A Lesson in Betrayal

By Jacen Shaw

A warm east wind caused the trees to gently sway and the leaves to rustle quietly, whispering a soothing lullaby of nature. It was night. The forest was dark and quiet. Through the canopy, the full moon was partially visible, hovering in a sea of blackness like an island in the sky. Though the foliage was dense, some of the moonlight still managed to penetrate the trees and cast its beams to the forest floor. However, the tranquil night was not enough to mask the deadly conflict that moved about the wood. Two figures dashed from the darkness and through a pocket of the moon’s illumination. For a split second, they were visible in the light, only to disappear again as their hasty movements returned them to the safety of the shadows.

Sweat beaded on his brow as he ran. The evil was all around in the forest. It swept through the trees like the wind, moving swifter than any human could pace. Fatigued, the lead figure motioned to stop. There would be no more running. The enemy was too close and too many in numbers. Also breathing heavily, the second figure flanked the first, melting deeper into the shadows by pressing close to the base of one of the trees. After a short nod from the first figure, they both drew their swords, moving carefully and silently, making sure the reflective metal avoided the beams of moonlight. The slightest glint of mirrored light could betray their positions and their already diminished element of surprise, something they could not afford. However, those who pursued them took no such precautions. Spying from behind the trees, Neilson could see their approach.

Moving in a line that stretched through the wood, five medrian knights strode through the underbrush. Here and there, they would become briefly visible as they broke through a beam of light. A glimpse of a shoulder, the tail end of a cape being tugged by the wind…the dark gleam of a drawn sword.

"This is it," Neilson whispered to his companion. "We fight now." Neilson saw the movement of a nodding shadow acknowledging his words. "I’ll attack to the left, and you cover my flank, just like always." Another nod. May the Gods of Gailins be with us, Neilson prayed. We must succeed here tonight. To fail is to die and dying is not what I had in mind. Neilson looked the other way to where he knew was the edge of the woods. Just beyond that lay a field and a river. Once they crossed the river, they would be exiting Gailins and entering the kingdom of Hyrule. Only a hundred meters to the edge of the forest, Neilson thought. But what good will that do us? To cross the field to the river is a good hour’s journey. We’ve been lucky to evade capture with this forest as cover. There is no way we can traverse the field without being found…and what would keep the medrian knights from pursuing us if we got to Hyrule anyway?

Neilson felt a surge of determination. The entire kingdom is counting on us succeeding here. We cannot fail them. This is our last chance. To fail is to die; to die is to fail. Failure is unacceptable. Once again, he glanced at the second figure, still holding steady at his post, waiting for the signal to attack. The movement of the trees swaying back and forth caused the beams of light from the moon to shift throughout the wood. The light skittered briefly across his face. The boy’s brown hair was wet with perspiration. His green eyes glinted with determination and fear. He stood perfectly motionless apart from his nervous fiddling with the leather strap on the hilt of his sword. He’s only fifteen, Neilson thought. I feel bad for him, his parents being killed by the invasion and all. It’s sad what this world has come to.

The sounds of snapping twigs and shuffling leaves drew nearer. Neilson took one deep breath, and then another. Relax and concentrate, he ordered himself. Hugging the base of the tree, he strained to hear for their approach. While staring blankly ahead, it finally struck him how beautiful the woods were. The heavenly rays of moonlight flitted about in random patterns, offsetting the thick, dark silhouettes of proud trees. The forest was at peace, calm and content.

Next time I get the chance, Neilson promised, I am going to find time to just sit and admire the beauty of this world. Of course, he often planned to do that, and other such things, whenever the circumstances got to be as dire as they were. Spend time with nature, time with his wife and children, time with his friends and hobbies.

Once we get back to Gailins, I’m going to take the family on a picnic in the woods. Marcus and I can spend the afternoon fishing and I’ll end the day by taking Lenoir and Garret to the pub and buying everyone a round! Neilson smiled at the prospect. It would have to wait, though. There were slightly more pressing concerns to be dealt with at the moment.

The sounds of footsteps grew closer. Neilson guessed they were only about twenty meters out. Frustrated, he took another slow, deep breath and held it. It always took him time to adjust when he was forced to deal with an enemy without his magically enhanced abilities. Given normal circumstances, he could have sensed their presence and exact location. Now his only option was to hold his breath and listen. He could hear the footsteps move around the forest, becoming farther between each other. They must be spreading out, he figured. We will still have to attack them first though, that will…what? The sounds of footsteps stopped. Neilson listened harder. Nothing. He looked to his left. His partner still stood, waiting, then turned and gave Neilson a worried look as he too noticed the absence of crunching leaves. Neilson returned the expression and then chanced a quick look from behind his tree. The forest beyond was empty. The moving beams of white acted like searching lights, but turned up nothing.

Glancing back at his friend, Neilson got a glimpse of his face as the light once again shifted in the wind. His countenance had an expression of terror burned on it, his green eyes wide as saucers. "Neilson! Get down!"

Immediately, Neilson flattened himself to the ground, just as a long, black broadsword swept through the tree that had been his cover. Had he remained standing, he would have been caught by the blade as well, and shared the severed tree’s fate. With a grunt, the medrian knight shoved the tree over, attempting to crush him, but Neilson rolled away, jumping to his feet and bringing his sword up in defense.

Two medrian knights drove from out of the darkness, attacking from both sides. Neilson dodged the attack from the right and blocked an overhead swing from the left with the flat of his sword. To defend against the medrian knight’s massive strength, Neilson was forced to brace the sword on his other wrist, resting it on the flat plate of his arm guard. With great determination, he managed to throw off the medrian knight’s blade. Losing its balance, the knight stumbled back, giving Neilson just enough time to charge the behemoth and strike at its unguarded mid-section. However, Neilson’s hasty attack left him open to a strike from the right, and the other medrian knight exploited that vulnerability.

The black sword sliced through the air as Neilson attempted to spin out of range. Sharp pain carved itself into Neilson’s body as the slash penetrated the armor on his left shoulder. Not wasting a moment and blocking out the pain, Neilson formed a ball of yellow magic energy in his right hand. Still spinning about, he launched it at the medrian knight with all his strength. The knight simply batted it away with its armored gauntlet, sending it high into the air, tearing through the trees and out into the open sky. The knight advanced still. Oh, shit! Neilson thought. They’re stronger than ever!

Two more knights approached from the right. Where is that boy!?! Neilson growled to himself. I told him to flank me to the right! The answer came as a glowing yellow dagger flew from the darkness and imbedded itself in the helmet of the knight who was farther to the left. The other knight stopped and refocused its attention on the new threat, turning just in time to catch a second flying dagger…in the neck. It fell to the forest floor, and like its companion, disappeared in a fury of black flames.

Yes! Neilson silently cheered. Three down, two to go. Unfortunately for Neilson, the two that were left decided to team up and attack him rather than split up and engage both adversaries. With his left shoulder screaming in protest, he swung wide and hard to his right, forcing one of the knights to jump back. Using his momentum to bring him about, he spun and lifted his sword up to deflect the other medrian knight’s attack. The swords impacted with force, sending sparks and chips of metal into the air. The black blade of the medrian knight received not even a scratch from the powerful encounter, whereas Neilson’s sword was blown a huge dent in its sharp edge. Recovering from the overextended attack, Neilson skillfully drew a dagger from its side sheath and flung it into the faceplate of the medrian knight as he spun. Ducking just in time, the warrior managed to evade the machete, but not Neilson’s rebound attack. The medrian knight collapsed to the ground as black flames fed upon its body, leaving no trace of its ever existing.

Even with this small victory, Neilson knew he had made a fatal error concentrating too much on one enemy. Red-hot pain seared through his right side, even as he rolled forward. The fifth knight swung its evil blade again and knocked Neilson’s weapon from his grasp, sending it cart-wheeling into the darkness of the forest. Moving sluggishly now, Neilson still attempted to battle, fading right and back as the medrian knight attacked again and again.

Out of the darkness, another glowing dagger shot through the air, but this time, the medrian knight’s fist intercepted it. The blade was deflected and skipped off the knight’s armored gauntlet to embed itself in a nearby tree. Angered, the knight let loose a dark ball of energy. It raced through the woods and Neilson heard a muffled cry as it found its mark in the darkness. Neilson took advantage of the knight’s distraction. Lunging to the tree with the dagger in it, Neilson wrenched it from the wood. Charging it up with all his magic energy, he whipped it at the knight as it turned about. The attack was so powerful that it tore through the knight’s armor and flew straight through its chest. The final knight fell and burned away, screaming until the black fire evaporated its voice. Neilson fell, but remained.

"Neilson!" a worried voice shouted. "Neilson! Are you all right?"

"Over here, boy," Neilson groaned. The young warrior stumbled to where Neilson rested on the ground. The boy’s body was scratched and cut all over, and his shield had a large energy burn mark on it.

"Are you okay? Can you walk?" the boy questioned, worry creeping over his face as he got a good look at Neilson’s wounds.

"Listen up, boy," Neilson ordered, ignoring the question. "You have to continue on to Hyrule and deliver the king’s message. You are our last hope. The knights will have reinforcements coming shortly, and you cannot allow yourself to be caught by them, you hear?"

"Yes, I know! But what about you Neilson? You have to come with me!" The boy’s eyes watered as tears began to form. The pleading tone struck at his heart, but Neilson knew that he could not go on.

"Boy, don’t worry about me. I just have to rest a while. I’ll keep the knights off your back while you deliver the message. Then I’ll meet you in Hyrule when I get the chance."

"But…" the boy began, not wanting to leave his friend alone in the woods.

"There will be no discussing it!" Neilson shouted, the pain in his side growing. "You must go now!"

"Okay," the boy agreed, "but if you don’t…"

"Now!" Neilson demanded, looking him directly in the eyes. "Don’t make me tell you again."

The boy nodded and took off in a dead sprint to the edge of the woods, looking back only once to see Neilson motioning for him to move faster. In seconds, he was lost from Neilson’s sight, hidden by the trees and the darkness.

I guess I will never be able to go on that picnic now. Neilson thought with a heavy sadness. But at least I will be able to enjoy this one last glimpse of beauty before I sleep…

The wind sung a song without words, pulsing, soothing Neilson’s mind. Neilson’s eyes, growing heavy, took one last look at the beautiful night. The rocking trees and the moving beams of light made the forest look magical and surreal. A single tear fell from Neilson’s eye as it closed for the final time, and he became one with nature.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Morning sunlight bathed the field in golden radiance. Stretching for miles, the tall grasses swayed in the breeze, turning the vast pasture into an ocean of movement. Very few shrubs or bushes grew in the field – nothing to break the sea of natural grace and beauty. However, the lone figure sprinting across the serene plain gave no notice to the splendor of the landscape.

A bridge could be seen in the distance. The babbling stream it crossed curved its way through the field, quietly making conversation with the rocks in its bed. Only a few minutes more and he would be in Hylian territory. The sight inspired his pace as the distance to the bridge quickly diminished. I will not fail you, Neilson, the boy thought to himself. The king’s message will be delivered and then I will come back and get you.

Unexpectedly, a freezing wind swept through the air and chilled the young boy’s bones. The temperature had not changed, but the barometer of evil skyrocketed. Mere meters to the bridge, the young soldier stopped and turned to look behind him. Nothing was there, but the feeling of dread remained. The source of the shift in ambience revealed itself as the boy turned around to face the bridge again. Directly between him and his path to Hyrule stood a solitary medrian knight.

"Out of my way," the young warrior demanded, drawing his sword and shield. The knight responded by drawing its weapon as well. "If that’s how you want to play it then, prepare to die!" Dashing straight to the knight’s position, he charged up his sword with light energy. The blade was enveloped in a shimmering aura of yellow magic. Lunging with a powerful two-handed jump attack, the boy slashed downward at the knight’s helmet. The medrian knight caught the attack high with a simple horizontal block. Bolts of energy sparked upon the impact of metal. Landing on the ground, the boy rolled to the left and dove forward. The medrian knight’s blade sunk deep into the ground he had cleared just a second earlier. Still rolling away from the knight, the boy skillfully converted his inertia to cartwheel to his feet, finishing off the maneuver with a back flip to land in a crouched defensive position with his shield raised high and sword stretched out behind him. Unimpressed, the knight went on the offensive.

Moving with surprising speed, the knight charged and struck at an angle from the high right, clanging into the boy’s shimmering blade. It’s sword blocked there, it quickly retaliated and struck again, this time from the lower left. Connecting with the boy’s shield, the knight was forced to fend off the glowing yellow sword with its gauntlet. Sparks flew as the blade skipped off the armored fist. The boy’s sword flew wide from the impact and almost wasn’t quick enough to block the next attack, a forward thrust aimed at his heart. Parrying the blade and spinning it off high to the right, the boy spun and cut down hard at the knight’s left shoulder. Again, the armored gauntlet caught the attack.

Rebounding and spinning the other way, the boy quickly struck at the knight’s right side. His glowing yellow blade was stopped short of its mark by the medrian knight’s black sword. Averting the blade’s position, the knight spun the boy’s weapon back to the left. Trying to recover from the force, the boy drew his blade back up in a high vertical defensive position, a bad move. Swinging with force, the medrian knight advanced and smashed its armored fist into the sword, catching it with so much power that it was ripped from the boy’s grip and sent flying towards the river. It landed just short of the river’s bank and lay there, its edge half buried in the sand.

Unarmed and with his shield as his only resource, the boy was driven back as he blocked the knight’s alternating attacks, the sword from the right and the swinging gauntlet from the left. Ducking out of the way, the boy managed to dodge a high cut of the knight’s blade. However, instead of moving back to strike from the opposite side again, the knight spun in a complete circle and came back from the right with doubled speed and power. Bracing his shield on his shoulder, the boy shifted all his weight into the blow, but stood no chance. The sword hammered into the shield and threw the boy five meters left. Struggling to get back to his feet, the boy turned to see the medrian knight’s massive bulk towering over him, casting its shadow and blocking the sun from his view.

I’m sorry, Neilson, the boy cried in his mind. I have failed you.

The medrian knight drew up its obsidian blade and struck with lightning swiftness.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The sound of clanging metal forced the boy’s eyes to open again. His vision returned just in time to see a silhouetted figure drop kicking the medrian knight in the chest. Staggering back, the knight slid into a defensive posture with its sword pointing to the boy’s right. Turning, the youth saw his savior.

Standing with his shield at his side and sword raised at a forty-five degree angle from its low position, was a blonde haired warrior. He wore no armor, but a simple green tunic and gray leggings. On his feet were brown leather boots, and he sported a long green cap that ended about halfway down his back.

"What is your business here and why are you attacking this boy?" he the newcomer demanded. The medrian knight, as always, didn’t respond. It simply stood there, studying the new threat that had emerged. The green warrior stood his ground as well, unflinchingly starring back at the knight. Then, in a slow and deliberate movement, the medrian knight returned its black blade to the sheath at its side. Formally, it drew forward in a polite bow, as a man would do when courting his lady. Both the young boy and the green warrior watched, bewildered, as the knight straightened, and disappeared in a flash of black light.

"I don’t know what that was all about, but I sure am happy he’s gone," the green warrior spoke, unsure of exactly what was going on. Returning his sword to the scabbard on his back and neatly placing the shield over it, the green warrior turned and offered his hand to the boy, who was still on the ground. Willingly, the boy took it and was hoisted to his feet.

"Thank you," he stammered, still in shock from the close call, "for saving my life."

Casually, the green warrior accepted the thanks, "No problem, I’m just glad that I was here to help." Turning to scan the rest of the field, he asked, "You don’t think there are anymore of those things, do you?"

"I don’t know," the boy answered. As the green warrior turned back to face him, the boy noticed a symbol on the warrior’s shield. It looked like the crest of the Hylian royalty. "Sir!" he asked, becoming excited, "are you of the royal family of Hyrule? I have an urgent message for your king!"

The green warrior laughed. "No, not exactly, but I can take you to him if you would like." Smiling broadly, the warrior extended his hand in a gesture of welcoming. "My name is Link, welcome to Hyrule!"

Smiling back, the boy happily took his hand. "Thank you, sir. I come from Gailins. My name is Lauren."

~*~*~*~*~*~

Two figures walking side by side approached the castle from the east. One was a familiar face to the land of Hyrule. His unique style of clothing made him easy to pick out in a crowd, along with the sword and shield he carried everywhere, even if he was only going to the market to buy some bread or milk. Another reason he was readily recognized was the fact that he was the hero of Hyrule, a living legend of his time. The one who walked with him, however, was obviously a stranger, given away by his foreign attire.

A dark blue vest was partially visible from under the light cuirass he wore. The plated armor covered his midsection and right shoulder, wrapping down and around his right arm, stopping at his wrist with a thick metal guard. The sword he carried hung sheathed at his left side, clicking against his armor as he walked.

His hair was brown and thick, ruffled by the wind and looking as if it hadn’t been combed forever. Piercing brown eyes told a story of pain and hardship, a tale of horrible loss. However, in light of his mission almost being complete, his step was lighter and carried more energy than it had in months, despite his immense fatigue.

That didn’t make up for any of it though. He was still just a boy - a boy thrown unwillingly into a war, just like Link had been years ago. Being forced into such conflict at such an age was an injustice, a subject Link sometimes dwelled on in the dark hours of the night. Looking at his new friend, Link could see something…a part of himself, in the young boy: something he wished he didn’t see.

"Wow!" the boy exclaimed, "It’s even bigger than the one back at home!" Link smiled at Lauren’s amazement as Hyrule castle came into view. "How tall is it?" he asked. Link thought for a moment.

"I have no idea," he confessed. "It never occurred to me to find out."

"Oh."

"Anyway, exactly who was that guy after you and what did he want?" Link inquired. "What kind of trouble are you in?"

"That was a medrian knight. He wanted to kill me, so I couldn’t deliver the king’s message."

"Wow," Link commented. "What is the message that you have to deliver? It must be really important."

"It concerns the whole country!" Lauren bubbled, "For months, Gailins has been under attack by those medrian knights! The king knows that they are being sent from Kerah, but we can’t declare war on them unless he can prove it." Lauren sighed heavily, "But it doesn’t matter because their army is much bigger than ours anyway."

"I see," Link mumbled, thinking the situation over. He vaguely recalled the kingdoms of Gailins and Kerah. They were considered to be lands of mysterious magic and war. Several times a century, they would clash in battle over territory, neither one ever gaining any major advance in the end.

That was not something Hylians often had to worry about, being that they were rather isolated from other nations. Bordered either by mountains or desert or water or seemingly endless plains, Hyrule had few visitors from other nations when compared to Shiloh or Mecca, two of the largest trading centers in the world.

Gailins and Kerah both were a good month’s travel east of Hyrule. Trading over such a distance was costly, and profits were near impossible to turn after such a trek, so it was rare indeed to ever find goods from the area. In fact, the only thing Link recalled about either of the two lands was something he read in a Hylian history book.

It had been a rainy afternoon and he had been bored. Link was still a boy and the castle had been new to him. By chance, he had stumbled into the royal library. The massive room was stacked wall to wall with thousands of leather-bound books, some relatively new, some nearly ancient. Each bookcase stretched from the floor to the towering ceiling, about three stories up. Link couldn’t believe he had never been in this room, given its enormous size.

Directly across from the entrance was a series of huge windows. Rain batted against them and the dark clouds stretched out far beyond the horizon. The storm didn’t look to end anytime soon. Lightning struck through the sky, illuminating the soggy Hylian countryside displayed through the glass.

"Ah! Young boy, what knowledge do you seek?"

Link had been so surprised that he had knocked a stack of almanacs over off a table. The hunched over old man had seemingly appeared from nowhere. "W-what?" Link stuttered.

"What knowledge do you seek," the man had repeated, not paying attention to the books all over the floor.

"Umm, I’m sorry about the books," Link apologized. "I didn’t know anyone was here. I was just bored and I’ve never been in this room before."

"Ah. I see." The man squinted at Link. The spectacles he wore were thick and oval, with a chain linking them to a pocket on the front of his simple brown robe. "I see that you have the spirit of an adventurer, young boy. Is that what you seek?"

"Huh, adventure?" Link asked, confused by the little man’s strange questions. "I guess…like I said, I was just bored and wanted to see what this room was. If you would like, I can leave."

"You may do what you wish, but please take this book." The old man handed him a heavy, brown leather-bound book.

"The Greatest Battles in Hylian History"

Surprised by the weight, Link had to grasp the book in two hands.

"The knowledge you seek is in there. In the past we find the future. It is an inescapable cycle. History repeats itself. To know the future you must first know the past…" With that, the small man picked up a stack of books and disappeared through a door between two towering shelves.

"That was weird," Link mumbled to himself. Not wanting to dishonor the strange man’s offering, Link plopped himself down on a purple, velvet couch next to a lamp and opened the book to the first chapter. He had become so enveloped in his reading, he was on chapter twelve about the great crusades when the princess of Hyrule, Zelda, finally found him.

"And what are you doing in here?" she questioned, her tone uninviting and her hands on her hips. It was obvious that she had been looking for him, and the library was probably the last place in the whole castle she had thought to check.

"I’m reading, Zel," Link stated, absorbed in the book.

"Obviously," Zelda shot back, annoyed. "When did you become so interested in reading anything?"

"What do you mean Zelda," Link teased, looking up and smiling, "I love reading. Knowledge is a powerful tool. To know the future is to know the past. History repeats itself and stuff. You know that."

The jest had annoyed Zelda even further. "Whatever, book-brain. I’ve been searching for you because father has some dignitaries from Merhaven, or wherever, and he wants you to be there at the banquet."

"I believe that would be Marhaven, Zelda," Link corrected. "They were our allies in the second great war against the dreaded clan of Mignesh in the ninth century. But I’m sure you already knew that."

"You know what, Link," Zelda spat, "stop reading. I liked it better when you were stupid." With that, she turned and left, shouting over her shoulder that the banquet started at six and that he’d better be on time. Link could already sense that being smart could be fun. Not knowing what to do with the book, Link had taken it to his room in the castle. His quarters were sparsely furnished, plain and simple, just how he liked it. Link set the book on his nightstand, planning on reading more after the boring ceremony and banquet. Link was glad he had read it after Lauren asked his next question.

"Is it true that knights from Kerah saved Hyrule from an attack before?"

Link nodded. "Yes, that was about twenty or so years back. They helped us out in our war against Ganondorf."

Lauren looked up to Link as they walked. "What’s a Ganondorf?" he asked innocently. Link couldn’t help from laughing.

"Just a very evil man, who is now gone."

"As evil as Stebos?" Lauren asked. It was Link’s turn to ask an ignorant question.

"Who’s Stebos?" The name sounded familiar, but Link couldn’t put his finger on it.

"Another evil man. He’s the high general of Kerah. Well, he was. But now we’ve been hearing rumors that he has returned from his exile and is back causing trouble. The king is very worried. Last time Stebos was in power, he started a great war and almost toppled Gailins. We were lucky to finally catch him though. They threw him in this prison called the Sacred Realm or something." Lauren stopped to think. "I think that is what happened at least. My brother told me a long time ago but I wasn’t even born at the time it happened." Link tensed up at the words "Sacred Realm."

"Where did they put him?" Link asked.

"The Sacred Realm," the boy repeated. "Well, at least I think that’s where he was sent. Like I said, I was too little. Nobody talks about those times anymore. I guess they were just too scary or something. My parents never talked about it either, even though my dad fought against Stebos…" Lauren trailed off.

Link was too rapt to notice the boy’s obvious distraught. The Sacred Realm… he thought. Interesting…how would the people in Gailins know about that? Finally noticing the awkward silence, Link spoke up.

"Yeah, well anyway, Hyrule was fighting against Ganondorf and we were losing badly. From what I read, a group of Kerahian warriors just happened to be traversing the country for something at that same time. Ganondorf didn’t know who they were and assumed they were on our side. He attacked them but they fought him off. Apparently, they were very well versed in the ancient art of Mei’Kerah magic, and took out his troops with little effort. They saved us and beat Ganondorf back into his own territory. He didn’t attack for months afterward!" Link thought a moment, straining his memory for anything else he remembered from the book.

"They just happened to be there at the right time I guess," he admitted. "Anyway, ever since, we’ve been in their debt, but they have yet to call us on it…" Link paused. "Well, at least that’s what I read in a book somewhere. At that time, I was just a little boy living in Kokri Forest, and I didn’t have a clue that there was even a world out here."

The duo entered crossed the drawbridge into the town and Link led the way through the bustling marketplace.

Lauren’s voice changed tone, one that sounded heavy with defeat. "Oh, well, since he did you that favor, I guess there’s little chance of you helping us fight them then, huh?"

Not wanting to dampen the boy’s spirits, Link decided to answer safely. "I don’t know. That will be the king’s decision, not mine." The conversation died as the duo left the marketplace and approached the gates to the castle.

"So Link, where’s that ten kilo fish you bragged you were going to bring back?" the sentry at the guardhouse poked.

"Give me a break, Darren," Link started, "I didn’t even get to cast one line when this boy here comes out nowhere being attacked by a huge knight."

"Right, Link," the guard snickered. "My, my, your excuses just get better and better."

Lauren piped in to verify Link’s story. "He’s right, sir. If it hadn’t been for Link, I would have been killed!"

Darren frowned. "So, what you say is true then?"

"Yes, sir," Lauren answered.

"Well then, you’re one lucky young lad that good ‘ole Link was in the neighborhood. Why were you being attacked?"

"He has a message for Harkinian," Link answered. "That’s where we’re heading now actually."

"Well, go on ahead," Darren urged, swinging the gate wide open. "The counselors from Newsbrook just left, so I think his majesties’ meeting is finished."

"Good," Link said, "Because from what I have heard, this message is of grave importance." Lauren looked up at Link, and then to Darren.

"It is," he chimed in, "very important!"

"Then don’t let me slow you down!" Darren said, stepping from their way.

The path leading to the front entrance of the castle was worn and well trodden, the feet of countless dignitaries and visitors having crossed its surface. No matter the importance of the visit, whether it be to deliver the daily supply of milk, or news of a terrible war or disaster, each message started from the same gate and traversed the same ground, equals in that aspect.

Link couldn’t begin to fathom how many times he had walked the trail over the years. However, it was one of only a few times he strode across the proud walk with the specific intent of seeking audience with the king. With a slight nod to another of the guards standing sentry by the gate, Link and Lauren made their way into the main hall. A gasp of stunned awe escaped Lauren’s mouth as his eyes were greeted with the sight.

The vaulted ceiling of the foyer shot upward about twenty meters. That gave the room ample space on the towering stone walls, space that was occupied by hundreds of vibrant, colorful tapestries. Every tapestry represented a village or town or city in the Hylian kingdom, with each showcasing what that location was renown for.

On the wall straight ahead, was the tapestry representing the agricultural village of Naptown. The vivid greens and rich browns of the background cloth were offset by a basket of produce and a large sheath of wheat, symbolizing the fertile lands and open fields of the area. The ripest and largest fruits and vegetables were found in Naptown, and always brought in a fair profit when their cart was wheeled to the Hylian marketplace.

On the far right wall, the deep scarlet and violet banner from Mishel displayed a suit of shining armor behind a crossed broadsword and mace. Mishel was home of the most skilled blacksmith clan in all of Hyrule. Their weapons and armor were praised for their great strength and reliability, giving their town the nickname "Home of the Iron Artists," for it was true that they could do anything with metal. Link’s own sword and shield were presents from the town, forged by the oldest and most skilled smith in the guild.

For a short while after saving Hyrule from the evil clutches of Ganondorf, Link had spent some time traveling throughout the country. In those many months, Link had made scores new friends and experienced life as a free man, not a child cooped up and confined in the Lost Woods. His travels took him as far as the East Coast and all the way to the Illian Mountains. There, on the mountainsides, Link stayed in the snowy Mishel village. Not long after arriving, Link heard stories of a terrible ice yeti that had been preying on the village’s thinning herd of mountain sheep. For weeks, the monster had been hunted, but as the days drew on, and more sheep kept disappearing, the people were beginning to lose hope. The sheep were an extremely important resource to the residents, who relied on the wool for their winter clothing.

As always, Link gladly offered his services to help. After a week of waiting, the ice yeti struck once again. On the ready, Link had confronted the monster, fiercely battling it to retreat up the mountain. As Link pursued the monster, he found out the reason none of the villagers were able to slay it. The ice yeti was a rare and enchanted creature, able to use it’s magical abilities to influence the weather and control the snow and ice.

Following the beast higher and higher up the mountainside, Link found that he had made a grave mistake. He had gone too far, finding himself in the yeti’s home territory. Manipulating the frozen ice and snow, the yeti had formed mystical ice figures, each one of them glowing with a frigid blue light from within. Link had dealt with the frozen statues in the Ice Temple, but nothing had prepared him for the challenge brought forth by the ice yeti.

Each of the frozen attackers wielded an ice blade, deadly scythes as hard as steel. Link’s trusty sword could hardly chip the blades, which instantly healed their wounds in the cold weather. Retreating from the battle, Link managed to escape with his life, barely.

Limping along with his damaged blade and dented shield, he somehow crawled back to the village. While recovering from his wounds and severe frostbite brought on by the ice swords, the elder blacksmith, Mirrah, ordered his understudies to search for the most pure of iron ore, deep in the mines of the mountains. With the utmost care and skill, Mirrah worked to transform the materials into the finest steel ever fashioned.

By the time Link was back on his feet, Mirrah had finished sculpting the new armaments. Wielding the new blade, Link immediately knew that he had the upper hand on the ice yeti. The detail in the craftsmanship was so acute, it was amazing. Custom fit to Link’s hand, the blade was long and relatively thin. Link had been worried about its durability until he first tested it. It was rigid and firm, yet solid and light. Mirrah had assured Link that the razor sharp edge could never be dulled.

The shield proved to be an equally exquisite piece of equipment. Made of the same metal as the sword, it was remarkably light and could absorb a tremendous amount of damage. Nothing Link had encountered since his adventure to Mishel had been able to put a dent in the defensive barrier.

Needless to say, Link had easily dispatched of the ice creatures and the yeti with the new weapon. As a display of their immense gratitude to his selfless deeds, the town had given him the sword and shield to keep.

That same sword was now resting in its scabbard on his back, the shield placed protectively over its polished edge. Mirrah’s claim had stayed true to its word for all the years Link had battled with the weapon. It had never chipped or cracked, unlike the blades of unwary stalfos or other monsters, which broke and shattered upon impact with Link’s steel. It had been a long time since then. Link was now a man, a man charged with the heavy burden of defending Hyrule and its citizens.

Every time he entered the hall, which was quite often, he was always overwhelmed with the memories of his travels. It had been years since his last visit to Mishel or Capeport or Saintsans. Link promised himself that someday, he would go and revisit the towns that had showed such kindness to him, see old friends and catch up on the local news and gossip.

Taking a turn down a hallway to the left, Link pushed open the door to the main audience room. In the chamber, stood King Harkinian, shaking the hand of the final few senators who were leaving the meeting. Upon seeing Link’s entrance, the king smiled, then took on a concerned expression as he noticed the look of solemnity that possessed both faces of the newcomers.

"How does it go?" the king greeted them in a cautious manner, waving to the last of the dignitaries as they left the room. "Who do we have here?" Lauren bowed to the king.

"It’s truly an honor, your highness," he politely stated.

"Thank you," Harkinian said. "And for what do I owe this pleasure?"

"Sir," Link cut in, "this is Lauren from the kingdom of Gailins, and he bears news of a conflict that is ravaging his land."

"Well then," the king mused, "perhaps we should sit and you explain this conflict." Harkinian took a seat at the head of the table. Link took a chair to the right and Lauren to the left.

"Well, it all started three months ago," Lauren started. "The meridian knights attacked us for no reason! They first struck at Lemura, then at Harloem, and then at Greenwald! All in the same week! After that, they…"

"Whoa, slow down, boy," Harkinian interrupted. "Easy, calm down for a minute." Lauren stopped, but was wiggling in his chair. "You said something about meridian knights? Who are they? To whom is their allegiance?" Lauren looked down at the table.

"We don’t know, your highness," he finally answered. "Our best bet is that they are being sent from Kerah, but we have no proof."

"Okay," the king stated, nodding his head, "then what is it that you want us to do exactly?"

"I have come to request your aid in the war against Kerah," Lauren stated, in a different type of voice, formal, like he had practiced the phrase over and over.

"But you offer us no solid evidence of Kerah’s involvement in the attacks of your country." Lauren just shook his head. "I cannot declare war on another nation if they are not implicated in any wrong doings. I am sorry," the king apologized. Lauren looked as if he could cry.

"But wait," Link countered, "Gailins needs our help. What kind of country would that make us if we just stood on the sidelines while they are being torn apart by an enemy? We could at least extend some aid to them without involving Kerah."

The king thought a moment on the issue. "I just don’t know about that, Link. Sure, it would be the noble thing to do, but how long will the people of Hyrule support a war against an unknown foe, an entire nation away? Once we start losing soldiers, the people will begin to question whether we should even be getting involved in other countries’ affairs. I’ve seen it happen before. It could end up in a major political and military disaster."

"I see," Link said, "but actually, I don’t see. I know that Hyrule’s welfare is your primary concern, but what of the innocent citizens of Gailins?"

"Yes, I feel for them, Link," the king answered. "But Hyrule simply cannot enter into a war against a phantom enemy. From what the boy has said, it seems that the people of Gailins have failed to mark Kerah, or anyone else, as the culprit of the attacks after three months."

"But if they could, would you help them?" Link asked, fishing.

The king opened his mouth, then closed it. "That depends."

"What?" Link asked, his tone betraying his shock at the king’s words. "Depends on what?"

"Link, it is too complicated to explain," Harkinian answered, his tone changing to one Link couldn’t get a read on. "It just depends on who is attacking them and what their motives are."

"I can see how that might effect our actions, but I still don’t see why we can’t simply help a nation in trouble. How would you explain it to the innocent citizens of Gailins that we can’t help them? Because, what? Our populace will not support an extended military campaign against a phantom enemy?"

"I think," the king said, "that you summed up the entire thing quite well."

"Is that it?" Lauren spoke, quiet and withdrawn. Link had almost forgotten that he was sitting there. "That is your answer, your highness?"

Harkinian turned to the boy. "I am afraid so, Lauren. Hyrule simply cannot help you." Link starred angrily at the king, but then noticed Harkinian’s expression. The decision was obviously not one that the king wanted to make. His eyes were distraught, conveying sincere sorrow for the situation.

"Then, as a citizen of Gailins, would you please make a formal statement so I can report back to my superior?" Lauren’s use of words turned cold. "You said that you could explain it to the citizens of Gailins. Please explain it once to me. I have shared in Gailins’ hardships. My parents and older brother were slain by the medrian knights in the first month. Neilson, our closest family friend, died while delivering our king’s message here, along with other soldiers. I am all that is left of twenty, sent here to beg your aid, and only because Neilson let me come because I had nowhere else to go." Tears were running down Lauren’s face now. "So my only request is to know why you won’t help us. There must be more reasons. King Favar said that you are a compassionate, caring man. He said that you would help. Is he wrong? You will not help us?"

Harkinian looked away, out one of the side windows. The sun was high in the air, signifying the middle of the day. When he finally turned back, he wore a new expression on his face. He turned to his right. "Link, you are going back to Gailins with Lauren. If you can pin these attacks on anyone, report back and I will mobilize our forces to defend Gailins." Joy surged across Lauren’s face, evaporating his tears.

"Thank you, thank you your highness!" he cried, almost bouncing from his chair, "The people of Gailins are forever in your debt!"

"Thank you for reconsidering, Harkinian," Link said. "If you have no more for us, then I will find a room for Lauren to stay the night. We can leave first thing next…"

Lauren cut Link off in mid sentence. "I can leave now if you want!" his tone revitalized and energetic. At the same time, a large growl escaped his stomach. He looked embarrassed at the noise. "Well, I mean, if you guys have any food here I could have before we go, if it’s not too much trouble…I’m kinda hungry…" His pleading green eyes looked up at Link.

Link chuckled at the request. "As I was saying," he continued, "Lauren and I will be departing for Gailins immediately following lunch." Harkinian just nodded, not finding humor in the young boy’s request for food, as if he was already having second thoughts about his decision.

"Just be careful," was all he said. Link and Lauren stood and made their way to the door.

"Thank you! You’re just as great as King Favar said!" Lauren shouted.

"I look forward to your return," Harkinian replied. Link and Lauren exited the room, and the doors shut, leaving Harkinian to his thoughts.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Link had never moved so fast in his life. Trees whizzed by in a blur, the green and brown hues melding together in a massive wall of color. Lauren was just ahead of him, streaking back and forth across his line of vision, dodging the many trees in the forest back to Gailins. The last time Link had experienced any speed that even compared to how fast he was traveling now was when he had used the Pegasus boots, a long, long time ago…and this was still much faster. Link remembered the problem he had come across at the castle - Gailins was over two hundred kilometers away.

By horseback, it would have taken days to get there. However, Link had been reminded exactly why Gailins was said to be a land of mysterious magic. Lauren had given him a silver medallion to wear around his neck, saying he would become a hundred times swifter once wearing it. Now, with the medallion, Link could outpace any horse by many times. It almost felt like he was falling off a cliff, but sideways instead of down, like gravity had been skewed and was pulling him forward. It was an exhilarating experience…but ended unexpectedly. Link could feel himself slowing down. Is the magic wearing out? he thought to himself. Suddenly, Link’s forward movement came to an abrupt halt. It felt like he had run into a stone wall. Staggering back, he strained to keep his balance.

"And that," Lauren said, leaning against the trunk of a tree to keep his balance, "is why we don’t run away from them…" A troop of five meridian knights stood in their path, along with another form wrapped in a black cloak.

"How foolish it is to be running on grounds that are not yours, little one!" the cloaked leader chastised. "And who is your green friend here?"

Still dizzy, Link answered him. "I am Link, a warrior from the nation of Hyrule."

"Ah, my Link friend," the cloaked figure mused, "you are a foreigner here; I suggest you find your way back to your own lands, quickly."

"I am sorry,’ Link stated, his vision clearing, "but I am under orders to escort this boy back to Gailins."

"Really? Under orders from who?"

"King Harkinian."

The figure thought a moment. Lauren had rushed to Link’s side and drawn his sword, nervously eyeing the medrian knights. Link stood his ground, with his sword still sheathed. "Right, but unfortunately for you, this boy is under arrest," the leader of the knights finally spoke.

"Under what charges?" Link demanded.

"Trespassing. This land belongs to the kingdom of under the rule of Lord Stebos, and unless you want to be arrested as well, you had better leave."

"You lie!" Lauren shouted. "This land belongs to Gailins! It always has!"

"Then it is your word against mine, and I seem to have more support to my case than you do to yours."

"Come on Link, let’s show these fools not to mess with Gailins!" Lauren urged. Link put his hand up, motioning to Lauren not to move.

Link tired to negotiate. "It seems that my friend and I may have taken a wrong turn. I am sorry we have caused you this inconvenience. We will leave this property immediately…"

The leader of the meridian knights cut him off. "Yes, you will leave, but the boy stays. He has committed a crime and must face the consequences."

Link scoffed at the remark. "Trespassing hardly qualifies as an offence that requires consequences. Clearly the boy is just a little mixed up. He has had a rough day."

"I don’t make the laws, I just enforce them," the leader stated.

"Liar!" Lauren shouted. "Kerah has no laws! Your only laws are those which benefit themselves!"

The leader laughed. "Who ever said we were from Kerah?" he asked.

"You can’t play stupid with me!" Lauren shouted.

"Calm down, Lauren," Link warned. "Let me handle this."

"There is nothing here to handle, friend," the black leader cut in. "You will give us the boy and leave."

"It seems to me that you do not understand what I am trying to say," Link retorted, growing annoyed. "My orders are to escort this boy to Gailins."

"Careful stranger," the leader warned. "You are on thin ice. You had better reevaluate your situation. It seems like you have difficulty comprehending our laws here. If you interfere, you will be taken care of."

"I have my orders," Link replied.

"And I have mine," the leader answered back. "And since you are interfering in the law, you must be dealt with. I will take the boy, by force if necessary. Do not make me do that."

"I have my orders," Link repeated.

The leader stood silent, thinking. "Then you leave me no choice." He motioned to the knights, who had been waiting patiently the entire time. Pointing at Lauren, he ordered them. "Take him."

The meridian knights began to move forward.

"Come on Lauren! Run!" Link tried to move using the medallion’s magic, but didn’t get very far before running into another invisible barrier.

"Link, we can’t run," Lauren shouted. "The meridian knights create an energy bubble that blocks most types of magic, including this medallion’s magic. We can only fight!"

"Thanks for telling me!" Link yelled back, turning to face the oncoming enemy.

The knights advanced in a V-formation, with the tip aimed toward Lauren. Their sheer size and menacing black armor were extremely intimidating. Link had yet to battle one by himself, but his brief encounter with the one in the field earlier that day had shown that they were adversaries not be to take lightly. Lauren didn’t know it, but he had been closer to death than he probably had realized.

It had taken all of Link’s strength to deflect the attack that would have killed the boy. Even so, Link had faced off with more powerful foes. The meridian knights were still smaller than the Iron Knuckles he had clashed with in the war against Ganondorf…but not by much.

"You will pay for what you have done to my country!" Lauren yelled. Link looked at him, just in time to see him take a dagger from a hidden sheath on his side. Link felt the power from Lauren grow as he charged the blade with magic energy. Launching it like an arrow straight at the leading knight, the surprised knight had no time to react. It buried itself deep into the knight’s breastplate. Collapsing, the knight fell to the ground and disappeared in a fury of black fire.

"How did you do that!?!" Link asked, amazed.

"With magic, how else?" Lauren answered quickly, drawing his sword. "Ok now Link, I will need your help here. We are closer to Kerah now, so these knights will be even stronger!"

"What?" Link yelled. "What do you mean they will be stronger?" Link didn’t hear if Lauren answered, because he had to dodge the black orb of energy that was speeding his way. The ball of energy barely missed Link’s body and tore through the woods behind him, smashing through trees and boulders. Flipping through the air, Link dodged two more attacks and landed on his feet. So, is that how you want to play it then? Link thought. Getting ready for the next wave of attack, Link readied himself with his sword.

Two knights broke off from the formation and moved toward Lauren, leaving two to remain focused on Link. They stood with the hand with the gauntlet on it raised. Black energy, starting from their shoulders, rushed down their arms and blasted from their fists toward Link. This time he was ready. Swinging his sword, he caught both blasts and sent them back to their originators. Clearly, the knights hadn’t expected this. They tried to move to avoid their redirected attacks, but moved too slowly. The black energy that was meant to kill Link instead turned on its creators, sending them to the forest floor to their demise.

Link turned to be astounded. Lauren had dispatched of his two knights before Link had, and was now glaring at the cloaked leader.

"Now it is your word against ours," Lauren commented, turning the cloaked figure’s own words against him. "So what are you gonna do about it?" The cloaked figure answered by vanishing into thin air.

~*~*~*~*~*~

They had to walk the final twenty kilometers to Apen, the capital city of Gailins. The whole way, Link asked all sorts of questions about everything he could think of, and Lauren struggled to answer them. The first thing Link asked about was how Lauren had dispatched of the two medrian knights with such ease when Link had originally found him unable to defend against one of the foes near the river. The conversation had been extremely enlightening and confusing at the same time, lasting over ten kilometers of the trip.

"How did you defeat those two knights so quickly?" Link had asked

"Simple, I just used my magic," he answered, which didn’t answer Link’s question at all.

"I mean, when I saw you by the river, why did you have so much trouble against that one knight?" Lauren thought about it.

"Well, there are a couple reasons. First off, after running to Hyrule for two weeks, it gets kind of tiring. Setting up camp just to have to pack up and leave again because the knights are too close; covering ground extremely slowly without our magic through a thick forest, while all the time under attack. It can quickly wear a person out." It almost sounded like sarcasm, but not quite. "Also, since we were far from our lands, our magic was already weakened from the distance. Except those knights, who are still pretty strong even if they are far away from Kerah."

The insight made sense to Link, but the part about the magic still confused him. "Why does the distance from Gailins effect your abilities?" he had questioned.

"Because the earth is magical. It gives us all that we have."

"That doesn’t help much, I’m afraid," Link said.

…………………………………………………………………………………..…………..

Lauren sighed on the inside. He was having a difficult time explaining how his world worked to Link. He had never met an ‘outsider’ in his entire life before and it seemed alien to him that Link didn’t understand the magic of his land. It had always been a part of his life. The people he lived with understood it. He tried to explain it better.

"This is how it works," Lauren started again. "Everything about this land is magical. That medallion you are wearing is made from metal mined deep in the earth. The earth is magical, and so is everything in it. That is why it gives you special abilities. The magic creates life; it nurtures us. It grows the crops that we eat, and flows in the water that we drink. We live on the land and it gives us its power.

"Now this power is given to the land by the Gailian crystal, a gem that holds the energy of the land. It is kept in the castle and heavily guarded. If that crystal were to ever leave Gailins, our world would slowly die. However, that is why people from Gailins never venture too far from home. It makes them weak and tired, like when we were going to Hyrule. Normally, we could have made a journey of that distance easily. However, because we were so far from Gailins, it gave us a lot of trouble.

"For those in the group that were older, the absence of the magic under their feet hit them hard. They had never experienced life without the ever-present feeling of the land supporting them. That is why the meridian knights overtook us so easily…I only survived because I don’t depend on the earth as much as they did…"

"But you can use that magic now, can’t you?" Link asked.

"Yes, because we are on Gailinian lands, I am much stronger! Being on foreign ground makes me feel slow and weak. You get me on Gailinian lands like we are now, and I can take out a whole slew or medrian knights, as long as we control the land."

…………………………………………………………………………………..…………..

Link was deep in thought. The way of life in Gailins was odd, with all its magic and its ‘earth energies.’ After more consideration, however, he struck that thought out. Link let out a small laugh at the thought. Ironically, he used to live a lifestyle quite like the one that Lauren was describing. In his few years living in the Kokiri forest, it was a known fact that no one could ever leave the woods, or else they would die. The forest was the life force of the Kokiri, just like Gailins seemed to be like for Lauren.

Of course, when Link finally found out that he was actually a Hylian, he was given the opportunity to leave the forest. Link had always known he didn’t quite belong there. When the other Kokiri children would talk about the forest speaking to them, he always would pretend that he could hear it too, as not to be shunned even more by the others than he already was.

Link had known for a long time that he didn’t quite fit in. The only person who really had seemed to understand how he felt was his best friend, Saria. When the rest of the Kokiri would talk about the forest telling them of the upcoming danger of Ganondorf, Link had never heard a thing. None of that really mattered though, since at that time, he was having terrible nightmares of his own about Ganondorf.

"I think I understand what you are saying," he told Lauren. Lauren nodded his head, probably in relief that he didn’t have to keep trying to explain himself. "So, you’re saying that the power you live off of comes from the land then?"

"Basically, yes. Everything we use comes from the land. The older you are and the more accustomed you are to living off its power, the harder it is to leave. Some people are so dependent on the land that they probably would die if they got too far away. That is why land is so important to us. We are always fighting with Kerah for more of it for that reason. They live just like we do."

"Can’t you just set your borders and live in peace then?" Link asked, a very stupid question, but one that needed to be asked.

"No, the people of Kerah will never have peace. They just want to destroy us and take all the land for themselves. They are wretched barbarians. They will never be able to live in peace with their greed. As long as we hold control of our lands, we will fight them to the end."

That statement brought up another question in Link’s head. "What is with controlling the lands anyway? Isn’t it all the same?"

"Can’t you feel it in the ground?" Lauren asked. "Let’s stop here." They stopped and rested for a while. "Now just stand still and close your eyes. Can you feel the power from the ground?" Link was surprised at what he felt. He hadn’t noticed it before, but now that his attention had been drawn to it, the warmth and energy radiating from the ground.

"Yes, I feel it," he answered. Link was almost mesmerized by the effect. "Wow," he commented, "I can see why you guys don’t like leaving here too much." Link opened his eyes and they started walking again.

"See, Link," Lauren said, "you got that nice warm feeling because this is Gailinian land. If you were on Kerahian soil, it would feel much different."

Link was beginning to understand now. "So is that why you knew that we were on Gailinian land when we were stopped by the meridian knights?"

"Yup," Lauren answered. "You catch on pretty quick for an outsider."

Link smiled. "Thanks. Would it feel different if you were on Kerahian ground?" Lauren shuddered at the question.

"Very much so. It feels cold and draining, like, like…I don’t know. It’s just very, very cold…" Lauren shivered again. "I’m sure you’ll feel it right when you step on it…"

Link nodded. Well, if I am going to survive out here for very much longer, I had better learn as much about this magic as I can, he thought. "How much longer until we make it to the city?" Link questioned.

"I’m glad you asked," Lauren proudly stated as they cleared the crest of a hill, "because here we are!" Lauren thrust his arm out as to display the magnificent city that stretched along either side of a river in a massive valley. Small farms were dotted around the river’s bank on the outskirts of the town. Closer in were peasant homes, that surrounded the larger buildings and acted as the transition between the rural countryside and the urban city streets. In the center of it all stood a massive castle. It’s towering spires shot upward, reaching high into the sky, as if they were poised to pluck the stars from the darkening sky. Silhouetted by the setting sun, the shadows from the castle blanketed the town. Though it was not as large as Hyrule Castle, it was impressive nonetheless.

Lauren and Link made their way down the grassy slope. Across the fields, Link could see a farmer, his wife, and his children herding the last of their cattle into the barn for the night. Stomping hooves and random moos could be heard from the pasture. Lauren waved to the family in the field and they waved back. Link wondered if they knew each other, but didn’t ask.

Gradually, as Link and Lauren made their way closer to the city, the scenery transformed from the grassy, open fields, into paved roads of stone walled in by tall buildings on either side.

There were few people out on the streets. Even though it was getting late, for a city of its size, Link thought it would be much busier, with patrons emerging from restaurants and farmers entering pubs. The torches that lined the street flickered, throwing shadows across the moist stone road that was eerily empty. As they drew deeper into the city, many of the buildings were two or even three stories tall. However, only about a quarter of the windows were lit. The rest were cold and dark. Almost like he could sense what Link was thinking, Lauren piped up.

"Most of the people who live here are fighting in the war. They are stationed at the towns nearest to Kerah. I hope they are doing all right…" Lauren trailed off, and Link didn’t try to initiate anymore conversation. The duo shortly made it to the gates of the castle. A quartet of soldiers in full armor stood sentry at the entrance.

The blue steel of their armor threw off seemingly magical reflections off from the burning street lamps. A yellow emblem of a crescent moon and blazing sun was adorned on the upper left breastplate of each of the soldiers, probably the royal crest or insignia Link guessed. Link and Lauren approached them.

"I am Lauren Ashcroft Milliner of Larswoods Bay, member of Expedition Force Journey One, requesting an audience with the king to report on mission status." Lauren announced. Link was somewhat surprised at the statement. It sounded so precise and military.

One of the guards laughed. Another one checked his papers. "Expedition Force Journey One is commanded by General Markond. There is no Lauren Milliner on his team list."

"I was an unofficial add on, late in the mission," Lauren stated.

This time, all the guards all laughed. "Right, kid," said the one on the left. "If that is true, why don’t you run along and tell General Markond to report himself?" The other guards slapped the soldier on the back for the cruel jest, laughing. Lauren’s expression was one of mixed embarrassment and anger.

"General Markond is dead!" he yelled. "So is Lieutenant Jerros, and the rest of the force. I am all that is left, and I have urgent news for the king!" This made the soldiers laugh even harder, all but one. He studied the sheets of paper in his hands. Tapping one of the other guards on the shoulder, he pointed to a line on the paper, and then another. The guard stopped laughing, starring at the paper. He motioned to the other two to come over and look. They talked in hushed tones. The soldier with the papers approached Lauren and Link.

"How did you know about Operation Journey One? That mission is classified. Lieutenant Jerros is stationed at Metros, he was not on that team."

"Right, then you are misinformed." Lauren desperately argued. "I already told you, I was part of the expedition into Hyrule. I am all that is left of the task force. I have urgent news for the king!" The guards still remained skeptical.

"And who is this you have with you here?" one of them asked, pointing to Link. Link stepped forward, speaking for the first time.

"I am Link, royal ambassador from the kingdom of Hyrule. I have King Harkinian’s response to King Favar’s inquiry. The message is of the utmost importance and urgency to your current situation of war." Link surprised himself with his military tone and precision. Maybe he was beginning to pick up on this diplomacy thing.

The guards looked at each other, still unsure of what to do. They drew together, whispering in hushed tones. Link couldn’t make out what they were saying. Finally, they broke from their huddle and the leader spoke.

"Very well, we shall escort you to meet with King Favar." With that, the guard turned and opened the gate, motioning for Link and Lauren to follow him. Two of the other guards flanked them on the left and right while the fourth took up the rear, closing and locking the gate.

They walked the stone path that led to the main entrance. The outer courtyard was filled with trees and colorful flowers that gave off a warm, pleasant scent. The gray stone path wound around tall rock planters that dotted the courtyard, each one containing streaming fountains and decorated with colorful foliage. Trimmed bushes lined the path on both sides, framing the walkways that meandered through the garden. After climbing up a wide stairway, they emerged from the pasture of greenery at the castle entrance, where two more guards stood duty. After a nod from the sentry leading Link and Lauren, the two guards opened the large wooden doors and Link and Lauren were led into the main hall.

Unlike the Hylian castle, the main concourse of the Gailian castle was shaped like a wide cylinder with a ten-meter tall ceiling. Red carpet led to the center of the circular floor from the front entrance. In the middle of the room, the carpet divided into five different directions to five different doors in the room, all of which were shut. Turning sharply, the leading guard led them down the carpet that was furthest to the left. Interesting place to put the throne room Link thought. One would have expected it to be the center door…

"Your highness," the guard proclaimed as he threw open the doors, "news comes from Operation Journey One."

King Favar was a fairly tall man, moderately built, with short, wavy red hair and a well-manicured mustache. He didn’t wear a crown, or a robe, or carry a scepter or anything else visibly royal. He was actually rather plain looking for one of his title, wearing a dark blue vest, one somewhat like Lauren’s, with a red sash crossing from his right shoulder to his left hip, and wrapping around his waist like a belt. Under the vest was a simple white shirt with puffy sleeves. His baggy gray trousers hung past his ankles and rested atop his glossy black boots. A sword hung sheathed at his side, but Link figured that, due to its flamboyant design, it was only for decorative purposes.

King Favar was standing up over a large table that stretched almost the entire distance of the middle of the room. It held numerous candles on its surface, as well as maps, letters, and what appeared to be battle plans. He was currently studying what looked like a map of charted enemy movements.

The room itself was exactly what Link had expected any throne room to look like, with the red carpet leading straight forward into the rectangular room to end at raised platform where the actual throne sat. On either side of the carpet, set close to the walls, were pillars holding up torch pockets and tapestries. There were windows on the right side of the room that faced to the inner courtyard.

A dim reddish purple light radiated from the windows, signifying that the evening was quickly passing by. Link was almost tempted to go over and peek out one of the windows to see if he could catch any little eavesdropping spies, but restrained his curiosity. He was here on business.

"Well, it’s about time we got some good news." King Favar greeted. The guard at the door moved to the side, allowing Lauren and Link to enter the room freely.

"You’re highness!" Lauren exclaimed, rushing up to the king. Quickly, he drew down to his right knee in a formal bow. "I have brought news from Hyrule."

The king looked at him. "Who are you, boy?" he inquired.

Lauren didn’t move from his position, his eyes still fixed on the floor. He answered, "I am Lauren Ashcroft Milliner of Larswoods Creek, member of Expedition Force Journey One."

The king looked down at him. "How do you know about that mission?" he demanded. "That mission is highly classified."

"I was a last minute add-on, your highness."

"I didn’t authorize that," the king countered. "Stand up and look at me, boy," he commanded. Lauren rose and looked the king in the eyes. "You look like you aren’t a day over fifteen! I would never authorize a child to take on such a dangerous mission!" Favar shook his head in disbelief. "Now tell me, boy: how do you know about Operation Journey One?"

"I…" Lauren started, then stopped. He looked down at his shoes in disgrace. "I am a friend of Neilson Cross. I begged him to let me go on the mission because, you see, your highness, I don’t have anything left and he…"

"Neilson Cross shall be reprimanded for bringing you along with him on such a dangerous mission!" the king exclaimed. "Bringing a child on a trek so far from the homeland! He could have put the entire mission in jeopardy!"

"Your highness," Lauren spoke, his voice full of shame, "Neilson Cross is dead, and so is the rest of the team…killed by medrian knights that pursued us from Kerah. I am the only one left." The king stopped his ranting.

"How did you survive," Favar finally asked.

"It was just luck that I managed to get to the border of Hyrule. I would have been killed, but Link here rescued me." Lauren gestured to Link. The king refocused his attention, almost like he hadn’t even noticed that Link had been standing there.

"Your highness," Link spoke, politely bowing. "I am Link, ambassador from the kingdom of Hyrule. I come bringing a statement King Harkinian." King Favar nodded, motioning for Link to proceed. "King Harkinian has decreed that Hyrule will aid you in your war, but only after certain provisions have been satisfied. He has stated that the citizens of Hyrule, given the current circumstances in Gailins, will not support an extended military campaign here. From what we know, you have not yet identified who it is attacking you, nor accumulated any hard evidence that it is the doing of the kingdom of Kerah, or anyone else. If you can present Hyrule with evidence that any party is indeed responsible for the attacks that have fallen upon your country, Hyrule will mobilize its forces to defend you from the aggressor and defeat them. However, until that party is identified, Hyrule cannot extend any formal aid to your country."

King Favar pondered the message for a couple of seconds. "Well," he finally spoke, "I guess that is the kind of response I should have expected…"

"But don’t worry, your highness!" Lauren bubbled, "Link was instructed to help us find evidence that Kerah is behind all the attacks! He’s a great warrior!"

King Favar turned back to Link. "Is that true?" he questioned.

"Yes, it is, your highness. I have orders to assist you in finding out who is responsible for the attacks against your country." The king nodded.

"Well then, I welcome you and your help. However, your journey must have been long and strenuous. I will…"

Lauren jumped in, cutting off the king. "It was strenuous! We were attacked by meridian knights on the way and…! Ouch, Link! Why’d you kick me?"

Link cleared his throat, pointing to the king.

"Oh, I’m sorry, your highness," Lauren apologized. "You were saying?"

The king smiled faintly. "Yes, I will arrange for a room for both of you. Tomorrow, I will prepare a briefing for you with intelligence we have gathered thus far."

"Thank you, your highness," Link said gratefully.

"Yeah! Thanks!" Lauren bubbled gleefully. The two were escorted from the room. Lauren practically skipped out the door. Already waiting in the main concourse was a castle servant. Link and Lauren followed her as she lead the way down the red carpet to the door directly opposite the throne room. Behind them, the double doors to the throne room closed. With that, Lauren jumped up into the air.

"Hey, Link!" he called wearing a silly grin on his face.

Link couldn’t resist from smiling himself. "What is it, Lauren?" he asked.

"We get to sleep in the royal castle tonight!"

Link laughed at the boy’s obvious excitement. "That we do, Lauren," he smiled. "That we do."

~*~*~*~*~*~

"Lord Stebos," a cloaked figure reported. "News from the mission to intercept the Gailins effort to reach Hyrule." A dark figure sat on a throne. The throne was crafted from black iron, and adorned with powerful gems mined from deep in the Kerahian soils. Intricate designs and patterns were carved across the metal, forming curves that made the ornate seat seem to move and flow with the lines.

"Report," Stebos ordered.

"Sir, it seems that Gailins has succeeded in contacting the Hylian kingdom and are receiving aid from them. In pursuit of the final remaining operative in their mission, we found that he was being escorted by a warrior from Hyrule." Stebos raised his hand, indicating for the report to cease.

"Well then," he pondered. "I believe it is about time for me to call in an old favor… Jenove, we are traveling to Hyrule tomorrow."

Jenove bowed at the statement. "I will make the necessary arrangements to do so, my lord."

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lauren sat on the bed, removing his armor and boots while Link examined the room. The room was on the second level of the East Side of the castle. The walls were adorned with oil paintings and solid colored tapestries. Link looked out the window. Guards patrolled the grounds, up to the tall stone wall that surrounded the entire area.

"So, Lauren," Link started, "I have a question for you, but I think I already know what it is…"

"So, you figured out that I wasn’t really part of Operation Journey One, huh," he replied. It was a statement. Link turned back from the window and nodded.

"Yes, and the guards at the gate were a dead give away. So how did you find out about the mission if you weren’t involved in it from the beginning."

"Well," Lauren started, "I lied about being part of the mission, but it’s true that my friend Neilson sneaked me along with them. He told General Markond about me and that I was a good warrior. So I actually was a last minute add on."

Link thought a moment. "You are a brave young boy, Lauren." Lauren turned a little red.

"Thanks, Link."

"It’s true," Link replied. "Now if you don’t mind, I am exhausted. How about we call it a night?"

"Ok," Lauren agreed. However, Lauren still had a question on his mind that he had to ask. "Link?"

"Mhmph?" Link answered, his face in his pillow.

"I have a question for you…" Link rolled over and faced the young boy, his long blonde hair falling in front of his eyes.

"What is it, Lauren," he asked, brushing the hair away.

Lauren stuttered, then asked, "Where do people go when they die? I mean, I’ve lost a lot in this war, and all the people I am close to…well…"

Link knew where he was getting at, and didn’t make him say it. "I honestly don’t have an answer for that question," Link admitted.

"Oh, ok," Lauren said, his voice now heavy and tired. It didn’t come to Link’s realization until that moment that he didn’t know when the last time the young boy had had any real rest. They had departed from Hyrule almost right after they had arrived. What a little trooper Link thought. He’s been through a lot.

"Good night, Lauren," Link said, blowing out the candles on the nightstand.

"Night," Lauren responded, his voice muffled by the pillow. The two warriors, one younger and one older, retired to their beds, and slept till morning…

~*~*~*~*~*~

Harkinian was nervous. Very few people could ever do that to him. He was the king of Hyrule and had confronted thousands of dignitaries and other important people over the years without so much as flinching. However, this time it was much different. The only other time he had felt so anxious about a meeting was a long time ago, when Ganondorf met him before the Great War. But now, he felt it again, the uneasiness in his stomach, like the feeling he got whenever Link volunteered to cook for him and Zelda. He was not going to enjoy this meeting. The door to the throne room was opened and the caller announced the newcomer.

"Lord Stebos Darkedge of Kerah," the caller proclaimed as Stebos entered.

"Your welcome is much appreciated," Stebos thanked Harkinian, "but your information seems to be rather dated. I am no longer…how to say this…with Kerah." This information instantly sparked an interest with Harkinian, but rather than show it by immediately questioning on the topic, he kept the conversation neutral.

"Hyrule is glad to see you here, Lord Stebos," Harkinian replied as Stebos entered the room. Two others followed him in, both wearing suits of black armor. "For what do we owe this pleasure?" Harkinian motioned to the long table that sat in the middle of the room. Stebos’ companions remained standing on either side of the door as Harkinian and Stebos took their seats. The table was covered in a lush variety of foods, ranging from fresh Zora clams, to tangerines native to the Kokiri forest. A delicate arrangement made from flowers grown in the royal gardens the perfect centerpiece, completing the presentation.

"I shall be blunt and straight to the point," Stebos began. "You remember the day, long ago, when I helped you in your war against Ganondorf, do you not?" Harkinian nodded at the question. That was not something he would ever forget…

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

The lines were breaking everywhere. Moblins and Stalfos were cutting through the Hylian ranks with what seemed to be ease.

"Your Highness!" one of the lieutenants hollered, "We must retreat! The enemy is too strong! We cannot hold them back!" Harkinian surveyed the battlefield. It looked hopeless. From what he saw, even retreat was not an option. No, this looked like the end. Ganondorf’s forces were carving their way straight through the field to the town. Even the castle walls would not hold back the enemy for long, given they lived long enough to retreat there. The only other option was to surrender, something Harkinian swore he would never do. So that left him in a tactical stalemate, with Ganondorf’s forces coming straight for them.

Harkinian opened his mouth to speak, but whatever words he was going to say were covered up by the gargantuan blast that shook the ground. Dirt and dust flew through the air, carried by winds of fury. It took many moments for the cloud to settle before anything could be made out of what had just occurred.

Out in the middle of the field, stood three men, shielded by black, glistening armor, one holding a broad sword, one a battle axe, and the third, a long handled mace. Around them, the bodies of moblins and stalfos burned away, the telltale sign that they had been freshly defeated. Approaching them from over far hill, was the king of darkness himself, Ganondorf.

"What have you done?!?" Ganondorf exclaimed, surveying the damage the three had created. "I don’t know where Harkinian found you, but you will pay dearly for this!" None of the three spoke. The warriors with the mace and axe looked at the one with the sword, as if questioning what the next move should be. The leader never had to make any orders because Ganondorf’s hastiness sent another wave of monsters to attack them. Swinging their mace and axe, the two black armored warriors tore through the monsters effortlessly. The one with the sword moved toward Ganondorf.

Ganondorf laughed. "Heh heh, you think you’re so tough that you can defeat my minions so easily, but you don’t know who you are playing with here. I am Ganondorf, dark lord of evil, and you, are now DEAD!" Lunging forward, Ganondorf drew his blade and attacked the leader. The leader caught the blow high in the air with his sword, and quickly countered with a thrust from the right. Ganondorf barely deflected the attack, and had to immediately block another slash from the side as the leader recovered and attacked again and again.

The leader forced Ganondorf back further, keeping him solely on the defensive, not letting up at all. From Harkinian’s viewpoint, it seemed that it was taking Ganondorf everything he had to just stay alive. Then, with all his strength, Ganondorf made his move. Throwing all his weight into his sword, he deflected the leader’s blade high off to the right.

"Now you die!" he yelled. Drawing one hand away from the hilt of his blade, Ganondorf released a blast of intense magic energy, point blank at the leader’s chest. Effortlessly, the leader smacked the energy blast away, batting it high into the air to disappear into the clouds.

Ganondorf didn’t even have time to think before the leader slammed his foot into his stomach, sending him flying high into the air. Before he hit the ground, the leader shot an orange energy blast of his own from his armored gauntlet. The blast connected with Ganondorf’s midsection and sent him to the hard ground. The other two warriors stood at the leader’s side, having easily dispatched of Ganondorf’s remaining forces. Ganondorf looked up at them from the ground, dazed and in shock. Blood dripped down his face and he held his right arm, wincing in pain.

"Who are you?" he demanded, breathing hard. The leader laughed.

"It appears that you don’t know whom it is you are playing with here," the leader retorted, using Ganondorf’s own line back at him. "If you know what is good for you, you will refrain from interfering with the missions of Kerah."

Ganondorf wisely took that time to escape, vanishing into the air with his teleportation magic. The three warriors turned around to be greeted by a mass of cheering Hylian troops.

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

Stebos’ words interrupted Harkinian’s thoughts. "I assume that you also remember the promise you made that you would return the favor in any way that you could, do you not?"

"Yes, I do," Harkinian answered.

"The time has come where I must ask your assistance on an issue of grave importance to me."

"Just ask. Hyrule is forever in your debt for helping us in our time of need," Harkinian said, thinking he would regret those words very soon.

"I have fallen to a rather precarious situation, one that is beyond my power to control."

This can’t be good, Harkinian though to himself. I don’t think I want to know what he wants… "How can Hyrule be of assistance?" the king found himself asking. "We have long awaited the time when we can repay you for your acts in the Power Wars during the Ganondorf episode. Hyrule will do all it can to show how much your assistance was appreciated."

"I sincerely thank your generosity, Harkinian," Stebos said. "I have fallen into war with two countries, and I cannot defend my territories for much longer."

"For their forces to be threatening you, these must be major powers in the world. Do you believe Hyrule’s assistance will do any good?"

"Oh, yes they will. The forces I am up against are armies with the same capabilities as yours. Yes, they are versed in magic and sorcery, but that should be no problem. Their leaders are what threaten me, but once their armies have been put down, I will deal with them personally."

Harkinian remained skeptical, but attempted to hide it. "Exactly how long would you need to "borrow" our forces? And how many?"

"Oh, I would say five thousand would do, for about a month. I really am not asking much. Once the opposing armies have been eliminated, the task will be done and I will return them to you. If it weren’t for the fact that I am being attacked by two countries at the same time, I wouldn’t have needed to ask you for this."

Harkinian thought for a moment. For what Stebos seemed to be up against, a mere five thousand men was nothing to ask. The general populace of Hyrule would also support the effort. Memories of the Great War still lingered in their heads, and the arrival of Stebos had given hope back to the country. However, there was much that the country didn’t know about the man…

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

"I would like to officially thank you on behalf of the citizens of Hyrule for helping us in our time of need, Lord Stebos," Harkinian said. Assembled in the throne room were Harkinian and assorted generals and others of high rank. Stebos had introduced his companions as Marcus and Jenove. They had been on a mission from Kerah that required them to cross Hylian lands.

Stebos was a tall, well-muscled warrior. He stood in front of Harkinian in full armor. His companions had removed their helmets, and held them tucked under their arms - Stebos had left his on. The companions were both equals to Stebos in muscle and stature, the one to his left having jet-black hair with other one having brown hair, with strands of gray mixed in.

Ignoring Harkinian’s words, Stebos rudely asked his companions, "Why are we wasting our time here? The mission is more important than this." Marcus, the one with the brown hair, answered in a hushed tone.

"I believe it is advisable to meet with them. We have done them a great favor, and they wish to thank us for it. You never know when you may need a favor someday, and it is always good to have those out there that who owe you."

"I don’t think these fools will ever be useful to help me," Stebos snidely retorted, just loud enough so that only those closest to him could hear, including Marcus, Jenove, Harkinian.

Harkinian frowned. The reception of the new heroes was not going very smoothly. "We would just like to show our appreciation…" he tried again. Stebos remained silent.

"It was our pleasure," Marcus stepped in. "We…" Marcus was immediately cut off by Stebos.

"We would love to stay and chat, but we have more demanding concerns right now. Let me see how this goes then…ah, we did you a favor, and now you owe us one, right? Good, now that that is understood, we must be going now." With that, Stebos turned and walked from the room. Marcus and Jenove looked at each other, and then followed their leader out.

"I don’t think we will be hearing from them again…" Harkinian muttered under his breath as they exited.

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

Now, that very same man sat in front of him, asking for his help. However, his attitude, or at least manners, had changed greatly since their last meeting. He had even entered the castle with his helmet off. Had he really changed, or it was the entire thing just a front just to get what he wanted? As much as he tried, Harkinian couldn’t get a read on the man.

"Well," Harkinian started, "Hyrule is happy that we will finally be able to repay your kindness you showed us those many years ago."

"I am happy that you agree to help us," Stebos replied. "However, I need to return to my lands to over see the war efforts as soon as possible. When can I expect your troops to arrive?"

"They will leave tomorrow morning. It will probably take the better part of a month for them to arrive in Kerah, though."

"That is not a concern. I have methods that will be able to get your troops there many times faster. I will leave one of my companions behind to lead your forces to my lands for if you move your forces across Kerah, you will likely find a most unpleasant surprise. For you see, things have changed over the years. The leaders of Kerah have shown themselves to be…unpopular, to say the least. I have offered the people of Kerah another way, a way they have followed willingly and with great relief. You see, my war is for territory, and Kerah is the enemy. We fight them, and we also fight the kingdom of Gailins."

Harkinian nodded, simply for a lack of words. He hid his surprise at the news the best he could. "Well then, god-speed to you and your people," he managed to say.

Stebos stood up from the table. "Thank you, Harkinian." Turning, he walked toward the door and left.

…………………………………………………………………………………..…………..

"Is that man gone now?" Zelda asked, poking her head into the room.

"Yes he is," Harkinian answered.

"Good," Zelda replied, seemingly relieved. "Who was that man?"

"That was Stebos Darkedge. He helped us in the war against Ganondorf, years ago, when you were very little."

"I know," Zelda answered. "I remember…"

"What?" the king exclaimed, surprised, "You were barely six months at that time! Did you recognize his face after all those years?"

"No," Zelda answered," I didn’t even see what he looks like today because I was too afraid to look, but…I remember…I remember that power. I could feel it coming back today." Zelda turned to her father. "I don’t like this…I don’t like this at all…"

"Neither do I, Zelda," her father agreed, "neither do I."

~*~*~*~*~*~

"So here’s a recap of the battle plan," Favar started, pointing to the map. It was yet another mid-afternoon in Gailins, back in the throne room, which that apparently doubled as Favar’s personal military operations study. The white afternoon light shone brightly in from the windows, and it carried along with it the fresh afternoon breeze that rustled the papers on the table. There were four figures standing around the table: Link, Favar, Nikkole – Favar’s second in command, and Lauren, who really wasn’t at the table, but exploring the throne room.

"So far, throughout this entire war, we have been defending against attacks on every encounter," Favar explained. "This will be our first offensive strike against the enemy. We believe that the enemy holds positions at Marshwood, a small town near the Gailinian and Kerahian border. Once we take that town, we will be able to move along down the river towards the Kerahian capital, Slaincore. However, that all rests on whether or not we can capture Marshwood."

Link raised his hand in question. He had sat through a morning full of meetings with Favar and his cabinet of military advisors, but he still didn’t know what his role in the overall plan was. "What is it that you want me to do during all this?" he asked.

"You have a very special role in this mission, Link." Favar answered. "Nikkole will explain."

Nikkole stepped forward to the table. A little younger than Favar, he stood a few centimeters taller than Link. His orange hair had the same style as Favar’s, but was just a bit longer on the top. He wore a similar outfit as the king too. His vest was a light yellow, and the shirt under it was a startling bright orange, matching his hair. Though his clothing covered his body, Link could tell that there were sculpted muscles hiding under the fabric.

His sword hung at his right side. A lefty Link noticed. From what he could tell by the sheath, the blade was a wide broadsword – definitely not a decoration. Link didn’t doubt his ability to use it either. From what Link figured, he was probably a very respectable warrior. Nikkole noticed Link sizing him up and smiled.

"Link," he started, snapping Link’s attention back to reality, "after every battle, the opposing force always sends out a messenger back to their headquarters. It is your mission to find the messenger and follow it back to their base. Once you are there, I am sure you will find proof on whom the attackers are. Once you are finished, report back to rendezvous point B. Then you will be given the opportunity to travel back to Hyrule and report your findings. Hopefully then, that will be enough to convince King Harkinian to send us aid."

"Ok," Link said. "I understand. And how do I recognize this messenger?"

Nikkole answered. "The messenger will be the only meridian knight on horseback." At that moment, the doors to the room opened, and four other Gailians walked in. They wore what looked like military uniforms.

Link turned back to Nikkole and Favar. "That clears things up, thanks." The four officers made their way to the table, glancing at Link briefly.

"Your majesty," the one in the middle said. "Here are the latest reports from the front lines at Macon and Jackson." He proceeded to place the papers on the table, but was startled by a tremendous crash that came from the back of the room.

An old suit of armor fell into view from behind one of the pillars. Embarrassed, Lauren peeked out from behind the stone column, his face a bright red.

"Uh, sorry, I was just looking at the, and he, yeah…his…umm…" he stuttered, turning to look at Favar. "Umm, yeah…am I in trouble?" Even though an air of extreme seriousness permeated the room, the group burst into laughter. Lauren looked on, bewildered. "Uh…are you guys ok?"

~*~*~*~*~*~

"I just don’t know how to read this," Harkinian admitted. It was late, and he was discussing the current predicament with General Carley. Harkinian had also asked Zelda to sit in on the meeting. "From the last we ever knew, Stebos was serving the kingdom of Kerah. Now he says he is an "independent" fighting against Kerah and Gailins both. I don’t understand."

"I don’t believe we should be helping this man," Carley interjected. "He is obviously a renegade warlord hungry for territory. We don’t know if he is trying to form his own kingdom, or take over the other ones, or even possibly perform a military coup. We should not be extending aid to help a radical revolution in countries a hundred of kilometers away from here. It just doesn’t make sense, and we should not be getting involved."

"But I gave my word…" Harkinian started.

"Oh enough of this ‘I gave my word’ nonsense!" Carley barked. If it were any other man, Harkinian would have dismissed them right then and there for lack of respect, but Carley was different. Sometimes not the most practical or economical, but his ingenuity and creativity on the field always seemed to pull Hyrule through the tough times. "This is war and men’s lives hang in the balance! Just tell him that we cannot help. This is not our battle."

"When a king’s word is not respected, neither will his reign be respected," Harkinian calmly countered. "Everybody knows about the great deed Stebos did for our country, and at the expense of five thousand men, I cannot afford to jeopardize the situation by breaking my word, and having the entire kingdom questioning my rule."

"I understand where you are coming from, but common sense will have to overrule this bureaucratic nonsense. You are putting Hyrule in a dangerous situation."

"And that is why I am sending you to oversee our forces." Harkinian answered. Zelda smiled. Her father always had the hidden card up his sleeve. "There is no one better to head this mission than you."

Carley opened his mouth to negate the situation, but Harkinian had backed him into a wall. Harkinian continued.

"You see, I know you and I know how you think. If you find out that there’s anything fishy going on, you may take it upon yourself to make the decisions that are in the best interests of Hyrule. I want to know exactly what the situation is over there."

"Fine," Carley gave, "but it want it affirmed that I feel that this mission may lead to the end of Hyrule."

Harkinian stifled a laugh. "General, I hardly believe that this could spell something that drastic of consequences." Harkinian looked up to see that Carley wasn’t joking. "Your statement has been duly noted." Harkinian said. "Dismissed."

"Thank you, your highness," Carley answered. With a crisp salute and an about face, Carley strode from the throne room and through the doors, shutting them on his way out leaving Harkinian and Zelda alone. Harkinian frowned.

"That couldn’t have gone any better," Zelda joked. Harkinian didn’t take to her humor, frowning even deeper.

"I just don’t know about that…" he wondered. "I hope he follows my commands…Carley’s always been rather liberal in his interpretations of orders…"

Zelda asked the obvious next question. "Then why are you sending him to lead this mission?"

Harkinian sighed. "Simply put, because he’s the best. His decisiveness and ingenuity more than make up for his unpredictability, and that is actually one of his traits that makes him good. The enemy never knows what is coming."

"But if you think that he may disobey your orders, why take the chance?" Zelda questioned.

"Because you will be there to make sure everything goes alright."

"Oh really?" Zelda mused, "This is the first I’ve heard of it."

"Yes, because you will also be there for another reason."

"Continue," Zelda said, intrigued.

"Just two days ago, I sent Link on a mission to Gailins to inspect attacks that were falling upon their land."

"I see…" Zelda started.

"It gets more complicated, trust me," Harkinian warned. "I promised Gailins that if they could identify their attacker, that we would mobilize to defend them. However, now that we know that the aggressor is Stebos, this leads us to a very tricky situation. Gailins claims they are being attacked and they don’t know who it is. They could be lying and are just trying to get us to take out Stebos for them. But then Stebos claims to be under attack by Kerah and Gailins both. So, if he is telling the truth, then Gailins is on the offensive side and not on the defense like they claim."

Zelda held up her hand to get her father to stop talking before his speculations went too out of control. "I see," she said, "but I still don’t understand why I am going. You should just get one of your other Generals to over-see the mission."

"You must go because I cannot let the military know that Link is trying to help Gailins."

"So you are keeping secrets from your own military advisors now? I think I am starting agree with Carley about this bureaucratic nonsense." Zelda stopped to see her father frowning at her. She quickly dove for a change in subject. "Then what happens if they find out what Link is doing there, say, they get into a fight when he is there?"

"That’s why you are going. You’re the princess of Hyrule. That title carries some weight. If anything should go wrong, then order Carley to back down the troops. You do out rank him."

"I don’t like this," Zelda bluntly stated. "But if you think you know what you’re doing, then I’ll play along."

"Thank you, Zelda."

~*~*~*~*~*~

Morning was approaching. Silhouettes of armored troops marched down the wide road. Leading the army marched the pikes men, with their wooden spears held high against the pastel colors of dawn, waving back and forth with each step. Following them were the swordsmen and the archers. Riding follow-up were the mounted knights, trotting along on their horses. Behind them taking up the rear, rode Favar, his royal coterie, and Link.

"You will have to be weary when tracking the messenger knight, Link," Favar warned. "If it senses you following it, it will ride faster and try to teleport away. Then we will have no chance of finding it." Link acknowledged the words with a nod. "And watch out for anyone clad in orange armor. They are the Kerahian guard, and are not to be taken lightly. Being human, they don’t posses a meridian knight’s brute strength, but they have more control over magic, and are much smarter."

"I will look for them," Link stated, "and if I do indeed find the ones who are responsible, I will report back to you, and depart for Hyrule to alert Harkinian of your condition."

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Ranks upon ranks of Gailian troops marched by. They think they have it all figured out, don’t they, Jenove mused. It’s time to show them how wrong they are. He could see the ones he was waiting for through the trees as they drew near, mounted on horses. The mighty king of Gailins, the legendary Favar, will fall at my hands. A smile grew across the figure’s face. The time was now. Lurking out from the woods, he took aim.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"Thank you, Link, for all you are doing for my country," Favar spoke.

"It is my pleasure." Link answered. "I know the hardships that…" Link didn’t have a chance to get another word out.

A speeding orb of orange energy seared by his face from an unknown origin. The ball grazed Link’s cheek, burning his skin. Whipping his head around, Link followed its flight path. Everything seemed to go in slow motion from there. Link watched the energy homed in on its intended target.

It smashed into Favar’s upper torso, burning away at his armor. Link watched Favar’s face contort in pain as the attack smashed into his chest. He was lifted from his mount on the horse, and thrown hard to the ground. Link was stunned, as were all around him. Regaining some of his senses, Link turned back to where he thought the attack came from. Out of the corner of his eye, Link caught the sight of a sweeping black cape disappearing into the forest. As the cape melted into the shadows, a second threat emerged.

From all around, meridian knights grew from the forest’s shadows, seemingly growing from the earth itself. They marched to the edge of the wood, swords drawn and powered up so they were glowing with a dark light.

Still in shock, Nikkole, one of the mounted soldiers next to Link, took command. "The King has fallen! Fight for honor!"

Link launched himself from his horse, attacking the nearest meridian knight. Cutting it down, he performed a timely back flip to avoid the low slash from another enemy. In mid air, he charged up his sword, blasting the enemy in the chest, throwing it backward to the ground. It had been a while since he had been in battle, but Link easily settled back into his old groove of combat, and the meridian knights became just more stalfos and moblins to Link’s blade.

The Gailian troops had been broken from their state of shock. They were attacking the knights with swords and glowing orange arrows.

Running along the outside of the Gailian ranks, right into the fray, Link cut himself a path through the meridian knights with ease, slashing and spinning and flipping in a way that none of the Gailian soldiers could match. The meridian knights barely had time to react to Link’s presence. Some would have enough time to block an attack with their sword or shield, but none of them ever lasted past three of Link’s strikes. In his path, Link left a wake of burning meridian knights. However, his run was interrupted when he heard his name being called over the noise of battle.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Roe poked his head over the stout stone wall, prepared to form an energy screen if needed. Instead of the usual flying dust and smoke that accompanied a blocked meridian blast, he observed something he did not expect. He ducked back down.

"I don’t know what happened, Sommers," he reported to the soldier on the ground next to him, "but they are retreating for some reason." Giving Roe a look of disbelief, Sommers took a look of his own over the low wall. To his surprise, he caught sight of the last of the meridian knights fleeing to the west. Sommers quickly ducked back down.

"You’re right," he confirmed. "I don’t know why they are retreating, but I do know that means the messenger will be leaving now too. You know what we must do." Roe nodded and both men jumped from their positions behind the wall. Running past a small shed and a stone well, they stopped, their backs pressed to the wall of a short brick house. Creeping around to the side, Sommers poked his head out, still half-expecting an attack to fly from the trees at his face. No such attack came. However, the mission rode past his line of vision; the only meridian knight on a horse, galloping across the expansive field.

The interesting thing was, it was moving directly to the north, not west towards Gailins. No matter Sommers thought. Their objective was to follow the knight no matter what. North, South, East, or through the gates of the underworld, he would follow that messenger. However, if the knight got outside the energy bubble, it would be able to teleport away. That was something he could not permit to happen.

Roe and Sommers sprinted from the house to the accompanying barn. Immediately, the smell of hay bails and earth met his nostrils. Surprisingly, there were a number of horses still in their stalls. Sheathing his sword, Sommers darted to a rack of saddles against the east wall, tossing one to Roe, who immediately threw it on the nearest horse. Sommers grabbed one for himself and did the same.

Seconds later, the duo burst from the barn doors in hot pursuit of the lone meridian knight escaping to the mountains of the north. They raced across the empty plain, their flowing orange capes whipping about in the wind…

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Looking toward the call, he saw Nikkole shouting and pointing. He was pointing across the far field to the east. Visible against the backdrop of green forest, Link could make out a figure racing across the field.

At a closer look, two more figures could be seen, the leading one being a mounted meridian knight. All Link could make out of the other two was that they wore gleaming orange armor and flapping orange capes. Looking around quickly, Link eyed a horse moving off into the forest, its rider either abandoning it for the freedom of fighting on level ground, or for other reasons.

Link darted over to it as fast as his legs could carry him, cutting down two more meridian knights on his way. Sheathing his sword and slipping his shield over it on his back in one smooth movement, he launched himself onto the horse. Grabbing the reins, he tore off after the knight and its escort.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Link must have found the messenger knight! Lauren excitedly thought. Lauren erupted from his hiding place from deep in the trees. I know Link and the king told me to stay in the city, but this will be my chance to avenge Neilson and my family…what have I got to lose anyway now that I’m an orphan… A fifth figure joined the line of pursuers across the open field.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

This horse is never going to catch that meridian knight. The steed was obviously only used for farm work, and lacked the speed of a militarily trained horse. Sommers glanced up towards Roe, who was much further ahead. They both knew the rules of engagement; never get separated from your point man, but in the current situation, it didn’t look like there was much of a choice. Roe looked back at him. Sommers waved him to move on ahead. They would not be able to stay together and stop the messenger knight both.

I picked the wrong horse Sommers thought, as Roe furthered the distance between them, gaining slightly on the meridian knight. Sommers was so focused on trying to keep up he didn’t even notice the green warrior creeping up from behind him. It was a good thing that his enhanced senses allowed him to foresee the attack. He drew his sword and slashed violently backward up along his left side, deflecting Link’s blade.

Using one hand, he brought his horse to a stop, blocking yet another attack from the mysterious green warrior in the process. Sommers glanced back at Roe’s progress, seeing that Roe had stopped his horse and was beginning to make his way back to help. Sommers waved him onward. He could handle this threat. Roe hesitated, then complied, taking off after the messenger once again.

With precise accuracy, Sommers raised his hand, sending a blast of orange energy right at his pursuer’s face, forcing him to abandon his steed and drop the ground in order to dodge. This will be fun Sommers thought. This guy can’t even defend against an energy attack!

"Who are you?" Sommers demanded, jumping down from his horse. This warrior was definitely not from Gailins. Wow, Sommers thought, first Stebos abandons us to join Gailins, and now they are digging up warriors from other places. "My colleague is up ahead, and you will not be able to stop him. He will have your messenger in no time, so why don’t you just run back to the protection of Gailins so you don’t get hurt here?"

"What are you talking about?" Link questioned. "My mission is to stop that messenger. Why do you want to stop your own man?"

"Stop trying to confuse me and fight!" Sommers demanded. The green warrior tried to protest, but Sommers launched himself into a furry of attacks. Orange rays of energy flew towards Link faster than any arrow could fly from a bow. However, Link knew how to deal with this.

Drawing his sword, he batted the blasts away. A combination of his many years of training, combined with his natural skill, allowed him to complete this near impossible task. He knew the minimum distance he needed to pivot his sword to intercept each blast, tilting it back and forth in precise, sweeping movements. Sommers ceased fire after watching the amazing spectacle. Apparently, he had underestimated the ability of his adversary.

Link smiled as the last of the blasts rushed toward him, smacking the final one back into Sommers’ face. With a swipe of his fist, Sommers knocked the speeding orange dart to the ground, where it exploded into a spectacle of light and dirt. Sommers smirked. "You have gotten my attention, stranger," he conceded. "What was it you were speaking of earlier?"

"I was wondering exactly why you are trying to hunt down your own messenger," Link answered, a smile creeping across his face too. Apparently he had impressed this foe.

"I’m afraid you are mixed up about this entire ordeal." Sommers laughed. "You see," he explained, "you are fighting for Gailins, and usually one does not make the error of mistaking his own messenger for another’s. If you have not yet been informed, Stebos and his fabricated army are working for you right now. That messenger is on your side.

Regardless, it will not be allowed to carry out its mission, and I fear that you will not be able to either." With that, Sommers launched another salvo of orange blasts at Link. This time, the blasts were more powerful, and much quicker. Link had a much more difficult time blocking them, but they soon stopped. Either Sommers was starting to deplete his energy, or he wanted to talk some more. The answer soon came, in the form of a shout from a familiar voice.

"Link! Get down!" Link turned around to see Lauren galloping in his direction on a horse. From his sword, he unleashed a massive yellow blast of energy, sending it straight towards Sommers. However, Link was standing right between the oncoming attack and its target.

‘Lauren! No!" Link called. Bringing his blade about, Link swung with all his might at Lauren’s attack. Link’s efforts were barely enough to alter the blast’s trajectory away from Sommers. Lauren was obviously more powerful than Link had been giving him credit for. Sommers dodged the wayward attack by fading left.

"Link!" Lauren cried as he rode up, "What do you think you are doing?!?" Once again, Lauren unleashed a blast at Sommers, again to be intercepted by Link. "Link!" Lauren protested. "You saw what they did to Favar! How can you defend him?"

"I would like to know the answer to that question as well," Sommers agreed coolly.

"I will try to explain," Link started. However, before he could begin, a piercing cry shattered the air. The three’s attention was diverted to its source. Off in the distance, near the tree line, Roe could be seen, slumped on his knees, holding his side. A troop of about five meridian knights stood around him, with the messenger knight off to the side, still mounted on his horse. It gave a satirical salute to the bickering trio, and vanished from sight as it left the energy bubble, teleporting away.

"NO!" Sommers yelled. Totally disregarding Link and Lauren, he mounted his steed, and tore off towards his fallen comrade. Link and Lauren both gave each other questioning looks, and then took off after him. Barely in the trees, but hidden from view, Jenove watched them approach. Fools he thought. I will finish you all later. With that, he made like the messenger knight, and teleported away.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The mission was a failure. The messenger knight had escaped, the Gailian forces, after the fall of their king, were forced to fall back to a defensive position, and Sommers’ partner, Roe, was dead, another victim of a meridian sword. Cautiously, the three warriors moved through the forest. Sommers and Lauren insisted they be as careful as possible, saying that the enemy was near. Link assumed they had some way of sensing the danger, but what was odd was that he could also vaguely identify a dark presence somewhere nearby. Maybe he could sense the meridian knights as well…or maybe it was just his warrior’s intuition.

The three spoke in a hushed whisper as they moved about the wood, leading their horses by the reigns.

"From what you tell me," Sommers continued, "you are saying that Kerah has been attacking you for the last three months, in the form of Stebos’ meridian knights?"

Lauren, still skeptical of the situation, acknowledged the question. "Yes, we know that it is the meridian knights that have been attacking us. From what you tell us, Stebos has defected, and joined us, and began attacking you for the past three months, right?"

"That is correct, kid," Sommers answered.

"Don’t call me that!" Lauren scolded.

"Yeah, right, kid," Sommers retorted. "You look like you’re fourteen. You shouldn’t be fighting in a battle like this. Did you see what those bastards did to my partner? He was one of the most powerful, talented warriors I ever knew. Even he fell; what chance do you think you have?"

Lauren was obviously miffed. "For your information, I am fifteen, and I’ve lost a mother, a father, a brother, and my last friend on earth, besides Link here, to those monsters! However, I have survived. That speaks for itself! And anyway, I have no where to go now! No family, no friends, no nothing! You think you’ve seen it bad, then try going through all this, and only being fifteen!" Lauren was on the verge of tears, and Link could tell that he was using all his strength to keep them from forming. "So when you go around telling other people their chances, you had better do a little more research!"

"Lauren," Link hushed, "We must be quiet. The meridian knights could be anywhere. We don’t even know where we are going." Link stopped walking. "However, we seem to be making some sort of progress here." He turned to Sommers. "So apparently, this Stebos character was attacking you when we showed up. From there, he retreated from the battle with you to attack us." Sommers nodded.

"That seems like the only reasonable explanation at the moment," he agreed. "Stebos is playing on the fact that both our sides think he’s working for the other side. He is a tricky warrior…"

Link slapped his leg in frustration. "Why does name sound so familiar?" he asked. "I can’t quite put my finger on it…"

"Maybe because during the power crusades, he crossed your land in search of the third power crystal." Sommers offered. "I remembered when he came back, saying that he didn’t believe that there even was a third power crystal, like the legends say."

"That’s it!" Link exclaimed. Lauren and Sommers shushed Link to quiet down. "Sorry," he apologized, "but I just have had a realization. I read about this Stebos in the Hylian history books. He is the one who saved us from Ganondorf that one time."

"This puts a whole new light on the subject…" Sommers commented. Swiftly, he drew his sword and swung it around to Link. "It would make perfect sense to say that Hyrule is working with Stebos, helping him rob us of our power crystals! We know you hold the third power crystal somewhere in your land! You are helping him, aren’t you?"

"What?" Link gasped, staring at the sharp blade pointing at him. "No! We are not helping him! I was sent here strictly to help Gailins. Now that it has been found out that Stebos is both your enemies, Hyrule will help both your sides. My king promised to do so."

Lauren jumped between the two. "Stop that now, Sommers," he demanded. "Link is here to help us? Can’t you see that?"

Sommers smirked, returning his sword to his side. "Yes, I can see that, but a kid like you hasn’t had enough battle experience to look at this situation from any other angle."

Lauren was obviously becoming angry, either because Sommers was right, or he kept calling him ‘kid.’ "You don’t know what you are talking about," was all Lauren could come up with.

"Yeah, kid, whatever. You may have been through a lot, but you obviously haven’t ever experienced betrayal." Sommers stopped, allowing room for Lauren to say something, but the boy remained silent. "That’s what I thought. Stebos has committed treason of the highest order, and he must pay." Link noticed the shift in the subject. At least Sommers wasn’t the kind of guy who would keep beating the lesson into a poor kid. He was all business. "That Stebos, nobody knows his power better than I…"

Link asked a question that had been bugging him for a long while. "Why is this Stebos so powerful anyway? What makes him so much stronger than you or anybody else in this kingdom?"

Sommers stopped to think for a moment. He just shook his head. "No one really knows the answer to that question. He just kind of showed up in Kerah one day and got an audience with the king. When he came to us, he was extremely powerful, but over the years, he learned many new things, spells and abilities that we have never seen or heard of. Following his arrival, he quickly advanced up the ranks in the Kerahian military, until he became our head commander after creating a break through magic technique.

"He had somehow managed to find a way to create warriors by using his magic; the meridian knights you have already seen. It is a mystery how he learned to do this, but after leading Kerah to many victorious battles against Gailins without us losing a single man, he gained widespread support from our citizens. However, about four months ago, he abruptly turned on us. I was there…"

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

"You will hand over the crystal of Kerah to me, or I will take it from you. If you comply with my wishes, you will be allowed to live." Stebos was standing in the middle of the audience room, making his demands very clear to the king, who coolly remained seated on his throne.

Sommers, Roe, and six of the other elite royal guards stood positioned around the perimeter of the room. Things were taking a turn for the worse.

"Stebos, you must know that cannot be done. The kingdom of Kerah depends on that crystal to give us our strength. With out it, our land and our people will slowly die. I know you are aware of the consequences that will result in removing the crystal, so why must you do this? We have given you everything you ever wanted – even recovered your essence from the Sacred Realm when Favar cast you there, and now you…"

"And I have served you well because of it," Stebos cut in, "but now there is nothing you can give me that will satisfy my needs – nothing but the crystal of Kerah. You will hand it over to me now."

The king stood from his throne. "You know that cannot be done, and you also know that I will do everything in my power to prevent it."

Stebos laughed, "You know my ability better than anyone, Ramien. You must know by now that you are no match for me."

"You may be right, but I must try to stop you, for if you do acquire the crystal, then there may be no one left able to stand in your way…"

"Precisely," Stebos agreed. "That is exactly why I require it. This conversation is going nowhere. Since you will not agree to my demands, I will take matters into my own hands. I am taking the crystal from you now." Sommers waited for the king’s signal.

"I am sorry you feel that way, Stebos," the king regretfully admitted. "I thought that I had taught you better, but since I helped you to become what you are today, it is my responsibility to stop you!" Erupting from the throne, the king launched himself forward, with ninja-like ability, spinning about, throwing his heavy robe from his shoulders. He landed on his feet in a wide stance, his sword drawn and ready for battle. He wore a trim orange shirt tucked into baggy black pants. His layered orange hair flowed in the air as if there were a breeze in the room. However, Sommers knew that this was so only because the king was using his immense magic to power up his sword. "Let’s see just how well I have taught you!" Ramien shouted. "Guards!"

That was his cue. Sommers and Roe launched themselves at Stebos, along with half dozen other Kerahian guardsmen. Sommers attacked by unleashing his most intense blast of energy. The orange energy raced toward Stebos’ unguarded side. With a movement so fluid, it almost looked like a dance, Stebos blocked the blast with ease. The amazing thing was, he did the same for seven other attacks of the like, all with what looked like effortless motions.

The redirected energies shot back at their creators, and the two of the Kerahian guard were not fast enough to dodge were cut down by their own attacks. Sommers had jumped out of the way just in time, spinning laterally, high across the chamber to the other side. The renegade blasts tore through the stone room, smashing through the walls and the floor. Sounds could be heard as they continued tearing throughout the rest of the castle.

Stebos acted as if nothing had even happened, his gaze never moving from Ramien. Ramien also stood his ground, staring back with his cool gaze.

The remaining six guardsmen regrouped and launched another attack. Their swords drawn and powered up and glowing orange, they struck. At the last possible moment, Stebos drew his own weapon, blocking all of the strikes with his sword by only moving his arm. The rest of his body remained perfectly still, his eyes still fixed on Ramien. After all the guardsmen had made their passes, only four were left standing. Sommers and Roe exchanged worried glances. Stebos still stood motionless.

"You know," he spoke to Ramien, totally ignoring the guard circling him, looking for vulnerabilities. "Gailins will be pleased when I return with the Kerahian crystal." At this remark, Ramien lost some of his composure.

"So, you have betrayed us?" he asked, lowering his sword a little, as if the news had sapped some of the strength from his body. "Are you working for Gailins now? Do you not have loyalties?"

A coy smirk possessed Stebos’ face. "Wouldn’t you like to know? You claim to have taught me, so shouldn’t you already have figured it out?" he answered, smiling. "I have had many different teachers before you, but each one failed, and you are nothing compared to them, or me. You were a lousy teacher, Ramien."

Sommers couldn’t take it any longer. Stebos had to pay. Launching himself through the air directly at Stebos, he let loose the most powerful blast he had ever employed. The remaining guardsmen followed Sommers’ lead. Once again, with lethal precision, Stebos deflected the blasts back at their sources.

Roe managed to deflect his returned blast away from himself with his sword. However, his technique was nothing compared to Stebos’. The best he could do was send it upward to the ceiling where it promptly blasted through the stone, causing an avalanche of rock to cascade down on him. Roe skipped and flipped about, and managed to dodge most of it, but a large stone caught him on his right temple, knocking him unconscious. He crumpled to the floor.

The other two guardsmen fell as well, one of them wounded and holding his shoulder, and the other one laying face down in some rubble, motionless.

That was when Sommers noticed that his blast never had returned to him. Instead, it had been directed right at Ramien’s face. Taken by surprise, Ramien barely had time to move his sword to intercept it. The powerful attack ripped Ramien’s sword from his grasp and sent it to the other side of the room. Moving with almost the same speed as the energy blast, Stebos charged Ramien.

With that, Sommers made a last ditch effort to save the king. He rushed Stebos with all his strength. A look of brief confusion flitted across Stebos’ face as he noticed the last remaining guardsman charging in an interception course with almost the same speed as he was moving.

However, the novelty wore off as Stebos’ fist struck Sommers across the face, sending his flailing body to the far side of the room. Sommers smashed into a support pillar, right shoulder first. Everything had gone black at that moment.

When he had woken up, the throne room was in shambles, and his right side and face hurt like no other. When he rushed to check for the king, he found him, slumped over against the base of the throne, defeated. The crystal of Kerah was also gone…

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

"Those are the events that have passed," Sommers admitted. "I failed in my duty to protect my king and my country. Stebos will pay for his deeds, and I am the one who will collect. Kerah is so weak and disorganized that we cannot even defend against his meridian knights. Along with the fact that our land is losing its energy now that the crystal of Kerah has been stolen, there is not much Kerah can do about the situation. However, I still can do much!

"With the crystal, Stebos has become even more powerful. I thought he was teaming up with Gailins to finally take us out, but it appears we were mislead…"

"It seems that Gailins has similarly been lead astray," Lauren admitted. "This whole time, we thought it was you attacking us…"

"Right, Stebos has been playing both sides off each other to divert the attention away from him so he can make his move, and…" Link trailed off. The other two went silent as well. They had been walking through the forest to the north for many hours now. The sounds of the woods had surrounded them the entire time. However, different sounds could now be heard, sounds that were not natural.

Leaving their horses behind, the three silently sprinted towards the noise. They stopped at the edge of the woods, and it was good that they did. The end of the forest was the beginning of a giant ravine, with a cliff face dropping to the bottom several tens of meters down. Link and Lauren dropped to their stomachs, peering over the cliff’s edge. What met their eyes was the worst surprise they could have seen.

Masses of Hylian troops marched through the ravine, lead by three figures on horses. What is this?!? Link thought. On the far right rode General Carley. In between the two rode…Princess Zelda?!? Link couldn’t make out who the third rider was, but he was too bewildered to think about it. What are Hylian soldiers doing here? Link rolled back around.

"Those are…" Link didn’t have to finish his sentence. Sommers stood with his sword inches from Link’s neck. Lauren had also gotten up, and was looking at Link with a half angry, half-hurt expression.

"Those," Sommers finished, "are Hylian troops being lead by Jenove, Stebos’ second in command."

Lauren once again looked as if he could cry. Tears welled up in his eyes. The expression on his face was almost enough to kill Link.

"Why?" was all he could say, and he still choked over the word. He turned around and hid his face in his hands. Sommers put his left hand on the boy’s shoulder as he wept. The sword stayed mere inches from Link’s throat.

"Lauren, I guess we are not so different now anymore. We both have experienced betrayal in the worst degree…"

"Wait!" Link exclaimed, seeing exactly where this was going, and not liking it, "there must be some sort of mistake here! Harkinian would never…"

"Silence!" Sommers bellowed, loud enough for the troops below to hear. His voice echoed off the ravine walls, bouncing off the many rock faces, so the troops couldn’t figure where the source was. The entire body slowed to a halt with the sound of clanking armor and stomping hooves, with the soldiers worriedly looking around for the voice. Realizing his mistake, Sommers lowered his tone

"You have nothing to say that will save you now. I should have know that trusting you would have been a big mistake." Sommers’ sword began glowing with a deadly orange light. "Your time is up."

Left with no alternative and using all his speed, Link drew his sword and knocked Sommers’ away at the last second. The blast missed Link, but instead tore into the ground he was laying on. The rock shuddered in protest, and then burst into pieces. The once solid ground under Link began a long decent to the ravine’s base. Sommers and Lauren had to jump back as the ground beneath their feet also disappeared. Once the rumbling of the miniature landslide had ceased, they peered over the cliff edge.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

The stones fell from under Link’s body, but, through some combination of luck and skill, he managed to roll to his side and slam his sword into the soft clay that made up some of the ravine wall. He hung there, his feet kicking at the rock surface to find something he could stand on. There, a platform! A large rock jutted out of the wall about a meter and a half. There were other such rocks on the face of the cliff all over the place.

By this time, all of the Hylian troops were staring that the new situation above them. Many had actually had to run from the path of the storm of rocks. Now they just stared at the hanging green figure.

"You are a tricky little fella, aren’t you?" Sommers snorted. Link looked up to see Sommers and Lauren standing at the edge of the cliff, several meters up. Sommers extended his sword, preparing to finish the job. "Too bad you won’t find yourself getting out of this one!"

"NO!" Link cried out, but it didn’t do him any good. Sommers unleashed a salvo of orange blasts. Link blocked the first few, but one of the blasts hit the boulder he was standing on, wrenching it loose from the wall. Link took a giant leap and landed on another rock farther down the cliff face. He swung his arms like windmills, trying to regain his balance, his toes right on the edge of the platform. Sommers didn’t give him a chance to recover, sending down more attacks. Lauren just stared on with a look of indifference on his face that was only betrayed by the tearstains lining his cheeks.

Jumping, spinning, and flipping through the air, Link made his way down the cliff face, dodging the flying orange darts as he went.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"Are we under attack?" Zelda shouted over the sound of cascading boulders.

Jenove answered. "Yes, those two at the top of the cliff are from Kerah and Gailins."

"Then who is that green figure running away from them?" Carley shouted back.

"Oh no!" Zelda exclaimed. "IT’S LINK!"

"Who?" Jenove asked.

"It’s Link!" Zelda raised her hands, readying her magic spells. With all her might, she sent a shock wave of energy streaming at the top of the cliff. The wave was aimed just high enough so that it wouldn’t clip the top of the ravine and cause another landslide, but just low enough that the two figures had to duck to avoid it. Behind them, the attack raced onward, severing the tops from the trees in the forest just as easily as the wave cut through the open air. The two figures at the top of the ravine gave each other looks, and then smartly retreated.

Zelda noticed Carley staring at her. "Princess, I did not realize you had that kind of power in you!" Even Jenove seemed impressed at the display of raw magic energy.

"Oh," Zelda answered, "well that tends to happen when Link gets involved in my affairs…just wait and see what I do when he gets his little green rear over here!"

Link slowly made his way down the cliff and sprinted towards the leaders of the pack.

"What exactly do you think you are doing, Link?" Zelda yelled once Link got within an earshot. Link didn’t even respond. He kept charging until he was right next to the three leading the now confused Hylian troops.

"Carley, Zelda! Get down!" Link launched himself at Jenove, sword drawn. Surprised, Jenove managed to jump off his horse out of the way. Link didn’t give him time to do much more than that, as he came down hard on Jenove with his sword. Jenove’s blade just barely blocked the two handed attack. However, Link was seemingly easily thrown off with a hard kick to his midsection.

"Link! What in Hyrule are you doing?" Carley demanded. Link picked himself up from the ground.

"I don’t know what you are doing here, Carley," Link yelled, "But the real enemy is this man and his leader, Stebos!" Both Carley and Zelda averted their eyes to Jenove, waiting for him to either acknowledge or deny the accusation. Jenove smiled.

"You know Link, you are pretty clever figuring this out," he commented. "However, not even you can stop our plan from being carried out. Stebos was going to use this army as a distraction to Kerah and Gailins to get his needs. However, it really doesn’t matter what crystal we acquire first. You may have put a stop on that plan, but since your king was so smart to send his precious daughter along, I guess we will just hold her as ransom!" With those words, Jenove jumped and knocked Zelda from her horse. Dragging her up to her feet, Jenove stood behind her, his sword drawn across her neck. "If you knew what was good for you, you will return to your own land, if only to try and defend it from its inevitable destruction!" Zelda cried out as she vanished into thin air as Jenove teleported them both away.

Carley looked at Link. "You screwed up this time, didn’t you Link?" Link didn’t have the chance to reply, for suddenly, out of nowhere a horde of meridian knights appeared in front of them, teleporting in seconds as Jenove had teleported out. Carley gave Link another look. "I take that back, Link, you really screwed up this time."

Link didn’t attempt to refute the statement. "You’re right," he said looking back to the scarred cliff face where he had last seen Lauren and Sommers, "I really did screw up…"

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"You will pay for this, Stebos," Zelda promised. "Once Link goes and reports back to my father, you will have to deal with the entire Hylian army!"

Stebos laughed at the threat. "Then bring them on! I am sure your father remembers what I did to that poor fool Ganondorf those many years ago. I could destroy you’re entire country with ease!"

"Then why all the theatrics? What is it you need from us?" Zelda demanded.

"I need a citizen of Hyrule’s help, and to get it, I need to have a bargaining chip. That is where you come in, Princess. With you, your father will order this person to do as I say without doubt."

"And who is this person you seek? What do you need from them?"

"What I require is the crystal of Kokiri. However, the person I want is for…different reasons…"

"And who is it you want?" Zelda demanded.

"The one you call, the "Hero of Time." He owes me a longstanding debt for taking something from me, and he will pay it with his life." Zelda gasped at his words.

Oh no! she thought Link!

………………………………………………………………………………………………

It was a very rare thing indeed, to be summoned by the Great Deku Tree. Saria was nervous about the encounter. The Great Deku Tree had specifically asked for her. What could he want? she wondered. She took the winding path to the great opening in the trees, the opening the Great Deku Tree occupied.

"I am here!" she called out. "What is it you need of me?"

The Great Deku Tree responded. "Ah, my child! Thank you for coming. I fear there is grave danger approaching. A dark ‘stranger,’ who we are all too familiar with, is planning to make his move. We must be ready. Go and find our hero. He will be the only one who will be able to defend us now."

"I understand," Saria answered. "I know what must be done."

………………………………………………………………………………………………

The doors to the throne room burst open. The guard outside flew through wooden planks as if they made of sticks, rolling to skid to a halt on the red carpet. Harkinian was discussing trade relations with Albion, a neighboring country. The head of the Hyrule’s department of commerce stood up from his chair.

"What is the meaning of this?!?" he exclaimed. His protest was silenced as a green bolt of energy knocked him backwards. His body slammed onto the table, sending papers and charts all across the room. Harkinian was taken aback. The smoke and dust cleared from the destroyed doorway, and three figures approached from the arched entrance.

"Stebos!" Harkinian shouted, recognizing his massive figure. "What are you doing?" Behind him was Jenove, pressing Zelda in front of him, his arm around her throat in a holding position.

"Zelda!" Harkinian cried. "Release her this instant!" Stebos laughed.

"After all I did to help you, you treat me like this?" he questioned. "Sending one of your warriors to aid Gailins, and not telling me? How can we build a working relationship if we can’t trust each other?"

"There is nothing you can do to get me to trust you after what you’ve done! Now release my daughter right this instant!" Harkinian bellowed.

"Oh, I will, but you must do something for me first. I require you to fetch me one of your citizens."

"Who is this one you speak of?" Harkinian demanded.

"I require the help from this ‘Hero of Time’ your legends speak of. He must accompany me to the Kokiri forest where I will extract the Kokiri crystal. It’s a personal matter we need to settle between each other." Stebos let out a sadistic chuckle. "Once I obtain the Kokiri crystal, Gailins will have no choice but to give up theirs as well! Once I have all three, I will be unstoppable!"

"You don’t know what you are asking for," Harkinian said darkly. "The Hero of Time will take you down."

Stebos laughed. "Believe what you want, Harkinian, but either way, you will deliver this "Hero of Time" to me immediately, that is, if you want your daughter to live and your country to survive my wrath!"

Harkinian shook his head. "I am sorry, Stebos, but the Hero of Time is not here. He was the one I sent to Gailins."

A dark look crossed Stebos’ face. "I see," he commented, thinking. "You have one hour to get him here. For the time being, I think we will rest here, and catch up on old times…"

~*~*~*~*~*~

Lauren still couldn’t believe what had happened. How could Link and Harkinian have betrayed him? Now he didn’t have anyone left. Why was the world being so cruel? Didn’t fate ever get tired of antagonizing him? He hadn’t done anything wrong. Stop it!, he thought to himself, this whining will do nothing for you. All you can do now is try and correct your mistakes. Lauren rode next to Nikkole at the front of the remaining Gailian forces. I will lead them to the Hylians, and put right the things I have done wrong.

"How much further is it," Nikkole asked.

"Not much further," Sommers answered. Nikkole seemed weary with the Kerahian riding right next to him, especially one so high in stature.

"I don’t believe that Link could have been working as a double agent like that though," Nikkole said to no one in particular.

"But we saw what we saw," Sommers said. Nikkole looked to Lauren. Lauren simply nodded. The Hylian army was being lead by Jenove.

"Somehow Stebos has convinced the Hylians to aid him in our destruction," Sommers stated.

Nikkole just shook his head and the group moved in silence. The soldiers who followed made no noise either. They were tired, hungry, and lost without their leader. Still, they labored onward like machines, thirsting for closure and revenge.

They were drawing near...

"What is that noise?" Lauren asked.

"I know what that sound is!" Sommers exclaimed. "That is the sound of battle! Quickly! Let’s go!"

………………………………………………………………………………………………

The battle wasn’t looking very good. The Hylian forces were simply no match for the meridian knights. They had no means of defending against the energy blasts, or their immense strength. Things were looking hopeless. Carley stood in the middle of the mess, trying to yell orders over the sound of clanging swords and explosions. However, there was not a strategy that would help them. Having been totally surrounded and outclassed, there was no amount of tactical genius that could save them.

Link was once again had fallen back into his battle mode, destroying meridian knights with amazing grace and speed, but there were simply too many of them for him to handle alone. Things started looking grim, but then a ray of hope shot across the field, in the form of a Gailian energy attack.

It cut through the ranks of meridian knights with ease, sending them to the ground to burn into nothingness.

The Hylian troops all looked up in amazement as the energy consumed the final enemy, burning it to a crisp. The saving blast had emerged from high on the cliffs above. Standing at the peak of the ravine, stood Nikkole, as well as Sommers and Lauren. In Nikkole’s hand was a sparkling yellow object. Jumping from the very top of the cliff, Nikkole flew all the way down to Link, slowing down at the last possible moment to land gently to his feet.

"Just as I suspected," he said to Link. "This whole thing has been a ploy. Stebos was smart to try and get our nations to fight, but he underestimated a few things."

"What do you mean?" Link questioned.

"Stebos obviously wanted to frame Hyrule as being the culprit of the attacks against Gailins and Kerah, but you messed up his plan."

"It was also the work of Lauren and your kingdom," Link stated.

Nikkole gave a nod of acknowledgement. "That may be true," he spoke, "but the fact still remains, we need your help in ending this once and for all…"

~*~*~*~*~*~

"I am tired of all this nonsense! I can sense them coming as we speak," Stebos looked to his second in command. "Jenove, your plan has failed. It seems that the Hylians have allied themselves not only with Gailins, but Kerah as well. No matter, that is no concern to me anymore. With the crystal of Kerah, I am invincible. This will be easy. I have the crystal now; I have got to be powerful enough to handle that forest and…him…Jenove! We are leaving! Bring the princess, just in case…"

~*~*~*~*~*~

They were speeding back through the forest; all of them. The entire remaining Hylian taskforce, the Gailian crew, and, after some explaining, the newly recruited warriors from Kerah. Thousands of figures blew through the forest, each one wearing a silver medallion around their neck. The mass tore through the underbrush, kicking up leaves and dust in its path.

Abruptly, the forest ended, and the mass found themselves racing over an open field. Seconds later, the river came into view, its winding body signifying their entrance into Hyrule. Finally, the high walls that guarded the Hylian marketplace and the castle came into view. It was late, but Link noticed something odd.

Usually by this time, the town gates would have been closed in defense against the stalchildren who ran rampant during the night hours. However, it was far too late and dark, and the drawbridge was down. The reason was made apparent as three figures walked from the entrance: Stebos, Jenove, and Zelda.

Even though they were far out, Stebos’ massive energy was enough to cause an energy bubble, which effectively nulled the silver medallion’s power. The mass of warriors came to a screeching halt a good five hundred meters from the castle gates, near the bulky mass of Lon Lon Ranch.

Stebos laughed. "So, you have finally returned. I was wondering if you would ever figure it out."

Nikkole took the lead, stepping forward to address Stebos. "Your reign of tyranny and deception has ended, Stebos! You’re finished this day!"

Stebos seemed to find the words humorous. "How original of you Nikkole," his response boomed, loud enough for all to hear, even from his position so far away. "You sound like the righteous warrior I know you are! You are pathetic! You are too late to stop me!" He held up the glowing orange crystal of Kerah in his hand. "With this power, all your strength combined doesn’t stand a chance!"

"You are so sure of yourself, but you have underestimated our nations for the last time. This will be your downfall!" Nikkole proudly held up the glowing yellow crystal of Gailins. "You will now see the true fury of Gailins!"

Stebos was not amused. "It was unwise of you to remove the crystal of Gailins from the home land. Slowly, like Kerah, your world will now die. Your people will suffer, and then perish. You have sealed their fate."

"Their fate was already sealed when you removed the crystal of Kerah!" Nikkole refuted, "Without the balance, you have destroyed both our lands! Have you no loyalties?"

Before he could answer, Sommers jumped in. "Of course he does not! He killed our king and stole our crystal! Even after all our king did for him, he still betrayed us! This man knows nothing of loyalty! He only serves himself!"

Stebos laughed hard at the comment, so hard it almost sounded maniacal. "You are right!" he proclaimed. "I only serve those who are more mighty than I, and I have yet to come across anyone who can challenge my power! And when you depend on one who has more power than you do to survive, when they fail, you go down with them! Look at what happened to your kingdom in my wake! It has fallen! If you fools have learned only one thing from me, it should be that, in this world, you can only trust yourself!"

Nikkole shook his head, partly in pity, partly in disgust. "That only happens when the powerful are as sadistic as you, Stebos. That is what we have learned, that your kind must be destroyed!" With those words, Nikkole let loose a massive blast of yellow energy from his hand that housed the crystal. The giant surge flew across the distance separating the two parties in an instant. However, a shield of another type of energy deflected the impressive show of force. The blast shook the ground as the two energies met. However, when the quake subsided, and the air grew clear, Stebos still stood his ground, the crystal of Kerah glowing brightly in his hand. The orange shield that he had erected with the crystal slowly faded away. He stood there, laughing.

"You fool! You think your pathetic attempts to stop me will ever succeeded? I have killed your king and the king of Kerah! I have murdered the countless others who have stood in my way. You are pathetic!" In an instant, Stebos was right in front of Nikkole, and the entire massed armies of three powerful nations. Nikkole was stunned with his speed. "Your abilities are so frail, you couldn’t even see me move," Stebos stated, leaning right into Nikkole’s face with the words. "Do you think you can kill something that you can’t even see?"

Nikkole stood steady in his same spot, his arm still stretched out with the crystal from delivering the last attack. Once again, Stebos moved with lightning swiftness. Link, and all who were around, could hear the sickening crack of bone as Stebos caught Nikkole’s arm between his knee and elbow, breaking it. Sweat beads ran down Nikkole’s face as he winced in pain. The crystal of Gailins dropped from his fist to the ground. It landed on the soft grass, bouncing once, to rest on its side by Stebos’ feet. He leaned in close to whisper in Nikkole’s ear. Nobody tried to stop him. The entire army was still in shock from the power they had just witnessed.

"Nikkole," Stebos whispered, "I know you are wondering right now ‘How is this monster still standing? I just attacked him directly with the crystal of Gailins. I know you know the secrets of the crystals. The thing you don’t know is that when one of us uses a power of a different kind, both powers are enhanced. You have only touched the power of Gailins, something you were born with, something you have never been away from. However, I have lived on Kerahian soil for most of my life, but that was not supposed to be my destiny. I come from another place, where the power is different. Your kingdoms wonder why I am so strong, but you have been standing on the answer the whole time. You from Gailins are adepts of yellow earth. Those from Kerah are adepts of orange earth. I am neither, so I grew strong, feeding off of both your energies.

"However, now with the crystal of Kerah in my possession, nobody from Kerah can stand in my way." Bending over, he scooped up the yellow crystal from the ground. "Now, neither can anyone from Gailins. There is only one who has a chance at stopping me now…"

Stebos took his index finger and placed it on Nikkole’s armor. "You are pathetic." With his finger, Stebos pushed Nikkole to the ground. Still in pain, Nikkole just laid there, with Stebos towering over him, laughing.

Sommers had had enough standing and staring at the entire event unfold before his eyes. He had had enough of Stebos walking all over everybody in his path. He still had a score to settle with the evil man. He launched himself from his horse, sword drawn, screaming the battle cry of Kerah at the top of his lungs. Stebos turned with lightning reflexes, and held up his hand. Sommers halted in his place in midair, as if time had stopped. Stebos turned to him. "Like I just told Nikkole here," he announced, "None of you have the power to stop me now! If you had joined forces sooner against me, you may have prevailed, growing stronger by sharing your powers, but wait!" A satirical grin crossed his face. "That is why I had you fighting each other in the first place! You are silly men. I’m so crafty you didn’t know what hit you until it was too late!"

Link was taken aback by Stebos’ choice of language. It was almost childish. Link looked at him, which was a bad move. Stebos turned to him, Sommers still held fast in mid air.

"And you! Hero of Time! You have a debt you owe me on, and you owe me big!" Link moved to draw his sword from its sheath on his back, but didn’t move nearly quickly enough. With crystals in both hands, Stebos turned and unleashed a spell. From both crystals, glowing chains of energy shot out, wrapping themselves around Link’s body. They pinned his arms to his sides and his legs together. Losing his balance, Link fell on his face into the grass. This seemed to amuse Stebos greatly. The chains held Link’s body, but they didn’t hold his voice.

"What debt to I owe you?" Link exclaimed.

"You will see, but the moment is not right. There are others who owe me more than you, and you will see when we get into the Lost Woods." With those words, Link and Stebos both disappeared, to teleport back to Jenove’s side across the field. Link reappeared next to Zelda’s side. However, he was still tied up, and promptly fell to the ground again. Zelda moved to help him, but Jenove’s hand intercepted her, knocking her to the ground.

"Sommers!" Stebos called from across the field. "You could not protect your king from me! Now let’s see if you can protect yourself!" Laughing, Stebos drew up both crystals and slammed them together. From them, a giant energy flew high into the air. Hundreds of meters in the air, the blast exploded into a fireworks of smaller energies. They fell to the ground, and, in a puff of smoke, a meridian knight appeared in each one's place. "These warriors have been created with the combined power of Kerah and Gailins, not by me! Let’s see how well you and your pathetic army fare against them now!"

With that, Stebos and his party disappeared across the field, rushing towards the entrance to the Lost Woods…

………………………………………………………………………………………………

As Stebos disappeared, his grasp on Sommers vanished as well, causing Sommers to unexpectedly tumble to the ground. Looking up from the grass, he saw the massive army Stebos had created. He looked over at Nikkole, who still lay on the ground in pain.

"You are in command now," Nikkole stated. Sommers nodded. "Take that monster down!"

"Order understood!" Sommers shouted. He stood up. "Carley! Tell your men to back down! There will be no more Hylian blood spilled in this war. Gailins and Kerah will end this nightmare, once and for all!"

With those words, the two armies of two longtime rival countries came together and fought side by side, the discrepancies between them turning petty and frivolous.

Stebos was right that we could not defeat him as separate forces, but together, not even he will stop us this time!

~*~*~*~*~*~

It had been a long, long time since Link had seen this place. Everything looked the same as it had when he had left so many years ago. Even his tree house was still there, with the grass trimmed around the edges of the roots, just how he used to like it.

Someone has been keeping it up for me Link thought. Link looked around, as much as the chains would let him. He had been allowed to walk on his own now, but trailing right behind him was Jenove. Stebos led the way, with Zelda positioned between him and Link.

The trek through the forest had been long, and the chains never loosened. They were pressing so hard on the shield he wore on his back that the edges were digging into his skin. Link just clenched his teeth and took it, for there was nothing he was able to do about it.

Stebos made his way through the small village, almost like he knew exactly what he was looking for, like he had been here before. They walked down the dirt path along side of the small creek that ran through the tiny village. Link noticed something he hadn’t before. The houses all looked the same, but they were empty. Link knew that by this time a night, all the Kokiri should have been huddled comfortably in their warm homes getting ready for a night of sleep. However, nothing stirred in this place Link knew so well. Even the fairies and the once abundant swooping colored flashy thingies were absent. The woods were silent. There was no noise throughout the entirety of the forest. Slowly, the group made its way onward, until they came to a narrow path at the edge of the village.

"What do you need with the Great Deku Tree?" Link demanded, figuring out where Stebos was taking them.

"So, you have finally found out where we are going?" Stebos smirked. "So I am sure you know what I am after then, oh wise Hero of Time."

"You want the Kokiri crystal, don’t you? You lands are just like this forest. The land gives you your life force. If you travel too far from your land for an extended period of time, you will become weak and die. Just like the Kokiri."

"You are smart," Stebos poked. "However, that is only my secondary mission. My first one comes on a more personal note…revenge."

Link shuddered at the words. "Against who?" he questioned, dreading the response.

Stebos laughed again. "Against all those who have done me wrong. You are one of them, but there are others, including your precious Great Deku Tree." Link had nothing to say. He was too confused at everything.

Stebos snorted and continued onward. A short while later, Link, Jenove, and Zelda arrived with him at the great clearing, the one that held the Great Deku Tree. It had been a while since Link had seen the Great Deku Tree. The last time he had been in this place was when it had only been a small Deku Sprout. He remembered that moment after his victory against Phantom Ganon deep in the Forest Temple.

However, many years had passed, and quite apparently, the sprout had grown into what had made the Great Deku Tree so amazing before. The tree towered over the land, even larger than the one that had summoned Link to speak with it so many years ago…

"So you have finally returned to us, Meikyle." The Great Deku Tree spoke. "It has been a while."

"You!" Stebos growled, "it was you speak as if you are glad to see me, but I will prove to you that I am not simply dropping by to say ‘hi.’"

The Great Deku Tree acknowledged Stebos’ words with silence.

"You know why I am here! You know what I am going to do to you…"

Again, the Great Deku Tree remained silent.

"Fine!" Stebos declared, "if you have no last words, then farewell, old protector of the Kokiri!"

"NO!!!"

Link looked over to the location of the protest. From it ran a small girl, dressed all in green. Tears were streaming from her face. "Please don’t harm the Great Deku Tree!" Link knew who it was. It was Saria.

"Saria!" Link yelled, "Get away! You don’t know what…!"

The yellow and orange chains exploded into a fury, wrapping around Link’s head to cover his mouth, gagging him with their energy.

"Silence you!" Stebos angrily yelled. "We will have no more of your needless meddling in affairs where you have already caused enough destruction!" Stebos’ voice made him seem like he was on the verge of totally losing it. He refocused his attention on Saria.

"And what do you think you can do to stop me, little girl?" he asked, sarcasm dripping from his words. "Are you going to try and appeal to my sensitive side?" Stebos laughed.

"No, simply stalling for time," Saria said, looking down as if ashamed of her words.

"What?!" Stebos exclaimed. From nowhere, a green flash whipped by, moving faster than anything Link had ever seen. The chains on his body loosened, then fell apart, the intense energy sizzling and burning away into nothingness.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

The knights were different this time… They were the same size as any other meridian knights Sommers had faced before, but they were somehow darker, more menacing. Ranks upon ranks of them slowly marched forward towards the combined forces of Gailins and Kerah. The allied troops maintained their ground, watching the walking onslaught of power creep closer and closer.

Off to the side, Lauren looked up to Sommers, watching his reaction.

Sommers was staring at the oncoming ranks of knights, trying to count all of them. While doing so, he caught Lauren’s look in his peripheral vision. He turned to see the boy’s questioning eyes asking him: what do we do now? Sommers didn’t have an answer. He looked the other way and was startled at the sight. Both the Kerahian and Gailian troops were looking at him with the same expression as Lauren.

Sommers was one of the highest ranking in power in the hierarchy of Kerah, being one of the elite royal guardsmen. But wait…Roe was dead now, making him the last remaining guardsman. Looking to the ground, he saw Nikkole, tying his arm up in a sling made from his flowing yellow cape. Noticing Sommers staring, he looked up.

"That’s right," Nikkole winced, tightening the cloth on his arm. "They are waiting for you. Lead them to victory."

Startled, Sommers looked back along the ranks of troops; his troops. Each one looked back at him, loyally waiting for his command. I am the last leader left he thought to himself in amazement. Well then, I suppose I shouldn’t disappoint them now, should I? Sommers raised his blade to the oncoming wall of knights.

He used his loudest, most commanding voice.

"Attack!!!"

And they did.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Without the energy chains holding him up, Link fell to the ground hard. Zelda rushed to his aid, but Jenove was there to stop her again. Instead of merely holding her back, this time, he struck her across the face with the back of his fist. The blow threw Zelda to the ground, where she didn’t move.

"You are gonna pay for that!" Link growled. Bringing himself up on all fours, Link attempted to get up, but before he could lift his head, Jenove’s foot smashed into his face. The attack lifted him from the ground, causing him to flip over and over to land on the ground, this time on his back.

From this position, Link could still see Stebos. He was holding his arm, grimacing in pain. Blood flew profusely from a giant wound on his shoulder. Jenove approached Link, his sword drawn and pointed at Link’s throat.

"You will stay down if you know what is good for you," he commented. "I would kill you right now, but Stebos has reserved that right for himself, so we will just wait and watch as he picks your little friends apart with his new powers!" Link, not that he had any other choice, looked on in horror.

"You will pay for that you insolent twerp!" Stebos roared. The little green blur came to rest on a stump ten meters in front of Stebos. Even though the stump added to his stature by about a meter, the figure was still not even half as tall as Stebos.

"Right, Meikyle, just like last time."

That voice! Link thought. It couldn’t be…

Standing atop the stump was an old "friend" of Link’s. He hadn’t changed a bit since Link had last seen him. Mido proudly stood tall, challenging Stebos with his tiny sword.

"Mido! What do you think you are doing?" Link exclaimed, only to have Jenove’s sword pressed further up against his neck. The cold metal tip could be felt on his skin.

"Be silent and watch," Jenove demanded, "or I will silence you." Link complied.

Mido totally ignored Link’s outburst. "You finally have come back to us, Meikyle, but I am sure it is not to apologize for your misdeeds. I see you have the crystals from Gailins and Kerah both. You have come better prepared than last time, but I see your friend Marcus is not with you this time. What happened to him?"

Stebos growled. "You killed him."

"Oh yeah, I did," Mido laughed. "So I see you haven’t learned anything from our last encounter then, have you?"

"Fight me, and find out," Stebos invited. Gripping his wounded shoulder, a green light started glowing from beneath his hand. When he removed his hand, the wound was completely healed. "I learned that one from my travels. You will see that I am full of surprises that you cannot even comprehend."

Mido, the cocky, short little Kokiri child Link had grown up with, stood proud with his tiny Kokiri sword glowing a deadly green. Link could feel the power emanating from the short Kokiri. Where did Mido get that power? he wondered. Link looked over to the side where Stebos was. Stebos’ sword also glowed, but instead of there being a steady aurora of color surrounding it like Link had seen from the warriors in Gailins and Kerah, yellow and orange lightening skipped menacingly over its surface.

After a moment of staring each other down, the battle began. Without warning, Mido attacked, barreling down on Stebos.

The two swords connected and there was a brilliant flash of light and energy. Link was temporarily blinded from the exchange of blows. With white spots dancing in his vision, he picked out that Stebos was still standing, unfazed from the attack. Mido hadn’t faired as well. He still stood, about ten meters back, but his clothes had energy burns on them, and he had a large cut running across the left side of his face. You don’t know what you are doing, Mido! Link thought. You may have the heart, but you don’t know what this man is capable of!

"Very good," Mido laughed. "Your skill has improved greatly since our last battle."

What is he talking about?!? Link shouted in his head. How does Mido know this guy anyhow?

"I told you I would be full of surprises," Stebos laughed, "But you will pay for what you have done, Hero of the Forest!"

Link couldn’t contain his surprise any longer. "WHAT?!?" he exclaimed out loud. This caused pain in his throat, so he refrained from saying anything else.

"That’s right, Link!" Mido shouted. "I am the Hero of the Forest!" Mido laughed. "I guess you can now see why I was so irked when the Great Deku Tree called on you to save Hyrule. I thought I was the Hero! You were just an outcast! I couldn’t figure why the Deku Tree would call on you before me…but I guess we both know why we didn’t get along that well. It’s almost funny now that I look back on it…I was so immature those days, being angry at you, chasing after Saria…"

"Enough talking!" Stebos demanded. "Fight me so I can destroy you and then destroy this worthless tree of yours too! Once I take your crystal, the world will tremble in my fist!"

Not looking as confident as before, Mido laughed. "You know I cannot let you do that, Meikyle."

………………………………………………………………………………………………

His whole body screamed in protest. That last attack had been like running into a stone wall ten times. Those crystals he acquired have really made him stronger…I don’t have a chance. "I will not allow you to take our tree or our crystal, Meikyle," Mido proclaimed.

"You are in no position to tell me what to do!" Stebos shouted in rage. "And do not call me by that name anymore! He died when your worthless tree abandoned him to Masresume!"

"Right," Mido laughed, "and it is his fault that you decided to turn to a life of evil and destruction. I’m sorry, Meikyle, but I’ve heard your story one too many times. Remember, during the last time you were here, I whooped you and your friends’ butts!"

"And you will pay for that one!" Stebos yelled in rage. He attacked with all his power, slashing back and forth at Mido with his menacing black blade.

Mido did manage to block many of the attacks, but was not fast enough to dodge the rest - the attacks were coming in too fast. Though he was quick with the sword and nimble on his feet, he was still not swift enough, and was sent to the ground by a gauntlet smashing into his face. As he impacted the hard earth, he heard some very disconcerting cracks from his bones. He lay there, unable to move.

Stebos laughed. "See little man!?! You may have been stronger than me the last time we met, but this time I have you!" Stebos raised his sword high into the air to land the final blow.

"NO!!!" From the far right, Saria ran and dove over Mido, protecting him. Stebos’ sword screeched to a halt, barely stopping in time. The blade rested up against Saria’s trembling green hair. Link struggled some more, but Jenove’s blade held him down. Zelda still hadn’t moved from her place on the ground.

"Out of the way, Saria!" Stebos bellowed. "I do not want to kill you, but if you persist to do this every time we meet, I will be forced to!"

"You wouldn’t!" Saria exclaimed, in her small scared voice.

"Watch me!" Stebos yelled, madness growing in his voice. He drew his sword back up into the air."

"Saria," Mido moaned, "please get away…escape. There is not need to try to defend me anymore. I am lost…"

"Not on my watch you aren’t!" With all her strength, Saria formed a shimmering orb of green energy. With both arms, she launched it directly into Stebos’ face, as his hands were drawn back for the final strike. The blast smashed into Stebos’ helmet. The helmet deflected some of the attack, but the blast was too intense. Groaning in protest, the mask shattered into a million glittering pieces and scattered across the meadow floor. Finally, Link got to see Stebos’ face.

From under the helmet was a mess of green hair. Green hair and a face that looked very familiar. Link couldn’t quite put his finger on what it reminded him of.

"It is time for me to remind you of exactly where you come from, Meikyle! Even if it kills both of us!" Saria yelled.

"No!!!" Stebos cried in agony. "Get out of my head!"

Saria was attacking Stebos in no way any other warrior could; attacking his mind and his heart.

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

It was night, and all the Kokiri were huddled in their houses in fear. All but three. A great battle had been being waged between an unknown wizard and the Great Deku Tree for many hours.

"Come on, Saria," Mido said in hushed voice. "Hurry up, you do want to see what’s happening, right?"

"No," she answered truthfully, "I’m only going because he is." She pointed to the third figure that was further up.

"Right," Mido acknowledged under his breath. "So you didn’t come just because I was going…?"

"No," answered Saria, oblivious at what Mido was hinting at.

"Hey, hush up you two," the leader called back. "They’re right here, but it looks like they are just talking now."

Saria crawled up to the ridge of the meadow where the Great Deku Tree stood. The Great Deku Tree had scars and burn marks all over its trunk, and a large limb from somewhere near the top of the tree had been broken off, and now rested on the ground. The mysterious wizard didn’t look much better though, hunched over and leaning on his magical staff for support, his orange robe burnt and tattered. The three Kokiri could barely hear the words they were exchanging.

"You will not get what you seek," the Great Deku Tree spoke. "Your powers are impressive, but in this land you do not stand a chance. Go back to home, for the crystal of Kokiri will never be yours."

"I admit that you have caught me at a disadvantage," the wizard spoke. "If I had known that traveling so far for Kerah would have had diminished my power so much, I would have reconsidered stealing the crystal of Gailins first… However, you, old tree, are missing one thing…" Behind his back, the wizard began forming an energy ball. "The fact that I, Masresume, have never been defeated in battle, and I do not…"

‘LOOK OUT GREAT DEKU TREE!!! IT’S A TRAP!!!"

"WHAT?" exclaimed Masresume. He turned to see a small boy galloping down the far hill, screaming and waving his arms. He turned back to release his blast at the tree, but it was too late. A giant wave of green energy erupted from the Great Deku Tree, smashing into him like a ton of bricks.

He lost his grip on the energy ball as well. It flew wildly through the air, landing on the ground right next to the boy who had foiled him. In the gigantic explosion, the boy was lifted up and thrown high into the air to land a few meters short of where Masresume laid. That boy! My defenses are gone after that blast! I must retreat!

"If I cannot take your crystal, Great Deku Tree, then I will take one of your children instead!" Picking himself up from the ground, Masresume grabbed the small Kokiri child by his shirt. "Farewell until I return to claim what is mine!" he called out as he blasted off from the earth, flying back to Kerah with his new slave.

<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>

Stebos fell to the meadow floor, still holding his head in agony. Saria sat weeping next to Mido. Regaining his composure somewhat, Stebos attempted to stand up, but wobbled and quickly fell over. Jenove moved to help his master, but Stebos held up his hand. Jenove stopped, his sword still resting lightly on Link’s throat.

"That is what you may remember, Saria," Stebos choked, "but you didn’t have to live through years of living with that monster. You didn’t have to do his every bidding, simply because that damn tree pissed him off! That tree didn’t save me from him, so I had to save myself.

"Right, after years of loyal service, he noticed that my Kokiri powers worked very well in Kerah. You see, his land and our land are the same, just run by different powers. My being a green earth adept increased my abilities in their world ten fold. He used this to complete his wishes. You see, this wizard was an outcast, angry and bent on destroying Gailins and Kerah. He was slightly insane, always babbling about getting the three crystals, but he was powerful as well.

"To reap his vengeance on Gailins and Kerah, he needed the three crystals, but since he couldn’t obtain it the Kokiri crystal, he used me instead. And you know what? I was happy to do his bidding after that. We were both outcasts from a place that didn’t want us.

However, this wizard was blinded by his hate. He tried once again to steal the crystal of Kerah, but this time, he was stopped and killed. I had looked up to that man for thirteen years. In my time away from the Kokiri forest, I had grown into a man. A man who had only seen failure in the weakness of others."

"What do you mean?" Saria asked.

"The Great Deku Tree. We all looked up to it. It protected us. For that, we worshiped it. However, when things got serious, it couldn’t even protect me. Neither could your worthless Hero of the Forest, who had not even attempted to save that damned tree and left me to do it alone.

Masresume was the most powerful person I had ever met. Again and again he would defeat the kingdoms of Gailins and Kerah in battle with his dark magic. However, even he fell, and the man who was my captor turned savior, was dead. I depended on him. Now I will finish his task and reap my revenge on all who wronged me in the past, starting with this damned tree!"

With those words, Stebos let loose a blast of epic proportions, one so large and so powerful, the air shook around it. It streamed to its intended target, the Great Deku Tree. The Great Deku Tree saw it coming, and prepared. A giant barrier of green light erected itself in front of the oncoming blast. The blast connected with, and shattered the green shield. The remaining power of the blast ripped through the bark of the Great Deku Tree, and cut deeply into its trunk. However, right as the blast seared its mark on the tree, Stebos fell to the ground, withering in agony. Saria also slumped onto her side, and lay motionless.

"Ha ha!" Jenove cried. "Just as I thought!" Moving his sword from Link’s neck, he proceeded to kick Link in the stomach. Link’s body flew high into the air and landed in a heap next to Zelda’s side. There he rested, barely being able to breathe from the pain. "You fool, Stebos!" Walking over to his master, Jenove knelt down to Stebos’ side. "You thought you could reap your revenge on the entity who created you? Killing the Great Deku Tree will kill you too my friend, for you and him are one and the same! All these pathetic Kokiri are."

~*~*~*~*~*~

The battle was intense. Sommers stuck as close as he could to Lauren the entire time. He felt sort of an obligation to the boy now. He had gone through so much at a young age. Then, after almost ruining Link and Hyrule’s standing in the boy’s eyes by making a hasty judgement, Sommers felt a responsibility to him; a responsibility to all the soldiers who now followed his charge in battle.

However, his plans were fading fast, with the meridian knights putting up more resistance than it seemed the two combined armies would be able to overcome. The meridian knights fell to the ground, burning up and evaporating into the air, but many more of the soldiers of flesh and blood were falling. Still, Sommers battled on. He attacked with all his strength, with the months of furry that had built up inside him. He was unstoppable in the battle. Even though they were on Hylian ground, he never felt stronger. The meridian knights would move to defend against his attacks, but his sword would find its mark, if an energy blast didn’t drop the knight first.

However, no matter what he did, there was always a figure one step next to him, pacing Sommers’ movements with equal, or perhaps, even greater power. It was Lauren.

Lauren’s eyes glowed fiercely, his sword enveloped in a sheath of orange light. On numerous occasions, Lauren’s attacks had managed to sever an attacking meridian knights’ blade in two. Sommers couldn’t believe what he saw.

Not that it mattered. Even with the two super warriors leading the charge, there were simply too many meridian knights to deal with. Sommers looked to the side. There, a Gailian soldier’s sword was being held at bay by a meridian’s gauntlet. The meridian drew its sword back to strike, but never had the chance. A glowing orange blade flew through the air, severing the meridian’s arm from its shoulder. The rescuing Kerahian soldier extended his had down to lift the Gailian warrior to his feet. In doing so, they didn’t notice the two knights approaching from the east until it was too late. They covered their faces with their arms in defense. However, a streak of orange and a streak of yellow flew to their aid. A burning orange arrow and glowing yellow dagger stuck out of the chest plates of the two would-be slayers.

Good Sommers thought at least we are working together. Even so, there were still too many knights. From his side, he heard a cry. Lauren’s sword had been knocked from his hand. The meridian knight’s blade was already on its speeding path to cut Lauren down, and Sommers knew he couldn’t do anything to stop it…

Then, from out of no where, a giant cut formed in the meridian knight’s side. The meridian knight stopped, looking at the cut that had mysteriously appeared in its armor. Sommers was amazed to look around and see that all of the knights had similar cuts in their sides. With a groan, all the knights imploded, disappearing from the battlefield in a show of black energy.

Lauren had already found his way to his feet, picking up his sword and sliding it back into its sheath at his side. "What now?" he asked Sommers innocently.

~*~*~*~*~*~

Stebos lay on his side, looking at the giant cut that scarred the Great Deku Tree’s massive bulk. His hasty attack had been his downfall, a downfall that could have been prevented if Jenove had told him what repercussions his attack would cause.

"If you knew that attacking the Great Deku Tree would do this," Stebos gasped through waves of pain, "then why didn’t you tell me?"

"Oh, because I trust you just as much as you trusted me," Jenove cynically stated. "Remember the last time we were here, in this same position? Marcus was still alive, but you let him die at the hands of this little brat here." Jenove pointed his sword at Mido. "But I know what you did after the battle.

"You had been so convinced that you could get the Kokiri crystal without fighting, so Marcus and I let you have your little fun, going back to the forest to see all your little friends. I know you had fun too, pretending to be one of them again, amazing their small minds with how big you had gotten and with your stories of adventure. However, when it came to this one," Jenove pointed to Saria, "you almost gave in, didn’t you?

"I remember, you coming back on that final day saying that we would have to fight for the crystal because your plan to get them to turn it over to you wasn’t working. How stupid could you have been? First you are taken away by a wizard who demanded the crystal, and then you come back playing all nicey-nice, but wanting the crystal too? That was really smart I tell you, great plan.

"Marcus and I both knew that you were trying to protect them from your past, but we knew that you would fail." Jenove laughed and stood up, pacing around Stebos’ withering body. "But the greatest part was the look on her face when you attacked. Can you say ‘ultimate betrayal?’" Jenove laughed louder. "Well of course you can! Look what I am doing to you right now!" Jenove stopped his pacing, and knelt back down next to Stebos again

"But the part that really got to me was not your stupidity or shortsightedness, it was your lack of loyalty. Loyalty to Marcus and I, and loyalty to the mission. I saw it in your eyes that you wished nothing more to just go back to the forest and become one of them again. A child without a care in the world. However, we all knew that could never happen. You had seen too much and done too much to ever regain your innocence as a child.

"So we fought, and we lost. You lost your chance at the crystal, but I lost much more than that. I lost a brother. You could have stopped it, but you decided to save your own worthless hide instead of helping him. So when I spent the next day burying my brother, you went back to see her. I followed you, and I was so delighted to see your pain. That day, a hero came into the woods. He replaced you are Saria’s side, and you still can’t live it down! From that point on, I knew you were worthless." Jenove stood up again. "Well, worthless as the warrior you needed to be at least. You let your emotions cloud your judgement, and that cost me my brother.

"Only due to the fact that you were stronger than I was, I waited on the sidelines, letting you do all the dirty work, stealing the crystals with ease whereas I would have been hard pressed to succeed. However, since that day, I have been using you, planning my move to strike you when you were weak!" Jenove laughed to himself. You are always rambling on and on about how this world owes you debts all the time!" Speaking in a louder voice and pointing at Stebos, he continued. "You killed my brother, so I suppose I shall have to even our little debt out by killing your sister!" With that, Jenove lunged at Saria, sword drawn.

"NO!" cried Stebos. Using all his strength, he threw himself at Jenove. Jenove easily knocked him back to the ground.

"You did this to yourself!" Jenove laughed. "You taught me well, Stebos! Now that you are no good to me, I will have to eliminate you and step up to the challenge!" Stebos tried to make it back onto his feet, his body shaking from the racking pain. Swinging hard, Jenove smashed his fist into Stebos’ face, sending him to the ground once again. "I will take great pleasure in killing your sister while you watch. Then I will kill the Hero of Time, for I know that has been your dream ever since Saria replaced you with him. Lastly, Stebos, you will die. You will die, betrayed and alone in a world where everybody hates you."

"Hey smart one," someone called over from the sidelines. "You will have to go through us first."

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Link and Zelda stood off to the side where they once laid motionless.

"What?" cried Jenove. "How are you still able to stand?"

Link laughed. "I think you underestimated our abilities."

"What?" a small voice cried out, only loud enough for Link and Zelda to hear. "That was all my ability healing you guys! Hmph! That’s the last time I go out of my way to help you!"

"Hush up, Navi," Link shushed. "Thank you for healing us. We couldn’t have done it without you."

"That’s all I needed to hear. Just some appreciation for my work," Navi proudly exclaimed.

"Yeah, after all the help you gave me when I was fighting Ganondorf in OoT, you owed me big time," Link muttered under his breath.

"What was that?" Navi shrieked.

"Nothing!" Zelda snapped. "Now scram, we don’t want you getting hurt here." Jenove laughed at the two determined adversaries.

"Do you really think you can match my power?" Jenove howled. "You are about to be proven so wrong, you are going to wish you have never been born!" Jenove rushed Link and Zelda, not moving as fast as Stebos could have if he were well, but still, fast enough that it made the two worried.

"So Zel," Link whispered. "Do you think we can take this guy down?"

"Shut up and fight, Link!" she yelled.

"Yes ma’am!" he called back. The battle exploded.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"You really came back to see me?" Saria managed over her pain. It felt like something was cutting into her very being. The pain was excruciating, however, she absolutely had to know.

"What do you mean?" Stebos said through clenched teeth.

"I mean, after the battle, you came back to see me?"

Stebos shuddered in pain. "Not only that time, but I made regular journeys to check up on you. The time we spent together, even if it only was me just trying to get the crystal from you, that time was the best I ever had." Stebos winced.

"I wish I could go back, Saria, I wish I could have made things better, but I was consumed for my thirst for power. I needed to be independent of everything - to be my own ruler - to never let what happened to me so many times before happen again." Stebos let out a deep sigh. "But I see now that that can not be done. All I have done is live a life of betrayal. I even betrayed myself, and now look at what it has gotten me…"

"If you had come back so many times, why didn’t you tell me?" Saria asked, tears running down her face. She was deeply hurt. "You know I still loved you then, and I love you now…"

Stebos groaned in pain. "Because every time I came back, you were always with him. The Hero of Time. You even let him into our secret place deep in the forest, and taught him our song. I couldn’t believe you had forgotten me so quickly…"

"Now that’s not fair!" Saria demanded with authority. "Link and I were just friends. You were my brother, Meikyle, my brother!"

"But…" Stebos began.

Saria didn’t allow him another word. "And exactly what did you expect me to do anyway?" she questioned. "I lose you once, and then you come back, only to betray me! The day you left for the second time, I thought I had lost you forever.

"However, in your wake, came a baby - Link. Immediately, there was a bond created between us. He had lost his mother, and I had lost my brother, just hours apart from each other. I thought that if I could become close with him, maybe we could help each other…"

"I see now," Stebos painfully admitted. "It was selfish of me to leave you like that… And now, look at what I have done…again…"

Saria offered her hand out to him, even though they were lying on the ground. "At least we still have each other," she said. When he reached out to that hand, and grasped it firmly in his palm, from that moment forward, he was no longer Stebos, the dark, traitorous warrior of Kerah. He became Meikyle, the scared little Kokiri boy without a home.

He also knew what had to be done.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"You two are impressive fighters, but your raw power and talent are still missing something," Jenove chided.

"Like what?" Link asked, breathing hard.

"Conditioning," Jenove said. "I can see that you are both skilled, but you fight out of pure necessity. I fight for my reasons, but one is strictly for the love of battle. You two are optimistic pacifists who try to solve your problems with words. The only real way to obtain results is through battle."

"You know what," Link muttered, "you are absolutely right."

Link charged up his sword, blasting at Jenove with multiple attacks. Zelda also opened up fire with shock wave eruptions. Jenove blocked them with his heavy gauntlet and shield, sending the attacks skipping through the air like speeding fireflies.

"Ha ha!" exclaimed Jenove, "you will have to do much better than that if you think you even have a chance of beating me!"

Link charged in. Something about this man drove him into a fury. It was his purely evil intents. A sadistic murderer with no purpose in life but the thirst for chaos and destruction, the kind of person Link had sworn to eliminate. Link had spent enough time in battle to know when he was out gunned, and it clearly looked this way right now. However, that never kept him from leaping into battle before, so why should it now?

Furiously, he drove at Jenove with his sword. He attacked high right and slammed it down towards Jenove’s neck. Jenove simply batted the sword away with his gauntlet. Again, Link struck on the rebound, this time from the low right. Shifting his weight, Jenove caught the blow on his armored shin. Not giving up, Link spun around and, with all his weight thrown into the attack, smashed his sword into Jenove’s unguarded right arm. This time, Jenove didn’t even move from his position. The sword smashed into Jenove’s armor, not even leaving a dent. Jenove looked Link directly in the eye with a dark glare.

"Like I said, you are going to have to do better than that."

"But don’t say you didn’t ask for it then!" Zelda proclaimed from behind him. Jenove whipped around with lightning reflexes, but it was too late. Zelda’s blast smashed into his chest plate, sending him flying through the air to skid to a halt in the grass. Moaning, he managed to pick himself up, a gaping hole in the armor he wore.

"I suppose I have no room to complain for that one," he growled, recovering and picking himself up, "but it is going to cost you!" He drew tore off his damaged armor and threw it aside, drawing his sword up to a mid-vertical position with the blade between his eyes. "You work well as a team, but so do I!" Glowing with an orange light, a shock wave of energy exploded from his body.

Link shielded his face from the blast. Wind and light flew from Jenove’s position, blowing leaves and sticks outward in a vortex of dust. When the blast cleared, in his place stood two of him…two Jenoves, each wearing a deadly grin on his face.

"Though Stebos may be a fool," they said in synchronized voices, "he was an excellent teacher!" The two Jenoves split up and attacked Link and Zelda one on one.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Zelda was quite a warrior, as far as being a princess went, but nothing had prepared her for this adversary. Also, she lacked a weapon, and had to rely on her energy blade spell. From each hand grew a shimmering blade of energy, each one about the length and size of a Gerudo warrior’s blade. Usually, she could slice through about anything she needed with the blades with no resistance. They were the best at slicing up carrots and other things when cooking. However, she stopped using them after chopping through a number of cutting boards.

Jenove powered up his sword as well, making it glow an eerie orange. Time to see if these ham slicers can take out a glowing sword… With all her strength, she launched herself at Jenove, ham slicers first. Her right scythe was thrown off by Jenove’s intimidating blade, and the left one was knocked aside by his armored gauntlet, which was also had developed an orange glow. However, proving he was not finished, Jenove lifted his right knee to catch Zelda in her midsection, knocking the wind out of her. Carried by her inertia, Zelda hit the ground hard, but managed to roll out of the hall and regain her balance.

This was going to take a little more effort than her kitchen utensils could cook up. Hey Link, she thought to herself remember when we needed to cut down that tree by the east wall? Placing her hands together, she interlocked her fingers. The blade grew, the separate beams twisting around each other in a spiral of power. The blade was now almost two meters long, and twice as thick as the previous ones. It hummed with audible power. Jenove stood back, sizing her up.

"Oh yeah," Zelda said, "you mess with the cooking queen, and prepare to be turned into mincemeat."

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Link’s blade quivered from the last blow, but its edge remained sharp. His shield had taken and sustained many harsh blows, yet hadn’t obtained a dent. However, Link was not faring as well as his weapons. His left shoulder was strained from swinging his sword so hard, and his right cried out in pain from putting his weight into his shield to block Jenove’s attacks. His midsection cried out in pain every time he moved from a low drop kick he had received early in the duel.

I don’t know how much more of this I can take he thought. Jenove moved forward again, attacking from the high right. Link blocked the attack with both his sword and shield braced against each other. Swiftly, Jenove drew his gauntlet back and punched Link’s barrier with full force. Link was thrown backward to land on his back. The ground was hard and unforgiving. He cried out in protest from the impact, at the same time, losing his grip on his shield. It was thrown from his arm and bounced across the grass out of reach.

Looking back up, Link saw Jenove’s blade coming from the sky, aimed right at his heart. With all the strength he had left, Link brought up his sword to defend. He caught the approaching blade and stopped it centimeters from his chest. Looking up, he stared directly into Jenove’s eyes. Jenove looked back and laughed, pressing harder and harder down. Link cried out in agony.

Along with the pain, Link’s strength was slowly leaving him. Jenove’s sword crept closer and closer, until Link could feel its pressure against his chest, the cold, razor sharp metal. Sweat beaded on Link’s forehead. The more he resisted, the more the pain in his arms and back grew. If he lessened the pressure of his defense any further, Jenove’s sword would run him through.

Jenove smiled, "You cannot match my power, so why not just give up?"

"Never!" Link yelled. His cry of defiance earned him a kick to the side.

"That’s what I thought," Jenove replied, applying more pressure to his attack. Link could feel a fire growing in his chest.

"You big loaf! Stop hurting my Linkie!" Navi zoomed into view. "You’ve asked for it!" With that, Navi shot fairy dust into Jenove’s eyes.

"What the?!?" Jenove yelled. The pressure on Link’s chest finally subsided and Link took advantage of the opportunity. Using the rest of his strength, Link threw off Jenove’s sword and flipped it up. Pivoting his body, he skillfully kicked the flat edge of Jenove’s sword, smacking it out of his grip. Jumping to his feet, Link brought his sword up and struck full force. However, even with his eyes closed, Jenove still sensed the attack. Bringing up his gauntlet, he smashed the sword from Link’s already weakened grip. His eyes clearing, Jenove advanced to punch Link’s face. Link faded to the right and countered, smashing his left hand into Jenove’s face. Jenove staggered back, holding his cheek where Link struck him.

I didn’t hit him that hard Link thought. As Jenove lowered his hands, it became clear. An impression of a triangle had burned itself onto deeply into Jenove’s right cheek. Link looked down at his fist. The TriForce of courage was glowing brightly on his hand. Jenove looked at the glowing triangle, then to Link, and fell back.

Placing his sword back into his sheath, Jenove’s image flickered, and then vanished. Link heard a cry of surprise. He turned to see that the Zelda’s adversary had also had vanished.

"I feel I will need to use my full power on you now," a voice said.

Standing back where he had originally split into two stood Jenove, whole once again.

"Not so confident anymore, are you," Zelda asked, still holding her shimmering blade up in a defensive position.

"No," Jenove answered bluntly. "I just wanted to see what you could do – to give you a taste of hope before I crush you!!!" Powering up, Jenove’s entire body began glowing orange. Link and Zelda knew what he was doing. Focusing all the energy he had, Jenove let loose a bloodcurdling scream as he sent a final blast at Link and Zelda – an attack to end it all. The two targets looked at each other knowingly. There was nothing they could do to stop it.

"I guess this is it, Princess," Link gave. Zelda didn’t respond.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

And, amazingly, it worked. Holding the crystal in his hand, he projected a screen that intercepted the gargantuan blast. The resulting collision between the energies exploded into a furry of fire and electricity. Skillfully, the barrier of energy was manipulated so it deflected the residue energy high into the sky. A giant beacon of power erupted into the atmosphere, lighting up the land for all to see. "What!?" Jenove shouted, not believing what he was looking at. Link and Zelda were equally stunned.

"I cannot let you hurt them," Lauren stated. The crystal of Gailins rested in his right hand glowing fiercely. "This war has taken my mother, my father, my brother, my mentor, and my king. Now you are trying to take the only friends I have left. I cannot allow it."

"And who is going to stop me? You, little boy?" Lauren’s face grew red with anger.

"Yes, me."

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Jenove jumped high into the air, flying directly towards Lauren. Lauren held his ground, lifting the Gailian crystal high to track Jenove’s flight. He closed one eye, aiming carefully.

Wait for it, wait for it…NOW! Lauren let loose all the power he felt he could muster. The blast flew into the air: one giant beam of light.

It homed in on Jenove’s position, heading at incredible speed. Right when the two were going to make contact, Jenove disappeared from sight.

"Where did he go?!?" Lauren shouted.

"Lauren!" Link yelled at the top of his lungs. "Quick! Behind you!"

"Whaaa?" Lauren moved to turn around, but Link could already see it was too late…

………………………………………………………………………………………………

He looked up, and Jenove was right next to him. "It is too late for you, little one," he heard Jenove say. Not if I can stop you!

With his last remaining strength, Meikyle launched himself on an intercept course to Jenove’s blast. Everything went in slow motion from there. Meikyle watched as the energy grew from Jenove’s fingertips. Looking the other way, he could see the expression of terror burned on the young boy’s face as he turned. Meikyle saw the drops of sweat on the boy’s hair fall slowly to the ground.

When it hit him, it felt like fire. Meikyle welcomed the pain…the pain he had felt for so long but hadn’t let himself realize. It ran through his body like magma in his veins. He turned his head, hoping to get one last glance at her.

Saria lay on the grass, looking up at him with tears in her eyes. Thank you he thought gratefully, for everything. He saw her nod, as if she had heard his thoughts. The ground came up fast and hard.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"Nooooo!!" Lauren spun around to see Stebos leap up from the ground and take the hit for him. Jenove had a look of amazement on his face at the turn in events. He moved to redirect his attack, but was too late. Lauren brought the crystal up and blasted Jenove directly in the chest. He was thrown back, deep into the forest. Lauren cringed, as he could hear the sound of breaking tree limbs echo through the woods. From deep in the forest, Jenove blasted through the trees high into the air.

"You haven’t seen the last of me!" he bellowed as he rocketed through the air overhead. "You will never be able to defeat the alazarns of Old Kerah!" With that, he flew through the stratosphere and vanished over the horizon.

"Good work, kid," Sommers congratulated, patting Lauren on the shoulder. "That got him good." Lauren looked up at Sommers and gave him a glare.

"What?" he proclaimed innocently. Then he burst out laughing. "Fine, I’ll stop calling you ‘kid,’ but what else am I supposed to call you now?"

Lauren looked him dead in the eye. "You could start by calling me Lauren," he suggested. This evoked another laugh from Sommers.

"You got what it takes, Lauren," he stated, holding the crystal of Kerah in his palm. Lauren smiled. Both of them turned and looked over to Link and Zelda.

Link slowly gave Lauren a nod, and Zelda simply smiled. This caused Lauren’s smile to erupt into a goofy grin that consumed his whole face. Not only had he found a whole bunch of new friends, but also, they had finally done it, even if it was only temporary: they had won.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

"Please hold on! Please!" Saria cried, holding her brother in her lap, brushing back the green hair on his head that was so much like hers. "Don’t worry, brother. I can heal you. I just need to go out into the forest to get the right herbs! It will only take a…" she began to move to gather them, but Meikyle grabbed her wrist, keeping her there.

"It is too late, Saria," he groaned. "I am too far gone now, and even if you could save me, I do not deserve it after the life I have lived."

Saria was sobbing now, tears running freely down her cheeks. "No, I won’t believe it," she cried, "I can save you. I can…"

"Saria, don’t you see?" Meikyle gasped. "You have already saved me…but I must go now. The other world calls my name and…and I can no longer fight it…I love you sister…I…"

Meikyle’s eyes closed, and his body went limp.

"No!" Saria cried, tears flowing from her eyes. "I can’t lose you again…you can’t go! Not when I just got you back! No!…no…" Her cries turned into sobs. She sat there on the meadow floor, rocking back and forth, cradling him in her arms. Zelda, Link, Lauren, and Sommers looked back from their celebration of victory, and became solemn.

"Oh Meikyle," Saria sobbed. "My little Meikyle…"


Jacen Shaw's Fanfiction