Chapter 15 – The Caretaker’s Assistant

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“What the hell was that!?” Roslin shouted as she burst into the infirmary, clearly furious about what had happened.

While they had managed to collect the shard and return with it intact, the mission had been rather badly botched. A failsafe device being used was almost never a sign of a successful mission after all. The doctor frowned and moved away from one of the two patients who had only just arrived.

“Ma’am, please, keep your voice down. This is no place to have this kind of argument. You’re going to have to wait to debrief these two. The rest of the team is waiting to give their reports.” he said, realizing that he was putting himself in extraordinary danger, but he had to tend to the wounded.

The woman fumed, not so much at the soldiers she had sent into harm’s way but how badly harm’s way had hit them. Someone would pay for this ‘slip up’ in their lack of intelligence. Roslin attempted to muster as much of her composure as she could manage, which the doctor took note of.

“How bad are they?” she asked.

The doctor sighed as he turned to look back at the two men being tended to by the rest of the medical staff.

“Herne is lucky his arm is still attached. He’s lost a lot of blood and we’re transfusing now. He’s got multiple lacerations across the face and chest. Multiple bones in his shoulder, arm, and part of his neck and chest have been rather badly fractured. I still don’t know what could rip into armor like that. It’s almost as if it wasn’t even there,” he said, then turned to explain his other patient’s state, “Euless is another matter. His attacker seemed more interested in blinding him. His left eye was completely destroyed. We’re in the prelim stages of constructing him a new one. He has severe lacerations across his face too. His chest plating is gone but he’s only got minor wounds there. His neck saw a good deal of trauma. Several vertebrae have hairline fractures. If it wasn’t for the support his helmet and shoulder plates provided, he would probably be paralyzed right now. Both are going to be out of commission, I can’t say for how long just yet. And I can’t guarantee a full recovery. Not this early on.”

Roslin clenched her fists, trying her best to keep her voice even and low, “Do what you can, doctor. Let me know as soon as they’re able to speak.”

With that, she turned and marched her way into the examination room where the other three waited. Link was unscathed, sitting quietly as his teammates received what minor care they needed. As soon as they caught sight of the furious woman, all three leapt to their feet, ignoring the medics trying to cure their injuries.

“Minister, ma’am!” Saito practically shouted as she snapped to attention.

“I want answers, and I want them now! What the hell happened out there!?” Roslin growled, trying to keep her voice down as she had been requested.

Saito, Bruno, and Link all crowded together in a semicircle before the Minister, shooing away the medical staff for the time being. Their minor concerns could wait while they relayed the important details of how the mission had gone.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” Saito said, “We failed to make a quiet exit. Circumstances were beyond our control. We did the best we could given the situation.”

“Your best just leveled an ancient temple prized by the local tribe! A local tribe that we’ve already been on somewhat shaky ground with as it is! Do you have any idea how hard they’re breathing down my neck right now!? They’re threatening to pull out of the alliance and take up a hostile posture! Why the hell did you trigger failsafe protocol!?” Roslin said in something of a dull roar.

She unable to really keep the volume of her voice under control, but she was trying her best to get a grip on it. Link stepped in, offering his expertise on the creatures they encountered.

“Ma’am, it was pretty much what we expected going in at first. We worked past the defenses with relative ease and quiet. When we reached the chamber where the shard was stored, we encountered what I believe is called a ‘Stalfos’.” he explained.

The Lieutenant’s words seemed to ease her temper, but only taking the edge off of it. As she heard the word, the color began to drain from her face.

“A stalfos?” she asked incredulously.

“A skeletal warrior fueled by pure hatred. It was guarding the shard. It may have been put there by the tribe who held a claim on the temple. Hell it might have been a volunteer who sacrificed himself to become that thing.” Link said.

“I know what a stalfos is, Lieutenant,” Roslin shot back, trying not to be too rude in her tone, “When you entered the room, communication was cut in half. We were receiving only partial stream, but it was still enough to tell us you were fighting something skeletal in build. But even so, you had eyes on it, we didn’t. Are you absolutely sure it was a stalfos and not some… clever parlor trick meant to look like one? These people are known for their… theatricality, as well as their knowledge of the sort of advanced technology that could be used to fake this.”

Link nodded solemnly, “I’m sure, ma’am. I would stake my life on it.”

Roslin sighed, the rage abating but replaced with a deeper dread, “Then it’s worse than I thought. But you still managed to neutralize it. And without suffering any ill effects from what I can tell. But that still leaves my main question unanswered. Why was failsafe activated? And you’d better have a damn good explanation. I don’t like the term ‘wildfire’ being thrown around lightly.”

“We were on our way back to the stairwell to the surface when we were attacked by the deceased warriors left to guard the facility. That was the wildfire scenario we called out.” Link’s tone was quite grim; there wasn’t anything about this situation he liked.

“The dead just… got up and started attacking you…” Roslin said, the incredulity in her voice was palpable.

Bruno nodded, “Yes ma’am. It was like something out of a bad horror movie. There were hundreds of them, coming out of the walls. They were easy to take down one on one, but there were just too many of them. It looked like there were more coming all the time. Our sensors couldn’t get an accurate read on their numbers. The Commander called wildfire and activated failsafe to keep them from getting out of the temple.”

Roslin turned to the other two looking for confirmation, “Is this true?”

Saito and Link both nodded, the former responding, “Yes ma’am. The temple defenses turned on them, but there’s only so much you can do about a horde that size. It’s a miracle we made it back up the stairs without getting bit.”

The First Minister lifted a hand, pushing her glasses up to rub over her eyes. This wasn’t what she wanted to hear at all.

“So, your Commander, cut off from his chain of command, enacted a failsafe detonation inside an ancient temple, considered part of the local heritage, to prevent a wildfire scenario, specifically a plague of re-dead from consuming the continent… that about sums it up?” she asked as the trio nodded in response, “I’ll need to confirm with suit telemetry and logs as soon as possible. I want every scrap of data showing that we had valid cause to call a wildfire. Without that, it’s our word against theirs, and I don’t want anyone pulling out of the alliance, not now.”

“We’ve already begun uploading mission logs. There seems to be some sort of interference with the sensors though. Visual logs should be relatively unaffected,” Saito said, then paused, her tone shifting as she changed the subject, “How’s the Commander and Herne? They won’t tell us anything.”

“They were pretty roughed up but they’re going to be fine,” Roslin said, feeling more of her fury melting into the ever-present background radiation of her usual intense demeanor, “Out of commission for the time being. They’re both luck to be alive. The doctor will have more information once he’s done stabilizing them I’m sure. You did good getting them out and back to base. Now, what’s this about interference? It was clean going in.”

Link looked to his chest, still wearing his suit. He’d refused to remove it, and for good reason.

“The only explanation I can come up with is the shard. It wasn’t until I walked into the holding chamber when the stream dropped to half like you said,” he explained, “When I took the shard and stowed it, we lost communications altogether. It occurred to me that it must be putting out some sort of radiation that interferes with our wireless signals so I took the liberty of surrounding it in a level two dampening field once we reached the surface. We’ll need to get it to containment as soon as possible. Until then, it stays right here.”

The Lieutenant rapped his knuckles against his chest where the shard was concealed.

“Understood. You’re with me. Saito, Bruno, report to my ready room in two hours. Once the infirmary’s cleared you, get cleaned up and get a little down time. We’ve got bigger issues to deal with it seems and I don’t need you all completely spent,” the Minister said, crossing her arms in front of her chest as she moved to a more pressing matter, “We have reason to believe there’s been a security breach. This mission has been classified at the highest level. Only selected materials and information will be released for lower clearance personnel, and those selections will be at my personal discretion. Is that understood?”

All three nodded.

“Yes ma’am.” they all answered in unison.

“Good. Lieutenant, follow me.”

Saito and Bruno both sat back down so the nurses could resume treating them. Link on the other hand followed the First Minister quickly and quietly. There was a sense of urgency about their pace, and quite right to have it too. He was still carrying precious cargo. The Minister’s entourage was ordered away, leaving only two guards to escort them. It felt strange walking with her in such a small group, as though they were somehow exposed. But then there were two well armed and armored guards on either side, and the Lieutenant was still largely unscathed from his mission. Anyone would be a fool to try to attack them, so he put the concern out of his mind.

Their destination was the lift which approached quickly. After they were safely inside and the doors had closed, Roslin pressed her palm against a reflective black panel next to the list of destinations available. A line of light passed down across her hand, taking her print before granting authorization. That was an older style scanner, one that took longer to capture an image. It was curious that such a device was used rather than one of the newer, faster ones. There had to be some reason for it, Link thought to himself.

A new series of commands appeared on the screen and Roslin selected from them. A blank appeared requesting a code which was entered. The standard lights in the lift shut off and were quickly replaced with an unsettling crimson suggesting some sort of highly secure destination had been chosen. Wherever she was taking him, it was only meant for a select few people. Likely she was near the top of that very short list who had access. The whole car began to move and the Minister turned to face Link.

“You were never told about how your brother died, were you?” she asked.

Link frowned. This wasn’t something he was too keen to discuss, but he wasn’t about to tell her to stop. Surely it was somehow relevant to their current situation.

“No, just that he was on a mission to collect one of these shards.” he answered.

Roslin nodded, waiting patiently for the lift to reach the floor they sought. The upward movement ceased, giving the car a subtle jolt then and a number of mechanical sounds could be heard. Likely there were safety measures in place that had to be released to permit the lift to pass through. Highly secure indeed. The lift wouldn’t even be able to physically access the level they were approaching without authorization. After a moment, the car resumed moving.

“Yes, he was. He was with his team tracking down a signal we believed was a shard. We were right it turns out, but it was located deep in the Gerudo district.”

“Gerudo? What was a shard doing there?” the Lieutenant asked.

“Hell if we know. It ended up being sold second hand to some junk dealer. His body was found pulverized when the team arrived. Some local thugs had taken it and beaten the poor guy to death. Apparently those thugs were working with the descendants of the original Gerudo tribe, more specifically a rather fanatical subset of them. Probably thought they could score an easy little fortune working for them. The locals handed the shard over and were promptly executed for all their trouble,” Roslin explained as her expression twisted into one of revulsion, “Damn mafia. Vicious, bloodthirsty animals if you ask me. By the time we caught up with them, they had managed to catch up with the rest of their sect, the Cult of Ganon. A delegation from their highest order was sent to retrieve the shard and that’s when our team stepped in. We intended it to be a sting operation, take down the implicated Gerudo for a number of charges; possession of stolen goods, murder, high treason… we would have put a rather sudden stop to their little band of thieves, and we would have bagged a few high ranking members of the cult.”

Her voice trailed off. The Lieutenant didn’t like where this was leading.

“I take it something went wrong.” Link said.

Ordinarily, Roslin would have offered some snarky response. Of course something had gone wrong. That was how those kinds of stories always went. But she refrained from being insulting.

“We weren’t prepared for what their wizards could do. They slaughtered the Gerudo–their own people–and turned on our forces. How your brother managed to get the shard I have no idea. There wasn’t enough uncorrupted data from his mission logs to make sense of what had happened. All we know is when his team fell, he ran. He knew how important the shard was. It was impressive watching him. I’ve never seen anyone move like that,” the Minister said, a quiet measure of awe present in her voice, “He almost made it too. The shuttle just wasn’t quick enough. By the time backup arrived, those damned puppets had torn him up pretty badly.”

“Puppets!?” Link almost shouted as he bit back the alarm in his voice.

A sickening twist formed in the pit of his stomach. As if mocking him, the lights changed from red to a deep green and the car stopped. More mechanical sounds came from outside. They were passing through another set of security hatches. After a moment, the car started again. Roslin nodded to the young man, turning to face him again as the significance of his coming to being in her service suddenly dawned on him.

“That’s right… puppets. The same sort you’ve encountered twice, and bested with virtually no harm. Now you can understand why we were so interested to bring you on board. Those wizards were their trump card. Now you’re ours. We need you more than you could have possibly known until now. As much as Colin was a fine soldier, he wasn’t you,” she said then paused, concealing a choke quite expertly, “I handpicked him over you. Your brother’s death was my fault. I’m sorry Link.”

It was the first time she’d referred to him by his name. She was upset. The loss of Colin was eating her alive inside.

“You… picked him… over me.” the young man said haltingly, his mind spinning with all manner of unpleasant thoughts.

He had refused to join when Colin offered to bring him along. That had been the cause of their fight. He was suddenly overcome with an intense wave of guilt. If he had agreed, he might have been there to protect Colin, to watch his back, to give him a chance to escape. The knot in his stomach tightened, threatening to push into actual nausea. The last conversation he had shared with his brother was a fight about not wanting to go, and it could very well have been what led to Colin’s death.

“When this is all over, your kingdom will owe you a great debt,” Roslin said, not realizing the downward spiral she was jerking Link out of, “I will see to it personally that you are paid in full for your service. If there is anything I can do to atone for your brother’s death, you only need to say so.”

Link was stunned. This was a very different woman than he had come to know. She was vulnerable, tormented, the weight of an entire nation resting on her shoulders. If he didn’t know any better, he might have thought he was talking to someone else. A very particular someone. All the hate he had carried with him over the loss of his brother, the malice that built up inside of him, it simply vanished as if it evaporated off him. He was breathless. The guilt was still present, but the anger was so far away now. How had she done that?

Quietly the two remained facing one another, eyes locked. Roslin seemed to be searching his face for some sign of absolution, as if she needed it to move on. The First Minister was waiting for him to give her permission to continue. How many people could say they had First Minister Roslin, the hard-ass administrator of the whole of Hyrule waiting on their permission? The Lieutenant finally took a breath and tried to put into words what he felt.

“I… I don’t know what to say. I’m angry, yes… at least… I was just a minute ago. I have been since I found out about his death. The training, the mission, it helped bury it but it was still there. I kept expecting to meet the person who sent him on that mission. It never even registered with me that it was you. I don’t know why but… it’s just kind of gone and I know what to replace it with.” Link said.

“I have that effect. Keeping things moving fast helps deflect certain unpleasant meetings,” Roslin replied, “And replace it with focus on the task at hand. Or if you prefer, I can give you a moment to pray. I don’t know if you speak to the goddesses often.”

“Clever,” the Lieutenant said, just a little perturbed, quietly so, at the admission of evasion, “And… if I’m being honest, I don’t exactly do a lot of praying. I used to as a kid, but I’ve slipped out of practice.”

“A lapsed believer is still a believer. I might recommend it sometime. I find it gives me comfort,” Roslin said as she removed her glasses and looked back at the young man, a look of earnestness in her face, “I don’t know what I need to do to earn your forgiveness, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I was stupid. I got ambitious. I took my eyes off the bigger picture, and eight of our people suffered and died because of my arrogance. One of them your brother. I will not let that happen again.”

A soft bubbling rage welled up under those last few words. She knew who was responsible for the death of her people and she wanted justice. Link meanwhile was making that journey himself, having just a bit further to go than the First Minister. He saw firsthand what the cult was capable of, what they sought, and why. Colin was just in their way and he was swept aside. For a brief moment, everything crystallized and he could see who he should be mad at, and it wasn’t Roslin.

In that instant, the green light was replaced with a soft blue, almost as if it were to visualize his epiphany. Another pause followed, as did the sound of another security hatch, and they resumed moving. That had been three, and the fact that they were color coded similar to the signs of the goddesses did not go unnoticed. It just wasn’t terribly important at the moment.

When all of Link’s thoughts clouded back up again, his revelation remained. He wanted to speak, but when he tried, his voice came out in a quiet, almost choked sound. He had been in a position to feel like the First Minister need his permission moments ago, now she was asking for absolution. Never in all his life did Link ever think he would be so high and mighty to ever be asked of anything by the First Minister.

“You have my forgiveness,” he said as he gradually found his voice again, “I know Colin would feel the same way if he was here and I had died. If he was alive right now, he’d slap me on the back of the head or punch my shoulder and tell me to get over it and finish the job. So, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The Minister nodded, returning her glasses to her eyes where they belonged and turned back towards the door as the lift slowed and came to a stop for the final time. The blue light shut off and standard illumination was restored.

“He was a good man. If he could see you right now, he’d be proud.” the woman said quietly

It was Link’s turn to hide a choke. He might not have been much of a praying man, but he did believe in a few key things, one in particular that had been helping to guide him since he and Colin parted ways.

“He can see me, ma’am. He never stopped watching over me.” the Lieutenant said, struggling to keep his words even.

That was as far as he was willing to take that line of conversation at the moment. He could be emotional later. There was business to attend to.

“I believe you.” Roslin said.

As the mechanical sounds of locks, plates, and bars removing themselves from their path went silent, the doors slid open, revealing a room not much larger than the lift with another pair of heavy sliding doors opposite them.

“So where are we going exactly?” Link asked.

“That’s classified.” the Minister replied.

She stepped out of the lift, followed by the guards. Link followed suit and the lift closed again. The same sounds returned, no doubt locking and baring the way they had just come. The Minister looked to the guards, nodding quietly to them. They each returned the nod and took their station on either side of the lift doors. That was where they were meant to remain. Roslin then turned to the new pair of doors and approached. Once she was only a few feet from them, the computer acknowledged her with a curious, two-note chime.

“Identification please.” intoned a computerized voice.

“Roslin, Terentia. Authorization code zero-niner-delta-five.”

“Voice print confirmed,” the digital voice said, “Secondary presence detected. No credentials on file. Identify.”

“Identify secondary presence as Lieutenant Link. All required details for identity located within file code named ‘Gustaf’.”

The computer processed the information momentarily, taking a few moments longer than Link thought it ought to. There must have been some heavy encryption on the file in question.

“Identity verified. Access granted. Welcome, Minister Roslin.” said the computer.

An eight note chime followed, falling then rising to create a sound of mystery. All the securing machinery keeping the doors locked disengaged and they slid open slowly. Roslin continued on forward through the doorway into a vast room far different than anything the palace or its military facility had to offer. The ceiling was high and flat, appearing to be made of a natural stone carved away to provide the space. The floor was smooth but not perfectly so and not polished but somewhat matte. It had texture enough to ensure slipping to be virtually impossible.

The walls were covered in all manner of ancient glyphs and runes, only some of which Link could identify. Long, thin lights ran along the creases where the ceiling, walls, and floor met, providing a dim, pale blue illumination, enough to see where they were going, but not enough to dispel the sensation they were deep underground. Hadn’t they taken the lift up? He drank it all in with a measured degree of wonder.

“What is this place?” Link asked in muted awe.

“A very sacred place,” Roslin answered, “It took a lot of doing to secure it the way we did. The goddesses were not entirely happy with the decision. They remind me of it frequently. This is where we keep the shards we have collected so far, as well as a few select relics that should never fall into the wrong hands.”

She continued on, the same brisk pace as before. The vulnerability from before was gone. She was the Roslin Link was used to once more.

“Relics? What sort of rel-” he asked and was silenced almost immediately as they passed an archway leading into a round chamber.

It was fairly large and open, though not nearly as grand as the previous room. In the center was a shaft of light, no doubt a protective field, shining down upon a single blade with a golden hilt. He recognized it immediately, ignoring all the other artifacts stored along the walls.

The Lieutenant’s initial reaction was ‘it couldn’t be’ but then he remembered who he was with and the kind of pull she had, to say nothing of who she worked for. The Potentate herself must have established this place because he was almost certain of what he was looking at, and what significance it held.

“Is that… is that the Picori Blade!?” the young man asked in utter astonishment.

Roslin stopped, sighing quietly as Link was drawn in by his fascination with the ancient past and the legends from that time. She had almost forgotten how much he knew about the lore of their land. Quietly she cursed how much of a ‘fanboy’ he was proving to be, but better enthusiasm than indifference she supposed.

“No, that’s the Four Sword,” she answered, “The Picori Blade was-“

“-Was shattered and re-forged,” Link interrupted without realizing he had done it, “It ultimately became the Four Sword after it absorbed the power of the elements. Right… but it is, in essence, the same sword.”

“I suppose you could say so. We’ve been keeping it safe along with several other artifacts that we don’t have time for you to foam over. We’re here for a reason. Now move, soldier.” Roslin said sternly.

She lifted a hand and gestured for him to follow. The Lieutenant nodded, giving the famed, gleaming blade one last glimpse before hurrying down the corridor. More archways passed, most of them appearing to be small libraries filled with books and scrolls, no doubt the written history of selected periods in Hyrule’s storied past. It was then that it hit him. This place was a repository of all the ancient knowledge the royal family possessed.

“Less than twenty people walk these halls. It is one of our most closely guarded secrets,” the Minister said earnestly, “I don’t think I need to tell you-“

“-not to breathe a word of this to another living soul,” Link interrupted again, this time to impress upon her how well he did indeed understand, “Trust me, ma’am, I’m already there. No one would believe me anyway… Except Colin. He would have believed me.”

Roslin tightened her lips into an expression he couldn’t see. She let the comment fade as they walked silently on through the ancient cave. Link ignored the chambers as they passed them until Roslin turned and stepped into one.

This one seemed considerably different from the rest. It was populated by a number of rather advanced machines surrounding a space in the center which was left open as a void. In the air hovered the shards Roslin’s people had already gathered. They drifted about in no discernible pattern, circling one another and intermingling but never touching. A single man stood by one of the machines dressed in what Link could only guess was a lab coat, but of a design he had never seen before. It closed completely around the front and hugged the man’s arms closely. It fell shorter than most long coats, stopping about mid-thigh all the way around. The royal crest was embroidered on the left breast as well as around the cuffs, tastefully so, not gaudy or ostentatious. His trousers were a rich brown and appeared to tuck into a pair of tall, black, rubber-soled boots. He had a holographic display in front of him, projected out and up from his chest as if there was a device in his clothing that created it, providing him with all the vital statistics of the machinery around him. He turned to see the new arrivals and bowed his head slightly.

“First Minister… Lieutenant… I’ve been expecting you. I’ve prepared the chamber for the latest shard.” He said, possessing a mild accent, very proper but subtle.

“Have you noticed any changes in the energy signature they give off?” Roslin asked.

“If I had not known to look for something I would have missed it but yes, I have,” the unnamed scientist said, “It’s somewhat disconcerting. The radiation they emit is often benign. Within the last twelve hours, that has shifted to include portions of the spectrum that can encourage cellular regeneration. I’ve been running some tests and it seems that while it could be used to heal injuries, it can have a detrimental effect on the subject’s mind in roughly half of the test cases. I have altered the containment field to compensate for this change.”

Roslin nodded, turning to Link, “Good, we have the newest shard ready to go into storage. Lieutenant Link has been kind enough to keep it on his person until we arrived and in a protective containment field, though I’m sure nowhere near powerful enough. Link, if you would be so kind…”

The young man nodded, placing a hand over his chest. The plating split apart and opened, letting the cylindrical container slip out into his palm. He removed it from his chest and the plating closed once more. The vessel was given to the scientist who inserted it into one of his many machines. The shard emerged from the other side of the console where it moved along a narrow beam of light to join the others, entering the slow dance as if it had been there all along. The machines chimed and whined louder for a brief moment as they compensated for the additional power.

“There we are. Elemental pressure increases exponentially each time we add a new shard but it’s nothing the field emitters can’t handle. It is safely masked and should not be able to impact any living thing.” the scientist said.

He was rather chipper about the notion, proud of the work his computers were doing. Meanwhile, Roslin had other concerns.

“Is it possible that because it was shattered, this piece of the Triforce is… malfunctioning?” she asked.

The scientist shook his head.

“No, it isn’t the nature of this kind of relic to simply change because it is broken. The shards are all interconnected, even across great distances and in spite of the barriers we erect. It is perhaps that they are calling to one another, or someone has found a way to tap into the power they contain.” he explained.

The woman frowned, crossing her arms.

“Tap into it… trigger this mind-altering radiation… spark chaos anywhere around the shard,” she said with a tone of disappointment, “Well, now we know what to look for when we scan.”

The scientist nodded, “Yes. I heard briefly what happened. The dead coming to life again.”

Link glanced back and forth between the two.

“How did you hear about that!? We haven’t given our official reports yet!” he shouted.

“Link,” Roslin said raising her voice just enough to catch the young man’s attention and force him to ease down, “This is Shad. He is our lead researcher and assistant to the caretaker of the repository. Your suit’s logs and records were being sent directly to him and no one else. He is the first to see what happened in the palace during your mission.”

Shad nodded, “Very upsetting news. If this is what it can do to the dead, I shudder to think what it might do to the living. You must find the remaining shards quickly.”

“Yeah, no kidding.” Link replied, somewhat terse, still coming down off his little burst of surprise and indignation.

“We’re already running a scan for the next one. If what we know is accurate, there should only be two left unaccounted for,” Roslin said and offered the scientist a slight nod before turning to leave, motioning for Link to follow, “Now let’s get you out of that armor so the techs can run their diagnostics. I don’t want a suit malfunction to be why we have issues next mission.”

Link nodded and began tapping on the back of his right arm, entering the commands to recall the armor back into storage. Dimensional containment really revolutionized the whole process a hundred years ago. Just as he was about to do as he was told, Shad stepped in closer.

“I beg your pardon Lieutenant, before you remove it completely, could I trouble you to let me borrow your sword?” he asked.

The young man still in his protective suit looked back to Roslin as if she might say otherwise. She gestured as if to say ‘Well what are you waiting for?’ and he shrugged.

“Okay… what do you need it for?” Link asked.

He canceled the previous command and ordered the suit to draw his blade. With his right hand, he unfastened it from the back of his left arm and handed it to the scientist carefully.

Shad marveled at the weapon as though he’d never seen it before.

“Amazing. It withstood close-range combat against a heavily aggressive opponent and it shows virtually none of the signs of wear and tear. This should prove terribly useful in further experimentation.” the scientist said with muted excitement, almost as if he were showing reverence for the blade.

“Experimentation?” Link asked in confusion.

Roslin stepped in to fill in the gaps, but only so far.

“Shad has been working to find a way to make our weapons more effective against the cult’s minions. He’s been experimenting with imbuing hand-to-hand combat gear with forms of radiation that will be harmful to the enemy but benign to us. We’re taking a page out of the history books and learning everything we can about how holy weapons were forged and what it was about them that made them holy in the first place.”

The young scientist nodded excitedly, “Yes! It’s shown great promise! We’ve managed to successfully develop a capacitor that can the store the energy we draw from-“

“That’s enough Shad. Right now, the less he knows, the better,” Roslin said and turned to Link, waving a hand telling him he could remove his suit at last, “It’s for your own safety. This is something we’re playing real close to the chest. I can’t risk certain details being leaked, even to you right now. If it comes to it, you have my word you will get what answers you need.”

Link didn’t question her wishes to not divulge any further information about the project. She was in command, he was a soldier. That was how it worked. It didn’t keep him from being offended by it. His mind swirled with possible theories but he had no real way of proving any of them. He quietly cursed in the back of his mind about being kept in the dark. Meanwhile, Shad simply bowed and turned to leave, taking the sword with him.

“I shall have it returned to your suit once I am finished. It shouldn’t take any longer than a day or so.” he said.

The Lieutenant nodded as he was surrounded by light. The plating vanished and the young man dropped the few centimeters to the floor that the suit had elevated him. His ‘flight suit’ was still just as pristine as it had been when he put it on, save for the expected reaction to prolonged stress. He was definitely going need a shower once he was relieved.

“Now you know where we’re storing the shards,” Roslin said, “The computer will grant you access to this facility so that you can bring the remaining shards directly here after they’ve been collected. If I can’t oversee it personally, do not wait for me. The sooner we get the shard into containment the better. Your priority is to secure and protect this relic. All other concerns are secondary. Do I make myself clear?”

Link nodded, “Yes ma’am. Perfectly.”

“Good. I knew I could trust you to handle this. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to my office so we can properly debrief all of you. I recommend you get a change of clothes, maybe a shower and something to eat.”

The Lieutenant nodded, following along obediently as one rather large question gnawed away at him.

“Minister, if you’ll forgive me, I have to ask-“

“Why it wasn’t Zelda herself that showed you this place? Because with all that’s going on in world right now, we have to keep her highly secured. She stays in constant communication with me. I deliver mission reports and other updates. She provides me with her orders. I carry them out.” Roslin explained.

Link nodded. It seemed to make sense. She was the Potentate. She had to be protected at all times. As much as it might pain her, she couldn’t be this hands on.

“If you speak to her again before too long, tell her I don’t blame her for Colin either.” the young man said.

Roslin furrowed her brow, turning and coming to a stop to look the Lieutenant in the eye.

“Why would you blame her?” she asked, “I told you I was the one who handpicked him.”

“She must have told you about the hero’s line, that you had to find–well–me. You picked him, but not until after she told you what to look for. If anyone here is to blame, it’s me for not living up to the legend.” Link said, trying his best to not let self-doubt creep back in as he let the words escape.

He hadn’t actually thought about it in those terms until he actually said it aloud. It stung, but he felt it necessary to say as much. Roslin saw the reasoning in his words and lifted her chin without breaking eye contact. Something about him had cut deep to her core, and yet she maintained her rock hard exterior.

“I’ll pass on your sentiments to her.” the Minister said.

There was a hint of something to her words, some slight catch that most would simply gloss over. Link simply took it at face value. It was a delicate subject and she took it very personally. She was so used to keeping everything under control, not showing emotion, not reacting except in very specific ways to very specific moments. He had somehow gotten under all those layers of control and protection. It unnerved him a little, so he didn’t press the matter any further.

They resumed the walk back to the lift. The doors opened for them, sealing behind once they were in. The lift went back through its series of stops and starts. Eventually, the doors opened again and they were back in the familiar area of the palace. The guards who had stopped just past the lift on the way to the repository had joined them once again, not leaving Roslin’s side from that point on.

“Debriefing in my office in two hours. Dismissed.” she said.

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