In a realm beyond sight, the sky shines gold, not blue. There the Triforce’s might makes mortal dreams come true. Written in fire that remained eternal, the words burned across the sky. There was no wind to distort the message, no rain or snow to snuff it out. Like all who dwelt in this most sacred and hallowed place, the words were immortal. The fire was cold and solid, like stone, but it was fire nevertheless. A great Hylian prophetess, the Messenger of the Sages, conveyed to the wise men that it was the source of Din’s Fire, yet there was reason to doubt. The words were so perfect, so beautiful and pure that it seemed impossible they could be the source of such a dangerous and temperamental power.
The stillness of the Sacred Realm was pierced by the echoing footsteps caused by a pair of gold sandals. The Angel crossed the empty expanse, her eyes set dead forward as she approached the massive form of green light. Stopping a little before the towering sight, she knelt, bowing her head low with great humility.
Slowly, the swirling mass of green light began to shift, taking on a new form. Like ice, the new body solidified into the form of a little girl with her hair pulled back into two bushy pigtails. She wore an old fashioned dress, one that had been considered quite stylish a thousand years ago in Hyrule. It was lime green with large, puffed out sleeves. The hemline, somewhere above the little girl’s knees, was trimmed with blue silk leaves and yellow triangles. What set the dress apart from the frock of a mere mortal was the fact that the triangles swam, like fish, across the fabric
“Why have you come here?” the little girl asked. Everything about her form conveyed the image of a little girl, so it was no surprise that her voice too had altered to fit the persona.
“I would speak with you,” the Angel replied, brushing her silky hair behind her ears with both hands.
“Your mind is troubled.” The child goddess sat neatly in a throne that materialized from nothingness, crossing her ankles neatly over one another and folding her hands in her lap.
The Angel remained on the floor. “It is troubled,” she acknowledged with a nod of her head.
“You are concerned about the test.” The great goddess of courage, Farore, leaned back in her throne, resting her small, childlike head against an engraved icon of the Triforce.
“Concerned that it has been compromised.”
“Many unforeseen events have taken place,” the Angel explained.
The girl nodded. “Yes, I know.”
“So it has been compromised?”
Farore laughed merrily, leaning forward again. “My poor Angel,” she said, “you always assume that when something happens that I haven’t foreseen it must be a disaster.”
“One of the false gods has dealt herself into our work,” the Angel said, disbelievingly, “and you say that this is not a disaster?”
“That is what I say.”
Farore lofted an eyebrow. “Are you questioning me?” she asked, hiding the secret delight from her voice.
“No,” the Angel replied without fear. “I’m merely curious. I do not understand your meaning.”
“My meaning is that Catsy’s actions are not a disaster.”
“She’s working toward preventing the destruction of the island. But it is destined to be destroyed when the Princess and the Hero complete their test.”
“Destiny is a funny thing,” Farore answered. “I would think the time you spent with the Hero of Destiny would have taught you that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“There are things about the island that you do not yet know, my Angel. The word destruction can take on many meanings. You’ll come to understand that eventually.”
“Then you condone Catsy’s actions?”
The Angel sighed, looking deeply flustered. “Then I am to stand idly by while she interferes with the test.”
“If she does in fact interfere, then you will be called upon to act.”
“What is she doing now, if not interfering?”
“She’s looking for a loophole that will save Koholint. And I do not begrudge it to her. Her intentions are noble.”
“But befriending the Hero and the Princess…”
“Hasn’t changed anything. They still completed their objective of capturing her instrument. What does it matter if it was by force or by compliance?”
“But the Nightmares are all to be defeated,” the Angel argued.
“Spare them this one fight,” Farore muttered. “There will be plenty more to come. And there are many that have already taken place.” She shifted her eyes away from the Angel for a moment, withdrawing into an introspection about what her familiar had just said.
“I do not trust Catsy.”
Farore’s attention snapped back to the Angel. “Despite the fact that I myself gave her permission to seek out her loophole?”
“You show great loyalty to me,” Farore said, seeming very pleased.
“You should expect nothing less from me,” the Angel replied.
“Then listen carefully to what I say now. Catsy is to be tolerated. Her actions are for a noble end and she has my blessing to save Koholint and her people, if she so desires. As long as the Hero and the Princess continue to follow the rules and fulfill their test to prove their worth of the Triforce, Catsy is not to be trifled with. If she gets in the way, only then may you stand up to her.”
There was a heavy silence that filled the empty space of the Sacred Realm. The Angel bit her lips together, listening to the words echo in her ear. Finally, she nodded once, a heavy, meaningful nod. “As your will commands,” she said.
“Look at me.”
Slowly, she lifted her head, looking up at the child goddess for the first time, her soulful blue eyes wide and attentive. “Yes?”
“You must learn tolerance,” Farore said. “The world is large and Hyrule is only a small part of it. You must learn to accept people who are different, who live different kinds of lifestyles from those of the Hylians. The people of Koholint are of no less value because I did not create them and someone else did. You must try to accept that fact, my Angel.”
She nodded again. “I will try,” she promised.
“You were mortal once,” Farore reminded her. “If you forget that, you will completely lose your humanity and having you as the guide for this exercise will all be for nothing.”
“I understand,” she whispered.
“You don’t,” Farore sighed. “Not yet. But you will. In time. Before this test is over I believe.”
“As you say.” The Angel rose to her feet. Bowing her head once more, she turned from the awesome sight of the goddess and began a slow march back in the direction she had come from.
The Angel stopped in her tracks. “What?”
“One of the Nightmares stirs.” Farore tilted her head to one side, cocking a pointed ear up to an imaginary sound. “The next trial for our fated couple approaches at a fast pace.”
“Am I to guide them?”
“No,” Farore said with a gleeful and almost playful expression on her face. “I think not.”
“I think this time, perhaps, we’ll throw their fate into the hands of their new guide.”
“Do you really think that’s wise?”
“If you wanted wisdom, you came to the wrong goddess,” Farore joked, a bemused smile lingering on her lips.
As always, the Angel was not amused. “He could lead them to disaster,” she cautioned her deity.
Farore sighed. “Trust, my Angel, trust. Not everyone is going to stab them in the back.” With that, she lifted her hand below her lower lip. Blowing a breath of wind across her palm, she watched the Angel dematerialize, becoming a swirling cloud of gold dust. Like motes in a shaft of light, the gold particles orbited around one another, becoming a confused image of ether. Slowly, the cloud dissipated, returning to the mortal world below, to the island of Farore.
“Face!” Flame’s roaring voice echoed, shaking the walls of the aged dungeon. “Face!” he shouted, turning his head up at a high angle to shake the roof as well. The glowing white light that composed his body was so hot with anger that as he walked through the halls of the Face Shrine, the metal torch rings firmly rooted in the stone distorted, slowly melting and running down the walls. A few hapless demons that had been passing by when Flame appeared were deep fried by the heat.
“Face!!!” the eldest Nightmare continued to bellow, causing even more flare-ups from his fiery limbs. “Show yourself!”
He entered into a large square room. In the middle of the chamber was large, stone statue of an elephant, towering over a crystal switch. A part of the wall, in between two doors both leading into the same adjacent room, was a steep slope from ceiling to floor. Leaning against it was a beautiful blond woman in a pristine white gown. She looked up at Flame with hazel eyes, just peeking out from underneath the blue shawl she wore over her head.
“My what a temper you have,” she said.
Flame folded his arms. “Enough of this foolishness,” he growled, giving her what passed for a glare.
She lowered the shawl from her head, revealing a wreath of golden leaves resting in her honey blond hair. “Not a temper so much as a temperature, though,” she continued.
“I said enough!” Flame roared.
The woman sighed. “Oh very well.” There was a soft popping noise and her features seemed to become liquid. Like clay, they molded, transforming everything about her from her clothing to her brilliant eyes. In a matter of seconds, they had reconstituted themselves. Now, in the place of the woman, stood an exact replica of Kurt, complete with his dirty blond curls.
“This does not amuse,” Flame grumbled.
“Speak for yourself. I happen to be greatly amused right now, Brother.”
“You try my patience.”
“You have none, Flame. Never have, never will.”
“Enough. Drop this…this persona. It does dishonor to our fallen brother and it annoys me.”
“As you wish,” Face replied. Again there was the popping noise followed by the liquid shuffle. When he solidified again, Face was in his natural form. He stood a mere five feet tall, wrapped in a white robe. A light gray hood, trimmed in gold, covered his head while a silk mask was wrapped around his mouth and chin, hiding all of his face except for his long nose and big black eyes. His skin was ghostly white, sharply contrasted by the stringy jet-black hair that framed his hidden face. “I trust you’ll find this suitable?”
“It will do,” Flame said.
“Good. I aim to please.”
“Do you know why I’m here?”
“No, I haven’t the faintest idea, Brother.”
“You’ve taken three mortals hostage in your dungeon,” Flame said with a hint of exasperation in his tone. “Why?”
“Why, he asks. Why. What a fine question to ask.”
“You’re irritating me.”
“I’ll be brief.” Face began to pace across the room, holding his pale hands behind his back. “Do you remember when Catsy told us that there was another traitor in the Nightmare family aside from her shapely self?”
“Right before Angelika was defeated, yes, yes.”
“She was telling the truth.”
Flame looked at him for a moment. “You’re off your rocker,” he finally declared, turning to storm out.
“I warn you, don’t turn your back on me now, Brother.” He waved his hand, causing the door that Flame was headed for to slam shut. “I know something you don’t know,” he sang, wagging his finger.
“Be quick about it,” Flame sighed, turning back around.
“Catsy told us that she didn’t care that there was a traitor among us and I said that she was lying because if she hadn’t cared, she wouldn’t have mentioned it. I began to wonder though, why she would care. Why would it matter to her? What’s the traitor doing that’s got her so upset?”
“And you’ve found the answer to this puzzle?”
“That I have.” Face transformed again. This time, he took on the appearance of a tall, regal looking woman in a simple tunic. She had long, dark hair, falling down past her waist and draped over her shoulders was a blue chain connected to a metal hook. “Recognize this face?”
Flame regarded Face for a moment, examining the new persona. “Catsy’s first Guardian,” he finally concluded.
Face snapped. “Precisely!”
“Change out of that form. You look ridiculous.”
With a wink, Face transformed into Catsy’s next Guardian, then the one after that in an instant. Every few seconds, he changed again, going further and further down the line until he was nearly at present. “I found out what’s been getting under Catsy’s skin,” Face explained as he continued to change.
“Your poor imitations of her vile creations?”
“No.” Face stopped on one of the last Guardians down the line, the previous one to present. “Someone messing with her vile creations.”
“Out with it,” Flame demanded with irritation.
“Through the dream passage, Hawk managed to gain control of Catsy’s Guardian and use her as a tool in an attempt to beat the Hylians to our instruments.”
“I can see how that would annoy Catsy,” Flame mused, absorbing the information.
“But anything that upsets her makes me happy. And such an action hardly makes Hawk a traitor.”
“It does when his intentions are to keep the instruments for himself. He hasn’t been sending her to stop the Hylians, he’s been giving her instructions to invade our dungeons before they can get there.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Hawk is not a traitor.”
“I couldn’t believe it at first either,” Face said, returning to his natural form. “But when Catsy said there was a traitor, I knew it had to be Hawk. The process of elimination. It wasn’t me and it wasn’t you, that much was clear.”
“After Angelika was defeated, I decided to do a little investigating myself. It wasn’t the Hylians that were in her dungeon. It was the male one, Link, and instead of the female one, it was Matilda. She overpowered the Hylian and took the Surf Harp. Afterwards, Hawk began whispering to her. ‘Your road goes to the bay,’ I believe were his exact words.”
“I don’t believe you,” Flame answered angrily.
“The truth hurts.”
“You have no evidence to support this.”
“I have three mortals downstairs in my basement,” Face replied. “Including Catsy’s Guardian.”
“I’ll hear no more of it.”
“Do not underestimate my words.”
“That,” Flame said, taking a menacing step forward, “is exactly what Catsy said to me.”
“She was right.”
“And you’re just like her.”
Face raised his dark eyebrows. “Don’t compare me to Catsy.”
“You’re behaving just like she did. Trying to get me to turn against my own allies.”
“I am your ally.”
“I’m beginning to doubt that.”
“Flame, be reasonable!”
“This conversation is terminated.” An explosion of light filled the room and Flame, in his white-hot rage, was gone.
Face stood still as the green afterimage slowly faded from his eyes. “Well,” he sighed, “so be it.” He turned to one of the doors leading into the next room. “Smasher!” he shouted.
Instantly, Face’s oversized Guardian came galumphing into the room. Smasher bowed to the best of his ability. “Yes, Master?”
“We can’t count on the assistance of my brother’s Guardians. You’ll be on your own when the Hylians arrive.”
Smasher nodded. “And when are they to be expected, Master?”
“Soon, I should think. I’ve already set our plan into action. Admittedly, now things will have to change a bit.”
“I shall be prepared, Master.”
“Of course, Master.” Smasher clomped back out of the room, leaving Face alone once more.
Face shook his head, folding his arms across his chest. “From now on, it’s my survival above all other things.”
One wooden blade smashed down on another, releasing a frightful crack that dropped from the highest sea cliff down to the murky depths below. “Again,” Link commanded, shuffling back a step and throwing his left arm down. A careful sequence of thrusts came forward at him. Link parried each blow, stepping back each time a few more feet. “Again.”
Her brow furrowed in concentration, Zelda repeated the sequence, advancing on him with her own wooden sword: Left calf, swing around the head to the right calf, pull the blade back to the shoulder to swing at the right shoulder, swing around the head to the left shoulder, drop down to the right ear, then flip over to the left. Gracefully, she slid forward across the rocks, the sound of the training swords ringing in her ears.
“Again,” Link barked. Zelda made her first swing to his calf and he easily slapped her sword away. She advanced on his shoulder. “Stop!” he ordered her. Immediately, Zelda froze, keeping her blade in the exact same position, though her eyes shifted to look at him. Link pulled out of his battle stance and walked up behind her, pressing down on her shoulder. “Keep the tension in the shoulder, not the wrist.”
Zelda nodded, making the proper adjustment. “Shoulder, not the wrist,” she repeated in sotto.
“Every move you make with your sword should start in your shoulder and resonate down through your arm to the tip of the blade and into your opponent’s blade. The elbow and wrist shouldn’t have to do much work at all. If you start with your shoulder everything else will come naturally.”
Link stepped back into combat position, lifting his sword to meet hers. “Resume.” At once, the spar began again. Zelda continued in the programmed sequence, repeating the same basic thrusts. Link parried, but suddenly, he broke the pattern, throwing in a thrust of his own to her left shoulder. Zelda swung her sword up, knocking his blade away. He countered with a strike toward her right leg. She caught his blow and smoothly swept her sword up, wrenching Link’s weapon clean out of his hand.
“Does the Hero concede?” she asked, pointing the blunted tip of her saber at his chest.
“He does,” Link replied with a beaming smile.
Zelda lowered her sword as Link scampered away to retrieve his own. “How was that?”
“Not bad,” Link admitted. With an impish grin, he added, “for a girl.” Deep inside, Link knew that it was actually more than an accomplishment for someone who only a few weeks ago had been impaled through two layers of tissue, an ovary, several major arteries, and a rib.
“Is that so?” Zelda asked darkly. She ran forward, throwing the point of her blade at his hip. Quickly, Link grabbed his saber, countering the attack just in time.
“Attacking me while my back is turn,” he murmured with a bemused smile. “That’s going to cost you.” Link pushed her blade to one side and ran through the thrust routine. Zelda parried flawlessly, sliding backward over the sea cliff.
“What’s the penalty?”
“Usually,” Link told her, swiping across the expanse between them, “it’s a one way ticket to Death Mountain, but I’ll make an exception for you.” Something rustled from the bushes.
“Oh really?” Zelda took her turn advancing. “What’s it going to cost me in that case?”
Link knocked her sword out of the way. He took a step forward, wrapping his arm around her waist and pulling her up against his side. “This,” he said, dropping his sword to one side. Passionately, he embraced her, kissing her. She turned her head, kissing back and letting her own sword fall.
“I should pull dirty tricks more often,” she breathed once the kiss ended. Again, the brush shivered.
“You’re doing excellent,” Link told her. In truth she was. Over the last week, she had shown remarkable skill with swordplay. Link marveled over how much she had changed since he first arrived onto the island. It wasn’t just that she had traded in her green dress for a purple bustier and brown skirt or even that she no longer insisted that he call her ‘Marin’ when they were in the privacy of each other’s company, she had also matured in her dedication to their pipe dream quest of returning home.
“Perhaps I’ll be able to put it to use someday,” she mused, brushing a few stray strands of red hair out of her face.
For a third time, a noise came from the shrubbery. Link glanced at her. *Do you hear that?* he whispered telepathically.
*Yes. Shall we see who it is?*
Link nodded. Discarding his practice sword, he drew the Master Sword from the sheath that was currently leaning against a stone. Zelda picked up her bow lying beside the sheath and stealthily strung an arrow into it, pulling the bowstring taut. Together, the two of them advanced. The bush began to quiver and shake, the leaves rustling. “Come out of there, whomever you are.”
There was a loud squeal and suddenly a round face appeared from behind the bush. “Or whatever you are…” Zelda muttered in surprise. The creature facing them was petite, no more than five feet tall. Showing signs of being female, she had pastel green skin, wrapped in an elaborate blue suit with a sheer scarf wrapped around her narrow middle. Her hair, canary yellow with two long blue bangs, was short, styled in a pixie bob, parting just enough for the tips of her pointed ears to show. By far though, the most noticeable feature of this creature was along green tail snaking its way around her. It danced and waved in the air, enacting the nervous expression on the strange creature’s face.
“Please don’t hurt me, friends,” she said, holding her clawed hands up in front of her and laughing nervously. Her voice was squeaky and energized, betraying a slight lisp.
“Who are you?” Link asked.
“What are you?” Zelda countered.
“I am Phaedra,” she squeaked, “Phaedra of Koholint. I mean you no harm, friends.”
“Why were you watching us?” Link demanded, slowly lowering the tip of the Master Sword.
“I came to find you, I did.”
Phaedra nodded, her gray eyes looking sincere. “Everyone knows of you, friends. The slayers of the tyrannical Nightmares.”
“The slaves of the Nightmares, we are. They call us the herd. You are our last hope for freedom, you are.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Sent me to find you, they did. To free us from the clutches of the terrible god of disguises.”
“A Nightmare?” Zelda asked.
She nodded. “Face, the master of the Face Shrine. He has many hostages, friends. Friends of you, friends of me.”
Link blinked. “What? What are you talking about? Hostages? Our friends?”
“Three Humans are kept in his dungeon,” Phaedra explained. “One he and two shes.”
The Hylians exchanged a look. “Can you describe the Humans for us, Phaedra?” Zelda probed her slowly.
“One he and two shes!” Phaedra insisted. “I’ll show you, I will. For many days they’ve been down there in that smelly dungeon.”
*Tracy, Richard, and Matilda?* Link wondered to Zelda.
*They have been missing for ‘many days,’* she replied.
“All right,” Link said aloud. “Show us the way, Phaedra.”
“Follow me, follow me!” the little demon girl chirped, jumping excitedly, her tail flailing about in the air. “Quick, quick, quick!”
Link grabbed his sheath, strapping it to his back while Zelda did likewise with her quiver. “Should we tell Valerie?” Zelda asked.
“I don’t think our friend can wait that long,” Link answered, jerking his head in the direction of the excited Phaedra. “Besides, this isn’t a dungeon trip, this is a rescue mission.”
Zelda nodded her consent. “That’s fair.”
“Hurry up, hurry up!” Phaedra insisted, twisting her tail around her leg.
“We’re coming, we’re coming,” Link responded.
Immediately, Phaedra jumped up and began racing across the rocks, moving away from the beach and to the east. Link and Zelda chased after her. “It’s a fine long walk, it is!” she cried, bounding over the landscape without much effort at all.
“Are you sure about this, Link?” Zelda mumbled.
“We’ve looked everywhere for Matilda,” Link reasoned, huffing and puffing to catch up with their guide. “She’s in trouble and we have to help her. We knew that before we even knew she was missing along with Richard and Tracy.”
“And if they’re in trouble we have to help them too,” Zelda admitted.
“No matter how big Richard’s mouth is.”
“Is that your he?” Phaedra asked. “Oh, his mouth is the biggest in the whole world, it is.”
Far below the cliffs, down on the beach near the sea caves, Carry, who happened to be trolling the shore for oysters, chanced to look up. He saw three fast moving forms silhouetted against the sunlight, racing off in the eastern direction. Lifting a meaty hand to shield his eyes from the sun, he squinted, his extraordinary vision allowing him to see what was going on.
Carry made out the figures of Link and Zelda at once. They had been up on the cliff practicing with their swords all morning. Slowly, his granite eyes shifted to the jumping creature of boundless energy leading them on. His lips curled down into a scowl. “Phaedra…” he muttered. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he let out a rumbling bellow. “Link!” he shouted. “Link!”
It was no use though. Link could not hear him. From Carry’s shoulder, Ezri moaned, flapping his enormous wings. Carry lifted his arm, waving his wooden staff in the air, trying to catch their attention. “This is no good,” Carry whispered to his beloved owl, watching as the three disappeared from sight. At once, he dropped the armful of oysters and bunched up his saffron robes in one hand. He began to race across the beach, heading in the direction where he had last seen them.
There were certain sounds one could expect to hear in a dark dungeon. A dripping pipe, slowly, continually letting droplets of water fall into an ever-expanding puddle below. The rattling of chains or clanging of doors as prisoners came and went. Sometimes the shuffling feet of a guard. The one sound, however, that one did not expect to hear in a dark dungeon was the one sound that was currently driving Richard mad.
Tracy cracked her knuckles. It wasn’t the occasional pop that would occur when she moved her hands suddenly. Oh no, it was a continual symphony of snaps. She would start with her left hand, pressing her thumb against each finger until it cracked. After that, she would move on to her right hand, repeating the same.
“Will you stop that incessant noise?” Richard growled at her, narrowing his icy blue eyes.
“It’s not like I’m the only one with annoying habits,” she snapped.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Your pacing. It’s driving me crazy!”
It was true. Almost nonstop for the past few weeks, Richard had paced back and forth in front of the wall of bars of their cell; his hands tightly latched behind his back, his head down, watching the stones on the ground go by. He always followed the exact same path, going no further either way than a set stone with some particularly memorable attribute.
“You already are crazy,” Richard muttered. Tracy popped another knuckle. “Stop that!”
“You first,” Tracy replied, cracking another.
“The game wears thin.” Richard took another step. Tracy cracked her index finger. “Stop that.”
“Stop that,” Tracy mimicked his voice.
Again, Richard stepped forward. Again, Tracy cracked a knuckle, this time the pinky on her right hand. “Oh, I see what you’re doing.”
“Oh, I see what you’re doing.”
“Very mature, Crazy Tracy.”
“Very mature, Crazy Tracy.”
Richard’s anger exploded into a loud, exasperated shout. He threw his hands up in the air and then immediately dropped down, sitting on a hard, wooden bench. Tracy and Richard eyed each other, both challenging the other to do something.
Across the cell, Matilda sat silently against the wall, watching as the two of them childishly annoyed one another. They had been at it for weeks. Matilda felt pangs of guilt. It was all her fault. After they had been attacked in the forest during the search for Marin, Matilda remained the only one conscious. She had attempted to get them back to the Mabe Village, but the Voice had returned, commanding her to the Shrine. Halfway there, still lugging both Richard and Tracy, Matilda had chanced upon a group of Shyguys who were a little more than ticked off at her for killing their three friends in the advance party.
Everything went dark after that. Matilda assumed she had been clubbed over the head or something. When she awoke, she, Tracy, and Richard were locked in a dungeon cell in a row of cells, guarded by a single Wizzrobe who paced up and down the aisle, occasionally opening the cells to give the prisoners food.
Most of the prisoners weren’t Human. In fact, it seemed that the three of them were the only ones. All the other prisoners were monsters. Rogue demons, Matilda assumed, perhaps servants who had misbehaved in some way or another. They seemed to come and go, all except for a small, unidentifiable demon girl who remained in the last cell in the block, crooning in a foreign tongue to an alien tune.
“Knock it off!” Richard barked.
“Knock it off!” Tracy echoed.
All three of them seemed to be in sorry shape. Half crazed from hunger and boredom, the three of them combined had lost over ninety pounds, Matilda imagined. Richard attempted to remain well quaffed, citing the need to retain a semblance of the illusion of majesty, or some other ridiculous notion. Tracy, whose hair grew like a weed and was now halfway down her back, had given up. One of the straps of her dress had broken, so she had taken the large floppy blue bow out of her hair and used it to clip the fabric back together, for modesty’s sake. Her face was gaunt, with heavy bags under her eyes. Her knuckles, which she did indeed continue to crack without end, were red and raw.
Matilda didn’t give much thought to her own appearance. The sunburn had faded from her face and that was enough for her. One less ache to worry about. She looked longingly across the aisle. There was an alcove opposite their cell. On a table were their personal belongings; Richard’s navy cape, the potions Tracy carried in her pocket, the lantern the three of them had been sharing, and most importantly, Matilda’s precious hookshot.
“Stop being a child.”
“Stop being a child.”
Water dripped from a pipe.
“Fatshe leso lea halalela,” sang the little demon girl, mournfully.
The Wizzrobe shuffled down the aisle, scraping his feet across the loose, gravely floor.
“Ibabeni njalo bakithi…”
“This is absurd.”
“This is absurd.”
“If you don’t stop this I’ll go mad!” Matilda screamed. At once, the entire dungeon was silenced. Even the dripping pipe seemed to stop for a moment. Tracy and Richard turned to look at her. Some of the other prisoners as well looked in her direction. Matilda moaned, pulling her head into her hands. Her green felt cap slid down, covering her face halfway.
A latch suddenly clicked. There was the sound of a door opening and closing once more. Footsteps began to descend the staircase leading up to the dungeon entrance accompanied by a tapping noise. “Not again,” Richard groaned softly as Matilda lifted her head, sliding the cap back.
“Again,” Tracy muttered, dropping her hands in her lap.
A regal woman was walking down the steps, tapping each one with the silver tip of a bamboo cane. She wore a black mourning dress with a high neck, wrapped tightly around her throat. With her free hand, she patted the neat bun in her graying hair, leaning her head to one side so that her skin stretched tightly over her sharp jaw line.
“Hello children,” the woman said on the bottom step, addressing all the prisoners. The Wizzrobe guard dropped down to one knee in respect. When she nodded to him, he stood up and began his weary pace up and down the aisle again.
“Who gets out of this mad house this time,” Richard murmured to Tracy, turning his back to the woman.
“No one, I’m afraid, dear one,” the woman said, approaching their cell. “Oh Richard, you’ve mussed up your hair. Let mother fix it.”
Angrily, Richard turned to address her. “You are not Magdalena. And if you were, I should treat you in quite the same manner.”
“I think my darling Richard is awfully cranky. He needs a nap.” With a pop and a fizzle, the replica of Magdalena transformed into a sporty woman with lavender hair and eyes, an exact duplicate of Angelika. “Unfortunately, I don’t have time to tuck you children in,” Face said with Angelika’s voice.
“What a pity,” Richard droned.
“As much as I’d love to play house, I’m here on business.”
“And what’s that?” Matilda asked darkly.
“Oh, nothing of great importance,” Face replied, sauntering across the aisle to the alcove with their things. In the course of the short walk, again the pop and fizzle occurred, replacing Angelika’s face with that of Kurt. He picked through the items on the table until he located Matilda’s hookshot.
“You will put that down,” Matilda growled angrily.
Hookshot in hand, Face turned and strolled back to the wall of bars separating them. “It intrigues me. The craftsmanship is superb, divine one might even say. Then again, it’s all too true.”
Tracy wrinkled her forehead. “What’s he talking about?”
“Never mind, dear one,” Face told her with a condescending grin. “It’s of no concern to you.”
“I will have my hookshot back,” Matilda snarled at him, narrowing her eyes in a menacing fashion.
“Yes,” Face agreed. “You will have it back. In time. And that time will be when I say so, not before.” With that, he turned around, walking back up to the steps. Pop. He reverted to his regular form, his back to the prisoners now as he ascending the steps and vanished through the doorway with Matilda’s hookshot.
“Well,” Tracy sighed, leaning back to resume cracking her knuckles. “That could have been worse.”
“Yes,” Richard mumbled, withdrawing into himself somewhat. “There are worse forms he could have taken.”
“Worse than your mother?” Tracy asked. “How is that possible?”
“I’ve seen him do worse,” Richard replied, more to himself than to Tracy.
“Phaedra! Slow down!” Link yelled as he banged his knees right into a fairly large hunk of rock.
“She’s unstoppable,” Zelda panted, stopping to help Link to his feet.
“What does she feed off of? Coffee beans?”
“I don’t know. What kind of demon is she?”
“I haven’t a clue.” As Link clambered to his feet, he looked down at the stone he had fallen over. “Look at this.” He crouched down beside it and touched it with his index finger, tracing around a smooth spiral carved into the side.
“They’re ruins,” Zelda muttered.
Link rose again, still staring at the design. “Looks almost like the bottom of an Armos Statue,” he noted absently.
“Hurry up! Hurry up!” Phaedra’s round face appeared from behind a large pile of stones. At once, she disappeared again behind it and the sound of her feet hitting the ground could be heard.
Link and Zelda took up the chase again, attempting to follow her. “How well do you know this part of the island?” Link asked.
“Not well,” she admitted. “No one really ever comes down here. There’s nothing but ruins.”
“Carry probably has fifteen maps of the area,” Link lamented.
“Well, it was your idea to follow Phaedra without telling anyone,” Zelda scolded him, though she was smiling slightly.
There was a great splash. Phaedra had leapt off of a ledge and into the lake that cut the ruined planes in half. Her head bobbed to the surface and she began swimming the backstroke toward a small, artificial island in the middle of the water. “More water,” Link groaned.
“Well,” Zelda sighed, “This is an island.” Together, the two of them dropped down into the lake and followed after Phaedra.
Phaedra, already on the island, perched herself on a large wooden post on one corner of the platform. “It’s here, it is,” she told them excitedly as they crawled up onto the artificial island.
“Phaedra,” Link said, turning around in a circle. “There’s nothing here.” Indeed, what they were standing on was nothing more than a solid plane composed of cement and brick.
“Secrets are like water when it comes to bridges,” she told them solemnly, nodding her head.
“What does that mean?” Link questioned her.
Phaedra didn’t seem to hear him. She hopped off of the post and crouched down in front of it, digging her black claws into the wood. Yanking her arms backward, she began to turn the post, rotating it around itself. The ground quivered and shook as from the brick, a doorway emerged, leading down underground. Quickly, Phaedra yanked her fingers free and leapt up onto the brick, running straight into the hole. Her tail was the last part of her to disappear under the surface.
“Secrets are like water when it comes to bridges,” Zelda repeated. “Clever.” With that, she strung her bow and followed after Phaedra.
“I don’t get it,” Link said with a frown. After mulling it over for a minute, he too followed under.
The inside of the Face Shrine was murky. The ground of the entry hall was entirely covered with moss. Aside from four lanterns burning in the corners of the room, and a couple of large rocks scattered across the floor, there was nothing particularly remarkable about it, nothing ornate. Phaedra stood in a doorway to the right. “Follow me,” she implored them, turning tail, literally, and disappearing into the darkness.
With the Hylians chasing after her, Phaedra ran through a series of rooms. The floor throughout the entire dungeon was moss covered, making it a little slippery. There was little lighting, apart from some strategically placed lanterns and torches. The trio passed through a room where a few tiles were cleaned of the moss. Phaedra was quick to scamper through into the next room, but Link looked back over his shoulder as he went through the door. He noticed, much to his grim fascination, that several of the tiles seemed to lift up off the ground, hovering in place while spinning.
They entered into an oddly shaped room. In the middle were two large statues, carved to look like elephants. Beyond them was a single closed door, flanked by stones. Phaedra pointed to the door. “In there,” she said urgently.
“That’s where our friends are?” Zelda asked.
“You must go in there,” Phaedra told them firmly.
“But it’s locked,” Link said, pointing to the large keyhole in the middle of the door. “We don’t have a key.”
Phaedra scampered across the room on all fours. Crouching beside the door, she lifted her tail, winding it up and inside of the lock. There was a metallic click and she withdrew her tail, a triumphant grin on her round face. “It’s open now, it is,” she told them. Crossing the room on all fours, she perched herself up on one of the large rocks, watching them expectantly.
Exchanging glances, Link and Zelda slowly crept forward toward the door. Link carefully pulled it open, listening to the old iron hinges groan in protest. Zelda peeked inside. There was total darkness, making it impossible to distinguish any forms. “Hello?” she called hesitantly.
“Too slow!” Phaedra lamented. In a flash, she had jumped down from the rock and crossed the room. With surprising strength, she shoved Link forward. He crashed into Zelda and the two of them both fell down into the dark room. Behind them, Phaedra slammed the door shut.
“That little weasel!” Link shouted in the blackness.
“Link? Where are you?”
Zelda groped in the darkness until she felt her hand brush against Link’s shoulder. Clutching it tightly, she tried to crawl closer to him. “It was a trap.”
“What gave you that idea?” he deadpanned.
A blaring light, coming from the center of the room suddenly exploded. Though the blast was silent, it had enough power to blow Zelda and Link backward, toward one of the walls. Instinctively, Link pulled Zelda into his arms, shielding her head with his right arm while turning his face down into her hair to protect his eyes from the light. A tingle of energy raced up and down along his skin and he felt a sensation of weightlessness.
They could feel the light die down before they could really see that it was gone. Something off hit them though, a new warmth that had been absent in the dank dungeon. The moss on the ground felt funny, crisper. “Link,” Zelda muttered.
“What was that?”
“I have no idea.”
There was a new sound, one oddly out of place for a murky dungeon. Clearly now, Link made out the sound of birds chirping somewhere in the distance. Elsewhere, he heard laughter. Slowly, he lifted his head away from Zelda’s hair. His vision was a bit blurred at first, but after a moment of adjustment, he made out a bright blue sky above them, filled with cottony white clouds. They were in a field of some kind. Below them was bright green grass and off to one side, Link saw a few clusters of trees.
Zelda was looking around in amazement. “Where are we?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, standing up and offering her a hand. She accepted it and he pulled her to her feet. “Not a dungeon, that’s for sure.” Out of the corner of his eye, Link noticed some movement coming from the trees. He whirled around, grabbing the Master Sword and found himself face to face with a group of children. They were in their early teens. One of them, a little brunette girl with wide blue eyes, was clutching a rubber ball, fearfully staring at his blade. Link froze, looking at all of them. They all stared at him with the same blue eyes. All of them.
Link felt Zelda’s hand on top of his, gently pressing down the blade of the Master Sword. “Sorry,” she muttered to the frightened children.
“It’s all right,” one of the older boys said, stepping forward. “We must ‘ave scared you, sneaking up like that. We’re awfully sorry. Still, it’s not every day that you see a couple of people falling down from the sky.”
“We’re a little bit lost,” Link said, returning the Master Sword to the sheath on his back.
“I can imagine,” the boy replied. “We don’t see many adults around ‘ere.”
“Where is here?”
“This entire area is the property of the local mission school,” the boy explained. “The school children from around are allowed to play out ‘ere in the afternoons.”
“Where’s the nearest village?” Link asked.
The boy pointed behind them. “Down the ‘ill. The village gate is just about ‘alf a mile from ‘ere.”
A snooty looking blond girl with her hair divided into several dozen braids came rushing up to the front of the pack. “Are we playing or not, Hayek?” she asked the older boy. Casually, she flipped several of the braids behind her shoulder. Instantly, this action revealed a long, delicately pointed ear.
Link and Zelda balked. “I’m coming, Page,” Hayek replied. He bowed his head politely to them. “‘Ave a nice afternoon,” he told them politely.
“Just a moment!” Link cried as the children turned away.
“Yes sir?” Hayek inquired.
“What’s the name of this country?”
The snooty blond girl scoffed, rolling her eyes skyward as if this were the stupidest question she had ever heard. “You’re in Hyrule, of course.”
Carry knew exactly where Phaedra was going, so he had no trouble finding the entrance to the Face Shrine. It was sealed of course, but this didn’t surprise him much. He had no difficulty turning the stake that opened the cellar entrance. As he slowly descended, Ezri wailed loudly, flapping his wings in protest. Carry nodded, rubbing his knuckles against the soft, downy feathers of Ezri’s chest. The mighty owl spread his glorious wings and rose up into the sky, vanishing around one of the ruins. Once he was out of sight, Carry continued his journey into the Face Shrine.
The soft moss covering the ground made the claws on his feet silent. Admittedly, it had been many years since he so much as looked at his map of the Face Shrine, but still, Carry had a pretty good sense of where he was going. He was careful to take a left turn once he entered. As expected, in the next chamber, he saw a trod path in the moss where the actual red tiles of the floor were visible. This was the path he had followed during his first exploration of the Face Shrine. It would lead him where he wanted to go, but it would also put him in the sights of pretty much every monster the Nightmare employed. They all followed this path.
As Carry passed into the next room, he noticed a solitary Spark crawling along the perimeter. He decided to ignore it. After all, Sparks were rarely dangerous unless engaged. With a shudder, he remembered how roughly the futuristic image of Zelda had dealt with a Spark in Bottle Grotto. She had shown little restraint in anything she did, however. Carry merely passed on into another room.
Wham! Carry received a sharp blow to the side of his head. Caught off guard, he stumbled to one side, crashing into the wall as his staff went flying halfway across the room. He managed to stay on his feet, catching a glimpse of a Shyguy racing toward him, swinging an old rusty sword. Carry ducked as the blade swung over his head, hitting the wall. The reverb of the blow sent the Shyguy back a step or two. Using his forearms, Carry pushed the demon back, with greater force than he meant to.
The Shyguy stumbled back from the shove, but recovered himself. At this point, Carry had run across the room, making a dash for his staff. Angrily, the Shyguy chased after him, swinging the old sword from side to side. Carry leaned over to pick up his staff and the Shyguy tripped, toppling to the ground and taking Carry down with him. With a grunt, Carry managed to roll free of danger, grabbing his staff.
He rose to his feet, brushing his long red mane back and away from his face. The Shyguy, still on the floor, slammed his leg down into Carry’s thigh. The weight of the impact made Carry’s knee collapse inward, but he stayed on his feet. Meanwhile, the Shyguy scrambled up, swinging his old, rusty sword at Carry. Miraculously, Carry managed to duck under the blow, which again threw off the balance of the demon.
Whirling around, Carry slammed his staff directly into the Shyguy’s middle. The creature fell backward, landing on the ground with a hard thud. This surprised Carry. He knew that he had been holding back in this fight. Why was the Shyguy falling so easily? The demon very well matched him in strength. From the room he had just passed through, the light of the Spark flooded through the doorway.
Images of Bottle Grotto flashed through his mind. Absently, Carry touched his bicep. Underneath the folds of his robe, he could feel the hard gold band that Future Zelda had left him with. What had she called it? A Power Bracelet? She had warned him it would make him stronger, but only in times of need.
With his guard down, it was easy for the Shyguy to suddenly surge forward, ramming his shoulder directly into Carry’s ribs. He flipped over, landing hard on his back. The Shyguy lunged forward, chopping his sword down directly at Carry’s head. Acting quickly, Carry jerked his staff upward, meeting the blade and easily deflecting the blow. As the Shyguy stumbled back yet again, Carry rolled to one side, jumping to his feet.
The Shyguy swung again. This time, Carry caught the blade in his bare hand. Snarling slightly, he yanked the sword clean out of the demon’s hand, throwing it off to one side where it clattered to the ground. Carry pushed his staff forward vertically. It impacted on the Shyguy’s face and cracked the mask. Instantly, the creature dematerialized, dissolving into a small pile of ash on the ground.
Carry kicked the ash with his foot, scattering it across the floor. After a breathless moment, Carry dropped the end of his staff down, leaning against it as he caught his breath. Once he was calm, he carefully rolled the sleeve of his robe up, looking at the gold band around his arm. Up until now, Carry had been skeptical of the artifact. After this fight, he was convinced.
“Back in the Face Shrine again?”
He whirled around. Hanging from the ceiling rafter by her tail was Phaedra, looking at him upside down. “Phaedra,” he grumbled.
“Never thought I’d see you in here again, I didn’t,” she chirped, tilting her head to one side.
“You know why I came,” Carry told her.
Phaedra chose to ignore him. “Why did you have to kill poor Bashful? I liked him, I did.”
“I didn’t have a choice,” Carry replied.
“No, I suppose you didn’t.”
“Come down from there.”
“No,” she refused stubbornly.
“Fine.” Carry lifted his staff. With a grunt, he swung it up, hitting her tail right where it was wrapped around the rafter.
Phaedra squealed, losing her grip. Her tail unwound from the support beam and she fell, crashing to the soft, mossy ground. “Not the tail!” she screamed.
“You should have just come down,” Carry told her.
“That was awfully rude of you, it was,” she lisped, sitting up and rubbing her tail between her hands.
Carry pointed the tip of his staff at her. “Tell me where they are!”
“You have a friends?”
Carry bared his teeth. “I saw you with them.”
Phaedra rose to her feet, holding her hands up innocently as her tail curled behind her back. “Who?”
“Link and Little Ma…Zelda.”
A wide grin appeared on Phaedra’s face. “Oh, the Hylians,” she snickered.
“Tell me where they are.”
“I’m a loyal servant, I am. I won’t say a thing.”
“Loyal servant,” Carry scoffed.
She clasped her hands behind her back, strolling around the room casually. Carry followed her with the tip of his staff, his frustration increasingly evident. “I’m sorry Carry,” she cooed, “I can’t tell you where they are.”
“Yes you can.”
“No I can’t.” She shook her head. “It’s too late for them, it is.”
“What do you mean?”
“They’re already in the master’s clutches, they are.”
“I lead them to the Room of Facades, I did. They could be halfway around the Universe for all I know.” She leered at Carry. “You remember the Room of Facades, don’t you?”
“Yes,” Carry grumbled.
“I’m so sorry for you, really I am.”
Carry thrust the point of the staff forward, stopping a mere inch or so away from her forehead. “Take me to them.”
Angrily, Phaedra shot her tail forward, wrapping it around the staff. She yanked on it, pulling it clean out of Carry’s hands and sending it across the room to crash into the wall and clatter to the ground. “No,” she barked angrily, her purple lip jutting out into a defined pout.
“Phaedra…” he growled.
She sprang up into the air, catching the rafter with her tail again. Swinging her arms, she began to move forward and back rapidly, gaining momentum. “You’ll have to force me, you will.” She released her hold on the rafter. Using the speed she had gathered, she propelled herself forward, disappearing into a side door.
Carry took a step forward to follow her, but faltered. He turned around, racing across the room to retrieve his staff. Once he had it, he turned around in a flash and started running, throwing himself headlong into the next room. But Phaedra wasn’t there. Carry turned in a frantic circle, trying to find a trace of her, but she was gone. With a heavy sigh, he held his breath, straining his ears to listen for any last giggle he could use to follow her.
“Hurry up, hurry up!” her voice taunted him, echoing off the walls so that he couldn’t establish from which direction it was coming from.
“I’ll find you Phaedra!” he shouted, his voice booming.
“I know you will,” she replied merrily.
“Maybe you don’t want me to,” he barked. Phaedra’s only reply, however, was her airy laughter.
“It isn’t possible.”
“You think I don’t know that?”
Zelda and Link had made it to the local village. As they made their way north, Link became more and more convinced of the setting, much to Zelda’s dismay. It was just too perfect. Everything around them was exactly as he had remembered Hyrule looking. Zelda, whose experience of their homeland was farther removed than Link’s downright refused to believe any of it.
“We can’t be in Hyrule,” she said once again.
Link held out his arm, halting her mid-stride. They had arrived at the intersection of two fairly busy streets. “There,” he said, pointing down the perpendicular byway. “Right down there you’ll see a small dress shop.”
Zelda took a step forward and peered down the street. “I see it.”
Closing his eyes, Link continued. “Standing in front of the shop, you should see a blond woman with a sewing basket on her hip, probably talking to an extremely tall man with hair going down past his waist.”
She frowned, observing the duo. “Yes. They’re there.”
“You see?” Link snapped his fingers, opening his eyes. “They’re there every day. This is North Castle’s city!” He grabbed her shoulders and turned her. “Look, Zelda. There’s the castle.”
Appearing over the greenery of the town, the four high, white towers of North Castle could be seen, each of them topped off in a blue, thatched roof with a gold spire, proudly bearing the Hylian flag. Long dark windows speckled the sides of the building. Along the walls, Hylian knights in green or blue armor patrolled, pacing back and forth, bearing emblems or lances.
A distant memory rose in Zelda’s mind, whispering to her. North Castle seemed exactly as she remembered it, though the memory was faulty at best. “What are we going to do?” she asked Link softly.
“Go to the castle,” Link replied. “Real or not, we have to see this journey to its logical conclusion.”
“All right,” Zelda conceded.
Link took her hand in his and at once began maneuvering through the town, Zelda in tow. They crossed through a fantastic marketplace, larger perhaps than the whole of Koholint island. All along the way, they were utterly and completely ignored. Though both Link and Zelda displayed their Hylian ears, for once it didn’t seem to matter. They were no different from anyone else around them. Everyone appeared Hylian. Thousands of pairs of blue eyes ignored them as they made their way to the castle.
The drawbridge of the castle was up today. Arriving on the other side of the moat, Link and Zelda peered across the murky water. On the other side, a pair of oak doors stood wide open. They could see indistinct figures passing back and forth in front of the door. Beyond the castle, there was a paddock with several beautiful horses strolling about, being tended for by a sweet faced Hylian boy wearing a brown tunic embroidered with the image of a swan.
A commanding officer in blue armor appeared from one of the look out stations, flanked by two honor guards in green. Link pointed, turning to face Zelda. “There. That’s the captain of the guard. His name is Jono. The two knights flanking him are named Arion and Dirce.” He waved his arms over his head. “Hey! Hey! Over here!”
The captain looked up across the moat. “Link?” He turned to his companions. “It’s Link!” Instantly, the three of them were all shouting and waving. Beaming, Link waved back. Jono put his hand on Arion’s shoulder. “Go assemble the court and inform the royal family.” Arion nodded once and disappeared through the oak doors. “Dirce,” Jono added, “lower the drawbridge.”
“Aye, Sir,” she said, running over to one of the bridge towers.
Zelda put her hand on Link’s shoulder. “They know you,” she said quietly, smiling a little bit.
Facing her, Link put his hands on her cheeks. “And soon they’ll know you too,” he promised excitedly.
The cranking of gears soon brought the drawbridge down. Link and Zelda began walking across it, but Jono and Dirce raced across to meet them halfway. “We thought you were dead, man,” Jono told Link, clapping him on the shoulder.
Link spread his arms out. “Not dead.”
“And you’re back!” Dirce cried.
“And have I a surprise,” Link told them.
“Who’s your friend?” Jono asked.
Dirce laughed. “No, really.”
Zelda stepped forward to Link’s side. “Really,” she said with a simple shrug of her shoulders. Instantly, the two knights dropped down to their knees. Link and Zelda exchanged a look.
“Take us to the throne room,” Link said, pulling Dirce up to her feet.
“Yes,” Jono replied. “Of course, follow me at once.”
Following Jono, the group entered through the oak doors and into North Castle itself. The Great Hall was constructed of white stone. To either side of them, high, arched doorways led to various chambers and chapels. Quite a large number of the doorways were occupied by curious courtiers who poked their heads out into the hall, curious as to what all the commotion was about.
Before Link could say or do anything, he was set upon by something purple. Pounced upon, he toppled over onto the floor, nearly taking down a priceless tapestry with him. “Tress!” Zelda cried in surprise.
“Good to see you too,” Link said, coughing good-naturedly.
Tress rolled over, sitting up on her heels. “I knew you’d make it, back, I just knew it!” she exclaimed happily. She turned to face Zelda. “Welcome home, Princess Zelda,” she added.
“We were taking them to the throne room,” Jono told Tress as she rose to her feet, smoothing down the chronically wrinkled purple tunic that she was famous for.
“Well, of course you are,” she scoffed, crossing over to Zelda. The girls hugged.
“Sure,” Link said as he got up to his feet. “I get the Moblin attack and she gets the hug.”
“Well, it wouldn’t really be appropriate to bone check a princess,” Tress replied.
“Since when do you do what’s appropriate?”
A thunderous gong rang, rattling everything in the hall. “Come on, come on,” Tress urged them. “You have a royal audience waiting for you.”
With Tress now in the lead, the group continued through the Great Hall, entering into the throne room. It was an enormous room, was fitting to its title. Carved out of marble, with long pillars flanking the walls in between silk hangings, the throne room was a standard by which other Hylian artisans created. A plush red carpet ran from the doorway all the way up to a wooden dais, hosting two thrones and two large candles, nearly as tall as the enormous stained glass window behind the thrones.
Occupying the right hand throne was the magnificent queen of Hyrule, the lady Gilda. Every inch of her was regal, from her stunning red hair, piled up on top of her head underneath a crown, to her elegant, but oddly simple gown of purple fabric with a high neck and no baubles. She rose as the party entered the throne room, holding in one hand a bright green glass ball, a symbol of her status and power.
Tress bowed in a most gentlemanly fashion, holding up her hands to create a triangle shape in front of her chest. “Most high queen, I present to you the Hero of Time, Link.”
Gilda beamed, taking a step down from the dais. “Link, you’ve come home.”
She was about to cross the room when Tress interrupted. “Most high queen,” she said with a playful glint in her eye, “I present to you the Princess Zelda.”
The queen faltered in her step. “My…my daughter?” Uneasily, Zelda took a step forward. Gilda crossed the carpet, eyeing Zelda with a sense of shock to say the least. She approached, placing two fingers under Zelda’s chin. Gently, she lifted Zelda’s face, examining her as if in a trance. “By the goddesses…” she whispered. With a great cry she pulled Zelda into her arms, hugging her with a repeated chant of “It is you, it is you…” Zelda, herself caught up in a well of emotions, hugged back.
“Mother? What’s all the fuss about?” From behind one of the silk hangings, a woman emerged from the recesses of the room. She was tall, with chin length red hair, garbed in a sophisticated purple dress.
“Amanda,” Gilda called, extending one hand in the woman’s direction, “come see. Link has brought your sister home!”
Princess Amanda frowned, running her eyes over the assembled group. “Zelda?” she inquired quietly.
“It’s Zelda,” Link said firmly, bowing to the princess.
“Go on,” Gilda told Zelda, gently prodding her in Amanda’s direction. The sisters met in the middle of the room. After a moment of standoffishness, they embraced, Amanda grasping both of Zelda’s hands. “Oh, of all the times for your father to be away on a diplomatic agenda!” Gilda sighed in exasperation. “Well, no matter. Jono.”
The captain stepped forward. “Yes?”
“Arrange for a ball this evening. In honor of the return of Link and Princess Zelda.”
“Aye, my queen.” Jerking his head for Dirce to follow, Jono departed from the room. Tress threw Link a smile, playfully punching him in the arm before she went scampering after the two of them.
Amanda had pulled out of the hug and was examining Zelda, still clutching both of her hands. “My baby sister,” she gushed. “You’re all grown up.”
“Link,” Gilda said, “how did you ever managed to…” she trailed off, her voice growing thick with emotion.
“It’s a long story,” Link explained. “A very, very long story.”
“Nearly ten years in the making, I should think,” Amanda said. She regarded Zelda’s simple clothing with a look of distaste, although she said nothing of it.
“So much has happened,” Gilda supplied, recovering herself.
“Come with me,” Amanda said excitedly. “I’ll introduce you to my children. Can you believe it? You’re an aunt.”
“Yes, do that at once,” Gilda agreed. “And afterward, you can help Zelda dress for the ball. Meanwhile Link, you come with me. We have much to discuss.” Gilda grasped his hand and began to pull him off in one direction while Amanda pulled Zelda in the opposite direction. Zelda threw a look over her shoulder, trying to catch Link’s eyes, but suddenly they were separated by a purple silk hanging and she was at long last alone with her estranged sister.
Carry ducked just in time for a large boulder to narrowly miss his head and crash into the wall behind him. Shrapnel flew out from the impact, pelting Carry’s arms and legs. Luckily, nothing serious came of the flying debris. The Face Shrine’s Guardian, Smasher if memory served, began to thump toward Carry.
In retrospect, it had been a mistake trying to track Phaedra down. She took advantage of Carry’s excellent skills and led him right to the Guardian’s chamber where Smasher lay in wait. Carry would have just doubled back and avoided the fight, but he saw Phaedra sitting smugly in a corner of the room, a delighted look in her eye as she watched him struggle. Somehow, that look told him that he had to stay; he had to face off against Smasher.
There was nothing terribly expert about the fight the Guardian was putting up. For nearly half an hour now, Smasher had been chasing after Carry, hurling the same smooth boulder at him. As luck would have it, Carry was excellent at dodging, but in truth the boulder wasn’t the real problem. The real problem was the debris, which jabbed at Carry each time it exploded from the wall.
It wouldn’t be long before fatigue took its toll either. Carry couldn’t keep up this fight forever. Smasher wasn’t one for witty banter during a fight, so he just continually chased after Carry, hurling the blasted boulder at him without stopping. The only words he had paused to utter had been directed at Phaedra. He had scolded her on bringing the wrong creature to his lair. This further confirmed Carry’s fears that terrible danger was awaiting his Hylian friends, lured here by Phaedra.
Swinging his staff, Carry whacked Smasher to one side. This blow didn’t seem to have any affect other than annoying the Guardian still. Smasher thumped his way across the room, hefting up the boulder once more. Carry dashed across the floor, running out of throwing range. The Guardian chased after him, heavy footsteps rattling the walls of the chamber.
Phaedra squealed with delight, beating her tail against the mossy floor. “You’ve got him, you have!” she cried, encouraging Smasher.
Smasher threw the boulder at Carry. Instead of ducking, Carry ran out of the way, avoiding both the stone and the shrapnel that resulted from it hitting the wall. He attempted another blow with his staff, but it had limited success, as he had expected. Smasher made a grab for the boulder again.
“Get him, get him!” Phaedra cheered.
Carry glanced at Phaedra, his upper lip lifting into a snarl. Suddenly, he ran across the room, standing right in front of her. Smasher, hot on his heels with the boulder, lifted it to throw again. Phaedra screamed, covering her head with her arms. This didn’t deter Smasher and he threw. Carry grabbed her tail, hefting her clean off the ground and pulling her out of the line of fire. Once again, he was surprised by his own strength. He had only meant to move her, not lift her.
Casually, he dropped her down on the ground again. Smasher was moving to retrieve the boulder, but Carry got in front of him, tossing his staff off to one side. Relying on the magic of the Power Bracelet, Carry lifted the stone himself. This threw Smasher completely off guard. He halted in his tracks, assessing the situation. At once then, he turned around and began to run away. A triumphant smile curled Carry’s lips and he let loose, tossing the boulder at Smasher.
It impacted the Guardian’s hindquarters. Smasher stumbled to the ground, blinking like a light. The boulder bounced off of him, rolling across the floor. Carry and Smasher looked at each other for a calculated moment. At once, both of them bolted across the room for the boulder. Carry managed to get there first. As he hefted the stone up, Smasher fled once more.
“Don’t like it when it’s you,” Carry observed smugly. With a heavy grunt, he threw the boulder, again hitting Smasher in the back. The Guardian blinked with the strange light, but turned around quickly, getting the boulder himself. Spinning around in a circle, he hurled it at Carry.
Without thinking, Carry neither ran nor ducked. He held out his arms, somehow catching the projectile in his bare hands. The Power Bracelet must have been activated again. Carry was hardly even thrown back a step in response to catching the rock. Smasher gazed at him in terror while Carry’s smile merely widened.
Grunting, Carry chucked the boulder at Smasher. This time, Smasher was unable to so much as run away. The stone impacted dead on. The Guardian flickered then with a loud pop, vanished completely from existence, along with the boulder, which had been embedded halfway into his front side.
Carry crossed the room, picking up his fallen staff. Somehow, he preferred a defensive weapon to stones. From behind him, he heard a pathetic whimpering. He whirled around to face Phaedra. During the fray, she had crawled into a corner of the room. She was now huddling against the wall, hugging her knees to her chest with her tail. “He almost killed me, he did.”
For a long pause, Carry watched Phaedra, debating how he was going to deal with her. Finally, with a heavy sigh, he crossed the room, kneeling down on one knee in front of her. “Guardians don’t have friends,” he told her.
“I misjudged him, I did.”
“And me too.”
“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “You too.”
“It wasn’t very nice of you to lead my friends here,” Carry admonished her gently.
“I had to do it!” she exclaimed defensively.
Carry scowled. “I know you did.”
“Master Face makes me do many things, he does.”
She glanced up at him sharply, her gray eyes blazing. “Did you expect him to change?”
“My little sister is still down in the dungeon, she is. Master Face treats her very unkindly. Like the Humans.”
“Humans? What Humans?”
“There are three Humans down in the dungeon, there are.”
“Yes,” Phaedra nodded.
Carry’s eyes widened. “Matilda, Richard, and Tracy!” he cried, the epiphany suddenly dawning on him. “They’ve been missing for weeks.”
“That’s how I got your friends to come. I told them, I did. They were eager to rescue their friends, they were.”
“Where are they, Phaedra?”
“I told you, the Room of Facades.”
“I know that, but what does the room look like this time?”
“Master Face put a spell on it. He made it to take on the first place that come out of the minds of whomever entered it.”
“So Link and Zelda created the place when they walked into the room?”
“What happens if I go in?”
Phaedra frowned. “What do you mean?”
“If I go into the room, will it change for what’s in my head?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted.
Carry stood up. “I have to try.”
“You’re crazy, you are!”
“They’re my friends, Phaedra.”
“They’ll be happy living out their days there, they will.”
“Dying of hunger?” Carry shook his head. “I don’t have a choice Phaedra, I have to save them.”
She sighed. “You’re a stubborn one, you are.”
“Don’t be sorry.”
He looked at her, pleading with his granite eyes. “Please Phaedra, will you show me the way?”
“I’ll show you the way, I will,” she told him. “But I won’t go inside the room with you.”
“All right.” He offered her a hand. Hesitantly, Phaedra accepted it and Carry hefted her up off the floor with a gentle tug.
“Follow me,” she said quickly, beginning to sprint out of the room.
Carry reached out, snatching her tail. As carefully as possible, he pulled her back. “Slow down,” he instructed her.
“Yes, yes, of course.” With that, she slowly walked to the door, watching over her shoulder as Carry followed behind her. Together, the two of them departed from the Guardian’s chamber.
The room was rather dull. As opposed to the rich wooden colors of her little hut on Koholint, Zelda’s bedroom in North Castle was sterile white. There was no decoration on the wall, no carpets on the floor. She sat on the foot of an enormous white bed with white pillows and a white gossamer canopy. Lying beside her was a shimmering purple dress, the one she was supposed to wear. Across the room, Amanda hovered by a white vanity, meticulously picking out various glosses and rogues that Zelda was to use that evening.
Seeing Amanda’s children had been an experience for Zelda. All of them had bright green eyes, taking after their Human father, Amanda had explained. The little twins were less than a year old. Jonas, the older one, had light blond hair, again as his father according to Amanda. Livia, the younger had red hair, a perfect Harkin girl, Amanda boasted. They had just been born when Link left Hyrule. Their older sister was apparently off in Catalan, visiting with her father.
Amanda had gone on and on about the difficulties of her marriage to Artem Barr of Catalan. He was always away, she complained. It was difficult to maintain a marriage over such a long distance. She was always lonely. Of course, she had added that now that Zelda had returned home, she would never want for company again. She had a husband she loved half of the time and the sister she loved for the other half of the time.
“Zelda?” Zelda looked up. Amanda was standing by the vanity, staring at her. She had a bottle of rogue in each hand. “Do you agree?”
A frown crept over Zelda’s face. She hadn’t really been paying attention to whatever it was that Amanda had been saying, regarding rogue or whatnot. “Yes,” she lied absently.
Amanda put the bottles down and walked over to the bed. “Are you feeling all right?” she asked.
“Of course. Why do you ask?”
“You’ve been so terribly silent.”
“I don’t mean to be. I’m just feeling a little –”
Zelda nodded. “Yes.”
“I understand,” Amanda told her, leaning against the foot of the bed. “After all, you’ve been through such a frightful ordeal. But it’s over now; it’s over. You’re home and safe where you belong.”
“It wasn’t all frightful,” Zelda replied. “Have I said anything to imply that to you?”
“You’ve said precious little.” Amanda frowned. “I suppose that’s partly my fault. I have been monopolizing the conversation. There are just so many things I’ve wanted to share with you. Have I been boring you?”
“No, of course not.”
“You would tell me, right?”
“Yes.” Zelda laughed slightly. “As Link will tell you, I can be very outspoken.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Amanda said, laughing a bit herself. “You’re every inch a Harkin princess. We have a tendency to engage the mouth before we engage the higher brain functions.” She smiled vaguely. “I want you to meet Artem,” she said after a moment. “I think you’ll like him quite a lot.”
“Well, he’s quiet and very thoughtful. Many people consider him to be the most intelligent student to come out of the Thuy Conservatory. He’s quite different from me actually. Perhaps that’s why I love him so much. Opposites attracting and all.”
“I would like to meet him.”
“His six months on Catalan will be over shortly. He’ll come to Hyrule to spend another six months with me.”
“I’ve never been in Catalan,” Zelda said. “Maybe I could go there. I’d love to see the intellectual capitol of the realm.”
“No,” Amanda said quickly. “No more sailing for you. We’ve already lost you once to the sea and I don’t intend to let it happen ever again.”
“You’re being ridiculous, Amanda.”
“No, I’m not,” Amanda insisted, wrapping am arm around Zelda. “I’m being selfish. There’s a difference.” She looked at Zelda, gently pushing some hair behind her ear. “I don’t want you out of my sights ever again, Zelda. I couldn’t bare to lose you a second time.”
“You’d have me stay in Hyrule for
the rest of my life.”
“You make that sound like some sort of punishment. You’ve been far away for nearly ten years, Zelda. Oh the wonders I can show you here, now that you’re back home for good.”
“It is nothing like Koholint,” Zelda admitted, glancing out at the open balcony, beyond the billowing gossamer curtains around the door. From there, she could see what she considered practically an eternity, leading up all the way to the dark mountain ranges in the south.
“The island where Link found me,” Zelda explained. “Where I lived for those almost ten years.” She stood up, walking over to the balcony. “Hyrule is so much grander in comparison.”
Amanda followed her. “Oh Zelda, you have no idea.” The two of them stepped out onto the stone balcony. “There are so many secrets, so many beautiful mysteries of Hyrule that I’ll show you.”
“Look out there,” Amanda told her, sweeping her arm across the scenery. “All of this belongs to us.”
“It’s more than that,” Amanda replied.
“What is it?”
Zelda clutched the railing around the balcony with one hand, while her other hand began to drift up to the necklace around her neck. “Home,” she repeated sadly.
“Promise me you’ll never leave again, Zelda.”
Continuing to look out at the picturesque landscape, Zelda whispered, “You’d better get changed for the ball.”
“It is getting late,” Amanda admitted. “Look there, the sun is nearly setting as it is.” She placed her hand over Zelda’s on the banister. “Tonight is dedicated to you and Link. It’s a welcome home party.” With that, she removed her hand and disappeared, walking back through the room and out, heading to her own apartments, no doubt.
Zelda remained on the balcony, watching the sunset. Inside her temples, a steady strain of music began to play. She recognized the song as her own, the Ballad of the Windfish. Almost involuntarily, she opened her mouth, singing along. “To skies I fly, beyond the sky…” her voice faltered for a moment as a well of emotion gathered in her throat. “To where my journey ends. The lovers try, the dreamers cry, and yet I must depend…”
Viciously, she shook her head, unable to complete the song. With a heavy sigh, she walked back into the room, her room. The glittering purple dress caught the last rays of sunlight falling in through the windows. It cast swimming reflections of light on the white ceiling and walls, making them look as if they were splattered with lavender paint which someone had tried desperately to smear off.
There was a white cabinet in one corner of the room. Zelda walked to it, crouching down to open the door. Inside were a few various articles of jewelry and a thick, leather book with a green cover. She picked up the book, examining it. There, on the front was an indentation in the shape of a Triforce. In gold letters, the words “Book of Mudora” were scrawled across the top.
Without knowing why, Zelda began to flip through the pages, going faster and faster. Each page had remarkable illuminations, drawings but doubtlessly famous artists from age past, illustrating the story of Hyrule. All the faces seemed unfamiliar to her, the Sages, the deities, the ancient Heroes.
Near the end of the book, she stopped flipping. Scribbled across the top of the page in elaborating script, she saw the word ‘Angels.’ Directly below the title was an artist’s representation of three remarkably beautiful women, one with red hair, one with blue, and one with blond hair. Zelda stared at the blond.
There was a caption below. Zelda read it aloud. “With grace and charm, she alights on the island of Farore. The dream is a reality and she is the spirit guide. Take her courage lost soul, it is yours to have. Trust in her to carry you from innocence to knowledge to freedom. Have faith in the sleeper of the dust. Sing to Farore, pray for courage and she will appear. Beware your secrets, she will know them all. Take her hand to salvation.”
Carefully, Zelda closed the book. She licked her lips, looking up at the walls. The traces of purple had disappeared as the sun set, leaving the room sterile and cold once more. “It’s too easy,” she muttered to herself, replacing the book in the cabinet. “It’s not supposed to be this easy.”
Zelda shut the cabinet and stood up, walking over to the bed where the dress was laid out. She picked it up, unsure of whether to caress it or rip it to shreds. *Link,* she whispered with her mind, *Link, find me please.* She doubted he could hear her, still, he was the only one.
Taking the dress in both hands, Zelda shut the curtains to the balcony. She walked behind a screen and began to remove her Koholint clothing, taking great care not to upset her scar from the Catfish’s Maw. As she untied the strings of her bustier, those words kept running through her mind. It was too easy.
Richard leaned his forehead against the door, clutching to of the bars in his fists. Behind him, Tracy was sprawled out across one of the wooden benches, whimpering softly in her sleep. Matilda was still sitting on the ground, leaning her back on the wall of the cell. Her cap had fallen over her eyes and Richard imagined that she too was dreaming.
The demon girl down the row had long ago stopped crooning. Aside from the dripping of the leaky pipe, in fact, the entire dungeon was silent. For the first time in weeks, Richard felt completely alone. This fact didn’t please him one bit. The last thing he wanted, in fact, was to be alone in this mad house. He looked across the aisle at his navy cape, haphazardly tossed across a table with their other personal affects. So much for the illusion of majesty.
He turned around. So Matilda wasn’t asleep after all. “Yes?”
“Did you hear that?”
“That voice,” she said.
Matilda sat up, pulling her hat up on top of her head again. “The one that said, ‘Mountain…Something calls…from the mountains…’”
Richard cocked an eyebrow. “I haven’t heard anything,” he replied.
He folded his arms across his chest. “Have you been hearing voices?” he asked bitterly.
She looked at him for a moment, debating something in the back of her mind. “Would you believe me if I said yes?”
“At this point? We’re trapped in a mad house where a creature walks around, impersonating dead people while a…thing guards our cell.”
“Is that a yes?”
Richard sighed in exasperation. “That is very much a yes,” he explained condescendingly. “At this point I’d believe anything.”
“Even something crazy.”
“Could things really get more crazy?” he asked her, half laughing, and half grimacing.
“Probably not,” she reasoned with a small smile of her own. “I’m sorry I got you and Tracy into this.”
“I don’t see how it could possibly be your fault,” Richard admitted after a long pause. “After all, those creatures ambushed us. We didn’t have much say in what happened.”
“I couldn’t fight them all off.”
“Who would expect you to?” He walked over to a bench and sat down wearily. “You’re a rough girl Matilda, but you’re no knight.”
“Knights are too honorable.”
She sighed heavily. “Not always.”
“You know that I above all people relish the thought of placing blame,” Richard continued, “but seriously Matilda, don’t be ridiculous. This couldn’t possibly be your fault, even if you wanted it to. You’re not my guardian, not my bodyguard. What happened, happened.”
“I’m not your Guardian,” Matilda repeated.
“Precisely. Don’t apologize for nonsense, just for the sake of apology.”
With a swirl of light, an entity appeared in the middle of the cellblock, right in between their cell and the alcove. The individual was heavily armored, wearing a suit of a mysterious black metal, trimmed with gold accents. Two large metal spikes jutted out from his shoulder blades. Under the armor was a plain gray fabric that glistened in the torchlight. An enormous iron mask, with bright red horns, covered his face entirely and was ornamented by a metal snout or beak that jutted out around the nose. The only part of this person that was remotely natural in appearance was a long blond ponytail that fell down his back, well past the waist.
At once, the Wizzrobe guard can tearing down the aisle, blasting a ball of energy from his palms at the stranger. The noise from the blast awoke Tracy, who sat up, ramrod straight. “What is it? What’s happening?”
“I don’t know,” Richard told her, turning back to the door to look out from in between the bars.
The creature in armor held up his hand catching the energy as though it were merely a rubber ball. He pulled his arm back, throwing the blast at the Wizzrobe. Without enough time to form another spell, the Wizzrobe was hit, immediately evaporating. Down the block, the tiny demon girl shrieked, although no one could determine whether it was out of joy or terror.
Silently, the stranger turned, walking directly toward the cell of the three Humans. Richard quickly backed away from the door. He grabbed Tracy’s arm and pulled her to the back wall by Matilda. The mysterious man stopped in front of the bars. With a sweeping gesture of his hand, the cell suddenly unlocked, clicking loudly. The stranger flicked his wrist and the door flew open, crashing against the stone separation between cells.
“What do you want?” Richard demanded.
The stranger didn’t reply. Instead, he gracefully lifted his hand, pointing a finger at Matilda who was still on the ground. Matilda’s eyes widened and she stood up slowly, still pressing her back against the wall.
“Don’t move, Matilda,” Richard hissed.
“You want Matilda?” Tracy discerned. “Well, you can’t have her!”
Armored shoulders bounced up and down as the creature silently laughed at this comment. He walked into the cell, heading directly for Matilda. Suddenly, Tracy shot forward, wrapping her arms around one of the stranger’s legs. He stopped walking, jerking his leg roughly, trying to shake free of Tracy’s grasp.
“What are you doing, Crazy Tracy?” Richard shouted.
“Shut up and help me!” she instructed him.
With a violent swipe, the armored man struck Tracy across the face. The blow was so hard that she went flying clear across the cell, hitting the front bars and sliding down them to the ground. A large, bar shaped imprint formed across her face. Again, the stranger started to converge on Matilda. Muttering a string of curses, Richard stepped forward.
“Don’t do this, Richard,” Matilda pled.
The stranger swung a fist at Richard. He managed to duck under it, just barely. “It appears that I don’t have a choice,” he said. Unsure of what else to do, Richard dropped his jaw, howling very loudly. He charged forward, slamming his arms against the heavy breastplate of the armor. Surprisingly, he actually managed to knock the stranger back a few paces.
Angered, the creature grabbed the back of Richard’s red shirt, lifting him clean off the floor and dangling him. Richard sputtered and coughed, trying to swing free of this makeshift noose. His fists flew, striking out at the aggressor, but it seemed to be of no use.
“Let him go!” Matilda cried.
A metal head turned in her direction. Casually, the stranger tossed Richard off to one side. He hit the wall and fell down beside Tracy. Without looking back, the armored person advanced on Matilda. She stood perfectly still, not putting up a fight of any kind. Latching onto her tunic, the stranger pulled her forward. He put one hand on her collarbone and wrapped the other around her head. Just as he was about to jerk his arm, most probably snapping her neck, there was a loud pop from behind.
Face appeared in the dungeon, flanked by two Shyguys. This time, he came in the appearance of a fat courtier. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Brother.”
The stranger released Matilda, violently shoving her into the wall. He turned to face Hawk, but said nothing. Richard looked out from in between the bars, half dazed. “Oderic?” he coughed, right before blacking out completely.
Ignoring him, Face stepped over to the cell door. “So you came to destroy the evidence against you, is that what it is, Hawk?” There was no reply. “It’ll hardly do you any good now. I’ve already told Flame everything.” Still no answer. “Be a good little bird and fly.” At once, Hawk vanished.
Face stepped out of the cell, surveying the scene. There were charred footprints on the ground, the only real remains of the Wizzrobe guard. All the prisoners were awake now, pressing their faces up close to the bars to see what was happening. Curling his lip into an annoyed half scowl, Face looked down his nose at Richard and Tracy then glanced across the cell at Matilda.
“You,” he said, gesturing to one of the Shyguys. “Take her upstairs to my chamber.” Immediately, the demon obeyed, crossing the cell and twisting Matilda’s arms behind her back. He guided her out of the cell and for her part, Matilda put up no real fight. Once they were gone, Face’s scowl deepened. “You,” he called to the other Shyguy, “take those two.”
Richard and Tracy were half dragged, half pushed up the stairs and out of the dungeon. Left alone, Face reverted to his natural form. He strolled over to the alcove, examining what remained of the prisoners’ personal possessions. The cape caught his eye. Picking it up, he draped it over his own shoulders.
“Foolishness!” he chided himself after a moment, letting the cape fall to the ground. He clapped his bony, pale hands together and instantly, another Wizzrobe appeared in the middle of the aisle. “You’re the new guard now,” he told the demon. “Don’t let anyone else in or out of this dungeon.” The Wizzrobe nodded. Kicking the cape behind him, Face turned and marched up the stairs, slamming the door shut behind him.
Zelda stared in the mirror. Staring back out at her was a girl that she hardly recognized. This stranger was a princess. It was probably the dress that had affected the transformation; it was unlike anything on Koholint. Oddly enough, it was rather simple, just a slinky purple dress, falling off her shoulders, with a pale lavender fabric wrapped around her waist. She lifted the sheer veil with one hand, practicing a curtsy to herself in the mirror. The girl looked back at her curtsied, her eyes never wavering.
“Who are you?” Zelda asked playfully.
“Someone inside of you,” the mirror girl answered back silently, using only her deep blue eyes.
Sweeping her hair back over her bare shoulders, Zelda turned away from the full-length mirror and walked to the vanity. Amanda had meticulously arranged a full array of paints and dyes that Zelda was to use on her face. Zelda stared at the bottles and compacts blankly, having never used anything of the sort before. Also on the vanity was a box of gaudy jewelry, including a silver tiara and a Triforce pendant. Stubbornly, Zelda decided that she would refuse to remove her own teardrop necklace from Link. She touched it absently.
Someone knocked. “Come in,” Zelda called absently, picking up one of the bottles to examine.
The door opened and closed. Zelda looked up at the mirror. Over her own reflection’s shoulder, she saw Link standing by the door. She turned around. He had transformed it seemed. Discarding his grubby clothing, he wore a very simple maroon tunic with a black belt and white sleeves, over white leggings. On his feet was a pair of shiny leather boots, going up to his knees. The finishing touch was a heavy velvet cape draped over his shoulder, clasped with a gold pin.
Zelda put a hand over her mouth. “Don’t laugh!” Link demanded stubbornly, holding up his hand as if to stop her. “I know that I look…” he suddenly noticed Zelda’s own attire, “…beautiful.” Zelda raised an eyebrow. Quickly, Link shook his head, snapping out of his momentary daze. “I mean –”
“You think I’m beautiful,” Zelda teased him with a sly grin.
“I’m not sure,” Link pronounced. “Do one of those turny things and then I’ll tell you.”
Obediently, Zelda spun around, the sheer skirt flaring out slightly. “There. How’s that?”
“All right,” Link conceded, “you’re beautiful.”
“You clean up well yourself.”
Link looked down at his outfit, spreading his arms open. “I feel ridiculous,” he said. Abruptly, Link’s mood changed. His smile faded and he glanced over his shoulder at the door. “This whole thing is ridiculous,” he finally murmured.
Replacing the bottle of rogue on the vanity, Zelda crossed over to him. She walked directly past him and closed to the doors to the balcony, locking them with the iron key that was stuck in the lock. “What happened to you?” she asked, turning to address him.
“Gilda spent several hours talking about affairs of state in Hyrule. She didn’t even ask me where we had been or how I had found you.”
“Amanda did the same thing,” Zelda told him.
“And I’ll bet she went on and on about how she hopes that you’ll never leave Hyrule again?”
Zelda nodded. “Her unending refrain.”
“I got the same thing too.”
“It was unnerving.”
“I didn’t find it unnerving when I was getting it from the Queen.”
Link scowled, sitting down on the foot of Zelda’s bed. “Tress,” he answered dryly.
She sat down next to him. “Tress?”
“After I escaped from Gilda, I tried to find you, but in the middle of one of the hallways, I ran into Tress.”
“Or she ran directly into you?”
He chuckled briefly before turning serious again. “We talked for a little while. And then she started in with how she hoped I would never leave again.”
“That’s so unlike Tress.”
“I know. She was always the one so eager to find adventures outside of Hyrule. It didn’t make sense that she would be saying it.”
“I suppose,” Zelda said slowly, “the question then becomes…what happened?”
“We were in the dungeon,” Link started.
“Looking for Matilda, Richard, and Tracy.”
“We followed Phaedra.”
“She shoved us into a room.”
Zelda frowned. “A dark room. And she closed the door behind us.”
“There was an explosion of light.”
“A silent explosion,” Zelda corrected him.
“And then…” Link trailed off, frowning, his brow furrowed in deep concentration.
“And then we were suddenly in the field with the children.”
“It doesn’t make any sense.”
“So where are we really?”
Link shrugged. “An illusion of some kind?” he supposed.
“Created by who?”
“How would the Nightmare know exactly what Hyrule is like? You recognized the village, Link. Everything about this place is a perfect replica. You knew all the people, every face, every name. How is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Link sighed.
“And how could be both be hallucinating together? We have different brains.”
“Whatever is causing this illusion, it’s been specifically built for us,” Link reasoned. “It’s not just an ordinary dungeon trap.”
“How do we get out of it?”
“Maybe we don’t.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone we meet keeps telling us to stay stationary.”
“So we’re meant to just stay here and wait?”
Link nodded. “Perhaps.”
“Wait for what?” Zelda asked.
Link gestured spastically with his hands, but words seemed to elude him for a moment. “Wait for…something.”
“A Guardian?” she wondered.
“The first thing they did was separate us,” Zelda realized. “They’re trying to weaken our defenses.”
“Then we have to stay together.”
“To face whatever they intend to throw at us.” Zelda looked out the window. Night had fallen over Hyrule. A brilliant full moon shone down on the field, making it glow. Dozens of twinkling stars dotted the black velvet sky, winking down on the beautiful, scenic landscape. “What if they don’t mean to throw anything at us?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“What if…what if this is some sort of elaborate dungeon cell? What if we’re not meant to leave?”
“Then we’ll have to find a way to break down the door.” Link coughed. “Metaphorically speaking.”
He shrugged. “By playing out the fantasy to a logical conclusion?”
“That could take a whole lifetime.”
“I know.” He sighed, rising to walk to the window. “I wish Valerie were here right now,” he muttered, “We could use her guidance.”
Zelda closed her eyes. “With grace and charm, she alights on the island of Farore. The dream is a reality and she is the spirit guide. Take her courage lost soul, it is yours to have. Trust in her to carry you from innocence to knowledge to freedom. Have faith in the sleeper of the dust. Sing to Farore, pray for courage and she will appear. Beware your secrets, she will know them all. Take her hand to salvation.”
Link whirled around sharply, looking at her. “I know that,” he said. “It’s a song. I heard a sailor singing it right before I was shipwrecked.”
“It’s in the Book of Mudora,” Zelda explained. “In the section about the angels of the goddesses. Does it help any?”
“Grace,” Link mumbled, “charm, sing, take her hand…” He sighed. “Well, I think the message is clear.”
“We have to go to this ball.”
Zelda smiled slightly. “I guess that’s one conclusion you can draw from it.”
“We’ll try playing out the fantasy.” He extended a hand in her direction. Lifting the sheer skirt, Zelda approached him, slipping her free hand into his. Link leaned over, kissing her knuckles gently. Slowly, he straightened up, looking at her with adoration in his eyes. “I always went to these things alone back in Hyrule…the real Hyrule.”
“I’ve never been to one at all,” she reminded him.
Link placed his hand on the back of her head. He pulled her close, leaning in to kiss her. Touching his nose against hers, he placed his forehead on her hairline. “I know it’s not real,” he said.
“But we can pretend,” she finished for him. “If only for a little while.”
He pulled back, stepping a pace away from her. After her watching her for a moment longer, he turned to open the door. With grandeur, he jutting out his elbow, offering her his arm. Zelda stepped forward, winding her arm around his. Together, the two of them walked out of the room.
A blinding flash of light filled the darkness. As it died down, Valerie looked around in confusion. She didn’t know where she was, but she was certain this was not her intended location. The room was dark almost pitch black. It felt somewhat damp, but warm. Valerie turned in a circle around herself, straining her eyes to determine where she was. Suddenly, a small beam of light flooded in.
“Forgive the abduction, Angel of Farore.” Valerie turned in the direction of the voice. Standing in a stone doorway was a solitary figure holding a burning torch. “It was necessary.”
Valerie scowled. “Catsy.” Indeed, in the doorway was the last of the Sirens, Catsy dressed in a white toga, held on by gold pins. “You brought me here?” she asked incredulously.
“How? I’m a goddess. I pulled you out of thin air as you were on your way back from the Sacred Realm.”
“You know of the Sacred Realm?”
“I assure you, I know everything about Hylian mysticism.”
“Everything.” Valerie put her hands on her hips.
“I’ve had centuries to learn.”
“Why have you brought me here?”
“I like your conversation.” Valerie gave Catsy a murderous look. Catsy frowned, leaning against the doorframe. “That was a bit too much like Richard, wasn’t it?” she asked thoughtfully.
“I don’t want your apology.”
“Why do you hate me so, Valerie?”
“You’re a false god,” Valerie answered. “Pale in comparison to the true goddesses of the pantheon.”
“Does the word pantheon not imply that there can be more than one, or in your case three?”
“Don’t compare yourself to the goddesses of Hyrule.”
“I never have,” Catsy replied. “And I never will.”
Valerie sighed. “Why am I here?”
“Follow me,” Catsy said. “There’s something I want to show you.” She turned around, slinking around the doorway. Valerie followed after her into another chamber. It was small and square shaped. There were two lamps in the middle of the room. Catsy lit them both, filling the chamber with light. Before Valerie were a few steps leading up to a large platform. There was nothing on it, but on the back wall, images were engraved into the stone.
“What is that?” Valerie asked, looking at the marks.
“The reality of Koholint,” Catsy told her. “Go up and see for yourself.” She jerked her head in the direction of the etching.
Holding a handful of her dress in one hand, Valerie ascended the steps, looking at the image on the wall. On the top, toward the left edge of the engraving was an owl, flanked by two triangle shapes. There was no surprise in this. Valerie immediately recognized Ezri and the Triforce shapes. Below the owl, however, there was an unfamiliar image, a large humpback whale with textures and patterns across its entire body.
Her eyes drifted up. Above the whale was a legend. For a moment, the text was unfamiliar to her, but Valerie tapped into her own powers and it became clear. And then more confused again. “To the finder…” she read aloud, “the isle of Koholint is but an illusion...human, monster, sea, sky...a scene on the lid of a sleeper's eye...awake the dreamer, and Koholint will vanish much like a bubble on a needle...castaway you should know the truth!”
“But an illusion,” Catsy repeated.
Valerie looked up at her with alarm. “That’s Tarin’s lullaby!” she exclaimed in shock. “I thought he just made it up.”
“He thinks he just made it up too,” Catsy said with a shrug.
“I don’t understand.”
“A little divine inspiration.” Catsy set her torch into a metal ring on the wall and walked up the steps to stand beside Valerie. “After Farore established her test and the Nightmares came to power, I met secretly with Farore. I asked her what would become of the island when the test was over and she told me. As you can well imagine, I was not pleased with the thought of Koholint being destroyed. I put life on the island, in thinking it would make her change her mind, but she wouldn’t. So I asked for permission to find a way of destroying Koholint without destroying Koholint.”
“And you found a way?”
Catsy nodded. “It’s all very metaphorical and not worth discussing at this time. At any rate, I was worried that something might happen to me, something that would prevent me from influencing events so I created the Dream Shrine and this shrine we’re in now.”
“You created the engraving?”
“Yes. This one and the one in the Dream Shrine.”
“The image of the Nightmares ruling over Koholint and the Windfish ruling over the Nightmares,” Valerie recalled.
“There was another part of the image, Farore ruling over the Windfish,” Catsy explained. “My brother filed away the missing piece to prevent the Hylians from seeing it. He doesn’t know about this shrine yet.”
Valerie looked at her. “Why are you telling me this?”
“To extend an olive branch.”
“You don’t like me, I understand that, but our agendas don’t conflict with each other.”
“I don’t see how. You want to interfere with the test.”
“I want to alter it, but not for your Hylian pupils. I would never think to disrupt something so important to the future and mysticism of Hyrule.”
“Tell me your exact purpose here, Catsy.”
“My purpose is to save the people of Koholint.” Catsy tossed her hair back over one shoulder. “Nothing plainer. I created them and they are my responsibility, one I do not take lightly. Okay? Listen up! If the Windfish wakes up, everything on this island will be gone forever! And I do mean…everything.”
“How does my cooperation figure into this?”
Catsy clasped her hands behind her back, looking at the image on the wall. “I need your help,” she said.
“I’m blind, Valerie. I’ve lost my eyes and ears in the day.”
“What do you mean?”
“Martha’s dead.” A heavy silence hung in the air before Catsy spoke again. “I have to know what the Hylians are up to when I can’t watch them myself. I need to know that they’re taking the right path.”
“Who are you to decide the right path?” Valerie asked bitterly.
“I retract the statement,” Catsy said quickly. “I need to know that they’re taking the path that will keep my people alive and in existence.” She eyed Valerie from beneath her heavy eyelashes. “The path I’ve already set them on.”
“How? What have you done? How have you meddled?”
Catsy sighed heavily, looking up at the engraving. “The Dream Shrine,” she said finally.
Valerie’s eyes widened to the size of saucers. “The Ocarina of Time? You were responsible for that?”
The Siren nodded. “I read every passage of every Hylian holy book from every age of Hyrule. It’s the only way, the only loophole.”
“Do you really think there’s a chance it could work?”
“I have to believe.”
Valerie shook her head. “Unbelievable!” she exclaimed.
Catsy turned on her. “Is it really? The Hylians are your responsibility, you’d do anything to protect them and make sure they meet with the destiny that best suits your designs. Well the Humans are mine.” Catsy put a perfectly manicured hand to her chest. “We’re the same in that respect, Angel.”
“As Farore gave you permission to meddle, I must accept these actions. But speaking for myself, I do not approve.”
“I’m not asking you to approve.”
“Then what are you asking for?”
“Work with me, Valerie. Not against me. Together we can achieve both of our ends.”
A trumpet blasted as the doors to the throne room opened. In the last few hours, the glorious room had undergone an extreme transformation. The red carpet, silk hangings, and even the great thrones had been removed. Where the carpet had once been, an empty floor space of marble remained, lined on either side by Hylian knights, including Jono, Dirce, and Arion. Behind the two lines of knights were dozens upon dozens of people, courtiers most of them, although some, in less elaborate dress, were obviously villagers who had managed to squeeze into the packed assembly.
As Link and Zelda entered, arm in arm, a great cry arose from the crowd on either side of the aisle. The guards held their ground, but they too were smiling and cheering for the newly returned Hero and princess. Zelda slowly shrank into Link’s side, unable to deal with all the attention that was suddenly on her. Gently, he squeezed her hand, giving her a tiny smile. With resolve, the two of them turned to look up at the dais directly ahead of them. Together, they walked toward it.
Standing at the front of the dais was Queen Gilda with Amanda beside her. The princess held a plush, purple pillow with two golden crests on it, the symbols of the Hylian royal family. Behind them was a line of pretty young ladies. Link immediately recognized them as the Crystal Maidens he had rescued during his battle with Ganon. One of the girls, Charisma, if Link’s memory served, gave him a sly wink. Behind the girls were the old wise men, among them old Higgins and Sahasrahla.
At the side of Higgins was Tress. Much to Link’s amusement, she had discarded her trademark tunic in favor of what appeared to be a dress. He laughed aloud, causing Zelda to look at him. “What?” she asked. Link raised his hand, pointing up to her. “That girl winking at you?”
“No,” Link said quickly. “Tress.”
“Who’s that girl winking at you?”
By this time, they had arrived in front of the steps. They unlinked their arms, Zelda curtsying, Link bowing. The crowd was still roaring. Queen Gilda lifted her hands up in the air and slowly the noise dissipated until at last it was silent. Smiling, she lowered her arms, looking down at Link and Zelda. “Today will forever be remembered in Hylian history,” she said, her voice wavering slightly. “The Hero of Time has always been known to work miracles. I say that this is the finest the lineage has ever produced. Today, our Hero of Time had brought home Princess Zelda.”
The crowd went wild again, screaming, clapping, even crying. The knights standing on either side of the aisle banged their lances against the ground, adding to the ruckus. Gilda waited patiently until the din died down once more. “Link,” she looked at Link, then swept her gaze to her daughter, “Zelda, tonight is for you both. Welcome home.” She gestured to Amanda, who stepped forward.
“I speak on behalf of both Hyrule and Catalan,” Amanda said, “when I welcome you. May you never be torn from us again.” She held the pillow forward to her mother. Gilda took one of the pins and stepped down a step from the dais.
“For the Hero of Time, who has exceeded expectations,” the queen said, pinning the first crest onto Link’s shoulder. She took the other pin from Amanda and turned to face Zelda. “For my daughter, who came home against insurmountable odds.” She pinned the second crest onto Zelda’s shoulder.
“People of Hyrule,” Amanda said formally, handing the empty pillow off to Tress. “I give you –”
A loud crash from just outside of the throne room cut Amanda off. All the knights turned their helmets sharply in the direction of the noise. Beyond the large doors of the throne room, currently shut, they heard the shuffling of feet and the clanking of armor.
“What’s happening?” Gilda asked, stepping back onto the dais.
The doors to the throne room burst open with a loud crash. Running in, while being pursued by several angry knights, was a seven foot tall creature in green robes, with a bushy red mane. “Carry?” Link cried incredulously.
One of the knights took a swing at Carry’s back. Jutting his staff out, Carry tripped the hapless Hylian who flipped over onto his back. “Link!” Carry bellowed, ducking as another one of the knights threw a swipe at him.
Link dashed forward, grabbing Dirce’s lance, though she objected with an indignant harrumph. He broke into the middle of the fight, blocking a blow that was aimed for Carry’s ribs. Zelda picked up her skirt and rushed over to them. “What’s going on?” Gilda demanded. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“Back off!” Link barked to the knights who were still converging. He looked over at Jono, “tell them to back off.”
“Back down everyone,” Jono commanded. All the knights lowered their weapons, though they continued to stare with hatred at Carry.
“Carry?” Zelda asked gently, approaching him.
“Zelda? You know this…thing?” Amanda questioned, raising an eyebrow in disbelief.
Ignoring her, Zelda, touched Carry’s arm. “Carry? How did you get here?” she persisted.
“I followed you,” Carry said. He caught sight of Zelda’s dress and shut his mouth for a moment. “You know, you really do look like a princess,” he said to her.
“She is a princess,” Gilda said angrily. “I demand to know what’s going on in here.”
Link ignored the queen’s demands. “Carry, are you really here? What do you mean by ‘followed’?”
“I saw Phaedra leading you to the Face Shrine,” Carry explained. “I tried to warn you.”
“You knew that little weasel?” Zelda wondered aloud.
Carry nodded his giant head. “I met her a long time ago,” he continued, “the first time I came to the Face Shrine.”
“She betrayed us,” Link said.
“She always does,” Carry told him. “I knew there was danger so I followed you following her, but I didn’t catch up in time.”
“Carry,” Zelda started slowly, “where are we?”
“It’s not where you think,” Carry answered.
At the exact same moment, from the dais, Amanda replied, “Hyrule.”
“Not Hyrule!” Carry insisted.
“Are you calling the crown princess a liar?” Dirce scoffed at him.
“Where are we?” Link persisted, looking directly at Carry.
“The Face Shrine,” he said. “It’s a very special room. They call it the Room of Facades.”
“The Room of Facades,” Zelda repeated.
“None of this is real,” Carry explained. “Everything you’re seeing now is a fake, an illusion.”
“A façade,” Link supplied.
“How could the Nightmare create something so real?” Link asked.
“He didn’t create it, it was taken from your mind.”
“The bright flash of light,” Zelda realized. “It was a charm to extract the information from Link.”
Link nodded. “To create a perfect replica of Hyrule from my memories.” He looked at Carry. “And you just walked into the room?”
“Sort of,” Carry shrugged.
“Carry, how do we end this fantasy?”
“The same way you started it,” Carry said. “Just use your memory.”
“Try to conjure up an image of the Face Shrine, the dark room where this whole thing began?”
“Yes. The door is already open, you just need to find the room again so you can walk out of it.”
“It really is all in our heads,” Link muttered with amazement. He looked at Zelda. “We have to break out.”
Zelda looked at him with an unreadable expression. “One moment Link, please? Just one?” She turned away from them and looked back at Amanda and Gilda on the edge of the dais.
“Zelda?” Gilda demanded. “Zelda what’s the meaning of all of this? What’s going on?”
She walked over to them, feeling the eyes of the entire room on her as she moved. “I’m sorry,” she whispered softly.
“What do you mean, Zelda?” Amanda questioned.
“I’m sorry this isn’t real.”
“What are you talking about?”
Zelda took one of Gilda’s hands and one of Amanda’s hands. “I promise I’ll see you again,” she swore.
“Zelda,” Link called her gently.
She looked over her shoulder but then turned back to Gilda and Amanda once more. “Goodbye,” she whispered.
Suddenly, the images in front of her seemed to waver. The entire room, aside from Link, Carry, and Zelda bubbled and shifted, slowly turning transparent, then vanishing completely. The three of them were left in an empty room with moss covering the floor. There was an open door on one wall and a large onyx globe resting against the opposite wall.
Link, back in his grubby old tunic again, walked over to the globe. “Is this what caused that mess?” he asked Carry, pointing the tip of the Master Sword to it.
“Yes,” Carry replied with a nod.
Link lifted the sword above his head, holding the hilt in both hands. With a grunt, he slammed it down, smashing the globe into a thousand pieces that went flying out in all directions. “Never again,” he grumbled angrily.
Carry looked over at Zelda. “Are you okay?”
She nodded firmly. “Yes,” she told them, drawing an arrow from the quiver that had somehow reappeared on her back, over her plain Koholint clothing. She strung the arrow into her bow and pulled the string taut, letting the arrow fly at the largest remaining piece of the globe. “Perfect,” she added as the arrow impacted with the stone, reducing it further.
“Let’s go,” Link said darkly. “We have friends to rescue and a Nightmare that has severely angered me.” The three of them nodded in consent. Together, they left the Room of Facades. Behind them a pair of big black eyes peered out from the floor itself, watching them depart.
Valerie was not one to have voices ringing in her head. In general, she was always of a very certain resolve. She never wavered, not when she was in a position to ensure that everything went right. Of course, she had always obediently followed Farore’s orders to the letter. Things were different this time around, different because Farore hadn’t really given her orders.
A generation ago, Valerie had been assigned to guide a Hylian demigod named Enjolras on a quest for the worldly entrance to the Sacred Realm. Before that, she had assisted a Hero of Lore claim her birthright. Still before that, she had done exactly what she was supposed to do now, pave the way for the Hero of Time and the Princess of Destiny to claim their lineage of the Triforce. But in all those times before, Farore had given her explicit instructions. She knew what she was supposed to do at every instant of the test, whether it lasted ten years or ten days.
Now, she was floundering. Her instructions from Farore had been so horribly simple: Help the Hylians complete the quest and realize their destiny. That was all. She was just plopped down in the Koholint population and expected to live out the ten years as an ordinary citizen. For the first time in her extremely long lifespan, Valerie the guide needed guidance.
As she wound her way through the ancient ruins, Catsy’s words came back to her. “Work with me, Valerie. Not against me. Together we can achieve both of our ends.” Desperately, Valerie prayed that Farore would tell her whether or not to cooperate with Catsy, but the goddess was silent. Valerie had never relied on her own intuition before, not since her mortal days before the Imprisoning War. A part of her screamed to reject Catsy’s offer, and yet Farore seemed to be approving of the false goddess’s measures. It was all terribly confusing.
As she passed the lake dividing the plain, she suddenly sensed Link and Zelda’s presence nearby. She glanced out at the artificial island in the middle of the water. There was something nasty in there the cold wind told her. Was that a dungeon? Certainly they wouldn’t attempt a dungeon without tell her, would they?
A mournful hoot sounded from above. Valerie looked up to see Ezri flying in a wide circle over the plain. He dipped down slightly with his right wing and began to descend. It wasn’t fair, Farore gave him so much more information than she gave Valerie. Gracefully, he fluttered down, landing on a gnarled old tree, the only one that grew in the barren wasteland they currently occupied.
Valerie walked over to the tree, picking her way around the rocks and remains of thousands of Armos statues. “Do you have instructions from Farore?” she asked softly as she approached. Ezri let out a soft hoot. Valerie sighed. “Talk to me,” she told him irritably. “Words are the universal language.”
“There are two shrines,” Ezri finally sang in his rich baritone, “one to the north, the other to the south.”
“To the north?” Valerie looked north and once again found herself facing the artificial island. It had to be a dungeon, she was sure of it.
“First head south,” Ezri continued, “where ancient ruins speak of the Windfish…You will learn much there…”
Valerie closed her eyes. “To the finder...the isle of Koholint is but an illusion...human, monster, sea, sky...a scene on the lid of a sleeper's eye...awake the dreamer, and Koholint will vanish much like a bubble on a needle...castaway you should know the truth.” She opened her eyes. “Tarin’s lullaby.”
Ezri let out another hoot, raising his brow slightly. “I see you have read the relief…”
“Yes I have.” She folded her arms across her chest. “Is Koholint really a dream? Farore never said anything like that to me.”
“While it does say the island is but a dream of the Windfish, no one is really sure…Just as you cannot know if a chest holds treasure until you open it, so you cannot tell if this is a dream until you awaken.”
“How do you know all this?”
“The only one who knows for sure is the Windfish…”
“That can’t be true,” Valerie exclaimed. “Farore is the one who established this test.” She scowled. “I thought the Windfish was just a ruse, an excuse to start the Hylians on their way. Is the Windfish real?”
The owl nodded his majestic head. “Trust your feelings…”
“So the Windfish is real?”
“Someday you will know for sure…”
“Why are you speaking to me in riddles?”
“Perhaps,” the owl replied, finally breaking out of his hypnotic verse, “for the same reason I speak to the Hylians in riddles.”
“You do that because it’s a part of their test,” Valerie answered.
“Yes,” Ezri said with a nod.
Valerie’s eyes drew inward, her mind racing. “So that means that…I’m being tested.”
She looked up at him. “Why?”
“Because it is Farore’s wish.”
“But what do I need to prove to her?”
“That I cannot say for certain. Perhaps that you have not lost your humanity after centuries of service.”
“Farore has already lectured me on that subject.”
“Then perhaps to teach you tolerance.”
“She’s expressed that desire to me already as well.”
Ezri sighed heavily. “Lecturing is not the same as teaching,” he said wisely. “You may be timeless, but you still have much to learn.”
“That is an unfair statement.”
He flapped his wings once. “Tell me, where have the Hero of Time and the Princess of Destiny spent the last few weeks?”
“In the Mabe Village,” Valerie replied with a confused expression etched on her face.
“And where have Matilda, Richard, and Tracy spent the last few weeks?” Ezri continued.
Valerie blinked. “I don’t know. In their respective homes I would imagine.”
“They’ve been locked in a dungeon since the night of the Catfish’s Maw,” Ezri told her.
“I didn’t know that.”
“You didn’t notice that three Humans who have played a fairly large role in your life on Koholint have been missing?” Valerie opened her mouth to respond, but Ezri cut her off. “You’re an elitist,” he said evenly. “You disregard anything that is disconnected, in your mind, from the Hylian pantheon.”
“You turned your back on a group of people who are in no doubt suffering, partly due to the actions of Link and Zelda.”
“Don’t blame Link and Zelda!”
“I don’t blame them,” Ezri responded. “I blame their actions. It is because of them the Nightmares are scared and it was out of fear that one Nightmare took action against three bystanders.”
Valerie hung her head, unable to find the words. “I…”
“Link and Zelda will rescue them. As mortals, they are less blind to these events than you are.”
“There are no words.”
“No, there are not. And that is why this test is now for you as well, Valerie. You must prove you haven’t surrendered your humanity after all these years.”
“How do I do that?”
“You must learn to compromise.”
“Catsy,” Valerie sighed.
“For one. You must also tolerate.”
“And you must accept.”
Valerie blinked. “Matilda?”
“She’s a part of this too.”
“Yes, a rival for the instruments. You know what Catsy said. She knocked Link out and stole the Surf Harp.”
“That was the act of a Nightmare, not a Human girl.”
“Compromise, tolerance, and acceptance…”
“That is your test.” Ezri let out another hoot. He sprang forward from the gnarled branch, lifting off into the air, his wings spread wide. Once, he flew in a circle over the plain then disappeared, flying up into the darkening sky. As he vanished, his final words echoed through the wasteland. “Ten summers near, the test will begin, evil will lose, good will win. Mortals unite, true love calls, one Nightmare betrays, the others will fall…”
Carry grabbed the enormous lock in the middle of the door. Gritting his teeth, he pushed up, causing the door to open. Link’s eyebrows shot up. “Wow,” he muttered, “you’re strong.”
With a grunt, Carry gave one final heave and the door flew open entirely. “Are you sure this is the way?” Zelda asked.
“No,” Carry replied. He hesitated to add that without his maps, he had absolutely no idea where the cellblock for this dungeon was.
“One way to find out,” Link said, passing through the doorway. The others followed behind him.
The room seemed like any other in the dungeon. It was square shaped, with some old clay pots in the corners. Around the perimeter, the moss covering the ground had been cleared, revealing some shiny red tiles. On the other side of the room, there were three doors. None of them had doorknobs or anything that could pass for keyholes. They were plain slabs of marble, flanked by several torches hanging from rings in the wall.
“Looks empty,” Zelda mumbled, pointing her arrow in all directions in search of a potential threat.
“Carry?” Link said, turning over his shoulder to look at him, “Do you have any idea where we are?”
“No,” Carry admitted.
Zelda scanned the ceiling. “It’s cold.”
“You’re feeling that too?” Link asked.
She nodded. “There’s definitely something evil close by.”
Carry looked back and forth between the two of them. “How do you know that?” he wondered aloud.
“Well,” Link explained, “When Hylians are near danger they sense it by –” Crash! A clay pot went flying through the air, smashing into Link’s temple and shattering on impact.
“Link!” Zelda cried, running over to him. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. It was just my head. Who threw that?” He turned around in a dizzy circle, trying to find the guilty party.
Sniffing the air like a dog, Carry walked out to the middle of the room. “It wasn’t –” A second pot came spiraling through the air, hitting Carry dead in the back. The pottery broke into a thousand pieces; though it seemed to have little effect on Carry himself.
“Come out and face us, coward!” Zelda shouted, pulling back on her bowstring.
“Zelda!” Link yelled, pointing over her shoulder. “Behind you!”
She whirled around. A pot was flying at her face. Without thinking, she released her arrow, sending it at the jug. The arrow smashed through the clay, breaking the projectile in half and sending the two pieces crashing harmlessly to the floor. “Impressive,” an unfamiliar voice rumbled from no perceivable direction.
“Who are you?” Link demanded.
“A thousand masquerades,” was the reply.
“Show your face.”
“Which one? I have thousands.”
“Any one,” he answered.
The ground in the middle of the room began to waver. Carry quickly backed off, rejoining the Hylians. As he did so, the moss in the center of the room shifted. Two enormous black circles appeared. Beneath them was a black line which moved as the creature spoke; a mouth. “Welcome,” the face said.
“That’s the Nightmare,” Carry told them. “They call him Face. He can look like anyone he wants to.”
“Anyone dead, at least,” Face replied.
“You’ll be dead soon,” Link threatened.
“You think so? Well that’s hardly desirable.”
“I wouldn’t mind it,” Zelda said quietly.
The large black eyes shifted to look at her. “Touchy are we? I suppose the Room of Facades can do that to a person.”
“Come out and face us like a Nightmare,” Link commanded him.
“I have no desire to fight you,” Face responded. “In fact, I want nothing to do with you, which is why we’re going to make a deal.”
“A deal? What kind of a deal?”
The face in the flood vanished. From it, a dark ether rose, forming a column in the middle of the room. This column seemed to solidify in the form of Face, dressed in his white robe. “You don’t kill me, and I’ll offer you a reward.”
“A reward? What kind of reward?”
“One of three,” Face said, gesturing grandly to the three doors behind him. As if on cue, the first door opened up, revealing a room beyond. A brilliant golden light emanated from a large pedestal, upon which Link imagined another instrument was displayed. “Behind door number one: The Coral Triangle.”
Zelda’s eyes flashed over in Link’s direction. *He’s just offering us his instrument? There’s got to be a catch.*
*Catsy just gave us her instrument,* Link reminded her.
*Catsy didn’t make us shiver.*
“Of course, while door number one might suit your long term agenda, perhaps you’d be more interested in door number two.” The second door opened. Tied back-to-back and completely unconscious were Richard and Tracy, both slumping over with their faces to the floor.
“They’re hurt,” Zelda said, surging forward.
Link caught her arm, pulling her back. “Don’t,” he whispered.
“Yes,” Face muttered, “I thought that might catch your interest. Then of course, there’s also door number three.” The final door opened. There was a large chain suspended from a rafter under the ceiling. Dangling on the end of the chain was Matilda, bound and gagged and very indignant at being strung up by her own hookshot.
“Matilda!” Carry cried.
“Make your choice,” Face barked. “You only get one.”
The three dungeon explorers looked at each other, all of them completely at a loss for words. Matilda watched them in fascination, unable to believe what she was seeing. Carry, Link, and Marin in a dungeon? That didn’t make any sense. “Hey dummy!” The Voice had returned, much to Matilda’s dismay. “Need a hint? My weak point is…Whoops! There I go, talking too much again…” Suddenly, Matilda realized something. Everyone else had heard it as well. Looking at the group on the floor, she saw them all turn their attention to the source of the sound, a figure standing in the corner.
“You mock me now, Brother Hawk,” Face said as Hawk stepped out of the shadows.
“Link? What’s going on?” Zelda asked in sotto.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
The two Nightmares approached each other, both swaggering. “You’re weak and pathetic,” Hawk said in his nasal, all too familiar voice. “You can’t even engage a group of three mortals in battle.”
“All I care about is my own survival,” Face said.
“You’re unworthy of your lineage,” Hawk barked.
Matilda’s chest filled with horror, as she was now face to face, for the first time, with the source of her every nightmare. She began to wriggle, trying to loosen the chains around her arms. As she kicked her legs about she hit something hard, so she looked over her shoulder. Carry had snuck up behind her. He put a finger to his lips, signaling silence then began to untie her.
“I’m not the traitor,” Face continued, evenly.
Hawk flipped up the grate of his helmet, covering his face. From what anyone could see, the face appeared perfectly Human. “You were just going to give them the Coral Triangle. Don’t be a hypocrite.”
“You’re the one controlling Catsy’s Guardian, sending her off to destroy the rest of us.”
Link and Zelda exchanged a look. Silently, Link began to slink around the periphery of the room, sliding through the first door into the instrument shrine. Oblivious to this, the Nightmares continued to bicker. “That was brilliant, wasn’t it?” Hawk gushed loudly.
“So you’re admitting to it now?” Face asked.
“I guess I am,” Hawk admitted. In the instrument shrine, Link stealthily grabbed the Coral Triangle, shoving it into his pocket. “After all,” Hawk went on, “I have no reason to keep it from you.”
“Why’s that?” Hawk held his hand out, a blast of energy forming above it. It hovered in the space between the brothers, illuminating their faces with an eerie light. Face laughed. “You’re not going to use that.”
“Is that so?”
“If you do, you know what will happen. You’ve heard the prophecy.”
Just as Carry managed to release Matilda, Hawk leaned forward, grabbing Face by the collar. He pulled him close, leering into his beady eyes. “Prophecies can be avoided,” he whispered fiercely. With that, he released the blast of energy, sending it straight into Face’s chest.
“No!” Carry shouted from across the room. Link came running out of the instrument shrine. Zelda snapped her head sharply in the direction of the Nightmares. Things seemed to move in slow motion. Face sank down to his haunches, Hawk roughly releasing him. Gray fog came pouring out of his robes, filling the room with smoke. Just as his beady eyes widened and it seemed that he was about to scream, his entire form exploded into a pillar of fog, which dissipated throughout the room.
An invisible shockwave emanated from the dead Nightmare’s body, taking the form of a brisk wind that hit everyone’s face. Hawk stumbled back, his hair blowing in the breeze. As the gale died, he turned, looking at Zelda. “Now,” he said. “As for you and your friends –”
A fist went flying through the air, hitting Hawk right in the face. “Remember me?” Matilda asked fiercely, pulling her fist back to strike again.
His eyes widened as realization struck him. Deftly, he ducked under her second blow. Backing up against the wall, he pointed at Zelda. “This isn’t over yet!” he shouted. All at once, he vanished from sight.
Link crossed the room, throwing a glance at Richard and Tracy, still unconscious despite the entire ordeal. He walked over to Zelda’s side but then turned to look first at Matilda and then at Carry. “What just happened here?”
“One Nightmare killed another,” Carry said in a voice that was so soft it was barely recognizable as his own.
“Where did you come from?” Matilda addressed Link and Zelda.
“It’s a long story,” Link replied. “We’ll explain it to you later. After we get those two out of here,” he added, jerking his head in the direction of the second door.
There was no telling what time of the night it was. For all Valerie knew, it could have been morning. Darkness enrobed the beach, a deep and rich smell of salt saturating the humid air. She walked along the shore, crossing back and forth over the line where the waves met the sand.
Something had happened earlier in the evening, something important, but Valerie couldn’t be sure of what it was. She felt a change in the air, a sudden rough breeze from the north followed by a disquieting calm. The wind had stopped completely, leaving a strange silence that made the waves sound louder, like lions roaring across a savannah landscape.
Valerie didn’t know what the strangeness was, nor did she imagine that Farore would tell her any time soon. Now that she knew she too was being tested, she felt secure in the knowledge that she would be without knowledge for the remainder of her tenure on Koholint. As unsettling as this notion was, Valerie felt oddly at ease. She couldn’t explain it. It felt as though her long dead heart had started to beat again for the first time in many generations.
“Look, it’s Valerie!” Abruptly, Valerie was snapped out of her reverie. She looked up. A few paces away, where the rock cliffs ended and the beach began she saw Link and Zelda scrambling down. Following them as Carry, holding Matilda in his arms. Matilda looked ghostly pale and malnourished, but alert nevertheless, taking in the scene with her wild hazel eyes.
“You rescued her,” Valerie said, rushing to meet them halfway.
“And Richard and Matilda,” Zelda confirmed.
“And we picked up a little souvenir on the way,” Link added, fishing the Coral Triangle out of his pocket.
“Well done,” Valerie said approvingly. “You’ve got six of them now.”
“Excuse me? Could someone explain all of this to me?” Matilda asked, looking back and forth between the group members.
“Set her down, Carry,” Valerie instructed, taking a bottle of healing lotion out of her apron. Carry obediently put Matilda down on the soft sand and Valerie knelt beside her, immediately going to work.
“I don’t understand,” Matilda continued, “You have six instruments? You’re all working together?”
“Something like that,” Link said. “Though that’s not why we went to the Face Shrine.”
“Why did you go to the Face Shrine?”
“To rescue you, silly,” Zelda teased.
“We promised Catsy,” Link told her.
Matilda blinked. She shifted her eyes away from them. “So you know about my little secret…”
“We know,” Link nodded.
“And we don’t care,” Zelda chimed in.
“Everyone’s got secrets.”
“And no one person can defeat their demons.”
“That blasted Nightmare, Hawk. He’s the one that’s been controlling me,” Matilda whispered, more to herself than to the others.
“We’ll get him for it,” Link promised. “We’ll make him pay through the nose.”
“Not without me, you won’t,” Matilda snapped.
Valerie sat back on her heels, finished with her job. “Of course not. You’re part of the team now.” Both Link and Zelda looked over at her in surprise. Even Carry, who had been unusually silent up until this point, seemed startled by Valerie’s sudden, uncharacteristic proclamation. Ignoring their stares, Valerie nodded to Zelda. She looked back in surprise, touching a hand to the side of her hair. “Go on,” Valerie urged her gently.
“Matilda, since we know your secret, it’s only fair that we let you in on ours,” Zelda said carefully. Gently, she brushed her hair back from her right ear. Instantly, a sparkle of blue ether jumped from her eyes to Matilda’s forehead, physically knocking Matilda back slightly.
“Matilda,” Link said grandly, “I present to you Princess Zelda Harkin.”
Eyes racing back and forth between them, Matilda paused to catch her breath. “This is going to require a lot of explanation,” she said finally.
“We’ll explain everything,” Zelda promised. Indeed, they did. The night wore on into day, the five of them sitting in a circle on the beach, talking through the events that had taken place on Koholint. As the sun rose and a new day began, their fates became intertwined.
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