Chapter Eight

"Your Valentine is adequate. I don't think you'll have any problems linguistics-wise."

Link chose not to reply to that in any way, verbally or otherwise. It was, superficially, a neutral gesture, but if he had to be completely honest, his lack of actual response was probably motivated by a mild irritation towards the woman who now sat on the other side of one of the tables of the briefing rooms in Fort Garuda. If his eyes showed it, then he was glad that the sunglasses prevented Emi from picking it up. He had already figured that she would probably be sparse with her praise and scathing towards imperfection, but considering that his exchange with Emi in Valentine had been completely fluent, Link admitted that he was slightly irked at the fact that she seemed to only have deemed his performance as "adequate". Where else was she supposed to find a non-native Valentine who spoke High Valentine devoid of any immediately identifiable regional accent and possessed a vocabulary as expansive as that of his Interlingua?

Sitting at just a slightly greater distance from the two of them on the side, Leonore – leaning back against her chair and with her arms crossed – seemed to be trying to hide a somewhat amused smile as she quietly decided some face-saving might be in order. "Judging from preliminary reports, the bulk of Valentine forces in the Gerudo theater of operations are of Sud Valent origin," the director of Joint Intelligence offered, and Link took silent satisfaction in watching the director of the Military Intelligence Coordination Office develop a light scowl at what she must've undoubtedly interpreted as butting in, if not one-upping her. "They speak also speak a variant of Valentine, with a clipped, harsher accent than those of Nord Valent. It's not anything major – Interlingua and High Valentine are just as common amongst them – but we want to do as much as we can to keep you as inconspicuous as possible. I'll work on that with you later."

Nodding in compliance, Link understood what Leonore was trying to get at. The information, of course, was almost two decades old, and it was unlikely even Leonore knew to damning detail as to what changes may have happened linguistics-wise in the southern half of Valent. Still, dialects and accents had a habit of sticking around, and twenty years was hardly a long period of time in the history of language. It was better to have the capability to speak like the enemy and not use it than it was to need the capability and not have it.

Perhaps in irritated retaliation, Emi produced a cell phone from her pocket, glanced at the clock before staring stoically at both Link and Leonore. "I have a staff meeting in a few minutes here," she said simply, not bothering to cover some of the scowl that had made it into her voice. "We're going to have to continue this later. In two hours?"

"Sounds fine with me," Leonore replied, and the three intelligence officers stood in unison, adhering to proper etiquette. Sitting even further away in one corner of the room, Major Jessica, having been watching over the proceedings, also quickly stood half a beat later. The last two hours had actually been spent in this briefing room – one that was nearly identical to that of the briefing room they had been in three days ago when MICO first revealed the existence of the superweapon Anansi – reviewing key information that would be vital to the upcoming infiltration mission and making the proper preparations.

The reasoning behind Emi's choice of locating the briefings here in Fort Garuda was not lost on either Link nor Leonore, both of whom knew that it had little with being polite to their foreign guests by going to them instead of having them come to MICO Headquarters. It was merely a pragmatic issue of not wanting the Director of Joint Intelligence, the head of a very potent intelligence agency, to take a look at the very heart of Gerudo military intelligence. Allies as they were, secrets remained secrets, and intelligence directors were very jealous in keeping them.

"How are things going in the interrogation department?" Leonore asked, neatly piling her papers into a stack as Jessica began to move forward to join Emi from where she was in the rear.

Emi gave a slightly subdued look that nonetheless screamed "none of your business" to Leonore, but she deigned to answer anyways. "There's one prisoner that's a member of special forces, but he's been keeping his mouth shut." She shrugged. "I don't think we're going to be able to get anything reliable out of him. There's progress with the other grunts, but I don't think they actually know anything substantial." It was clear that Emi knew what Leonore wanted, but she still allowed herself a brief lapse – probably contemplating whether or not she wanted to entertain Leonore – before finishing, "I'll be sure to inform you if anything important or relevant to this operation comes from the POWs."

Nodding and detecting the clear impatience in Emi's voice – probably mixed in with the not-quite-so-veiled desire to see them gone – Leonore merely spoke politely, "Then we will return in two hours." She looked to Link, who nodded curtly back as both of them began to move towards the set of doors on the left side of the almost-empty briefing room.

Jessica, as was expected of her, stoically moved her way towards the two Hylians – she had, Link noticed, adopted her serious and stoic persona once more – apparently preparing to escort the two guests back to their rooms. She stopped in her tracks and turned towards her superior, however, when Emi suddenly called out, "I believe Director Leonore and Agent Link can find their rooms without your assistance, Major Jessica." Her choice of words, not to mention her tone in general, gave a clear indication that she was impatient and annoyed. "I want a word with you." She cast a not-so-subtle look towards Leonore and Link that clearly told them it was time for them to go. They wasted no time in vacating the room.

It was out in the hallway, however, that Link suddenly recalled a string of thought that had been bothering him previously, the possibility that Emi might be one of the aforementioned individuals giving Jessica a difficult time in MICO due to her ascension to her rank and position via family connections. Even as he trailed Leonore, an idea came to his mind – one that he knew very well was formulated from his heart instead of his head – and he quietly allowed the distance between the two of them to increase until the DJI turned a corner, and Link silently crept his way back to the briefing room. It was time to do some eavesdropping.

Pressing himself against the doorframe, Link managed to catch their conversation just as Jessica finished what seemed like a short sentence ending in "Colonel Teresa". Peeking through the gap between the door and the doorframe, he couldn't help but feel that the entire scene looked almost like a student having an unpleasant discussion with a schoolmistress; Emi clearly seemed less than impressed, while Jessica had her hands folded in front of her and bowed her head slightly in…what was it? Fear? Shame? Distress?

"Then I will have a word with her," said Emi impatiently, and it was clear that her annoyance was directed not solely at Jessica. Her remaining eye narrowed upon the MICO major, and Jessica barely managed to contain a flinch even as the director pointed a finger at her. "But as much as I can enforce discipline, the core problem still lies with you. I cannot help you if you're unwilling to help yourself."

Jessica hung her head. Her voice was so quiet that Link could not hear it from the distance, but lip-reading served him well. "I'm sorry, ma'am," she whispered.

Sighing, Emi crossed her arms as her one eye closed in what seemed like tired exasperation, and expression not unlike an impatient and unsympathetic mother towards a child who has gotten into trouble not for the first time. "What's done is done," she allowed herself to mutter. "I'll try to salvage the rest. In the meantime, continue heading up security detail for Princess Zelda."

It was almost difficult to catch from where Link stood from meters away, but Jessica almost seemed horrified at the notion, if the barest widening of eyes, the slacking of the jaw, the upward tilt of her head, and a slight rise in her shoulders – all executed with the barest, near-invisible of movements – was any indicator. It was clear that she realized her initial reaction, and attempted to pretend it didn't happen by freezing up and slowly relaxing once more, perhaps knowing such a show would not be appreciated by her superior. Emi, however, was too attentive and sharp to let that slide past her notice.

"Oh, don't be stupid, foolish girl," the director of MICO snapped irritably, clearly annoyed by such an immature and thoughtless reaction, voiced or not. "What do you think you'll prove by going back on the front? MICO's not involved in heroics, only intelligence-gathering and investigation. It's supposed to be a desk job, which is why your father put you here in the first place. Abandoning your current duty would only make the situation worse."

"Yes, ma'am," Jessica whispered meekly and weakly in reply after a moment of silence. Her cheeks burned scarlet with shame.

Turning away, Emi returned her attention to a stack of documents and folders beside her, organizing them. On the other side, a door slid open as the first of MICO's upper echelon officers began to trickle into the room. "That'll be all," she muttered in dismissal of Jessica, apparently not wishing to deal with her – or her issues – any further. The major herself stood there for just a moment longer – perhaps in uncertainty or in shock – before finally bowing in what Link knew to be a salute of sorts within MICO. When she saw that the director still directed her attention at the papers before her, not bothering to respond, and when it was evident at least half a dozen MICO officers were here, she decided to quickly vacate the room with her head bowed. Link whipped his head around the corner of the doorframe to hide himself from view before he could catch the colors of Jessica's face; he wondered what would be more appropriate for her right now, red of shame or white of shock.

The thought of hiding himself clearly didn't really cross Link's mind, as Jessica discovered as soon as she walked dejectedly out the doors of the briefing room, and it was only after she shut the doors behind her that she suddenly realized that the Hylian agent was leaning against a nearby wall, watching her expressionlessly. Her face betrayed a great deal of surprise, and her physical reactions – almost appropriate for that of a klutz, complete with a nearly comical step back – seemed to indicate she had reversed to another personality…probably the one that Link had run into the other day during morning prayer. He liked to think that it was her genuine personality as opposed to any of the personas she put up to make herself more professional, but it was difficult to tell with Jessica.

"You were listening?"

Link nodded, then tilted his head quizzically in the direction of the briefing room where Emi was.

Jessica picked up the hint fast enough. "She isn't one of them," she spoke quickly, as if to dispel Link's thoughts as swiftly as possible. "Director Emi doesn't care where we come from as long as we can get results. She's…" She stopped mid-sentence to take a deep breath, perhaps to compose herself or fight down a wave of rising emotions. "She's been trying to protect me from the others for a while now. I…I owe her so much."

And that was the end of the conversation. Apparently, Jessica had not the presence of mind to continue, not when she had just survived her superior giving her hell, and Link decided that he was just going to let the subject drop, admittedly uncertain of what to think. The trip back to the diplomatic suites, therefore, was sufficiently awkward, and Link actually found himself quite relieved when the two of them finally stepped out of the elevator, in which Jessica quietly bowed out before returning to the security office after a token goodbye. The Hylian agent himself ended up stepping into Leonore's room after knocking, and found the director reading what were probably abridged and censored reports given to them by MICO in her suite, seated on one of the sofas surrounding the living room table.

Leonore did not look up from her papers or show any sign of emotion until after Link sat down on the seat opposite the director, preparing for what he expected to be language coaching; it was the director, after all, who had taught Link Valentine in the first place, and it was only natural that she would be the one to roughen his accent a bit to make him sound more Southern. "I thought I told you not to be too sneaky around here," were Leonore's first words when she finally peered over the sheets of paper in her hand and at Link; she didn't look entirely upset, just a bit exasperated, like a mother who realized she was not being entirely successful at breaking her child's semi-bad habit.

Donning what was best described as a neutral expression, Link merely shrugged; honestly speaking, he wasn't entirely certain what to express. There was, of course, the fact that he admitted he wasn't exactly thinking with his head when he decided to stay behind to eavesdrop, but he didn't necessarily think it was entirely wrong either.

Then, again, if Leonore noticed Link had been spying on the conversation, it was not at all unlikely that Emi knew as well. Perhaps prudence should be more carefully exercised next time…if there ever was going to be a next time.

Sighing, Leonore closed her eyes as one hand slid the sheets of paper back onto the table and the other rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Don't get involved in it," she murmured, trying to relax her eyes a little, before opening them seconds later. She wasn't sure how much Link would take that to heart, but as the two began to work on Link's accent, she personally hoped he wouldn't try to butt into business that wasn't his own.

They had enough problems as was.

Military logistics personnel were rushing to and fro in Fort Garuda as they scrambled through the halls and staircases, their swift and almost panicked demeanor clearly indicating that there was a priority protocol taking place. Most of them were only just sprinting for their stations, while others were acting as couriers with paperwork and equipment; however, most of them formed a flow in the stone-and-steels halls by the dozens, all of them moving in a general direction that led deeper into Fort Garuda. This was understandable, as personnel reporting to their stations from outside Fort Garuda would obviously be headed inwards, while couriers would be trying to deliver information to higher echelons located deeper into the fort. Officers ran while fortress staff and soldiers made way.

A formation of three individuals, however, was an exception to that rule. Not only did they not rush – their gait was hurried, but their pace was decidedly at a walk, not even a jog – they clearly went in a completely opposite direction of the flow, headed outwards amidst the current of red, brown, and black uniforms rushing past them. One wore the all-black suit-and-tie of Hylian Joint Intelligence, one wore the white-and-red robes of Gerudo's Military Coordination Intelligence Office, and one wore modest civilian clothes suitable for the office. And yet despite moving against the flow, they moved with clear motivation and importance, and even in the rush, the frantic Gerudo officers were sure to make way and not bump into them.

"Valentine forces have been launching an offensive from the northern border since two days ago," Jessica was already explaining, leafing through a stack of intelligence reports in her hands that was already beginning seem like a bit of a paperwork mess, translating and summarizing the formal and coded intelligence reports into something that was abridged more understandable. "Gerudo forces have been putting up a solid defense in the west, so, utilizing what we suspect to be Fort Regner just north of the Gerudo-Hyrule border as a staging area, they initiated a significant operation with the goal of seizing the Gerudo city of Zubara."

Link and Leonore, trailing the MICO major who led the way, exchanged a quiet look. Fort Regner was practically north of the mid-point of the Hylian-Gerudo border. The fact that Valentine forces were using it as a staging area was bad news for them; it effectively meant that – at least where the southern regions of Hyrule were concerned – Valentine forces had managed to make a push through half the country. Not for the first time did Link wonder just how badly the defending Hylian forces were holding up against the Valentine onslaught.

Not having noticed the shared look of the Hylians behind her, Jessica went on with her rapid briefing, turning down another, less-crowded hallway. "Zubara is a city that offers no immediate defensive or offensive value for us, but represents a strategic target for Valent. Zubara is relatively easy to defend, and has three natural corridors further into Gerudo. The city would effectively be a springboard for Valentine forces to initiate all operations from the north."

The group quickly turned at Jessica's lead into a door marked "Men's Changing Room". Link found it slightly amusing that neither she nor Leonore showed any reservation or hesitation in entering, and slightly less so as he found the changing room to be remarkably smaller than he had expected a military changing room to be in Fort Garuda. But, then again, there number of men in Gerudo was incredibly small, only two percent of the population. Chances were that there would be no one inside…that, unit cohesion regardless of gender was supposed to be the aim of all military forces. That said, it wasn't as if the two percent of enlisted in Gerudo needed a massive changing room to themselves.

This, however, was clearly not an enlisted changing room, but one for officers; the lockers were noticeably larger, and there were even changing stalls in the center, each one having their own mirror, bench, and curtain. Already, Link, through a rapid and practiced routine of hand movements, had already swiftly removed his jacket, tie, and gunsword holster as the three stopped before one of the changing stalls. Jessica, meanwhile, offered Link a plastic bag in her hand. They all knew what it was: The Valentine special forces uniform that Gerudo interrogators had taken from one of their POWs, the one Link would be wearing to dress as the enemy and infiltrate their lines. "We've tailored it to fit your size, so it should be a decent match," Jessica reassured him, looked at all the equipment, then blushed as she added, more out of courtesy than anything else, "D-Do you require assistance?"

A kind gesture, but unnecessary. It wouldn't be the first time Link had change into full tactical uniform and gear by himself. He shook his head and politely relieved Jessica's arms of the load before disappearing behind the curtain. Leonore herself just seemed wryly amused, although there was room for doubt as to exactly what she was amused at, Jessica's flustered offer for helping a member of the opposite gender change, Link's seemingly obliviousness towards a flustered Jessica. The gesture, however, was betrayed only by the slightest twitch at the corner of her lip, which hinted at both mild interest and possible disorientation.

Collecting herself and allowing the blush to flush out from her cheeks, the major took a deep breath, spoke, "Just twenty-three minutes ago at 1812 hours, Valentine forces committed Anansi into the battle over Zubara after two days of unsuccessfully attempting to rout defending forces. The generalissimo, in consideration of this specific operation, has given orders to buy as much time as possible, but preliminary reports indicate that Gerudo forces in the area are taking heavy losses, and are also preoccupied with evacuating all remaining civilians from the area." Again, Jessica inhaled deeply. "They are not expected to be able to win this engagement."

Not entirely surprising news. While the majority of all Gerudo forces had finally been recalled, only around half of them managed to arrive at their respective battlefronts, meaning that the current defending forces were probably insufficient to hold out against an attack from Anansi. That said, even if they had been fully armed, stocked, and prepared – and had the benefit of more manpower – a triumphant defense would be uncertain. Regardless, Link did worry just a bit; that Anansi had just been in Leh four days ago and was now in Zubara caused him to contemplate the possibility that there might be two – or even more – of those mechanical spider-walkers in Valent's arsenal.

He decided to throw that train of thought out of his head fairly quickly. It was something too horrible to consider, and it wasn't going to help his mission any. Not now, anyhow.

On the same subject, though, Link knew perfectly well how much the deployment planning and execution had become a logistical nightmare for the brass and staff at Fort Garuda. Recalling every woman back to their respective army groups, arming and supplying them with enough weapons, ammunition, and rations to last at least two weeks of combat, trying to keep track of where Valentine forces had advanced, keeping track of defending forces already at the border, establishing supply lines and transport routes, and actually sending the troops there was a tremendously overwhelming and time-consuming undertaking, and Link knew he did not envy the job of the logistics staff. It was hardly surprising that many of the battlefronts remained undermanned despite the war entering its sixth day.

And then he wondered just how well things were on the Hylian front. If six days were not entirely enough for all of Gerudo's military forces to deploy even with strategic coordination from Fort Garuda, how were Hylian forces, scattered across the country, faring without any instructions or direction from the Haven?

"There is a silver lining for us, however," continued Jessica, who fought down another blush as the sounds of fabric skimming across skin – the sound of clothes either being taken off or put on – jogged her imagination a bit, and she looked at her reports with more emphasis than was actually required. "Valentine single-mindedness in their attempt to conquer Zubara created a strategic blunder that we had been exploiting. For enemy forces to reach Zubara from Fort Regner, they would have to traverse approximately seventy-six kilometers. Without setting up strategic defenses or fronts, Valentine forces had basically attempted to establish a direct highway, a single route between Zubara and Fort Regner which they are using to deploy reinforcements. Defending forces have been exploiting this weakness by surrounding the highway and launching sporadic attacks on Valentine forces in transit."

That seemed like a poor, if not inexcusable, lack of judgment and strategy on Valent's part. It was effectively a seventy-six kilometer salient that led directly into an enemy formation. On one hand, it was a very vulnerable formation that offered little strategic advantages other than immediate mobility. On the other hand, such a move reflected just how badly and impatiently Valentine forces wanted Zubara. Not for the first time did Link recollect Zelda's words about how the Valentine invasion strategy made absolutely no sense…and not for the first time did he ponder the true meaning and motive behind the Valentine aggression.

"MICO speculates that in the likelihood Valentine forces gain supremacy in the area, Anansi will be quickly pulled back further behind enemy lines instead of remaining in Zubara. However, to do so with minimal risk, Anansi is likely to have to take that seventy-six kilometer-long highway back to Fort Regner before attempting to move anywhere else to for resupplying, the same way it came in. In other words, the superweapon's range of movement will be limited."

It sounded chancy, but even Link admitted that this situation was a godsend. With the kind of mobility Anansi could accomplish – mobility that he had witnessed firsthand – any sort of advantage in terms of figuring out where the superweapon was going to be was worth the risk. They might not get another break like this again.

"A transport helicopter will take you to Samani Military Airbase forty kilometers north of Garuda, where a light fixed-wing military transport aircraft is currently being prepared to airdrop you near Zubara as soon as you arrive. We expect that you will arrive at the area of operations six hours from now." From behind the curtain, Link heard the ruffling of papers; Jessica's voice subsequently sounded like she was reciting the rest of her statement from memory as opposed to actually reading it. "Your mission, once you land, is to infiltrate enemy lines while maintaining your cover as a member of Valentine special forces, investigate the whereabouts of Anansi, locate the superweapon, and sabotage it while it is being repaired and resupplied." There was a pause, and Link could only guess that she had turned to the older woman in the room, a guess that was confirmed as he heard Jessica ask, "Director Leonore, do you have anything you wish to add?"

"Her Highness is being briefed at another location, but will join us shortly." Leonore's voice seemed slightly wry, as if she found it somewhat entertaining knowing that it was probably one of Link's foremost concerns; he personally was glad that she couldn't see him rolling his eyes behind the curtain. "The Sud Valentine accent we were working on probably won't be necessary now, but keep it in mind just in case. Also, do try to stay away from actual Valentine special forces; chances are they have special codes and traditions that we're unaware of, so you don't want to be caught red-handed with a wrong gesture or turn of phrase." The last three words were uttered with a bit of amusement; all of them knew full well that Link wouldn't actually talk if he could help it.

The sound of a door sliding open, followed by the sound of very familiar hurried footsteps, alerted Link of a not at all unexpected presence. This was only confirmed the skidding of boots across the floor indicated that Jessica was now standing to attention before the newcomer to the room. "Your Highness." The MICO major sounded sharp and on alert. "I believe you have been briefed on our current situation?"

"I have," Zelda's voice came from behind the curtain as her footsteps came to a halt right in front of Jessica and Leonore. A moment of silence followed, her eyes presumably trailing to the curtain. "Is he changing?"

"He should be done any moment now," Leonore replied, then, almost teasingly, poked at the curtain twice, causing it to flutter slightly. "You can stop taking your time, Link. It's not very gentlemanly to keep three ladies waiting like this."

No sooner had the director withdrawn her finger, however, did the curtain finally pull away, and Link stepped out of the stall to the slight surprise to the three ladies waiting outside. For one thing, the uniform seemed to be a perfect fit, but size was not the only thing that seemed to accommodate Link well. The green uniform of Valentine special forces was combined here and there with dark brown straps, holsters, and pouches, each storing various pieces of equipment, accompanied by gloves of the same color. The gunsword tucked away into the hip holster was already looking like a standard part of the uniform. Multi-pocketed trousers were tucked into brown combat boots, and protective pads covered the knees and elbows. What seemed to be the most characteristic component of the uniform, however, was a rather long green beret, its end a tip as it drooped down behind him to his shoulders. The end product somehow just seemed like it matched Link rather well, and Zelda herself experienced a rather strange sensation of…what? Nostalgia? She honestly wasn't sure herself.

The sunglasses, almost interestingly enough, were not present alongside his uniform; had Zelda and Jessica not spent a few more seconds than necessary staring in hypnotic silence at the display of his eyes, they may have noticed that his sunglasses was partially tucked into one of the pouches. It was a bit more difficult for Link not to notice this time, who threw a somewhat difficult look at Leonore; she, in turn, looking vaguely entertained more than anything else, merely smiled at the display and cleared her throat, successfully pulling both young ladies back to reality. Zelda seemed sufficiently irked – mostly at herself, as she had figured she wasn't going to fall for that a second time – while Jessica just blushed and – while not looking away – cast down her gaze and suddenly seemed very fascinated with her fingers.

As if in an attempt to save everyone some face, Link turned to his princess – Zelda was, once more, back in her customary regalia of white, blue, and purple fabrics – and offered a polite bow of his head.

"Those sunglasses may have to stay on." It was clear that Leonore was trying to hold back a laugh. "You're going to attract far too much attention without them, especially since there won't be any shortage of female servicemen in the Valentine special forces." She did, however, distract herself as she stepped forward, and – to Link's slight chagrin and embarrassment – began to make minor adjustments to his uniform, tugging his combat operations uniform here, tightening a strap there; while Link was sure Leonore was just trying to make him look more like a proper member of Valentine special forces, the entire situation still felt uncomfortably similar to a mother making last-minute adjustments to a suit a child had put on for some important event. He admitted there was a bit of disappointment, too; the clothes had fit on so naturally – as if he had always worn this combat uniform instead of his Joint Intelligence suit-and-tie – and he had half-expected to have gotten it down perfectly.

After Leonore finished one last tug on the chest portion of the uniform and took one step back, admiring her handiwork, Jessica, seeing they were now set and ready, cleared her throat, nodded, "It's time to go. This way, please."

Attracting more than a few unusual looks on their way from the men's dressing room to the elevators due to one of their number wearing the uniform of their enemy, the ensemble of four eventually found themselves ascending the floors of Fort Garuda in relative silence, each preoccupied by their own thoughts as the car shot its way towards the floor of the fort helipads. The hallways that Jessica led them through were largely empty save increased patrols, the combined effect of both soldiers being shipped out to the frontlines and a live protocol being handled in the lower levels below.

The hallways leading to the west helipad – the same helipad and hallways Link and Zelda had come in through five days ago – remained unchanged, but it carried a lonelier air as their footsteps echoed through the corridors. The click-clack of four pairs of footwear, however, were not the only sounds that dominated the halls; the faint but growing sound of rapidly-spinning helicopter rotors told them that they were getting closer to their destination.

It was at the last T-junction, just before they stepped out the open arch to the helipad, with the black Gerudo transport helicopter already in sight, when Princess Zelda suddenly stopped in her tracks, causing Link and Leonore – who had been following tightly behind – to come to a halt as well. "Major, Director Leonore," she addressed both ladies, and waited for Jessica to turn around properly before finishing, "May Agent Link and I have a moment?"

It was Jessica and Leonore who exchanged quiet looks this time – it was not a customary movement, but it was as if both of them sensed that they were suddenly sharing similar lines of thought – but neither seemed in any frame of mind to argue. "Of course, your Highness," Jessica gave a quick, curt bow as Leonore pursed her lips and looked away. "You must excuse me, however, for stressing the importance of time."

"I understand, major," came the reassurance. "I will not be long."

Again, Jessica looked curiously but expressionlessly at the princess, allowed her gaze to be sidetracked by Link for just a moment, then turned her attention back to Zelda, and – one polite nod later – she and Leonore turned and moved on towards the helipad, clutching at their clothes and hair even as they stepped out into the range of the gales the helicopter's single massive rotor was brewing. With the hallways mostly empty and the nearest patrols dozens of meters away, both Link and Zelda were effectively alone.

This was a moment that was probably just as difficult as Zelda had imagined it. Or, perhaps, in a way, it was less difficult than she had initially assumed, but it was also probably the result of a sudden realization that there would be a need for a change of plans. Like it or not, she had become attached to Link in more ways than one, and she was very much aware that the excess fluttering of eyelids and a gaze that made micro-movements that wandered from point to point across his face betrayed a great deal of nervousness and anxiety that she barely managed to keep hidden with her. Deep down, though, she knew the likelihood that Link would probably not need some sort of emotional baggage before embarking on what was possibly the most dangerous mission he had ever received. He didn't need it; no one did. After all, Zelda was crown princess, and she knew – better than anyone else – that she could not burden her own subjects with the perception of weakness or uncertainty.

So pride kicked in along with cool, emotionless intellect as she took a breath to clear her mind, closing her eyes for just a moment to allow her brain to focus. It was time to move onto pragmatic matters.

"Link," she breathed, the softness of her voice possibly a compromise between both her feelings and conspiratorial necessity, "there's something I need to give you." And, that being said, her hands produced a silver flash drive, a small digital storage device no larger than a lighter. Although she had fully intended to use it eventually upon receiving the device from Doctor Hal just mere minutes before the war broke out, she didn't expect to actually have to use it this early on, or under these circumstances. As things were, however, Zelda considered this turn of fortune a godsend; Zelda may very well have missed Hal had their appointment been scheduled half an hour later, and it would deprived her – deprived Link – of a very essential tool.

And so the princess closed her eyes…and pinpricks of light suddenly began to wink into existence around her, subdued but beautiful sparkles that were descending around her like gentle flakes of snow, light that began to course into the flash drive clasped between her hands.

Link actually knew about this. Not much, but – like almost everyone in Hyrule and Gerudo – he knew this particular piece of public knowledge, that Princess Zelda was the only known living individual to possess abilities that were clearly supernatural. Exactly what her abilities were was an unknown factor, and there were always rumors about it, including stories of the late Queen Marsha conceiving Princess Zelda through holy virgin birth instead of being impregnated by King Robin II, of a closely-held state secret concerning mutation and evolution that the princess just happened to symbolize, of documents hidden away in the most secure vaults at a secret government facility possibly run by Joint Intelligence, and even of her Highness being the product of a genetic manipulation program. Her special status provoked arguments from both the scientific and religious communities, who interpreted Zelda's abilities in their own ways to use as ammunition against the other side. That said, Link could count most of the rumors as baseless and ridiculous, but while he admittedly did not know exactly what these supernatural capabilities were supposed to be, he knew that with the princess now openly using her powers – "openly" being the last word anyone would use to describe anything pertaining to her abilities, whether it be the near-unseen displays of her power or government avoidance towards the topic in press conferences – this was probably very serious and very important.

It was an affair that took twenty seconds at most. The minor light show slowly began to subside, the miniature stars disappearing around Zelda. However, on the other hand, the flash drive continued to glow with an ambient light. No, Link told himself as he squinted, looking more carefully at the device. It wasn't the flash drive that was glowing…but the air right above it.

The light slowly began to take shape, optically clarifying from what was initially a mere fog or cloud of light into what was beginning to definitely look like a three-dimensional hologram…something that was definitely beyond their current technological levels. What was even more surprising was the fact that hologram was simply materializing out of nowhere. The flash drive did not seem to have any device that would even remotely hint at anything capable of producing light, never mind a hologram, and yet – by the end of ten seconds – after a rain of mathematical symbols and equations ran through the cluster of faint light, a miniature figure began to make itself obvious in the light.

The curves of the body – if not the long hair – revealed the gender to be female, one that seemed to be wrapped in modest white robes glowing with faint light. Although the figure was only about a quarter meter in height, its features were clear and precise, giving it the very appearance of a human had it not been for the matter of color. In fact, now that Link looked closely, he couldn't help but feel that the digital avatar resembled, in a way, Crown Princess Zelda.

The hologram of the being seemed to be asleep at first…until, barely three seconds later, its eyelids fluttered open, revealing a set of clear eyes that curiously looked subtly left to right…before settling the gaze squarely upon Princess Zelda.

"Well," the thing – Link decided that, for purposes of reference, he was, for the time being, going to call it a she – actually began to talk at conversational volume…despite the fact that he did not see any speaker on the device. In fact, the voice sounded fairly authentic, as opposed to digital and disembodied. "That felt surprisingly…ticklish."

Puzzled was the best way to describe the reaction Zelda had towards the present word choice. "Ticklish?"

The woman of light shrugged in what was clearly a nonchalant gesture. "Best adjective I could come up with to compare with human perception, your Highness. You're going to have to forgive me on that. That, along with my choice of first words."

"I…see," Zelda managed. It was the first time Link had seen the princess genuinely uncertain…at least, awkward in a social, non-critical context. His eyes continued to follow the hologram in silent surprise and disbelief. "How has your boot up sequence progressed?"

"Fantastic, as far as I can tell," the hologram continued to quip, tapping her foot impatiently. "There were two hundred and twenty-six…" She stopped mid-sentence as mathematical symbols ran across her skin of light, snapped her fingers twice in the air, then resumed her sentence, "Pardon me, two hundred and twenty-eight minor coding errors. That value is very much within the acceptable range of human error. I've generated minor modifications to these errors to compensate. No discrepancies in the core coding detected." She sounded almost sarcastic as she clapped her hands, which actually produced a cracking sound as what almost seemed like electricity zapped in between her hands. "Round of applause to Doctor Hal, please."

Zelda was already beginning to feel very awkward with this conversation as she nodded and attempted to sound placating. The lady in her hand was far too high-spirited and quirky, something that Zelda had expected…but not to this extent. "I'll be sure to convey…" she started, but was almost immediately cut off.

"Now isn't this interesting?" the artificial intelligence – Link could make that much of a guess himself – seemed to be greatly intrigued as her gaze became distant and a cat-like grin appeared on her lips. "Your Highness, I have some rather good news. Hylian Joint Intelligence databases are still up and running."

"You have access to them?" The princess sounded hopeful.

The reply was appropriately deadpan. "No. Access implies I can actually get in, which I can't; I can access the lower tiers, yes, but I don't have the proper access codes for the more encrypted databases. I'm just saying that I'm looking at the house from the front lawn and the lights are on inside." A pause, then the AI added in a voice that clearly seemed as if she was showing off, "I am programmed, however, to automatically connect with various government servers and, if possible, download information. The Holy Grail at the Haven is down – no connection whatsoever, so I'm guessing they either have the entire databases powered down or destroyed…or removed, but that's unlikely – but the servers at Joint Intelligence are still running efficiently."

Refusing to allow herself to seem too impressed – or perhaps not feeling very impressed in the first place – Zelda merely nodded gravely as she queried, "You do understand the current circumstances we are in, yes?"

The AI's features straightened for the first time as she seemed more serious when compared to her playful demeanor before. "Yes, your Highness," she nodded solemnly as she became all business, and Link curiously observed AI's "hair" sway along with that motion, something that strangely caught his attention more than anything else and, by extension, made the AI seem more real. "Data downloaded from the National Meteorological Agency has consistently pointed at the fact that the Kingdom of Hyrule is currently in a state of war. Four point twenty-three seconds into startup mode, this unit activated DEFCON parameters to compensate."

It was not unfair to say Zelda was incredulous. "The National Meteorological Agency?" she echoed in disbelief.

"Yes, your Highness." The rising, lilting tone the AI took on indicated that she was quite pleased to incur such a reaction out of the princess. "As far as I can tell, the 23rd Mechanized Battalion has been using their servers to communicate battlefield intelligence…presumably due to the lack of the Holy Grail at the Haven."

"Can you contact any other Hylian elements?" The Hylian sovereign sounded appropriately hopeful; if a line of communication could be established with Hyrule's fighting forces, then it was potentially possible to begin planning for an appropriate counterattack.

Perhaps realizing that the news would be disheartening, the artificial intelligence's voice took on a more sober tone. "All attempts have resulted in failure so far, your Highness. Communications with the 23rd Mechanized was possible only with access to the National Meteorological Agency's servers." She took a second to contemplate her options, then added, "I could leave a message on their server, but they're going to have to check it if we are to expect any reply."

Pursing her lips, Zelda quietly murmured something akin to "I see" as a hand went to her chin in deep thought, and it seemed as if she was about to follow up on the chain of thought in a her discussion with the AI, but the sound of a throat clearing turned both Zelda and the AI's heads towards Link; he was becoming increasingly uncertain as to why he was even here, and being sidelined for the last two minutes was not something an intelligence specialist enjoyed, especially when it seemed that he had been promptly dismissed as being merely part of the room. The princess, in turn, cleared her throat to recover from her flustered realization of the situation, then extended the silver flash drive towards Link, the figure of light hovering closer to Link as she did so. "Link, I'd like you to meet Durandara. She is the first sentient artificial intelligence to ever be created, the brainchild of Doctor Hal, powered by a combination of data clusters and magic."

Durandara twisted her face into an expression of clear distaste, and she flickered into a slightly redder hue. "With all due respect, your Highness," she spoke while her hands went to her hips, looking at Zelda in what was almost disapproval, "I believe the term 'magic' is very much inaccurate. I would rather point to the possibility that your ability to manipulate data and technology to a certain extent is the result of a yet-to-be-researched genetic phenomenon that will eventually be explained when scientific levels achieve a sufficient level. As they say, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Making what was probably the equivalent of a sigh for an AI as she shrugged, she closed her eyes before turning to Link with a playful swing of her legs before opening them at the Hylian agent, and immediately she was all playful smiles again. "Regardless, hello, Link. It's most certainly a pleasure to meet you. Judging by the information I've just downloaded from Joint Intelligence, I must say that your personnel dossier is very impressive, especially for someone of your age." Durandara slowly unveiled her cat-like grin once more as she bent over, put a hand to her chin, and studied Link with a curious stare. "Also, I think you look cuter in real life than your photograph."

All things said, Zelda was glad that she wasn't the only person feeling awkward now – Link clearly looked as perplexed as she did – as she suddenly felt defensive towards Durandara's mannerisms. Well, perhaps "defensive" wasn't the right word as much as it was "embarrassment". An artificial intelligence born from her magic was now dropping hints at her own bodyguard? Not entirely unexpected, the princess admitted, but she still felt a great necessity to divert the AI's processing power elsewhere. "Durandara, I'm uploading newly updated information on Hyule's current stance with Gerudo in the joint military effort, as well as specifics on a recently approved operation." She began to connect the flash drive Durandara was projected from into what seemed like a small handheld computer.

Sighing and shrugging coyly, Durandara directed her attention towards Link once more. "Girl never gets any rest, not even after being awakened for the first time. I'm impressed you survived her, Agent Link; her Highness must be one heck of a slave driver."

Now Zelda was becoming to be irritated. "Durandara…" she started.

"Yes, yes, your Highness, will strive to be more polite in the future," Durandara interjected quickly and whimsically, mathematical symbols streaming down her body again as the download of data commenced and she quickly organized, cataloged, and analyzed the information flooding into her subroutines.

Heaving a heavy sigh, Zelda actually seemed somewhat apologetic as she turned to her interim bodyguard. "I'm sorry, Link," she shook her head. "Durandara can be a bit…high-spirited."

The Hylian agent merely nodded in an understanding and forgiving manner. True, the AI seemed much more quirky than Link had expected – he was still attempting to mentally cope with the fact that what Zelda stated to be the first actual advanced sentient intelligence to have ever existed was not an emotionless, droning entity, but actually had a personality of her own – but it wasn't as if Durandara was being offensive or dislikeable.

"Now this…is a rather interesting predicament." Link and Zelda turned towards Durandara again, who seemed to be staring off into space with a coyly curious expression on her face; one hand was on her hips while another one cupped her chin. "And one hell of an operation. Sending one man to do a job that would logically take two or three battalions to accomplish, one-man army jokes notwithstanding."

"Do you see any problems in this operation, Durandara?"

The hologram made a rude sound. "Several dozens of them, yes." She sounded appropriately snarky. "This is tantamount to a suicide operation." She shrugged, added in a more pragmatic tone, "However, I concur with the conclusion: A sabotage mission may very well be the most effective choice of action…and one with the highest chance of success, given the alternatives and the data we have so far." Her eyes turned back to the Link. "And Agent Link is most certainly the most suitable candidate for such an operation out of what we have so far."

"Then I'm assigning you to Agent Link. You will give him tactical and electronic support as he carries out his mission."

Although she didn't seem confrontational, Durandara did cross her arms over her chest as she cocked her head quizzically to the side; again, Link found his attention caught by the motion of her hair, and he felt that perhaps it was this small bit of detail that somehow made Durandara seem more real. "Your Highness," she quipped, "this isn't a complaint, but I'd like to remind you that I am designed for electronic warfare, and not tactical field support."

"Yes, but if we do not deal with these Valentine superweapons, the point of electronic warfare is moot."

Durandara seemed convinced as she shrugged. "You have a point there," she agreed, then swung herself around once more as she cheerfully looked at Link, to whom Zelda passed the silver flash drive; the metal landed gently in Link's gloved hand before being clipped onto his vest. Strangely enough, despite the trading and moving of the flash disk, the hologram of Durandara did not move along with it, and he wondered if the metaphysical representation of the artificial intelligence was now an existence of her own. Either way, it felt both like a lucky charm and an indispensible piece of equipment now. "Well, then, it seems I'll be having a fun time working with you, Agent Link. I hope you're good company." She grinned. "Rest assured, you're safe in my hands like the Hero of Time blessed with the protection of the Oracles."

It was Zelda's turn to sound coy as a small, uncharacteristically mischievous smile stretched her lips. "If I remembered correctly, Durandara, the Oracles had the gift of clairvoyance." Her tone was almost challenging.

"By manipulating tea leaves." Again, Durandara hardly seemed amused as her voice took on a deadpan and sarcastic tone, the grin slipping from her lips. "A truly accurate method. I'm quite sure the Oracles were not capable of decrypting enemy codes and communications, not to mention prediction of enemy fire patterns. I believe it may be prudent not to compare me with mythological figures."

Smiling patiently like a parent would towards a pouting child, Zelda quipped, "And I am sure you will have all the chances you need to show off your capabilities to Agent Link. So behave for now, please, and start running simulated scenarios for him until he gets to the area of operations."

Durandara did not seem completely convinced that "running simulated scenarios" was what the princess really wanted her to do, but she dutifully obeyed anyways as her hologram faded and winked out of existence, leaving nothing between Link and Zelda once more.

And now that the hologram was gone, the princess felt somewhat vulnerable again. The pragmatic issues were now aside, and it left her with only emotions and sentiments that she was not entirely certain how to deal with. There was a great deal she wished to say, yet little time to say it. And the feeling of foreboding plagued her, a feeling that this may very well be the last time she saw her dedicated interim bodyguard.

So Zelda merely bowed her head slightly, whispered just loud enough for Link to hear, "I've already lost a bodyguard due to a covert operation. Please come back safely, Link."

For all his stoicism, Link admitted that a delay before his quiet, solemn nod felt appropriate, a lapse in which both of them had a chance to collect themselves and figure out their bearings. And, knowing that he had been dismissed, that it was time to do the necessary, Link offered a respectful bow of his head – a formal, elegant gesture – before spinning on the heel of his boots and stepped through the archway leading to the west helipad, leaving Zelda standing in the safety the indoors provided her from the gale of the helicopter rotors.

"Is there something you aren't telling me, Agent Link?" Despite not appearing in her holographic manifestation, Durandara's voice was clear in Link's ears as soon as Zelda was out of earshot. Determined not to pay the question any heed, he distracted and reminded himself that, at some point, he was going to have to figure out exactly how the artificial intelligence worked – what she could do and what limits she had – but when Link didn't immediately provide an answer, she egged on, "Come on, spill the beans."

Link wasn't entirely sure if he felt humored or irritated. Regardless, he lightly rapped the flash drive with his knuckles as a means of response.

"Right," Durandara's reply was as amused as it was sardonic, "will be quiet now."

Despite having met for only five minutes, Link was starting to gain the impression that getting Durandara to remain quiet may be a rather daunting quest, as if his mission was not difficult enough already.

One hand tightly held onto his long Valentine beret as he stepped onto the helipad, the winds buffeting his clothing as he joined Leonore and Jessica, both of them similarly holding onto any potential loose pieces of clothing and apparel. Seeing that the Hylian agent's issue had been dealt with, Jessica quickly led the two members of Joint Intelligence to the rear hatch of the helicopter. Despite not going to accompany Link to Samani Airbase, the major nevertheless climbed aboard the aircraft through the back, undoubtedly headed for the cockpit to confirm last minute details with the helicopter pilot. This action alone left Leonore just a few moments to spare with her agent, both of them standing beside the military transport helicopter. The armor shielded them from the noise of the engine – which, surprisingly, was generally louder than the sound of a spinning rotor designed to stealthily make as little noise as possible – allowing Leonore to speak with Link by just raising her voice instead of outright shouting.

Although the DJI indeed seemed concerned and worried – at least, as concerned and worried as Link knew Leonore would ever allow herself to appear – she did seem a bit sterner in comparison to the Zelda's soft-spoken demeanor…or maybe it was just the effect of having to talk over the helicopter. "Do you remember your list of objectives in priority order?"

Link nodded; days of reading through and memorizing his mission packets and intelligence reports had allowed him to commit almost every detail of the mission to memory. And he was fairly confident that – in the unlikely event his memory should fail him – Durandara was programmed to remember the mission parameters as well.

Rather than seeming satisfied, though, Leonore only seemed to become a bit more worried and anxious from Link's answer, and the agent wondered if he had just fallen for a trick question. "I need to add one more onto the very top of that list," the director's voice became just slightly softer, and Link had to concentrate to catch what she was saying. "Survive."

That caught Link off-guard a bit; he had always known Leonore to be a professional leader who – despite being competent enough to not waste life – was experienced enough to know that certain results required sacrifice. That she was suddenly placing a disproportionate concern on the life of an agent was a bit…unexpected.

His quizzical and inquisitive look was answered by what seemed like a small, matronly smile from Leonore. "I know you don't like to lose, but…not getting yourself killed is the best thing you can do right now. I don't think anyone doesn't realize that this is close to a suicide mission; you're up against an army-killing tank. No one's going to look down on you for not being able to accomplish what a battalion can't."

Okay, so that made a lot more sense. Granted, it was a sacrifice he had been prepared to make – no one went to work at Joint Intelligence and fully expected to eventually live a long and prosperous life – but Leonore's was pragmatic concern…which was absolutely fine by Link. He even appreciated a little…but, like so many other things, he wouldn't be telling her that anytime soon, so he merely nodded dutifully.

Leonore seemed a sigh, but she gave what amounted to a grim smile as her hands came up, placed them upon Link's shoulders, and gently squeezed them; he barely felt the pressure with the sewn-in shoulder guards on his combat uniform on, but the gesture itself was not unwelcome. "Hyrule's going to look like a very different place," she murmured. "Be careful, Link."

"Agent Link!" the voice of Jessica came from the side, interrupting any reply Link may or may not have made, and both Hylians turned to see the MICO major run down the ramp of the helicopter, joining them. "You must depart now; operations at Samani Airbase are waiting for your immediate arrival."

Nodding approvingly, Leonore removed her hands from Link's shoulders, allowing him to give a respectful salute in turn. It seemed both oddly fitting and oddly out-of-place for reasons that alluded him, but he felt better doing it anyways. Despite his want to come back to this Hylian council of war, the agent was fairly realistic in his outlook; there was no guarantee he was ever going to make it back…so that gesture – barring cursing himself with an actual farewell – seemed to be a reasonable compromise. Jessica's jog came to a stop as she turned and stood right beside Leonore, the two of them watching as Link turned, came around to the rear of the helicopter, and climbed up the small ramp.

And, to the agent's subdued but pleasant surprise, standing upright in the middle of the helicopter, strapped and anchored tightly to the floor of the hold, was the familiar shape of Epona; the motorcycle still sported a few scratches from its previous encounter with Valentine forces, but the Gerudo mechanics – whom Link had allowed a short time to take a look – guaranteed that the vehicle was running smoothly even without repairs, and was in top shape. Aside from that, they also provided a full load of gas and reloaded the ammunition…meaning it was back on the road for Link in style.

As the hatch behind him began to close, blending his silhouette with the shadows inside the helicopter from Garuda, Link allowed himself a small smile. Looks like this wasn't going to be so bad after all.

Exoria File #009

The 1407 Hyrule City International Convention allowed for the countries on the continent to finally agree upon an official international language, Interlingua. From henceforth, all official documents that were to be made available to the public domain were published in Interlingua, and the same language became taught in every educational institute on the continent; at the same time, every country had the right to keep their original languages and dialects. Hyrule, whose language had originally been Interlingua, was at the forefront of this change. Gerudo also took the opportunity to streamline its language system; prior to the 1407 Hyrule City International Convention, Interlingua was spoken by a marginal majority of the country, but most of the provinces spoke its own different regional dialects. The convention provided an incentive for the country to find common ground, a platform upon which every man, woman, and child could make themselves universally understood to their countrymen. Resistance to the international legislature, however, met initial resistance from Valent; although most of the country's educational institutes taught Interlingua as a secondary language, Valent already possessed its own unified language that only varied slightly by region, and saw no need to adopt another language that would replace the Valentine language in their newspapers, textbooks, and official documents. It wasn't until a decade later that the legislation was finally fully carried out. Today, the average Hylian speaks only Interlingua, a Gerudo woman speaks a regional dialect with individuals from her birthplace and Interlingua with everyone else, and a gentleman from Valent generally has a slight favor for Valentine over Interlingua.

Author's Note: Buckle up; this is going to be a long author's note.

I am, first off and again, apologetic over the time it has taken to write this chapter. Writer's block notwithstanding, I would like to remind everyone that I am currently in college, the toughest semester of the entire program has started, and I'm trying to keep up. The updates, therefore, will not be speeding up anytime soon, although I will try to do my best to hurry. Chances, however, are that it'll take as long to update as this chapter has…if not longer. I'm afraid there's little I can do about this; I do have a life, after all…contrary to popular opinion.

I was actually very pleased – and very thankful – that readership seems to have picked up. Although I'm guessing many do not leave a review after reading, looking at the traffic page in my account interface has shown readership from countries I've never expected, including Croatia, Greece, and Peru. I do want you all to know that it makes my day to receive a glowing, substantial review, but knowing that people are reading what I'm writing (and hopefully approving as well) makes me warm and fuzzy inside too.

A special treat for you: Along with Link getting into his usual green outfit – which is surely a sign that the story has now officially picked up – people are probably wondering what Link looks like, now that his clothes seem to have gotten a modern revamp. I've done a not-so-very-well-done sketch of Link in his Valentine special forces outfit, actually. Frankly, I'm not entirely pleased with it – the rest of my gallery will show that I've done much better work before – but I see this more as a practice sketch than anything, a way to get my hand warmed up after months of not having properly sketched. Hopefully, it provides you with a visual aid. Please note, however, that the gunsword is not exactly the way I want it to look like, but I'm not a mechanics designer, so you'll have to forgive me. The link is here in its censor-avoiding glory: [http] ysionris [dot] deviantartcom [dot] com/art/Link-Special-Forces-152962505

Of special note is that I will be copying-and-pasting special reviews into my author's notes now, along with my replies to them. I want you to know before I start, however, that just because other people have reviews posted on here when yours aren't doesn't mean that I don't appreciate your reviews less, but probably because there are points they have made that I wanted to address, and I feel a need to provide that answer to everyone. I do read and appreciate good reviews – whether they be of praise or of criticism – and I do reply to most of them…although, admittedly, you're more likely to get a reply if your review is long and fleshy.

Here goes:

Exodus5: Nice chapter but I don't understand how an army group losing 700 men or in this case women makes that much of a difference. An army group is made up of multipule armies which is then made up of 1 to 3 corps which are also made up of 1 to 3 divisions. Divisions are made up of 10 to 20 thousand men. An average sized army group would be around 200 to 250 thousand strong.

I'd like to thank you for your meticulous observation regarding this chapter; you're reading quite carefully, and I'm very appreciative of that. Thankfully, I do have coherent answers for you, so please sit tight.

First off, Gerudo has a different method of calculating unit strength. As opposed to Hyrule, which uses terms such as "battalion" and "regiment", Gerudo uses a very loose form of unit classification, namely, the rather archaic "army group". I'm trying to make it so that, despite there only being three countries, there are different ways of classifying the sizes of different units. Thankfully, all nations will be using metric, so that's something you don't have to worry about.

Second, another fact is that the war has barely finished its second day by the time the briefing was held. This is a logistical problem: Armies cannot simply appear out of nowhere. Armies, in fact, need to be recalled – many of Gerudo's soldiers were on leave across the country and needed to report to their corresponding army groups – armed, equipped, briefed, and transported – and when you're transporting a bulk of soldiers to the border in a massive all-out war defense, you can bet that transport helicopters are not going to be enough, not to mention you're transporting them across a country that's mostly desert. Troop deployment simply does not work that fast, even in modern times. (The only exception to this rule in history was just before the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, where – after the failure of Operation: Market-Garden, which left the Allies with spearhead leading absolutely nowhere that had to be defended – Allied high command ordered all efforts to be concentrated on transporting material to the defending forces utilizing the Red Ball Express. This feat of transportation allowed for Allied troops to be deployed within days to the frontlines – although it did not solve the supply and logistics problems, and the Allies fought most of that battle without enough ammunition or weapons – and its effectiveness has yet to be matched in modern warfare, even in both Gulf Wars.) Long story short, however, it also means that there aren't enough Gerudo soldiers defending the border at the moment (most of them are still being equipped in their appropriate army bases), and the loss of seven hundred men two days into the war means there's going to be a massive hole in your main line of resistance.

Third, when an army group of more than seven hundred soldiers suddenly disappears within five minutes in a world where weapons of mass destruction have yet to be invented, you know you have a major problem.

Izanagi Mikoto: I gotta say, I'm lovin your story so far, which I stumbled across purely by chance. You've got a solid story, and I love the modern feel to it.

As for practicality, I don't know about bipedal weapons in reality, but I saw an anime called Gasaraki that portrayed a realistic view towards such machines, and I would've bought it if it happened in reality. I guess what I'm trying to say is that your portrayal of these superweapons feels somewhat grounded/believable if you're worried about realism. I certainly saw no real problems with it. It's not like you dropped in a dragon ball character. That would be insane.

In terms of realism, I'm more worried about the varying level of military power the three countries hold. The fact that nothing can even dent the walker worries me more than the fact that it exists. Then again it could turn out to have reactive armor or electromagnetic shiels. However, personally I don't mind; this is just my opinion in debating realism. As far as the power relationship - keeping the three countries in check, I don't know if I really buy it at this point, given how Valent is wiping the floor with the other two countries. If anything, this story has shown how a lead in technology can completely destroy such a balance, and I wonder if Ganon is really concerned at this point. Zelda thinks he is, but I wonder if she's being a little naive.

Question: I vaguely remember you mentioning there might be fantasy elements. How much? Like is there magic?

Will other races show up? Like I remember there was mention of the Zorians. I forgot the other races, except the Koriki.

I should also be upfront that I am a Link and Zelda shipper, or that I like that pairing more than others. Actually, I don't know if shipper is the right word since I've read stories where Link winds up with everyone else. Anyways, I know your story isn't about romance, but I did love the scenes that focused on the individuals, like the scene where Link took off his sunglasses and Zelda realized he was hot. The seeds have been planted and it would be a waste not to explore. On the other hand, I don't hold any illusions that Link and whatever female character you pair him up with are gonna declare their undying love for each other. While I really like the political and war feel, I also love the scenes that are focused just on characters. You write good length chapters and quality.

I don't know if you know motorcycles, I don't, but you certainly made me believe you did when you talked about Link and Zelda riding it during their escape from Hyrule capital. Awesome work. Can't wait to see the next update.

First off, I would like to thank you for submitting such a long and well-thought review. You have officially made my day, and I'm quite happy about it. Now, time to address your points.

One of the things about the power levels each nation holds is the fact that - supposedly - all three nations are supposed to keep each other in check through roughly-equivalent power. One of the big points in the current storyarc, after all, IS the confusion as to HOW Valent could've gotten such a head in technology. It basically came out of nowhere and blindsided both Hyrule and Gerudo, neither of which have successfully penetrated the veil of secrecy Valent has threw on itself for nearly two decades; neither Hyrule nor Gerudo had ANY idea what Valent was capable of, in the most basic terms. In fact, addressing this specific issue is a major plot point, and it will eventually be revealed.

For your question about me including fantasy elements...I can't reveal much. I can say that there will be something that seems like it's magic in the next chapter...but I can't tell you whether it's REALLY magic or not. You'll have to see for yourself. Also, there will be other races. If you've kept up on the Exoria Files, you'll see that Exoria File #005 makes a mention to the Zoras. They are still alive and well, and will be making an appearance in Exoria. Sadly, however, Gorons no longer exist - why they don't will eventually be explained - and although I won't confirm it outright, you shouldn't hold out hope that many of the other races are still out there. But who knows; one thing about writing is that you're never really sure about the details of the future, so we'll see.

I honestly know almost nothing about motorcycles, actually. I've only rode on one twice in my life as a passenger, and I personally think they feel rather haphazard. Before I wrote Chapter Three, I actually did not know where the accelerator was, so I had to do my research. I hope it actually came out as presentable.

I'm actually quite glad that you like my interaction scenes. I admit that I do write them better than I do action/combat scenes, but having to write about nothing-in-particular can be trying for me sometimes; I'm just somewhat glad I'm getting it right somewhere along the line, though. As you've probably figured out, I'm better at writing things relevant to the main plot.

Inbi: I must say, I am extremely impressed with the quality of this story and it's style of writing. You, Sir, put my abilities to shame. To SHAME.

I love how close to canon you have made this. Particularly Link's silent demeanor. I had one of those I-Can't-Believe-I-Didn't-think-Of-That moments. Kudos for pulling it off spectacularly, I'd imagine myself having a lot of trouble with a silent protagonist. I also enjoy the Triforce references. Valent, it's national color of green and specializing in air forces. Hyrule, it's color blue and specializing in the navy as well as intelligence. Gerudo, it's color red and specializing in pure ground force. Simply genius.

I look forward to Link's "dungeon crawling". I'm fascinated as to how you've modernized this, or simply how you've molded it to fit into a modernized world. I am particularly curious as to Valent's behavior. As well as Ganondorf's, no less. I can see him having abandoned the quest for ultimate power in this world, but he still seems awfully... friendly.

I can't wait to see if and when the goddess' ancient magic is brought into the plot, and how the characters interpret it. Has Valent already tapped into this? Perhaps that explains their revolutionary advances?

I look forward to finding out!

I'd say that you're too generous with your praise, but I guess every author must indulge in the feeling of having one's ego stroked. In any case, I thank you for your thoughtful review.

I am, for starters, glad that someone has begin to note a few of the smaller things that I've put into the story, such as each of the nations, their colors, and their corresponding specialties. In fact, with that chain of thought, I dare you to think even deeper into this, because if you get to a certain point, I suspect you may be able to predict quite a number of things up to the halfway point of the story. Of course, I'm afraid I won't spoil anything, but it's always fun to bait your readers and keep them guessing.

On the same vein, I also won't elaborate more on Valent's actions, Ganondorf's motives, and how this is connected to canon; you're just going to have to read and find out...and possibly do a lot of guesswork on the way. But it does seem that you'll do fine without me dropping loads of hints. So do keep it up, and please keep on following this piece of work; I have a feeling that I'm not going to let you down narrative-wise.