Adrenaline drowned my muscles, forcing them to press on despite the searing pain that seemed to be tearing my legs in half. My lungs heaved as they took in the precious air, trying to encourage my limbs to make it to the Temple in time. It had been some time since I had been forced to run like this, since the jaws of Death were encroaching upon my person. The Shadows had protected me, keeping me within Their secret graces, hiding me within Their blessings, but alas a time must always come when the Shadows must be cast aside, revealing oneself to the Daylight, he who continually casts his rays upon this cursed land, showing me the memory of the destruction that had happened so long ago.
For seven years I have roamed this land, all the while knowing full well the Curse that laid over it. Ruin had befallen the virginal Ivory that stood watch over the land; now the purity had been raped and seduced into Midnight. The forces that stood at silent attention had been twisted, disfigured, and tarnished; the skin that used to hold their pieces in place were now wrinkled and deformed, and though Life had abandoned their beings, Death refused to pay them visit. The missionaries of Peace had rotted into immoral demons and monsters, their thoughts limited to mindless rage and primal instinct. Darkness had seated Himself upon the throne of Hyrule, and the Lord of Hyrule consumed everything in its ebb. Even the powers of the Shadow were rendered of ill utility, and as such, all Hope had nigh evaporated.
All Hope, that is, save for one frail verdant beacon of Light, and the Weight of the enemy was soon to be shifted accordingly.
Only the azure Twilight could undo such action; only the azure Twilight could unsettle that Weight and prevent that impending doom, or so the goddesses had declared. That secret was the motivation of the Shadow.
As I rose above the crest of the next hill, I could finally see it, the source of the Taint. My eyes beheld once again the crimson glow plastering itself across the lower ranks of the clouds, clouds that hung limply in the sky as if they too felt the overbearing oppression that had been forced onto all who paid Life homage. Arrogance bled thickly from its stone walls, walls now abandoned with disregard, walls now blackened with malice and vice, walls with no other choice but to encircle the pinnacle where the Lord resided. His Death had overthrown Benevolence with such power, power so seething and raw, power that resembled the smell of the leftover meat on a carcass already picked clean by the carrion. It was enough to melt the will of the most stout-hearted man, enough to terrify the most keen of minds. Where I was going, few dared to go; where I was going, even I wished to be going anywhere else within Hyrule’s domain. But today was the day declared by Destiny to anoint He, Chosen amongst the goddess three, who would sacrifice all—his past, his present, his future—for the land I briefly remembered as a child.
Hyrule, the City of the Goddesses within the Kingdom of Blessing. Not this abomination.
I continued running, running to fulfil the will of the goddesses, running... for Hyrule.
While Memory busied my thoughts, stifling for only a moment any regard for the destined mission in which I was volunteered to participate, my legs had already carried me to the makeshift bridge that had been destroyed by Death. Memory decided then to show me another image from my childhood, an image from perhaps the darkest moment in all my years.
I saw The hour when Death almost claimed me.
I can still feel the haunting sting of the icy blade of Death’s scythe against my neck, threatening dangerously to trim away my existence from the Web of Life, trying to force a Fate other than the divine will of the goddesses upon me. Even though the very memory and vision of the blade of Midnight is but an illusory notion, a precept only of the olden faerie tales and myths, the stream of scarlet that had escaped from the imagined insult to my neck still had felt so real, and to this day still feels as real as it had back then. I could swear by it. Yet I know clearly that Illusion has coaxed Memory with Her fair gazes, I still could swear by it.
Purity had carried me out from these very walls that day, and along with me rode what had been then the last protection afforded to me, given to me by the precious loyalty of my dear friend and mother, yet I know inside that somehow all was different then. Things then were not the same as things now. For one, I was not myself then; when I gaze upon that instant of time, I cannot help but feel as if my mind had followed alongside the body of another, as if my eyes were not mine own but indeed the eyes of someone whom I know not. The memory is there, however, and its sheer intimacy and silken sensuality aligns itself so perfectly with my perspective that I know it to be in full accordance with the fabric of History, its threads intricately and delicately woven into the quilt which warms my soul as I meditate and commune with the goddesses, yet I cannot recall it being my memory.
As we rode upon our precious Pearl across the wooden causeway, I knew that Death upon his own Onyx chased with insatiable hunger. Though he had stopped to feed upon my liege and king, devouring him of all life and spirit, still the Lord’s desire had not been quenched nor yet could it until my own personage frailly trembled under the control of his grasp just before I was to waste away into decomposition. Our steeds were Lightning trailed by the aftershock of Thunder, sweeping across the expanse in the blink of an eye. Through the gate my protector and I fled, abandoning the city of old, the memory of the past, and in so doing we gave our birth home to Death, praying that it might in sacrifice be the lamb to spare Hope’s virtue. Yes, Hyrule would be conquered; Life would turn to Death. But it was not Hyrule that allowed Hope survival, for the goddesses placed not their Hope in another vessel; Hope had been placed within Him. I could see him through fearful eyes as we rode. Before, Innocence, such a dear friend and confidante, had convinced me that, when I first met the verdant boy within the castle, his short sword would reveal the pathway to victory, but, as I rode that day upon Purity’s steed, it had looked no bigger than the dagger of a common thief, a tool ineffectual and incapable. Somehow, unbeknownst to me, his life was spared, perhaps saved by the goddesses so that his Destiny as the Hero might be fulfilled. Seven years to the day has it been since he left this land; seven years Death has purchased from Time to entrench and seal Himself with Power. But today is the day when the Light shall spring forth anew, when the Phœnix will once again be born anew.
I come to meet Him once more.
I long to behold the Hero as he basks in the light of Glory. I long to have him at my side. I long to gaze into his sapphire eyes.
... What thoughts are these that have entered my mind suddenly? Certainly these cannot be my own, but from whence do they come? There’s an aura of foreignness to them, I can sense, an aroma to them both strange and different from that which my thoughts typically exude. I paused for a moment as I stepped into Shadow, embracing my ancestral spirit once more. I placed my hands over my eyes, rubbing them gently, as if these thoughts were merely a matter of me not seeing straight, as if such a silly ritual would help me to shrug off the inane thoughts that had crept into my mind. Perhaps Coincidence or Folly had been following me on my journey. Perhaps Lady Irony stalks me, I unable to see Her. No. Whichever Muses lurked beyond my vision were unimportant, for Destiny awaited me, and Destiny would shield me from their seduction.
Having taken a series of side streets and back alleys through the empty town, already I could see the Temple of Time standing tall in its courtyard. Having come so far from my niche in the south, I would have thought the last steps would have been the easiest to make, so much of my journey already over and forgotten, but somehow, as I basked within the familiarity of the temple gardens, a deepening reservation swelled in my throat. Yet again, my feet stopped moving, them relishing in the second brief holiday afforded to them. This afforded Reason, Heir of my mind, the gift of Time as it wrestled with some unknown force, attempting to find action against the sudden surge of powerful expression. My hesitation, sentiment so blatantly unwise so deep within the enemy’s border, defied Reason’s desire, and in retaliation Reason tried to make sense of Emotion, attempting to sample its flavour so as to identify and destroy it. Fear? Apprehension? Worry? Close to the mark they seemed, but each of them when pressured simply cracked under the insistence of the critical Eye; they could not be moulded into the feeling proper. Anxiety, perhaps? A thrill shivered through my spine with the very mention of it, and in shame Reason spat at the word as if to bury the very thought before it could enact a mutiny. Anxiety for what, though? To Reason, Emotion failed to bend.
The audacity of Emotion to spurn my quest for the truth did nothing but embolden me, daring me to defy whatever anxiety—or indeed whatever sentiment into which Emotion had settled—lay within me. I tightened my face for a moment to restore focus before relaxing and seeking composure, resuming the role of the Sheikah warrior seeking out the man who would be Hero. Fired eyes dared another glimpse of the temple; no Emotion was displayed. Reason, once again restored to the monarchy of the mind, could see the Temple of Time, the source of Hope, the destination of Destiny.
I moved, my heels resuming their incessant plea to make pause. Through the doors of the Temple I crept in Silence, giving a humble moment in which to pay my homage to the goddesses triune who had protected me all these years, keeping me safe within the Shadow, preventing the glow of revealing Light from touching me. My prayers and spare rupees paid, I walked to the great Door, its gates still cast aside and spread open, baring all like some cheap whore. Beyond the entrance lay the Sacred Realm, the Land of Gold. So many times I had stood watch here, gazing upon this marble cathedral, peering through the pillaged doorway into the depth of the defiled room beyond where the sacred alter stood. There was where the golden Virginity had been taken, but, more importantly, where the Hero slept against Hope’s breast. Never have I dared enter it all these years; I felt that my own feet had been unworthy to be allowed to feel the lingering Magics the goddesses had left behind or that my person should not be a basin plunged into the unforgivable blemish Death had cast onto it.
This time was different. Destiny herself made me worthy. The Hero would restore its Maidenhead.
I walked forth in stealth, making not a sound. My body fell into the Web of magic, and it gently pricked and prodded the surface of my skin, feeling as if it was nothing more than some Dancer exotic caressing flesh with satin. The dance soon dampened, the Magic finding me worthy of entry, and so I pushed through its barrier, each step seeming to place the alter further and further from Imagination despite that natural resultant paradox. Lashes overtook my wine-coloured eyes, believing that perhaps such a naïve trick might ward away Illusion’s power. Feet continued, forced deeper and deeper into the place holy and unholy. Before too long, I knew I had come to the tail of the altar, and so my eyes opened to murder Disbelief.
There He was. The Hero’s return to Hyrule was here.
“I’ve been waiting for you, Hero of Time.”
The voice must have surprised the man, for he bared his white blade with open threat as he turned about his pivot, his eyes not knowing what was to be seen. Realisation struck him and caught him unawares; still seeming as confused and frightened as a frail child, his sword-arm fell limp, the tip of the Blade of Evil’s Bane falling to the ground, its metallic voice breaking Silence.
“Who are you?” came the reply. Though his voice had grown deeper than Memory recalled, there was still a harmony of juvenile emotion escaping through his lips.
Reason dictated his question unimportant for the moment; casting it aside, I chose instead another question to answer, one that I knew would be upon his mind as well. “‘When evil rules all, an awakening voice from the Sacred Realm will call those destined to be Sages, who dwell in the five temples. / One in a deep forest... / One on a high mountain... / One under a vast lake... / One within the house of the dead... / One inside a goddess of the sand... / Together with the Hero of Time, the awakened ones will bind the evil and return the light of peace to the world.’ This is the legend of the temples passed down by my people, the Sheikah.”
Though such an answer was plainly more important than the name by which I called myself, I could not help but sympathise for the Hero who stood dumbly before me. Destiny had robbed him of his childhood, poor Link. It was like his parents had recently perished with him desperately unprepared to face the cruelty that the world would offer in place of their tenderness. He nodded briefly, though I could see his unease at the situation. He was to be Hero; Destiny had already told him as much. Yet he and I both knew there were leagues of distance that remained to be travelled in order to achieve those ends.
Swallowing the information within him, his innocent sapphire eyes then peered into mine, and whether it was Magic or Muse that caused it, the gaze we gave one another was unbreakable. Try as I might, I was cast into stone, prevented from moving, as if some curse had been impressed upon me, yet curse it was not, for what a wonder it felt! Within his gaze, I felt at once at home, as if I had been reunited by friend or lover with whom I had not shared a moment with in years. I felt a warmth surround me, a certain heat within my heart budding in Life. I could have melted in that gaze, so entranced I was by it.
Whether or not it was his first time asking the question or the second, I knew not, but when I did hear it, I nearly lost myself once again. “Who are you?”
How I wished to speak the unspeakable at that moment. Captured within his trance, hypnotised by his words, I felt Reason slowly losing his grasp over my slippery thoughts as Revolution sought to overturn the legacy that I had built over the past seven years. With that one look, no longer was I Sheikah but instead Hylian and Princess masquerading as if I were attending some noble ball. Experience slipped through my fingertips, and at once I was inaptly conditioned to be a warrior upon the field of battle. My femininity overtook my limbs, at once dispelling the foreign presence from my mind. All this time, I had been here, slumbering within the body of another, merely residing within that of my alter ego for the past seven years in preparation for this day, in preparation for the return of the Hero to the land of Hyrule so that Hope might be reborn with his Blade of Evil’s Bane!
My lip quivered as I looked at him, my body still transfixed in stone. The words I wished to cry out were clear. The words I wanted to say were desperately wishing to be spoken. I am Zelda! I am Princess Zelda of Hyrule! Yet despite it all, despite deep desire and wilful passion, despite fervent hunger and undying thirst, I could not speak for my Power was merely Illusion, my Wisdom binding me to the will of the goddesses, the will that dictated that my Secret of the Shadow remain as such. I was still ruled by Sheik despite my newfound freedom. How I wished to shed a tear to defy the unfair advantage Sheik held over me! Frantically, I searched Link’s eyes once again. Link, can you not see past my false eyes, my false face? Link, can you see who I am? Link, please, look past the flesh of this form and find my soul, my spirit deep inside! I need you to see that! I need you to find that! Link, please, call me by my true name! Call me Zelda!
Why, Nayru? Why must you be so cruel to deny me my only joy?
Silence. My cries of anguish were instantly no more. The fight between Emotion and Reason had been resolved, and my Emotion failed to achieve the blessed Revolution for which it had so nobly and ardently fought. No longer was I Zelda; no longer was there even memory of the princess fair. I was Sheik, I will be Sheik, and...
“I am Sheik,” I answered evenly, “Survivor of the Sheikahs. And as I see you standing there holding the mythical Master Sword, you really do look like the legendary Hero of Time.” My lips ended in a smirk, somehow amused by the Irony the goddesses had instilled into the event. Here was a boy, only with ten years’ experience in his eyes despite clearly appearing to have seventeen, ill prepared and ill adjusted, the most unlikely candidate for the Hero of Time. Yet as I watched his gaze, studied it with Wisdom, I could see that Determination was strong within him, and above all Courage clinging to him more powerfully that I have ever seen or known; Reason found him worthy.
Having learned my name, Link sighed slightly as slowly the Weight of the enemy came upon his shoulders, as if he were preparing to uphold it from crushing him. “Well met, then, Sheik. If indeed I am the Hero, what then must I do?”
My lips cast away the idle humour that they had once worn and, in turn, clad themselves in sober vestments, tragically serious in their demeanour. I could see it—the Weight was upon him; clearly, its invisibility did not render it from the Eye. The boy—no, the Hero—was not yet strong enough to bear its full oppression. He was not yet ready to tackle all adversity. Then again, rare few were. However, unlike others, he had no escape from this Weight, and truly as such, I pitied Link for his predicament despite knowing that he would have asked me to throw such sentiments to another less fortunate than himself. Memory quickly recalled the mission given unto me by Destiny herself, and Her riddle unravelled within my fingertips, my course of action now clear. If victory is to be, the Weight must be lifted from the Hero until such time as he is ready. Irony, you sneak; the smell reeks of you. Nevertheless, so it was. I needed Link for Hyrule, that much had been clear for years, but only now did I realise that Link would need me just as dearly. He would need me for strength and support, for guidance and wisdom, but mostly for friendship and compassion.
I nodded in reply and gestured towards the entrance to the outer chambers of the Temple. “If you believe the legend, you have no choice,” I told him, my mind still wishing I could say the words in any less harsh a tone. Such a tone was the stuff of Impossibility. “You must look for the five temples and awaken the five Sages. One Sage is waiting for the time of awakening in the Forest Temple. The Sage is a girl I am sure you know...”
“Saria?” he breathed in fast answer.
I remained motionless, choosing not to answer his inquiry. The business of the Sages was business unto themselves until such time when we would all join together as one in the Awakening, when our voices would become one to denounce Death from his mighty throne. Instead, knowing that time was still shrouded by Future’s hazy mists, I stepped closer towards Link, facing him for a moment before my eyes passed by his face with me standing next to him. My hand, so seemingly rigid yet still full of Life, raised up and clasped his shoulder in Brotherhood, the arm falling into the contour of his chest. Link tensed at first, unfamiliar to the touch of compassion I had bestowed upon him; he was still so like his youthful self. Quickly though, he relaxed, finding my gesture comforting and warming. As I held him, my fingers drawing his sensations from him, I could not yet help but ponder the tragic notion that I just might be sending him towards his grave.
“Because of the evil power in the temple, she cannot hear the awakening call from the Sacred Realm.” My voice was monotone, shoving emotion aside as I thought of the young girl chosen to be Sage; her Destiny was not simple nor congenial but yet filled with Tribulation rarely asked to those even twice her age. “Unfortunately, equipped as you current are, you cannot even enter the temple. But if you believe what I’m saying, you should head to Kakariko Village. Do you understand, Link?”
Link could not understand the seeming impartiality I conveyed to him, or perhaps it was the seeming puzzle I had laid at his feet that perplexed his thought. Regardless he nodded silently and looked towards the Temple’s exit, both Curiosity and Fear standing plainly within his eyes, waiting to unfold the vision of the future that he could not begin to imagine. “As best I will be able,” he answered, still seeming unsure of himself, yet I knew Courage would not fail me. Yes, precious Courage would see him through. “Very well; I will do as is needed. Take care, Sheik. I hope to see your face again soon.”
As such, the common bond between Hylian and Sheikah had been completed. He had my blessings and my prayers alongside my parallel wishes to his own; no amount of words were needed to convey such, for action had made it clear. I let loose of his shoulder, my arm dropping to my side. Out of the corner of my vision, I saw him walking towards the Taint, towards a world without name, for Hyrule was too lofty a title for such a decrepit world. As he left, I turned to watch him, staring at his backside as he carried the only Hope Hyrule had been given: the Master Sword, the Sword of Evil’s Bane.
Despite my character, despite my long-lived concerns, I could not bring myself to have care for my homeland at that instant. Hyrule seemed so inconceivably small of an importance to me, yet another twist from Irony’s warped dagger. No, Hyrule meant nothing to me without Him. Him. The Hero of Time. Link. As I stared at his figure as he left the Temple gardens, my heart began to palpitate once more, and my mind began to drown again, though the flavour had not the sweet flavour that his gaze had provided me. No, indeed; this taste was Hope simmered with the juice of Fear, its result only bittersweet. How could I do this to him? How could such a task be asked of one so innocent and darling?
Link, did you see me? Link, is your heart set against me?
Link, can you ever forgive me?