Notes: I feel an apology is in order for the time-gaps between chapters, however, I also feel some warning to readers is in order. This story is going to take a while. I have found a certain peculiar difficulty in writing this tale because it is a remake. As many new ideas as I and my co-creator have discussed, there are still many events that are crucial to the general plot that carry no significant changes, yet I really want to make them fresh. A most interesting and aggravating form of writer's block sets in at these junctures.
Also, there is the problem of inspiration. I tend to approach writing stories "on fire" and banging them out is like building little fires. Working with this one is like trying to coax dying embers back to life. This fic was intended to take a slow path, anyway, as the biggest complaint I've seen on the original "The Great Desert" from critical reviewers was that it was "too rushed." _ Shadsie.
THE GREATER DESERT
Chapter 4: The Power and the Price
Ice magic. Russell D' Ordona recognized it, even though most in the world took such a thing to be non-existent. Whether it was magic or technology, he recognized the frost upon the windows and the caked, clear hard ice. This was impossible for weather to do on a warm desert night. Anyone who had ever worked closely with Hyrule's royal family knew that magic and lost technology existed – even if it was the domain of only those "strong in the blood" and kept secret from a people who'd decided that they did not need the old ways anymore.
The lights flickered. For a split second, Russ saw a gathering of light around "Marin's" hands and a flash of lightning in her eyes. She said a name that sent a chill down his spine.
"Who?" Link asked. Everyone else gathered in the Ordona home puzzled. Loud knocking was heard at the door as well as the clank and clatter of armor plates behind it. "Bring her out!" a voice sounded, female yet deep. "We know you are harboring a fugitive!"
After a pause came a sneer from the same voice. "Come on out and play, little raven."
The front door blew off its hinges in a hail of snowflakes.
Russell D' Ordona had once been a faithful soldier in Hyrule's Royal Guard. He served alongside his younger brother, Link D' Ordona and both were brave and devoted men. They had moved away from their father's home in the Ordona Valley to live in Castle Town and to work at the palace guarding the royals, various government officials and dignitaries from other nations as well as occasionally stopping a petty crime. They'd both met wonderful women who'd been willing to marry a couple of crazy guardsmen-boys and started families of their own.
That is, Russell had begun his family. Link had just celebrated the birth of his first child when life for both the Ordona family and the Royal Family had taken not so much a turn but something akin to crashing and burning. Ruined lives and the splitting of the nation's order began with a single death.
Russell was grateful for a single aspect of that terrible day: the younger princesses were absent from the palace then. Zelda, Kara and Anya had taken a trip with their Impa, Adelaide, to Papuchia Village in New Hyrule for a beach-vacation. Cecelia had decided to stay at the palace to "catch up on her studies," which everyone who watched over the palace knew was really code for being under a certain condition by which she did not want to risk soiling a swimsuit. Cecelia had hit puberty within the last year and it had proven a great excuse she used to refrain from "doing childish things" with her sisters anymore. However, she always covered up "cramps" with "studies" because proper ladies were not supposed to talk about the former.
The scream of a kitchen-maid who was bringing the king his tea in his office echoed off the halls and alerted the staff to the tragedy that afternoon. Russell was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Link had stopped by the palace that morning to pick up something, but had left, as he was officially on leave – not for his new son this time, but for his wife, who'd been ill of late. If Link had been there, perhaps he could have shed some light upon the situation, or at least would have had a chance to argue for his innocence.
The king lay over his desk, a neat wound in his back, punched clean through his chest. It was the kind of wound that could only be made by a certain kind of weapon – one that few around the palace were skilled at using.
"Are you sure it's a sword-wound?" Russell asked the detective, an elder in the guard named Eagus. Servants had been cleared out of the area. It was already evening and the body had not been removed as it and its position were still being scrutinized. The Council had taken over the functions of the palace and the public had yet to be informed of their king's assassination. Sir D' Ordona was flanked by two other members of the royal guard – faithful Blake Bladebringer and Krin Kenyon.
Eagus scratched his stubble and puffed on his cigarette. Poor King Nohansen would never have let the man bring that thing in here if he was alive. He'd had a slight asthmatic reaction to tobacco smoke. Of course, that didn't matter to a man who'd just had a neat hole punched through his heart.
"You should be able to tell, Mr. D' Ordona," Eagus said. "It is why you are a person of interest. It is not only suspicious that your brother and his family were found absent from their home when we did the search, but he was skilled in swordplay, was he not? I am sure you have witnessed his work in training many times."
"Dummies and pumpkins are hardly a human body," Russell grunted as smoke wafted in his face. "It looks reasonably sword-like, but I wouldn't be able to tell which kind of sword, or if it would be any match to the kind my brother uses."
"Broad-blade, double-edged arming sword," Eagus asserted. "That's what the wound looks like it was made with to me. I'm quite a bit older than any of you are… you don't remember the turf war between the Killer Bees and the Sisters of Spirit."
"Hmm?" Blake, the youngest of them, inquired.
"Even Russ here's too young for it… was just a pup back in them days…probably doesn't even remember the headlines," Eagus went on. "Swords aren't in fashion as practical weapons anymore, but back in the old days, some of the organized criminals still used 'em. We had a problem in Castle Town back when I was about Mr. Bladebringer's age with one gang out of Windfall Island callin' themselves the Killer Bees and another called the Sisters of Spirit – a 'family' of Gerudo women who'd split off from their tribe. Both of them were rivals in all sorts of underground activities, including murder for hire. There was an all out war between them over the north part of the city before we managed to incarcerate their leaders. The Sisters of Spirit used traditional Gerudo scimitars as their weapon of choice. Ever see a man's guts split by one o' those? Trust me, you don't. The Killer Bees used broadswords."
Eagus paced around the desk and the unfortunate person whose head rested upon the jammed keys of his typewriter. "Wounds like this one are real familiar," he said pointing to the king's back. "And I only know one man of our guard skilled enough to make it so clean…"
"Link did not do this!" Russell shouted. "He wouldn't. What motive could he possibly have? My brother and I have been faithful servants and protectors of the king for nearly ten years now!"
"Do you really know all of your brother's pastime activities, Russ?" Eagus asked. "I have seen some of the brightest pictures leave the darkest of negatives. Underworld activities do pay a man well enough for some lawful men to find certain partnerships worth the risk, not to mention some of the suspicions we've harbored over a few of our dignitaries from neighboring lands…"
"Investigate some of the Twili ambassadors, then."
"Twili do not use swords," Eagus said calmly. He looked into Russell D'Ordona's eyes, sharp and cold. "Your brother has fled. If you wish to prove his innocence, you should arrest him so that he can be brought to trial. As for the rest of the forces, he is to be considered a dangerous subject and lethal force will be authorized if necessary. Catch him and trust justice."
"Sir Russell! Sir Russell!" a tiny girl called as she came running up the path in the palace courtyard. Zelda chattered on enthusiastically. "The beach was awesome, but what was even better was we got to ride the train! The train was so neat! And the trains in New Hyrule are even neater than ours and…and…"
Her face fell as she watched the slightly shaking man descend the steps of the main hall. He was out of his armor, but was geared up for a ride through the desert. The gun on his belt gleamed. The shadow of his hat shielded his eyes. He wore a longish, leather coat.
"Are you goin' to the outlands, Sir?" Zelda asked. Her sisters stood behind her, flanking their Impa, Adelaide. She was dressed in her full guard-armor – as she usually was, her purplish-hair tied back. She gave Russell a cutting glare with her red, tattoo-flanked Sheikah eyes.
"The king is dead," he mouthed to her desperately, moving his lips without saying the words because he wasn't sure that little Zelda, Kara and Anya should hear about their father's fate from him.
Adelaide's eyes went wide. Before any other words or signals could be exchanged, Cecelia stepped into the courtyard in an ice-blue dress, her hair braided and arranged in a formal fashion.
"Dad's dead," she said bluntly. "Come inside and get cleaned up."
Russell pulled his hat down over his face and walked briskly, out to the stables. As he left the courtyard, he heard the cracked wailing of the younger royal siblings.
All people handled grief differently, he supposed. Cecelia's reaction was, apparently, to get colder. He knew his reaction was to get angry and to take action. He knew that Link was innocent. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose by doing something like this. Russ knew, as he ground his teeth, that he was the only person who could clear his brother's name – and save his life.
The queen of Hyrule had disappeared several years prior to the assassination of the king and the case had never been solved. She had not been found, dead or alive. It was, in Russell's mind, at least, as if it there was some kind of horrible slow-path plan going on, like something out of one of the old legends that his brother liked to talk about. To be fair, random murders of the royal family many years apart would make more sense when implemented by immortal forces, less so by criminal organizations looking for a quick payoff, terrorists trying undermine a nation quickly, or even random, deranged persons. Of course, those latter things made more sense to him than the former because those latter things were real. Dark lords working from beyond the grave through cult-followers were for myths and legends.
It didn't matter that the royals secretly used what was for all practical purposes, "magic."
In any case, Russell D' Ordona had set out to find his brother. That meant a hard ride through country that few people knew. He took a pair of men with him, Krin and Blake, and guided them through the Lost Hills. As the name implied, it was an easy place to be lost in – a rough country of its own legends, but mostly of winding and deceptive rock formations and dry trails that seemed devised by some divine hand to entrap all who entered the area, like the setting of a diabolical game. Russ followed subtle clues, signs that his less-experienced companions did not pick up on. Link had been good at covering his trail, but not perfect. It helped that Russ knew his brother's favorite tricks. One did not want to leave signs of one's presence when one was hunting game, after all, lest prey be scared way. The same rules applied to the days when they were stalking criminals. Link D' Ordona, however, was no wild desert boar or common thief.
Russell caught his brother when his nose detected a whiff of smoke. He rode up to where there was a spring he knew about. Sure enough, his hunch about the whereabouts of his errant brother was correct. There was a small camp. The horses were left un-tethered and Grace was seated on a boulder, feeding Link Jr. As soon as Russell's horse crested the hill leading to the spring, Link rose from his position roasting a pair of squirrels on the campfire and immediately drew a gun from his hip. His sword was strapped to his back, but he did not take it in hand. He aimed upon Russ.
"Brother!" Russell shouted, sliding off his gelding as it was still in mid-trot. He held up his hands. "It's just me. Put down your weapon. I want to talk."
Link sighed, holstering his weapon. Grace covered up and held the baby on her shoulder to burp him. "There are reasons why I ran," he began.
"I'd like to hear 'em," Russ said. "You have to come with me. I'm sorry 'bout this, but it's the best chance you have."
"I didn't kill the king, Russell," Link pleaded.
"I know you didn't, but the Guard thinks you did. Why'd you run?"
Link shook his head. "I don't have a chance, Russ, no chance at all. I need to find a safe place for my family. At least let me do that, brother."
Russ squinted. The sunlight caught a glint upon Link's hand, a tattoo etched in gold that shimmered in little threads, matching the subtle creases of the skin it was etched in. "What in Farore's name is that on yer hand?" the guardsman asked.
"I know an old Gerudo woman skilled in the art of tattoos," Link explained. "I had her give me this. She refused to give me such a holy mark until I showed her the boy and then she understood. You didn't notice it when I came back to duty, did you?"
"Well, we do wear gloves most a' the time when we're in uniform."
"It's done its work…I think," Link sighed. "The evil that would hunt the Hero has been thrown off the trail. It's after me. If I can just get my wife and kid to Labyrnna, or Holodrum, or somewhere in the outlands, he'll have a shot at growing up and fulfilling his destiny. After that, I'll gladly return to Castletown and take whatever this false mark may bring me."
Grace was shaking her head and crying as she held the baby close.
"Not this stuff again," Russell groaned. "Come back with me. Prove your innocence. I suspect ya know who might really be behind the assassination."
"I do," Link said with a slow nod. "I also know what happened to the queen. I've done some investigating. Do you know much about ritual sacrifices, brother? I have found evidence that the queen was used to bring back the ancient Evil. The death of the king just means that the one behind it is ready to start setting the true gears of their plan into motion…"
"Who?" Russell asked, certain that his brother had lost his mind.
Link Sr. was cut off by gunfire. The rest of what he was trying to say came up as a gurgle of frothed blood from his mouth as a neat hole punched through his chest. Grace screamed. Russ turned around to see Krin Kenyon riding up, holding out his revolver.
"What did you do that f-" Russ demanded as another shot fired and Grace, who had run to kneel at her husband's side fell in the dirt. Link Jr. wailed.
Russell D' Ordona drew his gun, as did Blake Bladebringer, who rode up beside Kenyon. "I gave no order," Russ said as he backed up over to the prone forms of his brother and his sister-in-law. He felt a hand grab his boot. Link looked up to him, still alive. Grace, however, was definitely a goner, unless of course a person could survive with roughly one-forth of their skull and what was beneath it missing. Russ positioned himself protectively in front of his brother and his crying nephew – unhurt save a hard jostling.
Russ was glad to see that he'd trained Blake well, at least. Private Bladebringer had the tip of his gun trained firmly to Private Kenyon's head.
"Why did you do that?" Russell screamed. "I was on the verge of making the arrest and you just murdered an innocent party!" He felt tears on his cheeks and was annoyed at the fact for the fear that they diminished his authority.
"Murder is such an ugly word, isn't it?" Kenyon said, his gaze down and his hands up. "Is it murder to merely kill those that pose a threat to your people?"
"I just watched you shoot an unarmed woman in cold blood," Blake hissed. "You have no right to talk about threats."
"That was an unfortunate error in aiming on my part," Krin explained. "I was actually aiming for the child."
Even at distance, Russ could have sworn he saw Bladebringer's jaw drop… at least as much as his had.
"Heh, heh, heh," Krin Kenyon chuckled lowly. "Did you think that I was under your orders, Commander? I am under a much higher power. We knew that only you could ferret your brother out, so we took your command. You led us straight to the mark. I was to finish the job given to me by a higher commander and leave no survivors."
"Who is this 'higher power' of which you speak?" Russ demanded. "It's as sure as Termina not the goddesses that I know."
"Of course it is not your weak set of goddesses," Kenyon said with a dark smile. "The battle has been waged since the world began. I have fulfilled my duty in part, but have failed." The man closed his eyes and titled his face skyward. "I have failed, Master," he said as he drew his own gun to his temple. Before either Russell D' Ordona or Blake Bladebringer could stop him, he fired and fell from his horse. The horse galloped off and Blake fought to control his own steed.
"My…my son…" Link struggled from the ground. Russell held him up and cradled him. Blake hopped down from his mare and gently took the squalling baby into his arms. Russ held Link Sr. up, while Blake passed Link Jr. to him.
"So it ends." Link whispered as his child calmed.
"We can get you some help," Russell said. "Just hang in there."
Link coughed and a dribble of blood ran down his chin. "You know as well as I do, Russ, the shot I took… I ain't gonna survive it all the way back to civilization. I can feel Gracie calling for me. Take care of my boy. Keep him safe. Please."
"I'll give him a good life, Link." Russell assured. "Link?"
His brother had gone slack and slumped over. He'd closed his eyes before going still. Russ laid him down and took Link Jr. into his arms. Russell knew that he was going to lie to the child a lot as he grew up and already regretted it.
"What do we do now?" Blake asked.
Russell looked up through his tears. "Burials," he said. "After that, I am going to head somewhere the rest of the world jus' don't know about. Put in my resignation for me, or tell them I died in the firefight. We had an altercation with the fugitive. There were no survivors save you."
"I understand, sir." Bladebringer answered, an unbelievably frightened look plastered on his face. "After today, I may put in a resignation, myself."
Ice caked the windows of the farmhouse. The door was flung open and a woman stood among spiraling snow and flecks of ice. Men in full suits of armor stood behind her.
"Cecelia…." Zelda gasped.
"Who?" Link asked.
"Princess Cecelia," Zelda said. "My sister."
"She's going to destroy us all… and it's because of me. I'm so sorry…"
"Come play, little raven," the woman standing in the doorway chimed.
"What is going on?" Link yelped. "Is she using a cryo-rod or something?"
The gathered guests shrank and cowered. Jaggle took a look at the gun and sword-case on the wall and didn't know whether or not to go for it. Malon was eyeing the kitchen knife-drawer. They were in the presence of royalty with a royal guard, yet all felt a sense of menace, a dark aura around them.
"She ain't using technology, Link," Russ informed. "This is magic."
Link shook his head. "Magic isn't real…"
"A dirty little secret is that the Royal Family has always used a bit of magic…" Russell began.
Under the feeling of malice that permeated the very air, Russ remembered what his brother has said years ago when he'd asked him about the king's assassination. He'd know that there was intrigue going on in Castle Town, which was why he'd kept his nephew to a simple life, here in the middle of nowhere. One of Link Sr.'s last words was…
Russell D' Ordona had long had his suspicions. The palace was a place of intrigue – with dignitaries coming and going, their loyalties unknown, people on the Council who were always in the market for more power and to tug at certain strings… His brother had been one of the few that remained skilled with swords. So was Cecelia. He had taught her to use them. He'd seen it add up… those many years ago, but had not let himself believe it. Cecelia had been just a young girl. Sure, she was a cold, cruel-minded brat even then, but he'd put murder beyond her. That was why she'd really stayed home from the vacation her sisters enjoyed…
Ice. Her soul was locked in ice.
Lady Gwen sided close to Link and took him by the hand. "Do not deny what is plainly before you, boy," she said.
"I've come for my errant sibling," Princess Cecelia announced.
"Sibling?" Link asked.
"Little Zelda, of course. She has some things to answer for." She pointed to Zelda.
"What kinds of things?" Link demanded, putting herself in front of her. "Marin hasn't done anything wrong!"
"Marin?" Cecelia laughed as a guard grunted behind her. "Oh, that is cute, little sister. Now, come with me, little runaway, and answer for your treason."
"I left to save my life," Zelda said, a golden light showing in her eyes. Link gasped and jumped back from her slightly. At the edges of her fingertips a shimmer appeared, a golden aura. A three-part triangle pattern shone on her right hand.
Light-magic, Russell thought. Yes, that was what little Zelda was shown to have an aptitude for early on. Light-magic was dismissed by many in regards to useful elemental-powers. Light depended upon sight and mostly just dispelled darkness from a room. It didn't have much in the way of physical power, even though some of the priests considered it connected to holiness. Russ knew better, though. He'd studied a little bit of the science of light, in regards to operating some of his brother's old inventions. The energy of light, in certain forms, could be utterly destructive if applied in certain ways. It erased the color from paint and the ink from paper, destroying history. Too much light on a person's skin could cause particularly horrific disease. The Twili were particularly adverse to the amount of light in Hyrule's daytime hours. It was said that if light-magic were harnessed with enough malice that it could wipe out cities in a singular blast of brilliance.
Russell D' Ordona, in the moment, thought that Zelda could wipe out a city if she desired to. Between the light gathering around her and the freezing wind coming from Cecelia's energies, he shivered hard.
For a split-second, the birthmark on Link's left hand pulsed with golden light. Cecelia raised an eyebrow. She leered at him. "Interesting," she said. "It seems as though the little raven has found herself a Hero. Tell me, Zelda, are you still a maiden or has this one had his way with you already?"
Zelda narrowed her eyes. Link spat out a growl.
"Are you the type to defend a girl's honor?" Cecelia sneered. "How cute. I'll tell you what, Hero… I'll spare my errant little sister if you come with me."
"Don't, Link," Zelda said.
"I only want a testimony before my court," Cecelia lied. "A traitor of a little sister can stay here on this dirt-farm for as long as she likes. The only true threat to my power is a foolish Hero."
Link was absolutely confused. He stepped forward anyway. "Leave her alone," he said. "I'll come with you and tell you everything that's happened if it only it will prove that she's done nothing against the Crown."
As soon as he'd followed her outside, flanked by the men in heavy armor, Cecelia grabbed him and forcibly turned him around, pressing him against her chest. Link gulped, suddenly unable to move. He felt as if her touch had sent ice through his veins. The elder princess drew a finger to Link's throat. It was covered in hard, clear ice that was sharpened into edges and a point like a dagger.
"I'd rather not wait until we get back home to be rid of the Legendary Hero." Cecelia hissed into one of his long ears. "And don't you tell me that you've never heard of such a thing. Destiny has caught you like a coyote in a trap. Don't fret. You shall not be alive long enough to feel a skinning."
The ice-dagger nipped at Link's skin. He heard a roar – the voice of his uncle. In a split-instant, he was freed from the ice-like sensation that had locked up his muscles. He ducked and ran just in time to see Uncle Russ charging at Cecelia with a pitchfork he'd grabbed off the side of the house. The old guardsman caught one of the armed men as they rose to defend their princess. Empty armor clattered to the ground as Russell stabbed shadows that dissipated into the night.
"The armors are empty!" Zelda carried. "She's using dark magic!"
A bolt of pale blue light shot out from Cecelia's hand right into Russell D' Ordona's chest. A coating of clear ice crystallized around him in moments, trapping him in an iceberg.
"Uncle Russ!" Link screamed as a similar coating of ice shot around one of his legs. He fell to the ground.
His friends stood above him bewildered. Malon was pounding on her father's ice-crystal. "Marin…" Marin… or more truthfully, Princess Zelda, had light in her eyes and swirling all around her.
She looked like she was ready to make that light explode.