Nabooru shivered slightly as she jogged through ankle high snow to the western gate of the Fortress. The sun had begun her evening descent, bathing the sky and mudbrick buildings in effervescent swatches of gold, saffron, and ginger. Within the hour, the sun would dip behind the Spirit Temple, crowning the Goddess in a golden halo before being swallowed by the long night.
As she hurried, Nabooru held tightly to her belt and the small pack slung over her shoulder. On her belt, were three knives and small pouches stuffed with the essentials to start a fire, medicinal herbs, paralyzing herbs, and a waterskin. Her pack was light, only containing a day’s worth of rations, rope, and low-grade explosives. Nabooru wanted to bring her scimitar, but it was still too big for her to wield properly. Knives would have to suffice.
Her sheepskin boots left a soft, pleasing crunch behind her. They were the last gift her mother had given her, hand stitched and embroidered with a small camel design on each shaft. Tonight, she hoped, they would carry her to victory.
Nabooru felt confident about how her exams had gone so far. Her horse riding skills still needed work, but she more than made up for it in archery, sword fighting, survival, and her profession exam. Nabooru felt that Lady Sukardra had been kind to her student, selecting questions that worked with Nabooru’s strengths. She had been grilled for 2 hours on everything from the intricacies of research practices to discerning the differences between jewelry produced in the Fortress versus fakes created by Gorons.
While the other Elders watched, Nabooru and Lady Sukardra kept their composure. Not once did either mentor or pupil let slip the truth behind the obsidian coffer in the reliquary — even when the questioning turned to the War of Great Night.
Lady Sukardra paced around the Great Hall which, for the time being, had been turned into her examination room. The flickering glow from nearby sconces cast deep shadows that danced across her features. The click of her heels against stone grew louder in Nabooru’s mind as she braced herself for the next line of questioning.
The Seven Elders, plus her Aunt Deltani, sat at a nearby long table. Most were paying close enough attention to the examination to occasionally jot down notes, observing Nabooru’s answers and reactions under pressure. Yet, the occasional long snore emphasized that not everyone was as invested.
“So,” Lady Sukardra paused her march. “As your final question, tell us about the War of Great Night. Include any Gerudo important to the tale and finally, speak to any artifacts recently recovered from that era.” Lady Sukardra stepped into the full glow of the sconces, her eyes boring a warning deep into Nabooru’s being.
Nabooru cleared her throat. One of the snoring elders woke momentarily before lazily drifting back to sleep. “The War of Great Night took place 5 eras ago and was an altercation between all good races of Hyrule and a group of witches known as the Twilight Tribe. The Twilight Tribe’s goal was to find a way to obtain the Golden Treasure of the Hylian’s Goddesses, using this power to usher in a new age ruled by their Dark God.” Lady Sukardra nodded, urging Nabooru to continue.
“To this end, the Twilight Tribe obtained Fragments of Demise. Said to be crystallized pieces of their deity’s fur from 10,000 years ago, these fragments — once implanted — granted their warlocks and witches with immeasurable power. With this magic, the tribe plunged the lands of Hyrule and her neighbors into eternal darkness. As crops died and people starved from famine, the Twilight razed the land and turned the conquered into a slave force tasked with building a contraption capable of ripping a hole into their God’s dimension.”
“The Gerudo, one of the last free races of Hyrule, headed the final assault against the Twilight Tribe. Lead by Lady Rhijat the Undying, the Gerudo forces liberated the enslaved and destroyed all recovered Fragments of Despair. At the Battle of the Golden Road, Lady Rhijat was mortally wounded. Our Goddess lifted her soul to be one of her chosen warriors in the Halls of Inextinguishable Flame. Seeing the state of Hyrule, our Goddess became enraged. She used her might to power the enemy’s contraption — The Mirror of the Twilight. The Twilight Tribe’s own device was used in their immediate trial and execution as war criminals. The mirror is still, in theory, fully operational and hidden within her temple.
“Very good,” Lady Sukardra praised. “And what of any artifacts recovered?”
Nabooru resisted the urge to squirm in her chair. She could still feel the painful cold that engulfed her two nights prior. The images of her mother’s broken body ravaged her mind, filling her throat with bile.
“Nothing of consequence. While the treasures forged by Lady Rhijat and the Mirror are rumored to be housed within the Spirit Temple, all attempts to enter the inner sanctums for excavation have failed. Occasional remnants of war — such as crescent-shaped sickles used by the Twilight Tribe and armor attributed to the Shiekah — have been recovered, but most are in poor shape and difficult to properly date. While physical evidence may be lacking, these stories are found amongst all races who still inhabit Hyrule. Given the nature of the Twilight Tribe’s defeat, it is safe to assume that all relics of power were destroyed alongside them.”
A slow smile spread across Lady Sukardra’s lips. Nabooru stole a quick glance at her aunt who leaned back in her chair, arms crossed and filled with pride. “Congratulations,” Lady Sukardra beamed. “You are one step closer to your goal.”
Tonight was the final step on Nabooru’s journey — the heist. Traditionally, this trial was held in the open desert, with a series of puzzles being developed by the sister tribes. Due to high tensions between the tribes and robbery of the Fortress, the Elders decided to move the trial closer to home. Namely, the strip of land known as the Golden Road which connected the western entrance of the fortress to the temple. This fifteen mile stretch still offered plenty in terms of space but, without the outside aid of the sister tribes, Nabooru wondered how tricky it could really be.
As Nabooru made her final approach towards the western gate, she could make out the powerful outlines of her aunt and cousin. Ashai had a longbow slung across her back — no doubt a new batch of experimental arrows were close at hand. Deltani, listening to her daughter’s chatter, busied herself with hitching two ebony warhorses to a large wagon. One pawed the snow in a small act of defiance. Not too far away from her family, the twins and Prisha were huddled together, no doubt gossiping about Nabooru’s tardiness.
Nabooru bowed to her aunt when she reached the group. Her breath came out in large, white puffs. “I’m sorry for being late. Grandma Yai needed help getting to the Great Hall.” Her cheeks deepened at the trio’s giggles.
“No apology needed, Nabooru. We should all hope to have the aid of our younger sisters in our elder years.” Aunt Deltani shot the trio a glance that could pierce the deepest ice.” Now, if all parties are ready to take this seriously, I believe there are some fabulous riches ready to be stolen. ”
The girls boarded the wagon and traveled for the better part of two hours. The weather was clear and cold, the sky filled to the brim with stars. Small lanterns on either side of Deltani illuminated the road ahead. Winter winds tore past the horses and rider, chilling the girls as it whistled past. The girls were thankful that Deltani had packed extra blankets in the wagon to block out the extra chill. Nabooru also tucked her knees under her amethyst coat, savoring the warmth while she could.
While the twins and Prisha quietly discussed their ideal man, Nabooru and Ashai took turns looking for constellations. More than idle stargazing, this was their last chance to brush up on navigational markers. The Center Star was easy enough to find, guarded by the Seven Maidens of Virtue. This star was the most important — it always remained in the same place, gently shepherding travelers north.
With a jolt and bump, their wagon ride came to an end, coming to rest at the side of the road. Deltani ushered the girls out the back of the wagon, leading them further down the road on foot, lantern in hand. No one made a sound.
Minutes passed and Deltani slowed to a stop, turning to the girls behind her. “Come,” she ordered. “Stand around me here.” The girls formed a crescent shape around their teacher as she spoke. The lantern burned too brightly in their eyes.
“Since the foundation of our Fortress, we sisters have held these trials to test our future. You have spent the past moon honing yourselves into living weapons. You are capable of achieving more now than most women of other races will dream of in their sleep. More than all the princesses of Hyrule. You have all passed the first exams, which is why you are standing here today.” Each girl straightened a bit with pride.
“But,” Deltani continued, “the hardest challenge is ahead. One by one you must face this trial alone and, through your own skill, retrieve a set of seven jewels. Each stone, representing one of our core tenants—dexterity, cunning, wisdom, strength, endurance, kindness, and spirit. Each tenant, a trial you must overcome. Each trial a chance to pass or fail.”
“The sands at night are treacherous and I hope you are well prepared. You have until dawn to retrieve your set and make your way back here. Theft from your sisters is strictly prohibited.” Nabooru and Prisha locked eyes. By the hungry look in her eyes, Nabooru was certain Prisha had no intention of being honorable.
“A final warning to those who choose to rob her sisters,” clearly, Deltani had seen the girl’s exchange. “The desert is filled with eyes.” Deltani bored into Prisha’s soul before she extinguished the lantern.
As her eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, Nabooru saw seven, tiny flickers of firelight far off in the distance.
“The light is your only map. Now go, and may the Goddess protect you all.” The girls took off running, each in a separate direction. Nabooru ran as fast as she could towards the lights in the south — as far away from Prisha as possible.
By the circling of the maidens, Nabooru guessed that five hours had passed since the trial had began. She crouched low to the sands, hiding behind a particularly large cluster of sagebrush. Snow clung to the boughs in large, puffy clumps. Taking out her knife, she carefully carved three small notches into the base of the brush on her left. A waymarker, in case she got lost and had to retrace her steps. She had been careful to choose her targets out of order and take odd roads to reach them. By doing so, she hoped to avoid Prisha at all costs.
So far, she had done well to keep her wits about her and had already secured four of the required gemstones: serpentine for dexterity, blue lace agate for wisdom, fire opal for strength, and haematite for endurance. Instinctively, Nabooru palpated the pouch of paralyzing herbs on her belt. The herbs were ground up into a fine powder capable of either being blown into the face of an opponent, or mixed with liquid to create a paste. It was the perfect hiding place for her prizes, as each stone was no larger than the fingernail of her thumb.
None of the trials were even remotely similar. The elder at the trial of wisdom locked Nabooru inside a poorly lit room, instructing her to retrieve a golden statue and escape within the time limit. The room was filled with clues, everything from receipts from the market, to desks with secret compartments. Each puzzle she solved gave a clue to the next step, until she finally found her way into a trapped treasure chest. The trial of endurance was more straightforward and harrowing, requiring her to wait for a shift in the guard. The difficult part was maintaining her grip while she hung suspended from the thatched roof.
“Each trial matched it’s theme quite well,” Nabooru thought. “But by the Seven, what in the sands could Spirit be?” She took a small strip of antelope jerky from her pouch, chewing it slowly while she deliberated which target she should strike next.
From her position, two torches dimly burned south of her position, while one flickered due west. She checked the stars against the western flame. By her reckoning, that particular trial was near the cistern which marked the halfway point to the Spirit Temple. She popped a dried fig into her mouth while re-securing her pack. If she was lucky, the cistern would be empty and provide a small reprieve from the snow.
Nabooru picked her way across the snowy desert, keeping her eyes low to the ground. The clouds had moved in, blanketing the valley with even more large, puffy clumps of snow. Still wary of an ambush, Nabooru stopped to examine any footprints she could find. Most were impressions much larger than Nabooru’s own foot, clearly left by an elder or the older girls. She had seen several incredibly small tracks, probably left by the twins. Curiously, every once in a while, she would come across tracks not left by the style of boot worn by women from the Fortress. It was small and slim, almost like the slippers typically worn in the summertime.
Coming across a pair of questionable tracks, she decided to head further north, climbing steadily up. She kept her eyes down on the snow, scanning the shrubs for any movement. The mesas and rock formations grew around her, heightening the whistle of the wind. Nabooru spotted the mouth to a cave in the rock face — it screamed danger. She crept past slowly, hyper-aware of any movement. At any moment, she swore, Prisha would rise from the shadows and attempt to steal her jewels.
Nabooru was consumed with her invisible chase, analyzing ways she could fight off or escape. She found a small path worn between the rocks and took her chance dashing the rest of the way past the cave and into relative safety. The path wound down, back towards her intended target. No one had pursued her.
The path opened up, ending at a rocky outcropping. Nabooru laid flat on her stomach before peering over the edge to judge how far down she would have to climb. The valley was an inferno. A whirling dervish of flame centered around the cistern and she could feel the heat come in blasts against her face. Ash from the corpses of sagebrush swirled in the wind. In the eye of the storm was Deltani and a hooded figure, slight of frame. Deltani ran at her enemy, warhammer at her side. But her opponent read her too obvious attack and dodged, retaliating with magic.
Nabooru watched in horror as her aunt crumpled to the ground. The figure hovered over to Deltani, raising her hand to call forth more magic. Unable to scream, Nabooru could only look on as the witch effortlessly lifted her aunt’s body, unceremoniously casting it into the cistern. The fire continued to spread.
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.