It had been three weeks since Grandma Yai had collapsed outside the reliquary. In her panic, Nabooru could only recall fragments of what had happened immediately after. The pangs of fear that gripped her while she sobbed, watching the unmoving bodies of Grandma Yai and the guards. The twisted, unnatural shape that her voice took as she screamed for help. Praying, pleading, to see any movement that indicated the fallen were still breathing. She remembered the grim look on Deltani’s face when help finally came. And the eye. That ever ominous eye, blood red and patiently watching, observing it all.
The reliquary had been robbed. And only one item was missing — Din’s Fire.
This was not a grand heist or the work of bandits. No, this robbery was precise and made possible by the clever use of magic. There were no signs of a struggle or a break-in. The doors had been gently pushed aside, an indicator that the guards had unlocked and carefully disarmed the traps. It was as though the thief had been warmly invited in.
Even more curious, was the state of the guards. They awoke a few hours later in the infirmary, shuffling like zombies back to the reliquary, where they reset the traps and locked the doors. Only then did the guards emerge from their stupor, unaware of what had transpired. Whatever magic had been used on them was frighteningly powerful. It was capable of using multiple targets as personal puppets, able to respond to commands hours later, but leaving them with no memory of what had transpired.
In a strange way, Nabooru choosing to walk past the reliquary was incredibly lucky. If not for Grandma Yai’s collapse and Nabooru’s screams, it could have been days before anyone knew something was amiss.
One thing Nabooru could recall clearly was Aunt Deltani’s rage at Lady Sukardra that night.
“YOU and your damned ego brought this on us!” Deltani roared, as the other elders did their best to hold her back. Nearby, the unconscious bodies of the guards and Grandma Yai were laid out on cots. Nabooru’s blanket, a vibrant quilt, was neatly folded and placed under the old crone’s head as a pillow. Two ladies, trained in the healing arts were speaking to one another in a hushed but rapid tone. They grabbed an assortment of herbs from the carefully labeled terracotta urns, which were placed in alcoves around the infirmary.
Deltani gritted her teeth and spat on the ground. “EVERY tribe is mad at us for your goons inconsiderate RAIDING. I’m surprised it took this long for them to start taking back what you stole. You broke our oath to the Sister Tribes, and we should throw you to the Sand Wolves as penance.”
Lady Sukardra cleaned her glasses with the utmost care. If she was upset, this was the only way she chose to show it. “I understand your concern, but you must understand, I’ve only been following the orders issued to me by our Lady Twinrova. Yell at me next to the infirmed all you wish, but even I am powerless to get in the way of their desires.”
Her statements seemed to slow Deltani’s charge only slightly. She paused, choosing her next sentence with care. “What EXACTLY were Lady Twinrova’s orders?”
“Simple,” Lady Sukardra placed her now perfectly clean glasses back on her face. “To secure any relics and items of potentially great power from the Sister Tribes, by any means necessary. Peaceful dealings are preferential of course.”
“For what purpose?”
Lady Sukardra tutted and rolled her eyes. The healers had moved from gathering herbs to grinding them into a poultice. The air grew pungent and bitter with their concoction. “I thought better than to ask. You know as well as I do that the ladies grow… testy…when their motives are interrogated.”
The room grew quiet. Surprising herself, Nabooru spoke up, “Excuse me, Lady Sukardra.” The researcher turned to the young girl, a look of soft surprise on her face. “If all the items in the reliquary are — in theory — objects of great power, then wha-what is special about the b-black box with the eye on it?” Nabooru looked at her shoes, ashamed by the quaking hint of fear in her voice.
“Oh, that. My, my, that is old magic indeed. Tell you what, my curious one,” Nabooru dared to make eye contact with her. Lady Sukardra’s eyes held the same umber gravity they had during her introduction that afternoon. “Work in my lab the next few weeks for your professional training and I’ll let you in on a little secret.”
Before Nabooru could answer, one of the healers screamed, dropping her concocted poultice in the process. Syncopated, both guards arose from their cots, skin grayed and eyes rolled back into their skulls. Incomprehensible runes in black appeared on their skin, faintly pulsating. Deltani easily broke free from the elders still holding on to her, ready to use a nearby chair like a club.
“Get Nabooru out of here — NOW!” Deltani thundered at the other elders, before breaking the chair against one of the guards. The guard, unflinching, kept moving forward. The healers screamed at Deltani, calling her a brute and a tyrant. Lady Sukardra gently ushered Nabooru out the side door. Freshly fallen snow crunched beneath them as the ran through the moonless night.
The three weeks hence had been relatively calm in comparison. After news of the robbery broke the next morning, the compound was thoroughly inspected to ensure that the thief wasn’t one of the Fortresses own denizens. Lady Sukardra was in a particularly feisty mood for over a week after her research facility had been overturned by the elder’s investigators. She often took her frustrations out on Nabooru by endlessly teasing her or quizzing her on the most inane historical facts.
The girls’ daily training at the archery range was handled by Elder Koh while Deltani was sent on reconnaissance missions to the nearby tribes. Unsurprising but still disheartening, Deltani returned with no leads or information pertaining to the thief’s identity. In fact, most of the Sister Tribes were delighted to find out about the Fortresses ill fortune.
With no leads to continue the investigation by, new safety ordinances passed by the elders. The ordinance required that any women walking around the fortress as night walk must travel in pairs or groupings. If no companion was available, citizens were asked to acquire the protection of a guard. As the dead of winter meant longer, colder, snow-filled nights, the guards were overtaxed walking intoxicated adults back to their quarters.
As for Nabooru, she was small and quick enough to reach her destination before anyone could force a guard on her. Most nights, Nabooru would partake of a small meal before sundown in the Grand Hall before making her way to the infirmary. Grandma Yai still slept, unmoving since the night of the robbery. There, Nabooru would take the time to unbraid and brush out Grandma Yai’s ankle length, marbled hair. She would talk to the elder witch as she did, letting Grandma Yai know everything about her day in the process.
Nabooru was thankful that no one had ever inquired about her conversation with Grandma Yai in the reliquary. Lady Yai, in her youth, was known for her gifts of prophecy and had lived eons before Lady Kotake and Lady Koume were born. If the stories were true, her insightful powers were a boon from her Sheikah patriarch. Grandma Yai’s warning would have stirred such a panic amongst the elders that Nabooru was certain the trials would have been canceled.
When she was done re-braiding her hair, Nabooru would slip out before the healers returned from their dinner. Sometimes taking a handful of herbs for tea or study as she went. Dashing along the rooftops, she treated her nightly excursion as an extra training course. To her credit, she had only been caught once due to slipping on a patch of ice and shrieking on the way down. Since then, Nabooru had learned to scream quietly as she slid along troublesome patches.
Every third day, the girls would spend time with their profession trainers. Ashai’s studies in bows and ammo were going a bit too well. Bored of typical arrows, Ashai started experimenting with ways to add magical effects to arrowheads. She was almost banned from the fortress after finding a way to implant bits of raw bomb flower into the tip. During the incident, Deltani was forced to be harsh with Ashai in public. But, immensely proud of her daughter, she found ways to slip Ashai even stranger things to experiment with. Nabooru’s favorite had to be the arrow that froze the target on impact. Ashai felt it would be invaluable to the hunters during the summer months.
The twins, Niali and Kiali, always did everything together. So, it came as a shock to everyone when they picked entirely different professions to study. Niali, like their mother, had an affinity for fire magic and took to jewelry crafting. Each day after training, she would happily show off new trinkets she had made for her and her sister. Kiali put her affinity for earth magic into inscription work. Kiali’s magic made it easier for her to find rare pigments to turn into inks as well as precious gemstones for Niali’s training. When pressed by the adults as to why they picked different professions, the twins scoffed and flipped their matching pigtails.
“Why on earth,” one twin began “would we pick the same profession—” The other finished, “—when we can master two and earn twice as much?” Nabooru had to admit, they had a brilliant point. Perhaps they weren’t so air headed as they seemed, after all.
Having attempted and failed the trial from the previous year, Prisha was excused from the profession requirement in lieu of extra coursework in her failed categories. Shocking no one, Prisha found a way to lord her “standing” over the other girls. She was—according to her and her mother’s duplicitous mouths—the daughter of a king after all. Which meant she was above having to work and earn her keep. Her beauty alone would be enough to ensnare any man willing to pay for her lavish tastes. Yet, being banned obviously bugged Prisha. She took extra glee in creating new ways to bully Nabooru — often by spreading more unsavory rumors about Nabooru’s mother.
As for Nabooru, she had eagerly taken Lady Sukardra up on the offer to train in her research facility. Unlike every other mud-brick building in the fortress, the facility was carved directly into the mesa above the archery range. The journey up and across various ladders and narrow stairs was precarious at best and her first time making the trek, Nabooru feared falling to her death. Inside the stone walls, was a sprawling complex of rooms and chambers. Each one dedicated to a particular type of research. There was the tapestry room, the common relics room, the library, and a room dedicated to magical relics. Each room received enough ambient light from a series to skylights.
Nabooru would typically spend her time organizing and cataloging a massive backlog of artifacts and documents. Or, if the weather turned sour, Nabooru was tasked with climbing to the top of the mesa to sweep the snow off the skylights. But, a couple of times and under Aunt Deltani’s watchful eye, Nabooru was allowed to accompany the research team outside the fortress. Lady Sukardra would point out important monuments and places of historical significance along the way. Before long, Nabooru could adeptly identify the subtle differences in artifacts from the fortress, her Sister Tribes, and artifacts that originated outside the valley.
Most of the items found were common remnants of ages past—a spoon here, a sacred text there, the occasional etched bead. These were brought back anyhow, to be cataloged and shipped to houses of learning around the world. There was also the occasional personal collector. According to her mentor, the other races of Hyrule would pay top dollar for a rare piece to liven their home.
“Never send out the rare ones intact,” Lady Sukardra warned. “Even a small bit is laced with old magic and capable of leveling an entire town. Instead, destroy the magic when able, then send out the fragments that remain. But always, always write gloriously about what it was. Collectors will eat up any information they can get their hands on, believing they can tap into and tame what magic was once there. Only fools willingly ingest old magic. They all grow mad in the process.”
While Lady Sukardra was a fine instructor, she had a sadistic streak. If Nabooru asked too many questions, Lady Sukardra’s favorite “punishment” was to send her back with no fewer than five of the heaviest tomes from the researcher’s massive library. Nabooru was expected to have finished reading them by the time she returned for more training. These books brought Nabooru a lot of joy during the long evenings. Unknown to Lady Sukardra, Nabooru started asking annoying questions on purpose.
Most of the research library was dedicated to excavations in and around the Spirit Temple. One book, in particular, was Nabooru’s favorite—The Child of Flame. To this day, the greatest mysteries of the Spirit Temple resided in the temple’s inaccessible western wing. For centuries, thieves and researchers alike would cram themselves in the small entrance to the wing, only to be pushed out or suffocated by a mysterious force. Attempting to enter that side of the temple through other means often resulted in a gruesome demise.
Only one entity had ever managed to gain entry to the western half of the temple and live—a young orphaned girl named Rhijat. According to the legend, Rhijat only wished to enter the temple to learn more about her patron. For fifteen days and fifteen nights, she explored the temple’s western wing and passed the Goddess’s numerous tests. On the 16th day, the Goddess asked Rhijat what she wished as a reward. Nothing was out of her reach — power, wealth, an army of iron at her personal beck and call. Rejecting the Goddess’ offer of material gifts, Rhijat’s request was simple — all she longed for was to visit and commune with the Goddess after she had grown into adulthood.
Moved to tears, the Goddess gave her a ruby, filled with flame as a sign of her favor and agreed to meet with her again in seven years time. In the blink of an eye, seven years passed and they met again as promised. Now an adult with fiery red hair, Rhijat had grown into a great blacksmith. Aided by the white-hot fire her ruby produced, her pieces were said to shimmer and shine like the full moon on a crystal clear lake.
Rhijat brought three gifts for her patron deity—a shield, a scimitar, and a pair of gauntlets. The shield, shined to a gleam capable of reflecting light, represented the Goddess’ eternal protection. The scimitar, decorated with rubies and gold, a reflection of the Goddess’ swift justice against dishonorable acts. The gauntlets, silver with a large ruby embedded on each hand, symbolized the Goddess’ immeasurable might. Each of these treasures moved the deity deeply, and she stored them away in her temple.
The book carried on to describe Rhijat’s remaining life. After bestowing her gifts to the temple, she became the leader of her tribe, united the scattered Sister Tribes against a tribe of dark magicians, and erected Gerudo Fortress as a seat of power and governance. The story ends with Rhijat being grievously wounded in battle, poisoned by the shadow magic from a long-forgotten relic. Grieving, the Goddess appears at her deathbed shrouded in the guise of an old crone. With one touch, the Goddess pulls Rhijat’s spirit from her body and took her to the glorious halls of her temple.
Nabooru had read the book countless times during the course of her training. She longed to have Rhijat’s courage and humility in the face of certain danger. Though she did find the book a bit curious in some parts. Sometimes the mirror was described as having an elegant moon etched into its face. In other parts, the mirror was said to be decorated with the first holy symbol of the Gerudo tribes. There was also an allusion to a second pair of gauntlets, this time forged in gold and gifted to a mighty hero of the Hylians. Nabooru had grown accustomed to inconsistencies in the books she read. Such was the nature of legends, she supposed.
The final day of Nabooru’s training with Lady Sukardra had her giddy. Grandma Yai had finally woken from her sleep, final exams would begin tomorrow, and she finally — finally — could ask Lady Sukardra about the obsidian box. For five weeks, her mentor had expertly dodged her questions about the relic and what was contained inside. Today, Nabooru wouldn’t let her.
Nabooru’s final task was to help her teacher clean the reliquary room. It hadn’t been touched since Din’s Fire was stolen and, as such, was beginning to grow quite dusty. As they moved from one corner of the large room to the other, dusting and cleaning boxes of relics, they idly chatted about Nabooru’s future:
Did she feel ready for the exam?
Had she finished reading 350 Bone Tools and Their Various Uses?
Yes, but she couldn’t see the difference between objects #155 and #17.
Did she plan on continuing her studies?
Only if Lady Sukardra approved, of course.
Finally, only one relic remained — the obsidian box, laced in silver Sheikah cuneiform and symbols. Lady Sukardra paused before it, looking uncharacteristically uneasy. This was her chance.
“My Lady Sukardra,” Nabooru probed softly. “You have asked a lot of questions of me, but I haven’t returned the favor. Do you know what I wish to ask you?”
A slight twinge of fear crossed her teacher’s face, before quickly switching to a look of resignation. “Curiosity, my student, is a researcher’s greatest asset.” She stared timorously at the box. “It is also our greatest undoing.” She sighed. “Nabooru, I cannot tell you what this is. All I can do is allow it to reveal itself to you. Place your hand over the eye, and I will be here to catch you once it releases you.”
Suddenly, Nabooru’s mouth went dry. Every ounce of confidence she once had, evaporated. She thought back to the roving, sanguine eye, how its stare burned itself within her.
“If you do not wish to see, young Nabooru, I will hold nothing against you. But we must never speak of it again.”
“No,” Nabooru shook herself out of her stupor and approached the box. “If I don’t do this, I will always regret it.” Nabooru’s hands shook as she reached out to touch the coffer. Perhaps, she thought, it can show me Mama.
In an instant, Nabooru’s vision went dark. Pitch black and deathly silent. She felt a chill on her skin that sank into her. Deep, past the flesh. Deep into her muscle. Deep, deep into her bones. Deeper still, peering into the very essence of her being. She felt the world lose its gravity beneath her. She was suffocating, burning, drowning, falling, all at once. Then the voices came. Growing, in different pitches. In-numerous. Generations of voices, scattered in every direction.
“Yes, yeesssss, the Spirit has come to us. Show her, show heeerrrrr, show her EVERYTHING. Yes, yessssssssss,” The voices grew in syncopation. “SHOW HER THE SINS, HISTORIES REPEATED, REVEL IN HER FEAR. Break her, break her, BREAK HER.”
The visions came in disjointed flashes. A knight in green, a monster of incredible size with ink black fur, a woman shrouded in light. Wars, death, armies rising and falling in the blink of an eye. More knights, more monsters, more ladies of light. And then her mother, on her knees in the sands, pointing one scimitar at Lord Ganondorf. A long cut across her cheek bled, leaving sanguine droplets in the earth.
“Stop! Stop,” Nabooru screamed. “Let me watch this!” The voices erupted in laughter, pleased by her dismay.
Lord Ganondorf, held aloft a small gem devoid of all light and glow. The crushed remnants of an identical coffer scattered in the desert winds. Voiceless, Nabooru watched her mother shout a warning before Lord Ganondorf pressed the gem to vulnerable russet flesh between his collarbones. Time flashed forward briefly. Lord Ganondorf’s skin had greyed and he held Nabooru’s mother by the throat, hoisting her high above him. Nabooru’s screams turned into a wail as she watched the limp body of her mother thrown into a large, horned, suit of iron armor. The laughter was a cacophonous roar.
Nabooru woke up on her back, staring into the worried gaze of Lady Sukardra. Tears streamed down Nabooru’s face.
Lady Sukardra smoothed back Nabooru’s hair, speaking softly. “My sweet child, that coffin carries a Fragment of Despair. And I fear it will doom us all.”
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.