Chapter 12 – Field Testing the Hero

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“Two hundred fifty meters from the power station, readings are still clear. Repeat, no sign of hostile activity on sensors.” Euless reported.

The details he provided made a number of people back at base breathe a bit easier. Surprises were not something to be enjoyed in this particular line of work. The terrain was rough. Rocky outcrops and soil made the going not as quiet as the group would have liked. And the going was slow, at least while trying to maintain a modicum of stealth. Link was kept towards the center of the group. ‘On edge’ was not enough to describe his state of mind. It wasn’t at all like going on a drug raid or a high speed pursuit back in Faron. This felt like the holofilms he wasn’t entirely fond of; the war stories, the action flicks. The inhospitable environment offered its own sense of foreboding while the pressure and importance of the mission provided a ‘behind enemy lines’ atmosphere that he detested. He had to find a way to ease his nerves. He looked down at his left hand, retracting the ‘gauntlet’ to see the back of his palm.

The mark that was always there stared back up at him. He thought it was such a strange thing. All the trouble it had given him growing up, and now his supposed destiny to be the hero; it made him frown at the triangle. He began to quietly wish it didn’t exist.

Then the mark pulsed softly. It made the young man freeze in place. The lieutenant stopped instantly, lifting his right hand to signal the others to the development. He took any reaction from the mark to be deadly serious, and he intended to make sure his unit knew about it.

“Guys… the mark is glowing.” Link said.

Indeed it was. The brief pulse he had seen earlier had not faded completely. It remained illuminated after only briefly shining. It had faded into a subtle shimmer that stood out from the rest of his skin, repeating the pulse somewhat infrequently. Euless turned back and looked at the young man’s hand, nodding quietly.

“Good, it means we’re getting close and the cultists haven’t managed to take the shard. Let’s keep moving, people. We’re on the clock. Link, you keep us informed to any change of that pulse.” Euless said.

He lightly took the lieutenant by the wrist and reactivated the gauntlet. He must have tapped into Link’s suit wirelessly because a sudden scrolling of code appeared in his HUD before disappearing and reading ‘update complete’. It was slightly disconcerting seeing how people outside Link’s suit could access it so easily. Even more troubling was that Euless knew how to activate the ability he had just enabled.

“What’s this update for?” Link asked.

“A precaution so you stay secure. Now you don’t have to remove the armor to see it.” Euless explained.

Link looked back down and paused as he saw the pulsing through the plating on the back of his hand.

“How did you do that?” the lieutenant asked.

His commander just smiled back at him, slightly amused by the fact that his new arrival wasn’t as familiar with the full extent of their tech as he was.

“We’ve had a few thousand years to study and understand the Triforce and its different components,” Euless said, “Why does it surprise you that we can make our technology work with it?”

The lieutenant frowned softly, annoyed at himself for not coming to that conclusion on his own. It did however lead him to another thought.

“So… what happened back in Faron, I could actually channel that energy through my suit if I knew how?” Link asked, forgetting for a moment that they were on a timetable.

Euless turned back and stopped as the others continued on.

“Don’t. Whatever you do, do not try to channel the Triforce’s power through your armor. The suit can’t take it. It’ll blow it to pieces, maybe even you along with it. If you’re getting any funny ideas about going thermal again, you remove as much plating as you can to let it just do its thing on its own, you read me? I don’t need you completely unprotected when it fades.” the commander said sternly.

It wasn’t the harsh lecture Link had gotten during basic training, but it carried the same degree of earnestness. Euless concluded his scolding and turned to continue on, still facing back at Link for a moment to let it all sink in. When he was sure it had, he turned the rest of the way to focus on his forward momentum.

“Yes sir. Wouldn’t dream of it.” Link responded.

He felt like he was back in the orphanage being lectured by Mr. Parsons again.

Gant. Link wished he could talk to him now. The old man might know something about the triangle on his hand that he’d be happy to share. Everyone else seemed intent on keeping him from knowing how to use this ‘gift’ of his. He shook his head and rid himself of that thought. He had been on an accelerated course through training and thrust into action before he was truly ready. It wasn’t that they were trying to keep it from him. Events simply didn’t provide the necessary time. They were still the good guys. He had to remind himself of that. Stupid movies and conspiracy theorists had him starting to question things he ought not question.

“Two hundred meters to target, the station’s coming through crystal clear on sensors, still not picking up any hostile activity. I think we’re in the clear,” Euless reported, “Just around the next outcrop we should be able to see the top of it.”

The update was some small relief. It suggested perhaps they would have as easy a time as they had hoped. As they passed the rocky feature, the taller portions of the station came into view. To any ordinary passer-by, it would look like any outdated power generator and relay building. Link on the other hand noticed something odd about the design. It was trying to mimic something he had seen before. There was a familiarity to it that he could not quite place. Quietly, he cursed himself for not brushing up on Zonai architecture before shipping out. He shook his head again, resolving to no let himself get distracted so easily. He would familiarize himself with it once they returned to base. It might be worth something should they encounter another ruin.

The hill between the troops and their destination was easily scaled, bringing them near the top. The group stopped before they reached the crest. Euless commanded them down on the ground and then forward, crawling slowly to the top. No sense in taking any chances. Only a fool would go walking up over a hill not knowing the situation below.

As they reached the crown of the hill, they gazed down at the station in its entirety–as well as some very unexpected and uninvited guests. Two figures cloaked in black stood idly near the structure. What skin was showing was a mottled white, as if they had spent their entire lives underground, hidden away from the sunlight. Their clothing was trimmed in red, detailing several different symbols and glyphs everyone immediately recognized. It was the Cult of Ganon. They had beaten them to the target.

“Command, we’ve got a bit of a problem,” Euless said quietly into his radio, “Recon of the area shows two hostiles sitting outside the main entrance. I’m willing to bet they’re not alone. Sensors refuse to detect them. Repeat sensors will not read them. We’re blind. Please advise.”

Back in the control center, Roslin frowned and crossed her arms. She knew this was a possibility. All they could do was adapt and move on.

“We copy commander. Stand by, we’re efforting a work around. For now, hold your ground and do not give away your position,” she said, then huffed and turned about once off the channel, shooting Aaron a glare of disapproval, “They beat us to the punch. How the hell did they do that?”

Link continued to gaze over the structure. Now that he had a chance to think and focus without worrying about paying attention to his movements and keeping up, he could sift through his memory. The familiarity of the building was still quite strong. He could almost see what it was supposed to be. It was just beyond him.

“Command, we could really use something to help us read the hostiles right about now. For all we know, they’re aware of us and are trying to flank us as we speak.” Euless said.

“Understood commander,” Roslin replie, “Stand by, we’re patching your sensors now. Engineering thinks they’ve got something worked out.”

Like had happened before, Link’s visor was claimed by the updating scroll, the software in his suit accepting the new programming.

“Stand by Lieutenant,” Nadia said in his ear, “We’re gonna need to do a short soft boot to bring the patch online. I’m remoting in to handle it now.”

She was ever the efficient operator. His suit shut down key systems while its core remained online. Soon, all systems were back online. In seconds, the patch was installed and the First Minister’s voice chimed back in.

“You should have a new option for sonar overlay. If we can’t use our traditional sensors, we’re going to go low-tech with it. They may be invisible to most of the scanner’s spectrum but they can’t be invisible to sound.” Roslin explained.

A ping rang out from Euless’ suit, sending out waves visible in their displays towards the building. Using too high of a pitch for anyone to actually hear, the sonar patch began mapping the region, including the hostiles. As soon as they appeared, the sensors registered their signals and everyone began to breathe a little more easily. They weren’t being flanked, but the commander was right, the two in front of them were not alone.

“Thanks for the update command, that seems to have done the trick. We are now proceeding with alternate access recon. Herne, Bruno, you’re with me, we’re heading left. Saito, you and Link circle right. Stay out of sight, do not approach the building. Scan and relay your intel to us.” the commander ordered quietly.

The group disbanded and went their separate ways. Thankfully, their presence had gone unnoticed so far. If only their luck could just hold out a bit longer. Link kept close to Saito, not interested in losing track of her while they took a wide arc around the perimeter of the decommissioned power station. As they moved quietly, only a handful of black-cloaked figures could be found, including those Euless’ team discovered on the opposite side of the station. It wasn’t very encouraging news.

Eventually, the two silent soldiers reached their secondary destination, peering over at it from behind what had once been the tree line. The harsh, arid conditions had long since stripped the land of any greenery. In spite of their lifeless state, the skeletal remains of the trees and bushes provided adequate cover.

“This is team two,” Saito reported, “We’ve reached our access point. It’s being guarded by two more hostiles. Looks like a quiet entrance isn’t in the cards today. What’s it look like on your end.”

Herne responded as Euless glowered, not able to bring himself to answer through his frustration.

“Our side is blocked as well. We’re moving on to the fourth entrance. We’ll rendezvous there.” the second in command replied.

“Copy that,” Saito said in confirmation, “C’mon Link, only one more possible way in. Let’s just cross our fingers and hope these bastards haven’t covered all the bases.”

The lieutenant nodded and moved to follow, slowed by his thoughts as he gazed at the structure again.

“Does this place look familiar to you at all?” Link asked.

“Not really,” Saito answered, “Not really a subject I’ve studied in depth. Why?”

Link looked over his shoulder at the well-worn building as they continued on towards the rendezvous.

“I could swear I’ve seen this place before somewhere. Nadia, do me a favor. Pull up a schematic of the station and the structure beneath and cross reference it with whatever lore you can find in the database involving this area.” he said.

“Looking now,” his operator confirmed for him, “Anything specific you want me to search for?”

The young man paused, peering at the structure carefully for a moment.

“Ancient palaces.” Link answered.

As the two quietly approached the rear of the power station, they met up with the other half of the team. Euless sighed as he peered out around the corner of a sizable boulder, catching sight of two more cloaked figures standing guard in front of the last remaining entrance. A clean entry seemed to be completely out of the question.

“Command, all entrances are guarded. We can’t gain access without alerting them to our presence. Please advise.” the commander reported.

Roslin sighed, leaning forward against the holographic display showing the theater she had sent her troops into. It was not the ideal scenario, but they couldn’t simply retreat. There was too much at stake.

“Commander, you are authorized to use lethal force,” the minister said with a strong note of displeasure in her voice, “Gain entry however you must. Your priority is to retrieve the shard.”

“Belay that, commander. Ma’am, I have an idea, I think I can get us in without anyone knowing.” Link said then darted off to one side of the boulder, remaining well hidden from prying eyes.

“Lieutenant, report.” Roslin ordered.

“Stand by. Nadia, am I right in thinking this power station is built on the ruins of the old Great Palace of the East?” Link asked.

As soon as he spoke to his navigator, a sudden scrolling of data appeared to one side of his visor, confirming what he had suspected.

“Yeah, I just found it right as you chimed in. How’d you know?” Nadia asked.

Link came to a halt only dozen meters or so from the rest of his team, peering back at one of the two cultists, focused more on the one on the right. He looked down to his feet and reached down, collecting a small rock before looking up again.

“Those statues, there are two of them at every entrance except for the main entrance. They’ve got four up there. I think they’re part of the old security system. It looks like they built it into the power station, either not knowing what it was, or better yet, they did know what it was and left them there on purpose. Everyone hold your ground and maintain cover.” Link explained.

“Lieutenant, what are you doing?” Euless asked.

“I’m going to try to trip that security system. Hold on to your butts.” the young man replied.

With that, he leaned out from behind the outcrop serving as his hiding place and threw the rock he held with a hearty sling of his arm. Immediately, he swung himself back behind the rock face. The small stone flew through the air towards the cultist he had focused his attention on, missing the cloaked man by quite a ways. But then that wasn’t the target. Thankfully, the other had been turned to look in the other direction.

The sound of stone against stone rung out gently, catching the guard’s attention. He turned his head and looked down at the rock that had landed near his foot. It was possible it had fallen from the crumbling wall above him, but he found that unlikely. He moved away from the entrance, peering about carefully. As he began to search more thoroughly, the team hiding just a few meters away tensed at the notion they would be detected.

“Great job, ‘hero’! You might have just blown our cover!” Saito hissed through the radio.

“Shhh!” hissed Euless, “I’m reading an energy surge! Everyone, stay down and keep quiet!”

The cultist crept forward only a couple of meters farther then froze. A terrible wail rose behind him, followed by a heavy thud. Slowly, the cloaked man turned around, hearing another mighty thud. As his eyes fell upon the source of the noise, he screamed and turned to run as the statue Link had struck with his rock swung one of its thick, rough-cut arms. The rocky fist slammed squarely into the unfortunate man’s back, sending him flying into a nearby boulder, the very rock Link’s four teammates were hiding behind. The single blow was a killing stroke. The cultist’s lack of armor was an unwise choice. He slumped to the ground where he lay motionless, a splatter of red painted on the rock his head had struck with tremendous force.

The other cultist had tried to cast a spell in the hopes of stopping the stone guardian before it could kill his partner, but it had been completely ineffective. Either the statue was immune to their magic, or perhaps he had underestimated what it would take to stop the golem. Another scream and swing of the stone fist saw the second cultist thrown another great distance. He didn’t survive the blow any better than his companion.

With the intruders dealt with, the suddenly animated statue returned to its resting place, turned around, and settled back into the same position it had appeared as prior to waking. The whole scene was over in seconds, and with the exception of the two dead bodies, nothing looked any different from before.

“It’s powered down! Get inside! Now!” Link shouted through his radio and charged for the doorway.

It was all the rest of the team needed to hear. Without hesitation, they rushed forward into the entrance, vanishing into the shadowed hallway with hardly a sound. Once deep enough to be concealed by the darkness, the team came to a stop, moving to the sides of the corridor, hiding behind the building’s ornate features.

“Lieutenant, that was reckless and stupid!” Euless hissed furiously through his radio, “You could have given away our position!”

“Commander Euless,” the First Minister said to silence him, “Save your scolding for after the mission. The Lieutenant successfully gained entry for you and your team. With any luck, the others will determine that the dead guard was foolish enough to mistakenly activate the statue. Maybe they’ll activate it themselves and a couple more will get killed. Your cover should still be intact. We can discuss the Lieutenant’s poor adherence to protocol after you return.”

Link flinched hearing the last comment. At least they had managed to gain entry without revealing themselves. In the short few moments it took for all five soldiers to race through the entryway and conceal themselves inside, several other cultists raced towards what had been a couple of screams of terror, to say nothing of how they had been silenced so sharply. When they arrived and saw their fallen comrades as well as the stains they left on the rocks, they searched for the source. It took only moments to find a similar crimson presence on the fist of one of the two statues guarding the entrance.

“The fools must have awakened it. Post two more guards. This time, have them standing away from the entrance. We’ll use the statues to our advantage.” said one of the cloaked men.

Euless listened, quietly stunned by just how effective the tactic had been.

“Forget what I said earlier, Lieutenant,” he said, “Just, let me know what your plan is before you dive in next time. You have to give me time to approve of what you want to do before you do it.”

“Yes sir. Sorry sir.” the lieutenant said.

He offered a quick salute before the group moved deeper into the structure. The scans showed the power station taking up the entirety of the top floor and upper sections leading to the distribution lines. The lower levels had been sealed off when the palace was repurposed. Getting down into the ruins proper would be a challenge to be sure.

“No hostiles on sensors. I think we’re in the clear for the moment, but stay on your guard. Scans aren’t showing much in the way of useful data. I’m reading several routes into the subterranean portion but I can’t tell which one is the most secure,” Euless said, then turned to look at the newest addition to the team, “Link, you seem to know more about this place than any of us. What’s our best bet for getting down into the sealed levels?”

The commander turned back to look at him, expecting answers. His earlier success had earned him a not insignificant degree of respect and latitude. The group all turned to the lieutenant and watched, waiting for him to say something brilliant. He swallowed quietly, trying to steel himself. If he got it wrong, they could all end up caught, or worse.

“If I remember correctly,” Link began, “The main shaft was used mostly for ceremonial purposes, processions and the like, as well as moving large objects. There were a series of smaller, more frequently used stairwells and primitive elevators. I would recommend against the latter and aim for a descent we can control and secure as we go along. I was looking over the scans command provided us before we left. There aren’t many corridors that haven’t collapsed. Three of the remaining stairwells lead to chambers that have been closed off, dead ends. That leaves us with two usable routes. They both have cover stones that we can easily remove and replace.”

Euless nodded, lifting an arm to point deeper.

“Lead on, Lieutenant. Navigation at your discretion.” he said.

“Yes sir. The nearer of the two stairways should be only about ten or fifteen meters away.” Link said, turned, and began searching the corridor, looking for any sign of the lower access.

“I kinda like having a tour guide while we’re on mission. Means we get to see the best stuff. Let me know when we have a photo-op.” Bruno said jokingly.

“Cut the chatter. Carry on, Lieutenant.” Euless ordered.

It didn’t take Link long at all to pinpoint what he was looking for. It was covered by a slab of carved stone just as he said. He ran his hands over the detailed handiwork, marveling at it while he attempted to make sense of its markings.

“This is it. It should be just a matter of pulling it back out of the way, then dragging it back into place.” Link explained.

“I don’t like the idea of blocking off our only exit,” Herne said, thinking pragmatically, “If they realize we’re down here, it wouldn’t take much effort for them to just collapse the roof and trap us. And what if we need to get back out quickly?”

The commander had taken that into consideration. He reached around behind himself, pulling something from his suit that was attached to his waistline just back from his hip.

“I get where you’re coming from, so we’re gonna plant force charges around the cover stone on the inside. If they try to block us in or come in after us, they’ll blow, clear a path for us, and hold it open until the cells die. Remember, once they detonate, the field will last only ten minutes at best. If we get a detonation, we book it back here. I’ll open a hole in the field, we break through their lines, and make for the extraction point.” Euless said.

Link frowned softly.

“Even if we don’t have the shard?” he asked.

Euless paused, concealing a tiny sigh.

“If we don’t have it by the time these charges go off… we’ll have bigger problems to worry about. If it comes to it, we’ll make our own exit. We do not leave without that shard.” the commander said, slightly modifying the standing order.

Encouraging and disheartening at the same time. The commander had a talent for ambivalent inspiration. Everyone but Link seemed charged by it. Maybe it was just a different mentality they had. They’d been at this a lot longer than him. The team got to work prying the cover stone off the entryway. It was leaned well away from vertical, making gravity work against them. With care and precision, all five managed to hoist the heavy slab away from the entry and slide it to one side, content to let the wall provide as much support as they needed.

It was finally open, and with no small measure of exertion on their part. The team peered into the inky blackness of the stairwell. Its foreboding atmosphere suddenly triggered the baser instincts to fear the dark. It was impossible to see the path ahead; if it was blocked or worse, occupied. They would all know soon enough. Hopefully, they would catch a break since they missed out on that just trying to get in.

Euless tapped the side of his helmet, flicking on a brilliant torch that cast a powerful beam of light into the pitch. The stone walls and stairs were immediately called into existence out of the blackness. The commander gestured for the team to begin their descent, single file, weapons at the ready, and Link was to be near the front.

“I’m gonna rely on you to let us know if there are any booby traps down here. Roslin put her trust in your knowledge of this stuff, we’re going to do the same.” the commander said.

“Yes sir, I’ll do my best.” Link replied.

The lieutenant’s tension doubled. He had earned the trust of his commander. Now he just had to come through and ensure that trust wasn’t misplaced.

The slab was dragged back into place once they were all behind it. The charges were planted just inside the entryway, and they turned to face the descent before them. The group began to file down into the darkness, keeping their footsteps as silent as they could manage. They were all putting their trust in the young lieutenant, whether they liked it or not. Whether Link liked it or not.

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