Chapter 1: Blood Moon over Yarna Valley
Exhausted didn't begin to cover how Saedah felt when she was finally lowered to the last bed that the Gerudo Canyon Stable had to offer. There was no one who knew the young woman there, nobody who knew the young Chief simply at a glance. She preferred it that way, as it aided in her safety, and the anonymity meant that she could be with her husband without there being much of a fuss.
Sheikah, of course, still drew suspicion. With the Yiga running rampant disguised as citizens, and distrust for Sheikah still very high, Hotaru's eyes were an earthy green instead of their bright carnelian, his snow white hair darkened to a bland shade of blonde that looked like the Hotel Oasis' dishwater. Even the errant strand of black was completely absent in favor of the blonde.
She hated it, wished that she could see him in his glory, even in her completely drained state.
Apparently, she’d been making a face, because the young man leaned to brush his lips over the furrow of her brow, lowering a small, still bundle into her arms. The baby girl resting there was tiny and new, eyes closed and lungs quiet now, her little chest heaving with the occasional hiccup. When offered her mother's fingertip, her tiny fist curled right around it, the grip strong. Nabooru, they named her, for the Ancient Sage and Chief, a hero to their people in a great time of need.
"She's beautiful," he told her. The edge of the bed depressed as he took the little space next to her, sat with one leg crooked under the other. In his arms now rested another infant, silent as his sister but not tired at all.
He was the firstborn twin, and Saedah had tried to fight her labor as Malice began to rise in the sky, the moon making its blood-soaked trek to the peak. It was terrifying enough that the traveling witch she had encountered on her brief journey had declared that she would give birth to a son, the first to survive past infancy since the Calamity had been sealed away. The notion had been enough to send her mind to horribly paranoid places, and so when her water had broken, Hotaru had tried to talk her down from her hysteria and suspicions. Even if she did have a boy, which they couldn’t be sure of until she delivered since the spell they tried had been inconclusive, it didn’t mean prophecy, it didn’t mean the Calamity returned.
It was almost funny, given the nature of his tribe, that he would be so against the worries that she held.
Still, the boy, Ra -named for the son of Din, from old Hylian myths attributed incorrectly to the Gerudo- had come into the world swiftly, quietly , shuddering breaths instead of the strangled, anguished cries most infants -his sister included- screamed. The sight of him had been like something out of a novel from the depths of someone's tortured psyche. An infant, calm and covered in bloody fluids, bathed in the red light of Malice and the Blood Moon.
His eyes had opened when Hotaru had wiped him clean, and they hadn't closed yet.
"How is he?" she asked, her voice hushed, still shocked, as if this didn’t seem real.
It didn’t , but she wasn’t sure how to say, or who she could say it to, Hotaru included. For having to be so strong, to be a leader, to be reminded of her humanity and fragility had the teenager at ill ease.
"Still wide awake," the Sheikah said softly, rocking the small child tucked in his arm. Like his sister, Ra held a tight grip around his father's finger, tiny red brows furrowed and gold eyes hawk-like on his face. "I think he's concerned about missing something. He looks like it. You, though... You're worried."
" You say that I always worry," the young woman replied, turning her gaze to her daughter.
The silence fell between them, broken by the sound of the stable and its patrons for the evening. Despite it being so late -nearly so late that the dawn will soon kiss the night hello and goodbye as it dances away until the next embrace- the stable is still noisy.
"You're worried about the omens. Still worried, not again. Again devalues what you feel."
It stung her, and she tried not to flinch. The Sheikah, as long as she had known him, as long as she had loved him, had been able to cut through the fog of her anxieties and get to the root of the problem.
"What if it is a sign?" she asked her lover, looking up to see that his face was calm. It was always calm. "What if- What if I can't protect him? From-" she stumbled over His name, Lord Demise, not wanting to draw attention to her sweet baby boy -a son, oh a son -, and continued- "From everyone, from what they will say about him? What they'll do to him? What if I can't do this?"
Hotaru's glamoured eyes moved back down to meet the stern gaze of the infant in his arms, a small smile finding the corners of his lips as he found that the pair watching him were beginning to cloud over with the first mists of sleep. "He's strong. You should worry about raising him to be kind, not the omens-"
"You don't believe in them-"
"Not these ones, no. But more importantly, I believe in change, in chances. He's not locked into a single destiny," he said softly. "He doesn't have to be who his predecessors have been." As the baby’s eyes begin drifting closed, he shifted their joined hands, stroking the small boy’s warm, soft cheek. “He has the same chance that any child does at birth; there are some children that you love and love and they still turn rotten, and some children you neglect that turn into mountainous heroes.”
She was quiet, watching the way he cradled the infant, who -finally- had drifted off.
“ What would you propose then, O Great, Skeptical Witch?” she asked, stretching out just enough that she could nudge him with her foot.
The action prompted a grin from him, and he tore his glamoured gaze away from their son to find her face. “Just love him. Do your best as a mother, I know you can. Whatever follows is what will follow, and you cannot help that. You can only do your best, and treat him with kindness and fairness. Raise him to be a good man with a strong heart. He has a choice in this, too; forgetting that does him many a disservice.”
A moment of silence and he nudged her foot back with his thigh. “And I am not a witch.”
“ Sure,” She murmured, trying not to let his words sting her even more. Her worries feel foolish in the face of his wise voice, common sense in the face of a million what-ifs. He was right, though. It was an annoying habit, but she loved him so dearly for it.
“ You should sleep,” he said softly, shifting to lay the baby in the small cradle that the stable had given them. Ra fussed lightly as he left his father's arms, stilling only when Nabooru was placed beside him, like he had a need for someone to be close to him, for constant contact. “I’ll watch them. You’ve earned the rest.”
“ Oh, thank you for that,” she joked lightly, drawing a shuddering breath. Adrenaline worn off then, she could feel the claws of sleep beginning to drag her under, the crash of post-labor hormones, and wanted to fight it a little longer to stay awake and be with him. It was no use though, the melody he hummed for the infants seeming to have an uncomfortable calming effect on her that made her drift off quicker than she usually might.
And he says he’s not a witch , she thought as the warm embrace of sleep took her away.
The light was bright the next morning, though the stable was deep enough in the canyon that neither the light nor heat of the desert could touch their skin. She found that Hotaru was awake, and was grateful that the children were not. The plate that he gave her was a savory pumpkin slice that was soft to the tooth, and light bread with Courser Honey spread across it. To return her strength and give her the energy to get home to the Desert Oasis, where she could recover properly and with observation. Safe with her people.
“ Did you sleep at all?” the young Gerudo woman asked as he settled behind her, fingers carding through her plaits so that he could redo them.
“ Didn’t need to,” he replied gently. “Had to stand guard for my family.”
Family … The thought of that made her scowl a little bit, brow furrowing. That, of course, made her think that perhaps Ra got his sternness from her, little as he was. They were a family, but Hotaru would leave. He always did, and Saedah was used to it at this point. It was the nature of loving a rogue member of the Yiga clan. Now that they’d had a son, they assuredly wouldn’t be able to be together the way that they might have been with a daughter alone. There was no running from this, her from her destiny and him from his orders. He would go back to protect their son, and she would try to keep his identity quiet to as much of the world as she could, for as long as she could, to do her part.
If they knew, then they would try to use Ra for the worst possible outcome. But perhaps if they were careful, he could live as normal a life as he could, sister at his side.
“ You’re brooding,” Hotaru remarked, tying off the end of her single plait with a red ribbon, one of his.
“ It’s frustrating that you can do that, you know,” she told him, going quiet as she chewed her bread thoughtfully. She felt better already, grateful for the magic woven so deeply into the world around them that the act of eating alone was a healing one.
He moved to sit in front of her, positioned so he could rock the small cradle with the toe of his boot. She could see from his expression that he wasn’t ready, but he wouldn’t say it. It made her feel a bit vindicated, less guilty for being so upset. They compartmentalized, too young to be the hardened warriors that they were already. The world, these days, had no place for the soft ones, no matter how they fought for the right to be so.
“ If we don’t get back soon, the guards will come looking for me,” she said quietly.
“ Fourth forbid they find you with a voe ,” he replied gently, leaning in to kiss her. It was soft and sweet, and drew a quiet, content sigh from her lips. “We always have this.”
Saedah didn’t reply, simply tipping her head to rest against his.
They went before the sun managed to make it over the cliffside, a baby each, their little bodies covered by cloth with cooling magic woven through. The sands were forever shifting, like rivers, but there was a path once, maybe even a road, and if they stuck to the sand over that, then they should make easy time.
There was something about Hotaru that kept monsters at bay, one of the many reasons that she teased him privately about being a witch. She was very grateful for it, though, even as Ra began fussing where he was pressed so close to her heartbeat.
“ I know, vehvi ,” she murmured above the light wind, making sure his face remained covered. “I don’t like it very much either.”
Hotaru snorted a laugh from somewhere behind her, grinning lightly as she turned to glare at him. They had grown up among the shifting sands, knew well the dangers they brought. He loved them, sands and dangers alike, and teased her for her marked distaste whenever she allowed it to be known. Instead of saying anything, he moved to match her stride, hand cradling the curve of Nab’s bum through the sling. She watched him sidelong, watched the way he brimd with pride carrying their infant daughter.
The guards patrolling Kara Kara showed the faintest relief to see their young Chief, though they were not happy to see her with a voe. Nor, she supposed, were they happy to see her with a voe who was Hylian .
Saedah could only imagine the calamity that would ensue if they knew that her love was a Sheikah, and a Yiga to boot.
“ Lady Saedah!” one of the trio exclaimed upon her approach. Another immediately took off running, untethering a red sand seal and taking off toward the town. “The Captain was worried when you had not returned when you said you would, she has had us searching for you since yesterday morning.”
Saedah glanced at Hotaru, who was guarded in the presence of the Gerudo vai who had approached to take their chief from a stranger. When he met her eye, she smiled, and he relaxed, but only enough so that he didn’t disturb the baby. They were perceptive little creatures, able to tell when people around them are exceptionally distressed. If nothing else, Hotaru was absolutely distressed in the presence of these towering women.
“ I was with my husband,” she told them, her stern tone saying that she wasn’t going to answer any questions. “I gave birth sooner than anticipated, he helped me get somewhere safe to avoid the Blood Moon.”
She’d never said that aloud, called Hotaru her husband, revealed that he was the other half of her pregnancy. He was, but that was beside the point. They’d always been careful to be very private about it, but what could be done? She was the chief of her people, she was leading them to a more stable future, if not a brighter one. She could not leave the safety of Gerudo Town to be with him, and more importantly, he could not leave the Yiga until they were stamped out like ants in a rotting hydromelon.
She was going to honor him enough to give him the title he deserved, the title that their marriage had brought him, even if they could not be together. After this, she wasn't sure when she would see them next. He'd earned that much.
“ You know the laws better than any of us, Lady Saedah,” the guard started, and Hotaru interrupted by clearing his throat lightly. They turned to look at him with a glare that would wither a Hylian normally, but he -disguised or no- was a Sheikah, and he would not be cowed into silence by women a good three feet taller than him.
“ I have no intention of joining you beyond the bazaar,” he said in crystal clear Gerudo, and Saedah knew that it pained him. “We agreed that I would come this far with her, just to see her off to the People once more. I have business in Akkala and cannot stay for too much longer than this.”
They relaxed, but only just. One of the vai stepped into his space, offering her arms for the child he carried. He was loathe to do so, loathe to let the child go, but he had duties he must attend, there were laws and traditions that were steadfast, and they knew all along that he would not be able to stay. He helped untie the child, letting her go when she was secure in the arms of the soldier taking her. His palm lingered on her little head for a moment, as if saying goodbye, before he quieted his body language.
Saedah's small frown slid back into place as he stepped into her space. His smile was melancholy, but they knew that this would come to be, whether they had a daughter or a son, long before they had even conceived. Their worlds simply did not mesh, not as they were now, and they would have to fight for it to be. Planting an orchard that they might never reap the rewards of, as it were.
"You'll send a hawk, won't you? Write me from time to time?" she asked, her hands cradling their son like he was her greatest treasure.
He nodded, making a soft, affirmative sound. It had been how they had fallen in love, after all, before she usurped the throne from her mother. He had just been a boy in the bazaar, strange and beautiful, and she had left him a letter.
The rest, as people liked to say, was history.
He reached out, smoothing his fingers over the furrow of her brow and tucking loose hairs back under the soft fabric of her headscarf.
"I'll write as often as I can," he promised. "For you, and for them."
" I love you ," she murmured, Hylian instead of Gerudo.
Hotaru smiled. "I'm leaving my heart with you," he told her.
"I'll protect it against the sands," she replied, softer.
The kiss he gave her lingered, but only just, then he said goodbye to Ra the same way that he did to Nabooru and turned back toward the Desert Gateway to begin walking. Saedah watched him until he disappeared from her sight, swept up in clouds of sand and waves of heat, and the cool hand of one of the guards drew her sight away from where he left.
"Come, my Lady," the guard who caught her attention insisted. "You need your rest."
The trek back to the City was easier than anticipated, if only because the guard that left first sent for a small team to retrieve her. It was quite rare that a litter be used for a Gerudo ruler, but she supposed that this was a special circumstance. At any rate, the structure kept her cool and the infants as well.
Ra fussed as though he knew that Hotaru was gone, but didn't cry.
Saedah wonders if the little boy could sense her hurt, and tried to push it down.
The colorful banners welcomed the young trio home, and the new mother had to force herself not to look back to the desert, toward the bazaar and the canyons beyond. He would want her to lead. He would want her to be strong, and to remember that sacrifice was necessary.
Sacrifice was necessary.
The People were ecstatic to see her, and she was gracious, carrying herself with all the strength she could muster. The pumpkin and honey helped more than she realized, as she was able to keep the pain from her face, the gentle smile of a sovereign on her features. She wanted nothing more than to carry her children herself, to go to her quarters and lock herself away, recover in peace.
Rima, the Captain of her guard, seemed to sense this, and promptly helped her to her rooms. Under normal circumstances, they might draw a post-travel bath to help the Chief clean the sands from her tired body. Instead, Rima sent for the Rova and helped her young leader into her bed, settling the cradle at her side. The infant twins inside shone prettier than any treasure she had ever seen, and she smiled softly, resting against their woven cradle until sleep took her again.
She woke to the sound of whispered song, the room around her dark. The lanterns cast a gold glow against the walls, but even then the shadows were so harsh that her eyes foght to focus for the longest of moments.
It took the young chief far too long to realize that the shapes moving in the dark were the Rova, her personal mages and advisers. Their wizened frames were draped under many layers of thin, dark cloth, adorned with rich honey-colored amber cabochons. Their hands, wrinkled and softened by the sands of time, almost seemed to work in tandem, carefully caring for the infants as was custom.
Rima, thankfully, was nowhere to be found, but as soon as she had that thought, one of the older vai tutted quietly. Undoubtedly, they both heard her. It was still unsettling how easily they could read her thoughts.
“ She discovered the boy after summoning us,” Kotake said. "Presumed, erroneously, that the twins were of the same sex."
“ Yes,” sadi Koume softly, the sound of scissors cutting through the shadows. The sound was like homecoming, the clipping of an infant's hair to be placed in an amulet to wish for their well-being. It was the last of the practices if done in order, and the Rova were a particular pair of women. “She has an earful for you, once you’re prepared. She does not think that keeping him is a good idea.”
“ What is it that you would like to do?” They asked her together, looking up from their careful work. Their eyes glimmered like dark stones in the low light, but all that Saedah could do was look to her children, wriggling uncomfortably at the foreign attention and probably hungry, the poor dears.
“ I will address the People,” the young ruler informed them, her voice tired and soft, but still firm. “It is not their place to decide, and the Gerudo should know better than anyone that the child starved for the love of their people will bring down the moon to devour everything, and will still be unsatisfied.”
The sisters shared a glance, one that seemed almost feline and predatory to their young charge, then nod.
"We will follow your lead, my Lady."
"But first, the little prince and princess."
The term, accurate as it was, thrilled the young woman a bit. She had been an only child, but not a lonely one by any means, and the thought that her children would have each other filled her with a happiness as glorious as the Sand Goddess' morning sun cresting over the horizon. Holding them both was much easier while sitting down, a truth that she was grateful for because she never wanted them to be far from her.
The Rova had been finishing their inspection of the infants when Saedah had awoken, they explained in their gently unnerving way. Ra measured smaller than his sister in every way. The thought of that worried the new mother, but the older women, who'd had many daughters of their own, assured her that a small infant didn't necessarily preclude them growing up big, healthy and strong. They were soft and small, the indescribably sweet smell clinging to their fine red hair ripping open something tender in her as she pressed her nose to each of their heads in turn. She felt so lost, wished for a moment that her own mother was not in exile, that she was there to help.
Her son was taken from her arms first, then her daughter, traded for the maternal attentions of the witches who pull the stitching at her tired seams taut and like new. They sang the energy of the sun into her bones while sowing the seeds of rest to grow.
The torches went dark to her sight, and she did not wake until the sun was high again. By then, the news had traveled, the same way the dull ache of her labor and subsequent travel had seeped into all of her limbs. The distaste was present on the face of her right hand, Rima scowling from the door, and to show that she will not be cowed, Saedah turned her spine to steel. She washed her face, applied her kohl with an expert hand, and did not wait for a valet to help her dress.
Her people would see her, vulnerable and human, and they would be reminded of her place despite.
She dressed in the black and amber of the Rova, an apprentice and a chief. She took the Scimitar of the Seven and stood tall at the top stair above the market. The whispers were like a dull roar, and she remembered with startling clarity what it was like to be at the base of those stairs, staring up at the lioness of a woman her mother had been as Chief.
Her hand moved to rest at the handle of her scimitar, chin tipping upward. Nobody climbed to challenge her, and she supposed that was a good start.
Chapter 2: Birds on Blatchery Plain
content warning for graphic depiction of childbirth, age difference in relationships, references to Hylian colonialism and institutional slavery of the Sheikah and the lingering effects and generational differences that come from it, survivor's guilt, and what could more than likely be called some form of PTSD. shoutout to emi_rose and her extensive knowledge of obstetrics, bluemoodblue for editing, and you for reading this. tags will continue to update as the story goes on, and I will do my best to warn ahead of the chapter for sensitive subjects. (if i miss anything triggering, please feel free to let me know, so i can fix it!)
When the morning came, it was met with a contraction.
Blinking the lingering sleep from her eyes, Purah carefully counted the seconds as she reached for her glasses, breathing measured and careful. In through her nose, out through her mouth. She had done this enough that she didn’t have to count the timing, four-seven-eight, again.
The contraction was short, false and followed almost immediately by a second of shorter duration. When five minutes passed after it and there wasn’t a third, the scientist declared herself safe and reached for the stability of the bedside table to stand. The worn wood was cool beneath her feet, and as always happened, there was a momentary thought about how she should make a rug. The moment passed in favor of scientific inquiry as soon as she caught sight of the Sheikah in the mirror.
It had been an experiment, driven by guilt and grief. If she had known what to do, if the knowledge hadn’t been stolen from her people, perhaps the last seventy five years would not have been passed in the sorrow that it did. She could have saved her brother. She could have saved Link, the Champions, the whole army. Instead, it was with a special resonant kind of sorrow that she regarded her face. Something like three years ago, she had been almost one hundred and seventeen years old. Now, her tan skin was supple and smooth - the experimental rune had reverted her to youth once more, somewhere close to thirty if she was the gambling kind.
Hand cradling her belly, she reminded herself that she only gambled with her life these days, and now that was no longer something she could do.
Impa would remark that while her questionably ethical science may have returned her to the sunset of her youth, her eyes carried her century of wariness where her body didn’t. Even if she hadn’t actually heard it from her sister, Purah was still a bit bitter about the fact that she couldn’t find any reason to disagree.
The good thing was that there didn’t appear to be any change in her aging beyond her natural metabolic rate.
The better thing was that it was raining outside. The pitter-patter of rain on the roof was almost like a lullaby but Purah had far too much to do that day, and could not afford returning to bed. Her hands, less wrinkled and more callused than they’d ever been, were swift as she smoothed her hair back, sure to catch all the loose little strands to spare herself the imminent annoyance. She hadn’t been awake for very long and had already burned too much daylight. One last glance in the mirror and she went, body still too sore and stiff from sleep to do much more than waddle with purpose in search of proper clothing.
She dressed simply and for mobility. Her skirt was a loose thing, thrice wrapped around her sturdy, swollen frame and tied with a sash. Her tunic sleeves were tight to her wrists; the robe over was heavier cotton and completely sleeveless, enough for the working ensemble to keep her warm without becoming too stifling. The hood would be more than enough to keep her dry, so she didn’t bother with another cloak. Getting her boots on and laced unaided proved a bit difficult with her belly in the way, but she made do and managed well enough. With her bow and full quiver across her back and her spoils bag in hand, Purah gave one last glance around the room before she pushed the door open.
It was still dark outside, the edges of the world just beginning to bloom red at the horizon. The air felt sticky, as if the heat of the night before was fermenting the air of the day before it’s even truly started. The stairs creaked as she carefully descended, a fond wave to the frog guardian above her lab’s door for good luck. She could feel its eyes on her as she made her way down the hillside toward the sleeping village.
Being as early as it was, the village was quiet. In the absence of human activity, there was nothing but nature, the babbling of Zelkoa Creek and bright birdsong singing counterpoint to the gravel and puddles underfoot. Hateno’s few streets were intermittently lit by stone lanterns, the forge’s blue flames burning bright inside each little home. Not much had changed in the last sixty odd years since they finished the reconstruction efforts, and she was equal parts grateful and driven to desperation over it.
The guard at the gate was an older gentleman, Korwin, who had been in the village as long as she had.
He smiled at the sight of her, tipping his head with a polite, “Madame Director.”
“Morning, Korwin,” she replied, continuing on her trek. She could not afford to lose momentum, as she was already behind, but also because the walk through Midla and Ginner was rife with interruptions if it wasn’t taken swiftly.
“Ain’t that baby due soon, girl?” the man called merrily after her.
Purah shot a vibrant, if sleepy grin over her shoulder, shrugging and then waving as she continues on.
He was not wrong. It had been ten months, and about three days. She knew this because the midwives in the village, laywomen all, had been hovering around like hens. Or rocs. Both birds suited their actions. Purah also knew that the four children that she bore before this one, Three keep their souls, had all been late. This little would come into the world exactly when they were ready to, and not a moment sooner. Children entered the world in their own time, regardless of the desires their parents held.
She was halfway to Robred Dropoff when she had another contraction. As before, it passed unfollowed, leaving her with a moment to catch her breath, regain her bearings, and continue on her way. The sky began to clear as it lightened and as she neared the bottom of the hill, she could hear the Fir River as it moved toward Central Hyrule. With the rising sun came the promise of the sticky heat of the rest of the day. It was the summer solstice, and the air smelled like blossom mead and renewal.
The thing about having been alive as long as she had was that she was constantly hit with an uncomfortable onslaught of bittersweet nostalgia. It hit her hard when she reached the trees at the fort wall and the Squabble river. She remembered coming through with the Guidance Stone, with Robbie and Hikaru at her side. She remembered the ache in her muscles and bones from carrying Link to the Great Plateau, remembered how hard she cried, the bile at the back of her throat, tear streaks down her face the only part of her free of the ash raining over Hyrule. She remembered holding her baby brother one last time in the shadows of still-flickering Guardians, wanting to beg him not to leave her, remembered the words dying in her throat because duty was the only station a Sheikah was permitted. In the same breath, she remembered being younger, teaching her siblings to ride and shoot just beyond the walls. She remembered the soldiers stopping construction of the walls to ask them about the Sheikah, remembered the joy at their earnest curiosity and engagement.
Now, there were no soldiers. Now, there were no discussions of a dying culture, no riding lessons or lost arrows or laughter.
There was no little brother.
There were only rotting wagons and crumbling walls, and Farore’s wilds reclaiming the Guardians, all of which she could see from where she stood frozen in the road.
The gentle, low timbre of a familiar voice drew her back to the present with jarring swiftness, Purah turning to find Iza standing there, a hand outstretched as if to touch her arm. He was a towering young man, no more than twenty-six summers. She knew that he was half-Sheikah and thought that he was likely half-Sheikah with a Hylian parent, as he had Hylian coloring. From some angles, the tan of his skin and sharpness of his features sang the song of Stone Tower, and she wondered if someone in his family hailed from Termina. He was the kind of young man who would have merrily volunteered to fight for Hyrule if he didn’t get drafted first. Purah, having witnessed the Calamity firsthand, wishes that people in his life wouldn’t entertain the naïveté that came from glorifying war and fighting, but he was kind to her, a chivalrous lover, reminded her of the better knights and soldiers of old, and she could not stomach the thought of being the one to crush him so. She loved him, and it was a delicate, strange balance that they struck as a passive couple. He had been a friend to her first and foremost. Everything else had come accidentally.
“Are you well?” He asked, hand hovering as if he was not sure whether he was allowed to take her arm. The rain had made his brown hair stick to his forehead, the length of it falling into his gray eyes.
“Just fine, Sir Iza,” she assured him, cheeky little smile widening to a wolfish grin at the way he rolled his eyes at the title that he had not earned. Gesturing to the path ahead of her, she waited for him to start toward the wall before falling into step with him.
“I don’t understand how you’re still out here scavenging when you should be back at the village.”
Purah hummed, the toe of her boot catching a loose stone and sending it skittering ahead of her. It caught on a larger stone and ricocheted off at an angle, lost in the taller grasses. “Well, bossy , it’s sure to be at least another day yet, and there’s no rest for the wicked-“
Iza laughed, a sound that reminded her of the merriment of Castle Town pubs, and interjected, “You are anything but wicked-“
“You don’t know me,” she scoffed goodnaturedly. “Nonetheless, I have quotas that I must reach, and impending labor hasn’t stopped me before.”
The look that he gave her was one that told her that he was not convinced. She simply smiled back at him, a tender thing, reaching up to rest her hand over his heart. The leather armor beneath her palm was old and cracking, another source of her worry for the man.
“I will be fine, my dear.”
“Who ever said I was worried about you?” He replies, brows raising in amusement.
The scientist scoffed again, lightly punching his shoulder before taking her hand back. “You only want me for my baby,” she scowled as she stepped under the crumbling arch of the battlement’s gates.
“Our baby. Someone has to teach that child to swing a sword,” he laughed, trailing after her. “Really, Purah,” and she visibly started at the lack of honorific he always threw her way. “Please call for me if you need help.”
She had a joke somewhere in her, a derisive laugh, a snap. She could see, though, that the worry behind those gray eyes was genuine, so the barbs died on her lips as a fond smile took them. She found his hand, giving it a firm squeeze, to reassure him. “I’ll call, I promise, Iza.”
The young ranger gave her a blinding smile, gave the little in her belly a gentle rub, and then turned to make his way back to the cabin to continue his task of the day. She watched his retreating back for a moment, mesmerized. She spent so much time alone, working, waiting, that she forgot sometimes that people could be so kind. The time that wasn’t spent alone was typically with him, and even still, she had never known a love like his. As he disappeared from her view, she sent her thanks to the Four for him, bracing her palm against the stone archway as she passed through.
The quiet birdsong and chittering of insects blanketed her in that age old nostalgia once more, the grass rustling around her legs as she moved into the Graveyard with purpose. Blatchery Plain and the Ash Swamp were truly beautiful, even when Purah was trapped in a world inside her own mind. If she was aware of anything outside of herself, it was that the world was dangerous, but this place more so than others. Though the shells might have looked the same on the outside, some of the armored automatons were still armed and active. Deadly. Empowered by her hand.
Every time she came out here was a gamble. Even sixty years later, it was a thought that weighed impossibly heavy on her busy mind. In that right, there were several realities that she must face with the regularity that she made this trip. The first is that though duty -eternal servitude until death, really- was the only station that her people have ever been afforded, the people she was in service to were long dead, missing, or simply gone. From Hyrule, to other kingdoms... Save for the Princess, locked in battle with the Calamity, they were simply nowhere to be found. The second reality, then, was obvious: with no royal family, there was no money. The Royal coffers would not be ringing for her any time soon. It was just lucky that her operation had lasted this long. Digging moss out from between the interlocking joints of a Guardian's leg, she began pulling out screws, carefully dusting them off before dropping them in the bag at her hip.
The third reality, one that she had been careful to never speak of, was that her scientific discoveries had been fostered with the intent that they would see martial use. She had ideas about how to better preserve Hyrule, to improve life for its people, and all they had wanted were weapons of mass destruction. She, among others, had been chief in aiding in Hyrule's destruction at the Calamity's hands, and now there they all were. Outliving a very real apocalypse, at the end of their ropes and the end of their funding.
Every time she came out here was a gamble. Necessity, as it happened, often outweighed the basic things one could do for safety. Scavenging for ancient materials and anything else she could find, as it happened, was necessity these days, and necessity that facilitated her survival.
Reaching out to steady herself, she dug her fingers into the moss and hissed out a pained breath, emptying her lungs before trying to fill them again. Under the hand that found its way to her stomach, she could feel the way her uterus contracted. Familiar and foreign all at once, she waited for the moment to pass, forty-five seconds before she continued on. She would be fine. She would make it back to the village in time. Perhaps if she continued to tell herself that, she really would be just fine. When not five minutes later another contraction came, she viewed the lie for what it was and tried to head back toward the ruined gate.
The most frequent mistake that mortals made, of course, was in thinking that they had time. In thinking that they had control. Keeping her breathing as even as she could, she pushed toward the decrepit fort, skirt hitched in one hand and belly cradled in the other, the feeling of its weight unsettling then. Her knees became unsteady after four steps, and she forced herself to stop. Walking would have to wait.
Cramps had always been the absolute worst for Purah, but this was different even from her prior births. This was a bit worrying. The pain of it lanced through her, stealing the breath from her lungs and cementing it in her throat. The screws in her bag tinkled merrily as they hit the ground, the bow and quiver of arrows clattering in warning where they landed. There was no time. No, not this time.
The stability of the partially buried Guardian kept her upright, even as her thighs protested the squat. Untying her skirt for a landing pad was an afterthought, because all forethought had gone offline to focus on the task at hand: delivery was imminent, and if everything went well, she would have an infant in her arms in a very short time, so the clean space to deliver the child was necessary. It wasn't ideal, the location or the thought that she would be delivering and catching this child on her own, but Purah had improvised in tighter situations.
It wasn't uncommon, she had been told by women with far more children than she would ever have, to deliver a fifth baby with startling speed, as if there was some magical change between fourth and sixth pregnancies. It went without saying that what they told her truly was something that she had to experience firsthand to truly make sense of, as she was only two contractions into active labor and was already overwhelmed with the desire to push.
Crowning was familiar and all at once, for just a moment, there was fear. The moment passed as the stretching burn continued, turning to something like determination. Something tasted like faith on the back of her tongue. She had done this and could do this again. She had to. Her pained, enraged cry sent scavenging birds to the air. It was fast, but not fast enough yet, and the frustration of that brought tears to her eyes. They closed tightly in an attempt to center herself, and she stopped pushing. Without any aid, it was difficult to ease into giving birth without niggling anxiousness. How could she be at ease when there were so many things that she had to think about, doing this on her own? All there was in this moment was determination, and the need to finish this.
In the distance, she could hear the familiar sound of Iza's boots on the compressed soil, the clatter of a sword drawn clumsily mid-sprint. Everything had become so much. She swore she could hear the Minish and Lesser Fairies playing in the tall grass, could smell the drying mud baking in the sun, and even the war drum of her heartbeat stilled with a hand on her knee.
She opened her eyes to find the panic from hearing her cry settle into a cool steel on Iza's face. The relief was a stiff breeze of clarity, the younger man already setting sword and shield aside, untying his pale scarf and bunching it on her discarded skirt to keep it clean. Some part of her could practically hear her long-dead mother screaming at the impropriety of a young man, even the father of her child, seeing her so indisposed, but all Purah could really feel in that moment was absolute gratitude that the Goddesses had placed the would-be soldier in her life and kept him in the right place at the right time.
"You're almost there, I can almost see their face-"
"Just be ready to catch them," was all the scientists said through gritted teeth. He crouched near enough that she could hook her free hand through the belt across his chest and take a good grip of it.
Several things flew through her mind. Bowel movements were normal. Worrying about the natural functions of birth made birthing that much more difficult. She was not green, not a first time mother, and she would not worry like one. She focused instead on Iza's gentle guidance, so knowledgeable for a man so young, and the warmth of his leather armor under the back of her hand. She took a breath, tucked her chin, and bore down for one last strong push.
Her cries, near immediately, were drowned out by the squalling of a newborn. Purah had to lean heavily into the Guardian behind her to stop from collapsing in relief that it was done, sooner than she could have anticipated. There was a mess, that much was to be expected, but all she can do was focus on Iza, on her baby's crying, then on the weight of said baby on her exposed stomach.
"A baby girl," he told her with a smile, carefully covering the little one for the moment.
"Praise the Four," Purah replied softly, soft and awed at the thought. Her hands shook as she carefully cradled the little one, whose horrible wails quieted to shuddering hiccups within moments of being pressed skin to skin.
Iza was efficient and nothing but helpful. He waited first for the cord to stop pulsing, tearing strips of his scarf to secure it before severing the space between ties with a fire arrow. It was not necessarily the most elegant solution, but if you needed to cauterize something in a pinch, it worked. The baby was wiped down with the remnants of the scarf, then wrapped in Purah's cloak and returned to her arms to feed and rest, tiny face pressed to her mother's breast. Where she had seen many young men balk at the nature of birth, he didn’t so much as blink as he buried placenta and fecal matter alike, shifting focus to clean her up next, even just enough that he could move her back to the cabin for the evening.
"Birth is bloody, shitty business," she said, sounding as though all the vibrant energy she usually carried has been drained from her. "Thank you."
Iza laughed, the sound soft as the hands he was cleaning her up with, mindless of the smell of blood and various other bodily substances. "So is death, Madame Director, and we've seen a lot of that. I think that the births we are given are a blessing."
The metal behind her head was sturdy as she leaned back into it, eyes drifting skyward instead of focusing on the care he was putting into her. "We could use a lot of those these days, couldn't we?"
After this feeding and some more medical care herself, it would do her some good to sleep the day away. She didn’t even have the energy to try to argue about making it to Kakariko, because she knew that he wouldn’t allow it. The hormone crash came swiftly for her, and she felt like she was drowning. Even still, the young man took it in stride, carrying her the last thousand feet or so to the cabin. It was warm, though there was no fire, and the bed was only large enough for one - in this case, her and an infant.
The baby drifted off quickly, and Iza took her, using a spare vegetable basket and blankets to make a cradle for the time being.
"Don't you dare let the villagers say they told you so," he told Purah as he carefully set the newly swaddled child in the space between her and the cabin wall.
"They'll assume I gave birth in Kakariko," she said softly, watching as he set about preparing water to properly bathe her. The flames grew swiftly in the hearth, the orange glow illuminating his profile. Terminian, definitely, she thought, and watched as he dusts his hands, going to dig through his supplies. "I won't let them think otherwise, and they know I hate their gossip."
His hum was amused, to say the least, and he kept his eyes down as he laid down rags and set aside a jar that was most certainly not an elixir, deep red in nature, like lifeblood in open air.
"Do you think that you'll feel well enough to travel tomorrow? How do you feel now?" His knees cracked as he stood again, hands on his hips as he looked down at her. At once, she felt small. It was not unwelcome.
"Sore. Exhausted. Emotionally drained," she replied almost clinically; she was a scientist, after all. "Not unusual, though. If we take it slow, I should be able to ride. That is, if the supply wagon is out of commission again."
The younger weighed her words, a small scowl coming to his face as if he knew that there was really no arguing with her. "As long as we take it slow. Spotting and bleeding are normal after delivery. I'll load the wagon early in the morning and hopefully the crash will have stabilized a little bit."
Purah watched the way the light licked over his frame, head tilted and eyes narrowed curiously behind her crooked, smudged glasses. "How is it that you know so much?"
Iza laughed, and the sound was friendly. The sound reminded her of why she fell into his arms in the first place. "Well, that little is my first, but I am an older sibling. I've helped my mother deliver children, and a few women in the village as well. It's a good skill for a young man to have, especially considering young men grow up to become fathers in many instances."
Having delivered both of her siblings while other adults were absent and her mother had no other option for aid, Purah agreed with the sentiment, nodding slightly. "Your experience proved invaluable-"
"Please don't thank me again," he interjected, insistent. "The Four placed me where I needed to be at the time to help someone that I care very deeply for. That is not something that requires any thanks."
The verbal expression of gratitude died on her tongue, the woman reaching up to pull her hair from its now loose bun. Shaking it loose with one hand, she pushed her glasses up her nose with the back of the other, heaving a sigh that resulted in the faintest twinge of abdominal agitation.
"You shouldn't speak like that, people will think you a cultist."
"Hyrule has become godless in most places," he retorted smartly. "And most have left behind the Golden Three for Hylia alone. I will honor my old gods, whether they see me as a cultist or not."
The silence settled between them again, broken only by the baby's sleeping hiccups and the bubbling of the pot. It was a moment, in the wake of his words, that reminded her of their differences, of the way that his upbringing made him brash for a Sheikah, too presumptive, too Hylian . It also reminded her of how stuck she was, how stuck her people were. How their chains were gone, but they were still wrapped tightly in them. She, years later, still neglected to acknowledge the Silent One for fear of excommunication, effectively functioning as execution by exile. Her cool gray gaze followed him as he moved the pot of water from the heat, allowing it to cool before bringing it to her bedside. She waited patiently where she was planted.
Once it was steaming, but not so that he would melt flesh from his hands, he dipped a rag in and spoke again.
"Have you thought of a name for her?" The warm rag dragged a smooth path, his hands still careful as he worked. It was the best that could be done, seeing as she gave birth in a field of dormant killers, but that was perfectly fine. She would prefer to get a quick wipe down and sleep at this rate. Actually bathing could wait until they made it to Kakariko.
"Kohana," she said, strong and sure. She hadn't really thought about it until the baby had been laid, wailing fiercely, on her stomach, drawing in big lungfuls of summer air. Little flowers still decorated the trees like sugar blossoms on cakes in the castle, rare and late blooms. It suited a rare gift like their infant daughter.
Iza's eyes did not lift from his work, but his smile spoke volumes. "Kohana, then."
He was careful as he helped her stand, long enough to bundle her up and help her settle again. There were no tears, which she was grateful for, though that didn’t mean that she was out of the woods yet. It wasn't until she was comfortably settled that the corked jar was pressed to her hands.
"Feeling hungry yet?” He asked as the cork popped.
Purah shook her head, tipping back the bottle of red potion. It tasted as pungent as it smelled, floral and fungal as the mushrooms and flowers pulverized and simmered to make it. It was a little thick for her liking, but was best taken this way, as within seconds, she could feel the itching feeling associated with healing, her body stitching itself together enough to feel a little more stable. She was careful not to take too much of it, as she'd become used to the instant, if fragile gratification brought on by elixirs; poor quality begot tenuous healing, and potions were much more concentrated and slow to work. She corked the bottle again, handing it back.
“I need to sleep while Hana is. I won't get any rest otherwise."
His hand lingered over hers a moment before he took the jar back, carrying it over to the rest of his supplies. "You rest, then. I'll wake you if the baby doesn't first."
Rest. Yes, that sounded lovely.
Her eyes continually drifted back to him as she made herself comfortable, but no more words were exchanged. Iza was busy fussing with his supplies amidst gathering ingredients to cook something that will help her regain her strength. It was almost a comedic mockery of domesticity, of the life that most expected to have when having a child with someone. She took her glasses off and sets them aside, and wasn’t sure just when she drifted off.
When the night came, it was met with the plaintive mewling of a newborn looking for her mother.
Chapter 3: On Homecoming and Change
content warning for continued allusion to what is probably PTSD, casual -almost jocular- discussion of historical xenophobic treatment of the Sheikah, allusion to child soldiers, overly critical maternal relationships, May-December romance, fantastical religion and difference in belief.
This is mostly un-beta'd, because I couldn't wait. As always, if there's anything you think I should've tagged and missed, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message on tumblr at bendemptiondefensesquad and I will do my best to rectify that swiftly!
They were blessed, so far, with a quiet child. Kohana was content to wake up, fuss until she was fed, then go right back to sleep, the rocking of the canvas-covered wagon a constant lull to keep her out. It had been about sixteen hours, only a third of the way into the journey. They wouldn’t make it through the mountain pass until early afternoon tomorrow, the stables tonight, but this... it was peaceful. It was quiet and kind for her tired body and mind, even standing as a mockery of a life she’d dreamed just beyond her reach. Iza filled the time with soft chatter, idle and meaningless, noise for the simple act of making it, and Purah thought, cradling the baby.
It had been a long time since she’d held a baby, longer still since she’d held a Sheikah child, and one that she’d birthed. Kohana would probably go through the same stages that she and other Sheikah children did - pudgy babies, reedy toddlers with round faces that lasted until they were about ten, then simply reedy. Even flattened as her features were from her trip into the world, Purah thought that she might have sharper features, the way that Hikaru did in his life. For a second, she wondered if she had named the infant too soon, if Hikari would've suited better. A piece of her heart for such a big piece of her heart?
Kohana shifted in her sleep, little lips parting slightly in a hiccuping sigh, and no , Purah thought. Kohana was who she was meant to be, not the legacy of a boy warrior gone long before his time.
"What kind of sword do you think she'll wield?" Iza asked, tone light and teasing.
Purah snorted softly, perfectly undignified in her recovering state. "What will you do if her sword is a pen, hm, Sir Iza?"
"Teach her that the value of sharp words is as good as that of sharp knives, surely." He glanced over his shoulder at her, a cheeky, knowing smile on his face. "You know better than anyone, Lady Purah, that the nature of the Sheikah is one of excellence and hypervigilance. To protect the Hylians, we must outperform them in the cultural, academic, and martial arts, but be subtle and humble enough to not lose our heads as punishment for blasphemy. Who is to say that Hana won't be strong of word and strong of sword?"
The scientist watched the world pass beyond his arm, the canvas covering affording only narrow views outside of that. Iza was a man of soil and leather and pine, a ranger of Hyrule's intensifying wilds. He would've gladly been a soldier, would've fought and probably died to make a Hyrule that their children could grow up and improve. He was still Sheikah, even if it wasn’t visibly so. He likely would have trained to don the blue and worn his stealth armor with pride if they had loved seventy odd years ago. Purah had decided not to when she was old enough to choose a specialized path, wearing the crimson and cream reserved for scholars, clerics, scientists, anyone responsible for cultural preservation. It didn't make her any less of a soldier in the eyes of the elders, but her mother had protested, appalled at her choice of path. Her sister had trained almost exclusively to lead the tribe one day, while also teaching the young Princess Zelda in wake of her mother's passing. Hikaru had been interim Lord Commander of the Akkala Citadel Legion, Commander of the Lake Totori Legion and a frequent honored guest among the Rito, a boy who climbed ranks the way he climbed trees. In her mother's eyes, their work was far more important than hers.
"Would you still cherish her if she was not a warrior?"
The question left her before she could stop it, her dark eyes lifting to her lover's face.
Iza pursed his lips like he was chewing the inside of the bottom one, but his nod was firm and sure. "I'd like to teach her to defend herself in an emergency. That doesn't mean that I expect her to be a ranger like me, or a sentinel-"
"There are no sentinels left, not outside the Yiga," Purah pointed out. The Yiga and the Guardians had seen to that, the former strategically hunting down their enemies and eliminating them one by one. They had almost all been front line casualties, placed there that the Hylian soldiers may outlast them. Cannon fodder. Fat load of good that had done anyone.
"Suppose that's a bit of a deterrent then, huh?" he mused, steering the horse around a hole in the path. "Maybe she'll be a cleric like Taya, and you won't have anything to worry about?"
"... Disgusting," she mumbled, looking down to where Hana slept in her arms, white eyelashes heavy on her cheeks. The disdain she held for her nephew was only hidden for the benefit of her younger sister. She couldn’t imagine her daughter growing up to be anything like him, irreverent and cruel and threatening of anyone who he perceived to be breaking traditional values.
Iza laughed. He didn’t like the young man either, and the two times that they'd met, his opinion had not changed except to worsen. Purah was sure that if Iza had grown with the restraints of Kakariko instead of Farore's Blessing and the breath of the wild, he and Taya would hate each other far more than they already did. The last time their paths had crossed had been for Taya's own wedding, when Iza had accompanied her back to the village. She had only just found out that she was pregnant with Hana, an unexpected but happy consequence of her and Iza's then-fledgling affair. Disrespect did not even begin to cover how her nephew had spoken to her, away from the villagers to maintain appearances. Suffice it to say, Iza would have given him a sizable piece of his mind had Impa not beaten him to it, ripping into her son for his behavior.
"You should rest more," Iza said, drawing her from her thoughts. "We should be at the stable soon."
There was no room for argument, and she wouldn't, even if she had it in her to argue. Hana had been up and down the night before, and their journey had started at morning's twilight.
"Let me know if you need for me to drive for a while?" she offered, carefully returning Kohana to the basket-turned-cradle.
"Oh, absolutely not, Madame," Iza scoffed, attention off of his little family and firmly on the road ahead of them.
It made her smile as she returned to the bedroll, her eyes heavy before her head even hit the pillow.
If someone had told Iza that this would be his lot, he would've laughed in their face, gleefully hysterical like a Skull Kid. The world ended some fifty-one years before his birth and they were still living it. Yet here he was, a newborn child with a woman who he loved and respected as his dearest friend, on a journey back to their ancestral home. By rights, Purah had lived her life. She never married, as it was typically not the Sheikah way, but had borne four children prior to Kohana, and had buried most of them as well. She was nearly a century old, which was pushing the normal age for Sheikah, and had already been a young woman -just younger than he was now- when the Cataclysm had happened.
He didn't believe in luck. It was all circumstance, a twist in the tapestry of fate that led them to where they were. He had to believe that, because nothing else made it make sense. The stars needed to align and they were a means to an end, because he certainly hadn't intended on their unorthodox little romance. Neither did she. Her aim had been to revitalize herself and go to the Great Plateau to resurrect the Hylian Champion herself.
He had been curious, and as a result, he had been helpful . When he was in Necluda, he would help her keep the lanterns to keep the forge burning, most often when the storm season’s weather would make her back and knees ache. He learned to read the ancient Sheikah alphabet that she wrote all her notes in, the alphabet that adorned the shrines and dilapidated technology that they found. Iza helped her by learning to scavenge as well, bringing ancient materials back from his travels across Greater Hyrule.
When her rune had worked, even though it was not how she had intended, he accompanied her in her fierceness to the base of the Great Plateau, to the grand staircase that led to the Temple of Time. He’d held her in her rage and grief at the sight of the collapsed entryway keeping her out and the Hylian Champion in. He had comforted her when they’d taken shelter in the ruins of Gatepost Town, let her mourn the loss of her hard work, mourn the loss of her chance to make right, let her drown her sorrows in him . It was the first night that they shared together, and he expected it to be their last. Unorthodox was her word for them, what she still called them with her bright laughter and derisive snaps. Iza...
Iza didn’t think that she was wrong, but knew well his truth - he would be by her side until she no longer wanted him to be there, and if she never took him as a lover again, he would happily remain. He did not expect to be her husband, but since meeting her, he had always been her friend.
Though the ranger wanted to watch Purah while she rested, Hana as well, he kept his eyes on the road. They were not very far out from the stable, just a long stretch of path and a turn around the bend. He could see the effigy of the Horse God in the distance if he craned his neck properly, looming over Dueling Peaks Stable like a patron saint. This was his home stable, as Necluda was his home region, but he had always hated this place in particular. The sight of so many twins in one place was unnerving, and he was not sure why the instance of them was so much higher in the gateway to Necluda. Perhaps it came as a blessing from the Goddess as Hylia’s chosen people tried to rebuild their ruined world?
The broken arches and stone facades were a familiar, poignant sight, as were the wild horses that milled about in the field that had since began to swallow their remains. What was new and unsettling was the sight of a mist colored mare, not dappled like the other horses in the fields. She was larger, growing larger still as she came to join the wagon, dwarfing the gelding that pulled it by comparison. Iza had heard tales of the Geldo Lords, a breed of giant warhorses suited to the builds of Gerudo riders, a breed thought to be long extinct, and wondered if she was one.
After the thought came an overwhelming awareness of his smallness. No, whatever this mare was, She was no horse. She was a Queen, and Goddess. He bowed his head in reverence, respect; he’d grown older watching the dragons of Hyrule dance across the skies, he did not need to know who or what She was to respect the power that radiated from Her presence. They continued on as a pair, the mare following the wagon like nothing more than a spirit in the lingering fog of the morning. Regularly having to beat back chuchus or fight the odd pair of blin, Iza was pleased and surprised to find that the creatures gave the wagon wide berth. It was the first peaceful trip to Dueling Peaks Stable that he’d had since childhood.
The closer they got to the stable, the more distance the mare put in between them. There was safety in numbers, and the presence of human population typically precluded all but the most violent mindless monsters. Eventually, as he guided the wagon around the final bend, the mare left his periphery entirely. When he glanced back over his shoulder, the giant horse was gone, as if She was never there.
Just like that, he knew that he would not tell Purah about what he saw. A science-minded woman, still gray eyed despite being so long-lived, she would be well-meaning, an almost deist agnosticism, but dismissive regardless. The younger Sheikah could already hear her talking earnestly about hallucination from lack of sleep, tricks of the light or the mind in the fog, and frankly, Iza did not have the emotional wherewithal to refrain from another intense debate about the nature of faith, belief, and the Gods of Hyrule, who were many.
He was young. Though trauma had informed his life through generational pain, it completely reshaped Purah’s beliefs, and it did her a great injustice to thoughtlessly rail against that like a battering ram of his own beliefs. She had been carrying the weight of her Gods-broken heart longer than he’d even been alive, and Din’s fire, he was going to honor that pain. For the first time in nearly an hour, he glanced back at her, feeling a weight lift from his lungs at the way sleep smoothed the carvings of worry and sorrow from her face. She looked deceptively young and at peace, and he was so in love.
Even if he didn’t believe in the gods in one way or another, he thought that he’d have to for having found her.
The stables were always lively, and the early morning was no exception. In his travels, Iza had come to appreciate them greatly. In the absence of widespread villages and towns, like Castle Town proper, the stables had served as community hubs. They were inns and sometimes brothels depending on which stable, places to rest and recover your mounts and your weary bones. If you needed, or were good enough at it to do it without rousing suspicion, they were also great places to gather information. Having places like them was something he thought many people took for granted before the Age of Burning Fields.
There were many of the ever-present twins milling about, as well as the Beedle and her apprentice, a young boy. For as new as the world seemed that morning, some things were the same as ever.
Purah was still completely asleep when he pulled the wagon to a halt off to the north side of the stable. The gelding tossed his head in dissatisfaction, and his master made note to get him some fresh carrots as soon as possible after figuring out if Purah needed anything while they were there. Iza would much prefer to let her sleep, knowing that they would both have to worry about Kohana and deal with Taya, but he was also certain that she would be incredibly agitated with him if he chose not to wake her.
His first task was to make sure that the horse was tethered properly, the second being to find the stash of red potion that he hid in his saddlebags. The sound she made when he nudged her shoulder was awfully undignified, like a frustrated cat roused from rest, and he graciously allowed her the indignity without so much as a giggle.
"Wh're we?" she murmured, a groan leaving her as he slipped his arms under hers and helped her sit upright.
"Dueling Peak Stable," Iza told her, uncorking the bottle and offering it to her. She took only the two small sips that they'd determined was a medicinal dosage, giving it back so he could cork it once more. "Did the nap help? How do you feel?"
Her dark eyes were still glossy with sleep, boring holes into the woven basket holding their daughter. It was nothing that the infant has done, simply that Purah was awake again against her will.
"Is murderous an acceptable answer?"
Iza laughed then. "I think not, milady." He replaced the bottle of red potion with an equally red apple, hands lingering over hers as he did so.
"Hm. Disgusting," she replied, narrowing her eyes as she lifts the apple to take a bite. So far, her appetite had been unhindered, and her lethargy was consistent with recovering from something as difficult as giving birth, but the young man knew that death loomed on the heels of new life. He could not help his worries.
"Did you want to try walking some?" he asked, finding her glasses in the bedroll beside her. It was an odd dance, but she met him step for step - his fingers brushed her jaw, she bowed her head just enough for him to slide the glasses on properly. She swallowed her bite after chewing carefully and nodded.
"Briefly. The more I'm on my feet, the sooner I'll be properly ambulatory again."
Iza could laugh at how clinical she sounded about it, but nodded instead. "Makes sense to me. Just-"
"Oh, hush, you! I'll tell you if I need help, or rest!"
Her indignation was palpable, radiating like an aura around her, and it was his turn to grin wolfishly, the expression melting into something softer as she curled her fingers in the front of his tunic and tugged him in for a soft kiss. She pulled away before her glasses had the opportunity to fog up, her little frown returning.
"Cease your infernal mothering . You're my partner, not a roc circling overhead, waiting for me to collapse. Trust me."
"You're the boss," the ranger replied, shifting smoothly from his crouch to help her stand.
"Damn right," the scientist asserted, and were it not for the Iron Knuckle grip she had on his forearm to stay steady, Iza was sure she would have punctuated with one of her signature snaps. Her feet hit the ground and she winced, sore but steady, then immediately went rigid with concern. "Hana-"
"I'll take her for a while, she's fine," he assured her, waving off her concern. If she said anything after, he didn't hear it as he climbed back into the wagon.
Among the things that were brought with them for the trip was something from his childhood home, a woven purple scarf wound into a pair of metal rings. He was not sure how old it really was, but it had done well to hold up to the winds of time. It was old habit now, slipping it over one shoulder. Kohana's brow furrows the moment his hands slid under her, but by Nayru’s mercy, she didn’t flail or cry. At most, she keened, whined at being disturbed. On a whim, he trailed his fingers over the soft space where her little ear met her jaw, shushing her gently. The calm that overcame her was near instantaneous, bringing a soft smile to Iza’s lips.
“There she is,” he murmured. “Hello, Hana.” He was careful, lowering her tiny frame into the cradle made by the purple fabric. Her weight tugged the loop tight, the ring digging into his shoulder one of his oldest familiarities, older than the weight of a sword in his hand. He’d carried his adoptive siblings, new babies in Hateno, infants in traveling groups seeking safety outside of the continent, seeking home outside of Hyrule.
The weight of a child on his torso was nothing. The weight of his child was the weight of the world. Funny, how it worked like that for some people.
His boots kicked up no dust as they hit the soil, soles catching mud instead. His strides were long but careful, slender hands cradling the precious cargo on his chest. Making his path to where Purah was speaking with the Beedle, he surveyed the wares for sale and listened to the women.
Purah pausing and asking after Kohana drew him to the present, the young man looking down and finding that the newborn’s eyes were closed again, and that she had returned to sleep once more.
“I do not envy Impa having to wake her, but she seems to be doing just fine. Didn’t cry when I picked her up, only a small fuss.”
It was a satisfying enough answer, and Purah went back to discussion with the bug-obsessed woman while her son watched on.
In all, they did not purchase many more supplies than they already had. Iza bought more arrows, but that was only because he knew well that you could only salvage an arrow so many times before you were simply out of luck. They spent the rupees to rent one bed for Purah and Hana, Iza staying out with the horse and wagon. The Blood Moon rose after everyone was in the stable for the evening. He tried not to let the itch of the red light on his skin bother him as he used the amplified magic to reup his elixirs before catching a couple hours of sleep.
Iza was up with the dawn, breakfast ready and cooling for Purah after Hana was fed and put back down. They were on the road again before anyone could rope them into longer conversation, the ranger leaving a vibrant yellow Rhino Beetle with the little boy as a parting gift. He was too shy to thank Iza, so his mother did it for him. It was a soft sort of community, a blessing in a world that continued to limp on.
As the mountain passes could be treacherous, even with the Yiga lurking about like chuchus in the grass, Iza opted not to hold Hana while they drove, the baby under the canvas covering with her mother. The gelding could handle it, but with the wagon as a factor for travel, Iza physically led the horse over the rubble and ruin of the Kakariko Bridge. The flow of Lake Siela rushing underneath sounded louder there, broken up by the stones that held up the middle of the bridge. The journey was longer and longer each time they made it, it seemed, a wandering magic that kept the mountain village safe from outsiders.
The time passed in peaceful quiet. It was a trip that the new parents had already made together, though they had walked the majority of it, coming back from a second scouting of the Great Plateau in search of another entrance. Going back this time felt different. Weighted in its importance , he thought as the pass’ walls climbed around them, the damp chill of the peaks and plateaus trying to take root in his bones. The sounds of the village met his ears before the sights, long before he led the gelding around the last bend. The gates came into view and the feeling of homecoming was an impossible amalgam of relief, grief, and joy, crashing over Iza like the Storied Flood trying to drown him from the inside.
“Is that you, Iza?” The woman at the gate started to see him, wagon in tow, and stood from the cairn she sat against. “It can’t be that time already. You’re never here before the summer planting!”
“Oh, is that Nanna?” He heard from behind him, and glanced over his shoulder to see Purah climb carefully onto the driver’s bench of the wagon. “It’s been so long! We’ll have to chat before I leave, you and I!”
It was the sight of her mentor made young that made the woman’s expression brighten, like embers to flames.
“Lady Impa had said that you would be coming to visit. I couldn’t understand how she knew, but she’s been waiting for you,” the gatekeeper told them, her smile still warm and bright. “I trust you know the way?”
Iza nodded and Purah waved as he led the wagon on toward the center of the village, to the house at the base of Lantern Lake.
The guards inclined their heads in recognition as the pair approached, Iza waiting for the wagon to stop properly on stable ground before untying the gelding and letting him wander. He would not leave the safety of the village, and the villagers knew him, so Iza trusted that he would be safe, barring some freak happenstance. Kohana and her things were handed down to him first, and once he’d got a stable hold of the woven basket and baby inside, he helped Purah climb down after.
“Ready?” She asked, squeezing his hand.
“Not at all,” he laughed lightly, and laced their fingers loosely as they began their ascent to see sister and elder.
The creak of the wooden door was almost the same as it was nearly a year ago, and there was understated beauty in the things that didn’t change.
Chapter 4: Tributary
Since my work hours are not yet stable again, here's an early update! This chapter features historical misgendering, intentional lack of communication and magic as deception, single parent desperation, self-negation and general negative self talk, suicidal ideation without intent, and allusions to toxic parenting and child abuse. Halfassing conlang, we die like men! As always, if there's something you think I missed in my tags, please feel free to let me know, and I will update them accordingly <3
The winds sang of changes to come, if you knew what to listen for, and Impa of Kakariko had remained as one of the few who knew the melodies for a very long time.
The science and magic held by her people were not as far removed as outsiders may have thought, were the former something that they thought about without poisoned fear. In her youth, Impa had been a leader first, historian second, teacher and warrior under all. She, to her great regret, was not a scientist like her sister, nor a silent arcanist like their brother. She did not have Hikaru’s knowledge and could not explain in detail how she knew the moment that her sister delivered a new life into the world. She did, regardless of her ability to explain the mechanism, and since the moment it became reality, she had been waiting patiently for her family to return. There were rituals that must be attended to, and she was anxious to get them underway and welcome the little one into their nuclear family, and then the village family as a whole. After all, she was the chief arbiter of Kakariko, nearly the last of the living ancestors. There was no council of elders to guide their people, and it all fell to her, largely because she did not trust Taya to do his job properly.
“You seem deep in thought, mother,” her son said from her side, as if he heard her think his name. He was too grounded in what he saw in front of him to properly look beyond, so she knew that it was her pensive silence that prompted the concern.
For someone so determined to keep vigil for the past, Taya was woefully drowning in it, and obtuse as a result.
“Our family grows by one,” she said, and in her periphery, she saw him pause in dusting the ancient orb.
“Were you counting the days?” He asked, and the movement of the rag became sharper somehow, pointed like a hidden ring dagger.
“I did not keep the time. Your aunt returns before the sunset. There is a new blossom on our branch of the tree.”
“You cannot possibly know that for fact, mother,” he sighed, speaking down to her as though she was an elder out of touch, a woman going mad in her old age.
All she replied was a soft hum, a bit derisive in nature, like a schoolteacher scolding with their chilled expressions alone. If he did not understand, and refused to, then she could not make him do so.
As if to spite him specifically, the door to the reception room creaked open, her old heart soaring at the sight of the two figures standing in the open space.
Her older sister was beautiful as ever, a young woman made new. Her silver hair fell to the swell of her hips, still full with the weight of her newest child. Her grin was met with a tender smile; Impa could not and would never be able to put to words the absolute joy she felt at seeing her last living sibling, greater and greater still every time. With the child, they would possibly have a vehicle for more frequent contact, but the Elder was not hedging her bets so soon. After all, Impa had been the one to separate them to protect them.
The young man at her side was a more frequent visitor, and though he might fool Purah -who did not readily see through even simple illusion- Iza did not fool Impa for a moment. He was one of her stewards, of course, keeping an ear out for the Hylian Champion and others, and so she knew him. Whenever their paths meet, it always took a second, as if two images were displayed over each other. The first was the illusion, dark brown hair and silvery gray eyes. The sun of Stone Tower Citadel did not leave him. The second image was the reality: silver hair and eyes a deep enough red that they looked almost a red-stained cedar at certain angles. When the frames slid into focus, she saw the latter; he would have been a skilled young man to have on their side almost a century ago, a spy hidden in plain sight as a half-Hylian.
“I’ve been waiting,” she said to the pair of them, tone a warm welcome, but equally smarting as she beckoned the both of them closer to her.
She stood slowly, wavering - she was older now, not the sprightly young woman she had been in her youth, and it was beginning to show. Taya was at her side in an instant, but she waved him off, stepping down from her platform to the floor below. Purah and Iza followed suit, the latter setting a woven basket in front of the Sheikah Elder as he knelt on no mat.
“Taya, my son, I will need a scribe. Please, fetch your wife,” she said to her son, authoritative enough that he didn’t protest aloud. Impa did not miss the sidelong glare that Taya gave Iza on his way out. She sighed, and reminded herself that her decision to not cede control to him was a practical one.
While they waited, there was no need to leave the child in the basket.
“A girl?” She asked, sliding careful hands under the baby.
“A girl,” Purah confirmed. “Kohana.”
“A good name. The late plums, then?”
Impa hummed, lifting her from the comfort of her makeshift cradle.
Immediately, she began fussing, wriggling in her aunt’s grasp. Then she drew a breath and began to wail, cranky at being awoken, angry that she had not been put down. Impa let her cry for a moment, but only just. It was the strength of her tiny spirit that surprised her, slamming against her own like a rock solid wall of water in a flood. At once, she realized the mistake. Their family had not grown by one, no. A dormant blossom had bloomed again, white instead of vibrant pink.
Hikaru’s spirit, after nearly a century, had come home to them, simply not in the way that they anticipated it would.
Purah watched them with hawklike focus, ever the scientist, as Impa soothed Kohana with the hand of a woman who had fostered many young Sheikah. The wails turned to whimpers, then turned to hiccups. When Kohana calmed enough to open her eyes, staring wide at the world around her, they were equal parts Iza and Hikaru, full of wonder and almost brown in the light. But Impa knew that they are unmistakably red.
“She is going to be a wonder, you know,” Impa told the new parents with a knowing smile, holding the baby’s gaze.
“She’s already a wonder,” Iza and Purah said together, both sure, soft, adoring.
Taya returned then, his wife in tow, and Impa prepared to begin. The process was long, the inscribing of names, the first bathing ritual, clipping of the first lock of hair, anointing with plum oils, and finally fortune telling.
The forecast of Kohana’s life mirrored Hikaru’s, and Impa did not say this to her sister. She was grounded but lost, would deflect. The villagers, who slowly trickled in as time wore on, would not understand either. Perhaps only Hikaru would, and the person that his spirit inhabited before was long gone. It was isolating to be so in touch with the worlds beyond and have nobody who understood it.
The evening had come by the time they finish, Kohana long since asleep in an actual cradle, graciously brought by one of the villagers. It was when Purah lifts Hana into her arms to carry her upstairs that Impa felt it, a ripple of something from the direction of Hyrule Castle. A flicker of Light, almost imperceptible even for her.
In the desert to the west, a small boy finally tumbled into sleep, body shuddering as he recovered from a day of screaming.
In the last two years of motherhood, Saedah had not had nearly as much trouble as she had the last week, the last two days most of all. Nabooru had been fine, if a little fussy, but that was because her brother would not stop crying. Ra was inconsolable, his dark face ruddy, eyes red and raw. He'd cried so hard that his wails had become ragged around the edges, and several episodes had resulted in violent vomiting.
In the end, Saedah watched as he slept restlessly beside his sister, tiny fingers curled in her hair as always, and much of that blessed quiet was spent weeping, hands over her mouth to stifle the ugly sound.
What good did it do her to be witchborn and bonded to her baby boy, to feel the longing and desperation that made him cry so violently, and know that nothing she did could help him?
Sniffling and hiccuping in a mirror of her son only hours before, the young Chief forced herself to stand on shaking legs, wiping at her sore, swollen face with the ends of her sleeves. She knew that she must be proactive. Surely there was something that she could do.
Surely the Rova would have answers.
She did not bother applying regalia properly, simply washed and dried her face to feel a little refreshed, a little more human. The wards placed around her children rippled gold and strong, and as she left, a young guard named Varun took her place wordlessly. She was a sweet vai, a young mother herself, and she loved the twins the way that she loved her own daughter, heedless of the fact that Ra is the Fabled Son. It pained Saedah to say that she trusted a lower ranking guard than her second, but Rima was… set in how she felt about the little voe.
Her robe did very little to stave off the chill of the desert, the torches lining the walls making the shadows dance as she descended to the catacombs below the throne room. Were she a younger woman, younger than the child she was when she deposed her mother, she might have been terrified at the things that the shadows hid from her. Now, a leader and mother, she did not fear anything but injury to her children and her people.
The Rova could have been put in comfortable rooms. Adjoined, as they enjoyed being apart as much as the twins did, but they had decided not to, had decided that the catacombs suited their work better. The cool of the catacombs maintained the old scrolls that they kept, bettered the potions and elixirs that they brewed. It was a work space that suited them much better than a lavish stateroom on the upper floors. She supposed that it was easier for them down there, supposed that it was quieter. Many of the vai, old and young, distrusted the witches and their magic, but Saedah was revolutionary in that she refused to let the traditions die in favor of their dying, modern world. Their knowledge had proven irreplaceable, and their support in her move to usurp had been for the betterment of her people.
Surely, they would know what was happening with her little voe. If they didn’t, then perhaps they would be able to help.
She barely had a fist raised to knock at the heavy door before it opened. Kotake stands there, wizened body hunched slightly; perhaps they’ve worked a bit harder today. Her eyes glittered in the low light, and she stepped aside wordlessly to let the young Chief into their sanctum.
“She has finally come to seek council, Koume,” the elder called to her sister. “Best break the seal on the honey wine. Our little vai needs it.”
“Oh, please,” Saedah tried to protest. “I don’t need the-“
“Nonsense. We will put it in tea this time. You need the replenishment, and the rest,” Koume called from somewhere deeper in the catacombs, and Saedah felt thoroughly scolded.
The thought of hot blue potion made her stomach curl, but Akkala honey wine would mellow out the harsh taste, and the tea would wash it down properly. She did not fight them, as it did no good to go against a pair of healers as old as those two. Since her mother left, they’d cared for her like their firstborn, and she did not need to hide her bruised heart behind walls of stone.
“Is distressed,” Kotake finished her thought, guiding her to sit. It occurred to Saedah that she should be the one helping her elders, but the Rova pinched the back of her hand with a sharp " stop that ", and she tamped down the thought. With so few witchborn in the city, so few trained, it was easy for the young woman to forget that her thoughts could be read like a recipe on a wall scroll.
A wonder, really, the things they were able to do for her that her mother never really took the initiative to do.
Koume appeared from the shadows that hung in between the overflowing shelves, a steaming cup in her hands. The steam rising from it was almost lavender in color, and though she was still very much opposed to the idea of downing blue potion in any form, she took the hot cup in both hands.
“No words, finish that first,” the fire witch told her sternly, and hobbled to join her sister across from where Saedah sat.
It was as bitter and astringent as she expected it to be, like slightly too far gone currants and tea steeped too long in the sun, with the smooth weight of the honey wine evening it out as nicely as possible. Her shoulders began to unwind, tension in her lower back unfolding like a flower; even without the depth of an injury or exhaustion that would require something as hard hitting a healing method as a blue potion, it helped more than she realized that she may have needed.
She shuddered as she gulped the last of it down, forcing herself even though she hated the taste.
Koume took the cup from her again, and that was when Kotake spoke once more.
“What the young prince is going through is something you cannot help.”
Saedah deflated, and immediately felt like she may begin weeping again. She wished that Hotaru was there, that maybe he could help her, and then felt angry that she thought that at all.
It had never felt like so much. She had never felt like not enough.
The ice witch took her hands in her soft, withered pair and squeezed them, a physical anchor to reality. Saedah blinked back the traitorous tears brimming in her eyes, bowing her head to press it to joined hands. She just needed a moment, just one.
“You are permitted to miss them. Your mother. Hotaru as well. Your need for them does not disappear because you are a leader, Saedah.”
The levee broke, and she immediately started suffocating in it. She couldn’t keep herself upright, slowly crumpling into the Rova’s lap. Somewhere distant, she heard a startled oh dear , ripped too swiftly from her senses to register which witch uttered the exclamation. The thin black wool helped to clear the heavy smell of incense and spices from her olfactory sense, but did nothing to ground her. She could hear a girl making strangled little animal sounds from somewhere, and it registered that it was her, but it was like a thread that she’d lost in a tapestry and could not trace back to initial error. That sniveling, rodent girl could not be her, but it was . Her lungs felt like they were in a giant’s vice. The tears blinded her, hot and stinging, but she couldn’t see anyway, her face buried into the lap of the elder witch.
The waves of despair and stress and helplessness crashed over her, followed by secondary waves of self-loathing and self-negation that came with so visceral a dysphoria that the only coherent thought that came through volley of scream after scream after scream in her head was that the Calamity could come down on them and take everything, she just wanted it to be done.
The comedown was slow, heavy. It was familiar, the pain behind her eyes like a memory of the Daybreaker slamming edge first into her temple. She was reminded of the absolutely idiotic determination and ballsy resolve that forced her back to her feet, even as she was blinded by her own blood. She was reminded of the marrow deep ache like a bruise, how heavy it felt then, as it did now.
Saedah knows how it felt to be beaten to hell and back, but still fly out bright and victorious and, most importantly, alive.
Another cup of the vile, almost putrid potion cocktail was pressed into her hands as she was made to sit upright once more, even if she would much prefer to melt into the sand under the stones beneath their cushion-covered resting place. There was no inkling of protest this time, the young chief drinking it down so fast that dribbles of the mixture spilled from either side of her mouth.
“Ah! Careful, careful, we can’t afford to have you sick that all back up!” Kotake chided her gently, reaching out to take the cup from her.
Saedah hiccuped too hard to answer properly, both from the episode and from drinking down the mixture too quickly, thought her apology, and folded herself double once more, forehead pressed to the ground. She counted, four-seven-eight. In soft, out loud, in soft, out loud. Again.
The Rova were patient. They gave her the time, stood from where she sat, and moved around the catacomb until she was ready, sitting up and smoothing the hair back from her face. Koume gave her a cool cloth to press to her face, a gift that she could only accept with little more than a mumble of thanks, the voice of a child who had long since been entombed in sands.
When she had finally settled enough to behave more like a person, the cool rag taken away once more, she was faced with her advisers. Saedah struggled with allowing herself the vulnerability, but she knew that they would not allow her to apologize for it, so she didn’t. There was a moment, a breath, a beat where she could do nothing more than take shuddering breaths and try to stop from crying once more.
“Bring both of them to us,” Koume said to break the silence, reaching to squeeze her chief’s hand. The embrace was firm, but not so that it was punishing, and something weighted unhinged inside of the young vai.
“Yes, the sands say it is time. Perhaps if they begin learning young, they will find some form of balance. Comfort in themselves,” Kotake replied, more to her sister than to Saedah.
It was all that the woman can do to stand, bowing low to her elders upon her full height.
Neither of the Rova would have her nonsense, each tugging her into a bone-crushing embrace that would have hurt if she were a lesser vai or a Hylian. Where they would leave anyone else to their devices, to find their way back to the surface of the palace, they chose to walk their chief, each with a hand in hers . There was something particular about it, the bolstering effect of them leading her like mothers leading their young daughter as she tried to stand on her own. Comforting did not begin to describe the feeling, though she wasstill incredibly overwhelmed by the force of her attack.
She expected them to leave her at the entrance of the catacombs, expected that she would have to find her way back through the labyrinthine palace walls by herself, but it was not so. They held her hands and led her back to her quarters, much the way that they led her to the throne once and did not let her go until she sat in her proper place. Varun was still watching over the younglings when they opened the door.
The young vai was quick to bow to the Rova, but Kotake waved her off.
“Hush, child, enough of that. Return to your post outside, then go back to your little one.”
The young guard bowed her head politely and did as ordered, leaving the two elder witches with the younger, and the silence broken only by Ra’s quiet hiccuping. The Rova broke from her side then, each reaching into the cradle to take a child. The instruction was implicit, Saedah settling herself in the comfort of her bed before even thinking to reach for her children.
Nabooru was placed in her arms first, tiny fingers curling in the fabric of her robe. Ra was next, Koume watching him with a peculiar glint in her old, gold eyes.
“What is it?” Saedah asked, concerned immediately. After everything that she’d been through the last two days, she could not be sure that she was able to handle something else happening with her little voe, and was sure that the edge of panic in her voice was palpable.
“This will pass,” Koume told her, a sure and gentle smile finding her lips. She lowered Ra carefully into Saedah’s embrace, a soft sigh leaving her at the way the boy melted into his mother and sister. “Yes, he will be just fine. He needs time, and he has an abundance of it.”
That felt a bit like relief, the knowledge that her son had an abundance of time, the knowledge that this would pass, even with the uncertainty of it passing into being some sort of okay. Before she could say anything, the Rova bowed to her and saw themselves out, leaving her to her thoughts.
Saedah decided to try to actually rest. She decided to be a young mother, cuddling her children as she fell asleep.
The morning came early, as always. Having two children under the age of five meant waking up to crying, hair pulling and tantrums. Now that the twins were older, able to climb from their bed without her help when they really put their collective minds to it, it was not unusual for her to wake up to tiny hands in her hair, or little palms patting her face. The first lesson of being a mother was that if the children are up, you were as well.
Giggling was not the norm, but was a sweet sound. She started to blink the sleep from her eyes as the twins continue chattering to themselves, Nabs giggling at her big brother.
The sweetness was gone with a gentle pat to her face, backed by the sharp sting of electricity.
Saedah jerked upright with a startled yelp, her son toppling over in shock at her movement. By some mercy, he didn’t start to cry, just stares up at her with big eyes watery eyes. Nabooru giggles again, her tiny hands coming up to her face, and green sparks still light at Ra’s fingertips. They were fine. The relief was instant.
“Think that’s funny , do you?” Saedah asked her giggling daughter, scooping her into her arms to press little kisses all over her face. She roared with laughter until she was dropped unceremoniously -but carefully- to the bed, and Ra was scooped up into her place instead. He laughed, but fussed regardless, putting his tiny hands against her face to stop the onslaught of kisses, as if saying enough is enough.
Their hair was wild from sweat and sleep, sticking out in kinky curls at odd angles, and though she knew that the Rova will understand, as they were toddlers, after all, she did want to maintain at least some sense of decorum. On the very rare occasions that her mother allowed her audience with the Rova, she was pristine in her regalia, expected to stand up straight like her spine was an iron rod, not one flaming red hair out of place.
Her babies were just that: babies . She would not force them to be so uncomfortable, especially if she wanted them to feel comfortable going to the elders for council in the event that they could not come to her.
But babies were also messy, and so she thought that a bath would be best, at minimum.
Nabooru, who comfortably had her legs under her, was the struggle come bath time. Ra was content to sit in the shallow water, slapping at the blanket of bubbles, but Nabs liked to run, naked as the day she was born, forcing Saedah to chase her. Children were natural scientists, learning that their actions had results and then making games of them, so the young chief could not fault her little vai for the fun she found in the chase.
The roles reversed when she tried to do their hair. Nabooru sat patiently, arms wrapped around her plush while Saedah plaited her hair. Ra, in turn, whined and complained with the few words he has, which are mostly ammi, no at varying emphatic tones. When he accidentally shocked her, harsher than he had when waking her up, she decided to let him have this one, tying his hair back in a ponytail instead of a braid.
He still didn’t like this at all, at least until there was a knock on the door to the Chief’s quarters.
“Enter,” Saedah says, not looking up from her son’s hair.
“ Jida !” Ra yelled, little voice joyful, and the young mother looks up to find both of the Rova standing there.
With an amused sigh, she let him go, wincing slightly as he crawled across the floor to Kotake’s feet, Nabooru toddling after him, braids bouncing.
“You said to bring them-“
“Yes, that was before the lightning,” Koume replied, scooping Nabooru from her feet and tossing her into the air. The delighted giggles from her vehvi were a balm to the chief’s tired soul.
“Will I ever-“
“Get used to us knowing everything?” Kotake finished for her, situating Ra on her hip. “Never, and we don’t truly know everything .”
Saedah huffed a disbelieving little breath, groaning slightly as she got to her feet and stretched. “Are they too little? For lessons?”
The sisters looked to each other, their expressions a silent conversation. Then they laughed together, shaking their heads.
“No!” They said, one body, one voice.
“Your mother thought you were too young, and then you did not come to us until it was almost too late for you,” Koume told her.
“Had you learned with us the moment you showed a propensity for Urbosa’s Fury, you would have been a great sorceress by the time you usurped the throne, if a bit young,” Kotake added.
Saedah bit her lip, weighing their words, and nodded, repeating something they had been telling her regularly since she had come to them with the desire to take the throne.
“Magic is a muscle and should be worked like one.”
“You’re still learning,” Kotake said.
Koume hummed in agreement. “The mark of a great Chief.”
Saedah laughed, but did not dare to think the derisive things she felt. Instead, she closed the space between herself and her little patchwork family, squeezing Nabooru’s little hand and pressing a kiss to Ra’s palm when he reached for her face.
“Be good for your jida ,” she told them both as the Rova begin to step back toward the door.
Before it closed, she saw Ra wave over Kotake’s shoulder, calling something that sounded like “Bye bye, ammi!”
For the first time in a long time, the lack of certainty gave way to a feeling that things really would be okay.
Chapter 5: Initiation
Content warnings for historical misgendering of a child, misgendering as childhood bullying, dysphoria, early childhood mental illness, physical violence against a child, thoughts of self-harm and death wishes, accidental self-harm. As always, please hit me up if I have missed a trigger you think should be tagged! I'm on tumblr @ bendemptiondefensesquad. This chapter is told from the perspective of a child, so please forgive how sharp and disjointed the writing may seem. (i will edit the tags when it's not going on 11pm, sorry!)
Kohana flew through milestones that her siblings took their time crawling toward.
It helped, Purah thought, that she and Iza had raised her with the general thought process that she was really just a tiny person. A really tiny, really bossy person. Purah talked to her as if they were holding long, articulate conversations and found that before long, her babbling became a semi-decipherable baby-pidgin with words like no, ammi, aba, and up the only clear words in any one language.
She cruised fast, and by eighteen months of life was running like a wild hunt was chasing her. Hana lived until the age of two with constant black eyes or goose eggs, always seeming to catch the left side of her face with the injuries. She climbed things that she was not meant to, she developed fine motor skills with startling speed, and learned to do many different tasks with simple instructions. She loved to help and to be included, and her linguistic skills evolved exponentially, more and more words in her vocabulary as the days passed.
Unsettling things happened around her baby that Purah was unsure how to justify. Perhaps it was a lack of sleep between research and an intrepid child, perhaps it was something more serious. All she knew was that sometimes she would be working on her research, and Hana sounded like she was having full conversations. Some nights, she swore that she saw shadow figures hovering over the little girl’s bed, or standing parade rest in the corner of the room.
She chalked the shadows up to stress, and the sound of conversations to Hana having an active imagination for one so young.
It took a village to raise a child, and though Purah disliked the villagers more and more as their gossip and interruptions grew, Kohana was no exception to this adage. She liked spending time with Sayge best, fascinated by dyes and bleaches and the entire chemical process. She learned to read Sheikah cypher by tracing the runes on the base of the shrine in Hateno, and the emblem outside their front door.
She watched, and walked through the world as if she had lived in it before, and Purah thought it was all a trick of her mind, watching her chase after the youngest of their horses, a colt of a startling black coat. Hana called him ‘fast shadow’. Iza insisted that he was meant for her.
Ra did not walk until the Rova made him, by sheer force of will and a desire to not be left behind. He was still a shy little thing attached to someone’s side, whether that was his mother’s, his sister’s, or the Rova. By three, Ra had a firm grasp of their familial gift. It sparked the whispers, the fabled voe being so quick to learn Urbosa’s Fury.
His lightning faded from bright green to blinding white, and by the virtue of twin connection, he taught it to Nabooru, booming white bolts when she was angry. They turned to magenta over time, and then to purple, like dry lightning over the desert.
The whispers continued. Half of the town lauded his growth. Half spurned it in private, and forgot how the very stones whispered to their young chief.
Ra asked Ammi what a demon was when he was just five years old. Teacher Aya, the vai teaching dance to his age group, apologized profusely when Ammi summoned her for a meeting, mother to teacher instead of Chief to subject. Ammi explained, gently. He cried, and didn’t understand why someone would say something so mean to him.
The next time they went to class with their peers, there were more vai who called him the Beast, the Calamity Made New. He did not have the chance to cry before Nabs got angry. The sparks found her fingers, then found the ground in front of the other vai. When she roared, it was the lynel that stalked the deepest canyons, and the mean vai began to cry. He felt bad, felt worse when the guards came for them, and other angry ammi came too.
Their words hurt him, each one like the sting of Leever spines in his heart.
Nabs burned like Koume-jida, would’ve probably hit the first mean vai if she could, and then all of the others when she was done. She said words that were not meant for vehvi until they were older, startling their ammi and the others as well.
“I am not sorry,” she told them.
He wondered if he should be.
“They hurt my big brother,” she told them, and the lynel roar was back. “I only scared them! Next time, I’ll hurt them too!”
Ra did not go back to class with the others for a while. He spent time with the Rova. Kotake-jida told him of the Calamity as a man. They made the yucky blue potion; he was good at smashing the mushrooms so that they could cook down. She told him of the Kings that Came Before while they worked. She told him that they were little princes like he was, before they were hurt. Before they had something to prove, or goals that turned into quests to be king over everything, of all people.
Kotake-jida told him not to cry, and didn’t yell at him when he did anyway, simply pulling him to her chest until he stopped.
“You are not bad,” she promised. “They weren’t either. You can be good if you choose.”
When he went back to class and most of the vai avoided him, even though Teacher Aya told them that they had to be nice to him, Ra wondered if Kotake-jida was wrong, and he was bad no matter what he chose.
Kohana was five the first time Aba put a knife into her hands. It was dull, and only hurt like hitting a table when you were stuck with it, leaving bruises like the wooden swords did. Ammi had misgivings, but the young girl heard her say that she was only a little older when given her first practice stave. She didn’t take to it as well as Hana did. Hana learned that, too.
It started easy, with Aba teaching her what to do to defend herself in an emergency. Stick this here, or here, hard as you can, and don’t pull back until you see the light leave their eyes. She was very small and smart to know that this was a terrible thing to tell a child, but they were Sheikah, so there really was no such thing as a child among their people. The world was scary, full of the Calamity’s minions, and monsters that bow to the Demon King. Hana would be big one day. She would defeat the monsters. She would serve the princess and nothing bad would happen to the Sheikah or Hyrule or anyone she loved ever again.
She would be big one day.
She was not afraid of anything, except in the dark. The picture stars -constellations , Aba said they were called- didn’t help the scary dreams. There was always so much fire, and the Guardians that Ammi took apart, except they were alive, and they were purple.
There was so much purple, and black, and harsh blue light that scared her and she didn’t know why. Sometimes, she dreamt nothing but screams, and those times she woke up crying so hard that Ammi or Aba had to clean up sick, give her a bath, and then carry her to bed with them. Ammi called it panic attacks. Hana wished that it wasn’t so scary or so normal , but even when she was not carried to sleep with her parents, she could count on the bad dreams like the sun always rising.
Sometimes she dreamt of a warrior, tall and pretty and crying and angry . She had long white hair that fell in heavy braids all the way to her hips. She burned like power and carried the Eye of Truth upside down, burning black against a field of red. A war banner. Quiet voices called her the something of a thousand, whatever that was meant to mean, as it always came before a word that Kohana didn’t know and in a language that she didn’t understand. She wore a Big Poe with gold eyes and a green robe, and he meant a lot to her, living in the strange lamp at her hip. Hana felt like she knew her. Hana knew better than to ask; the only people who wore the Eye the wrong way were the Yiga, and Ammi and Aba would worry if she asked about a Yiga.
She dreamt of a little boy with dark skin like the wooden sword that Aba gave her, and eyes like honey candies, and hair like the leaves Aba talked about in Akkala, just over the big mountain. He was so sad and so scared of the dark, but he never heard Hana when she called to him to tell him he was not alone, that it was okay to be scared, that he could hold her hand.
There was a little girl who was not much older than her, always thinking, always bossy, always leading Hana on adventures in her dreams. She was pretty, like the Maybe-Yiga Woman, with Blood Moon Sheikah eyes and silver curls like a cloud around her scratched face. The scratches are from her wild adventurous spirit and do nothing to disguise or damage the marks that frame her face. Ammi would say that she was wise, the way she talked. Hana thought so too, and wondered who she was.
There were other dream people, too, not all bad. She dreamt of a little boy who was Sheikah playing with his sisters, bothering soldiers, playing soldiers. He was kind. His was afraid of many things, but was full of courage. He was very brave, too, and told Hana that there was a difference between the two. He wore blue feathers hidden in his hair when he was big and was handsome and strong. Sometimes, he soared like the owls in her books. Hana wanted to be like him when she grows up.
And sometimes, there was a tall woman in a white cloak with silver stitching over black and gold armor. She was gentle and kind, and told Hana stories. Those dreams were always like fairy tales. She was someone’s ammi, but Hana did not know who. She did not ask after the first time, because the woman became soft and sad, like her Ammi did when she asked about the time before, or the Princess.
They visited her sometimes when she wasn’t asleep. They played with her and were her friends when nobody else would be. The Maybe-Yiga Woman showed her how to throw the knives better, which was why Aba let her use the sharp ones instead of the blunt ones. The Handsome Boy taught her about arrows and bows before Aba would, and the Adventuring Girl taught her how to read maps and climb things like a Hightail Lizard. The Maybe-Yiga Woman and Handsome Boy taught her how to bond with Hayaikage, and since he was big enough and Aba broke him into riding, they taught her how to ride confidently, how to communicate with the young stallion without a word.
This was harder, but they worked on it. Aba was just happy that she found utmost comfort on the back of a horse.
Ammi thought she was learning these things herself, that she had imaginary friends and that Hana was just a very curious kitten.
She let both parents think so.
She was almost six when something changed .
The little boys in the village pushed her into the new mud when she asked to play. She ripped her pants, and her knee bled red like the Maybe-Yiga Woman’s banner, and she felt bad.
“You’re a girl,” said the boy who pushed her, and she couldn’t see his face through the angry tears. She imagined him to be pig nosed, like a rude Bokoblin shoat, because he sounded like one.
“I am not!” She yelled, and he laughed at her, laughed over her, insisted that she was, she was, she was , and that she could not play with them because she was not a boy.
They didn’t listen, running off still laughing.
Hana felt... shame. Hana felt dirty, and not because of the mud. She sat there for a while longer, until the construction man, Bolson, found her.
The way he looked at her felt bad, but she was polite.
“I wouldn’t mind if you walked me home, Mr. Bolson,” she told him when he asked, even though she wanted to run into the woods and never come back. She wanted to hide there until she became a Stalchild or a Skull Kid, but she was too far from the sacred place where that happened, and so she would become flowers instead.
But Mr. Bolson was nice. He took her hand and helped her up gently, and he held her hand as they walked through the village. He was... weird, not like most of the men in Hateno, and that was why she liked him.
“Those boys were bullying you because you’re different and that scares them,” he said kindly, letting her guide how fast they went. Her knee throbbed painfully with each step.
“It scares me, too,” Kohana told him, because Aba said that honesty was good.
He hummed at that -she didn’t know what the hum meant- and squeezed their smaller hand. “What scares you about it?”
Hana pondered that as they passed one blue lamp, and then not much further on, another.
“What if I’m not me ? What if my family doesn’t know me? Will everything change? I’m not a boy-“
“And you aren’t a girl. Perhaps you are neither, little friend?”
And it was so simple, and so mind blowing. It felt like Ammi finally solving one of her puzzles. She didn’t have to be one or other, and she was not sure what that meant either.
When Mr. Bolson left her at the door to the tech lab, he called her by her name, the name she had been called since she was only a few hours old.
Kohana felt wrong, the way that dying blossoms smelled strange and sour when they gathered in one place for too long and started to go bad. She was not a boy, but she was not a girl either, and she was not Kohana.
She went inside, changed carefully into the dark blue tunic that Mr. Sayge let her dye just the day before. She washed her knee, and tried to wash the mud from her pants. She would have to take them to Mr. Sayge so he could show her how to fix them proper. She stared at herself in the mirror, eyes not brown but not red, red from crying, silvery hair wild and coming loose from her braid, hands turning blue from the fresh dye, and she didn’t know the little girl in the mirror. She didn’t think they were a girl, either.
Her parents were working with Mr. Symin when her feet found her at the door to the laboratory. Ammi needed more Guardian parts, and so they were working on dismantling a newer one. The dark eye dug into the pit of her stomach, a fear she couldn’t explain and couldn’t run away from either, and then Aba looked up from where he was working.
“Hana?” He asked, as if he was reaching through mist for her.
She flinched, pressed herself to the doorframe as if it was a shield from her fears, and didn’t look at him.
“Symin, could you give us the lab?” Ammi asked with the soft voice she used to explain the things that she called big questions for someone so tiny .
Hana waited until he was really gone, but couldn’t be brave enough to say anything until her Aba sat on the floor and pulled her into his arms. She felt safe then, but still wrung the hem of her new tunic in her hands as if to rip it. It did not help the way her finger bones stung individually.
“What happened?” Ammi asked, and she looked worried, and it felt bad. It felt wrong .
“The boys in the village said that I couldn’t play with them, because I’m a girl, but I’m not,” she spat out faster than she meant to, and then the tears were back again, but Ammi and Aba were quiet as the words spilled from her. “But I’m not a boy either, and I am not Hana , and it’s not fair !”
She wiped at her face; the dye transferred to her freckled cheeks, but she didn’t care. Everything hurt. Everything was too big, and she was too tiny, and there was nothing that she could do. She cried and cried until she dissolved into hiccups, and all the while, Aba held her and kissed her hair, and Ammi rubbed her legs, and neither of them said anything.
When she stopped crying, Aba was the first to speak.
“How about you just be you, Hana?” She flinched again, and he tried again. “Or not Hana. Do you want to be called something else?”
She didn’t say anything, didn’t shake her head or nod, just pulled her shoulders up as if she could hide from the people meant to protect her.
“Hey,” Ammi said, squeezing her ankle, and that made her look, even though it was not what she wanted to do. “A name is not set in stone. It’s a gift, and what do we do with the gifts that we can’t use anymore?”
Her voice was small when she spoke. “We say thank you, and we let it go.”
“We say thank you, and we let it go, that’s right! The name we gave you is a gift, and you can’t use it anymore. So, we will let it go, and we will help you pick a new one.”
It took a week. She allowed them to call her Hana, if only because they must call her something, and they all agreed that it was only temporary. Ammi suggested names that she might like, but none of them fit. Ammi suggested Hikaru, and both the Maybe-Yiga Woman and the Handsome Boy told her that this was a bad idea.
Aba helped by reading history and fairy tales and myths to her. It was in the story of a magical ocarina and a princess and a fairy boy fighting a great evil that they -yes, they , that felt right- find themself.
“Sheik,” they insisted.
“ Sheik ? That isn’t just a name , love. That has a serious historical meaning to the tribe-“ Ammi tried.
“It's a title, too. A marker. I am a bastard,” they reminded their mother. “You and Aba are not married. And lots of Sheikah were called Sheik, it just means shadow. It’s in the name! An-and they were all warriors when they were big and I’m going to be too!”
Ammi had a bad feeling, like with the knives. Aba thought it was a good idea.
Sheik was six when they set out to Kakariko with their Ammi and Aba. They were six when they sealed their birth name in the vault below the old well, and all their childhood toys too.
They were six when, at dawn the morning after, they set off into the wilds with Aba to train for a year and a day. It was the first day of the rest of their life.
The first time he tasted his own blood, Ra was seven years old. He was big for his age, tall like the vai entering their thirteenth year, and soft like he had eaten nothing in his life but cakes. Then again, nobody in Gerudo Town had seen a Gerudo voe in their lifetime, so what did they know?
He did not much go to class anymore, working with tutors and teaching himself the things he wanted to know. Ammi always looked at him like she was sad about something, but then Ammi always seemed sad.
Ra carried that inside, deciding quietly that it was his fault. What else could it be?
He was a rarer sight around the town in those days. Many of the vai picked on him, went out of their way to avoid him. He didn’t have friends, just Nabs, but she was his sister . His time was spent with the Rova. He learned magic. He was good at magic and the warmth of it when he did it filled him, made him feel like he belonged, like he was good, he could be good, he would be good.
Koume-jida had sent him to the apothecary when he was followed, cornered.
He didn’t remember much. Forehead to the sunbaked wall hard enough that he swore something split like a rotten melon, face ground into the stones, boot to ribs, boot to left hand, boot to ribs, blood in his mouth, blood on the ground.
Blood on the ground.
He did not fight back. He was big for his age, and he did not want to do something to hurt someone. Brute, they would call him. Beast, they would say. Calamity, self-defense would brand him. His bones screamed for the lightning of Lady Urbosa’s fury, but he did not call it. He couldn't lift his arm or move his fingers to snap even if he wanted to.
He did not make it to the apothecary. He did not remember anything clearly before he awoke in the infirmary, and Ammi had been crying. Nabs was nowhere.
He did not tell Ammi that he thought that if Urbosa-jida was alive, Her Fury would strike him down. He did not tell her that he wished he had died before the guards found him bleeding.
Abomination was the melody in a song he learned the words to very, very young.
When the facial wounds healed, it was worse. The Rova told him the stories, showed him the drawings of the Kings of Before, the holy wounds left on them through the ages. Even in the heat, he took to wearing a hood, or something ornamental to cover the blinding white of the star against his dark skin.
He cried. All he did was cry like a weak little vehvi, and it made him angry, so he cried more.
He would never be good for them. He thought that he would die trying.
He was sure that he would die.
He dreamt the Sheikah when he was almost nine. They were young, a little more androgynous than the few young Sheikah he had met. That was not many, and they had all been Yiga. Their face was freckled like the constellations overhead, their hair like the moonlight reflecting off of the water they sat so high over, legs swinging over what he thought was an observation platform.
They were the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and he had lived almost nine years of desert sunsets.
He did not know where they were just by looking. He was startled before he had much of a chance to, something startling the Sheikah and making them turn, loose curls of moonlight whipping around their face.
They looked at him like he was right there, eyes the color of blood staining sand, vibrant red turned to rust. Looking into him like he was only standing a few feet away.
He was awake before they were able to speak a single word.
He did not leave his bed all day, a painful hunger clawing his insides apart.
Sheik thrived away from everything and everyone.
They found comfort in the land, cursed and poisoned and trying its best to recover. They learned which plants were safe to consume, and which plants were not unless they were cooked properly, and which were not at all.
They dreamt. The woman with the embroidered lambswool cloak appeared more frequently, but never in waking hours, only the dreams. Only the dreams. Once, they wished for Courage and told Aba about the dreams. It was the first time that he ever seemed worried about them, when they told him about battlefields and smoke and Malice. They had since learned that the purple-black ooze was called Malice, and it was dangerous as the moon bleeding red on the horizon.
He bound them a journal over the course of a couple weeks. He promised them that he wanted to know, but reminded them of a simple truth: being a dreamer, dreaming those kinds of dreams, it was not safe as a Sheikah. Ammi would not want them to be hurt by telling their dreams to the wrong person, even with the Royal Family missing as it was.
Ammi and Aba kept the traditions of their people in different ways. Sheik was careful not to talk about the dreams, only writing them and keeping the journal in their bag, their bag on their body. They asked Aba not to tell Ammi that he thought the nightmares might be something more than just dreams.
They learned to hide.
It was near the end of the year when they went to Rito Village. The greatest archer in Hyrule lived there once, fell in the Calamity, and despite Aba’s attempts at teaching them to draw Hylian, or Sheikah, they favored Rito. Aba did not understand how they could know that technique. Sheik did not tell him about the Handsome Boy, not now that he thought the dreaming was bad.
There was a platform that overlooked the entrance into Hebra, named for a dead Champion that made their heart ache in a horrible way, and it was so pretty, especially with the moonlight glinting off of the water and snow. Aba had left them to their devices after a long day of archery, their arms and back beginning to hurt. The view was pretty enough to not think about it, even for a short rest.
A sound startled them, and they turned to look for the source of it, and he was there. The sad boy, the scared boy. They opened their mouth to speak, and he was gone.
His face became another drawing in their journal.
When they journeyed home, Aba told them that Paya had decided a traditional path as well. He told them that she had decided to be a cleric, to train to be a leader like Impa did before her.
Sheik found comfort in the tone he took when he talked about Taya. They didn’t like him very much either. He reminded them of the boys from Hateno.
They used the journey home to teach themself to play a lyre they traded the Beedle for, finding that it came a lot easier than they anticipated it would. Aba sang with them. When they were home, it would really be time to leave childhood behind, and they were young, but they knew that. It would only be much harder from there.
There were no Sentinels anymore. They very well may have been the last.
They enjoyed the laughter and the journey while they were allowed.
Ra was ten when the nightmares began. He dreamt in tragedies, in bloodshed, in the glint of a holy blade before he was waking up, clutching his abdomen and struggling to breathe.
He dreamt in fire and madness and greed.
He dreamt in hunger.
He dreamt the Sheikah, but not that one. She was different, taller, older, beautiful. She wore the Yiga emblem and carried a witchlight at her hip. She stood at his right hand, was his right hand. He loved her in those dreams, from the ritualistic red ink on her tanned face to the way she fought like a Flare Dancer.
He did not dream her tragedy, but among the others, he knew she must be a casualty. There were many. Some were Hylian. Most were Gerudo and Desert Sheikah, but far more were Gerudo.
He hid and did not tell the Rova. He knew that they saw anyway.
He was twelve when something in him snapped. He knew that it was because it had been seven years of the whispers, of the staring, of the abuses he’d stopped letting them see, bruises hidden to heal under his acolyte robes.
Ammi was shocked when he asked, and shut him down immediately, and he became angry.
“Your aba is away, and it is for the best,” she said, and that was not enough.
“If he is away, then you can summon him, and I can go with him-”
“If you go with him, they will come for you, and I will not be able to keep you safe, Ra-”
“I am not safe here!”
It was Nabooru’s lynel roar, but cracked like stones breaking from canyon walls. Urbosa’s Fury lashed out of him, into him, burning lightning into his tear-tender skin where his hands had moved to grip at the base of his neck. He felt weak. He felt mad. Ammi had no words, and he knew now that the look that was always on her face was grief .
He did not continue training with the Rova. He took up a sword instead. He had lost count of the times he had tasted blood in his mouth the very first time he was thrown to the ground in a fight. The wounds blurred like stone monuments in sandstorms.
The fractals did not fade from his skin for a long time. The desire to tear himself apart ebbed and flowed, but was never gone. He wished he died that day on the way to the apothecary. The Rova tried to reach him, but when he didn’t reach back, they gave him the space he was screaming for.
Nabooru was angry. Ra was her big brother and he was dead where he stood. He refused to do magic, even though it was the only thing that ever made him feel whole and alive, and he hardly spoke. Not to her, and not to anyone
“You are right in front of me, and I don’t know who you are,” Nabs told him.
“They told you who I am when we were children,” he replied, turning his pain outward with calm but angry tones, beginning to deepen like the roll of thunder on the horizon. “I am nothing short of Abomination. Maybe if I say it, you’ll finally listen and be one of Them, like you should have always been.”
The pain in her eyes sang harmony to their mother’s, but she had always been the stronger of the twins. She did not cry. She turned away from him and left him alone, finally. Ra realized his mistake as soon as he was met with the consequences.
The dreams became worse, projections of sordid history, buried in sand and blood.
His soul cried for the Sheikah he saw when he was nine, and he wished he could see them again.
Ra buried this foolish thought, and poured rage into a sword.
Chapter 6: Split
content warning for allusions violent misgendering, emotional abuse against a child, childhood mental illness, passive suicidal ideation, and unreality.
Sheik could not sleep, staring up at the cabochons of luminous stone set into their ceiling. It wasn’t really because of anything but their rampant anxiety, as it happened.
Anxiety, and the concept of homecoming as something bigger than it was .
It was going to be their birthday in almost three days. They would be twelve years old, and they would be older than Sen, the young Sheikah that they once thought of as the Adventure Girl. It was jarring to think of themself as having outlived a friend that they never knew in life. They weren’t even sure if Sen was a real person, or if she was just a very real delusion.
But then, the Handsome Boy and the Yiga Woman had not given them their names, and Sen had…
There was always the potentiality of dream thieves and demons to consider.
They didn’t want to go back to Kakariko, even if both their parents would be there with them. Their cousin had only gotten more and more awful as time went on, and the adults had sort of… attempted to coach him into better behavior ? The thought made them want to stand at the base of Mt. Lanayru and scream until Naydra froze the breath from their lungs. It was unfair that they were expected to act with more grace than a grown man and a steward of their people. He was meant to be a voice for them, a cultural ambassador, and he couldn’t even respect a member of his family who lived in the proud tradition of many nonbinary Sentinels who came before them.
They had already asked their parents not to celebrate their birthday that year, if only because they would be somewhere that they felt lesser despite the legacy they had inherited. Somewhere that they were made to feel dirty or ashamed, where they were allowed to flourish everywhere else, like kudzu overgrowing everything. The solstice was Paya’s birthday first, the first full year of her commitment to the religious duties of the remnants of the Sheikah tribe. For Sheik, it was their twelfth year, the second year of their personal commitment to more secular cultural arts, and the sixth of their training overall. Next year, traditionally, they would be moving to a harsher regimen in a harsher environment to fine tune their skills like honing a blade.
This year, they… would be stared at like a foreign creature, a silver Bokoblin invading their ancestral home. They would be misgendered. They would be made to doubt everything that they had come to be capable of, and everything that they had worked to become. They would be expected to celebrate Paya’s achievements, while theirs were torn down with sharp, undermining “compliments”. They would be treated as if there were not whole legions of Sheikah soldiers with nonbinary gender identities, as if Hikaru, their lost uncle, had not been exactly as they were based on the stories that their mother had the heart to tell, and the pride that Impa compared them with.
It was stress, too. Maybe.
Their nightmares had been changing for a long time now. The older they’d gotten and more learned they’d become, the dreams had become more and more realistic. They’d since filled the first journal that their Aba gave them, tore it apart, and rebound it in a bigger, charmed book. They were prophetic, and some were visions of the past, corroborated by journals and books in their library, and Sheik’s fear rooted in them like the tender, noxious vines of Deku Baba. It was the prophecy that scared them most, more than the Blood Moons and the atrocities of the Age of Burning Fields combined.
No good had ever come from nor befallen a Sheikah seer, real or perceived. They hid. They were good at hiding.
They were good at pretending too, acting as though they were only just waking up when their mother came to wake them.
Her glasses made her look older and owlish, a trait that they thought suited her. They were glad that it was her, because Aba… Well, they could not hide as well from their father. He would know that they had spent their night watching the moonlight creep along the ceiling until the sky began to lighten, cabochon constellations darkening in reply, at which point they pretended to sleep, closing their eyes for the little rest it offered. A little helped them function better than nothing did.
Their bag had already been packed and hidden during their restless night before, so they milled about their room for a few minutes before stripping of their breast band and shorts to set about bathing. After drying off and ensuring that the water would not continue to spill, they carefully worked plum oil through the heavy waves and combed, then parted it with a wide-toothed comb. The bulk of it was pulled into a low bun, the rest of it braided around. Careful pins would keep it out of their face for the long ride ahead of them, unless the rain got too heavy and pulled parts of it down.
They dressed themself in layers carefully chosen and placed - two breastbands, top smaller than the bottom, a sleeveless tunic of the same material as a stealth chest guard for secondary compression over that. They turned profile, examining their reflection with a particular eye. The layers disguised the appearance of their slight bust and made them feel mildly more comfortable with the thought of a trip to Kakariko. They were grateful that there was no curve to their hips yet, or just little enough that it hadn’t begun to show, but still put the slightly heavier robe on as their outermost layer. If it got too hot, they could take it off and put it in their saddlebags. The bow would be a little weird to manage, their archery glove the last addition to their travel ensemble, but it would be fine.
The horses were already out front, saddled and waiting for Purah and Sheik to mount up and ride out as they exited the outer door and took the dew-slick stairs one at a time so as not to fall.
There were only two horses.
“Has Aba gone ahead?” they asked their mother as they came to join her, reaching up almost absently to pet Hayaikage’s soft nose. He tried to nibble at their fingers as if in search of a treat, huffing and nudging their shoulder a bit hard when their hand was pulled away.
“Yep,” their mother replied, checking the cinch of her saddle. “He’s going to meet us at the battlement this afternoon, and then we’ll rest at the stable tonight. Should be in Kakariko by lunch tomorrow, if we haul it through the mountain pass.”
Sheik tried not to scowl at her turned back, watching her pull herself up into the saddle with a distinct mental image of her limping about and complaining about how saddle sore she was from the trip. They would let her have it, though, and would not say anything now that would allow them to say I told you so later. After all, it wasn’t the first time that she suggested they sprint the last leg of the trip to the village.
Perhaps two or three and she would learn to take the trip at a leisurely trot. It was not as if the village wouldn’t be waiting for them, was it?
The saddle was comfortable, a bit like climbing into their bed at the end of a long day. The most ease they had ever felt outside of having a knife in their hand was when they were in a saddle. Hayai pawed at the ground, ready to tear out of the village like all the demons of Hyrule were chasing them. Sheik could almost feel his anticipation radiating through their body. They loved it, loved the sounds of terror that their mother made every time they ran off faster than they should. They had been running with and after their shadow boy since he was a colt, and the swiftness of his full gallop was as much their home as the deserted house at the far end of the village. They would love to run and run and run, but as they were not with their father -now an old hand at both hot child and hot horse wrangling-, they chose not to, leading their stallion in an almost-prance around their mother and her gelding.
“Patience, you two,” Purah chastised, settling in her saddle a little more comfortably before they set out.
“We’re being as patient as we can, but we do have to make it to Dueling Peaks by sundown,” Sheik pointed out, wrapping the reins loosely around their hand. Now that they were in the saddle, they were only a little bit more comfortable with the idea of going back to Kakariko, if only because they would get to ride their boy the whole way.
The bliss of that would wear off. Perhaps it would get easier once they were there, but perhaps it would lead to something like them going back into the wilds with their Aba. Both thoughts seemed equally likely.
Purah shook her head at both impatient children, spurring her cinnamon-and-chocolate horse down the hill. Sheik sat back to let her take the lead, then nudged Hayai into a steady trot after with barely a twitch of the knee.
The only people awake at this hour were the current rotation of guards watching the gates or the mills. It was almost eerie, really, and Sheik focused on the shape of their mother ahead of them, and not the ripples of the shadows between the houses in Hateno. The woods beyond the gates were a bit foggy as they approached them, but there was a strange comfort in the cover of mists and the crowns of trees.
In the distance, they could see fires and the crude but efficient lookouts built by the Blins occupying the area. Sheik wasn’t particularly great at their magic yet, otherwise they would pull in more of the coastal fog to blanket them until they made it down the cliffs to where their father waited to meet them.
Unfortunately, they had not had a capable teacher. Ammi was so firmly rooted in her science that it seemed almost as though she was oblivious to all of the magic around her, and while Aba was blessed by Farore and had grown older in the wilds of Hyrule, he was more of a weapons master than any kind of mage. It was a wall that they would have run into eventually, it was only a matter of when they would run into it that was the unknown. So, they did not call a blanket of fog for coverage, because they could not, and shifted carefully in the saddle to hold their bow across their lap. It was anxiety, sure, but Sheik knew that they had to be lucky every time they traveled, where any possible assailant they crossed paths with really only had to be lucky once. They didn’t want to take any chances.
To his credit, Hayai didn’t need their guidance to keep following their mother, even as they shifted to arm themself.
As they continued on, they thought it was a bit unsettling that there wasn’t a single errant Bokoblin, not even a red shoat. They then thought it was unnerving that they found it unnerving that they’d not been accosted by a patrolling monster. The world had really fallen so far that it was almost an indicator of any kind of travel those days.
The fog was thicker than it looked, sticking to the Sheikah's white hair and clothing like something heavy and insulating, and -in a word- suffocating. Sheik kept an arrow nocked as they continued on, passing boulder after boulder that usually hid smaller blins waiting to ambush travelers for easy pickings. They didn't have to use it, and were not sure whether or not that was truly a blessing.
The sight of the bend before Robred Dropoff was a welcome sight, as much as the sight of the underside of the Cliffs of Quince was. The river babbled merrily like a small child talking to themself, background noise as they slowed to walk the horses alongside it. The little cabin that had been a backdrop for many of their more blessed childhood memories sat patiently waiting for them, not far from the river's edge. The last of the late blooms clung among verdant leaves, speckling the apple trees in front. Sheik smiled softly to themself; those late blossoms were the source of their name as a small child, and seeing them gave the young warrior a deep feeling of joy. Though they had long since left being Kohana behind, they understood, almost intimately now, why their mother chose that name for them.
Their father's gelding grazed peacefully under the tree, mindless of his saddle and the quiet around him. His dappled coat was a familiar sight, a pleasant reminder of their time in the wilds, a reminder that circled them back around to the trepidation they had about returning to Kakariko. Their gaze drifted away from the older horse to the cliff face above the trees, the youngling trying to swallow the urge to vomit that was characteristic of their anxiety. They'd heard it said by their Aba and by other travelers that the road to Kakariko was never the same length, sometimes stretching longer than the last time it was taken, or shorter than it had ever been before. Their Aba called it 'wandering magic' though the words he used to describe it were Old Terminian, and Sheik almost hoped that the wandering magic snapped them up for so long that they simply turned back instead of making the whole journey.
Familial obligations sounded like a lie, an untruth forced upon them the way that Taya's near-obsolete and obstinate religious teachings had been for years. Familial obligation sounded like the rattling of shackles, chained to the comet of Time.
They didn't have time to ruminate on the farce of it all, as their father made an appearance when the door to the cabin opened and he joined them in the morning air.
The smile that found his face is instant, but Sheik was shaken in that time. For a moment, he didn't look the way they were used to seeing him, they way they'd always seen him, with moonlight eyes and dark brown hair that had slowly grayed at the temples the older they'd gotten. For that second, their father, Iza of Necluda, appeared to have the red eyes borne by the Sheikah of old, the messy hair on his head a misty white like their own. Blinking what must have been sleep deprived hallucination from their eyes, the flicker of difference was gone just like that, leaving them with the anxious nausea and a sickening, unsettled feeling like a baby Skulltula crawling under their tunic.
"You okay there, kid?"
They nodded without even thinking, the frown on their face sliding into an easy, almost cheeky smile. "I'm fine. Just wanna keep moving, since Ammi will want to scour the Graveyard for parts again and lose us significant time."
Purah scoffed in affront, but didn't argue, even as Iza laughed, and Sheik kept the adolescent irreverence front and center.
They were good at hiding in plain sight.
They were not sure what that said about themself or their family.
They were right, though, as it turned out. It was the same whenever they came this far west, because this was the closest concentration of Guardian hulls in the region, and because the Royals were still missing, and because it was still Purah's perceived duty to the Champions and the Princess. Research required Guardian parts, and Guardian parts required rummaging around Guardians.
As they passed through Fort Hateno's gate, Purah leaving her horse to do just as they joked that she would, Sheik's grip on their bow tightened, even as the edge of exhausted hypervigilance began to creep up their spine. They kept their back straight, kept loose just in case they needed to actually move. There was something about the Graveyard that made them touchy, and not just because of how many Guardians there were, or that there were active automatons, decayed and stationary but deadly all the same, among the decrepit hulls.
It was the dreams again. It was always, wasn't it? They'd heard of the destruction the Guardians had caused. They'd seen them in their travels, and in the dreams that they refused to speak of anymore, they had seen their power, not just the ruins that surround them. They'd seen people vaporized, woken up gasping for air as if the smell of burning flesh was choking them.
If they were to distill the feeling down to a word, it would be terrified, but they couldn't say that aloud either, so they didn't. But they were always terrified when they took this road, even though their mother had never triggered one of the living Guardians. They didn't think that they could handle it if they were to lose her in the deaths they'd seen in their nightmares.
The pieces of ancient metal jingled strangely as they fell into the seemingly bottomless spoils bag. As their Ammi mounted her horse again, it became an almost musical accompaniment to the sounds of saddlebags and horses huffing. Their Aba sang along the way, and there were Blins, too far off to be much of a threat. Sheik's high tenor joined his baritone over the breeze, unrecorded hymns of Farore and the wilds.
It staved off the itchy, anxious feeling, if only for a little while, for the hours it took to get to the Stables. The sun was creeping too low to go much further by the time they arrived, and Sheik's arms were tense and sore from keeping the grip they'd had on their bow for most of the day.
In the shadows of the Horse God effigy, they dismounted, and immediately felt as though something was wrong. Handing the reins to their father at his almost distant request, the youngling stepped around the side of the stable, eyes out on the field. In the distance, they saw it, unsure of how they could have missed it upon coming in. Perhaps it was the strange worship with their father that distracted them, but across the field, not too far off from the edge of the Ash Swamp's boundary, stood a misty-gray horse grazing on what looked like Hyrule Herb. It looked like the size of a normal horse, which couldn't possibly be true, given how far away it was. At this distance, it should have looked like a pony.
The horse raised their head, and the eye contact was like being caught with a grazing shock arrow. They stood paralyzed, the spell breaking when they heard their father call for them.
"Coming!" they called back, and swiftly turned away, their shoes kicking up a small cloud of dust around them as they rounded the corner and ran right into his chest.
The smile melted from his face into paternal concern, and their stomach rolled.
Sheik shook their head. "Nothing, Aba, I'm fine," they said, and the words felt wooden on their tongue.
Iza made a face as if he did not believe them, one that he made more and more as they got older and opened his mouth to speak. The words died on his lips, as if he thought better of it, and he offered them his arm instead.
A mirror memory of a little girl, shyly taking her Aba's hand for the first time, Sheik took his larger, rougher hand in both of theirs, letting him lead them toward the joyous din of the stable and its tenants with little resistance. The creeping feeling of being watched didn't leave them, but the chatter was enough to allow it to fade into the shadows, a faint glimmer in their periphery instead of a blinding light.
Chapter 7: Amplification
This is late. I'm sorry to anyone who was concerned. Thank you to StudioRat for proofreading while I had a crisis about needing to be a functioning person. If you guys are reading this: thank you, as well!
The year had been quite a difficult one.
At almost fourteen, Ra was much taller now, leaner too. No longer was he the soft boy of half a lifetime ago, at least physically.
There was something to be proud of, in all his changes, at least according to his mother and the Rova. Standing in his mirror, he knew his reflection. He hated who he saw there.
The Rova were impeccable record keepers, near 400 years old. Part of their craft, as he had learned when he was still learning from them, was keeping the ways of the People, keeping the history of the People.
He had seen depictions of the Kings of the Past, kings who all became Great Kings of Evil. The white spiderweb markings on his forehead and too perfect star over his diaphragm were images he had seen again, and again, and again, on tapestries, on scrolls, in his nightmares.
Sometimes, when he caught himself at an angle, he had to stop himself from flying into a spiral of panic. It had only gotten worse as he got taller and broader, the resemblance he found between himself and the Ancient Kings. Some of the oldest pieces he’d seen of the first Boy King Ganondorf were painfully striking, down to his silhouette and profile.
It would pass, they all told him, when his mother finally gave birth and things calmed down.
Through the palace walls came the strong, wailing cry of an infant, and Ra met his reflection's golden gaze.
The boy who stared back at him was a king long dead for daring to covet the power of the gods.
He hoped his sibling is a girl. At minimum, he hoped they survived. His hope, as he didn’t dare to call it a prayer, was answered when a young witchborn vai, a new apprentice in his absence, came to find him.
Had the midwives of Gerudo Town any say in it, the young Prince would not have been allowed into the birthing room. He couldn't bear the thought of being there when his mother was delivering, didn't want to be the one to catch the rain of hellfire if she was to die, if his sibling was to die.
Kotake-jida thought him foolish. Koume-jida said she would summon him when mother and child were finally resting, as she had when the acolyte came for him.
It was a blessing from the Sand Goddess herself to see the Queen Regnant of the Gerudo, tired and resplendent despite. Makeela Saedah commanded a room, even at her most vulnerable, and Ra felt guilty at having been a source of her pain for so long. In her arms was a small bundle barely bigger than a loaf of bread, though larger than he was if the stories were to be believed.
He waited for the others to leave, trying not to cringe at the look that Nabs gave him on the way out. The Rova reached for him, stopping when he bowed his head respectfully, hands clasped at the small of his back. The door closing behind him had a sound of finality that he didn’t understand.
"I wish that you had been here," his mother started, but stopped at his visible flinch. "My level-headed son... The midwives provided more stress than aid. You would’ve made it much easier for us."
"They are all worried you will bear the People another son. I cannot say that I blame them," Ra told her, hazarding a look up.
Instead of disdain, or even the characteristic sadness he'd seen color her face for most of his living memory, he found that she'd reached for him with her free hand. Beckoning, pleading.
The guilt struck. He had been distant, which had been crippling in a way. Time that he had not spent hidden away in his room had been with a yearmate, Yara. A vai his age who was kind to him, almost affectionate, who he would be foolish to say he loved, but for whom he shared - affection? Blasphemous, probably. He was not been sure how to speak to his mother about the young warrior, but then he hadn’t been able to speak to his mother about anything for a while.
Aside from Yara, his mother was the only person who had touched him with kindness in a long time, and he felt he was a poison to her. Being there with her now, while she was resting after delivering a third child, felt like a cardinal sin.
Like a merciful Goddess, she said nothing, questioned nothing, and welcomed him into her fold.
He made a tutting sound that he learned from her when she scooted aside to afford him a spot on the bed. He managed a small smile when she pinched his earlobe to make him stop fussing. Ra was too tall now to be coddled and cuddled the way he was when he was small, so she fit herself to his side instead.
The baby in her arms fussed, little arms flailing as if to punctuate her point. She had their mother's hairline, head covered in the shocking red wisps phenotypical of the Gerudo tribe. Her eyes opened then, an almost watery grey color, and she stared up at him utterly transfixed as their ammi lowered her into his arms.
"Ra, meet your sister. Riju."
He started at that, staring at his mother in incredulity. "Really?"
Saedah nodded, smiling softly at him. "Names are our first talismans. Chief Riju was a talented sword, but her softness and strength were praised in myths of the time directly following the cataclysm. Many mothers name their daughters after folk heroes."
"She'll withstand anything with a name like that," Ra breathed low, offering a finger for his sister to hold. Her grip was strong, her hand small and fragile. Something inside his chest felt weak, something he was too afraid to offer a name.
They were breathtaking, his mother and baby sister, but he could only allow himself to stay for a brief time before the feeling of innate wrongness overwhelmed him and he had to excuse himself. He was careful as he deposited his sister back in his mother’s arms, careful as he pressed a gentle kiss to his mother’s forehead before striding from the room.
The breeze that came through the throne room was chilling as he entered. Typically, he would cross the courtyard and head right back to his quarters, ducking out of sight of his mother's various guards. They watched him like hungry, opportunistic rocs, and he had been ambushed by too many to want to be around them for too long. Taking one of the side exits, he climbed the sunbaked steps toward his mother's office. She had been unable to work toward the end of her pregnancy, so he'd occupied the space on the nights that he could not sleep.
That, unfortunately, was most of them.
His eyes fixed on a sandstorm in the distance. It was fine, moving toward Karusa Valley, focused on the ruins, and likely wouldn’t batter the town any. It gave the prince peace of mind, though at the edge of the sand, he swore that he saw a figure in the distance, cloaked in glimmering white and leading another small figure right into the mouth of the valley. The young prince shook his head to clear it, and then the vision was gone, but he swore he heard the whisper of his name on the breeze.
There was nothing there.
There was no one there.
There was just him. Him, and thoughts of red, thoughts of Malice, thoughts of isolation.
The night proved that even after a long day of travel, their rest would not come easily. Too short a time after they fell asleep, Sheik found themself sitting up in the stable, the lanterns dimmed in all the different sleeping cubicles. It had still been warm when they laid down, though they didn't remember falling asleep. Now, their bare arms were cold in their sleeveless armor top, so they took a moment to put the robe back on. There was a sword and shield that they didn’t recognize at the side of their bed, but there was a visceral need to take them, so they did, testing their weight before heading outside.
The cliffs that surrounded them were not the mountains surrounding the Dueling Peaks, and those wouldn't be right outside the stable anyway .
No, these red walls looked more like the canyons that led out to the Gerudo Desert and beyond.
Fog swirled around their feet, as if they were somewhere outside of the world they knew. That wasn't unusual for one of their dreams, but was not any less unsettling, doubled by the same feeling as when they saw that horse. Standing in the shadow of Malanya's effigy didn’t feel safe. It felt like being seen by something they were not supposed to have knowledge of.
Forward, little vure. A whisper of cloth behind them, around them, and when they turned to follow it, they found the warrior in black and white, silver and gold. They could not see Her face, but She raised a hand to beckon them, and they took a hesitant step toward Her.
The ambient sounds of the stable behind them gave way to the winds that howled across the desert. In the distance, they could see the flickering lights of that bazaar, and for now, that was where they were headed. Sheik kept on the defensive, expecting Lizalfos to ambush them, Stal or otherwise, but there was nothing. Simply quiet, broken by the screams of the wind.
They made it to the slumbering bazaar without incident, though the moon in the sky above began to bleed a sickening red, staining everything in its crimson light. There was nothing in the bazaar. The tents lay empty, tables bare as if they had never been used at all. Fires crackled untended. Malice rose in the sky.
Sheik felt empowered by it, hungry for something, anything , instead of just the itching feeling like they needed to molt that usually came at the sight of a Blood Moon.
The being leading them appeared to feel the same, Her speed increasing as they left the bazaar and broke for the sands. Though trudging through it, the white of Her cloak still seemed so crisp, the gold threads glimmering like cursed spiders.
The robe proved useful as the winds picked up, the sands whipping around them. They wished that they had a shawl of some kind to veil their face, keep the sand out of their hair and mouth, but they were fine. Despite the way the winds tore at their body, they never lost sight of the being ahead of them. Out of the sands, the canyon walls rose. Sheik began to see familiar windchimes. Where they welcomed travelers to Kakariko, these were a warning to anyone who dared make it this far.
As they climbed through the valley, their skin crawled. Ancestor Frogs, statues of guardians that they knew well, covered with cloth masks bearing the Inverted Eye.
The Mark of the Yiga.
They heard ghostly laughter, whipping around as if expecting to see a crimson clad warrior wielding a Duplex Bow or a Demon Carver ready to rip their tender throat out.
There was nothing. Otherworldly fog. Wind. Ancestor statues. The being guiding them. She waited patiently for them to continue, illuminated by the red light of the Blood Moon and the flickering torches of the entrance She had opened. It was, they realize, a temple. Or had been, once. As they entered they were surrounded by eight towering heroines, Gerudo script crawling up their swords. Their faces could not be seen, covered by the same masks as the ancestors outside.
Desecration. That's what this was.
They were led deeper and deeper into the stolen temple, startled by how much bigger it seemed from the canyon entrance above. It got colder and colder, as if they were getting deeper underground. They tried to remember everything that they saw, every turn that they took so they could write it down later. They had to write this down later.
How often did one get to explore the Yiga Hideout without immediately being killed or caged for daring to try?
After a series of dizzying turns, they found themself in a wide room, their breath dying in their throat.
On the floor was a Sheikah who could not be more than 18, a Blademaster with a heavy knee in their back. It was enough to keep them pinned, but not enough that they were suffocating. They were bleeding, struggling as their long white hair was cut and shaved from their scalp.
Just watching the scene unfold, Sheik felt violated.
The captive looked up then, staring them in the eyes the way that the horse did from the edge of the swamp. Like they were seeing the little shadow at their post in the shadows of the doorway. Their lips moved soundlessly, their grunts of struggle increasing as a higher ranking Yiga stepped into the fray. Sheik flinched as the older warrior's head was slammed into the stones, unable to look away as they heard the latch of a box open.
That was when the captive Sheikah began screaming, and more of the clansmen rushed to hold them down.
The words were ones that Sheik had only ever heard in their dreams, a dialect of Sheikah long dead, bastardized by Old Geldo.
"Perhaps," the Yiga occultist standing over them began, "This will find you a little bit more willing to cooperate in time."
When they stepped out of the way, the Sheikah on the ground was bleeding more, a mask over their face like a delicate filigree made of thorns, locked behind their head where they could not reach it to claw it off. The bindings around their wrists were wrenched, and the screaming became wordless, agonized, typical of the agitation of an injured limb.
Watery red eyes met theirs again, the captive Sheikah staring directly into their soul. They felt rooted to the spot under that burning gaze, that plaintive, pleading stare.
" Wake up ," they whispered.
The stable around them was dim, lanterns out in many of the cubicles that they could see.
Sheik sat up, drenched in sweat, finding their outermost robe already on. It smelled like incense and sand. The unfamiliar sword and shield were absent from their bedside, but their bow and quiver were there, so they stretched and took those instead, as well as their bag. It was still too late yet to worry about breakfast, or eating anything, so they took themself out to the pool at the base of the inert shrine. The arrows in their quiver rattled slightly as it was set down and Sheik began rifling through their bag.
They were grateful that they left a pencil bound to the journal, as they didn't think that they could, at the moment, handle digging around the saddlebags to look for a writing implement. The book in their lap was getting hefty, but it always had been, a record of the dreams and nightmares and other things they'd seen since their year in the wilds with their father. Sheik was a prolific dreamer, but it had been carved into their mind that no... dreams like this belonged to the Royal Family of Hyrule, the women trickling down the line with direct connection to Hylia herself.
Their dreams were dirty, something to hide, something to fear, but they'd always been a part of them.
It helped, too, to write down the sights, smells, and sounds, to get them out of their head so that they didn't take root and fester there. Pencil in their left hand, they wrote and drew, interrupting their own words with sketches of the statues, the embroidery on the woman's cloak, the layout of the Yiga hideout. They told the story of waking in the canyon stable, of the journey across the desert. Of witnessing the torture of a young Sheikah they couldn't help but find familiar.
The last thing they drew was the mask placed on the captive Sheikah's face, their screams of rage and panic a ghostly echo in their mind.
By the time they finish, the cuccos that bound around the stable were beginning to stir, the world starting to light at the horizon. Sheik replaced the few spells they had on the journal and tucked it back into their bag, dusting themself off as they decided it was time to go scavenge in the field to see if there was anything that would make a decent breakfast. The air seemed thick and constipated, like it was waiting to push out a storm, and smelled of heavy summer rain.
They wished they had bananas to fry, or wildberry preserves, but unfortunately, bananas meant Yiga, which was dangerous, and very few traders made wildberry preserves. Most of them traded the berries fresh, and that only happened in Tabantha and Hebra.
Instead, they picked through the grass and ruins and found a patch of particularly spicy peppers known for staving off the cold when cooked and eaten. They could mix them with fruit, or an omelet, save a couple to sprout some peppers for their garden at home. Picking a couple of the larger, plumper fruits, they twisted them carefully from the stocks, taking only what they needed to stay warm enough to get to Kakariko and whispering a blessing back to Farore's earth for the gift. Wild though the plants may have been, the seed spreading more likely the result of happenstance and animal traffic, they would be missed if they were gone, and so it wouldn't do to be greedy with them.
It was as they stood again that they became painfully aware of how quiet the world around them had gotten. Lifting their head, they found the mist colored titan of a horse approaching. Their heart leapt into their throat as the sacred beast got larger and larger the closer it gets. It stopped two, maybe three strides away, the mist of the morning making steam rise off of its hide in wisps like witchfire around ghosts. It towered over them, perhaps twice their size, maybe more.
They were young, but they knew the awe-inspiring feeling of being in the presence of a god.
"I have nothing to offer you," they told the creature.
It tosses its head, reminiscent of a dismissive wave.
Hesitant, they went back to their scavenging, able to feel the heat coming off of the creature as they traversed the swamp together. Sheik found eggs in one of the trees, and took a couple of the nicer looking apples that were within their reach. When they reached the edge of the field where the ground is sturdier and less muddy, they turned to look at their companion.
The horse was gone, and the stable was behind them when they turned around, the workers beginning to get an early start on the day. Weaving through the other tenants of the stable, the young Sheikah dug through their father's bag for travel plates and cutlery, and then dashed back outside with their scavenged ingredients.
The young Sheikah took control of the cooking pot, finding their appetite mostly gone now, but if they didn't eat something, they would be chilled to the bone when they finally made it to the village.
The smell of cooking egg made them feel nauseous, making them take a sip from their water skin to try and stave the feeling off. Perhaps it would be best for them to pass on their own omelet that morning? It was probably wise, if this was how they were feeling. Instead, they simmered their peppers with the apple slices, and when they were the right softness, the young Sheikah cleaned out the pan hanging over the fire to leave it for the next traveler to use, carrying their plate and their parents' with one arm, and balancing their bag and water skin with the other.
Their father was up already when they entered the little cubicle again, Sheik jarred by the sight of silver and red instead of graying-brown and silver. They said nothing, as the image does not leave them, simply offer him a plate and set the other on the bedside table beside their mother's head. Without fail, Purah stirred at the smell of food, which made the child smile. It was as familiar a sight as the fervor she got when researching, and for a moment, they wished that it could be like this all the time.
"It smells like it's going to rain most of the day," they told their parents, waiting for them to dig in before sitting and trying to eat some of their own breakfast.
"Breakfast won't last as long as an elixir," Iza reminded them, gesturing for the water skin. They picked it up, tossing it over the bed to his waiting hand.
"It should last us most of the way to the village though," Purah interjected around a mouthful of egg and peppers.
It was a comfort that their concerns weren't invalidated, soothing them enough to try to get something into their stomach. If they couldn't keep it down, that was a problem for later. The rest of the meal passed in idle chatter, and then the younger pair of Sheikah went outside to rinse off the dishes. They were returned to Iza's bottomless saddlebag, and then Purah went to speak to the stable master about getting their horses tacked so that they could leave.
That left the young Sheikah to their devices for the moment, giving them a little time with their thoughts, time to wander.
The dream still weighed on their mind, the kind of thing that didn't go away. It was a lot like the Guardian dreams, that; this one had the potential to become a terrible hyperfixation if they were not careful, and that included the mare that they saw that wasn't really there. Maybe the rest of the ride to Kakariko would give their brain the peace that they needed. Maybe they would keep mulling it over until they were as fixated on it as their mother was about making right by the Champions.
Or, maybe, something would fall into place, and they would actually be allowed to be a child for once, taken back to the safety of their home by both of their loving parents.
That'll be the day , their internal voice laughed, and they turn back to face the stable.
Malanya stared down from overhead, empty and watchful eyes still feeling as though they were boring holes into the young warrior's soul. Something about the sight of the god itched, and they were grateful to be back in Hayai's saddle, headed toward their ancestral home.
They wished, just for once, that they could truly be a child, that they weren't forced to go back to a home that hadn't felt like home for a while now.
They scold themself, quietly, because this was not their way, the way of the Shadow People.
How foolish it was to want something they had never been allowed.
Chapter 8: Crest
Life has been... life.... This project is still constantly being worked on, I promise! If you're reading this, thanks for still being here.
(more tw for depersonalization, unreality, intergenerational trauma, and misgendering of a nonbinary child. it gets worse before it gets better, and it does get better.)
It rained enough that the weight of water tugged loose some of the shorter hairs at their hairline, a sensation that was more irritating to Sheik than the raindrops hanging from the tip of their nose.
The wandering magic wasn’t kind to them, the ride stretching what felt like far longer than the handful of hours they had been on the road. The sun hadn’t moved from its place behind the clouds, hanging heavy in the waterlogged sky. Purah had since given up on their driving pace, and they were taking the road as leisurely as possible.
Sheik brought up the rear, patient gaze on their father’s back. The flicker of illusion made their eyes hurt, intermittent in nature. They’d since tried puzzling which was real and which wasn’t, why he would hide himself so. Perhaps it was an old habit, leftover from childhood in a mostly Hylian population. They could understand that, being the only Sheikah child in Hateno.
They felt unsteady. Anxious, exhausted. Hayai kept a steady pace so that they could keep going, and they would have to remember to treat him with a few carrots when they were somewhere safe.
The unsettled energy didn’t really fade as the time passed on, Sheik's thoughts everywhere but the road ahead of them. The dream of torture had not left their mind, nor had the presence of the giant horse. Groaning, they reached up to pinch the bridge of their nose. The flickering of illusion had caused a headache to take root behind their eyes. The sound they made alerted their father, who turned, concern painting his features when Sheik was able to actually look up at him.
"Are you okay, sweetling?" asked the stranger with their father's voice.
"Just a little headache, Aba," they said. "I think I slept on my neck weird."
The look he gave them in reply was one of those discerning ones, looks that Sheik had seen on numerous adults that wanted to invade their space and rob them of their autonomy out of some need to do what's best for them . It melted away with a smile and a nod.
"Tell us if you need to stop. The trees will give us some shelter for a while.”
Sheik nodded, tightening their grip on Hayai’s reins, and willed the wandering magic to unwind and let them pass.
Their parents had been muttering between themselves since the morning. Sheik had only caught snippets here and there, trading Purah for her place as the one in their own world. From what they had gathered, their cousin was ill, and the prognosis didn’t seem good. It made Sheik worry about Paya’s well-being; she had already lost one parent, and Impa...
Well, Aunt Impa was only getting older.
It would be a bitter visit. They had given up hope that the visit would be a good one, as Taya was bound to be particularly cruel if he was actually so ill as to be considered dying. It was frustrating, really, how little they were told simply because they are young. It was frustrating, really, how they would be expected to be young until they were magically old enough to be grown, with no indicator of how long that window of time was meant to be.
The rain persisted. The magic did not. In fact, it felt like the journey thinned itself and became quicker.
The sight of the wooden wind chimes strung across the path beyond the gate was a relief, a welcome to wayward travelers and Sheikah coming home just the same. Above the rain pattering down, Sheik could hear the crackle of covered fires and chattering of cuccos in their shelters. The air smelled heady with plums and summer rain turned to steam, and it was home .
And it was wrong .
They dismounted, still bringing up the rear, and hesitated just inside the gate, under the tree that covered the fire tended by the gate's guardian. The village sprawled before them, as pretty and quiet as ever. In a word, they felt cursed, like food and drink were perpetually just out of their reach, like they were lost in a fog with no way out.
This quiet village was not theirs. It was more wrong than the pastoral village that they called home.
Their head hurt. Their eyes felt like there was a fine dust of sand or glass in them that they would never be able to rub out.
Vaguely, Sheik realized that their mother had stopped just beyond where they dismounted, speaking to her former protege. Since she was particular about making sure that the horses stayed safe and got settled, Sheik left Hayaikage with her, bag slung over their shoulder.
They wanted to get out of the rain, wanted to lie to themself that it would be fine to be inside the Elder's home. They wanted to tell themself that even though it was a bit bittersweet, especially if Taya was really as ill as their mother made it seem, it would be good to have everyone in the family together again, the lot of them that were left. They froze as they stepped onto the bridge to head into the village proper and saw their aunt and cousin step from the Elder's home, realizing the lies for what they were. It was all that they could do to step aside as their mother and father continued on ahead. They watched for a moment longer before forcing themself forward, down and down and down until the great house loomed above them.
They could hear their mother and aunt laughing, so glad to see each other, and there was that prickling feeling as though they were being watched by the strange horse god again. When they looked, there was nobody watching them but the statue of Hylia at the center of the little pond, surrounded by doused torches and glowing lotus lanterns. As inviting as the sight might have been when they were younger, it now filled them with something darker than fear. They chose to kneel before the Ancestor Frogs instead, reaching out to clear rain-soaked leaves from the stone heads before settling in. Not for prayer, but comfort, perhaps. They had always been told that if they didn't know what to do, they could lean on their ancestors.
It felt like all they had right then, clinging to elders long gone before they had the chance to know them. It felt like the only anchor they had to some sort of reality, even if it wasn't theirs.
"Should we wait for Sheik?" they heard their father ask as they settled soggily on their knees, hands folded in their lap, eyes slipping closed as they exhaled slowly.
"Surely she has a lot to say," Taya replied, almost snide. Their skin crawled at how vindicated they felt when he coughed like he was trying to unstick a chuchu from his throat. "She always spends a good deal of time before the gods. Perhaps-"
" They ," Purah said sharply, her voice like the crack of a whip, "will be a while."
"Sheik has always been quiet in their confessional habits, we should leave them to their piety," Impa agreed, and the voices began to move off.
It would make Sheik laugh if it didn't make them want to cry. No, this wasn't piety. At least not entirely. That wasn't to say they weren't pious in their own way, simply that this, reaching for faith as a way to cope with the feeling of their world looming above them like a hungering moon waiting to fall, was not the kind of faith that anyone should have to reach for.
Maybe it was the lack of sleep. Maybe it was that they should pull Impa aside and actually get advice from an Elder who, in her youth, had been a Sentinel.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
When they were alone, truly alone, the door to Impa's home sliding shut behind everyone, the feeling of temporal fog rushed in to fill the void and the sounds of the village faded away. Even the rushing of the Lantern Falls slowed to almost a trickle, and over it all came a voice they had heard before.
What scared them about that was that they are not asleep. She was not like Sen, or the Handsome Boy, or the Yiga Woman. She only came in dreams, and they were not asleep. They stood, and it felt like fabric tearing. When they looked back, their body was where they were moments before for, still knelt in the mud, small hands clenched into fists, brows furrowed.
When they looked back, She was there. This time, She was dressed differently, in clothing she'd seen Impa wear in her youth, but designs that were much, much older. The cloak was the same, low over her face, but the armor under the cloak was different, the most ancient of the Sheikah. In another light, the embroidery that lined her cloak is undeniably Gerudo, sacred rectangles interlocked like gears, rust like cliffs and sand, blue like sky. Gods’ Teeth, something worn by the Hylian Champion. Her bracers bore the familiar cobra back of the Gerudo emblem.
Even concerning Spirits and Gods, the blend of cultures was jarring, though not unusual. There was much that was lost, much that they did not know.
Her hand was a soft tan, impossibly clean and delicate as She reached for them and called their name. It echoed like the hollow reed windchimes around the village. The pull was cosmic and undeniable, like someone had poured liters of starlight right into their chest cavity. Under Her hood, they found scarred eyes full of those same stars.
" Sheik !"
The recoil was instantaneous, like they'd been wrenched back forcefully by someone much bigger than they were. Instead, it was someone slightly smaller, Paya's arms around their neck forcing them back to where they were kneeling in the spongy moss.
They felt like they'd been awakened from sleepwalking, like their head was full of wool and rocks and too heavy, and the starry feeling had not left their chest. The shock of being put back so suddenly caused tears to spring to their eyes unbidden.
“O-oh, are you okay?” Paya sputtered, immediately apologetic, face flushing red. “I didn’t mean to startle you!”
It did no good, as the dam had already broken, tears spilling down their face like a chalice overflowing. Instead of trying to get any more out of them, Paya wrapped her arms tightly around their shoulders and hugged them close, heedless of the rain clinging to their clothes. She didn’t say anything as she helped them to their feet and squeezed their hands. The gentle smile on her lips made them feel a bit foolish.
Instead of expecting excellence or at least less failure from Sheik, Paya was simply glad of their company. She took them to the side entrance of the house to avoid Taya’s calculated wrath and helped them change, hanging damp articles of clothing as they were handed to her. Once they were dried off properly, they were handed new, dry layers from the depths of their bags, and the armor came back up again.
By the time that they were comfortable again, the rain had stopped, the sun coming out from behind the clouds. Paya handed them a woven sack full of ingredients that looked like different herbs and vegetables, and a knife for cutting the fish. She didn’t like them, the knives or the fish, and so this was always their job. Their own cooking skills were just good enough that they didn’t always make dubious food or even some of the horrific things they'd seen travelers make that looked like rocks or wood, but Sheik had to admit that Paya could be called a culinary master. At least they were good for starting a fire, their own supply bag snatched up on the way out of the house.
It was startling, how old their cousin had gotten when they were not looking. It was even worse because she was only a year younger than them.
The sigh upon reaching the cooking pot and setting their things down was heavier than expected and not one that they would usually allow to be heard.
“What is it?” Paya asked, watching as they rifled around for flint.
In frustration, they stopped looking for it, casting sparks onto the dry grass and kindling simply by snapping their fingers. With a gentle breath, then two, then a third, fire finally caught the grass, licking up to the sticks piled above it.
“Being a kid is hard,” Sheik mumbled, trying to settle into helping Paya by preparing the things she would be cooking. They didn’t dare to cook for their extended family; Taya would be cruel, and Sheik already invited that from him by simply daring to exist.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Paya asked kindly. "We'll be here cooking for a while."
"It feels like the gods are staring me down," the older Sheikah said. "Like a child given vague instructions, going down the wrong path and being glared at instead of corrected."
Paya, who until that point had been chopping carrots, stopped. The thunk of the knife on the cutting board was solid like a punctuation mark bleeding through paper. After a second longer of silence, her careful chopping resumed . Sheik followed suit, and felt as though they had said the wrong thing.
"Do you question the path that you're on?" their younger cousin asked, and that struck them as curious, being asked about the path that they were on, not the path that they chose .
"I feel like I can't see the path," they admitted. "The Sheikah are dying, not for the first time in our history and likely not the last because we invite xenophobia and genocide, even if nobody wants to admit that because though little, we still have some dogged sense of pride. You and I are almost eleven and twelve respectively, and we are some of the oldest children -for whatever that means for the Sheikah- in the entire village. Every year, more and more families and entire clans leave to join the Yiga, and soon there will be nobody but fools left. I turn twelve tomorrow, and I feel like the future is going to open up and swallow me whole-" They tossed a wilted flower from their pile of herbs off to the side, to be fed to Cado's cuccos later. "I can't see the mountain for the Talus and I don't know what to do."
They stopped speaking then. The things that they said weren't even things that they'd said to their father, who might understand them more than anyone else, and it didn't feel fair to just dump them on Paya, who was ten and deserved a world that was more than duty and chains of tradition.
"Wh-when she was getting close to dying, m-my Ammi told me something I think you should hear," Paya said softly, softer than she spoke before. "Would you like to?"
Sheik stared at where the sliver of silver knife met the sharp green and yellow of the diced herb. A breath. They nodded.
"She used to say that it was okay to have doubts. It makes us human." Paya reached across the work space between them and squeezed their hand. The voice that left her was older, sagely. It was also decidedly not hers.
" Just have faith ."
"Pardon me?" Sheik started, moving to pull their hand away. There was no flickering of illusion around their younger cousin as she narrowed her eyes in confusion. This time, the voice that left her was hers.
"Just have faith. You have more of it than everybody in this place-"
"Even your father?"
Paya shrunk further, if that was at all possible.
" Especially my father."
The rest of the preparation was spent cooking and simply enjoying each other's company. Sheik forgot how much they loved to spend time with Paya until they were back in her presence, and then they were loathe to leave it.
Paya had started writing stories and drawing as well. She didn't tell her father, because he thought that she should be focusing on more important things, like devotional prayers -not the selfish ones, where you ask for things-, learning about the Royal Family, or studying the family heirloom. Sheik bit their tongue and helped cook, telling Paya that anything that she chose to create was a blessing from the gods, because it was. So few were blessed with true creativity, and Sheik thought that their cousin's talents are wasted on the path that she had been forced down. They stilled their tongue, of course, and had no desire to bring more wrath down on their head.
Perhaps they would pray for her. Selfless prayers were worth more to Hylia, or so they had been told.
The sky opened up again as the young warrior and soon-to-be priestess brought the last of the feast indoors.
"Hurry up and close the door!"
Sheik flinched and nearly dropped the platters they were carrying at the sound of Taya's voice- at the sound of his snarl. Paya gave them a look of reassurance, scurrying around them to set down the basket of rolls and then back again to ensure that the door was secured properly and would not blow itself open as wind whipped through the village.
"It is Paya's birthday, Sheik, she should not have to do all the work," their cousin hissed quietly, menacing in his height.
"It is Sheik's birthday too, Aba," Paya said, an uncharacteristic strength behind her tone.
To their great relief, their cousin said nothing, but the way that he looked at them said all that they needed to know. For a second, his eyes looked darker than they were, not the black that they were used to seeing, but almost like an oil spill. They ducked their head and moved around him, trying not to think about how like Malice his eyes looked.
Even for how pensive they could be, their silence was uncharacteristic. Nobody seemed to notice, though, the family chattering happily and warmly around them. Plates were filled, emptied. They pushed fried vegetables around their plate, taking strategic little bites that made it look like they were eating more than they truly were.
Their cousin's eyes swirled with Malice. Their father's hair had since dried in his usual rain-kissed curls, still an unfamiliar white. The illusions flickered like candlelight on the walls. They felt like they were going to be sick all over the table for the headache that was pulsing behind their eyes.
How tragic was it, to be homesick and be sitting in their own home? Sheik felt like a ghost unseen, like they were screaming in that crowded room and nobody heard them.
After the dinner was over, Impa would not hear either of the children cleaning up after cooking for the whole family. She tasked their fathers with the chore, allowing Paya to go up to her room much earlier than anticipated. Sheik stayed behind, a steady body for Impa to lean into as they descended into the old well under the house, to check the seals on the vault ahead of Paya's ceremony.
"You are quiet," the elder mused. It was not a question.
"A headache, aunt."
The old woman scoffed, tutted for the lie, but did not say anything about it as they walked.
Shadows flickered in the edges of their vision, and they felt a familiar phantom hand in theirs, their aunt's cool, withered hand tucked into their elbow. They felt the air move around them like a heartbeat, like the slow beating of war drums. They did not draw attention to it, worried that their aunt would react the same way that their father had.
Instead, they simply watched their aunt inspect the seals on the vault, attentive with an almost morbid curiosity.
Instead, they felt the shadows slither around them as they made their way back upstairs, the war drum beat calling to their heart.
Instead, they saw to Hayai before bed, sneaking him a few carrots as a treat. They were careful not to track any mud into the house as they climbed the stairs to Paya's room, mumbled a quick goodnight to their dear cousin before crawling into the spare bed.
They could not sleep for the fear of the dark, even at the sight of familiar silhouettes sitting guard around them. They still wanted to cry, but it was not their path to do so. It was not the way of their people.
Chapter 9: Run-Up
Double update! Because I feel bad about taking so long to update!
As the kids say, it's about to pop off. Shoutout to StudioRat for a quote that succinctly sums up my emotions about... -checks notes- most of human history, actually.
When bereft of rest to the point of hallucination, one could not be sure if they were truly awake, or if they are prisoner to their dreams.
Perhaps it was bold to assume everyone experienced the same phenomenon as Sheik, but the boldness gave them the comfort that perhaps, just perhaps, they were not as truly alone as they had been feeling.
It was dark when they woke, and at first, they could not move, feeling as though a weight had perched itself heavily on their chest to keep them trapped. Their shadow guardians were gone, and the thickness of the shadows in the room was truly the lack of light.
They were afraid of nothing, except in the dark.
Sheik closed their eyes, swallowing the bile taste of panic and counting. The rhythm was the drum they felt in the old well vault, a slow war drum marching in time to their heartbeats.
They curled fingers and toes and forced themself to sitting.
It felt like a dream, at least until they caught their little toes on one of the posts of Paya’s bed. They stumbled back to the edge of the spare, hand clamped tightly over their mouth to keep the river of coarse words from leaving their lips. Their noise had not disturbed their cousin, and as their heart settled, the pain ebbing enough that they could hobble on their foot, they began to hurriedly dress for the day, layers of binding carefully laid despite the shake of their hands, their quick flight into panic causing a dull throbbing pain at their temples. The house was quiet as they crept down the stairs, their stealth training paying off in that they did not creak once on the way down.
The main room was drenched in the orange glow of the stone orb, but even the warmth of that meant nothing as they stepped around their aunt’s pile of cushions to stand before the tapestry. They had heard the story so many times now that they could recite it with the exact inflection that Impa used, but standing there now, it did not feel correct. It felt hollow, like reading Hylian accounts of Sheikah massacres time and time again. History as a final desecration to the losing side of a conflict, humiliation and erasure written by the hand of the victors. Just rulers, right because they are strong, strong because they are right , and everyone else the vermin crushed to mere viscera under their gaudy, gilded boots in the name of the Light.
Sheik scowled at the Sacred Maiden of the tapestry and turned away, seeking refuge from the suddenly stifling air of the house in the chilling mountain air outside.
There was a feeling then at the sight of the village, silent and empty save for the glimmering of fireflies like dust motes on the breeze. Something like the ringing echo of a holy hymn on the stone walls of a cathedral, an overwhelming, bittersweet otherness that they could not begin to explain but that threatened to swallow them whole from the inside.
They weren’t asleep.
They weren’t truly awake either, were they?
Phantom hands pushed between their shoulder blades, feet leading them like a strong wind tearing the ground from under them. They climbed above the village, the steep road that took them up toward the old Sheikah Shrine and the withered Fairy Fountain beyond.
Instead of following the road, they took to the steep wall of stone tucked behind the shrine. They found their childhood handholds with ease, pulling their body up higher and higher, completely heedless of the cuts their unguarded hands were taking. Sen taught them to climb with the faith that they would not fall, and that was how they ascended.
Around their feet grew a scattering of glowing blue nightshade and Silent Princess, but that was not what kept their eye. Hyrule Castle loomed in the distance, a fallen behemoth of decadence. A miasmic barrier around it, the swirling shroud of Malice shifted, as if reacting to their presence atop the low butte. It wasthe same feeling they got under a blood moon, an itching like their propensity for magic was trying to burn itself out of their skin in a most spectacular display.
The shadow shifted. Even at the distance that Kakariko was from what remains of Castle Town proper, they could see it with their Truesight.
A hulking, spectral boar, fighting to break through the miasma and into reality.
The Avatar of Light has Him contained, you are safe here, a familiar voice came.
There were no flickers of illusion, but their head began to ache much sharper behind their eyes as they turned to find the veiled warrior goddess behind them, barefoot in the grass. The Silent Princess grew toward Her soft glow, and inviting as it was, Sheik wished they could escape it, or at least recoil.
Her hand raises, hovered near their face without touching.
Oh, my love... you are Awakening. The Goddess spoke directly into their mind, Her face not so much as twitching from its frozen mask. Her fingers twitched toward their forehead, the instinct of a mother brushing away loose hair.
“Is that what this is? Not sleeping? The headaches? Watching the warrior mage be tortured until they told me to wake up?!”
The words left them much angrier than they intended, Sheik realizing a second too late who they had just snapped at.
You have been safe. I was with you in the swamp, even though you did not know me.
“The Geldo Lord,” they murmured, reaching up to press palm to brow bone in hopes that the pressure would alleviate the pain.
She did not confirm or deny their assumption, the tilt of Her head the second most indication of emotion She had ever given them.
You can choose to forget and walk away, continue your life, She told them, but spirit will out and I cannot say what that will look like for you.
“I just want the illusions to be easy. I want the nightmares to be normal kid worries, not yesterday’s tomorrows and agains. I just-“ they stumbled over their words, their selfish desires. “I want it all to make sense .”
Are you certain? the Goddess asked, head tilting the other way. Her voice sounded soft, concerned, as if they didn’t know what it was they were asking for and she wanted to dissuade them without actually pushing forcefully. It is a terrible wish, to Become.
“Everything comes with a consequence,” they retorted, lifting their other hand to rub at their eyes. The pain had begun to feel like there was something in them, like the heavy sting that came from keeping their eyes open too long and reading by low candlelight, like sand or glass blown directly in their eyes.
These are not normal consequences, child. You will never be the same.
“Living with the things that are happening to me and Gods as phantom horses following me around has already made that my truth,” Sheik said, the heels of their palms still pressed to their eyes. They rubbed with an almost renewed vigor as they continued. “The other three will not answer me what I need to know.”
There was something of a final warning in the air, and then impossibly cold hands were at their wrists, pulling their hands away from their face. They vaguely registered smears of blood on their palms, the cuts and gravel in their fingertips, but that all was brought to a standstill when the goddess’ lips met their forehead. They were cold, like Her hands, and feathersoft as well.
Something fragile on their soul shattered at the embrace.
They were almost eleven, stood on the back of a blue maned lynel. His name was on the tip of their tongue but Sheik could not recall. There was determination laced with desperation, the feeling of marching toward the gallows, but they did not falter once as the ever-autumn trees of Akkala flew past them, the Citadel standing above like a watchman. When they reached their destination, the lynel plucked them from his back like scooping up a troublesome kitten, placing them on the soil before him.
“I will be back, my friend,” they told him, curling fingers into his mane for what they knew will be the last time.
What followed is the sound of Yiga, ripping themselves into existence, angered calls of Sen! and Damned child, when we get our hands on you- Then there was fear. Fear that they would not complete their mission. They shed their bow, giving it back to him.
“Do not let them come after me.”
The lynel threw his head back and bellowed to the dark sky.
Akkala Citadel was burning. The burn in their lungs was not just smoke, the ash of their soldiers and their command. It was loss . It was the Champions missing, surely dead. It was the unspoken words that their sister had pleaded with her eyes before letting them go and taking her Guidance Stone toward Hateno.
The Hylian Champion and the Shrine of Resurrection would be saved for the treason they had committed. The Citadel had already fallen, their soldiers fled on their order of please, find your families, get somewhere safe, you do not have to die today .
They were Lord Commander. They would fall with their stronghold.
The iron-studded door shattered under the body of a Guardian, dozens spilling into the main hall after the first.
A beat. A breath. The roof caved in atop the automatons as one got off a blast that struck true, taking their left arm.
And back. A young handmaiden to a noble lady. A keeper in the Shadow Temple, devotee of Lord Demise and the Nameless Lady Called Faith. The Fourth. More. Missing something, searching for something.
The Nameless gave answer. Answer provided only more heartache, more loss. More searching. Tragedy, slaughter. Blood and dead and death. They died. They died. They died
Farther. They were eighteen, they had Become, they had fled Hyrule and were a refugee among the Gerudo. When they saw him, a boy king of only twenty, they were surrounded by a gaggle of children, animatedly telling the story of the Trickster bringing the Moon down on Termina. He watched them, a private delight behind his golden eyes before moving on, led off by the elders of their little settlement.
And later, he offered them a place in the Fortress, a place that the Rova only allow if they were to be his Shadow. He clothed them in blue, only slightly less blasphemous than the royal purple; tensions were high with their Hylian neighbors and trading for the materials for the shade of blue he wished for them to wear was just too arduous for the tribe.
Their heart was riotous and covetous and they loved him .
They were almost twenty-five when Zelda came to them on the battlefield. They switched places so that their mother could see them one last time. She told them to free their people before the distraction of battle allowed them slaughtered and called casualty. They honored her in that mission, even though the war carried on as a result.
The Hero was a friend both of King and Shadow. He fell in a battle of Harkinian’s design and Sheik could not save him. The Sacred Triangles split.
They were in a tomb. They were winning, their Godking and treasured husband holding the Demon Lord and His Calamity at bay through sheer will alone. Through Power alone. It was when Zelda and her priests began the sealing ritual that he faltered, fell. When he was alone, because all but they had left him
He looked at them with Malice, possessed by Malice.
They roared the rage of their ancestors at their sister, and the tribe split. They spoke their anger at the Crown, their so-called treason visible in the way they wore the Eye of Truth inverted. They would have Hylia’s ilk burn for their sins, and they included themself in that sentiment.
Back further and further still. A scientist learning to harness the energy of the dead to power the ancient furnaces; the Sheikah had so many restless dead. Stonemasons and artisans, bards, wandering souls, exile upon exile. Savagery. Slaughter. There was no glory in massacre, but Hylia’s golden children claimed glory. Dead and death and blood on their hands, swords in their hands, the Harp in their hands.
They died. They rose for puppeting. They died.
And then... the beginning. The beginning was slaughter, blood on Hylian armor, a familiar loftwing stained crimson. The beginning was rage from beneath a well, the shuddering of a thinly contained beast of shadow and malice and magic. They ran, little feet carrying them over headstones like a bird in flight. The Poes did not chase them, simply helped them to the temple and terrorized the soldiers that followed after them to make sure that all of the Sheikah vermin were gone, as the king had commanded. A shadow warrior of her own morality, the Elder of their people, pulling a child from the enchantments of a tainted temple, wrapping them in a bloodied, tattered cloak, and spiriting them to the Guardians of Spirit. A child raised beside a boy king, the Boy King, sent to find their name from the blessing of the Sand Goddess. A shadow, trailing after their King, blasphemous love coloring their heart, their actions, their duty.
“Please, don't go where I cannot do my duty, don't go where I cannot protect you- I’m begging-“
A brush of warm lips to their forehead, strong hands cradling their face.
“Everything will go according to plan, Sheik.”
He fell to the Hero that they taught so carefully, skirting the lines of blaspheming the longer and longer they spent in his company, and to the Princess Who Stole Their Face. They were sent back to the desert in silence, in disgrace. They did not look their sisters in the eye, could not look their sisters in the eye, screamed wordlessly until their throat felt raw. The Nameless asked if they would like to remember. They were too wounded to say no.
Blue light, a cosmic wound, a rip in time.
Back again. The Boy King did not listen when they pleaded with him.
The same Boy King desecrated, bloated corpse hung in the center of Castle Town for all to see. There was no trial, simply the execution.
As was their duty, they tended to the dead. They tended to their King. Grief broke them, nearly killed them.
Blue light, a song, a rip in time.
And then it felt like they were thrown violently forward, walking down a path flanked by countless souls. Countless lives they’ve lived.
The Nameless was gone when their eyes opened again, but the boar still thrashed against His bonds, harder still. There was a feeling of incorporeality as they fled, but they did not climb back down. For a second, it was almost as if they were an owl over Hyrule Field, wind under their wings, and then they were inside, blinded by the orange light of the orb, no longer warm now.
Their limbs felt clumsy, as if they were not actually wearing them, and Sheik wasn’t sure they were as they made their way down and down and down to the old well vault. The war drum beat was back, commanding a march as the vault appeared before them out of the dark.
They were not afraid of the dark.
Their hands moved with the practiced movements of a mage who knew how to get in and out of the vault, the confidence of someone who was frequently in and out of the vault. The name was on the tip of their tongue and gone again as the vault ground, and then opened to them. They couldn’t clear their thoughts enough to make sense of the things that they grabbed, but someone inside them, someone that they used to be once, seemed to know, as they did grab a number of things with an almost meticulous fervor, like a soldier gathering their armory for what they knew would be their last fight.
It was as they were making their way back to the door of the vault, still feeling like a scarecrow made of mortal flesh, walking on limbs not meant to be theirs, that the drum they were hearing changed from a march to a preparative.
Their laden-but weightless bag was slung over their shoulder as they moved forward, stance defensive. Taya slithered out of the dark, and the light in his eyes really was Malice this time. It had spread like a rash across the left side of his face, skin cracked with the viscous fluid moving in the breaks like porcelain fixed carefully with gold.
“Don’t you know what happens to thieves, little girl?” he snarled, and while Sheik felt fear as he advanced, they also felt a presence in their body that was not theirs.
The drum stopped.
“ Do you know what happens to self-serving fanatics, scum? ” Sheik breathed. The voice was not theirs, and Taya heard it.
“What are you?” he had the presence to ask.
When they didn’t answer, he lunged. A gold light burns out of the back of their hand as they moved to meet him. They ducked under his long arms, using his momentum to slam his head into the corner of the open vault door. They watched as blood began to pool around his head, but not red.
Black, purple, oil slick Malice began to leak from the split in his scalp.
There was an itch, an urge to burn him out. They watched their hand extend, the gold light from it blinding them, and then the Malice was gone, rising like smoke.
Taya did not stir.
They turned away.
Everything followed in flashes.
They were on Hayai’s back, the sound of old stone under his hooves. They recognized this place as a path of pilgrimage, recognized the loftwing silhouettes in the stonemasonry.
The East Gate. Naydra’s flight above filling them with awe.
The Lynel, red as the blood on their hands. Hayai bolting. Hayai screaming.
Squelching, bones breaking, the Lynel bellowed .
When they came to, Sheik was bleeding, their forearm torn open by the Lynel. There was a warrior standing over the creature’s corpse, clad in crimson and grey.
A Yiga. A Yiga who was rifling through their bag.
The footsoldier advanced on them, and though they tried to put up a fight, the older Sheikah won with ease. Two blocks, a twist of their good wrist, gloved fingers digging into the wounds of their arm, wringing a scream from their throat. Their slashes found empty air, and the Yiga was so fast that it made them dizzier than the blood loss. They blocked strikes meant for the cutting of throats, realizing too late that their footing was unstable, and the blows were meant to knock them down. They went down to the frost-hardened ground, and they went down hard. A knee in their chest stole the air they had left, the backhand strike to their face harsh enough to turn their head.
A Hinox slept in the distance, surprisingly undisturbed by their racket, the clashing of swords and Sheik’s desperate cries. It also brought their attention to what was left of their horse, the sight of viscera and bone making them want to vomit. The tears began to well up against their will as they were lifted by the front of their robe and slammed down into the cold soil again.
“What,” hissed the Yiga, “is an infant doing with important tribal artifacts? Do you know what you’re delivering into the hands of your enemies?”
They couldn’t speak, vision blurring red, simply shaking their head furiously. That got them shaken violently, as if that would do any good in knocking the words loose.
“Your name, child. Give me your name,” they demanded from behind their mask.
Did they not understand the swirl of voices swimming around their head like a potion round and round in a pot? What name could Sheik give them?
Would they care?
“Ko-Kohana,” they stuttered, the first time they had uttered the name in years. They felt the tug of the seal, and from the way the Yiga’s hand tightened in the front of their clothing, they did as well.
“Uttering a sealed name is the swiftest way to get your throat slit. Enough lies. Who are you?”
Sheik’s tongue felt heavy, stumbled over the words. “Sheik. I’m called Sheik, have always been called Sheik… but once, I was a girl called Sen,” they whispered, their voice trembling.
That, it seemed, was what the footsoldier wanted to hear. They lifted the mask, inverted Eye of Truth on white porcelain, and their grin was wolfish.
“The whispers are true then. Welcome back to us, little master.”