. I faced this demon for one-hundred years’ time, I won’t lose now on a roadside in my own kingdom. Your whole life you’ve fought. Nothing’s changed except now you have allies who’ve means to defend you. We know its name. We know its purpose. So, we fight. Do you understand me?”
Draga stares at her. “I won’t let it in,” he says quietly.
“Good. I will keep watch. You should try to sleep, Draga.”
He shakes his head.
“I’ll keep watch.” She drops her hand from his chin to his shoulder. “Come here. I promise.”
Draga lies back against the pile of the bags behind them. He lets her loop an arm behind his neck and over his shoulder so her hand rests over his heart. The other she lays over his forehead, drawing his head to rest against her collarbone. Her fingers tangle slightly in his hair when she runs them through it, nails catching in the braiding and gold cuffs and she will ignore the notion that, now, it seems familiar – like she’s known someone who looked like him before in a context she can’t stand to recollect.
“You remember what I said… the night after the dragon?”
“That defiance of the gods is our birthright?” Zelda says. “That, in all things, we choose ?”
Draga’s hand tightens over hers. “I choose my humanity. Do you understand?”
A shot of adrenaline heats her skin. “You’re going to be fine,” she says softly.
“You’ll take care of it, won’t you?”
She looks up at Link. His eyes are unreadable in the dim firelight. He’s still hiding his arms behind his back.
“Get some sleep,” she says. “Tomorrow, we’re going home.”
It’s raining in the Gerudo Valley. Lightning strikes in land where there is never rains. It’s made the canyon a slurry of red mud and rocks. Shale and loose sand wash off the cliffs and fill the bottom of the gorge until the dirty waters are knee-deep, emptying from the crags of the Highland Plains into this single fissure. The rain makes a river of their road but, again, they keep pushing toward the desert. Eventually, they stop to transfer their saddle bags to Arbiter who, among the horses, remains in determinedly high spirits despites the rain.
“We should put Maru and Epona up at the Gerudo Stable,” says Zelda. “They’re skittish with this weather.”
“They’re skittish because they sense something is wrong,” Draga corrects her immediately. He doesn’t look at he when he speaks, just stand there, patting Arbiter on the nose while Link transfers the last of the equipment. In Gerudo, Zelda hears him say, “ Arbiter still knows me…”
Link’s finishing up, knotting the last of the straps to Arbiter’s flank when he stops. His head comes up sharply, like he heard something.
“Shit,” he says aloud.
And then Zelda feels it.
It’s been so long, she’d almost forgotten what a Yiga attack feels like.
It’s a twinge at first in the corner of her awareness – a familiar yank, like a pop in the universe as the teleportation pulls a space open in reality. Zelda’s on guard immediately. Magic flares kinetic along her skin and for a blinding instant she’s shelled in sunlight – but Link’s already there and three arrows ricochet off his shield and skip off stone. The sword’s in his hand by the time three Yiga – materializing in acrid puffs of smoke — land on the path before them. One archer and two blade masters who would, against any other opponent, be enormous.
But Draga always seems much bigger when he’s using magic.
And he’s already standing between the assassins and her knight.
Zelda smells hot copper off him, tangible as smoke. His hair is fraying in in the back, rising at the nape of his neck like the hackles of a dog. There is something… massive in the way he moves forward, something predatory in his weight, like he’s supposed to be two stories tall and Zelda feels a cold crawl across the road of her spine. Draga ignores Link who hisses at him to fall back. Draga is not armed. Zelda can hear the rain start to hiss as it hits Draga’s skin, see steam rising off his soaking shoulders.
“You know,” he says, one hand coiling at his side, “today is just… a bad day for this.”
The archer fires a killing shot.
It glances off Draga’s chest, directly over his heart, like he’s bedrock and clatters on the ground by his boot. He glances at it, then levels a look at the three assassins.
“You have one chance, because my friend says you’re human, to walk away.”
The Yiga say nothing.
“Leave,” Draga says.
The archer tilts their head.
“Are you the last of the bloodline Mer?”
“ What ?”
“We have a message,” says the archer, their head still tilted, as if their skull is not attached properly to their spine. “Your sisters died for nothing, in defense of nothing. We have burned the last of your sacred sites. The cycle starts anew with the death of the goddess-chosen –”
Draga raises one hand.
Zelda jerks forward. “Draga, don’t –!”
He closes it.
Effortless. Zelda feels how effortless it is. In the instant between one breath and the next, the earth splits open beneath the Yiga. It disappears, turning the bedrock into a black vertical shaft and they drop, two plummeting with a scream of surprise into the vortex of water and mud that the sudden void creates, the third slamming a blade into the ground to catch themselves. They claw through the torrential downpour, fingers grabbing the lip of the stone to pull themselves up and –
The shaft slams shut.
Link makes a sound in his throat. The displaced water rushes back in, obscuring the grave site. Briefly, there is a gush of red, darkening the mud. But the rain draws it away immediately and then there is nothing to mark the brutality. Muck roils around Draga’s boots and he exhales. His breath clouds like the steam from a machine and he shakes off the residual sorcery shivering still in his skin. The rain evaporates now as it touches him. The air feels hotter for his being there.
“Draga,” Zelda says softly.
Draga doesn’t turn around or move. Zelda, imperceptibly, feels Link’s grip tighten on the Master Sword.
“Draga, are you okay?” Zelda says, raising her voice.
Draga is staring at his palm and when he furls his fingers, a shiver terminates from his boots across the surface of the muddy water and Zelda feels it in her blood when it hits her, passing through her, leaving her cold. Epona and Maru bolt , taking off into the canyon at full gallop and Link doesn’t even try to call them back. Because there’s something dark in the water at Draga’s feet now. Like oil, darkness is spreading into the mud from his boots, like he’s the poisonous well-spring. He doesn’t notice. He’s staring at his palm like he’s never seen it before and Zelda can see every single one of the tooled leather wards shriveling on his wrist.
Then the sword in Link’s hand begins to glow blue.
“Draga!” Zelda pushes past Link, raising her voice. “DRAGA! WAKE UP!”
He snaps out of it. Draga turns to look at her.
And then, with no warning, there’s something standing behind him.
There is no looking at it directly. Zelda is looking directly at it, but cannot behold its shape – just the horrible screaming impression of it, fragmented and shivering, grating a hole in the universe that her senses refuse to process but she knows – through the chaos, through senses that are not mortal – that it’s standing, hunched, staring down at Draga with lidless burning eyes. She can taste old blood, smell ash and oil. Her skin aches as the light seems to bleed out of the air around them.
“Draga,” Zelda says softly. She raises a golden hand. “Draga, don’t look. Just –”
“I gave you your name,” says the demon.
Its voice is a blow. Or rather, it’s not a voice at all, but a feeling like being flayed and with syllables alone it splits something open inside Zelda. She screams, grabbing her breastbone, feels it like bleeding, like she’s hemorrhaging heat into her chest. Link grabs her. She closes a fist in his tunic, feels scale mail beneath his shirt… and the pain evaporates. A breath of grace on her fingers. All the relief she needs. Zelda pulls open the well within her and lets the power rush in. Her mouth is full of sea water and suddenly its words are diffused to a bearable dilution.
She can understand it.
It’s leaning over Draga’s shoulder now, mouth against his ear, fingers curling toward his bleeding face but fear and instinct keep Draga from moving. He stares straight forward at Link and Zelda. She can hear him breathing shallowly, like his heartbeat is in her ears. The demon draws so near, its breath is hot against Draga’s face.
“Take possession of this world...”
Zelda puts a Light Arrow straight through the demon’s throat. Link snaps out of time. And Draga’s fist ignites, a black-hole of fire collapsing then expanding in his palm. Then he pivots and rams it into the demon’s chest. He throws his entire weight behind it, shoving the molten spell through its ribcage until it eats a sulfuric hole through the shadows. The demon shudders. Draga lunges back and Link – his fist full of steel and starlight – snaps back into reality directly between Draga and the beast.
With massive one-handed blow he drives the sacred blade point-first into the demon’s shoulder. The sword goes up in flames. Link goes up in flames, a lattice of silver light sparking at the back of his right hand and racing like a set fuse up his arm, around his body like living wire, super-heating until the air around him riots at the atomic level. Infused with light and lightning. The demon snarls and in its distraction, Link grabs the blade two-handed at the hilt, pivots and rips the sword up through the monster’s clavicle. The blade tears free, throwing a spray of black oil and rot into the water.
The demon staggers back, wounded, and Link takes a hostile stance – the sword up between them, facing the mass of shadow. The darkness can’t seem to reach him. A nimbus of color and moving air swirling endlessly inches from the Hero’s skin. There are flames now in the darkness, red and orange and hellishly hot. Link doesn’t wait. He throws his arm back, blade cocked in his fist, shouts, pivots into a spinning swing and in the follow-through an arc of burning light bursts from the blade and slams into the demon. It burns a scar in the universe and the abomination shakes off the blow.
It stares at Link finally, instead of Draga.
It says, “Hello again, sky-child.”
Link immediately flash-steps left, vanishes, and reappears mid-lunge, driving the blade point-first through monster’s forearm, raised to block the blow. Link hits the ground and snarls . The demon waits. Link sets his feet. He wrenches the blade deeper, two-fisted on the grip, eliciting a gush of sour black rot, pooling in the water around his boots. He just keeps pushing. Light like lightning laces his hands, electrifies the air around him, sets a gale rushing through the canyon and the demon…
It says, “The first Divine Beast was a wolf. All others were fashioned in his name.”
When Link blinks, confused, it flickers. It snaps back into place, but when it does it’s not the demon. It’s a woman, tall, inhumanly beautiful, her skin mottled with shadow, tattooed in arcane blue light. She smiles with eyes the color of sunset. Zelda’s heart pulls like a magnet pulls north and Link, in lock step with her, freezes. Recognition rigors his hand for just and instant. Long enough for the woman – the Twili Queen, Heir to the Dusk – to brush soft gray fingers against Link’s face. She smiles. Sad and familiar.
She says, “I miss the beast.”
And something black sparks off her fingertips against Link’s skin.
Link screams, head snapping to the side and he staggers, wrenching the blade free. The sword falls to the ground where it clatters, parting the water to lie burning on the canyon floor. Link hits the ground on his knees. He presses his hands against his face, gasping, fingers digging into his hairline. Black light races across his skin, peeling the color away from him in flakes until he falls to all fours as a shadow. His spine bows outwards, the cage of his ribs swelling, a riot of bone restructuring in to a horrific cracking noise. Link is screaming. Screaming like he’s dying, like someone is pulling him apart. She knows this sound, she knows this –
Zelda looses another shot at the demon. It knocks the bolt away with a giant hand, the shaft exploding into shards of light and shredding the glamour like rice-paper. The spell breaks and the shadows fracture from Link’s skin, fracturing like black porcelain and disintegrating. Draga catches him as he falls and Zelda fires again, advancing on her adversary, but the demon knocks the arrow from its course.
“The little Goddess dreams your death, Draga.”
Zelda screams and fires again – three bolts from one string and the demon begins to fade.
“When they put you to the sword, I will be waiting.”
Zelda fires yet another shot, but the bolt rips through empty air and bursts against the canyon wall. Lightning strikes overhead and for moment illuminates the stone in bone-white. Thunder rolls through the canyon, but there’s nothing but rain now. No shadows. Just her standing in the rain, armed with sacred weapons, no enemy to fight. She feels it like an ancient rage – so familiar it’s part of her and when the scream rises in her throat, her voice shakes the whole gorge.
“Coward!” The Light Bow evaporates in her hands. The arrows atomize in her fist. “FACE ME!”
“ Zelda .”
She stops. Her hands unfurl at her sides. She turns.
Draga is kneeling in the water. The Master Sword is dark now, almost invisible submerged in mud. Link is unconscious in his arms. Draga’s hand cradles the back of his neck, fingers tangled in the longer part of his hair, his other arm looped around the smaller man’s waist because Link is not moving. His eyes are closed. The rain plasters his bangs to his pale forehead. His sword hand lies nerveless in the water at his side, his legs slack, covered in mud, one knee bent up against Draga’s flank. Draga looks up at her.
“Zelda.” His voice sounds raw. “I think it really hurt him…”
She’s on her knees with him immediately, her hands framing Link’s face in gold.
“Link.” She touches his chest, her palm pressed to his sternum. “Breathe, right now .”
He inhales, but like one of his lungs are collapsed. Zelda presses two hands against his ribs, soaking the inside of his chest in magic, pushing gold into his body where it maps out the compound fractures across marrow and bone, the heat of internal bleeding, the dark traceries of black magic eating its way into deeper parts of him. She leans down, cups his head and presses her mouth to his, parts his lips with her tongue and lets honey-warm magic run from her mouth to his. She does this until she feels him breathing normally again and his lips stop tasting like copper. She exhales. Her breath carries gold in the vapor.
She looks up at Draga.
“We need to get him off the road,” she whispers. “That was a very old curse.” Zelda swallows. “It afflicted him once in an old life so it had… especially strong teeth the second time. I think he dropped his… his guard. Can you please carry him? We have to get to Gerudo Town. We need to –”
“This was my fault.”
Zelda immediately covers Draga’s mouth with her hand. Hard. Her fingers dig into his skin. “Don’t do that!”
Draga’s eyes are so green. Her fingers have a glow.
She swallows and the gold fades from her hand. “That’s what it wants you to do,” she says softly.
When he just stares at her, she tries again, softer.
“It will send you the things you hate most, in a form that you can take vengeance on. In this way, it can feed on the darkness. Do you understand?”
She feels him bite his lip, his mouth thinning against her fingers.
She lowers her hand and Draga hooks his arm under Link’s knees and stands up with him. Link’s head falls against Draga’s chest and Draga stares down at him and the expression he wears… she knows it now. She can imagine the circumstances of it now in another context. Zelda digs in the mud until her fingers find the hilt of the sacred blade. She grips it. It feels warm in her palm. She stands up and the rain immediately washes the muck from the shining metal. Draga watches her stand there, the blade that seals the darkness dripping water in her hand.
It pulses, then fades. Pulses, then fades.
“It’s me,” Draga says finally. “It’s reacting to me now, isn’t it?”
Zelda lowers her hand. “No. It’s reacting to what follows you. Do not conflate the two.”
Draga’s eyes are on the blade.
“This isn’t your fault.”
Zelda steps forward, Link’s sword in her fist. She draws near enough that the sword hangs near Draga’s leg when she reaches up to him with her empty hand. She touches Draga’s cheek. She says again, through her teeth, in his native tongue, “This is not your fault.” And when he does not answer she says again, like a spell spoken, “This is not your fault. This is not your fault. Tell me you can do this because I need you to defy the gods with me now.” Her hand slides to back of his neck, grips tight so he cannot look away. “ Can you do it?”
“I can do it,” he says.
“Then get Arbiter and follow me.”