Chapter Six

Link awoke to the sound of quiet. It was an interesting sensation, one that took many moments to notice, the realization coming only after the silence was interrupted. Fort Garuda bustled with activity, and though the war had not yet reached the Gerudo capital, Garuda spared no expense at getting the entire capital to work. Throughout the night, soldiers marched to and fro while vehicles rumbled here and there; even through windowless rooms shut deep within Fort Garuda, Link could hear – no, feel – the activity that rumbled through the fort and the surrounding city, rocking him gently to sleep as he reclined on the bed provided to him in the fort diplomatic suite. Generally, security detail for a foreign sovereign were provided other rooms – perhaps in a state-affiliated hotel or military officer quarters – but the uniqueness of the situation, with Link being the princess' only bodyguard, granted him one of the nearby diplomatic suites.

Now, however, the sounds and rocking had stopped, leaving Link with the strange impression that, somehow, the world had suddenly whisked life away, yet forgotten about him. It left him with a sense of dreadful foreboding, so he quickly rose from his bed and moved to the door. So tired was he the night before that he had not bothered to take a change of clothes – only having taken off his jacket, removed his tie, and unbuttoned the first two buttons of his shirt – before dropping into the soft caress of a soft mattress and clean sheets, and how he was dressed sleeping was exactly how he was dressed as he woke. He slipped on his shoes and tucked his gunsword into a spare belt holster before putting on his sunglasses and making his way out the room, but only after he spared the nearby grandfather clock a glance from behind heavily tinted lenses; lack of windows to see the skies outside made it difficult to guess at the time of day. The hands read six fifty-five, presumably in the morning.

He remembered how the night had ended before, being summoned by Leonore to the hallways after she had finished her briefing with Zelda. When Leonore had told Link that she had orders for him, he had straightened immediately, knowing that the circumstances demanded a new level of attention and dedication. To his surprise, however – and possibly to his irritated self-embarrassment – Leonore had grinned at Link's motion and quipped, "Yes, Link, I'm about to give clandestine orders to a Joint Intelligence agent whom everyone in the central government knows is here in a nation dominated by females of a different ethnicity. I'm sure you'll be able to covertly execute whatever top secret assignment I'm about to provide you and not attract attention. Very subtle."

Link had made a face; he never liked it whenever Leonore saw it fit to treat him like a child.

Her smirk had softened into a smile, and her words had actually surprised Link a bit. "You have a mandatory forty-eight hour leave from duty after an equally mandatory eight hour bed rest," she said seriously but serenely. "You've been through a lot, and I think all of us feel quite indebted to you for what you've managed to accomplish. There's not a lot you can do right now as a Joint Intelligence agent, and security doesn't seem to be a serious problem, so, for now, I want you to rest and recuperate. That's an order."

Now that Link actually thought about it, despite his misgivings about how Leonore liked to treat him sometimes, the woman was the closest thing to a mother as anyone had ever gotten. She had looked out for him since he was transferred from the state-run orphanage to Joint Intelligence's secret training program through the Spencer Welfare Program, and although Leonore had hundreds of other people to take care of, she still managed to somehow seem close with him. Of course, never that close and not him in particular – their respective professionalism never allowed that – but there was a great sense of gratitude and respect for the woman who was capable of treating him both as a valuable agent and a young adult; no one else in his growth really managed to accomplish both, and, honestly speaking, Leonore was someone very special in Link's life.

Not that he'd ever actually tell that to Leonore.

Still, he had the fact that the corridors were empty and deserted to deal with. Stepping out of the doors of his room, he noticed that he could neither see nor hear any of the patrols that were supposed to be guarding this area, a serious concern, considering that he had been reassured by Jessica only yesterday that the diplomatic suites fell under the purview of three different security sections. It had only been yesterday, after all, that Link had traversed the nothingness of the continent with Zelda, looking for anyone for answers, but finding that the great expanse had been abandoned by all but the enemy. The inability to immediately see anyone, therefore, was unsettling to Link, who immediately undid the strap of his holster to facilitate a quicker draw should the need arise. He did not immediately draw his gunsword, but he made sure the safety switch was off.

Vaguely remembering that there seemed to be a reception area in front of the elevators where they had rode in from, Link moved in the general direction, and his fears were dispelled as he finally managed to find the area. Sitting behind the counter was a Gerudo sergeant, fully armed and with a cache of military-grade weapons in the shelves below at her disposal should the need to use them arise. Like most in her outfit, she wore an abridged version of the tan and red khakis of Gerudo's army, exposing the arms and some of the midriff. Had the average person not understood Gerudo's climate and how stifling some indoor areas could be without proper air conditioning, one would've thought that these uniforms were used for fashion modeling, not soldiering.

Noticing Link's approach, the sergeant offered him a polite nod as she sat up straighter; on top of him being a guest of a foreign chain of command, Link was an agent and not actually a ranked military officer, making it difficult to discern who had a higher paygrade, so the inclination of the head was offered instead of a salute. It presented utmost respect, but not deference. "Good morning, agent," she greeted using the generic title for Link, and spared his unbuttoned shirt a look longer than was really necessary.

He emulated the same motion – without the equally long stare, anyhow – then gave a revealing look around, clearly concerned of the lack of patrols in the area. Obviously, something wasn't extraordinarily wrong, not if someone reasonably calm was left here, but the absence of strict security measures was somehow…worrisome.

Noting and understanding Link's appraisal of the situation, the sergeant quickly explained, "It's time for the morning prayer. We take ten minutes out of every day, from six fifty-five to seven-oh-five, for it. Most of the soldiers and staff in the area go to their respective prayer rooms, but there's always someone left out here to maintain watch. You don't need to worry about security measures."

Link somehow found reason to doubt that. He knew about the morning prayer – it wasn't his first time in Gerudo – but he didn't actually expect this to extend to active fortress staff. It seemed as if security was significantly dropped at a predictable time and manner every day. From a number of armed patrols to a single sergeant manning the reception area? Even for ten minutes, it was far too risky, considering what was at stake. This was something he was going to have to consult his superiors with, both Leonore and Zelda.

His thoughts, however, were interrupted at the sudden opening of a door to the side, resulting in a rather violent bang as a figure quickly rushed out from within. Link acted upon reflex, and his hand was already on the grip of his handgun when he suddenly realized that the sergeant did not seem alarmed at all, that the door led to one of the security offices on the floor, and that he actually recognized the figure that had burst from the office. Both Link and Jessica froze as they locked eyes, both with a certain amount of surprise. Well, Link conceded, Jessica did not seem as surprised as she seemed flustered. For one thing, it seemed almost clear that she had just woken up and was in a rush; her hair was a tangled mess which she was in the middle of attempting to tie into a ponytail, a hair band was held between her lips as she tried to gather her hair into said ponytail with both hands, and the upper portion of her white MICO robes were loose and trailing behind her, only donned halfway. The robes themselves were only secured around the waist, covering the lower half of the body with what was effectively a long, red, pleated dress which Link recognized as formal wear for MICO agents when not acting as field liaisons.

Otherwise, though, the only thing standing between Link's gaze and Jessica's bare upper body was a long strip of thick cotton cloth sarashi wrapped around her from the midriff to the chest.

Jessica blinked, and it was only after Link copied the motion that she finally snapped into relative awareness.

"A-A-Agent Link!" she gasped even as her relatively light cheeks turned a shade of crimson, and her hands abruptly dropped to her side in what was almost a reflexive motion to a formal stance, the hair band between her lips dropping to the ground as she spoke. Realizing the blunder, she moved to bend down to pick the band up, but she had completed the downward motion halfway when she seemed to suddenly realize that there was an immediate lack of upper body clothing properly donned on her, and, with what was clearly a flustered yelp, she almost took a small leap back as she wrapped her arms around her, curiously obscuring her chest, looking at Link in a way that made him feel almost as if he was some sort of predator. To say she was embarrassed was an understatement.

Link blinked helplessly. Somehow, this did not seem like the MICO major Jessica he remembered from yesterday. Perhaps he was mistaking this lady for Jessica? With the hair undone, Link might've mistaken her for someone else. No, he had recognized her voice, even if it was a shrill, flustered cry. Never mind the fact that this was a complete contradiction to how she was last night – serious and dispassionate – but even though he certainly wasn't complaining, Link wanted to ask the question as to why she was here, in a rush, disheveled, and only partly-dressed. His head told him that he should be worried – if Jessica was freaking out, this was probably something bad – but his gut feeling somehow reassured him that it was something trivial.

Gently, the Hylian agent bent down to pick up the hair band even as Jessica still froze there in clear hesitation, then just as eloquently handed the band over to her. In return, she looked at the hair band anxiously and nervously, almost as if the object in his hand was some sort of possible but irresistible bait, but, with hesitant progress, she reached out and eventually took the hair band. After shooting covert glances at the door to the security office once more – debating whether or not she should retreat back to the safe confines of another room – she eventually put the hair band back between her lips and started hastily donning the rest of her robes with frantic pacing before attempting to tie a ponytail once more; it seemed that she had come to a decision that, with the damage already done, any move otherwise might've been a further sign of impoliteness to an already disrespectful situation. In a dominantly female society, it was clear Jessica had not been expecting the presence of other males in the vicinity.

Perhaps it was due to the lack of lighting throughout the entirety of the previous night, or possibly due to the fatigue that he had been experiencing, but, with a handful of spare moments available to him, Link suddenly came upon a strange realization, one that told him that Jessica was actually much younger than he had initially thought. The serious, dispassionate demeanor in which she had carried herself last night – coupled with the MICO rank of major – had given him the impression that this was a woman who was at least half a decade older than himself, but now that he caught a much better glimpse of Jessica in strong lighting, with her hair undone and a better view of her physique, Link realized that this was most certainly not the case. A closer study of her features once more made him doubt, in fact, if Jessica had yet to reach her twenties…or if she was even older than Link. Especially with her current flustered expression, the major seemed particularly young and girlish. Link wondered just how he could've missed that detail last night…and how someone this young managed to attain the military rank of major. He also wondered – now he was looking at this side of Jessica – just how much he could trust her with security on the floor.

"Major," the sergeant stood and saluted after the awkward exchange, deciding that the timing wasn't going to make things more stressful than it already was. However, Link couldn't help but notice that the sergeant's salute, slightly lax and subdued, was the complete opposite to the greeting she had offered Link: Laced with deference…but almost devoid of respect. He found that oddly offsetting, for some reason he could not readily identify.

With the hair band still stuck between her lips, Jessica mumbled something suspiciously that sounded like "at ease" before, just a moment later, finishing the last folds of her robes. The sergeant sat back down impassively as Jessica finally removed the hair band from her mouth, using it to affix her hair into a ponytail. That done, she finally addressed Link; although she attempted to speak with an air of remembered dignity and seriousness, the damage had already been done, and aside from the inability to mask her blush, she now simply seemed flustered and younger than how she had presented herself the previous night. "G-Good morning, agent," Jessica made out after the initial stutter. "Are you up for the morning prayer?"

Link shook his head, noting to himself at the same time that Jessica was obviously desperate to change the topic. Anyone could tell that Link wasn't up for morning prayer, not with him incompletely dressed, wearing sunglasses, and keeping a hand close to the handle of the gunsword still tucked in his holster. That said, he finally noticed that his left hand was still hovering close to the holster…and allowed it to drop to his side. That belt holster – which he used when he wasn't using standard Joint Intelligence equipment – had been a gift from Leonore to accommodate the fact that he was one of the few left-handed agents in Joint Intelligence.

Apparently, Jessica noticed the foolishness of her question, and, flustered, dropped her gaze from Link's impassive face to his chest…then, realizing it wasn't going to work with his open shirt, dropped it down to the ground in further embarrassment. "M-My apologies, of course you aren't," she managed to make out while she fidgeted, and stopped there, looking around helplessly, uncertain as to how she was going to continue this conversation. The sergeant pointedly looked away from Jessica, and Link had a suspicion that the sergeant was only pretending not to be available for assistance.

It would be an understatement to say that Link felt sorry for Jessica and what probably was a disastrous morning. Insofar as he could make out, she had slept in the security office, woke up too late, was rushing on her way towards morning prayer while dressing and making herself presentable at the same time, and had barely managed to get halfway when she ran into Link. Deciding that it may be prudent to attempt to salvage the situation – he had the entire day to himself, anyways, and wasn't sure how else he was supposed to spend it in a foreign capital during a time of war – he made a gesture towards the elevators right behind him as he stepped aside, making way for Jessica, but also moving slowly towards the elevators himself – not so fast as to leave the major behind – in an indication that he would come along for prayer as well.

Reflex took priority over reason at Link's gesture; a combination of haste, uncertainty, and embarrassment allowed her to walk forward towards the elevator before she even thought of it. By the time she had actually thought the situation over and realized that it would probably be a bit more awkward if she did something incredibly stupid in front of Link again, he was already in the elevator beside her, the doors closing. Mouthing something silently – Link, who could read lips, was certain it wasn't Interlingua – Jessica seemed to hesitate before the buttons of the elevator before pressing the highest button on the elevator, which began to climb instantly. "I suppose it would be prudent to show you the prayer, since you seem to have the moment," she managed to say, but the major still didn't seem to have completely regained her composure, and shyly averted her gaze from Link.

Link was suddenly quite worried of possible complications between Gerudo cultural perceptions on modesty, romance, and responsibility.

It took several moments of awkward silence before the elevator doors parted, and when Link was led out, he found himself walking through a metallic hallway on the upper floors of Fort Garuda. He soon discovered that it was actually less of a hallway that it was a ramp, making sharp ninety-degree turns every now and then at the edge of the fort structure, going upwards toward the floors above. It was meters above where they had left the elevator that the ramp finally ended, and Link found himself in one of the defensive chambers of Fort Garuda. It wasn't overly spacious, but the telltale signs were present: The artillery guns lined up against the massive openings in the fort walls out towards the vast beyond were large and powerful, although the entire defense seemed to be manned only by a skeleton crew of less than half a dozen that could ensure minimal operation in case someone truly did attack Garuda during morning prayer.

Unlike the other parts of the fort, the walls here were completely made of metallic substances, no rock anywhere. The design made sense; with Fort Garuda shaped moreorless like a ziggurat, the upper, thinner portions would be more suspect to damage. Reinforcing steel beams crisscrossed the roof, provided the support that the chamber needed from the rumble of artillery guns and possible return fire. Surrounding them were tungsten artillery shells, extra guns, large industrial tools, spare parts, everything needed to maintain the guns and keep them running.

"This way," Jessica motioned for Link to follow as she continued in stride. The stability in her voice indicated that she was finally calming down, although she still did not look at Link directly. The artillery crews, dressed in crisp red work uniforms, offered salutes as they passed by, although Link noted that they spared Jessica a longer look; whether they, too, held Jessica in disdain or were merely curious of why such a young girl wore the insignia of major was anyone's guess.

It was to one of the openings in the fort walls that Jessica led Link, maneuvering around the space between wall and artillery gun. At the very edge of the artillery platform was a railing that prevented anyone careless enough from sliding down the ziggurat walls. At that very edge, though, the two commanded what was possibly the best view of the city without the aid of an aerial vehicle, having a clear view of the Garuda cityscape. It was minutes away from seven in the morning, and the sun cast rays across the city even while the skies remained a pale blue, refusing to wake and retain its azure colors just yet. From their height, Link actually commanded a decent view of the city over the inner ring of massive walls surrounding the area around Fort Garuda.

Standing right at the railing, Link did not immediately noticed that Jessica had suddenly gotten down on one knee, her head bowed and her hands clasped together, fingers intertwined. Watching her on the metallic floor, he barely saw the silhouettes of several of the engineers inside who still worked to and fro; apparently, skeleton staff maintained their roles even in morning prayer, and Link decided that these roles were probably interchanged from time to time. Jessica mouthed something that he knew was not Interlingua, which slowly grew to a murmur that was almost singsong and melodic in nature.

Then, from where he stood at the fort opening, he heard it throughout the city.

The crescendo, the rise in audible volume, had been so soft, initiated from dead silence, so Link did not immediately notice it at first. It took many seconds for him to realize that he did not hear just Jessica singing in the Gerudo language, but the population of Garuda, and the fact became evident as the echoes of voices came from the ground far below, coming from open prayer houses scattered throughout the city, a citywide choir coming together in a melodic prayer. The Gerudo equivalent of a psalm, maybe, Link speculated; his previous operations in Gerudo did not make it a necessity to integrate himself thoroughly to the finer points of local culture. The song wafted almost magically up to where he stood, listening, almost entranced.

It was not the first time he had heard a Gerudo prayer. He had seen tourists and foreign dignitaries perform the ritual in the past, and he was almost certain that he probably had a music disc somewhere in his apartment that had a rendition of the track. This, however, was completely different, both in sound and in scale. This was no recording, but a massive congregation of will as the entire city joined in holy prayer. The voices across Garuda did not sing on the same musical scale, each individual murmuring at a pitch one was more comfortable with – the variance was not extremely great, with most of the population being female – but that only seemed to enhance a certain sense of acoustic harmony. Jessica herself sang in a clear, crystal-like voice, almost brittle and almost child-like, taking on a higher pitch that was noticeably shriller than the general pitch coming from the city. At times, a voice rang out from various parts of the city, singing something in a louder, clearer voice in a much more rapid tempo, and the city followed those lyrics shortly afterwards at a slower pace. Link thought that perhaps the voice belonged to a prayer leader. The fact that he did not actually understand the lyrics made it that much more arcane, and that much more beautiful.

The speed at which each prayer house finished was different, and after five minutes, it slowly died out like a round of applause instead of ending abruptly. Slowly, a decrescendo took place as the song-prayer faded away, and when it did, it was followed by many seconds of dead silence, as if the air in which sound was carried had suddenly been temporarily sucked away, leaving nothing but the light howling of desert winds.

Then, just as slowly, life came back to Garuda as its heart started beating again. Moving pinpricks of color in the streets showed the reemergence of people moving out of their prayer houses and back to their morning customs. The sounds of engines, from cars and from tanks, were heard cranking up. Military boots clacked against pavement in unison as a parade detail marched by Fort Garuda below. Voices of the early market sellers calling for bargains and sales could be heard beyond the ring walls. Cars filled the streets once more. The din returned to Garuda with bustling activity as if the city had finally roused itself and went to work.

Rising from her kneeling position, Jessica exhaled deeply, opening her closed eyes, before looking at Link, having turned around to face the major; the Hylian agent's expression was subdued, he also made it clear through minimal signs that he was appropriately impressed. For the first time since Link knew her, she managed a small smile. "We pray to Dinah, our one and only true goddess, the creator of all," Jessica explained quietly, seeing minute clues that told her Link was not entirely familiar with Gerudo culture and customs. "Morning prayer is a custom we have adhered to even before the founding of the Gerudo Union."

Link wasn't surprised at all. Unlike Hyrule and Valent, Gerudo's culture had always been closely tied with its religion. He nodded, indicating the acceptance of this explanation.

It was only after a moment of hesitation that Jessica decided to allow curiosity get the better of her, and asked, "Are you religious, Agent Link?"

The pursing of his lips and a slightly conflicted expression told much. Link had never really considered himself religious; growing up parentless in Hyrule had not given him much to be optimistic about, and faith seemed to be, for him, a flimsy hope at best. He knew that a respectable portion of the Hylian population was at least lightly religious, with very few radicals in between, but he was also an academic having been offered some of the best in educational opportunities by Joint Intelligence, by Leonore herself. He knew just how fickle religion could be, and how they changed from age to age. Polytheism, such as belief in the three Golden Goddesses, was replaced over time with monotheism, such as the religion surrounding Dinah. Mythologies came and gone, with new ideas replacing the old when discoveries were made that debunked the teachings of the previous faith. Somehow, the ever-changing interpretation man had towards the heavens did not instill in Link a great deal of faith in how accurate religion was in explaining the "answers of life". And, from a historical perspective, he knew that religion had far too often been used as an instrument of population control…or as a catalyst for wars and atrocities. Link had always felt that religion bended to suit the needs of man, and not the needs of whatever deities might actually exist.

Deciding that his stance was decidedly agnostic, not atheistic or faithful, Link merely gave what seemed like a helpless shrug.

Jessica decided Link's body language was rather easy to read. "Then may you someday find the way," she bowed her head gracefully in an exaggerated nod.

Link felt that there was a great deal of subtext and hidden meanings behind that sentence, decided that the mystique behind such a statement was largely attributed by religious attitudes in Gerudo. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to "find the way", though; he personally found his current "way" perfectly fine.

The two continued to stand on the upper platforms of Fort Garuda, looking at the city and the desert beyond. Link imagined that he saw what were possibly anti-aircraft tracers and explosions in the very distant west, but he could not be sure; such a fireworks show would be easier to spot in nighttime. Further to the north, a shroud of dust blocked the horizon, indicating that a storm was brewing. Link remembered just how deadly sandstorms could be centuries ago…and how modern infrastructure and weather control had helped the Gerudo Union brave the elements of their desert lands.

Fidgeting, Jessica pursed her lips nervously beside Link before speaking softly, hesitantly. "I wish to extend my condolences to you and Princess Zelda, agent," she tried to sound as professional as she could, but Link detected a trace of hurt in it. "I…have not exactly conducted myself in a worthy fashion."

Link raised his eyebrows as he turned towards Jessica with a neutral, inquisitive look; this admission was a bit sudden.

The awkwardness of the situation caused Jessica to turn away slightly, her gaze directed towards the cityscape of Garuda rather than Link himself. "The truth is I'm…" There was hesitation there, and she had to take a deep breath before she continued with her explanation. "I'm the daughter of a ruling lord. I was placed in MICO with the rank of major through family contacts and relationships and favors…but I have actually not been here for more than half a year." She smiled wistfully, a sardonic curl of the lips with an obvious trace of sadness. "As you might imagine, my peers and comrades do not sit well with this undeserved promotion."

Uncertain of what to feel, Link's reaction was something between contempt and sympathy; an agent that had gotten his position through training and dedication, he was not necessarily fond of those who gain rank through the influence and power of others, but the subtext of Jessica's statement made it almost clear that it was not actually her choice, but the choice of her father. Or mother; Link reminded himself of Gerudo's demographics and how many women chose to style themselves lord instead of lady. The enmity of the rest of her office, however, was a predictable result, and he personally wondered just how well Jessica coped with this. But at least it explained her young age and how she managed to attain such a rank in MICO.

"I have never been responsible for any important persons, never mind a head of state," she continued, almost chuckling out the latter part of the statement in a melancholic manner, "but some of my superiors, those who bear a grudge against me, were the ones who made me responsible for escorting her Highness here last night. And with the generalissimo insistent that I remain in charge…" Once again, Jessica took a deep breath before she spoke; the sound of the air being expelled was worryingly brittle. "I do not know whether or not the generalissimo is also in on this."

Although the possibility was indeed there, Link somehow doubted this. Not only did he find Ganondorf not to be the type of man who pursued that kind of grudge, he didn't think that the head of state of the Gerudo Union would spend his time trying to figure out how to make the life of a young, measly major in the Military Intelligence Coordination Office miserable. Link ventured a guess that her rigidness and stiffness of the previous night was a mask over her insecurity and anxiety. For one thing, though, he now knew just how inexperienced Jessica was; he had never met any other intelligence agent who revealed those kinds of insecurities on someone else, especially someone known for less than an entire day. His resurfacing concern for the safety, security, and well-being of Zelda was only comparable by a growing sympathy for the major.

Apparently, Jessica had finally picked up that she was being a bit too open for her own good. "I-I'm sorry," she muttered, shaking her head, now looking sufficiently embarrassed as a blush crept onto her face once more. "I shouldn't be dumping this onto you. That was…inconsiderate of me…" She trailed away, as if her mind had slowly come across something more prudent, more appropriate to say, but that possibility quickly dispelled itself as Jessica shook her head and apologized again. "I'm sorry."

Link managed an awkward smile; Jessica apologized quite a bit, and it was making him feel a bit embarrassed for her. His hand came up, patted the major's shoulder twice – a motion that surprised Jessica, judging by the slight flinch she made in response – as if telling her it was okay, and he didn't mind.

In response, she managed an amused smile of her own, her eyes trained on Link in the manner of an older sister appraising the antics of a younger brother. "You don't talk much, do you?" she giggled.

If the major couldn't see Link rolling his eyes behind his sunglasses, then she certainly saw Link's expression screw up into that of a slightly sarcastic smirk, as if to say, "Oh, gee, do you think?"

Jessica giggled again, her voice sounding vaguely like crystal chiming off each other, before managing to straighten and providing a small, casual salute; strictly unnecessary, considering the federal employee status of Link and the officer status of Jessica making rank comparisons near impossible, but the Joint Intelligence agent didn't think the MICO major saluted out of protocol anyways. "It was a pleasure talking with you," she beamed, "but I think it's time I returned to my responsibilities of maintaining security for Princess Zelda. Shall I be taking you back down?"

Link shook his head from where he stood, still remaining by the railing; he actually rather enjoyed the view up from Fort Garuda over the rest of the city, and entertained the idea of remaining here for a good part of the morning, watching the foreign capital come to life. Jessica privately wondered if Link was one of those people who did not know how to live his life beyond the confines of the intelligence community…but chastised herself mentally for making assumptions. Besides she understood his wishes as she smiled, nodded, and left.

That, for now, was enough.

Tiredly eying the clock on the other side of the room, Zelda noted with detached indifference that the time was now nine in the morning, and exhaled as a yawn formed in her throat, her lithe body stretching on the chair she was sitting on, tipping the seat onto its hind legs just slightly when her arms came up. Hugging herself a bit after removing a large pair of headphones from her head, she sighed, closing her eyes, catching just a few seconds of reprise as her slender fingers placed the pen in between them flat on the table, temporarily ignoring the sheets of notebook paper that was accumulating on her desk with hastily scribbled notes, notes that included which Gerudo battalions were using which frequencies, where each of them were, fragmented decryptions of battle codes from both Gerudo and Valentine, practically anything they could use for reference later on. It was in her own diplomatic suite that she monitored battlefield communications across the continent with a miniature communication suite that the personnel of Fort Garuda had lent her for her attempt to communicate with Hylian forces and attempt to piece together more of the war.

She had slept for little more than an hour the night before; the war was to blame for her insomnia. It was in the suite that she sat for hours on end, listening through the earphones of armies communicating with each other, battle reports ranging from Hyrule to Gerudo. She had yet to change out of her bedrobes, and the instinctive thought of asking for breakfast to be brought to her suite was a distant one. Strangely enough, Zelda was used to this kind of abuse; long nights were not something that remained confined to wartime for the sovereign of Hyrule. The Hylian public would probably be surprised at the hours she kept on a general basis.

On the desk of the suite's living room where the communication suite was, a host of large equipment that took up over half the desk, laid another set of headphones, one that Zelda's chief of staff used to monitor communications along with her. Impa had told Zelda to rest and leave the work to the Hylian chief of staff, but Zelda knew that was not a luxury she could afford. Maybe she could've done it had she had the presence of generals or admirals or any commissioned officer in her entourage here in Gerudo…but the problem was that there was none. Impa was a royal employee, and while Leonore and Link were considered federal agents – or probably something beyond federal agents – with very good intelligence over their own military forces, they were still technically not part of the military. That said, the crown princess had tasked Leonore with using her sources – what remained of the DJI's hidden connections, anyhow – in an attempt to find the traitor or mole in their military forces. And as much as Zelda had come to trust Link, she did not feel that she should be burdening a field agent with administrative work. Learning that Leonore had sent him on a paid forty-eight hour leave reinforced that belief.

So that left Zelda, commander-in-chief of the Hylian armed forces, the highest ranking officer present. In fact, the highest ranking officer even if otherwise. And the crown princess was not easily deterred.

For all their efforts, however, communications on the channels were rather tame. While they had access to most Gerudo battle chatter, they spoke in battle code that Zelda was unfamiliar with, which could also be said for whatever few Valentine communiqués they managed to crack. Most of the forces in the Gerudo theater of operations had reached a stalemate, and the immediate, fierce direct fighting had subsided as Gerudo struggled to regroup and plan for more coordinated operations…which was probably the case for Valent as well. Attempting to patch into Hylian communication channels, however, was still difficult, considering Gerudo equipment certainly was not equipped with them, and Valentine electronic jamming was heavy. The static situation had permitted Zelda to relieve Impa for the moment, the princess trying to get her subordinate to catch some sleep. The latter's flat refusal, however, allowed for a concession that had Impa go assist Leonore in the attempt to locate the mole in Hyrule's armed forces. The last time she had heard from Leonore, Zelda learned that the director was attempting to locate Admiral Francis.

Zelda rubbed the bridge of her nose with her thumb and index finger. Like it or not, she had to admit that she was a bit tired. Well, not just a bit tired, but truly so. The truth was that the day-long escape, with only sporadic periods of rest in between, had drained her stamina, and she was already beginning to feel the numbness creeping up to her head, affecting her otherwise pristine clear train of thought. Maybe she would take up on Impa's advice after all, get some rest when she could.

Opening her eyes, the crown princess placed the earphones back on. Yes, she told herself dismissively. That can come later. There is work to do now.

If there was any advantage Gerudo enjoyed in this war, it was the strength of their land-based army. Compared to both the armies of Hyrule and Valent, Gerudo had an excellently-trained infantry corps that were considered to be unrivaled when it came to land engagements. The basic infantryman – or infantrywoman, considering the Gerudo demographic – was a jack-of-all-trades, trained in unarmed combat, various firearms, vehicle operations, and machinery maintenance, with a few specialties in between. Any random infantry fireteam from Gerudo could hop into a tank at any time and drive it into combat should necessity warrant for it. Autonomous command also proved to be effective in this situation; although Gerudo did not suffer from the same disadvantage Hyrule had, a capital city located too close to the border, had Garuda fallen into enemy hands, regional armies could still put up coordinate resistance all by themselves, as it was what they were used to by principle anyways. The only immediate weakness that Zelda could immediately recall about the Gerudo army was a crippling lack of specialization; the country had only a handful of battalions dedicated to any specific battlefield role, and literally no special forces.

But that was a marginal disadvantage, so Zelda did not linger on Gerudo channels long, not when she was fairly confident that, now that a stalemate was reached, there would be no immediate danger of breakthrough. There was the fear of coordinated Valentine air strikes, of course – Valentine, in comparison, had an exceptional air force – but the Gerudo defense was a bit too far inland, making the logistics behind airborne missions strained and expensive as the distance between Valentine airbases and the main line of resistance increased. In a sense, that was also the disadvantage Hyrule had at the moment; although the strength of the Hylian navy was unmatched, it could do little to attack enemy forces too far inland…especially when they were barely achieving parity from a surprise attack by enemy naval forces. Navies were less inclined for defensive purposes anyways…especially in a campaign where the defense was of land-bound assets.

Zelda sighed again, half-heartedly skimming through the Gerudo channels to get the latest news on the situation at the main line of resistance. There were codes exchanged back and forth indicating another enemy attack, but the Gerudo voices seemed pretty calm about it. Another sweep through encrypted Valentine channels pronounced nothing this round. The fact that she couldn't receive much from Hylian channels was depressing.

A stray wish entered her head, that her parents were still with her, and that she didn't have to handle state affairs as crown princess at such an age. She would've needed to inherit the responsibilities eventually, yes, but having become the nation's sovereign only two years ago at the age of sixteen felt like it had taken so much out of her life, forced her to mature and adapt. And now that they were at war, Zelda entertained the selfish wish that both her parents were still here. Yet Queen Marsha was now buried in the royal cemetery, having died in a fatal car accident. And King Robin II had fallen into a coma two years ago after surviving a different car crash…and his whereabouts were currently unknown, him separated from his daughter by the blackout of information created by the Valentine armies in between.

Zelda found it almost laughable, the circumstances in which she gained her phobia to cars and vehicles. Her pen scratched at paper away half-heartedly; the battle reports were becoming routine, monotonous now. A staccato of booted, evenly-paced footsteps echoed from outside the door, a patrol of Gerudo soldiers walking by.

Her mind was drifting. She forcibly pulled it back, although it was admittedly difficult with there being very little across scanning the frequencies outside static. There was only so much of that kind of noise one could take before blanking out.

The radio hiccupped a bit, generated a slight increase of static before voices began to speak in Zelda's earphones again. To her interest, however, the frequency was of Valentine origin this time, the signal barely encrypted. She isolated the feed, clicking a button to make sure the communications suite remained on this signal. The rapid-fire exchange amongst the voices, all of them – Zelda counted five different voices – speaking in Interlingua, was filled with Valentine code phrases and battle codes that Zelda was not familiar with, but they sounded vaguely like the relaying of attack orders. Curious; the crown princess wondered why this was being broadcasted on such a weakly encrypted channel.

The transmission lasted for another fifteen seconds – Zelda guessed it was confirmation exchanges of target acquisition – before the frequency went silent. She toyed with the dials and switches in an attempt to see if the line had truly went dead, or if the encryption scheme had been elevated; it turned out to be the former.

So an attack was being mounted by Valentine forces…somewhere. She had not gleamed enough of the transmission to figure out where this was taking place, so she decided to run a scan through all frequencies once more. Maybe further radio chatter on other frequencies might reveal what areas were at risk.

To Zelda's surprise, she found the frequency she was looking for faster than she had expected by listening to Gerudo reports of an attack. Any attempt to flip through her notes to see what she had marked as the location of the transmission source earlier, however, was interrupted by a sudden realization on Zelda's part that there was a lot of yelling over the channel. Screaming, in fact. And sounds that suspiciously resembled gunfire, missiles, explosions…and an all-too-familiar thumping.

For the next five minutes, she listened in horror as panicked transmissions were shared amongst the Gerudo servicewomen stationed in that operations area, constantly interrupted by rapid bursts of gunfire and explosions. She did not need to be able to decipher the Gerudo battle codes to be able to tell that something had just happened…and the Gerudo forces in the area were caught on the wrong end of far too much firepower. Zelda flinched once as the first radiowoman suddenly made a wet gagging sound – the radiowoman was likely to have been killed by a bullet or something – before her equipment was taken by another soldier after nearly twenty seconds of audible carnage.

It was after those five minutes that the frequency went completely silent…save what sounded like a distant decrescendo of that awful sound of massive pillars moving away from the abandoned radio in ground-crushing motions. Another voice, speaking in a Gerudo dialect and using codes that indicated she was speaking on behalf of combat control behind the frontlines, penetrated the silence in a distress, fearful attempt to raise anyone from the defending Gerudo battalion on the radio.

There was no response.

And as if to confirm her suspicions, as Zelda slowly, shakily, and numbly removed the earphones from her head, she heard the sound of rapid footsteps outside her doors at a panicked, running pace, accompanied by urgent, frantic voices that were muffled behind the closed doors. Clearly, bad news had reached home all too soon.

In almost-jerking motions, Zelda swiftly stood up, ran for the door. Now she seriously needed to find Impa and Leonore.

It was almost nine thirty when Link received the text message on his cell phone.

He almost missed the ringtone that his cell phone projected, which failed to penetrate the din of the Garuda marketplace, but the vibration in his pocket caught his attention. Although generally not particularly fond of loud environments, Link sometimes made an exception for the Gerudo marketplaces, the more correct name in this instance being "bazaar". The shrill calls of merchants left and right were not keen on his senses, the streets of Garuda flanked by merchant stalls on both sides with too many people congesting the roads for his comfort. Nor was Link entirely comfortable with the fact that there were far too many feminine glances thrown at one of the very few males on the street for his comfort. Still, Link always appreciated a certain preservation of cultural heritage that Gerudo managed here…that, and these bazaars generally carried items that couldn't be found anywhere else. True, most of the stalls sold vegetables and fruits and other types of fruit, but every now and then, he'd find something particularly interesting being sold. On one particular undercover mission in Gerudo, he remembered finding a still-operable minesweeper from the Second Continent War, a relic from almost sixty years ago, being sold alongside several second-hand laptop computers.

In short, Gerudo bazaars were almost like a supermarket and a black market mixed in one.

Link frowned as he patted his body down for his cell phone. He had a highly developed sense of order, and certain items he carried with him were always allocated to their correct pockets. Wallet and any type of monetary items were stored in the left pocket, keys and access cards on the right, cell phones in the inner jacket pocket. Except with the type of weather in Garuda, Link decided that it was probably not a good idea to wear his usual attire in the stifling heat, and found himself a polo shirt instead. The unfamiliarity of the revised location of his cell phone, however, took him a few seconds to overcome before finally fishing it out from his right pocket.

He quickly unlocked the cell phone, keyed for new messages, found one new message from Director Leonore. The text from a woman who could type nearly as fast on her cell phone as she could on a keyboard was unusually terse:

"Urgent development. Return ASAP."

Link grimaced. An urgent text message from the director of Joint Intelligence a mere ten hours since being given an official leave was, as a rule, a sure sign of bad news.

Exoria File #007
Gerudo Union

Formerly a simple alliances of desert tribes, the need to pool resources together in order to weather the harsh climate of the desert formed the basis of the Gerudo Union, itself formally founded roughly seven centuries ago, with historians still in dispute over the exact year. Originally a theocratic republic, politics and technology slowly replaced religion as the dominant forces of the desert civilization, which have also improved by leaps and bounds in the creation of a Gerudo less vulnerable to the natural disadvantages of the desert. Although it is formally considered a single nation, the Gerudo Union is, in fact, a federation of multiple allied states of cultural and ethnic similarities. Each state has autonomous powers over its own political affairs, capable of resisting pressure from the Gerudo capital of Garuda if need be, but they are expected to defer to the Generalissimo in all military affairs, particularly when during a state of war. This has been a serious point of contention in Southern Gerudo, where two civil wars have broken out in the history of the union over heated disputes of the extent of central authority. Those of Gerudo ethnicity suffer from a hereditary chromosomal abnormality, which has posed significant demographic and population problems in Gerudo history; ninety-eight percent of the Gerudo population is female. Advances in genetic manipulation in the realm of medical treatment have marginally increased the rate at which male children are born, but Gerudo still remains predominantly female.

Author's Note: I'm really sorry about the late update. I had intended to make this chapter something of a breather episode for Link, a chance for him to catch his breath what with our roller coaster ride since Chapter One, but it turned out to be something of a breather for me instead. Aside from real life problems (including one bout of illness bad enough to put me on my back for a while and a surgery operation), this chapter was quite hard for me to write, if only because I had to write about nothing in particular, trying to depict Link relaxing…and I admit I'm not actually very good when writing without an actual focus. Subsequent chapter updates will hopefully be more frequent than this.

Before I am lynched for bringing up the possibility of a Link and Jessica ship (I can probably see the fangirls out for my blood, daring to pair the Hero of Time with some random original character), I want to simply add that this is not a shipping fic. I do admit that I have a slight inclination for a Link and Zelda ship – if only because I'm boring and like the most obvious and generic ships – but romance has never been what the Zelda games were about, and I see no reason why I should try to make it so. This is really just a symptom of what I call the Zelda formula, Link attracting the affections of just about every random girl with a name. Note that what I just said above is not any form of conclusive indicator of who Link will eventually end up with romantically, if he ends up with anyone at all. By the way, yes, when I said Jessica wore a sarashi, I did mean the Japanese sarashi. Go on and Google – or, better yet, find it on TV Tropes – if you don't know what it is.

As you can probably tell, the next chapter will be the start of a new storyarc. In fact, it will be in the next chapter that you will probably definitely be able to figure out which part of the "Zelda formula" we're currently on. For now, hang tight; Chapter Seven will be coming up soon. Hopefully.

Per usual, thanks go out to the usual subjects for their avid proofreading and reviewing. I will try to be more avid in my thanks next time around as well.