Her eyes popped open. For a second, all she was aware of was the gentle flutter of her eyelashes, flapping in counterpart to the thunderous beating of her heart. She took several sharp breaths, her head swimming in a sea of confusion. Swallowing, she cleared her thoughts, awareness creeping back into her mind. She had been asleep, dreaming again. As every night before for the last few months, she could see him, standing on the shores of an uncharted island, broken and bloody, but very much alive.
Yet, the dream had changed tonight, hadn't it? There had been another force, another presence that she was unfamiliar with. Tress ripped the sheets from her bed, watching them billow in the moonless void of her room before fluttering to rest, like a pale cyan ghost. She threw her legs over the side of her bed, letting her feet brush against the cold stone floor. Who was it that had entered the dream so abruptly? Who was that face looking at Link with starry eyes?
The eyes! Tress lit up with excitement. She could just now remember those deep blue eyes, filled with concern and determination. They looked so very much like Link's eyes, so very much like Tress' own eyes, only brighter, reflecting the fire of a thousand suns. They were friendlier too, Tress decided, as though belonging to someone who had not seen the horrors that had swept across Hyrule, only a short time ago.
Tress rose from her bed. She had fallen asleep in her day clothing again. Her dark purple tunic was wrinkled, bunching up around the yellow belt with a gold clasp that had left an impression on her skin. Only her shoes had managed to disappear from sight. Grunting, Tress dropped down to her knees and pulled up her mangled bed sheets, searching in the dark void under her bed for her shoes. She found them easily of course, her fingers fumbling in the darkness to pull them out and put them on her freezing feet.
Standing up, she smoothed out the front of her tunic, pulling the bottom through so that her belt was visible instead of hidden under the folds of the violet felt. She licked her fingers, running through the wild mass of brunette tangles in her hair. It was a lost cause of course; her fingers quickly became ensnared, forcing her to rip them free, along with a good deal of long hairs. She sighed. Perhaps one day she would win the battle. Half-heartedly, she smiled, remembering the days of her childhood when her mother would brush out her hair. It had hung well past her hips back then.
The dream! A rush of guilt fell upon her. She had almost forgotten. Wrenching the door open, she started down the hall, only to stop and turn around again, when she realized that she had forgotten Andromeda. While Tress didn't see the purpose in carrying the blasted sword with her everywhere she went, she knew better than to disobey Sahasrahla's direct orders. Begrudgingly, she strapped the sword to her back then started out of her barren room again, carefully shutting the door behind her.
The hallway was deserted. Judging from the inky darkness outside, Tress supposed it was sometime after midnight. With no moon shining through the high glass windows lining either side of the corridor, the place was a dull brown, turning orange with splashes of candlelight here and there. The hall was as barren as Tress' room. No tapestries hung on the walls, no brilliant suits of armor lined the rooms as in North Castle. All around her, Tress saw nothing but stone, stone and iron candleholders, hosting plain white candles.
She had so often walked this path, day and night, that Tress had little to think about, instead letting her feet take her on her way. Instead, she tried to summon up the dying embers of her dream. The haunting blue eyes that she had seen watching over Link began to melt into the recesses of her mind, causing her to fight to bring them back into view. She wondered briefly why she was obsessing so much over a silly dream. After all, it hadn't been a nightmare and it was her nightmares that more often led to important things. She had dreamed of her parents' death before it had happened…
"And I wonder," a voice said, knifing through Tress' reverie, "what would bring the Hero of Destiny out of her room at this hour after an entire day of chasing Moblins back into the mountains." Tress had inadvertently walked into a small circular room, lined with stones. Unlike the rest of the building, this room was ornate, the walls lined with the ancient artifacts of Hyrule; the Ocarina of Time, the Keaton Mask, the Moon Pearl.
Sitting on the floor of the room, upon a lush red and gold carpet, was an old man, looking up at Tress with warm brown eyes, barely visible under two thick, white eyebrows. Although she couldn't see his lips behind his long white beard, Tress knew he was smiling as he always did when she came to him. "I had the dream again Higgins," she said softly, shutting the door behind her.
"You saw Link again did you?" he asked, holding up a hand. Tress knelt down before him on the carpet, sitting on her heels. "Then I believe we were all correct in assuming that he is still alive somewhere." He frowned, regarding Tress with a fatherly gaze. "But that is not why you came here. You've been having the dream for months now, haven't you?"
"There was someone else," she replied.
"Someone else?" Higgins raised one of his bushy eyebrows. "Tell me what you saw."
"What I saw…" Tress repeated carefully, shifting her weight to compensate for the awkward sword on her back. "I saw a pair of eyes." She laughed uncomfortably. "It's silly isn't it? Just a pair of eyes, but no face."
"The Sage Nabooru wrote that those without faces are those without identities," Higgins said wisely. "She used that concept to explain many dreams in the time before Ganondorf's first rising."
"Well, I couldn't identify who it was, that's for sure. All I saw were her eyes."
"Her eyes?" Higgins asked. "Are you certain it was a woman?"
Tress nodded, surprising herself. "Yes," she said slowly, "I think it must have been."
"Well, that is interesting indeed."
"Do you suppose it could represent Nayru looking down on Link?"
Higgins shook his head, laughing dryly. "Link's patron was never Nayru. Wisdom was always something he somewhat lacked. It's not his weakness virtue, but most assuredly not his strongest."
"Are you saying that Nayru doesn't watch out for him?"
"Oh no Tress, I'm not saying that at all. But it's unlikely that you saw her eyes in your dream."
"Then who did the eyes belong to?" Tress asked.
"Now Tress, how can I say for sure?" Tress fell to the floor, anticipating a lecture. Absently, she began tracing the gold patterns in the rug with her index finger. "It was not my dream," Higgins continued, ignoring her clumsy protest.
"Well, how can I find out?"
"I believe it would be wise for you to go to the Temple of Farore," Higgins told her.
"What shall I do there?" Tress inquired, looking up from the carpet. "Pray? I tend to think that sitting in a musty temple for hours chanting will hardly give me the answers I want."
"Sometimes, answers come to us when we are least seeking them."
"What's that got to do with Farore?"
Higgins offered another one of his hidden smiles. "Not to imply that the goddesses play favorites," he said, "but I think Farore's always had a soft spot for Link. And for you I might add." He winked one of his liquid brown eyes. Tress opened her mouth then closed it. For a moment, she looked down at her hands, but then returned her gaze to Higgins. "Tell me what's on the tip of your tongue fighting to come out," he instructed her.
Tress' mouth seemed to fumble for a moment, seeking the right words. "I feel," she started slowly, "I feel as though I'm a part of something big, some sort of grand design."
"But you are," Higgins replied. "After all, you are the Hero of Destiny, one of only three Hylian children chosen for greatness."
"That's not what I mean," she said. "This isn't about me. I'm not the center of it; I'm just a part of it. A cog."
"That very well may be," Higgins said. He held up both his hands, his thumbs and index fingers sticking out. Slowly, he brought the fingers together, forming a triangle before his chest. "If it is your destiny…"
"I must seek it out," Tress finished for him, returning the gesture with her own hands.
"Go," Higgins said, dropping his hands. "Have Hallie saddle up your horse. Ride to the Temple of Farore. Answers will find you there."
Tress nodded. She rose to her feet, yanking down on her tunic again to smooth out the front. "I'll be there before sunrise." She made her way to the door.
"Tress," Higgins called after her. She turned around. "If you see any Moblins along the way, give them hell for me."
Tress broke out into a wide, toothy grin. "Will do," she said, dipping her head so that her hair fell off to one side, revealing her pointed ears. In the next instant though, she had gone, leaving Higgins alone in the room.
He sighed, shaking his head as if to marvel at her youth. Reluctantly, he stood up, his ancient joints cracking and popping in loud protest. Stiffly, he walked to the wall. Standing out against the plain gray stones was a white tile with a blue triangle pattern on it, resting under a shelf designated for the Cane of Somaria. Higgins reached out with his boney, pale hands to rest the tips of his fingers on the tile.
Instantly, a warm, gentle feeling flooded his veins, making him feel as though his hands had become a part of the tile. He felt his mind expand, swelling to open up to the nature of Hyrule. He heard voices coming out of every village and town, every shack and stall, all the most intimate thoughts of his fellow Hylians struggling to be heard. Filtering these sounds out, he reached further until his mind was racing down the narrow hallways of the Temple of Time. *Sahasrahla,* he whispered telepathically, *we have found the Princess of Destiny. She is with the Hero of time.*
Zelda frowned, pushing some orange fringe out of her eyes. She stooped down, examining the keyhole, probing it with her index finger. "It's old," she muttered, watching as a layer of grime flaked off with her touch. "Probably as old as the island."
"I think that's exaggerating a little bit," Link said, stooping down next to her to examine it. "If it were as old as the island, it probably would have eroded away completely by now."
"I'll take your word for that wise guy," she replied, stand up straight. She looked out ahead of her at the entrance to Tail Cave. The mouth itself wasn't all that impressive. Beyond the three large pillars which held nothing up was a doorway, blocked by iron bars. The roof looked a little bit like a wooden seashell, beginning high up and arching down to the ground. The rest of the dungeon, Zelda assumed, was under ground, perhaps even under their feet.
"Zelda," Link murmured, walking around the pillar with the keyhole in a funny, stooped over position. "Are there any rumors about what's in the Tail Cave. I mean, this thing has been here your entire life, have the people in the Mabe Village ever talked about it?"
"Oh there have been rumors all right," Zelda admitted, running a hand along the bars. "When I was little, Richard used to tell me that there was a monster living in the cave and that if I ever made him angry, he'd send it after me."
Link straightened up. "Richard said that to you?"
She smiled. "He was a charming little boy, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, and he grew up to be a charming little man," Link replied dryly. "Any rumors with a bit more substance?"
"Well," she drawled, cupping her hands over her temples to peek in through the bars. "I know that in the ancient, and we're talking ancient, days of the island, people would leave offerings right under that front pillar."
"What kind of offerings?"
"Mostly fruits or vegetables," she replied, turning around. "Occasionally a slaughtered goat." Link gave her a look of horror. "I'm only joking. Or kidding."
Link laughed, braying for a moment like a goat. "Why did they leave offerings?" he finally asked.
She shrugged. "I suppose that they believed there was a monster or creature living here that would curse them with bad fortune if they didn't appease it."
"Do you know why they stopped bringing offerings to the cave?"
"I don't know. Maybe they had bad fortune anyway. After all, hundreds of years later, they were still stuck on this ruddy island."
"There's something else I don't understand," Link said, moving on to another pillar. "If this island has been in existence for hundreds of years, how come there are so few people on it?"
"Well, the island's been around for a long time, but the Mabe Village hasn't. There was nothing to protect people from the creatures that prowled at night."
"What makes the Mabe Village so safe?"
"The Mabe Village and the Animal Village are protected by a spell from Molly. Nothing with a nose ring or slime can get in."
"How come Kurt was able to get in then?"
Zelda frowned. "He was something more than an ordinary demon."
"I see." There was a moment of silence as Link gave up on the right hand pillar and walked over to the left hand pillar, his boots crunching on the gravelly sand. Kurt had become a bit of a soar subject with Zelda, ever since the battle, during which he had confessed his love for her. Link knew to tread carefully when talking about it, after all, it had been his sword that had impaled Kurt. Zelda's feelings for Kurt were of course, nothing short of hatred for what he had done, but still, she was having a difficult time accepting what had happened.
"There's a Nightmare in there," Zelda said softly. "I can feel my skin prickle just standing here."
"Me too," Link said. Ever since they had neared the Tail Cave, Link had been shivering somewhat in the warm sunlight.
"Do you think we should try the key?"
Link frowned, holding up his left arm and slipping the fingers of his right hand under his gauntlet until he fished out the key. He walked over to the center pillar and was about to slip it into the keyhole when he happened to glance up. A few meters away, he saw Matilda approaching, her nose buried in a thick book. Quickly, he stood up and tucked the key back into his glove. "Maybe later," he muttered, taking Zelda's wrist to pull her away from the bars.
Matilda looked up. The moment she saw the two of them, she snapped her book shut, tucking it into her jacket. "Good afternoon," she called out to them.
"Hey Matilda," Link said pleasantly.
"What are you doing here?" she asked
"Oh, Marin was just showing me some of the finer points of the island. I've been here for a few months, but I haven't had much time to go site seeing."
"Oh." Matilda frowned. "Why are you here?"
"I insisted that Marin show me the Tail Cave that I've heard everyone talking about so much." Link wrapped his arm around Zelda's waist, smiling weakly.
"Oh," she said again. "Well, you better get back to the Mabe Village. I think Tarin is looking for the two of you."
"What does he need?" Zelda asked.
Matilda shrugged. "I don't know."
"Well," she muttered, looking at Link, "we'd better get back to the village then." Link nodded and the two of them started off, walking back to the village, Link's arm still around her waist.
Matilda let a slow breath rush out of her lips as she watched them disappear. Quickly, she whipped out the dusty old volume from her coat and opened it to the dog eared page she'd been looking at. In the book, there was an illustration of Tail Cave, looking exactly like the real thing before her. The only difference was that the bars on the real thing were all the same color, while on the illustration several of the bars directly in the middle were a different yellow, while the rest of them were steely blue.
She snapped the book shut, tucking it under her arm. Carefully, she approached the grate, running her hand along the middle bars. Perhaps it was only her imagination, but they felt different to her than the bars on the periphery, warmer. Summoning up her reserves of strength, she began pulling on the two middle bars, tugging with all her might.
"What are you doing?" The voice came as such a shock to Matilda that she let go of the bars and fell backwards, her tailbone hitting the ground hard. She looked up and around, until her eyes locked into the gaze of a pair of granite eyes, filled with concern.
"Geez Carry, you scared me," she said, standing up and brushing the sand off her pants.
"What are you doing?" he repeated. Carry towered over Matilda by nearly a head. As he peered down at Matilda, his owl Ezri, perched on his shoulder, also peered down with unblinking amber eyes.
"What does it look like I'm doing?" she asked playfully.
"It looks like you're trying to open the door."
She grinned. "Exactly. I thought I'd have myself a peek inside; see what there is in there."
"You shouldn't do that," Carry said, not returning her smile. "It's dangerous."
"I'm not afraid," she replied defensively.
"You are not afraid because you don't know what's inside."
"And I suppose you do?" Matilda shot back. Carry did not reply. "Listen Carry," Matilda sighed. "I want to get off this island before I die, and this book," she held up her book for emphasis, "tells me that the only way I can do that is through these dungeons. Through the Nightmares."
"To you, the Nightmares are just pictures in a book," Carry said wisely, "but if you saw a creature like that in real life…"
"I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. Right now though, I need to find a way in through the front door."
Carry sighed. "You need a key." He tapped two of his claws on the center pillar, by the rusting keyhole.
"A key?" Matilda began flipping furiously through her book. "It doesn't say anything about a key. Where can I find the key?" Matilda looked up from her book. Carry, and Ezri, were gone. She frowned uneasily for a moment. She couldn't get in and any second, Link and Marin would realize that Tarin wasn't even in the village. Sighing, she closed the book and began walking back up the beach. She'd have to do some more research.
Tracy carefully aimed her eyedropper at the neck of the glass bottle. Slowly, drop by drop, she added dandelion sap to the mixture. With every drop, the potion sizzled, growing hotter with blue steam that swirled around the inside of the bottle. She was careful to keep count of how much sap she had added. One drop…two drops…three drops…
"You know, there must be a more efficient solvent than dandelion sap."
Crack! Tracy applied too much pressure on the eyedropper bulb and the entire contents of sap entered the bottle, creating so much steam that the entire bottle got overheated and shattered. Tracy threw her arms up to avoid the scalding liquid that flew at her. She was lucky the broken glass didn't have enough potential energy to reach her.
Thoroughly annoyed, Tracy turned. "Thank you very much Richard," she fumed, "you broke my concentration."
Richard, who was leaning against the wall, one foot propped up on Tracy's dresser, shrugged. "It's not my fault you were clumsy."
"If you hadn't felt the need to open your big mouth," Tracy said icily, "I wouldn't have spilled the sap. Now I'll have to start all over again."
Richard didn't seem to care. "Who are you making that for anyway?" he asked, watching Tracy stoop down to pick up the remains of her bottle.
"Does it really…ouch!" Tracy waved her hand in the air. She had touched a hot piece of glass and already, she knew her finger would blister.
"I'm just curious," Richard replied, unperturbed by her sudden outcry.
"Your problem is that you're too curious about things which are none of your business."
He shrugged again. "It's a living. I need some way to keep myself complacent until I regain my rightful title as prince again."
Tracy dumped the remaining fragments of her bottle into a bin. She walked over to her cupboard and removed a fresh flask. After setting it on her workbench, she opened her pantry and removed several bottles, all neatly labeled. Dandelion sap. Purple sage. Thyme. Essence of slug. Strawberry syrup.
Sighing, she artfully began to measure out copious amounts of sage, dumping it into her flask and adding a good deal of water to dissolve it all in. Often, she could become completely lost in her work. Few people understood the sheer beauty of creating a potion. She started to add a touch of thyme, turning the violent solution yellowish gold.
"Well?" Richard asked, causing Tracy to cringe and drop her spoon. "Are you going to tell me who it's for?" he asked.
"Do you even know what this is?" she asked, irritation rising in her voice as she picked up the spoon and tossed it into the sink.
"A sleeping draught." Tracy gave him a look of surprise. "I know a thing or two about your work Tracy."
She frowned. "It's for Carry. He told me he was having trouble sleeping."
"Well, how very charitable of you."
"I run a business Richard. He's paying me."
"What does it matter?"
"I just want to calculate my percentage for helping you."
Tracy opened her mouth to protest, but mercifully, the door to the hut opened. As Tracy blinked away the stinging sensation of the shaft of light, she saw that it was Valerie. "Good afternoon Val," she said gratefully.
"Good afternoon," Valerie replied with a smile. She was carrying a large wicker basket, filled to the brim with red herbs shaped like hearts. "I brought the herbs you asked for."
"That's great; can you put them on the counter?"
Valerie nodded. She walked across the room, her white dress ruffling around her feet. "Good afternoon Valerie," Richard purred.
"Good afternoon," she replied coldly, just barely sparing him a glance. She placed the basket on Tracy's counter and started walking back to the door.
"You're not leaving, are you?" Tracy asked.
"I have to meet some people down on the beach," Valerie said.
"But you just got here; you can spare a minute can't you?" Tracy's eyes met with Val's. She tried with all her will to convey to Valerie that Richard was driving her bananas. The message seemed to be lost.
"I'm already late," Valerie explained. She smiled sympathetically then vanished back into the daylight, closing the door behind her.
"What a thoroughly unpleasant woman," Richard remarked.
Tracy's eyebrows shot up. "I thought you said that you had feelings for her."
"Don't make this conversation about me Crazy Tracy."
"Really? I thought that was your favorite subject."
Richard laughed dryly. "A love life interferes with business as usual."
"Oh I see," Tracy said coyly. "This is the Erigie factor all over again."
"We needn't discuss my failed romantic antics," Richard snapped. "My relationship with Erigie was a disaster. Case closed, end of discussion."
"You know," Tracy muttered, "history isn't always going to repeat itself. You could have a completely different relationship with Valerie. It doesn't have to end in catastrophe like last time."
"I can't have any kind of relationship with Valerie," Richard said quietly.
Tracy was so shaken by his sudden shift in tone and she stopped what she was doing to look at her unwelcome guest. He was standing against the wall with his arms folded across his chest, his long black ponytail draped over one shoulder. His face was very sullen and he seemed to be concentrating very hard at looking at the floor.
"Why not?" she asked gingerly.
"It's Valerie," he muttered. "The way she…"
"The way she what?"
"The way she looks at me," Richard concluded.
"The way she looks at you?"
"With total disgust. She looks at me as though she's condemning me, as though I'm not fit to exist on the same island as her."
"I think that might have something to do with the fact that you keep blackmailing people into doing your bidding," Tracy said evenly. "Maybe if you gave that up, changed your ways…"
"People can't change," Richard said. "We can only be what our situations make us. I can't change who I am any more than she could change who she is. No more than you could change your own ways Tracy. People don't change."
"Do you really think that our situations shape who we are?" Tracy asked.
"What about our feelings?"
"Situations shape our feelings too, it's not the other way around."
Tracy pondered this for a moment. "If that's true, then I'd say we're all doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I mean, nothing ever changes on this island."
"This means that any relationship with Valerie that I might pursue would be Erigie all over again."
"The truth hurts."
Tracy turned back to her work. For a long time, Richard was silent and Tracy easily finished the sleeping draught for Carry. By the time she had capped it and placed it on a shelf, she realized that Richard had gone. Silently, she wondered if he was right. Could anything on the island ever change? It seemed doubtful.
"You're not concentrating hard enough," Valerie said for at least the hundredth time in the last hour. "You need to focus your energy."
Zelda sighed, falling back down to sit on her heels. She couldn't remember ever feeling as exhausted as she did right now. Her entire body was drained and she was certain that she didn't have much energy left to focus. She looked to Link, sitting beside her on the sand. He offered her a small smile. "All right," she said, summoning up strength from an unknown reserve, "Let's try this again. Only, think of something easier this time."
"It doesn't matter what a person is thinking," Link offered, "to Hylians, telepathy is telepathy is telepathy. It's all the same once you learn how to do it."
"Well, for me, failure is failure is failure."
"That's not true Zelda," Valerie snapped. "You've done very well for your first time. You were able to tell what I was holding in my hand easily every time."
"That's not the same," she countered. "When you were holding objects and making me guess what they were, that was something physical, something real. Thoughts are…"
"Less concrete?" Link supplied.
Zelda sighed, putting her palm over her forehead. "My brain hurts," she murmured.
"Well, let's try an experiment," Valerie said, sitting down across from Link and Zelda. "Link, how's your telepathy?"
He shrugged. "Not bad."
"Define not bad," Valerie groaned. Before Link could respond, she continued, "Look, send Zelda a message. She can probably receive better after all the work we've done this afternoon."
"Sure." Link looked at Zelda, gazing directly into her blue Hylian eyes. Eye contact, of course, wasn't necessary for telepathy, but Link felt as though it made the whole matter more personal. *I think you are the most beautiful person in the world,* he told her in his mind.
Zelda smiled, the tops of her cheeks flushing slightly. "What did he say?" Valerie asked, leaning forward to look between the two of them. Zelda didn't reply. Instead, she moved forward, kissing Link. He pulled up onto his knees, placing a hand on her face. Valerie sighed in annoyance. "Enough of that you two!" she mumbled, putting a hand on Link's chest and pushing him backward. "Focus the energy!"
"Sorry Val," Zelda laughed. "It's just that he always says the nicest things."
"Well, you could hear him, that's a good sign." Link and Zelda were holding hands. Valerie's eyes lit up. "Wonderful idea!" she cried, taking Link's free hand with her left hand and Zelda's free hand with her right hand.
"Idea?" Link asked.
"You and I can anchor Zelda, help her focus."
"You can use telepathy?" Zelda asked curiously.
"Well, I can do everything a Hylian can do," Valerie explained. "And then some," she added, shrugging her shoulders a little bit to indicate her enormous white wings, currently invisible.
"Are you game?" Link asked, looking into her eyes again.
"Why not? What should I do?"
"Link and I will help you focus your mind. Open up and try to read the mind of someone on the island, it doesn't matter who."
Zelda nodded with determination. She closed her eyes. Just as she had expected, all her frantic, disorganized energy seemed to drain out of her body, leaving her mind clearer than before. With practiced care, she opened up the channels of telepathy in her mind. Instantly, she felt warm, like she was swimming in a hot spring. She could no longer feel Link's hand or Valerie's hand. To Zelda, they were no longer separate entities, but a part of her. Her brain seemed to explode out of her skull, expanding and covering the landscape in all four directions.
Quietly at first, but swelling in volume, voices started whispering in Zelda's ears. The first ones she heard were familiar. She heard Marnie's inner voice lamenting all the cleaning she had to do. Marnie's voice soon mingled with Elinor's, wondering how she was ever going to find her dog after dark, then another voice joined the chorus, Mr. Write mentally planning out what he was going to say in his next letter. Soon, the familiar voices became lost. Strangers started muttering to Zelda, some of them in languages she had never known before. She could hear tribal priestesses and gypsy dancers and exotic warriors.
This wasn't right. Zelda's mind was extending beyond the island and she knew that wasn't possible. She opened her mouth, trying to tell Valerie that it wasn't right, but her words caught in her throat. The voices were starting to smother her. She could barely breathe. Who were these people? How had her mind reached out far enough to touch them? It was so difficult to understand what was being said now. Zelda began fighting to filter it out, but her amateur status made it difficult. She needed something to focus on.
*Great Farore, hear me, tell me the meaning of my dreams.* That was it! Zelda's mind locked onto that single voice and all the others fell away. *I need to know if it's true,* the unfamiliar voice continued.
*If what's true?* Zelda asked.
*Who's there?* the voice shouted, *Who's invading my thoughts?*
Zelda felt a gust of heat, stronger than any she'd ever known. Feeling as though she was being carried backward by an uncontrollable current, she fell, her eyes popping open.
It took her a moment to reestablish herself. Breathing deeply, Zelda realized that she was on her back, lying in the sand, the very tips of the waves brushing against her fingers. She rubbed her eyes and slowly sat up. Link was beside her on the ground, looking somewhat dazed. His hat had fallen off his head and was next to Zelda's foot. She picked it up and handed it to him.
Across from them, Valerie was sprawled out across the sand, groaning quietly as she shook her head from side to side. "What was that?" Link asked, brushing the sand off his arms. "How did we get pushed back like that?"
"We weren't pushed," Zelda muttered. "We were pulled."
"Well," Link sighed, standing up and offering Zelda a hand, "whatever that was, let's not do it again." Zelda placed her hand in Link's and he pulled her to her feet. "Are you all right there Val?"
Valerie had rolled over onto her stomach and was propping herself up on her elbows. When she heard Link's voice, her back seemed to tense for a moment. Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet, looking down at her own dress in confusion. When she looked up at Link and Zelda, her eyes widened in surprise. "Link?" she asked softly.
"Looks like that…whatever that was…really took a piece out of you Val," Link said, leaning forward to offer her his free hand.
But Valerie stood of her own accord. She stared at Link, completely fixated. "How is this possible?" she whispered.
"How is what possible?" Zelda asked.
"You can't be here," Valerie continued, "you're dead."
"Since when?" Link asked, furrowing his brow.
"The shipwreck. The captain of the ship swam to the island of Catalan. He told Princess Amanda what had happened; he said that you had been lost at sea."
"No Val, Link landed here. He's been living on Koholint for several months now," Zelda said carefully, her eyes filled with concern.
"I don't…" Link frowned, "I don't think that's Val."
"What are you talking about?"
Link faced Valerie, squaring his shoulders as he often did when confronting something unexpected. "Who are you?" he asked.
She looked back at him. "Don't you know?" Link pointed calmly to the water. Valerie leaned over to examine her reflection and gasped in horror. "My hair!" she screamed, "I've turned blond! Why am I in a dress? What's going on?"
"Who are you?" both Link and Zelda asked in unison.
"Link, it's me…Tress."
"Tress?" Link stared at her for a moment. Suddenly, he let out a whoop of joy and ran over to her, hugging the life out of her. Tress laughed, hugging him back and grinning. "How did this happen?" he asked excitedly.
"I don't know! One moment I was in the Temple of Farore, the next minute I was here!" Tress gasped. "Where is here anyway?"
"This is Koholint Island. I washed up here after the shipwreck."
"Why haven't you sent a message home? Everyone's been crying their eyes out an all this time you've been taking a tropical vacation!"
Zelda cleared her throat delicately. "No one leaves Koholint Island," she said somberly as both Link and Tress turned to look at her.
Tress looked at Link. "Are you being held prisoner here?"
"No," Link said, breaking away from Tress and returning to Zelda. "It's a little bit more complicated than that." He took Zelda's hand, looking at her from the corners of his eyes. "Much more complicated."
Tress finally seemed to notice Zelda. "Who are you?" she asked politely.
"Tress," Link said slowly, "even though we don't know why you're here, we're going to let you in on a big secret, but you have to promise, promise you won't tell anyone about this as long as you're on the island."
"You can trust me," Tress said eagerly.
"All right. Tress, this," Link put his palm on Zelda's shoulder, "is Princess Zelda."
Tress' jaw dropped open. "Princess…" she squeaked, dropping down to one knee.
"No!" Zelda yelped, breaking away from Link and pulling Tress to her feet by her shoulders. "I'm not a princess here. You must call me Marin like everyone else."
"It's a long story."
"How long have you been here?"
"Nine years, six months, and five days," Zelda replied.
"Not that she's counting or anything," Link deadpanned.
"I don't understand any of this," Tress said, looking down at her hands, which she turned over experimentally.
"Neither do we," Link said. "Valerie and I were trying to teach Zelda some telepathy and suddenly…"
"Valerie?" Tress interrupted him. "The Angel of Farore?"
"Wait a second…how did you know about her?"
Tress lifted her eyebrows slightly. "Link, you really need to learn to crack open the Book of Mudora occasionally. It does more than translate the ancient languages."
"What are we going to do?" Zelda asked. "We can't pass her off for Valerie."
"No," Tress muttered. "I have to get back into my body. But how?"
"We'll find a way," Link said briskly. "We can pass her off for a few days if we're very careful. By then we'll have figured out a way to undo whatever it was that we did. Agreed?"
Zelda nodded. "Agreed."
"Agreed," Tress added, clapping her hands on both Link and Zelda's shoulders. "So, tell me about this place."
The sun was beginning to disappear by the time Carry reached the outskirts of the Animal Village. Off in the distance, he could see Summer retreating into her hut, her long pink skirts and bushy brown tail trailing behind her. A little bit farther on, Lexx busily ran across his vegetable garden, desperately attempting to round up his children and herd them all into their home. It was no easy feat, given that there were so many of them, but somehow he was managing all right. Carry felt bad for him. Lexx's father had disappeared years ago, leaving Lexx to chase after his own brothers and sisters. Years later, he was still chasing after children, only this time his own.
Carry passed under a low branch, his long red mane momentarily tangling in the loose twigs. Carefully, he unknotted himself from the tree and continued on. Looking up in the sky, he could see Ezri circling across the orange horizon, hunting for mice perhaps, or else just stretching his wings. Carry smiled at this, affection filling up his chest as he watched his beloved companion. How often had he dreamed of being able to fly alongside his pet owl? Far too often.
A cold breeze grazed the back of Carry's neck as his small hovel came into view. He lived on the edge of the Animal Village, trees on two sides of his house. He had no immediate neighbors, so the surrounding area was quiet and still at this hour. The house itself wasn't much, just a small, square-shaped hut with a thatched roof and a mismatched oak door with a brass handle on either side. There were no windows.
When Carry pulled the door open and walked in, he found himself in pitch blackness. He sighed, pushing the door shut again. Deftly, he found a candle, resting on top of a small table and lit it with a match from the match book he kept on a shelf above the door. The warm orange glow filled the room. With candlelight in his eyes, Carry put the candle into a tin candle holder, placing a bottle of sleeping draught Tracy had given him beside the taper, and turned to his bed.
He froze halfway. Sprawled out across the lumpy straw mattress was a young woman, somewhere in her mid-twenties. She had long, curly hair falling across her shoulders, except for two dark braids which were both twisted up on top of her head in twin buns, making her look as though she had horns. Her clothing was simple; she wore a salmon colored dress that shimmered where the light hit it. She donned a wide smile, looking up at Carry with cold, dark eyes.
"It's good to see you again Carry," she hissed, rising catlike to sit upright. "It's been a long time."
"Not long enough," Carry whispered, eyeing her defensively.
"Touchy," she purred, twisting a black curl in between her perfectly manicured fingers. "Aren't you going to comment on my hair? I think it's an improvement from the last time we met."
"Almost Human," Carry muttered, folding his broad arms across his chest. "What do you want?"
"We need to talk," she said, patting the empty space next to her on the bed.
Carry didn't move. "Talk," he growled, his ivory white teeth flashing in the dark.
She frowned, crossing one leg over the other and folding her arms. "Look," she said coldly, "I don't like bothering you for trifles, but we both know that you owe me a favor."
"I have a job for you Carry, something I can trust no one but you to fulfill."
"Why don't I believe you?" he asked harshly.
"I don't care," she replied.
Carry frowned, looking at his feet for a moment. He scuffed them against the hard packed dirt floor, leaving five long gashes from his claws. "What do you want me to do?" he finally asked, looking up at her again.
"Do you know your way around Tail Cave?"
He nodded. "I mapped it out almost a year ago."
"What's in Tail Cave?"
"Nothing yet, but pretty soon there's going to be something in Tail Cave that most decidedly doesn't belong there."
She nodded. "And his new companion."
"Little Marin…" Carry's eyes widened. "What are they going to be doing there?"
"Something foolishly dangerous," she hissed. "They want to wake the Windfish."
"But that's impossible!"
"Nothing," she spat, "is impossible, just improbable."
"So what do you want me to do about it?"
"I want you to follow them," the woman replied, rising to her feet. She walked in a circle around Carry, her bare toes padding against the floor. "The creatures inside of Tail Cave won't give you any trouble. I saw to that a long time ago." She frowned. "As you well know," she added, continuing to walk around Carry.
"We have to watch out for them Carry."
"Great trials lie ahead of us. Great danger and peril will soon be befalling the island and it all connects to those two."
"I won't hurt my friends," Carry said, staring straight ahead with his unblinking granite eyes.
"This isn't about friendship," she hissed. "This is about choosing sides. A great war is coming and you have to decide which side you're on."
"They're my friends…" Carry whispered, his voice breaking ever so slightly, though his gaze remained steady.
"Oh relax, I'm not asking you to hurt them." She moved away from Carry, walking the length of the room until she reached the table with the candle. "The demons in Tail Cave will have their own time doing that. All I said was that we have to watch out for them. I'm asking you to follow them into Tail Cave."
She picked up the bottle of sleeping draught. Turning it over in her hands to examine it, she frowned. "I've already told you. It's time to decide whose side you're really on." She slipped the bottle into a handbag that she had slung over her elbow. It's easy work Carry, and I think you owe me that much."
Carry's arms fell to his sides. Gravely, he nodded. "I do owe you that," he said in a resigned voice.
"No one will give you any trouble Carry," she promised, looking up at him. "No one."
"If I do this for you," he said slowly, "afterwards, will we be on an equal level of debt?"
"Carry, if things go as I want them to, I'll owe you a favor. And I think I know how I shall repay you if you live up to my expectations."
"Never have expectations and you'll never be disappointed."
"I'm rarely disappointed Carry," she drawled. "And seldom surprised." She took a step toward the wall. Lifting her hand in a grand gesture, a red flame appeared out of nowhere, completely consuming her body. In the next second, she had vanished, leaving not a trace of pink satin or red fire. Only a puff of smoke, somewhat in the shape of a heart, lingered on, but that too vanished and Carry was alone again in his orange room.
"Well, his name is Connor, he's a Human. Anyway, when he first arrived your sister greeted him with a laurel and he put it on his head. Right then, I knew that he was bound to be followed by trouble, as most bumbling men are." Zelda leaned further out the window, drinking in Tress' every word.
The sun had long since set and the crickets were chirping noisily, as if battling Tress to be the champions of the night. Inside the hut, Tarin had fallen asleep on his bed by the wall. He snored loudly, tossing and turning every now and then. The bed beside his, Marin's bed, was currently occupied by Link, still fully dressed. Zelda had taken over the windowsill where Link usually slept so that she could talk through the window with Tress.
It had been an odd sort of adjustment. Tress looked, in every sense of the word, like Valerie. She was Valerie. Yet, she was full of mischief, causing Val's eyes to twinkle in a different sort of way. Many times, Link had described what Tress, the real Tress, looked like and Zelda could perfectly picture her, but somehow, she couldn't superimpose the image on Valerie's face.
"Well? Was he followed by trouble?" Zelda asked, resting her chin in her palm.
Tress laughed. "In a way. It turned out that a member of his train was an assassin wanted in Hyrule."
"He had a Hylian in his train?"
"Yes, and of all things, she was a brown-eyed Hylian."
"A Hylian with brown eyes?" Zelda whispered as her eyebrows rose, "I didn't think that was possible."
"There's a town called Saria that's sprouted a whole generation of brown-eyed Hylians. After everything I've seen in my life," Tress said with sagely pomp, "I've come to believe that nothing is impossible. Like your spell on this island. That's some amazing magic for someone who was only…how old were you? Seven?"
"Eight," Zelda supplied.
"You were eight years old and you cast a spell so powerful over so many people? That's extraordinary. And it's lasted this long?"
"I've been Marin for a long time."
"I could never have done anything that huge when I was eight. Can I ask you something? Why did you do it?"
Zelda frowned. "I ask myself that a lot. I guess, I just wanted to start over. I knew that I wouldn't be able to really fit in on this island, so I thought that maybe if I made it seem like I belonged, I really would belong."
"I can understand that," Tress replied in a hushed tone. "Still, hiding your ears all that time must have been a feat."
"You have no idea."
"How come you never tried to leave the island?"
"I tried," Zelda said earnestly. "For years and years, I tried to find a way, but the problem is that Koholint isn't your average, everyday island. There's a curse. No one can get past the farthest rocks visible from the shore."
"What, there's a force field there?"
"Something like that. They say that the only way to leave the island is to wake the Windfish."
"The Windfish. On the highest mountain in the Tal Tal Heights mountain range, there's a large stone, it looks like a spotted egg. According to legend, the Windfish, a powerful godlike creature, sleeps there and if you wake him up, you can make a wish and it'll be granted."
"How do you wake it up?"
"Mythology says that you must play the eight golden instruments of the Sirens in front of the egg and it'll open."
"What do you do once you're inside?"
"I'm not sure. I haven't figured that part out yet."
"So where are the instruments?"
"They're hidden in these…dungeons."
"Wait, let me guess," Tress said holding a hand up. "You have to crawl through each of these dungeons and defeat some incredible monster in order to claim the instrument."
"Well…yes. How did you know?"
Tress laughed. "I've been on a similar quest myself. A few months after Link set off on his quest of enlightenment, the eight masks of the ancients were stolen by a rather nasty piece of work called Naxor and scattered in eight different dark castles across the kingdom of Galaxia. Yours truly was called upon to retrieve the dumb masks, which, I might add, I did a lot faster than Link when he was recovering the Crystal Maidens from the Dark World."
"He's told me that story," Zelda said with a smile.
"I'll bet he has," Tress snorted, "and he probably embellished the details as much as possible. He's always trying to impress with his heroism."
"Oh, he doesn't have to embellish much to impress me. After all we've been through in the last few months; I'm plenty convinced that he's a true Hero." She leaned her back against the window frame. "If I weren't, I would never have agreed to go with him on this quest to wake the Windfish."
"So you're really doing it huh?"
Zelda nodded. "I've been away from Hyrule too long. And I know that Link would never be happy knowing he was doomed to spend the rest of his life here. We both need to go back, so we have to try."
"You're very brave."
"Link's brave. His courage is unparalleled. I'm a nervous wreck. I guess courage really isn't my virtue."
Tress shook her head. "One common misconception a lot of people in Hyrule have is that a person can only embody one virtue. The thing of it is, courage can't exist without power, power can't exist without wisdom, and wisdom can't exist without courage. They're all connected. It just so happens that sometimes people are better with one virtue than with the other two. It's actually quite unhealthy to only have strength with one virtue. You need them all."
"Really?" Zelda asked. Tress nodded. "Well, I'll have to find my courage then."
"I don't know how long I'm going to be here," Tress muttered, resting her elbows on the windowsill. "But while I'm here, I want to help somehow. I want to go with you to those dungeons; I could use a good fight. Tell me, what sort of baddies are we facing?"
"They're called the Nightmares. Unfortunately, I don't know much about them, beyond their names. I seem to have misplaced the book I found about them."
"Well, no matter. I say bring them on."
"Before you came, Link and I were neat Tail Cave, the dungeon closest to the village. A few weeks ago, we were presented with a key that's supposed to open the door. We haven't tried it yet though."
"What are you waiting for?"
"We don't want to just walk in there blindly."
"I would have gone in there weeks ago. I say we go right now, kick some major Nightmare butt."
Zelda frowned. She looked in, seeing Link sprawled across the bed with one arm over his chest and the other swinging off the side of the bed. "Maybe we better wait," Zelda decided. "The Hero of Time is temporarily out of service." She turned back to Tress. "So tell me more about Connor and his train."
The predawn breeze, hollow in the shadowy darkness, struck against Matilda's cheek. She ignored the stinging slap, ducking her head down to take the worst of it with her hair to protect her. The wind knocked her green felt hat off her head, throwing it off to one side. She turned quickly, snatching the cap with one hand while pressing the other hand outward against the chill. Neatly, she put it back on her head, barely halting in her stride.
Underneath the deep gray sky, Matilda made her way across the beach, the wind ringing in one ear, the ocean in the other. She had been warned time and time again not to wander the island at dawn. Somehow, that didn't seem to matter to her. Pressing on, she moved toward the shadowy lair ahead of her. Tail Cave.
It was impossible to explain the allure of the dark dungeon. Matilda had not yet found a way to pry the gate open, but still, she answered the whispered call of the dungeon. There was nothing dreadful to fear beyond the gateway. All she could see in the depths was promise. Every night in the past week, she had been stirred from her dreams by the call of the cave. Risking her own health and most likely, her sanity as well, she crawled out of bed and walked into the open, her feet numb to the sharp stones she tread upon.
Tucked neatly under her arm was the book of the Nightmares. Far too often, she had consulted the yellowing pages, studying the gruesome pictures and memorizing strange incantations in an alien tongue. By this time, she was probably the island's leading expert on the Nightmares. No one could appreciate her talent of course. There wasn't a soul on the island who believed in ghosts or demons any more. The only thing left to believe in was superstition and tradition.
They'd all see the truth of course, once Matilda prized the gate open and found the hidden treasure of Tail Cave. She could just imagine parading triumphantly back into the Mabe Village, the severed head of a Nightmare in one hand, the Full Moon Cello in the other. She would be a hero, the kind with statues built in her likeness. Her picture would be printed into a book and children would worship her. She would become immortal.
Matilda stopped short in her tracks, shaking off her daydream. Once again, she was before Tail Cave. It looked as cold and as impenetrable as ever. Taking shelter from the wind behind a pillar, she removed her book from under her arm and opened it to the pages about Tail Cave. Though she had read the chapters on all eight of the Nightmares, the one about Tail Cave seemed the most intriguing, doubtlessly because Tail Cave was closer to the village than the other seven dungeons.
The pages were frail and brittle under her fingers and Matilda took great care in turning them. Her eyes drank in the pale illustrations. The Full Moon Cello, painted in gold leaf, sat in the middle of the page, gleaming and glistening in the approaching dawn. Matilda ran her fingers over the picture, imagining that it was the real thing. She closed her eyes, "Mati, temfarla, brei hoo ata defilia," she whispered, reciting the incantation written beneath the picture.
There was a sharp, hollow sound, unlike the earlier moan of the wind. Looking up, her eyes wide, Matilda searched the sky. She realized, strangely enough, that the wind had died down. Something dark and shadowy was circling in the sky above her. She stood up, walking backwards toward the gate, her face still turned to the sky. The inky black shadow dropped down from above, swooping toward her. She fell into a squatting position, hugging her book to her chest. Sharp talons pierced her back and a trickle of hot blood ran down her side.
Fiercely, she jumped to her feet, wishing with all the will in her being that she had brought her hookshot with her, instead of a book. The mournful hoot of an owl rang across the sky and Matilda looked up just in time to see Ezri swoop down at her again, aiming directly for her chest. She turned sideways, letting the owl pass. He nearly barreled straight into the center pillar, but just in time, he veered up into the sky where the dawn was just breaking.
Holding the book her in left hand, Matilda picked up a stick with her right hand, turning to face Carry's pet again. He had turned and against the backdrop of the sunrise, began dropping toward Matilda's left side. Matilda lifted her left arm, the book still in her hand, letting Ezri pass right under her shoulder. She turned around, throwing the stick at Ezri's tail feathers.
"Stupid owl!" she screamed, picking up a rock and hurling it at him. Much to her surprise, Ezri did not wheel around again. Instead, he flew north, disappearing behind the thick palm trees. Matilda was motionless, breathing rapidly to digest the ordeal. Carry had sent the owl after her, she thought bitterly, putting the book under her arm. She remembered the conversation they had had yesterday. He had warned her not to go to Tail Cave.
"You can't stop me Carry!" Matilda shouted. "I don't care what your hidden agenda is; you're not going to get in my way!" Even as she said it, she realized that she could no longer trust him, her best friend in the world. "If I can't trust him," she whispered to herself, "I can't trust any of them."
"They're all against you," a small voice said in the back of her head.
"They want to keep me here for the rest of my life," Matilda said, turning to look at the sunrise.
"They don't want you to know what lies beyond that horizon," the voice continued. "But it's obvious that they know."
"Beyond that horizon is another horizon and another after that. I'll chase them all until I reach the end. Until I fall off the edge of the world if that's what it takes."
"You can't trust any of them."
"I should never have been foolish enough to let any of them in on my dreams to begin with. When I destroy the Nightmares, the glory will be all mine."
"They'll try to take it from you."
"I won't let them. I'll be the one to wake the Windfish."
"And if they get in your way?"
"I'll push them out of my way. This is my destiny."
Matilda wanted to stay and watch the sunrise, but as she stood motionless on the beach, staring at the horizon, she realized that there would be no sunrise to see. The sky was gray and cloudy and instead of a wash of gold, the dawn was no more than a lightening of the colorless sky.
The little house by the bay was bustling with activity. "Will someone pass the syrup?" Tracy asked, her mouth full of biscuit.
Halfway down the long table, Marnie dug her elbow into Elinor's side. "Pass Tracy the syrup," she hissed.
"Oh," Elinor muttered. She stood up, leaning over the table to pick up a bright orange bowl, made of clay. As she did so, her sleeves fell into a pot of porridge, causing several people around her to groan. Obviously, she picked up the bowl and passed it to Tarin who passed it to Mr. Write who passed it to Summer who finally passed it to Tracy.
"There's dog hair in the porridge!" Lexx complained eyeing the pot Elinor had just defiled.
"What do you care? You only eat carrots anyway!" Marnie said smugly. "Besides, your shift is up."
"Yeah, yeah," Lexx muttered, surrendering his chair to Grandma Ulrira who was waiting patiently behind him. "One of these days, I'm going to get a good long breakfast with no one to give me the boot." With an indignant sniff, he sauntered out of the hut, grabbing a carrot from the table along the way.
"How long do you figure we've been using Agatha's house for a meal hall?" Marnie's husband asked, folding his arms and leaning back in his chair.
"Since she died," Tarin said, "poor soul."
"About fifteen years," Grandma Ulrira said.
"I think it's about time we found a bigger building," Mr. Write commented, wiping some spilled juice off his elbow. "Perhaps a building big enough to hold all of us."
"It's not really fun eating meals in shifts," Tracy admitted, spooning a generous amount of syrup onto her plate.
"Where are we going to find a bigger building?" Elinor asked.
"We could always build one," Marnie replied.
"Build one? It would be an awfully funny sight to see any of you lift a tool." Everyone turned to the door where Richard was standing, pulling his orange gloves off with a smug smile. "You haven't built a new house on this island since long before Tarin started shaving."
"What are you doing here Richard?" Tracy snapped.
"It is well within my right to take part in the communal meal," he answered, tucking his gloves into his belt. "I am a citizen of the island."
"The last time you came to a meal with us," Tarin grumbled, stabbing a plum with his fork, "was when you were fifteen."
"That was when you declared that you were leaving the Mabe Village," Marnie said.
"Only an old sage like you would remember something that long ago," Richard sneered at Marnie. She threw her head in the other direction, coughing indignantly. "But I am still within my rights to be here." Richard picked up a green apple from the fruit bowl. He tossed it up in the air a couple of times, catching it. Finally, after rubbing it on his red tunic, he took a loud bite. After chewing and swallowing, he looked around the room, his eyes greeted by several dozen cold stares. "Well, you needn't cease in your conversation on my account," he muttered.
"I think I've lost my appetite," Summer said, pushing her plate away.
"Aye," Tarin agreed, "me too."
"I just love how you go out of your way to insult me," Richard said, eyeing Tarin.
"I only pray that Marin has inherited my talent there."
"Don't worry Tarin," Tracy said quietly, "she has."
At that moment, the door to the house opened again and Marin herself walked in, followed by Valerie. "Speak of the devil!" Richard cried, stepping aside to allow the women to pass. "Marin we were just talking about you."
"Why?" Marin asked.
Richard shrugged. "We couldn't think of anything more interesting to talk about."
Marin laughed graciously. Valerie, meanwhile, was looking at Richard with a curious expression. "That wasn't very nice," she said.
"Well you know my philosophy little angel," Richard replied, "you'll get farther in the world being truthful than being nice."
"Really? Well that's an interesting way to look at it," she murmured.
"What are you staring at anyway?" Richard frowned, obviously unnerved by Valerie's stares.
"She's staring at nothing Richard," Marin said quickly, walking to an empty seat and pulling Valerie. "That's what you are; nothing."
"Now that wasn't very nice," Richard shot back.
"I credit my manners to you Richard," she said with a flip air.
"Richard…" Valerie muttered, still staring up at him, despite the fact that Marin had by this time pulled out a chair and prodded her into it.
"What's the matter with you this morning Valerie?" he asked coldly.
"Nothing," she said quietly, "nothing." She blinked, shaking her head slightly. After casting one more glance at him, she looked down at the array of food spread out before her.
Richard frowned, his mouth full of apple. Something seemed different about the way that Valerie had looked at her. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something had changed in her facial expressions. All around him, the room had returned a pointless hum of idle gossip and chatter. Valerie was spooning a variety of different things onto her plate, but she continued to cast rapid glances in Richard's direction. Each time she realized that he was looking at her though, she would quickly become engrossed in her food; even though she didn't seem to realize that she was pouring syrup over her sliced carrots.
"Well," Richard said slowly, after painfully swallowing the remains of his apple. "I will take my leave of you." To a few half-hearted catcalls and whistles, Richard walked out of the hut, closing the door behind him. He stood still beyond the door, looking out at the ocean. It couldn't possibly have happened, he told himself. But the shimmering blue waves, reminiscent of Valerie's eyes, told him otherwise. She had looked at him differently. There had been no disgust in her gaze, if anything, there had been curiosity.
He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, but somehow, all he could think about now was Valerie's eyes. For the first time in their lives, when he looked at her, he didn't feel damned. He felt as though a gateway of possibilities had opened up for him. As he started walking down the shore, heading for home, he dropped the apple. For some reason though, he didn't even notice it was gone.
"To knock or not to knock," Link muttered, standing with his nose almost touching the freshly painted wooden door. "To knock or to run away," he continued, "that's a very good question." Despite all the time he had spent on Koholint Island, Link had not yet paid a visit to the inside of this house and he wasn't sure he ever really intended to. Still, Zelda had told him that without a doubt, the Ulriras were the foremost experts on the island. Link had never seen Grandpa Ulrira before. He was supposed to be a very shy, reserved man. Grandma Ulrira, on the other hand, was a loud, batty old woman who had been very kind to Link in the past few months.
Link raised his fist, ready to knock, but it occurred to him that perhaps it would be best to wait a little while. Zelda ought to go in with him. "No," he muttered aloud. That would only draw attention, something they both wanted to avoid. He turned around and barely took one step before he nearly barreled right into Grandma Ulrira.
"Yoo hoo Link," she said pleasantly, smiling as always. "Looking for me?"
"You startled me," he gasped, taking a step back and crashing into the door.
"I've always had that affect on people," she said brightly. "What can I do for you dear?"
"Well, Marin told me that no one knows about this island more than you and your husband and I just had some questions."
Her smile slowly faded. "Questions?"
Link nodded. "About the Tail Cave."
"You'd better come in dear," she muttered. Gently, she pushed Link aside and opened the door. Unsure of what else to do, Link followed her in, closing the door behind him.
The inside of the Ulriras' hut was pleasantly lit. The blaring sunlight filtered in through the only window, covered by a red curtain, making the entire room glow bright orange. The house smelled of vanilla and ginger. Everywhere Link looked, he saw shelves cluttered with books. The floor was covered with piles of assorted papers and pictures. Several photographs were tacked to the bedposts of the large bed shoved in one corner of the room. In the middle of this mass of chaos, sat an old man in a rocking chair.
At first glance, he looked perfectly ordinary. His cocoa brown skin was stretched tightly around his face; give or take a few wrinkles around the corners of his eyes. A bowl of white fringe decorated an otherwise bald scalp. A grizzled beard, also snow white, decorated his chin and cheeks, hiding his neck from view. His mouth hung open as he breathed loudly. But despite the ordinary old man appearance, Link immediately noticed something extraordinary about him. In his hazel eyes, or behind them, there was a spark. It was neither youth nor old age, but a sign of timeless wisdom about life.
"Darling, Link came to ask you some questions," Grandma Ulrira was saying as she continually flitted about, fighting a futile battle to tidy up the inside of their home. Link found this somewhat amusing, considering how much emphasis she placed on cleanliness when instructing the younger generation in their chores. He remembered her once beating Carry over the head with her broom when she was displeased with his job of sweeping out the house by the way.
Grandpa Ulrira licked his parched lips, looking at Link with his profound eyes. "So, this is the outsider." He lifted a shaking hand, beckoning Link closer. "Come in boy, I won't hurt you."
Link took a few steps closer to Grandpa Ulrira. "I've come to ask about Tail Cave, sir," he said politely. "Marin tells me that –"
"Marin," Grandpa Ulrira smiled. "How is she? It's been a long time since she paid us a visit."
"She's fine. She told me that –"
"Still as pretty as ever? She's a fine girl. Only a mad man like that awful Kurt would let a girl like that out of his sights."
"Yes, Marin's a very fine girl. She told me that –"
"She told you that I'm an expert about the island," Ulrira finished for him.
Link closed his mouth for a moment then opened it again. "Yes."
"Well, it's true I know a few things about this island. What's your question?"
"I'd like to know about Tail Cave, sir."
"Tail Cave eh? They say a great demon lives there, one with the powers of a god. A Nightmare is what you'd call it I believe."
"Yes, I know that, but what I wanted to ask was –"
"In the ancient days," Grandpa Ulrira cut him off, "people would leave offerings to the Nightmare. They feared it and fought to appease it. Left the finest of the harvest for that Nightmare, they did."
"Yes, but you see I already –"
"I don't suppose anyone's ever told you the legend of Roc?"
Link frowned. "The legend of Roc?"
Grandpa Ulrira seemed pleased by this. He leaned back in his rocking chair, pyramiding his long, boney fingers. "The legend of Roc has been an oral tradition, passed down throughout the generations of Koholint. You wouldn't find it in the library though. In fact, many of the most important myths that have defined our way of life can only be learned through storytellers. Like me."
"Tell me the story," Link said eagerly.
"According to the legend, Roc was a great illusionist, a magician, born of a mortal woman who knew no man."
"How is that possible?"
"They say that it was the magick itself that formed Roc."
"His father was magic itself?"
"Her father, her father was magick itself yes. Are you going to keep interrupting me? I'll never finish the story."
"Roc grew up on the island and became a powerful magician. At first, she only attempted parlor tricks. A little white magic: Turning lilies into roses and so forth. But soon, soon she was dealing with the real thing. She began changing the weather and flying over the landscape. Sometimes, she would turn invisible or create fire out of nothingness."
Grandpa Ulrira paused, smacking his dry lips together. Behind him, Grandma Ulrira had stopped everything and was leaning against her broomstick, listening intently to her husband's story. "Roc became a champion of the people, always doing the right thing, regardless of the danger or consequences. She would have sold her soul to the cruelest of demons, Flordelis if she thought it would do good for her people. Her righteousness was the ultimate power and the Nightmares feared it.
"More fearful than any other was the Nightmare called Tail. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, he summoned a terrible curse upon Roc. The curse was that she would take the form that best suited her next trick."
"What was her next trick?"
Ulrira smiled. "She flew. The moment her feet lifted off the ground, she began to change. She cried out in terrible pain, but no one could understand her anymore. She kept lifting higher and higher into the air, unable to control what was happening to her."
"What did she turn into?"
"A giant bird. Her hair and clothing melted and transfigured into feathers. They say the only Human part of her that survived was her yellow cape which was caught on the wind and carried away as it fell off of her. But the Nightmare's punishment didn't end there. She was lifted higher and higher into the air, no longer in control her own body, screaming all the way. Soon, she reached the highest of the highs. Barely able to breath, she considered herself lucky to be alive. That was the Nightmare's cruelest trick of all."
"He gave her hope; he let her think that she stood a chance."
"With the force of a thousand horses, the Nightmare hurled her back to the ground, letting her plummet down in a terrific spiral. But the pressure of the air as she fell was so great that midway back to the land, she exploded, dying a horrific death. All that was left of her were feathers that flew out in a million directions. They say, though, that the Nightmare took one of her feathers as a trophy and locked it away in his dungeon."
"Just as Roc was born of pure magick, the feather was very powerful and in the right hands, it would lead to the Nightmare's doom."
"What could a person do if he or she possessed the feather?" Link asked hungrily.
"Just one of Roc's feathers would allow a mortal to turn a mountain into a molehill. But only in the right hands: A Nightmare can never hope to possess the power of Roc's Feather."
"Where did all the other feathers go?" Link wondered. "I mean, a bird has many feathers and they can't all have been lost at sea. Do you suppose there are others on the island? Grandpa Ulrira? Grandpa Ulrira?" Link looked up to realize that Grandpa Ulrira's head had rolled over to one side and he had fallen fast asleep, his mouth hanging open as he breathed noisily.
"I think that's enough of stories for one day," Grandma Ulrira said as she picked her back over to Link. "Off with you now, you've got work to be getting to." She shooed him away with her broom.
"Yes, I suppose so." Link frowned. "Can I come back again to hear other stories?" he asked.
Grandma Ulrira laughed. "Aren't you the curious one? Go on now, shoo, get on with your work. There will be other days for tall tales."
Flame was angry. It was apparent to them all. When he was miffed, his body took on a dull red glow. When he was upset, he started emitting a brighter orange light. When he was furious, his entire being became a hot yellow sun, bright enough to fill the entire room with white light.
Despite all this, he sat in his chair, looking very calm and composed. Around him, the others shifted nervously in their thrones, waiting for him to speak. "Well?" Gene finally asked carefully, leaning forward.
"They killed Kurt," Flame drawled quietly, in a deadly whisper. "He was our brother, a fellow god of the island and they killed him."
"Yes," Angelika said irritably, "we're all aware of the fact."
"And we're also aware of the fact that Tail is next," Hawk added coldly. "We need to decide what we're going to do about it."
"What would you recommend?" Flame asked, his voice growing even softer, even as his body grew hotter. "Would you suggest we wage an all out war on their village? Show ourselves to them? Risk losing everything we've spent a millennia working for? No. If we're going to fight, we fight smart. We're not going to make the mistakes that Kurt made. From now on, we don't take the fight to them; we let them take the fight to us."
"Is that really wise?" Iris asked. She held her hands up defensively before Flame could turn on her. "What I mean to say is, are you sure it's best that we allow them to choose the terrain?"
"They won't choose the terrain," Flame replied. "They know where we live. They will come to us and attack us in our own homes. That is what will give us the advantage."
"I still want to know who told them about us in the first place," Tail grumbled. "They never would have ventured near my dungeon if someone hadn't told them about the Sirens' Instruments."
"Agreed," Face said firmly, "someone must have tipped them off."
"But who could have done that?" Angelika asked. "There are so few people on the island who know the first thing about us to begin with. Who could have told those Hylians?"
"I say it was Catsy," Gene roared, slamming his fist down on the armrest of his chair.
"Don't mention that name!" Flame shouted, standing up halfway, the room erupting with heat and light.
"She's dead to us," Iris said haughtily. "As dead as Kurt."
"Kurt died with honor," Hawk countered. "Catsy left our ranks." Flame growled again. "I mean," Hawk corrected himself, "that woman left our ranks."
"She's as good as dead anyway," Face muttered. "We're her only friends on the island. Who will she turn to when the Hylians invade her dungeon?"
"She can't defeat them on her own," Gene said simply. "We'll let them kill her."
"Can we focus on the problem at hand?" Tail asked in a whiny voice. "The Hylians aren't out to invade the Catfish's Maw, they're headed toward the Tail Cave, my home."
"Indeed they are," Flame said, sitting back down again. The room returned to a yellow glow. "Tail, you must begin preparing yourself to face the Hylians."
"I would rather it didn't come to that. I have loyal servants in my dungeon who will defend me to the death, but if it comes down to a battle between the Hylians and myself, I fear they'll overpower me."
"Overpower you!" Flame shouted, "There are only two of them! I've seen you destroy hundreds!"
"It's inevitable that you will encounter the Hero of Time and the Princess of Destiny," Iris said. "The only uncertainty is who will triumph."
"Should they defeat you," Hawk continued, "it's inevitable that they'll go after another one of us. Our security rests on your head Tail."
"That's little comfort," Tail replied.
"One of Kurt's biggest mistakes was appearing to the Princess of Destiny in the form of a Human," Angelika said. "You're already one step above him in that they have never seen you at all."
"They've never seen anything remotely like you," Face added. "We are Nightmares, creatures beyond any Hylian's comprehension. The very sight of you ought to be enough to make them tremble."
"But Kurt had the element of surprise," Tail said. "None of the texts knew he existed. None of the mortals who had even the slightest inkling about us knew his name."
"They know what you are," Hawk said, "But they don't know who you are."
"That was Kurt's weakness," Iris added firmly.
"I feel as if this is happening faster than I can control it," Tail whined.
"This isn't about control!" Flame yelled. "You can't waste so much time thinking about this. You have to act. Kurt would have been alive today if Catsy had not encouraged him to take a step back and examine the situation. His death is her responsibility. If you decide to think instead of attack, you'll have no one to blame but yourself for whatever happens."
"Don't think," Tail muttered. "Attack."
"This battle is about power. We have it. They want it. It's as simple as that."
"I'll raise my defenses," Tail said, his voice swelling with enthusiasm. "I'll have my servants fill every room of the dungeon. I'll move the Full Moon Cello into the deepest, most protected part of the place and I'll personally stand guard over it."
"That's the spirit!" Flame shouted. "In a few days from now, we'll be looking back at this, laughing as we dance over the broken corpses of the Hylians." He grinned. "Let us all follow Tail's example. Remember who we are. We are Nightmares!"
"We are Nightmares!" Hawk and Iris screamed.
"We are Nightmares, we are Nightmares," the others began to chant. "We are Nightmares!"
"Remember!" Flame roared over the triumphant chanting, "As long as the Windfish sleeps, we are the masters of this island, not them." To either side of him, Iris and Hawk continued to chant, now pumping their fists in the air. "They can't do anything to change that."
"You know what I hate about doing laundry?" Tracy asked, dumping a basket of clothing into the pond water.
"What?" Elinor asked, her hands hidden under a mass of blouses.
"The fruitlessness of it all."
Marnie rolled her eyes to the sky. "You're not about to get philosophical on us are you? My stomach can't handle it."
"Think about it," Tracy persisted. "You wash clothing, it gets dirty again. You wish it, it gets dirty. It's an unending cycle of madness."
"Madness, now there's a topic you must be an expert at," Marnie said snootily. "Don't you agree Valerie?"
Tress' eyes snapped up. "Um…" She frowned, disoriented for a moment. "I don't know." Having never done laundry in her life, Tress found herself very confused. Zelda had, of course, promised her that she'd be fine, but nevertheless, she found herself wishing that she were just about anywhere else.
"Are you all right Val?" Tracy asked, looking up from her work. "You've been out of it all day."
"I'm just tired," Tress lied, rubbing her eyes for emphasis.
"The summer heat," Tracy said wisely. "It must be extra tough for someone as fair-haired as you."
"It's her skin that's the problem," Marnie interjected. "Anyone that pale shouldn't be out in the sun."
"Yes," Tress said. "You're right." She picked up her basket, still full of unwashed clothing, and moved away from the others. A few meters away, there was another, small pond, just barely the size of a puddle, underneath the shade of a large oak. She sat down beside the water and allowed the cool shade to soak in through her skin.
Sighing heavily, she took an old shirt out of the basket. She tried to drain out the sound of the three women, clucking away like chickens a few paces away. Instead, she looked down into the water. Although it was dingy, she saw a stranger's reflection look back at her. The woman in the water was blond and serene. She was beautiful. Her hair was long and flowing, lacking the tangles of Tress' ordinary brunette bird's nest.
The woman's reflection smiled. Tress put her fingers to her lips, trying to find that smile on her own face, but to her surprise, it was absent. She looked back at the reflection to see that the other woman was not holding a mouth over her lips. "Are you Valerie?" Tress asked quietly, hoping the other women wouldn't hear her.
"Yes," the reflection replied. Her voice was very soft and soothing, lacking all the shock that Tress was experiencing.
"It's complicated," Valerie replied.
"All my life, I was certain that I was a part of a great plan. Is that why I'm here? To help Link and Zelda complete their quest?"
"In a way," Valerie said nodding.
"Am I to stay in this body forever then?"
Valerie laughed. "No. You can only stay for a little while, just until you realize your greater purpose."
"My greater purpose? But isn't this about Link and Zelda?"
"It's about you too Tress. Every Hylian hero will go on her own journey. Just because you are the Hero of Destiny and not the Hero of Time doesn't mean you're less important to Farore. It simply means that she has a different set of priorities for you."
"Then why has my path crossed with Link's path?" Tress asked.
"You'll understand it eventually."
"Why are you showing yourself to me?"
"I've come to warn you about the dangers of this island."
Tress puffed out her chest a little bit. "I'm not afraid of any monsters."
"The monsters are not the problem. You are the greatest danger to Link and Zelda right now."
"If you're caught," Valerie whispered, "if anyone realizes that you're not who you pretend to be, it won't be long before Zelda's secret is unveiled. If that happens, then Farore's elaborate plans will have been for nothing."
"I can pretend."
Valerie nodded. "Yes, you've been pretending for a long time now."
"What do you mean? I've only been in this body a day."
"You'll understand in time."
"I don't like it when my questions are answered with riddles."
"You also don't like peaches, I know."
"This is all a great plan for Link and Zelda?"
Valerie nodded. "Farore's had it planned since the day they were born."
"Then how do these other islanders fit into it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I know that you're the Angel of Farore, so you were sent here to guide them, but what about the rest of these people?"
"The rest of these people are not Hylians," Valerie explained, "they aren't a part of the greater scheme of things."
"That's can't be true," Tress objected loudly. The three women in the sun all stopped talking and looked up at her. Painfully, she tore her eyes away from the water to offer them a weak smile. After a moment, they all turned back to their work. Tress looked down at the reflection again. "Just as Connor Corbel was meant to be a part of my journey, these people must matter for something."
"If anything, they're only opposition," Valerie said. "If they learned Zelda's secret, this quest would only become more difficult, if not impossible."
"I don't think Farore puts enough faith in the power of friendship."
"Humans don't respond well when they learn that they're being manipulated by magick. If Matilda or Tarin or any of the others learned that they were being toyed with like that, they'd turn on Zelda. As would you, I might add, if someone were to play with your memories."
"Maybe," Tress said tightly, "maybe not."
"Listen, I just wanted to warn you of the dangers. That's all I have to say. The rest is up to you."
"Wait!" Tress hissed, hoping Valerie wouldn't depart.
"Yes?" Valerie asked, much to Tress' relief.
"What about Richard?"
"What about him?"
"Richard. I sensed something about him. He's different from the others."
"He's different only in the fact that his intentions are nothing short of wicked. You'd be wise to stay away from him Tress."
"No one's ever wicked without a reason. Maybe if someone just talked to him or something like –"
"No," Valerie cut her off firmly. "However attractive you may find him, however stimulating; you have to stay away from him. He's a great threat to our secret."
"You don't trust him, do you?"
"I have reason not to. Stay away from him Tress, he's only a roadblock on your path."
"Maybe I don't want to believe that everything's predestined," Tress said hotly. "Maybe it's time I made my own destiny." With that, she picked up the load of laundry and dumped it into the water, destroying all traces of the reflection.
Matilda sat on the edge of the village well. A few feet away from her, several children were busy in a game of catch. They screamed loudly, pelting the rubber ball at each other with all the strength they could muster. She tried her best to ignore them, facing out toward the setting sun over the amber ocean.
Something, or someone, was moving down there. Jumping off of the rock well, Matilda moved down the road, putting some distance between her and the noisy children. She squinted her eyes, staring off at the beach. Carry was walking east into the sun, dangerously close to Tail Cave.
Before Matilda could even finish taking her first step, she felt an iron grip latch onto her shoulder. She was wrenched backward, her hat falling to one side. Her mouth opened to scream, but no sound came out because another firm hand smashed into her lips, holding a white handkerchief. Matilda tried to fight her way free, lashing her head from side to side, but the person holding the cloth to her face was stronger.
The material was damp, smelling vaguely of dandelions. Matilda could feel the fight draining out of her like sap from a maple tree. She halfheartedly tried once more to pull free from her captor, but she was falling. Both hands suddenly released her and she gasped, stumbling forward. She fell to the sand. Half of her braced for the impact, but she felt nothing. Instead, she just kept falling and falling. Briefly, she wondered why she had been heading to the beach in the first place, but in the next second, all thoughts of Carry, the Tail Cave, and the hands vanished.
Link awoke with such a start that he sat up, smashing his forehead against the windowpane. His vision became fuzzy and he fell onto the floor, landing soundly on his back. Grimacing in pain, he squeezed his fists tightly, waiting for his eyes to focus again. When they finally did, he sat up.
"Graceful move, lover boy." Link was so startled, he fell again. When he looked up this time, he saw Tress standing on the other side of the window, a candle lighting up a satisfied smirk on her face.
"You have no respect for the sanctity of sleep." He stood up; rubbing his bottom and rolling his shoulders back to relieve the tension.
"I'm bored," she whispered. "Let's go to Tail Cave."
"Are you both quite insane?" a hiss came from the darkness. Link looked over his shoulder to see Zelda sitting up on her bed. "Make a little more noise why don't you? See if you can't wake up the entire village."
"I don't think a hurricane would wake him up," Tress said, jerking her head in Tarin's direction. Tarin was lying on his belly, his snoring muffled by the pillow he was happily chewing in his sleep.
"Well, there was this one time when Zelda and I had a contest you see," Link started, grinning impishly. "We took turns throwing objects over the bed and…" Link trailed off as he realized that both women were looking less than amused by his story.
"Let's go to Tail Cave," Tress said again. "The night is young and so are we."
"I'm in," Link said finally, "but I'm not sure if Zel –"
"I want to go," Zelda interrupted him.
"All right then." Link got up and made his way to the door.
"Don't go out that way, it'll wake Tarin up," Zelda hissed.
"But I thought hurricanes couldn't stir him," Tress said.
Zelda shook her head. "He's a father. They're all trained to hear the sound of a door opening late at night."
After Link and Zelda had both managed to scramble out of the window, lugging weapons with them, the trio began to parade down the deserted street. "What do you think we'll find there?" Tress asked, experimentally twirling the wooden sword Link had provided her with.
"Danger, pain, and almost certain death," Zelda deadpanned.
"Sounds like fun."
The path gave way to the soft, damp sand. Link listened to the sound of the waves slapping the shore. "I've missed this," he whispered to himself, the anticipation of exploring the dungeon finally hitting him. He looked over at Zelda, who walked with a determined stride. He knew that he had not been so brave the first time he had faced a dungeon. How was she so confident?
Tail Cave loomed ahead in the distance. "Do you think we're ready for this?" Tress asked, reciting the same question she had once posed to Link when the two of them prepared to battle a gang of Moblins.
"A little dungeon like that?" Link replied, "We're beyond this."
Zelda tapped the buckle holding her quiver on her back. "I hope I don't run out of arrows," she muttered.
"Relax," Tress said easily. "In my experience, whenever you need supplies in a dungeon, all you have to do is look under pots and rocks."
"Worse comes to worse," Link added, "You can take supplies from the enemy."
Finally, they had arrived. Link found that Tail Cave was a great deal more ominous in the dark than it seemed in the light. This was to be expected, of course. Slowly, he moved ahead of the others, walking to the center pillar with the rusty keyhole. He slipped the key out of his gauntlet, feeling the full weight of the iron in his hand. Taking a long, deep breath, he thrust the key into the lock and turned it.
At once, the key became white hot in his hand. Link let go, jumping back in surprise, nearly barreling over Tress in the process. There was a low moan, the sound of ancient cogs and wheels turning. The ground trembled. Slowly, a few bars in the middle of the iron gate faded, disappearing entirely.
The ground stopped shaking. The three Hylians stood motionless, taking deep, frightened breaths as they stared at the gaping hole. "Ladies and gentlemen," Link whispered, "we have a door."
Zelda pushed past the other two. Pulling an arrow out of her quiver and stringing it into her bow, she walked toward the door. When she got there, she turned back around. "Are you coming?" she asked. At once, Tress and Link followed her into the darkness.
It took a moment for Link's eyes to adjust to the dark. He became aware that several extinct torches were mounted on the walls, but other than that, he saw nothing but an empty room. "Tress," he muttered, "Valerie always carried a bag of powder on her belt, is it still there?"
Tress looked down. "Yes."
"Good. Take a pinch of that powder and sprinkle it on the torches."
"Just trust me." Tress did what she was told. Instantly, the room was flooded with light as each torch sparked to life under the touch of the white dust. "This is the entry hall," Link said, walking around to examine the markings on the floor. "If we get separated or lost, we'll be able to regroup here." He drew his sword and carved a large X into the floor, directly in the middle of the room.
Link noticed a door directly ahead of him. He walked to the wall and lifted one of the torches. Tress did the same. Slowly, the three of them advanced, passing through the door. The next room was much darker than the first. Straining his eyes, Link saw a large pit along the sides of the room, breaking only to reveal three doors.
There was a loud fluttering sound. Instantly, all three of them were on their guards. They scanned the room, looking for a sign of life, but there was nothing to be seen. Link raised his torch, looking up. To his amazement, instead of seeing a ceiling, he saw a great black void of nothingness. Something white was falling down from the void. He backed up, letting it fall at his feet.
"What is it?" Tress asked, eyeing the object.
Link squatted down next to it. "It looks like a piece of paper." He picked it up and turned it over. To his amazement, on the other side of the yellowing page, there were dark black lines, drawn in a series of squares, with bright red spots littering the design. "It's a map," he whispered.
"A map?" Zelda asked incredulously. "What kind of super monster leaves a map of his dungeon around for people who are trying to rob him?"
"It doesn't make any sense," Tress muttered, looking up at the blackness above them. "Where did it come from?"
Link was scanning the room again. "Three doors," he murmured. "Three of us."
"I'll take the door to the right," Zelda declared. "I don't have a torch and there's light coming in from under the crack."
"Are you sure we should be splitting up?" Link asked.
"I'm taking the door on the left," Tress declared. Without listening to further protests, she kicked the door open and disappeared through it.
Link looked at Zelda. "Be careful," he said softly.
"You too," she replied. She opened the door, letting light stream into the room. In that instant, as Zelda stood in the light, Link was certain she had never looked more beautiful. The next second, the light had swallowed Zelda and disappeared.
Walking carefully around the pits in the floor, Link moved to the center door and pushed it open. He looked inside, trying to make out what was inside, but he saw nothing, so he stepped in. His foot hit something which made a metallic noise and flew across the stone tiles on the floor. Walking all the way into the room, Link knelt down, hearing the door slam behind him.
Link dropped his sword. He let his hand pad the floor, searching for whatever it was that he had kicked. Finally, he felt something cold and hard on under his fingers. Bringing the torch closer, he picked it up, examining it in the light. It was a compass, ancient in design, but obviously still perfectly functional. "Where did you come from?" he asked, latching the chain on the compass to his collar.
A soft noise which had been in the room since Link entered was now directly behind him. Without thinking, Link snapped his arm up, slamming his torch in the face of a demon which had snuck up behind him. Link grabbed his sword, jumping to his feet to face his foe. The monster was howling, holding his snout as thick yellow blood streamed out from between its fingers.
Another creature jumped at Link from behind. It grabbed onto his shoulders and started gnawing his neck. Link spun around quickly, lifting the second demon off the ground and letting its feet hit the first one. It fell off his back, rolling over on the floor and getting back on its feet.
Both monsters rushed Link. He threw his arms out in opposite directions, nailing one in the face with the hilt of his sword, and smashing the other with the blunt end of the torch. His confidence faded though, when a third demon came out of nowhere and pulled Link's feet out from under him. He took a swan dive onto the floor, hitting his jaw against the tile.
Rolling onto his back, Link swung his feet up, hitting the third demon soundly in the gut. It roared, falling back enough for Link to scramble to his feet. The first demon rushed at him. Link grabbed its arm, twisting it back. He pulled the demon's arm down so that it was stooping over, then, still holding the arm, wrapped over its back, kicking the second and third creatures in their respective faces.
A Hylian battle cry rang out from the darkness. From nowhere, Tress appeared, bashing the second demon with her torch. With a sickening snap, the monster's head rolled off its shoulders and landed on the ground. The flailing body fell onto the third demon, just as Tress thrust her wooden sword through its chest.
"I thought you were going to the right," Link grimaced as he flipped the first demon over his shoulder, ramming the Master Sword into its eye.
"Dead end," she said, putting her foot up on the third demon's shoulder to pull her sword out.
"Huh," Link shrugged, pulling the Master Sword cleanly out of his fallen enemy. "That was fun."
"Let's go find some more."
Zelda narrowed her eyes, swinging her shaft widely from one side to the other. She had been lucky so far, every room she had passed through was both well lit and mercifully free of life. Well, free of life, give or take a few bats. Unfortunately, the dungeon was so full of twists and turns that she wasn't sure which direction she was going in anymore. Worse yet, she didn't know how she would ever find her way back to the entry hall if there was trouble.
She walked into a narrow hallway. The walls were decorated with purple, yellow, and gold silks, tattered and torn from what must have been centuries of neglect. A simple yellow light was coming from the walls, but above her, Zelda saw only more of the black void from which the map had fallen. A tingle gripped her throat every time she looked up there. Somehow, she felt that there had to be something up there, a second floor or a balcony. She knew this because someone was watching her.
Or had been watching her. She had felt the phantom presence when the map fell from the sky. Whatever it was, she knew it couldn't be evil because it felt warm and gentle, even if it was mysterious. Her eyes scanned the darkness for a moment, but the sensation had gone from her. Perhaps whatever it was, it was watching over Link instead.
Down the hall, Zelda heard a strange noise. It sounded a little bit like strangled breathing. "Who's there?" she asked carefully, tightening her grip on her bowstring. She scanned the distance. There was a standing suit of armor down the hall. Behind it, she thought she saw a boot, as though someone were sitting down on the other side. "Show yourself," she hissed.
"Is someone there?" a choked and strangled voice asked.
Zelda opened her mouth to reply, but suddenly, a large hand landed on her shoulder. Without thinking, she curled her fingers around the wrist with one hand and stabbed her attacker with an arrow. It released her shoulder and she turned around. Behind her was a demon, the same kind that Kurt had once sent to attack her in the forest. Its body was dripping with a viscous yellow liquid and it smelled awful, but she didn't spare much time to consider that because another demon was running up behind it.
She loaded an arrow into her bow and shot it, nailing the first one in the stomach. It doubled over, both hands yanking at the arrow. Meanwhile, she swung her bow around, hitting the second attacker in the head. Zelda's mind raced as she struggled to recall some of the strategies Link had boasted about. She flexed her arm, ramming her elbow into the second demon's gut. It fell backward, hitting its companion who had managed to pull the arrow out. They both glared angrily at Zelda and started running at her, arms outstretched.
Zelda dropped down to one knee, throwing her bow in between them. They charged past her, unable to stop. Just as they went by her, she flung out her arms, knocking them both down on their respective faces. She rose quickly, pulling two arrows out of her quiver. With a smug smile, she rammed an arrow into each of them, right where their necks joined to their shoulders.
When the creatures stopped flailing, Zelda picked up her bow. "You guys have got to start throwing something new at me," she muttered. "You're starting to get predictable."
"Very well." Zelda turned around. Standing over the bodies of the slime demons was another creature, only different. He was tall and muscular, but his skin was light orange. He had no hair to speak of, but a long brown antenna jutted out from his forehead. Beneath a boney brow, two emerald green eyes, both the size of sand dollars, stared intently at Zelda. Perhaps most menacing about him though, was the fact that in his meaty fist, he held a large wooden club, studded with jagged and sharp nails.
"So what are you supposed to be?" Zelda asked, breathing rapidly from her previous battle.
"Oh, I'll be killing you shortly. I just like the formalities."
"Are you the Nightmare? Because I have to say, I'm not impressed."
The creature chuckled. "No, no silly girl. I'm no Nightmare. I'm the Guardian of this dungeon, Master Tail's most loyal servant."
"Guardian?" Zelda asked. "Is that a good gig for you?"
"Every dungeon has a Guardian. We were created by the Nightmares to protect these halls and keep scum like you away from our masters."
"Don't sound like a great deal for you. It must get boring after a couple hundred years."
"One Nightmare made the mistake of creating a Guardian with freewill. Fortunately, my master was smart enough not to make the same mistake with me. I'm going to kill you now."
"Good luck," Zelda mumbled. She drew an arrow from her quiver and swung her arm, aiming to drive it into the Guardian's shoulder. With surprising speed, he caught her hand and squeezed her fist until the arrow snapped. Zelda's face contorted in pain. Before she could devise a clever means of breaking free of his grip, he swung his club, knocking Zelda to one side.
She fell to the floor, feeling her blood gush out of her hip where the club's points had pierced her skin. Quickly, she rolled over onto her back, just in time to miss being smashed by the Guardian's club. Panting, she scrambled to her feet. Before he could yank his weapon out of the floor, she hit him over the head with her bow. He shifted, trying to avoid the blow and became tangled, the bowstring on the back of his neck, the wooden part of the bow hitting his collarbone.
At once, Zelda began to pull on the other end of her bow. Her efforts to pull the creature to his knees seemed feeble at first, but when she heard the mysterious breathing from the armor again, she got an idea. Leaping over the club, she got behind the Guardian, grabbing the bow with both hands. Immediately, she began pulling, smashing the wood against his throat. As she had hoped, the Guardian dropped the club and began flailing his arms, trying to escape the stranglehold.
Zelda kicked the back of the Guardian's knee and he collapsed, falling to the ground. She held on tight, managing to remain on her feet with both hands securely pulling the bow. The Guardian continued gagging, but even now, the fight was coming out of him. Zelda pulled back harder on the bow and slammed her foot into the creature, right where the base of the skull should have been. He dropped like a rock, the ragged chokes giving way to silence.
After calming her own heart, Zelda yanked her bow free of the monster's neck. It was only then that the full realization of pain came to her. She dropped to her knees, clutching her side which screamed out in agony. "It's nothing," she told herself, even as she pulled her hands away from the wound to find them glistening with blood.
The breathing was coming again. Zelda looked up at the armor. The boot was still there. Slowly, she rose to her feet, picking her way over the bodies of the demons. "Who's there?" she demanded again. She turned around the armor and finally saw. Slumped up against the stone wall as a very small looking man in traveling clothes. His face and hands were covered in a downy soft, white fur and he looked up at Zelda with vacant yellow eyes. "I know you," she whispered. "You're Lexx's father."
The shriveled old man nodded. "Yes. And you're Marin, Tarin's girl, aren't you?"
"What are you doing here?" she asked. "Lexx thought you died years ago."
"I came to Tail Cave," he choked, "trying to seek my fortune. Marin," he grabbed her arm weakly, pulling her closer, "the stories are true."
"Stories? What stories?"
The old man shoved a wooden box into her hands. "Tell my family I loved them very much."
"I'll take you back to them," she said with determination.
"Do you want to know what the ultimate truth is?" he asked, staring at some spot over her shoulder now, instead of directly at her. "The truth is that no one person can defeat their demons."
"The Nightmares' demons?" Zelda asked. The old man didn't reply and Zelda knew at once that he was dead. She looked down at the box in her hands. It was old and wooden. Placing her fingers on the lid, she slid it open. Inside the box was a long bird's feather, snow white except for the tip which was orange. She removed the feather and twirled it in between her fingers. "What is it?" she whispered to herself.
Tress laughed, probably louder than she should have. "And you went running there and snatched the wreath," she said between giggles. She grabbed Link's hat off his head to illustrate.
"You don't need to remind me," Link replied, grabbing Tress' arm and taking his hat back. "I was there."
"I think my favorite part though, was when Darpheus realized that you weren't wearing any pants! You should have seen the look on his face."
Link sighed. "Somehow, I missed that one."
"In retrospect," Tress muttered, folding her arms, "I think the look on your face was funnier than his.
"We had some good times," Link said, smiling slightly as he turned to examine the markings on the wall. He checked the map. As far as he could tell, they were in a room directly south of what promised to be a rather ominous chamber. On the map, the door on the far wall led into a room with a picture of a demon on it. Link could only imagine what that meant, as the map had no key.
"Yeah," Tress said with a smile, "we did." She pressed her hip against the door. It was locked. "You know," she continued, scanning the doorframe for some sort of trip or switch, "we could have them again."
"What do you mean?" Link asked absently, running his hand along a pillar that seemed to be holding up absolutely nothing.
"We could have more good times, you and me and Zelda. What's the expression? All good things come in threes? We could take this island together."
"Maybe," Link muttered, poking the pillar with his sword, "but I don't think it'll be necessary. I think I've figured out how to undo whatever it was that we did."
Tress frowned. She stopped prodding the door and turned to look at Link. "Maybe we don't have to," she said quietly.
Link stood up straight, looking at her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, I could stay here, in this body."
"That wouldn't be right," Link said. "It would be wrong on countless levels. For one thing, it doesn't belong to you. You weren't meant to be here. You have your own body waiting for you back in Hyrule."
"Maybe I don't want to go back to Hyrule," Tress said fiercely. She and Link held a tense look, letting the full weight of what she said sink in. "Link, I don't want to go back."
"You can't understand."
"Link, back there, I am nothing. The Hero of Destiny? No one cares about what I do or say. I'm completely alone in Hyrule. I'm invisible. The only person who has ever cared enough to listen to me was you. And then you were gone and I was alone."
"That's not true. Tress, your family –"
"Is dead," Tress cut him off. "My mother, my father, and Cassie are all dead. Ganon's final bow. He destroyed our city, killed the families and children of every knight and warrior in King Harkin's service."
"Holy Din…" Link breathed, dropping his sword. "Tress, I never –"
"How could you?" She shook her head. "Sahasrahla told me to forget. He told me it was meant to happen and that I shouldn't grieve. Link, do you have any idea what it's like to be surrounded by people who know you're in pain, but who won't comfort you? That's the kind of life you're sending me back to."
"But Tress, there's a whole world of people who need you. You're a Hylian Hero."
"Hylian Hero!" Tress baulked. "No one cares about the Hero of Destiny. Crack open any books from the ancients and they'll sing the praises of the Hero of Time, but you never once see any mention of the Hero of Destiny. She serves no purpose."
Link walked over to Tress. He put his hands on either side of her shoulders and looked down at her. "Tress, you do have a purpose."
"Well, if I do that's something you know that I don't. If I have a purpose I have not seen it yet." She shrugged away from Link. "But you can give me one! Let me stay here, let me help you defeat the Nightmares. We'll fight side by side, like old times, partners!"
"Tress, if it was your destiny to join us in this battle, don't you think your body would have come along with your spirit to this island?"
"I'm so sick of destiny!" Tress cried in exasperation. "I say it's my turn to create my own destiny."
"You can't create destiny, no more than I can create time."
Tress slammed her torch down into an empty holster on the wall. "I'm staying here," she declared firmly. "I need to be someplace where I'm needed."
The walls began trembling suddenly. Link slid across the floor, grabbing his sword. With moans of protest, the locked door to the next chamber opened, sending motes of dust into upheaval. Tress drew her sword and started into the chamber. "Tress, wait!" Link cried, but she had already gone in. Grunting, he ran after her, nearly barreling her over as he entered the room.
Inside, Link and Tress found a small, square shaped space, surprisingly cramped. The walls were lined with dark pits, except for one break on the opposite side where there was another sealed doorway. A soft hum was filling the room, but Link couldn't see clearly enough to know what was causing it.
Tress had moved to the wall. She looked down one of the pits and let a low whistle escape her lips. "I wouldn't want to go down there," she whispered.
"Let's not make that part of the agenda," Link muttered, turning around in a circle, his sword drawn.
"What's that noise?" she asked, trying to follow the buzzing sound.
"Outsider…" a cracked, husky voice hissed.
Link let out a cry. Out of nowhere, something had slashed his face. He fell back, holding his cheek. Already, he could feel a trickle of blood running down his chin. "Link?" Tress asked, the panic rising in her voice. "What is it?"
"I don't know," Link said painfully. "I can't see. Get some of that powder out."
Tress reached into the bag on her belt and threw a pinch of powder into the air. For a brief, horrifying instant, the room was filled with light. Ten paces away from Link, an enormous creature was spinning around furiously. It looked as though someone had strung four or five boulders, in decreasing size, together to create the beast. It ran around frantically on invisible legs, lashing its tail in all directions.
"It's a Moldorm!" Tress cried.
"No," Link said, gritting his teeth as the light faded. "No Moldorm is that big…or that ugly." The creature laughed, striking at Link's feet. He flipped onto his back, landing with a hard crash.
Tress followed the sound, running over to Link. "We need light," she said. Link pulled the map out of his belt and rolled it up. Reluctantly, Tress took it, dipping it into her pouch. Instantly, the tip of the map caught ablaze, lighting up the room again. She pressed the map into Link's hand. "You're injured," she muttered.
"I'll be a lot worse than that," Link cried. "Duck!" Both he and Tress dropped to the floor, just as the Nightmare's tail lashed above their heads, striking the wall. Link turned to follow the tail's course, but he was distracted, seeing Zelda in the doorway, white as a ghost. "Zelda, get down!" he shouted. She complied, just as the tail knocked against the doorframe.
Zelda rolled under it, crawling into the room an over to Link and Tress. "Is that the Nightmare?" she asked. "Is that Tail?"
"So he has a name?" Tress asked haughtily. "How'd you figure that out?"
"Long story," Zelda replied. She drew the bird's feather from her quiver. "I don't suppose this is going to do us any good?"
"Oh yes it will!" Tress snatched the feather and stood up, running into the middle of the room.
"Tress!" Link shouted. "No!"
Tail turned his attention away from Link and Zelda, charging at Tress. Letting loose with another Hylian war cry, Tress brought her sword down directly on top of the Nightmare's head. With a loud crack, the sword snapped in half. Roaring, the Nightmare pulled back, swinging his tail at Tress. She took a blow in the chest, flying backward while holding onto the creature's tail. He slammed her against the wall and then pulled his tail away. She slid down the wall, falling into one of the pits.
"Tress!" Zelda screamed, rising to her feet. She pulled an arrow from her quiver and fired it, landing it into Tail's side.
The Nightmare growled, wheeling around and charging back at Zelda. A loud cry rang out and Tress rose out of the pit as though she were being pulled on invisible strings. She flew high up into the air and dropped down, directly on the Nightmare's back. Tail bucked and jerked, trying to throw her off, but she road through the tantrum, holding two handfuls of leathery flesh in her fingernails.
Zelda had loaded another arrow into her bow and was jerking the shaft back and forth, trying to fire without harming Tress. "Aim for the tip of the tail," Link gasped, "if he looks like a Moldorm, maybe he'll fall like one." She nodded, firing the arrow with perfect aim. It hit Tail in the tail and he moaned, flashing from within. "Hit him again!" Link shouted.
"I can't!" Zelda yelled. "I'm out of arrows!"
"Take this," he shouted, throwing the Master Sword to her. She caught it and threw her bow down on the ground, charging into the heat of battle.
"Whoa horsey!" Tress shouted, sitting upright on top of the Nightmare.
Zelda crept around the fray and slammed the sword down on top of the tail. The creature screamed, flashing again. Zelda repeated, hitting him again and again. Each time she injured Tail, he flashed more intensely which was just as well, since the makeshift torch in Link's hand was fading fast.
"How many times do I have to hit this thing?" Zelda shouted, ducking as Tail's tail flew over her head.
"It took six blows to kill the Moldorm."
"You faced a Moldorm?" Tress asked, kneading her elbow into Tail's back to distract him from Zelda. "You better tell me that story when we get out of here."
"I'm done with this," Zelda muttered. She turned the point of the sword down and thrust it into Tail's tail with such force that it came out the other end and stuck into the floor.
Tail started convulsing; bucking and jerking so violently that Tress fell off, rolling onto her side, just out of Tail's reach. The flashing grew unbearable and Link was forced to avert his eyes. The room began to fill with a dull gray fog. Coughing, Zelda backed away from Tail, running over to Link who protectively shielded her with his arms. "This is the same thing that happened when you killed Kurt," he said.
"Kurt didn't glow in the dark," Zelda shouted back, fighting to make her voice heard over the din.
"The fog, it's the same thing."
"What are you saying? Kurt was a Nightmare?"
There was a thunderous explosion. At that moment, the flashing stopped and room fell silent, the buzzing gone. Coughing, Link waved away the smoke and turned to look. Tail was nowhere to be seen. In his stead was a sleeping fairy, resting a few feet away from the Master Sword, stuck in the ground. Across the room, the sealed door had crumbled and light was emanating from the next chamber.
Link got up to his feet, pulling Zelda up with him. Releasing her arms, he slowly walked to his sword. He pulled it out of the ground and held it in front of him, slowly walking to the open door. He tried to remember what the map had shown about this last room. It had been illustrated. Carefully, he ducked under the decaying doorframe. Inside the brightly lit room was nothing more than a squat alter. Resting on top of the alter was a sparkle of gold. As Link neared the light, he saw that the sparkle was a gold cello, no bigger than a thimble.
"Link!" Zelda called from the Nightmare's chamber. Link snatched the tiny instrument and hurried back. Zelda was kneeling over Tress. "She's in sorry shape."
Link squatted down next to Zelda. Together they turned Tress over, onto her back. Her breath was raspy and weak and from the gurgling sounds she was making, Link knew there was internal bleeding, probably some blood leaking into her lungs. "It's not so bad," Tress muttered, licking her lips as she stared up at the black void. "We'll find a healer, I'll be all right."
"Tress," Link whispered, putting a hand on her cheek. "The only healer on the island is Valerie."
She laughed dryly. "Don't you love the irony?"
"The only way this body can recover is if it's returned to its rightful owner," Zelda said quietly.
"Let's get her out of here," Link said. "We'll be better able to send her back if we're on the shore."
"Are you sure we should move her?" Zelda asked.
"That feather you brought us Zelda," Link said, tucking his hand under Tress' head. "That's the Roc's Feather. She'll weigh nothing."
"The Roc's Feather," Link repeated, picking Tress up with ease. "I'll explain it on the way."
Under the dull gray light of a sky struggling to herald in the dawn, Carry walked slowly, painfully, through the door of his hovel. He was beyond exhausted. Try as he might, he could not think of a single word in his admittedly limited vocabulary, to describe how tired he was.
It didn't help him any that she was there again. Though her hairstyle was the same as last time, everything about her was different. Her mannerisms were subtle for a change, and she wore black robes with sleeves which just barely graced the dirt floor. She stood on the far wall, facing the door, as though she had been waiting for Carry to enter. Her arms hung at her sides and she was motionless, except for her expressive eyes which watched Carry carefully, seeing things that his own reflection could never tell him about himself.
"What have you done?" she asked. It was not an accusation as he had been expecting. It was merely a question.
Carry summoned up as much nerve as he could muster. "I saved them," he said firmly, glaring into her eyes. "I showed them the way."
"You led them to the destruction of Tail," she whispered.
"And I would do it again," he declared. "I will do it again."
She stared at him coldly for a moment. "I told you we have to watch out for them," she started slowly. "And you've done exactly as I asked." Much to Carry's surprise, she broke out into a warm smile. "Congratulations Carry," she purred, "you've passed the test."
"I had to see where your loyalties lie and now I know. You are loyal to your friends, it's exactly as I expected."
"You sent me after them because you wanted me to protect them?" he asked in confusion.
"What I told you was that we had to look out for them, I never said we weren't on their side. I'm pleased to see how you interpreted my orders."
"You want them to wake the Windfish?"
"Of course I do," she replied.
"I don't understand."
"You can't understand," she said solemnly. "But I don't expect you to. Not yet anyway."
"Then my debt to you is repaid?"
She nodded once. "For now it is. But if you wish to continue helping your friends, I don't think I'd be opposed to it. How many of the dungeons have you made maps of?"
"All of them," he said dryly.
"Good. Because it's unlikely they'll continue to let you roam about without giving you trouble anymore."
"That's my problem," Carry said.
She shook her head. "No Carry, it's my problem as well, but we'll dwell on that some other time. For now, we must discuss your reward."
"Yes, I promised you a reward, didn't I?"
"I don't want anything from you."
"There is one think you lack Carry, one thing that I could give back to you?"
"Give back to me?"
"It's something that was taken from you."
She moved finally, sweeping across the floor, her long robes brushing against the bed as she passed behind Carry, closing the door. Immediately, the room was plunged into blackness, but she remedied that. With a wave of her hand, every candle in the little hovel sparked, coming to life so suddenly that one or two of them fell over, exterminating their flames on the hard-packed floor.
"Years ago, a spell was placed on the island. Not a spell of Nightmares nor a spell of the Windfish, but a more potent power, beyond anything the island has ever seen, or ever will see again."
"A spell? What kind of spell?" he asked, baring his ivory fangs.
"The minds of mortals and immortals alike were clouded, forced to see a new reality, one created by the mind of a child. The Nightmares alone were spared from the illusion, and doubtlessly the Windfish as well. And of course, she that first tampered with the nature of Koholint, shaping it to her will."
"What are you offering me?"
"I can remove the spell Carry. I can clear your mind, allowing you to see this island for what it really is. There are secrets you can't begin to imagine sitting right in front of you, waiting to be discovered." She started walking in a circle around Carry, growing more and more expressive with every step. "Let me liberate you so you can understand why the Windfish must awaken and why I must help these events come to pass."
"If someone put a spell on me and everyone else on the island, it must have been done for a reason."
"She wanted to protect herself and start a new life."
"Then I don't want you to life the spell."
She stopped in her tracks. "What?"
"I don't want you to life the spell Catsy. If someone cast it to protect herself, then who am I to know her secret? I'm not Richard."
Catsy looked up at Carry with a quizzical, almost bemused expression. "That is your final decision? The one you will stand by, no matter what happens?"
"Yes," he declared.
"Then so be it," she waved her hand dismissively. "I'm sure in time you'll figure it out anyway. Either way, it's important that you know that this is the beginning of the end of the world we once knew."
"You don't know the world," he said quietly, "not in the way I do."
"You're right," she said, "and I never can. But you, do you fear change?"
"No," he whispered.
"I am glad to hear it. By the time this is over, everything will have changed. And sometimes, change isn't always for the better."
"Are you afraid you'll die?" he asked.
Catsy shook her head. "How can I fear death when I've never lived at all?" She raised her hand, sending a gust of wind from her fingertips to the door. Groaning in slight protest, it swung on its hinges and opened, revealing an island bathed in the light of a new day. Carry stood, silhouetted in the sunlight as Catsy watched from the safety of a shadow. "Happy innocence is gone," she whispered, "for all of us."
Carry turned to look outside. He had never seen the Animal Village so empty. It was as if he were the only living thing for miles around. He turned back to Catsy, but to his surprise, she was gone, leaving behind only his old, dark room. Swiftly, he turned to face the daylight again. He narrowed his eyes, peering into the horizon, almost searching for something, he knew not what.
Beyond his extraordinary vision, far away on the sandy shore of the island, Matilda stood in front of Tail Cave, her jaw open in surprise. The door was open and the dungeon was abandoned, its precious treasures swept away in the night. Covering her mouth with one hand, she choked down a sob and dropped her knees. Her dreams were slipping through her fingers faster than she could handle.
"Careful, careful," Link muttered, squeezing his way through a rock formation. "Easy."
Together, Link and Zelda had managed to carry Tress out of Tail Cave and across half of the beach. At one point, they had been forced to take cover in the trees, as Matilda passed by. Link only paused once to consider why in the name of Din Matilda would be wandering the beach at such an early hour, but his thoughts were quickly shoved away when he realized that there were much more important things to be thinking about.
At the top of the list was the fact that they had to somehow restore Valerie to her body. Tress had been reluctant to leave, but even she couldn't deny the fact that Valerie's body was dying without its angelic owner to heal it. So, with Zelda holding her shoulders and Link grabbing her legs, the three of them paraded across the shore heading for the exact place they had been when Tress first took over Valerie's body.
"I think this is the spot," Zelda said, examining the trees.
"It's close enough," Link decided. Gingerly, he and Zelda lowered Tress down to the sand. Much to his surprise, she sat up, grimacing and panting.
"What now?" Zelda asked.
"We repeat what we did the first time," Link replied, kneeling down on the sand and taking hold of Tress' hand. "And hope that it'll reverse the process."
"Not your most solid of all plans," Tress wheezed with a slight smile.
"Not really," Link admitted, "but I'm sure I'll come up with worse in the years to come."
Zelda sat down on the sand across from Link. "I can't think of anything better," she said.
Link shrugged. "Well, let's get on with it."
Tress looked up at Zelda. "I'll tell your parents where you are. They've never given up hope."
"I knew they wouldn't," Zelda said sadly. She put her hand on Tress' face. "But you can't tell them. You can't tell anyone."
"If they knew I was alive, they'd come looking for me. More people would be stranded on the island. I can't have that on my conscience."
Link shook his head. "Zelda's right. If people come looking for us, things will only get worse than they already are. Besides," he smirked, "Zelda and I have every intention of coming home. They'll know we're both alive when they see us standing on the doorstep of North Castle."
Tress let out a single, choking laugh. "Showoff," she croaked.
"All right, let's do this." Zelda took Tress' other hand and looked up at Link. "Focus," she muttered, "focus." Slowly, she reached her hand out; taking Link's and closing her eyes.
The energy drain wasn't as immediate as it had been last time, but Zelda chalked that up to the fact that Tress wasn't operating on full thrusters. It came, as she had expected and soon she could feel the warmth creeping up her arms and into her chest. The voices crept into her brain, most of them quiet in the early morning hours. She could hear their dreams, a thousand languages all sharing common longings and desires. As she had done before, she reached out, trying to latch onto her focal point. She could hear Tress whispering.
*We'll meet again Zelda,* the voice said. *The day you return to Hyrule in triumph, I'll be there to greet you.*
*I know,* Zelda replied. *And you'll have a hundred more adventures to tell me about.*
*So will you. One thing that I've learned is that destiny doesn't select heroes, it's the other way around.*
*Did Higgins teach you that?* Zelda asked.
*No,* Tress said. Her voice sounded as if she were smiling. *You taught me that. Don't let Valerie fool you into believing that everything is predestined. Farore gave us a great gift that no one can ever take from us.*
*Choice.* As the word ended, Zelda felt the uncontrollable undertow carry her backwards. She fell, her eyes popping open as she hit the sand. A bright flash of light filled her vision, the one which usually heralded Valerie's entrance. As she sat up, Zelda realized that she and Link were alone on the beach. There was no sign that Valerie or Tress had ever been there.
"I guess it worked," Link said as he sat up.
"Yeah," Zelda muttered distractedly staring at the horizon.
Link shifted onto his knees and scuttled across the sand to Zelda. He put his hands on her shoulders and looked out, trying to follower he gaze. "Are you okay?" he asked.
"I will be," she said with a nod. "Tell me the truth though; you enjoyed having her around didn't you? I mean, it was really nice for you to have another Hero around to banter with."
"Tress is my friend," Link said, "and she always will be. It was nice having her around to remember old times, but truth be told, it made no difference that she was another Hero."
"Really?" Zelda asked. "Why not?"
"You are a hero Zelda," he said shifting his weight so that he could sit down in front of her and look her in the eyes. "Never doubt that."
She leaned over and kissed him, caressing his face with a hand. "We'll be heroes together then."
Link smiled. He glanced over his shoulder for a moment, then up at the sky, watching a seagull fly overhead. "Some things never change," he muttered.
"What do you mean?" she asked, frowning.
"Have you ever stopped to wonder why all our misadventures end up with us sitting on the beach?"
Zelda laughed. She swiped Link's hat and put it on her own head. "No, I haven't." She draped a hand over his shoulder, cupping his neck. "I'll let you know when we have a misadventure."
He kissed her again. "One down, seven to go." He shifted his weight again, falling onto his back on the sand.
Zelda pushed his hat onto the back of her head and lay down beside him. "Do you think we'll ever really find a way home?" she asked, nuzzling up to his shoulder.
"Sure I do," he replied, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "I'm the Hero of Time and you're the Princess of Destiny, an unbeatable combination."
Zelda scooted up, resting her head on Link's chest. His words echoed in her ears. The Princess of Destiny. She felt an unfamiliar surge of pride fill up her head. "Do you think I'll ever master telepathy?" she asked.
"Try it," he urged her, rubbing the top of her head with his thumb.
Zelda frowned. She closed her eyes, trying to focus her mind. A new feeling she had never know before emerged. It wasn't the wash of heat, nor the cacophony of voices she had heard last time. It was something gentler, something liberating and carefree. An abnormal sort of calm filled her head, stillness so peaceful that it silenced the wind itself. *I love you,* she whispered telepathically.