Gods of Shadow

By Wm. Jay Carter III (Hero of Geeks)

Chapter VII

The scene over Hyrule Field was an unremarkable one; the tallgrass was swinging in a moderate breeze, the peahats were nestling comfortably in their soil beds, their blade-like roots conjuring the scent of fresh dirt. The sparse trees were swaying, their leaves flipping back and forth like flapping wings and from the direction of the ranch a horse’s neigh could be heard. The sun was high in the midday sky and all was calm. But then something remarkable happened.

Somewhere just northwest of Lon Lon Ranch, high among the clouds, a mass of darkness condensed and began to form a miniature whirling, whipping storm resembling an inverted tornado. The wide edge of the tornado hardened and spread out into cube-like patterns and a streak of blue laced the inside of the vortex. Then more cube-like forms issued from the vortex’s opening as if it were vomiting some unknown poison. These forms assembled on the ground and all at once they became not cube-like forms but people; four people, in fact. There, where nothing had stood before, were Raean, Nabooru, Abrum and one very exhausted Gerudo witch. Asera staggered to one side but Abrum was there to catch her. He helped her stand again.

“Oh, no…” said Asera. “I didn’t know…that would take so much out of me.” Her head rolled languidly to one side. Abrum lowered her to the ground, nestling her in his arms.

“Thank you, both of you for getting us this far,” said Raean. “But it looks like we’ll have to get the others to Castle Town the conventional way.”

“It is nothing,” said Abrum. “Though I cannot speak to how Asera’s magic has taxed her, I can say confidently that if we have any means of helping the Gerudo we will offer it. After what we did under Ganon’s boot we both feel an obligation to right our wrongs.”

“I am grateful, Abrum,” said Nabooru, “though I am afraid that there may soon be no Gerudo to help. We must answer the call of those who were once our enemies and join with the Hylia. It is the only way to survive the coming war.”

“Did Din tell you anything about when the war would be, or where, Nabooru?” asked Abrum.

“No. Only that we must seek unity between the races of Hyrule as the Goddesses seek to be one again themselves. But the danger sounded eminent; one more reason to press forward, if we can.” Nabooru looked down at Asera’s unconscious form. “Is she well?”

“Her breathing is returning to normal,” said Abrum. “She should be awake presently; give her another moment.”

“It strange,” said Nabooru as she regarded the black-robed witch. “Only days ago we were at each other’s throats; all three of us. And for what? I was asking Lord Ganondorf to stay and be our king…”

“And we were helping him to reach that cursed pyramid,” added Abrum.

“If you hadn’t I might not have regained my sister,” said Nabooru. Raean gave her a short smile. “But now you are without your sight Abrum, I am nearly without a people and Asera’s appearance and voice have been changed dramatically by the Hylian witch’s curse.” She pondered this for a moment. “How powerful is her magic?”

“We still don’t know,” said Abrum, “though every day she grows stronger. The portion of magic she recovered should have been one fourth of the power shared by us and Ganondorf, but ever since she began practicing again she has consistently surprised me with her talent and skill. It seems as if there is some God out there who yet smiles on Asera…and through her also smiles on me. I am indebted to her for my life. If it were not for her…” Asera stirred.

“Listen to you, my love; talking as if I could not hear.” Asera sat up, grasping Abrum’s hand with hers. She kissed it. “You might force me to run away with you and never return.”

“Are you well, love?” said Abrum.

“Yes, my strength is returning.” Abrum helped her stand. She looked up at the sky. The vortex lingered over the ranch, hovering in the air. “That is most curious…” she said. Nabooru and Raean looked up as well. “Abrum, my love, I believe the return trip will be less taxing; the portal remains in the sky. I should have less difficulty transporting the Gerudo here.”

“Even so, my love, I think it would be wise for us to press on; Nabooru believes we have a need for urgency.”

Nabooru nodded.

“Then let us continue;” said Asera, “I have strength enough.”

Asera, Abrum, Nabooru and Raean walked the path toward Hyrule Castle. Raean had left her armor behind as it was bulky and tedious to maintain. She retained her steel boots and her gargantuan axe, however—while she wore the gauntlets these would not prevent her from moving normally. Nabooru had brought a bow and a quiver of arrows with her in case she would need to use the ice-ring again, but Aveil and her followers left little in the way of combative gear so the Gerudo Matron was left with her blue robes and feathered headdress.

Conversely, Asera and Abrum had little in the way of needs. Asera had accepted a scimitar—though she preferred her magic—and Abrum was satisfied with a good pair of studded sparring gloves. Sianna had located a suitable pair of trousers from the remnants of Ganon’s stores but Abrum had declined these. “I would sooner burn any remnant of the villan,” he had said.

“What will you do when you get to the castle, Nabooru?” Asera asked. “Do you have a plan?”

“Unfortunately, no. I will accept the king’s offer of good will, but beyond that I do not know. I am still not certain how they will respond to the Gerudo making a mass-exodus to their city. Good will is one thing, but harboring the remnants of a people notorious for thieving is quite another. They also still hold Gerudo dissenters in their prison—those who helped Ganondorf infiltrate the city.”

“We helped him as well,” said Abrum. “We must hope that the Hylia will be tolerant of those who have seen the error of their ways.”

“Or avoid them altogether,” said Asera. “We were placed at the Temple with Ganondorf in no uncertain terms. It would be difficult to plead amnesty with a record such as ours.”

Raean looked out over the fields moodily, shaking her head. “I just want to see Ganondorf’s dead body,” she said. “I won’t believe it until I see it with my own two eyes. I’ve served that scoundrel’s witches against my will for too long to think that he hasn’t got a few tricks left up his sleeve.”

“I agree,” said Nabooru. “Something tells me he may never accept defeat. Even if he were dead his spirit would find a way to persist past the grave. I wouldn’t put it past his witches to attempt his reincarnation; thank the Goddess they’re gone…”

Then Abrum stopped abruptly. “Wait, I smell something!” The others paused, waiting for him to explain. “It’s…something organic…decomposing; an animal.” Asera, Nabooru and Raean looked around for what the smell might be coming from but there was nothing except a few sparse trees, tallgrass and the road. Far off in the distance were the spires of Hyrule Castle. “It’s coming from this way, I’m sure of it,” said Abrum, pointing toward the castle.

Abrum hunched toward the ground, smelling his way through the tallgrass. Asera held his arm so he knew there were no pitfalls nearby and he could move faster. In moments Abrum found what he was looking for; Asera described to him that several dead birds were lying under a tree. “The smell is stronger than a few birds; there must be something bigger nearby,” said Abrum. “Keep looking.”

In less than a minute Raean turned around and caught the others’ attention from further down the road. “Come quick! I’ve found something.” They joined her by a fallen wagon wheel.

“What could this mean?” asked Asera.

“Maybe nothing, but out there is a broken down wagon,” said Raean. Sure enough, out where the tallgrass had become overgrown, just past a little clump of trees, there was a wagon tilting to one side. “These ruts in the grass lead out there; the wheel almost certainly belongs to that wagon. Something must have happened to the driver…”

“Which direction is it?” asked Abrum. Asera pointed Abrum toward the wagon. “That’s where the smell is coming from. We should proceed with caution; we don’t know what killed the animal.”

Raean led with her axe, followed by Nabooru with an arrow nocked in her bow, and then Asera leading Abrum, one hand on the hilt of her scimitar. When they got close enough to see that there was nothing moving nearby they spread out to search the area.

“Gah,” said Raean, holding her free hand over her nose and mouth. “This place stinks of death.”

“Tell that to the horse,” said Nabooru. “What’s left of it.”

“That accounts for the smell, then,” said Abrum. “Is there anything inside the wagon?”

“No,” called Asera. She climbed out of the back of the wagon. “Nothing of consequence, anyway. Just some towels and an overturned bucket of water. The water is everywhere, though, and it hasn’t evaporated. Whatever happened, the person driving this wagon was in a hurry, and recently—they must be nearby.”

“Let’s fan out, then,” said Nabooru. “Abrum, stay with the wagon; if you hear or smell anything suspicious, call for us.”

“I will,” said Abrum.

“Rae, take a look at that clump of trees; make sure nothing’s hiding in there.”

“Got it,” she said, lowering her axe from her shoulder.

Nabooru turned to Asera. “Do you think you could sense if any magic has been used here?”

“I can try,” said Asera. She traced a circle on the ground with her foot and sat inside it, mumbling ancient words.

“I’ll look further ahead,” said Nabooru. With each of them performing their appointed task, it was only a minute before Nabooru returned.

“Have you found anything?” asked Abrum.

“Yes,” said Nabooru. “The wagon had two horses; there are tracks in the grass leading away from the wagon back to the road. The driver must have lost control of his cart when the wheel came off and continued on the one horse. But that still doesn’t explain why the other horse is already well decomposed.”

“I think I have an answer for that,” said Asera. “This place is laced all over with a powerful magic unlike that used by the Sheikah or the Gerudo. I can’t understand it, but I can sense that it is connected with the unnaturally quick death of the horse and the birds we saw earlier. Other than that, there is no residual magic; the wheel fell off on its own.”

“That takes care of why the horses stopped and what happened to the driver, but there must have been another party. The antagonist is most likely nearby.”

Then they heard Raean shouting. “Hey! Don’t move!” The others reacted immediately, Nabooru drawing the string on her bow and Asera rising to lead Abrum. When they arrived at the edge of the trees they could see Raean bending over something.

“Did you stop them?” said Asera.

Raean stood. “I didn’t have to,” she said, stepping aside. “Something else already did.”

Crouched down between the trees was a medium sized man wearing overalls and a bushy black mustache. His arms were out to either side, covering the heads of two children with his hands. One was a girl with braided blonde hair and the other was a Zora child. There was nothing odd about them—other than the fact that they were perfectly motionless.

Asera turned to Abrum. “There are two children here, protected by a farmer. They are perfectly still, as if frozen somehow. This is the magic I sensed earlier.”

“What happened, Raean?” asked Abrum. “They way you called out it sounded like you were being attacked.”

“They startled me was all,” said Raean testily. “I thought they were going to ambush.”

Nabooru snickered. “A farmer and two children ‘startled’ you?”

“Hey, you wanna be brainwashed for twenty years? We can talk about being jumpy then.” Raean set the head of her axe on the ground, leaning against a tree. She folded her arms.

“I’m sorry, Rae…” said Nabooru quickly. “I… Are you alright?”

Raean looked away moodily. “There’s nothing else here, what do you want to do now?”

Asera moved toward the huddled trio. She extended her hand to them experimentally. “Where is the sorcerer who did this, I wonder. He could not have gotten far…”

“Do you suspect Ganon’s work?” said Abrum.

“That is a long shot,” said Asera. “No, even if he were still alive he would not do this—kill a horse, destroy a wagon, freeze the passengers and then flee the scene? This was not him. Still, I have no thought as to who else it might be.”

“It was my fault, if you must know,” said a voice high above them. Nabooru aimed instinctively, releasing her bowstring once, twice. Two arrows struck two different trees, magical ice encasing the trunks and branches. A small, thin creature bounced from one branch to another, twirling and flipping as it avoided Nabooru’s arrows. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said the creature, perching on the lower branch of a larger tree. “You must improve your aim.”

“Who are you?” demanded Nabooru. “Speak!”

“Ah, such harsh words from such a pretty woman. You would suit me just fine as my new host…” The creature emerged from the branch far enough for the light to reveal that it wore a mask of fine porcelain representing a beautiful female with a somber, thoughtful expression. The creature itself appeared to be a child made entirely of sticks. It was Solfe.

“What do you stand to gain from freezing these people and killing their horse?” said Raean, brandishing her axe.

“I didn’t say I did either of those things, now did I?” said Solfe, stalking up and down like a tight-rope walker in a carnival.

“You did just now,” said Nabooru. “Unless you lied.” She maintained her aim on the creature, her string half-cocked.

The child gripped the branch and threw its head back, letting out a terrible, unsettling cackle. “Oh, certainly not. I never lie; the truth is so much more fun. I think you’ll find that it was my fault, which is exactly what I said.”

“Then what have you done to these people?” asked Raean, becoming impatient.

“Oh, nothing I have not already done to you, though you knew it not,” said Solfe. Nabooru released another arrow and this time the stick-child was forced to duck to avoid its freezing tip. Solfe spoke again, this time with unrestrained ire. “Tell me, Nabooru, what do you suppose you will do when you get to Hyrule Castle Town? Search and search until you find your foreign man and settle down, hmm? Escape to some distant island of the sea and then watch as your dear little family dies off many centuries before you? Or have they forgotten about you? Have they left, never to return? How sad that would be—yes, how sad…”

Nabooru’s face straightened in surprise. “How do you know my name? How could you know about those things?” she demanded. She cocked an arrow fully in the bowstring, but did not release it. “Speak!”

“There, that should prevent you from harming me with your dreadful frozen arrows,” the masked child said. “You certainly won’t be able to stand never knowing, will you?” Then, without warning, Raean’s axe sunk into the tree on which the mask child was perched, separating trunk from stump. The tree fell over, forcing the creature to leap to yet another perch.

“Come down here, kid, or I’ll hack up every one of these trees, and don’t think that knowing my name will stop me from chopping you up for kindling!” said Raean brandishing her axe again.

“Oh, I know you will, Raean” said Solfe. “Such a temper for an amateur little lumber-axe. But I also know that you are far less innocent than she. The Gerudo never remain innocent for long, do they? Don’t you remember what you did in the Shrine all those years ago? You wanted to be an Iron Knuckle; in fact, you volunteered for the assignment.”

Raean’s axe dropped a fraction of an inch, her face hardening into a scowl. “How would you know that?”

“It’s of little consequence, little lumber-axe. But then, being the Great Ganondorf’s personal executioner is something to be very proud of.” The child cackled, alighting from perch to perch. When she saw Raean was frozen by the proclamation the stick-child jumped down out of the trees and onto the back of the frozen man with the black mustache.

Reluctant acceptance washed over Raean’s face as the horror of the truth arrived at her waking memory. How this puny creature could have known about that, she couldn’t say. But the child’s statements had ceased the Gerudo sisters’ attacks; they could neither force the child to tell them how it had known such things nor attack it at the risk of never having an explanation. They were at a stalemate.

But there were still Asera and Abrum, Raean thought.

“Ah, yes. Thank you for reminding me, my little lumber-axe,” said Solfe. Just then Abrum leapt out at the child from behind a tree. The child flipped backward into the air and landed behind Abrum, striking the side of his knee. As the weight of Abrum’s body pressed down on the joint, his leg buckled the wrong way causing him to collapse to the ground, shouting in pain. “Now, for the witch…” said the child.

Solfe looked around but she apparently did not see Asera, and neither Raean nor Nabooru knew where she was. The child seemed to become paranoid, looking around in every direction. Finally, she shrugged and jumped up onto Abrum’s back. “Hmm. No matter. I have played enough with the three of you. Now, if you will excuse me I’m off to Kakariko Village. I’ll say hello to your sister while I’m there, shall I, Abrum? Now that Impa’s the Sage of Shadow she won’t have to be intimidated by a blind half-wit hand-fighter. You can meet me there if you like; I’ll probably be in the mood to play again.” And with this the child leapt off of Abrum’s back, disappearing between the trees.

* * *

After Link’s knighting ceremony the townspeople left the central courtyard in a mood that was more pensive than festive, much to the dismay of the vendors. Link dismissed the knights to their duties and confirmed with Duncan that he would speak with him soon. Then Link and Afton walked back toward the eastern gate together.

“Thanks for the sword, Afton,” said Link.

“I don’t know what you mean, Captain. I had nothing to do with telling the smith about how much you liked the Four Sword and how you might like one for your own personal use.”

“I see,” said Link, smiling.

Bryon stopped them just outside the gate with a deep bow. He had Epona’s reins in his hands. “Your horse, Captain, as you ordered.”

Link would have taken Epona’s reins but he remembered that Malon would be waiting for him outside the temple…if she had actually made it to the ceremony. Link had gone through the whole event without seeing anyone he knew except Afton and the king and he wanted to catch her if he could. “Thank you, Bryon. You’ve done very well. I think I’ll be taking a walk with the Lieutenant, however, and will not be needing my horse. Would you be so kind as to take her to the stables...and have her fed and brushed up; she’ll like that. And take her for a walk when you’re done if you like.”

A broad smile reached across Bryon’s face. He bowed. “Thank you, thank you sir!” And he led Epona away by the reins.

Afton regarded his nephew with astonishment. He hummed musically, raising his eyebrows.

“What?” said Link.

“Far be it from me to say how mature the Captain seems to be these days,” said Afton.

Link snorted. “You’re getting really good at saying things without actually saying them,” he said. They continued their stroll through the eastern gate. “So I was thinking, Lieutenant…” Link began.

“Yes, Captain,” Afton replied conversationally.

“…that I might like to take a moment away from my duties and peruse the Stained Hall. Perhaps you might care to join me? It would give us a chance to talk to Tobias about our theories on gateways to other dimensions.” Link raised his eyebrows pleasantly.

“Why, Captain!” said Afton in mock astonishment. “I should be delighted at such an honor! Come, let us away!”

To Link’s relief, when they reached the Temple of Time Malon was there waiting for him. She was sitting on the edge of the reflecting pool staring into the waters and holding Hossel’s reins absent-mindedly. Near the pool was a quartet of standing stones, each with a single eye engraved on its face. Standing guard at the entrance of the temple were four knights that Link had not met yet. They seemed to regard the presence of the ranch-girl with attentive tolerance.

“Hey, Malon!” Link called, waving. Malon turned to see him. She smiled, and even though he could not see them from so far away he thought of the dimples puckering her cheeks. She stood and ran over to Link, leaving Hossel to drink lazily from the reflecting pool. The knights relaxed visibly now that Link had accepted Malon’s presence.

“Hey, there Captain,” said Malon. “I s’pose I cain’t rightly call you Link anymore, can I?”

“Sure you can,” said Link. He turned to Afton quickly. ‘Can she?’ he signed.

Afton nodded his head, mouthing ‘sure she can.’ He winked.

“I sure do like them knights all dressed up fancy-like, but I guess they don’t talk much. This place is real nice—‘cept those things,” she said pointing to the four standing stones. “I seen ‘em elseplaces but I never liked the look of ‘em.”

“Oh, those are just Gossip Stones,” said Link dismissively. “You know, for high up royal stuff.” Link adjusted his belt and flattened his tunic theatrically. “So, I couldn’t find you at the tournament, where were you?”

Malon looked at her shoes. “Well, I tried to make it see…”

Afton made the sign for ‘attention.’ Link looked up. Afton shook his head almost imperceptibly.

“Uh, I mean, I’m glad I found you,” Link corrected himself. Malon looked relieved. Afton let out a tight breath surreptitiously. “Would you like to see the Temple? There’s something I wanted to show you.” Malon nodded, her ginger loops bobbing against her shoulders. “Okay, let’s just get Hossel taken care of. How was your trip?”

“Oh, jes’ fine, thanks,” said Malon. “I sure do ‘preciate…”

Link led Malon toward her horse, lagging behind just enough to turn to Afton and sign ‘what was that?’

‘Talk later; rendezvous in temple,’ Afton signed back hastily. Malon turned just in time for Link to take Hossel’s reins.

“Oh, it’s nothing, really,” Link said, addressing Malon again. “Um…Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Captain,” said Afton, standing very straight.

“Would you be so kind as to find Mistress Malon’s horse a suitable place to stay?” said Link.

“Why, certainly, Captain. It would be my pleasure.” Afton stepped forward, taking the reins from Link. Hossel clopped away with Afton.

‘Rendezvous’ signed Link.

Afton nodded. ‘Good luck!’ he signed back.

“Well, you must have a lot of bugs around here what with all that hand-wavin’,” said Malon.

“Oh, that,” said Link, his face turning pink. “No, that’s just how we captains thank our troops for a job well-done,” he invented.

“Oh, okay,” said Malon, smiling again. “So, you said you had a surprise…?”

“Oh, yeah,” said Link, diverting his eyes from her dimples. “Just up here…” He led Malon to the temple door, opening it for her.

“Do I get any clues?” she said, and they both stepped inside.

The four knights shifted under their swordbelts and chain shirts and then they were still again, guarding the entrance to the Temple like four painted, life-sized statues.

* * *

The Mask Keeper knew of the Goddesses depicted in the three chapels he had investigated, but inexplicably there was the fourth.

Like the other chapels, there was a painting over the altar depicting the deity to whom the chapel had been dedicated. But the painting depicted a being the Mask Keeper had never heard spoken of in Hyrule; a gray-draped figure holding a white sphere. ‘The Goddess of Time’ read the plaque. There was an almost indiscernible hazy gradation behind the figure, like the sky just before dusk when there is only the slightest hint of purple left lining the mountaintops. It was curious; although the drapery covered the Goddess’ whole body the Mask Keeper could almost sense her expression—calm, yet terrible. This Goddess must be Death, he thought. And he regarded the painting with awe.

The Mask Keeper looked closer and noticed the hem of the Goddess’ garment. While one side of it was ghastly, ratted and torn, the other side was well-pressed, even and clean. When he looked at the gradation behind the figure again he realized that it could be seen a different way; perhaps it was not the darkening dusk, but the new, rapidly approaching dawn. There it was, he thought: life and death in the same being personified. Again he pondered the poem from the grotto outside the Temple.

Then another thought occurred to him. He backed out of the chapel of the Goddess of Life and Death and regarded the paintings of the other chapels again. Faroe, Nayru, Din and then this fourth unnamed Goddess of Life and Death. It was all so familiar… He placed things together in his mind. “Power,” he said aloud, pointing to Din’s portrait. “Or wrath; like Majora. And then wisdom…” But he did not have time to consider the matter further, however, for the very next moment the main doors opened at the top of the staircase. The Mask Keeper immediately hid himself in the nearest chapel; that of the nameless Goddess of Time.

“This is the Temple of Time,” said Link as they entered. He paused at the top of the stairs to let Malon through the door, closing it behind her. Malon stared in wonder. “Have you ever been to the Temple before?”

“Oh, golly, no,” said Malon. “I ain’t never been inside, leastways…” Her eyes were wide with astonishment. “It’s so…big!” she said. “It’s SO BIG!” she shouted, listening pleasantly as her voice echoed across the nave.

“…so big!” came a voice echoing from the walls of the nave. The Mask Keeper edged one eye around the column adjoining his hiding place. He could not see anyone…

“I could show you the chapels if you want…” said Link, rocking from his toes to his heels. He suddenly realized he must look very much like Talon.

“Oh, sure, that’d be neat!” she said. “Where are they?”

“Just down here,” said Link, indicating the recesses on either side of the nave at the bottom of the stairway. Malon leapt down the stairs by twos. Link followed close behind, filled with the child-like giddiness he once enjoyed among the Koroki.

Footfalls reached the Mask Keeper’s ears. Someone was walking down the staircase into the nave. They would be over the seal at the bottom of the stairs just now, he thought. He edged out from his hiding place cautiously. There was still no one in sight. They must have hidden themselves in one of the chapels, he decided. He crept out into the nave…

Malon looked up at the painting hanging over the altar. “She’s pretty!” she said. Link came up behind her.

“That’s Faroe,” Link explained.

“I think I could do my hair like that,” said Malon. She reached up to her ginger loops.

“No!” shouted Link. His voice reverberated across the nave.

Malon stopped. “What?” she said, startled.

“Oh, I mean…I just…I like your hair how it is, that’s all,” said Link.

Malon blushed.

They’re in Faroe’s chapel, thought the Mask Keeper, hearing the faint voices of the children. He approached the chapel cautiously. Now, finally, he could hear them properly. There were two of them, one boy and one girl. I’ve found them! thought the Mask Keeper. Those two rotten kids who have my masks; so this was where they ran off to… He edged around the column. In a moment he would have them.

Link smiled. “You wanna see the other chapels?”

The Mask Keeper leapt out from his hiding place, reaching for the two children. But his hands passed through thin air. There were no children; nothing but the empty chapel and the portrait of Faroe.

“Race you there,” said Malon, running past Link across the nave.

The Mask Keeper heard a trail of footsteps running across the nave to Nayru’s chapel. He looked but saw no child.

“Hey!” Link shouted. “That’s no fair!”

The Mask Keeper heard it! There it was: the boy said ‘hey’ and then ‘that’s no fair,’ but he was nowhere in sight. He should be right here! Then a second set of footsteps ran across the nave. The Mask Keeper followed.

“Gotta catch me!” hollered Malon, touching the column of Nayru’s chapel and zagging across to the chapel of Din.

Link cut across the nave, veering toward Malon. “I’m gonna get you!” he called.

“Nope! You gotta touch the other one first,” said Malon, dodging Link’s hand.

Link gritted his teeth. Always changing the rules, he thought. He touched the column next to Nayru’s chapel and turned around, bolting for Malon.

Malon touched the column next to Din’s chapel. “Now that one!” she said, running toward the final chapel.

Link was done playing by Malon’s rules. He cut straight across the nave and dove at Malon, grappling her with both arms. “Gotcha!” he called as they fell to the floor.

By now the Mask Keeper was thoroughly disoriented. How could there be so many of them? he marveled. He hovered around where he heard the last shout, waiting for something to happen.

Malon pushed Link away. “Oh, ouch, get off, get off!” she said, rubbing the back of her head.

Link’s face lengthened in shock. He had hurt Malon. “Oh, my gosh! I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to, I just…you told me to get you and I did, so I didn’t think that you’d… Are you okay?”

Malon looked confused, then amused. Finally she just laughed. “It’s really not that bad, Link. It’s just a bump; I get banged-up worse fallin’ offa horses.” She laughed again.

Link’s heart leaped into his throat. “Oh.” He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Finally he let out a nervous giggle. His face turned red.

Malon put her hand down. “You’re cute,” she said, and stood up.

Link was frozen to the floor. Did she just say…?

“Link?” said Malon. “Link, are you alright?”

All Link could do was nod his head. Seconds felt like an eternity and an eternity later there came the sound of a door opening behind him. Then a male voice spoke.

“Oh, hello young miss,” said the voice. “I heard a commotion and I thought… That is, are you here pay your devotions to the Goddess of Time?”

“Yessir,” said Malon. “Captain Link here and I were jes’ lookin’ at some o’ them fancy pictures you got hangin’ up.”

Link turned around quickly. Standing in the open doorway beside the chapel of the Goddess of Time was Tobias, the recently ordained high-priest of the Temple. He was a young man of about fifteen years. Despite his age he had been unanimously accepted by the monks of the Temple following Rauru’s ceremonial departure. Tobias was now dressed in the orange-and-red robes Link was used to seeing Rauru wear.

“Oh, hello Link,” said Tobias kindly. “I’m pleased to see you again. I trust you’ve been well since we last spoke. I apologize for not being at your ceremony today but I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get a few things arranged here while all the parishioners were at the festivities. When I heard voices I thought something was amiss, but I understand you two were paying your devotions.” He bowed. “I’ll just leave you to it, then.”

“No!” called Link. Tobias stopped with his hand on the door. Malon looked at Link, puzzled. “I mean, you’re just the person I was looking for…I wonder if we—that is, Miss Malon and I—could see the Stained Hall?”

Tobias opened his mouth but before he could answer, the Temple’s main doors opened and closed and Afton appeared at the top of the steps. He waved as he descended the staircase.

“And Afton, too,” added Link. He smiled. Afton joined Malon and Link.

“Tobias,” said Afton, nodding.

“Afton,” replied the priest, nodding back. “Well, it is a little impromptu isn’t it?” he began. Link’s heart sank. “But I suppose I did invite you back, didn’t I, and there is no time but the present. Certainly; just this way, please.” He indicated the auxiliary hall behind him. Like a pendulum Link’s heart regained its previous place in his chest.

Afton signed: ‘how is everything?’

‘She hurt her head,’ Link signed back.

Afton grimaced. ‘She okay?’

‘Okay,’ signed Link.

Malon’s head emerged from the doorway. “Are you coming Link? You can’t wave at bugs all day.”

Link showed Malon the door and they entered behind Tobias who had lit a torch to see by in the dim passages. Afton made a quick motion with his elbow. Link understood and offered Malon his arm.

“Thank you, Captain,” said Malon, clasping his arm with one hand and lifting the hem of her dress in the other. Afton winked, following behind the three of them.

The Mask Keeper was struggling to comprehend what had just happened. Disembodied voices, phantom footsteps and doors that opened and closed on their own; he was certain there was more to this temple than he could possibly have imagined. He could not understand most of what was being said but he was sure that there were at least two more people in the room besides the invisible children he simply knew had his masks.

Once the door by the chapel had opened the Mask Keeper seized his chance and entered. Beyond was a dim hallway that led deeper into the temple. He waited, expecting something to happen, but all he heard was more muffled voices. Then a light sprang into being, illuminating the walls. Curiously, the Mask Keeper saw no torch (for that is where he assumed the light had come from). The light went down the hall some distance and then the girl spoke. ‘Are you coming, Link?’ she said. ‘You can’t thank Mister Afton all day.’ So there was a ‘Mister Afton’ with her and the boy Link, he thought. It must be that kid who had retrieved Majora’s Mask for him those many days ago. This was getting complicated. The girl spoke again, further down the hallway. ‘Thank you, Captain,’ she said. She must be thanking ‘Mister Afton,’ he thought—Afton must be a Captain.

The light continued down the hallway and the Mask Keeper followed as quietly as he could, shaking his head at the steady stream of unfathomable circumstances he had been drawn into.

* * *

The caverns thrummed with the constant grumble of rocky backs over polished stone paths. The Goron City below the crust of Death Mountain was alive with activity. The Gorons had recently been recalled to their home after weeks of being away. When Ganon first threatened their city he had closed off the caves that supplied the stone-backed Gorons with mineral-rich rocks; their primary source of food. As a result, the Gorons were forced to go off and find food for themselves. Since then, Link had helped to clear away the blockage and vanquished the giant King Dongo that nested far in the dark recesses of the cavern. Link was hailed as a brother to the Gorons and in time the Gorons had returned little by little. Now the city was absolutely rumbling with Gorons rolling this way and that to replenish their stores of food.

Neighboring the Goron City was the Fire Temple; a complex of caverns sculpted into the walls of the active volcano that was Death Mountain. Each room of the temple was, as often as not, flooded with living magma; a fact which did not bother the Gorons, who were resistant to heat due to their thick hides and stony backs. In Link’s future, he had braved the deep tunnels of the Fire Temple with the aid of a tunic and boots made of the leather of the fire-breathing Dongo, a variation of lizard-like beasts whose skin actually neutralized heat rather than simply resisting it. In addition to other tasks he had to accomplish in the future, Link defeated the recently awakened fire-dragon Volvagia using the Megaton Hammer, a treasure of the Goron people. In this time, however, Volvagia was, as yet, unawakened from his slumber and the Fire Temple had been unfathomed by any but the Gorons themselves.

On the lowest level of the Goron City, in the chamber of Gor Daruni, the Goron chieftain, a wide stone totem slid out from the back wall and two white-robed figures emerged from a hidden passage leading in from the Death Mountain Crater. They were followed by the chieftain himself. The white-robed figures were perfectly identical to one another; sharp features, high forehead, long sweeping hair and prominent widow’s peak—identical, in fact, to the white-robed Aako of the forest. Like Aako, these beings also had identities that they kept hidden. In reality they were Gor Darmon of the Gorons and Impa of the Sheikah. Gor Daruni, the Goron chieftain, was speaking when he entered.

“…our finest warrior, Garnus, has accepted the responsibility of guarding it himself. I will be relocating my residence inside of the temple in case anything goes wrong. An intruder would find it difficult to even enter the Fire Temple, let alone fight his way to the chamber where the Shadow is held.”

“That is a wise decision, Daruni,” said one of the robed figures. (It was Gor Darmon.) “I understand that you accompanied Garnus to the crater when he came of age, isn’t that right?”

Daruni stood taller, thrusting out his massive bare chest. “That’s right.”

“And I also understand that you recently granted him the hammer of his father, the Goron Hero who defeated Volvagia and set the beast to rest deep within the volcano those many years ago.”

“Yes, wise one,” said Daruni. “You know more than most…as much, perhaps, as my brother Gor Darmon, Din praise him.”

“Yes,” said the other Sage. (It was Impa.) “He was a devoted protector. May Din praise him indeed.”

“Yes, well,” said Gor Darmon. “Thank you for showing us the defenses of the Shadow Artifact, Daruni. You have set the minds of the Sages at ease concerning the security of the magic that recently threatened our land.”

“Anything to serve the Goddesses,” said Gor Daruni, beating his chest proudly. “We will not fail to protect the Fused Shadow.”

Then the robed figures turned to one another. “I believe our work here is done,” said Gor Darmnon. “On to Zora’s Domain?”

“Of course,” said Impa. “You will excuse us, won’t you Daruni? Thank you again for your courtesy.”

Gor Daruni made a sound somewhere between a grunt and a hard swallow. This was the typical Goron farewell; it also happened to be the typical greeting, but the Sages seemed to know the difference. In another moment the white sages vanished, fading out of existence like ghosts.

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