Nabooru’s feet slid out from under her. She tumbled downhill, the world swirling into a cyclone of sand and snow. She finally came to rest halfway down the hill she had charged off from, spitting out sand. She shoved a handful of snow into her mouth before taking off running again. She swished the ice cold liquid, spitting out the remaining grit while keeping her eyes on the flames ahead.
The fire kept moving, growing, and shifting. From her vantage point, Nabooru could see seven distinct arms of the blaze. Each arm originated from the cistern, rotating about the ancient nucleus in a liquid counter-clockwise dance. Even from this distance, she could feel the heat wash over her each time one of the arms passed by.
The witch who had easily overcome her aunt’s strength hovered in place, her back towards Nabooru’s descent, concentrating her energy towards the cistern. Long scarlet hair, gold jewelry, and a blood-red cloak violently whipped around the witch as if she were living flame. A dainty pair of wine-colored slippers adorned her feet. This enemy wasn’t an invading Hylian — she was Gerudo, just like the rest of them.
The witch’s arms outstretched, and Nabooru could feel the power well from the cistern and roll across the desert. It pulsed with its own heartbeat. With each beat, the flames grew hotter, thicker, and reached out further into the night.
As Nabooru ran, she calculated her odds of sneaking past the witch and into the cistern to save her aunt. It was foolish, Nabooru knew, but she had to try. In the time it would take her to find aid and bring them back, the fire would have grown exponentially. Then, approaching the cistern would be impossible. The faster she ran, the better chance she had of reaching her aunt before her rescue — and their escape — were cut off.
The blood thundering in her ears drowned out the hiss of flames greedily licking the falling snow. Her lungs burned, the air growing thicker with the scent and smoke of sage and pine. Nabooru never saw the shadow to her side lunge out until it was too late.
Again, Nabooru was falling, now backward into a thick patch of brush. Her assailant was clumsy, not quite sure where to grab and failing to secure Nabooru’s arms. As they fell, Nabooru’s elbow cleanly connected with her assaulter’s solar plexus. In a flash, Nabooru had the upper hand. Landing on her side, Nabooru grabbed one of her daggers, pressing it against the attacker’s throat.
“Stop, stop” her assailant hissed, still trying to catch her breath. “It’s me, Prisha!”
Nabooru blinked, slowly registering the bright blue eyes of her bully. Nabooru glowered, pressing the dagger gently against Prisha’s delicate neck. “You chose now,” Nabooru growled, “of all times to try and rob me?”
Prisha squeaked, a small trickle of blood running down into the snow. “No! I’m trying to save your life!”
Nabooru didn’t move a muscle, continuing to glare down. “Why would I believe you? When all you’ve ever wanted was to torture me?”
Heartbeats passed in silence. Tears welled up in Prisha eyes, a mixture of fear and pain. “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. I never wanted to, but my mother — she ORDERED me to.”
The twin heads of Niali and Kiali popped up from the brush. “It’s true, she did,” Niali chimed. “Her mother is the absolute worst,” Diali huffed.
Nabooru eased the knife away from Prisha’s throat but stayed firm, keeping her eyes on her target. “Why?”
Prisha’s cheeks burned. “Because my father isn’t the King of Hyrule. He had to clean the King’s chamber pots.” Prisha closed her eyes in shame. “And, keeping the Fortresses’ attention on you kept the attention off her lies.”
A large, warm hand softly rested against Nabooru’s shoulder. “Let her go, Nabooru.” Ashai’s voice was deep with sadness. “Now is not the time.”
Slowly, and with a bit of reluctance, Nabooru withdrew her dagger and let Prisha up. Nabooru scanned the faces of her classmates. “How are you all here?”
“We all saw the fire –” Kiali began “– And you like an idiot running into it,” Niali finished.
“Really,” Ashai chided. “What on earth were you thinking, trying to charge in like that?”
Nabooru sat up, looking sorrowfully into her cousin’s eyes. “But, Aunt Deltani—”
“I saw,” Ashai cut her off. Her eyes the color of cold jade. “And we’re going to get her back. But we have to be smart about it. We can’t just go charging in — my mother taught us better.”
A bright flash pulled the girl’s attention to the cistern. A dozen or so Gerudo warriors had engaged the witch. The sounds of battle echoed and warbled eerily. With the witch’s attention pulled away from the cistern, the flames dwindled and their rotation slowed. The thrum of magic Nabooru had felt died down as well.
Nabooru crouched, ready to sprint at a moment’s notice. “If we’re going, this is our chance. Anyone not coming should go find aid.” To Nabooru’s surprise, the twins and Prisha kept their gaze on the cistern, ready to run. “You’re all coming?”
Kiali nodded slowly. “You can’t make it to the cistern without my magic, and Niali can heal Lady Deltani once we find her.”
“And,” Prisha interrupted. “You can get there faster with my help.” She handed Nabooru and Ashai vials filled with teal liquid. “I made these myself. They don’t taste the best yet, but you’ll feel as light as the wind.”
While Nabooru stared at her vial, wondering if it were a trick, Ashai popped the cork off with her teeth and downed the viscous fluid in one go. She sputtered, wiping the mouth clean with the back of her hand. Another flash from the witch arched over the cistern. “We move. Now.”
The girls set off running, Ashai leading the charge. Nabooru drank her vial as they ran. The taste wasn’t unpleasant, but the liquid was thick, chalky, and oddly meaty in some parts. She had to chew it to get it down all the way.
Within seconds, Nabooru’s body felt lighter, pliant, and bursting with energy. In no time, the girls had reached the outer arms of the flames, moving with them in rotation. The sand was charred black under their feet. Sweat rolled down Nabooru’s back in torrents, her winter coat adding layers of misery.
Beside her, Kiali whispered to the sands, twisting her fingers as she did. Soft earth rose up, shielding the girls from the relentless heat. Just as Nabooru had predicted, the flames moved faster, closer to the center, requiring lightning-fast footwork. If not for Prisha’s concoction, Nabooru was certain they would have been overtaken and left for dead.
Nabooru’s breath caught as she caught a glimpse of the witch up close. Feet rarely touching the ground, she flitted through the air expertly dodging attacks. Down one arm, orange runes circled to her delicate fingertips, pulsating softly as she commanded the flame. For a brief moment, Nabooru saw her face — the visage of a demon. Blackened and sickly, the witch’s skin reminded Nabooru of a charred tree. Sunken eyes glowed a fierce gold. Two wisps of flame grew from her crown like horns.
Ashai signaled for them to crouch as they exited the whirling dervish and reached the cistern walls. Kiali moved her shield to obstruct their location from the witch. While all the girls were panting from the exertion and the heat, Kiali was having issues catching her breath. Clearly magic required a great deal of stamina.
Hugging the wall, the girls slowly circled around the cistern until they found one of the rope ladders leading down. Nabooru prayed fervently to stay unseen. One by one, the girls watched for the perfect time to climb up the wall and down into the depths. First Naili, using her fire magic producing globules that lit the way. Kiali made her way down last, finally dropping her shield before exhaustion rendered her immobile.
The temperature shift was immediate. The sweat from earlier froze instantly, setting Nabooru’s teeth on edge. The echo of water dripping punctuated the growing silence as the sounds of battle drifted further and further from earshot.
As they repelled deeper into the cistern, Niali whispered: “Stop climbing!” Every girl paused, and Niali extinguished her globules. The cistern lit up. Tiny, glowing runes covered every inch. They pulsated with the same rhythmic magic the witch had used. A cluster of runes caught Nabooru’s eye. She couldn’t translate perfectly, but she knew what they were.
“What are they,” she heard Prisha muse below her. “Din’s Breath,” Nabooru whispered back down. “Writings filled with the Goddess’ magic. But it’s twisted. And wrong.” Nabooru looked down, tracing how far the writing went. “Keep climbing down, I have a theory.”
Descending deeper, the cistern opened up into a gargantuan room filled with evenly spaced archways. The water level, fed by falling rain and snow, lapped lazily at the bottom third of each column. Runes continued down the pillars and underneath the water illuminating from beneath. The rope ladder finally ended, converting to a series of stone walkways and stairs. They were at a crossroads.
A faded map on the wall indicated pathways the girls could take to exit the cistern just outside the Fortress, by one of the sister villages, or in the Spirit Temple’s oasis. Nabooru studied the map, peering down the hallways. While the main chamber of the cistern was coated in Din’s Breath, it abruptly stopped at vaults leading away from the Spirit Temple.
Nabooru kept a hand on the wall as they carefully made her way down the ancient stairs. The writing was warm to the touch and felt comforting beneath her palm. Ashai broke the silence.
“So, Nabooru, what’s your theory?”
“Well,” Nabooru paused, choosing her words slowly. “I’m not a magic user myself, but watching Kiali it seems that any form of magic requires a great deal of stamina.”
“A sad understatement,” Kiali sighed. “I always feel like I’m out of breath.”
“That’s because you prefer snacks and fluffy books over training,” Niali chimed in from the front.
Kiali fumed. “Don’t you start with me! 24 Songs of Love is a masterpiece and –”
Nabooru cleared her throat. “Um, what I mean to say is that all magic is hard on the body. And really powerful magic requires an incredible amount of stamina from the caster. Not having enough power could end in the caster’s spell killing them or having other horrible results. Lady Sukardra’s library was filled with stories of awful deaths and abominations.”
“Well, the witch seems to have plenty of ability,” Ashai snorted.
“I don’t think so,” Nabooru continued. “She’s powerful, but I think she’s found a way to turn the cistern into a giant conduit for her magic. Din’s Breath only heads in the direction of the temple — probably drawing from the temple’s magic.”
“Makes sense to me,” Niali nodded. “Our great grandmother was a rare sorceress capable of using water magic. Our mom liked to tell us stories of how she could use water to channel and amplify spells or reverse another spellcaster’s magic against them during ancient battles. Her favorite story was –”
“MOM!” Ashai screamed, pushing past Niali to run ahead.
Crumpled on the hard stone was the battle beaten body of Deltani. She curled around her warhammer, blood pouring into the water. Nabooru and rest caught up as Niali summoned the globules for extra light. Ashai grabbed her mother’s hand as Niali checked Deltani’s breathing, the dilation of her eyes, and the open wound. Deltani’s face and right hand were badly burned.
“How is she?” Kiali asked, crouching next to her sister.
“Lady Deltani is a terrifying woman,” Niali tutted. “Anyone else would be long dead by now, just from the burns alone. But, not Lady Deltani. No, she had to drag herself up after that fall and kept her weapon with her!”
Niali instructed the girls to unfurl Deltani from her warhammer, lying her flat on the ground.
“Now,” Niali spoke with an air of authority Nabooru had never heard from her prior. “Hold her limbs down. She’s still bleeding and I have to close the wound. And this will not be pleasant.”
The girls braced themselves as Niali lowered her hand to Deltani’s abdomen. A gentle flicker of flame shot out, cauterizing the wound on touch. Deltani screamed and thrashed beneath them. Had Deltani been any stronger, she would have easily thrown them all off.
The wound closed, Prisha poured a vial of red liquid down her throat. Deltani’s breathing stabilized, per pulse strong once more. Kiali called upon the earth which rose from the cistern floor creating a movable bed for the wounded warrior.
Prisha looked down the passageway. “Well, we can’t take her back up the rope ladder, but the entrance outside the fortress is just a shallow set of stairs.” Ashai shot her a curious look, making Prisha’s cheeks flush. “What? I like to go there when I’m hiding from my mom.”
Kiali began moving the bed of earth down the path, Niali warning her to take breaks if she got too tired. Nabooru stood looking as the tracings of Din’s Breath across the cistern, down the tunnel towards the Spirit Temple.
“Nabooru,” Ashai called out, “What’s going on? We have mom, so let’s get out of here.”
“I can’t go back with you,” Nabooru responded. “That witch is using Din’s Fire.” She took off running in the opposite direction, ignoring the other girls shouting.
Nabooru hid in a passageway, hood down, eyes squeezed shut and breathing rapidly. Her hunch had been right — the witch had been using the cistern as a conduit for Din’s Fire. She found the large ruby nestled in an alcove, atop a makeshift altar of bone and char. Nabooru had just carefully secured the gem in her backpack when an ear-piercing shriek echoed through the cistern. The witch was hunting her.
So far, she had kept just out of the witch’s reach while trying to make her way to the oasis. She was almost to the steps leading out when she heard her pursuer and ducked down.
“Where are you THIEF?” the witch growled hovering above the water. “Are you the one from the Fortress? The one who burned our city to the ground, who stole our jewel, who murdered my CHILDREN?” Nabooru tried desperately to mask her breathing. The witch hovered closer.
“I gave my soul to Demise for these powers, for my revenge. I won’t rest until every woman of the Fortress BURNS THE WAY I DID.” The witch screamed at the silence before moving in the opposite direction. “And the twin witches will be food for my master!”
Nabooru waited. One beat, two beats, five beats, ten beats. Slowly she emerged from her hiding spot, peering down the darkened cistern see if the witch was in sight. Nabooru slipped out of her boots. She needed to move quickly and quietly to escape. She carefully tucked them into her backpack then took off running.
Demise. The entity she witnessed in the reliquary room. An ancient evil beyond comprehension and this woman had willingly given herself to it. She remembered her vision — of Lord Ganondorf willingly accepting the fragment and murdering her mother. Should she survive this, Nabooru swore to do everything in her power to thwart his evil machinations!
Up ahead, Nabooru could see the first rays of dawn spilling into the cistern. Hope. She was so close to being free, taking the steps out of the cistern as fast as she could. She could see the tops of the palm trees that lined the oasis. Then the shriek came again. Nabooru glanced over her shoulder and could see the witch flying at her, screaming obscenities.
As she frantically climbed, Nabooru could feel the blood oozing from her feet threatening to make her slip. The witch was closing in on her, as she stepped onto the oasis sands. The visage of the temple Goddess loomed above her.
“DIN,” Nabooru cried, “I have returned with your treasure! Allow me to be your serva –”
The witch snagged Nabooru’s ankle, causing her to tumble face first into the snow-covered sands. She rolled over in pain, blood streaming down from a broken nose. The witch leered over her, even more terrifying up close.
“What is this?” the witch mused. “You are but a child! Do the women of the fortress think so little of me as to send a child to do their dirty work?” The witch lifted Nabooru from the sand by her hair. She smelled like charred flesh. “Such a pity for your life to end so soon in failure.”
Gold light filled the valley, coalescing into a legion of spectral warriors. Each woman wore different armor and bore the scars of in-numerous battles. Instead of a jewel, every forehead glowed with the mark of the goddess. They were the Din’s chosen army — the Warriors of Inextinguishable Flame. And they all aimed their weapons at the witch.
“That’s enough, hag,” A strong, booming voice echoed beside Nabooru. “You are on sacred ground and your taint is not welcome here.”
A different familiar voice tinkled on Nabooru’s other side. “You are to drop my child at once.”
Nabooru hit the ground with a thud. She looked up — her mother stood tall, hair neatly coiffed into a bun and gold armor blinding in the early rays of dawn. She pressed a scimitar against the witch’s throat.
“Lady Yaiga of the Desert Wastes,” the first warrior boomed. Her hair was freely flowing, and the shield she carried shone like a mirror. “You are found guilty of stealing from the temple and embracing The Banished. I, Rhijat, Head Commander of the Inextinguishable Flame, exile you to the realms between.”
The light of her shield grew, casting a magic circle around the witch. The sands opened up, pouring into a great abyss. Nabooru watched in horror as the witch’s body was torn asunder and cast into the void. Her wails echoed loudly until the sands closed around the gate, shutting off the noise with finality.
Things moved quickly after that. Nabooru returned Din’s Fire to Rhijat, who smiled with pride and relief. A grand fairy appeared, taking the precious gem and promising that she and her sisters would hide the goddess’ treasures well. Their work complete, most of the army faded away. Only Nabooru’s mother and a handful of warriors remained.
They traveled together, escorting Nabooru from the oasis back to the fortress. Riding on spectral camels, Nabooru and her mother spoke at length about many things. Her father, how proud she was of Nabooru, and her death at the hands of Lord Ganondorf. Too soon, they reached the fortress, too soon Nabooru had to say goodbye to her mother one last time. Nabooru sobbed, as her mother held her.
“My sweet child. I am never too far away from you,” her mother comforted. “I love you with all that I am, and I promise to always protect you.”
“But what am I supposed to do now?” Nabooru sobbed. Her mother lifted Nabooru’s chin and looked into her eyes.
“Don’t run, but protect those whom Ganondorf and his minions would wish to harm. In the days to come, darkness will permeate all corners of the earth. Remember that poor mother’s grief and how it twisted her so.” Nabooru nodded. “I believe in you, my little wolf and I know you’ll do the right thing. Should the world grow too dark, you will always find protection in the temple.”
Nabooru’s mother helped her down from the camel in front of the gates, kissing her cheek. With one last long hug, the unearthly warriors disappeared. Nabooru slowly turned towards the fortress, wiping the tears from her eyes. The sun was high overhead, and her classmates were running to greet her.
Brittany Lindstrom is a writer for Zelda Dungeon. When not writing odes to snails in love, she spends a lot of time talking about Dungeons & Dragons on Twitter or sharing her art on Instagram. Artwork created by Warningyou on Deviant.