"The Mirror of Twilight must be in there," Midna declared, floating over Link's head in the dark with hands on hips. She jerked her thumb over her shoulder at the makeshift fortress behind them that, until just now, had been filled to the brim with more monsters than Link had ever seen in one place before.
He nodded, staring up at the gigantic building in front of them. He had imagined a big block-like building with no windows, impossible to escape. But the Arbiter's Grounds didn't look like that, not from the outside anyway. It looked more like a coliseum. "Midna," he asked slowly, "Do you think…there were public executions here?"
She scratched her head. "It's possible…that sort of thing was pretty common at one time…though I don't know who would wander all the way out here to watch one." She made a face. "C'mon, let's stick to the mission and ignore the other stuff."
He trotted quickly down the stairway, into the lower level, and frowned like a thundercloud. It didn't look any more inviting than any of the other dungeons he'd crawled in so far, and what was more, the place seemed to be falling apart. Sand rolled down the walls in waves, into a seemingly endless hole.
"Watch the sand," Midna cautioned, though of course he didn't need her to tell him that. He used his hookshot to go over most of the gaps, coming up to a large chain. He pulled it and a second gate opened.
They entered a large room, and seconds later, the gate at the far end suddenly slammed shut. Midna motioned up to the blue lights in front of them, which appeared to be getting eaten by floating lanterns.
Link signaled to Midna and she shifted him to wolf form. His sight, hearing, and smell enhanced, he could half see and half sense the now-familiar rustling of Poes.
Rusl kept the torches lit all around the village, making it nearly as bright as day. "Will that really keep the ghosts away?" a ten-year-old Link asked, following him with oil for quick burning.
"Poes, Link," Rusl corrected him. "Evil ghosts are called Poes. Not all ghosts will harm you."
"Why are they evil?"
Finishing up the last torch, Rusl sat on a stump, fingering his sheathed sword. "They are the souls of evil people. They cannot cross over until they give up who they have been and what they have done in life, and start over. Their only purpose is to cause trouble."
Link sat on the ground next to him. "So what about the ghosts that aren't evil? Why don't they cross over?"
"Usually because they have some regret, something they cannot forget, something that ties them to this world." He frowned deeply. "You see them a lot, just after wars or epidemics. After a while, though, they eventually move on."
After ripping the Poe's soul essence away, Link followed the scent of moldy fabric and old bones to a hidden door. Once inside, he shifted shape again, holding up his lantern to the wall.
He had noticed writing, and half expected to see instructions for getting into the next room. It was obvious that there was a room next to them, but it had been closed off somehow. As he stared at the carved characters, he realized he could not read them.
The glyphs looked somewhat similar to Hylian, but were curved instead of straight. In addition he could see what looked like a crude representation of a man with a sword and shield. Next to it stood a weird thing. He could not completely picture what the weird thing represented, but it looked like some huge monster with giant claws for hands. Or perhaps it wielded swords like the Lizalfos did. He found it hard to tell. There were also some inexplicable boxes and what looked like rope, always in threes.
"Is this some older form of Hylian?" he asked Midna, squinting at the runes.
She shrugged. "Don't look at me. The only history I know is that of the Twili." Obviously uninterested, she tugged at his sleeve and pointed to a kind of lever on the central pillar. "I think if you push that, we can get a little further.
He did, and a small entryway opened up above them. Using his hookshot to get to the upper floor, he found a room not all that different from the one they had just left. Taking a quick look around for enemies, he found only a handful of rats…yet he felt a strange chill, and an eerie feeling that they were not alone.
"Hello." He whirled round to face the ghost of a small girl, silvery blood covering half her nearly transparent body. "Have you seen my mommy?"
Wordlessly, Link shook his head. What was a little girl doing in a former prison? Had she gone in with a visitor and gotten lost? "I'm sorry, no."
"That's okay." She floated around him, giving him a once-over. "I wouldn't go that way, if I were you," she said, nodding to one of the entryways. "The mean ghosts live over there."
"Actually, I'm looking to get rid of the mean ghosts," Link said. He glared at Midna, who was digging her nails into his shoulder, obviously perturbed. "They took the light I need to get where I'm going."
The ghost's face lit up. "Really? Well, if you need to find more, I'll help you. I don't want to go near them myself, though."
"That's okay. Just point us in the right direction."
He followed the corridors and eventually found the Poe, defeating it. Following the blue light back to the main entryway, he saw the ghost girl waiting for him, along with two other girls and a young woman, all ghosts. They were not Hylian, as they had rounded ears. The girls wore simple dresses, but the woman wore baggy pants and a kind of wraparound sleeveless shirt that would have attracted a lot of attention, if she were alive.
"Jeez, criminals must start young around here," Midna muttered into his ear.
Link shrugged. "Hey, you were the one who said to focus on the mission."
The woman ghost pointed to a chest on the far end of the room. "There's a map of the place in there," she said. "We can show you where the Poes can be found."
"Thank you," Link said as politely as he could, not used to conversing with ghosts. Once he fetched it, the four spirits pointed out rooms and the first girl announced, "I'm gonna come with you. I've been too scared of the mean ghosts to explore much. Maybe I can find my mommy."
Link nodded, not knowing what else to say. "What's your name?" he asked finally.
Her face crinkled up in tears. "I…I don't remember."
"Don't cry," said Midna. "Want to see a magic trick?" She shifted Link into wolf form, who glared balefully at her.
The ghost girl laughed and clapped her hands, then cheered as Link shifted back. "All right, all right. Are we set to go?" Link asked.
As they trudged through the dungeon, Link tried hard not to take notice of the disturbing traps that infested this place, most consisting of huge spikes with skulls and ancient fabric impaled on them. I know this is a prison, he thought to himself, and therefore it needs to be secure, but…was there a riot or something? There seem to be far too many in strange places…
"You'll want to avoid the Screaming Skeletons," the girl instructed, jolting him out of his thoughts.
"The what?" Midna demanded.
"The Screaming Skeletons. They can paralyze you when they yell. I think it only works on living people, though."
Link filed that information away in his brain. It would come up many times before he finally left the Grounds. By the time they had found all the Poes, the girl still had not completed her own mission, and continued to tag along.
"Be careful," the girl said as they approached a door. "That's the Martyrs' Room. I'm told lots of people were killed in there. You might find Poes or skeletons."
Link nodded, and opened the door with caution. He found nothing moving in the room, but drew in his breath at the sight of an enormous statue of a woman. She sat cross-legged, holding a flame in each hand, a huge serpent wrapped around her. The ghost girl floated up to her and bowed.
"Who is this?" Link asked. She didn't look like any of the representations of Farore, Nayru, or Din he'd seen.
"The Goddess of the Sands," the girl answered matter-of-factly. "We've got company," she said, pointing behind him.
Link whirled round in surprise as he caught sight of a horde of skeletons rising up out of the sand, quickly making their way toward him. But before he could even draw his sword, the ghost floated in front of him. "Sisters!" she called in a voice much too authoritative for one so young. "Leave this one alone, sisters! Go back to sleep!"
To Link and Midnas' great surprise, the creatures did as she bade, albeit with some grumbling and reluctant clacking of bones. The girl floated on to the next door as if nothing had happened.
As they advanced through the Grounds, Link took the time to examine the carvings on the walls. Not an expert of architecture, he could still discern that some parts of the building were much older than others. The older parts had the squiggly writing on them, whereas relatively new parts bore Hylian runes and the royal seal. Obviously this building had some other purpose before it had become a prison. But what? And if Hylians didn't build it, who did?
Finally, after fighting a phantom suit of armor and the old bones of a dragon, they reached the coliseum part of the building. The ghost girl suddenly shot forward as she spied something in the middle of the arena. "Mama!"
"Naru!" A young woman who looked very much like the downstairs ghost floated quickly to meet her. "Naru, I finally found you!" Link noticed a blossom of silver blood radiating from her chest.
"Mama, I'm sorry," the ghost girl sobbed. "When the men chained you to the block, I tried to get away. And then I got lost."
Midna stared at Link. When the men chained you to the block? She mouthed at him. He shook his head.
The woman looked up at the two only living souls for miles, and frowned slightly upon catching sight of Link. "Thank you for bringing my daughter to me, Hylian. It is a small but appreciated gift after enduring your crimes against my people."
"Crimes against your people? Aren't you the criminal here?" Midna demanded, but both ghosts disappeared before she finished her first question. Link and Midna started at each other, nonplussed.
Link was jolted out of his thoughts when Midna cried out in despair, finding that the mirror she sought had been broken. All throughout the speech given by the mysterious Sages, he didn't think much about what he had just seen. It wasn't until he jogged over the sand on the way back to Hyrule proper that it hit him.
He doubled over, violently sick. Midna popped out of his shadow and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Are you all right?"
"Goddesses…" He coughed, breathing hard. "The girls…and the women…"
He was the leader of a band of thieves that lived in the desert…
"What is it?" Midna demanded urgently.
Link closed his eyes, trying to shut out the desert, once traversed by people long gone. "Gerudo…they were Gerudo. The people the desert is named after." He turned to Midna and searched her face. "The girls…they were too young, they could not have been true criminals. Do you think…"
Midna floated to the ground as the pieces came together. These people, the Gerudo, had endured similar circumstances to her own. A separate race, which had been condemned for their attempts to steal the Hylians' power. But the Twili got off lucky. They lived.
Nothing remained of the Gerudo but the writing on the wall.