|The Legend of Zelda: Exoria
Author: Sudentor PM
After an age of medieval rule, a modern Kingdom of Hyrule enters a chaotic war with the nations of Gerudo and Valent. Against all odds, Crown Princess Zelda finds hope in the most unlikely of persons, the mysterious Hylian Joint Intelligence Agent Link.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Suspense - Chapters: 30 - Words: 385,622 - Reviews: 281 - Favs: 249 - Follows: 212 - Updated: 10-13-12 - Published: 09-25-09 - id: 5399870
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The absence of trouble of any sort at the Hylian-Gerudo border told Link and Zelda that something was wrong and that there was trouble.
Stopping his motorcycle right between two booths between the highway lanes that acted as shelter from the sun for border control officials, Link quietly left Zelda sitting there on Epona – bulletproof windows protecting the interior of the two booths shielded her from attacks on two sides – as he drew his gunsword in handgun mode. He was pretty sure the first time that his eyes weren't mistaken as he approached border customs, but now that he actually got off and made one round across the checkpoint, moving from one fence to another through the facilities making up Hylian-Gerudo customs, he was very much sure of his initial assessment.
The border checkpoint was completely devoid of personnel, the border completely devoid of life. No bodies either. It had been abandoned.
It was noon, some ways more than five hours since Link filled up Epona with enough gas and got on their way to the Hyrule-Gerudo border again. Aside from two or three Valentine squads – strays that seemed to be merely going to rejoin the main unit rather than actual patrols – that they had to avoid on the way, it was, for the most part, a smooth and quiet ride…but strangely empty. The metropolitan center held the vast majority of the area's population, so there wasn't much in the way of nearby towns, but this was still quite uncanny. No living Hylian soul since they had left Hyrule City. It was as if the end of the world had come and went without either Link or Zelda. It meant either the Hylian military had done an extraordinary job at getting the civilians out…or something far worse.
The fact that the Hylian-Gerudo border was, in fact, a wide expanse of desolate desert didn't help impressions much.
"Something's wrong," Zelda whispered as Link returned, the slack, downward angle of his gunsword in a loose one-handed grip indicating to the princess that the agent had found no one. She spoke more for no one's benefit; both of them were already past knowing something was wrong, but neither of them had settled on a very definite possibility as to what. An abandoned border station could mean a great deal of things, not all of them a certainty…but definitely all of them unwelcome.
Link exhaled deeply, his version of a slightly frustrated sigh. Without enough evidence – which bugged him – he didn't want to jump to any conclusions, not when they were cut off from the rest of their allies…and possibly the world. A fleeting glance at Zelda told him that his princess thought the same.
Moving over to Epona, Link looked at his GPS device once more. The road they were on would eventually take them to a Gerudo military base – Sirsa Military Airbase – if they rode for another two hours. Hopefully, it would be there that they found their answers…but, somehow, Link wasn't feeling very optimistic about that. Still, he looked over at Zelda again, who was silently and half-heartedly reading the GPS map with him, her mind more absorbed on what move they were going to make next. When she caught the inquisitive look Link was giving her, she appeared to be deep in thought for a moment…but eventually nodded.
The danger aside, they were going to continue on their current course anyways.
It turned out that Link was half-right and half-wrong. On one hand, they had indeed found their answer to what was going on…twenty minutes before they even reached Sirsa Military Airbase. The problem was, however, they had little reason to be optimistic about what they found.
Link immediately drove Epona off the main road and into the vast expanse of sand as Zelda gasped, the two of them confirming that the great pillar of black smoke rising from the horizon was indeed from the desert military base many kilometers out, a faint outline that contrasted itself from the bright fires burning across the facilities. The desert was more sand than actual dust, so although Epona slowed in the desert with the absence of an actual road, she didn't kick up a massive cloud that could've alerted anyone to their presence, something Link feared and took great pains to avoid. He stopped once, three kilometers away from the base, to actually attempt to spot any immediate threat in the facility. Noting the absence of a perimeter guard, Link moved forward, but slowly, minimizing noise from the engine. If there was anyone inside waiting for them, he didn't want to raise an alert just yet.
Still, fires burning in Sirsa could only mean one thing. "The war's gotten here too," Zelda whispered in a voice that conveyed disbelief and – to a slighter extent – horror.
The barbed wire fence around Sirsa Military Airbase was, for the most part, gone – only patches of them still stood erect and undamaged, but most of the stretch of metallic barrier had been toppled, seemingly run down by armored vehicles or torn apart by explosions. Link had no problems slipping into the perimeter from the side, stick close to the hangar bays that were lined up on the northern side of the base. Some of them were still burning. He parked Epona into the shadow of one of the hangars, pressing her against the wall before killing the power. Motioning for Zelda to stay on Epona and remain hidden, Link quickly moved stealthily at a bit of a crouch towards the corner of the hangar, making sure the alley between the two hangars were clear before moving forward.
No longer riding fast on Epona with the wind blowing pleasantly across his face, Link realized for the first time that Gerudo afternoons truly were quite hot. This was only amplified by the fact that he still wore his all-black Joint Intelligence uniform, complete with jacket and tie. His personal discomfort, however, was hardly priority; he stomached the feeling and decided that he would deal with it until he was sure there was no immediate danger.
Peering out from behind the corner to the rest of the airfield and the runways, Link saw that Sirsa Airbase was in really bad shape. Even by looking at the aftermath of the battle, he could see what had transpired on this battlefield. Smoking, burning wreckages of fighter jets spewed across the runways; its numbers indicated to Link that, although some of the planes managed to get airborne, others were shot down before they even got off the ground. Those included the skeletons of various aircraft that burned along with the hangars they were stored in, the pilots never having got to them in time. He recognized the familiar craters caused by artillery, by missiles, by bombs. He recognized marks the anti-aircraft guns against hangar walls, holes caused by tank shells. And then there were the bodies. Tanned soldiers in military desert khakis littered the ground every now and then, some having died from gunshot wounds, others from blasts. It wasn't just Gerudo casualties either; every now and then, Link would spot a corpse in Valentine green as his eyes scanned the airbase. The result wasn't a pile of corpses, but the numbers, Link knew, were pretty significant. He had a feeling he would be finding more of them at the air traffic control facilities.
Judging by the carnage in Sirsa Military Airbase, the Gerudo soldiers had not exactly been caught off guard…but whatever measures they had taken to become completely ready had obviously not been fast enough.
His eyesight was pretty good, and the sunglasses minimized the glare of the window's reflections, but Link honestly wasn't sure if there was a sniper at the airbase's control tower a kilometer away. That would be where he'd station his sniper if he actually had one with him. The chances were unlikely; his eyes told him that there was no one up there from his angle, and there was the assumption that, if there was someone up there, they would've noticed his approach on motorbike some time ago and alerted someone. There might not be any living soul left…or maybe someone who was still alive was a Gerudo soldier, not a Valentine on. Still, he didn't want to take the chance and give a sniper – friend or foe – a clear shot at him; he was going to make his way slowly and covertly to the air traffic control facilities, in order to take out any snipers there and take a good look around the airbase from a vantage point…which was difficult, considering that much of the base was made of wide-open roads, runways, and areas, giving Link little place to hide.
Having made the preliminary look-around, Link turned around, traversing the alley before rounding the corner back to where he had left Zelda and Epona. Back in the shadows, Link – for the first time since leaving Hyrule City – took off his black jacket and his tie – revealing the gunsword holster on his side over his black shirt – and unbuttoned the collar of his shirt. The temperature here was stifling.
"Does it look bad?" Zelda asked in a quiet, worried whisper. She was sweating; unlike Link, her extravagant dress did not give her the luxury of being able to take off any article of clothing without seeming immodest.
Link momentarily wondered to what extent Zelda expected from the word "bad"…then killed that line of thought. He nodded. No matter how one looked at it, the situation was rather grim. He slung his jacket and tie over Epona's frame. What he was wearing wasn't exactly ideal for field work, but it'd have to do. He motioned for Zelda to stay put where it was safe before checking the ammunition for his gunsword. He only had two magazines left – fifteen rounds each – plus twelve rounds in the already-loaded magazine. In hindsight, he should've grabbed more ammunition back in Hyrule City when they passed by the underground armory beneath the Haven, but it was too late to regret that now. Three magazines would have to do; any more than that, and he would be getting into a firefight he couldn't possibly win.
He moved along the outer edges of the airbase, ensuring he stayed behind the hangars. He was lucky in that regard; despite the high sun, the hangars still provided some shadow for Link to hide in, his black attire blending well into the darkened areas. It was also well and good that the sun was very strong, as it only meant the contrast was greater, the shadows harsher. It meant Link's camouflage was even better than he had hoped for. Every now and then, he'd press himself against a hangar, look past the alleys between the hangars towards the airfield, see if there were any threats. Corpses – whether human or mechanical ones – were in no shortage, but there was yet to be any actual obstacles left for him. It worried Link some. Was this truly some sort of gross error on Valent's part, or was there some sort of trap lying in wait?
The line of hangars eventually ended, and Link stared at an uncomfortable two hundred meters of wide open space between where he hid behind the last hangar and the air traffic control facilities. A perfect target for a sniper, if one was around. He spent three minutes pressing himself against the wall, trying to look past the corner as he searched the most common sniper vantage points, looking for the telltale sign of a barrel or a lens flare. After not finding any, Link decided he would take his chances – not that there was much of another choice, and sprinted the two hundred meters as fast as he could. His steps were irregular, his velocity inconsistent, hoping that it might throw off a sniper's aim with his second changes in speed and direction. Still he was looking upwards for any sign of a sniper, any sign of danger, any sign that he might be caught completely in the open without any sort of cover.
Five meters away from the nearest shadow of the ground-level air traffic control facilities leading to the tower, Link leapt and dove, curling into a roll as he made that final lunge for safety. Seconds later, he was up against the wall, safely out of sight from any sniper vantage points as he breathed heavily, his gunsword brought up close to his face in handgun mode. There had been no attempt at sniping, no sign that there were any enemy forces out there. Perhaps the place truly was derelict.
It didn't hurt to be careful, however. There was a door – slightly ajar – to his right on the wall he had pressed himself against, leading into the facility. Scooting himself over to the door, he took off his sunglasses as soon as he reached the edge, holding up his sunglasses with a spare hand as a mirror to see if there was anything inside he should be concerned about. After ensuring that it was empty of anyone inside, he put his sunglasses back on, took a deep breath, a whirled around into the room.
He was only partially correct about the room being empty.
The room was littered with bodies. Link stepped cautiously into what almost looked like a large empty office space, filled with workstations and cubicles. The ground was layered with puddles of blood oozing from soldiers killed in action on the ground, both from Gerudo and Valentine. However, it was clear – just by the fact that the Valentine corpses wore full tactical gear while the Gerudo bodies looked like they were part of flight staff – that most of the bodies in this area would be of Gerudo airmen. Most of them were women; the Gerudo population was overwhelmingly female, while Valent recruited equally from both males and females groups. That was another thing that bothered Link. There was no body recovery operation. The remains of their own dead were usually recovered rather quickly by the military, if only for a means to provide a statistic as to who has died. Yet the Valentine bodies had just been…left there. Did the Valentine armed forces intend to send a clean-up party afterwards? After the continent-wide offensive succeeded or lost momentum? Link honestly wasn't sure, but the lack of answers left a rather bad taste in his mouth.
He stepped gingerly through the offices at a half-crouch, careful to avoid the puddles of blood to prevent him from leaving footprints. The wounds on the body looked fairly recent; even the pools of blood had yet to completely dry and cake over. This battle could not have been concluded more than a few hours ago…yet the haste at which the Valentine army pulled out was amazing. Just from the bullet holes everywhere, Link could tell how the firefight went down…and how little of a chance the Gerudo air force personnel had against a much better-trained and better-equipped Valentine army in terms of ground combat.
Sweeping through the facilities at a painstakingly slow pace, Link moved from office to lobby to cafeteria, from one building to another. The results were uniform; no one greeted him aside from the presence of the dead.
It was twenty minutes later when he finally ascended the staircase towards the top of the airbase's control tower. With his gunsword held tightly, he silently switched the weapon with a flourish into sword mode; the smaller confines of the tower would give close-quarters combat an advantage, especially since had didn't have an automatic weapon that could effectively sweep the tower with a hail of bullets. Navigating the last staircase in silence, Link peeked beyond the edge of the staircase and around the guardrail surrounding it. His eyes scoured his surroundings once before he slowly slept into the control room of the tower, a glass-framed room surrounded by computers that possessed a three-sixty overlook around the airport and its desert surroundings.
The control tower was empty.
At least that answered the sniper question. Converting his gunsword back to handgun mode, Link holstered the weapon as he checked the computers around the tower. There were no corpses here, and the computers were all inoperable upon further inspection. The air traffic control crew must have completely wiped out everything on the computers when they realized there was no hope of salvaging this airbase; if Sirsa was going to be captured by Valent, then Gerudo would make sure it was not functioning at full capacity…and that sensitive data wouldn't fall into enemy hands.
Peering out the windows, Link commanded the view around the airbase. It was then that Link truly realized the extent of the damage inflicted onto the airbase. Many buildings had completely collapsed, and far too many of the hangars had been destroyed by a combination of fires and explosions. Wrecks of airplanes could be seen even beyond the airbase where they had been shot down over the desert. Humanlike shapes here and there indicated where there was a body, and the runway was also blasted with explosions and blasts that tore craters across the area. His vantage point was hindered slightly by small columns of smoke that rose into the air and eventually formed a black pillar that accumulated in the clouds as a dark fog.
Below, however, Link spied something that he had not seen earlier on his way in, a single Valentine armored personnel carrier parked beside what looked like the airbase barracks. Unlike the other vehicles around, this one was not charred, damaged, or destroyed, but in completely battle-worthy condition. Maybe it was a single patrol left here? Link immediately tensed and drew his gunsword once more; perhaps there was still someone left on this airbase of Valentine origin. He wanted to take care of that before doing anything else.
It took another fifteen minutes of careful navigation around the remnants of the airbase before he managed to find the door that led out of the facilities and close enough to the lone APC. Opening the door just a bit, he ventured a peek out; no one as far as he could see. Moving quickly, he dashed the fifty meters of tarmac from the building's exit to the side of the armored vehicle. He listened carefully as he held his breath, and, not at all unexpectedly, heard muffled voice from inside the vehicle. If Link had to guess, the source of the sound was likely to be in the back of the carrier, where infantrymen could sit and rest with reasonable protection.
The hatches were closed and securely locked. Not that much of a problem for Link, who immediately transformed his gunsword into a longsword once more. With a single, powerful stroke of his gunsword, Link slashed at the two securing bolts that allowed the APC's armored rear hatch to swing open and shut. The gunsword made a distinct metallic sound as they severed through the reinforcing components…and the hatch groaned as it fell outwards, hitting the ground with a clang.
There were two Valentine soldiers, army infantrymen, inside who looked like they had been resting inside. They had been alerted when Link forced the rear hatch open, but they had not been fast enough to draw their assault rifles. They moved to draw their weapons and even had them halfway up, but Link took one threatening step forward, placing one foot into the APC, the point of his gunsword coming up, obviously poised to strike. Both soldiers froze at the movement; judging by the performance of their special forces units, they were all too aware of how effective a gunsword could be at close-quarters combat. They hesitated, keeping the assault rifles in their hands tentatively even as they kept their barrels pointed towards the ground, prepared to react, but not eager to give the Link any reason to use the sword.
The army corporal on Link's left seemed edgy, his breathing heavy and agitated. On the right, the sergeant seemed calmer even as she watched Link, alert and careful. Watching the situation with a keen, careful eye, the sergeant spoke softly to the corporal. "It's alright, corporal," she breathed calmly, standing frozen where she was. "No one needs to get hurt over this. Put down your weapon. Slowly."
The corporal hesitated, still in a semi-crouched position, ready to bring his rifle to bear on Link if need be. He glanced shakily at his sergeant, who silently but meaningfully nodded back in a slow, deliberate manner. It was only then that the corporal slowly slipped off the strap of his assault rifle from his shoulder, and, bending his knees to drop himself to a bit of a crouch, began to lay his assault rifle – still slowly – down on the ground…
Movement to Link's right immediately made him react. The sergeant had suddenly brought her assault rifle up, preparing to fire but, more importantly, draw attention to herself so the corporal could get the better shot. The rifle, switched to full automatic, had already fired twice by the time Link moved into attack range, but, thankfully, the rounds struck the armored floor between them, and they did not ricochet back up to hit Link, who immediately moved his arms into a slashing movement even as the corporal dropped down to a full, stabilizing crouch, shouldering his assault rifle in preparation to fire…
Link did not have the luxury to attempt to disarm the two soldiers. The stroke that he administered with the blade, therefore, the tip of his sword slashing right past the body armor of both soldiers and cutting into the flesh, was lethal. A deep gash formed across the chests of both soldiers, who slumped onto the ground after both emitted a wet sigh and did not move.
Link knelt beside the two bodies, pressing his fingers on their necks to ensure there was no longer a pulse. He was correct in his guess; they were both dead. A snap of a switch later, the gunsword returned to handgun mode, and he looked out the APC, ensuring that this wasn't some sort of ambush and there weren't any Valentine soldiers waiting for him to come out. Indeed, there weren't; as far as Link could tell – despite his worries that the situation was far too suspicious for his liking – they were safe.
Some of the hangars were still intact and undamaged, so Link pulled Zelda into one when he returned to the shadows behind the hangars. It was still quite hot despite being indoors and in better shade, but not as much as it was outside. Link, admittedly, was also concerned about Zelda's stamina and fatigue, so he silently offered her his jacket even as he sat her down on a cluster of metal crates nearby. If she decided she would sleep, the jacket could be used as a pillow or a blanket. Most likely pillow; the princess would probably boil over if she tried to use it as a blanket. She graciously took it and folded it into a neat square even as she tried to smooth out her hair and her dress. His princess attended to, Link got back to work.
The Valentine military was obviously in Gerudo, meaning riding with just Epona – restricted to the ground and the roads – was going to be even more dangerous than it already was. Furthermore, it only encouraged Link to move at night; he still wasn't sure where the enemy army was, and he'd rather sneak right past them under the cover of darkness instead of when the sun was still high in the sky with them well into the afternoon. This called for a different set of tools…specifically, a different type of vehicle: An aircraft.
Not all the hangars were damaged, so there was a chance that a number of aircraft would still be untouched and still operable. After all, it was unlikely that the Gerudo pilots managed to get to all the aircraft when the airbase was attacked. With Epona, Link made one quick round around the hangar buildings, memorizing each and every one of the intact aircraft still within. It was a disheartening process; most hangars had been destroyed, and most of the exceptions were empty. A rare few were only damaged hangars with intact fighter jets inside, but the problem was that Link was looking for a specific type of aircraft; fighter jets did not apply.
What eventually did catch Link's attention, however, was a rather large shape inside one of the last few intact hangars he was passing by. His hopes were answered as he drove Epona in for a better look; stashed away in the corner was a heavy transport helicopter, the largest the Gerudo air force had in its arsenal. With a thirty-meter-long but well-armored body, the helicopter lacked the two-rotor design of Hyrule's heavy transport helicopters, but it certainly did make up with its utterly massive single rotor, which provided enough power for the helicopter to take off even with an additional fifteen thousand kilograms in cargo. If memory served correctly, this model did minesweeping for the army and the navy, while the air force used them for heavy lifting and transport – Gerudo's air force was relatively weak compared to Hyrule and Valent, so their air power was instead built with the emphasis of supporting and fielding their much more powerful ground forces. Even better was the fact that the aircraft was painted sleek black, perfect for nighttime operations.
At the moment, however, transport was exactly what Link needed; there was no way in hell he was going to leave Epona behind.
Boarding the helicopter, Link quickly activated the aircraft's instruments and ran a diagnostic. His hopes were answered; the readings were green across the board, meaning the helicopter was in a completely operable condition with no damage whatsoever. It was fully loaded with weapons and ammunition too. The fuel gauge was only at quarter-full, however, so Link needed to fix that. He remembered the presence of several still-intact fuel trucks closer to the hangar where he had left Zelda, so the helicopter was driven – in a manner not unlike driving a car – over to Zelda's hangar, but not before Epona was loaded onto the helicopter's cargo hold through the rear ramp, then tied down to ensure it wouldn't topple over in-flight. The helicopter's approach was relatively silent when it entered the hangar Zelda was in; Link immediately saw that the princess was indeed sound asleep, and she did not wake as the aircraft quietly entered through the hangar doors. Link reminded himself that the rest of the tasks should be performed in relative silence. Given a choice, he would've done refueling elsewhere, but his sense of duty and loyalty demanded that he stay close to the princess and keep her guarded.
A three-minute jog towards the airbase's main facility allowed Link to reach where the fuel trucks were. There were three trucks still intact, but only one still had the keys left in them, so Link got into one truck, then drove it back to the hangar where the helicopter was waiting. The truck's loud engine was harder to mask, but Link drove it inside the hangar doors anyways before killing power to the engine. Surprisingly, Zelda still did not wake…or had woken, but refused to open her eyes or get up. The entire ordeal since she was whisked out of the safe room in Hyrule Castle must've been harder on her than Link had originally suspected. Still, he couldn't deny her strength; she was handling the entire situation much more calmly and rationally than he would've otherwise expected from any other civilian. He had to give her credit for managing to keep it together in the face of such a disaster.
The hangar bay doors were closed to prevent scouts from looking into a hangar with a refueling helicopter. The helicopter was filled to maximum capacity about twenty minutes later, and Link double-checked the aircraft's instruments to make sure. The transport helicopter could fly almost just as fast as Epona could ride, but Link had commandeered the helicopter for maneuverability – he wanted to be able to stay out of reach of Valentine patrols and not be restricted to the ground – and Zelda's comfort. It was much easier to sit on a helicopter's co-pilot seat rather than the back of a motorcycle.
Link was still not ready to leave yet. Communications were not being jammed here, so Link turned on the cockpit radio after taking a national road map and a pen from the fuel truck's glove compartment. Shifting through frequencies, Link tried to find any military channels the armed forces – both Gerudo and Valentine – were using in an attempt to intercept their communications. It was not easy; most of the radio chatter was heavily encrypted to prevent eavesdroppers – just like him – from listening in, and the helicopter did not have the proper decryption algorithms to make sense of most of the transmissions. Link was thankful that the radio could receive as much as it did, probably due to the lack of electronic countermeasures in the area that made radiowave transmission and decryption that much more difficult. Most of the communiqués that were received were of Gerudo origin – understandable, considering the decoding device on this Gerudo helicopter – but that was all well and good even as Link drew circles and lines across the map of this desert nation. The point of this task was rather simple: Link wanted to know where the Valentine forces were, what areas they were occupying, and where there was fighting…because those were places he wanted to keep his vulnerable transport helicopter well away from.
As he suspected, communications on both sides were frantic, which could only mean that Valentine forces were definitely attacking Gerudo positions all across the nation, forming a main line of resistance that exchanged heavy fire. There was a stark, professional efficiency in which Valent coordinated its offensive even as early reports indicated a smooth offensive forward, which play a stark contrast to the loud, fast-paced, somewhat panicked reports coming in from the Gerudo side. As the hours passed, however, this slowly began to change; frustration began to lace the voices of Valentine commanding officers as reports of success became less frequent, while the relief heard amongst the Gerudo channels indicated that the desert army was finally successfully holding back what was otherwise a massive offensive campaign. Eventually, both sides were holding through at a stalemate, with no massive offensive campaigns on either side.
Four hours into the exercise, Link finally determined – through listening to assorted Gerudo and Valentine battle reports – that Valentine armed forces neglected a five kilometer gap across their main line of resistance two hundred kilometers to the southeast. It was one of several, but judging by the circles and scratches where Link marked as positions of where the Valentine armed forces were, this empty spot was most conspicuous. Consulting the map, he quickly saw the reason why: There was a system of canyons and crevices there, massive and irregular in shape, and the army could not actually pass through efficiently. Not to mention the area held absolutely no strategic advantage, not with the area far from any infrastructure or naturally-advantageous terrain. A helicopter might stand more of a chance flying over, however. Furthermore, with the sun already setting, Link was fairly confident that strategic operations would likely end for the day as night settled in, allowing for both militaries to take a reprise from the fighting. This meant that the positions of the Valentine army were not likely to change anytime tonight, and Link did not have to worry about Valentine forces not being where they weren't supposed to…as much, anyways. There was never any certainty about these kinds of things. At least it meant a lower chance of catching anti-aircraft fire, however.
Link made a quick double-check of everything done so far, ensuring that he hadn't forgotten anything. Once he was certain that he had diminished the risk of being attacked to its absolute minimum, he stretched in his seat, closed his eyes for a little bit. Link had to be honest when he admitted to himself that he was feeling exhausted. Not having actually slept since the previous morning, he had effectively been awake, alert, and busy for the past thirty-six hours, all without a moment of rest. He contemplated just how well he would be able to fly a helicopter in this state…then decided that it shouldn't be a problem; it would only be two hours to nearby Gerudo defensive positions – a bit longer if they had to be careful and avoid Valentine units, and if that happened, Link was sure adrenaline would be able to compensate.
It was only after this that he slipped out of the helicopter's pilot seat and decided to go over and wake Zelda. She slept soundly, as expected of a princess; the desert heat had cooled as the sun began to set and the night went from a bright azure to a blazing red to a melancholy purple, and that must've subconsciously encouraged Zelda to rest as much as she could. Link was almost hesitant to wake her up, but he did, gently shaking her shoulder. She woke slowly and drowsily; he had not been rough, so she had not become instantly alert with the assumption that something was wrong, and allowed Link to help her up and steer her towards the prepared helicopter.
Zelda was not actually quite sure what was going on even as she was put onto the co-pilot seat of the helicopter. She was still quite unclear of mind when the door was closed behind her, and it wasn't until Link opened the hangar doors, came around, entered the cockpit on the pilot side, and began flipping switches to activate the helicopter that Zelda suddenly realized that she had missed a very important detail, and the reason why she had been slow to react was because she had not actually expected one thing. Watching Link calibrate the instruments of the helicopter fluently even as the engines came online, the princess asked rather incredulously, "…You know how to fly a helicopter?"
Link nodded stoically as he drove the helicopter out of the hangar bay, but when he realized that Zelda was still looking at the young agent incredulously, his eyebrows raised and shrugged in a manner that almost asked, "…What, don't you?"
Even as their helicopter rolled out onto the tarmac runway and the rotors began to spin in preparation for takeoff, Zelda wonder what vehicle Link didn't know how to operate.
As the rotors gained speed and grew to a deafening roar, creating a miniature hurricane around them, Link quickly pulled together the safety harness, a more extensive version of what is otherwise known as a safety belt in a car, and, tapping the contraption twice, motioned for Zelda to do the same; she quickly obeyed. Snapping the final clasp into place, she noticed the map Link had tucked right beside his seat, and took one look at it before immediately realizing just what Link had been doing, marking the map with circles, lines, and arrows. No further explanation was needed as Zelda gingerly took the map, attracting Link's attention. "You should concentrate on flying," Zelda tried to call out above the sound of the helicopter, but her voice was drowned out in the hurricane; even she couldn't hear herself.
Link knew that most of the sound actually came from the engine and the rotating machinery inside the helicopter, and that these transport helicopters were actually relatively silent from the outside. Still, it didn't help Zelda's situation any. Patiently, Link pulled down a pair of headsets from above him, and Zelda, seeing the second pair, did the same with hers. Generally, the pilot helmets were wired into the communications system, but with the absence of helmets, helicopters generally came along with an extra set just in case.
Affixing the headset properly to her head, she twisted down the microphone, tapped it twice to ensure there was feedback, then spoke to Link again, who also had his headset on. "You should concentrate on flying," Zelda tried again, "and leave the map-reading to me."
Link momentarily wondered whether or not Zelda could actually read military maps…but figured that the princess was sober enough to know what was at stake; she wouldn't offer that kind of help unless she was confident she could contribute. Nodding solemnly, Link ensured that the rotors had achieved takeoff rotation rate before finally increasing power. Slowly, the heavy transport helicopter lifted off its wheels and began its ascent. Despite having sat in transport helicopters many times in the past, Zelda still instinctively grabbed tightly onto the edge of her seat; she had never actually rode a helicopter on the co-pilot's seat, and the view she commanded was, admittedly, a bit…intimidating. Still, she steeled herself, repeating in her mind that taking off was the hardest part, and she should have faith in Link, who wouldn't have taken a helicopter had he not known how to pilot it.
Gently, the helicopter finally achieved a safe altitude – approximately twenty meters above ground, as Link didn't want to pull off anything too fancy with an aircraft this heavy, especially with Zelda onboard – and Link tilted the yoke forward; the nose of the helicopter tipped downwards ever so slightly as it began to hover right on ahead. It took a few more seconds before the helicopter achieved a velocity of more than two hundred and eighty kilometers per hour, its maximum speed. He'd have to slow eventually when he got close to where the two armies were fighting, but, for now, he maintained his current speed and altitude, flying low enough to prevent himself from appearing like a solar flare on enemy radar, but not so low that he was creating a sandstorm under a helicopter.
Link spied the terrain around and below the helicopter even as he flew on, keeping an eye on the radar, provided by the radome at the nose of the aircraft. So far, everything was quiet and dark; the only exception was Sirsa Military Airbase, which still burned and lit the horizon a dim orange in contrast to the dark navy blue that was swiftly turning a stark black. Hopefully, the situation would remain that way.
"This doesn't make any sense." Zelda's voice suddenly came over his headset. Utilizing the light from the computer instruments, Zelda was reading the map while consulting a strategic pathfinder system – a military version of global positioning – in front of her. She also kept an eye on the terrain around her just in case the instruments were faulty, but diverted some of that attention on Link as well. She had an uncanny knack at multi-tasking.
Link tilted his head slightly in her direction, indicating that he was giving her some of his attention, but would also like some clarification as to what she was trying to refer to.
"The Valentine strategy," Zelda elaborated, her voice thick with concentration as she continued to seem distracted by a combination of everything that had happened to her so far and everything that she was keeping track of now. "A political tripod – Hyrule, Gerudo, and Valent dividing power into three on the continent – may be fragile, but it keeps one nation from attempting anything foolish in fear of retaliation or exploitation from the third. Yet Valent is attacking…both countries. That's the worst possible move."
Link wasn't so sure about that. He understood the logic behind the political tripod, a favored formation for an international zero-sum game that kept all three nations in check. One didn't become a Joint Intelligence agent without understanding geopolitics enough to predict the consequences of their actions. But he remembered that walker Valent had deployed against them back in Hyrule City…that massive armored vehicle that walked on legs and destroyed an entire roadblock in all of about three seconds. He had never seen anything like it before, but the agent had no doubt of the weapon's ridiculously high effectiveness. Somehow, Link didn't think that this was about Valent making a bad move, not as much as it was about Hyrule and Gerudo no longer having the cards to keep Valent in check.
Zelda couldn't read minds, however, and continued in her distracted manner. "They're not holding the bases either. There doesn't even seem to be a strategic objective for the war. They're just destroying everything. They're not holding key positions, not occupying towns or cities, not commandeering bases…They just run over everything in their way and move on. I have no idea what they're trying to accomplish."
That was something Link could agree with. Granted, he was a special operations agent, not a soldier, but he knew enough of military strategy for him to realize that Valent's behavior was…excessively abnormal. The occupational force in Hyrule City seemed only enough to force out the last remnants of Hylian resistance, not to actually hold the city. The invasion force weren't setting up strategic positions outside the main line of resistance they were engaging enemy armies on. They destroyed bases, didn't bother to collect the bodies, and just…moved on. He wished he had been able to capture the two Valentine soldiers from earlier alive; he might've had more answers if they had survived interrogation. Because, at the moment – and he was sure Zelda felt the same way – Valent's strategy seemed geared towards destruction…simply destroying everything.
Suppressing the chill rising up his spine, Link forced his thoughts to another direction, and wondered just how well the Hylian military was holding together. The last time they had even seen the Hylian military was the friendly roadblock in Hyrule City on Highway A-7…which was summarily destroyed. Afterwards, they didn't even see wreckages or bodies along the way to Gerudo. Were they making a strategic retreat to regroup in the absence of their commander-in-chief? Just what had happened since they managed to seal Zelda away in a safe room after initial defenses were overwhelmed?
There wasn't much else to talk about. Link obviously was in no mind to speak, and Zelda needed to multi-task – and probably think about the welfare of her nation as well – so they flew on in relative silence for the most part, which was broken from time-to-time as Zelda made slight course corrections and pointed out possible signs of the enemy in the distance for the first two hours.
Two hours later, the orange glow of distant fires on the horizon told both Link and Zelda that they were definitely headed in the right direction.
Link immediately lowered his altitude even more as he decreased speed, moving the helicopter more stealthily than he had before as he looked over at the map Zelda held; she shifted it over in his direction so he could get a better look. Link recalled that there was a string of rock formations in the area – the national attractions guide on the back of the map had mentioned it and its location in passing – and, after determining its rough location, made sure his heading was turned slightly southwards before moving forward once more at a slow pace. If he was right, then this was the right direction to be headed.
That they were getting closer to the fires meant that he was.
Zelda gasped even as her hands went over to her mouth as she looked down over the flaming carnage they flew over. Link remembered marking this place on the map; if his recollections of the radio chatter were accurate, the Gerudo army had initially held this position with furious fighting on both sides, but the staggering losses eventually convinced the defenders that this portion of the desert bore no strategic advantage, and they were forced to make a tactical retreat…but not before leaving many of their ruined tanks and sisters-in-arms behind.
The entire thing looked like a scene out of hell. Tanks, helicopters, and every military vehicle deployed to the area had been destroyed, rent, and charred, burnt by the flames that still flickered and waved and licked at melted battle plates, the edges of metal having been torn asunder, looking as if they were great jags and scimitars sticking out and twisting evilly from some sort of hostile alien landscape. The vehicles were not seen every now and then either; it seemed as if the entire desert area was, in fact, covered in destroyed vehicles, all of them aflame, a massive bonfire in the desert. Every now and then, there would be the unexpected but loud crack from below as unspent ammunition caught fire and detonated, an occurrence that happened every now and then between long periods of relative silence, causing Zelda to flinch almost every time.
Link was just happy that Zelda couldn't see the bodies; the flames were likely to have turned all of them to ashes, or hid them under the brightly glowing blazes. He tapped the pathfinder device twice, configuring it so that it displayed a more localized digital map, but his ulterior motive was to attract his princess' attention from the unholy carnage back to…anything else. It worked; Zelda got back to work looking on the maps, but Link could tell she was greatly shaken. He gently began to tilt the helicopter away from the graveyard of war; he didn't need to let Zelda see that, and the smoke and smell of burning metal and flesh was beginning to seep its way into the helicopter.
Minutes later, the rock formations became more obvious, and the density of the fires of war thinned. Consulting the map and the various instruments of the helicopter, Zelda did the math instantly in her head before pointing Link in the right heading. "There," she whispered, her finger indicating in the direction of what otherwise seemed like a wide canyon. "That formation should lead us for two kilometers eastbound." Link nodded, but did a quick double-check of her calculations. He didn't need to put the numbers together as precisely as Zelda did; he just made sure the rough results were close enough, and ventured the guess that the princess was accurate enough. He altered his course just by a few degrees, moving through the canyon and spires of rocks cut and smoothened by centuries of erosion. They bore an uncomfortable resemblance towards the valley of death that they had passed through earlier, but possessed smoother edges instead of the sickening curls that the molten metal from before had adopted.
Twisting his eyebrows into a frown, Link concentrated even as he carefully piloted the helicopter through the ravine. The geographic depression allowed for him to remain off any low-altitude anti-aircraft radar Valent might be packing in the area – lessening the chances a fighter jet would be scrambled to their position and end their escape with a well-placed air-to-air missile – but that wouldn't matter much if his rotors caught a cliff wall and sent the helicopter on a chaotic tumble from which he could never recover. He wasn't exactly an ace pilot either, and maneuvering twenty thousand kilograms of thirty-meter-long helicopter through a thin crevice wasn't exactly the easiest of tasks. There were times where he was forced to hover in place for minutes to look for the best place to inch forward, but the canyon eventually widened, allowing Link to move with increasing speed. Still, with aerial maneuverability difficult even without ground terrain restrictions, he could only guess why Gerudo forces didn't bother to station units here; it was near-impossible to navigate this kind of terrain.
"We should be reaching the end of the canyon soon," Zelda informed as Link picked up speed, not enough to be doing any daredevil tricks, but enough for them to not feel like an airborne caterpillar. "If we're lucky, well…" she took a deep breath, then exhaled; it was shaky. "Hopefully, there will be Gerudo forces waiting for us on the other side."
Link merely nodded, but began to tinker with the communications suite on the helicopter. Zelda winced as a wash of static came over her headset, which was slowly replaced by the unintelligible but distinct sounds of human voices on the radio, definitely female. She felt a growing excitement in her chest as she realized that all of the voices on the radio were female, and they were speaking Interlingua with different variants of a Gerudo accent. They were getting close…at least, close enough for her to hear their radio transmissions despite being shielded in a canyon.
Apparently, they were also close enough for them to be detected by Gerudo forces as well, which soon detected a friendly air force IFF tag. Radio chatter on the Gerudo side immediately began to register surprise as a friendly heavy transportation helicopter was detected making its way through the canyon, which slowly turned into confusion and outright suspicion as the IFF was discovered to be registered under Sirsa Military Airbase, which they knew had already fallen to Valentine forces. Alarmed, Zelda quickly looked at Link, who understood her unspoken statement and merely nodded before tapping a few buttons on the communications suite, connecting Zelda's headset from the cockpit frequency – used for the pilot and co-pilot to communicate above the sounds of the helicopter – to the general emergency frequency open to practically all Gerudo units in the area. Completing this, Link nodded to Zelda, giving her the go-ahead to speak and expect for someone to actually hear what she was saying.
"To the Gerudo armed forces defending the area," Zelda spoke clearly into the headset's microphone, and Link was silently impressed at how regal and serenely authoritative she could sound even after going through nearly twenty-four hours of action, "this is Crown Princess Zelda of Hyrule. I am in one of your helicopters commandeered from Sirsa airbase, approaching from the canyons to your west. Please do not fire on us; we do not mean any harm. We have managed to escape the Valentine offensive on both of our nations, and I have come here seeking the help of Generalissimo Ganondorf and the Gerudo armed forces. As the sovereign of Hyrule, I hereby request a diplomatic escort to Garuda as soon as possible."
For a moment, the communications channel was completely silent. No shouting or cries of an attempt at deceit. Zelda wondered exactly what was going on, whether the soldiers had been shocked into silence at the development, or if they were debating the likelihood of Hyrule's crown princess on an approach helicopter. Still, she waited patiently even as Link, noting the lack of a response, held the helicopter in a holding position as he descended further into the canyon, hoping to be able to avoid any preemptive military action or friendly fire on Gerudo's part.
Finally, just a few seconds over a full minute later, a new voice – its calm, educated-sounding voice hinted at the speaker being some sort of intelligence officer – came over both Link and Zelda's headsets, her voice stern but reasonable. "Princess Zelda, this is Major Jessica. We need to do a voiceprint check to confirm your identity. This should not take more than three minutes. Please repeat these sentences after me…"
For a few seconds, Zelda listened and repeated a combination of seemingly random words strewn together into a grammatically correct sentence, speaking clearly even as she tried to keep her voice stable, knowing that there was the fear that – for whatever reason – whatever was doing voiceprint verification would erroneously report the results as negative and shooting down their chances for a safe extraction to Garuda. After being guided through three sentences, Zelda was promised that she would get a reply within two minutes, presumably so that Jessica could send Zelda's voice recordings back to Garuda for immediate audio analysis. As Jessica left the radio, Zelda temporarily disconnected her headset from the system, taking a few seconds to gasp and breathe heavily, getting the shakes out of her system. Link watched in unmoving silence, but he was not at all unsympathetic; whether her day of suffering had been meaningful or meaningless ultimately rested on this one trivial moment of confirming whether or not she was truly who she was.
No more than two minutes later, Major Jessica returned to the communication channel; she sounded a bit stressed at the situation on hand, but very much relieved at the development. "My apologies for the confusion, your Highness," she was quick to apologize when she addressed Zelda. "We needed to ensure this was not a Valentine trick. Your voiceprint checks out, and we are making your arrival the utmost priority. Please proceed on your current heading, your Highness; our anti-aircraft guns have instructions not to fire. We will give you landing clearance, provide you with anything you might need on the ground – food, medical attention, anything you need – and get you to Garuda as soon as possible."
Even though Jessica obviously couldn't see it, Zelda provided a tired smile anyways, something that reflected in the way she spoke even as her shoulders slumped and she visibly relaxed. "Thank you, major," she managed to gratefully reply in a soft, almost breath-like voice before finally disconnecting her microphone from the channel.
As soon as she was sure no one was listening in, Zelda leaned back against her seat, looking as if she was close to tears of mirth as she tilted her head back and closed her eyes, expunging another shaky breath. Her hands, clasped together, were trembling. She looked like she was coming close to becoming a bit of an emotional wreck, yet, seconds later, she still managed to look at Link with clear, tired eyes and provided a small smile.
"We made it," she whispered in relief.
Her voice didn't completely make it over the headset to Link, so soft was her voice and so loud was the ambience, but Link, having been trained lightly in lip-reading, managed to figure out what she was saying anyways. He nodded as he angled the helicopter into its final approach vector, silently mouthing "we made it" in agreement even as Zelda closed her eyes once more and finally allowed the tears to slowly flow.
Exoria File #005
Excerpt from Appendix A: Abridged Comprehensive Timeline, "Continental History: The Last 100 Years" (1507 First Edition)
"…1407 a.s.r. – The 1407 Hyrule City International Convention successfully votes on the international auxiliary language of the continent. While all nations and locales retain their own national languages or regional dialects, the official language used for international purposes is voted to be Interlingua, with two yea votes from Hyrule and Valent…
1449 a.s.r. – Dispute over territorial administration of the resource-rich Death Mountains leads to a terrorist attack that temporarily but severely cripples mining operations in the area. Productivity and economical welfare in all three nations plummet, leading to the Second Continental War, in which Hyrule, Gerudo, and Valent clash over available natural resources in the Death Mountains. The war ends six years later after no surrender from any of the belligerents with the Truce of Newberg, albeit with an indecisive Hylian victory, due to the allocation of nearly fifty percent of Death Mountain resource-rich territories to Hyrule. The Second Continental War is, to this day, the bloodiest war in continental history.
1456 a.s.r. – Dissatisfaction with post-Second Continental War administration and economic conditions in the poorer region of southern Gerudo reaches a climax, and opponents to the central government instigate the Second Southern Gerudo Civil War. International assistance allows the Gerudo central government to put down the revolt within a year…
1468 a.s.r. – Zoran rights activist Madonna is assassinated by human supremacist groups in Memphis, Hyrule, triggering the largest series of riots in the continent's history. Public rioting, fighting, and lynching hits a peak in Bloody Friday, where more than one hundred and fifty people died in the violence, many more were injured, and damage up to one billion rupees were incurred. Zoran terrorism sees a dramatic rise. Madonna's assassination brings more awareness to Zoran rights, and, by the end of the year, the Third Zoran Accord is signed, guaranteeing abridged Zoran civil rights and removing restrictions on territorial claims of Zoran natural reserves in all three nations…
1482 a.s.r. – Cybil Laboratories, located in Hampshire, Hyrule, finishes construction on the Large Hadron Collider. In response to worries from Gerudo and Valent as to potential Hylian exploitation of technologies from Cybil Laboratories, the Hampshire Treaty is signed in the same year to ensure that the international civilian laboratory does not receive any interference from any military-related agendas from any nation…
1490 a.s.r. – Ultranationalist faction in Valent led by General Alphonse initiates the Valentine Revolution, toppling the rule of King Adam III, presumably after years of protest against Valent's weakening defense policy. After a three-day nationwide military campaign, forces loyal to King Adam III are defeated; Lord Tacitus, younger brother to King Adam III, is crowned king in the absence of General Alphonse, who was killed in action during the revolution…
1505 a.s.r. – King Robin II of Hyrule is critically injured in a car accident in Hyrule City, and is confined to medical care as he enters a coma; Princess Zelda, only daughter to the Hyrule royal family, takes on the title of crown princess and accepts duties as Hyrule's sovereign at sixteen years of age…"
Author's Note: For those who have been bored enough to go back to the Prologue for a look, you will notice that something has been added to near the very top. This fic has now officially been dedicated to AuraNightgale, so do give her a round of applause and drinks if you ever manage to catch her.
This chapter, as promised, is a bit shorter than any of the previous ones. I had actually wanted to extend this storyarc a bit by forcing yet another crisis on them before they got to Garuda, but I decided against it; it would've been too forced, and revealed too much about the continental offensive being launched by Valent. So, my apologies, but you'll have to look for your clues and spoilers elsewhere.
A serious thank you goes out to reader and reviewer The Pilot, who noticed a typo on my part when it came to numbering just how many Valentine soldiers were involved in the Hylian invasion effort. Instead of one hundred and thirty thousand, I accidentally wrote thirteen thousand instead. That one extra zero makes a great difference, and I'm quite glad the mistake was pointed quickly. This mistake has been swiftly rectified. Much thanks and kudos, The Pilot.
I'd like to take a moment to plead for current readers to please spread the word; tell your friends and fellow Zelda fans about Exoria, and get them to read it too, even if you must do it by forcing them to do so at the point of a Master Sword. I would be greatly appreciative if you do so; an author is only as good as the audience s/he attracts.