In the Shadow of the Triforce
By Thanh Tam
Note: readers will quickly notice certain formatting decisions I've made with this story. They are deliberate and have a purpose. Please see the end notes for a partial explanation.
The wolfos are out tonight. That's not good. They aren't actually all that hard to deal with, but they can smell evil a long way away. So if they're out here in Hyrule Field, so is something worse.
Let's just hope that something is some members of the Golden Land Cult (that's a pretty strange name for this group. From what I've heard, they aren't exactly looking to bring about the next paradise).
A wolfos rises out of the ground suddenly in front of me. I run it down under Epona's hooves. It gives a howl of pain and then stays still. We must be getting close now. I dismount and leave Epona to her own devices. But first, I look her in the eye and tell her not to wander anywhere. She snorts in reply. She always stays exactly where I park her, and she knows it. I just can't help reminding her just to reassure myself.
I head along on foot. Then I see some light in the distance and drop down to my stomach. There they are. Two of them. They are both hiding their faces, one of them with a mask and the other with a big hood. A third one is approaching. He has his head wrapped in a cloth, leaving only his eyes visible. All three of them are wearing similar tunics with the design of the Triforce worked into the right sleeve in red.
The newcomer raises his right hand. The dark lord walks the earth...
...at the coming of a new age, one of the others finishes for him. What kind of cult are these people? That's not much of a secret handshake. All it needs is for somebody elselike meto watch it and then it's blown. But then, with any luck, we might bring this whole organization down tonight. It's been a thorn in the kingdom's side for too long now.
My orders are to arrest them, not to hang around and watch. So I unsheathe my sword and pull out my shield. That's when a blur slashes by one of them. For a second, nobody seems to have noticed. Then blood suddenly starts spraying out from the back of one man's knee. He collapses and starts screaming in horror when the blur passes by again. I don't see exactly what happened, but he stops screaming very suddenly.
There's somebody else here, and he's taking care of them on his own. I can't let him keep going. We need these men to learn where the Golden Land cult's hideout is. I start running toward them, but I don't get there in time to prevent another man going down. At this point, I can clearly see the vigilante. He's dressed all in black which is what made him hard to follow before. He's waving his arms around as if he has a sword in each hand. And when I look closer, I can see that he does. They're both totally clear, like they're made out of glass or crystal. And apparently they're very sharp. A second man is already on the ground without even having the chance to scream.
The attacker looks at me as I get close. He's wearing a mask of his own. This one's striking. The expression on the mask looks like it's in intense agony. Its mouth is open and contorted as if there is a silent scream pouring out from it constantly. The eyes are wide open and terrified. It looks something like what you might see on a man's face while his arm is slowly getting chewed off.
And it's already moving to take down the third cultist. I shout at him to stop. He ignores me. I get my sword in the way to block a strike that might have severed an arm clean off. The mask of agony turns back to me, looking somehow very annoyed.
The cultist isn't the brightest. He immediately pulls out a sword and starts trying to stab one of us. I have to step aside to parry, and in that instant, a crystal blade drops down on the cultist, taking away an ear and then slicing his thigh. He falls in a heap, this time screaming his lungs out.
But there's no fatal cut. What's going on here?
Well met, boy. The voice is a dry rasp, and it's coming from the contorted mask which is actually looking a little content. As much as it can be while still bulging its eye sockets and stretching open that mouth.
It's time to take him, too. He'll be wanted for questioning.
Oh no, boy. Not now. Believe me, I am only too delighted to have met you, but there is much to do and little time to do it.
I don't care. He's a vigilante and an outlaw.
What? Like you, boy? Taking it upon yourself to enforce the law? Come now. Who mourns these sorry souls here who planned treason? You have marked their pass phrase.
Something about the dark lord walking again. It doesn't mean anything.
Oh don't be dense, boy. It has everything to do with their purpose and their organization. And who do you suppose they could be talking about?
Well, right now is not the time for me to be thinking about that. Right now, I have a violent man to catch.
I think not, Hero of Time. He drops his hand, and it's almost too late before I see the Deku nut in his hand. I close my eyes and turn away, throwing up a hand. When I turn back, he's gone.
But not his voice. Oh, do not worry yourself, boy. They live yet. I would not care to see their athletic prowess from now on, but they will provide you with your information.
Who is this man? What is he doing here?
I hear a dry chuckle behind me. I turn but see nothing there. It is high time that these fools learned the price of their actions, and I am here to ensure that they learn it well. I am your shadow, o mighty Hero of Time. Call me the Lord of Pain. They will come to know that name. Much to their sorrow.
I sense that he's gone now. It's just me here with these three bodies bleeding out on the ground. I pull out some bandages and start to work. It looks like he got some tendons every time. Those never heal completely. He's a real piece of work, this Lord of Pain.
A voice comes out of a pendant hanging around my neck. I got it for this mission. A sight most stunning, both in its savagery and precision.
I'm sorry she had to watch that. She really doesn't have much stomach for violence.
I will persevere although perhaps it is best that I do not trust my legs too much for the moment. Fortunately, I have a horse.
She is coming here, then.
I am on my way already. For now, it may be best for you to retrieve the Master Sword. I will find a way to interrogate these cultists in the meantime.
So they're really trying to break Ganondorf out of prison?
So the frighteningly plausible rumor goes. It would be best for us to be prepared.
What kind of people would join a group like this? Ganondorf will destroy the world.
There are always discontented segments to any society. Some of them will convince themselves that any change will be for the better, even if it means forming a pact with the Dark Prince himself.
I don't like this. There's something wrong about them I can't put my finger on. I hope shell be careful.
I feel her smile and then the pendant gets a little warm against my skin. She's probably holding her matching pendant in her hand now and squeezing. Have no fear, my oldest friend. I will meet you at Lon Lon Ranch shortly.
Epona's a very fast horse. It's a matter of ten minutes or so for me to dash back to Hyrule Castle, get into the Temple of Time and get the Master Sword. The main hold-up was trying to get the guards to lower the drawbridge for me. Even with an order from the Crown Princess herself, they are sticklers for protocol. I guess I can't blame them.
And now I'm making my way into Lon Lon Ranch. I can hear voices a little bit before I actually come within sight of anyone.
He has a flare for the dramatic, this Lord of Pain. Even his name has a certain cadence. That's Zelda. For some reason, she won't let me call her Princess Zelda even though that's really what her name is. She says it's because we've been friends since we were kids, but that seems like just an easy excuse to hide some other reason.
Even for a princess, she's one of the oddest people I know. She will be 22 years old in a few weeks and has had dozens of men asking for her hand in marriage, but she's never given any of them a second glance. She really didn't seem to like it when the King finally arranged for her to be engaged to Prince Teelo from the next kingdom over. She also gets out of the castle a lot. I don't know why anybody would want to leave a place as beautiful and luxurious as Hyrule Castle, but Zelda does it almost every chance she gets. It's almost as if she really doesn't want to be a princess.
She also likes to run around in pants, but that's another story.
Whatever he is, he's a sick bastard. That's for sure. That would be Nabooru. She's slightly less strange than Zelda.
I round the corner and see them both. Zelda turns to me and gives me a little distracted smile. Well met, My Lord Hero of Time. She's in a funny mood right now. She's never called me anything like that before. I guess she's still getting used to the idea of eventually being someone's wife.
Just for fun, I call her Your Highness in return. She does a little double take but doesnt comment. Definitely in a funny mood.
Nabooru remarks, I see you went and got the Master Sword out.
Hopefully not for no reason. The Master Sword definitely has a consciousness, and I don't think it likes to have its rest disturbed unless there's any need.
It was difficult to wring consistency from the captives' responses. Zelda sighs. I have never seen men surviving such grievous injuries. The Lord of Pain is a master of physiology, it seems. Nonetheless, they confirmed that there have been efforts in the past to release Ganon.
That's good enough for me. Nobody can lie to Zelda and get away with it. I think it's a side effect of the Triforce of Wisdom. If they said it and she believes them, then they at least think it's true.
It's time for me to get going, then.
Go with him, Zelda says to Nabooru. Guide him to the entrance according to what the prisoners told us. Discover as much as you can of their forces and weaknesses within a half hour and then report back to me.
Nabooru grins at me. Just the two of us alone for an hour. It'll be like old times.
This is one thing I don't understand about Nabooru. She likes to flirt with me, but she doesn't seem to actually want it to go anywhere. I'm probably too young for her anyway. Ive never asked her age because I think she would probably be offended, but she was already grown up when I first met her as a 10-year old kid. Somehow, she still doesn't look a day over 25 now.
Anyway, there's nothing left to do here. I glance at Zelda and see her just gazing evenly back at me. I tell her I'll be back soon, and she nods absently. She's not all here right at the moment. I don't bother her. Who knows what she's thinking right now. It's probably important anyway. I turn and head off to Epona.
Watching him walk away, I recalled a time when he had stepped between a group of boys who were beating mercilessly upon another of their number. What he did not know was that the boy had been the town bully for a great many years. Malon told me of some of his exploits, and they were something of a legend in the village for their cruelty. It was not until one of the boys went away to train to become a soldier that he gained the courage to fight back. Who knows but that he might have ensured that this bully would never victimize another child again. But these thoughts did not occur to our Hero as he separated the boys and sent them on their way. No consideration of deeds past, even for a boy who in his youth had been an outcast, born in the violence of his mother's death. No thought of the future consequences either. No weighing of the benefits against the costs. For him, such things do not matter. He has no past nor future. He only lives now.
I think that is what ultimately endeared him to me. Royalty such as I have been raised to spend all our lives in self-reflection, calculating every word and every action. To remember, rethink and re-examine the past is a habit ingrained in our very souls. And yet with him, I could rest, at least for a moment. In a world of diplomatic masks, his open and guileless face was a beacon of light for me, and it only seemed to grow brighter as time passed and I understood more of my place in the world. With him, I was able to surrender my defenses and simply be myself. For him, plain-spoken and forthright in all ways, that was only a right to be taken for granted. For me, it was a luxury rarer than a scented bath.
Of course, I was sure that he envied my material comforts. It fell to me to know that for all the wealth I may acquire, I will be made in some ways poorer. Not that he does not also recognize this on some level. As Hyrule's greatest hero, he has earned and been offered a hallowed life of comfort and ease but never accepted it. In his own way, he understands the value of his freedom.
So it stood between us as he walked away to carry out another mission for me.
Nabooru sighed and shook her head. Didn't work up the nerve to tell him again?
Now is not the time for these personal affairs, I said.
Then when is? It was a good question. I did not know the answer.
You're always going to have important state business, Nabooru continued on. Her tone was not unsympathetic. But you know how he is. If you don't say it right out, he won't even know anything is going on.
To what end? I could have no future with him.
So you want a future without him?
Another good question. I have often wondered what sort of person I would have become had I never met him. Of a certainty, I would never have begun training in the Sheikah arts, but more so, I would not have had someone to unburden myself to. In a way, perhaps that would mean that I might forget a part of myself. It was in any case a life that I sometimes did not dare to contemplate.
Nabooru realized that I would not respond and sighed again. You know, he cares for you too. He may not realize it, but I think he's waiting for you to say the words. Just like you. She waited another moment for another response that would never come and then set off.
As did I on my own path. I had some wedding arrangements to make while I waited.
Sometimes, I just can't help being amazed at how many hidden areas there are in Hyrule. Take this entrance to the Golden Land cult's hideout for example. What I had to do is go to Zora Fountain and swim to the back where there's a tunnel built into the wall that I can hookshot up to. Then I go to this very particular spot (avoiding invisible skulltullas on the way), plant a bomb and hope that I'm close enough to open up a hole. Even the Stone of Agony doesn't pick up on this.
It takes a lot of trial and error, but eventually Nabooru and I make our way into a dark passageway. There are lit torches and a lot of dust that's been scattered around. Somebody has recently moved in. We follow the pathway until we come to a fork of sorts. One way is clear and seems to lead further in. The other is completely blocked by a huge granite block. It must have taken thirty men to put that thing into place. Sometimes I wonder what kind of ancient people went around putting all these elaborate obstacles in abandoned labyrinths.
I wish I could check that out, Nabooru says, looking at the granite block. There's probably some good treasure back there.
Well, no harm in letting her look. I pull the silver gauntlets out of my bag and hand them over to her.
What? she exclaims in surprise. These are...I've been looking for them for years. I'm touched. I mean, this was nice of you, but why... She cuts off as I take out the golden gauntlets and pull them on. Why you little...you horrible...thief! she sputters. How long have you been carrying those around?
To tell the truth, I've lost count by now. It's been at least five years.
And you were just keeping them in that little bag. Why? You never wanted to just feel powerful?
I don't need superhuman strength very often. There aren't that many massive granite blocks in Hyrule to push around.
In a situation like this, Nabooru likes to make a crack about doing something special for me, but she doesn't this time. She just sighs and then leans into the block, grunting slightly as she begins pushing it inward. Pretty soon, the tunnel opens up, and we can see a big room that pretty clearly hasn't been occupied. Completely unspoiled territory. There's no light here, but I know Nabooru must be grinning with delight right now. Come to think of it, she's probably more married to her treasure-hunting than she ever will be to a man.
At a time like this, it's usually useful to try Din's Fire. I have Nabooru hide behind the granite block and then take a moment to focus my thoughts. Magic has never been my strong suit. Zelda can toss this spell off with one hand while writing a letter with the other. I have to take several seconds without interruption.
Anyway, the fires rise around me and then expand outward. There were two torches within range, and they light up. We can just barely see the walls of the room now, but the ceiling is still too far away for the light to reach. Oh well. We'll make do.
I hear a click and turn to see Nabooru rummaging through a chest in the corner. I missed it the first time, but nothing gets past her. She stands up, holding a red rupee in her hand and sighs before tucking it into her pouch.
Where there's a treasure chest containing nothing but a little money, there is often another, more worthwhile one hiding somewhere else. I pull out the Eye of Truth and take a look around. Sure enough, there's a chest in the opposite corner of the room. A big one. I walk over and pop it open. Nabooru gives a slightly startled jump as the chest seems to appear out of nowhere when I touch it. She looks like she's about to cry out in protest again, but she cuts short when all I pull out is a map.
I hate it when that happens, she mutters. Always makes me think I'm about to find something good, and it turns out to be some old map.
I wonder how the Golden Land cult has been getting by without this. The map shows a lot of hidden areas that they probably wouldn't know about just by looking around on their own.
From the layout of the map, the most logical place to set up the headquarters is in a medium-sized room somewhere below us which only has one entrance or exit.
Nabooru notices the same thing. So we just have to find our way to those stairs three rooms away and then head straight to that room there. She peers in more closely at the map. Looks like after we go downstairs, there's three ways to go ahead. I wonder which one we have to take.
Well, we'll worry about it when we get there.
We take off, me in front with Nabooru following behind. Almost immediately, we see some people standing guard, but they don't see us. It turns out that because we went down this passageway that they never explored, we ended up on a walkway far above their heads that they never knew about. We steal along on half tip-toes over them.
As soon as we see the next room, we know there's no question of doing the same thing. It looks like the aftermath of a hurricane ripping through a knife shop with a dozen people caught inside. Broken bodies are strewn around like dolls. They are all cut and bleeding in different ways except for one cut they have in common: a slice across the throat. They died without being able to scream for help.
And in the middle of it all, the Lord of Pain is standing over another victim, about to deal out another horrific slash. But he stops, and in that moment, I know he feels me watching him. It's time to end this. Nabooru is a few steps behind me, still out of sight. I signal back to her to leave and go give her report to Zelda. There should be plenty to tell by now.
The Lord of Pain almost absently flicks his sword back at the wounded cultist, slicing open his arm. The poor man falls back, blood gushing from a sliced artery. I feel my teeth gritting in my mouth. He is going to die in a few minutes unless somebody patches up the wound. But I'm not going to be able to do that because the Lord of Pain is standing in the way. By the time I'm through with him, his latest victim will already be in shock from blood loss.
The Lord of Pain is waiting for me, his swords ready. What is he doing here? What does he want with me?
Never mind. We'll worry about that later when we get to it. We have some business to settle. Now.
If there ever was living proof that clothes make the person, I think that I am that proof. The world seems an entirely different place when I wear the clothing of a Sheikah warrior. Perhaps the greater freedom of movement lends me confidence. Perhaps the anonymity of a shawl across my face and the consequent lack of recognition from others changes my outlook.
All I know is that I often enjoy it although it does have its drawbacks. My appearance as a Sheikah requires a certain amount of magic to maintain, and thus other spells become extremely difficult if not impossible to cast. At most times, it is a worthwhile tradeoff.
It is the most useful form to have when danger could strike at any time from any direction and agility is at a premium, such as it was when I entered the lair of the Golden Land cult. And perhaps on some level I chose that form because I wanted to put it to the test. I had never been in combat before. I had never needed to, even when Ganondorf seemed the most terrifyingly close to gaining ultimate power. And now here was a time when I thought to see whether my training had been worth anything at all. Impa would have scolded me, I knew. And she would have been right. I had no inkling of what I was willingly walking into.
The two tracks walked steadily ahead of me, easily distinguishable from the rest of the scuffle from dozens, perhaps hundreds of feet before. For the time being, there was only one way they could go, but I watched them closely nonetheless for signs of enemy encounters.
They had met no one until they came to a branch in the path at which point they had turned left. Evidently, they had been the first humans to ever venture down that direction, most likely because drag marks along the side had indicated that some large object had lain in the way.
Nabooru had likely followed her instincts, honed from decades of thievery, which told her that when breaking into a home, one stayed in the areas least traveled when possible. This is what I was musing upon when I reached the end of the passageway, finding myself in an enormous chamber and also nearly colliding with Nabooru herself as she was retracing her steps back towards me.
She jumped back in surprise and then quickly reached for the knife in her sash. She was too far away to lunge at me, and so she stood there for the moment, at the ready. That gave me the time to pull the cloth away from my face and say, Be at ease.
Her eyes widened. You? But... Her face remained conflicted.
I remembered that my voice was magically deepened as part of my disguise. I dispelled the effect and spoke again. It is I.
What are you doing in those clothes?
They allow more freedom of movement.
Well yes, I always thought so, but...what are you doing here?
Ganondorf, as you know, bears the Triforce of Power. In order to counter him, the bearers of Wisdom and Courage must both be nearby. I am here as a contingency.
It's dangerous here. You could get yourself hurt or killed.
Such is always a risk when dealing with Ganondorf. Was there something you were coming to report to me?
Well yes. We ran into that Lord of Pain fellow just now. Figured there wasn't much I could do in the way of putting him under arrest, so I went back this way.
It was a prudent decision. Nabooru can handle a sword, but her specialty is in the bow and arrow. Against a master such as the Lord of Pain appeared to be, she would have been a hindrance.
Let us return then to see what aid I might render, I said to her.
Go back? But why? You don't have any idea what you're getting yourself into here.
I am not entirely powerless myself.
Nabooru shook her head resignedly. All right, but I'm warning you: he didn't bother to leave his victims alive this time around. You're not going to like what you see at all.
Now that I've gotten a chance to watch up close, I see that the Lord of Pain's style isn't like anything I've ever seen before. The Gerudos study the art of fighting with a sword in each hand, but not like him. He's more fluid. And faster. Maybe just as fast as I am. And his crystal swords make things all that much harder. They're so clear that they sometimes disappear even when staying still. If I'm not careful, I could end up with an invisible blade cutting through me.
Why, boy? The Lord of Pain's voice in between sword clashes sounds half like he's mocking me and half like he really doesn't understand me. I try to ignore him.
Why pursue me so ardently? Are there not much more worthy criminals to hunt down?
He goes for a horizontal scissor strike which I block by turning sideways and putting the shield in front of me while my sword goes behind. I continue the motion to go into a backhand spin attack, advancing forward slightly. He avoids the counterattack easily. I figured he would. We return to square one.
What did I ever do to merit you, the Hero of Time, personally attempting to subdue me? What harm have I ever done to you?
I can't believe he's asking a question like that. A dozen men are dead because of him.
Ah yes. I see you glancing about at those bodies. Rest assured, they attacked me first. You would have defended yourself as well, I think.
Whenever I've had to kill, I do it quickly and get it over with. I don't stand and wallow in their agony. The people of Hyrule demand that justice is done.
They demand, do they? Then let them come and enforce their demands upon me. What does it concern you?
They're my people.
They lost the right to call themselves your people when they made you an orphan. He moves suddenly, and I almost miss blocking his hits off my shield. You grew up with the Kokiri because your mother and father died in a pointless trade war. It is because of these people you so revere and blindly obey that you lived your childhood among those who never treated you as one of their own.
What are you talking about? That's not what it was like at all.
Oh no? He traps one of my strikes between his swords. I jam my shield up against him and lock my shoulder. Then I draw my sword down, trapping his swords so that we're both standing, pushing against each other and trying to find an advantage. Grappling is one of the most overlooked aspects of a swordsman's training.
Did you never see the thoughts that lay in their heads? The Lord of Pain's voice is starting to sound a little wild. And at the same time, almost as if he's pleading. I work on finding a weak point in his stance.
You were a freak to them. An outsider. They never let you pass by without staring at you. They mocked you with their eyes and jeered at you with their condescending words. They declared that you would never be one of them, even after you had found a fairy.
Only Mido said that.
And the rest of them followed like the blind sheep they were.
That's not true.
Open your eyes, boy! The Lord of Pain is shouting. What have they ever given you except years of misery? When were you ever happy in those days? What did you ever have when you were with them?
I had Saria.
The answer wells up inside me, and at the same time, I find the opening I was looking for. His defense almost seems to shatter as I manage to work underneath him just slightly. It's enough for me to use my legs for extra power as I push him back and spread his swords apart at the same time. He dives backwards, narrowly avoiding a sword strike that I think might have nicked his armor a bit anyway.
Ah yes. I do remember her well.
There's something wrong here. He knows too much about me. But there's more. He's put in lots of hours of practice to keep himself balanced, but during that time when we were both pushing against each other, I got to feel out his technique in detail.
Without a doubt, he's left-handed.
There's a flash of color out of the corner of my eye, and I glance just long enough to see that Zelda has arrived. Or maybe she's called Sheik when she's in those clothes. I never did figure it out. I wish she hadn't decided to come along, but I can't say I'm surprised. It does make some sense if we have to put Ganondorf back into his prison again.
The Lord of Pain notices her also, but unlike me, he just stops dead in his tracks. You! he gasps while staring at her.
That clinches it. I step back and put away my sword and shield. I can feel Zelda and Nabooru staring at me, but I focus all my attention on the Lord of Pain. He's looking back at me, thinking about something behind that mask of his. I think he knows that I've figured it out now.
I think Zelda's getting the idea, too. His reaction on seeing her would be the first clue, and she's always been quicker on the uptake than me. And then there's the fact that he won't attack me.
She hops out and starts walking toward us. I think that this fight is over for you, she says to the Lord of Pain. Her voice is sounding rather masculine at the moment, probably because of some spell.
The Lord of Pain slowly, almost sullenly, puts his swords away. Then he just stands at attention, waiting for Zelda to say something else.
Pray take off your mask that we might speak to each other openly.
He reaches up and sweeps it away in one motion, and I see in that instant that my instincts were dead on. But how? I don't understand this at all.
Of all the strange sights I have witnessed in my admittedly short life, this was surely the most bizarre. Two identical men, standing with the same build and the same posture, facing each other. And yet, a different soul peered out from behind their eyes. The one was clear, steady and determined. The other was cold, bitter and savage. I decided then that my attraction to Hyrule's greatest hero had little to do with appearances. This man standing before me was every bit as handsome, and yet he repulsed me. I could read his addiction to blood and agony in the lines of his face.
What manner of doppelganger are you? I gasped.
He gave a derisive snort. I am no copy.
I have heard of such existing. In the Water Palace, for example.
He barked out a brief laugh. That mindless thing? I would be better off a Stalfos. At least then I could do more than mimic his every movement. He gestured over at his twin, standing silently. Then he turned.
And you. You wonder if this is some trick of Ganondorf, do you? You would like that to be true, would you not? For then, you would not have to confront your reality, speaking before you here. But you know that it cannot be, boy. Two bearers of the Triforce are here now next to each other. If the third were present, you would know it.
It was true. The three pieces of the Triforce call to each other, and especially in close proximity, they are eager to unite. We have felt that once before.
And still there are ways to recreate another's appearance, I told him. You are most convincing, but still many doubts linger in my mind.
Then ask about me. Ask anything. Perhaps about the first time we met in your garden as you were spying upon the Royal Court.
It was stunning proof. I remembered that day, watching Ganondorf as he pledged allegiance to my father and knowing that he had other designs in his heart. I was hatching my own scheme to counter him when there suddenly appeared behind me a boy dressed all in green from the Kokiri Woods. He had seen the future, known that my plan would fail and instead lead to Ganondorf gaining the Golden Land and a piece of the Triforce. He had come to me, having somehow evaded all the guards in the castle, to warn me to wait and stall for time. Of that meeting, only he and I and Impa had ever known.
It cannot be, was all I could whisper.
Oh it is possible. I think you know how. You must have speculated about it when you learned that time travel was possible. How to deal with the myriad paradoxes, all the potential endless loops in logic and space? How is it possible unless at every juncture a new reality, a new timestream is created.
I had indeed thought about such problems in my idle moments, but here now was my first inkling of how it might happen. Nabooru approached from behind me, mostly unnoticed by all until now.
I don't get it, she said. This man here is the same as ours but just from...a different timeline?
It would appear so, I said.
I'll never get used to this, she muttered. Bad enough dealing with one hero who jumps into yesterday like it's skipping across a field, but two of them... She glared accusingly at the both of them. At that moment, they wore hauntingly similar expressions of amusement on their faces.
You speak of junctions in time, I said. Where the paths of history diverge into two. And which are you from?
The mirth drained from his eyes in an instant. One in which Ganondorf reigns supreme, he hissed.
How is that possible? I exclaimed.
From my point of view, that is a question I would best ask of you. You know very well the power Ganondorf of the thieves wielded. How could an inexperienced young princess and a veritable babe from the woods have possibly hoped to challenge him? He gestured at the two of us in turn as he spoke. Then he turned to contemplate his twin, still standing at ready and never wasting a word as always. You find me astonishing, I think, he said quietly. And yet what I find truly astonishing is how he could remain so unchanged, still so righteous after all this time.
Maybe that's his strength, Nabooru remarked.
What? Belief in the higher good? He whirled on her. Do you know what was Ganondorf's first act as Hyrule's king? He knew the workings of power. He understood that casting the kingdom under his heel would only last for so long. And so he declared a week of amnesty and then set about creating performances for the masses. Plays, spectacles, enclosed combat matches. Something to satisfy every desire. He drugged the masses on entertainment, and by the end of it, they were eating out of his hand and begging for more. And all he asked in return was condemnation of one he had charged with treason. And they were all too eager to turn upon me in exchange for more spectacles to feed their glassy-eyed stares. There was a mad accent to his voice as he advanced upon us. This was the gratitude shown to me by the people I thought I served. This was what they deemed to be my due after all I had done. To be hunted down and turned from every house and spat upon as a common criminal all because their lord, the leader of their sheep-minded mass had declared it so. He stopped and allowed us to study him and consider what he had said. I have looked upon the face of this greater good. And what I have seen is that there is no such thing. There is no purpose driving us. There is only pain. And suffering.
I don't like you, Nabooru declared flatly.
At one time, I might have cared.
That is enough, I interrupted. We have a task here to perform, and every minute raises the chance of discovery. We have wasted too much time already. You are here now. Will you help us face this threat?
He stopped short and gazed at me. There was something haunting in the way he looked me up and down. Finally, he nodded his head. As your Highness commands.
I have no choice but to accept you now, but always remember that you are on borrowed time. When this is over, hero or no hero, you will face the courts of justice.
I little care.
And one thing more, I said as I made a decision. You are not to engage any further in this debauchery of slaughter. I looked about the room at the bodies of his victims and struggled for a moment to maintain my poise even as my stomach curled within me.
How else to get through to these miscreants who only understand violence? he half-snarled.
With an even hand, I replied. You may believe in a world empty of all meaning, but Hyrule was founded on a different principle. You will abide by it or be named a common criminal here just as in your land. He stiffened at that. I had read him correctly. He still did care something for such matters.
Very well, he said tightly.
Then let us go. Which way does the map direct us?
There's still something that feels wrong about this. What he said sounds depressing, but I can't believe that would change me so much. I've seen a world under Ganondorf. I know he has, too. It was the most despairing place I had ever seen, but I got through it. There's something missing in his story. I think Zelda knows it, too. But she's a pragmatist, so she is ignoring it for now while we move on our way. All the same, I can't help looking over at the self-proclaimed Lord of Pain and wondering about him.
What? he finally says to me. Looking for some proof of my fakery, boy?
Stop calling me that! I'm just as old as you are.
Age has nothing to do with it, boy.
And I have a name, too.
No, you don't, boy. That was lost to the mists of time long ago. Nobody knows now what your mother called you. That which people call you now is some arbitrary word dreamed up on a whim. It is no more your true name than the Lord of Pain is mine. We will both journey long and answer to many callings. But we will always both remain nameless, and in that way you and I are inevitably the same.
There's nothing the same about us. I'm nothing like you.
Go on and deny it, boy, if it makes you feel better. It changes nothing.
Enough, Zelda says sharply. We must have quiet now.
We are coming to the next room, right before the stairs leading down. Like a lot of rooms before, this one has a walkway high above and not too much lighting. The walkway is reachable by someone with good climbing and jumping skills. I'm sure Nabooru could get there with one hand tied behind her back. There are four guards who could make things complicated, but maybe not complicated enough.
Which is exactly what Zelda is thinking, apparently. From that walkway, you could make your way to the other side of the room and then drop down into some shadows to make your way to the stairs. Then go from there to see what's next. Zelda looks at Nabooru and gestures. Nabooru nods and watches the guards making their patrols in the room closely. They have chosen a pretty good pattern, but there's one brief opening when none of them are looking at the entrance to the room where we are. Nabooru waits, watching the timing. And then in the brief spell of a second when they're all looking away, she moves.
All we can do is watch. Nabooru exploits all kinds of handholds in the wall we can't see and at the same time sticks to the shadows as much as possible. And she's always dead silent. All the meantime, she doesnt look at the guards, but she still only moves when nobody is looking in her general direction. It's as if she's memorized their movements already and is just working off some kind of internal timing. They say she's the best thief in the world, and I believe it. She's not exactly wearing the ideal clothes for camouflage, but she doesn't need to.
But even the best can't always be ready for the occasional hitch. She's made it almost all the way to the end of the room and is getting ready to hop back to the ground again when another group of cultists arrives from downstairs. It must be the time for the changing of the guard. Nabooru can't see them yet. And now it's too late. She's going to jump down and land right in front of the new guards. She'll be trapped.
Zelda moves almost before the rest of us realize what's going on. She likes to run close to the floor, and at top speed, she can really cover territory. To the first guard she hits, she must have looked like a blue and white blur darting across the ground.
Her first strike is a heavy kick to the midsection. Then she jumps up, still with a lot of forward momentum, somersaults over him and plants both feet on his back to launch off, driving him into the ground.
She lands running. The second guard might have had some idea of what was going on, but that wasn't enough for him to avoid having his feet swept out underneath him and getting a stomp right into his face. By this time, the other guards and the new arrivalsthere are two of themhave noticed Zelda and are drawing their swords.
Zelda doesn't have a sword of her own. But it's also pretty clear that she doesn't need one. She blocks an incoming strike against her right bracer and then jumps over the blade, spinning around to lash with first her left, then her right foot across the guard's face. Then she lands and continues spinning to throw one more kick that sends him twisting and flying through the air before landing with a thud.
One of the newcomers is realizing that this might be more than they can handle. He turns to run back down the stairway. Nabooru sees what's going on now and makes her way over the exit. Then she lets go and drops down directly onto his shoulders. He falls badly. I think I saw him twist his ankle. Nabooru rolls off of him and slams a Deku nut into the ground right in front of his face. With a bright flash that close, he will probably be seeing nothing be stars for the next five minutes. Nabooru doesn't waste any more time and runs down the stairs.
Zelda's dealing with the last two guards in quick order. She darts and slides under the next one's swordgoing in between his legs, in factand raises a leg in passing to hit his groin. He doubles over in pain as she continues to the last guard and leaps up, driving both feet into his chest and slamming him into a wall behind him. He collapses, completely winded as she pushes off from him, kicking his face just for good measure. She flies backwards, flipping over and then landing with her feet catching around the previous guard's head. She arches backwards and plants her hands on the ground, then uses her legs to throw him. His head slams into the ground, and then he's out.
Zelda stands up, takes a deep breath and then turns back to us. I'm sure she must have heard the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.
What are you doing, woman? Is this all play to you? Look at you. Your face is flushed with excitement and pride as you pull the cloth away from your head. You cannot help but smile in triumph. Damn you, do you not realize what you are doing? Do you intend to get yourself killed with these antics?
The boy is staring at her in unabashed admiration. So easily impressed by flashy games. It seems a lifetime ago that I was such an idiot. No, it does not only seem so. It was in fact another time, before the turning of a life.
They look at each other, and I see it. A brief spark. And then she looks away bashfully. The boy appears confused.
Do these fools not realize what is occurring here? Do they not realize what is happening again? Why do they tiptoe about it? Why do they hide from it, all ashamed? Could he not even be man enough to step forward to meet her, waiting for him?
She meets my eye, and the light fades from her eyes. And as I watch her cool, I cannot deny it. For all that she is a brainless doxy for being so excited at her first battle, for all that I detest her witless pride in a meaningless victory, even so I cannot help but feel a twang of regret at seeing that quiet joy disappear.
There's something going on here. I don't know what to make of the way the Lord of Pain is looking at Zelda. It's almost like he disapproves, but not quite. I just don't get it.
All I know is that I had no idea Zelda had that in her. I'm still running through her every move in my head. I wonder if she would spar with me some time. It could be a lot of fun to work with a new style like that. I've never met anybody with half the flexibility she has.
Of course, she's the Princess and I'm just a soldier. It's probably a totally inappropriate idea. On the other hand, who knows what Zelda is thinking right now. I know the feeling. When you've got all these new abilities and you just want to let loose to see what you can do. I'd certainly like to see everything she's capable of.
But easy now. We've still got work to do here. There was something about the way she was looking at me, but I'll have to figure it out later. I can see Zelda is getting back into the moment, too. The rush is fading away, and now it's time for business.
Is there something we can use to bind them? she asks, gesturing to the guards.
I see the Lord of Pain's hands tighten on the hilt of his swords. I know exactly what he's thinking. Why bother when we could just kill them? Or take out their voices? He cares so little for life. It's disgusting. Then he looks at me. Our eyes meet for a second, and suddenly he grins. What's so funny? I don't think that looks quite right on my face. Right then, I think I would like him a lot better if he'd put that mask back on.
I look away and suggest to Zelda that we might be able to improvise something with the Longshot. Sit the guards all in a bunch together and then wrap the chain around them. Then engage the Longshot's retracting motor to pull it in nice and tight.
Zelda likes the idea, but she does me one better. She has us pile all the guards together and then hold their hands and feet up into the air together as she wraps the Longshot's chain around them. When we're through, they look something like a bunch of trussed up cattle. It's probably much harder for them to escape this way, too. Some of them have started to wake up, and they start cursing us loudly when they figure out what's happened. This is the first time I've seen Zelda doing this kind of thing, but I like the way she thinks. She steps back and studies her work studiously. Then she looks at me. I grin at her, and I see her mouth quirk slightly in reply. But mostly, she responds with her eyes. For a moment, we are like two kids who have just pulled off some elaborate plan to steal candy.
You know, we ought to do this sort of thing more often.
The Lord of Pain brushes in between us and heads down the stairs, not looking at either of us. Zelda glances at him and then gives me a look as if to silently ask what's with him.
I shrug. How should I know?
Her expression seems to be asking how I couldn't know what's going through the head of another version of myself from another timeline. I notice that she actually looks pretty funny, standing there emoting with her face. Nothing at all like a dignified princess is supposed to look. I feel myself grinning and decide that's enough of that for now as I walk past her down the stairs. She looks a bit confused which is actually kind of satisfying.
The Lord of Pain is waiting at the bottom of the stairs as I arrive with Zelda following close behind. He doesn't say anything. Just points out into the room where some more guards are patrolling. They don't look like they've been disturbed recently. Nabooru must be somewhere ahead, still scouting around. Zelda looks, nods and then points upstairs. We might as well wait there and guard our prisoners. We'd be able to chat a bit too, if we wanted.
The problem is when we get there, the Lord of Pain is hanging like a dark cloud over us. I've known him for all of maybe an hour all told, but somehow this seems out of character for him. I don't think he likes to brood or thinks much of people who do. I wonder what's got him.
Could I really be like him? There's still something missing here. I look over at him as we sit down. Surprisingly, he's looking at me, too. Actually, he's looking at the Master Sword on my back.
I decide to ask him if he remembers using it.
That I do, he replies, much to my sorrow.
What's that supposed to mean?
He stares at me for a second. You have heard what they say, boy. Look into a swords blade, and you will see a reflection of your own soul. It is truer for the Master Sword than for any other, for it speaks to its wielder. Chooses him, even.
I'm starting to get it. He wouldn't be able to hold the Master Sword now.
Those were the words that I heard echoing through my brain when it rejected me. That was when I first learned hatred. I tried to strike a man's head from his shoulders then in anger, but the Master Sword would not do it. I am sure you have heard its ancient voice before in your mind. So it spoke to me, and then it was suddenly gone from my hand.
I see. That was the beginning of the end.
Not quite. I found it again. It took many long years, for the Master Sword had returned to its place in the Pedestal of Time. And the whole temple had been sealed off and placed under heavy guard by Ganondorf. He could not control the Sword of Evil's Bane, and so he sought to prevent anyone else from using it. I thought that perhaps I might be able to implore its aid once again.
And so you found it again, Zelda says. The tied up guards are watching us, a little confused. We all ignore them.
Just so, but the result upon touching it was totally unlike anything I had expected. He chuckles grimly for a moment. It brought me here.
I had heard that the Master Sword was the vessel able to travel the stream of time, Zelda murmurs. I had never known anything about it being able to jump into a new stream altogether.
Perhaps it does not. I had often wondered about that time travel. You have heard something about this time traveling I did to battle Ganondorf?
Zelda nods. It occurs to me that the Lord of Pain seems to be feeling a little better. Maybe this talking is like therapy for him.
One aspect of time travel never made sense to me, he continues on. Why did my body always adopt the appropriate age for the time? Why was I a little boy when I traveled to the past and an adult in the future? Perhaps there was no transport through time at all. Only communication. Perhaps upon touching the Master Sword, my younger self gained a glimpse of what was taking place in the future and thus knew what he had to do in his own time to aid the task at hand. And perhaps my adult self was not traveling to the past but only communicating with it.
A fascinating theory, but that raises some questions about your existence.
He smiles. Indeed. Am I truly here, or is this all a dream created when I touched the Master Sword in my own world? Or perhaps I am an apparition, a vision created in this world by the Master Sword. I wonder what purpose that would serve.
Try as I might, I personally find this discussion kind of boring. So it's a relief when Nabooru comes jogging back up the stairs. We all look at her expectantly.
Some bad news, she announces without wasting any time. I found the room where the ceremony is supposed to take place to free Ganondorf. The problem is it's sealed off. Let me look at that map.
I hand it over to her and she points.
The room is here, just like we thought it would be.
Wait. How does she know this?
Oh, I almost forgot. She pulls out a compass from her pouch. I found this in one of the side rooms while I was snooping around. Wasn't that hard to get. It definitely points at that room. Here, you can have it. She gives it to me, and I put it away for now.
Then how to access this sealed room? Zelda asks.
See these three passages here all leading to the anteroom right before the ritual chamber? I looked into them briefly. There were too many guards around for me to stay long, but I saw a switch in each one of them. My guess is at certain prearranged times, the guards step on all three switches at the same time which causes the door to open. If we want to get in there, we'll have to hit those switches.
Complicated, the Lord of Pain mutters.
Yet utterly convenient, Zelda remarks. You have done well, Nabooru. It is time for you to summon the Royal Army. There is a horse waiting for you just at the entrance to Zora's Domain. Take it and ride at once for the castle. She takes out a letter from inside her sleeve and gives it to Nabooru. This will gain you access to the commanding officer there and instruct him to listen carefully to whatever you say. It will be for the remaining three of us to activate those switches and gain access to the ritual chamber.
Nabooru doesn't have to be told twice. She takes off.
The Lord of Pain is a different matter. Are you mad? he almost shouts at her. Do you mean to enter one of those passageways, fight through the guards by yourself to gain access to one of the switches?
We do what we must.
Personally, I think she can take care of herself.
You cannot! he protests. Not again. He seems really worked up about this. Zelda just raises an eyebrow.
I seem none the worse for wear after the first time.
That is not what I mean. You overestimate yourself, but I know better. It was just such a task that got you killed.
It takes a moment for that to get through to us, but once it does, everything seems to suddenly shift. The realizations are coming in so fast, I almost feel as if my head is spinning. It all makes sense now.
Zelda died in his timeline. And that must have been what got him so worked up that he tried to kill someone in hate. It must be. That's the only thing that could do it.
I know this because when I think about it, I realize with a chill that I might do the same thing. Zelda. The Crown Princess who never acted like one. Who played together with me when we were kids and always let us talk about whatever was on our minds whenever we felt like it. If I lost her...
I look over and see her staring back at me. And suddenly, a lot of other things make sense. I've only ever seen her smile at me. I don't know how I never noticed it before. It's as if she thought, somehow, that I was the only thing worth being happy about.
I see a frightened light enter her eyes as she recognizes what's going on. She didn't want it to come to this. But it's too late now. It's all too fast, and there's nothing either of us can do to stop it.
Zelda, why didn't you ever tell me?
Look at them. Look at their miserable faces staring at each other. Suddenly aware of a new timeline unfurling around them. The recreation of the past and the birth of a new future. Their past. Their future.
Unhappy. Accursed. Fools. What appreciation could he show for what he has never lost? How could he, all so ignorant, generate any passion toward her whom he never truly knew?
And how could she care for him when she has no inkling of the depth of his feelings for her? She does not know the extent of his anguish. She remains ignorant of the torment his soul withstood all these years. There she stands, so blissfully unaware of how she drives us mad by the second.
Those who kill and revel in the misery of others are loathsome, but they who claim not to have any admiration at all for such people are liars. Until now, such was what we could become, but not now. The teeth have been pulled. The claws have been filed away. This creature standing here is without purpose. Such a pitiful thing. Such a pathetic thing.
Those damned children, how I loathe them so! They sicken me. They eat away at our core. At me.
Damn them. Curse them both. Piteous fools. A mercy on their wretched souls.
Whenever I recall that day, two moments will always stand out as brightly as bonfires in the night. When time disappeared and there was only the now. And there was nobody else, except us. And a dawning realization.
Here was the first such moment. I felt completely witless. Here was a moment that defied all my careful and disciplined analysis. It still does. Nothing could tell me what was happening. Nothing gave me any signs of what was to happen in the future.
I was lost. And yet...there are times when I would give anything to repeat the moment again. A moment of total and utter uncertainty. A complete chaos of the soul. When anything is possible.
I could see the same recognition in his eyes, and all my defenses seemed to melt away before him. If only it could be true. At least for a time. Or at least for this one moment.
I barely remember how we descended the stairs and dealt with the guards in the next room. His eyes seemed to follow me everywhere, providing a certain warmth from within. I think my fighting may have lost a great deal of its edge, so distracted I was. Perhaps it had been under similar circumstances that another woman just like me had died.
But I did not die then. It was not my time. Or perhaps it was simply because I had the protection of two other great warriors with me as we entered the room. The guards were quickly dispatched and then left to lie unconscious. We did not need to tie them down. By the time they revived, matters would be resolved in one way or another.
We were facing three doors at the end of that room now, and the compass confirmed that our goal lay beyond all three of them. The Lord of Pain turned as if to protest to me once more and then stopped. It shames me somewhat to say that I had forgotten about his feelings up until now. I had been so caught up in a totally different moment. He regarded me for this one, and I thought of the romantic triangles that third-rate authors so often like to describe in their stories. So often the woman would be caught in between one for whom she felt a blossoming affection and one for whom she felt pity. And who knows where either might lead? I had read such stories with a studied curiosity only. Now I had some notion of what they meant.
His face hardened, and I thought of how I would never want the other face to look at me the same way. Then he turned and stormed through one of the doors.
Only two of us remained. I was about to wish him luck and tell him to have no worries on my account when he held up a hand to stop me. Then he reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. I realized that this was the first time we had touched each other in a very long time. Perhaps even years. Always before we had stood somewhat aloof from each other, the invisible wall of my station standing between us. But it was gone, then. And I could see on his face that he was realizing the same.
He said nothing as we stood there. He so very rarely ever needs to speak. Another reason he had become the light of my heart was that he could always be counted on to remind me that there were times to be silent.
He smiled slightly, and I vowed then that I would return to him. Death would not be my fate on this day. Simultaneously, we chose our own doors and proceeded onward.
Reflecting on it, I think I should not have been so surprised by what I saw. There were members of the Golden Land cult here, and they were unmasked. It is a strange thing to consider how after all this time, we had never really thought to look at who exactly made up the members of the Golden Land cult. Our initial encounters had been with those who seemed merely to represent the common criminal elements. But here, in the inner sanctum and close to the heart of the organization, in a room that appeared to be a sort of converted recreational area with couches and board games on tables, I saw only boys. I am no old hag, but to them, I must have seemed nearly of a different generation. And had they been wearing their masks, I would have simply attacked them. Perhaps even been unavoidably forced to kill some of them.
But upon seeing their faces, my plan changed entirely. Before any of them could react, I had cast a spell of light to blind them momentarily. An instant later, I had changed into my formal gown and released the spells altering my appearance and voice. In another few seconds, some of them had recovered sufficiently to raise their blinking eyes to me again. I raised my hand and summoned the most commanding tone I could muster.
Cease and surrender your weapons by order of the Princess.
They had certainly not been expecting this. I saw the thoughts running through their minds now. They knew that they were part of an illegal organization that looked to overthrow my family and install another in our place.
And yet, for boys their age, of whom the oldest could not have seen more than 16 years, rebellion is a nebulous concept. Here they were confronted with the target of their erstwhile revolution in the flesh, and actually raising a hand against it was proving a far different thing than merely contemplating the idea.
Do not waste your lives here, I implored them, keeping my voice firm. You know what my presence here means. The Royal Army cannot be far behind. What chance do you stand against them? There is nothing left for you here. Give up your arms and go peacefully. Return to your homes.
We could take her, one of them suddenly suggested. We could take her hostage. That would be our key out.
I flicked a fireball into a table, and it burst into yellow heat and light. They all jumped back, the temporary stiffness going out of their spines immediately. I continued on. Do not be led astray by such false hopes. I am not so easily captured, and in any case, I would do you no good. You could do nothing to me so long as I remained your hostage. Threats upon my person would be worth nothing for as soon as any harm is done to me, you would all be subject to summary execution with no possibility of clemency. The Royal Army would know this. They would count on it. I would gain you nothing.
I had them. I could see it in their eyes. They had lost, and they knew it. We stood there for another tense moment. And then first one, then another and then the rest slowly unbuckled their swords and began to lay them in a pile in the middle of the room. I stepped aside, and they filed past to the door and beyond. Watching their stunned faces, I considered telling them that they were free. I had not bothered to memorize their features for future identification. There was no need for anybody to know about their activities. It was over for them.
But they had enough to consider already. It was sufficient that I had taken them through this already. I waited for the last one to leave and close the door behind him. Then I cast the spell to change into the guise of a Sheikah again. There was no telling if I would be able to find such a peaceful resolution in the future.
I stepped onto the switch at the other end of the room and felt it sink beneath my weight. Then I waited.
What is this?
What is this room with all its tables, foodstuffs piled high upon them? What are these boys doing here? These children laughing and shouting and playing their raucous music? Here they sit in a place of treason, and they treat it all as a joke.
All for what? Is this nothing more than a diversion for them? A game to fill their idle hours? Do they fancy now playing at rebellion for no other reason than to feel the illusion of freedom from their parents? To shirk off their responsibilities in order to impress their friends?
It sickens and disgusts me. These children facing me with open mouths, confronted with reality for the first time in their shallow, brain-addled lives. They make a mockery of good and evil both. It is time they learned the consequences. It is time they became men.
Come now, boys, why the hesitation? Let us dance. Let us live now in this moment. You wish to appear as brave and courageous heroes before your fellows, do you not? Well then let us begin!
Ah, here is the first foolhardy soul. His guard is wobbly and far too high, allowing my sword to rip his thigh open easily. Blood is spurting from the wound as he falls. Why the scream, boy? This is nothing. Do you want to see true pain? Watch as I slice into the armpit of the next one to charge me. There are many sensitive nerves there under the arm. And on the inner thigh as well which is where I strike the next child who brings his weapon to bear against me.
There! I see their faces going ashen and the mortal terror inflicting their eyes. Now they see it! Now they hear the symphony of their comrades' screams and they know the truth which I have known for so long. It is not death that they fear. It is the pain and agony that paralyzes them, roots their feet to the ground. Yes, tremble you misbegotten implings. Quake with fear. Do you understand now? Do you feel the reality of the world pressing down upon your shoulders?
Where do you run to? I can catch three more of you from here. I have throwing knives to bury within your bodies. There, and there, and there! What? Will none of you stop to help your fallen comrades? Flee, then! Tell your friends about the mad storm that is coming! Run back to your homes and hide under your pillows, for on this day you have rejected your manhoods!
This is the pain of your pretensions.
It's a barracks. That's the first thing I realize when I open the door and see this room. There are cots lined up by the walls and some bedding lying on the floor for people who aren't lucky enough to get their own mattress. Nabooru forgot to mention that this room had a function besides just holding a switch. But to be fair, it's not that important.
I hear a sound to my left. I turn and bat aside an incoming sword strike. The sword flies out of the other person's hand, and I have the point of my own at his throat. And then in a frozen moment, I see him.
He's just a kid. He's so young that he can't have been studying the sword for more than three years if that much. And all the same, he's shocked at how easily I disarmed him. He knew he wasn't the greatest, but like all young boys, he thinks he's just that bit better than people think he is. And now it's all come crashing down. He didn't expect it to end this way. He didn't want this.
I look around and I see other boys all cautiously gathering up their weapons. They've seen a half-second of what I can do. They know some of them are probably going to die right now. But they think they can take me.
The Master Sword is singing in my hand. I think I'm the only one who can hear it. It's waking up and letting itself be heard. This has happened only once before. Back when I defeated Ganon in a different future, it came alive just like this. It was urging me on. To fulfill its destiny.
Now it's different. It's sending a totally new message. Not today. Not now.
And I agree.
One of the boys steps forward and goes for a massive, overhead swing. I step in underneath his attack, block his arm against my arm and shove my shield into him. Then I spin and turn, using his forward momentum to throw him right over me and into the first boy who is still standing and staring in shock. They both land in a crash heap on the floor.
The next boy goes for a thrust. I step to the side to let it fly by and deliver a backhand slap with the flat of the blade into his face. His head flips up at the blow, letting me step in to kick him in the stomach. That sends his head right back down, exposing his neck so that I can hit it with the pommel of the Master Sword. He's down.
There are four more left. It's time to end this now. The Master Sword has never felt this way ever before. As if it's found a new mission in life and is embracing it eagerly. We're not a sword and a fighter. The Master Sword is announcing a new arrival to the world. We haven't just merged. We've just been reborn together.
The next hit is a forehand, coming in diagonally. I block and circle it around, bashing my shield into the boy's face. I stick a foot behind his as he goes back, tripping him so that he lands flat. A stomp to the chest takes him out.
Next incoming hit is a backhand coming in low. I block it on my shield and then wrap my arm around his, twisting it upward into an unnatural angle. He hops as his shoulder is jammed upward and then yelps as I apply pressure in a circle toward him. He has to run backwards, away from his hand as I continually drive it back towards him with his elbow raised up into the air. I let him go around me for one revolution before I let go and kick him into his friends. All three of them go down.
They slowly stand up again. I think one of them recognizes me. One of the drawbacks to being me is a lot of exaggerated stories get taught to schoolkids about me. I wish they wouldn't do it, but they insist. Even Zelda won't do anything about it. She thinks it's funny.
Well, it comes in handy here. They know what's going on here. And they know it's over. It's time for them to just leave. Time to stop playing bad guy and just go home. I put away the Master Sword and wait for them to gather up their stunned and unconscious friends. Then they stumble out of the room.
That leaves just me and the switch. I step on it and feel it sink down. There's a clank, and then something rumbles beyond the door ahead of me. The others must have gotten to their switches already. I move on.
There are some Golden Land cultists running out. They are no older than the ones I just fought. They stop and freeze in place when they see me. All they can seem to do is stare at me for a moment. Then they all scream in terror and run away in a total panic towards some passageway that heads off who knows where.
My face has never gotten a reaction like that before. What's the Lord of Pain been up to now?
The man himself emerges from a different door, wiping blood off his crystal swords. I should have known. Leave him alone for a second and he relapses back to his old ways. How could I have ever been him? It's sickening.
He sees me looking at him and shrugs. Oh, so he thinks there's nothing I could do about it? There's one thing I can do. One thing I just did. I've just proven that I don't have to be him to make my way in the world. His way is not the only way. He's lost.
They were staring at each other when I emerged. I did not know what had just passed, and I did not care to find out. I think that in the days and months since then, I have deduced enough. There was no need to dwell upon it any longer.
And so I directed their attention to the door that was unlocking before us all. The mechanism moved slowly, ponderously. I sensed impatience in the Lord of Pain, but for my part I was simply glad that anything this ancient worked at all. Gears turned in their places, driving shafts and cranks and bars until finally the way was clear for the door to open. This it did of its own accord which I realized was a blessing as the door was in fact very massive.
Before anything else, we could see bright green and purple energies swirling about from within the chamber. And then we saw a man dressed in the uniform of a Golden Land cultist, but this was more elaborate and finer by far. I assumed he was the leader of the cult, and he was standing before a cauldron, waving his arms and muttering incantations. I immediately sensed something very amiss.
You're too late! he shouted in triumph. My underlings have succeeded in delaying you thus far, and now the spell cannot be reversed. The Lord of Darkness returns! He began to hop about the cauldron more excitedly, yelling his incantations and gesturing more and more wildly, as if rushing to finish.
We approached slowly, mystified by what he was doing. Something continued to escape logic. There are barely any spells that involve chanting about a cauldron, and those that do are designed to produce a potion or some other substance. Certainly not to summon a being from a trapped dimension.
The energies swirling about took on a reddish hue, and then I recognized what was happening. This man had no idea what he was doing at all. Stand back! I shouted. This is no summoning spell. It will only produce vast energies and spiral out of control.
And that is precisely what happened then. The cauldron exploded, splashing its contents all over him. We were yet too far back to be affected, and that proved fortunate. There must have been some powerful acid within the mixture, for the cult leader began to scream in a manner that I do not think was prescribed for his spell at all. He stumbled backwards and fell to the ground, rubbing his skin and beating at his clothes.
Some part of my mind observed the absurdity of the situation. Here was the leader of the Golden Land cult which had briefly enjoyed a meteoric rise and even some small amount of fame. He had threatened to revive the ultimate king of evil and drawn in the personal attention of two bearers of the Triforceas well as another from a different time. He had been the central focus of our quest. Now we had arrived, and he was a sideshow, to be done in by his own incompetence. Surely this was not what he had dreamed.
These were the thoughts that ran through my mind before the mixture, which had splattered all around by now, exploded once more. The cult leader was thrown bodily backwards to slam into a wall behind him. I could already see by the glaze in his eyes that he was dead.
I had seen too much of death on this day. I will never become accustomed to killing and the turning of vibrant people into lifeless bodies. And yet, what happened next sticks in my mind and does not produce a feeling of revulsion.
Stepping slowly forward, the Lord of Pain kept his eyes upon the dead cult leader. The one had a face that was already stretched into a mad rictus. The expression on the other was frozen into cold disgust. The Lord of Pain stopped over the corpse of the man who for a time had held sway over a number of lives. He paused there for a moment, considering.
Then he spat forcefully, and turned away. Idiot, he muttered.
Well, you said you wanted to hold the Master Sword. So here we are, holding it together. What now?
Ask the princess to wait outside.
This is not for her to see. And we have much to discuss now that does not concern her. She need not watch this communication through the sword.
You could ask her to leave yourself.
She will listen to you. She always has.
Is she gone?
Zelda is gone. She isn't watching. I get the feeling she already knows whats going on.
She surely does. She is granted a great deal of intelligence, after all. And what of you? You find this anti-climactic?
Not every quest ends with a big boss battle.
That cult leader couldn't bring back Ganondorf. No more than you or I can give birth. You knew that.
Yes. And so why bring the Master Sword here?
A ruse. It's the key to the other dimension.
Indeed. We are more similar than you would like to admit.
That goes both ways. You could have gotten out of here any time. I would have been glad to get rid of you. You didn't. You stayed to the end. You wanted to finish this. All that stuff about nothing having any meaning and everything being about pain was just an act. You have your principles just like I do.
Tell me, are you growing confused? Are you having trouble keeping in mind which one of us you are?
Maybe a little.
That is good. Always keep that in mind.
What? That I'm like you? I've gotten past that.
Because you have found your purpose? Do not be naïve. Do you think as a boy that I ever imagined what I have turned into now? Remember me, and remember that I am what you could become.
And I'm what you could have been. I think that bothers you more than anything you could say would bother me. I know who I am. Who are you?
A whisper and a shadow and nothing more.
Who's going back to a world with nothing for him. Why? Would it hurt anybody for you to just stay here?
And watch you with her for the rest of my days? I think I do not care for the prospect.
Or maybe you have some unfinished business. Maybe you're still trying to make it right.
Have a care for your mouth or it may get you into trouble.
You're the one who talks too much.
Are we quite done?
Whenever you are.
Take care of her.
You know I will. Take care of her memory. Maybe you'll be able to find a new name for yourself.
Names given, titles acquired. They are all meaningless. You must know this by now.
I've been thinking about it a bit more lately.
That far in advance?
We will have to deal with it some time.
Ah. A fool to the end. How you ceaselessly amuse. Farewell, then.
Its a few minutes later when I hear Zelda coming in behind me. I dont stand up or turn to look. We need to talk. To straighten a few things out. But first, I need to get my thoughts in order.
Silk rustles as she sits down beside me. Shes wearing her dress. She must look beautiful right now. I open my eyes and let myself stare. Theres something about her right now. As if shes taken a little extra time dressing. Did she mean to do that?
Our eyes meet and stay there. I realize something now. How much we really understand each other, more than anybody else in the world. We walk in our different worlds. We both have our own friends. But in the end, we both have one thing in common branded into the backs of our right hands. And were alone, fighting a battle nobody else can fight for us.
She notices the way Im looking at her and blinks in surprise. Her mouth opens slightly as if to say something and then closes again. She slowly looks down at her hands folded in her lap. Ive never seen her looking so helpless. Zelda, why didnt you ever tell me?
She smiles slightly. It was...not so easy for me. I never found the words to express how I felt.
What are you talking about? Youre the greatest speechmaker in the world.
There was this one time when I heard her speaking at a funeral for her uncle. I never met him, but when Zelda spoke, he came alive for a moment. I felt as if I knew him in some way. His favorite painting. The spot in the garden where he liked to sit and read. The habit he had of feeling along one of the handrails until he found a particular knot in the wood. Listening to Zelda, I felt her connection to him. And what she lost. She has such a way with words. If she can do that, she can talk about anything.
She continues on, in perfect synch with my thoughts. No, it is not a simple matter for anyone. These feelings...they are an alien thing to all. And to one who has spent all her life learning the ways of words, how to conceal or bring to the light with them, perhaps something so true becomes even more difficult. You never needed your words. Not even now. She takes a slow breath. But I babble. We have this matter to discuss now. And all the walls that stand between us.
Dont say it, Zelda. I know. Youre a princess. Youll be Queen one day. You have your duties, and going with your feelings has never been one of them. But dont say it. Not now. This is not right. Somehow.
Although now that I think of it, you do have that wedding proposal from Prince Teelo.
Ah, my betrothal to our neighbors Prince. She leans back and rests on her hands. That will not be one of our problems. My agents uncovered some fascinating details. It turns out that our good Crown Prince had many appetites in his youth. He had a number of affairs with various women. Some have borne children, although none can be sure that he is the father and many never knew his identity. He was careful enough to ensure that. But no longer. Royalty has learned to turn a blind eye to these discretions, but for a King, any doubt as to the identity of his firstborn child cannot be tolerated. I told him as much and gave him the option of withdrawing himself from the contest for my hand. Otherwise, he would have faced exposure and a great many children seeking royal legitimacy.
I cant believe what Im hearing. Zelda, this is blackmail.
She looks at me sadly. Do you see now? This is the world I live in, and I fear it would destroy you. You have been free all your life, always ready to leave on a journey or an adventure at a moments notice. You will be stifled by ties, and that must never happen. Now, more than ever, I must ensure that. For your sake.
You may be right. That may be true. But still...
She takes my hand and raises it to her face, closing her eyes as she leans against it. Her cheeks are soft and smooth. We could stay like this for a while. And I know what shell do next. Stand up and walk away. But something isnt finished.
I know you dont want to tie me down, but you cant help it any more. I know that now, sitting here, holding your face. Maybe Ill still go off on my own like I used to. But now, Ill always be keeping track of the directions back to the castle somewhere in my head. Ill look up, and Ill see the stars pointing the way back. For the first time, I have a place to return to.
That doesnt have to be a bad feeling.
She opens her eyes now. She looks like she feels guilty.
Perhaps there is hope, she whispers. Perhaps you are right not to give up now. A true bearer of the Triforce of Courage.
I couldnt rule a kingdom. Its not just the court routines but all the staggering, complicated problems. I know how to solve one problem: how to defeat the other person. Thats all. But that doesnt mean I cant be with you. You can be the ruler.
A ruling Queen? There has never been such a person in all the history of Hyrule.
There has to be a first time for everything, right? And if anybody can do it, its you. After a while, nobody will care that youre a woman. I know it.
Prince Consort... she stares at me. And then she slowly stands up. I must think on this. We cannot be hasty. She takes a step toward the exit now. The soldiers will be waiting outside for us. We best not tarry too long here. Come to talk to me later. At any time, I will be ready. She starts walking out.
No. This isnt right. Dont you see? Thinking isnt going to get us anywhere. Theres no time for it. Its now.
I stand up. Im not sure what Im doing. All I know is I have to do it. I run to catch up with her and grab her hand. She turns to me, startled. I know what shes wondering. I can see it in her eyes. I stand there for a second, not sure. Whats next? I just do what feels right. I pull her in and hold her close as I can. She stiffens in alarm, but then she starts to soften. Like shes starting to melt into me. Slowly. Bit by bit.
Zelda, I wonder if you know how good your hair smells. Or how warm you are in my arms. We could stand here forever. Do you see now? When did we all become so afraid to use words like love?
I understand, she whispers into my ear. There has never been an easy love. To overcome what lies between us together. That is what it means. I see that now.
I wish I had your gift for words. Something I could use to let you know what you are to me. Something to call you.
Her head moves, and she turns to look at me now. Then she smiles a real smile. Of course, who could be worthy of the Crown Princess if not the Hero of Time? Or perhaps it is the other way around.
I bring my face in closer to hers, and her eyes close. I can feel her breath slowing warmly. Ive never done this before, but thats ok.
This is right.
Authors end note: For this story, I decided to try something different from the usual Zelda fan fiction and render the story in first person. I admit that this was partly because Im just restless like that, but there are other reasons, a few of which I will detail here.
First of all, the first person perspective allowed me to get away with never using the Hero of Times name. Nintendo officially names him Link, but in any given Zelda game, he could be named anything from Mary to Vader to AAAAAAA. Therefore, in this story he is never named although people may act as if he has a name.
Furthermore, the first person perspective allowed me to express the Hero of Times feelings and thoughts without him ever actually saying anything. This is again in keeping with the games, particularly Ocarina of Time and Majoras Mask. We can infer that the hero in those games does say something from time to time because every once in a while, an NPC will react with something like, Whats that you say? My daughter came here and is waiting for me?! So its pretty clear that the hero said something although we dont know his exact words or phrasing. There are even times when we are given a choice to direct his dialogue (choosing yes or no, for example), but once again, we only have a general idea of what he said and not the exact quote.
Writing in first person also allowed me to employ a number of other effects to tell the story and develop characters, but I will leave it to the readers to discover and decide on those on their own.
All That Glitters Is Cold Fanfic Competition
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