saudade is a dirty liar @merakkli
Strike

The paraglider is harder to fold back up than the king had made it seem. Link has to drag it with him down the ruins of the temple and to the edge of the Great Plateau. He can hear the guardians whirring as he’s forced to pass close to them, too close, but none catch him in their sights. Despite its light build, the paraglider tracks a heavy line through the dry earth. Link doesn’t try to lift it any higher, even when the blare of a nearby hunting horn sends any sparrows in the grasses alight. 

The sudden silence of the wildlife is broken instantly by a chorus of excited squeals, the patter of the bokoblins as they start to catch up. Then one of the walls explodes outwards, any screaming drowned out by the sound of a laser firing until the only sound left at all is the remaining stone crumbling. Link doesn’t look back once.

The battered walls forming a barrier around the plateau are steep, but so fragile that easy footholds are everywhere. Link watches the grass below him, still bleached with fog, for a long time. Then he looks to the castle on the horizon and forces the paraglider fully open. 

The battered walls forming a barrier around the plateau are steep, but so fragile that easy footholds are everywhere. Link watches the grass below him, still bleached with fog, for a long time. Then he looks to the castle on the horizon and forces the paraglider fully open. 

When he finally jumps off from the wall, the force of the glider snapping into the wind comes dangerously close to tearing both of his arms out of their sockets. The short flight is wild and unstable, and Link has to drop to the ground the moment he’s certain he won’t be rendered immobile by falling from too high. The paraglider collapses with a soft thud somewhere ahead of him as he forces himself up, pulling dead grass out of his hair and clothes. He’s landed close to an unworn path, leading to a collection of ruined homes.

Hyrule proper hasn’t been spared the destruction of the plateau, but Link had been anticipating that. The ground is littered with the husks of guardians and crumpled walls where the homes used to stand, both covered in lichen and rot. Link can hear the soft snorts of bokoblins as they stalk the once-town. 

Link turns in a slow circle. Mountains encroach on all sides, though most are too far in the distance to see clearly. He pulls the Sheikah Slate from his belt and it automatically flickers on. Whatever bead of light that had guided him across the Great Plateau tower has vanished. Save for the patch of detailed map dedicated to the plateau itself, the screen is empty. 

The paraglider, no longer jammed into the awkward position the king had put it in, folds into place without any trouble when Link presses on either side of it. He uses a spare belt to help lash it to his back and aims for the closest pair of mountains. Somewhere in front of them is a thin cloud of smoke that seems controlled enough to come from a Hylian-made fire, and Link counts that as a waypoint to hit on the way there.

Link sees the blue bokoblin just as it sees him. It’s crouched just off the path, half-hidden by grass and a wagon that is barely more than burnt fabric and splintered planks of wood. It lunges too soon in its excitement,  twisting in a way it shouldn’t be able to in an attempt to slam its club into the back of his head. Link has to throw himself to the ground to avoid the blow, blocking its second swing with his sword. The force of it snaps the blade in half, jarring the shattered metal only further towards his chest. Link still recovers from it before the bokoblin does, punching it in the gut with the newly blunted half of the weapon and tearing through its throat with the other. Rocks hidden beneath the dry grass dig into Link’s back as he scrambles to avoid the resulting spray of black blood, leaving both ends of the sword under the bruising corpse. 

Link follows the path more cautiously after that. Though he can hear more bokoblins within the scattered ruins, the only sign from them is the occasional squeal. He pauses as two, a red and a blue, go stumbling across the path, followed by an entirely new creature. It looks similar to a bokoblin, setting sun painting its maroon skin gold, but it's both lankier and more muscular and wielding a spiked club as long as Link is tall. The two bokoblins vanish into more ruins and the monster lets out a bellowing howl, then turns to him as though it had known he was there the whole time. 

He considers drawing the knife, but the monster lunges and swings with an empty fist before he can move. Link is thrown to the side with a crunch as whatever makes up his ribcage gives up and folds in on itself. The creature lets out another howl and stomps off in the direction of the bokoblins, leaving him for dead. Link staggers to his feet, pressing a hand to the new crater in his chest. At the next opportunity, he turns off the path in the opposite direction of the monsters.

Despite the mild incline of the hill bordering the town’s ruins, it takes longer than it should to reach the top. Link is far away enough to watch the monster charge straight through a house's exterior in pursuit of the same bokoblins as before. Several more guardian shells lie on the outskirts of the town, and one more has deactivated just as it was just crawling into the river splitting the town from the opposite mountain. A shrine is at the bottom of the hill, just under the steep dropoff he’s currently standing on.

Link has to slide down to get to it, risking more tears in his clothing in the process. The doors of the shrine slide open when he presses the Sheikah Slate to the pedestal, but he doesn't enter it yet. In the steadily increasing darkness, the light of the fire he’d seen before, from somewhere further along the road, stands out. Link leaves the shrine for the morning and follows the path towards the light in the hopes that it’s not another bokoblin camp.

As it turns out, it is another bokoblin camp, but Link finds a well-lit bridge before any of them can notice him. He changes direction once he sees it, leaving them behind at the riverbank. The bridge is just as untouched as the path around it, but save for a few crumbling parts of the guardrail and the weeds that have forced themselves into the stone, it’s stable.The bokoblins on the shore of the river don’t even look up when he comes close to them, walking up the steps to the main body of the bridge. While the sky to the west is still orange, it’s darkening rapidly and he can’t see the sun over the silhouette of the castle. The water, moving lazily for such a small river, ripples with faint hints of the dying light. 

Link doesn’t notice the faint tapping of metal on the stone of the bridge. He only realizes that something is beside him once it’s too late to react with any measure of grace. He flings himself back, certain that it’s bokoblin or worse, one of those gangling, muscular monsters. He hits the bridge hard on his wrists and feels them both crack, his fingertips going numb.

A hoarse, uncertain laugh brings him out of preparing for a fight, though it still takes a few moments to recognize that what had startled him was a Hylian, not a monster. This man’s face seems naturally pinched in a disapproving frown, but he’s smiling just a little as he passes his spear to his other hand and reaches down to help him up. 

“I scared you, huh, kid? I guess it’d be worse if you weren’t all prepped for the bokoblins running aro Hylia above !”

Link has reached out to take his hand, but he jerks it back when the Hylian staggers away like he’s been stabbed. The man makes an attempt to level the spear in an attack stance, but it clatters out of his hands as he moves and falls just to the side of Link’s boot. Link glances back at the bokoblin camp, thinking that maybe one had noticed them and has made its way up the bridge, but they’re all still accounted for. It takes another second after that to realize that he’d been aiming the spear at him 

Moving slowly, though it seems that the man’s only weapon had been his spear, Link holds his hands up in a gesture he hopes is peaceful. The Hylian still doesn’t move, but in the stillness Link picks up on a constant tremor going through his entire body. After a few moments of silence, he takes a small step back and risks breaking Link’s gaze to glance down at his own chest. 

“You, ah...you’re not...some sort of new guardian, are you?” Link shakes his head, leaning forwards as little as possible to nudge the spear back towards the Hylian. The man picks it up without losing eye contact, holding it in both badly shaking hands. “And, those eyes, they don’t...y’know, shoot.” 

Even though Link doesn't respond, his continued inaction seems to encourage him. He takes a few more steps back, easing his spear into a slightly more relaxed position. "Well...carry on, I guess. You're not hurt?" 

His wrists click and seem oddly loose when he lowers his hands to rub at them, but they're functional, at the very least. Link shakes his head and the man breathes out a nervous sigh. "Great. I'll be around."

The Hylian keeps walking after that, in short circles going from one side of the bridge to the other. Link watches him until he notices how the man shudders whenever he's forced to pass him, giving him the occasional nervous glance. After that, he turns back to the sunset, but what little light was left has already been smothered.

If he looks down, the ripples of the water are shaded in blue. 

"Hey, sorry. That's really far over." Link turns to where the man has stopped on one of his rounds and is now staring at him. He winces when their eyes meet and looks away soon after, but he still nudges the tip of his spear towards the guardrail of the bridge. "If you lean over any more, you'll fall. Just be careful, alright?" Link glances back at the river beneath him, then slowly steps away from the side. 

The thump of the man's bag makes him turn again. The Hylian has dropped to one knee and is rooting through the sack, standing after a few moments with a loose bundle of dark fabric in his hands. He offers it to Link with his arms outstretched, still refusing to look in his direction. When Link hesitates, he pushes it further towards him. 

"It's a hood. I'm not gonna stop you from hanging around...and honestly, I don't think I have the spine to do it anyway. But hey, the least you can do is cover your...eye things, right?" 

The fabric of the hood looks rough when Link takes it, but it feels silky, almost slippery. The pressure of the touch comes from where he might estimate his bones would be, not his skin. It takes a few minutes for Link to find the clasps and swing it around his shoulders. The man quietly offers instructions to best cover his face as he pulls the hood over his eyes. 

He seems more comfortable, at the very least, able to look at Link without flinching away. "You...weren't actually planning to jump, right?" When Link doesn't respond he chuckles nervously, walking the few steps to look over the side of the bridge with him, to where the bokoblins are settling down for the night. "Not the chatty type, I take it. Hey, makes sense." 

A long, awkward pause follows. Link is about to consider the conversation done when he speaks again. "I promised my wife I'd keep the people who came around here safe, you know. Maybe that's crazywe're clearly in the end times, it's not like I could blame anyone for thinking their life's overbut I guess it's the least I can do for her. The least I could have done, after how badly I failed her."

Link glances up at him, but he isn't looking back, or at anything specific. "She liked to help people. I'll bet she would've loved to help you, and I think that's something I can honor, especially with her looking on." The Hylian finally looks back at him, chuckling again. "What say we take a little break from standing at the edge, huh?" 

The opposite side of the bridge conceals a makeshift shelter, the embers of a fire still glowing in the center of it. Link follows the Hylian with only a little hesitation, sitting where he directs him to. "Now, I don't know about your whole eye thing," he says, gesturing to his face, "but you don't look nearly old enough to be traveling this close to Central, even if you're sticking close to the Dueling Peaks. Where are you headed? And whatever you do, don't say you just came for the bridge, my heart's taken enough damage tonight." 

The mountains in the distance blend perfectly into the moonless horizon. The only way Link can distinguish them from the sky is the lack of stars as he focuses and points to them best he can. The man follows his finger to the mountains and looks back at him.

"Through the Dueling Peaks, huh? It's not what I’d call an easy journey, but if you make it through you'll get an easier trip to the last few villages Hylians can really call their own. Lurelin and Hateno. Of course, they're not particularly friendly to outsiders, but when the only other nearby option is Kakariko"

Link cuts him off by patting the ground to get his attention, ignoring the clicking his wrists make. The Hylian glances from his face to his hand and back again, then offers him a bemused smile. "You're heading for Kakariko Village, huh? Not a very common place for travelers. From all I've heard, they don't react well to Hylians passing through...or, well...guardians, of course." He waves his hand at Link, grimacing apologetically. "You've kinda got two things going against you there, but if you're certain..." Link nods, and he sighs, leaning back. "It's pretty simple. Head through the Dueling Peaks, turn left when you see the stable, and head straight along the path. It's hard to miss after that."

Link has pushed himself to his feet before the Hylian has finished speaking. He flinches back, enough to track lines in the damp soil, but Link just straightens out his hood and turns away from him, back towards the shrine. “HeyI don’t know how much of Hyrule you’ve seen recently, but be careful out there. Dueling Peaks is a safe zone compared to what you’ll find deeper into Hyrule, and it’s flooded with octoroks, lizalfos, any other monster you can think of. And if you ever need any more directions...well, just remember to wear the hood, alright?”

Link nods, but he doesn’t look back to see if the Hylian acts any more. The bridge is silent as he crosses it, the only sound cutting through the ambiance being the snores of the long-unconscious bokoblins at the riverbank. He spares a glance to the weapons strewn carelessly about their campsite, but from the opposite end of the bridge the Hylian is still watching him, expression wary even from this distance. Link turns off the path and opens the shrine. When he leaves again, flexing his healed wrists, the Hylian has fallen asleep leaning against the cliff face. Link chooses his footfalls carefully, walking in a wide circle around him, and passes by without waking him up.

Despite the time he’d spent inside the shrine, it’s still barely dawn when Link starts attempting to cross the river. It runs fast here, and the current threatens to knock him off his feet even in knee-deep water. Link summons a block of ice close enough to touch from the Sheikah Slate, and despite how it doesn’t seem to dip far below the surface, it stands unaffected by the water. The ice still lurches violently beneath him when he tries to climb on it, but it stabilizes enough that Link can create another block a few feet away. 

It takes long enough to cross the river that the sky has lightened considerably once Link makes it to the other side, soaking wet from the spray of the river hitting the ice. The few bokoblins on the other side are still asleep inside the cavernous skull-shaped rock they’re camping out inside of. They don’t wake up as he passes them by, but the moment he starts climbing up the tower, a mass of silt and rocks slams into the ground only a few feet behind him, missing him by inches. Link gets a glimpse of a bloated, pale blue monster diving back into the water with a splash. He moves along the side of the tower until the thin bars stand between him and the monster, hooks his hands into the porous surface, and starts hauling himself up.

The sun is well over the horizon by the time Link has climbed the tower and loaded what data it has to give into the Sheikah Slate. The bokoblins beneath him have woken up and are sniffing cautiously at the mud the other creature had spat out. 

Halfway down the tower, the river monster shoots at him again. This one hits him square in the chest, knocking him clean off the platform and into the rock-filled water below. The bokoblins shriek in surprise and rage while he struggles to fix the hole cleaved into his side, but despite how they stomp and toss whatever they can find at him, none enter the shallow water. Link files that away for later and leaves without going to the shore, dodging the balls of mud and projectiles thrown by bokoblins until they either lose sight of him or give up. The path through the mountains, the one he has yet to even begin to pass, already seems to stretch on.

The river is, as the Hylian had described, flooded with monsters, both with the same pallid blue monster from before and with giant lizards twice Link’s height and razor sharp talons. Link watches one snap a heron into the river with its tongue and risks losing more time in favor of not alerting them to his presence. 

Link can hear the chatter of the stable the Hylian had told him about long before he sees it. A few clusters of people are gathered around the outside of the building, though only a few of them turn to acknowledge him when he comes into eyeshot. Link tugs his hood further over his face, ignoring the worried shout when one of them sees the hole in his side. He heads for the nearest shrine instead. By the time he leaves it, healed save for the new gash in his clothes, the area outside the stable is empty and the sun has started to sink. 

The fields that surround the stable abruptly rise into more mountains as Link continues following the Hylian’s directions. Rather than the humid, monster-filled path the Dueling Peaks had been, this land is cool, grassy, and almost completely barren. The mountains surrounding the path are so narrow that only bokoblins could likely get in, much less fight. No Hylians cross his path, the only additional sound being the clicking of insects. The path broadens in small increments, the ground beneath Link’s feet becoming increasingly well-worn, until the mountains part around a spiralling dip in the earth. 

Kakariko village is quiet in the late evening, the houses that accentuate the landscape all dimly lit from within. The few people still outsideall with white hairall turn to him with a glare until they look down and see the slate on his hip, the glow much brighter in the fading light. After that, half of them stare blankly after him. The other half turn and walk away. No one intercepts him until he reaches the center of the village. Link’s goalpoint, Impa, must live in the biggest house in the village. He still only barely manages to head towards the stairs, at which point he stops just in time to avoid a blade leveled just in front of his face.

“Hylian traveller.” The Sheikah holding the sword lowers it, but only slightly. Link takes a step back, but a second Sheikah, this one much larger and more muscular, has appeared behind him and he only succeeds in bumping into him. “Perhaps you are somehow not aware, but we are not accepting anyone from outside our village at this time.” 

Link nods, unsure of what else to do. When he tries to back up again, though, the two Sheikah keep him in place. 

“That is something only someone very far from here would not know,” the second Sheikah rumbles, “and I’ve had enough of this dance for a lifetime. If you are a Yiga, show yourself now and we’ll make it quick.” He draws his blade as well and Link stumbles away from them, pulling the Sheikah slate from his belt and brandishing it at them like a weapon he doesn’t have. 

Both Sheikah fall silent and still, and the bulkier of the two pales considerably. Link taking another step back breaks them out of their reverie. They both scramble to sheathe their swords, stammering over apologies. 

“Forgive me, Sir HeroMaster Link, is it not? If we had knownforgive us for being so presumptuous” 

The second Sheikah cuts the first off with a sharp hand wave. “Master Link, you must be here for an audience with Impa. She will be...she will be delighted to see you have arrived. I apologize for our wariness, but please understand we must take caution in these uncertain times.” He turns fully to Link, dark eyes almost pleading, and bows deeply. “Lady Impa is up these stairs. You are free to enter.”

Neither Sheikah looks at Link as he slowly steps past them and up the stairs. It’s the first house he’s seen up close that’s not in ruins, the stairs and wooden porch neatly swept. 

The door to Impa’s house is unlocked, swinging open at only the slightest pressure from Link. It opens into a spacious, dim room. A young woman kneeling at the foot of some sort of altar squeaks in fright, whipping around to look at him and freezing in place when she does. And on top of the altar…

Link knows her, knows her like he knew the voice on the Great Plateau. He knows, in some dreamlike fashion, the clinks of the metal attached to her wide-brimmed hat, the pale hair so thin it’s translucent, the crimson of her eyes. A Sheikahpure blooded Sheikahbut the thought is gone before Link can comprehend it. He knows that she isn’t supposed to look so old . She looks up and offers him a smile that’s more of a smirk, and he stops only a step or two into the doorway. 

“My, my, so you’ve finally arrived.” She nods once to the woman in front of her, and she hurries upstairs with more than one glance behind her at Link. “It has been quite some time, Link. After all these years...you do still remember me, don’t you?”

Link’s only response is to walk further into the room, doors swinging shut behind him. Impa watches him for a few seconds, looking him over. When Link still doesn’t respond, she sighs quietly. “I hope the guards did not give you much trouble. Kakariko village has been on a severe lockdown for several months now, following activity from the Yiga.” She pauses, then laughs. “But that is a conversation for later, I see! Take off your hood, Courageous One, let me see you again.” 

Link hesitates, but the glint in her eyes says she won’t accept him refusing. The glow of his eyes is far from hidden in the darkness of the room, anyway. Impa is silent as he lowers the hood, her face giving nothing away until Link breaks eye contact.

“My sister has done some work on you, I see. She always was so dramatic with her creations.” Link’s hands freeze where he’d been adjusting the folds of the hood. Impa only laughs, harder than the first time, when he looks up at her again. It isn’t a happy one. “I have not seen you since several days before the Calamity broke free. I know only what my sister has told me of your fall one hundred years ago. Forgive me if I cannot answer every question you have.” 

When Link walks closer, Impa chuckles and reaches out a withered hand to brush against his hood. “I don’t need to see your eyes, Courageous One. I can tell just from the way you stand that you do not remember me. Perhaps, after everything that has happened, that is more of a blessing than a curse...you and I were never close, though that was my fault more than yours.” she shakes her head, smiling more genuinely this time. “Past emotions are relegated only to just that, the past. Whatever compelled me to see you so poorly then is gone now, I can feel itand you didn’t come here for my sentiments. Tell me, do you know yet of the events that led to the fall of you and your champions?”

Link starts to nod, but he stops before the motion is complete. Impa tilts her head to the side, folding her hands back into her lap. “You are as silent as ever...but very well. I will tell you what I can.”

“One hundred years ago, the kingdom of Hyrule was left in ruins by Calamity Ganon. In the wake of the destruction, Princess Zelda’s only wish was to put you into a sacred slumber.” Impa stops, shaking her head sadly. “She considered it her death wish; for you to live again, to defeat Calamity Ganon when you were finally healed, before she went to face him herself and seal him for as long as she could. Her wish was never fulfilled.” 

Impa looks away, then back to Link with only more conviction in her eyes. “What the tapestries of ten thousand years ago say is that the guardians were a major force of good in the world. They, along with the champions of the four Divine Beasts, were instrumental in taking Hyrule back from the clutches of Ganon. This time...they turned against us, subjugated through the ancient evils stored within the Calamity. You fought bravely to protect the princess, Courageous One, but against an army of machines built to kill...even your power had no hope of outlasting them. They tore you to shreds.” 

“I must apologize for what we’ve done to you, Link. Even if my sister could have kept you alive, even if we could have given you your real body back...I cannot forget the look in her eyes when she reported back to me. I fully believed her when she said that there wasn’t enough of you to save, that if she could have, it would have been a mercy not to. Creating a body for you, based off of your real one, was her only option”

The metal of her hat clinks as she bows her head. “Forgive me, most of all, for laying this burden on you once again. Even in death, your journey is not over yet. The princess’s life is confirmed through Calamity Ganon’s lack of freedom, but as we speak I can feel her restraints on him fade. She loved you, Link, loved you enough to sacrifice herself, to attempt anything that might bring you back to her. Please tell mewill you seek the method to free her in return?”

Link can see the king, somewhere in his mind’s eye. He shakes it away and nods, the movement slight and jerky, then straightens and nods again. 

The light glints oddly in Impa’s eyes when she smiles. 

“Then sit for a while, and I will tell you all you need to know about the tasks that lie ahead.”

 

It has fully transitioned to night by the time Link leaves, the village pitch black save for a cheerily crackling fire in the center of the vacant space just before Impa’s house. When he reaches the bottom of the stairs, only the larger of the Sheikah guards remains. He startles when he sees Link, clasping his hands together and bowing curtly to Link. 

“Master Link, good evening,” he says quickly, standing straight again. Link nods his acknowledgement and passes him by, walking to the North where he can see Hyrule Castle from between the mountains. 

The precipice below him is blocked off by a wooden fence, the land underneath barely visible in the darkness. In the distance, several hundreds of yards away, he can see the dim orange and blue lights of a guardian, stalking a patch of wetlands in small circles. 

And to the west and the east, a giant mountain spitting flame and an entire range of snowy mountains respectively, Link can see them. Two of the four Divine Beasts. One modeled after a bird, the other a lizard, both terrorizing the villages that had settled below them. They’re bathed in a sickly violet light, visible even from this distance.

At least Impa had given him directions. The closest beast isn’t visible from here, but it’s only a day or two’s worth of travel in place of the several it will take to reach the rest. Link finally knows where to go. 

Link is walking back along the path, tugging his hood back up as he prepares to leave the village, when the guard stops him again. 

“Master Link?” When he turns, the guard recoils as their eyes meet, but he doesn’t look away. “My apologies for the interruption, sir Hero...but it is quite late, so please consider spending the night at the inn. Us Sheikah could not bear the disgrace if you were to be injured by a stal creature so soon after leaving us.” Link shakes his head at him, glancing to the path that leads to the woods. Dorian’s entire body seems to tighten. “If you don’t have the money to stay at the inn, I would be happy to offer my home to you.” When Link just tilts his head, he shifts nervously. “Don’t feel obligated to, of course, but...well, you are the hero of Hyrule. I am willing to do all I can to provide you comfort before your...before your departure.” He pauses, then sighs. “Also, my daughters would love the company.” 

Link nods a few seconds later, and all the tension in Dorian deflates instantly. He offers a weary smile, bringing a hand around Link’s shoulders but never touching him. The short walk through the village doesn’t show Link much more of it, the pathways empty of any people and most houses completely dark. Dorian leads him to one of the few houses still lit up, opening the door for him. 

Two young girls are waiting curled up on a small couch. They pause when Link is the first to walk in, but quickly squeal and throw themselves at Dorian once he follows, both talking at once about their day, the various recipes they’ve learned and the games they’ve played. Link waits for them to stop until Dorian, brought to his knees by his children, quiets them down and gestures towards him.

“This is Link,” he says, voice gentle and warm,  a far cry from how tight it had been mere seconds before. “He’s our guest tonight. Will you introduce yourselves?” 

The two girls stare at Link for a few moments, murky red eyes looking him up and down. Link is about to step back and raise his hands, to indicate somehow that they don’t have to do anything, and then both of them leap for him instead. His unsteady body is knocked down hard by their combined forces. Dorian pulls the younger one off of him and holds her against his chest, stammering apologies until Link touches his own face and realizes he’s smiling. He hadn’t realized he could. 

When Link finally takes his hood off, almost half an hour after arriving the older child is instantly enamored with his eyes. She clings to his side even after Dorian asks if she wants to help make dinner, something he jokes that she never passes up. She spends her time tonight patting gently at his face and telling him convoluted instructions on how to make honey candy for when he’s out in the wilderness. 

“You’ll have to forgive her,” Dorian calls from somewhere inside the kitchen, peering out to face him just as the girl starts toying with one of the locks of hair that frame his face. “They’re far too young to leave the village, much less travel far enough away from home to see a guardian, and we stopped using what few ancient weapons we have long ago.” He pauses as she tugs too hard on his hair and pulls away with her hands covered in golden strands. She looks from herself to him, eyes round with shock, then bursts into tears, clutching his hair to her chest. Dorian sighs and walks over, putting his hands on her little shoulders. “They’re also… still quite fragile, after the death of their mother,” he murmurs, picking her up enough for her to get her feet beneath her. “Come, Koko, Cottla needs your help with the carrots.”

No one questions it when Link doesn’t eat with them despite the plate of food he’s offered. Koko, her face still red and puffy, continues to insist that she sit next to him. Dorian looks at her with a soft kind of sadness before he stands up and pushes his plate away from himself. 

“I have some business outside the village,” he says, strapping his sword to his side. “You wouldn’t mind caring for my girls for the night? All they need now is a place to sleep, it shouldn’t be too difficult.” Link looks over both children, the youngest already yawning into her food, and nods. Dorian reaches out like he’s going to put a hand on his head, but stops midway through and draws it back. When he smiles, it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Forgive me, Master Link,” he murmurs, and closes the door behind him. 

He only comes back once it’s late into the night, closer to morning than midnight. Link opens his eyes from where he hasn’t quite been sleeping,  still unsure if he even can. He lights up the pitch black house blue, but Koko and Cottla, sleeping wrapped in his arms like they’d insisted, don’t wake up. Dorian doesn’t look in his direction.

“It was the Yiga Clan that killed their mother,” He says, voice soft. “A group of Sheikah that split off from our tribe long ago. They will do anything for control, even kill one of their own. They are cunning and dangerous, Master Link. No matter how well-prepared you are, beware the eye of the Yiga.”

There is silence for a long while after that. Dorian stands perfectly still, hand still resting on the latch to the door.

“There is a blade, a shield, a bow, and some new armor by the door,” he sighs, bowing his head. “Take them with you when you leave. It was an honor to meet you, Master Link. I bid you...II bid you...” He trails off, and Link can see the tension through his entire body despite the lack of light. What little comes from his own eyes wavers when Link nods in his direction. Dorian walks into a separate room without responding or finishing his sentence.

It’s just barely starting to lighten outside when Link untangles himself from the two children and arms himself with what Dorian has left out for him, a blade and bow similar to the one he and the other guard had been carrying, and an oddly shaped shield with the Sheikah emblem etched in gold leaf. He’s included a kind of leather armor and new clothing to go with it. It’s a complicated pile of fabrics to sort out, likely cheap but worth more than gold compared to what little clothing he found and promptly tore up on the Great Plateau. Neither child wakes up as he changes clothes and straps on the armor and weapons, though the rustle of them stirring follows him as he leaves.

The village is only just starting to wake up when Link steps outside, tucking the knife from the Plateau away into one of the many pockets in his new clothes. He’s unused to the weight of the shield and bow, paired with the new blade, on his back, and unsure if he can even use them properly. A shrine waits on top of the mountain overlooking Kakariko. It contains a miniature guardian similar to the ones in the shrines at the Plateau, though this time armed with a sword and shield made out of pure blue light. The sheikah-made blade holds true even as Link slams it repeatedly into the guardian, leaving it to collapse in a heap of blue sparks as he claims the spirit orb from the monk.

Link passes through the forest separating Kakariko Village from the mountain pass with few issues, startling only birds and deer. The forest itself is bright with luminescent flowers, lighting the woods up in a pale blue so strong it’s hard to notice how his eyes leave a similar glow. It feels almost like home, like the one safe place he’s been so far. When the trees and flowers fade back into a bare, mountainous path, Link looks back more than once. 

The trail along the mountain narrows slowly until it opens into a large clearing, splitting on either side into two separate paths. The view ahead is blocked by towering mountains everywhere else. Link pulls the Sheikah Slate off of his belt, flipping the screen to check what part of the map Impa had directed him towards. He’s about to choose which path to take when a voice stops him.

“Ah! ‘Hoy, stranger!” A young Hylian woman waits for him in the tall grass to the side of the cliffs, waving casually. She grins when she notices Link has turned to her, leaning back against the rocky cliff face. “Come on over, don’t be shy!” 

Her smile softens into something more careful as Link comes closer, shifting her weight to one side and pulling a curl of blonde hair between her fingers. “You’re a Hylian too, right? I thought I would be the only one out here past the stables.” 

A glance at the diverging roads shows no signs of use from either side, even by just one person. When Link looks back towards the forest, his footprints are accompanied by a much deeper pair. The woman’s laugh hitches, then returns full force as she waves her hand to get his attention back.

“Come on, don’t look like thateveryone knows we’re not allowed in the Sheikah village right now, right? These mountains have gotten me all twisted up, I guess. Believe me, I wouldn’t be here if I could, I hear there’s hundreds of monsters in these parts. But look at all your weapons! You can protect me, can’t you?” Her face lights up when he nods. “Oh, good! No one comes out here anymore, you know. It’s hard to believe I found someone at all.” She has to lean down a little to catch both of his hands in her own. They’re trembling so hard Link feels it all throughout his arms. When he looks back into her face, though, her expression stays fixed in a smile. 

“Do you know why Kakariko’s closed off?” She grins harder as she pulls away from Link, tilting her head playfully. “They say it’s because a bunch of Sheikah keep trying to disguise themselves to get in. Isn’t that kind of silly?” Her eyes don’t seem to match the light as she steps into a patch of it, darkening into a color that isn’t quite blue. When her gaze meets Link’s, she either somehow doesn’t notice the nature of his eyes or doesn’t care. “I mean, what would they do if one did break in? They’re less than nothing compared to the Yiga Clan.”

Link steps back, hand going to his sword. She matches the distance between them perfectly. The color of her hair is fading slowly from the roots down, from blonde to a shade of dark red. “Aw, did they already tell you about them? I was hoping I’d get to do that part myself.” The woman sighs, flipping some loose hair behind her shoulder. “I had a speech and everything. ‘Why don’t you join the Yiga Clan?’ Gods, that’s so stupid. But if you know about us, you know about this, right?” Her eyes slide back to him, expression gone sly, and snaps. A sickle bursts into her hand with a flash of red light and the flutter of paper charms. Any curls vanish from her hair, leaving it silken and the color of blood. “Haven’t gotten to hold one of these in a while. You’ll make it easy for me, won’t you?” 

She turns to Link, something in her expression relaxing when she sees his face.

“I like this part more than I expected. The fear on your face…and once I bring your body back, I’ll be seeing it a lot more.” She grins, more of a snarl, one last time. Twirls the sickle once. When she speaks next, her voice has twisted from sweet to something warped, deeper, bubbling up as though she’s underwater. “Your purpose is to be helpful, isn’t it, o hero of Hyrule? I’ve got one last request for you: stay still.”

The air around Link ripples as the woman explodes in a burst of crimson light, replaced by a figure cloaked in red with a bone-white mask. He staggers back, drawing the sword but unable to get the shield off his back before the assassin is on him and swinging their scythe. He blocks the strike with his sword, jarred to the side by the force of their collision. The Yiga barks out a sharp laugh and vanishes. Link stumbles back, looking around the small clearing, but there aren’t any spaces that would offer an advantage. In a puff of smoke the Yiga is far too close behind him, blade already swinging. Link whips around, finally unbuckling his shield and catching their sickle in the side of it, but they wrench away before his sword can connect with them. 

They barely wait more than a second, lunging forward and this time twisting around the shield when Link tries to block them. Their swing comes up too short, not enough to cut into skin, but it rips open the leather armor covering his chest. Link brings his sword around too clumsily, slamming the blunt side of the blade into their head. They stagger with a broken gasp of pain, hand not holding the sickle coming up to press against their face.

 Despite the situation, Link freezes. They recover faster than he expects, moving their hands in a way that leaves the air around them thrumming with strands of bright red energy. When they vanish next, Link steps back slowly with his blade at the ready once more. The Yiga returns in a flash of light, sickle tearing into the ground where he’d stood. Link takes the opportunity to try and hit them again, but they spring to their feet and knock his blade to the side with a crack too loud to be just metal colliding. When Link looks down, he finds a sizable slice of metal missing from the base of the eightfold blade.

The Yiga lets out a softer laugh this time, the sound almost more threatening than any other they’ve made. They lunge again, and when Link raises his shield they just slam it out of the way. Their sickle hooks around Link’s sword and twists, hard. 

Link’s wrist cracks and all sensation vanishes instantly. The blade tears out of his grip, clattering to the ground, and a well-placed stomp from the Yiga snaps it at the break.

“Their stuff’s still shit, I see,” they say with a sharp, cruel laugh. “What now, hero ?”

They lunge without waiting for a reaction, and the sickle comes down around Link’s shoulder. Instinct surges up in him and Link finds himself shoving his weight into them instead of away, his functional hand closing around the dagger tucked away. The footsoldier grunts as he disrupts their balance, then screams when Link slashes the knife across the plane of their upper chest. It doesn’t have the range he expects it to and his swing goes too short, but it still tears through their skin. They crumple and Link tugs the Sheikah Slate off his belt best he can, just barely getting the map up before they’ve recovered and slam him to the ground. The slate is knocked out of his hands, tumbling into the grass too far away to reach easily. 

The Yiga forces him onto his back, blood dripping onto his chest as they bear down with their sickle. Link catches it on the knife, trying ineffectively to push them back.

He can feel it when the Yiga sees the carved symbol on the hilt of the knife. The force on Link lessens as they jerk back in something that might be shock. 

“Youhow didhow did you get that?” Their voice is quiet, still deeper than their persona’s. When he doesn’t respond, they shove harder at him with their weapon as though they’ve forgotten they’re supposed to be fighting. “How did you..! You thief— !”

 Whatever the knife means to them, it also means that they’re distracted. Link throws his legs up and kicks them hard in the ribs, forcing them off with a shriek. They stagger back and Link lunges for his slate. The map is still open, but Kakariko is too close to be safehe hears the footsoldier regaining their breath and the scrape as they pick their weapon back up

He presses at random and hears their cry of frustration go distant.

The slate’s magic is just as unforgiving with him as it has always been, and Link doesn’t have the strength to reorient himself. He hits the glossy floor of the tower hard, finds himself staring back up at the tops of the Dueling Peaks. Link picks himself up and waits for a few minutes before he risks looking over the edge of the tower. No one waits for him below save for the monsters that were already there.

1. Out of Water 10010 0 0 2. Strike 8133 0 0