For seven years now, she had not dared to wander off alone. Now, standing beneath the still leaves of the weeping willow, she reflected on the end. And the beginning. For that's what this night was, she knew it with all of her heart. She had a difficult decision ahead of her and so relished her first opportunity in seven years for the freedom of solitude.
Ganondrof Dragmire had fallen. She kept shaking her head, trying to grasp the notion. In her world, seeing was no longer believing, but with her own eyes, she had beheld the final stand of the fiend. With her own hands, she had contributed to his downfall. All of this was comfort, yet she couldn't bring herself to join in the festivities. How could she celebrate with such a difficult choice to make?
There was an important final matter to attend to, the matter of Link. He had fulfilled every expectation, he had saved them all. Still, looking at him now, standing off to the side to watch the dancing, she knew that he was incomplete. She had asked the impossible of him and he had lived up to the task, but at what price? The cost of his childhood? Common sense and compassion told her what had to be done, but something was hindering her. Each time she attempted to broach the subject, her emotions welled up in her chest, causing her to hesitate and push the matter aside. During those seven years, there had been hundreds of tomorrows to leave the decision to. But tomorrow had finally come.
She loved him. Not in the sense of deep rooted admiration or even gratitude. What she felt for him, and what she hoped he felt for her, was a true, irrational love. She felt the selfish desire to keep him as he was, to horde him and look beyond the mistakes of the past. After all they had been through; after all she had been through, a small voice in the back of her mind told her, that it was what she deserved. She deserved him.
Yet, that small voice couldn't overpower the wisdom controlling her rational mind. Despite every longing urge she felt to embrace him and remain in his arms for all time, she knew her desires were wrong. The past had to be mended. She had to allow him to go back.
And so she stood, alone under the willow tree, dreading the next few moments when she would experience, in a sense, her own death, by restoring order to his world. It wasn't enough time; the voice in her head whispered weakly, no amount of stalling would be enough time. How could she wait, anyway, knowing that regardless of the delay, she would eventually be forced to surrender her love and her memories to the will of Time?
Her eyes grew hot, welling over with tears. She hadn't cried in a long time, seven years in fact. In an effort to alleviate her sorrow, she turned to look up at the rubble, still smoldering from the battle. She reflected on all the good they had done. True, there had been no final solution. Deep inside, she knew that the trouble for Hyrule was just beginning. Decades, even centuries after her own death, Ganondorf would rise again. He had a way of doing that. At the very least Ganondorf, no, Ganon's legacy would haunt her bloodline and Link's for all time.
Ancient prophecies filled her head. She heard the whispering of the voices of old men, telling her of the future. She would have hundreds of descendents, bearing her name, all descended from her bloodline, but not descended from each other. All these girls would have lives running parallel to the descendents of Link, all descended directly from him and each other. She wished in vain that somehow, someday, the parallel lines would meet; fulfilling the loss she was preparing to suffer. If only, someday, she could ensure that one of her descendents and one of Link's descendents could be together!
A single tear spilled over the corner of her eye, slowly rolling down her soft cheek. She cupped one hand under the tear, catching it in her palm. The soft wind kissed her face, drying her cheek, but the single solitary tear remained protected in her hand. Placing her other hand over the tear, she closed her eyes, summoning wisps of ether from the darkness. The mystical strands danced around her, congregating around her hands. A bright pink light streamed out from in between her fingers, filling the darkness long enough to illuminate her entire body.
There was no subtle disappearance of the light. It lingered for a time, eventually dying away like glowing embers. She lifted her hand off of her palm and found, lying where the tear had been, a silver pendant in the shape of a tear with a solitary purple gemstone embedded in the center of it. Her fingers casually ran along the coils making up the border of the tear, feeling the engraved runes etched into the silver.
This would be a symbol of her undying love for Link. Even though the tricks of time would force her to forget (and him as well), this pendent would stand for all time as testimony to the fact that they knew and loved one another. Let the world forget, she decided with resigned sadness. It was enough that the pendent existed, but what to do with it?
She knew that she would be the last person bearing her name to have a child, so it wouldn't be right to leave the pendent to inheritance. Scanning the garden, she caught sight of her rose garden. Well, what had once been her rose garden. No flowers had bloomed there for well over seven years now. Above that garden, sitting in the picture window, she had first seen Link, no more than an awkward boy of ten. That would be the place, she decided, even as she was walking toward it.
Her fingers, deft though they were, could never do an adequate job burying her treasure, so she instead set about creating a small, controlled whirlwind, tossing a single blue gale seed down into the dirt. With her wind sculpture, she bore a narrow well into the ground, just in front of the rose garden. When it was sufficiently deep, she dispersed the wind. Gently, she lifted the teardrop pendent to her lips, kissing it for luck, praying silently that someday it would be uncovered by the proper person. She dropped it into the hole, scraping some dirt over the opening with her foot.
A part of her was appeased, satisfied even. Though Time would forget the pendent, she knew it would survive, it would be found. The wisps of ether that created it were saturated in Time. So was the tear. Her love would abide and endure, regardless of what tricks Time played on their lives.
So, with a deep sigh, she turned away from the garden, the window, and the pendent. The noise from the celebration seemed to penetrate her attention for the first time. She looked over at Link, leaning against the wall to watch the celebration. Though his back was to her, she could perfectly make out all the handsome features that she soon would never again look upon as she was now. The time for tears was over though.
She walked over to his side and gently touched his arm. As always, he turned to her and immediately sensed the dread in her gaze. There was an intimate understanding between them and Link departed from the wall, allowing her to lead him away. They walked into the open air, hand in hand, the newborn wind causing her yellow hair to dance in the same manner as the ether. Finally, they were sufficiently far enough from the crowd. She turned to look at him with sad, mournful eyes. He returned her gaze, fighting to keep back his own tears.
The truth was they both knew that this was the necessary step, but neither of them was looking forward to separating indefinitely. She took both of his hands and stood there a moment, basking in his presence. It just wasn't enough time. He leaned forward, kissing her tenderly on the chin. Closing her eyes, she savored the moment, squeezing both of his hands.
The moment was gone before it had even begun. Seven years, seven seconds, they were all the same to her now. Without realizing the change, she sensed the ocarina in her hands, replacing his warm touch. She had to send him back now, she had to fix things. More tears were brimming up around the corners of her eyes and she realized she had to do it now, before her strength and resolve failed, giving way to the voice in her mind. It wasn't enough Time.
"Dice doggie, good doggie," Link whispered, slowly moving around the periphery of the clearing with his palms in front of him. "You don't want to eat Link. Link tastes bad. You want to eat…you want to be a vegetarian."
The dog snarled, sinking down on its haunches. Long white fangs protruded from its upper lip and its red eyes focused intently on Link. The only thing protecting Link from the eminent pounce was a short length of iron chain, tied securely to its collar and held by Zelda. "Don't make any sudden movements," she instructed Link, wrapping the chain around her knuckles
"The thought dever crossed by bind," Link muttered, finally getting to the thick bushes blocking their way. Slowly, he reached over his shoulder and withdrew the Master Sword. Bow Wow growled. "I don't do well wib animals," he lamented, turning to cut away the obstruction in the road. "Holy Din, who would want to steal a creature like that anyway?"
"I don't know," Zelda replied. Bow Wow suddenly sprang forward, attempting to pounce on Link. Zelda braced herself, but still slipped to her knees. Bow Wow gained a few precious inches and shot forward, the collar just stopping him before he could sink his teeth into Link's leg. Zelda yanked on the other end of the chain, pulling him back. "Bad dog!" she shouted. Bow Wow turned around to look at her, his ears falling. He whimpered softly and sat down, putting a meaty paw over his nose.
"That guy was an absolute boron," Link continued, shaking slightly from the fright. "Who kidnaps a dog anyway? And it's not like Elinor has a lot of boney."
"Stop analyzing it," Zelda told him, getting up to her feet.
"I hate pointless things." By this point, Link had more or less cleared up the path. He was poised to return the Master Sword to the sheath mounted on his back, but suddenly, he froze
"What is it?" Zelda asked, her voice rising with alarm.
"Achoo!" Link sneezed very loudly.
"You're still sick," Zelda sighed. "You shouldn't have come with me to get Bow Wow back."
"And biss a party like this?" he asked, stabbing the sword into the ground to lean on it for a second. "Biss the chance to be eaten alive by a dasty dog that we have to baby-sit while the rest of the town is out looking for him? I don't think so. Besides, this is the perfect chance for us to get away for awhile to talk about the dext dungeon." He looked like hell. His normally pale Hylian skin was even clammier than usual. Every few minutes, he had to lean against something, his eyes falling out of focus. The only color on his face was his bright red nose which he was constantly sliding the heel of his palm over.
"Have you looked in a mirror lately?" Zelda asked.
"I'm dot sick," he declared, standing up straight and returning his sword to the sheath.
"Repeat after me: The new nymph had never before met a nicer neighbor."
"The dew dymph had dever before bet a dicer deighbor. I am dot sick!" With that, he marched through the clearing and tried his best to ignore Zelda's laughter as she followed behind him, dragging Bow Wow along.
"Turn right," Zelda instructed him as Mr. Write's house came into view. Bow Wow, sniffing a new human's scent began yapping loudly, running ahead of Zelda as far as his chain would permit him. He snapped at Link's ankles, causing the befuddled Hylian boy to leap into the air with a yelp.
"Will you keep that bonster under control?" he howled, running several meters ahead.
"Bad Bow Wow!" Zelda reprimanded the creature. Again, Bow Wow's ears fell and he whimpered quietly, falling back to walk along Zelda's side.
"Why did we have to take him wib us?" Link asked. "Couldn't we have just left him outside of Elinor's door?"
"Well, if no one knows he's been found yet," Zelda reasoned, "then we still have a legitimate reason to be walking in the forest together."
"I guess," Link consented. "So where is this dext dungeon?"
"A little ways ahead," Zelda replied. "In the Goponga Swamp."
Link stopped dead in his tracks. "Swamp?!"
"Yeah," Zelda said, slowing down so that there was enough space between them to keep Bow Wow at bay.
"You dever said anything about a swamp!"
"Does it matter?"
Link gave her a hard look. "A swamp is the ideal place for an ambush."
"No one is going to ambush us Link!" she scoffed. "The swamp is perfectly safe. When I was a child, the older kids used to sneak in to tell ghost stories."
"Other people have been in the dungeon?" Link asked skeptically.
"Yes," Zelda said. "Of course they had no interest in the Nightmares back then. And it was before…"
"Before the flowers started growing."
"Flowers?" Link blinked a few times. "What do you bean flowers?"
"About five years ago, these poisonous flowers began growing in the swamp. Soon, it became virtually impossible to navigate the swamp without stepping on them or touching them."
"They're dangerous to the touch?"
"Yeah. When they got to be too abundant, people just stopped going into the swamp."
"What kind of flowers are we talking about?"
Zelda shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe fireflowers." She frowned. "They're going to be an obstacle. We'll have to find a way to clear a path without touching them."
"That's easy," Link said, walking again. "I'll just wear by gloves."
"Gloves aren't sufficient protection," Zelda replied, shaking her head.
Link slowed down, approaching a signpost. "Goponga Swamp," he read, "DANGER! Keep out." Beyond him, stretched out for miles, lay the swamp. It was a hideously hazy day, so the swamp was blanketed in a thick gray mist. From the puce water, light brown vapor rose into the air, blending with the blasé fog. Floating on top of the water were green and yellow algae, swirling slowly with a minute current. Here and there, the murk was dotted with bright red flowers, pulsating enough to occasionally expose dark orange pistols, the origin of the plant's name. "What an ugly place," Link said, wrinkling his nose.
"Be grateful you can't smell it," Zelda said, cautiously coming to rest at Link's side, the chain holding Bow Wow tight on the opposite side of her body.
"What's it smell like?" Link.
"A combination of sugar and foot rot."
"Are dose the fireflowers?" Link asked, pointing to one of the delicate looking flowers.
"Yeah." Bow Wow started tugging on the chain, whimpering quietly. Cautiously, Zelda gave him a little bit of slack, just enough to keep him happy, but not enough to get near Link. She pointed toward the northeast corner of the swamp. "Up there, that shadowy region, the entrance to the dungeon is in there."
Link half turned to look at her. "Have you ever gone in there?"
Zelda shook her head. "I remember one time; Tracy and Matty invited me to sneak into the dungeon in the middle of the night with them. I wanted to go so badly, but Tarin found out about our plans and locked the door and window to the hut."
"Why did you girls want to go in there?"
She shrugged. "To show that we weren't afraid I guess." Bow Wow whined some more, so Zelda gave him some more slack. "Anyway, I never got in. But time was it was perfectly common to claim that one had been inside."
"Five years since the last person got in there?"
"That's a long time. Long enough for the Dightmare living there to bake a lot of changes."
"So you're saying that the geography inside has probably changed a lot anyway." Link nodded. Zelda sighed. "I wish we had more information to go on. Too bad that book disappeared before I could read the chapter on Bottle Grotto."
"We'll be fine," Link assured her. "Assuming we can find a way to get in."
Bow Wow whined. Zelda gave him more slack. "Has Grandpa Ulrira been able to provide any useful stories about Bottle Grotto?" she asked Link.
"Dot really. He rambles on a good deal about the Roc's Feather still. I keep trying to tell him that I've already heard the story, but it's difficult to get a word in edgewise unless he's asleep and then he…" Link trailed off.
"Link?" Link was staring intently at the swamp ground, as if mesmerized. "Link? What are you looking…?" Zelda followed his gaze to the wetland where she saw an amazing sight. Bow Wow was laying happily on his side, chomping on a fireflower without a care, his long black tail wagging silently in the water.
"Is he really doing what I'm seeing?" Link asked.
"He's not supposed to be able to do that," Zelda declared, as if it made a difference one way or another, what he was supposed to be able to do.
"He's eating the fireflowrs."
"And he's not howling in pain."
Link's eyes slowly traveled upwards, meeting Zelda's gaze. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"That we have our own personal lawnmower that can eat our way through the fireflowers? If that's what you're thinking then, yes." She frowned. "Oh wait, but that'll never work. There's no way Elinor will let Bow Wow out of her sight again after he was dognapped."
"She doesn't know he was found," Link said. "We can use him dow and bring him back afterwards."
"Oh, there's no way," Zelda said, shaking her head adamantly. "You're still sick."
"I am dot sick!" He walked over to her, placing his hands on her shoulders. "Zelda, I swear, I'll be fine. We have to take advantage of this while we can. It's the best way to keep from drawing attention to ourselves."
"You're right," she consented.
"Of course I'm right. I'm always right. I'm the Hero."
Zelda jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow. "Don't get cocky." He laughed. "Listen, will you at least do me the favor of talking to Valerie first? The sun will set in a few hours. Go to the village and talk to Val, then come back at sunset. Tell Tarin you're leaving to find me and bring me back to the village and that he shouldn't worry."
"Oh, all right," Link submitted to her will.
"I love a man who knows when to cave in," she beamed.
"Are you sure you'll be all right here for a few hours?" Link asked.
"I'll be fine," Zelda assured him. She reached up behind her neck and unclasped the hook holding her necklace. Holding one end in her fingers, she lifted the other end telekinetically, walking over to Link. He wrinkled his nose, but allowed her to fasten the chain around his neck. At once, the silver pendent dropped, bouncing against his chest.
"I think this would fetch be some really funny looks," Link said, tucking the pendent underneath the folds of his green tunic.
"Get going," Zelda instructed him.
"I'm gone, I'm gone." Link backed away from her. With one last smile in Zelda's direction, he took off, turning just in time to narrowly avoid slamming into a rather large boulder. Zelda watched him disappear into the trees of the Mysterious Forest.
Alone, she walked to the signpost and tied Bow Wow's chain to it with plenty of slack. She glanced at the sign with a frown. Inside her pocket was a pencil. She drew it and held it in her right hand, clutched just above her heart for a moment as she contemplated mischief. Finally, she switched the pencil to her left hand and leaned over, writing in wobbly letters that in no way resembled her handwriting. When she had finished, she stepped back to read the sign. "Goponga Swamp. DANGER! Keep out! (Except Bow Wow)"
There was something about the arch of her spine that always made Valerie walk with dignity beyond that of other women. Her head was always held high and when her hair swayed just enough to one side or the other, anyone watching her from behind could see the perfect curve of her back, peeking out from the dip in her dress's collar line. Few people knew what else was on her back, but that was a matter that Valerie liked to keep to herself.
She was walking back to the Mabe Village. While everyone else had gone out on a mad hunt for Bow Wow, she resigned herself to some alone time in the Ukuku Prairie, picking herbs. She knew that Link and Zelda would locate Bow Wow. Frankly, after years of living on Koholint, she was beginning to weary of the whole charade. Therefore, she elected to forgo pretending to look for the dog, in favor of getting some work accomplished.
The wicker basket of gatherings bounced against her hip, catching in the gossamer of her skirt and furthering her irritation. She couldn't explain why, but in recent days, everything was getting on her nerves. The island. The people on the island. Her own mortal body. She wondered, briefly, if part of her irritation was the result of the conversation she had had with Tress, the Hero of Destiny, for the brief period several weeks ago when Tress had taken complete control of Valerie's body. No, she reasoned, it couldn't possibly have been their conversation; it was something else, something different, a change that had been catalyzed as a result of the ordeal. Valerie wished she had the answer, but it was eluding her today.
"Good afternoon Valerie." Val cringed. Immediately, with striking clarity, she knew exactly what was eating her. She turned her eyes straight ahead and sped up, walking right past Richard's villa where Richard stood in the doorway, watching her with his arms folded across his chest. "Valerie?" he called as she ran past him. "Hey Valerie! Wait up!" He started chasing after her. "What's the rush?"
"Go away Richard," she hissed quietly, still walking.
"You know, a simple 'hello' would be nice for a change," he puffed, catching up to her.
"What? What did I do this time?" He grabbed Valerie's arm and stopped running, turning her around to face him. "I don't understand what the matter is with you!" he exclaimed. "One minute you're being nice to me and the next you're treating me like dirt!"
She squinted, wrinkling her nose at him. "Since when have I ever been nice to you?"
"You're always hot and cold with me!"
"I beg your pardon?" For emphasis, she pried his hand away from her arm, throwing it roughly to one side.
"A few weeks ago, you went an entire weekend without insulting me once!"
A second stroke of clarity hit her. Tress. Tress had treated Richard in a manner that was all too friendly and now Valerie had to suffer the consequences of it. "You've been in the sun too long!" she blurted, conjuring up one of Marin's favorite excuses for Richard's behavior.
"What is your childhood trauma?!" Richard blurted out, glaring at Valerie in annoyance.
She stared back at him coldly. "What's yours?"
He regarded her for a second, his pale blue eyes turning hard. "I think, little angel, that this conversation is over with."
Valerie blinked in surprise. It was as if she had said the magic words. His demeanor, of seemingly false friendliness, turned back into the normally icy cold front he always put up. "Well, that's fine with me," she said flatly.
"It's not like anyone can ever have a conversation with you anyway," he continued. Valerie's heart sank. He wasn't showing any signs of leaving anytime soon. "You know, you're just plain mean! If I were to look into your angelic mouth, I'd see nothing but meanness running through you."
"I'm mean? What about you?" she shouted back.
"I treat you just like I treat everyone else. You on the other hand, you reserve your sweetness for the 'special people' and treat me like dirt!"
"You are dirt Richard!" Valerie bellowed. "You have no consideration for other people's feelings. You use and abuse their most carefully guarded secrets and exploit them whenever you need a favor. How should I treat you Richard? Tell me, I really want to know."
"Like a person," he replied.
She moved up very close to him, bringing her face within inches of his. "You first," she whispered. With that, she snapped her head around and began walking away from him, resuming her course to the Mabe Village.
"You looked at me differently!" he shouted after her. "I saw you! You looked at me differently!"
Valerie continued walking, but her face contorted into a frown. She wondered what he was talking about. Looked at him differently? What did that mean? No matter, she decided firmly, turning around a large boulder. Richard, in the long run, was no more important to her than anyone else on the island, other than Link and Zelda. Still, some of Tress' words were running through her mind. "What about Richard?" she had asked.
"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 –"
And then Valerie had cut her off completely. She didn't want to see Richard or anyone else as important. Not with the great danger posed to Koholint. She had to keep herself aloof and distant from the rest of them, she simply had no choice.
Gene paced back and forth. In actuality, his feet weren't even touching the ground. Rather, he moved systematically back and forth, his body less than a fraction of a centimeter off the floor. Obviously, there were no footsteps to be heard. Over the centuries, Gene had worked to perfect the semblance of a corporeal nature, but the sound of footsteps echoing off the stone dungeon walls was the one missing piece from his charade. This was an annoyance at most, but hardly anything as pressing as the approaching arrival of the Hylians at his doorstep.
"Have you locked the doors?" Gene asked his Guardian for the third time in the last hour.
"Yes Master," Hinox replied, stooping low to the ground in an exaggerated bow.
"What did you do with the keys?"
"I took them off the key ring and scattered them around the dungeon, just as you commanded me Master."
"And the Conch Horn?"
"It's locked in the safe room behind your den, Master," Hinox said.
"Good," Gene said without so much as glancing at the Guardian. He lifted his hand, pretending to rub his temple. It was something he had often observed Flame and the others doing in times of great stress. He was constantly copying Flame's movements. When he was frustrated, he would slam his fist down on the arm of his chair. It had taken him many centuries of practice to get it down just right. Every time he tried to do it, he'd forget that he was non-corporeal and send his fist through the armrest before he had time to stop himself. Finally, he had mastered the motion. Of course, it still made no sound. "What about the treasury?" he asked suddenly.
Hinox bowed his head. "I've dispersed the chests in the most protected rooms."
"Good," Gene muttered again. He stopped in one corner of the room and looked up at it, seeming to examine the wall. "I don't like it when people touch my things. I want you to put out all the torches Hinox."
"Yes Master," Hinox said, bowing again.
"They'll be attacking at night no doubt. No need to block out the windows." He paused with a frown. After a moment, he turned around, shaking a finger at his Guardian. "You know what? Block out the windows anyway. I only want there to be one way in and one way out of this hall."
"Of course Master."
"Store away the carpets too. The Hylians will only track swamp water all over the place."
"Always concerned about cleanliness," a voice said. Gene turned around and his eyes were met by a brilliant burst of flame that lit up the opposite side of the room.
"A place for everything and everything in its place," he said snidely.
The light died down, revealing a beautiful woman in a red toga. "Obsessive compulsive anyone?" she asked, arching her eyebrows.
"Catsy," Gene replied, pretending to fold his hands behind his back. "You're a regular breath of vile air."
"I'm flattered," she replied, bowing her head. The two buns in her hair bobbed, a flame catching them to cast the shadow of a beast on the stone floor.
"Have I mentioned that you're entirely unwelcome here?"
"You might have mentioned it," she answered. "I don't really know; I never pay much attention."
"Hinox," Gene said tightly.
Catsy lifted a finger. She wagged it back and forth, the firelight glinting off of her red nail. "Don't do something stupid," she warned.
Gene ignored her. "Hinox, are those windows sealed off?"
"Not yet Master," Hinox replied.
"Well get on with it then." He waved a hand over his shoulder, dismissing the confused Guardian.
Catsy watched him lumber out of the room. "Well, at least you gave him a name," she quipped.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
She walked over to Gene, making loud, echoing footsteps which hurt his ears. "Well, it almost makes up for his lack of personality. Tail was the other way around. His Guardian had attitude at least, just no name."
Gene's cheeks flushed. "How dare you speak of Tail in such a dismissing manner!?"
"He's dead," Catsy shot back, "get over it." She frowned. "His Guardian too, thank the Windfish. What an annoying creature that was. It was as if Tail took every bad feature of a demon and stuck them together in a hideous, nameless collage."
"At least Tail's Guardian, and mine I might add, was capable of doing his job," Gene snapped harshly.
"Oh? Is this an attempt to hurt my pride by insulting my Guardian?" Catsy asked, most sweetly.
"Yours was always the laughing stock of demonkind."
"Well, that's a matter of opinion now, isn't it?"
"Who ever thought of creating a creature with freewill?"
"I did," Catsy said firmly.
"It all depends on how you look at it." She frowned. "You ask why I gave my Guardian normal emotions. Do you really want a follower incapable of loyalty? Or of love?"
"Love is a wasted emotion."
"And what about loyalty?"
Gene puffed his cheeks out in frustration. "My Guardian is loyal to me."
"Blind loyalty and earned loyalty are two separate things."
"I am not going to argue this with you!" Gene shouted. "Hinox will destroy the Hylians!"
"I'm not so sure about that," Catsy said easily.
"You're betting on the losing team Catsy."
"As I recall, you were the one who had faith in Tail's ability to defeat the Hylians last time. And Kurt before him."
Gene glowered silently at Catsy for a moment. "Why are you even here?" he finally asked.
"Isn't it obvious?"
"No, it's not."
"You mean to tell me that in all your 'infinite' wisdom, you don't know why I'm here?"
She smiled cruelly. "I'm here to say goodbye my darling brother. You should have figured that out."
"Goodbye?" He laughed haughtily. "I have no intention of going anywhere my dear sister."
"The Hylians are going to destroy you," she said matter-of-factly.
"We'll see about that."
"Well then," she pursed her lips. "I guess there's nothing more for me to say to you."
"What about goodbye?"
She eyed him for a moment. "Goodbye." Throwing a wisp of black hair over her shoulder, she turned around, walking over to the corner where she had first materialized just moments before.
"Catsy," he called after her.
She turned around, quickly masking her surprise with a look of boredom. "Yes?" she asked nonchalantly.
"There's been a girl looming around my dungeon."
"She comes here every night, hiding in the shadows, peering into the door. The fireflowers sting and burn her, yet she comes every night." He eyed her critically for a moment, waiting for a reaction.
"I don't see how this concerns me."
He continued to stare at her. "The funny thing is she has this book you see, a book about us."
"The Book of the Nightmares," Catsy said, playing with a smile on her face.
"Yes, so it would seem." He narrowed his eyes, assuming the most threatening posture he could possibly muster. "I know where she got that book Catsy. I know it was your dainty hand that penned it and I know it was you that placed it in the hands of the villagers."
"So what if I did?" she asked defiantly.
"I've been too busy making preparations for the Hylian attack right now," he replied. "But as soon as I dispose of them, I intend to tell all the others about it."
"Then I have nothing to fear," she hissed.
"We'll see about that." He frowned. "That girl had better not come around again while I'm dealing with the Hylians. I'd have to kill her. You know how much I hate killing."
"I'm sure," she said, dipping her head in mock sincerity. "After all, it's so messy. Will there be anything else?"
"Any final requests?"
"Get out of my dungeon!"
"As you wish…dear brother." Catsy twisted both her wrists and a flash of fire consumed her, carrying her away to no one knew where.
Gene counted to ten slowly in his head, almost expecting another flash to herald her return. When nothing happened, he relaxed, physically pantomiming a release of tension in his shoulders. "Hinox!" he bellowed.
As expected, the lumbering Guardian appeared in the doorway. "Yes Master?" he asked, bowing.
"Hinox, speak with the other servants. Tell them that from now on, if anyone, anyone other than themselves appears in the dungeon, kill them. I mean anyone; I want no strangers getting out of here alive."
"Of course Master," Hinox replied.
"I don't care if it's a single Moblin, the Matilda girl, or Catsy herself. Kill them all."
"The Hylians too?"
Gene frowned. "Yes," he decided. Hinox turned to walk out of the room, but Gene called after him. "Eventually."
The well in the Mabe Village was a popular place. Besides its obvious purpose of providing water for everyone, it was a meeting place, a post office of sorts where letters were exchanged, and a symbol of civic pride. Often, Link would hear Tarin boasting proudly of the day the well was reconstructed. It had been a terrible storm, Tarin told him time and time again. The winds had blown fiercely, reducing the old well to rubble. With a twinkle in his eye, he'd then stoop down, looking at Link with a mischievous grin. He'd whisper the story of how the entire town and pulled together to build a brand new well, a better well.
As Link sat on the edge of the well, his feet just dangling above the ground, he felt guilty about not being so impressed. He blamed it on his upbringing. He had grown up in a large country after all, not a small backwater island. In Hyrule, there was nothing terribly impressive about a well. Fountains, now these were another matter entirely, but in Hyrule, a well was nothing more than a place to draw water from.
Link sat up straight, pulling his shoulders backwards until several bones gave off a satisfying crack. Relief gushed through his back. With a euphoric sigh, he let his posture fall slack. Valerie was bound to show up any minute. She was as predictable as a clock. Every day, precisely an hour before sunset, she would arrive at the well and draw a basin of water to wash her days' collections in. Predictable as a clock, she was.
The boy frowned, popping his knuckles absently. How predictable were clocks really anyway? He thought about the hundreds of lectures he had received as a child about the nature of Time and was surprised by how much he actually recalled. Most of the lectures he had privately dedicated to catching up on his daydreaming.
"Good afternoon," Valerie said with a faint smile. Link shook his head, clearing the clouds from his mind. "Link?"
"Good afternoon Valerie," he said in a thick nasal.
"Something troubling you?" she asked after a moment, while he still remained on top of the well.
"What? Oh!" Immediately, he jumped off the well and picked up the bucket, offering it to her sheepishly.
Valerie laughed graciously, accepting the vessel. "Where's Marin?" she inquired carefully.
"She's around," Link replied cryptically. He glanced from side to side before continuing, lowering his voice under the squeals and shouts of some children nearby. "We're taking the dext dungeon tonight," he whispered.
Valerie nodded, busying herself with the task of drawing water. "Are you sure that's a good idea? So soon?"
"We have the perfect opportunity open to us right now," he explained. "Bow Wow can clear a path through the swamp for us. We deed to take advantage of it while we can still get away with it."
"All right," Valerie consented, lowering the bucket. "Then what are you doing here?"
"Marin told be to come ask if you could do anything for my dose. I'm sick."
"I hadn't noticed," Valerie lied. "Sinus troubles? I can remedy that." She released the rope holding the bucket (it had already hit the bottom anyway) and leaned over her wicker basket, sorting through the various herbs until she found what she was looking for. She pulled out a bright orange herb, shaped like a carrot, and offered it to Link. "Take a bite out of this," she instructed him.
Link accepted the offering, looking at it in curiosity. "This will bake be sound dormal?" he asked.
"Take a bite and swallow," she repeated firmly.
Link shrugged. "Okay," he muttered. He opened his mouth and took a whopping bite out of the herb. Instantly, his eyes began to water as the rancid taste filled his mouth. He couldn't find words to describe the intense pain the taste of the herb was causing. It was like swallowing a bottle of perfume mixed with chili, only it had the texture of a soapy sponge. Painfully, Link swallowed the mouthful and then at once began spitting into the grass. "That's disgusting!" he yelled, gagging.
"But effective," Valerie said simply.
"What are you trying to do? Poison me!?!" Link spat a few more times, but froze suddenly. "Wait a second. The new nymph had never before met a nicer neighbor. You cured me!" Link whooped in triumph and pulled Valerie into a tight hug.
"Don't get so excited," Valerie warned him, pulling away. "I cured the symptom, not the disease. You're still sick, you just sound normal now."
"Good enough for me!" he hollered.
"What's the shouting for?" Valerie and Link turned around to see Carry approaching from the east.
"This woman is amazing!" Link declared, grabbing Valerie's shoulders and displaying her to Carry.
"Of course," Carry said smiling. "I could have told you that."
"How are you Carry?" Valerie asked, shrugging off Link and returning to the well.
"Good," he replied simply. He paused, a frown marring his face. "Have you seen Matilda?" he asked quietly.
"Matilda?" Valerie repeated. "No."
Carry looked at Link. "You?"
Link shook his head. "Sorry Carry. Honestly, I haven't seen Matty in days actually."
Carry looked concerned. "Why are you looking for her?" Valerie asked.
He sighed, approaching them a few paces more as if to avoid being overheard. "I'm worried," he told them.
Valerie's eyebrows jumped. "Worried about Matilda?"
Carry nodded solemnly, his red mane trembling. "She isn't right."
"Isn't right?" Link responded. "How do you mean?"
He shrugged his massive shoulders. "I can't explain."
"Well Carry, I'm sure it's nothing to…" Link trailed off.
Valerie stared at him. "Link?"
Carry looked equally confused. "Link?"
Link's mouth hung open. He pulled back, his chest sticking out. Slowly, he began closing his eyes, squinting at them with a vague expression. "Ah…"
"What is it?" Valerie asked.
"Achoo!" Link sneezed violently, throwing his weight forward so that he stooped, bowing to Carry. He righted himself, but a strange tingle took hold of him. Pale pink wisps of ether began rising from his exposed skin, dancing like smoke, except with a direction. It rose into the air, congregating somewhere over Carry's shoulder. There, it seemed to loop around itself, forming a circle.
Link stared, gaping really, at the swirling mass of pink energy. It grew opaque around the outer rim, but inside the circle, the gas turned white. Suddenly, a face appeared in the middle of the pink ring. It was a woman's face. Her cheekbones seemed un-proportionally high, but perhaps that was due more to the fact that her cheeks themselves seemed sunken in. She had long hair falling over her shoulders, but in the white light, Link couldn't tell what color it was. The woman seemed to look directly at him, staring with hard blue eyes.
All of this happened in a matter of seconds of course. Abruptly, the window caved in on itself and the image of the woman disappeared. The pink vapor dispersed with alarming speed, leaving behind no hints of what had happened. Oddly enough, Carry seemed to show no signs of even noticing the event.
"Bless you," he said, responding to Link's sneeze.
Link turned to look at Valerie. Her eyes were wide with shock. She had seen it too. "Thanks Carry," he mumbled, forcing his eyes back on the gentle giant.
"Well…" he said slowly, sensing some uneasiness, "I'm going to go find Matilda."
"Good luck Carry," Valerie said distractedly.
"Yeah, I'm sure you'll find her," Link added.
Carry gave them one final peculiar look. "Yeah," he muttered turning and walking away.
Link let the air escape from his lungs, a good ten seconds before he turned to Valerie, his voice an octave higher than usual. "Did you see that?" he hissed, gesturing frantically at the spot where the image had appeared.
She nodded slowly. "I did."
"What was that?"
"I don't know."
"Who was that?"
"I don't know."
Link scowled. "I don't like it when you don't know Val," he said. "You're the one who's supposed to be on top of things."
After sunset, the swamplands always got amazingly cold. The murky water released any heat retained through the disgusting vapors at dusk, leaving the entire pool ice cold once the final whispers of sunlight had vanished. The tall, broad-leaved trees which protected most of the Mysterious Forest from evening winds were absent in the swamp, exposing it to all the elements and dangers of a Koholint night.
Interestingly enough, despite the frigid temperature, the swamp was brilliantly lit. It was a little known fact that in the dark, fireflowers would bloom, glowing bright orange. Therefore, a soft light caressed the swamp, giving it an almost romantic atmosphere. Of course, an annoying chorus of crickets, seemingly omnipresent every night, screamed their dull song to all who would listen.
But then, what sane person would be out at this hour to hear them? That's the question that plagued Matilda's mind as she made her way through the Goponga Swamp. Every time a thin voice of reason would ask her what she was doing out and about at this hour though, a stronger, firmer voice in her head would say, "Tonight's the night. Tonight, you get into Bottle Grotto." This pattern had been repeated for the past seven nights now. Every time, she would get just a little bit closer to the entrance before she turned back. She would try to pick her way delicately through the flowers, pushing them aside with sticks or the tip of her hookshot.
Tonight was different though. The small voice of reason, the only source of doubt in her mind, had been silenced. Instead, she was driven onwards by the booming, boisterous call. She stomped her way through the water, trudging over the fireflowers and around the stone mazes. The soles of her boots had been worn thin and were starting to melt because of the contact with the poisonous flowers. Several times, her tunic had caught on a twisted vine or root, tearing to expose her unprotected skin. Any sane person would have turned back.
Somewhere nearby, she could hear a dog barking. One of Elinor's damn pets. Matilda had long ago given up on the ludicrous search for Bow Wow. What was the point in the entire village wasting a day's worth of work to find a dog? She just didn't see the logic. Instead, she idled her time away collecting shells, a mindless activity that allowed the voice in her head to swell in volume. "Tonight's the night!"
Her arm brushed against something and an instant later, she felt a stinging sensation score her entire body. With her voice caught in her throat, she stifled a scream. She turned to look at her arm. The sleeve of her shirt had torn off and right under the raggedy severance there was a long red streak, swelling before her eyes, growing redder. Had she taken the time to look over her shoulder, she would have noticed a tiny fireflower bud, wedged between two rocks mounted on top of each other. But she didn't take the time. Injury didn't matter. Nothing mattered except making it to the dungeon entrance.
It loomed ahead of her. It was nothing assuming of course, just a dark mouth carved into the face of a rock ledge. However, the wall around the door was decorated intricately with artistic flair. There were tall spirals, shaped like vines, winding their way up the sides, carved by some master artisan. Directly above the entrance were two meticulously sculpted hemispheres, sitting side by side and glaring down like two stone eyeballs.
Matilda never took time to wonder about the origins of the frieze of course. She was entirely consumed. Nor did she notice the fact that the entrance was circled by rows and rows of deadly fireflowers, all of them pulsating, blooming to release orange light into the unprotected chill of the Koholint night. She took a step in the direction of the door, but was forced to pull her foot back at once. There was a slow sizzling sound as she lowered her boot back into the freezing water, accompanied by a suddenly cloud of white steam.
She lifted her foot behind her, grabbing the ankle. Swiveling her head over her shoulder, she gazed down to be greeted by the sight of her own skin, covered in a thick cream of some sort. The sole of her boot had completely melted and the liquid remaining dripped down into the leather, completely exposing her foot to the elements. Carefully, she attempted to wiggle her toes and was met by a searing pain. All around the edge of the boot, fireflower sap was gathering, continuing to dissolve her footwear into nothingness.
Angrily, she ripped the remains of the boot off her foot, hurling it directly into the bed of fireflowers. She promptly was responded by a loud hiss, like oil in a frying pan, as the fireflowers came in contact with the aged leather and broke it down into its constituents. Her foot fell down into the dirty water, unprotected and freezing cold. With a frown, she removed her other boot and found it to be in an earlier stage of decay. She tossed that too into the bed of flowers.
"Tonight's the night!" the voice said, clearly audible over the violent torment of the boot.
"How am I going to get in?" she asked the voice.
"Just walk in. You've done it before."
"That was different," she said, attempting to reason with the voice, "that was before the flowers."
"The flowers don't matter, none of this matters," the voice whispered fiercely. "Any delay you take allows them to win."
"They want to keep me out of the dungeon," Matilda recited, as the voice had instructed her before. "They don't want to let me leave the island."
"Exactly," the voice hissed. "But you're smarter than they are. You won't let them win, will you?"
"No," she said firmly.
"They're all against you," the voice said. This had been a constant refrain; one Matilda had taken to heart, memorized.
"Chase the horizon," she muttered. She threw her pack over her shoulder. It contained only two items, her hookshot and the book she had been protecting for far too long now.
"Exactly," the voice urged her on.
Slowly, Matilda lifted her foot, placing it delicately on top of the flowerbed. Instantly, pain defying description seared up through Matilda's leg. Her eyes filled with tears as she felt her blood seem to boil from the touch of the flowers. She brought her second foot forward, planting it down as far ahead of her first as possible. Immediately, she lifted the first foot up, letting the chilly air blow against it, but the relief was short lived. A nanosecond passed and the pain transferred to her second foot, firmly embedded in the flowerbed. She continued to walk forward, the brief relief from the air becoming negligible.
She crossed the path of fire, her eyes streaming with tears, the voice taunting her onward, daring her to take another step. The flowers let off loud noises as she trod over them, their light failing under the weight of her feet. Murky swamp water turned red from the blood of her exposed skin, but she didn't dare stop, not for a moment.
When she at last felt the freezing cold of swamp water beneath her feet once more, she felt that practically a year had gone by. Her face was swollen and hot, covered with tears and dark hair matted against her forehead with sweat. The beautiful hazel eyes set just perfectly in her face stung and wavered. She couldn't see for her tears. Her strength began to wane and she collapsed, falling upon her knees in the middle of the water.
"Don't stop now!" the voice cried, jeering at her weakness.
"It hurts," she whispered. That was all she had the energy or breath to say.
"You've made it! Go in! Claim your prize!"
Matilda rose unsteadily to her feet. Panting, forcing herself to look up, instead of down at her broken and blistered feet, she moved forward, her toes stiff in the water, her heart pounding in her chest. She realized that her jaw was clinched tightly; resulting in a splitting headache that slowly crept up her neck. All the same, a small, pained smile spread across her lips, a grin of pure triumph. No one had stopped her.
It was late. Tracy desperately wanted to go to bed. In fact, she couldn't imagine anything more pleasant than closing her eyes and drifting off to sleep. Unfortunately, there was one little nuisance preventing her from doing just that. As it was, she kept trying to get rid of said nuisance; unfortunately, he seemed to show no signs of leaving any time soon.
Richard stalked back and forth, his head down, his brow furrowed. Whenever he looked up, his restless hands would fly to his face and his mouth would open and close as if he were trying to find words. When he did speak, his spoke in broken, incoherent fashion, with words and phrases being mixed together in a most unorthodox fashion. He spoke angrily too. From time to time, spit would fly from his lips as he developed a long list of words to describe what he was feeling. Tracy herself didn't understand most of Richard's ranting, but what she did get from it was that Valerie had somehow or other offended Richard beyond consideration.
"How could she?" he shouted, throwing his arms out in every direction as he turned and changed his path across the room.
Tracy sighed heavily. "How could she what Richard?"
"That woman has two faces I tell you! One is good and one is pure evil!"
"Are you sure we're talking about the same Valerie?" Tracy asked, not really expecting much of an answer.
"Oh yes, oh yes. And there are things that you don't know about our little angel, I'll tell you that much!"
Tracy shrugged slightly, leaning back on her elbows. She wanted so badly to drop her face down on the pillow beside her. The allure of sleep was calling to her. The bed beneath her felt so soft. No, no, no, she had to stay awake. Tracy looked around for something to occupy her thoughts with. There was a mirror on the opposite wall. She glanced at her reflection and suddenly found herself wondering what she'd look like if she grew out her hair a little bit.
"One minute she's nice and inviting. Enticing almost."
Tracy had worn her brown hair at shoulder length for almost ten years. Maybe it was time for a change. Her hair had a naturally wavy texture to it. If it were longer, she could curl it. No tight corkscrew curls of course, but long, fat curls. She wanted flowing hair, like the girls in the fairy tale picture books.
"She just gets under your skin!" Richard yelled.
When was the last time Tracy had made a skin cream? She looked down at her hands. They were clean and smooth, but somewhat rough around the fingers. As she rubbed her thumb over her palm, she could feel every line like a clammy canyon on her skin. Mentally, she added hand lotion to her "to do" list for tomorrow. Assuming, that was, she woke up on time.
"And the worst part is that it's driving me crazy! Me!"
Why was it that everyone always called her Crazy Tracy? It wasn't like she was overly eccentric or anything. There were stranger people on the island after all. Marin came to mind almost at once. She was definitely stranger than Tracy. And of course, Matilda was certainly odd, just look at her wardrobe, Tracy told herself.
"Just the other day, at breakfast, I swear, she was looking at me differently Tracy; there was something different going on!"
Tracy wondered what would be served for breakfast tomorrow. She had skipped dinner tonight, which she realized now as a mistake. Her stomach twisted and turned, creating double loops that were just barely silenced. Whose turn was it tomorrow? She figured it must be Marnie's turn, since Elinor had made dinner. This pleased Tracy. For all her faults, Marnie was a terrific cook.
"And the worst part is –" Richard started.
"Richard!" Tracy screamed, jumping to her feet.
He stopped instantly. "What?" he asked, turning to her as if he had just noticed that she was in the room.
Tracy sank down on the bed again. "It's late. I'm tired. I'd like to go to bed now. Could you please wrap it up?"
"Wrap it up?"
"This little tirade of yours."
"How dare you dismiss my rage as a little tirade!" Richard roared.
"Richard! You have worst people skills than anyone else in the history of Koholint Island and time itself!"
"I take second place to Miss Valerie!" he declared.
"Look, I get the idea. You're mad at Valerie. I don't know why, but then again, I don't know why you do any of the stupid things that you do. Hate her, love her, it's all the same. Just please, please, please get out of my house."
"You don't know why I'm mad? Honestly Tracy! Have you been paying attention to a word I've been saying?"
"What's that mean?"
"You don't make sense!"
"You never make any sense Richard!"
He blinked, backing down for a moment. "Well," he said finally, "that's not my fault now is it?"
"No Richard, nothing's ever your fault. All the problems in your life can be blamed on someone else but not on you."
"I think I'm sensing sarcasm here."
"I said leave!"
Richard frowned. "Leave? Leave…leave…Leaves!" He snapped his fingers, skipping once out of excitement. "Leaves! That's it! You're a genius!"
"What?" Tracy looked at him in confusion.
"Leaves!" He laughed loudly in excitement. With that, he turned on heel and sped out of Tracy's little cottage. Tracy sat there for a long time, trying to piece together what had just happened. For the life of her, she didn't know. Maybe she was just tired. She decided to just chalk it up to Richard's own personal insanity. It was strange. In the last few weeks, it seemed like everyone had been giving into some of the madness. Tracy was too tired though, to wonder why that was.
"This is taking forever," Link muttered, fidgeting impatiently from a good ten foot distance behind Zelda.
"Patience is a virtue," Zelda replied, staring down at Bow Wow who was chewing on a fireflower lazily.
"No, courage, wisdom, and power are virtues," Link corrected her irritably. "Patience is a characteristic."
"A characteristic that you severely lack Mr. Hero of Time."
The swamp was amazingly cold. As if that weren't enough, both Link and Zelda were shivering, their acute Hylian senses detecting the presence of the Nightmare. For nearly an hour now, Zelda had poked and prodded and urged Bow Wow to chew a path through the blooms to the mouth of the dungeon. The process had grown painfully slow, but they had made considerable progress. Now, the entrance was in sight, only meters away, but it would still take time to clear a path. Twice already, Link had been scorched by the stinging fireflowers as he shifted impatiently, a good safe distance from Bow Wow.
"Isn't there any way to make Bow Wow chew faster?" Link asked.
Zelda frowned. "Give me your sock," she said finally.
"Yes, take off a sock."
"Zelda, it's freezing out here. I am not taking off my sock."
"I can make him chew faster."
"I'm taking off my sock." Link grabbed his left ankle and pulled his foot up. Hopping about ungracefully on his right foot, he ripped off his boot. He tucked it under his chin and kept hopping, grabbing the toes of his sock and pulling it off. Quickly, he dumped it into Zelda's waiting hand then dropped his bare left foot on top of his right boot. Teetering slightly from side to side, he struggled to put the boot back on. "I don't see how a sock is…"
Zelda had balled up the sock. She tossed it in front of Bow Wow, directly in the middle of the thick flower bed. Bow Wow caught the scent of the sock and began growling. He dropped down to his haunches, eyeing the bright white spot among the dark red flowers. With two loud barks, he leapt forward, pouncing on the flower bed and wildly throwing his snout around, ripping the flowers clean out of the water, trying to catch the sock which floated further and further away in the dank swamp water.
"Fast enough for you?" Zelda shouted, struggling to maintain a grip on Bow Wow's chain while still steering clear of the remaining flowers.
"You're a bloody genius," Link murmured, following after her.
Within a matter of moments, Bow Wow had cleared a direct path to the dungeon entrance. As the fireflowers thinned out, he grabbed hold of Link's sock and began viciously shaking his head back and forth, wringing the life out of the sock. Zelda walked over to a lifted root near the door and tied Bow Wow's chain to it. "Come on," she called to Link. "While he's still distracted."
Link nodded. Firmly, he took several very quick steps around Bow Wow, ending up at Zelda's side. The two of them turned to stare into the abyss of the dungeon. Link placed his hand on the arched side of the door and slowly, carefully stuck his head inside, looking from side to side. He took several steps forward, ducking his head under the archway. Zelda followed behind him, one hand reaching over her shoulder to grasp the shaft of an arrow.
The entry hall to the dungeon was a narrow rectangular room. Lining the walls were ornate ceramic pots, each decorated with gaudy gemstones and bright glazes. Hanging down from the low ceiling were long purple and gold tapestries. Each tapestry had a small seal in the lower right corner. The seal was a squat blue bottle with silver threads flying from the top, looking like a collection of gases or ether. The ceiling itself was painted in brilliant, vibrant colors. Depicted up there was a scene battle. Great, looming demons were ripping apart tiny humans, splashing deep, dark red blood everywhere. In the center of it all was a brilliantly clad creature, wearing gold armor and holding his arms above his head. A dozen or so smaller demons were bowing to him.
There was something that just didn't quite fit in well with the rest of the room. It was the floor. While the entire hall was decorated with elaborate, extravagant furnishings, the floor was completely bare. All there was down there was a hard packed dirt surface. "Um…weirdness," Link murmured, looking around to make out every shape in the darkness. He drew the Master Sword from its sheath and turned the point down, making a large X on the ground.
"Nothing much to see in here," Zelda commented.
"There's plenty to see," Link countered, "just nothing important." Directly in front of them was a dark entry way into the thick of the dungeon. Link signaled to Zelda and the two of them began creeping forward, each holding a weapon tightly, glancing from side to side with nervous eyes. They stepped through the opening and into total darkness.
"Please tell me you have some of Valerie's powder," Zelda hissed.
Link's eyes swept back and forth across the darkness. Something flashed on the far side of the room and then disappeared. "We're being watched," he whispered. He reached into a small pouch on his belt and removed a pinch of magic powder. Hastily, he flung it into the air, momentarily filling the room with yellow light. As he did so, he illuminated two large, dead fire pits in the middle of the room. The light quickly died, down, but Link was able to find his way to the pits fast enough to cast two handfuls of powder into each of them.
With the room fully illuminated, Link and Zelda quickly turned in all directions, trying to locate whomever or whatever had been watching them. To their dismay, they found nothing. The room though presented more possibilities. There were two doors, one on the right wall and one on the left. Once again, they were greeted with ornate decorations. The floor was made of marble tiles and the fire pits rested on a large island in the center of the room, painted over with gold leaf and studded with bright pearls. The ceiling in this room was painted to look like the night sky. The narrow crescent moon, painted silver, reflected the light of the fire, shining brilliantly.
"Two doors," Link said thoughtfully.
"Two of us," Zelda reminded him.
"Are you sure you want to split up?"
"We need to get out of here as fast as possible. We only have Bow Wow on loan."
"All right," Link admitted. He reached into a pocket and withdrew the Roc's Feather, the trophy of their last dungeon endeavor. "But if you run into a Nightmare, you contact me immediately with telepathy, agreed?" he asked, handing Zelda the feather.
"Same to you," Zelda replied with a nod. With that, she turned, her bowstring taut, and walked through the door on the right.
Link watched her go. For a moment, he stood stationary, staring at the doorway as if in a trance. Finally, he shook his head, clearing his mind. He lifted a hand to his chest and felt her pendant there. He had forgotten to give it back to her. Well, no matter. Trying his best to ignore the throbbing headache that had been plaguing him for hours now, Link turned to the left and made his way to the door. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand as he walked through.
There was a low whistling sound, then a bright burst of color as Link felt something impact on the back of his skull. He dropped like a rock, barely managing to maintain consciousness. The Master Sword flew out of his hand, into a corner. He felt two meaty hands fall upon him, lifting him up by the back of his collar. As he hung, dangling in midair, he tried desperately to turn, to see what was suspending him. Unfortunately, in the next instant, he was flying across the room, thrown directly into another tapestry-laden wall. He slid down the side, falling into a heap on the floor.
He turned around to behold a giant, towering over him. The creature had enormous muscles, rippling out from underneath a thin, tight layer of canary yellow skin. Glaring down at Link through one large, bright eye, the demon threw its head back, laughing loudly and displaying a few sparsely located brown teeth. This had to be the Guardian, Link realized even as he lay motionless and stunned on the ground.
"Welcome to Bottle Grotto, trespasser," Hinox roared. He removed a long length of rope that had been tied around his waist, over a tattered fur tunic. Link was helpless as the Guardian lifted him up by one wrist and dragged him to the center of the room. There, he tied the rope around the strained wrist. Hinox dropped Link. That done, he threw the free end of the rope over a beam in the ceiling. When it dangled down on the other side, he grabbed Link's other wrist and tied the end of the rope around it.
Now, Link was forced to remain on his feet, half suspended from the ceiling. "If it's all the same to you," he whispered hoarsely, "I think I've had just about enough of your hospitality."
"The party's just beginning," Hinox grumbled happily. He brought his fist back and punched Link directly in the mouth. Link's head was thrown back and when he recovered, a trickle of blood began pouring out from the corner of his lips. "Having fun yet?" Hinox asked.
"Not really," Link replied with a pained expression.
"Where's the girl?" Hinox demanded.
Hinox punched Link again. "Where's the girl?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Link tempted fate again.
Wham! Hinox hit the boy again. "Where's the girl?"
"There's no girl!" Link shouted, blood pouring out of his mouth now, dribbling down his chin. "I came alone!"
Hinox cupped his hands together. Immediately, he pulled them apart again, revealing a small black bulb in the palm of one of his hands. He placed the bulb at Link's feet and took several steps back. The bulb began flashing bright yellow and red. Suddenly, it exploded, blowing Link nearly horizontal. Heat from the blast singed Link's eyebrows and hurt his eyes, drying them out. It was almost unbearable remaining conscious now, yet Link forced his eyes to stay open, he forced his mind to keep racing.
"Where's the girl?" Hinox asked again.
Link leaned forward, straining against the ropes holding his arms. Seeing this, Hinox took a few steps closer; turning his ear in Link's direction, waiting for what he was certain would be a full confession. "You want to know where the girl is?" Link asked.
"Tell me," Hinox insisted.
"She's…" Link panted, "She's…"
"Yes? Where is she?"
"She's…right behind you…"
Hinox turned around, growling savagely and throwing his dangerous arms out in a series of impressively quick jabs. After a moment though, he realized he was punching the air. The room was completely empty, save for himself and the prisoner. "Liar!" he shouted, turning back to Link.
Link laughed a pained laugh. "Yeah, but it was really funny."
Hinox glared at Link for a second. Slowly, he opened his mouth. "Ha ha," he said dryly. Then he hauled back, throwing a vicious left hook at Link's head. Immediately, Link's face turned sharply to one side. He could feel consciousness slipping away slowly. Fighting as hard as he could, he tried to summon every mystical and magical reserve available to him through his natural Hylian physiology.
A familiar tingle ran over his skin. Long, flowing plumes of pink vapor rose from Link's arms and legs, swirling together toward some focal point beyond Hinox. Hazy as his vision was, Link watched as the opaque pink vortex began to form again. It was bigger this time, nearly spanning from the floor to a height comparable to Hinox's stature. As the portal swelled in size, Link felt a proportionally growing heat radiate from somewhere around his chest.
Hinox himself was forced to pause in his torture of Link to stare at the growing vortex of pink and now white vapor. Again, a sort of window formed, but this time, there was no face looking in. Instead, it was as if a door had opened. On the other side of the window, Link could see a room, strikingly similar to the one he was currently in. It looked older though, decrepit and filled with cobwebs. A rope was hanging from the ceiling, but the frayed edges were swaying, as if a wind of sorts was rocking them. The floor had the same tile pattern as the floor Link was hanging over, only it was spotted with dark brown stains.
As Link began to slip into unconsciousness, he mused over the similarities between the rooms. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn that they were the same room, reflected in some sort of mirror distorting time.
It wasn't difficult for Carry to get through the swamp. Following Bow Wow's path, cleared of fireflowers, he followed Link and Zelda. When he arrived at the entrance, he paused only to pat Bow Wow on the head. He glanced up at the trees, certain he could hear Ezri purring in the distance. Finally, after stalling as much as he could justify stalling, he made his way through the opening, ducking his head to avoid banging it against the archway.
Inside, the first thing he noticed was Link's X. Good. At least he knew that they were really inside. His narrow pupils expanded, growing more accustomed to the dark. He tried to remember the last time he had been inside of Bottle Grotto. Of course, he had come strictly to map the dungeon out. It must have been a good ten years ago, he decided, moving forward into the next room. According to his map, he should have been entering a decorated salon, so he was shocked to enter into a room with little more than two fire pits standing on a gold island.
He took out the map, examining the ink lines, ten years old. There should have been a door straight ahead of him. Instead, there were two doors on either side, a solid wall straight ahead. A frown appeared on Carry's chiseled face. For a moment, he paused to debate what his next course of action would be. He could go left. He could go right. Or perhaps he could feel along the back wall to try and figure out where the door had gone. He was certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the door had been there when he made the map.
Sighing heavily, he decided to take the door to the right. He moved past the gold island, his emerald robes becoming caught on the protruding decorations several times. The door was open and much higher, so Carry didn't have to duck under it to get through. He came into a large, open hallway. There was a single door to his right, but it looked locked. Deciding to avoid property damage, he pressed on, the black claws on his toes clinking against the marble tiles.
He didn't like the garish decorations surrounding him. The walls were bright copper and inlayed with mother of pearl designs while the ceiling was painted cyan blue. What bothered Carry the most was that everything was impeccably clean. How could anyone thrive in such a sterile environment?
There was a loud creaking noise. Carry was immediately on his guard. He dropped the map and took his walking stick in both hands, turning in a slow circle to detect the source of the sound. The windows were blocked out, so it was difficult to see much, but the light from the fire pits in the room he had just been in seeped in, becoming reflected by the bright paint on the ceiling. Slowly, Carry finished his circle, returning to where he had started. Directly in front of him, blocking his path was a grinning Stalfos.
The Stalfos, an ugly skeleton in a blue suit of armor, moved forward, almost silently except for the popping and creaking at its joints. Carry lifted his staff horizontally, preparing to face the creature. The Stalfos, in turn, drew a large sword from its belt. It threw its head back, the jaw creaking and falling open. This was the soundless charge. It raced toward Carry, swinging the sword haphazardly, its boney feet clinking against the tiles.
Carry threw his staff forward, letting the sword smash into it. The wood was hardy, so the staff stayed intact, but Carry was thrown by the might of the skeleton. It was rare that anyone could match Carry for strength, but the delicate creature turned out to pack a mean punch. Carry fell backwards, falling on his back. The Stalfos swung its sword wildly, smashing it down. Carry managed to roll to the left just in time and the sword hit the tiles. Again, the creature raised its arm to strike. Carry rolled in the opposite direction, missed again.
For a third time, the Stalfos prepared to swipe Carry, but this time, instead of moving, Carry kicked his powerful legs up, catching the Stalfos in the ribs…literally. The skeleton flew back a few paces, but not nearly as much as any normal creature might have, after receiving a direct blow from Carry. Still, it was enough for Carry to climb to his feet. The opponents rushed toward each other. Carry swung his staff low, catching the Stalfos behind the knees. With a quick tug, he downed the monster, causing it to flip over onto its back.
Carry lifted his staff, poised to bring it smashing down on the skeleton's head when suddenly, something heavy landed on his back. A second Stalfos had snuck up behind him and was now boring its fingers into Carry's skull. Carry bucked and shook wildly, trying to throw his attacker from his back, but the creature clung tightly, even as its legs swung. As the first Stalfos was getting to its feet, Carry turned in a full circle, causing the legs of his attacker to smash into the other opponent. It fell over again.
Turning his attention to the unwanted passenger, Carry held his staff in one hand, bringing the other back. He slammed his black claws into the holes where the creature's eyes should have been. This proved effective for the moment. As the Stalfos reacted, Carry was able to pry it off of his back and let it fall into a heap of bones on the floor. Unfortunately, he turned his back on the other a moment too long and it came charging at him, sword drawn. Carry turned around to block the blow with his staff, but caught it at a bad angle. With a loud crack, the staff snapped in half, one piece of it rolling off along the marble, the other still firmly clutched in Carry's hand.
Both demons were on their feet now, approaching Carry from either direction. He backed up, keeping them in his sightlines, until finally, his back hit the gilded wall. As they began closing in on him, something strange happened. From seemingly out of nowhere, a huge mass of energy began collecting on the far wall. An enormous, spinning pink vortex of mist formed, accompanied by a loud crack of thunder. The room lit up from a light coming from the ether of the strange pink mass. As it churned, the insides turned white and less opaque. On the other side of this strange portal, Carry could see another room of the dungeon, presumably the one beyond the locked door, but his attention to the room was quickly stolen away by a female humanoid figure racing through the portal and into the room.
The monsters, both equally surprised by the sudden appearance of the doorway, stared at the portal. It violently collapsed on itself, stealing away all the light that it had provided in illuminating the room. Carry's eyes stung and he closed them, frantically trying to readjust to the darkness. The sounds of battle could suddenly be heard. Carry opened his eyes to see the silhouettes of the skeletons fly across the room. Standing where they had once been was the woman who had come from the portal. She had her arms crossed, with her palms facing out in either direction of the now prone demons.
They both rose to their feet, their knees shaking. Each of their swords suddenly flew out of their hands, the hilts heading straight for the palms of the woman. She caught them, uncrossing her arms. Angry, the creatures began to run in at her from either side. She flung the swords up, letting them become embedded in the ceiling. Unarmed, she twisted her wrists, turning her palms out again. Both skeletons suddenly smashed into a sort of invisible wall that appeared around the girl. They each fell onto their backs. The woman turned on one of them. Before it had a chance to rise, she looked down on it, narrowing her eyes. Her pupils turned bright red, partly illuminating her face. Instantly, the Stalfos she was staring at erupted in flames. With an almost silent squeal, it dissolved into a pile of dust.
She turned on the second one. So alarmed by the sudden combustion of its partner, the second Stalfos scrambled to its feet and fled the room, disappearing into the shadows around the fire pits. Carry slowly stepped forward. The woman's back was turned to him, but she heard his feet padding on the floor. She turned around and Carry, whose eyes had finally adjusted to the dark, got his first good look of her. Her most striking feature were two blue eyes, standing out a great deal from her sickly pale skin, white for obvious absence of sunlight. Her long hair was blood red and divided into dozens of dreadlocks. Half of them, the ones on the sides of her head, were tied back tightly, revealing two sharply pointed, white ears.
She was clad in brown leather. Her pants were long and appeared to be made of mismatched patches of material. Her shirt, beginning somewhere above her bellybutton, had long sleeves, ending where a loop attached to her middle finger on either hand. Strings of leather were tied around each knee and around her elbows, dangling artfully. She wore black boots and from the rims, Carry could see the hilt of a knife in each one. The only part of her clothing that didn't seem to fit in was a large gold band around her bicep, glistening with a red gem.
She looked at him and smiled slightly, traces of a long lost beauty being restored. "Carry," she whispered.
He stared blankly at her. "You know me?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied.
"Do I know you?"
"You will," she said.
"What does that mean?"
"I'm from the future," she replied, almost sounding nonchalant about the whole concept, even as Carry stared. "I can't explain it."
"Because it might change the course of history." She frowned. "This is what I'm here to do, ironically enough."
"I don't understand."
"You don't have to." She held out her hand toward the broken half of Carry's staff. Instantly, it rose from the ground and flew at her. She caught it and turned to Carry, holding out her hand for the other piece. Baffled, Carry gave it to her. She held the two ends together and with a loud pop, they fused.
"How did you do that?" Carry asked.
"Magic," she replied, handing it back to him.
He accepted it. "Thank you."
She nodded. Turning she frowned. "I have to go. You're coming with me."
"I can't," Carry said at once. "I have to find someone."
"They can manage without you," she said. "I need your help."
"I can't tell you that. You just have to trust me."
"How can I trust you? I don't know what you are."
"I'm a friend. You just don't know me yet."
"It's not fair that you know me, but I don't even know what your name is."
She scowled, eyeing him critically with her bright eyes. Carry noticed that her cheeks were sunken in, making her cheekbones look even higher than normal for a Human. Of course, the pointed ears were also oddly out of place for Carry's mindset. "My name is Zelda," she said finally. With that, she turned, heading forward down the hall. Carry paused for a moment, debating what to do. Finally, he planted his walking stick on the floor and made to follow after her.
It had taken several false starts, including a return trip to the fire pits to dip a torch, but Zelda had made some progress through the dungeon. At one point, she had found herself locked in a room with a wall on all sides, except for one side which was blocked by a neatly organized row of large stones. Eventually, she had discovered that by shooting an arrow at the crystal switch in the center of the room, she was able to lower the stones and walk over them into another room. Other than that, however, she had encountered nothing of note. No creatures seemed to be lurking in the shadows; no demons had given her trouble.
She found herself in an unusual room. Three long, seemingly bottomless trenches spanned the length of the room, some of them with large rocks, similar to the ones she had encountered earlier, lodged carefully in between them. As every other room in the dungeon, the walls were decorated in a most outrageous fashion. In this particular room, the walls were dark red. Sapphires were drilled into the walls, forming the shapes of sea creatures with black pearl eyes. Great porcelain jugs, each meticulously coated with purple and blue glaze, decorated one corner of the room. In the opposite corner, a bright blue crystal switch was mounted on an altar, carved out of marble, and shaped like a snake.
Zelda fumbled through her quiver for a moment until she withdrew the Roc's Feather. Placing it securely over her left ear, she walked up to the first of the three trenches and leapt across it, mercifully landing on the narrow ledge between that and the next pit. She turned then, having no desire to venture to the strait of floor between the next two trenches, and started walking down the ledge. There was another pit, perpendicular to the one she had just jumped. Beyond it was a doorway. Checking to make sure that the feather was still there, she vaulted across the pit, landing a few paces from the door.
The room beyond looked harmless enough. Zelda glanced through the opening and saw more porcelain pots, mounted on a strangely out of place dirt floor. Loosening her grip on her bowstring, she moved toward the door. When she reached the threshold, however, and in fact had begun to take a step into the next room, a sudden rush of wind hit her. For the merest fraction of a second, it was as if the world were spinning, the ceiling rushing under Zelda's feet while the floor passed over her head. Bright pink fog completely consumed her vision and a gushing sound, like a gale of wind, raced through her ears.
As quickly as it had begun though, the strange sensation ceased and Zelda stumbled forward, falling onto…grass? She looked up, blinking in surprise. Just a second ago, she had been inside of the dungeon, making her way into an ornate and pristine room. Now, she was on her knees, in the middle of a grassy field, clearly outdoors. Zelda craned her neck in all directions, trying to establish where she was. All around the little patch of grass, there was solid rock. Behind her, there was a ledge, looking out over another field and beyond that, she could clearly make out the Mysterious Forest. Eclipsing this, however, was a large, pink funnel cloud, churning violently not three steps away. The middle of the portal was black and ominous, but the outer rim was bright magenta, much like the pink fog Zelda could have sworn she saw crossing the threshold.
Zelda rose to her feet, moving toward the portal. She reached out a hand, holding it just an inch from the surface. A rush of static electricity leapt from the portal to Zelda's hand, but it didn't hurt. Suddenly, there was a loud booming noise. Zelda turned rapidly in the direction of the sound. Behind her, she could see the Tal Tal Heights, but there was something different about them. She looked up at Mount Tamaranch, the highest mountain in the range. Normally, resting on top of it was the enormous Wind Fish Egg, but instead, Zelda's eyes were greeted by an inferno characteristic of an active volcano. But that was impossible! She clearly remembered Molly once mentioning that Mount Tamaranch hadn't been active in over a thousand years.
"This is the place," a voice said. Zelda turned again. Below her, underneath the rock ledge, she noticed two forms moving closer to her. She crouched down, just barely raising her head so that she could see over the ledge.
"This is the place?" a second voice asked incredulously. "In the middle of a clearing?" That voice! Zelda recognized it. She leaned forward to examine the speakers below her. The one who had first spoken was a tall, bald man. He wore a simple blue tunic with long white sleeves. The sleeves had red trimming around the rims, sewn into an intricate pattern. Around his neck and climbing up his head were eleven yellow spheres, each one about half the size of his head. His feet were bare and seemed to be hovering an inch or so off the ground. The second figure was much shorter and skinnier. He had dark red scales covering his entire body and long white hair, flowing down to his shoulders.
"It won't be a clearing when I'm done with it," the bald man said passionately. "I'll build the dungeon right into that rock ledge," he muttered, gesturing vaguely to the ledge. Zelda ducked down, avoiding contact.
"It's not a very defendable position," the second man said. Slowly, Zelda lifted her face up again, looking down on them.
"I'll turn this grassland into a swamp," the bald man explained, his neck turning slightly pink with irritation.
"That should do the trick." The second man began turning in a circle, examining the surroundings. As his back turned to Zelda, she clearly caught sight of a red, pointed tail. She gasped audibly. She had seen this monster before. It was Kurt, the man who had tried to drive a wedge between her and Tarin three years ago, the man who had tried to kill Link to win Marin over. No, Zelda shook her head, not a man. A demon.
"I'm glad you approve," the bald man said dryly, folding his decorated arms across his chest.
"See, if I were building a dungeon," Kurt droned, "I'd put it in a less visible place. I'd build it under the graveyard or something."
"Well, you're not in the market to build a dungeon."
"Oh, I know that, believe me Lord Gene, I know my place. I was only talking."
"Perhaps you should learn to talk less," Gene reprimanded him. "You tend to your duties and I'll tend to mine."
Kurt raised his hands defensively. "Of course, of course." He frowned, his tail climbing up over his shoulder. "What are you going to call this little summer home of yours?"
"Bottle Grotto," Gene said passionately. Zelda blinked in disbelief. What was she seeing? Kurt and his companion were talking about Bottle Grotto as if it didn't exist when she knew that only a moment ago, she had been inside of it. She stared at the portal. Was it some kind of doorway to the past?
"A poetic name," Kurt muttered. "Far more clever than the name Tail's concocted for his new dungeon."
"And what's that?" Gene asked.
Gene laughed. "He never could go without naming something after himself for long."
"The others have begun to create Guardians to protect their dungeons," Kurt said, holding his hands behind his back. "You should do the same."
"I will," Gene mumbled, "In good time."
"There's something funny about Catsy's Guardian," Kurt continued to ramble. "And Flame's so paranoid; he's created at least half a dozen Guardians of his own. He stole the designs from Iris, Face, and Angelika."
"With a treasure like Flame's, that's no surprise," Gene said.
"Of course," Kurt bowed his head, "each of you has something to protect. I mean nothing by it."
"Take out my treasure," Gene ordered him. "I wish to see it."
Kurt bowed and obediently reached into the sack slung across his shoulder. From it, he withdrew a gold bracelet, a think band, with a large red stone set into it. "The Power Bracelet," he said, ceremoniously holding it out in both hands for Gene to inspect.
"Beautiful, isn't it?" Gene muttered, examining the gaudy piece of jewelry.
Gene nodded. "There is always great beauty in power."
"It's the prized jewel of your collection."
"It's more than that!" Gene snapped. "It's one of the most valuable treasures of the island, granted to me by the Windfish. Yes…" he nodded, examining the rock face before him. "It will be well protected within the confines of my dungeon."
"You'll create a great demon to stand guard over it?"
"I'll do better than that, fool. I'll erect powerful spells around the sealed room in which I keep it. It'll take someone of both courage and wisdom to get through the traps I'll set."
"No one has enough power to defeat you or your creations," Kurt gushed.
"Of course not. And once I have it placed in Bottle Grotto, no one will ever touch the Power Bracelet again." There was a loud crash of thunder. Gene looked up at the sky, and then turned back to Kurt. "We have to return now. Put it away." Kurt obeyed. The two figured vanished, disappearing from sight even as Zelda watched.
She waited a breath or two, not daring to move, lest they return and notice her. Finally, when she was secure in the knowledge that they were gone for good, she stood up, brushing the dirt off of her green dress. Carefully, she backed away from the ledge to face the portal. If it had brought her here, then it had to take her back, she reasoned. And in the present, the Power Bracelet had to be waiting in the dungeon, hidden somewhere for her to find. She thought about the spells Gene had no doubt erected to protect the treasure, but quickly brushed the thought out of her mind. For now, she had to get back.
Taking a deep breath, she launched herself forward, falling into the portal. Again, she felt a spinning sensation as the world seemingly turned around her. When her vision cleared once more, she found herself on the dirt floor, sitting in the room she had initially been trying to cross over into. She glanced at the door and saw the room with the three trenches. There was no sign that the portal had ever even been there. Uneasily, she climbed to her feet and began to walk forward. She heard a strange rattling noise and backed up, pressing her back to the wall and surrounding herself in shadows.
A Stalfos came racing into the room. Without even sparing a glance in Zelda's direction, it continued to run on, passing into the next room, its mouth open in a silent scream. Zelda stepped away from the wall, turning to look into the next room. She could just barely hear the panicked creature running, tearing no doubt into yet another room. A frown spread across her lips. What could possibly be frightful enough to scare away a skeleton demon?
"You're awake. Good. This wouldn't be nearly as effective if you were asleep." The blackness melted away and Hinox appeared in Link's vision. He had his hands clasped firmly behind his back and was watching Link, his head tilted to one side. "How did you sleep?"
"Like a baby," Link muttered, his lips cracked and dry.
"From the way you were screaming, I don't doubt that." Hinox, stepped, aside, revealing the portal, still swirling before Link. "What's this?"
Link honestly didn't know. Of course, he wanted to use the Guardian's confusion to his advantage. "Hylian magic," Link said. "If you don't release me, it'll eventually expand and destroy everything in this room. Except for me of course."
Hinox nodded. He pulled back his arm, striking Link across the face. "Liar!" he roared. "This portal has been present for nearly half an hour now and the size hasn't changed!" He reached over and grabbed Link's collar, pulling him up close until Link could smell his foul breath. "Tell me what the portal is."
With a defiant stare, Link growled, "Bite me."
Enraged, Hinox released Link's shirt, letting him swing backwards. For a moment, Link breathed a sigh of relief, but his joy was taken away from him as he swung back from the vertical position and felt something sharp jab him in the back. As he swung back, he looked over his shoulder and saw an arrow mounted on a makeshift pole, pointed directly at him. "You know," Hinox drawled slowly, pretending to be unaware of Link's pain. "You can stall all you like. No one is going to come for you."
"I've been in worse situations before," Link grunted, feeling a trickle of blood flow down his spine. "I got away without anyone's help."
Hinox ignored him. "The girl isn't going to come for you," he continued. "If she is here, she's probably a corpse. And if she didn't come, well, isn't my face red for not believing you the first time."
Link felt his patience fraying. "Leave her out of this," he growled.
"Struck a raw nerve, have I?" Hinox asked. He reached out and grabbed Link's knee. After pulling him forward ever so slightly, he released him, letting Link's back bounce against the arrow again.
Link's face contorted in pain. "Do you get off on this?" he asked shrilly.
Instead of answering, Hinox clasped his hands behind his back again and began to pace in front of the portal. "What do you want Hero?" he inquired suddenly.
"What?" Link blinked in surprise.
"What do you want?"
"I want you to let me go!" Link shouted.
Hinox grabbed Link's shoulders, pulled him forward, and released him. This time, Link bounced against the arrow twice, each time grunting in pain. When he slowed in his swinging and finally came to rest in a vertical position, Hinox turned to him again. "What do you want?"
"I want to kick your face in!"
Again, Hinox repeated his motions, swinging Link into the increasingly sharp arrowhead. "What do you want?"
Link cringed. His body was sore, a wound stinging right above the small of his back. A gushing river of blood dripped down, falling into a puddle on the ground. "Oh," he winced, trying his best to sound glib. "A nice house in the country, a couple of chickens running around, a brown horse." He looked up at Hinox with a wide, fake smile. "What do you want?"
The Guardian shook his head, sighing heavily. He jammed his elbow into Link's stomach. Link instinctively pulled his gut in, jutting his back out. Too late, he realized his error as his back pounded against the mounted arrow, twice as hard. "Everyone who tries to wake the Windfish has a desire, a secret wish that they're trying to hide," Hinox muttered. "None of them have ever made it this far. Now I want to know…what is it you want?"
Link seemed surprised. "There have been others?" he asked.
"Of course," Hinox said with a condescending tone.
Hinox chuckled loudly. "Three very good questions. They're all dead now," he replied. "And you will be too. Shortly. But I need to take advantage of this time we have together. So I'll ask you again; what do you want?"
"Tell me about the others!" Link demanded.
Yet again, Hinox pushed Link, swinging him into the arrow behind him. Yet again, Link groaned, this time voicing his agony. "What do you want?" Hinox asked…yet again.
Link took a few shaky gulps of air. "I want…" he whispered, closing his eyes and opening them again, trying to contain his pain.
Hinox leaned forward. "Yes?"
"Spit it out!"
"I want to go home," he whispered.
Slowly, Hinox pulled back, folding his arms across his chest. "You want to go home?" he repeated.
"Yeah," Link said, nodding weakly.
"That would be Hyrule."
Link stared at him for a moment. He chomped down on his lower lip. "Hyrule," he consented.
"That's your wish?"
"That's your heart's desire?"
"Let me see if I understand this," Hinox muttered, pacing in front of the portal again. "You're going to try and fight eight great Nightmares, along with their respective Guardians, and the late Master Kurt, and Ganondorf Dragmire, and all the stupid islanders on Koholint, including that Richard, so you can wake the Windfish."
"That's pretty much the idea," Link winced.
"And you know that once you wake the Windfish, which you never will, you can have your heart's desire. Any wish you have in your heart can be yours."
"So I've heard."
"So, with this knowledge, combined with the fact that you have to go through hell to get that far…your only wish is to go home?"
"That's all I want," Link said simply.
"That's all you want?"
"Everything else I could possibly want, I have."
Hinox nodded slowly. He stopped pacing and stood in front of Link, watching him intently with a wicked glare in his eyes. "You're dragging the girl, on this quest with you, risking her life as well as your own…to go home."
A snicker rose up in Hinox's throat. He reached out, latching onto Link's leg again. He pulled him back violently, nearly yanking his boot off. For a time, he let the boy dangle, the suspense having almost as much of an impact as the inevitable pain. Finally, he released Link's leg and let Link swing back; crashing into the painful arrow at least half a dozen times before he finally came to rest. The ropes holding his wrists moaned and creaked. Link's wrists were raw and pink, a small amount of blood just beginning to creep down his arms under his gauntlets.
Hinox leaned forward, grabbing Link's chin in between his claws. "What do you want?"
The hooded Stalfos lunged at Matilda, throwing a sharp spear in her direction. Gracefully, she leapt out of the line of fire, diving to perform a somersault on the ground. She rolled to her feet and turned around, side stepping behind a large block. The gray blocks around the room seemed to serve no purpose at all. They were simply decorations, carved with erotic figures and painted gray.
There were six blocks, all forming a square with the wall serving as the fourth side. Within the square, ugly orange and black tiles formed a checkerboard pattern and a Pols Voice demon lounged, lazily taking in the scene. Sitting in the corner of the room, a third demon, a bat-like Keese, hummed wildly, its yellow eyes flying back and forth, watching the Stalfos chase after Matilda.
Hidden under folds of blue fabric, the Stalfos managed to move gracefully and efficiently across the space, holding its spear out, aimed at Matilda's midsection. She grabbed her hookshot off the floor, where it had skidded earlier during the fray. Fumbling for a moment, she managed to untangle the business end from an ornate jug on the ground. She swung it wildly in a wide circle, finally launching it at a candle holder on the opposite wall. Much to her relief, the hook caught on and the chain grew taut. Just as the Stalfos was about to impale her, Matilda released a trigger and the hookshot pulled her across the room, lifting her out of the line of danger just in time.
Safely on the other side of the room, Matilda turned around. The Stalfos rammed into the wall, its staff snapping in half. The Keese, witnessing the entire thing, screamed loudly, baring its long white fangs. It swooped out of the corner, moving down on Matilda. She fell to her hands and knees, the bat just passing over her head and up again to the other side of the room. It came to rest in a corner, glaring at her with narrowed eyes.
Matilda yanked her hookshot free and turned around, just in time to see the Stalfos' blunt wooden stick fly at her head. It hit her in the temple and she crumbled over, her vision turning blurry. She dropped to one knee, gritting her teeth to keep from shouting. The hooded Stalfos, satisfied with its handiwork, began to close in on Matilda, wielding the other half of its broken spear. She was essentially cornered, the Stalfos closing in from one side, the Keese from the other. Excited beyond reason, the Pols Voice was hopping up and down now, cheering on his demonic friends in an alien babble.
Pointing the hookshot up at the ceiling, Matilda released the trigger. The hook shot up, embedding itself into the painted fresco. Just as the Stalfos was about to run her through, she reeled the chain in, essentially suspending herself from the ceiling. The Stalfos missed her, crashing into the wall. From the corner, the Keese laughed hysterically, its cry resembling a cross between a hyena and a rat.
Sparing little time for celebration, Matilda began pumping her legs, swinging back and forth from the chain in the ceiling. It would take too long to yank the hook free. Her best bet was to swing a respectable distance away from her enemies and try to grab a pottery shard or something else sharp to use as a replacement weapon. The southwestern corner of the room seemed like the ideal place to escape to, so Matilda carefully swung herself in that direction, finally letting go to sail across the checkerboard tiles and land next to a large brick torch.
It was curious. When she had arrived in this room, after a great deal of ambling, the demons had already been in a frenzied state, as if something had happened just a few minutes prior. When Matilda appeared, they didn't seem at all surprised or afraid. Rather, they grew angry and charged her at once, shouting various things in their native tongue. Matilda herself couldn't imagine what had gotten them so excited before she had shown up. It was as if the appearance of an outsider was second nature to them, something they were already used to and bored to tears with.
Now was not the time to dwell on such things though, Matilda realized, turning around to see the Stalfos already hot on her heels. She ran to a cluster of pots. Much to her dismay, they were all perfectly intact. Sighing, she grabbed the closest one and lifted it upside down above her head, preparing to smash it. A single sheet of parchment flittered out of the pot, wafting its way to the floor. Matilda stared at the page. Clearly depicted on it was a picture of the Pols Voice with a numeral next to it, the number one. Beneath the picture of the Pols Voice was a picture of the Keese with a number two next to it. Finally, under that, was a picture of the Stalfos with a three beside it.
The Stalfos was closing in fast. Matilda tucked the pot under her arm. After scooping up the parchment, she made a mad dash across the room, jumping up on top of one of the carved gray blocks. The Pols Voice shrieked, running across the checkerboard floor to get as far away from her as possible. With a satisfied smirk, Matilda hurled the pot at the Pols Voice. Her aim was perfect and she nailed it on the head. The Pols Voice screamed once more and fell over, face first to the ground. Instantly, its body shattered, like a thousand marbles, only the marbles disappeared, sinking into the floor.
She blinked in surprise. That was easy. She looked behind her. Two more pots. Two more demons. Recalling the pictures on the sheet of parchment, currently stuffed haphazardly into her pocket, she jumped off the block, racing across the room for another pot. The Stalfos was there to meet her. It threw the sharp end of the spear at her. Matilda ducked under the swipe, bringing her head up on the other side. She snaked her arm around the shaft and tugged, pulling both the Stalfos and the spear backwards. The stubborn demon refused to let go of the broken weapon, so Matilda threw all her weight to one side, casting the Stalfos into one of the gray blocks.
With the skeleton out of the way, she snatched up another ceramic jar. Turning in all directions, she spotted the Keese, its leathery wings outstretched, screaming with alarm at the sudden departure of the Pols Voice. With a smirk, Matilda dashed closer to the Keese's corner. The frightened bat lifted off from the ground and tried to fly away from Matilda. She shot her arm out, scooping up the creature inside the pot. Before it could climb out, she then turned the pot, mouth down and placed it on the ground. The jug rattled and shook as the Keese tried desperately to bust its way out. Matilda placed a bare foot on top of the jar and waited patiently for a few moments that seemed like an eternity until the creature was at last still. Satisfied, she then kicked the jug away, watching it smash into the wall. There were no traces remaining of the unfortunate Keese.
A low whistling sound reminded her of the Stalfos. She dropped to her haunches just in time to watch the spear slash above her head. The clumsy Stalfos fell off balance, tripping over its own cloak. Matilda used the precious few seconds afforded to her by its gracelessness to grab the final clay jug. Clutching it by the rim, she turned to confront the Stalfos who had just barely managed to regain its balance.
"Come on you bag of bones," she taunted it. "Think you can take me now?" The demon regarded her cautiously. "Not so tough without your buddies, are you?"
The skeleton reared, charging full throttle at Matilda. It brought the spear up, bringing it down at Matilda's head. She lifted the pot up, blocking the blow. At the same time, she swept her foot out, kicking the Stalfos' feet out from under it. The creature fell backwards, hitting the ground hard with a rattle. Matilda grunted, raising the pot. With emphasis, she slammed the pot down, releasing it on the Stalfos.
Instantly, the creature's bones dissolved with an almost silent scream. When she was confident that it wouldn't rise again to attack her, Matilda turned, almost walking straight into her suspended hookshot. With great irritation, she wrapped her hands around the metal chain and tugged. At first nothing happened. So embedded in the ceiling was the weapon that she could have easily scaled to the top without difficulty or fear of falling. Matilda picked up the broken spear lying beside the Stalfos and hurled it into the ceiling. Instantly, the cement cracked and with another tug, the hookshot easily fell out of the roof and to the floor, just at Matilda's feet. She frowned, reeling the chain in, filling the room with a loud grinding sound.
Once she had finished, she felt her hands drift to her pocket. She withdrew the parchment, now severely creased. Laying it on one of the gray blocks, she smoothed it out, examining the pictures again. The instructions were clear. Destroy the Pols Voice, then the Keese, then the Stalfos. The sequence had worked like a charm. What kind of monster, though, left around instructions for destroying its minions?
She turned the paper over. On the other side, there were a series of boxes; drawn out in black in, arranged neatly in a shape that was almost like that of a bottle. Scattered among the boxes were red dots and one of the boxes had a demonic face drawn in the middle of it. It took her a second, but suddenly, and with alarming clarity, Matilda realized that she was staring at a map. And not just any map, she knew all too well that this was the same method that Carry used for his maps of the island! What's more, the ink was fresh, smearing under her fingertips.
Carry had been here? That didn't make any sense! The voice in Matilda's head was ranting now. "He's following you!" it screamed, "He's trying to stop you!"
"How can he be following me if the map was here before I was?" Matilda asked.
"It doesn't matter!" the voice replied, throwing away all common sense. "He's going to try and beat you to the Nightmare! He's the one that destroyed Tail Cave! You have to stop him before he gets there! You have to beat him!"
There was suddenly a loud sucking noise. Matilda turned around. The remains of the Stalfos had disappeared, leaving a limp blue robe. She walked over to the robe and kicked it experimentally. A loud clattering noise exploded from the fabric and a brass key went skidding across the floor. Matilda followed the key and leaned over to pick it up. A demon's face was on the end.
Clutching the Roc's Feather to her chest, Zelda closed her eyes and leapt across the pit. A screaming Keese flew over her head. Annoyed, she turned around upon her landing and fired an arrow at the animal. With a satisfying thump, the bat fell to the ground and dissolved. Zelda turned around. There was another large chasm in her back. To one side was a wall (painted a festive yellow with blue speckles) and to the other side were a series of ceramic pots, arranged neatly in a row, facing her like a line of soldiers. She sighed heavily, running her fingers along the bristles of the feather. Only one way to go.
Holding her breath, she jumped again, narrowly clearing the pit. She landed next to a large, standing suit of armor. It was unlike any armor she had ever seen before. The bronze helmet was large and spherical with a small sort of porthole where the visor should have been. On either side of the helmet were two large cones, looking somewhat like ears and seemingly serving no functional purpose. She frowned. She was growing very weary of the Nightmare's disgusting display of wealth. Instead of seeming elegant, as the creature doubtlessly wanted the dungeon to appear, it was coming off as something of a circus with its loud colors and garish displays.
To her left was another door. The room beyond was well lit, but she could hear three Keese screaming from within. As she neared the entrance however, there was a loud ripping sound, followed by a burst of light that caused her to fall back, nearly tripping into yet another pit. Instinctively, she raised her arm to shield her eyes from the pink light. Before her, there was another portal, just like the one she had seen earlier when she had eavesdropped on Kurt.
The portal, of course, was blocking her path to the door. Zelda frowned, lowering her arm. She had two options. She could turn back and try to find another route into the back of the dungeon, or she could risk venturing into the portal. After all, she reasoned, after going into and departing from the last portal she had managed to get into the target room beyond it. Briefly, she pondered the purpose of the portals. Were they just another vulgar display of the Nightmare? Was the creature just trying to be as showy as possible? The portals were beautiful. But still, why would the Nightmare provide a doorway in time?
She dismissed the thought. Carefully, she approached the portal, feeling the familiar static electricity on her skin. As she was about to enter, she paused, returning the Roc's Feather to her quiver. Upon entering, she was glad she did. Immediately, she felt herself spinning. Although she wasn't sure if she was actually moving, or if the sensation was purely the result of the noises and images surrounding her, she was still glad she had put the feather away. It would be a terrible thing to lose.
The sensations ceased and Zelda was flung forward. Unfortunately, instead of landing on the soft grass as last time, she landed on hard tile, her knees crashing down and sending a volt of pain shooting through her legs. She looked around, taking in the surroundings. This room was double-storied. She was on a sort of loft or balcony, hollow in the center with a wooden railing running along the opening. When she looked down through the railing, she could see the room that she had originally seen from the doorway, except, instead of having a bare floor it was covered in a rich crimson carpet. There were two tall windows on the side wall, both open and letting some mild sunlight into the room.
Zelda stood, flexing her knees painfully a couple of times until the dull ache started to vanish. She reasoned that the balcony she was now on must have been destroyed in the past, which explained why the room she had seen before entering the portal was still there. Shrugging, she turned to reenter the portal, but something stopped her.
She heard the padding of footsteps below her. Crouching down beside the wooden rails, she peered into the lower level. "We're going to get in so much trouble," a hushed female voice hissed, trying to hide some laughter.
"No we won't," a second, male voice said.
Zelda frowned, pulling her face closer until her forehead was leaning against the vertical bars. A woman appeared from underneath the balcony. She didn't look much older than fifteen. Loose, fat curls, honey blond, fell down her shoulders. All things told, she was a very slender, skinny girl, except for her belly which puffed out ever so slightly from under her long, bulky gray dress. She walked into a shaft of light from the window and turned in a circle, examining the room with wide, doe eyes. "It's so beautiful," she said, turning to face her companion under the balcony.
"It's nothing compared to some of the other rooms," he said to her. He stepped out from under the balcony and Zelda nearly blew her cover, gasping. Standing beneath her, looking a good ten years younger was Richard! She would never have recognized him if it weren't for his icy blue eyes. He wasn't wearing the flashy, showy colors that she had come to associate him with. Nor was his long black hair pulled back in a ponytail. He stood there, hair unbound and falling around his shoulders, wearing a surprisingly simple white cotton tunic over gray leggings.
Zelda immediately knew she was in the past. Richard was looking younger than she had ever seen him, so this must have taken place in the year or so before she arrived on Koholint. A frown crept across her face. She didn't recognize the young woman with him.
"What happens if the Nightmare wakes up?" the woman asked nervously, walking over to Richard.
"Relax," Richard said, wrapping his fingers around each of her wrists. "People are sneaking in here all the time. No one ever gets caught."
"There's a first time for everything," she replied.
"You've been listening to Tarin's stories for too long," Richard told her. "Lonely old man doesn't know what he's saying half the time."
He laughed. "What?"
"That's mean!" For emphasis, she pulled her wrists free and shoved his shoulders. Richard, laughing, fell backwards, landing on his back on the floor. Both of them were tittering.
"Erigie, you don't know your own strength," Richard sputtered, grinning. Zelda frowned. Erigie? Who was Erigie? Even the name was unfamiliar to her.
She sat down on the ground next to Richard. "We could get into so much trouble for this," she hissed.
"You worry too much," he said.
"One of us has to," she told him.
"Let me be the one to do the worrying," Richard replied. "You shouldn't have to."
"Well, I do have to." She sighed, slowly lowering herself until she was lying flat on her back on the plush carpet, staring up at the twinkling ceiling. "It's in my nature I suppose. I wish it wasn't," she added.
Richard leaned over her, placing one hand on either side of her hips. "Don't wish that," he said. "Don't wish to be any different."
"And why not?"
"Because you're perfect, just as you are."
Erigie's face fell. She lifted a hand to caress Richard's cheek. "Don't say that," she whispered.
"No Richard," she said, sitting up and pushing his arms away from her. "It isn't true."
"Well, even so," Richard decided aloud, "I don't care. I love you and nothing can change the way I feel." He placed a hand behind her head and leaned over to kiss her, but she turned her face away suddenly. "Erigie?"
"We can't stay here," she said, "We'll get caught."
"Why are you always so nervous?"
"I have to be. And Richard, think. What if your parents were to see us together?"
"They aren't going to come here," he replied. "And what difference does it make? You think they're both crazy anyway."
"Crazy or not," Erigie said carefully, "I'm still their servant. Things are already complicated; I don't want them getting worse. They could send me away and I'd never see you again."
"It'll never happen," Richard vowed, reaching out his free hand to clasp hers.
"Do you swear?"
"I swear. The two of us will be together for all time Erigie."
Erigie pulled Richard's hand down, placing it on her swollen stomach. "The three of us," she said.
"Two, three, four," he said, "I swear it." He leaned over quickly, picking her up in his arms. She squealed with delight, wrapping her arms around his shoulders as he stood. "I'll love you forever."
"I believe you," she swore.
Slowly, he lowered her, letting her feet touch the ground again. "Let's explore the rest of this place," he said, retaining his grasp on one of her hands. They held a gaze, his blue eyes locked to her hazel eyes. Finally, with a shared smile, Richard took off, leading her across the clearing under the balcony to disappear on the other side. Zelda heard a door open and close and only then did she so much as dare to blink.
She stood up again, her knees screaming in protest. Her mind was racing with possibilities, trying to explain why all traces of the people she had seen down there were absent from her mind. In her memory, she traced back every instance, every encounter she had ever had with Richard, going back to their first initial meeting. Try as she might, she could not conjure up one memory of Richard where he had behaved in a manner other than unpleasant. The man she had seen below was a stranger, as foreign to her as Erigie.
Why had she never heard that name before? Even if the girl had completely disappeared before Zelda had arrived, even if she had died or run away, Zelda was certain that at least someone in the Mabe Village would have taken note of the fifteen year old girl's absence. So many questions were filling Zelda's head, but she knew that standing there dumbfounded would hardly provide her with the answers. She supposed she'd have to ask Valerie at some point. Valerie would know, wouldn't she?
Another thought plagued her. Erigie had mentioned Richard's parents. For some reason, Zelda couldn't remember ever thinking of Richard as a member of a family. For as long as she had known him, he had always been on his own; a loner under the assumption that he was royalty destined to take over the island. No one else on the island ever mentioned Richard's parents either leaving Zelda to wonder if perhaps Richard's most closely guarded secret was his own.
She turned back to the portal, still spinning in magenta hues. As she moved forward, preparing to pass through again and hopefully find herself on the other side from which she had entered, she paused to look over her shoulder at the scene again. However many questions still remained and however strange witnessing the event had been, one thing remained clear in her mind: The Richard that she had seen down there had been a happier, kinder person. Zelda passed through the portal, experiencing all the sensations she had come to expect from the experience. She found herself exactly where she wanted to be, in the room on the backside of the portal, in the present. Her mind, however, would remain in the past.
Carry struggled to keep up with her. With boundless energy, the woman who called herself Zelda, leapt up, over decorative blocks and pots, the strings around her joints streaming behind her. As Carry scrambled behind, she would turn, watching him with a placid, expressionless face. She seemed to know the dungeon well, taking a very precise path, never bothering to pause and assess the rooms she entered. Several times, much to Carry's surprise, she had selected a difficult path instead of taking a minor detour that could have saved them both some trouble.
They moved into a room with two standing suits of armor and a crystal switch, forming a triangle across the hard packed dirt floor. In front of them were two very large blocks, carved with scenes from nature and painted slate gray. The room buzzed as a Spark demon swept along the perimeter, sticking to the wall. Zelda stopped for the first time, turning to gaze at the bright ball of energy. Carry examined her profile. She was very delicate looking, yet very tough all at the same time. It must have been the arch of her ears, but Carry found that she reminded him very much of Hylian Link: Somewhat lanky and fragile looking at first glance, but in reality very strong and resilient.
As Zelda narrowed her eyes, the Spark froze in place and began to quiver. She reached into a brown leather satchel strung up by her belt and removed a small blue seed. The hum of the Spark grew to a loud shriek. Zelda threw the seed at the creature and instantly, its scream was replaced with a sort of gale. The Spark was lifted up into the air and spun around with such a great speed that it spontaneously dissolved, the sound of the wind ceasing. As if she had done nothing, she turned back and began to walk to the blocks. She placed her hands on top of one of them and swung her legs up, jumping onto a block and standing up. After taking a step forward for balance, she turned around, looking at Carry.
Carry didn't budge. "Are you coming?" she asked, neither sounding neither impatient nor pleased.
"No," he said simply, planting his walking stick firmly on the ground.
"It's not enough."
"What's not enough?"
"Your information," he replied, "it's not enough. I have to know more."
"You still don't trust me," Zelda muttered.
"You said you wanted to change the past," Carry said.
She nodded. "I did."
Zelda sighed. "I can't explain it to you."
"Then I can't help you," he said firmly.
"You're being very difficult Carry," she said.
"How did you get here?" he countered.
"Through the portal," she replied truthfully. "There are portals opening everywhere in this dungeon."
"Where did they come from?"
She shook her head. "You came here following people, correct?"
"Yes," Carry consented. "Link and Little Marin."
A small smile jerked Zelda's lips back. "Right, Link and Marin. As you know, Link is a Hylian hero…you do know that, right?"
"Oh, good. Link is what is known as the Hero of Time. Even as we speak, Link is being brutally tortured by this dungeon's Guardian," she said, sounding entirely too calm.
"What?!" Carry's eyes widen. He lifted his staff in alarm.
"Calm yourself," Zelda instructed him.
"We have to help him!"
"He'll be fine," Zelda assured the panicked man. "Eventually he'll be rescued by…Marin."
"How do you know?"
"I'm from the future," she repeated. "I know this stuff."
"You're sure he'll be rescued?"
"Yes, I'm sure. The point of this story is that Link has special powers in relation to Time. Now, normally being beaten up wouldn't affect the way his powers work, but there are two circumstances complicating the matter."
"Well, for one thing, he's sick." She frowned, her eyes withdrawing into herself for a moment. "Not that he would ever admit it."
"What's the other?"
She looked up at him again. "The other?"
"It's difficult for me to explain without going into great detail about Hylian history."
"Are you Hylian?"
Zelda frowned a moment. Finally, after some form of internal debate, she slowly nodded her head once. "Yes," she said, "I am."
"So, in the future, there are other Hylians on Koholint?"
Carry seemed pleased with this. "Good."
"Anyway," Zelda said heavily, "because of the combined circumstances, Link's power is going awry, causing these portals to spring up all over the dungeon. Some of them lead to what you would call the past and others to what you would call the future."
"And that's where you came from?"
"Your future yes. The portals work both ways you see, so I just had to wait in Bottle Grotto in my time until the portal opened and I came here."
"All right. Why are you here?"
Zelda's tiny smile faded. She squatted down on the block and slowly lowered herself onto the ground. As she walked toward Carry, he noticed for the first time, a long vertical scar running along her left side, just peeking out where her shirt ended, above her hip. "I came back," she said quietly, "to fix a mistake."
"One you made?"
"No," she said. "Not one I made. But one I could have prevented."
He eyed her critically. "How could you have prevented it if you're not even on Koholint yet?"
Zelda looked at him a moment, blinking. She was dumbfounded. Carry had just, very cleverly, caused her to slip up. "I…" she fumbled for words. "I am on the island already," she told him finally.
He folded his muscular arms across his chest, tucking the end of his walking stick under one arm. "How are you on the island?" he asked, his granite eyes clearly indicating that he knew exactly what he had done.
"Stop asking questions," she demanded. "You're not supposed to know. Not yet."
"No," he said. "If you want my help, I want to know why. Tell me the truth; tell me why I should trust you."
"The truth is," she said hotly, "that someone is going to die in here tonight. It's not going to be Link and it's not going to be Marin."
"And it's not going to be me," Carry concluded, "not if I know you in the future."
"No, it's not going to be you."
Carry's eyes widened. "Matilda? But she's not even here!"
"She is here," Zelda said. "And on this night, almost ten years ago for me, she was killed by the Nightmare of Bottle Grotto."
"And you came back to save her?"
"But, if you save her life and she lives into the future, won't that mean that you don't have to travel back in time and won't that defeat the whole purpose of you coming here in the first place?" Carry frowned, obviously confusing himself. "I mean, the only reason that you came from the future was to change the past. But if you change the past, then in the future, you won't have to come back, so the future will never have been changed in the first place."
"That's the temporal paradox," Zelda said, "and I've already taken measures against it."
"How can you do that?"
"I'm very powerful." She did not say this braggingly. Nor did she sound smug or in any way proud. She was merely matter of fact about it.
"You made the skeleton light on fire."
"Yes, it's a spell called Din's Fire. Few Hylians can do it and even fewer can do it well."
Carry nodded absently. For a few moments, he paused, digesting all the information. When he finally looked as if he understood, he looked up at Zelda again. "So you're just here to save Matilda?" he checked.
"That's my only reason for being here. Once we save her, I'll disappear and hopefully, the future I come from will cease to exist."
"Because it's a bad future."
"All right," Carry said, unfolding his arms. "I believe you. Let's go save Matilda."
Zelda reached a hand across her shoulder and removed the gold band from her bicep. She glanced at Carry, offering it to him. "Take this," she instructed him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"It's called the Power Bracelet."
Carry took it with both hands and began to examine it. After a moment, Zelda reached out and grabbed his wrist. She pulled it forward with one hand and with the other, rolled up the long green sleeve of his robe. The muscular arm exposed, she attached the band to his upper bicep before rolling down his sleeve again. "What's it do?" Carry asked, examining the new lumps made underneath his sleeve.
"It makes you stronger," she said, "but only in times of need."
"So it's magic?"
She nodded. "Yes. It's magic." Zelda turned around and began walking back to the gray blocks. Carry followed her, wiggling his fingers experimentally. As she was about to climb up onto the block again though, Carry reached out an arm, putting it on her shoulder. "What is it?" she asked as Carry turned her to face him.
"If you're already on the island," he said slowly, furrowing his brow. "How come I don't know you?"
She gave him another smile, this one the most genuine of them all. "Carry," she said, gently pulling her arm out of his meaty hand, "I never said you didn't." With that, she planted her hands up on the block nearest to her and vaulted over it, gracefully bringing her legs horizontal and swinging them down on the other side. She began walking down the narrow strip of hallway on the other side of the blocks, but she stopped and turned around, glancing at Carry, still on the opposite side of the blocks. "Well?"
"Are you coming?"
Carry nodded earnestly. He walked over to the blocks and scrambled up and over them, somewhat less graceful than Zelda had managed to scale them earlier. She had already begun walking again and he followed her, mulling over her powers carefully to see if there was something he was missing, some hidden message. Unbeknownst to him, as Zelda walked on ahead of him, she allowed herself a secret smile, only now acknowledging that Carry was a lot cleverer than she had ever given him credit for.
The room was dark and warm. From the way the air hung, smelling musty, it was obvious that the chamber had been sealed off from the outside world for quite some time. Zelda could faintly see the orange and black checkerboard pattern of the tiles on the floor, but for once, her eyes were barely assaulted with the usual bright colors that she had come to expect in the other rooms of the dungeon. Dimly, she made out the outlines of what looked like two standing torches on the other side of the room. She couldn't explain why, but she had a funny feeling about the place.
Vaguely, she recalled her venture into the past, the one where she had seen Kurt talking with Gene. Gene had mentioned something about a sealed room in which to keep a treasure, that Power Bracelet. Could this be the room? Granted, it hadn't been difficult for Zelda to get into the room, but perhaps age had worn away the best defense.
Of course, Gene had also mentioned something about powerful spells being erected to protect the room. Nervously, Zelda released her tight hold on her bowstring, hooking the corner of her bow to the quiver. Weapons did no good against magic, she reasoned, only against monsters. She found herself wishing that she were more powerful, but she could barely master telepathy and telekinesis, the two basic birthrights of all Hylians.
She reached into a compartment of her quiver, looking for a small sack of magic powder that Valerie had given her a few days ago. As she felt around for it, she noticed a sudden change in the room. The dust settled on the tiles had begun to rise, without the aid of any draft. It began to climb into the air, swirling around itself like two tiny tornadoes. She wouldn't have been able to see the dust clouds, had the room been well lit. Only in the darkness did the white dust stand out as a stark contrast to the blackness surrounding it.
If there had been any doubt in Zelda's mind that these dust tornadoes were a part of Gene's spell, it was completely erased as the room began to fill with a loud groaning sound. "This isn't real," Zelda whispered to herself, nevertheless taking a step or two backwards.
"What is reality?" a voice asked. It had come from one of the columns. As Zelda looked on, the amorphous shape seemed to mold itself, forming two arms and two legs and a distinct head. "Was I real Marin?" it asked. Various hues began to appear within the spinning motes and suddenly, a cloudlike image of Kurt had appeared in front of her.
"No," Zelda replied, trying to steady her voice. "You're a lie."
"I didn't ask if I was real now," the phantom replied, barely moving, "I asked if I was real. Was, implying the past."
"You were never real," she said. She noticed, with a hidden amount of satisfaction, that the phantom image of Kurt lacked a tail. She had blown it off before he was defeated.
"What about me?" a second voice asked. Zelda looked at the other collection of dust. Instead of forming into a distinct humanoid, it remained somewhat cloudlike, but Zelda could see, in that image, a Moldorm, the creature that the Nightmare Tail had emulated.
"You were true to your own nature," Zelda said carefully, "you never tried to deceive."
"Deception is a remarkable thing Princess," Phantom Kurt said.
"I don't intend to sit here and debate deception with you," she told him.
"Why? Are you ashamed of the fact that you're just as much of a liar as I was?"
"No," Zelda said firmly.
"Then why not?"
"Because you're wasting my time." Steeling herself, Zelda walked past the two phantoms, who both began screaming at her. She pulled a pinch of powder from her sack and flung it into the first torch. Instantly, light filled the room. The white and colorful hues disappeared from the turning dust pillars, causing Kurt and Tail's features to dissolve. "None of this is real," Zelda muttered, turning to throw another handful of powder on the second torch. Even more light filled the room and the dust ghosts disappeared.
Zelda turned around, breathing a silent, grateful breath. She was surprised to find that the room was utterly unremarkable. The walls were ordinary wood and there were no beautiful pots or jugs or cement blocks decorating them. The only other distinct feature of the room, apart from the hideous tiles, was a small, red box resting against the wall, right beside the door. Zelda walked over to the box and knelt down beside it. She ran her fingers through the air around it, trying to detect any sign of enchantment that might further defer her. Oddly enough, she felt nothing.
Carefully, she lowered her hand onto the top of the red box, bracing herself. Nothing happened. She moved her fingers down to the gold latch and quickly flicked it open. Nothing happened again. Finally, she tenderly pulled the lid up, flipping it open. Inside the box, resting on a length of green velvet was a gold band with a red gemstone in it, the Power Bracelet. She carefully reached down into the box, picking up the bracelet with both hands. It felt surprisingly light for its appearance.
She slipped it on. The bulky bracelet dangled recklessly, two times too large for her delicate wrist. Frowning, she slid it up her arm, moving it up well past where her sleeve covered her bicep before it fit snuggly. Then, she stood up. She had expected to feel different, feel some sort of power rushing through her veins because of the Power Bracelet, but there was nothing happening. Flexing her arm, she examined herself, trying to find some distinction provided for by the magical tool, but there was nothing.
With a small frown, she turned away from the box and stared at the wooden wall behind her. There were no gilded designs decorating it, no varnish, and no paint. Experimentally, she prodded the wall with her fingers, pressing it here and there to see how much give there was to it. She withdrew her hand and slowly curled her fingers into a fist. With a final glance at the wall, she pulled back and punched the wall. Her hand went straight through it and rippling vibrations tore at the wood, combining with the forces of age to crumble it. When she pulled her fist out (amazingly painlessly) the wall collapsed, forming a small circular doorway into the room beyond.
"What?" a gruff, angry voice spat from the other side. Zelda looked in to see a hideous creature with one large eye in the middle of its head, staring back at her. Worse still, she could see Link, suspended from the ceiling by ropes, a puddle of blood beneath him. "What do we have here?" he muttered, turning completely to face her. "It looks like a girl." He began to slowly advance on her. Zelda fumbled around, grabbing her bow and stringing an arrow into it as quickly as she could. "What? You're going to shoot me?" He stopped, spreading his arms out in either direction. "By all means." Zelda pursed her lips. With as much calm as she could, she took aim and fired an arrow. The arrow soared upwards and an awkward angle, sailing above the Guardian's head at a good safe distance. The creature roared with laughter, beginning his stride toward Zelda again. "Missed me," he muttered, an evil grin spreading on his face.
Zelda took a step back, fumbling for another arrow. The Guardian was closing in on her and for some reason, her dexterity was failing. Slowly, he reached out a hand, grabbing Zelda's arm. He wrenched her forward, dragging her over the debris from the crushed wall. She tripped, falling, her feet trailing behind her. The monster pulled her over onto the floor and she attempted to regain her footing. Though she managed to get on her feet, even while being dragged, she couldn't break free.
Suddenly, a loud thud filled the room. Hinox's eye widened in a mixture of confusion and surprise. A split second later, it rolled back into his oddly small head and he released Zelda, crumpling to the floor. Behind him, Link was standing, his hands locked together and down at his side. "What do you want?" he asked in a mocking tone, glaring at his enemy.
Zelda stepped over Hinox and made her way to Link. "Are you all right?" she asked carefully, glancing at the swaying ropes that had up until a few minutes ago, suspended Link.
"Fine," he deadpanned. "Thank Din you got here, that's all I have to say."
She held out her arms, moving forward to embrace Link, but suddenly, she felt a large meaty hand on her shoulder. Hinox rose in one swift motion, pushing Zelda backwards into a wall. She rammed into it, falling over. "Nice shot," he growled, glaring at Link, his eye narrowed. Pressing his hands together, he created another one of his black bulbs. He threw it at Link. Link, for his part, ran out of the way, falling to the ground just as the bulb exploded.
Hinox yelled loudly, flailing his arms in outrage. He rushed at Link, determined, it seemed, to trample the boy. Link rolled out of the way, letting Hinox ram into a wall. Unfortunately, this didn't slow him down. He rebounded from the wall and turned on Link, scooping him up by his collar. He then promptly threw him into the wall. Link bounced off the wall and fell flat on his butt. Wasting no time to recover, he jumped to his feet and dashed out of the way, right as Hinox raced at him again.
Meanwhile, Zelda had crawled over to a corner of the room. She picked up the Master Sword. "Link!" she shouted, holding it up and waving her other hand to get his attention. Link glanced at her and a huge, goofy smile spread across his face. She tossed it to him, the blade and hilt spinning vertically through the air. Link held up a hand and caught the hilt, turning without delay, to face Hinox again.
The enraged Guardian didn't seem to notice the exchange. He charged straight at Link, who merely held his sword out at the ready. There was a sickening slicing sound as Hinox ran in on the blade. The monster's face fell lax and he dropped, the Master Sword easily sliding out, now covered in demon's blood. With a smirk of satisfaction, Link leaned over, cleaning the blade on his fallen foe's ragged clothing. "He's right Zelda," Link muttered, sheathing his weapon. "You do have excellent aim."
Zelda laughed graciously. She crossed the room and took Link's hands. "I was afraid he had hurt you, but I can see now that your wit is still intact." Link smiled and placed a hand behind her head. He pulled her forward, kissing her gently on the forehead. Zelda wrapped her hands around Link's shoulders. His back was cold and wet, but he barely noticed this until after the embrace had ended. "You're bleeding," she whispered.
"I'm fine," he assured her.
Zelda noticed the sensation of static electricity running over her arms. She glanced over Link's shoulder and saw another spinning portal. "The portals," she said, letting go of Link and walking over to them.
"Portal? Is that what that is?" Link asked, looking at it.
"Yes," Zelda replied. "I went through two of them."
"Where did they lead?"
"To the past."
Zelda nodded. "One of them to a time before the dungeon was built, the other to only a few years ago, ten at most, sometime before I came to Koholint. The entire dungeon seems to be filled with them."
"Does that mean we won't be able to make our way to the Nightmare's chamber?"
"I think we'll manage," Zelda assured him. "It just may require some detours." She turned back to Link and noticed his shoulders shagging. His face was pale and clammy. "But first we need to take care of you," she said firmly.
"I'm fine," Link assured her.
"Don't be stubborn," Zelda replied, touching his cheek with her hand.
"Easy does it," Matilda cautioned herself, swinging her hookshot in a full circle above her head. She took aim at the door on the other side of the chasm and released the shot. It sailed high over the dirt floor, successfully latching on to the doorway. With a grim smirk, Matilda held both arms up above her head, taking the other end of the hookshot in both hands. Quickly, she released the switch and the reel began turning, pulling her across the pits in the ground and to the door itself.
On her feet again, Matilda yanked the hook free and returned her hookshot to the satchel. At the same time, she removed the key she had found with the Stalfos' remains. Frowning, she gently inserted it into the keyhole on the door and twisted her wrist. From within, she could hear a click as the door unlocked. Without bothering to remove the key, she pressed her palm against the door and pushed it open, the hinges groaning, untouched by oil.
She ventured into the grandest, most spectacular room of them all. Grand torches, held aloft from golden rings bedecked the walls, casting orange and red firelight down onto the jade tiles, decorating the floor in a cross hatch pattern. The walls were gilded and spangled with emeralds, each one glistening with the dancing light. In the middle of the room, two enormous raised firepits, carved out of ivory, flanked an enormous lapis bottle with two peacock feathers painted on it, looking oddly like eyeballs. Off to the left, there was a doorway, covered in red silks, from which some gentle music was playing.
Matilda stepped into the grand room, immediately turning to head for the door. The second her feet hit the tiles though, a loud, thundering bang sounded and the door slammed shut. The bottle in the middle of the room began quivering and silver smoke began pouring out, hovering over the floor. Swirling on itself, the smoke began to take on the semblance of a man. "Welcome to my humble home," a voice said from the cloud, "I'm your bad guy this time." The swirling stopped, leaving behind a bald man in a blue tunic. He looked down at Matilda. "But you're not Hylian," he muttered in confusion.
Without responding, Matilda held out her hookshot, pointing it directly at the Nightmare's midsection. "Goodbye Gene," she hissed, releasing the trigger. The chain of the hookshot flew outward, the hook shooting right into Gene's stomach. Had he been corporeal, it would have impaled him.
Gene looked down at the hook going through his middle. Silently, he stepped over to one side, watching as it clattered harmlessly to the ground. "Goodbye," he said back to her. With that, he cupped his hands out in front of him, forming a ball of bright yellow energy. Quickly, he separated his hands, pulling them back. The ball of energy blasted at Matilda. She tried to turn away from it, but it got her in the shoulder. A rush of pain ran through her body, followed by the tingle of pins and needles in her arm. She dropped to one knee, clutching her wounded shoulder.
Grinning, Gene pointed his index finger at Matilda. Invisible hands grabbed the back of her collar and pulled her off the floor, throwing her into a wall. She felt the back of her head impact, the point of an emerald driving deep into her back. As Matilda slid down the side of the wall, Gene again pointed an index finger at her, raising her into the air. This time, he just plain dropped her, letting her land on her back. The wind knocked out of her, Matilda gritted her teeth. Gene flicked his hand in her direction and she slid across the floor, slamming hard into the wall again.
Matilda's eyelids drooped and her head rolled to the side. Gene frowned in disappointment. He had hoped she would hold out a great deal longer. There was no fun in killing an unconscious person. Well, at least it would be less messy. He could only begin to contemplate the mess she and the others had made of his spotless home. Well, no matter. He made his way, noiselessly, across the floor, conjuring up another ball of energy. Just as he raised it above his head, prepared to cast it down and snuff out Matilda's life, a gust of wind rushed into the room. While it passed harmlessly through Gene's body, his blast was dispelled, thrown backwards and dissolved.
Standing in the doorway, he saw Carry and Carry's mysterious companion. She was holding her hands out at Gene, obviously creating the wind that had stopped his blast. "You're only delaying the inevitable," Gene said, examining the female.
"Carry, do what I told you," Zelda said, pushing him off to the right. Immediately, she turned to face the silks hanging over the doorway. With narrowed eyes, she summoned Din's Fire, instantly igniting them.
"How dare you!" Gene cried angrily, watching his precious decorations go up in flames. Shouting, he turned on Zelda, firing three large blasts in succession at her.
Zelda deftly dodged the first two. The third was barreling right at her face. She held up a hand and the ball of energy froze, suspended in the air. After a long pause, the ball suddenly started accelerating again, in the opposite direction. It smashed into Gene, causing him to light up, flashing bright yellow and turning transparent for a tenth of a second. During that time, Zelda turned to the prone form of Matilda. She waved her hands over the girl, creating a neon green barrier to protect her.
Gene, having recovered, glided across the floor to Zelda, his eyes burning yellow. "I'll destroy you!" he declared.
"You can try," she challenged him. He fired another blast at her. She clapped her palms together in front of her chest and the ball of energy broke into two halves, each one slamming into the wall on either side of her, harmlessly destroying some of the emeralds. Zelda moved her joined palms forward. She slowly pulled them apart, creating a small blue funnel in between them. Gene was already firing his next volley at her and she sent her funnel forward. It met the yellow blasts in between the two of them and spun them off to the sides, obliterating more of the wall in violent explosions.
"Someone," Gene growled, "is going to have to clean up this mess!"
"You know," Zelda replied calmly, "I don't think it's messy enough. Carry, if you please," she gestured to Carry. By this time, Carry had made his way across the room, carefully avoiding the blasts. He was standing in the center of the den, behind Gene now, holding the large lapis bottle by the neck with both hands.
"No!" Gene howled, but it was too late. Carry spun himself in a circle, swinging the bottle in a wide arch. Grunting, he slammed the swollen bulb into the wall, shattering the entire bottle on impact. A most peculiar thing happened then, something that had never happened to Gene before. He fell. It wasn't the semblance of falling; he made contact with the floor.
"Carry," Zelda called, "Go get some water to put out the fire." Carry nodded. He dropped the remains of the broken bottle's neck and walked out the door they had entered from, disappearing around a corner. Zelda turned on Gene. "How does it feel?" she asked hotly, "now that you finally can feel, was it worth it?" She began to slowly walk in his direction. Frightened, Gene skittered backward, pulling himself away from her with his hands. "Was it?"
"What are you?" Gene sputtered, staring up at her with wide eyes.
"The Princess of Destiny," she replied. She held up her right hand, palm facing Gene, just at her eye level. He noticed that there were several inky blue lines forming a tattoo on the heel of her palm in the shape of a Triforce.
"Have mercy!" he cried.
"Just as you were going to show mercy to Matilda?" she asked. "I'm not like you." A blue funnel began to gather in front of Zelda's palm. Like a child, Gene covered his eyes. With a sick smile, Zelda released the funnel, letting it impact just above his head, demolishing yet another section of wall.
Gene uncovered his eyes and looked up. He then looked at Zelda. "Bless you!" he cried, reveling in his continuing life.
"I don't need the blessing of a false god," she said. "Say hello to Kurt." With that, she narrowed her eyes at Gene. Instantly, his tunic erupted in red flames. Zelda turned her back on him and with a wave of her hand, silenced his final screams. The room slowly filled with gray fog.
Matilda was stirring. She shook her head from side to side and slowly opened her eyes. Her entire field of vision was covered by the neon green field protecting her. Curiously, she reached out a hand, letting her fingers brush against it. Zelda held up her hand. At once, the field was sucked away from Matilda, like a vacuum was pulling it into Zelda's palm. Matilda shakily rose to her feet. "You saved my life," she mumbled, taking an uncertain step in Zelda's direction.
Zelda walked over to her, meeting her halfway. "Hope is restored," she said cryptically.
Zelda reached out, placing her palm on Matilda's cheek. Suddenly, Matilda felt a wave of soothing energy flow through her body. The throbbing pain in her back from the numerous impacts with the wall ceased. She looked up at Zelda. For the briefest of instants, she was certain that the stranger's body had turned transparent, but once she blinked, she realized that couldn't possibly have happened. "Who are you?" she asked.
"A friend," Zelda replied.
"Someone who cares about you very much." Zelda frowned. "There isn't much time. There's never enough of it though anyway. Listen to me Matilda. You have to fight the voices."
"Fight the voices." She reached into the sack on her belt and removed a strange metal object. It looked like a small gold compact. The top of it was obsidian with a silver starburst etched into it.
"What's that?" Matilda asked, admiring the beautiful case.
Zelda opened the lid. The inside of the compact was filled with a loose white powder. She lifted the edge of the bottom to her lips and gently blew a breath of air across the top of the powder. A great amount of it lifted from the case and sailed into Matilda's face. Confused, she breathed in a good deal of the powder. A calming sensation filled her head. She felt her knees go weak and slowly sunk down to the ground. With one last glance at her savior, she flopped over, falling asleep on the jade tiles.
As Zelda closed the compact, she could hear Carry return to the room, holding a sloshing bucket of water at his side. She turned to him, pointing her fingertips at the water. The water rose from the bucket, like a giant bubble, and sailed across the room, dousing the crackling flames on the silk hangings. "You have to leave now," she said to him, barely sparing at glance at her own handiwork. "Link and Marin will arrive in this room soon and they can't see you."
Carry nodded, his red mane shaking. "I know," he said.
Zelda pointed to Matilda. "Take her home and leave her in bed. Don't let her know that you were here either." With a quick glance over his shoulder, Carry walked the length of the room, stooping to scoop up Matilda with both hands. His walking stick fell to the ground. Zelda walked to it and picked it up. A rush of wind sounded and the staff disappeared. "It's waiting for you at home," she told him. Carry simply stood there, holding the sleeping Matilda in his arms. "What are you waiting for?"
"Will I ever see you again?" Carry asked.
Zelda afforded him another one of her rare smiles. "Yes Carry, I promise you, we'll meet again. And soon." Her body went ridged for a second time, her flesh turning entirely transparent for a moment. She held up her hand, looking at Carry through it. "You have to go," she said, some urgency rising in her tone.
Carry bowed his head to her. He lifted his hand, protectively shielding Matilda's head. "Goodbye," he said, turning to walk out of the room.
Zelda watched him disappear. "Goodbye my friend," she whispered. When the sound of his footsteps disappeared, she turned slowly and walked into the door on the left, draped with smoldering silks.
Flame sat back in his chair, watching the white light emanating from his body dance in the reflection of the copper railing surrounding the balcony. "Another of our brothers, destroyed by that blasted symbol," he said quietly, his voice quivering with barely contained rage. He looked around the room. Sitting at his right was Hawk and at his left, Iris. Filling in the remaining seats were the others. He cast a glance at the three empty chairs on the right hand side of the balcony. "Well?" he shouted angrily. "What do you have to say?"
"There's nothing to be said," Face whispered, staring down at the orange tiles of the main floor where Kurt had once stood before them, bowing in reverence.
"We still know nothing of the triangle symbol," Angelika added.
"Nor have we learned about Valerie," Face continued.
"Enough!" Flame roared, slamming his fist down on the armrest of his chair. "You have nothing to say to me!"
The room exploded in feminine laughter. A bright flash of fire flared up in one of the deserted thrones, dissipating to reveal Catsy, dressed in a pink leotard with a tutu made of peacock feathers. "There's plenty of things I want to say to you," she snickered, crossing her long legs to show off her sparkling red slippers.
"You!" Flame shouted, halfway rising to his feet. "You have no place here!"
"This is still my chair," she said, pretending to pout.
"Remind me to turn it into firewood," Flame muttered as an aside to Hawk, sitting down again.
"The loss of Gene is a great loss to Koholint," Catsy continued, touching her heart in mock sympathy. "Indeed, what will the island be without an extravagant fop around to insult us all?"
"Get out Catsy," Iris said quietly, "You're not welcome here."
"Funny," Catsy went on, "That's exactly what Gene said to me right before he…what's the proper way to put it? Expired." She smirked. "You must be speaking like him because you know that they'll be coming after you next."
"Get out of here Catsy," Hawk said, curling his upper lip.
"How about no? I'm just having so much fun." Catsy leaned back in her chair, placing her arms on the armrests.
"I hope you're pleased with yourself, because eventually, they just might come after you," Iris shot back.
"Oh, I'm plenty prepared for that."
"Catsy," Flame said calmly, leaning back in his own chair. "What, exactly, did you hope to accomplish by getting Carry caught up in this mess?"
Catsy blinked, obviously thrown. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, so I know something that you don't know," Flame muttered smugly, bridging his fingers in front of his chest.
Pulling her arms away from the throne, she leaned forward, dropping her calm façade. "What are you saying?"
"It was Carry who delivered the terrible blow to Gene that robbed him of his advantage," Flame said angrily, glaring at his little sister.
"Well," Catsy said uncomfortably, "Good for him."
"It was clever of you trying to bring him into this," Flame continued, "but I think you'll find that it was a big mistake."
"That's a matter of opinion," Catsy replied carefully.
"It's of my opinion," Iris said testily, "that should Carry enter my dungeon, I will kill him. Perhaps then you'll learn to be a bit more respectful of your fallen brothers."
"Empty threats," Catsy said, trying to put up a false front of confidence.
"Perhaps, but perhaps not," Hawk said snidely.
"Know your place Catsy," Flame murmured softly.
"I know my place," Catsy replied. "I'm sitting in the seat of power, and I will laugh as I see the Hylians destroy each and every one of you."
"Get out," Flame grumbled, his body growing an intense shade of yellow.
Catsy stood up. "I'm getting the faintest impression that I'm just not welcome here," she deadpanned. Slowly, she prowled across the balcony, passing behind each throne. As she passed behind Flame's seat in the middle, she plucked a feather from her tutu and touched his arm with it. The feather burst out in flames. She held it up, examining it as she passed behind the others and arrived at the end of the balcony. "Whether any of you like it or not, the end is here. It's time to choose sides."
"It seems you've already chosen yours," Iris said.
"We'll see how your philosophy of 'act, don't think' works for you," Catsy replied. She held the feather over the copper railing and dropped it. It plunged to the ground, exterminating itself before impact.
"You're just aiding in your own destruction Catsy," Flame said hardly.
"Maybe," Catsy acknowledged, ducking her head so that the hair horns on top bobbed, "but at least I'll die doing what's right." She held up her hands and twisted both wrists, disappearing in a consuming flame.
"What do we do about her?" Iris asked, turning to Flame.
"Leave her. She's being foolish and impudent, nothing more."
"And what about Carry?" Iris pressed.
"Carry's Catsy's responsibility now," Hawk said from the other side of Flame. "Whatever happens to him is on her head."
The others all began muttering. "He would have been enough of a problem without Catsy's influence," Iris persisted, her voice growing shriller.
"Enough!" Flame roared. At once, they all fell silent. "Forget about Carry, all of you. Forget about Catsy too. The Hylians are the enemy, them and the Valerie creature. We have to protect the remaining instruments from them. Nothing else matters. Nothing."
Joining hands, Link and Zelda nodded to each other and then turned to face the trench. On a silent count of three, the two of them jumped together, landing safely on the other side of the bottomless hole. "One more," Zelda muttered. Link looked as if he were about to say something, but instead, he simply sneezed loudly, squeezing his eyes such in annoyance. Again, the two of them walked to the edge of the pit and jumping, clasping hands to share equally in the power of the Roc's Feather.
They now faced a giant door carved out of jade. A copper lock was in the center, with a key resting snugly in the keyhole. "Someone's been here…" Link muttered, fingering the lock.
"Are you sure this is the place?" Zelda asked. "We were cold all the way here, but I don't feel anything now."
"This has to be the Nightmare's chamber," Link reasoned, "look at the defense."
"The defense is lousy," Zelda replied, pressing her palm against the door. It swung open.
"All right," Link consented. He took a step forward into the room. "Look at the décor," he said.
Zelda followed him into the jade room. The air hung with stagnant gray fog. Her eyes scanned the floor, falling on a pile of jagged and broken lapis. "There's something we haven't seen in here before," she whispered.
"A mess." She pointed to the pile.
"Yeah," Link muttered. He glanced at the walls behind him and was surprised to find several large, charred holes and several emeralds missing in the engraved pattern. "Where's the Nightmare?" he wondered.
"Dead." Both Link and Zelda looked up to the left. There was a darkened doorway, covered in tattered and blackened silks. Standing on one side of the doorway was a woman with long red dreadlocks and pointed ears, fully exposed. She regarded Link for a moment. "Link, I had forgotten how handsome you were."
Zelda moved forward, meeting the woman in the middle of the room. "You're me," she said quietly. "From the future."
"From a portal, yes," Future Zelda replied, "but from your future, Din willing, no."
"What do you mean?"
"Things are bad, so I came back through a portal to try and change them. I think I've managed to succeed."
Link blinked his eyes rapidly, staring at the two Zeldas in profile. Despite the differences in their clothing and demeanor, they were the same person, it was obvious. "I thought the portals only opened to the past," he said.
"They also opened to the future," Future Zelda replied. "I knew that if I returned to Bottle Grotto at the correct moment, I could travel back here to correct a terrible mistake."
"What's the mistake?" Zelda asked.
"There is no mistake."
"I don't understand."
"I stopped it from happening, therefore the mistake no longer exists," Future Zelda explained.
"Can you tell us what it was?" Zelda pressed.
"No," Link said quietly, looking back and forth between the two Zeldas, "she can't."
Future Zelda nodded. For a moment, a wash of transparency seemed to race down her body, making her completely see through for a fraction of a second. "Order has been restored," she said, "that's all that matters." She reached out a hand to Link. Instinctively, he stepped forward. Future Zelda took his hand, slipping a thimble sized, gold piece into his palm. "The Conch Horn," she explained, "the second instrument of the Sirens."
"Great," Link said uneasily, "I can add it to my collection."
Future Zelda smiled. Instantly, when that smile lit up her gaunt face, Link knew without a doubt that she really was Zelda. She turned to her past counterpart, taking her hand. Gently, she placed Zelda's hand over Link's, pressing them together around the Conch Horn. "Take care of each other," she implored them.
"We will," Link promised.
A bright green glow began to emit from Future Zelda. She was a surrounded by an emerald aura which slowly drifted outward, surrounding Link and Zelda. They heard a rushing sound fill the room, like the blow of the wind. "The truth is that no one person can defeat their demons," Future Zelda said. Zelda's eyes widened and she opened her mouth as though she were about to exclaim something, but Future Zelda withdrew her hands from both of them quickly and flung her arms out. Instantly, the rush of Farore's Wind flooded the room, carrying Zelda and Link off.
When the gale died down, Future Zelda was alone. She looked down at her hands. They were fully transparent now. It wasn't enough time, she thought bitterly to herself. Any second now, she knew that she would vanish, forgotten in the mists of Time. It was worth it though, she realized, thinking about how her past counterpart and Link would have a chance at a better future now, far better than the one she had come from.
She felt something hot pressing against her thigh. Looking down at her sack, she observed a bright pink light glowing from within it. Her fingers slowly pulled apart the strings and from the sack, she removed her tear drop pendent. The purple stone was glowing and pink mist was swirling above it, little wisps of ether shooting off in all directions. "There's never enough time," a voice from the gem said, whispering into Zelda's ear.
Carefully, she knelt down, placing her pendent on the tiles. As she stood and stepped back, there was a minor explosion, the pendent transforming completely into a pillar of pink ether. The column swirled and churned, forming into a beautiful woman with long, pointed ears and pale yellow hair. "Was it worth it?" she asked the woman. "Will they get a better future?"
"You needn't ask me what your sacrifice was for," the woman replied.
"Then it was worthwhile," Future Zelda said.
"You've proven your name as the Princess of Destiny."
"That's all I could ever aspire to do."
The pink woman moved closer to Future Zelda, holding out her transparent fingers. "You've done more than that. Perhaps, someday, due to your sacrifice, the curse of our name will be broken."
"I can only hope so," she replied. She reached out her own hands, touching them to the pink smoke. Instantly, her entire body dissolved, becoming one with the ether. For a brief moment, the pink fog outshined the grayness filling the room. In the next instant, it was gone.
Zelda leaned back on her elbows, feeling them sink slowly into the sand. She watched Link, excitedly telling the story of their venture into the dungeon to an attentive Valerie who listened, nodding occasionally or interrupting to ask a question. "Farore's Wind," Valerie muttered, casting a glance in Zelda's direction, "that's a very difficult skill for a Hylian to master, you must have untold potential." She sat on her heels, examining Link and Zelda with a small smile. "Two instruments," she said at last, "that's something."
Link frowned. "The thing I don't understand," he started slowly, "is where the portals came from."
"I believe I can answer that," Valerie replied. She leaned over and reached out to Link's collar, pushing aside the flap to reveal Zelda's necklace.
Link turned a brilliant shade of crimson. "She put it on me!" he said, hastily removing the necklace. He fumbled in handing it back to Zelda, dropping it in the sand.
Valerie snatched it up. "The Tear Drop Pendent," she said, dangling the chain in front of her eyes, "is older than either of you realize."
"How old is it?" Link asked.
"It dates back to the Imprisoning War when Ganondorf Dragmire first fell."
"Wow," Link muttered, "that is old."
Valerie nodded. "It was created by the very first Princess of Destiny," she continued, watching the sunrise reflect off the silver amulet. "She would be your very great grandmother, going back thousands of years," she added, glancing at Zelda, "the only ancestor of yours to bare the name of Zelda."
Zelda scowled, turning to Link. "You gave me that when we were eight years old," she said. "Where did you get it?"
"I bought it in a small shop outside of Mido," Link said. He frowned. "It cost my entire life savings at the time, ten Rupees."
"Ten Rupees?" Zelda looked shocked.
"You have to understand," Valerie said calmly, "this isn't like the other artifacts of the ancient Hylian past. This isn't like the Ocarina of Time or the Moon Pearl. The Sages never knew about it."
"What do you mean?"
"Zelda the First created it in secret. It's just taken thousands of years for her secret to be discovered." Valerie handed the necklace back to Zelda who put it on.
"So the necklace caused the portals?" Link asked.
"Not exactly," Valerie explained. "You see, you created the portals."
"I created the portals?"
"If it had been Zelda wearing the necklace and being tortured, it never would have happened. The fact of the matter is that the Hero of Time was wearing the Tear Drop Pendent, a necklace created out of the ethers of Time, during a moment of weakness when his body was being afflicted by both sickness and brutal torture."
"Oh," Link replied absently.
"Well, you've had a busy night," Valerie said, getting to her feet. "Get some rest." She turned around and walked off, heading north towards the Mabe Village.
There was a long, pleasant silence that followed. Finally, Zelda turned to Link again with a smug smile. "We're on the beach," she said, "again."
Link laughed. "Yeah, I guess we are." Zelda rolled up her sleeve, revealing the Power Bracelet. She unhooked the clasp and took it off, passing it to Link. "What's this?" he asked, taking it.
"A gift," she replied. "It seems only fair. You gave me jewelry, so I'll reciprocate."
"Okay," Link said with a laugh. He turned to look at her. Slowly, he leaned forward, closing his eyes. As he was about to kiss her, Zelda moved away from him and he fell down, kissing the sand instead. "Hey!" he yelped, accidentally taking in a mouthful of sand.
Zelda laughed. "I'm not going to kiss you," she said.
Link sat up, spitting sand out of his mouth. "And why not?" he asked.
"You're still sick!"
"I am not!" he shouted. "Never was!"
Her smile faded as she looked into his clear blue eyes. "Link," she said softly, taking both of his hands in hers. "I swear, the two of us will be together for all Time."
He blinked in surprise. "I never doubted that," he told her.
"I know," she said, snuggling her head against his shoulder. "I just wanted to say it." She closed her eyes, smiling peacefully.
"Um…Zelda?" Link said after a pause.
"We forgot Bow Wow."