She looked at herself in the mirror. Perfect as always! Of course, there was no reason for concern, but still she ran her hand through her chocolate brown ringlets. Every third corkscrew curl was actually gold and in the dimness, these curls caught the firelight and glistened. Her face seemed a bit pale today. She supposed that she was only nervous. With a flick of her wrist, subtle pink rogue circles formed on her cheeks. That was better.
They would be arriving any minute. Catsy scanned the chamber she was in. She had commissioned a few demons to wander about the dungeon and look busy. At the moment, the only other living being in the room, beside herself, was a bored Helmasaur who paced back and forth for no discernable reason.
Catsy sighed, turning back to the mirror. She smoothed down the front of her gown, a white dress with cap sleeves and an empire waistline. A line of gold rings went around the neckline. Catsy despised each and every ring. In fact, she hated the entire get up. It was old and archaic, not to mention somewhat less than flattering for a woman of her endowment. She looked like a pregnant stork. Or perhaps a mushroom.
A glowing ball of white light formed in the middle of the chamber. "Hail, Catsy," it greeted her, taking shape. The light died and left behind the form of her sister Iris, wearing an identical dress.
"Iris," Catsy said with a dip of her head, disregarding the formal greeting.
A flash of lightening struck beside Iris and another girl appeared, Angelika, again in the same dress. "Hail, Catsy," she chorused merrily.
"Well?" Iris asked.
"Can we see it?"
"See what?" The game never grew tiresome.
"Your Guardian!" Angelika cried impatiently.
"You've come to see my Guardian?" Catsy asked, biting her lip slightly to keep from smiling.
"You've been so mysterious about it," Iris sighed. "We've seen everyone else's Guardian, but not yours."
Suddenly, from another chamber, there came a loud explosion of crying. Catsy picked up the heavy white skirt around her knees and immediately took off, running in the direction of the sound. After exchanging a glance, her sisters followed. "What's that noise?" Angelika demanded, chasing after Catsy.
"My Guardian," Catsy replied simply. She stepped delicately over a stream of water bubbling up from the ground. Some plants had taken root alongside the water and she decided she would later ask a few of the Helmasaurs to pull those out.
"Can't you shut it up?" Iris asked. "I made mine silent to avoid such interruptions."
"I think it rather appropriate," Catsy muttered, turning into an open doorway. "You did ask to see my Guardian after all."
The room was enormous. Although there were no windows, Catsy had created an artificial sunlight that streamed down into the space, flittered through sheer gray veils draped along the walls and across the ceiling. The tiles, just as in the rest of the dungeon, were earthy tones, but across the middle of the room, there was a design set in blue coral. It looked somewhat like a Stalfos head. Resting comfortably on top of the head, directly in the middle of the room was a large bassinet, gray veils draping over it. From within came the racket of crying.
"Is that it?" Angelika asked incredulously. "It doesn't move around much."
Catsy shook her head, laughing inwardly. She walked over to the cradle and lifted away the veil, picking up the creature from inside. Almost instantly, the wailing stopped. "This is it," she told her sisters without bothering to look up at them.
Iris scoffed in disgust. "That's it? That's your Guardian! He's so small and weak!"
"I doubt he will be much good in battle," Angelika put in. "Is it a he?"
"She?" Iris asked.
"It?" Angelika supplied.
Iris pushed past Catsy, ripping the Guardian out of her arms. She held it at arm's length, almost afraid to keep it too near. "Oh, Catsy," she whispered with an air of disappointment. "Only one head?"
The infantile Guardian began crying again. Angelika grabbed it from Iris. "How do you make this thing shut up?" she asked, shaking it roughly.
"Stop that!" Catsy ordered, taking it back from Angelika. Soothingly, she wrapped her arms around the creature, rocking it back and forth, humming softly.
"That thing is worthless," Iris said firmly. "It'll never amount to any good."
"Yeah," Angelika agreed hastily. "It'll never protect you against invading hoards."
"I doubt there will be any invading hoards in the near future," Catsy mumbled, returning the calmed Guardian to the bassinet. She hastily threw the veil over the opening again, in hopes of preventing additional scorn.
"You remember what Father said before he took to slumber," Iris chastised her sister.
"He said that in the ages to come there would be a band that would wake him."
"And then we'd have to yield our power back to him!" Angelika added.
"I hardly think the word 'band' indicates a hoard of warriors," Catsy said lightly. "At any rate, I don't understand why Flame is so worried about some one coming to wake him."
"Hello!" Angelika shouted. "And then we'd have to yield our power back to him!"
"I don't know about you Catsy, but I rather enjoy my freedom right now," Iris snapped. "I will not go back to being a Siren after being a goddess."
"Me neither!" Angelika declared.
Catsy sighed. "Nor will I," she admitted.
"Then we're all in agreement." Iris walked over to Catsy and put her hands on her shoulders. "Get yourself a decent Guardian. Throw that creature into the sea."
"I'll decide what to do about the protection of my dungeon," Catsy said testily.
"Of course, of course," Iris conceded, stepping back. At once, she was transformed into a glowing ball of white light and vanished.
"It's so ugly," Angelika muttered, shaking her head. She too disappeared with a loud clap of thunder.
The Guardian began crying again. Catsy lifted the veil and knelt beside the crib, brushing her fingertips against her Guardian's forehead to sooth the cries. "Don't listen to them," she whispered. "I won't drown you. I'll…I'll see to it that you have many companions. Yes, that's what I'll do. And I'll shower you with gifts. I'll see to it that you're able to protect yourself and others. One day you'll be a strong and mighty force to reckon with."
She paused, resting her chin against the edge of the cradle. "And you'll help me," she added softly, a touch of vulnerability creeping out of her tone. "With you, I can redeem the past. Make up for all the lives I've taken. I've made promises to powers greater than those of the Nightmares and together, we'll keep those promises."
The chamber was silent now. The tiny Guardian had fallen asleep, nestled comfortably in the gold sheets of the bassinet. Catsy stood up and turned to go. She nearly toppled over. Standing in the doorway was what could only be described as a humanoid being composed entirely of green light. "It was a mistake bringing that creature into the fold," the light said with a commanding feminine tone.
"Perhaps," Catsy conceded, attempting to regain her composure.
"When the test is ended, Koholint will vanish, along with all those born on her shores."
"I'll find a loophole," Catsy replied defiantly.
"You dare to stand against me?" the light asked. "Impudent false goddess that you are?"
"If it means sparing those born on Koholint, I will."
The light was silent for a moment. Finally, with a nod, she replied, "Very well. I will allow this. If you find your loophole, you may use it."
"Believe me, I will."
Although slightly overcast, the day was warm. There was the sort of calm in the air that either heralded a storm or a strong wind, but for the time being, the day was particularly pleasant. The water in Martha's Bay was so clear near the shore that Link and Zelda could see the colorful fish swimming around. Farther out, the water turned pure blue.
The Hylians strolled aimlessly, enjoying a companionable silence. For some reason, today had just been one of those days meant for wandering. Everyone on the island had abandoned their chores and Link's half finished hut remained half finished. All over the island, there was an eerie quiet and Link found himself filled with the need to create sound. He would constantly open his mouth, as if to say something then shut it, fearing that any breach in the silence would be sacrilege.
He glanced at the rocks near the water. From beside one of them, a vibrant purple flower with yellow insides was sprouting. It seemed very much out of place. Stepping away from Zelda a moment, he leaned over to pluck it. Zelda had paused, turning to watch him. Without great ceremony, he presented the flower to her. With a small smile, she accepted it.
They continued on their walk, rounding a curve of the bay and heading in a new direction. Link couldn't take the silence. "Ezri spoke to me again," he blurted out.
Zelda looked at him. "When?"
"Last night, right before dinner."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
Zelda raised an eyebrow. "It seems just a little too important to forget, Link."
"Well, it's not like he said anything helpful."
"What did he say?"
Link jogged off the path, jumping up onto one of the rocks near the water. He turned around, squatting, and tucked his hands into his armpits, flapping his elbows wildly like wings. "Hoot! It has been some time since our paths crossed, lad…The closer you get to the Windfish, the more restless he sleeps. Carry onward!" He threw his head back for one final "Hoot!" and lost his balance, falling into a backwards somersault into the water.
"Explain to me again how it's possible that you're a Hylian Hero," Zelda said, trotting over to the water to offer him a hand.
"No one said Heroes have to be graceful," he replied, accepting her hand.
"Well," she muttered, pulling him up to his feet, "you're right. Ezri wasn't exactly helpful on that one."
"I know," Link sighed, taking off his hat to wring out the water. "Valerie's starting to drive me crazy. She's never been on my case so much to attempt the next dungeon."
"She's been on my case too," Zelda consoled him. Neither of them would say it, of course, but they had both grown reluctant to try another dungeon since the Surf Harp had disappeared during Link's last exodus into Angler's Tunnel.
Link plopped his damp cap back on his head and stepped out of the water, rejoining Zelda on the path around the bay. "Which dungeon do we attempt next anyway?"
Zelda shook her head. "I really don't remember anything else from that book about the Nightmares. I wish I knew where it was."
"Maybe Tarin took it."
Zelda turned sharply on him. "Tarin would never take a book from me without asking first." She paused, a small frown on her face. "Do you think someone did take it?"
"Books usually don't sprout legs and walk off."
"Sprout wings and fly away," Zelda corrected him.
"And I thought you said that you had seen everything," Zelda teased sweetly.
He glanced at her with a wry smile. "Not everything…yet." He touched his knuckles to her cheek. Slowly, he spread his fingers, resting his palm behind the back of her head, and leaned over to kiss her tenderly.
Zelda pulled back abruptly. "What's that?"
"I think most people call it a kiss."
"No," Zelda put her hand on Link's shoulder and turned him slightly, pointing her other hand out at the water.
Link followed her gaze. Out in the middle of the bay, in the deepest water, there was a large circle of boulders, just poking out from the depths. In the middle of the circle, there was what looked like a smooth blue dome with a large oval shaped opening just at the water level. Two circular windows sat on either side of the opening, giving the entire object the appearance of a head with a yawning mouth and bulging eyes.
"What is that?" he whispered, staring at it in amazement.
"That's the Catfish's Maw." At once, both the Hylians turned in the direction of the unfamiliar voice. Sunning herself on a rocky bank was the mermaid of Martha's Bay, cleverly enough, called Martha. She was an exquisite creature, both in her own opinion and in the opinions of the islanders. Currently, her long sapphire tail was spread out over the rocks. She sat running a seashell comb through her dark, wavy hair. As all mermaids, she carried a mirror with her at all times. Hers was currently tied to a blue sash, along with a horn, and wrapped around her waist.
Aloof blue eyes regarded the Hylians for a moment before she continued, in a tone that seemed to inform them that they were both fools for asking such a stupid question. "One of the Sirens dwells there," she said dryly. "The goddess of defense."
"A Nightmare's dungeon is in the middle of the bay?" Link asked.
"It's been there for centuries," she shrugged her golden tan shoulders. "The mermaids used to call it the haunted cove."
"You mean you've been inside of it?" Link walked closer to the water, Zelda at his heels.
"Well, one of the chambers is flooded. That's the only one the mermaids have ever seen." Martha paused to admire her reflection in the water. She pouted her bright blue lips then ran her fingers along her cheek. "The entire thing is underwater, but it's hollow and only a few chambers have any water leaking in."
"How would a person theoretically get in there?" Link inquired, pretending to seem aloof. "I mean, in theory, suppose I wanted to get in?"
Martha threw her head back with an airy laugh. She clapped her hands together and dove off the rocks and into the water. Link and Zelda watched her knife away from the bank and toward the deep part where she surfaced, her dark hair slicked back and glossy in the sunlight. "You must dive into the waters of Martha's Bay to enter the Catfish's Maw," she replied in a haughty tone. "There's a flooded cave under the boulders. All you have to do is swim under them and jump right into the mouth of the cave." She pointed to the large oval opening of the dome, the webbed fins of her arms flapping like wings.
"Really…well, that's very interesting. Thank you, Martha."
Martha batted her long, dark eyelashes at Link. "If you wanted to thank me, I could have told you how."
"Um…" Link stumbled, taking a step backward. He ducked behind Zelda. "I'll remember that next time," he chirped in a voice an octave higher than normal.
"Until next time then." With a wink, Martha dove underneath the water again, disappearing into the depths completely.
"Real smooth, Hero," Zelda deadpanned, turning around to face Link.
"Well, now we know where the next dungeon is," Link said, standing up straight and offering Zelda his hand. She took it and together the two of them picked their way over the rocks and back onto the smooth path.
"Tonight?" she asked, throwing one last backward glance at the dome.
"Are you ready to take it on tonight?"
Zelda nodded. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"Okay," Link agreed. "We'll go tonight. We can meet up here before dinner."
"Are you sure about that?"
"What do you mean?"
"The last time we agreed to meet up, you were clubbed over the head and kidnapped and I was locked in the Dream Shrine."
"We can't let what happened last time discourage us."
"True enough," Zelda sighed. "It's almost dinnertime now." Somewhere in the distance, there was a loud crack of thunder. Both Link and Zelda turned their faces in the direction of the roar for a moment. "I'll go home and get my bow," Zelda whispered, "then I'll come right back here."
"I won't go anywhere," Link promised.
"Watch your back just the same," Zelda said.
He touched her cheek with his fingers. "I promise."
For a moment, Zelda turned her face, pressing her cheek against his palm. "I'll be back in a few minutes," she told him before finally setting off, still clutching the dark purple flower.
Link watched her go. There was another loud clap of thunder, this one even closer and monstrous than before. Link felt a strange sense of foreboding crawl through his veins. He turned to look at the entrance to the Catfish's Maw again. The black entrance seemed beyond sinister to him. "Something is going to happen tonight," he whispered to himself. "Something terrible." As if in response, the thunder roared again, causing the ground beneath Link's feet to shudder. "Farore protect us," he implored the heavens. The thunder crashed again.
Catsy whirled around so fast that today's ensemble, a canary yellow halter dress with turquoise ballet slippers, had difficulty keeping up with her. "Please, Carry," she begged in sincere desperation.
Carry, sitting on the foot of his bed, shook his large head. "I won't go back to the Catfish's Maw," he said solemnly, almost regretfully.
"But why?" Catsy was pacing across the length of Carry's hovel. The shades had been drawn tightly shut over the newly installed windows, as Catsy had announced her intentions to visit a few days ago. Still, enough sunlight streamed in that candles were unnecessary and Catsy was forced to restrict her frantic pacing to the very back of the room, as far away from the light as possible.
"I told you a long time ago that I wouldn't go back," Carry said. His calm voice was a stark contrast to Catsy's, which had gone from mellow to frantic in a very short period of time.
"You said no such thing. As I recall, we reached an agreement that you wouldn't come back until invited. Well, I'm inviting you now."
"No," Carry said simply.
"You're trying to punish me."
"Yes you are!" Catsy walked over to him, looking directly into his granite eyes. "Why won't you come? And don't tell me that it's because you vowed you wouldn't return; we both know that's not true."
"Catsy," Carry sighed wearily, "Link and Little Marin won't hurt you if you don't give them reason to."
"I'm not asking for your protection, Carry," she replied crisply. "I just want to consolidate all my cards."
"I'm your card?"
"Well, yes, in a manner of speaking."
Carry folded his muscular arms across his chest and gruffly looked away from her. "No."
"Don't sulk, Carry. You know perfectly well that you're more to me than a card in an elaborate game."
Catsy threw her hands up in the air, casting reflections from the gold glitter painted on her nails. "What is the matter with you?"
"I just don't want to go."
Carry scowled, looking back at her. "Because I don't want Link and Little Marin to be angry with me."
"Angry with you?"
"The way that Matilda got angry at me for following her around the dungeons, even though I wasn't."
"I see. This time you really are following them around and you're afraid that they'll be angry with you for not telling them. You don't want to lose more friends."
"Yes," Carry said, hiding some surprise in his voice.
"I understand a lot more than you give me credit for. Carry, I promise there will be no ugly confrontations."
"Why I should I believe you?"
"I think I've proven that I'm reliable by this point in time."
"That's not true!" Carry exclaimed.
"What have I done to lose credibility exactly?"
"You promised me that you would find out what was wrong with Matilda," he said.
Catsy folded her arms. "I did promise that."
"And you haven't done anything! You just made things worse!"
"How did I make things worse?"
"I know what happened in Matilda's hut. With the Surf Harp. I heard the whole thing from outside."
"Yes, I know."
"You made her worse. Now, besides not talking to me, she's doing other strange things."
"What's she doing?"
Catsy blinked. "What?"
"She won't go back to her home now," Carry explained. "She spends all day outside…."
"In the sunlight…"
"…in the sunlight. She doesn't want to be alone. Now she sleeps in Tracy's house. And she doesn't talk much at all."
"That confrontation didn't have to be like that. She could have just given me the Surf Harp." Carry looked at her. With a sigh, Catsy's frown deepened. "No…she couldn't have."
"You promised me, Catsy," Carry needled her. "You promised that you would find out what was wrong and instead you made it worse."
"I didn't mean to make it worse, Carry, I swear I didn't."
"Your oaths don't mean much to me right now."
Catsy narrowed her eyes at Carry. "You're being awfully cruel to me today, Carry."
"What does a promise mean to you?"
"It means plenty to me, I assure you."
Catsy sat down on a small crate that was leaning against the back wall. She crossed one leg over the other and looked at Carry with a dangerous scowl. "I know," she started slowly, "what's wrong with Matilda."
Carry blinked his large eyes. "What?"
"A promise is a promise. Right after you asked me to find out what was wrong, I went and I found out. I've known for a few weeks now."
Carry was forced to avert his eyes, a flush creeping up into his face. "Oh…" he murmured quietly.
"So you see; you've been accusing me of crimes I didn't commit. If you had just asked me what I had learned, I might have told you and we could have avoided this scene."
"You're sorry?" Catsy supplied for him.
Carry sighed heavily. "Yes," he said sulkily. "I'm sorry."
"Apology accepted, Carry." Catsy leaned her head to one side, softening her tone considerably. "It's all right. We're all just a little tense right now."
"Yes, you, me, our dungeon crawling friends, Matilda, everyone."
There was a clap of thunder from outside. Carry turned to look at the window. "There's going to be a storm," he muttered.
"The storm has already begun," Catsy countered.
He looked back at her. "It has?"
"In more ways than one." Catsy rose gracefully and walked across the expanse between them, moving very much like a graceful ballerina. "You friends are coming for me," she said, kneeling down in front of Carry to look him in the eye. "They'll be in Catfish's Maw by nightfall." She sighed, looking at her hands for a moment. "Carry, I'm finished calling in favors from you, we both know that. But I'm asking you, please come to the Catfish's Maw tonight."
Carry reached out, closing her hands in one of his. "All right," he conceded. "I'll come to the dungeon."
She looked up at him. "Tonight is going to be an important night. For all of us." She rose, pulsing Carry's fingers slightly.
Carry stood up, letting go of Catsy's hands, he crossed the room in two or three strides, coming to the basket where he kept his maps. After a moment of searching, he dug up a map of Catfish's Maw. He walked back and started to hand it to her, but suddenly, as she was reaching out for it, he pulled back. "I'll give it to you, but you have to promise me something else."
"Tell me what's wrong with Matilda."
"There's nothing you can do about it."
"Maybe not, but I want to know."
"Well, that's a fair deal," Catsy agreed.
"Deal." Carry handed her the map.
She studied the parchment for a long minute before tracing out a line with her fingernail. Magically, a gold line appeared where her finger went, drawing out a path through the spattering of ink boxes. "We should get going." Carry crossed the room again, grabbing his staff. He started to open the door when Catsy called him back. "Carry."
"Where are you going?"
"To the Catfish's Maw."
Catsy laughed. "Come here, Carry." He walked back over to her, a quizzical expression etched on his face. Catsy put a hand on his shoulder. "We'll go together," she said. Before he could respond, a flame erupted in between them. It wasn't a terribly hot flame, in fact if felt rather cold as it licked his face. The fire grew in size until it had completely consumed the two of them. In the next instant, it had vanished. They were gone.
Zelda was terribly diligent in her effort. Marin was quite well known for stopping in the middle of a path to look up at a cloud, or sniff a few flowers here and there. There would be no dallying today. She made her way back to the tiny hut that she and Tarin called home just as the heavens began to open up and the rain began to crash to the ground. A single stroke of lightening shuddered across the sky right as she closed the door.
Without even thinking really, she crossed the small room and pulled back the sliding door over the storage space against the far wall. Pushing aside laundry baskets and cooking pots, she quickly located her bow and quiver. She opened the small zippered pack on her quiver, checking to make sure that the Roc's Feather was still there. Afterwards, she checked her arrow count. Twenty arrows. It wasn't much, she supposed, but arrows always had a way of turning up in unexpected places.
She rose. Placing the flower Link had given her in her teeth, she began strapping the quiver to her back. With Link's help, she had fashioned a hook on the back of the quiver to which she could attach her bow until it was needed. After spitting the flower back into her hand, Zelda snapped the bow into place and turned around, nearly barreling over Tarin who had appeared behind her.
"Tarin!" she cried, flushing considerably.
"Did you not hear me come in the door?" her pudgy foster father asked, stepping back so she could regain her posture.
"No, I didn't," she admitted.
"Head in the clouds again," he chuckled. There was something off in his laughter, though Zelda couldn't place it.
"Yes," she said, laughing back.
There was a crash of thunder from outside. "You're not going off to hunt in this thunder storm are you?"
"No," Zelda replied.
"I don't think it's your turn this week anyway," Tarin continued as he walked over to his small bed and sat down on the edge, causing the springs to moan under the strain. "Isn't it Papahl's turn?"
"I think so."
"Aye, that's what I thought." Zelda started to head toward the door. "Where are you going?" Tarin called after her.
She turned to face him. "I'm just going to meet Link down by the beach," she said casually.
"And what, might I ask, do you need your bow for?"
"He set up a target range on the sea cliff. He promised he'd teach me how to shoot properly."
"There's nothing wrong with the way you shoot now."
Zelda blinked in surprise, looking directly at him. "Tarin?" she asked, a frown forming on her face.
"Sit down, Marin," he said evenly.
"I said sit down. Now."
"I can't," she insisted, taking another step to the door. "I have to go. Link is waiting for me."
"He'll have to wait a while longer," Tarin told her coldly.
"What do you mean?"
"Marin, you're not to go meet that lad tonight."
"What? Why?" Zelda could feel her pulse speeding up. In Link's entire time on Koholint, Tarin had never once spoken of him so coldly. What's more, Tarin almost never forbid her from doing anything.
"Because I'm your father and I say so. You shouldn't need any more reason than that."
"I'm afraid I do," she said softly.
"Sit down, Marin."
"In the name of the gods, child, do as I say!"
Zelda stared at him, her mouth gaping open slightly. Never, not once in the nine years, eight months, and twenty five days that Zelda had lived on Koholint as Marin, had Tarin ever raised his voice at her like that. Dumbfounded, she dropped like a rock onto the edge of a wheelbarrow that happened to be resting by the door, the flower slipping from her fingers to land on the floor. She searched for words, all she could manage was, "I'm sitting…"
"You are to remain in this house for the rest of the evening," Tarin instructed her in a dull, dead voice.
"Please tell me why," she begged him.
"I don't want you seeing that boy any more."
The ground seemed to drop out from under Zelda. "What?" she whispered, her voice filled with such panic that she didn't even recognize it as her own.
"That boy has been a bad influence on you. I know that you've been lying, going off on secret meetings with him and I don't like it one bit. I will not have my child lying to my face."
"This is my decision, Marin. You are not to meet with Link any more."
"This discussion is closed."
"No!" she shouted, springing to her feet.
"Collect yourself," Tarin commanded.
"No! No! No! You can't do this to me!"
"My word is final."
"You can't do this to me, not again!" She could feel her cheeks growing red with anger. A very small part of her felt guilty for lashing out at Tarin, who loved her so much and who she looked on as her real father. That part, however, seemed to be drowned in her fury.
"You will obey me."
"No!" she screamed back at him.
"Sit down and stop acting like a child, Marin."
"I'm not the one that's acting like a child! How dare you do this to me again! You can't, you have no right!"
"I have every right, as you are my daughter."
She shook her head violently. "No, you have no right in this matter."
"I am your father!"
"Link loves me!" she cried, balling her hands into fists. "Don't you understand that? He loves me! And I love him."
"You're seventeen years old, Marin! You're not even old enough to understand the first thing about love."
"Oh I understand; more than you give me credit for."
"What you're feeling, it isn't love, Marin, it's…"
"What is it?" she challenged him.
"He's a kindred spirit. The connection you feel to him is fleeting. It's only caused by the fact that he's from the outside world, a concept that you're in love with, Marin."
"I love Link, not an idea," she said testily.
"That isn't love," he insisted. "Real love means devotion. And you're too young, both of you are too young, to understand the first thing about devotion."
"I know what I feel. I know what love is!"
"You said the same thing about Kurt."
That was a hard blow. Zelda stepped back, as if physically struck. "This is different," she whispered, fully aware of just how pathetic that sounded. It was true, though he could never understand how.
"I've made my decision," Tarin said in a deadly quiet tone. "You can choose to argue or not. For my part, I would rather not have civil strife in this house. Nevertheless, I will not change my mind."
"Don't worry, there won't be any civil strife in this house," Zelda said firmly, glaring at him.
"I'm glad to hear it."
"Good." Zelda turned around and headed for the door.
"Marin, come back here."
"No," she replied icily, yanking the door open.
"Have I not made myself clear on this matter?"
"Oh yes," she shot back. "You've made yourself perfectly clear." A crash of thunder struck, rattling the frame of their small hut.
"Come back here this instant," Tarin ordered her.
"I'm going," she told him.
Tarin jumped to his feet, pointing an accusing finger at her. "You will not set foot outside of this house, young lady."
"Oh yes, I will." Zelda ran out into the storm, slamming the door behind her, shaking the hut with greater force than the lightening. At once she began running through the rain, noisily sloshing through muddy puddles, her green frock becoming soaked.
Tarin sank down onto the bed again. He buried his head in his hands, feeling frustrated tears well up in his eyes. It hadn't been so hard with Kurt. There hadn't been so much pain in Marin's eyes. This time was different. The boy was different. Tarin knew that Link, unlike Kurt, wouldn't run away into the hills. If he loved Marin, he'd fight for her. And now Tarin realized with alarming clarity that Marin would fight on his side.
The thunder shook the house again. Tarin stood up and waddled over to the window. He passed the door, absently picking up the flower along the way. As he looked out, he could see the muddy footprints his daughter had left behind as she ran. To his grim satisfaction, he noticed that the tracks were leading, not to the shore, but in the direction of the Ukuku Prairie, to the east. Even during this confrontation, Marin had been lying to him. She had lied for Link again.
The Catfish's Maw hadn't changed in centuries. True, it was damper, after such a long time underwater, but other than that things seemed exactly the same. Maybe not exactly. It had been a very long time since the infantile cries of Catsy's unusual Guardian had filled the chambers. Flame was rather glad of that. Loud noises always irritated him.
He walked about the room that had once been the Guardian's nursery. "This seems like a reasonably place," he grumbled.
"Appropriate indeed," Hawk replied in his high nasal voice. "Although I hardly think there's enough peril."
"What did you have in mind?" Flame asked.
Hawk didn't reply. Instead, he slammed his foot down on the middle of the floor. With a low rumbling, the northwest corner of the room seemed to collapse. The ground shook as huge, metal spikes shot up from the bottom of the newly created chasm. "That is what I had in mind," Hawk said proudly.
Flame walked over to the edge of the drop and looked down at the bed of spikes. "I approve," he said, a cruel smile curling what passed for his lips.
"I thought you might."
The two of them had arrived in Catsy's dungeon moments before, after hearing from Face that the Hylians would next tackle the Catfish's Maw. While they had no qualms about the mortals killing their estranged sister, both Flame and Hawk agreed that it would be preferable if the Hylians themselves were killed. Unfortunately, Catsy's dungeon proved somewhat less than formidable. She kept no demons for servants, set no traps, and had no Guardian to attack the invaders. Therefore, the two of them had decided to take it upon themselves to prepare for the demise of the unwanted Hylian visitors.
"We ought to set some demons loose in the other chambers," Hawk said absently, looking around the room.
"Catsy would notice them," Flame reminded his younger brother. "We need to be a bit more subtle."
"Subtle is not my style," Hawk muttered.
"Instead of a bunch of small creatures that could potentially hurt the Hylians, we need a much larger creature that would be more likely to kill them."
"What did you have in mind, Flame?"
Flame glanced at him. "What makes you think I have something in mind?"
"You always do."
Flame laughed wickedly. "That I do."
"How about a Gohma?"
Hawk cackled with glee. "Brilliant!" he proclaimed.
"I think so," Flame crowned. He lifted his arms, pointing the palms outward. A flash of fire shot out from his body, concentrating in the middle of the room. After a moment, Flame lowered his arms, the current of fire stopping. The giant ball of flame in the middle of the room began to swirl about itself, slowly assuming the shape and form of a gigantic spider. Soon, the yellow hot fire began to cool and a fully grown Gohma, with long yellow legs and a furry black body scuttled across the floor, blinking her big eye at the two Nightmares.
"Why not two?" Hawk suggested.
"Catsy would notice two," Flame replied. "One ought to be enough anyway. This will serve as a very nice temporary replacement Guardian."
"Such a shame about her real Guardian," Hawk said, shaking his head mournfully.
"If there was ever a doubt that Catsy's judgment is terrible, that disaster only proves it."
"An ugly situation," Hawk sighed.
"But one we can't afford to waste thought on right now," Flame reprimanded him firmly.
"The Hylians should be arriving here very soon."
"Do you suppose Catsy will just hand her instrument over to them?" Hawk asked thoughtfully.
"I wouldn't put it past her." Flame glanced at the Gohma. She had crawled up one of the walls and was now scurrying back and forth across the ceiling.
"Well…" Hawk drawled. "Suppose Catsy hands the instrument over to them before our fuzzy friend gets a shot at them?"
Flame turned his gaze back to Hawk. "I had not thought about that."
"We ought to ensure that she doesn't get any ideas of that nature in her pretty little head."
Hawk beat his fist against his open palm. "I wish we could just kill her and be rid of her annoying, traitorous heart once and for all."
The fire that composed Flame's body flared out in several directions, turning white hot. "You know we cannot!" he snapped at Hawk, taking a menacing step in his brother's direction.
Hawk backed away, holding his hands out defensively. "I know, I know," he said quickly.
"Don't you forget about it."
"I was only saying that I wish we could."
"We can't. Doing so would seal our fate."
"Yes, yes, yes," Hawk grumbled. "If one of us destroys another, we all fall, I know the drill."
"Catsy is assisting in our downfall as it is. I'm surprised that we haven't all been destroyed already, thanks to her actions."
Hawk frowned. "She's destroying us indirectly, with the Hylians. It's a loophole in the system."
"Someone should have thought of that sooner," Flame scoffed. "We could have found a mortal of our own to kill her and this entire situation could have been easily avoided."
"Too little, too late."
"She's the final Siren," Flame muttered, the color of his fire slowly returning to a mellow orange. "Often when one is the last of their kind, they lose the will to live. We should be so lucky."
"Catsy has no sentiment."
"I'm not so sure about that," Flame responded.
"I amend my statement. She has plenty, but she reserves it for mortals instead of for us."
Shaking his head, Hawk wandered back over to Flame's right hand. "Why did she turn out like this?"
"Determining that is not so important and finding a way to stop her before she goes too far."
"Hasn't she already gone too far?"
"We're still alive."
With a quick gesture, Flame vanished, leaving a brief, green after image swimming in front of Hawk's eyes. He blinked them, his face contorting into a deep scowl. "For now," he whispered bitterly. "Gohma!"
Obediently, the Gohma dropped down from the ceiling, bending all eight of her legs in a monstrous curtsy. "Yessssssss?" she asked calmly, fixing her large eye on Hawk.
"When those Hylians come, I want you to destroy them."
"Of coursssssssse," she replied obediently.
He paused, his mind racing with debate. A silver gloved hand ran through his thick blond hair. "Focus only on the Hylians," he said carefully. "Ignore any other mortals that happen to pass your way."
"It isssssssss done," the Gohma assured him.
"Good," Hawk said, nodding absently. "Good."
The hustle and bustle filling the house by the bay was muted considerably by the fact that the storm outside was growing by the minute. Plates, utensils, and bowls clinked. Casual attempts at conversation were made, but most people sat motionless, listening to the rain spatter against the glass in the windows.
Valerie speared a boiled plum with her fork. Across the table from her were three empty chairs, normally reserved for Tarin, Link, and Zelda during this particular meal shift. "Has anyone seen Marin?" she asked softly, cutting the plum into smaller pieces without really eating it.
"Not since this morning," Marnie replied, sprinkling some salt over the cooked carrots on her plate.
"She came by my shop early in the afternoon," Tracy said.
Valerie raised an eyebrow. "What did she need?"
"A longer attention span," Papahl joked.
Everyone at the table laughed graciously except for Elinor, who frowned slightly before blurting out, "I don't get it."
"Never mind, Elinor," Marnie said, patting her arm condescendingly.
"Seriously," Valerie persisted, "what did she need?"
"She just picked up some weed killer that I made for Link," Tracy said with wave of her hand.
"Where's Link?" Valerie wondered, looking again at the empty places across the table from her.
The door to the house opened just as another thunderbolt struck. Richard raced in from the storm, his elaborate hairstyle damp and destroyed against his forehead. His red tunic was soaked and the navy cape on his back had turned black from the rain. Everyone in the house continued eating quietly. "As you were," he muttered, walking along one end of the table before sitting down in an empty seat.
"That's Tarin's seat," Lexx said, twitching his nose slightly as he addressed Richard.
"Tarin's not in it," Richard replied. "If he were, believe me I'd see him. He's hard to miss."
"Does anyone know where Tarin is?" Valerie asked again.
"That's a good question, little angel," Richard deadpanned. "Indeed, it would seem highly unlikely for old Tarin to miss a meal at all." He helped himself to a hearty portion of mashed potatoes, chuckling at his own wit. Everyone else looked at him for a moment with condemning eyes, but he didn't seem to notice and soon the meal resumed once more.
"Tarin, Link, and Marin, all missing," Elinor muttered.
"Perhaps they elected to dine within the dry confines of their own dwelling," Mr. Write supposed, pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose.
"Maybe," Valerie sighed. She glanced down the length of the table. Sitting on the very end, on the opposite side was Matilda. She hadn't joined in the banter all evening. In fact, she had been relatively silent, staring out into space. Her food had barely been touched, not that there was much on her plate to touch.
Several others followed Valerie's gaze. "Matilda," Richard drawled, "You look terrible, what happened to you?"
"Richard!" Valerie reprimanded him. Matilda herself didn't respond. Valerie had to admit all the same, Richard was right. Matilda looked awful. Her cheeks and nose were bright pink, sunburned. Heavy bags hung under her eyes, giving her the appearance of a raccoon.
"Don't be rude, Richard," Tracy said sternly. "It's bad enough that Matilda's roof collapsed and she has to stay with me."
"I passed by your house the other day, Matilda," Richard muttered. "The roof looked fine to me."
"Oh shut up, Richard," Marnie squawked.
"This meal was almost enjoyable before you decided to stop by," Papahl added, putting an arm around his wife's shoulders.
"Almost?" Lexx, who had cooked, asked with a hurt expression.
"No offense, old chap," Papahl replied, "but a meal consisting solely of boiled fruits and vegetables does not a meal make."
"We're all just a little sick of carrots," Tracy added.
"Sick of carrots? How could anyone be sick of carrots? I love carrots! They're the greatest meal a person could have!" Lexx cried passionately.
"Wonder why you'd say that," Marnie deadpanned.
Richard was glancing at the empty chairs to his side. "I say, where are Link and Marin? The table just isn't the same without Marin's rapier wit."
"How would you know?" Tracy shot at him. "You never eat with us."
"I'm eating with you now. And you haven't answered my question, Crazy Tracy."
"I don't know where they are!"
"We think they elected to dine within the dry confines of their own dwelling," Mr. Write explained to Richard.
Richard contorted his handsome face into a scowl. "No…on my way over here, I saw Link standing out in the rain near Martha's Bay."
"With Marin?" Elinor sighed. "How romantic."
"No, he was alone."
"Oh. That's not as romantic."
"Martha's Bay?" Valerie repeated.
Richard glanced at her. "Yes, that's what I said."
She frowned, shifting the small pieces of plum around on her plate. "What would he be doing there?"
"Getting very wet it seems," Papahl joked. As if to emphasize his point, there was another crash of thunder from outside.
"Oh, I don't like storms," Elinor muttered, shivering slightly.
"I can't remember the last time it rained this badly," Marnie admitted, looking out at the window. There was a flash of lightening from outside which lit up her face and dark hair in a sinister sort of way. Across the table, Matilda shrieked, causing everyone to look at her in confusion.
"Matty?" Tracy asked softly.
Matilda jumped to her feet, holding her hookshot in shaking hands. She pointed it at the window behind Marnie, or perhaps at Marnie herself, who cowered against Papahl's shoulder, watching Matilda with wide eyes and mumbling to herself about the "dreadful storm, turning everyone into lunatics."
"What's the matter, Matilda?" Richard muttered dryly. "Afraid of a little lightening?"
"Oh shut up, Richard," Tracy barked.
"Don't be unkind," Valerie added. She stood up and carefully placed herself in between Matilda's hookshot and Marnie. "Calm down, Matilda," she whispered soothingly. "It's just a little rain." Biting her lips together, Matilda sank silently back into her chair. With an approving nod, Valerie sat down again. The meal resumed in silence for a moment.
"Did you hear what happened up east, near the rapids, this afternoon?" Tracy asked casually, trying desperately to spark up a conversation.
"No," Elinor replied, "what?"
"Well, Summer claims that some of those old ruined statues, you know which ones, she claims that some of them have changed places."
"That's ridiculous," Marnie scoffed.
"Have you ever known Summer to exaggerate?" Tracy countered.
The door to the house flew open. In came Tarin, huffing and puffing. Aside from being drenched, his cheeks were bright red and his eyes were distressed. "Tarin," Elinor chirped happily, "we were just talking about you."
"What's the matter?" Valerie asked, sensing the distress.
"It's Marin," he said, panting hoarsely.
"Gone?" Richard repeated. "What do you mean she's gone? There's nowhere to go."
"She ran out into the storm," he wheezed, "I haven't been able to find her anywhere."
"That's dangerous," Tracy said with a frown. "She could get hurt out there in this tempest."
"Please," Tarin begged them, "you have to help me find her. I'm begging you. Please."
"Of course, Tarin," Papahl said, standing up and pushing his chair in.
"We'll help you find her," Tracy promised. With that, everyone, save for Richard, stood up, promising to help look for Marin.
Valerie watched Tarin. After a moment, she finally cleared her throat. "Tarin?" she asked softly so the others wouldn't hear. "Why did Marin run out into the storm?"
Tarin lowered his eyes, looking deeply ashamed. "We quarreled," he admitted. "Angry words were exchanged. She was horribly upset with me."
"What did you fight about?"
"About the boy."
"Yes, I don't want her seeing him anymore."
With that, Tarin turned away, leaving Valerie to gape at him. She felt Richard's eyes on her and she turned to look at him. He too seemed shocked. Matilda alone seemed completely unaffected by Tarin's entrance.
Something unusual happened as Link and Zelda tumbled in through the entrance to the Catfish's Maw. After running through a thunderstorm and then swimming across the bay, the moment they passed over the threshold of the dungeon, their clothing, hair, and skin became bone dry, as if it had never been drenched at all.
Zelda stood up, examining her green dress. "Well," she muttered, "that's unusual."
"Good thing this isn't like the last dungeon," Link replied.
"I had to fight the Nightmare underwater. The entire thing was a sea cave," he explained.
"What do you expect from a place called Angler's Tunnel?"
"About the same I would expect from a place called Catfish's Maw." Link looked around the entrance hall, his eyes adjusting to the unusual light coming from no particular source on the ceiling. The floor was relatively simple, made up of earthy tiles in shades of green, brown, and gray. There were two standings suits of armor against the far wall, rust standing as testimony to years of neglect. Strangely enough, they both looked as though they were built for a Human. Link's eyes settled upon Zelda. When they had met down by the bay, she had seemed unusually distressed, although she had insisted that nothing was wrong. As he watched her, he noticed that she seemed preoccupied. "Zelda?"
She cleared her throat. "We should head to the left," she said, gesturing to the low entryway on the left.
"Yeah," Link agreed.
Zelda took her bow and strung an arrow through it, holding the string taut. She started to the door then stopped, looking back over her shoulder at him. "Are you coming?"
Link drew the Master Sword from the sheath behind his back and walked over to her. "Do you think we should –" there was a loud crinkle from the floor. Link stepped back and looked down. Lying on the ground, now with a rather large footprint in the middle of it, was a sheet of parchment. He leaned over and picked it up, turning it over. On the other side was what could only be a map, drawn out in the same form as the dungeon map that had fallen upon them back in Tail Cave.
"What is it?" Zelda asked.
"It's a map," Link said simply. As he examined the page, he noticed something glimmering in the strange light. Holding the map at an extreme angle, he realized that there was a line drawn from what he supposed was the entry hall they currently stood in, all the way through to the back of the dungeon where there was the same sort of picture he had seen for the instrument shrine of Tail Cave.
"And again I ask what kind of super monster leaves a map of their lair lying about for us intruders to find?"
"Better than that," Link supposed, "what kind of super monster draws out a route leading directly to the treasure of the lair?"
"Do you actually think the Nightmare drew that out?"
Link shrugged. "I don't know."
"Do we follow the route?"
"No," he said firmly, tucking the map into his tunic.
"Let's move then," she sighed. Link walked to the center of the room and turned the point of the Master Sword down, carving a large X into the tile with a grating, screaming sound. When he was done, he nodded to Zelda and walked back to her side. Together, they passed through the doorway and into the next chamber, tightly gripping their weapons.
"There's nothing," Link muttered, examining the chamber. It wasn't entirely true. There was a long row of gray stones stretching across the entire room. But that was all there was.
"Not even keese," Zelda mused, turning her bow shaft up toward the ceiling for a moment.
"I suppose so."
The two of them did indeed press onward, passing into yet another chamber. Once again, there was nothing to see. A small stream of water seemed to be bubbling up from the ground, yet the room was still as void of life as ever. "Is this some kind of trick?" Link wondered.
Zelda shrugged. "We didn't run into many demons in the Key Cavern until we met the Guardian."
Link groaned. "Guardian! I completely forgot. We're going to have to deal with another hulking brute."
"Yeah…" Zelda replied listlessly.
"Zelda, I know you said that nothing was wrong, but I'm getting the distinct impression that you were just saying that to get going."
"Well, it's never good to go face death while there's something on your mind. Believe me."
She glanced over her shoulder at him. "Tarin and I had a fight, that's all." Slowly, she pressed her hip against the only other door in the room. With a low groan of protest, it rolled open.
Together, both of the Hylians pointed their weapons toward the opening. Cautiously, they crept forward, passing into the next room. As the previous two, this one was empty. The bubbling stream continued to flow and an assortment of wild weeds sprang up near the water, but there were no demons to be seen.
"What about?" Link asked.
"What did you and Tarin fight about?" He leaned over to peer at another large gray stone in the corner of the room.
Link stood up straight, facing her. "Me?"
"What about me?"
"Tarin thinks you're being a bad influence on me."
Zelda nodded. "And he's right too."
"I think I've just been insulted."
"Nothing gets by you."
"All right, I'm a bad influence on you?"
"Yes. I never lied to Tarin before you came."
"So if I'm so dangerous, why do you hang around me?"
"Because I kind of like you. There's nothing here. Shall we go left or continue straight?"
"Straight. You kind of like me huh?"
"Sometimes." They continued into the next room. The floor was crumbling somewhat. Holding hands and clutching the Roc's Feather between them, they crossed over the dangerous, shaky area, following the winding hallway to the right and into another empty room.
"What's this?" Link mumbled, walking to the middle of the room. There was a large wooden box, ancient looking and covered with mold. He pressed his hand on the lid and began to slide it open.
"Are you sure that's a good idea, Link?" Zelda asked nervously, sweeping the tip of her strung arrow from side to side.
"We're about to find out," he replied. The lid came free, crashing to the ground with a noisy thud.
"Smooth," Zelda muttered.
Link peered into the box. "It's empty," he said.
"Yeah." He ran his hands along the inside. Not finding anything, he picked up the lid. "Oh wait." Nailed against the inside of the lid was a slip of paper. Link peeled it free carefully and unfolded it.
"What does it say?"
"'I've got what was inside this box. Come and get it, if you can!'" Link read the messy script.
Zelda's eyebrows shot up. "Sounds like a challenge," she observed.
"Yeah," Link agreed, "but not a challenge for us."
"For who then?"
"I don't know." Link handed her the crinkled note, returning the lid to the top of the box.
"'I've got what was inside of this box…'" Zelda read. "I wonder what was inside of the box."
"Don't know. Whatever it was though, it wasn't a horse."
Link shrugged. "I really miss horses."
Zelda frowned, looking at the note again. "This handwriting looks familiar."
"Yes. I just can't place it."
"Come on. Let's go." Zelda nodded, tucking the note into her quiver. Together, they pressed onward.
Catsy admired her reflection in the mirror. Nervously, she ran her hands down the sides of her body, raking her fingers through the rich silk of her electric blue kimono. It wasn't really a kimono, as the hemline was somewhere above her knees. She wondered if she ought to change, as she had been doing for the past hour, unable to settle upon an outfit that pleased her. When her hands wouldn't stop shaking, she found it best to be as occupied as possible and clothing was the one thing that could normally keep her occupied for hours on end. But not tonight.
She paced across the flooded chamber, water splashing around her ankles. As she did so, the floating mirror vanished into vapor. The water was cold and the chamber had spent so many centuries being flooded that the middle of the room had sagged and worn away, creating a drop directly into the bay. Catsy remained on the periphery, moving like a caged animal.
"Something troubling you, Catsy?" She looked up and saw Flame standing on the opposite side of the room. Steam rose up from around his ankles, hissing loudly through the room. He planted his hands on his hips, watching her pace the room with a sinister chuckle.
"Go away," she said irritably.
"I would," he replied, glee playing on his tone. "I will, in fact. But there's something I have to do first."
"Sorry, Flame," she sang, attempting to suppress her nerves. She looked across the room at him with a defiant lift of her chin. "Gloating over the soon-to-be defeated Nightmares is my job."
"Soon-to-be defeated? One can only hope."
"We'll see," she told him icily.
"Well, that's not why I'm here." The flame of his body was taking on a soft orange tone, indicating a calm that Catsy didn't like one bit.
"Then why are you here?" she asked carefully.
"Your instrument, Catsy, give it to me."
"I will have the Wind Marimba."
"You're too late," Catsy declared. "I've already given the marimba to someone with worthier hands."
"You lie," Flame growled.
He took a menacing step toward her, fresh steam rising from the water as his foot fell down upon it. "Do not test my patience, Catsy," he warned her.
"Or you'll do what?" she challenged.
"Something that we'll both regret."
She laughed haughtily. "You haven't the stomach."
"Don't try me, Catsy."
"Crawl back under the rock you came from. There's nothing here for you, Flame. Nothing."
Flame stepped forward again, more steam hissing up. He was in deeper water now, nearly up to his shin. With an annoyed grunt, he lifted his arms out to either side, his body floating up out of the water. "Why, Catsy?" he asked, hovering an inch or so above the flood.
"Why have you betrayed us? What have we done that has so offended you? Why this game?"
"That," Catsy said slowly, "is something that you could never understand."
"What couldn't I understand?"
Flame laughed manically. "Do you really believe that you're one of the good guys? Don't fool yourself, Catsy. You and I both know that your hands are far from clean, you Siren."
"I am fully aware of the mistakes of my past," Catsy replied.
"Mistakes?" he scoffed. "Don't soften that blow. Those weren't mistakes. You enjoyed it."
"That was the real mistake, wasn't it?" she whispered as Flame lifted higher into the air so that he could now look down on her from above. "I have seen a courageous light," she said evenly. "And it is beautiful. And it is something that you could never understand."
"I don't have to understand it. I just have to destroy it."
"A bit melodramatic, aren't we?"
"Give me the Wind Marimba, Catsy."
"Consider this carefully. You know me well. You know that I never ask twice," Flame warned her.
"Ask me a thousand times and the answer will be the same."
"You leave me no choice."
"There is always choice."
"No!" Flame roared. He threw his hands forward, the palms facing Catsy. Instantly, a jet of flames came showering down on her. Quickly, Catsy jumped to one side, watching the fire strike against the ankle deep water on the floor. The periphery of the room began to dry up as steam filled the air.
Catsy flung herself to the ground, crawling under the cover of the vapor. Another blast of fire hit the ground, only a foot or two away from her head. Suppressing a shriek, she backed away on her hands and knees. A third blast crashed down beside her. Though it missed, it caused hot steam to fly up into her face. She shielded her eyes with her forearm, thankful that at the very least, the haze would conceal her for an instant or two.
"Come out, come out," Flame spat, firing several more fireballs at the corners of the room.
Catsy threw her voice. "You can't kill me," her words echoed off of every wall of the chamber. "You know what will happen if you do."
"I may not be able to kill you, but I can make you bleed!"
"Gods don't bleed!" a new voice cried suddenly. From the very center of the chamber, a stream of fire blazed out, directed this time at Flame. The panicked Nightmare narrowly dodged the attack, accompanied by a loud high A. Meanwhile, Catsy clambered to her feet. With a wave of her hand, she cleared all the steam from the room.
In the middle of the chamber, where there was still water covering the drop into the bay, the upper half of Martha's body could be seen. She held her brown horn pressed up against her lips. Flame had barely enough time to recover before Martha puffed out her cheeks and played another sharp high note. A line of fire shot out from the flared part of the horn, flying at Flame again. Once more, he managed to duck
"Well played, Martha! Well played!" Catsy hooted, egging the mermaid on from a corner.
Flame growled, eyeing the two of them wearily. "This isn't over, Catsy," he spat angrily. Martha raised the horn to her lips again, but before she could play, Flame vanished from the room.
Catsy stepped forward, applauding loudly. "Your timing was brilliant," she gushed.
"I know," Martha said, lying back on the water to flip her tail fins over the surface.
Martha ducked her head. "You know, the mortals have entered your dungeon. I saw them dive in."
"Yes. I can sense them. Martha, I have no right to ask you this, but I do need a favor from you," Catsy said slowly.
"Anything," Martha replied.
"I need you to lead them to my chamber."
"How will I do that?"
"Sit up on the edge of the water," Catsy instructed her.
Nodding, Martha planted her arms on the sides of the drop. She hefted her body up, sitting comfortably on the dry surface, her fins remaining in the water. "Now what?" she asked.
Catsy pointed at Martha's tail fins. There was a soft sucking sound, followed by a pop. "Come out of the water," Catsy commanded.
Using her arms, Martha pulled the rest of her body out of the drop. Where her tail had once been, there were now two scaled legs, bright blue as her tail had been. Carefully, Martha stepped up onto her new feet. For a moment, she struggled for balance, but centuries of watching Humans walk quickly helped her to find her footing. Catsy swiped her hand through the air. Glowing yellow streaks of energy encircled Martha, vanishing soon after, but leaving her fully clothed in a plain, blue dress with one sleeve.
Martha looked down at her reflection in the murky water. "I'm so pretty," she sighed.
"Yes, and fully mobile too."
"Yes, that too of course."
"Go find our friends," Catsy told her. "Lead them to my chamber." Martha was still admiring herself. "Are you listening to me?"
"Yes, of course."
"Bring them to me."
"I will." Martha patted her hair.
"Martha. In order to find them, you have to leave this room."
"I'm going! I'm going!" Martha finally tore her eyes away from the water and moved to the exit. "I'm already gone." She walked out. Catsy shook her head with a tiny smile. With a flash, she vanished in her typical display of fire. She would have to change.
Link and Zelda passed into yet another empty room. By this time, both their grips on their respective weapons had loosened considerably. As expected, the room appeared uninhabited. It was the same as the others for the most part, though there appeared to be a severe drop in the northwest corner.
"You know," Link muttered, "I hate to say it, but I'm beginning to get bored. Maybe we should have followed the route on the map."
"Could we even find the route again if we wanted?" Zelda asked.
"I have no idea."
"So we're lost."
"Yeah, pretty much."
"Wonderful," Zelda sighed.
From somewhere above, there was a soft cackle. Instantly, the two of them were on guard, examining the ceiling. Strung across the upper part of the room, underneath the mysterious source of light, there was an enormous spider web, composed of magenta fibers that winked and bobbed with motion. "Sssssssso…you are the outsssssssssiderssssssss, come to wake the Windfish…" a deep female voice asked from the shadows.
Link and Zelda both exchanged a look. "Guardian," they muttered together, turning back to the ceiling.
"You don't ssssssssssseem to know what kind of issssssssssland thisssssssss isssssssss…What foolssssssssss…"
"And I'll bet that you do," Link challenged the disembodied voice.
"You could ssssssssay that." A large shadow appeared around Link and Zelda. Instantly, the two of them ran off in opposite directions, just narrowly avoiding a big furry ball that dropped from the ceiling to the floor.
"It's a Gohma!" Link exclaimed.
"What's a Gohma?" Zelda asked.
Thin, brittle legs, a sort of pale yellow, sprouted out from the ball of black fur. There were eight of them, and they tapped the floor with a soft creeping sound. In the middle of the hairy body, a large, oval eye opened, gleaming white in the strange lightening. From beneath long, thick eyelashes, a single red pupil roamed the expanse of the room, falling on Link.
"Oh," Zelda murmured. "That's a Gohma."
"Thissssssss isssssssssland," the Gohma hissed, training her sights on Link, "belongssssssssss to the Nightmaressssssssss."
"We'll see about that," Link replied, bringing the Master Sword up to the ready position.
"I will eat you!" the Gohma screamed, surging forward. She ran at Link who jumped quickly, somersaulting out of her way. As she was about to crash into the wall, she planted her hind legs into the ground, halting her charge.
"Missed me," he scoffed.
The Gohma backed up into the center of the room again. "Thissssssss time," she answered. Suddenly, her pupil turned orange. A ball of fire shot out from her eye. Link grabbed his sword in both hands, swinging forward to hit the ball harmlessly off to one side.
An arrow flew through the hair, sticking right into the Gohma's fuzzy body. "I don't miss," Zelda said hotly, pulling another arrow from her quiver.
Roaring hoarsely, the Gohma scuttled around to face her. She straightened her legs out to stand at full height, some seven and a half feet. Link charged forward, swinging his sword at one of the back legs. He swept her foot off the ground, causing her to lose her balance. Quickly, he jumped back, avoiding several sharp legs which fell back to compensate.
The Gohma lowered herself, bending her legs. She scuttled around, firing another blast at Link. Again he whacked it out of the way with his sword. "This is a fun game," he muttered absently to himself.
Zelda shot another arrow into the Gohma. The creature screamed, whipping around with one of her legs horizontal. She caught Zelda in the stomach and flung her across the room. Zelda crashed into a wall and slid down. Her bow went off into a corner.
"My bow!" Zelda cried.
"Hey spidey!" Link shouted, waving an arm to attract the Gohma's attention. "Play nice!" He ran forward, swinging the Master Sword from side to side. The Gohma lifted one of her brittle legs, catching the flat of the blade. With brute strength that wasn't betrayed by her physique, she pushed the blade backward, nearly hitting it out of Link's hands.
Meanwhile, Zelda crept around the room to retrieve her bow. Grabbing it, she strung another arrow and fired, hitting the leg of the Gohma currently wrestling with Link for the sword. The gigantic spider let out a shrill howl, dropping back a few paces. Link backed up, grabbing the sword with both hands again.
Zelda reached into her quiver and grabbed the Roc's Feather. "Link!" she shouted, rolling it across the floor to him.
"Thanks!" he called back, scooping it up with the toe of his foot.
The Gohma threw one of her legs out at Zelda suddenly. It struck against the buckle holding the quiver to her back. The strap broke and the quiver fell to the floor, scattering arrows in every direction. Zelda herself fell back a step, but regained her balance just in time to dodge another leg that came flying at her head.
Link grabbed the Roc's Feather, tucking it under his cap. "Over here, spidey!" he called. Without hesitation, the Gohma swung several more legs around at Link. He gracefully jumped over them, assisted by the power of the feather. "Gotta fly," he said with a cocky smile.
"I eat fliesssssssssssss for breakfasssssssssst!" the Gohma screamed back at him. Her large pupil turned orange again and another flaming ball raced at him. This time, instead of batting it away with his sword, Link jumped over it. The fireball hit a fiber of the spider web and instantly, the entire network began to catch the blaze.
"That's one big website," Link observed, looking up at the raging fire on the ceiling. "And an even bigger firewall," he added.
"You'll pay for that!" the Gohma screamed.
"Bring it!" Link taunted her.
Zelda, by this point, was creeping behind the Gohma, holding an arrow like a knife in one hand. She caught Link's eye. *Keep her distracted,* she whispered telepathically.
Link nodded. *Not a problem,* he replied. Facing the Gohma, he stuck out his tongue. She roared, snapping a leg up at him. This time, Link caught her leg in one hand and began to squeeze, using the Power Bracelet to enhance his already remarkable strength.
From behind, Zelda brutally rammed her arrow into the body of the Gohma. Link quickly dropped the leg, backing up. The creature reared up on two legs, the others all flailing in the air. She screamed horribly, shaking the walls of the chamber. The legs touched down for a moment before she kicked them up again, bucking violently. One of the legs caught Zelda in the chest. With great force, she was pushed back, falling into the chasm in the northwest corner of the room.
"That wasn't very nice," Link growled, narrowing his eyes at the Gohma.
"You're next!" the Gohma yelled. She charged on a diagonal toward Link, howling loudly in obvious pain. Link leapt into the air, falling down directly on top of the Gohma's head. He grabbed two of the arrows that Zelda had fired into her earlier. Firmly digging his heels into the body, he began to twist the arrows, driving them deeper into the creature.
She screamed, jumping up and down frantically, trying to throw him off. Several embers from the fire on the ceiling dropped down. Link caught one in his gauntlet protected hand and cast it deep into the Gohma's fur. She yowled as another fire began to catch, this one on her back. Link, for his part, jumped off, quickly putting some distance between himself and the blazing spider.
An overpowering stench filled the room. On her last legs, both literally and figuratively, the Gohma turned her big red eye to Link. She laughed wickedly, choking on the smoke. "I win," she hissed before growing completely still.
"No," Link said haughtily, standing over the smoldering remains. "You lost. We won." He looked away from the ashes, returning the Master Sword to its sheath. "Zelda?" She was nowhere to be seen. "Zelda?" he called again, turning in a circle. He moved over to the ledge of the chasm, where he had last seen her, wondering what she was doing down there.
Link looked over the edge and immediately caught Zelda's eyes. She was on her back, staring up with a fixed, vague expression. One arm was lying above her head, the other out toward the side. Her mouth worked up and down slowly, but she didn't say anything. Instead, she just continued to look up at Link.
"Zelda?" he whispered hoarsely, his eyes racing back and forth, trying to fathom what was going on. "What are you…no…no!" It was then that he realized that there was a large metal spike going through Zelda's left side, completely impaling her.
A chorus of "Marin!" echoed across the darkening island. In between cries, raging thunderbolts lashed out of the sky, shaking the landscape and the people wandering over it.
Tarin paced over the sea cliff, dangling a lantern with struggling flame. He was completely soaked, his hair matted up against his forehead, his mustache dripping with droplets of rainwater. A figure approached him from the west. He squinted his eyes, trying to make it out. Coming toward him was Papahl.
"No sign of her up in the foothills," Papahl reported mournfully to Tarin. "I passed up and down that area twice."
"No luck at the pond either." Tarin whirled around to see Elinor approaching from the opposite direction.
"Has anyone checked the spring near the Animal Village?" Papahl asked.
"Aye, my little Marin likes to go there to read sometimes," Tarin suggested hopefully.
"I don't think anyone's gone there yet," Elinor replied, smoothing her hair back. "I'll go look."
"Thank you both so much for all the help," Tarin said softly.
"No need to thank us," Papahl told him. "Marin's one of us. But this is the last time. Two disappearing acts in a year are enough."
Tarin tried to laugh, but found that his throat had gone dry. This really was the second time in a year. Last time, though, it had been Link who found her, down on the shores. This time, Tarin feared that Link would be the cause of her disappearance instead of the one to rescue her.
Elinor walked off. Papahl watched her go before turning back to Tarin. I'll make another pass of the cemetery," he offered.
Tarin nodded absently. "Yes, yes, thank you, Papahl." Papahl walked off, leaving Tarin alone on the cliff. "Marin!" he called out desperately. In his mind, he could hear his own voice, muttering what he had once said to Link of his daughter. "She's a good girl, she's much set in her ways, but she knows not to worry me," his own voice whispered.
Carefully, he took the purple flower out of his pocket. It was crushed now, but still vibrant in the lightening. Raindrops pelted against it, bouncing back up into Tarin's face. "Kally darling," he muttered. "May our daughter not be lost to us. She's all I have in this world."
"No!" Link roared. Without thinking, he flung himself over into the pit, just barely missing another spike. He collapsed down at Zelda's side. She was still watching him, though her eyes were glazed over. "Zelda," he panted, grabbing her arm to feel her pulse. A moment of panic hit him when he couldn't find it, but he calmed somewhat when he finally felt it, weak and fast, but still present. "Zelda, stay with me," he begged her, holding her hand tightly in his own.
"Link?" she whispered softly.
"I'm here, I'm right here," he swore, kissing the palm of her hand and pressing her fingers to his cheek.
"Help me, Link." Her voice was hoarse, cut sharply by shallow, raspy gasps for air.
"I can't…I don't know…I can't think…" Link's face contorted in pain while his mind raced far too quickly for him to form coherent sentences. "I don't know what to do," he whispered pathetically, clinging tightly to her hand. "I can't…I can't…Valerie! We need Valerie!" He turned his face up to the smoking ceiling. "Valerie!" He looked down at Zelda again. "We need Valerie, she'll fix it. She'll make it all better." Again he turned to the ceiling. "Valerie!!!" Link shouted until his voice was hoarse and his throat was soar. "Valerie!!!!!"
A blinding flash of light filled the room. When it died down, Valerie was standing on the opposite end of the chasm, her enormous wings fully stretch. "Link? I was wondering where you…oh gods…" She looked over to Zelda, her eyes widening to alarming proportions.
"Help her!" Link shouted at Valerie, his cheeks flushing. "For the love of the gods, do something!"
"Valerie?" Zelda asked softly, trying to turn her eyes.
Link caressed her forehead. Her skin had grown clammy and pale. "Valerie's here," he told her tearfully. "She's going to make everything all right."
Valerie picked her way through the spikes quickly, dropping to her knees on the other side of Zelda. A bright light came again, causing her wings to vanish from sight. She took Zelda's free hand and felt her pulse, then looked down to assess the damage. The spike had cut through her on her left side, right in between her bottom rib and her hip. Carefully, Valerie began to rip away strips of fabric from Zelda's dress, exposing her midriff which heaved up and down in violent, jerking motions with every breath Zelda took.
"We need to get her out of here," Valerie said, looking calmly up at Link. "I can treat her, but we can't do it here."
"So zap us out of here!" Link demanded frantically.
"I can't," Valerie told him.
"What do you mean you can't? You just zapped in here."
"I can transport myself," Valerie explained, "but I can't take others back and forth with me."
"So what do we do?"
"We need to get that spike out of her." Valerie picked up an arrow that had fallen into the pit. She briskly snapped the point off, handing Link the wooden shaft. "Light this on fire," she instructed him.
She handed him a pouch of powder. "Do as I say." Link ripped the bag open with his teeth, dipping the shaft inside. When it pulled it out, a blaze had already caught on the tip. The entire time, he kept clutching Zelda's hand tightly. "All right," Valerie continued, "put that aside for a moment." Link obeyed, jamming the cool end into the soft ground.
Valerie touched the tip of the spike with her index finger. She daintily tapped her tongue. "Well?" Link asked impatiently.
"They're not tipped," Valerie told him.
"What does that mean?"
"It means we have to lift her now." Valerie slid one arm under Zelda's shoulders and slipped the other under her knee. She nodded for Link to do likewise. Reluctantly, he let go of Zelda's hand to copy Valerie's movements. "Now."
Link and Valerie hoisted Zelda up, the spike passing through her once more in the opposite direction. Zelda cried out in pain, her shouts echoing off the walls of the chamber and ringing in Link's ears. Her head jerked violently. "Valerie…" Link said uncertainly.
"That's good," Valerie mumbled. "Pain is good."
By this time, the gaping wound in Zelda's side began bleeding horrifically, soaking the remains of her dress. Valerie carefully pulled her hands away, letting Link hold Zelda upright in his arms. She was sobbing hysterically, clutching Link's collar with her right hand.
Valerie walked over to the flaming arrow and carefully picked it up. "Hold her," she ordered Link. The boy nodded, trying to wrap his arms around Zelda's shoulders. Valerie took a deep breath then shot her arm forward pressing the flame against Zelda's wound. The poor girl screamed in pain, throwing her head back against Link's chest. Tears spilled over her eyes, running down her cheeks.
"Are you sure that lighting her on fire is a good idea?" Link barked angrily, holding her tightly against his chest.
"Disinfectant," Valerie replied, withdrawing the arrow. "Turn her around."
"It'll be okay," Link sputtered, gingerly turning Zelda around. He held the back of her head in his palm, pressing her forehead to his chest and dropping his chin onto her part. Valerie thrust the arrow forward again this time scalding the back side of Zelda's wound. "Hold on, Zelda," Link whispered, his voice lost under the great, tearful screams of agony.
Valerie pulled the arrow out, casting it down on the floor. With her heel, she snuffed the flame. "We need to find a way out," she said seriously to Link. She pointed a slender finger at Zelda. Instantly, the weeping girl was lifted up into the air, hanging horizontally. Valerie telekinetically shifted her, moving her over the tiles on the floor above. Link clambered up the side of the pit holding his hands under her. Gently, Valerie set Zelda down in Link's arms.
"We're going, Zelda," Link mumbled to her, burying his face in her hair. "We'll make it all better.
Valerie floated herself up to the ground level. "Which way is out?" she asked Link.
He looked up at her with wide, panicked eyes. "I don't know!" he exclaimed, choking back sobs. "I don't know!"
"Link, we have to get her out of here. Time is not on our side."
"I can show you the way." Link and Valerie both turned around very quickly to discover Martha standing in the doorway. Just as Link recovered from the shock of seeing Martha, he was struck by the new shock of seeing Martha standing on what appeared to be two long, scaled legs.
"Martha?" Valerie muttered skeptically.
"The one and only," she smirked, dipping her head slightly. "I can show you the way. Follow me."
"Let's go," Link said, moving forward toward the walking mermaid. Shaking her head, Valerie followed behind.
"Link?" Zelda called, looking up at him with a tearstained face.
"I'm here," he whispered back to her, squeezing her shoulder gently.
She weakly reached her arms up, wrapping them around his neck. "I love you, Link," she said softly as she pressed her cheek against his shoulder.
"Don't say that, not now. Please," he begged her, "Please don't say anything at all."
Link blinked back a few tears in his own eyes. "Because," he started, "anything you say right now will sound too much like goodbye."
Tracy cupped her hands around her mouth. "Marin!" she shouted into the dark nothingness that was rapidly enfolding her. She sighed when no response came. She hadn't really been expecting one anyway. "How about we try the north ridge?" she asked, turning to Matilda. Matilda nodded.
"This is a waste of time," Richard droned.
"I'm sorry. Did anyone ask for an opinion from the tagalong?" Tracy snapped, turning to face him.
"Marin obviously doesn't want to be found," he continued, ignoring her comment. "Either that or she can't be found."
A sudden flash of lightening ignited the air. "Bite your tongue," Tracy told him sharply.
"Why is it that Marin only chooses to take missing when there's a bloody thunderstorm?" Richard wondered, looking up at the sky.
"The north ridge it is," Tracy declared. She frowned, looking through the rain at their surroundings. Somehow, the three of them had ended up on the banks of the pond, right near Tracy's house. "The fastest way there is through the forest," she mumbled to herself hesitantly.
"What's the matter, Crazy Tracy? Afraid of a little forest at night?"
"Of course not!" Tracy scoffed indignantly.
"Then let's get going. The sooner we reach the north ridge, the sooner we can get back."
With that, the three of them cut sharply to the south, entering the deep woods. The canopy of trees protected them from the worst of the rainstorm, though it also blocked out all moonlight. Richard and Matilda had to huddle close to Tracy, who held the only lantern in the group. It was freezing cold and the trees loomed about them, lighting up with sinister shadows with every new crack of lightening.
A low moan echoed through the darkness as the wind raced through the trees. Some of the older ones leaned and creaked dangerously one way or another. Tracy looked about carefully, clutching the lantern so tightly that her knuckles turned milk white. She heard a low whistling coming from behind her. At first, she passed it off as just the wind, but as the noise grew louder and louder, she could feel the tension increasing in her shoulders.
Tracy and Matilda both screamed, taking flight to run to safety. They slowed down as they heard Richard laughing from behind. "Not funny, Richard!" Tracy shouted, turning around to glare at him.
"You two are a riot!" Richard hooted, leaning over to slap his knees in amusement.
"I can't believe you did that!" Tracy screamed at him.
"I only wish I could have seen the looks on your faces when you started running," Richard continued to chortle.
"Knock it off, Richard."
"Really, that was just priceless."
Matilda was looking into the forest over Richard's shoulder. Suddenly, her eyes widened and she raised a hand to point. "Oh really, Matilda," the young man scoffed. "That's not going to work on me."
"Richard…" Matilda whispered hoarsely.
"You can't fool me."
Tracy blinked. Her eyes also widened. "Richard!" she barked sharply, also pointing over his shoulder.
"You two are so adorable in your attempts to get even with me. Give it up ladies, it's not going to work."
"Richard!" they both shouted in unison.
"I know that there is nothing behind me."
There was a loud thud. Richard crumpled to the ground, knocked unconscious by a blow from behind. What Matilda and Tracy had seen were a glowing part of red eyes. The red eyes moved forward now, stepping out of the shadows and revealing a creature in red robes, wearing a white mask that completely covered its entire face.
Tracy stepped back. "What is it?" she whimpered softly.
"Shyguy," Matilda replied, backing up with her. The two of them crashed into something that began to laugh. Whirling around, they came face to face with another white mask and pair of glowing red eyes. "Two Shyguys," Matilda gulped.
The demons began to converge on the girls between them. The first one stepped over Richard, taking no real interest in him. Tracy and Matilda moved to the center of the path realizing, much to their dismay, that there was no escape, as either side of the path was covered in thick groves that would be impossible to navigate in a great deal of haste.
One of the demons reached out his hand, latching onto Matilda's forearm. She grabbed him around the wrist and grunted loudly, flipping him over her shoulder and into a tree. "Run, Tracy!" she shouted.
Tracy started to run down the path, but a third Shyguy appeared, blocking her way. She froze mid-stride and began to back up again. The demon reached out his hands for her. Immediately, she reached into her pocket, removing a glass vile. Vehemently, she bit the cork off, spitting it to one side. That done, she threw the vile forward, spilling the green liquid content onto the face mask of the Shyguy. There was a low hissing noise and smoke began to rise from the demon's face. It screamed, clawing at the mask, trying to rip it off. Tracy backed away, watching it double over. Without thinking, she joined her hands together and slammed them down on the place where the demon's head seemed to attach to its body. The Shyguy crumpled over, lying side by side next to Richard.
Matilda, meanwhile, was taking on another one of the monsters. She pulled her hookshot out from the holster sewn into her pant leg and whirled around, releasing the hook. For an instant, the chain continued to circle before quickly straightening out and ramming into the Shyguy's chest. Due in part to inertia, and in part to shock, the demon stumbled backward, tripping over Richard and falling onto its butt.
Quickly, Matilda whirled around. "Tracy! Behind you!"
"What?" Tracy started to turn around, but it was too late. The Shyguy creeping up behind her slammed a fist into the crook of her neck. She let out a soft gasp and collapsed beside Richard and the prone Shyguy.
On her own, Matilda glanced from side to side. There were two demons left, converging on her, and she had no help. "Come and get me, boys," she whispered. Both of them began running at a full gallop. Silently, Matilda counted to three. When she reached three, she pointed her hookshot up and released the trigger. The business end of her weapon caught on a tree branch and she rapidly reeled in the chain until she was suspended four feet in the air. Swiftly, she kicked her feet out in opposite directions, doing the splits in mid air and nailing both of the Shyguys in the chest.
They each stumbled back. The one that Matilda had hooked in the chest earlier dropped to one knee, holding his wound in pain, but the other began to run back at her again. She flung her weight from one side to the other, swinging on the hookshot chain. Getting enough speed, she stuck both feet out, ramming her heels into the monster's glowing eyes.
A low moan was the only warning she had. The branch her hook was hooked to gave and she fell to the ground, rolling over in the dirt and leaves. "Ow…" she groaned softly. A second later, she sprung back on to her feet. Not a moment too soon. Again the demons were moving in on her. She grabbed her hookshot, but the chain was still tangled with the branch. Sighing, she turned the hub of the weapon toward the nearer Shyguy and rammed it into his mask. There was a loud crack as the mask broke in two pieces.
A Shyguy's face is a monstrous sight. Matilda had often heard just how ugly they were, but she had never actually seen it firsthand for herself. The sight now made her wish it was still a mystery. The Shyguy had the face of a humanoid, with a mouth, nose, and eye sockets. Instead of eyes though, live maggots were crawling in and out of the eyes sockets. The flesh on his face was rotted and decayed, flapping in the open air with a disgusting, wet smacking sound. His entire face was gaunt and a dirty gray with patches of green where the flesh had become infected.
Matilda gagged. The Shyguy, for his part, only existed for a second more. The fracture in the mask caused him to dematerialize, turning to a small pile of ash. Before the other Shyguy could make a grab for her, Matilda dropped kicked it in the face. Hard. The mask shattered and several maggots dropped to the ground before this creature too disappeared. Without wasting time, Matilda walked over to the unconscious Shyguy, turned him over, and cracked his half-melted mask.
When all this was done, Matilda was forced to run to the side of the road, throwing up on the ground. She coughed and spat violently, turned her head up to allow some raindrops to hit her. "They were after me," she whispered.
Her heart stopped racing after awhile. She stood up and walked back to the branch, untangling her hookshot chain. As she reeled it in, she glanced at Tracy and Richard, trying to figure out how she would get them back to the Mabe Village.
"Shrine…" the Voice suddenly whispered, most unexpectedly.
"Not now," Matilda snapped harshly. As always, the Voice ignored her.
"An island secret in the shrine…"
Martha led the group through the twists and turns of the dungeon, past all sorts of rooms that were unfamiliar to Link. All the while, he clung to Zelda, whispering reassuring promises to her, promises he only hoped that he would be able to keep. Valerie was silent, a deeper and deeper frown setting into her facial features.
After ten minutes of walking, Martha stopped short in front of a closed doorway. "Go in here," she instructed them, gesturing to the door.
"That's the way out?" Link asked.
"Yes," Martha said.
"No," Valerie uttered a second later.
"Yes it is," Martha insisted. "That's the way."
"You go first, Martha," Valerie replied.
The mermaid sighed, rolling her eyes up. She pressed her hand to the door and it opened easily, without any fuss. "This way," she mumbled, passing through and into the chamber beyond. Hesitantly, Link and Valerie followed.
Inside, there was no sign of the outside world, but rather another square room. In the center, directly in front of Link, there was a large, deep chasm; similar to the one Zelda had fallen into, only more precise in its shape and filled with water instead of deadly spikes. Beyond the drop was a sealed door, but that didn't concern Link so much as the unfamiliar woman standing in front of it.
She was beautiful, albeit somewhat unconventional in her dress. Long, wavy locks of brown hair fell around her shoulders, except for two braids, piled up on top of her head into horn-shaped buns. A large, square shaped stone, light purple, hung from her hair, dangling in front of her forehead. She wore a pastel pink, pinstriped cat suit with a black tutu made of raven feathers around her waist. Completing her ensemble were a pair of stiletto heels, pink like the cat suit, only made of leather.
"Hello," she said calmly. She turned to Martha, dipping her head. "Thank you, Martha."
"Of course," Martha replied. She clapped her hands together and dove into the water filled chasm.
"Who are you?" Link asked the stranger.
"My name is Catsy," she replied, touching her hand to her chest. "It's an honor to finally meet you."
"Catsy," Valerie repeated. Her eyes widened again. "Link! She's the Nightmare of this dungeon!"
Immediately, Link lowered Zelda, letting her feet touch the floor. She was able to stand, just barely, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He kept one arm around her and used the other to reach behind his back and draw the Master Sword. "Please!" Catsy called, holding out her hands. "There's no need for that."
"You want to talk?" Valerie asked incredulously.
"Don't be cross with Martha," Catsy continued. "I asked her to bring you to me."
"She's one of your servants," Valerie said angrily.
"Not at all, Angel of Farore. Martha is my eyes and ears during the day, when I'm unable to be out and about."
"How do you know Valerie's title?" Link questioned evenly.
"I told you. Martha. Tell me something, Link. Where do you and Zelda always go to talk?"
"Yes, by the water. You know, a mermaid's natural habitat. Martha has kept me well informed of everything that is said down there." She glanced at Valerie. "Don't worry, I haven't told the other Nightmares what I know."
"What do you want?" Link asked, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sword, eyeing her suspiciously.
"Actually, I'm more concerned with what you want."
"Why is it that the evil people always answer your questions with questions?" Link groaned.
"Link," Zelda croaked hoarsely. "I'm not shivering."
Link looked down at her in confusion. "What?"
"I'm not shivering. Are you?"
He frowned. "No…I'm not shivering."
"What are you saying?" Valerie snapped. "Are you saying that she's not evil? She's a Nightmare!"
"Awfully rude of you to classify me by my family," Catsy told her.
Link lowered the tip of his blade slightly. "Supposing you don't want to kill us," he started slowly, "why have you brought us here?"
"To give you this," Catsy answered. She opened her palm and a bright spot of light appeared in it. The speck floated up into the air, crossing over the chasm and heading directly to Valerie.
The angel held out her hand, allowing Catsy to drop the golden object into her palm. "It's the Surf Harp," she whispered in amazement, looking down at the tiny instrument.
"But I thought you said it was lost, Link."
"It was," Link said with a confused tone. "I went into the instrument shrine of the dungeon, it was gone."
"You went into the shrine after you had been knocked unconscious," Catsy corrected him. "Someone grabbed it before you could."
Valerie was still staring, transfixed by the instrument. "This is the real thing," she muttered.
"Yes, it is," Catsy responded. She pursed her lips slightly. "But that's not really what you came for, is it? You came for my instrument, the Wind Marimba."
"Yes," Link confessed.
"Well," Catsy sighed. "It's yours."
Zelda looked across the chasm at her. "You're just going to give it to us?" she asked softly.
Catsy looked over at Zelda with a sympathetic gaze. "You're hurt," she said, realizing it for the first time.
"Yes, by your Gohma," Link shot back.
"That wasn't my Gohma. Another Nightmare set it loose in the dungeon to try and kill you."
"You mean the Gohma wasn't your Guardian?"
Catsy laughed. "No, of course not. And to answer your question, sweet princess, no, I'm not going to give it to you."
Link started. "But you just said –"
She held up a hand to stop him. "I'm not going to give it to you. He is." She gestured to the door behind her. Instantly, it opened. The shrine beyond was bathed in yellow light. A looming silhouette appeared in the doorway.
"Is it time?" a voice asked.
"It's time," Catsy replied. "It's Time and Destiny and Lore."
From the light of the shrine, the figure of Carry stepped out into the chamber behind Catsy. Link's jaw dropped. "Carry?" he uttered in disbelief.
"I see you already know my friend Carry," Catsy said.
Carry looked across at all of them with wide, childlike eyes. His gaze suddenly fell on Zelda, struggling to stay upright. "Little Marin…" he whispered, staring at the ugly wound in her side. He started to take a step toward them, but he suddenly stopped short. His mind began racing, reeling backward, all the way to Bottle Grotto. He remembered, Zelda, with a long vertical scar running along her left side, just peeking out where her shirt ended, above her hip. Instantly, he recognized Marin's bright blue eyes and long red hair. "No," he said slowly, stringing his thoughts together, "Zelda."
Catsy glanced over at him. "I promised that you'd understand," she muttered casually.
"I don't understand," Link yelped. He clung tightly to Zelda as Carry slowly made his way around the drop, toward them. "Will someone please explain…" Carry had dropped down to one knee in front of Zelda. She watched him nervously, holding Link tight. Carry gently raised one hand, brushing his claws against her hair. Carefully, he lifted it back, revealing her Hylian ear.
A sparkle of blue ether jumped from Zelda's eyes to Carry's forehead. "I understand," Carry said slowly, withdrawing his hand.
"I still don't!" Link whined in irritation.
"Carry," Zelda whispered, looking at him, "you can't tell anyone."
"I won't," he promised. He reached into his robe and removed a bright thumbnail of light, the Wind Marimba. Standing, he carefully walked around Link and Zelda to press it into Zelda's hand.
"Wait a second," Valerie said loudly, stepping forward. Carry turned to look at her. "Carry? Are you the Guardian?"
There was an explosion of laughter from Catsy on the other side of the room. "Of course not!" she exclaimed in extreme amusement. "Matilda is my Guardian."
Link nearly dropped Zelda. "What?!?"
"Matilda?" Valerie cried incredulously. "That's not possible. She's a Human!"
Catsy smiled wryly. "Yes. I know."
"That doesn't make sense."
"I don't see why not. The Nightmares were granted the ability to create any sort of creature they deemed worthy to be their Guardian. I created a Human."
"You're telling me that you created Matilda to protect your dungeon?"
"No. I'm telling you that I created Matilda's great great great great great great great great great great, a few more greats, grandmother."
"I don't understand," Zelda coughed.
"My Guardian was a Human infant, the first Human to set foot on Koholint. All the Humans on the island are descended from her. The pact we made was that her first daughter, and her first daughter's first daughter, and her first daughter's first daughter's first daughter, and so on down the line, would always be my Guardian. Matilda is the first daughter of my previous Guardian, and as the deal goes, that makes her the current Guardian."
"But she doesn't want to be," Carry explained.
"That is correct. Matilda has spent her entire life fighting against me and I do think she'll fight awhile longer."
"The note," Zelda sputtered, "the note we found in the box. That was Matilda's handwriting."
"She did indeed take what was inside of that box," Catsy confirmed with a nod.
"What was in the box?" Link asked.
"Her hookshot." Catsy glanced at Link. "Matilda was the one who took the Surf Harp. She was also the one who knocked you unconscious."
Catsy sighed heavily. "In anticipation of your arrival, we Nightmares have all been making plans. Unfortunately, one of my brothers decided to seize this opportunity to try and gather all the instruments for himself. He's controlling Matilda, using her to do his bidding."
"That explains her odd behavior," Valerie supposed. "When did this begin?"
"Back when the Hero of Destiny inhabited your body," Catsy answered.
"You know a lot about Hylianity," Valerie commented.
"That I do."
"Okay," Link said, trying to piece everything together. "So Matilda is your Guardian, and Martha is your eyes and ears or whatever. I don't understand how you're involved in this, Carry."
"Where do you think all the dungeon maps came from?" Catsy replied. "Carry made them years ago."
Carry nodded. "I went into all of the dungeons," he told Link solemnly. "It was stupid."
"Carry was very nearly killed several times. I intervened."
"Catsy saved my life, got the other Nightmares to leave me alone."
"And I gave him the most important thing he has in his life," Catsy added proudly.
"What?" Link asked.
"Ezri," Carry said.
Valerie blinked. "What?"
Catsy stepped forward toward the edge of the chasm. "The Sage of Farore has been on this island a lot longer than you have, angel. One of my brothers chanced to capture him. It was I who released him and put him into safer hands, Carry's hands to be exact. Of course, I didn't tell him the importance of Ezri at the time. Carry has only just recently discovered the true nature of the island and you three."
With confused blue eyes, Valerie looked at Catsy. "Why are you doing this?" she asked. "Why are you helping us?"
"For now," Catsy replied, "let's just say that that is my little secret. I will tell you one thing though. The truth is that no one person can defeat their demons."
"Whose demons?" Zelda questioned. "The demons of the Nightmares?"
"Yes," Catsy dipped her head. "But more importantly, the demons from within. Congratulations, my Hylian friends. You have a new partner, a new friend to help you fight the demons." She nodded to Carry. "Any other explanations can be made amongst the four of you. For now, I suggest you get Zelda home. She needs something more important than words."
Tarin paced back and forth across the small expanse of the little hut. It was well past midnight, practically sunrise in fact. The rain had let up a few hours ago, but there was still no sign of Marin. Or Link for that matter. Around eleven, most of the islanders had given up on the search and gone to bed. A few were still out there. As of yet, Matilda, Richard, Valerie, and Tracy had not yet come by Tarin's doorstep to tell him that they were giving up for the night. Tarin himself had even begun to give up hope. Marin just didn't want to be found.
Stories from his childhood kept coming back to haunt him now. He remembered all the old myths and legends about monsters on Koholint, creatures that only walked the island during the night because they were too hideous to show their faces in the day. His fears steadily grew as scenario after gruesome scenario played out in his mind. A thousand horrific things happened to Marin in his imagination, each one strengthening his guilt about yelling at her.
His conscience was playing horrible tricks on him. A small thought in the back of his mind kept trying to assert itself, making him wonder grimly, if the those harsh words would be the last his daughter would ever hear from him. How he hated such terrible thoughts! Yet they just kept coming and coming. It was all his fault. He was the one who had angered her; he was the one who had sent her running out into the storm.
In the distance, the final roll of thunder grumbled as the storm moved away from Koholint. Tarin stopped pacing for a moment, looking down at Marin's empty bed. He walked over to it, letting his fingers brush against a peach patch in her quilt. He remembered the dress that swatch had been taken from. Many years ago, when Marin was no more than eight, he had found her asleep on the beach in that dress. She had disobeyed him and ran out to play on the beach, staying until morning. Back then, it had seemed almost endearing. Without a doubt, he hadn't been as afraid as he was now.
Roughly, he withdrew his hand, resuming the slow pace back and forth across the room. In the distance, beyond the door, he could hear a voice. Straining to listen, he soon recognized the voice as that belonging to Valerie. A heavy sigh fell from his lips. She was coming to tell him that she too had given up on the search.
The door to the hut burst open. Much to Tarin's surprise, standing on the other end were quite a few people. Carry barged in first, followed quickly behind by Valerie. "Over on the windowsill," Valerie ordered someone behind her, pushing past Tarin and into the room.
"Now see here!" Tarin proclaimed as he was pushed back. "What do you think you're doing?"
Link came in the door behind Valerie. In his arms was Zelda, bloody and ghostly pale, her head limp against his arm. "Saving your daughter's life," Valerie answered in response to Tarin's question.
Tarin's cheeks blanched. "Marin?" he cried hoarsely, watching as Link carried her over to the windowsill and set her down gently. Tarin stumbled forward, groping for Carry's arm. "What happened?"
Carry looked down at Tarin with a sympathetic gaze. "She fell," he replied simply.
"Carry," Valerie barked, coming in between Tarin and the gentle giant. "Go back to my hut as quickly as you can. Get my wicker basket and some bandages." Carry nodded, ducking out of the hut's entrance. Valerie turned to Tarin. "Do you have any of Tracy's potion?"
"Top drawer," he said numbly. Valerie crossed the room to the dresser and opened the top drawer, searching among the contents for a bottle of potion. Tarin followed her. "Valerie, Valerie what happened?"
"Marin fell into a chasm," Valerie said, locating the bottle. "Link was the one who found her. He jumped right in after her with no concern for his own life." She glanced over her shoulder at the windowsill where Zelda was lying. Link was kneeling beside her, clasping her hand tightly in both of his. "He has remarkable devotion for her."
Tarin looked at the two of them. "Aye…" he echoed softly. "Devotion."
Valerie walked over to the sill. She gingerly put a hand on Link's shoulder. He glanced up at her. "I need you to move away," she told him gently.
Link looked down at Zelda. He leaned over to kiss her forehead then stood up, still holding her hand. "Everything will be okay," he promised her. Finally, with great reluctance, he backed away, letting go of her arm. Valerie nodded to him then she took his place, kneeling beside Zelda to apply some of Tracy's potion.
"Lad," Tarin called softly to Link.
Link glanced at Tarin. At once, he walked over to the older man. His tunic was covered with Zelda's blood and he looked and felt weary. Nevertheless, he squared his shoulders, nodding to Tarin with respect. "Yes?"
"Are you the one that found her?" Tarin croaked.
"What have your intentions for my daughter been?"
"Only the most noble, sir."
"You saved her life."
"No, sir. Valerie will save her life. I just carried her home."
"That's not what I meant."
Link wasn't sure how to respond. "Oh," he mouthed.
Without warning, Tarin surged forward, grabbing Link and pulling him down into a giant bear hug. Link blinked in surprise then hugged back. "Thank you, lad. Thank you so much."
"For what?" Link asked.
Zelda watched the scene, a pleasant numbness now overtaking her. She looked up at Valerie, busy cutting away the midsection of her dress. "Everything's going to be all right now, isn't it?"
"I can't say," Valerie replied, never looking up from her work. "In many ways, the web we're weaving has just become infinitely more complicated."
"If Tarin can relent about his attitude toward the person I love," Zelda said with a contented smile, "then I believe that everything will work out."
"We still have the matter of Matilda to work out."
"We will," Zelda muttered drowsily. "Everything will work itself out."
Valerie frowned, watching Zelda drift off. "I wish I felt so certain about that." She shook her head. For some reason, she knew that Catsy's agenda wasn't the same as her own or that of Farore.
Catsy walked into her instrument shrine, the padded soles of her fuzzy purple slippers brushing against the tiles. She had traded in her pink cat suit for a pair of silk pajamas, purple paisley. A small sigh threatened to escape. The room felt so empty without the glowing aura of her Wind Marimba. She supposed that she knew this day would come, but still she couldn't fight the emptiness inside of her.
She walked up to the altar where the instrument had once been. "What's done is done," she told herself sternly, turning away.
With a flick of her wrist, she transported herself into her den. It was a tiny room, hidden from the rest of the dungeon. In one corner was a drop, opening into the bay. The rest of the room was filled with pink and purple throw pillows, scattered across a polished wood floor. Catsy had created an artificial sunlight to fill up the room and had surrounded herself large mirrors, hanging on all four of the walls.
"Stupid mistake, dear sister." Catsy turned to find Hawk lounging on one side of the room, wearing a large iron mask over his face which seemed to give him the slight appearance of a bird.
"I should be saying the same thing to you, Hawk," she replied coldly. "You're the one who's been foolish."
"Is that so?"
"Yes." She planted her hands on her hips, tilting her head to one side. "Controlling Matilda. It would have been a brilliant maneuver, except for the fact that she's my Guardian and I know what happens in her head."
"What are you talking about?" Hawk asked, slowly rising to his feet.
"Don't play games with me, brother. I know the truth. You're the traitor; you're the one trying to get the instruments for yourself. And you're using my Guardian to do it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," he insisted, crossing the room.
"What's more," Catsy continued. "I'm not the only one who knows."
"What do you mean?"
"Face knows," she said evenly. "Face knows it's you. He's the one who sent three Shyguys out to kill Matilda before she can reach his dungeon. I know this and so do you."
"You must be awfully bored to have the time to concoct such stories," Hawk said, feigning aloofness.
"Deny all you like, brother. Flame will figure it out eventually. And I'll wager that he won't be pleased."
"Flame will never turn against me!" Hawk shouted.
"And why is that?"
"He'll be too busy thanking me for getting rid of you!" With that, Hawk let out a mighty whoop, throwing an energy blast directly at Catsy.
She dodged the attack. "What are you? Mad? You know what will happen if you kill me!"
"Prophecies can be avoided!" he shouted. "If that weren't true, we wouldn't be bothering to fight against the Hylians!"
"'Ten summers near,'" Catsy quoted, "'the test will begin, evil will lose, good will win. Mortals unite, true love calls, one Nightmare betrays, the others will fall.' It's already set in motion."
"So fall!" Hawk cried. He fired another blast at her. Catsy jumped, crashing to the ground next to the watery drop. From out of the water, Martha sprang up, blowing her fiery trumpet. A wave of heat filled the room as the flames flew at Hawk. He fired a final blast and disappeared quickly, vanishing right before he would have been incinerated.
Catsy pushed herself up on her hands, facing the ground. When she looked to the water, she noticed a thick, oily blue substance floating on the top. She turned to Martha, who was half out of the water. Her horn had fallen to the side and she was holding both hands over her stomach. The blue liquid oozed out from between her fingers and she had a shocked expression on her face.
"Martha?" Catsy gasped.
Martha looked up at Catsy, her face pale. "Stay safe," she whispered desperately, still clutching her middle.
"No…no…this wasn't how it was supposed to turn out!" Catsy cried. "He was supposed to kill me."
"You inspire great loyalty, Catsy," Martha told her softly.
"You shouldn't have done that," Catsy told her.
"Your work isn't done. Your help is needed to save the people on this island. My role in this play is over."
"I'm blind without you, Martha…"
"It has been an honor to serve you, Catsy, to call you my friend." Martha let out a surprised gasp. Her hands fell away from the ghastly wound in her stomach and she slowly sank down into the water. A single scale floated to the top, bobbing up and down with the ripples.
Catsy picked up the scale, examining it in her hands. "You will be avenged," she murmured into the depths.
The sun rose over the horizon. Though Koholint looked less than beautiful after a rainstorm, the sun was a welcome relief and all the inhabitants were more than grateful that things had returned to normal. Zelda was still weak from her trauma the night before, but she had insisted on being allowed to take a small walk out to the beach. Tarin had agreed and hastily asked Link to go with her, just in case she fell.
That morning, Marnie had quickly assembled a new dress for Zelda, as her old one was lying in pieces on the floor. She had been given a short sleeved, ivory colored chemise that went down to her knees. Over it was a copper brown skirt and a purple bustier that laced up the front. Link was very careful to support her, as she favored her left side. He clutched her hand tightly, putting a palm on her back, over a brand new black belt with a silver buckle, to keep her upright.
"It's a beautiful morning," she sighed.
"Yeah," Link agreed.
"A beautiful day to be alive."
"I'm still trying to figure out everything that happened last night," Link said, quickly kicking a stone out of her way before she could set a sandal down on it.
"I passed by Matilda's hut this morning. It was deserted. I tried to stop by Tracy's place, but it was all locked up."
"Look!" Zelda said, pointing down the beach. Link followed her gaze, seeing Carry, with Ezri on his shoulder, sitting on a stone. Valerie was standing in front of him, her wings fully extended.
"Let's go over to them." Link carefully guided her down the shores. As they approached, Carry saw them and hastily stood up, offering the rock to Zelda. She smiled gratefully as Link carefully helped her to sit down. He walked around her to support her back.
"I was explaining things to Carry," Valerie told them, shaking her shoulders slightly to rock her wings.
"It seems like he was able to figure a lot of it out on his own," Link replied. "Val, what was that spark of ether that went between Carry and Zelda?"
"That was Zelda's spell being broken," Valerie said.
"It happened when he saw my ears," Zelda added. "I always wondered what would happen."
"Wait a second though, he called her Zelda before he saw her ears," Link interrupted.
Zelda looked over at Carry. "How did you know?"
"I was in Bottle Grotto the same night you were," Carry replied. "I met a girl from the future named Zelda."
"Oh! You saw my future reflection."
"Yes," Carry said with a nod of his big head. "She had a scar on her left side." He traced his finger down his own side to illustrate.
"Just like you do now," Valerie added pointedly.
Zelda touched her side gingerly. "I understand."
"So what happens now?" Link asked.
"There shouldn't even be a question, Hero," Zelda scolded him.
"No. We rescue Matilda."
Carry's eyes lit up. He looked excitedly from Zelda to Link then back again. "Do you think we can?"
"We have to try. She can't save herself alone," Link agreed.
"Yes…of course…" Valerie muttered absently.
Zelda looked at the three of them. "After all," she said, "no one person can defeat their demons."