Aveil pressed herself flat against the stone barrier that trimmed Levana's tower. From her vantage point there she could see the guards the woman had posted standing statuesque at the flanks of the tower's solitary entrance. A glance westward showed the horizon ablaze with the last light of day and the dusty haze of an oncoming storm and Aveil knew her time was running out; worse, so was Link's. She took a breath and forced herself calm. She'd need her wits about her if she were to sneak into Levana's chambers and snatch the woman's most prized possession right out from under her nose. There was a slitted window above the guarded doorway, just narrow enough for a thin woman like herself to ease through and infiltrate the tower. Levana's guards were stationed far enough before it that Aveil knew she could slip inside undetected, she need only get close first. Cautiously she stepped from the shadows to do just that but by the time her foot laid the first stone along the path to saving Link, she was taken from behind.

Someone pressed her up hard against the barrier and drove the sharp edge of a blade against the top of her throat. She opened her mouth to shout and the blade pressed more deeply against her skin, shutting her up lest she bleed herself.

Kotake stared up at her with those wild eyes of hers held wide and grinned. "Going somewhere, big sis?"

In part she was relieved, in part fearful. Aveil squirmed in the younger girl's hold and tried speaking again till Kotake's blade tickled at her neck and changed her mind.

"Quiet. You've done enough talking, I think, Aveil. You even went and talked nice Mr. Link into choosing you instead of me. Well congratulations. You've won." She sneered and pouted in that childish way of hers and Aveil could only roll her eyes. "Don't give me that look, sweet sister. I hate that condescending look of yours. And there's no time for it, either. Something big is happening tonight, and your presence has been requested. Now let's go, and don't you make a sound from that pretty mouth of yours or you'll make me very very mad, sis, okay?"

If Kotake would allow her to speak she might've explained the urgency of her mission, of the fact that 'nice Mr. Link' wouldn't be able to choose anyone if she didn't save him in time, but the girl was set in her ways and when she pulled Aveil from the barrier she shoved her ahead and kept her walking with her arm twisted up painfully behind her back. Aveil was kept that way under threat of blade all the way to the big stone wall that guarded the village perimeter, Kotake stealthily keeping them hidden in shadows and alleys until they'd arrived. When they had, she shoved Aveil down to her knees and pointed with the tip of the blade.

"In there, sis. Crawl through," she said with a nod towards a small broken piece of the wall that splintered upwards in a long crack. It was just enough at its base where stone met sand for a person to squeeze through. Aveil had never known it was there and doubted anyone else did for that matter considering it'd never been patched.

"Where are you taking me, Kotake?"

"I didn't tell you to talk, I told you to crawl. Now get going or Mr. Blade here is going to poke your shapely little butt. Go."

With no other choice, Aveil begrudgingly laid herself against the sand and began worming beneath the wall on her belly. She squirmed through the crack and felt the harsh claws of the desert winds raking at her face and eyes immediately. She got a hand through and shielded herself and it was in that position she came to her knees and squinted up at the figure looming over her. For a moment, she thought it was a ghost or, perhaps, a desert mirage. Then the foot hit her in the jaw and knocked her down and told her it was no mirage.

"Jolene!" She hissed and clutched her throbbing jaw where it'd been stricken. "How!?"

Jolene stood over her smirking, the winds throwing her loose-fit silks about her frame in a mad dance. Her lips peeled back to reveal her teeth and it made the woman look absolutely feral. Kotake had wiggled her way into the desert as well by then and she looked almost comically short standing beside the imposing tower that was Jolene.

"Get her up," Jo commanded and Kotake was quick to obey. Together they took hold of Aveil's arms and dragged her up the long slope of the dune cresting against the lost Gerudo village. Aveil glanced back warily to perhaps find a guard that might be able to help her but all was beginning to grow lost in those harshening winds. In the west, the horizon was no longer on fire, now it was a cool purple and the only light left in it was dying or dead.

"You have to let me go," she pleaded, writhing in their hold. "I don't what you're planning on doing with me but I must get to Levana's tower!"

The ignored her, opting instead to drag her to the crest of the dune and then a ways down the other side where a tent had been erected. It stood alone amidst the pale sprawl of the desert, like a rock poking up through a riverbed. She was carried to its base where Jolene threw the flap aside and then thrown down on a carpeted interior within. It was dark inside, musty, but there was enough light still bleeding through the thin tent walls to see the bound girl kneeling at the tent's far side.

Aveil's face twisted up in confusion. "Who…?"

"She is Princess Zelda of Hyrule Kingdom," Jolene answered as she ducked inside the tent and lowered to press a knee into Aveil's back. When Aveil winced and flailed her arms to her sides, Jo caught them and twisted them around behind her to bind. She felt Kotake fall in at her feet and begin work on her ankles the same way.

As she lay being bound, her eyes were drawn inexorably back towards the other captive. She was a soft and pale thing in comparison to the harsh dark shades of the desert, thin and fragile looking in the heavy layers of ropes she was bound in. Her eyes were the purest blue pools Aveil had ever seen, even moreso than Link's, and when those pretty eyes landed upon her there was no doubt in her mind. Jolene hadn't lied: this was, in fact, the Princess of Hyrule. The girl squirmed a bit as they stared at one another and her thin pink lips moved soundlessly over the gag wedged between them.

"What are you doing with her, Jolene? How did you even mange to capture such a person?"

Jolene finished tying her up and dusted her large hands. "Questions that needn't concern you, Aveil. All that matters if I've taken her, and with her comes war."


"The might of Hyrule comes for their dear, dear princess. They know where we are, they know who we are. Now its only a matter of time before they sweep down upon us with all their fury."

Aveil twisted herself around to stare up incredulously at the woman. "Why are you doing this?"

"You girls need a strong leader to survive this," Jolene explained with a broad grin beneath her hooked nose. "And conveniently, here I am to lead you. Well… the others. Not you, Aveil. I knew you'd never fall under my command again after what happened between us. That's why I had sweet little Kotake here grab you. As I grabbed her."

"It's inevitable, sis," Kotake said, nodding her agreement. "We have to take Jolene back. They'll kill us all if we don't."

"Kotake are you madder than I'd thought!? You're helping Jolene after everything she's done? To our people? To us!?"

"There's no choice now," Kotake said, though her eyes flittered uncertainly. "Jolene will rise the Gerudo up strong again. You'll see."

"The young one begged for your life, Aveil. I'd thank her if I were you," Jolene said with a snicker. "Now, I'll need information from you."


Jolene grilled her then, asking a succession of rapid-fire questions that she demanded immediate answers to. She wanted to know the layouts of every building and every person. She wanted to know where the guards roamed and how armed they were. Mostly she wanted to know about Levana, though, where the woman slept and how much company she kept and when she was at her most vulnerable and it was then Aveil knew for certain Jolene plotted to murder her and usurp her place of rule that very night.

"If you mean to go to Levana you have to go now, Jolene," Aveil pleaded with her. "Link's life is in danger. The woman is not right, I'm afraid she's going to do something terrible with him."

At the mention of Link, the Princess's eyes lifted from the ground and filled with interest.

Jolene frowned. "I care nothing for your man-whore."

"You promised, Jo…" Kotake whined, looking up at Jolene with the wounded expression of a child.

Jolene rolled her eyes. "That man has done nothing but stir up trouble since we came across him. I would rather he be dealt with, but I have more important matters before me. If you're so desperate to save him, girl, then save him but do not look for my help. Levana is my target, and it is her blood that will be spilled tonight before my crowning."

"Jolene, what are you-" Aveil began until Jo ordered Kotake to gag her and after the cloth was fastened around her mouth all she could do was glare between the two of them in silence.

Jolene draped a heavy cloak around Kotake and then donned one herself and when the tent flaps were spread apart and the two women huddled together and headed out, they looked like two ancient sorcerer's vanishing into dust in the growing desert storm. The flaps fell closed and darkness swallowed the interior again, shielding but not muting entirely the raking of sand beating at the world outside in its relentless tides.

Aveil lay still a moment, trying to wrap her head around all that had been told to her and then found herself looking across the carpet to her fellow prisoner. The young woman watched back with her big blue eyes and pointed pale ears and she looked very afraid. Aveil fell to the ground and wormed her way, bound as she was, across the gap between them. When they were beside one another, she wiggled her way to a kneel and met the eye line of Hyrule's princess. She leaned close and the young woman moved back to escape her. Aveil tried to implore the woman to trust her with her eyes and leaned in again. This time the princess looked hesitant but remained still, and Aveil was able to get her teeth around the gag in her mouth and wrench it loose with a few jerks of her head.

Zelda coughed and licked her lips once her mouth was rid of the gag. She swallowed deeply and bowed her head. "Thank you." Aveil made a noise and gestured to her own gag and the princess complied by leaning forth and using her teeth to free it from Aveil's mouth. The girl smelled as sweet as fresh flowers and was remarkably clean considering she must've been stolen through the desert these past few days and nights.

When Aveil could speak again she said, "Is it true then? You are Princess Zelda?"

"…I am."

"And Jolene took you from your castle? That tale is true as well?"

"She did." The princess's voice was soft but firm, fittingly 'royal' in every sense of the word. "She kidnapped me from my very own dungeon where she was being held. She forced my guard to unlock her cage and then held me prisoner in her arms till she was able to flee the castle grounds. We've been on horseback ever since."

"They know it was a Gerudo who took you then?"

Zelda smiled a bitter smile. "Oh, yes. That woman made sure of it. She gave the message to my head guard to tell them all that the Gerudo have declared war on Hyrule castle…"

"But we haven't," Aveil insisted, the very idea of her people being used like pawns by Jolene made her furious.

"No. I understand that. It's apparent from the way that woman spoke to you. She's clearly mad or… something worse." The princess sighed and when she looked upon the ground and shook her head she looked a woman much older than she clearly was. "It won't stop them. That Jolene was not lying when she said Hyrule's might would be coming. It is. I'm terribly sorry… but if I can't get to them to call them off, they're going to…"

"I know. You don't have to say it."

A silence fell between them. Outside the winds grew heavier still and the tent wall trembled against their force.

"…Link is in danger?" Zelda asked.

"You… you know Link?"

The princess smile again, though this time she wore the gesture with a bit more joy even though sadness still framed it. "Yes. I know Link."

Aveil took her time forming her next question, breathing deeply in anticipation of the answer. "Then… you two are lovers?"

"Lovers? …no, nothing like that. Link… he is special to me, however. We've only met once, but when I looked into his eyes I swear I felt more profoundly happy than I had in a long time. We talked for a bit… I asked him if he'd ever seen a desert rose… ironic, I suppose, that we've both found our way together again in this harsh desert world."

Aveil stared into the thin opening where the tent flaps met and watched the sands swirl beyond. "You know, the whole time I've known Link these past few days and nights, I always felt his heart belonged elsewhere. I desired him, I suppose you should know. Many of us girls did. It is rare we have contact with a man, let alone a man, like… well, him. But every time his eyes looked out into the desert I knew he was dreaming of someplace or someone far away. I guess I always knew his love was not meant for me in that way."

Zelda listened intently, her lips pressed tightly together.

Aveil smiled. "Should I survive this, Princess of Hyrule, I'll do what I can to see you meet with him again." Fear stirred in her heart. "Though right now, his fate is not in our hands. It is in his own."

The wood shutters banged noisily upon the tower sides as the winds outside picked up and drove them near to splinters against the stone. Link lay watching but was unable to do much else as he was bound down to the bed, his wrists and ankles each manacled in a leather cuff that lay chained to the four corners. He shifted his weight uncomfortably. Levana had had him stripped completely naked save his small clothes around his waist and bared as he was, the bits of sand that snuck their way inside sprinkled lightly across his nudeness. The light outside had just about drained from the sky and now the ensconced torches that trimmed the tower walls were all the illumination he had left. It cast flickering shadows upon the bed and his bare flesh, dancing across his menacingly.

Where are you, Aveil? His thoughts endlessly turned to that one question, but when the chamber doors finally opened it was not Aveil that entered, but Levana. She strode into the room in a large and heavy cloak that made her look far thicker and imposing than she was. Beneath its collared hood he could see the pale flecks of ice that were her eyes staring forward but, somehow, not seeing. That only made him squirm uncomfortably again. She paced into the room dragging a tail of robes behind her and went to the windows to latch them shut and put an end to their ceaseless banging. There she stood a moment in the fresh silence with her head down and her hands clasped. Link watched breathing slowly to calm himself. She whispered something and then threw her head back and the robes flung free from her body at the same time.

She raised her arms skywards and stood naked as the day she was born in her little circle of prayer. Her twist of blond hair curled towards the ceiling and her eyes followed it upwards. She spoke softly again and lowered to her knees before pressing her forehead to the stone floor and flattening her palms upon it. She stayed that way for a long while, Link unable to look away as he lay chained. When she finally did rise up again, it was with the slow deliberate pace of a person on a mission. She faced the bed and stalked towards it with her arms draped to her sides.

"Levana…" Link began, shaking his head. "Look, I don't know…"

As she passed a table, her hand casually moved across its top and slid the pommel of a long dagger into her palm. She clutched it tight and the blade hissed as it was pulled across the stone.

Link swallowed. "You don't have to do this. There has to be another way."

"This is the Goddess's way." Her bare feet plodded heavy against the stone floor and then the creaking of the bed filled the chamber as she crawled atop it and swung one naked leg over Link's hips to straddle him. She pressed the dagger between her breasts and let it sit atop the flesh there while she spoke. "I have offended them by thinking I could know their will. I am a heretic in that way. I must atone. And atonement as in need as mine requires great sacrifice. Blood." The dagger slid from between her breasts and the woman turned it over in her hands, watching the blade. Torchlight shone in its reflective surface, casting it in a wicked crimson tint.

Link writhed beneath her weight. He tugged ineffectively at his bound wrists. "Levana, no."

"It is necessary."

He pulled hard on his left arm and felt the slightest bit of hope. The cuff on his wrist there was tight but no so tight he thought he couldn't maybe slip his hand loose if he had enough time. He jerked at it again, hard, but it stayed put.

"Don't fight this, Link. You should be honored. You're going to meet the Goddesses." She spoke in her queer flat monotone, her eyes looking not at him but past him. "It is I who will be left here upon the world to suffer. You… you are going to be free at last. Truly free."

She moved the blade from side to side, cutting the air, dipping in and out of shadow. Outside the winds came harder and this high up in the tower it sounded as if some great and ancient beast had been woken from its slumber and was laying siege upon the stone. Levana paid it no heed. Her focus was on the tip of the dagger and when she stopped its motion it came to rest right atop Link's heart. It dipped into his flesh and blossomed a ring of blood.

"Levana, wait!" He pleaded, flattening to the bed and ripping again at his cuffs.

"No more delays. The Goddesses must be appeased." She closed her free hand around the blade and drove it harder into his skin. "Goodbye, Link of Hyrule. I will see you in the next life." Her face contorted with exertion and she raised the blade high and plunged it right into his heart.

Only his left hand, slick with sweat, slipped the cuff at the last moment and Link managed to grab the woman's wrist with the dagger tip inches from his beating heart. Levana made a hideous screeching sound through clenched teeth and tried stabbing him anyway but Link flung her wrist to the side and used her own momentum against her to shove her off the bed. She tumbled in a mess of shouts to the floor. Frantically he clawed his free hand at his bound hand and tried loosening it, his fingers suddenly numb as they worked at the leather bindings keeping him strapped in place.

Levana rose in an almost unnatural way. She was not there and then suddenly she was, looming up over the bed with the dagger clutched lovingly in her fists. Her pale eyes still looked empty but now their was purpose etched into the lines of her face as she leaped for him. The dagger came down and Link swatted it away again, closing his fist in a blow against her wrists. She yelped and dropped the weapon and Link went back to trying to free himself.

"Link!" She growled, skittering across the ground like some deranged insect to collect her blade.

She was hunched there gathering herself up and readying for another attack when Link worked his second hand loose. He sat up and scooted to the edge of the bed to free his feet, but by then Levana was plowing forward again with a howl of madness in her lungs. She dove for him again and Link uncuffed his foot and kicked her back at the last moment. When he unstrapped his last bound limb he stood from the bed untied but also nearly naked and weaponless. Levana knelt nursing her wound and glaring up at him heaving massive breaths and snarling like a beast.

"Why do you betray the Goddesses!?" She bellowed. "Why did you bring their wrath down upon us!?"

As if on cue, the howling winds beyond the walls roared more ferociously and Link swore he felt the entire tower lean briefly on its side like a drunkard. Levana pulled at her hair and squeezed her eyes shut and when she opened them again their was a fire burning within. She grabbed the dagger up and charged him one last time, but by then Link had his wits about him and unbound as he was had no trouble grabbing hold of her, disarming her, and throwing her back to the ground. She landed hard and pounded her fists in frustration against the floor.

"It's over, Levana," he told her, sheathing the dagger in the waistband of his small clothes. "You're defeated. Now stop this madness."

She knelt panting, glaring, hating. Her mouth opened, perhaps to say something or perhaps to shout, but Link never knew. A long curved sword drove through her stomach and dropped her dead in place.

"No!" Link wailed and took a step forward.

Jolene passed from the shadows of the room behind Levana and pulled free the sword she'd used to kill the woman; its blade still slick with blood.


"Me," Jolene answered with a smile. Her eyes moved to Levana and the tip of her boot nudged the woman to test her for life. There was none to be found. "Poor Levana. Mad with power. Another tragic Gerudo tale."

"You killed her… she was defenseless…" Link said.

Jolene grimaced. "Your compassion is sickening."

Just then, another figure emerged from the shadows of the doorway, smaller, with wild orange-red hair.

"Kotake?" Link looked between the two women standing before him, never imagining he'd see them join sides. "What's going on?"

Jolene rolled her eyes and handed the shorter Gerudo the sword. "Here, girl. Guard him well if you don't want me to take his pathetic life. Levana is dead. I have a people to lead now before the war." And just as soon as she'd appeared, Jolene vanished again into the darkness.

Link and Kotake were left alone staring at one another. The young Gerudo's eyes had changed since he'd last seen her, though. She was more determined, focused. And maybe a tad angry as well.

Link moved and Kotake raised the sword. "Don't, Mr. Link."

Link put his hands up in submission. "What's going on, Kotake? What is Jolene doing back here? Why did she just kill Levana in cold blood!?"

"There's a war about to start that's why. Now you just keep that pretty mouth of yours shut and stand still. When the war is over, you're to be mine like I always wanted. …even though I know you chose her…"

"War? What war?"

"I told you not to talk!" Kotake growled. "You break my heart all the time, Mr. Link, and now you have to be quiet!"

"Stop acting like a child and answer me!" Link shouted, finally losing his patience with the girl. "What war, Kotake? Tell me!"

She glared at him with her lips pouted, clearly upset she couldn't command him with her words alone. She shifted her weight impatiently and then blew a long breath of air out and stomped her foot. "Oh, I hate you sometimes, Mr. Link! A war with Hyrule! Jolene stole their precious little princess and now she's led their big scary army back here to have a good old fight, alright? It's our war, our people's, and Jolene says its been coming a long time."

Princess. Link stared.

"What are you looking at me like that for? You better not be planning an escape, Mr. Link! I have the sword here! You just… you just behave and obey me like I always wanted!"

When he'd collected his wits again he cleared his throat and spoke. "Where's the princess? Kotake, don't hold back on me now. Where is the princess!? Answer me!"

"No! No, I'm not telling! Somewhere… somewhere safe for now. What do you care? You already have a girl. Aveil. I seen you with her. You two are lovers. Aren't you…" She swallowed and waited patiently for an answer.

"Kotake…" He ran a hand against his brow. "It's time to grow up. I can't play these games with you anymore. I didn't 'choose' anyone. Love is… its just not that simple, alright? You're young and impulsive, and someday you'll know I'm right, but for now? For today? You're just going to have to trust me. Now listen to me. If the princess is here, she's in a great deal of danger and I have to protect her. If there's war coming, you better prepare yourself. I'm walking out that door. Don't stop me."

"No you're not!" Kotake protested, stomping a foot again and waving the sword in the air between them. "You stay put, Mr. Link!"

"I'm going. You can cut me down if that's what you really want… or you can finally let me go and start the long process of growing up. It's your choice."

He took a step and Kotake raised the blade higher but her hands were trembling around the hilt. "Don't you do it! Stop, Mr. Link! Stop right now!"

But he didn't. He walked right past her and out into the hall beyond. Kotake watched him go with her bottom lip quivering and the sword wobbling about in her hands like a flower swaying in a breeze. When he looked back at her, she'd fallen to her knees and was sobbing into her hands.

"I'm sorry it all turned out this way," he told her, turned, and left.

Levana's tower a maze of hallways and staircases. Link fled down them in a rush, his thoughts on the princess one moment, on this 'war' of Jolene's the next. He looked in rooms and down halls and did not see Jolene anywhere. He descended to a lower level where a covered walkway joined the tower with an adjacent building and it was there he stopped. The sides were carved out of the stone to allow two long windows into the desert village beyond and currently they were depositing massive amounts of sand through. The storm outside was climbing a frenzied pace and Link had to shield his eyes just to glimpse the world beyond. It calmed a bit and he was able to look upwards, to a raised platform jutting out from the top of the tower and it was there she stood.

"Girls!" Jolene's shrill voice carried down into the valley of women below. She raised her arms and fanned her fingers as if it were her who'd conjured up the storm that swirled so viciously around her. "Levana is dead and I have returned to lead you! Girls! Here! Up here! Look upon your leader!"

One by one the Gerudo filed out of the many buildings and towers and alleyways and shadows and one by one they gathered together at the foot of the tower looking up at the madwoman above cloaked in storm. Chatter and shouts ran through them but what they said Link could not piece together above the winds. Jolene let their numbers swell to capacity before cupping her hands around her mouth and shouting again.

"Levana is dead! The madwoman is dead! I have returned to lead you! War is at your doorstep, girls! War comes to claim you but I shall protect you!"

Link could make out the general feeling of anger and shock from the large group of Gerudo below as they shouted and protested and readied their spears and swords. Jolene watched them squabbling with a smile and then cackled wildly into the sky.

"Fight amongst yourselves if you must! We no longer have a choice to be fractured! War is here, girls! Crown me and bend your knees or perish to the might of Hyrule! The choice is yours!"

The Gerudo went on shouting themselves into a frenzy but their chatter was cut through sharply with the blaring shrill cry of a warhorn. A silence heavy as iron lay upon them after that horn and when it blew again all eyes moved from Jolene to the eastern stand of dunes beyond the village walls. Link followed their gaze, his heart hammering in his chest, and looked out with them at the sight awaiting.

Full dark had settled over the desert by then, but beneath the moonlight the army was still visible. Dotted along the crest of the dune were torches every few feet and below the red baths they cast were the shine and polish of hammered Hyrulian steel. The soldiers sat mounted upon that hill of sand in their armor and helmets with sword and shield and spear and hammer clutched to their breastplates. There were dozens, more than enough to ride down and sweep the village and slaughter every Gerudo woman where she stood in her silks and sandals. One of their horses whinnied and clopped its hooves impatiently in the sands and the rider raised his torch high and swept a long look over the village through the slitted visor of his helm.

"There is your war!" Jolene's insane screams bore into the night. "There upon the hill waiting to bring you death! Crown me and we fight, girls! Crown me and we will win!"

"You fool, Jolene!" One girl below yelled.

"You've led them here to slaughter us!" Another shouted.

"We don't stand a chance!"

"You've doomed us!"

Jolene shook her head. "Cowards! Whose desert are they in!? Whose home do they tread upon! Crown me, girls! Kneel and I will find a way to victory!"

Link had heard enough. He sprinted across the walkway and barreled down the stairs in the adjacent building. At the base, he pressed through the doorway and rushed into the main courtyard where the girls were gathered. They turned on his warily at first but when they saw him unarmed they eased and accepted him among them.

"Link," one called out. "There are soldiers here."

"What are we going to do?"

"Jolene has brought us all death."

Link looked up towards the top of the tower, but Jolene appeared to have vanished in the storm and only the sweeping winds of sand remained.

"I have to speak with them," he explained, every Gerudo around him listening patiently with wide eyes and bated breath. "The soldiers… I'll go to them. I'll see if I can… I don't know. Talk them out of this."

The girls crowded around him close and nodded. One by one they reached out and touched his arms. Every hand that laid upon him lay softly and squeezed him for confidence or for hope or for something else but in that moment he reflected on all the time he'd spent with these women. Some where crazy and wicked but most he had no problems with. He didn't want to see them harmed, and in that sea of bronze faces and imploring eyes that stared out at him, he knew they wished the same for him. He felt a kinship form and nodded reverently to the crowd. He was sworn to protect them now, in whatever way he could.

The soldiers lined the dune like steel tree trunks jutting up into the storm. Link went to them in his mostly nakedness and bare feet and stood below them feeling awfully small. From their torchlight he saw eyes peeking out from helms to watch him with measured looks. When he was close enough, he held a hand up to shield his eyes from the harsh winds of the storm and stood in wait. He bowed, showing respect.

"Now what is a boy like you doing out here amongst these women?" A soldier asked. "Speak, boy."

"My name is Link," he explained. "And I was… saved by these women. My horse and I fell in a storm near on a week ago and we were taken in and nursed back to health by the Gerudo."

Silence met his words. The soldier's torches wavered in the wind.

He looked from warrior to warrior. "I understand one of them took Princess Zelda."

"Is she harmed?" A soldier asked.

"No," he lied. He hoped she wasn't, but who truly knew with Jolene. The thought of her being harmed made him sick and weak and he couldn't linger on the notion long. He shook his head. "I know she is safe, but I know not where she is. I can assure you, however, that the Gerudo who took Princess Zelda was acting alone. She wanted her people to clash with your own because she is an evil, twisted mind. The Gerudo in large have nothing to do with this. They're innocent."

"They have our princess," a soldier spoke harshly. He tapped his sword against the plating on his thigh. "We'll cut every one of them down to see her safe."

"I can retrieve her," Link promised the men. "Give me time."

A quiet exchange of words passed between two mounted men in the center of their ranks. When it was done, one of them unsheathed a torch from his horse's saddlebags and cut the wooden post down till it was very short. He dismounted and stuck one end into the sands and used another's soldiers torch to light it. The bulbous head of it went up in a blaze, painting the sand very near its stem in a dome of red. The soldier stared down at Link.

"When that torch burns out, we ride into the village. We'll kill every one of them. Bring us Princess Zelda, boy. Go now, your time is short."

He was racing back down the dune before the last word had left the man's lips.

"Where's Jolene!?" He bellowed breathlessly as he skidded back into the edge of the Gerudo crowd. Their eyes turned to him wide and hopeful. "Jolene! Where is she!? I need to find her! I-"

"Here," a voice interjected.

Link spun around and found the tall lanky woman gliding forth in her booted feet out of the sands like some serpent. She carried with her a long spear clutched between each hand and tilted her head back to stare down her beak of a nose at him. Her eyes narrowed hatefully between him and the crowd.

"This is it then?" She asked with a nod. "You'd all really choose to follow this man instead of taking me back into your ranks as leader?"

The Gerudo's silence was their answer. They stood behind Link. A few reached out and laid palms on his shoulders. One handed over her spear and Link took it gratefully.

"You whores," Jolene hissed. "I hope those soldiers slaughter each and every one of you."

"Where's the princess, Jolene," Link asked.

Jolene smiled. "Dead. I killed her a long time ago. Why?"

"Lies. Even now, at the end, you're still telling lies."

"I should've left you to die that day in the desert," Jolene said with a nod. "That day we came upon you and you lay dying like a dog in the heat. I should've trampled over you with my horse and left your corpse for the buzzards."

"But you didn't." He stepped out of the crowd and held the spear up, ready. "And now here I am."

"Yes," she spat the word with contempt. "There… you… are!"

She leaped for him with her own spear held high and brought it down with all her weight. Link lowered to a knee and locked his elbows as he held his arms up and absorbed the blow mid-shaft of his own weapon. He shoved her back and swatted her with the spear's end but Jolene danced out of the way and launched a counter of flurried blows. Link hopped back on the heels of his feet, Jo's spear tip poking deadly strikes at his belly and just barely missing each time. When she'd ran out of room and hand to switch her footing up, he used the opportunity to launch himself at her. With the spear laid out flat he pressed into her chest and forced her down to the ground. Jolene fell back and winced but got her feet up between them and sent him flying over the top of her head. He kept a tight grip of his spear, landing and spinning and reeling it up just in time to block a fresh attack. Jolene twisted in the winds and let her spear glide out one-handed at length. Link twisted to try and avoid the blow but it struck him hard in the side and he cried out in pain. Jolene pressed on him, dabbing with her spear tip to keep him scrambling backwards atop the stone underfoot till he was pressed against a building. She went for the killing blow and he rolled aside. Her spear splintered and cracked on impact with the stone.

Weaponless, she roared a warcry and tossed the broken halves of her spear aside. Link got himself up and readied, but by then her feet were launching at him in a series of mad kicks from every direction. He blocked one, dodged another, side-stepped a third, and a fourth found his gut. He doubled over and the toes of Jolene's boot snapped his head back when it collided against his jaw. He fell backwards and Jolene came cartwheeling over him, her hands gripping the center of his spear. He held on as she tried prying it from his grip, and briefly they wrestled with the weapon until the heel of Jolene's foot drove into its center and snapped it in halves.

Each of them without a proper weapon then and Jolene flipped herself around Link and latched onto his back like a monkey. Her wiry strong arms squeezed around his throat and cut off his air. He went coughing and flailing backwards with Jolene attached to him till he drove her into the building beside them. She yelped and released her grip and Link scrambled to get on top of her and pin her down. His hands found her wrists and he straddled her waist to control her.

"Where is the princess!" He demanded over the increasing screams of the howling wind. Sand raked into his eyes but he squinted and dealt with the pain. "Tell me, Jolene!"

Jolene squirmed beneath him like the serpent she was but would not speak.

"You're defeated! Now tell me where she is!"

Jolene's long legs wound up around his abdomen and pinched tight. Link winced and strained his back as he went stiff to try and counter her powerful thighs. The woman screeched like some banshee and squeezed tighter till he was forced to release his hold on her wrists. She wiggled out from beneath him and Link had just enough time to reach out and grab a foot before she escape in full. Jolene kicked her leg until her boot came dislodged and then skittered off with one bare foot and one clad in a boot. Link clambered to a stand, holding his ribs where she'd squeezed him, but by the time he stood to face her again, she was gone.

"Where!?" He demanded of the Gerudo crowd still watching in the village's center. They pointed down the twisting road that wrapped Levana's tower. Link panted and eyed the eastern horizon where upon that dune of soldiers the nub of torch that was his hourglass had nearly burned away to nothing. The storm was raging in full then and the soldiers could hardly be seen beyond the thin veil of sand and wind that covered them, but Link knew they were there; knew they were waiting impatiently to ride the village down.

He raced down the road clutching his side, shielding his eyes against the storm's wrath as he searched desperately for Jolene. There was nothing and more nothing to be found until there was, a fleeting glimpse of color moving in the sands between two buildings. He rushed for it and nearly collided with the wall he was so blinded by the storm. Down its narrow gap Jolene was fleeing and when he'd chased after her and found its dead end she'd somehow vanished again. He looked every which way and couldn't find even a trace of her. Then his eyes landed on a long crack in the wall and the hollowed-out basin of sand at its foot. He dropped to his hands and knees and sized it up just big enough for a person to crawl under. On his belly he lay and then he went worming and wiggling his way beneath the wall.

On the other side, the world was awash in a mad frenzy. The storm raged unabated by any wall or cover out here, and Link went deaf as well as blind. Barely, he made out the tracks of feet in the sand and followed them up to the crest of a long dune. At its apex he spotted a dark smudge in the endless sea of brown ahead and rushed for it. When he neared he saw it was a tent and he pulled aside the flaps and drove himself inside.

"Princess!?" He shouted, but the only thing waiting for him inside was Aveil, laying on the ground bound hand and foot, and her bare midriff marked with the long red scar of a blade. "No!" Link shouted and collapsed to his knees beside her to cradle her head.

"…Link?" She croaked, her eyes barely open as she gazed upon him. "Is that you?"

"You're hurt…" He said, brushing her hair back.

"Just a little… Jolene… she stabbed me and took the… took your princess…"

Link eyed the woman's wound again. It looked bad at first glimpse but it was far enough to Aveil's side that it was possible there wasn't much damage done. "I have to get you back," he said, untying her.

"No, Link… you have to… save your love."

He stared into her eyes.

Aveil smiled weakly. With her hands free she reached up to touch his cheek. "I met her. She's… lovely. I understand now why you resist us. Why you… why you have since the beginning… you deserve her, Link… as she does you…"

"I'm coming back for you," Link promised when he'd finished untying her ankles. "Do you hear me, Aveil? Stay here and I'll come back."

"My hero," she whispered and kissed him and then lay down.

Link shoved the tent flaps aside and thrust himself back into the heart of the storm. The winds raked his eyes and his ears and stole his senses away from him immediately. He cupped a hand over his eyes and squinted at the sand underfoot. He searched for tracks and found only the ones he'd made himself. He grit his teeth and moved around the side of the tent and to its back where there lay fresh tracks trailing off into the desert. Link followed.

Blind he pushed on, the storm howling in his ears and beating upon his bare flesh with a relentless barrage of sand. He trudged forth, fighting every inch of the way the world's desire to lay him down and swallow him up whole. "Jolene!" He roared into the blank slate of brown nothing encasing him. "Jolene!" Every foot he laid forward he felt the sands sucking at his ankles, trying to draw him in. Every time the wind streaked, he felt the torment of the night bleeding against him. Every breath he took felt as if it might be his last.

Then she struck.

Out of the nothing she came with teeth barred and eyes narrowed and face drawn up in some ghastly painting of a horror's nightmare. A blade in her hand, clutched tight inside white knuckles. It sliced across his belly. Link cried out and by the time he turned to follow her path she'd vanished back into the storm. He stood panting, clutching his wound, feeling the hot blood on his fingertips. His eyes moved frantically through the storm to find her but could not. She came again, from his left side now, and the blade kissed his shoulder this time. He shouted and fell to a knee and she was gone again. Weakly his hand moved to the waistband of his small clothes and fished out the dagger there; the same one Levana had made an attempt on his life with not long ago. He brought it up to defend himself and Jolene emerged from behind him, dragging her blade across his back in a long, agonizing, line. Link shouted his pain and fell to the sands laying flat. Everywhere he'd been cut bled and screamed at the same time and he could only lie still and let it. She would come for the kill soon. He knew that much. In his hand he clutched Levana's dagger and held its point at the ready.

Jolene leaped from the cloak of the storm. She flew suspended in air above him with her long face contorted with hatred. Down she came with her blade in both hands and landed upon him.

They lay face to face in the heart of the storm, like lovers, with their eyes locked upon each other. Jolene's mouth moved soundlessly and then pain racked her expression. Together they looked down to where Jolene had impaled herself on Levana's dagger. It was buried to the hilt inside her stomach. She croaked and winced and looked back into Link's eyes. Then she let out a long breath and fell atop him, her cheek pressed to his. She made a sound, tensed, and went completely limp.

Link lay panting beneath her dead weight. He used every last bit of his strength to shove her off of him then crawled bleeding to his hands and knees. He faced the storm and scanned its emptiness. The princess was nowhere to be seen and his wounds had left him tired… so tired…

He crawled forward and winced with every inch. He ran his hand over his shoulder and it came away smeared with blood. His breathing hurt. He had to close his eyes a moment to get his strength together. Just a moment…

He fell down.

The soldiers watched as the last bit of torch stuck in the ground withered to black. When it had they faced one another and their commander offered a nod of assurance. He rode out from their rank and file and raised his sword. Down the line he rode, banging his blade against his shield in a drum of war. At the end of the sloping dune below, the Gerudo women stood uncertainly at the gates of their village, slowly bringing up their spears with little choice left before them. The knights of Hyrule began a long and loud shout and just as they were ready to ride down upon the women, one began yelling at them and pointing. Their commander extended a hand to hold their assault and turned his attention North. There emerging from the veil of sand that was the storm came the boy, and cradled in the boy's hands was their Princess Zelda.

The soldiers turned their mounts northward and rode out to intercept them.

He slept a long time. It was a dreamless sleep, and when it ended Link sat up in bed gasping for breath. "Zelda," he uttered, eyes wide and fixed on nothing in particular.

Aveil, who'd been napping beside his bed, sat up herself and put a hand over his to calm him. "It's alright. Link, its alright. Shhh."

He stared at her with his mouth agape and slowly pieced together where he was and why. He looked down and found fresh bandages over his stomach and shoulder.

"Is she alright?"

Aveil smiled. "Your princess is fine. The knights took her home."


"Back to Hyrule." Aveil took a long breath and caressed his hand. "Back to where she belongs… and you too, I suppose."

Link sat breathing hard, his mind replaying the events of what had happened. "Jolene?"

Aveil nodded to the room's sole window. Outside, in the fresh light of dawn, there was a pyre burning in the village square with a group of women gathered around it watching.

"Jolene is vanquished at last. Good riddance, I say."

Link breathed easier then. "The soldiers…? They simply left?"

"Well you delivered their princess, didn't you? They took her and handed you over to us and departed. They held true to their word same as you." Aveil leaned close and hugged him tenderly so as not to upset his wounds. "You saved us, Link. Truly. The Gerudo are forever in your debt." She released him and watched his eyes with a fading smile. "…but I can see it isn't our gratitude you're thinking about. I figured as much." She sighed. "Your horse is saddled and ready. I arranged your things while you slept."

He looked at her, took her in his arms, and hugged her.

Outside in the morning light, most of the women were still sleeping. The few that were up and about or tending to Jolene's pyre came to him and offered him their thanks. Aveil stayed at his side as they said their goodbyes and then walked him to the stables where Epona was waiting patiently with his sword and shield stashed away in her saddlebags. Link looked upon them wistfully and ran his hand through Epona's mane.

"I'll miss her," Aveil said, stroking the horse herself.

Link looked at her. "You can come with me, you know."

"Thank you, Link, but I doubt Hyrule will be very accepting of my people now that one of us kidnapped and nearly killed your princess."

"They will be. I'll make sure of it. This can be the start of a new day for the Gerudo. No longer outcasts. I promise you I'll try."

"And I believe you." She stood tip-toed and kissed his cheek. "You are a good man, Link of Hyrule. Too good for this desert." She held his hands and her eyes rimmed with tears until she swiped them away. "Will you come back and see us?"

"Of course."

"Bring your girl. I'd like to talk with her more. We got along quite well in the brief time we spent."

Link smiled. "Alright, Aveil."

They hugged again and when Link released her, Aveil was wiping her eyes against her arm once more.

He mounted Epona and spurred her gently out of the stables and into the village. Aveil walked beside him to the gates and there he turned and took in the sight of the women once more. Those whom were still around waved to him and shouted their goodbyes.

"Mr. Link!" A voice cut through the crowd and then Kotake was running up to him waving her hands wildly to catch his attention. "Mr. Link, wait!"

"Oh, boy," Aveil said with a shake of her head.

Kotake rushed to their side and stood catching her breath a moment. "You were trying to leave without saying goodbye?"

"Of course not," Link assured her. "I was waiting for you."

Kotake frowned. "Liar. It's alright. I've decided to take your advice, Mr. Link. I'm growing up now. No more silly little girl for me. Only a mature woman now. Isn't that something?"

"It's… certainly something," Aveil said, prompting her kin to elbow her and pout.

"Anyway, I got you a gift. While Aveil and I were… making amends, she told me about your princess. I guess that's who you really want, huh? It's okay. I understand. Like a mature woman would, you know? But, um, so Aveil told me the princess mentioned something in their conversation and I thought maybe you'd want one to take back to her and win her heart like a prince in some old story or whatever, so… here."

The girl extended her hand and Link bent to receive her gift. It was a soft, long-stemmed, white as snow flower; the rare and delicate desert rose. Link lifted it gently to his nose and breathed deep of its sweet scent.

"Kotake…" he whispered, holding the girl's eyes. "I… thank you."

"Well don't, like, make a big deal out of it, Mr. Link…" She said, lowering her eyes and flushing as she shuffled her feet. "Go give it to the girl whose heart you want to win. That's what they're good for and all…"

He tucked the flower stem behind his ear and nodded. "This means more to me than you'll ever know, Kotake. I'll try and bring you something just as good when I return."

Her face lit up. "You… you're coming back!?"

"Sooner or later I'm sure."

She clapped and hugged his leg and patted Epona and cheered. Aveil had to take the young girl in her arms to get her under control. Link laughed at the sight of them wrestling one another, shook his head, and turned Epona around to face the gate.

"Don't be too long, Link of Hyrule," Aveil said. "Its lonely out here in the desert."

He nodded. His heels found Epona's side and they trotted out under the gate and into the desert. He glanced back and found both Kotake and Aveil watching with tears in their eyes and had to turn away before he got too emotional himself. Epona made her way slowly up the eastern stand of dunes and then galloped over their crest.

The sun had become his guide back. It sat high overhead, a brazen, burning, beacon of gold in the morning sky. It cooked the earth and baked the sands and slowly but surely filled him with hope and high spirits. Wherever he looked, whatever direction, he could see that pale blue sprawl of freedom that was the sky eternal, and now his fate was to ride out into it; to ride home to his waiting princess. He lifted a hand and traced his fingers along the stem of the desert rose perched behind his ear and smiled. She was going to love it.

He spurred Epona to a gallop, and together they rode for the eastern horizon, heading home at last after their long, strange adventure had finally come to its finish.

The End