Chapter 5: More Companions
The sun hung just above the western horizon by the time Link, Noah, and Pelayla arrived in a small town. A large sign proclaimed it as Muran’s
Forest, though there were no trees in sight save for a tall oak here or there beyond the houses. The runes on the sign puzzled Link; they were far more simplistic than the script he was used to writing with.
“Come on,” Noah said. “You need a horse, else it’ll be autumn by the time we reach any place of worth.” He seemed contemptuous of the small settlement, barely hiding his disdain. “How much money do you have?”
“Enough,” Link replied, following. He was not about to tell the man that he had over fifteen thousand Rupees on him. “I know what I want in a horse, so you can just wait outside.”
“Okay,” he said, stopping outside a stable and watching as Link set his bags down. “I’ll guard your belongings. Go right in.”
Link entered the building and smiled; the smell of horses and straw always reminded him of Lon Lon Ranch. Noticing a broad man standing by one of the rows of occupied stables, he approached him.
“Can I help you?” the man asked, taking in Link’s weapons with a pair of beady eyes.
“I need a tough, strong horse that can run fast and has good endurance,” Link replied. “A warhorse, preferably, though I doubt you have a trained one, but at least an animal who won’t be spooked or panicked in a fight.”
Planting ham-like fists on his hips, the man whistled. “Boy, you got an eye for horseflesh, I c’n tell, and demands enough to suit the king himself, may the great Mother Tala guard him. Still, I’ve got one horse that fits your description, a brute with a temper to make a spurned woman seem gentle and understanding, but he’ll be spendy.”
“That’s fine,” Link replied. “I’ll also need a full set of tack.”
“More demands,” the man grumbled, scratching his stubble-covered chin before stumping down the row of stalls. Opening one, he cautiously untied the animal within and led out a tall dun stallion with legs longer than most and an odd sleekness about him. Link recognized it as a Gerudian bred horse and instantly knew it was what he sought.
“Here,” the man said abruptly, shoving the halter rope into Link’s hand. “Get to know your horse.”
Link stared into the stallion’s ferocious eyes, reaching out to stroke it. It peeled its lips up and laid its ears flat along its skull, but he began humming the Requiem of Spirit. At the first musical sound, the horse pricked his ears forward, its lips covering its long teeth again. It lowered its head slightly, and Link stroked it gently, still humming. Whickering softly, the horse stood still, allowing Link to finger his black mane.
The broad man returned, arms laden with a full set of tack. Stopping abruptly, he stared, mouth hanging open for a few minutes. “How did you calm that devil?” he asked finally. “It took me a month before I could approach him without suffering bite or kick, and he still gave me one or the other at least once a week.”
“I’ve dealt with this kind of horse before,” Link answered. “Now, how much is this going to cost?”
“Nine hundred Rupees, boy,” the man replied, setting saddle and bridle down and holding out his hand. “C’mon, pay up.”
Link dug into his bag of money and pulled out four gold Rupees and one silver one. Pressing them into the man’s meaty palm, he began saddling his horse, mulling over possible names.
“Boy, you wouldn't happen to be the prince, would you?”
Link finished tightening the girth strap before answering. “I’m no prince, king, lord, duke, earl, or any other member of royalty and nobility.”
“Oh. I was just thinking that, you know, maybe you were, ‘cause a dozen rumors have him run away and two dozen more have him dead at the hands of assassins, and yet more say he’s coming back with a heathen Hyrulian lass. Not many commoners could buy that devil--or would have an eye to appreciate anything but his teeth and hooves--and they wouldn’t pay in gold and silver.”
“Goodbye, and thank you for your services,” Link said with a tone of finality, leading his horse away. What to name him. Fleeting as a spirit, fierce as a demon, with the fearless heart of a Gerudo. What to name him.... “Phantom?” he whispered in the horse’s ear.
The stallion snorted, as though in agreement. Smiling, Link stroked the side of his neck. Then Phantom it is.
Just as he reached the doorway, Link caught a flash of movement from the corner of his vision. Turning, he inspected the bales of hay and piles of straw with his eyes, his gaze raking over pitchforks and piles of worn saddles. Seeing nothing out of the ordinary, he shook his head as he left the stables.
“Now that is one fine horse!” Noah exclaimed, smiling. “Almost puts Arzosi to shame.”
“Phantom’s bred by Gerudo,” Link explained. “No one can breed horses as well as Gerudo, horses trained in war and battle before they’re weaned from their mothers, bred for speed and endurance and the ability to react to protect their rider. Problem is, Gerudo rarely sell. I wonder how this little place managed to procure this one.”
“Who knows?” Noah replied with a shrug, snugging his gloves. He had changed them, for now they were plain leather with a bird embroidered in black thread. The strange bracelet-and-ring piece was also gone. “Trained to protect their riders? What do you mean?”
“There are countless records of Gerudo horses twisting at the last second to take spear or sword or arrow, to save the woman on its back. And horse and Gerudo together are a force to be reckoned with, sharing almost one mind when battle is hottest.”
“Well, I may have to find myself a Gerudo horse, just to see if it’s as good as you say. Well, c’mon. Let’s stop and have a drink before we press on. Even a place this tiny has a tavern, even if they lack an inn of any sort.”
Link tied his bags to his saddle and lashed the rucksack to it as well before leading Phantom down the hard-packed dirt street. Noah headed straight for a single-story building that had the appearance of being expanded haphazardly over the years, with large windows filled with bright light. A large sign above the door named it The Grinning Vixen in large scarlet runes above a picture of a smiling fox.
“Tie your horse up here,” Noah said, already securing Arzosi to a wooden bar next to a plump mare. The stallion eyed the mare for a moment, then turned away in near disdain.
Link followed the Karradaini’s example, whispering soothing words in Phantom’s ear as the dun glared at the fierce-eyed gelding on his other side. In fact, Arzosi now eyed the Gerudo horse in a dangerous manner. Just what I need--our horses getting into a fight! “Say, Pelayla?”
“What, Noah?” the fairy responded.
“Can you make sure no one bothers our things? Stay out of sight, but if someone tries to steal something, will you dissuade them?”
“Sure thing,” she replied, sitting between Phantom’s ears. “No one will steal anything.”
“Thanks,” Noah said, smiling. “We’ll only have a drink or two, so you shouldn’t have to wait long.”
Leaning toward the fairy, Link whispered, “And make sure none of the horses start fighting, all right? Especially Phantom and Arzosi.”
She bobbed. “If they do, I’ll make them regret it.”
Straightening, Link followed Noah into the tavern. Boisterous laughter and raucous drinking songs filled the air, almost covering the rattle of numerous dice games and the snapping of a deck of cards being shuffled. The Karradaini immediately swaggered toward the bar, leaving Link to find a table. He found an empty one and sat down, drumming his fingers on the wooden surface.
“Hi there, adventurer.”
He twisted in his chair and stared at a slim, voluptuous woman gazing down at him with smoldering dark eyes, leaning over slightly to give observers a full display of the curve of her breasts. The neckline of her bright blue gown dipped low enough that her pale bosom seemed in true danger of falling out if she breathed wrong, or if she just continued to stand there, and the rest clung in a most sensuous manner to waist and hips and slender legs, the skirts cut to show a few inches of perfect ankle above her slippers.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” she continued in something close to a breathless whisper, bending over even more. Link wondered why she was not tumbling out of her dress from the top, and then some of her glossy black hair tickled his face. Laughing huskily, she tucked it behind her ear. “So sorry. I forgot to tie it back tonight; how silly of me!” She looked anything but silly, no matter how perilously close her bosom came to falling out of her gown. She looked a woman seducing a man, a woman who obviously knew her arts and charms well. And realizing her intent did not help Link one bit. “What brings you to the Vixen?”
Before he could answer, Noah strode up with two large mugs filled with beer. Plunking them down, he glared at the woman, apparently immune to her lure. “Leave us,” he said in a hard tone that left no room for maneuvering.
The woman straightened and leaned back, one hip swung out slightly, her arms folded beneath her bosom in such a way that only the barest strip of bright blue cloth showed above them. Arching an eyebrow while hooding her eyes in a seductive manner, she took in Noah’s embroidered and begemmed coat with interest, his swords with a slight, almost condescending smile, and his belt buckle with a deep breath that strained perilously against the minimal covering over her breasts. Then her eyes noticed his bird-embroidered gloves.
She uttered a startled gasp, stumbling back, her eyes open wide. “Oh, I am sorry!” she said hurriedly, hands pressed to the exposed flesh, and then she scurried away, skirts whispering in an agitated manner. Only once she was across the room did she relax, and even then she shot nervous glances in his direction.
What was that about? Link wondered, picking up a mug and taking a swig. Noah sat in a free chair and grabbed the other, quaffing a good deal in the first drink. Watching him for a moment, Link asked, “So I take it we ride tonight?”
“Yes,” the other man answered after finishing his long drink. “Like I said, this dismal place doesn’t even have an excuse for an inn, and I doubt people would be congenial to open their homes up to us. Not that I’d want to sleep in some stranger’s bed.” He shuddered before burying his face in his mug.
“I see.” Glancing around the packed room, Link saw drunken men sitting around tables or playing at dice and cards, pinching and trying to fondle the barmaids that scurried by with trays full of mugs and cups. Women dressed scantily enough to make the blue-clad one seem completely concealed--How are those dresses staying on?--flirted with the drinkers, starting up near-riots with a few words and gestures and cooling them the same way. One person continually caught his eye because they seemed so out of place. Sitting alone and nursing a plain pewter cup, they wore a plain gray cloak that concealed every inch of them so that it was impossible to tell gender or age, the deep hood pulled forward to obscure the person’s face. Suddenly, Link felt the person meet his gaze, almost like a physical blow. He hurriedly shifted his gaze, but he still felt those concealed eyes raking over him, weighing and measuring him.
“Mm, nothing like a good drink,” Noah stated happily. “Helps start a journey off on the right foot.”
Link uttered a neutral sound. He found the beer exceedingly weak and disappointing. It was nothing compared to a good Zoran rum, or strong Goron ale. Now there was a drink. It had been nearly twenty-five years since he had had some, unfortunately. He remembered being told that two mugs of Goron ale would kill a Hylian, yet even that was not as strong as Gerudo Deathwhiskey, so named because more than a single shot would kill anyone except a Gerudo.
After Noah finished the last few drops of his beer, he and Link left the tavern. As they neared the horses, the Hyrulian asked, “Any trouble?”
“None,” Pelayla answered, flying over to him. “It was dull and boring, like forest shrimps. Now, you’re not gonna get drunk on me and start babbling nonsense before you sick up and pass out, are you?”
“Please, Pelayla. I can handle my liquor.”
“If you say so,” she said dourly, sounding unconvinced.
Link untied Phantom and mounted smoothly, watching as Noah did the same to Arzosi before calming the black’s frisking steps. The Gerudo horse held perfectly still, as it would if he had been left in a stable for a month straight. The desert people ingrained the need for discipline and stillness into their mounts; battle was no time for a horse to grow skittish. Once Noah had calmed his stallion, they rode out of Muran’s
Forestat a steady walk.
“Where are you off to now, Hero of Time?”
Startled, Link wheeled Phantom around who, sensing his rider’s mood, prepared to attack. The gray-cloaked person from The Grinning Vixen rode up on a roan gelding, face hidden in the shadow cast by their deep hood.
“Who are you?” he demanded, barely restraining himself from drawing his sword. Beside him, Noah had dropped Arzosi’s reins, and the stallion held perfectly still save for a slight trembling, awaiting the command to attack. “How do you know I’m the Hero of Time?”
The rider shifted slightly, but the cloak remained closed, only the bottoms of the person’s worn leather boots showing beneath the hem. “I know things most people have never heard of,” she replied, for that clear, cool voice could only belong to a woman. “You may call me Ria.”
“What do you want, Ria?” Noah asked, crossing his arms. Arzosi tossed his head, but he was apparently too well trained to move without a hand on the reins.
“To accompany you,” she said calmly. “I can give you advice and such.”
Link frowned. Once, he would have trusted her word with no question, but he had lost such innocence long ago. Crossing his arms, he asked, “How do I know I can trust you?”
“What does your heart tell you?”
He paused, thinking. Am I so convinced that no one ever has purely good intentions that I never listen to my instincts? Like with Noah; I suspected the man at first, and I still don’t trust him entirely, but I like him, as different as he is from me. But Ria... what’s your secret? Why do you conceal yourself? I cannot see whether you wish me good or ill.
“I guess you can come,” he said grudgingly. If worse came to worse, he could always kill her, though the thought infected him with a burning sense of wrongness.
“Thank you,” Ria said, inclining her hooded head graciously. “Now, I would like to know the names of my companions.”
Link laughed mirthlessly. “Well, I’m sure you know that I’m Link Dragonslayer, seeing as you called me the Hero of Time and all. This fairy is Pelayla, and his name is Noah.”
The woman inclined her head to each of them in turn. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Pelayla. It is a pleasure to meet you... Noah.”
He shifted uncomfortably. Link understood and sympathized with the man. If Ria had lingered over his name like that, he would have ridden as far from her as he could.
“Shouldn’t we get going?” Pelayla asked.
“Wait!” someone cried.
Link watched a tall gray horse gallop up with growing irritation, wondering how many would join him that night. His irritation turned into shock as the rider reined the animal in near the group, and he gasped. It was Malon.
Staring at him intently, she pushed her thick red hair out of her face, handling the horse with less than her usual skill. She wore a loose white blouse and a divided skirt, ideal for riding, but, oddly enough, a bow hung across her back with a full quiver beside it.
A relieved smile broke on Malon’s face. “It is you! I thought I recognized you when you bought your horse.”
“How did you get here?” he asked, struggling to get over the shock of her presence.
She shrugged. “I’m not sure. But I didn’t expect to see you here, Grasshopper.”
Grasshopper. Only one person had ever called him that. Suddenly, the bow and quiver made sense, as did her lack of riding skill. And, now that he looked closer, he realized she was younger than him by about a year. “Romani?”
“Of course,” she said. “Didn’t you recognize me?”
“Just making sure,” he replied. How did she get from Termina? That’s a parallel world!
“Um, Grasshopper? Can I... come with you?”
Link sighed. “Sure, why not? Hell, why don’t we invite all of Muran’s
“Link....” Pelayla sounded worried. “Are you okay?”
“I’m just great,” he replied sarcastically. “After all, now I have to protect and worry about four more people, not just myself! Who wouldn’t be great?”
“Look, Link,” Noah said. “We’ll understand if you want to be alone--”
“No you won’t!” he cried furiously, something snapping within him, some tension that had been building from his first prophetic dream of Ganondorf. “None of you understand what I went through, what I sacrificed for thousands of ungrateful wretches! None of you know what it’s like growing up an outcast. None of you know how it feels to learn that you are a different race than what you were raised as. None of you know what it’s like to lose seven years of your life, or to watch the same impending doom unfold again and again. None of you have been possessed, or had your own inner evil ripped out. I can’t do evil! It’s not that I choose good, it’s impossible for me to be evil! None of you have lost all your friends, none of you have fates inextricably bound to two others’, none of you--” Unexpectedly, he broke down and started sobbing angrily, no matter how hard he tried to stop. “You don’t--understand! You’ll never understand!”
Slim arms wrapped around him in a comforting hug, and he buried his face in Romani’s shoulder, struggling to halt the flow of tears as she soothed him. “Everything will be fine,” she whispered in his ear.
He gripped her arms tightly, driving his nails into her bare skin as he wept even harder, but she held him still. After long minutes, he sat upright in his saddle, wiping at his eyes. How long had it been since he had last shed tears? Too long. “Thank you,” he said awkwardly.
Straightening atop her gray, she smiled, absently fingering her horse’s coarse mane. “I want you to be happy.”
“It makes me happy to see a familiar face in a strange land,” he replied quietly, offering her a slight smile.
“Are you...?” Noah began uncertainly.
“I’m fine now,” Link said. “We should get going.”
“Aye,” the other man agreed, guiding Arzosi forward. The black no longer quivered with excitement, seeming to realize no chance of battle existed anymore. “We won’t reach Naran till the day after tomorrow, even if we ride all night. So let’s go.”
The group set off at a steady trot, the pace dictated by Romani’s mount, Storm. Studying the horse as he rode, Link sneered inwardly. The thing was little better than a mule, only fit to pull a cart, not bear a rider, with dreadful paces and endurance. Ria’s gelding, Heartfire, possessed more thought in his breeding, though he still could not compare to the speed of Phantom and Arzosi. The two taller horses matched each other perfectly, though if it came to a race, the dun would easily outrun the black.
Around midnight, they stopped at a thicket of twisted trees, the branches so entwined it was nigh impossible to enter. Once in the largest clearing they could find, the travelers hobbled their animals and stretched out on the ground. Noah wrapped himself in a cloak first, a thankfully unremarkable dark blue garment, and Romani swathed herself in a thin blanket. Ria simply sat near the edge of the camp, a picture of alert watchfulness as she said, “I’ll take first watch.”
In no mood to argue, Link hugged his cloak to him as he lay down next to Phantom and closed his eyes. After the tiring day, he fell asleep almost immediately.
The landscape was bleak and barren, the leaden sky dark and oppressing. Nothing grew anywhere, but Link knew someone was hiding. He dashed over the uneven terrain, searching desperately for his foe. His booted feet crunched over dried bones, and sometimes rocks slid out from beneath him, sending him to his front, but he staggered up and continued on, ignoring cuts and scrapes; all that mattered was his fleeing enemy.
“Come back here, Majora!” he yelled, tightening his grip on the Master Sword. “Come back and fight, you coward!”
An infuriating laugh mocked him from somewhere up ahead. “Come find me, mask-wearer! Come, play the game!”
Link sprinted through the boulder-strewn land, a snarl fixed upon his face. “I’ll play, damn you! I’ll play and win!”
“But the bad guy never wins, and you’re the bad guy, remember?”
Howling in wordless rage, Link hurried on, up steep hills and down even steeper descents, always with Majora’s mocking insults and taunts to increase his anger and goad him onward. He topped one rise and skidded to a halt, rocks clattering back down the hill. Majora stood before him, but Ganondorf waited beside the hideous apparition.
“Why, hello, Hero of Time,” the Gerudo said, drawing a massive sword. “I never expected to see you here.”
Majora giggled. “He wanted to play the game, too,” he said in a childish voice. “He’s on my team. So let’s play!”
Link glanced back at his two enemies, knowing he could not win; together, they would probably tear him to pieces. He could not win. Unless....
“I’ll play,” he said, dropping the Master Sword. “And you’ll be sorry.” Plunging his hand into a pouch hanging from his belt, he pulled out the Fierce Deity’s Mask, shaped like his face and pulsing with whatever... thing... it contained, whatever the source of its power was. Smiling grimly, he put it on.
Pain. Agony. Power. They slammed into Link, drowning out everything else, destroying everything else. Excruciating pain consumed him as his body absorbed the mask, pain that burst within him and threatened to stop his heart. The agony intensified as the mask changed him, shaped him physically into what it thought was the ideal body for its abilities, and he screamed. Something grappled for control of his mind, something with malevolent deeds in mind and even darker thoughts, but he fought it off. There was only pain... and absolute power.
Link faced his adversaries, raising his huge, twisted sword. Blue sparks gathered at the tip, and a wicked smile spread across his face. Casually, he flicked his blade in Majora’s direction, sending a blue fireball hurtling toward him.
Majora shrieked as the flame struck him, one high-pitched cry of pure agony, cut off abruptly. Suddenly, he began to crumble. He tried desperately to hold himself together, but the harder he tried, the faster he disintegrated. One last desperate sound, and he burst apart, leaving a pile of dust that blew away.
Ganondorf glanced once at where Majora had stood, then at Link. The Hylian laughed harshly; there was fear in the Gerudo’s eyes! The laugh seemed to unhinge the man, for he turned and dashed way.
Not too far distant, a doorway to safety appeared in midair, and Ganondorf made for that with the speed of a man nearly frightened out of his wits, dropping his weapon along the way. Leaning on his sword, Link watched with amusement, a hunter toying with his prey before netting it. Just as the Gerudo leaped for the opening, he struck, sending a barrage of blue fireballs at the fleeing man. Instead of striking the man and killing him instantly--as they could have--they wrapped around him, ropes of flame yet connected to the tip of the sword. Slowly, Link drew them back, dragged Ganondorf to him, enjoying the scene as the bound man thrashed and fought to free himself.
Once the man was within a foot of him, Link jerked up on the fires, hauling Ganondorf to his feet. The flames winked out, and then he lashed out with his sword, cutting Ganondorf’s shin to the bone. Screaming in pain, the wounded man fell, clutching his bloody leg.
“Oh, come now, play fair,” Link mocked, slicing Ganondorf’s other leg just as deeply. “You can’t just rest there. Get up.”
“I can’t,” the Gerudo gritted out. “I can’t!”
“You can’t? Oh, that’s a shame.” Impaling Ganondorf’s right hand with his sword, Link placed his right foot on the man’s chest and leaned forward. “So, you give up?”
“Yes!” he cried out, nearly sobbing. “You win! I give up!”
Link stepped back, ripping his blade out of Ganondorf’s hand. “In that case, I have no more business with you.” He placed the point sword against the man’s neck. “Goodbye.”
Slowly, he drew the tip of the blade across Ganondorf’s throat. Bright red blood spurted from the wound, a stark contrast to the Gerudo’s swarthy skin. The blood fountained from the deep gash, spraying scarlet droplets that stained Ganondorf’s hands, frantically groping at the wound. With a gurgling sigh, his arms fell, his limbs stiffened, and his eyes clouded over.
Link laughed. A golden triangle rested on Ganondorf’s still chest, shining brightly. Picking it up and hefting it experimentally, he grunted in disappointment. The so-called Triforce of Power did not even possess a fraction of the power bestowed upon him by the Fierce Deity’s Mask. Gripping it in his steel-gauntleted hand, he crushed it.
“So much for the Triforce,” he sneered. “To think, entire wars have been fought over something so... weak. Those who fight over weak things must be weak themselves. Weaklings don’t deserve to live.”
He considered his course of action, then, knowing that all the weaklings had to die. Gripping his sword in both hands, Link drove it down into the barren ground. Lightning raced out from it, shooting in all directions, while the ground rolled in massive waves, spreading out from the weapon. Link laughed cruelly. Everyone would die. Every--last--one--
Gasping, he bolted up, a hand pressed to his racing heart. It took him a moment to recognize the thicket and his sleeping companions.
“It was just a nightmare,” he whispered to himself. “Just a nightmare.”
Lying down, he shivered. The dream had been so vivid; everything had seemed so real. He knew some miniscule scrap of whatever lay trapped within the Fierce Deity’s Mask yet dwelled within him, so small he could never find it on his own. But within that tiny speck was what he tried to ignore, what made him yet capable of evil, of such cold-blooded things as murder. Even when he had blasted Sakon apart, he had managed to convince himself it was for the good of the world, that he was ridding the land of a dangerous thief. For a person incapable of performing evil, those convictions had been necessary. Now, if he managed to find that piece of the evil from the mask still inside him, he would be able to slaughter an entire city, be hard-pressed not to. Hoping for no more dreams, Link fell asleep once again.
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